Major Hudson rides through town with a company of men at his back. His head is held high in a pose of superiority we all know is unearned. His father is some fancy man in Washington who needed to get his son out from under foot. The man who follows immediately after is a lieutenant Anderson and he commands the troops that Hudson is meant to be marching toward Santa Fe.

Their stop in Clothier is apparently part of a training exercise. They are also here to show both prospectors and Indians alike that Federal law is enforced in the South. That's why their marching through town like the most sombre circus in history. They want everyone to know they've arrived.

The men of this company, like most have a reputation that has preceded them and the girls at Corcoran's Drink and Gaming House are out on full display as they pass through. We are well prepared to provide whatever entertainment the group could require during their stay.

I'm out on the balcony with the rest of the girls. Quinn is to my immediate left looking as displeased with the crowd as she usually does.

"Show some thigh ladies," is the instruction thrown at us by Shelby, the hard woman running the House.

There are very few people in the world that hold my respect but Shelby Corcoran is one of them. She carved out a place for herself and her girls here in clothier; when there was hardly a damn thing out here.

And she cares for her girls, she really does. If one of us shows up with an unwarranted bruise or black eye, the Trick we'd been servicing will suddenly find himself without credit in the house. Likewise if one of the girls were to find themselves in a family way, Shelby would take care of the child in whatever way the potential mother may wish to have it taken care of. Quinn's child for example was suitably adopted away to an infertile couple in Santa Fe just last year.

I lean over the balcony, so I can see the boys in the company better and so they can see my breasts better. Nearly every member of the company glances up to look at us. It's going to be a busy week for Corcoran's.

Every girl around me does her best to stir up the right kind of attention. We know that the roof over our heads is based on our ability to bring money in to the business. The services that we can provide are the only kind of living any of us can make and each one of us is grateful for the care Shelby takes with her girls.

Without knowing what these particular men might have a preference for, we all do our best to appear as generally appealing as possible. Not specific to taste or preference. Just appealing.

Every single girl has her hair brushed and smoothed down. Our dresses are clean. The whites are white and the few stretches of crimson fabric were re-stained just yesterday to appear as bright as possible in the midday sun. We have a few flashes of blue or purple in ribbons and sashes breaking in some diversity of colour.

The dresses are all just window dressing really since Shelby has made it her express goal to have every taste catered to. If a man wants to find God between the legs of a sweet Irish girl he can. If a man wants to find the devil in crimson petticoats he can do that too. I'm one of three girls with my particular complexion. There are girls with much darker skin than mine and more in between. There's the daughter of a chinaman and Shelby even keeps a few Boys on just in case. And there's still plenty of room for the clean looking Irish girls to make up any difference.

I pull at my skirts to make sure that the blue layer in my petticoat is visible to the men passing the house. I need to attract the attention of at least one Trick as well as pour spirits for a few hours tonight if I'm going to earn my keep for the week. Shelby may treat her girls well but she also has a business to run.

I look at the faces of the men nearest the house and I mostly see fresh faced boys. Probably even younger than me. Hardly ready for any kind of military conflict. I wonder how long they will end up staying in Clothier. Sometimes a company will come through for respite. Sometimes they're posted out here for training. We prefer to see the former because those boys usually arrive with full pockets and a hearty appetite.

Once the Last of the company move past us we all gather back inside. We need to clean the main floor, the game tables and all the rooms. If only half the company make it through our doors tonight then we want the other half following them back in tomorrow night.

We're briefed on our duties thoroughly but efficiently and it's no time at all before I'm on my knees scrubbing the floors of the third floor rooms. I have a bucket of grey, soapy water beside me. Quinn is there too with Sugar scrubbing the window glass, frames and cornices of dust. Mercedes is humming to herself out in the hall.

They gossip as they work but I try to ignore them, preferring to get my work done quickly and quietly.

Their conversation inevitably turns to the military men we expect to see tonight.

Sugar likes to hum while she works but she breaks her tune to answer Quinn's questions, "I don't see why we wouldn't see every one of those boys at least one night this week. I mean half of them look like they only just left their Momma's hip. First rotation out why wouldn't they want to sample some of Clothiers finer colour." She winks at me cheekily.

Quinn gives her a distinctly disdainful glare, "Need you be so crude."

Sugar mocks a shocked expression, "Why Quinn, I thought I had used as delicate a phrasing as One could muster under our circumstances."

Sugar smirks at me and I return her look. Quinn is such an easy target when she's in this kind of mood and Sugar seems to take a lot of joy in winding her up.

When we first arrived at Corcoran's I thought that Quinn's virginal innocence routine was for the Tricks, matching the sweet Irish looks. Turned out she's like that pretty much all the time.

Sugar enjoys messing with Quinn. I enjoy watching them and Quinn seems to still like Sugar all the same. I guess I don't really know what Quinn thinks of me.

Sugar steps down from the stool she'd used to get high enough on the window to clean, "You may not be inclined to fucking the colorful ladies yourself Miss Fabray but I know for a fact that your dearest Tricks will like themselves some rainbow delights all the same…excuse my French," she finishes blithely.

Quinn gasps at Sugar before firming her expression. The cleaning cloth she was using on the glass is held tight in her hand. Her mouth forms a straight line. I still my own hands on the scrubbing brush, silently waiting for Quinn's response.

Her face seems set but then I see a quiver in her cheek and one eyebrow creeps up before she finally cracks a smile, "You, Miss Sugar, are incorrigible. Also, I happen to speak French and not a word of that was."

Sugar laughs and I join in her easy laughter. Quinn has the good decency to blush before we all go back to cleaning. Sugar goes back to humming and Quinn joins in harmony. They're hymns I know but it isn't in me to join them.

Just before nightfall I find myself behind the bar, rearranging bottles and glasses. A few girls are still sweeping and cleaning but most are sitting about talking happily amongst themselves. Some sit together, playing with each other's hair or making small adjustments to each others dresses. I can see Mercedes and Sugar in one corner whispering and laughing conspiratorially together.

Shelby calls for everyone's attention as she corrals the last of the girls in the saloon, "Well ladies, as you are all aware, we are up for a busy night and it's going to be a strong start to the season. We have a fresh company of military boys camped just outside Clothier. We already know that they like to drink but I'm sure as anything that they'll be up for more than that. Your job for the first few hours of this evening is to get a sure gauge as to what their preferences might be. If it's gambling, make sure they find themselves at the tables. If it's…" She hesitates as though searching for the best phrasing.

Sugar pipes up first, "If they're here for Pussy?".

Some of the girls smirk as Shelby shakes her head and smiles indulgently at Sugar, "Yes if our patrons require a bed for the night—or a few hours—you know how the negotiations work." She nods towards where I'm standing at the bar, "No free drinks tonight, I don't care how many battles they've fought or how many squealing infants they've saved. That goes for fucking too. If you want to share sweet kisses without charge you do so on your own time."

Shelby glances around at her girls to make sure we all understood. With a final nod she turns her back to us and the girls disperse. I go back to arranging the Rum, Whiskey and bourbon bottles.

Things are in full swing a few hours after the first boys cross the threshold. I'm dolling out trays of whiskey shots and fielding more than one request for opiates. You know, the ones that can either destroy a man's mind or cure all his ills. I've tried a few varieties but found them to leave me more unsettled than anything else. There seems to be a steady supply through town that doesn't always come through the doctors pharmaceuticals.

I suspect most of the supply comes from the other end of town. Maybe Puck who likes to smile and be so sweet with all us girls. Puck never offers any opium at Corcoran's but I'd assume that's only because Shelby has forbidden any of her girls from partaking on the job.

Puck is here tonight of course just like so many of the regulars. The townies and prospectors in their rough and ready attire stand out against the soldier men in their uniforms. Puck stands out a little more than most with the strange haircut he wears along with his signature smirk. The smirk that suggests he has some secret.

I was something of a favorite of Puck's for so long that we know each other well. He's a pretty good Trick over all. He's kind and he smells a little better than the average prospector. These days, though his tastes have swung more towards the blonde, virginal type of girl so I don't see as much of him any more.

Quinn is his new favorite and I try not to wince at her expression when I see her leading Puck upstairs. She is putting in an excellent performance tonight, really. She's making sure that Puck feels wanted, making sure he'll feel he got his money's worth. Unfortunately I can see straight through her facade. I can see what this job does to her.

I try not to think about it. We have it pretty good here, really. Lamenting our lot in life will achieve nothing but sore heads and frown lines.

I shift the stack of glasses I just cleaned back under the bar. Shelby has determined that cleanliness is the most important aspect of our service tonight. The best for the boys.

I run the palms of my hands over a towel to rub away any excess moisture as I turn to find the next man looking for a drink.

My hands pause along with my breath and heartbeat as I find myself locked in the gaze of the fairest blue eyes I have ever seen. My fingers tingle and my lungs are starting to protest but I can't—won't break the moment just yet.

The face around those blue eyes shift slightly and there is humor shining through. I shift my eye line to the floor and find my breath again. When I lift my gaze back up I'm careful not to get too distracted by the man's eyes. I glance around his face instead. The man—or boy, since he could only be seventeen, maybe slightly older—smiles brightly at me. His face is dirty and I can see a few bedraggled strands of blonde hair poking out from underneath his cap.

"What can I get you?" I ask, desperately trying to keep my voice even. My heart is tapping out an unusual rhythm and I can almost feel it putting a wobble in my voice. I clear my throat hoping to make myself clearer since the boy has yet to answer me, "Can I get you a whiskey?"

The boy smiles even more brightly and I feel my breathing stutter again, "Well I would love one thank you. Although if you have any sarsaparilla I would be grateful," his voice is low and conspiratorial and I can't help but feel a smile tug at my lips.

I try to control my grin as I raise one eyebrow at the boy, "Do you really want a sarsaparilla over honest whiskey?"

He blushes and looks down, nudging at the brim of his cap, "Well, I guess I just wanted something a little sweeter?" he's almost asking for my approval.

"Sweeter?" I ask incredulously, "What are you twelve years old? How did you even get into service?"

"I'm twenty one!" the boy almost shouts and his voice seems to crack at the end, as if to deny exactly what he's trying to declare.

Both my eyebrows climb towards my hairline but I'm careful not to laugh. No man(or boy) will pay for a night with a woman who laughs at him.

The boy huffs and clears his throat, his next words coming from much deeper in his chest, "I'm twenty one and a perfectly capable soldier. I just don't like how whiskey burns is all," he grouses, indignant. "And so what if I like sweets. Doesn't everyone?"

I Just blink at him. I guess most people do like sweets.

I look left and right before pouring out two glasses of whiskey, "No Sarsaparilla I'm afraid Sweets," he looks thoroughly dejected so I continue, "But if you're willing to pay for two drinks then I'm willing to suffer the burn with you."

He looks at me skeptically so I nudge one glass towards him and pick up the other, "What do you say Sweets? Have a drink with me?"

He looks at the whiskey in front of him and then at the one in my hand, "You'll really drink with me?"

He looks so unsure so I give him what I hope is a charming smile. His eyes flick from my eyes to my lips, to the glass in my hand. He finally picks up his glass.

"To girls with pretty smiles?" he suggests.

I try not to roll my eyes, lifting my glass instead, "To one day drinking real Sarsaparilla," I say clinking my drink to the side of his and tipping my glass to swallow the whiskey in one.

The burn is a familiar one and I don't even flinch, watching the boy lift his glass more cautiously. He seems to hold his breath, closing his eyes as he tips the glass back.

A loud choking noise escapes him and he flutters his hands around his face as though hoping to fan away the taste of the whiskey. I can't hold it in any longer. I laugh, completely bemused by this strange boy.

I try to smother the laugh but it's already out and the boy looks at me with tears in his eyes that only make me laugh harder. He joins in after a beat and we just keep laughing, hardly able to stop.

I regain control long enough to hold the bottle up to offer another drink. The boy nods, even as he wipes the tears of laughter from his cheeks.

He smiles at me with his chin resting on his hand, elbow on the bar, "You really have the sweetest smile and there's a dip in your cheek when you laugh, did you know? What's your name?"

"Santana," I answer shortly as I pour another round.

The boy nods, "I'm Brent," he mentions casually, picking up the glass I've placed back in front of him.

The whiskey has gone straight to my head, making me feel bold so I scrunch my nose up in a grimace, "I think I'll stick with calling you Sweets then."

He smiles at that, raising his glass again, "To Sarsaparilla, and to getting to know you better Miss Santana."

I throw back my drink, laughing at Brent as he hesitates and then swallows his own with a grimace.

He slams his glass back down on the bar. The alcohol has clearly already gone to his head, "Another!" he states with a grin.

I happily oblige, wanting nothing more than to watch that smile and those blue eyes all night.

— s — — b —

Brittany can feel the alcohol, already. She knows she should stop, that it's dangerous to let her guard down like this. Her Lieutenant isn't here but there are plenty of men around who would report any indiscretions directly to him. There's just something about Santana though, that keeps her at the bar. Brittany wants to know her and if she has to down a whole bottle of whiskey so be it.