~ Blue Fire ~
by C. E. Gray

Disclaimer: The characters in here probably remind you of some very talented ladies, but other than that, they're mine. Plot, names, on and on. Let me know if you want to borrow anything.

Naughty Language Disclaimer: Nope, not too bad in here. Maybe a word or two.

Other Language Disclaimer: One of the main characters in here speaks Apache, and while it has taken me a long time to find the materials I needed to get this as accurate as possible, there is a very real chance that I messed up somewhere. This is my first attempt at doing a historical piece of Uber fan fiction, so if you notice anything, please let me know. If I have offended anyone with a mistake, I apologize now.

I used the "Western Apache-English Dictionary" edited by Dorothy Bray to find the Apache words. Also, the poem mentioned in here is "Tomorrow" by Peter Blue Cloud. Not mine, unfortunately.

Sex Disclaimer: Well, this is an alternative story, so the two main characters do happen to love each other? and they're both women. (gasp!) If that isn't your cup of tea, you may not wish to read this, or you can give it a try - won't hurt, I promise. Nothing is real graphic in here, anyhow.

Violence Disclaimer: Yeah, there's quite a bit of that in here. Mention of rape and its aftermath, as well as some physical abuse in general. If that kind of stuff bothers you, just close your eyes over those parts.

Author's Note: A big thank you to my friends Charlene, Tina, AJ, and Amanda for being there for me, and to everyone else that I can't begin to name for supporting this little bard. The feedback I get from you readers means more than you can imagine. And, of course, more thanks and love than I can say in words goes out to my beta and best friend, Amber. Always.

If we were to take the time to look into the secret history of our enemies, we would find there a longing and a sorrow enough to disarm all hostility.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

And now, the story:


Part 1






The Dwarf and the Giant

The dwarf sees farther than the giant, when he has the

giant's shoulder to mount on.

- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend



Alicia Winters sighed as she wiped the beads of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, smearing dirt across her forehead and into her short blonde hair. "Come on, Mystic," she said, softly, her green eyes pleading. "You can do this, girl." The mare snorted, as if to agree, and Alicia watched her muscles contract once more, as the horse attempted to birth the young foal.

Suddenly, the chestnut mare let out a loud grunt of pain, and tossed her head. "Whoa, girl," said Alicia, trying to calm the horse. "Okay, sweetheart. You're gonna make me do this the hard way, ain't you?" Glad she wore her sleeveless shirt, Alicia reached into the birth canal, much to Mystic's discomfort, and moved the colt around, so the foal was now turned in the right direction.

"There you go, Mystic," coached Alicia. "Now give it another try, girl. You can do it, I know you can." A few minutes later, a small colt came out into the world, landing softly in the hay. "Hey, it's a girl!" exclaimed Alicia, smiling as Mystic cleaned her newborn.

Once Alicia was sure mother and daughter were all right, she patted Mystic proudly on the neck, and walked tiredly into the house. The young blonde's head hit the pillow just as the sun rose over Tombstone, in the western territory of Arizona.

Meanwhile, just a few miles from Alicia Winters' farm, Escape Ranch, the Indian urged her mount on. Her horse was just as tired as she was, but the woman knew they had to keep going. Praying to her Spirit Guide, the wolf, the tall Indian did all she could to outrun her captors.

"Dinyaa, Moonbeam," she said, begging her palomino stallion to go. They had to get away from the dozen white bounty hunters that would much rather have the woman dead than alive. And, now, the tall Indian warrior had no doubt she would have a bounty on her head not just for being a native, but for murder, no matter why it was committed.

Suddenly, a shot rang out, and the woman was thrown from the stallion's back as her horse stumbled. "Moonbeam!" she cried, when the wound in her steed's flank made it apparent that the horse would soon be gone. Taking a few precious moments to bless the animal's spirit, and thank him for his loyalty, the Indian ran off into the night.

The woman ran as fast as she could with a bullet wound in her thigh and an arrow in her shoulder, and more cuts and bruises in the rest of her body than she could count. If fleeing from the white man's tent had been hard, than hiding from their posse was damn near impossible.

It wasn't long before the woman's pain overtook her, and she stumbled, rolling down a hill into a ravine. Finding it difficult to get to her feet, the Indian laid there in the ditch, offering herself up to whatever the Great Spirit had in store for her. Closing her eyes, the tall dark-skinned woman slept as the sun came over the hill, and a dozen mounted men rode past, searching for their lost Indian.

* * * * *

Alicia yawned as she awoke to a new day, and debated hiding under the covers until breakfast. But, at the remembrance of the new addition that laid in her stable, the blonde shot out of bed, and quickly got dressed. Pulling on a pair of pants, which her father always complained of her wearing, claiming "it wasn't proper for a young lady to go traipsing about the land in a pair of men's pants and chaps", Alicia slipped on her boots, and buttoned up her shirt.

I'm sorry, father, she thought, sending a silent prayer to the loving man, who she was sure was watching over her from the heavens, but ranch work cannot be done in a dress!

"I guess it's time for breakfast," she sighed, as her stomach grumbled. Grabbing a knife, stick of butter, and a loaf of cornbread, the woman headed out to the barn. She decided to have her meal with her animals, where she could keep an eye on Mystic's filly, as well as her other twelve horses.

"Hey, there, sweetheart," greeted the rancher, and the mare snorted at her. "How are you feeling, hm? And how's the little one?" Alicia checked on both horses, and gently felt the young colt all over, examining the youngster for any problems, as well as accustoming it to her touch.

"Look what I got," she said, pulling a cube of sugar from her pocket, and giving it to the mare. "Good girl. Well, ya'll are probably just as hungry as I am, aren't you?" Her soft southern drawl kicked in, and the woman gave each horse a bit of hay, as well as some oats.

Well, each horse except one.

The Palomino mare bounded about in the outside corral, not used to being caged in by wooden planks. Alicia gave the mare some food, but doubted the animal would take it. The rancher had tried her best for the past three days to get close to the horse, but the wild mustang wouldn't allow her to get within ten feet of her, before she skirted away.

Rubbing her sore arm, Alicia was reminded that getting too close to the animal was dangerous. The woman had a purple bruise the size of a silver dollar, where the mare had nipped hard at her skin, two days prior.

When everyone on the ranch that wanted food had been fed, Alicia mounted one of her geldings, since Mystic would be unable to ride for at least a week, and decided to do a quick perimeter check of her land. It had been rumored that outlawed cowboys and angry Indians were roaming the surrounding area, so Alicia took her Winchester rifle along, just in case.

Thunder, the black gelding beneath her, suddenly decided he wanted to wander down into the ravine. Thinking that perhaps the horse was thirsty, and wished to drink some of the cool water from the creek below, Alicia let him have his head.

The blonde gasped when she saw the unmistakable form of a person lying on their side in the ravine. When Thunder was just a few feet away, Alicia pulled him to a stop, and dismounted in a hurry. Going to the person's side, Alicia quickly discovered two things: one, it was a woman, and two, she was badly injured, but alive.

With the strength that comes from years of ranch work, Alicia lifted the fallen woman onto the back of her horse, mounted, and urged Thunder home as fast as he could go, without harming the injured woman even more.

"Okay, Thunder," said Alicia, "let's get her into the house, hm?" Practically dragging the woman by her arms, the young woman managed to get the tall, bloody form into the house and put her on the sofa.

First of all, I'd better get that arrow out of her shoulder, the rancher mused. Oh, thank heaven it went all the way through. Breaking the head of the arrow, Alicia grabbed on to the shaft, and pulled as hard as she could, quickly cleaning the wound. The arrow had passed just under the woman's collarbone, and exited just above her first rib in the back. Alicia couldn't tell enough to be sure, but she hoped there was no permanent nerve or muscle damage from the arrow, as the small blonde bandaged the wound.

Upon closer inspection, Alicia knew she would need a lot of clean cloths to wipe the blood from the woman. Gathering a handful of clean rags, and soaking a few of them in cool water, Alicia returned to the sofa. Cleaning the red substance from the dark-haired woman's face, neck, hands, and especially her leg, Alicia frowned when fresh blood poured forth from her thigh wound. The rancher's green eyes widened when she realized the tall woman suffered from a bullet wound.

Sighing, and thanking God that the woman was passed out, Alicia plunged her fingers into the wound, and felt around until she withdrew the small caliber bullet. Even more blood came out of the hole, and the blonde was quick to tie a bandage around it, in an effort to quell the flood.

The next step, Alicia knew, was to get the woman some new clothes to wear, since the garments she currently had on - torn up leather pants and an old ratty cotton shirt with a leather vest, were covered in blood, and completely ruined. Noticing a knife at the woman's hip, Alicia carefully withdrew it, recognizing the craftsmanship immediately as Apache Indian.

She's Indian, thought Alicia. That means she probably won't wear the clothes I've got. Not that anything I've got will fit her? but some of Bill's clothes might! Deciding that her deceased brother wouldn't mind his clothes going to help a wounded woman, Alicia figured she would strip the woman, dress her wounds, and then lay the clothes out for her to wear, if she wished.

Using the knife to cut away the tattered clothes, Alicia stood and folded the old clothes, placing them in a pile just outside the kitchen, figuring she'd wash them later. When she returned, she was struck by the beauty of the body before her. The woman's muscles were evident in her arms, abdomen, and legs. Even injured and unconscious, the woman's tall and sleek form demanded authority.

Alicia, out of pure respect, directed her attention solely to the woman's wounds, and did not allow her eyes to wander, as difficult of a chore as that was.

When the cleaning was done, Alicia sewed up the cuts that needed a needle and thread, and then put a bandage around each scrape.

By the time all of the woman's wounds were taken care of, Alicia realized it was past two in the afternoon already. The tall, nameless, and still unconscious woman that lay before her had occupied her entire day.

But the rancher didn't mind. She could only hope no one would come looking for an Indian anytime soon.

Everyone was out to get the natives, for one reason or another, although Alicia had yet to figure out why the people had to be bothered at all. As far as she was concerned, there was no reason to put a bounty on all Indians' heads, just because they were different.

If anyone asked her if she had seen any Indians, she knew what she'd say: no. There was no way she would turn the injured woman over to the authorities, nor would she allow them to take her if they found her. The feisty blonde decided then and there, as she covered the hurt woman with a light blanket for privacy from her nude body, that she would do everything in her power to help her.

Several hours later, at dusk, as Alicia came in from feeding the horses, she was surprised to see that her guest was moving. The woman still seemed to be unconscious, but she was thrashing about in her sleep, mumbling angrily.

Unsure if it was wise to approach the stranger during a nightmare, Alicia finally said, "Oh, forget it!" and went to the woman's side.

"Hey," she soothed, brushing the dark hair back from the bronzed face, gently. "It's okay. You're safe here." Repeating the phrase several times, Alicia smiled when the woman quieted down, and seemed to sleep a little easier.

Alicia threw a blanket on the ground, covered up with a sheet, and slept on the floor next to the couch, determined not to leave her guest alone if she was prone to nightmares. Closing her eyes, the blonde fell asleep quickly, listening to the even breaths of the woman above her.


Alicia woke up at dawn the next morning, and found that her back was not happy with sleeping on the floor rather than the comfortable bed, as she stretched in an attempt to lessen the discomfort. Her green eyes caught sight of the slumbering Indian that slept soundly on her couch, and Alicia noticed the beautiful turquoise and ivory beaded necklace that fit snugly around her neck. She had been too occupied with the woman's injuries to pay much attention to anything else.

There was a feather earring in her left ear, and a wound on the right ear suggested a previous adornment had been crudely torn out. Save a small, disc-like tattoo on the back of her right hand, the woman had no other markings. Alicia knew she was Apache, and also knew the arrow she had removed from the tall woman's shoulder was of the same tribe.

Taking the sharp knife and its sheath, which she had removed the night before, for fear of the Indian harming herself during her nightmare, Alicia rested it on the back of the couch. Sure that the woman would sleep a while longer, Alicia got up to prepare breakfast, after feeding her horses.

As she finished pouring the warm porridge - which was almost all she had left in the way of food, she needed to head into town but wouldn't leave her Indian guest alone - into a small bowl, a loud crash sent her running into the living room.

What she saw brought her heart to her throat.

Looking purely savage, the tall woman stood in the center of the room, beside the fallen sofa - which would account for the noise that grabbed Alicia's attention. Her feet were bare, as she steadied her stance, her legs strong. The Indian was not nude, but instead wore her torn and blood encrusted leather garbs. Her knife was held tightly in her right hand, her blue eyes were hot and angry, and her ebony hair fell across her shoulders, the beaded choker around her neck seeming to enhance her presence.

"Shii natseed nih!" she cried, her voice crazed. "Shii natseed nih!"

"I won't hurt you," said Alicia, softly, hoping that if the woman couldn't understand her words, she'd at least sense the kindness in her tone. "You're safe here. It's okay." Her hands spread wide, Alicia continued to talk soothingly to the hostile - and very tall, Alicia noticed - Indian, who just glared at her, before deciding the white woman was close enough, and slashing at her with the knife.

The blonde took a step back, startled, but unhurt. "I bet you're hungry," she said, and held up a finger. "Wait here." Hurrying into the next room, she retrieved the bowl of porridge, and offered it to the woman.

"Take it," she insisted.

Hefting the weight in her left hand, the tall Indian warily brought it to her nose, before flinging it against the wall with a snarl. The dish shattered, and the meal slid down the wall, as Alicia flinched, and noticed with concern that the woman's exertion had caused her leg wound to reopen, and it was now bleeding freely.

"You're hurt," she said, kneeling next to the woman, peering under the bandage.

"Da'aizhi," said the Indian, frowning at her, her blue gaze intensifying.

Alicia jumped, startled by the deep voice the tall woman possessed when she wasn't yelling, and then went back to the task at hand.

"Da'aizhi!" shouted the woman, loudly, when Alicia's gentle fingers found a sore spot. Grabbing the woman by the throat, she tossed her backwards with her left hand, the strain enough to drop her to the ground as pain spread throughout her body.

The knife was released as she clutched her shoulder, and the small blonde was at her side immediately, returning the couch to its original position and helping the woman to lie down.

"Let me take a look," Alicia requested, gently trying to remove the woman's hand so she could examine the wound.

The Indian attempted to growl at her, but the intimidation didn't work and the woman was in too much pain to put up much of a fight, so Alicia gently pried the strong tattooed hand away from the woman's injured shoulder. Going into the kitchen, she returned with a clean wet cloth she'd dipped in a pot of hot water, and began to cleanse the injury.

"Hela' ndagodinoh'aah niganihi bika'yu shii," she spat, grabbing the rag and throwing it to the ground.

"I need to wash your wound," persisted Alicia. "Otherwise it'll get infected."

"Hela' ndagodinoh'aah niganihi bika'yu shii! Shii natseed nih!"

The blonde sighed. "Fine!" she said, exasperated, as she got to her feet. "Fine. I won't help you. But don't blame me when it hurts even worse later." The aggravated young woman left the Indian on her own, assuming she'd rest, which she did, while Alicia finished her breakfast and cleaned the remains of the porridge that coated the living room wall.

Alicia spent the rest of the day with Mystic's foal, getting the young filly used to her presence. She didn't even stop to eat lunch, not entering the house again until it was dark, and her stomach was grumbling so loudly she wondered if it would scare the horses or wake her guest.

I wonder how she's doing, she thought, deciding to take a closer look when she realized the tall woman was asleep. Noticing a slight flush to the dark cheeks, she placed the back of her hand against the Indian's forehead, and was alarmed to feel an intense amount of heat radiating from her body, and yet the tall Indian was shivering uncontrollably.

The woman had a fever. A high fever.

"I told her she'd be in trouble," the blonde muttered, as she removed the blanket and quickly undressed the woman. Replacing the thin sheet only for her own morals and the hot-headed woman's privacy, she grabbed a dry rag, dipped it in a bowl of cool water, and began rinsing the Indian's face and neck, planning on moving her ministrations to the injuries soon after.

She did not, however, plan on her patient waking up. A weak hand gripped her wrist, stilling her hand, and Alicia looked into clouded blue eyes.

"You're sick," the blonde said, gently removing the woman's grip. "You've got a fever; it's all right, I won't hurt you. The cool water should help bring down the fever, and then I'll work on your injuries," she explained, as if the Indian could understand her.

Surprisingly, deciding she was too weak to argue or threaten, the tall woman nodded, and seemed to relax. Alicia continued her work in silence, before softly humming a tune she remembered from her childhood, and moving on to the infected wounds as she'd promised.

The Indian's sleep was restless and fitful, the fever giving her nightmares, and Alicia was frustrated that nothing she did seemed to help - cool water, small sips of tea she was able to get the woman to swallow - nothing. And she was almost too tired to keep her eyes open.

The rancher had just finished her dinner of bread and cheese when a loud cry caused her to bolt to the next room, where the tall native was tossing and turning, cold sweat matting her long black hair, her eyes closed, indicating her nightmare.

Ignoring the danger signals, red lights, and yellow flags her mind was sending her, Alicia approached the woman, who was muttering similar phrases as she had earlier, and kneeled beside her.

"Hey," she said, softly, watching as her own hand reached out to touch the still flushed cheek, "it's okay. You're safe."

Blue eyes sprang to life, and the woman looked to Alicia, her dark eyes frightened. She was weak, sick, injured, and naked - she was completely at the mercy of this white woman in front of her.

Great Spirit, she thought, closing her eyes when she saw the woman's hand come towards her to strangle her, grant me a quick death... is she humming? She's touching my hair? What is she doing? I thought I was the one who scalped!

Chancing a quick glance, the Indian opened her eyes, and an eyebrow arched its way upward. The young blonde was absentmindedly stroking the raven tresses as she tried to stay awake, talking quietly to the Indian, whom she thought was still asleep.

"Da'aizhi," she ordered, as best she could, her voice hoarse. She felt disgusted with herself for enjoying the calming presence of the young blonde. After all, she wasn't supposed to like the kindness of a white... was she? Because they all hated Indians... didn't they?

Alicia pulled her hand back, clearly startled. "Oh, I'm sorry," she voiced. "Well, if you're awake, I guess it's time to get more tea inside you." Adding hot water to the nearly full mug, the rancher hoped it was warm, and gave it to the Indian, who took it in both hands and simply stared at Alicia like she was nuts.

"Please drink it," she said. She was tired, sore, and hungry, but the determined woman would not sleep until she knew her guest was all right. "It'll help you sleep, and take down the fever." Sighing when the tall woman didn't move, Alicia took a swallow herself, and handed it back, saying, "Now, drink the rest. It's not poisoned, I assure you."

With a wary glance to the blonde, the Indian tried a small sip, and then downed the rest of the mug in three swallows. Smiling a little, Alicia took the empty cup, and placed it in the kitchen, only to return to find a deeply sleeping, dark-skinned, ill, Indian warrior woman. That's what the tall woman had reminded her of when she was armed with her knife - a strong warrior of the Ancient world; Alicia was more afraid of that side of the Indian than the cowboy outlaws that terrorized the present.

* * * * *

It was dawn when the blonde rancher began to doze off, and realized she had to get up and begin another day. With a heavy sigh, the woman got to her feet from her former position of kneeling next to the couch, a spot she had taken up when the Indian had suffered yet another nightmare during the course of the night, and entered the kitchen. Cutting a few potatoes and carrots, along with a small chunk of meat she had left, Alicia placed the ingredients in her large black kettle over the fireplace, planning on cooking a stew later on in the day for dinner that night. That would practically leave the woman with nothing, so she'd have to go to the General Store soon.

As she prepared the food, Alicia remembered the time, not too long ago, when she never had to worry about how much food or money she had - there was always enough.

The horse ranch before her brother's death had been very prosperous, but since his sudden demise and Alicia's determination to keep the ranch alive, the young colts had been sold quickly and cheaply. The money was enough to keep up with the general necessities, but it was now running low. A few more mares were ready to foal, and a few months or even a year down the road, that would bring in a little more money.

But the young blonde had to make it 'til then. She had to save her money, keep her ranch from the numerous men who thought they'd be better suited to run it than a woman, but, first, there was a tall woman in her living room who needed her attentions.

"Ndoitcho, sah," Alicia heard the woman's voice drift into the room, sounding surprisingly submissive. The blonde rancher peeked into the room, and found the Indian tangled in the sheet.

"What possibly have happened for you to have nightmares every time you close your eyes?" Alicia whispered, holding back a yawn as she tried to calm the woman.

"Hela' yidits'ag, Ndoitcho," she muttered, and the young blonde was startled to see a tear escape from the corner of the Indian's eye. Whatever she was dreaming about must have been bad.

When Alicia touched her arm, the Indian opened her eyes with a start, and looked downright terrified. So, Alicia comforted her as she would a small child who was scared of the dark - gently stroking her hair, she talked quietly in the Indian's ear, and then placed a soft kiss on her forehead.

Pulling back, the rancher was able to see a softness in the blue pools, before they hardened again.

"Da'aizhi," the tall woman protested, but this time made no attempt at removing Alicia's hand, which was still combing her hair.

"You rest," she said, smiling a little. "I have some tea for you to drink, since your fever's not entirely gone. It'll help you feel better, and then I'll get to work." Munching on a piece of bread, Alicia brought the Indian her tea, and was glad to see her drink it with no hesitation. Not bothering to change clothes, the blonde slipped out the door, having several projects to finish by nightfall.

It was nearly an hour past the setting of the sun before Alicia saw the inside of her house again. She'd repaired the fence, which a few wild mustangs had torn down, groomed all of her horses, and even brought a few bales of hay down from the loft.

After that, she took a run with Thunder, both of them taking a small break at the creek, but not until Alicia was sure the barn roof was secure for the rainy season that was soon to come. Finally, retiring a tired stallion to his stall, and feeding the equines their dinner, Alicia wearily went into her own home, in order to make her own dinner.

Starting the fire and adding the water, the young blonde kicked off her boots, and ran an exhausted hand through her hair. She felt ready to drop on the kitchen floor and fall asleep, but instead got to her feet, and walked over to the porcelain basin that was filled with water. Washing her face and hands, she dried them with a soft towel, her green eyes widening when she noticed that her tall Indian guest was awake.

Alicia walked over to her, her hand outstretched to feel her forehead, and the tall woman drew back, cautiously.

The rancher sighed. "I'm only going to see if your fever has broken. Please, I won't hurt you, and I'm really too tired for a fight," she added. After getting almost no sleep for two days, she was dead on her feet, and knew she couldn't handle an argument.

When she reached her hand out again, Alicia was glad to see the Indian allowed it, and even happier to find that the fever had indeed broken, and the woman's temperature felt normal.

"Well, you feel healthier," she smiled. "I'll bring you some stew; you need to eat something." Stirring the meager meal, Alicia divided it into two bowls as soon as it was hot, and gave the Indian the bigger portion.

"You need your strength," said Alicia, handing the injured woman the bowl and spoon. She sat heavily on the rug beside the couch, rolling her eyes when she realized the Indian wasn't eating her meal.

"Eat it or don't," she stated, "but please don't throw it. I don't have enough to spare for your tantrums." Feeling the lack of sleep and abundance of stress begin to attack her, Alicia took a bite of her stew, suddenly not very hungry.

"Ashood," said the woman, softly, in her rich, low voice, that Alicia found oddly pleasant and safe.

"If that's thank you, you're welcome," grinned the blonde, as the tall native devoured the stew with fervor. Realizing she still had a few things to do, like paperwork, which was doing wonders on her emotional state, as every possible person of importance wanted money, Alicia handed her bowl to the Indian, saying, "Here, you can have it. I'm not hungry," as she walked into the adjoining room. With a shrug, and a slight frown, the woman finished both bowls.

Alicia was almost asleep, ready to dream about how may more foals she'd have to sell before everyone would be satisfied, when a cry startled her from her thoughts.

"For the love of God, woman!" she muttered, upon finding the Indian tossing and turning in another nightmare, this one worse than the others, judging by the rapid speed of the Indian's breathing. "Do you ever sleep?

"Okay," she soothed, removing the woman's knife again, and taking her hand as she tried to calm her. "You're safe, it's okay." The exhausted blonde whispered various comforts to her troubled guest, until her breathing eased, and she fell into a peaceful sleep.

"I think we could both use a good night's sleep," said Alicia, closing her eyes and quickly falling asleep, resting on her side on the floor, her unconscious mind barely acknowledging the slight squeeze her hand received, before falling to the floor.


The next morning, when Alicia awoke, she found herself looking into the most beautiful pair of blue eyes she'd ever seen. The small blonde was disconcerted for a moment, and then realized that her guest was awake, and looking down at her with an amused half-smile.

"Uh, good morning," said the blonde, and then kicked herself as she tried to figure out how to say it in Apache, before realizing she hadn't a clue.

The injured Indian noticed the woman's struggle. "I speak English," she said, helpfully, and watched as a relieved smile crossed the young woman's face.

"Well, that's good," sighed Alicia. "That'll make things a whole lot easier between us, won't it? That means you understood what I said to you the past few days... I think I understand why you were so angry before - you just didn't trust me, but I'm glad you know I won't hurt you.

"Are you hungry? Of course you are," she said, without waiting for the Indian to reply. "I'll fix us some breakfast. What would you like to eat?"

The woman cocked her head at the blonde who talked with a rush of words, and then said, evenly, "I will eat anything you have to spare, but I would like to get dressed first." She couldn't have cared less if she was nude or not, but judging by the sheet that was covering her, the Indian assumed that the blonde preferred her to be dressed. It wouldn't do to act inappropriately around a woman who had cared for her - not if she could help it, anyhow.

"Oh, of course!" exclaimed Alicia, and she felt a slight flush rise to her cheeks when she realized the Indian was naked under the blanket. "I'm sorry. There are clothes for you there on the end of the sofa, if you want to wear those," she said motioning to the outfit that was folded at the woman's feet.

The Indian nodded that she would wear the clothing, and Alicia smiled. "Good," she said. "I'll make breakfast while you get dressed, all right?" Another nod, and the blonde rushed into the kitchen.

As Alicia was fixing the warm cereal, she heard the woman come into the kitchen. Turning to face her, she lost her voice for a moment. The Indian looked absolutely gorgeous! The clothes fit her perfectly, the blue jeans snug around her hips, the white shirt not tucked in, but beautiful on her nonetheless as it lightly outlined the swell of her breasts. The woman wore no shoes, and eyed Alicia with a mixture of anger and caution.

"Where is my knife?" she demanded.

Alicia gave the woman a small smile, and retrieved the weapon for her. "I set it over here when you had a nightmare, so you wouldn't get a hold of it and hurt yourself," she explained, as the Indian snatched the knife from her hand, fastening it to her waist.

Sighing, Alicia turned back around to her food, but not before the Indian caught the hurt look on the blonde's features. She had no doubt her rudeness had caused the woman's reaction, and while she did not normally care about anyone besides her brothers and sisters, and most certainly not a white, this young woman bandaged her wounds, so the Indian figured she could at least be courteous to her.

Even if she was a white.

"I am sorry," she said, quietly. "I do not mean to anger you."

The rancher turned around, brought the meal to the table, and motioned for the woman to sit. "I'm not angry, I just thought I was doing the right thing when I took your knife. I hope you like porridge," she said, smiling, and watched as the woman wolfed it down.

"More?" she offered, and the woman nodded, taking seconds and even thirds of the warm oats, Alicia not saying a word, even though quenching the woman's hunger meant there would be very little left for herself.

"It is very good," said the Indian, and Alicia beamed.

"Thank you," she said. "Oh! I'm sorry; I haven't even introduced myself properly. My name is Alicia Winters," she said, extending her hand across the table.

The Indian grasped her hand, gently, and was amazed by the young woman's strength. "I am called Dotth'izh ko'. In English? Blue Fire."

"That's beautiful," said Alicia, quietly, thinking it matched the woman's eyes perfectly.

"Alicia is also pretty," agreed Blue Fire. The rancher knew she had never heard her name spoken so softly, and blushed a little at the compliment, and the feeling that hearing her name roll from Blue Fire's tongue caused.

Blue Fire frowned for a moment. "Where is man?" she asked, and Alicia looked confused.

"What man?" she asked, wondering if someone had been with the Indian.

"Husband," said Blue Fire, once she had the word right.

Alicia laughed a little, and shook her head. "I'm not married," she said. "Never have been. What about you?"

Blue Fire snorted at the idea. Her? Married to a man? This woman was funny. "No," she chuckled, "not joined. But, clothes??"

Suddenly, Alicia knew what the Indian was asking. "Oh! Those belonged to my brother," she explained. "He passed away two years ago, and I just haven't had the heart to get rid of them."

The Indian looked stricken for a moment, eyes wide, wondering where the white woman got the audacity to speak of the dead with such nonchalance, before remembering that the White Eyes didn't share the same feelings about the dead as the Apache did. While speaking of the dead, especially mentioning their names, was considered bad in her culture, Blue Fire knew the pale-faces didn't have such a belief.

"I am sorry," said Blue Fire, and said something rapidly in Apache, asking the Giver of Life to guard the man's ghost and forgive the blonde for calling upon him. When Alicia looked very confused, she explained, "I asked Great Spirit, Giver of Life, to watch over him."

Alicia smiled, and Blue Fire was sure the sun's glory faded in comparison. "Thank you," she said, softly. "You're very kind." The tall woman just smiled a little, and nodded. Turning in her seat, she used the edge of the table and the back of her chair to help her get to her feet. No sooner was Blue Fire standing than she let out a cry of pain, and dropped to her knees, holding her left shoulder.

The young blonde rancher was out of her chair and by the fallen woman's side in an instant. "Blue Fire!" she exclaimed. "Come on," she said, gently pulling the woman to her feet, "lie down on the sofa." Blue Fire did as she was instructed, laying face down on the couch, but glanced warily at Alicia, who kneeled by her side, and placed her small hands on the woman's chiseled back.

"What are you doing?" asked the Indian, cautiously.

"I'd bet my ranch it's that arrow wound in your shoulder that's causing trouble," said the rancher. "You just relax, and I'll see what I can do, all right?" Hesitantly, Blue Fire agreed, assuming that if the woman wanted to harm her, the poison in her food would be kicking in already. The Indian wasn't one to trust the white folk, but she didn't think the gentle blonde had it in her to harm a fly.

Blue Fire let out a small sigh of contentment when she felt small but skilled fingers in her back, massaging the pain away. Actually, she noticed the pain seemed to disappear when Alicia first started talking, and was almost completely gone with her first touch. The woman must have been a healer.

"Better?" asked Alicia, minutes later, when she was afraid she was enjoying the massage more than the Indian.

Blue Fire nodded, and then sat up, taking Alicia's hands in her own. She examined the woman's fingers, as if she was looking for something.

"What are you doing?" asked the blonde, but she did not take her hands away. The Indian looked strong and very intimidating, and Alicia had no doubt she could be both, but Blue Fire was also gentle.

"Looking for the magic," she said, frowning a little.

Alicia laughed. "What magic?" she asked, willing herself not to blush. God, Alicia, you've blushed more times this morning, around this woman, than you have in months! Get a hold of yourself! She's an Indian, for crying out loud.


It's not proper for you to have feelings... and you do have feelings for her, believe me. I know these things, her mind chastised.

Oh, screw being proper!

"There is no pain from arrow," explained the Indian, startling Alicia from her inner-quarrel. "You are magic healer."

The small blonde shook her head. "No," she said, "I don't know that much about doctoring and things like that. I just know enough to get by on the ranch."

Blue Fire fell silent again, and released the woman's fingers, thinking that the woman did not need to know how to heal the body, she knew how to heal something much more important - the soul. Shaking her head, the Indian did not let herself think of the white woman as anything more than a healer; there was no use. After all, what would the small, gentle blonde want with a savage Indian?

"Do you feel all right?" asked Alicia, concerned by the woman's sudden silence.

The woman nodded. "I am just tired," she replied.

"Of course you are," said the blonde, sympathetically. "Why don't you get some rest, while I check on the horses?" Blue Fire nodded, and watched the woman head out the door, before closing her eyes.

Alicia quietly crept out the door, not wanting to disturb her guest. Going into the barn, she checked on Mystic, and the filly she still had no name for. The blonde was glad to see that both were doing fine, and seemed to be very healthy. Feeding them, as well as the others, Alicia wandered out to where the wild mustang pranced around, apparently very awake.

"Why won't you eat?" questioned Alicia, as though she expected a response. "You need food, horse." Until she had a name for the Palomino, and there was not an inkling of an idea in her brain as to what to call her, "horse" would have to do.

"Come on," she said, taking an apple in her hand, climbing into the fenced area, "just eat somethin'. I'll bet you if you take this from my hand, we'll be friends." Approaching the mare, which snorted at her, warily, Alicia held the apple out in the palm of her hand.

The horse neighed, and tried to back away, but found herself backed into the fence. Normally, it would have occurred to Alicia that a frightened, wild, cornered horse was not a force to be reckoned with, but she was too concerned with the animal's health to consider her own safety.

"You need to eat," she insisted, slowly moving closer to the animal. Finally, when the horse decided the woman was close enough, she reared onto her hind feet, squealing and striking out with her front hooves.

Alicia stumbled backwards, dropping the apple in the dirt, and tripping in her haste. The blonde fell hard to the ground, managing to scrape her right upper arm in the process. Scrambling out of the pen, the woman walked back into her house, cradling her injured arm as she opened the door.

"Darn horse," she muttered, noticing the blood that seeped through her fingers, and the stinging sensation that crept into her wounds. Even in the most extreme of times, the blonde had never found the need to curse; it just wasn't in her.

Blue Fire awoke at the noise, and sat up quickly when she saw the blood. "You're hurt," she said, and Alicia tried to shrug her off.

"I'm fine," she said, "just a little scratch." Going into the kitchen, the rancher found a clean rag and dipped it in cold water to wash her wound, but found she couldn't do it on her own. A bronzed hand took the cloth from her, and silently cleaned the injury, while Alicia flinched a little at the pain that removing the gravel from each cut caused.

"What did this?" asked Blue Fire, as she bandaged the woman's arm.

"It was my fault," said Alicia, and the Indian raised an eyebrow at her, doubtful. "I tried to get my mustang to eat, and cornered her. She was just defending herself," she insisted. "She reared, and I fell backwards."

"You have wild horse?"

Alicia nodded. "Yeah," she replied. "She just wandered onto my property, and I caught her, but she won't eat."

"She is wild. Not used to cage," said Blue Fire, and Alicia agreed, but said nothing. "I can help calm her," she offered.

The blonde smiled. "Once you're healed, I might just take you up on that," she responded, and the Indian nodded her agreement.

"I will help you, to pay you back for kindness," said Blue Fire. "I will stay until? my debt is repaid." She spoke haltingly, unsure of the words, but, seeing that Alicia understood her, felt a little more confident.

Alicia frowned for a moment, before asking, "And when will your debt be repaid, Blue Fire?"

The Indian took time to formulate her answer, deciding the blonde wanted a real response other than "never", and Alicia waited patiently.

"You have saved my life, given food, and shelter, and clothes..." the tall woman's voice faded as she shrugged. "It may be long time before repaid debt. I will stay as long as welcome," she added.

Here the blonde smiled. "You've offered me nothing but your help," she said. "You're always welcome. But, if you intend on staying, then I think we need a name for you," decided the young woman, and the Indian looked confused.

"Called Blue Fire," she stated.

Alicia nodded. "Yes, but I have a friend who comes up to check on me every once in a while, and if he asks who you are, I can't tell him your Indian name. Did you have any nicknames?"

More confusion.

"Were you called anything else?" she clarified.

Deciding that Hellfire and the common - but secretive - Lion's Fury would be inappropriate, the woman shook her head.

"Well, is there any name you like?"

"Falcon," the woman said, immediately. A strong bird she admired for its stealth and beauty.

Alicia raised a fair eyebrow. "We can't very well call you Falcon, because that also sounds Indian, but what about Robin? It's a bird," she tried.

Blue Fire's brow creased. "Small bird, pretty name."

"We could spell it differently," Alicia offered, and the woman's frown increased. "Instead of Robin with an "I", we could spell it Robyn with a "Y"." Taking a pen and paper from the table, Alicia wrote the two different examples for Blue Fire to see.

But the woman wasn't looking. Her head was bowed, her eyes were closed, and even through the raven hair, Alicia could notice a dark blush creeping up her face.

Realization dawned on the young woman. "You can't read," she said, softly.

The Indian winced, and shook her head. "No," she confirmed. "Grandfather taught to speak, but not to read. You may laugh," she added, meeting Alicia's steady green gaze.

"Why would I laugh?"

The woman looked away again, and Alicia found she missed the Indian's deep blue eyes. "Everyone does," she admitted.

"Blue Fire, I'm sorry that everyone else has made fun of you," said the gentle blonde, "but it's nothing to laugh at. You already know how to speak English very well; it's just a matter of learning to read the words on paper. I can teach you, if you'd like," she offered, softly.

"I would like that," she said, quietly. She opened her mouth as if to say something else, but then thought better of it.

"What?" prompted the blonde.

"I do not understand you," said the Indian, and Alicia looked confused, urging her to continue with a look. "You are white, I am of the nnee you call Apache. I try to hurt you, and destroy things, but you still take care of me, offer me food and your home... Hagosha?" She paused, finding the English word quickly. "Why?"

Alicia bit back a smile, and sighed.

Yeah, why? she asked herself. Why offer her so many things when you barely have enough of anything for yourself? It doesn't matter that she's an Indian! Alicia retorted. What matters is that she's kind, well, she can be, strong, gentle, and beautiful... oh, she's waiting for an answer...

"Because that's the way I am," she said. "I don't know how to explain it to you, Blue Fire, but you have to know that I'm not like most of the other white people, who don't like the Indians just because they're different. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, or what you and I might do differently. I helped you because you needed it, and I tolerated your reactions because I knew why you acted like you did.

"I don't believe in disliking anyone for their outward appearance," she said. "And I will try to protect you from those who would do so."

The Indian raised an eyebrow at her, but smiled. Her protect me? Why do I like the way that sounds...? "If you are going to help me read, I will teach Apache, if you wish," she offered, and Alicia nodded, eagerly.

"That would be great!" she exclaimed, happily. "Speaking of Apache, and all that, I think it would be best if you took off your jewelry. Anyone who sees that will know you're Apache."

Blue Fire frowned. "I do not take this off," she said, putting her hand over her choker, made of carved bone, shells, and turquoise, held together with horsehair. "It was a gift from my Grandfather, on the day I became a warrior. I will not take it off and I will not hide it - I am proud of it," she concluded.

"You can wear it every once in a while, when no one else is around," bargained Alicia. "But you will be found if everyone sees it. Please, listen to me. You can be Blue Fire when you're with me, and we can speak Apache once I learn it, and you can wear your necklace. But around others, you'll have to be Robyn, an American woman who helps me out on the ranch, or is staying with me for a while," she insisted.

"We need to come up with a story for you, too," mused the blonde. "I suppose you could be a hired worker... maybe if I employed you, no one would ask any questions..."

The tall woman tilted her head at the young woman. "You are going through much trouble for me," she said. "Ashood. Thank you," she translated. "Maybe I could train horses?"

Alicia's face lit up. "That's a wonderful idea, Robyn!" she said, and both women inwardly flinched at the strange name. "Most everyone knows I've been having trouble with the mustang, and they'll believe that I hired help!

"Well, now that we've got that figured out, I need to get into town," she said. "Will you be okay here for a while, by yourself? I shouldn't be gone more than an hour or so."

The Indian nodded, and gathered the breakfast dishes. "What are you doing?" asked Alicia, as she set up the small wooden privacy barrier, so she could take a quick bath before she left.

"If I work for you, I work," she said, and the rancher smiled.

"Thanks," she said. "I'm going to start heating the water for a bath. Do you want to go first? Because I can wait, if?"

"No, go," said Robyn. "I will find a place to put my "Indian" things." Leaving the blonde to herself, the Indian wandered around, wondering where she could stash her earring and old clothes where they'd be safe.

Alicia sighed as she climbed into the water, knowing she'd needed the relaxation of a bath for many days. She just soaked for a while, before washing her hair and body, wrapping a towel around her as she stepped out, walking down the small hallway and into her bedroom, dripping water on the wood floor as she went.

As she walked into her bedroom, she let the towel fall to the floor, and searched through her drawers for clothes. She was drying her hair as she walked over to her vanity dresser, and glanced up in the mirror as she combed through her damp blonde hair, gasping when she saw a face besides her own in the glass.

"Oh, you scared me!" she exclaimed, whirling around to face the Indian.

"I am sorry," said the woman. "Did not mean to startle you. I only wanted to ask if you were expecting company."

Alicia frowned. "No, I don't think so," she said. "Why?"

"Because there are two horses approaching," replied the tall Indian.


The small blonde wondered not only who it was, but also how the Indian knew she had visitors, when she didn't hear a thing. As if proving the truth of Blue Fire's, or rather, Robyn's, statement, there was a knock on the door. Walking quickly to the front door, Alicia pulled it open, and a grin lit her face.

On her doorstep stood two men. Both were clothed in chaps and a crisp-looking shirt, and the one on the left who was a little taller than Robyn, wore a worn cowboy hat. He had thick black hair, a bushy mustache, and kind brown eyes, along with a medium build and broad shoulders. The man at his side, however, was clean-shaven, with blonde hair and blue eyes so light they were almost clear. The blonde man was a little shorter, only an inch or two taller than Alicia, and his lanky frame made him look comical in the large leather chaps.

"Anderson! Jake!" she exclaimed, hugging both men around their necks, and placing a kiss on either cheek. "Oh, and you come bearing food," she said, noticing the sacks of flour, bacon, and other goods at their feet. "I love you both!

"I was just going to head into town to pick up supplies, but I guess you beat me to it. How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching for her money.

The tall, dark, cowboy spoke up, as he took off his hat and stepped inside. "Nothing, Alicia," he said. "We happened to be thinking of you as we went to see Lauren in the General Store, so consider this a gift."

"Anderson," said the blonde rancher, "I can't accept this, and you know that. It's too much! Now, what do you say? Will five dollars cover it?"

Anderson and Jake exchanged glances, before nodding. "Yeah," said Anderson, smiling. "We got bacon, and flour, and oats, and a few other things. Five dollars will be fine. We'll add it to the Escape Ranch tab," he grinned. He took the bills with a nod of his head, and put them in his pocket.

"Who's your friend?" asked Jake, nodding towards the tall Indian that had come to stand behind Alicia.

Alicia knew it was Blue Fire, she had felt the woman come up behind her, and had to resist the sudden urge to lean back against her.

"Robyn, these are my friends, Anderson Smith and Jake Salone," she said, introducing them. "Guys, this is Robyn. I hired her to help me with the horses."

"Why didn't you tell me you needed help?" asked Jake, nodding curtly to the tall woman, eyeing her necklace with thinly veiled suspicion. "I would've come."

"Ma'am," said Anderson, kindly, shaking the woman's hand when it was offered, smiling a little at the beauty of her choker. "Shut up, Jake. If Alicia wanted our help, she'd have asked. I'm sure she sees enough of us as it is."

Alicia smiled at her two friends. "I just figured you all had enough to do without me," she explained. "But, I tell you what. If Robyn moves on, or doesn't work out, you'll be the next folks I talk to, okay?"

The men seemed satisfied, and after carrying in the food that was on the doorstep, they said their good-byes, and left, Anderson being the only one to say goodbye to the tall worker. Alicia followed them out, surprised when they galloped away at full speed, a happy smile working it's way onto her face when she noticed that there was a good seven dollars worth of food still sitting in front of her barn - they'd only taken in a small portion, so they'd be able to give the rest as a gift.

"You guys," she murmured, shaking her head, fondly. "They are so sweet." With Robyn's help, Alicia moved the rest of the food indoors, and put it where it belonged, the blonde now satisfied that she'd have enough food to last both her and her new guest for quite a while.

The tall Indian decided not to tell Alicia that while Anderson seemed to be nice, she didn't like Jake, the one with pale blue eyes - call it a gut feeling. But, if he was the blonde woman's friend, perhaps it would be better not to say anything negative about either of the men.

"May I see horses?" she asked, and Alicia smiled.

"Of course," she said, and led the woman out to the barn, telling her the names of each of the horses, as she pointed them out. "And there's the mustang," she said, gesturing to the golden horse in the separate pen.

Blue Fire's first thought was of Moonbeam - the mare looked so much like him, it was startling. Don't be ridiculous, she scolded herself. It is not Moonbeam. But perhaps the mare is the second-half of his soul. Blue Fire believed that the Great Spirit treasured the animals so much, that he made two animals with one soul, so that his people could enjoy the presence of two equally strong creatures, whatever they were. She believed there was a chance that this mare would be the same as Moonbeam, and would share the same soul of her beloved stallion.

"Blue Fire?" asked Alicia, placing a gentle hand on the Indian's arm, worried by the sudden look of sadness that had overcome the woman's blue eyes. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," responded the Indian, mentally shaking her head as she examined the other horses. She found them all to be healthy, sturdy, and pleasant. The small blonde took good care of her animals, and was obviously very close to them, judging by the way they all whinnied as she entered the barn.

"Nzhoo thii. Good horses," she decided, raising a dark eyebrow when the small blonde's stomach growled.

"I didn't have breakfast," she said, sheepishly, and the Indian looked surprised.

"You fed me, but not you?" the tall woman asked, and when Alicia nodded, she took her by the hand, and literally dragged her into the house. "I will fix food, you will eat."

"Yes, ma'am," chuckled Alicia, and Blue Fire suddenly sat down beside her.

"I am sorry," she said, and the blonde was confused.

What on earth just happened here? she wondered. One minute she's intent on cooking me breakfast; the next, she acts like a scolded puppy!

"What? Why are you sorry?" she asked.

"I do not mean to... to order you," said the Indian, shifting her gaze to the floor. She wasn't used to apologizing to a white, and certainly not saying the words that were tumbling from her mouth, but something inside wouldn't let her be as rude with this one as she was with most. This young woman was clearly strong on her own, and Blue Fire admired that.

"You are above me, and I have no right. I shouldn't have?"

Alicia sighed. "Blue Fire, don't apologize," she said. "You're not above me, and I'm not above you. Look, if this is going to work, you're going to have to understand that we're both equal. If I know what's in your best interest, or think I know, I'm going to speak up, and you can do the same for me. Okay?" she offered, and the Indian smiled.

"Okay," she agreed. "Can I fix food for you?" Alicia smiled, and nodded. The woman got to her feet, digging through the various sacks, taking out a few ingredients, but Alicia couldn't tell exactly what. A few minutes later, after mixing them together, the Indian handed the blonde a bowl of... something she assumed was food, but couldn't be sure.

"What is this?" she asked.

"Eat," urged Blue Fire, taking a little for herself.

Tentatively, Alicia tried a bite, only to find it very much to her liking. She finished the meal quickly, tasting faint traces of hominy somewhere along the line. She looked up into expectant blue eyes when she finished.

"That was delicious, Robyn," she said. "Ashood."

Blue Fire's eyes widened in surprise, and then she grinned. "Ha'anakah," she said. "You are welcome."

"What does "Da'aizhi" mean?"

"Stop," translated the Indian, wincing when she realized that Alicia was going to ask her to translate the other things she had said.

"And "Shii nasteed nih"?" she continued, remembering exactly what the woman had been shouting, and though her pronunciations were a little off, Blue Fire understood what she was trying to say.

"I will kill you," she replied, not needing to see the woman to know the blonde had flinched. " "Hela' ndagodinoh'aah niganihi bika'yu shii" means? "Don't touch me". I am sorry," she murmured, but the smaller woman had already gotten to her feet, and left the room.

The Indian couldn't figure out why she felt the need to follow her, but she did, and stood awkwardly in the doorway of the woman's bedroom. "Do not be angry, Alicia," she pleaded, feeling an odd pain in her chest when she realized the young woman might now ask her to leave. "I did not know I could trust you."

"And now?" came the strained voice.

"I ate your food, didn't I?" was the soft response, and Alicia turned around to face her, chuckling as she raised an amused eyebrow.

"Very funny," she said, sarcastically, as she smiled. "I'm sorry, Blue Fire. I didn't mean to worry you, I guess it just bothered me when I realized what you had really said," she admitted.

"And I am sorry I said them," said the Indian. "But it is too easy for whites to pretend to be friends, and then be enemies. I am not certain why, but I don't believe you will do that."

Alicia got to her feet, and looked the tall woman in the eye as best she could. "I won't," she said, honestly. "I promise you that."

The woman nodded, satisfied, and turned to let Alicia pass. "You are not angry, then?" she asked, hopefully.

The blonde shook her head. "No," she said, "I'm not angry. But you, on the other hand, are bleeding," she said, leading the woman to the sofa, so she could replace the bandage on her leg, where the blood was showing through.

"Can I clean the wound?" she asked, remembering what happened the last time she'd tried. Blue Fire nodded, feeling a little ashamed that the kind woman had to ask to take care of her, for fear she'd hurt her.

Alicia gently cleansed the dried blood from the wound, making sure the stitches were holding, and then wrapped it with a clean bandage.


"Ha'anakah," smiled the blonde, and Blue Fire grinned.

"Alicia, may I work with... mustang, now?" asked the tall Indian, suddenly.

The blonde thought for a minute. "Are you sure you're up to it?" Robyn nodded. "Okay, then. Just don't hurt yourself." Blue Fire nodded, and walked out the door, heading for the pen.

An hour later, as Alicia finished slicing the vegetables and meat for the stew, she walked outside to make sure Robyn was okay. Her jaw hit the ground at the sight before her. The strong Indian was riding the Palomino, a rope halter tied around the mare's face, bareback, going wherever the wind blew. It had to be the most gorgeous sight she'd ever seen - so pure, and free, and one. Suddenly, she realized she wasn't meant to keep this mustang; not for herself, anyway.

The two raced around the land, until Blue Fire spotted Alicia outside watching them, and pulled the horse to a halt next to the woman.

"She is good," smiled the Indian, as she happily patted the mare's neck.

Alicia laughed when the mustang attempted to chew on the tall woman's jet black hair, only to be discouraged by a light tap on the nose.

"Well, what are you going to name her?" questioned the blonde, a sly smile on her face.

Blue Fire paused, unsure of what she had just heard. "Me? Thii? I mean, horse is yours," she stated, carefully, catching herself before she slipped into Apache.

The small woman grinned, and shook her head. "You took the time to train her, so it's only right that you have her," she explained, crossing her arms across her chest to prove her point.

The Indian shook her head. "Is too much," she said. "You have done much already, and I have nothing to give to you."

"All I ask from you is that you stay with me, and keep helping me as you have been for as long as you feel is necessary," said Alicia, gently. "And teach me. That'll be plenty."

After a few moments of thought, Robyn grinned. "Okay. Thank you," she said. "Alicia," she called, from atop the horse, as the woman returned to the house.


The Indian was silent for a moment, and then asked, almost shyly, "May I call her Winter Escape?"

Green eyes brightened at the gesture. The woman combined her last name and the name of the ranch to form a name for the mare. "I'd like that, Robyn," she said. "Thank you." A while later, when dinner was ready, Alicia called the woman inside, and watched with a smile on her face as Robyn said goodnight to Winter Escape, made sure she was settled in the barn, before coming inside.

"I need to go tomorrow," said Blue Fire, suddenly, as they ate the warm stew.

Alicia almost dropped her spoon. "What?" she asked.

"I need to get my things, if I am going to remain here," explained the Indian. "I need my weapons, my clothes, and the skins I have for material. It is best that I go tomorrow, at a time when I can easily get in and out. I will be back by nightfall," she assured the concerned young blonde across from her.

"How far is it?"

The tall woman thought for a moment. "Not far," she said. "Maybe twenty miles."

"Twenty miles? In one day? Robyn, you can't make that in one day," the blonde protested. "It's too far."

The Indian smiled. "Alicia," she said, softly, "when I became warrior, I had to train very hard. Women are not warriors, as far as the council says, but I proved to them that I am better fit to fight than to sew. It is possible for me, or any warrior, to go seventy miles in one day, if it is necessary. The journey I have ahead of me is not much," she finished.

"Are you sure? Because you can take Winter Escape if you need," offered Alicia. "Or any other horse."

Blue Fire gave the blonde a strange look for a moment, unaccustomed to white people being so generous - and not having a hidden meaning. "Horse is too loud," she objected. "The steps will be heard, and others cannot know I am in the camp."

"Why not?" asked the blonde, confused.

"Because I am no longer a welcome part of the tribe." The look on the Indian's face was telling Alicia not to pursue the matter any farther, so Alicia just nodded, and left it at that.

I'll bet that's what's giving you nightmares, Blue Fire, she thought. You can drop the subject for now, but someday, I'll find out what happened to you.

"When do you need to leave?" sighed Alicia.

"Before lunch would be wise," decided the tall Indian, and Alicia agreed. "Thank you. Supper was good. I will sleep now, and see you in the morning." Nodding to the blonde, Blue Fire walked into the living room, and stretched out on the couch, falling fast asleep.

"Goodnight," muttered Alicia, clearing the table, and then placing a stack of papers in the center. "Time to see who wants what, now." She pored over the material, getting angry with the figures - ones that were demanded she pay but knew she could never scrape together - trying to argue with the papers, thinking if she looked again they'd be different.

But, they weren't.

There was nothing the small woman could do. Everyone wanted money, and everyone wanted too much. She had two yearlings ready to sell, and that would help a little, but if she didn't get more mares to breed - and she didn't have enough money to buy more horses for foaling, damn it all - Escape Ranch would soon be gone.

Trying to hold back the frustrated tears that rose to the surface, Alicia admitted to herself that it was just a matter of time.

* * * * *

"Do you have enough food to take with you?" asked Alicia, around lunchtime the next day, and Blue Fire rolled her eyes when she was sure the blonde woman couldn't see her.

Great Spirit, this woman is kind, but she's worse than my mother!

"I am fine, Alicia," she said, for the third time. "I will be back by dusk."

"Be careful."

The tall woman stopped on her way out the door. Be careful? A white woman was telling her to be careful? The worry in the woman's voice tugged at her heart in a way she hadn't felt in a long time.

"I will," she assured her, after a small pause, and then took off out the door. Alicia watched the woman trek through the dirt and trees, in all her barefoot glory, until she could see her no more.

"Seventy miles in one day," the rancher muttered, as she went back inside to fix herself lunch, unable to stop thinking about the tall Indian.

"Why am I so worried about her? It's not like she can't take care of herself," Alicia wondered, aloud. "She's lived on the land and survived up to this point, so there's no reason she should be in any danger out there now. She's an Indian, for crying out loud!

"Yeah, an Indian who's living with a white woman." She sighed. "That can't be easy on her, depending on me for shelter. But, at least she's here, and she's going to help out around the ranch. And she is strong... and gentle... and beautiful... oh, brother," she murmured, wondering briefly how cold the water was in the creek.

* * * * *

Blue Fire slowed her steps as she approached the Apache's camp, careful not to make a sound. Luckily, her hut was still standing.

She, and every other Apache in the camp, lived in dome-shaped huts they called a "kowa" or "wickiup". It was made of a frame of cottonwood, or other poles, and then covered with patches of bear grass, bounded with yucca strings. There was a smoke hole in the top above the fireplace, and in the wintertime or rainy weather, the kowas were covered with skins or canvas to make them warm and watertight.

With a low entrance hole, facing east, a heavy hide suspended on a crossbeam was the door, which could be swung either inward or outward. Since she lived alone, which was unusual for a woman of her age, Blue Fire's kowa was only eight feet in diameter, while most others were fifteen; all stood seven feet high in the middle.

They haven't destroyed it, yet, she thought, with relief. I can get my things and get out of here, and they won't even know I was here.

Glad that she had positioned her place on the outer rim of the camp, the tall woman crept silently around the side, keeping careful watch on the elderly women who sat around, preparing meals, cleaning hides, or skinning freshly caught small game. The warriors - the able bodied young men of the tribe - were all out hunting, just as she knew they would be. They probably left early in the morning, and wouldn't return until later in the evening.

Slipping around to the front, she quickly lifted the flap and hurried inside, lowering the door just as swiftly. Looking around, her face turned hard when she realized she was not alone. A young girl of about sixteen was in the tent as well, examining a piece of jewelry, as it was.

The girl wore a deerskin shirt, as well as a knee-length skirt of the same material, completed by beaded moccasins. Her black hair was down around her shoulders, just to the middle of her back, and her dark eyes looked up, surprised at the tall woman's entrance.

Blue Fire growled at her. Seeing her take a breath to scream, she clamped her hand over the child's mouth, gripping the front of her shirt with the other.

"You will not tell anyone you saw me in here," she ordered in Apache. "You will not scream, or I will slit your throat."

The girl nodded, and Blue Fire cautiously removed her hand. "Shii bitsi' Ndoitcho," she stated.

Blue eyes narrowed. "I don't care whose daughter you are," she spat. "You have done enough damage to me already, if you so much as cough, your blood will stain the ground." She pushed the girl roughly to the floor.

"That is mine," she said, pointing to the intricately designed piece of jewelry she had around her neck, which was more of a breastplate, as it hung down to her waist. Indeed, it matched the necklace that Blue Fire wore, and was meant to be a form of protection as well as decoration.

"Give it to me." Placidly, the girl placed it in her hand, and got to her feet as Blue Fire collected her things, stuffing them into a bag.

"I hear the white men enjoyed you," said the girl, in perfect English. Blue Fire glared at her, her eyes warning the child to shut up. "Not as much as I did."

Insolent brat! she raged.

In a flash, Blue Fire pulled the girl down, holding a hand over her throat as she talked angrily into her ear. "You and I both know what really happened, and we both know it is on your head that I am gone. One day, I hope everyone will find the truth. If you don't watch your mouth, all they will find is a cold body," she hissed in her native tongue.

"You were under the protection of your father when I was in the tribe, na'ilin (little girl). Now, because of you, I am not welcome in my home, and the Apache have become my enemies. You are Apache," she snarled. "Be glad I am in a good mood. You say one word about this to anyone... Shii natseed nih," she finished, sharply.

Standing, she shouldered her bag, gave the girl one last glare, and slowly opened the door. Glancing around, she waited a few moments, until the attention was focused on an injured dog on the opposite side of the camp, and then slipped out the door.

"Dotth'izh ko'!" cried the girl, as soon as Blue Fire had one foot outside. "Dotth'izh ko'!" Calling the woman's Apache name at the top of her lungs, Robyn made a vow to get the girl alone sometime, as she ran as fast as she could out of the village, angry women and a very unhappy Chief on her tail.

Fortunately for her, she disappeared into the trees, climbing up a sturdy mulberry in the forest. She sat there for a while, crouched on a branch, listening to the elderly men search for her. She only hoped they gave up before the warriors returned. Some time later, they moved on from the forest, still searching, still angry at her appearance after her banishment.

Once it was safe, Blue Fire dropped down out of the tree, and took a side route to return to Alicia's ranch. She figured the woman was worried about her, but hoped she wasn't out looking, for fear she'd run into an Apache search party.

* * * * *

By dusk, Alicia began to really worry. She began checking the horizon every few minutes, hoping to see a glimpse of the tall Indian woman she was searching for.

"Dusk," she said. "She said she'd be back by dusk. Well, Robyn, the sun just set! It's pitch black, save the moonlight, and there is no dusk anymore! Where are you?" she whispered, beginning to get really concerned.

The blonde remembered the woman telling her she wasn't welcome at the Apache camp anymore, and her heart clenched as she heard Apache cries carry through the night.

They certainly don't sound very happy, she thought. Or very far away...

"Oh, Blue Fire, I hope you're okay." Alicia jumped when she heard something at her door. Frowning, thinking perhaps Blue Fire had been hurt, she opened the door, and took a frightened step backwards.

There, coming to stand from a crouched position, fully clothed in leather pants and a shirt, along with what Alicia thought to be armor of some kind over the chest, stood an Indian. An Indian armed with a bow and arrow, no less. Reaching out a strong hand, the native boldly stepped over the threshold, and entered Alicia's house, closing the door securely behind them.

Blue Fire, where are you when I need you? the blonde thought, nervously, as the Apache warrior stepped closer.


"Alicia, are you okay?" came a worried voice.

"Blue Fire?!" exclaimed the frightened blonde, looking harder at the Indian's face. The bronzed cheeks, the proud chin, the beautiful eyes... It was her Indian!

My Indian? Where'd that come from? she thought, briefly, giving the woman a fierce hug before she had time to talk herself out of it. A fleeting thought entered her head, about how nice the smell of deerskin mixed with Blue Fire was, but she pushed it away.

The tall woman started at the sudden gesture, and slowly wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, returning the hug, uncertainly. "What is wrong?" the woman asked, still worried.

Alicia pulled back, a little embarrassed. "I just scared myself, that's all. I heard the Apache warriors nearby, and then I saw you at the door. I didn't recognize you!" she said.

Robyn raised an eyebrow at her. "So I see," she smirked. "These are more comfortable. Do you mind?"

The blonde shook her head. "No, it's okay," she said. "They definitely make you look Indian. I'm afraid you can't wear them to town," Alicia pointed out, gently, and Blue Fire nodded.

"I know," she said, sitting on the couch. "I will wear brother's clothes, if I go."

"You said you'd be back by dusk. I was getting worried," she admitted.

Blue Fire smiled a little. I knew it, she thought. "I am sorry to worry you," she said, honestly, "but Apache were looking for me, and had to hide in the trees for a little while. Did not find me," she added, grinning.

"Are you okay?"

The Indian nodded. "I am fine," she said. "They did not see me, and I made it back here safe. They will not track me here."

"It's getting late, I think we'd better get some sleep," suggested the rancher, and Blue Fire agreed, lying down on the couch. "Good night, Robyn."

"Good night," replied the Indian, her eyes already closed. Carefully listening for any sounds that might mean the Apache were approaching, the woman fell asleep only when she was sure the small woman a few rooms away would be safe for the night.

* * * * *

The next morning, Alicia woke to find that she was the only one in the house - Blue Fire was gone! Worried, the blonde noticed that the Indian's things were also gone, their place at the end of the sofa bare, and she rushed out the door, calling the woman's name as loud as she could.

In an instant, Robyn sped into view, running full speed from the forest. Alicia started for a moment, not used to seeing the woman in her native deerskin garb, but found it only served to enhance her appearance.

"Alicia!" she cried, concerned, ready for anything. Had an Apache made their way into the house? Was she hurt? What had frightened the woman badly enough to call her name in a panic? "What is wrong?"

"You're here?" questioned the blonde, hopefully, and Robyn frowned a little.

"Yes," the Indian confirmed. "I only went into the forest to be with Winter Escape." As if on cue, the Palomino wandered out of the forest, nudging the tall woman's hand when she got close enough.

"I? I didn't see your things, and I thought you left," admitted the woman, suddenly feeling foolish. "What are you doing up so early?" she asked, quickly changing the subject. It was dawn, and judging by the sweat on the woman's brow, she'd been outside for a while.

"Could not sleep, and is good to be with horse often," she explained. "And I was also getting izee? medicine."

Alicia was immediately alert. "Are you sick?" she asked, earnestly.

Blue Fire shook her head. "No," she assured, "but new horse is not healthy. Is coughing." Green eyes widened, and Alicia raced to the barn, only to find Mystic's young foal lying down on the hay, harsh coughs wracking its small body. A concerned mother stood over her colt, nuzzling it, urgently trying to get her to stand.

"No," whispered the blonde, going to the fallen horse's side, stroking the sweat-soaked neck. "No, you can't get sick. Please get better," she pleaded, knowing the future of the Ranch was on the shoulders of every colt that was born, tears streaming down her face as she held the filly.

Blue Fire gently pulled her to her feet, and motioned for her to leave. "Go," she said, withdrawing her knife as she spoke. "I will help horse. You do not need to see."

"I want to stay!" protested the blonde, and Robyn used her height to her advantage, towering over the smaller woman.

"Your worry will do no good here!" she said, ordering the woman out once more. "Dinyaa! Go, now! Do not return until I say," the Indian added, firmly. Reluctantly, the blonde left the barn, closing the door behind her.

While the rancher mended another broken length of fence, Blue Fire never exited the barn, spending the entire day in with the sick horse. Alicia never once saw her come out to eat, or drink.

She only saw the Indian once that day, when she was washing her clothes, and the woman retrieved a bucket of water, but refused to even look at the blonde. Alicia had a feeling anything she said would be ignored, so she didn't ask any questions, but secretly wondered what was going on.

When nightfall came, and Alicia was too tired to stay awake any longer, she collapsed into bed, praying that Blue Fire would be able to heal the young colt. Two mares were pregnant, and due soon, but Alicia needed all the foals she could get. Losing even one could be devastating to the upholding of the Ranch.

Just before dawn, not long after Alicia had finally fallen asleep, she awoke to a hand on her shoulder.

"Alicia," called Blue Fire, softly. "Alicia, wake up. You must come with me." Instantly awake at the thought of a dying colt, the blonde sprang to her feet, not caring in the slightest that all she wore was her nightgown.

"Come," beckoned the Indian, leading Alicia out to the barn. "Look." Pointing to a small bundle in the hay, the blonde broke out into a happy grin when she realized she was looking at a newborn foal, a proud Belle still cleaning the colt.

"And the other one?" asked Alicia, biting her lip.

The smile remained on Robyn's face, much to Alicia's delight. "Needs rest, but will be fine," she said, a little startled when the blonde gave her a strong hug. The Indian returned the gesture awkwardly, but tightly nonetheless.

"You must be exhausted," said Alicia, taking the tall woman's arm, and tugging her out of the barn, towards the house. "You need to sleep."

Blue Fire grinned. "Day is new," she said, pointing to the rising sun. "Cannot sleep now."

"You haven't slept in over a day," the blonde pointed out, "and you need your rest so you don't get sick. Please, humor me. Just rest for a while, and we'll go into town later today to pick up more feed for the horses."

The Indian sighed. She didn't want to go into the white man's town, because it meant she had to be Robyn, not Blue Fire, and couldn't wear her own clothes, or speak her own language. But, the small blonde seemed to be looking forward to it, so the tall woman nodded.

"Very well," she conceded, sitting down on the couch. "I will rest, and then retrieve my things from the forest. After that, I will change, and we can go to town." Alicia agreed, and prepared breakfast after she changed clothes, not surprised at all when the Indian was asleep before it was ready to eat.

She really is kind, thought the blonde. How can anyone want to kill her people? Well, let anyone in town just try to lay a finger on her! she thought, hotly. I'll give them a piece of my mind, up one side and down the other!

Waking the Indian a while later to eat breakfast, the two ate in silence, Alicia thinking of how good it was, now that she had two healthy colts, and Blue Fire secretly dreading the upcoming trip to town.

"Well, I'll make sure the wagon's ready while you get your things and change, if you want," offered Alicia, and Blue Fire agreed, heading out into the forest at a slow jog. A few minutes later, clothed in jeans and a shirt, looking very much like a rugged outlaw, the tall woman climbed into the wagon beside the blonde.

Alicia bit her lip as she looked at the woman, and a frown creased her forehead.

"What?" asked Robyn, aware of the scrutiny.

The blonde sighed. "Robyn, you're barefoot," she pointed out. "You have to wear shoes around town, or people will suspect something. And you can't wear your moccasins."

She thought for a moment. "I don't think I have anything that would fit you? we'll just have to get you some boots in town," she decided, finally.

Blue Fire eyed her for a time. She didn't like the idea of the woman spending money on her, since she assumed by the blonde's reaction to the sick horse that she needed the income.

"Will your man trade?" she asked, and Alicia nodded. "I will trade for shoes, you will not buy."

"I don't mind, Blue Fire," insisted the kind blonde. "You don't have to trade anything you have, just for shoes. Please, let me do this for you - consider it your payment for helping me with the horses, since I don't give you a weekly rate."

The Indian didn't like it, but reluctantly agreed, deciding that when the deep verdant eyes locked with her own, there was nothing she wouldn't do for this woman.

What? What am I thinking? she asked herself. This is a white woman! How is it that I feel like helping her, just by the look in her eyes?

"Very well," she sighed, keeping in mind that she still had some furs along to trade with if she found anything else she needed.

With that settled, Alicia clicked her tongue, and gently snapped the reins, and Thunder started down the road, towing the two occupants and small wagon behind him, a slow trail of dust following after them.

Arriving at the edge of the small town, Blue Fire was aware of the numerous small stores that lined either side of the street. Her sensitive hearing picked up on the sounds of a fight from one of the few saloons, many hoof beats as dozens of people moved through the path, and even more voices chatting idly with one another.

Although she was unable to read the names of any of the buildings, she could tell there was a bank, a hotel, numerous saloons, barber shops - places where white people paid to, of all things, have their hair cut - and even a general store.

Which was where Alicia decided to stop. Pulling Thunder to a halt, she tied the reins to a weathered hitching post just outside the store, and then walked inside, Blue Fire not far behind.

"Alicia!" greeted the man behind the counter, as he waved goodbye to a previous customer, and the blonde smiled at him. Lauren Mills was a kind old man, with wrinkles lining his smiling face, gray hairs beginning to pepper his otherwise black crop of hair, dark green eyes dancing as his favorite rancher walked in the door.

"Hello, Lauren," she said, giving the man a quick hug over the counter.

"How are you doing?"

"Fine," she replied. "Mystic just birthed a filly, and so did Sugar. Belle's due anytime now. Oh, this is Robyn, she's helping me around the Ranch, training the mustang, and so on. Robyn, this is Lauren - he owns this store," she introduced, and the Indian shook the man's hand.

"Nice to meet you, Robyn," he said. "Any friend of Alicia's is a friend of mine." The woman just smiled a little, and nodded, before glancing down at Alicia, as if to ask what she was supposed to do.

"Lauren, I need some feed for the horses," said the blonde, and the man nodded, pointing to the back of the store.

"Help yourself," he said. "If you need any help, just holler. I've got Brian helping me out today. He's in the back, doing inventory and checking the new shipments, but I can bring him out if you need anything," he offered.

"Finally got his Ma to let him have a job, hm?" asked Alicia, and Lauren chuckled.

"Yep," he agreed. "Youngster's got a good back, and strong legs. He does most of the heavy stuff, so if you need something carried out, just let me know."

Alicia smiled, and made her way to the back of the store, Robyn close behind. They walked past the shelves of various candies, canned and bagged foods, and small toys for the kids. Dinnerware was next, followed by a sparse amount of books, paper, and writing charcoal. Quills and ink were nearby, as well as lanterns, matches, and the like.

Finally, all the way in the back, was a barrel of oats, empty bags to fill, full bags to take, and fruits and vegetables. Most ran along the lines of carrots and apples, the fresher variety being out front, available to the passersby for inspection and purchase.

"Alicia!" came a voice, and a young man approached the two. He had shaggy blonde hair, and deep brown eyes. He was a little taller than Alicia, with a stocky build, and Blue Fire had no doubt he indeed did the leg work for the owner of the store, if this was Brian.

"Daniel, is that you?" exclaimed the woman, enveloping the young boy in a quick hug. "My, you've grown so much since the last time I saw you! How's your mother?"

"Good," smiled the boy. "She's busy with my baby sister, though - she just turned two, so she's a real handful." Blue Fire noted the fluctuation of his voice, and realized he was just entering puberty - a mother with a two-year-old and a teenager. She'd pray for her.

Alicia smiled. "I remember you when you were that age," she said, and he blushed. "You were quite the troublemaker, too. How old are you, now?"

"Thirteen," he said, proudly. "I just came to get some cloth for my mother, and to check up on Brian, when I noticed you were here, so I figured I'd see if you needed anything," he said, politely. "Either of you," he said, turning towards Robyn, subtly asking to be introduced to the tall woman.

"Danny, this is my friend, Robyn, she's helping me with the Ranch. Robyn, this is Danny, Brian's younger brother," she introduced, and the Indian shook the boy's hand, frowning when he gripped her wrist tightly, and turned her hand so he could get a better look at her tattoo.

Eyeing her carefully, he released her hand, and spat at her, missing her face by inches. "Apache trash," he hissed, balling his hands into fists, preparing to fight her. "You killed my father, and stole our horses."

The Indian didn't move, not even when the lad took the first swing, and connected hard with her jaw. She refused to defend herself, when the accusations upon her people were true, especially when the boy was Alicia's friend.

The blow caused her to take a step back, but she quickly regained her balance, and stood tall again, her hands down by her sides. Alicia noticed the way they were slowly clenching and unclenching, a sign of her growing anger, but had to be impressed by the self-control the tall woman was demonstrating.

Alicia knew the young boy was distraught over the loss of his father, just a few months before, to an Apache hunting party, but didn't think he'd act upon it. Of course, she didn't think he'd run into them, much less realize that Robyn was an Indian.

"Daniel, stop this!" cried the blonde, stepping in between them before the fight could escalate any further.

The young boy had tears in his eyes. "She killed my Pa! He was only tending to the horses! You should be dead, not my Pa!" he shouted at the Indian, who gave no outward sign that she heard, although her heart took the blunt of the blow.

"Stay here," Alicia told Robyn, and then took hold of the young man's arm, dragging him aside. "Daniel, I know you're upset, and I know you miss your father, but Robyn didn't kill him. Listen, Danny, please - you can't tell anyone that she's Apache, because they'll hurt her."

"She deserves it!" he said, wiping at his eyes.

"No, Daniel!" insisted the blonde woman, looking deeply into the boy's eyes, trying to get him to understand. "She's not Apache, not really. I don't know why, but her people have turned her away. She said that she's no longer welcome there," admitted Alicia. "Please, Daniel, she's my friend. She's welcome at my house - please don't take that away from her."

Daniel looked away, frowning as he thought about his friend's request. "Only if you can promise me she won't come around my place. 'Cause if she does, I'll kill her," he snapped, before storming away, snatching the bought cloth from the counter as he passed, angrily.

Alicia sighed, and returned to where Blue Fire was waiting for her. "I'm sorry about that," she said, and the Indian just nodded.

"He is right," was all she said, but Alicia could see it in her blue eyes that she had been hurt by the accusations. "Still must shop?" she asked, with a sigh, and the blonde woman nodded.

"We need to get you some shoes, but then we can go." Agreeing, Blue Fire followed Alicia as she called Lauren to help them find the right fit, and the Indian sat still, allowing the man to place numerous choices before her.

She was trying on one pair, which were similar to her own moccasins, when she happened to notice Alicia eyeing a set of jade earrings with interest.

Lauren, sensing a sale, approached her with, "Lovely, aren't they?"

"Very," confirmed the blonde.

"You know, they're the only ones I have like that," the man continued. "Hand-crafted, just came in from Denver. Ten dollars."

"Oh, no, thank you," smiled the woman, swallowing hard as she replaced the jewelry on its stand. "Only looking. I'll load the feed onto the wagon, and meet you outside, okay?" she asked, and Blue Fire nodded.

"This should cover the shoes," she said, handing the man a few bills, before heading for the door. Finding the pair she wanted, Blue Fire slipped them on, and Lauren asked her if that was all.

The Indian shook her head. "One more thing," she said, motioning the shopkeeper closer, glad she'd decided to bring her pack in with her.

"Get what you wanted?" asked Alicia, as Blue Fire climbed up beside her.

"Yes," replied the tall woman, and they were on their way home, the blonde completely unaware of the small box in Robyn's bag, and the two furs now in the General Store.

Continued in Part 2.

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