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The man's silence was given to her remark. If he confirmed or denied, she might even turn him in for the bounty. "We'll be there soon. We'll start when I say we start, love."

It would be an additional half hour before the sound for the streams overpowered the idle sounds of the night. A thud ricketed against the hard ground once a spot enclosed off by a ravine had been picked for settling. They were close enough to refill canisters the horses not too far from sight.

Jim hadn't asked. it was not that he wasn't interested in who she was, but he wanted to see if she could be someone else when offered. Whistling away a broken tune he unfurled the bedroll and pitched up the few ropes and sticks of tent, a makeshift shelter for one they would both need to tend to.

"Y' can start by making sure the horses are watered, an' stick some tinder t'gether to from the saddlebags an' start a fire. I can cook my specialty. Canned beans." It was likely a majority of his diet. "Unless you feel like a lizard kebob." he set down the one tarp to keep their clothes from muddying. The stars above providing enough light for them both to set up.

The rattle of tin and pot moved. Jamie speaking up over the racket.

"In the morning, we'll work on your name, aim and path t' fame. M' second hand can't be unequal to my best. That is... if you are interested."

He whistled and she winced-- because the ghost of Earl the Barkeep and his melodic plethora of appreciative whistles reverberated between her ears. She had hated Earl, but it wasn't something she needed to tell the cowboy. It must have been something he'd seen.

His comment about the fellow she'd stolen the hat from flew over her head at first-- until she saw the smirk on her face. A slow smirk crawled over her lips, and she looked away to alleviate the low-swooping burn inside her chest. Earl may have perpetuated the exact same type of behaviour, but the gunslinger was different, somehow.

When he said his name aloud, however, the pieces fell into place-- and Helen had to fight to stay on her horse.

"'Quick-Fingers Jim'?" she said, and curled her thumbs into her palms so hard that the nails left crescent-moons in their wake, "The outlaw?"

He didn't say another word-- and he did not ask for her name.

Finally, as the night settled and the unbearable heat waned, and their horses began to slow-- did the cowboy speak again. Something about camp, something about beans; but Helen wasn't listening anymore. Instead, she filled with an awkward anxiety-- she'd never shared a room with a man before, not willingly. She'd never camped; she'd never even been outside the township.

"So, uh- Where do we start?"
Only one hand was required to control his docile horse, the mare well trained enough by whoever had owned her before. The unmarked dirt path they followed harder to read as the township in the backdrop vanished from the horizon. The blistering heat dying down to something just above tolerable until the sweet chill of night gusted through the pair of them. Their path soon to be lit by constellations.

"I'm sure you can finish the picture." He rode ahead of the girl, his jovial tune returning in the soud of an impressed whistle.

"Poor fella, quick shot. Sounds like you got the better end of the bargain." he turned his head, one eye on her as she followed on her own horse. His name was not shared with many - but posters painted a pretty enough picture of nicknames.

"Huckleberry won' do for now, will it?" he laughed, fingers pinching the brim of his hat as he tilted it forward in greeting. "Jamie. Though, most call me quick fingers Jim." He would not get into the lit of names women company had. Golden streaks of orange and honeycomb graced the sky for the last half hour - fading into deep blues.

The slight wobble of his mares steps indicated the tired nature of their horses after a few hours. They would both need watering and fed.

Only when he mentioned it, above the night calls of critters and the scuffle of dirt was his statement obvious to hear. "We shouldn't dally too long, we can set up camp somewhere by the stream o'er yonder. Hope yer fan of beans, an sharin." They would have to share more than the cookpot.
There was a shift in the cowboy now that he was out of the bar. There was no tension in his shoulders; he actually smiled when she approached. It formed such a direct contrast to everything she'd seen before-- she didn't know what to think.

In the end, she just stood there, chin tilted upwards in silent challenge. She was wondering whether he'd say anything about the breeches. She was wondering whether he'd change his mind.

Another moment passed, however, and the cowboy hoisted himself atop his horse. A tossed comment about the hat fell between them, and Helen felt a reckless grin crawling over her lips. It was a story she was unafraid of telling, and she set the Stetson a little further on her head.

"Fella got to close when I was servin' him," she said, placing a foot in the stirrups and hoisting herself up, "I'm sure you can finish the picture."

Once seated, she gathered the reins in one hand and tapped the mare's flanks with her heels. The horse began to move forward, and she surprised herself by the ease of it all-- like she was taking a natural step forward instead of eloping with a cowboy she didn't know.

They started down the thoroughfare of the main street. The sun was sinking lower and lower. "Can I get your name?"
The girl had finally caught up. The sun low on the horizon - slowly moving to tuck itself behind the line of mountains in the horizon. They would need to head towards that if they wanted to find somewhere more hospitable to crash.

The gunslinger smiled, his hand calming the twin colored mare he had saddled already. Camping supplies tied securely to the backside of the horse. "Y' finally joined me, Darlin. Had a bih of a worry tha' you weren' going to turn up." She suited the pants, not that he would mention anything about the social conventions that remained in place in todays society.

"Which poor bloke lost his hat?" With a hop and a climb he lifted himself up onto his horse, looking down at the girl with reins gently in his grip. "Suits you better. You least look the part, but before we get rastlin we best train you proper in draw and aim.
 In th morrow."

Spurs lightly tucked against the mares side, the horse beginning to move at a slow pace away from the confines of the time. Hopefully, she knew how to ride.

Riding was only one part of their adventure.
Helen's eyes narrowed, almost like she was prematurely squinting into the hot summer sun. She couldn't tell whether the cowboy was taunting her, or pulling her leg, or simply throwing his masculinity around because she was a woman, and he was not.

Her expression soured at some of the choice words that left his mouth. The barkeep had once used similar language, and it didn't matter how handsome the gunslinger was-- nothing repelled her like casual sexism, veiled though it was. There was no need for that kind of behaviour, not anymore-- not when Tabitha Greenway was managing her own ranch whilst her husband was out in the plains. As far as Helen was concerned, the only inequality between herself and the cowboy was their difference in height.

She must have played right into his hands.

"Thank me?" she dropped the cloth onto the bar and leant her elbows over the edge, "You oughtta be thankin' me for not pullin' a gun on you."

She released a breath through her nose. "I ain't gotta call the sheriff to put you to justice, cowboy."

She felt herself puff up already, chest heaving in bloodrush and apprehension. Dull as it was, being a barmaid had prepared her well for the types men that came off the Oregon trail-- and her fists were no strangers to blood. She liked to think she was particularly independent. She could take care of herself and she certainly need no cowboy telling her what to d--

Her mouth fell open, wide enough to catch flies and entire motes of dust, when the stranger finished with his proposition and walked backwards out of the bar.

"Hold up!" Her face scrunched in frustration, and she hurled the wet cloth at the closed doors. It landed in the centre of the room. "I don't even know you!"

Evening. | Still very warm.

At the tenth toll of the bell, Helen stepped out from behind the retaining wall adjacent to the milkery and approached the cowboy's horse. The mare stood at thirteen hands high, by her estimation, and she turned her head when Helen approached. She was calm, and merely puffed out a gust of hot air from her nose when Hel placed a gentle hand on the bridge.

She placed her knapsack of meagre belongings on the ground and crossed her arms over her chest. It was late, thankfully, which meant she'd not be arrested for wearing men's breeches until she and the cowboy arrived in the next town-- and she was planning to take advantage of her brief freedom until then.

Perhaps the gunslinger wouldn't even object.

Truth be told, Helen still wasn't sure what exactly had drawn her to the man-- but there was a hot spiking thing in her chest, and it implored her to take up the cowboy's offer. She knew she was never getting an opportunity like this again-- and the battered Stetson sitting on her head had never sat more securely than now.
No crack of the whip could force a smile on the cowboy's mouth. The closest thing to satisfaction was the gentle sigh of his breath against the offered drink. There was power in a prolonged silence. Power in letting her sit on her question as he finished his drink - gaze locked on her own and spoke in hues alone of the treachery of the road. No bystander had travelled as far as he and a milkmaid was not going to cut it as his second saddle.

"Darlin'." he pushed his glass to her for the second supper of malt. "It's as clear as the sky is blue tha' yer too good fer this little town." a sly compliment and the wicked show of a grin would enforce his opinion. "Buh' you look the type of lassie who couldn' fight off the heat, let alone the confines of your home." The chair beneath him creaked as he plucked at his hat, spinning it about twice before it crowned his dark hair once more.

"You should be thankin' me fer offerin you a key t' salvation. All y' 'av t' do is follow an keep the sn off me." his thumbs hooked again on his belt, the gleam of a silver buckle standing out on dark leathers. "Because if you dun' take it, you ain' be seein me round here again."

It was as formal of an offer he would make. An illicit trade for her freedom and his pleasure.

"I'ma give yeh..." He glanced to the swinging doors. "Till the eagle cries in ten bells t' pack, m' horse is by the milkery." His smile was debonaire. Reflecting the mischief of the journey to come if she took his offer, his paces backward and blind until the swing of the doors opened against his back.

"Till then, darlin." A tip of his hat and the chime of spurs sounded his exit.
Somewhere between the glass the cowboy raised to his lips, and the Stetson he set down on the counter-- Helen's smile died on her lips.

She wasn't sure her attempts at flirtation were working, and it was a dangerous gamble to try for backbone when hers could all but tumble out of her body with a flick of the gunman's fingers. She felt her heart skip two rungs, and into her throat.

Most days, she could get by with her bartending just fine, provided she hoist herself into her corset and smile up a storm. She could calm a bucking horse in a storm, if she tried-- but this cowboy wasn't a horse, or a lonely traveller. He was smarter than that.

And dangerous-- especially because he could see right through her.

His remark about the barkeep struck a chord within her, and she set the bottle down on the bar with a heavy sigh. Shameless, she poured herself a glass, and swallowed the aged bourbon in a single movement. It stung on the way down, and she steeled herself against the sensation by looking back at the stranger.

There were very little pretenses to maintain at this stage.

"How'd you know? I ain't ever seen you round here before."
Gunslinger or no, the man leaning against the bar was coming tired of the smell of piss and fear. The saviour of the evening coming towards him in the form of a bar attendant. Her smile worn as tightly as her corset.

"Lemme take care of that drink for ya," she moved like water, stealing his gaze while he followed his trusty gun-bruised coin from his fingers and into the front of her skirts. The creeping smile of his own returning as the girl did away with his hard earned pay. ""You'll find my rates are much more accommodating than old Earl's." "

"Didja boss order me a catalogue woman while peein' his pants?" he lowered his hands back to the bench, elbows hanging over the edge near himself. If this was the normal hospitality of hell-knows-where, it may pay to stay a night longer.

The trouble with women was that no one of them could ever pass as trustworthy. As helpful as snakes in a pit at the best of times, their words like poison. It was unlikely he would see that coin again. Jamie pushed the glass of a fallen patron towards the girl, not bothering to find a clean one in the establishment.

"You've got hands made from lightnin', cowboy," A hand reached over for the bottle, filling his glass with urgency before he climbed onto his seat. If he was going to willingly step towards this rattlesnake, it was best to appear at ease. Rounds were readily available if the shot count had to be risen.

Tch... tasted poor without ice.

"Can I be so hopeful that they'll get me out of this damned contraption? I can hardly breathe."

The cowboy lifted the black hat from his crown, placing it on the bartop beside him. "ahn'forunately.. I gotta cut a path soon, Yer up for a walk - a borrowed hull an' a comfortable canter westward if you wan' any further assistance." a dewwy ring decorated the underside of his glass as he set it back down. "But if leavin hum is what yer after, I'm yer Huckleberry."
The sun sat at high noon; and Helen was very late.

The overcoat on her shoulders sat heavy, logged with dust and things repressed, and the heat that gathered between her skin and the fabric pulled sweat to the surface of her skin, and beaded it at her collarbones.

She hurried across the laneway, head down and eyes averted from the dust, entering the saloon through a set of doors towards the back of the establishment. Her boss had always been mighty protective of his liquor-- and the doors were well-hidden to ensure the flapping doors at the front of the bar may remain the only viable entrance.

And to any passing stranger, the overcoat made her look like a lout starved for money; an injured dog of a man stumbling drunken at 1 in the afternoon.

The relative coolness of the interior settled her breath, and she could bare restrain the sigh of contentment that escaped her lips when she finally threw the overcoat off and stretched to her full height. The corset pulled at her ribs, but the feeling was something she'd learnt to accommodate-- and the gathering promise of clinking coins in her pockets was enough to spur her onwards and upwards towards the bar.

Helen was already halfway out the door when- Bang. Bang. Bang.

She ducked faster than a mole returning to its tunnels, and froze against the doorframe. The gunslinger turned, eyes tipped halfway to hell already, and Helen watched him reload his pistol with bated breath.

Perhaps he hadn't noticed yet, or perhaps he'd chosen not to see her-- but she could see that Earl Wayside was not in a fit state to be serving anyone drinks.

A rush of vindication pounded along her spine when she saw the trickle of hot liquid running down his pants-- this was the man that handled her like cattle, so afraid of a common cowboy that he'd peed his pants. She felt a smirk hitching up the corner of her mouth.

She straightened, lifted her chin and swallowed against the build of nerves inside her throat. The gunslinger was looking directly at her, now, and she forced a charming smile onto her lips, even though her heart was beating hard directly behind them.

"Lemme take care of that drink for ya," she said, and plucked the coin from between his fingers. Her deft fingers tucked it down the front of her corset before the cowboy could try and retrieve it, and she accompanied the move with a garish smile. She clapped Earl on the shoulder, and shot the gunslinger a grin. "You'll find my rates are much more accommodating than old Earl's."

She moved across the bar with practised movements, slow and graceful and perhaps a little garish-- she collected an empty tumbler from the shelf and uncorked a bottle. "You've got hands made from lightnin', cowboy," she said, and slid the glass in his direction. She corked the bottle and hung it between her fingers.

"I'm wonderin' what else can they do," She huffed a laugh and turned it towards the wooden floor, and pulled at the hem of her corset. "Can I be so hopeful that they'll get me out of this damned contraption? I can hardly breathe."
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