Isaac returned home, much to Emmas distress, and her role as the dutiful wife returned with him. Things immediately went back to the way they were before he left. Any hope Emma had of Isaac changing his attitude and realizing that she was more than his breeding stock and punching bag were dashed the first time he got angry and slapped her. She was miserable, and she missed Danny so much that she felt positively sick.
Week after wretched week passed as the final, lingering warm spells of the Autumn season began to fade away, warning of the harsh Winter that was soon to come. As still more weeks elapsed, it occurred to Emma one morning that her monthly cycle had not started when she expected it should have. She waited until Isaac was out in the fields, then she found a scrap of paper and a pencil and quickly scribbled down dates, counting the weeks and days and adding it all up in her head. She concluded that she was about 16 days overdue. Her cycle was never late... *never*. Her heart leapt into her throat and she rushed out the back door, barely reaching the grass in time before she threw up the contents of her stomach.
Emma spent the rest of the day in a daze. Things were suddenly so clear and yet so confusing at the same time. She hadnt been feeling well for a number of weeks, her stomach seemed to be constantly upset, she was excessively tired and tearfully emotional. She had thought that she suffered all these things because she ached for Danny. But instead, it seemed that her worst fear had come true... she was pregnant... and she didnt know who the father was... Isaac or Danny? What should have been a happy, joyous occasion was now met with anxiety and worry.
Emma realized that the chances of it being Dannys were slim; they had only joined together a few times compared to her nearly nightly couplings with Isaac. However... she could not ignore the coincidence of being with Danny and suddenly becoming pregnant after more than a year and a half of non-success with Isaac. It made her ill to think that she didnt know whose child she carried, and she supposed she wouldnt know until it was born and she saw for herself whom the child favored. Images of a dark-haired, blue-eyed little baby filled her head constantly, and she was in perpetual turmoil.
She didnt want to tell Isaac... not yet. She wasnt sure why, but she felt like she needed to talk to someone else first, perhaps get some confirmation somehow. She knew she could see a doctor to have him verify it, but she couldnt do that without going into town and raising Isaacs suspicions. She was at a loss about what to do. Her own mother had never told her much about pregnancy and childbirth; shed read some fascinating medical journals and books which dealt with it, but other than that, she really had little idea what to expect. She briefly considered going to her Mother for help; surely she would be able to answer her questions and allay her fears. But she shelved that idea when she realized that she wouldnt be able to appear excited about having a baby, and her Mother would be suspicious if she sensed Emmas unhappiness. Still, she needed to talk to someone. She needed Danny.
Isaac left early in the morning for his once-a-month journey into town. As soon as the wagon was safely headed out the long dirt lane, Emma cleaned herself up and got dressed, desperate to go see Danny. She was scared and uncertain what Dannys reaction would be once she told him her news. She hoped and prayed that he wouldnt be angry with her or deny her outright; she needed him to be understanding and supportive. But mostly, she needed him to hold her and tell her that everything would be alright.
As she crested the hill that separated her land from Dannys, she spotted the little ranch house situated in the middle of the green pastureland. A small smile touched her lips and warmed her heart, and she urged her horse onward toward her salvation.
Danny was up on the roof of his house repairing some of the wood shingles. The cool weather reminded him that the Winter snows would soon be upon him, and since he had spent so much time with Emma, many needed repairs and seasonal chores were incomplete. Over the past several weeks, Danny had thrown himself into the work, grateful for the distraction the hard labor offered. He couldnt get his mind off Emma. She was the first and the last thing to fill his mind every morning when he awoke, and every evening when he fell asleep. He was worried about her; he knew what a bastard Isaac Johnson was, and he feared for Emmas safety and well-being. It absolutely killed him to know that she was with the man, in more ways than one.
He often chastised himself for getting involved with Emma in the first place. He knew damn well that it was an impossible situation; he had no one to blame for his misery except himself. And yet... he couldnt help but think that, even though he was miserable, the fleeting time he and Emma had spent together was worth every ounce of pain he suffered now. Just to know her... to experience her... to love her... even one day with her was worth it.
Danny was hammering a shingle into place when he felt a distinct chill race up his spine. Turning his head, he saw a rider approaching on a horse, long, blonde hair flowing like gold behind her galloping form. ...Emma, Danny thought to himself as a slow grin spread across his face.
Danny hopped down off the ladder just as Emma reached the house. They immediately ran into each others arms, hugging and kissing fiercely while rejoicing in their reunion. Emma already had tears in her eyes, and when Danny held her close and whispered in her ear how much he missed her and loved her, she suddenly broke down and began to sob. As she withered in Dannys arms, he picked her up and carried her inside the house.
They sat silently by the fireplace for a few moments, Dannys arms encircling Emma while she cried and released her pent-up sorrow, burying her face in his chest and clinging to him tightly. She finally quieted down and Danny reached down to cup her face, tilting it upward so he could gaze into her oceanic eyes. But instead of seeing her eyes, all Danny saw were the black-and-blue marks along her cheekbone and jaw.
He reached up with a trembling hand and touched his fingertips to the bruises, a hundred thoughts and emotions flooding his mind. Anger, dread, fear, hatred, sadness, horror, disbelief... but the primary feeling was one of rage. Rage against the man who did this to this woman... this woman he loved and cherished... this woman who deserved everything but got nothing. The agony and shame reflected in her sea-green eyes was almost more than he could bear.
Danny shifted Emma off his lap, and he stood up and quickly walked away. The fury that invaded his heart and his hatred of Isaac Johnson was so great that he thought he would explode. He stood with his back to Emma, leaning on one of the kitchen chairs and gripping it fiercely; he didnt want her to see how close he was to losing it.
"Danny...," Emma quietly walked up and touched her lovers arm. "Danny... please dont be upset," she pleaded in a whisper.
Danny whirled around to face her, his eyes dark and burning with his rage, "Dont be *upset*!?" He said. "Emma, for the love of God! Look what hes *done* to you!" He yelled louder, motioning to her face.
Emma could only stare as tears began to fill her eyes again. The intense fury that radiated off Danny alarmed her; shed never seen him display even the slightest bit of displeasure before.
"Does he do this often?" Danny asked as he suddenly stepped closer to her. "I mean, does he do this to you every goddamn *day*!?" His tone was loud and demanding, his words harsh and cutting. Emma took a step away from him, not liking the malevolent look that clouded his normally clear eyes. "Tell me, Emma!" Danny shouted and Emma flinched as he reached for her arms.
"I... H-He...," Emma could only stammer while Danny pinned her with his murderous glare.
Suddenly Danny spun away from her, a deep growl sounding in his throat as his anger finally boiled over inside. He lashed out at the closest object, that being the kitchen furniture. He grabbed the end of the wooden table and flung it across the room, flipping it end over end. A chair was next, and he hurled it against the stone fireplace with a loud crash as the legs snapped and it fell to the floor in a clatter of splintered wood.
Emma cowered in the opposite corner of the room, watching her lover in wide-eyed shock. Danny brought both hands to his head, grasping handfuls of hair, trying desperately to reign in the vicious fury that pulsed through his veins and threatened to consume him. He leaned against the wall, banging his forehead on the hard surface and castigating himself for losing control so violently. He didnt want to scare Emma... he wasnt angry with her... he loved her... he wanted to protect her and take her away from all this pain and terror.
Danny opened his eyes, the clarity and surety of what he needed to do hitting him full force. He turned and started to approach Emma, hating the fearful look in her eyes as they tracked his movements carefully. "Leave him." Danny spoke the words with calm, clear conviction as he came to stand directly in front of her.
"W-What?" Emma stammered, her mind still bewildered from Dannys surprising outburst.
"I want you to *leave* him, Emma!" Danny exclaimed, reaching out to grasp her arms, "Leave that bastard and come away with me!" Emmas mouth dropped open, but no words came out. "Well run away... well go where no one can find us! Come on... right now!" Danny said forcefully, tugging on her arm.
"No!" Emma said, but Danny paid her no heed.
"Lets go pack some things and leave right this minute!" Danny urged, heading toward the door and pulling on her arm again.
"No! Danny, I cant!" Emma said louder, pulling backwards against his firm grip.
Danny finally stopped and looked at her, confusion and worry etched into his face. "Why not?" He asked, his voice soft and unsure.
"Because I...," Emma hesitated, her chin trembling, "Because... Im pregnant."
The force of her words punched Danny in the gut, stealing the wind from his lungs and knocking him senseless for a long moment. Emma began to cry again, and Danny suddenly couldnt look at her. He walked over to the fireplace, leaning both hands against it while his mind processed the information and his heart began to sink with the horrible realization that this changed everything.
A few minutes of silence filled the small house until Emma finally spoke, "Danny... I know you told me not to worry, and I know you said that nothing would happen, but... but it *has* happened, Danny! ...Its happened, and now I dont know what to do!" She cried, "I dont know what to do because I dont know who this childs father is!" She said, breaking down into sobs again.
Danny turned to her; she looked so small and fragile standing there with her arms wrapped around herself. Her skin was pale, her face was gaunt, and she had dark circles under her eyes. His heart broke for her.
"Emma...," Danny said as he approached her, "Its Isaacs baby." He gently grasped both her arms again, "I already told you... it *cant* be mine... Its just not possible." He shook his head and spoke as calmly as he could, wanting to quell the panic he could feel rising inside her.
Emmas heart dropped; her fear that Danny would deny that the child could be his seemed to be coming true. She hadnt wanted to think about the possibility that he would turn his back on her, but the reality of the situation was certainly more than he could handle. Truthfully, she couldnt really blame him. Of course he didnt want to be tied to her and saddled with the potential responsibility for an illegitimate baby. She was married to one man and was possibly carrying anothers bastard child. What man would want any part of that?
"Danny... I know what you said. I understand the position Im putting you in, and I... I want you to know that I dont expect anything of you if"
Danny held a hand up, cutting her off, "Wait you think Im trying to deny it? To deny you?" He asked, his voice incredulous.
Tears ran down Emmas cheeks, "Im not telling you this to make you feel guilty, Danny... I just wanted you to know... I just..." Her voice trailed off and she began to cry softly.
Danny reached up to cup her face, "Emma, you dont understand!" He whispered fiercely. "I *cannot* be the father! It is *impossible*, I assure you!" She merely stared at him, her green-blue eyes weepy and confused. How could he make her understand without telling her things he wasnt prepared to divulge yet? Danny drew a deep breath, holding her face and speaking tenderly, "Emma... you just have to trust me when I tell you that it *isnt* mine... alright?" His blue eyes pinned her, willing her to understand what he was trying to say.
Emma looked into Dannys eyes, seeing only truth and honesty there. She tried to understand and believe what he was saying. Apparently, Danny didnt think he was able to have children. How he knew that for certain, she didnt know, but somewhere in the back of her mind lurked the irrational hope that he was wrong. If she were going to have a baby, she wanted it to be Dannys more than anything. But he asked her to trust him, and he insisted that it was Isaacs... so she would accept that. She would have to accept that until she held the proof in her arms, seven months from now.
They stared at one another for a long moment. Emma finally dropped her eyes, swallowing hard against the lump of sadness that had become wedged in her throat, "I have to go. Isaac will be back soon." Her voice was quiet and laced with anguish.
Danny dropped his hands and let her walk toward the door. Before she disappeared, however, he spoke, "Emma," he called out, "...does Isaac know?" He asked.
Emma looked at him mournfully, her eyes glistening with tears, "No... I wanted you to be the first to know."
Danny paused, then said regretfully, "You need to tell him." Emma just stared. Danny walked closer to her, "You need to rest... take better care of yourself." He looked into her eyes, making sure she understood exactly what he meant. He took a deep breath and continued, his voice quavering slightly, "And you need to tell Isaac that... if he continues to hit you... youre going to lose the baby."
Emmas mouth opened and she gave Danny a horrified look. She didnt know how to respond. Why would Danny say that? Did he really think she would dare say something like that to Isaac? And how did Danny know about such things anyway? She closed her mouth and turned her head away; she was so confused and upset, she felt sick to her stomach. She escaped out the door, but before she got off the porch, Danny chased after her again.
"Emma...," Danny called again. She stopped at the edge of the porch and turned to face him, her eyes hesitantly looking up. Danny approached her and leaned in close, reaching out to hold her face in his hands again, "I wish it *were* mine, Em... I wish it with all my heart." He whispered the words with such conviction, and his eyes pinned her with such an intense look of sorrow and regret and anguish that she couldnt bear it any longer. Her face twisted and a sob burst forth from her chest as she collapsed in his arms, weeping and wailing and wishing that the two of them could just disappear forever and ever.
A few more weeks passed, and Danny was going fairly insane with worry. All he could think about was what that beast was doing to Emma. Hopefully she told him that she was with child, and hopefully he was leaving her alone. But who knew for sure? For all Danny knew, it made no difference to Isaac Johnson if his wife was pregnant or not. He was enough of a bastard that he would probably still hit her and mistreat her, regardless of her delicate condition.
Danny knew that he would have no rest until he saw for himself that Emma was alright. Until he saw with his own eyes that she was unharmed and healthy, he would not be able to sleep at night.
A few days later, Danny came up with a plan that would allow him to check on Emma, under the guise that he needed to talk to Isaac. It seemed crazy to take such a risk, but he knew that he had to go. He had to see her. He told himself that he could handle whatever Isaac threw at him, so long as he got to see Emma.
Danny rode up the dirt path that lead to the Johnson farm, his saddle heavily laden with bags of potatoes. He had devised a plan where he would tell Isaac that he was in desperate need of some feed for his animals, and since hed had a bumper crop of potatoes, he would offer to trade some for a few bags of feed. They were neighbors, and neighbors helped each other out, didnt they? He knew it was terribly flimsy, but it was all his desperate mind could think of. Hopefully Isaac would take the bait. And hopefully, Emma would be called to give her input, and then Danny could see for himself that she was well. He rolled his eyes at his hair-brained scheme as he rode on.
The Johnson cabin came into view, but Danny saw no one outside. He pulled his horse up to the front porch and got off, looking around to see if Isaac was out in the fields. Seeing and hearing nothing, Danny felt a twinge of worry. He walked up onto the porch and rapped his knuckles lightly on the door. A moment of silence passed until the door finally opened a small crack. A pair of uncertain sea-green eyes peered out at him, and when Dannys eyes made contact, the door opened wider and Emmas surprised face met him.
Emma took in the lean, handsome countenance of her lover and couldnt bring herself to say anything; she was too shocked to see Danny standing on her porch looking so tall and striking.
"Hello... uh, h-hello, Mizz. Johnson," Danny stammered, nearly forgetting that he was only supposed to be Mr. Daniels, the neighbor-man, not Danny, the man who was madly in love with Emma Johnson.
Emma gave him a strange, startled look, "Hello... Mr. Daniels...?" She questioned back with uncertainty.
"Uh, I was looking for your husband, maam... I wonder if I might speak with him about some... business?" Danny continued hurriedly, looking at Emma expectantly, hoping that she would catch on to what he was trying to do.
"H-Hes out in the barn, doing some butchering," Emma said, her brows furrowed deeply.
Edward visibly relaxed, blowing out a breath, "Oh thank God." He mumbled.
"Danny, what are you *doing* here?!" Emma whispered under her breath, nervously shooting a glance up toward the barn.
"I had to see you," Danny whispered back, careful not to make any inappropriate movements, just in case Isaac appeared. "I had to see if you were alright!"
"Danny...," Emma said breathlessly, closing her eyes and shaking her head slightly. She was touched by Dannys heartfelt concern, but was he insane? She opened her eyes but did not look at him, "Im fine."
"You dont look fine." Danny said quietly. Emma tilted her head upward and they locked eyes. "You look exhausted, Em. You look too thin, and you look... so unhappy." Danny said, pinning her with mournful eyes.
"Danny please!" Emma closed her eyes again as tears quickly filling them and spilled down her pale cheeks. "Please, you have to go before he sees you!" She pleaded, her voice trembling with emotion.
Danny started to move his hand up to touch and reassure his love, but he quickly remembered himself. "Emma...," he started, but another voice interrupted.
"What do you think youre doin here?!" Isaacs voice called out harshly as he walked toward the house carrying a bloody butchering knife.
Shit, Danny cursed to himself as he turned away from Emma and hustled down off the porch. "Uh, gday Mr. Johnson," Danny hesitantly called out in greeting. "I was just looking for you, sir."
Isaac came to stand in front of Danny, his meaty arms crossed over his chest and an angry, impatient look on his leathery face. "Well you found me. What do you want?" He snapped.
"Uh, well, I have somewhat of a trade proposition for you, sir," Danny began awkwardly. Emma still stood on the porch, nervously biting her thumbnail as she watched and listened intently. "You see, uh, I could use a bit of feed for my horses, and uh... I had a bumper crop of potatoes this year, and... well, rather than see them go to waste, I thought Id see if you folks would be interested in a trade of some sort." Danny tried his best to sound upbeat and practical.
Isaac frowned at him, his dark eyes studying the tall stranger carefully. "We dont want any of yer garbage," Isaacs upper lip curled in disgust. "We aint uncivilized Injuns like you, boy... we dont hafta trade for our goods." The shorter man sneered hatefully at Danny, who was shocked by Isaacs sharp words, even though he knew he shouldnt be. He also knew he should keep his mouth shut and just turn away and leave, but something inside him refused.
"Oh I dont know about that, Mr. Johnson... it certainly doesnt seem very *civilized* around here." Danny spat back sarcastically, shifting his gaze from Isaac to Emma. Emma looked stricken as all eyes seemed to focus on her. She looked straight at Danny, silently crying out to him, warning him of the dangerous territory he was treading in. Danny read her thoughts, and he answered her back as best he could. His face told her that he loved her, but if she wasnt going to fight, he would.
When Danny turned his eyes back to Isaac, the little man was positively fuming. He threw his wife a dark, warning glare and took a step closer to his tall neighbor, "Boy... if you know whats good for ya, youll git on yer horse and git yer good-fer-nothin half-breed hide away from my wife and off my land." His words dripped with venom and he used his knife to make his point by poking the tip into Dannys vest. Emmas gasp was audible as the two men glowered at each other for a long moment.
Danny was filled with such disgust and revulsion; he thought Isaac Johnson had to be the most vile creature on the face of the earth. He gritted his teeth, the urge to reach out and strangle the abominable man was so strong he had to clench his hands into fists.
By this time, Emma had stepped nervously from the porch, the tense atmosphere filling her with heart-stopping fear. She twisted her hands nervously, "M-Mr. Daniels," she called out hesitantly. Danny turned to look at her. "Thank you for the kind offer, Mr. Daniels... but we arent interested." She gave him a pleading, wide-eyed look, asking him to back off, begging him to go before he got himself into trouble. Danny returned her look with much regret and sadness. It would be so easy for him to start a war with Isaac Johnson, but he knew full well that Emma would be caught in the middle, and she would be the one to get hurt the most.
Isaac watched the silent interaction between his wife and his half-breed neighbor. He wasnt a smart man, but he could sense that something was going on. Two people didnt look at each other like that if they were just neighbors. Dozens of dark, angry thoughts began to fill his mind as he began to consider all the possibilities.
Danny finally turned back and gave Isaac one last hate-filled look before climbing onto his horse and trotting away.
He was not quite out of ear-shot when he heard the first stream of curses that Isaac let loose against his wife. Jerking his horse around, Danny saw the short man backhand Emma, landing her face-down in the dirt.
Something let loose deep inside Edward Daniels chest and he saw nothing but red. Blood red. He no longer cared how polite or necessary it was to stay out of Emmas life she was his life. He was going to beat the living hell out of Isaac Johnson, or he was going to die trying. Danny kicked his horse in the flanks and tore off toward the Johnson house, bound and determined to save Emma from the wrath of man who was beating her senseless.
Isaac was hovering over Emmas cowering body when Danny reached them. He vaulted off his horse and immediately leapt onto Isaac, pulling him off of Emma and throwing him to the ground. Isaac quickly got to his feet and lunged at Danny. They grappled with each other, throwing punches and dropping one another to the dirt, only to rise and continue fighting. Emma screamed for them to stop, and Danny instinctively turned to look at her. With that one misstep, however, he sealed his fate. Isaac grabbed something lying on the ground and made another lunge at Danny. Before the younger man could brace himself for the attack, Isaac was on him.
Danny felt a sharp, horrible, searing pain in his side. When Isaac finally backed off of him, he saw the bloody knife in the other mans hand and realized what had happened. He looked down where he was clutching his side and saw the blood. The crimson stain under his hands spread quickly, saturating his clothes as the dark fluid began to leak out of him. Emma cried out and Danny fell down to his knees. When he looked up, Isaac was coming at him again, the knife poised to deliver the killing blow.
Somehow, with some last surge of strength and determination, Danny managed to grab hold of Isaacs wrist and prevent the knife from plunging in. They battled against each other, their arms and hands and souls locked, quite literally, in a life or death struggle. They dropped to the ground, twisting and turning and fighting for domination. Danny didnt remember exactly what happened or how it happened; he only knew that suddenly, the struggling stopped. When he refocused his vision, he was lying on top of Isaac, the shorter mans dark brown eyes staring up at him at close range.
Isaac made strange choking and gurgling sounds in his throat, and he gritted his teeth and grasped Danny by the shirt collar, "Y-You... half-breed... s-son of a... bitch!" Isaac growled through clenched teeth. Danny pushed away from him, revealing the knife blade deeply imbedded in Isaacs chest. Emma screamed again and promptly fainted.
Danny collapsed as well, but he didnt lose consciousness. As he laid on his back, staring up at the clear blue sky while his life slowly trickled out of his body and onto the hard earth, he wondered what was going to happen to Emma. Surely Isaac would die, and most likely, he would die as well. What would she do? Shed be all alone... with a little baby. How could he die and leave her all alone like that? But if he didnt die, hed go to jail. No one would ever believe a half-breed, and no one would believe that he had killed Isaac in self-defense. And how would it all be explained? What would people think of Emma if they knew the truth? If they knew that the half-breed was her lover, they would think that he killed her husband in a jealous rage. Emma would be eaten alive by the scandal, and the baby would forever suffer the stigma.
Danny couldnt allow that. He had to spare Emma the horror of it all. He had to do what he did best... he had to run away. If he disappeared, then no one would have to know anything. Emma could make up whatever story she wanted, and she could get on with her life. Maybe she would move away... she would forget about him and start over. Danny blinked his eyes, staring up at the sky again. He was still alive, and that meant that he had to get up and get out of there.
Somehow he did manage to get up; somehow he managed to stumble over to his horse, and somehow he managed to clamber onto the beast and ride off toward his home. After that, he didnt remember. After that, everything faded into blackness.
Emma sat by the fireplace in a stupor. Her dinner lay before her, untouched, and her hot tea was now cold.
"Emma Louise," her mothers voice called to her softly, "you need to eat, child." The strawberry-blonde woman picked up a spoon filled with lukewarm soup and touched it to her daughters lips. The younger woman turned her head, silently declining the nourishment.
Martha Dunwoody was worried about her eldest child. The girl had been through so much, and shed been sitting around in a silent daze for so long, the older woman feared for her sanity. She brushed Emmas long blonde hair away from her bruised and beaten face. How could she and her husband have been so wrong about Isaac Johnson? He had seemed like such a nice, upstanding Christian man; the perfect husband for their young daughter. How he ended up abusing Emma and trying to kill her was just beyond her comprehension. She couldnt say that she was sorry he was dead. She was only sorry that Emma was the one who had to kill him.
Martha released a sigh, "Maybe youll want to try something later," she said, replacing the spoon in the bowl and taking the tray of food away. Emma watched her go, not caring that her stomach was cramping and crying out for the food. She couldnt eat... all she could do was think about Isaac and fact that he was dead, and about Danny and the fact that she didnt know whatd happened to him. She couldnt sleep... all she saw when she closed her eyes was the blood that poured out of Dannys stomach... and the look of shock and terror on his face when he realized that hed been stabbed... and the image of the knife protruding out of Isaacs chest. She felt like she died every time the images flashed through her mind.
She couldnt remember how she ended up at her parents house that fateful day. She only remembered coming-to, seeing Isaacs dead body lying on the ground, and not seeing Danny anywhere. She remembered getting sick and vomiting several times, and she remembered feeling an overwhelming sense of panic and dread. After that, it was all a blur.
Obviously her parents had taken care of everything. She didnt know how long shed been at her folks house, but she remembered talking to the Sheriff about what happened. She told him that Isaac beat her had been for some time until finally, that night, he came at her with the knife. They struggled, and she accidentally stabbed and killed him. The Sheriff seemed to buy the story; apparently her beaten face and body was enough evidence for him, combined with the fact that, unbeknownst to her and her family, Isaac Johnson had developed somewhat of reputation. It seemed that Isaac stirred up quite a bit of trouble when he took his little monthly jaunts into town. Emmas suspicions that he caroused with the ladies of the evening were correct, and he was also known to be a gambler who was indebted to several people. Overall, the man was a lying, cheating bastard, and no one was sorry to hear that he was gone.
Emmas concerns now centered on Danny. She had been at her parents house for two days... two days of not knowing if Danny was alive or dead. What happened to him? Where did he go? Was he here or was he long gone? She had lied to the Sheriff to spare Dannys involvement in Isaacs death. She felt compelled to protect him; after all, he had tried to protect her. She wondered if he was at his house, or if he had just taken off. Would he really run away and leave her? With each passing hour, sitting in her parents house in the agonizing silence, Emma knew that she had to discover Dannys fate. She had to go to his house and see if he was there, or at least see if she could figure out where hed gone. The trick would be to get away.
Emma hadnt told her parents of her pregnancy. Isaacs death had been everyones focus, and she just didnt want to bring it up. She wasnt really showing yet, and her Mother obviously couldnt tell, so she decided to keep quiet about it. Emma thought that she would like to tell her Mother, at least, but when she decided that she had to go back to search for Danny, she realized that her parents would never let her go if they knew she was with child. They wouldnt let her out of their sight once they knew. Theyd make her sell her home and her land and come live with them again, and she definitely did not want to do that. So, she had to figure out a way to convince them to let her go home.
"Mother, *please*!" Emma cried out again. "I have to go! You dont understand!" Emma had arisen this morning fully awakened from her stupor and determined to leave the confines of her parents house.
"No, Emma Louise, I dont understand! Why in the world would you want to go back to that-that *place*, all alone?! I dont understand that!" Martha Dunwoody yelled back at her daughter. "You cant live there all by yourself! You cant make it alone!"
"Your mothers right, Emma," Thomas Dunwoodys deep voice cut into the conversation. "You cant handle that farm by yourself. Besides, it isnt safe for you to be there alone."
"Then Ill hire some ranch hands to help me... or something." Emma insisted, standing with her arms crossed defiantly.
"Emma," Her father walked up to her, "Like it or not, youre a widow... youre a single woman again. Your place is not on that farm anymore... your place is here, with us." His firm but gentle tone told Emma that he was quite serious.
"Youll find another man, Emma... a *nice* man with a pure heart... well make sure of it this time." Her mother added, trying to sound cheerful.
Emma wanted to throw up. She squeezed her eyes shut, "I dont *need* another *man*, Mother! I dont *want* another man!" She yelled. Emma didnt need or want anyone but Danny... but of course, she couldnt tell her parents that.
"Oh dont talk such nonsense, girl! Youll find someone... not every man out there is going to be like Isaac." Her mother added ignorantly. "Now then... your father will take you back to the farm, and you can load up your things and bring them back here. Well handle the sale of the animals and the property." Sarah asserted as she walked out to the kitchen, effectively ending the discussion.
"Im going home... but Im not coming back here." Emma said, her voice low and even. Martha turned around to look at her daughter in surprised disbelief.
"Emma...," Thomas gave his daughter a warning look, "you mind what your mother says." Emma knew she would have a hard time convincing her folks to let her return home. There was a slight chance her father would understand since he was the more lenient of the two, but her mother would prove much more difficult.
Emma drew a deep breath, steeling her nerves and standing as tall as she could, "I am not a child... I am a grown woman, capable of living her own life and making her own decisions! And I certainly intend to make better decisions than the ones *you* have made for me!" Emma yelled, her anger getting the better of her.
"Youll watch your tongue, young lady!" Thomas responded sternly, scolding her with a pointed finger.
"Father, please... try to understand," Emma pleaded, calming herself. "I need to go back. I need... I just need to be alone for awhile. Im not saying that Ill stay there, I just...," her voice broke and she held a hand to her forehead. "I just need some time... alone... I need to sort things out on my own. Please... cant you at least give me that much?"
Thomas stared at his daughter realizing for the first time that she was, indeed, a grown woman. She seemed so much older than her 21 years, and he was quite certain that she could take care of herself. Emma had intelligence and an indomitable spirit that would serve her well, no matter what path she chose. But did she really want to do it alone? ...He couldnt understand that. He wanted her to have someone who would take care of her, but she was right... he and Martha had made a grievous mistake by pairing her with Isaac Johnson. She had been through so much for a young woman, and Thomas felt directly responsible for it.
"Alright." Thomas said with quiet resignation.
"Thomas! You cant let her go!" Martha cried out.
"Shes right, Martha. Shes not a little girl. She has to make her own decisions now." He looked at his daughter with understanding in his sad green eyes. "Ill grant you your time alone to make your decisions, Emma, but not for long. No matter what you think, you cant handle the farm all by yourself, and youll have to decide what youre going to do eventually." He added, giving Emma a stern look.
"I know." Emma said simply.
Thomas Dunwoody took his daughter back home that same day, agreeing to leave her for a week; after that, he would return to check on her. Emma felt reasonably calm and in control the whole trip, until they started up the dirt lane that led to the homestead. When they neared the house, Emma exited the wagon and immediately walked over to the spot where her husband had met his gruesome end. The vivid memories of the dark puddles of blood that haunted Emmas dreams were nowhere to be found. All evidence of Isaacs demise and Dannys involvement seemed to have either vanished or washed away.
"I uh... I tried to clean up a little after... after they took him away." Her fathers voice was quiet and close to her as she stared at the barren ground. Emma nodded absently. Even though the physical evidence had been removed, the ghostly specters of her husband and lover still seemed to resonate in the area. Emma could still see their bodies so clearly. She blinked her eyes and shook her head, forcing herself out of her morbid reverie. She realized her father was standing beside her, watching her closely. If he didnt believe she was fine, he would force her to return home with him, so she managed to look at him and give him a small smile of gratitude.
A few hours later, Thomas was waving to his daughter as he headed back out the dirt drive. A part of Emma didnt want to see her father go; she hated to admit that she was scared to be by herself, but she also couldnt deny that she felt uneasy. The other part of her, however, was anxious to be alone; she had to go find Danny.
As soon as her father disappeared from sight, Emma saddled her favorite horse and headed off toward her neighbors small ranch.
Emma approached Dannys house with much trepidation. She had been gone for three days... three days since Danny had been badly stabbed, perhaps mortally. Upon reaching the homestead, Emma dismounted her horse and looked around. The first thing she noticed was Dannys pale gray steed grazing out in the open, unfenced pasture, still fully saddled. Turning her attention toward the house, she next saw a trail of dark reddish-brown dribble which led up across the front porch and into the house. Her stomach twisted into knots and her heart began to hammer in her chest as she walked up the porch steps, carefully avoiding the dried splotches of blood.
The front door creaked eerily as she pushed it open. "...Danny?" Emma called out, her heart in her throat. Receiving no answer, she entered the house further. What met her eyes was horrific. Dried-up spatters and streaks of blood were everywhere. There were large droplets and footprints on the floor, and there were smear-marks and handprints on the furniture and the walls. The stench of sickness and death hung heavily in the air, and Emmas stomach roiled unsteadily. Fighting the bile that arose in the back of her throat, Emma walked toward Dannys bedroom. The door was partially closed, and when she pushed it open the whole way, the sight and smell that greeted her sent her racing back out the front door immediately.
Emma retched outside for a good five minutes before she was able to go back in. Her whole body was shaking so badly, she could barely walk. She went to Dannys room again, a trembling hand held to her mouth as she entered.
He was lying supine on his bed, stock-still, his eyes closed and his lips parted slightly. His skin was so pallid that it had a bluish tint to it. Emma was sure that he was dead. One side of his cheek and jaw was black and blue, and there were dried patches of blood at his mouth and nose. He was drenched in wetness; his hair was sopping wet and everything smelled of stale perspiration and blood. The whole side of his shirt and pants were completely saturated and colored by dark crimson, and the bed that he crookedly laid on was soaked in the reddish-brown color. Emma had never seen such a bloody, revolting mess before.
Dannys shirt was pushed up slightly, exposing his stomach, and the side of his abdomen was covered with a large, bloodied piece of cloth. Emma supposed that he must have tried to doctor the wound himself before... She glanced back to his ashen face, Oh dear God Danny... you cant be dead! She thought as she stood staring at her silent, motionless lover, the crushing reality of the situation hitting her fully.
Steeling herself, Emma walked further into the room until she was standing right beside Dannys bed. Bending down closer to him, she saw that his face was beaded with perspiration and his chest moved up and down in shallow, labored breaths. "Oh thank God!" She murmured aloud, closing her eyes and bringing a hand up to cover her mouth as the tears that flooded her eyes now spilled forth. Biting her lip, she reached a jittery hand out to feel his forehead. He was burning up. Fever... the wound is probably infected, Emma surmised. She reached down and peeled the bloody cloth away, her stomach lurching again when she finally saw the angry, clearly infected stab wound at the side of his abdomen. The whole side of his torso was flushed bright pink and the injury oozed foul-smelling blood and pus. Emma had to cover her mouth with her hand and look away, lest she retch right there on the floor.
She was suddenly overcome with horrible feelings of guilt. The whole time she was at her parents house, Danny was here, suffering. While she sat on her laurels and let everyone else clean up her life, Danny was alone and in agony, bleeding half to death, his body wracked by infection and fever. Emma didnt know how hed made it this long, but she knew what she had to do. She had to help him. She had to clean him up and clean up this mess and nurse him back to health. He was alive and he was going to stay that way. She absolutely swore it.
Emma worked tirelessly cleaning up Danny and the house as best she could. He was still unconscious, which was probably a good thing, since she needed to disturb his injury and clean it. She had little experience playing nursemaid, but luckily shed read enough books and watched her mother attend to her fathers injuries over the years so that she had some idea what to do. Fortunately, Danny had several poultices and herbal medicines in the house which Emma recognized, and she was able to clean and dress the wound satisfactorily. She could only wait now and see if it did any good and he regained consciousness. The only thing remaining was to get his filthy clothes off of him and clean his body.
She began with his boots and socks, pulling them off and setting them aside. That was the easy part. Taking a deep breath, she then unbuckled his belt and unzipped his trousers. Getting them down off his hips was a bit more difficult since they were stiffened with encrusted blood. Emma cringed as her fingers came in contact with the sticky, dried-up redness, but she kept tugging gently until the pants finally slid down and off, leaving Danny in his undershorts. Emma tried very hard not to stare, but she couldnt help looking at Dannys long legs. Although well-toned and slightly muscular, they were rather slender and shapely. They were covered with dark hair, but it was fine and fairly sparse, not coarse and thick like Isaacs. Dannys upper thighs were perfectly smooth and hair-free, and Emma felt compelled to see if they were as soft as they looked. Reaching out hesitantly, she let the pads of her fingers touch his skin, verifying that, indeed, it was soft as silk. ...Amazing, she thought to herself.
Returning her attentions to the task at hand, Emma was now confronted with Dannys blood-drenched shirt. As she unbuttoned the garment and opened it, she was surprised to find that a large bandage was wrapped around Dannys chest. The bottom of the bandage was soiled by blood, and Emma wasnt sure if it was from his stab wound, or if perhaps he had another injury somewhere on his chest that he had managed to dress himself. She laid the shirt open the whole way, wondering how she was going to unwrap the bandage and get the shirt off without jostling him too much. Contemplating for a moment, she turned and went out to the kitchen to search for scissors or something to cut the material away. It was the least invasive way; Danny would just have to be upset with her for destroying his already-ruined clothes.
Finding some scissors, Emma made her way back to the room to begin her pseudo-surgery. As she sat gingerly on the side of the bed, Emma noticed that Danny was sweating profusely again. She fetched a damp cloth and pressed it to his head as shed done before, trying to keep him cooled down. As she was patting him gently, Dannys eyes began to flutter and open. Emma gasped as pale blue orbs suddenly looked upon her in confusion.
"...Em...ma?" Danny rasped softly. He thought he was certainly dreaming.
"Yes! Yes, its me, Danny!" Emma nearly wept to him as she reached out to touch his face tenderly.
"Emma... you came back," He marveled, a mixture of relief, gratitude and pain playing across his battered features.
"Of course, love! Im here and Im not going to leave you!" Emma whispered emphatically.
"Emma... Im... so sorry," Danny choked out, closing his eyes and trying to move his arms as his face twisted in distress.
Emma had to bite down on her bottom lip to stop it from quivering; the anguished expression displayed on her lovers face was killing her. "Shh... Hush Danny, hush," Emma touched a finger to his lips and stilled his movement, "dont try to talk now."
Danny shook his head and opened his eyes again, "No, Em... Im sorry... for so many things," he struggled to get the words out. "Theres so much... I have to tell you... so much I need to explain... Emma!" He gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut again as another wave of pain rushed through him.
"Oh Danny! Please dont talk now, love... you need to rest," Emma fretted, leaning closer to him as she cupped his face and brushed the damp hair away from his forehead.
Danny shook his head again, wincing and trembling, "Im so sorry, Emma... I love you so much... remember that!" He rasped out as he took a few shuddering breaths and then fell unconscious again from the acute agony.
"Oh Danny, please... please come back to me!" Emma whispered as she held his face and softly kissed his parched lips.
Emma had experienced sickness and death before. She saw friends and family members suffer and perish, and only a few days ago, she watched her own husbands demise. It had been terrible, but it was nothing compared to what she was feeling right now. She had never known pain like this; this pain was an invisible sword that pierced straight into her heart. It slashed through her deep, tender layers of love and devotion, severing her delicate emotional ties and leaving a gaping hole inside her. She hadnt truly realized just how much she needed Danny until that very moment. It hit her like a freight train, and she began to feel immense desperation and panic welling up inside her.
"You cant leave me Danny... you cant!" She said, closing her eyes and breaking down completely. Emma wanted to lean down and grab hold of Danny so badly, but she could only bow her head and release her deep sorrow, letting all the sadness, worry, and anguish of the past several days drain from her eyes and drop onto Dannys still form.
It took Emma a long time to settle down and regain control of her raging emotions. Once she had calmed herself, she remembered her forgotten task of getting the rest of Dannys clothes off so she could bathe and clean him properly. She found her scissors and sat down beside his recumbent form, slipping the metal shears underneath his chest binding and cutting it. When the bindings at last fell away, Emma found no additional injury; what she found instead was most unexpected.
Emma could only sit and stare with her mouth agape as she looked at the very obvious, very female breasts that adorned Dannys chest. She couldnt move... her brain could not comprehend... she was in shock. Danny was... Danny was... Danny was a *woman*?!
Emma shot up off the bed, stumbling backwards and falling to the floor. She scrambled to her feet, staring in wide-eyed horror at the body of her lover. It cant be... it cant be... its impossible... its not POSSIBLE! Her frantic mind screamed inside her head. It must be some sort of a physical... anomaly... a birth defect... shed read about such things... it happened. He couldnt be a woman, he has a , Emma stopped abruptly, her eyes shifting to look at Dannys undershorts. She swallowed the lump in her throat and walked hesitantly toward the bed again. Reaching out with trembling hands, Emma gently grasped the undershorts and pulled them down off Dannys hips.
"Oh my GOD! Nooo!" She wailed aloud, clapping her hand over her mouth. Staggering back toward the bedroom door, Emma gave one last horrified look before turning on her heel and dashing out of the house as fast as her feet would carry her.
Emma laid on her bed in a daze. It seemed that was all she did lately... cry, throw up, and sit around in a stupor. She didnt know how long shed been lying here, staring up at the ceiling; it was now dark outside, so itd been quite awhile.
Shed been thinking so much, her head was throbbing in pain. She was still shocked with disbelief, but now she felt anger too. Why would Danny lie to her like that? How could he do such a thing? And how could she not realize it? She felt betrayed, and incredibly stupid. All the things they said to one another... all the things they *did* with one another. Emma cringed and her stomach flipped when she thought about that.
How could she be so foolish and naive? How could she not see it? Or had she just been in denial about it? Thinking back, she realized that she had noticed little things, like the hat pulled down to shield his face, his penchant for wearing buttoned-up long-sleeved shirts, the smoothness and exquisite structure of his face, the melodious tone of his voice, his slim build. At the time, Emma had passed it all off as uniqueness and nothing more. Even today, when shed glimpsed Dannys naked legs, she shrugged off the irregularity. Now, all the little idiosyncrasies and curious characteristics were coming together and making sense.
Her mind turned to consider the whole pregnancy issue; Emma understood now why Danny had been so insistent that he couldnt be the father of course! Oh dear God... this really is Isaacs baby, Emma thought as yet another realization hit her on the head. She brought a hand to her stomach and closed her eyes, feeling sick again.
Thinking of her pregnancy made her think of the most distressing realizations, which were the peculiarities of her intimacies with Danny. She recalled how Danny never took any of his clothes off... how he never gave Emma the opportunity to touch him or see him... how delicate and tender his caresses were... how gentle and emotional his lovemaking was... how he seemed to know exactly what Emma wanted and needed. Oh how could I not have *known*?! Emma bemoaned again. Her mind flashed back to the prosthetic phallus shed discovered when she yanked off Dannys undershorts. Again, she remembered reading about such things, but shed never seen one, of course. Danny had worn that and used it on her, obviously, when theyd made love. She felt a hot flush race through her body as her mind somersaulted over the thought.
After some of the shock and anger began to wear off, Emma started to reevaluate her feelings for Danny. Danny... is that even his name? ...*Her* name? She thought, drawing a deep sigh and resting her arm over her eyes. Danny had said that he loved her, and she was certain that she had loved him too, but now, in light of all this... did she still feel that way? Emmas mind flashed back to when they first met... their long walks together... the time they spent talking and laughing with one another... the undeniable chemistry between them... the beauty and perfection of their unions.
The feelings she had experienced were real; the overwhelming pull and the strong emotional bond she felt was not simply because she thought Danny was a handsome man or was physically alluring. She was drawn to him because of something deeper; something inside him... and inside her. Yes, but hes a *woman*! Emma thought, shaking her head. Im drawn to a *woman*? How can that be?! She fretted.
Emma knew that if she were honest with herself, *really* honest, she would admit that it really shouldnt be such a shock. She knew she had no interest in men; she knew she wasnt attracted to them, physically or sexually. But women... shed been interested in a few women in the past. She called it interested, because her feelings were confusing at the time, and she assumed it was simply misguided teenage adulation. Now she was forced to rethink things.
She had actually been somewhat relieved to find herself so terribly attracted to the man she thought Danny was. Even though it was adulterous, it had validated her normalcy and eased some of her underlying fears about her own sexuality. She had pushed the doubts and questions aside long ago, but now it seemed that they were back and stronger than ever. Her validation and sense of self had been shattered. Sense of self? I have no sense of self... I never did! Emma thought.
She knew what society at large thought about relationships between people of the same sex. Worse than that, though, was what her parents would think if they knew. She imagined their horror-stricken faces... their anger. She imagined the humiliation theyd suffer... the outrage of the church and the townspeople. It made her cringe. How in the world did Danny manage to hide it? Was that why she pretended to be a man? To hide her homosexuality? Or was it something else?
Emma had finally started to think of Danny as a she instead of a he. In doing so, she began to wonder how Danny managed to successfully live by herself, taking care of her house plus her farm and her horses. It wasnt a large farm, but still, she was alone and... she was a woman. Emma considered that Danny was tall and strong and always seemed quite capable. Perhaps shed lived alone all her life? Perhaps she was used to it? She never talked about her family very much... did they know who she really was? Emma was driving herself crazy with the incessant thoughts and questions and she sighed aloud in frustration.
Sitting up on the bed, Emma looked out at the darkness outside. Her thoughts immediately went to Danny, injured and all alone at her house, probably still unconscious... no one to help her... no one to take care of her. Emma felt her eyes well with tears again, and she squeezed them shut. Danny loved her; she felt certain that those feelings were genuine. The tall brunette had cared for her and listened to her troubles and protected her when Emma needed it most. She was lying in her house, gravely injured and hovering near death because of the depth of her love and devotion toward Emma. And I ran off and left her there... oh Danny... Im sorry! Emma thought as the tears spilled over.
She thought about what Danny had said to her before she made her discovery and fled: "...You came back... Im sorry for so many things... theres so much I have to tell you... so much I need to explain... Im so sorry... I love you so much... remember that." Emma cried harder, realizing that Danny knew Emma would discover her secret and she wanted to tell her. She knew what Emmas reaction would be, and she obviously expected Emma to run away from her. Oh God Danny, Emma lamented again, letting her face fall into her hands.
Emma didnt waste much time wallowing in tears again. She knew what she had to do... she knew what she wanted to do and where she wanted to be. She wanted to be with Danny; she still cared for her. She would work through her muddled feelings later; right now, Danny needed her.
Emma tended to her animals quickly, then packed a few things for herself and rode back toward Dannys house in the darkness, the full moon providing the only beacon of light for her. When she arrived, she entered the house tentatively, looking at everything in a whole new perspective. This was no longer the home of an unusual, single man; this was the home of a mysterious, unknown woman. Observing everything with a critical eye, Emma quickly decided that the distinction made little difference, as far as the house was concerned. She wondered if that would hold true for other things as well.
She entered the bedroom cautiously, her eyes immediately going to Dannys chest and legs, which were bare and exposed, the way shed left them. "Oh God," Emma murmured aloud, chastising herself for being so careless. Ignoring everything else, she worked quickly to free Danny of the remaining soiled clothes and wrappings, pulling everything off and tossing it all aside at last. She then got some warm water and soap and carefully washed the sickly brunette as best she could. She didnt look at Dannys body; she avoided it, in fact. She had to at this point. She couldnt think about anything but her tasks. Still... once the bath was over and Emma changed the wound dressing and wrapped Danny in clean, warm sheets and blankets... she sat on the edge of the bed and gazed at her enigmatic lover in wonder.
With a trembling hand, Emma reached out and brushed her fingers down Dannys bare forearm. It was soft, as she now knew it would be, with tiny fine, dark hairs. She gently grasped Dannys hand and turned it palm-up, observing the thin wrist and the long tapered fingers. Emma held Dannys hand, remembering the gentle touches that it bestowed on her. She reached up with her other hand and caressed Dannys face, recalling the soft kisses and the tender words that came from the perfectly-shaped lips. She raised Dannys hand to her own lips, placing a kiss in the palm and saying a silent prayer for her love.
But did she still love Danny? Did it matter if it was he or she, or him or her? Shouldnt it only matter whats on the inside... in the heart? Didnt the inner being remain the same, no matter what the outside dictated? What is it that we fall in love with... the outer shell or the inner soul? Emma was so confused.
The night and following morning came to pass, and Emma tried to keep herself busy while caring for the still-unconscious Danny. She cleaned up the rest of his house, scrubbing away blood stains and washing Dannys clothes, and she also tended to the animals, which she knew had been neglected and left out to pasture for several days.
It was during one of her indoor cleaning sprees that Emma came across a document that opened her eyes and struck fear in her heart.
She had been tidying up; nothing too invasive, just putting stray books and things away while she cleaned. She was replacing a book on one of the shelves when she noticed a tattered paper document wedged in-between some other books. She pulled the document free and unfolded it. It was a poster... a classic Western Wanted poster.
Wanted: For Murder... Danielle Edwards, it read. Emma gasped as she looked at the grainy black and white photo. The dark hair was much longer and the face was younger... but the light eyes were unmistakable... it looked exactly like Danny. Edward Daniels... Danielle Edwards... Danny, Emma quickly put two and two together... and promptly collapsed onto a nearby chair.
After another long session of shock, disbelief and stupefaction, Emma gathered her wits about her and ventured back to Dannys bedroom. She stood in the doorway for a long time, staring at the figure on the bed, wondering and questioning and feeling more confused than ever. She eventually walked up and sat herself beside Danny again. "Who are you?" Emma whispered aloud. "Who are you, and what have you done?"
That evening, Emma returned to her own house. She felt bad leaving Danny alone, but she couldnt stay there with her. Finding the poster and realizing that she had absolutely no idea who Danny really was weighed heavily on her already perplexed mind. She hated to admit it, but she felt afraid. Emma admitted that she still cared very much for the Danny that she knew, but she now realized that there was much more to Danny than meets the eye. Her feelings, although deep, had been unwittingly limited to a very specific part of Danny the only part that the mysterious brunette had allowed her to see and know. And judging from everything Emma had learned in the past few days, it was a very small part.
The next day, Emma took her time in getting back to check on Danny. She still wanted to go; she still cared enough to want to take care of her friend and lover... she just felt uneasy about being with her. Emma had thought that Danny was so different from Isaac and everyone else, and in part, she certainly was. But she was also the same as Isaac and everyone else too. She carried secrets and lies and she deceived people and pretended to be something she wasnt. She had deceived and pretended with Emma.
The difference was, in her mind, Emma really felt that Dannys heart was pure, and that she meant her no harm. Emma had trouble believing that the gentle soul who loved her so passionately and touched her so deeply could be a dangerous, deviant criminal. That was why she went back. Besides all that... she had too many questions that needed answers.
As soon as Emma entered Dannys house, she sensed that something was amiss. Heading straight for the bedroom, she was shocked to see Danny sitting unsteadily on the side of the bed.
"Danny! My God, what are you doing?!" Emma squawked, rushing forward.
Danny looked up with uncertain, glassy eyes, regarding the blonde angel who instantly appeared at her side. She had thought that she just dreamt Emmas presence before. She was certain that she was dead, and that Emmas spirit had appeared only because she begged for her absolution before descending into Hell. Imagine her shock when she awoke this morning to find that she was quite alive.
"Emma, I...," Danny began, but Emma interrupted.
"Hush," she said, shaking her head, "Lie back down... you shouldnt be up and about yet." Emma spoke softly but succinctly, not looking at Danny. Her feelings were a jumbled mess, and she didnt trust herself to look into the brunettes soulful eyes. She pulled the blankets up and turned her attention to the injury. "Ugh... youve made yourself bleed now, see?!" Emma scolded mildly as she rose to fetch some ointment and a clean bandage.
Danny said nothing as she watched Emma flit about and come to rest again on the side of her bed. She kept her gaze carefully locked on the blondes pretty but tense face as she cleaned and redressed the wound. Emma knew she was being scrutinized, but she refused to look back at Danny.
"Emma," Danny finally whispered, "...you know...?" It was more a statement of fact than a question.
"I know now," Emma answered, her tone a bit curt.
"Im sorry, Em... I wanted to tell you, but--," Emma cut her off again.
"It doesnt matter. Be quiet now and rest." She asserted, finishing with the bandage and covering Danny fully with the blankets.
Danny reached out to grasp her wrist, "It does matter, Em. Please let me explain." Emma finally looked at Danny. Her pale, hollow eyes were pleading and apologetic, the sorrow in them deep, the regret honest. "Please?"
Emma closed her eyes and shook her head, fearing that she was giving in and making another mistake. "Alright." She finally answered. "But I have a lot of questions that I need answers for." She warned, pinning Danny with a look that brooked no argument.
"I understand," Danny answered with a slight nod.
Hours passed and morning stretched into afternoon as Danny laid out the story of her life and the details of her sullied past. Her life, as it turned out, seemed to be destined for turmoil right from the start.
Daniel Edwards hailed from Texas; but when the American pioneers who settled there began to talk of revolt against the Mexican-owned territory, Edwards decided to leave. He married his sweetheart a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed fellow Texan named Sarah Walker and they packed up their belongings and headed northwest, hoping to find a new life. Unfortunately, they only made it to New Mexico. They were ambushed by Indians - Apaches, or possibly Comanches, Danny was told who killed Daniel and brutally raped Sarah, leaving her for dead.
But Sarah Edwards did not die; she lived. She managed to return home to her family in the Midwest, where she soon learned that she was with child. Not knowing if the baby was her husbands or her rapists, she hid herself away at her familys farm until she gave birth.
When the child was born, it seemed obvious that it did not belong to the fair-haired, fair-skinned Daniel Edwards. The baby had tan skin and rich, dark hair; the only white trait that was apparent were the pale blue eyes that looked so much like Sarahs. After much debate and against her parents wishes, Sarah decided to keep the child. She named the little girl Danielle, after her late husband.
Danielle grew into a lovely girl; tall, slim and athletic with a beautiful, albeit unique, face. That uniqueness, however, got her into trouble with the locals. Tensions between Indians and Whites ran high, and Danielle was constantly teased and looked down on by her peers. It made no difference that neither she nor her mother had any control over her genetic makeup she was a half-breed... she had Indian blood in her... therefore, she was less.
By the time Danielle reached her early twenties, she had a reputation as a sullen, temperamental loner. Her life had no direction, and the fact that she was attracted to women rather than men made things all the worse. She was both a freak and an outcast, and she kept to herself because she knew no one could possibly understand her. She was miserable. She had been contemplating moving East to either Philadelphia or New York City when her life took a tragic turn.
Danielle had always been teased and pursued by the young men in her hometown. Although a half-breed, she was quite beautiful, and the men couldnt understand why she repeatedly spurned their advances. While most of the men begrudgingly accepted her scorn, some detested her because of it. One such man detested her so much that he began stalking her, determined to teach her a lesson and put her in her place. As Danielle walked home one night, he attacked her and raped her at gunpoint. But she didnt give in easily; she fought back. During the struggle, the gun went off, and Danielle soon found herself with a dead man on her hands.
The mayhem that ensued frightened Danielle and infuriated her mother. No one believed her story that she had been assaulted and had acted in self-defense. Everyone seemed to think that she had simply lashed out and killed the young man out of sheer spite and hate. She was half-Indian, after all, and thats what Indians were savage killers.
Danielle felt she had no choice but to run, so she did. She fled her hometown, leaving her mother and her old life behind. She hopped from one city to the next, taking odd jobs here and there and just trying to stay alive. Her decision to reinvent herself as Edward Daniels wasnt borne out of a desire to become a man; it was merely intended to change her appearance so that she couldnt be identified. So far, she had been successful.
She ended up in Oregon because it was the most isolated and remote place she could think of, and it seemed to hold good promise for a new life. But she avoided towns, she avoided people in general, and she certainly avoided making friends or having long-term relationships with anyone. She had been successful with that, too... until she met Emma Johnson.
Danny was exhausted after spilling her sordid tale to Emma, but it was worth it. Emma had asked a lot of questions, and she felt that she now understood just about everything. Although she still felt confused about her feelings, she at least felt a little better about knowing who and what Danny was.
Hearing about Dannys violent, unpleasant past made Emma wonder how Danny came to be such a gentle, loving person. The taller woman had always shown her nothing but kindness and caring; how could such tenderness come from a person who had such a dark history? If Danny had made it a point to avoid people, why did she willingly become so close to Emma? If she had been so hurt and betrayed in the past, why open herself up to anyone? Through all the questions and all the hows and whys she continued to ask herself, Emmas mind repeatedly kept coming back to the same conclusion and the same answer: Danny loved her. The immediate connection theyd had with each other was real; Emma couldnt deny that. And she still felt it. She still felt absolutely drawn to Danny.
She tried to sympathize with some of what Danny must have gone through. Emma knew full well what it was like to deal with lustful, crude men; how they would sniff and circle around women like wild dogs, making crass, suggestive comments when no one was looking. She imagined they would have been especially volatile around a beauty like Danny and she was sure that Danny had been a beautiful woman. She still is a beautiful woman... isnt she? The clothes may be different, but she is the same. Emma just couldnt get her head around it.
She was tempted to say that she still loved Danny; she loved what was on the inside, absolutely, but... it was the physical aspects that she was having trouble with. She told herself that it shouldnt matter; a body is just a body. Dannys body happened to be female, which admittedly was a shock, but that shouldnt matter... she didnt want it to matter. Emma loved her for the person she was, not the body she possessed. And besides all that... Dannys female body was very lovely. Still... Emma struggled with it.
Days passed and Danny continued to make good progress. She was able to sit up and eat and drink, but she was very weak and was still plagued by the effects of the lingering infection.
Emma had warmed up to Danny a little, but the brunette sensed her uneasiness and could just imagine her troubled thoughts. They had not talked about what had happened. Emma didnt mention Isaac, nor did she mention anything about her pregnancy. Neither one had brought up the subject of what they were going to do, nor what the future held for either one of them. As tempting as it was to just sit back and continue to play dumb, Danny knew that she couldnt do that. Surely Isaac was dead; surely Emma was going to have to sell her farm; surely her family wanted her to come back home with them so they could take care of her and her baby. Surely she wont want anything to do with me, Danny thought.
Emma entered Dannys bedroom, stirring her from her thoughts. "I made you some fresh soup," Emma said with a smile as she sat on the edge of the bed holding the steaming bowl in her lap.
"Thank you," Danny answered, gazing at Emmas tired face. Emma proceeded to feed Danny, taking great care and gently dabbing at her mouth after every bite or two.
"You know... I can do this myself," Danny said, not wanting to disturb the peacefulness of the moment, but knowing that they had to discuss things.
"I know," Emma said simply, looking down at the bowl.
"In fact, I can do just about everything myself now... Im well enough for you to leave me, Emma." Danny said softly. At that, Emmas head snapped up, her wide aqua eyes boring into Dannys calm blue.
"You want me to leave?" Emma snapped, the surprise and hurt evident in her tone.
"No, I dont *want* you to leave... but I understand that you must." Danny tried to explain, "I understand that you want to... that you need to." He said quietly.
Emma closed her eyes and sighed, "The only thing I need, is to take care of you." She asserted, dipping the spoon again and bringing it toward Dannys lips.
Danny reached out and stopped Emmas hand, "You have taken care of me, Em... and for that Im eternally grateful." They locked eyes with one another. "But I know that you cant stay here with me... I understand that. You have to go back to your life... you have to go back to your family and let them take care of you now."
Emma looked at Danny in disbelief and confusion. She rose from the bed, sitting the soup on the side table as she turned away and walked toward the door, her hands on her hips. Pausing for a moment, she finally turned around, feeling the certainty, at last, of what she desired.
"What life do I have to return to, Danny? A life of parents who push me to do things I dont want to do and marry men I dont want to marry... thats their idea of taking care of me." Emma voice trembled as the tears began to gather in her eyes. "They think that marrying some man will solve all my problems. All they can see is that Im a woman, and therefore I cannot be alone. They dont care about what I want... they dont know who I am." The tears rolled down her cheeks as she looked woefully at Danny.
"And what is it that you want, Emma?" Danny asked.
"I want to be with you." She answered with surety, pinning Danny with her bright jade eyes.
Danny closed her eyes and shook her head, "No, Emma... no, no, no--," she started to protest, but Emma interrupted.
"Yes!" She insisted, quickly coming to perch on the side of the bed again. "Danny, I want to be with you... I *need* to be with you!" She insisted. "I wasnt sure at first, but now... now I know. My feelings for you havent changed, Danny, I--,"
Danny cut her off, "Emma... I *killed* your husband! Doesnt that matter to you?!" She asked incredulously.
"You killed a man I was forcibly married to and did not love." Emma replied in a calm voice.
"Hes the father of your unborn child." Danny hated to keep pushing, but she had make Emma see reason.
"Not in my eyes. In my eyes, he doesnt deserve that privilege." Emma asserted, shaking her head.
"Did you ever give him the chance to earn the privilege?"
"I shouldnt have HAD to give him ANY chance!" Emma shouted, her calm facade at last breeched. "I was his WIFE! He should have loved and honored me! But instead, he abused and hurt me!" The tears flowed freely as the hurt and anger burst forth. "Youre the only person Ive ever truly *loved*, Danny... please dont try to push me away."
"Emma...," Danny whispered, her own eyes filling with tears, "I *killed* Isaac! Im a *murderer*!" She said emphatically, grasping Emma by the arms.
"You didnt mean to... you were just defending yourself. He tried to kill you!" Emma insisted. "Besides... as far as anyone else is concerned, Im the one who killed Isaac."
"...What?" It took a moment for the words to register, but when they did, Danny was flabbergasted.
"No one knows you were involved, Danny." Emma stated calmly. "I couldnt tell them... I couldnt do that to you... not after you did what you did for me. You saved me, Danny... so I saved you."
Danny couldnt say anything... she didnt know what to say or think. Her hands fell away from Emmas arms and she just sat, mouth agape, staring in disbelief. Emma was telling her that she had taken the fall for her, that she had spared her involvement in Isaacs death and didnt tell a soul what had really happened. No one had ever done anything like that for her, ever.
Danny could only think of one thing to say, "...Why, Em?" She whispered as tears made their way down her cheeks.
"Oh Danny... dont you know?" Emma answered back as she reached out to caress the tear-streaked face. "Because I love you... because you are my life."
Sure hands gripped the little baby and lifted her high into the air while she giggled and made gurgling noises. Silly, nonsensical words were uttered and the babys belly was nuzzled by a smiling face.
"Youre going to make her sick," the childs mother warned.
"No I wont... she likes it... dont you Danielle?" Was the teasing response.
Danny smiled and kissed the belly of the tiny tow-headed girl again, eliciting another gleeful squeal from the jade-eyed baby as she grabbed fistfuls of dark hair. Emma reclined back on the blanket and laughed at her lovers playful antics. Danny was so good with her daughter; she couldnt imagine any one else so thoroughly loving a child that wasnt their own flesh and blood the way that Danny loved little Danielle. But then again, she knew that Danny truly felt like the baby was a part of her.
It had been nearly a year since the tragedy that nearly cost them their lives and their sanity. In that year, they had decided that they wanted to be together, and that they needed to escape everything and everyone who might try to keep them apart. They moved away, determined to make a brand new start, together. It hadnt been easy, but they persevered.
They shared everything equally: home responsibilities, parenting, work chores... everything was fifty-fifty. They were partners, and neither one held control over the other... not even in the bedroom.
Emma gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and they became, for all intents and purposes, a family. They were happy, they were healthy, and they had each other.
They had their new life. And it was everything they dreamed, and more.
Return to the Academy
Thanks for reading.
Feedback can be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org . Or feel free to visit me.