Disclaimer: This is an Alt/Uber fanfic. The characters are my own, but based on Xena and Gabrielle. No copyright infringement was intended. Yadda, yadda, yadda. You know the drill.

Content Warning: Some language and hints of violence.

Note: I want to thank my Beta reader, Pam. Thanks to ForevaXena, The Royal Academy of Bards, Ultimate Xena Fan Fiction, Beyond Uber, and Uber Adobe for posting my story on their websites. If I'm forgetting anybody, let me know. LOL. Ah, what the heck, I thank New Zealand. If you've watched the Oscars, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Comments: Keep sending those comments. You can send them to my email. hip2square@yahoo.com Thanks!

Copyright May 2004: R. A. Hughes

~*~

April 14, 1874 continued

That afternoon Elena showed Elizabeth around the cabin. There were three bedrooms. Tom, Frank, and Matt shared one room, while Carlos and Pedro shared the other. The master bedroom was locked at all times, but Elizabeth didn't ask why. There was a spacious living room with an open fireplace. They went back into the kitchen.

Elena taught Elizabeth how the cook stove worked. It was a pot-bellied cast-iron stove. A chimney branched from the top, reaching up to the hole in the ceiling, to let out the smoke.

Elena opened the door to the stove, placing a couple logs inside. Lighting a twig from a kerosene lamp, she used this to kindle the logs, and then closed the little door. Elena showed Elizabeth where the food and kitchenware were. "You're going to be here for awhile, so you might as well make yourself at home," Elena said.

There was yelling coming from outside. They ran out to see what the noise was and saw that the boys were herding the cattle back.

"Hi! Yi-yi-yi! Hi!" they shouted. They directed the herd behind the stable. When the cattle stopped, they began their usual grazing.

Tom was the first to jump off his horse. "Hello girls. How was your day? Uneventful, I hope," he said.

"It wasn't too bad, was it, Elizabeth?" Elena asked, looking over at Elizabeth.

"It was quite an interesting day," she answered.

"You're in for a lot of interesting days," he warned.

Elena and Elizabeth helped the boys put the horses in the stable. Elena wandered over to Sunshine, giving her some of the oats.

Picking up the brush, Elizabeth began brushing the horse's flanks. "She's beautiful," Elizabeth said.

"Yes, she is," Elena, agreed, "She belonged to my mother. Sunshine is an old nag now." The horse nipped at Elena as if to protest her last statement.

Elizabeth laughed at the antics. "I think she disagrees with you."

"I think you're right. Let's go back inside the cabin."

They were cooking dinner when Carlos came back, carrying an armload of supplies. He placed a bag of flour and sugar on the table. "You did a fine job with that field, Elena," he praised.

"Thank you, Carlos. Elizabeth helped too," she mentioned.

Carlos looked at Elizabeth, and said nothing. Carlos turned to walk away, but stopped. "I want you and the boys to build a fence tomorrow. I do not want those cattle straying. We're going to herd them across the border soon. I'd hate to lose money because of stupidity," he grumbled.

"Yes, Carlos," Elena said.

Elizabeth clenched her fists in annoyance. She waited until Carlos was out of earshot. "Why does he treat you like that? And don't tell me it's because you're a woman," said Elizabeth, defiantly.

"I don't want you to get involved. It's none of your business," Elena replied.

Elizabeth backed away with a hurt look on her face.

~*~

San Antonio- Town hall

The town hall was crowded with men that worked within the town. Sheriff Grant and James Clark stood facing the crowd. The men murmured amongst themselves. Raising his hands, the sheriff motioned everyone to sit down.

"Quiet down, quiet down. You all remember, Mr. Clark, the former mayor of this fine town. He wants to talk to all of you. Please, give him your undivided attention," Bill stepped aside.

"Gentlemen, yesterday, my daughter and I were heading to California when six bandits stopped our stagecoach. They kidnapped my daughter. I would walk through hell and high water to bring her back, alive. However, I need your help. These men could be dangerous. Will you help me?" James asked. The men looked at each other and looked back at James. Half of the crowd stood up, "Good. Let's get ready."

~*~

Early that evening, Elena sat on an old tree stump. The rays of the sun reached up toward the heavens. She heard quiet rustling behind her. "I'm sorry," she apologized.

"No, I'm the one who should be sorry. You were right, it's none of my business," Elizabeth admitted.

Elena patted the vacant area next to her. Elizabeth sat down. "Do you see how the light is reaching up, but the sun is moving farther away?" Elena asked.

Elizabeth peered up at the sky. Golden fingers tried to grasp the remaining white clouds. "Yes," she answered.

"I feel that way sometimes," Elena said sadly.

Elizabeth turned to face Elena. She absently smoothed the black hair from Elena's face. "Why do you feel that way?" she asked.

Elena shrugged her shoulders. "I'm always reaching for something, but can't. It's too far away," she explained.

"Maybe you should stop reaching. Let something reach for you," Elizabeth advised.

Elena sighed because she wanted to tell Elizabeth about her past. She never told anyone about the incident, not even Carlos. "Elizabeth, I don't want you to ask questions about Carlos. I can deal with him my own way. I don't need you to defend me, although I do appreciate it. I just don't want you to get into trouble," she said.

"Okay, I won't make trouble," Elizabeth agreed.

"You don't look like the kind to make trouble," judged Elena.

"You'll be surprised," Elizabeth said slyly.

Elena raised an eyebrow. Elizabeth chuckled, elbowing Elena in the arm. They sat there in comfortable silence, watching the remaining sunset.

Elizabeth placed her head on Elena's shoulder. She was grateful for the quick friendship with Elena.

"Are you going to get supper, or are you going to sit there all night?" Carlos asked, breaking the silence.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes as she stood up, following Elena inside the cabin. Together they cooked a simple meal of sourdough biscuits with gravy and fried fish.

Carlos cast intimidating glances at Elizabeth. She was not part of the plan. He thought the former mayor was supposed to be alone. Nevertheless, taking Elizabeth was the perfect thing to do. It would give her father a dose of his own medicine. Carlos idly looked over at Elena. Without a doubt in his mind, she would do anything to keep him from hurting Elizabeth.

~*~

Behind the wagon canvas, Elena and Elizabeth took turns taking a quick bath in the washtub. Now wearing nightshirts, they settled down for tonight's sleep.

Elizabeth wished for light, wanting to see Elena's comforting face. She realized having a kerosene lamp in a stable was not a good idea. Her inquisitive mind wanted to ask Elena about her life up until now. "Elena?"

"Yes?"

"May I ask you a question?"

"You can ask me whatever you want. I'll answer as truthfully as I can," Elena replied.

"Were you forced to sleep in the stable?

"No, I wanted to."

"What's in the master bedroom?"

"Nothing."

"Can't you sleep in there?"

"I don't want to. Now, go to sleep. We're both tired," Elena changed the subject.

Elena rolled over onto her side, away from Elizabeth. She knew Elizabeth meant no harm by asking questions. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping to ban the memories from her mind.

"Okay, goodnight." Elizabeth only heard Elena's steady breathing. She scolded herself for upsetting Elena. Although, she did not know what caused her to become upset. Maybe I shouldn't ask any more questions, she thought. With a sigh, she pulled the blanket to her chin and went to sleep.

Elena tossed and turned during most of the night. The images in her mind made her restless.

***

"Elena. Where are you, silly girl?" Sofia Garcia asked.

Elena and her mother enjoyed their game of Hide-and-Seek. Elena knew all the perfect hiding places. The mischievous six-year-old child hid behind a settee in her parent's bedroom. She bit her lip to suppress her giggling.

"I know you're in here, somewhere," her mother continued.

In her mother's voice was a hint of good humor. Her brown eyes twinkled with merriment. Quietly she tiptoed to the wardrobe, and swung the doors open. Finding no one there, she looked inside the cedar chest at the end of the bed. She placed her hands on her hips with a smile.

"All right, I give up," Sofia said in defeat.

Elena started to move from behind the settee when she heard someone stomp into the bedroom. A pair of cowboy boots was seen from underneath the settee. She could recognize them from anywhere.

"Alberto? What are you doing home early?" she heard her mother ask.

"I am surprised to see you home. I thought you would be visiting the stables like you do everyday," replied Alberto, disdainfully.

"Charles was not there today. Why are you upset, dear?" Sofia inquired.

"Don't act innocent with me, woman. I found out about you and Charles. I should have known that child was not my daughter," Alberto smacked Sofia across the face.

"I'm so sorry, Alberto," Sofia sobbed, placing a hand on her face.

"You whoring bitch! I won't let you get away with your cheating," Alberto said with spite.

Elena's hand covered her mouth to muffle her crying. A loud bang rang out, hurting ears and her hands flew to cover them. The ringing continued for a minute, and then she removed her hands. She listened for any movement, but heard only the silence. Slowly she moved around the settee. Her mother was lying on the floor haphazardly. Elena sat next to her mother, and traced the handprint on her face.

"Mama. Wake up," Elena placed her mother's head on her lap, "Please, wake up, mama."

***

"Mama, mama," Elena thrashed around.

Elizabeth scooted toward Elena, wrapped her arms around her. Whispering soothing words into her ear, she rocked her back and forth while Elena cried on her shoulder. "It's okay now," Elizabeth assured her. Pulling up the cover, she rested Elena's head in the crock of her neck. After Elena's crying subsided, they eventually fell asleep.

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