A/N: This is an AU of Millie and Ike's relationship over at the Ride Safe RPG. Noah has worked with the Express from the beginning and only Jimmy knows Lou's secret.
After what seemed like eternity of running, Millie finally dared to stop. She was sure the men who had attacked the village were coming after her. She had overheard them saying; "Leave no witnesses." She wasn't sure if they had seen her or not, but she wasn't about to take any chances. After four months of watching over her shoulder as the miles and miles from the Rockies had passed she still wasn't going to take things easily.
She had ridden for a day and a half without passing a single town. She'd passed a few mining camps, but there was no way she was going to camp with a bunch of men she didn't know. Honey was ridden hard and they both needed a rest, so they needed to camp. Finding a suitable spot with access to a stream, she quickly made camp and turned her filly loose. She knew by now Honey wouldn't stray far so she didn't bother tethering the animal.
Dusk was about to turn into night when Ike pulled his horse to a stop. His eyes searched for a place to stop for the night. Up ahead, closer to the stream, he could see a horse and a person lying down next to it. Squinting, Ike tried to get a better look, but knew that if he wanted to find out who this person was, he needed to get closer.
He could see now that the person was a girl about the same age as himself. The feminine features of her face were revealed by the soft glow of the moon. The long hair with the slight wave in it made her look almost angelic.
Millie jerked awake with the feeling someone was watching her. She saw someone standing by the fire with Honey.
"Who are you? What do you want?" she demanded; half fearful, half angrily. She was really beginning to wish she had a weapon, but she knew it was better not to have one if she didn't know how to use it. And her traveling on horseback with a bow and arrow without being an Indian wouldn't look good.
*I ride for the Pony Express,* signed Ike, *I saw your camp and I wondered who you were. You don't have to worry. I won't hurt you.*
At first, Millie mistook his hand movements and screamed. As he came closer, she realized he was signing. Her mouth fell open and no sound came out in shock. "I'm sorry," she said apologetic than felt like an idiot.
'If he signs, he probably can't hear you!' she berated herself.
*I'm sorry, it's just that…* she wasn't sure what to say. She'd just met this person and had no idea if he was who he said he was. *A girl traveling alone can't be too careful. What are you doing with my horse?*
*She's a good horse. Probably a good runner,* signed Ike with a slight smile. *You don't have to sign. I can hear just fine. I can't use my voice.*
"Thanks," she said signing and talking at the same time. She suddenly stopped signing. "She's all I have left and we take good care of each other." She took Honey from him and stroked her neck.
*My name's Ike.*
"Oh, and my name's Millie Owens," she said, realizing she hadn't introduced herself. "Millicent actually, but everyone calls me Millie. "Do you know if there's a town nearby? We've been ridin' for days and I haven't seen one otherwise I would've stayed there instead of out in the open."
*I'm from Sweetwater. We can reach there by mid afternoon tomorrow.* Ike bit his lip and looked down. *If you want - we can travel together.*
"If you don't mind, I'm not sure where I even am anymore."
She didn't even know this person, but for some reason she felt she could trust him. Maybe it was the fact that he couldn't talk or that he had no hair, but she knew it in her soul that he was gentle and someone she could trust with her life if need be.
Ike nodded and reached out to pat Honey's nose. *Is it alright if we leave at dawn? I have to deliver the mochila at the station. It's sort of my job.*
"That's fine, I don't want to do anything that would get you in trouble with your job," she said smiling. "If you tell me how to get there, I can find it on my own if it's easier."
*It isn't any trouble at all. I was just saying because I have to stop by the station before town.* Ike could feel the blush come to his cheek because he stood in front of one of the most beautiful women he'd ever laid eyes on and he was making a fool out of himself. *Do you know anybody in Sweetwater?* he asked just for the sake of having something to do with his hands.
"I do now," she said, grinning. "But no, I don't know anyone from these parts. I've lived in the Rockies for a long time." She sighed as she thought about the life she had known but will never be a part of again.
*I've been out that way on an express run once. It's really pretty there.*
She nodded. "It's is."
Fighting back a yawn, Ike smiled. *I could show you around Sweetwater after I've delivered the mochila.*
When she noticed his yawn she giggled. "I guess we better get some rest if we're gettin' up early. And I'd really like it if you could show me around. Especially if you know of a boarding house that's affordable and will let me bed Honey there was well."
*You won't sleep at a boarding house. Emma, the station mistress, won't allow it. She always has room.* Ike moved to his horse and unpacked his bedroll. He laid it down at a proper distance from Millie. He didn't want her to think that he wanted anything from her of - that nature.
"I wouldn't want to be any trouble," she said as he settled down across from her. "You've already been too kind to me."
*Don't worry about it. Emma's the greatest woman I've ever known. She's like a mother to us.*
"She sounds like it." Millie was glad he had mentioned that Emma was a station mistress because the way he talked about her, she almost felt jealous.
'You just met him,' she thought. 'Why are you acting like a jealous fool? You don't know anything about him other than his name and that he rides for the Express.'
It was her turn to yawn and she snuggled down into her bedroll, but propped herself up on one elbow in case he still wanted to talk.
Ike laid down on his bedroll and smiled at Millie. *Night,* he signed. *I'll see you in the morning.*
"Night," she said. Even though she had just met Ike, she felt a lot safer with him nearby. She hoped once they reached Sweetwater, they'd remain friends. If she stayed long enough that is. She only hoped that they would have a newspaper and that she could somehow find a way to convince them to let her work for them. She had to remind herself to ask Ike in the morning.
The following morning, Ike was the first one to wake. He sat up and noticed that Millie was still asleep. Watching her, a smile formed on his lips. She was so beautiful when she slept, so peaceful. His train of thought was interrupted when his horse gave a small grunt, indicating that he was being lazy and that they should get going.
Millie had the most wonderful dream. She dreamed that she had met a tall, quiet and handsome mute who was everything she'd wanted in a man, but never knew existed. A groan escaped her lips when she heard a horse neigh, knowing that Honey was probably getting impatient at her laziness.
When she opened her eyes, she jumped in fear as she saw another horse with hers and then relaxed when she looked around and realized that it hadn't been a dream. The tall, quiet and handsome man was really there.
"Morning Ike," she said shyly.
*Morning,* smiled Ike. *Did you sleep well?*
'Much better once you got here,' she thought as she nodded.
"How about you?"
Ike nodded as well and smiled at her. *I slept well. Do you want some breakfast before we head towards Sweetwater?* Capturing her eyes Ike found her even more beautiful in daylight.
Millie groaned at the mention of food. Another reason she need a town was so she could stock up on provisions. Not wanting to impose on his hospitality any more than she already had, she shook her head.
"No thanks, I'm not really hungry."
She closed her eyes as her stomach betrayed her. She prayed that Ike hadn't heard it.
Ike just grinned as he handed her half of what was left of his hardtack. *Eat up,* he signed. *It's gonna be a while before we're in Sweetwater yet.*
"Thanks," she said taking the food. They ate in silence for a few minutes before she spoke again. "So what's it like workin' for the Express? I bet you have a lot of interesting stories about your experiences."
*Most of the time it's just hard work, but I like working with the animals. The adventure happens when Marshal Sam Cain deputizes us.* Ike stopped for a moment to think. *When we get to the station you'll have to meet Samson. He's the donkey.*
Millie grinned when he mentioned working with animals. "I bet all the animals love you, you seem so gentle, I don't see how anyone couldn't." She blushed when she realized that probably sounded more forward than she meant it.
Ike blushed at her compliments. *I've always liked working with animals. They're so different from humans.*
She nodded. "And less evil," she mumbled. "Once I get settled somewhere, I'd love to have some animals. I was never able to have any growing up and always wanted a kitten." She sighed knowing that was probably just a dream like all the other ones she never expected to have come true.
Ike swallowed. The thought that Millie might not stay in Sweetwater had never crossed him before now. *Samson is sort of the station pet. He can be your pet, too. He loves everyone who feeds him.* Ike smiled and gave a silent laugh at the food-loving donkey.
"I'd like that. That is if Emma lets me stay," she said as she finished the rest of her breakfast. "I really don't want to be any trouble, and it'll be just until I can find a place of my own. I'd help out in exchange for her letting me stay there."
*I'm sure Emma'll let you stay.*
Millie then remembered what she had thought to ask Ike last night. "Is there a newspaper in Sweetwater?"
*There is a newspaper in Sweetwater. Why do you ask?* Ike was intrigued by Millie and he wanted to know everything about her.
"I'd really like to get a job as a writer. I've witnessed… well I have a lot to write about. And the other towns I've been too took one look at me and thought I was nuts when I asked about a job. It didn't matter if I could write or not, all that mattered was the fact I was a girl."
*I don't know anything about the people who run the paper in Sweetwater...* Ike thought about Millie being a writer. *You could send it to a...* Ike didn't know the word in sign so instead he wrote on the ground, 'publisher'.
Millie sighed. 'Another dream that'll never come true,' she thought sadly.
"Maybe someday. I don't know, maybe my writing's not any good and people are being too polite to say anything."
*Don't put yourself down like that,* signed Ike. The expression on his face was as firm as his voice would have been. *You're smart and you have a good heart. Don't put yourself down. You can do anything you want to do.*
Millie couldn't believe she'd only met Ike the night before and his words were already soothing her and making her believe he was right. "Thanks for makin' me feel better, Ike. We better get goin' soon, I don't want to get you into trouble for bein' late."
Ike nodded as he started to break camp. He liked spending time with Millie like this. She was a good friend and Ike dared to hope that some day they might be something more.
Millie helped Ike breaking down the camp and prepared the horses for the ride ahead. As they headed towards Sweetwater, she hoped things would finally start working out for her. She had finally found someone she could trust, and she wondered if there was a chance that someday they could be more.
Ike smiled towards Millie as they pulled the horses to a stop in the station yard. The news that Ike wasn't alone spread quickly and soon everyone had gathered in front of the two.
"Who's your new friend?" asked Jimmy.
Millie was overwhelmed as people started to come from everywhere to greet them. She had never been shy, but suddenly she was.
"My name's Millie," she said quietly, looking down at her hands, tightly clutching the saddle horn.
"Welcome to Sweetwater Millie," said Emma with a smile at her lips. "Jimmy and Cody here will take care of your horses and you come up to the house to wash up and get something to eat." Emma didn't wait for an answer from the two, but instead herded them up to the house.
Ike smiled at Millie. *See, I told you Emma is the greatest woman ever.*
As she noticed Ike's movements out of the corner of her eye, Emma smiled.
Millie nodded and her eyes grew wide as she felt Ike's hand on the small of her back as he gently led her to the house. His welcome touch sent shivers down her spine.
"She does seem great," she whispered. "She doesn't even know me and is already treating me nice."
Emma turned at the young girl's words. She knew how hard it was for Ike to trust someone and she must be special if Ike was putting his arm on her back.
"Well, any friend of Ike's is welcome here."
Ike gave Emma a bright smile as the older woman set about setting the table and warming some dinner. "You two clean up and I'll have food ready when you're done."
Millie followed Ike to the sink to wash up. Her mouth began watering as Emma began placing food on the table from the stove where it had been warming. "That food smells wonderful, Emma. It's been a long while since I've had a home cooked meal."
Emma smiled at the compliment, but she couldn't help but to wonder where this girl had come from, what her history was. "Well, there's no time like the present for a home cooked meal. Set yourselves down and eat before it gets cold." The older woman ushered them to the table where two plates were waiting to get eaten.
She immediately began eating and groaned in delight. "This food tastes even better than it smells." She looked over at Ike who was looking at her and smiling. "Sorry," she apologized as she slowed her eating. "I can get carried away sometimes."
Ike shook his head. *If I had a voice I'd be doing the same thing,* he signed under the table.
Millie had wondered about his voice, but didn't think it was appropriate to bring it up right now. Not only was it because Emma was closely watching her, but they'd just met. He hadn't asked her too much about her past, so she wasn't about to ask about his. But that didn't stop her from wanting to know more about him … much more.
Ike couldn't help but to let his eyes wander towards Millie. *What are you thinking about?* he asked as he finished the last bit of his dinner.
"Part of me I guess is just worried about what's gonna happen now. Sweetwater seems like such a nice town, and I like it here," she smiled shyly at Ike. "But… I guess I just don't want to get my hopes up. Sounds stupid I guess."
*It's not stupid. I wasn't too sure about Sweetwater when I got here either. Don't worry about it. You can do whatever you set your mind to.* Ike gave her an encouraging smile.
"Thanks, Ike," she said feeling a little bit better. "I think I'll feel better once I get settled in somewhere and hopefully find a job I'll like, even if it's not what I want to do."
"You'll stay here tonight," said Emma in a firm voice. "Any friend of Ike's is welcome to stay." She gave Ike a wink. "Ike, why don't you show Millie around while I get the guest room ready for her?"
Ike looked at Millie wondering what she was going to do. He would like it if Millie decided to stay at the station.
"Are you sure? I don't want to cause any problems or be any trouble."
"Nonsense," Emma insisted. "Go on you two, I bet Ike's just waiting to show you Samson."
"Thank you so much, Emma. I'll help you in any way I can to repay the kindness you and Ike have shown me."
"Some help taking care of all these boys is always more than welcome," laughed Emma as she noticed the slight blush that came to Ike's cheeks.
Ike offered her his arm, and looked towards the door.
Millie took his arm and they walked outside. She liked the way her arm fit in his; as if they were made for each other. Once again she chastised herself for thinking such things, but decided that she would enjoy the moment while it lasted.
As they made their way to the corral where Samson was, Millie noticed some of the others that had greeted them earlier watching her and she began to feel uneasy.
*Are you alright?* he asked as the two stopped in front of Samson's paddock.
She nodded. "I guess your friends are wary of strangers," she explained. "Don't blame them, they're probably wondering who I am."'
*Don't worry about it,* signed Ike. *I'll introduce you to them later and then they'll see that you're not a vampire.*
"Well, I normally don't bite someone I just met," she teased. "Give me a few days."
*I'll be sure to look out for that then.*
Samson stuck his head in between the two and brayed loudly at feeling ignored.
"Oh, he's beautiful," exclaimed Millie as she turned her attention to the donkey. "Can I pet him?"
*Of course you can,* Ike started to scratch the animal behind his ears.
Millie held her hand out as she would a horse she was just meeting, and waited for Samson's response. It took him a few moments before he finally nuzzled against it. She smiled over at Ike before she scratched the donkey behind the ears like Ike had.
"How did you get him?" she wondered.
*He comes from a wild herd nearby,* explained Ike. *His mother died when he was born. I go out to see the donkeys and ... I saw it happen.*
"That's so sad," she said. "Luckily you were there when it happened. He probably wouldn't have survived if you weren't there. I doubt the others would've taken care of him." She grew sad as she thought how the tribe could've turned her away after her parents died.
Ike hadn't thought about it like that before. Then he noticed the sad look on her face. *Are you alright?*
She nodded. "Just thinkin' about the past is all. My parents died when I was younger and the tribe we were stayin' with didn't have to let me stay."
*Were you at an orphanage?* asked Ike, wondering if they had something in common.
She shook her head. "My parents were missionaries, and they were trying to convert Indians in nearby areas to Christianity. We were livin' with a Shoshone tribe when they died. My best friend was the chief's daughter, and so he let me stay instead of sending me to one."
*I'm sorry,* signed. Ike. He didn't know what else to say. *I went to an orphanage when I was six. I think I'd rather have been in an Indian village.*
"I'm sorry, too," she said. "It's hard losing the ones you love. Bein' the only non Indian wasn't as much fun as it sounds. It wasn't always easy for me, but I don't regret any of it."
'Well except seeing those I cared for slaughtered,' she thought, wondering if she'd ever be brave enough to actually talk about that day instead of just writing about it.
*Thinking back, I don't think I regret being at the orphanage either. I met my best friend there.*
"Is he a rider also?" she asked curiously.
Ike nodded. *We signed up together. He's the one that thought me to sign. You'll meet him later.*
"He's Indian?" she asked. Other than her and Ike, she thought only Indians used sign.
*He's Kiowa,* signed Ike.
"I hope all your friends will like me."
*I know they'll like you.* 'I sure do,' he added to himself.
As confident as Ike was regarding his friends, she was cautious. She really liked Ike and would be willing to stay long enough in Sweetwater to see what if anything developed in the friendship. But she had a feeling his friends weren't going to make it easy on her.
"Look's like we're about to find out," she said uneasily as the others curiosity started to get to them and they began to approach.
"They're lookin' too chummy to have just met," Jimmy argued as they watched the silent rider with his female companion. "Buck, are you sure Ike doesn't know her?"
"Yeah," Cody started. "It's not like Ike to just pick up a girl in town."
"It's not like Ike to pick up a girl anywhere," Buck concluded, shaking his head.
He'd been curious when he saw Ike arrive home with a girl in tow, but as he saw how close Ike and her were getting, he grew worried. Ike was like a brother to him, and Buck knew better than the others Ike's tendency to take in every stray he stumbled upon. When it came to women, he had the worst luck.
"I think we should go check her out," he added.
"Leave them alone," Lou said.
"I agree with Lou on this one," agreed Noah.
Buck wasn't listening and walked towards the corral. The others didn't waste any time in following.
Ike rose and turned as his friends approach them. *Buck, this is Millie. Millie, this is Buck."
Millie noticed the Kiowa watching her cautiously. "Nice to meet you, Buck."
"Nice to meet you, too," said Buck. He was still a bit reserved, but if Millie could be open, then he would be, too. "Ike, could be talk for a moment, in private?"
Ike looked from Millie to his childhood friend. *Sure,* he nodded and the two walked into the barn. *What's this about?* he asked once inside the barn.
"Who is she?" Buck asked. "How'd you meet her?"
Ike looked at Buck for a few moments before he answered. *Her name's Millie. She's a writer. We met on the trail to Sweetwater. We were going the same way so it made sense that we rode together.*
Buck shook his head. "You don't know anything about her, how can you tell she's tellin' you the truth?"
*She has never given me any reason not to believe her.* Ike kept his eyes on his friend. *Buck, why are you so worried about her?* He knew his friend was just trying to defend him, but he couldn't help challenging him.
"You have a kind heart and will take in any type of stray, but this is different, my friend. Do you not remember how cruel girls have been to you before? They act like you're their friend and then they break your heart. I can tell you're taken with her, and I just don't want to see you getin' hurt again."
Ike nodded. At some points he agreed with his friend. Then he shook his head. *Buck, I know you worry about me, and in the past I haven't had the best luck when it comes to women. But I'm a big boy and I can take care of myself. Maybe I will get hurt, maybe I won't. I won't know that until I've tried.*
Buck nodded knowing there was no way to change Ike's mind. "Just be careful. I care too much about you to see you get hurt again."
As they walked back to the rest of the group, Buck was determined to speak to Millie at some point. He had a lot of questions and wanted answers he knew Ike wouldn't give.
*Hi Millie,* signed Ike, *has Samson been keeping you company?* Ike reached down to scratch the donkey between the ears again and he held a carrot he'd picked up in the barn under the animal's nose.
She smiled. "He has," she answered as she looked towards Buck. He still had a cautious and untrusting look on his face, and she was worried about becoming between the two friends. "He doesn't like me, does he?" she asked sadly. "I don't want to cause any problems between the two of you."
Ike shook his head. *You won't. Buck and I have been friends for a long time and he's just looking out for me. Once he sees that you're a good person, he won't be this wary.*
"I hope so. Your other friends seem really nice. I can tell you guys all take care of each other and watch out for another. I guess if I was in their shoes, I'd be cautious of me as well."
*I'm glad I have the friends I have. I wouldn't trade them for anything. Millie, I just wanted you to know … you're my friend, too.* Ike looked down before he looked back up at Millie because in reality he wanted to be more.
"I'm honored to be your friend," she said smiling. Part of her longed to reach up and kiss his cheek, but she held back. They had just met and she already wanted more than just friendship.
Ike smiled back at her. She had such a beautiful smile he wanted to keep it with him forever. Looking up at the sky, Ike dreaded the fact that it was growing dark. It was reinforced by the other riders moving towards the bunkhouse. *I think I may have to turn in now,* signed Ike. He didn't want to go to bed just yet because that meant he wouldn't spend time with Millie.
Millie looked towards the house and saw Emma standing on the porch watching them. "I guess I do too," she sighed. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
*Of course you will. I don't have a run so once I'm done with chores we can spend some time together. If you want we could go into town and see about getting you a job.* Ike smiled down at her, wishing he had the courage to kiss her.
"I'd like that." Millie longed for him to kiss her but knew he probably wouldn't. "Good night, Ike," she said turning and pausing for a brief moment before slowly walking towards a waiting Emma.
*Good night,* signed Ike. He watched her go into the house with Emma closing the door behind them. Slowly he made his way back to the bunkhouse. Once inside he smiled at the others and sat down on his bunk.
"Come on Ike, give us the details," Cody said, noticing the love sick look on the other rider's face.
*We haven't kissed or anything. We've just talked, if that's what you're wondering about.* Ike looked at the group. *I'm not sure she likes me yet and I don't want to force her into anything she doesn't want.*
"From the way she was lookin' at ya," Jimmy started. "I think she likes you as well."
*Do you really think so?* wondered Ike a light glimmering in his eyes. *I've never really courted someone before so I don't know how to go about it.* Ike didn't know why he was so open with his feeling for Millie, he just wanted to do right by her.
Lou longed to be able to give him advice on how to court her, but Jimmy was the only one who knew her secret, and she was worried if she said anything, the others might get suspicious. "Just treat her right," she finally added.
"Just not like you do your animals," Noah agreed, causing chuckles from some of the others. "Do what comes naturally. She'll probably let you know if she doesn't like something."
"Just be careful," Buck reminded him. "You don't know that much about her."
"I agree with Buck," Kid finally spoke. He had secrets of his own that only Jimmy and Teaspoon knew about, but Ike deserved some happiness. "Take it slow and take the time to get to know each other."
Ike listened carefully to the advice of the others gave him. *I'll try to do what comes naturally. I just don't know how to let her know that I want to court her. We only just met…*
"Maybe let her know you're interested in courtin' her at some point if she's interested," Noah suggested.
"That way you can lose her if she's not interested," Buck said quietly before turning over on his bunk, wishing he had originally chosen one of the double bunks facing a wall instead of the single one.
Ike thanked the others for their advice as he crawled in under his blankets. Noah's advice seemed sensible, but he was afraid that she might reject him. In that sense, Buck argument was true, but he didn't want to lose Millie before she even had her. Sighing, Ike closed his eyes, and welcomed sleep.
After Emma showed Millie to the guest room, she offered her some tea and a friendly ear.
"So tell me about yourself," Emma asked the young girl in front of her.
"Well, I'm nineteen and spent most of my life livin' with a Shoshone tribe in the Rockies."
"Really now," said Emma, interested in the life of this young girl. "So what made you end up in Sweetwater? Do you have relatives here?"
"Other than you and Ike, I don't know anyone here. I'd been ridin' for a few days tryin' to find a town where I can restock on my supplies, when I camped for the night. Ike stumbled across my campsite and suggested I ride into Sweetwater with him."
Emma nodded in understanding. "Ike's a good boy," said the older woman. "Millie, I want you to be careful."
"I don't plan on hurting him or taking advantage of Ike, but I can't help… I'd really like to get to know him better," she said quietly. "I've never met someone like him."
"Ike is a very special man. It isn't every day that he gives his heat away. I guess I just don't want you to break it."
Millie shrugged. "I don't know if he's willing to give me his heart, I'd settle for his friendship. But if I am lucky enough that he feels the same, I promise I don't intend to break his heart. I've never felt this way before and I guess I'm just worried about what to do now."
A smile came to Emma's lips. "Just be honest. In any relationship, friendship or the other kind, honesty is the most important thing. Don't worry too much about it, just do what feels right and natural."
"I can't believe how nice you're bein'," she said smiling. "I'm a stranger and you've been so kind to me. And I meant what I said earlier. Until I can find a job and a place of my own, I'd be more than willin' to help out around here as payment for lettin' me stay."
"Well," smiled Emma, "I'm sure the boys wouldn't mind me having some help with the cooking." She gave Millie a small hug. "Morning comes early around here so you best get some sleep if you intend to help me with breakfast." She said it as if she was trying to sound stern, but the bright smile on her lips told Millie that she was in safe hands.
Millie's background story can be found at http://ridesafe.proboards53.com/index.cgi?board=bg&action=display&thread=172