It was raining on the day The Lady returned to Redemption. This time she didn't arrive in a cloud of dust, riding her horse wearing men's clothes and holding a gun - but her arrival was no less spectacular, all the more so for the difference from the last time.
She arrived riding in a closed carriage, wearing an elegant dress and holding a frilly lady-like umbrella.
The Blind Boy, who was the first one to note her arrival, naturally couldn't see this, but even he could tell the difference from the expensive perfume she wore, the absence of liquor or smoke in her breath and the tapping sound her high heels made on the wood.
"Hello, boy - how are things in town? Are you still shining shoes or have you found a more profitable trade?" Even her voice sounded different and Blind Boy realized that it was because she used complete sentences and sounded actually not just strangely polite but even refined.
When she had entered the new saloon after small talking with him for a while, Blind Boy had to admit to himself that she now was what she had never really been - The Lady had become a lady.
In the saloon her arrival caused a big stir - it had not been forgotten that she had freed Redemption of Herod and his gang, and people were eager to thank her.
The Lady, on the other hand, seemed indifferent to their heartfelt gratitude, hardly acknowledging them, looking around instead, taking in the changes that had taken place. There were no shady men hanging around and the saloon looked clean and well kept.
"Lady!" It was a young female voice from behind the counter that finally caught The Lady's attention. The bartender's daughter was standing there, excitement and happiness shining in her face as she came over and hugged The Lady's elegantly dressed figure. She seemed a lot happier and radiated a self-confidence that had been lacking when The Lady had left.
"You look different!" the girl - no, the young woman - remarked, but chatted on before The Lady had a chance to say anything. "I'm so happy you're back - you won't believe the changes here, Redemption is a completely new town! And all thanks to you - you and Cort, that is. You have to see him - he's over in the Marshall's office. It's hard to get him to stop working, but I'm sure he'll take a break now that you're here!"
While she was talking animatedly, Katie steered The Lady decidedly out of the saloon and over the road, holding her umbrella over them both, never letting her get a word in edgewise.
But even she had to breathe sometimes, and The Lady used that short break to ask: "Has he taken good care of you?"
Brown eyes brightened, looking a lot less child-like: "Oh yes, he's been wonderful - specially to me! I didn't think I'd be able to trust men again - but he's proven to me that there exists such a thing as honorable and good men!"
The Lady stilled as she heard that, something unreadable flashing over her face as she studied the mud puddle her pretty shoes were standing in.
"That's - good to hear..." she finally said in an absolutely expressionless voice, resolve hardening her features.
Then she walked on quickly, her skirt getting soaked as she made a straight line towards the Marshall's office, forcing Katie to hurry to keep up with her.
Cort was indeed still working when they entered his office. "Katie, I'm busy," he said without looking up to see who had come in.
Katie giggled and answered: "Oh, you won't be too busy for this, Cort, believe me!" With that she slipped out of the room. The Lady watched her go before turning her eyes to the man sitting behind a big, official looking desk.
He seemed completely immersed in his work, but finally he looked up to see what Katie had been talking about.
His eyes widened in surprise as he saw her standing there, dressed in clothes more fitting to a literary salon than a dusty Western town.
"Ellen," was all he finally said, his voice quiet, but his cocked head and troubled eyes told about questions being left unsaid. Their eyes locked and seemed to have a conversation of their own, more eloquent than their mouths.
Ellen shifted from one foot to the other as the silence between them lengthened. "Cort," she got out when the silence became too oppressing. Her deep voice sounded rusty. "I'm glad you are well."
He cocked his head and watched her silently, as if she was a mystery he had to figure out. But he didn't ask, just looked at her, knowing that she had never liked to be forced into revealing something she didn't want to.
It was unsettling and Ellen had to wet her suddenly parched lips.
"Katie told me - congratulations!"
That got a reaction from Cort, even if it was not what one would have expected. His eyebrows rose and he stared at Ellen before breaking into laughter.
Had she ever heard him laugh before? The question was written Ellen's her face, but she didn't have the time to ask it.
Cort suddenly rose from his chair and came around it to stand in front of her. "Ellen... Whatever you think you know - it's not true."
Her expression was stony, but for someone standing as close to her as Cort was it was clear that she was battling with herself if she should believe him. Her eyes gave her away, the way they seemed to change colors, and her hands, clenching and unclenching around the handle of her umbrella.
Finally she came to a decision and her whole body relaxed as she smiled for the first time since setting foot out of the carriage.
But it was only a short while until a different kind of tension charged the air between them, making breathing difficult and the distance between them much too wide.
It was Cort who made the first step this time, taking Ellen's gloved hand, pulling the glove off and lifting her hand to his lips, pressing a soft kiss to her palm.
That was the last gentle thing they did - their lips met and then it was all about getting close, and closer still.
Ellen was lying on the desk, papers scattered on the floor, pulling at Cort's shirt, trying to get it off as quickly as possible. Her skirt was bunched up around her waist, her jacket pulled off and her breasts freed from their whalebone confines. She gripped Cort with her thighs, still strong, although they hadn't guided a horse in months.
Cort panted into her mouth, unwilling to break their kiss for something as mundane as air, as he worked to make them one, at least for a short while. Then they were, him pounding into her, her hips lifting to meet his, making her gasp his name and grip his shoulders for support.
It was over all too quick, but they both seemed unwilling to let go, and Cort ended up carrying Ellen into the back room, where his bed stood, still buried inside her.
They lay there for a while, not minding their half opened clothes, breathing in unison, listening to the sounds the other made.
Finally Ellen turned on her side, causing Cort to slide out of her, leaving them both feeling slightly empty.
"You have something to smoke here?" she inquired in her throaty voice, and Cort almost laughed because he just knew that this would be Ellen's first smoke in ages.
Instead he got up and brought her tobacco and paper, getting rid of the rest of his clothes while he was up.
"There you go - I found it in what was left of your room after you left and kept it, just in case..."
"In case I came back," Ellen ended his sentence and smiled one of her rare smiles as she rolled her cigarette, not caring one bit that her blouse was torn and her corset half open.
Cort sat down on the bed beside her and slowly started to undress her completely, his eyes never leaving hers as he touched her tenderly, as if Ellen was breakable. Or precious enough to be handled with care.
When she was as naked as he was they looked at each other. With a smile Cort opened the bun that held her hair together, letting it fall over her shoulders. Ellen put her cigarette away.
It was slow and gentle this time, long tender strokes and soft kisses as they got to know each other's bodies intimately. When Cort pulled Ellen on top of him her movements were relaxed, building up a languorous rhythm that left them both sated and satisfied.
They fell asleep curled up against one another, in a heap of tangled limps, not quite sure where Ellen stopped and Cort began.
Neither one noticed that it had stopped raining sometime during their love making.
In the morning the sun was shining brightly. It would be a hot and clear day, and Ellen woke up when Cort tried to gently disentangle himself from her.
"Hey," he greeted her and kissed her gently before starting to get dressed.
She smiled at him and stretched luxuriously.
"Can you do me a favor? I left my suitcase at the saloon - could you get it for me?"
"It's already here - Katie brought it, I think, probably when she realized that you wouldn't be coming back."
With a grin Ellen got up. "I don't think she expected me to," she said and walked into the office to get her luggage, covering herself a bit with her torn blouse .
She also picked up the discarded umbrella and threw it carelessly into a corner. Then she rummaged in the suitcase until she had found what she'd been looking for.
Cort watched her, a small smile playing on his lips.
Pulling on her man's pants, shirt and boots and finally putting on her gun belt and stetson she shook herself as if trying to forget the confines of women's clothing.
Meeting Cort's calm gaze, she pulled her hat deeper into her face and put her hands on her guns, reacquainting herself with them.
"I feel better now - thought I'd try being a real lady for a change, but that didn't work out," she said, lighting the discarded cigarette from last night with a defiant shrug.
Cort smiled and set her hat straight so he could see her eyes.
"So you're staying?" It was more a statement than a question.
Ellen smiled a bit and straightened her father's star .
"I guess so." Quick as lightning she drew her guns and let them swirl around her fingers. "I prefer being The Lady to being a lady."