AN: Hi guys! Welcome to the Rizzoli & Isles Gold Rush AU that no one asked for... I was in the mood to write some historical fiction, so y'all are getting this.
A note on historical accuracy: I've taken a few major liberties, but most of this is relatively historically accurate. There were no female sheriffs in the 1800s, but I think we'd all like to see Jane kick ass with a gun, so I'm choosing to ignore that. And my version of the Gold Rush is going to be considerably gayer than real life because everything's better with lesbians! Also, no one in this fic talks like they would have in the 1860s because I was not about to subject y'all (or myself) to that pain. You're welcome.
This first chapter is kinda exposition-y, but we'll get into the good stuff soon enough. :) I hope you enjoy, and please leave me a comment letting me know what you think!
Hoofbeats echo rhythmically off the walls of the canyon as Jane urges her horse into a gallop, closing in even closer to the outlaw ahead of her. Nothing can stop her—bullets ricochet off the red rock, but Jane doesn't even blink. Still at a gallop, she ducks, pulls out her own pistol with her left hand and fires a round at the rider in front of her.
It's a hit! Jane always has been rather skillful with a pistol, if she does say so herself. She sees the man's frame tumble off his horse, feeling satisfied at the plume of dust that billows up as his body hits the ground. His horse thunders away down the canyon, and as she draws up beside the body, Jane can see—
"Jane, dear, would you mind passing the potatoes?"
The voice of Angela Rizzoli shattered Jane's fantasy, bringing her back to the very mundane sight in front of her: family dinner at the Rizzoli house. It was a depressing change of scenery, at least compared to Jane's vivid daydream. Instead of atop her majestic steed, she sat with her rear end planted firmly in an uncomfortable wooden chair, pulled up to the old table her father had built when Jane was a little girl. It was covered with their finest red-checked tablecloth, and honestly, Jane was surprised it hadn't collapsed under the weight of the many dishes spread out across it. Her mother always cooked enough food to feed a small army, and tonight was no exception. Potatoes and carrots sat next to a basket of sourdough bread and, of course, the roast chicken that Jane's brother Frankie had beheaded in the garden behind the house earlier that day. It was a fancier spread than usual, probably because they had a guest tonight: Giovanni Gilberti, local blacksmith and colossal pain in Jane's ass.
Angela was looking at Jane expectantly, hand outstretched and waiting. Jane suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, instead opting to bite the inside of her cheek in annoyance as she handed the dish to her mother.
"Now, Jane, I was just telling Mr. Gilberti here allll about what wonderful embroidery work you do." She gave Jane a pointed look. "Maybe you could make him a handkerchief."
First off, that was a complete lie. Jane hated embroidery, and she was no good at it besides. The only reason her mother had taught her in the first place was because apparently embroidery was a 'marketable skill'; unfortunately for Jane, shooting bad guys was not. But even if she had been good at embroidery, Jane would never have made anything for Giovanni. She simply found him generally repulsive, a sentiment which she knew she shouldn't express out loud. But Jane had never been particularly good at keeping her mouth shut.
"God, Ma, I'm the sheriff," she said, stabbing a potato on her plate with more force than was probably necessary. "I don't have time to be making handkerchiefs for every man you throw at me."
"You mustn't listen to her, dear," Angela said to Giovanni. "Jane may run her mouth—" she punctuated these words with a cross stare at Jane when she thought their guest wasn't looking "—but she's really a very nice young lady underneath it all."
Jane really did roll her eyes in response to that. "Giovanni, I'm not interested in marrying you. Ma, I'm done with my food. I'm going out."
She pushed back her chair, wincing at the sound of the wooden legs grating against the floor. Ignoring Giovanni's puppy-dog eyes and Frankie's desperate you-can't-leave-me-with-them face, she gave a sarcastic little wave at her mother and turned toward the door.
"Jane! Jane Clementine Rizzoli, you sit back down this instant!" her mother said, but Jane was already gone.
As soon as she was outside, she breathed in the fresh air with a sigh of relief. Jane loved her mother deep down, but god, that woman could be annoying—especially when she was presenting Jane with one of her many suitors. Lord only knew there were enough eligible young men in Echo Station and, indeed, in the entirety of California; most of the people who'd chosen to move out West were men, after all. But Jane had always been too interested in horseback rides and shootouts to pay much serious attention to them.
Jane pulled the pins out of her hair, running her fingers through the dark waves until they cascaded down around her shoulders. Now all she had to do was get out of this damned dress and she'd finally start feeling like herself again. She hoisted the blue skirts (Angela had wanted pink, but Jane had at least managed to talk her out of that) up around her knees, revealing sturdy boots underneath. Her mother forced her into a dress for every Sunday dinner, but Jane drew the line at the shoes. A girl had to be able to walk, didn't she? And if she got called out on a job, well, it didn't hurt to be at least a little prepared.
It wasn't a long walk to Jane's house, a modest white cabin near the river. Everything in Echo Station was close by; a few rings of houses surrounded the main street, with its little row of town buildings. There was a church, a post office, the miners' union building, a number of saloons. At the end of the street stood the jail, where Jane had her office, and beyond that were the river and the entrance to the mine, where the men (and a few women, too) spent their days panning and digging for gold. As far as Jane saw it, it was a foolhardy endeavor; how many people really made their fortune that way, anyway? But the improbability of it hadn't stopped more and more people from flocking westward to little towns like Echo Station all across the state.
Jane changed quickly, dropping her skirts in a crumpled pile on the floor in favor of her sheriff's uniform. It was the same as the men wore—she'd made sure of that when she'd been appointed. Navy jacket, white button-down shirt, and the best thing of all: pants. Angela's eyes had just about popped out of her skull when she'd seen her daughter in that uniform for the first time, which had only confirmed to Jane that it had been the right decision. Now, standing in her room, Jane straightened the sheriff's badge pinned to her left lapel and grinned at herself in the little mirror she had propped up on top of her dresser. Much better.
It was time to pay a visit to an old friend.
Vincent Korsak lived on the edge of town. When they'd first met, years ago now, Jane had asked why he didn't live in the town proper; his answer had been to lead her out back of his house, where a large fenced pasture stretched back into the hills. As it had turned out, Korsak was a veritable zookeeper—his pasture was populated with everything from stray cats to horses and even a little fox he'd rescued when its mother had been killed in a storm. He'd never had kids, though he'd been married (it was a sore subject, he'd told Jane when she'd asked), and so he'd adopted a zoo's worth of animals instead.
Jane knocked on his door only to be greeted with a flurry of barks from the other side and the sound of Korsak telling them all to get down, it's only Jane. He was a little disheveled when he opened the door just a crack, blocking the dogs from getting out. Jane couldn't help but grin at the sight.
"I thought you only had four dogs."
"Yeah, well, Barney Miller here needed a home," he said, eyes crinkling up at the edges. "Who was I to refuse?"
"You old softie," Jane said, shaking her head with an expression somewhere between exasperation and affection. Ignoring the animals milling around at her feet, she squeezed past the mass of dogs and into Korsak's house. "So. About this new doctor."
"Getting right down to business, I see."
"I've already made enough small talk tonight to last a lifetime." Jane grimaced. "Ma invited Giovanni to dinner."
"The blacksmith's son?" When Jane nodded, Korsak's face screwed up in sympathy. "You look like you could use a drink."
"Only got whiskey."
Korsak led her through the front room and into the kitchen. He walked with a slight limp—seeing it, Jane's stomach twisted up into a little knot. Korsak had said he didn't blame her for it, but Jane would always feel responsible. She doubted the guilt would ever really fade.
Jane settled herself onto one of the stools at Korsak's kitchen table, waiting until he sat down opposite her and slid a bottle of whiskey across the table. She drank straight from the bottle before passing it back to Korsak, who was regarding her with an amused expression.
"What?" Her brown eyes flashed with a challenge.
Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Jane rolled her eyes. "You're just as bad as my mother, you know that?"
"What? I didn't say anything," Korsak protested, holding his hands up in mock surrender.
"Yeah, but you thought it." Widening her eyes and putting on a faux-offended look, Jane gave her best imitation of her mother's voice. "For goodness' sake, Jane! Can't you at least try to be ladylike?"
Korsak let out a guffaw. "She's not that bad, Jane. She only wants what's best for you."
"Yeah, and what's best is to pawn me off to the next eligible young man she happens to lay eyes on," Jane muttered. "No, thank you. I have a job to do. Speaking of which…"
"Well, I've already told you what I know. He's due to arrive tomorrow evening."
"From Boston? That's a long trip," Jane commented. "And he comes highly recommended?"
Korsak nodded. "By Cavanaugh, a colleague of mine back in the city."
"Good enough for me. Can I see the letter he sent?"
Korsak shuffled in his pocket for a moment before producing a slightly crumpled envelope and handing it to Jane.
She took it with a murmur of thanks, slipping the letter out of the envelope and unfolding the paper to scan its contents. The words were written in black ink, each letter carefully inscribed in a graceful, almost feminine cursive. The stationery was a creamy white color despite the wrinkled state of the envelope; even with her lack of knowledge on the subject, Jane guessed that it must have been quite expensive. She let her eyes flicker over the words:
15 May 1869
Dear Sheriff Korsak,
I would be pleased to accept the invitation to practice in your quaint town of Echo Station. It has been one of my longtime aspirations to travel to the West; I have done much research into the conditions in California, and I believe I will be well-suited to the position of town physician.
I have made travel arrangements via the newly-completed Pacific Railroad and plan to arrive at the station in Aurora on the sixteenth of July, although, as I am sure you are aware, I may encounter a delay of up to twenty-four hours in Omaha. It would be much appreciated if you would send a representative to guide me back to town, as I am unfamiliar with the area beyond my extensive study of the available maps. (Unfortunately, relatively few maps exist of the area. Perhaps I could help to rectify that problem in my leisure time—I did take a few courses in cartography during my undergraduate years.)
I look forward to making your acquaintance.
M. Isles, M.D.
"Well, he certainly seems capable enough. If a little long-winded," Jane laughed, taking another swig of whiskey. "Think he'll be surprised to see me?"
"A female sheriff? Everyone is surprised by you, Jane." Korsak's tone softened. "I couldn't have picked anyone better to replace me. You're doing a fantastic job."
"Yeah, well, tell that to all those girls who've gone missing," Jane muttered, kicking at the table leg with the scuffed toe of one of her boots. "I bet they don't think I'm doing such a fine job."
"Don't be so hard on yourself."
"Easier said than done." Jane bit her lip. "If Hoyt would just say something, then maybe—"
"Forget about Hoyt," Korsak interrupted. "He's a scumbag, and most importantly, he's in lock-up. He can't hurt anyone."
"That's just the thing, I swear to god it's him." She paused. "Korsak, trust me, I'm aware you think I'm crazy for thinking it, but…"
"I know you don't want to hear it again, Jane, but maybe it really isn't him this time," Korsak said, expression verging on concern. Pity, almost. "Hoyt hits too close to home for you."
"And what, he doesn't for you?" She couldn't help the snappiness of her tone; there was nothing Jane hated more than being vulnerable. And sitting here, discussing the man who had made her life a living hell, she felt more defenseless than she had in a long time.
"It's different for me. Less personal. You know it is."
"Doesn't matter," Jane said abruptly, pushing back the stool so hard it almost toppled over behind her. "I should go. It's gonna be a long day tomorrow."
"Good luck, Jane." Korsak hesitated. "Be careful, alright?"
She turned back toward him, already halfway out the door, and flashed him one of her trademark, confident-bordering-on-cocky smiles. "Now, where would be the fun in that?"
Jane was awake the next morning before the sun had risen. Though she wasn't a habitually early riser, there was something about that time of day that brought a sense of inner peace to her. Maybe it was the utter stillness of everything—the way the only sound was the wind at the top of the pine trees, absent of any human interference. Or maybe she just liked the coolness of the air before the day's warmth hit; the nights were cold in Echo Station, and it had been known to frost overnight even in the summer. The chill reminded her of winters back in Boston, where she'd been born.
It was the middle of July now, though, and the frost had been banished for another few weeks at least. Dewdrops hung from every blade of grass; the blades shivered and rustled as Jane walked through them, sliding over the slick leather of her boots and dampening the hem of her pants. She carried saddle bags filled with provisions for the day, with extra room for anything her future traveling companion would need to bring back. Her trusty pistol hung at her hip, as it always did.
Her horse, Jo Friday, was waiting for her in the stable. She was a beautiful dun mare, tall and proud, with a wild light in her eyes to match that of her rider. Jo had been one of Korsak's rescues; he'd told Jane she'd probably been discovered as a sickly little mustang foal somewhere out in the Nevada desert. Some miner had broken her and brought her down to the gold mines in California before she wound up abandoned. Korsak, bleeding heart that he was, had taken her in; Jane had fallen in love with her, and the rest was history.
There was something in Jo that never really had been broken, though. Jane could see it in the graceful way she moved, in the way she was never spooked but stayed relentlessly steady even in the face of danger. Jo had seen her fair share of shootouts during Jane's tenure as a deputy; now that Jane was officially sheriff of Echo Station, she would no doubt see more. And she'd never balked once.
"Morning, beautiful girl," Jane murmured, giving the horse a hearty pat on the shoulder.
In the faint light of the early morning, Jane's hands performed the tasks she and Jo would need to prepare for the day's journey. The motions were instinctual to her; she ran brushes over smooth fur, tightened leather straps and adjusted blankets without thinking. By the time the edges of the sky had blushed to a shade of pale pink, Jane was leading her horse out of the stable and swinging herself up and into the saddle.
The road to Aurora was a pleasant one, not particularly treacherous at this time of year. Still, the trail was narrow and often studded with chunks of rock—grey granite, the little shards of mica glittering in the dappled sunlight that slanted down through the trees. The terrain was hilly, but the weather was nice, and Jane trusted Jo Friday completely. They stopped a few times throughout the day, most often for the horse to drink, but by the time the warm afternoon sun was beaming down, they were riding into town.
Jane didn't know when she'd started thinking of Aurora as the "big city." It was certainly tiny compared to any of the cities on the East Coast; compared to Echo Station, however, Aurora felt enormous. People had flocked there once construction on the Pacific Railroad had begun, and seeing it in person for the first time since it had been completed, Jane could understand why.
Buildings rose proudly around the railroad tracks, which glittered under the sun. The train must have already departed—Jane felt a little pang of disappointment at having missed what would have surely been a majestic sight—but there were people milling about the platform. Men embraced their wives, finally reunited; young would-be fortune seekers stood idly, as if unsure what to do next; porters shouted out offers to load trunks and transport them to the local boardinghouses. Jane scanned the scene with an appraising eye from her view atop Jo Friday's back, wondering which of the men was the one she'd come looking for.
It was not readily apparent which one of them was Dr. Isles. With a sigh, Jane dismounted, leading Friday over to the hitching rail in front of the station. She unbound the saddle bags with practiced ease, slinging them over her shoulder. Things had a certain habit of disappearing around any mining town; Jane had never had anything stolen to date, and she wasn't about to start now. Hopefully it wouldn't take more than a minute or two to find this mystery doctor.
She could feel the curious stares on her as she walked up the platform. Women were certainly a little more rough-and-tumble in the West, but Jane was unusual even among them. She was no barmaid or boardinghouse owner, and she was certainly no saloon girl. And while Jane wore men's clothes, she didn't feel the need to disguise the fact that she was a woman; her hair hung in a long braid down her back, but even without that, her feminine features would have been a dead giveaway. Some men made rude comments, but most took back their words as soon as she fixed them with one of her steely glares that said, I have a gun and I'm not afraid to use it.
The platform was already beginning to empty out as the passengers collected their things and rushed off, probably into one of the many saloons that lined the street. Some men would no doubt be heading to the red-light district north of town; Jane could pick them out by the lurch in their steps and the glint in their eyes. It appeared a good number of them had already had their fill of whiskey.
There was no sign of the good doctor. All the likely-seeming candidates had either left the platform or were bunched up in groups, having met the men and women waiting for them in Aurora. The only passenger who sat alone was at the far end of the platform, perched atop her own traveling trunk as if waiting for someone. Well, there was as good a place to start as any; maybe she'd be able to direct Jane to the man she was looking for.
Jane's eyes flickered over the woman as she approached, analyzing her and taking in every detail. It was a habit she had picked up from working in law enforcement, and one she doubted she'd ever be able to shake. Even from far away, she could tell that the woman was sophisticated; her posture was almost regal, and she was dressed in an elaborate lavender dress with far too many ruffles for Jane's taste (well, if she was being honest, no dress was to Jane's taste). Jane didn't know much about fashion, but it looked to be of the latest style, something a city woman of high society might wear. The conclusion was obvious: this woman was wealthy, probably from a prestigious family back East. What reason would she have for coming West?
"You alright here by yourself?" Jane asked bluntly as soon as she was within earshot.
The woman blinked, almost as if startled out of a daydream. Up close, she was even more elegant than Jane had expected—every hair was perfectly coiffed despite what must've been several long days of train travel, and her hazel eyes glittered with a faraway intelligence. Something about her made Jane's stomach drop a little; maybe it was only that she was so refreshingly different from anyone Jane had seen in a long time, but there was something about the spark in her eyes and the curve of her lips that was immediately intriguing.
The woman smiled, soft and maybe a little hesitant. "Yes, I'm just waiting for somebody."
Jane nodded. "Me too." She stuck out her hand, and the woman took it and shook. "I'm Jane."
"Maura," she said warmly.
"So, Maura," Jane said, "ever been to California?"
Maura laughed. "Of course not! It's far too long of a trip, and much too expensive, unless one intends to stay permanently."
"Didn't think you were from around here." Jane gave her a wry smile. "No offense, but you stick out like a sore thumb."
"Really? I hadn't noticed."
Jane chuckled, then raised an eyebrow when Maura's wide-eyed expression didn't change. "Oh. You're not joking."
"Do all the women here wear trousers, then?" Maura asked, and Jane shook her head.
"No, just me. I like to be able to ride."
"Oh, but you can ride with a dress! There are a variety of strategies, as well as the Jules Pellier design for—"
Jane held up a hand. "You sound just like my mother. Trust me, it's my choice. Can't do the kind of work I do while wearing a dress."
"And what kind of work might that be, if you don't mind my inquiring?"
Jane grinned, pleased that she'd asked. "I'm the sheriff of Echo Station, a little town about thirty miles from here."
"That's the one."
"What a coincidence! I'm supposed to take a position there."
"A position?" Jane gave her a strange look as her brain pieced together the puzzle. She somehow couldn't picture this refined woman doing laundry or working as a barmaid, but there was one other position in town that came to mind—and that letter had been signed M. Could it be…?
"Yes, I was informed they needed a physician there," Maura said calmly; either she hadn't seen the way Jane was looking at her as though she'd grown a second head, or she just didn't care.
"You're Dr. Isles?"
Maura had a slight smile on her lips, almost hinting at a smirk. "You weren't expecting me to be a woman, were you?"
Jane was speechless for a moment before stammering, "No, no, it's—"
"Well," Maura interjected, a teasing look in her eye, "I wasn't expecting a female sheriff, either."
"No one does, I'm the first." She couldn't help the note of pride that crept into her voice.
"What happened to Sheriff Korsak?"
Jane grimaced. "He was injured in an… accident, about three months ago. So I took over. I'd rather not talk about it, if it's all the same to you."
Maura nodded, then got to her feet and turned to face Jane. Her long skirts swished around her ankles, kicking up a slight cloud of dust, but she didn't seem to notice. "All right, then. Where to next?"
"Well, we'll be staying at one of the local boardinghouses for the night," Jane said, leaning down and grasping the handles of Maura's trunk with both hands. "My mother is friends with the owner, and it's too far to go back to Echo Station tonight anyway." She tugged on the trunk, only to find it wouldn't budge. "Jesus, what on earth have you got in here?"
"Calico bandages, forceps, splints, syringes, chloroform for anesthetic purposes," Maura supplied, a look on her face as though she was seriously considering listing all of the contents before Jane rolled her eyes. Maura stopped abruptly, then frowned and added, "Oh, and books."
"It's the damn books," Jane muttered under her breath, giving up on her futile attempt to lift the trunk by herself. "C'mon, give me a hand here."
Maura stepped delicately to the other side of the trunk, each of them taking one side of the bulky object and lifting it. It was cumbersome work, but they were making slow and steady progress down the platform when a young porter called out to them.
"You ladies need any help with that?"
"Sure, that would—" Maura started, just as Jane snapped at the man.
"Back off, we've got it handled."
"—be lovely," Maura finished with a sympathetic grimace, giving the young man a little wave as he wandered off before turning to give Jane a look that instantly reminded her of her mother. "Jane, really, he was only trying to offer some assistance."
Jane gritted her teeth. "Well, we don't need it."
"Men aren't all bad."
"Really?" Maura looked doubtful.
"Yes, really," Jane huffed. They'd finally gotten the trunk back to where Jo Friday was tethered to the hitching rail; Jane let her side of it fall to the ground with a heavy thud before slinging the saddle bags off her shoulders and across the horse's back. "Some can be veeeery nice, actually, if you know what I mean."
Maura's eyes widened. "Is that really what it's like out West?"
"Oh, yeah, the men out here are completely uncivilized." Noticing Maura's blank look, Jane shook her head and laughed. "I'm kidding. Mostly. You're not a saloon girl, you should be fine if you're careful. Although there's no shortage of men looking for wives—just ask my mother, she manages to invite a different eligible young bachelor to dinner every Sunday. I didn't know we even had that many men in Echo Station!"
"She wants you to marry?"
"And don't you want to?"
Jane was busy reattaching the saddle bags, but she stopped to fix Maura with an intense stare at those words. "They say the laws here are different, that women are independent, that we can own our own property and make our own decisions. But marriage is just as much of a prison in California as it is everywhere else." She paused, considering her next words carefully. "There are men I've met and really liked. But none of them have ever understood why I do what I do. They're either threatened by me or worried for me, and I can't stand either of those things. So I chose to marry the law instead."
Maura was quiet for a long moment; even looking away, eyes fixed back on the leather straps of the saddle in front of her, Jane could feel those inquisitive hazel eyes lingering on her back. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, being watched by Maura. She got the sense that the doctor was analyzing her much as Jane had done when she'd first approached her on the platform—a gaze of curiosity, not malice.
"I understand," Maura said at last, and somehow Jane felt that she really did. "Everyone thought I was foolish to go to medical school, but I cannot imagine my life without it."
Jane gave her a crooked grin, pleased when Maura returned it with a shy smile of her own. "Guess we make a good match, then—Sheriff Rizzoli and Doctor Isles."