The clock in the hall struck four as Chris made his way quietly through the sleeping house. He could hear the wind wailing outside, and the scratch of tree branches against the plastered walls of the hacienda. It was the third night since Ezra had left, and while Chris was feeling much stronger, he still tired easily. Charlotte had allowed him a beer with dinner, and afterwards, he'd settled into the rocking chair in the parlour. He must have fallen asleep not long after. He'd woken up a few minutes before, finding himself covered with a blanket. Not feeling like going back to sleep straightaway, he'd decided to find a book to read from the library in Charlotte's study.
The study door was slightly ajar, and he pushed it open just enough to get through. Moonlight flooded the room, making it bright enough to see the furniture and bookshelves, but he'd need a candle to make out the books on those shelves. Here, the sound of the wind was even louder, and he paused a moment, just past the door, to look out the large window behind Charlotte's desk, seeing lightening flash in the distance. Soon enough, the storm would be upon them. He was glad enough to be indoors tonight, that was for certain.
The room was an L shape, with Charlotte's desk at the top, and a fireplace and sitting area at the other end. The fireplace was where he'd find the candles he needed. He rounded the slight corner, only to come to an abrupt halt. It seemed he wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep in these dark hours before the dawn; Charlotte sat on the floor in front of a dying fire, dressed in her nightclothes, huddled over something in her arms. The wind lulled for a moment, and he realized she was crying. He debated leaving, feeling like a voyeur. It was obvious she wasn't aware of his presence. To hell with it, this was what he'd promised Ezra. And more than that, this was what a friend did.
There was no way for him to alert her to his presence behind her that wouldn't startle her, but he had enough sense to know not to touch her, or he'd probably find himself in need of doctoring again. He settled for calling to her softly. "Charlotte, it's Chris." Her body twisted around in surprise and fear, but the look in her eyes was sheer terror, and Chris knew Ezra was right: something terrible had happened to her in this house. "I didn't mean to scare you. Couldn't sleep and came looking for a book." He stepped closer, making small talk, giving her time to compose herself. "Recall you saying there was a book you and your husband wrote 'bout being pirates. Thought it would be a good read."
Her knuckles white around what Chris realized was a dress, she nodded. "I can get it for you," she said, not able to keep her voice from shaking.
Sinking down next to her on the floor, Chris covered her hands with his; they were icy cold. "You're freezing." He snagged a blanket from the chair next to him, wrapping it across her shoulders, taking a corner of it and wiping the tears from her face. This close, he could see that the pale blue dress in her hands was stained with blood. Her blood, he'd bet. He touched the cloth, looking at her, the question in his eyes.
Glancing down at it, she said, "I was going to burn it; a waste, really. There's enough good cloth here to make a dress for Constance. But I couldn't—" She shook her head. "I don't want to look at it, ever again. It would just remind me—" Falling silent, she didn’t complete her explanation of just what it would remind her of. Drawing back, as if suddenly realizing how close they were, she said, "Let me get that book."
Grasping her hands, he shook his head. "Forget the book, Charlotte. Tell me what happened here." When she resisted, he added, "We all have demons, Charlotte, you told me that. Let me be here for you now." He felt her wilt into his hold, and he pressed his advantage, laying his arm comfortingly across her back. "Please."
"I haven't told anyone."
"Then it's time, isn't it?"
She shuddered, nodding. "Three weeks ago, I came home, after leaving the children in Four Corners with Ezra for Independence Day."
"He was here, waiting for me," she said so softly, Chris almost couldn't hear her.
"Who was here?" he prompted gently, when it seemed she wasn't going to say anything more.
"Koren? The outlaw? But he was killed in Texas by the Rangers more than six weeks back."
"He was," she agreed. This time she looked up at him with dead eyes. "He didn't stay that way."
Chris finally understood, Koren was an Immortal, just like Charlotte, and his blood ran cold. He'd read the reports from Texas. "And by chance, he shows up at your ranch?"
"He needed to rest his horse; the place was deserted, private."
"And then you came home."
"And then I came home," she agreed. "But you see, Chris, fate wasn't done with me." She pulled the blanket tighter around herself. "Kronos, that's his real name, is an ancient, and has walked the Earth for thousands of years."
"You knew him?" Chris was perplexed.
"No, but I knew of him, knew what he was, what he had been, the reason Methos…Matthew," she corrected herself, "left."
He realized Methos must be Matthew Adamson's true name, and he also realized something else. He'd recognized the killer in Adamson the first time they'd met, and it was more than just the violent life that Immortals lived. "Methos didn't leave because he and Kronos were enemies." It wasn't a question.
She seemed surprised at his insight. "No, he left because they were brothers. He was afraid if Kronos found him, he'd become that man again, Death."
"Quite literally; Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They haven’t seen one another for over two-thousand years, and still, Methos can't stop running."
Chris rubbed his forehead, trying to wrap his mind around what Charlotte was telling him. "How old is Methos?"
"Five-thousand, give or take."
"How is that even possible?"
Shrugging, she replied, "He's a survivor." She was looking down at the bloody dress in her lap. "But I am too," she whispered.
It hadn't escaped Chris's notice that she still hadn't told him what had happened after she came home, finding Kronos at her hacienda. "Where's Kronos now?"
"Gone, probably halfway to China by now, hunting Methos."
"So if he's not dead—" Chris didn't know how to ask.
"Why aren't I?" This time when she shivered, she couldn't seem to stop, and Chris instinctively drew her into his arms, holding her close. Instead of resisting, she pressed herself close, as if seeking his warmth.
He just held her, not pushing for anything more than she was ready to tell him. Despite the circumstances, he couldn't help but notice how she felt in his arms, her scent, cinnamon and citrus filling his senses, how soft her long black hair was under his fingers. This felt good, she felt good, more than it had a right to. This wasn't the time or place, he admonished himself. And if it were? His wayward thoughts were derailed by her voice as she began to speak, pressed against his chest.
"It wasn't for lack of trying," she said. "All I wanted was for death to release me before Ezra returned with the children. I needed for Kronos to be gone, to protect Ezra."
"That's what a mother does for a child," he whispered half to himself. If Charlotte heard him, she didn't protest as she normally would; that Maude was his mother, not her.
"He gunned me down in the kitchen, tied me to a chair, and drove a knife into my hand to get me to tell him what he wanted to know. I was so scared, Chris. I knew what he would do to me, and I wanted nothing more than to die." He could hear the self-accusation in her voice.
Pulling back slightly, he took her chin in his hand, making her look at him. "Don't, Charlotte! Don't think less of yourself because you were afraid. You don't think I haven't been scared to death? Well, I have. You'd be a fool not to be terrified; I just wish I'd been here for you. I should have realized something was wrong. But I was too wrapped up in my own life to pay any mind to my friends."
"But you are here now," she said gently.
"I'm here now," he agreed. "And for as long as you need me to be."
She nodded. "I'm glad." Her hand slipped up to lie against his jaw, her eyes drawing him down. When their lips met, the darkness melted away, leaving behind warmth and belonging.
It was Chris who broke the kiss, smiling down at her, stroking her hair. "You aren't alone anymore, Charlotte," he said huskily.
"Neither of us are." Then she stood, walking over to the hearth, putting more wood on the fire. Her back to him, she said, "Kronos found the photograph of Methos and me that was taken at the Christmas dance. He just hadn't expected me to be Immortal as well. He thought Methos was still here, and wasn't pleased when I told him Methos had run after seeing his Wanted poster."
Chris joined her by the fire, standing close, but not touching her. "Then what happened?"
"What usually transpires when two Immortals meet, we dueled. I had little chance of victory, of course, but I fought with everything I had. In the end, I lay on the ground, my blood cooling the hot earth beneath me, near death, the sound of cicadas blending with the sound of the ocean as it called me home." Her eyes took on a dreamy quality as she remembered. "I was at peace, Chris. I knew Jack would be there to welcome me home, I could feel the presence of his spirit, calming me, taking away my fear." Tears fell unnoticed down her cheeks. "And then Kronos laughed, and he told me he wasn't going to take my head after all. The terror I felt in that moment, Chris—" She wrapped her arms around herself tightly. "He said that when he found Methos, he wanted Methos to owe him. Owe him for not killing me…owe him for not touching me. I didn't believe him; I spent three days in dread, waiting for the inevitable. But he was true to his word, and once his horse was rested, he rode away."
A crack of thunder made Charlotte jump. "Storm's here," Chris said.
"Be done with it, Charlotte," he said gently, picking the bloodied dress up off the floor and handing it to her.
For a moment, he wasn't sure she would, but she nodded, rolling the fabric into a ball and tossing it into the flames.
Chris sat on his horse, looking down at Charlotte. Four days had passed since that night in the study, and now he was well enough to go home. Neither of them had acknowledged the kiss they had shared, but it was there between them. Chris was content to wait; wanting the next kiss to be untainted by the sorrows of their past. A fresh start for them both.
His fingers brushed hers as he took the paper wrapped package of food she handed up to him, and the smile she gave him left him with no doubt her thoughts were similar to his. "Remember not to do too much too soon, Chris."
"Maybe you should come check in on me—" he leaned down, brushing a strand of hair from across her eyes "—you know, just to make sure I'm following orders." The suggestive nature of his invitation was not lost on her, and her cheeks pinked.
Stepping closer to his horse, she reached up, putting a hand on his knee. "I think that an excellent idea, Mr. Larabee. I would hate to have my handiwork be for naught." Her eyes held a promise that made him forget to breath. Then she stepped back as the children came out to say goodbye.
As he rode away, he laughed, feeling a lightness of spirit he hadn't for too many years. Charlotte had been right; he was too young for heaven. He still had a life to live, and he vowed not to forget that ever again. Ella was still out there somewhere, and one day he'd find her, but he would no longer allow her any power over his life. He didn't know what the future held, but whatever lay before him, he would be the man his son would have been proud of.
End Note: the incident with Kronos can be found near the end of I Am Going To the West.
Link on AO3
This entry was originally posted at http://ithildin.dreamwidth.org/3992220.html. Please comment here or there.