Notes: This story picks up just after the closing scene in the final episode of the series, 'Obsession'. WIP, Magnificent Seven/Highlander, a story in the 'Echoes the Sea' series. Many thanks to strangevisitor7 for beta duties and brainstorming.
Characters: Ezra Standish, Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner, Buck Wilmington, Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, JD Dunne, OFC.
Summary: There are times when the only way to escape the dark, and the demons that haunt you, is to have friends who refuse to let you fall.
Too Young For Heaven ~ Part Six
“It seems to be healing nicely,” Charlotte said as she finished placing the clean dressing on Chris’s wound. “And perhaps if you can manage to avoid any bar fights in the near future, it might even heal completely this time.” Her voice was equal measures of gentle reproof and amusement.
It was the second day after Chris had regained consciousness at Charlotte’s ranch, and he was feeling much more clearheaded than he had yesterday. The windows of his room had been opened wide, and the fresh May breeze flooded the room with the scents of spring. He felt more alive than he could recall feeling for a very long time.
“I’ll do my best, ma’am,” he replied with a crooked grin.
“Mmm-hmm,” was her only response as she pulled the coverlet back up over his bare chest. Straightening, she looked him over, seeming to come to some sort of decision. “If you’re feeling up to it, perhaps you’d like to sit in the garden this afternoon? The fresh air and sunlight would do you good.”
“Sounds like a mighty fine idea,” he agreed. More than fine, actually. He hated being cooped up in a sickroom; though this one was a quite a step up from Nathan’s clinic. He looked around the guestroom at the Oriental furnishings and art that decorated it. He'd never seen anything like it before, yet somehow, the room seemed to reflect its owner more than any of the other rooms he’d seen on previous visits. It reminded him sharply that Charlotte was Immortal; exotic, unique, and totally outside his experience, just like this room.
Then she smiled at him, and he realized that while she might be all those things, she was also a woman, a very human woman who had burdens of her own. “I’m sorry, Charlotte, for what happened at the saloon. I don’t recall much, but I know I wasn’t a gentleman.” He wasn’t sure he’d ever know what exactly it was he’d done and said that day, but it didn’t mean he felt any less remorse for his actions.
She shook her head. “No apologies are necessary, Chris. We all have demons which we are prey to,” she said gently.
As she turned to leave, he asked quietly, “What are your demons, Charlotte?”
She stiffened almost imperceptibly before facing him once more. “You may tell Ezra that I am perfectly well, and that there is nothing for him to worry about,” she declared with some small measure of heat.
He decided it was pointless to deny that Ezra was the reason behind his question, so he charged straight in. “You sure about that?”
“Quite.” Crossing her arms across her chest, she pulled herself up to her full height, narrowing her eyes.
She reminded Chris of a schoolmarm he’d had back in Missouri when he was a boy. Though she hadn’t been half as pretty as Charlotte, he thought absently.
“Ezra is a fine young man, but he is prone to being overprotective and tends to forget who is the child and who is the parent.”
“He ain’t no child, Charlotte,” he rebuked gently. Her eyes flashed and he thought he might have pushed too hard. Then her shoulders slumped.
“No, he is not.” Sighing, she dropped into the chair next to his bed. “But, Chris, to me, there will always be a part of him that is the little boy I helped raise; I can not help that. Nor can I burden him with my troubles.” She looked down at her hands in her lap. “He has enough to deal with in his own life, which is as it should be.”
“Don’t rightly think he sees it that way,” Chris pointed out. “Hell, Charlotte, you’re the one who raised him to give a damn about others. Can’t blame him for doing what’s needful to look out for you.”
“Like setting you to spy on me?” she asked with a wry smile.
“Man’s just using his ‘God given gifts’,” he pointed out with a chuckle. Then he became serious. “Ezra was going to contact Maude, get her to come here, figuring she might be the one person that you’d let in.”
Looking up at him sharply, she shook her head. “I didn’t realize Ezra was that concerned,” she admitted. “He’s a good boy.” Her words were said so softly that Chris could barely make them out and there was a faraway look in her eyes.
“He was right, wasn’t he? About Maude?” He wasn’t able to keep out the note of disapproval in his voice.
She tilted her head, searching his face. “And you don’t understand that, do you?” she asked, not denying his assertion.
He leaned back against the pillows tiredly, shaking his head. “No, don’t s’pose I do. After everything, I don’t understand why you still have a place for that woman in your life.”
Charlotte’s eyes looked very old, as if she were remembering some distant pain. When she began to speak, it was in a tightly controlled voice, “I came upon Maude in an alley in New Orleans in 1815. She had been brutalized, stabbed repeatedly. Her assailant was making ready to cut her throat when I killed him.”
Her expression dared Chris to judge her for that, but he just nodded for her to go on.
Charlotte’s eyes locked with his as she continued, “She died in my arms, there in that alley; the warmth of her blood saturating my dress, turning cold as it seeped through to coat my flesh. For so long afterwards, the terror of those moments, the means of her death, haunted her. We traveled a long hard road together, bringing her back from that place where she was violated and murdered. It is impossible to share that pain, that horror, with another woman and not have a bond!” she said fiercely. “We were together for almost twenty years, Chris, closer than any sisters. Maude is not an evil woman; only a woman who has demons of her own.”
A heavy silence fell, and Chris shivered a little despite the warmth of the spring morning. All too clearly he could visualize Charlotte holding a bleeding, dying Maude, in that New Orleans alley. He’d never given much thought to how the Immortals he knew had met their first deaths, and Charlotte’s story now made him wonder just how she had died. What he wasn’t sure about was if he had the guts to ask her – or to deal with the answer.
The moment was broken by the sound of running feet, swiftly followed by the appearance of a little girl. “Mama, mama!” Penny, Charlotte’s eleven-year-old daughter, said excitedly, coming to stand next to where her mother sat.
Charlotte put a hand on top of her curly red hair. “Now, Penny, do we burst into other people’s rooms without knocking first?” Her voice was gentle but firm.
“Sorry, mama.” The girl looked guiltily over at Chris. “Sorry, Mr. Larabee.”
Chris chuckled. “That’s okay, Penny. I’m not always real good at remembering my manners neither.”
She gave him a brilliant smile and Chris wondered what it might have been like to have had a daughter. The idea had always kinda scared him, but looking at Penny, he realized it might have been nice to have had a daughter to smile at him like that; a little girl that Adam could have been a big brother to. She would have looked just like Sarah, with long brown curls. Close on the heels of those thoughts came the realization that thinking such things didn’t make him feel like he was going to break inside, and he marveled at that.
He realized Charlotte was looking at him with some concern. He smiled at her, a smile she returned before turning her attention back to Penny. “Now what has you running through the house like a hellion?” she asked with a grin.
“Cousin Ezra has taught me to play Für Elise! Please, can you come listen?”
“Of course I can, dearest,” she replied, kissing Penney’s forehead. “Mr. Larabee needs to rest now, so we shall leave him in peace.”
“Wouldn’t mind hearing Penny play,” Chris told her.
Raising one expressive brow, she gave him a look. “I am not sure that would be wise, Chris.”
“I promise I’ll take it easy.” He gave her a lopsided grin. “Cross my heart.”
Penny clapped her hands together and squealed at the thought of having an audience and Charlotte giggled. Chris thought it was one of the nicest sounds he’d heard in a long time.