Notes: 3:10 To Yuma/Magnificent Seven/Highlander, a story in the 'Echoes the Sea' AU series, Ben Wade/OFC. This exists entirely due to the repetitive poking efforts of ninjababe and her posse. This story is set a few weeks after the events in strangevisitor7's story Child Of My Heart.
Characters: Ben Wade, Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner, Ezra Standish, Oren Travis, Charlotte Sparrow.
Summary: Ben Wade's arrival in New Mexico brings him full circle with his past.
On A Raven's Wing ~ Part Five
The blackness receded and Charlotte groaned weakly, trying to remember why her head hurt so much. She took a deep breath, then another, as her body healed, the pain not so intense now. There were voices; Ben’s, and one she didn’t recognize. That voice was angry. Now she remembered; there’d been a shot, she’d fallen from Ben’s horse and hit her head. She stilled, trying to make sense of it all while cursing her body for taking so long to recover from its injuries.
Concentrating, she forced back the pain, willing herself to understand. Finally, the sounds sorted themselves into words.
“Didya think you’d get away with it, Wade?” the unknown man demanded.
Ben chuckled. “I suppose that I did at that.”
“Always were a smart-assed son of a bitch, Wade, and I’m gonna enjoy shuttin that mouth of yers for good!” The sounds of guns being cocked followed the stranger’s words.
So more than one. Her hand slid down her riding skirt, seeking the Colt Pocket Pistol that she always kept secreted in its folds. Finding the opening in the fabric that she sought, she grasped the comforting weight of the gun in her fingers. She knew she had to provide a distraction, or Ben would die.
“You wound me! And here I thought you and me were such good friends.” Ben sounded completely unconcerned that he faced certain death.
“Tell you what, Wade. Tell us where ya stashed it, and maybe we’ll kill your woman too. She don’t look so good.” There was malevolent laughter from more than one man. “Or me ‘n the boys can keep her entertained in what little time she has left.”
Charlotte gathered herself, pistol in hand, pushing herself to her feet. Vision blurred, all she could make out were the dark shapes of the men who had ambushed them. Her first shot went wide, but the second hit one of them, the man screaming in pain, grasping his shoulder.
It was all the distraction Ben needed as he drew his Dragoon revolver from its holster, firing four shots in such quick succession that time seemed to stand still. But it wasn’t fast enough to stop the bullets that slammed into Charlotte in retaliation.
Their attackers fell dead or dying around them as Ben whirled towards her, his face white with shock as he realized that she was mortally wounded. Charlotte’s pistol fell from her hand as she crumpled to her knees. Ben was an amazing shot, she thought absently, clutching her stomach, feeling the warmth of her blood spilling from between her fingers. God, it hurt so much.
Then he was there, lowering her gently to the ground. “Charlotte, I’m sorry…please don’t die,” he pleaded helplessly, pressing his hands against the wounds, trying to stem the flow of blood. “Why did you do it?” he demanded.
She didn’t have much time left. “Ben, not your fault,” she whispered. “Go now…nothing you can do for me. Leave me, please.” Please, God, make him go.
“I will not leave you behind,” he said fiercely.
Sighing one last breath, she smiled up into his blue-green eyes, dying in his arms.
New Mexico, 1866
“But you didn’t leave,” Charlotte said softly. “I was still in your arms, so many hours after I had died.” They walked slowly together towards the barn, the gentle murmur of the Rio Grande floating past them in the quiet of the early evening.
“I wondered if you were an angel,” Bed admitted, looking down at her. “A creature of heaven doomed to walk the Earth forever.”
“No, not an angel,” she laughed, “well you know.”
He shook his head, a genuine smile on his lips. “I’m not all that sure I do, truth be told.”
Pulling open the barn door, she didn’t reply, motioning him to enter. They made their way inside, and sitting down on a hay bale, she asked, “Why are you here, Ben?”
He leaned against a post across from her. “There’s a woman.” At her expressively arched brow, he added, “Not that kind of woman.”
“She’s a widow, and that’s my doing,” he stated baldly.
“So you murder her husband and you come to me?” Charlotte was brutally reminded that Ben was an outlaw, a killer, and that him being here was incredibly dangerous.
“Didn’t kill him, but may as well have.” He looked down at his hands. “Remember I told you once that doing a decent thing can only lead to trouble? I did a decent thing, Charlotte, and Dan Evans is dead because of that.”
“Is this to do with what happened in Contention?” she asked, trying to understand.
He looked at her with a piercing gaze. “Know about that, do you?”
“I know you gunned down your own gang and got on the prison train to Yuma. What I don’t know is why or why you aren’t already in Mexico where everyone thinks you are!” Sudden anger flowed through her like a raging river. She was angry at him for walking back into her life, forcing her to recall a time in her past she wasn’t proud of, but most of all, for making her remember how much she’d loved him. Leaping to her feet, she asked heatedly, “Damn it! Why did you have to come here, Ben? Why the hell couldn’t you just let the past lie?”
Shrugging at her infuriated outburst, he gave her a crooked smile. “Because I took you at your word.” She shook her head in confusion. “You told me once it was never too late for me to get off the path I was traveling to ruin and destruction. Well maybe it took me sixteen years to turn aside, Charlotte, but I have, and I need you to help me finish it.”
“You believed in me once, and I need you to again, this one last time. I swear to you that I’ll be gone with the dawn and you’ll never set eyes on me again.”
Damn him! She couldn’t turn aside knowing what the cost might be. Closing her eyes, she nodded, sinking back down onto the hay bale she’d vacated. “You said this man was killed because you did a decent thing?”
Briefly he described the events leading up to Dan Evans being the last man left willing to put Ben on the 3:10 to Yuma. “I could have knocked him out cold, left him there while me and the boys made our escape. The only thing he would have lost was his pride; but he’d be alive and his boys would have a daddy to raise em up right."
Oddly enough, Charlotte could see why Ben believed as he did. She also knew nothing she could say would make him think differently; he’d always had a stubborn streak as wide as the Mississippi. Despite that, she couldn’t help but tell him, “It was his choice, Ben.”
He shook his head. “Galatians, chapter six, verse five, ‘For every man shall bear his own burden’.”
Sighing softly, she waved a hand at him to continue.
“The Evans place is just outside Bisbee. The land is a piece of crap, Charlotte, no matter how much money is thrown at it.” He paced around the barn now like a caged animal. “And Alice will wither away there trying to make a go of it, all for the memory of her dead husband. William is only fourteen, but he’ll be an old man before he’s twenty, taking up the responsibility of being the man of the family; trying to live up to the expectations of a father who's dead and buried.”
She knew he spoke the truth. It was backbreaking work, scrabbling a living from the arid southwest; without a husband, a woman alone, with few resources and children to care for, it was nigh on impossible. Charlotte had settled in New Mexico as a woman of means, but it had been hard in those early days, making a go of it – and she’d had good land, with abundant water. There had been no few times she’d come close to throwing it all in and going on to San Francisco with Charles and the children as she’d initially planned.
“What do you need me to do, Ben?” She knew she’d do what he wanted if it were in her power. There really had never been any other choice. For that young man she’d loved once upon a time, she’d do it.
Gratitude flooded his eyes. “I have some money, enough for her to start fresh here; a house in town; her and the kids won’t want for anything. And William’s a bright boy, if you’d take him on when he isn’t in school, you could teach him what he needs to know so that when he’s a man, he can run a spread of his own, give him a future.”
“I can have my attorney make the arrangements, of course. And help her settle in here when she arrives. But what makes you think Alice will accept your money, let alone this arrangement?”
“I don’t – that’s why I need you to go to Bisbee and convince her, Charlotte.”