Rating: PG15 for adult situations.
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.
The gray light of dawn was slowly seeping across the horizon as Charlotte rode back to the old barn and her final parting with Ben. They had spent several hours the evening before discussing what Ben wanted Charlotte to do for Alice Evans, each avoiding any talk of their lives or their past together. It was time to let it all go, once and for all.
Arriving at the barn, she found Ben outside, his horse already saddled and ready to go. He helped her dismount, holding her close for just a moment before releasing her and stepping away.
“I brought you food for the journey,” she told him, pulling packets from her saddlebags and handing them to him.
“I’m obliged.” He quickly and efficiently stowed the provisions in his own saddlebags. “It’s goodbye then.”
He turned towards her. “I could ask you to come with me, one more time.”
“I know, you can’t; other people’s children….”
Galveston, Texas, 1850
Charlotte threw the Wanted Poster on the table. How could she have been so stupid? Believing his story about a business deal gone wrong as the reason for the ambush a few days prior! She’d been in town when she’d seen it, instantly recognizing the face of her lover, along with the faces of the men Ben had killed that day, looking out at her from the yellowed paper.
She picked her revolver up from the table at the sound of Ben’s footsteps coming down the hall towards her, standing and pointing it at him as he entered the room.
He didn’t seem surprised to find her holding a gun on him, glancing down at the damming piece of paper on the table before returning his eyes to hers. “You gonna shoot me, Charlotte?”
Silently, she shook her head, cocking the gun when he made to step closer. He stopped where he was, waiting. “You’re turning yourself in, Ben.”
“Turn myself in, they’ll hang me, Charlotte. Would rather you take care of it right now, it it’s all the same to you.” He held his hands out. “Can you do that? Shoot me where I stand? Because that’s what you’ll need to do.”
Blood roared in her ears as she realized he was completely serious. She had killed men before, but never someone she’d loved – and Ben knew that. The clock on the mantel began to strike four, and she counted each clang of the chime; it seemed to take hours instead of the handful of seconds it was in reality. The last peal echoed away, leaving no sound now but the pounding of her heart.
Still, Ben waited, as if they had all the time in the world, unconcerned that he might have misjudged her and she would pull the trigger, firing the gun she had pointed at his chest. But he hadn’t, and Charlotte’s arm dropped to her side.
“Leave, Ben. I never want to see you again,” she said tonelessly.
He crossed the room, taking the gun unresisting from her hand and placing it on top of the Wanted Poster. “It doesn’t have to end like this,” he said earnestly. “I can change; we can change. Come with me, Charlotte. Show me China and all the places you’ve told me about. We can leave here and never look back!”
What was he asking her? To run away with him, leaving her life behind and damn the consequences? She searched his eyes, seeing nothing there but sincerity. “You know I cannot. I have responsibilities; I can’t just walk away from my life!”
“Other people’s children, you mean,” he said angrily, turning away from her.
“Don’t you dare try and make this my fault, Ben Wade," she said angrily. "We never made any promises to each other. But I did make a promise to Ezra that I would always be there for him, no matter what. You have no right to expect me to break my word to that little boy, or to be angry with me because of it!"
His shoulders slumped and his anger seemed to dissipate. “You’re right,” he said tiredly. “You’d be no better than my mama if you did as I asked, and I’m sorry.”
The vision of Ben as a little boy, sitting at the train station, with nothing but a bible, waiting for the mother who never returned, welled up unbidden in her mind's eye. A little part of her died inside; how different a man he might have been if he'd only had someone to love him as a child. But she couldn't save him, only Ben could do that now.
Head bowed, he turned back to her. “I’ll be gone at sunset.” Then he said, “I won’t forget you, Charlotte Sparrow.”
“Nor I you,” she whispered as he strode from the room.
New Mexico, 1866
“Goodbye, Ben,” she said softly, leaning up to brush his lips with hers. “Go to Brazil, just like you always used to talk about. Write a book, raise horses, and live your life in peace. I’ll take care of Alice and her boys, I swear.”
“I know you will.” He put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it tight, a sad smile forming. “And I still won’t forget you.”
Nodding, she started to draw away when a gun cocking sounded in the predawn. Whirling, she put herself between Ben and the unknown gunman.
“Step away from Mz Black, Wade,” the familiar voice of Vin Tanner said from the dimness somewhere in front of where they stood.
She pushed down the gun Ben had drawn, this would not come to bloodshed. “Vin, please, there’s no need for this. He isn’t a threat to me and was making ready to leave, I swear to you.”
Vin stepped closer, now visible to them both. “Ben Wade’s a wanted man, ma’am.”
“And so are you, Vin Tanner,” Ben said, sounding amused. “A murderer, just like me.”
“Nothing like you, Wade.” He gestured with his mare’s leg. “Now how about you let Mz Black go.”
“Why? So you can take me to Yuma a second time?” He pressed his revolver into Charlotte’s side, making sure Vin saw the movement. “I don’t think so, Tanner.”
“Shoulda stayed put the first time; wouldn’t hafta be doin’ it again,” Vin pointed out.
“Didn’t much like the accommodations they provided,” Ben said lightly.
“Don’t spect you did.”
Charlotte’s mind raced. Ben was playing a dangerous game and she didn’t know how best to diffuse the situation. “Vin, please let him go. He’s not the man you took to Yuma anymore. Give him a few hours to make it to Mexico and he’ll be on his way to Brazil, never to be seen again.”
He gave her an apologetic look. “Don’t rightly think I can do that, ma’am.”
“Oh, I think you can,” Ben contradicted as he wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her back towards his horse. “You wouldn’t want any harm to come to Mrs. Black now, would you?”
“Ain’t no need for this, Wade,” the tracker told him quietly
Ben ignored him. “Mrs. Black is going with me, far enough so I can get a head start. Then I’ll release her, unharmed.”
Vin looked from Wade to Charlotte then back again. “Your word, Wade.”
“You have it.” Ben nodded. “You know I’m a man of my word, Tanner; always have been.”
“True enough,” Vin agreed. “If Mz Black ain’t back here within the hour, I’m coming for you, Wade, and there won’t be nowhere you can hide.”
“Wouldn’t expect anything less,” he replied with a grin. “Now, if you would be so kind as to bring the lady’s horse over here?”
Vin complied, never taking his eyes or his gun off Wade.
“It’s going to be fine,” Charlotte said; not sure if she were trying to reassure herself or the two men.
“That’s right,” Ben agreed, placing them between the two horses, before handing both sets of reins to her. “Nice and slow now, and she’ll be back before you miss her.”
“I’ll wait right here for you, ma’am,” the tracker told her as Ben led her and the horses away.
“Thank you, Vin,” she called out as they walked away.
Not an hour later, Charlotte returned to the barn, having made her final farewells to Ben. He had ridden away into the brilliant morning sun without looking back. She hoped he would be well, and that a life that had been filled with violence and despair would finally find peace.
True to his word, Vin was waiting, sitting on a large tree stump, watching as she rode up. Dismounting, she walked over to him.
He rose politely, tipping his hat. “Ma’am.”
“Vin.” She wrapped her arms around herself, at a loss as to what to say. ‘Thank you’ seemed so inadequate. Finally, she said, “I owe you an explanation.”
Shaking his head, he sat back down on the stump, making room for her next to him. “Don’t rightly see that you do,” he said as she sat down.
“You knew he was bluffing,” she stated baldly.
“Figured as much, but couldn’t take the chance.”
“We knew each other once; a lifetime ago.”
“You loved him,” he said simply.
She shot a look at the young man next to her. Charlotte has always known he was perceptive, but it seemed she’d underestimated him. “Yes.” She didn’t deny it.
“Reckon it was a good thing it was me that showed up this morning and not Chris.”
“I suppose it was at that,” she said quietly, shivering a little at contemplating a scenario that would have most certainly ended in death.
“Musta been important to Wade, to come lookin’ for you all these years later.” She could hear the question in his statement.
She looked down at her hands clasped in her lap. “He needed me to complete a task for him.” Then she explained to the tracker the circumstances of Ben’s visit. It was actually a relief to be able to tell someone, and she felt Vin was owed the truth.
“So you’ll go to Bisbee then?”
“I shall. There are arrangements to be made, but I should be able to leave at the end of the month. If I ride cross country, I should be back home in less than three weeks.”
“Ride?” This time, he actually sounded surprised.
Laughing, she said, “I abhor traveling by stage.”
“Don’t blame you for that.”
“And this will be quicker all round.”
“You ain’t traveling alone.” His tone spoke volumes more than his words.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Tanner?” Charlotte did not like the turn this conversation was taking one bit.
“You think Ez or Chris would let you make this trip by yourself?”
She bristled. “Neither Ezra nor Mr. Larabee have a say in how I lead my life.” Jumping to her feet, she stood, arms akimbo. “I have been taking care of myself for a very long time, Mr. Tanner, and you’d do well to remember that!”
He looked up at the sky, seemingly unperturbed. “Ain’t denying that, ma’am, but the truth of the matter is that there’s no way in hell they’d let you travel cross country by yourself, and that’s the God’s honest truth. And I would be a poor friend to Ezra iffn I didn’t try and stop you.”
Charlotte ground her teeth in frustration. God above, these men would drive a saint mad! “What do you want, Vin?” she asked coolly.
He looked at her, a small smile on his lips. “You let me come with you to Bisbee, and what happened here this morning can just be between us.”
She gasped at his absolute cheek. “Are you blackmailing me?”
“Hope ya don’t see it that way, and that’s a fact. But you’re damn stubborn, pardon me for sayin' so; see where Ezra gets it from.” He shot her a big grin. “I’m thinkin' that once you have a chance ta ponder it, you’ll see it’s for the best.”
Narrowing her eyes, she fumed inwardly. Damn, but the boy was right; her life was now intertwined with bonds of family and friendship she’d never sought. Nevertheless, they existed, and she had to deal with that reality. “You have spent entirely too much time with Ezra,” she opined dryly.
Vin chuckled. “Spect I have at that.”
Sighing in defeat, she smiled ruefully. “Very well, you shall accompany me to Bisbee. But I am doing the cooking on the trail!”
“Was hoping you would!”