Characters: Vin Tanner, Ezra Standish, Buck Wilmington, Charlotte Black Sparrow, Cecily Black Desjardins
Notes: Thanks to strangevisitor7 for the beta.
Summary: Vin looks toward the future and discovers that dreams can be reality.
“Now that we’ve settled that,” Charlotte said dryly, “perhaps you’d care to know the actual reason I wished to speak with you?”
Vin nodded. “Reckon I would.”
She picked up a small leather bound book from the low table in front of them and cradled it in her hands. “I believe we have established just how much you mean to me, Vin. But in case you still have doubts, there are things that need saying.” Pausing, she fingered the well worn cover of the book in her hands, seemingly lost in some distant memory. Then she visibly gathered herself. “I know you are not a man who values material possessions, so I wish to give you something with meaning. A gift from my heart to yours, demonstrating my deep regard for you and for our friendship.” She pressed the volume into his hands. “Therefore, I wish you to have this.”
There was a power to the moment, Vin realized. It was not just her words, or the intensity of her gaze. What he held in his hands contained something far beyond the leather cover and the pages in between. He felt as if Charlotte had gifted him with a piece of her soul and he was reminded keenly of his time amongst the Comanche. This was not something he’d ever thought to experience here in this very proper setting with the woman who was to marry his best friend two days hence. There were moments when Charlotte and Ezra’s Immortal nature flashed across his awareness like dry lightening on a bright summer’s day. This was one of those moments.
Carefully, he opened the book, and saw an inscription in faded ink:
“It was a gift from someone I loved very much once upon a time,” she explained at his questioning look. “A book of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; I believe you will like them.”
“Charlotte, I can’t take something so precious from you,” he protested, seeing an old grief in her eyes.
She shook her head. “No, Vin, that is exactly why I wish you to have it. It is a time for new beginnings, and part of that is letting go of the past. I loved Tim with all my heart, was going to marry him, but he was torn from me by violence. I will always remember the love we shared, but now, I give my heart to another, so I entrust this to you, as I have entrusted what is most precious to me to your care.”
“Ezra,” he whispered.
Nodding, she smiled gently. “I have known from the moment I first set eyes on him all those years ago in Richmond, when Maude left him on my doorstep, that one day, I would have to let him go. That is the way of it for our kind. But, dearest Vin, knowing that he has you for a friend, someone he trusts to watch out for him, no matter what, has eased my heart more than you can ever know. Trust does not come easy to me, even less so to Ezra, and yet you hold ours.”
Vin found himself once more overwhelmed by emotion. He saw a future open before him, like a vista from high in the desert, which he never could have imagined two years ago: the love of family, belonging and acceptance, after so many long and empty years spent alone and wary.
“I’ll take care of him, don’t you worry none,” he assured her. “He won’t never have to ride alone as long as there’s breath in my body. That, I swear to you, Charlotte; my word as a Tanner.”
“I know you will, Vin.” She squeezed his hand. “After all, I am not wearing black this day, and Ezra is still here to walk me down the aisle two days hence.”
“Ma’am…Charlotte,” he began, his mind racing. Did she know? God only knew the woman was as sharp as a tack and seemed to have the ability to snatch secrets from outta thin air. Damned inconvenient talent if you asked him. Ez and him hadn’t even outright told Chris what had happened at the duel two weeks ago, not wanting the man to be in the position of having to lie to his betrothed.
Seeming to sense his inner turmoil, she shushed him. “It matters not what I may or may not be aware of, Vin. Whatever secrets you and Ezra share are yours alone, I assure you. Only know that I trusted you to do what needed doing, and you did not fail that trust.”
He nodded sharply, exhaling a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. She knew, or at least suspected, but she wasn’t mad, much to his relief. In fact, her reaction was just the opposite of what he would have anticipated. Not only wasn’t she angry, but it seemed as if she’d expected him to act all along. Didn’t that beat all? Seemed they’d all sold her short, including Chris. He chuckled to himself.
“Something amuses you?” Her question made him realize that he must have actually laughed aloud.
Eyes twinkling, he smiled broadly. “Just thinking you’ll be keepin’ Chris on his toes once you’re wed is all.”
“Is that so?” She quirked an eyebrow. “I will have you know, Mr. Tanner, that I am the most demure and meek of women and I cannot possibly imagine how you would conceive such an idea,” she said archly, her lips twitching with suppressed merriment.
“Iffn you say so, ma’am,” he replied with a wink.
“Alas, you have found me out.” Now she was smiling. “But fair warning, Vin; many of my most grievous character flaws are Cecily’s as well. So take this as a glimpse of what your future may hold.”
“Ain’t convinced they’re flaws, Charlotte,” he objected lightly.
“I shall be certain to remind you of that after a few weeks of closer acquaintance with my daughter,” she promised him with a smirk. Turning her attention back to the book in his hand, she pointed. “I have a poem marked that I was hoping you would read aloud.”
Vin swallowed nervously at her request. He’d been getting better at his reading, but still felt inadequate. Ezra’d lent him volumes of poetry before, but they were usually so full of highfalutin words that he could rarely make heads nor tails of them.
“Please, Vin?” she said quietly.
Nodding, he opened the book to where the ribbon bookmark had been placed, Charlotte patiently waiting while he read it over. Relieved, he saw that it was in plain English, which heartened him considerably. Squaring his shoulders, he took a deep breath and began to read.
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.
I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?
Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.
Finishing, he gently closed the book, his thoughts intent on the words he had just read. If he hadn’t understood what she’d been trying to tell him before, he did now.
“Would be on the trail, looking up at the stars at night, thinkin’ there was a whole world out there that I weren’t never going to know. Didn’t ever suppose that words could bring that world to me, but mighty glad I found out.”
“And your words will one day bring that world to others,” she told him.
Not long ago, Vin would have immediately disagreed, but things had changed – he’d changed. “You reckon so?”
“I am certain of it.”
“Hafta say, I like the idea that my poems might make a difference to someone I won’t ever know.” He pondered the thought, nodding contentedly as the possibility took root.
“Tim would have liked you very much,” she said, her voice touched with fond sadness.
“Wouldn’t mind knowin’ some about him, iffn you’d like to tell me,” he offered gently.
She tilted her head, remembering. “He loved poetry and books, and was insatiably curious about everything around him. He could tell you about every tree and flower that you saw during a Sunday walk in the woods, and every constellation in the heavens when night fell. He felt injustice keenly and was passionate about righting the wrongs of the world.” Brushing at her skirt absently, she paused, then said, “While Timothy is his namesake, it is in Jess I see him most strongly; he and his uncle would have been kindred spirits.”
Vin chuckled, nodding. He’d taken Charlotte’s middle child out with him on the trail more than once, and Jess had a thousand questions about everything under the sun. The boy aimed to be a doctor, and Vin knew he’d be a fine one.
“What happened?” he asked quietly.
“He was murdered; we all were.” Biting at her lower lip, she shook her head. “I met Tim’s brother, Jessup, at an abolitionist meeting, and he introduced me to Tim. Jessup and his wife Leah were true believers in the movement, and through them I became involved in the Underground Railroad. A night came that we were found out, though I will always believe we were betrayed.” She swallowed, taking a steadying breath. “When it was all over, I had lost Tim, and the children had lost their parents. I gathered them up, changed our names, and brought us west.”
“I’m sorry.” His voice was heavy with compassion and empathy.
“So am I, Vin. Even being Immortal didn’t allow me to save them. I was helpless and my friends and my betrothed were brutally cut down. I will always feel that I failed them.”
Vin put a hand on her shoulder. “Weren’t nothing you could have done, you know that.”
“Perhaps, but I shall always feel a sense of responsibility. I knew things were getting more and more dangerous, but Tim did not share my fear. My love for him kept me from pressing the matter. Maybe things would have been different if I had.”
He had no answer for that, because he knew he’d feel the same in her place. He was also coming to realize that there was a deeper connection between Chris and Charlotte than he had been aware of. Both of them suffered the guilt of the ones left to go on living, and he wondered if she’d ever really had a chance to grieve. She’d had to stay strong for Jemma, Timothy, and Jess, moving the orphaned children across the harsh trail west. Little time for her to deal with the loss of the man she’d been going to marry.
“Chris heals your heart, like you do his.” It wasn’t a question; it was something he knew deep in his bones.
“I tried to resist the connection between us, God knows I did,” she said ruefully. “Chris walks a path beset with danger, and I had no desire to once more have the life of the man I loved cut short by violence. But, in the end, the hurt in our souls found comfort and empathy and that yearning to be whole could not be denied no matter my fears.”
Silence fell, the time measured by the steady beat from the grandfather clock in the corner of the study.
Finally Vin stirred, shaking himself from his reverie. “Hafta say,” his lips curled slyly, “that’s mighty heartening ta hear.”
“Is it now?”
“Sure is; heck if fallin’ in love can a’fear even an Immortal, makes it a might less daunting for the rest of us,” he opined.
Charlotte’s ringing laughter dispelled the last of the gloom that had gathered round them. “I assure you, Vin, that love is a terrifying prospect no matter how old one might be. By the same token, I can also say the rewards for overcoming that fear are immeasurable.”
“Good ta know, ‘cus I aim to find out for myself real soon now.” Gone was the trepidation of earlier. He knew that a future with Cecily was not guaranteed; if anything the odds were against them. Whilst love might not be enough to overcome the ocean of differences between them, he was going to give it his damndest regardless.
Charlotte took her hands in his. “And nothing would bring me more joy, Vin. May your song find a home in the heart of the one you love.”
Notes: the poem Vin reads is called ‘The Arrow and the Song' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The events surrounding the duel referred to can be found in strangevisitor7's story, Each Must Know His Part.