Characters: Maude Standish, Charlotte Sparrow
Notes: PG13, Magnificent Seven in the Aces Immortal/Echoes the Sea AU, many thanks to strangevisitor7 for the beta.
Summary: In a New Orleans alley, two women form a bond that will withstand the centuries.
New Orleans, 1815
It was different for everyone, how you came back that first time. And yet, there was one emotion that was shared by all; fear. Some quickly suppressed it, others moved past it, and still others never escaped it.
The woman on the bed, gasping for that first lungful of blessed air was no exception. The realization she was alive was swiftly followed by the memory of her death. The man, his face twisted by fury and hate, raising the knife that was already covered in her blood for the final blow. But that blow had never come; instead, a look of surprise widened his eyes before he crumpled to the ground. The vision of a woman with raven hair, and a knife of her own, the countenance of God’s own wrath shining from her ice blue eyes, was the last mortal sight she beheld.
“You are safe,” Charlotte said softly, trying to reassure the newly Immortal woman as she sat up in the bed of the guest room of Charlotte’s Bayou St. John home. There was stark fear in her blue eyes as memory crashed over her and then, just as quickly, it was gone. But Charlotte knew that it was still there, lurking behind a mask. “You are at my home; I brought you here after you were killed.”
The mask slipped, just a little, and Charlotte very carefully placed a hand on the other woman’s wrist in comfort. This one was like a feral cat, and she knew it would take a gentle touch to keep her from fleeing. “No, it was not a nightmare; it happened, just as you remember.”
“You were there.” She fought to find her voice.
“You killed him.”
“He will never hurt any woman ever again.”
She stared at the hand resting upon her wrist and trembled a little. “You gathered me in your arms and…I died.”
“And now, you live,” Charlotte told her quietly, brushing a strand of long blonde hair away from the woman’s face. “You are like me; immortal, timeless, consigned to walk the ages of the Earth yet to come.”
Shrinking away, she clasped her hands between her breasts. “How can this be?”
Shrugging, Charlotte sat back in her chair. “A quirk of nature, perhaps? I know not, nor do I think any of our kind does.”
“There are more?”
“A great many.” She nodded. “But that will keep for now. Tell me, what is your name, child? I am Charlotte.”
“I am not a child!” she protested.
“I suppose it would seem that way to you,” Charlotte said, her eyes twinkling. While the young Immortal looked a decade older, Charlotte was old enough to be her grandmother.
“Your name?” she prompted. The younger woman didn’t immediately answer, and Charlotte waited patiently. “Come now, I must call you something, especially as you object to my previous sobriquet.”
Eyes snapping in irritation, she finally said, “Maude, my name is Maude.”
Charlotte was pleased to get a reaction from her that was something other than fear or confusion. It was an excellent sign and she felt hopeful that this new reality would not overwhelm the new Immortal. She allowed herself a mental sigh of relief.
“Well then, Maude. I am sure that a hot bath would be most welcome, would it not? I cleaned you up as best I could,” Maude looked down at herself as if just realizing she was clad in a nightdress, “but you will want to bathe yourself, I know.”
She looked wary. “My belongings, what have you done with them?”
“You mean the coin that was sewn into your petticoat?” Laughing lightly, she pulled a small leather pouch from her apron pocket, tossing it on the bed next to Maude. “You may count it, but I assure you that you will find I have not absconded with any of it.”
Maude shook her head, clutching the pouch in her hand. “I do not…,” she began, then stopped. “If you would be so kind as to allow me the loan of some clothing, I will be on my way. I shall, of course, repay you.”
Sighing, Charlotte shook her head. “I can not make you stay, Maude, but it would be a poor choice on your part to leave. There is much you need to know about your new nature and what it will take to survive. I did not save you this night only to have you throw your life away. And mark my words, if you leave now, ignorant, then there will be but few days left to you.”
Maude leapt from the bed, swaying a little from the sudden motion. “Then tell me!”
Standing, Charlotte came around the bed to face her unwilling guest. “I promise you that I shall tell you everything, you have my word.”
Laughing sharply, Maude tossed her head. “Promises are just words; worthless!”
“And yet, that is all I have to offer you, Maude. That, and the blood of your murderer. I think that, at least, should grant me some small measure of credit with you.”
“Why do you care? No one does anything without reason, without some benefit to themselves.” She backed away. “How do I know I can trust you?”
“You do not.” Obviously that was not the response she had been expecting. “Trust comes with time. Perhaps a day shall come when you will trust me, Maude, but now? No, that is far too much to expect – from ether of us.”
She walked around Charlotte, never turning her back, a trapped look in her eyes.
Crossing her arms, she considered the younger woman, and decided that with Maude, it might be best to take a new tack. “Perhaps a small wager might be of interest to you?”
Maude stopped, tilting her head. “What exactly would the nature of such a wager involve?”
“You grant me one month, and if after that time, you do not believe staying with me is advantageous to you, I shall gift you with one thousand dollars and send you on your way.” She walked to the window, staring out at the lightening sky. “How much of a trial can it be, Maude? A month here in my home and all the accoutrements of wealth that go along with it. I think you would be foolish to not accept my offer, and you do not strike me as a foolish woman.”
“A month,” Charlotte confirmed, not turning from the window.
“You shall give me the money with no quarrel?” It was as if she were trying to figure out just what the catch might be.
“None at all.” She fought back laughter. Jack would have liked her a great deal.
“And then you will tell me.”
Charlotte composed herself before turning to look at Maude quizzically. “Tell you what?”
She waved a hand. “The reason you are doing this; there has to be one, there always is.”
“So you say, but I suppose the question is not what my reasons might be, but if you will believe them? We shall see.” She fixed her gaze on the woman. “Do we have an agreement?”
Maude took a step towards her, extending her right hand. “We do.”
Charlotte reciprocated the action. Then taking the hand in a firm grip, she led her to the window. “Look, Maude,” she indicated the rising sun, “and remember this morning. It is the first of your life. All can start afresh if you so choose; your life is full of endless possibility.”
She glanced over at Charlotte. “Do you truly believe that?”
“I do. Someone told me once that this life we have been granted can be a gift. I am still not sure if I believe him, but perhaps it is something we can discover together, you and I.”
“Perhaps,” Maude whispered, staring out into a morning she had thought never to see.