Notes: A crossover with Magnificent Seven and a story in the Echos the Sea/Aces Immortal series. Thanks to strangevisitor7 and ninjababe for the beta.
Characters: Methos, Duncan MacLeod, Ezra Standish, Original Characters.
Summary: It’s been a century and a half since Methos last saw Charlotte and Ezra. His reappearance in their lives brings back many memories; not all of them happy ones.
For Propriety’s Sake
It was a chilly spring night, morning actually; it had to be at least five a.m., after all. Charlotte tucked her bare feet underneath her, pulling her thin silk robe tighter around herself and leaned back against the hassock. She had slept fitfully, waking up a few hours before, unable to fall back asleep. Not wanting to wake Methos, she had crept out of bed, eventually settling on the floor in front of the fireplace at the other end of the bedroom, staring at the dying flames.
The dinner had gone well; far better than she’d expected. Both Methos and Ezra had made a real effort to be civil, and Duncan had expertly stepped into the role of conciliator, smoothly finessing the other two men when things got tense. They were probably never going to be friends, but Charlotte at least had hope now that there would be no bloodshed. Still, she felt pensive, what little sleep she’d had filled with dark and disquieting dreams she couldn’t remember. Methos’ arrival had brought with him a cascade of memories; many of them ones she’d done her best not to dwell on over the passing decades. She knew that Ezra was recalling many of those same memories, and they troubled him. He worried for her, and though she knew why, there was little she could do to reassure him.
Tentatively, she picked up the small velvet sack from the floor next to her, looking at it intently. Finally, she loosened the strings, emptying the contents into her right hand. Two rings, one, a square cut garnet surrounded by seed pearls, and the other, a rose gold band with an intricate tracery of vines upon it. She stared at them for a moment before slipping the gold band onto her left ring finger. She swore to herself that she would only remember the happiness that had come with wearing Chris’s ring, not the grief.
It had been a perfect day, their wedding day. She had worn the silk dress of Carolina blue that Cecily had brought with her from Paris, Ezra had walked her down the aisle, placing her hand in Chris’s, underneath the arch in front of the rose garden that he and his friends had built for the ceremony, and Oren Travis had declared them husband and wife. Till death us do part. Charlotte shook her head sharply. No, she would not walk that dark path this night.
Twisting the ring on her finger, she smiled, recalling the joy and the laughter. Buck had arranged for the band to play My Love She's But A Lassie Yet, much to the amusement of Chris. But Charlotte had her revenge by making sure her bouquet landed squarely in Buck’s very surprised hands. Of course, once the shock had worn off, the ladies man had taken full advantage of the situation with the unmarried women present – and not too few of the married ones while he was at it. JD had proposed to Casey, and had received a deliriously happy ‘yes’, and Vin and Cecily had only eyes for each other. It had been such a glorious day. And while it had been her third marriage, never before had she been so completely surrounded by the warmth and love of family and friends; and she supposed she most likely never would again. Those years in New Mexico had been unique and precious, and she cherished them, despite the inevitable loss that followed.
A shawl being laid over her shoulders pulled her back from that autumn day a century and a half before. “You’ll catch cold,” Methos scolded gently, sitting next to her on the floor and wrapping an arm around her. “You kept it.” He sounded surprised.
She looked down at the garnet ring still in her hand and nodded. “It was the only thing I had of you, other than memories.”
“I’m not sure why you’d even want those,” he admitted quietly.
She leaned up, kissing his cheek. “The future, not the past, remember?”
“What we make of our future depends on how we deal with our past.”
“Maybe I don’t want to deal with the past, Methos!” she said more sharply than she’d intended. Taking a deep breath, she began, “I’m sorry—“
He hushed her, brushing his lips across hers. “It’s okay.”
Nodding, she clasped the ring in her fist, the edges of the garnet pressing into her flesh.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He skimmed a finger across the gold band on her finger.
Of course he would notice. She honestly didn’t think she wanted to talk about it, but suddenly found herself saying, “I wore it for years after Chris’s death, until finally I put it away and tried to move on.”
“I don’t think so, not really. I just pretended. Partly for myself I suppose, but mostly for Ezra; he was concerned. Worried I was shutting out the world, living in the past. It was just easier, pretending.” She laughed, but it was a sad sound. “It isn’t easy, you know. Eventually, you need help, trying to forget, or to at least not remember. Not to see them every time you close your eyes.”
“I know.” He rested his cheek on the top of her head. “I know, love.”
“I lost so many that I loved. Not just Chris, but my children, dear friends, all gone to dust, leaving me alone and without hope.” She trembled next to him, and he pulled her closer. “In the end, there wasn’t enough gin or opium in the world to keep pretending.”
“What happened to you, Charlotte?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I can’t… Please, Methos, not yet, not now. One day.” Her voice held a note of pleading, hoping he’d understand.
“When you’re ready then,” he whispered.
“Thank you.” She closed her eyes. “I was lost in the void, but Ezra and Maude pulled me back into the light, to life, they never gave up on me.”
“I am in their debt,” he said gravely, and she knew he meant that. Methos often said he didn’t feel guilt, but she knew that was a lie; a lie she’d never believed.
Charlotte buried herself against his chest, letting the comfort of his body drive away the threatening darkness.
She held the mug in her hands, letting the warmth seep into her fingers. They had come downstairs to the kitchen, Methos making a pot of tea, while she sat in front of the woodstove. Even with the tea and the fire, she still felt cold, as if the fog drenched night had penetrated the very bone.
Methos pulled the shawl more tightly around her before drawing his chair closer to hers, sitting down and stretching out his long legs. “Better?”
She flashed him a lopsided smile. “Getting there.” Shifting, she pulled her leg up, looking at him. “I don’t regret my life, Methos, and I certainly don’t regret the time we were together. Whatever you might think, I need you to believe that.”
“I do, Charlotte. The life you lead here doesn’t belong to a woman living without purpose or hope; just the opposite.”
Nodding, she took a sip her tea before placing the mug on the chair next to her. “And what about you, Methos? Why are you Matthew again?”
“What do you mean?
“Matthew is a drifter, he exists in the here and now with no thought for the future.” She shrugged. “Matthew is who you are when you don’t want to be.”
He sputtered a little, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “Been taking psychology in your spare time, have we?”
“I am right, aren’t I?”
“Fine, yes, maybe a little,” he grumped. “Adam Pierson and I, we just needed to part ways. And Matthew, well, he doesn’t have high expectations, which suited me at the time.”
“What exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“What? Nothing, nothing at all.”
“Oh no!” He waved an accusing finger at her. “I know that look.”
“What look?” Her eyes were wide and guileless.
“Please, I stopped falling for your wide eyed innocence thing in seventeen-sixty-eight.”
“I haven’t a clue as to what you’re prattling on about, dear.”
He snorted. “Like hell. That look is the one you always reserve for occasions when you think the person you’re dealing with has less sense than a five-year-old.”
She smiled sweetly. “Your words, not mine.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Okay, for the sake of argument then, what exactly is your point? Assuming you have one that is,” he sniped.
Arching a brow, she waved her right hand at him, or more precisely, the garnet ring she was now wearing. “Benjamin Adams wouldn’t have proposed marriage like he was making a deal for mule team; he was a gentleman!”
“That’s nonsense,” he protested. “It was nothing like that!”
“Oh, really? Then tell me, Matthew, just how do you remember it…?”
New Mexico Territory ~ Winter, 1866
Methos paused in the kitchen door, watching in amusement as Charlotte danced around the table with a broom, humming the Little Doves Waltz. He’d been sitting on the back porch repairing tack and had decided that it was time for a cup of coffee. Obviously, Charlotte hadn’t heard the door open. As she spun around, he grasped her elbow, halting her. “May I cut in?” he asked with a grin and a bow, taking the broom from her hands and tossing it aside.
Her expression was a mixture of surprise and embarrassment, but that was quickly replaced with a winsome smile. “I think that would be quite acceptable,” she told him as he took her in his arms.
Methos whirled her around the large kitchen till they were both breathless with laughter, Charlotte collapsing against his chest, her cheeks rosy and her eyes sparkling. He sank into a nearby chair, pulling her down onto his lap. “I would have thought you’d have got enough dancing in last night.”
The evening prior, Doña Ana’s annual Christmas dance had been held, and people had turned out from far and wide. Entertainment was scarce on the frontier, so any opportunity to socialize was seized upon with great enthusiasm; and last night’s gathering had been very enthusiastic indeed. They’d arrived back at the ranch, the children fast asleep in the wagon, not long before dawn, having literally danced the night away.
“There is no such thing!” she proclaimed, shaking her head.
“I’d forgotten just how much you enjoy a ball.” He drew her closer. “And you were the most beautiful woman there.”
“I believe you may be biased,” she told him with a grin. He shrugged giving her a matching grin. “Personally, I think Jemma was by far the most beautiful lady present,” she said of her eldest daughter. “She has grown up so fast, and within a few months will be a married woman with a home of her own.” Her eyes took on a faraway look. “I remember when she was five, before her parents were killed, at this time of year in fact. I was holding a dance at my home, a small gathering of friends. The Walkers lived in the country, so I had them bring the children to town with them, to stay for the weekend.”
“Not to mention you like nothing better than a house full of children,” he said warmly, kissing the top of her head.
“Guilty as charged,” she agreed. Then she continued her story, “Ezra was about fourteen at the time, and had been with me for a few days that particular visit. I felt his presence, so had gone to investigate.” She laughed. “It really wasn’t fair, you know.”
“Ezra being pre-immortal,” she explained. “He was constantly baffled at how Maude and I always knew when he was nearby. It made his plots and schemes so much more difficult to carry out. Which is probably a good thing all being considered; he got into enough mischief as it was!”
“So what happened?” Methos asked.
“I went into the hall and heard giggles, so I peered around the corner to find Ezra and Jemma dancing. He’d dressed her in an old silk wrap of mine and had put ribbons in her hair and was teaching her how to waltz. It was so sweet, I couldn’t bear the thought of sending her up to bed, no matter how late the hour was.” She sighed wistfully. “And now, they’re both grown and slipping away from me.”
He didn’t say anything right away, just held her tight, letting her gather herself. Finally, he said, “Speaking of Jemma, we had a little talk last night, along with Timothy.”
She tilted her head, peering up at him. “Oh?”
“Your oldest are growing up faster than you thought,” he told her with a smirk. “They wanted to know what my intentions were towards you.”
Shifting in his arms, she sat up straight. “They what?”
“Oh yes, they were quite serious and very determined that I do right by you. I think Jemma inherited your flinty gaze. Quite scary for a barely eighteen-year-old,” he teased. “I can’t but think a similar conversation will be in the offing with Ezra in the very near future.”
Rubbing her forehead, she gazed heavenward. “They aren’t the only ones,” she admitted, once more looking at Methos. “Hank Jenkins cornered me in town a few days ago. He seems to think it’s his responsibility as he was the one that sent you here looking for work in the fall. I think I fended him off…for now at least.”
Methos shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe we should.”
“Should what?” she asked with a perplexed look on her face.
“Grow papayas!” he said in exasperation. “What do you think, you silly woman? Get married, of course!”
She narrowed her eyes. “You’re asking me to marry you?”
“Well, yes, for propriety’s sake, of course. It is the most efficient way to make everyone happy and to get them out of our business isn’t it?” Methos seemed totally oblivious to the storm cloud that had settled across Charlotte’s face.