Author's Note: This is my first 3:10 to Yuma fic, so please feel free to review and let me know what you think. Constructive criticism always welcomed with open arms.
Disclaimer: None of the characters etc belong to me and I am in no way making any money from this.
Dan sat in the chair by the window of the bridal suite and tried to keep the myriad of emotions running through his mind away from his face. His eyes wanted to wander to the overly large bed where Ben Wade lay sprawled; bonelessly wanton and unselfconscious, and for once blessedly silent. The atmosphere in the room should have been tense, if not downright dangerous, but instead it was peaceful. It was just a room shared by two men who had measured one another and found mutual respect if not necessarily admiration. And now there was nothing left to do but wait.
Tightening his grip on the rifle resting across his knees, still careful not to let his guard down, Dan allowed his eyes to slip across to the bed for a second before fixing his gaze out the window again. He remembered the first time he'd seen Wade out by the wagon wreck. He'd been so damn frightened for the boys that he hadn't had time to worry about anything else, but he'd known instinctively, the same way as dealing with any wild animal, that showing fear would likely mean trouble. They'd gotten through the experience alright though, even if he could wish that William had seen the madness lurking in the blonde one's eyes instead of fixing on the raw power Wade exuded.
It wasn't until he saw Wade again in the bar of the saloon that he managed to put a finger on the feeling he got whenever the outlaw fixed those narrow blue eyes on him. The chill that ran down his spine and brought goosebumps up all over his flesh reminded him of the feeling he'd had when he was walking in one of the big cemeteries back east with Alice before they were married. It was the feeling he'd got when they first stopped, stepping out of the bright warm sunshine into the shadow of a large tombstone. The same sudden swift chill, not really fear or even alarm, more a sense of challenge or even anticipation that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and his belly muscles tighten.
When Wade looked at you like that it was as though you were the only person in the place he was interested in, and he was kind of mesmerising in his own infinitely dangerous way. He'd seen both Alice and William fall under the spell of those fascinating blue eyes when Wade had focused his attention on them and Dan wasn't at all sure he'd really managed to snap either of them out of it. No, he wasn't sure he could compete with Ben Wade in his family's eyes. Except for Mark of course. Dan felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth as he remembered Mark expounding his virtues to Wade when they'd been sat around the table. At least someone still had some respect and affection for him and one way or another after today he hoped he'd never have to watch those emotions fade from his youngest son's eyes the way they had from his eldest's.
Dan risked another look over at the outlaw who was still lounging as though unconcerned on the bed. From the moment he'd laid eyes on Wade he'd known the man was more deadly than anyone he'd ever come across. The man carried violent death around with him the same way he carried his gun or his hat, and just as casually. It was as though everyone his shadow fell across ended up dead. Mind, he almost couldn't blame the man for killing Tucker. If ever a man had deserved his fate it was that son of a bitch. But he could still recall the dreadful gurgling noise the man had made as he died in a moment of violent frenzy the like of which Dan hoped he'd never see again. And then McElroy, flung over a cliff to his death without a moment's hesitation. Life sure came cheap to Ben Wade. But it was Doc's death that really burnt Dan up inside. Doc may not have been the sort of hero that William loved to read about but he had been a decent man, kind and gentle, and when he'd finally found his courage, in order to save a man he barely knew but knew nothing good of, it had cost him his life. Dan felt his fists tighten around the rifle on his lap and he looked down at it wondering why it was the accidental death, of the many Wade had caused, that made him so damn furious. One thing was for sure there was nothing simple about Ben Wade.
Take that conversation about the money; now there was nothing simple there. Or at least Dan didn't think so. It all sounded so easy. Just take Wade's share of the money, take William and walk out of there with no one any the wiser about what went on. That's probably how Wade saw it anyway; you could hardly expect an outlaw to think differently. In his mind he listened again to the silver tongued devil lounging on the bed, looking up at him with those intense blue eyes drawing him in, listened to himself calmly discussing his debts and then being offered more money than he'd ever had in one go.
'Isn't that kind of reckless of you Wade, seeing as how you're so sure that your crew's coming to get you?'
'They're coming Dan. Sure as God's vengeance they're coming.' Then a soft half smile, 'But I just like to do things easy.'
Dan had been thinking about those words. It didn't seem right to him that Ben Wade, the notorious outlaw, robber and killer, would just hand him the money and let him and his son go. If he hadn't spent any time with the man he'd have thought that an outlaw with his reputation would want to kill them all just for the sake of it. To keep up his reputation so to speak, to make sure no one tried anything so damn foolish again. But the offer was made, Dan was sure, in good faith. If he accepted, Wade would give him the money and let him go, good as his word. Which led you to wonder again why he'd made the offer in the first place? He might like to do things easy just as he said, but it seemed to Dan that he would be the winner in that situation. More money than he'd started out for and without the risk. Dan kept turning it over and over, but he couldn't get the idea out of his head that Ben Wade was offering him a way out. Almost as though the outlaw didn't want to see him get killed, which was surely what Wade saw happening if his gang turned up here before the train did?
Keeping his gaze fixed out the window Dan thought of the things that kind of money could buy for him and his family. It sure would make their lives a whole lot easier. But tempting as it was, he couldn't do it. He just couldn't even begin to imagine how he would tell William what he'd have agreed to. He could see the disappointment and contempt on his boy's face without even trying. He'd been trying to bring the boys up the best way he could, with some kind of honour and respect but how could he possibly hope to ever hold his head high again if he agreed to such a deal.
No, nothing about Ben Wade was simple. When his crew turned up and Wade spoke to them out of the window why had he told them he had only four new friends? The man could count and there might have only been four of them in the room just then but Wade had seen the other two men the Marshall had brought and he was hardly likely to forget about them as soon as they walked out the door. Again he wondered if Wade had been trying to leave him and William out of the picture? Perhaps he thought Dan might still take him up on his offer? Perhaps he still thought there was an easier way out?
Yet Dan also believed every word Wade had said to William in this room. To lead a gang like that you'd have to be just as ruthless, just as rotten as he'd said. And Dan could see why the gang were so desperate to get Wade back. Look at the influence he'd had over William already. He had an easy way about him, a charm that was hard not to give in to and he was intelligent too. He'd be a fine leader and Dan had no doubt those men would do anything he told them, would ride through fire to get him back if they had to. Especially Charlie. The little blonde outlaw with the wild eyes seemed almost lost without his boss.
Dan watched as Wade tidied himself up and pulled on his gloves and hat and while the outlaw put William straight about a few things. Watched the man turn himself back into Ben Wade the notorious outlaw ready to go back out into his cutthroat band of killers and go after the next easy target. He wondered if the outlaw ever got tired of his life, if after twenty-two coaches robbed the novelty and excitement didn't start to wear thin. He wondered if Ben Wade didn't sometimes think about spending some of that ill-gotten money on something other than drinking and whoring and think about not having to be constantly on the lookout, constantly having to be on the move. Surely even Wade could get bored of such a life, especially if the men outside were the only company he kept.
He could feel Wade's eyes on him as talked to Butterfield about what he wanted for his family if he was to carry on with this. He could feel the man's surprise and maybe even amusement as he demanded a thousand dollars as reward, but he could also feel his frustration that Dan was so determined to go through with this. Dan wasn't sure why he'd made Wade a witness to Butterfield's agreement but he was sure, somehow, just as he had been before, that the man would keep his word.
He knew that the outlaw was watching him talk to William and he knew it made him uncomfortable, but he wasn't sure why until Wade told him the story of being abandoned at the train station by his mother as a child. He wondered why Wade had told him that story, wondered if the man just needed someone to know why he'd turned out the way he had, or if he would have told that story to Butterfield or William if they'd been the ones sitting here with him in this quiet room. Somehow Dan didn't think so, he'd told Wade that they weren't friends and they weren't. Yet. There was something else going on here though, Dan was sure of that, but he wouldn't like to guess as to what. He looked up at Wade and fell once again into the trap of those searing blue eyes even as the clock struck outside and he realised he would probably never get the chance now to work it out.
As they ran and scrambled from cover to cover, bullets whistling by and ricocheting in all directions, Dan knew it wasn't going to work but he couldn't stop what he'd set in motion now, he had to see it through to the end. He didn't panic though, as they picked their way through; he didn't panic until Wade was hit in the arm and the pain seemed to focus the outlaw's survival instinct.
'I ain't doing this no more Dan.'
That was when the panic set in, as he tried to grab the outlaw and force him to see this through, 'I'm putting you on that train Wade.'
'Stubborn bastard!' Dan fell to the floor and looked up into the blue eyes, now gone hard and cold, and felt the situation slipping out of his control if indeed it had ever been there at all. He had no idea how he could express to Wade what this now meant to him, that this was the most important thing he'd ever done in his life. That he couldn't let Ben Wade just walk away from him out that door and out of his life. Whatever it was that was occurring between them, he wasn't going to allow that bond to break now. Dan launched himself at Wade's broad back just as the man announced to Charlie Prince that he was walking out.
He realised his mistake as soon as he hit the floor again, this time with Wade on top and in control. If the outlaw's eyes had been cold before, now they were lit from within by a fury bordering on madness as he used the handcuffs he still wore to choke the life from the rancher beneath him. Dan knew he only had one chance to get through to him now, to break the murderous rage that had overtaken him. Struggling to speak he managed to croak out the pitiful story of his lost foot, willing the man to understand that this was his first, his only chance to do something worthwhile in his life, to give himself and his family some respect. Something must have gotten through, whether it was just Dan's voice that reminded him who it was he was killing, or if Wade really understood Dan's need at last, something made him stop. For a tense moment as they both listened to Charlie's voice crying out to Wade from outside Dan wondered if the bond between them was really strong enough to withstand Wade's urge to return to the safety of his gang and his life.
'Okay Dan.' they were the sweetest words he'd ever heard.
Sitting on the floor in the tiny station office with gunshots still ringing out, Dan felt incredibly lucky to still be alive. He felt almost giddy with it, but there was one thing he needed to get off his chest.
'I ain't stubborn.'
Despite the fact that the train whistle should have been the one thing in the world he most wanted to hear, Dan was almost disappointed when it sounded coming up the track. Sitting there laughing at his lack of stubbornness and Wade's habit of breaking out of the prison Dan was fighting so hard to send him too, they'd gotten that sense of camaraderie back. But now it was nearly over; he'd put Wade on the train and let him take his chances; even if they did seem to be significantly higher than he'd previously been thinking.
Blue eyes met brown again, as they signalled their readiness for this last effort together.
Dan felt a surge of mixed fear and pride as he saw his son stampeding the cattle from their pens, giving them the cover they needed to make it to the train. He kept shooting behind him as they raced towards the front car and Wade climbed in, only turning towards the train as the outlaw spoke to him from inside the cell in the car.
The smug satisfied smile on Wade's face changed to shock just as the elation Dan felt at their success was ripped from him by the pain of the first bullet tearing through his back. Dan turned to face Charlie Prince, as Wade's second in command slowly and deliberately put three more bullets into his chest, and then fell uncomprehending to the ground.
He felt rather than saw Wade's presence over him. He struggled to turn and look up into those beguiling blue eyes one last time. He wanted to thank him, to tell him, but already he could feel a coldness beginning to creep over him. He could hear Charlie Prince talking behind him and then the sudden shocking violent noise of shots ringing out as Ben Wade took his vengeance against his own gang for stealing Dan away at his moment of triumph. William was leaning over him, talking to him but it was too late, all Dan could see were Ben Wade's tear-filled eyes as the dark chill of his own tombstone shadow fell across him.