This is a fairly short story - compared to the LOTR fic I've got going at the moment anyway - but the idea came to me and wouldn't go away. Ben Wade is my favourite character I've yet seen Russell Crowe play, so it makes sense I'd write a fic about him. I hope those of you that read this feel I stayed true to the feel of the great film, and especially the character of Ben Wade. Best way to let me know would be to review ;) I thank you in advance for reading.

Cheers


The train was gaining speed, but it moved slowly. Slow enough for a quick horse to catch up to one of the cars. Slow enough for a skilled man to slip out of the window of said car, and leap carefully onto the horse's back. And then fast enough so that, as the horse and rider swerved away from the noisy engine, no one would notice the missing passenger until it was too late and there wasn't even dust left to settle from his trail of abandonment. The train receded in the direction opposite of the galloping horse, until the smoky chug of the engine was overpowered by the muffled thuds of the horse's hooves. And then it was only the hooves; the hooves and the horse's breathing. As those became the only sounds in the still air, the rider dared to slow his mount. A canter, then a trot - but no slower. The rider remained erect and cautious, his sharp eyes roving the buildings around him carefully.

The sun was high and hot, but people were scarce to be seen. They'd all either been part of the hellstorm of bullets just minutes ago and lay dead, maimed, or terrified, or had heard the shoot-out and were too afraid to test the open air. It was impossible to tell if anyone noticed him riding away from the train, but his arrogance refused to let him leave the town just yet, because after all - who would be foolish enough to try and kill him on their own? Less than fifteen minutes ago every damned soul in the tattered town had been aiming for his head. But with the Hand of God back in it's holy holster - stealing it back from the train guard had been easier than properly possible - no one would dare confront Ben Wade. Or so he told himself.

So he slipped quietly into town from a side street, behind a couple battered houses. Hopefully any eyes that had been watching the showdown at the train station kept their eyes there, and didn't see his special reappearance. Wade pulled in his steed's reins while still in the shadows of a tall, faded red building. The big black beast stopped, stamped a hoof, and waited obediently. He slid silently from the saddle, his eyes continually scouring the buildings and shadows around him, waiting for a shout, a gunshot, anything. Nothing came. Nothing at all. His brow lowered, the only sign of his puzzlement, and he bite the inside of his cheek in thought. Just what, exactly, had been the next step of his plan? There hadn't been one, he realized, and it unnerved him. He always planned a step ahead - indeed three steps ahead, at the least. It's what kept him alive while everyone else was wasted. Which, he was bitterly reminded, that 'everyone' included even Dan Evans now. Wade's eyes dropped to the ground for a moment and an odd weight crept into his limbs. But no sooner had it come than he shook it away. The thought of Evans reminded him - where was the kid, William? There was no way he was yet out of the town. Sharp blue-green eyes roved his surroundings again.

There, coming up the road from the direction of the station. Medium height, coal-colored hair, and gentle, innocent features. It was William Evans. Not yet sixteen and the kid was now covered in dirt, gunpowder, grief, and the blood of his father. Wade pushed his horse further into the shadows as he carefully watched the kid's actions. He stumbled wearily up the wooden steps of the grocer's, and continued on until some kind woman couldn't restrain herself and burst out of the store to help him. She took his hands, and Wade studied her face as she spoke quickly to the boy, surely asking if he was alright, where he'd come from, what he was doing. Then she noticed the blood, and the listless look in William's pale blue eyes. He heard her gasp from across the street in his shadows, and then call for help from within the store. Movement caught his attention. Other people had heard the commotion and seen the boy, and now dared to peer out of their houses, now that the chance their heads would get blown off by their own folk appeared to be gone. A handful of people even stepped into the street, and that quickly, the horrified silence that had trapped Contention disappeared. That was his cue.

Wade turned away from the bright street and figure of William Evans, fatherless and wronged, and led his horse behind the house. It wasn't safe, keeping his distinguishable mount, but he couldn't bear to let the beast loose. Not for sentimental reasons - Ben Wade didn't have those - but because the beast was smart, and trained, and strong. There had to be somewhere to hide it. He looked around for a moment, checking his limited surroundings. The cattle corral by the train station had a second section with a handful of horses in it. Three chestnuts, two bays, and a black. Such a small number of the animals would make the addition of his noticeable, but hopefully the town would be too busy tallying it's dead and wounded to worry about horses. And if it came to it, he was fairly confident it'd be no easy task to tell which black was a stranger. For anyone but him, anyway. That settled it, in his mind. Muttering a few words to the beast, Ben slipped off the expensive saddle, quickly stashing it in an empty crate he was lucky enough to be standing beside. Studying the crate for half a moment, he then took a short rope from one of his saddle bags and tied it around one of the boards of the box, to show which one held his saddle. With a nod of approval, he then took off his hat and vest - laying them on the crate as well - and pulled from a different bag a hanker chief and leather tie, pulling his hair back with the tie and knotting the cloth loosely around his throat. It was rough, but it was enough to hide him from anyone that glimpsed him at a distance. He took off his gun belt as well, but stuck the precious weapon down the front of his trousers none the less. He'd look unarmed, at least. Leaving most of his sparse belongings in the wooden crate, Wade took his horse by it's headstall and led it towards the corral.

It took everything he had not to look over his shoulder and see if anyone noticed him, check if there was a pistol aimed at his back right now. But he got the horse to the wooden pen, found the gate, slipped it open enough to urge his steed through, and then unlatched and slipped off the bridle. The big beast snorted and shook its head, pleased to be free from it's leather trappings for the first time in a very long while. Not needing any further command from the outlaw, it then plodded over to the water trough where the other horses gathered. Wade smiled faintly, and then turned and walked steadily back to 'his' crate.

He was torn for a moment about whether to remain dressed in the simple disguise that he currently was, or to say to hell with it and put his belt, vest, and hat back on properly. Why in the hell had he not thought this far into things? Where was his head at? He sighed and rubbed a hand across his eyes, pushing away the weariness and images of Dan Evans, bloody and laying in the dirt. Was he still there, or had someone moved him? Not the sheriff or his deputies, that was for sure. They were in the same position as Dan. This town would take a while to pull itself back together, that was certain. Which meant he should just get the damned saddle back on his horse and set off at a gallop away from the buildings and bloodied people. But his left side stung, almost burned in an irritating way. But there wasn't the time to worry about scratches from the shootout. He was tired. And not himself, at the moment. He would stay, just for a day or two, to get his bearings. He wanted to make sure William got back to his mother alright, after what had happened with his father. Not that Ben Wade himself cared, but because the Evans family had risked and lost enough because of him. So as soon as William left, so would he.

Wade sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and shaking the curls of hair that had fallen loose out of his face. The plan didn't make a damned scrap of sense, and he knew it. But he also knew he wasn't himself - which should have been an even clearer sign to get the hell out of the town, but he couldn't bring himself to do so. Instead, he left his things in the crate - ignoring the immense feeling of anxiety that immediately swept him - and slipped between the shadows of two houses, onto the wooden boards of the sidewalk. His footsteps paused, as he listened - instead of looked - for any sign that he'd been spotted and identified. One, two, three, four heartbeats later, and nothing. Good. He walked slowly down the walk, glancing around casually. People spoke in the streets, crying, sobbing, comforting, questioning. Boxes, barrels, and everything else lay scattered here and there, the wooden beams holding the roof was splintered and busted, scraps of belongings and bullets littered the walk and street. Almost unconsciously, he stepped over a body bleeding in his path. It was a shame things had turned out like this. Clever of Charlie to get the whole town on his side - it was something Wade himself might have done - but it was still a shame for so many bodies to be lying around. But nothing more than a shame.

He stepped around another body, and continued leisurely on his way. He risked another glance down the street. William Evans had disappeared, and a tall man appeared to be organizing people, getting some men to run down to the station - likely to check the bodies there and see if Wade himself was one of them - while women were to clean up the mutilated town. Wade stepped off the end of the walk into the sun, squinting in the sudden light for a moment. He looked around to gain his bearings amongst the buildings, and glimpsed a figure that appeared to be looking in his direction. He hastily blinked the glare from the sun away, and saw clearly that a boy, no more than thirteen, was looking right at him. It was likely nothing, but Wade didn't take chances, and he quickly swivelled on his heel, looking for a quick escape. A small, plain brown house sat on his immediate left, and he rushed at the door. He twisted the handle, and was relieved to find it open. With a quiet ease he was dangerous for, he slipped into the house, disappearing from the confused kid's sight quick enough to have been a hallucination. He only hoped the kid would think so too.

There was no sound as he froze just behind the door. The kid hadn't shouted, or followed him, or done anything else foolish. A soft sigh escaped his lips, before he realized he had just broken into a stranger's house - 'broken' being a general term, as he had simply walked through the front door. Rather than leave and hope again no one would notice him, he peered around the empty living room he stood in, and slowly pulled his pistol from his trousers. The room was small, with a pale yellow love-seat covered with a knitted tan afghan, a weathered wooden chair, a small dark, chipped wooden coffee table between the two seats, a dainty piano against the far wall, small fireplace, and two lanterns on stands at opposite sides of the room. Obviously, whoever lived here had a small family and low wages. If he happened to come across them it should be easy to silence them with some coin - that is, if any coin was left in his saddle bags at this point. But, at the moment, the house appeared quiet and still. Perhaps the owner - or owners - had gone out to the streets to offer help already. So why didn't he just grab whatever valuable or interesting objects he could see, and get the hell out? Because he needed somewhere to hide where he wouldn't be expected. And Ben Wade didn't steal from common folk.

Keeping the gun ready in his hand, Wade stepped quietly through the living room. His boots and spurs were impossible to keep silent, but he quieted them as best he could. The doorway opposite him connected with a petite kitchen - empty as well - and then he was led down a short hallway, a closet on his left - he checked, and it was empty save for linens, knitting needles, yarn, and some tools - and then the hall ended in a small bedroom. Three rooms in total in the entire house. Still cautious, he stepped into the room, hand loose around the gun but nerves tight, and his sharp eyes scanned his surroundings. A fair-sized bed with a dark afghan for a coverlet, tattered wooden dresser, a bed-side table with some books and a lantern, a mirror, and a closet. Quaint, but cozy. There was a window to his left, and Wade instinctively moved towards it, ducking down a little to see out better. A breeze had picked up, throwing dust around the splintered town, and he watched calmly as people still ran around trying to clean up. Women clutched their hair and skirts and children, men grasped their guns tight, as if they expected the outlaw to leap out at them from the nearest doorway. Although in truth, their anxiety was better founded than they knew.

Ben watched with little interest for a moment more, until the softest creak of a floorboard drew his attention over his shoulder. The outlaw whirled, raising the pistol in his right hand, but he was at the disadvantage of being caught by surprise. He recieved no more than a glimpse of brown hair and blue fabric before the cruel butt of a rifle slammed into his head, and white-hot sparks burst behind his eyes.