310 to yuma, fic
[fic] Platitudes [1/?]
Title: Platitudes [1/?]
Fandom: 3:10 to Yuma
Pairings: Ben/Charlie, Ben/Dan Evans
A/N: Great movie.:3 Just about to watch the Quick and the Dead. Russell Crowe looks exactly the same, it's like a time machine. ;o. Ben Wade meets a familiar stranger south of the border.
[A/N: Loved the movie. :O Alternative universe. By the way, I am very bad with Wild Wild West slang, so feel free to correct anything. I can’t parse it without subtitles. Yes, I had to watch 3:10 to Yuma with subtitles. And True Grit. And play Red Dead Redemption with subtitles. Some towns made up.]
“Howdy, stranger,” Ben Wade drawled, all lazy irony, settling onto the waxy stool against the pitted white stone counter of the saloon’s bar. “Fancy seeing you south of the border.”
Dan Evans ignored him, dipping his head over the cloudy glass of something that looked like tequila, the hard edge of his Stetson shading his eyes. He’d gone native, then; the rancher looked considerably older than what Ben remembered, the previously thick, earth-dark hair hacked short with a knife, sideburns etched with a few lines of silver. The hollows under his eyes were bruised deeper, his cheeks pinched, and there were fresh, hard lines etched like fault lines into the edges of his eyes and his shaggy brow that could have only come from the worst sort of sorrow.
The ragged rancher clothes were gone, and vaguely, Ben wasn’t sure if he didn’t miss them. Dan was dressed in discolored whites and storm grays now, like some sort of ragged sea bird, an ammunition belt slung over his duster, vest and hitched tight against the rumpled white shirt beneath it, a well-worn leather holster at his hip, sleek pants tucked into black cowboy boots that hid his missing foot. The only part of Dan Evans that Ben recognized was the pistol in the holster; even his rifle was different now, a sleek new Berdan Sharps, lovingly oiled and worn across Dan’s back.
The saloon’s swinging doors creaked, and Ben turned his head, very slightly, out of pure habit, checking his peripheral vision, over the stooping tables of hawkish men bent over their unhurried game of cards, over the sodden old man curled around a bottle at the table against the sandstone wall, the great fat horseflies that circled in slow, balletic descent from the pitted ceiling.
Dan had done the same, briefly, then had glanced back down at his glass when Charlie sauntered in, thumbs hooked in his belt, his jacket unbuttoned at the neck to reveal a gash of purple cotton. “Boss-” his bright, coyote-sharp smile faded when he took in the long curve of Dan’s back, and the rifle.
“Why don’t you go check on the others, Charlie.” Ben said mildly.
“That Bisbee rancher’s our sniper?” Charlie demanded, incredulously. “What the fuck, boss?”
“Charlie,” Ben repeated, his eyes narrowing a fraction, the alpha wolf staring down its pack, and Charlie instantly dropped his gaze, his gloved fingers twitching, and he stalked out of the saloon, teeth clenched, hopefully not to start wreaking destruction somewhere in the small town perched on the edge of a wind-carved plateau.
Ben exhaled, relaxing back against the counter, and he saw Dan’s gloved hand drop back to his lap from where it had hung over his pistol. “I’ll have to admit though, Dan, to a little curiosity, seeing as you half-killed yourself to get me on that train, all them years ago, for the sake of your pretty wife and your boys and your dusty little ranch.”
There was a moment of silence, broken when one of the men at cards folded with a rheumy word of disgust and a gob of spit onto the scuffed mud-packed floor. “Ain’t none of your business.” Dan’s voice was roughened and harsh, as though sun-scorched or disused.
“Now you’ve done gone and made me even more curious. What made a man like you turn his back on everything?”
Dan exhaled, harsh and loud in the sleepy, hot daze of an afternoon, watching a horsefly creep up the whitewashed counter at a slant for the stack of cloudy glasses, what Ben could see of his raw umber eyes distant and haunted.
“If I tell you, would you leave me be?”
“I might,” Ben allowed, though even as he said it, he was already working it out. A man like Dan Evans would have walked away from the life he fought so hard for only if there was nothing left to fight for.
“My wife and my son were dead when I got back. The house was burned, the cattle were shot.” Dan’s voice was utterly flat, emotionless, as though he was reading from a grocery list, but his long, roughened fingers twitched briefly around his glass.
“Who did that?” Ben asked, and then was a little surprised to hear the hard edge to his own voice.
Despite the fact that he’d liked Dan and found him interesting, as far as Ben had been concerned, or so he had then thought, any obligations had ended when he’d willingly stepped on the train and talked Charlie Prince into standing down. Escaping the train hadn’t been too difficult, particularly since Charlie had insisted stubbornly on following him, then sneaking aboard when the train stopped at Tucson. It was a little odd to find that he did care that Dan hadn’t gotten the happy ending that he’d worked so hard for.
“Can’t say. Think it was Hollander, but I can’t prove it. I made William go with Butterfield. Sold the land to the railroad.” Dan said, with the same, unnervingly emotionless tone. “I got some descriptions from town, seems it was the Bowden gang, hired out.”
“Nicky Bowden,” Ben scratched absently at his chin. He vaguely recalled Charlie mentioning Bowden and his gang, about a month or so ago after they’d done that heist at the Vernon bank and hidden out in a valley to give their horses a breather. “I heard they’d broke up in Kansas, got wiped by a Pinkerton ambush, and the rest of them hightailed down south.” Another memory wormed up, as he said this, and Ben smiled with sudden realisation. “Seems they got picked off by snipers. That was you?”
Dan’s lip curled, grim and thin. “Didn’t get Bowden himself, though – I need him alive. Just some of his men who didn’t know any better than to stay and fight a Pinkerton team. Followed Bowden south, been looking for him since.”
“You’re going to try and make him talk.”
Dan shrugged. “Ain’t no use breaking only the murder weapon.” He drank, tipping back his glass with a mechanical jerk, and dropped a handful of pesos on the counter that the bartender hastily scooped up.
“Where’re you going?”
“East,” Dan eyed him, cool and collected and deadly, all that tightly controlled, single-minded focus honed into a weapon for vengeance, and Ben couldn’t help but feel both intrigued and disappointed, heat prickling at his collar, and he licked his lips, dry and chapped, fingers curling up against the counter.
“We’re heading east as well.”
Dan nodded slowly, as though this wasn’t news to him, rolling onto his feet and shifting the weight of his rifle over his shoulders. “I’ll make sure you don’t see me.”
“From a sniper, that ain’t so friendly.” Ben smiled as he said it, but Dan merely stared evenly at him.
“I’ve got no beef with you, Wade. You stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of yours.”
“Funny how the world turns.”
“It’s a goddamned long walk to the next train headed to Yuma, and I’m busy,” Dan said dryly, though the bitter edge to his tone stole all of its humor, but Ben chuckled anyway, his head tilted.
“Actually, you’re building a name for yourself in these parts. I’d come down looking for you.”
“Yeah?” Dan asked, wary.
“Lost some of my crew at Vernon. I’m canvassing.” Ben spread his arms. “Sniper’s always welcome.”
“I ain’t joining up with you, Wade.”
“How long have you been walking in circles around Mexico, Dan? Picked up much of the local lingo? Managed to get any locals to talk to you?” When Dan hesitated at the door, Ben pressed his advantage. “You could circle around hereabouts for the rest of your life and never find Bowden, never know if he’s gone back north. You’ll be wasting a lot of time crossing the border.”
“And you could do much better?”
“I speak the language. And Campos has a relative in every town.” This was admittedly an exaggeration, but not nearly. “They’ll talk to him where they won’t talk to you.”
Dan regarded him silently, expressionless, then he said, at last, “I won’t kill or steal for you, Wade.”
God save him from the self-righteous. “You want to head back north, find a translator willing to tag along, and head back down here again, be my guest. Besides, could be that we’d end up working along the same lines.”
“What are you here for?”
“Word’s come that there’s a bullion train, headed out from near Ciudad.”
Dan’s eyebrows rose. “Drug money from Juárez? You’ve done and become tired of living.”
“Maybe I’ve got a plan.” Ben tried another smile, one of the confident ones, and Dan visibly wavered, long fingers twitching at his gunbelt. “We’ll be looking to pick up a few more men, ask around the towns for more information on the train. Could be you’d pick up Bowden’s trail again before we get to Ciudad, in which case, you’ll go on your way, and I’ll go on mine.”
Dan seemed to weigh this up silently, thoughtfully. “I can’t speak a word of Spanish. So how do I know that you’ll truly be asking around about Bowden?”
“How have you been asking about Bowden? You must have some sort of picture with you, a poster, maybe. We’ll use that, and I’ll translate. In exchange, up until then, you’ll watch my back. Mexico’s a good place to have a sniper.” Dan Evans had a queer sense of honor – Ben thought it would be good odds that should they truly stumble upon Bowden on the way, Dan would very likely help them out with the heist out of obligation.
“After I find him,” Dan said quietly, “I’ll be dragging him back up north to a courthouse.”
“You know,” Ben drawled, “This could be so much easier if you just killed Hollander. If you’re not up to dirtying your hands, I could send Nez or Campos up to do the job. Just take a week or so.”
Dan narrowed his eyes, but it was only after a long, potent pause; the rancher’s rigid honor was cracking along the edges, scuffed roughshod in the brutal pace of a drifter’s life. Ben couldn’t help but press up along the fractures; if or when Dan’s new life finally shook him all to pieces, it was going to be spectacular. “There has to be a case, a judgment.” His voice was steady, but he didn’t sound entirely certain.
“Sure, Dan. Leave it to a judge, a jury, a pack of lawyers, all men who can be paid off or leveraged,” Ben said, pity coloring his tone, and Dan bared his teeth, his good leg shifting slightly back, as if about to go into a crouch, the sudden spark of rage blessedly familiar; this, the elemental side of Dan, was the part he’d missed. He could feel his prick stir at the violence in Dan’s eyes, the way his hands were curling into claws-
Just as quickly as it had come, however, Dan drew himself up stiffly, and tipped his hat, then stalked out of the saloon without another word. Ben smirked to himself, turning back towards the barkeeper, and nudging out his empty glass.
Joining up with the Pinkertons had required a referral from Butterfield, even with the reputation he’d built in Contention, but it almost hadn’t taken, up until a grizzled old agent had sauntered out of the backroom of their Colorado office straight into the interview and casually offered to vouch for him. McElroy’s brother Jake was a tracker and a sniper, who preferred hunting outlaws to guarding convoys, and Dan had learned fast, learned hard. He’d known that he had to change, known that he’d had to be patient.
When Bowden’s gang scattered south, Dan tendered his resignation, put his earnings in a bank (albeit with an air of irony), had a drink with Jake McElroy, and set his feet south with a hundred dollars in his pocket. Mexico was an unexpected land, all fantastically shaped landscapes, with unforgiving, craggy reddish rock wind-sharpened into incredible designs. The towns tended to be neat, white-box affairs stepped on packed sand and dirt, its nut-brown people unpredictable and dangerous. Dan took to living on the go, venturing into towns only to purchase ammunition or to try and pick up Bowden’s trail.
He’d picked up the tail of the wrong outlaw in Ímuris, but it was difficult to feel annoyed at the waste of time, watching Ben Wade leave town with his gang, his deadly little guard dog yapping at his side, the Apache taking up the flank and the Mexican sharpshooter at the rear. In some other world, where Alice and Mark hadn’t died, Wade would have had done him a favor getting on that train when he could have called his men, killed Dan in the warehouse, or simply laid down on the roof and refused to move. Dan would have owed him.
In this one, however, a thousand dollars weren’t going anywhere towards store-bought dresses or green pastures; Butterfield had promised to hold the money in trust, get William educated and shunted into a better life. Dan supposed for what it was worth, that result was good enough to be shot up a few times for.
He turned his horse east, allowing it to thread its way slowly around prickly pears and stunted bush, allowing the dust from Wade’s horses to fade gradually forward, until it was a smudge along the winding road in the wavering horizon. Bowden could indeed be in Mexico for the heist, but Dan somehow doubted it. Poking a hornet’s nest like Juárez and angering its drug barons was too crazy for a relatively small time outlaw like Bowden; it was more of a Ben Wade heist, needing equal parts luck, insanity and magic.
Bowden had probably come south to rehire and recuperate. Dan simply had to be patient, and above everything, stay far away from Wade’s particular brand of lunacy. A handful of years, with so much water under the bridge, and Wade still hooked out the demon within him, so damned easily.
On hindsight, discussing his plans openly in Ímuris had not been one of his best ideas, and had the ambush been better planned, the bandito posse could have killed most of his men. They’d been jumped coming up a steep slope onto another plateau; rocks crushed Micky’s horse beneath him and spooked Nez’s into screaming and bucking, but they hadn’t reckoned for Charlie or Ben himself. The Schofields barked even as Charlie expertly turned his horse, and a bandito tumbled off the ledge, blood and death in slow motion.
The Hand of God accounted for another two, and Ben maneuvered his horse up against the ridged wall of the ravine, scanning the ledge. A bandito raised a shotgun to his shoulder, then jerked instead and slumped, his head blasted open. Shouts and Nez’s war cry from the back indicated that half of the posse had belatedly stormed the rear, even as Charlie and Ben charged up out of the ravine, pistols smoking.
They’d emerged up into the old ruin of a town, the skeletal squares of white-box houses long faded to yellow, weed-choked, sharp jagged crags that hid the rest of the bandito posse. A bandito in a wide-brimmed hat toting a rifle snapped back with a gurgled scream, even as Charlie swore, his horse shot out and squealing as it slumped to its side, pinning Charlie’s leg beneath it.
Ben ignored Charlie’s struggling, dismounting to take cover behind a rotting door. He could count four more… three, as the one closest to his right abruptly staggered back in a drunken half-circle, clutching at his chest, and slumped down over a bush. Squinting, he fired at the bandito with the red-check headband at the far left, growling as the man jerked back under cover; his second shot found its mark, smashing into the bald head of a bandito creeping forward against an upturned table. Seeing this, one bandito gave a wild yell and turned to flee, dropping his rifle – grimly, Ben shot him in the back, then looked back up to find Red-Check dropping to his knees, his chest a red ruin.
With a final oath, Charlie dragged himself out from under his dead horse, wild-eyed, drawing his Schofields back from their holsters, and Ben frowned, glancing at red-check, then back at his right-hand man. So Charlie hadn’t been the one to shoot-
Nez rode out from the ravine, rifle upraised, then he reined his horse and nodded to Ben, surveying the dead men with pursed lips. He was followed by Campos, then Micky, on foot, his Irish burr roughening as he swore a blue streak, leading a horse with a bloodied saddle. The two rake-thin Mexican twins, cousins of Campos, followed on up, darting silent, suspicious glances behind them, but Prospector and Racksfield were dead, the reins of Racksfield’s Pinto wound tight in Campos’ hand. Wordlessly, he passed the reins to Charlie.
Ben glanced down into the ravine, looking over the slumped bodies of Prospector and Racksfield to the four bandito bleeding out into the dirt behind them. “We’ll take the ammunition,” he decided, calculating the distance to the next town and the possible danger spots in his mind. “And the weapons, if they’re any good.”
Campos nodded to him, then to his cousins, and they dismounted, heading back down into the ravine even as Nez circled silently around them, squinting into the distance. The Apache had the sharpest eyes of any man whom Ben had met, and after a while, he grunted in satisfaction and pointed.
In the distance, behind an anvil-shaped crag on a sloping hill and the wavering air from the midday sun, Ben could just make out the shape of a man in storm grays, slinging a rifle onto his back and mounting up on a horse, then disappearing quickly into the shadow of the hill.
“Three hundred yards at least, boss,” Charlie said grudgingly, with a backward glance at the body of Red-Check, then at the body slumped over the bush. It seemed that the Pinkertons had been good for Dan Evans.
Ben nodded slowly, mounting his horse, then reloading his pistol. “We’ll need to reach Cananea before sunset.”
“What about the rancher?”
“He’ll come to us.” Ben holstered his pistol and pushed his knees into his horse, urging it into a trot as Micky and the others finished looting the bodies. “Mount up, boys. Let’s keep moving.”
Dan slunk into Cananea at night, careful to keep his hat down and an eye out. The mining town was rowdy even at this ungodly hour, with raucous shouting, spilling light and laughter from the saloons and the whorehouses. He found a boarding house on the outskirts with a close-mouthed, sallow Chinese landlord and paid up for a room, dragging himself gratefully up greasy stairs and through the foggy, sickly-rich scent of opium smoke wafting from some of the closed rooms to the second floor. The narrow bed was clean enough, and Dan hung up his hat and coat, lined his boots up against the bed, and slept with his rifle hugged close and his pistol under his pillow, exhausted.
He woke to the sound of a pencil scratching on paper, and swore, scrambling for his pistol. Ben Wade grinned lazily up at him from a chair at the corner of the room, sketching, looking trimmed and sleek, all the blood and gunpowder washed away. “Morning, Dan. These here parts, you should really wedge a chair under your door when you go to sleep.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Dan didn’t lower his gun. “What do you want?”
“You know what I want.”
“I said I wasn’t going to join up.”
Wade inclined his head, as though that was only a temporary setback. “So you told me, Dan.” He angled the pencil down, shading in his work. “Thanks for the hand yesterday.”
Dan didn’t say anything, tight-lipped. To tell the truth, he wasn’t sure why he’d intervened, following Wade’s gang at a safe distance and wondering idly all the while whether he was better off heading southeast towards smaller towns. Cananea had been a good bet for someone like Bowden; a mining town with women and hard liquor and blackjack tables, but he was risking trouble going at it by slinking after Ben Wade’s trail dust. Finally, he decided on a gruff, “I owed you.”
“Did you now.” Wade’s tone was nearly mocking.
“You didn’t have to get on that train. Didn’t have to keep your gang from shooting me down.”
“I got off the train pretty quick, afterwards,” Wade pointed out, though he smiled, enigmatic, a cat prowling around a canary. “What are you doing here, Dan? You think that learning the road for a few years from the Pinks and a bellyful of vengeance is going to get you what you want?”
“World’s full of men like Hollander. Let’s say you manage to get him convicted, that Bowden’s going to help you talk Hollander into a rope even though you’ve got nothing to offer him other than another empty noose. What then? You’ve given a railroad man all your money, you’ve lost your son and your farm.”
“Ain’t your concern.”
“People think I’m dangerous,” Wade mused, as though to himself, “But it’s men like you who’re worse. I can cut back, drop something, move on. You’ll follow through to the very last, hell take the consequences.” He rocked up from his chair, smirked when Dan leveled the pistol higher, tracking Wade’s devil-may-care smirk even as the outlaw stuffed the black book and the pencil back into his jacket. “Bowden left town yesterday, headed east. San José.”
“I doubt that.” Bowden was wanted in San José, which was steadily accumulating Pinkertons, what with the growing unrest south of the border. Warily, Dan lowered his pistol. “Best you circle around as well.”
“Don’t need you to tell me that,” Wade agreed, sauntering for the door. “Sure you don’t want to come along? It’ll get worse, the further we get east.”
“You watch your own back,” Dan retorted, annoyed at the presumption, and Wade tipped his black hat at him with a smirk and let himself out.
Exhaling, Dan slumped back down on the bed, rubbing at his eyes. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to check San José.
-tbc… see how far I can go with this one. :3-