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Title: Divergence (The Second Chances Remix)
Author: [personal profile] velvetmouse
Fandom: Eight Cousins/Rose In Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott
Characters: Charlie Campbell
Rating: G
Warning: None
Word Count: 1250
Summary: Small things that change the world.
Original Work: For Want of a Nail by Ishafel. Written for Remix Redux 9
Notes: Many thanks to Mari for the beta and to Ishafel for writing such an amazing story in the first place. Further notes on the canon that Ishafel's story, and thus, this remix, comes from may be found in the end notes.

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First Divergence.

The road is slippery and very dark, but Charlie's anxious to be home and dry and he lets Brutus canter. It's started to rain and Brutus is uneasy; he tosses his head and Charlie lets the reins slip a little. He's drunker than he thought he was, but not so far gone that he can't feel the big horse quivering under him. He reins Brutus in a bit, and places a calming hand on the horse's neck. The creature comes back to a more collected canter, and Charlie goes back to thinking.

He's thinking about her. Thinking that he's failed her again. That it's the last time it will happen. He'll say goodbye to her tomorrow, and he won't come back until he's proved himself. He finds he's looking forward to the opportunity, to starting over somewhere new, out of Archie's shadow and away from the aunts' watchful eyes.

He reins Brutus in again, as they near the bridge. The wind has put the lanterns out, and Charlie won't risk it. The tale of a boy, no more than nine years old, who went over the embankment just a fortnight before, is still fresh in his mind. Brutus fights him a bit, but the cold rain has cleared Charlie's head enough that he keeps his seat and brings the horse back to a walk. He must tell the Chief not to let anyone ride the beast while he's gone: he'd be the death of Will or Geordie. Old Man Bennett certainly seemed to think so, when he changed his mind about buying the stallion.

The dull clop-clop-clop of the hooves on the wooden bridge echo strangely. The half-frozen river below churns and eddies ominously. Charlie shivers and gives Brutus his head as soon as they're clear on the other side. He's grateful for the mile-eating stride, and passes the rest of the trip lost in thoughts of a new beginning under the warm Indian sun and a triumphant return to bright blue eyes and soft hands.


Second Divergence.

He's thinking about her, lying there. Thinking that he's failed her again. That it's the last time he will let her down. He'll say goodbye to her tomorrow, and he won't come back until he's proved himself. He finds he's looking forward to the opportunity, to starting over somewhere new, out of Archie's shadow and away from the aunts' watchful eyes.

The night had turned stormy sometime after dinner, the dark clouds fulfilling their promise of a soaking February rain. He had tried to take his leave, but Sydney wouldn't hear of it. Instead he was coaxed into another game of billiards and another round. He had tried again to leave, but once more, his host wouldn't hear of it. The other fellows had sided with Syd.

"You're in no shape to go anywhere tonight, Prince" Van said with uncharacteristic bluntness.

Even Randall had agreed. "Isn't fit for man nor beast out there - nor a besotted prince, eh?"

And so Jimmy was dispatched up the hill to Mrs. Clara, and Charlie was poured into a guest bed, always ready to accommodate a fellow, by his host.

He lies in the soft bed thinking that he's failed her for the last time. That perhaps it's better that he stayed the night, so that he could face her with a clear head on the morrow. Brutus certainly wouldn't appreciate the run home in the wet. Charlie thinks that the way his luck's been running, he'd get thrown, or the horse would pull up lame, and he'd have to walk the whole way.

Now that his head as cleared a bit, he is grateful to Syd and the others for keeping him in the house, at least; the rest of the evening, he's less grateful for. He has time to indulge in regrets now. He runs through a litany of his failings, each promise he's broken, each time he's succumbed to temptation. The sheer number of incidents that he comes up with is depressing.

Tomorrow, he'll start over, he resolves. He'll make his goodbyes, board the Rajah and not look back. He shan't grace this fair coast again until he's worthy.

He falls asleep dreaming of tall ships and blonde hair adorned with forget-me-nots.


Third Divergence.

He's thinking about her, riding home. Thinking that, for once, he hasn't failed her. That even though she wouldn't let him promise to her, he still promised to himself, and he didn't break it. He'll say goodbye to her tomorrow with a lighter heart, but he still won't come back until he's proved himself. Saying 'no' once was important; but he won't come back until he can say 'no' every time. He finds he's looking forward to the opportunity, to starting over somewhere new, out of Archie's shadow and away from the aunts' watchful eyes.

It's started to rain and Brutus is uneasy; he tosses his head and Charlie lets the reins slip a little, allowing the beast into a slow trot. Jaime's fat little Shetland has to canter to keep up.

It had been a close thing. Old Man Bennett had backed out at the last minute, causing Charlie's already taut nerves to tighten even further. It isn't the end of the world, he supposes, but he must tell the Chief not to let anyone ride the beast while he's gone: he'd be the death of Will or Geordie. He had just been ready to start for home when he'd run into Sydney and Randall; he had already said his goodbyes to that set, but they tried to insist on another fare-thee-well hurrah.

"I shall begin as I mean to go on," Rose had said to him more than once, and her clear voice seemed to ring through his mind. Somehow, someway, he'd found the strength to say no, pleading much work still to be done before they set sail tomorrow.

Randall had just started to lit into him about "mama's apron strings" when relief showed up in the unexpected form of Jaime, pelting down the road on his Shelty.

"Ahoy there, Prince!" the unlikely angel called out, and brought his pony to a skidding halt.

"Ho there, brat. What brings you?" Charlie had asked, unwilling to show just how grateful he was for the interruption.

"Aunt Clara sent me to find you. She needs you to pick up some things, and wants you to come home straight away after. I have a list for you, oh it's around here somewhere." The little messenger began frantically patting himself down and eventually pulled out a slightly grubby piece of paper.

Charlie took it and exchanged a long suffering glance with his fellows. Sydney elbowed Randall just as the latter was opening his mouth.

"Stern duty calls, my friends," Charlie said, feeling something loosen within himself. "Will I see you tomorrow?"

"Of course you will," Syd replied, and tipped his hat to the Prince and his page. And that had been the end of that.

Charlie reins in Brutus as they near the bridge, mindful of the slick road. Jaime's pony might not have any trouble, but the larger horse might, and Charlie won't risk his neck or Jaime's. He's too close to salvation to do something stupid now.

Jaime keeps up a constant prattle all the way up the hill, but Charlie is only listening with half an ear. He is thinking of new beginnings, happy endings, and a cheerful bracelet around a delicate wrist.


---------

End Notes: Ishafel's story itself is practically a remix of Chapter 15 (Alas for Charlie!) of Rose In Bloom. That book is a sequel to Eight Cousins, and the two books together explore the life of Rose Campbell and her 7 cousins as they grow up. The full text of both may be found online and are a rather quick read. The specific chapter in question may be found here.

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