Immortal 7 AU
March 16, 2014
This story takes place after Serpents.
Ok, we don't know exactly when the series takes place only that it's after the Civil War. With the events of the pilot, we might assume it's only a few years past, but maybe even up to 10 years?? Anyway, I've made an assumption that only 3-4 years have passed since the war in this story. That may not hold true in any of my other OW fic, just this AU. :)
"We have to tell them, Ezra," Nathan said, pacing back and forth in the clinic.
"Tell them what, exactly, Nathan?" Ezra asked, exasperated.
"This..." Nathan replied, waving a hand dramatically toward the man in the bed, "This is not like you getting shot at the Governor's rally. For one thing, I was the only one who saw the hole in your side 'cause you healed so fast. We could pass off the blood as being from a long, shallow wound." He looked at the figure on the bed then back to Ezra. "They all saw his wound, Ezra."
The gambler bowed his head and sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "Just Buck. I was able to take over from him fairly quickly."
"Yeah, but Buck saw it, hell, he had his hand in it trying to stem the blood flow," Nathan said. "You think he hasn't told the others?" He pointed at the man on the bed again. "He should be dead. Why didn't you tell me?"
Ezra sighed again. "I couldn't be sure. Some people can sense pre-Immortals, and yes, I'm one of them. But you have to remember that we have to experience the right type of death to become Immortal. Sometimes it doesn't work out the way you expect it to," he added sadly.
"You know someone who should have become Immortal, Ezra?" Nathan asked, moving closer to the gambler to offer his support.
"I thought so," Ezra said, giving Nathan a small, half-smile. "He felt like he had a Quickening, or might have one. After all these years, I still don't have that many answers, Nathan. He was killed in a robbery, but did not rise. I had become friends with him and stayed around hoping to help him through the awakening, to become his teacher, but..."
"I'm sorry," Nathan said. He looked toward the bed. "So you really weren't sure Josiah would..."
Ezra swiped the sudden tears from his eyes and shook his head. "I didn't want to get your hopes up, Nathan, in case any of the others were fatally injured. I... It's hard enough for me when someone is injured."
Nathan stared at him. "You mean... all of us?"
Ezra bit his lower lip and nodded slowly.
"Holy..." Nathan sat down heavily on the bed, then remembered Josiah's injury and turned to check him. Of course that was unnecessary as the wound was completely healed. "Shouldn't he be waking up by now?"
"Each death is different." Nathan raised an eyebrow questioningly. Ezra flashed a small smile. "After I finally accepted the fact that nothing would kill me save a beheading, I got curious as to just how long it took to rise from the dead. I asked Mother and she thought it would be advantageous to find out." He grimaced. "Not the most enjoyable time we ever spent together, but we did discover that it depends on how much damage is done to certain parts of the body that determines how long it takes to recover."
Nathan frowned. "You mean she... you..." he finished with a slashing motion across his throat, looking a little green.
"You've met Maude, Nathan, surely you realized how mercenary she can be in pursuit of her goals," Ezra said sourly. "However, I did convince her that I should not be the only guinea pig. After all, a female Immortal might recover from death differently than a male," he added with a wicked grin.
If anything, that statement made Nathan go from green to pale. "You can't be serious. You killed your own mother?"
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Obviously not... at least not permanently. Besides, it was all in the name of science. You can't tell me that you haven't done a few experiments yourself," he prompted with a tilt of his head.
"Yeah, well, but that was on me," Nathan said. He shuddered, but then seemed to come to terms with the knowledge. "You willing to share your findings?"
Ezra grinned. "Certainly, if you will do the same."
"Sure," Nathan replied with a small smile. "In the mean time, what do we tell Josiah? And the others?"
Ezra sighed. "Let me talk to Josiah first. You can tell the others that it wasn't as bad as you first thought. That he should recover. That will give us all some time to figure out what to say to them."
Nathan nodded. "Okay. I'll go on down now, I guess."
"Wait until he wakes up, would you?" Ezra asked. "I think it will take both of us to convince him of the truth, but then I will speak to him alone," he said, his tone a bit melancholy.
Nathan's eyes narrowed. "Something else you're not telling me, Ezra?"
"It's personal, Nathan, between me and Josiah. Nothing dangerous, I promise. I suspect you will be told soon enough, but I need to talk to Josiah first."
New Orleans, April, 1831
Eric Sutton, as he was now thinking of himself, was enjoying the last leg of his trip toward New Orleans. Tales of gambling and fine entertainment had lured him south again. It had been nearly two decades since he'd been to the lovely, port city and he was eager to see how much it had grown.
His horse side-stepped anxiously, full of nervous energy, so he decided to let it run for a while. He had purchased the beast after leaving the ferry in Baton Rouge, deciding that he didn't want to pay the higher prices that he'd most likely find in New Orleans. The animal had fine lines and could run like the wind, but was a bit too high strung for him. He preferred a smarter horse. Ah well, perhaps next time.
As they ran, he noted there was little traffic on the road, though it appeared well-enough kept. He'd seen signs of freshly raked dirt where ruts had been carved into the soft ground, so it was odd that he'd only seen a few people traveling either way. Perhaps the large crowds he'd encountered in Baton Rouge accounted for the lack of travelers.
Eric pulled the horse to a walk as he recognized the forms on the road ahead. A woman and a young child alone walking south, perhaps not unusual, but definitely noteworthy in his book. He slowed the horse even more, causing the spirited animal to toss its head in complaint as he observed the pair.
They wore plain clothes of sturdy cloth that appeared to have accumulated several days' worth of road dirt. Though the boy seemed lively enough, the woman moved as though the weight of the world sat on her shoulders.
Eric sat back, bringing the horse to a complete stop. He ran his thumb along his lower lip thoughtfully. These two obviously needed help. The question was, did he want to get involved? Being drawn into mortal matters almost always meant trouble for him, messy, painful and sometimes deadly, trouble. But he had always had a soft spot for hard luck cases, as his mother had pointed out time and again.
He sighed and nudged the horse into a trot that quickly brought him up beside the pair.
"Good day," Eric said cordially, tipping his hat as they looked up at him.
"Good day, sir," the woman replied with a curt nod as she caught the boy by the shoulders and moved them both closer to the edge of the road. "Please, accept my apology if we blocked your path."
Eric smiled. "Not at all, my dear," he said, stopping the horse and swinging down out of the saddle. "Actually, Robert here needed a break and when I saw you, I hoped I might join your delightful company for a bit."
"Robert?" the boy asked, peeking from behind his mother's skirt. "You named your horse Robert?" he asked incredulously.
"Why yes," Eric stated, gathering the newly named Robert's reins and indicating that they should continue walking. "It's a good name, don't you think?"
The boy blinked, screwed up his brow in a frown then nodded and smiled, showing a gap where he had lost a front tooth recently. His mother pursed her lips, trying not to smile.
Eric stopped suddenly, bringing his hand to his chest dramatically. "Where are my manners? We haven't been introduced!" He swept his hat off his head and bowed with a flourish of his hand. "Eric Sutton, at your service."
The boy giggled, but looked up at his mother waiting for her to make introductions.
She smiled, taking years off her face. Eric realized she couldn't be older than her mid-twenties. Soft grey eyes were framed by dark lashes. Her hair was mostly covered by the shawl she wore to keep the sun and dust off.
"Celia Sanchez. And this is my son, Josiah," she said, giving a brief curtsy in return.
Eric smiled and offered his hand to Josiah. "Well met, sir," he said as they shook hands. "Are you heading to New Orleans as well, Mrs. Sanchez?" he asked.
She stiffened and he continued smoothly. "I only ask because I am going there myself and with so few people on the road the last few days, I was growing worried that I might have to eat my own cooking," he finished with a sour face that made young Josiah laugh.
Celia relaxed a little. "You don't cook? Yet you travel on your own with several days of travel until your destination?" she asked skeptically.
"Well, now, on horseback, I suspect it would only be one more night on the trail," Eric answered easily. "And I do have some foodstuffs that can be eaten cold, but I am a man who prefers his comfort," he said, playing up the pampered, somewhat hapless image of him that he thought she was putting together. "Could I perhaps trouble you to share a meal if I provide the wares and you cook?" he asked hopefully. They both looked as if they'd missed a few meals.
Josiah tugged on his mother's skirt, hopeful blue eyes gazing up at her. She sighed, but turned back to Eric with a cautious smile. "Thank you, we accept your gracious offer."
Four Corners 1869
Josiah opened his eyes and sighed with relief when he saw the ceiling in Nathan's clinic. He'd really been expecting a different view. Just what, he wasn't sure, but if he was in the clinic, he wasn't dead.
He frowned. Why aren't I dead? I was gut-shot. I saw the look in Buck's eyes, I was dying. He had my blood all over his hands! Where's the pain? He gingerly brought his hand up to his stomach, but all he felt was bare skin. No bandages, no gaping wound. He closed his eyes. I must be dead, and this is some sort of cruel joke.
The sound of a boot coming down on the floor got his attention and he opened his eyes to see Nathan sitting in the chair beside the bed. He had a book in one hand and grasped Josiah's wrist with the other to take his pulse.
"Are you dead, too, brother?" Josiah asked, wondering why Nathan would need to take his pulse in the afterlife.
Nathan's eyebrows rose and a familiar chuckle from his other side told him Ezra was in the same boat as he and Nate.
"You are not dead, Josiah," Ezra said matter-of-factly, one of his amused grins on his face.
"You're gonna be just fine," Nathan assured him, patting Josiah's arm comfortingly. "We just got a few things to discuss with you, is all."
"What do you mean, I'm fine?" Josiah asked, looking down at his stomach. "I was shot, just a little while ago," he paused. "Or have I been unconscious all the time it took to heal?" he asked with a frown.
Ezra chuckled. "Well, in a way," he said helpfully.
"Ezra, shut up," Nathan admonished. "If you're not gonna help, you can leave."
Josiah looked between the two of them, his confusion over the situation starting to make his blood boil. He grabbed both men by their shirts and pulled himself into a sitting position, his action pulling both of them close to his face as they tried to regain their balance.
"Tell me what is going on before I forget that you are supposed to be my friends!" he growled slowly.
Both Ezra and Nathan struggled to release his grip, gasping as it tightened and began to cut off their air.
"Go... ahead and... kill us... if it will ma... make you feel... bett... ter," Ezra said as he struggled to get his breath. "It will... prove our... point... as well."
Josiah stared at the gambler, then suddenly released them as he realized what he'd been doing. "I'm sorry," he said hoarsely, staring at his hands in disbelief of their actions.
Nathan fell back into the chair taking deep, ragged breaths. He looked over at Ezra and saw that he was also breathing hard, but seemed more intent on straightening his shirt and jacket than the fact that their friend had just about strangled them to death.
"Josiah, you've got to get a handle on that temper of yours," Nathan said finally, rubbing his throat which was already healing.
The preacher nodded, not meeting their eyes. "I suppose one day it will be the death of me."
Ezra grinned. "Perhaps, if you meet the wrong person at the wrong time, but mostly I think it will just cause others harm."
"Why am I alive?" Josiah asked, lifting his head to look at Nathan. "I was gut-shot... just this morning?"
Nathan nodded. "That's what we want to talk to you about. I know it's going to sound farfetched, even impossible, but," he shifted his gaze to Ezra, "we can prove it's true, if you keep your temper in check and listen to us."
Josiah nodded slowly and scooted back to lean against the head of the bed. He was uneasy feeling so good when by all rights he should be in horrible pain... or dead. "I'm listening."
Nathan looked expectantly to Ezra, but the gambler simply shook his head. "I think he'll accept it more easily from you than from me," he said with a small, sad smile.
The healer nodded and pulled the chair closer to the bed, sitting down before he began. "See, Josiah, there are people in this world that... well, they are flesh and blood, but they don't die from normal wounds. They heal real fast. They sometimes are killed by injuries, but their bodies still heal and they revive. These people call themselves Immortals, though technically they can be killed. Me and Ezra and now you, we're all Immortals," Nathan finished, watching Josiah for his reaction.
Josiah's face had creased into a frown that grew deeper as Nathan spoke. "What you are saying is that I did die, but I was somehow revived?" he asked, his voice even, though his eyes smoldered with anger.
Nathan nodded. "I know it's a shock, Josiah, but we thought it was better to tell you right away. I didn't know what I was until Ezra told me a few months back. I remember how scared I was when I woke up in a coffin. I didn't want you to have to go through that."
"Ezra told you what you are," Josiah said blandly. Ezra remained silent, recognizing the deadly fury building beneath the words.
"Yeah," Nathan said, apparently encouraged by Josiah's calmness. "I hadn't met any other Immortals before Ezra. Guess I got lucky traveling all these years. Probably would have lost my head in a challenge. See, that's the only way we can die is if our heads are cut off," he finished lamely.
Josiah pressed his lips together and stared at his hands in his lap. "The only Immortals I know of are angels and demons. I don't recall ever reading about an angel coming back to life on earth." He paused, his voice strained when he continued. "I have read about demons being banished back to hell, but only by separating their head from their body." He looked up meeting Nathan's shocked face with fear-filled eyes.
"Is that it, Nathan? Are we demons now? Our souls doomed to walk the earth for eternity doing Hell's bidding?"
"Now hold on here just a minute, Josiah!" Nathan exclaimed in righteous disbelief. "I ain't no demon and neither are you."
Josiah automatically looked to Ezra who had remained silent. The gambler's face was sadly resigned.
Nathan gaped but quickly recovered. "Ezra ain't no demon either, Josiah. You just get that nonsense out of your head right now. I'm not sure what exactly we are, but it don't make us any different than the men we were before we couldn't be killed! You hear me?"
The preacher's gaze shifted back to Jackson as the black man squeezed his arm harshly. "You hear me?" Nathan repeated. Josiah simply nodded, dropping his gaze to his hands once again.
Ezra stood. "I believe my presence is superfluous. Good day, gentlemen," he said as he turned and slipped through the door.
"Ezra," Nathan called. He frowned then turned a scowl on Josiah. "That was..." he trailed off when he saw his friend hadn't moved. Josiah still sat, shoulders hunched, head down, staring at the blanket that covered his legs. "Josiah?" Nathan said, putting his hand on the older man's shoulder. "Josiah?" he repeated, giving him a gentle shake when his friend did not respond.
"Are you sure, Nathan? Really sure?" Josiah asked in a soft, tremulous voice. "My father used to tell me and my sister that we were demon-spawn... that we would go to hell and burn. What if..."
Nathan shook Josiah's shoulder again. "Josiah, look at me." When the older man looked up, Nathan continued, "Do you think I'm evil? A demon?" Josiah blinked, then shook his head slowly. "Well, you're right, I'm not. If I were a demon, would I be helping people for flour and a few chickens?" Josiah's lips quirked briefly into a smile. "Right. And Ezra, now he and I have never seen eye to eye on much, but if I thought he was a demon, I'd let you know... you know me, Josiah, I ain't much for holdin' my tongue about things I really believe in."
This time a small smile crept onto the preacher's face and stayed for a moment longer. Josiah sighed. "I'm sorry, Nathan. I thought I was past the things my father did to us. He wasn't a kind man despite claiming to be a man of God."
Nathan nodded. "I remember some of the things you told me about him. Can't have been easy, 'specially after your momma died."
Josiah nodded, his hands mindlessly gripping and releasing the blanket. "I don't really remember it, but I know at one point, before Hannah was born, my mother took me and ran away from him." He looked up at Nathan. "I have dreams sometimes, of a man. Mother said he took care of us during that time, until my father found us. He was kind... in my dreams. Treated me like a son." Josiah swallowed hard, his voice taking on an edge as he spoke. "Sometimes I have nightmares... I think... I think my father killed him," Josiah grated, his eyes hardening. "I don't recall my father ever treating me as good as that man did. And father was worse with Hannah. He thought Hannah was a... that my mother had been unfaithful." Josiah's fist clenched, his knuckles white with the fury he felt toward a man long dead.
"That would have been a terrible thing for a young boy to see," Nathan sympathized, having seen things just as horrible at the plantation where he'd grown up. "How old were you?"
Josiah sighed, visibly deflating as his anger fled. "Six or seven maybe. I really don't remember it, except in the dreams." He shuddered, ran a hand over his face and then gave himself a shake as he met Nathan's eyes. "Tell me how you became Immortal."
Ezra pulled the door to the clinic closed behind him and started to pace on the landing only to pull up short at the sight of Vin leaning against the railing. "Good heavens, Mr. Tanner. You scared years off my life."
Vin grinned. "Nothing you can't afford."
"I beg your pardon?" Ezra asked stunned.
The tracker tilted his head toward the clinic door. "Guess Josiah didn't take the news too well."
"News?" Ezra asked, not quite understanding what Vin was insinuating. "Well, none of us is overly partial to spending time in Nathan's clinic."
Vin's grin widened. "Nope, 'spect not." He straightened and stepped toward the door. "Guess I'll just go see how he's feeling."
"Wait!" Ezra said, stepping in between Vin and the door. "Nathan said no visitors for now. Josiah needs his rest."
Vin took up his lean against the wall again, his grin never fading. "Somethin' wrong, Ez?"
"No, of course not," Ezra said, collecting himself. He straightened his jacket and opened his mouth to offer further explanation when the buzzing in his head that he associated with Nathan and Josiah's Quickenings suddenly increased. The gambler's mouth snapped shut as his eyes widened in surprise. "How? When? Vin?"
Tanner laughed. "Gee, Ezra, I haven't seen you this tongue-tied since ol' Lester Banks won your clothes off your back."
"But..." Ezra stammered. "How?" he asked again, at a loss for words.
Vin glanced at the door and suddenly Ezra couldn't feel the tracker's Quickening anymore. No... that wasn't quite right, he could only feel the small quiver that he had associated with pre-Immortals. "How are you able to control your Quickening like that?" he asked moving closer to Vin, his voice low. "And just when did you die?"
"Been a few years now," Vin said. "Lived with the People for a while, one of them was one of us. Taught me how to hide my presence from others to avoid the 'white man's Game,' he called it."
Ezra opened his mouth then shut it again as he collected his thoughts. "You've known all this time and didn't say anything?"
Vin shrugged. "You knew about Nathan."
"Touché, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said with a tilt of his head. "I suppose we all learn that it's safer to be alone," he said sadly, then he met Vin's eyes with a hopeful smile, "At least, it has been in the past."
Vin nodded and stuck his hand out, Ezra grasped it and they shook. "I think we can count on a few others who won't be out for our heads now. 'Course I'm not so sure about your ma," he added with a wicked grin.
Ezra chuckled. "I, too, have my doubts at times, but she did raise me." He looked at the door to the clinic. "Our Mr. Sanchez has some preconceptions that left him indisposed to accepting his... our circumstances." The gambler sighed. "I do hope Mr. Jackson was able to convince him that we are not demons."
"Ah," Vin sighed. "Seen that sort of thing before." He rubbed at his neck and couldn't quite suppress a shudder. "There are some deaths I just don't fancy experiencing once, let alone twice."
"Amen," Ezra said, his own eyes clouded with memory. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Are you going to help us convince our newest Immortal friend that he is not bound for hell, presuming someone could indeed cut through his formidable neck?"
The tracker chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose I could. Think Josiah will accept it better with another fine, upstandin' example of Immortals?"
It was Ezra's turn to chuckle at Vin's sarcastic question. "Indubitably."
Vin shook his head. "I'll take your word on it," he said wondering just what 'indubitably' meant. Ezra just grinned at him as they both entered the clinic.
Nathan turned, expecting to see Ezra enter as the older Immortal's Quickening had never gone beyond Nathan's ability to sense. His eyes widened in fear and surprise when he saw Vin lock eyes on the preacher who was still sitting up in bed, clearly not dying from a gunshot to the belly.
Josiah frowned, still not completely aware of the danger.
"It's all right, Nate," Vin said, once again allowing his Quickening to flare. Both Nathan and Josiah's eyes widened, it being the first time Josiah had felt a change since he awoke.
"What is that?" he asked.
"That buzz you're feeling?" Vin asked as he and Ezra moved closer to the bed. "It's called a Quickening. It's how you can tell when other Immortals are near. It's important to know 'cause they all won't be friendly. Most will want yer head."
Josiah pressed his lips together. "Nathan was beginning to explain. He didn't tell me you were one as well."
"He didn't know," Vin said. "He and Ezra just found out."
"And the others?" Josiah asked warily.
Vin shook his head. "None of them have died."
Ezra's brow wrinkled slightly at Vin's phrasing, wondering if he knew of their potential, but he said nothing. "I believe it would be wise for us to decide what we are going to tell the others, at least about Josiah's injury. If they have not already seen Vin and myself coming and going, they will soon be checking on your status."
Nathan nodded. "I've been wantin' to tell all of you for a while, but wasn't sure how."
"I'm okay with it," Vin said with a shrug. "I trust all o' ya'll."
"Ezra?" Nathan asked.
Ezra licked his lips and looked at Josiah. The preacher still looked confused and a little scared by the recent revelation. "If Josiah is fine with telling them, then I will concur as well."
They all looked at Josiah. He rubbed his stomach thoughtfully, then nodded. "It doesn't seem I'll get any more information out of the three of you unless I have backup," he said with a small smile.
Vin and Nathan grinned, but Ezra simply nodded. "I shall go and request their presence," he said exiting the building quickly, but then slowing as he descended the stairs and crossed to the saloon.
His mind whirled with all the possible outcomes of divulging their secret. Some were good, some were very, very bad. Ezra wondered if he shouldn't take Maude's advice and get out of town before things got more complicated. He shook his head. The situation was already out of his hands and running would do nothing but leave his friends unprepared for their futures. He sighed and straightened his shoulders as he pushed through the batwing doors to enter the saloon.
Chris, Buck and JD all looked at him with concerned eyes as he approached the table.
"Your presence is required, gentlemen," Ezra said, his own concerns coloring his words. All three rose quickly, fearing the worst.
"Is he..." the usually loquacious, ladies man trailed off.
"Mr. Sanchez is fairing much better than you would expect," Ezra assured. He motioned for the others to lead the way and followed them back to the clinic.
Nothing much had changed except that Josiah was now sitting on the edge of the bed and wearing clean clothes. Nathan had returned to the chair by the bed and Vin had perched himself against the wall by the window with one foot up on the seat of another chair.
"Josiah!" Buck exclaimed in surprise taking a few long strides to reach the older man first. He knelt on one knee in front of Josiah. "Are you all right? Should you be sitting up? " he asked in a rush of concern and puzzlement.
Ezra trailed in behind Chris and JD in time to see Buck brush aside Josiah's unbuttoned shirt revealing not a bandage or bloody, sutured skin, but a healthy, unscarred abdomen. He sighed as he pushed the door closed realizing that they hadn't planned this very well at all.
"It's..." Buck stammered, "It's a miracle!" the astonished man exclaimed, the awe and joy shining in his eyes making Josiah's mouth twitch into a half smile. Buck's optimistic view was hard to resist.
"I'm not so sure about that," Josiah hedged with a glance at Nathan and then Ezra, and Vin who had moved over to stand beside the gambler.
Chris pushed Josiah's shirt out of the way and did his own inspection. He and JD had been the ones to drag the distraught Buck out of Nathan's clinic to allow the healer to do his best for Josiah and to clean the blood and gore from Buck's hands. They'd seen the evidence on their friend. Blood and bits of skin and other tissue mixed with excrement had not boded well for Josiah's living to the end of the day, let alone his apparently miraculous recovery.
"Someone want to explain what's going on here?" Chris demanded softly, his hand moving to Josiah's shoulder. He needed the contact to assure himself that the big preacher was still among the living.
Nathan looked to Ezra hopefully, but the Southerner simply flicked his eyes in Josiah's direction and lifted an eyebrow. The healer sighed and met Vin's amused gaze. The tracker was entirely too comfortable with all of this.
Chris did not miss the silent conversations going on between his men. Normally he would have been pleased to see proof of the trust between his men that that level of communication required, especially when it came to Nathan and Ezra. At this moment it just annoyed him. He saw Vin's knowing grin and growled, "What the hell is going on here?"
Nathan ran his hand over his head as he looked around the room. Josiah was still sitting on the bed, his shoulders hunched with the weight of not understanding what he'd been told. Chris stood on one side of him a hand on the preacher's shoulder, his gaze shifting from Immortal to Immortal, though he remained unaware that they were immortal. Buck still knelt in front of Josiah, one hand resting on the older man's knee. JD stood just behind Buck, for once struck silent.
Ezra and Vin stood near the door, Vin leaning back against it as if to keep anyone from leaving. Ezra had folded his arms across his chest and dropped his poker face firmly into place. Nathan looked hard into those green eyes and saw only one answer to all of his questions. He sighed and nodded his head to himself.
"Why don't we all sit down," he suggested. "It's a long story."
Chris studied Nathan for a moment then nodded. He gave Josiah's shoulder a squeeze then took the chair by the bed as the men settled in, Buck slipped between Chris and Josiah to sit on the bed beside the preacher while JD moved to sit on Josiah's other side. Vin and Ezra stayed where they were.
Nathan shook his head. "You two will jump in here if I get something wrong, right?" he asked the two older Immortals. Ezra gave a curt nod.
"Sure, Nate," Vin said more serious now but still with a slight smile.
"Thanks," Nathan grumbled not sure why he'd expected the quiet tracker to take over. He turned his attention to the remaining members of their group. "Guess it's best to just lay it all out for you at once. It'll be easier if you listen and wait to ask questions until the end, okay?" he asked hopefully.
JD and Buck nodded. Chris pursed his lips but dipped his chin in consent. Josiah folded his hands in his lap and waited.
"Josiah was hurt, real bad," Nathan explained. "He would be dead right now except for the fact that he's... well, he's like me, Ezra and Vin. There are certain people who have the potential to become Immortal when they die by an act of violence. They do die, but are able to heal and revive after a period of time, just like Josiah did today. We don't know what we are until it happens and even then," he glanced at Ezra, "we don't always find out what we are right away unless another Immortal happens to be around. I didn't know exactly what I was until Ezra told me a few months ago."
Chris frowned and followed Nathan's gaze to Ezra and Vin.
Vin nodded. "It's true. Guess I was lucky to be where I was the first time I died. There was a Timeless One... an Immortal living with the tribe I was with when it happened. Can't imagine how it would be to wake up expectin' to be dead and not having someone there to explain things," he added with a sympathetic smile for Nathan.
The healer smiled back and nodded. "I was at least lucky enough to have my father there when I woke up. Nearly gave him a heart attack, but I wasn't alone." He paused, trying to order his thoughts. "Immortals are pretty much like normal folk, we bleed when we're shot, you can even kill us, but we heal fast and from most mortal wounds. The main differences are that we don't age after our first death and we have to watch out for other Immortals."
Nathan looked to Ezra again for assistance. "Come on, Ezra, you know this so much better than me," he pleaded.
The older Immortal dropped his head, gazing at the floor for a long moment then straightened and looked at Josiah. "We Immortals usually do our damnedest to avoid letting mortals know what we are. If we are killed in front of them, we slip off into the night, so to speak, once we awaken. One of the rules of the game is to keep the presence of Immortals a secret."
Ezra rubbed his hands on his pants and started to pace. "There is a... competition amongst Immortals for some grand prize for the last remaining player." He stopped, turning back to face the others, but avoided their eyes as he continued. "The 'Game' is played out with swords. When an Immortal comes across another, he... or she, may challenge the other Immortal to a duel to the death. The winner is the one who succeeds in beheading his opponent first."
Silence reigned, harsh breaths the only sounds to be heard for a long moment before Ezra spoke again. "This Game is barbaric and not all Immortals choose to participate. Holy ground is the only safe place." He met Josiah's surprised gaze with a wry smile. "So, you see, Mr. Sanchez, it is hardly likely that we are demons." Ezra broke eye contact with the preacher. "It is, however, exceedingly boring to remain on holy ground for more than a few decades, and eventually it is inevitable that one must reenter the Game. Most Immortals play fair, a duel between two opponents with swords, no firearms are allowed, however, just as with mere mortals, there are those who would win at any cost."
"So," JD said, drawing the word out as he tried to understand, "the four of you are going to live forever..."
"In theory," Ezra intoned blandly.
"And the only way you can die," JD continued, ignoring Ezra's interjection, "is if an... Immortal chops your head off?"
Ezra nodded, disinclined to correct the boy's assumption that only another Immortal could do the deed.
"That's a bunch of hooey!" Buck exclaimed, his expression a mix of disbelief and fascinated horror.
"It is easier," Ezra drawled sarcastically, "to believe in an omnipotent being who benevolently decided to resurrect our deserving friend. However," he said as he removed his jacket, "that occurrence combined with even the small number of persons I have known to be recipient of said gift would greatly devalue the meaning of the term miracle." He ignored the various frowns from his friends, instead carefully hanging his jacket on the back of a chair and starting to unbutton his shirt.
"Ezra," Vin asked resignedly, "what're you doing?"
"It would seem that a demonstration is required," Ezra answered simply, removing his cufflinks and slipping them into a pocket, "and I refuse to ruin a shirt for the sake of our comrades' elucidation."
Vin rubbed the bridge of his nose wondering how long it would take him to learn to read well enough to keep up with Ezra's vast vocabulary. He smirked to himself. Ezra would just move on to more obscure words anyway.
Ezra slipped his shirt off and turned to Nathan. "May I borrow one of your knives?"
Nathan nodded and slid one of his throwing knives out of the rig on his back. He held it out for the gambler to take.
"What do you mean by 'a demonstration'?" JD asked, his face paling a shade.
"Well," Ezra replied laconically, "this would be the perfect time to allow Mr. Larabee the opportunity to shoot one of us, except for the fact that a gunshot would bring too much attention." He paused a moment as he placed his now neatly folded shirt on the end of the bed and reached for Nathan's knife. "Therefore, I believe a knife will have to do."
Nathan pulled the knife back, scowling at Ezra. "No need to be so dramatic Ezra. I think a simple cut will convince them."
Ezra raised an eyebrow and extended his hand for the knife.
The healer shook his head. "No, I'll do it, give me your arm."
The gambler sighed and extended his right arm, allowing Nathan to grasp it with his left hand and bring the knife to bear with his right. In one swift move, Ezra grabbed Nathan's right wrist, straightening the knife as he took a fast step forward.
The knife plunged into Ezra's chest.
"No!" Nathan yelled, pulling his hand and the knife back instinctively. He dropped the knife and caught Ezra as he crumpled to the floor. "Damn it, Ezra!"
Vin shook his head as the four rushed to surround Ezra who gave them a weak smile before his heart stopped. "I ain't cleanin' that mess up," he mumbled, mostly to himself.
The mortal members of the group and Josiah turned astonished faces on the tracker.
"What the hell, Vin?" Buck sputtered. "Ezra just killed himself and all you can think about is getting out of cleaning up?"
Josiah gave Vin a glare but turned back to look at Ezra. "We should move him to the bed," he said, his voice trailing off as he looked at the blood still oozing from the wound.
"Hell," Nathan said wryly, "let him lay on the floor. Vin's right. This demonstration was his idea. He can reap the consequences."
Vin chuckled earning a deep frown from Chris and a shocked stare from Buck and JD.
"How long you figure 'fore he revives, Nate?" Vin said by way of reminding the others.
Nathan shrugged. "Not too long, probably. He hasn't admitted just how old he is, but we've talked some and he and Maude seem to take less time than I do to revive from a complete death. I figure it gets easier with age or the number of Quickenings you've taken." He shrugged again. "I've still got a lot to learn myself. Only been Immortal for about 10 years or so. Ezra's taught me most of what I do know."
The conversation faded for Josiah as he stared at the bloody wound on Ezra's chest. Long forgotten memories returned....
New Orleans, January, 1832
"Mr. Eric, what are we doing?"
"That is a very good question," Eric Sutton replied with a smile to his young charge. "I have always been a firm believer that one should not keep all their eggs in one basket."
Josiah wrinkled up his face. "Do you got eggs in that?" he asked, pointing to the leather satchel strapped behind Eric's saddle.
"Do you have eggs in that," Eric corrected. "No, son, simply some items that might be useful should the need for a hasty departure occur."
The young boy pressed his lips together thoughtfully. "'cause of your gambling?" he asked, continuing before Eric could answer. "Mama said your gambling is gonna get you kicked out of New Orleans one of these days."
Eric laughed out loud. "I dare say, she may be right, Josiah. It would not be the first time, or probably the last. I do not plan to be run out of town; however, it never hurts to prepare for a rainy day."
"So there's rain gear in there?" Josiah asked, still curious about what was in the bag.
"Patience, son. I'll show you when we get to our destination."
They rode in silence for a few moments, Eric keeping a close eye on Josiah and his new pony. It had been almost a year since the day they had met on the road to New Orleans. Eric had convinced Celia Sanchez to work for him as a housekeeper, once he had a place to stay. Her pay was room and board for her and Josiah, and a small sum that would allow her to buy necessities for herself and the boy.
Five months later, Celia had given birth to a daughter, Hannah. She admitted to Eric that her pregnancy was one of the reasons she'd left her husband. Afraid that his temper might cause her baby harm, Celia had taken the first opportunity to leave. She had maintained a low profile to keep from drawing attention, staying mostly at the small cottage Eric had rented and allowing him to do the necessary runs into town.
Despite the admittedly happy and carefree nature of the last twelve months, Eric's sense of self-preservation had him following long ingrained patterns, one of which was stashing emergency supplies nearby. He had been adding to his current cache on a regular basis, checking to make sure it was secure as well as increasing its size.
The Immortal always approached from a different direction on a random day and time so as not to attract attention to the hiding place. And he never carried anything larger than could be hidden on his person or in his saddle bags. The leather satchel Josiah was so interested in today actually contained a picnic lunch. The real prize was in his saddle bags.
The pair reached a clearing in the trees they had been traveling through. Eric stopped his horse and dismounted, then looked up at Josiah.
"What do you see?" he asked the boy.
Josiah looked around and shrugged. "Trees and rocks and dirt... oh, and some bushes."
Eric nodded and patted the boy's leg. "Come on down and let me show you something." He waited for Josiah to join him, then pointed to a large rock formation at one edge of the clearing. "How long do you think that has been here?"
Josiah shrugged. "Forever, I guess."
The gambler chuckled. "You could be right. And that is why it is a perfect marker." He looked around. "These trees may be gone in a few decades. Some farmer may decide this is good land for a tobacco field. Maybe a hundred years from now New Orleans will have grown to encompass this entire area. Or perhaps the whole city will be under water," Eric said with a thoughtful frown before looking back to Josiah. "Things you think are permanent usually aren't." He took a deep breath. "Even this rock formation, as large as it is, may be gone at some point in the future, replaced by someone's home."
The boy stared at the rock for a moment and then looked around at the rest of the clearing. "It's a pretty big rock. It would be too hard to break it down just to build a house there," he said thoughtfully. "Why not just build somewhere else?"
A small smile quirked one corner of Eric's mouth. "Many things change with time, Josiah. Why, it was less than ten years ago that the first train started running. A little dynamite could wipe that rock face out in a matter of minutes, if one was so inclined," he added. "But, what we are most concerned with for this moment is that it is unlikely to change in the average man's lifetime."
Josiah frowned. "But why?"
Eric smiled broadly. "Because, young Josiah, it is a marker to show us where we have hidden our Rainy Day supplies." He walked over to the rock wall that towered several feet above him and stretched about twenty feet along the ground.
"It has changed even since my last visit," Eric said, mostly to himself as he scanned the rock. He pushed aside the branches of a tree that had taken root close to the base of the wall. Eric grunted and moved a few feet further down the rock face before shoving his way in behind a large bush. "Ah ha!" he exclaimed. "Come here, Josiah," he commanded.
Josiah scurried to join Eric.
"Do you see it?" Eric asked, holding the bush away from the wall with his body.
The boy examined the area of rock before him. It looked like, well, rock. Gray and moss covered. He shook his head.
"Good," Eric said with a nod. "That means only those who know where to look will find our hiding spot. See here," he said, pointing to a section about chest level for the adult, but slightly above eye level for the tall-for-his-age youngster. Eric carefully pulled moss and lichen away from the stone to reveal a crease in the rock. As he continued, Josiah could see what appeared to be a number of small stones set into the rock face.
Once all the greenery was removed, Eric grabbed one of the smaller stones and pulled it out. "Pay attention, Josiah. If you don't put them back the same way they won't fit, and you have to remove this rock first, it acts as a linchpin. If you try to move any of the others first, they won't budge." Eric continued to remove the stones, one at a time until seven stones varying from the size of a fist to that of a man's head lay in order on the ground.
Eric dusted his hands on his pants and grinned at the boy before he reached into the small cave he had opened. It was no wider than his shoulders and only about two feet high, but deep enough that Eric had to reach in up to his shoulder to find what he was looking for. He pulled his hand out bringing a metal handle attached to a length of chain. Several feet of chain and then a metal trunk appeared with a long pole strapped to its side.
The Immortal unfastened the pole and left it in the cave. He lifted the chest, carried it out of the bushes, and put it on the ground. He looked at Josiah. "Are you paying attention?"
Josiah nodded, his blue-gray eyes wide.
Eric nodded and slowly opened a small panel on one side of the trunk. Within was a key that fit into the lock securing the box. Once the lock was removed, Eric lifted the lid to reveal the treasure inside. He rose, went to his horse and collected his saddle bags, returning to kneel beside Josiah.
"You may use the Rainy Day supplies for emergencies," Eric informed, "just be sure to put the trunk back the way you found it and if you can, replenish what you remove. If you just want to store something here for safety, mark it with a brightly colored ribbon or piece of cloth. Understand?" the Immortal asked.
"Good. Now, I'll show you what I have here and what we will be adding." Eric opened several small pouches from the trunk, each containing gold coins, some of which were quite old. There were two more pouches with a variety of gems and jewelry in them and several rolls of parchment. Eric withdrew one of them and opened it.
"I added these last time I came by. They are specially treated to withstand the humidity and pests that might get inside the chest. These scrolls show a number of other caches, just in case I need a reminder in the future," he added with a grin. He rolled up the parchment and placed it gently back into the chest. The next item he removed was a sheath containing a short sword.
Eric pulled the blade from its scabbard, suddenly lost in thought until Josiah tapped his arm.
"What's in that one?" the boy asked, pointing at the small box with a broad, red ribbon wrapped around it. The ribbon was faded, but still obviously meant to signify one of those objects Eric meant to keep safe.
Once again, the Immortal gave a small smile, but gently removed the ribbon and opened the box. It contained only a simple diamond ring and a pendant. Eric allowed the boy to examine both items then slipped the ring into a pocket in his jacket before replacing the pendant in the box. He then opened his saddlebags and pulled out two packages.
One package contained three more pouches of gold coins and a set of plain, but well-made throwing knives. The second contained a strange leather strap and a single-shot derringer. After Josiah had made his examination, the knives and gun were wrapped and placed within the chest. Eric locked the top down, returned the key to its hiding place, and set the chest back into the cave.
With a quick look over his shoulder to see Josiah watching him intently, Eric took the pole out of the cave and measured it against some nearby saplings. When he found one of appropriate height, but not too thick, he snapped the small tree off at the base and stripped it of its branches. The measuring pole was reattached to the chest and Eric used the sapling to push it back into the cave. He was careful to keep the chain laid out straight and checked to make sure he could still reach the handle once the chest was at the end of the sapling's length.
Satisfied that the chest was beyond casual discovery and yet still accessible, Eric tossed the sapling into a thick growth of bushes and set about replacing the stones. Once they were back in place, the moss was pushed into the crevices around the stones as well. He leaned back to examine his handiwork.
"Looks good," Josiah commented.
"All right then," Eric replied with a grin. He stepped back into the clearing and checked to see that the bush didn't seem too disturbed, then scuffed out their foot prints in the dirt around the wall.
"So," Josiah started, "what's in the satchel?"
Eric grinned showing his gold tooth. "Why don't we find out?"
They spent the next few hours enjoying their picnic lunch and discussing anything that struck their fancy. The ride home wasn't quite so enjoyable for Josiah, since Eric decided he should work on his French lessons.
Their high spirits remained until they reached the small cottage they called home and saw several strange horses out front.
Eric dismounted and handed Robert's reins to Josiah. "Take care of the horses, Josiah," he commanded, his tone leaving no room for argument. He strode toward the house, but didn't make it to the porch before the front door flew open.
An older man came out dragging Celia behind him. She held Hannah tightly to her chest as she struggled to stay on her feet. Tears streaked her face and as Eric got closer he could see the beginnings of a black eye.
"Sir! Unhand that woman this instant," Eric demanded, stopping a few feet from the porch.
The man's head whipped around. "Who the devil are you?" he snarled.
"Eric Sutton, sir. This is my property and I demand to know why you are manhandling my house keeper," he said, trying to keep his temper under control.
"Adulterer! " the man yelled, his face red with rage as he shook Celia by the arm. "This unfaithful wench is my wife!"
"Papa!" Josiah cried in alarm, running toward the unfolding scene.
"Josiah!" Eric said sternly, "Take Hannah and go to the barn." He met the other man's eye. "This is no place for children, sir," he added, hoping to spare the boy.
"Go on, whelp," the senior Sanchez commanded. "I'll say my piece to Mister," he said the word sarcastically, "Sutton here and we'll be on our way."
Josiah ran up the steps and took the baby from his mother. Hannah wailed, not understanding all the tension around her. The boy looked from his mother and father to Eric, fear and anguish etched on his face.
"Go on, son," Eric said kindly. "It'll be all right."
"He is my son!" Sanchez bellowed, giving the boy a shove so that he stumbled down the stairs. Josiah jogged away, his breath hitching as he tried not to cry.
"I am taking my wife and son and leaving this den of sin," Sanchez continued. "You keep the bastard child you created with my wife."
Eric's eyes narrowed with fury. "She is your daughter, sir," he bit out as calmly as possible, "born not five months after her mother arrived. I have not touched your wife."
"The word of a sinner means nothing to me," Sanchez replied.
"I say again, I have not touched your wife, however, I will not allow you to force her to leave. If she wishes to go with you, fine, but if she does not..." Eric trailed off, his words both promise and threat.
Sanchez's face flushed with his rage, so red that Eric thought the man might expire from apoplexy. The preacher flung Celia back through the cottage door and turned on Eric, firing a gun he had drawn unseen by the gambler.
Eric staggered back a step in surprise at the sudden pain blossoming in his chest. Concern for Celia, Josiah and Hannah flitted briefly through his waning consciousness as he crumpled to his knees then fell on his side. He heard someone call his name and vaguely felt himself being pushed onto his back before the darkness of death greeted him once again.
Josiah's gaze was drawn to the lifeless body on the floor. The face of the man who had been so kind to him as a boy had faded with the passage of over thirty years. Although he had never forgotten that horrible day, Josiah had managed to bury it until mentioning it to Nathan earlier. Only the pain and sorrow in Ezra's green eyes just before he died had brought the memory of Eric's face back to him. A face that looked no different from the one before him now.
Ezra gasped, his body arching off the floor in an effort to fill his oxygen-starved lungs. His eyes opened wide and then narrowed as his breathing leveled off. "I am on the floor," he stated, levering himself up onto one elbow, his displeasure at his circumstances clear on his face.
Buck stepped forward, offered his hand and pulled Ezra to his feet. "We didn't want you bleeding on the bed linens," he said with a small grin. The ladies man looked Ezra up and down and shook his head. "Damn," he said, at a loss for words.
Ezra gave a small, rueful grin and looked around at the others. "I hope we don't have to go through any further demonstrations." He looked down and frowned. "You could have at least wiped off the rest of the blood," he complained to everyone in general as he fingered the drying blood stains on his abdomen.
"You made the mess," Vin said with a smirk.
The gambler huffed moving to the porcelain basin Nathan kept for washing his hands. "I don't suppose you gentlemen finished our prior discussion while I was... indisposed?" He washed the blood off and donned his shirt while Nathan explained that they had mostly been talking about what a fool Ezra had been to perform such a stunt. Ezra kept his gaze studiously away from Josiah's imploring eyes.
"That was a stupid stunt, Ezra," Chris growled, not at all comfortable with the situation. "What if you hadn't..." he trailed off, not wanting to say the words and have to admit that he'd just seen living proof of immortality.
Ezra met Chris' gaze steadily. "I have nothing to fear from mere mortal wounds, though I must admit that I would prefer not to suffer through the pain and consequences of said wounds more often than necessary." He finished buttoning his shirt and removed his jacket from the chair. "Now, if you don't mind, I find myself in need of a drink and something to eat. I dare say, Mr. Sanchez is probably feeling a mite peckish himself." He nodded to his dumbstruck audience, ignoring Vin's amused grin and exited the room as expeditiously as possible.
"What are you grinning about, Tanner?" Chris demanded, frustrated at not being able to pin the gambler down to answer the million questions he had. Maybe Tanner would do.
"Nothin'," Vin said, his grin widening. "Just thinkin' that I could use something to eat myself," and with that he followed Ezra's lead and left.
Chris looked at the others. Nathan seemed tired, Buck, JD, and Josiah looked just as confused as Chris felt. His gaze drifted back to the door. "What just happened here?"
Ezra wasn't to be found in any of their usual eating establishments and he managed to avoid getting caught alone for the better part of the next week. He did his duty, held court at his poker table as usual, and was cordial to his friends, but none of them were able to speak to him about the revelation in Nathan's clinic.
It was past two a.m. on the fifth, now sixth, day when Ezra slipped up. The poker game he'd been involved with all evening had included a particularly skillful opponent and despite the hours and dwindling number of patrons in the saloon, Ezra got lost in the exhilaration of the competition.
When Ezra finally emerged the victor, even he could admit it had been a close call, there were only a handful of people around. Ezra stood and shook hands with his opponent with a promise of a rematch the next time the gentleman was in town. Ezra sat and collected his winnings, then started to rake in the cards and chips when the chair beside him scraped across the floor.
"I am done for the evening," he said, barely glancing up then going still as he realized it was Josiah. He quickly continued to gather the cards, trying to think of a way to escape what could very possibly be his last conversation with the big preacher.
The silence stretched on. Ezra sighed and looked up to meet Josiah's gaze.
Josiah stretched out a hand and placed a small box wrapped with a broad, faded, red ribbon wrapped around it on the table. "I remember," was all he said.
Ezra bit the inside of his lip as he stared at the familiar box. He hadn't seen it in almost forty years.
"It was you, wasn't it?" Josiah asked softly, with a little uncertainty.
Again, Ezra considered the options. He could lie, but to what end? He took the box and opened it, pulling out the pendant inside.
"This belonged to my last wife, Heather," Ezra said softly. "She died only a few years before I met you and your mother."
Josiah's eyes widened as he watched the memories flit across Ezra's face. Just how old was this man in front of him? He wanted to ask, but wanted to hear more and feared that the question would shut Ezra down again. "And the ring you took that day?"
Ezra smiled fondly. "The ring I gave to Belinda, my wife prior to Heather."
"And the band you wear?" Josiah asked, pressing his luck.
The gambler looked him in the eye, a twinkle there that had been absent for days. "A gift from my first bride."
Josiah waited for more, then grinned and sat back when Ezra only smiled at him. He looked around the saloon and saw that they were alone. He returned his attention to Ezra. "My father killed you," he said bluntly.
Ezra's smile dropped. He nodded reading the myriad of emotions and questions in Josiah's face. "I wanted to come after you," he said finally, twisting the pendant in his fingers as he spoke. "I knew what kind of a man your father was, from your mother. She was afraid of him." Ezra stared at the pendant in his hands, his mind whirling with the confliction he'd felt at the time.
"Why didn't you?" Josiah asked, his throat constricting with emotion as he tried not to judge the man in front of him for not coming to save his family from the monster his father had become.
Ezra took a ragged breath unable to meet Josiah's eyes. "I... I'm not sure. Ultimately, I think self-preservation played a part. From the first day I died, Maude pounded it into my head that mortals could never know about us." He lifted his chin enough so that Josiah could see the shame and self-loathing in the green eyes.
"At one point, I thought about showing up beside your father's bed and scaring the crap out of him," Ezra said, a small, wicked grin fleetingly creasing his features. Sadness settled across his face as he looked Josiah in the eye. "I am sorry, Josiah."
Josiah's mind was awhirl with memories and thoughts of 'what might have been.' He could see how very difficult it had been for Ezra to leave him and his mother and Hannah in his father's 'loving' hands. Still, some part of him wished Ezra had followed them and taken them away from the madness.
Ezra waited, watching the other man struggle to reconcile the emotions of a child in need with the little knowledge he had about Ezra and Immortals in general. He wanted to tell Josiah that he had kept track of him all these years, but that would be a lie. To be honest, he hadn't even realized that this man and little Josiah Sanchez were one in the same until after finding out about Hannah. Forty years was a long time, even for an Immortal.
The silence grew uncomfortable for the gambler. He took a deep breath, but before he could speak Josiah cleared his throat.
"I can't really imagine what you must have felt, Ezra, or why you made the choices you did," he met Ezra's worried gaze. "Maybe in a few centuries, I'll understand," Josiah said with a quick grin, before he continued. "For now, I just want to let the past stay in the past and get to know you better."
Ezra blinked several times, his eyes suspiciously bright. He cleared his throat and nodded. "I would like that very much, Josiah."
Josiah smiled softly and nodded as well. "I have to admit, it's kinda strange."
Ezra lifted an eyebrow in question.
"Well, I had started to think of Eric as my pa, but I've always thought you were the younger of us, more like a son to me," Josiah added, his smile now showing teeth.
Ezra chuckled. "Imagine how I feel... son."
Josiah gave a snort of surprise. He leaned back in his chair, more at ease with the situation now. "Well, don't get any ideas about giving me fatherly advice and we should be fine."
Ezra laughed, settling more comfortably into his chair. "Only if you promise me the same."
Josiah grinned. "It's a deal... Pa."
Their combined laughter filled the saloon and continued to sprinkle the early morning air until Inez came down to start breakfast several hours later and finally chased them out.
They walked side by side down the boardwalk in companionable silence as the town came to life, stopping outside the jail where Vin was taking his turn watching a prisoner.
Josiah stretched his hands high above his head and yawned. "I guess it's time to get some shut eye." He looked down at Ezra. "I don't suppose you would tell me just how old you really are?"
Ezra scratched his chin, early morning whiskers making themselves known. "Is it important?"
Josiah sighed. "It would help me understand you better."
Ezra lifted an eyebrow. "I doubt that," he said with a grin. "How old do you think I am?"
The preacher considered his friend for a long moment then shrugged. "I have no idea. You look like you're in your late twenties to early thirties, but as we both know, looks can be deceiving."
The gambler nodded, looking around to see if anyone was close enough to hear their conversation. "I was twenty-nine the first time I died. Maude was there when I revived and stayed with me for longer than she ever had before my death." Ezra took a deep breath and exhaled it in a huff. "If you think you have trouble with our age difference, consider the fact that my mother died at the tender age of twenty-five."
Josiah's jaw dropped. "No way. I mean, I always thought she looked too young to be your mother, but..."
Ezra tilted his head in agreement. "According to Maude, she died giving birth to me, however, every other Immortal whom I've ever spoken to swears Immortals are barren. That we are all discovered mysteriously as waifs, no parents to be found. Despite this, the families with whom I spent my formative years all knew Maude and thought she was my mother."
Josiah dropped into one of the chairs in front of the jail. "What does Maude say about it?" he asked, as Ezra took the seat beside him.
"She claims to be telling the truth, and I can see no sign that she is lying," Ezra said, stifling a yawn. "I don't know what she could gain by continuing such a lie for so long, yet all evidence points to her story being false."
"Well... she did have you before she became Immortal," Josiah said consideringly, "maybe it's only after they die... we die," he corrected, "that we're unable to procreate."
Ezra smiled slightly. "Perhaps. At times I think it's a curse, not being able to have a family. But I also can't imagine watching my children grow up, grow old and die while I am still in my prime." He shook his head. "I suppose it is a question I shall never have answered satisfactorily."
They sat in silence for a moment watching as the townsfolk began to open shops and start their day.
"So how old are you?" Josiah persisted with a sudden grin.
Ezra gave an exaggerated sigh. "I prefer not to say."
"Why not?" Josiah asked.
"Do you not find it wearisome to have people come to you looking for answers due to your age and their expectations of your wisdom?" Ezra asked.
Josiah shrugged. "Sometimes, I guess."
"Yes, well, imagine how it would be if you had lived to be eighty or a hundred years old."
The preachers pursed his lips thoughtfully. "The burden of age, and the blessing. You can share your wisdom and experience and help younger folk avoid your mistakes."
"Josiah, how often did you listen to your elders' advice growing up?" Ezra asked exasperated.
Josiah grinned. "Point taken. Still, it would be different if I met a man today who was a hundred years old," he looked at Ezra one eyebrow raised in query. "Or a man who was even older. I would definitely listen to what he had to say."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Perhaps, but this theoretical elder would have learned long ago that despite sharing his hard earned wisdom and knowledge, people still have to make their own mistakes. So, why would he place the burden of such queries on himself by sharing his age only to have that wisdom ignored time and again?"
The new Immortal frowned wondering why Ezra had started speaking of himself in the third person when he realized how many people were now within earshot. He took a deep breath as he realized how much trouble they could be in if the town discovered their secret. Not everyone could be convinced they weren't demons.
As it was, he would have to be careful for the next few weeks not to seem too healthy. Josiah nodded to himself.
Ezra exhaled in relief, thinking Josiah finally understood why he didn't want to share his age. He stood and stretched. "I am off to bed."
Josiah stood as well and moved closer, his voice low. "You can tell me, Ezra, I promise not to ask you for any wisdom," he said with a teasing smile.
Ezra gave an exasperated sigh. "Josiah, I will tell you, when you are old enough to understand," he said, giving the younger man a wicked grin and a wink before turning on his heel and striding away.
Josiah stared at him for a moment then burst out with a laugh, earning a few stares from people passing by. Immortality might have its downsides, but he couldn't help but be comforted at the thought of having Ezra around to help him discover his new life. Nathan and Vin would be great companions as well.
He frowned thinking of their other three friends and the people he knew now that would be gone eventually while he lived on, started over. How did other Immortals do it? How had Ezra done it?
Josiah rubbed at his stomach thoughtfully and started toward the saloon. Ezra may not want to tell him how old he was, but there were answers that Josiah needed and he wasn't going to let the other Immortal off the hook that easily. He had all the time in the world to wear the man down.
Josiah grinned to himself. It was good to be alive.
Feedback is greatly appreaciated. JudyL