December 1, 2012
This is part of a new au I'm working on. Immortal Ponderings is part of it and I already have another story in the works. It's set in the Highlander universe, but may not be strictly canon.
Ezra Standish had come to realize that Nathan Jackson did not understand his true place in this world. He had suspected it at their first meeting when Nathan mistook Ezra's reluctance to ride with him for prejudice. And now, after watching Nathan educating Buck in the fine art of sword-play, Ezra knew. Nathan didn't know what he was.
After everything the seven of them had been through during this first year in Four Corners, Ezra found himself uncharacteristically attached to the men he worked with, even Nathan. He would hate to see ignorance get the black man killed permanently. And that was exactly what was going to happen if something wasn't done.
Ezra knew he had to explain things to Nathan soon, the hard part would be finding the right time and place to do so.
An opportunity to broach the subject did not arise, so Ezra decided he'd have to confront Nathan, using his natural charm and subtlety, of course. He had waited until a night he was on late patrol, the streets were quiet and as usual, a lamp was still burning in Nathan's room. Ezra took the stairs quietly and entered the clinic without knocking.
He saw Nathan's eyes were already on him and his gun had been drawn before Ezra had even opened the door. The gambler nodded as he pushed the door closed and crossed the room, his gaze going to Nathan's gun.
"You going to shoot me?" he asked plainly.
Nathan blinked, confused by what had just happened, then shook his head and slipped the weapon back into the holster lying on the table he was sitting at.
"You really don't know what you are, do you?" Ezra asked.
The ex-slave frowned. "What are you talking about, Ezra? Why are you here? Shouldn't you be out on patrol?" Nathan said in quick succession, uncomfortable with Ezra's presence.
"No one is about and we need to talk," Ezra said. "Mind if I take a seat?" he asked with a small motion toward the other chair.
Nathan shrugged. "Suit yourself, you usually do," he snipped, feeling out of sorts for no reason he could discern.
"It's perfectly natural, Mr. Jackson," Ezra started. "It's how we identify one another."
"What?" Nathan asked, confused by the apparent non sequitur.
Ezra sat down and sighed. "I'm sorry, I'm not handling this very well... then again I've never come across a situation such as yours before. Not exactly."
"Ezra, what the hell are you talking about?" Nathan demanded.
Ezra sighed again. "You knew I was coming in that door," he said, pointing at the door in question. "You felt something, something that you feel whenever I am near, am I right?"
Nathan's eyes widened and he started to shake his head, but the honest expression on Ezra's face stopped him and he nodded. "It's the damnedest thing. A tingling at the back of my skull."
Ezra nodded. "I'm going to explain, but first I need to ask you a question that you will probably not want to answer because the answer is unbelievable." He held Nathan's eyes and saw fear well up within them. "It's all right, Nathan. Please, if you have ever trusted me, trust me now. Despite what you think you know about yourself, this is a matter of life and death."
Nathan studied Ezra for a long moment, fighting his fear, but finally took a deep breath and nodded.
"Okay," Ezra said relieved. "Now, can you tell me when you died the first time?"
Nathan jerked back in his chair staring at Ezra. "How? How did you know?" he whispered, almost to himself.
Ezra bit his lower lip, he wasn't handling this right. "Nathan, we're the same. You and I are Immortals. That tingling you feel when I'm around, I feel it from you as well. It's part of who we are. Tell me, when did you die for the first time?"
Nathan swallowed then sagged against the back of his chair. He ran a shaky hand over his face and looked at Ezra seeing nothing but honest curiosity. "It was right before the war started. Master Jackson, I told you how he used me for sparrin' practice?" Ezra nodded.
Nathan continued, "Well, he never did actually teach me much, I learned mostly from watching what he did, but he didn't want me to be too good." He ducked his head briefly then looked back into Ezra's face. "He liked hurtin' us. I was just lucky to be a quick study and faster at dodging than some of my friends." Nathan closed his eyes against remembered loss.
"I'm sorry, Nathan," Ezra said softly, his tone encouraging him to continue.
Nathan nodded. "A few months before the war, Master brought me in for some sparring. He was angry at what was going on and didn't hold back. I slipped and he stabbed me right in the heart. I woke up laid out in a coffin, my father crying over me. Nearly scared him to death then and there," he chuckled raggedly at the memory. While it hadn't been funny at the time, he could now look back on it with some humor.
Ezra smiled slightly. "I bet he was quite surprised."
"So was I," Nathan exclaimed. "I expected to see the Pearly gates and my momma. I had no idea why I wasn't dead." He paused. "Daddy recovered pretty quickly, faster than me, he told me to run, that God had seen fit to give me a way out. He said he would take care of making sure everyone thought I was dead and buried. He got me some supplies and I left. I ran as far and fast as I could and eventually ended up in the North. Joined the army as a stretcher bearer," he said with a shrug, knowing Ezra knew the bare bones of the rest.
He focused an intent gaze on Ezra. "You died, too?"
Ezra nodded and gave a grim smile. "Several times since the first."
"There are others... like us?"
Ezra's smile faded. "Yes, and that is what I must tell you about, but I have a few more questions first." Nathan nodded reluctantly. "Have you never felt that tingling around anyone else?"
Nathan blinked, not expecting the question, but nodded slowly. "A few times during the war, but I never saw anyone."
Ezra inhaled and exhaled sharply. "You were lucky. I assume there were a lot of people around at those times?"
Nathan nodded. "Hardly had a second to myself those days. Too busy helping the wounded."
"Lady Luck has shined her smile on you, my friend. I cannot believe you have gone so long without encountering another Immortal." He shook his head to clear it and met Nathan's eyes. "Immortals are beings, like ourselves who cannot be killed by normal means. We heal fast with non-fatal wounds, though serious ones may take some time," he paused and rubbed unconsciously at his shoulder.
"We do not suffer illnesses like normal mortals. If we are killed by a wound to the body, we rise again as you described. We can however be killed by decapitation. That tingling you feel is my Quickening. All Immortals have one, and it is a prize that many seek to claim. When an Immortal takes the head of another Immortal, the Quickening is released and flows into the victor."
"That's barbaric!" Nathan exclaimed, rubbing his neck.
"Indeed, it is," Ezra agreed whole-heartedly. "However, there is a... contest, the 'Game' amongst Immortals that encourages this barbaric behavior. When one Immortal challenges another, it is to the death, with swords. The winner claims the other's Quickening and gains his or her strength."
"What if you don't accept the challenge?" Nathan asked his disgust at the idea of the Game clear.
"Unfortunately, the only way to avoid it is by staying on Holy ground," Ezra said. "It's all right for a short time, but can become quite dull," he admitted candidly.
Nathan's eyebrows rose at the thought of Ezra on Holy ground. Ezra flashed him a gold-toothed grin.
"Why did you tell me about this, Ezra?" Nathan asked, suddenly wary. "You planning to challenge me?"
Ezra's eyebrows rose. "Heaven's no! Good Lord, Nathan, do you really think I cherish getting blood on my clothes?"
This comment startled a chuckle out of Nathan and Ezra smiled, relieved to have put his friend at ease. "No, I would never challenge a friend. The 'Game' is something I avoid at all costs. Immortals can be friends, at least some of us. Mother is constantly reminding me to keep my guard up and not trust any Immortal, which is really quite ironic considering her advanced age."
"Ezra!" Nathan gasped, shocked by Ezra's seeming disrespect.
Confusion creased Ezra's brow and then he laughed. "I am sorry, Nathan, I thought you would understand, Maude is an Immortal as well. She's my 'mother' in that she took me under her wing and trained me after my first death. Well, she claims she is my real mother, but since that is quite impossible..." he shrugged as if to discount her claim.
"Why is that impossible?" Nathan asked.
"Oh," Ezra said, realizing he hadn't explained much, "well, Immortals are sterile, we can't have children. Or at least, that's what every Immortal I've known, save Maude, has ever told me. Of course, most of the ones I've met have been men. We tend to die more dramatically and while many are born with the potential to become Immortal, only those who die a violent death become Immortal."
"Why is that?" Nathan asked, getting more confused by Ezra's explanation.
"I'm afraid I don't know, Nathan," he admitted. "I have tried to glean as much information from others as I could over the years, but without much luck."
Nathan considered what he'd just learned, there were too many questions in his head and he couldn't quite put them in order of importance. "So why did you tell me this? What does it gain you if you don't plan to try and take my head?"
A wounded look flitted briefly across Ezra's face only to be covered by one of professional detachment. "We do have rules to follow and one of them is that we not allow mortals to stumble across our little secret. It is however, difficult to keep a secret when one is ignorant of said secret."
"So you are just following some rule of the Game? I don't buy it, Ezra."
"You wound me, sir," Ezra exclaimed, trying to hide his hurt with indignation. "I simply do not wish to have to explain to Mr. Larabee or Mr. Sanchez why you have suddenly disappeared one day after seeming to have received a fatal wound. Or when a stranger comes to town that you are forced to kill in such a violent method. Which, by the way is not allowed either. We are to avoid allowing mortals to view our challenges at all costs."
"But why do you care, Ezra?" Nathan asked exasperation in his voice. He really didn't understand why Ezra would burden himself with the task of enlightening him.
"Do you really see me as so mercenary?" Ezra asked sadly.
Nathan's jaw dropped open for a second before he said, "Ezra, only a few weeks ago you were making bets on who would win a fight to the death between Buck and Don Paolo."
"Ah," Ezra said, understanding blooming. "I see. You are correct. You must forgive me, I sometimes forget..." he paused and looked Nathan in the eye. "I would never have let Buck die."
Nathan saw the sincerity in his eyes and sighed. "I know that. I don't know why, but I do."
"I simply want to teach you to protect yourself, Nathan. I have no wish to lose another friend to the sword."
The healer nodded. "How did you die the first time? How old are you, Ezra?" he asked suddenly.
Ezra sat back in his chair and considered the question. "Old enough," he said slyly.
"That's not fair, you know when I died," Nathan protested.
Ezra smiled as he rose from the chair and headed for the door. "Ah, but Nathan, you should know by now, life is rarely fair." He winked at the dark man and opened the door. "We should set aside some time each day to practice. Perhaps we can convince the others to participate. It might be useful some day," he said enigmatically as he left the room.
Nathan stared at the door for a long time as parts of their conversation tumbled around in his mind. Immortal. That was something he had never even considered in all the time he'd been trying to figure out what was so different about him compared to other people... mortals.
He shook his head. Unbelievable. Why would people who could live forever... just how long could an Immortal live? Why would you waste your time hunting down others of your kind to kill them? Just what was this Quickening that made the Game so compelling to some?
Nathan sighed. Seemed he had more questions than Ezra had answers for. But perhaps they could discover some of them together. He smiled. Maybe he could corner Maude the next time she came into town. He found it difficult to believe that his parents weren't really his parents. After all, it would be strange for a Negro child to just appear on someone's doorstep on a slave plantation without causing a lot of brouhaha. No, Ezra had to have that part wrong, but you would think there would be a whole lot of Negro Immortals running around, let alone others after the violence of the war, so why had he never met one before Ezra? And what about the times he'd felt a Quickening near during the war?
He sighed again and looked at his clock. It was almost dawn. He should really get some sleep. Evidently he had plenty of time to find answers to his questions. Nathan huffed amusedly. I wonder how old he really is? He frowned. And why on earth would he think the others would find it useful to learn to sword fight?
Feedback is greatly appreaciated. JudyL