RATING: PG some mild language.... no violence, unless you count the clock
CATEGORY: Challenge - PQL AU (Project Quantum Leap)
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra and Vin
DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended. Elements of this story also reflect the television series "Quantum Leap". No infringements on their copyrights are intended either.
FEEDBACK: Yes please! comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
SPOILERS: For my PQL Stories. You might want to read them first: PQL Rodeo Days; PQL Be There; PQL Fair and PQL Bright Part of the Sky PQL Outside Denver, PQL Keep On.
NOTE: The September 2004 Challenge: offered by Helen W: What I'd like to see are stories which explore events which are pivotal in establishing the standard canon/fanon relationships amongst the guys.
SUMMARY: Okay, so we're going back to my PQL AU. The initial meeting of Ezra and Vin
DATE: September 24, 2004, housekeeping done on January 3, 2010
PQL: Time on our Side
By NotTasha...Time, time time... see what's become of me...
Vin moved through the canteen, carefully toting his tray,
maneuvering around the chairs that were left askew by the dinner crowd. He
twisted his hips one way, and then another, giving a chair a kick to get it out
of his way. Even after midnight, with the place nearly vacant, there were
reminders of the workforce that staffed this place. The lunch room usually buzzed, but the quiet and calm set better with Tanner.
Vin figured that the best part about having a lot of time on his hands was that he could take advantage of the late-night stillness, free of the claustrophobic crowds. But that didn’t mean he wanted to be all alone.
“Hey,” he greeted as he approached the sole occupant of the room.
The man looked up at him dismissively and returned his gaze to his book. “Good morning,” the man drawled, divulging a southern upbringing. He sat back, looking comfortable in the uncompromising chair. In spite of the late hour, he was neatly dressed and clean-shaven, but his brown hair looked as if he’d run his hands through it more than once, and his face seemed tired and drawn.
Vin dropped his load to the table and picked up a square alarm clock that Standish had set before him. It was a familiar object; all of the living quarters were equipped with the same appliances. It was emblazed with the PQL logo, making Vin wonder where they’d had the work done. The project, after all, was top secret. Did someone have the work sent out under strictest confidentiality, or did a secret clock factory exist somewhere within the warren of hallways?
Vin regarded the dial, seeing that it was 2:10. “Yeah, I guess it is morning,” Vin responded.
The other man glanced at Vin’s ‘snack’ and asked, “Hungry?”
Tanner laughed. “Yeah, most the time,” he replied as he sat. “I was just layin’ in bed thinkin’ about what might be out here tonight and I couldn’t help myself. It’s not as if I gotta get up early tomorrow.” He moved to replace the clock, but his arm clipped his overly tall cup of ice cream. Dropping the clock, he pulled his hand back from the dessert, nearly spilling his bowl of Sugar Pops. “Aw hell,” he muttered, finding his arm coated in a layer of chocolate and vanilla. He wiped most of the stuff off his skin with a napkin. The rest, he licked. “I’m Vin Tanner,” he introduced, as he worked at cleanup.
The other man smiled congenially and responded with, “Ezra Standish. You’ll forgive me if I forego shaking your hand. I wouldn’t want to get chocolate on my Chaucer.” And he gestured to the book.
“Good book?” Vin asked as he sat.
Ezra shrugged, tilting the book enough so that Tanner could see the text. “Slow going,” he confessed.
"Yeah, so why do you bother?"
The other man grinned, dimpling his cheeks. "Some things need a little time and effort to understand. I suppose I enjoy that challenge."
“Yeah, I get it,” Tanner commented as he tried to read a line from the book, upside-down from his point of view. He blinked, damning his dyslexia. It hardly looked like English. Wanting to change the subject before Standish asked him something embarrassing about the sorts of books he read, Vin stated, “Sorry about the clock.”
Ezra shrugged. “It’s rather shock-proof,” he stated. “And its current position is rather indicative of this project, wouldn’t you say?”
“Huh?” Vin returned.
“Time tipped,” Ezra returned smoothly, gesturing to the turned clock. The device had landed on its side, with the “12” where the “9” should be. “Isn’t that what Mr. Larabee is attempting.”
“I think he said something about string,” Vin replied.
Vin made a move to correct the clock, but Ezra stopped him, saying, “Leave it as it is. It really makes no difference.”
“Kinda hard to read it that way.”
Ezra shrugged. "I'll be able to figure it out after a moment's pondering. Besides, I have nowhere to go anytime soon.”
“Then why do you got it here?”
Ezra blinked at Vin and shrugged again. “I couldn’t say for sure.” He looked puzzled as he thought. “I suppose it’s a habit. Although I love my leisure, I’ve always been painfully aware of time and its passing. Makes no difference here.” He let out a breath and stated, “For some reason, when I left my room, I brought only my book and my clock. Curious, isn’t it? Maybe it has something to do with this project. Time seems to be on everyone's minds.”
“Yeah,” Vin agreed, rearranging his treats in the order they’d be consumed. He’d start with what was left of the soft-serve ice cream, then move onto the large bag of Doritos with a side of nacho cheez sauce. Next would be the cookies and finally with the Sugar Pops with a carton of milk for breakfast. “Why'd you come out here to read? The room’s more comfortable.”
“I am a social animal by nature. I suppose I came thinking that there might be other souls about.”
“Not at this hour.” Vin snorted. “This place is full of smart-assed scientists, dumb-assed bookkeepers, tight-assed government officials…” Vin waved one hand exasperatedly while he picked up a spoon with the other and started in on his ice cream. “You know, the 'stick in the mud', ‘early to bed’ sort.”
“There are a few exceptions,” Ezra stated.
“Yeah, the Advisors. They musta turned in early for a change. You spend any time with them?”
“Not as yet.”
“They seem okay,” Vin stated with a nod. “Buck seems like a regular guy. He’s pretty smart, and one of the most devoted fellas you could fine. And then there’s Josiah – can flatten ya if he’s riled, but stays pretty damn calm most of the time. JD’s a good kid, smarter than most of those ‘pole-up-the-butt’ scientists. Then there’s Nathan… I like him. He’s got this… strength about him, yet he’s real caring, ya know?”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Ezra said with a nod. “And what do you think about Mr. Larabee?”
Vin sat up straight. “God, I think I’d follow him anywhere. Funny, I ain’t been much of a follower before.” He looked to Ezra and continued, “He’s one of the best. Heck, they all are.”
“So it would seem,” Ezra stated, his pale green eyes seeming to seek something in Vin before he returned his gaze to his book.
“You just got here, didn’t ya?” Vin asked.
“Five days ago,” Ezra responded.
“You been keeping yourself scarce.”
“It’s my nature to play my cards close to the vest.”
“Thought you said you were a social animal?”
“I’m an enigma,” Ezra returned, straight-faced.
Vin frowned, not letting himself be annoyed by the unfamiliar word. “Ain’t seen you in the canteen at all. I spend a lot of time here, too. Sure I would've seen ya.”
“I usually eat in my room. I don’t feel exactly comfortable under all the scrutiny right now.”
“Don’t care much for that either.” Vin ate another bite of ice cream, wondering if the rumors he’d heard about Standish were true – that the man was passing funny money, gained by betraying certain confidences. Both men were quiet while Tanner thought. “It’s a pretty good deal here,” he said finally, wanting to dispel the uncomfortable feeling. “Free food. All you can eat. Inez leaves out all this stuff for snacking. And it’s the big bags of chips and not those skimp-o little bags. You want any?” He clamped his spoon in his mouth and opened the bag of Doritos to spill them onto the tray. One chip fell into the ice cream, a few more ended up in the cereal.
Ezra smiled again, and returned, “Thank you, but no. I have my coffee.” And he gestured to the cup at his elbow.
Vin pulled the spoon out of his mouth and sagely stated, “Shouldn’t be drinkin’ coffee this time of night. It’ll keep you up.”
To that, Ezra raised an eyebrow. “Well, it doesn’t help me sleep, that’s for certain.”
Tanner nodded, regarding Standish who looked exhausted. “I know what you mean. This place don’t feel quite right, does it?”
“Not particularly.” Ezra sighed and continued, “I really don’t believe that this place is right for me. I'm rather misplaced.”
“Heck, I know I don’t belong here. I was pumping gas in Oregon a couple weeks ago. Figure I ain't the sharpest tool in this shed -- so many scientists and programmers and crap crawling all over. They got a brain trust going on here, and I’m the pet moron.” Disgusted, Vin stuck the spoon in to what was left of his ice cream.
“Hardly a moron,” Ezra commented, laying down his book and picking up his coffee. “And I wouldn’t call you a ‘tool’.” He quirked a smile at that statement. “Mr. Larabee brought you in because he thought so highly of you. You, my friend, are here for a reason.”
“Ain’t found a use for me yet,” Tanner grumbled, flicking the chip out of his ice cream. It landed with a ‘ploik’ beside the cereal. He left the other stray chips in the pile of Pops. “I’m just here as an Advisor if Chris ever gets his time machine working. Help him out when he’s traveling. Figures my backcountry experience would help him.” He shook his head, wondering why anyone would be interested in what he had to say. “Other than that, I’m just dead weight. Nothing but time on my hands. I could take a crash course in physics and that crap, but no matter how hard I try, I ain’t gonna be as smart as JD, or Josiah or any of those others.”
“No need for that. Your skills supersede any need for that. One must just be patient,” Ezra told him. “Time is on our side.”
“Why you say that?”
“In an expanding universe, time is on the side of the outcast,” Ezra filled in.
“Yeah? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I read it in a book by Quentin Crisp. In an expanding universe, those that lie on the fringes, will eventually be caught up in the midst of everything. One only need wait, and without changing, the rest of the world will change around oneself.”
Vin chuckled. “So you’re saying that we should just expect everyone else to change for us?”
“More or less. You don’t need to change, Mr. Tanner. And I know I certainly won’t,” Ezra stated as he pressed a hand to his chest with a knowing grin. “Time is on our side. Use this quiet to relax. Let the others work.”
“Not really my way of doin’ things,” Vin responded.
“Mr. Larabee will most certainly use your wisdom, and you’ll be more than busy if this dog-and-pony-show actually becomes successful. He may be caught up in things beyond his experience, and will need a calm voice to guide him. Don’t try to be anyone except yourself. You will become one of the most important people in the facility.”
“Doubt that,” Vin said with a laugh. “What about you. Why're you here?”
“Because I’m a cheat and a sneaky bastard,” Ezra returned, eyeing the Doritos. “Sometimes a cheat comes in handy. I’ve been hired to get Mr. Larabee out of jams if he ever begins his time tripping.”
“So you’re an Advisor, too? Got any degrees in time travel?”
Ezra shook his head. “Not exactly.”
“Guess we’re both just waiting around.”
Ezra nodded. “With all the time in the world.”
Vin pulled the lid off of his cooling container of nacho cheez and gestured to Standish. “Want some chips.”
“What’s the point of putting nacho sauce on Doritos that are already nacho flavored?” Ezra asked skeptically.
“It’s damn tasty! Try it!”
Cautiously, Ezra reached across the table, picked up a chip from Tanner’s mound and dipped it into the sauce. Tanner watched him, grinning as Standish tried it. “Okay,” Ezra admitted. “So, it’s good.”
Vin shoved the tray to the middle of the table so that they both could get at it. “I like dipping my pizza into ranch dressing,” Vin supplied. “You should try that sometime.”
“Hmm,” was all Ezra could say about that.
“Hey,” Vin started, then concentrated on gooping as much nacho sauce as he could onto one Dorito. He started again, in a low voice, “Ya hear about that brain scan thing that they want to do to all the Advisors?”
“I believe Mr. Larabee has mentioned it once or twice… possibly six or seven times.”
“What do you think about it?” Vin paused, letting the chip rest in the ooze. He pressed a finger to his temple, leaving a cheezy-orange mark, and asked, “You know, getting into that machine and letting them zap your head.” He waited, unsure. JD, Buck and the others had immediately participated and were quick to placate his fears, saying it was nothing. But Vin had seen the mechanism… the ominous, confining machine that drew in bodies like an incinerator. It did things to one’s brain. It scared the be-geebers out of him.
Here he was, Vin Tanner, a bush pilot, who’d climbed mountain faces, had braved Alaska in winter, had stared down grizzly bears, had survived storms that made the old-timers pale, and yet he was afraid of that device. Nobody else minded it. God, it made him feel weak.
Ezra stabbed at the cheez glop with a chip, angling Vin’s forgotten chip away with his pinky. “I have been doing my best to avoid the scan.”
Vin smiled, relieved. “So you don’t like it either?”
Standish grimaced and stated, “And I don’t want anybody in my mind.”
“It’s to help Chris, though,” Vin rationalized. “They need that… neuro-imprint thing. The whole point of us being here is so we can contact him while he’s in the past, and the only way he can get to us is if we got this brain-lock set up.” Tanner rubbed at his head. “Makes sense I guess.”
“Possibly,” Ezra added.
“We couldn’t leave him out there alone.”
“I wouldn’t want to be in that position. Imagine that – lost in time without any contact with the present.” Ezra shuddered. “I would desire some sort of communication, some manner of touching home.”
“‘Cause you’re a social animal.”
Vin let loose a breath. “I couldn’t let him do this alone. But, I just got this thing about tight places,” Vin admitted.
“I prefer to be unrestrained as well, so I can appreciate your concern.”
Tanner finally retrieved his chip. It sagged dangerously and he had to cup the soggy morsel to get it to his mouth. He made a face after he stuffed it in. “Not so good,” he stated as he chewed. “It’s better when they’re crisp.”
“I would think so,” Ezra commented. He dug through the remaining chips until he found a perfect triangle. “So, what do you think about all this.” He gestured with his free hand, dipping with the other. “Is Larabee a madman, or do you believe he has a chance at success?”
Vin furrowed his brow. “Guess we gotta believe in it … I mean… we’re here.”
Ezra grinned contritely. “I have no false aspirations. He offered me a place to live and a paycheck. That was all I was looking for.”
“But aren’t you curious? Maybe his string theory actually works.”
“He’s failed six times already.”
“He’s still tryin’. Maybe he just doesn’t have the right group of people workin’ on it yet. He might just be missing some pieces.”
“He’s crazy,” Ezra answered succinctly. “This isn’t the Sci-Fi Channel. This is real life.”
“Yeah, but…” Vin picked up the chip that had been stuck in the ice cream – now melted ice cream -- and popped it into his mouth. “Not so bad,” he commented with a thoughtful look, then continued on his previous tack, “… don’t you like the idea of going back and fixing what went wrong in your life?”
Ezra gave him a bleak look. “My friend,” he stated, “That would take decades to correct.”
Vin paused, gauging the seriousness of the response, before continuing, “Think about all the things that Chris is going to see if this works. He can be there during all the major news events of his lifetime!”
“Better him than me,” Standish responded. “I have no desire to mess with time. Keep me here, thank you very much. I’ll be more than happy to offer him advice while I’m safe within these walls.”
“So you think it’ll work? You’re going to do the brain scan thing?”
Ezra shrugged and offered no further answer to that question.
Vin unwrapped the chocolate chip cookies from their plastic. “I’m thinking I might get more involved in the project.”
“Why bother?” Ezra asked. “The living is easy.”
“Yeah, but I’m not used to just sittin’ around. It’s time I started doing something. JD, Buck, Josiah and Nathan are all working on stuff. Maybe I’ll join ‘em. It wouldn’t hurt.” He bit into a cookie and then set it on top of his cereal bowl.
“Wouldn’t hurt,” Ezra echoed and yawned. “Maybe we’re the missing pieces. I hear he'll make the seventh attempt in a couple days.”
Vin eyed his companion, wondering how a man could look so tired when he had nothing to do. “Should make life more interesting,” Vin declared. “I know hard work helps me sleep at night.”
Ezra barked a laugh and stated, “Menial labor is something I avoid at all costs, but I can see a point to your comments.” He wearily sighed and muttered, “It’s time I did something or I shall soon go mad.”
The nacho cheez sauce was dwindling, cooling and sticking to the sides of the plastic cup, getting as hard as the plastic itself. Ezra pulled a napkin from the dispenser and sat back, wiping off his hands. Vin dipped one of the chips into the runny ice cream, and stuck it on top of his cookie. The hour grew ever later.
Finally, with a sigh, Ezra stood. “I’m afraid I must be going, Mr. Tanner,” he stated civilly.
“You goin’ to bed?” Vin asked.
Ezra nodded. “Perhaps Morpheus will find me this time.” He yawned again and stretched. “For some reason, I believe it will work this time.”
“I’ll be headin’ t’my place in a minute. Just want to finish my snack.”
Ezra raised an eyebrow, watching as Tanner dabbed more ice cream onto his cookie creation. Vin plucked a few Sugar Pops from the bowl and stuck them onto the cookie. To avoid coming in contact with the mess, Ezra stepped back as he raised his hand in farewell. “I’ll see you later, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra stated.
“You gonna be eatin' in the canteen maybe?” Vin asked.
Ezra shrugged, committing to nothing, but Vin took it as an affirmative.
"See ya 'round," Vin responded and watched as the Advisor walked away, his book tucked under his arm.
It was only once Ezra had left the room that Tanner’s eyes fell on the forgotten clock. He would have shouted after Standish, but it was a silly thing to worry about, and he figured it gave him an excuse to find Standish later – talk with him a bit more. He liked talking with Ezra and hoped they had more time for that.
He placed a finger on the side of the clock, to right it, but abandoned the idea, leaving it resting on its side. No need to bother with that, he figured. He wasn’t going anywhere soon.
Vin made a face, as he suddenly realized something -- he should have shook Standish’s hand – not a good way to start a friendship he figured – with his hands covered in ice cream and nacho dust. Still, he’d always have time later, he figured.
Time, after all, was on their side.
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