Much thanks to my most excellent betas "Lyl_devil" and "ithildyn"
Summary: This is an alternate version of the Magnificent 7 episode 'Love and Honor'. I have used bits of dialog and action from that episode but things don't necessarily unfold as they did then.
Author's Note: One other difference from the original episode: Don Paolo does not employ the Pico Chavez gang and they will not be appearing in this AU.
All Methos wanted to do was get to San Francisco and catch a boat away from the godforsaken wilderness of the new world. Unfortunately, too many of the small Texas towns he'd stopped in on his way out of the west had an Immortal in residence just itching for a fight. This country seemed to breed them like rabbits, another reason to be on his way.
Discretion being the better part of valor had found him sneaking out of one small town after another before any of the challenges could be brought to fruition. He'd lost his taste for the Game and the killing of novice swordsmen.
Avoiding any further population centers in this state, Methos pushed on to the border of the New Mexico territory. He'd had enough of Texas.
+ + + + + + +
After too many days in the saddle and nights spent sleeping on the cold ground, Methos decided it was time to risk civilization. While his financial situation was secure, his supplies were running low. As he rode down the main street, he searched his awareness and was relieved at the lack of Immortal presence. It seemed that New Mexico might mean a few days respite from his journey. He was looking forward to a real bed and large quantities of alcohol.
Methos dismounted his horse in front of the hotel. As he flipped the reins over the hitching post, he felt the uncomfortable twitch of scrutiny. Turning to his left he saw three men arrayed in front of the jail. The big man with the mustache and his younger companion looked away quickly pretending that they hadn't noticed him. The third man dressed mostly in black smiled and tipped his hat as he leaned against one of the overhang's support posts. The smile was almost feral and Methos recognized the warning in the greeting.
He returned the gesture sending assurances that he meant no trouble as he met the other man's gaze. By their location in front of the jail and the glare of the blond man, he assumed that at least one of them represented the law in town.
Methos was well aware of the disreputable visage he presented. Long days in the saddle had dictated a change from his usual tailored suit into a simple checked shirt and brown pants under his duster. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd shaved.
Once he had procured a room, his next stop would be the bath house and a return to more respectable clothing. The last thing he needed was for anyone, especially the law in this tiny hamlet, to decide he represented the dangerous element. Immortals weren't the only idiot Americans itching for a fight.
+ + + + + + +
Chris watched as the stranger disappeared into the hotel.
"You thinkin' he might be trouble?" Buck asked as he came to stand beside the gunslinger.
"Maybe," Chris replied and turned to JD. "Watch for him and see where he goes. We'll be in the saloon."
JD nodded and repositioned his chair to have a better vantage point on the hotel's entrance.
Instead of heading directly across the street, Chris detoured down the boardwalk to get a better look at the man's horse before heading to his original destination.
"Horse been rode hard," he said with disgust to Buck as they passed by the animal. A man should take care of his horse before himself - something they all learned quickly riding the trail.
"Yep," Buck agreed.
Vin was just exiting the saloon when he met Chris' worried frown with a quirk of his eyebrow.
"Stranger in town," Chris replied to the unspoken inquiry.
"Trouble?" Vin asked.
Buck snickered. "You know Chris. This town goes three days without trouble and he goes looking for it."
"Has been a might quiet lately." Vin smiled in agreement. "Chris don't really care for quiet."
The subtle teasing brought a small smile to their leader's lips. "When the shooting starts, I get to say I told you so." Stepping past Vin, he entered the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
Methos exited the hotel intent on seeing to his horse. The Hotel manager had confirmed that the men he'd seen were indeed the law along with four others. It had not surprised him to learn that the blond man in black, Chris Larabee, was their leader.
As he led the animal down the main street toward the livery, he noticed the young man in the bowler hat from before, watching him. Methos realized that scrutiny was to be expected. He was, after all, a stranger in a small town.
Methos finished boarding his horse, collected his supplies and then headed to the bath house. If he was to convince the local lawman he had no nefarious intent, it was best to look the part of a gentleman.
An hour later, he emerged from the hotel dressed in a tailored grey suit, matching black hat and gun belt at his waist. During his travels around the town, he'd confirmed that there were no Immortals and decided to risk leaving his sword in his hotel room. The shift away from the days of swordplay as the major form of defense was making carrying the Ivanhoe more awkward. Someday he knew he would have to determine a way to conceal it on his person but for now his gun would be enough to protect him if necessary.
He nodded to the young lawman as he crossed the street and pushed his way through the batwing doors of the saloon.
Pausing to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim interior, he noticed Chris Larabee seated with three others at a table on a raised platform to his left. All had paused to look at him as he'd entered. He'd confirmed that Buck Wilmington was the mustachioed man he'd seen earlier. Methos wondered if the other two at the table were lawmen as well. The long haired man in buckskin certainly looked dangerous but the gentleman in an emerald green coat seemed more interested in the poker game than in the new stranger in town.
He acknowledged Larabee's gaze with a nod of his head as he strode to the bar and ordered a whiskey. He was not surprised to find himself flanked by Larabee and Wilmington moments after the delivery of his drink. But he was surprised to sense the faint hum of a pre-Immortal buzz. He turned to look at the big man and confirmed that it was coming from Wilmington.
Methos hid his surprise. He rarely ran into his kind before their turn to Immortality. Given that Buck was a lawman in the uncivilized west, he figured it was only a matter of time before the inevitable.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" Methos asked.
"We like to get to know the new people in town," Chris said an edge of warning in his voice. "You planning on staying long?"
"Now Chris," Buck chided. "Don't go scaring the new folk off. Maybe he has legitimate business in our town." Buck looked at Methos and smiled. "That right, Mr. - "
Methos had run through his list of aliases in his mind. He opted for one of his favorite personas and one he hadn't used recently, "Adams. Dr. Benjamin Adams," he said and held out his hand.
"Well, it's nice to meet you Doctor Adams," Buck replied as he emphasized the title and directed a smirk at Chris. "I'm Buck Wilmington and the suspicious one is Chris Larabee."
He turned and acknowledged the gunslinger, "Mr. Larabee." Methos knew he had chosen wisely. There were very few people who were less threatening than those in the medical profession.
"You thinking of setting up shop here?" Buck asked. "'Cause we already got Nathan. He ain't a real doctor but he's patched me up good a few times."
Methos found himself warming to the big man. Buck definitely had a way about him that naturally put others at ease. "No, I plan on continuing my travels west after a few days rest; just wanted a drink, or two, and perhaps a game of cards. " He downed his drink in one swallow to emphasize his point and indicated to the barkeep to pour another.
"Well then, you've come to the right place," Buck said as he clapped Methos' shoulder and spun him around. "Ezra there is always looking for fresh players." Buck pointed to the table and the man in the green jacket he'd noted moments ago.
"Then I will oblige him," Methos said. "Will you be joining me, Mr. Wilmington? Mr. Larabee?"
"No thanks, Dr. Adams, I'll be on my way." Chris finished his drink and with a glance at Buck to "watch him", he exited the Saloon.
"Guess I can afford to play a few more hands," Buck said cheerfully. "And call me Buck."
"Your Mr. Larabee doesn't seem to like me," Methos grinned. He respected that kind of wariness. You didn't get to be his age without a natural sense of self-preservation
"Don't mind Chris. Sometimes he gets these ideas about people. Never can tell where they come from," Buck explained.
Methos nodded and followed Buck to the gaming table.
+ + + + + + +
Methos' attention was drawn to the entrance of the Saloon as JD entered and headed towards his friends at the table.
"My shadow," Methos greeted him. "Has our Mr. Larabee absolved you of your observational duties or are you planning to watch me from the confines of the saloon?"
JD stared at Methos. "He talks crazier than you, Ezra."
"The good doctor is simply a man of distinguished education and a gentleman," Ezra replied, sounding not a little bit pleased at that.
Buck laughed. "Sit down, JD, before you realize that you've been insulted."
The young lawman shrugged and took the chair between Methos and Vin. "Just don't understand why people gotta use such big words."
"Because the look on your face as you try to decipher them is so delightful," Ezra replied. "Now, Dr. Adams, I believe it was your deal."
Methos collected the deck and began to shuffle. "I am fascinated that seven such diverse men have come together to protect this simple town."
"I have no explanation for my association with these ruffians," Ezra said. "It seems that I continue to get drawn into these exciting exploits through no decision of my own."
"You love us," Buck joked.
"Not a word I would associate with any of you," Ezra replied with a small smile which revealed his unspoken affection for the profession he'd chosen. "You, on the other hand, seem to take great pleasure in our regular show of force."
"Someone has to watch JD's back," Buck replied. "Figured I'd stick around and make sure he don't get himself killed."
"I ain't a kid, Buck," JD protested. "I can handle myself."
Methos laughed. "I bet you can."
JD smiled. "Thank you." The others just chuckled. "I can!"
"What about you, Mr. Tanner?"
"Got tired of watching my own back; figured it'd be easier to stay alive with six others to help me do it."
Methos was sure Vin had voiced the true reason that the seven had banded together. Immortality had meant spending most of his life on his own, but there were times he missed the camaraderie of men he could trust at his back. He found himself enjoying the company of the lawmen, something he found quite unusual. It had been a long time since he'd met any mortals worth knowing.
The card game continued well into the night. Nathan had stopped by briefly, hoping to discuss his medical knowledge and he had promised the healer that tomorrow he would share all he knew.
"Well gentlemen," Methos said as he gathered his meager winnings. "I shall stop while I am ahead. I thank you for this small contribution to my travels."
"Seems you're the only one who came out ahead," Vin said.
"That is untrue, Vin," Ezra said. "I find myself the recipient of your hard earned cash as well."
Buck looked between the two men. "Hell. Shoulda' known better than to play with the two of them."
"Yep," JD agreed. "Talks like Ezra and dresses like Ezra. Should of known he'd play poker like him too."
"I assure you, JD, that while Doctor Adam's garments are quite tasteful, I myself would never wear such a dreary color. No offense, sir," he added quickly.
Buck laughed. "Ezra likes colors you can see in the dark."
"So I noticed," Methos said eyeing the emerald green coat the southerner wore. "Until tomorrow." He nodded his farewells and exited the saloon.
+ + + + + + +
Methos had slept late luxuriating in a real bed for the first time in weeks. Even before his travels across the Texas wilderness, he'd found himself camping out too often for his liking. It was on those mornings that he wondered why he'd ever left Europe in the fist place.
He dressed and headed over to the saloon. Methos was looking forward to finding Nathan and fulfilling his promise of a comprehensive medical discussion. As he approached his destination, he overheard Ezra and Nathan teasing a befuddled Buck.
"That girl's 'never' is gonna turn into a 'yes' faster than a jackrabbit with its tail on fire," Buck declared before storming off.
"I'd say your rabbit's already been cooked, Buck. Nunca!" Nathan yelled after the retreating figure.
"What was that all about?' Methos asked as he joined the two.
"It seems Buck has set his sights on our lovely bartender Senorita Inez," Ezra explained.
"And been shot down for his efforts," Nathan said, still chuckling.
"Really? I was under the impression from him last night that there was no woman alive who could resist his charm."
This brought a fresh round of laughter from the two men. "So he would like us to believe," Ezra said. "But the reality is much different."
"Should be fun to watch him get shot down again," Nathan said. ""Cause that woman ain't fallin' for any of Buck's lines."
Methos laughed along with them. "Nathan, I have yet to eat. If you would care to join me, we can discuss some of those medical questions you have. You're welcome too, Ezra."
"As much as I rely on Nathan's expertise, I have no desire to be present as he acquires it. Enjoy your repast." Ezra tipped his hat. "Gentlemen." He headed down the street.
+ + + + + + +
"Nathan, you may not have formal medical training, but I am quite impressed with your breadth of knowledge," Methos said as they exited the restaurant after their meal. He hadn't been a practicing doctor in many years, but his fascination with the profession had kept him abreast of many of the latest discoveries in the field which he had been pleased to share with the town's healer.
"Been a real education, bein' able to talk with you, Ben," Nathan said. "I still have more questions but I promised Josiah I'd help him over at the church."
"I've yet to meet your seventh member. If it's agreeable, I'd like to accompany you and we can continue our discussion."
As they approached the church, JD came running up to them. "D'you hear about Buck?"
When both men shook their heads, JD continued. "He challenged some Mexican fella that wants to take Inez away. They're meeting at one o'clock to discuss the terms of engagement. What d'ya think that means? 'Cause what's to discuss. It's just a gunfight, right?"
"JD, it ain't never just a gunfight. Someone's gonna get shot, maybe die," Nathan chastised him.
Methos stilled as he listened to JD's words. In his experience 'Terms of Engagement' did not always mean pistols. Pistols hadn't even been the weapon of choice until the last few decades. "Is Buck good?' he asked. Though he knew he must be to have been a successful lawman for so long. Methos just hoped that his luck had not run out.
"Hell yeah," JD confirmed.
A grey haired man wandered down the steps of the church. "What's all the excitement?"
"Hey, Josiah," JD said and repeated his recitation of Buck's challenge for the preacher.
Josiah just shook his head.
"I just can't believe that Buck would go this far over a woman," Nathan said
"A woman can get a powerful hold on a man that's for sure," Josiah intoned sagely.
"Cities have been laid siege to, all for the want of a beautiful woman," Methos said. Holding out his hand to the preacher, he added, "Dr. Benjamin Adams. You must be Josiah Sanchez. I've met your other six compatriots already."
"Good to meet ya," Josiah said. "You've read the Iliad?"
Methos smiled. He'd been thinking of a more personal adventure from his past but Troy fit. "Yes. It seems Buck is following the ancient tradition in defending a lady's honor with battle."
"Gentlemen, can I interest you in the opportunity to place a small wager on Buck's upcoming contest. I'm giving even odds so you best act expeditiously," Ezra said as he approached their gathering to stand next to Methos.
"You're taking bets on Buck's fight," Nathan said, the disapproval clear in his tone.
"I am merely providing a service for interested parties," Ezra explained. "How about you, Doctor Adams? Our Mr. Wilmington is quite adept and I have no doubt he will prevail."
"No thank you Ezra. I'm not much for wagering on a man's life," Methos replied. Though there were times in the past that such contests had held enormous interest for him. Sighing to himself he wondered if he was simply getting old.
"I share your dismay at today's public demand for entertainment. Why it calls to mind the decline and fall of Rome -"
"Ezra," Josiah interrupted. "Shut up." He headed into the church.
Ezra sputtered into silence. Laughing Methos clapped him on the back. "Still, if you don't, someone else will."
"You, Doctor Adams, are a man of intelligence; unlike some." Ezra glared at Nathan before departing with a smile for Methos.
+ + + + + + +
At one o'clock, Methos stood on the boardwalk watching as the seven approached Don Paolo. Methos felt unease in the pit of his stomach as he eyed the box carried by Raphael.
His worst fear was confirmed as the box was opened to reveal a set of swords. He listened as Buck argued about the terms of engagement.
"Stand down, Buck," Ezra said. "We'll figure another way out of this."
Methos nodded his agreement and silently pleaded for the big man to listen. He was sure the southerner was clever enough to come up with a solution.
"Well, Senor?" Don Paolo asked.
"Well hell, they're just long butter knives," Buck said accepting the challenge.
Don Paolo tossed the sword at Buck. "We meet tomorrow morning," he said before striding away.
The irony of the situation was almost too much for Methos. The man would most likely die because of his ineptitude with a blade only to revive and have to spend the rest of his Immortal life using one to defend himself.
He watched as Buck's friends shook their heads but wished him luck.
Buck took a few crude swings with the blade. Methos suspected it might actually be the first time the man had ever held one.
"This ain't so bad," he said, sounding less confident then he was trying to portray.
"Buck, let us retire to the church," Ezra said. "I think I might be able to offer some assistance."
Methos stood rooted to his spot on the boardwalk as he watched Ezra lead Buck down the street. He'd done everything he could to try and remove himself from the Game and yet circumstances continued to conspire to bring him back to it.
Torn between watching the inevitable occur in the morning and the strange desire to do something to ward it off, Methos tried to convince himself that his best option was to just leave town now.
Damn! he thought. Reluctantly, Methos headed up to his hotel room to retrieve his Ivanhoe. Nothing he could teach the man in the next sixteen hours would save him and yet he was going to help.
He hadn't had a student in decades, nor did he want one now. Still, after five thousands years of existence, Methos had come to believe those like him should reap some benefit of Immortality and he liked Buck enough that he felt a certain obligation to at least give him the basic tools of survival. No sense waiting until after he died.
Even as he climbed the stairs to his hotel room to retrieve the Ivanhoe, Methos continued to argue with himself about his course of action. He should just ride out of town and leave the man to his fate.
It wasn't like him to get involved. He'd run into many Immortals over the years and walked away from as many as possible. He avoided the Game and left the others to fight their petty duels for a mythical prize that Methos doubted even existed.
When Buck died at the hands of Don Paolo, as Methos was sure he would, the gunslinger would revive. His friends would hail Nathan as a miracle worker and no one would be the wiser. This wasn't the Middle Ages where such resurrections were marked as the work of the Devil
Buck's life would go on - until the next Immortal came to town. That was as inevitable as the sunrise considering the number of Immortals this country seemed to be producing. Without any preparation or training, Buck would lose his head for sure.
Pausing in front of his room, he sighed, knowing that he'd be handing Buck a death sentence if he left. Methos had been called a cold bastard by many and he wondered when that thought had started to bother him.
He opened the door, grabbed his sword and left the room. As the door snicked shut behind him, he knew the decision was made. He was staying.
After the duel he would have to find a way to remove Buck's body from town so that the man could revive out of sight of prying eyes. Methos doubted the six men who called Buck friend would just let him ride away with the corpse. Digging Buck out of his grave might not be an option as there was no guarantee that the burial would take place in time.
Plus, Methos was unsure of his ability to get the newly Immortal Buck to walk away from his friends. The man might be stupid enough to want to continue to make a life here.
Taking a deep breath, Methos banished thoughts of any real preparation. He headed down the steps and outside toward the church. He'd just have to hope he was as clever as he believed himself to be when the unavoidable occurred.
+ + + + + + +
Methos paused in the doorway of the church, surprised at the scene before him. Ezra and Nathan were dueling. He hadn't expected any of the seven to know how to handle a sword.
It didn't last long, but in the few moments he observed, he was able to assess each man's skills. Ezra, like so many southern gentlemen, had a rudimentary understanding of swordplay. He had good form, but lacked the training to be of much use in a real sword fight.
Nathan, on the other hand, showed some skill even though he looked uncomfortable with the blade. He could certainly teach Buck enough to keep the big man from embarrassing himself.
"Dr. Adams, have you come to offer some expertise?" Ezra called when he caught sight of Methos hovering in the doorway, sword in hand.
"I had, but it seems Buck already has an instructor." Methos nodded at Nathan.
"Hell, join us Doc," Buck said waving him forward. "I can use all the expertise I can get."
"That's quite an impressive blade," Ezra commented as Methos approached. "How did you come to own such a weapon?"
"Family heirloom," he replied. "But as Nathan already has already supplied a second blade I see that mine is unnecessary."
It hadn't occurred to Methos that one of the others might have a sword. His only thought had been to aid in Buck's instruction. There were swords that were for show and others that could be used for friendly contests but the Ivanhoe was a blade designed for killing.
"You any good with one of these things?" Buck asked.
Methos quirked a smile. "I have a passing knowledge of swordplay." He placed the Ivanhoe on a bench. "But I don't think my sword is appropriate for this endeavor," he said and reached for the blade in Ezra's hand. "May I?"
"By all means," Ezra said as he relinquished the weapon and stepped aside.
Methos could feel the others watching him as he moved through a complex series of stretches and maneuvers to get a feel for the borrowed blade.
"Nathan, please join me in a little demonstration," Methos said as he came to a ready position. If he was going to do this, he might as well show Buck what his skill level was. He needed Buck to trust him, helping him now would generate a lot of goodwill for later.
Nathan nodded and raised his sword. Methos waited. Nathan had more of a defensive style, exactly the kind that Buck needed to emulate to survive.
The Immortal moved forward and engaged his opponent's blade. Nathan stepped back and parried the attack. Methos pushed forward and allowed Nathan to block his thrust again. Then he brought his sword back up, disarming Nathan easily. The healer's blade skidded across the floor.
Buck gave a low whistle. "No offense, Nathan, but I think I found myself a new teacher."
"None taken," Nathan said as he bent to retrieve his blade.
"That was most impressive," Ezra said. "It seems Buck is lucky that you happened into our little town this week."
Not as lucky as you realize, Methos thought as he threw Ezra a rueful smile. "I'm just happy to help."
"Well Nathan, as you and I are no longer needed-"
"Actually, Ezra," Methos interrupted. "Please stay. I could use you both to help demonstrate some of the things I wish to show Buck."
The men nodded and took seats in the pews awaiting Methos' instruction.
"Now, Buck," Methos said turning to the gunfighter. "Let's talk about how a good defense is the best offense in this type of contest."
+ + + + + + +
Methos called a halt to the practice once again, his level of frustration barely contained. The gunfighter could not grasp even the simplest understanding of patience and defense. Buck simply wanted to charge in and hack away with the sword like it was some kind of long bladed machete. As much as he liked Buck, Methos was not looking forward to teaching the man in the future.
"Buck, please," Methos begged. "Nathan and I showed you the maneuver to stay at a distance. Why can't you grasp that this will keep you alive?"
"I still gotta stick him with it to win, don't I?"
"No," Methos yelled, finally giving into his frustration. "In order to win you have to first stay alive. If you go charging at him with your body completely exposed, I can guarantee you will be dead before the first minute is up."
"Now come on, Doc, I ain't that bad," Buck laughed.
"Yes. You are," Methos said, his tone deadly serious.
Anger flashed in Buck's eyes. "Now hold on," he growled.
"Buck, you need to listen to Ben," Nathan said. "He's good and he knows what he's talking about."
"You might just make it out of this alive if you do as he says," Ezra added.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Buck snapped.
"He's right," Methos confirmed without emotion. "Ezra could take you easily the way you're performing and I suspect that Don Paolo's skill set lies somewhere beyond Nathan's." Methos had no illusions about what would happen when Buck met Don Paolo in the morning. "So yes, you will die tomorrow."
Buck blanched at the harshness of his words, his frustration and fear finally spilling out. "Fine, just go, all of you. I'll figure it out myself," he shouted.
"I know this is hard for you, Buck, but try not to be a stubborn idiot," Ezra teased trying to lighten the mood.
"You should be happy," Buck growled, turning all his anger on the gambler. "It'll be easier to make some money off the duel if ya know I ain't got a chance."
Ezra stepped back as if he'd been slapped.
"That was uncalled for, Buck," Methos chastised him.
"Of course," Ezra smirked. "I am found out. My true motivation for allowing the good Doctor Adams to use me as a training dummy was simply to assess you skills so that I could offer better odds." Ezra gathered his things and headed for the door.
Buck at least had the good sense to look ashamed. "Ezra, hold up now," Buck called after the retreating figure. "I was just - I'm trying to say - Well hell, Ez, you know I didn't mean it."
The gambler paused; he turned to look back at them with his smiling poker face affixed firmly in place. "I think it is best I go. Good luck, Mr. Wilmington," he said as left the church.
Buck ran a hand through his hair in defeat, his rage having dissipated with the gambler's exit. "I didn't mean it," he appealed to Nathan. "You know that."
"I know, Buck. 'Spect Ezra knows it too," Nathan explained. "That man and I have had our differences but I know Ezra wouldn't have been here if he didn't care about what might happen to you."
"I should go talk to him," Buck admitted.
"Apologies later," Methos snapped and waited. Maybe this blow up would be the thing to get Buck focused.
Buck nodded. "Okay, Doc, whatever you say, I'll do it."
"About time," Nathan mumbled.
Methos smiled. "I agree, Nathan. Let's get to it, shall we?"
+ + + + + + +
It was getting late; they were tired and hungry. "Why don't you get some dinner and rest," Methos said as he called a halt to their session.
Buck had worked hard but he was nowhere near ready. Methos could sense the fear of tomorrow rolling off the man. Personally, he would have walked away. He'd always believed that Honor was a thing for fools and the naïve. While he knew Buck was neither, he grudgingly respected the fact that the man wasn't giving into that fear and consigning Inez to a horrible fate.
"Guess I should." He held out his hand to Methos. "Thanks, Doc. I know I ain't the best student but I'll try to remember all you told me."
Methos shook the proffered hand and clapped Buck on the shoulder. "Please do. If you frustrate him half as much as you annoyed me, he's sure to make a mistake just to get it over with," he teased.
Buck laughed. "If only it were that easy, I'd have him beat for sure." He turned toward Nathan. "I best go find Ezra. If I buy him dinner maybe he'll understand I didn't mean what I said."
"You buyin' Ezra dinner? Oh yeah, that'll win him over," Nathan agreed with a smile.
The big man headed for the door and almost collided with Josiah as he entered the church. "You ready?" The preacher asked.
"As I'll ever be," replied Buck and headed out into the night.
"That true, Doc?" Josiah asked as he walked up the aisle. "Buck got a chance?"
Methos grimaced as he locked eyes with Nathan. "No," he sighed.
"Nathan?" Josiah appealed to his friend for a different answer.
The healer shook his head. "Still, Buck could get lucky."
"Maybe Dan Paolo will slip and fall on Buck's sword," Methos grumbled. He didn't want to give them unrealistic expectations; Buck would be outclassed plain and simple. Methos needed to start planning for after.
"Maybe we can still talk Brother Buck out of this foolishness," Josiah offered and then recanted. "No, I suppose not."
"Nathan, can I ask a favor of you?" Methos inquired.
"After today Ben, you name it."
Methos hesitated, not sure how Nathan might respond to his bizarre request. "When - If," he shifted quickly. "If Buck is badly wounded, even if it appears fatal, can you move him as quickly as possible to your clinic?"
"I'd do that anyway."
"Yes, but can you maintain the illusion that he is alive and will live?" Methos paused before plunging ahead, "Even if he is dead we should keep everyone away and uninformed."
Methos saw no way to have the kind of privacy he needed to usher Buck into Immortality; the best he could hope for was limited exposure. He hoped he might only have to explain things to Nathan and even then he might be able to pull a supposed medical miracle out of his bag of tricks.
Confusion crossed Nathan's brow. "Why?"
"I know this sounds callous, but there is still the matter of Inez. If Buck is dead, the duel is over and Don Paolo will claim her. But there might be a loophole of some kind if Buck is still alive."
"Maybe give Ezra a chance to fill that loophole in our favor," Nathan suggested.
Josiah nodded solemnly. "I'm not saying anything bad is gonna happen to Buck and I will pray that it doesn't, but if it should come to pass, his efforts will not be in vain. We will find a way to make sure Senorita Inez is safe."
"Then that's settled," he said. "I will of course render any medical assistance I can."
"Thanks, Ben," Nathan said. "Now, how about some dinner?"
"I'd like that." Methos smiled.
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, Methos positioned himself on the board walk. Buck strode confidently down the main street, Nathan and Josiah flanking him. He hadn't spoken to Buck that morning; there was nothing left to say. Methos thought it best he leave those conversations to the big man's friends.
He watched as the rest of the seven came forward to greet Buck. Methos still hadn't shared more than a few words with Chris, but knew from the others that their leader was less than thrilled with Buck's decision to continue with the duel.
Methos couldn't hear the exchange, but when he saw Buck smiling he knew that the two friends had made their peace.
The others said their final words to Buck and moved away to position themselves throughout the crowd. Ezra came to stand by Methos.
Inez ran into the street to face Buck. She removed the ribbon from her hair and with a flourish tied it around his arm as a token. Acknowledging the gesture, Buck then handed her his hat as he moved forward to face the approaching Don Paolo.
The don stopped a few paces in front of Buck, Raphael behind him still holding his master's blade.
"After I have had my satisfaction," Don Paolo announced to the crowd but never taking his eyes of Buck. "I will take the woman and no one will interfere." His glance then shifted to linger on Chris, his challenge clear.
"I will never go with you alive," Inez spat at him.
"After this, senorita, you will do whatever I want." Don Paolo turned away from her to face Buck once again as he took his sword from Raphael.
Nathan took Buck aside for some last minute advice. As the gunslinger stepped back to face his opponent, he caught Methos' eye. The Immortal tipped his hat in a gesture of support. Buck nodded in reply.
The don took a few practice swings to limber up.
"Stop all this preening and let's get on with this," Buck snapped.
A feral smile played across the Mexican's face as he bowed with a flourish. Before he'd even straightened up, Buck charged.
"No!" yelled Nathan. "Defense, Buck!"
Methos shook his head. In that split second it seemed Buck had forgotten everything Methos and Nathan had tried to teach him about patience and tactics.
Don Paolo had already drawn first blood as the lawman's initial charge went awry and his opponent's blade raked across Buck's upper thigh.
Buck backed away briefly but then lunged forward again. As their blades engaged, Methos could see that the don was just toying with Buck. A satisfied grin played across the Mexican's features as he controlled the fight, retreating and advancing on his terms. To the crowd it might look as if Buck was holding his own as their swords danced against each other but Methos knew differently. Don Paolo was definitely more skilled than Nathan but compared to Methos, he was a novice.
Ezra leaned over to Methos. "Is this as one-sided as I think it is?"
"Yes," Methos whispered back as he met the gambler's eye. It seemed he wasn't the only one who recognized how outclassed Buck was in this fight.
"I was hoping I was wrong," he said sadly.
Don Paolo parried Buck's weak thrust, throwing the lawman off balance and delivering another deep cut to the opposite leg.
"Now I think you do not move so well," Don Paolo snickered.
As Buck limped backwards trying to get away, the don advanced on the wounded man. He flicked his sword across Buck's arm, before the big man could even lift his own to parry, slicing through Inez's ribbon and sending it fluttering to the ground.
Buck was growing tired, but Don Paolo did not even looked winded. Taking a deep breath, Buck pushed himself forward in a charge and Don Paolo whirled away slicing across his chest.
"End this right now," Nathan called as Buck staggered away from his opponent trying to regain his equilibrium.
"No!" he shouted, throwing himself back at Don Paolo. Raising his sword as if to club the man, Buck had left himself wide open.
Don Paolo smiled as he brought his sword up and ran Buck through the chest.
Don Paolo leaned into the thrust. "And now the woman is mine," he crowed triumphantly as he stepped back, withdrawing his sword from Buck's chest.
Buck's mouth opened and closed as he looked down at the redness spreading across his shirt before toppling backwards. Nathan was there with JD to lower their friend to the ground. Methos raced to the fallen man as chaos erupted around him.
"Nathan?" Chris asked as he knelt beside Buck.
Nathan looked at Chris and then at Methos; they both knew the wound was fatal. Buck's left lung had been pierced and he was slowly drowning in his own blood. There was no saving him.
"Won't know for sure 'til I get him to the clinic," he said and added more quietly. "It don't look good."
Rage flashed across Chris' features. He sprang to his feet and whirled to face Don Paolo. As he attempted to draw his weapon, Vin appeared at his side placing a hand on Chris' wrist.
"Don't do it, pard," the tracker said. "You shoot him now; it's murder."
"Listen to your friend," the don sneered. "Inez, vamanos." He walked over to grab the woman roughly by the arm.
Meanwhile, Methos helped Nathan, JD and Josiah lift Buck to get him to the clinic. Nathan and Josiah kept up a steady stream of encouragement to comfort their friend. Unfortunately, Buck's eyes had glazed over his breath was hitched and labored. Methos knew that it wouldn't be long.
He could hear Vin and Chris arguing with Don Paolo behind him. He thought that part of this confrontation was no longer his problem until he heard Chris ask, "You think you can take him, Ezra?"
Methos turned to see Ezra, sword in hand, ready to finish what Buck had started. No, no, no, his mind screamed.
"I shall endeavor to do so ,such that we may end this in an honorable fashion and save the fair senorita," the southerner replied with a crooked smile.
"Then do it," Chris encouraged him with a solid clap to the shorter man's shoulder.
"You coming, Ben," Nathan called when he realized Methos wasn't following.
He waved a hand at Nathan indicating he should keep going. "I'll be right there." But first it seems I have to stop another idiot from getting himself killed.
"Don Paolo," Ezra said, commanding the don's attention. "Inez will be staying here."
The don turned to face this new challenge, never loosening his grip on Inez. "I have obtained my satisfaction. I have no need to fight you."
"Senor Standish, do no do this!" Inez begged as she struggled against her captor.
"As Mr. Wilmington is still alive and I am his second, I am honor bound to finish what he started, as are you," Ezra insisted.
Methos sighed and shook his head as he strode back toward the conflict. "Americans," he muttered. "Idiots, all of them." When he'd hoped Ezra might find a way to save Inez should Buck fail, sacrificing himself was not what he'd had in mind.
Don Paolo laughed. Releasing Inez, he stepped back to the center of the street to face Ezra.
"Please don't do this," she cried and was ignored by the combatants. Vin placed a protective arm around her and guided her away to prevent her interference. "You must stop them," she pleaded with the tracker.
Vin just shook his head. Resigned, Inez fell silent as she watched this new confrontation over her.
"Why not," Don Paolo said brightly. "I am happy to put you into a grave beside your friend." He gestured for his weapon which Raphael placed into his outstretched hand.
Ezra started to go through his warm-up when Methos grabbed his hand. "Let me," he said.
"Doctor Adams, while I appreciate --"
"Shut up, Ezra and give me the damn sword," Methos commanded. He didn't have time to argue. This needed to happen quickly so that he could see to Buck.
The Gambler handed over the blade without another word.
Chris stepped up behind him. "This ain't your fight, Doc."
Methos turned his head to meet the gunslinger's gaze. "Truer words were never spoken," he smirked and then added more seriously. "Unless you want to see Ezra lying next to Buck, you will let me do this."
"But Buck needs you."
"Nathan can handle it for now. But the quicker you stop arguing with me then the quicker I can finish this and see to your friend."
Chris nodded and stepped back.
Methos did not want to do this and still was unsure why he was. He didn't even fight Immortals these days. How ironic that the first man he would kill with a blade in almost a centaury was mortal.
Everything about the past three days had been a series of strange choices for him. Once he had Buck trained and out of his life, he was going to find a nice quiet place of solitude to spend the next few decades. God help the next man of honor who wanted to befriend him, because he'd had enough of do-gooders to last several lifetimes.
Don Paolo eyed the Immortal. "So quick to kill yourselves over this woman."
Methos stepped forward, his eyes cold and his sword at his side as he waited for the don to make his move.
"No threats or final words, Senor -,"
"Adams," Methos finished and waited.
Don Paolo paced slowly forward. Methos still did not raise his blade. Confusion crossed his opponents face replaced quickly by a smirk of satisfaction as the don presumed, incorrectly, that Methos was unprepared.
The don attacked, blade held high in front of him aiming for Methos' heart. In a flash, the Immortal brought his sword into play. He knocked the thrust aside spinning Don Paolo around one hundred and eighty degrees. While the Mexican was still off balance, facing away from him, Methos grabbed him by the left shoulder as he thrust upward with his blade, piercing the don's heart.
He pushed the body away from him and the sword came loose with a loud sucking sound. Methos turned and handed the bloody blade to a stunned Ezra. He was halfway to the clinic by the time Don Paolo's body hit the ground
Methos entered the clinic to the worst possible situation. Buck was gone, dead and the clock was ticking. He'd never actually collected any data on the rate of resurrection but he knew it could be as quick as fifteen minutes or stretch to more than a day.
JD was kneeling by the bed, Buck's hand in his, openly sobbing, begging the man to wake up. Josiah sat in a chair off to the left, head in hands, the shaking of his shoulders telling Methos that the preacher was also giving into his grief.
Nathan stood off to the side, the shock of Buck's death evident on his face as he met Methos' eyes.
"Nothing I could do," he whispered almost inaudible, tears were sliding silently down his cheeks. "He - he was coughing up blood and I - I couldn't do anything."
Methos walked over to the healer and helped settle him into a chair. "There was nothing you could have done, that anyone could have done. That wound was fatal."
Nathan nodded. Methos patted the man's hand as he stood and tried to figure out what his next move should be. Performing a faux medical miracle was out. These three knew Buck was gone. He was a good doctor but no one would believe he could raise the dead - well at least not that way.
The sound of two gunshots pulled Methos from his planning.
"Did Chris just shoot Don Paolo?" Josiah wondered.
"No," Methos replied. "I took care of that problem."
"Whatcha mean?" Nathan asked.
"I did what Buck tried to do and what Ezra was thinking of doing, beat him with his own sword." Methos quickly shared the story of Don Paolo's demise.
"I hope the bastard rots in hell," Josiah said nodding his approval.
"Oh, he will. Of that, I have no doubt," Methos agreed.
"Won't bring Buck back," JD added, his voice rough from crying. "But I'm glad the bastard's dead, too.
"Thanks for that, Ben," Nathan added.
"It seemed the best course of action at the time." Methos was still in a quandary on what to do about Buck. Close to thirty minutes had passed since the man had died. The window of opportunity was rapidly closing.
The door to the clinic was flung open as Chris Larabee stormed in, Vin and Ezra close on his heels.
"You shot?" Nathan asked the gunslinger.
Chris ignored him as he stared at Buck.
"Senor Raphael wanted to find out if he was faster than Mr. Larabee," Ezra explained. "He was not."
Chris looked to Nathan who shook his head. Larabee picked up the first breakable object he could find and flung it against the far wall.
"Damn it, Buck!" he yelled at the corpse. "I told you - I told you -" the man in black couldn't finish as he sank down onto the bed by Buck's feet. He continued to stare at his unmoving friend.
Methos could see all the hope drain out of the man as his eyes turned cold. Chris sat stock still, his face unreadable.
"Thank you for what you did, Doc," Chris said, his voice devoid of any emotion.
"I too am grateful," Ezra said, his voice unsteady as he struggled to control his own emotions. "I do believe you saved my life."
"I only wish I could have done more," Methos replied.
No one spoke as the men focused on controlling their grief. Methos looked around the room at the raw emotion pouring out of these tough men. Buck had been the heart of this group; he'd figured that out once he'd gotten to know them. Don Paolo had ripped that heart out.
Methos hoped their bond could survive the death of their resident jokester and ladies man, but somehow he suspected that the death of one meant the death of the seven as a team. He didn't understand why that thought saddened him.
"Might be best if you gave us some time," Vin said.
"Of course." Methos nodded his goodbyes and closed the clinic door behind him. Standing on the balcony he looked down to see some of the townsfolk gathered, waiting for news of Buck.
His eyes locked with Inez Recillos', he nodded and she wasted no time racing up the steps. She was followed closely by Mary Travis, the editor of the Clarion News and unofficial representative for the gathering below.
"Senor Buck is he - is he still alive?" the barmaid asked as she clutched at his arm. "Did you save him, Doctor Adams?"
Methos grasped her hand and looked into her tear-streaked face.
"We are doing all we can for him, but it is too soon to tell," he lied. It was best to keep his options open. "It could go either way. If he lives through the night, then I believe he might recover."
Mary placed a hand over her mouth as she struggled to hold back her tears.
Inez began to sob openly, holding onto Methos' hand as if it were a lifeline. "This is all my fault," she cried. "I should have gone with Don Paolo."
"No, Senorita that was never going to happen," Methos said. "Buck and his friends would never have let him take you."
"Doctor Adams is right," Mary confirmed, placing a comforting arm around her friend. "Buck did what he had to do; what any of them would have done for you."
Inez nodded as she looked down, her hair covering her face as the tears continued to fall. "Thank you Doctor, for finishing it," she said quietly.
He placed a finger under her chin and forced her to look at him. "I'm just glad all those hours of sword training could be put to good use," he said trying to assuage her guilt. "You should never fault a man for trying save the fair maiden from harm."
"You sound like Senor Buck," Inez said, rewarding his efforts with a small smile.
"And soon it will be him flirting with you," Methos teased.
"I hope you're right," Mary said sending her own unspoken thanks toward Methos before turning her attention to Inez. "We should let the good Doctor get back to his patient.
Inez swiped at her tears, nodding. "Thank you again, Doctor Adams," she said as she allowed Mary to lead her away.
"Ladies," Methos replied. The women navigated the steps down to where the rest of the townsfolk waited.
Methos watched as Mary spoke to the crowd which then began to disperse. Mary, with her arm still around Inez, guided the woman down the street and out of his line of sight.
Methos sighed. Well, at least the town was handled. He was at a loss as to how to get the six lawmen out of the clinic. Hell, he wasn't even sure he could come up with a reason to go back inside, let alone a reason to be left alone with Buck's corpse.
And then his options were taken away as the buzz of another Immortal assaulted his awareness. "Damn!" he muttered. Buck was reviving and he was out here.
It would only be moments before Buck was completely resurrected. Methos stood paralyzed on the balcony. The same choice that had been plaguing him these past few days reared its ugly head once again. Stay and reveal his secret to the men in the clinic or run and hope Buck survived on his own.
Taking a deep breath and muttering a few curses about honor and responsibility, he turned the door knob and as quietly as possible slipped inside.
+ + + + + + +
Methos shut the door behind him. Silence reigned in the small room. Only Ezra and Chris turned to acknowledge his entrance, the rest were caught up in their own grief. Neither man told him to go, so Methos moved to the far corner of the room to await the inevitable.
He studied Buck. It seemed no one had noticed the color return to his cheeks or the slow rise and fall of his chest as his body healed its wounds. JD was still by Buck's side clutching his friend's hand.
There was a part of Methos that was looking forward to their reaction. Truthfully, he anticipated that Buck's revival could be quiet humorous.
As if on cue the show began. JD jumped up suddenly. "He squeezed my hand," he shouted and backed away from Buck's bedside. "Nathan, he squeezed my hand I felt it. He ain't dead!"
Nathan came up behind the kid and laid a calming hand on his shoulder. "Yeah he is, JD. Sometimes the body just does that," he explained. "The muscles contract even when the person is dead."
"Wouldn't be so quick to put me in the ground just yet, Nathan," Buck said quietly as he opened his eyes to look toward the healer.
JD whooped for joy as he returned to Buck's side. "I told you! I told you! You were wrong, Nathan."
The others came to their feet, all eyes on Nathan, waiting for an explanation. Stunned, Nathan whispered as he stared at Buck, "That ain't possible. You've been dead for over an hour. I don't make that kind of mistake."
"Well I ain't dead now," Buck said laughing as he came to a sitting position and leaned against the bed's headboard. "Hey, did I win?" he asked JD, ruffling the kid's hair.
JD batted the hand away as he shook his head. "We thought you were dead. Don Paolo ran his sword straight through your chest."
Buck reached down to pat himself. "You sure, JD, 'cause I feel great, except for this buzzing in my ears." Buck looked up, caught Methos' eye and tilted his head in confusion.
Methos smiled. Buck had found the source of his 'headache' but didn't yet understand what it meant.
"Nathan?" Chris demanded never taking his eyes off Buck.
"He was dead!" Nathan insisted. Buck allowed the healer to examine him, the amused smile never leaving his face.
Methos waited quietly in the corner knowing it was too much to hope that Buck's revival might be viewed as a mistake by Nathan.
Nathan pushed aside the tatters of Buck's shirt and reached out to touch the now unblemished skin. "That ain't right," he said as his pulled his hand away. "The wound's gone."
Nathan stumbled backwards away from Buck. "That ain't right," he repeated. "It ain't natural. That chest wound was fatal. You weren't breathing."
Buck laughed. "Come on, Nathan. If I'm dead, explain how I'm talking right now."
"I am the resurrection and the life," Josiah intoned. "I prayed for a miracle and we received one. Buck has been brought back from the dead."
"Josiah are you suggesting that Buck has been resurrected in the manner of your Lord?" Ezra asked. "That he is some kind of god?"
"Hey, I like the sound of that." Buck chuckled. "I know the ladies have always thought so."
"Sure sounds like Buck," Vin laughed.
"Of course it's Buck," JD insisted. "It's a miracle just like Josiah said." The kid couldn't stop smiling at his friend.
Methos listened, waiting for his opening, as the men continued to argue about what was happening. He was enjoying their theological discussion and found the idea of Buck as a resurrected deity rather humorous.
Chris had remained silent throughout the conversation as he studied Buck. "I'd like another explanation besides a holy resurrection," he said finally.
"I don't know," Buck smiled at his friend. "I'm liking Josiah's explanation."
"Zombie?" Ezra suggested.
The men turned their attention toward the gambler. "What's a zombie?" Chris asked.
"There is folklore among the Creoles in New Orleans of a creature called a zombie. They believe that there are those among them that can reanimate a dead body to do their bidding." Ezra paused and added hesitantly as he examined Buck, "Zombies are - well, they are considered mindless and evil. They are not the person that they were," he added.
Chris' eye went wide. He whirled back to face Buck and pulled his gun. "Prove that you're Buck."
"I ain't a - whatcha call it."
"Zombie," Ezra supplied.
"I ain't a zombie," Buck snapped. "And I ain't mindless."
"Chris, what are you doing?" JD moved to stand between his two friends. "That's Buck. He's alive and it's a miracle."
"Don't believe in miracles," Chris growled. "I'm thinkin' this is unnatural, like Nathan and Ezra said."
Methos realized that he couldn't stay silent any longer as things were starting to spiral out of control. It was time to tell the truth. Chris might still shoot Buck but at least he wouldn't stay dead for long.
He stepped into the middle of the room, garnering their attention. "It's not a miracle and Buck is not a zombie. Zombie," Methos smirked and shook his head. "That's a new one."
"If you know what's going on here, you best start explaining," Chris demanded, not lowering his gun or taking his eyes of Buck.
"Put the gun away and settle down," Methos said. "I will explain."
"You've seen this before, Ben?" Nathan asked.
The men relaxed and waited for Methos to continue.
Methos took a deep breath and let it out. He'd never done 'Introduction to Immortality' for mortals and he wasn't thrilled about doing it now.
"Buck is Immortal," Methos said.
"Whatcha mean Immortal?"
"He's gonna live forever?"
The questions started flying at him and Methos held up a hand. "Gentlemen, please," he shouted them into silence. "Let me finish."
"First, I should clarify that Buck is himself. He is the man he always was except now he can't die. He is Immortal," Methos repeated.
Chris had yet to holster his weapon, and swung it toward Methos. "I'm not liking this explanation any better than zombies or a holy resurrection."
"I assure you, Mr. Larabee that what I'm telling you is the truth," Methos said as he held his hands up to show he had no intention of drawing against Chris.
"Immortality is impossible," Nathan insisted.
"Not impossible. Improbable perhaps, but Buck was one of the very few people who are destined for Immortality if their first death is a violent one."
"You knew this would happen," Nathan said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes, people with the potential to become Immortal give off a feeling that other Immortals can sense."
"Hey, Buck, maybe that's your animal magnetism," JD teased and then paused looking back toward Methos. "Wait a minute, if you sensed it - " the kid trailed off.
"It means the good doctor is Immortal as well," Ezra finished.
Methos nodded reluctantly.
"Is that why I have this buzzing in my head?" Buck asked.
"That's how Immortals know each other. It will fade the longer we are in close proximity."
"Prove it," Chris snapped. "Prove you're an Immortal."
"Isn't Buck's miraculous resurrection proof enough?"
"No." The gunfighter glared at him.
"Of course not," Methos grumbled. He was not in the mood to challenge the famous Larabee glare. But he was definitely not about to undergo a painful death and resurrection, not in a room full of suspicious gunfighters.
He thought briefly about shooting Buck and letting him revive again but Methos was sure he'd be gunned down before he could get the shot off.
"Fine, a little demonstration then," Methos sighed. "If you insist." Methos looked around the room hoping one of the others might step in but they were all backing their leader's request.
"I do," Chris confirmed.
Methos removed his jacket and laid it across the footboard. After rolling up the left sleeve of his white shirt, he held out his right hand toward Nathan. "One of your knives, Mr. Jackson, if you please." Methos always hated this part.
When Nathan hesitated to give the man a weapon, Josiah pulled his knife and handed it over.
"Thank you," Methos said. He held up his arm like a magician doing a trick to show the crowd that there were no marks. He grimaced as he sliced across the inside of his forearm creating a long gash that bled freely
"What the hell are you doing?" Nathan shouted as he grabbed Methos' arm. "This is gonna need stichin'."
"No it won't. Isn't that the point of my little show?" Methos tugged his arm away from Nathan and held it out for all seven to see. The blue spark of his quickening went to work, healing the wound and closing the gash.
No one said a word as they watched him heal.
"Nathan, a cloth please."
Wordlessly the healer handed him a bandage. Methos wiped the blood clear to show clean unblemished skin. "Shall I demonstrate on Buck now?" he quipped.
"Hell no," Buck said. "I'm convinced. You convinced, Chris?"
Chris slowly holstered his gun as he continued to stare at the Immortal's arm and then swung his gaze up to look Methos in the face. Anger flashed in the gunfighter's eyes. "You knew Buck couldn't die. You son of a bitch, you should have told us!" He stepped forward fist coming up with the intent to deck Methos.
The Immortal sensed the attack and ducked out of the way. Vin grabbed Chris' arm. "Easy pard, don't go making him mad. You saw what he can do with a sword. I figure he don't lose many fights."
Methos grinned. "You are quite right, Vin." He understood that Chris had been devastated by the thought of losing of Buck, but that didn't mean he was going to let the man hit him.
Chris shrugged off his friend's grip. "Don't like being lied to." Anger still tinged his voice.
"I did not lie," Methos snapped back. "If my help is unwelcome here--"
"How old are you?" Ezra interrupted. His non sequitur brought Methos and Chris up short, as they turned to stare at him.
Methos began laughing. "That is none of your business. But Buck will live a long time if he keeps his head."
"Mr. Wilmington has never been one to think with this head." Ezra smiled as he pointed to his brow.
Chris, the steam taken out of his anger, couldn't help but smile.
"Now wait a minute," Buck said. "What d'ya mean keep my head."
"We can die but only by decapitation. That is why you must keep Buck's immortality a secret."
"People fear what they do not understand," Josiah said as he quickly grasped the reason for secrecy. "They might decide Buck is unnatural and take his head."
"Exactly. Eventually, he will have to leave here as everyone around him grows old," Methos explained. "People do tend to get suspicious when we don't age."
Buck sat up straighter as the reality of the situation sank in. "I'm gonna watch all my friends die and I'll keep living."
"Yes, I'm afraid so. It's why we try to live solitary lives; most often unsuccessfully," he finished with a rueful smile. This situation drove home that point to Methos. As much as he wanted to avoid mortal connections, he was not as much of a loner as he tried to pretend.
Buck looked at his friends. "Don't seem fair. Hey doc, anybody else here like us?" he asked.
"Do you sense that they are?" Methos asked knowing the answer.
Buck glanced around the room at his friends and shook his head as his gaze settled back on Methos.
"I'm sorry, Buck," Methos said and he meant it. He'd lost many people he cared about over the years. It hadn't stopped him from befriending mortals but it never got easier to say goodbye. Losing friends and lovers was something that you never got used to.
"Don't matter," Vin said. "Not like the rest of us expected to live forever anyway. Kinda nice to know someone who remembers us will."
The others nodded their agreement. Methos was impressed again with the bond between these men.
Buck smiled. "Thanks guys. Me bein' Immortal should make life around here interestin'."
"And easier," Ezra said. "You can enter any situation first, thus preventing one of us from being shot. It is only right that given your new condition you should sacrifice yourself for the rest of us when needed."
"Plus you no longer have to fear getting shot by a jealous husband," Josiah added laughing.
"And you know how Chris is always threatening to shoot Buck?" JD reminded them. "Now he can!"
An evil grin appeared on Chris' face as he drew his gun, this time in jest. "Maybe we should see how this immortality thing really works."
"Go ahead pard," Vin encouraged Chris. "Might be an interestin' experiment. Least this time we'll be ready when he starts breathin' again."
"Now hold on there guys." Buck laughed as he held up his hands. "I'm still recovering."
Chris shrugged and holstered his gun. "Plenty of time for that later," he said leaning into Vin who nodded his agreement as both men smiled at Buck.
"What about children?" Nathan asked. He seemed the most reluctant to enjoy Buck's new status. "Seems kinda cruel that he'd out live them."
"That's not actually a problem," Methos said smiling, figuring the ladies man would like this aspect of immortality. "We can't have them."
"You mean I can't ever father any children?" Buck asked.
Methos shook his head. "Not before and not after."
"Well hell," Vin said. "That explains why there ain't dozens of little Bucklins running around."
The room erupted in laughter. They really had accepted Buck's 'condition'. Methos was happy for Buck that he wouldn't have to leave his friends behind for some time to come. It also meant that Methos didn't have to stay here for too much longer or take Buck with him.
"Are you prophets sent from God to study the lives of men?" Josiah asked, turning the conversation back to the more serious aspects of Immortality.
"No not God." Methos laughed at that idea.
The oldest of all Immortals spent the next hour explaining the Game, the Prize and the myths surrounding his kind. The men listened carefully, occasionally stopping the recitation to ask a few questions.
"But if someday you might have to kill Buck, why train him?" JD asked.
"Shut up, JD. Don't give the man any ideas," Buck said smacking the kid on the shoulder.
"I'm not saying he will, but he might. I mean - Hey, stop that," he cried as Buck smacked him again.
JD was about to launch himself back at the big man and start in on one of their infamous wrestling matches when Chris grabbed him and hauled him away.
"Cut it out you two," he said and pushed JD back into his spot by Buck's bedside.
The others tried to suppress their laughter at the ridiculous situation.
"To answer JD's question," Methos said. "I'm not sure I believe in the prize and I'm certainly not going to risk my neck pursuing it. Let the others fight it out while I live into the next Millennium."
"Which brings me back to my original question: Just how old are you, Doctor?" Ezra asked.
"Let it go, Ez. He ain't gonna tell you," Vin said.
Methos smiled. "I will say that I would be long dead had I been mortal. And there are rumors of an Immortal who is more than 5,000 years old. But like zombies, I suspect that he is just a myth."
"What a fascinating man that would be to meet," Josiah said. "He might have been present at the birth of Christ."
"Possibly," Methos tried to keep the smirk out of his voice. "But then we'll never know since I'm sure he doesn't exist."
"What now, Doc?" Nathan asked. "The town thinks Buck is dead."
"Actually, they don't; I told Mary and Inez he could live," Methos explained. "All you have to do is wrap Buck up and let him pretend to recover for a week or so. The townsfolk will never know."
"Quick thinking." Chris nodded his approval.
"Well, I've had a few days to prepare for this."
"I might have won," Buck groused. "Didn't anyone think I might have won?"
Laughter filled the room. The humor of the situation allowed because the outcome had been so different than they'd expected.
"No Buck, I tried to help teach you. You're skill level was not high," Nathan teased.
"Would have been nice if someone would have told me that."
Chris rolled his eyes. "I seem to recall that I did."
"Oh, yeah," Buck said quietly, suddenly realizing that he should truly be dead.
"As soon as Nathan releases you from the clinic, we'll need to get started," Methos said turning the conversation back to important matters.
"Started?" Buck asked.
"Sword training. What did you think all this was leading too?" Methos asked.
"Sure, Doc, wouldn't want to lose my head now." He smiled.
"I'll be on my way once I've covered most of the basics. Between Nathan and Ezra, you have two good sparring partners to help improve your skill. Oh and you will need to get your own sword. Shouldn't be without one, especially outside of town."
Buck nodded as Methos recited his list and then looked to his friends. Both Ezra and Nathan quickly agreed to their role as trainers.
"You can even keep my sword with you until you get your own," Nathan offered.
Methos clapped his hands together. "Good! Now that this is all settled, I think I need some lunch and large quantities of alcohol. So if you gentlemen will excuse me." Methos grabbed his coat, tipped his hat as the others responded in kind and escaped out of the clinic.
Methos collapsed in relief against the closed door once he stepped outside. That hadn't gone too badly and he'd kept the bulk of his secrets intact, much to Ezra's dismay.
He'd stay in town for a few weeks, maybe more. He wanted to be sure that Buck was on a good training schedule before resuming his trip to California. Of course this time, no stopping in any towns until he reached the coast.
As he headed down the steps, he was still in a state of disbelief on how he'd come to trust these men enough to share his secret and care about what happened to Buck.
He doubted he'd ever see the big man again once he left Four Corners. The gunslinger didn't seem the type to leave the colonies and Methos had no intention of setting foot in this country again for a long time. Too bad, Buck might be fun to travel the world with..
Methos surprised himself with that thought. He was a loner wasn't he? He didn't need anyone and certainly not an optimistic ladies man traipsing after him. Still, it was probably a good idea to let Buck know where he was in case the man ever wanted to see Tibet.
All Methos had wanted to do was get to San Francisco and catch a boat away from the godforsaken wilderness of the new world; instead he had a new student, responsibilities and friends. What was the world coming to?