Alternate Universe "Immortal 7"
Ezra Standish sighed, and used his sword as a crutch to climb to his feet. Yet another challenge, yet another painful absorption of a fellow immortals quickening. He stared down at the headless corpse lying at his feet, and wondered if living forever was worth it.
Ezra shook his head. It all seemed like such a waste. All he knew of his opponent was he was that he was altogether too young to have attempted to take on someone with Ezras experience and skill, and the mans name, Charles Montique. It didnt ring any bells, and his face was not one Ezra recognized. It wasnt as if they had a history, or some compelling personal reason to engage in mortal combat. They had never even met before tonight, of that, he was certain. Ezra found it frustrating, and depressing, to think Montique had challenged him for no other reason than it was what Immortals did.
Ezra hadnt been able to talk Montique out of this course of action. He had tried. Told him combat was not necessary. Tried to explain that he had other immortals as friends. That is was possible for them to coexist without bloodshed. But Montique was sent on his course of action, determined to duel.
Once the challenge had been formerly issued, it left Ezra very little choice. Stand and fight, or run away. Running was always seemed like an option, but it was little more than a sham in reality. Ezra had long since learned the futility of such an action. He would only be found again, and it was exhausting to be made to flee. If he were going to be moving on, it would be on his terms and in his own time, not dictated by another. Besides, he had friends here. Six other immortals that he hadnt seen in years, and had no intention of leaving behind.
So, Ezra had entered into the duel with no other thought than to win. He reflected sadly, still staring at the corpse, for him to win, the other man had to die. Their very existence made for little in the way of a middle ground. Particularly when Montique would not just leave it be.
"Pity." Ezra shook his head, still looking at the body. "Charles, you had a long life ahead of you. Much you could have been. So much you could have done. You were far too young to have decided on this folly as your course of action."
Ezra sighed deeply. "You should have simply walked away. No one would have thought less of you for doing so." He grimaced. "There can be only one." He snorted as he wiped his blade clean before sheathing it. "And what moron decided that, I wonder.
You may live forever, but only if you execute others of your kind." Ezra took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Although, I suppose in the grand scheme of things there must be balance of some sort. A toll must be exacted for being able to live so long when others dont."
Ezra snorted again. "As if watching everyone youve ever met grow old and die were not enough. It is enough to make me think God has a sick sense of humor."
The immortal rolled his eyes, disgusted with waxing philosophical in an abandoned warehouse beside a man whose life hed just ended. "If I am going to be talking to myself about such things, I need a drink. Preferably, a stiff one."
+ + + + + + +
Sam Calkins had lost Ezra Standish only an hour ago. He cursed quietly, knowing full well hed missed yet another duel. In all likelihood, it hadnt lasted any more than fifteen minutes. Very few encounters between immortals ran any longer than that. Besides the physically demanding aspect of fighting all out with the intent of beheading your opponent, there was the mortal factor to consider. Too long, and no matter how isolated the area, someone was bound to notice men fighting with swords, and call the cops.
He cursed again. No one in the Watcher circles had yet seen Standish fight. Ever. No one knew just how many heads hed taken, or even what degree of skill the man had with a blade. It was a mystery that Sam really wanted to solve.
Hed been following Standish for the past five years. Watching the green eyed Immortal as he traveled from place to place, learning his habits, hobbies, and some of his idiosyncrasies. In that time, he learned a great deal. Standish spoke more than a dozen languages. The man knew more about managing money than most brokerage firms and banks combined. He seemed capable of blending in no matter where he was, be it a back alley bar or a fifth avenue restaurant. The Immortal was an accomplished horseman, pianist and loved to gamble. He was rumored to have gambled in nearly every major casino in the world.
But there was still a lot he yet to discover. Simple things really. Like just how old was Ezra Standish. Where did he really come from? The man spoke with a southern accent, but what was known of his history seemed to suggest that he wasnt the native of Virginia his accent proclaimed him to be. Just how good was he as a swordsman was something no one could determine. Sparring matches had been observed once in a great while, but not a single moment of actual combat had ever been seen or recorded.
Sam felt like hed spent the past five just looking at the surface, not even getting close enough to scratch it. It was frustrating, and intriguing at the same time. He couldnt even be sure if Standish was one of the good guys or not.
Lately, though, hed begun to suspect that the man was indeed one of the good guys. Oh, maybe not a boy scout, but definitely a man Sam would be proud to know, and call friend. The change had come five months ago.
The magnificent seven, as the Watchers had dubbed them, came together again in Seacover, Washington after six years of being scattered to the four winds. All seven had walked into Joes Bar that night. Ezra Standish, Vin Tanner, Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson, Buck Wilmington, JD Dunne, and Chris Larabee.
Joe Dawson was head of the Pacific Northwest region for the Watcher organization. His bar had become something of a hang out for a few Immortals known to frequent the area. Duncan MacLeod being the most famous, and a friend of Joes. The Watchers expected trouble when the seven showed up, but it never materialized. Theyd taken over a table, and made it their own. Nearly every night since then, the seven gathered there to drink, talk, play poker or pool, and just hang out.
The seven made it known that they were not interested in dueling unless it was unavoidable. They had plans to stay in Seacover, and had no desire to seek out trouble, or be the cause of it. Not that any of them would back away if someone were foolish enough to force the issue. Something, Standish had probably shown rather eloquently this evening, even if Sam hadnt been able to witness it.
They also knew about the Watchers. Rather than expressing anger over being observed, they made requests for the type of person whod be assigned to them. Tanner wanted someone who would be a challenge to lose. The long-haired Immortal seemed to delight in testing their skills. Jackson wanted someone who wouldnt throw up at the sight of blood. The black man regularly chose aspects of the medical profession where seeing blood a common occurrence. Sanchez wanted someone who had more than a passing interest in philosophy and religion. The big man was often studying one or the other, and constantly searched out those willing to discuss the details with. Wilmington wanted a woman. The ladies man seemed to find any woman, no matter how young, old, or beautiful, to be worth spending time with. Dunne wanted someone who would explain just what it was the Watchers found so fascinating about his life to begin with. The youngest of the group simply couldnt seem to fathom why anyone would care. Larabee well, he made certain whoever was assigned to him knew how to keep his or her distance, and respect his privacy. Standish had told Joe that he was satisfied with Sam, shocking the both Watchers with the fact that he not only knew about being followed, he knew as much or more about his watcher as Sam did about him. So Sam stayed on the job, doing his best to record for the Watcher Annals the movements, and character of Ezra P. Standish.
Sam sighed, and made his way to Joes Bar. He might have lost Standish for the moment, but the Immortal never failed to put in an appearance at the bar. Assuming he had been the winner of the duel, hed eventually show up at Joes. The other six would likely be waiting for him there as well.
Sam slipped inside, and found a corner table, where he could see the door and most of the bar. He signaled Joe that he was just as clueless as to the result of the duel as Joe was. They would simply have to wait and see. The bartender nodded, and sent a beer his way.
As expected the other six were at their usual table. Conversation was quiet, and they seemed almost subdued. Sam wondered if they were worried about Standish. Sometimes they seemed so cavalier about things it was hard to know for certain. All the watchers knew the rules of Immortal combat clearly stated that it had to be one on one. But Sam still felt like one of the others should have been there with Standish to watch, to act as second maybe, offer support, act to avenge his death if need be. He sighed deeply, taking a drink of his beer, knowing hed never really understand these men.
It was hard to characterize Standishs relationship with the others. Or for that matter, the relationship the others had to one another. They were friends, to be sure, but not friends as Sam knew them. The group would split up for years, and then get back together again, over and over. They had done so for nearly two centuries that the Watchers knew about.
Much of their individual histories remained relatively unknown. It was only when they were together that the Watchers had ever been able to establish much about them as fact. In all the years the seven had been observed and studied, no one had successfully figured out the intricate group dynamics. Other than having determined, beyond all doubt, that Larabee was the leader of their motley group, nothing else could be said for certain. It was just another mystery that seemed to shroud them.
Tanners eyes moved toward the door, and the others followed suit. When it opened, Standish walked through, looking none the worse for wear. At least, that was true, if you didnt look at his eyes. Sam had never encountered another soul whose eyes could be so incredibly expressive. Normally, they gave away nothing that Standish didnt want to, but right now, there was a wealth of information relayed in just a glance.
Standish stepped toward the bar, ignoring his friends. Tanner rose to his feet and approached him, stopping him before he reached his destination. Sam didnt know if hed been volunteered by the others, or if hed made the choice himself. There was no signal, or obvious sign of interaction between the others, so Sam guessed Tanner had been the one to choose. But there was no way to know for certain. Other watchers had noted an uncanny ability for the group to communicate without speaking, or any obvious sign of having done so.
Sam couldnt hear the quiet exchange between Tanner and Standish. Standish dipped his head once, and nodded. Tanner made a gesture toward the sevens table, but Standish shook his head. Tanner lay one hand on Ezras shoulder, squeezed once, and then walked away to rejoin the others.
The green-eyed Immortal stepped up to the bar, and asked for a bottle of something, probably his favorite single malt. Joe gave it to him, and a glass. Standish nodded once, polite as always, and then moved to sit at a booth in the back. Sam reflected that the Immortal didnt so much as sit as simply collapse into the seat. He poured himself a drink, and seemed intent on doing nothing more complicated than finishing the bottle in front of him.
Sam waited for nearly an hour. None of the others approached Standish, nor did Standish make any move to join the others. Glances were cast his way. Looks of understanding, concern, and compassion, but they didnt move to close the distance. Sam frowned. Were they angry with him? Disappointed in some way? Or were they respecting his wishes relayed through Tanner?
There was only one way to find out. Sam got another beer, and moved toward the booth the Immortal sat in. He liked Standish, and it looked like the man could use someone to talk to. His behavior was certainly off the mark. In following the man for the past five years, Sam had yet to see Standish drink to excess.
Sam shook his head ruefully. Until that night five months ago, hed never even spoken to the man. And now he was worried that he might need someone to listen. Funny the way things worked out.
Sanchez saw him moving toward Standish and moved to stand, probably to intervene. Surprisingly, it was Standish who made a hand motion halting Sanchez, and indicating it was all right to let Sam proceed. He could feel the weight of their stares, but continued toward the booth, doing his level best to ignore them.
Sam slid into the booth, and sat opposite the Immortal. He noticed that the bottle was nearly empty, but looking at him, it was hard to tell if the liquor had any affect or not. Standish studied him for a moment, green eyes clear, and giving away nothing. The scrutiny made Sam shiver. He was beginning to think hed made a mistake in coming over when the other man spoke.
"Excuse me?" That wasnt at all what hed been expecting.
"The man I met this evening." Standish clarified with a small smile. His voice soft, southern accent slightly more pronounced. "His name was Charles Montique."
Sam nodded. It wasnt a name he recognized. Hed pass it on to Joe, fairly certain he might have more information on that Immortal. Hearing the past tense used, Sam asked, "So hes he dead then?"
Standish raised an eyebrow, green eyes cold as ice. "Mr. Calkins, you are not a stupid man. I am here. He is not. The logical conclusion, given those details, would be that he is no longer among the living, nor is he likely to ever be again."
Sam winced at the rebuke. Hed read where other duels had been interrupted or called off before. It was always possible that they didnt have to end in death. "Didnt think it always had to end that way."
Standish sighed, and sipped his drink. "It doesnt. In fact, it didnt have to tonight either. But Mr. Montique was most insistent."
Sam was stuck by the fact that Standish actually looked tired. The Immortal never looked tired. "Did you know him?" Sam asked, unable to squelch his curiosity, wondering if it that might explain the Immortals odd behavior, and appearance.
"Until this evening, he and I had never met." Standish placed his empty glass on the table. Long fingers toyed with the glass, making circles on the table. "Do you usually write information about us in a notebook, or do you use a tape recorder?"
Sam wasnt sure what to make of the non sequitur. The Seven all knew about the Watchers, so it wasnt like he was revealing a secret or providing critical information by answering the question. "Usually, I write my notes in code. Transcribe them later on a disc I give to Joe. He encodes it in another system before he wipes the disc."
Standish poured himself another shot. Sam blinked when he realized the Immortal wasnt drinking his usual single malt scotch but brandy. Before he could wonder about the meaning of that little detail, Standish was regarding him with a steady, searching look.
"Then write down his name."
Sam hesitated for just a moment before pulling his notebook from his pocket. Standish spelled it, carefully annunciating each letter. The Immortal sipped his drink, before gazing into the glass with a meditative air.
"The reason we, myself and the others that is, have tolerated the Watchers, is that much of our existence would be lost, or forgotten, without you and your merry band of peeping toms."
"I dont look in bedroom windows." Sam bit out, offended to be classified what he thought of as a pervert. Hed always tried to respect a certain level of privacy while doing his job.
"Forgive my presumption." Standish tipped his head in a way that conveyed the same level of respect as if hed bowed. It was a neat trick Sam had seen him do before, but was unable to determine just how he managed to pull it off.
"It was wrong of me to label you as such. Particularly when you do us a service." Standish smiled sadly. "Albeit, you do it more for yourselves than us. Still, the fact remains, were it not for you, and your meticulous records, one such as Charles Montique would likely never be noted as having lived at all."
Sam nodded, accepting the apology, and odd compliment, such as it was. Standish sighed, and sipped his drink again. "He has no family that will mourn his passing, or celebrate his life. I dont know if he had any steadfast friends, but I suspect he did not. I cannot honestly decide if that fact is merely a small tragedy encased in a larger one, or a genuine tragedy in its own right."
Standish pursed his lips, and then shook his head. "Sometime this evening, Mr. Montiques body will likely be discovered, courtesy of an anonymous tip to the police."
Sam was fairly certain it had been Standish who made the call. For not knowing his challenger, Standish had seemed inclined to go above and beyond the call when it came doing right by him. Sams estimation of the Immortals character went up another notch.
"But his identity," Ezra shrugged gracefully, "well, from now on he will likely be labeled as John Doe. For all intents and purposes, forgotten. Unremarked, and unremembered. And he deserved better than that."
"Thought youd never met him before?" Sam frowned thinking maybe he had misheard that earlier.
"So, you were paying attention. Very good, Mr. Calkins." He raised his glass and saluted Sam with it. "I did say we had never met."
Standishs eyes shifted and he looked past Sam. "He was young, over eager, and careless. With a little guidance, he could have been much more." Green eyes shifted back to Sam. "But then, I suppose, that statement might well be true of all of us."
Standish shook his head. And Sam was surprised to see a trace of regret cloud the otherwise unreadable expression. "There was potential in that man that will never be realized."
"You almost sound sorry." Sam raised both eyebrows. Somehow it never occurred to him that Immortals would regret the death of an enemy. All the accounts hed read seemed to suggest that they could be a cold hearted, callous bunch. Even the ones the Watchers thought of as being the good guys tended to show little remorse over a fallen enemy.
"You thought I would not be?" Standish arched an eyebrow. "You thought what? That I could simply end another mans life, and never pause for a moment to reflect upon the consequences of my action, or consider the person whose life I had just terminated."
Sam bit his tongue. This was the first real conversation hed ever really had with the Immortal. And he had no idea how many duels the man had participated in, so he wasnt sure what the mans usual reaction was. He settled for telling the truth since he wasnt sure if the Immortal would know that he lied or not. "I dont know."
Standish cocked his head, his lips twisting in a bitter smile. Green eyes narrowed. "It is distressing to realize that you have followed my every move for the past five years, and not gained any greater insight into my personality. I thought you smarter than that."
Feeling unjustly chastised, Sam almost snarled. "Not every move. Never saw you fight. Not once. How the hell should I know how you feel about killing someone?" He winced when he realized just how petty and childish that sounded.
Standish arched an eyebrow again. "I am not a gladiator, Mr. Calkins. I do not fight for your amusement or entertainment. This is a matter of survival, a defining moment of Immortal existence. It would belittle both combatants to turn it into nothing more than a blood sport."
That gentle rebuke worked better than if Standish had slapped him. Sams gaze dropped to the table. "Im sorry."
"I know, Sam." Was the soft reply. "And so am I. For a great many things."
Sam started, surprised more by the use of his first name than anything else. Standish rarely called anyone by his or her first name. He just didnt. It was a quirk that every Watcher hed ever had, made note of. Even long time friends were addressed with a certain formality.
Standish shook his head, eyes suddenly bright with an inner amusement. "I sincerely hope your annals are full of more than the combats we have engaged in. Otherwise my hope for Mr. Montique, to be more than a mere footnote, will be in vain."
"He will be more than that." Sam was quick to reply. He twisted his beer bottle between his hands. He felt like he owed the other man an explanation for his earlier out burst.
"I was just .well, I guess Im curious more than anything else. Been following you for five years, and I havent seen a single duel. Read about them, but never saw one. Never saw a single quickening event and Ive heard they are pretty damn impressive."
Standish chuckled. "Curiosity is a dangerous thing." He sighed, and refilled his glass. "Im beginning to see why God chooses to reveal so little of himself to human beings."
Sam frowned, feeling like hed lost the conversation yet again. "I dont understand."
"Your job, Mr. Calkins, is to observe me daily, an Immortal. A being capable of healing every injury. Able to revive from any form of death save one, decapitation. A being capable of living for centuries, and yet never age a day. You literally study the extraordinary, the supernatural."
Standish cocked his head, giving Sam a speculative look. "But, having become so familiar with it, you are no longer in awe. You are not even impressed."
Standish snorted. "Familiarity really does breed contempt. And I suspect God was aware of this little fact long before the rest of us."
"Sounds more like a topic you should discuss with Sanchez." Sam offered. Philosophy or theology, or whatever the hell Standish was talking about, had never been his strong suit.
The Immortal chuckled. "Indeed. But with Mr. Sanchez, one must be certain of the argument before engaging in debate, otherwise you come away no more certain of anything than you did before you started."
"I know the feeling." Sam muttered.
Standish tipped his head back and laughed. The sound was surprisingly joyful, and lighthearted, given the deep nature of their earlier conversation. The Immortal cleared his throat, and composed his features, but his eyes still twinkled.
"Tell me, Mr. Calkins, what was it you wanted to know when you sat down?"
"Honestly." Standish smiled, making an open hand gesture as though offering the table to Sam. "I will return the favor by honestly answering you."
Sam shrugged. "Just wanted to make sure you were okay. Seemed a little well, off center when ya walked in. Sitting by your self drinking brandy well, its not exactly normal for you. And I thought you might need someone to talk to."
Standish grinned, dimples making an appearance. He reached across the table, and patted Sams face. "You, Mr. Sam Calkins, are truly a good man. And Im glad you have continued in your endeavor to record my life for posterity despite my being a difficult assignment."
Sam flushed at the praise. "That isnt exactly an answer."
"No, it isnt. But then you didnt exactly ask me a question either."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Are you okay?"
Standish downed the last of his drink. "I usually get a bit maudlin, and introspective, after I engage in the brutal, but necessary, aspects of my continued existence. It is hardly surprising that I am not good company at such times, and usually prefer solitude. The others," Standish tipped his head toward the Sevens table, "know this. A little time to myself, and I eventually recover my center, as I believe you put it earlier."
Sam jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Tanner leaning against the booth, trademark half-smile firmly in place. It was unnatural how quietly the man could move.
"You ready ta go home, Ez?"
Standish looked at the nearly empty bottle of brandy. Sam was shocked when the normally well-mannered Immortal picked up the bottle, and down the remainder in one long swallow. He set the bottle down on the table with a resounding thud.
"I am now, Mr. Tanner."
Tanner patted Sam on the shoulder, conveying a message of thanks in that simple gesture. Sam wasnt sure what he was being thanked for. Before he got a chance to ask, Tanner was moving to help Standish to get to his feet. The Immortal was obviously more drunk than he looked or sounded. Tanner held him steady, making sure Standish had his feet under him.
Standish tipped his head to Sam. "I will bid you goodnight, Mr. Calkins."
"Good night, Mr. Standish."
Vin tipped an imaginary hat to Sam as he helped Standish leave. Sam sighed. He couldnt quite shake the feeling that he really had no idea what had just happened. He rubbed a hand over his face, and tried to remember why it was that he thought talking to Standish was a good idea.
He slid out of the booth, and made his way to the bar, intent on paying his tab and going home. Sanchez met him at the bar. The big Immortal laid a twenty down on the bar. "For Sams tab."
When Joe collected the money, Sanchez made a slight shooing motion. Joe raised an eyebrow, but didnt argue. He simply moved to the end of the bar, providing the privacy Sanchez had silently ordered.
Sanchez patted Sam lightly on the back. "Was a good thing you did, brother. Such a deed should not go unrewarded."
"What did I do?" Sam asked, genuinely confused.
Sanchez smiled warmly. "He let you join him. He spoke with you. And you made him laugh."
Sam blinked, not understanding the significance. "Ive heard him laugh before."
Sanchez nodded. "Indeed. But after a night such as this ," big Immortal shook his head sorrowfully, "it has sometimes taken far longer to recover his sense of perspective."
Sam decided that was an interesting way to put it. "How long?"
Sanchez sighed. "Once he has slipped into such a mood generally no more than a day, maybe a week. But the longest was nearly a decade. He would not let us get close to him. Or any one else, for that matter. He preferred solitude and silence to human company."
Sam stared, incredulous. "He said he needed some time alone but, a decade??!"
Sanchezs blue eyes regarded him calmly. "When you live for centuries, a decade really is only some time, son."
He was struck anew by the realization of how long Immortals might live. Standish may well have been right. Hed been exposed to the idea for so long he lost sight of just how impressive, fantastic it truly was.
"Must have been a bad one." Sam commented after a moment. He tried to picture what would have to happen for the sociable and gregarious man hed watched for the past five years to live as a solitary figure.
"It was." Sanchez nodded solemnly.
Sam wanted to ask more. Find out what happened and when. But he got the distinct impression he wouldnt get any answers. This was personal, intensely private. Hed told Standish he was not a peeping tom. Hed just been given a glimpse of another persons psyche, and it felt wrong to write it down for others to read.
Sanchez patted his shoulder, much the same way Tanner had earlier, and walked away. Even without turning around, Sam knew the rest had already left. Joe sidled up from the other side of the bar.
"What was that all about?"
Sam sighed. Hed already made his decision, but still needed to answer Joe. "When I get that figured out for sure, Ill let you know."
On Being Immortal
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