Facts of Life

by Katherine

Alternate Universe "Immortal 7"


Ezra Standish casually shuffled his cards with a dexterity and speed that Buck Wilmington had initially stared at in awe. Long association had taught him to ignore the amazing feat of nimble fingers. If he stopped to think about, which he rarely did any more, Buck still wondered how long it had taken for Ezra to get so very good at cards.

"When are you going to begin seriously instructing your young protégé?"

"Excuse me?" Buck’s eyebrows rose, his whiskey glass held poised half-way to his lips. Ezra’s softly asked question had taken him by surprise.

"You are planning to instruct him on full meaning of what we are, and how we exist, yes?" Ezra lightly tapped his deck of cards against the table, straightening the cards in a movement of habit and not one of necessity. The gambler began laying out a game of solitaire.

Buck scowled, blue eyes narrowing. "I am teaching him."

Ezra fixed him with a measuring stare, ancient eyes regarding him seriously. Buck resisted the urge to squirm under that penetrating look. There were times when he wasn’t sure that the man he thought of as a friend thought of him the same way.

"No, you are not teaching him. Not really." Ezra contradicted his earlier statement with a conviction that made Buck sit up in his chair.


"You have told him the rules of the game. Shown him which end of the sword to hold." Ezra’s tone was decidedly neutral, a statement of fact without passing judgement. "Those are the basics. Vital for him to know to be sure, but hardly the full extent of what he needs."

The gambler sighed softly. His attention refocused on his cards as he spoke, voice only loud enough to carry to Buck despite the empty state of the saloon. "Watching your sparring session yesterday it is apparent you haven’t progressed beyond that."

The ladies man snorted, and resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Ezra had seen only one sparring session. It was hardly a fair assessment. "My teaching JD isn’t anything you need to bother yourself about."

"I am not bothered, Mr. Wilmington. Not in the least." Ezra’s green eyes slanted toward him. "But if you expect him to live for any length of time, I suggest you increase his level of study to things more useful than what you’ve been doing."

Buck drained his glass in one long swallow. He glared at Ezra. Buck had never had a pupil before. It wasn’t like he had a lot of experience with teaching a new Immortal how to survive. But he’d felt obligated to take on JD and teach him.

The young man had died the first time trying to save Buck’s life. It was an act of sacrifice that wasn’t truly necessary, but JD hadn’t known that at the time. A support beam in a mine they’d been checking out for the judge had broken under the strain of holding up tons of rock. JD pushed Buck out of harms way but was unable to save himself. The beam snapped the young man’s neck like a dry twig, ending his life in one fell swoop. Once JD revived, Buck had taken on the task of explaining the nature of his new existence.

Buck bit his lip. He knew Ezra was older than he was, although he had no real idea of the other man’s true age. The gambler hadn’t spoken of it, but Buck suspected he might have had a pupil or two of his own in that time. The ladies' man was not so proud that he couldn’t take advice, particularly when it wasn’t really his life on the line but JD’s.

"Just what is it you think I should be teaching him?"

Inscrutable jade eyes met dark blue. "The next time he swings his sword like he’s wielding a club you should cut him, deeply and let him bleed. Teach him the folly of leaving his guard so open and exposed."

Buck’s mouth dropped open. Doing what Ezra suggested would eviscerate JD. A mortal wound. "You’ve got to be kidding!"

"He will heal." Ezra stated calmly.

"That’s not the point!" Buck snarled.

"On the contrary, that is the only point." Ezra smiled sadly, unruffled by Buck’s outraged look. "If he didn’t heal, there would be no need to teach him how to even utilize a blade. The sword is rapidly becoming an anachronism, archaic and outmoded."

One eyebrow rose eloquently as a graceful hand wave indicated the guns they both wore now. "It is not only in war that disputes are being settled with gunpowder."

"But to—" Buck swallowed hard, uncomfortable with the thought of gutting someone he considered more than a friend, nearly a brother.

"I have found that most acts of stupidity are not repeated if given sufficient inducement to desist." Ezra’s lips quirked upward slightly. "Pain usually serves as an adequate reminder. Dying and reviving are suitably painful to make the point indelible."

"The rest of us don’t spar like that." Buck argued still appalled.

"With as much experience has we have garnered over the years, the rest of us do not need to." Ezra cocked his head. "But Vin and I do take our matches to the extremes from time to time."

Buck stared. He hadn’t known that. "Why?"

Ezra shrugged one shoulder. "Because our skills are perishable and exercising them is the only way to keep them honed."

The ladies man shook his head. "I’m not going to kill JD just to prove a point."

"You don’t have to kill him." Ezra pointed out reasonably. "You simply need to stop checking your strikes and follow through. Let him realize the consequences of his actions."

The gambler fanned the cards he held, laying out three face up. "How do you expect him to survive encountering others of our ilk if he does not realize the full meaning of ‘there can be only one’?" Ezra studied the cards laid out on the table, placing a jack of hearts on the queen of spades. "We may euphemistically describe what we do as a game, but it far from playful. It has serious, deadly intent."

"I know that." Buck didn’t need to be reminded of that fact. He’d been involved in enough duels to cement that point.

"JD is not going to have to worry about that." Buck had promised himself he’d watch out for the kid. He’d see to it that JD would be safe.

"You can not watch him every minute of every day." Again Ezra arched an eyebrow. "When you are engaged in one of your numerous romantic liaisons, did you intend to hide him the closet? Or when he wants to have one of his own, will you be hiding under the bed to ensure he is safe?"

Buck glared at Ezra. The gambler regarded him with a bland expression. "And what do you think he will do when someone takes your head, hmmm?"

"No one is taking my head."

"There is always someone better, faster, smarter." Ezra fanned out another three cards. "And do not over look the odd moment when lady luck chooses to smile upon another."

The gambler placed the seven of clubs on the eight of diamonds. He frowned at the cards before looking at Buck again. "You do not want to leave behind a pupil that has an overblown, false sense of confidence in his own skill. Especially not when said pupil will likely feel duty bound to avenge your death."

Buck cursed quietly. JD was nothing if not loyal. It did not take a great leap of imagination to picture him trying to take out whoever took Buck’s head.

He stroked his mustache. JD wasn’t just loyal. He trusted Buck, had absolute faith in him. Cutting him, really upping the ante in their sparing lessons even for the young Immortal’s own good could do irreparable damage to that trust. It was foolish to expect him to remain so eager to learn and innocent of the darker side of their existence, but Buck dreaded being the one to pass on that knowledge.

"If you prefer, I could spar with him." Ezra offered, eyes focused on the cards in front of him, an air of studied unconcern surrounded him. Buck had no doubt the offer was made because the gambler had read his indecision and unease. Not for the first time was Buck torn between being pissed off that he was so easily read and grateful that he didn’t have to explain himself. Before he could answer, Ezra was speaking again.

"Or perhaps he could watch Vin and I spar." Ezra fanned out another three cards. "Seeing us compete, no holds barred so to speak, may prove to be equally instructive."

"You’d do that?" Buck asked, feeling as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He knew it was an act of cowardice to pass the responsibility off to another, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to care.

"I would not have offered if I did not intend to follow through." Ezra smiled slightly. "I have not spoken of this to Vin, but I doubt he will object. He will understand the need to help JD progress."

Buck grinned, his earlier indecision regarding whether or not Ezra thought of him as a friend vanished. "Thanks, Ez."

The gambler tipped his head. "You are welcome."


Waging War

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