Alternate Universe "Highlander"
Characters: Vin Tanner with brief appearances by Ezra Standish, Chris Larabee, & OFC - Charlotte Sparrow.
Summary: Vin Tanner is offered a job he is very sure he doesn't want, but doesn't know how to refuse.
He was being followed. Vin hadn't been sure at first, but the persistent tingling sensation on the back of his neck confirmed the unwanted scrutiny. He debated circling back to town for one of the others, but he wasn't sure his shadow wouldn't make a move before then. There was a large copse of trees coming up on his right. Vin thought he'd be able to outmaneuver his tail and gain the upper hand.
He hit the tree line, dismounted and lowered himself from sight. Unholstering his mare's leg, he waited for his mysterious pursuer to arrive. Vin hoped the man would realize too late where he had disappeared to, giving Vin the moment he needed to gain the advantage.
The man pulled up short of Vin's position. He cursed when he realized that he didn't have a clear line of sight, yet if he moved he'd undoubtedly give away his location. So he waited.
"Mr. Tanner," the stranger called. "I'd like to talk to you."
Vin didn't reply.
When there was no answer, the man cleared his throat and started again. "I'd like to talk to you about what happened four days ago between Karl Jaeger and Ezra Standish."
Vin sucked in a breath. Did this stranger know about Ezra's challenge? As much as he didn't want to give himself away, he owed it to Ezra to find out what the man wanted. Breathing out slowly, he climbed to his feet and stepped clear of the trees, gun held steady in front of him.
"Don't know what you're talkin' about."
The man dismounted. Keeping his arms up in a placating gesture, the stranger approached. Vin studied his face. He'd thought he'd seen the man around town. He wasn't the kind of person most people would notice, but then Vin wasn't most people. The stranger was dressed all in tan from his hat to his boots; even his hair was a sandy color. The guy practically blended into the background.
"I think you do," the man said as he came to stand about ten feet in front of Vin. "In fact I know you do because I saw you there."
Vin tilted his head as he thought back to the duel he'd witnessed four days ago. He hadn't seen any signs of spectators, but then he'd been intent on watching Ezra. This guy was so nondescript it was possible that Vin had missed him.
"Who are you?" Vin demanded. "What do you want?" He wasn't about to admit to anything concerning the challenge.
"My name is Walter Smithson. I'm an Immortal Watcher and I'd like to offer you a job."
Vin let out a small chuckle. "Already have a job." And then the middle part of the man's admission struck home. Immortal Watcher. Vin frowned. What the hell was that? If this guy was an Immortal, surely Ezra would have sensed him at some point over the past week.
As if recognizing Vin's internal concern Walter chuckled. "No, I'm not an Immortal, but I watch and chronicle their activities. Immortals are living history; my organization is dedicated to recording their lives for posterity. Karl Jaeger was my latest subject, but since Mr. Standish took care of him, I am essentially without an assignment at the moment."
Vin was still unsure what he was talking about and how this related to why the man was following him around offering him a job. "What's that got to do with me? I'm no Immortal." Vin figured there was no sense in denying his knowledge of Immortals, Smithson had seen him help Ezra.
Walter smiled. "Isn't it obvious? Ezra Standish is an Immortal and we need someone to watch him. Of course Immortals are usually unaware of our existence. It allows us to capture their lives without prejudice. Normally, I would just transfer my activities to the winner of a challenge, but your knowledge of Immortals makes you a better choice to take up the role as Mr. Standish's Watcher."
"Watch him?" Vin didn't like the implication of what Walter was suggesting. "Ya want me to spy on Ezra for some secret organization and not tell him."
"Spy is such a harsh word. We simply want you to keep a chronicle of his life what it means to be an Immortal. We watch without interfering in the activities of our subject. The anonymity is a necessary so that we remain objective observers rather than become part of the story. I'd especially be interested to know how old Mr. Standish is and how he became Immortal. That would be important information "
"No," Vin interrupted. "Ain't gonna tell you anything about him."
Ignoring Vin's protests, Walter had gone into recruitment mode. "I wish you could comprehend how important these individuals are to our understanding of what it means to be human. They live through history. An Immortal's chronicle is the only evidence we have of their extraordinary lives." Walter was caught up in his love for what he did, his eyes shining with belief in the rightness of it. Vin was appalled. "They are living witnesses to all that's "
"I said, no." Vin didn't raise his voice, didn't allow the anger he felt for this man and his activities to show. Watching people without their permission, no matter how noble they believed the reason, was just wrong.
"Mr. Tanner, you must understand, now that we know of Mr. Standish, we will be watching him." Walter's eyes still held the offer of a congenial collaboration as he continued, "But it would be better if his Watcher was someone who had a reason to be around the subject. As his friend, it would be easy for you to capture Mr. Standish's story."
"I won't help ya spy on Ezra." Vin was growing more uncomfortable with this conversation. He wasn't much for verbal negotiations. "Won't let no one else do it neither."
Walter stiffened and his demeanor shifted from friend to adversary. "We've been doing this a long time without detection. There's a reason that we've stayed in the shadows so successfully for so long. We will watch him with or without your help. We'd prefer to have you on our side."
"I'm on Ez's side." Vin had turned the man down and yet Walter didn't seem to be willing to take no for an answer. He wanted to get back to town and tell Ezra all about the situation. The gambler was one of the most private men he knew and he wouldn't be happy about these watcher guys
"Which is why you should be eager to accept my proposal," Walter said. He took a step forward and the friendly demeanor was back in place. "I understand that you've had some trouble with the law in Texas," he said with a conspiratorial tone to his voice. "We can help with that. My organization is not without its resources."
There is was. That damn bounty, always coming back to haunt him. He knew that Judge Travis was trying to do something about it, but it still hung over his head. Smithson was promising a way out. As tempting as the offer was, the price of betraying his friendship with Ezra was too high.
"Are you threatening me?" Vin demanded. He hefted his mare's leg a little higher as he continued, "'Cause I don't take kindly to threats."
Walter sighed, maybe having realized he'd misjudged the friendship that existed between Vin and Ezra. "No. Let me explain it another way. You can use the position as his Watcher to protect him from detection as well as protecting yourself. There is no hidden agenda in my offer. You will get what you want, your name cleared and we get what we want, a record of Mr. Standish's life. I fail to see how this is a bad thing."
Vin was at a loss. As much as he knew spying on his friend was a bad idea, Smithson had made it seem like everyone would come out a winner. Unfortunately, he was right about one thing; Vin had Ezra's back, no other Watcher would do the same.
Vin knew that if Ezra thought some stranger was watching him, he might leave Four Corners to get away from the scrutiny. Also, Smithson hadn't said anything about Charlotte. It was possible that his group didn't know anything about her. A stranger watching Ezra would find out soon enough that Charlotte was Immortal; one sparring session would reveal her true nature. Vin knew that if he said yes that he could protect Charlotte from detection.
He holstered his weapon, indicating that he was willing to think about what Walter proposed. "I ain't saying yes, but I gotta say you make a good argument."
Walter smiled. "I am pleased that you see my position." He indicated that he wanted to get something from his saddle bags. Vin watched carefully as he pulled out a leather bound journal and handed it to him.
"What's this?" Vin opened the book revealing nothing but blank pages.
"Something to get you started." Walter smiled, so sure that he'd won Vin over.
"Ya want me to write stuff down?" Vin had to stop himself from snickering. It seemed these all powerful watcher men didn't know everything.
"Of course how else did you think we would capture Mr. Standish's story?"
Vin wasn't about to admit that his reading and writing skills weren't the best. Mary and Charlotte had been working with him for almost a year now, but he still wasn't comfortable with his abilities. There was no way he could do what Smithson was asking of him even if he wanted to.
"Like ta think about it," Vin said. He felt like he was making a deal with the devil and that didn't sit well with him.
"I understand and I'm happy to let you think about this offer, Mr. Tanner." Walters
smile turned cold. "But I must insist that this conversation not be shared with Mr. Standish. As for your other associates, I'm sure you'd have a hard time convincing them of my offer without exposing Ezra's Immortality, which I'm sure you wouldn't want to do."
Vin covered his surprise at Walter's implied threat. The man didn't have any idea that the other five peacekeepers knew of Ezra's Immortality. Maybe there was a way that this could all work out without Vin feeling like he'd betrayed a friend.
"Ya have my word as a Tanner I won't tell him about yer organization or your offer." Vin struggled to keep the smirk off his face. He meant it. If Ezra found out, it wouldn't be from him. While Smithson had implied he shouldn't tell Chris and the others, he hadn't said anything about not telling Charlotte. He hadn't been friends with Ezra for this long without learning to recognize the loopholes in any agreement.
+ + + + + + +
Vin was still reeling from the offer Smithson had made and was deep in thought when Charlotte's ranch finally came into view. He spurred Peso on, calling out, "Vin Tanner coming in," when he saw Charlotte sitting on the front porch. She immediately set aside her sewing and stood to greet him.
Vin leaped off his horse and charged up the two steps to stand beside her.
Her smile of welcome died on her lips as she took in his agitated state. "What's wrong? What's happened?"
Vin shook his head, realizing that he's startled her unnecessarily. "No one's hurt. Everythin's fine," he assured her even though it clearly wasn't. He paused. Now that he was here he wasn't sure exactly what he should say.
Sensing his distress, Charlotte gestured to the bench. "Sit down and tell me what has you so concerned."
Vin took a seat, slouching wearily against the wall as Charlotte settled in beside him. She quietly waited for him to share what had brought him to her doorstep.
"Don't rightly know how to start," he admitted.
Charlotte laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Take your time, Vin. Whatever it is, I promise I will do my best to help."
Looking her straight in the eye, he decided to get right to the point. "Been offered a job as Ezra's Watcher."
Charlotte gasped in disbelief. "I don't understand. How . I mean, who made this offer?"
It was plain from her reaction that Charlotte was familiar with the Watchers. "Name's Walter Smithson. Then you do know 'bout these guys?"
"I'm afraid I do." Charlotte clasped her hands in her lap, her disgust palpable. "They are nothing more then voyeurs; intruding on people's private lives. I have done everything possible to keep them out of my business, but obviously not enough."
"Guess you ain't too fond of them." Vin wondered if he accepted this offer, would she feel the same hatred toward him? "That why you didn't say nothin' 'bout Watchers when y'all told us you was Immortal?"
Charlotte shook her head. "In all honestly, I thought that they would never find me. It seemed unnecessary to worry all of you with this detail."
"Pretty big detail, ma'am." Vin struggled to keep disappointment at bay. Charlotte had shared so much, he shouldn't be angry that some things had remained private. "If it makes ya feel better, don't think they know about you. He only talked about Ezra."
There was a moment of relief that crossed her face before being replaced by a look of guilt. "No it doesn't."
"Ma'am? Thought you'd be happy they ain't found you."
"But they have found Ezra," she said ruefully. "I should have suspected that Jaeger might have a Watcher and now they are upon our doorstep."
"Iffen you'd told us about these Watchers, then we could have helped," Vin said. He didn't want her to feel bad, but he might have noticed Smithson if he'd been aware that someone could be following Jaeger.
Charlotte nodded, acknowledging her own mistake. "I was foolish not to have trusted you all with this information and seek out your assistance."
Vin wanted to be angry that Charlotte's penchant for secrets had been partially responsible for his current dilemma, but it wasn't as much her fault as she wanted to believe. It was his job to notice strangers and Smithson had slipped past him. Everything had happened so quickly that day. Jaeger had barely been in town before the challenge had been issued and Ezra was riding out to meet him. "You had other things on your mind," he said. "You were worried 'bout Ezra; we all were."
"That may be true, Vin, but I can not help but feel responsible." She looked up at Vin, a small smile on her face as she continued with a sigh of acceptance, "What's done is done and now we must deal with this Watcher. Any idea as to why he chose to approach you?"
Vin hesitated; he was on shaky ground. There were some half-truths he would have to spin to keep his promise to Ezra and not tell Charlotte about his presence at the challenge. "Said they like to recruit people who have a reason to be 'round the Immortal ta do the watching."
"I've heard that; but why you?" Charlotte was searching for answers and Vin couldn't meet her eye. He hung his head and she reached out to squeeze his hand. "They found something to win you over, didn't they?"
Vin nodded without looking up. "Offered to clear my name."
Charlotte touched Vin's cheek briefly, forcing him to meet her gaze. "What is it you want me to say, Vin?"
"Don't like the idea of spying on Ezra even if it means gittin' out from under this bounty."
"And have you asked Ezra how he feels?"
"Can't. Promised not to tell Ezra and the others, but ."
Charlotte chuckled. "But not me."
Vin shrugged. "Thought you'd know best what I should do."
"Well Vin, I can't tell you what to do, but I can tell you how I feel." She paused. When he indicated that he wanted to know, she continued, "I am feeling very selfish right now."
Vin tilted his head in confusion wondering if he'd heard her right. Couldn't she see it was him who was the selfish one for even considering selling out his friend for his freedom? "Don't rightly see you bein' the selfish one."
"I am, because I want you to take a job that you so obviously find distasteful."
He sat up straighter. This was not the answer he'd expected. Vin had been sure that Charlotte would be very angry and insist that he couldn't spy on them. Sensing his confusion, she patted his hand and smiled.
"As intrusive as I find the whole concept of a Watcher, there are certain advantages to your taking this position. As his Watcher, you'd be able to protect Ezra as well as keeping me out of the chronicle. And that is my selfish nature coming through. I very much do not wish to be found by the Watchers. If you were to refuse well, I'm not sure what would happen."
"They'd send someone else," Vin said softly, still a little surprised by Charlotte's admission.
"Vin," Charlotte took his hand in hers, "I know how much ridding yourself of the bounty means to you and you believe that becoming a Watcher would be a betrayal."
He wanted to protest, to explain that he would never betray them, but Charlotte held up her hand. "Let me finish. I assure you it would not. Having a friend in this role would be the best thing that could happen. I feel terrible that it was my mistake that brought about this situation, so I can not ask you to do this for us. It has to be your decision."
Vin was stunned. Of all the possible outcomes of this conversation, a guilt-ridden Charlotte asking him, though indirectly, to take the job had never crossed his mind.
He was saved from responding when he heard a rider coming in.
"Ezra's here for lunch," she announced. "You're welcome to stay, Vin."
He shook his head. "Not sure I want ta face Ezra just yet."
"I understand." Charlotte smiled. "Do not worry yourself; I will explain it to him." With a final squeeze of his arm she left to greet her cousin.
Vin rose and followed her.
"Why am I not surprised to find that your patrol has led you here, Vin?" Ezra grinned, dismounting as they approached
"Ain't staying," Vin said. "Just stopped to say howdy."
"Surely Charlotte invited you to join us. I have it on good authority that there is pie."
Vin smiled, tempted to accept the invitation, but he wanted Charlotte to have some privacy with her cousin. "Maybe next time."
"Are you feeling all right, Vin?" Ezra teased.
"Let him go, Ezra," Charlotte chided.
The gambler shrugged. "More for me then."
Chuckling, Vin met Charlotte's eye. Thank you he mouthed; she nodded in return. "Ezra. Charlotte," Vin said as he touched the brim of his hat. He mounted his horse and headed for home.
Vin felt much better than when he'd arrived. As much as he hated to admit it, Smithson was right. If he took the position, everybody won. Vin only hoped that Charlotte could make Ezra see the truth of that.
+ + + + + + +
Vin sat in the corner, staring at the full shot of whiskey in front of him and the bottle of whiskey at his elbow. He spun the glass around debating the merits of downing it and getting blinding drunk. Drinking wasn't a luxury he allowed himself in the days since the bounty made getting drunk a hazardous choice, but the events of today weighed heavily on his mind.
He hadn't seen Smithson when he'd returned to town. Vin was grateful that the man was making himself scarce as he had no desire to face him until he knew how Ezra felt.
He fingered the glass again, wondering what it would feel like to really be able to let go. It had been so long since he'd had the freedom to just do what ever he wanted without always looking over his shoulder.
"Gonna drink that or play with it?"
Startled, Vin looked up to see Chris standing at the table, a small grin on his face. He chided himself for his lack of attention. He was already getting careless. "Hadn't really decided," Vin answered honestly.
Chris nodded. "Guess I can help you decide." He left briefly to grab his own glass and returned to settle into the chair across from Vin.
"Not really looking for company," Vin said, glaring at his friend, hoping he would leave him be.
Chris ignored him and reached for the bottle, filled his glass and downed it. "Didn't ask if you were."
Vin sighed inwardly. Chris knew he had something on his mind, but in typical Larabee fashion he wasn't going to ask. He was just going to sit there until Vin felt like sharing. Well, it was going to be a long wait because he had nothing to say to the man.
Vin knocked back the shot, and pouring another, downed it just as quickly. Vin caught the look of surprise on Chris' face, but refused to be drawn into any explanation.
Chris leaned back his chair, studying him. "Ain't like you to get drunk," he finally said.
He wanted to snap at Chris, tell him to mind his own business, but then Larabee would know something was really wrong and he'd never be rid of him. Instead he shrugged without answering.
They sat in awkward silence until the sound of someone entering the saloon caught their attention. Ezra was back. Vin paled, not wanting to face his friend just yet, he wasn't nearly drunk enough for the anger he was sure Ezra would direct his way.
Ezra paused and sent him a silent inquiry; asking if he wanted company. Vin knew there was no putting it off and nodded that he should join them. Ezra quirked a smile, the small mischievous one that said 'I know something you don't know'. It was the smile that always made Chris a little nervous and effectively hid from Vin what Ezra was really thinking.
The gambler made a quick stop at the bar to gather his own bottle and glass before joining them
Chris hadn't missed the exchange and was openly staring at Vin, trying to decipher exactly what was happening between the two. "Hate it when he smiles like that," Chris said as Ezra approached, confirming what Vin had been thinking.
Ezra chuckled. "Now Chris, no need to worry. I have just enjoyed a wonderful meal at my cousin's and it has put me in a decidedly good mood." Ezra directed this last part toward Vin.
The tracker was hesitant to believe the coded acceptance as the positive sentiment that it seemed to be. "Sorry I couldn't a joined ya," Vin said. "I know you and Charlotte had a lot to talk about."
"Indeed we did. It was a most enlightening conversation." Ezra continued to smile at him and Vin knew that there were no ill feelings. Once again, Vin wished Chris would leave because he really wanted to hear from Ezra directly that he was fine with the situation.
"Glad to know you're in such a good mood," Vin acknowledged.
"What's going on?" Chris asked, obviously sensing some hidden meaning passing between them.
"To what are you referring?" Ezra's eyes were full of mirth while his face took on a visage of innocence.
"Ain't nothing going on," Vin confirmed. "Just wish Ezra had thought to bring some pie back with him."
"Right," Chris drawled. "Getting a little tired of the two of you keeping secrets."
When neither man stepped up to explain, Chris stood in frustration. "Fine. Just don't do anything stupid."
"I rarely do anything stupid "
"Very often," Vin interrupted with a chuckle.
"Vin, that is unfair. I always have a good reason for my actions and therefore they could not possibly be construed as stupid."
Chris rolled his eyes before addressing Vin, "Watch him will ya? He's got something going on."
Ezra laughed out loud. "I believe that Mr. Tanner sees it as his responsibility to keep an eye on me."
Confusion crossed Chris' face at Ezra's easy acceptance of his order. He shook his head and muttering about people not respecting his authority, he stalked out of the saloon.
"I fear that Chris is a bit disgruntled," Ezra snickered.
Vin couldn't help but smile. It did seem that the more secrets he and Ezra had between them, the more unsettled Chris became.
"Ezra," Vin began, preparing himself for the conversation to come. "Charlotte told you about Smithson?"
The gambler nodded, the smile never leaving his face. "It seems that we have been afforded a golden opportunity."
Vin shook his head. "This whole thing don't sit right with me."
"Nonsense." Ezra dismissed Vin's concerns with a wave of his hand. "You get what you want, a release from that onerous bounty and I get what I want, someone I can trust watching me for that ridiculous organization. I fail to see how this is a bad thing."
Vin's eyes widened in surprise as Ezra paraphrased the words that Smithson had spoken to him this morning. "Then you're really ok with me taking Smithson's offer?"
"I believe I just said that," Ezra quipped. He poured himself a shot and raised it toward Vin. "To getting what we want."
Hesitantly Vin joined him in the toast and together they downed their drinks in silent agreement. He still couldn't believe that Ezra was taking this all so calmly. But the more his friend smiled at him, the more Vin was starting to see this as a positive arrangement.
"So when do your duties begin?" Ezra asked.
"Smithson gave me a journal ta fill up, but I gotta tell ya, Ez, I ain't gonna be able to write much of a story."
Ezra nodded. "Do not worry yourself. We will take this as an opportunity to improve your writing skills and," a mischievous grin on his face, he continued, "I am quite good at weaving a plausible tale of my adventures."
"You gonna write your own version of events?" Confusion crossed Vin's face. "Thought this was supposed to be true story."
Ezra scoffed, "As true as the dime novels that young Mr. Dunne enjoys."
Vin was a little relieved. If Ezra dictated exactly what should be recorded, then Vin felt like he could do this for him; for both of them. "I should explain how ya became Immortal. Smithson wanted ta know."
"I suppose that incident must be embellished if we are to keep Charlotte and my mother out of the purview of the Watcher's."
"Could always say that the second time you died was actually your first death. You know that time out at Charlotte's when you were helping with the fence." As if Ezra would ever forget. Vin was feeling enough at ease from the alcohol to test Ezra's acceptance of the situation by bringing up the one thing he knew would rile the gambler.
Ezra scowled at him. "You swore that you would never speak of that incident again and yet you continue to bring it up."
Vin laughed. "I promised I'd never tell anyone. Never said nothing about not talking 'bout it. 'Sides you need ta write about it in your -"
"But Ezra " Vin was enjoying the look of distress on Ezra's face. He'd been the only one around when Ezra had died that day at Charlotte's and he'd sworn never to tell. It was always a source of amusement when the gambler thought he might share the embarrassing incident.
"I said no and if you bring it up again I will hurt you."
"Fine," Vin chuckled. "I won't write about how you got chased by a lovesick bull- "
"Shut up, Mr. Tanner," Ezra snapped, the harshness of his tone at odds with the twinkle in his eyes.
Laughing, Vin threw his hands up in surrender. "Alright. Alright. I'll write whatever ya tell me to." He was grateful for the teasing exchange as it confirmed that he and Ezra were going to be just fine. Later, he would find Smithson and tell him he was on board.
"As well you should." Satisfied that Vin would keep his word, a smile returned to Ezra's face. "Now where is that journal?" he asked. "I believe we have a tale to tell."