Know When To Run
(M7/Highlander AU)

by Marns
aka Bumpkin

Disclaimer: Not mine...
Rated: PG-13
Author's Note: I know that some of what I have in here is going to really go against the grain for devoted fans, but I was a cult fan of the original movie and the impressions I got from that which is what I am basing most of this off of - hope it doesn't turn too many of my readers off. Plus, much appreciation to both Runriggers, and Siluria who both took time out of their busy schedules during the holiday season to look this over for me. Inspiration from Strangevisitor7, who saw the kernel of the idea in some of my notes and gave me direction, and Karieflybabe my writing partner who is a wonderful nag - thanks ladies. ::g:: Of course any errors that remain are mine alone.
Description: AU M7/Highlander 'verse's meld. Ezra explains why he refuses to play the 'Game' like every other fool out there.

Back to: Know When To Fold

Seven men sat drinking with each other around a green felted table, in a scenario that was eerily reminiscent of how they used to sit one hundred years ago, in the tiny dusty town they had all been hired to protect. The tavern their oldest member had so nostalgically created of their old retreat in this modern age, was making it all the more evocative of a time long gone to the gathered friends. Content for the moment just to be in each other's company, they sat there silently. However one of their number was irrepressible and broke the comfortable silence with a question.

"Hey, Ez? D'ya mind if I ask you some questions?"

There was a sigh mixed in with a few low chuckles and one choked off snort, but then Ezra said with a small chuckle of his own. "Well since you already asked one, I suppose not."

Ezra had never minded answering JD's questions, not back then and he didn't think he would mind now. Besides that, he was sure it wasn't only JD who was curious, he was certain the other five had their own questions as well. They just weren't adverse to JD breaking the ice. He knew that they - after finding out for certain that he was Immortal like them when they'd run into each other by chance subsequent to his rather precipitous parting with them over a century ago - would have had a number of past discrepancies occur to them. The truth of some he was willing to share, others he wasn't.

Of course, Ezra really hoped they didn't ask about anything... difficult. The last thing he wanted to do after finding them again after all the time that had passed was get into some kind of stupid moralistic argument with them. He'd heard that one of his older friends had recently had that difficulty with the Scottish Boy-Scout in Seacouver; it wasn't something he ever really wanted to get into with his friends. Things would stay so much simpler that way for all concerned.

Inwardly amused, he thought that in many ways things really hadn't changed all that much - they were still nosy as hell and he was still a close mouthed bastard that used a lot of words while saying nothing. Nonetheless, his cautious nature demanded that he add a caveat when he invited JD graciously to ask what he wanted, "Enquire away, my young friend, but keep in mind that I, as always, reserve the right to decline to answer at any time - understood?"

"No problem, I can respect that." JD grinned and bobbed his head in good natured understanding. Of course, right afterwards his mouth opened and what had been burning to say and ask spilled out in a torrent. "So, as you probably guessed, we think we have a few things figured out, but there were a few other things that we couldn't quite get our heads around, and then there were a few that we don't have a clue about. Like we talked about it and figured out that you are probably old, but we have no clue how old you actually are? Is it impolite to ask? I mean, we don't care if anyone asks us but we don't know if it's crass to ask someone older - specially someone who we've figured out is old enough to control their Quickening, even if it's just a little bit to avoid detection by healing too fast."

Ezra quirked an eyebrow and said with amusement, "Crass? As in if you were to ask a lady her age? That is the comparison you are making?"

"Well, yeah, Pard." Buck said as if he was explaining the obvious. "There ain't much difference between an angry woman or a person who knows their way around a sword. 'Specially one who can keep living when people are always trying to separate their head from their body."

Ezra's lips quirked. "True," was all he said though.

"Heh, which brings us to the question of 'the Game' and taking heads." JD said quickly, wanting to get all his questions on the table before Buck could add on to his theory. "What do you think about it? Obviously you're not bad at it, or you wouldn't be still here, but do you think there is any truth to it? Do you really think that someday we might have to fight each other if we were the only seven Immortals left for some nebulous prize?"

"I gather that the six of you think that it's so much nonsense?" Ezra asked as he looked around the table for their individual reactions. To a man they agreed with his words, and he nodded with satisfaction as he said, "Well gentlemen, in short for now I have to inform you that I am in perfect accord with you on that - but before I get into my explanation for why that is, how about I wait until JD is done with his own queries so that I may answer in full."

JD grinned at him again, this time in thanks, and said, "Almost done, just one last thing, and that is Maude. Who was she? I mean, I know you said she was your Ma, but she couldn't have been since all of us are foundlings, right? So if she wasn't your Ma, who was she? Another Immortal that you'd known for a while that you'd set up the whole family thing with? Or was she a mortal con-woman from the time who resented us for stealing her business partner? Or maybe she was some combination of both - a con-woman Immortal who really hated you settling down in Four Corners for reasons we will never know?" Then JD sat back, and said with a smirk. "Okay, I'm done - answer what you will, ignore everything you would've anyway."

"Why thank you very much JD for your permission to do as I would have anyway." Ezra said dryly. Appreciative chuckles from around the table sounded at his words. "So, to sum up your questions - you want to know about; my age, my stance on that absolutely imbecilic farce called 'the Game', and finally who exactly is Maude to me?"

"Yep, that about sums it up in a nutshell." Vin said laconically with a small smile. Ezra had a feeling not all of what he was going to reveal was going to be news to the former tracker. It seemed that Vin had already figured out one or two things. Giving Vin a nod, Ezra wondered with a inward smirk just how close the other man's guesses would line up with the truth.

"Well, about my age - an actual number I can't do but let's just say that if Jesus had been an Immortal I would've had about a century or two on him. The Roman Empire was still thriving and expanding when my circumstances changed. So ballparking it, I would say I am around about 2200 years old or so."

"DA-AMN!" Buck burst out before he could censor himself. "You've been around the block more 'n once or twice, haven't you?"

"Yes, Mr. Wilmington, I guess I have," Ezra said with a roll of his eyes. "And I am not the only one because Maude is about the same age - just about twenty years older. You see, gentlemen, Maude actually is my mother. As in gave birth to me and raised me, just as I believe each of your own mothers did." Confused faces stared at him after he made this statement and Ezra clarified,

"I know you all have probably been feeling a bit betrayed, thinking that you were foundlings and lied to by your parents, but from what I remember of your histories I am pretty sure that isn't the case. Understand one thing right now and that is that you all are operating under a common misconception, one that is shared by the majority of our kind, and that is that we are not able to have children ever. Frankly, it's just not true, as before our first deaths we are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of humanity. Think about it, through Chris' example you should have already realized part of this, gentlemen, he did father Adam with his wife Sarah, did he not?" Understanding lit eyes amongst his companions and Ezra allowed himself a tiny smile. He then continued with what he had been saying, "We are born, we live and then we shift off this mortal coil just as anybody else - unless, of course, we suffer a sudden and violent end. It's only then that what sets us apart activates, the shock and suddenness of the mortal injury forever preserving us in that particular moment in time. Illness, poor overall health, and childbirth, are all natural things and don't constitute a sudden and violent death. Even an injury taken in Battle or a brutal beating that doesn't kill right away but still manages to kill in the end may not activate whatever it is that makes us immortal, there isn't the abrupt insult needed."

They didn't question him about what he'd said, although Nathan had looked like he'd wanted to challenge him a few times. However, too much of what he'd said had rung true, had made too much sense. So now each of his companions had a thoughtful expression on their face as they thought about what he'd shared with them. Ezra could tell they were each thinking back to how they 'died' the first time. How in some cases they had come very close to not activating their Immortality. It was a sobering thought to be sure, but then Ezra leaned forward with a gleam in his eyes that would have any who knew him wary, and derailed their self pity party by asking, "Tell me, gentlemen, now that most of you have realized how close you came to real death, haven't you always wondered why there were so few females of our kind?" Giving them more to think about.

Ezra waited for a while but grew impatient and prodded Nathan, "Well, Doctor, can't you think of a reason why?" Nathan just shook his head. Then he widened his prodding to the whole table, "I'm sure none of you gentlemen are stupidly chauvinistic to think that a woman is at a disadvantage in the arena of our deadly 'Game', so why would there be so few of them?"

"I think I know," Josiah said. "It's because right back to the dawn of time women were protected for their value of lifebringers. A tribe would hardly flourish if they had no women to bring forth more warriors would it?"

"Yes!" Ezra said grinning. "Think about it, no matter what women were to the men around them - chattel or the most precious of partners - women were valuable and protected. They were never sent off to war since they were needed to furnish the warriors. So even back to the furthest reaches of time, the worst deaths they would have to face were those relating to what any human had to deal with, childbirth, illness and accident - accident being the only way most of them would ever be 'activated' so to speak if it was sudden and violent enough." Then Ezra paused and a pained expression crossed his face. "Well, those and deliberate murder, after all back in those times war was a personal thing and you hurt your enemy any way you could." Ezra's face then took on a wry twist, "Of course, even when the worst did happen there then was also the trouble of not having the training to survive and no male would be willing to train a female - but that is a whole other set of issues."

"Issues," Chris said. "I dunno about that, sounds more like volumes to me. I have a feeling I should be happy to be a young 'un in the terms of Immortals. But enough of that, you said something else a while back that I want to hear more about; it was how you were sure that our parents were our own and we weren't foundlings because of stuff we'd told you. What did you mean by that?"

"Yeah, I'm curious about that myself." Buck said and the sentiment was echoed in various forms by the rest around the table. Also, JD asked as well, "Why are you so certain we weren't foundlings?".

"Oh," Ezra said with a bit of a grimace. "Well, there is a reason, or a quirk I guess you could call it, of why so many of us are 'foundlings'." Ezra shot a dirty look at a whispering Vin, as he said waspishly, "And no, we are not the basis for the cabbage patch kids. Nor are we the genesis of the story about the babies the stork drops off." Chuckles sounded but quickly died down as all wanted to hear Ezra's explanation.

Ezra continued, "Whatever it is that makes us what we are - and I am talking about the Immortality cause, not your personalities or peculiarities whatever they might be - carries over into the pregnancy and has a tendency to make for difficulties. Terminal ones. A high percentage of pre-immortal women do not survive their first pregnancy, even though the child will. Those that do survive the pregnancy and birth tend to be sickly and generally die while the child is still young. And a mortal woman carrying a pre-immortal child - well, they almost always die. Now think, a child that plagued it's mother with ill health throughout it's gestation and then killed her at it's birth - it would often be seen as a bad omen and left out in the wilds as a sacrifice to the 'Gods'. They would then be 'found' and adopted, most often ironically as a gift from the 'Gods'. Hence 'foundlings'. Nowadays of course, and I am talking in the last two hundred or so years, the children are most often placed in orphanages or raised by their surviving parent. Rarely will you find women like my mother, a pre-immortal who carried another with no trouble at all."

"That explains the 'foundling' thing, but why are you so sure that none of us were one?" Chris asked.

Ezra shrugged, "I don't know for certain for all of you, but I'll tell you my conjectures." He then named each man and then list-like began to explain why he thought as he did in turn, "JD, you said your mother never recovered from your birth and that she finally died right before you came out west. Vin, you also said your mother was never the most robust woman before the fever that finally took her when you were four years old. Nathan, you didn't remember your mother clearly and then when we met your father he mentioned that she had been sold away because of her poor health. Chris, your mother is like mine, Immortal and not one to cross. Josiah, your mother didn't survive your sister's birth and she wasn't healthy throughout the pregnancy if I recall correctly. And Buck, I am not sure about your mother, but I can't reconcile any woman in that time working where she did taking in a child that wasn't her own."

"My mother is what?" Chris croaked, the shock of finding out his mother was Immortal having kept him quiet while Ezra was talking.

"Around, she'll be in here sooner or later and you can catch up if you stick around. Anything else would be something the two of you would have to discuss when you meet."

Chris glowered at him and JD jumped in trying to diffuse the situation. "Hey, Ez, you never did mention what you thought of the 'Game', well other than it was an 'imbecilic farce' and 'nonsense' that is."

"Ah, yes, that absurd exercise." Ezra said with disgust. Then his gaze turned calculating as he asked, "I wonder, have any of you figured out why I don't involve myself in the farce?"

Nathan had the answer this time. "Because, if what you said is true, more Immortals are being born all the time so it will never end. No -one will ever win the 'Prize'."

"Exactly!" Ezra said. "There isn't a finite number of Immortals, so the 'Game' will never end. So there, Gentlemen, is why I refuse to play the 'Game', because it was obviously thought up by some paranoid individual who wanted us all too focused on killing each other off rather than interfering in world events, as more of our kind are perpetually being born even now so there will never be a 'Gathering' or the chance for only one left to win this ridiculous and mythical 'Prize'."

"Well, that sucks." JD said making Ezra and a few of the others blink with the sheer understatement.

"Yep," Vin added.

"But what about the Holy Ground thing? How we can feel it, no matter the denomination, and that dire things happen if someone takes a Quickening on it?" Josiah asked, thinking perhaps on a flaw in Ezra's argument.

"Ah, the one sanctuary named in the few rules of the 'Game' - I have to admit that is something I don't know about," Ezra said, mystification in his voice. "I can only guess that it has something to do with the electrical nature of our Quickenings and Mother Nature herself in some capacity. We don't know what makes Holy Ground 'Holy' after all. But I think it could be something similar to how we change iron into a magnet, only with mortals and biofeedback. But again, that is pure guesswork on my part as I'll state again that I don't know. I do think that particular bit of wisdom might have been an addendum to the rules when something messy happened during an ancient challenge, not that it was known before the 'Game' came into existence."

The seven men sat silently, just thinking for a few minutes, as they'd covered a lot of information during the recent conversation. Most of them had been given quite a bit to think about and were trying to process it. One though, didn't seem to need to do any processing and a smirk appeared on his face as something else occurred to him.

"Good to know ya don't have all the answers, Ez," Vin said slyly. "Even when you are older 'n dirt."

Ezra stared at Vin, his mouth hanging open in shock for a moment before it snapped shut. "You didn't just go there!" he said incredulously. Their tablemates, distracted from their deep thoughts, were watching avidly as the two went back and forth.

"Mmhmm, I did. What are you going to do about it?" Vin said now openly grinning.

Ezra began to splutter and that was it. It was as if Ezra's lack of words had been a signal to their friends, who burst into peals of laughter as the two continued to wrangle. They'd been having a hard time holding back as it was and were happy to let loose. Vin and Ezra continued to snark back and forth good naturedly like they used to while the others relaxed, happy to just spend time together as seven once more. It was a good night.


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