Notes: Crossover with Magnificent Seven and a story in the Echos the Sea/Aces Immortal series. Thanks to strangevisitor7 and ninjababe for the beta.
Characters: Methos, Duncan MacLeod, Ezra Standish, Original Characters.
Summary: It’s been a century and a half since Methos last saw Charlotte and Ezra. His reappearance in their lives brings back many memories; not all of them happy ones.
A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement
New Mexico Territory ~ Autumn, 1866
“That was sloppy,” Matthew opined from his perch atop a hay bale.
Charlotte pressed her lips into a narrow line, but made no other reaction. Despite that, Ezra wasn’t sure how long her restraint was going to hold. They had come down to the old barn, at the edge of Charlotte’s property, for Ezra’s usual sword practice, Matthew accompanying them. After the older Immortal had completed his kata, he’d settled in to observe their training bout; but his observations had not been silent ones. Ezra knew that Charlotte’s temper was at a simmering boil, just needing one more cutting criticism from Matthew to explode.
It had not been a good week for Ezra and Charlotte. First came the unexpected reappearance of Ezra’s mother, Maude, in Four Corners, and the havoc she had – unsuccessfully – attempted to wreak. And then, Charlotte’s old friend and former teacher, Matthew Adamson, had found out that Ezra’s six companions knew about Immortals. To say he had not been pleased would have been a vast understatement. His displeasure had been placed squarely on Charlotte’s shoulders. Matthew had made it abundantly clear that he thought his former student was far too young to handle the responsibilities that came with teaching a new Immortal, and that her allowing Ezra to reveal their secret only proved it. It was an opinion that was bolstered by the subsequent discovery that Charlotte had been Maude’s teacher at an even younger age.
No, it had not been a good week at all, and Ezra sighed inwardly, regretting the tribulation that had been rained down upon Charlotte for his sake.
“Again,” she said, straightening her shoulders and raising her sword, completely ignoring Matthew.
Nodding, Ezra mirrored her movement and they began the sequence again. He spared a quick glance over at Matthew, who had a disapproving look on his face. He wished he knew what was going on, because the man did have a point; Charlotte didn’t seem herself today. Her movements were ever so slightly off, and lacked their characteristic crispness and economy of motion. It wasn’t like her at all. He could only assume that the cumulative stress of the last several days was taking its toll.
Time passed unmeasured, the only sound that of metal clashing against metal, intermingled with the harsh breathing of the combatants. Ezra concentrated on the fight, pushing all distractions from his mind. The only reality was the blade in his hand as it danced with him across the practice floor. He was finally coming to that place Charlotte had told him of; where his blade was an extension of himself, not some separate object in his hand. Still, he was startled when he came up under Charlotte’s guard, the point of his sword pressing against her chest.
“Well done,” she said softly, a smile ghosting across her lips. Then the smile was gone as if it had never appeared. Her sword arm fell, an unreadable expression on her face. It was almost as if she were waiting for something.
“That was pathetic,” Matthew slapped his hand against his leg, “truly pathetic. Good God, Charlotte, how is the boy going to keep his head if this is how you’re teaching him?”
Ezra started to protest, but the smallest shake of Charlotte’s head stopped him.
She whirled to face Matthew. “I asked you to become his teacher, but you refused,” she ground out. Ezra’s eyes widened; he’d had no idea. “Therefore, you have no say in the matter!”
“If you can’t maintain the emotional detachment to train him properly, then you’re doing nothing more than sending him to his death. You don’t do the boy any favours by going easy on him!”
It was as if they’d forgotten Ezra was even present. He backed away a little, wincing at Matthew’s words. From the beginning, Charlotte had fretted that her attachment to Ezra would be detrimental in her role as his teacher. He had tried to convince her otherwise, and though they hadn’t spoken of it for some time, he knew that worry still plagued her.
Charlotte paled, a white-knuckle grip around her sword hilt. “How dare you say such a thing,” she said, her voice tight with anger. “I would do anything to keep him safe. You have no right to walk back into my life after sixty years and pass judgment!” Turning away, she brushed at her eyes with her free hand.
“I disagree,” Matthew said coolly. Ezra’s heart stopped as the man leapt off the hay bale he’d been sitting on, his sword coming up and around as he strode the few steps that separated him from Charlotte. But before Ezra could shout a warning, she’d whirled, her blade meeting Matthew’s, ringing with the impact. “So you haven’t forgotten everything.” His eyes glinted, his lips twisting into a half smile. Pushing her back, he began to circle, like a wolf on the hunt. “Why don’t we show the boy what a real swordfight looks like?”
Charlotte glanced over at Ezra, her expression once more unreadable. “If you like,” was all she said before battle was joined.
Ezra took Matthew’s place on one of the hay bales that ringed the practice area, watching the fight unfold. It took only a few minutes for him to comprehend just how much he still had to learn. Feet moved, swords flashed; it was like a ballet, albeit a deadly one. He hissed a little in shock as Matthew’s blade sliced down Charlotte’s right arm, leaving a thin trail of blood in its wake, but she barely reacted.
“Keep your right shoulder back,” Matthew instructed. “That is a bad habit I thought you’d been cured of.”
She accepted his reproof with no argument, nodding her understanding. Strengthening her defensive posture, she leapt forward, going on the attack. This time, the fight was close up, as if they’d both decided the time for testing was over.
They no longer seemed angry with each other; though it did nothing to lessen the emotion between them, the intensity of it almost a living thing. Around and around they went; sweat pouring off them even in the chilly confines of the barn. Then Matthew made a move that Ezra was unable to fully track, disarming Charlotte and pulling her against him, his sword coming up to rest against the back of her neck. But she had made a move of her own, and Ezra saw that her dagger was in her right hand, the tip pressed against the hollow of Matthew’s throat.
Both of them were breathing hard, their eyes locked together as if in some silent communion. Matthew’s hand slowly skimmed up her back, over her shoulder, his fingers trailing along her arm till he reached her wrist. Then his hand came over hers, pressing it, and the dagger she held, hard against his body. The action was fraught with eroticism and Ezra felt like a voyeur, yet he had no desire to interrupt the tableau before him. Rarely had he seen her so unguarded; so…young. For the first time, he could really see her. Not the cousin who had raised him when Maude had better things to do, or the teacher she had become after his First Death, or even the mother she was to the six children she had adopted. This Charlotte was the once mortal woman who had sailed the Seven Seas a century before at the side of her husband, leading a life few would choose, living it to its fullest.
Then Matthew smiled. He kissed her forehead before releasing her. “Perhaps you aren’t entirely hopeless,” he allowed, his voice warm.
“You always were such a flatterer,” she replied huskily, batting her eyelashes coquettishly.
He laughed, the sound echoing around the rafters. “And you, dear Charlotte…,” he glanced over at Ezra, “well, not in front of the children.” Taking her hand, he squeezed it. “”I shall teach him.”
Ezra felt rather put upon. It was bad enough that the man treated him as if he were ten, but now his life was being arranged with no regard to what his feelings might be. It was the sort of behaviour he expected from Maude, but not from Charlotte. Standing, he cleared his throat, gaining their attention. “Pardon me for interrupting,” he began with an edge of sarcasm, “but have I no say in this matter?”
Charlotte gave him an apologetic look, but what she said, quite firmly, was, “No, dearest, I’m sorry, but you don’t.” She waved away his protests. “Ezra, please, you know that all I have ever wanted was what was best for you. And Matthew is that. You must believe me when I tell you that Matthew being your teacher is the greatest gift I could ever give you.”
Running a hand thought his hair, Ezra considered her words. He’d seen their duel, and knew Charlotte was not overstating her case. He had often said that he abhorred gambling, and therefore, left nothing to chance. He recognized that what she was attempting to do for him now was to remove as much of the gamble from his life as was possible for a young Immortal.
Sighing, he nodded. “Very well; if you think it best.”
“I do.” She reached over and patted his arm. “Then we’re agreed.”
“Not quite,” Matthew said. “There are conditions.” Charlotte looked up at him sharply. “First, you don’t interfere—” he pointed at her, “—you don’t question my methods; my student, my rules. Is that clear?”
“Agreed,” she said grudgingly. “Anything else?”
“Actually, yes,” he said, looking rather smug. Ezra and Charlotte waited for the other shoe to drop. “You, m’lady, have acquired some appallingly bad habits along with incredibly sloppy sword work. All of which I intend to fix.”
“Absolutely not!” She stamped her foot. “I am not your student anymore, and you no longer have any right to dictate to me!”
Shrugging, he said, “Fine, if that’s the way you see it, then I don’t teach the boy.”
“This is outrageous!” she practically screeched, madder than a wet hen. “That’s coercion!”
He tsked reprovingly. “That is such an ugly word. I prefer to think of it as a mutually beneficial arrangement.” The smug smile was back. “Would you care to reconsider your decision?”
She growled something under her breath, in what Ezra thought was Chinese, that made Matthew laugh and say, “Such language from a lady; quite shocking.”
“You are a complete and utter cad,” she declared angrily.
“And that is relevant how?” Matthew asked facetiously, not disputing her pronouncement.
There was no way his cousin was going to agree to the ‘arrangement’, he was sure. It was too much to expect of her. So certain was he of the outcome, he was stunned when he heard her say stiffly, “If that is what is required, then I shall do as you wish.”
“Charlotte, are you certain?” Ezra asked. She was a proud woman, and this must be a galling blow.
“I am.” She didn’t look at either man.
“Good, now that’s settled—“ Matthew clapped his hands together, seemingly unperturbed at Charlotte’s palpable fury, “—I have horses to see to.” With that, he strode from the barn, whistling a jaunty tune.
“Yes, now that’s settled,” Charlotte repeated softly, a pleased smile now on her face.
Ezra looked at her, perplexed. “Charlotte?”
“Your mood appears to have lightened considerably, and quite swiftly at that,” he observed suspiciously.
“What’s done is done; no point dwelling on it.”
He was missing something, he was sure. “But the conditions he attached were egregious in the extreme,” he protested.
“Indeed, but it was to be expected nonetheless.” She looked like the cat that swallowed the canary.
“Expected? But you were outraged!”
“Well now, it wouldn’t do for Matthew to think that I had relented too easily, would it?”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Ezra said half to himself. Then his head shot up. “You!” She looked at him innocently. “Why, my beautiful, clever, devious cousin, you played that man like a Stradivarius!” It all made sense now. Maude would have been proud; it was a masterful con from beginning to end. Ezra hadn’t even seen it coming, and more importantly, neither had Matthew.
Charlotte was practically preening, all pretense of innocence gone. “I detest being told ‘no’,” she admitted. “Especially when it’s something so important.”
“Do you think he’ll realize?”
“Oh, most certainly. But he won’t want to admit I bested him, so he’ll abide by our arrangement. We all win, especially you, Ezra. And that, in the end, is all that matters.”
San Luis Obispo, California ~ Present Day
“Remind me to never play poker with Charlotte,” Duncan said with a chuckle. “Did Methos ever figure it out?”
“If he did, he never admitted it in my hearing,” Ezra replied, his gold tooth glinting as he flashed a wide grin. “And I am forced to admit, that despite my reservations, Charlotte was absolutely correct in her approbation of Methos as an instructor.”
“He’s a pain in the ass,” Duncan agreed, “but he’s forgotten more about how to use a sword than most of us will ever learn in a lifetime.”
Ezra leaned back in his chair, thoughtfully taking a sip of his drink. Then he said, “I suppose that would be true. Over five thousand years, one would most likely forget a great deal.”
“And remember even more,” Duncan said quietly.
“Too much, perhaps.”
“Perhaps.” Duncan poured more scotch into his glass. “He does love her, though I realize you have every reason not to believe that.”
His laughter was hollow. “On the contrary, Mr. MacLeod; I know he loves her. What I don’t know…what I don’t believe, is that he will ever put Charlotte ahead of himself. A man does not live five millennia without excising sentimentality from his life.”
Duncan sighed. “Give Methos a chance; give them a chance.”
Ezra tossed back the remaining single malt in his glass as the clarion call of a new Immortal presence made itself known. “I have little choice but to do exactly that,” he said ruefully. “And I pray to God that I am wrong.”