"And after that we built the bridge in Essex... But I've already told you about that one." The old man paused. After a reminiscent sigh and a moment of reflection he directed his gaze at his companion. "Why was it again that you want to hear these old stories? It's not like I've ever constructed anything spectacular."
"Spectacular is overrated," came the dry reply from the ... grad student or whatever he was. The old man had forgotten what he had called it.
No, actually he hadn't forgotten, he just hadn't paid heed the first time. His heart had made a leap at the phrase "history project" and the mention of a clapper bridge he had once helped reconstruct, and that was that. He'd been too eager to share his memories with someone who didn't know them by heart already and was willing to listen. So he had barely listened himself. Oh, well. It wasn't important, anyway.
So spectacular was overrated, huh? The young historian appeared brutally honest, but more likely he was being the exact opposite. Under the circumstances, this sure sounded like sweetening life with a lie, at any rate.
*Snap out of it, boy. I don't need pity.
... No, patience. He means well. Swallow the embarrassment of being pitied.*
"You know, that doesn't exactly answer my question."
"Why won't you accept historical research for an answer?"
"Because you've stopped making notes and bringing your cassette recorder five meetings ago."
The younger man laughed. He reached into a pocket in his coat and held up a small metal case. "I upgraded it. This thing starts recording as soon as someone speaks. If we're silent for more than 5 seconds, it shuts off automatically. Very efficient, and much better quality sound. Better than notes, too." Hadn't they had one of those things in Columbo? Yeah, he thought so. So that really existed, huh?
"Can I have a look?"
"Sure." The slender device was handed over.
He turned it around. No cassette or the like. Very modern and fancy. The thing used a chip, most likely. "Expensive." He felt the apparatus vibrate momentarily. He could only just feel it; it was like a remote tickle. *Neat.* He gave it back.
The other one hesitated, then broke into a smile that held something back. "A present." *Hmmm...*
"You still haven't answered my question."
"Old men can be quite stubborn." Dark eyes watched the him for a minute or two. "I want what is in your head. Knowledge. Memories. Even distorted memories. All those nonentities you've known will be forgotten when your generation is gone. Unless I record what I can get hold of."
That angered him. "Don't call them nonentities. They were people, for goodness' sake!"
"Hear, hear." The dry tone was insolent, but also it sounded odd in such a youngster. "My point exactly."
The old man lost the next round of their staring contest. "Your point?"
"To you they were people, so you can turn them into people for me, and anyone who listens to these tapes. Else, they will be nothing more than so much dust in a grave." The young man had a way with words that left one’s throat parched.
He could play cool, too, if he put his mind to it. "I see not only old men can be stubborn."
"You haven't seen me stubborn yet," came the velvet reply.
The old man swallowed. "I believe you."
Now the voice was more pensive. Almost shy. "You believe me, but you don't trust me. Why?"
The old man shrugged. "I'm no psychiatrist. How should I know?" Murky green-brown eyes stared at him. Stared through him. X-rayed him, calculating and cold. "The letter from that history professor of yours, I checked the name. It's fake."
The younger man nodded. "True." That one word left him breathless and his mind whirring. "I slipped there. I should have gotten the real professor to sign."
"So you're no robber, but...?"
"Oh, I'm a historian alright. Just not a student."
"You're ..." Oops. Now he would almost have slipped, too. But if this guy was, indeed, from the internal investigations department of the Watchers, he had to shut up now. He had not yet mentioned Walter, and if he did, he'd be a dead man. The Watchers did not tolerate fraternisation. It led to all kinds of abuse of a Watcher's position, as he well knew. It was just that ... well, he hadn't exactly planned on becoming friends with an Immortal. It had just happened, before he had any idea who that quiet, friendly chap was. And that bit of ignorance might now cost his life.
"I'm Immortal." The voice was deep and soft now. "Fancy that, an Immortal asking for a Watcher's knowledge. For his experience. How ironic."
So this man was Immortal? And he knew about the Watchers?!? "And after I have shared my secrets you'll kill me?"
He answered with a brief and bitter laugh. What could one possibly say? Nothing. Nothing at all.
"Would you like me to kill you?" The Immortal seemed to be serious about this. Suddenly he was solemnly personable again, not cold and sarcastic.
He shook his head. "Of course not."
"Then don't go suggesting it. You've always kept your secrets, and due to your ..." - he gestured at the knobby arthritic knees - "... indisposition the Watchers have lost their interest in you. I suppose I can trust you."
"You sure they've lost interest?"
"Don't worry." The man whom he had begun to take for granted in the past weeks gave a genuine smile. By contrast, he now realised it was the first genuine smile he saw on those features. The first sign of liking. Everything else had been amused smirks. "They know nothing about Walter. And they know nothing about me."
The Immortal placed a finger across his lips and shushed him, "Shhh ... Let me keep my secrets. Just in case." He winked.
He heaved a sigh. He was so old, but his curiosity had not ceased. "Can't you tell me anything?"
"I can tell you what became of Walter." They were back at the amused smirk.
Anyway, he could not pass up on a chance like this, even if his insides burned with fear. "Is he alive?"
The smile was gentler now. "Yes. He has retreated to Africa. Helping the poor build schools, hospitals, etcetera. He sends his love."
He was perplexed, by the wording, the curious expression in the Immortal's eyes and ... ummm ... He was missing something here, of that he was sure. "You are friends?"
Another amused smirk. "You could call it that." Hmmm...
He felt as if approaching a half-open door marked 'private'. Whatever the younger man had hinted at might not be completely off limits, though. "And he sent you here? He must trust you a lot."
There was anger in the young-looking man's eyes, well-concealed but hot. "He trusted me with your life for good reason." Again there was the feeling of things unspoken. Secrets being kept. This was exasperating. Talking about the past had been a LOT easier.
"I don't waste lives needlessly. Not even one wasting away like yours." Ah, now the anger had found an outlet. But that brief moment seemed to have been enough, for the other now continued in a softer voice, "I want to go into the construction industry, and Walter claimed you have some tricks up your sleeve. Something more than the usual trade secrets."
Now it was his own turn for an amused smirk. It was true. There were things he had never been able to explain to Walter. Things he had kept to himself, because they guaranteed he was hired wherever he chose to apply. Yes, it might be time to share them. Else, they would be lost.
"You have waited a long time before asking for those."
The man nodded. The motion held a hint of deference. "I had hoped you'd give away some of your knowledge when you told me about the bridges you'd built. You didn't."
"A historian might write them down, but really use them? Hardly. I'm too old to waste my time."
"Ah, but you wasted a lot of time talking to me in the past weeks."
He grinned. "Well, it's always good to have someone around in case I get a heart attack or something."
The Highlander universes and characters do not belong to me (which is just as well, since they are quite a handful). However, I made so bold as to borrow them; Thus this story as such as well as the unnamed ageing Watcher therein are mine. But then, Iím happy to share.
Thanks to Rhi for the challenge and to Ith and Mischief for beta duty. All errors are my own, but feel free to keep any you find and like. *g*