Not mine. They're not even rented. No credit, no money.
Many thanks to Martha, who not only put up with my unplanned change of venue for six months with no complaints, but has talked me out of sulking and has actually posted and hosted this thing. Thank you, my dear friend.
Amy checked her email hourly, but when the return address from assignments finally appeared in her box she felt almost disappointed. Jillian, the only other occupant of the Indexing Office that Friday afternoon, heard her sigh and looked up.
"My transfer came through," Amy said.
Jillian blanked the digital image of a page of fifth century Latin from her screen and gave Amy her full, kind attention: "And?"
Quickly, Amy clicked the letter open. "South Africa," she said after a moment.
"Hey, not too bad," Jillian smiled encouragingly. She was optimistic and calm, which Amy did not let herself think about too much. If she analyzed Jillian's warmth too closely, she might want to shake the other woman. Or weep. And that was probably just a side effect of Amy's own state of mind right now. Amy didn't want to become the crazy office-mate everybody dreaded. "Hey, it could have been Siberia."
"They say the new records depository in Irkutsk is nearly finished. You could have spent the next year unpacking boxes. As assignments go, South Africa is very nice."
"Oh yes," Jillian went on, apparently cheerily oblivious to Amy's dark mood, "You know, I was assigned to South Africa for over a year. I liked the weather very much. And they get us nice apartments down there."
"Oh? You were in administration, not research?" The South Africa station had only minimal research and archival facilities, since most of its resources were spent coordinating Watchers and tracking immortals throughout most of Central, South and East Africa.
"Well...no. It was right after the first Near Miss, you know? They were transferring everybody then. There were a lot of holes to fill and besides....I think the administration was hoping that the chaos would make things harder for any little cells still in place to seize assets or strike out on their own."
Amy had not been a Watcher in 1993. She hadn't even been in the academy then. The cloud of sadness and embarrassment that descended on everyone who had been around then whenever the subject came up wilted the optimism out of Jillian, too. "I can't imagine," Amy said. She tried to sound sympathetic, but she really couldn't imagine. The stern lectures that had covered the activities of Horton and his followers in class could hardly even approach the reality of it....whatever that had been.
Jillian frowned, considering for a moment before saying, "It was...such a surprise. I mean, nobody had any idea anything was going on until the first half-dozen Tribunal arrest orders had already been executed. Suddenly, everything was different. And we came so close, you know? Because of what He did. They might have found us and turned on us in a mass....and whatever anyone has told you, Amy, nobody could have stopped them. We might have been wiped out twice over because of that."
"They're very violent," Amy said, because she could not shake the thought from her mind.
Jillian paused. When she spoke it was almost to the subject that took up so much of Amy's mind. "No more than we are. Horton kept records. He slaughtered over two dozen people. Killed them, like animals. He armed his men with rifles and shotguns and tazers and swords and axes. He waited till their Watchers weren't around, and then he ambushed and butchered people. Sometimes he made them suffer first."
Amy swallowed dryly.
"It was so hard to believe, at first. And then...It messed up everything we thought about ourselves," Jillian said sadly. "We believed we were civilized, neutral...sane." She laughed a little. "We've been historians for over two millennia. And it turns out that we're just as bad as anyone's ever been. A butcher was right here among us for more than twenty years...."
Amy had to swallow again. "Look. Jillian. I know what you're trying to do--"
"I know there's a lot of bad out there. But, honey, that's not all there is. And you can't let it run your life."
"I'm not running away from--from what Walker did."
"Then what are you running away from?"
She was running away from the local Area Under-Coordinator who had recruited an Immortal to help rescue her from her own Assignment, incidentally (and apparently without any concern) breaking the first rule (no contact) and probably the second (do nothing which would alter the outcome of the game). And oh, yes, as it turned out the local Area Under-Coordinator was also her biological father.
South Africa might not be far enough.
Vaguely, Amy excused herself and headed upstairs to the lounge, as much to avoid her kind office-mate as to find something to drink.
"--most horrifying thing I've every heard. It makes me want to withdraw my field request." The voice booming down the hall seemed to originate in the in the lounge up ahead, tempting Amy to turn away and give up on the cup of tea. She had a suspicion, though, that the problem wasn't that the voice was irritatingly flat and loud or more upset than she wanted to confront right then, but that it was American and made her think of Joe.
Dad, whispered a nasty little voice in the back of her mind.
He wasn't her dad. She had already had one of those. It hadn't been so fantastic the first time that she was in a hurry to find a replacement.
"No, Steve, look," the second voice was also American, and while not quiet as loud, still clearly carrying several feet from the door. "We know it's a dangerous job right from the beginning. We know what happens if we get caught. But nothing worth doing comes without risk."
Amy froze, her heart sinking. They're talking about me, she thought. It shouldn't be a surprise; everybody seemed to know most of the details, and what had happened had to her had to be everyone's secret nightmare. Of course they would talk and talk....
Steve--Amy could not place a face to the name or the voice--answered, "No. That's not the same thing. You're right: your assignment catches you, that's it, it's over, thank you, good night, that's all she wrote folks, Elvis has left the building. Only once in the last two hundred years has being caught by your assignment not ended in disaster. Or near-disaster. This was completely different. O'Rourke didn't have a clue about the Watchers. The homicidal maniac picked him up as bait. He thought they were friends for Christ sake!"
They weren't talking about her, she realized, but still her feet were frozen just out sight of the open door. It wasn't like that many Watchers were close enough to their assignments to be taken for friends. Even the embedded ones who might know them casually and say hello passing in the halls could hardly be mistaken for part of their personal lives.
"Yes, and just whose fault was that?" This voice was cool and English. "They're all homicidal maniacs. I'm not saying it's--it's inborn, but if the Game didn't warp them the first five or six wars would. Getting close to them, being friends with them...it has to end badly sooner or later, doesn't it?"
God, Amy thought. Joe.
"Don't start with this again," Steve said quickly. "Just what are you supposed to do when one of the Macleods walks into the district HQ hunting Watchers for vengeance? There aren't a whole hell of a lot of ways that can end well now are there? We didn't have a war, and I'm not going to complain about whatever methods it took to stop one."
Amy was through the door before she realized she had moved. The small crowd glanced her way, but their friendly nods petered off into frowns as they got a good look at her. Amy wondered how ghastly she looked. "What happened?" she asked.
Afterwards she couldn't remember who answered. She just remembered the eternity it seemed to take to get to the point. "Liam O'Roarke finally got out of prison and came for Macleod. Since he couldn't take him in a fair fight, he hired some thugs, abducted Amanda off the street and Dawson--out of Paris Number Three, I think--to use as leverage. We're not sure what happened next, actually, because Willard lost them while O'Rourke was moving the prisoners."
"So we...don't know what happened?"
"No, Willard's pretty quick. He went back to Macleod's domicile to wait, figuring if they made it out alive they'd go there and he could pick up Amanda again. Sure enough, around 2:30 that morning Macleod, Amanda, Dawson and an unidentified Caucasian male--not O'Roarke, obviously--turned up at that barge. We don't know much more. Dawson's report hasn't been released, yet."
"I heard O'Roarke is dead," Steve said.
The heated conversation took up around her again, but Amy didn't listen. Numbly, she backed out of the room and went back to the office for her purse. When Jillian asked her what was wrong, she groped franticly for an excuse before giving up. "I'm....leaving," she said. "Early. I'll see you Monday."
It wasn't, in fact, all that early. By the time she pulled off the private road and onto the highway it was after five. Paris was only 80 miles away, but an accident outside of Provins stalled traffic for nearly an hour and it was dark by the time she parked down the block from Le Blues Bar. Although it was a Friday night, the streets weren't crowded. A muggy night at the end of August encouraged those few souls who weren't on vacation to stay home and relax.
She was nearly at the door before she realized that she didn't have a clue why she had come or what she was going to say. Her steps slowed, and before she had even begun to collect her thoughts the door opened and two men, the second firmly holding the first from behind, came out. The first man was taller and broader than the second, but slouched and twisted oddly--almost, but not quite, resisting the second man's brisk movement.
"Now, see, this is the door. That wasn't nearly so hard to find as you thought, was it?" The burly man tried to pull away and the thin figure behind him twitched his hand slightly and resistance stopped. Amy realized she was seeing someone being thrown out of a bar. In films it didn't seem this civil. "Now, now. Let's not start that again. It isn't that we don't value your business, but if you're going to play Ugly American, I suggest you go to a nice museum and make fun of the naked statues or something." Suddenly the large man was free. He stumbled several feet away and then looked back warily. His erstwhile keeper made shooing motions. "Well. Off you go."
Only after watching the retreating figure for several seconds did Dr. Adams tear his eyes away and notice Amy. If he was surprised to see her, he didn't show it. After an awkward moment, she took an awkward step forward. "Hello," she said. Awkwardly.
"Hello," he said politely. "Would you like me to leave?" The tone of the question was neither kind nor hostile, but Amy found herself strangely moved by it just the same. It was thoughtful, which she had not expected.
Then, it occurred to her that she might make him uncomfortable. Whatever his relationship with Joe was, he couldn't be used to being around Watchers in general. She tried to smile. This was the man who had saved her life. "I don't mind. I just came by to...you know."
He nodded slowly. "He'll be very glad to see you." He opened the door for her and stood aside.
The inside of the pub was slightly brighter than the street outside, and it took Amy only a moment to spot Joe Dawson sitting at a table toward the back. He and another man were deep in conversation, their heads bent together, one of Joe's hands gripping the other man's arm. Amy came forward slowly, trying to give him as much chance as possible to see her so he would have a moment to think before saying hello if her coming here was a nasty surprise.
It was the other man who saw her first, though. He glanced up and nudged Joe gently. Joe's eyes widened. He started to rise, stopped, composed himself, and folded his hands on the table in front of him. "Amy," he said.
"Hello," she said. She still had no idea why she'd come here. She would have to say something. She really should have thought about that sooner.
The other man nudged Joe again. "Right," Joe said. For a moment, he looked a little sick. "Amy, this is Duncan Macleod. Mac, this is Amy Thomas."
And of course, now that she looked, it was. Macleod-2. The Other Highlander. Joe's Assignment. "It's nice to meet you," she said politely, just as though meeting him wasn't something she'd promised never in her life to do.
If he saw any reluctance or uncertainty, it didn't show. Joe's Immortal regarded her almost tenderly. "The pleasure's mine, Ms. Thomas." Amy was fairly sure she didn't deserve his kindness.
"Amy...is everything all right?" Joe asked.
"Er," she answered. Mostly, she had wanted to see for herself that he was alive.
"Go on, Joe," Macleod said softly. "I'm all right." Joe scowled, and Macleod added quickly, "I'll keep. Go."
Joe stood up resolutely and led Amy to the small office behind the bar. He did not glance back at the table.
"I'm sorry if I interrupted something," Amy said when they were alone.
Joe looked at her carefully, measuring her face, her posture, possibly (she thought hysterically) her soul. "We just found out a friend of his has died. An old friend."
"I--I'm sorry." She wondered how old. She wondered what it would be like to know anyone in her life for hundreds of years. Decades, say, of Jillian's kindness and optimism and indirect conversation. Or decades of Dr. Adams.
"It happened four days ago. She'd shaken her Watcher, so we didn't know about it until the police report triggered a flag."
They were very violent, she thought. So very violent, despite what Jillian had said. "Did...did you tell him?"
"Yes, I did. I thought it would be easier, coming from me."
Amy tried to picture what it would be like, to have your friends beheaded randomly, without warning. "I can't imagine it being easy."
Something flickered behind his eyes. "No."
"Will he...will Macleod go hunting?"
"It happened in New York. The trail is days cold. Even if he wanted to...."
"If you found out who did it, would you tell him?"
"If somebody cheated...if there was somebody playing fast and loose with the Game, yeah. I would. Amy, I don't want this to be an issue between us, but I'm not going to pretend."
"If you don't want to talk about it--"
She shook her head. She didn't know if she wanted to talk about it or not. Joe's notoriously radical relationship with the research subjects ought to have nothing to do with their personal relationship....Hadn't, until he'd somehow pulled one of them into his mission to retrieve her from Walker. It was all so damn complicated now.
It had been complicated from the beginning.
The silence stretched out and she did not want to fill it talking about Immortals. "I've been reassigned," she said.
"Yeah, I know."
"Right." He would.
"Honestly...I wasn't sure if I would see you first. It was...I'm glad you came."
She nodded, unsure if she should apologize again or thank him. Unsure, even, what he wanted.
"Were you....are you all right? Last night, I mean...."
"What? No." He nodded understandingly. "I'm fine. Thank you." He paused, clearly wondering if that was all. Amy froze, wondering if she should leave.
She couldn't leave. In ten days she'd be on a plane to Johannesburg, and probably she would be just as alone in her next assignment as she was in her temporary stint in Indexing. "Nobody will talk to me about it. I mean, it's been two weeks, and nobody will talk about it to my face. Even Jillian, she just talks around it, although she's trying to be kind. And I can't really blame them, Joe. It really is everybody's worse nightmare. Every time Walker even starts to come up...they get this look, as if they don't know me, even if they did know me before... pity and anger at the same time. As though--as though it was my own fault or I must have deserved it--" she stopped, suddenly afraid he would look at her the same way.
Joe just inclined his head. "Oooooh yeah," he said.
"Like I'm contaminated," Amy whispered.
"Nope. That's a different look."
Amy blinked at that. If anyone were contaminated....but she wouldn't follow that thought. She owed Joe Dawson too much to be dragging up nastiness for no good reason. Staying away from his problems was the least she could do. "But I can't be objective now. Maybe they're right. I'm not the same." This, she realized, was what she had come here to say. Here, because there was no one else she could say it to.
"No, not now. But it's only been a couple of weeks. You may be doing the right thing, going to South Africa and working in administration for a while. You need a little distance." He sighed. "Amy, why don't you sit down. Have you had anything to eat?"
There was a narrow sofa along one wall. Amy sat. "Iím not hungry," she said.
There was a microfridge behind the desk. He rummaged through it for a moment, produced a slightly battered sandwich which he inspected carefully, then handed to her along with a bottle of spring water. "It wasn't your fault. And you will be objective again--or at least as objective as anybody ever gets. And everyone is looking at you like Typhoid Mary because they're remembering that what happened to you could happen to any one of them and it scares the shit out of them. I suspect they'll repress it as a matter of self-defense before too long."
"Gee, thanks." She unwrapped the sandwich: tuna on some kind of roll. It was very American.
"Not that this does a damn bit of good, but I'm very sorry. For all of it, Amy." He settled against the tidy desk that took up most of the small room and very carefully didn't watch her too closely.
"You know...they talk about you sometimes. The researchers, the people passing through headquarters...."
"'Talk,' not 'argue?'"
Amy smiled tightly. "In class they argued about it. Anybody who's been on the job more than two or three years is too...afraid." Her eyes drifted toward the office door, thinking of the infamous immortal on the other side. "It's like you're some kind of...living sacrifice or something. To appease the Highlander. As long as he can keep you in view then we're not up to anything."
Joe snorted. "The word you're looking for is, 'hostage.'"
"Maybe, yes. He has a lot of friends, and we don't know for sure what he's told them. So we generously provide a convenient scapegoat, just in case. After all," she added bitterly, "they're very violent." And she wondered if the Watchers--again--failed to police themselves, would Joe Dawson bear the first wave of immortal vengeance himself?
"Not all of them. And not all the time. When you're ready to go back into the field, you could request someone less active...."
"We thought Walker was 'less active.' And you would have done something. If you were in my place, I mean, and found out what he was."
"Amy, my options aren't yours--"
"Maybe so, but I could have done something...gotten him arrested, his picture in the paper--" They had talked about this before. He insisted on letting her off the hook.
"Non-interference isn't just to keep us from influencing the game! It keeps us safe--"
"So my life is more important than those women--" the women Walker sold into slavery or killed when he was through with them. She still didn't know how long it had gone on or how many had suffered.
"Is the history that has been entrusted to you worth your life? Because if it is, it is also worth your honor."
"My God, how do you live with this!" She was outraged and horrified, and yet...it was a relief to say these things aloud and to say them to someone who had been in the exact same place, who knew....
"I didn't plan it." Either, but he did not say that out loud. "Amy...You may not come to the same answers I did."
"If you had it to do over...I mean, do you regret...anything?"
"Hell, yes. I regret that I didn't believe Mac the first time he tried to tell me what was going on. I thought he'd made some kind of mistake. I was so intent on calming him down, on showing him that he had nothing to fear from us....Shit, I was stupid."
Oh. She hadn't known that. The historic, even infamous, moment when the Great Duncan Macleod had stormed the district HQ, and his watcher had foresworn himself and confessed all, and they didn't even believe each other.
The sandwich was gone. Amy wadded up the paper and pushed it into the overflowing trash can by the desk.
"Listen, why don't you stay awhile. Relax. We've got a band coming in--they're from Germany." He smiled hopefully. "They're pretty good."
"Yeah, ok." She wasn't up to talking any more and didn't want to leave.
When they left the office, though, the tentative plan collapsed. In the corner, Macleod and Dr. Adams were on their feet and snarling at each other across the table. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but the expressions on their faces conveyed quite enough. Maybe it was just her recent brush with Walker, but they seemed only moments away from falling on one another in a rage.
Faster than Amy would have credited, Joe was across the room and had put himself between them. Knowing what they were, Amy could not imagine a circumstance under which she'd do that herself. Fearfully, she looked around. To her surprise, she recognized two of her colleagues seated at the bar. Although they watched the tableau from the corners of their eyes and other patrons were looking up interestedly, they did not seem particularly alarmed and would not look directly at any of the participants. Right, Amy thought. What are they going to do here. She forced herself to approach the table.
Adams and Macleod were glaring at one another in silent rage, single-mindedly ignoring Joe who had managed to slide most of his body between Macleod and the table. The tension was so thick goose bumps popped up all along Amy's arms.
"I can not believe you two are giving each other shit over this," Joe hissed. Or that was what Amy thought he had said, but he spoke quietly. Surely--surely you didn't just berate Immortals like school children.
"I didn't," Dr. Adams replied evenly. He backed down slightly, still angry but giving way even so.
"You can't expect me to bear his sympathy," Macleod ground out. As a complaint, it lacked something.
For a moment, it seemed that Joe agreed with her, but the anger and disappointment that flashed across his expression vanished at once. "Go," He said gently. "Now, Adam. Please."
Adams took a full step back, his face falling. "Right, then."
Joe looked from one to the other, then frowned at Amy. Damn, she thought. I'm in the way. Not that sticking around sounded the least bit attractive. Immortals were better avoided when they were distraught.
"Er. Joe--I'll run along--" Joe looked stricken and, beside him, Macleod looked contrite. Amy added quickly, "I'll stay in town tonight. It's a long way back. Stop by tomorrow....."
Several looks passed between them: Macleod's shame was easy enough to interpret, but the others were only muddy.
She managed a smile. "It's been a long day. Tomorrow."
She made for the door, trying not to look like an overwhelmed force taking off in retreat. Dr. Adams beat her to the door and opened it politely. On the sidewalk, he stepped up beside her and said, "You know, if it's too late to go to the flat off Rue de Claire, I can recommend an excellent hotel." He smiled charmingly. Apparently, one of the inscrutable looks had been to secure her a nanny. For a moment the surrealness of the situation made her miss the import of what he'd said.
Then it sunk in. "You know quite a bit about us." She said coldly.
"And you're wondering if Joe told me? Nope, sorry. Altogether, I've been a Watcher...longer than he's been alive. Not all at once, you understand."
Amy's feet tangled in nothing and she nearly tripped. Gallantly, her nanny caught her arm. "Aren't you even worried that that might go in my report?" she asked him.
"They already know most of it. I was pegged as One of Them shortly after I resigned my position in research during what is charmingly called "The Second Near Miss." Of course, until you turned in your report on Benjamin Adams, it was assumed I was Duncan's student." He sighed and shook his head, "Rather young, really, and barely able to look after myself."
"I'm...sorry," Amy muttered.
He waved it off. "Never mind. It wasn't like I was using the good doctor Adams, anyway."
"Did--" Amy shut her mouth. She would rather not know.
"Did Joe know? Has he been lying to his superiors all these years?" Uncannily, he came right to the center of it. "He knew me for ten years as Adam Pierson. He would never have known any differently if Duncan had not outed me to him." The mirth was gone from his voice. He shook his head. "That should not have surprised me."
"So why did it?"
He smiled. "Oh, well....Affection. Sympathy. The value of human company, I had all of that. But trust? It had been a very long time. I won't say I didn't understand it, but...I had forgotten."
Was he trying to charm her? Was he showing honesty or vulnerability to put her off guard? Was he trying to ease her confusion as a gift for Joe? Or just trying to distract her from--something? She did not believe for a moment that he was having a friendly heart to heart with a Watcher for fun.
He was looking into her eyes. Probably you couldn't conceal anything from a man at least two hundred years old. "My, you're suspicious. But I'm not Walker. And if I were any danger to you, he would not have sent me." Suddenly he smiled. "You know, that is the nicest compliment I have ever had. I think this whole shitty evening was worth it, just for that."
"I didn't think you-- I mean--"
"No, no. Keep the paranoia. It might well be your best friend some day. Can you shoot?"
She blinked at the swift change of topic. "Shoot? Shoot what?"
"Well, anything. Although for preference, a handgun would be more portable than, say, an atl atl or a bazooka."
Surprised, Amy laughed. "I can shoot. But maybe a sword...."
Watchers should not joke about swords, but he didn't seem to notice the faux pas. "Oh, no. Not a sword. Very high maintenance. You're continually wiping it for fingerprints, you have to wear all that bulky clothing....and you don't want to try to get one of the really good ones through customs."
It was probably the most surreal conversation she'd ever had. It must be Paris. All the weird movies are set in Paris. Things have been insane since I got here.
"Listen, I don't suppose you're hungry. It's just...I know a restaurant around the corner--?"
He frowned sympathetically. "Fraternization, right? Well, that's up to you. I should tell you, I'll probably follow you anyway. Looking after you has gotten me a lot of good will tonight, and frankly, I could use it." He had a faint, slightly superior smile, but Amy suspected he wasn't exactly kidding.
What the hell. The world had changed and it wasn't ever going back. Even if her superiors might eventually stop keeping a special eye on her...The Watchers wasn't the same entity it was even a decade ago. They pretended sometimes, but Jillian was right. Things had changed and weren't going back. "Dinner would be lovely," she said.
The restaurant he led her to was small, but the manager knew Adam by name and was effusively happy to see him. It was several minutes before they were left alone.
"What happened last night?" Amy asked when they were settled at the best table the little dining room had to offer.
"I'd rather not talk about it."
"Because you don't want it in my report?"
"Because I donít want to talk about it."
"It was you, wasn't it? Who helped Macleod rescue...them?"
"Helped," he repeated and rolled his eyes. "No, I certainly did not help. What Macleod had in mind wasn't a rescue."
"But--I thought...he and Joe were friends. And Amanda--"
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes." He scrubbed an impatient hand through his hair and then leaned forward to say very, very softly, "It wasn't a rescue. It was a trade. The bloody idiot put down his sword and offered O'Rourke his head in exchange for their lives."
"But that's...I mean the Game--"
"It wasn't about the Game. It was about anger. O'Rourke kidnapped two innocent people and got himself killed because he was pissed. Anger is a complete waste." He smiled bitterly. "Ironically, that hasn't stopped me from being angry."
"I see," she said, although she would have to think about this for a while.
Over a lovely dinner of grilled salmon and roasted vegetables, the evening got progressively less surreal. In all respects her dinner companion seemed human. He was funny and intelligent. Charming, but he didn't put the moves on her. It was almost anticlimactic, after almost two years of wondering what They were like, to talk to this almost mundane man.
It was while they were walking back to where Amy had parked her car that everything fell apart. Mid-step, Adam suddenly reversed course and started back the way they'd come, towing Amy beside him. The maneuver was casual enough, but he was stronger than he looked and moving very fast. "What's wrong?" Amy asked, surprised.
"Company," he answered shortly. "Expecting anyone?"
Company. "Maybe Macleod--" she said hopefully.
"That would be nice. Not betting on it." He ducked into a narrow cut between two of the low, old buildings.
"Left this afternoon for Cairo. We'll just take the long way around--" He stopped abruptly and looked around. "Damn."
"What's wrong?" The wrong was covered by another voice that seemed to rise from all directions and echoed off the tight walls of the alley: "Methos! This is the moment of your reckoning."
Adam let go of Amy's arm and reached slowly into his coat. "What are you blathering about?" he called, looking around.
"I am her justice. I am her retribution. I am your doom."
"Are you even listening to yourself?"
Amy swallowed, wanting to get out of the way, not sure what direction safety lay in.
"You will be destroyed, and I will be the instrument of your destruction." A figure stepped out of a doorway set into the left-hand wall. He wasn't very tall, but very broad and heavy. His hair was dark and his nose was wide, but Amy couldn't make out any other features.
"Thanks. Very thoughtful and all. But I think you want someone else." Adam took a step backward. "We'll just be on our way."
The strange immortal laughed brokenly. "You will cry for release. There will be no mercy for you. You will not be tamed. You will not be saved. As far as you will ever care, this is the end of the world."
"Right," Adam whispered. "We run."
It was the most sensible thing Amy had ever heard. Without thinking, she spun and ran. Adam was right beside her, but behind him--
Behind him heavy footsteps were gaining. Adam seemed to vanish then, and Amy snatched a look back while her feet charged forward. Adam had stopped and turned. His sword was flashing in a glittering arc.
Something slid under her left foot and Amy fell, landing hard and rolling. Gasping, palms and knees stinging, she rolled up onto her feet, scrambling for balance. She looked back.
Adam was still completing his swing. His opponent's head fell to the side with a soft thump and became another indistinct shape in the darkness. In the alley was only silence.
It was barely 11:00, and already it had been too long a day. Normally, Joe was a night person, but the last two days had been both miserable and unending. What time had they finally left Macleod's last night? Sometime after three this morning. And then, instead of heading home, Joe had insisted on checking the bar. Who knew what kind of mess O'Rourke had made while Joe was out cold.
The Western European Regional Assistant Coordinator, Stanislaw Bialik, was just coming out of Le Blues Bar as they pulled up. Adam shut off the engine and sighed. "I'll just stay here."
"Gee, thanks, buddy." Joe reached for the door.
"Yeah...just don't hit this one, ok?"
"You're a real comedian. You should quit your day job and go on the road." But Joe's bland, professional face was in place when he met Bialik on the sidewalk.
"You will be pleased to know that the computers and safe appear to be secure," he said in French.
"O'Rourke didn't have a clue. I don't think we'll find any of our stuff messed with."
"How fortunate." He sighed. "You know, you hit thirty years in just over a year. The retirement package is very good."
"Gee, Stan. That a hint?"
"Am I normally indirect?"
A car door slammed behind Joe. Damn. He kept his face blank.
Bialik kept speaking. "I assume your report isn't finished."
"I'll have it this afternoon." Joe might, in fact, have been tempted to slug the man, but Adam was silently moving into place at his shoulder, and it was all he could do not to wince visibly.
Bialik did a double take and then skidded his gaze away from Adam's face. Field agents were used to seeing Immortals, and field agents working under Joe usually got used to the open comings and going of Immortals through one of their field stations in a few days. Mostly, they ignored each other.
Bialik was grinding his teeth.
Joe had no idea what might happen, but he desperately wanted to flee before things got ugly. "Well, thanks for dropping by. Lock up before you go. I'll work on that report."
They didn't speak on the way to Joe's apartment. Not because Joe was particularly angry, not with Adam anyway. Another time, he might have found his little display hysterically funny. These days, his respect for Watcher authority wasn't particularly strong. Hell, given the way attrition, arrests and expulsions had been going, he should have been one of the top people himself. But besides being hopelessly compromised, he could not leave the field, not completely.
At the apartment, Adam carefully shut and locked the door behind them, removed his sword from his coat, hung the coat up, and very gently guided Joe into his arms. He laid his cheek against Joe's temple and was still for a moment. "Were you injured?" he whispered. It was the doctor voice. Joe hadn't really heard it in a couple of years, but there was no mistaking. When Methos was being a physician, he pretty much thought he was god.
"No," Joe answered. It wasn't a lie. He wasn't physically hurt, he was fine, it was just--
Oh, god, tonight.
"Bed then. All right?"
And Joe managed to nod, to follow Adam into the bedroom, to undress with steady hands.
"I'm sorry," Adam said suddenly. "Had you wanted to stay?"
Joe laughed. "At the barge? With Amanda there? She doesn't share very well."
Adam managed to smile back. "And bossy."
When Joe came back from the bathroom, Adam had shut off most of the lights and climbed into bed. The glare from the reading light on the night stand was enough, though, for Joe to see that Adam looked like hell.
He would probably not talk about it, but Joe made the attempt anyway: "He was trying, tonight, you know," he said.
Adam folded his arms tightly against his chest, but did not flee the bed. "Oh, yes."
"He said things tonight I've waited years to hear. And it was all I could do not to reach out and strangle him."
"Stupid, short sighted, self-centered child!"
"No really, tell me how you feel," Joe chided gently.
Adam's eyes narrowed. Joe could not remember ever seeing him this angry. "He didn't give a damn about what losing him like that would have done to us."
Joe took a deep breath. "Look. I don't disagree with you--" --So, what's the plan?-- and Mac had only shaken his head sadly: there was no plan. "But...he hasn't been himself lately. You weren't here--" Joe stopped, surprised that the simmering anger that waited in his gut was just as much for Methos as for Duncan.
Beside him, Adam seemed to see it too. He sat up and laid his head on his knees. "Are you going to forgive me for that?" he asked. It wasn't a demand.
"I--Look, it's all water under the bridge, right? You're here--"
"Is that what you're telling yourself, Joe? That it doesn't matter?"
He thought about the road trip from hell, about Adam risking his head for a child Joe had never claimed. He thought about Adam leaving and not coming back this time. "It doesn't matter," he whispered.
With a groan, Adam uncoiled and pulled Joe into his arms. It wasn't an apology or an explanation, but Joe knew he didn't have a right to either. Adam was free, after all. He had made no promises.
Knowing all that, Joe still whispered, "Where were you? What were you doing that was so important?"
"Nowhere. It doesn't matter where I went." Joe closed his eyes, trying to banish the disappointment, but Adam continued. "What mattered wasn't where I was going, but what I was running from. I ran, Joe. I couldn't bear it, and I ran. Whatever was happening to him, I could not watch. I couldn't watch him suffering and I couldn't bear to end it...and...if he had asked me again...."
Joe would never, ever have thought of Adam as cowardly, and yet this admission was somehow no surprise. There was nothing to say, so Joe silently held him, trying to offer what comfort he could.
Trying to let go of how bitter he had been and forgive....
"So I ran away and abandoned both of you." Adam took a deep breath. "The irony has not escaped me, you know. As horrible as it was when he realized that I wasn't the wise, virtuous elder Immortal he wanted to believe I was...when I thought he was unraveling and the image of strength and goodness I had built up around him evaporated...I could not face it."
Aw, damn. With Adam cradled against his chest, Joe snagged the blanket with his free hand and pulled it up around them. "If it helps at all, the demon was real," Joe said sadly.
"Ah, yes. The final irony. The demon was real."
"Mac and I finally had a talk."
"Tuesday night. You were filling in with that gig in London. He told me everything."
Joe felt suddenly cold and slightly faint. "Everything?"
Adam shivered slightly, but his voice was level. "Apparently you've both been through hell."
Oh. Yes. Everything. "Are you disappointed?"
"Yes, surprisingly. I mean you'd think at my age I would be intimately familiar with how bloody rotten the world could be and nothing would shock me any more. But no, the world still manages to be worse than I expect...."
Joe swallowed. He had hoped Adam would never know.
"Joe? What is it?"
"With me, Adam. Are you disappointed with me?"
Adam's face popped up and regarded him with surprise. "What for?"
"For nearly betraying him. For listening to that...thing...when it came...."
"Oh, right. You wouldn't betray me to save your child: is there any chance you'd betray Macleod for yourself? Surely you're not worried about that?" When Joe didn't answer, he frowned. "Wait, you're serious, aren't you? My god, you are."
Joe looked away. He could not face the utter surprise and faith in Adam's eyes. Clearly, when Mac had told this story he'd left some parts of it out. "It was close, ok. I thought about it. I almost--I knew what it was, I knew what it would cost and still, I almost...."
"You didn't. There was never any chance that you would have."
"It was a demon, okay? It knew things. It knew everything. Why would it have bothered to make the offer if I wasn't the kind of person who might say yes?"
"If it knew so much, why waste the effort on someone who would say no? Did say no?"
Adam's faith was as shameful as Mac's had been. Neither of them seemed to understand--
"And why risk offering you something it couldn't give you if it was likely you'd call its bluff?"
Neither of them-- "Um, what?"
"Ahriman had no existence in the world. He couldn't affect anything materially. He lived only inside peoples' minds."
"No, he...it killed Richie."
"Macleod killed Richie. Professor Landry died of his own fright. Allison Landry set her house on fire. Sophie leapt off a bridge."
"It was real!"
"Yes. Yes, it was real. But it could only act if it could deceive or terrify or confuse someone into acting for it. It had no--no body."
"But...four Watchers died researching Arhiman."
"I checked the records. Henri and Michael killed each other. A spider bite killed Stacey--it might have been a coincidence. She was allergic. And Nathan turned up alive later, didn't he?"
Lies. Games. It had come to Joe as James.
"Oh, damn it. But why? Why, Adam? Was it--just playing with me? Getting its jollies?"
For a moment Adam didn't answer, and Joe wondered if his theory would hold up. He wondered if he wanted it to. He tried not to think about that night, the lonely darkness, this same room--
"Not you, Joe. It was playing with Macleod."
"It wasn't counting on you losing sight of your priorities, it was counting on you to remember them. It counted on you to be strong. You went to Duncan. You told him."
Oh, god. "It hurt him."
"There wasn't anything else it could do to him to hurt him, to make him angry, to keep him from thinking. But tormenting you and Father Beaufort and Sophie: brilliant. It wasn't what any of you knew that he was most afraid of. It was the comfort and strength you might have lent Macleod. And innocents are so dear to him. It was perfect."
"And I played into its hands. I called Mac that morning...." And when Duncan came, Joe had not said, 'your demon came. It tried bribery. I sent it away.' He had said, 'the demon came and I almost betrayed you.' In his shame he had not even tried to hide his hurt.
"Yes, you did. But on balance, I think your loyalty and faith were far more valuable than any amount of cleverness would have been."
Joe digested that. "You know, I don't have many friends who would try to cheer me up by calling me stupid."
"I'm unique that way. And you weren't that stupid."
"You saw through it. In one evening, apparently."
"Yes, well. It wasn't happening to me. And besides, Macleod hasn't seen it yet. He's a fairly bright fellow."
"Don't underestimate your place in this. Macleod told me there have been days," Adam paused, "days when he only carried his sword because he had promised you."
"How bad has it been, Joe?"
"How depressed is he? It comes and goes. He copes."
"What? As well as he did tonight?"
--So? What's the plan?--
--tell Amanda I love her--
"Adam, what he said to you tonight--"
"What he said to me tonight was goodbye, and I'm not fucking having it."
"No, Adam. Methos, no. Did you look at his eyes? What he said tonight, it wasn't 'goodbye,' it was 'I'm sorry.' Tonight at the barge--he was more himself then he's been since he came back."
He sighed. "I would like to believe you."
Joe patted his shoulder, resisted the urge to grab hold and not let go. "Just don't run away," he said.
"No. No. I promise."
They slept until almost four in the afternoon. Adam went out for breakfast while Joe threw together a report on the previous night's abduction, challenge, and quickening, then logged onto the network to submit it. While he read the short-form updates he thought smugly that he could still get to work on time. The situation was rough, but not completely out of control.
First he checked who was in town, then the major news. When he'd first started in the field, the updates were handed out once a week, three or four pages mimeographed....
Cassandra was dead.
He read the brief paragraph twice, then referenced the longer report. It was remarkably thin. When Adam arrived with pastries and fruit, Joe sat him down in front of the screen and called Macleod. He wasn't at the barge and his cell wasn't picking up, so he left a message telling him to come to the bar.
He put the phone down and turned to Adam. "Well?"
"Are you going to say anything?"
"Ding dong the witch is dead?" But his voice was hollow and his face was oddly blank.
"It doesn't matter. Alive or dead, nothing will ever change what happened. For either of us."
"So you don't care."
"Of course I care. It just doesn't matter."
"Eat something and then we've got to run if I'm going to pick up some clean clothes at the hotel before we go to the bar."
It was shortly after six when Macleod finally arrived. He was just getting back from taking Amanda to the airport. He seemed to be in a wonderful mood. He hugged both of them, whispered something happy-sounding in Adam's ear. He asked what was going on.
He took it about as well as Joe had expected--which is to say he was hurt and angry and battering at his grief.
"Tell me everything."
"We don't know a whole lot," Joe said. "She started traveling about a year ago. Warm places. She settled for a couple of months in Hawaii, took a student. And then, in June, she ditched her Watcher and they disappeared."
"And the next thing any of you have is her body in New York."
"A sighting a few weeks before in an Airport in New Mexico. Iím sorry, Mac."
Macleod nodded slowly. "And the student?"
"Michael Aikana, born in 1980. Foster child, troubled kid, couple minor juvenile offenses....We think his first death involved a car accident outside of Honolulu two years ago. He settled down when Cassandra showed up. We don't know where he is now. Whoever got her--"
"Hid one body and not the other? He's out there somewhere. Alone."
Macleod looked up urgently. "Find him for me, Joe."
Right. No problem. There were only six or seven billion people on the planet.
Joe had barely been on top of things when Amy walked in and chaos again closed in. Not that he would have been ready for his daughter under any circumstances. For the last two weeks, he'd been trying not to second-guess himself, not to dwell too much on what he'd missed. He didn't talk about it, he didn't think about it, he didn't admit that he'd noticed that Macleod wasn't concealing either his envy or his pity very well.
And then there she was, and even if Joe hadn't had his hands full of Macleod, he wouldn't have been ready. He hadn't expected to see her again, not really. Ever.
He couldn't be a father. Hell, she was nearly thirty; she didn't need a father. He didn't even have many women friends. So he'd let her leave. She might come back tomorrow, which would probably suck, because it was unlikely that he'd be any more ready by then.
Or she might not come back, which would be worse. She was a Watcher, after all, and Joe made a lot of Watchers uncomfortable. He could still remember the look on Ian's face when he'd realized that Joe had lent Macleod a Chronicle.
Joe wondered how drunk he dared get. Macleod had left about twenty minutes before--sober and calm enough to be able to drive and defend himself. The bar was fairly quiet, although Tran Gye was passing through town on business, and the pair assigned to her were drinking beers at a corner table with some old friends in Research. He'd planned to work on the books tonight, but there was no way that was going to happen.
Adam would not be back tonight.
Probably, he could get quite drunk, if he were willing to take a cab home.
Amy and Adam came in. She looked very self-possessed and focused. He looked hyper alert and yet unfocused. Pale. Haggard. Twitchy.
The clump of Watchers in the corner glanced up curiously and exchanged a few quelling murmurs before looking away and changing the subject. One of them had almost as much time in the field as Joe himself, but none of them recognized an Immortal with a fresh quickening.
That son of a bitch took Amy to a challenge. Even knowing that it couldn't have been deliberate, Joe barely kept his mouth shut until they were alone in his office.
"Two hundred years. You can manage two hundred years at a time without taking a head, and now you couldnít put it off one night."
"Actually, no," he grunted, dropping into a chair. "It's been a busy month."
"It was horrible," Amy said more calmly than Joe liked. Hell. He slipped out to the bar and grabbed a bottle of brandy and three shot glasses. They didn't go together, but he didn't spare the time to do it right.
"What happened?" he asked as the door clicked shut.
"There's a body in the trunk of his car," Amy said carefully, distantly. "He gave me the keys when the lightening was finished and told me to go get his car. I asked him why not mine, and he said there was a roll of plastic in the boot of his." She took the glass Joe handed her and stared at it in bemusement.
Jesus Christ, Methos. One quiet night was too much to ask?
"It's still there. I'm kind of glad it's not mine, even though the mini is just one I checked out."
Adam met Joe's furious gaze. "Sod off," he muttered.
"He was screaming crazy things, Joe."
"No, that other....There wasn't any challenge. He never identified himself. There wasn't any fight. He just ran at us, screaming....And then--"
"I know, Amy," Joe said. He had seen men's heads cut off before.
"And then there was the quickening." And after that, the bastard had gotten her to help move the body. Marvelous.
Adam, staring into space, muttered, "Life just sucks, doesn't it?"
Joe took a deep breath. He looked, finally, at Adam. A long hard look. He was pale and dazed and nauseous-looking. Damn. "I can arrange for the body to be taken care of. It means Paris One." The mortuary.
"If you mean, do I object to the post mortem, more power to them." Watchers had been doing autopsies on Immortals, when the opportunity presented, for about thirty years. "I certainly don't care if they hack the Phoenician bastard into tiny bits and toss what's left to the dogs."
Amy blinked and rallied. "He was Phoenician?"
Adam looked at her with a patience that Joe found scathing--almost humiliating--and said, "No, that was a racial epithet expressing generalized contempt." He drained his shot glass, took the bottle from Joe and filled it again.
Amy looked at Joe expectantly.
Right. He wasn't Amy's supervisor any more and he was her parent only as a technicality and Methos sure as hell wasnít usually biddable, but clearly somebody had to get things moving. "Right. The body's in Adam's car? Let's not move it here. Give me the keys and I'll take our friend to One."
Barely glancing up, Adam said dismissively, "You can't manage my car."
Joe made himself take a moment to remember that Adam had just fought for his life--something he deeply hated--and then taken a quickening, which he wasn't terribly fond of either. Usually, in fact, it was Joe who was mouthing off and saying shitty crap when things were tense between them. Even at this rate, it would take Methos years to catch up to Joe in pure spitefulness.
It still hurt like being socked in the gut. Joe held out his hand. "Give me your keys."
"Touchy," Adam murmured, but he handed over the keys.
"You are not fit to drive," he said to Adam, and it wasn't totally venom that made the pronouncement. "Amy, do you think you can drop him by his hotel?"
"Yeah," she said vaguely, then straightened, "Surely."
Joe went to the desk and drew a quick map on the back of an envelope. "Directions to my place. You can sleep on the sofa--"
"Very comfortable," Adam drawled. "It folds out, you know. I've slept there many times myself."
For a fraction of a second Joe hovered on discovering the literal experience of apoplexy. Adam had never slept on Joe's couch. Those arrangements could not be discussed in front of Amy. Ever.
Joe handed Amy his keys. "I'm not going to bother to remind you to behave yourself," he said to Adam.
Adam's car was a stick, and, in fact, the trip was nearly impossible. Only careful thought and nearly empty streets kept there from being an accident. He had called ahead, and the night shift at the funeral home was delighted to receive the package in the trunk. Western medicine had been doing autopsies for almost a hundred years before the Watchers had decided it was within their mandate and worth the risk to try, and there were still only three locations able to perform them. It was risky to transport such suspicious-looking bodies at all, let alone in great numbers. And often, they had no chance at the bodies; police and Immortals both usually put the incriminating corpse out of reach one way or another. The night supervisor was as happy to have Mr. X as Joe was to lose him.
Joe considered leaving Adam's car there, but that would just be going too far. While it was healthy to remind the organization that they were not completely anonymous and unaccountable, excessively tormenting everyone by parading an Immortal ex-Watcher through Paris One to collect his car would just lead to increasing tension on both sides. Adam was in a bad enough mood to be unpredictable.
By the time he got home Joe was exhausted as well as still pissed off...and now thoroughly worried about everybody. Amy had found the clean sheets and was making up the couch when he arrived. She took one look at him and dropped into a chair with her face in her hands. Half a moment later she looked up and laughed. "Thank god. I was sure this would be the one night a headlight failed and you'd be stopped by the police or something."
Joe shut the door and locked it and laughed quietly. "Thank you. I hadn't quite pictured that. Any more ghastly images?"
"Just the real ones--"
"How do they live like this? My god!"
"We all live with violence, Amy. And horror. And risk." He sighed. "It all depends on what you're used to."
"And I don't think about crashing when I get on an air plane, you mean?"
"Yes." But, no. He was thinking about war. He was thinking about getting old. "We should get some sleep."
He lent her a tee-shirt and gave her the bathroom first and then checked the lock on the door again and got ready for bed himself. It was late, but he woke slightly after seven, nervously straining to hear if his guest was awake. In the silence he fell asleep again and repeated the exercise an hour later. By the fourth time, he was ready to get up for good, but the tiny French apartment connected the kitchen directly to the living room, so after washing and dressing, he had to go back to the bedroom again.
At around 11:30 he heard a noise at last, and slowly and with as much noise of his own as possible, he came out. She was curled up on the couch, still covered with the blanket, looking at a book she'd picked up from the table. "Zane Grey," she said. "You don't seem the type." Small talk. He felt relieved.
"It was a gift," he answered. Technically it was true. "You can have the bathroom, if you want. I'll see what we have for breakfast."
He picked up the book after she had left. There was nothing incriminating here; no inscription, no notes, no blood stains. This was the book Mac had read aloud those first awful days after Joe had been shot by Galati. The three of them, holed up in the basement of "Shakespeare and Company" with nothing to do but worry.
Or Joe had worried, in a thick, drugged, painful daze. Methos had kept busy. Fussing over Joe, bustling about with pieces of paper, reading, disappearing sometimes for a day or a night. The time wasn't linear in Joe's memory then. But Mac had picked up a book and read aloud, trying to sooth Joe's anxious squirming. Zane Grey. For hours. He faded in and out to passages about horses and sunsets and rickety little towns. Mostly he remembered Duncan's gentle voice.
The tribunal hadn't been incorrect in their verdict. Joe had loved both Macleod and the Watchers, and he'd betrayed one for the other. Not only in his heart, but in his actions. Getting executed for it stank, but it was just. By the oath he'd taken, Joe did deserve to die.
And it was worth it. Hell, yes, it was worth it. Mac had come for him. Joe had seen his face, when he come tearing through the door carrying Joe's unconscious guard. It was worth dying, to die loved.
Of course, after the rescue, he had to admit it was better to be alive. There was the work of living, of recovering...the pragmatics of stopping an immanent war. The Second Near Miss, they called it now. Joe had done what needed to be done to stop that war, although it nearly cost him both the Watchers and Mac. But for those first few days, when he had been so, so sick, Macleod had been gentle and loving and Adam had been certain and patient and that had been all Joe had had the energy to notice.
It was Adam who had given him the battered copy of Riders of the Purple Sage, months later, in Seacouver. It wasn't a gesture that said, 'It's excellent prose, you should try it when you're not so high on morphine you barely know your own name.' It pointed out that when Adam had fled Paris in misery and confusion, he had taken that reminder with him.
Joe put the book on the shelf and went to work on breakfast. There was fruit and pastry left from the day before. Also some eggs that hadn't gone bad. Nothing else. Lately he'd been eating out quite a lot. Or at the barge. They had been trying to be good to each other...
Amy came out with her hair still damp and her feet bare. She looked determined. Joe poured coffee.
"We need to talk," she said.
Joe nodded. There were a lot of things he couldn't talk about. Secrets that weren't his. And things he really didnít want to talk about. But there was nothing for it. He hoped he wouldn't have to lie very much.
"Are they all mad?"
Joe blinked. "Um?" he nodded encouragingly, hoping to get some more clues so he could answer.
"I mean, Walker was a sociopath. Well. That happens sometimes, doesn't it? But that nutter last night--he was completely around the bend. He was shouting crazy things. And there is no way even I would rush anyone with a sword like that, and I barely passed 'Edged Weapons.' I'm not even sure Dr.--that is, Adam is all there. He was very strange last night....Although that was only after the quickening."
Joe wasn't sure what to say. "They're not all crazy. They live in a different world, though, so sometimes it sure looks that way."
"The different world where everyone carries a sword?"
"They're all foreigners, really. And they never naturalize. They never assimilate. It may look like they do--they can blend into the crowd, speak without an accent, fit in at the country club. But they never stop being outside of it, apart from our societies. Sometimes they even lose most of the traces of their first community. When you understand that, they're not so unpredictable." He tried not to think how many times in the last six months he'd looked at Macleod and thought that it was such a shame that Sean Burns had never found an antidepressant that worked for Immortals.
"So...was it the quickening then that made Adam so loony? It must be fairly rare? Unless there's a reason they don't tell us about that?"
Loony? "What happened with Adam after the quickening?"
She thought for a moment, pushing a fork full of egg around on the plate. "Well. He was functional. But not lucid. He kept trying to sing. And he was very bad at it. And he kept not finishing sentences. Is he always like this afterward?"
"I don't know," Joe answered, too distracted to worry about being circumspect. "It doesn't happen often. It does tend to be hard on them though."
"Do we have any idea who it was? The challenger?"
"Not yet. I checked on the laptop about an hour ago. Whoever he was, he didn't have a watcher and the lab at One is short staffed today, so they don't have an ID yet."
"We may have nothing on him at all...." She nibbled another bite of egg.
"He was completely mad." She kept repeating that, as though she would understand if she said it enough.
Joe wondered what he ought to say. This would be easier if she were one of his people. Or if she hadn't just been driven out of the field by witnessing things even worse than last night.
"Completely mad, whoever he was. He was saying...grand things. Mythical things. I wonder what kind of fantasy it was." And then she surprised him. "There's probably no help that works for them, when they go mad."
"Not a lot."
They ate in silence for several minutes. Joe began to relax. In retrospect, that had been pure hubris on his part. Her next question was, "Did you love my mother?"
Macleod pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it for a moment before putting it back and saying, "You want me to come to a museum and what?"
"Vouch for me," Methos said. "Tell them I'm not crazy."
"Do I know you're not crazy?"
"Macleod!" he whined. "This is not funny. They're talking about calling the police."
Macleod closed his eyes. "What were you doing in the museum?"
"You'll hear all about it when you get here, I'm sure. Please. Think of the years ahead when you can throw this in my face."
The Immortal he felt when he entered the "employees only" corridor wasn't Methos. Marcus Constantine came out from one of the offices and regarded Macleod with surprise and some amusement. "Well, well. He wasn't kidding."
"Marcus. I should have expected you." It was his museum, after all. "Is this some kind of joke?"
"Not yours, I take it." But they only met for lunch about once a year. They weren't close enough for practical jokes, even assuming Macleod could have gotten his friend to go along with it. Constantine frowned. "And not the Philippe I knew."
"Ah. Adam Pierson."
"What did he do," Macleod asked as they fell into step and continued down the hall.
"He interrupted a tour group to complain that the guide was mispronouncing the pharaoh's names. When he was thanked politely, he proceeded to climb onto one of the exhibits shouting corrections. When security got there, he had pulled out a red pen and was writing the names of people and places phonetically in English and French and Chinese on the placards."
"No," Methos said sullenly as they entered an office at the end of the hall. "Sadly, he is not kidding." He was slumped in a chair staring glumly at the floor.
Macleod stared down at him in amazement. "But. Why?"
Methos shrugged and looked innocently mystified. "It seemed the thing to do at the time?"
Constantine motioned the security guard to wait outside and then said softly, "You can see while I had to have him get someone to vouch for him, can't you? This isn't the Philippe I knew, but then that was the early Renaissance. We can't have one of us running around Paris barking mad."
Methos had the sense to look alarmed at that. There was only one way to stop him from running around anywhere.
"What can I tell you? He was sane enough yesterday. Adam, what is this about?"
"I was just--overwhelmed, all right? Let's just put it down to stress. I'll try to get more sleep, hmmm?"
Duncan sighed. "Marcus, whatever this was, he's not dangerous."
"I'm happy enough to make him your problem, Duncan. But Philippe," his eyes hardened, "don't come back."
Macleod managed to get outside before turning to Adam and saying, "Ok, what's really going on?"
"Nothing." It was gray and overcast, but hot and sticky. Paris in August wasn't usually this awful. The weather wasn't doing anything for Macleod's mood.
"Nothing. The kind of nothing where you attract attention to yourself? Oh, god, Amanda's not back, is she? They're not going to discover something's missing are they?"
"Don't be an ass. I'm just having a bad day, that's all."
"That's all? That's the best you can come up with?"
He sighed elaborately. "No. But it happens to be true, and I thought you preferred that sort of thing. Look, don't make such a big deal out of it."
"So you've managed to avoid Marc in Paris for, what? Fifteen years and now you stop by and say hello by committing vandalism?"
"Oh, please. I've seen the work of actual Vandals."
"You don't want to talk about it? Fine. But next time, I'm not paying your bail."
As Dawson's expression slipped from surprised to deer-in-headlights, it occurred to Amy that she was being too personal, even to an American. In fact, the question had been quite unkind.
Good, she thought. It was a surprising thought. From the beginning she had planned to be mature about this, and she'd thought she was succeeding.
Very slowly, Joe put down the pastry he was holding and smiled. "I was completely in love."
The eggs went hard and lumpy in Amy's mouth. It took two tries to swallow them.
"When I was in the academy there were only two things in the whole world I--" he broke off, censoring himself, and Amy wasn't able to fill in the blank. "Immortals and your mother. Nothing else mattered." He raised his eyes and Amy had to fight to keep from flinching away. "She was tutoring me in Latin. I stank at it in high school. Helen was...amazing. She dazzled me. She was poised and perceptive and curious and intelligent. I barely passed historic geography because the night I should have been studying for the exam I was writing love songs."
Ashamed and much meeker, Amy whispered, "Did she love you?"
"Maybe. I hadn't nailed charm yet, but I was probably earnest and cute. And she loved the music. Sometimes, in the students' sitting room...a bunch of us would get together...read poetry, do skits, make music. Not often. Nobody had a lot of time. Of course, none of us had TVs either. We danced around each other for weeks, finding excuses to talk to each other, not really saying something." He stopped suddenly and got up, taking his plate to the sink.
"You know," he said without turning around, "I lied. We weren't...It wasn't love. It was, it was just dazzle, you know? We weren't friends first. We had very little in common. We...being with somebody, making a family, it takes a lot of work, Amy. There has to be something you can hold on to, when you're mad at each other, or when you're hurt. Or it all just falls apart. We didn't have that. I didn't know it then. I didnít have a clue. But Helen probably did. Thank god she did."
"Do you think anybody has that?" She asked. Her parents hadn't, Mom and Dad. They'd been married but not friends. They gave more to their work than to each other. Amy remembered no particular warmth between them, nor even disappointment and bitterness.
"Oh, yeah," Joe said softly. He was still at the sink. "It happens. Takes everything you've got, though."
Adam had already picked up his car, Amy noticed as they came out of the building. She wondered if a man woke up early, all bright eyed and bushy-tailed the morning after taking a head. She didn't ask Joe; it was easier when they weren't talking.
They went shopping. Amy didn't have anything with her in the city. She was not going to wear yesterday's nylons, even if it wasn't hot and they didn't smell like damp cardboard. And, after all, this was her chance to go shopping in Paris. It was practically a clichť, one of those things you could tell people you did, like seeing the Kentucky Derby or going scuba diving off Australia.
Being a tourist seemed shockingly normal. "After we get some clothes I haven't disposed of a body in," she said suddenly, "I want to see the Eiffel Tower."
Macleod was making coq au vin, Maurice's recipe. Truly, it was better than anyone else's, though Maurice, pretending modesty, claimed it was flattery when he said so. Macleod would make it once for practice, and then next week sometime invite Joe and Methos to dinner.
He'd been given time with them. He wouldn't waste it.
A sadness rose up within him. No more time with Cassandra. No more time for her. He'd been counting on more time. Duncan, for whatever unfathomable reason, meant a great deal to her. She had counted on him for impossible things. Whether he was all she believed or not, she had believed it. Despite how he had disappointed her, he might, some day, have been of some use to her. In fifty or a hundred years...he might have been able to find something to say or do to help her find some healing or at least some peace.
In all honesty, probably not. She had managed most of three thousand years without him. He would have tried, though.
All her chances were gone. With him or without him, there would be no peace, no getting beyond the horror or the hatred. He had been counting on more time.
The knock on the door wasn't an Immortal, but he was still cautious as he called, "Come in."
Joe paused, looking Macleod over carefully before coming down the stairs. Joe...didn't look good. It might only be the heat--hot and sticky afternoon had turned into hot and sticky evening. Nobody in Paris had air conditioning. Macleod turned on a fan and fetched a cold American beer out of the refrigerator. Perhaps it was that simple.
Probably not. He waited until Joe had settled in a chair and handed him the beer. "Amy?" he asked. There was a time when he wouldn't have asked about Joe's personal life. He still would not push, if Joe didn't want to talk about it.
"She dropped me off at the bar and went back to HQ a couple of hours ago." He didn't look happy. Duncan wondered how bad it had been.
"You got some time together, then?"
"Yeah. Not they way we'd thought. Last night she and Adam were attacked."
"What?" Duncan sat up sharply. Methos had said nothing about it. Not that he would, but-- Surely, Amy was fine. Adam wouldn't allow anything to happen to her.
"It was another Immortal. Adam took him," Joe paused, looking unhappy, "And then they came back to me."
"An Immortal? But you said attacked, not challenged."
"Amy said...he seemed crazed. He just ran at Adam. Didn't even try to duck."
"That's...unlikely." He didn't doubt the report, but he didn't know what to make of it.
Joe spread his free hand. "It gets worse, Mac."
Macleod read the warning in Joe's eyes and his stomach fell.
"We've identified the challenger. Michael Aikana."
"Michael--Cassandra's student?" Macleod choked. Dead. Trying to kill Methos. "Why? How?"
"We just don't know, Mac. Our people didn't observe them long, but we had no sign that Aikana was crazy. And--Cassandra's had a couple of students over the years. I don't know why she didn't teach this one to fight. She's never....She wasn't neglectful."
"And--there's no mistake, Joe?"
"No. I'm sorry."
Macleod stood and began to pace. "But--why? They were in New York. To come to Paris?"
"My guess--he probably did it for her. She hated Methos. If Aikana knew, even a little of it--"
"And instead of going after the man who killed her, he crosses the pond to kill an old enemy? How did Aikana even know what he looked like?" Impossible. It could not simply be what it looked like. Obviously, there was more. Macleod's heart felt like a stone.
When Joe spoke, his voice was hard enough to pull Macleod up short. "When Cassandra died on Monday, Methos was here with us."
The world tilted and a terror Macleod had not realized he was rushing toward receded again. "Yes, he was. We had dinner and put you on the late train to London." He closed his eyes. "He was with me."
"All night?" Joe suggested.
"Amy said it was very dark. I don't think Adam could have even recognized Aikana. Although he may have known about him."
"Does he...does he know yet?"
"I tried calling him. He's not in. Anyway, I have no doubt he can raid the system and find out whenever he likes."
Duncan nodded stiffly. "Thanks."
Joe smiled a little. "Don't mention it."
"So. Can you stay for dinner? Or do you have to get back? I have chicken...."
Joe thought for a moment, watching Macleod warily. "Yeah. Yeah, that would be nice."
Et Maru couldn't understand why he was lost in the city; he'd been living there since before the rainy season began, and there was no way to go astray on the way home from the market. The shape of the buildings ahead of him, though, while vaguely familiar, didn't trigger a recognition of 'turn here,' or 'gone too far.'
Was that the river up ahead? Et Maru paused. From the river he could find his way to the palace. He could get home from there--
The river was too wide. He looked at it again. It was all wrong. It moved too fast. And with the wind blowing off it...it should smell worse, surely? He looked around, trying to make sense of the buildings that were suddenly far too tall and very alien. This wasn't--
Where was this? What city? For a moment panic engulfed him. Hearing a small thud at his feet, he glanced down and realized that he had dropped something. A tooth brush. A tin of tea. A packet of biscuits.
Methos doubled over, gasping. He knew he should gather his groceries and calmly walk home, but he was shaking too hard.
Paris. This was Paris.
He had not even spoken the name Et Maru in over two thousand years.
Macleod was an attentive host. More than attentive. He drew Joe into the tiny kitchen with him and laid out wine and bread and a soft, slightly pink cheese to munch while he finished cooking. He chatted about the opera season, a purchase of a half-ton chandelier he was currently negotiating for a third party, and the long term weather forecast.
And, apparently, the world's oldest cheese was for sale again. Joe didn't even ask what that was about. It had been months since Macleod had talked to him about, well, anything. He came to the bar, sometimes, when Joe was playing. Usually, he'd stick around to share a beer, but he wouldn't stay long and he didn't talk much while he was there. It was strange, this sudden change. The conversation floated past Joe, filling his heart with a strange buoyancy. It had been so long....
"Joe? You want to talk about it?"
Joe started. "Hm? About what?"
Macleod put down the wooden spoon and turned to stand in front of him, his gaze direct and unguarded and almost more tender than Joe could bear. "Whatever." After a moment he added, "I can't offer you any useful advice about parenthood, I'm afraid. But I can listen."
Oh. For a few minutes he'd forgotten. "What is there to say? I think I have to follow her lead. At least the ongoing Immortal catastrophes give us something to talk about except the fact that she was an accident."
"Children aren't accidents, Joe. They're blessings."
"I know that--"
Joe didn't know. "You're not bad with the advice, actually."
"It doesn't matter where you come from, as long as you're welcome when you're actually here."
When there were witnesses to an Immortal's first death tall tales--even myths--spread until sooner or later a Watcher heard about it. The legend of Duncan's said his father called him 'demon' and cast him out of not only the family and the village, but the entire clan. At thirty he had scarcely been a child, but still, he might feel something in common with Amy Thomas. She wasn't a child either. "No," Joe said. "It doesn't matter where you come from."
Macleod turned back to the stove.
Dinner was excellent. Joe probably would have over-eaten even if Mac weren't overdoing the host bit, but he was still inexplicably eager and generous. He kept Joe's plate full of 'chicken'--in fact, one of Maurice's most treasured recipes--steamed vegetables dressed with fresh herbs, and a rice pilaf he had 'thrown together' and persisted in apologizing for. Dessert was sliced fruit, spiced tea, and small English cookies that Joe knew Macleod didn't keep around for himself.
Mac didn't fuss. Not over Joe. Watching him spoon a third helping of fruit onto a plate that had been emptied twice already, Joe realized that the lack of fuss was one of the things he had heretofore treasured about their relationship. Symbolic gestures were few and far between--and never very subtle or oblique. The small kindnesses that passed between them--a cup of coffee, a favorite song, a sturdy chair that was high enough to easily get up from--were surrendered without fanfare. Even the big things--the stories Macleod didn't want to think of, let alone tell, and the research Joe should not be sharing with an Immortal--were given quietly and usually without even thank-you being said aloud.
But while these elaborate attentions hadn't been directed at him Joe knew Macleod well enough to recognize them. Mac fussed when he was courting someone. Or when he felt guilty.
Perhaps Methos was right. Perhaps good-bye was very soon now. All the lovely dinner Joe had eaten turned to lead in his stomach.
He constructed a smile because Macleod was looking at him again. And that was another oddity. There had not been this much looking in a very long time. Joe protested that he was over-fed to exploding and suggested helping with the dishes.
"They can wait." Mac led the way to the living area instead. Still looking. "Can I get you some coffee?"
"No, thank you." After the spiced tea, after wine with dinner and beer before that. Heaven forbid two minutes should pass without Macleod handing him something to eat or drink. It would be funny if it didn't speak of looming heartbreak. He would have to think of something to say. Something neutral and cheerful. This might be the last evening they had. It should be pleasant--
"Joe, I know I've not been...much use to you in a long time now. I'm...I'm sorry for that." Macleod spoke softly, but the apology Joe did not want rang in the air like church bells.
Joe studied the porthole to his left, and the flat, dark night outside it. "It's all right, Mac. You've had a hard time. I've understood that."
"I was wrong."
"It wasn't about being wrong. What happened to--to Richie...you think I don't know what that did to you? I understood."
"You understood what?" Macleod said sharply. "Did you think I was so busy mourning Richie that I just forgot how much I valued you?"
Joe did look at him then. He looked carefully, measuring the anger he saw there, confused by the sight of...something else he couldn't name. "No," he said gently, speaking to the anger since he didn't know what to make of the other. "No. But I didn't know how to reach you."
Joe watched the anger fade, sliding into regret and something that might be relief. "I didn't forget. Joe." He stopped, visibly steeled himself. "I was trying to protect you. I thought I wasn't good for you. Since you met me, I've brought you only grief. How many times has knowing me nearly cost your life? You've suffered enough, because of me. I thought...if I stayed away...."
Carefully, firmly, and with an iron grip on his temper, Joe said, "That's crap."
"Glad to hear it." Joe reined in the cutting edge that twisted his words. "What changed your mind?"
"The other night...while I was dead, I had a dream." Before Joe could say anything he hurried on, "I know, I know. We don't dream while we're dead. But I did."
"What was it about?"
"In the dream I didn't exist. And it didnít matter, that I didn't. Nothing was better. I saw...that the darkness will come whether I am there or not. Evil will come. And my running away will not protect you."
Macleod only shook his head.
Wouldn't protect him. "Was I dead?"
He closed his eyes. "Near enough."
What the hell was 'near enough?'
Macleod slipped to the floor and crouched on one knee between Joe's feet. "I'm not sure you can believe me right now...or forgive me for that matter. But I am sorry, Joe, and I'll not leave you again, not willingly."
Holy shit. For a moment, Joe was completely speechless. Never in his life had anyone offered this sort of commitment to him.
Of course, Joe had always assumed it would be him making the offer. He was the guy, after all.
But this wasn't an offer of marriage. In fact, it was very similar to a promise he'd made in his own heart about six months after he and Macleod had met. The night after Macleod had finally challenged Nicholas Ward and finished him was the first time Joe and Duncan had sat down and talked like two friends, rather than meeting in some isolated, shady spot and passing secret information in order to eke out some kind of clandestine justice. That night, on this barge, Joe had realized that he had been right to love this man and that he had no intention of walking away from him, ever.
Gently, he laid his hands on Macleod's shoulders. "It's all right. You don't need to make me any promises."
"You don't understand."
Joe leaned slightly down, kissed Macleod gently on the forehead. "No, I don't. It doesn't matter. It's all right between us, Mac. You don't need to apologize and you don't need to promise me anything."
Macleod looked down. For a few moments there was only the sound of their breathing and the heat from their bodies. When Macleod looked up, he asked, "Can you stay?" He glanced over his shoulder, at the bed.
They had not been together once since Macleod had returned from Indonesia. At first he had clearly been under the restrictions of some mental discipline. He'd emptied the barge of decoration and most furniture, he'd given up drinking or eating much of anything but rice, and there had been no romantic activity at all. Slowly knick-knacks and cooking and women had crept back into life at the barge, but still Duncan had not approached Joe.
Joe had not allowed himself to feel hurt by that. If anyone in the world would remind Duncan of Richie, it would be Joe. If there were anyone he couldn't face because he brought back too much of the horrors of Ahriman, well, that would be Joe too. And clearly, clearly, Duncan had been badly depressed....
You've suffered enough, because of me. Dear god. "Yes, I can stay."
The mattress on the floor of the sleeping platform was too low for Joe to manage easily. There was nothing to hold on to but Macleod, but he was strong enough that Joe's weight barely even made him frown as Joe eased down onto the bed.
Macleod disappeared into the bathroom while Joe undressed. When he came back a few minutes later he was carrying a towel, a bottle of scented oil, and a couple of extra pillows. He was also magnificently, gloriously naked.
Joe's breath froze. It had been a year and a half since they had been together like this. He had thought it would never happen again.
Macleod sat beside him on the bed, looking, hungrily, as he had been looking all night. "My beautiful Joe," he whispered reverently.
"That must have been one hell of a dream," Joe muttered.
To his astonishment the brown eyes filled, and one overflowed to drop a tear onto the sheets between them.
Just what had 'near enough' to dead consisted of?
Joe tugged Duncan gently down and cradled him against his chest. "It was just a dream. I'm here. I'm fine." The only answer was a weak shudder, and Joe ran his fingers soothingly through the cropped, dark hair. He could not say 'everything is all right,' not with Richie gone, and now Cassandra. He could not promise to always be there. He had no idea what comfort to offer. "Damn," he whispered.
"It was a dream. I was here. I didn't leave you alone. Methos--" He stopped.
"Mac, tell me what happened."
"Then let it go. It wasn't real." Joe turned them over, so that the golden glory of Macleod was pinned beneath him. "This is real." Slowly he captured Duncan's mouth, tasted him, knew him. It had been so long, but Duncan tasted just the same.
Duncan responded just the same. At once, the golden skin was hot and softer; the liquid brown eyes were eager and hungry; large, strong hands softly stroked the length of Joe's back. Just the same, just the same. The familiar touch awakened both memory and desire and Joe grew harder. I've missed you, he thought. It would be cruel to say it out loud. Instead, he nibbled gently on the great expanse of shoulder that was spread out below him.
"Oh, I've missed you," Duncan breathed, saying it for them both.
For an answer, Joe trailed light kisses along Duncan's silky, hot chest.
What worried Methos as he looked around his hotel room wasn't so much that it was thoroughly trashed, but that all of the clutter which covered every flat surface was composed of dirty dishes. Dishes which he had emptied--he checked his watch--in the last four hours. He had, over the course of the evening, ordered everything on the room service menu. He had eaten it all, inexplicably having no trouble fitting it all in.
He wanted more.
Thinking as a doctor--not that he had ever had to turn this part of his education and experience upon himself before--wasn't particularly helpful either. As a symptom, lack of appetite was much more informative than this unappeasable hunger. He supposed it might be something hormonal.
His stomach cramped. The feeling was familiar. Methos had starved to death more than once.
He downed the remnants of a breadstick and a large glass of water. Enough. Whatever this was, it couldn't truly be hunger. He rose and began to gather dishes so he could stack them outside the door.
Joe woke in darkness, Macleod wrapped around him like a silken, Scottish octopus. The heavy sweetness left by their lovemaking still saturated his body, but it was too warm to be comfortable and soon he would need the john. It took a little wiggling to reach his watch without disturbing Macleod. They had slept for four hours. A cheat, if you thought about it as a night's rest, but not bad if you pretended it was a nap.
There was a lot of work he'd wanted to get done tonight. He'd never expected that his trip to the barge would take more than a few minutes. Half an hour at most.
Oh, I've missed you.
The first time they had been together, Joe hadn't expected to stay long, either. He'd come to the barge to say thank you and to make sure everything was all right. He'd expected Amanda to be there--one of the reasons he wasn't planning on staying long--but she met him at the top of the gangway with a small suitcase.
"London. I'm meeting a friend. She hardly leaves Australia any more." Amanda wrinkled her nose, clearly not thinking much of Australia. She kissed him on the cheek and said earnestly, "Look after him for me," and hurried past him to meet a taxi that was just arriving above the embankment.
Damn. In a way, what he'd come to say would have been easier in front of Amanda. More exposed, yes, but also less intimate. Formal. How the hell did you thank somebody for stopping you from committing pre-meditated murder anyway?
Never mind that it had been the right thing to do, even at the time. Or that doing it would have saved other innocent lives. Or that it would have been worth Joe's soul to protect the secret of Macleod and the other Immortals.
"So how are things at the office?" Mac called as Joe came in.
"Settling down and getting back to work. At least on the outside. On the inside, everybody's a little freaked out. For some reason Watchers seem to be more comfortable keeping Immortals on the other side of a telescope."
"The lines have gotten kind of blurry, these last couple of years."
"I could come talk to them, if you think that would help?" He offered it with such seriousness that Joe had to look twice to be sure he was kidding. Then Macleod began to laugh and Joe was suddenly struck by the monumental miracle that arranged for him to be standing there--openly and safely and warmly--talking to Duncan Macleod.
"You don't have to look so grim," Macleod said, sobering. "I wouldn't really, you know. It was a joke." And then, "Perhaps you've heard of them?"
Joe shook his head. "No, no. It's not that. I," he took a deep breath, "I just came to thank you. For what you did. For me."
"You're not here to say you told me so? I did notice that in the end, I didn't save Christine. And things would have been a lot easier on everybody if I'd just let you finish what you'd started."
"What? No. What happened....happened. And we coped. And we got damn lucky, in the end. And you--personally--pulled everybody's chestnuts out of the fire, so I am not going to complain--" With effort, Joe ground to a halt, pulling in the words that had somehow gotten away from him. "I'm not going to complain, not about a damn thing, including you letting me shoot you. Although I am having nightmares about that now. No. No. I just wanted to thank you. For what you did for me. For that."
Macleod walked over to Joe slowly and took his face gently in both hands. For a moment they were completely still, and then Macleod leaned slightly up and kissed Joe on the forehead. It was very nearly a paternal gesture. Perhaps it would have been, but standing this close to each other, neither was able to pretend that their interest was only friendly or that that single chaste kiss had been enough.
The second kiss was on the mouth. Afterwards, Joe could only remember heat and dizziness and a sweet burning that stretched from his ears to his groin. When they separated there was a tiny pause that lasted just long enough for each to realize that the other was giving him a chance to cut and run.
They had been very casual lovers after that. No dates, no promises, no matching tee-shirts or cute pet names. No fuss. Just respect and honesty and passion and faith. It was the dearest love Joe had ever known.
Now, in the darkness, with Duncan's arm pinning him at the waist and the sheets still smelling of sex, Joe thought he might weep. He had thought all of this was behind him.
I was trying to protect you. How many times has knowing me nearly cost your life? You've suffered enough, because of me. I thought if I stayed away....
Things might be all right between the two of them, but Joe couldn't imagine that Duncan himself was fine. And up to a point, yeah, how stable was anybody, really?
Worry. Worry. Joe knew his assignment. Macleod's healing always came from other people. If he was reaching for his friends again...everything might be improving after all. Well. He would talk to Methos--first thing in the morning. In the mean time, Joe was too keyed up to sleep. He took one last look at the beloved shadow sleeping beside him, gently kissed his temple, and detached himself from the octopus.
Joe had turned off his phone when he'd arrived at Macleod's and he was almost home before he thought to turn it back on. There were four messages from Stan Bialik requesting he call back immediately. Joe glanced at the time. What were the chances the Assistant Coordinator really wanted to talk to him at quarter of four in the morning?
Adam would laugh and say that Joe was developing a real problem with authority. Joe dialed the number anyway. Sadly, it wasn't Stan himself who answered. The night clerk politely told Joe that he was expected in a meeting in conference room two at seven that morning.
Well. There would be time to shower before making the drive.
Joe had expected to be kept waiting. In his experience, European Watcher leadership liked to play snippy little head games. Part of him was almost surprised to find that conference room was a comfortable little parlor that could host small cocktail parties and not, for example (a totally random example, apropos of nothing), a slightly damp basement with an odor problem.
I'm getting bitter and paranoid, he thought, as he took in the comfortable, warm room, the coffee laid out on the table, the three people waiting. One was Bialik, Joe's immediate supervisor. Another was Edwinna Corbin, the Coordinator for Western Europe; she was Bialik's supervisor, but more than that, she was in her current position because Joe had recommended her after the Second Near Miss. The third was an older woman Joe did not know.
The greetings were polite enough, but Joe did not relax until the elderly woman was introduced. Angelique Perez was currently working in research, but she had been, for more than ten years, Cassandra's Watcher, and she was the closest thing to an expert currently in Europe. This meeting might be about work after all.
"It is always convenient," Edwina said with such sweetness that the others stared at her, "when the true source of one's problems is dead some five years. It means we can skip the whole blame portion of the conversation and get right to work."
Bialik shot her a dark look and subsided.
"On the other hand, we have known about the problem for six years, and we have yet to adequately address it. The Council has formed no policy--unless you count shutting its eyes and hoping everything turns out all right 'policy'--and now we are caught out, again, with our pants veritably around our ankles and no rules to cover our fannies with."
Joe did not laugh. The sweetness in her voice was covering fury in her eyes. "What's happened?"
Bialik sighed. "Our people in New York finally discovered Cassandra's last domicile. In examining her effects we discovered a letter. To you." He added, "You really should leave your cell on."
It wasnít the original, of course, but a fax. It was written in Latin--still not one of Joe's strong points, but someone had hastily written a translation in the margins:
Although I anger, I do not do this for revenge.
Although I hate, it is not hate that moves me.
My heart cries that Duncan has made his choice, and ought to be destroyed for it, but contrary to what you will believe, my heart is not a consideration.
I place it in your hands to spare him. When it ends, let it end. When the time comes, do not let Duncan do it himself. Whatever it takes, stop him.
Joe read it twice. "What is this about?"
They shook their heads. "We have no idea," Anglique Perez spoke for the first time. "We were hoping you could guess."
"I haven't been in contact with her."
"But you have met her--" Ms. Perez was nearly salivating.
"At the moment," Edwina cut in, "we must decide what to do. We shall put aside, for the moment, the fact that she left a letter asking for a watcher by name. After all, we lack a coherent policy on that point." She smiled, sweetly. "What has Cassandra done? What has she requested? And what action, if any, should we take?"
"She never mailed it," Bialik said. "Whatever action she's referring to...maybe she never took it. Or was killed before she could."
Ms. Perez cleared her throat delicately. "I won't suggest that she foresaw her own death, although there is some evidence that she might have...But Cassandra was a careful planner. She would have considered it the possibility. As well as the possibility that Watchers would come into possession of her effects."
Bialik snorted. Edwina sighed. "But what would she do? And why involve a mortal at all?"
There was no guessing. After a long silence, Edwina said, "We are without guidelines, but not without precedent. In the past, the Council has considered allowable those...interventions which were absolutely necessary to end an ongoing threat to mortal lives and to prevent disruption of the Game." She glanced at each of them. "Well then? In your opinion, Angelique, would Cassandra have taken action that threatened mortal lives?"
"Oh, no. No," the old woman protested, "She liked people. When she worked it was usually as a teacher or midwife or nurse. When I last was assigned to her, she was an ambulance driver. She liked people."
Bialik shook his head. "I've looked at her file. She had very few friends, mortal or Immortal."
"It's rather a long way from 'somewhat isolated' to serial killer or mass murderess. Whatever she was involved in...I can't imagine that its purpose was to kill someone." Joe wondered if he got the same look when defending Macleod. Or perhaps Angelique was merely transparent because he understood her point of view so well.
"What about the Game?" Joe asked.
Bialik snorted again. "If she was looking for a way to cheat, she didn't do a good job of it."
Cassandra's watcher shook her head. "She didn't care enough about the game to cheat, I think. She didn't hunt. When challenged, she played by the rules. But she was rarely challenged."
"So we don't know what she's done. If she's done anything. And if intervention--if we knew what was needed--would be permissible. Is that correct?" Edwina was getting irritable. Joe couldn't blame her.
"Whatever it was, she thought it posed a threat to Macleod," he said.
Perez looked up. "Her student came here. To warn Macleod? Or was Aikana the threat?"
They went around on it for an hour. Joe could see they weren't getting anywhere, but he knew how committees worked. He let them argue and tried not to look impatient. It ended the way he had expected; no one demanded that he keep the letter a secret, but he would have to keep them current on all developments. The last was clearly the price of the first.
Joe, obligingly, was not so rude as to point out that the only way they could stop him from doing whatever the hell he wanted with the forbidden letter (now that he had seen it) was to confine him incommunicado, and that would play merry hell with the truce Watchers and the Immortals who knew about them currently enjoyed.
But what was he going to do, Joe wondered on the long drive back to the city. He could not keep it from Macleod, obviously, but what could he say?
And how would Macleod react?
This would be easier if Joe had some support, but Amanda was somewhere in Egypt and Adam--
Well, why not tell Adam? He wouldn't run: with Cassandra dead, there was nothing to run from. And he might have an idea what she'd done, or even if she'd had a chance to do anything. He would have to be told eventually, anyway. Better to enlist him to help handle Macleod.
Joe checked his watch. It was still too early for Adam to be up. There was time for breakfast before stopping by the hotel.
In the dream--and Methos knew it was a dream--Macleod dropped his sword, said goodbye to Joe and knelt before O'Roarke. In the dream Methos was--somehow, unaccountably--carrying only his sword. Running, he did not reach them in time.
Macleod's head rolled away across the floor.
Methos, too late, too late, was on O'Roarke before the quickening started. He did not take the man's head; he hacked him to pieces, leaving only the head and torso intact and the rest of the body in bits on the floor, chunks of finger and leg floating in a lake of blood. The mess was illuminated by the flashes of Macleod's quickening.
Still enraged, he turned on Joe. "For you!" he screamed. "Because he could not bear to lose you!" It was clean, at least, the stroke that ended Joe. Methos cut from the top down, cleaving the head and most of the torso in two. Then, as the body was still falling, he turned to Amanda, just coming round on the floor. He took her head as she opened her eyes.
Awake--please let him be awake--and shaking, Methos tumbled from the bed, suddenly unsure of where the bathroom was. A dream, a dream.
He stumbled into the tub and turned on the shower. The cold shocked him, but not enough to push the images of blood from his mind. It was only a dream. Macleod was alive. Joe was alive. Only O'Rourke was dead.
He still shook with rage.
Unfair, he told himself, unjust. Not useful.
It was not their fault. It was not even Macleod's fault, really. His failing wasn't that he didnít have any likely ideas or that he was constrained by his parochial version of honor or that he was completely blinded by his love for his friends. Macleod's problem was only that he couldn't face the one inevitable truth: that sooner or later everyone died. That while Joe and Amanda could be rescued that night, they could not be made safe for all time.
How could he blame Duncan for finding that truth too terrible to bear? It was not as though Methos had never given in to despair himself.
His hands were clumsy with the towel. After struggling for what felt like years, he just wrapped the thin, small thing around his shoulders and went looking for clothes. He wasnít quite dressed when the knock came at the door, but he was grateful for the intrusion. It took his mind off the oceans of blood that hovered at the back of his mind.
"You look like hell," Joe said.
Annoyed, Methos turned from the door, not caring whether Joe followed him in or not. "Have I ever told you how much your loving and unconditional support has meant to me these last few years--" As a nasty snipe it lacked something, being literally accurate.
"Guess it must have been some party," Joe had caught sight of the of the dishes stacked on the desk and table of the outer room of the tiny suite. Methos grimaced. He'd gotten the first round of dishes out the door, but an hour later many of them had been replaced. When he'd finally begun to feel satisfied, he was past 'full' to 'bloated' and slightly sick, and he'd dropped into bed without thinking about the mess.
The door shut with a tiny click, and then Joe said softly. "Adam. What's going on?" Then, more gently, "Methos?"
"Maybe you don't want to know."
"Maybe I don't," Joe conceded. "Maybe...you could tell me anyway."
Methos glanced back. Joe looked every bit as worried and nervous as at ought to be, but he had pushed those feelings back and returned his gaze without flinching. "Why? You think you could handle it?"
"Maybe not. Maybe it's no big deal. Maybe you just had some old friends over for dinner and things got...unpleasant."
"And you'd like that, wouldn't you. Watcher. Stories about my old friends."
The goad finally drew anger. "I've kept your secrets. I will as long as you're in this life."
"Never mind. It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me." Then, "What the hell is going on? It can't be someone's hunting you. You'd just disappear for a while."
"Would I?" Joe was still standing in the middle of the room. Methos advanced on him slowly. "Is that what I'd do? You're sure?"
"Usually, yeah." He tried to smile. "Time honored technique for dealing with unforeseen events?"
"Because you know me. So well."
A recollection stirred and Joe frowned. "Yes," he said gently. "I know who you are now. I know you."
"Really." The dagger he did not remember strapping on that morning was suddenly in his hand, the glittering tip half an inch from Joe's eyes. "You know me. You must be very perceptive, then, for a child. Well. Maybe you can tell me why I want to rip you to pieces. Why I want to watch you bleed. Why I so badly want to spend the rest of the day killing you repeatedly....and why it's such a disappointment knowing you'd only be good for the once?"
Remarkably, the blue eyes on the other side of the sharp point were angry, not afraid. Methos was not prepared for the strong hand that knocked the blade halfway across the room or the sharp, "Cut the crap and tell me what the hell is going on," that followed it. Methos stumbled backwards, catching himself against the small, decorative sofa. "Joe, get out," he gasped.
"Don't touch me! Get out!" He screwed his eyes shut so he wouldn't see the fragile mortal before him. "Don't you understand? I want to hurt you, and I...I know, I remember that I would regret that, so please...please, Joseph, get the hell out...."
He did not look up until he'd heard the door open and shut again.
The trick to not being noticed was to have a convincing wait. Bored or put upon or exhausted would do, but you had to have something to replace shifty, or you stood out like you were decorated in Christmas lights.
Joe stationed himself at the end of the hall behind a potted palm and waited for Macleod. It had been a couple of years since he'd had to fade into the background, but the old game was comfortable and familiar.
He watched Methos' door while pretending to be absorbed in the carpet. Not invisible, just unmemorable.
What the hell was wrong with Adam?
It had to be Cassandra. She or Michael Aikana. One of them had done something or said something or left something behind. Cassandra had had the voice, after all. No one knew what she was capable of. While she hadn't been near Methos herself, perhaps in her last student she'd found someone not only talented but controllable. Perhaps he had come after Methos as a last request....
If Aikana had the voice and it worked on Methos, why hadn't he used it to keep from being beheaded?
Maybe Methos was just upset. Maybe this was nothing.
But Joe couldn't afford to lie to himself. Methos might use deadly weapons on immortals casually, but pull a knife on a mortal friend? No.
Macleod came out of the stairs at a dead run, checking as he passed Joe. "What room?"
Macleod wasn't running anymore, but Joe was still well behind when he reached the door and swung angrily back, "How the hell did he get past you?"
"He's not in there!"
"He is in there! He did not get past me." For a moment, Joe's stomach sank, but no. "No, he did not go out the window. We're on the fifth floor. Not in broad daylight, anyway." He shouldered past Macleod and pounded on the door. "Adam? Open up!"
The answer was a short silence and than a slightly muffled noise that might be falling crockery. They knocked again, to no answer at all.
"He isn't in there, Joe. I can't feel him."
"He is." Joe pulled out his phone and called the front desk, telling them that their friend wasn't answering his door and they thought he might be ill. No doubt this would piss Adam off, but he was in no state to be alone, whatever was going on.
"Tell me again what happened," Macleod said while they waited.
"I don't know what happened. He was acting strange on Friday night, after the quickening. He wouldn't return my calls yesterday, and this morning...I've seen him violent, Mac, but I've never seen him like it. There was this light in his eyes...."
"Joe? Are we talking about a dark quickening here?"
Oh, crap. For a moment he was too afraid to think. "I--no. No. From a child? Methos? I don't see how." Aikana had barely been twenty. There was no way he had had a quickening could overwhelm a five thousand year old man.
Macleod nodded tightly. After a moment, he said, "You know, he was acting oddly Thursday night, when we were all together. He seemed almost...angry."
Joe sighed. "That wasn't an outside influence. He was just pissed at you."
Macleod, bless his heart, looked shocked. "What for!"
Joe rolled his eyes. "Apparently he had some bug up his butt about you just blithely going off to sacrifice yourself for us."
"He's got this thing about you not being killed. Well, hell, everybody has to have a hobby, right?"
The manager came then, with a key. Joe stood aside while he opened the door, steeling himself for whatever temper tantrum Adam might throw on the other side. Instead, he looked over the manager's shoulder to see Adam in a heap on the floor amidst several broken dishes.
Macleod shoved the manager out of the way and charged into the room. The manager, nearly hysterical, followed him, but headed not to the still form on the floor but the phone. He was fussing in French, faster than Joe could strictly follow, but he understood something about 'time' and 'ambulance.' Quickly, Joe relieved the man of the phone. "No, it's all right. Um, he's diabetic, do you understand." His French stumbled and he repeated it in English. "We know what to do. We know where he keeps his medicine. It's all right now, think you. Please, you can go."
It took another minute to get the man out the door. When he turned back he saw that Macleod had gathered the still form into his arms but not moved either of them otherwise.
"What killed him? Mac, I'm sure nobody came in here--" The look on Macleod's face stopped him. "What's wrong?"
"I can barely feel him. His quickening's all but gone. And what little there is--" he stopped, shuddering, "It's all wrong, Joe."
"If--if he's just coming back--"
"He's not been hurt! There's no mark on him."
Joe leaned down, found the thin, fast pulse at Adam's throat. He was alive. Macleod should be able to feel his quickening.
They waited for a long time. Joe shoved a couple of dirty dishes out of the way and perched on the edge of the desk. Duncan sat very still, with Adam half in his lap. The room was silent. Joe had sat watch over recovering Immortals before. It hadn't been like this. As horrible as it was to watch a friend be dead, as painful as it looked when they came back....this was so much worse. Adam was a funny grey color. And sweating. His breathing was far too slow, and labored.
This wasnít right.
And it kept going on--
"He made a spectacle at the museum of natural history yesterday," Macleod said suddenly, not taking his eyes from Adam's face.
Joe blinked. "What did he do?"
"Some kind of linguistic tantrum, I think. Bad enough that security came for him. Joe? Have you ever heard of anything like this?"
"Like what, erratic behavior? I couldn't begin to narrow it down. Like his quickening...becoming invisible all of a sudden? How would we know about that? Immortals don't usually spell things like that out for us."
In Macleod's lap, Adam began to shake. "Is--is he seizing," Joe whispered.
"Shivering, I think. He's so cold."
He carried the slack body into the bedroom and deposited him onto the bed. Joe removed the shoes and they slipped him, dressed, under the covers.
"Do--do Immortals get sick, Joe? You didn't believe in dark quickenings, but you'd heard of them. Is there some...illness the watchers have written off as a myth?"
"Not that I've ever heard of." Joe sat down on the bed and laid one hand on the lump Adam's arm made through the covers. "Normally...he's the one I'd ask about something like this."
"He's old, Joe. Maybe older then anybody's ever been. Maybe...maybe this is what happens to us in the end. Maybe...it's not forever."
Joe remembered the fax still in his pocket Oh. God. He withdrew the piece of paper and passed it to Macleod. "I don't know how she did it, but there is no doubt in my mind."
"Who? What?" confused, Macleod looked down at the letter, first reading the English, then the original Latin. "No. No. She--"
"Wouldn't? Couldn't? If anybody hated him enough to do this, it was Cassandra. And if I were laying bets as to who would find a way to pull this off--" He motioned at the still, pale form.
"She wouldn't do this to me!"
"Maybe you didn't notice, but she wasn't too happy with you either."
On the bed, Methos stirred. He was still shivering, but his color was a little better and when his eyes opened he glanced at their faces with apparent recognition. Duncan hurried over and dropped to one knee beside the bed. "Methos? Can you hear me?"
Methos answered clearly and succinctly, and in some language neither of them had ever heard before.
Macleod managed a thin smile. "Pretty good, old man. But how about English?"
The answer was much the same, but longer.
"Persepi? Capisca?" Macleod tried. Then, more uncertainly, "Katalavete?"
Methos was clearly frightened now, struggling to sit up, pouring out a flood of intelligible words. Macleod captured him about the shoulders, giving up on words and making soft shushing sounds instead. To Joe's immense relief, Methos didn't fight. He did keep trying to talk, getting progressively louder as his friends continued not to understand.
Unable to bear it any longer, Joe went to the phone and called down to the desk for more blankets and room service for tea and hot soup. After that, he could think of nothing else to do but wait and listen to--whatever Methos was saying.
Macleod let go of him and walked slowly around the room, repeatedly approaching the bed and backing away again. After a few minutes, Joe realized what he was doing. "How's his quickening?"
"When I'm next to him, it feels strong and almost normal but....Just a couple of yards away he disappears." It wasn't useful information, but that didn't stop it from being bad news. Very bad, probably.
The food took less than twenty minutes, but long before it arrived Methos had worn himself out and fallen back into a restless sleep. Macleod unfolded one of the blankets and laid it over the still form. "Who's the oldest of us in Paris right now? Marcus Constantine?"
"Yeah, as far as I know. That sounds about right. Are you going to call him?"
"Do you have any other ideas? Because at this point, I'd take anything."
He took the cab directly to Joe's, and that was right, even though surely the smart thing to do--the only thing to do--was give up and disappear. Start over somewhere else, and try to forget.
But despite 'knowing better' he took the plane to America, not Australia or India, and that was right.
And it was raining when he arrived. Cold and wet and everything slippery, and that was right too, just the way it had happened. And the terror he felt at the door, wondering what kind of welcome was waiting...It had happened just this way.
Taking a moment to compose himself, to remember Adam Pierson and hide behind him, Methos opened the door and slipped inside. There was an empty table, and he sat there instead of the bar. Joe could come to him or not, as he wished.
Even though he remembered Joe coming, sitting across from him almost at once...Methos could scarcely breathe for the fear that he wouldn't. But that was right, too. That was how it happened. He had been too exhausted and numb to feel much more than fear.
And Joe, his eyes dancing, pulled out a chair and sat down across from him. "So. This guy walks into a bar, and the bartender says, 'I'm sorry, we don't serve Death here.'"
This was not right, not what had happened. Methos could only gape and stumble, "Joe--let me explain."
And Joe, mild and uncompromising: "What is there to explain? That I never knew you? That everything you ever told me was a lie? That I actually let a filthy thing like you touch me?"
"I'm not--I'm not who I was!" Methos pleaded.
"Or at least not who I thought you were." Calmly, Joe laid the revolver he normally kept behind the bar on the table. "I guess I owe you. So I'm going to let you walk out of here, if you go now. Otherwise, I'll just shoot you now and take your head with whatever sword you're carrying."
"Joe, please just listen--"
"I'm not going to make this offer again."
"You aren't going to kill me in front of--" But looking up, Methos saw that there suddenly were no customers. The bar was empty, now except for the two of them. "You're not supposed to interfere!"
"True enough. But the brass generally looks the other way when I'm just taking care of a mass murderer."
"Joe, please!" The light eyes were flat and hard and unforgiving. There was nothing left between them. Even though he knew this was wrong--this was not what had happened--Methos turned and ran into the cold night.
Macleod called Constantine, and then, while they waited for him to arrive, Amanda and Ceirdwyn and Terrance Coventry, leaving messages for them to get back to him as soon as possible.
"Do you think they'll know anything?" Joe asked.
"I don't know. I wish Mai-Ling was--" he stopped himself. Wishing for Mai-Ling was pointless. No Mai-Ling, no Darius, no Rebecca, not any more. No Connor, for who knew how long. "How's he doing?"
"Hell if I know. He's breathing."
Macleod sighed, took a seat on the chair they had pulled up beside the bed. "He's the doctor. We could use him, right now."
"Oh, yeah. The irony just rains down like...rain." Joe sighed.
"He's a good doctor."
"Yeah. I know." But Joe had not told Methos so. Hadn't ever really thanked him. He could remember, dimly, the trip in the car after Macleod had pulled him from the carnage Galati had left at the old Paris Headquarters. Mostly what he remembered was jostling and pain, until Adam's crisp voice cut through the fuzz with, "Hold still, damn it."
"What are ye' doing?" Macleod's panicked answer had been startling, because until that point he had sounded quiet and calm, though Joe couldn't be sure of the content of what he'd said. "No! you can't put that in him!"
"Be quite, Macleod, and jiggle that needle so your body doesn't heal around it and push it out."
"But--but you can't do that! You don't know what it'll do to him. You don't know what it is."
"It's blood, Macleod, something he has so little of right now I can't find a blood pressure."
"But--it might not be compatible....I'm--I'm--" The protests were growing weaker, but, if anything, more horrified.
Methos, on the other hand, sounded mainly impatient. "O negative. It's an Immortal thing."
"That means universal donor. Lift your arm, thank you. If you have a free hand could you hold-- yes, that's good."
"But my quickening--"
"Is in your nervous system, not your blood. It can't hurt him. Jiggle the needle some more, the flow is slowing down."
"Adam--" Joe had meant to be firm, to scold them for squabbling. He barely heard himself.
"It's all right, Joe. Why don't you go to sleep for a bit, hmmm?"
Methos must have given him something, then, because the pain had faded quickly and a moment later so did the world. While Joe slept, Methos had pulled out two bullets, performing major surgery in a dim basement with only an out-of-practice ambulance attendant for a scrub nurse. It was a miracle, really. And Joe couldn't remember ever saying thank you.
He owed Methos his life, and now all he could do was sit beside him and watch.
Macleod was in the bathroom when Methos came around again. His eyes slitted open and fearfully searched the room. When they came to Joe's face there was a moment of recognition. Before Joe could even consider feeling relieved, though, the recognition turned to terror and Methos scrambled to his knees, clumsily throwing himself backwards to huddle at the headboard.
"Methos. It's all right!" Joe winced and reined himself in. "What's wrong? Adam?"
"Joe?" He looked coherent, but wary. It occurred to Joe that Methos frightened and cornered might decide to be very, very dangerous.
He held out his empty hands. "Yeah. It's me." He said softly. He hoped English was the right language this time.
Methos swallowed hard. "What did you do," he whispered, "when I came to you after Bordeaux?"
English. Wonderful. Never mind that the question was a little odd. "I asked where the hell you'd been."
"I gave you a hard time about not calling--" He paused, not sure what Methos wanted to hear. Perhaps he'd heard it, because the terror in his eyes was swallowed up by unshed tears as he sagged weakly against the headboard.
Joe held out his arms, wider this time, and shakily, Methos came to him. "Do you know me?" he whispered.
"I know you." Joe looked up to see Macleod watching worriedly from the bathroom door. "We both know you."
"What's happening to me?"
"Aw, buddy. We were kind of hoping you could tell us?" Methos didn't answer, just lay quietly with his head in Joe's lap. Right, ok then. "We think Cassandra's done something. To your mind, or maybe your quickening. Do you have any ideas?"
"Cassandra's dead. Isn't she?"
"Yeah. Yeah, she's dead." Joe heaved a sigh. Really, it was a shame the witch was dead. It would be useful to hunt her down and drag the truth out of her right about now.
Methos was shivering again, and Macleod came over and gently eased him back under the covers. To offers of food or tea or a trip to the bathroom, Methos just shook his head. In a few minutes he was asleep again.
Macleod sank down into the chair by the windows, his eyes bright with unshed tears. "I can't do this," he whispered miserably.
"Yeah. You can."
Macleod jumped up and reached for his sword a moment before they heard a knock at the outer door. "It's probably Constantine."
"Yeah, probably." Joe agreed. "I'll...just wait here."
Joe had seen Marcus Constantine before, but only from a distance. Professionally, while watching Mac. He was, in person, an imposing presence.
"Marcus, this is Joe Dawson," Macleod said, putting up his sword.
"Am I to speak freely in front of him?"
"Joe is my Watcher. Adams's as well, in a way."
"Ah," Constantine frowned. "I trust he's more congenial than mine."
"You've met her?" Joe hadn't heard anything about that.
"Perhaps Duncan mentioned to you that my last Watcher was a hunter. It was an unpleasant introduction to your order. I make a point of being more careful, now. My current Watcher is what you call 'embedded.' She is an archivist for the museum. We have...an arrangement."
Joe blinked. Constantine clarified, "She doesn't skulk in doorways or listen at windows, and I send her memos. As you can imagine, this is hardly satisfactory to either of us."
"Until a couple of years ago, Adam was a Watcher," Macleod said. Joe shot him a dark look, but Constantine just nodded, a tiny smile hovering for a moment and then fading away.
"Ah," Constantine said. He looked closely at Adam, still sleeping in the bed, and then approached and said loudly, "Philippe! Wake up. It's John." He reached down and shook the thin shoulder. There was no response. Constantine leaned back on his heels and sighed. "Let's talk."
They went to the outer room. Macleod puttered about, making coffee with Adam's small electric kettle and press coffee maker. Joe sat on the arm of the ornate sofa and politely did not stare at Constantine while Macleod told the story as they knew it.
When the short, uncertain story was finished, Constantine frowned into the cup Macleod had just handed him and said, "You're wondering if I've ever seen anything like it." He paused thoughtfully. "I have heard of something. Before I knew that there was anyone recording...anything at all about us, I collected quite a bit of information of my own." The look he cast Joe then was deeply ambivalent, but resentment slightly outshown acceptance. Macleod, taking a seat on the couch, dropped his hand for a moment on Joe's arm. The gesture was distinctly possessive, and Constantine's eyes widened very slightly. "You will appreciate the lineage here, I think. My teacher was Flavius Sulla." He glanced at Joe. "Do you know the name?"
"Killed during the French Revolution? Yeah. I know the name."
"Yes. Flavius had a lover, sometime between six and eight hundred years before the common era. A Persian, named Imarte."
Macleod shrugged and shook his head. He had heard of none of these people. "For a long time," Joe said, "two or three hundred years, Imarte traveled with Ramses. Ramirez."
Duncan looked impressed, Constantine continued.
"Imarte's teacher was Embredo, originally from costal Africa. He was killed shortly before Flavius and Imarte met. No, I should say, 'he died.'" He looked at them significantly.
"What do you mean?" Duncan asked.
"Embredo accepted a challenge from a man who had already taken two of his students. Imarte had witnessed one of the fights. She said the stranger used some kind of magic, and made the young men put down their weapons."
"Made them how?"
"He told them to. After beating them, the stranger, this, this wizard, Challenged Embredo, but Embredo was older and experienced...he worked himself into some kind of fury, perhaps a kind of berserker rage, and won anyway." He sighed. "Or lost. When this wizard realized he couldn't win by cheating...he somehow poisoned his quickening, so that when Embredo took it, it festered in him. It turned on him, and killed him from the inside."
"That's not possible," Duncan said flatly.
"I wouldn't have thought so. And remember, I heard the story third hand. But sitting here, Duncan," Constantine glanced at the door to the bedroom, "his quickening seems to come and go, and when it's strong, it seems very odd. It's giving me a headache. And that was part of the story, too."
Duncan looked at the door, too. "What happened? I mean, how did it end? You said he died, but--?"
"It took twelve years. He suffered all that time, madness or pain. Or both. After a while, Imarte wanted to end it, to stop the pain, you understand? But Embredo forbade it. He said she would take the poison into herself with the quickening."
There was a long silence after that. Joe tried to spend it not thinking. This was an interesting story. An important story. And the Watchers had no intimation of it at all.
It had nothing to do with Methos.
Methos was not dying.
"Is there anything--" Joe had not meant to speak, but once he began the words could not tumble out fast enough, "Can you think of anything that might be done? Anything you've heard since?"
"Not now, from memory. I could check at home. I will, of course."
Macleod closed his eyes, whispering, "You're saying she--she poisoned her own student's quickening and then--" he shivered, his voice dropping even lower "--and then she sent him to be killed."
"No, not quite. I think she poisoned her own, then had her student kill her. And then sent him after Adam."
"I think that's...likely," Joe murmured. "He would never have killed her himself. You wouldn't have forgiven him."
Macleod jumped to his feet. "No! No. She--that's cold blooded murder, twice over! She wouldn't!"
Constantine motioned to the fax, laid out on the narrow coffee table between them. "I didn't know her. But it sounds as though she believed she had a good reason."
"She did it, Mac. No price was too high, and if anyone could figure out how...." Joe had to stop for a moment. When his voice was level again, he added, "When we give up hoping we can find a way to save him, she wants me to take his head. So you don't get infected, too."
"Duncan, I'm sorry," Constantine said. "There are places I can look, a few friends I can ask....Perhaps something can be done for your friend."
Macleod nodded, but though he tried, he couldn't get the words 'thank you' out. It was left to Joe to be grateful and gracious, to show Constantine to the door, to lock it behind him.
Twelve years of sickness and madness. Dear lord.
Joe went home for his laptop. Now that he had some names and a part of the world to look in--although, heaven help them, no dates and part of this story might predate the Watchers anyway--there might be something for him to find. "Of course, the oldest stuff isnít digital yet. And how well itís indexed might depend on how much credence whoever was working indexing gave the story."
Sighing, Macleod returned to the bedroom. Methos was sitting up. They considered one another for a few minutes in silence, and then Methos said, in clear, modern French, "How badly did I hurt Joe?"
"Macleod, he's not here."
"Heís gone to get his computer."
"I remember-" he stopped, looking around. "Ah. Another nightmare. Never mind." His cool tones were contradicted by his haunted eyes.
Slowly, Macleod approached the bed and sat beside him. "We have a problem--"
"Yes, Iíd noticed. Is it...a serious problem?"
Oh, Lord, this was hard. It had almost been easier when he wasnít lucid. "We think Cassandra managed to get you to take a, a, a poisoned quickening."
"I see. The nut the other night? Interesting. How did she poison it?"
Macleod winced. "With herself?"
Methos only shuddered.
"What can I do?"
"Weíre still working on that."
Macleodís hands tossed uselessly in his lap. "Iím sorry. If Iíd known she was a threat to you--"
"Youíd have done--what? Poor Duncan. Still trying to fight my battles for me." He smiled sadly. "Tell me truthfully: is this any more or less than I deserve?"
"No!" but he could see from his eyes that Methos didnít believe it. "I donít care! I donít care!"
Methos closed his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered.
Unable to bare it any longer, uncertain what to do, Macleod shifted so he was sitting beside Methos and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in. "Weíll think of something. Weíll find something."
Methos nodded faintly. "What is the prognosis, exactly?"
"We donít know."
A quiet laugh, petering out in weakness. "You are a lousy liar, Macleod. I can see the reason you never changed your name is because you could never introduce yourself as Tom or Wayne with a straight face."
Dimly aware that, even now, Methos was somehow making this easier on him, Macleod answered, "If we canít undo what sheís done, youíll die."
"See? Was that so hard?" He lowered his head to Macleodís shoulder. "Soon?"
His eyes burned, and for a moment the knot in his throat was too thick to talk past. "No. Not soon."
"Ah. Torture before death then. Quite the little student, Cassandra." He paused, and Macleod wasnít sure if he were exhausted or having trouble putting thoughts into words. "Of course the upside is, youíll have more time to look for a cure."
Not that there were any guarantees of finding one
"Could you eat something?" Macleod asked after a minute.
"I have some cookies around here somewhere. They would be good...." There were no cookies, although there was an empty package. Macleod's impulse was to feed him up with steak, but, then again, that might be hard to digest. As it was, Methos managed four crackers left over from room service before pushing them away, saying he wanted to rest for a while.
He drifted off into a slightly feverish sleep. Duncan watched, feeling far too alone and wishing Joe would get back soon.
He wanted to live. He supposed he wanted Kalas dead, for all that it wouldn't bring Don back. He didn't particularly want to fight him, though. There were so many things in the world better than swinging a sword or butchering a vindictive amateur for his quickening.
Running was out, though. If Kalas couldn't find Adam Pierson, he'd just go through Watchers one after another, leaving a string of bodies behind him in his search for Methos. Intolerable.
So he said good-bye to Joe's Highlander and went on about his routine. The only way to solve this problem was to solve it.
When Kalas came at him, though, he realized heíd made a mistake. He was out of practice, while Kalas was very good. Methos stumbled and stumbled again, retreating, scrambling desperately for options.
Pinned, finally, on the bridge, Methos hauled Kalas over the side with him. Death by drowning was much less permanent than death by decapitation. The water was cold, though, and the current was fast. He lost Kalas quite soon, but it was a long time before he found a place to climb out, and when he did, there was no place to go. Running was still out of the question, and so was fighting. That pretty much left dying.
But not--not--to Kalas.
It wasnít as bleak a choice as it might have been. Joe Dawsonís highland puppy was right there in Paris, after all. Honorable, charming, eager, brave. Young. So, so young. Duncan Macleod was everything his chronicles said he was. They had been together less than two hours that morning, and even that brief exposure to the manís passion and fire had made Methosí head spin.
Even now, exhausted and frozen and hopeless, the thought of Duncan Macleod made him a little dizzy and bemused.
You would think, a young, eager, passionate puppy like that, it wouldnít take much to get him to kill you. Wouldnít you? Maybe Methos had underestimated Macleodís ability to resist manipulation. Or maybe he had overestimated his own willingness to die. Whatever went wrong, he woke up the next morning in Macleodís bed, the innocent pup snoring beside him and the same dilemma on his hands: Kalas was still loose and trailing destruction, Methos could not beat him, and there was no guarantee that Macleod could either. According to Dawson, Kalas had already nearly taken him once.
Bad all round.
And while he lay there, working out a solution to the problem, he realized that he was remembering thinking about the problem. He was somewhere else, now, miles or years away-
And he could not remember. He could not remember what he had decided or what had happened.
He did not know if Dawson's assignment, that beautiful, brave, glorious man....He did not know if he had lived.
Traffic was light, and the trip home and back didnít take long. Nothing had changed much by the time Joe got to the hotel; Methos was unconscious on the bed and Mac was sitting by the bed watching him.
"We need to talk," Joe said. He set the laptop on the small dressing table in the bedroom and began to set up the phone and power chords.
Macleod nodded, but did not look up from Adam's face.
"Mac...I think I'm going to have to make an unusually clean report."
That did get his attention. "What? How clean?"
"I'm going to tell my superiors everything they could reasonably expect me to know, and then I'm going to admit that Iím not telling them everything."
"That's...an interesting strategy."
"Incomplete reports really piss them off." His hands suddenly sweaty, Joe fiddled with the ring on his right hand. "We can't afford to piss them off. We may need them, Mac. We have names, now. Signs to look for. But the data we want may not be widely available yet. It could be in Switzerland or Auckland, in books or on microfilm. It may not be translated yet."
"Joe..." Macleod sighed. "Adam Pierson isn't exactly on their Christmas list. If there's any particular Immortal they might not mind dropping...out of sight, it's him. This little informal truce we have going, it may not cover this." He looked down at his hands. "If I thought taking the information would work...but we have to have their cooperation. And I don't think any amount of friendliness at this point is going to get that."
"The 'truce' works both ways, Mac. Two weeks ago, Adam Pierson rescued a Watcher from a very nasty character. He did it as a favor to us. We owe him."
"Maybe. Maybe. That may not be enough."
"If that's not enough, I'll give them Methos. Maybe they won't save Adam. But they will save him."
"Methos has been in hiding for so long in order to stay alive. If handing his identity to the Watchers is what it takes to keep him alive now, he'd be the first one to do it."
"Oh, damn, damn." Macleod wiped his face with the back of his hand.
"I have a Chronicle on him. Just the last few years, but they've been busy. Methos. Don't underestimate what a Watcher would do to get that."
"You've kept a Chronicle. Does he know that?"
Joe shrugged. This was the easy part. "We have a deal. I keep his Chronicle while he's in this identity and the Watchers don't assign a man to him. When he's gone, headquarters gets my records and the Watchers try to find him, if they can."
"It's nobody's first choice, and the Watchers aren't completely clued in to who Iím watching, but we can all live with it."
"And he doesn't mind."
"He's not just history, you know. He's a historian. If anything, he believes more than I do. He's seen what people forget. What he said at the tribunal, he actually meant that." Joe considered how much more he should say, and finally continued carefully, "Being someone's Watcher, keeping their history, telling the truth, it's a sacred trust. I know you were never comfortable with that, but he is."
"I wasn't 'uncomfortable,' Joe. Well, not mainly. Mostly, I was just jealous."
It was unexpected. It did not even make very much sense. "What of?" he blurted.
"Take your pick. The venerable, all powerful organization; your commitment to an ideal over our friendship; my biography--which was always so damn important--"
Put like that, it made a tremendous, horrifying sense. "Duncan...I picked you over all over that. Every time."
"Yeah, regular idiot, wasn't I? But the irony is, I was never worthy. Oh, my history is, I'll grant you that. What I've done, what I've witnessed, that shouldn't be lost. But the man I am?" he shook his head.
"The man you are is my friend."
"And I am very, very thankful for that."
Joe either had to look away or give in to the hard bite of tears. When he was sure he had his voice under control, he said, "I need to get busy."
"Yeah. Look. Whatever you need to do--you know I'll back you up."
Joe nodded. "Ditto."
Joe carefully crafted a report that concentrated mainly on the presumed method of attack and its mechanism and did not delve at all into why a 'safe' if eccentric Immortal like Cassandra would target Macleod's slightly nerdy and comparatively very young friend with such extreme prejudice. The venerable names he listed did not have to be highlighted in order to command the full attention of Watchers. His requests for information were specific and extensive. It would keep people busy for a while. And something might turn up.
Macleod came over once, glanced at the text on the screen and said, "Can you ask for everything they have on Garrick, Coltec, Rolland Kantos, and Cassandra?"
"Yeah. We're going to owe big for this."
"I'll make sure they're satisfied."
Around four o'clock Methos woke. He was pale, but alert and polite. Macleod took him in to the bathroom to shower while Joe changed the sheets and laid out clean sweats. It was all...very calm.
"Gruel?" Methos said when, settled again into the bed, Macleod brought over his dinner. his' eyes lit with something like the old humor. "I donít think anyone has ever been that sick."
"It's porridge, and what's wrong with it?" The pretended offence was rather thin, but Methos made a production of giving in:
"I would think, eventually, you'd get sick of oatmeal. Never mind. It's fine. But next time, Joe orders the food."
He ate with a show of gusto and cheerfulness, but as he tired his words began to slur and the hand holding the spoon began to shake. Macleod took the bowl away, and, removing the pillows piled behind him, lowered Methos down flat for more sleep.
Joe checked his e-mail, but of course it was too soon for any kind of response.
"What was it he asked you before," Macleod asked, producing a cup of coffee, "about what happened after Bordeaux?"
Joe wondered how much he should say. Surely, all of that was best put behind them. "He went to Seacouver after Bordeaux."
"I didn't know that."
Joe wouldn't have expected so. "He arrived about four days after our guys lost him at the train station. I was afraid he knew we were finally on to him and he took off...." He had known that both of his friends had walked away alive, and a call from Macleod had let him know what a near miss--for everyone--it had been. But he had not been sure he would see Adam again, ever. "He stayed with me for a little more than two weeks, and we flew over here together."
"You think I handled it badly." Macleod glanced at the still figure on the bed.
"No, I think you were great; everybody lived, Kronos was stopped, the world is still here as we know it. No complaints." Joe gulped the coffee, wishing it were something stronger. "That was the deal I made with God: just let them live and I won't complain."
"You think I should have trusted him." Not willing to leave it alone.
"Look. Mac. Let it go. Okay? Cassandra wasn't the only one pushing your buttons. You didn't have a whole lot of choices. In the end....everybody did what had to be done. It all worked out."
"For a while."
"Yeah. For a while." He wanted to hate Cassandra for this. But. How could you say any response to Kronos and--all of that--was an 'over reaction?' Maybe she had been crazy, at the end. Broken. Or maybe she couldn't bear to take any kind of risk.
Or maybe she had just gotten fed up. She had had reason. Three thousand years was a long time to hold a grudge, but Joe couldn't judge that any more than he could judge the rest of it. Not even as a historian.
Despite the fact that, in all likelihood, Methos had well and truly disappeared, Joe had kept one eye on the door ever since word came that he'd slipped away. He was certain enough of the hopelessness that, when he saw the damp and bedraggled figure sidle in the door and install himself meekly at a back table, he didn't even feel relief.
Casually, as though it didn't matter at all, he collected two longnecks from behind the bar and came out to the table. He sat down without waiting to be invited. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Around. France. Eastern Europe. Hell."
"Hell and Eastern Europe, I'll overlook, but I know they have phones in France."
"Right. Sorry." The posture was relaxed. The tiny smile was disinterested. The voice, though, was a miserable whisper.
Joe leaned across the small table. "Are you all right?"
Adam's answer was a blank stare. As though he didnít understand the question. He had not touched the beer.
"Adam--" And there Joe stopped, struck silent by the size of the truth. The Adam Pierson he had known for ten years--played poker with sometimes when he was in Paris, had gone bar-hopping with after Winfield's stag party--had never really existed. And the Methos Joe had known for the last two years--
Methos was looking at him with such frozen desolation that it was unbearable. He didn't know what to do--didn't know what he should do or wanted to do or what would work--and that was too bad because Adam sure as hell wasn't able to take charge either.
The silence stretched out between them.
"Joe, if you want me to leave, you just have to ask."
And then, suddenly, deciding what to do was easy. "Don't you dare move," he ground out and shoved up from the table. It took less than a minute to order Cindy to take closing and forbid her to make a report until he had the situation under control, then dash into the office for his coat. "All right, let's go."
Methos looked up, and it was clear that he didn't really understand. What was scary was that he obeyed anyway.
The weather had gotten worse since the bar opened that afternoon. Fall had come early, and the rain was tiny and fast and hard and as cold as ice. Methos watched Joe from the corner of his eye all the way to the car.
At Joe's, Adam did not take off his coat, and even though it dripped all over the bland living room rug, Joe did not ask for it. Instead he just hustled his soggy guest into the bath room and instructed him to shower.
In the kitchen, he hesitated. Something hot. Tea with milk? Adam liked it, but the milk had gone off. At the bar he had not even noticed the beer--something stronger? Heh. Get Adam drunk and Joe might get the whole story. But no, he wasn't ready to handle Adam potted. Not now.
Truthfully, he couldn't handle Adam under any circumstances. If he forgot that, he was screwed.
He settled on opening a can of soup, and had it nearly ready when Adam came out dressed in Joe's short bathrobe. He looked better: still tired and confused, but no longer like the camel watching that last straw.
They ate soup. Not in the frame house's dining room, because the table was still covered with receipts and expense reports from when Joe had been working on the quarterly budget report the previous week, but in the kitchen. It seemed to take forever to make even half the bowl disappear, and as the level of the soup dropped the silence grew more and more brittle and empty. Joe wondered if he should say something.
He wondered if he should be afraid, and then tried not to think about it.
"You know, I've been meaning to compliment you on this wall paper for a while now." The dry observation was so much Adam that it was incongruous. The hollow-eyed man across the table was nothing like the Adam--or even the Methos--that Joe was used to.
It took two breaths before Joe could answer. "I've always liked pink pin stripes, actually. And giant roses. They do so much for a kitchen." He tried to smile. "You've never seen the back bathroom, have you? Even worse. A kind of fluorescent blue-green that shimmers."
"Ah. Picked it yourself?"
"Right. I have time to decorate. Naw, it was just one of those things I figured I get around to after I moved in."
"Hmm. Eight years ago, now."
The silence stretched onward. "Ask." Methos said finally.
"Ask me if it's true. Ask me if I'm some kind of monster."
Carefully, Joe put down his spoon. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Do I want--" he stopped and lowered his voice. "Macleod told you. He would have warned you. He must have told you who I was."
"He told me."
"Well?" Methos glanced away and hunched his shoulders slightly.
"Well what? Jesus, what do you want from me? Forgiveness? Punishment? Perspective? Damn it. I haven't even managed to finish coping with one life yet--I can't begin to figure out all of yours!" Joe had not meant to yell. He waved a hand apologetically.
The silence dragged out. At last Methos whispered, "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I--just don't know. I can't get my head around it! It's been almost three thousand years. Civilizations have come and gone. My ancestors--hell, my ancestors were probably doing the same things. So what can I possibly say to you now?"
Methos nodded. "So. I'll be going then."
"Like hell!" Joe roared. "You sit your butt back down and--" and what "--and finish your god damn soup."
And somehow Joe wasn't even surprised when Methos sat back down and finished his soup. Joe was shaking too hard to eat. He would have fled, at least as far as the coffee maker, if he thought he could get across the kitchen without falling or puking or screaming. So, without options, he sat silently, watching the soup cool. "I've missed you," had not meant to say anything, but the words hovered between them anyway."
"I'm not who you thought I was."
"Who are you then?"
"I don't know." He pushed away the bowl, carefully so that the last spoonfuls of soup would not slosh out. "It's almost ironic. A few years ago, the whole Western world was obsessed with 'finding themselves' and 'being true to themselves' and I thought it was sad and kind of amusing. And here I am, and I cannot for the life of me...figure out who I am."
Joe had nothing to say. He stood up and slowly cleared the plates. When it became clear that Methos wasn't going to add anything, he groped for something encouraging. "You've been a lot of people. Sometimes that gets hard to sort out." And winced because it was bland and obvious and absolutely useless.
Methos looked up. "Everyone I have been--every job I have ever had, everything I have ever done--has all been a lie."
"And you being my friend, was that a lie?"
Methos looked away. Joe suddenly found himself on firmer ground. "No," he said. "Oh, no. I don't believe that."
"I'm a very good liar?" Methos answered uncertainly.
"Right. And you are now going to convince me that you don't care about me. What else? That you're some kind of monster? That you enjoy the suffering of mortals? That death means nothing to you?"
"And if it's true?"
Joe grinned, mostly with relief. He could see it now. He understood--if not everything, everything he needed to. "Sell it somewhere else, buddy. I know better." He walked around the table and leaned over Adam's chair. "How many years--no centuries--have you been a doctor? What was that? Compassion? Atonement?"
"A good hiding place."
Joe shook his head. "I may not remember you being up to your elbows in my guts, but I sure as hell remember it was you changing the dressings and carrying the bedpan."
He flinched at that, but said, "A ruse. I'm a very good actor."
"Oh. Right. Uh, why bother? I mean, that was a lot of work. Oh, yeah. To manipulate Mac. I think you would have gotten just as far with that if I'd died on the table and you'd have had to comfort him."
"I may not know who you were, but I know who you are." He leaned closer, adding almost tenderly, "I know who you've been for a long time now."
Methos shuddered once and buried his face in his hands. Joe sighed and slid an arm around the shaking shoulders.
"Damn, you are such a stupid man! I know so many ways to kill you--"
"Yeah, so? I know one that will kill you. But hey, anything past one, and it's wasted information anyway."
"How can you touch me?"
"Because I should be scared of you? Because I wouldn't have liked what you were? I don't think you'd like everything I've ever been either." There was no answer. "Damn it, Adam, what do you want from me?"
Joe sighed. It was unfair. If Methos couldn't come up with an answer, what chance did the guy under fifty have?
"Why? Why, Joe? How am I going to--?"
Why. Right. "Methos....I can't believe that there are some things so awful that no amount of time is enough to get past it or forgive it or make up for it. I mean, if there isn't any hope, what's the point? Why bother? If there's no getting out from under the nasty stuff, ever? I mean, even if I'm wrong, and none of us can ever....we have to try. For you. For me. The whole world. We have to try."
He took Adam to bed. He wasn't sure, but he thought Adam didn't get to sleep until nearly dawn. Once he was finally out, though, he slept sixteen hours. Joe spent the day working on the budget he hadn't been able to concentrate on for the past couple of weeks.
He'd taken breaks every once in a while, and stepped in to watch Methos sleep. Even then, he'd looked better than this. Joe swallowed hard and said to Macleod, "He needed to get his head together."
"You never mentioned it."
"You wouldn't talk about him."
Joe checked his email again. Nothing. Again.
Between seven and eight, Adam was restless, waking every few minutes confused and agitated. For a while his fair skin turned a worrisome grey. Joe gave up trying to work and sat on the bed. The only thing he had to offer was his presence. As hard as it was to watch Adam struggling and frightened...he had to think that it would help a little. That it would matter to Adam that someone cared enough to sit by him.
Sometime after eleven, Macleod laid a hand on Joe's shoulder and whispered, "Enough. Why don't you go lie down on the sofa, get some rest."
"When did you get up this morning? Three? Four? Come on, we may need you tomorrow.....Joe. Adam wouldn't want this."
"Yeah, fine." Joe rose reluctantly and allowed Macleod to follow him into the outer room. "Are you happy now?" he asked as he sat down.
"Undress," Macleod said gently. "Get some sleep."
Joe's furious retort died half formed. He remembered what Adam had said about Macleod not being able cope with the suffering of his friends. There was nothing at all Macleod could do for Adam. Joe could stand to be fussed over, just this once.
Even as Joe gave in, though, Duncan seemed to realize he'd crossed the line. "I'm sorry," he murmured.
"Forget it." He caught Duncan gently by the belt and pulled him down for a brief kiss. "Make yourself useful and fetch me a blanket."
Macleod didn't sleep well. Even if the chair had been comfortable, he woke at every soft noise from the bed. Methos had a hard night, waking frequently and asking where they were. He was speaking Russian, at least. It wasn't Macleod's best language but he could manage, "everything's all right," and "sleep, I'm right here."
When he woke up shortly after dawn, Methos was screaming in a tonal language Macleod didnít understand at all. He also did not appear to recognize Macleod, because after retreating off the bed and into a corner, Methos launched himself like a missile and smashed Macleod into the dressing table.
"Methos. Stop. I won't hurt you. It's all right."
Either he didn't understand or he didn't believe: Methos struck at Macleod's eyes, and while Mac managed to avoid that blow, he didn't avoid the knee to his groin that followed it. He doubled over, gasping, but didn't lose hold of Methos and they went down in a crash that shook the furniture.
Methos was on top. His hands flashed in a move that would swiftly break Macleod's neck, but he wasn't as fast or as strong has he normally was, and Macleod managed to deflect the blow. In answer, Methos caught the blocking hand at two painful pressure points and squeezed. Macleod's yell of pain was shut off abruptly when Methos' free forearm crushed down on his windpipe.
For the first time, Macleod was afraid. The hazel eyes looking down at him were angry and afraid and held no recognition at all. If he died, Methos would take his head, but Macleod couldn't breathe and could barely think.
A movement above and behind Methos--Joe's head framed in the doorway and then gone. Very afraid, then. Very afraid. Joe wouldn't run away, and when Methos was done with Macleod, he would move on to Joe. Macleod heaved and tried to pull away, but Methos was heavy and holding on. The hand that was not in excruciating pain was trapped between their bodies.
And suddenly, over Methos' shoulder, there was Joe again. This time he had the katana. Before Macleod could register what was going on, Joe dropped his cane, raised the sword in both hands, and brought it down point first with most of his weight behind it.
The pressure on Macleod's throat immediately vanished, but still, somehow, he could not move, could not quite breathe. Just above his face, Methos' eyes widened with surprise and fear. He tried to pull away, but the aborted movement jarred to a halt as a shock of pain--like being hit, repeatedly, with a bat--ripped through Macleod's side.
Moving, breathing, even thinking crashed against this pain.
Trickling blood from his mouth, Methos collapsed against Macleod's neck.
"Oh, god, Mac!" Joe grabbed the sword and pulled. New pain grayed out the world for a moment, but the sword was stuck in the floor. Joe took hold and pulled again.
The katana sprang free and Joe toppled sideways, not trying to stop his fall but holding the sword with both hands, out and away so that he didnít land on it and it didn't slice anyone else on the way down.
In the silence that followed the fall, Macleod's ears rang. He panted against the unwelcome weight of Methos' body. He closed his eyes, trying to hold on through the long seconds as his quickening slowly repaired his body. "Dawson!" he gasped. It came out very quietly.
"Here." The answer came from much closer than Macleod would have guessed. "I've almost got him." It took two tries for Joe to shove Methos off Macleod. "I'm sorry, Mac. I'm so sorry."
Macleod kept his eyes shut. The pain was still enormous. "I forgive you. Just this once."
The pain did not exactly lessen, but as the wound closed it became less urgent. Macleod struggled up to sitting and then to his knees. Methos was still dead, his quickening invisible to Macleod's inner perception. Joe was up again and on his way back from the bathroom with an armload of towels. He was mostly undressed and spattered with blood.
"Are you all right?" Macleod asked.
Joe snorted and started laying towels over the bloodstains. "Compared to what? Start mopping that up, would you? I'm assuming our friend here keeps some heavy duty stain remover handy. Where do you suppose he packs it?"
"I keep mine with my toiletries." Macleod pressed one hand over the newly closed gash in his side and used the other to mop up the cooling red puddle on the floor.
Amy met Jillian on the way to the side door. When Jillian said, "I could desperately use a cup of coffee," Amy could not think of a polite way to skip out, so she followed although she had had more than enough of the staff room and Watcher gossip to last her a good long while.
Any hopes she might have had of slipping quietly in and out fled as she came in. Several people were standing around waiting for the electric tea kettle to boil, and Steve--from Friday afternoon--he pounced at once on Jillian. "Have you heard?" he asked her. "I think we're coming up on another scandal. Dawson was called in on Sunday for a meeting with the regional coordinator herself. There's a shake-up coming, ready or not."
Isabella, A young historian still technically in the academy, said nervously, "Yeah, but in which direction? Isn't he supposed to be old friends with Edwina Corbin?"
An older man Amy did not know paused in putting milk in his coffee to say, "All things considered, I would imagine they are offering him reassignment. Let someone else cope with the Highlander for a while."
From the back of the room a middle-aged American woman who Amy vaguely recognized as a field agent who had recently transferred in from the London office said, "I'll tell you what happened; the front office finally got tired of his shenanigans." She laughed suddenly, "Or they finally figured out he's sleeping with his assignment."
Startled, Amy squeaked, "Pierson?"
"Not hardly." Amy wondered about the venom, wondered what Joe Dawson had done to merit it. "Duncan Macleod."
Steve looked startled. "Surely not," he said, then turned to Amy. "You worked under him in the field for a while, didn't you? What do you think?"
The older man frowned, "Ms. Henson, that is not appropriate speculation." He cast a quelling look around the room.
"No," Amy murmured, answering the question, but thinking about "Dr. Adams" and about Walker. How could anyone even consider--? No. Whatever else might be going on--and Amy would be the first to admit she didn't know her biological father at all--surely no thinking adult would ever get that involved with an Immortal.
Jillian, who at least remembered that Dawson and Immortals were both delicate subjects at the moment, cast Amy a worried look and said, "Anyway, you're all wrong. I was called in to go over a translation we got from New York on Saturday night. There's big Immortal doings going on right now, and apparently Dawson's in the middle of it. Again."
Amy felt slightly ill. She glanced at the enraptured faces in the staff room and then back at Jillian's reasonable, slightly worried presence. "What do you mean?"
"I have no idea. But Cassandra left him a letter."
"Cassandra?" Steve looked impressed, or perhaps he was only taking an opportunity to look impressed by Jillian. "High Priestess of Isis? Witch of Donan Woods? What did she want with a Watcher?"
"That I couldn't tell you. The letter made no sense to me."
The older man who was still distractedly stirring his coffee said softly, "Us, getting letters from Immortals. Who ever thought it would come to this?"
They cleaned Adam and swaddled him immobile in the sheets, then put him back in bed and started on the floor. They hadn't gone far before a knock sounded at the door. Macleod had blood in his hair, so Joe quickly shrugged into one of Adam's sweaters, checked himself for visible evidence of the carnage and went to the door.
It was the manager, of course. The same one as the day before. A disturbance had been reported.
Joe didn't have to fake looking unhappy and worried. Mr. Pierson was quite ill, he said. They were having some difficulty with his blood sugar. This morning, he had had a seizure. They had finally contacted his doctor in London and managed to get a referral, but the doctor would not see them until the afternoon.
The man was horrified. He wanted to call an ambulance immediately, and Joe was worried that he might have overplayed it. Quickly he turned stern and arrogant and the manager backed off.
When he returned to the bedroom he found the mess mostly cleaned up, the bloody towels heaped on the bathroom floor, and Macleod getting ready to shower. The scar where Joe had skewered him had faded to a thin pink line.
"Mac...I'm so sorry. I never meant...."
Macleod smiled slightly. "Have I mentioned it's one hell of a sword? Forget it, Joe. I should have just killed him myself before he...." He petered off, sighing at Methos on the bed. Still dead.
"You underestimated him."
"You'd think I'd learn."
Joe fetched the rest of his clothes. By the time he'd dressed, Adam was still motionless. Joe sat on the bed beside him. He was getting worried. Cassandra had managed to attack his quickening, after all. What if Methos was too badly hurt for it to bring him back?
How long should they wait before panicking?
Get a grip, Dawson, he thought. However long you wind up waiting for him, it's a sure bet that he's waited longer for you.
For the first day or so after the massacre at Watcher headquarters, all Joe had was scraps of fuzzy confused memories, enough to make him sure that Macleod and Adam had been very busy with him, but for the most part unclear about what was involved. When coherent perception returned he noticed that he was alive and that his friends were sitting close by in a pool of soft light, talking quietly in a gibberish that sounded like English.
"Toilet paper," that was Adam.
"All right, I'll give you that," Macleod said, but he poured some wine into an old coffee mug and handed Adam that, not toilet paper. "The steam engine."
"Oh, please! The industrial revolution is a mistake we'll be paying for a long time to come."
"Hypocrite. You love modern technology!"
"So--it's your turn."
"Ooooo. Movable type."
The surreal scene was still bright in Joe's memory: he was thirsty and sore and caught in a horrible heaviness and he might be hallucinating two of the people he most wanted to see in the world having--now, damn it--the kind of conversations that Watchers had wet dreams over. Now, after the end had already come. He could remember the watchers going completely crazy, diving headfirst in to the hovering paranoia that haunted everybody in the field. They had turned on him and it was over--Over! Damn it. And yet he seemed to be...here.
Or dreaming he was here.
Wherever here was.
Adam snorted. "All that did was make it easy for people to publish any old idiocy."
"You read Tom Clancey! I've seen you."
"Doesn't change anything. There's hardly any good literature in the world; certainly not more than could be copied out longhand." He sounded definite and smug, but then Adam always did when he was kidding.
Macleod decided not to challenge him. "Fine. Your turn."
Maybe Joe was dead. This might be hell. Well, no, not hell. But it suggested very odd things if this was heaven.
"Why? I mean, obviously why, but we both know sanitary sewers did far more for public health than antibiotics."
Adam nodded affably. "Quite right. In general, sewers are a much better deal." And then his eyes strayed the shadows that surrounded Joe. "At the moment, though, antibiotics will be just fine." He smiled. "I see our sleeping beauty is awake."
Adam came and sat on the bed, "Well, how are we feeling?" Joe felt like he should say something snide or grouchy. He couldn't think of anything, though, and talking was too much work anyway.
More gently, Adam asked, "Joseph? Do you remember what happened?"
"We were attacked. Machine guns." It was a ridiculous memory. Joe would dismiss it at once, but something had happened. If he was alive the execution hadn't gone through.
"That's right. There's another Immortal Macleod keeps running into. We think he hit the headquarters."
"Oh, God..." Another though occurred to him. "This isn' a hospital."
"Well, no." He smiled, seeming patient and pleased. It was kind of irritating. "It's the basement of 'Shakespeare and Company.'"
Adam's eyes twinkled. "That would be me."
Joe tried to laugh at that. The burning ache blossomed into an inferno that stole his breath and blotted out his vision.
When the world began to settle again, Adam was holding Joe's wrist and watching his face with an open intensity that Joe had never seen him apply to anything before. "Macleod, hand me that bag, no the other one. Thank you." Even when Adam looked away, Joe still felt his attention. "I'm going to give you something for the pain. It's going to make you a little sleepy, but don't worry about that." His voice was even and patient. It didn't change when he added, "Macleod, if you do not stop standing in my light, I really am going to have to kill you."
The needle was only a pressure against Joe's arm as it slid in. "Adam," he said, not sure what he was asking.
"Just relax. You're going to be fine." He produced a stethoscope from somewhere and made the usual 'hmm'ing and 'tisk'ing noises while he used it. Behind him Macleod danced back and forth nervously.
"Well? How is he?"
"I'm still hearing a little crepitation, but I don't think there's anything to worry about."
"But shouldn't you--"
"Macleod, I mean it. If you upset my patient, I'll kill you and leave the sword in until tomorrow." Turning his head so Mac couldn't see, Adam had winked confidently at Joe and re-tucked the covers.
And now, when Adam was the one in serious trouble, Joe had nothing to offer that even came close to the miracles Adam had done. It was hard to swallow. There ought to be more.
There ought to be something.
On the bed, Adam shuddered and gasped. His eyes flew open and he looked around in a panic, slumping with relief as his eyes met Joe's. "Buon giorno, Antonio," he murmured. "Abbiamo vinto?"
Thank God. "Can you manage English," Joe asked gently.
"I can speak English, Antonio. You can't." But he answered in English anyway.
"Tell me you got me out of that bar without anyone realizing I was dead."
"Bar--" Joe had no idea how to proceed. Humoring Adam might be the easiest thing, but he had no idea how.
"You have got to learn not to pick fights with Germans. What were you thinking?" He tried to move, realized his arms were pinned by the sheet and looked up in confusion.
Joe hesitated only a moment before reaching out and loosening the binding.
"Antonio, what's wrong--" he stopped, eyes widening and then turning sad. "I remember that fight. You got your nose broken. It was swollen for two weeks."
Joe swallowed, not sure what to say.
"You're not Antonio."
There was no small amount of fear in his face now. "Joe?"
"Yeah. It's me."
For a moment, Adam closed his eyes. Then he said briskly, "Did I ever tell you about Antonio Morelli?"
"No," Joe said. He loosened the wrapping a little further. "Who was he?"
"My last Watcher. Or the last one who knew I was Methos, anyway."
"Do I remind you of him?"
"Not in the least." He smiled hugely, his eyes softening. "Except that you are also exceedingly brave and wise."
Joe tried to return the smile. "He was the one who kept a journal?"
"A secret chronicle. I told him things...." With visible effort, Adam collected himself. "He was a tremendous practical joker. Execrable sense of humor. He was the sort to put salt in the sugar bowl, if salt and sugar hadn't both been far too expensive to leave lying around."
"What did he do?"
"He--"Adam stopped. "I don't remember." He struggled to sit up, still tangled in the sheets. "Joe--I can't remember. This isn't right."
Joe caught Adam's shoulders, pulled him into his arms. "Easy. Easy. You're ok. You remember a lot, but not every little thing. It's all right."
"No! you don't understand. I can remember his face, but not his voice, not what we did."
Adam allowed himself to be stilled and held. After a minute or two, he said, "You don't understand. I don't forget like this."
Joe patted his shoulder. "Even when you're yourself, you forget details sometimes--"
A shudder. "Not half so much as I've let you think."
"Ah." Joe pulled him in tighter. "It's going to be all right. We'll think of something."
"How long has it been?"
"Since we found you? About twenty-four hours."
Adam jerked back and looked into Joe's face. "It seems like...weeks."
"No. We've only just started. We'll find something."
Adam tried to answer that, failed. He lay down and curled into a tight bundle, his face turned away from Joe.
Macleod called the front desk and explained that while they were keeping the room, they would be taking Mr. Peirson to spend a few days with a friend. In the mean time, the room was a bit of a mess--Adam had dropped diet soda all over the carpet, and several dishes had broken... yes, of course, they would pay for any extra cleaning.
Meanwhile, Joe packed several changes of clean clothes for Adam and made sure all the blood was off the floor and rinsed out of the towels. The manager came up personally to see them out, which was fine. There might be suspicious stains and a hole in the carpet, but everyone who had been seen going in would be seen walking out.
And Adam did walk out under his own power, although he did it leaning on Macleod and the short trip to the elevator clearly exhausted him. He leaned against the mirrored wall, gasping, one hand clinched around the rail. Macleod was thrown by this graphic display of incapacity in another Immortal. As the elevator began its descent, he took Adam in his arms and whispered something Joe didn't understand.
All the hairs on Joe's arms stood up. And all the hairs on the back of his neck. For a long second he was caught in confusion--the sensation was familiar, but out of context he couldn't place it. As the air in the elevator went hot and dry and still he looked around in panic for escape, even though the cause of his panic was that he was trapped in an elevator with no escape far too close to an imminent quickening.
The first snap of electrical discharge went off within a foot of his ear. Joe's heart lurched. Only two Watchers had ever been killed by quickenings themselves, although a number had been lost to fires afterward. Ani Patel in Delhi had been killed by flying shrapnel and sometime in the twenties a guy had been crushed by a falling telegraph pole. Joe could see himself added to the list as 'falling elevator.'
There was no second discharge. The lights flickered briefly and the car wobbled, but that was it. The manager muttered something apologetic about the electricity. Macleod was looking at Adam in surprise. Everything else was normal.
They all went in Macleod's car, although it meant Joe would have to come back for his later. Joe sat in the back with Adam more unconscious than asleep in his lap. "That wasn't...some challenge going on at the hotel, was it?"
"No. It wasn't."
"Was it, was it him?" The idea that Methos was casting off flairs of his life force made Joe a little sick.
"No, Joe, that was me." He sounded a little bemused.
"In Bordeaux," he paused, thinking for a moment, "Methos and I took two very old, very big quickenings, almost at the same time. For a while they kind of bounced around between us. We kind of bounced around between us."
There was a moment of shocked silence.
"I don't suppose you've ever heard of anything like that, Joe?"
"No. But then, I didn't know I was supposed to be looking for it, either." Not that he didn't understand why neither of them had ever talked much about Bordeaux. He wasn't going to bitch about this. The fact that they had survived that was enough; they hadn't owed him anything else. "So what was that in the elevator?"
"It sort of happened again. Or started to. I don't know why. I don't know. I might be able to use it some how."
"To do what?"
"I donít know yet."
They went to the barge. Although Joe's place had several rooms, which might be useful under the circumstances, he also had near neighbors. There might be more yelling and broken furniture. Adam didn't wake, so Macleod carried him. Joe brought the small suitcase and his computer and tried not to think about how bleak things looked.
Adam didn't wake even as he was settled in the bed and his shoes were removed.
Macleod disappeared into the tiny galley and Joe set up his laptop at the small desk. The mail was topped with three letters from superiors demanding more information. It wasn't all useless, though; his research requests had started to return results. Text and image files began to download slowly, and Joe set about sorting and printing them as they came over the phone line.
A sandwich appeared at his elbow at some point, and Joe chewed as he skimmed reports, highlighting the sections he wanted Macleod to look at first. Not that he was sure what they were looking for, exactly, but he knew from experience that by the end of the day there would be perhaps hundreds of pages of data and they had to start somewhere.
He also spared a few seconds to update Edwina on latest developments. They needed her goodwill, after all. And among the administrative memos in his email was a letter that made his breath catch with both sympathy and excitement. He turned to call Macleod over to share it--it was meant for him anyway--and froze.
Mac was standing at the foot of the bed, his arms folded around his hunched torso. He looked, well, sad, and worse than sad. Damn. "Duncan...."
"Do you think he'll ever forgive me?"
"You didn't know, Mac. There was nothing you could have done to prevent this."
"There was plenty," he said softly. "But that's not what I meant." He glanced sideways at Joe, his sadness undiminished. "If I had let O'Roarke finish it on Thursday, I would have left the two of you to face this alone. I thought I was a danger, to all of you. That you would all be safer if I was gone."
Joe gritted his teeth. "You've had a hard time lately. You...haven't been yourself."
Macleod's gaze softened, as though he saw how desperately Joe was trying to make excuses for his friend. "I was very much myself. I was just wrong." He looked down at Adam's still form. "It's not enough just to live. You all deserved more than that--to be loved, to have someone to stand at your backs when the darkness comes, to be beside you when it all falls apart."
Joe remembered what he'd said a few days before. "Because the darkness will come whether you're there or not."
Macleod nodded tightly.
Joe rose and moved quietly to Macleod's shoulder. "That must have been some dream."
Another nod was the only answer.
Joe sighed and slid an arm around Macleod's waist.
"Did you ever think what would have happened, Joe, if I'd never found the Chronicle Darius left? Or if I'd never been there to find it?"
Joe's mouth went dry. He looked down at Adam, oblivious to the conversation so close to him. "Horton killed him."
Macleod shook his head. "No. It doesn't matter. It didn't happen, and it won't--" He stopped. In the silence that followed, Joe wondered what to do. He also wondered what could have happened to Methos that was worse than being slaughtered by Hunters.
"Come," he said at last. "Look at something." He nudged Macleod into the chair and showed him the letter from Miriam Lafayette. She had been the head of the last team watching Col T'ek, and she'd been delighted to get the letter from Joe that said Macleod was asking for information. Col T'ek's knowledge and experience and skills had been almost as precious as the man himself, and the good he could have done in the world, in addition to the loss of his life, was simply too much. She had been in a bind, however, about what to do. The Watchers had plenty of information in the form of practical experience, techniques, philosophies, and so on. Col T'ek had known that he was trailing a clutch of earnest, silent note-takers for the last century and a half, and after satisfying himself that they were not malevolent, had asked no more questions and even tossed them tidbits occasionally. The question that had laid heavily on Miriam's mind since closing out his file was what to do with this information. Fully half of Col T'ek's beliefs and practices were too old to be recognized by either anthropologists or contemporary First Nations. Laying it out for popular culture as fiction, though, seemed kind of tacky and sad. It had not occurred to her before that Col T'ek had had another 'people,' that there would be someone who could accept and honor what he had left behind.
She had appended several files, making up the bulk of the final Chronicle of Col T'ek and ended the letter, "Mr. Dawson, please extend to Duncan Macleod my belated sympathies on the loss of his friend, and let him know that if he has any questions he may contact me at any time."
Duncan, when he looked up from the screen, was speechless.
"Something else, isn't it?" Joe said softly. With a sharp pain in his soul, Joe suddenly regretted that the one time Macleod and Ian Bancroft had been in the same room Joe had been too mortified by the fact that his mentor had seen his assignment walk by carrying an original Chronicle to do more than hustle Macleod out of the bar as gracefully as possible.
He should have handled it differently. He should have said, "Mac, this is Ian Bancroft, one of my oldest and dearest friends. He was Mai-Ling's Watcher, and before that Darius." Ian would have had kittens, naturally. He was a decent and compassionate man, but he had a real bug up his butt when it came to rules, especially after Horton. Finding out that Dawson and Macleod weren't existing in the polite co-tolerance Joe's reports had implied had led to a huge fight as it was. But Joe should have done it anyway. Both of them were mourning Mai-Ling. It wouldn't have interfered with the game to share their grief.
But Ian was dead, now, and Joe would never have that chance again.
"I met Miriam once, at a financial conference in 1990. She's ok, I think."
Macleod nodded. "Will she get in trouble if I take her up on it?"
"I don't see how. Col T'ek is 'inactive.' The only thing there is to talk about is history."
"Hey, no problem."
"No--I mean, thank you. For everything."
Joe encircled his shoulders with his arms. "My pleasure."
Joe messed with the computer, arranging the files on Col T'ek to move toward the front of the print queue, then he headed off to use the shower. Trying to scrape together some optimism, Macleod started on the growing stack of printouts. On the physics of quickenings, the Watchers had almost nothing. Theory, almost no data. Even on mythology about it, the detailed summary was only about sixty pages, and half of that was explanations of why there wasn't more.
Immortals with "magical" powers didn't fare much better. The old stuff was mostly summarized and dismissed as hysteria and superstition, which was ironic, given the standards of observation and record keeping the watchers had been keeping for centuries. The originals of these dismissed stories were no doubt in a library somewhere. It would take time to get more. The newer stuff--hell, all the 'questionable' stuff was just missing. Garrik's file, for example, never hinted that he'd been able to project paranoid fantasies and visual/kinesic hallucinations. Although, reading between the lines, the three quickening he'd taken in his last fifty years of his life were suspiciously similar to the attempt he'd made on Macleod: an old friend (or enemy) suddenly behaving irrationally, becoming more isolated, and then taken in a very short challenge.
The knock at the door wasn't another Immortal, and from experience mortals planning to attack him just burst in, but Macleod was still cautious as he went to the door.
It was Joe's child. She held herself rigidly, despite the tight smile hovering over her lips. Macleod couldn't tell if she was nervous or hostile. They stared ate one another for a moment.
"I stopped in at the pub. They said Joe was here."
"Oh. Yes." He stepped back to let her in, and Amy looked around in puzzlement. "Oh. He's in the shower."
Her eyes widened briefly at that, then turned polite again. "If I'm interrupting something--"
"No. No! He'll be glad you're here." Although, god, Macleod wasn't. Well, yes he was glad for Joe. And somehow they would make time to deal with Amy. But now was a terrible time. Unless--was that what she'd come about? "Have you come about M--our problem?"
"Problem? Do we know what the problem is--" She froze, finally noticing the motionless figure on the bed. "Is that Ben? Adam, I mean?"
"Yes." Macleod sighed. "He's not doing well."
Amy frowned. "With what?" And then, "It's happened, hasn't it? Whatever's going on?" She took a step further into the room, her eyes on the bed. "What is going on?"
For a moment the words, "Before recorded history Methos made an enemy of the most powerful Immortal witch to ever live," hovered, but he couldnít even begin there for himself. "The quickening the other night was a trap. It was tainted, somehow. It's poisoning him."
Amy blinked. "I've seen the letter Joe got. From Cassandra."
"Then at this point, you know as much as we do," Macleod said, and for a moment his bitterness showed.
The sound of the bathroom door opening was the only warning Macleod got. It was more warning than Joe had. Fortunately he was dressed and composed, if still a little damp at the edges. He stood frozen on the upper level, staring at Amy as if he had never seen a human being before and wasn't sure what they were for.
Amy looked up at him, came closer, and with a glance at the bed, said softly, "What did the two of you do to Andrea Henson?" She looked from Macleod to her father and back.
Duncan glanced at Joe, who winced. "She Watched Simon Killian," he said.
Macleod winced. Joe had broken the rules outright there, interfering between a personal and private feud between two Immortals. "She couldn't have missed him," he said. Killian was insane even by the standards of people who didn't consider 'valuing human life' a requirement for sanity.
"Mac--when your assignment is one of the uglier ones," he sighed, "the only way to keep it together is to follow the rules. It's the only way to live with it, and sometimes that's not enough." He and Amy shared a look, and Macleod felt suddenly left out. "If there was ever a reason 'good enough' to break the rules, she would have broken them herself. To stop him."
Amy nodded slowly. She had stopped looking horribly uncomfortable and resentful and was gazing at her father with something like relief. "She's spreading nasty rumors," she said. "I think if there was any way she could hurt you--either of you--she would." She looked at Macleod, not the stunned gape or the embarrassed glance Watchers usually gave him, but thoughtfully, as though she was considering him as a human being. "You're not protected by those rules, now. You know everything."
From the bed, Methos made a small whimper. Amy glanced guiltily in his direction and shut her mouth hard, although she had been speaking very softly. It wasn't their conversation that had disturbed him, though. Methos writhed on the bed, sighing unhappily. Joe was closest. He turned toward the bed, and, bracing against the wall, leaned down.
Methos screamed. Macleod charged across the room, too late realizing the danger. If Methos was violent again, Joe wouldn't heal any damage the old man inflicted in a few minutes. By the time Macleod had vaulted onto the upper platform, though, Joe was already on the bed, Methos cradled in his arms. He murmured encouragingly, trying to remind Adam where they were, what was going on. The screams gave way to sobs, but Methos would calm no further. Macleod knelt on the bed beside them. He didn't know what to do. It looked more like physical pain than some kind of memory. It might be both, a possibility too awful to think about.
Amy went to the bathroom and returned with two wash cloths, one damp and one dry. Joe accepted them gratefully and wiped Methos' face. The crying continued.
Joe began to sing. Quitely. He sang all of Methos' favorites from the bar in Seacouver. He sang 'Yellow Submarine' which struck Macleod as...unlikely, although he was distracted and knew almost nothing about popular music anyway. When Joe started 'Stand by Me' nightmare memory burst forth, swallowing Macleod from the inside. He remembered Joe's bitterness, hopelessness, and shook himself hard. Joe was fine. Methos would be fine. They could get through this--
For a moment, he thought the white mist he saw obscuring Methos' face was from his own tears or some problem with his eyes. He knew that smudge of opaque light, though. Normally it was moving. And brighter. And appeared only as the first wave of a quickening.
Macleod's skin went cold. He wondered if anyone else could see. But Joe was continuing just the same and Amy was in the corner, watching with the same slightly horrified look she'd had since the crying started. Just him, then.
The haze wasn't clear or bright. When he stared, he could see it spread throughout Methos, and parts of it were a nasty green. It looked like wound that had gone septic.
Before he could decide what to do or even be sure of what he was seeing, the vision faded. It was only Methos, weeping exhaustedly in Joe's arms. Macleod tried to get the image back, but it wouldn't come. He didn't know why it had come in the first place.
It was probably exhaustion that shut Methos down, finally. He cried himself to sleep, and even sleeping, he seemed to be in pain. At last Joe gave up singing. Macleod took a deep breath, trying to find his center. Everything was going to hell, and he didn't know what to do. When he reached out to help Joe up, his hand was shaking. Watching Adam's pale face he hated Cassandra with all his heart, not caring that that was probably somehow wrong.
Amy disappeared into the galley and came back a while later with coffee. She poured for Macleod and Joe who sat at the little table at the far end of the barge from the bed. The silence continued until Joe said, "Amy, we could use another researcher. There has to be something, somewhere, that will tell us something about how she did this and how it can be undone."
She nodded slowly, not looking in the direction of the bed, not looking at her father or his Immortal. "How much trouble are we going to get in?"
"Currently, not any. I'm still working through official channels. I could get you a pass to the regional library, or the director's gallery."
She shook her head. "I'm currently assigned to the library. Translations and Indexing. For the next week, anyway." She took a deep breath. "What are we looking for?"
"That's a great question, Mac. I still don't know. What are you hoping to find? An account of this happening sometime before?"
"I think that's too much to hope for. Although Constantine may come up with something." Macleod closed his eyes, and his next words were nearly a prayer: "I'll take anything that will help us fix this."
"Some particulars would be helpful?" Amy coaxed.
"Anything you can find on quickening theory. Anything about....what comes over, how much of the person is left." His mouth was dry. Macleod gulped some of his coffee and forced himself to go on. "If there is any...one left I can negotiate with, and how I'd do it."
"You mean Cassandra?" Joe looked appalled.
"If I can reach her, somehow, maybe I can convince her...."
"Do you think she's there? Inside him? Like--something autonomous?"
"I hope not!" Macleod pushed back from the table. "I hope it's not like that! But if that's a chance, I'll take it. I have to."
Amy nodded briskly, "All right. What else?"
"Col T'ek could take....things...out of people. Anger. Hatred. Evil. He had a, well, a power, yes. But he also had knowledge. Skills. Maybe something I can learn."
"Mac! No. Col T'ek took the evil into himself. You can't do that."
"He'd been doing that for centuries before it became a problem."
"We're not talking about improving Adam's temper. We're talking about a poison with the power of Cassandra's quickening behind it. Look at what it's doing to him. You cannot take that in."
"Joe, we're talking about Cassandra. She wouldn't want to hurt me--"
"She didn't choose to hurt you. What she wanted was something else."
"And anyway, I'd be prepared."
"You are not prepared for that."
Because Joe was probably right, Macleod managed to hold in his bitter retort. It wasn't Joe's fault they had no easy answer yet. It wouldn't be Joe's fault if they never found one. "I wish we could talk to him about this." He glanced at the bed.
After a moment, Amy said softly, "So he's not really lucid at all."
"Not for very long," Joe said.
She shook her head sympathetically. "Aikana was completely...crazy." She sighed. "I don't know how he got here from America. He was saying the craziest things." She glanced at the bed in surprise. "I mean, he couldnít have meant--" Amy stopped and thought and then asked, "Is he Methos?"
"Methos is a myth," Macleod said automatically. But something in Amy's eyes told him that it was too late.
Softly, firmly, Joe said, "He is Benjamin Adams. He died in 1789 in a carriage accident in London."
"So that's it?" Amy asked.
"For now. No matter what happens, though, we never told you any different. Got it?
Joe left with Amy--she offered to drop him by the hotel to pick up his car and then he was going to lay in some food. Macleod made phone calls--all the same ones he'd made the day before. Amanda was coming; she could arrive by the next day, but Macleod had her detour to America first--or Amsterdam, if she thought she could get what Mac wanted there. Marcus had found the journal sections dealing with the story of Embredo. Most of what it contained he had already told him, but he would bring over a copy that evening anyway.
On the bed, Methos' quickening was fading again. In many ways, this was the most alarming symptom. To see him so close and barely feel him--when usually one either felt another Immortal or not--was wrong and frightening.
He took the top stack of printouts with him to the bed and settled himself beside Methos to read.
Amy was quiet in the car. As they turned onto the bridge to cross the river, Joe said, "You don't have to get in involved in this. I'm not asking you to get involved, and it won't change anything if you don't." It wasn't precisely what he wanted to say.
Her answer didn't directly address the offer, either. "How did you get him to come for me? Walker kept saying he was a coward, that he had no respect for the Game. That he wouldn't just fight. It was a--he was very angry." Joe didn't answer at once, and she added, "Was it because you were friends before? When he was a Watcher?"
He took a deep breath. "No, Amy. It was because we were friends now."
She glanced at him. "Or maybe you know too much?"
Joe laughed at that. "Hell no. If he thought for a minute I was a threat to him, he'd be long gone."
"What I don't get--Joe, can they really care about us? I mean, we're gone so fast. I get it about the violence, I do. Look at boxing. Look at football, sometimes people die playing football. Sometimes people die watching it. And there are wars. All of that, and we still care about life, or say we do. But we're gone so fast."
These sorts of discussions were usually more theoretical. Joe could remember having long talks about Immortal morality and personality with Ian years ago. "The ones who don't give a damn about our lives are the ones who wouldn't anyway, and are enjoying the fact that they can't be caught or punished. It's not about age. It's about being able to walk out of the morgue after the hanging."
"So they're no different from anyone else?" she said it as though the difference were obvious.
"Amy, everybody's different from everyone else."
She let him off down the street from the hotel, and Joe did some shopping on the way back to his car. He found himself missing the convenience and simplicity of big American supermarkets, never mind that the bread was crap and you always wound up getting too much junk food in the check-out aisle. It was hot and sticky, and the clean feeling he had from the shower was gone an a few minutes.
He'd had quite a surprise, right before that shower. He'd been digging for some clean clothes to borrow and found a pair of his own jeans and two shirts. It had been a year and a half since he'd spent a night on the barge, and Mac had completely cleaned out the place and redecorated since. More than that, he'd made a choice that the two of them wouldn't be together again, at least not in the way that required a change of clothes on the spur of the moment.
And still, Macleod had kept Joe's things. He had not tossed them out or given them back or left them wherever all his things went when he'd tried 'radical minimalist' as a decorating theme.
Tucked in at the side of the linen cabinet was the sturdy, collapsible shower stool Macleod had produced quite early in their relationship. After finding the clothes it was hardly a surprise, but it made him sentimental anyway, this evidence that Duncan had not, after all, had such an easy time letting him go.
It wasn't unusual for a Watcher to be smitten with his or her assignment. It didnít happen a lot, because a lot of Immortals were unpleasant or inscrutable or much, much worse than unpleasant and inscrutable...but most of Amanda's Watchers wound up fascinated with her. So had Fitzcairn's. And Constantine usually inspired a kind of earnest devotion that rivaled outright affection in its power.
For his part, Joe had been content to be enthralled by the Other Highlander. It wasn't as though it had made any more difference in the quality of his work than it did for anyone else. He took his notes, he wrote his reports, he supervised the one or several (depending on what was going on) other guys keeping watch. Duncan Macleod was beautiful and kind and decent. If sometimes Joe's breath had caught when he'd been doing observations, it was something he could ignore.
He'd ignored it for months after he'd met the man. The feelings had not mattered--and anyway, they had faded into the background as Joe found himself discovering the simplicity of liking the Duncan Macleod he was learning to know as a person.
Those had been busy days. It had not occurred to him that his pointless feelings might matter or that anything important might be passing between them both ways until Horton had returned and Joe had seen betrayal and disappointment in Macleod's eyes.
Even now, all these years later, there was a part of Joe that expected to dismiss the massive tenderness and passion he felt for Duncan as a meaningless Watcher's crush, never mind that the weight of those feelings felt like it might very well crush him.
Here, in the mundane normalcy of the hot, Paris August even this scant evidence that those feelings were returned seemed almost miraculous.
Hell. Surely Joe was old enough not to be such a sap.
On the other hand, Methos, the oldest person Joe (or anyone else) knew, was also a complete sap when it came to these things, so probably he wasn't going to outgrow it for a while to come.
Things were about the same when he got back to the barge. Macleod jumped lightly from the bed and took the bags of groceries and overnight bag Joe was carrying and led the way to the kitchen.
"How's he doing?" Joe asked while Macleod examined the food he was pulling out of the bag.
Macleod flinched and ground his teeth before answering, "Not great." Then, "His quickening's still all over the place. And he's feverish." He retrieved the potatoes he'd just put away and dumped them into the sink. "Joe, I have to ask you something. I don't want you to think that I don't--that I think you've been lying to me. Even if you've been...even if you have left something out, I don't care, all right? That's in the past. Right now--" Duncan stopped. He wasn't angry, exactly. Nervous, though and agitated.
"What's this about?"
Instead of answering, he bustled about darkly. He poured them both brandy, which was always his choice when trying to make a particularly brutal conversation kinder. At last he said, "I need to explain something first."
"Connor is one of the special ones, Joe. He does things other people can't, things other Immortals can't. He can hear the quickenings of mortals, of animals." He spoke firmly and calmly, but his eyes were on the floor.
When he added nothing else, Joe said carefully, "Mac. Connor isn't entirely stable." He was careful not to use the past tense; there was no evidence that Connor Macleod was dead, and Duncan was facing enough loss at the moment.
"I've seen him do it, Joe. I've hunted with him. He usually doesn't even bother to track the deer." He took a deep breath. "He tried to teach me. More than once. I can't do what he does. I need him, Joe."
"Oh, Mac. No."
Macleod looked up then, his eyes burning into the back of Joe's soul. "I've asked you this before. And I know, if you kept something from me, you had a good reason. If he was in trouble, you would have told me. If he was dead.... And it's none of my business, if he's taken off and doesn't want to be found yet, I know that. But Joe, I need him. If you know where he is--"
Helplessly, Joe was shaking his head. "I don't know. We don't know. Mac, I swear. I wouldn't lie to you about this. Not this. We haven't had a sighting listed since 1992. I've been checking. No bodies have come up in his description. We don't know where he is."
"What if they're keeping it from you? Because of me?"
"A bunch of busybodies like us? You think somebody's watching Connor Macleod and nobody's talked about it for eight years?" He shook his head again. "No. I'm sorry. I've been watching the assignments roster. No one is assigned to him. We lost him in a train station in New York in December of '92. I'm sorry."
Macleod closed his eyes on the pain for a moment, but almost at once he forced himself to soften and laid a hand on Joe's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I had to ask."
"Of course you did."
"I need him."
"If I knew, I would tell you."
Duncan put down his glass and slid his arms around Joe. "I don't have a clue. I don't know how this is happening or what will stop it. I'm going to have to start desperate, random--" He broke off, shuddering. "He was so angry with me Thursday, Joe. He was just so angry."
"Mac, we have just barely started. Amy hasn't even gotten to the library yet. We are not out of options, not by a long shot."
"I shouldn't have asked. Joe, don't think--"
"It's all right. I understand." Connor was the closest Duncan had to a father, and the man had vanished--apparently living, apparently under his own power--without a trace. It was easier to understand how a four-hundred year old man could fall apart wanting his dad than to understand how anyone--even someone as volatile and unstable as Connor Macleod--could run out on Duncan.
They pulled themselves together very quickly because no one was out watching Methos. They hadn't needed to bother. He was quiet all afternoon. Upsettingly quiet--he did not move at all, he did not wake when Constantine dropped by, sometimes they could barely see him breathing.
He woke, finally, around eight, and answered Duncan's offer of food with, "So you can poison me?" The next twenty minutes or so were appalling. He accused them of being in collusion with Cassandra to murder him; of holding him prisoner; of rape. "What you want is my head. Five thousand years--irresistible, even for the great, noble Duncan Macleod. And the sad part is--the ugliest part--is I trusted you. I loved--"
Macleod had retreated across the room and his turned his back to the tirade, but Joe tried reason. "Methos, you can't believe Mac would really--"
"Oh, please. Don't bother. Of course you take his side. You've never loved me the way you loved him--"
"No, I loved you the way I loved you--"
"Dawson, stop," Macleod said softly. "This isn't Methos talking. It's not what he believes. Don't answer him."
So Joe stood against the wall and Macleod sat on the stairs to the door and they remained silent while Methos gave vent to every paranoid fantasy a paranoid old Immortal could come up with. When he tired of that, he harangued them with the things he thought would hurt them the most. Joe tried not to listen. He stared at the floor and imagined that this was just a dream.
"You think you've beaten me, don't you? You think because I'm down, you're safe. But it isn't over yet, and before it is, I'll have killed you both, left your bodies in the sewer, and forgotten you." There was a sly pause. "You don't like that one, do you Joseph? Don't let it worry you; I would never have remembered you anyway."
"Methos," Duncan said almost kindly, "If I have to gag you, I will."
"No thanks. I've had enough here anyway. Just let me have my sword, and I'll be going."
Methos got out of the bed unsteadily. "Give me my sword."
It came to blows. Methos didn't manage to connect once, and by the third try he was swaying with his weakness. When Macleod grabbed him, Methos reached for his head, but he didn't have the strength needed to break Macleod's neck.
Macleod swaddled him in the sheet and dropped him onto the bed. Methos glared at them malevolently for about half an hour before passing out.
When it became clear that their patient wasn't going to give them any more trouble for a while, Joe left his post and began to gather up the dirty dishes that had been accumulating around the barge. Macleod came up behind him, quiet as a cat but still definitely there. "He didn't say it because it was true. He said it because it would hurt us." The voice was just a whisper, but it seemed to shake the hull. Suddenly, the barge was too small.
Joe wondered if he could pretend he didn't know what Macleod was talking about. Not a chance. "It was true."
"What happened to Charlie wasn't your fault. The biggest mistake was my arrogance. I thought I could contain Charlie. I thought I could muscle Cord into stepping aside."
You wouldn't have bothered to try, except for me. But Joe was beyond speaking. His left hand was full of dishes. Macleod had come up behind him, pinning him to the desk without touching him--even if there were a place to run to, in the little barge.
A hand ghosted around him, lifted the dishes and put them back on the desk. "It was my debt, too. What we owed him. It wasn't just that I loved you. I kept thinking, all that week, how much I'd leaned on you. What would I have done if nobody in that bookstore had had the guts to talk to me? What would I have done if it had been someone not as honorable or as brave? I owed Cord too, Joe. And I thought I could handle it."
Joe shook his head, and a hand slid around his waist and pressed him gently against the solid mountain behind him. "It was not your fault. It felt like I had traded the life of one friend for another. And I felt guilty about that because if I could have chosen one of you...as much as I loved Charlie, I would have chosen you. And he was dead."
"Don't," Joe managed.
"I punished you for that. I punished both of us, for you being alive, and me being glad you were alive."
"We've had this conversation," Joe whispered. Surely once had been enough.
"You weren't ready then," Macleod whispered, his mouth just behind Joe's ear. "You aren't ready now, maybe, but that doesn't matter. We cannot afford to be divided now."
Joe pulled himself together, or pretended he had. "He needs us."
The arm at his waist held Joe closely, and a second hand braced him at the shoulder. "He said it to hurt us. He is terrified and sick and disoriented, but he knows us. He wasn't telling the truth to be malicious. Right now, he doesn't care about truth--"
"He never cared much about truth," Joe managed.
"He said a lot of things that would be hurtful if you believed them. That's all."
"So am I."
They spent the rest of the evening in silence, reading numbly through chronicles. There were more files queuing up to print on Joe's computer, but Macleod was out of paper. Around two the words began to blur together. Normally Joe was good until at least three or four, but he'd been up early and it had been a rotten day. "I've had it," he said, the sound of a voice almost shocking in the heavy stillness. "Do you want to take turns?"
"I'll just get in with him.'
"If he wakes up violent--"
"I can handle him. Besides, what's he going to do, kill me?"
"You're a riot," Joe said sourly. "You ought to take that act on the road."
Macleod produced an armload of blankets and a pillow and took them to the couch. "Joe, you know--"
"I know. It's ok."
"He won't forget."
"Assuming he lives through this."
Joe was so tired he was afraid he might sleep through the beginnings of another fight like the one that had started the day. As it turned out, he was awakened by soft voices while it was still dark beyond the portholes: "But it can't have happened very often, Duncan. The price is too high."
"In Col T'ek's file I came across an account--in the 1890s he took an Immortal named Gustav Hamf--"
"Swiss. The Watchers never had a man on him, although he's indexed a couple of times, only going back about fifteen years. He may have been quite young.
"Anyway, apparently, he somehow attacked the quickenings of his victims first, then came back a few days later and killed them while they were...incapacitated."
"Ah. Interesting. Symptoms?"
"Well, Col T'ek was moody and vomiting for a couple of days. He recovered before Hamf came back to finish him, and won." This sounded promising. Joe had not come across this yet.
"But we don't know how he recovered?"
"I've been thinking. You shouldn't let Joe do it, if it comes to that."
"Turn me over to the Watchers. Let them do it under laboratory conditions. Take some measurements. The information might be useful for something."
"It's better than having it lost completely. And it would be so unfair to ask it of Joe."
"All right," and then, "I wouldn't have, anyway. And it won't come to that."
"Of course not."
There was silence after that, and sometime later, Joe went back to sleep.
When he woke the next morning, it was already daylight and Macleod was sitting at the table studying something on his own laptop. Adam, wary and subdued, watched from the bed.
"I could use a shower," Mac said. "See if you can get the old man to eat?"
"Yeah, sure." Joe dressed quickly and climbed into the upper alcove. "Morning."
Adam sat up, regarded him for a moment and said with careful politeness, "Good morning." English. Very good sign.
"Would you like some breakfast? We have some fruit and Danish? I think Mac made coffee, and it doesn't smell too bad."
"I'm not very hungry," was the tentative answer.
"You haven't eaten since early yesterday."
"Ah. All right. Some fruit and coffee would be nice." He gave in with a distracted politeness that would have worried Joe, if he weren't already generically worried anyway. When he returned from the kitchen with a tray, Adam was seated at the small table. He was pale, but calm. For a moment, Joe dared to hope this might mark an improvement. He set the tray down and Adam flinched ever so slightly, his eyes on Joe's right wrist. All he said, though, was "Thank you."
Joe sighed. "You have no idea who I am, do you?"
Adam managed a tiny, brittle smile and Joe got a glimpse of the terror and confusion hiding beneath the politeness. "Sorry, no."
"Did you know the other man who was here?"
"Duncan Macleod. I've seen pictures. They don't do him justices." True enough.
"My name is Joe." And then, "I'm his Watcher."
"You must have a very liberal field supervisor." The tone of the wry observation was almost perfect. Except for the little detail of not recognizing him, this might be the old Adam. "I don't suppose you'd mind telling me what's going on?"
"Eat something," Joe said, stalling. With the same calm veneer he'd shown all morning, Adam sugared his coffee and drank. "You took a bad quickening a few days ago. It messed you up. Your memory comes and goes."
"Ah. I don't suppose you have any evidence of this?"
"I don't think so. If you were an enemy, though, Mac wouldn't have left me alone here unarmed."
His eyes drifted to Joe's cane. "A point. Are we friends then?"
Joe nodded. "Lovers, sometimes."
"Friends? More than a decade. The other, just less than two years." He slid into the chair across from Adam.
Adam picked up a slice of banana. "How did we meet?"
"Your supervisor was retiring from his other job. We met at the party. 1986, I think."
"My supervisor?" bemused, he glanced at his wrist. No tattoo.
"You got out a couple of years back."
"Ah." And then, "Who was I watching?"
Joe shook his head. "Research. The Methos Project."
"Ah. I can't imagine it kept me very busy." His eyes showed no startlement or worry. "Looking for a myth. Nice work, if you can get it."
Mac came out of the bathroom moving quickly and dripping, but trying not to look worried just the same. He smiled when he saw Adam at the table and eating. "This is an improvement," he said cheerfully. He came straight to the table, and Adam made a visible effort not to pull away or flinch.
"He doesn't remember us," Joe said quickly.
"Oh. Well." He pulled in his disappointment. "Methos, what year do you think it is?"
Joe was watching. He saw the minute pause mid-breath. He saw the fair skin go even paler. He knew Adam had to be feeling ill as well as terribly upset to let even that much past his polite if puzzled demeanor. Joe sighed. "He doesn't know we know that, either."
At once Macleod stepped back, holding the hand that wasn't keeping the towel around his waist above his head. "We won't hurt you. If we were enemies, you'd be dead or at least restrained, not eating breakfast."
Adam glanced pointedly at Joe's right wrist--the wrong wrist for a Watcher tattoo--and said, "You'll pardon me if I seem to have woken up in Wonderland."
"No problem," Joe said. It was hideously inadequate, he knew. An Adam who recognized him, he could comfort. But as a stranger, he was worse than useless.
Adam's calm, polite surface had settled again. He took bite of apple and said, "How did I leave the Watchers?"
Behind him, Duncan shook his head frantically. Joe agreed. If they mentioned Chronos, Adam would panic. "An old enemy turned up. The Watchers noticed you were way too involved just to be a bystander. They're still not sure who you are."
"Who I was, surely," Adam corrected. "I disappeared. I did disappear?"
"Technically," Joe hedged. "Eventually." He did not point out that he had come back.
When they finished eating, Adam went to shower with Joe to supervise while Macleod got back on the phone. Adam rolled his eyes at being assigned a babysitter, but while he seemed to be in a positive mood, he moved slowly and a little awkwardly.
In the bathroom, he commented on the soap and shampoo and told old Watcher jokes about Immortals and life insurance policies. Joe sat on the closed lid and let him ramble on. He realized that the old man might just be trying to lull them into a false sense of security just before making a mad dash for a place to hide, but this phase probably wouldn't last longer than any of the others, and it was good to hear Adam talking, at least.
Suddenly, he thrust the shower curtain aside and crowed, "I love you!" in wonderment. Shampoo dripped down his face. It was yet another out of character act, but Joe tried to look unphased, unheartbroken.
"What, just this minute?" he asked gently. "This is a record, even for me."
"No, I...I remember you."
Joe leaned forward and nudged him back under the water. "Rinse," he said.
"I took you to a karaoke bar. You're a hard man to seduce, have I mentioned that?"
Joe blushed, stared at the floor. "Wash behind your ears."
He rinsed hurriedly, came out ebullient and friendly. Dried himself ineptly until Joe reached out to help and then leered. On the way out of the bathroom, though, something happened, and he went straight to the bed and lay down without a word, drawing up into a ball and looking inconsolable.
Damn. What now?
Methos knew his own voice: "All right, the idea is ridiculous, I admit. You a threat to me? I've had you wrapped around my finger since the first day and it's not like it's been exactly difficult to play you. Granted, you're not entirely stupid, but backward little sheep-farmers from the hill country tend to be naive, don't they? It's been four centuries, though, don't you think it was time you grew up? No impulse control, no perspective, quite a temper, and an identity so unstable you can't even risk changing your name."
They were his own words. He remembered hearing them in his own voice, and he remembered saying them.
"I'd wondered how you stayed alive all these years, but clearly you're just good enough with a sword that you can hack your way out of whatever idiocy you blunder into. Fortunate for me, I admit." He'd chuckled then, "Very good with a sword and very, very easy to...manage. Even when it was spelled out for you, you couldn't accept me as a real threat, a wolf in your fold."
He was hearing the words, but he had already said them. He could not cut them off or take them back. He could remember, vaguely, wanting his friends to hurt, to burn with shame, to run away from him, but he could not remember why.
"Sweet, innocent, stalwart hero. It won't do any good, you know. You'll never be good enough to be allowed to go home. All the people you really want to love you are long dead. Probably even Connor, unsatisfactory father-figure that he was. Too bad really."
And here, finally, was the tiniest reaction. "Oh, yes, it's all in there. Your files. Your chronicle. In the 20s, it was quite fashionable append psychological profiles to the history. And again in the 50's. And again in the late 70's. Watcher psychologists just love you. Most of the psychopaths don't even have such fertile Chronicles as you do. And it's all recorded in such lovely detail. But you knew that, didn't you. You weren't surprised when I knew all about Christen. Her Watcher was her lady's maid. She used to peek through the window and watch when you were together."
And here, finally, Joe had broken in with, "That's not true." Macleod had shrugged and answered, "Forget it," but it was too late, and Methos turned his attention on the Watcher. He got up and slowly approached Joe. He pulled an old smile out of his memory, menacing and cold.
Joe pulled back, slightly, a little afraid. Disappointingly, it was a 'how crazy is he?' kind of fear, not an 'I'm about to die horribly' fear. Even that was quickly gone; both marines and Watchers were trained in How To Face The Enemy.
"Protective," Methos said. "Loyal. Astonishingly loyal, actually. Too bad you're so abysmal at picking recipients for it. Do you think Mac here is worthy? Nobody else has been so far."
"That's close enough," Macleod said sharply.
Methos raised his hands in a parody of harmless intent. "Of course, you'd be hard put to find someone less worthy than James was...."
"Methos, return to the bed. I'll not ask you again."
He took a step backward, just enough compliance to forestall being restrained. "My. Isn't he protective, too? Not that I don't understand," he sang softly, "mortals are so fragile."
Macleod stood up, and Methos, rolling his eyes as though they were over-reacting, retreated to the bed and lounged casually on the covers. He didnít drop the subject, "And then, of course, he's so good in bed. Rolls right over. Not all that experienced, but such a good student. As long as you're not looking for a real man--" Methos stopped abruptly, holding back a snarl of outrage. Joe was staring into the middle distance and smiling slightly. This line of attack was not a surprise and wasn't being taken seriously.
Never mind. Mining modern sexual paranoias had been cheap and impersonal. He had other, better ammunition. He turned his attention to Macleod. "You always did have a soft spot for artist types. What was the name of that little painter? Louise? And Tessa, of course, also very gifted. And then those photographers. With Joe, at least, you won't have to worry about keeping secrets. He already knows everything. And he's not going to suddenly freak out over your 'lifestyle.' Convenient....Sadly, in a few years, his mobility will start to be an issue. More of an issue. Things will get much less convenient. But then, you have so little time anyway."
A look passed between them, a quick exchange of mutual reassurance that neither seemed to need. Methos could remember being infuriated by this. Beneath a disinterested, contemptuous exterior, he'd seethed and reached for more weapons, for words sharper than swords. In the present, it was all he could do not to weep at his memory of what he'd said next: "Of course, you've had to forgive a lot. He does seem to make the same mistakes over and over, protecting the same people. How many friends has he cost you now? Although maybe we shouldn't count poor Jacob."
He had pretended unconcern, but inwardly his heart sung as Macleod swallowed hard. Yes, oh yes. It took a second to compose the glee out of his voice. "Galati, well. He was quite round the bend, wasn't he? We all know what has to be done when an Immortal goes mad," a significant pause here, to remind them that he was quite mad and they could look forward to no better future for him. "But Desalvo? My, my. Innocent and honorable. Quite tragic, that. And to Cord, of all people. Tell me, Joe, did you ever even read the man's file? He was scum. He wasn't even creative scum or ambitious scum. He was lazy and greedy, and by the time he met you again, what was left of his twisted little military ethic was long gone."
He had gone on and on, and they had let him, as though they were trying to prove something. Perhaps that they were invulnerable? Or perhaps only that in their hearts they were sure that he would never really say such things....
And then, of course, he's so good in bed. Rolls right over. Not all that experienced, but such a good student. As long as you're not looking for a real man--
They should not have heard this. He had never felt such things. He had never held either of them in contempt. They were the best friends he had, among the best he'd ever had. Even now, Macleod had joined him on the bed and had an arm around his shoulders. He was murmuring that everything would be fine, asking if Methos was in pain, promising that he was safe....
It isn't over yet, and before it is, I'll have killed you both, left your bodies in the sewer, and forgotten you.
"Don't risk it," he said hopelessly. "You can't trust me alive. I'm too dangerous. Keep me dead until you figure this out. It was only words, next time I lose my mind you might not survive."
"It's all right. It wasn't that bad." It's not like it's been exactly difficult to play you. Granted, you're not entirely stupid, but backward little sheep-farmers from the hill country tend to be naÔve.
"Don't risk it! Damn it Macleod--"
"I can't. I'm afraid. Methos, I can barely feel you. What if your quickening...."
"You can't trust me."
"We'll manage. Have a little faith."
What a ridiculous answer. Totally useless. He would kill them, or trash what was between them so badly that they would just walk away and leave him. Methos began to weep.
"Damn. I've had enough of this. Joe, get him dressed. I'm going to gather some equipment."
"Equipment? What for? Mac, what are we doing?"
"At this point, we're looking for miracles."
Joe drove. Macleod did not think that sending Methos to deal with this alone was an option, and so he was not sure what shape he himself would be in when it was over. So. Joe could handle the car part of things. And everything else--
Was grasping at miracles....
I'm so sorry, Methos. I just don't know what else to do. I cannot leave you like this.
He sat in the back with Methos dozing drowsily against his shoulder. No crying, at least not currently, which was a relief.
The drive was only about two hours. Compared to the American west, everything in Europe was in convenient commuting distance from everything else, but it felt like days in the cramped back seat.
While they drove, he tried to tell Joe where they were going. Information on the well had been one of the things he'd been digging for, but he hadn't come up with anything yet, so he didn't know its history or what was said about its properties. Maybe there were no records to find anyway.
The highway gave way to an un-lined two-way road, then a dirt road, then a narrow track, and finally the car would go no further.
"Sorry," Joe said, setting the brake. "Is this it?"
Macleod got out. "Yeah. This is it." He had spent most of his life in forests and wilderness, not cities. The double line of ash trees leading off to the east might as well have blinking neon signs on them, even though a few had fallen over the centuries and the path between them was long overgrown and buried. Good. In retrospect, his 'certainty' that he could find this place again without Methos' guidance had actually been more of a 'hope.'
He retrieved the backpack from the boot, his eyes lingering regretfully on the katana he could not afford to bring any more then he could risk having it in the car with them. He took Joe's small handgun from its hiding place in the wheel well and handed it to him, and then leaned in the back seat to rouse Methos. "Joe," he said, "I want you to stay here."
Joe glanced at the forest, his eyes following Macloed's gaze to the east. "How bad does the terrain get?"
"It isn't that. I...would rather you didn't see this."
"I would rather I didn't see this, but I have no choice. There's nothing you can do, I think there's nothing to be done, and more witnesses to--to another scene like last night--or worse--Joe, it's better, isn't it?"
"No, but you're asking me to stay, so I'll stay."
"It may take a while. There's food in the cooler in the trunk. Eat, if you get hungry. We'll see you when we're done."
He felt like shit, leaving Joe behind, but he was not going to subject him to Methos' mouth again. While Joe could probably take it, Methos couldn't.
Had it only been a couple of days? How had Imarte lasted twelve years?
It wasn't as hot here in the forest as it had been in Paris, but it was still hot and there were more bugs. The path wasn't very clear or easy, and Methos was both weak and clumsy. More than once, only Macleod's arm around his waist kept tiny stumbles from turning into a headlong sprawl. The rested often. Methos didn't speak, and he seemed only vaguely aware of where they were going.
It took nearly ninety minutes to reach the mouth of the cave, a circular shaft breaching the ground without fanfare. Methos, panting and soaked with sweat, slid into a dazed heap on the old, fallen leaves, while Macleod took off the back pack and began to ready the climbing equipment.
He lowered Methos first. It was hard, sending a defenseless friend into the darkness, but there were no other Immortals around, and from the look of the undisturbed brush and ground, no one else around either.
Perhaps Methos did understand why they'd come. By the time Macleod had joined him on the floor of the cavern, he had fumbled half out of his clothes, although he was still partially tangled in the harness. "It's all right. Easy. I've got it." The whisper echoed softly off the stone. The air was chill and slightly damp. Macleod eased them out of the shaft of light that shown in through the opening and waited for his eyes to adjust to the shadows of the ancient catacomb.
Methos, freed finally, seemed to collect himself and looked around. "Not a bad plan. I might have come up with it myself."
"Last time, you did."
Shivering, Methos pressed himself against Macleod's chest. "Do you think it will work?" He didn't sound terribly hopeful.
"It might. Something nasty's in your quickening, just like something nasty was in mine. We have to purify it or clean it or jettison something out. This might work."
"It might...be very bad."
"If you think this is a bad idea, I won't force you."
"No...no, let's just get it over with."
Macleod kept a steadying, warming arm around his friend's waist as they made the short walk to the pool. "I should probably go in alone." He sounded afraid.
"I think so, yes."
But still, Methos hesitated at the edge. He turned so that their faces were just inches from each other, and it seemed as if there were something he wanted to say. There was nothing Macleod could say that wouldn't be inadequate, though. Thank you? I love you? I'm better for having known you? At one time or another he'd said all these things. "If not this, Methos," he whispered at last, "I will find something. No matter what it takes."
Methos tore his eyes away and climbed down into the water. It came to his waist when he stood in the middle. Shivering slightly, the old man wrapped his arms around his torso and closed his eyes.
Seconds passed, and nothing seemed to happen. That didn't necessarily mean anything, though. Macleod had no idea what anyone else would have seen when Methos took him here to exorcise the dark quickening.
Somewhere, water dripped.
Methos opened his eyes. "Have you thought--what's in me isn't evil. Maybe it's not enough that it's not me. Maybe it has to be...Maybe what's in me is already 'pure.'"
"It's killing you. It's evil." Macleod kicked off his sneakers and climbed in to the pool. The water was cold enough to make him gasp. "Close your eyes and say the oldest prayer you know." He tried to sound confident, although he knew that what came next would be a huge risk.
With a doubtful and weary look, Methos obeyed. He murmured in some language Macleod couldn't guess at, but he did not need to know the content, only waited until the second the incantation stopped. Then he seized Methos with both hands, swept his feet out from under him, and shoved his head beneath the water.
He fought. Even if he understood what Macleod was doing, he could not have overcome the urge to resist drowning. He wasn't strong, but he was persistent, and the battle seemed to go on for eons. Struggling with the slippery form, Macleod wished he had thought this out more thoroughly, perhaps brought a knife. But, no. Blood fouling the water couldn't be helpful.
It occurred to him suddenly that if Methos had Connor's gift of breathing water, this could to on literally forever. When he thought he couldn't possibly cope for another moment, though, the struggling finally stopped. A few minutes later, the pulse stopped too, and he turned the slack body, bringing the pale face out of the water.
The cavern was silent, the water glittering and shimmering around them, going weirdly warm and cold by turns. This would be when the miracle would come, if it were coming. Macleod was afraid it would be a long wait. The quickening had been weak and unsteady for days, but to his surprise it took only a few minutes, and when Methos revived it was with the full and powerful rush of any healthy Immortal returning to life.
Gasping and choking on water, Methos clung to Macleod's sleeves, trying to get his feet. Laughing, Macleod swept him up and out, then climbed up after him and retrieved the towels and thermos of coffee from the equipment bag.
Methos was silent while Macleod dried him. While he didn't try to push away, he didn't reach for comfort or contact either, and Macleod suspected that some of the water he wiped from Methos' face came from tears. "It's all right. It's all right. Lord, man," and he laughed uneasily, "tell me you remember me!"
And finally: "Duncan. I'm so sorry. This is none of your fault--" he stopped and managed a smile. "Never mind. You have saved me. You have done wonderfully well."
The silence was unbroken, except for the occasional drone of a bug or the scrabble of a squirrel in the branches overhead. It wasn't as warm out here as it was in the city, and Joe sat in the front seat of the car with the door open, facing out, straining for a flash of movement in the green. It was a pleasant place. And a very nice day.
Well over two hours, now. Two and a quarter, anyway, he amended, looking at his watch. How long did it take, to exorcise a quickening?
He'd tried singing early on, but there was nothing to work out or decide or integrate. He could not, watching the trees as eagerly as he was, even consider losing himself in music. He'd prayed, then, repeating endless Hail Marys even though it felt like begging.
He had not thought that he would have deal with Adam's death during his lifetime. Macleod, yeah. The man took terrible chances. He acted too much from the heart, had a terrible temper, and willingly played the Game if a player sought him out. Joe had accepted his risks. But not Methos.
And Adam might not survive whatever Macleod had in mind at the holy spring. The Watchers didn't understand the peculiar relationship Immortals had with holy ground, but they knew it was real. Macleod was looking for the same magic that had taken away the dark quickening, but if he were sure Methos would survive it, he would have brought Joe with them.
Or maybe not. Maybe what was going on down there was so dangerous it wasn't just Methos who might not survive.
Maybe what? What could go wrong? Maybe something had gone wrong, and it was already over. Or maybe--
He saw a flash of movement through the trees and had to look away for a moment, afraid that he would finally see only Macleod alone, or see him carrying Adam's prone form. But no, it was two, making good time, moving easily. Joe climbed to his feet for a better look.
Yes. Two. Alive.
Macleod was beaming with joy when they finally cleared the trees, but Adam was solemn. He slowed as he approached the car, and Joe would have felt almost unwelcome, except that he had seen that hopeful, uncertain look before. "Adam?" he said gently and held out his hand.
He was caught at once in a rough hug. "Iím sorry. I'm sorry. I wouldn't have hurt you. It won't happen again, I'll do whatever is necessary to make sure--" He broke off abruptly and pulled back.
"Are you all right?"
"Fine. I'm fine," he smiled sweetly, suddenly seeming more openly happy than Joe had ever seen him. "Everything turned out all right." Adam hugged him again, the lean, hard arms nearly lifting Joe off his feet. "I'm hungry. Duncan promised food, unless you've eaten it all."
"Knew I forgot to do something," Joe whispered, trying to show that he, too, was still up to joking around.
They had a picnic--bread and cheese and sliced ham and fruit that Joe had grabbed at the market the day before. Joe sat in the front seat of the car, Macleod on a flatish rock, and Adam squatted comfortably on the ground, holding for half an hour a position Joe wasn't even sure could be achieved at all by a man who was born after chairs became common.
They'd had very little breakfast and no lunch, but after the first rush of hunger was off, the lack of conversation was almost awkward. Adam was calm and reassuring, if vaguely sad. Macleod seemed happy, but almost brittle, as though he were still worried about something. Joe said, "I want to hear all about Antonio, you know."
Adam smiled, and suddenly things seemed much better. "I'll tell you everything, but it stays between us. Some of his descendants are still Watchers in good standing. I don't want them embarrassed by details of how forthcoming he was with me."
"Deal. Although things are changing. That's not as necessary as it was."
"Everything changes. That's the way of things, and there's nothing to do, really, but accept that."
Joe looked at the last bite of bread in his hand, sighed and tossed it off into the woods for the birds. "How are you feeling, Adam? Really?"
"I feel fine. Normal. Duncan, am I all here?"
"He's all there. He feels like another Immortal ought to feel."
"There, you see? It's all right. And I remember....I do remember everything. You've both been amazingly patient. I can't begin to tell you how sorry--"
"For nothing," Joe said firmly. "It wasn't you. We don't need to mention it again."
Adam ducked his head obediently and began to gather up the lunch mess, putting everything back into the cooler.
"I don't suppose either of you can tell me anything about what happened?"
Macleod shrugged. "No, I'm sorry. I have no idea, really. I took him to the water, I pushed him under, and whatever happened...happened."
Joe took the keys and walked around to the back of the car to open up the trunk. "So we still don't know how or why or any more than we did when this started."
"I for one don't need to know about the how," Macleod said sourly. "It's not like it's something I'll ever want to try myself."
"I know about the why," Adam said softly, handing the cooler over to Macleod. "I remember everything. That was one of Cassandra's memories that came over."
Joe and Macleod gaped at him. Adam looked from one to the other and said reluctantly, "She saw a vision...days ago, I don't know when. She saw me. I was loved and deliriously happy--much happier than I deserved to be, by far. And then I lost it all and--in her vision, I went completely bonkers. Scourge of the World. Terror of Children. Death and--and worse. In my anger and despair, I could see no other solution but to kill both of you--"
"No!" Macleod gasped. "That wasn't her vision! It was a--a premonition of mine!" He closed his eyes. "But it wasn't real. That wasn't our world. You and Amanda and Joe--you're all fine. Richie didn't die unloved--"
"What are you talking about?" Methos interrupted in bewilderment.
"My dream. While I was dead. I saw--Horton had murdered your wife and you--" he broke off, scrubbing his hand across his face miserably. "It never happened. She was wrong."
Methos sighed, took the cooler back, set it gently in the open trunk. "I'm sorry, Duncan. Cassandra wasn't seeing then. She was seeing now."
"What? I don't--"
It was a killing blow, struck in the middle of Macleod's bewildered question. Joe barely saw Adam's hand move, but he heard the soft wet crunch of bone and brain. Even before the body started to fall, Adam had pulled the katana free of the trunk and was bringing it around for the beheading.
Joe snapped his cane down with all of his strength on the crown of Adam's head. It wasn't enough to stop the descending blow completely, but it took enough of the focus and aim that Macleod's head was still attached when his body hit the ground.
Staggering, Adam turned and took a quick swipe at Joe, but Joe was already sailing backwards, as much a fall as a dodge. The cane he held out in defense was sliced neatly in two, but the blade missed flesh by several inches.
The leaf litter covering the hard ground smelled sweet and musty. Joe flung his hands out, looking for a weapon. Not even a stone. He was too far from the car to roll under before Adam could swing the katana again. There was nothing to hide behind.
Above him, Adam was advancing. "I'm sorry," he whispered, ignoring the tears running down his face. "This is the closest I can come to sparing you. It would only have been so much worse, later on. I couldn't bear it. I'm sorry."
And then Joe remembered the gun in his pocket. The second shot missed, but by then it was clear that the first one hadn't. There was a slightly uneven hole just above Adam's left eye. As he fell, Joe scrambled out of the way of the descending blade and fetched up against one of the tires. After a moment, he leaned over and threw up the very pleasant lunch he'd just finished.
What the hell had just happened?
Well, clearly the plan hadn't worked.
God damn it.
He wondered if he should shoot Adam again. They both had head wounds, which tended to be at the long end of the healing curve. Things would not work out well if Adam came back first.
On the other hand, perhaps there was no way for things to work out well at this point.
At least before, Adam hadn't been so effectively homicidal.
Keeping the handgun close, Joe went to check Macleod. He was still dead, with congealing blood below his eyes and nose. It was the neck wound that worried him most, though. A deep gash at the junction of his left shoulder. While a maiming might take years or decades to heal, some neck wounds never healed at all or healed badly. The Kurgan had never recovered from his last fight with Ramirez; the slice at his throat had remained open for five hundred years, occasionally leaking blood. And Kalas had been horribly scarred.
Joe pressed the edges of the wound together and hoped. In only a few minutes, though, it was clear that Macleod was going to be one of the lucky ones. Long before he gasped back to life, the gash had turned into an even, livid line.
Macleod sat up and stared at the carnage; the blood on all of them, the fallen sword, the body. He would not meet Joe's eyes, and answered Joe's "I don't know what happened--" with a curt, "Neither do I."
He fished the short, serrated knife they'd used to cut the bread out of the lunch things and plunged it into Adam's heart. Then, as though that would not be enough to keep him safely dead, took a roll of grey tape from the backpack, swathed him like a mummy, and put him in the trunk. Finally, after policing their little camp with the thoroughness of someone who was in the habit of leaving nothing for the police to find, he squatted before Joe. "Are you hurt?"
"No. Nothing important. He never touched me."
The sun was going down when they got back to the city. Flat and practical, Macleod said, "I'll take the body in after dark." It was the only thing either of them had said on the trip.
Exhausted, Joe hung onto Macleod for balance as they climbed the gangplank. Halfway up, Macleod paused, scowling. "Someone's here."
Yes. Naturally. They couldn't just go home. Mac untangled his sword from the coat he carried to camouflage it. Joe realized he hadn't even checked the daily postings to see who was in town since Saturday. He carried the unneeded coat in one hand and braced himself on Macleod's free arm with the other, and they went straight to the steps that led down to the door. There was no point in stealth; whoever it was would have felt Macleod's approach.
"Wait up here--"
The door below flew open, and while the figure in the opening was too much in shadow to be seen, there was no mistaking Amanda's voice: "Where the hell has everyone been? I've been waiting here for hours. I am not your errand girl, Macleod, and I am damn well not your contraband runner."
"You're early." Macleod lowered his sword and pointedly turned his back on her to give Joe a hand on the stairs. "We were out."
"I can see that. You couldn't leave a note?"
"No, we were too busy making an utter disaster of things to leave a note."
"What are you talking about? What's going on? Where's Methos, anyway?"
"He's in the trunk."
"In the--? Of the car? Is that blood? You look like hell. What happened to the two of you?"
"You should see the other guy," Macleod said bitterly.
Joe added, "That would be Methos. My best buddy. The one who's currently dead in the trunk." He would have gone on--could have vented bitterly all night--but once inside the door there were more steps, and even with Macleod's help, balance was taking all of his concentration. Amanda paced back and forth, chewing on that while they navigated the last set of stairs. "I thought you said Methos was sick?" she said finally.
Macleod braced Joe as he sat on the couch, and then, annoyingly (because he really wanted a moment to collect himself, maybe get his breath) squatted beside him. "He was. We cured that. Now he's just a lunatic. A raving, homicidal lunatic."
"Oh." And then, "Are you sure?"
"Joe had to kill him to keep him from beheading me."
Second time in a week, Joe thought bitterly, but he was too tired to point that out. His hip and shoulder hurt--bruises from the fall--and every other muscle and joint ached as though he had pulled and twisted them.
"That's...pretty sure." She glanced at Joe. "He's grey."
Thank you, how observant, Joe thought, but he was too tired to manage the acid comment aloud. After a moment, he was just as glad; she meant his pallor, not his hair. Hell. He had looked like warmed-over shit in front of Amanda before, but he wasn't currently so far gone he didn't feel a little embarrassed about it. Amanda, who was always clean and beautiful and sweet-smelling and poised. Amanda, whom his body always noticed, even though she was high-maintenance and occasionally patronizing and technically sort of the 'competition'.
"We could do with some water and a blanket," Macleod said softly. "Joe? You ok?"
"Fine. Adrenalin just ran out, finally."
A large, warm hand on his shoulder. "You did great, kid."
'Kid' was Adam's pet name for him. Joe's eyes burned with unshed tears. Adam may have been a 'lunatic' but he had known what he was doing. He had known it was Macleod. He had known it was Joe.
The water Amanda brought was utterly nasty; she'd put sugar and a little salt both in it. It had been tepid French mineral water to begin with, which Joe had always thought was undrinkable. Macleod wrapped his hand over Joe's on the glass and made him drink anyway.
"What happened? I thought you had things under control."
"I was wrong. As far as I can tell, I've been wrong about everything so far." He relented, at last, and let Joe push the glass of water away. "I took Methos to holy ground, a healing place, I...for a long time nothing happened, but his quickening was so passive, I thought...anyway, I killed him." Joe hadn't realized that. Amanda, though, didn't look surprised, only nodded, as though it made sense. Joe dropped his head onto the back of the sofa and closed his eyes. He wondered if this conversation would seem as surreal to someone well-rested and recently fed.
"And when he came back, he seemed to be all right. He felt normal. He was lucid, alert, coherent in English. We got dried off and changed and went back to the car. We had lunch. We talked. He was fine."
"He was depressed," Joe said. "He was afraid of something."
"Nothing not appropriate under the circumstances. I would have sworn he was in his right mind right up till the moment he killed me and tried to take my head while I was out."
"My god. What happened?"
"Joe killed him."
"Well thank heavens for that!"
Joe sighed. "Don't count on it happening again. If he'd known I was armed or hadn't been so distracted, I would never have had a chance." It was a testament to their friendship that Joe had had those few extra seconds. Methos would never give up any advantage. In a fair fight Macleod could beat him, but if Methos actually cared that he won, it wouldn't be a fair fight. Next time Joe wouldn't have a chance.
"What do you mean 'distracted?'" Macleod asked.
"He was distraught. He didn't want to kill us. It didn't make any sense."
"No, none at all." There was a long silence. Macleod paced. "Amanda, did you get them?" he asked finally.
"Yes. But what are you going to do with them?"
"I'm going to use them."
"Do you even know how? This is powerful stuff."
"I've seen it done," Macleod said uncertainly, then added, "Col T'ek gave them to me, the first time, when he helped me. And I've read the Watcher research."
"Joe? You're going along with this?"
"Lady, I don't even know what 'this' is."
"He had me bring him hallucinogenic cactus buttons."
Ah. Yes. He could certainly see why this hadn't come up before.
"It's not a recreational drug, Amanda, it's a sacrament."
"You want to play witch doctor!"
"I want to save my friend." That last echoed off the metal walls of the barge. The argument fizzled into a miserable silence.
At last Amanda said softly, "We need an expert."
"Do you know of any?" Macleod answered bitterly. "A witch, maybe? Oh, no, that's how we got into this. A shaman? A psychologist? No, wait, being experts didn't save them did it? A doctor for our kind? I only know two: one of them is dead in Joe's trunk, and I can't find Grace, believe me I've been trying. Darius? Rebecca? Mai-Ling? I'm sure any one of them would have known what to do, but we've lost them all, haven't we? I'm beginning to believe it is the damn gathering; we've been decimated, all the best of us--" He broke off abruptly. "It's dark enough. I'm going to get Methos."
As his footsteps receded Amanda came over to join Joe on the couch. "He's fine, really. I'm sure it's just a little stress."
"No big deal," Joe agreed dully.
"So. You're giving him information?"
"Yeah." Joe dragged his eyelids open and sighed. "It's no problem. So far, he's only asked for theory and closed out files. The Watchers wouldn't give him help tracking someone for the game, but this....They owe him, and they know it." He patted her shoulder. "We're all right. Don't worry. No visits in the night."
To his utter surprise, she hugged him.
"Oh, hey, a woman named Amy called. She has some more stuff for you, but not all of it was ready yet. She'll be up tomorrow."
"Great. Thanks." He wondered how much worse that would make things, Amy being there. Because he could see no way they would get better.
He must have fallen asleep, then because the next thing he knew he was listening to Macleod and Amanda argue about what to do with the body. Amanda thought it would be impolite to leave him dead all night, and anyway, she would never sleep with a corpse in the room. Macleod returned, "You'll never sleep with him awake, I'll promise that. He's safe enough now."
"So--what? You're going to leave him like that?"
"No, I'll put that blanket over him. There. Nice and tidy. Are you happy?" And apparently Amanda heard something in his tone that convinced her that arguing any further would be a bad idea.
When Joe woke again it was dark in the barge. He was inexplicably lying down, still on the couch, but now with a pillow and blanket. He was thirsty and could have probably used a trip to the head, but spending that much time awake would no doubt just be depressing, so he turned over and went back to sleep.
Macleod woke three times in the night sure that Methos was standing over the bed with his boradsword poised to kill them. When he sat up, though, he could see the blanket-draped lump the body made in the corner. Amanda had been right; leaving an Immortal dead was appalling, outrageous. But as terrible a violation as it was to leave his corpse on the floor, he was too dangerous to leave alive. It wasn't only Macleod's life in question; he would not risk Amanda and Joe. If he were in his right mind, Methos would not want him to.
Maurice showed up at 7:30. He didn't knock, but at least he didn't shout and he brought breakfast. "Macleod. Good morning! I brought breakfast. It is my day off, so I made sweet rolls. The recipe is German, but I am trying fusion cooking, what do you think?"
"Thank you, Maurice, but I have company--"
"Amanda and I are old friends--" he smiled affectionately at the bed, then caught sight of Joe on the couch. "Ah, quite a lot of company. Well, I made plenty."
Macleod thanked him profusely and managed to pack him off. Shockingly, Joe slept through the entire visit. Amanda was up, though, so he fed her some of the sweet rolls and sent her off on errands....
There were things he needed to do. Privacy was best for this.
He laid the body on the bed and cut off most of the heavy tape, leaving only the wrists and ankles secured. He used a sponge and basin to wash most of the blood off Methos' face and then took out the bread knife.
It wouldn't take long, even though he'd been dead over twelve hours. Macleod sat in a straight chair, Joe's gun in one hand, a throwing knife in the other. While he waited, he tried to prepare himself, but the flush and pressure of a rising quickening still made him jump, and his look of confident unconcern was only a mask when Methos opened his eyes and regarded him sadly. He gave Methos a few moments to orient himself, then asked, "Comfortable?"
"Here." Macleod put to down the knife for a moment and tossed an apple into his lap. Methos looked at it wryly for a moment, then picked it up in his bound hands and took a bite. He did not miss that Macleod took up the knife again.
"Would you really use it?"
"Those aren't my best sheets."
"I'm taking no risks," and he hoped Methos believed that, hoped that he wouldn't try anything. Another ugly fight would surely break both their hearts.
"I love you for this, you know," Methos said after swallowing his third bite of apple. "Your chances are all gone, there is no more hope, probably there is nothing you can even do to save your life--and here you still are, not giving up. You are glorious."
"Methos, what the hell is going on?"
"The end of the world. The end of my world, anyway, so why not everyone else's too?"
Macleod had heard something like that before: Cassandra had been telling him about the Horsemen for the first time. She had called them the end of her world. What had she done to him? "Just how crazy are you at the moment?"
Methos regarded the half-eaten apple. "Believe me, insanity was much easier than knowing the truth. But there is no going back." He looked up, and for a moment Macleod wondered how much trouble he was in, whether even Methos could make a deadly weapon out of half an apple, and which way the old man would run if he was about to make his move. But no. He was still talking. "Listen carefully, because I donít know how many times I'll be able to say this. Your only chance to defend yourself, to protect everyone you love from me, to stop me, is to kill me now, while you have a chance. I don't believe it will work, but Cassandra must have thought there was some hope, somehow, or she wouldn't have bothered to try to arrange my death herself. There might be a chance. Take it."
"What, just because you're still insane? There are things we haven't tried, people we haven't asked. I'll reach Grace eventually. She's not as good as Sean Burns was, but she has other gifts--"
"I'm not insane. Not yet, anyway, and I'm not sure that figures at all--" he stopped suddenly and looked away. "I know that you love me," he whispered, "I know that this is hard. Kill me now and let me die the friend you know. Because if you don't, I will kill you to keep you from hating what I become. She saw that. It is the most unavoidable fate of all. Oh, please. Duncan, I do not want this. It's not...fair, I--" he broke off, biting down an a soft groan of pain and rage. "I have liked my life. I do not want to give this up, but it will be taken from me and I...please. Please, Duncan."
He didn't know what to do. He wanted to go to the bed and console his friend. He wanted to run away. He did not know what sense to make of Methos' words or even if he should believe them. "Methos...I don't understand. What causes this? What happens?"
Methos sighed. "Sometimes, you are an idiot. My rage will happen."
"But why?" And then, "I mean, you don't feel it now do you? Was it something she somehow did to you? Or something that will happen?"
"All I feel now is despair." And that was ominous somehow. It meant something. But if it was something they could use, he didn't know how.
Both of them heard the stirring on the couch. Joe was waking up, finally. Macleod briefly considered letting Joe have a go at Methos, but no. No. Not as a surprise first thing in the morning, and certainly not when Macleod wasn't certain he was in control of the situation. This was Methos. If you underestimated him for a moment, you were lost.
He tossed the knife. Unlike the gun, it was silent, except for Methos' soft gasp of pain. He took only a few seconds to die, and it was over before Joe was completely awake. Macleod retrieved the apple core and covered the body with--despite what he'd said before--one of his best sheets.
He put the gun down (paranoidly out of reach of the body on the bed) and sat down on the edge of the couch next to Joe. "Morning."
The eyes opened and popped closed again. "Yeah. Tell me yesterday was a bad dream? Nope, didn't think so. And I suppose it's too early to just get good and drunk?"
Macleod took a deep breath and let it out slowly, unable to meet Joe's eyes.
"Right. Ok." He sat up stiffly and sighed. "Ok. What's the plan?"
Duncan gave in to the urge to hug him and was immediately sorry when Joe gasped in pain. "What's wrong?"
Joe gave him a quick, playful shove and said lightly, "Watch the bruises, ok?"
"What's the plan?"
"Ah. Well. We need to talk to Cassandra."
"I was hoping for a possible plan."
Macleod smiled reluctantly. "The impossible just takes a little longer. I saw Grace do it once. Have you ever heard of an Immortal named Nestor Kelly?" Joe shook his head. "I don't know where he is now. I only met him the once. Out West. End of the last century, sometime. He was still being trained when he was challenged by another Immortal. They were both young idiots. They barely understood the game, were terrible swordsmen.... Anyway Nestor won but he was so hysterical from the fight, so terrified by the quickening afterward, that he panicked and accidentally killed his teacher when he approached the boy from behind."
"Killed beheaded, Joe."
"Apparently, he was devastated. He could barely live with himself. He refused to eat, until he died several times of starvation."
"His teacher was a friend of Kit O'Brady, and Kit took Nestor Kelly to Grace. She was in San Francisco at the time. Grace...hypnotized him somehow. She spoke to--to his teacher within him. She made peace between them, somehow. Forgiveness."
"Is that even possible?" and then, "Do you carry them within you, then? Are they--alive in there?"
Naturally, Joe would come to the heart of the matter, the part that worried Macleod the most. "I don't know. I am not sure it matters. She found something of Nestor's teacher within him, and she found a way for Nestor to reconcile it." He took a deep breath. "Something of Cassandra is within Methos, something that knows what's wrong. Or what's going to go wrong that he's so afraid of. We can't stop it or help him or fix him until we know what's wrong. I need Grace."
"You want me to find her." Macleod nodded. "You know--this isn't like handing you a serial killer. And my people are going to notice. I'm being watched."
"Joe, I know this is over the line--"
"When did that stop you?" Joe muttered.
"But I've tried every method I know to contact her. And it's not like asking you to find an enemy. She would come if I asked her, if I could ask her--"
"It's not me that decides what's appropriate here, Mac. You have to understand, if Edwina decides that I'm messing with the game or taking unnecessary risks with our security she will cut us off."
"So don't tell me where she is. You make the call or send the telegram. That wouldn't be interfering in the game."
Joe blinked at him. "How do you figure that?"
"Neither one of us will be fighting the other."
Joe looked at him balefully. "Fine. That's our story, and we're sticking to it. But you contact her; I can't even imply a security breach." He made shoeing motions, and Duncan got out of the way so he could get up.
Joe was usually so steady and precise when rising that his stiffness and pain this time stood out starkly. For a moment a cold, bleak panic wrapped around Macleod's world. This wasn't just the bruising from yesterday's fight with Methos he was seeing, or even the disability. Joe was getting older. What was it Segur had said, the first time Duncan had watched a friend grow old and die? About losing them being the price Immortals paid? He had learned a great deal since then, about appreciating time and honoring life, but somehow moments like this still rose up and took his breath away.
"Mac? Something wrong?"
Silently Macleod shook his head. He should have undressed Joe last night at least. He should have let him sleep a little longer. He should have protected him better.
"Only, the thing is, you're between me and the computer."
"It can wait. There's time for a shower, something to eat...."
"Macleod--" irritation was giving way to suspicion now, and if Joe should ferret out this line of thought--
Macleod leaned forward conspiratorially, "I'd take the shower. You're a little ripe. And you've still got some bits of leaf in your hair."
"I'm ripe? When was the last time you washed?"
"Last night. Amanda wouldn't let me in the bed otherwise."
Amazingly, some of the strain melted and Joe laughed aloud. "Good for her. I wouldn't let you in bed covered with blood either."
"Sure, but admit it; for you sweat's a turn on."
"You are never gonna let me live that down."
"Hmmm. No." He offered Joe an arm to balance against, since his cane was in two pieces in the trunk of the car, and escorted him to the small bathroom. Only when the door was safely shut between them did he press his face in his hands and take one silent moment of grief.
Amanda returned before Joe was done in the shower. She had several yards of soft but nearly indestructible nylon rope, a ream of printer-paper, a bundle of white sage, and a replacement cane for Joe.
Macleod kissed her on the top of her head. "You are the most brilliant shopper in the world. All this in less than ninety minutes?"
She shrugged. "It's Paris. You can get anything."
"Before nine in the morning?" He shut his mouth abruptly. "If you had to steal any of this I don't want to hear about it."
"Ye of little faith."
"Me of great experience."
They didn't manage to keep the light mood for very long, though. When Joe logged onto the Watcher network, all he got was bad news.
"What do you mean, you lost her?" Macleod growled.
"Our guy got appendicitis. He was airlifted to Johannesburg. By the time we got somebody else in place she was gone. Thanks," he added as Amanda handed him a cup of coffee.
"How long ago?"
Joe sighed, scrolled back and checked the date. "Eight weeks."
"Eight weeks? You haven't been able to find her in eight weeks?"
"Hey, it's Africa. I know you haven't spent much time there, but you may have heard that itís a pretty big place."
"Oh, God Damn It!" Macleod shouted, and then turned away in shame and frustration when he realized that Joe and Amanda were gaping. He didn't want to scare them, and lord knew, he had no business taking his anger out on them, but he was running out of options, and the few that were left were the ones he had the least faith in. "Sorry," he muttered. "Sorry."
"Duncan--" Amanda started nervously.
"No, I'm fine. Look, I have some things to do. Some research down at the university library. I'll be back in a few hours. Just...keep digging. Maybe you'll find something."
He fled, remembering to wrap the katana in his coat and take that too, although it would have to stay in the trunk, since the library searched packages. He tried to ignore the unhappy silence behind him as he hurried up the stairs.
If you paid attention, you could feel the barge shift slightly as someone crossed the gangplank. Amanda felt the sway just before Duncan's presence faded and she sighed. Behind her Joe Dawson, one of the mortals Duncan was always so involved with, shifted in his chair and was silent in a very obvious way. "He's just a little stressed out," she said brightly.
"Maybe we should talk to him about cutting back on coffee," Joe said, and when Amanda glanced over her shoulder, he met her gaze with such knowing sympathy that she had to smile. She remembered, as she always did, that mortals were different--they were as transient as kittens or roses, and often as innocent--but they weren't different in a way that really mattered from day to day.
She took a deep breath. "So. Just what did he just ask us to do?"
"Heh. These piles have been read. Those haven't."
Amanda picked up another sweet roll, then passed a second to Joe. "What are we looking for?"
"Anything that might have bearing on the current problem."
"That narrows it down."
"Piece of cake." He frowned. "Hand me that stack under the vase, would you?"
She held her roll in her teeth while she extracted the stack, trying to get neither the papers nor the glass sticky. "It's a 'been read.'"
"It's the Col T'ek file. That seems to be the route he's leaning toward at the moment. Maybe I can guess what he has in mind."
Amanda sat down on the couch with the stack labeled "Garrik." She knew the name, although she'd never met him. Duncan had told her the story; appalling and only semi-believable. After a few minutes she put down the file and moved; she could tell from the closing summary that all the Watchers had was a lot of sketchy details about insanity and erratic behavior and anyway, she couldn't sit with her back to the body on the bed.
She pulled a chair over and sat beside the desk where Joe was going through the sheets on Col T'ek. As he put them down, she picked them up. She was a fast reader, but making sense of Watcher files was something of an art, so she didn't catch up quickly.
Col T'ek she had known, although they had not been close. His chronicle started in 1575. It had been all the rage in Europe to bring back people from the New World on returning expeditions and show them off at court, and Col T'ek had apparently decided to make use of an opportunity to find out where the new foreigners had come from. The first Immortal he encountered in Europe was a James Baker (this name was followed by a string of numbers and letters which she read off to Joe. "Indexing," he said. "Read it again," And when she did, explained, "James Baker was a student of Graham Ashe. He died in 1712, in China." "And the rest of these numbers?" "Where his masterfile and duplicates are kept. I could tell you what it means, but I'd have to kill you." "That's almost funny." "Critic.") after he'd been at a Spanish court for about three months. They had faked Col T'ek's death by illness (so they could leave without any complications) and had spent the next ten years traveling around Europe. Baker's watcher had been of the opinion that the New World Barbarian had been several hundred years old at the time, but he didn't know how to use a sword, so the probably-younger Baker was in the position of teacher. In most of Europe, Col T'ek passed as a Spaniard named Juan-Miguel and in Spain to be a Russian named Yakov Kolcheski; apparently this was exotic enough to explain any social gaffs or differences in appearance, while at the same time not being so noteworthy that they ran into trouble.
There followed a long editorial comment on the effect of the identification of Col T'ek as an Immortal on the Watcher organization. Apparently, this was the first sign of Immortals in the new world (although one or two agents had already followed their assignments over the Atlantic), and it necessitated a complete change of policy and organization. Then there was a long editorial comment on the apparent relative rarity of Immortals among the Natives of North and South America (although, not apparently, among immigrant groups living there). Amanda skipped both of these.
Early in 1586, Col T'ek and Baker separated, and Col T'ek spent the next eight years in a monastery in Northern Italy. This section was both short and dull; mostly study, spinning yarn, and bee-keeping, apparently. Toward the end, though, the lay brother got a reputation for being able to cure spirit possession with prayer and this notoriety was theorized as his reason for leaving. Sadly, the watcher assigned to him was only able to witness one exorcism, and Col T'ek apparently accomplished it by reciting the Our Father.
Then a year traveling. Or, hunting, as it turned out. An Immortal named Jean du Mar. Du Mar had a long series of index numbers after his name, and if 323 was, as she suspected, the number of heads he'd taken, Amanda was very glad he was dead and impressed as hell with Col T'ek.
He was lost shortly after that, but the story picked up six years later in London, where he was working as a tailor named 'James Coulter.' Lots of detail here, even though it had obviously been heavily edited. The only other Immortal he met during the period was Graham Ashe, and apparently they were friends. Three years later the wife died in childbirth (Amanda wondered if Col T'ek had known who the father was) and he had immediately signed on as a sailor and returned to the New World.
The next page she reached for wasn't there, Amanda looked up to see what had Joe so engrossed that she'd caught up. He had left the desk and was standing over the bed, looking down at the shrouded shape of his friend.
Sighing, Amanda set aside the chronicle and went over to stand behind him. "I promise you, right now he's not hurting," she said.
"I know it."
"Joe--don't do this."
He just shook his head.
"Look," She said. "maybe we shouldn't be standing so close."
"Why? Because he's going to jump back to life and attack us? He's not some kind of bogey-man, Amanda. He's no different than the rest of you. He can't come back with that much metal in his heart."
"No. I know that. It's just--this isn't helping. We should get back to work."
"Yeah, Ok." He leaned down and adjusted the sheet, then slowly went back to the desk.
The table in the quiet corner of the library was covered with open books on comparative religion, psychology, and biochemistry. Most of them were too general to be of any help and the few that were precise and specific were not precise and specific about topics that would be the least use in sorting out what was going wrong with Methos.
In a way this was harder than preparing for the fight with Ahriman. He had only had to contend with his own terror and fury, then, and he had known that those feelings had to be pushed aside or they would be manipulated. Now, though, he also had, in addition to fear and a guilty fury at Cassandra, to face an unbearable half-mourning for Methos and keep a balance between both hope and despair. He could not force those feelings aside; Methos was not a demon, but his friend, and those feelings might be useful, perhaps even necessary.
And, he thought regretfully as he shut The Shamanic Journey and shoved it aside, with Ahriman there had been the promise that an answer did exist. A millennial demon that had been beaten before could be beaten again. There was no guarantee that Methos could be cured or that, if he could at all that Macleod could do it.
He had tried to find someone else. He had hoped the sacred spring could do it for him or that Grace could be found or that Constantine would have a recipe squirreled away somewhere to fix just this sort of problem. But no. So much ancient wisdom had been lost. Sadly, the library did not contain any how-to books on Immortal psychology and/or quickening hauntings.
He was going to have to do it himself.
Apparently there was no one left but a four-hundred year old pup with no inborn supernatural talents and only a few meager skills picked up from more gifted teachers along the way.
He closed the books and stacked them neatly before leaving.
The woman had to be an Immortal; she was beautiful and poised. Despite the heat, she looked sleek and freshly made up. She looked younger than Amy, but she smiled with such confidence that, even knowing what she must be, Amy envied her such certainty.
"Hi, I'm um, I'm a friend of Joe's," That, for example, did not show a lot of confidence, but she realized almost too late that she had no idea what this woman had been told about herself or anyone else. "Amy Thomas. I...called yesterday?"
"I'm Amanda. Do come in." The woman stepped back and Amy followed her. Amanda. Well, naturally. She had read up on her father's assignment before she had first met him. Amanda was famous. Notorious, even. She had a following.
Amy wrenched her gaze away and focused on Joe, settled at a desk on the other end of the barge. He was surrounded by piles of paper, histories....
She had spent most of the last two days buried in histories. In fact, she had spent the last two weeks in histories; most of her Watcher training--perhaps her whole life, really, since her mother had been a historian and it seemed to be all her parents ever talked about at dinner....
And she had more to add, now. New and improved history, in fact. She had begged and bartered with Jillian for a translation of the sections that were still in Ancient Greek. Smiling a little, she unlocked her briefcase and handed Joe a two inch stack of Xeroxes. "Imarte was married to a mortal named Gyrax in Asia Minor around 45 ce. After she was killed in a Challenge, Gyrax was recruited as a Watcher. He wrote down her stories. It reads like 1001 Arabian Nights, Joe."
"I don't believe it," he whispered, taking the stack from her reverently.
"Neither did the administration in the seventeen hundreds. They decided it was mostly fairy tale and dumped it in storage half-translated. None of this is even indexed."
"My God. I had no idea."
"Jillian is still translating part of it, but I think the relevant parts you want are pretty close to the beginning."
"This is wonderful--"
"That's the bad news. I've read it. I don't know how helpful it will be. Things...didn't end well."
He tore his eyes away from the pages and looked up at her. "Thank you," he said.
"I don't know how useful--"
"For trying. Thank you."
Amy found herself smiling. "Er. So. Where are...they?"
Joe sighed. "Macleod is off doing some research of his own. Adam...Adam's gotten violent. We've had to...."
When he faltered Amanda said briskly, "He's not currently alive. If you'd like to leave a message, he'll get back to you as soon as it's convenient."
Now that they had said something the lump on the bed was too obviously a body. She looked at it for a long moment before slowly crossing the room and mounting the steps. She pulled back the sheet and looked.
Her first look at death had been the funeral of her maternal grandmother. Amy had been nine. Everyone had said how 'good' and 'natural' Nanna looked, but that hadn't been true. It looked like a doll that had the same color of hair. It was empty and slack and wrong and that was how Adam Pierson looked now. Empty and dead, with somehow the wrong face and the wrong color.
She had known they died, that was the whole point, wasn't it? But she hadn't guessed it would look like this, like any other body. How could someone come back from this?
While she was staring down at the--at him, Joe came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. "The first time I saw it up close and personal was only about four or five years ago. A student of Macleod's...a friend of mine....he got between me and a drive-by shooting. He took three in the chest and dropped dead right in front of me."
Amy dragged her eyes away from the colorless, half-open eyes as she realized what she was hearing. "A what? Someone what?"
Joe sighed. "Shooting. Horton. Look, the point is, Richie died while I was standing as close to him as I am to you. And I wasn't prepared for--for the pain in his eyes. Or how afraid he looked." His voice was even and flat, which was strange because his eyes were shining with tears. "He died, and I had to drag him down some steps so he couldn't be seen from the street and then all there was to do was stare at him. I stared at him for twenty minutes before he came back, and he was still hurting...It's not easy, Amy, not for them and not for us, but it is not over. Adam is coming back."
Amy nodded weakly. Dead, Dr Adams/Adam/Methos seemed less historical artifact and more human than he had while living. She thought of the bitter accusations of Andrea Henson and found herself wishing that the woman had been right; that Joe had somehow found more in his life than history, that one of them, at least, was more to him than that.
She was betting on Adam, though, not Macleod.
The thought almost made her laugh, until she glanced at the bed again. "I'm sorry," she whispered to Joe, and hugged him.
He patted her shoulder, and, looking at him Amy realized that he understood, if not what she was thinking, at least what she was feeling. He knew how terrible and wonderful it all was. He knew how torn she felt--wanting to walk away and knowing she couldn't. And suspecting, deep down, that walking away would be the wrong thing to do anyway.
Really, it was too bad they were related. A shame, really. He wouldn't have made a bad friend. "Mrs. Corbin has cancelled my transfer," she said.
Joe was surprised, "Why?"
"Apparently, you trust me, which makes me a good candidate for keeping an eye on you." It was ironic. It was unfair. It was somehow embarrassing.
"Oh, Amy, I'm sorry."
"You aren't a free agent. The Watchers have to look out for their interests. She likes you, but, in her words, she'd feel better with independent confirmation."
"She, ah, doesn't know--?"
"About you and me? I didn't tell her, and nobody even told me, so probably not."
"I can't tell you what to do here."
"I'm not asking you to." She sighed. "I wish I had more time. I can't figure anything out. And they're convening the General Meeting next week. God knows what things will be like after that."
She saw a flash of fear, quickly suppressed. "On what?"
"Policy." His relief was more visible than his worry had been. "You're not reading your memos."
"I've been busy these last few days." He smiled and patted her shoulder. "Relax. The last Emergency General Meeting we had on policy lasted seven years. If they're reanalyzing policy, I may be retired before they decide if they want to censor me."
Amy opened her mouth and then shut it hard. Censoring--was not something she could even think about right now. Right now she had history and not-history to worry about. Right now she wasn't entirely sure what it meant to be human or to have family or to do your job.
Maybe the Immortal Benjamin Adams--who was really Joe's friend Adam who was really Methos (whom half her coworkers didn't even believe was still alive)--maybe he was dying and maybe they could help him. And maybe they couldn't, and it would break her father's heart. And maybe it was better to be someone's friend then his biographer, even if it did break your heart.
She leaned down and drew the sheet back up over the still face. "If you get the chance....tell him," What? "If there's anything I can do--?"
She left a few minutes later, calling a polite (if surreal) good-bye to Amanda who had disappeared into the kitchen at some point during the conversation. An Immortal with tact. Amy hadn't thought about them being tactful.
She hadn't thought about them being dead, or that dying might take courage.
She drove straight back from Paris, intending to spend the night in the library.
Duncan went to the church where Darius had last served and sat for a while in a stiff little chair at the back by the door. He didn't go expecting to find help. He wasn't sure he was looking for anything at all. Even a cool place to sit and some peace and quiet could have been found in the library he'd just left.
There had been other churches. Other places where they had visited together.
He had managed to learn Darius' hope. And his joy. And his forgiveness. Sometimes. Mostly. His patience and faith and certainty would come in handy about now. But Darius was gone. Really gone, his life and his power wasted. How Horton must have loved obliterating the very best of the Immortals he hated and feared so much.
For the dead, Duncan could do nothing. The living were waiting back at the barge. The living who did need him. Maybe he couldn't save Methos. Or anyone else. But it wasn't enough that they live anyway. They deserved to be loved. They deserved someone to stand with them, to fight beside them when the darkness came.
If he failed to save Methos the first time and the second time and the third time and all the times--If he failed to save Methos, he could at least be with him in the darkness.
But. He had not failed yet.
And he was damn well going to succeed.
Joe found Amanda in the tiny galley. He had been looking for her to ask if they ought to order in dinner, since lunch had been crackers and cheese and even though it seemed tacky and heartless to eat while Methos was beyond food across the barge, he was starving. But Amanda was in the kitchen slowly stirring a bubbling pot with one hand and holding a sheaf of Xeroxes in the other.
"Stew?" Joe asked, eyeing the pot. He hadn't known Amanda could cook. He still didnít know she could.
She nodded absently, not looking up from her reading.
"What kind?" He could make out carrots and potatoes and onion, but the meat was pale and seemed to have an unusual shape.
"Whatever Macleod had in the freezer. Rabbit I guess, I wasn't paying attention."
Rabbit. Joe silenced the squeamish part of his mind that insisted that only twitchy Europeans would eat rabbit, and anyway, they were pets not food, and the idea was revolting with the part of his mind that said that you paid attention to important things, you did your job, and you ate what you damn well had to eat without being sentimental or fussy.
He picked up a spoon and tasted it. "It could use some pepper. Maybe some herbs?"
Amanda looked up then, faintly surprised. She leaned over the pot and sniffed. "Good idea, be my guest." Then she went back to reading.
Joe rifled Macleod's cabinets and seasoned the stew. Amanda ignored him. Or not ignored him so much as failed to notice him. He supposed he should be glad one of them was concentrating.
He checked on Methos.
He used the head. He checked his email.
He restacked the piles of Chronicle bits and Watcher editorials that filled almost every flat space on the barge.
He read an interesting if useless account of an Immortal in the seventeenth century who took four heads in two days and spent the following fortnight with rotating personalities.
He checked on Methos. He remembered the first time he met him as Methos, rather than as Adam Pierson. How different he'd seemed, and how very much the same. It changed---well not everything, but close enough.
The update recounting Kalas' arrest had been waiting for Joe when he checked in and looked at the updates before going to bed. The item had been up for hours, but he'd been trying to iron out a feud between the two guys assigned to Terrance Coventry between singing sets, and there hadn't been time. By then it was way too early Paris time to call Macleod, so it was the next morning when Macleod called him that he learned that Adam--that Methos, and no it couldn't be Methos, except Macleod was sure--had taken off without a trace.
He had spent the next day composing the report, but he wasn't in a hurry. Jacques Vemas had pitched a fit when Joe told him that he'd sent Macleod to protect a Watcher from another Immortal. He would go ballistic when he found out he had had Methos right there for years, never mind that any Immortal had had full access to all the Watchers' secrets. Even if it hadn't been personal between Vemas and Joe, the man was a total ass.
Of course, since Vemas had had Methos right under his eyes all these years, this revelation would be humiliating for him, personally. Joe might enjoy that part, even given that his role in a situation this hot, this huge, would draw attention to just how unorthodox Joe's relationship with his assignment was.
But when he sat down to actually type in the report, he'd found the item that Adam Pierson had been formally reprimanded for two counts of Prohibited Contact by informing on Kalas to the police. It was telling that, aside from the reprimand, there were no punitive actions: no suspension, no reduction in rank, no docking of pay. Well, it wasn't like Adam was responsible for telling either of the Immortals he'd been in contact with about the watchers. And, rules or not, Kalas had been hunting Watchers and trying to use them to advance himself in the Game. Adam had done them all a favor, no matter what the oath said.
There was also a new address listed for him.
So instead of starting his report on what Macleod had told him about the researcher Adam Pierson, he found himself writing an email to Adam asking how he was doing.
Adam wrote back saying he was doing pretty well, considering, but was this what it was like in the field all the time? Because if it was, he would just stay in research, thank you. The adrenalin involved in dealing with deathless stalkers with swords was just too much.
"And thank you, by the way, for sending Macleod. I shouldn't thank you, I shouldn't even think about it and hope that our superiors do the same, but I'm very glad to be alive. So, thank you."
And Joe was flummoxed, because this sounded like Adam, the Adam he'd known for years. Not known well, but. Known. Seen repeatedly. A really good research guy.
But Macleod couldn't be wrong. He had to be an Immortal, at least, even if he weren't Methos. And even now, after more attention than Immortals usually liked, after having his cover compromised (because Macleod knew and worse, Kalas knew) he was staying. Apparently. Well, perhaps only through the trial, so he could be sure of Kalas being locked up good for a while. But still.
The raw chutzpah.
So Joe wrote back and asked how he liked the new place. And Adam wrote back that he hated moving and half his stuff was still in boxes and he hated moving. And, by the way, he really hated moving.
The report went unwritten and he waited to see what would happen, and for about six weeks nothing did. The irony kept Joe awake at night sometimes. Or, no, not the irony. The temptation. He knew where Methos was. And he wasn't turning him and he wasn't asking the legend anything.
And then Methos wrote and asked if he'd talked to Kristine Saltzer lately, and Joe answered that she had answered his condolence card with a short and polite, but subtly bitter letter.
Adam answered, I'm a bit worried. Would you give her a call?
So Joe did. He made the long distance call and the conversation went on for an hour, most of it filled with her grievance and hostility. Adam must have been watching for the Email, because ten minutes after Joe clicked "Send" he was talking to Adam on the phone. Adam was worried about Christine. Before, he might call Ian about this--Ian and Don had been close--but Ian was gone, and Davenport, his second choice, was assigned to Iceland at the moment and he really, really didn't want to take this up with the local supervisors, because it would wind up on Vemas' desk, and Vemas had no subtlety.
Would Joe consider coming out and assessing the situation in person?
So he was packed and in the air on the way to Paris a day and a half later. After all, it was past due time to check on the kid he had watching Macleod. And Adam--
The thing was, the man who was waiting for him when he cleared customs was Adam Pierson. He looked and sounded just the same, young and casual, respectful and friendly, smart, but not the least bit arrogant. The oldest man in the world came over and took the pull-handle of Joe's tiny Watcher's suitcase. Joe wanted to laugh aloud. Oh, you got us. You got us so good.
They exchanged Watcher gossip on the way to Adam's car. It was a long way, and there was lots of gossip. Joe didn't stare. He found himself trying to think back to their past interactions, searching the things he'd said to Adam before and hoping to hell that they hadn't come off as stupid or patronizing. Had he ever treated Methos like a kid? Had Methos forgiven him?
When he finally asked, halfway to Paris, "Did Don know you're Methos?" he'd known it wasn't a safe thing to say; it might chase the old man off, or frighten him into quietly killing Joe and leaving the body in a ditch or--who knew? Immortals could be very extreme in protecting their secrets. But he'd also known that he couldn't lie forever. It wouldn't work, and if Methos thought Joe wasn't playing straight with him, well, one way or another that would end badly. So he gave in to his giddy excitement and took the risk.
Adam glanced sideways, just once, and came to a decision. Joe wondered what he'd seen, because instead of bothering to deny it or laughing he just hissed, "Macleod told you? He told you?"
"Well, to be fair, I don't think he would have outed you if he hadn't thought you'd already moved on. But since you were gone, yeah, why not?"
"He told you!" and then, "When?"
"Couple of months ago."
That earned him a surprised look. Genuine surprise, probably, because Methos had had to think for a minute. "But I take it the Paris office doesn't have a man on me?"
"No. I didn't pass it on."
"Why? Not that I don't appreciate it, you understand. But what the hell are you doing?"
"Well, look, as I see it, the damage is already done. Ten years? Security is already shot to hell. What's the point of locking the henhouse now--the eggs are already sucked dry."
"Well, thank you for that metaphor," and it was Adam's sense of humor. Joe remembered that he'd liked Adam. Damn.
"And as for what you're doing with our stuff, well, I checked. Since you signed on there hasn't been an increase in Mysterious Stranger Challenges or unaccounted-for beheadings in Europe. So you're not using us to hunt."
"Heaven forbid. But--not to appear immodest--you're passing up Methos. You don't have a reputation for being...completely un-ambitious."
"Or completely stupid?" Joe asked. He chuckled. "We haven't had anything solid on Methos in over two-hundred and fifty years. Be a shame if this sighting only lasted five minutes."
"Ah. I see. Then you're not going to--"
"I don't see the point."
"He told you! I can't believe it. He told a Watcher."
"Careful. You're a Watcher."
Adam rolled his eyes at that. "How close are you, anyway?
It was meant to be rhetorical, but Joe answered: "We're friends." He caught the slight surprise as Adam glanced at him. It was just one quick look, but Joe knew that he hadn't managed to hide anything. But Adam, taking in the depth of Joe's feelings for his assignment, just nodded and said, "That will teach me to make assumptions about other's people's ability to keep secrets."
They drove in silence for a few minutes, and then Adam had said, "No, Don didn't know." From there the conversation had moved on to Don and Christine and just what Joe was doing in Paris anyway. At some point during the trip, Joe's mind had stopped going round and round about who he was speaking to and settled on the issues at hand.
Gentle memories of Adam trying to reach Christine through her grief and resentment played themselves beside memories of Adam standing over Joe with Macleod's sword. It had been the same look, Joe thought. The same horrible sadness and resignation. The same.
He smelled stew when he came in and slipped into the galley first. Amanda was cooking, her old standby of dumping whatever was handy into a pot and boiling the heck out of it. Not that she hadn't picked up any gourmet tricks along the way and sometimes they even came out edible, but when she wasn't paying attention, she cooked the way she did in the last millennium.
"This stuff is incredible," she said, brandishing a handful of paper. "I mean even Methos aside, this is amazing." She held the paper out of the way so it wouldn't be crushed by the hug he gave her. "I had no idea."
"I don't know about useful. There's a story in here, about an Immortal named Embredo. What happened to him sounds a lot like what happened to Methos." She frowned. "From what this says, we've gotten off lightly so far."
"Oh. Constantine knew about that one. He said it ended badly."
Amanda nodded sadly.
"Never mind. We'll figure something out."
"Sure." She tried to look reassuring, an expression Duncan associated with her getting him in over his head. It almost made him smile. "Ah, Mac? Who was that woman who dropped them off? Amy? She's not dating Joe, by any chance?" She looked worried. Well, yes. Amanda stayed clear of Watchers, but even she could guess that it was better all round to keep them away from Joe's social life.
"No, it isn't that. It's a long story. Ask him about it sometime."
Her eyes strayed back to the pages in her hand. "It isn't what I expected, you know. I mean, it's a hassle, having a Watcher. The whole privacy thing. And whenever I make a mistake, I think 'crap, I hope nobody was taking notes on that.' But....Do they have this for Rebecca?" She held out Imarte's Chronicle. "And Fitz? And Maxim?"
"This is our history. I mean, we don't leave much behind. No children. No poetry in our own names. Our students usually die before we do...."
Macleod hugged Amanda and left her to her stew and her research and went looking for Joe. He found him sitting beside the bed with a stack of printouts in his lap and a highlighter in one hand.
"Any luck, Mac?"
"Some," he answered gently, coming around behind Joe, "Enough." Macleod slid his arms around his shoulders, resting his palms against the broad chest. "We'll make our first try tonight. Well, our second try."
Joe nodded, but he was watching Macleod curiously from the corner of his eye. His uncertainty was understandable. They had not been casually, physically affectionate when they'd been together, and before this week they had not been together as anything other than friends in over a year and a half. Given the way things had gone the last few days, no wonder Joe was worried.
He sighed and pulled him closer. Joe closed the highlighter and caught Macleod's arms tight against his chest. I am so fortunate, Macleod thought. I have both of them, and I will have Methos back....so lucky, and I always have been. The days when I was truly alone were so few and far between.
He buried his face in Joe's hair. He smelled American, even after spending most of the last two years (and a chunk of the last twenty) in Paris. It was a scent Macleod could not have defined, but would not mistake. It spoke to him of open spaces and boxing down by the wharf in San Francisco and summer nights square dancing and thunderous bull-headedness. Although he knew, deep down, that Americans were no different than anyone else, there were moments when their veneer of machismo--even if it was just a phantasm he, himself, was projecting--was intoxicating and seductive.
And then there were times when a Japanese or French perspective surfaced from the deaths of his memory and was appalled by what barbarians Americans were. The double vision made him smile, and then smile wider, because Joe would not fit into the neat 'barbarian' box any more than he would fit into the neat 'cowboy' box: Joe was the ruthless, effective warrior who never went too far and never forgot about mercy. He could slip from coarse smart-aleck to tender poet in the blink of an eye. He was a competent scholar and a competent administrator. He was--
"You want to talk about it, Mac?"
Even after swallowing hard, he couldn't speak, so he shook his head.
Joe gently tugged on his arms until Macleod had eased around the chair and was squatting in front of him. Joe gently fluffed Macleod's hair. "Listen. I know the worst of this has to fall to you. You've got the most experience and you'll get further with Methos than anyone else in the world. But you're not alone here. You were saying the other day, about how it wasn't just enough to be alive, but to have comrades with you when it starts raining shit? We're here. And Constantine's been here. And Ceirdwyn's coming. And Grace, if we could find her. And Rachel would, if you asked, if you needed her. It's hard, but you're not alone."
"No," Duncan managed, "I'm not."
Dinner was better than Macleod had expected. Amanda's usual stew had an usual amount of flavor. She just gave an absent, "Thank you" to his praise and went on with her conversation with Joe. They were comparing notes about what they'd found in the day's research: "Look, I'm not saying your physics guy--"
"Drake," Joe said.
"Drake isn't on to something, but his raw data is questionable. How can you do a statistical analysis of quickenings if you're working from second hand reports collected at a distance? He's got those lists of 'normal' and 'abnormal' and pages of speculations about the abnormal ones and three pages of statistics comparing them--but how does he know? How does he know one is abnormal unless the Watcher happens to notice really strange behavior right afterward? And even if one follows the other, he can't know if one caused the other."
"The best we've got--"
"It's not good enough, Joe. I've taken, oh, about thirty now. And no two are the same. And the really weird ones, the ones that gave me nightmares for years afterward or that queered my quickening so that I threw compasses off for a month--all I did was go out and get drunk afterward. There was never an effect a Watcher could see."
"So what do you suggest we do, interview a couple hundred of you?"
And Joe started to laugh. It was mostly hysteria, or the punchyness that followed hopelessness and exhaustion.
"What?" Amanda snapped, not sure if she should be hurt.
"Are you offering?" Joe gasped between snorts.
Amanda began to giggle. She was still laughing when she went back to the kitchen for more bread.
Joe reached across the small table and squeezed Macleod's hand. "Not helping, is it?"
Macleod took a deep breath. "Never mind. We'll figure it out as we go." Inwardly, he laughed a little hysterically, too.
The quiet little dinner helped, though. Macleod, at least, felt much better afterward. They left the dishes in the sink, tidied Methos, and locked the doors. Macleod took a last look around, and, satisfied that they were as ready as they were going to be, turned to Amanda. "I want you on the stairs. If Methos gets out of bed, shoot him. If he makes a grab for me, shoot him. If, for any reason, you wonder if you should shoot him--"
"Shoot him. I've got it."
He kissed her cheek. "That's my girl. Joe. I want you in a chair over there," he pointed to a spot on the opposite side of the bedroom from Amanda. "No matter what happens, stay there. Don't approach the bed, and don't let him touch you--"
Joe sighed, "Yeah, Mac. I got it. I know I'm the weak link here."
Macleod stopped, frowning. "Joe, you're not my weakness, you're his." He laid his hands lightly Joe's shoulders. "I think--I think his relationship with you is still very important to him. I think he still cares what you think of him. And I think that as long as you are able to witness what happens, he'll behave himself. That's an edge I'm willing to use."
Joe swallowed. "Right. I sit over there. I do not approach the bed."
"And you don't let him kill you. My plan, such as it is, pretty much hinges on that."
This time he managed a smile. "Right. You got it."
When everyone was in place, Macleod removed the slim knife from between Methos' ribs. They were silent during the short wait while he came back. Silent and alert, trying not to lean forward, trying to be calm.
Watching, paying attention with all his heart, he saw the mist flow. It looked familiar, like an anatomy diagram, and he remembered once that Methos had said that the quickening was in the nervous system....
It was clear and white and bright, this invisible mist the others couldn't see. The poison he'd seen before--dark, sluggish, green--was gone. Seemed to be gone. Macleod wished he knew more....
Methos popped back to life with no surprised gasp, no complaint of pain. He opened his eyes slowly, looking from one to another before settling on Macleod. "Stubborn, Highlander, stubborn," he said sadly.
"Yeah, well, that's me." He picked up a bowl of cooling stew. "We have dinner for you, if you'll agree to behave yourself and eat."
"Is that 'yes'?"
Methos rolled his eyes. "Yes, Macleod."
Macleod used a pen knife that was too short to reach any vital organs should his captive wrest it from him to cut Methos' hands free. Methos cursed as he peeled the remaining tape from his wrists, then took the stew. He smirked at the glass of water Macleod set on the floor beside the bed. "I'm so far in the dog house you won't even offer me beer?" he asked.
"Alcohol doesn't mix with what we're doing later."
Methos blinked at him balefully. "I'm loathe to ask." He took a bite of the stew. "Not bad, but a little plebian for a last meal. So? What's new? How long was I on ice?"
All Macleod's energy was going into maintaining his unruffled front. Mad or broken, this was still Methos, still quick and sharp, still five thousand years old. Macleod couldn't even beat the man at chess when he was paying attention. The task ahead was beyond daunting. It was completely overwhelming, and Macleod, overwhelmed, could not pull together a confident, flippant conversation.
Joe, bless him, took up the slack with no hesitation: "They're convening a general meeting of the Council next week. They're discussing policy."
And Methos joined the conversation as though they were sitting together in a nice, comfortable bar chatting over drinks instead of a dozen feet apart with Methos' ankles taped together. "Ooo. Too bad I'm missing that. Better than a soap opera, I have no doubt. Has Edwina thrown in her lot with the Asian contingent and started lobbying for change?"
Grateful, Macleod let the conversation slide over and past him while Methos ate. He hadn't often heard Joe and Adam chatting about watcher politics, but it seemed very removed and mundane. He caught Amanda's eye and smiled, then settled in to wait: The mindful breath, he thought. I am at peace. My center is here. From here I bend. From here I flow. From here the mountain passes through me.
Methos finished his stew and set the bowl down.
Macleod, half-tranced on the breath, took the tape over and rebound Methos' wrists.
"Ah. To business, I take it. What's the plan?"
Macleod knelt on the mattress near Methos' knees. "We try to undo whatever Cassandra did that's made you insane. How's that?" Methos just looked at him pityingly. "What can you tell us about what happened? If you know anything that might help--"
"You've already fixed what she broke in me, Macleod. I'm normal. I'm healthy. And at the moment, I'm sane, although that won't last long, as I understand it." He smiled sadly, "As for the rest, you can't save me. I love you all for trying but I think in the end that will only make things worse."
"And that's all you have to say?"
"I can't change your mind, I know that."
Macleod took a deep breath and produced from his pocket the package Amanda had brought from Amsterdam. He held out a few of the peyote buttons--small and a little shriveled-looking but good enough-- and offered them to Methos. "You can cooperate, or we can do this with me holding you down and you trying to bite my fingers off. But whether you believe it will work or not, we are going to try. Your choice."
Awkwardly, with his hands tied, Methos took them and ate.
Duncan would have loved to close his eyes and prepare himself, but he dared not look away from Methos. He cupped his face and tried to remember the moment when Col T'ek had overlapped their quickenings. He had tried this before, once. He had almost made it, but he'd failed.
He would not fail this time. This was Methos. They had shared a quickening--
Even as he had the thought, his hair rose as it had in the elevator at the hotel. A bolt of scalding energy ripped through him and into Methos, slamming the other Immortal back onto the pillows.
From across the room, Joe cursed.
Right. Ok. Not the effect he was going for. Macleod glanced at the remaining cactus fruits resting in their packet on the floor, then scooped them up and ate them. The texture wasn't quite familiar, but he knew the taste. He closed his eyes and opened them in the glade.
That fast, that simple. Well, at least something worked. He knew this glade. He knew the stones and the small pool and the pale ferns. He knew the voice that spoke to him, too, although it was a surprise:
"Even for a White guy, you're as arrogant as hell, Mac."
"Col T'ek," Macleod breathed. He shut his eyes and opened them again. Surely finding help here--surely this was just memory or a projection rising from his own desperation.
He opened his eyes. Col T'ek was still there. "Are you--" Macleod had to clear his throat. "Are you sure you didn't mean 'dumb as a stump' old friend?"
"Naaa. You're doing pretty good. You're going in the right direction, even if you are a little ahead of yourself."
For a moment Macleod let himself be lost in gratitude and relief, then he dropped to his knees in the moss beside Col T'ek. "Keep talking, Jim. Tell me what to do."
"Good attitude. Respect your elders." His eyes were teasing. Macleod did not have time for it.
"Col T'ek, please. Please. I know it's obvious to you. Just tell me."
"Just tell you? I'm dead, Mac, not omniscient. What exactly are you trying to do?"
"I've got to find Cassandra in Methos...."
"Either find out what she knew so we can fight it or stop it from happening, or talk her into letting him go."
He nodded slowly. "I thought it might be something like that. But which are you aiming for? Defeat Cassandra or change the future?"
Duncan glanced away, slightly embarrassed. "That depends on what I find. The plan is...flexible."
"But first I have to get into Methos. The way you came to me." Macleod had tried that before and failed. When Col T'ek had been lost in the dark quickening, Duncan had reached for him, trying to help. But Duncan had had no training, only one model to follow, and Col T'ek had fought him. "Tell me how to reach him."
"That is where you're getting ahead of things."
Duncan blinked at him, feeling adrift, wishing he had just ten minutes with an instruction manual. "What do you mean?"
"You want to reach a quickening buried inside your friend. You want to help him to open the door and call forth what is folded away. But you can not teach what you have not done yourself."
"Oh," Duncan said. "But--I'm talking to you."
"You didn't let me out. I've never really been in. I was the drop that overflowed the cup, remember? There wasnít--" Col T'ek stopped for a moment, studying the ripples on the tiny pool and refusing to meet Macleod's eyes, "There wasn't very much of me left when you took my head, and much of that was lost when you expelled the evil I carried to you. But this, what you see now, was never buried away. There is very little of me here, but that little was always...running around kinda loose."
"You've been helping me?"
"Maybe. That would be a reassuring thought, wouldn't it?" He smiled. "You're changing the subject. What you're going to ask Methos to do, you have to do first. Get off your ass and do it."
Macleod didnít want to. He had no desire to invite anyone he'd taken out for a chat. He didn't want to examine anyone's memories. He didn't want anyone's opinion. The dead enemies he carried inside him were unthinkable. The dead friends were worse.
How would he do it? Imagine a hallway with a series of doors; Just open one? Grason? Chronos? Never in a million years. Imagine a library with shelves of books; who shall it be? Michael? Brian? God, no. Write a name on a stone and drop it into the pool?
Macleod's eyes burned. He closed them and whispered, "Richie?"
"Wow. That's quite a trick. Took you a while, though." Macleod knew Richie's voice. He kept his eyes shut, not ready to face him yet. "Oh, come on. Don't tell me you're still pissed."
That was puzzling enough that Macleod's eyes popped open. He was still in the glade, but now Richie was sitting at the edge of the pool with his feet in the water.
"Why would I be angry?" Duncan asked finally, because Richie was looking at him impatiently.
"For getting myself killed, what else?"
"Richie, I killed you." The words were hard to get out, but they came eventually, even if they were a little on the quiet side.
"Well, yeah. Could I possibly have screwed up any worse?"
"It wasn't your fault."
Richie frowned, thinking about that. "No. No, it was that bastard Ahriman's fault. He was evil. I was just stupid."
"You were trying to help me," Macleod said lamely. This was not the discussion he had envisioned. He had thought Richie would blame him. He had thought Richie would throw all his lost years in his face. This...was just weird.
"Yeah. Well. In hindsight, I wasn't doing a great job. I mean, what I saw was Horton taking Joe into the racetrack at gunpoint. Right? So either I'm seeing this hallucination--or this demon--which I knew had already killed at least two people. Or I'm seeing Horton kidnapping Joe--and Horton, the real Horton, knew how to kill us. Dead. Permanently. Do I wait for help? Do I scout the area? Do I run the other way? No. I blow it for both of us. I wind up dead and you wind up having to live with it."
It wasn't your fault, Macleod thought. But it was a pointless thing to say. He'd been saying it to himself for a year and a half, and he didnít believe it yet. "It wouldn't have mattered what you did then. You couldn't have beaten him. Neither of us could have, not then. Not with what we knew then."
Richie looked up at him for a moment. "Thanks," he said, finally. It was clear he didnít agree or didn't believe, but he was grateful for the thought. "Did you--Did it hurt anyone else?"
Duncan swallowed. "Yeah. Yeah, it did. It killed a woman. It went after Watchers...I got it, finally, but...I'm sorry. Not soon enough."
"I'm sorry." It was the sympathy 'I'm sorry,' not the apology. It was apt. They were both sorry. Things had ended badly. Things might have ended worse.
From a great distance--although he was right there beside them, too--Col T'ek said, "Good. Now finish it."
"It's finished," Duncan said sharply. "I found him. We spoke. We've made our peace. It's finished."
"And you're going to leave him like this?" Col T'ek snorted. "I take it back. You're not just an arrogant White guy, you're as dumb as a post, too."
"What--what am I supposed to do?"
"Well, you have a choice. You can stuff him back underground, or you can take hold and let go. As much as I hate to be 'obvious' about things, I gotta tell you Mac, one of those choices is wrong."
"I can't," Macleod said, panicked. At the same time, Richie jumped up and backed away saying, "No!"
"You need to do this, because in a few minutes, if you succeed, Methos will have to. How will you lead him where you have not been?"
The glade was silent in a way no real place could ever be silent. Even the water made no sound. Into the stillness, Richie whispered, "No. Please. Lock me away. Cast me out. Just don't--"
The terror in Richie's eyes--Macleod didn't understand. "Why, Rich? What's wrong?"
"No." Richie backed away. Col T'ek caught him from behind and with ruthless strength held him still.
"What is it? Why are you afraid? Richie, we'll work this out. I won't hurt you." His own panic at the thought of losing (gaining) Richie paled beside the child's terror.
"You'll find out." He closed his eyes and gave up his struggle against the taller, broader man behind him. "But I'm sorry, Mac. Just remember I'm sorry."
"It's my fault she died."
Duncan knew he was talking about Tessa; Richie didn't get that look about anyone else. But the statement didnít make sense. It wasn't Richie's fault.
"I didn't try to save her. I didn't want him to shoot. I did what he said, I wanted us to live. But if I'd just stood in front of her. I could have gotten between them. I could have saved her, never mind just giving in to him."
"Richie. No, you couldn't. Is that what you've been thinking? You were a good three yards apart. You could never have reached her in time."
"The only reason I didn't save her was because I was afraid. And that's the irony, isn't it? I didn't have anything to be afraid of." He was crying, now. Col T'ek let him go, but poor Richie was past running away. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry she died, I'm sorry I didn't save her, I'm sorry you got stuck with me instead--"
"No. No, no." Duncan grabbed him by the arms, desperate to get his attention. "Richie! I wasn't sorry you lived! I was just sorry you became an Immortal so soon. I'd wanted you to have a normal life. Tessa and I both wanted that. We wanted you to learn and grow and use your head. We wanted you to be a prudent young man who didn't argue with crack-heads with guns." He held Richie still against his body, afraid the boy would run or somehow vanish. "Missing Tessa--it had nothing to do with you, with wishing I could trade you." The thought made Duncan's eyes fill. Of course this was what Richie would have thought. Unlike Duncan, he had been an unwanted child from almost the beginning. "I was only sorry it was so soon."
"God, Mac. How could you forgive me?"
"It wasn't your fault. My god, you were so young. But I was never sorry you lived." He didn't notice the moment his arms closed on empty air. Richie was gone, yes, but the horrible empty missing of him was gone, too. Col T'ek had said, "Take hold and let go," And Duncan had thought that would mean saying good-bye again or some how consuming Richie or forgetting him or--and this thought had frightened him--somehow becoming him. It was none of that.
He felt comforted and vaguely foolish.
"Come on, Macleod. Did you think quickenings happened so that we could run around cutting each other's heads off? Did you really think it was about the Game?"
"What do you mean?"
Col T'ek shrugged. "Hell if I know. I'm just dead."
And then Col T'ek was empty air too, gone, but not gone; with, but not separate. Ah.
Sean, he thought.
And somewhere bound with Luther was Rebecca....
Macleod looked down into the shallow pool. Methos next. He reached out with his arms and felt the thunder as their quickenings met.
Methos' inner sacred space was standing stones. Big ones. Macleod had half expected it to be the sacred pool in the catacombs, but no. The bigger surprise was that Macleod himself was dressed in a badly woven kilt and filthy furs. Despite himself, he laughed. "Is this how you see me? Am I a barbarian?"
From behind him Methos sighed and said impatiently, "No, I see you as an infant barbarian." And then more uncertainly as Macleod turned to face him, "Mac? Is that you?"
"Um. Yeah. Sorry about the wait. I had some housecleaning to do first."
Methos approached slowly. He was wearing--it looked like pale wool blanket. It wrapped around him and was held in place with one hand. With his free hand, he touched Macleod's shoulder. "The wait wasn't long. I just--didn't think you'd come at all. I didnít think you could get here."
"Oh." Thanks for the vote of confidence. "Surprise."
They looked at each other for a while. Duncan looked around the venue Methos had brought them to: a shrine in the midst of a vast plain. There were no trees, no water, no buildings, just the grass and the stones and grey sky, and in the middle a ring of flat standing stones laid out in a double circle. The tallest only reached about fifteen feet in height, but the corners were sharp and the megaliths almost completely perpendicular. New, not a ruin.
"What now?" Methos asked finally.
"We need to talk to Cassandra."
Methos turned away. "No and no. Next item?"
"No!" The wail was heartbreaking, and Macleod stopped, stumbling over a horrible idea. Cassandra had apparently seen Methos running amuck in the future--dangerous, cruel, violent. But what if she didn't know what caused it? What if it was confronting her that broke him in the first place? --would break him, it hadn't happened yet.
What if the reason Methos was lost--would be lost was something Macleod was about to do here?
Methos was pressed against one of the standing stones, his free hand hiding his face. He made no sound, but only shook. Macleod felt like a bully.
"Don't. Please, Duncan."
"I'll tell you anything."
"Tell me what happens." This was met with silence. Duncan sighed. "I know you donít believe I can help you. Give in anyway. Tell me what happens."
Methos shoved away from the megalith and began to pace. Duncan realized that the blanket he was nearly tied in was probably just a disordered toga. Methos was not in command of himself. Despite his lucidity, his claims of sanity, he was holding himself together badly if at all. Duncan caught him as he paced by, but rather than holding him still, followed along beside him. "Please, Methos. Listen to me. Try."
He did stop then, and looked at Macleod in confusion. "Why?"
The question caught him unready. He did not know what was true or what they needed to do next. "You said, you said, you said Cassandra believed there might be a chance to stop you--"
"I notice you haven't taken it!"
"What makes you think the only chance is to kill you?" Macleod saw a flicker of--something. Something that wasn't fear or heartbreak and might be Methos' old intelligence. Reining in his triumph, Macleod said carefully, "What if it's me losing faith in you that does it? What if it's that moment when I give up and decide to take your head, or let--and what the hell were you thinking anyway--the Watcher doctors take it? What if that is what breaks you?"
For a moment there was hope. Then Methos looked away. "No. I'm sorry."
"Because it's something else?"
"You know this for a fact."
"What? Tell me. Tell me."
He dropped his head back, flat eyes focused on the dim sky and shook his head.
Macleod held Methos still with one arm coiled around his waist and with the free hand tilted his head down until their eyes met. "I will not lose you. Help me."
Methos shuddered and said slowly, "I cannot think it."
"All right." He held Methos to his chest with both arms, trying to offer comfort as much as confinement. I'm sorry, he thought. And then he whispered, "Cassandra." Heaven help him, this might be the wrong thing--
She stepped out from behind the stones but came no closer. She did not look happy to see him. Methos hid his face in Macleod's shoulder. Macleod wondered what to do next. He had to solve this problem. He had to manage them both just right, find the solution, say the perfect thing--
They had both been old before Rome fell. What the hell was he going to say that would manipulate either of them? So what came out wasn't anything beautiful or clarifying, it was just disappointed and true. "You tried to torture him to death. I thought you were bigger than that. I thought you were wiser than that. I believed in you."
"I know you did. But, Duncan, it was the only method I had."
"Bull shit." He turned so that his body was between Methos and the enemy he'd made. "Shoot from cover, take his head. Or give it to your student if you didn't want it yourself."
"You wouldn't have respected that cowardice."
"At least that wouldn't have been cruel. Was he worth your student? Was he worth losing you?"
She smiled sadly. "Oh, yes."
"His first act, the evil that began it all, was choosing to kill you."
Methos quaked at that. Duncan held him closer, but did not tear his eyes away from Cassandra. "Me--" he nearly raged. "How could this be about me? For either of you?" he shook Methos, shouted at him, "You have enough between you without me! What are you doing, dragging in an infant barbarian--"
Cassandra shook her head sadly, "I could not let you die. As angry as I was, I never--"
I'm sorry, Duncan. Cassandra wasn't seeing then. She was seeing now.
Duncan choked. "He tried to kill me to keep me from seeing what you believed he would become!"
She shook her had sadly. "Selfish, but Iím not surprised."
"The moment's past, Cassandra. Let him go."
"I'm not holding him."
Macleod closed his eyes. "The moment has past. Can't you see it? It's like a Greek tragedy; You're the king that gets the prophesy that his child or grandchild will kill him, so you send the baby away.... don't you see? If the king had only kept the baby close, and loved him--Don't you see it? Cassandra, if you had had the courage, the faith to come to us--"
For the first time since she had arrived, Methos spoke. His voice was nearly too soft to hear. "She didn't have the hope, Macleod. Whose fault is that?"
Dawson didn't look surprised, just a little worried, when the lightening struck from Duncan to Methos. Duncan wasn't upset either. Gee, guys, thanks for the warning, Amanda thought. But she kept the comment to herself; quickening bounding around was heavy stuff even when it happened the normal way.
Duncan ate some of the contraband Amanda had brought, and she braced for another thunderbolt. He just closed his eyes and sat still instead.
Well. This was interesting.
She snuck a look at Joe. He was leaning as far forward as he could, scarcely even blinking. Amanda wondered if he had any clue what was going on. Probably she shouldn't get her hopes up. Probably nothing would happen. She should be ready to help Duncan face this second failure, and maybe the next one, too.
Poor Duncan. He wouldn't give up after this battle, but if he lost this war, he would grieve horribly for Methos.
There was movement at last from the bed. Duncan reached up and took Methos' face in his hands. Amanda braced for another leap of quickening, but there was just a sharp "snap" and a quick flash from the bed just before the power went out and the barge was plunged into darkness.
"Don't move!" Amanda snapped as she strained to see the figures on the bed. If Methos chose this moment to try to flee--But no, she could make out the shapes of two forms. Neither was moving. Perhaps they weren't even aware of the power failure.
"Candles in the desk drawer," Joe said softly.
"Right." She got up, moving slowly, the gun still trained on the motionless shapes on the bed. She moved without looking where she was going, just sliding her feet along the floor and keeping her attention on the men she was guarding. No hurry.
She found the candles in the desk and lit them. Passing one up to Joe and keeping one for herself still left the room too dark, but she was afraid to leave fire unattended under the circumstances. One for each was all they should handle. Still moving carefully, still watching Duncan and Methos, still keeping the gun level, she went back to her seat on the stairs.
The waiting was terrible, or perhaps it was the silence. Joe seemed to think so, too, because, very softly, he started to sing: "Where do I go now? How can I set it free? Where do I find the words? What do you mean to me?" Amanda did not know the song, but what mattered was the comfort of a living voice. Surely it wasn't the dark getting to her. Darkness was a great friend to thieves. And, anyway, before electric light, nights had begun early and been very deep. Surely, she wasn't so spoiled? Not just in a hundred years or so?
"Just what is it I want? What the hell can I do? Why must I lie to myself? How do I get back to you?" Thank you Joe, she thought devoutly, even though it seemed to be a terribly sad song. Something lighter might be more helpful; this one made her think of Kenneth.
"Who was it put up this wall? Why can't we tear it down?"
She had failed Kenneth horribly. He had not been her first student, but it had been near enough, and he was the only one she had thought of as her own child. The one she'd loved with her whole heart, and she'd failed him--failed to protect him, failed to show him that being small and weak didn't necessarily mean being hopeless and desperate, failed to teach him joy. She had failed him completely, and it had been nearly too late before she'd realized that he was past the point where she could even reach him.
Her vision blurred. Amanda brushed the tears away with the back of the hand holding the candle so she wouldn't lose her shot.
The figures on the bed were still, except where the moving candlelight twitched their shadows here and there.
Joe had finished his sad song and moved on to "Stand by Me," which Amanda had heard him perform at the club. A capella, it made the hair stand up along her arms like the aura that proceeded a quickening. Then, shivering, Amanda realized that it wasn't the song, or not just the song. The climbing air pressure, the smell of ozone, shit, oh dear lord. Amanda's eyes narrowed and her face dipped a little away, although she kept watching the bed. Surely a quickening didn't take this long to rise?
Except it couldn't, could it? No one had lost a head, no one had even died. She wondered if she ought to just get Joe out of there, because no matter what happened, Mac and Methos would survive as long as swords weren't involved, but if the barge, for example, imploded or sank--
But Joe was still singing. The air seemed burning hot: how could he breathe, let alone sing? It was a song Amanda knew, a ridiculously obscure old ballad, except it was one of Duncan's favorites. The hand holding the candle shook and slopped hot wax onto her thumb. Amanda braced her hand on her thigh and began to sing: "O bonny Portmore, I am sorry to see; Such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree."
The air writhed under their voices and weird echoes seemed to swallow themselves against the walls of the barge. "For it stood on your shore for many's the long day; Till the long boats from Antrim came to float it away."
The burning prickled and sparked against her skin. Shaking, Amanda put down the gun. She had heard stories about quickenings that set off the powder in ammunition, although it had never happened to her.
"This isn't about what's between me and Methos, Duncan. This is about saving a defenseless world from Death on a Horse."
"No, it's not." Methos sagged in Macleod's arms, and, unable to hold him by strength alone, Duncan sank with him to kneel in the grass. "You saw it was Methos, and you took the most desperate act you could think of. You saw one possible future and you panicked."
"Yes. What were you thinking when you decided you could solve a problem by torturing a man to death?"
She shook her head slowly. "You forget, child. I've been watching you. I know the terrible things you've done. You are in no position to point fingers at me."
"I would take them back, if I could." He turned Methos in his arms so that Cassandra could see his face. "Take it back. Give up trying to stop him and save him."
"She can't," Methos whispered. "She's not alive. Her chances are all gone. She gave them up--" To stop Death. To prevent the unbearable. Because she was afraid.
"Then you do it. Methos, you're still alive. Free yourself. Forgive yourself. Don't settle for--this. For dying. For hating. For being afraid. For trying to let vengeance solve things--it doesn't. Even I know that. Don't stay here, not in this. Go forward." Methos didn't answer and Macleod wasn't even sure he was being heard. "Please. I love-- I loved you both. Don't let everything you've both managed in the last three thousand years come to nothing."
Clumsily, Methos pushed himself free of Macleod's arms and stood up. He stumbled toward Cassandra and sank down at her feet.
When Joe was at the Academy, the prevailing position was that all the entries on 'supernatural' happenings that came up from time to time in chronicles were just rampant superstition and hysteria. It was hard to stay calm and objective with quickenings and beheadings and eternal life happening on a daily basis, but if a field operative stuck to the rational and recordable, then everything would be fine.
As preparation for tonight went, it was wholly inadequate. Over the years, he hadn't gotten much use out of South Asian History or even Edged Weapons. A class in exorcisms would have been helpful. Or just a series on generally useful incantations and prayers.
Dear God, but nothing in his life had prepared him to love them so much, and now, when they were in such frightening need, nothing had prepared him to help them. The only real thing he had to offer was that he did love them, and he was singing so that they would remember that, if they needed it.
He had learned one useful thing at the damn Academy: the sanest of them--the most stable and well-grounded and flexible--were the ones who made friends occasionally, the ones who had people to love.
He could not see their faces. The dark forms on the bed were motionless, and had been for what felt like forever. Almost worse than the waiting was the complete ignorance. All the wounds were invisible. All the fighting was just out of sight. Their silence pressed back against the sound of Joe's voice, nearly drowning it out. He kept singing anyway.
MacLeod did not understand. Methos hoped he never would. There were some pains that were so terrible that they could never heal. There were some crimes so awful that nothing could expiate them. To try was less than useless. It would totally destroy you.
That was why he had never bothered with either guilt or restitution. They wasn't any point, seeing as there could never be enough.
Escape had been enough, freedom from the darkness. He had run from the blood, and that had been enough. For a long time it had been enough, and it was the best he could hope for.
Methos knelt on the brittle grass, his eyes on the space between Cassandra's bare feet. He could not deny her. He could not fight her.
And he would not turn his rage loose on the world. MacLeod had done that much, at least, with his innocent faith and persistence.
"I know what you are," she whispered. "You are evil to the core. Uncorrupted by compassion or kindness or even simple affection."
"No," MacLeod shouted desperately. "Not now. Not then, either! He let you go. Cassandra, he could have stopped you from escaping--"
This seemed to throw her. Her pale hands lifted, hesitating and uncertain. Then she reached into him and caught the memory--the cold of the night, the smell of horses, the soft step of a woman running.
"No," she said. And then, louder, "No! Not enough!"
"Never enough," he agreed. He held out his arms. He reached for her. Cassandra had taken one memory. Methos gently opened all of hers.
He hoped, as rage and pain and fear flooded into him, that MacLeod wasn't being drawn into this. There was bitterness he could not find words for. And terror that saturated every living moment for centuries.
There were memories of strength, containment...memories of being the dangerous, not the endangered.
There was love.
And then, there was Chronos, dragging her back to a cage. Darkness and death.
The hate washed over him and washed him away. As Methos lost the last of himself, he felt a small regret. He knew there was a world out there somewhere. He could, dimly, hear Joe and Amanda singing in it. Perhaps MacLeod could find his way out....
Amazingly, it ended. Unspeakable torment, but not eternal. The pain and the fear and hate weren't endless after all.
More amazingly, although the shrine and MacLeod and Cassandra were gone, Methos himself was not.
Or--no. Cassandra wasn't gone. She was just too close to see any more. And she was surprised, too, a soft echo of confusion. Surely between her pain and his evil nothing should be left?
And yet, something was left. Enough to notice its own existence. Perhaps enough to truly exist. And more than exist.
Methos began to laugh, and the echo in his heart laughed with him.
Something. There was hope in something.
The air in the barge was so still the shadows cast by the candle light were sharp and motionless. Amanda's skin burned with the crawl of static electricity. She was terrified there was something she should be doing--something obvious and essential--and she was just sitting there not doing it.
Suddenly, without any sense of arrival, there were three other Immortals in the room, not two. And then, before she could do more than dart a glance toward the locked door behind her, there was only one. The air was dead--empty and normal. Joe had stopped singing. Amanda had taken two steps toward the bed before she froze, remembering that she was approaching Methos as well as Duncan, and that it wasn't safe.
And then, as quickly as a light being turned on, the second quickening was back: two other Immortals in the room.
"Duncan?" she breathed.
She hadn't expected an answer, but the nearer figure rose--
And then stumbled to his knees beside the bed.
"Amanda," Joe said evenly, "I'm going to see if I can fix the lights."
"Right, yes." She stepped back and retrieved the gun. "Duncan? Are you all right?"
"Where's Methos," he gasped.
"He--he's right there. He hasn't moved." Which one of you died? She thought. Why did one of you die?
"Adam," said gently, trying to rouse Methos. "Adam, wake up." After a moment he said, "He's unconscious. God, but I don't want to think how much worse I may have just made things."
He didnít answer, but he sounded so exhausted and fearful Amanda couldn't work up any impatience.
The lights came up, finally. At last. Amanda blew out the candle and put it down.
It was make-work after that, doing to be doing. Amanda poured everyone who was awake a glass of brandy. Joe cleaned up Adam and then instructed Amanda to help him change the sheets. Duncan wandered around the barge moving piles of paper around, seemingly at random. When the bed was finished, Amanda corralled him by the desk and said, "Go on, get some sleep. I'll stay up and keep an eye on things."
"Amanda, we don't know--"
"He can be charming. He lies better than--"
"Hey, I've known him longer than you have. You're dead on your feet. Go on, get some sleep."
Duncan joined Methos on the bed and Joe retreated to the sofa. Amanda turned down the lights, checked the locks one more time and returned to her post on the stairs.
In the recurring nightmare, Joe stood in Mac's dojo holding a bloody sword.
God, not again.
He had had this dream so many times before that he knew what he'd see when he turned around. It didn't matter that he knew he hadn't used the sword that night, not to take Duncan's head. In the dream, when he turned around, there would be the body.
In 1445, a Watcher named Jean Duval, assigned to an Immortal named Celeste who was serially poisoning husbands for their money while simultaneously torturing selected servants for fun, got fed up with the swath of destruction (so tidily hidden by her wealth) and killed her. Permanently. Within a day, his supervisor had terminated him. Which was right, really. Under no circumstances was it acceptable for a Watcher to take an Immortal's head. Joe believed this. Once they started, once that line was crossed, how did you know where to stop? If it was all right to kill one murderer, wasn't it necessary to kill them all?
He had been sure that James was mentally ill. That night in the warehouse, watching his illusions of his brother-in-law's detachment and professionalism melt away, his heart had broken. Which of James' bloody and vicious assignments had broken him? And why hadn't anyone seen it? Even as James threatened to kill him, Joe's heart had wailed for his old friend.
Mad or not, though, James had killed Immortals. He had torn apart everything the Watchers stood for and threatened their existence. If Lynne hadn't been there Joe might have let James Horton die there on the floor of that warehouse. Let it be over. The best thing for everyone. Except for Lynne.
Less than a month later, Joe was talking Macleod into hunting Quentin Barnes. He told himself it wasn't the same: it wasnít a mortal taking the head, so it wouldn't start a war, and one of Barnes' own was making the final judgment. Immortals made that decision for one another all the time, after all. It was a fair fight, by the rules of the Game. Even during quiet times, it happened nearly once a week, somewhere in the world.
But it was all a slippery slope, wasn't it? He might tell himself he'd never gone too far, but three years ago, he'd picked up Duncan's sword with the full intent to use it. The contagious evil that had destroyed Jim Col T'ek had beaten Macleod as well, and rather than turn a psychotic Duncan Macleod loose on the world, he'd--
He'd sent Richie away. It wasn't just that the contaminated quickening had to be Lost; he really could have used Richie's help in moving and securing the body before Macleod came around. But the child had been traumatized enough.
So he'd sent Richie away.
And picked up the Katana.
And prepared to throw away everything he believed in--
To do the last thing a Watcher should ever do--
To murder the man he loved most in the world--
He had almost done it. And it would have been wrong because Methos--
Joe had nearly cost Macleod that chance. Very nearly. He had made the decision. In his heart, he had betrayed everyone. Never mind that in the end, he hadn't had the guts to go through with it. This was the dream where he faced his treachery. This was the dream where he turned around and faced the body of his best friend, his inspiration, his dearest love and lived with the fact that he had nearly stolen Duncan's chance at salvation because he thought he had the right to decide--
Knowing the dream would end when he looked and desperate to escape the weight of it, Joe turned around.
This time Andrea Henson was standing over Macleod. Smiling. "This is what happens when you get involved." She stepped toward him, her shoes leaving bloody footprints on the wooden floor. "Tell me, do the speculations about how...talented they are even begin to cover the truth?"
Joe opened his eyes on the dim barge. For a moment he felt a happy relief, until he realized that the Katana was still in his hand. Oh, God, not awake--
A soft footfall made him look up. Adam approached softly, smiling a little. Gently, he took the sword from Joe's hand. "Good-bye," he said, and the blade flashed as it came down.
It was the feel of his own sweat, icy and slick, that convinced him that he was awake this time. Really awake. He shivered.
"Say what you want about their society, their art was exquisite." Amanda's voice was so soft Joe almost wondered if he was imagining it. "Those people knew how to work gold."
"It's wonder they had time; they were so busy going to war and trying to hack each other to bits." Adam, also speaking in a whisper. Joe shivered again. "Generated lots of lovely war poetry, I admit, but that's hardly a reason to live there. Literature and gold are nice, very nice. But excitement and heroism are over-rated."
"I suppose you prefer Switzerland."
"Hell yes, I love the Swiss."
"Hey. Where are you going? We agreed you'd stay there."
"Shh. Joe's awake, and he's upset."
"How do you know?"
"He didn't turn over and start snoring. Now please, out of the way. Amanda. If you shoot me, you'll wake Macleod, and he needs his rest."
The soft pad of bare feet on the stairs. A shift in the fall of shadows. Adam knelt beside the couch. "Are you all right?" he murmured.
Joe held very still. Unarmed and nearly naked, he had no chance against Methos; neither escape nor victory was possible. Nobody could fight him, so there was no point in even trying. "That depends," he whispered.
"On whether I'm still trying to kill you?"
Joe reached for the only weapon he had, hoping that even if Methos was still mad, he still loved him. "Adam, I don't care what's going to happen. My choice is to try to help you. I don't give up. And if you take that choice away from me, I'll never forgive you. Not as long as you live."
Slowly, Methos smiled. "Ah, Joseph. That would be such poor repayment for the mercy I've been shown. No. I don't give up, either."
"Mercy?" Joe asked, wondering if it was safe to hope yet.
The smile was in full bloom now, almost giddy. Methos' teeth flashed slightly in the dimness. "Mercy. For me. Who could have imagined it? I certainly couldn't. I've been running from mercy and justice alike for years, thinking--" he stopped and took a shaky breath. "I thought regret was pointless and I didn't even think about hope, but Joe--" He stopped again, inarticulate and overcome. It was this that convinced Joe most of all. If Methos were trying to convince Joe that all was well so that he would die happy he would paint beautiful, convincing pictures with words. He wouldn't stammer and murmur, "I don't give up. I don't give up, I promise you."
Joe sat up and tentatively held out his hand. The hand that rose to meet it was strong and warm. Somewhere in Joe's throat a thread of hope began to uncoil. It seemed to choke him to silence. Adam leaned forward and very gently kissed him. A wicked voice whispered, Now. Now, when you are happy again. But Adam only slid a hand around Joe's waist, slipping under his tee shirt, brushing his skin like hot silk....
Adam, please, please let this be real.
The kiss deepened, Adam's gentle, clever tongue slipping in for small, delicate tastes. Joe's soft groan was as much desire as relief.
"Methos!" the hiss cut the darkness like a flash of lightening. "You know I'll do it. Get away from him."
Adam laughed silently as he lifted his head, but Joe ran hot and cold with shock and embarrassment. He had forgotten Amanda. Astonishing, but true. The fact that she was standing guard had just slipped his mind, and the idea that she had just watched--
Adam was pulling away, and Joe caught his shoulder, unwilling to let him slip away. "It's all right. I'll be responsible."
"You can't tell Mac that if Methos kills you," she snapped in that same, carrying hiss. "Sorry," she added.
"Amanda," he said, and she gave way, lowering the gun and crossing to the other side of the room.
Adam sighed and moved forward again. Joe halted him with a hand. "She's still watching," he whispered.
"So? Privacy is a modern conceit." He ducked around Joe's arm to murmur in his ear. "Hardly necessary." The murmur turned into a gentle nuzzle. "Most of human history--"
And it had been a few days--hell it had been an eternity--and adrenalin always left a little need in its wake, and Adam knew just how to touch him...but dammit, they had an audience, and it wasn't just anyone. It was Amanda. Joe might need to talk to her at some point in the future.
--The thought was as stimulating as hell, but--
He would have to look her in the eye. Pass her the potatoes. Sing while she sat in the audience.
It wasn't like he'd never thought about her that way--
--What, exactly would he say to Mac afterward?
Adam's teeth tickled at Joe's earlobe.
"Bastard," Joe gasped, shoving him away.
Adam laughed, his shadowed eyes full of promise. "All right, fine. Reject me now. After all I've been through."
Joe wanted to laugh. And he wanted to slug him.
Adam climbed up onto the sofa and tugged Joe gently toward him. "Here. Lie down. Put your head--yes." He settled Joe's head in his lap and pulled the blanket up to cover most of them both. "There. We'll just sleep. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here."
Joe pressed his face into Adam's thigh to keep from laughing aloud with relief and frustration. Adam's long fingers were slowly twining themselves in Joe's hair. It felt...not bad, actually. This was all right....
Joe fell asleep almost at once.
Methos did not sleep at all. He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the couch, but he wasn't the least bit tired and, anyway, he didn't want to let this moment slip away. The sounds of the cars and the river and the muggy Paris night were strikingly beautiful and very nearly made him poetic: 'the music of life' or somesuch.
Even dearer than that was the warm weight of Joe's head on his leg. It wasn't a surprise, this trust. Joe knew him, had known him. Even when he was pissed off enough to say that he didn't, it wasn't convincing. Ah, kid, he thought tenderly.
And finally there was the memory, still bright and fresh, like a new dream. It might fade, eventually. He might lose some of this wonder, this hope. Oh, but he wished that he'd had the courage to show Cassandra--living--his regret and compassion. He wished she would have had the courage to accept it.
Never mind. He had hope, now. Anything was possible.
Amanda put the gun out of reach on the dining table, snared a blanket that had been left on a chair, and, dropping a pillow on the floor, settled herself at Methos' feet. He looked down at her curiously. She shrugged. "Pinning you down should be enough."
Methos could see, sometimes, why Rebecca had been so fond of this one. Wild and irresponsible, yes, but loyal. She leaned her head against his knee, and he rested his free hand on her hair.
And so he passed what remained of the night, pinned between them and happy to be so. Dear children, both of them. More than he deserved, really, friends like this. But then that was the point of hope, wasn't it? That you might get more than you expected, more than you had any right to.
Much more, really.
He was awake when night turned to morning, the dim shapes of furniture rising from the shadows, growing first edges, then little shadows of their own. Light was amazing, really. They knew quite a bit about it now. Maybe he should study physics for a while....
Behind him the bed creaked as Macleod woke and rose. He would have liked to get up and meet him, but before he could even think of rousing or slipping away from the friends using him as a pillow the moment was passed and Duncan was standing over him in the early light.
He looked down thoughtfully and whispered, "You had an orgy, and you didn't invite me? You had an orgy in my living room and you didn't invite me?"
"Not yet," Methos breathed.
Duncan retrieved a pillow and, pausing for her sleepy kiss, transferred Amanda from Methos' leg to it. Then he knelt and laid a hand on Joe's shoulder. When the mortal didn't wake, Duncan shifted him and Methos slid free. Joe's eyes slitted open, and Duncan murmured reassuringly as Methos replaced himself with a pillow.
Silently, they crept out on deck. It was cool and bright outside. Sunlight glittered on the river on the windows surrounding them. It was a clichť of a beautiful morning, and Methos had to smile to himself.
Duncan laid a hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right."
Methos nodded. "All right" was not enough, and if he opened his mouth to explain, he might burst into tears.
Gently, Duncan pulled him into a hug. He was warm and solid, a lovely counterpoint to the cool, slightly damp air. "Iím sorry," he whispered. "I did everything wrong. You got out of this despite me, not because I saved you, Methos."
Methos laughed at that. "I got out of this because you loved me enough to keep trying. I got out of this because you are all so much braver than I am. I--" but he had to stop. It was all so much. "I love you, you know."
Macleod chuckled. "Well, you'd have to, to put up with me."
It seemed terribly funny, but Methos only laughed a little. At the first leak of tears he shut his mouth and leaned into the strong arms that held him. They stood for a long time, until Methos sighed and turned in Duncan's arms so that he was facing the river. "It's like the first time I saw glass. Good glass, you know. Hard as rock and utterly clear and flat. If people can make that--anything is possible."
"Yes, I remember...."
"Or the first time I saw paper." Slightly giddy, he leaned back into the strong arms that held him. "Anything."
"Anything? So? What are you going to do with your day?"
"I thought we could have a party."
Duncan laughed. "Ambitious."
"We'll invite Maurice and Amy," he said firmly. "Are Gina and Robert back in town yet?"
"Ah. Marcus Constantinius. And Edwina Corbin."
Duncan nodded slowly. "Oh. I see. Anything is possible."
"And that slimy bastard who gave Joe a hard time about being abducted. Bialik. We'll invite him."
Duncan stiffened. "When did that happen?"
"Oh, Thursday night. Whenever that was. It's time we all had a nice little talk."
"Good lord. Since when do you get involved in these things?"
Methos shrugged. "Anything is possible."
Behind him, Duncan laughed gently in his ear. "Oh, yes. Anything."