It was a beautiful day, so Methos had been expecting something to go wrong. It wasn't that the weather had been particularly good; in Seacouver it was never especially bad, save during the winter. It was just that, so far today, everything that could go right had. It had begun in the morning, when he had turned on the radio to the opening strains of his favourite Queen song - and the announcer hadn't even talked over the end of it, so he hadn't had to shout at the radio. The shower had been the right temperature straight away, his socks had been where he had expected them to be - and in a pair - and best of all Mark Stepford on the floor beneath had clearly still been asleep. Stepford had become the bane of Methos' existence, immediately after moving into the building, by always being in the lobby to pick up his paper when Methos headed off in search of breakfast; and he was quite possibly the most boring man that the old Immortal had yet encountered. That was quite a remarkable title, given five thousand years worth of meetings, but Methos was fairly sure that he deserved it. Anybody who got between him and breakfast with a full volume lecture on the day's financial index, cross-correlated to theories of the economy through the ages, deserved some kind of boredom award - or possibly a beating, Methos hadn't decided. It wouldn't have been so bad if Stepford's historical theories had been accurate, but since Methos had lived through all the ages that he was being lectured on, and knew that every one of his neighbour's tedious theories was wrong, the whole experience became even more annoying still. He hadn't ruled out murder - not yet, anyway. By means of flaying, preferably. That or just performing a simple tongue removal to shut the fool up less fatally.
But today he hadn't had to worry. The lobby had been clear, the cafe where he had taken to eating breakfast had been quiet, his favourite waitress had been on duty and had brought him his order without him needing to ask - perfect all the way. Even the beer had been the right temperature. He hadn't been accosted by Stepford on his way back into the apartment building either.
Things had only got better as the day had progressed. Nobody had interrupted his morning's hard lazing; the sun had shone obligingly onto his balcony, without once disappearing behind a surly cloud; and he had discovered, to his delight, that the cool box he kept out there still had a bottle of beer in it, so he hadn't had to go all the way inside to find the fridge. It was a beautiful June day, he was on a particularly good chapter in the latest Harry Potter book, and Duncan MacLeod was visiting friends in Canada. Perfection in almost every way. With no Highlander to suddenly drag him into another escapade, or insist upon his help in some supposedly charitable endeavour, the day stretched ahead in untarnishable splendour. He might actually get to finish the book, instead of having to leave it to go and rescue somebody. Things really couldn't get any better.
Except that they had. Joe had called to say that he had had to go into the jazz club early, and had done all the tidying up whilst he was there - so Methos didn't have to bother. He had arrived at work later on to find that the live band who were playing that night were old friends, who had been happy to throw a few rock songs into their play-list for the night - and Joe hadn't even complained. All far too good to be true. At half past eleven that night, when the day's deluge of wonderful happenings might have lulled a less suspicious man into a false sense of security, he was sitting on a bar stool taking a break, certain that something must be about to go wrong. Joe tried joking that it must be hard always being so pessimistic, but Methos merely sighed and shook his head.
"Not pessimistic, Joe. Realistic."
"And right." He sighed, certain that such misery was the best course of action at the end of a perfect day. "It's universal law, Joe. Nothing can be this good without something bad to balance it. Yin and Yang. Something's sure to happen."
"You've had a good day. Enjoy it. If it'll make you feel any better you can always stub your toe when you get up tomorrow morning."
"Very funny. I'm being serious here, you know. The last time I had a day as good as this one, I was kidnapped the very next day by an old rival, who tried to have two horses tear me in half. Then in 1612, I--"
"Save me the bizarre life stories, Adam. And keep your voice down. My clientele hear the barman talking about what he was doing back in 1612, and they'll stop coming here."
"They wouldn't dare." He waggled his empty glass hopefully, and got a sour look in reply. "Oh go on, Joe. I've only had the one all evening."
"I should hope so too! You're her to serve it, old man, not drink it. Now get back behind the bar and--" He saw the change come over the previously relaxed face, and frowned. "What is it?"
"What do you think." Climbing slowly off the bar stool, Methos let his eyes wander over the room. He couldn't see anybody else who was on the alert. Joe stared around as well.
"Mac's plane was due in half hour ago. Maybe it's him?"
Methos shook his head. "Not MacLeod. He'd say hello. Even with his warped sense of humour he wouldn't leave this hanging. I--" He broke off. "Oh hell."
"You see him?"
"No." He pushed away from the bar, heading for the door that led into Joe's office. He hadn't seen the door open or close; hadn't seen anybody going that way; but he knew that it was where the Immortal had gone. And to think that Joe had mocked him for saying that the day was bound to turn bad. He pushed the door open, knowing without a doubt that things were most definitely going to get very bad indeed - for he had recognised the aura even though it was different these days. Half expecting an attack, he stood back as the door swung wide, looking out for scything swords or flying knives. A club full of mortal witnesses was no deterrent for some people, after all. There was no attack though, mock or otherwise; just a dark shape sprawled comfortably in a room that could only aspire to be just as dark. The smile was invisible, but Methos knew that it was there - broad and bright and dangerous.
"Hello brother." He knew the voice as well as he knew his own, and despite himself he returned both the smile and the greeting.
"Hello." He wandered into the room and pushed the heavy leather boots off Joe's desk. "Were you wanting something?"
"You don't look very surprised to see me."
"No." He sat down on the edge of the desk and stared at his fellow Immortal, basking in feelings of vindication. "Since you mention it, I rather think I've been expecting you all day."
"Yeah?" The grin was just as invisible as before, but Methos nevertheless knew that it had grown bigger. "Been having a good day then?"
"Ah." The dark head shook slowly, from side to side. "Oh Methos. You and your theories. So by that token, you must be heading for a truly dreadful time in the next few hours." There was a light laugh. "And I'm here. How's that for coincidence?"
"Exactly." Methos could feel his heart sinking into his shoes. "I knew today was too good to be true."
"You wait and see, brother. I'll show you what a really good time is like."
"Oh." Methos' heart, if it was possible, sunk even further. He was fairly certain it had now left his body entirely, and was off in search of the beer cellar. "Well lucky me."
"Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, you know."
"Yeah." Methos pushed himself to his feet and turned back towards the door. "And yet where you're concerned it always seems strangely fitting. Come on brother."
"Where are we going?"
"In search of a sceptical mortal. If you're going to show me a good time, you're going to show him one as well."
"Oh. Okay." Kronos didn't particularly seem to care. "Well, you know what they say. The more the bloodier."
"Yeah." Methos led the way out into the bar, to the strains of his favourite Queen song, this time played by a band live on stage. It looked like the day was ending as it had begun then - on a note of promise, and with the threat of so much worse. Oh good. Well it was nice to be consistent. Smile grim, a gleam of wickedness in his eyes, he ushered Kronos over towards Joe. If there was misery coming in the next twenty-four hours, he was damn well going to spread it around.
He liked being generous, every once in a while.
The clientele at Joe's club had been present at more than one Immortal meeting; and more than one of the violent altercations that so often resulted. Many of them were people that Methos recognised from old shoot outs, shouting matches and sudden attacks of fisticuffs, so presumably they should be fairly good by now at reading the danger signs. They might not know anything about Immortals, but presumably they knew when things were likely to get nasty. They were relaxed tonight though, which might have been reason for him to be the same. On the other hand, if their judgement was so bad that they kept returning to a club where so many of them had nearly been killed at least once, maybe he shouldn't be taking any notice of their instincts. He stayed tense.
"So..." Joe Dawson never knew what to say to Kronos. They had met often enough now, but their relationship remained on a very dodgy footing. Kronos was evil, that much Joe was sure of. He also didn't seem to like mortals very much. And yet somehow he always seemed strangely friendly. "Um... been in town long?"
"No. I always come straight to visit my brother. It would be rude to come to town and not say hello." Kronos pushed his glass back across the counter, and Methos, unwillingly, refilled it. Kronos had a remarkable capacity for alcohol, and rarely got drunk no matter how much he consumed - but even so there could be other nasty effects. Strong whisky tended to bring out the sadist in him. And the more wicked side to his sense of humour. "I did make one little stop before I came here though."
"Oh?" Methos pondered the possibilities. Looking for MacLeod, for a quick exchange of hostilities? Finding some innocent mortal to terrorise, just for a bit of practice? Kronos smiled at him, eyes dancing dangerously, and drained the glass again.
"Dropped by your place. I'm travelling with a friend, and she was tired, so I left her there. Didn't think you'd mind."
"Oh. Right. She another fencing enthusiast?"
"Fencing enthusiast?" Kronos laughed his soft, light laugh. "Methos, brother--"
"Adam." Methos' tight smile was a mask for his irritation. Nobody else was listening to the conversation, and the club's mortal patrons couldn't have cared less what their barman was talking about, but that was no reason for letting his guard down. Kronos rolled his eyes.
"Adam. No, she's no 'fencing enthusiast'. Ordinary type. Manic depressive, suicidal, disassociative. You know mortals." He grinned. "I mean, you know these 'non-fencing types'. They miss out on so much, liking other sports instead."
"At which juncture I think it would be a good idea for you to take the rest of the evening off." Joe gestured sharply for Methos to come out from behind the bar, and then moved to take his place. "Go home, take your friend here, and find yourselves some other form of entertainment for the rest of the night, okay? I'll see you around."
"Delighted." Kronos handed over his empty whisky glass as though it were some spectacular trophy, then followed it with a hundred dollar bill. "That is the right currency, isn't it. I get confused."
"So do I." Joe took the glass and the money. "When 'fencing enthusiasts' start congregating in my bar, I usually get confused about giving change. I just don't understand it."
"Don't worry about it." Kronos flashed him a winning smile, which sent an inexplicable shiver down Dawson's spine. "Plenty more where that came from."
"I don't think I want to know." Checking it over in case it was a forgery, Joe put the bill into the cash register and glared at Methos. "Get him out of here Adam. I'll drop by later, make sure your head's still where it's supposed to be. Until then you can entertain the guest from hell on your own. Get him out of my club."
"We were hoping that you'd join us, Joe..." Seeing that he was already on a losing streak with that one, Methos sighed and steered Kronos away from the bar, before the argument he could see looming between his two incompatible friends could spark into life. Joe looked relieved, and flashed a farewell wave that made the old man glower. So much for spreading out the misery. Simmering gently, he guided Kronos towards the door and out into the street, rather put off by the fact that the Horseman didn't seem to be objecting to the manhandling. If Kronos wasn't complaining it was usually because he was getting ready to kill somebody.
"You seem tense, brother." His voice was actually quite light, but as Methos remembered it that was usually a reason to worry too. In general, with Kronos pretty much everything was a reason to worry.
"I'm always tense when you show up," he shot back, trying to keep one eye on the younger man's sword arm. Not that the other arm wasn't just as dangerous, especially if there were any daggers secreted about his clothing. Which there usually were. Kronos laughed at him.
"Relax. I'm not here for arguments, or for killing. Just for visiting, and maybe a chat... Listen, something's up."
"With you, something's always up." Methos frowned. "Did you just say that you'd come for a chat? You? You never want to chat."
"Are you turning into poor old Kerensky, brother? That borrowed brain of yours finally get confused over which of you it's supposed to belong to?"
"It wouldn't dare." Sounding exasperated, Kronos pushed his brother up against the nearest wall, rather harder than he had intended, and held him there. His voice dropped down low, to a typically dramatic whisper. "I am not turning into Peter Kerensky. I am not getting confused. I want to talk. Alright?"
"Yeah. Fine. Okay." Methos didn't try to break free. "We'll er... let's get back to my place then, yeah?"
"That was the plan. Like I said, there's somebody there that I want you to meet."
"You want to give me a heads up, or do I just have to play this one by ear?"
"I'm sorry brother." Kronos looked about, obviously wondering if there was anybody likely to be within earshot. "I don't want to talk about this out in the open. Wait until we're back at your apartment."
"Okay." Stepping away from the wall as he was released, Methos straightened his perpetually rumpled clothing, and started off again on the walk back home. Kronos was agitated; worried even. He wondered why. So much for a quiet night and another chapter of Harry Potter. By the look of things he wasn't going to be relaxing again for some while.
They didn't talk for the rest of the way to Methos' apartment. Kronos was obviously not in a chatty mood, and Methos wasn't sure quite what to say. A welcome of any kind would only encourage his wayward brother to visit more often - which was sure to be disastrous - and besides, Methos had no intention of letting the younger Immortal know just how glad he was to see him. So he said nothing, only wondered about his unknown mortal house guest, and thought about what might be the result of all of this. Things were never uneventful when Kronos visited.
"So who is this guest?" He had put off the question until they were practically at his front door, and he asked it now with considerable trepidation. Trying to guess what surprises Kronos was about to spring was like trying to guess what went on in Duncan MacLeod's mind when he was off on one of his hero drives. How anybody could still be unfathomable after four thousand years of friendship Methos didn't know, but Kronos managed it, almost every time.
"I hope you didn't break the lock," he commented idly, when he got no response to his original question. Kronos shot him a displeased look.
"Break it? Methos, I've been picking locks for almost as long as there have been locks. Why would I damage your door?"
"Because it's supposed to be some newfangled security thing. A lock that can't be picked."
"Locks aren't usually tested for their resilience to four thousand year old thieves, brother. Anyway, I didn't pick it. I used my key."
"Your key? Since when did you have a key to my apartment?"
"Since I least visited." The irrepressible Immortal was dangling a little key in the air. Methos made a grab for it, and missed.
"I didn't give you a key. You never even held my key. How the hell did you manage to copy it?"
"Simple genius, what else. I made a mould from the lock, and cut the key myself. I've always been a passable locksmith, and I thought it might come in handy. Can't be sure that you'll always be in when I come visiting, can I."
"Uptight jerk." They shared a smile. "If it bothers you so much, brother dearest, you can have the key back. I'll even claim that I didn't make any copies."
"I wouldn't believe you, so you might as well not bother." He dug out his own key, unlocking the door and pushing the door wide open without making any attempt to enter. Kronos laughed.
"Always expecting an attack."
"I learn by experience. And given the sort of person that you're likely to have accompanying you, you're damn right I'm expecting an attack. I may trust you - occasionally, and against my better judgement - but I don't trust your friends."
"Probably sensible. I don't trust my friends. This one's different though, and she's why I came."
"Yes, of course. You said that it was a she." Methos pushed Kronos over the threshold, then followed him when there was no attack from behind the door. "So who is she exactly? A rich heiress seeking adventure? A bored murderess looking for a fun massacre?"
"Actually no. And possibly yes." Kronos turned away, heading for the bedroom to emerge a second later with a young woman holding his hand. She looked about thirty, Methos reckoned. Black, more or less, and dressed in drab and functional clothing. She looked tired, beaten by life, her shoulders weighed down by personal burdens. There was a look of hopelessness in her eyes as well, which emphasised the general sense of emptiness. Methos couldn't help but wonder what had driven her to such a state.
"This is Sophie." Kronos made the announcement with no particular warmth or cheer; it wasn't a friendly introduction. "Sophie, this is Methos. He's my brother, and he's considerably more dangerous that I am, so watch yourself." She smiled faintly, lifelessly, and nodded at Methos.
"Hi." Her voice was as dull as everything else about her; the voice of somebody whose life was nothing but a simple going through with the motions. She was a shell; an empty vessel, from which her voice rang hollowly.
"Hi." He glanced towards Kronos. This was the person his brother had brought to see him? A sad soul devoid of life, whose only true animation was the echo of sorrow deep within her eyes? The man truly was unfathomable. "So um... why exactly are you here?"
"Visiting." Kronos directed Sophie towards a chair, where she sat, silent and still. "We got bored back in Europe. Sophie had seen everything that she was likely to see, so I suggested the States. It's as good a place as any if you're looking for a new horizon."
"New horizons are in the east, where the sun rises. It's only old horizons that you find in the west." Methos fixed his brother with a particularly piercing stare. "You always told me that."
"True. Thing about the east, though - and I have nothing against it, since it's where I've spent most of my happiest times - is that you're not in it." He shrugged. "So we came west. Seacouver's a nice sort of place. Water, some boats, a few nice Japanese gardens on display..."
"And my brother. The oldest Immortal alive, who - whilst not necessarily managing to be the wisest of us... by a long shot--"
"If you're trying to flatter me into helping you, you've obviously got a few things still to learn." Methos folded his arms, letting the impatience show in his body as well as his voice. "Spit it out. Just don't suddenly get mad and slit my throat or anything."
"I'm not in a killing mood." Kronos was very still, one of the danger signs for those who recognised such things. His voice had gone very soft, very precise. "As I was saying, you may not be the wisest of us, but you do have a lot of information tucked away in that head of yours. I need some answers."
"I'm not some fountain of all world knowledge, you know. I've spent five thousand years letting everything in one ear and out the other." Methos wished that Joe would let him take his sword to the club with him, so that it would be on his person right now, and not hidden in the bedroom in case of break ins whilst he was gone. "Taking my head won't give you any--"
"Methos, will you relax?! I don't want your head. Horrible ugly thing, and the nose is frankly absurd." Kronos stared long and hard at Sophie, then twitched his head to show her that she should leave. She did so, rising to her feet slowly and without enthusiasm, going out onto the balcony. After a moment she shut the glass door, effectively sealing herself out of the room. Methos frowned.
"That wasn't very friendly. Couples usually share their secrets, you know."
"Couples?" Kronos sounded genuinely dumbfounded. "You think I'd choose that? Willingly? I picked her up for some entertainment. She was so screwed up, and I thought that it-- Well, it doesn't matter what I thought, does it. You know what she is?"
"She's a pre-Immortal. Back at the club you said that she was a mortal. Don't tell me you're losing your ability to detect these things?"
"No. Or at least I don't think so." He was frowning, restless and agitated. Methos wasn't familiar with the sight of an uneasy Kronos, and it made him uneasy as well.
"What is it? Come on Kronos, you've never bothered hiding things from me in the past. So she's a pre-Immortal. So what?"
"She didn't used to be." He sat down heavily in the chair that she had vacated, and stared back at his ancient brother. "When we met, she was just an ordinary mortal. A bored mortal, who had lost the will to live. Then suddenly one day she's on her way to being one of us."
"That can't happen, brother. Maybe you didn't notice before. Maybe you had too much on your mind? Maybe you're out of practice? How long is it since you encountered a pre-Immortal?"
"Years. Centuries maybe, I don't know. All beside the point though, isn't it. I know the feeling when it comes, just like I know the feeling of another Immortal when it comes. She wasn't one of us before."
"Kronos... not every Immortal can detect a pre-Immortal. Not everybody has the focus... knows what to look for... If your mind wasn't quiet enough, then--"
"Methos!" He stood up, striding over to stand before his brother, his whole body tense with fury. "She was not one of us. I know. We met, and there was nothing. No buzz, no flare. I was with her for long enough to have noticed anything like that. Then there was another Immortal. I took his head, and..." He shrugged. "It felt different. The rush was still there. The pain, the thrill. The recharge. It felt as wonderful as ever in that regard, except..."
"You know the feeling... at the heart of the Quickening. A flash of another's memory, the fusion of their energy with yours. For the shortest of times you see the world through their eyes, relive key moments of their life, see the things that have meant most to them over the years."
"The exchange of experiences." Methos nodded, eyes closed for a second as he recalled the feeling. It was the point of a Quickening, essentially. The harvesting of another's strength and experience, so that one day the One that was left would have all of the strength and the power of all the Immortals who had come before him. "Why?"
"Because it didn't happen. I took his head, I felt the pain and the pleasure... but nothing else. I didn't feel his life, his past, his energy. And then afterwards, after a few days had gone by... I suddenly realised that Sophie was a pre-Immortal." He sat down again, and rubbed his eyes. "So?"
"What do you think?" Kronos was drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair now, his eyes peculiarly intense. "Damn it Methos, I didn't come here so that you could tell me I was imagining things. I didn't come on a whim. I want theories. I don't ask for help lightly."
"Yeah, I know that." Methos threw away the teasing mockery of earlier, and met his brother's hard and earnest eyes. "Okay, let's think this through. You're one hundred percent positive that she wasn't a pre-Immortal?"
"If she had been I'd have taken her head. She was fun to keep alive because she was a mortal. Now I don't know what she is."
"Screwed up, by the look of things." Methos sighed. "Okay. So she's an ordinary mortal, and then you killed an Immortal... and then suddenly she's one of us, or nearly. There's only one thing that can have happened, isn't there. You said that the Quickening didn't feel right... so maybe... she got it instead?"
"That's impossible, Methos. All these thousands of years, you'd think we'd have heard of it happening before. Mortals don't get the Quickening."
"Mortals don't suddenly turn into pre-Immortals, either, but you're saying that's what happened. Kronos, I'm not saying that this is what happened. I'm just coming up with theories. Think about it though. It makes sense."
"It makes no sense. How could she suddenly--" He broke off, staring at the floor. Methos nodded.
"Greece." He spoke softly, with an air of compassion. "You got in the way when Connor MacLeod was about to take my head. You broke the Rules."
"I saved your life. If I hadn't intervened we'd probably all be dead. We'd have killed each other just like those people planned, and then they'd have taken the survivor's head. I saved us all."
"That's true." Methos smiled faintly. "Although somehow I doubt that it was entirely your intention. Look brother, I'm not blaming you. I'm glad that you stopped Connor. I'm happy that I'm still alive. I'm just saying that you broke the Rules. We don't know what happens when we do that. It certainly doesn't happen very often, and we don't really even know if it's ever happened before."
"So this is the penalty? Whenever I kill an Immortal somebody else takes their place? Somebody else gets their essence?"
"Yeah." For a long moment Methos couldn't meet the other man's eyes. "You've been taken out of the Game, brother."
"Taken out..." He frowned, mulling the thought over in his mind. It didn't seem possible. For four thousand years he had known of the Rules of the Game; had repeated them to others, followed them, joked about them. Every Immortal heard about them as soon as they discovered the truth of their existence; every Immortal knew that they had to be followed. But nobody knew why. "What does this mean, exactly? If I've been taken out of the Game... well who by?"
"That's the million drachma question, isn't it." Methos got up and went over to his mini bar, with its almost embarrassingly comprehensive array of different types of alcohol. He poured out a good measure of whisky, and handed it to his companion. "To be honest I've always wondered if the Rules ever really meant anything at all. You remember the debates we used to have, wondering whether there was any point sticking to them; who would do anything about it if we didn't."
"You told me that it was probably just something that the earliest of us came up with, as part of their explanations to themselves about what they were. A mixture of superstition and quasi-religious belief. You weren't even sure that there would be a Gathering, or a One."
"But time has proved me wrong. You know what happened to Connor MacLeod in 1986. Some quirk of chance left so few Immortals in the whole of the American continent that they experienced a mini-Gathering; and he wound up with something that could almost have been the Prize; a massive Quickening, stronger than anything he'd known before - and he's taken a lot of heads. When I tapped into the Watcher records and heard about that, I had to rethink a lot of things. Maybe there is somebody watching over all of this, arranging the Game, putting us here in the first place."
"And making us atone for breaking the Rules." Kronos downed the whisky. "Oh well. At least I know that I'm not going crazy. She was just an ordinary mortal."
"And now she isn't. You're going to have to think carefully about taking heads in the future, Kronos my lad."
"And pigs can fly." Kronos turned away to look at Sophie, standing on the balcony, her back to the room. She didn't care what they were talking about. She didn't care about much these days. When he had found her in Poland she had been looking to him for reasons to live, but since setting off with him on a jaunt about the world she seemed to have lost even that spark. She was only alive now when she was terrified; when he was doing things that shook her to the core. She stayed with him for those moments of fear, and the rest of the time was dead to everything. What was he supposed to do with her now? Tell her that her torment really would be eternal, unless somebody bothered to take her head? It was the sort of faintly sick joke that might have amused him, if he hadn't been strangely concerned for her welfare. She'd been fun, if he was honest, and he felt that he owed her some sympathy. A little bit. A very little bit... Maybe it was rather amusing after all. Methos also stared out through the window.
"She'll have to be told," he pointed out. "Unless you're planning to take her head and have done with it."
"And turn another mortal? Not your greatest plan ever."
"It wasn't a plan." Methos took the empty whisky glass and refilled it, at the same time filling one for himself. "Damn it Kronos, did you ever do anything that didn't cause problems for somebody?"
"I don't see how this causes problems for you." He downed the second whisky as quickly as the second, apparently just as able as ever to handle his alcohol. "It's not you she's latched onto."
"Don't pull that hard luck trick, brother. If she's latched onto you, you know whose fault it is. You didn't have to pick her up and screw with her mind." He sighed. "Anyway, it is my problem, isn't it. You brought her here. The whole thing is my problem. You, the Game, the consequences for the mortals if you keep on taking heads. Who knows who might wind up suddenly turning into a pre-Immortal next time? The Watchers will be furious."
"What's it got to do with them? The mortals need never know that anything is amiss. Pre-Immortals don't find out about us until they experience First Death - so it won't be any different for mortals who turn, will it. They might be a little confused..."
"Confused? Kronos, she's practically lost her mind. If she was close to the edge anyway, and she suddenly got a bunch of somebody else's memories pipe-lined straight into her brain in the space of a nanosecond, then goodness knows how messed up she is now. Last thing we need is a crowd of half mad ex-mortals wandering around and joining in with the Game."
"They won't all be confused. She wasn't really; not at first. She didn't seem any different until later." He shrugged. "And even so, what's it got to do with the Watchers? Confounded busybodies, muscling in on our world."
"Yes, precisely. Well, not exactly, but..." Methos finished his own whisky, thinking about Joe Dawson and his daughter Amy. They were people that he cared about, and spent a good proportion of his life helping out - but he had no intention of letting them know any of this. "The Watchers do have their uses, believe it or not, but I don't want them knowing any more than they have to. If our theory is right, and you really have been punished in some way for breaking the Rules, it presents all kinds of questions about us. About our creation, about the mechanics of immortality... I don't want anybody to know about that."
"I'd be happy if the Watchers didn't know anything about anything." Kronos began to pace, slowly and thoughtfully.
"Yes, well it doesn't work that way. Like it or not, we're stuck with the Watchers. They're not going anywhere. Which means..."
"Which means that somebody is bound to find out something about all of this if we're not very careful. Yes, thankyou but I got that already." Kronos was clearly only becoming more agitated with time, and Methos felt his own unease grow.
"Kronos..." he attempted, but broke off at the unexpectedly vicious stare that came in reply. For a moment neither of them spoke, then Kronos sighed and headed for the door.
"I'll be back in a while," he snapped, not bothering to make eye-contact. Methos frowned.
"Huh? But what about your girlfriend? I can't--"
"Leave her out on the balcony, I doubt she'll notice." The old tone was back in Kronos' voice; the edge of hard-headedness, and bullying force. It was a voice that he usually reserved for mortals, not for his oldest friend. "I'll be back in a while, like I said. I need some air right now."
"What?" He stopped with one hand on the door, his back resolutely to his brother. Methos sighed.
"You're finding this a little hard to take in, I know that. And I'm sorry. But--"
"I never find anything hard to take in, brother. Adaptability is a special part of immortality, remember? Like I said, I just need some air."
"Well don't go doing anything stupid."
"Such as? Wiping out the Watchers with a well placed bomb, blowing up Seacouver just to see all the pretty little lights? I'm going for a walk, that's all. Keep an eye on Sophie. She has suicidal tendencies, and it'll get complicated right now if she manages to kill herself. We'll have a lot to explain to her then."
"Suicidal. Great. In that case sending her out onto the balcony probably wasn't the greatest thing to do, was it." He sighed, looking back to the woman, standing with her back to the window. "Kronos for goodness sake, we need to talk this through properly."
"Words are for other people. I speak in actions, you should know that by now."
"Then what actions are you going to speak with now?" There was no answer, and Kronos merely opened the door and walked out. Methos groaned.
"Kronos!" He chased after him, but his fellow Immortal was already striding rapidly away down the corridor. "Kronos! Damn it if you go killing anybody I'll - I'll... well I'll be bloody annoyed!" A hand raised in a faintly mocking farewell, but Kronos didn't look back. Methos punched the door frame. Great. Just great. Yesterday's perfection really had been the warning it had seemed to be - for this was shaping up to be anything but a perfect day.
Kronos walked without knowing where he was going. He didn't know Seacouver well, and most of the streets were new to him. Instinct drew him to the seedier parts of town; the places where he could be more or less sure of wandering unseen. He went past the grimy shops and sleazy bars that marked the perimeter of Seacouver's public face - on through the rundown areas with their older buildings, and towards the decaying buildings of the waterfront. It was quiet there, save for the distant sounds of machinery, and in the glow of the one sole street-lamp that survived in that neglected place, he stood still for a while and gazed at the water. Thin oil slicks made the surface shine with greasy rainbows, and underwater currents tugged at the floating litter, creating swirls among the food wrappers, and tapping old Coke cans against the concrete walkway. Everything was dark and depressing, not that Kronos noticed. Depression wasn't a state of mind that he had ever understood.
He wandered on again slowly, once he had had his fill of the black and grey vista by that particular stretch of the river, and followed the water onwards. Past rusted machinery, old and abandoned offices, and faded, peeling graffiti painted decades before. It wasn't a familiar feeling, this notion of needing to think about things. Of wondering how he felt about a particular subject. Kronos didn't think about things at great length as a rule. He merely reacted to situations as they occurred. Now, though, he had something on his mind that he couldn't help but think about.
He had known what he was doing when he had broken the Rules. As usual it had been a reaction; not something that he had thought about. Methos had been about to die, at the instigation of a mad gang of mortals seeking to manipulate the Game for their own ends, and he had seen nothing wrong in saving his brother. He still saw nothing wrong in it. Not interfering once the challenge had been made between two Immortals was one of the cardinal Rules. It couldn't be broken. It was never broken. Duncan MacLeod had had to stand by and let his greatest friend die because of it, and he hadn't been the first. Like most Immortals, however, Kronos had long ceased to truly wonder about the consequences of breaking the Rules. When you first woke up after the First Death, and discovered your immortality, you would believe anything. The unbelievable wonder of being immortal was enough to convince anybody that there might be some great celestial overseer enforcing the Rules, and guarding the Prize. With time, though, came an eroding of that wonder. If there was anybody watching over the Game they never showed themselves; and the Game had been going for a long, long time. Kronos was four thousand years old, and in his relative youth had met other Immortals who had been at least as old as that. None of them seemed to know who was behind it all. None of them had ever seen any evidence that there was anyone watching over them. There was conceit in that of course; Kronos was one of the most powerful Immortals ever to walk the Earth; a man who had made whole civilisations tremble; a man behind legends passed down over millennia. He didn't believe that anybody could have power over him - and yet here he was, apparently out of the Game at somebody's instigation. Somebody had to have created this new state of affairs. He didn't like the idea at all.
It was the sound of shouting that pulled Kronos from his uncharacteristic reflections. He turned his head towards the sound, disinterested at first, then rather distracted by it all. Shouting generally meant disruption, and disruption of any kind was more interesting than thinking too much. Smiling faintly, he headed off in search of whoever was making the noise. There were three voices that he could hear; all the raucous, overbearing sort. They were shouting threats, making swaggering boasts, yelling and jeering in a way that suggested potential violence. Kronos smiled to himself, and felt for his ever present sword. There was nothing like a little bloodshed for dispelling pesky feelings of reflection. Smiling the thin, bright smile that had preceded his more nefarious actions throughout his life, he strode quickly along the edge of the river. The voices grew louder, but he didn't slow down or move more quietly. He was feeling in need of a grandiose gesture, and walking into unknown situations in deserted urban areas in the middle of the night was as good as anything in that respect. Whoever owned those three voices were up to no good - that much at least was clear from the nature of their argument.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't kill her. I'm saying we shouldn't kill her now. There's a difference. Kill her now and we'll probably never get our money." The first voice had the rough edge of years of heavy smoking. The second voice answered immediately, smoother and deeper, considerably more forceful.
"Does it really matter when we kill her? If she's not going to give us the money now, she's never going to. Just get rid of her. If I'm going to make a loss on this then somebody's going to pay for it."
"And better her than any of us." The third voice was less harsh, and infinitely more suggestive. It was a voice that spoke of greater unpleasantness than the less refined tones of the first two speakers, and it was to the owner of this third voice that Kronos naturally gravitated. It was always nice to recognise something in a man he was probably about to kill. He smiled to himself, and quickened his step. Time to put faces to voices.
He rounded the corner beside an old office building without bothering to look before he leapt. He was in no mood for caution tonight; not when he was still smarting at the indignity of apparent punishments from on high. Treading carefully was for mortals, not for the most fearsome warrior alive. Three men looked back at him as he surveyed the little scene he had encroached upon; three men in expensive suits and a lot of jewellery, carrying guns that meant business. None of them raised their weapons to point at Kronos. They were too surprised, and he took that small advantage to its logical conclusion.
"Good evening." He spoke politely, softly, with a gleam in his eyes that was probably invisible in the darkness. All the time he was examining the set up; the size of the three men, the calibre of their weapons, the woman cowering on the ground beside them. Mid to late twenties at a guess, and very beautiful. Bright, hot, alive - everything that Sophie wasn't, and similar enough in looks to emphasise that core difference. He smiled coldly. Now that was a sure-fire way to work off a few aggravations. Moving lightly and easily, he strolled on up to the little group, and pulled the woman to her feet. He showed no especial gentility, but she didn't shy away.
"You want something?" It was the smooth, deep voice; the one that he thought of as Voice #2. Overly confident, unpleasantly arrogant. Not sensible traits amongst mortals in Kronos' opinion, especially when it was Immortals that were the targets of that arrogance. He let himself smile, faintly and easily, and let the three men have a quick flash of four thousand years worth of amusement from his pale blue eyes. None of them looked properly impressed, but he didn't care. Street thugs couldn't really be expected to understand the subtleties of true darkness, true violence. The girl saw something though, and drew back slightly, as far as his grip on her wrist would allow.
"You really don't want to get involved in this." Voice #1 spoke now, its owner moving to one side, clearly intending to get behind Kronos. Still nobody was bothering to point their guns. They didn't believe that they would have to; that anybody would ever push this that far. "This... lady... simply owes us some money. We're debt collectors, you might say."
"Yeah." Voice #2, the man behind it also moving, intending to manoeuvre around to Kronos' other side. The Immortal didn't care. Even if they had all raised their guns he could probably still take out all three before they could fire. His sword was within reach, he had two knives that he could throw, and he could move with the speed of lightning. Besides, even if they did manage to shoot him he'd still get them in the end. It might just make the rest of the night worthwhile, if he had to spend it hunting his killers.
"We're not alone, you know. Voice #3 was easy to believe, for though its sincerity was non-existent, its sibilance was gently teasing. "Get out of here now, or you're a dead man."
"Dead?" Kronos looked into the woman's eyes, seeing the life there; the glow that he had tried to put back into Sophie. "I'm more alive than anybody. I am life. And death. For all of you."
"I think we've got us a nut." Voice #1, warped by mockery. "It's not you that's going to be doing any killing here tonight. Now get out of here while you've still got legs to walk on. Tell him Cindy, unless you want his blood all over you as well as your own."
"He's right." The woman was speaking for the first time, and he decided that he liked the sound. New Orleans, possibly; shades of an accent similar to the one that Sophie had almost lost. "I stole their money, and they want it back. You don't want to get mixed up in that."
"Yes I do." Because I want to kill somebody tonight; because I need that release; and it might only be mortals that I can kill from now on. He smiled at her, enjoying the fear and the earnest intensity in her eyes. His free hand, the one that wasn't holding her, brushed the hilt of his sword, then moved on and took a slight hold of one of his daggers. It felt cold and hard, ribbed slightly for a better grip, marked by the fine lines of an engraved image.
"Just back away now." Voice #2 with its owner was right beside him, within reach now. The strong, deep voice was practically in his ear. He could hear the confidence, the certainty that he would bottle out before he tried anything. Slowly, gently, he pulled the knife out, feeling the weight, keeping his face blank, turning his head slightly to look towards the owner of Voice #2. He smiled faintly, almost apologetically, playing up to the mortal's arrogance. The man stared back at him, eyes dark and full of unpleasant humour; large, very white teeth glinting faintly. He moved a little closer, body language designed to intimidate, his large size a contrast to Kronos' own small build. The woman, Cindy, tried to back away but couldn't. She alone had seen the knife in Kronos' hand. Her eyes widened, the panic grew, and Kronos drank it all in. That unbeatable rush; the power that came from terrifying another person. It was a shame, really, that there wouldn't be time to savour it in the man behind Voice #2. Swinging Cindy aside, flashing his arm upward, he buried the dagger deep in the mortal man's neck. Blood gushed; blood geysered. Voice #1 was shouting, enraged, disbelieving. His gun was coming up. Kronos pushed Cindy hard, using her to knock the gun aside, pulling his knife free at the same time, running forward with an easy, almost lazy stride. He had the other knife out as well now, used them both like two short swords. The first to slash open the chest, the second to do so again, from another angle, forming a perfect geometrical cross that slashed the mortal open in straight, diagonal lines. A gunshot rang out behind him and he turned swiftly, looking back into the eyes of the one remaining man; seeing shock and anger and threats that were not yet dead. The man still believed that he had an ace up his sleeve; and when Kronos heard a footstep, he knew what that ace must be. He threw the first knife, saw it hit the third man in the chest, whirled and threw the second knife blind. Instinct guided his aim, and he knew that the knife had struck a target, though guns were already blazing. Two at a guess. The third man had been telling the truth when he had claimed that they were not alone. Kronos felt the impact of a bullet - more than one bullet - against his chest, and went down on one knee. Other men were appearing. Other men in suits and too much jewellery. Briefcases, shiny shoes. Drug dealers, and a lot of them. He looked up briefly, saw that Cindy was dead. Cursed. That was a hell of a waste; he'd had hopes for her. Somebody laughed. So much mockery, so much confidence, so much blind mortal arrogance. Kronos gritted his teeth, and with the sort of effort that made him the man he was, forced himself to his feet. Everything was wet with his blood, but he didn't care. He was immortal, and so long as he could stay conscious, he could keep moving, keep doing, keeping teaching the world his lessons. A jagged smile made his face light up, although his eyes were cold and hard.
"Son of a..." Whoever was speaking didn't finish the sentence; didn't bother to try. Kronos stood still, wobbling slightly but still standing straight. He could hardly see now, but he could still hear. The knives were gone, but he still had his sword, and there were at least three guns strewn on the ground around his feet. However many people were out there, in the darkness, he could take them out. Another gunshot cut open the air, but if it hit him he didn't feel it. He dropped and rolled, reached out blindly, knuckles grazing the concrete but finding somebody's fallen gun without the effort of searching. He held on, raised the weapon, fired three times. A volley of gunshots answered, but he knew that he had hit something. Inside he was laughing at it all. At the shouts and the anger, and the constant attempts to kill him; at the gang he had got himself mixed up with; at their outrage and their disbelief that he somehow wasn't dead. At himself for having got into all of this, just because he had felt like a little action. At fate, at everything; at whoever or whatever had tried to punish him for breaking the Rules. He stood up, without quite knowing why, levelled the gun and blasted away. Fired at everything, anything, heard bodies fall. Another bullet caught him, and he felt himself jerk backwards at the force of the high velocity lead. It felt as though he didn't have much chest left for the bullets to hit. Still the voices were yelling at him, demanding their money, whatever Cindy had stolen; swearing revenge, grabbing at him, trying to disarm him, pinion his arms, force him to his knees. He hit back, tore away, emptied the gun at targets he couldn't see, all the time feeling the elation grow. Damn but it was good to go a little crazy sometimes - to stir things up, to cause trouble even when he didn't have a clue who anybody was, or what was happening. Hurling the empty gun at the hapless, furious mortals, he took off into the night, running lopsidedly, body alive with exceptional pain. He was laughing insanely, enjoying everything; every throb of agony, every echoing, livid roar. They were chasing him, shooting after him, missing all the time, and he led them a merry dance. He knew that he couldn't keep going much longer, even though the bullet holes had to be healing by now. He had lost too much blood, and would have to collapse soon. He didn't care. It was all good fun. Meaningless threats echoing after him, he ran on through Seacouver's dark side, back towards the brighter part of town. Maybe it was time, his whirling consciousness decided, to let a few more people share in his fun. It didn't take much to decide who those people should be.
Joe closed the club early, claiming technical difficulties, and problems with the beer taps. He would never have admitted even just to himself that he was worried about Methos, but he couldn't concentrate once the two Immortals had left. Things had a tendency to happen when Kronos was around, and those things invariably meant trouble - generally for anybody but Kronos. Methos had a habit of behaving oddly whenever his brother was around as well, and that was also something that made Joe feel uneasy. Methos was weird and troublesome enough without somebody egging him on.
So with the last of the patrons chased away, the mystified band departing in a shower of claims that he had to be mistaken because there were no technical difficulties that they had noticed, Joe closed up and sat alone in the bar. He supposed he should be heading over to Methos' place, to make sure that things were alright there; that Kronos and whoever his mortal friend was hadn't already taken the old man's head, or murdered half of the residents of the apartment building or something. Trouble was, he found that he couldn't inspire himself to move. The walk wasn't long - and he had his car anyway - but he wasn't at all sure of the welcome he would get at the end of it. Kronos never seemed able to make up his mind about whether to be friendly, insulting, or downright bloody terrifying, and wasn't at all averse to combining all three. Joe was still sitting by the bar, contemplating the same, half drunk glass of whisky, when Duncan MacLeod arrived half an hour after Joe had closed up.
"Joe?" The door was still unlocked, since Dawson had been planning to use it, and he pushed it wide open as he came in. "Why's the place so dark? It's hardly past midnight."
"Yeah. I didn't feel like being a great host tonight." Joe smiled absently, and gestured towards the bar. "Welcome home, Mac. Pour yourself a drink. You'll probably need it."
"Trouble?" MacLeod's experienced hackles were already on the rise. If Joe was on edge there had to be a reason behind it. The mortal shrugged.
"Depends on how you look at it I suppose. We had a visitor at the club today. Methos was saying something bad was going to happen. Some cock-eyed theory about how he'd been having too good a day. Then all of a sudden--" He broke off as a disturbingly familiar noise rang out somewhere beyond the walls. "Did I just hear a gunshot?"
"Certainly sounded like one." MacLeod went to the nearest window, and peered out into the street. "Can't see anything. Nice welcome back into town, isn't it. Less than an hour off the plane, and already somebody's shooting."
"Well with a bit of luck it's a bunch of no goods shooting each other." Joe finished off his whisky. "Although the way things are going tonight I wouldn't be surprised if Methos was involved. Have a guess who dropped by for a visit tonight."
"I'm guessing one of the old man's long list of dubious acquaintances." Another shot rang out, and MacLeod raised a questioning eyebrow. "Think I should go out and take a look?"
"And risk getting shot on your first night back home?" Joe went to refill his glass, and to fill one for MacLeod. "Sit down, take the weight off your feet. Leave the guns to the police."
"Joe! That's not very public spirited of you." Duncan accepted the drink with a wry smile. "So who did drop by then? Vlad the Impaler?"
"Scarily close, actually." Dawson sat back down, wishing that he didn't feel quite so guilty about ignoring the gunshots. Another one sounded out, much closer this time, so that it seemed almost as though the glass in the windows shook with the percussion. MacLeod's expression darkened.
"This is getting dangerous. With all that lead flying about, somebody's going to get hurt."
"Yeah. Maybe you had better go outside. See what's happening." Joe grabbed his stick and followed at his friend's heels towards the door. "Just try not to get yourself shot, okay? I don't want blood all over my floor."
"I'll be careful." MacLeod couldn't keep the smile from his voice, though by contrast his eyes were hard. He didn't like guns, and he didn't like people who fired them in public places. Even though it was the dead of night it was still taking a big risk. Civilians were very easy to shoot by accident; he had seen it happen too many times. He heard no screams yet though; no signs of tragedy. He heard no police sirens either. Was everybody that deeply asleep? In a flurry of hurried movement he reached out for the door, only to freeze in sudden surprise when the sensation of an Immortal aura washed over him. Joe's unease came back to him in a flash; a friend of Methos', possible trouble - Vlad the Impaler. He wasn't surprised - though he was heartily disappointed - when the door crashed open before him, and Kronos stumbled over the threshold. He looked exhausted, one hand gripping his stomach where the blood was running freely. By the look of his shirt his chest was a mess, and he was obviously near to collapse. He took the time to grin though; broadly, widely, brightly, before staggering further into the room. Joe loked concerned, going automatically to help - then checked himself at the last moment.
"Damn it. All this time around Immortals, you'd think I'd remember not to worry when you get shot."
"You were worried?" Mocking humour lit Kronos' eyes, mingling with the extraordinary fires of elation. "I'm touched, Dawson."
"Yeah, in all the wrong ways." Dawson grabbed a tablecloth and threw it down on the floor, directing the wounded Immortal to fall onto that rather than onto one of the chairs. "Blood stains, damn it. Do you have any idea what it takes to get blood off polished wooden floorboards?"
"Water, at a guess." Kronos rested his head against a conveniently nearby chair. "And a nice big sponge."
"Where's Methos?" Ignoring the sarcasm, and the typically bitchy way in which it had been delivered, MacLeod slammed the door and locked it, then peered out through the window. He couldn't see anything, and he could no longer hear anything either. "Those gunshots your fault?"
"Technically, no. Right place, right time. I just got lucky." Kronos grinned up at him, eyes teasing but resolutely unfriendly. "You should probably be careful. They seemed rather anxious to kill me, and they'll probably be happy to go through you first."
"Well thanks for that." Joe folded his arms, staring down at the irrepressible, smirking Immortal. "Throw him out, Mac. Whoever those people out there are, they can have him. I'll call the police."
"Better not Joe. Sometimes the police only get in the way." The Highlander glared fiercely down at Kronos, all too aware that any amount of such glaring would have no effect at all. "Where's Methos?" There was no immediate answer, and leaning down he hauled Kronos to his feet, hoping in one of his rare sadistic moments that it might reopen some of the healing bullet holes. "Where is he? Who's out there?"
"Methos?" Kronos grinned at him, happy to tease even further. "Methos, unfortunately, is perfectly safe. I left him at his place. He doesn't know what he's missing, although knowing him he'll be finding out fairly soon. It won't be long before he finds his way back here."
"And those people out there?" Ignoring the largely irrelevant nature of the last answer, MacLeod tried out a rough shake. The pale blue eyes upturned to his hardened slightly, but there was no sign of pain, or even really of anger.
"Drug dealers." Kronos glanced towards the door as though he had heard something outside of it. "At least I think so. To be honest I didn't stop to ask for details."
"Into drugs now? Looking for new ways to fund your latest attempt to destroy modern civilisation?" MacLeod let Kronos go, making sure that he pushed him hard in the process. The older Immortal fell backwards, crashing to the ground with some force. He glared up at MacLeod.
"I'm not dealing in drugs. As it happens I was doing my Highlander impersonation. Damsel in distress, act of great selflessness - you should know the formula."
"Selflessness." Ignoring the jibe, MacLeod shook his head. "You?"
"Hey. I was bored, she was pretty, it seemed a waste to let them carve her up."
"When you could be doing it instead, presumably." Joe's voice was about as unpleasant as it ever got. Kronos shot him a sidelong glance, expression tinged with loathing - and with threats.
"Eventually, maybe. I don't maim on the first date as a rule though. Not these days. Modern girls squawk too much, they don't take these things lying down anymore. I blame feminism."
"You sick--" Dawson's anger was obvious, but MacLeod hushed him before he could say more.
"So there was a girl, and some people with guns...?" he prompted.
"And I was bored, and they were there, and I decided to intervene. All heroic and noble, like I said. Then they got frisky, there was some gunplay - daft mortal woman stuck herself in the middle of it all - and I decided to bring the fun to some friends."
"To my club. How very thoughtful."
"Actually I was planning on heading back to Methos' apartment." Kronos stood up, testing his torso for lingering bullet wounds, and obviously deciding that he was healed enough for proper movement. He still looked weak from blood loss, but presumably didn't care. "Didn't make it, though, did I. Too far, too little blood. Consider yourself lucky, Dawson. You nearly missed out on all of this."
"Be still my beating heart." Dawson rolled his eyes, well aware that berating Kronos was pointless. "If he's got a gang of drug dealers looking for him out there, Mac, they might find him. We should get out of here."
"I'd recommend it. Mortal blood probably stains floorboards even more than the immortal kind does." Kronos went to the window and stared out into the street. "I can see them. At least I think it's them. There might be more than one bloodthirsty gang of gunmen roaming the streets tonight."
"I think I prefer you when you're being mean and moody." Dawson knocked back the whisky that he had poured before Kronos had arrived. "What do you think, Mac?"
"That we should probably get out of here. Deal with these people before their shots start hitting unexpected targets. Like kids asleep in bed."
"Spoken like a true hero." The sarcasm was only half-hearted, for Kronos still seemed strangely excited, the fires in his eyes almost unnatural. Adrenalin kept them burning, and kept his smile brighter than ever before. MacLeod couldn't help wondering what had been going on. Surely, under normal circumstances, a reasonably minor skirmish with mortal criminals shouldn't have made these kinds of fires burn?
"You really think they're still out there?" asked Dawson. "I haven't heard anything."
"Oh they're out there. They know where Psycho Boy is, too. Probably checking the building out, working out some kind of plan of attack." MacLeod drew his sword, laying it down on the nearest table. "You two armed?"
"There's a gun behind the bar, same as usual." Dawson gave an apologetic shrug. "It's never been used, though, not really. To be honest, the last few years I haven't been taking proper care of it. I haven't cleaned it in a while, and I'm not sure how much ammunition there is."
"Joe..." MacLeod sighed in exasperation, then turned his sharp gaze to Kronos. "You?"
"I have my sword." He drew it out, tossing it onto the table next to Duncan's. "Not ideal against guns, but it makes things more interesting."
"You like getting shot?" Joe was pacing awkwardly, his cane scratching out a rhythm on his precious floorboards. "Because oddly enough I don't."
"I wonder what Methos thinks of it." Wearing a faintly childish grin, Kronos looked towards the clock above the bar. "He's so predictable these days that it hurts. He's sure to be on his way here."
"Methos? Predictable? Only in the sense that we can be sure we'll never know what he's up to." MacLeod picked up both swords, comparing them for length and weight. His own beloved katana, his companion through so much, looked graceful against the harder, sharper lines of Kronos' so very different weapon. MacLeod recognised it; remembered Methos laying it beside the fallen body of Peter Kerensky. By rights it should still have been lying beside that body, in a burnt out building on a Polish mountain. "Why do you think he's on his way here?"
"Because I left him with somebody he wouldn't want to be left with, and by now I've been gone long enough for him to think I might not be coming back." He grinned. "Which might have been a good trick to pull, it's a shame I didn't think of it. Anyway, I'd imagine he's on his way here now, with his unplanned companion, wanting to consult Dawson the Grand Oracle. He seems to have an awful lots of regard for you, Joe. Of course right now that's probably an even worse idea than usual, if it means he's about to run into that lot outside the door."
"Great." Ignoring the veiled insult, Dawson stomped off to retrieve the gun from behind the bar. "What do they want? Besides you I mean. Whatever's going on out there is only going to get worse if Methos walks into the middle of it, especially if he's got your mortal girlfriend with him."
"Mortal girlfriend?" MacLeod's interest was reawakened immediately. "The person you left the old man with was your mortal girlfriend?"
"Girlfriend? No." Kronos grinned wickedly. "Mortal? Strangely enough, not an easy question..."
"You know, usually you're just an aggravating bastard, but tonight you're really excelling yourself." MacLeod tossed the second sword away, letting it clatter unceremoniously to the floor. "I preferred you when you were trying to kill me every few minutes."
"Oh, my feelings about you haven't changed." Voice suddenly much colder, Kronos strode towards his sword. A click from the gun in Joe's hands stopped him, and he glanced up. "What? You're planning to shoot me Joe? It doesn't have a lot of effect, remember."
"It'll slow you down long enough for us to get that sword." Dawson looked resolute, but Kronos merely smiled.
"Oh MacLeod, he's trying to save your life. How sweet. I always did wonder what went on between Immortals and their Watchers."
"Shut up." MacLeod signalled to Joe to lower the gun. "So supposing we toss you out of that door? Maybe then your playmates will leave, and that mortal girlfriend of yours won't get hurt. Always supposing she's out there."
"She's on her way." Kronos was practically beaming. "Methos is like clockwork. Wherever he shouldn't be, he invariably is."
"I think we know two different Methoses." MacLeod peered out of a window again. "And you didn't answer my question."
"Would they leave so that your little mortal friend here won't get shot? Unlikely." He gave his sword a loving polish on his sleeve. "The woman they killed had taken some money of theirs. They want it back."
"Oh great. So once they break in here and kill me, they're going to take all the money as well." Joe began loading his gun, which he had neglected to do before threatening to shoot Kronos with it. "Brilliant. And to think that I laughed at Methos when he said this was going to be a bad day."
"Don't look at me. The place was dark. I thought it was empty." Kronos shouldered his sword, heading for his own window from which to watch proceedings. "Besides, if it was MacLeod who'd tried to help out some woman in trouble you'd be applauding him. Not glowering in a corner like some cheap imitation of me."
"If it was MacLeod who had tried to help some woman in trouble I'd be applauding him because he would have been trying to help, not just looking for trouble, and hoping that he could do something unspeakable to the woman afterwards." Joe finished loading the gun, and snapped the chamber back into place with a loud click. "You might like to pretend that you have heroic moments, Kronos, but I know you're basically still a complete bastard."
"And I know that you're still a mortal." There was no enmity in the old Immortal's voice; just a matter of fact tone and a faint flicker of dark humour. "So you might want to watch your manners."
"And you might want to watch yours." MacLeod pointed significantly with his sword. "We all know who won last time."
"Nobody won last time. Dawson here wouldn't let us finish." Kronos grinned. "But since my ghost practically sent you mad last time you cut my head off, I'd have thought you'd be less enthusiastic about trying to do it again." A shot rang out and the light outside the club door exploded in a shower of sparks. Kronos immediately looked interested. "Look, why don't the two of you take the back way out? They'll have it covered soon, but you might get lucky and find that they haven't got that far yet. I don't want my fun spoilt by the shining white armour twins."
"I'm not leaving you alone in my club looking to wage war against an army of drug dealers." Joe wanted to pace irritably but couldn't be bothered with the effort. "Can't I just shoot him, Mac?"
"If you think it'll do any good." MacLeod turned back to the window, the better for cutting Kronos out of his line of vision, and hopefully out of his mind as well. Another bullet ricocheted off the outside wall and he ducked instinctively. Wonderful. This was just what he needed. When the next shot came straight through an open window and nearly took his ear off, his irritation at last boiled over, and he thumped the wall in a fond fantasy that he was really hitting Kronos. "Damn it all," he muttered, to the dark shapes lurking in the street outside. "I should have stayed in Canada."
Methos, with his tendency towards sneakiness, would have been horrified to learn that Kronos thought him predictable; but even he might have had to admit that four thousand years was rather a long time to know somebody, and still hope to be able to catch them off guard. And sure enough, just as Kronos had predicted, after some time had passed without a sign of his decidedly irresponsible brother, the old Immortal began to worry. At first he told himself off for his paranoia; if Kronos had wanted to get rid of the woman he would just have killed her - except that he hadn't been sure of what she was, and probably hadn't been sure about taking her head until he knew more... The old man scowled at his reflection in the television screen, and listened to the voices inside his head telling him that paranoia was always a good idea. Kronos had picked a damn silly time for a walk, after all - although admittedly he had always had a fondness for the dark. It looked suspiciously as though he had brought along his disturbed plaything, got a few of his questions answered, then left Methos holding the baby. Methos, needless to say, was not happy.
He tried to make himself feel better by turning the television on, since staring at its empty screen for some time had been doing nothing for his mood. Echoes of Bruce Springsteen floated around inside his head when he couldn't find anything to watch, and he growled sulkily at a pretty news reader who was refusing to tell him anything interesting. He tried the radio instead, wishing that his brother's infuriating woman wouldn't keep staring at him; but when he fiddled with the dial all he seemed to be able to find was some depressing choral music that he was fairly certain Duncan MacLeod had on CD. He clicked off the radio and glowered at the carpet. He could go back to reading, except that it didn't seem an attractive prospect when he was being constantly stared at. It was too cool outside to make an escape onto the balcony, and he felt sure that if he took refuge in his bedroom she would probably only follow him in there eventually. Frustrated, he sat very still in his chair, folded his arms, and tried to frown as hard as was possible. Hopefully then she might realise that she wasn't welcome, and offer to leave - or at the very least stop staring at him so intently. Instead she came over and sat down beside him. He stifled a groan.
"You're Methos," she told him, with the air of somebody who had made a great discovery. He nodded. Kronos had presumably told her something, though his mind boggled at exactly what. What did one tell a half-crazed mortal woman in such circumstances? The woman nodded as well. "I'm Sophie."
"I know." He had no idea why she was bothering to volunteer the information, and by the look of things neither did she. She certainly didn't seem especially enthusiastic about the idea of a conversation, but then he doubted that she ever looked really enthusiastic about anything. If there had ever been any joy for life within her, it had gone now. Every little bit of it.
"I was wondering... well..." She frowned slightly, eyeing him as though considering whether he might be worthy of the same fear and respect she felt for Kronos. He didn't look particularly frightening, but then neither did Kronos, especially. Not until he turned on the lights inside his eyes. "I was wondering about Kronos. About... who he is. Or possibly what he is. Is there anything I should know?"
"About Kronos?" He frowned, rather thrown by the question. "What do you know of him already?"
"That he's... different." She shrugged, a little embarrassed by her inability to find even the basic words to describe him. "He says that he can't die, but that he once tried to kill himself anyway. That he's died before. That he's very old. He showed me... things."
"Yeah." Methos rolled his eyes. "Dead things, if I know Kronos. Dead things, sharp things and big heavy things, plus plenty of blood and screaming."
"There was a lot of blood, yes." She sounded very serious, and also rather detached, as though any death and killing that she had seen was of little real relevance to her. "Have you known him for long?"
"Pretty much the whole of his life. Certainly for more of mine than I entirely care to remember. Why?"
"Because I want to know something about him, that's all. I've felt so different when I've been out with him. The fear, and excitement, and exhilaration... I just wanted to know what sort of a man he is. That's all."
"Kronos is..." Well where to start? There was nothing good, that was for certain. "Kronos is unlike other people. In almost every way. He... well things happen when you're around him. Death is... death is his shadow. It follows around at his heels like some kind of dog, from place to place and year to year - and anybody else who's around tends to get bitten by it. Be careful."
"Death is like a dog?"
"I never said I was good at analogies. I'm just trying to warn you. To make sense of Kronos - to be safe around him - you have to be like him. Cut from the same stuff, perhaps, or just wired the same way. And there are very few of us left who are like that."
"You really think he's that dangerous?" She looked pale; deathly so. For a moment he felt sympathetic, then crushed the feeling inside him. He didn't do sympathy. It was too close to guilt.
"I think you already know the answer to that one." He sighed, looking at her meaningfully, forcing her to meet his eyes merely though the power of his own gaze. "How many people had you killed before you met him?"
"What kind of a question is that?! None!"
"And how many have you killed since?" She lowered her eyes for a second, then suddenly looked back up at him again, and he saw no regrets in her expression.
"Seven. Five with my axe, and two with knives. Kronos showed me how to do it. The moment of death; of watching the life leaving in a rush of their fear... it's incredible. You can't imagine."
"Oh yes I can." Methos wasn't sure that even Kronos had killed as many men as he, or enjoyed it so much. "I know exactly what it feels like. I know how powerful it makes you feel, and how alive. But is that really reason enough to do it?"
"I would never have though so once. I'd never killed anything, until the day that I tried to kill me. I felt so dead inside. So cold, so useless, so pointless, so - so nothing. And then there was Kronos, and he made me so afraid, and so angry, and I'd never felt emotions like that. I'd never felt anything like that. But it's gone now. The terror has gone. It's like a drug, when you have to keep taking more and more to get the same high; only now the high's gone completely and no matter what he does I can't get it back. The only time I feel like that now is when I'm watching somebody die. When I see their pain and their terror, and I watch their life ending, it reminds me of the life that's still inside me."
"I've got to hand it to my brother." Rubbing his eyes with a tired hand, Methos leaned back further in his chair. "He certainly knows how to screw people up."
"You can't blame him. Life screwed me up long before he did. I was dead before I met him."
"And now what are you? He didn't stop you from killing yourself out of kindness you know. He did it because he wanted to mess with your mind. Because it amuses him. And now look at you. He's turned you into a killer, just for his own entertainment." He sighed, standing up in a rush and grabbing a coat from an antique umbrella stand beside the door. "Come on."
"Where are we going?" She didn't seem particularly interested, and she obviously didn't care. Her eyes were empty again, now that the memories stirred by their discussion had faded. He wondered, vaguely, if she was thinking about her next kill, and cursed Kronos under his breath. How could he have run off like that and left his blasted plaything behind?
"We're going for a walk. I - there's a friend." He frowned then, realising that his instinct had been to take the girl to Dawson. He might know something; suggest something - except that Methos really didn't want to have to tell him the truth about the girl; the theory of how this former mortal came now to possess an aura that made his brain sparkle. He hesitated. Thinking things through, wondering how much he could - should - tell the Watcher, and wondering what options he was left with if he didn't go to see him at all. He could hardly keep this odd woman here with him; but if he let her go there was no telling how many people she would kill in her quest to feel more alive - and there was no way that he was killing her in his apartment. A Quickening, no matter how small, would play havoc with the interior decoration. He made the final decision, and strode towards the door. "Come on."
"Out there?" Their conversation fading further from her mind, the adrenalin rush caused by the memories it had stirred now faded completely, she seemed an empty shell again. Her voice was dull and faint, her eyes pale. "I couldn't be bothered."
"You don't have any choice." Methos pulled her to her feet without gentility, and she responded with the faintest flicker of interest. She liked force, it was plain - liked the idea of fear even if it was no longer as effective a drug for her as it once had been. Well Methos could give her fear, if that was really what she wanted. Just because it was a skill he no longer practised, did not mean that it was a skill he no longer possessed. He let his voice drop to a whisper; cold, dramatic, razor sharp; and smiled a faint smile. Kronos, but without the theatricality; without that hint of extra drama that sometimes robbed the younger Horseman of true menace. "You will come with me. Now." It was all that he said, but a shiver passed across the girl's face, and for a second; even less than a second; that dreadful emptiness was gone. It didn't last, but Methos didn't bother trying again. He merely walked away, brisk and unhesitating, trusting in what remained of her curiosity to make her follow. She didn't ask him any further questions though; just wandered along behind him like an offbeat shadow.
She kept up well, despite the pace that he set, and despite her own apparent vagueness. He had been half hoping that she would get left behind, or that she would wander off and he could lose her somewhere along the route. Clearly, however, the Fates had other ideas, for no matter how fast he walked, and no matter how disinterested and dreamlike she seemed to be, she was always with him. At every corner she was the same distance behind. She didn't even falter when they first heard the sound of gun shots.
"What the-?" His first thought was Kronos; then he dismissed the idea as absurd. Kronos had gone; and anyway, it wasn't really likely that it would be him. What would Kronos have been doing so close to the club, and what would he have been doing getting involved in a gun fight? Methos pulled Sophie into the shadows, and hurried her on towards the club. It should be easy enough to reach it whilst remaining hidden from onlookers, or so he hoped. Getting shot would hardly help to make him like this new day more. Sophie peered past him, apparently hunting for signs of invisible gunmen.
"What's going on?" It was the first time she had really taken an interest in anything other than her own memories of death. He pushed her back against the wall.
"Some street gang probably. Lots of guns, so don't go sticking your head out."
"No." She leant back against the wall, and this time he saw a real flicker of fear in her eyes. For somebody who believed she had nothing worth living for, she was remarkably determined not to die. "You get many gun battles in Seacouver?"
"No, not really. "Usually just sword battles. "Somebody must have wound somebody up the wrong way."
"Kronos." She said it with as much conviction as he had thought it, and he smiled. It clearly didn't take long to become acquainted with his brother's extraordinary ability to inspire violence. All the same, it didn't really seem likely that Kronos was behind this. He pondered whether to find out exactly what 'this' was, and decided that he was probably going to have to, if he wanted to get anywhere near Joe's club.
"Stay here." He didn't wait to see if she would obey him, but started off at a fast pace, using the same half run, half crouch that had got him past countless potential threats in the past. Somebody shouted, but he wasn't sure if they were shouting at him. He heard glass break, and ducked. It had been nowhere near him though; the sound had been dampened by distance. The voice that suddenly rang out, echoing over the same kind of distance, didn't seem nearly so far away. Joe's voice, shouting defiance at the men trying to shoot up his club. Methos groaned. Why couldn't he have normal friends?
"Is anybody dead?" Sophie's voice so close behind him almost made him jump, and he shot her a furious glare. There had been no hope in her question; no longing for blood and fear. Instead it had been matter-of-fact and clinical. She couldn't care either way.
"I don't know." A thought occurred to him. "Are you armed?"
"Yes." Her hands disappeared, and in moments she was holding them out again. Two knives gleamed in the flashing blue and red lights of nearby neon signs, and the thick black body of a powerful hand gun reflected half of his face with the aid of that same light. He blinked.
"Where did you get them?"
"I don't know. Somebody in an alley. He tried to mug me, and I had a knife, and..." She shrugged. "Number seven. I was sorry I didn't have my axe, but Kronos said I would never get it through customs."
"This from the guy who doesn't even bother to hide his sword when he takes it through." Methos took the gun, checking it over. It was loaded with what looked like a full clip. "Do you have any more ammunition for this?"
"No." She said it as though ammunition was the last thing she would be needing. "I only took it because it was pretty. Once it's empty I can always find another one."
"Pretty?" It was chunky and heavy and unnaturally large. The kind of gun favoured by people who measured their manhood by the size of such things. To his mind it had nothing much to recommend it at all in terms of looks. "Have you fired it?"
"No. I was going to, but there always seemed to be too many people around. Besides, it's not the same, is it. If you use a knife or an axe... or a sword, I guess... you're right up close, aren't you. It's you and them, and you get to see everything as it happens. Guns are long distance weapons."
"Spoil your fun, do they?" For some reason she was making him angry. It wasn't that she liked killing; he couldn't hate somebody for sharing a hobby that had once been his favourite. It was more the reasons for her enjoyment; the fact that she was almost feeding on all those other deaths, just to make herself more alive - just to stave off the possibility of her own suicide. He had no sympathy for somebody who seemed to want so much to be dead; to kill herself and escape her worthless life; and yet was too scared to go through with it. Sympathy had never been his thing anyway of course, but this woman seemed in even less danger of invoking his than anybody had ever been before.
"So what do we do?" she asked. He was tempted to tell her to get lost.
"From what I can tell my friend's jazz club is under siege." Joe was silent now, but in his mind Methos could still hear the mortal's furious voice yelling at the men who had shot up one of his windows. "I want to see if there's anything I can do."
"Don't get shot." She spoke with a complete lack of care that brought to mind his own attitude so often in the past. He smiled sardonically.
"You either." But not because I give a damn, he felt like adding. Turning away, running now at an even lower crouch than before, he made his way along the street, careful wherever possible to keep out of the glare of the flashing neon.
He ducked beneath the worst of the beams of light, and hurried forward only when it seemed that the guns were loud enough to cover the sound of his passage. Occasional voices broke up the silences in between, but it was hard to identify individual words. There were too many obstacles in the way. He raised the gun, tried to convince himself not to hare off in the opposite direction. Just being here was against his better instincts. Still, he had to see what was going on. Even he couldn't deny that he owed Joe that much.
"Damn it Joe! Get away from that window!" Duncan MacLeod's voice was unmistakable. Methos hesitated for a fraction of a second, his self protective instincts telling him that, with the Highlander present, Dawson had all the help he needed. He moved on again anyway, surprising himself rather in the process. It was a reaction to the attitude of Sophie, perhaps, but he couldn't be too cavalier with other lives tonight.
The club was not exactly in a deserted area of town, but the place was quiet enough for traffic to be at a minimum at this time of night. One or two cars passed by, and the yellow gleam of their headlights picked out perhaps two or three people lurking. Methos listened for the sound of distant sirens, and swore softly when none came. Had nobody heard the gunshots? He knew well enough that too many people didn't want to get involved, but somebody would usually report gunfire, even if it had be anonymously. Tonight there didn't even seem to be a police patrol passing by.
He edged forward again, all his senses fully on the alert. There was an uneasy silence now; a lull in the gunfire that he hoped only meant a change of tactics, rather than some kind of victory for the attackers. Chattering voices rose and fell within his hearing, and he strained to catch some of the words. Whoever the largely invisible gunmen were, they were joking about something, looking forward to getting some kind of revenge. What kind of revenge they might want against Joe Dawson he couldn't imagine, but anything might have happened in the time that he had been away from the club. Pushing on, he slipped past the place where he had last seen the lurking figures, and aimed for the windows along the front of the club. It had sounded to him as though it had been one of those that had broken; one of those closest to him; and he was hoping to take advantage of that to at least get a look at how things were inside the club, if not to actually get inside himself. Better to head for the windows than the door, he guessed, since the door was probably locked against intruders. All he had to do, then, was get to the windows without being seen and stopped by these lurking, joking gunmen. He couldn't help thinking that it would probably prove impossible
He could see them now, as he came closer. Three near the door of the club, dressed in expensive black suits and carrying guns almost like fashion accessories; hair styled with plenty of gel and spray, and shoes that gleamed in the half light. Another two were a stone's throw or more further along, roughly opposite the broken window that was still Methos' best means of gaining entry to the club. These two looked much like the first three. Though they were too far away to judge the cut of their clothing, the various sources of light nicely illuminated the jewellery they were wearing in abundance. Methos ducked to avoid a flashing burst of blue neon from one of the overhead signs, and watched the five men as they looked up and down the road. They couldn't believe their good luck at the lack of witnesses, perhaps, or they didn't care whether or not they were seen. Methos would personally have been a very great deal happier if the empty streets had been filled with phalanxes of advancing policemen - even if, going by previous experiences, they were more than likely to wind up arresting him. He reached for his sword, then changed his mind and left it where it was. It wouldn't be a great deal of use if all five men decided to attack him at once; wouldn't have been ideal against so many even if they hadn't had guns. He wondered about trying to lure some of the gang away, and thinning their ranks a little, but wasn't sure that that would really help in the long run. He couldn't see any way past the men without shooting at least some of them, preferably catching them by surprise; but for some reason that seemed a little bloodthirsty. Maybe it was Sophie's twisted opinions affecting his decision, or maybe something of Joe or MacLeod was finally starting to rub off. Maybe it was just a flutter of feelings as changeable as the colours of the neon signs, and another day he would be happy to shoot them all. He just knew that he didn't want to do it today. He backed off a little way, staring at the five men, thinking about Dawson inside the club. At least MacLeod was with him; at least the mortal wasn't alone. His eyes wandered along the front windows, past the street lights and the signs, and focused at last on two more men. They had been hidden before by the shadows at the corner of the building, but he could see them clearly now. Big men, wearing suits just like the others, but carrying bigger guns. Great, so there were seven of them, not five, with automatic rifles to add to the handguns. Maybe he should forget this after all, and leave MacLeod to look after Dawson. Weighing Sophie's gun in his hand, he looked back to where he had left the woman, and thought about returning that way himself. It was safe over there, where there was no risk of being seen, and even less of being shot. Putting himself at risk was hardly his favourite pastime, or the thing at which he most excelled. Creeping away was definitely much more his style.
It was when he was thinking of Sophie that he saw a flicker of movement, and thought at first that it must be a trick of the light. Only when the flicker of movement became a recognisable shape did he realise that he wasn't imagining things. So much for telling her to stay put. He started to head back, hoping that he could signal to her before she got too close. How he had made it past those two practically invisible men with the rifles he had no idea, but it seemed impossible that she could do so as well. As soon as he moved, though, some sound seemed to filter through to the milling gunmen. They turned as one, and he threw himself to the ground, crouching in the gutter like some frightened street rat. One of the men shouted, though it didn't sound as if they had seen anything. Moments later the gunfire started up again. He heard another window break, and a taunting shout from one of the gang. Somewhere a door banged, and Methos turned towards the sound. A witness at last? Somebody who might call the police so that somebody other than him could come to deal with all of this? More likely just a draught, or somebody trying to shut out the noise of a gunfight they had no wish to hear. Somebody looking for an excuse not to call the police. He glanced back towards the shape that he knew had been Sophie, but he couldn't see her anymore. Whatever her intentions, whatever her plans, she was doing it all in secret. She did of course still have two knives, and he wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that she was well used to handling them. She had learnt from Kronos after all. He should probably have taken them, although her being unarmed was no guarantee that she was harmless. He looked out for the familiar flash of a knife, the gleam of metal where there had been none before, but he couldn't see anything. Shots rang out from the inside of the club, and a light above him exploded, making him duck. For a second all that he could see was scuffed tarmac, and a shower of glass so hot that it was almost glowing - then he was staring once again into the darkness, looking for Sophie. He raised his gun, considering whether to throw caution to the wind and make a dash for one of those broken windows, but staying put seemed a far more sensible idea. Not having come here at all seemed even more sensible still.
Straightening up, thinking pleasant thoughts of slipping away into the night, he scanned the street again. The seven men had changed places, spreading out of their previous groupings, looking as though they might be thinking about forcing an entry. Methos pointed his gun at one of them, aiming for the back of his head, ready to open fire if he had to. His previous, unexpected desire not to kill had faded into his more usual pragmatism. Wanting to kill and needing to help defend the club were two different things, and he couldn't really crouch here and watch these people invade Joe's place without doing anything to stop them. Guilt might not be a problem, but Joe's daughter, Amy, would not be happy to learn he had let her father die. Such things could put a hell of a dampener on a growing relationship. Gunfire broke out again, and he lost his aim as the seven moved. He rose to his feet, back to the wall, and tried to decide what to do next. He certainly couldn't stand here all night, wondering what was happening inside the club, watching the siege continue. Drawing aim again he fought a strange unwillingness to shoot somebody from behind. Because it felt wrong? Or because Sophie had struck a chord with her talk of eye to eye contact at the moment of the kill? He scowled, annoyed by all thought of the woman, and watched his chosen target as he moved a little closer to his fellows. Blue light washed across his shoulder-length hair, and picked out a few curves that he shouldn't have had. Methos' gun dropped from its aim. Sophie. Bold as brass, or just oblivious to the danger, she had walked into the middle of them, replacing one of their number. Methos wondered where he was and how she had killed him. It probably didn't matter. It wasn't as though he cared for the men, or even for the woman trying to go unnoticed amongst them. He just wanted to be sure that he knew what was happening. He watched the milling figures, seeing Sophie pull a knife from beneath her jacket. It gleamed red and wet in the overhead light, hinting at somebody's recent fate. Methos thought he saw her eyes shine briefly too, before the neon sign flashed in another colour, and the details disappeared in violent red shadows. Her eyes lingered on in his mind though - unnaturally bright and far too wide, hot with all the fires of hell. They were more Caspian than Kronos; the eyes of somebody who was irretrievably lost. Floating over the short distance between bursts of gunfire, he thought he could hear her break into song. Something French, about lost loves and missed opportunities; something sad and wistful and sung with a strange sort of charm. Some of the others in the gang had heard it as well; were turning to look. One of them raised his gun to point at the strange woman, but he didn't fire. The others were gathering around, and Methos took advantage of their distraction, moving around them, heading for the front of the club. Sophie's knife flashed again; somebody shot at her; apparently they missed. Methos broke into a run. He heard somebody yell, assumed that they were shouting at him, felt the draught of a bullet coming too close. There were sounds of a struggle behind him, and the sort of choke that a man of his experience knew well enough. He could almost see the throat filling with blood, the eyes widened and frantic, though he had no idea whose they would be. He might almost have hoped that they would be Sophie's, had he not known that that would only be the start of greater problems. He tried to shut all thought of it from his mind, and concentrate only on the broken window ahead; breaking into a run, and firing his gun blindly in an attempt to give himself some cover. It didn't last long. As the gun clicked at last on an empty chamber, a hail of bullets opened up from somewhere behind. Something struck his arm, the gun fell, he tried to recapture it without slowing down - then he was hitting the nearest window and crashing through a ring of jagged glass spikes. Another gun spoke, and something hit him in the chest with a stunning force. The floor came up to meet him. He groaned.
"Methos?" It was Joe's voice, surprised and somewhat abashed. Methos lifted his head, ineffectually wishing the pain away, blinking blindly into the darkness of the club. Flashing neon was imprinted onto his retina, and he could see nothing save dark shapes and the faint glitter of the outside lights catching bottles behind the bar. He struggled to get up.
"Joe?" His chest screamed in protest and he fell back down. "Damn it Joe, you shot me!"
"Yeah... looks like it." Dawson's cane scratched on the floor as he tried to come nearer. MacLeod pulled him back.
"Keep away from the windows." His voice characteristically calm, and touched with definite humour, the Highlander sounded altogether too much as though he were enjoying this. "Stop glaring Methos. You'll live."
"Ow." Methos made it to his hands and knees, and crawled away from the window, trying not to slip in his own escaping blood. "Damn it that hurts. I can't believe you shot me, Joe!"
"What am I supposed to do when somebody comes crashing though the window? We're in the middle of a siege here." There was the sound of liquid sloshing into a glass, before Dawson made his way over to where Methos had collapsed. "Here. It's whisky."
"Whisky's good for bullet wounds is it?" Methos seemed to remember pouring it over gunshot victims during his various stints as a doctor in previous centuries. It seemed a waste to use it for a similar purpose now though, so he drank it instead. It was good stuff. He was beginning to relax and let the drink do its work when a low laugh rose out of the darkness; made him wonder if he was hearing things, or if the whisky had been stronger than it should have been. Only then did he remember his earlier suspicions about why exactly there was a gunfight going on in the first place. He closed his eyes in a silent groan.
"Kronos?" It was a stupid question. Now that he thought about it, the feeling of two distinct Immortal presences within the club had registered in his mind, briefly, when he had been hurtling towards the window. He eased himself into a sitting position, resting against a particularly uncomfortable table leg. "Who else."
"Yeah. He turned up right about the same time as the bullets." Joe sat down heavily on a chair beside Methos. "So far he hasn't been exactly forthcoming about why."
"I told you what happened." Kronos was speaking softly and evenly, one of the many signs that generally showed he was close to losing his temper. "There was a woman."
"Another one?" Methos cast a look over at his brother, taking perverse solace in the amount of blood on the other Immortal's shirt. Clearly he had been shot as well, which could only be good thing. "This one isn't insane as well is she?"
"She didn't look it, no. They were going to kill her, I stopped them. Then they killed her anyway."
"I thought you'd run out on me." Methos smiled faintly, remembering how anxious he had been. "I thought you'd dumped Sophie on me and slipped off. Crazy woman is out there now trying to slit throats."
"She always was a very willing pupil." Kronos was smiling faintly, although his eyes were dark. "If I know her she's not being too subtle, though she usually thinks she is."
"Not too subtle, no. It'll be a miracle if she hasn't been shot by now." As if to underline his words another volley of gunfire opened up, and another window shattered. "Bloody hell, Kronos. Why can't you just take a walk like a normal person?"
"I wanted some fun." He leaned over, eyes white hot, and grabbed Methos by the collar. "I wanted to stir up a little chaos and wash that mad woman out of my mind. Wash all of it out. What we were talking about before; the... situation. It was supposed to be fun."
"Oh yeah. Yeah it's bags of fun. Happy, bouncing, bundles of fun." Joe rolled his eyes. "I love sitting here watching invisible attackers blast my club to pieces, and waiting for them to burst in and kill me."
"I told you to leave." Kronos' voice was like ice. MacLeod sat down beside Dawson, body language demanding respect that he knew he wasn't going to get.
"He shouldn't have to leave," he pointed out. "You shouldn't have brought every gunman in Seacouver to his front door. Now what's this about some woman slitting throats?"
"Nothing." Kronos stood up, sword in hand, and made for one of the windows. He couldn't feel Sophie's presence, so she was obviously lurking out of range. Hiding in the shadows most likely, with the knives she had taken from her last victim back in Europe. Long, thin bladed weapons with handles shaped like a twisting horns; knives good for stabbing and twisting, and for quick, if not necessarily clean, kills.
"Can you see her?" Methos tried to get up, but crashed back down when his left arm suddenly seized up. He remembered something hitting it just before he crashed through the window, and realised that he had been shot there as well. No wonder he had been losing so much blood.
"I can't see a lot." Kronos didn't sound terribly interested, as though he couldn't be bothered to care what was going on outside the walls. "She'll be hiding somewhere, waiting for an opportunity. She likes attacking unexpectedly. Likes the surprise."
"I wonder where she got that from." Methos gave up, trying to stand, and elected just to slump instead. He'd always been good at that. Happily it felt as though his chest had finally stopped bleeding, and as if to prove it he heard the sharp crack of a rib mending itself. Joe winced in sympathy.
"Just who exactly is out there?" Duncan knew by now that demanding answers from Kronos was pointless, but he found himself reduced to attempting it anyway. Since he had made the decision, some time ago now, to respect Methos' feelings and let the man live on again, he seemed to have found himself caught in this same situation of a peculiar and uncomfortable alliance rather too often. The world could only be better - and safer - with Kronos dead, and being tolerant of his warmongering ways never seemed to come to any good. At the sound of the question Kronos looked back at him, icy blue eyes a-glitter, expression cold enough to freeze a more mortal heart; then the ice broke up in the light of an oddly careless grin.
"Sophie." There were times when it was easy to believe that death and the return to life had had a detrimental effect on Kronos' sanity, for the manner in which his moods seemed to change was startling to say the least. Methos seemed to find it entirely normal, so perhaps Kronos had always been like that; but MacLeod had first known him only as a violent man filled with hatred. This capricious, coldly humorous version was one that he had never got used to.
"She one of your drug dealer friends?" Joe was edging firmly towards cynicism and bitterness now, a symptom perhaps of being the only person present who was genuinely in any danger. Kronos flicked his eyes over to the mortal, holding his gaze with a glimmer of ice until Dawson finally looked away. Only then did the Immortal deign to answer.
"No. She's not one of them. She's a girl I met in Poland."
"Insane, evil, or just plain stupid?" MacLeod couldn't help the question, and wasn't sorry that he had asked it. There were times when he felt obliged to try taking Kronos down a peg or two. He might be a bloodthirsty mass murderer, but when he wasn't actually posing a threat to anybody, it sometimes paid to remind him that he wasn't the all-powerful superman that his reputation suggested. Kronos, for his part, held MacLeod in such low regard that he didn't care in the slightest what the Highlander said - or he would have challenged him to combat long before now.
"She's just some woman," he said, though his eyes told a different story. "She's sick."
"She's bloody raving." Methos caught his brother's look and shrugged. "Well she is. She loves killing people, just to see the look in their eyes when they die. She says it makes her feel less dead inside."
"Yes..." Kronos wandered back over to join them, a small, dark and powerful figure highlighted in neon. The sword in his hand flashed blue and yellow as he walked. "Stupid bloody woman. So wrong inside. I don't think she really appreciated anything I tried to show her."
"You tried to show her things?" Dawson's mind boggled at what those things might have been. "Such as? Or don't I want to know?"
"Just things." Kronos' eyes drifted over to Methos. "Just things."
"Who is she?" MacLeod's voice showed concern; concern for the girl, and what might have been done to her. Kronos found that faintly amusing. As it had turned out Sophie hadn't needed much encouragement. All he had done was to awaken instincts and desires that before had merely lain dormant. It was a shame that she was so sick; they could really have had some fun together otherwise.
"Her name is Sophie, like I said." He shrugged lightly, casually. "She's French."
"Yes... I was hoping for something a little more enlightening than that. What exactly is she doing with you?"
"This and that." He shrugged again, making it all seem entirely inconsequential. "She wanted to die, but she couldn't go through with it. She wasn't sure that she wanted to live either, though; but with me she feels differently."
"You mean you scare the living daylights out of her just so she'll remember she's alive." MacLeod looked faintly ill. "You're sick, Kronos."
"True." Kronos smiled rakishly, then grabbed a beer from behind the bar and tore it open. "But not in this case. Not entirely anyway. Look, MacLeod... I don't care what you think of me. Why the hell should I? You're nothing but a two-dimensional white knight trying to save a world he doesn't belong in. But I do know what you think of me, whether I want to or not. And in this instance you're wrong. She needed help, and believe it or not I really was the guy to give it to her. She was dead to everything. Nothing in life was right for her any more, and I showed her how to find herself again. The world tells her that she's not beautiful and she believes it, and lowers her expectations. The world tells her to get a job and bow to conformity, so she does. Then she wonders why her life is full of unfulfilment, depression, restlessness. She wonders why she feels suicidal. If she sees something else when she's with me, why question it?"
"Because you're a mad son of a bitch, that's why." Methos frowned, thinking about all that he had just heard. "Although admittedly you can be oddly insightful at times. Have you been reading feminist literature again, or did she tell you all of this during some strange blood-soaked bonding session?" A smirk crossed his otherwise innocent face. "Or bondage session, more likely."
"Your sense of humour doesn't improve, does it." Kronos put the beer down, his movements slow and deliberate. "Death may be my particular gift, brother, but where it goes, life is never far behind. If I understand death then I also understand life; and everything that goes with it. I may not be a psychologist, but I do know what makes that girl tick. Maybe I'll fix whatever's wrong. Maybe I'll drive her over the edge. Either way she's got more chance with me than she had sitting on a bridge over a gorge, waiting for the right moment to jump." He smiled, and reached for his beer again. "Or maybe she's got no chance at all."
"If she carries on the way it sounds like she is now then she doesn't have any chance. You've warped her mind past any problems she had before, and now you're trying to pretend that you were doing it for her own good?" MacLeod wanted to hit him, but didn't. Some people weren't worth expending energy on. "She loves death, Kronos. Maybe not her own, even if it is what she wants somewhere deep inside. But she still loves death all the same. I've seen it before. For all we know right now she could be out there raiding houses for victims." He shook his head slowly from side to side. "Kronos... oh what's the use? I'm trying to make a psychopath see sense."
"There's nothing to see." Kronos didn't bother trying to keep the loathing from his voice. "She likes to kill. She's good at it. I could say the same of you."
"Not anymore." For a second Duncan's hand tightened on his sword, but he forced himself to relax again. "That's all a long time in the past. I don't pass judgement anymore. I haven't killed one of us for those reasons in a long time. I saw the error of my ways."
"Yes. Beheaded your boy, didn't you." Kronos smiled unpleasantly. "I suppose that'll lead to a rethink. At any rate, there was a time when you came to enjoy the killing. You killed hundreds of us because you liked it. You liked feeling that you were making the world a better place, whether or not you actually were. Why think badly of her just because she's killing mortals? Why are they more entitled to life than we are? Their lives are nothing. Just brief flashes."
"Most of our kind are worth a good deal less than the mortals." MacLeod shook his head. "This isn't an argument I'm going to get into. Certainly not right now. There's a woman out there who enjoys killing, and she has to be stopped."
"Then stop her." Kronos smiled lazily, and gestured out of the window. "Methos got lucky breaking in here. You try going out and you'll be torn apart by gunfire before you can make it out of the window. You can keep trying for the rest of the night, but you won't make it out of here. By now they've probably got the back covered too, so there's no getting out that way."
"He's got a point, Mac." Dawson was beginning to think pleasant thoughts of fine malt whisky once again, but he wasn't sure it was entirely sensible to risk being seen, and shot, just to try going back over to the bar. "You try to get out of here and they'll have you full of lead in seconds. You could die a dozen times and not go more than a dozen feet. What good would that do?"
"Especially since you don't know what Sophie looks like or where's she's likely to be." Methos managed to lever himself up into a chair, and swung his arms to make sure that the various bullet holes had gone. "And what happens if you do find her?"
"She goes to a psychiatrist. The kind who's actually trying to help her get better, not teach her how to get even more sick." MacLeod glared at Kronos, who was eternally unrepentant. As far as he was concerned Sophie was entitled to kill who she damn well pleased, if it helped her to enjoy her own life more. Life was all about living, after all, and if Sophie needed death in order to live then fair enough. That was the mortals' look out. MacLeod looked disgusted at the complete lack of concern on the other man's face, but he said nothing about it. He merely looked from Methos to Kronos as though regretting ever having heard of either of them. They were both used to that, and the glare had long since lost its potency. Not that it had ever had much of that.
"There's something else, isn't there. Something about her that you're not telling me. Does she have something other than basic weapons? Is she likely to try planting a bomb, or doing something else that I need to know about?"
"MacLeod..." Faintly irritated, Methos favoured the Highlander with his best withering stare. "He might be a sick bastard, but I actually quite like mortals these days, remember? If she was going to start planting bombs out there, and I knew about it, I'd have told you by now. Not that there's a great deal we could do about it stuck in here. The police don't seem inclined to join in and help at all tonight, do they."
"Then if she's not planning something like that, what is it that you're hiding?" MacLeod eyed him like a parent regarding a particularly annoying child. "I can tell when you're hiding something, Methos. Goodness knows it's a look I've seen often enough. What's the rest of the story with this girl?"
"Nothing." Methos looked over at Kronos, but the younger Horseman was staring out of a window, apparently watching the changing patterns of the neon lights. MacLeod snorted.
"For somebody who spends half of his life lying, you can be pretty bad at it at times, old man."
"She's wanted in Europe." Kronos spoke quietly but clearly, and didn't turn away from the light show outside the window. "She killed eleven people over there, and there were witnesses. That's what we're not telling." He finally turned away from the window long enough to shoot Methos a sharp glance. "Methos didn't want you to know about it. Afraid of hurting your delicate sensibilities I suppose."
"Eleven? She told me she'd killed seven." Methos remembered that strangely haunting conversation back at his apartment. "She's modest now?"
"She forgets." Kronos shrugged, as ever showing his indifference. "Seven, nine, eleven... Sometimes she doesn't know that she's doing it."
"Fine." MacLeod rubbed his eyes. "We've got to get out of here."
"You've got to get out of here." Kronos flashed him a flicker of a smile. "I don't see any hurry."
"There's a killer roaming loose out there looking for people to kill. Stopping her might be good." Joe was less skilled at reining in his emotions than MacLeod, and made no attempt to hide his feelings now. "She could kill everybody in the next six blocks before anyone even notices she's doing it."
"Probably true." Kronos played aimlessly with his sword, as though wishing that he could be doing something more meaningful with it. Whatever his recent assertion that he was in no hurry to leave the club, Methos could see in his brother's face, in his eyes and his body language, that he very much wanted to be out in the streets. There was nothing he would like more than to be prowling about in the darkness with his unhinged protégé, slitting throats and spilling blood. "But I doubt that you'll be able to stop her."
"I do have some experience in the field." MacLeod's tone dripped with sarcasm. "She can't be that good."
"Moot point, really, isn't it. Since she's out there and you're in here." Kronos was smirking faintly, clearly determined to get as much entertainment from all of this as possible. MacLeod's eyes flashed, and he brandished his sword.
"This is all just a joke to you, isn't it. People dying, some poor woman gone mad, her mind pulled apart - and you think it's funny. You know, I keep trying to remember why I didn't take your head the moment I saw that you were alive again. I keep trying to remember why I haven't killed you a hundred times since that day. I'm not getting very far."
"If you want to challenge me, then challenge me." Kronos stood up, but Methos pushed his sword aside.
"No challenges, and no fighting. Not in here. There's already enough blood all over the floor, and I know damn well who's going to have to clear it up. No more, understand?" He glared sharply at Kronos. "And you should be more careful. Things aren't necessarily straightforward. Not anymore."
"Straightforward enough for me." Kronos let his brother lower his sword though, without any apparent annoyance. "But if you're talking about... what we were talking about earlier..."
"You know bloody well that I am." Methos dropped his voice to a level that he knew MacLeod and Joe would not be able to hear, although no doubt they would be trying. "No more heads, Kronos. Not yet."
"Do you think this sentence has a limit, brother? That they'll change their mind or give me an appeal? Or do you mean no more heads ever?" Kronos saw the questions in Duncan's eyes as these words reached him, and turned away in sudden fury. "Fine. No challenge right now. Go and help your Highlander find a way out of this place. He has his important work to do, getting his shiny white armour re-polished."
"And you have to sit in the corner and sulk." MacLeod put his sword away. "Joe, I'm going to need to know how we're fixed for bullets. If I'm going to get out of here I'll need somebody to lay down some decent covering fire."
"There's probably enough. I mean, so long as the gun doesn't jam I'll be able to give you cover enough." He shook the gun, as though to check that all the parts were working correctly. "Like I said, it hasn't been cleaned in a while."
"Joe... there's a limit to how much lead I can take, and still carry on moving. If I'm going to stop that woman out there I need to not get shot by our playmates first."
"Maybe they've gone. They've been quiet a while." Joe headed off in search of more ammunition, keeping his expression as optimistic as his words. It was clear that he didn't believe his own good cheer. Methos shook his head.
"They've seen that shooting the place up doesn't work. Right now they're probably planning a proper assault. Maybe MacLeod's got the right idea, and we should get out of here. You certainly need to get out, Joe."
"You know how many of them there are?" Bending down behind the bar, Joe picked up a few small cardboard boxes, somehow managing not to lose eye contact with Methos all the way. Methos shrugged.
"I saw seven. I'm betting on at least another one or two round the back. Sophie certainly killed one though. Two I think; and by now maybe more. For all we know that's why they've gone so quiet. She's killed them all."
"That's not the way she works." Kronos was over at the window again, bottle of beer in one hand, sword in the other. "She likes to stalk at her leisure. Massacres aren't exactly her thing."
"Then I wonder what she's doing." Methos frowned, staring at his fellow Horseman with a worried look in his eyes. "Kronos, seriously now. Is she a danger to civilians? Ordinary people I mean. People in the houses near here?"
"Honestly?" Kronos took a long, thoughtful drink. "I don't know. She's never gone for ordinary people before. Soldiers, policemen, a man who tried to attack her... but maybe. Every time she does it she gets less of a high. Every time the buzz wears off a little sooner. Maybe she'd think about going for a different kind of target, just to see what happens."
"Just like her spiritual father." MacLeod was seething, the idea that innocent people might well be in great danger being just the kind of thing likely to enrage him. Kronos rolled his eyes.
"Oh get off your high horse, MacLeod. You love blaming me for everything, don't you. Well sorry to disappoint you. Yes, I thought I'd have a little fun with her - and yes, I thought fear might be the thing to sort her out. I took her with me when I killed some people - but they were people that I needed to kill, to stay alive and to stay free. They had their chance to fight back - most of them. I didn't know that two days later she'd be hacking a border guard to pieces with a battle axe, and looking like it was the greatest rush she'd ever had. I didn't know that she'd take more pleasure in killing than anybody I've ever known. I didn't know that she was that sick." He shook his head, staring out of the window, presenting a perfect target to anybody who happened to be standing outside waiting to shoot. "And for your information, I never killed innocent civilians either. Not the way you mean. The Horsemen killed, yes - but we didn't sneak up on people, and try to catch them unawares. We rode down on them in daylight - four of us against hundreds. Our lives were always at risk too. And they weren't innocent anyway. Everybody was a killer back then. They killed each other, kept their neighbours as slaves, left their new-born babies to die of exposure if they didn't like the look of them. They thought nothing of killing men, women and children over an argument about gods, or trade routes, or a handful of domesticated animals. It was a different world."
"Yeah, so Methos has said." MacLeod was almost impressed by the outburst, although not enough to really listen to it. "Funny thing is, though, that he seems to have stopped killing people every which way. You haven't. You still like it. You still look forward to it. And right now you're wishing that you were out there doing it."
"True." Kronos raised his beer bottle in a mocking little salute. "A gang of killers, MacLeod. Drug dealers, who shot down a woman I tried to help. I'm not going to break into houses and start slitting the throats of sleeping children just because it's fun. As it happens it's not." He smiled around the neck of the bottle. "They die too quickly at that age."
"If you're trying to prove to me that you're actually a perfectly nice and harmless member of the community, it's not working." MacLeod turned his back, diverting his attention to Dawson and his boxes of bullets. Kronos stared at his back for a few moments, then drained the beer and tossed the bottle away across the room. It broke loudly.
"I'm not perfectly nice or harmless. I'm a killer, Highlander. I enjoy killing. People pay me to kill other people, and I enjoy it so much that sometimes I don't even bother sticking around to get paid. Killing people is an art form that I've been practising for four thousand years, and I doubt there's ever been another person on the face of this planet who's been better at it. Except for my brother here. If you want to paint your world in basic colours, I suppose you could call me evil. I am evil; in your world. There is one thing that I am not, though, Duncan - and that's the man that you think I am." He thrust his sword into the sheath he wore quite openly around his waist, then gestured to the window. "But what about you MacLeod? You're the great hero, the man who saves everybody. And right now you're standing here looking at spare bullets whilst half the people in the street might be drowning in their own blood. One man with a gun he can't depend on is the cover you're counting on to get across the street without getting incapacitated on the way. If that's the way you're playing this, you're a madman and a fool."
"And you're a loudmouth, just like you always were. Always talking big and never delivering, right Kronos? The man with the stupidest last words in the history of last words - and you're not getting any better with age."
"But at least I am thinking things through here." Kronos shot a glance over at Methos, who was watching proceedings with an uncomfortable expression on his face. "If you saw seven out front, brother, then there's four at the back. They're not the patient kind, and they've been waiting a long time. I'd say we probably haven't got very long at all before they try to break in, and if the back of this place is as flimsy as the front they'll be in before we know that they're coming. Anybody with a brain rather than a hero complex would use that gun to defend the back door, not worry about breaking out through the front."
"Your girlfriend isn't out back," pointed out MacLeod. "And it's her I've got stop."
"You don't have to worry about her. She's not the threat you think she is - or at least she probably isn't. Doesn't matter right now anyway, does it. I can see them, MacLeod. Out there, at the front. They're edging closer, thinking nobody can see them. That's why I can stand right in front of the windows like this. They're not going to shoot and risk giving away their position. Five minutes, tops, and they're coming in here. You've only got the one gun. Dawson here will be history before you can say 'whoops'."
"I'm going out the front. They won't attack with Joe shooting at them." MacLeod was getting increasingly annoyed, and Methos could see a confrontation brewing once again. He stood up, edging forward until he was directly between the warring pair, and held up his hands rather hesitatingly.
"Er... Mac? If you go out the front, maybe they won't attack the club from that way. But what about the ones out the back? I can try to help Joe hold them off, but if they come in with their guns blazing we're all dead - one of us permanently. We can't put up much of a defence when Joe's shooting our only gun out of the front to give you covering fire."
"So you want me to stay in here and let his girlfriend murder half of Seacouver? Methos, I swear, sometimes I don't know what side you're on. You want her to get away?"
"I don't think it matters Mac." Dawson nodded towards Kronos, or rather to where the Immortal had been standing moments before. As a hail of bullets splintered what remained of the windows at the front of the building, the small, dark figure was just visible stepping through the raining glass, striding out into the street. Duncan gazed at the sight for a moment, momentum rather lost, about to set off after the older man - when, with a sound of splitting and splintering wood, the back door caved in under sudden attack. Obviously cued by the gunfire at the front of the building, the men stationed at the back burst in, guns blazing. Caught by surprise, Methos was hit by a hail of lead, and crashed backwards over a row of chairs. Grabbing Dawson by the arm, MacLeod threw him to the floor and snatched the gun away.
"I swear I am going to kill that little jerk." Forced to duck before he could fire back, Duncan had to content himself with nothing more than some furious glaring into space. "And this time he's going to stay dead, whatever the hell it takes."
"I think he was trying to help, Mac." Joe tried to see what was happening, but Duncan held him back. There would be plenty of time later to get shot, if he couldn't hold this lot off, without taking risks now.
"Help? How is this helping? They'll just gun him down and come blasting their way in here. He probably thinks it's funny."
"Not coming though, are they."
"Huh?" MacLeod ducked again, then sent a few shots flying towards the intruders. He thought that he heard somebody fall.
"They're not coming. The men out the front of the building. Something must be keeping them away."
"Well he couldn't have made it through that lot, surely?" MacLeod wished that he could see outside, to get a glimpse of what was going on out in the street, but all that he could see was a riot of neon flashing against shattered glass. Guns still echoed outside the club as well as inside it, but somewhere he thought he heard a scream. He couldn't be sure. All that he could really hear was the gunfire; the rattle of bullets, the crashing of broken glass and furnishings as the lead destroyed the inside of Joe's club. Determined to protect Joe, pushing Kronos to the back of his mind, MacLeod hurriedly reloaded the gun, then added his own shots to the steady, furious rattle. He couldn't see who he was shooting at, and he was hopelessly outgunned, but he didn't really have a choice.
Thanks to Kronos, his mind growled at him. This time he was determined to make the Horseman pay - and if anything happened to Joe Dawson, all the demands and excuses that Methos could make wouldn't stop the Highlander from challenging Kronos. Always supposing that he could find him, anyway.
The hail of bullets was impossible to avoid, as Kronos had known it would be. As he came through the window one caught his shoulder, slewing him backwards and slowing him down. He carried on, ducking, running low, barely flinching when a second bullet hit his upper body. He felt it impact with his collar bone, deflecting downward into his chest. An interesting sensation, part of his mind thought. It felt like a fatal wound, but just as before, when he had managed to outrun his pursuers with a chest full of bullet holes, he didn't let this new one slow him down. So long as his heart wasn't hit, he felt sure that he could carry on moving. Reaching the shadows that lined the streets, he timed his running to the short bursts between flashes from the neon sign opposite the club. Bullets still rattled around him, but although they came close, no more made contact. Somebody shouted, and he smiled grimly. They had no idea where he was; to them he had vanished completely. They were worried. Like fools, though, they carried on shooting, wasting bullets on an invisible target, marking their own positions by the flashes of fire that came from the muzzle of every gun. He thought about the knives that he had left behind when he had first fought with the gang, and felt sorry that he no longer had them. Those tell tale fire flashes were enough for him to identify and place his targets well enough to throw the knives and be sure of causing damage. Now he was left with only his sword, which meant dealing with this at close quarters. He smiled at the thought. Sophie, for all her weirdnesses and problems, was right about one thing. Killing close to was definitely better than the myriad alternatives. Maybe it wasn't so unfortunate that he had lost his knives.
It felt good to be outside; good that things were moving again. He had had high hopes for this night, when he had discovered the gang by the river. He had come upon the club darkened and closed up; it should have been empty. Methos, looking for advice from his infernal Watcher friend, should have brought Sophie there sooner. It would have been just the three of them then, fighting together. Sophie might have come back to life, for however short a time, and the two remaining Horsemen could have shared their own old brand of fun. Instead he had been stuck in the jazz club with Dawson and MacLeod, trying to put off the final confrontation until Methos arrived, and then frustrated at the last by a stalemate. Definitely not the kind of entertainment he had had planned. Even now he couldn't enjoy himself properly; couldn't take his time and relish the blood he was about to shed. He had to get past this obstacle and find Sophie before Duncan MacLeod managed to come after him. MacLeod could not be allowed to meet the formerly mortal girl. He would know her for what she was right away, and that would mean no more talk of psychiatrists. MacLeod had something of a tendency to treat Immortals - and, quite possibly, pre-Immortals - differently to other offenders, and if anybody was going to take Sophie's head it would be Kronos. She shouldn't die just because of one of MacLeod's snap judgements. She was worth more than that.
Despite his frustrations it was fun to be moving again. He should have tried this sooner, although admittedly it wouldn't have been so easy before MacLeod was properly distracted. Waiting until the gang's so far unseen rear guard was ready to attack had been the sort of stroke of genius that made him smirk at his own brilliance. It was just a shame that his brilliance hadn't saved him from being shot again. His chest protested when he moved quickly to avoid being seen in a flash of neon light, but pain at least was something he was used to. And the rest in the club, no matter how unwanted, had at least meant that the last gunshot wounds were properly healed. He had almost replenished his bloody supply as well. The thought almost made him smile again. At the rate he was currently losing blood he would have been dead before he had made it three feet, if it hadn't been for his unplanned inactivity. Maybe Fate was kind after all.
"Where did he go?" The voice was close by him, pitched low. "Where did he go?"
"Are you kidding? I shot him, he's not going anywhere." The second voice was closer still, and not so quiet. Kronos shifted the sword in his grip, identifying his first and most likely targets. These loudmouths were so near to him that he doubted he would even have to stretch out by much to send them on their way.
"Shot him? We both shot him earlier, and did that stop him. This guy's wearing some pretty heavy duty vest. Try for a head shot or don't bother."
"A head shot?" A third voice cut into the conversation, sounding less than impressed. "I can't see a thing. Either there's no decent light at all, or I'm being dazzled by these damn signs. And what happened to Lonny?"
"Given up and gone home like the rest of us should have done." A fourth voice, morose and slow, not as audible as the rest. "We're not down that much money."
"Lonny didn't go home." The first voice had the edge of fear to it; the sound that always made a Horseman glad. "He's dead. Something killed him, and Art too."
"Something? You seeing things again, JD?" The second voice was followed by the sound of a slap, like a hand across a back. Kronos straightened up, and let the blade of his sword fall slightly into the glow of the ever flashing lights. The metal lit up with a glitter and a spark, and electric blue fire bounced back into his eyes.
"I'm not seeing anything. I just know that Lonny didn't run out on us. He never left where there was the chance of a fight before, and you know it. And Art was standing right next to me when something came out of the shadows and killed him. I tried to tell you that at the time. I thought at first it was Lonny. Looked like him till it got up close. Lonny never had eyes like that though. I thought it was a girl, but she looked so... so I don't know. Dead eyes, grey skin, all--"
"JD, you're losing it. Too much sampling of your own product." The second voice again, mocking and humorous. "If they're dead, where are they? Or did your dead, grey woman eat them?"
"I don't know. Maybe." The nervous man, JD, looked away from his fellows and back towards the jazz club. Sounds of the gunfight inside burst through the broken windows. "I just think this whole thing is crazy. That weirdo interrupts us - well so what? Not got our money, has he. So why come after him? Why risk--"
"Risk? There is no risk." The mocking second voice bore traces of a lack of patience. "You want to get out of here then go, but you won't be getting a share of the money when we get it."
"Get it from who? Some probably drunk guy who got in the way earlier? Or you think that little club is really worth that much? This was a non-starter from the beginning, and we should have called it quits after Cindy died. I'm going; and anybody who doesn't come with me is as crazy as that guy we just shot. I'll see you at the bar later maybe." With that he turned smartly, ready to head back along the road. Something made him freeze though; something made his feet stick in their place, his skin turn pale, his throat go dry. In the darkness Kronos smiled. The fool couldn't have seen much in the shadows; but as the neon lights continued to flash, so they continued to spark patterns on an exposed sword blade, and on a pair of unblinking, ice blue eyes. JD took a single, slow step back - then panicked. When he ran he didn't know where he was going, or in which direction. It didn't matter. Whichever direction he had chosen, Kronos would always have been there first. Still hidden by the shadows he moved - invisible to the other men he stepped forward - swung the sword - let JD see it as it arced towards him. The terrified mortal managed the beginnings of a scream; the start of what might have been a plea, or a curse, or a warning to his friends - but which could never have become any one of those things. It choked off into a sick, wet gurgle as the razor sharp blade cut into his chest, smashing bone, bursting blood vessels, tearing straight through organs that were already dying. Kronos took a moment to admire the fountain of red spray as it took flight; as a fiery glare of red neon captured it, took it and lit it from within - then he tore the sword free and was gone again into the shadows. The rest of the gang must have seen him by now; couldn't have missed seeing something. They wouldn't truly have known what, though, any more than had JD when he had caught a glimpse of his friend Art's own bloody demise. The dead, grey woman. Where was Sophie now, Kronos wondered. Fulfilling MacLeod's nightmares of butchered civilians, or retired to some quiet corner to return to her miseries? Right now he didn't care, for he had other things to think about. There had been seven men, he knew, waiting at the front of the front of the club. Sophie seemed to have killed two, and he had just performed the same favour for a third. That left four, and they were all now running for cover. He heard yells and questions and pounding feet, as well as a few random gunshots. Fools. Did they think that they could outrun him? Hide from him? Kill him? They were already his. Unable to contain himself he let out a shout of glee, and whirled the sword around above his head. Blood showered in all directions; blood and gore that he could taste in the air. It dampened his hair and stained his shirt, and fuelled his desire for more of the same. Four men, still waiting to die. Why make them wait any longer?
He caught the first beside a bar not unlike Joe's, but one that was long out of use. The sword took his head as neatly as a pair of shears might take the bloom of a rose. The head bounced off the window of the bar as it fell, thudding wetly, the dead eyes staring stupidly at their reflection before they were drowned in the wet mud of the gutter. Kronos leapt over the fallen body, and carried on running.
The second man was easier than the first, for the second man was no runner, no athlete; nobody with a chance. He tripped on the curb, falling in a heap, scrabbling to get up without ever really knowing what he was doing. Kronos didn't even break his stride. The sword darted downwards, almost like a living creature with a mind of its own, sinking its point into the back of the man's neck, then flicking upwards to tear open the back of his skull. He collapsed without so much as a sound, and Kronos ran on. Two men left now. Two more deaths that his heart and soul cried out for. He might have laughed, had he not been so intense.
The third man was falling behind his friend. He hadn't turned; hadn't seen or heard anything of the fate of his two friends; but he knew that they were both dead. He knew that he would soon be joining them too, if he didn't do something about it. Kronos could almost hear these frightened thoughts, for he had long ago learnt all the subtleties and intricacies of the panicked mind. It amused him to see the thoughts of the man written clearly in the manner of his running, and the desperate glance he at last threw back. He didn't really see Kronos, any more than any of the others had done. The flashing neons were no longer reaching them here, and the only light came from the street lamps, none of which seemed to be working the way that they should. He saw a shadow come to life, carrying a weapon that ran with blood; but these were mere vagaries that his mind strung together into facts. He didn't really see anything at all. Raising his gun, turning as he ran, he fired off one shot, two shots, three shots; and heard each one ricochet emptily off a nearby wall. Kronos didn't even bother ducking. The fire in his chest had abated, the blood had long since ceased to flow. He could take another bullet or two now, he knew, without it really slowing him down. Unless this randomly firing fool got very lucky, with a direct hit to the heart or the head, Kronos wasn't worried at all. He quickened his pace, heading straight for the man, now stopped and stood stock still in the middle of the road. The gun was pointing directly at Kronos, but it was wobbling badly. Kronos didn't step out of its way. He didn't slow down. He didn't raise his sword. He didn't do anything - until he saw the car coming along the road. A police car, finally coming to investigate the gun shots? Some poor fool in the wrong place at the wrong time? It wasn't as though it mattered. With a small, delighted smile, Kronos slowed down.
"Look behind you." It was something that he knew the man would never do. The idiot hadn't even heard the car. Too scared probably. Kronos sauntered nearer, staring down the barrel of the gun, letting the man see the ragged holes in his shirt; the blood stains; the proof that it wasn't some 'heavy duty vest' which had kept him moving under fire. He grinned - and the man at last heard the car. He turned, ready to leap aside, but Kronos was not going to let him escape this fortuitous, and possibly amusing, fate. He swung the sword, catching the man across the neck with the flat of the blade, sending him stumbling back into the path of the car. The driver's eyes widened, he shouted something that Kronos never heard. There was a squeal of breaks, the car slewed to one side - but the falling man hit it anyway. The windscreen splintered, the tumbling form rolled in front of the wheels; and the car, the driver, and the tangled up body of the penultimate drug dealer all crashed together into the nearest building. It happened to be a bank, and an alarm rang out. Now the police really would be coming, but Kronos didn't care about that, either. They wouldn't get in his way. Not unless he wanted them to. Shouldering the sword with a true lightness of heart, he set off after the last man. That was where his fun lay now.
The fourth man was in a blind panic, and all that he cared about was getting away. He smashed a chaotic passage through the ground floor of a shop, hurtling down the alleyway behind like a manc drunkard. If he could just run far enough, or fast enough, or long enough--
And then he could see the end of the alleyway, and there were figures there. Three of them, sitting in a circle, propped up by rusting trash cans. He skidded to a halt, but the threesome seemed innocuous enough. They didn't even turn to look at him. Drunks perhaps, or tramps. Nobody that he needed to be afraid of. He ran on towards them, not knowing where else to go, not seeing any other direction to go in. There didn't seem to be anybody behind him anymore, but he wasn't entirely sure that there had ever been anybody there. He had never truly seen anything more than the shifting of shadows, a fountain of neon-suffused blood. Nothing real.
He hurried on down the alley, feet slipping on wet tarmac and bits of trash. Perhaps he could make it over the wall at the end. That should give him enough of a head start to make him safe from any pursuit. A crash echoed behind him, and imagination told him what his eyes could not - something was coming through the shop he had himself just run through. Somebody was after him. He hurtled on down the alley, wondering if the three people at the end of it could help him. Maybe one of them could show him a way out? He wanted to call out, but didn't want to give away his position to whoever might be behind him. Instead he tried not to panic, tried to stay calm, tried to work out why two of them seemed so familiar. There was something about them; their clothes, their hair, what little he could see of their faces. He stopped then, skidding to a halt only yards away from them. He knew who they were now.
"Lonny? Art?" He took another step forward, hesitant and slow. Why weren't they turning to look at him? Instinct told him the answer of course. He knew why they weren't looking at him, just as he knew why they weren't moving, weren't speaking, weren't breathing. He could even see the blood now, congealed around the gash that had been Art's throat. He frowned at the third figure, wondering if it too was a dead body - then saw its head turn to face him. He saw black skin, paled as though by sickness to a sorry grey; eyes that were strangely empty and lifeless. JD's dead, grey woman, staring at him now without a trace of expression. What was she doing here, sitting with his two dead friends? He thought about running away, and then remembered that that was what he was doing. Somebody behind, somebody ahead. He raised his gun, and stared down its short, powerful length at the spectre before him.
"Don't move." His voice was thick and dry. "Just... don't move." She didn't speak, but she didn't stay still. The gun followed her as she rose to a half crouch, and he saw that she was holding a knife in her hand. His mind rushed back to another dark shape, holding another knife, with the same smell of blood in the air. The man who had killed several of the gang with his knives, then escaped into the night with a chest full of lead. The man who, quite possibly, was running after him now.
"I said don't move." He didn't fire though, as she rose to her feet and stared at him, still without a hint of expression. "Who are you?"
"Nobody." There was no life in her voice, just as there was none in her eyes.
"You have to be somebody." He nodded towards her two dead friends. "You killed them. Why?"
"Because they were alive." She was moving towards him, and the knife was glittering in her hand. "Just like you are."
"And just like you are. I could kill you too." He renewed his grip on his gun, and wished that he didn't know there was somebody behind him. Why couldn't he just shoot this woman and run? It was probably the only way he was getting out of here alive. She smiled at him, and he saw that her eyes didn't change. No matter the smile on her face, her eyes were still dead. She took a step nearer and he jumped, hearing the gun ring out as he fired in surprise. The bullet hit Lonny, sitting quiet and dead on the ground, and he topped over slowly. A low laugh rippled through the alley, coming from close behind him.
"You'll have to shoot better than that my friend." An English voice, strangely not at all out of place; well-spoken, calm, quiet. He shivered, but didn't turn around. He didn't want to take his eyes off the woman he wasn't sure was really alive.
"Who are you?" Even though it was still the woman he was staring at, he meant the question for the unknown English voice. The woman seemed to know that, and so did the voice. He heard the faintest and shortest of laughs, and felt his neck create a shiver.
"Me?" There was the crunching, scratching sound of a footstep. "There are many ways to answer that question, my friend. Do you know your Bible?"
"Huh?" It wasn't the answer he had been expecting; wasn't an answer at all. "What do you mean? The Bible?"
"It's a book." Another step. "Quite a big one. And I looked and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat upon him was Death, and Hell followed with him."
"You - you're Death?" He did turn then, away from the grey woman, towards the source of the voice. What he saw surprised him, though it didn't reassure. Not a large man, not a powerful man. A man perhaps not even of average height, his build slight, and without even the benefit of a gun to back him up - and yet his eyes, that were cold and intense, somehow gleamed with all the power of eternity.
"Death?" The man came closer, smiling gently, the sword in his hand dripping blood down into the darkness that hid the ground. "No, I'm not Death. I'm Hell. The only thing in all the world more terrible in the minds of man than Death. What one thing have men feared more throughout the ages?" He was close enough to touch now, and when he reached out it was to stroke his victim's cheek with an almost tender hand. The gun was still ready, still pointing, but Kronos hadn't even noticed. "You should have run in the other direction, instead of following me to that club tonight - but I'm glad that you didn't."
"You're alive." The touch on his cheek had been warm; the touch of a living man. "You're not Hell. Not Death. You're just a man."
"No." For a second the pale eyes hardened into unimaginable anger, but it passed quickly. "I am not 'just' a man. Not 'just' anything. I'm the dark space inside your head. The hidden race memory of fears from another age. The Apocalypse others think they've tamed."
"Um... right." He waggled the gun, mind returning to him in the face of what appeared to be nothing more than a madman. "But you're still alive. And I can still make you otherwise."
"Not with that you can't." With the speed of a snake striking, Kronos grabbed the hand holding the gun, twisting it with cruel force. He knew that this mortal man was probably stronger than him, but simple speed and confidence were often more effective than mere strength. He thought that he heard a bone crack, and with a whimper and a clatter the gun was gone. He smiled. The mortal tried to move away, but Kronos still held his fingers, still bending them out of shape. His captive struggled to speak.
"So... you're going to kill me now?" His voice still carried some force. It wasn't as weak and quivering as so many other voices were at this point. Kronos smiled.
"No." He let go of the hand then, and took a small, lazy step back. "I'm not going to kill you." His ice blue eues moved away, slowly, to look towards the grey woman still lurking close by. "She's going to do that."
"She--" He was starting to turn, wondering if he could get to the gun in time; if he could get the sword away from the man before him; but he was already too late for any of that. An arm snaked around his neck, pulling him into a strangely sensuous embrace, and he felt the breath of the grey woman on his cheek. He tried to see her; to see if he could see anything in those eyes that might give him hope. He couldn't see them at all, but if he had he might have seen them spark at last into life. He might have seen the relief as a lost and frightened woman found a little of herself again, as she sank the blade of her knife into his neck - or he might not have seen anything in the dark. Kronos saw it though; saw the rush of excitement and intoxication that briefly swept away the sadnesses of an unwanted life. Then the man in her arms convulsed and died, and with him went the lights in her eyes. She smiled once, briefly and regretfully, then let him fall. Kronos smirked.
"They always think they can get away. Where did you get to Sophie? You've had people worried."
"Worried?" She didn't care, or didn't understand. "About me?"
"About what you might be doing. Methos has a friend who likes to worry about these things. We thought you might be cutting throats all over town."
"No, I was..." She turned her head to look towards the two men she had killed earlier. "They look so peaceful, even though they didn't die especially nicely. I thought perhaps that if I sat with them a while, and looked at them, I might feel better about... I might finally be able to find the courage to... to go where they've gone." She smiled sadly and shrugged. "But it didn't work. It'll never work, will it. I hate all of this, Kronos. I hate killing, I hate death, I hate myself, what I've become. I hate my life. But I don't want to be dead."
"You hate a lot, don't you."
"And you think it's funny."
"No, not especially." He thought about her longing for a death she was too terrified to seek out; and how she would now be impervious to it anyway, thanks to something he had inadvertently done. Maybe it was funny, in a way. Strictly speaking he should do her a favour and take her head now, but somehow that seemed unsporting. Besides, he had sort of promised Methos; no Immortal heads until they had had a chance to work things out. It seemed churlish to go back on that so soon.
"What happens now?" She was staring at the sword, as though she wanted him to do something with it. He considered obliging - granting her the First Death perhaps, so that she could find out what he had turned her into - but he discarded that idea as well. He was already far too involved, and the last thing he wanted was more responsibility.
"Now? What do you want to do now?"
"I don't know." She looked around at the three men she had killed, apparently loath to leave them. "Does it matter?"
"Probably not." He set about cleaning his sword on the nearest dead body, pausing momentarily when a police siren blared out nearby. "But we should probably get a move on. That patrol car is here to check out a bank just down the road, and they're bound to check out the alleys."
"And I suppose we have to run or end up killing them." She shivered. "We should leave. I'd enjoy killing them, and I don't want that. I suppose you do?"
"Policemen don't like getting killed. They're boring that way."
"So are we going home?" She sounded plaintive, and he had to rein in his temper. Sympathy and responsibility only went so far. She was looking for smiles and reassurance as usual; something from him that she never got from herself. Quite why she was still looking for it from him he didn't know. She should have known him better by now.
"Where's home?" He slid his sword away into its sheath, and wiped his bloodied hands on his shirt. "Europe?"
"Somewhere with a bed." She stared around at the bodies and the gore. "And no dead people. Somewhere friendly. Can we go back to the apartment?"
"Methos' place?" He thought it over, looking rather pleased with the idea. "He and his white knight friends will be furious after all of this. We're probably the last people he wants to see." He shrugged. "Come on. We can be there in fifteen minutes if we get a move on."
"But I thought you said he'd be cross?" She sounded mechanical again, returned to her old lifelessness, and not caring in the slightest what Methos might think. Kronos smiled happily anyway.
"Of course he will, at first. But I don't care and come daylight neither will he. Or possibly one of us will have killed the other by then." He shrugged. "Either way it should be entertaining - and I never give a damn about anything else."
"Methos! Methos!" Hissing with annoyance when his attempts to rouse his fellow Immortal met with failure, Duncan reloaded his gun for what felt like the hundredth time, and once more began firing blindly. He had no idea where any of the gang were, save for a vague idea of where the bullets seemed to be coming from. He didn't seem to have hit anybody since that earlier, lucky shot, and the three attackers remaining on their feet were giving far too good an account of themselves. They were well armed, and he had nothing save Joe's gun. It had misfired twice already, and he was beginning to lose faith.
"I wonder what Kronos is doing?" Ducking to avoid yet another volley of lead, Joe pressed himself against an upturned table and tried not to look too much as if he had no faith in MacLeod's shooting. The Highlander shot him an irritable look.
"Right now I don't care."
"I do! What if he's run off? We could be about to have seven more of these guys come busting in the front!"
"I don't think so. Kronos came here looking for some fun, not for an excuse to run away. He's probably taking care of the rest of the gang. Besides." He ducked sharply and nearly dropped the gun. "They'd have come in by now if they were coming. At the very least I think he's chased them off."
"Maybe he's a handy guy to have around after all."
"Joe, they wouldn't be here in the first place if it hadn't been for him." MacLeod fired again, then swore softly. "This is hopeless. I'm going to have to find a better position. You okay here?"
"Do I have any choice?"
"Well no, not really." Duncan smiled wryly. "Sorry Joe. You're just not quick enough for what I have in mind."
"Yeah, so I figured. Story of my life." Dawson offered him a faint, slightly bitter smile of his own. "Take care, Mac. Chances are if you get shot, I get shot. You're taking away my only means of defence."
"I know, but I can't do this without the gun." Duncan shot a last glance over at Methos, still sprawled on the floor. "I'd hoped he'd wake up. Give me some back up."
"What with? A handful of beer glasses and a bottle opener? That's the only gun we have!"
"Yeah, but I shot one of these guys, and he must have been armed. If we could get to his weapon we might have a chance, and Methos is my best bet for doing that. He must have taken a hell of a lot of lead to be out for this long."
"Maybe he wasn't as recovered as we thought from when I shot him earlier." Dawson nestled further back against the table that was his cover. "I'll keep an eye on him. If he wakes up I'll give you a shout. What are you going to do?"
"Make a break for it. Head for open ground, so there's a better chance of being able to see where these guys are."
"They'll cut you to pieces!"
"They're going to anyway. They know where we are. We don't have a chance unless I can make a move on them quickly. Otherwise they're just going to pick their moment and take us out. We're sitting ducks with all of them after us."
"Great." Dawson nodded slowly. "Okay buddy. Go for it. Just try not to shoot up my club any more than you have to, okay? It's already looking like a disaster area."
"We'll make Kronos pay for the remodelling."
"Sounds good to me." Dawson shifted his position slightly, then nodded once. "Go."
"I'm on my way." Head low, feet searching for purchase on the polished wooden floor, he made a break for the middle of the room. The gunfire opened up afresh, and he ducked and weaved at random, certain that at any moment the bullets were going to tear into him. It would all be lost then, and he would wake up in ten minutes, or an hour, to find Joe's body waiting.
"Don't let him get away!" The shout was high-pitched and furious; the voice of somebody high on adrenalin, or possibly something more illicit. Duncan ducked, leaping Methos' prone form in the same smooth movement, throwing himself towards a tumbled row of chairs. As cover they were almost useless, but they were stout enough to withstand a few shots. Gritting his teeth in preparation for the pain if any bullets got through, he aimed the gun for that high-pitched voice. It didn't come again, but its position was logged in his mind, and he was ready. He squeezed off three shots, then hurled himself aside. He didn't hear the choked off moan, or the thud that followed it, but he thought that he heard a decrease in the ferocity of the gunfire. That at least was reason to be glad.
"Methos!" There was still no response, and he tried to edge closer. "Methos!"
"Yurgh." It wasn't much of a response, but it was encouraging at least. MacLeod tried to get closer to him, at the same time keeping up enough covering fire to keep his assailants away from Joe.
"Methos! Damn it Methos, wake up! You're acting like you were shot by a bloody tank!"
"Ow." Methos moved slightly, but he didn't get up. Only then, as he edged closer, did MacLeod see the line of bullet holes that went up both sides of the old Immortal's chest, and through his neck as well. He growled in frustration. The neck was always an Immortal's weakest point; a wound like that might take hours to heal properly. He had lost a lot of blood as well; it was pooled around him on the floor, and a trail of it still leaked, thinly, from his throat. The sound of MacLeod's voice was making him struggle back to consciousness, but it was painfully obvious that he would not be much good in a fight. Not for some while yet. The Highlander growled in frustration, then rolled aside and reached the sparse cover of the shadows by the front wall of the club. Broken glass dug into his shoulders and back, but he didn't think that anything had punctured his skin. Nothing serious, anyway. Somebody fired at him, and he sent a stream of return fire towards the spark of flame he thought that he had seen; then rolled away again before anybody else could try the same thing. He was tired now, confused by the lack of light and the constant hammer of sound. He couldn't stop though; not with Joe counting on him. Hurriedly reloading as best he could, no longer sure just how much ammunition he had left, he rolled to his feet again, and made a dash for the bar. A bullet caught him then, ploughing its way through his shoulder, clattering away across the floor somewhere behind him. He fell against the bar - but if Kronos could carry on so determinedly with a torso full of lead, he saw no reason why he shouldn't do the same. Jaw tight, arm hot with pain, he raised his gun and stared into the darkness. Something moved; he had no idea what. Too quick and smooth to be Joe, or Methos right now, and there shouldn't be anything else in here. Not now. Without thinking beyond that he fired, and carried on firing. This time he did hear the thud, but carried on firing anyway. He had to be sure. He turned, shooting over the bar, shooting towards the door, shooting everywhere save towards the part of the room where he had left Joe, until gradually it began to sink in that nobody was firing back. Only then did he think about relaxing; but it was the click of an empty gun that made him cease firing at last. His shoulders slumped.
"Hello?" He spoke the words to the darkness. "If there's anybody else in here, say so. You can get out now, and I'll let you out of here alive. You've got my word on that." There was no answer. Cautiously, slowly, he groped his way behind the bar, and fetched out the torch that was stored behind there. One of Joe's little contingency measures, since a power cut had plunged everything into darkness some months before. He clicked it on, shooting the bright beam around the room. Methos, moving slowly but still pretty much out of it. A dead man near the back door; another beside the bar; a third over near Methos. It took him a while to spot the fourth, caught up in a tangle of chairs, blood splattered artlessly around him. They were all dead. After all his years fighting, MacLeod didn't need to check things like that at close quarters. He let out a shaky breath that was part relief and part regret, then turned the torch beam around to the other side of the room. Only then did he see Joe.
The mortal wasn't moving. He was lying face down, as sprawled and as broken as the other men dotted about his club. His stick had skidded away, and there was a new bloodstain now dribbling across the polished wooden floor he had tried so zealously to protect against marks. His own blood. MacLeod felt his heart drop out of his chest.
"Joe." He dropped the gun, stumbling and fumbling his way across the floor, skidding in blood that came from who knew which injury, which victim. Behind him he heard Methos also moving. Instinct perhaps? Or had he heard the desperate panic in MacLeod's suddenly thick, dry voice? MacLeod didn't have time to worry about the other Immortal's feelings. Ignoring him completely, he dropped to the ground beside Joe.
"Joe?" There was no movement, no answer. He turned the man over as gently as he could, mindful of the faintly awkward legs. He couldn't see a bullet hole; couldn't see where the blood was coming from. Wasn't sure that he could see the chest rise and fall. "Joe? Answer me damn it!"
"Mac?" He wasn't sure where the voice had come from, and his pulse gave a jolt, before he realised that it was merely Methos. The Immortal was struggling towards him, coughing up blood and looking like hell, but anxious to see what was going on. He hadn't made it to his feet, but was crawling over on hands and knees, not seeming to notice when shards of broken glass lodged in his palms and scratched at his splayed fingers. In point of fact all that Methos was truly aware of was Joe. His mortal friend... gone? He wasn't sure that he knew how to deal with that possibility. Damned mortals, so easily damaged by bullets. So easily damaged by everything. He tumbled down beside Joe, his breathing hoarse and painful, eyes dull with pain. "Is he okay Mac?"
"I don't know." MacLeod held the mortal man close, searching for a pulse, searching for a bullet hole, searching for any sign of life or hope. Somewhere in the distance an alarm wailed, and he swore softly. Now they came. Now, after all of this, when it might just be too late.
"We should call an ambulance." He didn't want to let go of his friend, but he wasn't sure that Methos would make it to a telephone, let alone to the distant, wailing police cars that were their only other chance of help. "Can you see the phone? Did it get shot up?"
"I don't know." Methos couldn't see much, but he managed to raise his head long enough to look to where he thought the phone should be, on the far wall. "I think it's in one piece."
"Then hold him. Look after him." Laying the mortal down as gently as he could, MacLeod dashed for the telephone, almost dropping the receiver in his haste. "Is he breathing? Can you tell? It didn't look like he was."
"I can't be sure." Methos pulled Dawson close, though he lacked the strength in his arms to hold him securely. "Why's it so bloody dark?"
"It's night, Methos. Isn't all that neon out there enough to see by?"
"Neon?" Methos was peering about hopelessly. "Everything's black. Can't see a bloody thing. Can't breathe properly either."
"You did look pretty shot up." MacLeod turned away, speaking urgently into the phone, and Methos turned his full attention back to Joe. His horribly fragile friend. What had he been thinking of, letting himself get so close to a man who could be taken away from him by just a little piece of lead? After losing Alexa he had always hoped never to be such friends with a mortal again. Memories of holding dying friends in centuries past washed over him; strong young people, withered with age in mere decades; people taken by diseases he could never catch; people mortally wounded in wars that always left him unscathed. His fingers sought out an unseen wrist, and he struggled to listen for audible sounds of life, whilst his own hoarse, gasping breathing drowned everything out. "Joe? Damn it! Joe?" There was no answer, and he tried to draw in enough breath to speak a little louder, only to be hit by a wave of coughing. His throat felt as though it might split apart, and the pain of a dozen razor blades tore at his chest and his neck. Blood came out of his mouth with a rush, and from somewhere he heard a faint moan.
"Hell Methos, if you're going to spit blood everywhere try to point it at somebody else." In his arms Joe was moving, faintly and slowly, although Methos still couldn't see him. He felt his arms tremble, shaking with relief, and thought about offering some hasty thanks to whichever god seemed most appropriate. That or a plea that this ghastly scenario would never be repeated. Joe's voice sounded hoarse, but he still seemed able to make an attempt at a joke. "What happened to you anyway? You look like you've been wrung through a meat grinder."
"You can see?" Still shaking a little, Methos blinked a few times, then rubbed at his eyes. His hand came away covered in blood. "Oh. Must be just me then. I think I split my head open on something."
"Yeah. My floor." Joe was trying to sit up, groping for his stick but not able to reach it. "There's blood everywhere damn it. I thought I told you all to be careful about that."
"It'll wash off." Methos spat out another mouthful of the stuff, then smiled ruefully. "Sorry. Look are you okay? We thought... I mean it looked... Hell, Joe. I thought you were dead."
"I feel like I might be." He shifted awkwardly. "I don't know, pal. I can't feel much in my left arm. I think I got shot. My head feels like it's ready to explode. Maybe it got grazed by a bullet or something, there's a lot of sparks. Some of them are kinda pretty."
"You can breathe alright?"
"Yeah. Everything's a little painful. Other than that... Does it look to you like the bullet's in my shoulder?"
"I can't see a thing." Methos looked up towards MacLeod, coming over now with an expression of abject relief. "They on their way?"
"There'll be an ambulance here soon." MacLeod's expression looked something like Methos felt his own must do, beneath the rivers of dribbling blood that so conveniently hid it. He was suddenly glad of his injuries. If he was going to look like he was on the brink of tears, he didn't especially want anybody else to be able to see it. He would far rather keep such things to himself. "You should get out of sight as soon as they get here, old man."
"Yeah." Methos slumped back against the nearest upturned table. "Joe says he's alright."
"So I heard." MacLeod crouched down, looking fondly at his mortal friend. "You really had us worried there for a while. Do you know what happened?"
"No. I think somebody shot me in the leg." He frowned down at the sprawled limbs. "First time I've been glad that they're not what they used to be. Did we win?"
"I shot everybody, if that's what you mean. There's going to be a lot of questions to answer." MacLeod looked towards the gaping, broken windows. "And something tells me that there's probably a lot more bodies out there. You got any idea where Kronos is going to head for old man?"
"No. He's stirred up enough trouble here to last him for a while, so he'll probably head somewhere else. The girl will go with him whether he wants her to or not. She can't seem to function properly on her own."
"Yeah. Well the least said about her the better. Honestly Methos, if I find out that she did anything out there tonight besides help finish off a gang of drug dealers, Kronos is finished. I don't care that he's your brother, or that he's no more guilty of past crimes than you are, or any of the other excuses you've used for him in the past. I'll kill him."
"Yeah." Methos pushed himself up to his feet, wondering how he was going to get home with so much congealing blood obscuring his vision, then remembered how glad he was that it was there. "I'm going home. I'd rather not risk letting anybody see me like this. You should watch it too, Mac. Looks like you got shot as well."
"I did. Shoulder wound." He had forgotten about it, and it had already started to heal. "I'll just make out that it's somebody else's blood. One more type for the police investigators to analyse when they start going over this place. Now go on. Get the hell out of here before that ambulance arrives."
"Yeah." He didn't move straight away, then jumped in a sort of surprise when a siren blared out from somewhere. "You're going to be okay, right Joe?"
"Better without you dripping blood all over me." Dawson gripped his hand briefly. "Take it easy, pal. And if you see Kronos, knock his block off for me, okay?"
"Yeah." He smiled uncomfortably. "Sure. I'll... I'll see you both. Maybe drop by the hospital later."
"Sure." Joe was settling himself more comfortably now. "Just don't turn up with any old friends in tow, okay? And Methos?"
The mortal smiled up at him, only half teasing, not altogether sure just how much the Immortal could see. "Next time you have a really good day, stay the hell away from my club."
It was a strange few days that followed. When Methos returned to his apartment after the shoot out at the club he was less than surprised to find Kronos already there, sprawled on a sofa and watching Nightmare On Elm Street. Somehow his choice of viewing was even less surprising than the fact of his presence in the building. Methos had scowled at him, sworn at him and generally been argumentative; and Kronos had smiled indulgently, teased him with fanciful stories of gruesomely murdered civilians abandoned by Sophie all over Seacouver, and generally been annoying. They had wound up getting heavily drunk, which had always been a fairly common event in the past, and finished what remained of the night arguing about old fights and older women. Sophie had been lurking somewhere, but Methos ignored her. She was less than nothing to him, and he wasn't going to waste his time worrying over what she had done, or what she might one day do. It struck him that he would have to do a fair amount of deflecting, if the unlikely pair were going to be staying with him for long, for Duncan MacLeod was clearly on the warpath - but he didn't really care about that either. All that he really cared about was Joe.
It had been a long, long time since he had let a mortal get so close, and he had forgotten how the fear could feel, when it seemed that such a close friend might be dead. He had shouted at Kronos about that, blaming him at first for his warmongering tendencies; until he had realised that doing so was unfair. He had always known what Kronos was. Sometimes it seemed that the whole world had always known. Kronos would always be Kronos; and if anybody was to blame for the things that he did, and the violence that he caused, it was the man who had brought him back to life - and who had shaped him into what he was in the first place.
So it was a strangely subdued ancient Immortal who visited Joe Dawson at the club, when the police investigative team had gone, and the surveyors had finished their examinations and their quotes. Amy was bustling around like a mother hen, fussing and complaining that her father was over doing things. When Methos arrived she glared at him, as though he were responsible for her father's refusal to rest, then headed off to snap irritably at the glaziers. Methos smiled at her fierce figure, and sat down next to Dawson. There was something that he wanted to say; a question that he wanted to ask. He just wasn't sure quite how to ask it. How could you offer immortality to a man without explaining why you wanted him to have it? But to explain such things was more than Methos was really prepared to do. He smiled awkwardly.
"How are you feeling?"
"So so. Between blood loss, a broken shoulder blade, concussion and a partially damaged left leg - which happily doesn't hurt as much as the rest of me, for obvious reasons - I think it's fair to say I've been better. How about you?"
"Better than you, apparently."
"Yeah, well some of us aren't so fast at healing." Joe looked him up and down rather critically. "You're in a better state than you were when you visited me in hospital, anyway. How much had you drunk that night exactly?"
"I don't know." He smiled ruefully. "Lost track after a while. Kronos always could drink an elephant under the table."
"So he is still in town." Joe nodded slowly. "MacLeod's working on the assumption that he's left. I think he was hoping for a confrontation."
"Yeah. I've been avoiding him the last few days." Methos shifted uncomfortably, and rubbed his head in an absent gesture. It still hurt. When he had been shot he had hit it hard enough to do some serious damage, and as was sometimes the way with Immortals, with injuries above the shoulders, it had been slow to heal. Either that or the alcohol he had been drinking so much of lately was having a more serious effect than usual. "Are you angry with me Joe?"
"Angry? Some madman decides he wants a little fun, and gets my club shot to pieces and me almost killed, and you invite him round for drinks afterwards? Why would I be cross?" He saw the change in the Immortal's eyes, and sighed. "No, I'm not cross. Hell, old man, I've known what you are for a long time now. I know what to expect. I'm not sure Mac does, but he's always seen the rest of the world through special MacLeod tinted lenses. He thinks the rest of us are as honourable as he is, and as straightforward."
"Some of you are."
"Not me, pal. Not me. I've covered up for you and Kronos before, and I've never really regretted it that much. Why start now." He frowned. "That nutcase girlfriend of his still with him?"
"That's an unfair way to talk about somebody you've never met, Joe."
"There some other way to describe her?"
"No, she's a nutcase, but that's hardly the point." He nodded. "And yes, she's there. Hiding in the bathroom half of the time, and talking to all of the people she's killed. Her mind is splintering into so many shards I don't think she knows which one is her anymore."
"Getting her to visit a psychiatrist springs to mind."
"Kronos won't do that. Not after he saw what the shrinks in Bucharest did to Caspian. Besides, I think he likes her."
"You Immortals are a weird lot."
"Yes..." He was quiet for a moment, staring at the still stained floor. "Joe... Look, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that you nearly died the other day--"
"Which is absolutely not your kid brother's fault, right?"
"He didn't make those people break in here you know. He didn't make you stay here while they did it, either."
"Yeah, sure. Which completely exonerates him. But anyway - what's your point?"
"My point is that you nearly died. If that bullet had been another inch to the right, I might not be here talking to you right now. And look at you! You're okay, maybe, but they didn't want to let you out of hospital so soon, did they. You're hardly one hundred percent again. You hardly look healed at all."
"Yeah, well I'm mortal, remember? It comes with a slight disadvantage where healing's concerned. Besides, I don't heal as fast as I used to."
"As you used to?" Methos smiled, seeing a convenient way to put off saying what he had originally come here to say. "Joe, you're barely middle-aged - and don't even get me started on how old you are by my standards."
"I'm not saying I'm old, you... upstart." Joe scowled and tried to sit more upright. "I'm just saying that certain things are maybe slowing down a bit. And who's middle-aged, anyway, damn it? I've still got the best part of my life ahead." He settled back down in his chair looking grouchy. "Just cut me a little slack, old man. How long's it been now since I found out who you are? Seven years? And one of us isn't getting any younger."
"Well neither of us is getting any younger, Joe..." It was clearly a joke, but Methos didn't really sound as though it was. Joe sighed. After all this time he had learnt to know that look in the Immortal's murky eyes, and to be sure that it meant melancholy and reflection.
"What is it?" There was no immediate answer, so he rolled his eyes and folded his arms, determined not to continue with the conversation without getting a proper response. Methos turned around to look at him, amused by the fierce expression.
"Don't 'Joe' me. You've got that look in your eyes, and I know you well enough by now to know that if you don't spit it out this minute, it'll be bothering you for days. So what's wrong?"
"Nothing... exactly." He sighed, wishing that he had never come here. Some subjects were perhaps too difficult to broach. "Damn it Joe, can we just... can we... look it's like I said, okay - you nearly died. And I don't... Well I haven't got close to anybody for a long time. Not when I've been intending to stick around, anyway. I've made friends, fallen in love... but I've always moved on again, usually after no more than a year or two. This is the first time I've stayed somewhere... the first time I've felt that somewhere was home... in a long, long time. And it scares me."
"You're scared... about seeing me die, aren't you? Gee, thanks. I'm actually not planning to do that for a long time yet."
"I know." He smiled slightly. "But it's not just you now, is it. There's Amy too. I do actually quite like her, but... well that causes all kinds of complications, doesn't it. I suppose I get cold feet sometimes, and think that maybe it's time to move on again."
"Because of Kronos I suppose. You've been getting ideas from him. He's been on at you about heading off into some dramatic sunset, looking for adventure. Well that's up to you, old man. It's your life."
"I'm not going anywhere. Not with Kronos, not with anybody. At least not permanently." He looked away for a moment, thinking about other things. "Anyway, it wouldn't be a sunset. Kronos always heads for the sunrise. It's symbolic."
"Yeah, I know. Unless he's planning to attack, right - and then he comes at you the other way."
"That's about the size of it." Methos couldn't help a faintly nostalgic smile. "That way you can't see him coming until he's cutting off your head."
"I'll remember to be wary of where the sun is when he's around."
"Yeah... Joe? Did you ever want to run away?"
"Yes. When I was twelve. I wanted to join the navy and fight pirates in the Caribbean, but my father said I was too short to swing a cutlass properly, so I agreed to stay home for a few more years. Why?"
"No reason. It's just that I'm a coward sometimes, that's all."
"Yeah. Well we're all cowards occasionally, old man. You think it's easy for me, knowing that anybody could come and take your head some day? Or MacLeod's? You don't want to watch me grow old, or see me get killed - well I don't want to find your body some day, and know that you've finally met somebody who's a sneakier sod even than you are. It's part of life, old man, unless you're planning on being alone forever."
"I was alone for a lot of years."
"Yeah." Joe clapped him on the shoulder. "But you're not any more, are you. Methos, are you really thinking of running out? Of leaving Seacouver? 'Cause I've got to say, pal, that even if life would be a lot less troublesome without you getting in my way, I would actually miss you. Some of the time, at least. I don't want to see you being fool enough to give up a good thing just because of what might happen."
"I'm not leaving. At least I don't think so." Methos smiled, not entirely willingly but with at least some genuine warmth. "Wouldn't make any difference, anyway. Would it. Running away just means that I wouldn't be here if something happened, not that it wouldn't happen at all."
"That's about the size of it." Joe fixed him with the faintly paternal stare usually calculated to annoy his very old friend. "There's something you're working up to, isn't there. Whatever it is, Methos, I'd far rather just hear it than listen to you beating about the bush like this."
"Yeah. Okay. Joe... you may not like the idea of me or MacLeod one day losing our heads, and sure there are risks that we both run - one of us as rarely as possible - but we do have certain advantages, don't we. Real advantages. Joe... if there was a way that you could become immortal, would you want to take it?"
"Huh?" Joe stared at him as though he had gone insane, which perhaps he had. To have brought this topic up was insane, and he knew that Kronos would be furious with him, if he ever discovered that he had talked about it with a Watcher. "Become immortal? It doesn't work that way, old man."
"No... but if it did. I mean... well say, just theoretically, that if I was to take another Immortal's head, and... well... that the Quickening didn't go into me but into you instead... What would you think?"
"Theoretically." Joe frowned at him. "Is there something I should know?"
"No, of course not. It's just... well it's hypothetical, isn't it. Would you want to be immortal? Never getting any older, never getting sick. No more worries about getting killed in gun battles. And let's face it, we've had more than our share of those in recent years."
"Yeah. Guns, swords, bombs, the works. But that's my life, Methos. If I didn't want the danger I'd take a back seat. No offence, but why the hell would I want to be an Immortal? I'd have to watch my friends die off one by one; watch Amy getting old. Besides, I wouldn't last long if somebody came after my head, would I. I'm not going to play the disabled card, 'cause I get around damned well considering - but I'm no ideal warrior." He shook his head, and hoped that he wasn't being too harsh. "Look, I faced my mortality a long time ago, old man, the day that explosion lost me my legs. Your problem is that you've never had to face that yourself - or if you did it was so long ago that you don't remember. You think I'd want to trade everything in for an endless life being afraid to get too close to anybody, because I'd always know that one day I'd have to watch them getting old and fading away? Never wanting to risk falling in love... Amy's told me how you've been trying to avoid her, and that's because you're scared of getting too close to her, isn't it. Your life isn't one that I envy. No, Methos. I plan to live out the rest of my life the way nature intended me to. Then one day... well. What happens then will happen, won't it."
"...So that's a no then."
"Yes it's a no! You clot. Methos, why would anybody want to live your life? What's so great about immortality? Tradition has it that it's something only nuts seek out, you know. Dangerous nuts."
"Yeah, maybe." Methos shrugged. "Like I said, it was only hypothetical, anyway."
"Yeah. Hypothetical. Sure. Are you certain there's nothing you want to tell me, old man? Maybe Watcher to Watcher? Something about Kronos?"
"I'm never a Watcher when Kronos is involved." Methos stood up, stretching as an excuse not to look Joe in the face. "I'll see you. Give me a call when the club's up and running again. I'll be... I don't know. Somewhere."
"Watching your brother's girlfriend hack mortals to death for sport?"
"Yeah. Maybe." He shrugged. "Whatever."
"Keep her out of MacLeod's way, Methos. I mean that. It'll only cause trouble otherwise, and you know what he and Kronos are like. Being immortal won't save the loser if things get nasty."
"I know." His smile was wan. "One of these days I'm going to learn to get some sensible friends. Ones who don't carry swords and don't hate each other."
"You won't. If we were sensible people I'd still be living in blissful ignorance of immortality, and I certainly wouldn't be talking to you about how you can keep your psycho brother from getting hurt. If you were sensible you'd have let somebody take your head several thousand years ago. We are what we are, and we just have to live with that. You just have to live with that. And listen to me, old man. Really listen. Whatever's going on between you and Kronos - whatever new secret you have - I don't want to wake up one morning and find out that I'm immortal. I mean that. But if you ever want to talk about it, off the record, I'll listen."
"Yeah. I'll think about it." He smiled briefly, briskly, and reasonably brightly. "Bye."
"Goodbye old man." Joe rose to his feet, following his friend to the door. "And Methos?"
"Be careful. It might be you and Kronos that she kills next."
"It might be." He shrugged. "But I doubt it. Night Joe."
"It's morning. Lay off the late night drinking sessions for a while. Reacquaint yourself with your body clock."
"Yeah." They shared a smile, a little more awkward than usual, then Methos turned about and was gone. Joe stared after him for a while, until Amy appeared beside him, and joined him in his musings.
"Something up?" she asked. He shook his head.
"Who can tell?"
"Sometimes I feel that I should be able to. I mean, I appreciate that I don't exactly have a conventional relationship with that man, but you'd think I'd be able to make a fair guess at what goes through his mind. We've been nearly getting it together for almost a year now."
"It's takes more than a year, Amy. A lot more than a year."
"But you think that he's up to something."
"Methos? Oh he's always up to something. That's just the way he is. No, right now I think the problem is that he knows something. I think he's found something out that probably rather a lot of other people would like to know as well. Me included."
"Oh." She shrugged. "Well he's not going to tell us, is he."
"Probably not." He grinned at her, and she found herself smiling back without having the slightest clue why. "Damn it, Amy - that man is the most infuriating, exasperating, difficult individual ever born. And now he's got some deep dark secret as well. Could be that's going to cause some trouble for somebody."
"Yeah. You." She sighed, back to being the mother hen. "He always seems to make trouble for you."
"Yes, he does..." Fondness sparked for a second in Joe's ever genial eyes, then he shrugged and gave Amy's hand a warm squeeze. "But then that's Methos, isn't it. Trouble for everyone, with more to spare." He smiled faintly, showing exactly how he really felt about that, whatever the apparent displeasure in his words. "And by the look of things, probably a damn sight more still to come."