A DRIVE IN THE COUNTRY
Methos gazed gloomily into his fourth can of beer. He knew that MacLeod and Dawson meant well, but he really didn't need this right now. Okay, so he could appreciate why they were here; MacLeod was probably looking for some cheering up himself, and Joe was doubtless worried about both of them. That didn't mean that they had to come here now though, and try to make him smile with tired old jokes he had heard many times before. He didn't know why he was feeling so miserable, and until he could figure it out himself, he couldn't cheer up.
"Want another can, Methos?" MacLeod was laughing again, this time at one of Dawson's jokes. Methos shook his head, sloshing the beer around in the can that he already held, to show that it was still at least half full.
"Hey, come on Adam. We're doing most of the drinking here. You must be in a bad way." Dawson walked towards him, and sat down beside his old friend, but Methos stood up and wandered over to the window.
"Maybe I'm a little old to try and hide all my problems with alcohol," he muttered darkly, and his two companions smiled at each other over his head.
"Yeah, sure you are," Duncan shot back, sounding highly amused. Methos scowled.
"Take a hike, MacLeod."
"Whoa. Steady on, Adam." Dawson was frowning, and Methos felt a momentary burst of guilt for his outburst. What was wrong with him recently? He couldn't figure it out. Part of it was Kronos, of course. He had known as soon as his errant confederate had wandered back into his life that this time was going to be very different. That there wasn't going to be some insane adventure or carefree escapade. Kronos had been very, very different. He had seemed aloof, distant; as if unwilling to open up even to his oldest friend; a man with whom he had once shared everything. He had planned to release a skilfully engineered virus into the water supply. Today a city, tomorrow the world. Methos had known then that he faced losing one of his friends before it was over. MacLeod would kill Kronos or die trying; most probably the latter. It had been like a hammer blow to the old man. Then events had escalated further. First Kronos, then Silas and Caspian. A string of old friends, together again at last. And one by one he had lost them all.
It wasn't just that of course; it couldn't have been. Caspian's death had not bothered him at all, except perhaps for a passing sorrow at the epitaph it wrote for a part of his past. Even Silas' death had not been too great a trauma. It had hurt because it was he who had been forced to strike the fatal blow. If truth be told, he preferred it that way, rather than allowing his old comrade to meet his end at the hands of a stranger. Maybe that was why Kronos' death had hurt so much. Maybe he regretted that he had not been able to take his friend's head himself. In reality, he suspected that it was not so much the fact of Kronos' passing that disturbed him, as much as the fact that his old friend had wanted to die. He had lost the world that he had loved so much, and had given up on everything. The only drawback was that he had apparently wanted to take the whole world with him. Typical Kronos, Methos thought wryly. Never doing anything by halves.
"Hey. You still in there, old man?" Duncan's voice snapped the old Immortal back to the present, and he frowned.
"Yes. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Do you want another can yet?"
"No, MacLeod." Methos stared out of the window. He felt terrible, and it was getting worse; a sinking depression. It had started to set in a short time ago; perhaps when MacLeod had killed Byron. He had been acting like a judge again, setting out to take the head of a man that he believed was deserving of his fate. Byron had never stood a chance against the Highlander, and there had been nothing that Methos could do to prevent the slaughter. He knew that Byron had been a killer, although never a true murderer. There had been another side to his character though... The old man recalled so many warm afternoons strolling through the parks with his friend, listening to that extraordinary mind create masterpieces out of thin air. He had brought joy to millions, and had achieved the sort of immortality that was beyond even the Immortals.
"Oh come on Methos. Are you going to start enjoying yourself or should Joe and me go home? You've been as miserable as sin for almost a week now. I thought we were supposed to be having a good time."
"You thought that. I didn't." Wandering back to his chair, Methos sat down again, watching Duncan as he did likewise. "I'm sorry. I'm not very good company right now, that's all."
"Tell me about it." MacLeod leaned back in his chair, staring at the floor. "I've just lost somebody too, Methos, remember? I know what it's like."
"Yeah... And I'm sorry about Richie. Really. I just... don't feel like cheering up, okay?"
"No, it's not okay. Snap out of it, Methos. You've got to think what all of this melancholy is about. Are you missing Kronos? Some psychopath who was willing to wipe out humanity just because he felt like it?"
"No!" Methos stood up, feeling the anger swelling within him. "No. That's not who Kronos was. He... He was a good man, MacLeod. Oh, not like you. Never like you. Sure, he killed. He loved doing it too, but he wasn't evil. He just loved to have fun... To play with life. We went everywhere together, MacLeod. For four thousand years he was the best friend I had."
"He was mad."
"Yeah, maybe he was. A little. Maybe I am too. Maybe we all are. I don't expect you to understand, MacLeod. Everything's black and white with you, isn't it? Kronos just doesn't come into one of those categories. He was... different."
"Special." Methos sat down again, feeling deflated. "Very special."
"Yeah, well I'm sorry, Methos. I did what I thought I had to do. The man was a menace. He had to be stopped."
"A menace..." For the first time that day, Methos found that he was smiling. "Yeah, that about covers it. Kronos loved being menacing." His eyes snapped up and he stared straight into Duncan's face. "But you didn't do what you had to do, MacLeod. You did what Kronos wanted you to do."
"What do you mean? We had a fight. He tried to take my head, but I was the better swordsman."
"The better swordsman? He learnt to use a sword four thousand years ago! Nobody could beat him. Not even you, MacLeod."
"I won." The Highlander's voice sounded taut, angry, but Methos was relentless.
"You didn't win. You took his head because he wanted you to." Methos smiled at Duncan, his expression one of cold certainty. "He wanted to die. That's the only reason you're still alive."
"It didn't look that way to me," Duncan told him, standing up and beginning to pace. Methos shrugged.
"Whatever. I only know what happened, MacLeod. And I know Kronos." He lowered his eyes slightly. "Knew Kronos."
"Maybe. Maybe." Duncan shrugged. "I'll see you, Methos."
"Yeah. Probably." The old man sounded dismissive, and Duncan frowned for a second, then stalked to the door. It swung shut behind him with a sharp click, suggesting that only fierce self-control had stopped the man from slamming it.
"That wasn't very nice, Methos," Joe said reprovingly. Methos glanced up, seeming surprised that Dawson was still there.
"What wasn't?" he asked, his voice tired.
"You know damn well. Telling him he didn't win that fight straight. That wasn't necessary."
"Yes it was. I don't want him thinking he can beat everybody; win every fight that comes along. That's not the way to stay alive."
"You're all heart, Methos."
"Thanks." Methos stood, and walked over to the window. "You don't have to protect him, Joe. By your standards he was already an old man when your great-grandfather was born. Immortals don't need mortals standing up for them."
"They don't, huh." Joe smiled at Methos' back. "You're all so well able to take care of yourselves..."
"Yeah." The old man turned, his eyes bright and fierce. "Yeah, we can. You're a child, Joe. You're what - fifty? Duncan is more than six times your age. I'll decide what's best for him, not you."
Joe frowned. "Will you. Why's that, Methos? Because you're so damn old, and nobody else knows half as much as you do? Because you're so much cleverer than us? All that damned experience you've got?"
"That's right. Stop looking over my shoulder Dawson." The slight frame sagged slightly. "I'm sorry, Joe. I don't seem able to say the right thing to anybody just now. I - I'm sorry."
"Yeah, I hoped you might be." Dawson managed a smile. "Look, Adam, I don't mean to cramp your style; yours or Duncan's. It's just that sometimes I feel like you're my family." He grinned. "I'd known you a long time before I found out you were so old. Sometimes I like to forget."
"Forget?" Methos turned away again. "I wish I could forget." His voice sounded harsh. "Five thousand years and I still don't know it all."
"Nobody ever does, Methos."
"Yeah?" Whirling around suddenly, Methos faced Joe with a look of unrestrained anger on his face. "What do you know about it Joe? You spend a few decades as a Watcher and suddenly you're an expert on immortality, is that it? You suddenly know what it feels like? What do you know? You're a mortal."
"Sometimes that's something to be glad about." Joe's voice was cold. "You want to take a long look at yourself. "
"Hell, I'm sorry Joe..." Methos looked so dejected that Joe almost felt himself soften again. There were times when the world's oldest man looked so very young. So very like the son that Joe almost thought of him as.
"Sometimes sorry's not enough."
"Yeah. I know. It's just - seeing Kronos again. My best friend breezes back into my life and reveals a plan to kill just about every mortal in the world. That's something of a shock in itself you know. Then in the blink of an eye I've killed one of my closest companions, and MacLeod beat me to the one damn Immortal I've always wanted to kill. Then Kronos..."
"Having a hard time is no excuse to go sounding off at your friends."
"Yeah, I know. I think - I think I'm going to go away for a while, Joe. Take a trip. Maybe drop in on some old friends, you know? I guess I could do with the space."
"That doesn't sound like such a bad idea." Dawson managed a smile, one which seemed oddly old and worldly-wise even to the ancient Immortal. "When will you be back?"
"I don't know. A week, a month." He grinned. "A century or two." He headed for the door. Joe blinked in surprise.
"Don't you want to take anything with you?"
"No, not really. I always used to travel the world with nothing but my sword. And Kronos." He smiled. "See you soon Joe. Take care."
"You too. Don't go getting into trouble."
Methos laughed shortly, then was gone. Alone in the apartment, Joe stared thoughtfully at the ground, a troubled frown beginning to grow upon his face.
First stop City Bank. Despite having once travelled the world with nothing but his sword and a trusted companion, Methos was well aware of the fact that the world had changed, and that these days he would need money to aid him in his voyages. He smiled to himself as he recalled the days of careless rambling. Things had changed, and he would be lying to himself if he pretended that he didn't regret it sometimes. That was what had killed Kronos; the inability to bend with the times. There was no way that Methos was going to go the same way. The one thing that scared him more than losing a friend was the possibility that he might be the next one to die.
He sauntered into the bank feeling a little more cheerful than when he had left his apartment. He still regretted his words to Joe, and to Duncan. He still wasn't sure why he had said them.
"Five thousand years..." he murmured to himself as he stood in the queue. "Five thousand years and you can still be a real jerk at times."
"I beg your pardon?" An old lady gave him a confused look, and he jumped, startled by the sound of her voice.
"You're a little young to be talking to yourself. That's reserved for old ladies." She smiled. "And small children."
"Don't apologise." She looked at him quizzically. "Are you British?"
There it was again. Why did everybody assume that he was British? Still, it could be worse, he supposed.
"Yeah, that's right."
"No, not exactly. I work here."
"Really?" The old woman seemed about to settle into a long conversation, and Methos silently cursed the propensity of Americans to be so damned friendly. He wasn't ready for this yet. He nodded at the bank clerk.
"What? Oh." The old woman smiled and hurried over to the counter, launching into another bright and cheerful conversation with the man behind it. Methos listened to the words buzzing around his head, and tried to lose himself in the comfortable familiarity of it all. So many people; so many mortals. They would all be dead if Kronos had survived that fight with Duncan. Or at least, that was what MacLeod believed.
The door swung open, and Methos at first gave no notice to the three men who walked in. They wore long overcoats, which struck a chord in his mind. Immortals wore long coats to conceal their swords, but these men were not Immortals. He smiled, telling himself off for being so tense. It wasn't as though long coats were the private uniform of Immortalkind.
The first of the men headed for the nearest queue, and stood quietly, his eyes surveying the room with a calm, practised gaze. The second strode up to the desk of one of the personal bankers, waiting patiently like all the others in the room. The third man stood by the door. He ran his hand over the material of his coat, just as Methos had seen many an Immortal do; to check for the reassuring feel of his sword beneath the cloth. A shiver ran down the old man's spine.
"Excuse me." It was the old woman again. "It's your turn."
"Huh?" Startled, he whirled around. "Oh, yeah. Right." He frowned. "Listen. Don't take this the wrong way, but move quickly to the door and don't look back. Don't stop for anything."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I said get the hell out of here!" Although he whispered the words, they came out with a cold edge which startled him as much as it did the old woman.
"I really-" The woman broke off, her face showing sudden fear. Methos whirled around. The first man had reached inside his coat, and with evident relish, had pulled a large automatic rifle from within. He grinned around at the occupants of the bank.
"Nobody move!" He waved the gun dramatically, and immediately contradicted himself. "Everybody lie on the floor, face down!" He stared around at them all, the wild look in his eyes mirrored on the faces of all of the people that Methos could see. He watched them fall to the ground, quaking together in little groups, and his eyes met those of the raider. For a second they stared at each other over the huddled forms of the other customers, then Methos lowered himself to the ground. He lay still, listening to the bustle of activity above him. The three men moved as a well ordered team. They knew what they were doing. He could sense the hours of rehearsal, or maybe the years of experience. Oh well; better to be attacked by professionals than by nervous amateurs. He tried to relax. The men wanted only one thing, and then they would be gone. A short delay, perhaps, but no real problem for Methos. It wasn't as though he was in a hurry to catch a plane.
"Leave me alone!" He heard the startled shriek and glanced up, just in time to see one of the raiders grab a young clerk by the neck. She squealed in terror, her eyes full of alarm, and Methos groaned. Why did something always have to happen to complicate matters? He watched for a moment as the woman struggled, her breathing becoming ragged with panic, and then saw the look of obvious enjoyment on the face of her tormentor. The old man groaned again. Leave it, his instincts told him. Who are you; Duncan MacLeod? He stood up.
"Leave her alone." His voice, clear and distinctive, rang across the room. The three raiders all turned to look at him, their faces showing surprise and anger. The big man released the girl, and grinned.
"Come on then. Make me." Methos thought of the sword outside in his car, and then sighed to himself. It wasn't as though he could have used it anyway.
"No thanks. Just take the money and go. Nobody wants any trouble."
"Is that so?" Another of the raiders came up beside him, gun pointed casually at Methos' chest. "Are you sure about that?"
"Just about." Staring back at the man with cool confidence, Methos hoped that he was not about to have his ribcage blown apart. It would be just a little public, not to mention painful.
"Leave it." The other raider threw his comrades a heavy sack each. "We've got what we wanted, so let's go. The police could be here any time now."
"They're not coming. Nobody had time to press any alarms." The man standing closest to Methos was grinning at the Immortal, as if imagining all of the things he would like to do to this tall Englishman, given the opportunity.
"I'm not going to risk it." The other man hurried over. "Come on Sean. It's not worth it."
"It wasn't you he insulted." The third raider, the one who had been tormenting the girl, joined his companions. The look on his face was far from friendly, although Methos was not sure that the limited intelligence he saw evidence of in those dark grey eyes was capable of many expressions.
"He didn't insult anyone." The leader glanced towards the door. "Now hurry up."
"We're not in that much of a hurry, Paul." Sean grinned at Methos. "Come on. Let Marcus have a little fun."
"No." The leader - Paul, Methos surmised - glanced at his two confederates, and then at Methos. "Look at him; he's not worth it. He couldn't arm wrestle a schoolgirl."
"I beg your pardon?" Voice taut, Methos spoke before his instincts could warn him not to. "Would you like to test that little theory?" Inwardly he could have kicked himself. He had realised that he was on edge today, but he had not detected any seriously suicidal feelings. If he had been alone he would have given himself a serious talking to.
"Are you for real?" Sounding amazed, Sean hefted his gun, reminding the dark haired man that the weapon was still pointing in his direction. As if he needed reminding. "Say Paul; I think this guy's nuts."
You're probably right, Methos thought bleakly, but it was too late to go back now, and forwards had always been his favourite direction. In for a penny, in for a pound. Or should that be in for a cent, in for a dollar? He decided to wade gamely onward.
"Am I nuts? Or are you chicken?" The words sounded absurdly foolhardy even as he said them, but for once his subconscious wasn't warning him off. Maybe this was just what he needed. So long as this guy didn't have a guillotine back home he was looking to experiment with.
"Why you little runt!" Enraged, Sean took a step forward, coming close enough for Methos to be able to smell his breath. Whisky for breakfast, he decided, and winced slightly. He chose to ignore the insult. After all, he was a good inch taller than this Sean character, so the 'runt' line hardly worked.
"You should suck mints," he offered instead, his expression one of innocent helpfulness. You're on a roll here, Methos, he told himself happily. Another one like that and you'll be out classing MacLeod within the fortnight.
"You're a dead man." The final straw snapped cleanly in two, Sean grabbed Methos by the shirt front. "I'm gonna break every bone in your body you little-"
"Not now Sean." Exasperated, Paul looked about at the other people, all of whom were starting to sit up and take notice of this latest development. "We'll take him with us."
Sean grinned in triumph, and without further encouragement he began to propel his new found acquaintance towards the door.
Great. Brilliant work Methos. Rolling his eyes towards the ceiling, Methos had little choice but to accompany the three men out of the bank and towards the dirty white van parked at the curb. A few people looked up as they passed, but none of them seemed to find it odd that three armed men carrying sacks were dragging a fourth man out of a bank. The raiders threw their sacks into the back of the van, then Sean and Paul climbed after them, compelling Methos to do likewise. Marcus hurried around to the front, and the sound of a gunning engine filled the back of the vehicle. With a backward glance out of the window, Methos sighed bleakly. He needed a holiday.
They drove in silence. Miles passed by, and the houses streamed into an endless succession of grey and black. Methos gazed through the one-way glass of the van's rear window, a glum expression on his face. He couldn't believe how badly things were going. It was hardly as though his mouth had never got him into trouble before, but since meeting Duncan MacLeod he had always tried to play the part of the seasoned and experienced warrior; always thinking before action, and always planning every move. Just an act, maybe, but one that he had thought convincing. How was he going to explain this one to MacLeod? The man could be so infuriatingly patronising at times as it was, but if he heard about this... Methos groaned inwardly. Life was so complicated. He wondered if he could provoke these men into killing him here and now, and then they would dump him into the road and he could forget it all. It wasn't such a bad idea really... A quick bullet, oblivion, a quiet rest in a ditch by the side of the road, and then a long walk back to the bank. Or maybe a different bank this time. He didn't want to be caught up with inquisitive police officers wanting to know what had happened.
"You thinking about something?" Sean, his gun still pointed at the prisoner, sat down beside Methos and looked out of the window. "Bit late to worry now."
"True." Methos turned towards him and frowned. "Aren't you afraid that I'll tell people what you look like?"
"Anybody in the bank could do that. We'll be out of the country by tomorrow night, and then it won't matter."
"Oh." Methos thought again. There had to be something he could do to get these men to kill him. He would prefer something that wouldn't cause the volatile Sean to grind him into dust before shooting him dead. "There's no way you'll be able to leave the country. The police will have very airport covered. There'll be men at all the docks, roadblocks everywhere."
"In this state maybe. We'll get through." Sean seemed unconcerned. Methos frowned.
"You're a fool. You'll never make it out of the state."
"I'm a fool?" The gun whipped up, and pressed itself against Methos' neck. "You're the one who's in trouble, bright boy. Not me."
Methos pushed the gun aside. "The whole of the state line is going to be crawling with policemen. I thought you people were professionals?"
"Could have fooled me." He shook his head. "You're no better than amateurs. You'll be in custody within the week."
"Why you-" Sean raised the gun above his head, then smiled and relaxed. "Not here. I don't want to make a mess in the van."
"Lucky me." Methos stared out of the window again, pointedly ignoring Sean. He could hear Paul laughing to himself, and scowled inwardly. Why couldn't he be normal? A nice nine to five job as a chartered accountant or an estate agent? Something quiet and relaxing with no gun-toting psychos involved. Instead he had to be a five thousand year old trouble-maker with a built in calamity instigator. There really was no justice.
"Here we are." As the van jerked to a halt, Paul stood up and opened the rear door, jumping down on to the ground. "Everybody out."
"Home sweet home." Sean caught Methos by the collar and dragged him out of the van, gesturing around. "What do you think of it?"
Methos looked around. They were standing beside a dilapidated building, which looked suspiciously like a long abandoned factory of some ilk. He gazed up at a tall, unsteady looking smokestack, and wondered just how safe the place was. It hardly looked warm and comforting.
"Not a lot," he told Sean, in answer to his question. The bank robber scowled, and gave him a hard push towards the nearby door. Marcus joined them as they entered the building, the three large sacks dangling from his huge hands. The substantial weight of all that money was evidently no handicap to a man of his size.
"Now what." As they entered the building, Paul sat down on a large, overstuffed arm chair which sagged suspiciously as a result of age. "What exactly are you planning to do with our guest, Sean?"
"Dunno." The other man shrugged. "I never really thought of that." He grinned. "I think I'd like to try my hand at dissection."
"I can't wait." Methos wandered further into the room, and sat down on a second chair. "Tell you what; I'll just sit here and watch."
"You really are asking for it." Sean stormed over to him and pulled him to his feet, his bright green eyes spitting flame. Methos shrugged, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.
"Then hurry up and get it over with," he told the raider impatiently. "I do have better things I could be doing, you know. Odd though it may seem, being kidnapped by a bunch of incompetent thieves wasn't exactly top of my list when I got up this morning."
The fist which struck him in the stomach was obviously well trained in the art of picking the best spot. Methos doubled over, coughing, and felt Sean's hand on his collar.
"You and me are going outside, bright boy." The old man suppressed a smile. At last. He allowed the raider to drag him to the door, and they walked outside into the silence. Even the sound of city traffic did not reach this far. Methos faced Sean, a calculating smile on his face.
"You don't have the guts to do anything major," he goaded. "There's no way you could kill me."
"Want a bet?" Sean smirked, holding the gun close to his prisoner's head.
"Yeah, sure. I bet you that you can't shoot me. Right now."
"You really are a jerk, you know that?" Sean was grinning. "You're not the first, you know. I've killed others."
"Prove it. I don't believe you. And I don't believe that you're going to pull that trigger."
"Yeah?" Sean took a step back, a cruel smile playing across his face. "So how's this?" He fired the gun. A burst of pain exploded through Methos' leg, and he collapsed. Blood poured from his knee, and he lay on the ground, gasping. Agony burned through every nerve in his body. Dammit, the man had been supposed to kill him, not go for a shot like that one. He gasped, trying to get his breathing under control. He wondered how long it would take for his knee to heal. This could really spell trouble.
"See?" He gasped, his voice taut from the pain. "I told you you didn't have the guts to kill me." Sean looked unbelieving. This man was clearly insane. He raised the gun again.
"And I told you that I did." He fired once more, and this time the bullet tore through the old man's shoulder. He was slammed back against the ground, the air knocked from his lungs. He choked, struggling to retain consciousness. If he passed out now, Sean would not kill him, and then when he saw the wounds heal...
"What's the matter, Sean? Can't hit anything vital?" Methos managed a weak grin, and saw the raider's eyes snap wide in anger and disbelief. The gun raised again, and this time the bullet struck him in the stomach. His vision swum, strange hallucinations presenting themselves to his tired and pain-abused mind. Tears sprang up, and he tried to get his breathing to even out. The pain had long passed the unbearable stage.
"That's three." The words wouldn't come at first, and he had to concentrate hard just to say them. "You still haven't managed it, Sean." There was a silence. Methos could no longer see the man, and had to imagine the look on his face. If it had not been for the agony, he might have smiled at the absurdity of the scene; at the sight of a bank robber trying to torture his prisoner, and receiving only insults in reply. He heard Sean's voice, but could not make out the individual words. All that he could hear clearly was the sound of the man checking the rounds in his weapon. There was a loud click, and then a roar which obliterated everything. About time was the last thing Methos thought before he blacked out.
Methos rubbed his head and stretched. He felt stiff, as though he had fallen asleep at his desk. He allowed a groan to escape his lips, and then remembered the bank robbers. Great move, old man, he told himself. If they're still around, you're sunk. He shrugged in resignation and sat up, gingerly opening his eyes. He was lying in a clump of bushes, mud mingling with the blood on his clothes. Ragged holes marked the places where he had been shot, but the wounds themselves were long healed. He stood up, and banged his head on a tree branch. Trust Sean to choose such an inhospitable place to dump him in. He tried to push his way through the bushes, but thorns tore at his skin, and snagged his clothing. He scowled. Clever. Nobody would have found his body for years, if it had remained lying here.
"Where you going, mister?" The voice took him so by surprise that he jumped, and swung around. A small girl stood in the shadow of a nearby bush, blinking up at him out of large blue eyes. He stared at her, uncomprehending, then jumped again as a twig cracked and another person appeared. The second person was a boy, no bigger than the girl. He frowned up at Methos, and then grinned.
"See, Mandy? I told you he was special. Told you he'd wake up." The girl nodded, and Methos groaned. What had these kids seen?
"Er... Can I help you?" he asked. The boy shrugged.
"Are you a magician?" he asked. Methos frowned.
"Er, no. I'm not." The boy looked disappointed, then grinned triumphantly.
"Then you must be an angel!"
"Huh?!" Methos stared at him in amazement. "What do you mean?"
"We saw those men dump you here. You were dead." The boy drew himself up to his full height. "I checked. I do first aid. You were full of bullet holes, just like on TV. "
"You saw all that, huh?" Methos' shoulders slumped in resignation. Things really could not get much worse. "So what makes you think I'm an angel?"
"You got better." The girl, Mandy, walked up to him, and tipped back her head to look at him properly. "We saw the holes close up. And you just woke up."
"Great." Methos bit his lip. An angel? Him? There was a time when he had been the exact opposite, but nobody had ever accused him of being something like that before. Magician he could handle. He could even make coins appear if he was really pushed. But an angel?
"Our own angel." The boy was over the moon. "Can we take you to school?"
"No you can't." Methos sighed. "Okay, look. Do you have a telephone?" The children began to laugh, and he frowned again. "What's so funny?"
"An angel needing a telephone!" Mandy giggled merrily, and the old man shook his head. Okay, so they weren't going to help him call his friends. Come to think of it, after the way he'd been acting just recently, he doubted that MacLeod and Dawson would really want to help him, and he couldn't blame them if they didn't. Fine, so telephoning somebody was out.
"I need to get to the road." He glanced about. "Which is the best way out of here?"
"Up there." The boy pointed. "You want me to show you?"
"Yes. Please." Methos followed the small boy up a bank, through another bushful of thorns. The child's eyes regarded him with intense fascination when they reached the top of the bank, and Methos glanced self-consciously at his hands, the focus of the boy's close interest. He watched as the scratches from the thorns faded away into oblivion.
"Boy, I wish I could do that." Jealousy showed on the young face. "I don't suppose you can do anything about mine?" He held up his own hands, which were covered in red marks. Methos smiled ruefully.
"Sorry. I can't help, I'm afraid."
"Are you going to leave now?" It was Mandy's voice, and he turned towards it.
"Yeah, I am. I have to go."
"Oh." She looked crestfallen, and he sighed.
"Look, I'm sorry, but I can't hang around here. It's not safe for you or me."
"How could it not be safe? You're indestructible." The boy appeared at his shoulder. "That would be so cool. I'd be a super hero if I was indestructible."
Methos smiled. He tried to imagine the massed forces of Immortalkind donning shiny lycra tights and matching cloaks in order to battle the forces of evil, and only just managed to suppress a laugh.
"Do you really have to leave?" Mandy sounded so sorrowful that Methos turned to her in genuine regret, and put a hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry, " he began, then frowned. Hell, it couldn't hurt, could it. What was a couple of wasted days? It wasn't as though he were living on borrowed time. "I suppose..."
"There's an abandoned place nobody goes to anymore," the boy told him immediately, and the old man grinned.
"Two days. No more."
"Thanks." Mandy reached up and hugged him, her eyes showing such genuine delight that he was quite touched. It wasn't often that he saw such fondness. He felt a burst of regret for the deception, but there was no reason why he shouldn't spend the next couple of days coming up with a decent cover story, so that he could safely tell the children he was not really a messenger from the heavens. Angelhood didn't feel at all natural sitting on his shoulders.
They walked along together in companionable silence, although Methos could tell that the pair were dying to ask him all manner of questions. They led him along a dusty, rarely used road towards an old, vaguely tired looking house. It was little more than a cottage really, with a sagging roof of stone tiles and walls that were invisible through the thick coating of creeper. The old man smiled in satisfaction. Not bad, really. Quiet, peaceful, secluded; maybe things were better than he had first thought.
"Do you like it?" Mandy asked. "We play here sometimes, and nobody ever comes here."
"It's just fine." Methos followed the children around to the back of the building, to where a large window stood open. They climbed in. Inside, the place was dusty, and cobwebs hung everywhere, but there was clear evidence that somebody had been trying to clean up.
"It's not bad, is it?" The small boy asked enthusiastically. Methos smiled down at him.
"It's great." He wandered further into the room, examining some of the dust coated furnishings. "Do you often come here on your own?"
"Sure. Why not?" The boy began to beat the dust out of one of the chairs, sending clouds of the stuff up into the air.
"Aren't you a little young?"
"Young?" Mandy sounded scornful. "I'm nearly eight, and Ben is nine."
"Oh." Suppressing a smile, the old man went into the next room. "So where are your parents?"
"You don't know?" Ben sounded amazed. Methos appeared in the doorway.
"Of course you should. That's why you're here isn't it? I mean, why else would an angel appear right in front of us?"
"I didn't appear right in front of you. If you really want to know, I was thrown there by some passing bank robbers."
Ben shrugged. "Okay, so you didn't appear. But we found you, right? So you're our angel. You must be here for a reason."
"And you think it's got something to do with your parents?" Methos suspected that he was getting into some seriously dangerous territory here. He wished that he hadn't allowed this charade to continue for so long.
"Of course it is. They died last spring. You're here about that, aren't you?" Mandy sounded so hopeful that Methos' heart sank. Great. He had started the day by insulting his friends, and here he was winding it all up by breaking the hearts of a pair of kids. There were days when he wondered if he had learnt anything at all from the last five thousand years.
"So do you have a message for us?" Ben asked. Methos looked from one to the other of the kids. They gazed up at him; excited, happy; convinced that all of their suspicions were true.
"Er... Yeah, well... See, there are a lot of people that I have to visit on this trip. I'm not just here to see you, so I have to find the right message, okay? Why don't you come back tomorrow, and we'll talk about it then."
"Okay." Mandy was immediately happy with his answer, and grabbed Ben by the hand. "C'mon Ben. We've got to go now."
"Yeah, alright." Ben allowed Mandy to drag him back through the window, and they vanished from sight. A second later the small boy stuck his head back into the room.
"See you tomorrow, angel."
"Sure. Tomorrow." Methos smiled wanly, and turned away. What the hell was he going to do now?
Duncan MacLeod, Immortal and sometime adventurer, leaned back in his chair and contemplated the television screen. He didn't watch often, but there were times when the lack of any proper form of entertainment left him at his wits end. Now that it was the twentieth century - damn nearly the twenty-first - he didn't feel inclined to retire to bed as soon as it got dark, as he had done once. He remembered the evenings reading books by candlelight, or going to a concert or a recital. They were few and far between now, it seemed, which was why he was sitting here now, gazing at a mass of colours on the TV screen, and wondering why he continued to watch such drivel. So this was the Wild West. It wasn't at all like he remembered. The thought made him smile, wondering what Methos thought of historical dramas. He had probably known all of those people; Anthony and Cleopatra, Caligula, Spartacus... He laughed, then sobered immediately. The thought of Methos brought to mind their argument earlier in the day. The old guy had seemed really on edge. MacLeod thought about how he had felt when he had seen Fitz die, and about the loss of Richie. He knew how Methos must feel. He had killed one of his old friends too, as well as seeing his oldest comrade die right in front of him.
The show ended in a blare of loud music which bore little resemblance to any that Duncan had heard during his time as a cowboy. He winced, and slammed his hand down on the remote control, switching over to another channel. A news programme was on, informing the world of all of the injustices that nobody seemed inclined to do anything about. He saw a place that he recognised, and frowned, then sat up. It was the bank, just a couple of blocks away from his place. It had been robbed earlier in the day, and the thieves were still at large. He listened, interested, as a number of witnesses spoke about their experiences. They all mentioned three men, except for an old lady, who shook her head in resignation, and muttered about the sins of the world. There had been a fourth man, she said with certainty. A man who was already in the bank before the three raiders came in. He had been acting strangely, and at the last moment before the raid he had warned her to leave, just as though he had known what was about to happen. She sighed. The other three had taken the man with them, she said, although that could have just been a cover. The picture changed to show the shots taken by the bank's security cameras, of the three raiders in action. Then it changed again to show a clear, pristine shot of a young, tall, dark haired man whom Duncan knew only too well.
"This is the fourth man supposedly involved in this morning's raid," the announcer said as the picture remained on screen. "He is about six feet tall, dark haired, and speaks with a British accent. The man is known locally by the name of Adam Pierson. You are warned not to approach him, since he may be dangerous, and is possibly armed."
Duncan reached out his arm again, and clicked off the set. He groaned.
"Oh Methos. What the bloody hell have you gone and done now?" He heard the phone ring, and grabbed it immediately.
"Adam?" he asked, then sighed. "Oh, hi Joe. Yeah, I just saw it. You don't think-?"
The voice on the other end sounded indignant, and he laughed.
"Yeah, I know. He's not the kind. Not anymore. It doesn't look good though."
He listened again.
"Yeah. We'll have to find him. I'll ask around, see of anybody knows anything. I'm sure we can come up with something." He shook his head. "If he hadn't gone off in such a bloody mood this morning... Of course he'll be okay... Joe, he's immortal for goodness sake. It doesn't matter if the raiders do kill him... Yeah, sure. Don't worry Joe, he'll be fine."
Duncan hung up the phone, and stared at it for a few moments. For a second, doubt clouded his mind, as he thought about all that had been so recently revealed about his ancient friend. Then he dismissed the thought. Methos wasn't likely to rob a bank, and if he did he would have more sense than to choose his local. MacLeod grinned. It really was bloody typical though. If this was all an example of what five thousand years of wisdom did for you, the old fellow was welcome to it. The Highlander grinned wickedly. Of course, this whole affair ought to give him plenty of ammunition with which to tease Methos. It was a pleasant past time, and one which was rapidly growing to be a favourite. On reflection, this might actually be fun.
Methos awoke slowly, and extremely reluctantly, to find that he was lying on an enormous, four-poster bed, with a canopy that sagged alarmingly. He stretched, listening to the less than reassuring creaks of both bed and floorboards. Where the hell was he? Oh, yeah, in the house. Those two kids had brought him here. He remembered their conversation the day before, and groaned. They thought he was an angel, and sometime between now and their arrival he had to come up with a convincing message from their dead parents, or come clean and break both their hearts. Dammit. Now he knew why he had always avoided kids. They wormed their way into your subconscious until even a hard bitten cynical old man of five thousand was unwilling to cause them any distress. Still, it wasn't as if it was his fault that they believed him to be an angel. What had he done? Only goaded an unstable armed robber into shooting him dead and dumping him in some secluded spot, so that he had come back to life in front of two underage witnesses. Not bad for one day, really.
Okay, old man. Time to do some thinking. Standing up and stretching uncertainly he wandered over to a dust caked mirror, and managed to clean a space big enough to see himself in. He needed a shave, and a change of clothing, and there were still marks of blood and mud on both his clothes and his skin. Hardly angelic. He growled at his reflection, wondering what the chances of getting a cup of tea or coffee were. Or better still a nice four pack of something alcoholic.
A crash downstairs made him jump, and he reached automatically for the sword that was not there. Of course; it was still in his car, which was probably in some tow yard by now. It made him feel isolated; naked even, and he walked carefully to the top of the stairs, all of his senses on the alert. No Immortals. Just the faint chatter of two small children. He went down the stairs and headed into the living room, where the large open window was situated. Ben and Mandy stood side by side beneath it, their faces accusing. Mandy looked as though she had been crying.
"What's wrong?" Taking a step towards them, Methos froze in amazement when they pulled sharply away. He frowned. "Ben? What's happened?"
"What do you mean, what's happened?" Ben held out a screwed up sheet of paper and newsprint, already grubby from finger marks and its long journey from wherever the kids lived. "Look at this."
"At what?" Methos unfolded the paper and scanned the page. It was a story about the bank robbery, and mentioned quite clearly that police believed that a fourth man, supposedly a hostage, was also involved. A tall, dark haired Briton named Adam Pierson. He stared at the photograph, so easily recognisable, and yet so far removed from the face he had seen in the mirror that morning.
"You lied to us." Mandy sounded small and helpless. "You're not an angel. We thought you were here to help us, and you're just a bank robber hiding out."
"No. Honestly, I'm not a bank robber." Methos thought hard, desperately trying to convince what were currently his only two friends in the world. "I swear. Listen, I never said I was an angel, right? That was you. You said that. All I did was not deny it. I needed your help."
"Why?" Ben sounded rebellious, and much older than nine.
"Because like I said, I'm not a bank robber. The people who committed that robbery wanted to kill me, and I had to get away from them." He stared at the newspaper. "And now the police want me too."
"I don't believe you." Mandy's eyes filled suddenly with something very like hatred. It startled Methos momentarily that so small a child could display so cold an emotion. "You lied to us, and I'm going to tell the police all about you."
"No!" Methos took a step towards them, his mind reeling with all sorts of things that he could say. Mandy jumped back, and threw herself out of the window. Methos made a wild grab for her, but Ben pushed himself between them, pounding at Methos' arms with his small fists. The old man tried to push past, but Ben moved like lightning, and was through the window before Methos could do anything about it. He tried to follow, only to receive a heavy kick just above the eye. He fell back, the feel of blood on his eyebrow shocking him momentarily.
"I'm not a bank robber." Trying to shout the words at an audience that had by now departed, Methos climbed to his feet, and rubbed the blood away from a cut that was already healed. He pulled himself up out of the window and pushed through the bushes which flanked the rear of the garden. He could see the marks of the childrens' trail, but made no move to follow them. There would be no point. They knew the terrain much better than he did, and they were also smaller, and very determined. He shook his head in disgust, but whether it was at his own incompetence, or the foolishness of mortal children, he did not know. He turned away, and began to think about finding the road. Somehow he had to get back to the city and see about sorting this mess out; just so long as he wasn't shot dead by the first cop who caught sight of him. Waking up on a slab in the middle of an autopsy really would be the final straw.
"I'm telling you, I dumped him here." Sean, the more volatile of the three bank robbers, poked ineffectually at the thorny bushes, as if he might be able to dig the body of his victim out by sheer will power alone. "It was definitely here."
"Oh, right. So I suppose he just got up and walked away, right?" Paul shook his head, exasperated. "I told you to leave him at the hideout, but you had to go and hide him someplace."
"I didn't know we were going to need him again, did I?" Angry, Sean gave up his search and scowled. "Somebody probably found him already."
"Then why have they been saying on the news that they want to talk to him?" Paul kicked at the ground. "It's the perfect chance, Sean! We dump his body somewhere where the cops can find it, with some of the money, and some kind of evidence. Something that makes out we've gone to Mexico or something. Then when the heat's off, we can go to Europe. It'll work. It's perfect!"
"Except that we've lost his body." Sean shook his head. "It was here, man, I swear it. It has to be here."
"Maybe he wasn't dead." Sitting on the ground a few feet away, Marcus looked up suddenly. "Maybe he was just unconscious, and he got up and walked off on his own."
"Yeah? Well who asked you, Marcus?" Sean shook his head, beginning to pace. "He was dead, okay? I shot him, more than once. No heartbeat, no sign of breathing. I think I know a dead man when I see one."
"Maybe he had some kind of a fit." Warming to his theme, Marcus saw the look in Sean's eyes, and decided to drop the subject. "I think I'll go wait in the van."
"You do that." Sean looked ready to begin tearing the bushes apart in his search for the elusive dead man, but instead stopped short to listen to something.
"What is it now?" Sounding tired, Paul frowned, but Sean silenced him with a gesture.
"Do you hear that?" he asked. Paul listened. Vaguely, in the distance, he thought that he could hear childrens' voices. One was crying, and the other was trying to be consoling.
"Kids. So what?"
"They might have seen something." Sean pulled his companion out of sight, and they waited together in the shadows. A moment later Ben and Mandy wandered into view. Mandy was scrubbing at her eyes, sniffling pitifully.
"It's okay," Ben told her. "It doesn't matter. So he lied, big deal."
"I wanted an angel." Mandy sounded upset, as though she had lost a favourite pet, or misplaced a doll. "We could have shown him to everybody."
"Yeah. Woulda been pretty cool." Ben shrugged. "Kinda funny though. If he's not an angel, how come we saw what we did?"
"You think maybe he is an angel?" Suddenly smiling through her tears, Mandy turned to her brother in excitement. "Do you reckon?"
"I don't know." Ben shrugged. "Maybe we should go back and watch him, and see what he does."
"Hey!" Stepping out of the shadows, Sean made a grab for Ben as the small boy tried to back away in surprise. "Hold on there. I want to talk to you."
"What about?" Ben sounded suspicious. He had already heard all that he wanted from one stranger recently. He had no wish to listen to another one.
"What's this?" Grabbing the sheet of newspaper, Sean grinned triumphantly as he read the headline. "Why would you be carrying this around with you?"
"It's for school," Ben suggested, but Sean laughed.
"It's Saturday, kid. Try again. You wouldn't have been showing this to anybody, would you?"
"No." Mandy sounded so honest and truthful that Sean disbelieved her immediately. He smiled.
"You wouldn't have been showing it to a guy named Adam Pierson by any chance? A guy with bullet holes all over him?"
"Bullet holes? He doesn't have-" Ben broke off looking guilty. "We haven't seen him."
"Where is he?" Sean twisted the boy's wrist. "Tell me you little-"
"Over here." Methos wandered out of the bushes, his expression dark. "If you want me, come to me. Don't go terrorising children."
"You..." Sean looked amazed, and let go of Ben in his shock. "You're dead."
"Afraid not. Told you that you were a lousy shot, Sean old boy."
"But... there's blood on your shirt. There are bullet holes in your shirt, damn it. How'd that happen? Huh?" Confused, Sean pulled a handgun from his belt and pointed it at Methos. "You're clever, Pierson, I'll give you that."
"I'm not that clever, or I'd be miles away by now." Methos shot a look over at the children. "You two get out of here."
"But-" Ben took a quick look at the gun in Sean's hand and blanched slightly. "We don't have to worry about you, right?"
"That's right." He shot a glance over at Sean, who seemed perfectly willing to let the children go. "If you should happen to see a tall man with a pony tail - slightly odd accent - I'd be obliged if you'd tell him what you saw."
"Sure." Ben began to back away, then took off at a run, dragging Mandy after him. They vanished into the bushes in an instant, and Paul seemed to relax a good deal once they were gone.
"Okay, let's get back to the van." He gave Methos an appraising look, and then shook his head. "Dead, right Sean? You really have got to take a look at yourself. You need practice."
"He was dead, dammit. I swear. I shot him four times. There is something weird going on here."
"Yeah, right." Paul wandered ahead, smiling to himself, and Methos could only follow along, wondering what on Earth he was going to do next.
The van bumped along the rough and muddy road, heading back for the city it had left the previous day. As before, Methos sat in the back, gazing out of the window. He had begun to tire of goading Sean. The man took to the bait far too readily, and presented no challenge. He clearly suspected that something was odd about the prisoner, but since none of the others believed him, the old man felt sure that he was safe. After all, apparently neither Paul nor Marcus had seen his body, and had only assumed that he was dead. Only Sean knew for sure.
"Where are we going?" Sean asked. Paul shrugged.
"Not certain yet. Somewhere out of the way, but somewhere they'll be sure to find him. Just make sure he's dead this time."
"Don't worry. I'll be very careful." The gunman shot Methos a sour look which spoke volumes, and the old man shifted his position as far as his bound wrists would allow him. Sean's face was far from pretty, and he wanted to try to shut it out.
"You never did make it out of the state then?" he asked, amused. Sean glowered.
"Obviously not." He hefted his gun in a supposedly threatening manner. "Just like you said we wouldn't, bright boy."
"The name's Adam."
"Big deal." Sean stroked his gun lovingly. "What do you say we ice this jerk now, Paul? It's got to be better than listening to his muttering for the next couple of hours."
"If you like." Paul leaned back against the side of the van and closed his eyes. "Just be sure you actually hit him this time."
"I hit him last time." Sean looked as though he were about to take a punch at his companion, but decided to take out his anger on Methos instead. He grabbed his victim by the shoulder and swung him around, knocking him onto the floor. The old man winced, trying to position himself so that his tied hands did not give him too much discomfort.
"You really don't want to shoot me," he told the gunman, who laughed derisively at him.
"Yeah? Why not, bright boy?"
"Because I would be very angry." Methos kept up a cool facade, but in reality he was thinking hard. If they shot him now, he would be awake again long before they dumped him. What was he supposed to use as an excuse this time?
"Sure you would be." Sean grinned. "I'll watch out for an upset spook."
"It's your choice." Shifting position slightly, Methos stared down the barrel of the automatic rifle as it was raised to point in his direction. He tensed his body, preparing for his move. Sean grinned, and his hands went rigid as he got set to fire. As his finger moved to the trigger, Methos kicked out hard with both legs, his feet catching the gun under the barrel and sending it flying up into the air. A stream of bullets hit the roof of the van, ripping out through the thin metal and vanishing far up into the sky. At the same moment, Methos felt his momentum push him backwards, and he collided with the doors. They swung open, and he flew through the air, crashing heavily to the ground. Dazed, he lay still, trying to get himself together enough to stand up.
"Stop the van!" Sean's angry voice was unmistakable, even though the vehicle had gone some way ahead. Methos groaned, and began to try to push himself to his feet. He had got as far as his knees before he heard footsteps, and found himself staring once more down the barrel of the rifle.
"Nice try, Pierson." Sean's expression was cold. This time there was no hesitation before he pulled the trigger, and the rifle leapt in his hands. The bullets tore through Methos' chest, and he was flung backwards onto the ground. Silenced, he lay still.
Breathe... Have to breathe... The thought faded into place in Methos' mind at the same time as the thought that he couldn't breathe. Somebody would notice. He raised his eyelids slightly, and tried peeking at his captors. Paul was asleep, or seemed to be, and Sean was looking thoughtful. His eyes kept coming to rest on the dead man lying nearby, and Methos cursed him silently. He had to take a breath soon. He tried to suck the air in gradually, as quietly as possible, regulating the flow into his lungs. His chest screamed for more, but he ignored it.
"You awake, Paul?"
"How long till we reach the city?"
"Not long. Everything ready?"
"Yeah, sure. I've put a quarter of the money in a bag..." Sean sounded unwilling to part company with the cash. "I've put those brochures in there too. You really think they'll assume we went to Mexico?"
"Sure they will. They have to." Paul shrugged. "We'll get out, don't worry."
"We should have worn masks."
"Yeah, right. And got blasted by the security guards before we even got in the building. Everything will be fine, Sean. Quit worrying." There was a silence. "What's wrong?"
"It's this guy." Out of his half closed eyelids, Methos could see Sean looking at him. "There's something peculiar. I could have sworn I just saw him move."
"Are you going soft?" Paul sat up and glanced over at the still form. "He's dead. I saw it myself this time; half of his chest was gone."
"Yeah, I know. But last time..."
"There was no last time, Sean. You made a mistake; live with it. It happens to us all."
"All the same..." Sean moved closer, and Methos tensed, suddenly afraid. It wouldn't take much to notice that the wounds had healed.
"Will you leave him alone, Sean? You're becoming obsessed." Paul sounded exasperated, and Sean relaxed back against the wall of the van. Methos nearly breathed a sigh of relief, but stopped himself just in time. His deliverance was short lived, however, for Paul clambered over to stand beside the old man. Methos felt his body become rigid, as he tried his hardest not to move. He let his eyelids close, thinking that it would be easier not to move if he could not see the other man beside him.
"The guy is definitely dead." Paul sounded amused. "Take a look at all the blood on his shirt." He reached out, and Methos felt a hand close on the material at his chest. There was a silence.
"What is it?" In a second, Methos felt Sean come closer as well, leaning over to see what was going on.
"The bullet holes are gone." It was Paul's voice, sounding shell-shocked, and Methos almost felt like smiling.
"Gone?" Sean checked for himself, then sat back. "So I wasn't imaging things earlier on. What the hell is going on, Paul?"
"I don't know. Maybe... Maybe he's an alien. You know, like in War Of The Worlds or something."
"An alien?" Seeing little point in continuing to pretend to be dead, Methos sat up, taking extreme pleasure in seeing both men leap in fright. "I think I preferred being an angel."
"You're... You're alive." Sean sounded accusing, and it was all Methos could do not to laugh at him.
"So how?" The raider, normally so forceful and sure of himself, sounded plaintive, and Methos smirked.
"It's a secret. Why don't you stop the van, untie my hands, and we'll talk about it. Right?"
The two men shared frightened glances, then Paul nodded.
"Sure. Okay. But if you try anything you're a dead man, got it?"
"Oh, yeah. Of course. But you've already killed me twice in the last two days. Are you hoping you'll get lucky the third time round?"
"What are you?" As Paul banged on the partition leading to the front of the van, and the vehicle began to slow down, Sean frowned at Methos with a look of awe on his face. The old man smiled.
"You don't want to know. Believe me."
"You do know Adam Pierson. You've been seen together by half of the policemen in the city; and we all know that either one or both of you are often around when there's trouble here, so don't play some innocent game with me MacLeod. I've been speaking to the police in Paris, you know. Did you think we wouldn't notice the way you're always dashing about between there and here? They say you're as much of a problem out there as you are to us in Seacouver."
"They do, huh? It's nice to know I'm welcome on the Continent." MacLeod grinned, and leaned back in his chair. "Would you like a coffee, lieutenant?"
"No, I would not like a coffee. I would like to know what you were doing when the bank was raided yesterday morning."
"I was at home, meditating."
"Meditating?" The detective looked as though he were unsure whether to take MacLeod seriously.
"Yeah. Meditating. Not cross-legged humming stuff. Martial Arts; you know."
"Er... yeah. Of course." The lieutenant frowned. "Okay. Can anybody corroborate your story?"
"Dunno. I think Joe Dawson might have popped round. We were round at Adam's place earlier in the day... Well, most of the night actually. Then I left at about half eight... Joe left shortly afterwards apparently. He came round here then and we talked for a while, then he went home."
"He said he was going on a trip. He hasn't been himself just recently. He lost a few friends."
"So you have no idea where Pierson was after half past eight yesterday morning?"
"I know where he wasn't; robbing that bank. He's just not the type." Not any more. Probably.
"He was there. He left with the thieves."
"They had a gun pointed at him!" Duncan shook his head in exasperation. "Some old woman says that he was acting a little strangely, and you mobilise half the force to catch him. Don't you think you might be barking up the wrong tree?"
"If he's so innocent, why hasn't he come back yet? Why hasn't he turned himself in?"
"Did you ever stop to think that maybe he can't come back? That maybe the men who kidnapped him won't let him come back? Come on, lieutenant. Wake up!" MacLeod leaned back in his chair. It felt good to be worrying about Methos again. Earlier the previous day he had been so infuriated by the man that he had seriously considered ambushing him, and taking his head. "Look, you must have some leads, right?"
"Yes." The lieutenant was sitting slumped in his chair, feeling oddly chastised. Never in all his twenty years as a detective had a younger man made him feel like that. Almost as if he had been a child in the schoolroom again. "The van used in the getaway was spotted heading north, and we've managed to back track it to some disused factory out of town. Looked like they were holed up there for some time before the raid. They'd cleared out though."
"All we found was a couple of kids nosing round the place. We tried asking them questions, but they said they weren't supposed to talk to strangers. They said they'd only talk to the tall, pony-tailed guy with the weird accent, because that was what the angel had said." He shook his head, obviously dismissing this last. "So is there anything you want to tell me?"
MacLeod frowned. This had to mean that Methos had spoken to the children, but was he supposed to gauge some meaning from the cryptic talk of angels? One theory suggested itself, but it wasn't one that he cared to think about... Mortals - even small children - were not supposed to see Immortals recovering from 'death'. It presented far too many problems. He groaned, leaning back into his chair and staring at the floor. Damn. Damn Methos and his vanishing tricks; damn the whole blasted US Police Force.
"Is there anything you want to tell me, MacLeod?"
"Yeah." MacLeod stood up and headed for the door. "You can let yourself out."
"So what are you?" Cutting the ropes which bound Methos' hands, Paul raised his gun warningly. He had already seen what little effect it had on the man, but he was still willing to try using it as a deterrent. What else did he have?
Methos grinned. "I'm an Immortal," he said, with a touch of the matter-of-fact about his tone. "One of a race of ancient warriors who battle each other throughout Time in an attempt to attain supreme power."
"Huh?" Sean gazed at him open mouthed, and Methos smiled. It did all sound rather good, on reflection.
"We're supposed to believe that you're immortal?" There was amusement in Paul's voice, but Methos shot him a withering stare which wiped the smile from his face instantly.
"You did just see me come back to life, right?"
"Right." The gunman sobered. "Hey, we could use this. Think of the possibilities. A thief who can't die. You could walk through any security system. You wouldn't have to worry about cops, or armed guards, or anything."
"Yeah, sure. Like that's never been thought of before." Methos rubbed his wrists thoughtfully, the Watcher tattoo catching his eye. "Are you offering me some kind of a deal?"
"We might be." Paul glanced over at Sean and Marcus. "What do you two say?"
"I think it sounds cool." Marcus grinned, but Sean was scowling.
"I don't know. Immortal or not, I still say this guy is an irritating bastard. We ought to get rid of him."
"How exactly?" Methos smirked, and stretched lazily, enjoying the moment.
"There has to be a way. Drowning?"
"Hanging? I don't know... We could bury you alive."
"Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt. Well, not exactly, but you get the idea." He grinned. "No, sorry Sean. You're stuck with me."
"We could still turn you in, bright boy."
"I don't think so." Methos looked thoughtfully at the three. "Come on. I think you can all see the possibilities in this. I happen to know that there's a shipment of jewels headed for the City Museum two days from now. Word is they'll be surrounded by a fence carrying enough voltage to power Seacouver for a fortnight. I could walk straight through that. What do you say?"
"Jewels, huh?" Paul looked over at his two confederates. "Come on, guys. A shipment like that has got to be worth our while. Right?"
"Right!" Marcus headed back to the van. "Come on. Let's get back to the city. We'll find somewhere we can hole up until it's time to move."
"Fine." Paul began to follow him, with Methos in tow. They both glanced back at Sean.
"Are you coming?" Paul asked. Sean glowered.
"Yeah, I'm coming. But it still feels like we're making a mistake." He climbed up into the van, casting a untrusting glance at the old man as he did so. "You better not leave my sight, bright boy."
"Oh I won't." Methos picked up one of the guns and began to toy with it, amusement showing on his face. "Promise." He grinned, but as Sean turned his back, the five thousand year old eyes glowed with the light of menace.
They drove onwards, driving the van over tired old tracks that had long ago ceased to be roads, heading back to the city by a route that the police were sure not to have covered. With his greater experience, Methos lacked his companions' certainty in the shortcomings of the force, but he kept quiet, watching and waiting. He fiddled with the pieces of junk that he found lying in the bottom of the van; a long piece of rope, a hunting knife, several bank notes which had escaped from the sacks. He turned the knife over in his hands, feeling the blade. It was almost long enough to qualify as a sword, and the edge was certainly sharp enough to take a head. He smiled to himself, glad to have the feel of cold metal in his hands once again. It made him feel less isolated and vulnerable.
"Knife man, huh?" Paul glanced up, and Methos smiled at him.
"You could say that. Usually I prefer something bigger."
"Swords or sabers?"
The old man raised an eyebrow, surprised by the other man's apparent knowledge.
"We'll have to fence together some time."
"If you like." The old man sheathed the knife again, and turned his head to look out of the window and up at the sky. It was bright and clear, the warmth of the afternoon reaching into the back of the van. It was summer, and everywhere that he looked seemed touched with the light of the sun. He smiled. So that was it. That was why he had been acting like the world's grumpiest man for the last few days. It was July the twelfth today. He should have thought about it earlier. A memory resurfaced in his brain of some wild escapade with Kronos, and a decision that July the twelfth was to be Methos' birthday. They had not exactly celebrated it every year, but had tried to be together for it at least once every century. The last time had been in... the 1840s, or thereabouts. A lazy smile played about on the old man's face. No wonder he had been so damn miserable; and all without knowing why. It struck him that he really ought to apologise to MacLeod for his somewhat inhospitable behaviour lately. Always supposing, of course, that the Highlander still wanted to talk to him when he eventually found his way home. Perhaps if he explained the reason for his bad temper... MacLeod might even understand. After all, he must have similar memories of his times spent with Fitz, the eccentric adventurer he talked about every now and again.
"What are you thinking about?" Paul sounded friendly; comradely even, and Methos turned to look at him. He smiled.
"About an old friend."
"Someone you've lost?"
Methos smiled again. "No. I have a feeling he hasn't gone far." He slid over to sit beside Paul, and toyed idly with the knife, sliding it from its sheath once again. "There's an awful lot of him in me, for one thing."
"In what way?" Paul's eyes were closed, and his face was the picture of contented relaxation.
"In so very many ways." Methos smiled at the quiet face of the mortal, and with a smooth, brisk movement, he buried the knife up to its hilt in Paul's chest.
"What the-" Reaching for his gun in a lightning fast movement, Sean jerked into wakefulness. He reacted like a soldier, Methos noted with interest. Endowed with the experience and practice of millennia, he reached Sean's gun before the mortal could, and kicked it aside with a movement that was almost lazy. He grinned.
"You mentioned something about killing me," he said, his voice filled with amusement. "Want to try? Want to go for your gun again?"
"Don't kill me." Sean stared at the knife, hovering barely an inch or two from his throat. "Please..."
"Why?" Methos let the blade touch the other man's skin, watching in barely concealed delight as a drop of blood welled up and trickled down the perfect metal. "Give me one good reason."
"I'll give you anything. All the money. Anything damn it!"
"If I want the money I'll take it, but as it happens I don't want it." Methos shrugged. "Got anything else to offer, bright boy?"
Despite his fear, Sean's eyes showed a glint of anger.
"You won't do it," he said defiantly. Methos grinned.
"Mind games? I like them." He shrugged. "But I don't have time to play now, Sean. Sorry." He drove the knife into the raider's neck.
Gasping, Sean slid sideways, and stared up at his attacker, the certainty of death clear on his face. His frowned. Methos seemed to be standing taller, with the light of something reawakened in his eyes. Something wild, something... unspeakable. He remembered Pierson's answer when he had asked him what he was. You don't want to know. Believe me. Now, as he saw the darkness and the fury that shone out of the strange man's face, Sean believed. Perhaps it was better to take refuge in death.
"So they're dead? All of them?" MacLeod looked up at the lieutenant in disbelief. "Are you sure?"
"Perfectly, MacLeod." There was dry amusement in the policeman's voice. "We're pretty sure about these things nowadays, you know. Two were knifed to death, pretty messy. The other was shot with an automatic rifle. I don't know what went on in that van, but one of the guys - we've identified him from our records as Sean Gallagher - he looked terrified. Like his worst nightmare had just come true."
"And Adam. Is he okay? He's not a suspect in this?"
"Pierson? No. The patrol that found the bodies found him there too, tied up and out for the count. He didn't have a clue how the murders happened. Got knocked out for talking too much or something."
"So he's off the hook?" Duncan felt relieved.
"Yeah, sure. He's here now, being interviewed. If you want to get rid of him somewhere for us you'd be welcome. We've recovered the money; well, most of it. As for Pierson... He'll have to stay in the country for a while, just until everything is sorted out, but other than that he's free to go." They both looked up as Methos wandered over, heading away from the interview rooms. He grinned.
"Hi." They began to walk away, out into the street. "You seem a little more cheerful."
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that. I suddenly realised why I was so miserable."
"And?" Methos smiled at the less than subtle prompt.
"I guess I finally figured that when you lose somebody, it isn't always necessary to say goodbye. You should remember that, MacLeod."
"Sounds like philosophical stuff, old man."
Methos shrugged. "Why shouldn't it be? I used to lecture in Athens, you know, a couple of millennia or so back."
MacLeod rolled his eyes heavenward.
"Do you know what happened to those three men in the van, Methos?" he asked, the change of subject startling his companion.
"MacLeod... I was out cold. I don't have a clue what happened."
"And those kids? What about them?"
"Don't worry about that." Methos grinned, and raised a hand. A thick wad of distinctive green bills flapped about in the breeze. "I rather think this'll take care of them."
"Methos! You stole that?!" MacLeod laughed. "I ought to turn you in."
"I like that." The old man counted the money. "There's quite a bit here, actually."
"You don't say."
"You can have some if you'd like. Buy some more antiques."
"No thanks." MacLeod laughed. "You really are unbelievable."
"Privilege of old age." They both grinned.
"Look, I promised I'd meet Joe. Do you want to come?" Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, MacLeod ignored the angry mutterings of inconvenienced passers-by.
"No. Thanks, but I'd like to go home. You're welcome to come by later, if you like."
"Maybe. Not for long though; I have a date."
"Oh yeah? Anybody I know?"
"A certain lady with an eye for good jewellery."
"Ah." Methos nodded knowingly. "Say hello for me."
"Of course." Duncan began to walk away. "See you later, old man."
Duncan walked up the steps leading to Methos' apartment, a wry smile on his face. It didn't really take much to tell which was the old man's place; the sound of Born In The USA coming from the window at close to full volume was something of a dead give-away. He rang the doorbell and the door opened wide, apparently of its own accord.
"Hi Duncan. Come on in. I've got some beer in my fridge if you'd like some."
"You're offering me beer? That's a new one." Duncan grinned. "I can't stay long, though, Methos. I have to meet Amanda. We're going to the opera."
"Lucky Amanda." Methos wandered into view, a can of beer in one hand and a packet of chocolate chip cookies in the other.
"Very funny. I actually just stopped by to give you this; sort of a peace offering." He smiled. "Look, I'm sorry that I killed... well, rather a lot of your friends. I never meant to hurt you."
"I know. You're forgiven." Methos took the proffered bag. Inside was an old fashioned vinyl LP. He grinned when he read the title. The Cross - Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know.
"It made me think of you," the Highlander told him with a smile. Methos laughed.
"Thanks. Really, MacLeod, thankyou. You didn't have to do this."
"Yes I did." MacLeod glanced at his watch. "You know; maybe I will have that beer. I've got a while yet before I have to meet Amanda."
"Sure." Methos threw him a can. "Want some cookies to go with it?"
"Don't they go better with milk?"
Methos made a face. "Don't you believe it. Actually they go best with this coffee liqueur an old friend of mine used to brew up. In... 1926. I wonder what happened to him."
"I can't imagine." MacLeod opened his can and took a sip. The beer was strong and rich, and he leaned back in his chair. "Not bad."
"Only the best." He grinned at the pained expression on his friend's face as Born In The USA faded out, to be replaced by Bat Out Of Hell. "You want me to turn the radio off?"
"No, it's okay."
"Yeah, right." Methos silenced the CD player, then watched his guest thoughtfully. "So what kind of music did Richie like?"
"Huh?" MacLeod felt a momentary burst of pain at the mention of his young friend, then realised that Methos was doing him a favour. "Oh... Some noise called Nirvana. And a band called Black Grape, or some other kind of fruit. Used to have his radio blaring out like he was deaf. Crazy thing was that Tessa actually seemed to like it. She loved the most intricate of classical pieces, and yet she was happy to listen to Richie's cacophony."
"Sounds like my kind of woman."
"Yeah, she'd have liked you." MacLeod wasn't certain why he was so sure of that; he just was. "So what about Kronos?"
"And music?" Methos shrugged. "I don't know. I hadn't seen him since long before the start of all this modern stuff; but in the past we always liked the same stuff, more or less."
"Bet you had a lot of fun together, huh."
"You know the way it works, Highlander. You went through it all with Fitz."
"That's for sure." He grinned. "We got up to all kinds of things together, although it was usually him that started it. He got me arrested more than once too. And he got me killed several times..." He gave a distant smile, no doubt remembering some long distant hangman's scaffold that some escapade of Fitzcairn had led them both to. "How about you, old man? Ever get executed?"
"What a gruesome question." Methos smiled. "Yes, of course. More than once. In fact, come to think of it I was once executed twice by the same man."
"And how exactly did you manage that? Or don't I want to know?"
Methos grinned. "Caligula," he said, as if that explained everything. "Poor man was nutty as a fruit cake. One chocolate chip short of a cookie. He had me executed for... I don't know, something or other. Then a few years later when I was passing through again, blow me if he didn't go and do the same thing. Didn't recognise me, of course. That might have been awkward."
"It might," MacLeod agreed.
"Funny thing was, Kronos was in Rome at the time as well, and Caligula ordered him to carry out the execution. A beheading. Of course he refused to do it, so we were both sentenced to death by stoning instead." He shook his head. "Have you any idea what it's like standing in the marketplace, with half a town throwing rocks at you? By the time one lot have finished throwing, the first lot of wounds have healed. We were stood there for hours waiting for them to get on with it. In the end they gave up and got an archer to finish the job."
MacLeod laughed. "Sounds like one time when Fitz and I got on the wrong side of some smugglers. They tied us to a couple of anchors and threw us into the bay. We were hanging there, about a hundred feet down, wondering how the bloody hell we were going to get back up to the surface, and Fitz suddenly gets a giggling fit." He shook his head. "The man definitely had a screw loose."
"So how did you get back up?" Methos asked. MacLeod smiled.
"Fitz turned out to have a knife in his boot." They both laughed. It felt good to be friends again.
"So is all forgiven?" MacLeod asked finally. Methos threw him the packet of cookies.
"Of course it is. Byron was misguided, and a lazy fool to boot. If you hadn't taken his head, somebody else would have. Caspian got what he deserved, and I can hardly blame you for Silas."
"Kronos got what he wanted. A chance to go back to his glory days." Methos smiled. "I hope. It's lucky I was there, though, MacLeod. I was honestly worried that his Quickening would take you over otherwise. I saw it happen once, when somebody tried to take the head of a much more powerful Immortal. The body stayed the same, but his mind was gone. It was like a... personality transferral."
"Charming!" MacLeod shook his head. "We've got to talk like this more often, old man. But for now, I've got to be going. Amanda awaits."
"And so does the opera. Rather you than me, MacLeod."
"Oh go fall off a building."
"Done it already." They laughed.
"See you at Joe's tomorrow night?"
"You bet." Methos followed him to the door, then closed it and wandered over to the window. Seacouver stretched out before him, and it felt good to be home.
"I did it, brother. My own little celebration. Had to mark the day somehow. And the police never suspected a thing..." Smiling at the horizon, the old man raised his can in salute and took a long drink. "Our special day. Our little secret." He grinned. "I guess I was right. You really haven't gone very far." He turned away from the window and headed back to his music centre, ready to test drive MacLeod's little gift. Below him, in the street, the Highlander glanced up at the window and smiled as the first notes began to burst from the apartment above him. As he stood there, something flashed in his eyes, and his body seemed to change. Gone was the tall, lean man with a pony-tail; and in his place was a smaller man, with short hair and an infectious grin. He looked up at the window and laughed softly.
"Our little secret, brother," he whispered, then his form changed again, and Duncan MacLeod was back. He shivered as though suddenly cold, then walked over to his car. As he prepared to drive away he took another look up at the window and laughed, a contented and oddly dangerous laugh. The body was clearly Duncan MacLeod's, but the laugh was that of Kronos.
Nada. I tried keeping Kronos out of this one, really. Honestly. Well, I tried a bit.