WELCOME TO MIDNIGHT
Dawn rose above the hood of the car, to a chorus of gentle rumblings from the engine. Duncan MacLeod growled a very rude word in the language that had once been his own, and slammed on the brakes. Beside him, the slumbering form of Methos grumbled irritably.
"Methos." Duncan glared at the slumped figure, annoyed by his incredible propensity for deep sleep and apparent utter comfort, even in the most unlikely places. Who save Methos could sprawl in such contented bliss in the passenger seat of a car? This car, anyway. "Methos!"
"Hmm?" One moody green eye opened, followed reluctantly by its twin. The long, lean - MacLeod preferred to think of it as scrawny - body stretched luxuriantly. "What is it? Are we in California yet?"
"Very funny." MacLeod pointed out of the windscreen. "Look."
"At what?" The world's oldest man blinked owlishly, then frowned out of the front of the car. "I don't see anything."
"Keep looking." MacLeod reined in the sarcasm that threatened to drip from his tongue. "Look at the sun."
"Oh." The old man smiled. "Dawn. Well I appreciate that the world can often look its best at first light, MacLeod, but I'd rather sleep for a bit longer if it's alright with you. Not the type for marvelling at nature at daybreak."
"Damn it, Methos!" This time MacLeod's frustration burst forth in a shout that brought a started scuffle from the back of the car. He sighed. "Sorry Joe. I didn't mean to wake you."
"That's alright. Must be nearly my turn to drive anyway." Joe Dawson stretched as best he could in the cramped back seat, and rearranged his legs slightly. "Mac, what's the sun doing shining through the windscreen? We're supposed to be heading west, and traditionally the sun rises in the east. Unless the Earth changed direction while I was asleep?"
"No, it didn't." MacLeod turned to Methos. "Get it now?"
"Um... we're heading the wrong way?" Methos shrugged. "Well I'm sorry, MacLeod, but I don't see how that's my fault. You're driving."
"I am driving in the direction you were heading in when I took over. No intersections. No corners. We don't have a turning on our schedule for forty miles." Duncan pointed out of the windscreen, towards the spreading brightness of the sun. "So you want to tell me how the hell we're facing east?!"
"We're facing east?" The surprised voice of Joe's newly awakened daughter Amy, came from the back. "I thought we were heading west?"
"Yeah. Apparently we all knew that except Methos." Joe flashed her a cheerful smile. "Hi. Sleep well?"
"Yeah." She stretched. "A car isn't the best place to wake up in, though. I'm stiff as a board."
"I know the feeling." Joe leaned over into the front. "I need coffee, and some breakfast might be nice. Where's the nearest place we can stop?"
"Who knows?" Duncan all but punched the steering wheel. "Thanks to somebody, I don't have a clue where we are."
"Hang on." Joe burrowed about for the map. "Okay, well last time I checked the map we were... here... and so when Methos took over driving we must have been about... here." He frowned at the map. "We were heading north then, right?"
"Yeah." Duncan nodded. "We took that detour south to visit that monument, so we were heading north-ish to compensate." He groaned. "Methos, did you turn right or left coming off that forest road?"
"Right." Methos frowned. "Uh, left. No, hang on..."
"You turned right. Right." The Highlander looked as though he might be about to throttle his companion. "You're supposed to have a good sense of direction! Why would you head right?!"
"It looked like the right way to go! I don't know, damn it." The old man was going on the defensive, his body language suddenly that of a surly teenager. He looked away from MacLeod, out through his side window, and watched a pair of birds arguing nearby. "I got confused, okay? It was dark. Roads all look alike after a while. Anyway, what's it matter? You said you wanted to see America."
"Yeah. I just like to know which bit of it I'm seeing." Duncan looked back at Joe. "Any luck with that map?"
"Well if he went east leaving that old forest road, and we've been going the same way since, we must be somewhere around here." Joe tapped on the map with one finger. "And according to this, if we keep heading this way for another five miles, there's a little town. Not much, but it ought to have some kind of diner, right? Anywhere I can buy some food. I'm not fussy."
"Sounds great." Amy was immediately enthusiastic. "If I can get some coffee there, I don't care if it's just three buildings built in a swamp." She raised her eyebrows at Duncan. "Well?"
"Yeah, alright. It'll take us several hours to get back on course, so five more miles won't make much difference. It could be some while before we find somewhere else to stop." Duncan switched on the engine again. "And you're buying the breakfast, old man. Every last waffle."
"Only a barbarian eats waffles for breakfast." Methos folded his arms across his chest in a typical display of grumpiness. Amy leaned over to pat him on the shoulder.
"I'm not cross with you," she offered, as though trying to make peace. "This is a nice place to be lost in, when you think about it."
"We're not lost," pointed out Duncan. "We're just going the wrong way."
"Well it's a nice place to be pointing the wrong way in, then." She flopped back in her seat. "It's nice to be away from the city. I like all these trees, and bushy things."
"My daughter, the horticulturist." Joe grinned at her withering glare. "Is 'bushy things' a botanical term?"
"The English translation of it, yeah. The scientific term is probably in Latin, and I don't speak that."
"Not much point now," commented Methos, apparently with a hint of nostalgia. "Nobody else bothers anymore."
"Missing Ancient Rome, old man?" Joe grinned at the back of Methos's head, all that he could see of the old Immortal. "Nobody grumbled about heading the wrong way there, I suppose."
"Wouldn't have been doing the driving there, would I." Methos didn't turn around. "I'd have got a slave to do it, and then thrown him to the lions if he went the wrong way."
"Don't go giving me ideas." MacLeod sped the car up a little, beginning to feel rather hungry himself. "I'm not sorry I missed out on Ancient Rome. Doesn't sound like it was much fun."
"Could be. The togas were a bit uncomfortable, though. Bad planning there somewhere." Methos was cheering up again, warming to his theme. "And all that intrigue got a bit boring after a while. The revolts could be fun, although it got a bit painful at times if you were on the losing side. Nice buildings, mind."
"It would be nice to see Rome the way it looked back then." Amy tried to imagine the scene. "The Collosseum, newly built."
"Bloody uncomfortable seating." Methos shook his head in apparent disgust. "All that money spent on the thing, and all they manage to come up with are stone benches. Sit on one of them for half an hour, and you know all about it. Entertainment wasn't up to much either."
"The history books go on about 'great spectacles'." Amy still sounded enthusiastic. Methos shrugged.
"Seen one Christian get torn to pieces, you've seen them all. The gladiatorial battles weren't all that great either. Lots of green young fools who could hardly hold their weapons straight. They didn't last ten minutes. Then every so often the emperor would put in an appearance, and somebody would send in another dozen lions to try to make things look a little more impressive. Lots of growling, and some poor chump running in circles, trying to fight them off with a dagger and a short sword." He frowned. "Although there was a lovely girl who used to sell stuffed olive leaves. Must have been in around 200AD. Now she was worth going to catch a show for."
"Well excuse me." Amy folded her arms just as he had done earlier, and made a fair show of sulking. Joe offered her a conciliatory smile.
"Not easy, is it, dating a man with his history. I did warn you."
"Bloody silly being jealous of someone who's been dead nearly two thousand years." Methos smiled contentedly to himself. "She was a lovely girl, though. A Gaul, freed in her master's will."
"Lovely." Joe had no grand illusions about Rome. "Slavery, murder, and the populace spending their leisure time watching people being eaten by lions."
"Bit more to it than that. That's a bit like condensing the entire history of the States into: 'The new arrivals wiped out the locals and then had Coke and hamburgers.' Rome was a great city." Methos scowled. "Although in all those hundreds of years it developed a hell of a habit of throwing trouble my way."
"Colour me surprised." Duncan suppressed a grin. "I'm still not sorry I missed it. The sixteenth century was a good time to be born in."
"Oh come on, Duncan. With your love of antiques?" Amy was warming to her subject still further. "Imagine seeing all those Roman mosaics when they were new. And Greece before that. All that sculpture, and the literature. You could meet Homer. Watch him write The Iliad. And then there were the philosophers..."
"Just being alive at the right time doesn't mean you actually get to meet all these people, you know." Duncan peered at a grimy road sign, and steered off down a side road. "I was in Scotland in the eighteenth century, and I never got to meet Robert Burns."
"I met a lot of poets," offered Methos. MacLeod glared.
"Yeah, we know. You and your psychotic old Romantics. All full of laudanum, and ready to kill off all the mortals they could get their hands on."
"I wasn't thinking of him." Methos scowled. "One poet turns out to have a ruthless streak, he thinks they're all mass murderers."
"And all those world leaders." Amy was still lost in wonderland. "Imagine meeting Julius Caesar. Or Alfred The Great. George Washington."
"It's the same with world leaders. Just because you're alive at the right time, doesn't mean you're going to meet Alexander the Great walking down the High Street." Duncan looked at Joe in the rear view mirror. "Look at your father. He was around in the sixties, but that doesn't mean he met the Kennedys."
"Did, actually." Joe grinned at the Highlander's reflection. "Sorry. Just a hello in JFK's case, but I got to speak to Bobby properly."
"I've met a few world leaders." Methos didn't sound impressed. "Don't think I voted for any of them. Actually, not sure anybody voted for most of them. They tended to inherit their titles, or just announce that they were taking over, and then kill anyone who objected. More fun than an election, usually. Often made more sense, too."
"I think we're there." Duncan took the car past a sign reading: Welcome To Midnight. "Cheery sort of a name, isn't it."
"I don't see a diner." Methos let his battle-hardened, jaded world tourist demeanour fade away as he looked out of his window. "One of those weird little towns this country likes hiding in unexpected places, full of people who marry their sisters, and like stockpiling weapons just in case there's still a chance that the Russians might attack."
"Walk down the main street and say that," challenged Duncan. Methos smirked.
"Ignore him, Duncan. He's spent the last few miles insulting Ancient Rome. Now it's America's turn." Amy leaned forward, resting her arms on the back of MacLeod's seat. "Still, it's not a very picturesque place, is it."
"If it's got any coffee for sale anywhere in it, I don't care what it looks like." Joe gazed longingly out of the window. "Every town has a diner in it, right?"
"Not weird backwoods towns, no. They just have meeting places, where the locals burn strangers alive, and do ritual dancing at moonrise." Methos grinned back at the two mortals. "What? I've seen the movies."
"You're a weird son of a you know what at times, Methos." Joe shook his head in apparent despair, and returned his attention to the window. "There are plenty of perfectly nice little towns, full of perfectly nice people."
"I don't know, Joe." Amy had drawn back into her seat. "We're getting a lot of nasty glares from some of the locals."
"Maybe it's a one way street, and we're going the wrong way." MacLeod looked around and saw that she was right. There were a lot of deep glowers and icy stares being sent their way. "Or maybe they just don't like strangers."
"Maybe they don't like foreign cars." Joe tried not to stare back at the hostile faces. "Not that I care. Is that some kind of coffee shop up ahead?"
"Not sure towns like this have coffee shops." Duncan pulled the car to a halt at the side of the road. "I think it's some kind of café. Whatever it is, though, it does sell coffee."
"Let's get some, and then see how fast we can leave town." Amy frowned uncertainly out of her window. "Do you suppose it's safe to get out of the car?"
"I don't know." Methos opened his own door, one hand not at all surreptitiously hovering near the gun he was wearing inside his jacket. "But if you want something to eat, I'd look twice at any meat you get offered. Play safe and stick to the vegetarian options, or you might find yourself eating the last stranger who came to town."
"Will you knock that off!" Managing to sound as though he were shouting, whilst keeping his voice barely above a whisper, MacLeod glared furiously at his companion. "Just quit the sarcasm, before somebody hears you. If they're not hostile now, they certainly will be once they've heard your theories on small town America."
"I've got nothing against small town America. I've been in some lovely small towns in America." Methos looked up and down the street, at the milling locals with their fierce glares, and the drab buildings that seemed to glare as well, then shrugged as though the conclusions were obvious. "I just have issues with places that look like they're inhabited by the kind of incestuous cannibals cheap horror movies are made about." Joe glared at him.
"Old man, you're going to get us all lynched if you don't shut the hell up. Now let's get inside and take a look at the menu. And if there actually is any 'vegetarian option' in this place, I'll eat my hat."
"Probably be safer than Misguided Stranger Risotto." Methos led the way into the café, despite his apparent misgivings, coming to a halt just inside the door. He found himself in a pleasant enough room, though in need of redecorating, with the smell of bacon in the air, and a complete dearth of customers. A woman of about forty stood behind the counter, refilling sugar shakers, and looking as though she would far rather be anywhere else. She wore a red and white checked uniform that matched the cloths laid out on the tables, and she began pouring coffee into mugs as soon as she saw her new customers.
"Nice place you've got here," said Joe, attempting to make conversation. She glared at him.
"No it ain't."
"Well, I..." He trailed off, rather at a loss. "Okay."
"Here." She pushed four mugs of coffee across the counter. "You want anything else?"
"Um... bacon?" suggested MacLeod hopefully, rather taken by the smell wafting out of the kitchen. The woman glared, as though going to fetch some bacon from the next room was an unimaginable hardship.
"I suppose I can get you some." She pointed to a table at the far end of the room. "That one's free. We'll be closing soon, so don't take your time." With that she disappeared.
"That one's free?" Joe looked around at the roomful of empty tables. "Who's using the others? The Invisibles Society?"
"Best not to ask." With Duncan's help, Amy carried the coffee over to their allotted table. "You might have been right about this place, Methos."
"My instincts know what they're doing." Methos sat down at the table, and took a mug of coffee with obvious suspicion. "You two better let MacLeod or I try this first," he suggested after a moment, regarding the dark liquid without a great deal of enthusiasm. "Be on the safe side."
"Oh come on, Methos. Don't be such a blasted drama queen." MacLeod stirred his coffee thoughtfully, half of his mind still on the journey, and the lost time that he hoped to make up. It was several moments before he realised that Methos was watching him expectantly. "What?" It clicked. "Methos..."
"You're the white knight, Highlander."
"Yeah, right." He made a show of picking up the mug and taking a drink. "It's not poisoned. It's actually very good."
"Hmm." Methos almost sounded disappointed. "There's something around here that isn't right. If they're not trying to poison us, there has to be something else."
"And you don't think you might be carrying your paranoia just a little too far?" MacLeod turned his head to look out of the window, and saw that several locals were doing their best to watch the new arrivals. They were trying to do it surreptitiously, but they were obvious none the less. "Although it's hardly the friendliest town I've ever visited..."
"It's just plain weird." Amy almost jumped when their hostess reappeared, bearing a tray loaded with plates. She unloaded them quickly and without ceremony, along with a jug of coffee and several bottles of sauce.
"Thankyou." Trying out a friendly smile - one that was usually guaranteed a positive reaction - MacLeod graciously acknowledged her efforts. She glared.
"Closing soon. Don't be taking all day."
"Oh, we'll be quick." Duncan tried the smile again. "Tell me, have we parked the car in the wrong place? Only I can't help noticing that we seem to have attracted some attention."
"Don't get strangers through here." She glared at him with suddenly beady eyes. "You ain't one of them newspapermen?"
"No. No, nothing like that. I'm an antiques dealer." He smiled again, though with considerably less verve than before. "None of us are newspapermen. Is there... some particular reason you don't want us to be?"
"Questions. Always asking questions, their kind." She shot MacLeod a meaningful look. "Don't like questions round here, folk don't. Now don't you be all day." She went off, disappearing into the kitchen as though anxious to get out of sight. Amy breathed out a long sigh.
"Next time we get lost, can it not be in the Twilight Zone?!"
"Blame Methos." MacLeod looked down at his plate, which seemed to bear a giant bacon sandwich, some raw slices of onion, and a faintly eccentric collection of salad vegetables. The other plates were much the same. "She hasn't been doing this long, has she."
"Maybe she's filling in." Methos looked through the collection of sauces that they had been left - Tabasco, chilli, and something virulently yellow claiming to be mustard. "Or possibly she's just peculiar."
"Bacon's good, though." His hunger burying his unease for the time being, Joe was already eating his sandwich. "And the bread's excellent. Tastes home-made."
"Maybe she's an eccentric culinary genius." Amy also considered the array of sauces, then winced and decided that it was best just to ignore them. Tabasco had never exactly been her idea of breakfast food. "Anyway, it's nice to keep up an old tradition, isn't it. Weird things like happening when I'm with you lot."
"This isn't a weird thing. This is just one bad tempered woman in a town that doesn't like strangers." MacLeod was determined not to see anything strange, unfriendly or sinister in the situation. "You know what tourists can be like. Litter, loud noise, fast cars."
"Well, weird or not, I'll be glad to get out of here." Amy refilled her mug. "This is the best breakfast I've had in ages, and I just want to rush it and get the hell out of here."
"First one to finish goes in search of a gas station." MacLeod also reached for the jug of coffee, though leisurely, determined not to hurry things too much whatever the hostess's agitations on the subject. "We won't get far without a refill. Seems likely there'll be somewhere around here where we can buy gas."
"And beer," put in Methos. MacLeod glared at him.
"Beer is hardly a priority. It doesn't make the car go."
"It makes me go. And it makes a good breakfast." Methos sounded as though he was prepared to argue the subject, but MacLeod just shook his head.
"If it makes you go, that's all the more reason not to get any. I'd rather you fell asleep and shut the hell up for a few hours."
"Yeah, well I run better on beer than on bacon sandwiches." Methos made a big show of getting out his wallet and leaving money on the table for the meal. "My penance, as agreed. I'll see you lot later."
"You're not worried about being cooked by the incestuous cannibals?" asked Joe. Methos shook his head.
"They won't want me. Not enough meat. Amy and MacLeod are the tasty ones in the party. Besides which, I have a gun and a dagger on me, and a sword in the car. I'm not exactly helpless." He smiled briefly. "Don't get indigestion."
"Don't get drunk," shot back MacLeod.
"I don't get drunk. Not on beer. Keep your eyes open." With that as a parting shot, he was gone. Amy looked down at the remains of her breakfast.
"Maybe I should go with him. He sounded annoyed."
"He's Methos. He's a grouch, especially in the mornings." MacLeod flashed her a cheering smile. "He's not annoyed, he's just paranoid, you know that. Five thousand years defending his life, he's going to start getting over the top about it at times. Once he's got his blood alcohol level up a bit, he'll be fine."
"That lowers the paranoia?" asked Amy. Joe grinned.
"No, it heightens it. But it improves his sense of humour. Still annoying, but more fun to be around." He rolled his eyes at her confused expression. "I'm joking, Amy. So's Mac, mostly. Haven't you known Methos long enough now to know what he's like?!"
"He seems to change every day." She sighed, toying with her coffee. "He's hardly spoken to me since that incident with Kronos a few months back. I was nearly killed... I think. He wasn't exactly supportive. That woman killed so many people, and he was right in the middle of it. I thought... I don't know what I thought. But I do know that this road trip was supposed to give me the chance to get close to him again. Instead he's getting all defensive over going the wrong way, and winding up in a town full of weird people. I should go with him."
"He likes being alone. You leave him to it." Joe smiled his best fatherly smile. "Just remember that he's not like you, and you can't judge him by your criteria. You think it's hard getting inside any guy's mind - but he's five thousand years old. Always think of that first. Everything else is secondary."
"I guess." She looked out of the window, but Methos had already gone - to what, she didn't know. A few locals still milled around outside the café, staring in through the windows and muttering together, but she was sure that there were fewer now than there had been before. Had some gone after Methos? Had he been right in his suspicions? It seemed absurd to think so, and she knew that Joe and MacLeod were right about him. He was paranoid. He was more than a little weird at times. But that didn't mean that he was always wrong. It worried her that she couldn't see him, and it worried her that she didn't know what he was doing. Paranoid or not, he had a point about this town, and the apparent hostility of the people in it. She couldn't help worrying about him. Whatever was going on, all the good cheer of her present company couldn't dispel her lingering unease.
Methos took the car in search of gas, in one of the sporadic attempts at usefulness that he never quite understood. This time he put it down to the fact that he just couldn't be bothered to walk. In the event, the gas station was not hard to find, and he left the car in the charge of a surly teenager who promised to check the oil and water as well as filling the tank. He didn't look happy about it, but Methos's glare was more powerful than anything he had proved capable of summoning, so he had nodded his head and mumbled something unfriendly by way of acquiescence. Methos went on his way feeling somewhat cheered. Bullying a hapless mortal was good for revitalising his spirits every once in a while, even if the mortal in question was just a pouty-looking teen. Usefulness seen to, and the car in reasonably safe hands, the old Immortal set off in search of beer. He felt sure that he had earned it, in some way at least.
He found a food store with a picture of a beer bottle in one window, but the place was closed. So was the local watering hole - a place that looked remarkably like a saloon from some Hollywood Western. A pair of local men were sprawled on the steps, smoking pipes that were almost ridiculously large, and that dribbled out a constant ooze of ill-smelling black smoke. Methos considered asking for their assistance, though he considered it only very briefly. Neither man looked the type to be helpful, so he walked on by, trying to think reassuring things about the gun he had within easy reach. Eyes seemed to follow him everywhere, and he was increasingly aware that there were footsteps following him too now; the quiet steps of people who were not trying to be noticed, but were not really trying not to be, either. He refrained from looking back, but carried on walking, eyes on the alert for anywhere that might provide a thirsty senior citizen with a part of his necessary daily ration of alcohol. There wasn't much to the town, though. Another street, mostly of housing, and he found himself far away from any real likelihood of beer. Brilliant. The buildings hemmed him in now, pressing in closer as the street grew narrower, and channelling him onward towards the road's natural end. The people following him were closer now, no longer making any pretence of not being there; hurrying after him and gathering around. There were four of them; two the men with the pipes that he had seen earlier. One of them called out to him, and warned him to go back.
"Keep your hair on." Methos slowed to a halt shortly before reaching the building that ended the road. "I didn't come here on purpose."
"Go back." One of the men with pipes stepped closer to him, dribbling streams of black smoke from between his teeth. "No tourists in this part of town."
"I'm not a tourist." The old man, usually the retiring type, was feeling argumentative. Lack of beer, perhaps, or just a natural reaction to being cooped up in the car for so long. "Listen, I'm just looking for somewhere that sells beer. Point me in the right direction and I'm gone."
"Isn't anywhere. Get back in your car and leave town." The second pipe smoker, larger than the first and with a nice line in looming, pointed back the way they had come. Methos considered arguing. He did, after all, have a gun. Drawing it seemed like a good way to draw unnecessary attention to himself though, so with regretful thoughts about lingering thirst, he nodded his head and turned to go back down the street. The others should have finished by now, the car should have been refilled. They could leave the glowering little town of Midnight and get back on their way. He had gone a total of one and half steps when he heard, coming from the building behind him, an echoing scream for help. He groaned.
"Keep walking." One of the pipe smokers was clearly reaching for a gun. Methos almost put his head in his hands.
"I really don't want to get involved," he said, knowing instinctively that they weren't going to care. The voice yelled for help again, and he sighed. "I really, really don't want to get involved."
"It's nothing that concerns you." Another of the men had drawn a gun; an old one that could almost have been an antique. It still looked like it meant business, though, and Methos had no desire to see it in action. Damn it, but being shot hurt, and all he wanted was beer. He was just supposed to be on holiday, helping MacLeod to pick up his car in California; a simple drive cross country, where the greatest peril lay in enduring the Highlander's collection of opera recordings, circulating every now and again on the sound system. He wasn't supposed to get threatened with guns after straying down a side road in a town that made Revolutionary France look friendly. This just wasn't fair. Again the voice screamed for help, this time with a touch of desperation, and Methos came to a halt.
"Keep moving," ordered the man with the antique gun. Methos sighed to himself.
"Love to." The only problem was that if Duncan MacLeod found out he had walked away from a man screaming for help, he'd never be allowed back in the car. And staying here in Midnight, whilst his friends drove off to California, did not strike him as a great conclusion to a holiday. Especially if the man with the pipe had been telling the truth about there being no beer in town. He eyed the antique gun, and smiled sadly. "You're not really planning on letting me leave anyway, are you."
An unpleasant grin cracked the face of the man on the other end of the weapon. "Nope."
"So if I do as you say, and walk away now, I'll still end up with a bullet in the back and a shallow grave on the outskirts of town?"
"Reckon so." The man shrugged. "No hard feelings."
"Nothing personal, right?"
"Right." Another of the men, one who appeared to be unarmed, cast a nervous look back at the building from which the shout had come. "It's local business. Don't concern you. We just want to get it sorted out, is all."
"Yeah. Sure." But if he got shot, the chances were that the others in his party would be too - and it was considerably more of a hardship for Joe and Amy than it was for him and MacLeod. Although technically it would hurt them far less. "So, say I do this your way, and walk away quietly... what's going to happen to the man in that building?"
"He practices witchcraft." In a gust of black smoke, one of the men spat the words out around his pipe. "He put a curse on all of us, and even if he hadn't, there's only one way to deal with his kind."
"Witchcraft?" Methos couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. "You're going to hang him?"
"No, we're going to burn him. Only way to be sure."
"Only way to... You know you're mad, don't you." It sounded like something from the Middle Ages; like the ranting of a zealot looking for blood. Methos had heard it before, in years gone by, and he had seen the hanged bodies of executed women swinging in the wind whenever the fear of witchcraft had passed through a village. It wasn't the sort of thing he expected to hear in 2005. The grim mouth smiled unpleasantly at him, around all that seeping black smoke.
"You haven't seen what he can do. You haven't seen what he's done." Another shout rang out from the building, and Methos turned, briefly, so see the face of an old man suddenly appear in a dusty window. A second later the man was dragged away, but there was no doubt that his was the voice calling for help. An old, old man, whose great age had been clear even through all that dust. He had to have been close to ninety, if not older still.
"Doesn't look like he can do much. Can he even walk without help?"
"Don't judge us." A hand gripped his arm, hurrying him along, forcing him away down the street. Methos struggled.
"If you want to burn old men alive, fine. That's your prerogative. If you want to kill me too, that's your look out. But don't push." He pulled free at last, coming to a determined halt. "If I was you, I'd walk away."
"You would, huh." The antique gun pressed against his chest. "This may be old, but at this range it'll still blow your chest open. So what is it you think we should walk away from?"
On a usual day, nothing. He really didn't want this. He didn't want to be here, he didn't want to be involved, and he had no real care for the old man facing death. Not his fight; not his problem. But they were going to kill him, and they would probably kill Amy and Joe as well, and he had gone too far now to turn back. Had done as soon as he had strayed within range of that voice crying out for help. He forced a smile, let his conscious mind slip into the back seat, and let instinct take over the wheel. Methos didn't like to fight; but when circumstance called, he could do what was needed, and do it with ease.
Moving as though he had rehearsed it for hours, his left hand knocked the gun away from his chest, at the same time as he was stepping to the right, drawing his own gun, diving to the ground and bringing his weapon to bear. It happened at a speed that he didn't register; that sort of awareness belonged to conscious thought, and he had left that standing several paces behind. The gun fired once, twice; both the men with pipes collapsed to the ground almost at once. Somebody else shouted then; footsteps were coming from somewhere, but Methos ignored them. The here and now was what mattered. The man with the antique gun pointed it shakily, his confidence gone with his prisoner's very first move, but Methos shot him down straight away. Only the unarmed one of the four was left now, backing away with a thunderstruck look on his face. Methos shot him as well.
"Don't move!" The shout came from towards the building. Two sets of footprints. Methos acknowledged them now, although he was still running on instinct, and identified them as mere threats; targets; not people. Slowing, lifting his hands, faking an apparent surrender, he turned slowly around to face them. Young, dressed in work clothes. Unshaven, nervous and disbelieving.
"What the hell-?" asked one. He was staring in fascination at the four dead men on the ground, unable or unwilling to look at Methos. His companion was holding a shotgun, but he didn't look as though he knew what to do with it, or even as if he was sure that he wanted to be holding it. Methos shot him there and then. Hesitation was a killer; you learned that early or you never got the chance to learn it at all.
"I--" The other man backed away. He didn't seem to be armed. Methos fixed him with his best and most unforgiving stare.
"There any more of you in that building?"
"No." He took another step back. Methos nodded.
"Then go in there and get that old man out."
"I - I can't..." He trailed off, obviously aware that it wasn't best to argue with an armed killer. "People will have heard the gunshots."
"I know." Methos took a few steps towards him, and the boy turned and fled for the building, fumbling with the door.
"You won't get away. You can't. Neither of you. They'll burn you too."
"Not if I can help it." Methos drew level with him, catching him by the scruff of the neck, and pushing him through the door as it swung open. Inside was what seemed to be a sort of storeroom; a largely empty place, with a dusty stone floor, and a few crates piled up around the walls. The old man was there, standing against the far wall, cowering slightly at the sudden, noisy intrusion. Methos beckoned to him.
"Come on. Hurry up."
"It's not easy to hurry when you're as old as I am." For a man who looked like a rival for Methuselah, he had a remarkably loud and energetic voice. Methos shot him a fearsome glare.
"Three choices. Get shot, get burnt, or hurry the hell up." He clubbed the cowering guard over the head with his gun, not quite sure why he hadn't just shot the odious little fool. The old man frowned.
"That's not an inspiring set of choices. Name's Samuel."
"Usually when I rescue somebody they just come, they don't stop for introductions." As the old man came towards him, Methos grabbed his elbow and hurried him over the threshold. "Half the town is on its way here now. Can we just run?"
"The spirit is willing, my boy." The old man followed him into the street. "I don't suppose you have a car parked nearby?"
"My friends have a car. With luck they'll have heard the gunshots and--" Methos remembered that he had left the car at a gas station that the others didn't know about, and spat something rude under his breath. "Just keep up."
"I think I can hear footsteps." Clearly there was nothing wrong with the old man's hearing. Methos could hear the footsteps too, and he nodded.
"They won't be best pleased."
"Probably not, no." He debated whether to dive back into the building and hope for the best, then dismissed the idea. He had seen no other doors, and the windows were not big enough to climb through. He didn't plan on giving these people any opportunity to go through with their fire-setting plans when he was stuck in midst of all this. Being trapped in a burning building was no way to exit the world. "I don't suppose you do actually have any magical powers?"
"Ah, well. Funny story behind that, actually. About fifteen years ago, I--"
Methos rolled his eyes. "I'll take that as a no. Just come on."
"As you will." The old man - Samuel - stumbled along after him, managing to keep up a fairly respectable speed, but not looking as if he had much chance of maintaining it. "Where are we going?"
"Gas station. Just up--" Methos skidded to a halt. Two men had just rounded a corner ahead of them, and at the sight of the two hurrying fugitives, they sped up. "Damn."
"Sorry." Samuel looked up and down the road, his oddly bright eyes intense beneath his frown. "Shouldn't have called for help, should I."
"In an ideal world, no." Methos fired at the two men, but one of them merely drew a gun and fired back. "Why do I always end up in these situations?"
"You do?" The old man sounded oddly impressed. "That's quite an achievement. Now I don't want to worry you, but--"
"There's a lot more people coming. Yes. I know." He checked the load in his gun, then shot down the two men blocking their way. "Come on."
"Bloodthirsty type, aren't you." The old man followed him along the road, but a gunshot sent dust flying up between his feet. "Look out!"
"Just keep moving!" Methos fired back, although he couldn't see who had fired the shot, and wasn't entirely sure where to aim. "Faster you move, the harder it is for them to hit you."
"That's easy for you to say. I haven't seen my thirties in a long time." A volley of shots rang out, and more dust flew up from the ground, splinters bursting from the nearby walls. "They're everywhere!"
"Yes, I know." Methos sent a few more wild shots in pursuit of his unseen assailants. "Where the hell is MacLeod?!"
"If that's a friend of yours, I think I'd be rather glad to see him myself right now." The old man plastered himself against a wall. "Doesn't happen to be a policeman, or a soldier or anything...?"
"No. Just handy in a crisis." Methos grabbed the old man's arm and pulled him along, heading all the time for the gas station where he had left the car. There were more people visible now, though; more people chasing them; a couple appearing in windows here and there along the street; guns being pointed from at least half a dozen different directions, and all being brought to bear upon the two men trying to escape. "Okay, this isn't good."
"I don't know. I'd rather get shot that burnt alive." Samuel flashed Methos a rather watery smile. "Look, before we do get shot... sorry."
"Don't apologise to me. I'm not dying." Methos pulled the man onwards again, ducking as a large piece of wall showered him with dust and splinters from the impact of a bullet. "Bloody hell, what do they have? Elephant guns?!"
"They're pretty serious hunters in these parts." Another shot made them both duck. "Though apparently they're not brilliant at it."
"That's not going to last." A man loomed up in a doorway, gun pointed, and Methos froze. He could run and get shot, duck and get shot, or stand still where he was and get shot whilst looking like a moron. Not an inspiring set of choices. Faced with a split-second in which to decide, he weighed his gun in his hand, threw Samuel to the ground, and hoped that the old fool wasn't too frail. The man in the doorway fired, and Methos hurled himself down to the ground, only just missing his aged companion. He came up again almost at once, onto one knee, firing at the man in front of him, and trying not to think too much of the other people; the other guns all around him.
"Look out!" Samuel was trying to struggle up, but Methos held him down. He was less of a target flat on the ground, at least to most of their assailants. For the moment, only the man in the doorway seemed a big threat; but even as he adjusted to that scenario, he heard the rumble of a car engine, and groaned. That must have been what Samuel had tried to warn him about. More locals, speeding to the assistance of their neighbours; more guns. More chances that things were about to get painful. He fired again at the man in the doorway; managed to get him to duck down; then grabbed Samuel's arm and tried to run with him, before the other man had had a chance to get to his feet. They both slipped and stumbled then, Samuel unable to match Methos for speed or balance, unable to make his legs move fast enough for what was required. The engine rumbled closer; a bullet grazed one of Methos's ears, and he cursed under his breath. Another engine was coming now; louder, more powerful; coming from the other direction. Great. Trapped between two cars full of avenging backwoods manics replete with guns. Faced with a stark choice, he carried on running in the same direction as before. The engine coming from that way was at least quieter. That should mean that the car was smaller, and hopefully the people in it less numerous. Dust was spraying up all around his feet now, though, and he knew that it was getting increasingly unlikely that he would make it any further. Sooner or later, one of those guns had to hit something vital, on him or on Samuel. Up ahead the oncoming car screeched to a noisy halt, and he levelled his gun. Blow the sods away whilst they were doing the same to you; always a satisfying plan of action, even if it was essentially pointless. Only then did he recognise the car, and realise that the head he was pointing his gun at belonged to Joe. He frowned.
"Get in the car, damn it!" Exasperated that the old Immortal didn't seem to have caught on straight away, Joe gestured wildly with one arm. Methos hauled Samuel onwards again, almost making the old man overbalance.
"Shouldn't we be running away from them?" Confused and tired, Samuel no longer seemed certain what was going on. Methos ignored the question, and pushed, pulled and manoeuvred the weary mortal into the back of the car. He almost fell in himself, only just avoiding landing in an uncomfortable heap at Samuel's feet, then struggled to shut the door as the car sped away. It was several moments before he was able to right himself, make sure that the door really was shut and that he wasn't about to fall back out, and successfully recover enough breath to make reasonable speech a possibility. He realised then that everybody was staring at him - save for MacLeod, who was behind the wheel. His eyes were on the road, but somehow Methos got the distinct impression that, in spirit at least, the Highlander was glaring at him as well. He smiled shakily.
"This is Samuel. Apparently he's a witch."
"They were going to burn me at the stake." The old mortal smiled around at everybody, for all the world as if he was enjoying the whole experience. "This young man was good enough to stop them. Or try to, anyway."
"They were going to burn you at the stake?!" For a moment Joe was incredulous, then shot Methos a disparaging stare. "Only you could walk into that."
"They were really going to burn you?" MacLeod glanced back over his shoulder, apparently trying to make a rough assessment of the new arrival. What he saw clearly didn't set off any alarm bells in his subconscious, for he turned back immediately to wrestle with the wheel. "That's friendly."
"And just a few short moments ago, you were telling me how wrong I was about this town being Psychoville." Methos turned to look back out of the rear window. "I'd say 'I told you so', but I doubt there's time to be properly smug. There's a truck chasing us. No, make that two. And they're both full of men with guns."
"Yeah, well I'll bet that I'm a better driver than they are." MacLeod spun the wheel, choosing not to mention that he was driving an unfamiliar rental car, and that he didn't know the roads or the locality. Whatever his skills as a driver, that gave the occupants of the trucks some advantages at least. "Just get ready to loose off a few shots if they get too close."
"My pleasure." Methos turned around to open the window beside him, and in the front Joe did the same. Amy smiled nervously.
"I think this is my first high speed car chase with guns. Probably not the best time for introductions, but I'm pleased to meet you, Mr...?"
"Just Samuel." He smiled broadly and shook her hand, wincing as the car swerved around a big bend, and jolted heavily over some uneven ground. "Everybody just calls me Samuel."
"Oh. Well, I'm Amy Thomas; that's my father, Joe Dawson, and that's Duncan MacLeod. Adam you've met."
"Not properly." Samuel turned around, looking for a hand to shake, but Methos didn't look in the mood for formalities. "He seemed to think that running away was more important."
"Can't imagine why." Methos ducked as a bullet smacked into the roof of the car near to his window. "I have my doubts about you getting your deposit back, MacLeod."
"I should have known better than to come away with you lot." Duncan spun the wheel again, and the gears protested. "When I heard gunfire, I knew it was you. Of course then we had to find out where you'd left the car. Now it's falling apart around us, and apparently the fuel gauge is broken, so I don't even know if they filled it up. So if you lot have finished introducing yourselves and making small talk, maybe you could start shooting."
"I'm not exactly well-stocked with ammunition, Mac." Nonetheless, Joe fired off a few shots at the pursuing trucks, and thought that they fell back a little. "I seem to remember from the map that there's a lot of little roads around here. If we can just stay ahead long enough, we might be able to lose ourselves in that lot."
"Worth a try, at least for the time being." MacLeod tried to drag more speed from the car. "How are they doing back there?"
"They're not gaining on us. They're not fast trucks." Methos also fired off a few shots. "Just keep us far enough ahead, Mac. Joe's right. We might be able to lose them somewhere up ahead."
"Will do." MacLeod spun the wheel again, choosing a small and uneven road that led into forest. The road wound on ahead, green and hemmed in on both sides by thick vegetation. He spun the wheel again almost immediately, off down another road, another, another. It was hard going, for the steering wheel was struggling to escape from his hands, and it was taking much of his strength to keep the car from losing control. The wheels bounced from one rock to another, and hanging branches scraped at the roof. "How are we doing?"
"I can't see anybody." Joe turned away from the window, and flopped back into his seat. "I don't know where they are, but I think we've earned ourselves some breathing room."
"Yeah. Now we just have to get out of here. Maybe get to the next town." MacLeod didn't dare slow down, and struggled onwards with the jolting wheel. "Everybody okay?"
"Fine." Amy seemed largely unfazed by the situation, at least for now. Samuel looked tired, but was apparently bearing up well. Methos, needless to say, was glowering. "That was great driving, Duncan."
"Thankyou." He smiled at her in the rear-view mirror. "Let's just hope it was good enough. If we can maintain our lead, we've got a good ch--" He broke off at a sharp, choking noise from the engine. "That's not good."
"You don't think they did something to it at that gas station?" Joe was trying to look at the gauges in the dash, whilst MacLeod fought the wheel's suddenly renewed bucking. "It's been fine all the way out from Seacouver."
"I don't know. I can't tell what's wrong." With a rattling, juddering grind of machinery and a bone-shaking shudder, the car jerked to a halt. MacLeod stared at the steering wheel in disbelief. "What the hell-?"
"That didn't sound hopeful, Mac." Joe was already hurrying out of the car, and MacLeod flipped the switch to open the hood. Dawson peered hopefully at the engine.
"Anything?" asked MacLeod. Joe shook his head.
"I can't see anything noticeably wrong. But you're not telling me that sounded healthy."
"Hardly." MacLeod also climbed out of the car, and glanced over the engine. Just as Joe had said, nothing immediately suggested itself as a cause of the noise and the loss of power. "Damn it!"
"We've got to get undercover. Get the car undercover." Joe looked back down the road. "They could be on us any time."
"I think we lost them for now. Should buy us some time." MacLeod banged on the side of the car with his fist. "Adam!"
"What the hell is happening, MacLeod?" Climbing out of the back of the car, stretching his long legs and looking more annoyed than worried, Methos also looked back down the road. "We can't sit around out here. It's too exposed."
"Tell that to the car. It's the one that decided to stop here." MacLeod pulled out his gun and checked the load. "How are you doing on arms?"
"Just the one gun. I used up a fair few shots back in town, but I always have some spare." Methos held up a full clip that he had pulled from some hidden pocket in his jeans. "Always be prepared, Highlander. You know that; it's you that's supposed to be the boy scout."
"I just have the one clip. I fired off a couple of shots earlier, but only a couple." Joe looked disgusted. "What a mess. Could we be less well prepared?"
"Not by much, no." Duncan sighed and nodded. "Okay. Let's get the car out of sight. Maybe we'll get lucky. Maybe they won't find us."
"And then what?" asked Joe. "We can't stay hiding here forever."
"We'll worry about that when we know we've lost those nuts from the town." Duncan realised that he had snapped at his friend, and lowered his eyes. "Sorry Joe. I know that you're worried about Amy. So am I. But I don't plan on letting anything happen to her. We'll get the car out of sight, and we'll lay low, and if we're still here this time tomorrow, we'll walk out. If we're found before then... well then we'll fight our way out. Somehow."
"With three guns and hardly any bullets." Joe nodded. "Yeah, I know. Stay positive."
"Positive?" Methos's sarcastic comment died a sharp death under a fierce MacLeod stare. "Let's just get the car moved, shall we?"
"Yeah. Let's." Duncan asked Samuel to take the wheel, then with Amy also lending a hand, they pushed the recalcitrant vehicle into the trees that lined the road, on down a short slope to where the vegetation was thickest. Methos and Amy went back to cover their tracks, and Joe set about camouflaging the car against the possibility of casual observers. MacLeod watched him for a moment, thinking about helping, then pulled out his gun.
"I'm going to keep watch up near the road," he called. Joe nodded.
"Keep an eye out for Amy. If somebody comes, she might not get out of sight quickly enough."
"She's not a fool, you know."
"No, I know." Joe paused in his work, trails of undergrowth hanging from his hands. "But keep an eye out for her. Just in case."
"Sure Joe." Duncan flashed him a smile that he hoped would be reassuring, but didn't really feel strong enough to do any good. "Take care."
"See you in a bit." Dawson returned to his work, struggling sometimes on the rough ground, leaning more heavily than usual on his stick. It was not an easy task for him, but clearly that was what he wanted, and MacLeod was not going to offer to switch places. It couldn't be easy for the man, with a daughter to worry about, and not knowing what might be going to happen. Turning his back on his mortal friend therefore, the Highlander headed back up towards the road, following a different path to the one they had taken on the way down. It was several moments before he realised that Samuel was with him, gamely keeping up with the Immortal's energetic pace.
"Samuel." As they reached the road, Duncan slid into what looked like a good place from which to keep watch. "You should go on back to the car."
"And do what? I'm not sure that your friend down there would appreciate my company very much. It feels... awkward." He sighed and lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry, Mr MacLeod. I seem to have ruined your holiday."
"No." Duncan flashed the other man a gentle enough smile. "You didn't. It's not your fault."
"It is in a way. I mean, it's because of me that you're in this mess, isn't it. I really am sorry for that. You could get hurt - even killed. And technically that would be my fault."
"No, it would be the fault of those jokers who are chasing you. Burning a man alive on suspicion of witchcraft? In 2005? It's nuts."
"They're simple people."
"That's no excuse. So they're sheltered, and maybe life for them is twenty or thirty years behind the rest of the world. Not uncommon in out of the way areas. That doesn't excuse burning somebody alive."
"I'm sure they thought they were justified." He sighed, and stretched his legs. "Ow. Too much running. It's not as easy for me these days as it once was."
"You're doing very well. I don't want that to sound patronising, but I was impressed. Either you're not as old as you look--"
"Oh, I'm every bit as old as I look, Mr MacLeod. That's rather the problem. That's why they decided that they had to kill me. I'm a very great deal older than I should be."
"Really?" Duncan knew all about age. Age was not something that he thought of much in connection with mortals, but this man did have old eyes. Older than the mortals, usually, with their almost ridiculously short life-spans, and their relative inexperiences. There was more to this man than there should be. More than the usual passage of the years in his eyes. He wasn't an Immortal, though. There was no power in him; no buzz. He was just an ordinary man.
"A lot older." Samuel smiled. "People are suspicious, when they can't explain things. I've moved on in the past, so that the suspicions wouldn't have time to fester, but I slipped up this time. Nearly paid the price. If it hadn't been for your young friend..." He smiled at the look that Duncan was unable to keep from his face. "Ah. Is that it? Do you blame Adam for all of this?"
"Blame him? You think I'd rather he'd left you behind?" MacLeod shook his head. "Hardly. Adam did what he had to do. The only thing that he could have done. I'm amazed he did it, but I'm not sorry."
"I'm worried. We're in unfamiliar territory, and the car's broken down. They have the advantage of ground and vehicles as well as numbers. Joe's a good shot, and he's good in a fight. We've been in similar situations in the past, but that doesn't mean I don't worry about him. And Amy. She's not a fighter, she's a researcher primarily. She shouldn't be caught up in any fire-fights. She doesn't have a gun, and I don't know how much use she'd be with one if she did. Joe wouldn't want her using one anyway. And then there's Adam. He might help out, or he might sneak off as soon as the fighting starts - if it does - and pretend that he's not here. You just never know with Adam."
"That's a lot to worry about."
"That's a hell of a lot to worry about. But it's not your fault, and it's not Adam's. It's mine as much as anybody's. I came into this all wrong. I've got a gun, but I don't have much ammunition for it. I never thought I'd need any. This was just meant to be a simple drive across the country. I had to leave my car behind in California when I was over there a few weeks ago. Engine trouble. I thought, instead of flying back for it, we'd rent a car and all go over there together. Joe fancied a break. Adam thought it was a daft idea, but then Adam thinks pretty much everything is a daft idea. Unless he thought it. Or unless it involves him having lots of beer and somewhere to sprawl. It was just meant to be a drive. What the hell can happen on a drive?"
"Plenty, if you thought to bring a gun with you. And your two friends did as well, apparently."
"Yeah, well things tend to happen to us. I just never really thought that we'd get into trouble this time. And we wouldn't have done, I guess, if Adam hadn't taken a wrong turning."
"I'm rather glad he did."
"Yeah." MacLeod flashed him a smile. "I guess I am too. It's worth a few extra miles, and a few extra hours, if it means saving somebody from that kind of fate. I just... I just can't help thinking that it's all going to go wrong. We're trapped here, in many ways. We don't know where they are. We don't even know where we are. We don't know the area - and there's two truckloads of them out there, with automatic weaponry, and five of us stuck in a car that doesn't want to go anywhere, with three guns and two swords between us, and not much in the way of bullets."
Samuel began what might have been intended to become a reassuring smile, but turned halfway through into a frown. "Two swords?"
"Yeah. It's a... we're collectors. Sort of."
"Oh. Well, bravo. Fine things, swords. Much better than guns. Not great when somebody is shooting at you, but aesthetically pleasing."
"Yeah. Sums it up pretty well." Duncan sighed. He felt tense and nervous. He hated this. He hated not knowing who was out there, and where, and he hated knowing that if something went wrong, it wouldn't be him paying the price. Him or Methos. It would be Joe and Amy, and probably Samuel as well. The mortals. The fragiles. He wouldn't be damaged at all.
"I never did like the tension when you think there's danger coming." Samuel glanced at his watch, the second hand ticking away quickly, but doing nothing to bring them close to any kind of resolution. "It certainly doesn't help when you feel responsible."
"You're not responsible."
"I know. In principle. And thankyou for being so good about that. None of it lessens the tension, though, does it. They're coming. We know that they're coming. We just don't know when they're going to find us."
"They might not." But they always do.
"But they always do." Samuel was looking into the past again, an expression in his eyes that Duncan knew well. "Oh, I can't claim to have made a career out of this, but I've seen angry crowds before. They always come. You think maybe they won't; that maybe they'll give up and go away. But they never do. If it's just one or two of them then maybe, but a gang? Two truckloads? They won't give up. They're not individuals anymore. They don't tend to stop to think about what they're doing."
"Yeah." That was something else that Duncan knew well. He had seen mobs in action in the past. People attacking in screaming, seething masses, unaware of what they were doing. Or being fully aware, but just not able to stop. "They'll come." He frowned at the distant look on Samuel's face. "You really have seen this before, haven't you."
"Yes. A long time ago now, fortunately. A long, long time. I was in Scotland with my wife and our young son. He'd have been about a year old, I suppose. It was a holiday of sorts. We were thinking of moving there. Her family were from the area originally. Anyway, while we were staying there, a young girl went missing. Beautiful little thing, she was. Six years old, red curls. The whole community was desperate to know what had happened, and there were searches everywhere. Great crowds of people searching the streets and the fields and the mountains. And then they found her doll. A little house, not quite on the edge of town. Funny, but I remember it very clearly. Very small and low, with an overgrown garden full of blue flowers climbing everywhere. The man who lived there said he hadn't seen the girl, but nobody believed him. Nobody could find anything, though. No clues, no proof, and no little girl. Nothing. They were angry, though, and they just got angrier. I wanted to leave, but my wife wouldn't. The little girl's mother was an old friend of hers, and she refused to leave. And gradually I could hear her voice getting louder and louder, and everybody else's voices getting louder too."
"And the man ran?" asked Duncan, who had seen it all before. Samuel nodded.
"He ran. And I watched him. Saw it all, I did, and I couldn't do a thing about it. I saw him run away in the dead of night, when there was nobody watching, but I didn't say anything about it. I thought about saying something. He might have been guilty, after all. I just didn't trust that town with the information. I thought if I didn't say anything, then they wouldn't go after him. That maybe they'd calm down, or they wouldn't notice that he'd gone, or that they wouldn't know where to look for him. That even if they did look, they wouldn't find him. All the things I'm hoping about our friends from Midnight. But they hadn't calmed down. Of course they hadn't. There were all those tearful parents and angry citizens. All that outrage and fury. And one man who'd run away. He didn't stand a chance."
"What happened?" asked Duncan automatically, although he could guess easily enough. Samuel shrugged.
"They caught him. They killed him, though not intentionally as far as I know. The doctor's report said that he fell. They hounded him to it, though. Probably herded him over a cliff. And it really doesn't much matter if it was intentional or not, does it. Not when it ends that way." He shook his head. "And they never found out if he was guilty. For all I know, anybody in that town could have been responsible, or maybe nobody was. Maybe she wandered off. Maybe she was kidnapped by strangers. Who knows. Nobody's found out yet, and they're not likely to now. I do wonder, though, every so often. You hear the news some days, about how somebody has found a body somewhere. A skeleton. Another mystery solved, another disappearance figured out. One day, maybe. It would be nice to know if he really was guilty. It might make me feel a little better about not having been able to do anything to help."
"Knowing wouldn't change how you feel." Duncan flashed him a tired smile. "Say you turned out to really be a witch. You think I'd hand you over to that mob?"
"Thankyou." Samuel smiled, and his eyes sparkled teasingly. "I appreciate that."
"Yeah, well I wouldn't sleep well at nights." The Highlander stretched, his legs beginning to protest at the position in which he was sitting. "Damn it, but I wish they'd come."
"I wonder if that man thought that, when he realised that the villagers really were coming after him?"
"Maybe. Sometimes it's better, just to get rid of the pressure. Although he didn't have friends with him to worry about."
"No, just neighbours trying to kill him. My wife." He shook his head. "Times were different then. People were different. But it was only 1915. Not all that many lifetimes ago."
"Hardly a drop in the ocean." Duncan frowned. "Hang on. 1915? But that'd make you--" But Samuel was wandering away now, a slightly limping old man, his tired silhouette suddenly suggesting at an age far greater than made sense. Duncan remembered the look in the old eyes, and how they had seemed so much more than the eyes of an ordinary mortal; and he frowned, and he wondered, and he thought about the dreams and memories of age. Then he shrugged, and settled himself back down to wait. It didn't matter now. Let Samuel tell his stories and drift in the past. There were more important things to worry about than the tales of a tired old man.
Joe had finished covering the car when Samuel got back to it. He was easing himself down onto a fallen tree that had blocked the car's path, and leaning heavily on his cane. The terrain was far from impossible for him; the strain far from too great; but it was difficult nonetheless. He stretched his arms and looked with pride at the camouflaged car. It wouldn't be easy to spot, but he wasn't fool enough to think that nobody would see it. If their pursuers came close enough, they wouldn't go on past. And the best that Methos and Amy could do was tidy up and disguise their route; they couldn't clear away all evidence of the vehicle. Still - it was something to do, and something to hope for, and that was good. He glanced up at the approach of the old man, and smiled a welcome.
"I didn't realise you'd gone."
"I went to talk to Mr MacLeod." Samuel came closer, stumbling occasionally on the rough ground. "I wanted to try to make some kind of apology."
"Apology? For what? For those people back there being madmen?" Joe shook his head. "You've got no reason to apologise."
"But I think I do." He fell silent for a moment, holding his tongue as Methos and Amy came back. They were both covered in earth and grass stains, and Amy was pulling roots and thorns from her clothes. Joe grinned.
"What have you two been up to?"
"Very funny, Joe." Amy wanted to add: The chance would be a fine thing; but didn't. Making jokes wasn't going to make Methos get physical. "I think we've covered our tracks pretty well."
"Yeah?" Dawson arched an eyebrow at Methos, questioning, and he shrugged.
"Yeah. It's done." His voice said maybe, his eyes said not really, but the words were confident enough. "Ought to rest up. If they come, we need to be ready."
"I'm comfortable enough here, and Mac's up on watch. You should try to get some sleep, though, you were driving all night." Joe rubbed the back of his neck. "It's getting warmer. Had to choose a hot, sticky place full of insects to break down in, didn't we."
"I'll try to find our next batch of psychopaths in a more temperate climate." Methos sat down in some shade, some distance away, and Amy, more or less automatically, followed suit. Joe smirked.
"Still pining for that beer, Adam?"
"I certainly wouldn't say no." He leaned back against a convenient bit of tree, displaying his in-built talent for find comfort wherever he lay. "Nice, ice cold beer. Radio turned up loud. No neighbours left to complain, thanks to Sophie..."
"At least the police let you leave the state." Amy considered sitting closer to him, but decided against it. It was hot, and besides, she didn't want to think that he might move further away. He glanced at her askance.
"They didn't press any charges, and keep your voice down. My entire apartment block being slaughtered in their beds, with the noticeable exception of me isn't something I want to broadcast to total strangers."
"Then why mention it yourself." This time she did edge closer to him. "Anyway, they're busy talking. They're not paying any attention to us anymore."
"No?" Methos lifted his head slightly to look towards Joe and Samuel, who were indeed lost in conversation. He managed to make the act of looking appear like an effort of gargantuan proportions; as though he were some idle emperor languishing in luxury, with each movement a terrible nuisance. "I wonder what they're talking about."
"Whether or not the people of Midnight will come after us." She looked away. "It's horrible waiting."
"Then go to sleep."
"Thanks. That was just the kind of reassurance I was looking for." She sighed. "I don't think I'm very good at this kind of thing."
"If you want reassurances, Amy, go to your father. He'll pat you on the head, and tell you everything you want to hear, but it won't do a damned bit of good because you won't believe any of it. Because you'll know he's just lying to reassure you. At least with me you get the truth."
"I know." She smiled at him fondly, but his eyes were closed. "You think they're coming for us, don't you."
"I know it." For a second his eyes opened, murky and green and unreadable. Then he closed them again. "Accept it. Then sleep. You need the rest, and we have to be ready when they come."
"But you're not the one who'll die," she told him, very quietly. He didn't respond. Either he was ignoring her, or he was already asleep. Neither was especially kind.
"Perhaps I should apologise to them too." Nearby Samuel was fidgeting, clearly unsure what to do with himself. Joe shook his head.
"It's not necessary. Speak to them both if you want to, but they're not blaming you for any of this."
"I hope not. Not that it makes me feel any better. But you - you don't completely trust me, do you."
"Trust you? You're trustworthy enough. You must be to have bad guys after you." Joe leaned back, shifting his position awkwardly. Samuel smiled.
"Trust was the wrong word then. But you don't know what to make of me, and you don't know what sort of a man I am. You're wary."
"Yeah, I'm wary. Two truckloads of men are trying to kill us because we stopped them from burning you at the stake. That's the sort of thing that makes a guy wary. Especially when he has his daughter with him."
"Fair enough." Samuel glanced over at Amy, sitting over by Methos. They both looked asleep. "She's very pretty."
"She's wonderful, and I'll be damned if I'll let anything happen to her. She comes first."
"Of course she does. And so it should be. I don't want to see your daughter get hurt, Mr Dawson. If there's anything I can do to ease the situation, I'll do it."
"It's Joe, and I'm glad to hear it. Not that she'd let anybody make decisions for her, mind." Joe scowled. "Too damn hard to look after, she is. Won't be protected."
"She takes after her father."
"And her mother. And at least two thirds of her grandparents." Joe smiled faintly. "Poor kid doesn't stand a chance. She hasn't got blood in her veins, she's got pure undiluted stubbornness."
"And you're worried." Suddenly Samuel's eyes were sharp and clear. "You're worried about not having been there all her life. Sorry, I didn't mean to... It's just that she calls you Joe, not Dad. I can put two and two together, even with a brain older than it's got any right to be." He nodded slowly. "Worried about not being there in the future, too, aren't you."
"Everybody with children, perhaps. I don't know, my own died a long time ago. A long, long time. Some days I'd be glad to join them."
"You had children?" Joe couldn't help but be interested, even though he had originally intended to more or less ignore the man. Samuel was old - hopelessly, desperately so. He had seemed at first to be infirm, and perhaps more than a little absentminded. Joe was prepared to be kind and understanding, and helpful where necessary, but he didn't really want to listen to him. He had heard old men reminisce many times before, and heard things a hundred times more interesting from men that were older than any mortal could ever be. Samuel smiled and nodded.
"I married, and I had children. That was the way it was done then, although I didn't much care for the convention. She did, though. Dear Samantha. She was very tall, and very blond, and I fell in love with her on the steps of a cinema in San Francisco, when I was coming out after watching... well, I don't remember. But it had Cary Grant in it." He smiled faintly. "She was a lot younger than me. Most people are. I was old then, though. Older than I looked, and starting to look pretty damned old, too. I thought my life was ending. Drawing to its close. It had every right to be. But there was Samantha, with a cigarette that it was probably illegal for her to be smoking, and a battered old car that she took money from hitch hikers to keep on the road. It was red, or it had been once. She'd re-sprayed it half a dozen times, and she didn't seem to have used the same colour even once. She thought I was wonderful. I seemed to talk for days. Every story I could think of, every memory I could recall. We drove clear across California, picking up hitch hikers, and cooking food at the side of the road, and smoking those wonderful cigarettes. She quoted poetry I'd never heard before. It's funny, but at that stage in my life I thought I'd seen it all. Everything. Been everywhere, read every book of merit, heard every poem and learnt most of them by heart. I was roughly one hundred years old, though I don't suppose I looked it. Couldn't have done, I suppose, or she'd never have paid me any mind. She seemed to have friends in every city, and every one of them wanted to hear all my stories; and every one of them read poetry I'd never heard before, or sang songs, and we'd all drive for miles in that car, right out into the desert, and sit around fires telling stories. All manner of stories. I'd tell them things that I thought I'd forgotten, and they'd tell me things I couldn't believe I'd never learnt. And then it'd be back into the car again, and taking them back to wherever we'd picked them up, and sometimes days and days would have passed in between, and we'd never have noticed it."
"And you married Samantha?" asked Joe. Samuel laughed.
"Me? Good grief no. I fell in love with her right enough, but as soon as I realised who she was, that had to stop - and soon enough, thank goodness. Her mother. We went to visit her one day, out near the coast in some little town. All white walls and beaches, and people trying to cling to a past that was starting to fall apart. She was out when we got there, and Samantha took us inside, and I saw photographs. Her and her mother, and nothing of her father. Didn't need to ask why. I recognised her mother then, and I knew that Samantha was my daughter. Explains why I thought so much of her from that first glimpse, I suppose. Explains why I always felt that we were meant to be together. She looked so much like her mother, but I'd never made the connection until then. Why would I? It had been twenty years since I'd left. I always said that I'd never thought much of the convention of marriage." He shrugged. "Though I kept trying it. Samantha must have been the twelfth, maybe the fourteenth? Maybe I'd had more than that. Children, I mean. All over the place. In half a dozen countries, women who'd wanted to get married and settle down, and me not wanting it. Half dreaming of somebody I'd once left behind in France, maybe, or just not the type to settle down with anyone. And all those children, and I'd hardly met a one of them before, until then. Me and Samantha, sprawled in that little house, waiting for her mother to get back, and me wondering what she'd say when she did." He sighed a little sigh that might have been in sadness, but might just as easily have been about contentment or peace. "And when she did, she put down her grocery bags by the door, and she said hello to her daughter, and she didn't recognise me at all. So I didn't tell her who I was. And we stayed to smoke cigarettes on the porch - proper ones - legal ones, so she'd approve. Then we got back in that car, and we drove down to Mexico, just because we could. Didn't pay for a drop of petrol, there was always somebody else who wanted to jump onboard and help foot the bill. All those miles, all those faces, all those stories. All those fires by the roadside, and sleeping on the ground, and listening to creatures crying in the night. All those cigarettes that made me remember things, and see new things, and all those new songs there always were to listen to. And Samantha, showing me the way. Children show us the future, you know. We think we're here to teach them, but that's never the way it works. I'd been a dead man walking, before. Like I said, I thought it was all over. Maybe it would have been. One hundred is a good age to live to, and plenty of better men than me don't reach even half that much. But maybe it was then that I decided to hell with it all. Why die then, in 1956, in the middle of a long hot summer full of stories I hadn't yet heard? Why die at all?"
"Why indeed." Joe smiled, though privately he wasn't sure how much of it to believe. How much of it even made any sense. "And what happened to Samantha? Obviously she didn't feel the same way, if all your children are dead now."
"She was the last of them. The first was born when I was a young man. Goodness knows he'll have been gone a long time now. Unless he took after me, I suppose. I more or less traced the others, after a fashion, and none of them did, so there's no reason to suppose he did either. Anyway, they'd all of them bar Samantha be close to a hundred or more by now if they'd lived. And they didn't."
"People live a long time sometimes. It happens." Though most of them don't live as long as my friends seem to.
"True. But like I said, I traced them, after a fashion. Nothing spectacular. Just Samantha, speeding through life in a battered old car that used to be red." He smiled sadly. "She was the last of them, and she died in 1970. I never did find out how, but that's thirty-five years ago. Thirty-five years, and that's the last of me. Just one old man, now. One very old man."
"Not that old."
"By whose reckoning?" Samuel laughed loudly. "And what of you, Joe. You think you're old, but you're not. Not to me, not to anybody but a child. You're not so old."
"But I'm getting older." He sighed. "And sometimes it worries me. That one day I won't be strong enough to get around on these legs. That I might wind up in a wheelchair. Oh, that's not so bad, I know. Could be worse. But it's a loss, isn't it. And maybe the day will come when I won't be able to fight anymore. Fight against people like the ones who came after you. It's what we do, me and Mac, and... well, Adam too, if we make him. We fight people. But one day I won't be able to do that anymore, but Mac and Adam will. And they'll go on. And sometimes I wonder just how much of me they'll remember."
"How much does anybody remember?"
"Exactly." It was Joe's turn to laugh. "I can't tell you my story, the way you've told me yours. It's not allowed. It's complicated, and a little bit weird, and maybe a little bit wonderful. Some days, anyway. But I can't tell it. Anyway, it ends only one way. Me dead, and them not. I listen to their stories sometimes, and I hear their memories, and I wonder. I never thought I was egotistical enough to think of myself this way, but I guess it scares me that one day, neither of them will remember who I was."
"Everybody is afraid of being forgotten, Joe. In a sense. Nobody wants to think that there'll be nothing left."
"Maybe. I just never thought of it, once upon a time. And then some days it's harder to get out of the car than others. Or out of a chair. Even out of bed. Some days I wake up in the morning, and we've been drinking together the night before, and I see how they're not affected at all. But I am, more than I used to be. Or some days my eyes don't see so well, when I'm tired, or when the light's not so good. And then I stop and think." He smiled, with an obvious touch of embarrassment. "I remind myself that it's good to be getting old. I know I'd hate to still be alive with Amy dead and gone for thirty-five years. But still... still I can't help thinking, just every so often, that it might be nice if life was a little bit longer."
"People will always wish that."
"And every so often, one of them gets their wish." Joe sighed. "And this is getting us nowhere. One of us should be resting up, no matter how early in the day it still is. And I should be keeping a better guard."
"I'm not tired." Samuel leaned back against the rocks. "Not at all."
"You're an old--"
"An old man who needs his sleep? No. When I sleep, I remember. I remember that Samantha is waiting for me, and her mother. And all the others. All the names and all the faces. I love life, and I love to keep living it, but when I sleep, a part of me is dead. And then I remember all the people who have gone. And that's when I wonder if perhaps it isn't time that I went too. And I'm not ready for that yet." He stood up, his old frame looking remarkably strong in the bad light. "But I won't keep you from your guard duty, Joe. You have a daughter to protect."
"Yeah." Joe smiled a little awkwardly, and watched as the older man walked away. There was something profoundly odd about Samuel, but he couldn't think about it now. He had to concentrate on watching for trouble. Had to concentrate. Had to stay alert. For some reason, though, he couldn't keep the sound of Samuel's voice from echoing inside his head.
"Time for me to relieve MacLeod on watch." Methos's voice startled Amy back to full wakefulness, and she stretched awkwardly.
"Oh. Right. I hadn't realised so much time had gone by."
"You were asleep." He smiled at her, though the expression, as so often, didn't quite fill his eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to disturb you, but you've got my arm."
"I have?" She smiled, sitting up to allow him to retrieve the limb. "Has it gone to sleep?"
"No." He flexed it a few times. "I'll see you in a bit."
"Yes. Well, it's not like you'll really be out of sight anyway."
"No, but..." He frowned, and she smiled. They both felt awkward. Waiting for death could do that to a relationship, she supposed. Except that they didn't have a relationship. Exactly. "I'll, er... I'll be over there, anyway. Keeping watch."
"Yeah." She watched him leave, wanting to call him back for a moment, even if just for a stupid reason like giving him a hug. It might be the last chance she got to do that. The others were all trying not to be too obvious about it, but she knew that they all suspected the worst. She wished they wouldn't keep trying to protect her from it, as though she were a child who didn't understand the dangers. She wouldn't change them, though. They would never stop treating her like the inexperienced almost-outsider they still seemed to think that she was. So she didn't call after Methos, and she didn't give him a hug. She just sat where she was, and watched him walk away.
"Penny for them, my dear." Samuel made her jump, for she hadn't heard his approach. She breathed out a long sigh.
"If I'd had a gun, you might not have a head anymore after that."
"Sorry. It's been rather a long time since my old legs managed to sneak up on somebody." He eased himself down next to her. "You alright? You seem distracted. Worried."
"We're trapped in a forest, probably about to get shot by a gang of armed locals." She shrugged, beginning to understand why Methos made so many stupid jokes. It did seem to make the going oddly easier. "Isn't that reason enough?"
"Maybe. Maybe." He watched the direction of her gaze, though, and smirked at her in a rather charmingly amused manner. "You love him, don't you." His eyes, suddenly, were remarkably bright and insightful. She didn't look directly back at them.
"Adam of course. I can understand why, although he's the prickly type. Hard work, I'd imagine."
"Sometimes." She had no idea why she was answering his questions, but it was better that dwelling on other things. He nodded, and looked in that moment like some great expert in the ways of love. "It's... he's... well it's difficult."
"But you do love him."
"Maybe. Yes. It's complicated."
"Somebody doesn't approve."
"Yes." Damn it, he did seem to have a way of hitting the nail on the head. Age, perhaps. Age and experience. Sometimes the two added themselves together in a way that was most effective. Sometimes - just not always. He nodded slowly.
"Who is that doesn't approve? Your family? His? Your neighbours?"
"No. Hardly." She sighed. Why not talk about it now? There was nothing else to do; nothing else for her to do. And sometimes talking to strangers was best. "It's him who doesn't approve. It's complicated. He thinks..." That the age gap is absurd. "He thinks that it won't work out. Because he and my father are friends."
"Hmm." He laughed slightly. "Disapproval. It's a difficult thing to overcome at times. I once fell in love with somebody who disapproved of the liaison completely. I didn't think that that little dalliance would ever come to anything. How can a relationship work out when one half of the pair thinks it's a terrible idea?"
"Exactly." Suddenly, talking to strangers didn't seem like such a great idea. She had been hoping that he would help to put her mind at rest, but instead she was now feeling worse. He smiled, and patted her hand briefly with one of his.
"Exactly? Screw exactly. Miss Thomas, the world doesn't work in exactlies and definitelies. You may be young but you're not that young."
"Pardon?!" She was a little taken aback. He just laughed at her gently.
"That's what he said, when I told him that I loved him. Just that tone of voice, just that lack of understanding. Life moves in circles, Miss Thomas. Amy. We all encounter the same problems, the same issues, over and over again. Just in different circumstances, and in different countries. Different eras, different languages. Same worries. It was France, and it was in June. A very warm, very colourful June. I was riding my horse just outside Paris. Of course Paris was a lot quieter in those days, and I was a lot younger. I wouldn't try riding a horse at all now. Certainly not there. The trees were beautiful. It was the sort of weather, the sort of place, where you could believe that everybody would fall in love, and nobody could ever possibly disapprove. But he did."
She smiled faintly. "What was his name?"
"Antoine. Although of course, my French was never all that great, and my accent used to get in the way. I could never say it as well as he did. He was very dark, and very beautiful, and he could paint so that everything on his canvas looked alive. He loved to paint birds, and always from his mind. He'd set up his easel, and sit down to paint, and everybody walking by would get confused, because he'd be energetically painting away at something that only he could see. He'd gaze at the horizon like he was trying to get every detail of it right, and then paint something totally different. I don't know where it all came from, but then I could never draw so much as a bowl of fruit, even with one right in front of me. Antoine used to say it was all in the mind, but my mind obviously had other things it would far rather have been thinking about." He smiled, surprisingly wickedly. "Poor fellow. A Catholic, and quite devout. Even if he hadn't been, he'd still have been scandalised I suppose. Practically anybody would have been, back then. I was, for all of three and a half minutes. Well, life's too short, isn't it. Or so I thought then. Never thought my life would turn out to be so long. We went for a long ride in the country, and I scared the living daylights out of him, by kissing him without much of a preamble. Never usually the forward type, me, but there was something about Antoine that just didn't make it easy to stay calm and quiet. And right away he told me that it was an absolute no, and absolutely never, and absolutely not at all."
"I'm sorry." She thought about Methos, with his conviction that it would all go wrong, and that it was a terribly bad idea, and she smiled sadly to herself. There was just no talking to some people. Samuel smiled as well, though not sadly. Instead there was nostalgia and warmth in the expression; a wealth of memories, remembered from some far off time.
"Sorry for what? It was wonderful. I wouldn't take no for an answer, Miss Thomas. I met him every day when he went to paint. I took him wine, and bunches of flowers, and pastries. I sent books of poetry to his house late at night, delivered by a young serving girl who worked for a friend of mine. And I argued. Oh, how I argued, and not just with him. With myself as well. It was foolish, it was impossible, it was wrong. Unnatural. I thought I was going to drag us both down into hell, but I couldn't walk away, and as it turned out neither could he. One night we had a terrible fight about how unforgivable the whole thing would be, and I announced that I was going straight back to America. Of course it wasn't like it is now. I could just jump on an aeroplane now, but then you had to wait weeks for a ship. So in all honesty it wasn't my best exit ever. Worked though. I took the long way back to my hotel room, and when I got there, there was Antoine, sitting on the doorstep, looking all hot and bothered and confused. Well I wasn't going to turn him away, was I."
"And did it all work out alright?"
"Yes and no. He was still convinced that it was a terrible idea, and that we were both going to go to hell. He was twenty years old, and terrified. We argued non-stop for the best part of a week. Or so it seemed."
"And then it all worked out alright?"
"Well, it was wonderful. So yes, I suppose so. And half the world threw up its hands in horror, and the other half couldn't have given a damn. Antoine himself was more scandalised than anybody else we ran into. It took him a long time to stop disapproving quite so much. But he did stop."
She smiled with genuine pleasure. "And is he still alive?"
"Antoine? Good grief, no. Although he lived to a fine age, providing my life-span isn't the one you're comparing his to. He died in 1938, and I'm glad of it. He'd have hated to see the war come, with all that it did, and all the destruction that it caused. Not that we were still together by then."
"Oh." Suddenly the story was no longer so great. A beautiful romance, to show her that she could make things work with Methos even in spite of his disapproval - but it hadn't lasted. It hadn't been the great romance to end all romances. Samuel laughed gently.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disillusion you. He was twenty, and I was thirty-three, although he never knew it. I suppose we wanted different things. And some things just burn themselves out quite naturally. Doesn't mean that you shouldn't enjoy them while they last, and do everything you can to make them work. Not everything in life is supposed to be eternal, Amy. Or as close to it as you get in this world. Not everything that's right is supposed to stay that way."
"So you said your goodbyes, and went your separate ways? And you still remember him with real affection?"
"Until the day I die. Always supposing I ever get around to it. It's nearly one hundred and thirty years ago now, but at times it feels like yesterday." He laughed uproariously. "And sometimes it feels more like three hundred years. 1888. A good year. A very, very good June. And Paris looked more beautiful than it's ever looked to anybody else, before or since."
"1888?" She had been about to say that that was impossible, but she didn't. With his old, old eyes, and his old, old face, somehow she could believe it. Those eyes were not the eyes of a man who had lived a long, but normal life-span. They had seen more; been alive for longer. Somehow, no matter how impossible it seemed, she really could believe that he had been in Paris in 1888 - or perhaps it was all just the fancy of an old man who no longer knew fact from fiction. Perhaps it didn't matter if the story was good enough. His smile was strangely sweet; strangely beautiful.
"1888. Yes, I know how that sounds. But think on it, Amy. Think about the experience a man of that age could have. His words are worth listening to."
"Perhaps." She frowned. Methos and Duncan had said nothing about him being an Immortal, and she knew that those of their kind whose bodies were old were not very common. They didn't tend to live very long after their First Death for one thing, as they did not usually make great fighters in the Game. Samuel just smiled on.
"Think about it," he told her, then stood up and moved away. She watched him head over towards Methos, sitting up on guard duty on the other side of the camp, and frowned to herself. 1888. She would have to ask Joe or Duncan about it later. See what they thought. For now, though, she just seemed to want to sleep.
"Are you awake?" The voice was low. Methos turned around slowly, and stared up at the old, old face of Samuel. He sighed and shook his head.
"No. I'm supposed to be on watch."
"Oh. I rather wanted to talk, you see. I was trying to apologise earlier, to your friend Duncan, and he didn't seem to want to listen." Samuel shrugged his thin shoulders. "So I thought perhaps I should say it to you instead."
"MacLeod wouldn't want an apology." Methos stretched and sat up straight. "He's never happy unless he's risking life and limb for some cause. Rescuing waifs and strays by the roadside, solving robberies and murders, protecting the innocent from all manner of evil." His mouth twisted into a sardonic smile. "It's his thing. Some people like to go shopping. MacLeod likes to rescue people."
"It seems that I was very fortunate to meet you all." Samuel smiled slightly, though without much humour. "Not just willing to help me get away in the town, but willing to stick by me and help me now, too."
"Yeah." Methos didn't look as though he was exactly pleased. "Didn't think things through very well, did I. Should have guessed that there'd be complications later."
"And now we may all be about to die. They're close now, aren't they."
"Bound to be. It can't take them all that long to find us. We've left tracks that a chartered accountant could follow."
"You think we have a chance?"
"Some of us do." Methos looked away. That was one point that he wasn't going to be drawn upon to explain. When he turned his head, though, he realised that he was looking instead at Joe and Amy, and his eyes lowered. Yes, they had a chance - or he and Duncan did. Joe and Amy and Samuel had little or none at all. He looked back to Samuel again, suddenly wanting something to distract him.
"You wanted something?" he asked. Samuel shrugged.
"Not really. Like I said, I wanted to apologise. I'm not sure what difference I'm hoping it'll make. Possibly I'll feel less guilty about probably getting you killed, if I say sorry about it first."
"I doubt it. In my experience, saying sorry rarely accomplishes anything at all. Apologies, like the guilt that so often inspires them, aren't worth the energy they consume."
"In your experience." Samuel smiled, then eased himself down to sit beside the old Immortal. "I can't help thinking that my experience is rather longer than yours, Adam."
"You think?" Methos smiled. "Yes. Of course, you're right. Though I assure you that I'm older than I look."
"So am I, my boy. So am I. A very great deal older. And I've learnt that an apology clears the air. Or eases the conscience. It's of no practical value, of course, but when you're probably about to die, practicalities are probably not all that important. Don't you think?"
"I don't know." Methos, who had long celebrated his lack of conscience; who had rarely experienced the desire to say sorry; who was almost certainly not about to die; wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel now, or what was important. His eyes strayed once again to Joe and Amy, and once again he looked away before there was any chance of their eyes meeting. "But presumably you have some pearl of wisdom to offer?"
"Pearl of wisdom?" Samuel frowned, but Methos gestured around at the others, all sitting and waiting in their various positions around the car.
"You've told all of them a story. At some point, you've stopped off with everybody here and told them something about your life. I'm not sure what purpose it's meant to serve, but I assume that it's my turn next."
"Ah." Samuel's frown became a smile. "Yes, I do tend to reflect rather. It's not often that I get an audience these days." The smile drifted back into a frown. "But you're suspicious, aren't you. You think that my stories have some nefarious purpose."
"Suspicion keeps me alive." Methos's eyes narrowed. "So what are the stories for? And don't tell me that it's just about an old man spinning yarns."
"You're so suspicious. I might be offended, but I like it really. It shows that you have a better imagination than most, perhaps. Or just that you have more to lose." Samuel's eyes held that faraway look again; the look of a man who was lost in the past. "You remind me a man I knew years ago. His name was Adam too, or... no, no. It was Alan. Alan Bryce. Tall, like you, but with a much bigger build. Played a lot of football. Never trusted another man in all his life, did Alan. I never did find out why, though I assume there must have been a reason for it. Saved all our lives that summer though." He laughed suddenly. "We were having a typical summer. Sure, the rest of the world wasn't doing too well. People losing their jobs, nobody having any money - but we were doing alright. I was something of a patrician figure, though I doubt I had half as much money as any of the rest of them. They'd all come to my house at the weekends, and we'd spend the time arguing about how the Depression was going to end, and where it was all going to leave us; or about world events and the price of hats. It was all the same. None of them really cared about anything, except the fun they were having with their lives. I was no better, I suppose. They bored me a lot of the time, but I never told any of them to leave. I never turned the conversation to the millions of people struggling to get by just outside our door. But then I was already an old man by then, so maybe I'd just seen it all before, and was finding it harder to care. 1934. It was a strange year."
"Not that strange."
"Ah, but you weren't there, my boy. It was a strange year to many of us who were. Rumblings and mutterings from Europe, but not enough for anybody to really pay it any mind. None of us, anyway. And right there in New York, misery and joblessness - or so we were told. It didn't affect us so we didn't pay any of that any mind, either. But it had noticed us. One day a gang of men who had used to work in a factory nearby decided that it wasn't fair for us to have everything they didn't. Not an uncommon gripe. It's happened thousands of times before, and it'll no doubt happen again. They decided that they wanted our houses and our money, and it probably damn well served us right. Not as if we'd earned any of it ourselves. Not as if we'd done anything worthwhile with any of it. So one weekend, when we were all sprawled outside my house by the pool, in all that blazing sunshine, a group of them turned up in a van, claiming to be musicians looking for a garden party. We'd have let them in, if Alan hadn't got suspicious. Goodness knows what tipped him off, but he wouldn't let them in. Called the police in the end, and as it turned out it was as well he did. They were armed." He shook his head sadly. "They went to jail, and it all seems rather unfair when you think about it. If it hadn't been the Depression, and if hadn't been so hot, and if we hadn't been lying there by that pool, flaunting everything they didn't have..." He shrugged. "Well, that's history for you, isn't it. Things make other things happen. I was going to hire them a lawyer, but... I didn't. Doubt it would have helped them all that much in the long run."
"Fascinating, I'm sure." Methos was faintly distracted, wondering if he was imagining things, or if he really had heard...
"Well, everybody's life is fascinating. I'm sure that you've got a few tales to tell, yourself." Samuel seemed oblivious to his companion's sudden frown of concentration. "But when you've lived as long as I have, you do tend to experience one or two things more, perhaps, than the average man. There was a time in Los Angeles in the forties, which--"
"Ssh." Methos made no attempt to be polite. Samuel frowned.
"Is there something wrong?"
"Wrong? What could possibly be wrong on a day like today? Everything has been so perfect and right so far." The old Immortal cocked his head on one side. "Do you hear that?"
"My ears aren't what they once were, I'm afraid. I remember back in--"
"Just forget about the nostalgia for a moment, alright?" Methos turned back to the others, and hissed at them in a urgent shout that was at least half whisper. "Vehicles! I can't tell if it's the trucks yet." Nobody responded. Nobody looked up. Methos raised his voice in exasperation. "Has everybody gone deaf?! Vehicles! Heading this way!" Again there was no response. Duncan was sitting against the car, gazing into space, and Joe and Amy were sitting together on the fallen tree. Neither was speaking; they just sat there, for all the world as though they were lost in dreamland. The engines rumbled closer.
"MacLeod! Dawson! Damn it, will you listen to me!" Methos edged closer, but Samuel caught him by the arm, pointing back up towards the road. The two trucks were coming into view, still loaded with armed men, and moving ominously slowly. The men seemed to be scanning every inch of road, searching for a sign of their runaway prey. Methos groaned soundlessly. If they were being that thorough, the chances of them missing the telltales signs of the car's passage through the undergrowth were very slim. He waved frantically at MacLeod, not daring to speak aloud anymore, but there was no response. The Highlander, though awake, seemed dead to the world.
"Down there!" One of the men in one of the trucks was pointing at something, but Methos couldn't see what. He didn't like to guess. Other voices echoed around, and he listened in vain for the sound of the trucks moving on. They didn't. Not knowing if their path had been discovered, the old Immortal pressed himself down into the bushes around him and waited. Samuel was breathing noisily beside him, but the crashing boots of men searching in the greenery all but drowned out the sound. All the same, Methos wanted to silence him. The slightest sound could carry unpredictably, and it was never easy to guess what would be heard and what would not. The footsteps seemed to be closer, and a part of him wanted to leap up and begin shooting, but he knew better than that. Methos was a master at staying down; staying quiet; staying out of the way. He wasn't going to show these people where he was; although soon enough he knew that they would find out. And still MacLeod and the others remained oblivious.
"What the hell is wrong with them?!" The words burst out of his throat without conscious thought behind them. They sounded loud, but in the brief, tense seconds that followed, it didn't seem as though anybody had heard. Samuel smiled sadly.
"They're alright. Look at them; they're happy."
"Happy? They're going to die. They're just sitting there."
"True." Samuel shrugged his thin shoulders. "But they won't know anything about what happens, will they. They won't feel the fear and the pain. You risked your lives to help me, and I appreciate that, but you got yourselves into an impossible situation in the process. I couldn't do anything, except make it that little bit easier to bear."
"You..." Methos turned towards him then, suddenly no longer trying to keep quiet. "You what?"
"Some might call it hypnosis. I tend to think of it as rather more than that. The people of Midnight weren't quite as mad as you might think."
"Magic." Methos caught the other man by the front of the shirt. "What kind of magic? Undo it!"
"Why? They're safe."
"They're going to die! If you stop whatever it is you're doing, they've at least got a chance to fight back!"
"They don't have any chance. They're going to die. They all know it. Why not let them face it in peace?" Nearby, feet crashed and bushes rustled furiously. "Ah. We seem to have given the game away."
"Stop the spell, Samuel. Whatever the hell it is that you've done to them, stop it."
"I can't. I won't. I haven't harmed them, Adam. Just tales told gently, that's the way it works. The way it always works. It makes the magic happen. I don't know why it didn't work with you. You're the first."
"Really?" Methos's voice dripped with contempt. "You want to know why your magic didn't work with me? Look at me!" He was shouting now, with real volume; not that it mattered. Feet were echoing towards them from what seemed to be all angles; people crashing through the bushes and the long, clinging grasses; stumbling over fallen trees and hidden stones. There was no stopping them. They would open fire when they arrived, and Amy and Joe would be gone in an instant, without ever knowing anything about it. "Don't turn your head away, Samuel. Don't look for the locals. You'll know it when they get here. Look at me, and see why your spells didn't work. Magic?! I am magic. My blood is magic. Look at me. You think I'm really someone you can tell tales to, manipulate any way you want? Look at my eyes!"
"I don't..." Samuel's expression changed, a frown chasing away the self assurance of earlier. "I don't mean any harm, Adam. I just wanted to help them. Twenty years ago, I--"
"Don't try your stories on me!" Methos pushed him, hard, and the old man fell backwards to the ground. "Don't you listen to anything? Hear anything? Your spells can't work on me."
"So it would seem." The feet pounded closer; half a dozen men burst out of the undergrowth all at once; a rough semi-circle of automatic weaponry bristling with obvious rage. "Just who the hell are you, Adam?"
"Not who." Methos hauled him to his feet, and started pushing him towards the nearest of the men. "What."
"They'll kill us." Samuel didn't struggle; didn't fight. Methos wouldn't have cared if he had. Nothing could have broken his grip in that moment, or allowed the old man a chance to escape.
"Yeah, they'll kill us." He stopped short, right in front of the nearest of the new arrivals, then pushed Samuel hard. "There's your witch." He pointed his own gun at the back of Samuel's head. "But it seems as though his magic is selective."
"You think the whole town would have listened to one of my stories?" Samuel tried to take a step back away from his enemies, but merely walked straight into Methos's gun. "I couldn't get myself out of there. I thought I'd have a chance with you."
"You never had a chance." The nearest of the men grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back. "You're going to burn. And it's going to be the biggest bonfire this county has seen since the end of the Civil War." He nodded around at his friends; at the rest of them, still coming out of the undergrowth. "Kill the others." His eyes met Methos's briefly; coldly and without emotion. "Bury the bodies and get rid of the car."
"You can't burn me!" Struggling wildly, Samuel tried to fight against the man now dragging him up towards the road. His feet caught on the rough ground and he nearly fell, but still the man hauled him onwards, unyielding. "You can't burn me alive!" Methos turned his head to watch as the tired old man was taken away, but the man who had so far done all the talking cocked his gun loudly and drew his attention away.
"Don't worry about him. You won't be alive to hear him screaming."
"You think?" Methos still hadn't lowered his own gun, but nobody apparently minded about that. He could shoot a few of them - even enjoy it - but it wouldn't do him any good. More to the point, it wouldn't do Amy and Joe any good, sitting nearby in their mutual oblivion. So many guns - and Samuel still shouting for help, begging not to be burnt alive. Methos didn't blame him, but he couldn't see that there was much he could do for the old fool now. There were so many people, and so many guns - and everybody seemed to be converging upon him now. Him, and MacLeod, and Amy and Joe, and still his friends were unaware of any of it. They were going to die never knowing what was happening, and for all he knew Samuel had been right to give them that peace. It was a peace denied to Samuel, though, fighting, being dragged further and further away, heading to an awful death. With a sudden, brisk movement, Methos turned on his heel and fired once. Samuel's old body fell without a sound.
"What the hell-?" Duncan was standing up in an instant, going for his gun; all the guns that had been pointing at Methos were suddenly pointing at him, and at Amy, and at Joe as they too were suddenly awake and alert. The man who had been dragging Samuel away fired off a shot that slammed Methos's gun from his hand with the force of a sledgehammer, and a powerful hunting rifle jammed itself into the back of the old man's skull. He froze. That gun could take his head off, especially at such close range.
"You shot him!" The spokesman for the locals, a middle-aged man with a black moustache, sounded almost indignant. "You killed him!" Duncan was looking about, assessing the situation with his usual speed, confused but fully alert. He pushed his way forward, shooting just one, brief glance at Samuel's body as it slid part of the way back down the slope.
"Samuel's dead," he said loudly, his words taking in everybody in the group; his voice carrying a very real authority. "You've got what you came for. And there's no reason to kill any of us. We're not witnesses to what you did anymore. You didn't kill him." He looked over at Adam, pointing like some vengeful, if somewhat confused, judge. "He did. Maybe we should be worrying what you might say." There was a long pause, and some dissatisfied muttering. The man with the black moustache looked backwards and forwards between Duncan and Methos.
"You know too much. You know what we were planning."
"Nobody ever got sent to prison for thinking about killing somebody. Why would we say anything, given what just happened? You don't have to kill us anymore." The Highlander drew himself up to his full height, trying not to think of what would happen to Joe and Amy if this argument didn't work. There was no way that he and his friends could shoot their way out of this situation. He just wished that he understood how so many people had got here without him being aware of it.
"He's right, Len." One of the other men was beginning to look uncomfortable. "Killing them so they don't speak is one thing, but they've got nothing to tell about now, have they. The old man's dead. That's all that matters."
"Yeah." Another man, younger than the others, was looking even more awkward; even embarrassed. "I'm getting out of here. There's no sense making things worse. We got what we wanted, right?"
"Maybe." The spokesman - Len - looked back to MacLeod. "There's two dozen witnesses here that just saw your friend shoot an unarmed old man in the back. You keep your mouths shut, and we'll do the same." He seemed indecisive, as though he still felt that it might be a better idea to open fire and tie up loose ends; but instead his eyes lingered on Methos. "We ever see any of you round Midnight again, you're dead. You won't get out of here alive twice."
"Point taken." Methos spoke between his teeth, rigid with tension from the presence of the gun against his head. A second later it was gone. He didn't let himself breathe out when the locals were still within earshot; but as they moved together up to the road, he let the breath escape in a long, slow rush.
"What the hell...?" Joe was moving stiffly, like a man just returned from a dream. "Nice save, Mac. Glad one of us still has a brain that's working. I feel like there's nothing but cotton wool in my head."
"Me too." Duncan relaxed slowly, putting the gun into his belt, and flexing the fingers of the hand that had been holding it, helping to relieve the lingering tension. "You want to tell me what happened, Methos?"
"They said he shot Samuel." Amy broke away from the others, hurrying over to the old man's body. "He's dead. Why would you do that? What did he ever do to you?"
"What did he...?" Exasperation suddenly snapping into life within him, Methos spun around to face her. "You don't remember, do you. You don't know. None of it." He shook his head. "Ask yourself, Amy... Or don't bother. What does it matter?" The anger seemingly gone, he turned back towards the car, and hauled his sword out of the back. Wrapped in a length of soft leather, it was camouflaged enough to be carried openly. "I'm getting out of here. I'm going to the nearest town - not counting Madsville back there - and I'm going to get the first taxi, or the first train, or the first bloody bicycle I can find, and I'm going back home. I'll try to send a car back for you, but as far as I'm concerned you lot can please yourselves."
"Methos?" Joe made to go after him, but wasn't fast enough. Methos didn't look back.
"He sounded angry." Amy stood up, turning her back on the body at her feet. She didn't want to look at it anymore. "What did he expect? He just shot a man."
"Did you see him doing it?" Duncan was still confused, but the thoughts were coalescing more readily now. "Do you remember those people coming here? Or hearing the first half of that conversation? And do you remember seeing Methos shoot Samuel?"
"No." She frowned. "I don't remember a thing since... I don't know. Samuel was telling me a story. I remember thinking about it, and then everything is a little confusing... but I don't understand."
"No, neither do I." MacLeod stared after the other Immortal, a frown spreading its way across his face. "Something doesn't add up, but somehow I don't think Methos shot that old guy for no reason."
"You going after him?" asked Joe. MacLeod paused for a second, then shook his head.
"No, I don't think so. Best let him alone for now. Maybe we'll hear the full story when we get back to Seacouver. Meantime, we'd better get rid of that body. Find a nice spot, give him a proper burial. It's probably the best we can do."
"I guess." Joe leant heavily on his cane. "I hope Methos meant what he said about sending a car back. I'm not planning on walking out of here."
"He'll send it." MacLeod headed off towards Samuel's body, already making plans for how best to dig the grave. "Not even Methos can sulk that much." But as he reached Amy, up where they body had been left, he wondered if Methos didn't have reason to sulk at least that much. If perhaps Amy's jumping to conclusions mightn't have had real reason to hurt. Samuel's body was gone. A small patch of blood and a misshapen bullet marked the place where it had lain, but there was not a trace of the old mortal himself. He had vanished, as though into thin air.
It was the following day when Methos arrived back at his apartment. He threw his sword onto the coffee table, kicked off his shoes, and headed, with determination, towards the fridge. The light on his answer-phone flashed, but he ignored it. At least one of the messages on it would be from Amy, he knew - but he had as little time for listening to apologies as he had for making them, and he didn't much care what she had to say. If it was not an apology, but more accusations, he cared even less. They would talk it all out when she got back - probably - and he would worry about it then. She was alive. At some point, presumably, she would realise that that was better than being dead. She couldn't expect him to care for Samuel as well. It was high time that she got used to who he was.
Crossing to his favourite chair, he slumped down into it in a well practised sprawl, put his feet up on the coffee table, cracked open the beer and regarded it happily for several moments. He should be cross with it really, some part of his consciousness said. After all - if it hadn't been for beer, he would never have left that café; never gone in search of a likely shop; never heard Samuel's screaming and got into that whole stupid mess. On the other hand, he wouldn't be sitting here now in his favourite chair, either; he would still be sitting in an uncomfortable rental car, trundling his way at a painful pace across the country, towards the false cheer of a Californian holiday that he hadn't really wanted in the first place. So he should be thanking the beer, really. And celebrating it. Celebrating it lots. He grinned at that. Yeah, he could celebrate beer - almost indefinitely. He certainly had plenty of it in the fridge to make the celebration explode with all due sparkle.
And to him that was magic aplenty - for now at least.