Duncan MacLeod was dreaming.
He dreamt the way that he always dreamt of late. It began with a boat; a tour boat on the Continent, breezing down a river, talking to the beautiful young tour guide who had just agreed to his dinner invitation. He had asked her name, and she had told him with some amusement; as though unsure quite why he was so interested. She was called Tessa, and he had taken her to the best restaurant that he could find at such short notice. For some reason, though, when he walked her out of the lobby three hours later, she felt cold against him. Her hand in his was stiff, and there was blood on the front of her blouse...
In his sleep Duncan moved slowly, one hand tightening into a fist. He mumbled something indistinct, about James Horton and a plastic surgeon... His eyes tightened, screwed up until the dark lashes disappeared. His lips moved soundlessly. He was seeing new things now. He was hearing a new voice in his mind. Somewhere in the depths of his dream world, a poet in nineteenth century garb was laughing at him, raising one well-manicured finger as he recited poetry that made MacLeod's blood boil. He stared into the pale face, young and filled with dreams of its own; saw the dark eyes brimming with a poet's indefinable passion. MacLeod drew his sword, running towards the poet, cutting him down where he stood. The dark eyes in the severed head stared up at him accusingly, but the lips did not stop their recitations. The words terrified the Highlander, although he did not know why.
Mark! where his carnage and his conquests cease!
He makes a solitude and calls it peace
"MacLeod!" In his dream Duncan heard the voice of some other tortured soul, but although his mind knew the voice to be that of Sean Burns, his eyes were unable to seek the other man out. He stumbled on down the long, grey path that was unfolding in his unconscious, looking neither to left nor right as he hurried on his way. A mist was falling around him, and the further he walked the thicker it became, hiding the road from his feet and the sky from his eyes. It traced cold shadows across his back and painted illusions in his mind, until the faces of a thousand dead men flowed in and out of the fog, dancing in the corner of his eyes and remaining forever out of focus. He closed his eyes against them, but they crowded in around him, tugging at his eyelids until he looked at them again. He thought that he saw the bright, mad eyes of Caspian leering insanely at him; or perhaps there was no insanity, which was a thought even more frightening than the things the dead Immortal had once done. The faces faded away, and the mist went with them, and MacLeod stood alone in the ruins of a long-dead building. Stones made up the floor beneath his feet, and concrete pillars held up a ceiling that had long since fallen down. A figure stood amongst the piles of broken roof tiles, his eyes fixed intently on MacLeod. He was a young man, with red-blond hair growing in tight curls, and a sword scarcely hidden by a black motorcycling jacket.
"Mac?" The voice was almost painfully young, and MacLeod felt a hammer strike at his heart. A shudder ran through his sleeping frame, although his dream self did not move at all.
"Richie?" His own voice was plaintive. "Is that you?"
"Of course it's not me. How can it be? I'm dead." The young man came closer, his familiar face a beacon of pain. MacLeod reached out for him, anxious to touch the shoulders of the other Immortal, desperate to pull him into that affectionate hug; to feel the other man's hands welcome him again. Richie stared back at him, his eyes fading, distant, gone forever. Soon there was nothing left but empty air.
"Richie!" MacLeod yelled the name in his sleep, sitting bolt upright in bed, his eyes staring into the darkness of the room. He saw nothing. Sleep still claimed him, even as he rose to his feet and went to the door. It was a short distance to the roof of the building, the cold night air blowing across his face, not penetrating his consciousness despite his state of undress. He stood at the edge of the roof, staring sightlessly across the sprawling view of Seacouver. In his mind he did not see the city at all; he stood at the top of a vast tower, gazing out to sea, listening to the shrieks of the seabirds. Some of them seemed to be reciting poetry.
"You're lost, MacLeod. You know you are." The Highlander did not turn to look at Kronos, for he knew the voice well enough. Even had they been strangers before, the regularity of their recent meetings in this strange and non-existent place had made the old Immortal's voice as familiar as Duncan's own. He knew the gentle tones, with their well-rounded preciseness; knew the sound of the inexplicably English accent.
"I'll find myself again. I did before." He closed his eyes, no longer wanting to see the restless waves crashing against the foot of the tower below him.
"Did you?" There was gentle mockery in the voice. "The Ahriman Demon stole more than just your young friend. It stole your integrity, your choice, your certainty. You went on a quest to find yourself, MacLeod, but just what did you find? Was it your heart? Or was it your soul? Or was it just a voice that kept calling you inside?"
"You're dead, Kronos. Go away and leave me alone."
"Oh I'm not dead, MacLeod." The voice no longer bore any traces of mockery, and instead it carried a gentle hint of encouragement. "Sorry to disappoint you."
"You're dead enough. And I aim to see that you stay that way."
A faint laugh answered his burst of anger. "There's only one way to do that, MacLeod." Kronos was beside him now, staring down into the suddenly furious waves, watching the leaping, whirling spray as it fountained into the air. "And you know what that is."
"Get lost." MacLeod wanted to push the other man; to send him tumbling down into all that raging blue wetness below; but he knew that it would do no good. Kronos wasn't really here, wasn't really alive. He couldn't kill a figment of his own imagination; and a fall such as that one would hardly do for an Immortal anyway.
"That's right MacLeod. You go on thinking like that." MacLeod wasn't aware of having spoken his thoughts aloud; in fact he was certain that he hadn't. His fists clenched at the idea that Kronos could get inside his mind, and see the things that were in there. Tessa was in there, and MacLeod did not want Kronos looking at her. He almost feared that his memories of his lost love could be sullied forever, if the cold blue eyes of the leader of the Horsemen should settle upon her gentle, smiling face.
"I'm just a figment of your imagination. Aren't I MacLeod?" Kronos was no longer there, but MacLeod could still hear his voice. "I don't exist. Isn't that right, MacLeod?" There was a disembodied laugh that the Highlander knew belonged to the Horseman; but it took only a second for him to realise that it came from within himself. His head fell, his chin resting on his chest, and with a sudden return to wakefulness he realised how cold he was. He hugged himself, staring down at Seacouver, listening to the words - the echoes of his conversation with a dead man - which still resounded within his head. He lowered his eyes. Something lay on the wall before him; the ridge of brickwork that rimmed the edge of the roof. He bent to pick the something up. He knew that he had not put it there, for he owned no such thing, and it seemed almost to burn his hands as he held it. He closed his eyes. Someone had been there, whilst he had stood silent and asleep; someone who knew him very well and seemed to know his dreams; for gripped with cold tenacity in his hands, gripped so tightly that his knuckles had turned an intense, pure white, was a single, framed photograph. It was a photograph of Tessa, and she was holding hands with Kronos.
"Am I losing my mind, Methos?"
The world's oldest man - who for reasons unique to Immortality looked suspiciously like a rumpled British grad student of little more than thirty - stared steadily out of the window in the Highlander's apartment, trying to come up with the most tactful answer to his friend's question. It was true that MacLeod had been looking increasingly tired of late, and he had admitted some time ago to suffering from a series of bad dreams. It was the bereavement as much as anything, Methos supposed; even after hundreds of years of experience, Duncan MacLeod was hardly immune to the pain of losing a friend. He had lost a lot of them in relatively quick succession, and all of them had meant a great deal. Darius, Tessa, Fitzcairn, Richie... Particularly Richie. It was the sort of experience that would send a mortal hastening to therapy.
"Of course you're not." He spoke lightly, turning to face the younger man and offering him a breezy smile. "You're just tired. After that incident before, when you left us... to think things over... you said that you were going away to look for a fresh start in life. We weren't expecting to see you again for months, but you came back so soon. Try it again, and take a proper break this time. There's a little place on Mauritius - hardly more than a beach hut really, but its comfortable enough provided you don't try living there during the rainy season. Take six months and go and put your feet up on the beach. Collect shells." He sat down on a chair opposite MacLeod's. "You've earned a rest, after... well, after everything that's been happening the last few years. Life isn't exactly quiet around here."
"I can't rest. Not until I know what's going on here." Duncan sighed, leaning back into the comforting embrace of the most comfortable chair that he owned. It made a change for him to be able to sit on it, given the practised ease with which Methos managed to commandeer it every time he dropped by. "If Kronos is alive, then--"
"Kronos is not alive, MacLeod. At least, not in the general sense. He exists in whatever energy we both absorbed during the time of his Quickening - like any beheaded Immortal - and that's all. He can't go wandering around the countryside leaving souvenirs on people's roofs."
"Somebody left it there. I sure as hell didn't put it there myself!" The Highlander made as if to stand up, his mind on a spell of agitated pacing, but he reconsidered and fell back into the chair. "Look at it Methos! Kronos knew Tessa. He met her, he touched her. To even think that he went anywhere near her..."
"He was a mass murderer MacLeod, not a leper. What he was, so once was I, and I'd appreciate it if you'd remember that before you start pitching in with your judgements." He sighed, relenting immediately when he saw the exhausted look on the other man's face. "Look Mac, take the break, okay? New scenery, new surroundings - it's just what the doctor ordered."
"You qualified as a doctor in a time when medicine consisted of tying dead mice round people's necks in little bags." MacLeod smiled despite his current frame of mind. "You're right. I know you're right. It's just... I can't relax just yet. Not until I'm sure what's going on here. I have to be sure that I'm not going nuts, and I have to know who put that picture on my roof." He pushed it across the table to his companion. "It's quite old, now that I look at it. It may even be from before I met Tessa. Her hairstyle looks very Eighties."
"Very chic." Methos turned the photograph this way and that. The face looking back at him was that of Kronos, without a doubt. He knew every millimetre of the face, every expression that it was capable of. He knew the cool blue eyes with their glimmer of life and the love of it. He knew the smile, with its air of promised adventure. A pang of regret ran through him. Four thousand years was a long time to know a man, and two and a half years was not enough to come to terms with his loss. He stared into the eyes; and frowned.
"Mac?" There was no immediate answer, although the Highlander's eyes showed that he was listening. "This man in the picture. He's not Kronos."
"Don't be daft, old man. Of course he's Kronos." MacLeod leaned over to look at the picture. He saw the face that routinely laughed at him in his dreams, reciting Byron's poetry in that modulated, clear voice. The eyes were the same ones that mocked him with each word, each reminder of the past.
"He's not." Methos handed the picture back to him. "Look at it Mac. Look at everything in the picture, and think about it. I knew that man for four thousand years. I know everything about him. He'd been an Immortal for barely a season when he took the blow that left him with that scar across his eye. The man in this picture doesn't have a scar. Now unless Tessa - and colour photography - just happened to drop by Eastern Europe in about 2000BC, there is no way that that man is Kronos."
"That's crazy." MacLeod was sitting very still, staring at the face in the picture. Now that he looked again, he could see that the man staring back at him was young; in his twenties most likely. His eyes held none of the knowledge and wealth of experience that a man of Kronos' age had gathered. They were young and they were innocent, and from what he could tell they were most definitely mortal. He lowered his head. "What then?"
"I don't know. They say that we all have a double somewhere, Mac - and when there's four thousand years in it, Chance has a fair old opportunity to come up with another version of the original model."
"That still doesn't explain how the picture got onto my roof. I want answers, and quickly. I want to meet this man."
"We'll find him." Methos had finally managed a smile that looked genuinely reassuring. "Come on now. How about a beer?"
"How come you always wind up offering me my own beer?"
"I can't help it if I'm a better host than you, can I?" A wicked grin replaced the mask of gentle platitudes. "Come on Mac, cheer up. There's nothing to this, I swear. It just one of those things."
"You don't really believe that?"
"No, I don't." There was a silence as Methos went to fetch the beers, but as he handed one to MacLeod he held the other man's gaze in his own, his expression hard. "But if somebody's really trying to screw with your mind, I want you in top form to deal with it. If anybody's going to pull some sneak stunt to take your head, it's going to be me."
"Gee, thanks Methos."
Methos grinned at him, all innocence and affability. "Hey," he said brightly. "What are friends for?"
Peter Kerensky threw half a bowl of chilli into the microwave and gave it a good long blast of the usual potentially deadly radiation. He could hear the contents of the bowl beginning to crackle as they heated up, spitting juice all over the inside of the microwave. Still, it had needed cleaning anyway. It still had half of his experimental cake mixture stuck to the roof, where it had leapt to its doom after escaping from the bowl some twelve hours previously. He still wasn't entirely sure what he had done wrong, although admittedly some of his ingredients had been a little suspect.
The microwave bleeped at him in its familiar peremptory way, at a pitch guaranteed to leave the ears ringing. Peter waited until the last of the bleeps had died away before opening the door; he had learnt from experience that opening it too soon caused an alarm to go off, and the alarm was a noise even worse than the pips. The bowl of chilli steamed away to itself, bubbling gently, and he burned his fingers picking it up.
"I told you I'd get breakfast ready." The female voice behind him told him that Anna was up, and he turned to greet her. She took one look at the bowl of chilli in his hands and winced. "Ugh. You're not going to eat that for breakfast?"
"Why not?" He frowned at the bowl in confusion, but made no objection as she took it from him. "Careful it's--"
"Ow!" Her hands leapt apart in sudden pain and the bowl crashed to the floor, neatly breaking in half. Steaming hot chilli spread itself across the floor tiles. "Oops." She smiled at him in apology. "Er... fancy something else instead?"
"I don't think so." He set about clearing up the mess, but she pushed him aside to do it herself. "It was the only edible thing in the house except for a packet of Cup-A-Soup, and that's tomato flavour."
"Why would you buy a packet of soup that you don't like?"
He shrugged. "Some kind of offer; collecting tokens, that kind of thing. It was for a free Lego set." He smiled one of his innocent smiles and immediately looked at least twenty years younger. "The one with the wizard and the wand that glows in the dark. I, er... didn't have that one."
Her eyebrows raised in honest amusement. "You. The shops. Now."
"Nothing will be open. It's far too early." She raised her eyebrows and he smiled. "But I'll find somewhere. I'm sorry, I just didn't think. I've been away for the last three months, and there didn't seem to be any point in leaving the cupboards full of food."
"You've been home for twenty-four hours," she reminded him, in the older sister voice that never failed to make him feel six again.
"Er... yeah. Well I mostly eat out... so I didn't really think."
"Why does that not surprise me?" She smirked. "I fancy something Italian. Do you know a good store that sells spaghetti?"
"No, but I'll find one." He grabbed a jacket lying on the kitchen table and slung it on. "I'll be back in a little while."
"I shall wait with bated breath." He scowled and she laughed. "Hurry up. Oh, and see if you can find some half-decent pesto. I've got a great recipe using that. And some mushrooms, and--"
"Do you want to go and do the shopping?"
She pouted. "Spoilsport." A shrug. "Since it's breakfast I'd settle for cornflakes, but you'll have to get some fresh milk. I don't know what that is in the fridge, but it stopped being milk quite some time ago."
"Interesting, isn't it." He went out of the door, pulling it shut behind himself, then waved at her through the glass. She waved back, mouthing something that he did not quite catch, and he shrugged and walked away. He could ask her later; he would be back in half an hour.
The communal car park for the section of housing that he lived in was a long, thin strip of tarmac surrounded by a high wall. Peter went straight to his car, an ageing grey Rover which had made the trip to America with him when he departed his native British shores. It had none of the usual luxuries becoming so common in cars of late; no central locking, no power steering, no airbags; which might just have been why he liked it so much. It had character; although it took some finding it beneath the covering of rust.
"Mr Kerensky?" A breathless voice, like that of a man in a hurry, made him turn. He did not recognise the man, although that did not mean that he was not a resident. Peter smiled at him.
"Yes. Can I help you?"
"I hope so." The man was smiling in a brisk, businesslike way; a typically character-less smile that did not really reach his eyes. There was something in his hand; something black and made of metal. It looked like a gun, but Peter could not accept that. He assumed it to be a novelty cigarette lighter. After all, the stranger had an unlit cigarette in the corner of his mouth. He couldn't help wondering, though, why the man should be raising a cigarette lighter to point at his chest.
"Listen, I'm in a hurry." He half-turned to face his car, reaching for the keys in his jacket pocket. A sound much like a cough came from behind him, and he felt a sharp, jabbing pain in his arm. He looked down. A small dart with a feathered tip protruded from the cotton of his sleeve.
"We won't keep you for too long, Mr Kerensky." The stranger was still smiling the hard, humourless smile. "With luck it'll be just a day or two."
"Who are you?" He could feel his head beginning to swim; knew that he had been shot with some kind of tranquilliser. He could think of no reason for it, and confusion mixed with the growing sense of nausea.
"Never mind." A hand was reaching for his arm, and he tried to shrug it off but did not have the strength. He felt himself starting to fall. "We're going to get along together just fine, Mr Kerensky." Still the voice was polite, calm, gentle. It annoyed Peter, but it was so distant now... He was vaguely aware of lying on the ground, and of noticing that there was an empty crisp packet lying on the tarmac beneath his car. He didn't recognise the brand. Shop's own probably. Hands were taking hold of him now; more than one pair by the feel of it. He thought about trying to struggle, but could not move at all. Strange that he felt so calm... He closed his eyes, listening for the sound of voices, but unable to distinguish one from another. He let out a long, heavy sigh, and consciousness left him completely.
Elsewhere in Seacouver, Duncan was alone. Methos had stayed for much of the previous day; spending the time in a companionable silence broken at sporadic intervals by his usual brand of odd humour, and even odder tales. There had been a particularly lewd narrative involving three serving girls, a pot of honey and a jug of mulled wine, but Duncan had taken in only half of it. That was a shame, on reflection. It would probably have been worth hearing. He had vague memories of the part where the local bishop had come to call, but that was all. He smiled. It was a tale almost worthy of Hugh Fitzcairn.
Duncan poured himself a whisky, unusual though it was for him to drink alcohol at such an early hour. He had had a rough night, after assuring Methos that everything would be fine. The older Immortal had looked sceptical, but had left him anyway, walking away into the night with his usual uncanny knack for disappearing. The house had seemed very empty without him, and after deciding not to bother with sleep the Highlander had taken to cooking. He had tried making everything from crispy duck - an improvisation; he had no duck in the house and had wound up experimenting with canned fish - to a simple variation on cheese on toast. He had finally given in to sleep at that point, and had awoken to a room full of smoke as the cheese under the grill crackled merrily to itself in half-liquefied flames of astonishing frenzy. His smoke alarm kicked into life just as he managed to put the flames out, and he cursed it under his breath, waving a newspaper at it as it bleeped and wailed at him, at a volume designed to put his neighbours in an unpleasant mood. It descended into mutinous silence only after he tore the battery from its housing and threatened to throw the little white plastic box off the top of the roof.
In the end he had fallen finally asleep as dawn painted its pale shades across the horizon. Ordinarily he would have arisen soon after, heading for the roof and a brisk workout in the cool morning breeze. This morning was different. He slept late, moving restlessly on the bed, groaning softly when the nightmares threatened to return. This time there was no parade of dead loved ones, no ghostly lectures from a newly demonised Darius; not even an impromptu recitation of poetry from the long-dead Byron. Instead there was merely Kronos - if Kronos could actually be merely anything - and a view once again from the top of the tower. The waves still crashed with monotonous regularity against the stones at the bottom, threatening to one day send the whole building crashing into the rocks below. Kronos was standing on the windowsill, and MacLeod suppressed the urge to push him off.
"Hello MacLeod." The dead warrior seemed almost jaunty that night, standing framed against the light outside the window, his arms folded, his head cocked on one side. His ice blue eyes were shadowed in the darkness, invisible, unreadable. Even so, MacLeod was sure of the expression that they held; one of a mockery that was part humour, part malice.
"What do you want?" It was not a simple question; it was a demand that came from the weeks of sleeplessness and frustration. "Where the hell are you?"
"Waiting for you." Kronos leapt lightly down from the windowsill, walking in a circle around the Highlander. He was smirking in the manner that MacLeod had come to know well, in the days since the dead Immortal had first begun to haunt his dreams.
"Waiting for me to join you, or waiting for me to go nuts talking to you?" Duncan reached for the sword that was always with him. Even in his dream world the sword was always there. It was embedded too deeply in his subconscious for him ever to forget it. It familiar weight greeted his hands, his wrists, moving with him. Its blade rested against the neck of his enemy. "Tell me the truth, Kronos, or I'll take your head a second time." The dead man before him laughed.
"Go ahead, MacLeod. I'm not real, remember? I'm dead. You can't kill somebody that your paranoid little mind created for you. Maybe I never was real. Maybe you just imagined taking my head. Maybe everything's been a dream all these years. Maybe you're still standing in the street with Tessa dying at your feet."
"Don't talk about Tessa." MacLeod pressed hard with the sword, hard enough to draw blood - although of course there was none. There could be no blood from a man who didn't exist, and who, even if he had existed, was already dead anyway.
"Maybe you never even met her. Maybe you're still lying on the ground somewhere in Scotland, waiting to die. Maybe this is all part of some dying hallucination of a forgettable Highland warrior nobody could give a damn about?"
"Shut up, Kronos."
"I said shut up!" With a bellow of rage, MacLeod slashed with the sword, drawing it back and letting it swing once again. He was sure that Kronos had had time enough to dodge aside; but he didn't, and the sword sailed through his neck, cutting his head from his body. The body collapsed to the ground, fading into dust long before it hit the floorboards. Only the head was left. MacLeod touched it with his toe, watching as it rolled over to reveal the face. Tessa's dead eyes stared back at him, and he let out an involuntary cry. Somewhere above him he heard a disembodied laugh - and then he woke up and let his hands find him some solace in the hilt of a sword he did not remember having drawn.
And so MacLeod sat in the loneliness of his apartment, a sword in his one hand, a glass of whisky in the other and the telephone ringing, unanswered, on the table nearby. It was still early morning. He had been awake for nearly an hour, and still he had got nowhere beyond sitting, trying to get his thoughts into order. It was only when the persistent ringing of the telephone finally penetrated into his thoughts enough to start annoying him that he rose to his feet. He grabbed the receiver.
"MacLeod," he said sharply, hoping that it was nobody too important. He didn't feel in the mood to apologise for the brusqueness of his greeting. Joe's voice answered him, sounding strained and tired.
"Mac. Did I call at a bad time?"
"Not necessarily." He hoped that this wasn't about another 'mission'; yet another of those times when Joe would show him a file - a photograph of some Immortal that the Watchers were worried about. He was expected to go out and find the troublesome soul; to be judge, jury and executioner in order to help a secret society in their on-going attempt to ensure that the best Immortal won, whilst never directly involving themselves in the Game. Easy for them to say.
"Methos is worried about you."
Duncan nearly laughed. Makes a change, he wanted to say. Methos went out of his way to give the impression that he never worried about anyone but himself - save, naturally, for the collection of psychotic old friends who unfolded themselves from time to time from the pages of history, just to meet their ends under Duncan's sword. Some of them even stayed dead. "So what do you plan to do about it?" he asked instead. There was a silence at the other end of the line.
"I plan to help."
"Oh yeah?" Duncan wanted to smile at the receiver, in lieu of smiling at Joe himself. The mortal really did care about him, he knew that. Instead he found himself snapping at his friend. "How?"
"I may have some information for you." A pause. "Mac... We've got trouble. I need to talk to you."
"Yeah, sure." MacLeod felt a headache coming on. Of all the things that he really didn't need right now, a long talk from well-meaning friends was top of the list. He tried to think of an excuse; any reason why he had to stay here alone and mope. The simple truth was that there were no such reasons. He sighed.
"You really think it's that bad?"
There was a pause. "Yeah. You'd better get over to the bar, Mac."
"What's wrong?" The tone in Joe's voice was like an alarm bell to the Highlander. Joe was the steadiest guy he knew; nothing broke through that veneer of calm and order; but this morning, something had.
"Just get over here." There was the sound of a receiver being hung up, and Mac replaced his own. He stared at it for several moments, then pulled on his coat and hid the sword in its folds. Silence greeted him outside his door; the other local residents were all still fast asleep, and were likely to remain that way for another couple of hours at least. He took advantage of the relative peace to put his foot down, going fast through the streets to the club. He didn't notice the yellow cab following him all the way. He didn't even notice when it skipped a red light in order to stay with him, all the way to the door with the big sign that lit up Joe's name every night after dark.
The club was shuttered, the way that it always was for the first part of the morning. Duncan rapped impatiently on the door, surprised to see Methos open it. The old Immortal glanced up and down the street after letting MacLeod enter, then he pulled the door quickly shut and bolted it again.
"What's going on?" Duncan asked him. Methos gave no answer, but instead led the way over to the bar. Joe stood behind it, toying with a glass, giving it an unnatural shine with an overly starched cloth. He glanced up at the approach of the two Immortals.
"Were you followed? he asked Duncan. The Highlander frowned at him.
"I don't know. I didn't look."
Joe looked unhappy, but gave a philosophical shrug. "Ah well. The club's hardly difficult to find anyway."
"What's going on, Joe?" MacLeod sat down on one of the bar stools, trying to ignore the hammering sensation in his head that suggested he would be better off curled up on a couch with a good book. "What is all this about big trouble? You made it sound as though the sky was falling down."
"A Watcher, name of Martin Cheng. He was murdered today." Joe lowered his eyes. "Young guy, only been in the job a little while." He held up a hand to forestall the comments. "Yeah, I know; people get murdered every day. But this is different. This guy was his Watcher." He nodded at Methos.
"You sent a rookie after Methos?" Duncan saw the logic even as he questioned it. As a long serving member of the Watchers himself, the old man knew them all. Only a new guy on the job would be able to pass unnoticed. It was a risk that was unavoidable.
"There was a note on his body." Methos pulled something out of his shirt pocket, throwing it onto the bar. It was typed, the letters in a plain, squared font, grey-black against the off-white of the paper.
I trust you all slept well last night? Nightmares are a sign of a guilt-ridden soul, you know that MacLeod; but of course I never suffer from them, so I wouldn't know. Incidentally, did you like the photograph? She was a very photogenic woman. Shame that it ended the way it did.
This time you get a warning. You won't know when I'm coming, and by the time I've finished with you, you won't care. Just know that this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Everything else will make the nightmares look like fun.
"Photograph?" MacLeod's hand as it gripped the paper seemed suddenly to shake. He lowered it slowly to the bar, releasing the crumpled note, frowning until he felt his forehead start to object. "Whoever sent this note is the one who planted the photograph?"
"Sure looks that way." Joe didn't seem to know where to look. "Methos told me everything, about your nightmares and the picture, and--" He shrugged. "This guy seems to know exactly where to hit you. He knew that you weren't sleeping, and he knew how to get at you with that picture. We need to know who he is."
"Frank Horton," Methos said promptly. Joe shook his head.
"Not his style. He wouldn't play it so anonymously."
"Has to be a mortal." MacLeod, staring at the floor, did not look up to offer his own input. "I'd have noticed an Immortal. I hadn't been out of my place all day between going up to the roof and seeing nothing, and going up there and finding that photograph. If an Immortal had put it there, I'd have known all about it."
"Anybody can hire someone to plant a photograph," Methos pointed out. He fetched himself a beer, opening it slowly and staring into the top of the can. "It's not so much who planted the picture that bothers me. It's who the guy in it is."
"Whoever planted it certainly knew how to get to you both. When you think about it, it couldn't have had a better effect on either of you. Tessa and Kronos - has either of you ever cared for anybody more?"
Duncan made a face. Even Methos' repeated assertions that the man in the photograph couldn't possibly have been Kronos did not make him feel any easier about it. Perhaps it was his recent nightmares, inhabited so heavily by the dead Horseman; or maybe it was just the emotions that the Immortal had stirred up in him - particularly the way he had so neatly driven a rift between Duncan and Methos - but the mention of the man's name itself seemed enough right now to send shivers up the Highlander's spine. He had heard such things recently, seen and felt such things... things that suggested Kronos was far from dead in the usual sense of the word. Things that suggested that he might be on his way back. How else could the nightmares be explained, and the feelings of Immortal presence when nobody was there? How else could he explain the times when he found himself laughing, and knew that the laugh was not his own? He didn't want to think about the other option - the possibility that he was going mad. That left only one other explanation.
"Let me see that note again." He reached out for it, turning it over in his hands, checking the ink and the paper and the style of the print from the typewriter. There were no clues. He stared at the words until they ran into each other, mingling on the page into a swirl of black and grey and white.
"How was Cheng murdered?" he asked eventually, not looking up from the note. Methos did not answer at first, and Duncan glanced up at him, his sharp eyes pinning the other man down. "Methos?" He made the single word into an order.
"Knife in the back, just below the fourth vertebrae. There was a second stab wound in the left side of the chest. It probably punctured a lung, but he was very likely dead by then anyway."
"Anything else?" A hesitation indicated that there very likely was something else. Methos nodded slowly.
"His Watcher tattoo was cut out. After death, but it still made a hell of a mess." He took a long, slow drink of beer. "Last time somebody started killing Watchers in nasty ways it was Frank Horton."
"I don't believe it is this time." Joe sounded morose, which was hardly surprising to Duncan's mind. The mortal seemed to take everything personally when it involved the Watchers. "Besides, what does Frank Horton know about Kronos or Tessa? He's not a Watcher, and he never was. Okay, so his brother knew stuff, but that doesn't mean he does. He doesn't know enough about Mac for this to be his work."
"Fair point." MacLeod scrumpled the note into a ball and tossed it onto the bar. "I'll see you later."
"Where are you going?" Joe looked up in alarm, but MacLeod did not meet his stare.
"I'm going to ask around. Make some inquiries. I have a lot of contacts, and a lot of them owe me a favour. Somebody's got to know something."
"Then I'm coming with you." Duncan glared at Methos even as he was saying the words, but the old Immortal, unperturbed, followed him to the door. "You could use my help."
"How?" MacLeod's voice dripped with sarcasm, although most of it was in good humour. Methos raised an eyebrow.
"To hear you talk, anybody would think that I'm not useful."
MacLeod grinned, his first proper smile all morning, and clapped the older man on the shoulder. "Oh you have your uses alright," he said with surprising good cheer. "Just don't ask me to tell you what they are."
"Huh." Methos opened the door and went outside, deliberately letting the door swing shut in Duncan's face. The Highlander groaned, uncertain whether to smile or just to go somewhere and hide. He heard Joe laughing to himself behind the bar and pulled the door open with a sigh. Murderers and unknown intruders aside, it was clearly going to be one of those days.
Peter Kerensky opened his eyes and looked around. He was in a small room, sitting on a dusty stone floor surrounded by walls of chipped brick. A pile of old and worm-eaten lumber was stacked in one corner of the room, and a small rat squatted beside it, blinking at him with bright, interested eyes. There was a collection of empty paint tins near the lumber, and a couple of brushes and rollers which clearly hadn't been cleaned in a long time. They were stiff with long-dried paint and coated in dust and cobwebs.
"Welcome to the Ritz." His voice sounded loud in the silence, and the rat dived for cover amongst the stacked wood. Other wildlife moved about too, but when he tried to turn his head to see what was there, he found himself unable to move. He was tied to a pillar, and once he became aware of that, he became aware of other things too. His wrists hurt, and his shoulders were stiff. His upper arms were uncomfortable in the grip of ropes tied too tightly around inadequately protected skin. He wished he had put on a long-sleeved shirt that morning instead of the T-shirt he found himself wearing now; but then, in all honesty, the possibility of being tied up with tight and scratchy rope wasn't usually one of the things uppermost in his mind when he got dressed. Not most mornings anyway.
"Hello?" He did not shout at first. Perhaps he was afraid of the possible consequences. Perhaps he wasn't sure that he really wanted an answer. When there was none, he tried again, shouting loud enough to make his throat sore. He tugged at the ropes, feeling the unyielding concrete pillar behind him jar against his shoulder blades, and began to wish that he was still unconscious. At least then, and in the first, blurry moments after waking, he had not been aware of the discomfort. Now he was aware of little else.
"What's all the racket?" He hadn't been aware of the approach of another person, but now that he heard a voice he turned his head. A small shutter had opened in the upper half of the door off to his right; a large, wooden door that looked discouragingly solid and equally discouragingly locked. There was a face peering through the shutter, eyes hidden by shadow, jaw covered by the growth of a bristly black beard that was vaguely reminiscent of a fur trapper or a gold miner, just emerged into civilisation for the first time in months. Despite his situation, Peter felt a strange urge to grin.
"Who are you?" His neck was starting to protest at the twisting necessary to allow him to see the door, but he persisted nonetheless. "Why am I here?"
"Beats me." The man was grinning through the untamed beard. "I'm just paid to keep you here, not to ask dumb questions." He started to close the shutter, then paused, opening it again. "And keep quiet," he added as a clear afterthought. "Or I'll keep you quiet." The shutter slammed back into its housing.
"Hey!" Peter renewed his struggling. He thought that he felt the ropes beginning to give way, but his wrists were promising to give way first. He leant back against the pillar, trying to catch his breath. It was cold in the room, and there was an air of damp. Visions of dying a prolonged death from pneumonia or something equally nasty sprang up into his mind. He shut them out; that wasn't going to help him. Thinking of Anna back home, still waiting for him to bring her some breakfast, he rested his head against the cold, hard stone of the pillar and closed his eyes. He had to think about this. Who would want to kidnap him and bring him to this forbidding place? He was just a struggling artist still looking for the big time - he didn't owe anybody any money, he didn't know anybody on the wrong side of the law - not in America anyway. It just didn't make any sense. Eventually he abandoned his attempts to figure it all out, and instead turned his mind to thoughts of escape. It shouldn't be that hard to get away. Determined to carry on believing that, he emptied his mind and started to work on the ropes. Given time, he was certain that he could find a way out.
"Where are we going?" Sounding unfairly bright and annoyingly cheerful, Methos vaulted over the door of the car, landing in the passenger seat. Duncan glared at him. Although getting into the car that way was something that he himself did often, he hated it when others did the same. The gleaming black T-Bird was his pride and joy; and a memory of happier days, with Tessa and Richie.
"To ask around. Check out some old contacts." MacLeod started up the engine, staring grimly ahead. Methos folded his arms, leaning back into his seat as though considering resting his feet on the dashboard.
"We should have stayed in Europe," he said, as much to himself as anything. "Me, you, French cooking, all the wine of the vineyards..."
"I'll take you to the airport if you like." MacLeod did not turn his eyes from the road ahead, and his grim expression did not relax. Methos scowled at him.
"That's not what I mean, and you know it. What I meant was, if we hadn't given up on looking for those rings so damn soon, maybe none of this would have happened. Whoever is trying to get under our skin wouldn't have known where to find us--"
"You don't know that," MacLeod interrupted, finally glancing over at his companion. Methos held his gaze until the other man looked away - a dangerous game to play when one of them was driving.
"Whatever." He shrugged dismissively. "Cheng would probably still be alive. I liked him."
"He was your Watcher," MacLeod told him. "You weren't even supposed to know him."
Methos shrugged. "Can I help it if I know everything? He had a girlfriend, you know. Beautiful girl, about twenty-two. She just arrived from Hong Kong when the changeover happened, and she still doesn't speak a word of English. I think it's rather sweet. English is such a boring language."
"Sorry to disappoint you." MacLeod smiled to himself. "We'll all learn Sumerian if you'd prefer."
"No, not really. I never liked Sumerian either. Too stilted." The old Immortal folded his hands behind his head, looking as comfortable in the car seat as he would very likely have been on a sun lounger. "I always preferred Aramaic. It was much more descriptive." He scowled at the blissfully unsympathetic MacLeod. "Why it was an English accent I got stuck with I'll never know."
"What's an Aramaic accent sound like?" Grinning at his companion, MacLeod couldn't help laughing. "We're here. You'd better stay in the car."
"Why?" Confrontational sparks flying from a pair of indignant green eyes, Methos climbed immediately from the vehicle. MacLeod sighed.
"This is a rough neighbourhood, old man. You don't exactly fit in."
"And you do?" If it was a rough neighbourhood, reasoned the old man, then he with his faded jeans, Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, and trainers that needed replacing, should fit in much better than his companion, dressed with a case of terminal style in black trousers, matching shirt and long, expensive overcoat. The coat was unnecessary given the weather, but it completed MacLeod's image of the rich man dressed to kill. It hid his sword well too, which was a helpful bonus.
"Metho--" MacLeod broke off, remembering the crowded area. Admittedly there were no Immortals around, which made it unlikely that the name would mean anything to anybody, but it was still not a good idea to use it quite so publicly. "Adam. Just stay here."
"No." Arms folded like a mutinous child, Methos scowled. He was good at scowling, reflected MacLeod. The expressive features before him showed that his companion was adamant.
"Fine. Come on." He pushed open the door of the nearest building; a heavy wooden door covered in chipped blue paint, which swung much like a saloon door and creaked noisily. Immediately the sounds of a heavy beat burst out into the street. Dance music, with an unimaginative, trance-like rhythm. Methos winced.
"That band can't have won an audition to play here."
"You complaining about the music?" An ugly face that showed signs of heavy fighting - some recent - loomed out of nowhere, glaring into the old man's eyes with the suggestion of an invitation to new violence. Methos smiled his best and most polite smile.
"Certainly not." His would-be attacker faded away into the background, seemingly satisfied, and Methos watched him go. "I'm just complaining about the noise." He had spoken the words too quietly for the big man to hear, but all the same MacLeod caught him by the arm and pulled him away, through the crowd of gyrating bodies and towards a relatively clear space near some tables. Clouds of marijuana smoke rose into the air, mingling with the smell of beer and whisky and the stronger scent of people moving too much in a tight, hot space. A collection of people at the tables looked up at their approach, and MacLeod nodded a greeting.
"Thomas." He shook hands with one of the people; a very tall, very well-built man of about forty, dressed in a bright purple suit with a flower in the buttonhole. It was an orchid, and was of a shade nearly as lurid as the suit.
"MacLeod. Good to see you." A pair of suspicious eyes, extra bright through the use of large amounts of illegal substances, flickered towards Methos. "And I see you've brought company. A new assistant?"
"Something like that." MacLeod gestured to his companion. "This is Adam Pierson. Adam, this is my old friend Thomas Henning." He emphasised the word 'friend', as though in reality their relationship was something very different. Methos noticed the emphasis, and so, apparently, did Thomas. He laughed uproariously, then reached over to shake Methos' hand. His hands were hot and slightly sticky, and there was a strong smell of scent when he moved them; expensive, heavy scent, worn far too thickly.
"Interesting tattoo, Adam," he commented. Methos glanced instinctively at his wrist, where the small but distinctive blue badge of the Watchers was on full view. He smiled.
"I like it," he said guardedly. He was beginning to think that MacLeod was right, and that he should have remained outside. Thomas' eyebrows went up by what looked to be a full inch.
"You're English," he said, almost more as an accusation than an observation. "What are you doing over here?"
"Living," Methos told him, his tone even more guarded than before. He resisted the urge to say 'Standing in a bar wasting time on small talk with you.' Thomas shrugged.
"Never mind. So." He leaned back into his chair once again, waving away the waitress hovering by his shoulder. "What can I do for you MacLeod?"
"I need some help with something." The Highlander sat down, uninvited, in the chair opposite Thomas. "There's a guy in town. A troublemaker."
"Tell me something I don't know. I could probably give you ten thousand names without thinking." Thomas smirked. "A special troublemaker, yes? Somebody who might have it in for an antiques dealer who spends half of his time living on a boat in Paris."
"Something like that." MacLeod frowned at him, suspicious. "You wouldn't know a man named Horton, by any chance? Frank Horton?"
Thomas clicked his tongue in thought. "Knew a James Horton," he said eventually. "Heard of a Frank, never met him. He lives in Belgium just now from what I heard. Had some problems with the French authorities over illegal arms." His eyes narrowed. "If you've got trouble, MacLeod, it's not Horton causing it. He's all caught up in some big deal with the Russian organised crime circuit. He's got his hands full right now." There was an insolent, mocking grin. "Of course, I should hate to be in your shoes if he is your enemy, and he comes back here one day with the Russian Mafia to back him up."
"How about this man?" Methos reached into the outer pocket of MacLeod's coat without looking for his permission, withdrawing the framed photograph of Tessa and her mystery suitor. In the dim light of the club, with its thick smoke and strobe lights, it was easy to ignore the evidence that told Methos the man could not be Kronos. It was easy to con his eyes into thinking that they saw the scar. The face of his oldest, closest friend in all the world stared back at him. Some echo of his brother's voice flashed through his mind and he found himself smiling. He tore his eyes away and handed the picture over to Thomas.
"Nice girl," he said appreciatively.
"We know who the girl is." MacLeod's voice sounded thick. "We want to know about the man."
"How much is it worth?" Thomas was grinning at him, his eyes shining with greed and the hint of a sneer.
"That depends on how much you can tell us." MacLeod took the picture back. He hated to see the way in which Thomas was staring at Tessa. "Who is he?"
"Looks like a guy I met in New Jersey about five years ago. He called himself Kradic. Roger Kradic." A vague, uncaring shrug. "Got the impression it wasn't really his name though. He was British, or his accent was anyway. Looked like he could have been from anywhere. He was an odd guy. Was working with some kid from the Bronx; about eighteen years-old, tops. The kid got shot when a cop working for the underground tried to frame him for some drugs offence, and Kradic blew sky-high. He went after the cop and took him apart. Used a sword. It was like something out of an old movie. The cop still looked scared witless, and that was when he was in the morgue three days later, with his head in a box all on its own."
"Roger Kradic?" Methos liked the sound of the name. It had a familiar tone to it; an echo of the lands he and Kronos had once conquered together. He had no doubt that it was Kronos that Thomas had met.
"That isn't him." MacLeod tapped the photograph, pointing to the unmarked right eye. "No scar."
"Well that's not my fault." Thomas smiled up at him. "I gave you the information, MacLeod. Pay up."
"You didn't give us the information we wanted." Methos sounded indignant, which surprised him. He had been dealing with people like Thomas Henning since the days that he could no longer properly recall, and he knew all of their tricks. Thomas smiled up at him.
"I gave you information," he said, very precisely. "If you don't like my terms..." He waved one hand, and several large, unpleasant looking men loomed out of the background, their bulky presence a clear, if unspoken, threat.
"Don't worry, Thomas. I know the way the deal works." MacLeod took five hundred dollars from his coat and threw it onto the table between them. "I'll see you around."
"My prices have gone up, MacLeod." Thomas was staring at the money without making a move to take it. "I call it my Irritating Sidekick Clause." His eyes flicked towards Methos. "Double the money, if you want to see your friend make it out of here too." There was no trace of the former smile on his face, although his companions were grinning like madmen.
"You've got your money, Thomas. You're not getting any more." MacLeod glanced around, rising to his feet. He was a tall man, but even so the newer, bigger arrivals made him look small. He was not fooled. For all their height, their weight was more through overeating than through muscle, and they had the look of lumbering elephants rather than fighters with any kind of speed. He had no doubt that he could outmanoeuvre them, if he were only given the chance.
"You're not leaving here without paying up." Thomas had drawn a gun, which rested on the polished wood of the table top, its small, gleaming barrel flashing in the glare of the strobes. "Another thousand, as extra for the way I've put myself out."
"You think we should give them what they want?" MacLeod asked Methos, who was beginning to look as though he wanted to do his famous vanishing act. The other Immortal tried not to look at the looming figures rapidly hemming him in.
"I think we should leave," he said rather pointedly, wishing that immortality came with a spare set of eyes in the back of the head.
"Oh, please stay." The mock invitation came from somewhere to his right, and he saw the flicker of a shadow in the corner of his eye. He ducked. A heavy fist swung past his shoulder, slamming with full, impressive force into the jaw bone of one of the other heavies. The man let out a yell of rage, turning about with speed, grabbing Methos by the shirt sleeve. The old Immortal saw a fist flash by him, threw his weight to his right, and crashed into the table at which Thomas still sat. The gun fell to the floor, vanishing amongst the feet of the oblivious, tranced-out dancers.
"You little--" Hands seized Methos, dragging him to his feet, heaving him back into the growing melee behind him. He caught a quick glimpse of MacLeod, falling back into a crowd of some five men, then his world was a tangle of arms and legs that hampered his vision. He twisted and rolled aside, more than adept enough to avoid the clumsy fists of his would-be tormentors. MacLeod was no longer in sight, the framed photograph which now lay on the floor all the evidence that remained of his former presence. Methos dived for it, grabbing it just as a hand caught him by the back of the neck. He was yanked to his feet, spun about to come face to face with a true giant of a man who possessed all the bulk of a particularly large Sumo wrestler; although clearly none of the skill. Methos aimed a kick at his leg, dodged aside, and ran straight into the ample chest of the first man's virtual twin. The hands of both men caught at his shoulders, holding him immobile.
"Duck!" MacLeod's voice, loud even above the incessant, pounding beat of the endless dance track, warned Methos to move, although there was no way for him to do so. He saw his friend's dark form flying through the air, carried by his own, graceful momentum. He crashed into the first of the Sumo twins, sending them, himself and Methos crashing into a wild, untidy heap. The oldest Immortal was free in seconds, his lithe frame slipping easily from the crush and once more finding clear air outside of the tangle. Three more men were running straight towards him, heads down, looking for all the world like enraged rhinoceroses up for a chase.
"Heads up!" A bright, cheery voice made him spin, expecting attack from some new and unexpected quarter - only to find a newcomer standing before him. The stranger wore tattered denims and biker boots, a heavy gold chain hanging around his neck. He was built like a backwoodsman, with an unkempt, bristling beard to match. A heavy cigar that looked far too expensive for his means was clamped firmly between his jaws, and a magnum of champagne was clenched so firmly in his right hand that the knuckles had paled to white. "Out the way, boy."
"Huh?" Surprised, Methos did not move quickly enough, and the big man nudged him aside with a large and grubby fist. The three rampaging rhinos changed course, but the big man, his expression one of pure glee, slammed his magnum down onto the skull of the lead man, swinging it about in a follow-up blow to the chin of the next man in line. Both dropped soundlessly to the floor, and the new, bearded ally let out a whoop of delight, waving his unscathed bottle in the air. Methos swung around, grabbing the nearest chair and swinging it at the third and final attacker. It caught him in the midriff, causing him to grunt in pain. A snatch of odoriferous air burst from his mouth, and Methos winced. Clearly breath mints didn't feature highly on this guy's shopping list. He swung the chair again for the final blow, aiming for the bigger man's head, only to watch as his opponent swatted the weapon aside as though it were a mosquito. He tore it from the Immortal's hands, smashing it over his own head so that it broke apart into matchwood. Methos winced.
"Ow." The bearded newcomer behind him put a firm hand on his chest, pushing him back and out of the way, then as an afterthought handed him the magnum of champagne. He stepped forward, sizing the big fellow up through bright and excited eyes, then polished the knuckles of his right hand on his dirty denim shirt. "Night night." He lashed out with the fist, catching the other man on the point of the jaw and letting out a surprised yelp as the bones in his hand cracked from the force. The big man blinked, looked down at his attacker, blinked again, then collapsed in a heap to the ground.
"Adam!" MacLeod surfaced from the growing tangle of bodies to the left. "Adam, I--" He came to an abrupt halt, surprised to find his companion looking unscathed. The big, bearded man was nursing his hand, but still turned enthusiastically towards this new arrival. Methos leapt to intervene.
"He's on my side," he said quickly. The big man looked disappointed, then reached out for his champagne.
"Thanks," he said, his voice deep. "I haven't had that much fun since I came out of the slammer." He toyed with the cork in the bottle. "Fancy a toast?"
"I really think we ought to be leaving." Methos glanced nervously towards the gang of men now heading towards them. Through the flashing of the strobe lights he caught the glimpse of gleaming metal, and wished that his sword was in his hands, rather than hidden under the seat in Duncan's car.
"You could be right." The big man tucked his bottle under one arm, then ushered his two new friends towards the door, out once again into the clear air and steady sunshine. Methos' eyes screamed relief, and his ears blessed him for their deliverance. He took a deep breath.
"Thanks," he told their rescuer, with real feeling. The man laughed.
"I only did it for a bit of fun." His eyes ran appreciatively over the bodywork of the T-Bird. "She yours?"
"Yes." MacLeod's tone betrayed a pride that was almost paternal, mingled with a distinct warning not to touch. He opened the driver's door. "Can we drop you somewhere?"
"Nope." The big man shrugged happily. "Think I'll wait a bit and then go back in."
"That mightn't be such a good idea," MacLeod warned him, thinking about the size of some of Thomas Henning's men. He wasn't altogether sure why the chase had been called off at the door of the club, and he certainly wasn't going to tempt fate by considering going back inside. The man with the beard shrugged.
"I can handle that lot," he said with contempt. "And 'sides, I got paid today. Me and my partner hit the big time, and we hardly had to do a thing. I wanna go spend it somewhere." He gave Methos a friendly punch on the arm that nearly sent the old man flying into the path of an oncoming truck. "You sure you don't want to come back inside?"
"Quite sure." Bending down to retrieve the photograph, which had just been dropped onto the floor for the second time that morning, Methos brushed the road dust from the glass and handed it back to MacLeod. "My head is quite comfortable where it is, thankyou." The other man chortled to himself at that.
"Your choice, boy." He frowned, as though intrigued by something. "Say, you're the second British guy I've run into today." A thought came to him. "You guys trying to take the colonies back?" He laughed so loudly at this joke that he almost lost hold of his bottle of champagne. Methos smiled rather weakly.
"Yeah sure," he said, keeping the sarcasm from his voice. The big man's giggles began again, suggesting that his day's drinking had begun long before going to the club to buy the magnum.
"Thought you must have been together," he said happily, nodding at the photograph in MacLeod's hands. "Since you've got a picture of him, and all." He grabbed Methos' hand and shook it violently. "See you around."
"Wait!" MacLeod, almost frozen with shock at the man's words, nearly failed to respond in time. "You're saying you've just met this guy - from the picture - today?"
"Yep." The man was frowning. "You guys ain't cops, are you?" he asked, suspicion mingling with the good cheer in his eyes. Methos shook his head.
"Far from it. But we are looking for the man in the photo. Do you know who he is?"
"Nope." The man grinned proudly, showing rows of teeth as ill-kept as his beard. "But I sure know where he is."
"Right now?" MacLeod asked, almost in disbelief. The man nodded, clearly amused.
"Right now. He sure ain't going anyplace real soon." He tapped himself on the chest with his bottle. "Me and my mate Henry, we nabbed him first thing. That's how come we got paid so much money. If you want to talk to him you'll have to speak to the guy we grabbed him for."
"Where are they?" Suddenly businesslike, MacLeod's voice snapped out sharply. The big man frowned, suspicions once again showing in his eyes.
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because it's very important." Ignoring MacLeod, Methos managed to make the big man focus on him alone. "Listen, he's a friend of ours, and we have to speak to him. It's nothing that's going to get you and Henry in any trouble, I promise. But you must tell us where he is."
"Warehouse K19 on dock eight." The man frowned. "You won't tell anybody I told you. Will you?"
"Of course not." Methos gave him a reassuring grin. "Thanks. I really appreciate this." He frowned as though in afterthought. "Just as a matter of interest, who is this man you're working for?"
"Dunno. Ain't seen him." Falling back into his staccato speech pattern, as though suddenly aware of having broken some form of trust, the big man turned away. "I'm going. Bye." The club doors swung open, then closed again behind him. Almost as an afterthought they opened again, as a man spun head over heels into the street. He picked himself up, brushed himself down, then stormed determinedly back into the club once again. A howl of laughter greeted his re-admittance.
"Come on." MacLeod climbed into his car, starting up the engine even before Methos was inside. He pulled the vehicle out into the stream of traffic, casting his companion a gruff look as he did so. "And next time I tell you to stay outside, stay outside."
"Me? What did I do?" The indignation was almost comical. "We got what we came for didn't we?"
"I'm never going to be able to go back there. Thomas Henning used to be one of my best sources of information. If I so much as go near that club again, I'll get my head kicked in."
"I didn't do anything." Methos sounded mutinous. MacLeod glared at him.
"Oh no. Nothing except insulting their music--"
"That wasn't music," the old Immortal interrupted, the mutinous look in his eyes heading fast towards a sulk instead. MacLeod glared even more powerfully than before.
"You spoke back to him, and you asked him a question. He was dealing with me. You never, never ask him a question when it's somebody else he's doing business with. It's an unwritten law."
"I didn't know."
"You should have stayed outside."
"You should have told me."
"Do you want to walk back?"
"Shut up and drive, MacLeod." Methos folded his arms, scowling at the streets going by. MacLeod sighed. He hadn't slept properly in more than a month. He really didn't need this kind of hassle.
"At least we're going to the docks," he said darkly. Methos frowned.
"So I can drown you." The Highlander smiled at him, happy with this idea. "Five thousand year-old bubbles, rising up out of the water..."
"One of these days, MacLeod--"
"One of these days I'll take your head, Sassenach."
"Sassenach?" Insulted, Methos turned in his seat to stare at the Highlander. "I'd fought battles for the Highlanders centuries before you were even born, you - you--"
"You really do want to walk, don't you."
"No." Methos turned back to face front, arms folded again, expression hot and sulky. MacLeod smiled, feeling his mood lighten. He was feeling better all the time.
Henry Carr, a tall, spindly individual possessed of the sort of sideburns which had gone out of fashion two decades previously, was seated in relative comfort in the small office adjoining Warehouse K19 on Dock Eight. Carr was a man in his late fifties, although his physique suggested that he was some way younger. He had been sleeping, dreaming happily of the envelope stuffed thickly with cash which had been sent to the warehouse earlier that day by his mysterious, so far unseen employer. There were many possibilities in that envelope; holidays, cars, horse races, drinks - all manner of likely forms of entertainment, all of a kind certain to ensure that his sleep was deep and happy, and his dreams free from any sense of remorse that he might otherwise have been feeling. He had never been involved in a kidnap before, and it was not something that he was planning to go into full time. The young man currently tied to the pillar in the back room of the warehouse had not done anything wrong so far as Henry could tell. He had had a friendly smile, even when Henry had been pointing the dart gun at him. Rather than angry or scared or even desperate, when he had been collapsing into a state of unconsciousness on the car park tarmac he had looked hurt; vaguely upset that anybody would want to do such a thing. Now he was being very quiet.
Carr sighed. He didn't know what exactly had awakened him, but he knew that he was not going to be going back to sleep again in a hurry. He pondered over whether he should go to check on the prisoner, and was just in the process of getting up when he heard a loud knock at the door; three heavy blows, confident and insistent.
"Who's there?" Despite his lagging sleepiness, Carr was in his feet in an instant, his trusty tranquilliser gun in his hand. He had once been a good shot with a normal handgun, but the days had long past since he had been comfortable with that sort of weapon in his hands. He checked the load and chewed the end of his unlit cigarette with a nervous, frantic movement.
"Henry? Let us in, we need to speak with you." The voice beyond the door was unfamiliar; American he thought, although there might have been something else in the accent too. It was hard to place exactly.
"Who's there?" he asked again, absently polishing the gun on his shirt tail.
"My name is Duncan MacLeod." There were another three, heavy blows on the door; a fist tightly clenched, frustrated and threatening the loss of patience. Henry breathed in deeply through his teeth.
"I'll open the door, but you keep your distance." He tugged the bolt back, easing himself to one side so that he would have a clear shot. A creak from the hinges made him jump, before he was able to calm himself and bring his attention back to the door. It opened slowly, revealing two figures standing just outside. The first was a tall, expensively dressed man in his mid to late thirties, sporting a ponytail tied with what looked like a silver clasp. Carr caught a glimpse of it as the tall man turned his head, and his fingers itched. He had been a pick pocket in his youth; perhaps now was the time to familiarise himself once again with those old skills. The clasp looked like it could be worth a fair bit.
"We need to talk to your prisoner." The second man was British, Carr realised, and he pushed past with a purposeful look on his face, eyeing the office with a proprietary air. He was smaller than his American companion, and not as well dressed, but there was something about him which suggested that his appearance might belie some deeper truth.
"Now hang on!" Carr was waving his dart gun between the two of them, still hoping that they would not give him reason to fire. He had only one shot before needing to reload, and was rather suspicious of what the remaining man might do with his companion down. The British man flashed him a wallet, not giving him long enough to see what was written inside.
"Carter, Flying Squad," he said, his voice possessed of an air of self-assurance. "Congratulations, sir, we've been after that man for months. You'll be well rewarded for this."
"I will?" Henry frowned, wondering about the ID he had just seen. It hadn't looked like a police identity card somehow, although admittedly he had no idea what British policemen used as ID. He had never even heard of the Flying Squad. "Er... I don't know if I can just hand him over to you. My boss..."
"Your boss is working with us. He's a big league informer for the Customs and Excise Department." The British man in the Jimi Hendrix T-shirt - did policemen wear Jimi Hendriz T-shirts? wondered Henry - glanced back at his long-haired companion as though only just remembering him. "Oh. This is Angus Chump, Seacouver PD. He's been helping me with my investigation."
"Hi." Henry waggled his fingers nervously at Duncan, then let his gun drop to his side. Pointing side arms - even sleep-inducing ones - at policemen was not a terribly good idea, particularly for a man with thirty-six outstanding warrants waiting for him. Admittedly they all seemed to involve minor traffic offences, but he still liked to consider himself a master criminal. Duncan gave him a rather forced smile in reply.
"Where's the prisoner?" he asked, as though he had been having a bad day, and was anxious to be sure it didn't get any worse. Henry hesitated no longer.
"He's in the back," he squeaked nervously, wondering if these people really were who they said they were, whether he could afford to risk it if they were, and what his unknown boss would do if they weren't - or possibly also if they were. He hadn't got the impression that the soft-voiced man was anything to do with one of the law enforcement agencies. "I'll take you to him."
"Thanks." Duncan stood aside, gesturing for him to take the lead, and Henry, somewhat unwillingly, stepped ahead. The corridor had seemed all too long when he had been making his frequent trips to check up on the prisoner, when he would much rather have been sleeping instead. Now it seemed horribly short. Not long enough to think up any excuses, or to try and work out a plan for what he should do if these two strangers announced that they were taking the captive with them. He fumbled for his keys, willing them to be lost, nearly groaning when he found them straight away. They fitted easily into the lock, turning without protest, which was more than could be said for his stomach. The door eased open.
The room was empty.
"Where is he?" Duncan pushed Henry aside, walking quickly into the room. There was no sign of the promised prisoner; merely a collection of pieces of frayed rope draped around a single, central pillar. A window, high up and small, stood open. A cool breeze was blowing through it, and the window frame creaked with each gust.
"He's gone." Henry looked broken, his panicked eyes fixed to the door. He could not see any way that a man could have climbed up the wall and through that gap; but then his prisoner had not been a particularly large man. Neither had he been particularly tall. What had he done? screamed Henry's mind. Flown out?
"Wait here." Duncan's voice sounded gruff, impatient. A heavy hand knocked into the erstwhile guard's back and he stumbled further into the little room. The door crashed shut, and he heard it lock, realising with an uncomfortable jolt that he had left the keys in the lock. He groaned, listening to the fast, pounding footsteps of the two strangers as they ran back down the corridor. Slowly he sank to the ground and let his head rest in his hands.
"Where's he going?" Methos asked, as they ran together back through the warehouse, heading for the outside door. Duncan tore the door open, almost getting stuck with his companion in the frame, as they both tried to be the first through.
"How the hell should I know?" The familiar note of a car engine turning over greeted them, and MacLeod's eyes widened. "My car!"
"This way." Spotting a likely shortcut, Methos spurred himself on, leaping a pile of wooden crates and boxes with a display of acrobatic skill that surprised even him. He skidded to a halt barely a stone's throw from the T-Bird, only to see a slightly dishevelled man rev the engine one last time and begin to turn the car around. Duncan, still standing at the top of the pile of boxes, let out a groan of resignation and threw himself forward. He hit the front of the car dead centre, clinging to the windscreen as the vehicle spun in a crazy circle, back wheels screeching in protest at the out of control skidding of the tyres. The Highlander caught a glimpse of surprised, blue eyes staring at him through the glass as he dragged himself up. The face of his nightmares was watching him, mouth agape, as he struggled for a foothold, for another handhold - for anything at all that would keep him from falling. He heard the squeal of brakes, then the car jerked to a halt. He rolled off, hitting the ground with the ease of long practice, coming smoothly to his feet.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" The fugitive was standing up, staring at him over the windshield. "You could have been killed!"
"You're in my car." Duncan was already drawing his sword, clearing the distance between himself and his vehicle in the blink of an eye. The pale blue eyes widened in shock at the sight of the weapon, and the young man fell back into the driving seat, fumbling with the car to get it started again. The engine caught; and just as he was considering making a run for it instead, he felt the cold metal blade of the sword against his neck. He froze.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice as loud as he dared speak with the sword there, threatening to slice through his throat if it moved too much. The pony-tailed nightmare before him smiled a cold, intense smile before he replied.
"Question is, my friend, who the hell are you?"
As far as Kerensky could tell, the situation had not much improved. He had been sitting in a damp stone room, tied to a pillar, awaiting an unknown fate - and then had escaped, only to wind up as he was now, tied to a bench seat before a table in what looked to be some sort of club. His hands were once again tied behind his back, even more tightly than before, which he took to be a warning not to try his escape techniques here. His feet were tied as well this time, which was further cause for dismay. He felt rather like a chicken, trussed and awaiting the pot.
There were three men looking at him; all clearly insane at least as far as he could see. The first was the tall, pony-tailed American with the odd accent, who had asked him who the hell he was. That was sort of understandable since the car he had been attempting to steal had turned out to belong to Pony-Tail himself. Peter could understand him being a trifle miffed about that. What he couldn't quite understand was why this same guy kept asking him about a bloke called Kronos, who might or might not have been dead; certainly he had been, but he didn't seem to be anymore. Peter was a bit confused about that bit. He suspected that Pony-Tail was too.
Secondly, there was another man; a grey-bearded gent who appeared to rather nimble on a pair of false legs. He walked with a stick, although Peter got the impression that he was not a man to underestimate. He wanted to like this man. He had smiled at him at first, and been rather encouraged by the response; but always there was Pony-Tail getting in the way, asking his bizarre questions and talking about swords and immortal people who were dead. That bit was very confusing. If they were immortal, surely they couldn't be dead? There was something about nightmares as well, which might have been where the immortal dead guys who weren't dead anymore came in... Peter wasn't entirely sure about that, but the grey-bearded guy with the stick was looking lost as well which made him feel better about losing the plot himself. He couldn't understand why this weird guy with the long hair seemed to consider it anybody's fault but his own that he had been getting weird nightmares recently. He certainly didn't see why they all considered it to be something to do with him.
Worst of all was the third guy. He was the youngest of the three as far as Peter could tell; a tall, slightly gawky looking bloke who had so far spoken only once, revealing himself to be British. English, clearly, although there might have been a hint of Welsh in that accent... He had lapsed into silence almost immediately following Peter's recapture, and ever since he had done nothing but stare. Peter could feel his eyes boring into him now, fixed intently onto his face as though pondering something. He tried not to let it get to him, but he could not seem to shut the man out of his consciousness. Those steady green eyes burned into his skin, making the back of his neck prickle. If Grey-Beard was odd and Pony-Tail weird, Green Eyes was positively unhinged.
"You must know something. Why were you kidnapped?" A question that actually meant something to Peter registered somewhere in his mind and he glanced up, focussing on Pony-Tail's searching, dark eyes. He blinked.
"I haven't got a clue. I was on my way to the shops, and suddenly this guy called me. I turned around, and he shot me." Indignation showed in his voice. "With a... a dart thing. A tranquilliser. That's the last thing I remember before I woke up tied to a pillar." He glared up at his captors. "I didn't appreciate being tied up then, and I like it even less now. I don't have a clue what all of this is about, but it's starting to wear very thin."
"You must know something." Duncan folded his arms, glaring back. "Do you know a man named Frank Horton?"
"How about Kronos?"
Peter sighed. Kronos he did know; or thought he did. "The king of the gods?" he inquired, a little dubiously. He wasn't really sure that they were talking about him; Cronos, the father of Zeus.
"No, not the king of the gods." Heaving a long, impatient sigh, Duncan turned away for a minute. "I really can't believe that you know nothing about this."
"Of course I know nothing about this!" Suddenly angry, Kerensky struggled hard against his bonds, gave up in disgust, and then held Duncan's gaze with his own, blazing eyes. "Look, I moved to America from Britain six months ago. I lived in San Francisco the first three months, and when I moved here I had to leave the very next day to go to Europe. I only got back a couple of days ago. I don't know anybody in Seacouver, and if you lot are anything to go by I don't want to. I don't have a clue what you're talking about, I don't know who kidnapped me, I don't know who you are, and I don't know anybody called Kronos. Neither do I know if he's dead, alive, or floating in the spirit world. I really don't give a damn. Understand?"
"Maybe I'm starting to." Pony-Tail looked a little taken aback by the outburst, and sat down on the edge of the table between them. His eyes seemed to have softened. "You really don't know anything?"
"Nothing." Peter emphasised the word heavily. "I was telling the truth when I said I don't know anybody here. I'd hardly had a chance to get my furniture straight when I was called away. I didn't even get a chance to meet my neighbours. If this is something to do with... with whatever you people are mixed up in... I don't know anything about it. What is it? Territory? Money? Are you people with the Mob?"
Pony-Tail actually grinned at that; a broad, quite charming smile that suggested he mightn't actually be as dangerous as he had first appeared. He sighed, then glanced back at his two companions.
"What do you think?"
"I think he gets the benefit of the doubt," Green Eyes told him immediately. Peter decided that he liked his fellow countryman after all.
"You don't count. You're biased." Pony-Tail looked to Grey Beard instead. "Joe?"
There was a silence, before Grey Beard shrugged, looking as though he didn't really know what was going on anyway.
"This is your call, Mac," he said finally. "It's your game we're playing. But if you really value my opinion, I say we let him go."
"Fine." MacLeod reached for his sword, which had been lying across the table, gleaming in the light from the strip lamps above their heads. Peter flinched, but his captor merely smiled at him, helping him to his feet and cutting the ropes which had been holding him still. He breathed a sigh of relief, rubbing his wrists.
"What happens now?" he asked, feeling a little uneasy. None of the others seemed to know.
"You can't leave." Green Eyes sounded adamant, and maybe a little worried. "If you go out there, they'll only grab you again. Maybe even kill you to get you out of the way."
"They won't kill him. They're never going to find another guy like this; not without plastic surgery to help them, and that would take months." Grey Beard was rubbing his chin and looking thoughtful, which brought new questions to Peter's mind. It struck him that it was about time he found out a little more about what was going on; and why these people kept talking about him as though he were important in some way. He didn't think that he was important; in fact, until the events of the morning he had been fairly secure in the conviction that he was completely unimportant, in every possible way.
"Who's 'They'?" he asked finally. The other three exchanged a look that spoke volumes, then Pony-Tail shrugged.
"We don't know," he admitted finally. "Somebody is trying to make life difficult for us. We'd like to know who. We thought you might know, which is why we brought you here."
"And these are the same people who grabbed me?" Peter frowned. "Why would they do that? What is it that makes me so special to you?"
"We don't know what the plan was. All that we know is that it's to do with you... or at least, with the guy that you look like."
"I look like somebody?" That was a relief. At least it explained why Green Eyes had been staring at him all afternoon. It might also help to explain why so many complete strangers seemed so desperate to secure his company. He sighed. "Maybe we'd better start at the beginning. My name is Peter Kerensky. I'm an artist." He smiled, shrugged. "Or at least, I like to think I am."
"Duncan MacLeod." Pony-Tail reached over to shake his hand. His shake was strong, powerful, succinct. He nodded at Grey Beard. "Joe Dawson." Dawson also shook Peter's hand, before MacLeod gestured towards Green Eyes. "And Adam--"
"Methos," Green Eyes said, stepping forward and shaking Peter's hands with both of his own, much as if they were old, old friends, meeting again at last. "My name is Methos."
"So I look like this guy? This Kronos?" Joe Dawson was behind the bar, cleaning glasses. None of them looked at all dirty, but it seemed to please him to have something to do with his hands. Duncan MacLeod was sitting in a nearby booth, drinking strong black coffee with the look of a man who was desperately tired, but had no wish to fall asleep.
"Look like him?" The Briton who had introduced himself, somewhat bizarrely, as Methos offered Kerensky a faint smile. "You are him, almost. Your face is just the start. You're the right height, the right build, your voice is identical to his... even your eyes are the same. Or nearly, at any rate."
"It bothers you, doesn't it." Kerensky had seen the look in the other man's face. It was a gentle kind of sadness, of a sort that he could not quite define. Methos shrugged.
"Kronos was my brother. He died in '97."
"And your friend MacLeod thinks he's still alive?"
This time Methos' smile was broad, and clearly genuine. "He may have a point."
"I don't understand."
"No." Methos reached for the beer bottle on the table before him. "Neither do I. Truth is..." His voice trailed off as he looked towards MacLeod with eyes that showed something very like regret, or sadness - although it might just have been the light, or even Peter's imagination. "Truth is, MacLeod killed Kronos. At the time he didn't have a whole lot of choice. Ever since then things have been getting a little weird around here. MacLeod's started seeing things, so have I..." His smile became apologetic. "I'm sorry. You don't know me, or any of us. You must think I'm crazy."
"I certainly think something is." Peter sighed, a frown creasing his brow. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure how much of this I really understand. Some guy kidnapped me in the hope that he could use me to get at you, because I look like your brother, and to get at MacLeod because your brother is haunting him." He sighed. "How come you're still friends with this man if he killed Kronos?"
"Nothing is ever as simple or as straightforward as it first appears." Methos suddenly looked ancient; almost infinitely so. "I used to think it was, once. Maybe that's why I tried to be sure that neither Kronos nor myself could ever really die. But then times changed, and so did we, and sometimes I think maybe it's best that he stays dead. And yet, I know that I'd still do anything I could to bring him back. If I did any less, I wouldn't be me anymore. At least, I don't think I would be." He smiled at his newest friend, clearly enjoying the befuddlement in the disturbingly familiar blue eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm not being fair. You probably deserve some rather more detailed explanations, but the truth is I haven't really got any. I don't think I ever did."
"Don't worry about it. I probably wouldn't believe you." Peter was smiling politely, but the look was a little strained. He did not understand what these three strange men were talking about, and he wasn't sure that he wanted to. They seemed like members of some curious religion; their talk of the dead still living, or being brought back to life, was reason enough for him to feel decidedly uncomfortable. He wanted to go home, where Anna was waiting for him, probably deeply worried by now. He could imagine her calling the hospitals, going to the police, wanting to know what had happened to him. And what had happened? He still wasn't sure. He wondered whether he was still a prisoner, and whether these three odd men would try to stop him if he left. He decided that there was only one way to find out, and he stood up.
"Look, I appreciate your help." They hadn't helped him, in all honesty. He had got free on his own, and all they had done was to give him a new prison, a new set of surroundings. Still, it seemed polite to show gratitude, if only for form's sake. "I really should be going."
"That isn't a good idea." Suddenly alert, Duncan MacLeod was staring at him, his dark eyes filled with genuine concern. "They know where you live, right?"
"All the more reason for me to get back there. My sister-in-law is alone in the house. She's only been in the States a couple of days, and she knows even fewer people than I do. She could be in danger."
"Very likely." Duncan shrugged. "Fine, we'll go together."
"Good." Joe put down the latest of the glasses to suffer under his polishing regime. "I'll open the club, get things looking normal. Maybe we'll get a visit."
"I hope so." Duncan stood up, picking up his sword which had been lying on the table next to him. He gave the blade a cursory rub with the sleeve of one elbow, then stowed the weapon away in what seemed to be some invisible sheath secreted in the folds of his overcoat. Peter couldn't help the frown from showing on his face.
"Wouldn't a gun be easier to carry?" he asked. MacLeod raised an eyebrow.
"Sometimes the old ways are best," he said simply, pushing open the door and holding it for the Englishman to go through. Methos followed. Peter did not question the answer, but merely headed for the shiny black T-Bird parked at the side of the road. He was already convinced of Duncan's apparent brewing insanity, and he had no desire to press the issue. Instead he climbed into the back of the car and leaned back into its waiting embrace. Certainly the old ways were best where vehicles like this were concerned.
"What's this?" There was a photograph next to him on the seat, and he lifted it up. His own face stared back at him, his dark hair and appearance complimented perfectly by the tall blonde woman standing next to him. Her eyes laughed, shining out of the picture with all the warmth and vitality that they must have shown in life. The photograph didn't do her justice, even though it flattered her every feature.
"Tessa." He frowned, amazed to see the picture again, after so long. A friend had taken it, standing on the banks of the Seine, during a field trip. He had been at college, studying for a Masters degree in Ancient History, and the course had called for three months in Europe. He had met Tessa in France whilst studying the ancient routes taken by the Roman Legions across the continent. She had been working in a restaurant, charming the tourists and sketching the view out of the huge picture window whenever she was able to find the time. They had spent one wonderful fortnight in each others company, seeing the sights, painting the views, visiting the galleries. He had almost considered dropping out of college to stay with her, but she had been heading home too. He smiled at the picture. They had tried to stay in touch, but he had still been travelling all over Europe on the trail of the Legions and their retinue. He hadn't seen her since the day that this very photograph had been taken, in the summer of 1985.
"Then you did know her." There was a curious look in MacLeod's eyes, one that Peter did not feel much like investigating further. He gave a shrug, carefully laying the photograph back down on the seat.
"Sort of. For a while. We were friends, but we went our separate ways nearly fifteen years ago. I still think of her sometimes; what she's doing now, that sort of thing. Probably married with several kids. I used to look out for her art work, but I never saw any."
"You wouldn't." MacLeod started the engine, not looking back at the man in the seat behind him. "She moved to America when you would still have been living in Britain. She never made it big in her own country, but there's a lot of her stuff in the galleries in Seacouver. She headlined her own exhibitions more than once."
"Really?" Peter sounded delighted, and Methos glanced toward Duncan, wondering what the other man's reaction would be. There was none. Duncan stared stonily ahead, not seeming to see anything save the road ahead of him. Judging by the distant look in his eyes, he might not even have seen that much. "I'll have to have a look around. Does she still live here?"
"No." This time there was a flicker in the muscles of Duncan's face. "No, she doesn't."
"Oh." For some reason Peter did not press the issue. "So how come you have a picture of us? Is it part of this game your unknown enemies are playing?" He made it sound like a joke, which it probably was to him, thought Methos. He wanted to smile at the mortal's innocence, but somehow did not seem to be able.
"It's a long story, Peter." He stared into the rear view mirror, watching the other man as he looked away, staring at the passing cars and buildings. His expression said it all; these guys are nuts. Methos only hoped that Kerensky got the chance to go on thinking like that. The last thing he wanted was for the mortal to have to find out the truth. He turned his eyes away from his newest mortal acquaintance, and watched the road instead. If there was one thing that life had taught him, it was that hopes didn't amount to much in the end. Sooner or later, everybody found out the truth, whether they wanted to or not. The problem with playing in the same arena as the Immortals was that the truth tended to get you killed; you, or the people closest to you. He wanted to spare Kerensky that for a little while longer. Somehow, though, he knew that he wouldn't get the chance.
"This your place?" They were standing before a large wooden door, unpainted, decorated only by the handle and a curious, brass lion doorknocker. Duncan was looking the front of the building over as though sizing it up as a potential stronghold; just in case it became necessary to defend the place. He saw defensive opportunities in everything, reflected Methos; he seemed to think that sooner or later he would have to fight at least one battle everywhere that he went. It almost seemed to have reached the point where he was right more often than not. On nine out of ten occasions when he went away, or visited a friend, he seemed to end up fighting somebody, mortal or immortal. It was enough to make anybody crack up. He winced inwardly at that. MacLeod was not cracking up. He hoped.
"This is it." Peter unlocked the door, pushing it open, but did not object when MacLeod moved him gently but firmly aside in order to enter first. "Anna will be worried sick. If she sees you first then--"
"Ssh." Duncan held up a hand for silence, then ducked into the room beyond the door. It was a kitchen, strikingly decorated in a splash of primary colours. The two halves of a broken bowl stood on a counter, and a bowl of soapy water gone cold stood beside the pieces. There was a cloth in the water, as though somebody had been clearing something up - perhaps the mess made by the breaking of the bowl - and had for some reason not gone back to finish the job.
"Wait there." He hissed the words in a sharp tone as Peter made as if to follow him into the house. The mortal obeyed, although he was beginning to look as though he had had enough. Clearly he still needed a lot of convincing about the gravity of their situation. MacLeod was rather of the opinion that the Englishman was likely to learn the hard way. He let his hand rest on the hilt of his sword, even though he was aware that there were not any Immortals present in the house, and slipped out of the kitchen and into the short hallway. Paintings hung on the walls, some that he recognised, some that he didn't. He presumed that the latter were the work of Kerensky, but he did not waste time looking more closely. He had reached a living room; a big, breezy space, well lit by large windows. Huge, elaborate maps hung in frames on the walls; Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, the Empire of Alexander the Great... all painted in remarkable detail, again no doubt by Kerensky. There was a strange kind of irony in his clear interest in history. He studied the very world that his double had lived in.
"Mrs Kerensky?" He spoke the words softly, torn between wanting to find her, and not wanting to scare her with his sudden arrival. He edged further into the room, seeing a bright profusion of hand-woven rugs and a collection of wildlife art. A sculpture stood on a pine table off to one side of the room, apparently showing four crossed swords held high by four marble hands. Behind the sculpture was a painting. MacLeod was no expert, but he could see that the picture was of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Clearly whoever had painted it had never met the foursome, since their clothing and their faces were not right; but he could see that the two apparent leaders still made a striking pair; one tall and thin, the other smaller and with cold, blue eyes. They were riding from a screen of flame, the flickering tongues of orange and red merging into the screaming faces of a thousand dying men. He could hear their screams, for one brief moment, and he could feel those leaping, dancing flames licking at the ground close to him. A wave of heat crashed over him, and he took a stumbling step back. Somewhere inside his head he heard a gleeful chuckle.
"Dammit." He took several deep breaths, leaning on the arm of the settee for support, bent almost double, feeling the fatigue and tension struggle against his will in the darkness behind his eyelids. Finally he stepped back and stood erect, smiling at the painting on the wall. The Horsemen were not going to beat him today. The smile froze on his face. Behind the settee, visible to him now that he had changed his position, was a piece of material; a shirt. There was somebody or something in it, holding its shape, making it more than just a piece of bright material against the dark rugs covering the floor. Cautiously he went around the settee, his step slowing as he came nearer. He didn't want to see what was there, but he had come in as the advance guard, and he had no choice.
The body was on its back, neatly beheaded with what looked like a single, clean stroke. He could not see the head. There was no evidence of it anywhere, and few enough places in which to hide it. He doubted that anybody would bother going to the trouble of sticking a severed head into a cupboard anyway, but anything was better than the suggestion that they had taken it with them. The body had been arranged neatly, the hands clasped on the chest, peaceful in the traditional mortician's pose. There was something underneath the hands, and he moved them to look. A small book, leather-bound and gilt-edged, filled with poetry in neat lines of publisher's print. He knew the words well, from his years of familiarity with them, as well as from the dead poet's recent habit of reading them to him as he slept. The sketch of Byron's face just inside the front cover did the man no credit, which was a shame. In the silence of the room right now, MacLeod would have liked to have seen the face that he knew staring back at him from the page. It would have given him something more tangible than the ghost of his dreams.
"Did you find anything?" Peter Kerensky's voice still sounded off-hand, almost light-hearted. MacLeod whirled, intending to block the view, or to steer the mortal aside - anything save let him see what was on the floor of his living room. The Englishman was already too close, too near to the body for MacLeod to prevent him from seeing it, but he tried anyway. Kerensky pushed him aside, kneeling down beside the body.
"Is it your sister-in-law?" MacLeod asked him, trying to sound sympathetic. The last thing that he wanted was an emotional scene right now, especially here. It was time to leave, and to get back to familiar ground. Kerensky did not answer at first. He reached out, taking one of the hands, staring at the palm. A half-moon scar arched its way across the base of the thumb joint, showing the red lines of a recent injury just beginning to heal.
"She did that five days ago, on the boat at Gdansk. The Captain was German, the first mate was Norwegian and half of the crew were Dutch. We thought we knew enough Polish to get round the country, and it turned out none of us could speak to each other. They were trying to tell her to put vodka on it, and we thought they were trying to tell her not to sue. We ended up asking a languages student to translate, but he seemed to speak every language in the world except English." He was smiling faintly at the memory, as he gently, as though not wanting to disturb her peace, laid her hand back down on her chest. "She was only going to stay here for the rest of the week, then she was going home to Truro."
"I'm sorry." MacLeod put a hand on his shoulder, pulling him gently to his feet. "We have to leave now."
"Sure." Kerensky was following him automatically towards the door, but he stopped as they reached the corridor leading back to the kitchen. "MacLeod..."
"What?" Duncan turned back to look at him, wincing inwardly as he saw the familiar figure standing in a shroud of shadow in the doorway. Ice blue eyes glittered in the limited light, patterned with a glow of anger. His eyes could almost fill in the war paint which the Ahriman demon had used to decorate its stolen face. His ears could hear the mocking laugh that was not there to be heard. Kerensky was frowning, seeing the expression on Duncan's face, registering it despite his own current frame of mind.
"Who did this?" He didn't turn back to indicate the body. His voice sounded flat with the signs of a grief not yet fully realised.
"I don't know." MacLeod wanted to turn around, but some inner instinct did not want to let him turn his back on Kronos; even though he knew that this was not him. "I plan to find out though, and you're welcome to help."
"Yeah." Slowly Kerensky moved forward, pushing past MacLeod and going out into the hot sun beyond the door. It was late afternoon now, but the day was still bright; soon it would be dulling into dusk. "Calling the police would be too easy."
"The police can't get involved in this." Alarms rang in MacLeod's mind as he followed Kerensky from the house, but the young man was already walking away.
"Sure. Of course they can't." The sharp English accent made the words tighter and more forceful as the mortal turned back to look at him. "This is your fight. It's you that these people are after. This is something to do with you going mad and worrying over dead people that you think are coming back to get you. This is about some guy with a stupid name, somebody I'm supposed to look like, somebody so important to you and these bastards who are after you that they came here in the middle of the day to murder Anna - and it's all just to get at you." He took a few steps back towards the Immortals, staring past the startled Methos to focus all of his anger and attention on MacLeod. "You want the police out of it, well hard luck. She was my sister-in-law, MacLeod. I've known her since we were both children. She was the only family I had left, and now she's dead because somebody we can't identify doesn't like you. Well I don't like you either. I think you're screwy as hell. You and that guy back at the club." He turned away, the anger seeming suddenly to have left him. "You fight your dead enemies. I'm going to the police."
"Peter, wait." Catching him up, Methos kept his voice as steady and as reasonable as possible. "Look, I know this all sounds crazy, but please just bear with us. I know it sounds like the police are the people to call, but the truth is they'd just end up getting themselves killed. They can't handle this. It isn't about bad guys who have to be arrested and put in prison. It's just not like that."
"And why the hell should I listen to you?" The blue eyes that he knew so well; the anger on a face that was as familiar to him as his own; all were making it harder for Methos to see the enmity and listen to the harshness of the voice. This man should be his friend. They should be inseparable. "You kidnapped me. You threatened me with swords and you treated me like a criminal. And now I'm really supposed to believe that you're the good guys? That you're better equipped to deal with Anna's killers than the police? That just doesn't ring true."
"Please, Kronos." The name stuck in Methos' throat and he turned away. "Forget it."
"Kronos." Peter spoke the word so softly that the old man could barely hear it. It felt strange coming from the mortal's throat. It was a largely unfamiliar word to him; something that meant nothing except in ancient mythology, and in the tales of the Greek gods. For some reason that depressed Methos more than anything else. Perhaps he had wanted this young man; this man who could never possibly have known Kronos, or known about him; to recognise the name, to have some part of his double within him. It was crazy of course. There was nothing of Kronos in Peter Kerensky, and there could never have been. He had been born long before that last sword fight, and he hadn't even been in the country during that final, almighty Quickening. The Immortal's shoulders slumped.
"This really is hard for you, isn't it. Me being here, looking like this." Peter's voice sounded soft, as though he were finally trying to understand. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I have this face, and this voice. I'm sorry that I'm Peter Kerensky, and not Kronos. I'm sorry that I can't be what you want me to be."
"It doesn't matter who or what you are." Methos turned slightly, steeling himself to look again at that face. "And it's me who should be sorry. I've been unfair. I keep thinking-- But it doesn't matter." He forced a smile. "Maybe you're right. Maybe you should go to the police."
"And then what? Will they find out why this is all happening? If they find whoever killed Anna, will they be able to tell us why they did it? Why they kidnapped me? Why they're trying to get at you?" Peter actually sounded as though these things meant something to him, and Methos felt his spirits lighten. Maybe the man wasn't such a stranger after all.
"I doubt it." He stared hard into the pale eyes, trying to ascertain how far he could go; how much leeway he had to convince the man to trust him. "But we can. If you really want to get to the bottom of this, you have to trust us." He expected to see the anger turned back on; expected to see the mortal turn and walk away, and not look back. Somehow he felt that, if that happened, it would hurt more than he could imagine. It would have been as though Kronos himself was walking away from him. He braced himself for the likely brush off, and waited for the outburst.
Instead Peter smiled.
"I can't trust you," he said softly. "Not yet. But I'll come with you."
"Thanks," Methos told him simply. The mortal's response was even more simple.
"I'm not doing this for you," he said, his voice still soft. "I'm doing it for Anna." And he walked past the old man, back to the T-Bird. There was nothing more to be said.
They were still three blocks away when they noticed the smoke. It billowed into the air in thick grey clouds, spreading out in layers that touched the sky. MacLeod saw it first, but he did not speak. Instead he put his foot down, speeding towards the club, even though he already knew what he would see when he got there. In his heart he knew which building it was that the smoke was coming from. He had to be there.
Two fire engines blocked the quickest route to the club, so they stopped the car a few hundred yards away and ran the rest of the short distance to the place which had become their second home. MacLeod and Methos far outstripped Kerensky, and he let them go ahead, sensing that it was best to leave them to handle it alone.
"What happened?" MacLeod grabbed the nearest fireman by the arm, choosing the Chief by luck rather than by design. The man frowned at him, taking in the expensive clothing and the billowing overcoat, far from a necessity on such a hot day.
"Is this your place?" he asked. MacLeod shook his head.
"No. But I--"
"Then excuse me sir." The Chief attempted to push past him, but Methos managed to prevent him from moving away.
"Wait, please." Maybe it was his accent, or maybe it was the complete contrast of his appearance from MacLeod's, but the Fire Chief did stop. His eyes warned that it was only a temporary measure, unless the reasons were good. "Joe Dawson. Where is he?"
"Do you have some link with this establishment?" The Chief's eyebrows were raised. If MacLeod, in the clothes of a playboy, did not look like the owner of a successful jazz club, so neither did Methos, in his jeans, T-shirt and trainers.
"Yeah. I'm the assistant manager." He knew from experience that most people believed him as a matter of course, and this fireman seemed to be no exception. "It's my day off. Listen, the owner, Joe Dawson. Where is he?"
"There was nobody here when we arrived. Just the fire, and that turned out to be nothing too serious. Soon got it under control." The Chief's beetle brows knitted together. "Can you confirm that you've been away for the day?"
"Yes, of course." It was Methos' turn to frown. "Why?"
"In that case I think I'd like to speak to your friend Mr Dawson." The Fire Chief turned to the large fire truck behind him, and picked up a small item in a large plastic bag. "This is an incendiary device. It was set to go off in the main bar area, but fortunately something went wrong. We'll have to have it analysed of course, but I'd say it was the fuse that didn't work properly." He put the bag back in the truck. "This fire was arson, and if your friend the owner is missing, I'd say that makes him our first port of call. Wouldn't you?" He looked up at the approach of Peter Kerensky. "Are you this Dawson guy?"
"Me?" Peter frowned, confused. "No. My name is Kerensky." He looked over at Methos. "Is your friend missing?"
"Yeah." MacLeod gestured for them both to follow him, and together they walked over to the car. The Fire Chief watched them go, but if he was at all suspicious of them, he did not seem inclined to do anything about it. Instead he merely turned to the radio in the truck and began to speak into the handset.
"What's been happening?" Kerensky was the last to climb into the car, and the other two glanced up at him. Neither answered. "Hey look, come on. This is a bad time to start cutting me out of the action. We're in this together, remember? They killed my sister-in-law." He gestured back at the still smoking jazz club. "You think your enemies set fire to this place, and that they've kidnapped the old guy. Right?"
"Right." Methos nodded slowly. "Look Peter... This is all changing direction. They're making it even more personal than before. If you want to get out, now's the time. This really isn't your fight."
"Yes it is." He folded his arms, looking resolute. "I'm not saying I want to get mixed up in a gang war, or whatever the hell this is, but I want to know who killed Anna, and I'll be damned if I'm going to go home now and wait for some other nut to come and try kidnapping me again. Or worse." He leant forward, his speech becoming more animated. "Okay, so I think you two are crazy. Alright, so I still think there's a lot going on here that you're not telling me about. But I still want in."
"If you're sure." Duncan glanced back at him, his expression serious. "But you won't be able to change your mind. Once you're in, you're in."
"I can live with that." He leaned back into his seat, staring from one to the other of the Immortals. "So where do we start?"
"We go home." MacLeod started up the car. "Back to my place. We can't do anything until they make their next move."
"They've already made their next move." Methos sounded forceful, which surprised Peter. So far his fellow countryman had sounded indifferent about everything save his feelings towards Kronos.
"They've made a move, yes. But do you know where to go to get Joe back? They're hardly going to have taken him back to the same warehouse they had him in." A thumb jerked in Kerensky's direction indicated who 'him' was. "We can't do anything yet."
"Have you forgotten what they did to Cheng? Joe's a Watcher, MacLeod. So was Cheng. Remember that?"
"Of course I remember." Irritable, MacLeod spun the car about and pointed it towards home. "There's nothing we can do. If they're going to kill Joe, then he's already dead. I think we need to go back to base, get some sleep, and wait to see what happens. Agreed?" There was a silence. "Agreed?"
"Agreed." Methos flopped back in his seat, drumming his fingernails on the side of the car. Neither man turned to look at Kerensky, and he settled back to watch the scenery pass. The atmosphere had changed, and he was not sure that he liked it.
They were restless in MacLeod's apartment. Methos paced, then sprawled, then paced some more. He raided the refrigerator looking for beer, and wound up watching old westerns with the television fixed to broadcast in Cantonese. The others gave up trying to follow the action and wandered about looking bored. MacLeod tried to meditate and finally gave up, frustrated by the volume of the television set, and a particularly noisy gun battle. He worked out for a while, accompanied by Kerensky, but neither of them had the heart for it. Kerensky, it transpired, shared MacLeod's passion for the martial arts, and even seemed to know his way around a sword; to a certain extent. He had no way of competing against the long years of his opponent's experience, no matter how hard he tried, especially given the added strength and violence of MacLeod's attitude that evening. Inside his mind the Highlander was not fighting Peter Kerensky - he was fighting Kronos. Kerensky was left to battle desperately just to keep his feet, wondering what had come over the previously quiet man. Eventually, having worked off as much excess energy as they had, they went to sprawl with Methos, agitated, frustrated - and irritable.
"Get your feet off my coffee table," MacLeod growled at Methos. The old Immortal threw a cushion at him. On screen a hulking pair of cowboys yelled at each other in Cantonese, before blasting each other out of existence with six-shooters that looked suspiciously modern for a film supposedly set in the 1880s.
"I tried to learn Chinese once," Kerensky offered, largely as an attempt to diffuse the brewing sense of antagonism. "Mandarin I think it was. Never could get the hang of the characters though."
"Alphabets always are the hardest bit." Methos folded his hands behind his head, his feet still comfortably on the coffee table. "I remember when I first had to learn the Roman system. The letters were totally different to the symbols I was used to."
Kerensky frowned. "You mean you're not English?" He sounded surprised, which was more than forgivable. Even though he had never quite been able to pin down the reason, the world's oldest Immortal - who had originated in a land far to the East, which he could no longer name - sounded as English as Winston Churchill.
"Nationality is an entirely false concept." The old man began flicking through the channels, not settling on any for long enough to identify the programmes, and eventually skimmed on through to a news channel. The Fire Chief he had spoken to earlier was making an announcement, pointing to the still smoking jazz club behind him. The damage, Methos was relieved to see, didn't appear to be too bad.
"That's rubbish." MacLeod still sounded angry with him, but if it was about the coffee table - which was more than likely - Methos was not prepared to rise to the bait. "More wars have been fought over nationality than anything except religion."
"Not my fault." Methos turned the volume up slightly to hear what the Fire Chief was saying. "I've lived in every country in the world, MacLeod. I learned to speak most of their languages. And I never found any differences between the peoples that were worth calling them by different names, or sealing them away behind borders and checkpoints. Take the borders away, take the politicians away, and the people are all the same. All they have to do is learn to speak to each other."
"Tell that to the people in Yugoslavia," Peter commented. Methos shrugged.
"I don't even begin to understand the ways of people." He sounded, thought the mortal, rather like some ancient man speaking to a youngster.
"And I don't even begin to understand the news in Cantonese." MacLeod's tone of voice suggested that he was used to such outbursts from his companion; and was equally used to steering well clear of them. He made a grab for the remote control, just as the bulletin ended. "Damn."
"It was nothing interesting." Methos' tone of voice hinted that he would not have considered the outbreak of World War Three to be particularly interesting at that moment. "Just that they haven't found Joe yet." His arms folded into a familiar gesture of petulance. "And they're not about to, either."
"Methos..." Duncan sounded tired, but Methos ignored him, getting up and heading over to the window.
"I want to know where he is, MacLeod." Again he sounded old. Peter frowned up at him, questions forming in his mind that he did not quite know how to ask. Instead he relaxed as best he could.
"Somebody said something about coming here to get some sleep," he said loudly, more to prevent the outbreak of a likely argument than through any great wish for rest. "If you don't mind, my body clock is still convinced it's in Poland."
"Yeah, sure. I could use some sleep myself." Without bothering to head for his bedroom, MacLeod stretched out on the sofa, folding his hands behind his head. "Switch the lights off, Methos."
"Fine." The old man strode towards the switch, clicking it off with the heel of his hand before heading back to the window. The last sight that Peter saw before closing his eyes was the tall silhouette of the odd individual as he folded his arms once again, and gazed out on the darkening city.
There was no tower, no waves beating themselves senseless against craggy rocks. He was standing in the main room of his canal boat in Paris, with the soft strains of an opera playing in the background. Strangely, it was not one that he recognised. The words that clawed at his subconscious were in Gaelic; the language which had once been his own. He had not used it in a long time, but still he understood. He heard laments of dead friends, sorrowful imagery full of shadows and dark places. His spine tingled.
"Hello?" There were no lights in the room, but he knew it well and found his way easily enough to the music centre. He pressed the stop button on the cassette deck, and then on the CD player, but still the music played on. He fumbled with the controls for the record deck, but again got no response. The radio wasn't turned on either. Still the music echoed in the tiny room, quiet and peaceful, yet rising every now and again to a pitch that was almost painful.
"Hello?" He thought that he heard voices behind the music, and he headed towards them. The door to the bedroom was open, and a woman lay on the bed. She was wearing a wedding dress; and even though her back was turned towards him, Duncan knew her as well as he would have known himself. He knew each wave of her blonde hair; each curve of her arms and her back.
"Tessa?" His voice surprised him with its hesitancy, its lack of strength. The woman turned, smiling at him and flashing a little wave.
"Duncan." It was not often that she called him that, and he liked the sound of it on her tongue. "It was good of you to come."
"Good of me?" He was frowning at her now. "What do you mean?"
"I needed somebody to give me away." She stood up, giving him a little twirl so that her skirts spun out at her ankles. "How do I look?"
"Gorgeous." He knew that he sounded choked, but he didn't care. "I don't understand, Tessa. Give you away? To whom?"
"To me." The voice was cultured, educated, and British. MacLeod didn't need to look in order to know who had spoken, but he turned his head nonetheless. Kronos stepped out of the shadows, dressed as ever in the silver and black leather armour worn in the past by the Ahriman Demon. The only difference was his hair, which was no longer long. It was now short and combed forward; in just the same style as the hair of Peter Kerensky. Cool blue eyes glittered with familiar playful malice. "Don't happen to have a ring, do you?"
"You're a dead man, Kronos." Duncan took a step forward, but all of a sudden could not move. Kronos grinned at him, looking delighted by the other man's anger.
"Don't be a fool, MacLeod. Of course I'm dead. Thing is, though, so's Tessa. And it gets awfully cold and alone on the other side. You know how it goes... She was missing you, I was missing... well, I was missing all kinds of people. And we just sort of met up." He shrugged. "It was funny how it happened, actually, but I shouldn't imagine you'd think so. Not much of one for irony, are you." He wandered over towards Tessa, stroking her hair with gentle hands. She leant into his embrace. "Anybody would think you didn't want to see us happy together."
"Damn you." Still Duncan could not move, although he was not altogether sure just what he would have done if he had been able. Kronos wandered over towards him, looking him up and down.
"Actually it's not as bad as I thought it would be, being dead I mean. The TV's better for one thing, and the sun is always shining... Still, all good things must come to an end, as they say."
"What do you mean?" Quite suddenly Duncan felt cold; intensely, bitingly cold. Kronos raised his eyebrows, smiling lightly. The force behind the four words of Duncan's question had been surprising, and that amused him; as, it appeared, did everything else about the Highlander's state of unease. He folded his arms, in a typically Methos-like gesture, and grinned a surprisingly boyish grin. It made him look even more like Peter Kerensky, and Duncan felt himself growing cold to his very heart.
"You didn't think I'd stay dead, did you Dunc? Really?" A small laugh made MacLeod's blood boil, but he could not move; could not do what he really wanted to do, and grab the smaller man to pound him into nothingness. He put all of the power of his anger into his glare, but Kronos seemed barely to notice. "I mean, death's all very well, but it's kind of like a holiday, you know? At first it's fun, but after a while you just want to go home." He shrugged. "Of course, it's not as easy to pop back from the other side as it is to fly home from the Costa Del Sol, but once somebody's opened the door for you all it takes is a little of this... a little of that..." He grinned again, his eyes dancing with glee. "What's up, Mac old man? Don't you want me home? Anybody would think you were scared of me." He took a step nearer and his voice fell, drifting down into the realms of a sinister whisper that made the hairs on the back of MacLeod's neck tingle. The ice blue eyes before him flashed with a sudden and unspeakable light. "You should be scared. I can come back, MacLeod; and I will. I might be reborn in a flash of fire, or in the lightning that flies in a storm. I might leap back into life in the heart of your next Quickening, or I might just grow within you, from the seeds of me that you still carry inside. You took my Quickening, didn't you MacLeod. So maybe I'll be born inside your mind. I'll send you mad, day by day, until I tear you apart from the inside and make my re-entrance from what's left of your soul." He laughed, the fires in his eyes speaking of joy and madness, and something much darker. "Did you ever see that film, MacLeod? Alien. Not exactly subtle, was it." He gave a short giggle. "Fun though."
"You're staying dead, damn you." With a mighty effort of will MacLeod managed to move his arms, reaching out to grab Kronos by the neck. The other Immortal laughed at him, the laughter growing in volume as MacLeod tried to throttle him with all of the strength that he had. It was only as he felt the body in his grip grow heavy and start to slump that he realised it was no longer the body of Kronos. Instead he now held Tessa in his arms, and her dead eyes started up at him accusingly. Somewhere in the distance the sounds of the unfamiliar opera rose to a crescendo, and the lyrics hammered relentlessly at his grief-stricken heart.
The night was almost over, and by the pale yellow light of dawn, Methos watched Kerensky sleep. The eyes, when closed, hid their mortal transience, and it was easier to see Kronos in the face that held them. He imagined the all too familiar mouth smiling its manic grin; the grin that was filled with the frenzy of the kill and a lust for further violence. Kerensky would never smile that way, and Methos liked him for it; and yet... He smiled to himself, wishing that there were some way... some way, perhaps, to see Kronos again. Just for a minute. But a minute would only make it harder to accept the truth. He turned away from Kerensky, finally finding it too much to look at him. Memories were already filling his head, and he didn't want to see any more of them tonight. He had changed; he had become someone new, someone who had been unhappy to see Kronos on his last return. He had not wanted to go back to the old ways, and to fight the old fights. He had not wanted to be a part of the old dreams. So why was it so hard now? If he really had changed, if he really had become some other Methos - someone who had left the past behind him - why now did he want the past back? He smiled once more. Looking to have it both ways again, Methos. Funny how, after five thousand years, he still hadn't got the hang of that one. He still wanted everything his way. That was one of the reasons he had always got on so well with Kronos of course. Neither man had ever been willing to compromise, or to go for second best; and nobody else had ever been willing to deny them their wishes.
"But times have changed..." Methos heard his words in the semi-darkness, and heard the change in breathing of Kerensky as a reaction to the sudden noise. The mortal did not awaken. Methos glanced over towards him, searching, perhaps, for a sign of violence in his dream state, or maybe just a hint of the fire that belonged in that face. There was nothing, and he slumped back into his chair, tipping his head back and closing his eyes. He was right; times had changed. He was no longer the wild marauder, he no longer always wanted things his way, he had compromised a thousand times in order to protect his identity and his anonymity and his disguise amongst the Watchers. As for going for second best, he did that all the time; Adam Pierson had had a lifestyle which had gone well below second best. He was gone now, more or less, leaving Methos still unsure what was rising to take his place; except that it wasn't the old him. The last echoes of his old self had died with Kronos. And yet something inside him was crying out for the old times... some small, largely unheard voice that came from somewhere deep, deep inside. It made him smile at his darker memories, and made his eyes glitter anew as he opened them to stare towards the window. It was almost as if, somewhere inside him, something that he recognised had come back to life. Something that made his heart beat more strongly than it had in a long time. He wasn't sure that he liked it, but he wasn't sure how to make it go away.
"No..." In his sleep, MacLeod was growing restless. His arms and legs twitched fiercely, his jaw clenched until it seemed that his teeth might give way. Sweat rolled in small beads down his forehead, and he blinked as they touched his eyelashes. His whole body shook.
"MacLeod?" Suddenly concerned, Methos rose to his feet. Kerensky did not move, but the Highlander jerked violently at the sound of the voice. He sat up abruptly, his eyes wide open and staring, his breath coming in hard and fast gasps.
"Methos." His voice was low and deadly.
"Are you awake?" Methos took another step towards him, although there was something in his eyes that the older Immortal didn't like. It reminded him of the time when MacLeod had taken a dark Quickening, and had turned into something filled with unrest.
"Of course I'm awake." The voice was little more than a whisper. The Highlander wiped sweat from his forehead, then looked up, staring deep into his companion's eyes. "You. You." His finger pointed, accusing, threatening. "How could you? How could you do this to me? To all of us?"
"MacLeod, I don't--"
"Shut up!" Duncan's voice filled the room, startling Methos into taking a step back. The Highlander advanced, his steps growing with speed and length until Methos was backed up against the window, and there was nowhere else for him to go.
"I said shut up!" The Highlander reached out, his hands grabbing his friend by the front of the shirt. "Just shut up!" His fists tangled themselves in the cloth of the T-shirt as he slammed Methos hard against the glass; once, twice, three times. The older Immortal's head connected solidly with the pane, making his ears ring and his vision swirl.
"MacLeod what the hell is wrong with you?" He struggled against the hands that held him, but the Highlander was livid with rage, immovable, immutable, his eyes unnaturally bright in the flashing of the city lights beyond the glass. His breathing was a series of short gasps, between teeth tightly clenched against the memories of his dream.
"MacLeod!" Suddenly in the thick of it, Kerensky's voice cut through the space between them, and with all the strength that he possessed the mortal man tugged the other man free. "What's going on here?"
"Keep out of it." Spinning about, MacLeod stiff-armed him, sending him flying back over the arm of the nearest chair. He landed heavily on the floor, shaking his head to clear it.
"Enough!" Maybe it was the attack on his newest friend, or maybe it was just the removal of MacLeod's hands from his shirt, but Methos felt his own anger renewed. He pushed past the Highlander, going to help Kerensky to his feet. "What the hell's got into you MacLeod? What is all this?"
"Kronos." The word came out as a whisper of pure venom; a short burst of unutterable fury. For a second it looked as though the fires in the Immortal's mind were burning themselves out, before suddenly he rounded on Methos again, his face red with anger, his voice more than a mere shout. "Did you think I wouldn't find out? Did you think I wouldn't care? I know about your plans, your ritual. Reece told me. You thought we didn't talk much, didn't you; but we did. Or maybe you thought he didn't know? Seems that you got drunk one night and told him everything. And he told me."
"I don't know what you mean." Methos didn't sound very convincing, even to himself, but the truth was that he really didn't know what MacLeod meant. The Highlander laughed a short laugh, then stepped forward. This time when he grabbed the old Immortal by the arm neither Methos nor Kerensky made any move against him.
"I'm talking about Kronos. I'm talking about the way that you came up with, the pair of you, to try and be sure that neither of you could ever really die. What was it, huh? A way of being sure that there wasn't a One, but a Two? Was it a way of cheating the Game, beating the Rules? Of laughing at the rest of us during the Gathering? Or was it just a way to make sure that you could subject the world to that kind of tyranny for the rest of Time? Destroy the mortals as you see fit? I trusted you, Methos. I thought that you were a man I could work with. I forgave you when I heard about your past, because I thought that was what it was." He took a deep breath. "But it's not, is it. It's not your past, and it never was. It never will be. Do you know what it's doing to me? Do you know what it's like? He's inside me, Methos. He's eating me up, inside out. I can't sleep at nights. Whenever I close my eyes I see his face. He talks to me whether I'm awake or asleep. I feel his presence every time I'm alone." He pushed the old man away, sending him tumbling back against the wall. "And all because you and your brother thought you'd try for a new line on immortality. What was it? How did you do it, huh?" He advanced again, pushing Methos with every word, knocking him backwards repeatedly. "Who told you about it? How much did you pay them? When did you do it? Did you and Kronos laugh about it the last time you were alone? About how it didn't matter if he died, because he could come back when he chose?"
"MacLeod..." Kerensky, bothered by the violence as much as the words - which meant little enough to him anyway - tried to intervene. The Highlander pushed him aside, not bothering to speak to him. He didn't want to look at the other man's face, or to hear his voice any more than he had to. They had become a torment, even though Kerensky was not Kronos. The mere fact of the mortal's presence was enough to make his head spin.
"Stay out of this," he hissed. Kerensky looked shocked, although he did not seem afraid. "This is between me and him." He punctuated the 'him' with a hard finger, ramrod straight, jabbed into Methos' ribs. "This is about one night, however many thousand years ago, when he and his brother shared their blood in some mad ritual."
"That?" Even though Kerensky had been thinking - hoping - that Methos would be amazed by MacLeod's comment of 'however many thousand years ago', the other man finally looked as though a light had come on in his memory. "That's what this is all about? MacLeod, that was nothing, I swear to you. We'd had too much to drink in a tavern one night, and we decided to see if an ancient myth we'd heard was true. We mixed our blood. It was a joke, a game."
"Well it worked." Turning away, MacLeod slumped into the nearest chair. He looked lost, and utterly exhausted. "Can you honestly tell me that you haven't heard him? Seen him? What about that time on New Year's Eve? He was in your apartment."
Methos shook his head, looking nearly as tired as MacLeod. "You know I don't remember anything about that night."
"Really." The Highlander sounded far from convinced. "And you're telling me that you've heard no voices, seen no shadows? That you don't feel the presence of another Immortal when you're all on your own at night?" He looked up, his dark eyes holding those of the other man, boring deep into them with a searching look of dark intensity. "Can you honestly tell me that you don't feel memories that aren't your own; that you don't feel hands grabbing at your arms when you sleep? When I killed Richie, I thought I was going mad. My whole world fell apart, but I thought I'd got hold of it all again. Now, these last few months, everything is going crazy. You remember when you were taken hostage by those bank robbers a few years ago - just after I killed Byron? It started then, but I thought it was just my imagination. Now I know it wasn't."
"You're under a lot of stress right now, Mac." Methos reached out for the other man's shoulder, but MacLeod shrugged it away. "Kronos is dead. Listen, if there was any chance that he was alive - any chance at all - I think I'd know about it. In the name of Zeus, MacLeod, the man was my brother. For four thousand years he was the closest friend I had. Sometimes I wouldn't see him for a century or more at a time. Sometimes I could cheerfully have taken his head. Hell, there were times when I swore by the blood of whatever gods were fashionable at the time that I never wanted to lay eyes on him again. But I've never been closer to any other living being. Do you think I wouldn't know?"
"Maybe you do know." There was no accusation behind the words, just a soft, tired voice. Duncan shook his head. "All that I know is that somebody we can't identify knows exactly how to screw with my head. He - or she - knows my nightmares. They know how to hurt me the most, and how to send me mad without even breaking a sweat. How did they find Kerensky? How did they know that he'd be the catalyst? How could anybody know that having him around would get to both of us this much?"
"You think it's Kronos doing this? That he's somehow come back to life?" Methos threw himself into the chair opposite the Highlander. "Kronos wouldn't need to bring in some look-a-like. If he wanted to send you mad he'd come himself. He's never been Mr Subtle. As for knowing your dreams, getting inside your head - any Watcher could know that. The business with the Ahriman Demon is well documented in Watcher circles. They all know about Tessa and about Richie - even about Kronos and Byron. Dammit man, Kronos is dead. You cut his head off. We buried him, remember? Hold onto that Mac, please. I need you now. You can't go loco on me!"
"I can't help it, Methos." MacLeod was shaking his head from side to side. "I can't get his voice out of my head." He stared accusingly up at Kerensky. "Even outside of my head, he's still here."
"But this is just what these people want! Whoever is behind it, they're winning if you give into this!" Earnest, Methos leaned forward in his seat, trying to draw the other man to him, trying to make him focus on the world outside his nightmares. How could the normally level-headed man have gone so far over the edge so quickly? He could feel himself beginning to panic, which was certainly not going to help.
"I don't care what they want, Methos. I'm tired. I'm tired of fighting everybody who looks like they're doing something wrong. I'm tired of losing all my friends. I'm tired of the minds of a hundred of us, all evil ones that I killed, spinning round in circles in my head. If there's somebody out there who wants to send me mad, let him." The Highlander seemed to be curling himself up into a ball, cutting himself off from the others with his body language. "I just don't care anymore."
"Do you want me to go?" Kerensky's voice came from a long way away, and this time both Immortals jumped at the sound of it. He flinched himself in realisation, looking from one to the other of them. "I'm sorry. I really am. I don't know what kind of a hold this Kronos guy has on both of you, but I'm not him. I know I look like him, and I'm sorry that I used to know Tessa. I'm sorry I was close to her, and I'm sorry that it's eating you up, MacLeod, but I'm not him. Neither of you is making any sense anymore." He took a deep breath. "I'm leaving. I won't go to the police, if you really don't want me to, but I can't promise that I'll stay out of this altogether. Anna meant a lot to me." He turned about and headed towards the door.
"No." Duncan intercepted him before he could reach the solid wooden barrier that stood between him and the rest of the world. "You're not going. I am."
"This is your place, MacLeod." Kerensky sounded tired too now, worn down by the sense of being stuck in somebody else's nightmare.
"Not any more it isn't. They know about this place. They come here, they do things, they move things around. He comes here. I'm not staying any longer."
"You can't leave. I need you to help me find Joe. I can't do this on my own, MacLeod." On his feet in an instant, Methos made as if to stop the Highlander, but MacLeod's sword was in his hand immediately, the sharp point holding rock steady, just millimetres from the older man's throat.
"Don't try to stop me, old man."
"But there's things you don't know, Mac. Things I have to tell you. You can't go off on your own."
"I'm going." The words were hard and forceful. "Be thankful I'm leaving you your head." He twisted the door handle without looking at it, keeping his eyes and his sword directed at Methos, then swung about and was gone. The door blew shut behind him, and silence reigned.
"Maybe he'll come back." There was false cheer in Kerensky's voice. Methos did not look at him.
"He won't. Not unless we get to the bottom of this."
"And how are we supposed to do that? No offence, Methos, but it looked to me like MacLeod was the head man in your operation. We don't know who we're up against, and we don't have a clue where your friend Dawson is. All that we do know is that these people have killed at least twice, seem to know everything about you, and hate your guts."
"That's more than I've had to go on in the past." His thoughts still drawn to Duncan, Methos sat slowly down on the nearest chair, studiously avoiding Kerensky's look. "Go watch TV for a bit, okay? I need to think."
Peter frowned, beginning to feel rather like a child being sent away to play. All the same, there was something in the other man's eyes that persuaded him to do as he was asked. Something indefinable, perhaps, in the way that Methos looked. His face was young, his voice likewise. But his eyes, as he sat in his chair, staring at nothing and frowning at puzzles that were not understood... They reminded the mortal of the old man who had lived next door to him during his childhood. A truly ancient individual, full of cryptic wisdom and rich experience of life; as well as a whole, long lifetime's worth of regrets. He turned away, going back to the television, toying with the remote control to try to get the set to broadcast in English again. He had found a news channel, again showing pictures of the fire at the jazz club, long before he had finally managed to get the television speaking to him in a language that he understood. The presenter spoke authoritatively to a fireman, who clearly thought he was an idiot with too much hairspray, and Peter turned the volume up. He heard talk of Joe Dawson being sought for suspected arson, heard talk of incendiary devices which fortunately had not gone off - although privately Peter felt that that little mistake had been intentional - and then wandered onto the subject of accomplices. Peter's eyebrows raised at the mention of one Duncan MacLeod, sought for suspected complicity in a clear case of insurance fraud. He wondered if that had been what Methos had tried to tell his friend before MacLeod had walked out. The presenter gave a brief nod off-screen, and the picture changed to one of Methos, standing next to Joe Dawson. A brief caption flashed up a 'Wanted' message, along with details of a reward. Peter's eyebrows raised still further. He was a little surprised to see Methos being identified as 'Adam Pierson', but he was getting to the point where nothing about the man surprised him anymore anyway. He started to turn towards him, but the other man was facing away, clearly deep in thought. He turned back to the screen, just as the picture changed - to reveal a shot of him. He took a deep breath.
The picture was him, he was sure of it - except... He frowned. On screen he had a scar, which stretched vertically across his right eye, giving him the look of a pirate or a desperate criminal. His hair was shorter than it was now, and ruffled on top into a spiked effect which increased the manic look in his eyes. He gulped. He had never looked like that - had he?
"This is the final man being sought by police tonight; and possibly he is the most dangerous." The oh-so-smooth presenter had switched to a blatantly dramatic tone of voice, clearly designed to make things as exciting as possible, and maybe build up his part enough to boost his chances at an anchor post. Peter felt his jaw grow slack. "Police say that the man, seen earlier in the company of MacLeod and Pierson - themselves both known to the police for varied reasons - has been identified as a target of law officers all over the United States, as well as in Europe. It is believed that this man, along with two accomplices," here the screen changed to a murky image showing Kerensky, a large, blondish man and another nondescript individual who could have been anybody, "was behind the escape in Eastern Europe of this man." Here the screen changed again to show a tall, thin man, whose head was decorated with sinister black tattoos. He glared at the camera, baring his teeth, his eyes blazing with all the force of the truly criminally insane. "European sources say that this man - known only as Caspari - was being held on numerous counts of murder and cannibalism, and that both he and his associates are considered to be extremely dangerous. They recommend that you do not approach this man - who as yet officially has no name." The screen shifted back to the presenter, who puffed up his chest, looked conspiratorially at the camera and winked. "Although I can say here tonight - exclusively - that he has been identified as one Peter Kerensky, recently arrived from the UK. Kerensky's sister-in-law, Anna Kerensky, was found brutally murdered earlier today, with parts of her dismembered body apparently yet to be found. Witnesses say that Kerensky, along with both Duncan MacLeod and Adam Pierson were both seen at the scene of the crime less than an hour after the time of death." Grinning all over his face the presenter drew himself up to his full height. "This is David Davis, sending you back to the studio for your hourly update." His teeth flashed in the light of a passing car.
"I was going to tell you." Methos' voice was soft, gentle. Kerensky turned to look up at him.
"When I had to." A shrug, a shake of the head. "It's Kronos that they're looking for of course. Not you. Well - Kronos is the one who broke Caspari out of the prison hospital in Bucharest, anyway."
"Your beloved brother is a psycho?" There was no answer to that one, and Methos did not bother trying to give one. He had been making excuses for his violent brother for most of his life, but somehow he could not make those excuses to the man's perfect double. Instead he shrugged.
"We all have our faults."
"And you were with him, weren't you. You helped break that guy out."
"You don't understand."
"Do I want to?"
"No." Methos flashed him the smallest and saddest of smiles. "No, you don't. My life... my life is hardly an open book, Peter, but I will tell you one thing. I'm older than I look, and I've seen more things than you can imagine. I've learnt that good and evil aren't words to be defined by a dictionary, or by a bloke in a blue serge uniform. People are what they are, and..." He shrugged. "Just don't try to make it any other way. Don't try to make me any other way. And don't ever try to get inside my head. Trust me. You won't like what you find."
"I think I can believe that." The mortal man watched as his companion turned off the television and began to pace up and down the room. "So what happens now? Do you kill me?"
"Me? Kill you?" Methos ceased his pacing. "Why should I want to kill you? How could I ever--" He broke off. "No. I'm not going to kill you."
"Your brother is sending MacLeod mad, and for all I know he's behind everything else here. He's certainly the reason that half of the police in the city - if not the whole country by now - are out looking for me. If I step out of the door right now I'll be lucky to make it fifty feet without getting shot."
"My brother is not sending MacLeod mad. My brother is dead."
"MacLeod doesn't think so."
"MacLeod's not thinking straight."
"You're sure about that?"
"I'm sure." Methos sat down opposite Peter. "Very sure. I can't ask you to trust me about anything else, but you have to trust me about this. Kronos can't come back." Not yet.
"I don't know." The world's oldest Immortal slumped back into his chair, staring at the floor. That was the trouble; he really didn't know. He didn't have the slightest clue where to start looking. He was adrift in Seacouver, with his closest friend a prisoner of unknown enemies, and his other closest friend wandering at large in a city full of people looking to arrest him. MacLeod was teetering on the brink of insanity, haunted by dreams full of dead men, and ready to draw his sword on Methos himself. The old man had no idea where to start looking for him; not so much as a clue as to where he could have gone. Wanted as he himself was, he could not even go to the police to ask for their assistance in finding MacLeod; not that he would have done so anyway. The only person he could trust was a strange mortal man who was the spitting image of his dead brother. Peter Kerensky was willing enough, but his mere presence was enough to set the old man's heart racing, and leave his thoughts in an inextricable tangle. All in all, with friends all a scatter and no way in which he could confidently turn, he was beginning to know how Luke Skywalker had felt, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back.
"Are you okay Methos?" As always the voice was his brother's, and the world's oldest man had to will himself to remember that it was Peter Kerensky, and not Kronos, who was asking the question. He looked up and grinned, distracted but determined.
"Yeah," he said steadily. "I'm fine."
"So what are we going to do?"
Methos stood up, reaching for his sword. He swung it in the air, trying to tell himself that with the weapon in his hands he could do anything. He had certainly believed that once, but times had changed. Boy had they changed.
"Actually... I haven't got a clue." He shrugged, then stuck the sword inside the battered leather jacket he had also carried up from MacLeod's car. He pulled the jacket on. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"I haven't got a clue about that, either."
"We have to help MacLeod."
"If we're going to stand the slightest chance of surviving the next week or so, then yes, I'd say that we do."
"And we have to find Joe Dawson."
"That would also be a good plan."
"Should we work through a list of your enemies?"
Methos laughed. "How long have you got?"
"How many of them are there?"
"Do you even know which country to start looking in?" They had reached the door, and Methos stood with his hand on the handle, wondering if they really would be lucky to make it more than fifty feet without getting shot by the local police.
"I know which hemisphere is most likely, so that narrows it down some."
"Oh." Slowly, ever so slowly, Kerensky stepped out of the door. "Great."
"Cheer up, brother. It could be so much worse."
"I don't see how." Kerensky frowned. "And I'm not your brother."
"No." The dark thoughts were stirring in the back of the old man's mind again, but this time he welcomed them. This time he was ready to greet them. "Not yet."