|Kindred Spirits: Two
by Lillian Wolfe
Darkness... a darkness deeper than any surface one, even one under a cloud-shrouded, moonless night.
The snap of the beams cracking and the rumbling of the earth still echoed in his mind, still caused panic at the thought of even more of the tunnel section caving in. Methos tried to move, couldn't. He reached an arm out to feel around him, trying to feel what held him. There was pain in the movement, terrible pain that shot through his whole body and he gasped, drawing dust-laden air into his lungs. He coughed and more pain ripped through him. He lay still, trying not to do anything to increase the now constant pain. Broken ribs? Broken back? Maybe. Hopefully not a severed spinal cord. Either would heal, it was only a matter of maybe an hour for the break and another hour or so before the latter healed.
"Petersen?" he queried weakly, voice breaking mid-word. "Petersen? Can you hear me? ...Tommy? Eddie?"
A sobbing groan to his left told him that at least one of them was alive.
"Ben? That you, Ben?" a strained, scared voiced called back lowly, as if he was afraid any more sound would bring the rest of the tunnel down.
"Yeah. How bad are you hurt, Tommy?"
"Don't know...side...side hurts." The voice sounded so young.
"Don't move... I'll need to check... But I can't get to you for a bit. I'm stuck, need to dig out." He lied easily, giving the kid an excuse while he waited for his injuries to heal. He needed to be doing something soon...something to get them out of here. "What about Eddie? Is he near you? Petersen?"
"I can't tell. It's so dark. Do you think we're trapped?"
"Maybe. Help will be coming. Be quiet for now...until I can check." He wanted to close his eyes and will the pain away. It was hard to think, just as hard to talk. Tentatively, he tried to shift his leg, to see if the healing had progressed far enough for movement. White-hot agony raced along his nerves from his hip to his neck, firebrand needles of pain digging into him, pain so intense he couldn't scream! A low groan slipped free, then he passed out...
... he woke to little scuffling sounds, slight movement and forced his eyes open. Little good that did. There was no light source to give even a hint of vision, no matter how good his eyesight was. Intently, he listened, waiting for a repeat.
Another scuffle of sound. Cloth being dragged through dirt? "Tommy?" His mouth felt dry. Was there any water? How much time had passed? Tentatively, he shifted his arm, waiting for a stab of pain. A little stiffness, but okay.
"Ben? Are you okay? I think Eddie's alive, but he's out cold. I can't find Petersen."
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just passed out for a bit." He tested his legs, then carefully sat up. Very stiff and a little sore. Healed again, whole and functional.
Moving cautiously, he began feeling his way around the space. How much room did they have -- how much air? Was any air making its way into the chamber or was it completely sealed? His hands alighted on a thick beam not far from him, most likely the one that had broken his back. It must have caught him in the ferocious snap. Continuing, his questing fingers moved carefully over a pile of rubble and met something cold that wasn't stone. He felt carefully over it, found the elongated digits and moved upward to the broad palm and the sturdy wrist. Although he already knew what he would find, he pressed against the wrist, seaching for a pulse. He swallowed in dislike, knowing what -- or whom he'd found. Petersen, the shift boss. Buried under the bulk of the cave in.
"I found Petersen," he said flatly. His voice said it all and Tommy didn't bother to ask the next question.
He continued his search, moving his hands carefully up the wall of rubble, feeling for any indication that air was getting through. Nothing. This side of the cave-in was completely sealed. Unless there was something on the other side, they were up against a time limit. He crawled along the wall, fingers guiding him to where the mineshaft ended. Still nothing.
He sighed and considered the situation. There were times when he wondered that he wasn't totally claustrophobic. He'd been in confined, dark places a few too many times in his very long life, been subjected to the mental trauma that ink-black darkness and small spaces caused and he already felt the panic trying to creep up his spine. //No!// he thought firmly. //I will not let it conquer me! I am in control.//
Still on his knees, he edged his way toward the raspy breath that came from Tommy. He needed to see how the two lads were doing, if Eddie was even alive and, if he was, what the chances were he would remain so. His hands reached out and made contact, then he felt Tommy's hand clutch his and hold fast, nearly breaking his fingers in the desperation of the grip.
"It's okay," he soothed. "Let me see how bad you're hurt." Gently, he moved his fingertips across the young miner, letting the nerve endings be his eyes as he traced the path from his head southward. Head and neck were fine -- no injuries, no damp feel of blood. Shoulders next then... a sharp intake of breath as his hand touched the left shoulder. Broken collarbone, maybe, he decided, then eased on down to touch the ribs on the same side and elicited another gasp of pain. Carefully he felt the injuries, making a mental tally as he went along. But the collarbone and three broken ribs seemed to be the worst of it. They wouldn't kill the kid.
He maneuvered to the prone body nearby and reached out to find his wrist or his throat -- any place to check for a pulse. His hand fell on the head. At least he felt warm, not icy cold. //Alive then.// Again, he repeated the examination process, using all his concentration to interpret what his fingers were telling him. The body beneath his hands barely stirred as he touched him. He could feel the sticky blood at his head, could feel the break in his leg. There could be other injuries he couldn't detect.
He sat back. "Eddie's in serious trouble. I'd say it's a concussion, pretty bad. For that matter, we're not exactly out of trouble. We've got enough oxygen in this chamber to last us maybe ten hours. That might be enough time for help to break through." He heard the sudden, sharp inhalation and sensed the fear that threatened. He spoke calmly, but firmly. "I need you to stay calm, Tommy. Can you do that?"
"Y -- yes. I think." The voice was shaky.
"Good. I'm going to see if I can improve our chances." With that, he crawled back to the piled up rubble at the opening and began digging at the rock. If he could just get even a small opening in the wall -- enough to let in some air -- it would buy them more time...
...A dry-sounding cough echoed hollowly, then a pained groan crawled around the tight, stuffy space. He jerked awake, surprised that he'd drifted off to sleep. //Still alive,// he thought bitterly. //Better they had died in the cave in...not much oxygen left.//
He moved his hand up a foot or two and found the deep indentation. He'd worked for hours at the pile, trying to make even a small passage. Grimly, he resumed his task, using it to distract him from the more unnerving thoughts that tried to push their way into his mind. Pain nipped at his fingers and hands as sharp edges of rock touched tender flesh. Even with nearly instant healing, his hands ached and burned from the continuous effort.
As he worked to remove more of the jagged stone, his thoughts drifted unbidden to the other two who shared what would likely become their tomb. Eddie was still unconscious. That was most likely a blessing
He heard the rasping sound of a painful breath. Tommy again. The kid was having trouble breathing anyway, but with the air becoming scarce, he was struggling. How long had it been now -- nine hours? More? -- since the mountain had tumbled down on them. It was becoming too evident that help wouldn't reach them in time for his mortal companions unless he could get fresh air into the chamber. And worse, he was probably going to suffocate a few times as well before he could get out of this mess.
"We're going to die, aren't we, Ben?" Tommy gasped out, voice wavering.
Moving next to him to lay a gentle hand on his right shoulder, he replied softly, "I wish I could be a little encouraging, but it doesn't look promising. The good news is you'll probably just go to sleep and not wake up."
A soft sob tore from the lad as he clutched at his arm. Tommy was barely twenty, had worked in the mines since he was fifteen. No one ever really believed death would find him in this way. "You'll stay by me? Stay close? I don't wanna die alone..."
Carefully, he eased Tommy into his arms and held him. At least that much he could promise. The kid would easily perish before he did. "I'm right here, Tommy. You won't be alone."
He closed his eyes and rocked the lad like a small child. Odd, even for him, there was a bit of comfort in this touch. It was growing stuffy, hard to breathe...
...too warm... airless...
Methos gasped, struggling for air, and opened his eyes to daylight pouring through the oddly angled windshield of the Range Rover. He was slumped across the seat crookedly and his shoulder ached from the odd angle. Moving carefully, he sat up and looked around. He was parked at the side of a residential street that seemed vaguely familiar, but he wasn't sure why he was there.
As he rolled down a window to let some air into the confined cab, his mind searched for his most recent memories beyond that recollection of a living nightmare that he'd awakened with. Odd that his mind had plucked that incident in such vivid detail to recall. Perhaps it had been triggered by the earlier recollection. Whatever, it hurt to think at the moment. He took a few deep breaths of fresh air, rubbing at his temples, then recalled driving away from the explosion. He had been heading for his flat when he began feeling dizzy, made a turn off the main road, then everything grayed out on him. He didn't recall parking the truck, but it seems he did.
"Bad Quickening," he murmured to himself, just to hear his own voice. His left side still deeply ached from the sword thrust though it...strange, considering how long it had been. He frowned. How long exactly was it? A glance at the dashboard clock showed it was just after nine. At least three hours, then.
He was about to climb out of the rover for a stretch when he glimpsed himself in the rear view mirror and reconsidered that plan. Flecks and spots of dried blood dotted his face and throat and stained the visible parts of his shirt to a deep maroon. Shit! He needed to get back to his place now! Hoping he wouldn't get stopped for any reason, Methos started the engine and eased carefully onto the road.
It was nearly ten-thirty when the weary Immortal made it back to his flat, not a good time of the day to be getting in when you looked like one of the walking dead. Shrugging his long coat on in the Range Rover before he got out, he hunched his head down as much as possible, hoping that he didn't run into any one.
Thankful that most of the people in his building were off at their regular jobs, he relaxed as he neared his door, then Methos froze as the familiar indicator of another Immortal told him there was one in his flat. His groan of dismay was very real. This was the last thing he needed right now. His body still ached painfully from that last encounter and he really wasn't up to another fight. He had an overwhelming urge to turn, running back the way he'd come rather than face whoever was behind his door, be it friend or foe. He suspected it was the former, and as much as he'd rather see a friend than an enemy, he really didn't want to see anyone at the moment. Still, he couldn't take a chance. With another hasty glance around the hall to insure he was alone, he pulled out his sword.
Cautiously, he reached for the doorknob just as the low, feminine voice called out, "Methos? It's okay. It's me."
Letting his breath out, he shoved the door open and stepped through grumbling, "I don't recall giving you a key, Amanda."
"Since when do I need a key to..." Her voice trailed off as she took in the bloody, disheveled appearance of the oldest Immortal. "What the hell happened to you?"
He sheathed his sword, closed the door behind him. "What does it look like?"
"It looks like you've been in a bad fight," the somewhat deeper voice said from the small kitchen area. "How much of that blood is yours?"
Methos' shoulders sagged some. Now they wanted to involve themselves in his life? "You, too, Mac? To what do I owe this visit?"
MacLeod stepped around to face him, studied the wary, tired face whose eyes glared at him in annoyance. "Concerned friends."
Methos took a couple of slow, deep breaths, his mind working quickly. "The Watcher network in action," he muttered. "Does my Watcher report directly to Dawson?"
"Well, Joe was the source of this morning's phone call." As Mac saw the expression on Methos' face darken, he added, "He was worried about you. Your Watcher reported a very disturbing Quickening."
"Yeah, well, my Watcher is a complete novice and none too bright. He blew up half a block to try to cover up the aftermath. Who the hell trained him anyway?" Methos slipped off his coat, stared at it a moment and dumped it on the floor near the entry. His fingers pushed at the sizeable hole in the shirt fabric at his side where the blade had sliced through it... and his body. Ruined, totally ruined. He glanced up again. "Now if you and Amanda don't mind, I'd like to get cleaned up."
Mac gestured toward the bathroom. "Go ahead. We'll talk later."
Exasperation evident on his face, Methos almost said something he would probably regret. Instead he muttered, "Why don't you two just go? There's nothing to talk about."
"Uh huh," Mac said agreeably. But it was clear he wasn't leaving.
Too tired to argue, Methos shrugged. "Suit yourself." He headed for the shower.
Frankly speaking, Duncan MacLeod was worried about his friend. Quickenings could be very difficult sometimes and he knew Methos didn't have an easy time of it. From the description Joe had been given, this one had been particularly nasty. He glanced at Amanda who seemed to be waiting for him to say something.
"Maybe we should go," he said unconvincingly.
Amanda's eyes widened, then she flopped down on the loveseat, crossing her arms. "MacLeod, he looks like shit! I'm not going anywhere until I know what's going on."
Mac nodded, knowing that would be her reaction. He felt the same way, but logically he said, "Amanda, it's none of our business. I just wanted to be sure he's okay -- "
"Fine. Then you can go, but I'm staying."
Mac's face got a crooked little smile on it. So Amanda was really fond of Methos, was she? That was an interesting development. He sat down next to her, caught her hand in his. "You surprise me sometimes. I didn't think you were that concerned about Methos. But this isn't something you can interfere in. Neither can I. If he wants to talk to us, he will."
Amanda glanced down, traced a finger over Mac's thumb. "I know. It's just -- He was a very good friend when you first left, Duncan."
MacLeod detected something deeper in her words. How good a friend? he wondered. Amanda and Methos? No. He couldn't see that happening.
Letting his thoughts drift a bit, Mac leaned back. Normally, they wouldn't be dropping in to see Methos just because he was involved in a fight, but the Watcher had seemed overly concerned about the intensity and the difficulty when his assignment had taken the Quickening. Concerned enough that Joe was then on the phone to him at a way too early hour of the day. And that wasn't all that was worrying MacLeod.
Mac's mind kept wandering back to the conversation of the night before, remembering Methos' ... defensive, yes that was the word for it... defensive stance as he spoke to him. What was it that the old man was so closed about? He was trying to tell him he understood about people changing, to thank him for teaching him about it. Sometimes Methos was so difficult to understand that Mac couldn't begin to get a foothold. He held his emotions tightly reined most of the time, not letting anyone see the real person. If there was a real person, Mac amended quickly. Sometimes he wondered if Methos existed anymore or if he was just a composite of all the people he'd been over the centuries. Lord knows, he'd seen enough variations in the short time he'd known him.
Adam Pierson was a stark contrast to the man he was now. Sometimes it was easy to think that Methos had shed that skin entirely and there was none of it left. Adam was the gentle, caring person who had fallen in love with Alexa and risked his life for her, who had suffered along with her and grieved when she was gone. Then there was the transition Methos, the one between Adam and the person he was now, the one who was a bit more paranoid and careful -- was that all due to the presence of Kronos in his past? With that threat removed, Methos had transitioned again, stronger, more assertive. Still not actively in the game, but not avoiding it either. Even his physical appearance had altered, Mac realized. Methos seemed larger now, standing taller. Who the hell was he? What was at the core of the man anyway? Shit! He was almost as much of a mystery now as when he'd first met him! And maybe he really didn't want to know. Maybe he couldn't handle knowing too much about him. Was there worse than the Horsemen in his friend's past? Mac gave a mental shudder, not sure if he could go down that path with the ancinet Immortal.
So there he'd been when he'd tried to talk to him -- Methos the inscrutable. His face as closed as a locked door. Mac's words had fallen on him and slipped off like snowflakes on a slick roof, not appearing to make the smallest impact. He'd tried to say how much Methos had meant to him, that he'd learned from him. What did the old man want from him?
"You know he's upset?" Joe had said as he started to leave the barge. Amy had pulled up and honked, not invited to come in. Another Watcher caught up in the entanglement of knowing Immortals was something both Joe and Mac both wanted to avoid.
Confused, Mac had replied, "What? Who?"
Joe had shook his head, leaning a little heavier on his cane. He had seemed tired, more weary these days. "Methos. When are you going to sort this out with him, Mac?"
MacLeod had felt surprise at the question. "Sort what out? Everything's fine between us."
"Uh huh," the Watcher muttered, then turned and made his way down the gangway to the waiting car. Mac had watched him for a few minutes, still puzzling over the strange statement. But then he'd started thinking about how Methos had been when he'd talked to him. Distant, unresponsive. He'd barely spoken even one word as he'd opened the champagne bottle and poured for everyone.
Any other reflections were quickly cast aside as Amanda joined him on deck and he turned his attention to the beautiful woman. That was one relationship he was thankful was blessedly uncomplicated.
And he'd forgotten about Methos until Joe, full of concern for the ancient Immortal, had called him. Concern over the circumstances of his most recent fight, concern over the intensity and aftermath of the Quickening itself and concern that Methos hadn't gone home and his Watcher had lost him. When Joe told him that his opponent's sword had plunged completely through Methos' torso, Mac began to share the concern. This was something he knew, something he had experienced for himself. So he knew how bad a Quickening could be when the flesh still sheltered the blade that pierced it, let alone how much more painful and debilitating it was to have the damn thing completely penetrate and draw the power into and through your body.
That was enough to bring Amanda and him to Methos' flat to wait. In the end, it was all they could do as well. Like Joe, they had no idea where Methos was or what condition he was in until he walked through the door. And we're not likely to know what happened, he admitted to himself. Methos had never been one to talk about himself with any real depth, letting problems from his past -- particularly those that threatened his life -- remain pretty much unspoken.
'He won't tell us anything, you know," Amanda stated, as if reading MacLeod's thoughts. She sauntered into the kitchen to pour another cup of coffee for herself. "He closes up tighter than a clam sometimes. It's damned annoying."
"It's his business, Amanda."
"And we're his friends. Aren't friends supposed to be there when you need help?"
Mac watched her, a deep feeling of satisfaction growing within him that brought a loving smile to his face. This was hardly the Amanda he'd met over three hundred years ago. That Amanda knew very little about real friends, equating Rebecca as a friend in the context of teacher, but not trusting anyone else. But she had grown and he believed that he was responsible for some of that change. Whether his vision was true or not, he knew he had influenced her life.
"Maybe Methos has a different definition of friend." He reached for the coffeepot.
"Or maybe Methos doesn't want to trouble his friends with his petty little problems." The deep voice sounded tired. The subject of the conversation, tall, lean body now wrapped in a warm navy-colored terry robe, had slipped quietly into the living space. He spread his arms open as if inviting them to take inventory. "As you can see, I'm fine. No permanent damage. But I am tired and I really just want to be left alone."
As MacLeod poured another cup of coffee, his keen eyes took in the details he was sure Methos would have preferred he didn't notice -- the darkness surrounding the expressive eyes, the stiffness in his movements and the tendency to favor activity that didn't put too much stress on his mid-section. The sword had pierced through his stomach, then. "Well, you're clean, anyway. You still look like hell. Either get into bed or sit down before you fall down." He reached for the whiskey bottle, poured a generous amount into the coffee.
As Methos eased himself carefully onto the loveseat, Amanda shook her head in annoyance. "Methos, we were worried -- "
The narrow face pinched into a frown, "About what?"
She sat down across from him, sipping at her coffee as MacLeod handed him the enhanced brew before sitting next to Amanda. "Your past catching up with you," Mac answered. "Just how many people want you dead?"
Methos gave a snort of a laugh. "It might interest you to know that this morning's encounter didn't even know me. He was a headhunter, MacLeod. There are some out there who don't care who they're hunting. Besides, I can take care of myself." He paused for a slow sip of the coffee, seeming to savor the flavor and the alcohol-enhanced-warmth, before adding, "I've been doing it for a long time."
"So, you're saying this man just wanted your head? No reason?" The skepticism in MacLeod's voice was more than apparent.
"Yeah, that's what I said. Not unheard of."
MacLeod couldn't say exactly why he didn't totally believe Methos. Instinctively, he felt there was more to this than his friend was saying. But apart from looking tired, Methos seemed okay and he had no cause to push it any further. Perhaps Joe had been worried for no reason. At least he could reassure him that the ancient Immortal was okay. It occurred to Mac that it was odd for Dawson to concern himself this way, but, just as a closer friendship with Amanda had been forged during his absence, so had the Watcher apparently grown closer to Methos. What exactly had happened after he left? He'd just assumed Methos had disappeared as well. In fact, Joe had led him to believe that.
Unconcerned, Methos continued to sip at the coffee. He was looking more relaxed, but not inclined to talk.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Amanda asked, her dark eyes searching his face for the real answer.
Methos smiled gamely. "I'm fine, really. Look, I appreciate your concern, but I'm okay. I don't need you two to stay."
Nodding, Mac got to his feet. "Right. You get some sleep. Drop by later?"
Methos didn't move for several more minutes after MacLeod and Amanda had left. He found himself examining his words, questioning why he couldn't tell MacLeod the whole story. Not that he'd lied exactly, just not told him everything. He didn't distrust the Highlander, nor did he expect the reaction he'd experienced with Kronos, but he just wasn't prepared to delve into this right now. If he had told MacLeod, the Scot would keep at him about it until he was half crazy or yelling at him. And he didn't have a clue who wanted him dead. Or, to be more specific, who of those who had a bone to pick with him might still be alive and would stoop to hiring a hit man. No, this was another one of those problems best kept to himself.
With a groan, he got to his feet, staggered to his bed and collapsed on it in a boneless heap. All he wanted now was a good, untroubled sleep and, he reflected sourly, Mac had dumped enough alcohol in the decaf coffee to insure he'd get it.
With the evening, a light rain fell on the city again, not a real rain but more like a mist that hung in the air waiting to coat your face, your clothes, your hair. Even in the spring, it was icy cold, a long winter lingering. It contrasted sharply with the warm spring morning that had heated the cab of the truck less than ten hours earlier. Methos wiped at his face as he climbed into the rover, his nose wrinkling as the stale metallic odor of blood and sweat assaulted it. He needed to get the vehicle cleaned and aired out. He rolled the window down a bit to allow some of the moist air to enter. His eyes shifted to the bundle on the passenger seat -- extra blankets, a pillow, some dried food and instant coffee. Enough to hold Josette a couple of weeks, if he could find the girl again. If she would talk to him...
//What are you going to say to her?// Methos asked himself. //All that fighting last night was just a game. I wasn't really stabbed. I didn't take a man's head.// She wasn't stupid and she wouldn't believe that. But the truth was even harder to believe. //I'm an Immortal. I can't die except by losing my head. There are others like me and fighting is what we do.// Yeah, that would work real well. First things first, though. He needed to find her.
As he drove by the block where he'd fought, he noticed it looked shut down, the street itself closed off from any traffic, only a couple of lights on. Even now, a small crowd milled around gawking at the destruction. The Quickening had done superficial damage, but the dimwit Watcher had created a major problem. No doubt the Paris police were looking for someone to take responsibility for this action... some terrorist organization. That damn idiot could have blown up the whole city with a stunt like that. What the hell was he thinking? Methos shook his head in disbelief. He'd have to talk to Dawson about that, find out what the heck was going on that a Watcher would do something that stupid. "Non-interference, my ass," he muttered. The organization was going to hell in a hand basket.
But it did raise another unnerving question for him. Josette had witnessed the fight, knew he was there just before the explosion. Had she talked to the police? Or did she believe he was dead and hadn't seen fit to mention it? Gods, he may be courting more trouble by looking for the girl, but he just couldn't let this go. He had to see her, talk to her. Damned if he actually knew why -- maybe it was the fact that she'd helped him or maybe just that she reminded him of a person he'd been once.
A few minutes later, he parked the rover on a street near the exit he'd scrambled out of the night before. There were more people on the avenue now as several small businesses were still open and a few quaint restaurants attracted adventurous diners. Methos found a bit of comfort in that, but not enough to let his guard down even a little. He hated being hunted, especially when he had no idea who the hunter was. Not that it hadn't happened to him before, but it didn't make it any easier to handle. His sword was with him tonight...and the gun... and a knife.
Hefting the bundle he'd put together over his shoulder, he cautiously made his way toward the sewer entrance. He paused, cast a casual gaze around the area, then removed the grate and dropped the bundle through. A few moments later, he followed it down, carefully replacing the grate after him. He had a small electric torch with him, enough to cast about three feet of light ahead, but it was enough. He easily retraced his footsteps to the side tunnel and walked unhurriedly toward the nest Josette had made.
The girl wasn't there, but nothing had changed. It was all still as it had been the night before, except the cups were cleaned out and set neatly to the side and the sparse layer of blankets had been rolled up and tucked alongside the wall. She hadn't run, then, and he hadn't expected her to go either. She would have no reason to believe he was anything but dead. He shifted the bundle of supplies into the hollow at the back and sat down to wait.
//This is foolish,// he told himself for the third time. She believed he was dead and he should just leave it at that. Seeing her would only mean explaining what had happened. It would mean a complication he didn't need. So why was he having such a hard time leaving? He could still leave the bundle of goods...she'd never know who'd brought them. //So get up and go,// that practical voice that had kept him alive for so many centuries stated firmly. But another voice, not as loud, but equally insistent advised, //You owe her.// He shivered slightly. It seems Adam Pierson wasn't totally dead and his memory was just as long as the old man's was. He owed her and a host of others. It was a debt he could never repay, but he could make little installments on it now and again. Josette was one of those installments -- a life he could maybe salvage a bit.
He put those worries aside for the moment and shifted his thoughts to the other pressing problem he had -- who would hire someone to kill him? Surprisingly enough, the first name on his list wasn't Cassandra, although he didn't doubt for a moment that the witch still wanted him dead. He wouldn't put it past her to hire someone to do the dirty work either, not when she knew for a fact he could take her in a fair fight, even against the witches' tricks she used. But there were a couple of others who had just as much reason to hate him, if not more. In fact, without thinking too hard, he could come up with a list of seven or eight. How many of those were still alive was the question. He knew Cassandra, Rafaella and Neti still breathed, as did Agnetha and Ceirdwyn, but the latter two could, and would, easily fight their own battles.
The more he thought about it, the better relocating and changing personas again sounded. Maybe a meek, inconspicuous teacher at an Indian school in Arizona... Oops...that was Native American now, wasn't it? Columbus' little nomenclature error corrected. He could have told the explorer that there was a whole continent between Europe and the Far East, but no one asked him. Another thought occurred -- did kids play "cowpersons" and "Native Americans" now? Or was that even an option? Why did people get so hung up on labels, anyway? It was the people that mattered, not the group name assigned to them. Look at the labels he'd carried over the centuries...god, slave, demon, monster, warlock, murderer, avenger...the list went on. Even Immortal was a misnomer. Ultimately, he was simply a guy who didn't die easily, but he could, nonetheless, die.
But back to the problem at hand, if he moved it would mean starting all over again. It would mean giving up the few friends he had -- Joe, Mac, Amanda, even Rory -- and that was something he was unwilling to do right now. It had been a long time since he'd had close friends, a long time since he'd really cared about anyone. If he left, it would be as empty as the girl leaving Brittany to start a new life in Paris. Difficult, lonely and restricted -- he'd be back on a budget and working for a living. What kind of salary did a teacher make these days, anyway?
Nope. He wasn't ready to go hide again. So that meant dealing with this problem. He needed help, specifically in identifying who was still around of the ones he thought most likely and trying to determine where they were. And that meant the Watcher database. He sighed. Joe wasn't likely to let him go wandering through the files. Dawson had become damn protective about the database that he had created! //As a matter of fact, Joe, yes, it is my personal Rolodex,// he thought with a touch of annoyance. At least, in a sense, that was his original intent.
He heard a scuffle of movement toward the opening and any other thoughts were quickly tabled. The girl came into sight, then stopped shortly, gaping at him. Her mouth fell open and moved soundlessly for a few moments before her voice caught up. "Adam?! I can't believe it! I thought -- I thought you were dead! I saw you..." Her voice faded as she tried to reconcile the reality before her with the proof her eyes had seen the night before.
Methos could empathize. He took a deep breath, surprised that with all this time to think he still didn't know how to begin. "This could take a little explaining, Josette. I -- I'm not quite like most people..."
"Are you a spirit? A sidhe?" Tentatively, she inched her hand toward him, her fingertips lightly touching his arm to feel the solidness of it.
He saw fear in her eyes, but also wonder and curiosity. Good, she didn't run screaming from him. "I... I'm very difficult to kill. I have unique healing abilities."
"Like a protector. I know of this. Our village had one once, five centuries ago. The stories say nothing could kill him, until one day a destroyer came to the village. They fought and when it was over, the protector was dead -- his head chopped off. You are like that, Adam? A protector?"
Her voice sounded full of hope and a touch of joy. Here he was, a legend come to life. "Yeah, I'm like that," he said roughly, intentionally not admitting to being one or the other specifically. He hesitated for a few heartbeats, thinking he could just leave it at this simple explanation, but then he took the plunge. "Josette, what I am -- what the protector and the destroyer were -- are Immortals. Like humans, there are good and bad and most of us are a combination. We cannot die. Does that frighten you?"
Unexpectedly, she scuttled closer to him and her hands tugged at his sweater, shoving it up to look at his midriff. Her chill, smooth yet strong fingers pressed against his stomach, exploring it for the flaws -- the scars, the healing wound -- he knew she thought she should find. He allowed her to do it, permitting the intimate touch with the realization it was necessary for her to believe him.
"It's like your head wound. Nothing to show you were hurt, not even a scar," she breathed in awe. "Afraid? No, Adam, I am not afraid. I'm glad you're alive. Are there more like you?"
He nodded. "More than you might think. But you need to keep this a secret. There are those who would hunt us for what we are. Will you do that? For me?"
As her eyes met his and held, she raised a hand to his cheek to stroke it gently. "Need you ask? But of course, I will."
Her eyes, he noted, were a misty grayish blue, much like the winter sea on the coast she'd left behind. They were wide and filled with sincerity and something more that made him uneasy. It could have been desire, or maybe only need, that intermingled with the affection and caring, something that he didn't want in his life right now. Something he just couldn't afford, especially not with an underage wisp of a girl. He took a steadying breath against the physical touch and forced himself to ask the next question. "I'm sorry, I have to ask this. But I need to know. Have you talked to the police?"
Surprised by the question, her eyes grew wider. "About last night? No, no -- no. I don't speak to the police about anything. I have nothing to tell them."
"Even though I killed a man?" He pressed the question gently, wanting to keep the girl on his side.
"I thought he had killed you as well. There was nothing for me to say to anyone. And..." She hesitated, pulled back from him and seemed to huddle into a small bundle.
She stared at the bottom of the tunnel, nervousness evident. "And I don't want to call attention to myself."
"Ah. I understand. You keep my secret, Josette, and I'll keep yours. Deal?" This time he made the move, pulling one of the small hands into his, her whole hand barely covering his palm as his long, elegant fingers wrapped protectively around it. Her eyes brightened as she nodded her acceptance and she appeared to grow larger with no visible movement. //A fairy trick,// Methos thought in amusement. He, too, had done that, altered his appearance with such a slight shift so that he seemed less than he was, inconspicuous in a crowd and unthreatening.
Abruptly, Josette's eyes darkened, a frown crossed her face and she jerked her hand from his to wave it past his face to something behind him. "What is that?!"
He glanced to where she pointed. "It's just some things I brought you -- food, coffee, blankets--"
"I don't accept charity! I don't need it!" Her voice was angry as she made a grab for the packet to pull it toward her.
He shifted quickly, laying a hand on the package as if to hold it in place. "It's not charity! I owe you... for last night. It's a small payment, that's all."
"For what? You would have healed anyway! All I did was bring you here where another one could find you. I don't know that it was a favor -- "
"And he could have found me in that alley and killed me. I can die. Just like he did. Just like your protector did." He watched her face as she connected what he said. "Believe me, you did help me."
She sat back, thought carefully about what he said, then fingered the bundle, rubbing the soft blanket against her skin and picking up the jar of coffee. Lifting her head, she replied solemnly. "Then I will accept this as full payment, Adam. You owe me no more and I owe you nothing."
"Not quite. I think I should buy you dinner as well." As she started to object he added, "Please don't argue. I'm starving and I would like your company. Please?" He tilted his head at a slight angle, his eyes pleading and his eyebrows arching slightly with the question. It was an attitude that had often proved successful for him. And it didn't fail him now.
A shy smile slowly spread across Josette's face. "How can I say no to someone so -- what's the word?" She frowned, found it and said it in English. "...so cute."
//Cute? I can do cute.// For a moment the words echoed in his head and brought back a score of memories and emotions. He quickly shook it off. This wasn't Alexa and he wasn't looking at the girl in any way other than to say thank you and maybe help her get a foothold in the city. So many young people came into the city with very little and no idea where to go or what to do once they arrived. Like most from Brittany, she'd probably gotten off the train and ventured no further than this area of town. At least she hadn't ended up as a piece of merchandise in the nearby bordellos.
"We're not going any place fancy, are we? I'm afraid I don't have any fancy clothes," Josette muttered as she dug through the items in her open case.
"No, it's okay. I'm not dressed up either."
She glanced over her shoulder at him. "But a sweater and slacks on a man is dressy for many places whereas a girl in jeans is too casual."
His eyes danced at her concern about the details. "Then we won't go to any of those places. I know quite a few places where blue jeans are acceptable. Trust me."
In fact, the place Methos selected was very casual -- a clean, airy café that served home-cooked food and gave good service. It was still owned by Maurice even though MacLeod's friend spent most of his time at Le Blues Bar now. But the manager was Maude, a charming middle-aged woman who remembered "Adam" well and insured he and the "young lady" had everything they needed.
As Josette excused herself after dinner, Methos seized the opportunity to talk to Maude. "The girl needs a job," he said plainly. "Can you use some help here, Maude?"
The woman considered it carefully. She was a handsome woman, with gentle gray eyes and an earthy charm of her own. Her relationship with Maurice had been more than professional at times, but she was also a fine manager and had good business sense. She shook her head slowly. "I can always use help, but pay her, no. The business doesn't make that much."
Methos calculated quickly. "Here's the situation. She's only been in Paris a few months, came up from Brest. She has no job, no money, no place to stay. Can you work out a deal where you can provide her with room and board and I'll throw in a small amount as salary?"
Maude arched an eyebrow in surprise. "You would pay a wage for her? What is she to you, Adam?"
"Just a kid who needs a break. Will you help?" His eyes pleaded earnestly with her.
The woman smiled affectionately at him. "You make it hard for me to say no. Yes, I have a small room in the attic of my house that she can use. It is not fancy, but there is a window and a bed. And you get free lunches any time you come in as long as you pay her wage. If my business will support it, I will try to take care of that eventually."
His face split into a grin. "Thank you, Maude. And one more thing -- can you make it sound like your idea?"
She laughed at that. "So your little girl has her pride, eh? No charity offered. I'll work her for her small wage and room!"
Josette returned a few moments later and Maude herself brought dessert, fabulous fruit-filled crepes with thick cream. Methos didn't often indulge on rich desserts, but this one was outstanding. Not that he had a problem with the calories or the fat -- his metabolism was always high and his body tended to leanness -- he just didn't bother with them usually.
Over coffees, Maude cleverly approached the subject. She fumbled with the cups, made a point of wiping them out with a clean towel before she set them on the table. "Pardon. I am running behind with the dishes and the dryer is not working well. This shop is so busy sometimes that I think I might need to hire a helper." She laughed as if she'd made a joke.
"I could use a job, Madame," Josette piped up on cue. "That is if you are serious."
Maude appeared to look her over carefully, considering. "You? Have you ever done any restaurant work?"
"I've washed dishes for a large family and I know how to clean and serve. I can't imagine this being more difficult than picking up after a pack of lazy men." Her voice was confident, sure. Methos hid a smile.
"But no experience, eh? I'll tell you what I can do. I will pay you seventy-five francs a week plus you will have room and board if you are able to do the job."
Josette hesitated a moment. "Room and board? Where?"
"My house. It is small, clean and it has a nice attic room. Do you want the job or not?"
"Yes," the girl said with a quick nod. "When do I start?"
"Tomorrow at ten. You can bring your things with you and I will show you to the room then." With that, Maude poured the coffee and left to speak to other customers.
"Isn't this fortunate, Adam?" Josette asked, her hand resting on his arm in enthusiasm. "You have been good luck for me. You are like my protector."
He smiled a little uneasily. That was not a name normally associated with him. But perhaps the fates were giving him another opportunity for redemption. And if he was lucky, the taint of what he had been wouldn't spoil this chance.
Methos paused for a moment as he stepped into "Le Blues Club." The air was thick with the heavy smell and taste of cigarette smoke. Friday night crowd, he realized. Tended to be more smokers on the weekends and he was way too early to be dropping in if he wanted to talk to Joe Dawson. He half-turned to leave when he spotted the gray-haired blues man at a table near the stage. Although he was sitting with a couple of folks, he waved at Methos, encouraging him to come over.
With a sigh, Methos nudged his way through the tightly packed bodies toward the table. Most of the revelers were young, late twenties, early thirties. Unconsciously he managed a half-friendly smile at an anorexic-looking brunette who was bumped into him by a sudden surge of gyrating humanity on the other side of her. Shifting his lean body sideways, he stepped around her. A sudden sharp tweak at his left buttock surprised him, causing him jump.
//What the hell -- ?//
He swiveled his head around but he only got a glimpse of the girl swimming through the crowd. He shook his head. What was the world coming to when strange women took liberties with anybody that happened along?
He practically fell into the chair Joe shoved back from the table for him. With a sharp intake of air, he leaned toward Joe. "What's going on tonight?" It definitely seemed busier than usual, even for being early in the evening.
Joe grinned, had to shout over the noise. "Don't you remember? I told you the Jackie Marx Band would be in tonight. They're the hottest group on the blues scene right now. Great gig! I thought you were going to be a no-show."
Methos nodded. "Sorry, Joe. It slipped my mind." He glanced at the couple that shared the table and recognized them as regulars to the club. Nothing to worry about there.
Joe's eyebrows knitted together briefly as if that surprised him. He motioned to the bar for another round of beers, turned his attention back to Methos and asked doubtfully, "Slipped your mind?"
Methos shrugged it off. "It happens." At the even more skeptical look the Watcher gave him, he added. "I'll tell you later -- when I can hear myself talk."
The band played one more set that had the crowd going wild. //Joe's right; they are phenomenal, // Methos decided as he tapped the table along with the drummer. No doubt about it, the blues man had a real gift for finding raw talent. This group was definitely on its way up. They had that rough, hungry sound that screamed honesty and emotion in their playing and the singer, Jackie Marx, had a growling, sultry voice like Ertha Kitt and Julie London combined, with a pinch of Janis Joplin thrown in for good measure. That voice could reel you in like a minnow on a hook.
As it turned out, it was over two hours later before the club calmed down enough for Methos to have a private chat with Joe. Enthused with the band, the people just didn't want to leave, as if hanging around for a while would extend the glow. But eventually, they began filtering out in little groups of twos, threes and fours. Finally Joe indicated a small table, suitable for a quiet conversation, back in a darkened corner that was practically empty. They grabbed fresh brews and headed back.
"How'd it go with Amy?" Methos' interest was genuine.
"Good. I think we're gonna be spending some time getting to know each other. She's still a little uncertain of me and she's understandably curious why I seem to hang out with an Immortal or two." He laughed. "Not too easy to explain. So what's up?" Joe asked frankly. The uncomplicated approach had always been Dawson's style. He was reasonably sure Methos hadn't come to discuss his daughter although it was typical of him to inquire.
Methos glanced down at his beer, then looked up engagingly at Dawson. The Watcher was amused slightly by that look, pure Adam Pierson. He could wear innocence and charm as easy as a kid and Dawson had to remind himself that the man facing him was far older than he appeared.
"Actually, I have two things. Joe. The first one has to do with a young woman I met yesterday. She -- uh -- saw the Quickening. Luckily she didn't see your idiot Watcher -- "
Dawson frowned. "Yeah, I know. He pulled a dumb stunt. But he's just out of the Academy and was trying to follow my orders."
"Well, can't you pay me the courtesy of putting an experienced Watcher on me... someone who isn't going to complicate my life? It's bad enough you feel compelled to send someone tagging after me. At least make it someone who can stay out of my way."
In spite of the words, only a trace of irritation showed in Methos' voice. That surprised Dawson. He'd expected Methos to be more annoyed than he seemed to be. "I'll see what I can do. Now, what about this girl?" There was an uncharacteristic blank look in the hazel eyes that prompted Joe to add, "The one who saw the Quickening?"
"Josette." Methos supplied softly. "She's a runaway. Seventeen and was living in a storm drain. I got her a job this evening... and a place to stay. The point is, she's smart, resourceful and she's not rattled by Immortals. I think she might be a good candidate for the academy eventually. "
Joe's eyebrows formed a solid blockade across his brow. Recruiting for the Watchers? What the hell was going on with Methos? "Okay," he said agreeably. "When she's nineteen, I'll talk to her -- if she's still around. Is that it?"
"Not exactly. Uhmm, I need some information, Joe." He raised his eyes slowly from the glass he'd been studying. "About some Immortals I used to know." His voice was soft, hopeful.
//Seductive as hell,// Joe thought, knowing that he was trying to manipulate. "We went through that with Walker. I can't open the files for you anytime you want."
"Come on, Joe. I did you a favor. I really need to know where three or four Immortals are."
"Why?" The Watcher countered. "Tell me why I should do this?"
The warm hazel eyes met Dawson's and that still young face looked as open and sincere as Joe had ever seen it. But there was also a trace of regret as he said, "Because we're friends. I wouldn't ask if I could think of any other way."
Joe was a better than average judge of character. In fact, he was damn good at it -- he had to be. He'd formed an impression of Adam Pierson years ago when he'd first met him and pegged him as a hard-working, honest young guy who also happened to be quite bright and an amazing linguist. He'd agreed with Don Saltzer that he'd be a major asset to the Watchers as a researcher. When he'd discovered their shy Watcher was really the world's oldest Immortal, it had surprised him, but it hadn't altered his opinion much -- except to add clever to the list of attributes.
Little by little, he'd seen Methos emerge like a butterfly from the cocoon that was Pierson...if this was really Methos they were seeing now, that is. He thought that essentially it might be since the old guy hadn't slipped to another persona yet. Gradually, this other personality had emerged, more secure than Adam, more acidic and prone to sarcasm, yet consistently patient with MacLeod. Leading the Scot, guiding him, imparting little words of wisdom to give him plates of armor to put on when the battle grew worse. Still basically the same man Dawson had first met, until Kronos came along and caused him to reevaluate Methos with the knowledge of his part in the Four Horsemen. Like a hard slap, it had sent him reeling, unable to reconcile the Methos he knew with the monster Cassandra described. But the bottom line then, and the bottom line now, was that this Methos was not that Methos.
Joe knew this Methos, knew he seldom asked favors and this one was costing him. The look of regret on his face spoke all too clearly. //Damn! Why am I the one feeling like a rat?// Joe asked himself. He pursed his lips. "Give me the names and I can look 'em up for you."
"Joe, I don't know if I -- "
"You give me the names," he interrupted. "I'm not gonna let you go traipsing through the database. And I'm not gonna conveniently turn my back so you can do it. I have to draw a line somewhere, Methos. Shit, I've had enough trouble covering up for you with the Watchers. Half of them are convinced you completely altered any history that might remotely mention you. Most of 'em know you wander in here as blithely as MacLeod. I can't let you touch it. So give me the names or forget it." It was difficult for him to be that tough with the guy when this was obviously very important to him.
Methos swallowed hard and considered. Finally, he reached across, pulled a table napkin to him, printed out three names, scratched one out, then added another. He slid it across to Dawson.
An eyebrow crept up as Joe read the names -- Rafaella Cortese, Neti Miasi, and Agnetha. The one that had been scratched out was Ceirdwyn. All women, but he'd only heard of Agnetha and Ceirdwyn. Like Methos, Agnetha was nearly a legend in Watcher circles -- an old Norse goddess, by some reckonings. He gazed at the intent face that observed him, cleared his throat. "I take it you're not looking for a date? Don't you want to add Cassandra to this?"
Methos gave his head a slight shake.
"I'll see what I can do then," Joe said, folding up the napkin. Obviously Methos wasn't going to elaborate.
Reaching across the table, Methos laid his hand over the back of Joe's for a moment. "This is between us, Joe."
The Watcher nodded his understanding, then noticed that Methos had straightened, body tensing slightly and his eyes had gotten that look of intense concentration that Dawson recognized from experience. Joe looked past his shoulder as his companion started to turn. "It's MacLeod," Joe said before Methos completed the rotation. Instantly, he relaxed, shifting back to the table and sipping at the beer.
The Highlander paused to grab a brew before completing his journey to the table. With a quick nod at Joe, he pulled a chair over, straddled it backward and focused directly on Methos. "What happened to you?"
Methos returned a blank look.
Mac frowned. "I thought you were gonna drop by the barge this evening." He sounded more worried than upset, Joe noted.
"Was I? I'm sorry, Mac. I forgot about it."
"Forgot about it?" Mac echoed. Joe understood the concern instantly. Immortals didn't tend to forget things...anything. Once they took that first head, their memories became as sharp as the rest of their bodies. Unless they chose to forget or blocked the memory out.
Methos was more nonchalant about it. "Yeah. I've been a bit preoccupied with a couple of other things. Nothing major, but a little worrying."
"Want to talk about it?" Mac asked, leaning forward over the back of the chair and rubbing his hand along the base of his chin. Joe knew that action, too. The Scot was anxious about this, more worried than he wanted to show.
Recognizing the Clan Chief asserting itself in his friend, Methos gave Mac an indulgent look, almost smiling. "It's no big deal, Mac. I'm fine. I just have a couple of things to work out and I can do it myself. I'm a big boy -- I can stand on my own two feet and tie my own shoes. So you don't have to worry about me, all right?"
Mac nodded. Methos finished his beer, then reached for his coat. "I'll see you two later. I still have some sleep to catch up on."
"Lunch tomorrow?" Mac offered. "At the barge?"
Methos paused, "Sure. 'Night, Joe... Mac."
Mac's eyes followed him as he moved swiftly out of the club. "How long was he here?"
"Couple of hours. Aren't you being a bit over-protective, Mac?" Dawson shared his concern for the man, wouldn't have called Mac that morning about the fight Methos had struggled through otherwise. However he wasn't going to try to coddle a five-thousand-year-old. Not without darn good reason, anyway. Methos wasn't the type to appreciate it.
Swinging his attention to his friend, Mac sighed. "Maybe. But he just doesn't seem quite right. You know what I mean, Joe? I can't put a finger on it, but it's there."
"You're probably still concerned about a Quickening that hit him so hard it took him nearly three hours to recover. You're looking for problems. He just seems a little tired tonight, that's all." Joe wasn't going to read more into it than that.
Mac considered that for a few moments before nodding his agreement, yet the worried look remained.