"Cheers." Methos raised his can in a half-hearted salute and drank a sip with a good deal less of his usual cheer. It had been a quiet month so far, and he had been getting rather used to the peace again; plenty of sitting at home listening to rock music. A man could live that way for a long time without regret - especially if he was five thousand years old and a borderline recluse - but he had a feeling that this pleasant feeling of tranquillity was about to be blown apart. The main reason for that suspicion was sitting beside him, with a can in his hand.
"I've got to hand it to you, Methos. You've got great taste in beer." Raising a can of some previously unfamiliar brand, the guest toasted his host with a broad grin. "If the hospitality is always this good, I might just stay."
"No you won't." Methos, usually the very image of relaxation, was tense and on-edge. "Why couldn't you just have stayed there, Reece? Why'd you have to come here?"
"To visit." His guest shook his head, exasperated. "I thought you'd be pleased to see me."
"I am." Methos sounded equally exasperated, and immediately shook his own head. "That is, no I'm not. I don't want you here. It's not safe."
"It's perfectly safe."
"Oh yeah, sure. Until some other Immortal comes along and decides to bag another head for his collection. Reece, I thought we had a deal. I thought you were going to stay in--"
"Leave it Methos." Putting his can down on the nearby table Reece went to his friend's side. "Look, you have no idea what it's like, spending the whole of your life hiding. I couldn't do anything, go anywhere. I've been so bored."
"But you've also been safe." Methos wanted to be angry, but somehow he couldn't seem to bring himself to that level. He liked his companion too much. "You're special, Reece. You're different. I just want to make sure that you're okay."
"Yeah. Well I appreciate the sentiment, pal, but I thought it was time to take control of my own life. Other people face death every day. Why not me? I can still remember when I was a mortal - or when I thought I was. I managed to live then. Why not now? You have heard that old tale about the sturgeon who lived in the mud?"
"Of course." Methos stared straight at him, his intense, bright eyes holding those of his friend. "I've been like that old sturgeon most of my life, and it hasn't done me any harm. So what if I haven't taken as many heads as a lot of younger Immortals? I'm alive. I plan to stay that way."
"So do I." Reece sighed. "Really, whatever you may happen to think, I have no intention of getting myself killed. I just don't want to hide anymore. What's the point in living for years if I don't get the chance to do something with my life? I could wind up being the Last, and not even realise it."
"It doesn't work that way and you know it."
"So you say. We don't actually know though, do we."
Methos heaved a sigh, shaking his head. He had been worried when he had felt another Immortal approaching his door, but he had reasoned that it was likely to be MacLeod. When he had seen Reece Walton there, grinning at him in that manner that was at once both infuriating and amiable, he had been delighted; and then horrified. Reece was supposed to be living in a religious retreat in Europe, safe on Holy Ground where no rival Immortal could touch him. Instead he was suddenly there, in Seacouver, where every Immortal in the world seemed strangely drawn to do battle with Duncan MacLeod and the little band of friends he had gathered about him. No Immortal was truly safe in Seacouver, and Reece was a special case. He was a friend. The world's oldest man did not have too many of them, and those that he did have had recently been falling in previously unknown numbers. Reece was one friend that he was determined to keep.
"Okay." He leant back, resting his head against the soft embrace of his favourite easy chair. "You can stay. I'll even let you sleep here." He smiled meaningfully. "As a matter of fact I'll insist on it. But you've got to promise me that you'll be careful; that you won't go wandering around out there unarmed. You've no idea how many mad Immortals home in on this place. It's like a Mecca for the mad and psychotic."
"I get the message old man." With a heavy sigh, Reece took another drink of beer. "But I really do think that you're going a little over the top." He turned away, heading back for the computer where the pair of them were engaged in a game of chess, studying his companion's last move. "I can take care of myself, and I really don't need your protection."
"I'm not protecting you. I'm protecting my investment." Methos scowled. He hated to have to take the rôle of the guardian angel - that was Duncan MacLeod's job - but right now he did not see that he had any choice.
"Hey, do we know her?" Now at the window Reece was staring out onto the road. Methos frowned, going to join his friend. The last thing that he wanted was for Reece to begin socialising with the locals. Before he was halfway to the window, however, an indefinable feeling - known to him as well as any facet of his own self - burst through his veins. He groaned.
"I can see what you meant." Reece was grinning at him. "We're two a penny round here aren't we? Still, I have to say that if I'm going to lose my head it might as well be to someone like that." He gave an appreciative whistle. "Do you know who she is?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Methos gave a heavy sigh. So much for staying out of everybody's way during his friend's visit. He strode over to the door. Maybe, if they kept very quiet, she would go away. Something told him not to hold his breath.
"Methos!" Calling at the top of her voice, with her usual disregard for the old man's anonymity, Amanda hammered on the door with a tightly closed fist. "I know you're in there!" There was no answer, and she glowered at the wood. It was no barrier really; not to her. As a rule she did not break into friend's houses, but this one was something of an exception. After all, she knew that he was in, and yet he was still pretending that he could not hear her, or sense her presence. "Come on Methos! It's Amanda!"
"Get lost." The voice was tinged with more than just a desire for peace and solitude. Amanda waited less than patiently for the door to open, and grinned at the face of the man before her.
"Surprise what? I knew it was you. Who else could it have been?"
"You old grouch." She sighed. "Can I come in?"
"I've got company."
"Yeah, immortal company too." She was clearly not going to depart unpushed. "Come on..."
"Yeah, come on." The voice came from inside the apartment, and it was not one that Amanda recognised. She frowned.
"Strange immortal company. Trouble?"
"No." For once Methos looked entirely genuine; the picture of an honesty that she could actually believe. "Not trouble. Just an old friend."
"Good. Old friends are my favourite sort." She pushed past him, stepping into the apartment, and looked around. "Hi. My name's Amanda."
"So I heard." The voice was young, filled with a dry humour that fitted perfectly with the British accent. It came from the computer, where a figure was seated, making his move in a computerised game of chess that she saw immediately he was winning. She grinned.
"I'd retire if I was you, Methos. He's got you checkmated in another three moves."
"If I wanted advice I'd ring Garry Kasparov." Methos strode towards the computer, peering over his opponent's shoulder. His guest, a dark blond, athletic-looking looking man of average height, glanced up, sharing a grin with Amanda.
"If Kasparov wanted advice he'd ring me," he commented cheerily.
"And that from a man who claims to be modest." Methos sighed, sitting down on the edge of the computer desk with a defeated look on his face. "Okay, I resign." He gestured to Amanda. "That's Amanda. Just Amanda."
"Pleased to meet you Amanda." Wheeling towards her in a lightweight, aluminium frame wheelchair with sports-design wheels, the stranger paused to hold out a hand. "Reece Walton."
"Hi." She frowned, looking from him to his chair. "Sorry, I don't mean to stare, it's just--"
"Stare all you want." He smiled at her. "Provided I can return the compliment."
"Any time." She sat on the arm of the nearest chair, caught between wondering how to approach her next question and how she had managed not to notice the wheelchair before. She just hadn't been expecting it, she guessed. "Er..."
"It's simple." Clearly he was anticipating her question, for he wheeled himself next to her, manoeuvring about with the skill of long practice in a space not designed for such a chair. "I was paralysed in an accident before my First Death. It's not the first time something like that has happened; or so Methos tells me." He shrugged. "Those of us who are like me don't have the most enviable of life-spans, but it beats being mortal. I think."
"But to fight..." She frowned, trying not to sound too inquisitive, or too nosy. "How can you fight with a sword when you need both hands to manoeuvre?"
"It's possible." He shrugged. "But I have no interest in fighting. Believe it or not I'm a pacifist; a fully paid up member of the non-combative branch of Immortality. I don't even own a sword." He twirled his chair in a circle as though demonstrating. "See? It just me and my wheels."
"That's insane." She shrugged. "But then we're all entitled to live the way we choose. You're not exactly not the sort of person I'd expect to find here, though, as a friend of Methos."
"Yeah well, we all have our off days. Even Methos gets benevolent and thoughtful every so often." Reece fetched her a beer, before raising his own in a salute that she answered immediately. "He's my mate."
"Much against my better judgement." Returning to his seat, Methos folded his arms, a familiar, mutinous expression on his face. "What are you doing here anyway Amanda? Is there something you were wanting?"
"I can't just drop by when I feel like it?" She smirked at him. "All the times you come round unannounced, you'd think you could return the favour."
"Ignore him." Reece grinned at her over his can of beer, his eyes flashing in a quite endearing way that made her smile. "He's just having one of his grey days. Every so often his age catches up with him."
Amanda giggled. "I've noticed."
"Okay, thankyou. When we've all quite finished with the hilarious stabs at my age, maybe we can talk about why you're really here." Methos, standing up with a look of growing anger on his face, startled the other two with the sudden volume of his voice. "Look, you never just 'drop by'. It's not your style. Did MacLeod send you?"
She sighed. "Yes."
"Any particular reason?"
"Yes." She shrugged. "We were just on our way out for the day, and Joe Dawson came by. It sounded pretty serious, and we thought we should call you."
"Ever heard of a telephone?" He looked exasperated; agitated, she thought. "Look, Amanda, I'm sorry. Whatever it is you can handle it together. The pair of them used to manage fine before I ever met MacLeod, and with you around they can manage even better. I'm staying out of the way for a few days."
"Not on my account." Reece was frowning. "I've told you once today, Methos; don't mess around with all this rubbish. I can take care of myself if the need arises - which it won't - and I don't need you playing nursemaid. If your friends need your help you should go to them."
"Thankyou." Amanda spared the time to flash him a grateful smile, and he answered her with one of his own. Something about it, some indefinable note or indescribable warmth, made her heart soften. "It won't take long, Methos. Please? Just a few minutes."
"That's what you always say. Usually just before I get shot." Shaking his head he headed towards the door. "I'll get my sword."
"Always be prepared." She smiled again at Reece. "Sorry to break up your party, but business calls."
"Let's go." Fixing Reece with one of his most piercing of glares, Methos pointed a finger at him, just to emphasis the force behind his words. "You stay here. Keep out of sight and don't answer the door."
"No fear. I'm coming with you." Reece headed towards the door, but Methos shook his head.
"Oh no you're not. Amanda came in a taxi, and I only have room for two in my car."
"Liar," she told him. He glared at her.
"Stay out of it."
"Fine." Reece threw up his hands. "You go. But I have my own car, old man. You can't stop me from following you in that. I'm not going to be babied by you, or by anybody else."
"Suit yourself." Turning around, Methos left, his footsteps echoing away as he vanished from sight. There was something angry about those footsteps, decided Amanda; but there was something else too. Methos was worried. He might have been acting the part of a man annoyed at the face of defiance, but there was a good deal more to it than that. She got the impression that his bond with this man Reece was very close.
"Wait up Methos." She ran after him, trying to slip an arm through his. Usually he was quite easy with her; sometimes even flirtatious. Today though she was getting only belligerence; as if the last few years of their friendship had never happened. "Methos!"
"What?" He sounded irritable, slowing to a halt to glare at her in a way that was fast becoming familiar. She sighed.
"Boy, you really got out of bed the wrong side this morning, didn't you."
"Leave it out Amanda." He marched on again, leaving her behind, but she did not bother hurrying her step to catch him up. Let him fester, if that was his intention. She was happy to leave well alone, for the time being at least.
Up ahead, Methos felt a moment's twinge of guilt for his outburst, then swallowed it and set it aside. He had no time for remorse, and no reason for guilt. That hadn't played a part in his life for centuries. He quickened his step, determined to get MacLeod and Dawson's business sorted out as quickly as possible. He had something else to deal with, before he could worry about their problems; something that meant more to him than anything else.
"I found him!" Bright and cheerful Amanda preceded Methos into Dawson's bar, studiously ignoring the by now irritating scowl on her companion's face. "With company."
"Company?" Duncan MacLeod, self-appointed defender of the morals of Seacouver - and, occasionally, Paris - glanced towards the door. "Anyone we know?"
"New guy." She shrugged. "Cute, young - to look at, at any rate - and definitely cause for jealously on your part."
"In that case consider me jealous." He smiled at her, and she went to sit beside him. Well, okay; maybe Reece Walton wasn't as nice as Duncan. Maybe she should consider it her next project to find out for sure.
"An Immortal?" Joe Dawson asked, his question directed at Methos. The oldest Immortal shot him a look that was a clear discouragement against pressing the issue further. "Only asking."
"Name's Reece Walton." Sticking her tongue out at Methos, Amanda shrugged. "I never heard of him, and he's not exactly your run-of-the-mill Immie. Methos here has appointed himself teacher, guardian and protector."
"Shut up Amanda." This time there was no subtext behind the look that he gave her, and for a second her eyes narrowed.
"Hey!" Jumping to her defence as always, Duncan straightened up, frowning at Methos. "Take it easy old man."
"Back off MacLeod. She's more than twice your age. If she wants defending she can do it herself." Turning around Methos headed back towards the door. "Look, obviously I made a mistake coming here. Whatever it is you can deal with it yourselves."
"Not so fast." Joe caught his arm, turning him back to face the room. "This will only take a second. Stop being so grouchy."
"Stop being so cheerful." Methos sighed. "Okay, come on. What's the big deal? Who's the latest Immortal to come wandering into town?"
"This guy." Joe handed him a manila file, open to reveal a photograph. "He arrived this morning, on a plane from Germany. Name's Kenton. We don't have any definite first name."
"So much for your world wide Watcher network." Methos glanced at the photograph. It showed a tall man with dark hair and hawk-like eyes; the kind that seemed capable of searching out the souls of all at which they stared. The man had a small scar on one cheek - the kind once found as a common marking amongst those fond of duelling - and his left ear was pierced. The earring was a gold death's head, hung with grey feathers.
"Pretty distinctive looking guy, huh?" Joe tapped on the folder. "He's had at least three Watchers in the last decade, but all of them vanished in mysterious circumstances. He hasn't had anybody on his tail since ninety-five."
"Your problem." Methos handed the file back. "Not mine."
"I said it was your problem." The old Immortal turned away. "Look, I don't know the guy. I've never seen him before. If I happen to run into him, I'll send him your way." He headed once more for the door, pushing it open and vanishing from sight. Dawson stared after him, amazed.
"Man, I've never seen him so on edge."
"He's been like that since I first went round to his place." Amanda leant against Duncan, looking up at him. "I think it's got something to do with this friend he's got staying."
"I think it's got to do with something else too." Joe flipped the file open to another page, and handed it over to MacLeod. The Immortal raised his eyebrows.
"I get to look at the secret 'Watchers Only' bit? What happened to you guys not helping us guys out?"
"This isn't about helping you out." Joe tapped at the relevant part of the long, typed spiel on the page. "See there. I was hoping he would tell us about it. I don't like catching him out this way."
"What?" MacLeod took the file. "Kenton, sometimes called Joshua Kenton... alias of Cunningham... seen in England in the early nineteenth century..." Something else caught his eye. "Wait a minute. Known to have been an acquaintance of Lord Byron?"
"Not only that." As though he knew the whole file by heart, Joe leant against the wall and folded his arms, beginning to fill them in on the necessary parts. "He wasn't exactly an acquaintance of Byron's; not as such. They fought a duel, in 1816. It was over a woman, apparently, although that's hardly important. The important bit is what happened after. Kenton had a tangle with one of Byron's friends; a certain doctor, it would seem. They had a fight over something that isn't recorded, and Kenton lost three of the fingers on his right hand. After that he dropped out of sight for a while, but he turned up again in 1845, then again in 1906... The piece that concerns us is over the page." MacLeod obediently turned over, but Joe continued to speak nonetheless, making reading pointless. "Kenton met up with a young Watcher, in 1989 - and again in 1990. They knew each other apparently, although the boys at the top decided not to censure the Watcher in question. He wasn't a practising operative, you see; he was only a researcher."
"Adam Pierson?" MacLeod asked, although he felt sure that he already knew the answer. Joe nodded.
"The meetings were allegedly for research over the Methos affair, but naturally that argument doesn't hold much water anymore."
"Given that Adam turned out to be Methos, no it doesn't." MacLeod sighed. "I wonder what they were really meeting about."
"I can't see Kenton wanting to be friends, can you? After Methos cut his fingers off?" Amanda frowned, peering at the file over MacLeod's shoulder. "Maybe he was trying to blackmail the old man. Methos seemed pretty edgy when he saw the file."
"Maybe." Joe sighed. "Anything's possible... I mean, I'm assuming that Kenton didn't know Methos was Methos. He probably assumed he was just another Immortal. There's no reason to suspect they were specifically after each other's heads."
"Methos doesn't go after heads. Not intentionally, and not back then." MacLeod scowled at the file, trying to find answers in the neat rows of typed words. "There's something else here, about a guy who was involved in the meetings. Maybe we can track him down."
"Who?" Joe peered at the file, as though there was some part of it that he did not have committed to memory. "Oh yeah. John Philips." He nodded. "An assistant of Kenton's. Sorry Mac - he died in an accident. Poor guy had a real run of bad luck. He got hit by a truck about six months before he died, wound up in a wheelchair; then he was caught up in a random shooting in Chinatown. Died instantly."
"Ouch." MacLeod sighed, staring at the photograph of Philips. He had been a good-looking young man, with dark blond hair that looked in need of a trim, and bright, intelligent eyes. Duncan got the distinct impression that he would have liked him; he had that sort of open, instantly likeable face. He found himself smiling back at the man in the picture.
"Reece." Amanda was frowning, still peering over his shoulder. "Why's there a picture of Reece?"
"Reece?" Feeling lost, Joe frowned at her, looking from her to the photograph and then back again. "Reece... Methos' Reece? The guy he's got visiting him at the moment?"
"What about me?" With the faint sound of wheels moving on wood Reece Walton came into the room, looking about at the other occupants. "Hey, I'm a popular guy, I know. Everybody's talking about me, right?"
"Reece." Surprised, Amanda blinked at him, then smiled in sudden understanding. "Oh, right. You said you were following in your own car."
"Sure did." He flashed another of his engaging smiles. "Methos is in one of his bad moods, so I'm avoiding his place right now. Any chance of a beer?"
"Sure." Without waiting for Joe's say so, Amanda fetched a bottle from behind the currently untended bar. She popped the lid with the bar's fixed bottle opener, and poured the contents into a long glass. Ordinarily she would have left it in the bottle, but there was something about this man that inspired her to go for the more cultured approach. Maybe it was that killer British accent. She found herself smiling at the thought. Hell, Methos had a British accent too... but then Methos was Methos, and at any rate wasn't actually British. She killed her smile before it became too big.
"My undying gratitude, dearest Amanda." His eyes spoke of gentle humour, although his smile was utterly genuine. She glared at him.
"Don't take the Mick."
"As if I would." He put the glass down so that he could manoeuvre his chair up to the nearest table, then raised his drink to the assembled threesome. "Cheers."
"Er..." MacLeod was clearly wondering how to pose the question, so Amanda butted in, answering it for him.
"Reece Walton," she said, by means of explanation. She frowned suddenly. "Or possibly John Philips."
"Ah." The expressive eyes of the other Immortal spoke volumes. "Yes. Yes, er... thought possibly it might have been about that. I caught a bit of the conversation before I came in. Ought to, er... ought to probably watch your volume there, what with the secrecy thing, and, er... and all." He smiled a trifle awkwardly. "An explanation might probably be in order."
"It can wait." Joe extended his hand in greeting. "My name is Dawson. Joe Dawson."
"Ah. Pleased to meet you." Reece shook the offered hand. "You'll be the Watcher guy that Methos was telling me about. Unless there's some other grey-haired guy with a stick and a tattoo, and who happens to be called Joe Dawson."
"No. I'd be the Watcher guy." Joe smiled. "This is Duncan MacLeod."
"Yeah, I know." Reece shook MacLeod's hand as well. "Methos has some Watcher files round at his place. He was showing me some stuff about other Immortals I might run into around here." He caught the look on Joe's face and winced. "Did I say Watcher files? I meant... um... Some - some other kind of files. Not Watcher files. Absolutely not. 'Cause that would be in breach of something that Methos would never dream of being in breach of, and I'm going to stop babbling now." He took a drink of beer. "Nice."
"Thanks." Joe exchanged a look with MacLeod. "So, er... you were saying? About John Philips - and a guy named Kenton."
"Ah. Yes." Reece paused, drinking slowly. "Reece is my real name. Well, it's my middle name actually, but my first name is really, really bad. I was working as a personal secretary in London, and this guy Joshua Kenton came in looking for an assistant." He shrugged. "Great money, great hours, loads of travel. I jumped at it. He had me looking for this guy he had photos of. No name, just pictures. Well I know now that it was Methos, but back then I'd never even seen the guy before. Kenton was desperate to find him. At first he just seemed enthusiastic; like it was a job that needed doing, and he was being thorough, you know? But then later... later he got really overboard about it. He'd fly off the handle for no reason, and he'd get really jumpy. I don't know, I just got suspicious. So when I located this guy he was looking for, I went to meet him first on my own. He was really nice. Of course, now I know he must have realised I was a pre-Immortal. He wanted to know all about Kenton, and I really got to like him, and then he told me it was okay to bring Kenton to see him, so I did."
"And?" Reece had come to a stop in his narrative, and MacLeod gave him a gentle nudge onward. Reece paused a moment longer before continuing.
"I could see straight away there was something between them. Kenton was really mad at Methos - Adam, as I knew him then. He was yelling and shouting, and in the end he pulled a sword. Methos just stayed really calm, and they talked for a long time." He shrugged. "That was it, until about a year later. We went back to speak to Methos again. This time things got really jumpy, and then one day I got a call from Methos asking me to go over and speak to him. On the way over there I got hit by a truck, and..." He gestured at the chair. "Kenton came to see me in the hospital. I knew straight away that there was something... something wrong. I wasn't surprised when I got shot later. I mean... well I was surprised, of course." He grinned. "Bloody surprised, especially when I came back to life again afterwards. But I realised I had been expecting something like it. I had actually been expecting somebody to make an attempt on my life."
"Kenton." Joe frowned. "No, wait - that doesn't make any sense. Why would he shoot you? He must have known that you were a pre-Immortal. He wouldn't have shot you - not if he wanted you dead."
"He didn't shoot me. Methos did." Kenton shrugged. "I was in a restaurant with a rather nice girl - a nurse actually, I met her in physio. Anyway this guy came in, wearing a black suit, and I could see he had a bloody great meat cleaver hidden under his jacket. He started to pull a gun, and the next thing I know I'm waking up in Methos' apartment with blood all over my favourite suit. Methos saw the cleaver, and figured the guy was out to take my head, so he shot me first to shake things up; make sure this other guy didn't get a look in. He was awfully nice about it. Even bought me a new chair. The old one wasn't so good anymore, what with the bullet holes and the blood stains and all."
"So not only does Methos know Kenton," MacLeod announced, dropping the file onto the table between them, "but he also hates the guy. A lot."
"Sure does." Reece drank the last of his beer, toasting Joe with the empty glass. "That was really good stuff."
"But why would Kenton want you dead?" Amanda sounded lost in thought-mode, her remarkable brain working over the various possibilities. Reece shrugged.
"Search me. Except that I'm the only one besides him and Methos who knows what they were talking about during those meetings."
"Which was?" Joe prompted, the earliest signs of concern showing in his voice. Reece raised his eyebrows.
"They talked about Byron. I remember thinking how strange it was, the way that they spoke of him; almost as if they had really known the man. Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley... it was as though they had been there. Well, they had of course, but back then I just thought they were scholars sharing a common interest. They also spoke of a duel, that a friend of Byron's fought one night on some riverbank, on a cold Autumn night." He smiled. "They really made that night come alive."
"That'll be the duel Methos fought with Kenton." MacLeod flipped to the page in the file. "The Watcher who witnessed it didn't know who Methos was, of course. He assumed that he was just some mortal. That was the fight when Kenton lost his three fingers."
"Yes, precisely." Reece nodded, clearly well versed on that particular matter. "And therein lies the problem, you see. Each of those fingers was in the possession, as it were, of a ring. Three rings, all identical save for the stones. One held an emerald, another a sapphire, and the third a ruby. They were pretty valuable things back then, but today, with modern prices and all the rest of it... you could buy half of the country with each one of them."
"I see." Joe nodded in sudden understanding. "And Kenton figures Methos knows where the rings are."
"He's sure of it. I didn't hear much of the conversation that first time we went to see him - in 1989 - but it looked like Methos was giving Kenton some hints about something. After that Kenton took off like there was a rocket underneath him. I guess Methos sent him off looking for the rings, and when we went back the following year it was because the rings never turned up." He smiled. "No wonder Kenton was so mad at Methos that time."
"Could Methos know where the rings are?" Amanda sounded interested; professional interest, no doubt, thought MacLeod with an inward smile. Reece shook his head.
"He has no idea. Kenton doesn't believe him though, and I think he started to suspect me too."
"Hence the attempts on your life." MacLeod sighed. "Ah well. People have killed for a lot less than three priceless rings."
"Very true." There was a sad glimmer in Reece's eyes. "Anyway, it was farewell to John Philips after that. Just as well really. I always preferred my own name."
Amanda frowned. "Er... well then if it's not too awkward a question, why were you using an alias in the first place?"
"Ah." He smiled. "Just one of those things; a pseudonym if you like. Personal reasons. I had documents in both names, though, which was handy. It made it so much easier to slip out of sight. Methos figured that Kenton would be looking for me, so he arranged for me to go and live with a friend of his who runs a religious retreat in Southern Italy. Beautiful place, but very, very boring. The idea was that Kenton couldn't touch me if he managed to find out where I was, because the Holy ground would be protection."
"He really does care about you." MacLeod raised his eyebrows, surprised at this revelation. Somehow, despite all the time that they had spent together, Methos never ceased to keep coming up with new sides to his personality. "So much for the self-centred hermit crab who never looks after anyone but himself."
"My favourite part of his personality." Reece grinned. "He doesn't mean it. Well actually he does, now I come to think about it. But when he really, honestly cares about someone, he'll pull all the stops out. It just doesn't happen very often."
"I'm going to speak to him." Catching the surprised looks from Amanda and Duncan, Joe shrugged. "Well somebody's got to. Why would he swear he'd never heard of Kenton, when we all know he's met the guy plenty more than once? Seems they go right back, at least as far as 1816; and we all know what tends to happen when old acquaintances of his turn up."
"True." MacLeod nodded, his expression faintly amused. "Okay Joe, but be careful. Best play it by ear."
"I'll be careful." Joe strode to the door, his stick hitting the ground with sharp, insistent taps that suggested urgency. Amanda followed him, as soon as he had gone through the door.
"He's a nice guy." Reece sighed, glancing down at the file that still lay on the table. "I'm sorry. I seem to have upset things around here a little. Methos is only acting the way he is because he's worried about me."
"Don't blame yourself. This is to do with Kenton too." MacLeod picked the file up again, and began to flick through it. He could find no mention of any rings. "You've got to hand it to him. Anybody else would just have made a mess of the hand, but does Methos? No. He has to cut off the three fingers bearing the world's most expensive set of jewellery. By accident." He caught the smirk on his companion's face, and answered it with a smile of his own.
"Just why is he so determined to protect you? That's not the old man I've come to know and get so infuriated by."
"Just lucky I guess." Reece frowned. "I really don't know, except that he blames himself for getting me involved; the truck smash was no accident of course, and I guess he blames himself for all of that. Maybe."
"Methos doesn't blame himself for anything."
"Or so he would have you believe. I don't know, I spent about two weeks in his company all together. I can't figure him out. We're virtual strangers, and yet I feel as though I've known him all my life. Sometimes he cares about somebody, and he's prepared to do anything for them. Me, I'm one of the lucky few. It irritates the hell out of me though. He's like a mother hen that won't stop clucking."
"Something still doesn't ring true." MacLeod slid into one of the chairs at the table, toying idly with the file. "Maybe he really does know where the rings are. That at least would give him a genuine reason for feeling guilty over what happened to you."
"He doesn't have them." There was certainty in Reece's eyes. MacLeod shrugged.
"Whatever. Either way I'm not believing that he's willing to throw aside a lifetime of actively avoiding caring about others, just to help protect one Immortal. No offence."
"None taken." Reece sighed. "Look Mr MacLeod, maybe I don't know him as well as you do, maybe I know him better. I don't know. The point is that the one thing I know for sure is there's no point in analysing him. He's Methos, and you've just got to leave it at that. There's no rhyme or reason for the things he does, no grand plan, no great pattern. That's one of the reasons he's still alive. He's never predictable, and you'll never manage to figure him. Would the Methos you know have been a man willing to die for a guy like Kronos? Is the Methos you know a man who could have got himself thrown into prison for inciting revolutionary thought in Russia back in 1916? It's the same guy."
"You know about Kronos?" That surprised MacLeod. Methos had never really told him that much about his now dead, yet still oddly persistent brother. It was a part of his life that he kept almost religiously to himself.
"This and that." There was a vague shrug. "I know a little of what went on back then. Methos told me a lot when we got drunk one night, just before he sent me to the retreat. I think he told me rather more than he was planning to. Still, it proves that helping me out isn't a once in a lifetime event for him. Methos would have done anything for Kronos; much more than he would ever think of doing for me. He'd die for him, and I don't think he'd be willing to do that for me."
"Yeah, well we all have our regrettable loyalties." MacLeod stood up, suddenly businesslike. "But Kronos is dead, so that's no longer an issue. The important thing now is Joshua Kenton."
"Kronos is dead?" Reece looked surprised. "Did you kill him?"
"I took his head, yes."
"Strange..." Reece shrugged. "Still, I suppose you're right. The important thing is Kenton. I have a nasty feeling that Methos might have gone to look for him."
"Why is it strange?" MacLeod was faintly disturbed by the sound of Reece's tone as he voiced his surprise at Kronos' death. "He was angry, and it made him lower his guard. He was a good swordsman, but he was too sure of himself."
"Oh I'm not questioning your skill with a sword, Mr MacLeod." Reece turned his chair about, heading towards the door. "I'm just... surprised. I never thought that an Immortal that much younger than Kronos could have handled his Quickening."
"Maybe I didn't. Methos was there too."
"Methos?" This time there was a look of sharp intensity in Reece's eyes; a cold clarity that momentarily took MacLeod's breath away. Then the younger Immortal smiled, and gave a nod. "Figures."
"Oh, nothing..." He was lying, and MacLeod could see it as clear as day. "Just that he would like to be there for the end of course. To protect you from a powerful Quickening." He reached the doors, pushing them open. "Coming?"
"To find Joshua Kenton. Wherever Joe is heading, he's heading the wrong way."
"Don't be so sure. Joe's known Methos - or Adam Pierson at any rate - for longer than all of us."
"But he doesn't know Kenton." Reece was heading for a long, silver car personalised with transfers depicting everything from Daleks to Dangermouse, and MacLeod smiled. British TV... It almost made him nostalgic for his last visit to those not-so-distant shores. Reece caught his look, and nearly blushed.
"It came like that," he lied, and MacLeod laughed.
"Sure it did." He caught sight of other stickers too, as he headed round to the passenger side of the car; vinyl stickers in the windows and rear windshield, saying everything from Give Peace A Chance to Stop Nuclear Testing - Now! He caught himself smiling again. It was quite something to meet an Immortal who, even after finding out about himself and his race, was still dedicated to following the peaceful paths. No wonder Methos wanted to look after him; Reece was not at all prepared to look after himself. MacLeod had never balked at the idea of taking another's head to save his own, but he had been born in a time of war, and it had been his life throughout childhood, throughout his whole life as a mortal. Reece had been born in a time when the western world had long abandoned such violent pathways, at least openly. He had probably grown up in a normal, modern house, with some nice unsuspecting parents who worried about battery farming, and whether they should turn vegetarian; or who had marched to call for an end to the Vietnam War, and to the nuclear threat. It was a whole different world now. MacLeod had never wondered before, how hard it must be for the younger Immortals to turn to their new way of life. No wonder Richie had listened so readily to the teachings of the false Methos. He smiled bitterly at the thought.
"You okay Mr MacLeod?" Reece startled him back to the present, and he smiled.
"Yeah, sure. Just thinking." About Richie... Would that ever stop hurting? He had lost enough people to know that it wouldn't. "So, er... you think you might know where Kenton is?"
"I have an idea, yes."
"Then lead on." They got into the car and Reece twisted around, reaching back to deposit his flat-folded wheelchair on the back seat. It nearly hit MacLeod as he did so, and the younger man grinned.
"Sorry man. Hell of a way to end a life; being beheaded by a passing wheelchair."
"Not the way I expected it to end, certainly." They grinned at each other, then Reece started the engine and pulled the car out into the mid-morning traffic. Another car fell into place behind them, but neither man noticed it. They were too busy listening to the radio, which had kicked in as soon as the engine burst into life.
"Police are refusing to comment on the headless body found last night in a warehouse in the centre of town. Whilst rumours persist that the killing may have been performed with a sword, Chief Of Detectives Glenn MacArthur merely stated today that he was keeping all options open. The body has been identified as local antiques dealer Frederick Harper, and it is understood that his killing may have been business related."
MacLeod clicked the radio off. An antiques dealer. It could be a coincidence, but he had stopped believing in them a long time ago. Reece caught the look on his face.
"Kenton?" he asked. MacLeod nodded.
"I think so. Get us there."
"No problem." Reece sped up, taking the car off at a crossroads indicated by MacLeod, turning towards the warehouses. The car behind them followed, increasing its speed slightly to match their own, but still neither man noticed. There was too much traffic on the road today; too many other cars heading in the same direction. One more brooked no special interest. Together they drove on, and the streets flashed by around them; and behind them the car stayed locked on their tail, as though held into place by some invisible magnet. The face of the man behind the wheel was hidden by the smoked glass of the windshield, but had they been able to see his expression neither MacLeod nor Reece would have seen any need for concern. His face was impassive, his clear grey eyes blank and unreadable. There was nothing at all that was remarkable about him, and nothing at all that was likely to stick in the memory; save that, lying across the back seat of the car, and partially hidden by a fading, Signs Of The Zodiac print rug, was a sword. It was as plain and ordinary as its owner, but for the blood smeared across its blade. As the car took a corner part of the rug slid off the sword, revealing something else besides the weapon. It was a photograph, showing three men sitting in a restaurant. One was Reece Walton, raising a glass of champagne. Another, reaching for his own glass to answer the salute, was Methos. The third, although there were few enough people in Seacouver likely to recognise him, was Frederick Harper; the antiques dealer whose blood was now drying on the blade of the sword.
Methos was in a black mood as he drove towards the edge of town. He had been gradually descending into an ever more unpleasant frame of mind since leaving the bar, and now he was worse than ever. Damn Reece for leaving the retreat, and damn Kenton for being such an infuriatingly tenacious bastard. Damn those bloody rings, and damn the stupid, stupid thoughts which had been going through his own mind when he had cut the man's blasted fingers off in the first place. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now, nearly two hundred years later, he just felt stupid; so horribly, damningly, bloody stupid.
He had wanted those rings. He had wanted them as he hadn't wanted anything before; or at least for a very long time. He had been determined to get them - and the duel, the opening Kenton had unwittingly left for him - had been so perfect. He had never suspected back then, of course. Hadn't imagined for a moment what sort of trouble he was beginning for himself; and for others as well. Reece... Methos shook his head, unconsciously gripping the steering wheel until his knuckles went white. He would have done anything - anything at all - to prevent Reece from getting hurt, but in the end all he had done was to lead the other Immortal into this whole damn situation. He had even been responsible, in part at least, for the 'accident' which had left his friend in a wheelchair. Reece was fast, and he was strong, and he was far from helpless; but at the end of the day he could not hope to defend himself against another Immortal for as long as he was in that chair. In an electric one, where he could at least keep a hand free to hold a sword, maybe he would have a chance; but he refused to use an electric wheelchair. Methos smiled to himself as he drove; a bitter smile that was a part of his anger. Reece's inability to fight wasn't anything to do with his wheelchair. It was his own stubbornness. He wouldn't fight, and he wouldn't kill; and he was prepared to die for that. It took a brave man to make a stance like that one, but Methos would far rather have ideological crusades left to strangers. His friends had no business dying for anything.
Snapping himself out of his dark mood, he slowed the car to a halt at a small café representing the furthest point of Seacouver in this direction. The place looked deserted, although he didn't believe for a moment that it was, and as he left his car he carried his sword openly, the blade naked and ready. It looked long in his hands, long and clean and wicked; bright and polished to a mirror finish. It was almost as if, staring into the blade, he could see the faces of his past victims reflecting back at him. He swung it in a practice arc, dismissing such useless thoughts from his mind. He had to stay focussed.
There was a little old woman in the café, her wrinkled face a mass of crossing and converging lines that left her eyes sunken deep in her skin. They looked like currants, small and black, peering at him in false confusion. He smiled.
"Huh." She pointed at a menu, written in bad handwriting on a sheet of card and then wrapped in sticky-back plastic. "No waiting."
"Of course not." Either she hadn't seen his sword, or she just didn't give a damn. "Have you seen a man here? About my height, slightly bigger across the shou--"
"Haven't seen anyone." She glared at him. "No waiting."
"Fine. Coffee." He would have preferred tea, but the one thing he had learnt during the course of the last fifty-odd years was that American fast food had left half the country's cafés and bars unable to produce anything even remotely tealike. She nodded.
"I was asking about--"
"I heard you. Haven't seen anyone today."
"Well then what about yesterday?"
"Haven't seen anyone all week." She picked up a cup, sloshed some coffee into it, nearly flooding the counter in the process, then put it on an old, stained metal tray. She hobbled over to him, putting the tray down, and indicated the small basket of sugar sachets in the middle of the table.
"Sugar," she said, presumably in case he had never seen any before. He nodded.
"Cream," she announced next, and fumbled around inside the pocket of her distinctly unhealthy looking greying apron. She came up with a handful of small cartons of cream, which she dropped in a pile next to the sugar basket. He tried not to wince.
"Thanks. Now listen, about that man - the one I was talking about?"
"Joshua Kenton." She sat down at the next table, peering closely at him. "Earring."
"That's him." He sat up straight, eyeing the door. "He used to own this place."
"He didn't. His girlfriend did." She coughed harshly, suggesting a lifetime spent in the close company of cigarettes. "Still does."
"Oh. Right." He should have guessed when she hadn't blinked at his sword. She had changed though; even given the effects of old age she had changed beyond anything he could have imagined. "So where is he?"
"Waiting for you." She stared at the coffee. "Something wrong with that?"
"I'm not terribly thirsty."
"Suit yourself." She stood up, leaning heavily on the table. "But it's a shame to let it go cold." She stomped back over to the counter and began polishing it, quite furiously, with a cloth that was a good deal more dirty than the surface itself. Smears of grime spread their way across the countertop, and he looked away, glad that he had not bothered to order any food. Turning his head allowed the smell of coffee to reach him, and he frowned. It actually smelt pretty good. He could feel his stomach almost welcoming the prospect of it, and he lifted the cup. Freshly brewed as far as he could tell, and with good quality coffee. He took an experimental sip and his eyebrows lifted in astonishment. It really was good. Given the murky café, with its cracked windows and peeling paintwork, not to mention the decidedly unappealing hygiene standards, his expectations had been lowered rather, but he was glad to have been proved wrong. He drank more of the coffee, and almost thought about laying down his sword to savour it properly. No sooner had the thought come into his head when he felt a sudden sensation run through him. His fingers, caught in the act of relaxing, tightened instantly around his sword. He stood up.
"Adam!" The door to the café swung open and Joshua Kenton strolled in. He was unarmed, or seemed to be, his elaborately grim earring catching the light coming in through the dirty windows. "How have you been?"
"Same as ever." Methos took a step forward, lifting his sword. "What are you doing here?"
"Well now, what do you think?" Kenton smiled at him, his eyes dancing. "Did you think I didn't know where the boy was all this time? Did you think I didn't have my spies watching that infernal Holy place? All that I had to do was to wait, and he came, just as I knew he would. I knew he wasn't the type to sit back and fester."
"You're to leave him alone." Sword now raised to a battle stance, Methos took another step forward. Kenton laughed.
"You can't interfere, Adam. The challenge was made, and the fight is between me and the boy now. You know how to stop it."
"I've told you a thousand times, Kenton. I don't have those damn rings." Eyes bright, Methos took another step forward. The sword felt oddly heavy in his grasp, but he ignored that thought to focus on his enemy. "If I had them I'd have given them to you. I'd have given them to you in 1966. I'd have given them to you in 1989, or in 1990. I don't have the bloody things!"
"So you said. So you said in 1966, and in 1989, and in 1990." Kenton shrugged. "No matter. It's just a shame that Walton has to die for nothing." He smiled. "But I think I can live with that."
"Damn you." Methos took a step forward, eyes narrowed in rage. His sword arm wobbled, and he frowned. He didn't seem to have the strength to hold the weapon up anymore. Kenton was grinning at him, but suddenly he seemed a long way away.
"I'd like to see you try to stop me, Adam." Kenton was grinning even more widely now; and without seeming to have the slightest care about the armed man standing so close, he turned about to hang the Closed sign up on the door. Methos tried to get to him, but his legs were failing him too now. He understood at last; the coffee. The coffee had been drugged. No wonder it had tasted so good; it had been made especially for him. He groaned.
"Sleep well Adam." Kenton was right in front of him now, reaching out to take the sword from his weakening fingers. He could not stop the man, and his body protested as he tried. His head began to tip forward.
"Damn... you..." In a sudden, maddening rush of nausea he fell forward, narrowly missing Kenton himself. Chairs met him as he fell, their hard plastic seats hurting him, their metal legs scratching his arms, digging into his side. He tried to stand up, but the strength just wasn't there, and there was nothing that he could do to gather it. Gradually, inevitably, he fell into unconsciousness. Kenton stared down at him.
"Where's Lawson?" he asked finally. The old woman shrugged.
"Gone after Walton. He called in half an hour ago, said Walton knows about Harper. He had some other Immortal called MacLeod with him, and they went to check out the warehouse where Harper died, but they didn't find anything. They're probably on their way here now."
"Undoubtedly." Kenton was smiling. "Well I never. It has to be Duncan MacLeod I suppose. Connor is out east at the moment."
"You know him?"
"Not personally my dear, not personally." He rubbed his hands together, then handed Methos' sword over to the old woman and bent to drag the unconscious Immortal from the room. "Get this place tidied up. I think we're about to add a couple more guests to the collection."
"So what is this place?" Waiting for Reece to unfold his wheelchair and get into it, MacLeod leant on the roof of the car, gazing at the café. It didn't look as though it did much business, and the sign on the door suggested that the owner had given up on the idea of getting any more customers at all for the day. Reece slammed his car door shut, but didn't bother locking it.
"When I worked for Kenton we came here a lot. He seemed to know the owner. To be honest I think they had a thing going, although I thought she was old enough to be his mother - even his grandmother. I guess they were lovers back a ways, when she was younger."
"So this is where he hangs out when he's in town." MacLeod could not feel any Immortal presences, which might or might not be cause for concern. It might mean that there was nobody around; but it might also mean that Methos was dead and Kenton gone. He hoped it was the other way around.
"Door's unlocked." Twisting the handle Reece led the way inside. The café was deserted, although the coffee on the counter was still warm. MacLeod glanced over the array of cooking equipment behind the counter. One of the gas rings was still on, and as he watched it the kettle set on top began to boil. He moved it to one side and turned the ring off.
"Do you boys not read?" Emerging from a side door, a little old woman with a face full of deep and criss-crossed wrinkles glared at them both. "The place is closed."
"We're looking for a friend of ours." MacLeod hoped that this was not the girlfriend he had just been hearing about, or if so she might very well be prepared for their visit. "A little younger than me, tall and thin, wearing a long sleeved T-shirt and a short jacket. Dark hair."
"Adam." She nodded. "He's in the back."
"He is?" Her nonchalance and apparent helpfulness amazed him, and his eyes narrowed. "What's the catch?"
"No catch." She folded her arms. "Except that you have to leave your swords here, and go in there with your hands above your heads."
Reece laughed. "Neat trick. I'd like to oblige..." She glared at him.
"Just don't make any sudden moves."
"I'm a pacifist, lady. The only sudden moves I make are to stop other people from hurting each other." He headed towards the inner door and she made no move to stop him.
"Hey!" MacLeod, sword in hand, was torn between a desire to meet this Kenton character, and not entirely believing that the meeting was a very good idea. "Don't you think we ought to play this a little more carefully?"
"No." Reece held his gaze, his eyes soft and intense. MacLeod was impressed by what he saw in them, although it was nothing that he would ever be able to define. "I know him, MacLeod, and I know this isn't a trap. He doesn't work that way. There'd be no point in him beheading us as we go through the door, because that wouldn't serve his purpose. He wants those rings."
"Yeah, but we don't know where they are."
"True." Reece smiled, opening the door and beginning to go through it. "But nothing on this Earth is ever going to convince him of that. Trust me on this. He wants us dead - me and the old man at least - but he won't do it this way."
"Okay..." Not convinced, but prepared to take the risk, MacLeod laid his sword down on the counter and followed his newest friend through the inner door. He was halfway along the corridor when the sensation of another Immortal's presence hit him. His muscles tensed, his fingers closing around a non-existent sword hilt. He hated being unarmed.
"Here goes nothing." His earlier confidence now apparently somewhat dimmed, Reece rested his hand on the handle of the door at the end of the corridor. "You ready MacLeod?"
"For what?" He smiled grimly. "Yeah, I'm ready. Open it." Reece twisted the handle and threw open the door. It slammed against the wall behind it, making a loud bang; clearly nobody was hiding there. A short laugh came as a response.
"Reece, my boy. Did you really think I would be so passé? Credit me with a little intelligence, please."
"Kenton." Reece wheeled into the room beyond the door, glancing about for signs of any other people. The room was empty. Only Kenton stood there, apparently unarmed, his arms folded to hide his hands. He had always been self-conscious about those missing fingers, Reece knew. He pushed himself further in, to allow MacLeod to follow. "MacLeod, this is Joshua Kenton. Kenton, Duncan MacLeod."
"Pleased to meet you." His voice sardonic, MacLeod folded his own arms and leant against the only piece of furniture in the room; a large wooden desk with a picture of Kenton himself on it. There was a pretty woman standing beside him, her eyes bearing the dark shadows of a person just embarking on the kind of hard life which would lead her to become the wrinkled and bent figure he had so recently encountered. MacLeod couldn't help thinking that Kenton was at least partly to blame for that. "What have you done with Adam?"
"Adam?" Kenton smiled. "He never used to call himself by that name, you know. I always meant to find out who he really is, but I never quite managed it." He gave a small shrug, suggesting that the whole matter was of very little importance to him. "He's downstairs, talking to some other friends of mine. I'll send him back to you later. To the club perhaps? Or should I just send him home?"
"So you know a lot about us." MacLeod recognised the hint in the words. "So what? We know what you want, and we don't have them. I'd never even heard of them before today. Now go and get our friend, and we'll let you leave without getting pulled in by the police. Otherwise..."
"You're threats are somewhat empty, Mr MacLeod. You have nothing with which to bargain. I, on the other hand, have your friend. I know where your mortal colleague, Mr Dawson, works. I know where you live. I also have you both here, unarmed, with three other people in the building who are on my payroll. And that doesn't include Maddy. She may be old, but she's far from useless."
"We don't have your rings, Kenton." Reece kept his voice low. "Why can you never accept that?"
"Because, my young friend, I have never believed it." With a broad smile, Kenton looked him up and down. "You were such an engaging little boy, Reece. Such big, blue eyes. I always used to wonder what Adam - Simpson or something, he was back then - what he saw in you. In your mother. Still, it must have been something fairly impressive I suppose; otherwise he'd probably have taken your head himself. That way he'd have got to keep all the rings."
MacLeod sighed. This was getting them nowhere. He thought about Methos, but short of attacking Kenton and fighting whoever else he had hidden around this deceptively small building, there was no way of finding their friend. The old man would have to take his chances for a while.
"Do we have your word that you won't kill Adam?" he asked. Kenton frowned, looking intrigued by the question.
"I won't kill him. Today at any rate."
"Good. Then you need to give us time to regroup, and discuss this amongst ourselves. We can't make a decision without talking to the others first."
"Sure." Kenton held up his hands, happy to agree. "Go ahead. I'll even send you back your friend, chauffeur-driven and all in one piece, as a sign of my good intent. Just get me those rings, Mr MacLeod. Otherwise something very unpleasant will happen." He sidled closer to Reece. "You're not going to run away this time, are you Reece."
"No." Reece looked up at him, his bright eyes meeting the other's gaze, and holding it quite fearlessly. "Before I had no choice but to go. This time I have no choice but to stay. I'm not going anywhere."
"Good boy." Kenton patted the back of the wheelchair. "I'll speak to you later."
"What was all that about?" MacLeod asked, as they left the café and headed back towards the car. He sheathed his sword as they reached it, glad to have its weight about his person once again. Reece did not answer until they were both in the car; then he shrugged and started up the engine.
"It's a deal Kenton had with Methos. The rings or my head."
"He what?" Incredulous, MacLeod swivelled to look at the other Immortal, but Reece was looking the other way, beginning to reverse the car back out onto the street. "Reece..."
"Forget it MacLeod. I ran before, because Methos didn't want me to meet Kenton's challenge. Look where it's got us. We haven't shaken Kenton, and this time there are other people involved, who could also get hurt. Kenton knows that I mean something to Methos. He doesn't know what - hell, neither do I - but he figures if he can't get the rings he'll have me instead. Sort of an eye for an eye. It'll settle his account with Methos, and nobody else need get hurt. I won't have other people dying for me, MacLeod."
"But you don't have a chance."
"I always have a chance." Reece sighed, heading back towards the centre of town. "You never know, it might not even come to a fight."
"You think the rings will just happen to turn up in time?"
"Well, maybe not." A wry smile was his answer; an engaging expression that made MacLeod's heart warm to the young man beside him. "But if we do fight, I might win."
"And it might snow in the Sahara tonight."
"Don't knock it MacLeod." Reece sped up, his expression unreadable and his eyes hooded by the shadows cast by the drooping tangle of his fringe. "I'm not ready to die just yet."
Methos awoke with a sudden jerk, his muscles spasming into motion just as though he were returning to life after a period spent in Immortal 'death'. His eyes snapped open, coming into focus with abrupt, startling clarity; not that there was anything to look at. He was in a small, roughly square-shaped room, empty and bare. The floor was of plain wooden boards, the walls bare concrete blocks. Dust gathered in the corners of the room, and cobwebs were strung about the ceiling, but that was the only decoration in sight; the only relief for the eye from all the emptiness.
He was sitting on a chair, which was either bolted to the floor or was inordinately heavy, for he couldn't move it. His hands were behind his back. He tried moving them, and heard a dull rattle; handcuffs. Oh good. A depressed sigh escaped him and he tried to stand up; no go there either, so the cuffs had to be fixed to the chair as well. His arms were stiff and painful, twisted behind him to hang over the chair back, and he tried to move them about to ease the pain a little. He didn't seem able to do even that, which did even less for his mood than the décor. His depressed sigh matured into a groan. As if in answer he heard the sound of a door opening, and sat as upright as he could. The door was behind him, and he could not see the person now entering the room, but from the sound of the footsteps he guessed that it was only one person, wearing hard shoes.
"Comfortable?" The voice was familiar, in that irritating way that he had become so used to over the long years of his life; the voice of someone that he probably knew, but hadn't seen in years. In all honesty it could just as easily be someone that he had never met, for when you had lived for five thousand years you were bound to run into more than one person speaking with similar voices. It all became confusing after a while.
"Be honest; do you really care?" Struggling to see the man, Methos felt his neck protest. He gave up. "Where's Kenton?"
"Upstairs. In New York. In Outer Mongolia for all I know." A British accent, which might have narrowed the possibilities down somewhat if Methos had had the slightest clue where to start. The footsteps clicked closer, and a pair of hands gripped the Immortal's shoulders, holding tight. "You want to tell me where those rings are?"
Methos groaned. He couldn't remember exactly when Kenton had asked him that question for the first time, but he knew that he had become bored of it decades ago.
"I don't have the foggiest notion." He paused, not sure what to expect. A repetition of the question? Threats? A beating? Instead he heard a slight laugh.
"Stubborn bastard, aren't you. If you don't know where the rings are, do you want to tell me what you and Reece Walton were doing talking to Frederick Harper last time Walton was in town?"
"Frederick Harper?" Methos frowned. He knew the name, he was sure. "Oh. Antiques dealer, right?"
"That's right. So?"
"So we went to speak to him. It's not illegal you know. Harper wasn't just an antiques dealer, he was a forger. I wanted new papers for Reece to help him get out of the country without Kenton finding out about it. That's all."
"And that's cause for merrily toasting each other with the most expensive bottle of champagne in the restaurant?"
Methos sighed. These people had really done their homework. He tried to twist his head round again, to see if he could catch a glimpse of his interrogator now that the distance between them had narrowed; but his cheekbone met the cold metal of a gun muzzle. He faced front again, getting the message. The gun nestled into the back of his skull instead.
"I could blow your head off at this range. Now what was the deal with Harper?"
"Money, that's all. Reece needed some, Harper got it for us. We did a deal with some stuff Reece wanted to sell."
"No." His patience was wearing thin, and he knew that it showed in his voice; but he couldn't help it. He was sick to the back teeth with hearing about those bloody rings. "Some other stuff. Reece's father was a rich man, and he had a lot of expensive things. Harper thought he'd hit jackpot, hence the champagne." He sighed. "Can I go now?"
"Shut up." The gun did not move, and neither did the man holding it. "Who is Reece's father?"
"Just some drunken loser. No big deal. He was rich, but for all I know he's drunk all that away by now." He heard a sharp intake of breath, and frowned. He got the impression he had just made a big mistake, although he didn't know what it could be. The pressure of the gun against his head vanished, and he heard the footsteps again as his interrogator walked round in front of him. Clear grey eyes, utterly expressionless despite the anger in the face around them, stared down at Methos. Grey hair, neatly combed, still bearing traces of its original dark brown; clean-shaven jaw with a small, pale scar on the chin; suit that was cut to look expensive, but probably hadn't cost all that much. The tie was precisely knotted, a simple dark blue affair with a thin, silver stripe. Methos frowned. He knew this guy. He knew he knew him. He just couldn't figure out why or how.
"So I'm some drunken loser am I." Oh yeah. He remembered the guy now. A hand shot out, grabbing the Immortal by the shirt front, and almost lifting him from the chair. The handcuffs snapped tight, cutting into Methos' wrists, and bending his arms back in ways that they had never been designed for. It hurt like hell, but for the most part he managed to keep his face impassive. "I should have killed you back in sixty-six you lousy--"
"Eddie, buddy, you are not looking good." Keeping his voice even, Methos directed a harmless smile at his attacker, and waited to be lowered back down onto the chair. Finally the man relaxed a little, then let him go altogether, stepping back and straightening his suit. "I'm as pleased to see you as you clearly are to see me, but let's not go overboard on the reunion celebrations here."
"Just tell me where the rings are, Pierson. Or Simpson. Or whatever the bloody hell your name is." Eddie - Edward Philip Lawson, who had once been one of the most successful businessmen in London's Thames-side area - flexed his fists in simple anticipation. "Or we're going to have a very busy night." Methos sighed. Someday, he told himself, if he lived long enough, he was going to invent a time machine; and the very first thing he was going to do was to head straight for Switzerland, 1816, and warn himself not to cut those bloody fingers off. For now though, all that he could do was to repeat that old mantra.
"I don't know where the rings are." Lawson grinned at him, his empty eyes at last showing some emotion.
"I was hoping you'd say that."
It was dark, and the lights of the streets brightened up the windows, playing through the closed blinds at the club. Joe had closed up for the night, turning away the patrons at the door and eventually locking up altogether. He hated not opening, but there seemed to be little choice; especially with the promised return of Methos, and the trouble that was likely to be in tow. There had been grumbles and mutters, but everyone had gone. Even the staff had departed, and now there was just the four of them; Amanda hovering around the bar, Joe sitting in one of the stalls, despondently toying with a half-empty glass of beer. MacLeod paced up and down, anxious to be doing something rather than just waiting, frustrated by the cloying silence. Clearly it was getting to Reece as well, for he abandoned his post at one of the windows and went to the piano. He lifted the lid, staring at the keys for several moments before he started to play - The Entertainer. MacLeod smiled to himself. It conjured up images of bars back in the twenties, sipping illicit drinks whilst always in readiness to swap to fruit juice if the police happened by. The music grew faster and faster, smooth as ever, but building in volume.
"He's good." Joe leaned back in his chair, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb the pianist. "I'd offer him a job if I thought he would stick around long enough to keep it."
"He may not be around much longer whatever he decides to do." MacLeod stared at Reece's back, watching the arms move so fast that the hands were just a blur. At any other time he would have sat back to listen; to admire the speed and the skill. Tonight was different. He was too restless, too worried. He wanted to talk to Methos. He thought about Joshua Kenton, staring after them earlier today with that insufferable smile on his face. He was certain that he could beat Reece, and MacLeod wasn't about to argue. It was doubtful whether the young Immortal even knew where to start with a sword, and it wouldn't be easy persuading him to take one along when he went to fight his enemy. MacLeod knew that he would go. A man like Reece Walton would not sit back and let somebody else go in his place; and if anybody tried to force him to stay back he would never forgive them, or himself, if something happened. It was almost like watching a child make mistakes, and knowing that he just had to stand back and let it happen. MacLeod remembered some of the mistakes that Richie had made, and for once there was no answering burst of pain; just a cold anger that he might be about to lose another young Immortal - and one who was possibly a good deal more innocent, more undeserving of death, than even Richie had been.
"He hasn't played a single note wrong." There was a gentle smile on Joe's face as he watched Reece play; as he listened to the tumbling cascade of notes pouring from the piano keys. It was still The Entertainer, but played so fast that it had almost become something else; some creation of the pianist alone. MacLeod managed a smile.
The sound of car brakes squealing on the road outside brought the music to an abrupt, unplanned stop, Reece jerking his hands away from the keys as he spun to face the window. For a moment he and MacLeod looked towards each other, then together they raced for the door. They heard a car door slam, then an engine roaring off into the distance. By the time they were in the street all was back to normal, save for one thing. A figure lay on the pavement, struggling to move. They reached him together, and MacLeod knelt down beside him. Methos looked pretty much the worse for wear, his shirt ripped and blood marking his face; but the injuries themselves were nothing to an Immortal, and MacLeod was not too worried. He guided his friend to his feet, helping him inside the bar, where Amanda made short work of his handcuffs. Methos did not look at anyone.
"Methos?" It was Reece who broke the silence in the end. "Are you okay?"
"Just brilliant." He massaged his wrists, then made for a seat in a nearby stall, flopping back into it as though he had not slept in days. "What are you still doing here?"
"I told you that I'm not going back to that blasted retreat." The younger Immortal was glowering. "Anybody would think you didn't want me around."
"It's not that, and you know it." Forcing a smile, Methos reached out to take the other's hand. "You saw Kenton?"
"Yeah." Slowly, very slowly, Reece made his way back to the piano. "The deal's the same as before."
"Like hell it is." Methos tried to get to his feet, but MacLeod held him down. "I'll be damned if I'll let you--"
"I'm no sturgeon, Methos." Reece turned to face him, then shook his head and managed a smile. "You look a sight. We'll talk about it later."
"He's right. You'd better get cleaned up." Joe looked meaningfully down at the old Immortal, who glared back up at him, then rose slowly to his feet. He knew better than to argue with his mortal friend when Joe had that look on his face. It was the look that made Methos feel as young as his body; as though all was as it appeared to be between them, and Joe really was older than the oldest Immortal. He let himself smile, but only a little.
"Don't go doing anything stupid for the next five minutes or so." He headed towards the restrooms, leaning heavily on the sink as soon as the door was shut. Despite his Immortal stamina, the pain in his chest and head was intense, and the cold water helped only a little. He closed his eyes, letting his head rest on the cold, hard mirror. He let himself relax, trying to feel his wounds healing, trying to be sure that the pain really was getting less. The problem was that there was another pain as well; one that went deeper than any injuries Lawson had given him. It was the pain of an inevitable loss, and he did not want to feel it. He wanted to go away; far away. Somewhere where he could pretend that he didn't know Joshua Kenton; somewhere where he could pretend that he had never heard of Reece Walton. Somewhere where he could pretend that there was no danger, and that there never had been; that his friends weren't at risk, and that the end wasn't such a foregone conclusion. He wanted to be somewhere where he could pretend that it didn't hurt to care.
"Damn it." His voice was heavy and hard. He didn't want to care. He had never wanted to. It had all been so much easier when he had believed his own act; that he cared for nobody, that no one was special. He was different now. MacLeod, with his damned boy scout act, with his stupid insistence on fighting other people's battles, with his persistent, irritating presence - he had dragged something out of Methos that the older Immortal would much rather had remained hidden. He smiled to himself. MacLeod was the easy target; the easy one to blame. He wasn't responsible for this. Methos had met Reece Walton long before he had heard of Duncan MacLeod. Reece had been someone special before MacLeod had ever met Joe Dawson, or heard of the Watchers, or even come to live in Seacouver. It had been before he had met Tessa and Richie, and when he had still thought of Methos as a myth. Methos wished he was a myth; but wishes meant nothing, especially when someone you cared for was very likely about to die. He stood away from the mirror and went to the window instead. Beyond the frosted glass was Seacouver, and beyond that the rest of the world. There were three priceless rings out there somewhere, but he knew that he could never get to them before it was too late. That left only one alternative; but even if he did manage to take Kenton's head, and to kill Lawson and anybody else who happened to be on the payroll, he would still lose Reece. The younger man would never accept that kind of interference. Maybe it would be worth it, if he at least was still alive; but the old Immortal knew that he couldn't interfere in that way. He couldn't hurt Reece that much.
It was a lot longer than five minutes before he wandered back out again, to join his friends in the main room. Amanda sat slumped over one of the tables, whether awake or asleep he couldn't tell. Reece was sitting opposite her, his eyes closed and his breathing steady. Methos could almost see him, as he had been when still a child, fast asleep in his little bed with the aeroplane stickers on the headboard, and the pictures of Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who splashed all over the walls. He sighed. Was this really how it ended? All those nights watching him sleep, all those days watching him play - for this?
"Penny for them?" MacLeod was standing beside the piano, watching Joe toy with the keys. There was music coming from them, but it was no tune known to Methos. Improvisation probably. Methos had been a keyboard player once, with a rock band back in the seventies. There were times when he longed to get behind a piano again; but not tonight. Now he was happy just to listen to the soft music, seeming to play itself under the gentle guiding hands of Joe Dawson. Good old Joe; who of all this group was the only mortal; the only one for whom life was but a fleeting wander down a no-through road. He never seemed to be jealous of his immortal friends, but tonight Methos was jealous of him. If he had been mortal he would never have heard of Reece Walton. Of course, if he'd been a mortal he would also never have played Strip Sonic The Hedgehog with the Grimaldi Sisters, or been in the audience that night at Knebworth in 1986, when Queen had played their last live gig; not that anybody had known it was to be their last. Taking the rough with the smooth was not a concept of which Methos was terribly fond.
"It's nothing MacLeod." He stared out of the window, a limited view through the blinds just enough to keep his attention for a few minutes. "It's been a rough day, that's all."
"For all of us." MacLeod glanced over at Reece. "I'd like a few answers, if it's all the same to you."
"I bet you would." He sighed, wondering where to begin, watching Joe's fingers caress the keys. Methos remembered a time when the keys of all the pianos in all the world had been made from ivory, and nobody had thought anything of it. Long ago times.
"Why don't we start with those rings?"
"Huh?" Methos glanced up. He saw a steady certainty in MacLeod's eyes which was a warning to tell only the truth. "I stole them, in 1816. And, er... again in 1966."
"I guessed as much." They sat down on the chairs nearest to the piano, letting the rest of the room fade away. Only Joe and his piano still existed beyond their little world; everything else was a dark and silent blur. Methos stared at his hands, spread out on the table top before him, long and graceful like a concert pianist's - or a doctor's. He smiled at that; yes, just like a doctor's. That was how it had all started.
"Is there a doctor here? Please - a physician in Heaven's name!" The voice was insistent, and Methos snapped his eyes open. He was a doctor - wasn't he? Hell, what alias was he under at the moment?"
"Doc?" A hand was nudging his arm, and he glanced up. Byron was frowning at him. "Go on."
"Huh?" He sat up straight, suddenly remembering who he was, then flashed his companion a grateful smile and stood up. "Here! I'm a doctor." He hoped nobody would question that, given that all he had done since arriving in Switzerland was to help Lord Byron in his quest to drink the Alps dry, and to make his way through all the laudanum in the known world. A cloak-wrapped figure ran towards him, putting a pale woman down on the floor at his feet.
"Here, sir. She collapsed in the street, and I've no idea what's wrong."
"Do you know her?" Methos felt her forehead, surprised by how cold it was. She had the flushed look of a woman with a fever, but her temperature was well down.
"I've never seen her before in all my life." The man straightened up. "I think she belongs to the fellow staying in the local inn; Joshua Kenton his name is." He leaned conspiratorially close to the old Immortal. "I don't think much of him myself. He treats her abominably, and her a white girl too."
"Yes, quite." Methos shut the man out, biting back a suitable reply. It was just another fact of life that if this girl had been one of the town's black servants, she would likely have been left outside in the road. He checked her pulse, wondering what to do. "Somebody bring me some brandy, and then heat some wine. She needs to warm up a bit."
"She's cold." As the onlookers began to disperse, Byron leaned close. "I've seen Kenton about town, my friend. He's an Immortal."
"Ah." Methos took his cloak from the nearby table and wrapped it about the woman, trying to make her comfortable on the floor. He would like to get her to someplace more comfortable, perhaps somewhere with a bed or a soft chair, but he didn't want to move her just yet. Not until he had a better idea of what was wrong.
"Help me..." Her eyelids fluttered open and she stared up at him, startled at first. She tried to struggle, but he held her down.
"Here, beautiful lady." With one of his more ostentatious flourishes, Byron presented her with a glass of brandy. "The finest the house has to offer, naturally; a gentle amber gift of--"
"Shut up." Flashing his companion an exasperated glare, Methos took the glass and tilted it towards the woman's lips. As if it was really the best in the house; they knew that she was a serving girl, and had no doubt provided the cheapest they had to offer. The woman - she was really little more than a girl, nineteen or twenty at the most, he guessed - blinked up at him in suspicion, then delicately sipped the brandy. She coughed, and he made her drink it all down before he let her sit up straight. She frowned at him.
"Who are you?"
"Doctor Adams, physician, at your service." He gave her a small bow, awkward from his seated position, and she smiled at him.
"Thankyou sir. I felt a little faint, but I'm fine now."
"Nonsense. You're to stay here until you get warmed up." He stood to welcome a serving girl, handing her the empty brandy glass, and taking a mug of warmed wine in exchange. He gave it to the girl at his feet. "Here. Drink this."
"Thankyou sir." She stood up, allowing Byron to guide her to a seat, then drank a little of the wine. Her eyes widened. "Sirs, please, I must beg you to let me leave now. If my master sees me drinking this, he'll be upset. I was to wait outside for him."
"Nonsense. Dressed the way you are?" Byron looked incensed. "I'll deal with Master Kenton." As if in answer came the distinctive feel of the approach of an Immortal, and his eyes met with those of Methos. "Perhaps sooner rather than later."
"Go easy. Play it by ear." They stood up as one, turning to face the door as it opened. A tall, broad-shouldered man with dark hair and hawk-like eyes stood in the doorway, framed against the darkness outside. He glared about, his right hand fingering a sword at his waist.
"Rachel? Where are you?"
"Here, Mr Kenton. I - I'm sorry sir." She scuttled towards him before Methos could stop her, and Kenton struck her a sharp blow to the head as she passed him. She wobbled, but did not fall.
"Sir!" His voice angry, Methos had stepped forward before he was entirely sure of what he was doing. "I must protest at this. The lady is my patient."
"She's no lady." Kenton frowned at him. "And just who might you be, anyway?"
"My name is Adams." He folded his arms. "The lady's station is no concern of mine. What worries me is her health."
"Then worry no more, doctor. We leave tomorrow night for Spain, and you need look upon her no longer." Kenton turned to leave, but Byron was quicker. He shut the door before Kenton could leave through it, resting his weight against it, an idle smile on his face. Kenton frowned.
"Move aside, sir. I do not have the time for these games."
"The lady is in need of rest, sir. Good rest, and good food." Byron, for once, was not speaking in flowery rhythm, and his affectations had been dropped. "Perhaps we can all sit down here for an hour or two, and pass the time."
"Get out of my way." Kenton reached out to grab Byron's arm, but Methos beat him to it.
"Sir, you do not want to do that." There was harsh meaning in his eyes, but Kenton ignored it.
"Do I not? And what else do I not wish to do?" He pushed Methos, hard, sending him stumbling away into a group of discarded chairs around the fire. He narrowly missed the flames, and sat up quickly as he felt the hairs on the top of his head begin to curl in the heat.
"That is it." With a violent gesture that was at one both eloquent and almost ridiculously grand, Byron gave Kenton a hard push, his hand squarely in the middle of the other man's chest. "You have affronted my friend's honour, sir, and you have disturbed a most pleasurable evening. I challenge you to meet me at dawn, before the oak tree not two hundred yards from this building. Will you meet me there?"
"A duel?!" Kenton looked amazed. If he had been expecting a challenge, it was one for a proper Immortals' battle; but a duel would bring locals as spectators, and would give no chance for the victor to take the loser's head. He shrugged. "Fine. Tomorrow morning it is." He spun on his heel and stormed out, the door shaking and shuddering in its frame as he slammed it shut.
"A duel?" Shaking his head, Methos collected his cloak and folded it over his arm. "You realise that you don't have a chance?"
"You doubt me, doctor?" Byron shrugged. "No matter. I shall only demand that we fight until first blood. I want to give you a chance to speak to the serving girl. Perhaps you can persuade her to leave. I have friends heading for Italy soon, and if she was to go with them..." He shrugged. "Or she could stay with us, of course. I would be happy to have one as beautiful as her staying in my house."
"And what would Claire say to that?"
Byron laughed. "She would be happy to spend a night or two in your company, as compensation. If you were to turn out the lights and read her my poetry I doubt she would know the difference." He chuckled to himself. "Don't look so disapproving, my friend. It wouldn't be the first time, or the last. It's a big house, with many beds..."
"And we both are refreshingly free of conscience." Methos smiled. "I'll talk to her, but for her own good, not ours. She's an indentured servant, though; you heard what the man who brought her in said. She belongs to Kenton. It'll take more than a few words from me to persuade her to leave."
"You'll think of something." They had reached their carriage, and swung up into its soft seats. Byron took the reins, snapping them in the air to make the horses move, and Methos relaxed back to watch his friend at work. Maybe there was something; some way of getting the money necessary for the girl to buy her freedom. As his companion had said, he would think of something. He closed his eyes, relaxing into the warmth of the leather seats, aware only of Byron's soft voice as he recited his latest poem to his half-drunk friend. The moon was full overhead, the breeze soft and gentle, and right now Methos really didn't want to think at all. He fluttered open his eyelids, enjoying the spattering of stars across the sky, and the pleasant feel of the evening's fine wine and gently warming opium smoke. Byron smiled at him, still speaking onward of such glorious sights as only a poet could see. Methos closed his eyes again, and let the soft, simple sound of his friend's voice lull him into a welcome sleep.
"What's your name?" They sat together, away from the others, watching Byron and Kenton warming up for the duel. She stared at him, surprised by his interest.
"Is that all?"
She frowned. "My intended's name was Freud. I suppose it would have been my name one day." She flushed suddenly, as though embarrassed by this revelation. "Mr Kenton promised to allow us to get married, but then he changed his mind. Johann went to the New World, to try to get the money to buy my freedom, but the ship foundered before it made land, and went down with all hands." She sighed, her eyes huge and dark and sad. "I think Mr Kenton was glad."
"I don't doubt it." He frowned at her. "So the baby isn't Johann's then. He's been gone too long for that."
She gasped. "How did you know about-?"
"I'm a doctor." He had interrupted her with a gentle hand on her wrist. "It's not Kenton's baby either. It can't be."
"One of his friends, I don't know which one. It wasn't my idea." She took in a long, shuddering breath. "I'm scared, Doctor Adams. I don't know what happens next."
"I do." He was frowning, watching the beginning of the fight. Something attracted his attention; a glimpse of some bright fire on Kenton's right hand. "We find the money to buy your freedom." He lowered his head. "It can't come from Byron or myself, though; it must be untraceable, or Kenton will likely come after us."
"Us?" She was looking surprised and somewhat worried, and he laughed.
"Byron and myself. We'll be staying here. But you, my dear, will be on your way to Italy, with enough money to be safe, and to make sure that nobody will ask any awkward questions. They may disapprove of unwed mothers, but if you're rich enough they'll put all their worries aside and be the very soul of discretion." She giggled, and he held her hand. "You'll be alright, Rachel. I promise."
"I don't see why you'd want to help me."
"Ah, well." He shrugged. Why indeed? Because he had been in a state of almost continual drunkenness since falling in with Byron, and his judgement was likely more than a little impaired? Because he felt like a good deed to even up the score a little? Maybe just because he had taken an instant disliking to Kenton. He heard a yell and glanced up. Speak of the devil.
"Mr Kenton has won." Rachel looked agitated, as though it genuinely bothered her that Byron had shed first blood. Methos ignored her, and ran over towards the little gathering. He had had a sudden idea.
"You're mad, my friend. Totally and unutterably mad." Handing his companion a flask of laudanum, Byron giggled softly to himself. "Either that or you're drunk."
"Completely." Methos laughed too, taking a long drink of the soporific contents of the proffered flask. "I'm sure I'd have come to an altogether different plan, given altered circumstances, but the challenge has been made now."
"And if there are no mortals to watch the fight?" Byron was trying to be serious, but the circumstances were ganging up against him. He struggled not to giggle. "You'll lose your head, and no amount of praying or poetry will replace it. I shall miss you." He raised the flask as though in a farewell toast.
"Ha. If I'm going anywhere, it'll be no time at all before you join me there." Methos yawned. "What's the time?"
"Late." There was a long silence. "Um... What time was the challenge for?"
"Oh. In that case, my friend, we have barely a minute to make it to the field of battle." Byron rose to his feet and looked around. "Ah yes, I was forgetting. We're already here."
"Byron, I put it to you that you are drunk, sir." Struggling upward with considerable difficulty, Methos tried to focus on his friend. "And so, it would appear, am I." They fell into each other's arms, giggling helplessly. "Ah well. Never mind. A plan such as this one is perhaps best serviced with a good shot of... whatever it is we're drinking."
"I can't remember." Byron made it to his feet again at last. "I feel, my friend, that I should salute this gallant occasion with a few fine words of poetry, but I fear that the only rhymes which currently are in my head would bring blushes to the ears of stable hands." He frowned. "There was a delightful ditty taught to me just the other day by the man who delivers the barrels to the inn. Something about a serving girl and a magistrate." He hooked his thumbs into his lapels and cleared his throat, as if about to recite.
"Ssh." Suddenly aware of the approach of an Immortal, Methos made it to his feet and pushed Byron aside. Kenton was approaching them with long, measured strides, his expression deadly serious. He was no more than an arm's length from Methos before he stopped, and he drew his sword without comment.
"Are you ready to die?" he asked. Methos grinned at him.
"To die, sir, yes. To fall to your sword, sir, never." Byron cheered, and Methos offered him an extravagant bow.
"You're drunk." Kenton sounded angry, but Methos could do nothing but grin. He drew his own sword and raised it into the air.
"I was drunk when I led the troops into battle in... that place that I led the troops into battle in. In, er... some day before whatever day today is." He straightened his collar. "En garde sir!"
"Pah!" Kenton moved towards him with a straight lunge, which Methos parried with ease. He dodged aside, swinging his own sword in a smooth arc, cutting a small piece off the frill on Kenton's shirt sleeve. The other man shouted in anger, spinning around to try an assault from a new angle; and Methos struck outwards and downwards with his sword, his chosen objective as clear a target now as ever it would be. His blade passed cleanly through the air, and slammed into the hilt of Kenton's sword. The other Immortal let out a shrill scream of pain.
"My fingers!" He fell to his knees, caring nothing for the other sword hovering above him. "My fingers, damn it!" He was staring at them, glinting brightly in the grass with their rings still upon them. He stared up at Methos. "I'll kill you for that, you drunken oaf!"
"Drunken oaf?" Incensed, Methos raised his sword. He had not intended to take Kenton's head, but he would do so if insults were all he were going to get. A shout stilled him, and he glanced up. Six horsemen were heading towards them, all wearing the uniform of the local regiment. He sighed.
"Stay hidden," he hissed to Byron, unnecessarily as it happened. The other man did not answer.
"Halt!" The lead rider dismounted, staring at the twosome, his eyes bright with righteous anger. "You're both under arrest."
There was a silence, and MacLeod leaned back in his chair, his measured eyes fixed on a point just past Methos' head. He sighed, clearly thinking, then snapped his gaze across to meet the look of Methos, holding it, fixing the other Immortal with his stare.
"I thought you said you hadn't faced anyone for two hundred years before you met me?" The question was so irrelevant that Methos laughed. Trust MacLeod to find a way to disperse a little of the tension. He shrugged.
"It hardly counted. Two slashes with a sword? Besides, I'd never have gone even that far if I hadn't been drunk." He rubbed his head, his eyes, feeling sleepy and uncoordinated. "We were arrested. Byron pulled some strings and got me out almost straight away, but when it turned out that a lot of Kenton's personal belongings were stolen, mostly from the richer inhabitants of the last town he had visited... well, his stay in prison was a little longer."
"You got the rings?"
"Byron sold one to a man we knew, and we gave the money to Rachel; plus the other two rings. I heard from her briefly, some years later. She had married money, and had no need to sell the two rings she still had. She had given them to her son, as a wedding present."
"And that's how you lost track of them?"
"Not exactly. I wasn't trying to keep track of them." He sighed, accepting a cup of coffee from Joe, although when and how the mortal had come up with it he didn't know. Joe handed another cup to MacLeod, then sat down at the table between the two Immortals. There was something about his presence that was strangely reassuring.
"It was 1965 before I even thought of them again. I'd been invited to a New Year's Eve party, to welcome in sixty-six, and while I was there I saw a painting; a woman. I knew at once that she was Rachel, and my host told me that he was a direct descendant of hers. His name was Edward Lawson, and he was a very rich London businessman. Old family money that he was doing a fine job of losing, thanks to drunkenness and very bad luck at gambling. He still had the two rings, but he'd been given an offer for them, from a collector."
"So you stole them?" Joe asked. Methos shook his head.
"Not immediately. I met Lawson's wife that evening. She was a wonderful woman; really, really wonderful." He blushed slightly at their raised eyebrows. "I know, she was married. I can assure you that my intentions were entirely honourable. Well, they were at first anyway." He paused, staring into the middle distance. "Lawson used to beat her up, especially when he was drunk, which was half the time. She was terrified of him, so I helped her run away."
"Taking the rings with you," interjected MacLeod. Methos nodded.
"For her - for Judy. I figured she was entitled to half of everything at least; more given what he'd done to her. So I stole them, and we took them with us. We stayed on the run for some time, and everything seemed to be going well, but I'd reckoned without Joshua Kenton." He shook his head. "We didn't really have a chance, even with my talent for staying hidden. He had so many people working for him. As it turned out, he was the buyer interested in the two rings, and he was more than a little upset to find them suddenly gone missing." He took a long drink of coffee. "Judy was very heavily pregnant at the time, and we couldn't run anymore. She had to be kept safe."
"And Kenton led Lawson straight to you?" MacLeod was having to prompt him along after every few sentences, as though Methos didn't really want to talk about it. The older Immortal nodded, sighing.
"Straight to us, yeah. They burst in one day, and Lawson just starting laying into her. I couldn't get him to stop. He must have known that the baby was his, that there hadn't been time..." He shook his head. "He just didn't care. When I woke up, we were back at Lawson's house, locked in some room. Judy was in terrible pain, but they wouldn't call an ambulance, or even her doctor. I delivered the baby myself, but it was so small; far too premature for the times. I don't think even the hospital could have made any difference." He lowered his head. "In the end it confounded us all. For a week he hung in there, but then one day when I picked him up, I knew... He was a pre-Immortal. I'd never felt it before, and I don't know when the switch - if that's what it was - was made. I wasn't in the room with them all the time. Lawson was trying to get me to tell him where the rings were." He drank the last of his coffee, staring into the empty cup. He could almost see it all, reflected in the last drops of the dark liquid. The small, ill-lit room, with Judy lying in the bed. She had been so pale. Her son, Reece, on the bed beside her, too weak to move, too small to hold onto life; and yet still alive. Himself, terrified for both of them, and of what would happen when Kenton next came, and realised what the baby was. He remembered the scent of the room, with the dust and the lingering smell of blood from the difficult delivery; the constant hint of the threat of death, for Judy at least. He had planned their escape as carefully as he could, but there were too many of them; too many men working for Lawson and for Kenton. He took a deep breath before he continued.
"I got them out, but in the process I was shot. Kenton wasn't there, and Lawson didn't know, so they thought I was dead. And so did Judy. I couldn't tell her otherwise; how the hell was I supposed to do that? After all she'd been through, I knew it would be too much. I wanted her to find someone else, someone she could raise Reece with properly, someone she could grow old with. I watched her, and I watched Reece... I even spoke to him sometimes, when he was still too little for it to matter. I laid a false trail for Kenton and Lawson, and I managed to keep them from finding Judy. In the end she changed her name, to... to Andrea something I think, and she took Reece to live on Jersey. Probably figured Lawson would never think to look for her on a tiny little island like that. She changed Reece's name too of course. He changed it back eventually - back to his mother's maiden name, anyway. Can't blame him for not wanting to use his father's surname."
"And the rings?" Joe asked. Methos smiled at him.
"I haven't got a clue. I really haven't. As far as I know they were sold, or maybe Judy still has them. Either way I'm not about to tell Kenton. I don't even know where she is, and if I did I couldn't say anything. It wouldn't save Reece, and he wouldn't thank me for it if it did. If Kenton didn't kill Judy, Lawson would. They're still working together." He slammed his empty cup back down onto the table, the noise sharp and loud like a gunshot. "I swear Kenton knew who he was hiring when he chose Reece to work for him back in eighty-nine. He knew exactly what he was doing."
"If he knows who Reece is, and where he's been all his life, why doesn't he just go straight to your friend Judy about the rings?" Joe collected the coffee cups together into a pile, as though protecting them from future attack. He was not altogether sure how the last one had survived Methos' sudden assault. The old Immortal was silent.
"He could have known who Reece was through any number of reasons; me checking up on him all the time for one. He probably doesn't even know where Judy is."
"He knows. I told him." Reece's voice was soft, a faint whisper from beside the table, and they all looked up. He had come to them so silently that they had not heard his approach. "I didn't know who he was or I wouldn't have said anything; not that it mattered. She died, in 1989. She was taken ill, very suddenly." He glanced towards Methos. "If I'd known then how much she meant to you, I'd have told you. I didn't know any of this."
"It had to be something important." Amanda was standing beside him, her hand on his arm. Reece glanced up at her, offering her a grateful smile. She was not the most conventional of people, but there was something about her that he found tremendously supportive. "Our Methos doesn't tell just anybody about who he really is."
"And he doesn't help just anybody, either." Methos stared at Reece, holding his gaze. "What happened?"
"She just... went." He shrugged, at a loss to explain it. "It was very sudden, very peaceful. That was one of the reasons why I didn't argue too much, when you said I should leave after my First Death. I didn't have any reason to stay."
"She didn't tell you anything about these blasted rings, I take it?" asked MacLeod. Somehow he couldn't help thinking that that would be too good to be true.
"You think I'd have let this go on for as long as it has, if I'd had the slightest idea where those rings are? You think I'd have waited for Kenton to try to kill me?" He shook his head. "No, not Kenton. The truck was probably my dear father's idea."
"Judy must have given them to somebody." Amanda glanced down at him. "You can't think of anybody - anybody at all - that she might have been willing to hand them over to? As a present, or for safekeeping? As a donation to a charity or something?"
"Nothing. She didn't know anybody, not really. She was scared of my father all her life, always keeping to herself, avoiding strangers. When she died she left me her house, but I didn't look through it much, and then last year it burnt down. Nothing left now but a piece of scorched earth." He glared at Methos. "I never thought to go looking for a pair of rings..."
"Sorry." The glimmer of contrition in his friend's eyes was entirely false, and they both knew it. "But it wouldn't have made any difference. She was too smart to have them lying about the house." He sighed, clearly disturbed. "I can't believe I didn't hear that she was gone."
"You must have been the guy she used to tell me about. Some guy who used to play the piano to help her to sleep at nights, when she was first on the run from my father. I used to think that was why she insisted I learn to play as well." Reece smiled, his eyes dancing. "I used to show off something terrible in class."
"Yeah I know. I sat in on a couple of your lessons." They shared a brief smile, then Methos pushed his chair away from the table, standing up. "This is getting us nowhere. We still have to decide what to do."
"No we don't. We know what to do. I go to face Kenton, at dawn tomorrow." Reece smiled up at him. "We've been putting this off for too long. I have to go."
"It would be suicide, Reece." Amanda's hand tightened on his shoulder, but he gave no reaction to it.
"If I don't go, he'll kill someone. Maybe one of you; probably Methos. He could come after any one of you, at any time; and with all the people that he has working for him; all the mortals who can creep up announced... You wouldn't have a chance. I won't let that happen."
"There isn't any chance that we can get the rings first?" Joe didn't sound as though he believed in the possibility either, but he had to ask. Reece sighed, shaking his head.
"None. Methos and I went to a guy called Harper, back in 1990. He said he'd found the third ring. We were going to buy it from him, but all of a sudden he withdrew the offer and went underground."
"Harper? The guy who was murdered earlier?" MacLeod whistled. "Then that wasn't just a coincidence. Somehow I didn't think that it was."
"I always thought he'd withdrawn his offer to sell the one ring because he'd got news of the other two. Their existence was never exactly a secret." Methos shrugged. "But nine years have gone by, and now he's dead, and both Kenton and Lawson are still after the rings. I guess he never did find them, after all."
"I guess not." MacLeod shrugged. "So that still leaves us at a dead end." He glanced towards Reece. "And there's still no chance of persuading you to change your mind?"
The Highlander nodded, his mind working on other thoughts. "Then will you let me give you a few little pointers? I don't mean combat tips, I mean self-defence. Just a way to give you a chance, especially if you're determined not to kill him."
"I guess that would be a good idea." Reece moved away from the table, glancing back at Methos as he did so. "Unless you'd rather..."
"No." Methos shook his head. "Let MacLeod teach you, he's better at all this than I am." He turned away, the better to hide his face, and folded his arms. He seemed almost to be hugging himself, supporting himself in the face of what was to come. "You need the best chance there is."
"Fine." Reece started to wheel himself away, following MacLeod to some back room where there was more space. He paused at the door, glancing back. "I wish I'd known, before. I wish I'd known who you were, and what my mother and I meant to you. Maybe I'd have taken more notice."
"And maybe you'd have got yourself killed a whole lot sooner." Methos still did not turn to look at him. "I'll see you later Reece. Just listen to everything MacLeod has to tell you."
"I will. Then when it's all over, maybe we can get to know each other properly, huh? You can tell me about my mother, the way that she was when you knew her."
"Sure." The one small word took a big effort to say. "Tomorrow. As soon as you've dealt with Kenton."
"Yeah." And Reece turned the chair about and vanished through the door.
"This is nuts." Beginning to pace up and down, for all the world like a caged animal, Joe came to an abrupt halt and brandished his stick at Methos. "You're not going to let him go through with this? You can't!"
"I can't stop him." Methos went to the piano, but his hands were too restless, too fidgety to play. He tried pacing to relieve a little of his nervous energy, but that did not work either. Finally he sat down on the bar, his legs dangling, his feet kicking the front in nervous, angry rhythms. "This is all my fault."
"Don't be stupid. You could never have imagined the repercussions when you stole those rings; nobody could; and to be fair, you did steal them for the best of reasons." Amanda, having abandoned her post as comforter of Reece Walton, had switched to looking after Methos instead now. He stared at her. So she hadn't been asleep. Somehow he had known that she was listening.
"Reasons and actions from 1816 are hardly important now." Joe stabbed a finger towards the door through which MacLeod and Reece had vanished. "That kid is not old enough to die."
"He's not a kid, Joe. He's thirty-three. That's older than a lot of people ever get the chance to be." Methos did not sound as though he cared much for what he was saying, or even if he believed in it all that much; but he said it anyway. "I can't go on running his life for him."
"But you can't let him die."
"I don't know what else to do!" Suddenly exploding into a storm of plaintive rage, Methos swung about, staring at his mortal friend with clear anguish in his eyes. "I've never been a father before, Joe. Not really. I've delivered kids, and I've loved their mothers, and some of them I actually stayed and lived with; but none of them were ever like Reece. I don't know, it was - it was everything. It was all that happened, and how, and why. It was holding him in my arms, and - and realising the change; knowing that the kid I had delivered was gone, but that something special had been left in his place. Oh, I can't explain it. I used to visit him, watching through the window so many times... I guess I got sort of attached, without realising it." His shoulders slumped. "I like the guy, Joe. I like listening to him play the piano. I like how cheerful he always is. I've spent five thousand years doing my damnedest to be a miserable sod, but he... He's like MacLeod. For some reason he doesn't let that put him off."
"Then help him," said Joe. Methos shook his head.
"What am I supposed to do, Joe? Kidnap him? He's a big boy now. He has to make his own decisions, and I can't stand in his way. Everybody has to find out what they're capable of some time."
"Why? So he won't be angry at you? So if by some ridiculous chance he actually survives this fight, he'll still be speaking to you?"
"No." Methos sighed, heading now towards the door. "This is for him, Joe. All of this is for him. He has to know if he can do this. He has to know if he can win. If he doesn't find out this time, then next time he might go looking for a fight; for some other challenge. He has to find out for himself."
"I don't think I agree with you there." Joe's voice was soft enough to be little more than a whisper, and Methos held his gaze for some time, as though considering his response. Then he gave the slightest, the briefest, of nods, and turned to walk away. The door swung shut behind him, and Joe and Amanda were alone. They shared a swift glance, then Amanda was gone too and Joe was left in the semi-darkness. He stood where he was for a long time, before he went back over to the piano and began to play. It was a long, long time before the notes made any sense to him, but he wasn't at all surprised to discover that he was playing The Entertainer.
"I can't decide if you're the bravest man I know or the stupidest." Watching as Reece obeyed his simple instructions in order to dodge a sword blow, MacLeod lowered his weapon and offered the younger man a smile. "You can't really want to die."
"Nobody really wants to die." Reece smiled back. "Well, only a few people. I'm not one of them."
"Then why go through with this? I can challenge Kenton. I can probably kill him."
"Probably." Reece held his eyes, his expression cold and clear. "But what if you don't? What if something goes wrong, or he turns out to be better than we think? Do you think I could live with that?"
"I understand, a little." MacLeod sat down on the arm of the nearest chair. "But I don't envy you for your position. I'm not knocking your abilities, Reece, but there are some things that you just can't do."
"I can't get up and run away from him, no." Reece grinned, a surprisingly broad and merry smile which MacLeod found particularly infectious. He grinned back.
"You don't have any illusions, do you."
"Why bother with illusions? They only give us false hope, and the time for that ended for me when I woke up in Methos' apartment, and he explained to me what I was." He stared off into space for a few moments. "My mother's last words to me, before she died, were to wish me a long and happy life before I went to join her. Now I don't know if I can fulfil either of those wishes. I don't know that my life will be even as long as a mortal's; and none of us know if we go to the same place they do." He shook his head, smiling again. "I used to look forward to getting older; to knowing that one day people would look at me with respect in their eyes, instead of thinking I was some inexperienced kid. Now I know I'll be stuck at twenty-four for the rest of my life. What an age. You're too young to be taken seriously, and you're too old for them to make any allowances for you. It's like being a teenager all over again. At least fate let you face immortality with a few more years behind you."
"None of us can choose when we face First Death." MacLeod could not help thinking of his 'kinsman', Connor, who would forever be eighteen. "But we can choose when we face our final curtain." He raised his sword again. "Come on. We'd best practice while we still can."
"Sure." There was little commitment to the younger Immortal's voice, little soul. "MacLeod?"
"What?" The Highlander paused, sword turning circles in his hands.
"How many people have you killed?"
"I don't know." He lowered his eyes. That was a question he had been asking himself a lot, just recently.
"How many did you enjoy killing?"
"I don't know that, either. More than I would like."
"You killed Byron, didn't you. The friend Methos was speaking of earlier, who helped him to steal the rings."
"Yes, I did." That seemed so long ago now; back in the days before he had lost Richie, and before he had begun to lose faith in himself. "I can't say I enjoyed that one."
"I don't want to kill." Reece smiled sadly, still staring at the floor. "I'm scared that I'll panic, and try to kill Kenton. I'm more scared of killing him than I am of dying myself. I don't think this is an easy world in which to be an Immortal."
"I don't think it ever was."
"Oh yes." Reece tossed him another of his careless, infectious grins. "When you were new it was, and when Methos was new it was even easier. What else was there in the world but killing? What else was there but death? Perhaps if I came from another country, one where they haven't grown soft; maybe I'd do a better job of being who I am."
"And maybe you'd be less of the man you are."
"Maybe." He sighed. "Sometimes I think I'd like to feel a Quickening; and then at other times I think there's nothing I'd like less. What does it feel like, MacLeod? When the lightning comes, and you feel the fire inside? Methos tried to explain it to me once, but we were drunk that night, and I don't think he knew what he was talking about anymore."
"It feels like all the pain in the world, and all the pleasure, mingled together as one. You hate it and you love it, all at the same time. You wish you'd never felt it, and in the same moment you crave more." MacLeod shrugged. "There is no way to describe it. It just happens, and it's part of what we are; part of the Game - if you choose to play. Sometimes it's different, sometimes it hurts more; sometimes it consumes you, and you're afraid you'll never be yourself again. Like the night I took the head of Kronos."
"That's the same word you used before."
"It is, isn't it." Reece sighed, then turned his chair about in a circle, watching the movements of MacLeod's almost self-turning sword as though trying to time his own movements against it. Even with his speed and strength, MacLeod was not sure that the younger man had the slightest chance in his upcoming battle.
"MacLeod? The people you kill. Do you ever believe that they're really gone?"
"Yes." There was certainty in the voice of the Highlander. "They never come back."
"Never? Not even Kronos?"
"Kronos?" MacLeod frowned, a deep furrow in his forehead that darkened his gaze. What did this kid know? "Why would you ask that?"
"It's just something Methos said to me, that night in his apartment before he sent me to the retreat. Like I said, he was so drunk..."
"But he mentioned something. A bond that could never be broken; a time when he and Kronos shared their blood. If Methos shared in Kronos' Quickening that night, whatever bond they had is even stronger now. I'm not sure how dead he is."
Neither am I... MacLeod felt a chill run up his spine. There had been things... ideas, shadows, thoughts - events which had confused him. All manner of things which had led him to question himself, and even to run away; to leave his friends and to head off into the world all alone. A part of all of those things had stemmed from Kronos. Whether it had been him, or the Ahriman demon; or whether there had ever been a demon at all - it all came down to those doubts that would not go away.
"I think he could come back." Reece's words sounded far away now, as though MacLeod were listening to them through someone else's ears. He felt his fingers grip tighter on the sword hilt; felt a momentary thrill run through his body that felt entirely alien. With difficulty he pushed the feelings aside.
"This isn't the time." He managed a smile. "We'll talk about this later. Come on now; practice. Dodge, move aside." He swung his sword and Reece dodged, moving with easy skill on the polished boards of the floor. "That's it. Keep at it. Duck, go left. Move ahead of the blade; try to see where it will go, not where it is now. Keep going, keep going..." The words floated about above his head as he moved his hands, watching the younger man as he kept on the move. He should have felt proud; or he should have felt sorrow at what was likely to be a futile battle as soon as the dawn came. Instead he felt something else; something completely different; some gathering of shadows in his mind. The closer they came, the more he was sure that he recognised them; but they stayed just out of his reach, and brought his mind, in the end, back to Reece. Yet another friend, about to embark on a journey that MacLeod himself could not share. Sometimes he wasn't sure how much more of it he could take.
Methos walked all night, down one street, up another, without direction or clear purpose. He caught a cab and ran with it along the whole length of the city, then set out to walk back. He rode on a bus in endless circles, then struck out to explore the hidden jungle of the back streets and the alleyways. Street thugs yelled challenges at him in the darkness, and addicts shouted threats and offers that he never heard. He simply walked, and tried not to think about anything.
He arrived at the café just as the sun was first beginning to show itself in the eastern sky. The buildings hid its earliest light from him, but he knew that it was there, moving slowly up to chase away the shadows and the darkness which had surrounded him all night. It could do nothing about the shadows and the darkness inside him, the cold fingers which held him firmly in their grip, but those were thoughts that he himself had to face; feelings that he had to conquer. He stood alone in the street outside the café, and wished that he could feel the warmth of the sunlight upon him before he went inside to face his fate; but the sun wouldn't come, and he wanted to get this over with quickly. If he hung around for much longer, Reece would arrive; and then it would be too late.
"Adam." The voice hailed him just as the first sensations of an Immortal presence assuaged his mind. He did not bother to turn, for he knew the voice. Footsteps came towards him; slow, leisurely footsteps, which echoed in the confines of the narrow street. Three sets of footsteps.
"My name isn't Adam." He turned finally, drawing his sword as he did so, his eyes moving over Kenton, Lawson and some unknown associate. Clearly whoever the latter was, he was not present for his brainpower. His mouth hung open slightly, his eyes misted and vague, and his black tuxedo strained to hold onto his torso around bulging muscles, standing out on every available bodily surface.
"Your name isn't Reece, that's for sure." Kenton made no move to draw his own sword. "I've made my challenge, Adam, and it wasn't to you. It was to your friend. You know the one; young, on wheels. Will very soon be headless."
"Reece isn't coming; at least, not until this is sorted out between the two of us." Methos took a step forward, his sword itching to make its first move. "You only want him to get at me. There's no argument between the two of you."
"On the contrary. You took something I care about. I intend to take something that means a lot to you."
"This isn't anything to do with him. I stole those rings, not him."
"Hard luck." Kenton let out a long, reflective sigh. "Ah well. If I must take your head, I suppose I'd better get on with it. Perhaps it is a trifle overdue, hey Doctor Adams."
Methos favoured him with a particularly bitter, humourless smile. "If I'm going to die this morning, I'll do it under my own name. Doctor Adams isn't challenging you, and neither is Adam Pierson. I am Methos."
"Indeed?" Kenton smiled lazily. "Well now, this really will be a pleasure." He drew his sword. "And with you out of the way I'll soon deal with friend Walton."
"If you kill me you'll leave Reece alone." Methos lashed out with his sword, knocking Kenton's aside. "Promise me."
"Why on Earth should I want to do that?" Kenton laughed. "When you stole my rings, Methos, you brought all of this down on your head. I sought out that damnable little serving girl you gave them to in the first place, and I killed her. I was too late to reclaim my rings, and I didn't manage to find them again until I learnt that they were in Mr Lawson's possession. Now imagine my anger to discover that, after all that I had gone through to find them, I had lost them again; and once more to you. No, my friend. The certainty that someone you care about will die, and die this morning; that is my repayment to you for all of the trouble you've caused me. Your death is nothing; merely a pleasant little aside. It's your knowledge that Reece Walton will not live out the day which will allow me to consider myself fully revenged." He laughed. "Now put up your sword. I always wanted to kill a legend."
"No!" The shout came from down the street, where Reece, alone and unarmed, had appeared in the mouth of one of the alleyways near to the café. He came towards them, his wheels carrying him at speed, his eyes bright and his mouth set in a hard line. He drew up alongside Methos, staring up at him with hot, hard anger.
"How could you do this?"
"I don't know." Methos shook his head. "I just couldn't let you come here. I didn't care what happened. I had to try to kill him first."
"Well I decline the offer." Reece moved towards Kenton. "If your challenge is still open, Mr Kenton, I'd like to take you up on it now."
"My pleasure." Kenton was grinning. " And if killing you means the loss of my last chance to recover my property, then so be it."
"No." Methos took a step forward, reaching out with one hand to grab at Reece's chair. "You can't do this. He'll kill you."
"Maybe." Reece's eyes were hot. "If you really care about me, Methos - if I really mean as much to you as you said - then step aside."
"I can't do that."
"No." Reece reached into his jacket. "I didn't think you could. So I guess I'm going to have to do it for you." He turned about, spinning on one wheel to face his friend; the man who had held him in his arms as a baby, and the man who had first guided him down the path towards immortality. "I'm sorry Methos."
"Reece--" He saw the gun, small and black in the hand of the younger Immortal, and for a second he held the other's gaze. "Don't do this. Please."
"I don't have any other choice." The gun fired, three times in quick succession. Methos felt the jolts as the bullets struck home; the familiar pain and the burning sensation from the close range of the gun. His legs collapsed under him and he fell to his knees.
"Reece..." He could barely speak, and his lungs were no longer capable of doing his bidding. Blackness swum before his eyes and he toppled forward onto the ground.
"Get him out of here, and then take off and don't come back." Gesturing to the two mortals present, Kenton strode over to relieve Reece of his gun. The young Immortal handed it over without complaint, his sad eyes following the two men who were carrying Methos away. It was strange to think it, but it was the first glimpse he had ever had of Edward Lawson; the man who, given different circumstances, might have been his father. He was a singularly unimpressive figure, given the fear he had inspired in his runaway wife during all of the years Reece had known her. He smiled to himself, then turned to face Kenton.
"I suppose we'd better get on with it," he said quietly. Kenton stared down at him.
"Where's your sword, boy?"
"I guess I must have left it in my other jacket." He smiled as he gave a simple shrug. "Ah well. C'est la vie." He was still smiling when Kenton struck downward with his sword.
"Methos?" The Immortal did not turn, sitting as he was beside the river that led to the sea. He tried closing his eyes. Maybe if he sat like that for long enough, and didn't move, MacLeod would go away. No such luck.
"Methos?" Clambering over the railing, MacLeod sat down next to him, reaching out with one, tentative hand. It stopped before it reached the old Immortal, as if unsure what to do next. Finally it withdrew altogether.
"What do you want, MacLeod?" Hell, was that really his own voice? It sounded so... so... what was the word he wanted? Lost? Empty? Confused? Angry? Or all four, mingled as one, mixing in his mind and in his heart. He felt as though his very soul was shaking.
"I wondered if you'd heard anything."
"Nothing." He sighed. "I was prepared for the end, MacLeod. At least I think I was. I was prepared to go out there and find Reece dead on the street, but now... for there to be nothing." He toyed with the dust and stones that lay about the ground at his feet, looking for something to do with his hands. "At least I got to bury Kronos."
"What about Kenton?"
"Disappeared. I haven't seen him either." He shook his head. "I haven't seen anyone, that's just the point. When I woke up in the café, the whole place was deserted. It just doesn't make any sense. Kenton should have come after me, after the fight. He would have wanted to let me know how he'd killed Reece. That's the way a man like that works."
"Maybe he couldn't come. Maybe Reece killed him."
"And maybe we'll put a man on Mars tomorrow." He shook his head again, almost as though he could make the pieces of his thoughts fall together that way. "Reece could never kill anybody. It's one of the things that makes him who he is."
"Then where is Kenton?"
"And where's Reece?" He sighed, managing a small, sad smile. "I know it's crazy, MacLeod. I know that all the signs point to him being dead. But I just can't think that. Reece is still out there somewhere. I know he is."
"Sure, old man." MacLeod looked away. He wanted to believe it too; more than he had ever wanted to believe anything. He wanted to think that Reece Walton was alive, maybe heading back to the religious retreat in Southern Italy; that he was not in danger anymore, and that the threat from Joshua Kenton was past. It was a stupid, hopeless wish to cling to, but he could no more let go of it than could Methos.
"Do you think he'll ever come back?" The voice of the oldest Immortal dragged him back from his momentary wander into thought, and he blinked.
"Reece. Do you think that, that when he's got his... issues... dealt with, he'll come back?"
"Yeah. If he can, I think he will."
Methos nodded. "Thanks MacLeod."
"No problem." Holding out his hand the Highlander pulled his friend to his feet, glancing him over critically. "Come on. We'd better get you home so you can clean up. In case you hadn't noticed there's a trail of bloodstained bullet holes across your chest."
"It's a fashion accessory." Methos began to follow the other man away from the river, heading towards the black T-Bird that was parked nearby. They had not seen Reece's car all day, but whether Kenton had taken it, or Reece had merely driven it away was a question that could not be answered. It probably never would be, unless one or other of the Immortals ever returned; but if Kenton really did consider the debt now paid, he would have no reason to search out Methos again, and the truth might never be known. Maybe it was better not to know, so that he could, at least, still dream. Or maybe he didn't need to. As they reached the car he swung into it, leaning back into his seat with new thoughts on his mind. Who needed to dream? Who needed to hope for a truth, when he already knew the answer? He didn't know how, and he probably never would, but he was certain that Reece was alive; somewhere. He reached out to click on the radio, ready to tune it into some rock station rather than his companion's undoubtedly classical choice of setting. He paused. On whatever station it was that MacLeod had tuned his car radio to, they were playing The Entertainer - a simple, bright and breezy tune that brought an unbidden smile to his face. He caught MacLeod looking at him, and shrugged.
"Let's go home MacLeod."
"I've got a better idea. Let's go and look for those rings."
"If we find them, can we keep them?"
"Just you try it." They laughed together as they began to move off down the road, and as their vehicle departed a lone Immortal watched them go. He was smiling too, but had they been able to sense his presence, or had they glanced back at all to see who was there, they would not have been able to tell who he was. The shadows cast by the nearby buildings were too dark, and too impenetrable. He watched them for a while, until they had taken a corner and were gone from sight; then he turned about and headed off into the side streets. He had places to go to.
For Chris, who played The Entertainer faster than anyone.