A Life in Progress
Part 3 of the New Beginning cycle
by Jennifer Campbell
I do not own the characters of Methos, Duncan MacLeod
or Joe Dawson and have no affiliation with the show "Highlander: The
Series." The characters of Lindsey Allen and Seth LaMar are my own; if you
want to use them (although I can't figure out why you'd want to...) please
ask for permission. This story is all in good fun with no harm intended. I
don't make any money off this, unfortunately.
OK, big breath. I have so many people to thank: my mom, Carolyn, and
Katie-did for their suggestions on plot; Kady Mae for helping me focus
Lindsey's character development; and especially my betas, Farquarson,
Dana, Michael and Molly, who caught my mistakes and helped me write a
better story. They made my first beta experience an (almost) painless one.
OK, big breath. I have so many people to thank: my mom, Carolyn, and Katie-did for their suggestions on plot; Kady Mae for helping me focus Lindsey's character development; and especially my betas, Farquarson, Dana, Michael and Molly, who caught my mistakes and helped me write a better story. They made my first beta experience an (almost) painless one.
The letter came in a small, plain envelope with no return address, only the name of a town: Montagne, France. It lay atop a pile of colorful advertisements and holiday catalogues that begged for attention, but Joe Dawson learned long ago that life's most important events often come in small, plain packages.
He opened the envelope, careful not to rip through the sloppy writing sprawled across its back, and pulled out the letter. It filled only one page, and in place of a signature at the bottom was an initial: "M." Methos. Only the oldest immortal would send such a mysterious note. Joe quickly scanned the letter and returned to the top for a closer look.
Joe reread the letter and shook his head in disbelief. He never would have pegged the careful, secretive immortal as the type to take a student. Methos wrapped himself in his anonymity like a favorite blanket, but Lindsey would force him to enter the Game until she could protect herself. Every time Joe thought he had Methos figured out, the old man displayed another facet of his incredibly complex personality. Wonders never ceased.
Joe refolded the letter and tucked it into the envelope, wondering what he should do with the damn thing. He briefly considered burning it, but that would contradict the role Methos had assigned to him, as unofficial Watcher. The label seemed rather funny, especially because Joe no longer belonged to the organization. He unconsciously rubbed one hand over his still-tender wrist, where the tattoo once lay, and pushed thoughts of self-pity to the back of his mind. No sense in feeling sorry for himself. He stuffed the envelope under the bar, reminding himself to move it into the safe when time was more convenient.
As he straightened and turned to the more mundane pile of bills and advertisements, the front door opened with a soft click. It was too early for customers, so Joe immediately went on guard. He watched as a tall, heavy-set man entered, not bothering to shut the door behind him. Joe knew him as Roger Darrow, one of the Watcher's top guys -- and he must have more pressing business than paying courtesy calls to ex-members. Joe burned with curiosity but maintained his silence as Roger approached and ungracefully plopped himself onto a stool.
Darrow lit a cigarette and nodded. "Joe. How's it going?"
The greeting was more chummy than Joe expected, considering what had happened, but he figured he could play along. "This is a surprise, Roger," he said in as friendly a manner as he could manage. "What brings you here?"
"Would you believe that I happened to be in town and wanted to drop by for a chat?" Darrow smiled coolly, and shivers crawled up Joe's spine.
He abandoned the friendly pretenses. "Come on, Rog, don't give me that crap. I mean, you were the one who got me kicked out."
"That, Joseph, is not fair," Darrow replied, raising his eyebrows in mock innocence. He flicked cigarette ashes onto the bartop. "It was a decision of the whole leadership council. My vote made no difference one way or the other."
"Yeah, right," Joe muttered as he wiped the mess off the counter and set an ashtray next to Darrow. He couldn't bring himself to meet the man's eyes.
Darrow sighed. "We all knew you were hiding him from us, Joe. You knew who Adam Pierson was, and you kept it to yourself. If one of our field agents hadn't stumbled across his fight with Theodore last spring, we might never have known." He paused to puff at his cigarette. "What else could we do?"
"You could have at least let me had a say before passing judgment. Adam was my friend, yeah, but he wasn't in the habit of telling his friends that he was immortal. It's not like he walked in one day, said 'Hey, Joe. Guess what, I'm Methos' and then told me I couldn't tell anyone."
"This is getting nowhere, Joe," Darrow said. "The reason I'm here is to ask if you've heard from him, from Methos."
Joe snorted in disgust. The Watchers must be pretty damn desperate to come to him for help after what they'd pulled. Still, the situation begged Joe to have a some fun. He realized that he could play this little scenario to his advantage and give Darrow a taste of his own bitter medicine.
He smiled evilly and leaned across the bar. "Well, now, maybe I have and maybe I haven't. But it doesn't concern you one way or the other because I'm not a Watcher. I have no obligation to tell you anything."
"That's right, you don't. But what if you were a Watcher again?"
Joe's smile faded as the words sunk in. The Watchers wanted him back. He figured the offer *should* surprise him, but he had expected something like this would happen. The organization had a hard time replacing its veteran members, and, generally, quality of work dropped through the floor.
A few weeks ago, he might have even accepted the offer, but no longer. The Watchers' poisonous rejection had done its work too well, and Joe felt mostly revulsion for the organization to which he so recently had devoted his life. Hiding in shadows, holding secret meetings -- it seemed unimportant now. When he thought of the Watchers, the word "they" came easier to the lips than "we." The offer was too little, too late.
"Not interested," he answered.
"Now, think for a moment before you decide, Joe. I'm talking about letting you back into the organization." Darrow smiled as he smothered his cigarette butt in the ashtray. "I have the authority to do that ... if you tell us where Methos is."
"No deal, Rog," Joe said. "Even if I knew where he was, I don't want back in. Not any more."
Darrow's eyes narrowed dangerously, but he quickly hid the anger, stood and smoothed his pants. "Well, Joe," he said casually, "if you change your mind, give me a call."
"Yeah, whatever," Joe mumbled, and Roger Darrow walked out.
As he began pulling chairs off tables in preparation for opening, Joe mused about when the Watchers had lost track of Methos. The old man probably had ditched them right after the accident. Adam would have good reason to disappear, not wanting to put his student in danger.
Methos' student. The words sounded strange. Joe tried saying them aloud, but they felt no more believable. Very strange, indeed.
The first customer of the day entered, interrupting Joe's thoughts. He set immortal business to the back of his mind as he smiled in greeting. He had plenty of time to worry about Methos later.
But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't dislodge the damn mess from his head. All day it bounced around in his mind: the letter, Darrow's hair-brained offer, Methos' student. The urge to share with someone grew stronger the more he thought about it until his impatience reached an almost intolerable level. So when MacLeod sauntered into the bar toward closing time, Joe sighed in relief.
All he could do was give his friend a quick nod and a beer before hurrying off to wait on other customers. He didn't find a chance to talk to the immortal until after he'd locked the front doors for the night and collapsed into a chair across from Mac, who was sulking over his drink.
"Quite a busy night, huh, MacLeod?" he said conversationally. He popped the top off a beer bottle, took a long swig and glanced at Mac, who seemed lost in a trance. "Mac? Hey, earth to Mac?"
MacLeod started from his rapt contemplation of his drink and smiled half-heartedly. "Sorry, Joe, what was that?"
Joe looked hard at his friend and prepared to play counselor. When something bothered MacLeod, he sure didn't hide it well. "What's up, Mac? You look like you just left a funeral."
"I took a Quickening this morning."
Mac shrugged. "Don't know. It was some kid who didn't need to die." He paused and met Joe's concerned gaze. "He was hunting for Methos, Joe. When I told him to go look somewhere else, he attacked me because he thought I'd make good bait." Joe whistled softly under his breath. He knew this attack wasn't the first. Since Methos' vanishing act, immortals and Watchers alike hadn't a clue where to start hunting, so they came to Seacouver. Hunters knew Joe and Mac were friends of the man calling himself Adam Pierson, so, they thought, the pair must know where the oldest immortal was hiding. And if the Watchers were pushing Joe for information, he knew Mac felt more pressure. The Highlander even had taken back his sword, a necessity with the number of hostile immortals wandering Seacouver these days.
Methos surely couldn't have foreseen this side effect, but, then again, maybe he had and just didn't care enough to act. No, that couldn't be true. Adam had abandoned his friends to protect them from the coming storm, not to draw them into the hurricane's fury. Joe sipped from his beer and stared at the table. He felt as though the relative calm of his life was about to get blown to shreds.
"Joe," Mac said, "I need to find him."
Joe shook his head. "Not a good idea, Mac."
"He's put my life in danger; he's put *your* life in danger. He has no right to do that."
"And if you find him, you blow his cover. Then you put his head on the line."
"You know me better than that, Joe. I can lose anyone who might trail me." He sipped his drink and leaned back in his chair. "Besides, maybe it's time for Methos to start playing by the rules, just like the rest of us."
Mac's casual answer didn't satisfy Joe. He knew the immortal had a more important reason for finding Methos than to force the old man back into the Game, which wasn't really a reason at all. Mac had passed up plenty of opportunities to do just that during the past few years. There was more to this newest obsession than petty revenge.
"Why do you want to find him?" Joe asked.
MacLeod absently ran one finger around the rim of his glass. "The kid that attacked me this morning ... I had no problem with him. But what happens when the good fighters start coming? What happens when another Kronos comes for my head because he can't find Methos?"
"You beat Kronos."
Mac closed his eyes in irritation. "I know that. I was there, remember?" He paused. "All right, then. What if some immortal comes after you, Joe, thinking you'd be good bait? Can you honestly say that Methos would want you to die so he can stay in hiding?"
Joe's retort halted on his lips. He briefly wondered what he did mean to Methos. The oldest immortal had watched hundreds of friends die, and one more probably wouldn't make a difference. Methos would simply push aside his grief and file Joe away with the others. To save his head, would Methos sacrifice those he cared about? Maybe. Joe couldn't immediately dismiss the idea because Methos had survived by doing just that: using those he called friends.
But Methos also was capable of great altruism, despite his carefully molded mask of indifference. Mac had once described how Methos had offered his head so MacLeod could beat Kalas. The old man had shocked Joe when he had revealed his immortality to Christine Salzer, trying to stop her from disclosing the Watchers' secrets. And only a few months ago, after the fateful night when the had Watchers discovered his true identity, Methos had left Seacouver because he knew his presence put his friends in danger.
Now, Methos had displayed his humanity once again because he hadn't vanished to save himself. Lindsey was the one who needed protection, and anonymity was her best chance to survive her first vulnerable weeks as an immortal. Mac would blow her cover as well if he found Methos. The Highlander was alone on this one.
Joe took a big gulp of beer to steady his resolve. "I think Adam has good reason for hiding, and he'll come out when he's ready."
MacLeod muttered under his breath, and all Joe could make out was "stubborn" and "martyr." Then he spoke aloud. "So you don't know where he is?"
MacLeod glared at Joe for several seconds, but Joe concentrated on his beer. He wished that Mac, for once, would accept "no" as an answer and let it go. The moment finally ended as MacLeod finished his drink and stood.
"See you around, Joe," he said blandly.
"See ya, Mac," Joe replied, not turning to watch the Highlander leave. It hurt to lie to his friend, but it would hurt more to betray Methos, who had trusted him enough to set his precious secret in Joe's hands. The old man sure had a talent for screwing with a guy's ethical obligations.
"Bastard," Joe muttered as he took another drink.
Four hundred years had taught Duncan MacLeod how to control his anger - - not that he ever had suffered from a quick temper. Throughout his young life, sadness was a more familiar emotion. When he killed his cousin, when Debra slipped through his fingers and off the cliff, when his father rejected him -- those memories were colored by remorse and helplessness, not anger.
Joe Dawson, too, possessed some strange talent for making MacLeod feel helpless, but in Joe's case, the emotion tended to transform into irrational anger. Mac was angry that Joe was aging, and he was angry that after a few decades, the mortal would die. More often, though, his temper appeared for logical reasons, such as when Joe took their friendship for granted and held out on him.
Joe knew where Methos was, and he'd chosen to lie rather than reveal the location. He believed MacLeod would hurt Methos with his presence, and that thought alone pushed Mac's temper to the forefront. He had to somehow convince Joe that finding Methos was for the best.
Mac pulled his Thunderbird in behind the old church he'd only recently finished renovating into a livable cabin. The job had proven difficult without Theodore's expert knowledge of architecture, but his friend had been foolish enough to challenge Methos, leaving MacLeod no choice but to press on alone. At least he'd completed the project, creating a residence on holy ground that was more accessible than the island.
Mac admired his handiwork as he stepped out into the moonless night, but then an immortal presence hit him like a bulldozer. He drew his sword. The strength of the signature ruled out almost everyone Mac thought might drop by -- except Methos. But this presence felt ... evil, not at all like the old man's distinctive buzz.
The front door stood slightly ajar, revealing nothing of the darkened interior. He slowly pushed the door open with his foot and winced as it creaked softly. He stepped forward. The faint sound of someone shifting his weight behind Mac warned the Highlander, and he swung his sword around behind his neck. Blades clashed, and MacLeod backed away, turning to face his shadowy opponent.
"Not very sporting, to kill a man from behind," he growled. "And on holy ground."
"Holy ground?" asked a deep voice, identifying Mac's attacker as a man.
"Yeah," MacLeod said. "Did you happen to miss the fact that you're standing in a church?"
"It's a little dark in here. That makes it difficult to notice much of anything," the man replied, with a hint of amusement coloring his voice.
The lights flashed on, momentarily blinding Mac. He blinked a couple of times and got a better look at his opponent, who already had sheathed his sword. The immortal's attitude radiated arrogance -- an ego too big to fit comfortably in his wiry body. His cool smile failed to disguise the malicious glint in his eyes.
"You're not Methos," the man said.
Mac inwardly groaned. Another damned Methos hunter. These guys really put a crimp in one's lifestyle. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, and this is my house." He pointed his blade at the man. "You are?"
"Seth LaMar." The man extended his hand for a shake, which Mac pointedly ignored. "I, uh, had heard that Methos often stayed with you when he came to town. I thought I might get lucky."
"Well, today's not your lucky day," Mac answered. "What do you want with Methos?"
LaMar laughed. "Why, to kill him, of course. You can't tell me the thought never crossed your mind. All that power ... it's too much to resist." He slowly crossed the room, his eyes never leaving MacLeod's sword, and stretched out comfortably on Methos' favorite couch. Mac suppressed a violent surge of anger. "I've been hunting Methos for 250 years. At first, it was like chasing a myth, like moonlight that slips through your fingers. But now, well, the myth has solidified. And he's mine."
"He's not here, and I don't know where he is. Now get out of my house."
"Tut, tut, MacLeod. Such discourtesy." Mac advanced on LaMar, and the immortal jumped to his feet, his hands raised in warning. "Holy ground, MacLeod.
"We can take it outside," Mac growled softly, dangerously.
Fear flickered across LaMar's eyes as he realized he'd pushed MacLeod too far. Then the cool smile returned, not so calm as before. He smoothed his coat and strode quickly toward the door. "No need for that, MacLeod. I'll leave." He stopped at the door and looked back. "Nice cabin. If you ever put it up for sale, give me a call."
LaMar's presence faded, and Mac finally set down his sword and flexed his cramped hands. Despite this guy's back-stabbing style, he was strong; strong meant dangerous. Mac had no doubt that he could kill LaMar, but that wasn't the point. He'd had his fill of protecting Methos. Mac remembered the day they had met, when Methos had said MacLeod could not fight his battles for him. But now MacLeod was fighting all of them. Enough! Joe would tell him where Methos was hiding, or MacLeod would squeeze it out of him -- in the morning. The hour was too late to do anything tonight.
MacLeod lay in bed for a while, but he only stared at the ceiling. The encounter with LaMar had fueled his anxiety, and he felt as though another attack might come at any moment. In an attempt to calm his nerves, he prepared a glass of hot milk and grabbed a book off the shelf. But he turned the pages without seeing the words, and his milk slowly cooled on the table beside him, untouched. He had more success with a long session of yoga, letting his mind drain of thought. Finally, sore, sweaty and tired, he crawled back into bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
As MacLeod pulled up behind Joe's Bar early the next morning, nothing seemed out of place, but Mac couldn't shake his disquiet. Following his instincts and some sixth sense, he drew his sword and ran toward the back door. The lock was broken.
"Joe," Mac yelled as he pushed passed the door and ran inside. His eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness, and all he could distinguish was a motionless lump on the barroom floor. He almost thought he'd jumped back in time to Paris, to Shakespeare & Co., to find Don Salzer bleeding his life out among his books. Mac ran forward and dropped beside the lump.
He laid one hand on Joe's shoulder. The mortal stirred, and MacLeod heard a muffled groan. He quickly assessed the scene: His friend bled from dozens of small, razor-sharp cuts, he was gagged and tied, and his legs had been tossed carelessly across the room and lay just below the stage. Mac dropped his sword and quickly untied the gag.
Joe gasped in pain. "MacLeod," he murmured.
"I'm here, Joe," he answered as he started on the knots pinning Joe's arms behind him. "What happened?"
"An immortal was here, Seth LaMar. He broke in a couple hours after you left. He was looking for Methos." Mac slid the ropes off Joe's raw, red wrists, and Joe yelled as blood returned to his numb fingers. "You have to help him, Mac," he said weakly.
Damn LaMar, and damn himself, too, for letting the bastard go. "Joe, what are you talking about? Help who?"
"LaMar wanted to know where Methos was, but I wouldn't tell him, so he tied me up and started ... cutting me. I passed out, and when I came to, he was reading the letter."
While Joe talked, MacLeod searched under the bar for clean towels. He looked up at Joe's last comment. "Letter?"
"The letter from Methos. LaMar's probably already on his way there. The town is called Montagne, and it's somewhere in eastern France. You have to get there before LaMar and warn Methos. You have to go now."
Joe struggled to sit, but MacLeod gently, firmly pushed him back down. He snorted as he grabbed a towel and began dabbing the blood. "Methos can take care of himself. Right now I'm more worried about you."
"Mac," Joe whispered hoarsely, "call an ambulance, and I'll be fine. LaMar will kill Methos ... and Methos' student."
"Methos has a student?"
How much stupidity could the old man show? First he was sloppy enough to let a Watcher record his fight with Theodore, and then he took a student when he knew he had hunters on his trail. Mac absently pressed too hard against Joe's mangled skin, and Joe cried out softly, snapping MacLeod back to the present.
"Yeah," Joe replied. "And he says he thinks of her as a daughter. I think if LaMar went after her like he came after me, Methos would give his head to save her."
Goosebumps chilled MacLeod's arms as he thought about the prospect. He had never been tortured, but he'd heard stories. The pain faded much slower than the actual wounds, and it could go on for weeks without respite, without even the escape of death. Mac shuddered, and he worried for Methos ... and for his student. But Joe needed him more.
He shook his head. "I can't leave you, Joe. Not like this."
"Mac, please." The plaintive tone of Joe's voice struck a chord. "You have to help them. I'll be here when you get back. I promise."
Joe's gaze remained steady and serious, despite his pain, and MacLeod felt humbled by his friend's selfless determination. He finished wiping away the blood and set the towel on the floor. "All right," he answered quietly.
Mac located a telephone behind the bar and dialed 911, reporting a break-in to the operator. He collected Joe's legs from the stage and set them beside his friend. A couple minutes later, he heard sirens. The police would delay him with questions, but he couldn't bring himself to leave Joe's side.
Joe stirred, laying his hand over Mac's. "Get out of here, Mac. I'll be fine."
MacLeod met Joe's determined gaze, nodded and squeezed his friend's
hand once. He snuck out the back door, and, in all the commotion, no one
noticed him drive away. He allowed himself a detour to his cabin, where he
quickly packed a bag, and then drove to the airport. He would warn Methos,
save his student, whatever was necessary. But mostly, he just wanted
LaMar's head on a plate -- for Joe and for himself.
End of part 1