"Two Watchers in Search of a Gathering".

Paula Stiles thesnowleopard@hotmail.com

Summary: In 1985, Joe and his student Adam Pierson discover that the Gathering is at hand--they just won't be anywhere near it.

Characters: Joe Dawson, Methos (Adam Pierson), James Horton, Jack Shapiro, Don Salzer, mention of Duncan MacLeod, Connor MacLeod and the Kurgan.

Rating: PG.

Disclaimer: Davis/Panzer Productions, Rysher Entertainment, and Gaumont Television own the Highlander universe. The quotes are from the movie, "Flash Gordon". God, and the copyright laws, forbid that I should make any money off of this.

Archive: Ask, and ye shall probably receive permission.

Note: This is story number five in the "Armed Intervention" series. This tale, and the rest of this Joe and Methos series can be found, with recommendations for other Methos series, at:

http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/3071/arch2.html

And along with my other stories at:

http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/3071/arch.html

Many thanks to Judith Hill for betareading this for me.





TWO WATCHERS IN SEARCH OF A GATHERING

I like to play with things awhile--before annihilation.

Paris, 1985

The plane from Geneva was late. It took its sweet time taxiing up to the gate. I wish I'd known then that was how it was always gonna be with this kid, but who knew? I waited outside Customs. When Pierson ambled through, I waved at him. He only had carry-on luggage, from the looks of things, a backpack not much bigger than the one he'd been carrying when I first met him. Customs must have been a boondoggle, then. I'd say that those were happier, more innocent times, but Europe was still too paranoid about '70s terrorist groups like the Red Brigade to be relaxed about its customs procedures.

Took awhile for Pierson to notice me, or maybe he wasn't in any hurry to do it. "Adam!" I yelled. He glanced my way, then strolled over. He never was what you'd call a fast mover.

"Hey, Joe. Didn't see you there." He smiled. It looked genuine. I was a little touchy about fake smiles that day, having seen a lot of them in the past week. "You look a bit tense. What's up? Am I ridiculously late?"

I ground my teeth. "No, you're fine. I just got here. It's just that my sister and brother-in-law were here for a week. I'm still getting over having to do the tourist thing all over Paris. You know James Horton, right?"

"That plonker? Oh, yeah. He came and gave a speech at one of our pep rallies-- sorry, 'organisational history lectures'. Very stirring. He really knows how to hold a crowd." Pierson grinned, unfazed by my scowl. "Hey, he's your brother-in-law, not mine. I've got nothing to do with his being a plonker or not."

I shook my head and sighed, even though, secretly, I agreed with him. "Still a week from getting your tattoo and you're already causing trouble and upset. I can see you've got a long and ugly history far away from the field ahead of you. Let's blow this popsicle stand and go get a beer."

I had a taxi waiting outside. The Metro was a little too exciting for me. I'd heard you could get a car where you could drive with a handbrake, but so far, the Watchers hadn't ponied up for one. Let 'em pony up for a taxi into town, instead. Pierson tossed his bag in and helped me into the back so calmly that, as usual, I didn't notice he'd done it until I was in. No muss and no fuss. I don't think I've ever let anybody else do that, especially not back then, when I'd still only been in the field for six years and felt like I had to prove myself every damned day. The best I can say is that with Adam, I never felt any condescension, like I did with pretty much every other Watcher I ever met. Making life easier for the person standing next to you was just the right thing for him to do, I guess.

I knew they'd only let me go out in the field because James had campaigned for me, and then they'd gone and got me the dullest, quietest Immortal they could find. I suppose I should have been grateful. All of my previous assignments were ghosts, Immortals I'd been assigned to track down, 'cause I was right there in Research, who either didn't exist or had lost their heads long before I ever got them.The only one I ever found was Lou Grant in '78. He was as Mortal as me, even if he was a real grump.

Roy Ferrer, my first "assignment", turned out to be a combination of different sightings--some Immortal combination of Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster and Piltdown Man. He was a hitman in Frisco, a volunteer fireman in upstate New York, a Belgian mercenary in Uganda. At first, I thought I'd copped to somebody really old, Methos even (yeah, I was young and stupid once, too). I was sure I'd caught up to him in '74. I had this great contact, who'd claimed to have actually met him...but he never showed. That was when I figured out, standing on a big map of the world in the middle of the airport in Salt Lake City, that I'd been had by the whole Watcher organisation. Ferrer wasn't real, just a made-up Immortal cobbled together from incomplete chronicles. I made it into the toilet before I bawled my eyes out.

Duncan MacLeod was a different kind of disappointment. Oh, he'd had his share of adventures. You don't live all of a 393-year lifespan without getting into some kind of trouble. Problem was, it all seemed to have happened before I ever heard of him. He'd dropped out of the Game. Now, he was a happy man in a longterm relationship, had just bought an antiques shop out in Seacouver. Booorrrrring. Hell, they wouldn't even give me airfare to follow him to Seacouver, even though he was living there half the time and owned a business there. Said it wasn't worth stretching the travel budget for me to go watch a guy have dinner with his girlfriend when there were so many other guys and gals out there on the hunt. Folks in my line of work were a little nervous that year. We kept hearing rumours of the Gathering. Sure, we'd heard rumours before, but you still have to take them seriously. Yesterday's bogus rumour might be today's real thing in this line of work.

"I'm gonna put you up for the night. Is that okay?" I told Pierson, as we came into Paris.

"Uh, sure. Is that okay with you?" He seemed a little unsure of his welcome. Well, he'd slept on my couch before. He knew how small the place was.

"It's fine by me if it's fine by you. But I can put you up in a hotel, if you want. Company expense." I thought that might appeal to his sarcastic nature.

He laughed. "No, that's fine. It would be a bit tedious, anyway, a hotel in a strange city."

I waited until we got to my place, out of the taxi and up to my apartment before I tried any more specific questions. "How was Academy?" I asked, as I unlocked the door and let us in. The place was ground floor. It had been hard to find a place I could get in and out of, that had decent security.

Pierson shrugged as he wandered in after me. "It was all right. A great deal of propaganda about the Great Watcher Way."

"Hey, kid, you came to us, not the other way around." Pierson wouldn't be the first trainee to buck at the traces. We didn't exactly recruit from the settled, stable part of the population. I turned on all the lights, but decided not to take off my coat, since we'd probably go right back out to eat.

"Yeah, yeah. I know." He waved it off. "It's just nice to get a break from all that." He shrugged off his backpack and dropped it next to the couch. He'd slept on that couch before, even claimed it was comfortable. He knew the drill.

I got some juice out of the fridge and poured us both some. "What, you think I don't have my own line?" He came over for his glass. I handed it to him across the counter.

He looked me in the eye. "No, Joe. I don't think you have any kind of line. You believe. You don't have to force anyone else to join in to help you do it." Shit. I wish he didn't do that. That kind of honesty was unsettling. I looked away as he drained his juice.

"I'll show you around the bookstore, tomorrow," I said, changing the subject. "We made a few changes while you were gone."

Pierson laughed and set his glass down on the counter. "Not wasting any time preparing me for my future desk job, eh?" He lifted his right hand and pulled back his coat sleeve, to show his bare wrist. "I don't even have my tattoo yet, and you've got me assigned."

"You could shoot for a field assignment, but...." I chewed on my lip, not sure how to continue.

Pierson cocked his head to one side. "But...?"

He deserved to know the truth. "To be honest, Adam, I don't think you're cut out for field work. It's dangerous out there. Immortals can turn on you any minute, and you...you're not soft, or anything. It's just that you're too shy, or something." I shook my head. "I don't know. I should talk. Look at me, I can barely get down the street, let alone run. And here I am giving you a hard time. I'm sure you'll get a field assignment, if you want one." I smothered that little spark of fear. He really wasn't cut out for field work. At all.

"It's all right, Joe. I don't want a field assignment." Pierson smiled. It seemed sad. "I'm perfectly happy in research."

"You don't?" I couldn't imagine that. Watching Immortals was our reason for being. "Well, what do you want?"

Pierson looked at the floor. "I want to be forgotten," he said, so softly, I wasn't sure I caught it. But I didn't ask him to repeat himself. As I said, we don't get the most well-adjusted people in the world, and I got the impression that Pierson had just shown me something he didn't show anybody else. That was my cue to ask him what kind of restaurant he wanted to eat dinner at, so I asked. Turned out, he didn't want to eat out, so we changed the plan.

I liked having Pierson over. He was a good houseguest, very quiet, lived out of his meagre backpack, never argued with me over the TV remote, washed his dishes, stuff like that. That seems like minor stuff, but it adds up if you don't do it right, even for just a week.

I got the call while we were out picking up the Chinese food at the joint on the corner (we'd decided to eat in, watch TV. Pierson was a little tired from his trip). My beeper went off. I went over to the payphone to take the call, wondering what the Hell was going on. I only had a beeper because every other field op did at the time. Took me awhile to notice the light. We kept our beepers on a silent blink when we were in the field (don't want to announce your presence to some psycho who enjoys taking trophies from people he doesn't like). Mine had never gone off before. Duncan MacLeod wasn't in town and he never did anything to merit me a heads- up, anyway.

The guy I got was Jack Shapiro up in London. American, but his Immortal had left the US a few years ago for England. Jack had been in the field since '69, two more years than me, and his life was almost as quiet as mine, 'cause he was raising a kid. He sounded real excited--I mean *real* excited. Hard to believe how naive we all were back then. We were so much more open with each other. Who'd have thought we'd be at each other's throats within the next decade?

"Joe! Joe, is that you?" he yelled into the phone, as soon as I answered. I had to hold the phone out to save my ear.

"Damn, Jack. Calm down. Yeah, it's me. Who else did you think it would be? What's up?"

"Joe, I'm in New York. It's here. It's happening!" I could almost see him jumping up and down, happy as a little kid the first day of the season at Ebbets Field. "Who's with you? Is anybody with you?"

"Pierson. I'm doing his field internship for the week. What's here? What are you talking about?"

"They're doing it, Joe. They're finally doing it." Now, I'm slow, but I ain't that slow. I knew who he meant. He meant Immortals, the people we spent our lives watching. He meant that the Gathering was here. The lemmings were finally heading out to sea.

"Shit," I said, because I couldn't think of anything profound. "You sure?"

"Connor MacLeod's Watcher heard him this morning. He mentioned the Gathering to his girlfriend. He's going up against the Kurgan."

Hmm. "Well, yeah. But that doesn't mean they're all gone. You mean it's just starting?"

Jack chuckled impatiently. I always made him impatient. Guess he figured I'd lost my brains along with my legs. It disappointed me, because I would have liked him to be a true friend. "Of course it's just starting. The Kurgan has been Hunting Connor for centuries. They're one of the pairs most likely to start the whole thing rolling. Their Watchers have been keeping an eye out for it for years. They go for the gold, it's Gathering Time."

So much for phone protocol. Then again, maybe Interpol and the local cops wouldn't notice our excitement in all the general rot brought on by the Reagan and Thatcher boom. I'm sure there was at least one big drug shipment going down in Paris or London that sounded a whole lot more exciting to anybody who might be listening to us right then than we did.

"Okay. So, what's the deal? What do you want us to do, come to New York right now?" I tried to keep from sounding too eager. I mean, sure, we'd be reduced to pen-pushers and sad librarians once this was all done, but this was what we'd been waiting for for millennia. There was gonna be a whole lot of head-hunting in the next few weeks. Every Immortal on the planet would go after every other Immortal until there was only one left. This was the big game, and I, Joe Dawson, was gonna get a front row seat-- with popcorn.

"Joe, Joe. Are you kidding? Of course not. We don't need you getting caught in the crossfire, and you've got your student with you. We need to keep the civilians well out of it. No, you stay right there in Paris and hold down the fort for us. Let us get in there and deal with it. Believe me, we've got it all covered from here."

I felt sick. They weren't even gonna let me near it? What the fuck was this? I'd been paying my dues for years. Not like there was any time left to wait in the wings, you know? "What the Hell are you saying, Jack? What, am I not good enough for this?"

"Don't be that way, Joe. Look, your brother-in-law is heading back your way to back you guys up. He'll keep an eye out in the field. You guys take care of things in Archives, okay?"

"You're a fucking asshole, Jack. I'd just like you to know that." Angry? Angry didn't cover even a small part of it. I'd always known they'd do this to me, but the possibility of the Gathering in my lifetime had been so remote, I'd managed to ignore that happy thought. And now, here it was, all going down right now, and I was being left out. I'd have sued them, but the Watchers ain't what you'd call a "legal" operation. Not exactly illegal, either, but not the kind of folks you could sue in open court.

"Joe, I gotta go. I'll page you as soon as I learn anything else." Ah, so he was just gonna let that last 'comment' slide. Lucky me. Funny, I wasn't feeling very lucky. I hung up just as our takeout came to the counter. I wasn't feeling all that hungry anymore, either.

Pierson stepped right up to pay for the food, without any discussion. "What's going on?" he said, as he pocketed his change and hefted one of our bags.

"I'll tell you when we get back to the apartment." He narrowed his eyes but didn't say anything, just nodded. So, he could take orders after all, when he had to. I felt a little sorry for him. He wasn't going to be any happier than I was when he found out how we'd been sidelined.

"Yeah, sure, okay," he said, in that tone of voice that meant, "No, really, not okay." Then, he got both bags and headed for the door. He didn't even let me get it for him, which was my first clue that he was pissed off, though he did hold it open for me.

We got back to the house and Adam set up all the food for us on plates. It took him awhile to find all of the silverware in my drawers, but he wouldn't let me do it. Finally, I gave up and put on the video he'd brought over with him.

"Flash Gordon?!" I asked, incredulous.

Pierson grinned for the first time in almost half an hour. "Oh, yeah. Great movie, isn't it? Talk about cheesy dialogue. They really give Barbarella a run for her money in that one. And all the kinky sex stuff is a hoot. Very late '70s. Max Von Sydow and Ornella Muti must have had a field day with their lines."

"I'll say." I pressed Play, and the opening credits came up. "They're the emperor and his daughter, right?"

"Yep. Umhmm." Adam popped open some beers. "Great score from Queen, too."

"Uh huh." Oh, well. It could have been worse. Could have been a porno flick, or some insipid kiddy film. I couldn't decide which choice would have been scarier, Deep Throat or Mary Poppins.

The phone rang. "Can you get that?" I asked, since I probably wouldn't be able to get off the couch in time to get the thing off the wall.

"Hang on." Pierson wiped his hands on a towel and picked up the receiver. "'Allo?" His face fell. Though he looked disgusted, his tone stayed polite. "Just a moment, please. I'll get him." He held out the phone. "It's your brother-in-law." That explained the long face. I stopped the tape and got myself up off the couch to answer the call.

"Hey, James. I take it you heard the news." James was the Kurgan's Watcher, so I figured he'd be front and center at the action. Little did I know. Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then, as Bob Seger used to put it. I thought I did a good job of keeping the bitterness out of my voice.

"Oh, yes. They're all talking about it at HQ." James always liked to sound like a military man. To be honest, I don't know if he ever was, or just faked the jargon well. There were a lot of things that I never learned about my brother-in-law. He may have ended up a bad husband, a distant father and the relative from Hell, but he sure could keep a secret.

"So, I guess you must be in position, by now." My voice cracked a little. He was gonna be right at Ground Zero when it all went down. What was not to hate?

"It seems not." If he sounded bitter, himself, he didn't show it. Just his usual, jovial bloodymindedness. "Jack Shapiro will be taking my place in New York." Well, damn. No wonder Jack had sounded so excited. They'd booted James and stuck him in there, instead. James must have been pissed. "There's some concern about maintaining security in the field. This affair might cause some undue excitement amongst our clients." Oh, yeah. Definitely secretive. More than Jack ever could be. "We're doing a buddy system, and since you have a student with you, I am going to come over and stay with you both."

"I see." Son of a bitch! Not only was I not gonna get to see the Gathering, but my brother-in-law had just informed me that he'd be babysitting me for the duration! And I'll just bet he was as thrilled with the job as I was. I was tempted to tell James where to stick his concern, but I couldn't. He was my sister's husband, and he was my colleague and he'd just picked the black marble, himself. Three strikes against me if I opened my big mouth.

"Don't worry, Joe. They've promised to keep us up-to-date, and it seems that there are still many challenges out there. This business in New York is only the beginning. For all we know, it could all end right here in Paris." Now, why didn't that make me feel better? Bet he didn't believe it, either. "I'll be over in an hour or so. I'll bring some wine and we can all talk about it, all right? See you then." When he hung up, as usual, I felt dismissed. Damn, but I never could figure out how he did it. I just knew that he did. Maybe it was his idea of protective camouflage.

I hung up the phone, came back to the couch and sat down. Adam was slouched in a chair. Didn't need to tell him where it was okay to sit. He had stopped the tape and was reading what looked like a notebook full of lecture notes. He looked up as I sat down.

"How did it go?" he asked.

"About as well as you could expect." I wished I didn't feel so stupid. "We're not going anywhere and James is coming over to babysit us."

Adam's eyes narrowed. "I thought he was the Kurgan's Watcher? Shouldn't he be in New York?"

I blew air out through my teeth. "Guess somebody else was closer." Like Jack Shapiro. "He's gonna be cooling his heels with us, instead."

"Oh. Okay." He didn't exactly come right out and express his opinion of James, or of that idea. He didn't have to. But since he kept on the right side of polite, I decided not to call him on it. For some reason, he had a hair up his butt about James. Considering my own problems with the guy, I couldn't really argue with that--though I had to admit, I was curious about how it had started.

"So. Whatcha reading?" I asked, leaning over to peer at the notebook.

Adam shrugged, closed the notebook and put it back in his pack. "Lecture notes," he said. Figured.

"That looks like hieroglyphics," I said, though, to be honest, I was guessing. Egyptology wasn't my specialty.

"Hieratic, actually. Keeps me in practice." You had to love the casual way these young kids tossed that stuff off.

"I'm kinda restricted to the Latinate stuff, myself, I'm afraid," I admitted, sitting back.

"Oh, yeah." His face brightened. "I read your translation of Lucan's chronicle at the Academy. Very nice, by the way. I liked how you kept it simple without going off into all the 'aforesaids' that make his prose so purple, yet kept the sense of it."

"It wasn't all that easy." In spite of myself, I felt a flush of pride. Sometimes, Adam knew just the right thing to say, even if he drove me nuts. "The guy's usual schtick was pagan sacrifice and blood-stained, sacred groves. I got the impression he just loved Watching Immortals."

Adam picked up the remote and turned the movie back on. "That's the blood sport of the week, isn't it? Watching Immortals? Or should I say, Watching Immortals die?"

I eyed him. "What's gotten into you, today? First, you're getting a hairball about James. Now, you're acting like the Gathering is the biggest massacre since Little Big Horn."

He shrugged. "Isn't it?"

"What the Hell are you talking about? They've been killing each other since long before you or I were ever born. We're not doing this to them. They do it all to themselves."

"Is that what you tell yourself when you watch them die, Joe? That they did it all to themselves?" Adam wasn't exactly glaring at me, but I still felt myself squirm under his stare. "Does that make it okay?"

My face got hot. "Hey. I didn't make the rules."

"Nor did I." Adam sighed and looked away, to the TV, where Flash and Dale were being kidnapped into a rocket. "I just feel very uncomfortable about watching a bunch of people cut each other's heads off, and taking bets on which of them ends up being the last one standing. Next thing you know, we'll have scorecards."

I reached over and patted him on the shoulder. "We're not all like that, kid. It's just easier to keep a distance when you can't get involved, you know? Personally, I'd love to stay working. But the truth is, they were gonna do this someday. I guess this is 'someday'. All we can do now is let them get on with it."

The way his face fell startled me. I think that should have been my first clue, but you know, Denial is this really big river in Egypt. Nice and broad. Good for irrigation.

"Kid, you can't get personally involved in this stuff or it's gonna drive you crazy," I tried to reassure him. He wouldn't look at me. "Immortals lead violent lives. Most Watchers lose at least one in their careers. You get attached, you're gonna get hurt, or worse, you're gonna try to get involved." Yeah, right. Out of the mouths of babes and morons...but I didn't know then what I do know now. Maybe that was just as well. If I'd known everything coming down the pike, maybe I wouldn't have done the right thing in the end. Of course, I'm assuming that what I did in the end was the right thing. I know people who would dispute that view-- though most of them are dead, come to think of it.

Adam slouched further down in the chair and turned up the sound. "So, James is coming over?"

"Yeah, in about an hour." I watched Adam's residual distress turn into a look of disgust. "He's bringing wine, if it helps."

Adam rubbed the bridge of his overgenerous nose. "With our luck, it'll be sour." He looked up and put up a hand. "Yeah, yeah. I know. Get off it, Adam."

"He is my brother-in-law, kid. Might not be a bad idea." I sighed and sat back in the chair. Now, that I was getting into it, this movie wasn't half-bad.

James' timing was amazing. His knock came right in the middle of the torture scene with the Emperor's daughter. Adam rolled his eyes and bounced himself out of his chair to go answer the door. I heard it open, just as Princess Aura shrieked, "No! Not the BORE WORMS!" I tried to crane my head around to see James. It's important to see the reaction to those kinds of coincidences.

"Hey, James," I said. I stopped the VCR, levered myself off the couch and went to greet him. Adam just stood to one side and eyed James like he was a bug as he came in the door.

James smiled back at me, maybe a little ruefully. "Quite the day of excitement for us, isn't it?" he said. He stepped in through the doorway. I noticed he took a quick look around, as if we were hiding an Immortal in the bathroom, or something. Come to think of it, Cath had mentioned to me last year how much quieter he'd gotten since he'd pulled the Kurgan to Watch. I thought he looked wary, now, kinda jumpy. That still air of Military Intelligence had increased, even since I'd last seen him, just last week. His left hand was bandaged, too. I wondered where he'd got that souvenir. He'd been carrying it around last week, but never mentioned it. When Adam closed the door firmly behind him, James started. I glared over his shoulder at Adam. He shrugged. So much for Watcher solidarity.

"How are you holding up?" I asked.

"Oh, fine, fine. They gave me Darius, did you know?" Damn. He was actually going around the apartment, looking in all the corners. I swear, he was the most paranoid son of a bitch I ever met, all present company included.

"Seriously?" What, as some kind of consolation prize? "Darius, he's a pretty big assignment. Good for you." I figured I'd better call Ian, my mentor. I'd been fielding stuff with him ever since he recruited me for the Watchers in 'Nam, back in '69. He was gonna be really pissed off about this.

"I don't imagine Ian Bancroft is too pleased about that," Adam echoed my thought from the door, unfortunately. This wasn't something I wanted to rub James' face in, if only because he might make trouble for Ian.

James turned to examine Adam, head to toe, in a lackluster sort of way. Adam folded his arms and slouched against the doorjamb, frowning under the scrutiny. "No, I don't imagine that he is," James admitted. He turned away.

"You want a beer?" I asked James, trying to break the ice bridge forming between him and Adam.

"Oh!" James lifted a brown bag he was holding. "Sorry. I brought wine, if that's all right."

"Right. Yeah. Forgot about that. Have some Chinese Food." I stepped close to James. "Don't start," I warned him, quietly, so Adam couldn't hear.

"With what?" Innocence never looked good on James.

"You know what. The kid hasn't even got his tattoo yet. Don't blow his illusions just because you lost all yours years ago. You didn't have to take on a slime like the Kurgan, y'know."

As usual, James' smile didn't reach his eyes. "Why, I wouldn't think of disillusioning your little protege, Joe." I held his stare for a few more seconds, just to get it across that I was serious, before I let him turn away.

I ignored Adam's rolling his eyes as soon as James' back was turned. Just because the kid didn't feel like being sociable didn't cut me loose from playing host. Something was bugging Adam. Maybe it was just nerves about the ceremony, or maybe the idea of the Gathering going on out there, somewhere, was giving him the creeps. I sympathised, but that didn't mean I was gonna let him take it out on James. James was a nasty enemy that Adam didn't need right off the bat.

I got James settled and then we all headed back to the TV. James slumped onto the couch next to me, as Adam didn't make any offer to give up the chair. Adam got the remote and asked him, politely enough, if he wanted us to rewind the movie. James just said "no", leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes. Adam put the movie back on. I thought it was a little louder than before, but decided not to push it.

"Long flight?" I said.

James nodded, eyes still closed. "They only pulled me off the Kurgan last night. He's been a busy boy."

"They pulled you off *last night*?" Whoa. That wasn't in the rules. "What for?"

"Not sure. They said something about my having been under a lot of stress, lately." James chuckled. "But I strongly suspect that our dear friend, Jack Shapiro, pulled a few strings. I understand he's hoping to become a tribune sometime within the next decade."

"All the way to the top of the Council before he's fifty?" I snickered. "Yeah, right. And I'd like to run for President. Doesn't mean it's gonna happen though."

"Weasel Man?" Adam piped up. "Oh, it'll happen. He's been throwing his weight around for years. That lot always get what they want, in the end."

"Adam," I said, maybe too sharply. "Knock it off."

James opened his eyes and looked over at Adam. "'Weasel Man'?"

Adam didn't squirm, even with both James and I staring him down. "Yeah, that's what they called him at Academy."

James looked at me and smiled ruefully. Damn. When had he started turning grey? "The young ones have such a way with words, don't you think, Joe?"

"That's one way of putting it." I glared at Adam. "You'd better not have picked up any 'special' nicknames for me or James, kid." My sympathy was running dry.

Adam put up his hands, though he didn't look at all embarassed. "Wouldn't dream of it, Joe."

"Ah, bugger it," James sighed. "Maybe they're right. Maybe I am burned out. Let Jack go watch the Kurgan rape and murder and pillage his way through life. Maybe it will make him treat his fellow Watchers with a little respect, once he finds out what it's really like out in the field." He looked at me. "No offense meant, Joe. I'm sure that Duncan MacLeod will liven up a bit, once the Gathering picks up tempo."

"None taken," I said, sitting back. "Hey, the guy's been happy, up until now. I don't suppose I should begrudge him that."

"God knows they don't get calm, let alone happiness, very often," Adam said. Now what brought that up? I glanced over at him, but he was staring at the TV. Flash was fighting on some sort of rotating platform. Totally bizarre. Man, the cinematography in this movie was so bright, it could give you a headache.

James seemed to notice the TV for the first time. "What is this silly movie?"

"'Flash Gordon'," Adam and I said, in unison.

"I brought it over with me. It's a good movie," Adam explained--a little defensively, I thought.

"Not one of those ridiculous 'hero saves the day against incredible odds' themes, is it?" James said.

"Nothing wrong with that," I said. Now, I was feeling a little defensive. "Sometimes the heroes do win against big odds."

James closed his eyes again. "With all due respect, Joe, my money is on the Kurgans of this world. They always win in the end."

"James...." I warned, but he'd already stopped listening.

"So, you think the Kurgan will win when he finds Connor," Adam asked, scowling at James.

"Yes, child, I do. Or did you think that Connor MacLeod really has a chance, even in the first round of the Gathering, let alone a shot at the Prize?"

"It could happen," I said, thinking of my own Immortal, Duncan MacLeod. What happened when his life fell apart in the heat of the Game-- assuming it hadn't, already? Not as though anybody was willing to help me find out.

"If he does win, it will be because he is worse than the Kurgan." James shivered.

"You make them sound like a bunch of murdering bastards, regardless of whether they've ever taken a head or not," Adam said, still staring at the TV. He seemed to have shrunk down in his chair.

"Aren't they? What is the Game but the sport of born killers? Even if any one of them were a truly peaceful man, he would never live long enough to attain the Prize. Do you realise what kind of blood will be on the hands of the man who wins it? Do you?"

"What about Darius?" Adam said. He glanced at James, who finally seemed to notice him as more than an irritant. "He's a peaceful man. Has been for centuries. Don't you think you're punishing the sheep for the sins of the goats?"

James smirked, and for a moment, he scared me. "I'm sure that all of the people round the Roman Empire whom Darius and his armies slaughtered would be very grateful to hear that their murderer eventually turned coward and has been hiding on holy ground for the past sixteen hundred years."

Adam regarded James with the same expression that he had shown to his back. I couldn't tell if he was showing James more respect now by being honest about his dislike, or less. "Maybe they were. Maybe they felt that their deaths had served a purpose in the end. I try not to speak for the dead. It's so difficult to hear them once you bury them." Now, where the Hell did that come from? Adam was just a kid. What did he know about burying the dead to shut them up? Granted, I knew something about that, myself, but still....

"Yes, it's very convenient," James said bitterly, "as Darius discovered."

"So, you're saying that there is no forgiveness for Immortals?" Adam said coolly. "That they are damned for past sins, no matter what they do to make up for it, whatever penance they try?"

"You, of course, would like to see them as innocent victims of nature," James snarled back. "I suppose you would like to see wolves roaming the streets of Paris, as well."

"Hey." I punched James on the shoulder, making him jump. For a second, I thought he was gonna hit me back, but he subsided against the couch. "Look, some Immortals are good people. Darius is a good guy. My assignment, Duncan MacLeod is a good guy. Some of them stay out of the Game for as long as they can. They only fight when somebody comes after them."

"Or they've developed a grudge against someone, of course," James interjected.

"Well, wouldn't you?" I said.

He gave me the weirdest look. I should have caught on, then, but you know, maybe I was still floating down that big African river. "Yes. I would," he said. "But to be perfectly honest, Joe, if this really is the Gathering, and they all murder each other, however long it takes, I will sleep much better at night afterwards. The world is getting much too small for us and them. I can only hope that the last one will not receive the power that their legends say he will."

"That's enough, James," I said, through my teeth. "I mean it."

Adam shifted in his chair. "Or her."

James looked over my shoulder at him, as if to say, *Are you still here?* "What?"

"Her. They're not all big, bad slimeballs like the Kurgan, you know. Many of them are women. A few of them are even children--or still look like them, at any rate. Some of them are simple-minded. Some of them are handicapped. Whatever happened to them in their Mortal lives affects them forever, you know."

James smirked at Adam. "My, you are just a font of information about Immortals, tonight, aren't you, young Adam Pierson?"

Adam cocked his head to one side and spread his hands, eyes wide. If he'd had curls, I swear he would have shook 'em. "I'm a researcher. It comes with the job."

"And is part of your 'job' to spread the holy doctrine of the Watchers far and wide throughout the organisation, rooting out any heretics you might find in your quest?"

"All I am saying is that they are not all like the Kurgan--and that even the Kurgan may be redeemed, someday. The worst and the best of them are no worse or better than any of us."

"Oh, there are far worse things than the Kurgan out there, I assure you. I've seen them. I've...done them." James leaned forward and grinned. I opened my mouth to stop him, but duty, or maybe just a sick fascination, made me wait. I had to know where he was going with this. It was my job, even if Adam got caught in the crossfire, to report James if he'd stepped over the line.

"You brought up the subject of children," James went on. "Have you ever seen an Immortal child? Have you?" Adam's lips thinned. After a moment, he shook his head. "I have. His name...well, it doesn't matter what his name was, or is. I still don't know if he escaped. The Kurgan caught him out in a field. The Immortal fled and when he found a group of children, he hid among them. Can you believe that? He used them as a shield! The Kurgan, of course, couldn't tell which child was which, so he shot them all."

As Adam and I watched him in horrified silence, he looked down at his left hand, and began unwrapping the bandage. "The Kurgan likes to frequent some very bad neighbourhoods, so I had got into the habit of carrying a gun. When I saw what he did, I shot him." He chuckled. I wanted to puke. "He turned on me. The bastard would not go down. He just kept coming, and I couldn't get in a good shot. I fell over a wall getting away from him." He took off the last of the bandage and let it drop on the floor. His hand had a bad cut down the palm, half-healed. The area around the cut was inflamed, as if he hadn't been taking care of it.

"James," I said quietly. "We're all on the same side, here. Let it go." Actually, we weren't even on the same planet at this point, but I couldn't talk him down with that argument.

"But how do we know that?" James said, his eyes wide. "How can we tell that we are all Mortal, here in this room?"

"What the Hell are you talking about?" Shit. This whole conversation was going south in a hurry.

James raised his injured hand. "I'm Mortal, and I can prove it." He reached over and rapped one of my prosthetics. I just about punched him in the head. "So are you, Joseph. That is easy enough to prove. Him, however...." He looked over at Adam, and then he pulled something out of his coat, a jackknife.

"What the Hell are you doing?" I yelped, as James opened the damned thing. Adam shocked me even more. He just sat there in the chair, and now he wasn't shrinking at all. Now, I was seeing the guy who had driven twenty kids up through Africa, and kept them all alive. He looked up at James, and he laughed.

"Go ahead, you sick son of a bitch," he said as James stood up. "Stick it in my heart if that's what it takes to prove what I am to you. See if I care!"

"I think I will." James started forward. That was when I picked up my cane and knocked the jackknife out of his hand. Then, I whacked him in the knees. James didn't cry out, but he did double up, his face all scrunched, and fell over onto the couch.

"Have a seat," I said. I got myself off the couch before he could recover and put myself between him and Adam. Adam looked stunned as I put my back to him.

"Joe," he began.

"Shut up," I snapped over my shoulder. "You've already said enough for one night." I turned to James, who was uncoiling on the couch and eyeing his knife. It was well within reach of my cane. I pointed at it. "You pick that up," I told him, "and you take your chances from then on, you understand?" He winced and nodded. "Good. You leave it at that and Adam and I will forget that you just attacked a fellow Watcher and that we heard you confess to interfering with an Immortal, you got it?"

James took a deep breath, let it out and nodded slowly. "I get it, Joseph. It's a very clear picture." Who knew what he meant by that.

"Look, I'm sorry about those little kids and I'm sorry you had to see it, James, I really am. But that doesn't justify what you did, just now. We've got a whole bunch of people out there, about to go nuts. If we go nuts right along with them, we lose. We're all just trying to do our jobs, here. We lose it, it gets a whole lot harder, you understand?"

James nodded again. He was watching us with a weird sort of smile. I didn't like it at all. On the other hand, there wasn't much that I did like about James from that point on. "I think, under the circumstances, it's best if I get a hotel for the night."

"What, you don't think we need to be babysat anymore?" Adam piped up behind me. I could have killed him for turning up the heat again, but James just laughed.

"I think you two are quite capable of taking care of each other," he said. I always wondered, afterwards, what he meant by that. "Now, if you will excuse me, I will call a cab." And we watched him do just that. Then, we all waited until the cab came, and he left, with his little army duffle bag. I didn't sit back down until he'd left. Adam retrieved the jackknife from the floor and closed it up.

"I'm not what he said I was, Joe." He looked sad and frightened. I wondered what kind of bugs this was all stirring up in his head. I really didn't know that much about him. I just knew that I trusted him more than I did James. And I knew James a hell of a lot better. "You know that, don't you?"

"Of course I do, kid. Stop worrying about it." I rubbed my face, wondering when I'd started to feel so old. James was breaking every rule in the book and here was poor Adam, blaming himself for it. Maybe today was Armageddon, after all.

"I'll go wash up," Adam offered, putting the TV back on.

"No, I'll do it," I said. "You already took care of dinner. I can wash up."

"It's really no trouble...." Adam half-rose as I heaved myself back up to go into the kitchen.

"Sit!" I pointed at the chair. He sat. "Watch TV. I'll watch the movie from in here." Shrugging, he slumped back down in the chair. I washed dishes in peace for a few minutes. The dishes were mostly the cardboard containers from the Chinese food, which I just chucked in the wastebasket, some silverware, and James' glass. Adam and I were drinking beer. When I pulled out the silverware drawer, I chucked in forks and knives without really looking, so I didn't notice, at first. It wasn't until I started shoving stuff around, looking for the good bottle opener (the one I'd taken out an hour ago slipped all the time), that I realised something was missing.

I had this big carving knife. Just a straight blade about a foot long with one curved sharp side and a straight, blunt back. I usually had to be careful messing around in my silverware drawer because the thing still had a good edge. I don't know why I kept in there--just liked to live dangerously, I guess. And I didn't have any better place to put it. It was gone.

I got an image of James running down the street, brandishing this big knife in one hand and swinging the head of an Immortal in the other one. It was like some late night horror movie--"Bring Me the Head of the Kurgan". I almost giggled, but then I glanced over at the person slumped in front of my TV, and my humour dropped dead. The things that Adam had said earlier all clicked into place. They made a real nice pattern. "I'm not what he said I was," indeed. James couldn't have taken out that knife. It had been there earlier today, and James hadn't been out of my sight since he got here. Besides, what would he need it for? He wasn't Immortal, that was for sure. He didn't need a sword for protection, even if we had taken away his jackknife.

That only left one other person in the room, if you could call him a person. I'm ashamed to admit this, but at first, I felt sick, like I'd just found a palm-sized spider in my bathroom. God knows I'd seen enough of them in Vietnam. I never wanted to see any bug that size ever again. And for a moment there, I didn't really want Adam Pierson sitting in my chair, in front of my TV, in my house, either.

Then, I blinked, and looked again, and all I saw was this big kid with a grown-out haircut and bad fashion sense, watching the ending credits of a Scifi B-movie. I thought about all the times he'd been nice to me, just because he could be. Was that so evil? Was it any surprise that he'd kept it secret, if I was ready to join James in whacking the poor son of a bitch, just because Adam had stolen my knife? Maybe he was just crazy. Maybe he thought he was Immortal. He sure wasn't the first Watcher to go off the deep end that way. But somehow, I didn't believe it. The way he'd talked...it had been a little too old. Nobody his age should know that kind of truth.

If that was how a spider acted, hey, maybe spiders weren't so bad. I know that sounds strange, but I guess I was grasping at straws. I needed an excuse to harbour an Immortal in my house while outside, all his kin were hunting each other down and fighting to the death. I needed a reason not to make that call and have him arrested by the Council. And I really needed to know for sure that I wasn't gonna tell James, because I suddenly had this funny idea that telling James would be the end of Adam Pierson. If James had wanted to hurt him, just for disagreeing with him, how much more so if he found out that Adam was his worst fear? Because James' worst fear wasn't the Kurgan, it was an Immortal in the Watchers, and that was really crazy.

All of a sudden, I wanted to make sure that Adam was safe, at least from James. Ever since, nothing has ever been quite as bad as that one, cold plunge I made that night, standing in my kitchen and staring into my silverware drawer and not saying a damned thing. I never did say a thing, to anybody--not Adam, not James and certainly not Mac. And that's how I got involved. I've been "interfering" ever since. Even if I'd known I'd be shooting James to save Mac's ass, nine years later, I don't think I would have opened my mouth. I guess you just had to be there.

I have to admit, though, I didn't sleep right away, not even after Adam settled down on the couch. But I did finally drift off. The phone woke me. I heard Adam answer it. I tried to get myself out of bed as he talked quietly, but I could barely move. Maybe I'd pulled a muscle taking on James. Adam hung up before I could get up. He glanced over at me in the dark room, saw me moving around and came over.

"It's finished," he said. Did he sound relieved? Yeah, I think he did.

"What, the Gathering?" I asked. "It's over already?" Was Adam not Immortal, after all? Or had he somehow ended up being the One?

He sat down on the bed next to me. He shook his head. "Nope. Never started. Connor and the Kurgan had their meeting of minds and the Kurgan lost his head. Then, Connor just went home. Guess James was wrong, after all. Think he'll be happy?"

I shrugged. "To be honest, I doubt it. James has a big problem, and while I'd like to believe that seeing the Kurgan get whacked will solve it, I don't see it happening." I peered at Adam in the shadows. "Adam...you're not gonna turn him in, are you?"

Adam sighed and hung his head. "I don't know. Don't you think at least Darius deserves a heads up?"

"He's not gonna hurt Darius." Man, how I regret saying that now. Denial. It really sucks as a coping strategy. "He's got no reason to hurt Darius, and besides, Darius is too public a target. Hey, if James steps out of line, they'll just put Ian back in the saddle. James isn't gonna screw around with you and I keeping an eye on him, not here in Paris. I'd be more worried if he were out of sight somewhere, Watching some Immortal that nobody would miss."

Even in the gloom, I could see Adam's skeptical expression. I tried to ignore it. "Yeah, I suppose you're right," he said. And you know, that's all he ever said about it. I don't believe that he let it go because he agreed with me. I don't really know why he let it go. Maybe he wanted to stay in the Watchers bad enough to float right down that big river with me. Maybe he was watching out for his own skin. And maybe he just wanted to be my friend bad enough to follow my lead and go along with whatever I said.

What I do know is that I stood there, a week later, in a room over a cellar that the Resistance had supposedly used during the War, and watched Adam Pierson sit calmly while an old Watcher tattooed him. It's dangerous, tattooing the inside of the wrist, and we never do it with anesthetic. We do get the initiates drunk as skunks, first, though. I don't really remember much from my own ceremony. One of those stupid macho things, you might say, especially when you think about how guys have hogged the field Watcher positions for years. Adam, to my surprise, didn't look that bad, just a little glassy-eyed. He wasn't the only initiate in his class, of course, but we never initiated them all at once. We did it in groups of ten, bringing each initiate through in a separate ceremony. The last thing we needed was the cops on our backs, investigating cult behaviour or ritual abuse.

We were all dressed up, in black suits and ties, as if for a funeral. I kept yanking on my own. It felt like a noose. There was me, the tattoo guy (an old field Watcher named Alf McDermot who came out of retirement only to do initiate ceremonies) and my partner from the bookstore, Don Salzer, in the room with Adam, getting him ready. I'd asked Don to mentor Adam. I'd have done it myself, but somehow, I didn't think it would be a good fit. As boring as my assignments might be, I was a field Watcher now, not a researcher. Even if they let me take on an apprentice, Adam really didn't belong in the field. I didn't want him in reach of James, either, not after their confrontation the other night. If he stayed around me, Adam would eventually cross James one time too many, and maybe get himself killed.

No, Don was the better choice. He was a gentle, bumbling guy, just right to mentor Adam and keep him out of the way. Much as I was still floating down that river, I had to admit that James was a real loose gear. For all I knew, he could be out there trying to whack some hapless Immortal. That doesn't sound so outrageous now. I think that might be exactly what he was doing, that weekend, while we swore in the next generation of Watchers. Right then, though, I was glad he wasn't there with us, denouncing Adam and maybe getting him whacked.

While the tattoo set, I went over to the nearby table. Adam was the sixth in his group, so the things there weren't as neat as they would have been for the first initiate and his handlers. I picked up a blindfold and handed off four white candles to Don. Nobody spoke while I came up behind Adam and blindfolded him. I heard him suck in his breath, shivering in spite of the booze. I wonder now why he didn't bolt. God only knows what he thought about what we were doing. I took him by one elbow and got him to his feet. He swayed a little, until Don came over and steadied him. He was a lot drunker than he looked. Then, we headed out the door and down the hallway, Don and I on either side of Adam. I'd remember that walk, years later, when they led me off to my trial in the same way.

The stairs were a real pain in the ass. Jesus, what a farce. It was all Don could do to get both me and Adam down into the cellar without all three of us landing in a heap at the bottom. I thought I saw some stifled smiles among the waiting group when we stumbled off that last step onto the cement floor. Nobody gave us a hand. I don't think it ever occurred to any of them to hold the ceremony in a place that I could get into easily. That's always been the way with me and the Watchers. Aside from a few like Adam or Don or Ian, they never took me seriously. I'm not even sure they take me seriously now. If I've ever wanted anything from them, I've had to adapt and I've had to prove myself. I don't see that ever changing. Funny thing, though, if I think about it now, Adam and I are about the only two Watchers still alive out of who was in that cellar that night.

Once we got off the stairs and stabilised, the ceremony began. The highest-ranking official, one of the two tribunes there, began to chant, in English, French, and then German:

"When Ammaletu the First Watcher Saw Gilgamesh the Great Strike down his foe in fire and thunder He fled. But Gilgamesh saw him. Gilgamesh pursued him with a bloody sword And great anger, Ever closer, though Ammaletu fled. Then, came the Nameless One, Brother of Ereshkigal, Consort of Inanna-of-the-Stake. The Nameless One covered Ammaletu With a cloak of shadow, hid Ammaletu From Wrathful Gilgamesh. Said he, 'Ammaletu, I will make a pact with you. I will protect you As I would my own child. And you shall become a Watcher. You shall watch Gilgamesh, His friends and his foes, But you must not disturb them. You shall watch, you shall record, But you shall never interfere.'"

As the chanting went on, Don and I guided Adam to the center of the room. "Lie down," I said in his ear. Adam nodded and lay down, face up. Don knelt down and spread his hands, palms up. Adam was still shivering. I didn't blame him. My own ceremony had scared the Hell out of me. The two tribunes and an older woman, who had only been a Watcher for a year, came over to us. The woman carried a lit candle in a holder and four other holders for our candles. Don handed her the candles, one by one. She lit each one and handed them off, first to me, then to Don, then to each of the tribunes, in turn, keeping her own.

Starting at his head, I paced clockwise around Adam. I began to chant in English.

"We honour Ammaletu the First Watcher."

I paused at Adam's head, waving the candle over him, then continued around, as Don knelt at his head and held his candle just above Adam's face, shielding it with his hand against any falling wax.

"We honour the Nameless One Who saved Ammaletu From the wrath of Gilgamesh."

I paused at Adam's feet, as the new Watcher knelt there and held her candle over Adam's shoes.

"We honour those who came before us."

I paused at Adam's right hand, as one of the tribunes knelt there with his candle.

"We honour those who will come after us."

I came around Adam's head again and paused at his left hand. The second tribune knelt there with his candle. I circled back to Adam's head and raised my own candle over both him and Don.

"Ammaletu receive him. O Nameless One protect him. Gilgamesh keep him to the Way: to Watch, to Record, to never Interfere. So be it."

"So be it," whispered Don.

"So be it," echoed the new Watcher at Adam's feet.

"So be it," confirmed the tribune on his right hand.

"So be it," intoned the tribune on his left hand.

"Get up," I said. Adam sat up, Don supporting him, and got to his knees. At Don's prompting, he folded his arms, a hand on each shoulder, and bowed his head.

"Will you watch?" I asked.

"I swear," Adam said.

"Will you record?" Don asked.

"I swear," Adam said.

"Will you never interfere?" the new Watcher asked.

"I swear," Adam said.

"Will you protect your fellow Watchers--save only to preserve the Rule?" the tribune on his right hand asked.

"I swear," Adam said. Was it my imagination, or did his voice catch on this last phrase?

"Will you protect our secrets as your own, even until death?" asked the tribune on his left hand.

"I swear," Adam said, his voice steady this time.

"So be it," I said. I came around in front of him and laid my hand on his head. One by one, the others did, too. The moment stretched out, thin as wire, until I took my hand away, followed by the others, and pulled off the blindfold. Adam lifted his head, opened his eyes, and stood up.

"Welcome to the Watchers," I said, and hugged him.

"Thank you, Joe," he whispered, hugging me back. Damn. He was crying. Well, so was I. Then, Don pulled him away and shook his hand, and everyone else in the room crowded forward to congratulate him. I watched him, an Immortal in our midst, watching us, and I wondered, not for the last time, what I was doing.



*********



Paris, December 6, 2002

Seventeen years later, I am still wondering. I park across the street from your apartment, but I don't get out of the car right away. I glance over at the notebook sitting on the passenger seat. It looks so harmless.... I don't even know if this is a good idea. Why can't I just leave sleeping dogs alone? We're friends, buddies even. You probably trust me more than anybody alive. This could really screw things up between us, and for what? To ease my guilty conscience?

Screw it. Just get in there and take care of business, Dawson. I get out of the truck, taking the notebook with me. As I cross the street, a cat trots up to me. It's yours, of course. I have to give Silas credit. He has an amazing sense of timing. Normally, I don't like cats, but the little bastard is beginning to grow on me. Hard to believe he's gonna outlive me.

"Hey, cat," I say, as he rubs up against my boots, an ozone smell rising from his fur. Don't tell me he's taken a Quickening. From what? An Immortal rat? "Wanna go see what the Old Man is up to?" He meows and scampers up to the door ahead of me. For some reason, I feel better. Surely you're gonna behave yourself in front of your cat, right?

Music is coming through the door. Sounds like that new Elvis remix. Beats Christmas muzak any day. I don't have to knock, of course. I'm still more or less living here. As I come in, I see you dancing around the room to the music. When you see me, you stop, turn it down and come on over. Silas scoots past you to the kitchen and the feed bowl. So far, it's a typical evening in the Pierson household.

"Hey, Joe. Wondered where you got off to." Smiling and a little breathless, you go to the fridge and get out a couple of beers. Oh, shit. Maybe I shouldn't do this. Maybe I should have at least talked to Rene about it, first. No, that wouldn't be such a hot idea. He's barely speaking to me already this week. He's not going to forgive me for that roadtrip to Scotland any time soon.

"I had to get something from my apartment." I stand there, the notebook in my hand. "Where's Keane?"

You pop open the beers and laugh. "Out Christmas shopping, if you can believe it." "We thought you'd be home sooner."

"Yeah, I had to make some calls." Great. Let's leave you alone and make Rene even happier with me. Think I won't mention tonight's little glitch to him. He wouldn't let it slide.

You spot the book. Your face freezes. "What's that?" you ask, too casual.

"It's exactly what you think it is." I step forward and hand it over. You take it, automatically handing over my beer. "My, um, first Methos chronicle, you could say."

"I see." You look at it, as if you don't know what to do with it. "Okay...I'm just going to go over to the bed and read this for a bit."

"Sure. No problem." I'm almost relieved, except that I know that the explosion is probably only delayed. "I'll just sit over here and watch TV."

You nod and go flop down on the bed. I turn on the TV, sit down and drink my beer. There's not much on tonight, but it doesn't really matter. I'm not paying much attention to it. The cat, naturally, takes advantage of a stationary human and lies down next to me.

It takes you over an hour to read it. I didn't think you'd spend so much time on it. Not sure that's a good sign. Finally, I hear you sigh, close the notebook and come sit down in the chair next to the TV. You stare at the TV for awhile, but I don't think you're really watching it.

"You knew all along I was Immortal?" you say.

I nod. "For most of it, yeah."

You look at me. "I'm surprised that they let you....." Your eyes narrow. "You never told them, did you?"

"Nope." God, dare I hope to get through this one unscathed? "Though Don figured it out on his own, around 1990. But neither of us found out who you were until right before Darius died."

You look incredulous. "Are you kidding me? Didn't I fool *anyone*?" I can't help but smile at your disappointment. Adam Pierson was your magnum opus of recent disguises.

"You mean, besides James Horton, Jack Shapiro and Mac?" I say. You scowl, not mollified. "Think of it this way--you fooled all the important people, and all the really important people found out, and covered for you, anyway."

"Except for Kalas."

I squirm. This conversation is heading south. "Except for him, yeah."

"And Daniel Stern, my ex-boss." You smile grimly. "Did you hear about him?"

Oh, shit. Hadn't thought of that. "Yeah, I did. Mac told me. I'm sorry, Methos. That shouldn't have happened."

"They had me on my knees, my hands tied behind my back." You stare at the floor next to my feet, idly stroking my notebook. "Stern was going to cut off my head right there in Headquarters, right in his office. I'd lived with that fear for ten years. I thought it was all over." You look up at me. "The really important people weren't there for me then."

I stare back. "You're still here, aren't you?"

You chuckle. "True." You start to hand me the notebook.

I shake my head. "No."

You looked startled. And then you look down at the notebook. "Oh." You relax back into the chair, laying the notebook on your lap. "Oh, I see." You smile down at it, stroking it again. "It's a gift, then."

"I'd like it to be." A few years ago, this would have felt presumptuous, giving a Methos chronicle to the oldest man alive, the most legendary Immortal around. Now? Hey, the son of a bitch is my friend. If I can buy you a video game for Christmas, I can give you this, too. "I bought you something more commercial, but I'm saving that for the day, itself. Merry Christmas."

You laugh, and that's how I know it's gonna be all right. You're gonna be okay with this. Halleluja, Noel. "Did you get me Civilization III?"

I snort. "Yeah, like I'm gonna tell you now. You are just going to have to wait like the rest of us."

You smile. As you get up to go past me, you pause to pat me on the shoulder. "Thanks, Joe."

I shrug. "Hey, what are friends for?"

"Whatever you can find in them, I suppose." You head towards the bed. I know you hide some of your journals here, and I even know where two of them are. But, I sit in my chair and pretend I don't hear you putting my notebook with them, anyway.

After a few minutes, I hear that eternal question that you probably asked some poor schmuck five hundred years ago and might well be asking another one five hundred years from now: "So, how about dinner? Chinese good for you?"

I smile. "Chinese is fine." I fish in my coat, which I still haven't taken off, for my cellphone and pull it out. Next to me, Silas stretches and growls in his sleep. "I'll call it in." The way I see it, those two guys before and after me can take care of themselves. I'm the poor schmuck for today. I think I can handle that.

End

For now, but Joe and Methos will return in "Parce Que J'ai Peche [For I Have Sinned]".