The Price You Pay
A Watcher Story



Disclaimer: Highlander: the Series, all characters and concepts therein, belong to somebody else. I could probably drag up who, but I'm not sure I really want to -- chances are, you know anyway. Megan Kennard, Richard Williamson, Daniel Levinson, Eric Bishop, and so on, are all mine. If you really want to use them, ask... And if you want the goons, take them. I have too many and they're raiding the fridge.
Notes: This is really Rhiannon Shaw's fault. I was just going along, writing my incredibly large AU story, and I wandered across Rhiannon's "Summer Challenge for the Visually Oriented." I got to thinking, and as unfortunately happens when I think, a story was born. It was supposed to be short. In fact, for me it sort of is short. Therefor, when I say the AU story is long, you understand the level of fear this should provoke. What does that have to do with this? Nothing. Except... the story sort of ran away with me. It ended up being much more then I intended, and now a sequel is drifting about making itself known. So much for a short, simple Watcher story...
This story has only been lightly beta'd, which is like lightly toasting something, except with less crumbs and more typos. Thanks to Jae, who did the light betaing, nagged me into finishing, and helped me find the ending -- without even resorting to a dowsing rod.
Bonus Notes: This story is, at the time of its uploading, a good three years old. I have no idea why I didn't upload it back when I first joined , but I didn't, and I figured, why not?

Containing all original characters with some references to series characters, and set sometime not too long after the end of the series. Rated PG13 for language, discussions of death and addiction, and Plentiful Goons.



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By the time they came for me, I'd lost all sense of time. Being dragged out of my apartment at four in the morning certainly hadn't helped matters. Someone had obviously been reading their psychology literature and knew the wonderful effects of sleep deprivation and dislocation upon a person. Fortunately, I'd read that same literature, and was just stubborn enough to decide that whatever they wanted from me, they weren't getting it. The philosophy had saved my ass many times before, and while I suspected this time nothing short of a miracle would yank me out of the fire, I could at least go down without cracking.

I could have gone back to sleep, I suppose. The windowless little room they'd stuffed me in had quite a nice couch, and whatever they'd injected me with after I broke the one's jaw was making everything nice and blurry. Sleep might have even been a comfort. But knowing who it was who'd taken me, and therefore why, I found myself too much on edge to even consider sleep.

They brought me food twice and let me go to the bathroom three times. I never saw any windows, never got any idea what time it was. They were nice enough to hand me clothes at one point, at least. I can handle a great deal but going before the Tribunal in my nightgown would be pushing the point.

The Tribunal. I sat on the couch, waiting, and rolled the thought over in my head. The Watcher's Tribunal. I think I'd known that, sooner or later, they were going to catch up to me... But I'd hoped to delay it as long as possible. Things were changing, I knew, so that if I had delayed long enough, managed to keep my activities circumspect enough, eventually I might have faced a Tribunal who would have let me go with no more than a light reprimand. It was possible that I might even escape with that now, but I doubted it. A Tribunal that was intending to give me only a light smack on the wrist wouldn't have sent four overly muscled goons to kidnap me in the middle of the night. Four overly muscled goons who'd discovered a little belatedly that these days, Field Watchers took self defense classes. Lots of self defense classes.

I don't know how long I waited, turning those thoughts over in my mind, trying not to panic, succeeding at least partially. I ate, I paced, I washed my face twice, and I hunted around for anything that might tell what time it was. I had no luck. It might have been 4 in the afternoon or 4 at night again by the time the doors opened and three much warier goons trouped in.

Two of them made moves like they were going to grab me by the shoulders but I nimbly dodged away. "Oh no," I said in a quiet little voice. "I am not going to be hauled through the corridors like yesterday's trash. If you want you can cluster around me like a flock of geese, but I'm walking on my own."

It took a minute for this unusual statement to penetrate their skulls, but I watched the light of realization bloom in their eyes as they exchanged confused looks. Apparently I'd switched scripts on them and nobody had thought to give them a coach. Good. If I had to be miserable, somebody was coming with me.

I decided a little encouragement was in order. "How's your friend's jaw?" I asked sweetly, and smiled inside when they all shuffled a little uncertainly.

I might have gone on like this for hours if a new voice hadn't joined in. "What is taking so long?" came an annoyed call, and another man entered the room. He was slender, pale, and blonde, perhaps 5 feet 10. I knew who he was instantly and it took a lot of effort not to see if I could break his jaw before they stopped me again.

He took in the scene with one blue-eyed glance and gave a put upon sigh. "Megan, Megan, Megan... Are you being threatening again?"

If I kicked him would he go away? Probably not. "Richard," I managed between clenched teeth. "It's so absolutely miserable to see you again." I'd hated Richard even at the Academy. Somehow it didn't surprise me that he was taking part in my coming before the Tribunal. In fact, I'd have been willing to bet he had begged to be let in on this.

He shook his head, tangibly radiating fake sorrow in that way that had made me hate him from the first time I ever saw him. "Megan, must you be difficult even at a time like this? You're only making things harder."

"Good," I said, crossing my arms over my chest.

"Megan-"

"Spare me the false pathos, Richard. We both know how this is probably going to end and if these are the last hours of my life I'd rather not spend them talking to you."

"Megan!" He managed to sound truly shocked, I'll give him that. "How could you think such a thing!"

"Ever been forcibly dragged out of bed at four in the morning, Richard? It'll give you all sorts of unpleasant thoughts. Now, are you going to let me walk to see the people who're going to end my life or do I need to break a few more jaws?"

His face set. "You're only making this worse."

"I doubt that," I said, and began walking towards him in a sort of 'If you don't move by god I'll march right over you' way.

He moved. He wasn't actually an idiot so much as a jerk. I strolled through the door with him just in front of me and the goon squad bringing up the rear. It briefly occurred to me if I bolted now I might make it out of here. But it was too big of a might. I followed after Richard instead.

A friend had once told me that everything gets darker whenever something large and unpleasant is going on. She swore that during the Joe Dawson/Jacob Gallati thing the entire place looked like it had been shoved into a bad film noir. I hadn't believed her at the time, but now, walking through corridors I was half-sure I recognized, I understood. Everything had gone grainy and tense; I felt sure at any minute somber music was going to start to play as each of us suddenly turned to the camera and explained what was going through our minds. I didn't know if it was just me or it was really happening, but in either case it was more unnerving than any amount of sleep deprivation and time displacement ever could have been.

Finally Richard slowed and stopped before a set of doors that looked just like any other set of doors. "Megan..." he began, then hesitated, running a hand through his short hair, shoving it back along his head. "I know you don't want to hear this from me, but... It really will go best if you just try to cooperate."

I gave him a flat look and otherwise pretended he'd never spoken.

He sighed, a sound that seemed to genuine I wanted to punch him all over again. If this was the future of the Watchers maybe I wouldn't have had a hope even ten years from now. I stared fixedly at the doors. This was it, then.

Richard opened the doors and went inside. I waited a beat, a part of me screaming not to go in there. Then I shrugged and followed him. Not exactly a lot of choice left. But the sound of the doors shutting behind me was still enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

They were sitting there, all of them, behind a table. The lighting in here was even worse than outside, and some part of me had to admire the psychological warfare they were waging--even if they were waging it on me. Richard had gone to stand at the other end of the room. A single, uncomfortable looking chair sat in the middle of the room. I could guess who it was for.

I glanced from the Tribunal to the chair and back again, but remained standing by the door. "Was there something?" I asked politely.

As one, the entire Tribunal frowned at me. I wished I had a camera. There are some moments a girl just wants to preserve.

"Megan Kennard," said the central figure, in one of those stern, foreboding voices. It was a surprise to recognize Daniel Levinson, the regional director. Former regional director, most likely, because from where he was sitting, I'd guess he was now First Tribune. This was not good news; the man had never liked me, and tended to be somewhat rabid about the Oaths. "You are here today to answer charges about your conduct as a Field Watcher," Daniel continued somberly, his voice booming into the room. He had a slight tendency towards pomposity that I was betting being First Tribune wasn't helping one bit.

It was very tempting to reply with some smart ass remark, but in this case, it just might be damning. For once, I held my silence, staring mutely at the small body of men and women that had gathered to judge me. Most of them were just blurs in the shadow, only Levinson standing out. But hiding Daniel would be a futile task as well, with that strong jaw, and those surprisingly dark eyes that always looked eternally angry. I will admit this--he had the face to be a Tribune, if nothing else.

"Would you please have a seat, Ms Kennard?" inquired a female, slightly British voice from his far side. Probably the Second of the three Tribunes, I wasn't sure--nobody had ever bothered to inform me of seating protocol at a Tribunal.

"Is there some reason we can't do this as we are?" I offered softly, wishing I had the grace to uncross my arms from where they were hugging my stomach without the gesture seeming obvious.

A male voice from Levinson's nearer, left side now spoke. "It will be easier if we attempt to follow at least some of the protocol here, Ms Kennard. For us as well as you."

For a second I just studied them. Then I gave a half-shrug with my left shoulder and moved across the room, seating myself almost casually in the chair. All I'd been provided with in the way of clothes was a t-shirt and jeans, so I decided to let the appearance that had been enforced on me guide my attitude.

"Anything to be helpful," I offered sweetly, and watched Richard frown at me from the corner of my eyes. He, of course, was in an immaculate pair of slacks and button-front dress shirt. The Tribunal, from what I could see, was all wearing suits of one cut or another, generally of the business sort. I was obviously the odd person out, by dress, and I wondered if that was deliberate. More attempts to soften me up? If so, this one was going to backfire miserably. I would always be more comfortable in regular clothes than dressier fare.

"Megan Kennard," Levinson began again, intoning the words almost precisely. I wondered if I was going to get heartily sick of the sound of my own name before the end of this. "You have been charged with breaking your Oath, consorting with an Immortal, falsifying chronicles, and interfering with the Game."

Ah hell. They knew it all.

I should have known, of course, that they would eventually find out, but I'd been hoping to conceal the degree. Even after I'd been dragged out of my home last night, even knowing what I'd face when I entered this room, I'd still hoped to get away with part of it. But if they knew everything... and it seemed likely they did... then there was no way I was getting off with a slap to the wrist.

The room had gone silent, I realized. Waiting, waiting for me to make my rebuttal or profess my guilt. I decided to do neither. It might not gain me anything, or it might gain me a lot, but for the moment, I refused to rush this.

"And?" I inquired, raising my eyebrows.

This time I was fairly certain the entire room was frowning at me, with no exceptions. It was an interesting sensation.

"And...?" came a somewhat bewildered echo from the woman on Levinson's right.

I hid a small smile, leaning forward slightly. "My pardon. I assumed you were going to follow that with a list of more specific acts. Unless, of course, the Tribunal no longer feels the need to present evidence when it convenes..."

Well, that had gotten them. I could almost see the tensing of muscles. In fact, on Levinson, I could. I remembered how his jaw could clench from my previous encounters with him. His new position obviously hadn't changed his very old habits.

"Very well, Ms Kennard," came the male voice from Levinson's left. It tickled at my memory and sounded downright icy at the moment. "If you require a specific list of your transgressions..." He glanced down at a sheet of paper in front of him and I realized he was wearing glasses. Okay, who had I met, male, wore glasses, American accent, powerful enough to be part of this...

One part of my mind was occupied with running through a list of potentials while another listened with a growing thread of fear as that icy, precise voice read from the sheet. "Firstly, there is the matter of your revealing your presence and thereby the existence of the Watchers to your Immortal. Secondly, there is the matter of your interfering in circumstances surrounding your Immortal--namely, the shooting of several Immortals known to be challenging your Immortal, as well as a few mortals who may or may not have been involved. It is noted that all of the Immortals you shot were later killed by your assignment, although in only two of the cases were we able to confirm a fair fight was involved." That made me seethe inwardly, if not outwardly. All of those last fights had been fair-- that had been the point!--and any idiot who'd given Eric Bishop even half a glance should know he fought fair in any case. "Then there is your falsifying Eric Bishop's Chronicles after the event--namely in the act of rewriting or omitting as necessary to conceal your involvement in his Challenges." Mr. Glasses put the paper down, light reflecting off his lenses as he looked up at me. "These are the charges we have confirmed, Ms Kennard, from highly reliable Witnesses that this Tribunal has already interviewed."

Daniel Levinson had apparently taken the interval to unclench his jaw. Mentally I applauded him for not having to resort to the use of a crowbar. "Do you refute these charges?"

There was another one of those long, pregnant pauses. I tilted my head slightly, considering the grim, rigid forms staring me down. I could lie of course, but it was inevitable that I be caught. There are times, I suddenly remembered Eric saying to me, that you have to bow down to the inevitable, and appear to lose in order to win.

Was this one of those times? Damned if I knew. Carefully, I clasped my hands together in my lap, leaning back slightly in the chair. Surprisingly, it wasn't too uncomfortable. "I do not refute the facts involved," I said, very carefully, "however, I refute the suppositions surrounding them."

I heard a started gasp from one of the people tucked away behind the main three, and from the corner of my eye I could see Richard looking shocked. Why? He had to have known I was guilty. Had he just not thought I'd confess?

"A very curious statement, Ms Kennard," came that velvet voice from the right. Whoever she was, she was really quite good. Better than the other two. I didn't reply, though, simply waited it out, looking straight ahead at Daniel Levinson. It was interesting to watch the play of his muscles as emotions chased across his face. A tightening along the jaw indicated anger, a slight widening of the eyes was surprised, a widened flare of nostrils was... what? More rage? Anxiety? I doubted the latter, somehow.

"Would you care to elaborate?" the glasses man finally asked. It gave me a certain very small satisfaction to realize I'd won that staring contest. It was probably the last thing I'd win for a while.

I sat forward slightly, using my gaze to capture Levinson's. If I was to have a snowball's chance in hell, he was the one I needed to at least... persuade. Not convince, not that man, but perhaps I could at least moderate his anger.

"Your statements would indicate a certain belief towards my interference being somewhat larger than it is--and somewhat less necessary," I said carefully, using the phrasing techniques picked up in entirely too many years of therapy to avoid stepping on any toes. "While admittedly I can understand the tendency to err on the side of caution in these matters, this is not what you think it is."

"Then you didn't break your Oath, consort with your Immortal, and interfere in the Game?" Richard inquired nastily, and nasally, from my side. Three sets of eyes stopped staring at me and swung to frown at him. It was something of a relief to be spared that intensity, even for a moment.

"Mr. Williamson, you were permitted to attend this session only on our sufferance," said glasses, his voice even colder than it had been with me. I was sure I'd met him, but I still couldn't seem to place it. "Don't make us regret it."

Richard, being the shit-eating ass he was, immediately bowed his head and looked contrite. The way my day was going, I was starting to suspect in a few years, he'd be one of the people at the table. Maybe getting out now, even under these conditions, would be a good thing.

"My apologies, Tribunal." Richard said. Instantly, the eyes swung back to me. Sideshow ended, please return to the main attraction.

I decided to earn myself some potential bonus points here by acting like nothing had ever happened. Besides, nothing pissed Richard off so much as being ignored.

"What I did, I did not do in order to interfere with the Game, or give my Immortal an advantage. I merely leveled the playing field," there was a marked pause. Realizing how that statement could be misinterpreted, I kicked myself, and hurriedly explained. "In all those cases, the Immortals--and mortals--interfered in the Game first. I merely made it so they could not take advantage of the opportunities their betrayals created."

There was a heavy silence. "It is not the policy of the Watchers," said Levinson, very slowly, his voice very tight, "to... enforce... the rules of the Game."

So much for my one chance. But I refused to let the point go entirely. "Would you rather we all did nothing and let some monster who will do whatever it takes, violate whatever rule they want, win the Prize? Let humanity get ruled by a monster? You've surely read the files on the Immortals involved, you know what they were like!"

"Ms Kennard," began glasses, smoothly. I didn't let him go on. I was damned if I was going to let them get away with this without knowing exactly what it was they were doing.

"Ivan Stensinov was the first. He brought a mortal into it and shot Eric before they'd even really begun to fight. Ivan was poised to take his head when I shot him. Have you read Stensinov's file? Have you seen the list of atrocities and bloody murders laid at this man's feet? Do I have to list the war crimes he was responsible for in World War Two? He earned the nickname The Butcher, you know. Then there was Elise Lawrence. Pretty little spider that one is, she used poison. She'd killed who knows how many male Immortals over the years, luring them into the trap and taking their heads before they ever had a chance to see the truth--or wake up from whatever brew they drank. Gauis Petronis? A minor roman lord with delusions of grandeur --he enslaved mere children from the time of his birth until when he finally died, and used one of them to stick a knife in Eric's gut. Bai Len... I won't even talk about that creature. And you wanted me to just let it happen? To let a good and decent man, who would make a pretty good One, die? Die because they broke the rules and I was afraid to help?"

"We observe, we record, and we never interfere!" roared Levinson. I didn't move from my chair, although everyone else flinched. If my stare had been any more tangible right now Levinson's neat-pressed little suit would be on fire.

"And we damn the future of the world every time we obey such a foolish dictate so absolutely!" I snarled back. "If this is what the Watchers are, all the Watchers will be, then fine," I said abruptly, standing, "As the saying goes, you can't fire me, I quit."

"It has come to a bit more than that, I'm afraid, Ms Kennard," said the woman softly, but very clearly. I felt myself freeze, every muscle slowly tensing up, until I was less a woman and more a plank of wood. I'd been dreading this. Slowly, I turned my head, moving just my neck, to look at her. I could see Richard now too, and much to my surprise, he looked truly shocked. You really did believe it then, didn't you? That it wouldn't be this bad. Fool.

What I said aloud, though, was, "Ah." Very carefully, I sat back down, adjusting my t-shirt for a moment. When I looked back up at the Tribunal, I'd carefully erased any trace of fear from my face. I would not let them see me break.

"So," I said calmly, tilting my head at them.

Glasses coughed slightly uncomfortably. "Understand, Ms Kennard, that the circumstances here are highly unusual. We seldom have any Watcher... admitting... to such blatant interference in the Game. To make matters worse..." he trailed off, biting his lip slightly. This tangible sign of nervousness from a man who had otherwise been so calm and precise he'd been half an icicle did more to unnerve me than almost anything so far.

"It gets worse?" I drawled, desperately trying to control my breathing and the beating of my heart.

"You're a good Watcher," said the woman almost bluntly. This brought a half-laugh, half-choke sputtering its way out of me. She gave a shrug, and somehow I could see it, despite the lighting. "An Oath Breaker, undoubtedly, but in the aspects of Watching... How many Chronicles have you read, Ms Kennard?"

I hated the name Kennard. If I hadn't before, I did now. "Inside or outside of the Chronicles of my Immortal and those Immortals he's come into contact with?" I offered, carefully.

"Outside?" I heard Richard mutter, startled.

She spared him a glance, just a brief one, before turning her attention back to me. "You understand, of course, that the very phrasing of that question makes our point. Even if you were to leave the Watchers today, this minute, you would still carry a large part of us with you. Given that you have already demonstrated your willingness to interfere in the Game..."

She didn't finish... but did she have to? Of course not. I sighed, wanting to bite my nails, refusing to give in to the temptation. Not here, not now. "So, you can't let me go, and you can't let me stay."

There was another one of those painful pauses, in which I could hear papers rustling. They didn't want to say what the options were, and I honestly didn't want to hear them.

"Fine," I said suddenly, standing again. "Make your decision. I'll be waiting." I ignored them entirely as I strode to the door, pausing only to call over my shoulder, "Coming, Richard?"

He gave a slight start, glanced at the Tribunal for some sort of confirmation he probably received, and then trotted after me.

The silence reigned the entire way back to my confining room.

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It was Richard who eventually broke it, a fact that surprised me about as much as pigs flying would have. Well, perhaps slightly less, but it was still surprising.

What he said wasn't very surprising, but that was an occupational hazard. Watchers... watched. You started just Watching your Immortal and you ended up watching everybody and everything, trying to pick up the pieces of the puzzle and fit it all together. The woman had been right, too, I was good at it.

"I didn't... I didn't know, Megan, I honestly didn't think..." he swallowed. "I'm sorry."

I did sigh then, the noise I'd somehow kept from making through the entire council. The anger and adrenaline was wearing off, though, and I was being left with a lot of fear, confusion, betrayal, pain... To top that off with receiving genuine sympathy from a man I'd always considered an enemy... Well, maybe if I was lucky they'd just pack me off to some Watcher-run mental asylum. A few years in a nuthouse might do me good.

"You know Richard," I said, collapsing onto the couch, "maybe that's why I always hated you. You always accepted what they told you, rather than looking at how things really were."

His eyes instantly narrowed. "Fine," he said, turning to leave. Which would leave me alone. Alone with my thoughts, and my feelings. Better my enemy than that.

"Wait," I called, and to my partial surprise, he did. Maybe this had come as a bigger and more unsettling shock than I'd realized. "I've never been known for my tact, Richard. I'm sorry." It didn't sound as contrite as I would have liked, but right now, it was the best I could offer.

It seemed it was good enough. He turned back to me, and lo and behold, there was genuine sorrow in those eyes. I supposed maybe some good would come of all of this, if it woke him up a little bit.

"All those... Immortals, the ones you listed... were they really that bad?" he asked, quietly.

How on earth had he avoided learning about these things? All Watchers knew, or should know, that when an Immortal was bad, they were very very bad. Of course, when they were good, it could be equally impressive. Darius and Sean Burns sprang to mind immediately, followed by Duncan MacLeod. MacLeod was good enough that Eric had said he probably deserved the Prize. Any man who could convince someone like Eric of that possessed a kind of magic.

"Yes," I said quietly, "they were as bad... or worse." I could see it was going to require more than just my word, so I picked an example at random. "Gauis Petronis... he sent a seven-year old child to stab Eric... a child so thin that his ribs were sticking out... and he did it by threatening the child's four-year-old sister." I looked up at Richard, feeling my jaw clench. "I won't ever say I'm sorry for shooting that bastard. If I had the chance, I'd shoot him again." I saw surprise and what might be the beginning traces of agreement in his eyes as I went on. "But nothing is going to wash away the horror in that boy's eyes. Both the horror done to him and the horror he'd been forced to do." I looked down again, at the carpet. "The others were as bad or worse."

There was a lengthy pause. "And they might kill you for it," Richard said, very quietly.

Not quietly enough. Even with as much control as I was trying to exert, I felt my muscles jump, felt myself jerk away from the words. The word, really, the one nobody had wanted to say, and everyone had managed to avoid saying, while still making things very clear. Kill. Kill me, so I'd no longer be a threat, and so I'd serve forever as an example of why no Watcher should ever interfere in the Game, however noble the reasons.

Richard saw my motion, and swore softly. "Megan, I didn't mean to..."

At least he called me Megan, and not that awful "Ms Kennard." I swallowed, somewhat thickly, and forced myself to use a level voice when I replied, "It's all right. Maybe it's better someone comes out and says it, rather than dancing around the subject. After all, it is only a might."

He didn't correct me, and for that I was thankful. I'd seen death dancing in Levinson's eyes, at least. It was possible he'd be talked out of it or overruled in some way, but if I survived today it would be by entirely too narrow a margin to be comfortable. What I'd said flippantly before walking into that room, before facing those steady stares, was becoming entirely too real and tangible to casually shrug off anymore.

"Damnit, this shouldn't be happening!" Richard suddenly burst out, spinning from his position near the door to pace in front of the couch. Right now he seemed curiously more upset than me. That's only because he's here, and you know it, some part of my quietly insisted. If he were gone, you'd be balled up on that couch, living in your own personal hell. Probably true. "You're a good Watcher, they even admit it! I even always knew it!" From him, that was an admission. Some part of me started a mental re-evaluation of his actions based on this. He was a third generation Watcher, was it possible he had always just been upset to have been upstaged by a... me?

For a second, my thoughts had almost betrayed me, skittering into that dangerous area. I'd yanked them back, but I knew I was going to end up having to confront it soon. Likely as soon as Richard left me alone.

It didn't seem he was ready to go just yet. Stopping just in front of me, he turned to stare into my face. "Is it true you've read Chronicles you never had to?"

I'd actually read more of the libraries than some Research people had, but that wasn't commonly known-- except to some Research people. A few had even helped me get a hold of materials I never would have gotten on my own. I remembered Adam with a brief spark of fondness, wishing I'd had his foresight, to leave before it got to this. However, none of this was stuff I'd tell Richard--even a Richard as changed as this one seemed.

So instead I gave that half-shrug and nodded. "Makes interesting bedtime reading material," I quipped, hoping to lighten the mood.

It didn't work, but it never had with Richard. His sense of humor might have simply atrophied from lack of use, or else he kept it well hidden. His eyes only narrowed, seeming to search me for something. Oh, he had the instincts of a Watcher, he'd just never worked on them until they became skills.

"Why?" he asked, almost softly, and I understood the point immediately. Why do it? Whatever I had quipped, quite a few of those Chronicles were deathly dull--with some notable exceptions such as Sunda Kastagir.

The problem was, his question was going to take me right to where I didn't want to go. Then again, what the hell --I was going there eventually, might as well take company.

"Because," I said very softly, "they became my anchor."

So saying, I went back.

It had been raining that night, but by the time I judged myself high enough to leave the party I was at, it was perfectly clear. But the streets were still wet, and water still dripped off trees and eves. Combined with the night sky, the stars shining down overhead with a brightness unusual for the city, it was a really beautiful night. In fact, when I first left the party, I just stood in the street for a good long while, staring up at the sky, listening to the water drip. I wanted nothing else... no, I needed nothing else. Therein was the beauty, the wonder of the stuff. Smoke it, drink it, inhale it, swallow it down with some water, whatever your choice was that time, it always took you away, filled up all those empty spaces, made you complete. Afterwards, all you needed was something... small. A good song, a bit of poetry, a night sky... nothing else. No worries, or fears. All you had to do was drift off with the tide.

I wouldn't have called myself an addict, not then. Of course, addicts never do.

Instead I just wanted to have a good time, or wanted to lift myself up out of the day to day, or wanted... oh, a thousand excuses. A thousand excuses to get me there, and none needed afterwards. Because as soon as I was high, none of that mattered. Nothing hurt, nothing lacked.

The night was so beautiful, so beautiful. God, I can't express how beautiful it was. That is something I will never have again, that sense of heightened grace and glory.

Eventually, I started moving, almost drifting along. I was smiling like a loon. I smiled a lot then, and for almost no reason. I grinned the whole way down the street, grinned as I crossed the street, grinned as cars drove by me, spraying me with water that still collected in the street. I should have taken a cab, but I barely had money for an apartment, so that was an extravagance beyond me. It was a long walk, though, and so I started taking short cuts I never would have while sober --through the sort of back alleys and side-streets most people instinctively know to avoid.

But I was too far gone, and none of it mattered. The sky mattered, and the drip of water, and the beauty of the night. I just floated along on it, allowing myself to move without thought. So when I heard the first sounds of the sword fight, I headed for it without even considering the incongruity of such a noise.

They were beautiful too, and that's the one perception that would never change. Two Immortals who were good at what they do, in a sword fight... So much grace and style it almost hurt. Deadly, yes, destructive, and even in my current state some part of me understood the life-and-death implications of that dance. Every move, though, every attack, every counter... it was like it was etched in a diamond-fire of brilliance. It was terrible and it was exquisite, and I never even moved when the Quickening began.

In the end, it was a Watcher who shoved me aside, behind a dumpster, before the Immortal could see me. By the time I gathered what remained of my wits enough to move, both the Immortal and the Watcher were gone. I didn't know who either were, of course... Nor would I for some time. But when I finally made it back to my apartment, I sat on the bed a long time, playing the images over and over again in my mind, searing each one into my memories, refusing to lose them the way I lost entirely too many things while high.

When I got up the next morning, I checked myself into rehab.

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There was another silence. My eyes were closed, because I couldn't bear to open them through the entire recital of my history. I didn't want to see what Richard... good, prim, proper Richard... was thinking.

Eventually, he broke that silence himself. "I didn't know."

I opened my eyes to stare at him. He didn't know? That was ridiculous. They all knew. The Watcher who'd saved my life that night had made the truth plain to everyone when the organization finally decided to let me join. Didn't know?!

Richard looked uncomfortable, perched on the edge of the room's only chair, hands clasped together. He was looking at the floor, but he glanced up once and saw my expression. "Well, I mean... I knew, but I didn't... know."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I couldn't help myself. The last thing I needed know was Richard being cryptic.

He frowned at me, for one moment recalling the full force of the man I'd known prior to today--and detested. "Christ, what do you think, we all spent all our time digging up the details of your past life? Even a Watcher so unobservant as I had far better things to do with my time. We knew you'd been a drug addict, but I don't think anybody ever told me how you found out about Immortals or Watchers."

"Oh," I said, very quietly.

"Yes," he snarled back, "oh. You may have thought we shut you out, but you shut yourself out just as much. Do you know what they called you in the Academy? Le Soleil--the sun. Try to approach and get your arm burnt off by a flare in temper."

I found myself gaping at him. Had I... had I really? But even ask I asked myself that, I knew I had. I'd known they knew the worst of it and had simply... assumed, assumed they'd all disdain me. A sudden thought chilled me to the bone as I was left to wonder how much of that attitude had landed me in my current position. I'd always known I'd have to pay the price for helping Eric... I'd never dreamt the price I'd be paying might go so far back. And given how many years it was, maybe the bill was enough to equal my death.

I don't know what was showing on my face, but after a second I heard Richard cautiously say, "Megan?"

"Do you know," I said, not so much a reply as a voiced thought, "that they wouldn't let me join for a year? A year of my desperate seeking, for something, anything that would make sense of that night... Anyone else, after what they'd seen, after even a month or so of the sort of research I was putting into it, the Watchers would have recruited them. Me? I had a year, the longest, hardest, most lonely year of my life. You claim I never let anyone in at the Academy... But I wasn't lonely there. I had the Watchers and the Immortals, the truth of what both of them were, and that was enough. No, that year... that endless year... That was being lonely."

Richard cleared his throat a little uncomfortably. I glanced up from my oh-so-intense study of my shoes. "We never knew that, either," he said, quietly. Of course, I thought, holding in another sigh. "If we had..."

It made me sit up a little straighter and try to catch his eye. He evaded me as much as possible, which made things worse. "If you had, what? Richard? What?"

He sighed, heavily. "Most of the people who were called as witnesses... as well as a few others... agreed that you were most likely in love with Eric Bishop."

I looked at him for a second, swore as inventively as I could, then buried my face in my hands.

Of course that was what they thought. It even explained the slight emphasis Richard had made on "consort with your Immortal." Eric was an attractive man, after all, especially with that grin of his. If it wasn't for the simple fact that I'd never felt in the least romantically inclined towards him... protective, maybe, but the other... no. But why else would a Watcher violate her oath? Idiots. Unimaginative idiots. Unimaginative, stupid idiots who had probably damned me...

It was a shock to realize I was crying, and even more of a shock to realize Richard was sitting beside me on the couch, awkwardly... very awkwardly... patting me on the shoulder and saying stupid things like, "It'll be all right."

"No it won't be all right because I'm going to die and I'm too young to die and I don't care if this is just the price I have to pay, it's not fair!" I sounded 13 rather than 31 and hated, but I couldn't seem to stop myself.

There was a pause from behind me. "You're not, really," Richard said, softly.

It was incongruous enough to slow my tears and cause me to look up at him. I was sort of thankful. I never cried, just refused to, not since I'd finished rehab. "Not really what?" I managed to ask, voice wobbly. Had they thought to include Kleenex in this room? Yes, there were two big boxes. However, the thought that they'd been expecting me to cry was enough to make me wipe my eyes on my sleeve, refusing to show any evidence of my tears. Expect me to cry, would they?

"Too young to die," Richard said, softly. I felt my eyes widen. He shook his head. "None of us are, Megan, not even them." I didn't have to ask to know that by 'them' he meant Immortals. He stood, a little awkwardly. "Is there... anything I can get you?"

He'd tried to phrase it delicately, but I still heard the unspoken, "Any last requests?"

I started to shake my head, then thought better of it. What would I like before... the end? It only took a moment's thought.

"You couldn't by any chance find me some chocolate ice cream?" I offered with a small smile.

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After Richard had gone, I found myself wishing he'd stayed. It was a foolish desire in many ways--whatever tentative peace we'd gained out of all of this, I doubted it would last under prolonged contact. Somehow, though, as the silence stretched on, even fighting with Richard began to seem appealing. Even going before the Tribunal began to look like a better idea than this ... this endless waiting, sitting in a corner of the couch with my legs tucked up in front of me.

Waiting alone. Alone again, as alone as I'd been in that awful year before the Watchers finally took me in. Because whatever the outcome of their deliberations, both myself and the Tribunal knew that I was no longer a part of the Watchers. I'd been cut adrift, cast off from the ties that had bound me to them, alone on my tiny ship in a storm tossed sea.

I wanted a hit of something--anything!--so badly my hands were shaking from it.

That was the thing they never express properly when they talk about drugs in school. Not the physical cravings--those are sheer murderous hell, yes, but they pass. Some things it takes longer to get over, some things you're past withdrawal almost before you even realize you began it. But sooner or later, the body resets itself and returns to normal, and no longer needs. But the mind...

The mind never really lets go.

Trapped in that little room, alone, cut off from the thing, the people, the group that had kept me controlled for so long, the thing that had helped keep me filled up, the thing that had given me a reason to go on.... I was so empty, sitting there. So cold and lost, that all I wanted was something to fill up that hollowness inside, to make it okay, to make it hurt less.

If I had known, yesterday, what today would bring, would I have gone out and found something to do just that?

My entire arms were shaking and I drew my legs up against my chest and hugged them to me. Stress, aftermath, the let down of adrenaline, fear, need... Could I do this? Could I sit here, alone, for however long this took, and still be strong enough to walk to my fate with my head held high?

I squeezed my eyes shut against another threatening press of tears. If they wanted to break me, they were doing a damn fine job. A few more hours of this and I'd probably confess to anything they asked me to--even having deluded myself into falling in love with Eric and thinking that made what I did okay.

Maybe that was the point. After all, if I went to my grave or my cell swearing I'd done only what was right and necessary, someone might just believe me. Someone might just be inspired to take up my cause. Goodness knows that even years after the fact we were shaking Hunters out of the structure, men and women infected with that insane zealous belief of James Horton's that all Immortals were abominations. The Tribunal was, I realized, in an unenviable position. They couldn't let me go without me using the knowledge I still had to affect the Game. They couldn't let me stay on as I was without being seen as sanctioning my actions, however unwillingly. That left them with shipping me off to some sort of confinement or killing me-- both of which would make me into a martyr. They were damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

Good. It was nice to know I wasn't the only one.

They might have had a chance if they'd kept this quiet enough, but they'd made one mistake--Richard. Honestly, it wasn't really one I could call them on--in their place, I'd have made the mistake too. Well, assuming I would ever be in the position of wanting to suppress a Watcher who'd protected her Immortal from foul play. Unlikely as that was, if I had, I'd probably have picked Richard to play my escort too. It wasn't exactly common knowledge that we loathed each other, but it was pretty close.

Had loathed each other. That was almost as unsettling as anything else. Who would have thought Richard had a heart to care with? I'd misjudged him, and badly. Knowing that, how much else might I have misjudged? What if Eric was just using me somehow? What if I...

No. This was exactly what they wanted. Angrily, I stood up, wincing slightly at the pull on my muscles. How long had I been huddled there, anyway? Where was Richard with that ice cream? Where was dinner? I shook my head. Why feed a condemned man--or woman?

The door opened, and I pivoted to face it, glad I'd already stood and stretched. Whoever it was, I didn't want anyone to walk in and find me huddled on the couch. Even if it was Richard.

It wasn't Richard, but one of the goons who seemed to be forming my honor guard. "Are you gonna try anything?" he asked me warily, eyeing my tense position.

I forced myself to relax a little. "Tempting..." I said, looking slightly past him as though I were considering it. He started to tense and I decided I didn't need the added stress of fighting with a guy twice my size who's neck was as thick as your average tree trunk. "But what would be the point? Did you want something in particular or have orders just been left to harass me every so often?"

It was a sort of guilty pleasure to do this to these guys. I could tell just by the slightly lost look in his eyes that he had no idea what I was talking about. The silence stretched on until he recovered himself and managed to say, succinctly, "Bathroom."

I had scheduled bathroom times. How wonderful. This was starting to remind me of something... Oh yes, Kindergarten. I suppressed a shudder and nodded at him. "Lead the way," I said cheerfully. I really wanted a shower right now, or at least to wash my face.

The bathroom I was led to was the same one as earlier. I was still not sure exactly where I was, but I was betting it was one of the spare mansions the Watchers had--the ones they kept just for awkward stuff like this. When it came right down to it, the Watchers, though various fronts and members, owned enough property so that if it was all side by side, they'd have their own country. Watchervania or something. Scary thought.

It wasn't an impressive bathroom--sink with a cabinet below it, mirror above that, toilet across the way, square shower stall tucked in beside the sink--but I suspected it had been chosen for my use less because of the amenities and more because of the small window beside the shower stall, perhaps a foot and a half wide and less than three tall, pieces of frosted glasses welded together by lead into a pattern. There was no way I was getting out of that.

After my initial glance around I realized there was one other thing in the room. Hanging from the towel rack, right next to the usual display of towels, and farthest away from the actual shower, was a black skirt suit. I closed the door carefully, locked it, and went over to inspect the suit. A quick glance at the tags and a discovery of a small stain on the inside of the cuff proved it was mine, usually shoved into my closet and only brought out for funerals.

That last thought chilled me as I realized that if they were giving me this, it was highly doubtful I was getting the second option--imprisonment of one form or another. I closed my eyes for a very long moment, then turned almost angrily and yanked the faucets in the shower stall almost angrily, partially soaking one T-shirt sleeve when the water poured out at an unexpected angle. It was cold, but given what the water heaters in a building this old were probably like, I didn't expect much. I peeled off the clothes and stepped in, relieved to be in water--even lukewarm water.

I couldn't have as thorough a scrubbing as I wanted thanks to the lack of a decent conditioner. Then again, I somehow doubted that it had ever occurred to my oh-so-gracious hosts that I'd give a damn about how my hair had a tendency to frizz, or how awful red hair looked when wet and how long it took to dry. Honestly, I wasn't even sure why I cared--except it kept the fears and the doubts at bay for that much longer.

As I was toweling myself dry I studied the suit, carefully hanging there, just waiting for me. Waiting for me to put it on, to go out there looking responsible and mature and being everything they wanted me to be. A good little Watcher, facing the music.

Absolutely not. I got back into the jeans and t-shirt, making a slight face at the damp sleeve. I took a second to inspect myself in the mirror. Slightly damp red hair hung in curls just past my shoulder and was frizzy, despite my best efforts otherwise. I was of average height and build, so the clothes fit fine, but that didn't conceal the fact that in blue jeans and a black t-shirt I looked like I was barely old and sensible enough to drive, let alone be in this position. There were dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep, and with my pale, slightly freckled skin they stood out horribly, looking almost like bruises. It wasn't the conventional picture of a martyr, but my chin lifted all the same at the mere thought of how much Levinson, if nobody else, would hate that I looked this way. After all, I was supposed to go to my fate dignified and composed--not pale and scuffy.

As a final precaution, I spent a while meeting my eyes in the mirror, taking the time to erase all traces of fear or pain from the green-gray depths of them. By the time I was done, my expression was that of someone suffering from a minor inconvenience, nothing more. It would probably infuriate them terribly. And here, at the end, making them as miserable as I was remained about the only thing I had left that I could do.

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Goon 2, as I thought of him as, seemed unhappy by my appearance but said nothing. I was a little surprised to be escorted back to my little room and given something to eat, but I carefully maintained that distant, slightly annoyed expression. I got wary looks from my three keepers every time they had to open the door and interact with me, and what might have been an outright apology in non-verbal form when the skirt suit was produced and handed to me.

It took a great deal of effort not to kick it into a corner, but I didn't want to show that level of childishness, however much it might be true of what I felt right now. Instead I hung it on the back of the door and went on wearing my rumpled jeans and T-shirt. I'd cooperated to the point of giving them a confession, all they needed to hang me with, so further cooperation seemed pointless.

But as time stretched by, the waiting started to come back, and the suit started looking more and more frustrating. It was a symbol, real and tangible and above all present, of what I was going through, and in a sense, why. The outer forms, the creed, the conforming to standard... These were the things that were going to get me killed, and I could see all of it represented in that little skirt suit, hanging on the back of the door, waiting for me.

If Richard hadn't come in not long after I started down this chain of thought, I might have tried to set fire to the stupid thing. Instead I was staring so intently at the suit that when the door opened I found my glare fixed at about crotch level of a pair of black pants. I jerked my eyes up to meet Richard's immediately, but I could feel heat suffusing my face and cursed the fair complexion I had that made blushes stand out like banners. This was not the image I wanted to present, damn it.

Richard wisely chose not to comment. He just came inside and pushed the door shut quickly, taking in my somewhat rumpled, still slightly damp appearance in a single glance from head to toe that somehow conveyed enough disapproval that I considered jumping up and strangling him. My nerves had apparently gotten ahead of me and were already shot.

Even inside my head I winced at the badness of that joke.

"We don't have much time," Richard began, words that caused my insides to drop unpleasantly. Not much time... oh god. "I'm supposed to be issuing one last plea for you to claim your Immortal led you astray. If it fails, and we all know it will, I'm supposed to bring you before the Tribunal to hear their judgment."

"Their judgment," I repeated, quietly. I could tell by the closed, set look on his face just what it would be. I'd guessed anyway-- after all, either way they had a martyr, and a dead martyr is marginally safer in some respects. "So great, I don't even get a last request?"

Richard ignored what was, I admitted, a very thinly veiled reference to the ice cream. It was silly, but damnit, I wanted to do something I enjoyed at least one more time before... before... I couldn't say it. Even now, I couldn't think it.

"I can't get you out, Megan," Richard said quietly, twisting something in his hands. The words came as a surprise to me, a surprise I couldn't hide. But he never noticed, his gaze still on the floor. "I tried... but there's nothing... I'm sorry."

He'd tried? Richard Williamson, third generation Watcher, upholder of all that I detested in the Watchers, had tried to break an Oathbreaker out? I felt like I'd suddenly slipped into a parallel universe, one with all the same people, but none of the same actions. I wasn't just drifting helplessly, I was spinning, tumbling out of control, like Alice down the rabbit hole. Was I going to awake at any second to find it had all been a dream, and no one was going to cut my head off?

It was too intense of a hope. I buried it in the back of my mind and refused to acknowledge it further. "Thank you for trying," I said, matching Richard's quiet tone with one of my own. "To be honest, I'm not surprised there was nothing you could do. They set this up... well." The word seemed inadequate for how well I'd been trapped from the beginning, but it was all I could thing of. "Very well," I added, but it still didn't feel like enough.

"It's not just you, you know," Richard said almost pleadingly, his eyes still on the floor. "Yes, your actions form the base of it, but... there's a lot of other things. Other reasons." He looked up briefly, and there was a tightness in his eyes. "We've had a lot of... incidents... these past few years."

It was an understatement, as far as I knew. Start with the Hunters, then the Kalas thing, then the Gallati mess... We'd lost a lot of people, and a lot of innocence. The entire structure had been in a state of flux, and I suppose I shouldn't really have been surprised when the internal shifts settled into this particular pattern. They were afraid, I realized, afraid of things changing too much, of losing what the Watchers were, and had been. Afraid of losing 4,000 years in less than a decade.

It still didn't excuse what they were doing to me, though.

"No, it doesn't," Richard said, and I realized I'd spoken aloud. Was I that far gone, losing my control that much? Terrifying thought if true. "But it makes it a bit more bearable."

I stiffened, feeling my chin come up, and stared flatly at him. "More bearable for you, perhaps. Not for me." I stood, ignoring the slight protest from my body. How long had I been awake? I needed sleep, real sleep, but it didn't seem I could expect it any time soon. "Shall we get this over with?"

Richard's jaw tightened, but he didn't say anything, just yanked the door opened and stormed out. Under the circumstances, I wasn't sure whether to be happy or not.

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I got my first confirmation of where this was going as soon as I walked into the room.

Before a certain amount of effort had gone into making the figures of the room a mystery to me. The darkened lights, the way everyone had been reduced to undetailed forms, how no one had spoken outside the three Tribunes... All of it gone. I entered to a faint buzz of conversation and good lighting. The conversation dipped slightly and then slowed and stopped, but the light remained as they were.

I stopped just inside and took the opportunity to give them all a once-over. Levinson I already knew, and he met my stare evenly, a slight look of satisfaction visible on his face in the hints of a smile that he wore. I ignored him after that, more interested in the other two. The woman on his right I'd never seen before. She was of Asian heritage, a spill of long black hair partially hiding her features from me as she stared intently at a legal pad in front of her. I wondered if her reluctance to meet my eyes stemmed from a sense of guilt, or if she just considered me unimportant from this point on.

The man on Levinson's left I did know, although only slightly. Jonathan Morgan had been my mentor's mentor, and had never concealed the fact that he disapproved of me--not even at my mentor's funeral. Had I seen him when I first came in, I wouldn't have had any doubts about the outcome of this entire affair--which might have been why they kept the entire thing so carefully anonymous in the first place.

There were a handful of people behind them, several conversing in low voices. I didn't know any of them, but some were familiar. Witnesses, I decided.

There was a slight cough from behind me. Richard, reminding me that he was there, reminding me to take my place. I moved out of his way but remained standing, slightly off center. A small protest, like the clothing, but perhaps the only protests I had left.

Richard gave me a tight but unreadable look as he returned to his position on the far side of the room. As though that had been a signal, the conversation dropped off and I once again found myself facing the Tribunal.

"Ms Kennard," began Morgan.

My legs were starting to go weak and I was afraid that if I let this go on too long I'd loose whatever precious control I had left. I didn't let them go on, didn't let them make some sort of speech about the role of Watchers, or the need to obey one's Oath no matter what the provocation, of whatever they might have said. I was sure my actions had plenty of examples and room for oration, and equally sure that several choice speeches had been prepared for this, but I wasn't about to listen to them.

"When?" I said flatly, throwing the word out into the air like a weapon. Maybe it was, the only weapon I had left.

Morgan gave me a slightly oily smile. "When what, Ms Kennard?"

I ignored him, alternating my stare between Levinson and the Asian woman who still wouldn't meet my eyes. "Don't toy with me here. We both know what choice you've made. Any lingering doubts I might have had evaporated the instant I walked in here." The Asian woman did look up then, her eyes widening slightly as she took in my clothing. It was nice to know I still wasn't following script. "So, when?"

"Tomorrow morning," Levinson said.

Which could be any amount of hours from now. "Could you be more precise?"

"You have about 6 hours, Ms Kennard," said the Asian woman.

Somehow, suddenly I wanted it to be less precise. Suddenly I wanted it to come as a total surprise. "Aside from my presence tomorrow, will you be needing anything else?"

"No," the woman replied, beating her male companions to the mark. Both frowned at her. I ignored them.

"Fine. Goodnight," I said, turning on my heel and starting for the door.

"Ms Kennard," said Morgan. I ignored him. "Ms Kennard!" he repeated more forcibly, standing.

I whirled around to face him. "What?! Do you expect me to stand still for some sort of lecture or speech? Do you expect me to confess to being led astray? I made the choices I made because I felt they were right, not because someone was manipulating me. I did what I did because I wanted to save the future, not just watch it unfold and take little notes about it. Comforting little notes they'll be if someone truly terrible wins the Prize. Tell me, Tribunal, where's your limit? When does it stop being just a Game to observe and record? Tell me, if the Gathering was today and it was someone terrible, someone like the Kurgan, would you just take your little notes and commend our future to that? Where will you stand, in the end? Or will you stand at all?" I swung myself back around and marched to the door, wrenching it open. My three goons looked up with surprised looks and hastily assembled into my guard. There, half in the corridor and half out, I turned to face the Tribunal one last time. I had nothing left, nothing at all, except for whatever impact I might still make on the future Watchers.

"You want a confession?" I said quietly into the room. "Fine." I stood very straight and regarded them coldly, raising my voice. "I, Megan Kennard, do hereby swear that I have broken my Oath, have revealed the Watchers to an Immortal, have interfered with the Game, have falsified the Chronicles, and whatever else you want to throw at me. But I swear with equal honesty that it wasn't for personal gain, or due to being led astray. I knew what I was doing every moment I did it, and I did it for hope--for hope of the future, for hope that if the Game's end will change humanity, it will be for the better. I will pay the price for my actions, but I hope you never forget the price you pay along with me."

Then I turned and walked away.

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The knock came while I was trying to turn the couch into a sort of bed.

It was surprising enough to freeze me in place. The entire time, the entire day, not once had anyone bothered to knock. I tossed a pillow down onto the tangle of sheets and quilt and went to answer it.

It was even more surprising to see the slender Asian woman from the Tribunal standing outside the door. Behind her lurked the ever-present goons, but it was a different set this time. I was starting to wonder how many they had. Did you buy hired muscle in bulk?

"Ms Kennard," the woman said smoothly. I hid a wince, but she paused anyway, studying me a moment. "Megan." So much for being unreadable. "May I come in?"

What was this? First the bedding had been delivered, then a bowl of chocolate ice cream, now a Tribune was politely asking if she could come into my cell. Were they just being nice to the soon-to-be dead woman?

I looked at her a moment more, then shrugged and turned back to my attempt to fix the couch. She apparently took this as an invitation and came inside, closing the door behind her.

"I understand," she began, "that you may feel somewhat distressed..."

It was enough to make me whirl around to face her. "Somewhat distressed? If you can say that then you understand nothing. Nothing!"

She spread her hands out in front of her. Delicate, well manicured hands that matched the quality of her well-cut pinstripe skirt suit. She was calm, cool, and collected--everything I was not and could no longer be.

"I apologize," she said in that velvet voice, "My phrasing was regrettable." She paused, considering. "Would it be better if I were to say you're pissed?"

I snorted, dropping onto the couch. "Truer, in any case. Why are you here?"

If my abrupt chance in topic discomfited her at all, she didn't let it show. Instead she took a careful seat in the chair across from me. "Your situation does not have to end this way."

Ah, a last ditch appeal to me to change my tune. This I could understand. "Yes, it does."

She shook her head emphatically. "No, it does not. Look, Ms... Megan, there are reasons for our rules. There is a need for us to obey them. Not just for the safety of Immortals, but for our own safety. The price we pay for seeing is silence."

I shook my head. "I can't accept that. Not when the price we pay for that silence is and can be so high."

"As high as the price for our interference?" she asked intently. "Your actions were for the good of the future, you said. But what of those Watchers that interfere for the good of themselves?"

"Ah, so you're killing me for the edification of the self-centered ones. How lovely." My voice dripped acid.

She sat back with a sigh, arms resting on the arms of the chair. Black pin-stripe suit, blood-red leather chair, and those delicate Asian features... she might have been posing for a photo shoot rather than talking to a condemned woman. "All right, say we allow interference so long as it's for the right intentions... for the hope of the future, as you would say. Would this please you?"

I was certain a trick was coming. "It would be a start."

"What about the Hunters, then?" she asked, very softly but very audibly. "Were we to summon the spirit of James Horton here, would he not swear his actions were to protect the future, his actions were for the right reasons?"

I looked at her and swore. "How dare you compare me to that-"

She held up a slender hand, breaking me off. "No one would mistake your actions for those of the Hunters... At least, we would like to hope so. But do you not see that by opening the door that one fragile crack, we open it to more than just the right reasons? The Watchers, these last few years... we have been through too much. Our organization and the Immortals are no longer as separate as they should be. We cannot afford to let things go any farther!"

"So you'll kill me to stop things here. Does the word "overkill" mean anything to you?" I snapped back.

"I didn't want it to be this way!" she snapped back at me, that control momentarily broken. But before I could even begin to work with this breech in her defenses, she took a deep breath and was once again the perfectly controlled Tribunal. "Did it occur to you that with Levinson and Morgan comprising two parts of the Tribunal the decision over what action should be taken should have been quite swift? I argued against it, but in the end, even I had to admit that as you are, this is the best solution."

"Killing me is your best solution? Wonderful," I said, despite the fact I sort of agreed with her.

She closed her eyes momentarily, hands tensing slightly where they rested on the arms of the chair. When she opened them again, she looked straight at me. "Had you been any other Watcher... any other person at all... But we know you, Megan. Well enough for the Tribunal not to believe that stupid case for you being in love with Eric."

"Then why..." I trailed off, body tensing. "Of course," I forced out, despite how my teeth were trying to clench, "you needed an excuse."

"An excuse which would become unnecessary if you were to simply give a little, Megan. All we need-"

"Is a confession that I was manipulated by my Immortal so you can pack me off to one of your asylums in order to clear my head?" I interrupted.

She inclined her head slightly, as though acceding some point in a minor debate. "That would be ideal and no doubt satisfy all members of the Tribunal--even though they would know it to be false, it is the appearance of this affair to the rest of the Watchers that matters most. However, I believe there are other things that would give you the same result. A sworn promise not to interfere in the Game any further. Perhaps even something else. You do not have to die, Megan, if you are willing to work with us."

I sat back in the couch, crossing both my legs and my arms. "Not a chance in hell," I snapped, unwilling to let her see how terribly tempting the offer was. I didn't want to die... Who would? Being a martyr to a cause wasn't terribly attractive either. The problem was, I refused to acknowledge my actions had been wrong. I refused to give them even one chink to start me down the road to doubting my own wisdom and choices. I was who I was, and I wasn't perfect, but damnit, I was not going to let them tear me apart.

Some of this must have shown on my face, because she watched me for a second in silence, lips slowly pressing into a thin line. "I see," she said at last, standing. "Well, this has been yet another waste of my time. You'll forgive me if I decline to stay any longer... we both have an early morning. I will see you then," she finished, with the unspoken, "for the last time," echoing as loudly as it would had it been screamed.

She gave me one last inclination of her head, like a queen, and then walked out the door, leaving me alone, again.

This was getting old.

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Since I had absolutely nothing better to do besides count the remaining seconds of my life, I tried to sleep. The problem was, though, despite being tired from lack of sleep the prior night, as well as the bone-deep weariness that had settled in after all the shocks of the day, sleep was being elusive.

I lay on my back staring into total darkness--one benefit of a windowless room--and tried to cope with the day. Tried to assimilate how this all could have happened, and so far. Tried, with little success, to process, to truly see and understand the fact that I would be dying in the morning. Truly dying, no coming back, not like they do. Because if there was one thing I was sure of, it was that I was mortal, complete and 100%.

I'd asked Eric about it, not long after telling him about myself, and the Watchers. Not long after that whole mess of a night when I'd revealed myself to save him. I could still remember with odd clarity the strange thrill of excitement and dread as I waited for his answer, waited for the answer. When he'd finally replied and told me, with utter conviction, that I was not pre-Immortal, I'd been surprised how relieved I felt. Yes, some part of me wanted to live forever, but... after reading those Chronicles, after seeing the price Immortality exacted, and not just the Game... No, better to be mortal, even if it made facing the long curtain of night inevitable.

Now, though, some part of me would give anything for that chance, for the knowledge tomorrow wasn't the end, even if it meant the Game and all the other pains of Immortality. As terrible as that had once seemed, now that I was faced with a certainty of death, I knew with absolute conviction and certainty that I did not want to die.

After a while, I couldn't stand laying there in the dark anymore. I sat up, turned the light on, and paced for a while.

That helped matters not at all. I didn't want to spend my last hours alive walking pointless patterns in a carpet. I dropped back onto the couch with it's tangle of blankets. So what did I want to do?

I wanted to walk along a lake shore.

I wanted to visit Tibet. I'd always meant to, but never had the chance.

I wanted to finally listen to Mozart's Fifth. Shouldn't everyone have heard that once?

I wanted to drag Eric to an amusement park. He claimed to despise the things but I knew he'd never been to one. Nor had he ever eaten Cotton Candy. Both were experiences he should have just once.

I wanted to moon a policeman.

I wanted to look at the moon.

I wanted...

I stopped myself. What was the point? I could torture myself with this until dawn, then probably crawl on my hands and knees to beg the Tribunal not to kill me. And it wasn't worth it, because even if they didn't, I doubted I'd be allowed to do any of those things. Certainly they'd never let me drag Eric anywhere. Taking your Immortal to an amusement park was not high on the list of permissibles for barely-not-executed Watchers.

And it really wasn't fair. Because I had lied to the Tribunal, even when I made my big, declamatory, "follow my example" speech.

I'd never meant for any of this to happen.

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They called Ivan Stensinov the Butcher, and I was sort of afraid I was going to find out why.

It's the sort of position no Watcher ever wants to be in--seeing your guy, of girl, go into a fight with somebody you know might beat them. We aren't supposed to pick sides, but unless you're Watching a slimeball, you end up rooting for your Immortal, even if it's only just a little. After all, they're your Immortal. It's hard not to get possessive.

I was pretty sure, though, that Stensinov's Watcher, had he been here, wouldn't have been routing for his guy. In the past week my phone conversations had left me with absolutely no doubt that Robert Lindsey would be only too happy to spit on the ground Stensinov walked on. Robert didn't call Stensinov the Butcher; he had far more inventive names for the Immortal.

Eric, on the other hand... I liked Eric. Robert had even implied he liked Eric. He was a good guy, a really good guy, and he made me deeply regret the stupid vow of non-interaction that Watchers stuck to. I wished Robert were here; if nothing else we could have shared our sorrow if Eric lost and our triumph if he won.

But in one of those stupid twists of fate that sometimes happens, Robert was currently laid up at home, with an ankle so badly twisted I preferred the term "mangled" and a pretty and attentive nurse the Watchers had sprung for since Robert was injured in the line of duty. It was really the least they could do. Robert wasn't getting any older and Stensinov was a real bitch to Watch. But whatever the case, Robert was in no condition to go skulking about in the sort of abandoned-warehouse place that Eric generally received challenges.

So I was alone, trying to creep closer to the action on a catwalk, and trying not to consider the unpleasant possibility of Eric's death. At best, it would mean the Game lost a truly good man and a good player. At the worst I'd end up working with Robert until such time as he retired, and then Watching the guy who'd killed my guy. It wasn't standard protocol, but I was aware there weren't too many Watchers who the leaders of our little group felt were good enough to handle someone like Stensinov. It should have been sort of flattering to know I was in the running, but mostly it made me queasy.

I finally made it to a position where I could see the fight fairly well without being seen myself and crouched down. Eric and Stensinov were circling each other, strangely like inverted images, both men bald with dark beards, but one bright in contrast to the other's darkness. Strange that it should be the dark one who had a better soul. I shoved any more such thoughts out of my mind and focused on the fight. It was still in a sort of beginning, exploratory stage, I realized. Without thinking about it I started to frown. This was pretty standard for Eric when he could do it, as he preferred to know what he was getting into, but it wasn't Stensinov's style at all. What was he doing?

The strangely muffled thump of a silenced gun answered me before I could even begin to speculate.

Oh, I thought, staring blankly at the crumpling form of Eric. Then, as the import of what had just happened penetrated my mind, my eyes started to widen even as my muscles clenched. He... he just violated the Rules! He had someone interfere! And Eric...

And Eric was going to die.

I didn't remember having gotten my own gun out, but I could feel the weight of it in my hand suddenly. Nor do I remember standing as a figure came out of the shadows on the crosswalk opposite me, calling something down to Stensinov, who was raising his own sword for the kill. All sound was lost in a wave of heat and rage, a blazing wash of emotion that swept away clear thought.

The shots, however, two shots, placed with a surprising amount of perfection for someone who'd never shot at live targets before, those I was acutely aware of. Aware of the weight of the gun in my hand, the cool metal being warmed by hands gone hot with rage. The sensation of the gun bucking in my hand after the first shot forever etched itself into memory. The slight turn, the movement of my muscles as I realigned and shot Stensinov, and the second retort of the gun, all seemed to take place in a liquid moment where every action and response could be analyzed and saved in precise, untainted form.

I didn't think about consequences. I didn't consider the impact of my actions. I didn't chose to do it, to start down the road it would take. In those precious moments of action, I thought of nothing, nothing at all.

It was Stensinov's falling that brought me back, or more correctly the sound of his sword clattering on the cement floor of the warehouse. For a moment I stood where I was, frozen, mouth slowly dropping open in horror.

I just... I just shot...

Numbly, I put the gun away. Just as numbly, I walked down a flight of stairs to the scene of the crime. If I looked up, the body of a mortal would be draped over a railing, dead of a clean shot to the heart.

I didn't look up.

Instead I stood there, not far from the bodies, until Eric woke up. Then I introduced myself to him as Megan Kennard.

His Watcher.

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After that, things just sort of... happened.

I'd never intended to interfere that time. I don't even remember consciously choosing to tell Eric who I was. I'd just felt like I had to. After he'd killed Stensinov--in a fair fight--and we'd had a strange sort of bonding ritual involving disposing of the bodies, we'd talked. For hours and hours, it felt like. In the end, he'd agreed to let me go on Watching so long as I did it without sliding into spying.

The discussion of exactly what that entailed took days.

Then Elise Lawrence had come along, and knowing what I did about her, I hadn't been able to just let events unfold. After that, there was another Immortal. Then another. Eric had always been fairly active in the Game, but lately it seemed like the more Immortals he killed, the more appeared on his doorstep. God help us all, but it seemed like maybe the rumors were right, and the Gathering was happening. Slowly, but surely, the kill count was going up. And slowly, but surely, I became Eric's guardian angel. I never interfered unless the other side did, never discussed other Immortals with him, only changed his Chronicles the minimal amount I had to in order to keep my involvement out of it.

I couldn't say I'd had no choice. I could have chosen not to. I could have run out of that warehouse after shooting Stensinov and his man and turned myself in to the Watchers. I would have gotten off lightly--a reprimand, probably removed from field duty for the time, little more. These things happened with Field Watchers sometimes, when their emotions got the better of them. It wasn't laudable, but it was understandable. More so than my saying silent, anyway.

I could have chosen to end it. But I didn't.

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Cold comfort, now, sitting on a couch, unable to sleep even now, the night before I was scheduled to die. Scheduled to die. It had the worst possible ring to it. You scheduled lunch meetings and dentist appointments, not death.

Yet, I didn't regret it.

I hadn't even had that long, all things considered. I would have liked decades to have elapsed between the firing of those two terrible, weighted shots, and this, my calling to account. But all told not even two full years had gone by. Yet in those two years, I'd felt more complete than ever before. Even back when I'd first been in the Academy hadn't come close. For the first time in my life, it was all there, the Watchers and the Immortals.

I learned more talking with Eric for five minutes sometimes than entire Chronicles had told me. I learned more reading between the lines of the Chronicles after talking to Eric than the entire Academy had taught me. Every time I turned around there was something new there, something remarkable. A chance to understand it all...

It was like I had been running, running as fast as I could, almost flying, and suddenly there was a wall. So suddenly, in fact, there was no time to try to turn away, no chance to halt my headlong rush into the hard brick. It was unsurprising in one way, and yet utterly shocking in another.

And tomorrow morning I would impact on that wall.

I understood something then, something I'd never even glimpsed before. Understood the terrible courage that people who were diagnosed with an terminal illness had. It was one thing to know you were going to die someday. We all were, probably even the Immortals. Everyone died, after all... death was the only true constant.

It was one thing to say it, and to say "someday." It was another to know that someday was here, now, and that very, very soon you'd be passing into that long night.

I didn't feel regret. I had moved a bit beyond anger, for the moment, anyway. I didn't feel pain, nor betrayal, or even loss. I had before and I would again, but for that moment, curled up on the couch while the seconds of my life ran down, what I felt most of all was alone.

Terribly, terribly alone.

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I don't want to die.

31 years and this was the best I could come up with. 31 years and in the end, all I could think was, "I don't want to die."

How terribly inadequate.

It was snowing. I knew this because, in some time honored tradition I had never been aware of, Watcher executions were carried out outdoors. Perversely, some part of me was pleased that I was snowing, even if it was only light flakes. For one thing, the leaden clouds overhead suited my mood. For another, it really seemed to annoy the members of the Tribunal and various witnesses who had gathered to watch this. Watchers watching a Watcher die... that had to be the source of some sort of joke.

It didn't feel like a joke, though. It felt entirely too real. I was aware of the press of denim against my legs, of the light pressure of a sweater and a coat against my shoulders, of the faint brush of snow flakes as they drifted by my face. The taste of the winter air as I breathed in and out was giddy, intoxicating. Underfoot the ground had a surprising amount of give--it was mid-April, and just three days ago it had been nearly summer weather. All around me Watchers were standing, talking and waiting, while inside my head a running commentary was going on, listing points. It went something like this:

Megan Kennard is laughing for the last time. Now watch as she bites her lip for the last time. Earlier today she took a shower for the last time, and regrets that she didn't enjoy if very much. She is anticipated to speak her last words soon. Last breaths will come shortly after that. If you have anything you wish to say to Megan Kennard, please say it now.

I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it, or possibly cry. This couldn't be happening, I couldn't be about to die. I felt fine, if a little cold. Die, me? Now? No, it wasn't real.

If only it felt less real...

I shouldn't be having to wait. I wrapped my arms around my chest and held in a shiver only partially do to the temperature. Nobody should have to wait to die. Just get it over with...

What was I thinking? No, never get it over with... I wanted to live, damnit, not die for some stupid ideal, to serve as an example to uphold something I didn't believe in. This was a mistake, on so many levels it shouldn't have been possible.

But it was still happening.

A slight sound behind me turned me back around the face the doors I'd been escorted out... God, was it less than a half-hour ago? It felt a small eternity. Those doors were opening now, and the three Tribunes were filing out, the third and second moving slightly behind Levinson. They all wore dark suits and light tan dusters, the Asian woman wearing pants in concession to the weather. Their faces wore nearly identical somber, serious expressions, their very posture seeming to reflect the weight of their undertaking.

I couldn't help myself. "Lovely entrance. Can we get on with it now?"

They ignored me, but for the first time since I'd come out here, a handful of the other Watchers present looked at me. Most of those looks were startled. What had they expected?

Repentance, murmured a quiet voice in my head. Of course--I was supposed to be asking forgiveness for my transgressions now or something. Did anyone ever really do that? Joseph Dawson was the only one I ever knew of who'd ever stood here. I wondered how he'd gone down, and what he'd gone down thinking. Suddenly I wanted a great deal to meet him, and not just because in meeting him it was implied I'd be not dead.

Levinson, cheated of his chance to make a speech yesterday, surveyed the small courtyard we were in and started to speak. He alternately boomed and hissed, and generally gave a parade-ground performance, going on and on about Oaths and Rules and assorted things. I generally ignored him, indulging in the fact he'd placed me behind him with only the goons to watch me. Therefore, only the goons saw me shivering slightly as I stared up at the empty windows which silently overlooked what was going to be my dying ground.

I was going to die here. I was never going to walk out of this courtyard. Why? I wanted to ask it, to turn around and scream it, to grab Levinson and shake him until he answered me. Why? For the Oaths? Was my life truly worth so little?

Why?

"Megan Kennard," Levinson's voice said behind me. I ignored it, staring up at those windows. Surely someone was in there, watching. What would they make of this? What did those behind me, summoned witnesses, make of this? Did they truly see nothing more than the execution of a traitor to the Watcher ideal?

"Ms Kennard-"

"Just shoot me in the back and get it over with, Daniel, because your face is not the last thing I want to see," I interrupted, not turning around. My voice came out a lot more tired than I wanted it to. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally, but somehow the knowledge that I was about to get a very big rest wasn't comforting.

"Ms Kennard," came that velvet voice of the Tribunal who's name I never had gotten, "Megan, would you please-"

I did turn then, mostly because they weren't expecting it. Levinson had a very neat little gun with silencer out. I was guessing the plan was one clean shot between the eyebrows. It was supposed to be quick. It could never be quick enough.

"You," I said coldly to her, "don't have the right to call me Megan. None of you," I said, my eyes sweeping the group, "have that right." I realized with a slight shock Richard wasn't present. Yesterday I would have laid money on him being here. So I'm dying and my only real legacy is giving Richard a piece of his conscience back...But no, that wasn't my only real contribution. Eric was alive, and Eric would go on being alive, long after everyone in this courtyard had crumbled to dust. It was something, a very small something.

Maybe it was enough, though. I turned to Levinson, lifting my chin, and speaking with a calm I didn't feel. Inside it was like I was being torn apart, but outside I might as well have been made from the snow gliding down from the heavens.

"I have," I said softly, "no last words." I closed my eyes then, because I really didn't want to look at Levinson as I died. Instead I called up an image from memory--Eric and I, sitting in a bar one night, talking. Talking about nothing in particular, just things. A good thought to go out on.

There was a pause, a sense of slight unease. I held my breath, trying not to think. Trying not to jump at small sounds my mind desperately tried to identify. A footfall, a click that might have been the safety being taken off, a pause...

ThisisitI'mgoingtodie...

The sound I heard next was no part of anything I'd imagined, but a great deal of what I had desperately wished for. It was the sound of an explosion.

My eyes flew open and my head snapped to my left, gaze going to where a chunk of wall had just vanished. Bits and pieces of cement and stone still rained down upon dazed Watchers, some knocked off their feet. Levinson and the rest of the Tribunal were frozen, gaping, his right arm still holding the gun pointed at my head.

Before he could remember to use it, I threw myself down and away, rolling somewhat awkwardly to my feet just in time to duck a punch from one of the goons, who appeared slightly less dazed than the rest of the group. I kneed him in the crotch just as a strangely hollow sound followed by a thud and a hiss announced the arrival of what looked like tear gas.

The cavalry had apparently arrived. I had no idea who the hell it was, but as I started running for the gap in the wall, dodging stunned Watchers and the occasional silenced shot from Levinson, standing on the slightly raised area where my execution was to take place and looking pissed, it occurred to me I didn't care. Whoever they were, they'd just saved my life, and barely in time.

I felt a sharp burning along my leg just as I made it through the gap in the wall, and looked down to see blood staining the black jeans I'd been given to wear this morning. The pain had barely started, but I thought I'd just been grazed. Honestly, I didn't care--30 more seconds, and things would have been a lot worse.

There was a car waiting just behind the tumbled wreckage of the wall, and when a familiar voice yelled, "Get inside!" I didn't hesitate, throwing myself around the car and into the passenger seat as quickly as I could. Only when I was halfway in the door did the import of that voice sink in.

Eric. It was Eric Bishop, the Immortal I'd Watched, the Immortal I'd saved, who had just ridden to the rescue. I froze for a second, gaping at him as he finished firing several more canisters of tear gas into the courtyard, yanked open the driver's side door, and slid inside.

He started the engine and then paused for a second, looking at me. "Are you going to shut that door or would you prefer to go back there?" he asked, smiling slightly.

I finished crawling into the seat and slammed the door shut as fast as I could. No going back now, I thought, and realized I was thinking on several levels. I was committed, now, both to surviving... and to not being a Watcher.

To distract myself, I turned my attention back to Eric, who was driving across gravel back roads with a determined look. He wore a black turtleneck, jeans, and duster, all of which combined with his incredibly dark skin--skin that suggested the term 'black' might not be a racial misnomer--made him look like an ambulatory piece of the night sky. He glanced over at me for a second, chocolate brown eyes surrounded by rings of white that stood out sharply in his face. His body posture was tense, hands gripping the steering wheel tightly--I hadn't seem him this visibly upset since he had talked with me about his life before his first death, as a slave.

"Eric," I began, my voice ragged. I swallowed as he glanced over at me, a frown pulling on his chiseled features. "Not that I'm ungrateful, in fact it's wonderful to see you, but how..."

"How did know where to find you, or even that you needed help?" he supplied, eyes fixed on the road. I nodded for a second before I realized he probably wouldn't see.

"Yeah," I managed. My entire body was starting to shake from after-effects, and it was only willpower and a clenched jaw that was keeping me from showing it visibly.

"It was funny... I had no idea there was a problem, then late last night I get a call from a man I haven't heard from in almost a century. Not only does he know about the Watchers, a real surprise since I assume very few of my kind do, but he also tells me that my own Watcher is going to be executed for speaking to me." He glanced over again, but my current shakiness was somewhat concealed by his hitting a bump. "As you can imagine, I was somewhat less than happy." I could imagine. In fact, I'd learned a lot about cursing in my time knowing Eric. "He got me the information I needed to get you out. Said he might have helped, if he wasn't on another continent."

I shook my head. "You said you hadn't heard from him in a century, so he's an Immortal. How the hell did an Immortal know what was happening?" Had Watcher security been compromised that much? If yes, it might have been part of the reason they were so eager to deal with me. Not a comforting thought.

However, Eric's next words made that idea all but vanish from my mind. "He said he had been a Watcher." I froze in my seat, then slowly turned to stare at him, wedging myself sideways against the door. Eric chuckled. "I was surprised too, but not very much. It is something Benjamin would have done."

It was too much to process. An Immortal who had been a Watcher, and still had Watcher ties... Christ, if the Tribunal knew about that, it explained a great deal. Even my more liberal perspective felt shell-shocked. "Benjamin?" I managed to choke out.

"The name I knew him with. It's not the one he's using now." His eyes darted to me again before returning to the road. "He said you'd know him as Adam Pierson."

For the first time in my life, I considered fainting. It was just too much. "Ada... Adam Pierson... is Immortal?" I managed, my voice squeaking on the last part. Nice, amiable, somewhat geeky Adam, who'd helped me raid the Watcher's libraries on more than one occasion, was over a century old?

Eric nodded, then smiled. "You do know him then?"

I swallowed convulsively. "Yeah, he was a researcher, working on..." I froze, feeling my breath catch in my throat as a new idea assaulted me. "He... Eric, do you know much about him?"

He shrugged, an easy, powerful movement. "Not so much... Enough, though. He's a good man, nice in a fight, although he prefers to keep to the sidelines as much as possible. Not cowardice, though... More caution. He was pretending to be fairly new to the Game when I knew him, but a few slip-ups he'd occasionally make tell me he was older. How much..." Eric gave another shrug.

I barely noticed, staring blankly out the windshield. No, he couldn't be... could he? I closed my eyes. "Richard must have called him," I could hear my voice saying. "He wouldn't want to call an Immortal directly, but Pierson is out of the Watchers and supposedly has Immortal contacts, so even if they don't know, he'd be a logical choice. Richard would see it as a way to both keep his Oath and keep me alive... It was a good plan in a way... very Richard. I-" My voice broke. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this," I said very quietly.

I heard Eric shift slightly in the seat behind me. So far we were pursuit free, but the way he was driving I wasn't surprised. "Do what?" he asked.

Not be a Watcher. Not slide back into my old habits. Not tell you that 'Adam Pierson' is currently my leading candidate to be Methos. Not try and use that information to get my position as a Watcher back. Not loose my mind. Not... everything.

"Live," I finally managed, hoarsely.

"You've managed pretty well so far," Eric said.

I sat up, turning to look at him. "You think so based on the evidence of the past year or so... Which is an entirely different me than the old Megan Kennard. I need the Watchers, Eric, I-"

"You're bleeding," he interjected softly.

I broke off, extending my leg slightly. Now that he mentioned it, it hurt--but not a lot. "I just got grazed. It doesn't matter. I mean, they were going to... It doesn't matter," I repeated. Oh, but it does, another part of me murmured, and I didn't think it was talking about the leg.

"We'll get it looked at as soon as I'm sure we're safe," he said, ignoring my sharp glance. Exactly what did his being sure entail? "You're going to be all right, Megan."

I felt my hands convulsively grab the edge of the seat, fingers biting into fabric. "You don't understand," I said a little desperately, "they were my anchor..."

Eric removed one hand and briefly clasped my arm. "I do understand," he said quietly, turning to face me for a moment before turning his attention back to the road. "And you're not alone, Megan."

I turned to look at him, to really look at him. To see not just Eric my friend, but Eric the Immortal. The Watchers had been my anchor, true, but hadn't they just been a way to get close to Immortals? Weren't Immortals, who's lives would go on after our own, who's lives stretched back before our own, the true anchor I'd sought? I still had that, I realized. Eric wasn't going to desert me.

"Yes," I heard myself say aloud, "I know." I wasn't alone. I was alive, and maybe I'd lost the Watchers. But in losing them, I'd still kept this precious thing I'd gained... a stronger by far connection to Immortals, to who and what they were.

It was, I realized, a small enough price to pay.

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