Disclaimers: The concepts of Immortality, the Watchers, and the characters of Joe Dawson, Duncan MacLeod, Grace Chandel, and Alexa Bond are property of Davis/Panzer Productions. Maria and Jean-Pierre are original and characters wereborrowed without permission, but with no intent to harm or make a profit.
Warnings:Mild language, disturbing violence, and non-graphic m/m sexual content.
Thanks to: Cathy Butterfield, the creative, enthusiastic, and patient alpha reader who midwifed this story into existence. I would also like to thank my beta readers, Parda, Suzanne, and Steven, who helped polish this story so it could shine.
Feedback: Is an oasis in the desert of silence. Any and all feedback is welcome.
The Price of Interference - Chapter 1
Nina Simone croons a welcome home from the jukebox as I walk into the bar. I check my watch and relax into the darkness after the bright afternoon sun. Still a good hour before the evening rush, plenty of time to get a start on that paperwork. Mike is working on a busted tap down the far end of the counter. He greets me with his usual "How's it shakin', Joe?" The place seems deserted.
I grab the stack of papers from the drawer next to the register and limp towards the booths in the back. There's a man slumped in the nearest booth, facing the door.
Café au lait complexion, short tight-curled black hair, army/navy surplus outfit, couldn't be more than 19 or 20 …
I stop and glare at Mike. What's he doing letting an under-age kid in the bar?
Mike catches the glare, shrugs, and taps his wrist twice, right where the cuff of his sweatshirt covers a blue Watcher's tattoo.
Ah, a Watcher. The kid must be that new field intern Maria mentioned, straight out of the Academy. What's his name, Gerald, Jeremy? Something like that.
All the mobile field agents drop into the bar when they pass through. It's a professional courtesy to check-in with the Area Supervisor when your Immortal blows into town, but everyone's a hell of a lot more courteous, now that I'm running a bar instead of a bookstore.
It was a little hairy, back when MacLeod and Richie were hanging out in the bar and Watchers were dropping by all the time. That's not an issue anymore, not since Andrew Cord knifed Charlie out in the alley. Thanks to Amanda, at least MacLeod is speaking to me again. But he doesn't come by just to hang out anymore. Keep moving, Joseph, it's not a tragedy, just one of those things.
Anyway, Maria had called to say that her assignment, Grace Chandel, was flying into Seacouver. Maria said she would bring her intern by the bar, so she'll probably be in to join him any time now.
I take a closer look as I walk past the kid's booth. Should have been good-looking, but right now he looks more like a mile of bad road. Eyes tight closed, at least 20 pounds underweight, his cheeks hollow, with dark bruises under the eyes that tell me he hasn't slept much lately. The kid's face is blank, almost perfectly expressionless, but his body language gives him away. He is hunched over, clutching that mug of coffee like a drowning man, perfectly still except for his right index finger stroking the rim of the mug to the slow rhythm of the sobbing blues song.
Something about it reminds me of a few of the young soldiers in the rehab ward, after the war. They tried so hard to pretend everything was fine. Their faces showed nothing to the world, but their bodies would curl up around the pain they were feeling.
I'm starting to worry. I nearly stop to ask the kid what's wrong, but the last thing he needs is to be interrogated by a total stranger. Whatever the kid's problem is, Maria will help him deal with it. She's great with interns, kind of a cross between a grandma and a drill sergeant.
I walk down to last booth to give the kid some privacy, drop the stack of papers on the table, rest my cane against the edge, and settle myself on the seat. A few seconds of upper-body effort slide me all the way into the booth.
I get to work on the payroll deductions that new law requires. No one gets paid under the table at "Joe's." Watcher-owned businesses are always careful to follow the local laws and tax codes to the letter. Nina's voice is replaced by Etta James, then Cassandra Wilson.
I feel a cold breeze when the door opens, and glance up to see a woman silhouetted by the afternoon sunlight in the doorway. The build is right for Maria. I look back down at my paper work, determined to give Maria a chance to get her intern settled before I butt in. I feel the shifting of the attached booths as the kid rises and then sits back down with his guest, and hear the hushed tones of a quiet conversation.
The word, "Immortel" falls into a beat of silence in the music. Damn it, the two of them are holding a conversation about Immortals here when the bar is open! Still, they're speaking French, the music's covering them, and the place is almost empty. I bet they haven't noticed me sitting here. I settle back to practice a little professional eavesdropping, translating from French to English.
The young male subject is facing my direction now. I can catch occasional snatches of his voice, a light tenor with a bit of a accent, maybe a touch of Creole in there? The 2nd subject is a female soprano, voice muffled by her location. Probably Maria, but no visual or audio confirmation is possible at this time.
I write the report in my head. Delivering it to Maria word-for-word should make the point that the middle of my bar during business hours ain't the best place to discuss Watcher affairs.
The jukebox must have run out of quarters; the music stops. Now I can hear the male subject clearly, his tenor still quiet but choked up with anguish.
"I just don't know if I can do it anymore! I know, I know, Mortals and Immortals are different; we each have our own battles to fight. We're supposed to watch, learn from them, remember them when their gone, never interfere. I know what you taught me! But … how can you do it?"
Maria is murmuring some response.
"And some of them are murdering bastards! You don't know what I've seen, what they did." The young man's breath catches, close to a sob.Jesus, what did the kid see? Grace Chandel is one of the gentlest Immortals I know of, a doctor. Maybe Maria ran across a loose Immortal, and had her intern Watching him while she reported in?
"Oh, the things they do to each other, I don't know if I can stand it anymore…"
To each other? Was it just a Challenge that had the kid spooked? Your first beheading can be a shock, but there has to be something more to this. Maybe another Immortal did something terrible to Grace? She might have run to McLeod for help, they are close enough for that.
"I know we're not supposed to take sides, but I just couldn't watch it happen again! I killed one of them. I killed him, and it didn't make any difference!"
Fuck. The kid killed an Immortal? What the hell is going on around here? Maria's intern is turning into a Hunter. I have to report this. The Watchers have some good counseling and psychiatric facilities, and plenty of experience with post-traumatic stress. They'll help him. Probably.
Then again, maybe they'll put him up against a wall and shoot him. No one will give me a straight answer on what happened to the men James recruited, or even to Rita. Ah hell, maybe the kid killed that Immortal in self-defense!
I close my eyes, focusing all of my talents as a musician and a Watcher on understanding this young man from nothing but the sound of his voice. I need to make a decision soon, and the kid's life and sanity might hang in the balance.
"Well that's why I'm here, isn't it, to talk to him!"
Bitterness in that voice. Did Maria bring him here to talk to me? He sounds …betrayed. Why would bringing the kid to me be a betrayal?
"Your friend, he does take sides, and he makes sure his side wins! A little information, a few casualties … I've heard stories!"
Whatever happens to this kid, I am a dead man. If an intern straight out of the Academy has heard stories that I'm interfering in the Game like that, there's no question what the Tribunal will do. I never went as far as this kid is implying, but the stories he's heard might be true.
MacLeod went after Durgan for Lauren's sake. He let Cord live because I asked him to, and now we've got Charlie DeSalvo's death on both our consciences.
Information … every time Mac's asked me for information on an enemy, I've given it to him. I bitch, I whine about my oath, and I give it to him.
Okay, Joseph, focus. You can't change the past or any rumors flying around in France, but maybe you can do something to help this kid.
"And when it comes down to one of us or one of them, then one of us is dead! Is that why you brought me here, so he could kill me?"
Memories: the recoil of a gun in my hand, James falling into the river. Sighting down the barrel of a gun at Christine Salzer's back. Ah. That would explain the betrayal. I'm not an executioner, kid. I just shot my own brother-in-law and tried to kill Don's wife. Yeah, I guess I see your point. Oh, James, I wish things hadn't gone down like that.
A gust of cold, damp air from the door interrupts my little trip into self-loathing. It's dark out now. Duncan MacLeod stands highlighted by the lights, scanning the bar. Count on him to make an entrance. My lips stretch to a welcoming smile before reality crashes in.
The last thing this kid needs right now is to see an Immortal. My hand fumbles for my cane while my mind fumbles for the right words, to get Mac out of here without stressing the fragile peace between us.
"Duncan!" The female subject emerges from the booth and runs towards MacLeod, embracing him in the doorway.
Not Maria's soprano, not Maria's profile, not Maria. It's Grace Chandel. And that means …thanks a lot, Mike.
This "kid" isn't a Watcher; he's an Immortal. Not Maria's intern; Grace's student. Could be my age, could be hundreds of years old. And this Immortal isn't thinking he's here to get shot by Joe Dawson, he's afraid of getting beheaded by Duncan MacLeod.
By now I'm standing next to the booth. The kid is staring at me curiously, dark eyes wet, tear tracks shining on his face. I smile blandly and walk past him, taking care to stay out of arm's reach. Didn't hear a thing, kid. I was asleep. I was drunk. I was wearing headphones. I don't speak French. Yeah, that one might work. But Mac knows better.
MacLeod is still in the doorway, embracing Grace, while she whispers to him. He has already noticed me, and the crease in his forehead speaks volumes to someone who's been observing him for 16 years. He ain't happy.
Even though spying on Immortals is a Watcher's job, I feel bad about this one. This Immortal is tearing himself apart over killing a Mortal, and his crisis of conscience is really none of my business. I've got enough problems of my own.
How can I make this right, with Mac, with Grace's student? When I thought he was a Watcher, I wanted to help. Can I still do that? Should I?
I flash back to my first sight of "the kid", a picture of misery, lost in the music. I've been there. Plenty of times the blues has got me through when nothing else could. Oh!
I change course, heading towards my office. Once inside, I tear through the desk, looking for a jewel case. Sometimes the groups playing the bar give me one of their CD's; I always keep some of my own on hand to exchange. There!
I hustle back into the bar, hoping I haven't missed them. No, MacLeod and Grace are sitting at a table near the entrance, speaking in low urgent tones. Several other customers are at the bar.
Grace's student is still sitting in the booth, staring into space, back to them. That just isn't normal behavior, not around an Immortal you don't know. Especially around one you think might be after your head. I walk over to greet MacLeod and Grace.
"Joe." MacLeod nods to me, his voice and face neutral. Grace turns around with a smile. Always polite, even in a crisis, that's Grace.
"Joe Dawson, Isabelle Pontard." That hurts. McLeod has to know I recognize Grace. Is he telling me to back off, or is Grace the one person among all his Immortal friends that he hasn't told about the Watchers? Maybe Grace is just extra careful about her real name being used in public.
"Joe, it is a pleasure! Duncan has told me so much about you, and your wonderful blues bar. I thought Jean-Pierre would love it here." Guess he hasn't told you anything about me lately, lady.
"I overheard some of what your friend in the booth, Jean Pierre?" Grace nods. "I overheard some of what Jean-Pierre was saying, enough to know he's got a lot to work through." I lay my CD down on the table.
"Please give this to him, for me? It's one of my recordings. I saw him listening to some blues earlier, and it seemed to help him keep it together. And since I heard something of him, I thought … maybe he should hear something of me in return."
MacLeod turns the CD around so he can read the cover, glancing curiously up at me. Geez MacLeod, you assumed I just played in bars?
Grace's eyes flood suddenly with tears. She smiles wistfully. "Jean-Pierre has been a musician all of his life. This is a thoughtful gift, and it may help him tonight, very much. Last time I saw it, Duncan's music collection was all opera."
Good, Grace is okay with this. Now to see if Mac is gonna keep freezing me out.
"All right, well, I know you folks probably need to clear out of here. Mac, feel free to come back tomorrow night. Bring Jean-Pierre, if he's up to it. I'll buy you all a drink, if he has some ID showing he's 21."
MacLeod looks up from his close perusal of the CD. The crease was gone, replaced by a small smile. "I'd like that. Not sure if Jean-Pierre will be ready, but if he is, we'll bring him by."
"Great, see you then."
I turn around and walk to the bar to give Mike a hand with the customers who are steadily filling up the place. "Robbie Laws Hoodoo Nation" will be playing in another hour. Those boys always pull in a good crowd.
Hopefully Maria and her intern will come by tomorrow. I'll have him give Mike a refresher on field hand signals. Nothing like having a rookie show you up to make a lesson stick. And flashing a "Watcher" signal when you meant "Immortal" could get an agent killed in the wrong situation.
Mike's last supervisor let him get awful sloppy on some of the basics, but he picks up the slack when you call him on it. Richie is heading out of town tomorrow night, so I need to get this taken care of before Mike ships out to Watch him.
I notice MacLeod and Grace hustle Jean-Pierre out the door as I settle in behind the bar. Hope Jean-Pierre comes through this okay. Seems like a nice kid. But he's wrong. The problem isn't that Mortals and Immortals are different. The problem is we're very much the same.
Jean-Pierre's confession stirred up too many of my own sins. I'm looking forward to a night of hot blues and cold booze, without any Watcher or Immortal drama. The bar is a lot more work than running a bookstore, but it is worth it. The blues are better than prayer, for letting go of a heavy load.