The Price of Interference - Chapter 9
Friday is glorious, with bright blue skies and crisp air. I wait outside the bar. When MacLeod pulls up, Grace immediately gets out and hops into the back seat. That leaves me to ride shotgun while Jean-Pierre sits next to her. I slide into the front seat and say hello to everyone. I let the others carry the conversation for a while. They talk about places they've visited on the West Coast, that Jean-Pierre might want to see on the way down to Caracas.
This may be the last time I'll ever see him, and there's something I have to know. "Jean-Pierre, where did you get the idea that you shouldn't interfere in Mortal affairs? It sounds a lot like the Watcher Oath." I turn so I can watch Jean-Pierre while he answers.
Jean-Pierre taps his lips and then throws his hand into an open-palm shrug. "Some of it was the bad example of Carlo, some the teachings of Grace and Darius, and some came from my own beliefs. Free will is the most precious gift given to us by God, Joe. Mortals or Immortals, we create ourselves every day in the choices we make."
Jean-Pierre leans forward towards me. "Carlo set himself up as a god to the Pecino people. He defeated their enemies for them, forced them to work on his plantation, and made himself judge of their conflicts. And within a decade, I watched them dwindle from a proud and vigorous people to shadows. They lost even their language. Carlo liked them to speak Portuguese, said it was more civilized."
MacLeod curses under his breath, and I recall that the English almost wiped out the Scots Gaelic language in his lifetime.
Grace inhales audibly, and Jean-Pierre sits back to look at her. "Jean-Pierre, it took me almost a hundred years to see the damage Carlo was doing to the Pecinos. I was so busy with my research, and I was a doctor. They were living longer, healthier lives. The children were surviving. The men were no longer dying in pointless raids against the other tribes. I knew you were unhappy on the plantation, so I helped you get to Europe. But I didn't really listen to what you were telling me about Carlo and the Pecinos. I should have." Mac's hands are clenched tightly on the steering wheel.
Jean-Pierre picks up Grace's hand and kisses it. "Grace, Carlo could only teach me how to kill. You taught me how to live as an Immortal. You have always helped Mortals in any way that you could, and your compassion is an inspiration to me. Carlo treated them with care when you were near. It's not your fault that you didn't see what he was hiding from you."
Jean-Pierre unbuckles his seatbelt and slides closer to Grace. He puts his arm around her and then faces front towards me. "So – this is something I swore to myself I would not do, Joe. This world belongs to Mortals. Immortals are just allowed to play in it for a time. Mortals shape it, change it, and so they should. We should not be the gods, the sages, the great generals or teachers."
MacLeod interrupts. "Jean-Pierre, I understand why you say Immortals shouldn't act as gods, but why not teachers? Darius was a great man, and he brought a lot of good into this world through his students, both Mortal and Immortal."
The delighted spark in Jean-Pierre's eyes reminds me of Mac looks during a really good spar. "Darius tried to warp the Mortal world to suit him through war, once. He realized that it was wrong, but he never quite lost his taste for it. Darius believed that if Mortals did what he wished, the world would be a better place. Perhaps he was right. But it was never our decision to make."
"I can be very persuasive, Duncan. I've learned from Jesuits and griots, bards and rabbis, truth-singers and law-speakers. If I use these skills to help a family mourn their child, or convince an audience to lay down their cares for a night, there's no harm in it. But to persuade a man to change the path of his life - that is wrong. I've stolen the choice from him, just as if I'd used force of arms. I have stolen his life away, almost as if I murdered him."
Mac humphs. "You and Darius must have had some grand philosophical debates. Darius wanted me to stop fighting for what was right, and you think that I shouldn't even persuade Mortals to do the right thing. But you won't convince me of it!" MacLeod's declaration, pitched to an audience in the back of the car, makes my ears ring.
Jean-Pierre grins. "Duncan, I wouldn't even attempt it. I have enough trouble deciding what's the right thing for myself, without making other people's moral choices for them. You should follow your own heart. Besides, I doubt I'd get very far if I did try to convince you. Sometimes, when Darius was very exasperated, he would mutter under his breath, 'Stubborn as a Highlander.'" Grace bursts out into a suspicious coughing fit. MacLeod smiles fondly and shakes his head.
I find myself wishing I could have met Darius, and gotten to know the man who touched all of their lives. But James made sure that would never happen. "I'm sorry." I didn't mean to say that out loud.
There is a moment of silence. MacLeod breaks it with a quiet, "Joe, it wasn't your fault." Maybe not, but if it ever happens again, it will be.
Jean-Pierre leans forward and puts a hand on my shoulder. "Your presence in our lives is Darius's final gift to us, Joe." He squeezes my shoulder and then leans back and stretches extravagantly. "Grace – how is the food in Caracas?" We chat about Central and South American food until Mac pulls into short-term parking at Sea-Tac airport.
There's no way Jean-Pierre is carrying a sword under that jacket, so if he's got one, it must be in his bags. I hurry to the back of the car, where MacLeod is unloading a set of matched leather luggage. I peer into the trunk – the GI-style rucksack must be Jean-Pierre's.
I turn to Grace. "Before I forget, Grace, I got you a little something for trip back." I pull a tiny and ornate box of Dilettante chocolate truffles out of my coat pocket and hand them to her. "I guessed you were a dark chocolate fan – was I right?"
Grace takes the box and teases, "Joe, are you sure you didn't cheat and look it up?"
Grace and Jean-Pierre both seem to take being Watched much more calmly than Mac does. I don't think I'd be quite so cheerful about it, myself.
"Nah, those files never include any of the really important stuff like people's chocolate preference."
Grace smiles. "Well, your guess was correct. I adore dark chocolate." She neatly opens the plastic wrapper around the box, and takes a voluptuous sniff. "These are lovely, thank you, Joe." She places the chocolates carefully in her purse.
I pull a large Ziploc bag of cookies out of the same pocket. My bulging coat must have made me look like a deformed chipmunk. "Now, Jean-Pierre, Alexa made these for you." I reach into the trunk and zip open one of the rucksack's side pockets to tuck the cookies in, feeling for a sword in the pack. I raise my voice so he can hear me. "They're oatmeal chocolate chunk, and she says to eat them before they get stale."
Nothing on that side, so I open the other side pocket and transfer bars and bags into it from my other coat pocket. "The Power Bars and dried fruit are from me." Ah, there it is. Long, hard, right length for a sword. Well, that's a relief. I make sure everything is zipped up tight, and then pull the rucksack out of the trunk. Jean-Pierre takes it from my hands and swings it onto his back. "Eat something whenever you feel hungry. Got it?" I pin him with my eyes, to show I mean it.
Jean-Pierre intones, "Yes, Mother."
"… hen?" MacLeod suggests helpfully, from the other side of the car. I flip him off, and Mac chuckles as he closes the trunk and locks up.
We head towards the terminal. I'm walking next to Jean-Pierre, behind Grace and Mac, when a child screams on the other side of the lot. Jean-Pierre's steps falter for a moment. When I look over at him, his face is serene, but I can see the pulse pounding in his throat.
"Jean-Pierre," I ask quietly, "are you all right?"
He responds softly, "Is it obvious that I'm not?"
"Only to me."
He smiles a little. "Good. I wouldn't want Grace to worry. We heal wounds of the body immediately, Joe. Wounds of the spirit take a bit longer. It's much better than it was. I just need some time."
We reach the terminal and Grace checks-in. We say our goodbyes on the concourse, typical for Immortals who don't want their swords setting off a metal detector. Grace hugs all three of us. When she hugs me, she whispers, "Joseph, thank you for being such a good friend to them both. You will always be welcome in my home."
As she hurries towards her gate, I catch sight of Maria and Gerard in the crowd. I bet that as soon as Maria clears Customs in Caracas, I'll be getting a phone call chewing my ass over being seen in public with yet another Immortal.
Jean-Pierre shakes Duncan's hand with a smile. It's nice to see them parting on good terms. He approaches and hugs me nervously, like he's not sure it's allowed. I balance myself, put my arms around him and pull him towards me, hand on the nape of his neck. Jean-Pierre relaxes against me with a sigh. We stand there for a minute.
Jean-Pierre finally pulls away a bit to look up at my face. He speaks with quick intensity. "Joe, I have to warn you. I think James Horton might return again."
I snort. "Jean-Pierre, he's really dead this time. Believe me, I checked." I didn't call for the Watchers to pick up his body until it was cold, just in case.
He shakes his head, frustrated. "Joe, that doesn't matter. I know James Horton, through your story. He wasn't done with Duncan MacLeod. He wasn't done with you. It's as if you are still battling him, even now. James had a terrifying strong will. If there is any way back, he will take it."
I realize that this isn't Jean-Pierre acting crazy. This is just Jean-Pierre being himself. He was born into a world where people could rise from the dead, and he still lives in that world. In his own bizarre way, he's trying to look after me. "Don't worry about it, Jean-Pierre. MacLeod and I will watch each other's backs."
Jean-Pierre's eyes search mine. "All right. Thank you, Joe, for everything." With one hand resting on my shoulder, Jean-Pierre stands on tiptoe to kiss my forehead.
He steps back, out of my arms. Jean-Pierre raises his voice enough for Mac and any nearby Watchers to hear. "And if you ever change your mind about letting me crawl under the covers with you, send word. I'll be up here in a flash!"
With a saucy little smile, Jean-Pierre shrugs into his rucksack and saunters out the front doors of the concourse. Things seem a little quiet with him gone, but I know that won't last for long. MacLeod steps up next to me.
"Think we'll ever see him again, Mac?"
"Of course. Any Immortal that irritating is bound to show up on my door-step regularly." MacLeod is grinning. Yeah, he had fun with Jean-Pierre around, too. "Come on, Joe."
He immediately starts clearing a path through the crowd for me. Duncan MacLeod, Grace Chandel, and Jean-Pierre Bastien are good people. Extraordinary people. And James wanted them dead. I know James Horton isn't coming back, but his Hunters might. And I'll be here to stop them.
A sequel, The Dawson Journals:The Secret War, is stewing in my brain and should be posted by December of 2006.