Three mornings later, the pale winter sunshine found Methos and Duncan once again practicing on the barge. They'd finally finished with the mind-numbing early drills to which Methos had so objected when Duncan had first begun to 'teach' him - much to Methos's relief.
"Like this, Adam," Duncan said, demonstrating, and Methos faithfully copied him, idly wondering if Reggie Blake were out there watching them.
Fifteen seconds later it became abruptly clear that somebody was. The crack of a rifle shot was followed instantly by Duncan's sudden collapse. Methos dropped automatically, his own gun in hand even as a second shot tore through the air where his head had been. There was a coil of rope a few feet away, and a third shot slammed into the deck as he rolled over to get behind it.
For a few seconds there was silence; then there was a clunk, and a man heaved himself up onto the side of the barge. Methos whipped his gun around and fired twice; the man fell back with a cry and Methos jerked around sharply to see a second man stepping onto the deck from the gangplank, gun in hand. They pulled the trigger at the same time, and as the stranger staggered backwards, Methos felt the burning thump of a bullet into his arm. He'd learned long years ago to ignore pain as an out-of-date warning system that no longer applied, and he pushed himself to his feet with his good arm.
Another rifle shot cracked by his head, and he returned fire blindly, ducking back down. A second shot missed him by inches, burying itself in the deck next to his hand. Methos risked a peek over the top of the rope, but he couldn't see the shooter and a third shot warned him to keep his head down. He scanned the barge for additional intruders, but no one appeared.
After a few minutes he risked another look. No shot greeted him, and he stood up cautiously, looking around. With the exception of Duncan's crumpled corpse, lying in the perfect stillness of temporary death, everything seemed normal enough. Methos went around the deck, checking over the sides to be sure that no one was lurking around. There was nobody there, but there was a blood trail, which Methos intended to follow as soon as Duncan revived.
He went back along the railing to where Duncan lay, toeing the motionless body over onto its back, then bending to close the staring eyes. The bullet had gone straight through Duncan's heart and out his back, and Methos spent a few minutes looking to see where it had gone from there. He'd found the hole, and was trying to figure out where, exactly, the shots had came from when he felt Duncan's Presence flicker back to life. Turning, he saw the man sitting up, and felt unexpectedly relieved.
"What happened?" Duncan asked, lifting a hand to his chest.
"We were attacked," Methos answered, tucking his gun away. He let his voice shake a little, let reaction set in rather than shoving it aside. Adam wasn't the sort to remain ice-cold after something like armed assault. "Somebody shot you - and at me - with a rifle, and two more men tried to come onto the barge." His arm had already healed, but there was no hiding the blood on his sleeve. "One of them winged me, but I got them both." He didn't bother to hide the grim satisfaction he felt at that. "They left a blood trail; I was waiting to follow it until you woke up."
"You're still carrying the gun I got you?" Duncan asked. Methos nodded and looked down at his feet.
"After the whole thing with Quince, I decided it would be best to keep carrying it. He's not the only Immortal out there."
"I'm glad you did. You probably saved both our lives. Are you all right?" Duncan asked, getting to his feet and coming over to inspect Methos's arm.
"Fine." Duncan's hands were warm, and Methos resisted the temptation to lean into him, to reassure that concerned look with a kiss. "Are you all right?" he asked instead, even though he already knew the answer.
"I am now." Duncan let go of him, and Methos bit back the protest he wanted to make.
"We need to follow that blood trail," he said, and Duncan nodded.
"We need to change our clothes, first," he pointed out, then looked down at himself and sighed. "Another shirt ruined," he lamented, then lifted his head. "Come on. I want to find out why they shot me."
Methos followed him back below decks. He'd left some spare work-out clothes here when he'd moved back to his own apartment, and it was the work of a few moments to strip off his bloodstained shirt and replace it with a clean one. Duncan re-emerged from his bedroom at about the same time.
"Do you have another gun?" Methos asked, and frowned when Duncan shook his head.
"I'll trust your shooting," he said, and his smile made Methos's heart beat faster in a way that getting shot at could barely touch. "Let's go."
The blood trail was easy enough to spot and to follow. Methos hung back a little, letting Duncan take the lead. It was easier to cover him that way; besides, Adam Pierson had no experience with this sort of thing.
It turned out that they didn't have far to go. Both assailants had been mortally wounded, though it had taken one of them a little while to realize it. Methos and Duncan found them where they had fallen, one still draped over the other's shoulder.
"We're going to have to do something with the bodies," Methos said. "The police will be able to backtrack and find the barge." He bent over the bodies and frowned. One of them looked familiar, though he couldn't place the man. Neither man had been carrying any form of identification - not until Methos reached for one of their wrists. The tattoo stood out black against the death-pale skin, and a check of the other man revealed the same thing. Methos straightened, a chill of dismay creeping over him.
"Duncan," he said, catching the other man's gaze with his own, "they're Watchers."
Throwing the bodies in the river wasn't a very effective way of keeping them from the police, but it would keep the police from finding the barge. Methos had wiped the gun clean and tossed it into the water as well, just to be on the safe side. He had others, though he didn't tell Duncan as much. The latter had clearly been startled by Adam's competency in such a situation, and Methos didn't want to push his luck.
"Why would Watchers have attacked us?" Duncan asked. He was pacing back and forth in the living room, while Methos watched him from the couch.
"I don't know. Sit down, please; you're making me dizzy."
"Sorry." Duncan didn't sit down, but he did stop pacing. "Can you get in touch with Joe?"
"I doubt he knows what's going on, but I'll call him." Methos got to his feet and froze, while Duncan was startled into movement when the unexpected feel of another Immortal was followed by a knock at the door.
"MacLeod? I say, Duncan, let me in!"
"It's Fitzcairn." Duncan went to the door. "Fitz? What are you doing here?"
"I came to talk to you. Hallo, Pierson."
"Anyway," Fitz continued, coming inside and closing the door behind himself, "I need to have a chat with you, old boy."
"Now's not the time, Fitz. Adam and I were attacked by Watchers not one hour ago."
"Watchers?" Fitz's eyebrows lifted. "We may have a real problem, then." His expression was unusually grave. "You might not have been the first."
Ten minutes later everybody was seated, and Fitz was explaining why he'd come.
"I've had a few friends go missing lately. At first it was just one or two people I usually heard from who hadn't been in touch, but last week I went to visit Conrad Melcher and he'd vanished completely - sold his property and disappeared."
"He's been living in that house for two hundred years," Duncan said, startled. "Are you sure he didn't lose a challenge?"
"Positive. The new owners said his realtor had sold them the property, and the realtor said he'd been following instructions, and that Conrad had decided to move out of the country. And he's not the only one. Holloway's missing too."
"Kevin Holloway? For how long?"
"Three months. He's not as settled as Conrad is, but I've never not been able to find him. And now you say you two were attacked by Watchers? They'd be able to arrange the sale of Conrad's house; a challenger wouldn't know to - and what would be the motive?"
"What would the Watchers' motive be?" Duncan asked.
"I might be able to answer that," Methos said quietly. They both turned to look at him. "There's some anti-Immortal sentiment in the Watchers these days; enough, at any rate, that I'd be afraid to have them find out that I'm Immortal."
"It's that bad?" Duncan asked.
"I don't keep secrets for the fun of it." It was true enough, especially in this case. The desire to know and be known was almost overwhelming at times. It was impossible, though, so he put it away from him. "It's not everybody - it's not even a majority - but there are enough of them to be a faction." And Horton had asked for Duncan's Chronicle only the other day.
Methos kicked himself for his own recent distraction. He'd been so busy with MacLeod, and with playing new Immortal, that he hadn't kept as close an eye on things as he should have done. He'd had no clue that Horton had tipped the line into actively homicidal; had been hoping it wouldn't happen. There was still no definitive proof, but they were unlikely to get that. There was no other explanation that made sense of everything, and Methos had long since stopped believing in coincidences of that nature.
"I need to go talk to Joe," he said, standing up.
"Not alone; not right now," Duncan said firmly. Methos sighed. Duncan had just relaxed after the Quince thing; now he'd be up in arms again.
"I can take care of myself. I did this morning."
"And you got rid of your gun. Call Joe; it's a lot safer."
Methos sighed again.
Author's Notes: Thanks so much to everyone who has read/reviewed so far. Feedback is always a wonderful thing. Special thanks go to my beta-readers, lferion, marauderswolf, and sprl1199. Any remaining mistakes are my own.