The rain was relentless, pelting the landscape as if it were an enemy, and the wellingtons Duncan had given him were failing spectacularly to keep his socks dry. He pulled the hood of the anorak closer around his head, but his hair was already dripping wet and the rainwater was running down the back of his neck. He was soaked to the bone and his feet felt like they were turning into prunes.
Richie pouted miserably. It was official; he hated fishing.
"Ya know, when I said that I wanted to know more about your younger days, this isn't exactly what I had in mind, Mac," he complained.
"Sometimes, words can't describe it," Duncan pronounced. "You have to experience it firsthand."
"Well, personally I don't see why we couldn't have skipped this part and gone straight to the carousing and women. An up close and personal demonstration of how you used to catch your own breakfast before dawn isn't exactly the stuff of legends."
"Wuss," said Methos, from his nice dry spot under his tent canopy – and how had he managed to do that, anyway? His own tent had collapsed under the weight of the rain hours ago.
"Dude, those bat ears of yours actually work?" he shot back. "I thought they were just cosmetic."
"MacLeod, I do believe that puppy of yours is making fun of my physiognomy," Methos said, amused. "Have you been giving him lessons?"
Duncan snorted, and Richie grinned. "You should be so lucky," he said. "Mac suggested I start with the nose but I said that would be too easy - woah!" His fishing line tugged strongly and, for a moment, Richie's feet dragged along the bottom of the lake, before he dug in his heels.
"Richie?" Duncan asked, a touch of worry in his voice. His eyes peered through the rain and along the opaque surface of the lake
"Mac, don't just stand there. Get a net or something!" Richie crowed.
"And breakfast has arrived," Methos sighed. "About time. Where's that skillet?"
"Methos, I think you might need something larger than a skillet to fry up this catch," Duncan said, the tension in his voice deepening. "Damn it, I'd thought that thing had died off years ago..."
"What thing?" Richie asked, a touch elated. "Is this some kind of Scottish Moby Dick? Coz this thing is strong."
"Richie, I don't want to panic you, but I need you to let go of the fishing rod and back out of the water - slowly."
Something in Mac's tone caught Richie's attention and he looked at his mentor dubiously. "You sure about this?" he asked. "Coz it took us an hour to catch this one and—"
"Yes, and now I know why," Duncan said grimly. "It's because the local water life are quicker on the uptake than I am - Richie, drop it."
Another, stronger, tug pulled Richie forward, and he let go just before he was dragged headlong onto the water. "Dude, what was that thing? Last time I felt something pull on a line that strong, I was on water skis!"
"Just back out of the water, Richie, do it now—"
It sounded like a bull horn, but the shiver that crawled up Richie's spine told him it was something else. "What the hell is that soun—"
"Triteia's titties, it's old Nessie," Methos exploded, from the bank.
Richie froze for a moment, as a huge behemothic head rose from the water. Duncan slammed into him and half pulled, have pushed him out of the water.
"No time to gawk!" he said. "I've seen that bloody thing raze a village once. Move it!"
"Mac, the track is too muddy to risk an engine on it." Methos said, running up to them with a pack on his back.
"Right, we're on foot!" Duncan declared, a wall of water rose from the lake's edge and drenched them as the earth began to shudder.
"On foot?" Richie asked, eyeing the creature as it raised its shoulders and belly from the water. "We'll never outrun that damned thing!"
"Who said anything about running?" Methos said. "This is definitely a hiding scenario."
"The local village needs to be warned!" Duncan declared.
"That's what mobile phones are for," Methos said. "You can use it once we find a ditch to crawl into."
"Guys, can we have this discussion later?" Richie asked hastily as the ground groaned and thudded underneath them. Methos and Duncan looked at each other and then pelted, full tilt, up the riverbank.
"Hey, wait for me," Richie called out after them.
The earth shook as they scrambled up the rocks, and hightailed it through the furze. There wasn't much cover to be found - unless they suddenly started picking the heather to use for camouflage.
Methos looked over his shoulder as the ground continued to shudder. "It's actually chasing us!" he said. He began to giggle as they raced through a bank of heather, and Duncan and Richie looked at him in disbelief. "Oh, come on," Methos said. "You have to admit it's a bit funny. Only we could go fishing and end up with the Loch Ness monster chomping on our hook! What was that that Joe said about you being a lightening rod for trouble?"
"Aye, well, you're not exactly wearing rubber soles yourself…remember, I've met a few of your old friends." Mac said, but he had begun to grin too, and soon they were both laughing.
"Dudes, this is not funny," we're about to be eaten by the Lock Ness Monster!" Richie felt the edges of his mouth turn up, despite himself. "Oh man," he said. "Do you know how hard it's to laugh and run at the same time?"
"See that!" Duncan said suddenly. "In the distance - lights!"
Gunfire echoed over the landscape, and the three of them stumbled in their stride.
"I say we peel off and head east, over this hill." Methos said. "Hopefully, old Nessie will prefer to check out the stupid humans making the big banging noises - c'mon!"
"Methos," Mac said warily. "I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Mac, it's been my experience, during my long and eventful lifetime, that running away from the gunfire is always the better option."
"It's probably the army or something, here to take on Nessie!" Richie agreed, as he veered off after Methos. Duncan muttered something under his breath, but followed suit.
"A bit quick on the ball, aren't they?" he pointed out, as he caught up with them
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Richie said.
"I said that like it was an unlikely thing!" Duncan snorted. "No armed force moves that quickly."
"We'll worry about that when we out of the line of fire," Methos said, as they reached the top of the hill. A freisan cow lifted her head and stared at them balefully.
"Huh, that's weird," Mac said, as they started down the other side of the hill.
"What's weird?" Richie asked, a bit winded. Cross country running was not really his thing. Give him a good dirt bike any day.
"That cow, it shouldn't be here. It's not the right kind of terrain. Sheep, yes, goats, maybe, but cattle? Strange."
"Let me get this straight. We're being chased by the Lock Ness Monster, and you think that the only weird thing about this morning is that there is a cow in a field?" Richie asked, incredulous.
"What?" Duncan said, a touch defensively, stopping as they reached a hedge
"Don't stop, keep moving!" said the hedge. It had an American accent. Richie looked at it dubiously, not knowing whether he should be relieved when a head peeked over it for a moment.
"Moo!" said the cow; it cantered towards them.
"Dammit!" said the guy hiding on the other side of the hedge. "It's spotted us – act natural!" Richie saw Methos and Duncan exchange a look from the corner of his eye.
"Act natural?" Duncan drawled. The Hedge sighed, and then there was a low flurry of whispers. "Two?" Duncan mouthed at Methos.
"Three," Methos mouthed back as he reached into his coat and pulled out a glock. Duncan pulled a face, but unsheathed his sword. Richie mentally kicked himself as he realised his sword was still back in the jeep. His only worry, earlier that morning, had been getting his blade wet in the lake. The whispers suddenly stopped, and a feminine voice suddenly piped up.
"Listen, from the way you just ran over the top of that hill, I'm guessing that you've already had a pretty strange day, but you've got to trust us. When we say duck, drop to the ground –"
"Mooo, Mooo, HAH! Die, puny humans!"
On instinct, Richie fell to the ground, rolling as the air suddenly filled with the smell of burning ozone. He stared in disbelief as the creature, that had a moment before been a cow, hovered over him, a huge futuristic gun in its strange, stubby hands. The creature looked like a very mean conehead with a bad fake tan; weird knobbly things outlined his head.
"I shall vaporise your flesh, stupid human! How dare you stick a hook in our Skarasen. You've messed up its global positioning; who knows where it'll end up now! Prepare to die! The creatures eyes narrowed as it pushed it's gun into Richie's chest, and Richie had a moment to wonder if he'd meant the vaporising him literally, when the creature staggered, a sword blade appearing in the middle of it's chest.
"Damned pesky Mammalian Earthlings," the creature gasped, as it sank to the ground. "More trouble than…you're worth…"
Duncan looked down at him worriedly as he wiped the strange ichor off his blade. "You alright, Richie?" he asked.
Three figures suddenly leaped over the hedge, looking suspiciously well dressed for a stroll in the Scottish Highlands. One of them was dressed like a refugee from World War Two. All of them were armed.
"Freeze…Torchwood?" he said, his American accent at odds with his British uniform.
Methos rolled his eyes and stashed his gun quickly, as he knelt down beside Richie, and made a show of checking his vitals. "Nothing broken," he said, a shade too cheerfully. "My, my, that was very strange. Maybe we shouldn't have eaten those mushrooms for breakfast… mass hallucination, eh? Ah well, we live and learn. Mac, could you help me stand him on his feet. We should be getting on our way. We'll have to finish practising for the re-enactment another day."
Duncan frowned down at them, and Methos looked at him, all round eyed and innocent. Something told Richie that the old man knew something they didn't; he decided to go with the flow and groaned dramatically.
"I don't feel so hot, Mac. I think I'm gonna puke."
"Oh please," said the guy on the left. The one in the snappy suit. "Pull the other one, it's got bells on."
"Excuse me?" Methos said. "I don't understand…?"
"I think he's referring to the whole oh deary me act," the leader drawled, giving Methos a funny look. "Captain Jack Harkness…and you are?"
"Ben Addams," Methos said promptly.
"And I supposed you have ID to back that up?"
Methos smiled widely. "But of course I have, what a strange question – and you?"
"Excuse me?" Harkness said, taken aback.
"Do you have ID as well?"
"We're Torchwood, that's all you need to know," the woman said firmly.
Duncan and Methos exchanged a look. "That's nice," Duncan said. "But what the hell is that?"
"We're Torchwood," the guy on the left snapped. "A secret organisa—" His paused. "Bugger, never mind."
Harkness sighed. "Ianto, call UNIT.Tell them where to pick these guys up."
"It's on the move again!" the woman said.
"Right!" the American said. "Ianto, you take the left, Gwen, take the right. Stay in contact at all times – and you guys, stay put. There will be someone along to pick you up in a few moments."
Richie watched as they ran up the hill, guns in hands.
"And that is our cue to get the hell out of here," Methos declared. "Quick, before the UNIT team arrives!"
Duncan looked at him askance. "Methos, what is going on here? What aren't you telling us?"
"What were you doing during World War Two, Mac?" Methos asked lightly. "Because I was…uh…very differently employed – and we really need to get out of here before Jack puts a name to the face."
"Methos, Jack Harkness doesn't look old enough to be born during World War Two, never mind serve during it."
"Trust me, Mac, Jack may not be one of us, but he looks real good for his age," Methos said. "And I'd be very curious about that, if it weren't for the fact we already have a bigger problem on our hands - UNIT is used to dealing with the weird and wonderful, MacLeod. They'll ask questions, pointed questions, and playing dead mightn't get us out of it—"
"You! Over there!"
"Speaking of a heavily armed task force," Methos muttered. "Time to run!"
Richie watched as Methos and Mac dashed down the hill. A thoughtt occurred to him as he looked down at the creature on the grass beside him, and he ran after them. "Hey, guys," he panted, as he ran to catch up with them. "You know all those stories about the alien landings and the disappearing cattle…you reckon there's something to it?"
"Richie," Methos said, exasperated. "If you don't hurry up, it'll be us who'll end up disappearing!"
And, with those stirring words, our intrepid trio ran off into the horizon...hopefully, they'll live to fish another day.