"Bring Out Your Dead".

Paula Stiles thesnowleopard@hotmail.com

Summary: While searching for MacLeod in Scotland, Joe and Methos discover just what happens when an Immortal takes a head on holy ground.

Characters: Joe, Methos, Kenny.

Rating: PG-13.

Disclaimer: Davis/Panzer Productions, Rysher Entertainment, and Gaumont Television own the Highlander universe. God, and the copyright laws, forbid that I should make any money off of this. "Loch Lomond" is a traditional Scots song.

Archive: Ask, and ye shall probably receive permission.

Note: This is story number four in the "Armed Intervention" series, and occurs in late November 2002, about three weeks after "It's So Beautiful Over There". This tale, and the rest of this Joe and Methos series (along with my other stories), can be found at: http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/3071/arch.html

Many thanks to Judith Hill for betareading this for me.


Oh, ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road, An' I'll be in Scotland before ye'.

"Augh! AUGH! *That's* what you think Quickenings are?"

"Well, yeah. Aren't they?" I had just accomplished something I'd always thought impossible. I'd offended you. Culturally.

"No!" You kept glancing at me and taking your hands off the wheel. Since it was raining at the time, and the windshield wipers were barely keeping the windshield clear, I found this pretty damned alarming.

"Hey, could you keep your hands on the wheel?" I asked, my voice going a little higher than usual. I really hate your driving, Methos. Sometimes, you act like you're going for your first test. The rest of the time, you drive like you're having flashbacks to chariot racing in Ancient Rome. Considering the shape you were in just a few weeks ago, that second option's not out of the question.

"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Joe! Will you stop backseat driving?" you snapped, as we roared past a kirkyard. "You always do that. Look, just tell me where you got this idiotic idea that our Quickenings are our souls?"

"Well, it's been the prevailing theory among the Watchers for centuries. And whenever I was talking with Mac about it, it always seemed that way." That explanation sounded lame, come to think of it.

"MacLeod." Your ability to pack so much disgust into a single word indicated real vocal talent. "I should have known."

"What the Hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Let me guess." You took one hand off the wheel and punctuated your points by banging on it. The windshield began to seriously fog up. "He tells you that he gets a few memories from a Quickening, right? Says that each Quickening is individual to the Immortal? Says that the personality lingers after he takes a Quickening--the way it did when he took that Dark Quickening, for example?"

"Ye-es," I said. "That's all true, isn't it?"

"So what? So we get a few memories. They fade. So we get a few new food cravings, maybe a thing for a kinky new sex position. They fade, too. We don't get any new skills. We don't start hearing any new voices." New voices? What new voices? You hear voices? Since when? "The things we do get, they aren't pieces of a soul. You can't divide a soul, and you cannot absorb it. Trust me on this. I may well have more Quickenings inside me than any other Immortal alive." Hmm. Not something you usually admitted. I filed away that little confession for future use. "I certainly have more than Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! Compared to him, I'm a bloody expert. And I know that there is only one soul in here." You tapped your chest with your fist. "Mine."

"So, what *is* a Quickening, if it's not a soul?" I demanded, trying to distract myself from the fact that I couldn't see the road at all through the rain, even with headlights. "Come on, Methos. It's something important."

"Of course it is. It is as important as the heart or the liver. But it is no more our souls than the heart is the seat of all emotions. Just because people used to think that the brain was some useless organ that filled up your head, and had to be extracted with a prong after you died, doesn't mean that they were right. A Quickening is neural energy, nothing more. Just a higher voltage version of what makes those little sine waves on an EEG machine. My soul goes wherever yours goes, when I die."

I regarded you thoughtfully. Out of the mouths of babes and stiff- necked old bastards.... "That's an interesting way to put it. I didn't think you'd want my company for eternity."

"I could do worse." You grinned. "I could get stuck with MacLeod forever. What a horrorshow *that* would be. Maybe I'll be better off in Hell, after all. Not that I believe in that sort of thing."

"Yeah, but you'll be around long after I'm dead, you old goat."

"Baaah," you deadpanned. "Seriously, though. Hasn't it ever occurred to you how much I'm pushing the odds these days? I'm old even by Immortal standards. I'm a hundred times as old as you, for that matter. My luck has to run out sometime."

As if on cue, the truck hit something wet and huge. Water splashed up over the windshield in a big fan. We were both thrown forward against our seatbelts as the truck jerked, then rolled to a halt. The engine sputtered and died, along with the radio and the lights.

"Shit," you muttered in disgust. When you turned the key, not much happened.

"What..." I realised what it had felt like. "Don't tell me you ran us into a pothole."

"More like a bit of road that's been washed out, I think," you insisted. You would say that. God forbid that you admit you're a lousy driver. "We'd better call somebody. I think the engine's flooded."

Shooting you a disgusted glance (which you conveniently didn't notice because you were leaning forward and tapping the gas gauge), I pulled out my cellphone and turned it on. Didn't even get a dial tone.

"No dice," I said. "I can't get a signal. You got your phone with you?"

Absent-mindedly, you fished your phone out of your coat pocket and handed it over. You turned the key again, which only clicked. I tried the phone. I had no more luck with yours than with mine. Well, shit. So much for calling Azar Davani later to see if she'd gotten back from her conference yet. I'd talked to her only two days before, but I'd been hoping to see her when we got back. Thank God I'd written her number down and stuck it in my wallet instead of trusting to my cellphone's memory.

"I can't believe you got us stranded out in the middle of nowhere, again," I bitched. "What is it with you and cars?"

"I did *not* get us 'stranded'," you snapped back. "Besides, the coast of Fife is not 'the middle of nowhere'--at least, not anymore--and I am not a weather forecaster. I couldn't predict this kind of weather. It blew up out of nowhere, right off the sea. You saw that."

"And you found this surprising for late November in this country?"

"Well, nobody asked me if I wanted to come up here. Now, did they?" A poisonous silence settled over the truck. René, your new shrink, was gonna be really pissed off when he heard I'd skipped off to Scotland with his number one patient, though bossman Gabrieli hadn't seemed too upset. That set off alarm bells for me. I'd come right out and told him I was going looking for Mac up in Glenfinnan (Guilty conscience? What guilty conscience? I wasn't the one who walked out the door), and I'm not Mac's Watcher anymore. On the other hand, if all Gabrieli wanted me to do was Watch you, without demanding any reports from me, where was the harm? And all your bitching aside, you could have said no when I asked you to come with me.

Truth was, I'd been dying to get out of Paris after babysitting you for two months. I really needed my own space for at least a few days, but I couldn't leave you alone. You had Stephen Keane wrapped around your little finger. If I'd left you behind, René might have had you committed. I could almost hear him cursing me in French from up here. I didn't think it was doing you any harm, taking a little break from all that therapy, but I guess I could have been wrong. You'd been hanging by a thread just a few weeks ago. You didn't even know where you were half the time at Halloween. You seemed a lot better since then (Keane and I had been watching over you 24/7) but then, you're real good at faking normality.

"Didn't I see a church back there?" I said finally. "They should have a phone. We'd better go and see if we can call somebody."

"It will probably be locked up."

"Yeah, but we could at least check." For Christ's sake, couldn't you do one thing that I asked you to do without pissing and moaning about it, first?

Rain slapped the driver's-side window, making the truck rock. You glared at me. "Fine. I'll go see if I can find it." Grumbling, you unlocked the door.

"I'll come with you," I offered, feeling a little guilty. That wind was blowing pretty hard.

"No, you will not come with me." You looked downright pissed off. "You would slip and fall right on your ass as soon as you got out there, which would do neither of us any good at all. I'll be right back." Reaching into the back seat to grab your sword (I was still getting over how you and I had smuggled both the Bastard and my gun through Chunnel Customs without anybody twigging to it), you yanked at the door handle until it opened. Thank God you're an old-fashioned boy who hates electronic door locks. You got out, slamming the door so hard my teeth rattled. Insensitive asshole. Thanks a lot, buddy, even if you were right.

Boy, do I hate waiting. I'm not the wallflower type, never have been, which just made losing my legs even worse. It was real creepy, hanging out in that truck alone. Halloween might have come and gone, but there was something about this storm--Hell, this trip--that I didn't like, and the whole thing had been my idea in the first place. I opened the glove compartment where I'd stuck my gun and got it out. I put it in my coat, with some ammunition. I didn't feel much better, but a little better was more than not at all.

You scared the shit out of me when you popped up on my side. "Will you stop that?" I yelled, then figured out you couldn't hear me when you banged on the glass and made circular motions for me to roll down the window. I did, even though it looked like a real bad idea. It was; rain blasted in as the wind switched direction. I jerked my head back.

"What?" I yelled into the rain, which stank of salt spray. We must have been right near the cliff.

"The church is back down the road, only a few hundred yards or so," you shouted, pulling your jacket tight around your body. We must not have been going as fast as I'd thought, if we were that close. "I think you could make it well enough. Looks as though it's open."

"You're saying it's worth getting soaking wet?" You already looked like a drowned rat, and unlike you, I can die from pneumonia. You shrugged, shivering. Real helpful. "Yeah, okay. Fine. Gimme a minute." I zipped up my own jacket, grabbed my cane and eased open the door. I got wet, right off the bat, which didn't thrill me. You grabbed my arm as I slipped and fell against the door, keeping me propped up. There are times when I'm kinda glad I don't have toes anymore. That river I stepped into looked mighty cold. I could hear surf over your shoulder--we were real close to the ocean. Hopefully, there wouldn't be any coastal erosion. That could get nasty.

We slipped and slid up a hill ( the church couldn't possibly be down, or even level, from us, oh, no) until something loomed up in front of us. For a second, I wasn't sure what it was. It didn't really look like a church at all. I cupped my hand over my eyes to cut out the rain.

"Is that it?" I yelled, as it wavered in front of us through the sheets of rain. I was already getting soaked. Thank God I'd brought my winter wool coat.

"I think so!" you yelled back. We clung to each other, though you held me up, mostly, as we stumbled towards the gate and got through it. *Oh, please be open,* I thought, looking out for the path through the gravestones. I didn't need to trip on a paving stone and fall face down in a puddle.

The church looked as old as the hills from the outside, something classically Romanesque instead of the soaring butresses of Gothic Notre Dame. But Hell, what doesn't look old in this godforsaken country, after having been bashed by rain and wind for a century or more? Everything's built of rock here, if not brick. Don't they ever get any sun here? No ramps up to the door, just big, worn, stone steps. Not that a ramp would be any better on a night like this, I thought, as you helped me up the steps. I couldn't believe where the daylight had gone. It couldn't be much after six and it was already past sunset. We were way up north.

To my complete amazement, the door was unlocked. People never leave churches unlocked these days. It's begging for trouble. Inside, the church was dimly lit by candles and nothing else. Maybe the power had gone out-- very medieval. As the door clunked shut behind us, I took a look around. The wooden benches lined up over the grave slabs on the floor looked hard and uncomfortable. Come to think of it, maybe those weren't grave slabs, since all of the paving stones were blank. The windows in the white-washed walls were high and narrow. The pillar-lined aisle narrowed as it approached the altar--some kind of optical illusion. For a house of God, this didn't feel either comforting or inspiring. The place was cold and damp as Hell and it looked smaller than it did on the outside--another feature of the square, flattened Romanesque design, as I recalled. I felt as though I hadn't even gotten out of the rain. You stepped past me, staring at the altar.

"I don't know about this," you muttered, your breath coming out in a cloud.

"What?" I snapped, pushing aside my own misgivings. "It's a roof. It's shelter. What's not to like?"

"It feels wrong." You turned slowly, reaching into your coat as if to pull out your sword. I glared at you until you let your hand drop. "Don't you feel it?" You rubbed your stomach and swallowed. You looked seasick.

"What?" All I wanted to do was go find some people and use their phone. "What's wrong with it? We're inside; we're on holy ground. It's dry. Nobody's gonna hurt us here."

"You don't feel it at all, do you?" you said uneasily. "It's like being on a ship in the middle of a storm; you can't get your footing. It doesn't feel like holy ground at all. It feels wrong. Deconsecrated."

"I thought you couldn't sense holy ground?" Actually, I didn't know if Immortals could or not, but getting into the subject through the back door seemed the best way to proceed. I might get some real information out of you for once, if only because you looked distracted by a sudden urge to puke.

"I can't," you admitted. "Not any more than a Mortal. But whatever this place is, it doesn't feel holy. It feels unholy."

I rolled my eyes. I should have known you were yanking my chain. "Screw this. I'm gonna go look for a phone before I freeze to death." I stumped past you towards the altar and the back rooms where the priest or minister, or at least a janitor, would most likely be. You trailed behind me. As we went, I noticed that the church acoustics were funky--spots where I could barely hear you behind me, and other spots where you sounded like a herd of elephants, and the storm outside boomed like Armageddon. I'd been in some places with that kind of weird sound, but never a church. I'd be a very happy camper once we got out of here.

"These designs are strange," you said, still pushing the depressive mode, as you examined a pillar.

"What are you talking about?" I snapped, glancing at the pillars. The horse and man figures that covered them did seem a little primitive for a medieval church. And why would a church have snakes in its decor? Maybe the builders had looted a nearby ancient circle of standing stones for building materials. Enough churches, including Notre Dame, had been built out of their defunct predecessors. No reason to think that it would be any different up here.

"They're Pictish--very early. Pagan, from the looks of things," you said, echoing my thought about the pillar designs. "That doesn't make sense. This church doesn't look any older than 12th century, so why use Pictish stones to build it? They certainly wouldn't have carved those signs in that late. The Picts had disappeared by the end of the 10th century and the Scots never learned how to carve like this." You reached out to touch the pillar, but drew your hand back with a yelp.

"What?" I said, irritation losing to worry all too fast.

"It shocked me!" you said, sounding astonished.

"It shocked you?" I said, incredulous. "Methos, it's a rock!"

"I know what I felt," you griped. You rubbed your fingers, scowling.

Exasperated, I stepped forward and slapped a palm onto the stone. The pillar felt bone-sucking cold, but that was about it. "No shock. See? Happy now?"

"There wouldn't be, now," you insisted sullenly. God, you can be such a baby. "I've already grounded what charge was there."

"Fine. Okay." The creepiness you claimed to feel was sinking into my bones, too. The shadows in the corners seemed a little darker than I'd first thought. "Look, let's just find whoever's taking care of the shop, use their phone and get the Hell out of here. I'm thinking fish and chips, a pint and a nice, warm bed in a four-star hotel right about now." I pressed forward, so in a hurry to get to the door next to the altar that I almost didn't hear your gasp of shock.

"What now?" I turned around and gasped, too. Lying behind the altar was a body. It wasn't just any body, either, killed in any random way. It was dressed in a long jacket, with a sword lying to next to it. The bearded head rested a few feet away, face slack and eyes glazed. Needless to say, with my background, only one scenario leapt to my mind. I'm sure you were thinking the same thing. What was creepiest, though, was that besides the body, everything else in the church looked totally normal--and that just wasn't right.

"Where's the Quickening?" I said nervously. "There should have been a Quickening, right? Or is that really why you guys don't take heads on holy ground? Do you lose the Quickening if you do that?"

"I don't know why we don't take heads on holy ground, Joe. I only know that it is a very bad idea, and that it has been since I can remember." You edged closer to the body, poking it with your foot. It didn't move, much to my relief. "I don't remember, though, if that is from personal experience. Maybe I'm not supposed to remember."

"Maybe he's not--wasn't--an Immortal."

You scowled at me, looking as skeptical as I felt. "Right. Carrying a sword and wearing the kind of clothing you hide it in? I don't think so." A strange, cold look came over your face. "Maybe his killer was Mortal."

"Could be," I conceded, even though the idea chilled me. More Hunters like Horton? I decided to risk fishing a little in taboo waters. "Mac said there was no Quickening when Darius was killed. Could be that was because Horton and his merry Hunters did it, or could be it was because they killed him on holy ground."

You nodded, not seeming to take offense. "It's rare. I've never seen it, of course, but I've heard that if none of our kind is near when we die, there is no Quickening. But it's a bit like asking about the tree falling in a forest." You looked up at the windows and shivered. "And yet...I can sense it, almost. I think it's still here, but it's waiting." Your eyes narrowed.

"What?" I had a bad feeling you were going off the deep end again. Your timing really sucked, Old Man.

You gave me an impatient glance, as if you knew what I was thinking. "The Quickening, of course. It's waiting."

"Waiting? Waiting for what?" You made it sound as if it was alive, only half an hour after you'd claimed that it was only high-voltage neural energy.

"Payback." You looked as solemn as a shoplifter protesting her innocence.

I laughed. "Oh, come on. Pull the other one." Now, you were really creeping me out.

"Dammit, Joe--" You stopped, mouth half-open. Your eyes widened. A nasty parody, twisted by fear, of your usual 'There's an Immortal in the room' look crossed your face. "We need to get out of here."

"What? Why?" You didn't answer. Instead, you turned away from the body, grabbed my arm and started dragging me back to down the centre aisle to the door. "OW! Christ, Methos, that hurts!" I stumbled after you, because I didn't have any other option, but I didn't like it.

"We have to leave right now!" you said as we got to the door. You grabbed the handle, but as you did, it.... Well, it melted. You yanked your hand back with a hiss of pain and backed away, pushing me back, too. As we watched, the door smoothed out into a wall. You swore. I didn't blame you. I felt like swearing. Hell, if I'd still had the legs and a direction to go in, I'd have run, too. To your credit, you didn't make any move to do that, even when the voice came from the altar behind us.

"You can't get out that way," it said. It was a kid's voice, but distorted. We both jumped and turned around, me more slowly than you. I couldn't see anybody. You got in front of me again. I'm ashamed to say that surprised me. It shouldn't have--you'd jumped in front of a bullet for me, once--but it did. I promised myself, if we ever got out of that friggin' church, not to underestimate you like that again.

"Why not?" I asked the invisible person, since you didn't seem inclined to answer. Instead, you stood there with your head cocked to one side, as if waiting for something.

"Because I said so, Joe." Whoever it was knew my name. I didn't like that one bit. The petulant voice sounded familiar for some weird reason, and it seemed to be coming from behind the altar, right next to the body we'd found.

"Why don't you come out from behind there and we can talk about it," I coaxed, stepping up beside you. Your eyes were fixed on that space. You knew something about that voice, too. When a small figure jumped up onto the altar, your eyes widened and you raised your head.

"Kenny," you said through your teeth. Kenny! Of course! Man, it had been a long time if I'd forgotten him, but not long enough.

"You know Kenny?" I whispered to you.

"Not for much longer," you growled, going for the Bastard. Damn! And you sounded real pissed at him, too. I was sure gonna get that story out of you after we got out of this.

"Wait a minute," I said, trying to stop you. "Let's think about this."

"You don't want to do that," Kenny told you. Something in his voice stopped you. You froze, hand still in your coat, head cocked to one side, eyes colder than the storm outside.

I peered at Kenny in the gloom. There was something wrong with his face. I took a few steps closer, then sucked in my breath as he turned his head.

"Jesus Christ! What happened to you?" I blurted out before I could stop myself. His clothes were covered in what looked like black ash. Half of his face seemed to have melted off his skull. His hair was scorched and his body was twisted, as if he was hunchbacked, though he never had been before.

"I had to pay," he hissed. He grinned at us, and it made me sick. The voice was still a kid's, but the body.... He looked like some murderous little troll, come out from under his bridge to snatch some unwary passersby for dinner. And it looked as if we were the passersby.

"Pay for what?" you asked from behind me, sounding reluctant. I think you wanted to kill him and get out of here, but had figured out (not being stupid) that you needed more information to get what you wanted. Well, Hallelujah and thank Christ we were both on the same page.

"Power," Kenny said, and giggled. He sounded like a little kid excited about getting a new computer game. "More power than you can imagine. You look mad, Methos." Well, he had a point, there. Guess the recognition was mutual.

"I haven't forgotten what you tried to do to me in France, if that's what you mean, you little shit," you snarled back. Whoo. You were really, really pissed. That was your Hunting Wabbits voice, and I'd only heard that once or twice before. Sounded as if the bad blood between you two was pretty old. You weren't gonna back down.

"I was only trying to survive," Kenny whined. No, he never could quite leave that ten-year-old personality behind. Hard to believe this was the little shit that tried to run over Mac's girlfriend. I had to keep in mind that Kenny's survival often meant somebody else's death.

"The Hell you were. You were hunting me." You moved up beside me. "Give me one good reason not to take your head right now."

"You mean, besides your being on holy ground and you can't get out?" Kenny giggled again. It sent a chill down my spine. He had a good point, there.

You faltered, but rallied fast. "I can improvise," you assured him. You stepped forward, pulling out the Bastard. "Come down from there like a good boy and I'll consider making it quick, instead of hacking off your limbs, one by one, first."

"I think you should meet my friends, first." Kenny waved his hands and began to chant, "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti...." The Filioque of the Nicene Creed? Why say that? I could have sworn he was conjuring something.

He was. "Friends," I whispered to you. "What is he talking about?" Before you had time to answer, something scampered out from under one of the benches. As it came closer, I noticed that its eyes gleamed brighter than they should have in the candlelight. It was a rat. It started towards me. Another rat came out from another corner. And another. I cursed and yanked my gun out of my coat.

"That's a rat," I squeaked. Did I ever mention that I don't like rats? It's a lot worse than that. I fear them like poison. I've had nightmares where hordes of them poured over my bed, with me unable to move or run away. I had to walk out of Deer Hunter halfway through, just because of that one scene with the poor bastard stuck in the rat cage in the river. I really did not want to face the little bastards here.

You backed up against my back. "We have to keep together," you said. "Don't get separated from me."

"I can live with that," I assured you. I took aim at the first rat, wondering if I should waste the bullet or wait until I really needed it. It stopped, as if it recognised the gun, and hissed at me.

"What's the matter, Joe?" Kenny laughed at me, half-forgotten, from the altar. "Don't you like my friends? Maybe we should talk about *that*."

"It's all right," you said calmly at my back. "They're just rats." Yeah. Easy for you to say. You probably used to keep them as pets. That was when I heard, and saw, a slab near the door rise up with a groan of old stone. Guess those were gravestones, after all. Something skittered out from underneath it. It definitely wasn't a rat. You cursed. I wanted to curse, myself, but my mouth had gone too dry. How big a collection of bones do you have to get before you can call it a skeleton? Whatever it was started to reform in a small tornado of bone fragments above the upended slab. I heard more stone grinding behind me. Kenny was laughing harder. The rat in front of me crouched to spring. I raised my gun.

You reached back and grabbed my elbow. "Wait!"

"You got a better idea?" I snapped back. "'Cause this rat looks ready to take a chunk out of my face!"

"Hang on." I felt you take a deep breath. Then, you started whispering in some juddery, weird language. It was full of clicking sounds. I'd never heard anything like it before, and I don't think I ever will again. I heard you say your name, then repeat it a few seconds later. You were chanting some phrase, over and over, like a magical incantation. I looked up at the pillars. Jesus. It was working. They were moving.

"No!" Kenny shrieked. "This is my place! You can't have it! Stop it! STOP IT! In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti! IN NOMINE PATRIS...." The pillars writhed. Your chanting ended in a cry of agony, and you were yanked away. I wanted to turn after you, but the rats gave me no time. The first leaped at me. I shot it in midair. The bullet flung it back onto a bench, where it lay still. Another came at me; I shot it, too. The others fled. I turned around as quickly as I could.

You were several feet away from me, in the middle of your half of the benches, which had all been flung aside to make a space over the graveslabs there. Three of those had been overturned to reveal large holes. The whole church reeked of decayed flesh. You stood in the middle of a whirlwind of bone fragments, hands raised to protect yourself, holding the Bastard upside down. Its plain, black cruciform hilt made an impromptu cross. The fragments avoided the Bastard's hilt, but that didn't help you much. The whirlwind was too strong for you; you staggered back, tripped, and landed in one of the open graves. As the slab fell down on top of you, you screamed. The fit wasn't quite right; I could still hear you, even over Kenny's chanting the Filioque. All the candles on your side of the church blew out. The whirlwind moved towards me. I didn't waste any time. I took aim at the creature on the altar and pulled the trigger. The bullet knocked Kenny right off the slab and out of sight. After a few seconds, the whirlwind died, bone fragments pattering on the flags. The rats had fled.

There were no more doors and you were under half a ton of rock or more. What the Hell was I gonna do? The sword, the dead Immortal's sword. If I could get to it, I might be able to stop Kenny. I didn't have a clue what effect a second Quickening on holy ground would have, on either me or you. As far as I knew, Kenny already had the damned sword, but the way I figured it, I was fresh out of safe options. I made for the altar. I got to it, got up those steps again...no body. No head. No sword. No nothing.

"Looking for something?" The voice came from the altar, practically in my ear. I nearly splintered my cane getting a few feet of distance back down. I heard more stone creaking, and something slithered along the floor on your side. I ignored it; I didn't have the time to worry about that. Kenny knelt on the altar. He was grinning at me, his misshapen face melting on one side. He still had a big hole in his chest where I'd shot him, but he looked lively enough. He smelled like a mummified frog in the sun, and he had the dead guy's sword. I raised my gun. His laugh came from the bottom of a well. "What are you gonna do with that, Joe? Shoot me again? It didn't work before."

"Kiss my ass," I snarled back and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked. I stared at it; it was soaking wet. Had I shot that many rats or was the gun too soggy to fire? I couldn't remember. As Kenny laughed at me, I started feeling in my coat for more bullets. It might be hopeless to expect him to just stand there and let me have another shot, but I wasn't gonna go down without a big fight. I tried to distract him.

"What did Methos mean about how he hadn't forgotten France?" I said. "You never mentioned him when you were hanging around MacLeod. You two got a history, or something?"

Kenny grinned. It didn't look good on him anymore. "Or something. I almost caught up with him at Agincourt, you know? But then, the French came after the baggage train and killed us all. I thought it might give me a better shot at him, but he got the drop on me. Got me buried alive." He jerked his head in the direction of your impromptu grave. "Pretty appropriate, dontcha think?"

"Only if you had a good reason for hunting him in the first place," I snapped. "You didn't, did you?"

"I had to survive," Kenny snarled, his face twisted. I'd say that the expression was hate, but that would be giving the kid more credit than he deserved. "With Methos' Quickening inside me, *nobody* would have ever messed with me again." Nope. No good reason at all.

"Or they would have just hunted you in his place," I pointed out, but Kenny was beyond logic.

"So what? Somebody has to get him someday. I figured it might as well be me." Christ, how I wish Mac had whacked this kid in the first place.

"Even if you have to risk doing it on holy ground?"

"Hey, I survived it once. I can survive it again. It's no big deal. I didn't even know we were inside the stones until the storm came up and I found out I could make the church for shelter." He raised his head and stared around him, smiling more gently, now--with pride, I thought. "I modelled it after the one we went to when I was a kid. I like it."

I just about choked on my own tongue when you rose up behind Kenny like some avenging demon. Half of your face was covered with blood, though you still had both eyes. You looked calm. No. You looked blank. You raised your sword to shoulder level, just as Kenny raised himself up on his knees. Then, you hesitated. I couldn't blame you; I mean, yeah, he deserved it, but right on top of the altar? How were you expecting to survive taking his head? Instead, you brought the Bastard around behind your own head and brought it directly down. It should have brained him, at the absolute worst. Instead, it came right down through his head, like he was made of wet, hollow cardboard. So that was what happened to an Immortal who took a head on holy ground. I wondered if he ever really believed that it was worth it. He crumpled forward as you yanked the Bastard out of his back.

You came around the altar, sword still in hand, and grabbed my arm, yanking me towards the nonexistent doors. It was worth the old college try. I stumbled after you as best I could, but we didn't get two thirds of the way out before the hissing of Kenny's Quickening started boiling all around us, coming right out of the walls. You shoved me so hard I fell flat on my face, my cane snapped and my gun went skittering under a pew. Pissed me off, until the first bolt hit you right over my head. You screamed, but somehow, you stayed on your feet and not touching me. I'm ashamed to say that I huddled on the floor with my arms wrapped around my head and screamed right along with you. Being a Mortal in the middle of a Quickening is like calling down friendly fire on your own position. Maybe that's what it's like for an Immortal, too. I don't know. And this was a really, really ugly one. The floor around me sizzled like pork fat on a fryer and the air stank of ozone and wet dog. I could swear I heard Kenny laughing through the thunder. For the duration, all I concentrated on was breathing. You fell on top of me at the end. I was dazed and deaf. Not that it mattered. I didn't need to be able to hear to feel the floor sliding out from under me. I rolled over, pushing you off as best I could. You started to slide away from me, towards the altar. You were muttering. I grabbed your shirt and yanked you towards me.

"Methos! Old Man, stay with me. Help me out, here!" I was bawling in your ear, but you were totally out of it. I got hold of your belt, but it didn't help. We both slid towards the back of the church, faster and faster. I tried to grab a pew, even as it melted in my hand. Shit! "Goddamn it, Methos, do something!" You stirred feebly, still muttering, and grabbed my coat. Your grip was weak as a baby's. One good jerk and I'd lose you. I couldn't see your face; it was shoved against my armpit. Great. Some help you were. I looked around frantically for the Bastard, but couldn't find it. Couldn't see my cane or my gun, either. They must have already slid away.

The altar was changing. Like the pews and even the stone flags themselves, it was melting and running down to the hidden sea. Green shoots sprouted underneath it, growing into a huge tree with dark red berries. The altar blinked on and off. I couldn't see Kenny at all. Good riddance, if only he was really dead. Hell, what if he really *was* dead? We were screwed, then. You'd killed him--on holy ground! We were totally screwed! The walls themselves were melting now. Funnily enough, the pillars were not only *not* melting, they were getting bigger--sinking yet spreading out into solid, rounded shapes of stone that surrounded us in a big triangle that was clogged with trees. We were in the middle of a grove. Rain was pouring out of the sky. I could hear a sound past your feet, a roaring like a big, mad ocean and I smelled salt. Then, I couldn't see anymore as we landed right in the tree, which had a big hole in the middle. I reached out with the hand that wasn't holding tight to your belt, grabbed the biggest root I could find, and held on for dear life.

"Hold on!" I yowled into the storm. I don't know if you heard me, but you didn't let go. Thank God for your survival instinct. Mac might have let go, made the big sacrifice. You didn't. As long as you held on, I could keep my grip on you, but if you got turned around, I'd get left with an empty pair of jeans and lose you completely.

Somebody screamed. I can't believe I heard it above the storm and the ringing in my ears from the Quickening, but I did. I peered down over you and I saw.... Well, I think it was Kenny. It sounded like him and it was the right size. He was clawing at the earth as he slid over the edge--we must have been right on the cliff. I think he was trying to heal, the way he'd almost done after I shot him. Then, the storm took him and he disappeared in a shower of mud. The screaming lasted a long time, but the storm won out. Storms do.

Then, it was just you and me in a tree under the pouring-down night rain.

You were useless, which surprised me. I guess I wasn't thinking too straight, or maybe I was trying to pretend that we hadn't just survived a Quickening on holy ground. I told Mac once that the last time there'd been one, as far as we Watchers knew, Pompeii'd been buried. But here we were, and no volcano. This was one Hell of a storm, but it was still a storm, and you and I were still alive, even if we were freezing to death. I might have stayed in the tree, otherwise, if we hadn't both been soaking wet. It was dry, but it wasn't warm, and that wasn't good. Every bone I still had ached.

I couldn't find my cane or my gun (didn't expect to), but I still had to get up. So did you. That sucked. I started grabbing at roots. I got a hand-hold and dragged myself up inside the tree. It was hard; tree trunks are rough, but they don't have much in the way of handholds. By the time I was standing, my hands were raw and I was beat. I looked over at you, huddled in the mud and the wood chips. You were still muttering.

"Methos!" I yelled. "Get up!" You raised your head and stared up at me. I yelled at you again, with more encouragement. You shook your head, looking confused, then started crawling over to me. I held out a hand. You took your time grabbing it. Took you even longer than me to get standing, and then you leaned on me, which hurt a whole lot. I gritted my teeth and put up with it. Just because you had legs didn't mean you could use them. As I stepped out of the tree, praying I wouldn't trip, I realised I could lean on you right back.

I'm not sure how we got as far as the road, but once there, I couldn't remember where we'd left the truck. I thought of sitting down with you right there in the road, but I knew that I, for one, wouldn't be able to get up again. If that taxi hadn't come along, I don't know what we would have done. He was heading up the coast to bring back a fare. Funny how that guy thought taking the coastal road would be better to avoid flooding. He stopped, bless him, after nearly hitting us, and helped me dump you into the backseat. You were still muttering to yourself. As I opened the front passenger door, I realised what you were saying--you were repeating that same weird phrase from inside the church. I dropped in the front and told the taxi guy to take us to the nearest hotel. I didn't have to tell him to take us to a good one. He did that on his own, and truth be told, there ain't that many establishments that rent by the hour in Fife, anyway--at least, not outside of Kirkcaldy. He wouldn't let me pay for the ride, either. Called it his good deed for the day. God's not as vindictive as you think, Old Man. That's why he invented Good Samaritans.

You revived enough by the time we pulled up in front of the hotel to get out of the car on your own, but you'd stopped talking, too. That was good, but not great because that meant I had to do it all, flashing a credit card and some sodden cash. The credit card wouldn't scan, but they punched in the numbers and that worked out okay. The desk manager only needed one look at us staggering in to know we weren't up for any Fawlty Towers shit. He got us a ground floor room. I asked him for extra blankets. He brought me a couple of huge quilts--duvets, they call them over here-- and a cane for me that somebody had left behind in the Lost and Found. After he left, you moved out of the corner where you had been lurking and said your first sensible thing in what seemed like a century. "Oooh. Is that a bed? I like beds."

You didn't wait for me to answer, just grabbed one of the duvets from me and dropped onto the bed from a standing position with a thump. I swear the floor creaked. You dragged the duvet over you and pulled your muddy boots up onto the bed. You were unresponsive within seconds.

I flopped down on my own bed. I thought of making some tea to warm me up, but then I looked at you and decided you had a good thing going. I got most of my clothes and gear off and got under the covers. Hey, this unresponsive thing wasn't so bad after all.


You slept for four days, so I finally got my wish of not having you in my hair all the time. It was kind of lonely, to be honest, but I guess I needed the break. I slept 14 hours that first night. When I woke up, I felt like shit--had a headache and heartburn and my hands and stumps felt raw. Don't laugh and tell me we got off lucky. I know that. But it didn't make my head feel any better that day. The first thing I did, as soon as I woke up enough, was turn on the TV and call Amy. She was pretty mad at me. Seems my cell phone had crapped out and she was getting a dead connection--can't imagine why. I found the thing in my coat later. I couldn't decide what had killed it first--being smashed up or soaked.

Amy took a chunk out of my hide for not calling her. My fudging important details (like what happened to my phone) didn't make her any happier.

"You said you'd call," she whined. "What am I supposed to do for Thanksgiving now?" Not that she cared about Thanksgiving, but she must have gotten used to it after celebrating it with me and you the past four years. "Give me your number up there before you hang up."

"I know, honey. I tried, really. Here it is." I read out the number on the phone. "I need you to look up somebody for me, so I can close out his file."

"Who?" She sounded suspicious. Blood does tell.

"His name's Kenny. Just Kenny. English. First death in 1182. Looks like a little kid. I need to know where he's been for the past couple of weeks."

"That little git? What did he do, wind up somebody we know?" Another Kenny non-fan. She must have read his file at some point.

"Something like that." Urgh. Careful, little girl. I was pretty sure Gabrieli had tapped the phone at the bar. There wasn't much I could do about it, though, since the Watchers own Le Blues. I'm just the front man.

"Hang on. I'll go look it up." The phone clunked on the bar. I heard a fair amount of background noise--business sounded pretty good. That was heartening. I didn't think her search would take long. We've only got, what, maybe seven thousand entries in the Watcher database, out of an estimated twenty-five to one hundred thousand Immortals living in the past five thousand years. Kenny was such an elusive little shit, I was the Watcher who'd ended up starting his chronicle. There wouldn't be that much to say for nine hundred plus years of chicanery.

It felt good to just lie there watching TV, even if I really needed to get the pegs back on and feel my way along the wall to the bathroom. I almost got wrapped up in some gameshow before Amy came back. Once she started talking, though, I lost interest in the TV. It sure would have been nice to know then what she was telling me now, but in the end, I guess it didn't make much difference.

"By the way," she added, "MacLeod is back in Seacouver with his wife. Not Glenfinnan."

"Yeah." I sighed, finally admitting defeat. "I kinda figured that might be the case." Guess a speedy reconciliation on that front was never in the cards.

"So, your excuse for being up in Scotland has just evaporated. Also, René has been in here several times, now, threatening you with bodily harm and a fate worse than death. You'd better wrap up whatever you're doing up there and get back to Paris before Gabrieli comes after you." So much for discretion.

"That could take a few more days," I said. "It was a rough trip."

"What, exactly, did happen to Kenny?" Amy asked, sounding suspicious.

"He, um, took a head on holy ground." The silence on the other end got so long, I thought she'd hung up.

"I see," she said finally. "That would explain why you're closing out his file, then."

"Yep. That would do it." After that, she changed the subject. Maybe she knew the phone was tapped, after all.

After I hung up with Amy, I called the front desk and explained about being barely able to get out of bed. It was too agonising to put on my prosthetics right then. The staff were real nice about it--got your truck towed and our packs and my guitar back to the hotel, and then they brought us some food. The night manager told me something odd, though. He asked me which vehicle was ours and when I said, "whaddaya mean?" he told me the garage guys had found a white Peugeot down the road from your SUV. Once I straightened that out, he warned me that the cpu and the alternator on your truck seemed to be completely scrambled, like somebody had run a big magnet over them, and that replacing all that was gonna cost you an arm and a leg. I told him it was no problem; I'd just put it on the company tab. I figured Gabrieli was already my number one fan. I might as well spread the love to our financial department.

I'm sorry about practicing in the room, but I would have gone out of my mind if I hadn't had some music to play. You didn't seem to mind, and there was nobody in the next room to care. I figured maybe it was just as well we'd lost the Bastard and my gun. They would have been tough to explain to the taxi driver. I'm sure that Scottish jails are real civilised, and all, but that didn't mean I wanted to see the inside of one.

As it was, the hotel staff treated me like a king. They might have done that in the high season anyway, but it being late November, we were their only customers. They asked me a couple of questions about your condition. I told them you weren't feeling well and wanted to stay in, so they gave me some food for when you woke up. That was fine with me. I didn't need them getting in an NHS doc to check you out when I wasn't even sure you were breathing half the time. Every so often, I'd pull the duvet down to make sure that you were breathing, and to give you a patdown to make sure you were solid. After seeing Kenny crumpling like a victim of the Body Snatchers, I wanted to make sure you were okay. At first, you didn't stir, but by the end of the second day, you'd grumble and pull the duvet back over your head. I guess that meant you were all right.

By that time, with the help of a whole lot of sleep and Advil, I felt less sore and could leave the room. I sat down in the bar a lot during the day, playing my guitar. The staff didn't mind--several of them would come out of the kitchen, or stop in from housekeeping to chat. The locals who came in made requests from time to time. One guy went home and brought back his bagpipes. We jammed for an hour or two, much to the appreciation of our small audience. The barstaff even provided some impromptu percussion with spoons on pint glasses.

After dinner, the second night there, I called Azar in Paris and got her to agree to lunch the following week. Things looked good for getting her over to my place for Christmas, somehow. Truth be told, it wasn't that hard. She was more interested than I'd expected. Maybe she just liked the Blues. All and all, the whole stay at the hotel was kinda nice, a real vacation for once. I hadn't realised how long it had been since I'd last had one. It rained a lot, outside, but that was okay. It rains a lot in Paris in November, too.

The fourth day, the manager stopped me at the desk as I came back in from a walk outdoors. "Mr. Dawson, we were wondering if you would like us to cook Thanksgiving dinner for you, tomorrow."

I was taken aback. I knew they liked me, but I guess I rubbed off more on them than I'd thought. "Sure, that would be real nice. I don't want to put you to any extra trouble, though."

He dismissed that with a wave. "Oh, no. No trouble at all. You've been a lovely customer and we wanted to do something nice for you, it being a holiday for you Americans, and all. Should we make some up for your friend as well, or will he be too sick to come down, do you think?"

"He might be up for a meal tomorrow," I said. "Can you make something for him, just in case? I think, once he's eating again, he's gonna be pretty hungry." Man, was that an understatement.

"Right, then. We'll make dinner for two. No turkey, but we can cook you up a duck and some mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce, that sort of thing. Do you like haggis?"

"Sure." I never could get the big prejudice against the stuff. It tasted just like dry stuffing, and what was Thanksgiving without stuffing? "Whatever you like." The manager smiled and clapped me on the shoulder, then went back into the restaurant to tell the cooks. I could hear him talking from the desk, the hotel was that small.

I browsed the desk for a few minutes. My curiosity was returning after its battering in that old church. I noticed a basket of thermometre/key chains with little compasses on them. The barrel next to the basket asked for contributions to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I put in a five pound note and reached for a key chain. It made a funny, clicking noise as I picked it up. I examined it. The compass in the lower right-hand corner was spinning around widdershins. Must have been something wrong with it, I thought. When I put it back and got another one, though, the whole basket started clicking like a bunch of plastic Mexican jumping beans. The noise faded as I pulled the second key chain away, but the one I had wouldn't stop spinning. Puzzled, I stuck it in my jacket and headed back to our room.

We were at the top of a hallway that crooked at the end up a stairway. As I took out my key for the lock, I glimpsed something out of the corner of my eye. I turned around and saw a figure standing in the stairwell. Was there somebody here besides us? None of the staff had mentioned it. I limped down the hallway. Might as well be polite and say hi.

"Hello?" I said. Damn, it was cold down this end. I was glad they hadn't put us down here. I could see my breath. No noise came out of the stairwell, and it was too shadowy to see if somebody was there. I started to wonder if I'd been seeing things when I heard the clicking. It was muffled, and came from my coat. I groped around inside my right-hand pocket and pulled out the Lifeboat keychain. The compass was going crazy, even more than when I'd picked it up.

I dunno. Maybe I should have checked out that stairwell. Hell, my job description is the definition of weird. Instead, I put the keychain back in my pocket, turned around and went back up the hallway. I'd had enough 'weird' for one week.

I came back to the room to find you sitting up in bed, watching TV. You were wolfing down the chips and dip I'd brought back for you the day before, a cup of tea in one hand while you changed channels on the TV, between mouthfuls, with the remote. "Hey, Joe," you said, sounding rested and happy for the first time in months.

"Hey, yourself." I sat down across from you, on my bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good." You seemed surprised by that. You jerked your head at the TV. "Is it really Thanksgiving Day tomorrow?"

I smiled wryly. "I'm afraid so."

"I slept for four *days*?"

I nodded. "Yep. You look a lot better for it, though, if that helps." Matter of fact, you looked better than you had in a long time.

"Well, I feel better, anyway." You popped a handful of chips into your mouth. "Hungry as a horse, though," you said around the mouthful.

"That's good. The staff offered to cook up Thanksgiving dinner for us, duck and all the trimmings. Judging by the amount of food they've been serving me at meals, I'm gonna need your help to eat it all." You brightened at that and grunted something positive but unintelligible. You didn't stop eating chips. You must have been starving. "Do you remember anything?" I asked cautiously.

You nodded, scattering chip crumbs across the blanket. "Oh, yeah. Yeah, I remember it all--well, not so much after the Quickening. That's all mixed up with past Kenny stuff." I tried not to show my relief. "Had the oddest dreams, too, but that leveled out after awhile."

"About what?" I said, half-afraid to ask.

"About those Pictish symbols on the pillars. I was up here in Scotland- -Pictland, I mean--that far back, but not for very long. I don't think these were real memories. The dreams were just so--I felt as though I were in the designs, if that makes any sense."

I tried to imagine that, then gave up. "Uh, sure. Whatever. What were you saying back in the church, anyway?"

You frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You know. That phrase, the one that you kept repeating."

"Ohh." You smirked. "It was Pictish. Considering the designs on the pillars, I thought it was worth a shot. Not like I had any better ideas at the time."

"Pictish?" I gaped at him. "But--that's supposed to be a dead language. I mean, we don't even know what language group it's from, if it's something archaic like Basque or a form of Gaelic or what. Why didn't you tell anybody?"

You shrugged. "Because it still is a dead language. I hate to break this to you, Joe, but that is the only thing I can still remember of it."

The silence stretched out. "Yeah?" I said. "And? What does it mean?"

"Oh, something along the lines of, 'Hello, my name is Methos. How are your wives and cattle?' As I said, I wasn't up here for very long back then. Didn't get a chance to pick up much of the language."

"Great," I said, disgusted. "You used to speak one of the most famous dead languages on the planet and all you can remember now is the equivalent of 'Attention, K-Mart Shoppers.'"

You grinned. "Why, Joe. You know that I live to disappoint you every day in ever new and inventive ways."

I sighed. "Don't I know it." I leaned over to pick up the phone. "I'm gonna call the desk and tell them you're up so they'll know to set you a place for dinner. I hope you like haggis for tomorrow, 'cause they didn't have any regular stuffing."

"Joe," you assured me, "I would happily eat the entire sheep, hooves and horns and all, right now. Haggis is fine." I believed you. That's the great thing about you. When it comes to the usual hazards of life, you are easy.

"Did you ever find out what was going on with Kenny?" you asked.

"Besides the fact he took a head on holy ground?" I'd forgotten that you weren't really present for that conversation until I saw your eyes go wide. "You didn't hear that?'

You shook your head. "My hearing got buggered at the end, I'm afraid. Couldn't hear much of anything above the white noise in my head."

"Well, he did. Admitted it right to me. Thought it was funny."

"He would." You scowled. I remembered Kenny boasting about hunting you. I started to get a hint at just how tired you must be of that. "Anything else?"

"He told me he hunted you once, at Agincourt. Said you were there because you hated the French." I tried to say it casually, as I sat down on my bed. When I looked up, you were staring at me, your eyes dark and hard. So much for snowing you.

"At Agincourt, yes." Your mouth tightened. "He tried to trick me, told me he was a new Immortal and needed my protection. Since I didn't trust him any more than I trusted any other strange Immortal, I told him to bugger off." You sighed. "I thought I was being careful, but he still got the drop on me a day or two later. Nearly got me, too, the little bastard. I had to kill him right there, and then I had to run. It's not as though I could explain why I'd just killed a child, you know?"

I nodded. "I can see how that would have caused a problem."

"Let's just say that I didn't feel like being strung up over the likes of Kenny." You stuffed more chips into your mouth. "That guy we found, was that his latest meal ticket?"

"Amy thought so." I told you about my conversation with her. You laughed when I mentioned René. Great. I could see I'd improved things in that corner. "She said Kenny was last seen with a guy named Guy Seguin, an Immortal living in Geneva. His description matched the body we saw in the church. Seguin had his first death in 1871, as a Communard in Paris, so he was probably old enough to think he knew better and young enough to be wrong. Seguin's Watcher last saw them in Le Havre about two weeks ago. Apparently, Guy was losing patience with old Kenny, yelled at him in public at one point. Maybe he thought he'd shake the little brat once they got up here."

"Could be," you said, still stuffing your face. "Not that Kenny is...was all that easy to shake. I should know."

"There's something else. I think your car is screwed. The mechanic who looked it over says it was like somebody ran a strong magnet over it. I think your whole electrical system might be a goner."

You stopped eating. "You think that was a result of Kenny taking a head on holy ground?"

"You got any other ideas?" I reached out for the chips bag. "Give me some of those. You're making me hungry."

You handed over the bag without a peep. "I suppose it would make sense. So, that's what happens when you--but how did Kenny take a head on holy ground? He wasn't that stupid."

"I got a theory about that." Now I was the one talking around a mouthful of chips. "The guy at the garage found a silver Peugeot just south of us--that was probably Seguin's car. Maybe they got flooded out, or maybe the storm started up after Kenny whacked Seguin. Kenny told me he didn't know where he was until he got Seguin's Quickening; that was the first time he knew something was wrong. You said you guys can't sense holy ground, right? So, that would make sense, I think. Kenny said he 'made' the church after the Quickening. He said it gave him power." I looked you in the eye. You didn't look away. "Does it?"

"How the Hell would I know, Joe? Ask Kenny. And give me back those chips. You've eaten in the past four days; I haven't." Instead of giving it back, I held out the bag so you could grab a handful of chips. You took them sullenly. "What are you saying, that we hallucinated that whole interlude in the church? I saw it, Joe. You saw it. How could we have imagined it all?"

"Mass hallucination, maybe? Maybe Kenny was able to project what he saw onto our minds, some sort of telepathy." You looked skeptical. "You got a better theory? You think the church was real? Does that make more sense?"

You scowled. "No," you admitted.

I leaned forward. "I'll tell you what...I talked to the hotel manager. He told me there's an old set of standing stones out on that road, just south of where we left the truck. Seems a grove of Yew trees grew up around it, or maybe whoever built the stones put them inside the trees. Nobody's sure. It's that old. You know about Yew trees, right?"

You rolled your eyes. "Of course. They're a symbol of immortality and renewal. Christians have been planting them in churches for centuries and pagans planted them in burial grounds before that. Most of the tree is poisonous."

"And they live practically forever, yeah. The manager says that grove could be older than two thousand years. The core rotted out of the center of the big tree, so they can't be sure, but that's what they think. There are a lot of local stories about the grove, about guys who tried to smash the stones or cut or burn the trees. They either disappeared for good or were found wandering later, ranting and raving about this or that."

"I'm surprised nobody knows about the place, then." You looked spooked. "It certainly wasn't in the guidebooks."

"Fife is loaded with standing stones, and it's not all that short on Yew trees, either. I read a lot about Scotland when I first got assigned to Mac, even came up here a few times to the play the Fringe Festival on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. It's a lot nicer up here in August, but you probably knew that." You nodded. "Fife used to be a big Pictish stronghold before the Scots came along, and the Picts converted to Christianity late in the day, but you probably knew that, too." You nodded again. "There's no reason for anybody to take any special notice of this place, unless the locals played it up, and I don't think they're ever gonna do that. They've got a saying here, the manager said: 'The grove takes care of its own.'"

You picked up the remote, turned off the TV, and flopped back onto the bed. "Fine. The grove punished Kenny for desecrating it. Your theory would only make sense, of course, if I hadn't whacked him with the Bastard first."

"Kenny was already fading when you hit him, Old Man. That grove was sucking him dry. You just finished the job." You lifted your head and stared at me. "I'm serious. Don't you remember how he just crumbled when you hit him? He was falling apart, already."

"That's your theory?" You laughed and let your head fall back. "You're saying that we're still here because I was playing executioner for a bunch of rocks and trees?!"

"Something like that." You snorted. "Think about it. How many new Immortals out there do you think never find a teacher, never find out about the rules, never realise that they're supposed to avoid taking a head on holy ground? What happens when they do? Why haven't we ever heard about what happens before? It can't be that unusual. I think it's because the few Immortals who encounter these unfortunates before they fade away have to kill them in order to correct the balance of the places they desecrated. Kenny threw things out of whack. You put them back. If you've got a better idea, I'd sure like to hear it."

You rolled onto your side and played with the remote. After a few minutes, you turned the TV back on, looked over at me and smiled. "Did you say something about dinner?


I really enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with you, though I missed Amy more than I'd let myself think about. You were still in a good mood. Kenny's whacked-out Quickening was better than Prozac for you. Go figure. We had a good weekend, joking and sniping like old times. It was nice to see your personal black cloud take a few sick days, reminded me of what you could be like. I told myself I was gonna get you back that way permanently, even if it took the rest of my life. We both deserved it.

On Sunday night, we both sacked out early. Even after eight days, I, for one, was wiped. It was that damned compass that woke me up in the middle of the night. I opened my eyes, wondering what the noise was, besides your snoring. Clickclickclickclickclick. Sounded like a trapped cricket was inside my coat where I'd left it on the chair next to the TV. The room was freezing. Had you turned off the heat? When I raised my head to look at my coat, I saw something out of the corner of my right eye, just like in the stairwell. I looked over at you, and this time, I saw--ah, Hell. I don't know what it was. It was just a shadow. Long hair fell around its face as it leaned over you. Something clinked, like a chain-link fence rattling in the wind.

"Brother," the shadow sighed, reaching out for you.

"HEY!" I flailed for the light switch. The light snapped on, jabbing me in the eyes. I blinked and winced, blinded.

"What the bloody Hell...." You rolled over, squinting at me. "Joe? What're you doing?"

"There was..." I could see now. Nobody was there. Nobody could have been there and have gotten out in time. "Nothing. Just a bad dream."

"You sure? That sounded like some nightmare."

I took a deep breath and let it trickle out. "Yeah. It was a real doozy."

You rubbed your face, then peered at me. "You sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine. Really. Just leave the light on, okay?"

You shrugged. "Okay." Rolling over, you pulled a pillow over your eyes and went back to sleep. You were snoring again inside of five minutes.

I lay there and tried not to think about what kind of ghost would call you "brother". Sleep didn't come easy.


The garage mechanic working on your car waited until Monday to confirm it as a junker. By that time, we'd made a few plans and booked flights back from Edinburgh to Paris. We rented a car on the Watcher dime, checked out of the hotel and went back to the grove, this time at noon. I thought we were pushing our luck, going back there, but you were jittery about being swordless. You thought we might find the Bastard in the grove and you figured we'd be okay, going in daytime. I wouldn't have called it broad daylight, more grey, ugly and overcast. There was a brisk wind going out to sea. The grove was even bigger than I remembered as we approached it from the road, dense and evergreen. The gravestones I'd seen the other night didn't exist, but there was a broad gravel path leading up to a hole in the trees. I thought you hesitated at the edge of the grove, but I could have imagined it. I didn't want to go in, either.

Inside, the trees cut off the wind and the air smelled like mulch, close and damp. The stones were set up irregularly, in a triangle inside the trees. The carvings I remembered were still on them. It was very quiet, except for a humming noise coming from somewhere, shady, lots of red berries underfoot. I stepped forward, towards the big tree at the point of the triangle. It had a big hole in it. That was where we'd ended up the other night; I was sure of it. I noticed something sticking out of the roots of the tree. The humming seemed to come from everywhere but there. I headed towards the tree. You padded behind me, so close I could feel you breathing on my shoulder. At least I wasn't the only one creeped out. I had to get right up close to the tree to see the object in the gloom. Now that I was standing right over it, I could hear that it was the real source of the sound. It was the Bastard, and it was humming in time with the wind outside.

In the dead air, I could hear you swallow. I didn't tell you to back off. Instead, I reached out and grabbed hold of the sword. It stopped humming. I tugged on it. As it came loose, it grated on something that felt like bone. Made me wonder where Kenny had ended up, or his poor "teacher", and how close we'd come to joining them. There was a black mark about a third of the way down on the Bastard's blade, right where you'd hit Kenny. You stepped up beside me and took the sword out of my hand, holding it straight out to inspect it. The black smudge came off when you rubbed the blade. There was no dent, no nothing. The damned thing looked better used than we did.

You looked at me and shrugged. "Not like it's Excalibur, or anything," you said as you put it back in your jacket.

I nodded. "Absolutely. It's just a sword." You nodded with me, the two of us standing there bobbing our heads like a couple of idiots. Then, we got the Hell out of there. You can bet your ass we didn't look back.


For now, but Joe and Methos will return in "Two Watchers in Search of a Gathering".