Disclaimer: Highlander belongs to Panzer/Davis. I'm just playing in their sandbox!
Duncan MacLeod, of the clan MacLeod, was in a really foul mood. It started before he even had awoken; his dreams full of nightmarish images of Richie's death, dreams that hadn't haunted him in over a year. But they were back, Duncan thought grimly, and back with a vengeance.
He had tried to burn away the images through his usual methods - one of his more strenuous Katas, followed by a long run. It wasn't working, however. His feet pounded the Paris pavement, his eyes oblivious to those who passed him, as his memories welled up and overwhelmed him. Memories of Richie's escapades, Richie's laugh...
Grimacing, he came to a stop, bending over to put his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. "This won't do," he told himself. "I can't afford to dwell, not today."
Briefly, his mind flitted to the message he'd gotten the previous evening, three hurried words that Joe had left on his answering machine. "Tribeau's in town."
It had been nearly a year since he'd climbed off that volcano, a year since he'd given Tribeau even a second thought and now, out of the blue; he appears out of the woodwork. His first instinct had been to call Joe back, an instinct that he'd acted on. All he'd gotten, however, was Joe's message minder.
This morning, Duncan tried again, both Joe's apartment and the blues bar. One of Joe's staff had informed him that he had gone to see his accountant and would be back in a couple of hours. Duncan smirked as he remembered the hesitant voice on the other end of the phone. "Accountant, my foot," he thought dryly. "If that isn't a cover story for watcher business, I don't know what is."
He checked his watch and noted, with some surprise, that it was nearly eleven. "Where has the morning gone to? Surely I haven't been running for that long..." The words trailed off in his mind as he noticed where he'd stopped.
Across the Seine loomed the massive bulk of the Louvre, he had just stopped a few yards short of the small bridge that crossed over to it. His eyes wandered across the street and rested on the little art store that stood there; the word 'Sennelier' painted above its facade. Tessa had loved this store, he remembered. She would literally spend hours rooting through the shop's old fashioned drawers, testing the pastels and pencils on scraps of paper before she made her choice.
"This city is full of too many painful memories," he thought ruefully, his eyes lingering on the window before he reluctantly turned and started his jog home. It was time to start looking for Tribeau... and he'd start at Joe's.
Turning his collar up against the rain, Methos stepped out of the open doorway and onto the street. His shoulders hunching as the downpour began to pelt down in earnest, plastering his hair to skin within minutes. "Welcome to the English winter," he thought ruefully. "I knew I should have gone to Bora Bora."
It was lunchtime and the London streets were packed with the city's workers, glad to have escaped their offices despite the rain. He immersed himself in the crowd, careful not to look over his shoulder. Unfortunately, the presence was still there, it had followed him to work and had patiently waited for him
outside the Museum's research building. He had hoped to give whomever it was the slip by departing through the side doors but it seemed that he was out of luck.
He knew that it was a challenge, it bore a familiar pattern; stalk and unnerve, then strike. It was the pattern of all three of the immortals that had hunted him in the last fortnight. The first one had struck on his way to the underground after a late night's research. Methos had thought nothing of it, merely that he had been unlucky to have come across another immortal - it was London after all.
The second struck barely five days later, in exactly the spot. Even that he shrugged away. He merely assumed that the second had been a friend of the first, looking for revenge. After disposing of the body, he made a note to take another route to the underground.
The third, however, made him sit up and take notice. Firstly, he was smarter than the others; he had done his research and had found out where Methos lived. Probably from the college records, he surmised. The challenger had been waiting for Methos when he got home, the bastard had actually made himself comfortable in his living room while he waited - he had even raided the fridge!
Methos frowned at the memory, was it his imagination or were the younger ones getting bolder everyday. "At least," he consoled himself, "They also seem to be getting a lot more idiotic as well."
All the same, he had dispatched the third challenger nearly as quickly as his less clever predecessors, maybe a little too quickly, Methos thought wryly. The immortals seemed to have been less like challengers, and more like cannon fodder. "And here comes sucker number four," he concluded, ducking into an alleyway.
He had not long to wait, hesitant footsteps splashed on the concreted pavement as the long coated immortal appeared at the open end of the alley. Methos slouched against the wall and waited for him to make his move. Would the immortal enter and take up the obvious challenge, or would he retreat? Whoever he was, he was taking a long time to make up his mind. Methos was about to give up the game of waiting and force the challenge himself, when, all of a sudden, he took a step forward; away from the crowds and into the alleyway.
"The name is William Crawford," he said, pulling out his sword in one swift movement.
"Adam Pierson," Methos replied easily.
"That's not what I've heard," the immortal said shortly.
"Oh, and what is it you've heard, exactly," Methos asked warily, reaching into his coat.
"I've heard that your real name is Methos," the immortal answered softly. "Is it true?"
"It doesn't really matter now, does it?" Methos asked, skirting the question. "Either you take my head and find out the truth, or I take yours and you will no longer care."
The immortal gave him a slow nod, accepting the answer. "So be it," he muttered, leaping forward, his sword raised.
The sound of steel echoed through the deserted alley way as sword met sword. The battle was fast and furious. Methos quickly realised that Crawford knew what he was doing; this was no babe newly come to the fold of immortality.
They danced around each other, each probing the other for weaknesses in their defence. Grimly, Methos redoubled his efforts; he didn't want to give his challenger time to figure out his weaknesses.
The rain still hadn't let up, making the ground slippery and hard to manoeuvre on. Warily, Methos slowly backed up, luring his opponent further into the alley way. Crawford took the bait and leapt forward in a lunging attack, aiming for his chest. Methos dodged to the side and slipped his sword under Crawford's defences; sliding it across his stomach. With a hiss of pain, he fell to his knees and Methos drew back his sword for the final strike.
The head bounced across the alleyway, stopping at the far wall as the first tendrils of the quickening filled the air. Leaning against a garbage bin for support, Methos wearily steeled himself for the onslaught.
The quickening crawled along the water logged pavement, creeping up the walls until it reached the wiring for the street lights. Sparks of electricity danced along their length, bursting free in a dazzling fireworks display as the light bulbs exploded, the sky darkened imperceptibly as the first bolts of the quickening hit Methos' body.
"Oh...bloody hell..." the words flashed across his mind before the quickening tightened its hold, gripping his body in a frenzy of pain and memories.
At last, it ended, releasing Methos' body into a quivering heap on the ground. It didn't matter how many quickenings he took, he never could get used to them. The power and hatred behind every blow was staggering, he'd almost prefer a sword through the chest.
Reeling on his feet, his eyes fell on the beheaded body, muttering disgustedly under his breath. Picking up its feet, he dragged it to the other end of the alley until he found a small door that lead into a deserted building. After the last challenge, Methos had done a bit of reconnaissance around both his work place and home. He had picked this alleyway as a likely place to take a challenge and had arranged to rent the single, empty building that opened onto it.
Dumping the corpse inside, he went outside to retrieve Crawford's head and sword and quickly deposited them beside the body. Luckily, he didn't have to worry about the blood; the rain would take care of that.
Rooting around in the corpses pockets, Methos' hand curled around a wallet, he picked through it and found nothing but a few credit cards, some loose change and a driver's license that gave an Oxford address.
He looked up and frowned at the separated head. "Who the hell were you, Crawford, eh?" he muttered. The head didn't answer. Not for the first time, Methos wished he could get tighter grasp of the memories that flitted through his head during a quickening, it would make things so much easier.
Reluctantly, Methos got to his feet once more and glanced at his watch, it was nearly two and his luncheon break was coming to a close. Disgustedly, Methos looked down at his blood and rain soaked clothes before rooting around in the far corner for a carry-all that he had secreted there for just this sort of occasion.
Pulling out the spare set of clothing, he changed quickly; he would just have to tell his co-workers that he spent lunch at the gym or something. A small smile flitted across his face as he imagined their reaction; a lunch break at the gym didn't really fit with the image of Adam Pierson, mild mannered researcher.
Checking his hands and fingernails for traces of blood, he at last pronounced himself ready to go back to work. Without a second glance backwards, he closed the door firmly behind him as he stepped, once more, out into the rain.
Joe poured himself another coffee from behind the bar as his mind mulled over the watcher meeting he had just come from, what had been said didn't bode well. Yet again there was a leak at headquarters, they didn't know how it was being done but too many heads had been taken in the last week for it to be otherwise.
The body count had risen through the roof; he had just got a report in from Amy that said that Methos had just taken his fourth head in two weeks. The same amount as he had taken in the two previous centuries put together. He had heard rumours that Amanda had been having a similar spate of challenges, though he couldn't verify that as he still hadn't managed to procure a watcher that could keep up with her.
Then why, Joe thought puzzledly, hadn't Mac been approached by a single challenger? It was he, more than all the other immortals he knew, who usually drew the most attention in that way. It was downright weird.
Joe took a sip of the black, bitter coffee as he flipped open the file that rested on the bar counter. In the last three weeks over fifty heads had been taken. Most of the challengers weren't known head-hunters and the immortals they challenged weren't known to be active in the game. They were no known obvious connections; some of them knew each other and some didn't. With a grimace, Joe closed the folder once more. He knew there had to be some connection; he just couldn't figure it out.
And he had to do it soon, Joe thought worriedly. Already there were rumours that the game was coming to a close and the final days were here. Joe would rather if they weren't, thank you very much. He cherished the hope that he would be long dead before the immortals were forced to bring the game to its final conclusion.
The front door opened and broke his train of thought, "Sorry, we're not open yet..." he called out, getting to his feet to see who it was.
Duncan strolled in, a determined look on his face and closed the door behind him firmly before he sauntered over to the bar. "Joe, we need to talk."
Joe eyed the Highlander, wondering if somehow he'd managed to read his thoughts. Then, with a start, realised that Duncan had no idea about the sudden rise in immortal deaths; he was here about Tribeau.
Joe mentally kicked himself, he had been so immersed in the day's news that he'd completely forgotten about Tribeau's arrival in Paris. "Pull up a chair, Mac," he sighed, pouring a cup of the black brew for the Highlander. "You're not going to like what I have to say."
"Don't worry, Joe," Mac muttered tiredly as he sank into the seat and wrapped his hands around the hot cup. "I'm used to bad news - spill."
"There isn't much to say really," Joe admitted. "As you know, we never found out his true identity and the first time he's ever come up from under our radar was yesterday when he was seen coming out of Charles de Gaulle airport. The watcher who spotted him was waiting for his assignment's flight so he couldn't follow him, but he did get the license plate of his rental and phoned it in. We made a few discreet inquiries and found out he's travelling under the name of Jacques du Manier. He hasn't taken a hotel room, but has rented a small apartment in Montmartre instead, just off the old artist's quarter.
"So he's planning on sticking around for a while," Duncan concluded.
"It seems so," Joe agreed. "I was thinking of calling Methos and letting him know, but I thought I'd let you know first, seeing as you're already in the city. I put a watcher on Tribeau's place as soon as we got the address. Last I heard, he was seen entering the apartment this morning and hasn't emerged since. "
"Right then," Duncan said, getting off his stool. "I'll get onto it..."
"Wait a moment, Mac," Joe interrupted. "There's something else I want to talk to you about - you'd better sit down for this, actually."
Warily, Duncan lowered himself on the stool once more. "Let me guess," he muttered; a touch of sarcasm in his voice. "I'm not going to like this either."
"That's one way of putting it," Joe wryly told him, pulling a bottle of scotch out from underneath the counter. "Here, put some of this in your cup, I've a feeling that you're going to need it."
As Duncan doctored his coffee, Joe proceeded to fill him in...
Kennedy airport's toilets weren't the most luxurious of amenities but, as far as Amanda was concerned, they were a hell of a lot more attractive than what lurked outside in the departure area.
She couldn't understand it, she had thought she'd shaken off her immortal stalker the night before; she was sure of it, in fact. Yet there he was, waiting for her beside the check-in desk. Racking her brains she couldn't figure out how she had slipped up. She had used a fresh identity to book her ticket and had changed hotels last night. How the hell had he found her? He even knew which airline she had booked with.
Quickly, Amanda went over the possibilities, dismissing offhand the idea that it was some kind of sick coincidence. The only option that she could come up with was that she had been followed by a mortal, but she dismissed that too, not only would he have had to follow her to her new hotel he would have also had to tap her phone in order to know her flight details.
Glumly, she looked at herself in the mirror over the sink, this really wasn't her week. She'd had two other challenges in the last week and when challenger number three crawled out of the woodwork she decided that enough was enough; it was time to get the hell out of dodge.
Ah well, no good crying over spilt milk, time to deal with the problem at hand - the creep awaiting her at the check-in desk. Checking her watch, she realised that she had less than fifteen minutes; there was nothing for it but to brazen it out. Security in Kennedy was tight, she reminded herself, there is no way they would've let him stroll into the departure area with a sword, it was probably already stowed on the plane - just like hers, she wryly thought.
Amanda flashed herself a smile in the mirror as she smoothed her hair and threw back her shoulders. Peering closer at her reflection, she whipped out her lipstick and applied another coat. If she was going to try to pull this off, she might as well look her best.
Once she was satisfied with the results, she opened the door a crack and looked outside. He was still there, sitting in the row nearest the desk reading a newspaper. The area was nearly deserted; most people had already boarded the plane.
As casually as she could, she strolled up to the desk and pulled out her ticket and passport, ignoring the drumming presence of the other immortal.
The airline attendant gave at the passport a cursory look and glanced up. "Bonjour Mademoiselle, welcome to Air France. Is your trip business or pleasure?"
"Pleasure," Amanda answered dryly.
"Very well, Mademoiselle, here is your passport and boarding pass, your plane is at gate twelve"
Passing through the door, Amanda spotted the other immortal approaching the desk from the corner of her eye; it seemed that she was going to have company on her flight to Paris.
Throwing his hands up in defeat, Methos stared glumly at the train he'd missed by moments as he stood on the empty platform. It really wasn't his day. At times like this, he missed having his own transport, but after the first week he had given up driving to work, London traffic was a bloody nightmare. Throwing himself onto a bench, he pulled out his newspaper and settled in for the wait, hoping that, for once, the trains were running on time.
The presence of the other immortal crept up on him slowly, whoever it was, they were being very cautious. Carefully, he folded his paper and got to his feet. The soft sound of footsteps echoed through the deserted station and Methos' eyes wandered to the stairs as he fingered the hilt of his sword under his coat.
The immortal stepped onto the platform, sword in hand. "My name is Tsi Tsung Lee."
"You don't say," Methos drawled, pulling his sword free from its scabbard. "I've had a long day, Mr Lee. Let's get this over with"
Without further ado, the challenger attacked; his movements smooth and practiced as he slipped his katana into range. Their fighting styles were very similar, both preferring to be the aggressor rather than the one making the defensive moves and the next few moments were a blur as they both tried to gain the upper hand.
Cursing under his breath, Methos fell back as he felt the approach of yet another Immortal. "A friend of yours, Mr Lee?"
"I was about to ask you the same question," Lee grunted as he fought to regain his breath.
The two immortals looked at each other, momentarily united by the new presence. Eventually, Methos spoke up. "How about we continue this another time?"
Tsi Tsung gave him a wry look as he slipped his sword into his coat. "I would much prefer not to," he admitted. "I hadn't been looking for a challenge, merely a ride home."
"You could have fooled me," muttered Methos, returning his sword to its scabbard as he eyed the stairs. He could still feel the presence of the third immortal, but whoever it was; he wasn't choosing to show his face.
"I'm a bit on edge at the moment. I've had two challenges in the last week."
"You have?" Methos gave him a speculative look. "Hmm...I've had a glut of challenges myself in the last couple of weeks, its enough to make one wonder..." An uneasy silence fell, neither immortal said it but they both knew what the other was thinking; that it could be the first signs of the gathering. "How about a pint?" Methos suggested. "I've a feeling that we should exchange information. There is a good Pub not that far from here..."
Amy scowled as she listened to the laughter drifting from the cosy looking pub as she huddled under her umbrella across the street. Couldn't Methos have gone home like a good little immortal, she was drowning here! She didn't even have a car to sit into and keep dry, as she had to stick to the public transport system in order to keep track of him.
For a moment she considered storming into the pub ands shaking her wet umbrella at him, but she figured that he mightn't be too pleased with her considering that his new companion was another immortal.
The soft buzz of her mobile interrupted her thoughts and Amy rooted around in her coat and pulled it out. "Yes?"
Joe's voice answered. "Hi Amy, it's me. I don't suppose that Adam is with you? I tried to contact him, but his phone is turned off."
"He's a little busy at the moment," Amy told him dryly. "He is making friends with a new immortal."
"It's not a challenge, is it?"
"Not unless the challenge involves drinking each other underneath the table," Amy retorted. "What's wrong?"
"Just checking up, really, I've heard that he took another head today."
"Yeah, it's the fourth time I had to call out the clean-up detail in the last two weeks - they're beginning to give me funny looks." A heavy silence came from the other side of the phone. "Joe...Dad, what is going on?"
"I'm not really sure, honey. There's just been a lot of activity in the last few months."
"What kind of activity?"
"The challenging kind - a lot of immortals have died in the last month, a hell of a lot."
"How is Duncan?" Amy enquired, suddenly worried. This kind of activity usually knocked on the Highlander's door.
"That's the strange thing; he hasn't even had a whisper of a challenge in weeks."
"Hmm...do you have any theories about what's going on?"
"I don't even have the beginning of one, but I do have some other news."
"Please tell me that it's good," groaned Amy.
"I'm afraid not, honey. Tribeau arrived in Paris today."
"You're kidding me!"
"Nope, Duncan's is having a little 'talk' with him as we speak."
"Who is watching him at the moment?" Amy asked.
"Wilkins, he said that he'd report in the moment there is even a whiff of a challenge."
"You mean they haven't crossed swords yet?"
"No, Duncan entered his house about half an hour ago and there hasn't been a peep out of the building since."
Amy frowned as she mulled the news over. "You don't suspect foul play?"
"Not yet, I'm going to give it another half hour before I start thinking otherwise." Joe said with a sigh. "So... when do you think you'll be able to get Methos by himself?"
A devilish grin spread across Amy's face. "Oh...sooner than you think, talk to you soon, Dad." Amy flipped the phone closed as she crossed the road; 'Adam Pierson' was about to bump into an old friend and buy her a drink!
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