DISCLAIMER: Highlander the Series is property of Rysher Entertainment. The characters Duncan MacLeod, Methos/Petey, Joe Dawson, Richie, and Connor are used without permission, but with great reverence. Sarah MacGreggor belongs to Lisa Krakowka, who was kind enough to let me use an alternate version of Sarah in this story because our timelines wouldn't mesh as written. (More about how my universe works with Lisa's appears in the Author's Notes. The other characters and the story itself belong to Jennifer Allen, copyright 1997. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, especially if they're good. If you distribute or save this story, please leave the header intact.
TIMELINE: This story occurs early in Highlander's fifth season, before the events detailed in Comes a Horseman and Revelation 6:8. It also follows a year and a half after the trilogy I wrote (Consequences, Accusations, and Retaliation), and the companion story DefCon 1, which is why the calendar year is 1999 instead of 1997. You don't need to read those stories to understand this one, but JL is introduced in there, and the relationships will make more sense if you do. The trilogy is also the source of any comments made about the Immortals Lucas Buck, Alaric Sutkin, and Aurelia. All of my fanfic can be found at http://www.jendaveallen.com/Fanfic/ficidx.htm, or you can email me and I'll send you a copy.
A Quick Synopsis of My Characters: This story features JL Dawson, Joe's foster-daughter and former Watcher who recently learned she was immortal. Colin Jamison is her mentor and best friend. He was the Boston cop who encouraged her to get off the streets and move in with Joe in the late 1970's, and he's been one of her main supporters ever since. Currently, he serves as her Watcher because JL has a habit of losing anyone else the Tribunal attempts to assign to her.
For Sarah MacGreggor Fans: As I mentioned, this is an alternate universe for Sarah MacGreggor. In my universe, the events in Lisa's story, Long Lost, take place in 1993, not 1996. I'm following Lisa's story line through Long Lost and most of Cardinal Rules, but instead of Sarah going to the Gathering in Glenstrae and then returning to Seacouver, she and Methos part company and she takes Richie on a tour of Scotland. Their tour lasts until December 1995, when Richie returns to Seacouver and she continues travelling. Richie is then kidnapped by Lucas Buck in March of 1996, thus kicking off my trilogy.
Now it's 1999 in my universe, and Sarah hasn't seen Methos since the Gathering five years prior. They haven't admitted their feelings for one another yet, nor have they made love for the first time. As usual, Sarah calls Methos "Petey"-the name he was using when they first met.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: This story couldn't have been written without my hyper-involved alpha readers-my husband Dave and Lisa Krakowka. Lisa also served as a member of the Sarah MacGreggor Hair Police when I tried to make it too long and the wrong color. (Ooops. But that's why she would have gotten the big bucks, had there been any bucks waiting to get passed around.) She was extremely patient with my constant "Would Sarah do this? But why not? I want her to!" emails, for which I am eternally grateful. (She did get even with her "why are any of them doing it this way?" replies, which was when I rushed back to Dave and tried to come up with a proper justification-or change it if I couldn't.) Between us, I think we hacked out a decent story without ever once threatening each other with major bodily harm. (Minor skirmishes are to be expected in this kind of effort. *grin*)
Tremendous thanks also goes to my beta readers, who pointed out lots of places where things weren't clear, didn't make sense, or just didn't work-Joanne Curme (my "This isn't working for me-fix it" beta), Glo. Phillips (my "You know dear, the words are nice but Duncan wouldn't say them" beta), Ron and Sue Koci and Kay Brenner (my heavy-duty proofreaders), comet (who wrote suggestions to the characters in the margins just like you call out advice to the heroine in a horror movie-all of which my characters steadfastly ignored, I have to admit), and Nancy Kilroy (my "I don't know Sarah MacGreggor, so explain this to me" beta). Honorable mention goes to deb Palmer who snuffled encouraging things through her cold but couldn't keep her eyes open long enough for an official edit. I'm sure she'll find twice as many things wrong with my next story to make up for it though...
Seacouver, July 1999. Methos woke up suddenly, his hand reflexively reaching for his sword even as his eyes opened. He listened intently, but the apartment was quiet. Even his cats, Mungojerry and Rumpleteaser, were still asleep in a patch of sunlight under his bedroom window. He relaxed slightly and turned to JL to ask if she'd heard anything, but her half of the bed was empty. Looking at her pillow, Methos suddenly realized that the feeling of being alone for the first time since he and JL had moved in together a year and a half ago was what had woken him. "Right," he muttered to himself as he got up and stretched, "she's taking sunrise shots at Snoqualmie Falls with her new camera. Well," he amended as he glanced at the clock, "she took sunrise shots at the Falls. Now she's probably taking a nap, considering the fact that I'm sure she stayed up all night instead of trying to get up early."
Padding off to the bathroom, Methos tried to remember the last sunrise he'd seen voluntarily. He and Alexa had shared several in Santorini, but before that the only one he could recall was in Germany with Sarah in 1364. He'd seen a few in between, but only on the way home from a night on the town or a reconnaissance mission in one war or another. Sarah had loved watching the sun creep over the mountains and ignite the surrounding hillsides, but he had always considered sunsets equally pleasant and far better timed.
Emerging from the bathroom, Methos put on a pair of boxers and a T-shirt before he walked downstairs to get the paper and the mail. The brownstone was quiet-both the first and second floor tenants worked during the day, which was part of the reason JL had selected it. With her hours, she was often going to bed when most families were getting up. Sorting through the mail on his way back upstairs, he threw most of it out and tossed the rest on the desk before going into the kitchen to fix breakfast for himself and the cats. Mungojerry, the golden-colored tom with blue eyes, curled around his ankles while he worked, but Rumpleteaser just washed his black fur fastidiously and occasionally blinked his green eyes at Methos when he didn't appear to be getting his food fast enough. Methos had named them for the principle mischief- makers in Cats, but JL had promptly shortened their names to Rump and Jerry, and that's what had stuck. Scratching Jerry behind the ears, Methos took his breakfast and settled on the couch, deciding it was too hot to bother with more clothes. He figured that JL would be gone all day-she'd said she would be back by early afternoon, but when she started taking pictures only hunger would stop her. So he had at least seven hours to lounge around until she rolled in at five for dinner before going to work at six.
Methos carefully considered everything he could do with his day, then decided not to make any hasty decisions until he'd read his paper and finished his coffee. It was noontime before he finished his third cup, and he was just considering lunch when he felt an Immortal arrive at his door and ring the bell. Folding his paper, Methos checked the security camera JL had installed, expecting to see Duncan's disgustingly cheerful face. He almost dropped his coffee as the camera focused on a tall blonde woman wearing a green halter top that matched her eyes and a pair of black shorts. He stared at the small screen in shock, instantly transported back to the days when they had traveled together across several continents-laughing, learning, exploring. He was startled out of his reverie when the woman began to look edgy and tried the doorbell again. Taking a deep breath, Methos walked slowly over to the door, opened it, and smiled. "Sarie," he greeted her warmly, giving her a hug. "How are you? I didn't expect to see you."
"Obviously," Sarah MacGreggor replied with a laugh, gesturing to his scanty attire, "and here I thought you were getting dressed."
"It's hot," he protested, stepping back so she could come in, "and I'm almost as dressed as you are. When did you get back from Scotland?"
"A couple of months ago. I stopped to visit Jim and Bryan." Sarah dropped her ever-present satchel on the table and surveyed Methos' apartment. It was smaller than she had expected, but she recognized several of Methos' favorite knickknacks. They made her feel instantly at home, and she smiled to herself. Maybe this would work after all.
"Bryan must have been delighted to see you," Methos said with a barely concealed smirk while he poured her an iced tea and added just the right amount of sugar, "but I thought you were still mad at him for stealing your boyfriend in '45."
Sarah waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, he swears that was a mistake," she replied, "and he made it up to me years ago. He's annoyed me many times since then though, and this was his attempt to make up for a few of them. Although with Jim home the entire time, there were a few things we didn't get to."
Methos grinned, trying not to show how happy the thought of Jim keeping them apart made him. Handing her the drink, he examined her necklace. The green, teardrop-shaped stone dangled between her breasts on a fine gold chain, and he lifted it gently. "Nice work," he commented, letting the pendant go and watching it settle back into place. "Very nice."
"Thank you," Sarah responded dryly, "but I meant he repaid me with a tour of San Francisco and some very fancy dinners. The necklace came from Connor."
"Oh," Methos replied, studiously not thinking about how much that annoyed him. "How are Jim and Bryan?"
"Fine. They said to say hello." Sarah took the tea and settled onto the couch, only to end up with a black cat in her lap demanding attention. She obliged and Methos chuckled.
"That's Rumpleteaser," he told her. Glancing around, he spotted the golden tom settling in on a book shelf. "And the literary-minded one is Mungojerry."
"Interesting color combination," Sarah observed, "very similar to one I just...wait a minute. Rumpleteaser and Mungojerry? Aren't those the parts Bryan and Jim played in Cats?"
Methos nodded and winked. "Indeed they are. It took me months to find just the right color combination. I can't wait to introduce them to their namesakes. I see Rump follows Bryan in more than just color, too."
Sarah grinned and scratched the cat behind his ears. He stretched luxuriously and settled deeper into her lap. "He's sweet," she said, "and he does purr like Bryan." Sipping her tea, Sarah watch Methos drop into a chair across from her. She found the sight of him in boxers and T-shirt strangely compelling, so she concentrated on petting the cat. She could clearly remember how he'd looked five years ago dressed in MacGreggor plaid at the Clan gathering in Glenstrae, his bony knees protruding from his kilt much the way they did from his shorts. The kilt, however, had been long enough to conceal the parts that Sarah could almost see through the leg of his boxers every time he shifted. "Where's Richie?" she asked suddenly, trying to refocus. "I haven't seen him since he, Bryan, and I went camping."
"You went camping with them? When?" Methos asked in surprise, feeling a sudden empathy for Richie as he remembered what it was like to be trying to sleep while listening to Bryan when he and Jim tried-and often failed-to be quiet. For that matter, Sarah could get a bit carried away, too.
"Three years ago now. Bryan was counseling Richie after Lucas Buck raped him, and he thought I might be able to help. So we went to Yosemite. It was fascinating seeing Bryan in action-I've never watched him treat someone before. He's almost as good as he claims he is." Sarah sipped her ice tea and smiled reminiscently. "I think we shocked poor Richie though. He didn't know quite what to make of us. Bryan had already told him that we were close, but it's one thing to know it and quite another to see it."
"Don't I know it," Methos muttered.
"What?" Sarah asked, startled out of her daydream.
"I said I can imagine it," Methos replied hurriedly. "It must have been hard for Richie to imagine Bryan with a woman after seeing him with Jim."
Sarah nodded. "That was part of it, I'm sure. Anyway, I've talked to Richie a few times since then, but never for very long. The last time was almost a year ago, and he told me he was fine but had a hell of a story to tell me when next we met."
"That's one way to put it," Methos agreed. "Did Bryan tell you what happened to him?"
"You mean after Lucas Buck? No, the only thing Bryan said about Richie was that he had been dating someone named JL, but that it hadn't worked out. What else happened to him?"
Methos sighed and got up. "I'll tell you over lunch," he hedged, trying to figure out a way to tell Sarah that Richie had been kidnapped by Aurelia and almost sacrificed a second time-and that no one had called Sarah and invited her along on the rescue mission. Knowing Sarah, that was going to be the part that really annoyed her, and was most likely the reason Bryan had chosen not to mention it. "He's fine now, though," he added as she followed him into the kitchen. "Just in one of those introspective phases."
"He was fine when we left Yosemite," Sarah insisted. "Quit stalling, Petey, and tell me what happened."
Methos sighed, recognizing that tone of voice. This subject was one Sarah was decidedly not going to drop. "Bryan probably told you that JL killed Lucas Buck and Alaric Sutkin, right?" At Sarah's nod, Methos continued, "Well, their friends didn't take kindly to all this, so they kidnapped Richie the following spring in order to finish the sacrifice Lucas started."
"They couldn't have sacrificed Richie," Sarah said in horror, dropping onto one of the kitchen stools as her concern for Richie overwhelmed her own worries. "You said he was fine."
"I said they kidnapped him," Methos replied, taking her hand and squeezing it gently. "And incidentally, me with him." Giving up distracting her, Methos led her over to the couch and sat next to her, keeping hold of her hand while he told her about Richie's second capture and the rescue JL, Connor, Duncan, Amanda, Jim, and Bryan had pulled off. He tried to gloss over the worst details, but Sarah insisted on hearing it all, asking questions whenever he hesitated.
Sarah felt him draw away a little as he told her about being interrogated by Aurelia's second-in-command, but his legendary self-control kept his voice steady. His shoulders were tense, though, and Sarah knew him well enough to read the unshed tears in every word when he told her about how they'd dragged Jim's badly abused body into their cell. Uncurling, she slid her arms around him and pulled him close, encouraging him to rest his head on her shoulder. "It wasn't your fault, Petey," she soothed. "Jim went in because he wanted to. It's horrible that he was tortured, but you weren't responsible for it."
Methos nestled against her, comforted by how easily she'd figured out what really hurt and knew exactly what to say. Until that moment, he'd been sure he had gotten over it, but now all he could think about was cradling Jim's body in his arms and wondering if his student wouldn't be better off dead. But as bad as that had been, the night before had been worse. He'd lain in the dark almost certain he was going to die and unable to stop thinking-about his victories, his defeats, his regrets-and how the main regret he'd had for centuries was never telling Sarah how much he loved her. He tried to tell her just that, but words failed him and all he could do was tremble.
Sarah pulled him closer and he turned sideways so he could put his arms around her and rest his forehead against the curve of her neck. Gathering his strength, he told her the rest of it-how JL had infiltrated the temple and freed them, how they'd killed the rest of the Immortals in the chapel Alaric had deconsecrated, and how Richie had returned on the stroke of midnight, bringing with him a red Mustang to replace the one JL had crashed during the rescue attempt. That should have been the easy part because they'd won those battles, but he kept being distracted by a voice inside himself insisting that this was the perfect time to tell Sarah the truth before he did lose the chance forever. The voice just couldn't overcome the fear that she wouldn't want to hear it.
Rubbing small circles on his back, Sarah listened to his story, even managing a small laugh at the thought of Connor encouraging Bryan to put his pants back on. The thought of Jim being tortured hurt her to the core, though, and she could almost feel Bryan's anguish as she imagined him watching the guards capture his lover. But all of that paled next to the image of her Petey dying again and again as his interrogators laughed at him and egged each other on to new and more elaborate torments. She clung to him tightly, trying not to cry and wondering what in God's name she would have done if they had beheaded him as they had intended. She wished she could kiss him and make it all better. If it were Bryan she wouldn't have hesitated, but her relationship with Methos had never worked like that.
Methos finished his story and hugged her, savoring the light floral scent of her hair. His left hand slid down her back and rested just under the waistband of her shorts, his fingers rubbing the knot that always formed in her lower back when she was upset. Sarah arched against him and sighed, enjoying the familiar touch of his hands. They had traveled together for centuries after Methos had found her in the ruins of her village, sharing something that was more than a friendship, yet was not a romance. Even after Bryan's gentle touch had restored her interest in men, she and Methos had never become romantically involved. The closest they'd come had been the night of the party in Glenstrae after they'd finally found each other again, but she'd chosen to take Richie on a tour of Scotland and he'd returned to Seacouver.
Rubbing her back, Methos' breath came a little faster as he gazed down at her breasts and the pendant that beckoned to him. He tried again to tell her how much he loved her, but his brain simply would not cooperate. The warmth of her skin almost burned against his cheek, and he knew he couldn't wait to find the words any longer-the temptation to touch her was far too strong. He began kissing the side of her neck, unconsciously mimicking the way he'd seen Bryan caress her. He'd wanted to do this for so long that it was like a stream bursting through the ice during the spring thaw-completely natural and tremendously freeing.
Sarah arched as he nibbled her neck, then she stiffened and pulled away a little. "Petey," she whispered uncertainly, "what are you doing?"
"Kissing you," he replied, promptly doing just that, then caressing her cheek. "Should I stop? I've stopped so many times, Sarie. I laid in that cell waiting to die and thinking of how many times I almost kissed you but didn't."
"Why didn't you?" she asked softly, turning her head slightly so she could kiss his hand.
"I don't know," Methos replied, still stroking her back and praying that she wanted him half as much as he wanted her, "but I know I regretted it every time. I just didn't have the nerve to say so. Now, well, now that I've had a chance to really think about what might have been, I'm tired of holding back."
Sarah gazed at him silently, trying to keep her own desire in check long enough to think. He'd been her best friend for centuries, but she hadn't realized just how much she cared about him until she thought she'd lost him in Germany. Almost instantly, they'd fallen into their old camaraderie when they'd found each other again after six centuries, and she'd begun to wonder if they could be more than friends in Glenstrae, but he hadn't shown any interest in changing their relationship. Now that he was holding her and kissing her and saying all the things she longed to hear, the timing just couldn't be worse. If Chandler followed her here and did to Petey what he'd done to Sean...
Untangling herself quickly, Sarah got up and walked into the kitchen, where she scooped up Jerry and stroked him for a moment before turning back to Methos. "How about lunch?" she asked him with forced cheerfulness.
Methos avoided her gaze, then silently got up and made two sandwiches. Through sheer force of will, he kept his hands steady as he tried to convince himself that it was better this way. Less complicated, certainly. Now when Jim started in on how Sarah was his soulmate, he could tell him just how miserably wrong he was.
Sarah watched him over Jerry's head for a while before she put the cat down and walked over. He glanced up and smiled uncertainly, then handed her a plate. "Here," he said softly, "there's beer in the fridge. I'll be right back." Going into the bedroom, Methos picked up a pair of shorts and pulled a clean shirt out of the drawer. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he stripped off his old shirt and rested his head on his hands for a moment. Fool, he thought bitterly, now you've ruined everything. Gods, Julius, why did I listen to your romantic babble? Why didn't I just keep my damn mouth shut?
Sarah watched him go, mentally kicking herself for handling it so gracelessly. She heard his bureau drawer open and close, then silence. Getting two beers from the fridge, she opened them and glanced at the bedroom door, but all was still quiet. To hell with this, she decided, picking up the beers and heading for the bedroom in hopes of explaining that it was the timing that was bad, not the kiss. I'll handle Chandler, and we'll finish that kiss. She paused in the doorway, watching him sit on the edge of the bed and feeling her resolve vanish. She'd never seen him look so vulnerable, and she suddenly realized both how much he loved her-and how much she loved him. Chandler be damned, she thought with a grim smile. I'll deal with him later.
"Petey?" she said softly.
He looked up quickly and tried to muster a smile. "I was just getting dressed," he told her, gesturing to the clothes lying beside him.
"Don't bother," she replied, walking over and snuggling in next to him. "There's been a few times I wanted to kiss you, too."
Wrapping his arms around her, Methos lost himself in her embrace, completely ignoring the portion of his mind that kept insisting he should tell Sarah about JL before JL walked in and killed them both. Eventually, though, even that voice was silent as he and Sarah tried to make up for centuries of missed opportunities in a single afternoon.
After they'd exhausted their initial passion, they cuddled until Sarah decided to slip off to the bathroom. Methos stretched luxuriously and sighed happily, savoring the taste of her that lingered on his lips and the scent of her hair on the pillow. Rump interrupted his daydreams with a hungry meow, and Methos' eyes widened as he glanced at the clock. It was well past six, and JL should have been home an hour ago to eat and get ready for work. JL. Shit. Rolling over, Methos reached for the phone, praying she had decided to go directly to Joe's and wouldn't be expecting to see him for a few hours. Glancing at the bathroom door, he set the handset back in its cradle, got up and grabbed his clothes, then went out to use the phone in kitchen.
Sarah washed her face and leaned against the sink, her hands lightly tracing her arms where Methos had caressed her moments before. She sighed happily, opening his medicine chest in search of toothpaste. As the door swung open, she froze. Neatly arrayed next to Methos' shaving things were cosmetics and a couple of bottles of perfume. Looking around more closely, she found a second toothbrush hanging in the stand, a bikini tossed over the showerhead, and two robes hanging on the back of the door.
Suddenly weak, she leaned against the cool tiled wall and shook as the real world rushed in on her once more. Bryan had told her about Methos' new girlfriend-the young Immortal who'd rescued Richie and had later broken up with him. But Bryan had also said that it was more of an old habit than a romance, and that he didn't expect it to last long. Even so, Sarah knew that JL was his girlfriend, and they had both just betrayed her without a second thought. Thank God she hadn't been there to see it.
"Damn," Sarah swore to herself, slamming her hand against the tile. "This is the worst possible time for me to get carried away. What in God's name is wrong with me? I'm supposed to be dealing with Chandler, not getting involved in Petey's sex life." Pulling on one of the robes, she walked back into the bedroom. She heard Methos' soft voice coming from the kitchen, but couldn't quite make out the words. Bending down to get her clothes, she noticed a bra lying neglected in a corner on top of a pair of jeans.
Dressing quickly, she surveyed the room. On the dresser, she saw a jewelry box with several silver Celtic knotwork barrettes scattered around it and a framed picture of Joe sitting beside it. On the nightstand she found a book called French for Beginners with a photography magazine stuffed inside. Sinking down on the edge of the bed, she slowly reached out and picked up the book. Her hand shook a little, and the book fell open to the ersatz bookmark. Sarah drew a deep breath before she dared to examine the mailing label. Bryan was going to be in for some serious grief if he'd neglected to mention that JL was living with him. He wouldn't, she assured herself. Not even Bryan would be that stupid. But the small, rectangular label clearly stated that the post office knew what Sarah didn't. It was bad enough to cheat on a girlfriend-betraying a live-in lover was even worse.
Storming into the kitchen, she threw the magazine at Methos. "What is this?" she demanded. "Are you living with JL?"
Methos put down the phone and went to hold her, but Sarah just glowered and wouldn't let him. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I know I should have told you, but..."
"But what?" Sarah interrupted, clinging to the unreasonable hope she was wrong. "I thought you lived here alone."
"JL spends her money on cameras and electronics," Methos replied uneasily. "She's not one for knickknacks."
"You're living with someone and you make love to me in her bed?" Sarah almost snarled.
"I didn't mean to," Methos protested quickly, cursing himself silently as he watched the hurt overshadow the anger in her eyes. "I mean, I wasn't thinking about JL at all."
"That's supposed to make me feel better?" Sarah fumed. "You casually two-time your live-in girlfriend without a second thought? You should have told me, you bastard." Forcing her fists to unclench, Sarah paced in front of the windows and tried to refocus on the immediate problem-JL. With Chandler hanging over her head, an enraged JL was simply a complication she did not need right now. "Now what are we going to do? Where is she?"
"I'm not sure," Methos admitted. "She went out to take pictures of the sunrise, but I expected her home for dinner before her shift at Joe's bar. She has missed work before in search of the perfect shot, or she could have stopped at Joe's house to use the darkroom she's got set up in his basement and changed there. Watcher habits die hard-she always keeps an overnight bag and clean clothes in her car in case she has to do some fast traveling."
"I can't believe I did this," Sarah moaned, gathering up her satchel. "I should have known it was a mistake."
"It wasn't a mistake, Sarie," Methos insisted, putting his hands on her shoulders. "The timing may not have been perfect, but it wasn't a mistake."
"Is that what you're going to tell JL?" Sarah demanded. "That you were unfaithful on purpose?"
Methos sighed and shook his head. "We can't tell her anything about this, Sarie. She'd either challenge one or both of us, or shatter. She's a tough kid in some ways, but she's still got a major self-esteem problem."
Sarah glared at him for a moment, then shook her head in disgust and pulled away. "I must be insane to go along with this," she muttered. "I should just go back to Scotland."
"Sarie, please forgive me," Methos pleaded. "It was stupid and thoughtless of me, but what I said was true. I did think of you in that cell, and I did regret never kissing you. I should have told you how I felt in Glenstrae but I didn't, and now I'm involved with someone I care about who doesn't deserve to be hurt by this any more than you do. Please, Sarie. It's my fault, not JL's."
"What am I supposed to do, Petey? Pretend it never happened?" Sarah looked at Methos and shook her head. "Maybe it shouldn't have, but it did."
Methos almost flinched under the intensity of her glare and sighed. "Look," he said, "let me get cleaned up and we'll go over to Joe's. JL's working tonight and I can introduce you in a public place. We can tell her we spent the day together- she'll recognize your name from the stories Richie told her. I heard him regaling her with his adventures in Scotland more than once, and she knows you were my student."
"And then what? I won't lie to her for you."
"Then we'll see," Methos replied. "She probably won't ask, so it won't be an issue. If it becomes one, well, I'll deal with it."
Sarah shrugged but set down her satchel so she could fish out her comb and begin running it through her hair. Methos watched her for a minute, then grabbed his clean clothes and headed into the bathroom. She glanced in that direction as the door closed, then wandered over to sit in the windowsill in hopes of finding a breeze. She contemplated walking out and returning to San Francisco-she could almost hear Bryan's bones snap as she "discussed" how he'd insisted that JL would be better off with someone named Colin instead of telling her what was really going on between Methos and JL.
Methos' touch still lingered on her skin though, and she wondered idly what it would be like to feel his hands sliding across her body every day. She started as a furry body rubbed against her ankle, and she picked up Rump with a small laugh. "That's not quite what I had in mind, Rump," she told him, "but I appreciate the thought." Rump purred contentedly as she scratched his ears. "Your namesake is in very big trouble," she told the cat. "I'm going to kill him very, very slowly for not mentioning Petey's living arrangement." Rump continued to purr, unconcerned for Bryan's safety.
Sarah was about to leave before Methos came back when she caught sight of a black Mercedes parked outside the apartment, looking out of place in this neighborhood. Peering down at the street, she stiffened as the man leaning against it gave her a mock salute before getting back in and driving off. "Chandler," she whispered viciously under her breath, squeezing Rump tightly as she remembered the last time she'd seen that lazy salute.
Outside Ottawa, Canada, March 1985. Sean O'Malley leaned back in the seat of Sarah's MG and grinned. "Have I told you today how much I appreciate this, Sarah?"
"Not today, no," Sarah replied, concentrating on keeping the car steady on the icy roads, "but you did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Not to mention the last time we were in Dublin when I saved your butt in three different bar brawls and a minor street riot. All so you could run off with Annie Devlin and help found the IRA."
Sean laughed and lit another cigarette. "We didn't found it, Sarah, we just work with it. Our organization is much older than the IRA. But never mind that-I'm grateful that you convinced Chandler to meet me on Holy Ground. I don't want to fight him any more than I wanted to fight his student. I have more important matters to attend to."
"Like turning those young men I met at the bar last night into terrorists? Good lord, Sean, Annie's gotten you killed what? Five times? Maybe six?"
"Annie's a good lass," Sean protested, blowing a neat series of smoke rings, "and Ireland deserves to be free as much as Scotland does."
"I never said it didn't. But terrorism? Come on, Sean. We've known each other for centuries. You know how I feel about fighting battles that way," Sarah insisted, warming to their standing argument. "I thought I convinced you to give it up decades ago, after you did that stint in prison."
Sean sighed dramatically, but couldn't help grinning at her. "We're not terrorists, we're...what the bloody hell is that?"
Sarah cursed at the sight of a car angled across the road ahead of her, and fought her little MG as it threatened to plow into a snowbank. Finally sliding to a stop, she breathed a sigh of relief. "That does it," she groused, "after you and Chandler settle your differences, I'm on the next plane to Tahiti. If I wanted to die in a snowstorm I'd move to Tibet. At least they have yak-hair-lined boots there."
Sean laughed and looked at the driver of the car, a young woman in a short jacket and heels that were the epitome of style and virtually useless in this weather. She seemed delighted to see them, and was waving wildly-as if they could miss her car sitting halfway across the road. "We should help her, Sarah," he said, eyeing her slender figure and opening his door. "Chandler can wait a few minutes-we're practically at the church as it is. Besides, she'll freeze in that get-up."
"Not with men like you to keep her warm, I'd wager," Sarah grumbled as she followed Sean out of the car. "I swear, you're as bad as Bryan sometimes."
Sean ignored her and tipped his hat to the driver as she came over. The woman hugged Sean and let him lead her back to her car, gazing at him as if he were some kind of god.
Sarah had a serious desire to drive off and leave them, but she resolutely squared her shoulders and walked over to discuss the best way to get the car out of the bank. She glanced up as a car drove by them slowly, its driver trying desperately to remain inconspicuous. Sarah grinned to herself-ever since she'd found out about Watchers from Donald MacGreggor, she'd made a game of picking them out of a crowd. This one must be truly heartbroken that there wasn't a good place to stash a car for miles. It would serve him right if he overshot the church and lost them completely.
They had just started pushing when another car came around the bend and pulled up so that it blocked Sarah's MG. She glanced at Sean, who gave a curt nod as he too recognized Donald Chandler's limousine. A guard stepped out, along with the chauffeur who walked around the car and opened Chandler's door.
Chandler got out of the limo and smiled at them. "So," he said, "you must be very surprised to see me, Mr. O'Malley. I'm sure you expected me to be firmly in your trap by now."
"What trap?" Sean asked, starting to edge behind the stranded car. The familiar feel of a gun barrel pressing against his ribs brought him up short, however, and he glanced at the woman they'd stopped to help. She smiled at him coldly, and shoved the gun further into his ribs. "What's going on? We were supposed to meet at the chapel up the road."
Chandler nodded, running his fingers under the strap that held the patch over his right eye. "I was on my way, but I thought to send one of my men along first, just in case. You know perfectly well what he found-your companions on the rooftop with rifles."
Sean's eyes widened and he shook his head. "That can't be," he replied. "They didn't even know where the meeting was."
"Are you calling me a liar?" Chandler demanded. "They were your men all right. My man recognized the redhead at least-Lewis. The same one you claimed heard my student challenge you."
"He did challenge me," Sean insisted, trying to ease the pressure on his ribs a little. "I told you that. Look, Chandler, whoever you saw, it wasn't my boys. They wouldn't do that. Sarah, tell him."
"Sean was the one who asked for this meeting, remember?" Sarah said, stepping forward cautiously. "I came to you because he wanted to talk. Why would he go through all that just to shoot you? He could have done that anywhere."
"I don't know and I don't care," Chandler replied, drawing his rapier. "The time for talk is over. You killed my student, and now it's time to face me."
"With a gun to his back?" Sarah asked angrily.
Chandler nodded at the girl, who started to move away from Sean without lowering the gun. She had barely taken a couple of steps when a car roared up from the direction of the church, and a man leaned out and shot her in the back. Sarah saw the other car doors open and moved toward Sean, but Chandler's chauffeur started firing at her, and she had to dive in the other direction. She grunted as a bullet tore through her shoulder, but managed to take cover behind the girl's car. Holding a hand against the wound until the bleeding stopped, she stared at Sean's body lying next to the girl's and wondered if Lewis had really tried to ambush Chandler. If she found out that Sean had used her to lure Chandler into a trap, he'd find out that her temper was far more deadly than his precious Annie Devlin's any day.
Several more shots echoed from the car and were promptly returned by Chandler's guard and his chauffeur. Sarah glanced around the car in time to see several parka-clad figures scramble up the bank, then turn and fire again on the limo. Chandler's chauffeur and his guard suddenly dove behind her MG and started firing into the trees, sending the men even further back.
Sarah noted the professional way Chandler's men worked their way into the trees, laying down cover fire as they moved. Sean had told her that he'd been trying to recruit some of them to his cause-from the way they worked together, she could see why. Even the chauffeur moved like a trained mercenary. Chandler's chauffeur finally emerged from the trees and walked over to check Sean and the girl. He cursed softly when he realized that she was dead, then rolled Sean's body over roughly so he could handcuff him.
"Now wait," Sarah protested, rising to her feet. "What are you doing that for?"
"You can't possibly expect me to fight him here, can you?" Chandler reasoned, getting out from behind the shelter of the limo and adjusting his eyepatch strap again. "His men will be calling for backup. No, my dear, I shall take him back to my estate and we'll fight there, where I'm sure we won't be interrupted."
"But," Sarah began, only to stop as Chandler's guard dragged a man's body from the attackers' car.
"This is the only one we got, Mr. Chandler," he said, dropping the corpse at his boss' feet much like a cat bringing home a mouse. "The rest of them ran like rabbits. Should we try to track them?"
"No," Chandler replied casually. "I daresay it will take them a while to regroup, and we can be long gone by then. Put Monica's body in the car and we'll make sure her family is well compensated."
Sarah ignored the flunky's reply and stared at the red haired man, her anger growing as she recognized him as one of the ones she'd met at the bar last night. Chandler had been right-his name was Lewis. And the car-she suddenly remembered that she'd seen it parked outside the bar that night as well. She glared at Sean as he suddenly began coughing, then stalked over and helped him to his feet. He leaned heavily against her for a few minutes, straightening slowly as his strength returned.
"Sarah," he choked out, "I thought we were goners."
"Did you set him up?" Sarah hissed.
"What?" Sean replied in surprise. "No. Of course not. Why do you..." Sean's voice trailed off as he noticed Lewis' body. "Oh, God, Lewis," he whispered. "What are ye doing here, lad?"
"I hate to interrupt your reunion," Chandler said dryly, "but we must be going before your friends return."
"We'll talk later," Sarah promised quietly as she let go of Sean. "But you should fight on neutral ground at least. There's a deserted farmhouse about five miles down the road-why don't we go there? I'll take Sean with me, and you can follow us."
Chandler shook his head and grabbed Sean's arm. "I don't think so. You're his friend-how do I know you weren't involved? No, he goes with me, and he goes to my estate-there's a private grove of trees just behind the gatehouse that will work fine. I won't have them following us and shooting me in the back in the middle of the fight." Pausing when he noticed Sarah's glower, Chandler still kept his hold on Sean. "If he wins, my men will let him go, I assure you. Which is more than I could promise about his men."
Sarah started to advance, but both the chauffeur and Chandler's guard reached for their guns and she forced her anger into check. "They'd damn well better," she warned, but she knew it was hopeless to argue with that much firepower.
"I'm telling you, they weren't here on my orders," Sean protested desperately. "They didn't know where or when we were meeting. I don't understand it. You believe me, don't you, Sarah? Have I ever lied to you?"
Chandler just snorted. "However they found out, they were obviously here," he said, gesturing to the body. "And I'm not staying here a moment longer. If you want to follow me home and observe the fight, Miss MacGreggor, you may, but I'm leaving." Nodding to his henchmen, Chandler handed Sean over to them and walked back to his limo.
"I'll be right behind you," Sarah promised, more for Sean's ears than Chandler's. She winced as they shoved Sean into the back of the car, and glared at Chandler when he gave her a lazy salute as he got in. She watched the Mercedes pull out before turning back to her MG, only to begin cursing in a variety of languages when she realized that her left rear tire had been shot out during the firefight.
Methos stood quietly for a moment, listening to her Gaelic curses and fervently hoping she wasn't really planning to use a tire iron on him that way. Even Rump was regarding her suspiciously, still unhappy over having been squeezed so hard. Summoning his courage, Methos cleared his throat and prepared to face Sarah's glare. In that, at least, he was not disappointed.
"Well?" she demanded, still angry about Chandler and perfectly willing to vent her fury on Methos, "what do you want?"
"To talk to you, Sarie," he replied evenly. "We have to talk about what happened."
"We did," she snapped. "You were an ass, and I helped make you one. Case closed."
"No, it's not closed," Methos insisted firmly. "We didn't just make love to hurt JL, or because we're too young to control ourselves. We got carried away solely because we love each other, and we've been denying that for years." Sarah glared at him, but his gaze never wavered. "Sarie, please. Think about what this really means. Think about how much we both wanted it to happen."
Sarah wanted to slam her fist into his face, but the earnestness in his eyes and the set of his shoulders stopped her. He wasn't lying, but he wasn't making any commitments either. As she opened her mouth to point that out, she realized she simply didn't care-she was far too worried about Chandler's sudden reappearance to continue the fight. "So what now?" she asked wearily.
"Now we deal with it, Sarie, and we deal with it together," he replied softly. "We're both intelligent adults. I'm sure we can decide if this was a momentary urge or if it's the start of something far more powerful."
"And what if it is?" Sarah almost whispered.
"What if it's which?"
"Either," Sarah admitted quietly. "I don't know how to deal with either."
"We'll figure it out, Sarie," he assured her. "One day at a time. If it's more than just an impulse, well, JL's not an incurable romantic like some. I'll find a way to tell her."
Sarah snorted. "Can I watch? Maybe I'll even hold you down so she can express her displeasure as calmly and rationally as she wants."
Methos grinned at what he hoped was Sarah's attempt at a joke. "If you must," he replied lightly. "But we both need to get a little distance from it first. Are we still going to Joe's?" Watching the resentment still simmering in Sarah's eyes, he hoped that JL would be less suspicious of an angry Sarie than a happy one. With any luck, this might actually work to his advantage and he could survive long enough to talk things out with both of them.
"Fine," Sarah acceded with a resigned sigh. "Whatever. But I won't lie to her."
"So you said," Methos replied, stepping back as she strode past him to the door and trying to ignore the sinking suspicion that luck was the one thing he was in short supply of right now. He followed Sarah down the stairs, wincing as she slammed her car door without offering him a ride. With a small sigh he started his Volvo and followed her, trying not to think about the fact he might be sleeping in its back seat tonight if JL somehow figured out that he'd trysted with Sarie in her bed-on the sheets he hadn't thought to change. I used to be better at this two-women-at-a-time stuff, he thought sadly as he followed Sarah's taillights. But it's a lot easier when you don't really care about either of the two women involved. He had called Joe's and been delighted to hear that JL hadn't shown up yet, nor had Colin reported anything unusual. Maybe, just maybe, things were actually going to work out. Now if only he could decide exactly how he wanted them to work out, he'd be all set.
Methos knew Sarah had calmed down a little by the way she waited while he parked his car so they could walk in together. JL's Mustang wasn't in evidence, and Methos relaxed a little as he opened the door for her, fairly confident the Immortal they both felt was Duncan. A moment later, Mac's enthusiastic greeting to Sarah confirmed his suspicions, and he took a deep breath and let the door close behind them while Sarah and Duncan embraced.
Walking up to the bar with them, Methos watched quietly while Duncan impatiently let Sarah give Joe a 'hello' hug, then started asking her where she'd been and what she'd been up to. Sarah spun stories for the Highlander that had them both laughing and left Methos out of things completely. He sighed and sipped his beer, trying not to think of how many times he'd had to sit back and watch Sarah laughing and joking with another man. Thank God this wasn't Bryan-he could still remember when Joe had invited Jim and Bryan to Seacouver just after he and Sarah had been reunited so that they could walk in and surprise the boys. After their initial shock, they'd settled down and started to swap stories. Bryan and Sarah had managed to casually brush against one another every few minutes, and, every time Jim left the room, Bryan would scoop her up and kiss her, or she would kiss him. Come to think of it, Jim had ended up leaving with one of the band members right before Bryan went home with Sarah.
Joe listened for a bit, then leaned against the bar across from Methos. "Those two seem to have picked up where they left off quickly enough," he commented casually.
Methos started a little and smiled wryly. "They're Scotsmen. You know how they stick together. Always commiserating about having to bathe in that freezing cold loch water."
Joe grinned and drew a couple of beers for one of his waitresses. "Have you heard from JL? We're a little short- handed tonight."
"No," Methos replied. "She went to the Falls to take pictures. You know how she..." Straightening as the buzz filled the bar, he glanced at Sarah, who resolutely ignored him. When JL came through the door followed by Colin, her ever-present Watcher, he put on his warmest smile and said, "JL. I wondered when you'd reappear. Did you get any good pictures?"
JL ignored him as completely as Sarah had, although she walked up to the bar and stood next to him. "Guess what, Joe," she said with a forced smile that made the hairs on the back of Methos' neck curl, "I have something new for you to add to the Chronicles."
"Really?" Joe asked cautiously, studying the tension around her eyes. "What?"
"An Immortal can sneak up on another Immortal without him, or her, ever being aware of it," she replied casually, "if they do it right at the moment of climax, when the Immortal is lost in the throes of orgasmic bliss." Studying her fingernails intently, JL smiled thinly. "Of course, it requires absolutely perfect timing. The kind of timing that could happen, oh, let's say once..." Turning to face Methos for the first time, JL dropped any pretense of being calm as she jabbed a fingernail deep into his shoulder and snarled, "in your lifetime, sweetheart." With one brief glare at Sarah, she grabbed an empty tray, spun on her heel, and strode up the stairs to wait on the people in the upper balcony.
Methos remained motionless as she walked away, ignoring the bewildered looks he was getting from Joe and Duncan and the glares from Sarah and Colin. He wanted desperately to deny such a thing was possible, but he'd inadvertently walked in on Jim and Bryan too many times to think that. No, he had to assume she'd seen them making love in her bed. Why she hadn't killed them then, Methos wasn't sure, but he knew it didn't mean she wouldn't take a shot at it later. No matter how promising her talent, he still beat her fairly regularly in their sparring matches and Sarah would probably make short work of her, too. If JL challenged Sarah and pulled off another miracle like she'd managed with Aurelia-no, that couldn't happen. Not when he'd just found her again, and not when Bryan would be standing in the wings waiting for revenge. He'd have to find a way to make JL see that even if she won, she'd lose. Whatever it took, he'd have to find a way to keep this from coming to swords.
"Methos?" Joe demanded, shaking Methos' shoulder to get his attention. "What is she talking about? What the hell did you do now?"
Methos glanced at Sarah and shook his head slightly before turning back to Joe. "I made a mistake," he said simply, "but I'll fix it. Somehow." Colin snorted from the other end of the bar, and Methos glanced sharply at him before continuing, "I'm sorry, Joe. I didn't mean to hurt JL. It just...happened."
Joe shook his head. "Fires just happen, Methos. Thunder storms just happen. Sex doesn't just happen."
"It does when you've been denying it for 600 years, okay?" Methos snapped, effectively silencing even Joe.
Sarah ignored Duncan's inquisitive look and clenched her jaw, trying not to think about how JL must have felt when she'd seen them. She'd walked in on Bryan and Jim a few times, so she knew how it felt to watch two people who were so involved with one another that the outside world-and everyone else in it-had simply ceased to exist. Glancing toward the door, she was considering making her escape when JL came back down the stairs and walked to the kitchen, her shoulders back and her gaze fixed straight ahead.
Ignoring Methos' attempts to get her attention, JL studiously fetched drinks and socialized with the customers, but her friends could tell her laughter was forced and she was clearly operating on nervous energy. Finally she gave up the act and retreated to the far end of the bar where she leaned against the wall and stared blankly at the band.
"Sarie," Methos began.
"Save it," she snarled, turning her back and studying JL.
Duncan glanced in JL's direction and turned back to Methos. "Aren't you going to talk to her?" he demanded.
"No," Methos replied wearily, "I'd just get my nose broken. Again."
"Well I'm talking to her," Sarah said abruptly, getting up and striding over to JL.
Methos was half off his stool before he caught himself. "She's crazy," he muttered, glancing at Duncan, who nodded agreement. They worked their way carefully across the room, trying to get close enough to hear what Sarah was saying without being noticed.
JL wasn't answering Sarah, but every line in her body radiated barely-controlled fury. As Methos got closer, he could see that there was blood dripping from her clenched fists onto her tan slacks as she drove her nails into her palm. He'd seen her use that coping method once before-when they were fighting about her becoming Lucas Buck's Watcher. She'd thought they were both mortal, then, but that hadn't stopped her from drawing her stiletto and coming far too close to actually using it. Then she'd stormed out the door and hadn't spoken to him for over five years-as he recalled, her greeting then had been to put that damn knife back at his throat. He had to get Sarah away from her before it became stiletto vs. Sgian Dubh.
"What do you want from me?" Sarah repeated, clearly frustrated by JL's continued silence.
Forcing her hands open, JL wiped them casually on her pant leg, leaving a red smear on the fabric. "What I want," she hissed, "is to rip your head off with my bare hands."
Sarah offered a toothless smile that Methos had only seen three times previously-each preceding a fight that ended in a Quickening. "Was that a challenge?"
Methos froze, holding his breath and mentally calculating the distance to JL with the hopes that he'd be able to restrain her long enough for Duncan to do the same for Sarah, should JL react like he expected her to.
"We'll see," JL seethed. "Tomorrow at midnight in the warehouse at 729 West Carmichael."
"JL..." Methos soothed.
"Sarah..." Duncan added.
"Stay out of this," both women said in perfect unison before turning back to glare at each other.
Methos waited breathlessly until JL dropped her gaze and shoved past them toward the door. He followed her into the parking lot, but he didn't try to stop her until she got into her Mustang. "JL," he said, "please listen to me. I can explain."
"I'm sure," JL snarled, starting her car. "You always can." She glanced at him and threw the car into reverse, scarcely giving him enough time to jump back before his toes got crushed.
Methos sighed and shook his head as she roared off. "Please don't do anything stupid, JL," he breathed as she ran a yellow light and vanished into the city. "We can fix this. I swear."
"I wouldn't count on that," Joe said quietly, startling the Immortal. "Betrayal isn't something JL is likely to accept without a fight."
Methos looked up at his friend and sighed, his movement drawing both of their attentions away from the dark blue sedan that pulled out of its parking place and followed JL.
"She has to, Joe," Methos replied earnestly. "Because if she fights either of us, she'll lose. However much I care about her, I won't let her kill me."
Joe looked at Methos, but the Immortal's gaze never wavered. With a sigh, Joe turned and walked heavily back into the bar. He knew this was a losing battle-Methos was just being Methos. Maybe he'd have better luck talking to JL. Maybe.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sarah paced around Mac's loft, trying to control her guilt long enough to think rationally about the day's events. No matter how she looked at it, it all came back to one thing-she'd been incredibly stupid letting her emotions run away with her, and she had no idea what to do now. JL was the worst kind of wildcard-young, angry, and cornered.
"Here, Sarah, have a brandy." Duncan's soft voice stopped her in mid-pace and he smiled encouragingly as she took the glass. "I'm sure we can work this out."
"I'm glad someone thinks so," she replied curtly, then she sipped the brandy and sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap."
"It's all right," Duncan soothed. "You have a right to be upset. Methos lied to you, and you're the one who ended up challenged."
Sarah firmly quelled an urge to defend Methos against Duncan's accusation and studied him for a moment before dropping onto the couch. "You've known her for a while, haven't you? Is she honorable?"
"Do you mean will she shoot you if she starts losing the fight?" Duncan asked, settling into the armchair across from her. "No, I don't think so."
"Even if she's infuriated? And justifiably so?"
Duncan studied the play of light on his glass for a moment, then shook his head. "No. If she had attacked you on the spot, she might have been mad enough to pull a gun, but not now." Taking a sip of his drink, he smiled reassuringly at Sarah. "She might well cool off before tomorrow. Or Methos might find her and talk her down."
"Mac, you saw her eyes in the bar," Sarah countered. "We betrayed her-she was angry with both of us, and she has reason to be. I am so bloody stupid."
Duncan got up and crossed over to the sofa so he could put a reassuring arm around Sarah's shoulders. "It's not your fault, Sarah," he insisted. "It's Methos'. It's his problem-he's the one who has to fix it." Giving her shoulders another squeeze he got up and refilled their glasses. "You know, Sarah, you can't judge JL by her attitude. She bristles like a hedgehog until she gets to know you."
"I have the feeling she's not too interested in getting to know me any more than it takes to kill me," Sarah observed wryly. "She wouldn't even acknowledge my attempts to apologize."
"She's got defenses stronger than the Tower of London, no question about it," Duncan replied, handing Sarah her glass. "She's learning to trust, but it's a slow process. Richie tried to get through, but even he couldn't do it."
"What happened to them? When I talked to Richie, he just said it didn't work out. He didn't sound mad at her or anything."
"He's not," Mac confirmed. "They kept shooting pool and sparring together after JL moved out, they just stopped having sex. Richie understood her from the moment he met her-he knew she'd been raped and lived on the streets long before she admitted it to either of us. He told me he recognized the look in her eye from his own days on the street."
"Richie's a sweetheart," Sarah said fondly. "He can find the best in everyone."
"Aye," Duncan agreed. "And that's really why they didn't work out. Richie will open his heart to almost anyone, and JL won't. Just Joe, Colin, Methos, Jim, and Bryan."
"Bryan adores her, doesn't he?" Sarah mused. "He's been encouraging me to meet her for years, but the timing never worked out right."
"He's certainly spent a lot of time with her," Duncan said, "Joe says he's made a tremendous difference in her life. She was even more closed-off before she started living with Jim and Bryan. I didn't like her at first, but now I understand why Joe does. We'll never be best friends, but I don't mind training her. She takes it seriously and she's willing to keep working until she gets it right."
"What about Petey? Does he train her too?"
"Sometimes," Duncan told her. "He knows just how hard he can push her-once she gets frustrated, she lashes out. Her mood changes by the second. One minute she's fine, the next she's cussing me out."
"Petey always was a good teacher," Sarah said reminiscently, "even if I didn't always like the lessons he had to teach."
"That's what will help him fix things with JL," he pointed out gently. "The question," he added quietly, "is how do you want him to fix it?"
Sarah started and looked up at him. "What do you mean?"
"Just that," Duncan replied. "Do you want him to patch things up with JL, or do you want him to come back to you?"
"That's not my decision, now is it?" Sarah shot back with a warning toss of her hair.
Duncan smiled-he recognized that Scottish temper well, and it didn't phase him the way it did so many others. "How you feel about it will affect how Methos feels about it.""
"Nothing influences Petey," Sarah rejoined. "He makes up his own mind and that's that."
Duncan shrugged and settled back into his chair. "Perhaps. But I'll wager he'll ask. What will you say then?"
"I'll know when I say it," she replied with another sigh. "It's so miserably confusing. For all these years, Petey was my teacher, my companion, and my best friend. Now nothing makes sense anymore. He thinks we can just move on, but I'm not so sure." Sarah sensed the approach of another Immortal, and she stopped, glancing warily at Duncan. "I hope that's not JL," she said quietly. "This could get messy."
"I doubt it," Duncan reassured her. "I'm training JL, but she goes to Joe or Colin for advice"
"You actually have a student you don't advise?" Sarah asked in only half-feigned shock.
"I never said I didn't advise her," Duncan retorted as he moved toward the door, "I just said she doesn't come to me for it. We often talk about things after we've sparred-she's far more likely to listen then. But she's never dropped by just to chat."
The door opened before Mac could get there, and Methos walked into the loft. He nodded wearily at Duncan and Sarah, then grabbed a beer out of Duncan's fridge. "I couldn't find her," he said without preamble. "She's not home, or at Joe's, or Colin's, or any of her other usual haunts. She's not even in that pool hall she and Richie used to hang out in. Her cell phone appears to be off too."
"What about asking Colin?" Duncan suggested. "He's her Watcher. He should know how to find her."
Methos shook his head. "Colin isn't around either. He's either with her or looking for her. Either way, I doubt he'd tell me anything. We don't...get along too well."
"I thought Immortals weren't supposed to know their Watchers," Sarah commented. "That's why Mac's relationship with Joe caused such an uproar."
"Most don't," Methos acceded, "but JL's a special case. She's Watcher-trained, and extremely observant, so she can pick up a tail within a few minutes if she's paying attention. She made it very clear to the Watcher Tribunal that she would not allow anyone other than Colin to follow her around. After she got the sixth one lost in a very disreputable area of Chinatown, they gave up and let Colin watch her."
"So why doesn't he like you?" Sarah insisted, bringing her drink over to the island and settling on the stool next to Methos.
"He claims I-oh, what was his term? 'Jangle his cop instincts,' I think he said. He never trusted me, even before he knew I was immortal."
"Jealousy will do that," Duncan commented with a grin. "He doesn't think Methos is good enough for his precious JL."
"He's protected her for most of her life-of course she's precious to him. I think I may have just proven his point," Methos added with a sigh. "I'll hear the end of this from JL long before Colin lets it rest."
Sarah got up suddenly and walked across the room to stare blindly out the window at the parking garage across the way. Her first instinct was to suggest that he dump JL mostly because she had taken an instant dislike to the girl and thought he deserved better, but too many of her friends had told her that there was more to JL than the cold arrogance she'd shown in the bar. Richie and Bryan had soft hearts, but Joe seemed far more realistic and Methos himself would never waste time searching for someone he didn't care about. The question she couldn't answer was just how much he did care.
Methos glanced at Duncan before setting down his beer and walking over to Sarah. "What's wrong?" he asked gently, laying a hand on her shoulder.
Sarah stiffened but didn't remove the hand. "Is that what you want, Petey?" she finally asked. "To hear the end of this from JL and go on as if nothing had happened?"
"That's not what I meant, Sarie," Methos protested. "I was just saying that Colin holds a grudge longer."
"So you don't want to patch things up with her?" Sarah persisted.
Methos sighed. "I want to stop her from challenging you, that's true. I want her to forgive me, just so she can move on and let the wounds close. I've met too many people who hold on to old wounds far longer than they should."
Sarah turned and looked at him quizzically. "So you want her to move on? Which is it, Petey? Are you going to fight to keep her or not?"
"I told you, Sarie, that depends on you. I'll do whatever you want me to do."
"I want you to make up your own damn mind," Sarah snarled. "I'll not take responsibility for breaking that girl's heart."
Methos bowed his head and counted silently to ten in Sumerian-something he got a lot of practice doing around Sarah. "I told you, Sarie, it's not your fault, it's mine. Tell her, Mac."
Duncan looked unhappy at being dragged back into the conversation, but he came over and stood in front of the wall between the windows. "I already did," he said, "but she's got a point, Methos. If she asks you to leave JL for her, then she's responsible..."
"Oh, god, not this Highland honor stuff again," Methos interrupted. "Look, Sarie, you are not responsible for my concealing my relationship with JL, are you? Are you?" Sarah shook her head and Methos nodded. "Good. At least that's settled. So how could you be to blame for sleeping with me when you didn't know I was living with JL?"
"I knew you were dating JL," Sarah replied quietly. "Bryan told me that, and it should have been enough."
Methos groaned and turned to Duncan, but his friend just shrugged.
"She has a point, Methos," Duncan said, "but he's right too, Sarah. Most of the blame is his."
Methos rolled his eyes in exasperation-sometimes dealing with Highlanders just wasn't worth it. "So what does that mean, Sarie?" he demanded. "That no matter how much we love each other, your damned Highlander honor will keep us apart? And for how long? Until JL dies? Or forever?"
Sarah crossed her arms and glowered back at him. "My Highlander honor, Petey, is all that's keeping me from hitting you-that and I'd rather talk to you right now and figure out what you're planning on doing. I would remind you, however, that I am not the one who betrayed his lover."
"Exactly!" Methos said quickly. "You're not. This is my fault, not yours. Why are you blaming yourself?"
"Because," Sarah began, "because...that's how I feel, all right? Like a complete and total bitch who deserves every bit of JL's hatred."
Methos caught Sarah as she began to turn away again and pulled her into a hug. "It's all right, Sarie," he whispered in her ear. "It's all right."
Sarah's arms went around him almost of their own volition and she hugged him close. "Oh, Petey," she choked out, "this is awful, but I can't be the cause of your breakup. I just can't. We have to go back to being just friends."
"For how long, Sarie?" Methos repeated, fighting the urge to let his frustration and yearning escape as tears.
"I don't know," Sarah told him, pulling away and draining her brandy. "At least until I can think about JL without remembering the hurt in her eyes when she looked at me in the bar. I don't know how long that will take, I really don't."
"I'll find her and talk to her," Methos promised. "Or Colin will. Somehow we'll convince her not to fight you."
"I'm...not so sure I would do that," Sarah said slowly. "That kind of anger doesn't just go away-it has to be vented, and I think I can handle that. The question is whether she'll start listening once her initial fury wears itself out."
"If you disarm her," Duncan suggested, "she'll have to listen. Just watch out for the sheathed stiletto on her left wrist."
"I'm still going to try and talk to her," Methos stated, far more worried about JL's mental state than he cared to admit. "I mean, it's only fair."
"All right," Sarah agreed grudgingly, "but don't be surprised when it doesn't work." Sensing Methos' apprehension, Sarah pulled him into one last hug. Oh, God, she thought while she held him, how did I let this happen? And now that it has, how am I ever going to let him go?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the parking garage across the alley, JL lowered her binoculars and fought down the urge to get a high-powered rifle and recreate Johnny K's little target shooting session-only she had no intention of hitting a mannequin on a train track. She smiled grimly as she imagined the look of shock on their faces as first Sarah and then Methos fell to the merciless bullets, leaving them sprawled out on the floor awaiting her vengeance. "Bastard deserves worse," she growled to the parked cars, and none of them defended him.
"Fuck this," she decided, climbing into her Mustang and putting the binoculars away. She started the engine and went to put the car in gear, but leaned against the steering wheel instead, trying desperately to banish the image of Methos clinging to Sarah. Her Methos. The one man who had managed to make going to bed more than just a duty, or an obligation, or something to be endured. The image of them hugging in the loft dissolved quickly into one of them rolling around in her own bed, totally oblivious to the world. JL had never been able to stand back and observe Methos' face when he made love to her, but she had a feeling that look of total fulfillment was missing. She could have detonated a hand grenade under the bed and those two wouldn't have even noticed. Instead they'd been the ones tossing grenades, and each moan had ripped into JL like a piece of shrapnel. If she hadn't learned a long time ago to suppress her reactions to extreme emotional pain, she'd have killed them then and there. But the old control that had helped her survive her foster-father's abuse had resurfaced and she'd managed to make it down to the first floor before she'd put her fist through the wall.
Tomorrow, she thought grimly. We'll see what happens tomorrow. Backing quickly out of her parking spot, JL began winding her way down to the exit. She was still trying to think of a good place to spend the night when a sickening lurch and the squeal of metal-on-metal shocked her back to reality. Slamming on her brakes, she stared at the dark blue sedan that had pulled out of its parking spot and into the passenger side of her car.
The driver leapt out and came over to her, obviously horrified by the accident. "Miss?" he said, "are you all right? I'm so sorry-I just didn't see you."
JL nodded dumbly, anxious to go someplace where she could vent her anger before she lost control and ripped this mortal to shreds, but he insisted on exchanging license and registration information.
"I'll tell them it was all my fault, of course," he promised nervously. "See, I'll even write it here for you."
"Whatever," JL replied weakly, getting out to survey the damage, "but they'll still raise my rates."
The driver nodded and closed his eyes for a second. I wish that was all my boss was going to do to me, he thought. He'll skin me alive. When JL glanced at him, he shook himself slightly and tried to smile. "Hey, I have an idea. Why don't we settle this now? I have some cash on me. This is what? A couple hundred dollars worth of damage?"
"More," JL said automatically. "The passenger door and rear quarter panel need to be replaced, and it's a custom paint job that they'll have to match. It could be as much as a thousand, depending on how hard it is to find the replacements."
The man gulped. "I don't have that much cash. Why, um, why don't you get some estimates Miss, um, Dawson?" he suggested, reading her name off her license. "We could meet in a couple of days and settle the bill."
JL knew the odds of him being around in a few days was vanishingly small, but she simply didn't care. Even the thought of losing her Mustang didn't register next to losing Methos. With a shrug of agreement, she wrote down the man's name and license number, then got back in her car and made her way down to the street. She made it almost five blocks before she had to pull into an alley and park so she could lean against the wheel and sob.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Methos glanced at his watch and sighed. It was 11:36 p.m., and he hadn't found JL. In less than half an hour, she and Sarah were due to cross swords and his world would shatter. If Sarah won, she'd never forgive him. He couldn't really see JL winning, but if she did, he wasn't so sure he could forgive her for killing Sarie. The fight had to be stopped. They were so damnably stubborn though, and Methos had no idea how to do it. Pulling into Joe's, he parked and walked into the bar, hoping against hope the Immortal he felt was JL. It was Duncan who rose to greet him though, and he sighed.
"No luck?" Duncan asked as Methos came over.
"No. Joe, have you heard from Colin?"
Joe poured Methos a beer and nodded slowly. "Yeah, I have. He found the tracking device he planted on JL's car sitting under one of the upstairs tables-she must have removed it yesterday on her way into the bar. He's been searching everywhere, but he hasn't found her either."
"Marvelous," Duncan sighed. "Where is she?"
"Well," Methos said slowly, "we do know where she's going to be."
Duncan studied him. "What are you suggesting? You know we can't interfere."
"Interfere? Of course not," Methos replied, taking a swig of his beer and tossing some money on the bar, "but we can influence."
"How?" Duncan got up reluctantly, wondering just what Methos was planning this time. "What are we going to do?"
"Fix this." After giving Joe a reassuring smile, Methos headed out and unlocked his car.
Mac settled into the passenger side and glanced at him. "You don't actually have a plan, do you?"
"Well, no," Methos admitted as he pulled back into traffic, "not exactly. But you know JL-she's always late. If we get there before she does, I might get a chance to talk to her."
Duncan nodded thoughtfully. "So tell me, what's the difference between interference and influence?"
"Interference comes after the battle is joined and influence before it," Methos replied.
"So when you shot me in the back before my fight with Keane, that was influence, not interference?"
"Exactly. See, you can do this."
Duncan sighed. "I can. I just don't like to."
"Would you rather see either JL or Sarie lose her head?" Methos countered. "Because that's the alternative."
"No, of course not. I just wish it hadn't come to this at all."
Methos shrugged. "Go ahead and wish. To my knowledge it's never hurt anything."
"Oh, now that's reassuring."
"I could have added 'but it's never helped, either,' but I didn't."
Duncan shook his head. "How optimistic of you. But we should still have a plan."
"I have to see what's going on when we get there. Maybe JL's calmed down on her own. She has to know that Bryan and Sarie have a long history together, and that he'd probably avenge her death. Even if she doesn't care about me, she still respects him."
"Maybe," Duncan said, pointing suddenly. "There's the warehouse."
Methos parked and regarded the relatively-new structure. "729 West Carmichael. Why does this address sound familiar?"
Duncan grimaced and got out of the car. When Methos had locked his door, Duncan glanced at him. "Because," he said quietly, "it's the warehouse where Lucas Buck tortured Richie. It's been rebuilt since the fire, but it's the same address."
"Oh," Methos said thoughtfully. "The site of JL's first kill. How symbolic."
"Let's hope it's not going to be the site of her death, too," Duncan muttered as they walked toward the warehouse. Stopping suddenly, he looked into the shadows and cursed.
"What?" Methos asked, peering into the darkness until he saw the dents in JL's car. "So much for the theory she'll have calmed down," he said with a sigh. "She loves that car."
The unmistakable clash of steel on steel drew their attention, and Methos glanced at his watch. 11:57. Damn fine time for JL to start being punctual.
"Now it will be interfering, right?" Duncan asked him innocently.
"Shut up," Methos growled as he walked passed Duncan and went into the warehouse.
The scene was pretty much as Methos had envisioned it-Sarah was in complete control of the fight and basically trying to wear JL down so the younger woman would surrender. JL wouldn't though, Methos knew, because she was running on pure anger and adrenaline. He didn't need to see her eyes to know they were bloodshot and surrounded by dark circles-he could read the exhaustion in her jerky movements and ill-timed thrusts. The graceful, cagey fighter was gone, replaced by someone who was clearly letting her anger guide her blade instead of only powering it.
Sarah was mostly parrying JL's scimitar, occasionally pushing her further back and scoring another cut on her arm or leg that was intended to weaken her without killing her. Sarah passed up another chance to drive her sword into JL's heart, then felt Methos and Duncan approach. Glancing up, she shifted position so she could see who it was.
JL almost lowered her blade when she looked toward Duncan and Methos and fought to control her panting. Sweat ran down her body and into the cuts, and for a moment, all she wanted to do was throw herself into Methos' arms and let him hold her until it stopped hurting. But Methos was looking at Sarah, communicating silently the way Jim and Bryan always did. When the boys did it, JL thought it was sweet. Now it felt like a slap in the face.
She glanced at Duncan, but his expression had hardened into that familiar 'you got yourself into this' look. With a roar, JL charged at Sarah again, taking two more wounds in the process but landing a solid shot to Sarah's leg that bled profusely and clearly surprised her opponent. With a snarled oath, JL stumbled back through the door and out into the night, leaving all three Immortals staring after her.
Sarah ignored the pain in her leg and advanced on Methos. "I told you to stay out of it, didn't I?" she demanded. "That if you couldn't find her earlier to stay away from here? How could you do this? What in God's name were you thinking?"
"Sarah," Duncan soothed, "we just wanted to talk to her."
"Wonderful!" Sarah snarled, shaking her bloody sword under Methos' nose. "Just wonderful. Did it ever occur to you that I was going to talk to her after she vented her frustration? That I might actually get somewhere if no one knew she'd lost the challenge? Now, not only has she lost, but she's done so in front of her lover and her teacher." Turning to thrust her sword at Duncan this time, Sarah shook her head angrily. "How is she supposed to salvage any dignity now? Congratulations."
"Sarie," Methos began.
"Forget it," Sarah interrupted. "Just forget it. But if either of you ever interfere in one of my challenges again, I swear it will be you I'll fight. Do you understand?"
Methos and Duncan both nodded, knowing there was no point in arguing with her right now. With a final glare, Sarah turned on her heel and strode out of the warehouse.
"Well," Methos said softly after they'd heard her drive away, "that...could have gone better."
"Really?" Duncan shot back. "Now what? Who do we influence now?"
Methos sighed. "We don't. We shift our attention to Glen," he replied.
"Who?" Duncan inquired.
"Glen. As in Glenlivet. Or Glenfiddich. Care to join me?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
JL lost Colin in the maze of waterfront streets and just drove, letting her subconscious guide her. She kept replaying the fight in her mind-everything she'd done wrong, all of the moves she should have made, all of the missed opportunities. But none of that hurt nearly as much as the look of relief she thought she'd seen on Methos' face when he'd seen she was losing. With a strangled sob, she pulled over as soon as she could and looked around. She'd made it out of the city to one of the overlooks that faced Puget Sound.
The night was relatively clear, and she could see the lights of Seacouver spread out below her. Getting out of her car, she sat on the hood and just stared into the night until a car approached. She didn't pay much attention until it slowed to a stop and she felt the presence of another Immortal. Sliding off the hood, she quickly retrieved her scimitar as the Mercedes parked next to her Mustang.
The man who had backed into her in the parking garage got out and moved to the front of the car, then the driver leapt out and opened the back door. Both men kept a wary eye on JL as a tall, aristocratic man with an eye patch got out and smiled at her.
"Good evening," the man said pleasantly, making no move to come out from behind his car. "My name is Donald Chandler. You are JL Dawson, are you not?"
"What if I am?" JL demanded.
Chandler smiled indulgently and smoothed his sleeve as if she'd just complimented him on the cut of his jacket. "I believe we have a mutual enemy," he almost purred, "named Sarah MacGreggor."
"Who?" JL bristled, resolutely squelching the urge to spit in his supercilious face while she searched her memory for details about him. His Watcher records were sparse, she recalled-she'd looked him up when he moved to LA and gotten involved in some drug deals with her assignment, Lucas Buck. In fact, he'd taken over Lucas' prostitutes and drug business in LA after she'd beheaded Lucas. He'd lost his eye before his first death in the late 1800's, so there was no chance that it would grow back. Other than that, his kill record was unimpressive and his career choices questionable-he'd died his mortal death as a seaman in the British Navy, then run slaves until it became unpopular enough to be uneconomical. The prevailing opinion was that he'd have died long ago if he didn't hide behind his bodyguards.
"Sarah MacGreggor," Chandler repeated quietly, adjusting his eye-patch strap and ignoring JL's scrutiny. "The woman who stole your lover."
"She hasn't stolen anything yet," JL flared.
"Of course not," Chandler soothed with a conciliatory smile and a small nod toward the man who'd backed into JL. "Forgive me. I was just going by what Robert overheard at Joe's bar."
JL raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think he can hear any better than he can drive?"
Robert blanched as Chandler smiled thinly. "Robert told me about that," Chandler said, "and I am terribly sorry. He's young. He still gets a bit...overzealous, shall we say? Martin?"
Martin, who had ducked back into the car as soon as they'd started talking, offered Chandler a black leather briefcase. Chandler nodded toward JL, and Martin opened the case and walked over to her. He stopped a few feet away and helpfully held a flashlight above the case so she could look inside.
JL gazed at the neat, green stacks, each of which was topped by a comfortably-worn $100 bill. She tried to think of the last place she'd seen that many $100 bills before, but she couldn't remember even seeing one, much less six. Green had always been one of her favorite colors, too.
Chandler smiled to himself as he watched JL, waiting patiently until she tore her attention away from the briefcase. "I believe," he said as soon as she looked at him, "that that should cover the damage."
JL shrugged. "Depends on what's under the hundreds," she replied, hoping her voice sounded at least vaguely casual.
"More hundreds, plus a few other denominations that are easier to cash. It's $10,000, all together. Will that be enough?"
"More than," JL admitted, her eyes widening a little. "I only asked for a thousand."
Chandler waved casually, and Martin closed the briefcase and offered it to JL. "Keep it," Chandler told her. "You might run into additional expenses and find out you need it. Consider the rest of it an apology."
"And what do you want in exchange?" JL asked warily.
"Not a thing, JL. May I call you JL?" At her shrug, Chandler smiled again and continued smoothly, "I only offer it out of politeness. Although...perhaps you could put your sword away."
JL glanced at her scimitar in surprise-it felt so natural these days that she'd forgotten she was holding it. With another shrug to cover her embarrassment, she set the scimitar on the passenger seat where it was out of the way but still within reach. The 'no strings attached' angle, she thought. Right. If that's how you want to play it, fine. A tiny voice whispered that she was just rationalizing her desire to take the money, but she ignored it with practiced ease. When Martin coughed politely and offered the briefcase again, she took it. "If you insist," she told Chandler cheerfully. "I'd hate to be considered impolite."
"Never," he said gallantly. "You seem quite charming to me."
JL rolled her eyes as she put the briefcase in the back seat, deciding she'd better cut to the chase before he started calling her 'lovely' or yapping about her 'lustrous hair and luminous eyes.' This guy was a pimp through and through. "So tell me," she said as she straightened up, "why have your buddies been following me?"
"Originally, they were following Sarah MacGreggor," Chandler replied, sensing her change of mood, "and then, after the scene in the bar, I thought we might have a lot in common. So I told Robert to follow you. Believe me," he added, glaring at Robert, "he was supposed to follow you, not hit you."
I'll bet, JL thought, but you sure pounced on the opportunity to buy my forgiveness, didn't you? "So," she said, careful not to let any disdain show in her voice, "you've found me. Now what?"
"Now we do business," Chandler replied briskly. "I have a plan to kill Sarah MacGreggor, but I need your help." Chandler paused, but JL just raised a quizzical eyebrow so he decided to continue. "Sarah won't let me rest-she's been tracking me for years because she thinks I executed her friend."
"Of course not," Chandler said promptly. "Her friend killed my student and then tried to set me up on my way to a meeting on Holy Ground. Fortunately, my men spotted the ambush, and I managed to ambush them first. Only instead of shooting Sean, I took him back to my estate and fought him there quite fairly."
"Sounds reasonable," JL agreed cautiously, wishing she still had access to the Watcher database. She'd slipped onto Joe's system a couple of times, but she didn't want to get him into more trouble-both of them agreed that one firing squad was more than enough.
Chandler shifted the eye patch a bit to the right and smiled again. "I've tried to convince her it was a fair fight, but she refuses to believe me. She's sworn to kill me, even if she has to do it unfairly."
"But you're hunting her," JL pointed out.
"Only because she's forced me to," Chandler replied. "A few months ago she invaded my home in LA with a team of commandos that were definitely not there for moral support. I simply cannot live like this any longer, but I can't challenge her because she's no longer playing by the Rules. I just can't trust her to come alone."
JL shook her head, trying to reconcile the things she'd heard Richie say about Sarah with the picture Chandler was painting. "I don't know," she said hesitantly, "I've heard stories about Sarah MacGreggor, but none that say she fights unfairly."
"Have you heard about her sleeping with someone else's lover?" Chandler asked. "In that person's apartment?"
JL's fist tensed involuntarily as Chandler's words summoned the image of Methos and Sarah moaning in ecstasy. Taking a deep breath, she resolutely banished the sight, but her fist didn't relax in the slightest. "No," she admitted curtly, "I hadn't."
"Then you haven't heard everything about Miss MacGreggor," Chandler reasoned. "Believe me, she's a clever one- everyone thinks she's sweet as can be, but it's all a facade. Look," he said, moving from behind the safety of his car for the first time and walking over to JL, "All I'm asking you to do is challenge her one more time."
"What good will that do?" JL asked bitterly. "I can't beat her. I've tried."
Chandler laid a paternal hand on her shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze, but let go quickly when he saw the flash of anger in JL's eyes. "You can't beat her, but I can. I can't get her to come out in the open and fight me honorably, but you can. So you challenge her, and I'll fight her. This challenge has been fourteen years in the making, JL, and I want her Quickening. It's become a matter of pride, and I take those very seriously."
JL crossed her arms and regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, wondering if he really could beat Sarah fairly. Watcher records had underestimated people before, but she had a feeling they were right this time. Even if he did, Methos would never forgive her for having any part in it at all-she'd have to videotape the damn challenge to make him believe it had been fair, and that might not even be enough. After a moment, she shook her head. "Her friends will throw a fit."
"Not if everyone is convinced it was a fair fight," Chandler said.
"And why would they believe that?"
"Because," Chandler enthused, "you're going to witness it. In fact, you'll be able to stick solely to the truth-or most of it, that is. You can tell them that you went to the challenge, but, before you could start, I appeared and claimed prior challenge rights. She'll fight me, and lose. Then you can go home and tell them what happened. The only part you'll need to leave out is the fact that you and I decided where and when she'd be meeting you."
JL licked her lips and shifted. It sounded so good, so easy. All she had to do was issue one little challenge, stand back and let Chandler have his way, and then Methos would be hers again. Unless Methos came with Sarah...that could be bad. Very bad. She was dead if Sarah wound up beheaded and any word of her association with Chandler got out. The money was explainable. The rest wasn't. "What if she comes with her friends?" she asked aloud.
"She won't," Chandler replied confidently. "She knows now that she can take you easily, and that her friends are also your friends. Why would she want them to watch? She'll come quietly, assuming she can just kill you quickly and get home before she's missed. Believe me, she's done this before."
JL tensed, forcing down her anger at the implication that the victory was a foregone conclusion. "She has?" she finally asked. "You're sure?" JL gazed at Chandler, impressed with his ability to sound so positive about blatant lies. Still, the one thing she truly believed was that he wanted Sarah MacGreggor dead, and that was a desire she could understand completely.
"Absolutely," Chandler said with a huge smile. "It can't miss. What do you say? Will you help me?"
"Can I think about it?" JL hedged, wondering how she could answer the real question-whether he planned to kill her, too. The comforting weight of her Glock pressed against her ribs, and she smiled to herself. If Chandler tried to double- cross her, he'd find her a bit harder to kill than he expected. Plus if it came down to that, a dead Chandler couldn't tell anyone about her involvement, and she could claim that she'd seen him cheat and had avenged Sarah. Methos couldn't hate her for doing that, could he?
"It's foolproof." Chandler pressed, mistaking her smirk for agreement. "Tell her to meet you at the warehouse again tomorrow at midnight." When JL hesitated, Chandler gave her his best earnest look. "You can't wait too long, JL, or she might find me and murder me before I can challenge her. Or, perhaps, she'll just leave in the night with your lover."
JL glanced sharply at him, then nodded slowly. "All right," she finally agreed, "but not the warehouse. There's another pull-off 10 miles further on. The road is so windy and wooded at that point that you can't tell it's there until you're almost on top of it, and there shouldn't be any traffic at that time of night."
Chandler nodded. "That sounds fine. Tomorrow then? Midnight?"
"If she comes," JL cautioned.
"She'll come," Chandler replied before offering his hand.
JL considered it for a moment, then shook it and watched him walk back to his limo.
"Hopefully," he said, leaning on the roof for a moment, "this will also be the beginning of a profitable relationship-for both of us. After I take Sarah's Quickening, we'll talk about finding a place for you in my organization. You could make enough money to buy any car you ever wanted-and a great deal more." He gave her a crisp salute and an encouraging smile before he and his men climbed in and drove off, leaving JL staring at the taillights of his car until they vanished around a curve.
"This had better work," JL muttered wearily as she climbed back into her Mustang, "because if it doesn't, I'm damn well out of options." Turning on the stereo, the Eagles song I Can't Tell You Why began playing as she headed out to find a place to spend the night that neither Colin nor Methos would think to check. No matter how hard she tried, she still couldn't come up with a thing to say to either of them that wouldn't start her bawling-and she'd rather spend eternity hiding from the Watchers than cry in front of Methos. It was bad enough he'd seen her lose the fight to Sarah-the last thing she wanted was his pity.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Joe concentrated on cutting the limes into perfect wedges, making each one as precise as possible in the hopes of keeping himself from thinking about JL and Sarah. He'd read Colin's report on the fight in the warehouse, and he had to agree-JL had let her anger get the better of her. Nothing brought JL down except time, and he wasn't sure she was going to leave Sarah alone long enough to give herself that time. He glanced up as Colin walked in, then blinked and looked again as a flash of pink caught his eye.
Colin was walking next to his stockbroker, a small blonde woman in a dark blue dress with a neon-pink cast on her right arm. He was nodding politely and making an occasional comment, but Joe noticed that every time he glanced down he'd flush a little and quickly turn his gaze away. Colin settled her into a chair and helped her spread her books out over the table before he headed for the bar.
"Thanks, Joe," Colin said with a sigh as he settled onto the stool and picked up the beer Joe had waiting for him. "It's been a long day."
"What happened to Gloria?" Joe asked, nodding towards the woman in blue.
"Oh, she tangled with a marble column in her office building and lost."
"Why?" Joe wondered.
"Why did she lose? She forgot her jackhammer, I guess," Colin replied with a small laugh. "I didn't ask. I was too busy trying to not look down the front of her dress. Being this tall can be a real, um, challenge sometimes."
Joe smiled and shook his head. "Are you changing your stock portfolio?"
"I'm finally taking your suggestion and getting ready in case Peggy divorces me," Colin replied. "She wouldn't take the plane ticket I offered her to come home and talk about it, so it doesn't look too promising. Gloria's the best asset-hider in the business, and she's going to do some preliminary research tonight."
"I'm really sorry, Colin," Joe told him. "Why don't you go back east and talk to Peggy?"
"Because the bitch moved in with my parents," Colin told him, "and they've been talking about disowning me since I dropped out of medical school and became a cop. I can't take all three of them on my case-I'll kill one of them. Besides, I can't leave JL now. I have to know how this works out."
Joe shook his head sympathetically-he knew Colin's parents, and he could understand his friend's desire to stay 3,000 miles away. "Did you find JL?"
"No." Draining half of the beer, Colin looked thoughtfully at Joe. "I got a call from her mechanic, but by the time I got to the garage, she was long gone-in a loaner. A completely nondescript brown Honda Accord. I kept telling her that Mustang was too flashy for undercover work, and she has to decide that now is the time to start listening to me."
"Wonderful," Joe observed dryly.
Colin finished his beer and with a heavy sigh pushed the empty glass over for a refill. "She is definitely hiding from us, Joe, and I just don't understand it. She should be yelling and screaming and waving her sword in Methos' face or crying on my shoulder. Something. Anything. She hasn't pulled this 'hide from your friends' act in decades."
Joe shook his head worriedly, but remained silent as a young man walked up to the bar.
"Excuse me," he said, "are you Colin Jamison?"
"Then you have been served," the man said, handing a thick envelope to Colin. "Please sign here," he added, offering Colin a clipboard and a pen.
Colin glanced at the name of the law firm emblazoned on the envelope and closed his eyes for a second, then grabbed the clipboard and quickly scrawled his signature on the receipt. The man checked the signature and smiled. "Thank you," he said before heading for the door.
"No, thank you. This is just what I needed right now," Colin replied to the man's retreating back. Tossing the envelope on the bar, he motioned for Joe to pour him a glass of whiskey to go with his beer. "I guess she didn't like the marriage counseling idea," he commented dryly.
"Aren't you going to look at them?" Joe asked. "Maybe they're not divorce papers."
Colin opened the envelope and peeked inside. "I'll go tell Glo it's too late," he said wearily, picking up the papers and his glass. "My assets have just been frozen by the court. Send me over the bottle, okay?" At Joe's nod, Colin walked over and dropped his stuff on a vacant table, then went over to talk to Gloria. She nodded and patted him consolingly on the arm before heading out. Colin slumped into a chair and wearily started reading the divorce decree.
From her balcony table, Sarah studied Colin, trying to decide how to approach him. It was easy to see he was depressed, and the papers he was reading had the unmistakable look of legal forms. That couldn't be good-she should just leave. Putting her hand in her pocket to get her money, she pulled out the note that she'd found on the front seat of her car. She unfolded it slowly in the hopes that she'd misread it, but it still said "Meet me at the Helice Point Overlook at midnight. Bring your sword and leave the audience at home. JL."
Refolding the note, she rested her head in her hands for a minute, trying to think of some other way to make this work. She kept coming back to what Methos had told her that afternoon when she'd asked about finding JL-that Colin was her best bet because he knew JL better than anyone. She'd been leery of involving him because he and JL were so close, but as Methos had pointed out, Colin hadn't interfered during the fight in the warehouse in spite of how much it must have hurt him to watch JL losing. That meant he was honorable enough himself to abide by the Rules of the Game even when he didn't want to, and that he had enough respect for JL to let her face her own consequences. With a resolute expression, she headed quickly down the stairs and walked over to his table. "Excuse me," she said softly when he didn't look up from the papers he was reading. "May I join you?"
Colin glanced up in annoyance, then blinked in surprise when he realized that he was looking at Sarah MacGreggor. He looked around reflexively, but Joe was ignoring them. "Um, sure," Colin said, "if you want. Please, sit down. Would you like a drink?" At Sarah's nod, Colin tossed the papers on the table and went to get an empty glass so he could pour her some whiskey.
When he came back, Sarah gestured at the divorce decree and gave him a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry if I've come at a bad time, but it's important."
"That's all right," he said as he pushed the glass over to her, "it's not particularly unexpected-we've been separated for several months now, and our marriage has been on the rocks for far longer than that. But I'm sick of talking about my marital woes, so let's not. What can I do for you?"
Sarah sighed and traced the rim of the glass with a fingernail. "I'm not sure I should be here," she admitted, "but Petey said you might be able to help. He said you were the expert on reading JL's moods."
"He did, did he?" Colin replied, keeping the sarcasm out of his voice with an effort. "How...kind of him."
"You don't like him much, do you?"
"Not much, no," Colin said, pouring himself another drink, "but that's not a secret, and it's not what you're here to talk to me about, now is it?"
"No, it's not." Leaning back in her chair, Sarah sighed and swirled her drink. She liked dealing with someone who got right to the point, but she didn't know Colin well enough to anticipate him yet and that made her wary. Deciding to address his major concern first, she gave him a sincere smile. "I want you to know, Colin, that I don't want to kill JL, or I would have in the warehouse. I just want to talk to her-to make her understand that I'm sorry for what happened and that it won't happen again."
"It won't?" Colin asked dubiously.
"No. It won't."
Colin studied her for a moment, then shrugged. "I'm not sure I can help you," he replied finally. "I can't even find her."
"Do you think she's behaving rationally, though? I mean, is she in control of her emotions enough that I can talk to her once I disarm her?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
Pouring herself more whiskey, Sarah sighed. Methos had warned her that prying information out of Colin was going to be difficult. She could only see one way to find out what she really wanted to know-and that was to use the direct approach. Setting the bottle down, she looked him squarely in the eye. "Look, Colin," she said earnestly, "I know you have no reason to trust me-it looks like I want to kill someone you care very deeply about, but there's a lot more going on here than shows on the surface. I have my reasons for what I'm doing."
Colin still regarded her neutrally, so Sarah smiled encouragingly at him. "You can ask Mac about me if you want," she continued. "Talk to him. Read my Chronicle. They'll both tell you that I mean what I say. I don't want to hurt her any more than I already have, Colin, but I can't talk to her unless I know how to make her listen. She left a note in my car-a challenge. I need a new plan."
Sighing deeply, Colin shook his head. He and Joe had spent several hours on the phone with Bryan the night after JL had disappeared, and Bryan had assured them that Sarah wouldn't kill JL if she could help it. He'd urged them both to trust her implicitly, and sworn that everything would work out. Bryan had a reputation as an optimist, but he was also extremely protective of his students. If he was willing to trust JL's life to Sarah's hands, then she must be worthy of that trust. She had to be, or JL was as good as dead-Sarah's Chronicles left no doubt as to who was the better fighter.
Looking back at Sarah, Colin sighed. "I just don't know," he finally admitted. "She's clearly upset, but I don't understand why she hasn't confronted Methos directly yet-that's what I expected her to do. She usually vents her frustration with a sword."
Sarah tapped her glass thoughtfully. "Have you ever heard of Donald Chandler?"
"Yeah. I looked him up when he hit town-it's standard procedure. He doesn't seem very important to the Game though. Why?"
"He wants to kill me," Sarah told him. "He cheats too-he executed a friend of mine fourteen years ago. I've been trying to challenge him ever since, but he seems to prefer hired thugs and guns to swords."
"Who did he execute?"
"Sean O'Malley. In Ottawa," Sarah explained.
Colin looked thoughtful, then shook his head. "His Chronicle says he killed Sean, but it doesn't say it was an execution."
"Did his Watcher actually see it?" Sarah pressed.
"Well, no," Colin admitted. "She was up in the main house and Chandler killed Sean down by the gatehouse, but there wasn't any evidence of foul play."
"That's because she didn't know where to look," Sarah replied. "I thought Chandler had killed him fair and square too, although I couldn't figure out how because I knew Sean was the better fighter. Then some of Sean's friends came and talked to me. They thought he had been set up, and they eventually proved it."
"They questioned Chandler's bodyguard," Sarah responded, her eyes guarded as she recalled how that evidence had been collected. "He helped Chandler plant a mole in Sean's organization and use that mole to set up an ambush they could blame on Sean. Then they turned the tables and ambushed Sean, handcuffed him, and dragged him off so Chandler could behead him while he knelt helplessly in the snow. I got there a few minutes after the Quickening, and Chandler had the gall to look me straight in the eye and swear to me that it was a fair challenge. I believed him, Colin. If I hadn't interrogated the guard myself, I would have accepted Chandler's story-the whole thing with the mole seemed unnecessarily complex to me, but the guard told us that Chandler used moles all the time to get inside information on his business partners."
"The records do say he left Canada shortly after his favorite bodyguard was involved in a 'questionable' car accident," Colin said, studying Sarah intently.
"His bodyguard helped murder Sean, Colin," Sarah said quietly, hoping he'd understand that she'd had no choice, "and the mole after his usefulness had ended. Sean's friends wanted him dead, and I wasn't about to stop them."
Colin stared at her for a long moment before he nodded to himself. "I can understand that," he acknowledged. "I actually quit the police force because I got sick of watching the guilty walk away when we couldn't prove what we knew damn well to be true."
Sarah let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "So you can see why I'm worried about Chandler," she said with a small smile. "He'll use any means at his disposal to get what he wants, and that includes JL. He likes working with intermediaries-it means he doesn't have to get personally involved until he's ready to dive in for the kill."
Colin nodded thoughtfully. "That does sound like Chandler...shit."
Colin looked annoyed with himself for a moment, then sighed and gave a small shrug. "I found out how JL spent her morning," he said, "but I have no idea if it's relevant. She took her car in to the shop. In addition to taking care of the damage from her latest accident, she gave them a whole list of stuff to do that she's been complaining she couldn't afford- to the tune of four thousand dollars, half of which she paid up front, in cash. JL does not have that kind of money. I talked to everyone who might have loaned it to her, but no one did. Not even Bryan Cutler."
"You think she got it from Chandler?" Sarah asked.
"I don't know," he replied wearily. "I haven't been able to follow her, and Chandler's Watcher hasn't called me back yet. Why would he pay her that much money?"
"The question is, would she take blood money from him?" Sarah inquired, studying Colin intently.
"No," Colin answered flatly.
"Are you sure? Absolutely sure?" Sarah insisted. "Or do you just want to be?"
Colin stared back at her, then slumped backwards into his chair with a small shake of his head.
Sarah nodded slowly, then got up and gave him a thin smile. "I'm sorry," she said softly, "I really hope she isn't working with Chandler-for her sake as well as mine. If you see her, please tell her I want to talk-on Holy Ground."
"When and where is the challenge?" Colin asked as she turned to leave.
Turning back, Sarah considered his question. "Let's just say you need to find her before midnight," she finally replied, heading for the door before he could question her further.
"Where are you, pipsqueak?" Colin whispered as she left. "And what the hell have you gotten yourself into now?" Glancing at his watch, Colin sighed. He had a little more than six hours to find her, and the only thing he felt really sure of was that it wasn't going to be anywhere near enough.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Five and a half hours later, Colin closed his cell phone and rested his head against the steering wheel for a minute. He had drafted every available Watcher in the district, and no one had spotted JL or the loaner car she had been driving since she dropped off the Mustang. Colin knew she'd done it on purpose-her Mustang was instantly recognizable but the brown Honda she'd borrowed was practically invisible. He couldn't even count on it having the same license plate, because he'd taught her when she was watching Lucas Buck to camouflage her personalized plate with some carefully-placed electrical tape. This is why Immortals and Watchers shouldn't mingle, he thought with a sigh as he put the car back in gear and drove to Joe's. It's not the attachment-it's the fact that they steal all your techniques and use them against you.
He had hoped that following Sarah would be easier, but she'd managed to lose Roger, a young Watcher that Colin thought needed a crash course in subtlety. His heart was in the right place, but he stuck out like a sore thumb most of the time. The fact that Sarah had spotted him didn't surprise Colin in the least, although he was sure it would horrify Roger. The kid was probably frantic by now.
Pulling into Joe's parking lot, he looked around in surprise. It was empty except for Joe's truck, Duncan's T-bird, and Methos' Volvo. Shaking his head, he got out of the car and opened his cell phone one last time. By the time he'd walked over to his favorite bar stool, he'd checked in with the Watchers he'd posted at the Carmichael Street warehouse, Mac's dojo, Sarah's apartment, and JL's favorite diner. The answers were all the same-all quiet. Roger was practically hyperventilating over the fact he couldn't find Sarah, but Colin didn't have the strength to console him. No JL and no Sarah meant no chance to stop the challenge. It was over, and he'd failed.
"It was abysmally slow so I let the rest of the staff go home," Joe replied to Colin's unspoken question as he poured a large glass of whiskey for his friend. "Bad vibes or something, I guess. Look, don't beat yourself up over this, Colin. We can't make her decisions for her. We never could, remember? She had to decide to come in off the streets, to give up heroin, to start trusting us. All of it, except her immortality, was her choice. Now she has to decide whether she's going through with the challenge."
Colin sipped his drink and sighed again. "I know, Joe, but I should be there. I'm her Watcher, damn it, and her friend."
"All the more reason to not be there," Methos said quietly. "She might back down if she thinks no one will know about it."
"She'll know she backed down," Duncan protested, "and that's what's really important, not who else sees it."
"To you, MacLeod, yes," Methos agreed levelly, "but not to her. She judges herself differently than you do."
Duncan met Methos' gaze for a moment, then shrugged when he realized that his arguments could only crush the small bit of hope Methos had just offered Joe. "That's probably true," Duncan allowed reluctantly. "I'm sure Sarah won't kill her if she can help it."
"I'm afraid that depends on whether JL is working with Donald Chandler or not," Colin said quietly, picking up his drink and moving to the stool next to Duncan's. "Have you ever heard of him?"
Both Duncan and Methos shook their heads, and Colin nodded to himself. "That's what I figured," he said, "the man's only important in drug circles. The thing is, he killed one of Sarah's friends and she swore revenge. Now he's here hunting her-only he's not good enough to fight her so he's probably going to cheat. It's his style."
"Sean," Duncan interjected suddenly. "Sean O'Malley. I remember him now. Sarah told me about him at one of Jim and Bryan's Eternal Flame parties. She didn't think it had been a fair fight but couldn't get Chandler out of his hole to fight him. She was really upset about it."
"She was right to be," Colin replied. "Chandler dragged Sean out of his car and beheaded him while he was handcuffed and kneeling, then took the cuffs off and told Sarah he'd killed him in a fair challenge."
"I take it she didn't believe him?" Methos inquired dryly.
"Well, she actually did," Colin told him, "for a little while. But Sean's friends found evidence that proved he'd been murdered."
"Has JL read that file?" Duncan asked. "Does she know what he's like?"
Colin shook his head. "The part about the murder isn't in the Chronicles," he replied. "Sarah just told me about it a few hours ago. Chandler's Watcher saw the body, not the actual beheading."
"But," Joe said quietly, "she does know that Chandler was dealing with Lucas Buck, because he started doing that while she was watching Buck. So she knows he's not the least bit scrupulous."
"Well, if anyone can sense a drug dealer and a pimp at half a mile, it's JL," Methos commented. "Let's hope she recognizes him for what he is."
"Let's," Colin agreed, raising his glass. As they toasted, he glanced at Methos and added silently, And let's hope she's not listening to him. She doesn't have the best track record when it comes to spotting liars. Especially when she doesn't want to.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
JL knelt by the edge of the overlook, her head bowed in exhaustion and shivering from far more than the cold night air blowing through the rips in her bloody clothes. The moon slipped out from behind the clouds, adding its illumination to that from the headlights of JL and Sarah's cars. The rocks around her had dark scorch marks, and a small pine tree that had been basically reduced to wood chips littered the ground. As a car approached, she levered herself up using her sword as a crutch and blinked into the oncoming brightness. Here we go, she thought shakily. He's not going to like this.
Chandler got out of his car before his bodyguards had even opened their doors and hurried over to her, adjusting his eye-patch as he moved. JL managed to resist the urge to suggest he glue it in place, but couldn't quell a short, barking laugh at the thought. Chandler glared at her, and she shrugged.
"Sorry," she said, putting her scimitar away and resting her hands on her hips. "Nervous tension. Too little sleep, way too much caffeine."
"Where is she?" Chandler demanded. "Where's Sarah MacGreggor?"
JL nodded toward the edge of the cliff, and Chandler stared at her in disbelief. When she nodded again, he gestured to his men to keep JL covered and cautiously approached the edge and looked over. The moon's light was just strong enough for him to make out a body-and the blonde head that had rolled several yards away from it.
"What the hell happened?" he snarled. "You were supposed to wait for me."
"I know," JL replied wearily, glancing up as the moon slid behind a cloud again, "but I came out early to make sure she hadn't sent any of her friends on ahead. While I was looking around, she showed up and tried to talk to me. I stalled for as long as I could, I swear, but she was getting suspicious. Somehow she found out about the money I got from you, and she didn't believe my explanation. She decided she was through taking chances and attacked me."
"And you won?" Chandler sputtered. "How?"
"I got lucky," she admitted. "She stumbled over a rock and I managed to get there before she recovered."
"You bitch," Chandler swore. "I was supposed to kill her!"
"Hey, she's dead," JL snapped. "What more do you want?" The fury in Chandler's eyes told her he wanted a lot more, and she slid her hand around the comforting butt of her Glock.
"I want her Quickening," Chandler roared. "She's been hounding me for fourteen years, and I'm damn well going to have it. "
Chandler moved his hand suddenly, and JL drew her Glock and dove for her car. She heard the sharp crack of a gunshot followed by a searing pain in her leg, but she ignored it as best she could while she finished the roll and came up shooting. Chandler's driver went down with a startled expression on his face, but Robert stayed behind Chandler's car and laid down cover fire until his boss got into the front seat. Sliding quickly in the back, Robert kept firing as Chandler backed the car up and raced off into the night.
JL cursed fluently as she maneuvered her injured leg into the car, thankful that it was an automatic and she wouldn't have to shift. Following Chandler, she prayed that she wouldn't lose him-staying away from Colin and Joe meant that she didn't even know which hotel he was staying in because she couldn't sneak a peek at the Watcher reports. Good thing it was his driver I shot, she mused as she glimpsed Chandler's taillights around a bend, because Chandler's probably not as good at shaking a tail. Although shooting the bastard who hit my Mustang would have been more satisfying. Slowing down, JL settled into a game of 'follow the leader' that she had absolutely no intention of losing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Back in the bar, Joe was playing his guitar while Duncan, Colin, and Methos worked on another bottle of Scotch. The guitar sounded as heartbroken as Colin felt, and he brushed away a tear that was starting to form in the corner of his eye. Methos looked equally unhappy, but Colin wasn't impressed. When the Immortal reached for the bottle, Colin grabbed his wrist and glared at him.
"This is all your fault, you bastard," he growled. "I hope you're satisfied."
Methos regarded Colin levelly. "I already admitted it was my fault," he replied, "and you know it. But I didn't make JL storm off without a word, and I certainly didn't make her challenge Sarie. I'm not a miracle worker, Colin, and I can't explain anything to her if I can't find her. No one can make JL listen until she's damn good and ready. You know that better than anyone."
Colin glared a moment longer before releasing Methos and slumping back in his chair. "This shouldn't have happened," he muttered.
"You're right about that," Methos agreed, surreptitiously rubbing his wrist under the table, "but don't give up on her yet. Sarie might be able to..." Methos trailed off as the presence of an approaching Immortal filled the bar, and they all turned toward the door as it swung open. A tall figure came in quickly and practically raced across the bar to the stage.
"Chandler," Colin hissed, wondering if he could get to Joe's gun behind the bar. Before any of them could move, however, Chandler was up on the stage with his gun pressed against Joe's temple and one of his thugs was standing in the doorway brandishing his own weapon.
"Good evening," Chandler said with a chillingly-pleasant smile. "Do be so kind as to give Robert your weapons or he'll shoot you and take them anyway."
When no one moved, Chandler shrugged and nodded to Robert, who leveled his gun at the three men, pointing it first at Duncan and then at Methos. When neither man moved, Robert smiled cruelly and fired at Colin.
Mac leapt up and took the bullet instead, falling back on the Watcher with an annoyed grunt. "I...hate...this...part," he wheezed as he died.
Methos quickly stood up and laid his sword on the bar, then helped Colin lower Duncan's body to the floor before he removed Mac's katana and laid it next to his broadsword.
Robert looked at Colin, but the Watcher just shrugged. "I'm not armed," he said, standing up and turning around slowly. Robert was about to go check when they felt the buzz and the door burst open to admit a panic-stricken and very bloody JL.
JL scanned the room quickly, automatically noting that she couldn't kill Robert and Chandler before at least one of them got off a shot. Even if she could, Chandler's hand might convulse and kill Joe anyway. It was a risk she just wasn't willing to take. Stopping in the middle of the room, JL lowered her gun and forced herself to breathe deeply in an attempt to calm down.
"I see you finally made it," Chandler purred. "Welcome home."
"Why are you so hot on getting her Quickening, Chandler?" JL asked. "I thought we had a deal. She's dead-isn't that enough?"
From his position by the bar, Methos gasped, his relief at seeing JL in one piece quickly overshadowed by regret. Blood sang in his ears, and Chandler unwittingly echoed the only word he could form through his confusion-no. No, no, no.
"No," Chandler replied easily. "It's not. I told you, I want her Quickening, and I'm going to have it."
"Are you challenging me? Because if you are, you don't need to hold Joe hostage. I'll be happy to fight you."
Chandler laughed and tightened his grip on Joe's shoulder. "You don't understand, do you? I'm not interested in fighting. I'm interested in killing. Now put your gun down or your friend here dies his one and only death."
"Don't do it, JL," Joe urged, wincing a little when Chandler squeezed harder.
"It doesn't have to be like this," JL protested. "Just because you lost your eye doesn't mean you can't learn how to fight."
"But I do fight, my dear," Chandler replied sweetly. "I just use a different style." His eye narrowing, Chandler's finger tightened on the trigger. "Drop the gun," he ordered. "Now."
Joe shook his head as much as the gun barrel would allow, but JL put the safety back on her gun and laid it on the floor, kicking it over to Robert when Chandler nodded in that direction.
"Very good," Chandler said approvingly. "Now your sword."
JL glanced at the bar as Duncan revived with a gasp, but Chandler's attention never wavered. Methos gave her a helpless shrug-they both knew she was dead if she dropped her sword and damned if she didn't. She met his eyes for an instant, comforted by the fact that she could read the compassion on his face. He didn't hate her, even though she'd announced that Sarah was dead. Unfortunately, it didn't look like she was going to get a chance to explore this new aspect of their relationship in the few minutes she probably had left to live, but she knew she'd rather die than live with Joe's death on her conscience, so she slowly drew her scimitar.
"JL," Joe whispered, but Chandler's growl warned him to be silent.
With a sigh, she sent the sword sliding after her Glock. "All right," she said, "I'm unarmed. Now let Joe go."
"I'm afraid I can't do that," Chandler replied. "You see, I just don't trust you."
"What am I going to do? You still have your gun. If I move, you and your trained gorilla can shoot me."
"True," Chandler replied, "but your friend makes a much better target. Mortals are so useful that way."
"So what now?" JL demanded, taking a small step forward. "We stand here and stare at each other?"
"No," Chandler told her with a small smile, taking something metallic out of his pocket. "You put on these handcuffs, then we go outside."
JL stared at the handcuffs Chandler tossed at her feet but didn't pick them up. "And what about Joe?"
"He can stay here with your other friends," Chandler replied. "Robert will keep an eye on them until I'm ready to leave."
Joe gazed at her imploringly, willing her not to trade her life for his. She stared at him for a long moment, then wearily picked up the handcuffs and put them on. Joe slumped, and the Immortal smiled triumphantly.
"Now let him go," JL said thickly, "and I promise I'll go quietly."
"Oh, you'll go quietly, all right," Chandler agreed as he shoved Joe roughly off the stage.
JL ignored Chandler's scowl and hurried over to Joe so she could help him to his feet as best she could. He leaned against her for a moment, and she smiled at him. "I love you, Joe," she whispered, kissing his cheek. "Never forget that."
Joe nodded and hugged her, then moved reluctantly across the bar, his steps dragging even more than usual.
"How sweet," Chandler observed coldly. "Do you want to wave good-bye to your other friends or shall we get on with this?"
"What I want," JL retorted, "is to rip your head off with my bare hands, but I'll have to let someone else do that for me."
"Better than you have tried, little girl," Chandler sneered. "Now move."
JL glanced at Methos again and he smiled grimly, moving his finger across his throat in a slashing gesture. Chandler would not enjoy his victory for very long. She nodded her thanks before preceding Chandler out the door.
Methos turned his attention to Robert, but Chandler's flunky was as cautious as his boss was dishonorable-he'd picked up JL's Glock and was standing far enough away that they couldn't reach him before he got off several shots with both weapons. Duncan glanced at him but Methos shook his head-he knew JL would rather die than have them stage a rescue that got either Joe or Colin killed. "Later," he whispered to himself. "You'll pay for JL and for Sarie. Slowly."
Joe stared at the closed door until a Quickening made the lights flicker and set off distant explosions. With a sob, he turned around and almost stumbled into Duncan, who comforted him wordlessly while he cried.
Colin slammed his fist onto the bar and made both Robert and the bottles jump, but Methos caught his hand before he could make Robert nervous enough to shoot.
"Easy, Colin," he soothed. "She'll haunt me for the rest of eternity if I let you get yourself shot now."
Colin tried to glare at him, but he couldn't find the energy. He was about to put his head back down on the bar when the door burst open and a gunshot rang out, followed by two more in rapid succession. Turning around, he watched Robert fall to the floor, then looked up in amazement as JL spun Chandler's gun on her finger and blew the smoke off the barrel like a sheriff in a spaghetti western. His eyes widened even further as a familiar voice spoke from the still-open door.
"You killed him," Sarah MacGreggor said, crossing the room and looking down at the body.
"No, you think?" JL snapped.
"You didn't have to do that," Sarah pointed out mildly, idly noting that all three of JL's shots had probably been instantly fatal. "We could have gotten him to surrender."
"No one holds a gun on Joe," JL retorted. "No one. Besides, he hit my car. Richie gave me that car." Striding over to her scimitar, she tried to use her toe to flick the blade up off the floor and into her hand the way Duncan did with his katana, but the scimitar's hilt lay almost flush against the floor and she couldn't slide her toe under it. With a shrug, she bent down and retrieved it, then turned her attention back to Sarah.
Sarah looked back at Robert's body and shook her head, but decided not to argue about JL's priorities right then. The dark circles that had been under her eyes in the warehouse were even darker, and Sarah noticed that her hands were shaking a little. With Chandler dead, Sarah desperately hoped that JL would be willing to simply drop the act, get a good night's sleep, and talk to Methos. Somehow, though, she doubted it would be that easy.
As if JL could hear her thoughts, the younger woman smiled and lifted her blade. "Now then," JL said, "I believe you and I still have some unfinished business."
Sarah shook her head and held out one hand. "Now JL," she soothed, "we've achieved our goal and don't need to fight anymore."
"You mean we've achieved your goal by killing Donald Chandler," JL growled, advancing slowly and spinning her scimitar in lazy circles to limber up her wrist, "but my goals have nothing to do with him."
"Wait a minute," Methos interrupted, stepping quickly between the two women in the hopes of distracting JL. "What do you mean we achieved our goal? You," he continued, pointing to JL, "said that Sarie was dead."
"I lied. Now move."
"No, damn it," Methos insisted, walking up to JL so that he was too close for her to use her scimitar effectively. "I'm tired of you walking away from me doing this silent act. You are not a silent person. Now what's going on here?" JL tried to brush past Methos, but he pulled her into a hug instead. "You look exhausted, JL," he said softly into her ear. "This isn't the time or the place for you to settle anything with Sarie. Look at her, JL. She's got all that Quickening energy stored up and looking for somewhere to go. Don't be that somewhere."
JL had stiffened when Methos' arms first went around her, but she dutifully glanced at Sarah. She did look rather edgy, and JL was tired. Her eyes felt gritty and her leg still ached where she'd been shot, even though it had healed a while ago. Besides, Methos' arms felt so warm and safe...
Methos smiled as she relaxed into his embrace, his hands gently rubbing the small of her back in an effort to unknot her muscles. When he was sure she'd calmed down, he stepped back so she could put her sword away and take the drink Colin had ready for her. Colin gave her hand a quick squeeze before she took the glass, and Duncan smiled encouragingly at her as he carried another bottle and two glasses over to Sarah.
It's unanimous, JL thought bitterly. They all think I'm stupid enough to try and kill her with everyone watching me.
"So, JL," Joe said firmly, working his way over so he could hug her himself, "you haven't told us what the hell is going on here."
JL sighed and let her resentment melt into the familiar warmth of his embrace as she'd done so many times before. "It was all Bryan's idea," she said when she straightened out of the hug.
"I should have known," Methos muttered, and Mac snickered quietly.
"I needed someone to help me kill Donald Chandler," Sarah said, giving Methos her patented 'don't pick on Bryan' glare. "I've been after him for years because he murdered my friend Sean. I finally tracked him to LA and tried a frontal assault with Jim and Bryan, but Chandler slipped through our net. So Bryan came up with this plan where I would pretend to fight someone who was actually my accomplice. We just needed someone that Chandler would never suspect as my ally, and Bryan proposed JL."
"It was a set-up all along?" Methos demanded, whirling around to face Sarah. "All of it? You slept with me because of some stupid plan?"
"No," Sarah replied quickly. "That definitely wasn't part of the plan."
"I'll say," JL growled.
Methos desperately wanted to press the issue, but Duncan gave him a warning look and Methos knew he couldn't risk JL getting angry again. This wasn't the time for detailed explanations, however badly he wanted one.
"So you staged the challenges with Sarah," Colin cut in, "and then what? Obviously this last part wasn't scripted."
Sarah smiled quickly at him, thankful for the interruption. "We made Chandler think that JL had killed me," she explained, "by putting a fake body at the base of Helice Point and making the area look like it had gotten hit by a Quickening. Chandler was supposed to come up, find out I was already dead, and argue with JL long enough for me to jump his guards. Once he didn't have them to hide behind, I was going to challenge him honestly."
"But he took it even worse than we'd anticipated," JL continued, "and had his goon shoot me before Sarah could get into position. I managed to take out his driver at the overlook, and followed Chandler here. I knew Sarah had followed me, and that if I could just get Chandler outside, Sarah would be waiting to nail him."
"What if she wasn't?" Colin asked in alarm. "I mean, what if she'd had car trouble or something the way you did coming home from Snoqualmie Falls?"
"It wasn't like I had a choice," JL retorted, trying not think about how much that particular delay had cost her. "I couldn't let him shoot Joe. Besides, Bryan said I could trust Sarah with my life. He wouldn't lie to me about that."
Sarah nodded and grinned, resolutely pushing the concerns she'd had about JL's willingness to cooperate out of her head. "He said I could trust you as well, JL, and he was right about that, too."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad it's over," JL hedged, embarrassed to think of Bryan saying something like that about her when she knew how tempted she'd been by Chandler's offer.
"Why couldn't you tell us it was a set up?" Duncan asked. "We were worried about you. Both of you."
"Because Chandler's perceptive," Sarah replied, "and the reactions had to look real or he wouldn't fall for them."
"His henchman followed me because he saw the scene in the bar the day Sarah got here," JL added. "If anything had struck him as the least bit suspicious or rehearsed, the game would have been over right then. It had to look as authentic as possible."
"But we could have helped," Joe said earnestly. "We could have followed Chandler back to his hide-out or helped jump the guards-something."
"You did help," Sarah replied, "by acting naturally. I'm sorry, but that's the way it had to be. I've been tracking Chandler on and off for fourteen years, and I know how he operated. The attack on his LA estate scared him, and he was ready to shoot me in the street-or hold someone I loved hostage-and take his chances. I had to kill him, and I had to do it now." When Joe shook his head and appeared ready to protest again, Sarah held up her hand and turned to Methos. "You know me, Petey," she said. "Have I ever asked for help when I had any other options?"
"No," Methos agreed slowly, "although I'd hoped that that was something you'd grown out of."
"She hasn't," Duncan confirmed with a grin. "Trust me."
Sarah stuck her tongue out at him and pretended to look offended. JL snickered and drained her drink before wandering over to refill her glass and munch on some of the beer nuts.
Colin watched JL for a moment, then snorted. "How in God's name did Bryan get you to go along with this insane scheme, JL? What did he offer you? What did he say?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yeah," Joe replied. "Maybe we can use it the next time we need you to do something for us."
JL chuckled and chewed her peanuts. "You know Bry-he offered me the world. Money, jewels, horses-I still can't get him to accept the fact I have no interest in riding one, even if I like to photograph them." With a grin, JL flicked another peanut into her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "But he's offered me that before, so I held out for a better price, and I got one." Glancing at Sarah, JL added cautiously, "Or, at least, that was the original plan. Are you still willing?"
"I wasn't sure you were still interested, JL," Sarah replied, "but if you are, I promised I'd teach you and I will."
"So you're staying?" Mac asked eagerly.
Sarah nodded. "I think I can transfer back into the university this fall-they're always short of professors."
Duncan grinned. "That's great. I've missed being able to drop by your office to borrow some chalk."
Methos smiled and walked over to pull himself a beer. Sarie was staying and JL was talking about learning from her, not beheading her. Things were definitely looking up.
Duncan followed him and joined him behind the bar. "So," he asked quietly, "what now?"
"You mean after I kill Bryan?" Methos replied lightly. "I'm going to see if JL will finally talk to me and try to sort things out."
"You're not going to leave her?" Duncan asked in surprise. "I thought you wanted to be with Sarah."
Methos gazed at his drink for a moment, then sighed. "Part of me does and always has, but these last few days have convinced me that I feel more for JL than I thought I did, and I know she feels more for me than she's let on. This wouldn't have hit her so hard if she didn't." Sipping his beer, Methos looked at the two women where they stood laughing with Joe and Colin. "I've walked away from a lot of relationships in my life, MacLeod," he admitted with a rueful smile, "and I think I owe it to myself to find out just what this one really means before I throw it away."
"And if you find you don't love her as much as you love Sarah?" Duncan insisted. "Aren't you just getting her hopes up?"
"What, have you joined the Colin Jamison 'Throw the Blighter Out' club? What about your theory that I'm a lying bastard who owes it to JL to stay with her?" Methos retorted.
"I'm just asking," Duncan said innocently.
"Well, don't," Methos grumbled. "I am not Richie who constantly needs advice from Dr. Ruth MacLeod."
Duncan's reply was lost in another burst of laughter from the quartet, followed by Sarah tapping her glass to get their attention.
"I would like to propose a toast," Sarah announced. "To JL, the real reason Donald Chandler finally met the fate he deserved."
"To pipsqueak!" Colin bellowed, ducking JL's punch as her embarrassment turned swiftly to annoyance, just as he'd known it would.
"And to Bryan," JL replied, lifting her own glass after the cheers had died down, "without whose brilliant plan none of us would have had to go through this shit."
A chorus of boos greeted that toast, followed by a round of laughter and increasingly painful suggestions as to just what should be done to Bryan to "thank" him for his part in all of this. Sarah was gleefully describing the glorious dream she'd had of beating him senseless in her apartment just the other day when JL slipped quietly away from them and headed over to the bar.
Duncan smiled at her approach, then flinched when Methos' boot connected firmly with his ankle. "What?" he sputtered, but Methos just inclined his head toward the others with a very clear 'dismissed' look.
Duncan grunted, but he moved away from the bar before Methos could kick him again.
"If that was supposed to be subtle, you're losing your touch," JL commented as she sat down across from him.
"For MacLeod," he observed with a grin, "that was as subtle as I dared go." JL smiled back hesitantly, but Methos could see her hands tremble as she poured herself a Scotch. "JL," he asked gently, taking her hand, "are you coming home tonight?"
"Do you want me to?" JL replied softly, not daring to meet his eyes.
"Yes," he assured her, "I do. You need to sleep, and we need to talk. About a lot of things."
"About your leaving, you mean."
Methos sighed. "If we decide it's over, then yes-about my leaving. But I haven't reached that conclusion yet. Have you?"
"I...don't know," JL admitted. "I just don't know."
"So we'll talk about it and see where it goes," Methos continued. "We don't need to decide anything tonight."
"What we need, JL," Sarah called out to them, as if she'd heard Methos' words, "is a celebration. Let's go out and enjoy ourselves. We've earned it."
Methos grinned. "It's true, JL, that no one parties as enthusiastically as Sarie after a Quickening. Well, once you feed her, that is. She's downright grouchy until she's had at least two bowls of pasta."
Sarah growled playfully and waved the remains of a candy bar. "His Quickening was hardly worth a side dish of spaghetti," she replied. "This chocolate bar JL gave me was all I needed. Did you know she has a glove box full of the things?"
Methos chuckled. "Some of us swear by a good night's rest and a decent meal. JL, she thrives on three hours' sleep and a Snickers bar."
"And coffee," JL added. "Don't forget the coffee."
"Well?" Sarah urged, "What do you say? Will you two come with us?"
"It's up to you, JL," Methos replied softly.
JL looked up and shook her head. "I'm kind of tired, Sarah," she confessed. "I think I just want to go home. After I explain this dead body to the police."
"I can take care of that, JL," Joe offered. "I'll tell them he was trying to rob me. It's not that far from the truth."
"I don't want you to have to lie for me, Joe," JL replied with a frown. "that's not fair."
"I'll tell you what," Methos suggested, "JL and I will talk to the police-I've handled situations like this before, and it's not that hard to come up with something plausible considering the fact that the guy did fire his gun in the bar. It's only a matter of changing who he fired it at. You four can go out and celebrate-I know you've been looking forward to checking out the new blues bar down on the waterfront, Joe."
"That sounds good to me," JL agreed. "Chandler's passing deserves to be reveled in-he was scum, pure and simple. I'd love to join you if I weren't so tired, but please don't let that stop you."
"It doesn't seem fair to go without you, JL," Sarah repeated. "Why don't we wait until tomorrow?"
"Because you'll make me feel guilty," JL said firmly. "Joe wants to check out this other bar, Colin's never turned down an excuse to party, and you look way too jazzed to sleep. So you guys go and let us handle this part. We'll be fine. We're a good team when it comes to spinning stories for the police."
Sarah glanced at Methos, who nodded encouragingly. With a smile she turned to Colin, Mac, and Joe. "Well, you heard the lady," she announced. "Let's go spy on this bar. Where is it exactly?"
"I'll drive you," Duncan offered. "We can pick your car up tomorrow."
"Can we stop at my apartment first? I need to change..." Sarah asked as she accompanied Duncan out the door.
"Sounds like a plan," Colin confirmed. "Joe, do you want to ride with me?"
Joe glanced at JL, but she was busy concocting a tale for the police with Methos. He grinned to himself and nodded to Colin. "Let's go," he said, "I think they've got everything under control."
As they pulled out of the parking lot, Colin glanced at Joe thoughtfully. "You know, Joe, I might just ask Sarah to dance with me tonight, if you don't mind."
"Why would I mind? But I wouldn't expect too much if I were you, Colin."
"Oh, I'm not expecting anything, really," Colin said hurriedly. "I'm just imagining the look on Roger's face when he hops up and down in front of me screaming about how I'm not supposed to associate with his Immortal."
Joe chuckled. "You shouldn't pick on Roger. He's a nice kid."
"He is," Colin agreed, "but he really needs to learn to lighten up. Maybe this will do it."
"Maybe," Joe said doubtfully, "but I think you just want to dance with Sarah."
Colin shrugged. "Can you blame me? She's gorgeous, and I haven't taken a woman out dancing in a long time. Besides," he added casually, "maybe I'll get the chance to ask her what she intends to do about making things right with JL. We both know JL got talked out of that fight far too easily for her anger to be really gone."
Joe looked at him sharply, but Colin was concentrating on the road. "Don't interfere, Colin," he warned. "You can only protect JL so far."
"Who's interfering?" Colin asked innocently. "I'm just going to dance a little and ask a few questions. Where's the harm in that?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sarah awoke with a start when something began humming in her ear and a cool breeze blew against her bare shoulder. In a few moments, she recognized the sound of an air conditioner and she relaxed again, only to wake up once more when she realized she didn't have an air conditioner. Opening her eyes, she saw a large oaken dresser with brass fittings pushed up against a light blue wall, neither of which looked particularly familiar. Closing them again, she tried to reconstruct the previous evening so she'd have some clue as to whose leg was currently brushing against hers before she peeked. The sheets smell a little like Bryan, she observed, but he's in San Francisco, blissfully unaware of all the people waiting in line to kill him for his brilliant plan.
She recalled going drinking with Mac, Joe, and Colin. She'd been dancing with Mac when Colin had asked if he could cut in. She'd accepted out of politeness, mostly, hoping her toes wouldn't get too badly tromped on. He'd proven himself an excellent dancer though, and she'd enjoyed dancing with someone taller than she was. He'd smelled good too, she remembered. Spicy with a hint of musk similar to what Bryan often wore, which had made perfect sense when he told her it had been a Christmas present from Bryan himself....my God. He'd smelled like Bryan.
Her eyes popped open and she rolled over as quietly as she could. Sure enough, Colin lay sprawled on his stomach next to her, his tousled black hair hiding his face and his breathing slow and steady as he slept. The sheet had slipped down to reveal his back, and Sarah winced when she saw the scratches she'd left there. Bryan always whined if she didn't cut her nails after a Quickening, but he was also healed by morning so she pretty much ignored his protests. It had been so long since she'd been with a mortal after a challenge that she'd forgotten to try to control herself.
She couldn't help smirking though as she remembered the previous evening. Colin had surprised her yet again when he'd matched her passion for passion. First they'd romped on the living room couch, then the bed, then in the shower. Whoever's divorcing you, Colin, she told him silently, is completely and totally insane and should be shot for leaving you this frustrated.
Colin shifted a little but didn't actually awaken, and Sarah grinned again. She'd need to clean out some of those scratches, but they could wait for now. Sliding out of bed, she gently pulled the sheet up over his shoulders and borrowed his robe from the bedpost. Padding out into the living room, she eyed the trail of clothing with wistful satisfaction. Righting the coffee table, she dug up their clothes from around the sofa. One sniff told her she needed to find the washer, and she looked around thoughtfully. The room was decorated to within an inch of its life-Sarah was willing to bet some designer had been paid a small fortune to place exactly the right knickknacks in exactly the right place. I'll bet that couch cost more than I make teaching for a semester, Sarah thought in disgust. Anything that ugly is bound to be expensive. Although it was fairly comfortable in the dark.
Wandering down a hallway, she found the kitchen, and, off that, the laundry room. Tossing the clothes in the washer, she hesitated when a button fell off and rattled against the metal. Looking at her shirt more closely, she realized all the buttons were gone and the fabric had ripped where they'd torn off. With a sigh that was really more of a smile, she threw it into the trash and started the washer, then went back into the kitchen in search of tea.
The kitchen was well stocked and orderly-the spices were even alphabetized in neat little rows. Sarah resisted the urge to mix them up just for the hell of it while her water boiled, electing instead to search the cupboards for food. She missed Bryan's usual breakfast tray that always followed a night like they'd just spent, but she couldn't fault Colin for still being asleep-few men recovered their energy level as quickly as Bryan. She was seriously considering making a tray for Colin when she thought she glimpsed a bookcase through the half opened door just beyond the kitchen table. Books were something she'd never been able to ignore.
Unwrapping a strawberry Pop Tart and picking up her tea, she glanced toward the still-silent bedroom and then drifted over to the door. Nudging it open with her toe, she stepped inside and stared. The two-story room could put many university libraries to shame. The central portion was open all the way to the ceiling, with a round, free-standing fireplace in the middle and chairs and tables scattered about. The second floor was open, so Sarah could look up and see the bookcases that radiated out from the walls on that floor. The opening in the floor above her was guarded by a carved oak railing, and the ceiling was painted light blue with clouds and birds of all varieties. Sunlight gleamed off the polished oaken shelves, and Sarah was drawn to the nearest case. A small brass plaque proclaimed this the "Psychology" section, and she was impressed to find two and a half shelves full of Bryan's writings under four different names, dating back to his first book he'd written during the Renaissance-a collection of rather sappy sonnets that were dedicated to Gorgeous and Topaz. She hoped fervently that the Watchers hadn't connected those nicknames to herself and Jim, but she knew they probably had. In her experience, they tended to know the tiniest details while often missing the big picture. Someday I'm getting him as a guest lecturer in one of my Renaissance Lit classes and having his sonnets be the surprise assignment, she promised herself. That will be a fitting punishment for his getting me into this mess.
Further investigation revealed that the case included volumes by Sean Burns and Garrick, as well as several notable mortal psychologists. She wondered idly if Methos had ever written such a text, but even the Watchers hadn't sorted out all his aliases yet, so she couldn't be sure. She had a hunch, though, that if one did exist, Methos had donated it to the library himself just so he wouldn't be forgotten.
Tearing herself away from the bookcase, she thought about searching the shelves for the poetry section in case Colin had a copy of a book by Yeats she needed for her next thesis, but she knew she didn't have time. She was looking for a shelf map when she spotted Colin's office. Walking in, she ran a finger along the smooth wood of the massive desk-a genuine Louis XIV, she decided. Sure enough, she found the shelf map tacked to the wall, each case neatly labeled as to its category and major authors. She found the poetry case on the second floor and was about to leave when she recognized the scene depicted in the watercolor hanging next to the map. Studying it, she smiled reminiscently-it was Jim and Bryan's villa in Tuscany painted on a lazy summer afternoon from one of her favorite spots. The artist had taken some liberties with perspective and color, but the overall effect was reasonably good. She thought it might be one of Bryan's earlier attempts until she found Colin's name in the corner, and she shook her head in amazement. "I can't believe the talented artist who painted you would allow the monstrosities I saw in the living room," she told the painting, "but I guess they do go with that hideous couch."
Turning around, she examined the other two watercolors in the room-one of the swan boats in Boston Gardens and the other of sailboats around Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. With a sigh, she decided to settle in for a minute and finish her tea. The leather desk chair was very comfortable if a little big for her-it was obviously chosen for long sessions in front of the PC.
There were papers neatly stacked on the desk under a new leather volume embossed with the Watcher symbol-a quick peek told her that it was JL's Chronicle and she decided to leave the papers alone. Her attention was drawn to a silver picture frame that held a photo of Colin, a tall woman with long, brown hair, and three children-a teenage boy and girl, and a much younger boy. They all appeared happy in the picture, but she had learned long ago that looks meant nothing. A double frame held two photos she remembered seeing up behind the register at Joe's-JL on Colin's shoulders and JL, Colin, and Joe looking like they had just been roughhousing and were about to go back to it as soon as the pesky photographer quit bugging them. Comparing the pictures, Sarah could see the difference in Colin's face-in both of the shots with JL, he was really smiling, but in the family portrait he looked far more stiff. In fact, only the youngest boy looked really happy.
Sarah shook her head sympathetically and put the pictures down, only to notice another one lying next to the scanner. It showed a bleached blonde woman standing in front of a red brick building near a pile of grime-encrusted snow. She was wearing a tight leather mini-skirt, high-heeled leather boots, and a very short furry jacket that was obviously more for looks than warmth. The picture was taken from across the street, but Sarah could see enough detail in her face to realize she had that vacant look that often accompanied drug use. She was probably only in her mid-twenties, but she already looked world-weary and defeated. Sarah flipped the picture over. There was a sticker proclaiming it to be property of the Boston Police Department with "November 22, 1973" scrawled in the date field and, below that, a stamp that had the Watcher symbol and spaces for pertinent facts. This information was entered far more neatly than the date, but Sarah could scarcely believe her eyes.
Subject (alias): JL Dawson (Angelina Hethden)
Location: Boston, MA USA
Subject's True Age: 14 years 5 months
Watcher: Colin Jamison
Notes: Was a prostitute from August 1971 to December 1973
Turning the photo over in her hands, Sarah studied the woman carefully. Fourteen and a half and already beyond jaded. Bryan had told her a little about JL's past, but this-this made it all too real. No wonder she's so abrasive, Sarah decided. Compassion doesn't get you very far on the streets.
"Lovely way to spend Thanksgiving, isn't it?" Colin asked quietly.
Sarah practically leapt out of the chair and almost overset her tea, her face as red as Colin's robe. "I'm, um...sorry. I...uh...inherited some of Bryan's nosiness," she stammered, quickly putting the photograph back where she'd found it. She glanced at him leaning in the doorway wearing a pair of jeans and carrying his shirt. She shivered, pulling the robe tighter. Damn he looks good, but no matter what he said last night, he's also in love with JL.
Colin chuckled, trying not to think about the way the robe had fallen open when she'd put the picture back. It had been far too long since Peggy had been interested in even speaking to him, much less shredding his back. He hadn't woken up so stiff and delightfully satisfied in years. Shaking his head, he started to pull his shirt on, but Sarah interrupted him.
"Oh wait, don't do that," she said quickly, feeling another blush creep up her neck as she hurried over and caught his hands. Moving behind him, she examined the scratches. "Let me wash those out. Do you have something to put on them? It's the least I can do after, um, clawing you like that. I'm sorry."
Colin inclined his head toward the opposite corner of the room. "There's a medicine chest in the bathroom through that door." As they headed that way, he gave her a sly grin. "I'm not sure it was you, actually. I think a mountain lioness jumped in the window there for a while. Didn't you hear her howling?"
Sarah responded with a playful swat. "You're one to talk. The only reason my back isn't covered as well is because I heal faster."
Colin sighed contentedly and let her sit him down on the toilet. "It was absolutely incredible, wasn't it? "
Sarah nodded as she rooted through the medicine cabinet. Dipping a cotton ball in peroxide, she wedged herself between him and the sink so she could work on his back. Nice work, you idiot, she scolded herself silently as she looked at some shallow scratches on his neck that he'd need a turtleneck to hide. When JL sees these, she'll know what happened. I'm just destined to hurt her without even trying, aren't I? Damn. With a resolute shake of her head, she began working on the marks. "But seriously," she said, trying to keep her concern out of her voice, "I am sorry-I should have warned you what it's like after a Quickening."
Colin winced as the cotton ball traced the first scratch. "That's all right," he managed, "I...ouch...had a feeling you had some seriously-pent-up energy at the bar when we were dancing. I know I did."
With a sigh, Sarah finished his back and moved around to take care of his chest and shoulders. "Yeah, well, it's been a rough week or so, and you smelled a lot like Bryan...it was, um, tempting." Looking up at his face, Sarah shook her head. "That didn't come out right. I didn't mean that you were a substitute, Colin. I was trying to explain that I'm generally not in the habit of doing that. Though I do seem to be in the habit of taking JL's men to bed, don't I?" Tossing the cotton ball into the trash, Sarah looked in the medicine chest again. "Do you have some antibiotic ointment? I didn't see it."
"It's right here," Colin replied, pulling it out from behind a tube of toothpaste. He was about to hand it to her when he froze. "Wait a minute. JL's men? What makes you think I'm one of her men?"
Taking the tube from his unresisting grip, Sarah moved back behind him and began smoothing the medicine over the cuts. "You love her, don't you? She may be blind, but I'm sure as hell not."
Colin nodded. "Of course I love her, and she loves me." Closing his eyes, he gave a soft sigh as the medicine combined with the gentle touch of her fingers made the pain in his back recede. "But I'm not one of her 'men,' really," he continued after a moment. "Not in the sexual sense anyway. I'm her best friend, but the relationship is strictly platonic."
Sarah snorted softly and moved back around to his chest. "Been there, done that...as you well know. That won't matter to her if she figures out that we did this. She'll be furious."
Colin regarded her thoughtfully. "Oh, you mean you and Methos? Or Petey? Or whatever you may choose to call him? This is different. JL and I tried to have a sexual relationship years ago. It didn't work." Dropping his gaze, he sighed deeply. "The sad part is, she'd come into my bed in a second if I asked her to just because she thinks she owes me. But she's not really comfortable with me-I'm too physically imposing and I remind her of her past. When we did try it, I could see her zoning out because she got frightened, and I can't live with that even though she swears it wouldn't bother her."
With a shrug, Sarah put the ointment back into the cabinet and sat on the edge of the sink. "Maybe, but I don't think this is all that different, and I'm sure she could get over her fear. Regardless of the circumstances, I am the interloper here. I feel like I just waltzed in and turned her world on its ear."
"She's a tough kid," Colin assured her. "She'll survive this. It will be hard, sure, but she's got friends, and she's slowly learning to rely on them." Colin watched Sarah shift so she could rest one foot on the toilet, her robe falling open to reveal most of her legs for a moment. He swallowed as his brain happily reminded him of how it felt to have those very legs wrapped around his waist. "Shall we leave the bathroom now?" he suggested quickly, "or are you comfortable perched on the sink?"
Sarah smiled and hopped down, straightening her robe. "Lead on, MacDuff. I'm dying to paw through your books, anyway. Or can't I do that? And isn't one of those watercolors Bryan's place in Tuscany? And hey-won't the Watchers shoot you or something if they find out I'm here?"
Offering Sarah his arm, Colin laughed. "Slow down, Sarah. You sound like my six-year-old. You may enjoy my library all you like. This is an official Watcher resource center-meaning I convinced them to pay for most of it in return for letting any of them use it whenever they want to. But the Tribunal has relaxed its rules quite a bit, and we don't store any Chronicles here-well, besides JL's, of course. Just maps, history books, published works by Immortals and friends of Immortals, stuff like that. It's a reference library. There's no reason I can't show a guest anything except my Watcher logon and password." Leading Sarah back toward the kitchen, Colin continued, "That watercolor is indeed Tuscany-Jim and Bryan surprised JL and Joe with an all-expense-paid vacation there for them and their closest friends, and I was lucky enough to qualify. The old Tribunal would have had heart failure-it was Jim, Bryan, and six Watchers. We had a blast-they didn't know about the Watchers, but they knew we knew about their immortality, so we had some really fascinating conversations. What else did you ask about? Oh, my getting shot." Colin waved his hand dismissively and shook his head. "I don't think they'll bother. After that fuss with Joe, they're rethinking the execution policies." Reaching the kitchen, Colin settled Sarah into a seat at the counter and began rummaging in the fridge, emerging with an armload of food.
"Sorry," Sarah said with another flush over her over-eager questions. "I like books, and I noticed that you had all of Bryan's and Sean Burns' here. What about Byron?" she asked with a shudder. "Detestable man." Getting up to put some hot water on for tea, Sarah suddenly remembered why she'd been searching for a library map in the first place. "Friends of Immortals? Do you have any Yeats? I've been looking for a copy of one of his volumes...."
"No need to apologize-a love of books is a very good thing. Yeah, I have Sean's near Bryan's, as they influenced one another. Byron's are here too-the man has gone downhill a bit, but some of his early works are pure...poetry." Grinning at Sarah's groan, Colin cracked another egg into the bowl thoughtfully. "Yeats. Yeah, I have some Yeats-he's upstairs, I do believe. I can show you after breakfast. I love showing off my library."
Sarah nodded and opened the bread to make toast. "I can imagine. It's beautiful."
"So," Colin asked casually, "what's next for Sarah MacGreggor? Besides an omelet, toast, juice, and more tea that is."
Sarah chuckled. "Getting dressed should probably be on that list somewhere, for one thing. Then I need to pick up my car from Joe's."
"Your car will be fine, and I think I have a shirt or something you can wear-it will be big but you can tie it off. I seem to recall, um, being in a bit of a rush to get your shirt off. I apologize-let me know where you got it and I'll replace it. The washer was done, by the way, so I put the stuff in the dryer."
"Thanks. I suppose I could have searched the house and the driveway for all the missing buttons, but really, it's not worth it. Yeah, I found the washer...after I followed the trail of clothing through the house." Grinning up at him, Sarah winked. "That was pretty intense, huh?"
"Intense is a good word," Colin agreed with a chuckle. "Phenomenal would be another one." Beating the eggs, Colin poured them into a pan and let them cook before adding some pieces of ham and shredded cheese. Glancing back at Sarah, he smiled hesitantly, "Um, Sarah, I, um, well. Shit. I haven't felt this awkward since college. Last night was wonderful, but...now what? Are you moving back into your apartment here in Seacouver?"
"You flatter me, Colin," Sarah replied, sinking into a chair and adding pieces of toast to the omelet Colin neatly split between their plates. "And I don't know what I'm doing. I miss Richie, Petey, and Duncan. I want to be here, but I probably shouldn't. I was on sabbatical from the university, and I need to go back and finish my appointment." Taking a bite of breakfast, Sarah suddenly looked up at Colin and swallowed hastily. "Or were you referring to what happened last night when you asked what now?"
Colin chewed for a moment before admitting, "I'm...not sure. Both, I guess."
"Um. I don't know what to say," Sarah stalled, wishing she could read Colin's mind and figure out what he wanted her to say. Sometimes this part of the morning-after conversation went very, very badly. "I don't want you to think that I just used you last night, because that wasn't it at all. I'm just, um, not sure we'd make a good couple. Maybe if things were different?" Peering at Colin over her orange juice, Sarah breathed a sigh of relief as he relaxed and smiled broadly. She had enjoyed herself and she didn't want to hurt his feelings, but she couldn't picture living with him, even if she liked having sex with him.
"Would it be horribly impolite to say 'Thank you, God!' in a jubilant voice?" Colin asked, grateful that she wasn't expecting more from him than he could give right now. "Because, if it would be, I could step outside."
Sarah laughed and waggled a finger at him. "Don' ye dare celebrate w'oot me, Colin."
"I'd nae consider it, lass," Colin assured her in a credible Scottish accent. Raising his coffee mug, he grinned. "To friendship?"
"Aye," Sarah responded.
Colin clinked coffee mugs with her, then arched an eyebrow. "What is that smirk for?" he asked.
"The one that tells me you wanted to say something other than 'aye,'" Colin replied, rinsing their dishes. "What was it? Hey, I was a cop. There's nothing I haven't heard before."
Sarah grinned, watching his back ripple as he washed the dishes and trying to decide if she should admit that she'd really like to shower with him once more before she left. If only he didn't love JL so much-but he did, and she'd done enough damage to JL already. There was no point in leading him on any further. When he glanced at her inquisitively, she smirked. "Oh, I was just thinking of toasting to friendship-and men with wonderful libraries."
Colin dried his hands on a dishtowel and smiled with only a trace of disappointment. "Yeah," he said softly as he brushed a crumb off her cheek, "there's nothing like curling up with a good book."
Catching his hand, Sarah kissed it gently. "And your shower is pretty nice too, Colin. Thanks for sharing it with me. But now I should borrow a shirt and go pick up my car."
Studying her eyes, Colin realized that she was as tempted as he was and he smiled again. "I understand, and honestly, I need a friend right now a lot more than I do a lover. Peggy is driving me up the wall, and I really need someone to complain to. I've almost worn out my welcome with Joe, JL, and Mac."
"Peggy is your wife?" At Colin's nod, Sarah continued, "I've never been divorced, but I'm a good listener and I know some really good lawyers. Do you have one yet?"
"No," Colin replied. "I was really hoping she'd change her mind, but now she wants full custody of our kids. I would just have visitation rights, and I'd have to fly to Boston to see them. She doesn't want them to come here."
"Well, that's absolutely not acceptable," Sarah said angrily as they got the clothes out of the dryer. "Come on, you can give me a shirt and I'll tell you about a lawyer I know who'll love to handle your case-Margaret Dumas. She's the best in the field. Or will the Watchers complain if you use an immortal attorney?"
"If it gets my kids back, they can complain all they like," Colin replied, heading for the bedroom, "but I heard she has a full caseload."
"For me, she'll find the time, Colin, if you'll let me help you. I'd be glad to-your kids shouldn't grow up without a father because your wife wants to hurt you."
Colin opened a drawer and pulled out a shirt while he contemplated her offer. His pride told him to say no, but the picture of his kids sitting on his dresser was all the motivation he needed to turn back to her with a grateful smile. "I'd really appreciate that, Sarah," he told her. "As long as you promise that if you ever need anything I can give-from a rare book to a sympathetic ear-you'll ask."
Sarah grinned and offered her hand. "Deal. Now give me that shirt so I can get cleaned up and make some phone calls."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A few hours later, Colin and Sarah pulled up to Joe's bar. It hadn't opened yet, but Joe's, Methos', and JL's cars were parked outside. Colin looked around curiously, then killed the engine. "Well," he observed, "I'm going to go in and say hi. Do you want to join me?"
"All right," Sarah agreed. "I need to talk to JL about setting up a training schedule anyway. But what do we say if they ask why we're together?"
Colin shrugged. "I'm not ashamed of what we did, so there's no reason to lie about it."
"I'm not ashamed, just worried that JL will get upset," Sarah clarified.
"Why would she? She's got Methos."
Sarah shrugged, trying to ignore the pang of jealousy that statement conjured up. Walking next to Colin, she blinked as they moved out of the bright July sunlight. JL was sitting on the bar with her back against the support column and one heel drumming idly against the wood. Methos was sitting next to her watching Joe struggle with a stubborn beer tap. They all looked surprised to see them come in together, and for a moment, Sarah thought she saw a flash of rivalry in Methos' eye. It passed quickly, but not before JL seemed to notice it too-her body stiffened as she looked from Sarah to Methos and back again.
Jumping down off the bar, JL smiled thinly. "Coffee?" she asked. "Or tea?"
"I'll have coffee," Colin replied cheerfully, ignoring the sudden tension in the hopes that it would go away. "You look like you finally got some sleep, Pipsqueak."
"Yeah," JL admitted. "I fell asleep on the couch about an hour after we got home. Joe tells me you had fun drinking and dancing."
"That we did," Colin confirmed, taking the coffee she offered him.
Sarah smiled at JL as she got a tea bag from the shelf. "The place was all right," she commented, "but not as nice as Joe's. Did the police give you any trouble?"
"Not really," Methos told her. "Armed robbery is far too common these days."
"And it's been true three times since I bought the joint," Joe grumbled, trying not to stare at the scratches on Colin's neck that explained why he looked unusually relaxed today.
JL didn't bother hiding her stare when Colin turned to pour the hot water for Sarah's tea. The moment she saw the scratches, she realized why Sarah's shirt had seemed so familiar-she'd given it to Colin for Christmas. Still, it couldn't be. Could it? "What happened, Colin?" she asked lightly. "Did you run into a mountain lion?"
"Um, no," Colin hedged, suddenly distrustful of her casual tone.
"Well?" JL insisted.
"Well what?" Colin asked with a hopeful smile. "They're just some scratches, JL. No need to make a federal case over them."
JL glanced at Methos, just in time to see the resentment flare in his eyes as he looked at Colin. Folding her arms, she tried to make sense of his expression. Methos is jealous, she realized, and he must be jealous of Sarah, because he doesn't give a damn about Colin. Last night, he swore to me that he and Sarah were just friends, but friends don't get jealous when friends get laid, do they? She glanced at Colin again, wondering if she was really angry about Colin's tryst with Sarah and not Methos' reaction to it. That's ridiculous, she decided. Why would I be jealous of Colin?
Sarah winced in sympathy as JL turned her glare on Methos. It was time to distract JL and get out of here before this escalated. "I just came in JL," she explained, "to find out when you wanted to set up your first lesson."
JL looked from Methos to Sarah, then glanced at Colin. If there was one thing she hated, it was having her feelings dismissed. She was angry and wanted someone to reassure her that Methos wasn't jealous, but Sarah seemed to think she could just change the subject and have JL accept it without a fuss. She probably thinks we can spar without her even breaking a sweat, JL thought bitterly. Why wouldn't she? All she's got to go by is that one miserable fight in the warehouse when I was flailing about like an idiot. I've got to correct that opinion and do it now. This is the best place to spar because I know the layout like the back of my hand-I can dodge around these tables in my sleep. She can't. It's time to show her I'm a lot better fighter than she thinks I am before she dismisses me completely.
Drawing her scimitar, JL smiled. "Let's do it now."
Sarah froze. "What?" she asked softly, standing her ground but not drawing her sword.
"I choose right now, right here. Are you going to draw or fight unarmed?"
Sarah studied the resolve on JL's face and reluctantly drew her rapier as she backed away from the bar. "I don't want to fight you here, JL," she said. "We're bound to break something." Like each other, she added silently.
"I have money now-I'll pay for it," JL replied. "What I want is one real spar. No pre-ordained winner, no grand scheme. Just you and me. I don't want your head-I just want a chance to fight you."
"What will that prove?" Sarah asked, risking a glance at Colin and Methos to make sure they were going to stay out of whatever happened and let her try to deal with it. She relaxed fractionally as Methos met her gaze with an understanding nod. She'd told him JL would need to vent her anger at some point, and this was probably as good a time as any.
"It might not prove a damn thing," JL admitted, "but it will make me feel a hell of a lot better." Without waiting for an answer, she lunged forward and swung her scimitar as hard as she could, forcing Sarah to step back a pace. JL pressed onward, fighting as she had in the warehouse-all power and no finesse. This time however, her attack was quite deliberate.
Sarah parried shot after shot, wondering how JL had ever won a fight relying on sheer brute force and hoping she would wear herself out quickly. Sarah realized her mistake when she bumped into a table and JL's blade suddenly flashed past her guard and opened a long cut on her arm. Scowling at the look of triumph on JL's face, Sarah shoved a chair at her and tried to circle back to the open floor, but JL blocked her path.
Now that they were back among the tables, JL began fighting in earnest, using the layout of the bar to her own advantage. She'd worked there so long she knew the position of every table and chair, every uneven section of floor, every support column. She pushed Sarah relentlessly, keeping her penned among the maze of tables and forcing her to try to feel her way backwards while still blocking JL's shots.
Sarah was momentarily annoyed with herself for falling for that maneuver, but she'd been in enough bar fights over the years to know how to handle them. She kept moving as much furniture as she could, trying to clear a new space while simultaneously destroying the mental map JL had of the bar. She was almost satisfied with the amount of room she had when she stumbled over something on the floor and lost her balance.
JL didn't hesitate and kicked upwards, catching Sarah in the leg and sending her into a sprawling roll. As Sarah scrambled to recover herself, JL began kicking her in the ribs.
Knowing that JL would use her scimitar the instant she tried to rise, Sarah hooked her feet around a chair leg and hurled it at JL as hard as she could, immediately leaping to her feet as JL dodged the flying chair.
"I thought we were just going to spar, JL," Sarah panted, gingerly laying a hand against her ribs and frowning when she realized they were broken.
"And I thought you and Methos were just going to flirt," JL snarled, driving back in with a vengeance.
Sarah grimaced, as much from the barb of her words as from the pain in her ribs, and deftly blocked JL's scimitar with her own blade arcing downwards to deflect the force of the blow.
"It was a mistake. We got carried away."
JL responded with a kick that very nearly sent Sarah off balance again and expertly ducked her opponent's punch. "Really? So did I. Sorry."
Sarah looked at the rage building in JL's eyes and realized she needed to end this fight-and quickly. Time for one of Bryan's patented disarm techniques. Limping a little more than she needed to, Sarah kept one hand on her ribs and tried a feint toward JL's leg. When she knew JL was committed to parrying the blow, Sarah reversed the direction of her swing and twisted her rapier so that she could use JL's own momentum to knock her blade out of her hand.
JL realized what she was doing too late to stop it from happening, but soon enough to take the counter-measure Jim had taught her after a long and frustrating disarm session with Bryan. As their blades collided, JL lashed out with her fist and hit Sarah squarely on the wrist, sending both blades clattering to the floor. Jim's advice had been to follow this by drawing her stiletto and stabbing Bryan in the heart, but JL had read about Sarah and her ever-present Sgian Dubh, and she wasn't sure she wanted to continue in a close-quarters knife fight with someone taller, stronger, and a lot more experienced. She thought about trying to retrieve her scimitar, but it lay flat against the floor the way it always did while Sarah's rapier rested up on the swept hilt, just waiting for Sarah to slide her foot under it and kick it back up into her hand. Unfortunately, JL knew, it was a bit late to reevaluate her choice of swords.
Sarah's gut wanted her to watch JL's hands, but her training kept her focussed on the younger woman's eyes. She could clearly read her anger, but JL was still thinking, still weighing her options. Sarah knew the feeling from her own disarm sessions-JL would either go for her scimitar in the hopes of regaining it before Sarah got to her rapier, or draw the stiletto Duncan had warned her about. Left wrist, he'd said, so she'd feint right if she were going to use it. Sarah shifted a little to keep her muscles from stiffening up-her ribs still ached and the cut on her arm stung annoyingly as it healed. It always amazed her how time seemed to stretch at moments like this, the intense concentration making each second seem to last forever. If JL stopped now, she figured that they had a chance of working together. If she continued the attack, Sarah wasn't sure she could trust her sparring day after day. Sooner or later, JL was bound to get lucky. Sarah realized she did want to teach her-some of her moves had shown real promise.
JL studied Sarah in return, fingering the hilt of the stiletto she'd flicked out of her wrist sheath the instant her sword had left her hand and wondering whether her opponent was willing to end the fight without retaliating for her broken ribs. She knew she'd done better this time than in the warehouse, but she was a lot further from being able to beat Sarah than she had hoped she'd be. She's got every right to be angry considering how I forced her into this match, JL reasoned, but she seems content to let me call the shots. Which means maybe she does respect me a little, or she'd probably grab her rapier and stab me a few dozen times to teach me to mind my manners. At least, that's what I'd do if I were her. Examining Sarah's eyes, JL decided to risk dropping her guard. If Colin liked Sarah enough to sleep with her, maybe her inclination to trust Sarah was sound. Colin was the best judge of character she'd ever met, and she'd always been able to rely on his instincts before, and Sarah definitely had things to teach that JL wanted to learn.
"I have got to get a sword I can kick up off the floor if I'm going to keep dropping the damn thing," JL observed with an exaggerated sigh as she relaxed and slid her stiletto back into its wrist sheath. "And I've got to remember that you've sparred with Bryan and know all his tricks. I haven't seen that one in quite a while."
Sarah chuckled, hopeful that JL had truly vented her anger and the two of them could start working together a little more harmoniously. JL had fought better than Sarah had expected her to, and from the expression on JL's face, Sarah had fought better than JL had anticipated, too. Which was good-mutual respect was essential in any student/teacher relationship. From her conversations with Richie, she knew that was why he'd left Seacouver-he didn't think Duncan respected him at all, and while Sarah knew that wasn't true, what mattered was what Richie believed. She had a feeling JL might react much the same way Richie had if she felt like she was being humored. Picking up her rapier, the sudden ache in her wrist made her think of a perfect way to demonstrate her revised impression of JL's skills.
"JL," she said cheerfully, walking over and picking up JL's discarded scimitar, "that was an incredible disarm. I didn't see it coming at all. Where did you learn it?"
"Jim taught it to me," JL replied, taking her blade back from Sarah.
Sarah nodded and stepped back into the position she'd been in when JL had knocked the sword out of her hand. "Will you show me how you did it? Please?"
"I know I agreed to train you in exchange for your help with Chandler," Sarah acknowledged, "but we've got time for that later. Now I want to know how to knock Bryan's sword out of his hand the next time he tries that move on me."
JL grinned and dropped back into position, placing her scimitar where it had been when she'd parried the blow. "That's pretty much why Jim taught it to me-so he could see Bryan's face. Go ahead and swing slowly," she prompted, miming the punch she'd used to disarm Sarah without touching her this time.
"Clever," Sarah admitted after trying it a few times. "Jim is inspired sometimes."
"Bryan keeps him working at it," Methos observed. "If they didn't pick on each other constantly, they wouldn't be anywhere near as good as they are."
"This is cause for a celebration," Joe announced with a grin, pouring a glass of Guinness from the newly-repaired tap. "On me, as I've finally gotten this thing working again after letting Mac try to fix it."
"Hear hear," seconded Colin happily, reaching for the glass.
Sarah laughed. "Maybe the first round," she said, "but the rest are on me. I still owe you a celebration, JL. Will you join me this time or are you still tired?"
JL looked at Methos, but he just shrugged. "It's up to you, JL," he replied.
"Oh, what the hell," JL decided. "I can always sleep next year. But I'd better change out of these bloody clothes," she added, realizing for the first time that Sarah had cut her several times. She'd been so focussed on the fight that she hadn't even noticed the wounds before they'd healed.
"And I need to change as well," Sarah agreed lightly. "Shall we meet back here in an hour or so? Then we can decide where to celebrate."
"Fine. I'll walk you out." As soon as they got outside, JL shook her head. "I keep expecting Methos to get mad about our setting him up that way," she admitted, "but he doesn't seem to be."
"With any luck at all," Sarah reassured her, "he'll direct his annoyance toward the master planner-in this case, Bryan. But I wouldn't rub his nose in it, if I were you. He hates to be on the other side of anyone's manipulation."
"Sarah," JL began, but just shook her head and opened her car door.
"What, JL?" Sarah prompted as JL got in.
JL hesitated, then worked up her courage. "Did you tell him to stay with me?"
Leaning in the window of JL's car, Sarah studied the younger woman for a moment. "JL, nobody tells Petey to do anything," she said earnestly. "If he's staying with you, it's because he wants to."
"And that doesn't bother you?"
Sarah frowned, then shook her head. "I've known Petey a very long time, JL, and I want what I've always wanted-for him to be happy. If you make him happy, then that's where he should be." Sarah paused as two pictures taped to the dashboard caught her eye, the same two pictures of Joe, Colin, and JL that Colin had sitting on his desk. She knew she should stay out of this, but she wouldn't be much of a teacher if she let JL make the same mistakes she had without at least trying to talk to her. Looking back at JL, Sarah continued softly, "Assuming, of course, that he makes you happy."
"What do you mean?" JL questioned in surprise.
"Just that. I know how easy it is to fall into a relationship because it's easy and ignore the ones that aren't."
"Meaning?" JL repeated.
"Meaning don't close any doors," Sarah responded, "and don't do what I did and spend years overlooking someone you care about just because you've known him most of your life and he's like a father, and a big brother, and godsend to you."
JL shook her head and sighed. "Colin's marriage is shaky enough now," she replied. "I'm not going to make it worse."
"Colin was served with divorce papers the other night," Sarah informed her gently. "I think it's already worse."
"The bitch!" JL snarled. "I'd like to rip her blue-blooded head off and hand it to her. She's made him jump through so many hoops, it's ridiculous."
"So you do love him," Sarah observed.
"As a friend, yeah," JL replied. "He was the first person who ever believed in me-and made me believe in myself. But as a lover? No. We tried, and it just didn't work. He, well, he's too big. He, um, reminds me of someone I'd rather not think about."
"Oh," Sarah said quietly, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze, "that's too bad. He adores you."
"Yeah," JL replied sadly, "I know. Bryan says I'll get over it eventually, but Colin will likely be too old by then." Giving herself a small shake, JL glanced back at the bar. "Well, shall we leave so the mice can come out of the parlor? You know they're peeking at us through the door, waiting to see if the truce is going to hold."
Sarah laughed. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired of fighting. Let's get changed and party. After we've had some more drinks, we can go back to discussing what we should do to Bryan."
"Deal," JL replied, offering her hand for Sarah to shake. "I mean, what harm could a few drinks do?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Methos felt himself beginning to wake up, so he closed his eyes tightly and held perfectly still in hopes of going back to sleep and recapturing one of the most incredible fantasies he'd conjured up in the last few millennia. Sarah and JL. Blonde hair mingling heedlessly with black. Sarah's tall, elegant frame lying next to JL's smaller, wiry one. Both women's muscles moving under their skins like water, and both of them there purely for his pleasure. Sighing contentedly, Methos dared to stretch a little. Both hands encountered a smooth shoulder as they moved, and his eyes popped open. Looking around, he stared in disbelief first at Sarah and then at JL, who were both sleeping peacefully on either side of him.
Oh, my, he thought in amazement. It wasn't a dream. Licking his lips, he shifted a little, trying to reconstruct the night's events. He remembered going out with Sarah, JL, Colin, Joe, and Duncan to celebrate Sarah's victory over Chandler. They'd had a few drinks, laughed a lot, and danced a little. But after that...nothing. Just scattered images that may not even have happened. He was lifting the sheet to see if any of them were wearing clothes when JL rolled over and regarded him through one half-open eye.
"What are you smirking about?" she asked.
"Wha'?" Sarah mumbled, sleep restoring most of her Scottish accent.
"He's smirking at us," JL repeated sleepily.
Sarah yawned and stretched. "He's a man, JL," she muttered. "Wha' do ye expect?"
JL grunted and rolled over, untangling the sheet and pulling it up to her shoulder. Sarah did likewise on her side, neither woman noticing that Methos was now strangling quietly.
He gave a few pitiful coughs, but Sarah and JL continued ignoring him. Giving up, he clambered out of bed, grabbed a pair of boxers, and walked into the bathroom, still trying to sort out what exactly was happening here and what he could, or should, do about it.
JL had almost drifted off again when she suddenly realized just who was sharing her bed. Turning over, she looked at Sarah's back for a moment, then gingerly peeked under the sheet.
"We're both naked, aren't we?" Sarah asked quietly, wondering how she'd managed to wind up in someone else's bed twice in as many days. The progression was getting worrisome. Not to mention crowded.
"Yep," JL confirmed.
"And Petey was naked."
"That he was."
Sarah rolled over and looked at JL quizzically. "What do you remember?"
"Very little," JL admitted. "We drank. We danced, me with Methos and you with Mac and Colin. You looked really good with Colin by the way-you're the right height for him."
Sarah nodded slowly. "He's a good dancer."
"He taught unarmed combat for years," JL told her. "He was the most popular instructor the LAPD had."
"That must be it," Sarah agreed noncommittally, deciding to stop praising Colin before JL got jealous again. Besides, his athletic ability wasn't why she'd ended up in bed with JL and Petey. "The question is," she continued briskly, "how did we end up here? Together, I mean."
JL sat up and let the sheet fall to her waist. Rumpleteaser took that as an invitation and jumped up into her lap. "Morning, Rump," she said, scratching his ears, "it's kind of you to join us, but I don't think you can help." Rump just purred happily and JL chuckled. "He is so Bryan-like it's frightening. He has to be in the middle of everything. But let's see. After we danced we were picking on Methos about...something."
Sarah nodded and reached over to stroke Rump, who licked her hand happily. "We were. I can remember the look of total shock on his face, but I'm not sure why. Were we talking about Watchers? How much fun they are to play with when you know they're there?"
"Yes, but that wasn't it, I don't think. Methos doesn't worry about that anymore. No, we were talking about, about..." Glancing at Sarah, JL couldn't help noticing the way the sheet had slipped down a little further when Sarah had leaned over to pet Rump. JL's appreciation of the sight evoked the memory of Sarah in the bar, her green pendant dangling between her breasts and her face flushed with alcohol and laughter. They'd had a marvelous time picking on Methos, and JL had gotten a fiendish idea that she had hoped would both floor Methos and let her be absolutely sure that no ill-will still existed between herself and Sarah. At the time, Sarah had giggled at the expression of shock on Methos' face and seemed amenable, but now JL wondered nervously whether sobriety would make her reevaluate the humor of the situation.
"About what, JL?" Sarah prompted.
"Um, about sharing, I do believe," JL supplied warily. "You kept saying we beat Chandler together, so I suggested that since we'd shared the victory, we should share the spoils of war. Namely, Methos."
Sarah blinked while she considered this idea. She vaguely remembering JL suggesting the threesome and insisting that it would be fun. It had clearly been JL's version of an olive branch, and Sarah had been drunk and still stressed enough to go along with the idea just to make the younger girl feel more at ease. Looking back at JL, Sarah noted JL's worried expression and smiled. "So," she said lightly, "did we share him? I can't recall anything after Colin and Duncan piled us into a cab."
JL relaxed a little and shrugged. "Me either. If we can't remember, do you think Methos can?"
"I doubt it, or he would have said something," Sarah concluded after a moment's thought. "Why?"
"Because," JL replied with a grin, "that means we get to tell him what happened."
"Oh, I do like the way you think," Sarah smirked. "So...did we or didn't we?"
"We did," JL responded promptly, "and it's truly a shame he doesn't remember it, because it was fantastic."
"If it was too good, he'll expect us to do it again," Sarah warned. "Do we want to?"
JL shifted Rump so he was lying between them and drew her knees up thoughtfully. "It wouldn't be the same," she finally replied. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime, perfectly-timed thing. We couldn't repeat it, because it would lose that essential spontaneity."
Sarah eyed her thoughtfully. "You sound like you've done this before," she commented.
"Nope," JL answered cheerfully, "what I did was describe my first heroin high. Junkies spend the rest of their lives trying to find something that equals that first time, and it simply can't be done. We all know it, we all say it, and we all keep searching for it anyway."
"Petey as an addiction," Sarah mused. "You know, I can almost see that."
JL grinned. "Oh, I don't know. Life with Methos seems to get better, not worse. But addictive? Yeah, that I can see."
"So what now?"
"Now," JL replied, "we amuse ourselves as much as we can for as long as we can. We should be able to drive him quite mad."
"Isn't that a bit cruel?" Sarah hesitated. "I mean, Petey didn't really do anything-we used him."
"True. If we give him time to think about that though, he'll want revenge. I think we should keep him off balance for as long as possible. Or, at least, until we can get Bryan here so he can vent his anger on the Master Planner, not the poor little pawns." Getting out of bed, JL grabbed her robe and winked at Sarah. "Besides," she added, "it will be fun. What do you say?"
"I say...let's see what we can come up with," Sarah replied with a matching wink.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Once he gained the relative safety of the bathroom, Methos turned on the shower and sighed as he stepped under the hot water. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't remember what had happened the previous night, other than slow dancing with JL and Colin's deep sorrow when Sarah had decided to go home with them. By the time he'd gotten out and was toweling off, he'd changed his focus to what he should do now. "On one hand," he mused aloud, "this has wonderful potential. If those two could get along, we could have a great time sparring, making love, swapping stories..." Methos froze as he thought about the stories Sarah could tell JL, and just what use the younger Immortal could make of them. JL knew everything that was in Methos' official Chronicle, but that still had huge gaps in it that Methos was in no hurry to fill. "If she tells JL about how we rigged those fights for money, or how Bryan, Jim, and I infiltrated the Roman lines dressed as camp followers, or about how we ended up naked in that sheep pasture in Glasgow..."
Leaning his head against the wall, Methos shuddered. "OK," he decided. "However much I want to live out every sexual fantasy I've ever had, this just won't work. JL will never let me live any of this down. And Sarie-she knows more about me than anyone save Jim and Bryan, and she talks a lot more than they do. If she decides to really start talking to JL..."
"You fall in, Methos?" JL called from outside the door. "Sarah and I want to take a shower."
Methos whimpered slightly and let his head fall gently against the wall a couple of times. They hate me, he thought despairingly. They won't be satisfied until they've driven me mad. Another knock sounded, and Methos opened the door with a gallant, if a bit forced, smile. "All yours," he said. "Where's Sarie?"
"Still in bed," JL told him with an evil grin as she pushed past Methos, "but it got you out of the bathroom, didn't it? Do you want to make breakfast?"
"All right," Methos replied faintly.
"Good," JL said before she closed the door. "I'm starved, and so are the cats."
Methos gazed at the closed door for a minute, then sighed deeply and went to make the coffee. As he watched the liquid trickle into the pot, he rested his head in his hands and rubbed his temples.
"Headache?" Sarah inquired sweetly from behind him, running her hands up his back. Methos flinched and almost knocked the coffee pot over, but Sarah laughed and caught it before it could fall. "A little touchy this morning, are we?" she asked. "You should be more careful. You wouldn't want to get burned."
"Sarie," Methos began, but the sound of the shower turning off stopped him.
"Yes?" Sarah prompted.
"Um, well, are you, are you, um..."
"Staying?" Sarah finished for him.
"Yeah," Methos agreed gratefully. "Are you?"
"Do you want me to?" Sarah asked him seriously.
Methos turned around so he could face her. Every time he looked into her eyes, all he could think about was travelling with her for three centuries and their shared pain when each thought the other was dead. Now here she was, leaning against his chest while his current girlfriend toweled herself off in the bathroom. Shaking his head regretfully, he kissed her forehead. "Part of me does, Sarie, and it always will," he whispered.
"But?" she prompted gently.
"But I can't walk away from JL. Not when I'm no longer sure exactly what I'd be walking away from." Sighing, Methos poured his coffee and put water on for Sarah's tea. "I don't know, Sarie," he admitted. "When she said you were dead I wanted to kill her myself, but when you two were fighting, I wanted to stop it and protect her-mostly from herself. I knew you'd never kill her unless she forced you to, but I was afraid she'd push hard enough to do that."
"Good," Sarah said emphatically, patting him approvingly on the head. "You're maturing. Jim and Bryan won't believe it." With a wink, Sarah turned and headed for the bathroom just as JL opened the door and emerged wrapped in one of the big, fluffy towels she'd "borrowed" from Mac almost two years ago. Exchanging pleasantries with the younger Immortal as they passed, Sarah grinned at Methos once more before she closed the bathroom door. Leaning against it, Sarah trembled a little. Methos' decision, she knew, was the only one she could respect him for making, but she still couldn't get the song No Secrets out of her head, and Carly Simon sang "In the name of honesty, in the name of what is fair, you always answer my questions, but they don't always answer my prayers" over and over while she showered.
By the time Methos had poured a second cup of coffee, JL had reemerged from the bedroom wearing a pair of shorts and a light halter top. Walking into the kitchen, she gratefully accepted the cup of coffee Methos offered her. Taking a sip, she smiled hesitantly at him, then turned away quickly and went to sit on the windowsill.
Methos raised a curious eyebrow before picking up his coffee and following her. "Morning, Princess," he teased, sitting in the window next to hers. "Sleep well?"
"Fine," she replied with a mischievous smile instead of her usual glare at being called 'Princess.' "Considering how...energetic the evening was, I couldn't help but sleep like a rock."
Methos studied her for a second, then reached out and stroked her leg. "Don't tell me," he said with a smile, "you're leaving me for Sarie."
Startled, JL laughed. "No, I don't think so. Last night was amazing, but she's really not my type." Staring at her coffee, she continued quietly, "She does seem to be your type, though."
Taking her hand and kissing it gently, he replied softly, "Sarah and I have been friends for a very long time, JL, but if you think I'm planning to take off with her, don't. I'm staying right here, if you want me to."
JL's reply was interrupted by Sarah's emergence from the bathroom. She was already dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, and she was drying her hair with a towel. Walking over, Sarah picked up her tea and settled down. "Are you two done talking about me yet?" she asked.
"Nope," JL replied with a grin. "There's too much to say."
"I'll take that as a compliment," Sarah said with a smile, "whether it was or not. But whatever you want to say, you'd better say it soon, because I'm leaving in a few hours."
"Where to?" JL asked.
"I need a vacation," Sarah replied, glancing at Methos. "And Jim and Bryan have offered me the use of their place outside Glenfinnan. Have you ever been there?"
"No," JL said with interest. "What's it like?"
"It's glorious," Sarah responded, her eyes soft as she thought about the Highlands. "Magnificent lakes, windswept moors-the whole country is breath-taking. You should see it some day. Jim and Bryan's place is, of course, as luxurious as you'd expect. Flagstone fireplaces, real furs, big feather beds. For two people who have spent as much time being mercenaries as they have, they certainly like their creature comforts."
"That's because they spent so much time sleeping on the ground," Methos interjected with a grin. "Well, that and Bryan was spoiled from birth."
Sarah chuckled, then turned back to JL. "You could come with me, JL," she said. "I could show you my homeland and train you in unarmed combat techniques, just like we agreed."
"I do want to see Scotland," JL said thoughtfully. "Mac keeps raving about it."
"You'd hate it," Methos said quickly. "It's...it's...cold, damp, and sheep-infested."
"You're a fine one to talk about sheep," Sarah retorted, thoroughly enjoying Methos' flush. Before JL could ask what she meant, Sarah tossed her hair and continued, "Ignore him, JL. It's beautiful, and we could spend our evenings drinking Jim and Bryan's scotch and telling stories. You used to be a Watcher, but I bet I could tell you some great stories that you don't know."
"But JL," Methos said quickly, "what about Egypt?"
JL looked at him curiously. "What about it?"
"We were supposed to go, remember? You wanted me to show it to you."
JL sighed. "Yeah, but I can't afford it. Working at Joe's has a lot of benefits, but the pay's not exactly up to a European holiday. At least I'd only need a plane ticket to Scotland-the lodging would be paid for."
"Actually," Sarah said pleasantly, completely ignoring Methos' panicked expression, "you don't even need that, because Bryan agreed to fly me to Glasgow, and I'll be happy to buy your ticket to San Francisco."
"That sounds..." JL began.
"Boring." Methos cut in. "Why just go to Scotland? I'll take you to Egypt and Italy. Didn't you say you wanted to see where Jim and Bryan met? I'm probably the only one who can still find it. They were hopelessly lost back then. Really."
JL regarded him curiously. "Gee, Methos," she said sarcastically, "I get the feeling you don't want me to be with Sarah. Why ever not? What are you afraid she'll tell me?"
"Nothing," Methos replied, trying to sound nonchalant. "We've just been talking about Egypt for so long..."
"Yeah," JL agreed, "but you never mentioned paying for it before."
"Well, now that I'm not pretending to be Adam Pierson, I can afford it," he replied. "And I want to. Honestly. It will be great. We can go anywhere you want."
"Venice?" JL asked, winking at Sarah.
"Well, the canals smell," Methos began, but he continued quickly when Sarah cleared her throat and seemed about to speak. "Certainly. You want to go to Venice, we'll go to Venice. For as long as you want. I promise."
JL shook her head and looked at Sarah. "I don't know," she finally said. "I don't want to make Colin follow me out of the country until he's settled his divorce, so can we wait? It should only take a few months, then I'll decide. Until then, Sarah, I'd really appreciate it if you stayed around and helped train me. We could exchange bar-fighting techniques."
"Colin will be fine, JL," Methos reassured her. "He's smart-he'll let someone else watch you for a while, and he'll go back east."
"But I don't want anyone else to watch me," JL insisted. "I barely got Colin trained. What's a few months more or less?"
Methos shrugged. "You'll have to ask Sarie," he hedged. "She's the one who wants to go on vacation today."
Sarah crossed her arms and studied Methos' discomfort for a moment. She knew it would be easier to leave and not have to see JL and Methos sparring together, or drinking together, or going home together. But JL was right-teasing Methos promised to be fun, and she wouldn't mind a chance to spar with him, Duncan, and maybe even Richie if the youngster ever came home. Most importantly though, there was JL herself to consider. Even though Sarah had betrayed her, JL had stuck to the plan and risked her own life to help kill Chandler. Sarah had promised to work with her, and she had a feeling she could teach JL a lot more than simple fighting techniques. She was sure she'd seen regret in JL's eyes when the young woman had talked about being too afraid to make love to Colin, and she knew Bryan considered the Watcher a much better match for his student than Methos. After talking to them both, she was inclined to agree. More than anything, JL needed to learn to like herself-which is exactly what being with someone who adored her would help her do. All the signs pointed to the fact that JL wasn't going to accept her true feelings for Colin before it was too late, and Sarah knew far too well what it felt like to lose someone before you realized you loved them. If she could help JL avoid that fate, it might start to make up for the fact that she had betrayed her.
Grinning, Sarah nodded to JL. "I can wait a couple of months," she agreed. "I need to have a long, in-depth conversation with Mr. Cutler, but that can happen here instead of San Francisco. In fact, it's probably better if I talk to him without Jim there to defend him." And I can always leave if watching Petey and JL hurts too much, she finished silently.
Methos rolled his eyes and tried to look pitiful, but JL smiled brilliantly. "Great," she said with a wink. "It's settled. Now then, Methos, how about making us some breakfast? After all we did for you last night, it's the least you can do for us."
With a soft whimper, Methos trudged into the kitchen, trying to decide what he'd done to deserve this. After coming up with half a dozen things in the first minute, he shrugged and set about making French toast and frying bacon while trying not to listen to the feminine laughter coming from the living room.