Disclaimer: Highlander the Series is property of Rysher Entertainment. The characters Duncan MacLeod, Methos/Petey, Joe Dawson, and Richie are used without permission, but with great reverence. Sarah MacGreggor belongs to Lisa Krakowka, and the other characters belong to Jen Allen. The story itself belongs to Jen, copyright 2000. Please send all comments to Jen at email@example.com. If you distribute or save this story, please leave the header intact.
Timeline: This story takes place in Jen’s universe (using the version of Sarah that was introduced in Perfect Timing), and the beginning of this one overlaps chronologically with the end of The Centre Cannot Hold. 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.
Acknowledgments: This story started out as a collaboration between myself and Lisa Krakowka. Lisa’s life took over and she was forced to bow out before the final edit, but she wrote many portions of this story and heavily influenced the rest. I’m extremely grateful that Lisa let me edit and post the stories under my own name when in truth she deserves so much of the credit. Thanks, Lisa!
Tremendous thanks also goes to my beta readers--Dave Allen, Glo. Phillips, Cynthia Hoffman, comet, Ron and Sue Koci, and Kay Brenner.
Warning: This story contains scenes that are violent, sexually graphic, and involve m/m and m/f rape. If you’re under 18 or don’t like to read about such things, please select another story.
Bordeaux, December 1999. Bryan tipped the bellhop and gazed blearily around the hotel room. The bed called to him, but sleep was always the first thing sacrificed in battle, and this situation was alarmingly close to war. Besides, closing his eyes just summoned memories of Jim’s pain-wracked face as his lover had stormed out of their Seacouver hotel. Better to keep moving and not think.
Pulling out his cell phone, he called the number he’d gotten from his Parisian contact. Phillipe answered on the fifth ring, and Bryan began bargaining. Twenty minutes later, he had a meeting with the leader of a group of stealthy Frenchmen willing to enrich his knowledge while they depleted his finances. As long as he found out why Kronos and the Horsemen were flying into Bordeaux in a few days, Bryan was more than happy to play along.
A knock on the adjoining door brought his attention back to the present, and he opened it to admit JL. "Where’s Shadow?" he asked, surprised that Colin wasn’t hovering over her shoulder.
"He went to the local Watcher HQ," she responded, hiding a yawn. "I heard him call before we left and ask them to do some digging. Maybe we’ll get lucky and someone will remember a man with a scar."
"And can he tell us if they do?"
JL shrugged. "Depends. Most likely he’ll just tell us which shopkeepers the Watchers talked to so we can talk to them too. It’s slightly better than just handing over the Watcher files."
"Sounds like a damn thin line to me."
Resolutely banishing visions of Colin and firing squads, JL shrugged again. "Me too. But it’s his line, and I have to believe he knows what he’s doing. Or, at least, so he keeps telling me."
Bryan squeezed her shoulder and smiled a little guiltily as he realized he was just trying to distract himself by butting in where he wasn’t needed. Again, as Sarie would be quick to point out. With a small shake, he made himself refocus on the task at hand. "With any luck," he announced, "we won’t need his contacts because mine will pan out. They’re the best money can buy, after all."
JL brightened. "When?"
"Soon. There’s just time for a quick shower and a change of clothes. Dress simple and dark--the meeting place is a dive."
"The good ones always are," she reminisced. "Guns?"
Bryan considered this for a moment, then nodded. JL could be trusted to leave it holstered if there was any alternative; otherwise he wouldn’t have taught her to forge the requisite international permits that let her bring it into France. He didn’t think she’d need it, but then, he hadn’t thought Methos would turn out to be a mass-murdering rapist either.
"How’s your French?" he finally asked.
"Well, I can ask where the bathroom is, but I probably wouldn’t understand the answer."
Bryan chuckled. "Then play the strong, silent type. These guys probably won’t speak English even if they can, and we’ll get more out of them if they think I’m a native. Damn egocentric country."
JL grinned but decided against pointing out any similarities between them and her companion. "Is that why you were listening to French tapes on the way over? Boning up on the accent?"
"Precisely. I’m going to be from the northern part of France; that’s where I lived most recently. Now get, so I can shower. We’ll meet in the lobby in half an hour."
JL nodded and retreated through the connecting door to her room. Half an hour didn’t begin to give her time to dry her hair, so she settled for some calisthenics to get her blood flowing and then a quick sponge bath. Pulling out her black night-stalking clothes, she added her Glock along with the permit papers Bryan had forged, an extra clip of ammunition, and a tape recorder. Colin spoke French and she could get him to translate the encounter later. She’d seen Bryan deal with underworld types in San Francisco a few times, and she wasn’t about to miss hearing the master in action.
Checking to make sure her gun was properly concealed, she picked up her duster and scimitar, then went down to the lobby where Bryan was standing by the front door trying not to fidget.
Heading out into the night, Bryan pointed out a few landmarks in case they got separated. JL prayed she wouldn’t need them, as the city was a rabbit warren of dark alleys that got darker and twistier the further they traveled. The street signs he pointed to made it worse, because they continually drove home the fact that she didn’t speak the language.
It wasn’t until they reached the bar Bryan was looking for that JL began to relax. The words on the signs might be foreign, but the body language in the bar wasn’t. Men came here to drink, smoke, lie, and make and spend money. The whispered conversations, the rough laughter, the furtive looks all made JL feel at home. Even though she’d left the life of a prostitute far behind her, she still felt a vague kinship with the women scattered around the room, and she silently wished them good hunting and easy tricks.
Bryan scanned the room until a man made eye contact and nodded a greeting at him. Touching JL’s arm lightly, he threaded his way back to the dimly-lit table and ordered two drinks from a nearby waitress. Settling in, he smiled at Phillipe and began speaking French. His accent must have passed muster, because Phillipe smiled back and answered with evident enthusiasm.
JL’s feeling of hominess disappeared under the torrent of unfamiliar words--for a moment, even the facial expressions and body language seemed completely alien to her. She realized with a sinking feeling that she didn’t have a clue as to whether the man was hostile or completely in agreement. Even Bryan’s face suddenly seemed unreadable, and she felt a momentary surge of panic. She’d traveled a few times with Bryan, but she’d never felt comfortable anywhere she didn’t understand every word and gesture. Suddenly Sarah’s insistence that language lessons and frequent travel become part of JL’s training made a lot more sense--she’d hate to fight an immortal feeling this off-balance.
Letting her gaze drift around the room, JL took a deep breath and made herself focus on the conversations. Slowly she began to pick up the non-verbal cues by finding familiar situations and studying the participants. The flirtations of the hookers, the studied glances of the card players, the calculated boredom of those who just watched, all became part of JL’s personal French phrasebook. Discreetly, she watched their contact, memorizing his face and movements so she could recognize him again. Not that recognizing him will help, she thought bitterly, if I can’t talk to the man. She tried to control her frustration, but she couldn’t even order a cup of coffee without betraying her American heritage, much less help Bryan wheel and deal. Why couldn’t you have holed up in New York City, Kronos? she groused to herself. It’s not like anyone would have noticed you.
Bryan patted her leg under the table, but his gaze never left Phillipe. In all the years she’d known him, she’d never figured out how he read her mind that way, but it still felt good. Relaxing, she sipped her drink and waited until Bryan had run out of questions and had slipped a wad of bills to Phillipe in his parting handshake. Then she smiled graciously at Phillipe as if she’d understood every word and approved heartily before following Bryan back out into the night.
They were well away from the bar when he finally half-whispered to her. "Well, we have a place to start. A man fitting Kronos’ description bought medical supplies on the black market."
Bryan shrugged. "I never said it made sense, but there it is. He must have a base here somewhere, and Phillipe is sure he can find it."
Bryan shrugged again. "Depends on its location and security."
JL studied him for a moment before deciding that he’d tell her when he was ready. She gestured to a small café and Bryan nodded, joining her in a quiet corner with two cups of the steaming mud that passed for French espresso.
"Bry," she finally admitted, "I’m sorry I wasn’t any help back there."
"Ah, but you were, little one. Phillipe noticed you watching the room and paying attention to everyone in it. If he was thinking of trying anything, he didn’t. Nor did anyone else."
"You thought he might?"
"It pays to be wary. I’ve been mugged on the way home from meets before by observers who figured if I was wealthy enough to hire someone like Phillipe, I was rich enough to share it with them, too. But being studied usually puts them off--they count on your not noticing them in the bar so you can’t describe them to the cops. Jim..." Bryan sipped his coffee for a moment to steady his voice. "Jim usually does it when we go out. He can tune out a conversation better than anyone."
JL stared at him. "Why didn’t you tell me I was supposed to memorize all the faces in case I needed to describe one?"
"Because I didn’t have to," Bryan replied with a chuckle. "I know you can’t help yourself, any more than Amanda can help estimating their net worth. Now faces she’s not so good at, but jewelry?" Bryan snapped his fingers and finished his coffee. "Come on, little one. Let’s talk to Colin and track down this elusive base. I need to get home and figure out how to get through to Jim."
JL nodded and drained her cup with only a faint grimace. At least it was caffeine. "Bry," she asked finally as they walked up the hotel steps, "are you as worried about Jim as I am?"
Bryan sighed deeply before holding the door open for JL. "More," he replied quietly. "But it will all be all right eventually. It has to be."
"Amen," she whispered back. Walking into the lobby, JL paused by the reception desk.
Bryan followed her gaze and found Colin dozing on one of the couches, his feet unceremoniously propped up on a marble coffee table. He opened one eye as they approached, then yawned hugely at them. "Any luck?" he rumbled.
"Some," JL replied. "You?"
"Nothing that makes any sense," Colin said with a shrug, rising to his feet and stretching before walking with them to the elevators. He let the doors close before he continued. "Unless you know why our boy might have developed a thing for monkeys, that is..."
Bryan surveyed the equipment he’d laid out on the bed: flashlights with fresh batteries, lockpicks, crepe-soled boots, gloves, and a small tape recorder. When the connecting door opened, he almost expected it to be Amanda. He’d carried the same gear when he’d joined her in an after-hours trip to the Louvre that had resulted in his arrest and her successful getaway with several valuable paintings. He’d sworn then that he’d never do this again. "I should know never to say never," he muttered to himself as JL walked in carrying a sketch pad. Nodding to her, Bryan began packing while his student watched him silently. "You still don’t like this idea, do you, JL?"
"You can stay here."
Bryan heaved a sigh and slung his pack over his shoulder, reminding himself firmly that JL was young and torn between Mac’s sudden hatred of Methos, Joe’s urging to forgive and forget Methos’ past crimes, and Sarah’s attempt to deny the old man had ever existed. He wished he could ease her mind, but he cycled among all three reactions himself and had no guidance left to give. All he could focus on was killing Caspian. After that goal was accomplished, then he’d worry about Methos. And Jim. And Sarah. "Come on then," he told her wearily. "We need to find out as much as we can before Kronos and his buddies get back."
JL shrugged and trailed after him to the car. She wasn’t afraid of a little breaking and entering--in fact, she was famous for it among the Watchers. But now, her gun felt cold rather than comforting. Even armed, the odds were against surviving a run-in with four men as well versed in military tactics as the Horsemen. All the reports agreed on one thing--these men inspired fear, they didn’t feel it themselves. And getting caught by the Horsemen promised to be far worse than getting killed by them.
"Are you getting in the car?"
JL started as Bryan’s words were punctuated by the slam of his car door. She slid in next to him with a muttered "Sorry."
Glancing at her, Bryan shrugged and pulled out into traffic. After a few moments, he sighed again. "Ask."
"Why are we going to the base? Confronting Caspian with the others around is suicidal."
"True. I’m not planning on challenging him anywhere near his companions, but he might not wander out alone. I need to know the layout of the base just in case."
"In case what?"
Bryan shrugged as he wove deftly through the streets. "Ever heard the expression ‘kill them all and let God sort them out’?" At JL’s non-committal grunt, Bryan smiled. "I’ve arranged for some plastique. A carefully-placed bomb will kill them all and give me a chance to spirit Caspian’s body away. When he recovers, I’ll challenge him without having to worry about the others."
"You’re kidding, right? How can you be sure you’ll get them all without bringing down the whole place? By the time you dug the bodies up, they would have recovered."
"That’s why we’re going in--to find out if there’s a central meeting room or something. Kronos has been here for a while, so he must have some kind of living space defined. If I can find it, I can plant the bomb and a bug. Then it’s a matter of waiting until I hear all four voices in the room."
"And then sweeping in like a vulture after carrion."
Bryan glanced at her and sighed. "I wouldn’t have put it quite that way."
JL watched the scenery glide by for a while, considering. "Why not plant the bomb now?"
"I would if I had the plastique. But the earliest my connection could get it was the day after tomorrow, and I need to know the layout so I don’t waste any time when I go back in."
JL sighed as Bryan parked in a secluded stand of trees about a mile from the base. "There’s nothing I can say, is there?"
Bryan shook his head, shouldered his pack, and started walking. "He has to die, and I don’t care what it takes."
"Even though it was well over 1,500 years ago?"
"Time is irrelevant. When you slit your foster-father’s throat, did it really make you free of him?"
"No," JL replied hesitantly.
"When did he really begin to lose his hold on your life?" Bryan pressed.
"When I told you about how he abused me," she almost whispered.
Bryan nodded. "Caspian was the source of my fear, but getting away from him wasn’t enough. He turned me into his slave--I couldn’t even think about disobeying him. Even after Jim freed me, I kept waiting for Caspian to walk in and start giving me orders, and I knew I’d follow them no matter how humiliating they were." Bryan felt a sharp pain in his right hand, and he almost expected to look down and see Caspian’s dagger sticking through it. He gave a short, barking laugh when he realized he had just driven his own nails into his palm. Forcing his hands to unclench, he tried to ignore JL’s worried stare. "I’ve had doubts about my ability to survive ever since," he admitted softly. "Doubts that I wasn’t sure I’d ever subdue."
JL warily studied the tense set of Bryan’s shoulders, but curiosity drove her onward. "But you eventually succeeded."
Bryan grimaced. "Jim told me he was dead. I rebuilt my shattered ego thinking that my ‘Master’ would never hurt me again. When I found out he was alive, it was as if I’d ripped the scab off an old wound and found it as fresh as the day it was made." Shifting his pack to his other shoulder, Bryan paused to mark their path. The base’s dark gray walls loomed forbiddingly just ahead of them. "Try to imagine, JL," he continued softly as he strode forward once more, "if your foster father suddenly walked into Joe’s bar. You could stand and face him, run from him, or let him reclaim you as his toy to abuse and rape as he would. Which would you choose?"
JL shuddered--that very scenario had played itself out in her nightmares far too often. No matter what she did, she always ended up screaming.
Bryan squeezed her shoulder. "Caspian fuels my nightmares the same way. He stands there and mocks me while I crawl to him and lick his boots, or beg to be whipped because I know he’ll go easier on me if I beg for it than if I resist. These dreams faded over the centuries, but now they’re back. And in full force, as you found out last night when you heard me screaming from the next room. The only way to end them is to face Caspian. To hear his commands and not obey them. To prove to myself that I am not his property."
"And if you fail?"
"Then I will have died trying. That’s a hell of a lot better than living curled in a corner because I’m afraid to go outside. I did that for far too long after it happened. Never again."
JL nodded to herself, deciding it was probably a good thing he didn’t realize she was asking what if he failed to fight the compulsion to obey Caspian. As much as she hated her foster-father, she wasn’t sure she could look him in the eye and not fall back into the same destructive patterns she’d grown up with. Bryan had to know that was a possibility--there was no reason to dwell on it.
They circled the base cautiously, making sure that Kronos hadn’t left any guards or traps behind. Finally satisfied, Bryan selected a door and began to break his way into the submarine base the Germans had been forced to abandon when the Resistance dammed the river and cut off its water supply. JL wondered briefly whether they’d have more luck here than the Germans had had with this meticulously-built--and suddenly useless--white elephant.
"Just wondering whether we’re the Germans or the Resistance."
Bryan grinned. "The Resistance, obviously. We’re just going to attack the base from the inside." With a final click, Bryan opened the door and led the way into the gloom. Putting away his lockpick and clicking on the tape recorder, he began making notes. "North door. Corridor, 200 feet by 20 wide. No immediate signs of habitation."
Trailing after him, JL sketched the layout in her own way, drawing quick outlines of corridors and doorways to go with Bryan’s tape. When they got back, they could compare the two and end up with a fairly detailed blueprint, but it was a slow process. She would have been a nervous wreck waiting for the Horsemen to walk in on them except that Colin was at the airport awaiting their arrival, and she knew he’d call when they got off the plane.
It took almost an hour to reach the part of the base that seemed to be in use--the dust had been cleared a bit and lamps were placed at regular intervals. Their pace slowed even further now that Bryan wanted to explore every nook and cranny in detail. They had just entered a cavernous chamber containing a large round table and high-backed chairs when JL’s cell phone began vibrating. Pulling it out of her pocket, she muttered a few words into it before flipping it closed. "That was Colin," she announced, looking around for Bryan. "They’re at the airport. We should go."
Bryan crawled out from under a table and nodded distractedly. "It will do."
"Did you hear me?"
"What? Yes. It will take them at least two hours to drive out here. Let’s look around some more."
"But you said this would do."
Bryan paced back to the door. "If they’re all near the table, yeah. But it will be hard to be sure of that. This looks like a set from some old King Arthur movie--I’m not sure they’d actually sit around a table this big. I want to find a smaller room. Plus, I want to find the medical supplies Phillipe told us about. Why the hell would Kronos need those?"
JL shook her head, but Bryan was already out the door and striding down the hall, rattling off details into his recorder. He pushed open several doors and poked his head in, but closed them quickly and hurried on.
JL’s phone vibrated again as he opened the last door in the corridor. A moment later, JL’s curse brought him back into the main hall. "What?"
"Colin lost them in traffic. And he doesn’t know Bordeaux well enough to find a shortcut, or to anticipate which road they’ll take to the base."
"That’s okay. We still have over an hour. Come on."
JL wanted to argue, but Bryan disappeared through the door. Muttering more curses, JL followed, wrinkling her nose at the strange odor coming from the open doorway. Glancing inside, she blinked at the row upon row of caged monkeys that lined the workroom’s wall. Walking over, JL studied the cages, noting the automatic feeders that kept the creatures alive while Kronos was off tracking down his wayward Brothers. The monkeys chattered excitedly at her, and she fingered the lock on the nearest cage.
"Don’t. Kronos will know for sure he’s been found out," Bryan said absently, absorbed in studying the papers on Kronos’ desk. "He’d make this place so secure I’d never get back in. You know that."
JL sighed but took her hand away. A determined Bryan was the worst kind. "Why monkeys?"
Bryan flipped through a few more pages, and his face paled. "Damn," he whispered.
"What?" When Bryan didn’t respond, JL spoke louder. "What?"
"I think it’s a virus," Bryan told her, trying to remember enough of his medical training to puzzle out the equations. "Kronos has bred himself a virus. These results say the last formula killed all the test subjects he used it on."
"Wonderful. Let’s get the hell out of here and figure out how to stop him. Maybe we can join forces with Mac."
"We have to find it and bring it back."
"Bryan, we don’t have time." Grabbing Bryan’s arm, JL tried to tug him toward the door but he shook her off impatiently.
"This could kill thousands of people, JL. We need to find and get rid of it."
"Can’t he just make more?"
"It will take time, and we’ll kill him first."
JL stared at him in shock. Caspian was one thing, but Kronos too? The man who had almost beaten Mac in the power station? Cassandra’s Watcher had been amazed at how well Kronos had fought, and at how Cassandra’s magic had had no effect on him. Even Bryan had agreed the man was as dangerous as they came.
"You think I should just let this go?"
"No. I think you should get serious backup like we did in Peru when we took on the Black Adders. At least even the odds--assuming you could get someone to fight Methos."
"If Methos would fight us," Bryan muttered.
"Are you willing to risk it?"
Bryan gazed at her for a long time, then shook his head. "I have to try. 15 more minutes, that’s all. It should be in the lab somewhere." Moving quickly, Bryan began searching the room. JL sighed and helped, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling as the monkeys rattled their cages behind her.
She paused next to one wall, studying the four iron rings welded into it. Two were at floor level about five feet apart, and a matching pair was placed above them about six and a half feet off the ground. They could have been completely benign, she knew, but her gut told her that not all of Kronos’ test subjects had been simian--or willing. Looking around, she found a set of metal shackles tossed in a cupboard that confirmed her suspicions; the metal was still heavily crusted with dried blood.
With a shudder, she shoved the chains back in the cupboard and moved on to a door set in the back wall. Opening it almost made her gag as the smell of sewage assailed her nostrils, but she dutifully turned on her halogen flashlight and looked around. A metal cage surrounded a stairwell leading down into a foul-looking lake. The room was too large for her flashlight to illuminate all at once, but its beam showed her a platform on the far wall, a catwalk a few steps below her that appeared to run the entire perimeter of the room, and lots of jumbled pipes. She couldn’t spot any other doors, or find any reason at all why she should venture further into the putrid darkness.
"Over here," Bryan called as she closed the door.
Joining him, she examined a large silver cylinder that stood against the back wall. Bryan was typing combinations into a nearby touchpad, hoping to find one that would open the contraption.
"Maybe if I call Amanda she can talk me through cracking this..." Bryan muttered.
Shaking her head, JL reattached her flashlight to her belt. "It’s electronic, Bry. You need special equipment, or a long time to play with the wires, and you know it. Come on. It’s time to go."
"Not without you." Grabbing Bryan’s shoulder, JL pulled him around so she could look into his eyes. "Bryan, please. We have to go. Kronos isn’t going to unleash his virus the day he gets back--he’s going to plan stuff first. We have time to hire a suitable attack force. Twenty guys with machine guns might get even Kronos’ attention."
Bryan glanced back at the cylinder, but he knew he couldn’t crack it in time. "All right," he finally acceded. "Let’s go."
JL breathed a sigh of relief and headed out of the room with Bryan firmly in tow. "We can retrace our steps and be out of here in five minutes."
Scowling, Bryan followed until they got to the first junction. "Hold on," he said, catching JL’s arm. "Unless I’m completely turned around, this corridor should lead to the south door we spotted before. Let’s take that one out just in case I need to use it later."
Consulting her own mental map for a moment, JL nodded reluctantly. "We could do that, I guess..."
Bryan raised an eyebrow. "What’s wrong now?"
Gazing down the corridor, JL squared her shoulders determinedly. "Nothing. Forget it." With a toss of her braid, she strode down the hall with a confused Bryan in her wake.
This corridor had the same recently-cleaned look as the lab, and Bryan put his questions aside as he began making notes again. "This must be the door Kronos usually uses," he muttered as he began recording the hall’s dimensions on his tape.
"Which means this will be the first place he shows up, right?"
Bryan rolled his eyes at her and looked longingly at the closed doors along the corridor, but a glance at his watch convinced him that JL had a very valid point. With a sigh, he broke into a trot and quickly opened the door, slipping out with JL right behind him.
Closing it, he used his lockpick to relock it, then stowed his gear and glanced at JL. "Race you to the car," he said, dashing off the instant he’d finished speaking.
JL growled at him and followed, only too happy to leave post haste. She’d never put much stock in places having bad vibes before, but the base was giving them off in waves.
Hidden behind a rocky outcrop, Leon glanced at his watch and then back at the north door of the sub base. "Where the hell are they?" he muttered to himself for the tenth time, clutching his binoculars as though they had the power to summon the people he was looking for. "All these years watching Cutler peacefully playing psychologist and all of a sudden he’s got to go crazy and break into submarine bases with JL."
Frowning, Leon tried to get comfortable on his rocky perch. He’d have killed for a closer spot with better visibility, but the area around the base was too level to offer much cover, especially when your target knew he was being watched. Plus he was with JL, and she could spot a Watcher a mile away. More, if you listened to her tell it.
Leon chuckled, thinking about JL’s first few years as a field Watcher. He and Joe had worked on teaching her all they knew, and she’d absorbed it like a sponge. Then she’d added in her own irreverent way of looking at the world and she’d been off and running. They still talked about the way she’d challenged the Division Head to a tracking contest in her second year--she’d spotted him three times after less than a day and he never saw her at all. He’d stopped complaining about her methods after that.
Scanning the area around the base again, Leon sighed. He had an excellent view of the north and east walls, and the west wall ended in the river, but he couldn’t see the south wall at all. He knew JL had a thing about going out the door she came in; Joe had once told him that in her formative years, every time she’d gotten caught it was because she’d taken a different route out and she’d run into something unexpected. Still, JL wasn’t the one in charge, and Bryan might not share her superstitions.
Glancing at his watch, he shook his head. He almost hoped they had slipped out the south door at this point, because if Colin’s information was accurate, Kronos was due back at any moment. Leon would rather lose them than have Kronos find them; he could always pick Bryan back up at the hotel if he had to.
The sound of a car broke into his reverie, and Leon lifted his binoculars again. A van rounded the corner and disappeared around the south side of the base. A few moments later the sound of the engine died away. His mouth suddenly dry, Leon broke cover and hurried across the field, not seeking cover again until he was in sight of the south wall. He brought up his binoculars just in time to see Methos stop in the doorway and turn to survey the countryside, his expression even more enigmatic than usual.
Leon waited breathlessly for the signs of a Quickening, praying constantly that JL and Bryan had gotten out of there in time. He thought about calling Colin and asking him if he knew where they were, but the thought of having to break such news to Colin stopped him. Losing JL would break Colin’s heart, and Leon had no desire to do that if it wasn’t necessary. Once he was sure they were in the base, then he could call--it wasn’t like either of them could really help at this point, so another hour wouldn’t make much difference.
Finding a new hiding place where he could keep an eye on the south wall, Leon settled down to wait. They’re probably back in the hotel by now, he told himself firmly. Cutler’s ordered a fancy dinner, and JL’s taking a shower. Maybe even with Colin, if she’s finally figured out what the rest of us have known for years.
He was still whispering platitudes to himself when he heard the slight crunch of gravel behind him. Spinning around, he found himself mesmerized by a pair of insane blue eyes and a smile that oozed barely restrained bloodlust.
Leon’s hand dove into his jacket for his gun, but Caspian leapt on him like a wildcat before he could untangle the weapon from his coat. He tried to struggle, but Caspian just laughed and gave him an open-handed smack that left his head reeling.
Caspian grabbed the back of Leon’s head and slammed his forehead into the rocks a few times, then dragged him to his feet. Running a finger through the blood streaking Leon’s face, he made sure Leon was looking at him as he sucked it off hungrily. "Come along," he whispered huskily. "Someone wants to talk to you, and then you and I can finish getting acquainted."
Numb, Leon stumbled along next to Caspian, letting his captor take most of his weight. He desperately tried to think of a way out, but he knew in his heart there wasn’t one. He was dead, and the only question was how much he’d be forced to tell them before he died. A lot, probably, if Kronos got his hands on him. He was too healthy for a convenient heart attack, and Kronos didn’t seem the type who could be goaded into killing prematurely. Caspian, however...
Gritting his teeth, he suddenly slammed into Caspian, trying to overbalance him. Caspian snarled an oath and stumbled, his attention momentarily distracted. With eyes almost as crazed as Caspian’s, Leon twisted suddenly and sank his teeth into Caspian’s shoulder.
He was rewarded by a tremendous roar from his captor; then he felt a white-hot explosion of pain as Caspian’s fist connected with his jaw. Falling to the ground, he grunted in agony as Caspian’s boots connected again and again with his ribs, kidneys, and back. He tried to leave his vital areas open to Caspian’s blows, but instinct took over and he was curled in a tight ball when angry voices sounded above him and the blows finally stopped just before he slipped gratefully into unconsciousness.
Bryan paced restlessly around the hotel room, far too keyed up to sleep. He and JL had finished their map of the base an hour ago, and it had meshed with the blueprints Colin had managed to find buried in the public archives. All he needed now was the plastique and some sort of plan. He’d been mulling over ideas since they’d left the base, but nothing was coalescing.
Out, he decided. I need to go out and take my mind off it so I can think. Picking up his wallet, he started to put it in his back pocket but thought better of it. The way my luck has been going, he decided sourly, I’ll get pick-pocketed. Sliding some francs into the breast pocket of his shirt, he tossed the wallet onto the dresser. The bars he planned to hang out in didn’t take credit cards anyway.
Grabbing his leather duster, he paused to check under the door of the adjoining suite. JL and Colin’s light was still on, so he decided to drop by and see if they wanted to join him. He told himself it was just because JL would complain if he went without her, but in truth, he really didn’t want to be alone right now. It was far too easy to miss Jim if he didn’t have enough distractions. Barely tapping on their door, he opened it without waiting for an answer, only to stop abruptly as he spotted his companions.
Colin was sprawled on the bed with JL snuggled against his chest. He had one arm wrapped around her protectively, and she looked more peaceful than Bryan ever remembered seeing her. With a soft smile, he tucked a blanket around them and turned out the light. JL murmured in her sleep, and he squeezed her shoulder reassuringly and whispered his goodbye. Slipping back into his room, he shut the connecting door and headed out into the night.
The cold air refreshed him instantly, and he was almost relaxed by the time he arrived at the bar in which he’d talked to Phillipe. His contact wasn’t around tonight, so Bryan spent several hours chatting with the locals and buying drinks for the crowd. It was his favorite technique for getting to know an area, and by the end of the evening he’d heard most of the local rumors, including a few about an eccentric man with a facial scar who had a penchant for monkeys.
Putting on his duster, he exchanged his good-byes with his new friends and drifted back out into the night. He was trying to put the rumors he’d heard into perspective when a buzz washed over him. Suddenly alert, he froze and glanced around until a man stepped out of the shadows at the end of the alley. The man was tall and bulky, and Bryan thought he could make out an axe head over his shoulder. Colin said Silas was built like that, his mind supplied helpfully while his blood threatened to freeze in his veins.
Spinning, he started back down the alley when another man stepped into the light and an all-too-familiar laugh sent chills up his spine. He felt his heart catch as Caspian pulled his sword and swung it in slow, steady circles as he paced forward. A glance over his shoulder told him that Silas was advancing as well, then the familiar surge of adrenaline steadied his mind as it quickened his reflexes. He’d been a soldier since he was sixteen, and he’d be damned if he’d give into panic now.
Looking for cover, he noticed a dumpster sitting a few feet away from an iron balcony. Without a second thought, he leapt up on the dumpster and dove for the balcony, managing to grab its edge with his fingers and clinging to it with all his strength. He levered himself up slowly, suddenly grateful for all the times Sarah had dragged him along rock climbing in Scotland. If she hadn’t taught him how to suspend all his weight from the fingers of one hand, he could never have let go long enough to readjust his grip.
By the time Silas and Caspian reached the spot, he was already scaling the fire escape ladder toward the roof. He could feel the metal shifting as someone else clambered up on the balcony, and he glanced down just long enough to recognize Caspian’s mostly shaved head.
Fairly flying up the ladder, he threw himself onto the roof and glanced around. All was quiet, so he ran noisily a few feet away before creeping back and waiting for Caspian to show himself. Drawing his sword, Bryan trembled with eagerness as the footsteps drew nearer. He’d changed his mind about Caspian deserving the honor of a fair challenge; now Bryan was determined to behead him before he was even off the ladder. If Silas was following his Brother, his comrade’s body falling into his face might delay him long enough for Bryan to shake off the effects of the Quickening and escape. Even if it didn’t, Bryan decided grimly, at least he’d die knowing Caspian would reach Hell before he did.
Just before Bryan expected to see Caspian’s head appear over the railing, the sounds stopped. Bryan held his breath, his sword raised expectantly. He was getting slightly concerned when he heard a whisper of sound behind him. Before he could react, something slammed into the base of his skull and his sword clattered to the rooftop. He was still on his knees fighting to control the dizziness when Caspian leapt over the roof edge with a mocking laugh.
He tried to run, but Caspian grabbed him and twisted his arm behind his back until the bones cracked and his tendons screamed with agony. His sight was already dimming as Caspian forced him to face his other assailant.
Kronos stood regarding him with a bored expression that slowly turned slightly more curious. "Move him under the light," he ordered. Walking forward, Kronos grabbed Bryan’s jaw and forced his head up so he could examine his face.
"Well, well, well. What have we here?" he purred softly. "Caspian, do you recognize our little trespasser?"
Yanking Bryan’s hair until his head was as far back as it could go, Caspian studied him intently, his wild eyes even more terrifying than Bryan remembered. Caspian’s predatory smile grew, and he let go of Bryan’s broken arm so he could caress his exposed throat with deceptive gentleness. "It’s our long lost blacksmith," he said softly, smiling wider as he watched the horror filling Bryan’s eyes. "Do you remember me, blacksmith?" Leaning closer, he licked Bryan’s throat, savoring the way Bryan’s pulse surged under his tongue. "No matter if you don’t," he whispered in his captive’s ear, "because it will be easy enough to remind you."
Methos’ dry voice broke the spell. "Touching," he observed, "but a tad public. Let’s get out of here, shall we?"
Bryan looked around unsteadily to find Methos standing behind Kronos. He gazed at his former teacher, but Methos’ expression was inscrutable, and Bryan felt his stomach lurch as he realized that Mac was right--Methos was in full survival mode and all previous friendships were null and void.
Looking back at Kronos, he straightened and glared, ignoring a new flash of pain as Caspian grabbed his injured arm.
In return, Kronos offered a sweet smile and drew his sword, gently positioning the tip over Bryan’s heart. "You should be proud, Benedictus. This is a historic moment--it’s the first time in 2,000 years that the Four Horsemen have worked in concert, and your flawless capture proves that we are truly united once again."
Bryan snorted. "Four to one. Some challenge."
"No one ever said life was fair, Benedictus," Kronos replied evenly. "But don’t worry--I’m sure Caspian will enjoy lots of one-on-one time with you." Slowly putting pressure on his sword, Kronos stared into Bryan’s eyes as the blade worked its way inexorably into his heart. Kronos savored Bryan’s terror the way most people did a fine wine, but it was the hatred mingled with the fear that pleased him most. There was no challenge in subduing an already broken toy, but Bryan clearly had some fight left in him.
Whether that would still be true after Kronos had forced him to continue the narrative Leon’s untimely death had interrupted, Kronos wasn’t sure, but in the end it wouldn’t matter. There was a world full of toys out there, and when you came right down to it, this one wasn’t all that special. Unless he leads me to MacLeod, Kronos thought gleefully as Bryan finally collapsed in Caspian’s arms. Then I might be grateful enough to take his Quickening instead of letting Caspian continue his pain endurance trials. I’m sure I can find some other immortal for Caspian to play with.
Withdrawing his sword from Bryan’s chest, he gestured to the others and the Four Horsemen melted into the shadows, their victim tossed casually over Silas’ shoulder.
The phone’s shrill ring brought Colin out of the most pleasant dream he’d had in years. JL had finally come to her senses, dumped Methos, and was curled in his arms where she belonged. He could even still feel her warmth against his chest...
The bed shifted slightly as someone got up, and Colin forced his eyes open, shielding them against the sudden glare of the light. JL was across the room, digging for the cellular buried in his coat. He smiled to himself, glad that at least that much had been real. They were still a long way from being a couple, but JL had come back from L.A. certain that leaving Methos had been the right thing, and that would do for now.
JL finally found the phone and exchanged a few words with the caller before handing it to Colin with a worried frown. "It’s your cousin, Frank. He says it’s urgent."
Colin took the phone and greeted his cousin, trying to ignore JL’s questioning stare as Frank made his report. When Frank was done, Colin thanked him quietly, promised to call him soon, then hung up. Throwing off the blanket, he stood up and took JL’s hand. "It’s bad news, Princess. Frank was watching the base when the four of them came back from town, and he saw them drag Bryan’s body in from the car. He did some checking, and, well, it looks like Leon is missing."
"Leon? I thought he was supposed to be Watching Bryan?"
Squeezing JL’s hand, Colin nodded. "He was. But when Frank showed up for his shift, he found Leon’s car parked near the base. He’s been trying to contact Leon ever since, but no luck. Leon’s missing, JL, and considering how quickly Kronos found Bryan, it’s pretty clear what happened."
"Oh, God," JL faltered. "No. He must be wrong." Pulling away, she pushed open the connecting door and flicked the light switch, but Bryan’s bed was undisturbed. Looking around, she spotted his wallet on the dresser and opened it to check the cash inside. "Damn," she muttered. "It wasn’t a dream."
"I thought I dreamt Bry coming in and saying goodbye, but it must have been real." With a curse, JL slapped the wallet into her other hand hard enough to make Colin flinch. "He took his money but not his wallet, so he probably went out drinking. I should have gone with him, dammit."
"And gotten caught too? Yeah, that would have helped a lot." Gripping her shoulders, Colin shook her gently. "Don’t be stupid--Frank said they were all together, and you and Bryan couldn’t have faced down all four of them."
JL scowled. "You don’t know that."
"Look, JL, we can argue this later. Right now we have to get out of here and go to ground," Colin countered firmly. "We have to consider this hotel compromised."
"Leon..." JL’s voice broke and she wrapped her arms around herself as she struggled for control. Taking a deep breath, she tried again. "If Leon had told the Horsemen about us, they would have come here after they...they...grabbed Bryan. And Bryan would never betray us. "
"Never is a long time when you’re being interrogated by Kronos," Colin insisted. "I’m sorry, Princess, but we can’t take the chance. Imagine how pissed he’ll be if we get dragged in and used against him just because we didn’t have the brains to switch hotels."
JL glared at him, fighting for control. She knew all too well how much pain the human body could be forced to endure, but leaving here somehow bespoke a lack of faith in Bryan. He’d cover for them, she was certain of it. Still, Colin had a point--Bryan would be mad if they didn’t take basic precautions. Maybe he wouldn’t see it as a breach of faith after all. Maybe.
Colin watched the conclusions flicker behind her eyes, praying she’d come to her senses on her own. He’d carry her out in a laundry bag if he had to, but walking out together would be much easier. He didn’t dare push her, so he just met her gaze evenly as she tried to come to terms with their situation. Reason had to be applied delicately to JL or it would backfire.
JL finally dropped her eyes and nodded, too heartsick to speak. Colin hugged her close for a minute before turning back to their room. "All right then. Let’s go."
"What about Bryan’s stuff?" she managed.
"It won’t come to any harm," Colin reasoned, pausing to pick up the maps Bryan and JL had drawn. "Besides, if they search the room, finding it gone would be rather suspicious, wouldn’t it?"
"And what will keep the desk clerk from mentioning his missing companions?" JL shot back.
"The universal silencer--money. But you’re right, he could talk anyway, so we’d better lay low until help arrives."
"Help? What help?"
"Jim," Colin replied.
JL shook her head. "He may not come. He wasn’t too happy with Bryan when we left, and when I checked in yesterday, Sarah said he was still acting strangely."
"If he were that pissed, he wouldn’t be hanging around Seacouver cat-sitting."
JL shook her head, but Colin ignored her and handed over her suitcase. "Come on, Princess. We need to find ourselves a new hotel outside the city, then you’re going to call Jim."
She sighed and followed, certain she could think of a better plan before Colin had found a place to his liking. She was a resourceful girl--she should be able to do something. She trailed after Colin in a half-trance, going over her options.
Phillipe was probably out unless she could get Colin to talk to him in French, and she knew he wouldn’t. Besides, even if she got an army together, Kronos might behead Bryan if he heard them break in. He seemed like the type who’d take as many people down with him as possible.
Bryan’s bug idea had some merit, but planting it would be really tricky at this point. Maybe if Phillipe had a mortal thief who wouldn’t be sensed--but no, that wasn’t a fair thing to ask because they’d have to go in without a real knowledge of the dangers and would likely sell them out if captured.
She could call Duncan and join forces with him, but Bryan hadn’t been very supportive of the Highlander’s plans. He was convinced Mac was too blinded by his quest for justice to evaluate the situation properly, and again, Kronos might kill Bryan if Duncan dared to interfere. Considering how well Bryan’s blinded-by-revenge plans had worked, JL had a hunch he might just have a point about Mac. Besides, she grumbled to herself, Mr. Nobility won’t take the twenty machine gun route either. I need Rambo, not Lancelot.
No, she needed a way of knowing where they were and neutralizing them all at once, and from a distance too. "And if you think I can do that, I have this great bridge to sell you," she muttered as she came back to the present. Glancing around, she realized Colin was about to unlock the door to their new hotel room, and she hadn’t even felt him guide her out of the car.
"Sorry?" Colin asked over his shoulder as the door swung open.
"Nothing," JL replied with a sigh as she picked up the bags. "I just hate feeling so damn helpless. I wish I spoke more French."
"It wouldn’t help. What you can do is make that call," Colin replied, heading immediately over to the window and pulling the heavy drapes closed.
"Do you have to do that?" JL asked. "It’s dark."
Colin nodded. "I’m recognizable from a distance, I’m afraid. So we stay here and we don’t open the drapes or go further than the door to let the nice room service man in."
"That’s major paranoid."
"Your point?" Colin responded with a warning scowl. "Look, JL. These are standard witness-protection procedures. You want to get out of here, you call Jim. If he says we can rove around town, well, I might bow to his better judgement."
JL glowered but glanced at her watch. Eyeing the ceiling thoughtfully she struggled through the math. "Late morning," she decided, glancing at Colin for confirmation. When he nodded, she sighed and picked up the phone. "This just sucks," she muttered as she dialed her own number. "Breaking this kind of news on the phone...Jesus."
Colin came over and patted her back, as much for moral support as to make sure she went though with the call. She glanced at him over her shoulder and essayed a small smile, then frowned as her answering machine came on. When the message completed, she called out, "Jim? Are you there? It’s important. Jim, please pick up. Please."
Colin saw her start in surprise and tightened his grip on her shoulder for a second, but she ignored him.
"Sarah?" JL said. "I didn’t expect to find you there." Listening for a moment, JL sighed and closed her eyes while she summarized what had happened, repeating a few sections when Sarah couldn’t understand her rushed narration. She was trembling with delayed shock when she finished, and Colin wrapped one arm protectively around her waist and took the phone to add some information of his own.
By the time Colin had settled the last detail and hung up, JL was curled against his chest crying silently. He comforted her as best he could, knowing it would be fruitless. The only way to get over this would be to actually accomplish something, but all they could do was wait in a darkened hotel room for almost a full day until Sarah could join them. He knew the wait would be miserable, but after glancing through Caspian’s Chronicle, he also knew he’d tie JL to the radiator before he’d let her anywhere near those bastards. No, they’d have to wait. And then he’d figure out how to get her out of Bordeaux before she joined her beloved mentor in hell.
Sarah was still in semi-shock when the taxi dropped her off at JL’s hotel. Jim’s forlorn eyes haunted her--he’d looked devastated when she’d told him she had to go out of town for a little while. She hadn’t said she was going to Bordeaux but he’d known, and Sarah had the uncomfortable feeling that he was mourning her death already. But that, she told herself firmly for the hundredth time, was his problem.
Squaring her shoulders, she marched up to JL’s room and knocked on the door, trying not to notice that JL’s buzz was almost overwhelmed by the throbbing tension headache she had. "JL?" she called softly when she heard footsteps approach the door. "It’s Sarah." Her headache didn’t diminish a hair when the door opened and she saw JL’s tear-reddened eyes--until that moment, she hadn’t realized that she’d been hoping against hope that this was one of Bryan’s elaborate plots to get her to join him against her better judgement.
JL tried to smile, but gave it up as a bad job and stepped aside to let Sarah into the room. Gesturing towards the desk, she said tightly, "I’ve got the plans to the base drawn up and some ideas about how we can get back in."
Sarah nodded and tossed her suitcase on the bed, buying herself a few moments to think. JL was obviously overtired--she looked like she hadn’t slept since she’d left Seacouver. The worst part of holing up wasn’t the boredom, it was having nothing to do but think about where you went wrong. Colin looked a little better, but Sarah had seen him holstering a gun when she’d come in, and his eyes were as bloodshot as JL’s.
Feeling JL fidgeting behind her, Sarah sighed and turned back to her student. "Before we storm the Bastille, how about going over what happened one more time?"
JL flinched and spoke in a flat voice. "We broke into the sub base and found Kronos’ living area and his lab. We left probably half an hour before they got back--we certainly didn’t see them on the road, and we thought we were safe." Closing her eyes for a second, she took a deep breath and forced herself to stay calm. Thinking about Leon now wouldn’t help, and Colin had convinced her that it was Watcher business. They’d keep Leon’s secret as he had kept theirs.
Looking back at Sarah, JL continued, "We came right back here and drew up the maps, then Colin and I fell asleep. A few hours later, we got a call that the Horsemen were spotted dragging Bryan’s unconscious body into the base. He...he must have gone out for a drink or something and got ambushed. I found his wallet on the dresser, so at least they didn’t get his pictures of all of us."
Sarah nodded briefly then dropped into the desk chair and began studying the plans, but she knew she was just avoiding the inevitable question. "So," she began, fighting to keep her voice steady, "I take it your Watcher friends haven’t seen any signs of a Quickening?"
"No. Although that doesn’t mean much--there aren’t a lot of windows in the base."
Sarah wondered briefly about how the Horsemen had traced Bryan, but she discarded the question as irrelevant. How he got caught no longer mattered--it was how to get him out that counted. "How long ago was this? Did you wait at all to call me?"
JL shook her head. "Only the time it took to change hotels." Walking over to the desk, JL pointed at the map. "Here’s where we went in, and the rooms we found. This area here looked inhabited, and the red square is Kronos’ lab, complete with caged monkeys. Bryan found some notes about a virus Kronos has developed."
"A virus? What the hell for?" Sarah sighed and looked back at the map. "Never mind. It doesn’t matter."
Colin cleared his throat. "You should know that Methos probably spotted me at the airport, which means he knows JL is in the city."
Sarah glanced up at Colin’s looming form. "So much for covert surveillance, eh?" she observed with a wry smile.
"Shit happens. The bastard doubled back to use the men's room. Or to flush any Watchers who were following him. Hard to say. But take it from me--following a Watcher-trained immortal is one of the most nerve-wracking duties on the books."
Nodding, Sarah suddenly realized how she could both keep her promise to Bryan and get the freedom she needed to put her own plan into effect. "If he knows you’re here, you should get out," she announced, unsurprised by either the look of relief on Colin’s face or the consternation on JL’s.
"No," JL protested. "I’m going back in with you."
"No, you’re not."
"I have to," JL pleaded. "You can’t storm this place alone, and I’ve been there."
Sarah met her gaze firmly. "I’m not going to storm anything. And you can do a lot more good in Seacouver."
"What’s going on in Seacouver?"
Sighing, Sarah ran her hands through her hair and rubbed the back of her neck. "Jim...Jim’s a mess. He shouldn’t be alone."
"The Rock of O’Leary?" JL asked, feeling another piece of her world begin to crumble. "What’s wrong with Jim?"
"This is bringing up old...issues."
Seeing JL’s confusion, Colin offered Sarah another pile of papers to give her time to think. "I pulled all the information on the base I could find. Blueprints, pictures, descriptions. It’s all here."
Sarah nodded. "Are all four of them here?"
"Shit," Sarah muttered, looking at the blueprints. There was a hell of a lot of territory to search for a prisoner without getting caught.
JL shook off her thoughts and offered Sarah some additional pictures. "Colin took these at the airport. That’s Kronos, that’s Silas, that’s Caspian, and that one you know."
Sarah grunted and studied Caspian. He, at least, would pay for what he’d done to Bryan.
Colin added, "Mac and Cassandra are in town, but we haven’t contacted them yet."
"I really should go in with you, Sarah," JL tried again. "Two people can search a lot faster than one."
Sarah glanced at her and shook her head. "I’m not going to search for him. It’s too risky."
"What are you going to do?"
Sarah tossed the pictures on the desk and stretched, unwilling to tell them all of her plans because she knew how crazy they’d sound. She needed to redirect the conversation, and fast. "First I’m going to even the odds. Colin, is there any chance one of the Watchers here would talk to me? I want to know the instant Caspian leaves that base alone."
Colin nodded. "His name’s Frank Jamison and he’s my cousin. It was one of the few strings I had that I could pull."
"Bryan had underworld contacts here that were getting him plastique. I’ve been thinking of ways to get them to deal with me," JL offered.
"You are going back to Seacouver to take care of Jim."
"What can I do for Jim? I don’t know a damn thing about psychology except how to lie on the couch and get shrunk."
"You’ll probably have more patience with him than I did," Sarah replied.
"Just being physically present is a good thing in a lot of cases," Colin added. "Believe me."
JL looked at them both, clearly torn by her loyalty to both Bryan and Jim. Finally, she squared her shoulders and looked at Sarah. "Sarah, please be honest. Does Jim really need me or is it just an excuse to get rid of me?"
"Jimmy really needs you," Sarah answered, her gaze never wavering. "And no," she continued, answering JL’s unspoken question, "I don’t think you’re a coward for leaving. There’s nothing you can do here, and it’s too dangerous if they know what you look like."
"All right," JL finally relented. "I’ll do what I can for Jim. Is there anything else you need from me before I leave?"
"Nothing, really. Just leave me the plans and files and promise that you’ll take good care of him."
JL nodded wearily and offered her hand. "Good luck."
"Thanks," Sarah replied, shaking it.
Excusing herself, JL slipped off to the bathroom. Colin watched her go with his usual fond smile. Once the door closed, he looked back at Sarah. "This sucks. Look, do you need me to stay? I’ll be happy to stay below ground and liaison with the Watchers for you."
"No. Go home. She needs you as much as Jim needs her. Besides, it’s not safe for you to be here either."
Colin glanced back toward the bathroom door. Shaking his head, he sighed. "Well, you’ve got one advantage--my cousin will do whatever he can for you, short of interfering in a fight. Frank’s a good man. And no, Methos has never met him. He only joined two years ago, but he’s good enough to watch a building and smart enough to stay far, far away from its inhabitants."
Colin dug up a small notebook and ripped off the top sheet. "Here’s the hotel where Mac’s staying, just in case. And our old hotel room--I didn’t move Bryan’s stuff and I have Watchers keeping an eye on it in case the Horsemen show up. So far they haven’t, so I guess Bryan hasn’t talked about us. Or they don’t care." Putting the notebook away, Colin swallowed. "Sarah--shit. Good luck seems awfully useless, but I don’t know what else to say."
"Neither do I, Colin," she replied softly as she resumed studying the map.
Both Methos and Kronos looked up sharply at the sensation of another immortal arriving. Caspian was overdue, and Methos couldn’t finish his bomb without the supplies Caspian was supposed to be getting.
"Caspian, I trust you’ve brought what we’re looking for?" Kronos asked sharply.
The answering voice startled Kronos, but shook Methos to his core.
"I’m afraid Caspian won’t be able to help you any more," Sarah MacGreggor said.
The two men looked to the stairs just in time to see Sarah reach the top step. She was clad in an outfit that most closely resembled what Methos might expect to find in a biker catalog: faded jeans, heavy combat boots, and a gray tank top under a black leather jacket. If he hadn’t been so completely amazed to see her standing there, the world’s oldest man would have most likely giggled at the sight.
"And you are?" Kronos asked, prowling around the small table with what looked to be an amused sneer.
"Where’s Caspian?" Methos added gruffly. Appearances, after all, were everything.
"Now, now," Kronos held up a hand to silence his accomplice. "The lady has yet to introduce herself. Where are your manners, Methos?"
Sarah hesitated on the step, unwilling to give up the only visible means of escape. Trying to look unconcerned, she leaned casually on the railing and tossed the burlap sack she’d been carrying at Methos, then she turned toward Kronos with a smile. "Sarah MacGreggor. And Caspian, what’s left of him anyway, is in your friend’s hands."
Methos weighed the bag carefully in his hands. It felt like the right mass for a head...but Sarah could never be that gruesome. He turned the bag over, curious to determine what she had used to simulate the size and feel of a human head. And that’s when he noticed the blood on his hands. His eyes followed the small spatters of it on the floor to Sarah’s left leg, where a large crimson patch marked the spot she had been carrying the bag against.
The bag with Caspian’s head in it hit the floor with a dull thump and Methos fought to control the bile rising in his throat. He looked to Sarah for some explanation, but found only a steely gaze regarding him passively in response.
Kronos took a moment to appraise Sarah’s stance and expression before examining the contents of the bag for himself and chuckling softly. "You bring me the head of one of my brothers and expect what in return? What do you think we should give her, Methos?" he added, not allowing Sarah the chance to speak. "Should we kill her quickly? Or teach her the meaning of terror?"
Methos, for all his skill at managing to assess situations and come out on top, was at a total loss for words.
"Why did you kill my brother? To teach me a lesson? To frighten me?" Kronos continued. "Did you think it would give you some kind of status in my eyes?"
Sarah drew a breath to speak, but halted as a buzz washed over the three of them. Footsteps sounded on the metal stairs behind her, and she quickly drew her longsword and stepped off the staircase, moving so that she had a wall at her back and all three men in front of her.
The fourth Horseman paused to study her curiously, but Kronos gave him an almost imperceptible nod and he silently crossed the room to stand between his companions.
Sarah waited until all three men were looking at her before she spoke. "I killed him because he was filth. Caspian was arrogant, stupid, and a rotten swordsman...not at all the kind of company I’d expect you to keep, Kronos," she said. "He died on his knees, you know. Let me take his place."
Methos swallowed again, eyeing the longsword that had taken the place of her lighter rapier. Clearly she looking for every advantage she could get, which meant she was serious about doing...whatever she thought she was doing. Her tone seemed to have changed with her blade as well; it was unlike any he had ever heard before. Cold. Hollow. Ruthless. And, frankly, quite chilling.
Kronos laughed loudly and flung his left hand outwards in a gesture that Silas correctly interpreted as license to kill this bitch. With a fluid motion and a growl, he drew his axe and advanced on Sarah.
"Should I kill her, Kronos? Or just tame her enough to teach her a lesson?"
Sarah’s answer to the question came with a kick that nearly swept him off his feet and forced a howl of pain. But Kronos merely laughed once more and leaned casually against the table next to Methos, waiting to see how the game would pan out. He tapped Methos lightly on the shoulder and pointed to the fight with a smile.
"Maybe someone like her is what we need. Someone with initiative and bloodlust. She was right about Caspian."
A wave of ice raced down Methos’ spine, followed immediately by a rush of heat through his chest as Silas’ axe narrowly missed catching Sarah in the shoulder. Most likely she was here to rescue Bryan, but had she decided the way to do that was to kill all three of them? Or was she counting on him to help? Which side would he choose if Kronos demanded that he fight her? Methos shuddered as his pulse roared in his ears almost loudly enough to block out the sounds of the battle. He needed to stop this before Sarah’s lost her head...or worse, before Kronos ordered him to attack her. But his feet were rooted to the floor and her arrival had addled his brain enough to turn off the ability to step back and calculate what was necessary to survive.
All he could do was stand there next to Kronos with Caspian’s head at his feet and watch as Sarah dodged Silas’ swings and thrusts. He barely managed to contain the gasp that threatened to burst from his throat when the pike of the axe scored a deep cut across her midriff. Kronos, the bastard, merely laughed once more and poked at the bloody sack with his toe.
The battle took a turn that none of the three surviving Horsemen expected, though, and suddenly Silas found himself on his knees clutching at the mass of intestine that was threatening to spill from his gut. A heavily booted heel met his jaw, sending him careening backwards and Sarah’s longsword slammed into his chest, sliding between his ribs and neatly piercing his heart.
For the benefit of her audience, Sarah left her sword sticking out of Silas’ chest and reached down to yank the axe out from under his dead body, preparing to heft it in a swing that would remove his head. From the corner of her eye though, she saw Kronos gesture to Methos. She caught just enough movement to warrant pulling the knife from her boot and flipping it expertly into the shoulder of the man who was her oldest friend, rendering his sword arm useless.
Methos cried out in pain, clutching instinctively at the knife. Kronos began to clap.
"Well done, my girl," he crooned. "Well done."
Sarah hefted the axe once more, panting slightly, and offered Kronos a crooked smile. "Care to lose another of your brothers? Or would you rather gain an ally?"
"Put down the axe and we’ll talk," Kronos answered, smiling.
With a shrug, she turned and tossed the axe onto the floor next to Silas. Then, without so much as a blink, she yanked her sword from the man’s chest, wiping it off on his shirt and glancing down the length to make certain it was clean before turning back to face them.
She stepped over Silas and closed the distance between them quickly, ignoring Kronos in favor of offering Methos an assessing gaze.
"You should be more careful," she said, taking his wrist and gently moving his hand away from the hilt of the knife.
He spent a long moment caught in the unfathomable thought that this was not the woman he believed he knew so well before her left hand snaked back up and deftly jerked the knife free, nearly sending him to his knees in agony.
Sarah took a moment to offer a sneer before turning to Kronos. "This one was my teacher, once," she said.
Kronos shrugged. "That means I should trust you?"
"You shouldn’t," Methos answered. "Let me deal with..."
Sarah cut him off by plunging the knife into his ribcage with a vicious twist. He died at her feet, the point of her longsword poised against his throat. "You need a good sword, Kronos. And you need someone with the brains to make up for this one and the oaf over there. That’s me. I know everything Methos does when it comes to swords, and, unlike him, I am not squeamish when it comes to using one. I killed three of your brothers today. Think about that."
Kronos paced a slow circle around her, tapping his index finger thoughtfully against his lips. "Most impressive, Miss MacGreggor. You demonstrate the qualities that I found so very endearing in each of my brothers....no mercy...a lust for blood...great skill with the sword. The question is, do you have that final thing--the last piece of what it takes to be one of us?"
He came back to stand in front of her once more, closing the distance between them with a long stride and leaning across Methos’ body rather menacingly. "The knowledge that your life is in my hands."
She thought about laughing, but found that air was escaping her lungs at an alarming rate as the pike of Silas’ axe wound its way through her ribs from behind. Kronos caught her under the arms as she pitched forward, hauling her upright against his chest.
"My hands, lovely," he whispered into her right ear. "Never forget that."
Sarah awoke to find both hands shackled above her head and a pipe cutting most uncomfortably into her back. She struggled against her bonds briefly, knowing full well it was a futile effort.
"What in the hell was that all about?" Methos asked, his voice drifting downwards from somewhere above her head.
Before she could answer, his feet appeared just in front of her face, followed by the rest of his body as he dropped down from his perch.
"Do you have any idea how phenomenally stupid you are?" he added.
In response, Sarah lashed out with a foot, snaring his ankle and bringing him tumbling to the floor. "Don’t talk to me about stupid," she snarled.
"No?" Methos rose and shook her wrists, rattling the chain loudly. "He’ll kill you."
Sarah narrowed her eyes. "As many times as it takes to tame me?"
Methos looked about ready to strike her, but caught himself and drew a deep breath, grinding his jaw. "I don’t know what kind of plan you think you might have, Sarie, but you’d better listen to me here. The only way to stay alive is to keep him happy."
"That’s exactly what I intend to do."
"You should have stayed in Seacouver," Methos said, getting to his feet.
"And you should have grown a spine back in the Bronze Age."
Methos blinked at her for a moment, startled by the venom in her tone. "If you’ve come to help Bryan, you haven’t."
Sarah looked up at him coldly. "I came to kill you and I’ll do whatever it takes to get close enough to Kronos to make sure that it happens." For a moment, even she couldn’t decide whether that was true, but part of her no longer cared.
His face fell and he slumped forward slightly, as if he had taken a physical blow. "Don’t do this, Sarie. Give me a chance to figure things out..."
Sarah shook her head. "You made your choice, Methos. And if I don’t wind up dead, you will."
Methos squatted once more and looked up at her for a long moment. He’d expected JL to be leading the rescue mission, and he’d already begun to accept her inevitable death. But Sarie? This couldn’t be how it ended for them. It just couldn’t.
She scowled fiercely, literally making him flinch. The hurt in his eyes almost made her relent, but she remembered Bryan trapped somewhere in the base, put at the mercy of his greatest enemy by Methos’ intervention, and her expression hardened. Her Petey was truly dead.
Methos swallowed, seeming to shrink back into himself. "I’m sorry," he whispered, before he melted back into the shadows.
Sarah snorted and began testing her bonds. She’d only succeeded in straining her wrists when another immortal approached. Tossing her head, she tried to stand as indolently as she could.
Kronos rewarded her bravado with a soft laugh. "I see chains agree with you, lovely."
Sarah shrugged. "I’m very adaptable."
"Are you now?" Tracing Sarah’s jaw with his finger, Kronos smiled. "Tell me, my dear, how adaptable would you be if I unchained you?"
Licking her lips, Sarah resolutely clamped down on her revulsion and arched a little. She had no choice now. "Far more than the men you’ve been living with," she promised. "In fact, I’m sure I could make you very glad you let me go."
Kronos smiled, studying Sarah’s eyes. He still hadn’t determined the game she was playing or how she’d found them. Methos’ claims that she wanted to impress her old teacher were interesting but rang false--if anything, she seemed to hate Methos. But whatever her story, he’d learn it eventually. And convincing her to tell it promised to be quite enjoyable. Spirited didn’t begin to describe this one.
Pulling her closer with a hand on the back of her neck, he kissed her, enjoying the feel of her initial resistance melting into acceptance. Soon, he knew, acceptance would be replaced by eagerness. It always did when he wished it to. "You’d better please me," he whispered in her ear as his free hand fondled her breasts. "You’re on probation, Miss MacGreggor, and whether you survive it depends entirely on how well you...perform. I thoroughly believe in tests."
Sarah returned his kiss, even shifting so his hands had better access to her body. She was rewarded by the sudden release of her chains, and her weary arms wrapped themselves around Kronos for support. Ruthlessly silencing her last doubts, she let Kronos lead her to his bed. The game was on, and she dared not falter now.
Kronos pulled on his clothes and glanced at Sarah sleeping fitfully in his bed, her body still working to heal the marks of his passion. He leered as he fastened his studded leather belt--this one would be fun to tame. She’d given almost as good as she’d gotten, and his muscles felt deliciously stretched. Soon, he was certain, she’d come to heel and he could let her take more pleasure in the act. The acceptance of mastery needed to be rewarded, but first she had to learn the meaning of the word. For all the swordwork Methos may have taught her, he hadn’t properly tamed her any more than he had Cassandra. Sloppy, to the end.
She’s much better than that pet Caspian liked playing with, he decided. That one will break before he bends. Slaves had their places, but nothing equaled the challenge of keeping a free immortal subject to his will. It had been far too long since he’d had a toy of that caliber to play with--the last one had been a young blond who’d joined his ranks a few months after they’d captured Bryan’s village centuries ago. Kronos frowned, trying to remember the blond’s name. ‘J’ something, he recalled, but he hadn’t used it much. Being overly familiar often ruined a perfectly good slave.
Kronos’ eyes glittered cruelly as he remembered how well trained the blond had been--he still had enough fire to fight at Kronos’ side, but he wouldn’t dream of burying a knife in anyone’s gut without express permission. Kronos’ fun had been spoiled when the army had raided the camp and dragged both him and Caspian off in chains.
Knowing that the punishment for banditry was beheading, Kronos had broken out long enough to free Caspian, and the two of them had fought until the soldiers were forced to kill them in a less permanent manner. After they’d revived and had clawed their way out of the unmarked grave they’d been dumped in, they’d been forced to leave the country before Kronos could investigate whether the blond had escaped. He’d been momentarily regretful, but he hadn’t lived this long without knowing when to cut his losses.
Julius, he suddenly remembered. He called himself Julius. Smiling wolfishly, he promised himself that once the world was back under his control, he’d have Methos look for his lost conquest. If anyone could track him after all this time, it would be Methos.
Shrugging off the past, he gave Sarah a final rough caress and strode out the door with renewed vigor. Life was good.
Heading for Caspian’s room, Kronos stopped long enough to tell Silas to keep an eye on the woman and not let her leave. Silas nodded happily and returned to playing with the monkey he’d named Jake. With what passed for a fond smile, Kronos griped his shoulder and continued on. Opening Caspian’s door, he felt Bryan’s presence and smiled when the captive whimpered softly in response. A flick of the light switch illuminated Bryan’s naked form, chained spread-eagle against the wall with his face pressed against the cold, damp stone. His muscles bulged against the pull of the chains, and the stench in the room reminded Kronos that no one had bothered with Bryan since before Caspian’s death. Stripping off his belt, Kronos let it whistle through the air and slam into Bryan’s exposed ass. The force of the blow drove Bryan forward into the unforgiving stone, and he groaned as his genitals were ground into the rock. Kronos hit him several more times in rapid succession, leaving a neat trail of bloody welts running from his shoulders to his thighs.
"How dare you shit in Caspian’s room!" Kronos roared as he beat the helpless immortal. "What are you, some kind of animal?"
Bryan just moaned, his throat too dry to try and defend himself verbally even if he had thought it would do any good. His world had narrowed down to cold stone, hopelessness, and thirst. The pain of Kronos’ belt was almost a welcome distraction.
Kronos stopped when he realized his punishment was not having the desired effect and considered his captive. While he had been using Bryan to relieve his sexual frustration, now he had Sarah. Perhaps Bryan was expendable--he’d always been more of Caspian’s favorite anyway. Kronos stepped up behind Bryan and began caressing his neck. "This could be your lucky day," he sneered. "I might just put you out of your misery."
Bryan tried to swallow and beg him to do just that, but he couldn’t do more than mouth the word "please" over his shoulder at Kronos. He shivered at Kronos’ cruel smile, then tried to prepare himself when he felt Kronos undoing his chains. His tormented muscles betrayed him, and he fell heavily on his back when he was released, the crack of his head hitting the stone echoing through the small room. He knew he’d only have a moment before Kronos started kicking him, and he was almost proud of the way he dragged himself to his knees before the third kick. Gazing blearily upwards, he drew a ragged breath and steeled himself for another session attempting to pleasure Kronos in exchange for a drop or two of water and maybe some stale bread. He wondered idly what had happened to Caspian--at least that bastard fed him more because he didn’t want him passing out during the beatings. Kronos, however, seemed just as happy raping him when he was barely conscious.
To Bryan’s surprise, Kronos grabbed him by the hair when he edged towards him. "Not any more, slave," Kronos snarled. "I have a better slut now. Get up." Increasing his pull on Bryan’s hair, Kronos hauled the immortal to his feet and turned him around, lashing his wrists together with his belt. "I’ve changed my mind," he told Bryan while he worked. Urging him out the door, Kronos marched Bryan down the hallway, shoving him into the wall when he didn’t move fast enough. They both stiffened when they felt another immortal nearby, and Bryan hung his head in shame when he recognized Methos.
"Ah, there you are, my Brother," Kronos said warmly. "I need you to get Silas and join me in the lab. I have a demonstration planned."
Methos glanced at Bryan and nodded, quickly turning away from them and heading for the main room. The numbness he’d been fighting since the night Kronos’ dagger had penetrated his chest enveloped him, and his soul was completely submerged by the time he reached Silas and told the other Horseman they’d been summoned to the lab. By the time they got there, Kronos was holding a glass of water just out of Bryan’s reach and laughing as the bound man strained to reach it.
Silas rumbled his trademark laugh and walked up next to Kronos. "What are we going to do, Brother?" he asked brightly.
"We," Kronos replied, putting an arm around Silas’ shoulders, "are going to experiment. First, we are going to watch him drink. And then, we’re going to watch him die. "
Silas looked curious, but Kronos just laughed again and selected a vial from the rack against one wall. Adding a large dose of the liquid, he again offered the water to Bryan. "Drink your poison like a good boy," he encouraged sweetly.
Bryan tried to resist, but Kronos spilled it onto his face and Bryan’s mouth opened involuntarily to accept the precious liquid. Kronos stopped pouring it and brought the glass to his lips, letting Bryan drink deeply before pulling it away.
Bryan closed his eyes and shivered with delight as the water slaked the incredible thirst he’d been fighting for days, then the world started to sway and incredible cramps assaulted him. Falling, he began to writhe on the stone floor, vomiting up water and blood until his heart stopped and his entire body went slack, his sightless eyes staring up at Kronos and Silas.
"You said you wanted to see your enemies’ eyes as they died, Brother," Kronos told Silas. "Well, there they are. Death that can’t be seen or avoided. Isn’t it glorious? Do you want to see it again? We can kill him as many times as you like."
Silas held tightly to Jake so the monkey wouldn’t get away and drink any of the water. "I’d still like to kill him myself," he pouted. "It’s not the same when you don’t touch them."
"Soon," Kronos soothed. "Once we get what we want, you’ll be able to touch anyone you want, however you want." Glancing up at Methos, Kronos smiled again. "And you, Brother. What do you think?"
"I think poisoning a bound man isn’t terribly challenging," Methos replied dryly.
Kronos snorted and gestured to the body. "Silas, chain him to that wall there," he directed, turning and opening a drawer as Silas complied. Withdrawing a revolver, he checked the cylinder and snapped it shut with a satisfied nod. Waiting for Bryan to revive, he reviewed the basic elements of the weapon with Silas, then they both took turns using the newly-healed immortal for target practice.
Methos swallowed, trying unsuccessfully to block out Bryan’s cries as the bullets ripped into his flesh. When Kronos pulled out a larger caliber gun so they could compare the holes it made, Methos knew it was time to leave. "I’ll go make sure the bomb is ready for the fountain," he said quickly.
"Good idea," Kronos agreed coolly, "but first you should try this."
"Not all of us have been out in the woods for the last two thousand years," Methos retorted, but the hand offering the gun never wavered. With a shrug, Methos took the gun and spun, shooting Bryan neatly in the heart. "Accuracy," he said as he returned the gun to Kronos. "Some people don’t need to make big holes."
Kronos locked eyes with his companion for a long while, then nodded. "Well said, Brother," he admitted, "but there is much to be said for the effect large holes have on those who see them being made."
Methos nodded curtly and turned to leave, but the approach of another immortal stopped him. Sarah stood in the doorway, her face set in a forced smile that only Methos knew was as false as her professed desire to be a Horsewoman. "Brace yourself," he mouthed to her as she went by, knowing nothing he could say would keep her out of that room. He knew he should just leave, but he couldn’t take the chance of her going berserk when she saw Bryan and trying to kill Kronos. That would ruin what few plans he’d managed to come up with.
Sarah ignored him and mustered a smile for Kronos when he turned to greet her. She was so busy keeping her revulsion under control that she didn’t notice Bryan until he returned to consciousness with an agonized groan. Her eyes widened as she took in his blood-spattered body and the dead look in his eyes. It took every ounce of strength she had not to run to him and cradle his broken body in her arms until he smiled again.
"Do you like it?" Kronos asked, roughly jerking her attention away from Bryan. "It’s like a piece of modern art, don’t you think? A tribute to the new weapons of war."
Sarah shrugged and fought to keep her voice even. "Some trophy." At the sound of her voice, Bryan stirred again and struggled to focus his eyes. He moaned and tried to reach for her, and Sarah saw Kronos’ suspicion reflected in his narrowed eyes.
Staring disdainfully at Bryan, she folded her arms and spoke in a voice cold enough to make him cringe back against his wall. "If I had a Quickening for every immortal that thought they’d find feminine sympathy at my hands ..." She paused, flashing a cruel smile at Methos, "Oh, wait, I do. Never mind."
Kronos laughed delightedly, then offered her the gun. "Care for a little target practice?"
Sarah considered taking the gun and using it on Kronos, but Silas was still armed and Methos clearly unpredictable. With a shrug, she waved the gun away. "I don’t need any."
"This is not just for us--it’s also for the boy." Gesturing at Bryan, Kronos smiled. "He’s a willful one, but the fight is almost gone. Soon he will crawl at my feet and lick my boots even if he’s just had a peaceful night’s sleep and a good meal--not that he’s likely to ever get either of those again. And he’ll be damn grateful that I condescend to let him touch my boots, believe me."
Sarah shook her head. "Not interested. Mindless slaves don’t do a thing for me."
"But it’s a glorious feeling, my dear. When they heed your call knowing they will suffer agonies beyond their imaginings and yet they cannot conceive of refusing..." Kronos sighed happily at some private memory. "I had a slave once who begged to wear my collar. I used to hang him from that collar until he strangled to death. I tied his leash to my horse and dragged him through camp. Even though he was an immortal, that collar left scars. But he never once took it off, and he even fought beside me as we slaughtered those peasants foolish enough to defy me without ever turning his blade on me or mine. That is power."
Jim, she realized with a sickening lurch. He’s reveling in torturing my Jimmy. Fighting down images of Jim being dragged on Kronos’ leash, Sarah waved an almost-steady hand at Bryan. "When you have a man on his knees with your sword at his neck and he looks at you asking for mercy--that is power. What you have now is a beaten man who has nothing. Some power."
Methos had to remind himself to breathe as he watched Sarah and Kronos try to outstare each other. He knew the signs--Sarah thought she was winning but all that would happen was Kronos would get creative. And his creativity was the work of nightmares. He glanced at Silas, but his brother was merely watching, obviously hoping he’d get to shoot Bryan some more. No diversion there--Silas had never cared about power struggles.
He needed to think of something, but his mind felt as empty as if he were the one staring into Kronos’ eyes. He’d been mesmerized by them often enough.
The spell snapped when Kronos grinned and strode over to unchain Bryan, urging him back across the room to Sarah. Pouring another glass of water, he held it in front of Bryan’s face. His prisoner knew better than to grab for it without permission, and Kronos smiled approval. "So you give him something--you restore his hope. Then you take it away. It’s amazing what a few gentle touches will do when properly applied. Even a glass of water can be a powerful tool to a man dying of thirst." Nodding to Bryan, Kronos let him drink the water and then fondled his matted hair. Bryan sighed a little and leaned against Kronos’ leg both for support and in a silent supplication for more water.
Sarah shivered at the triumph in Kronos’ smile as the man regarded what remained of her precious Benito. "To what end?" she finally sneered with a sudden realization that Bryan would rather be dead. "You can have that power. I prefer blood."
"It passes the centuries, my child. Someday you will seek lasting diversions too."
She flicked a dismissive hand. "I had a lasting diversion. It was hunting down and gutting every Englishman I could find after Culloden."
"And did you find pleasure in it?"
"Great pleasure, yes."
Kronos gripped Bryan’s hair suddenly and dragged him to his feet. Thrusting him at Sarah, he said quietly, "Show me."
Bryan gazed at Sarah pleadingly, his mind whirling. No matter what, she won’t hurt me. Not like Methos did. She loves me and she’ll get me out of this. She has to. She just has to. He even managed a small smile to show how glad he was to see her.
Without letting herself think, Sarah reached passed Bryan and grabbed the knife from Kronos’ belt with a sultry smile, half-caressing Kronos with the blade as she unsheathed it. Not meeting Bryan’s eyes, she slammed the blade into his belly and ripped it open, the heat of his blood searing into her hands like acid. She tried desperately not to look at him as he fell, but she couldn’t miss the shock and despair that filled those beautiful green eyes. Keeping the smile plastered on her face, she stepped over Bryan, neatly flipping the knife into his heart as he did so and feeling his writhing cease. "There is power in feeling a man’s guts spill under your knife and his blood soak your hand," she said, running a blood-soaked hand up Kronos’ shirt.
"No question," Kronos agreed, grabbing her wrist and pulling her closer. "It is almost as good as hearing them scream." He leaned into her, his breath hot on her neck and his arousal plain. She truly was a worthy student.
"Almost." Sarah brushed her lips along his cheek, then pulled away with a sharp laugh and a flirtatious sway of her hips. It took every ounce of willpower she had to keep a seductive smile on her face as her boots slipped in Bryan’s blood, but Kronos seemed to accept her shudders for passion. "Now that the games are over, I’m hungry."
Kronos half snarled as she pulled out of his reach, then controlled himself. There would be time to make her pay for such teasing without the others there to watch--and possibly demand a turn. This one he wanted all to himself. "As you wish," was all he replied. "Methos, show her the kitchens."
Methos nodded dumbly as Sarah swept past him to the door. He knew she’d be vomiting in a corner soon--at least, he rather hoped she would. If Sarah MacGreggor could kill her former lover and really go have lunch, his world had truly come to an end.
"I’ll just take care of my new test subject," Kronos announced. "Bring him, Silas."
Methos headed after Sarah, pausing only a moment to watch Kronos and Silas drag Bryan through a door in the back corner of the lab. He didn’t know what lay beyond that door, but the sub-basement was mostly flooded in the rest of the compound. Closing his eyes, he whispered a small prayer of thanks that Bryan had been too thirsty to call out Sarie’s name, then hurried out.
Kronos ignored Methos as he grabbed a lantern and led Silas down the steps to the sub-basement. Metal walls rose up on each side of them, and the bottom of the stairwell was submerged under brackish water that must have come from the sewer system--the stench was almost overpowering. Kronos wrinkled his nose but couldn’t hide his satisfaction; this was the perfect place to break the last of Bryan’s resistance. A few days in the dark without food and water, and he’d be Kronos’ willing servant, doing anything to avoid being put back down here.
A quarter of the way down the stairwell, Kronos stopped at an unobtrusive door that gave access to a catwalk. Pushing it open, he stepped onto the catwalk and held the door so Silas could follow him. The two men followed it to the opposite wall where a ladder led down to a platform that was mostly above the filthy water.
Bryan started to revive just before Silas got to the ladder, and the big man just grunted and threw him over the rail. Bryan’s body slammed into the metal platform like a rag doll, and Silas chuckled heartily before he climbed down the ladder at a much more sedate pace.
Kronos smiled tolerantly at his brother, then climbed down to the platform and removed a length of thick chain from its hook on a nearby wall. Bryan groaned pitifully as Kronos leaned over and locked one end around his ankle, wrapping the other around a pipe sticking out of the wall. He had just padlocked it when Bryan regained full consciousness and struggled to sit up. Kronos glanced at Silas, who nodded and caught Bryan in the side of the head with a solid punch. Bryan swayed drunkenly and Kronos yanked him to his feet by his hair.
"Welcome to your new home, Benedictus," he cooed, using Bryan’s given name like a weapon. "I hope you like it down here--at least there’s plenty to drink." Spinning Bryan around, Kronos shoved him at Silas, watching contentedly while Silas hit Bryan over and over until he collapsed in a bloody heap on the platform.
Stepping over Bryan’s inert form, Kronos urged Silas ahead of him. When they regained the catwalk, Kronos glanced back at Bryan and laughed loudly. "Pleasant dreams, Benedictus," he called as he pulled the chain that retracted the ladder back up to the catwalk. "Pray I think of some other use for you--otherwise this will be your permanent home. I do hope you like rats."
At Bryan’s pleading whimper, Kronos laughed again and left with Silas. He slammed the upper door closed, leaving Bryan in utter darkness and shutting out his prisoner’s heartbroken wail.
Sarah blew a sigh and drummed her fingers on the dashboard anxiously. Kronos didn’t waste time with minor tests.
"You’re in a hurry to kill MacLeod?" Methos asked, sparing her a glance as they wove through traffic.
She responded with a glare and shifted in the passenger seat as he changed lanes.
"Look," Methos said. "We need to come up with some kind of plan...I’m assuming you’re not actually going to kill him, are you?"
She shot him another glare, then turned her attention out the window. Kronos had decided that just kidnapping Cassandra wasn’t enough--he’d sent them to "bring MacLeod’s head". Well, more likely he had sent her to bring MacLeod’s head and sent Methos as a babysitter. Regardless, the bastard was right. They needed a plan.
"Go to the hotel," she said.
Methos raised both eyebrows, wondering just how far she would go to get close enough to Kronos to accomplish her goal--whatever the hell that was. It certainly seemed likely that she was there to get Bryan out alive, but there was a real venom in her voice that he’d never heard before, and he had a feeling that she wouldn’t hesitate to take his head if the opportunity presented itself. Probably long before she’d take Mac’s, actually.
"You’re not really going to kill him, are you?"
"Of course not," she snapped. "He’s the best shot at taking Kronos out right now."
Methos nodded in agreement and made a sharp left. "So why are we going to the hotel?"
Sarah turned in her seat and put her shoulder against the window, cocking an eyebrow at him. "You’re the mastermind, Methos, you tell me."
"To tell the truth, Sarie, I stopped being able to figure out what you were thinking long about the time you tossed me Caspian’s head like it was a volleyball."
Sarah waited for him to pull to the curb and cut the engine before answering. "Wait here."
Methos shook his head. "I’m coming up."
"Fine," she shoved the door open. "I’m sure Duncan would love a clean shot at your head right now. Especially since you lured him away so that Silas could come get that witch."
Methos winced as the door slammed hard enough to shake the car. She did have a point. He watched her take the steps into the hotel three at a time, then heaved a sigh and turned on the radio.
On the ninth floor, Duncan MacLeod was still pacing furiously around his room trying to find enough calm to make a rational decision about what to do next when Sarah’s buzz washed over him. He grabbed the katana and stalked to the door, almost hoping it was either Kronos or Methos on the other side. At least then they could get on with the program.
"Mac? It’s me, Sarah," she called through the door.
He yanked it open hard enough to send the knob cracking into the wall and stared at her for a moment, taking in her clothing and the bloodstains she hadn’t been able to totally clean off her boots. "I thought you weren’t coming."
"So did I," she pushed past him and threw herself into the chair by the window.
"What’s going on? Why are you dressed like that?"
Sarah cocked an eyebrow, then heaved a sigh and stuck out her hand. "Name’s Famine, I’m the fourth Horsewoman of the Apocalypse. Pleased to meet you."
Duncan didn’t find any humor in her words. "What are you saying?"
"I’m saying," she let her hand drop with another sigh, "that I killed Caspian and joined up."
Sarah’s hand shot back up in a silencing gesture. "Save the lecture for someone who will listen to you, Mac. I don’t have that kind of time. I’m here to tell you that they have Cassandra and to stay the hell out of my way when you come in to get her."
Duncan paced to the window and back twice, then lay the katana down on the bed and sat at the foot, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "I need to know whose side you are on, Sarah."
She nodded and sat back in the chair. "I’ll steer clear of you if you do me the same favor."
"What does that mean? You’re either on one side or the other. There is no gray here."
"There is a world of gray here, Duncan."
He got up to pace again, making the circuit three and a half times before turning to face her once more. "Is she all right?"
Sarah nodded again. "She’s bait, Mac...he’s too smart to tip his hand just yet. But the longer you wait, the madder he’s going to get and...well...I have my own agenda here...I can’t risk squaring off over her. He will hurt her, though. I can guarantee that."
"Then I’ll come with you." He moved for the katana.
Sarah barked out a laugh. "What part of ‘steer clear of me’ don’t you understand?"
Duncan whirled, his temper flaring. "I need to know what you’re planning."
Sarah stood and tugged the tail of her coat down sharply. "I’m there to get Bryan out, and if you get in the way, I’ll kill you. Don’t force my hand, Mac. Please. Just do what you have to do and leave me out of it."
Duncan swore softly under his breath. "I thought Bryan was staying state-side."
"So did I," she answered, moving toward the door.
"Wait," he caught her lightly by the elbow. "What about Methos?"
Sarah pressed her lips into a tight line and drew a deep breath. "Like I said, do what you have to do and leave me out of it." She got halfway out the door before stopping and taking another deep breath. "It’s an abandoned German submarine base--I’m sure you can find it. Give me at least two hours, please."
Duncan nodded, but she was gone.
Methos tried very hard not to wince again as the door slammed closed once more. He waited for Sarah to buckle her seatbelt before starting the car.
She tucked her left knee up to her chin and rested her boot on the dash, not bothering to look at him. "He wasn’t there. I don’t suppose you’ve clued him in to any more bombs in fountains or the like?"
"He wasn’t there? Hmm."
"You’re welcome to go check for yourself, Methos. But don’t wait for the elevator, it’s broken. Those nine flights of stairs will go a lot faster if you just head straight for them."
He spent a moment studying her before sighing and putting the car in gear. He’d never known Sarah to tell a deliberate lie. Then again, he’d also never known her to carry severed heads in burlap sacks or gut her lovers under any circumstances.
Methos sighed. "So what do we tell Kronos?"
Sarah glared. "I’m sure you’ll think of something. You always do."
After convincing Kronos that Mac hadn’t been in his hotel room, all Methos wanted to do was find a cold beer and some aspirin. He was walking slowly through the halls when he felt a buzz an instant before he heard footsteps behind him. He was starting to turn when someone barreled into him, and he hit the ground face first in an utterly uncontrollable sprawl. His chin cracked against the concrete, sending a wave of pain racing through his skull. Before he could even so much as groan, rough hands hauled him upright only to slam him back down on his back with a startling amount of force. He sucked in a ragged breath, but it was forced out again by a heavy knee planted squarely on his sternum.
"Where is he?" Sarah snarled.
He blinked at her, too stunned to speak, and swallowed what turned out to be a mouthful of blood when the blade of her dagger bit into his throat.
"You know what your choices are, Methos. Where is Bryan?"
Methos swallowed again and probed his split lip with his tongue gently before trying to speak. "Easy. Let me up."
Sarah’s face twisted into a smile that sent a wave of ice down his neck. "Not likely. And I’m only going to ask you nicely one more time."
Methos scanned the immediate area and saw her longsword glinting in the half-light against the wall, carefully positioned not more than arm’s-reach away from Sarah. Even if he could shove her off without sustaining a major neck wound, she’d certainly get there before he could get to his feet and draw his own sword. And judging by the set of her jaw and the complete lack of the familiar warmth in her eyes, she wouldn’t hesitate to use the advantage.
"Okay," he croaked. "Give me some air and I’ll tell you."
Sarah rocked back a little, allowing him the luxury of drawing in a deep breath. But, before he could even think about speaking, she had a solid fistful of his hair and the blade was putting pressure against his carotid artery again. "Try anything and you’re dead."
Methos nodded. "The lab...there’s a door in the back left corner. I saw Silas drag him through it, but I don’t know anything more than that, I swear."
"If you’re lying to me I will find you."
He nodded again. "I know."
Sarah ground her jaw in a slow circle and spent a moment wrestling with her emotions. While he hadn’t actually hindered her, he certainly hadn’t helped. But she still couldn’t bring herself to be his final judge. Without a word, she stood, grabbed her sword, and spun on her heel, leaving him panting in the darkness.
Reaching the lab, she yanked open the door Methos had told her about. The stench was overwhelming; her stomach flipped and she nearly vomited at the sight of the filthy water enveloping the bottom steps. There was no way of telling how deep it was and the dim light from the top of the stairwell just gave the surface a sickeningly brownish tinge without revealing any details.
She slowly descended the stairs and lifted the latch on the gate at the bottom. Swinging it outwards, she watched the ripples move swiftly into the dimness.
"Bryan?" She called. "It’s me, Sarie."
No answer--only her words echoing back to her from what sounded like a reasonably large distance. Why hadn’t she thought to bring a flashlight? But to go back now would mean leaving him here, and she couldn’t do that.
"Bry? Honey, it’s me. Come on, tell me where you are."
This time, a faint scuffling sounded, followed by the clink of what could only be links on a chain.
Her heart sang for just an instant, then plummeted into her stomach at the thought of anyone, let alone her Benito, being kept in such a filthy place. She craned her neck, trying to catch a sense of where the sound came from, but it was lost in the chorus of cavernous drips and echoes.
"Okay," she muttered, peering down at the water again. "How bad can this be? Ugh. Pretty bad."
Sarah squatted on the bottom stair and tested the water with her longsword, finding it to be deeper than the blade was long. With a sigh, she stripped off her coat, lay the sword next to it, and drew her dagger before easing herself in with a grimace of pure distaste. It was chest deep and ice cold.
"Benito, listen to me," she said loudly in Italian. "It’s Sarie and I’m coming across. Tell me where you are so I can get you out of here, honey."
His answer came in the form of a whimper that evolved into a guttural snarl and more clanking of chain, but it told her which direction to set out in.
The room had once been a sub-basement and was full of submerged pipes and obstacles that slowed her progress rather painfully at times, but eventually Sarah managed to pick her way to the edge of a small platform that she guessed was about twenty yards from the stairs as the crow flies.
The chain clinked twice softly, then grew deathly silent.
"You listen to me, Benito," she said, still in Italian and changing her fingers on the hilt of the dagger to a fighting grip. "I just waded across a lake full of shit to get you and if you attack me I am not going to be happy. I’m coming up there now and you’d better be sitting quietly like a good boy waiting to be rescued."
No such luck. The instant her feet hit the platform, nearly two hundred pounds of solid muscle launched at her, sending Sarah sprawling backwards into the water. She came up choking and emptied the contents of her stomach involuntarily, gasping for breath.
"You ungrateful little fuck," she muttered, this time in English.
The chain clanked in response, followed by another growl.
Sarah drew a deep breath and slicked her hair out of her eyes, realizing mid-gesture that she no longer had her knife. Shit. It was either under water, or in Bryan’s hands--and she had to assume the latter.
So. Talking was out. As was the direct approach. That left one option. And it was none too pleasant.
Sarah sank as low as she could in the water and edged her way around the platform, holding her breath and moving as quietly as possible. When she reached an edge that appeared to be against a wall, she eased herself out of the water as quietly as possible and bent to a crouch, listening for that tell-tale clank of Bryan’s chain.
It sounded, but only because she put a hand down and had the bad luck of landing half on the chain and making it slide across the metal platform. Within a heartbeat there was another snarl hurtling toward her. Sarah threw herself toward the wall, but not before a searing pain shot the length of her right thigh.
Well, at least she knew where the knife was.
She’d never won a wrestling match with Bryan and now was not the time to try. Instead, Sarah lashed out with her good foot and scrambled away, satisfied with the howl her kick solicited. A hand clamped around her ankle, though, dragging her backwards.
She went limp for a moment, waiting. He was heavier and most certainly stronger--not to mention a bit crazed at the moment. It was dark and she was wounded. But Sarah was thinking clearly and she had the advantage of knowing his fighting style almost as well as she knew her own. She knew almost exactly which way he’d turn after he struck, and what position he’d be in, whether she could see him or not.
She waited another half-second, then rolled suddenly and drove her palm squarely into his nose, following through with a foot to the groin. The split second that Bryan was blinded by agony and rage was all she needed to grab a fistful of his thick hair and slam his head into what was likely a stanchion pipe jutting out from the wall.
The chain clanked again as Bryan went limp.
Sarah heaved a sigh of relief and crawled over him, caressing his hair gently for a moment before examining where the chain was affixed to the wall. Now what? There certainly wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of time to mess around.
Remembering the submerged pipes that had shifted under her feet while she was crossing, Sarah grimaced and slipped back into the frigid water, questing with her boots until she found a pipe that moved freely. Pulling it out of the slime, she waded back to the platform and wedged it between the pipe Bryan was chained to and the wall. Adrenaline lent her strength as she heaved, and the pipe holding the chain finally broke. Sliding the chain off, she knelt beside Bryan, but he showed no signs of stirring. Starvation and continued abuse had drained his resources, and Sarah was sure he was down for the count. Which might be good if he was going to keep fighting her, but it meant a long, slow haul back to her hotel.
Pulling off her belt, she wound it tightly around his wrists, then ducked under his arms and stood, grunting with the effort of hauling his dead weight. She took a moment to orient herself, spotting the rectangle of light leaking from the lab, then jumped back into the water and set about dragging Bryan’s inert form through the muck.
Slowing down as she approached the far wall, she probed carefully before she took each step until she located the bottom stair. Glad she didn’t have to deal with a conscious Bryan but sorry he couldn’t climb the stairs himself, she hauled him step by agonizing step up into the lab. Her muscles burned with exhaustion by the time she reached the top, and she lowered her burden gratefully to the floor.
She knew she needed to get moving before they discovered her, but for the moment, all she could do was lean against the wall and pant. She had just caught her breath and was almost ready to move when the buzz washed over her. Silently cursing the fact she’d left the lab door open, she drew her longsword and prepared to defend herself. When Kronos and Mac burst through the doorway, however, they were oblivious to everything except each other.
Sarah watched them battle between the cages of screeching monkeys until Kronos dove into momentary hiding behind a wall. While he rested, Kronos taunted Mac with the knowledge that he’d sent Methos to kill Cassandra. Sarah froze, but Mac didn’t even hesitate--when Kronos reappeared, he attacked with a vengeance.
She thought they’d actually fight their way back out of the lab without even seeing her, but just as they reached the doorway, Bryan whimpered. Both men paused to glance in her direction, taking in her disheveled condition and the defiant way she guarded the wreck of a man lying at her feet.
Freed from the need to pose, Sarah glared at Kronos, her hatred an almost palpable force. She reveled in the look of sudden understanding that came into his eyes as he realized that she’d lied to him, and she laughed. A low, chilling laugh that made Kronos’ anger flare even brighter. She knew she was a dead woman if Mac didn’t win, but she no longer cared. Instead, she squared her shoulders and met Kronos’ rage with grim determination.
Kronos snarled, but Mac shifted his stance and reclaimed the Horseman’s attention. "I can wait!" Kronos called back to her as he and Mac moved their battle back into the corridor and down the hall.
Fighting to keep from trembling, Sarah waited until the sounds of the fight faded away before she hoisted Bryan back on her shoulders and walked out of the lab. Mac will win, she tried to reassure herself.
The sound of swordplay echoed eerily in the dim hallways, and she paused, trying to locate its source. Unfortunately for her escape plans, she had a feeling Mac and Kronos were between her and the main door. She considered finding one of the other doors in the maze of dark corridors, but she knew it would take too much of her already-depleted strength.
Silas...he was the wildcard. Kronos was clearly busy, and even now she couldn’t imagine Methos attacking her. Silas might, if he didn’t get involved in Kronos’ fight with Mac. Glancing around again, she shrugged slightly under her burden. Considering what she’d already done, sneaking past one distracted immortal seemed like child’s play. And if it wasn’t, well, she’d deal with it.
The sounds of the battle increased exponentially as she walked, and, for a moment, she thought she heard two battles going on, one slightly out of synch with the other. Hurrying now, she had just reached the corridor that ran along one of the sub bays when silence descended on the base in that bone chilling way it always did moments before a Quickening. The usual odor of ozone filled the air just before all hell broke loose. Sparks rained from the ceiling, lightning arced along the walls, and huge gouts of flame shot out from the walls. Explosions seemed to rock the very foundations of the base, and a dank wind swept through the corridors. She was afraid the noise would wake Bryan, but he simply whimpered once more and stayed still.
Knowing it was the best cover she was likely to get, Sarah headed into heart of the chaos. She skidded to a stop when she saw a very familiar figure lost in the throes of a Quickening as he stood on the sunken walkway crossing the bay and joining her corridor with its mate on the other side. Through the opposite archway and up on a balcony, a second figure was also struggling against the power that lashed at him. With the smoke and the irregular lighting, Sarah couldn’t quite make out if that figure was Mac, but she could clearly see Silas’ body lying next to Methos.
Stunned, she watched as the power seemed to arc between Methos and the other man, spiraling in a way she’d never witnessed before. Breathless, she watched as the other man turned slightly, his black trench coat and loose hair billowing in the unnatural breeze. Mac! she realized instantly. It has to be Mac.
As the Quickening released Methos and he dropped to his hands and knees, a scuffling drew her attention to the far wall. She watched impassively as Cassandra hurried down the stairs to Methos’ walkway and grabbed Silas’ axe.
"I killed Silas!" Methos wailed, apparently unaware of Cassandra’s presence. "I liked Silas!"
Giving herself a small shake, Sarah settled Bryan’s body back on her shoulder and continued down the corridor. Either way it went, she reasoned, it was between them. Not her business.
"Now I’m supposed to forgive you?" Cassandra’s voice followed Sarah down the hall, and she shuddered. Those had been her own words not long ago. Breaking into a run, she fled back to her car with the half-crazed warrior who might decide that he still hated her when he finally woke up. No matter how bad Bryan was, she knew, it would still be easier to deal with than facing Methos again. Even if he stayed away for 2,000 years.
When Bryan finally regained consciousness, he found himself naked and filthy, his hands bound behind him. He was tied to something--just what he wasn’t sure. But this wasn’t any place Caspian or Kronos had ever been. The room was bright and airy with a plush beige carpet beneath him. He scanned the area, turning his head slowly in an attempt to avoid the dull throbbing at the base of his skull, and saw a familiar sword propped against an elegantly carved mahogany nightstand. There was an equally familiar and rather elegant arm dangling over the edge of the bed--long fingers half curled around the blade.
He followed the edge of the light green comforter down the length of the bed and came to a bare calf and toes. Sarie.
An involuntary whimper escaped his lips and instantly she was awake and crouching on the floor, longsword in hand.
Her expression was hard--obviously expecting trouble--but it faded rapidly and was replaced by a soft frown. That didn’t matter, though. What mattered was the shock of memory that raced through his brain and shot into his gut with the same lancing pain that her knife had.
God, Sarie had done that to him.
He tucked both knees to his chest and curled into a ball as best he could, trembling with both memory and fear.
Sarah tossed the sword aside and scrambled over to him, instinctively moving to engulf him in an embrace. Her stomach dropped and her heart broke nearly in two when he flinched at her touch. She swallowed it, though, and set both the pain and her shame aside. Right now he was more important.
"Benito?" She asked softly. "It’s okay. I won’t hurt you. I only tied your hands because you tried to kill me."
He made no response.
Sarah glanced at her longsword, then kicked it under the bed just in case. "Look, I’m going to untie you now, okay?"
Those words brought some hope, but Bryan had spent too much time being toyed with lately to allow himself the luxury of feeling it. Caspian had untied him only to facilitate the beatings and humiliation. Kronos had untied him so that Sarah could plunge a knife into his gut.
Sarah drew a deep breath, trying to figure out what he was thinking, then decided that whatever he might have planned was worth the risk. She unbound his wrists, tossed the belt aside, and moved back toward the bed to wait. After nearly two minutes of no response whatsoever, she spoke.
Bryan looked up.
She nodded, moving toward him slowly. "It’s over. Really."
He spent a moment digesting that fact. Over? After all this time?
Sarah stopped about arm’s length away from him and extended her left hand hesitantly, clearly telegraphing a question. In response, he bit his lip and uncurled slightly with a barely perceptible nod. Even now, he couldn’t find it in his soul to mistrust her.
Her face was flooded with a smile of relief and she took his hand, squeezing gently. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry."
He opened his mouth to speak, but found his throat too dry to get anything out and settled instead for wrapping both arms around her and burying his face in her neck. There were a thousand questions and his brain was a swirling misery of horrific images, but somehow, the smell of her skin and the warmth of her body brought great comfort.
Sarah let him cling to her for several minutes, rubbing his back and trying desperately not to burst into tears. Finally, she wrestled her emotions under control and ran a hand up into his hair.
"Let’s get you cleaned up some...and then fed. Then you can crawl into bed and sleep for as long as you like. How’s a nice, hot bath sound?"
Frankly, it sounded like it would take more energy than he had, but Bryan nodded against her neck, suddenly aware of the fact that her skin was a thousand times cleaner than his own.
"Okay, c’mon," she helped him to his feet and steered for the bathroom. "Sit here. Are you thirsty?"
Water. He nodded.
Sarah smiled and filled him a glass, which he gulped greedily while she started the tub running.
"More?" he croaked.
Her grin lit up the room. "You bet. But go slowly or you’ll make yourself throw up."
Bryan nodded again and took the second glass, gulping it as well. He watched her turn off the tap and test the water with a toe, then he tried to stand--succeeding only in crashing forward toward the counter.
"Whoa," Sarah was there instantly, catching him with her own body and struggling to right him once more. "Slow down. You’re weak, honey. Let me drive for a change."
She guided him into the sunken tub and sat him down, then pulled off her T-shirt and underwear before sinking in next to him.
"Here," she closed his fingers around another glass, "small sips."
For once in her memory, Bryan obeyed without question and sipped at the water while she gently scrubbed away layers of grime and filth. It took nearly an hour and three tubs worth of piping hot water before his skin was clean again, but her touch was healing and she talked to him in a murmured singsong of Italian the entire time. He stopped trying to participate in the conversation once he realized that it was merely a retelling of their journey from Scotland to Tuscany and simply listened, letting the combination of her voice and touch wash over him.
"Okay, I’d say you’re cleaner that you’ve ever been," Sarah said at last. "Let’s get you to the bed, shall we? Do you want me to call room service now? Or do you want to sleep first?"
He let her guide him out of the tub and rub him almost completely dry before answering. "Food, please."
"This we can do." She wrapped him in a luxurious terry robe and belted it before drying herself quickly and pulling on one of her own. "Come on...to the bed, Benito."
Once Sarah had tucked him comfortably into the huge bed, she sat down next to him and picked up the phone, speaking in a torrent of French before replacing the receiver.
"Okay, they’re sending up a roast chicken with all the trimmings and a bottle of whatever the French pass off as Gatorade. We will eat, you will drink it all down to the last drop, and then we will sleep for five hundred years between those satin sheets, yes?"
He nodded and hooked an arm around her waist, intending to pull her into his lap. "You...how did you..."
Sarah put her finger to his lips and silenced him. "It doesn’t matter. Just rest."
Seacouver. Two weeks later. "So...wait..." Richie said, stashing the helmet he had loaned JL on the seat of his bike and tucking his own next to it. "Methos was this really bad guy who killed lots of people. And Bryan was kidnapped by one of Methos’ friends way back in..."
"316," JL supplied.
Richie nodded. "Right. So Bryan decided to go try to kill..."
"Caspian," he nodded again and flashed her a grin. "But he got caught and you called Sarah."
JL nodded and motioned for him to precede her on the stairs to the porch of the house Sarah’s apartment was in. "Right."
"Okay. So, meanwhile, Mac was trying to kill this other guy--Kronos--and he may or may not have wanted to kill Methos too. And Sarah was there trying to get Bryan out," Richie paused in thought while he held open the door for her. "And now..."
"Now..." JL shrugged. "I have no idea what is going on. Jim’s a mess--when he saw Bryan, he freaked out and literally bolted out the door like a bat out of hell. Bry’s close to cracking, and I haven’t seen Sarah since she came back. I’m hoping that she’ll be able to help me figure things out."
"Where’s Methos?" Richie asked, heading for the stairs.
"And Mac is still in France?"
"As far as I know, yeah."
Richie paused on the landing just below the final set of stairs to Sarah’s top-floor apartment and scratched his head. "This is what I get for trying to find myself. I go away for a while and all hell breaks loose."
JL opened her mouth to shoot back a witty reply, but her words were drowned out by the sound of a loud crash followed shortly by Sarah’s voice carrying clearly through the door.
JL raised both eyebrows at Richie, who nodded in return. They took the remaining stairs two at a time and stationed themselves on either side of the doorway, hoping to figure out what was going on inside.
"That’s Bryan," JL whispered, drawing her ear away from the door. "And he’s not happy."
Richie leaned in to hear as well.
"Sarie, what am I supposed to do?" Bryan asked in a tone that bordered between anger and desperation.
"I don’t care what you do," Sarah snarled. "Just do it somewhere else. This is all your fault, you selfish bastard, and I think Jim was right to get the hell out of your life before you destroyed him too."
Both JL and Richie jumped back from the doorway as another loud crash sounded against the oak.
Before they could recover, the door was ripped open and Bryan stalked by, practically oblivious to their presence. JL followed him wordlessly and Richie ducked into Sarah’s apartment with a loud announcement of his identity.
JL knew Bryan was extremely upset, and she was tempted to just let him leave without speaking. Every survival instinct she had was telling her that he didn’t want to talk to anyone, but he’d asked her to call the airlines and it was important. As he was about to walk down the porch steps, she cleared her throat nervously and flinched away when he whirled on her with clenched fists.
When Bryan saw it was JL, he forced his hands to unclench and crossed his arms over his chest. "What?" Swallowing noisily, JL tried to remember what she’d wanted to say. Bryan’s expression softened as her fear registered, and he mustered a small smile. "I’m sorry, JL. What is it?"
"I talked to the airlines, and Jim booked a flight to Paris--he leaves in half an hour."
"Paris? He hates Paris."
"Maybe he won’t go. Or maybe it’s a ruse."
Bryan leaned wearily against the porch railing and shook his head. "More likely it was the first flight out of the country. He...really doesn’t want anything to do with me right now."
"Why? I just don’t understand any of this."
"It’s complicated, JL, and I don’t have time to explain it. Later, okay?"
JL was about to protest that it was always ‘later’ with him these days, but footsteps sounded on the stairs behind her. "Here comes Richie," she said.
Bryan looked up wearily and heaved a sigh. "I don’t really have the patience for this right now, can you..."
"What in the hell did you do to her?" Richie demanded.
Bryan sighed again. "Richie...not now, please."
"Not now my ass," Richie answered, coming to a stop at a place that JL recognized as being dangerously close to Bryan in his present state of mind. "Sarah is up there shaking and it’s because of you."
JL moved behind Bryan, trying to catch Richie’s attention, but failed.
"It is not because of me," Bryan said flatly, clenching both fists in an effort to restrain his temper.
"Bullshit. This wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t gotten yourself captured. Whatever she did to get you out--whatever happened to her in there is your fault."
JL made a grab for Bryan’s arm but missed, and Richie staggered backwards from the force of the blow to his chin. There was a moment of pure silence while the younger man wiped his chin and examined his bloody fingers and Bryan drew in a very deep breath.
Then all hell broke loose.
Without a word, Richie launched himself at Bryan and they crashed backwards down the porch stairs in a tumbling heap of arms and legs. For an instant, it looked like Richie had the advantage. The tables turned quickly, though; within two heartbeats, Bryan seized control of the fight and was busily pounding the young immortal into oblivion.
JL fingered the handle of her Glock, wondering how much attention she would attract by popping a bullet into one or both of them in this quiet neighborhood. Too much, for certain. It would have to be a last resort.
Meanwhile, Richie was in desperate need of some intervention. The problem was, JL knew that she was too small and unskilled to be anything more than a minor annoyance to Bryan in this state of mind. She couldn’t even be sure of getting close enough to crack Bryan over the head with her gun--too many times she’d seen him sense someone coming up behind him even when he seemed completely oblivious.
What she needed was...upstairs in the third floor apartment. She turned toward the doorway, but Sarah was already striding across the porch wearing an expression of pure fury that sent a wave of ice running through JL’s stomach.
Before she could say a word, Sarah delivered a well-aimed punch to Bryan’s left kidney, following through with a kick to his ribs that was hard enough to knock him off Richie and onto the ground. She shoved him onto his stomach and straddled him, using her legs to pinion his arms to his sides.
"If you ever touch him again, I’ll kill you," she said.
JL gasped. That was no idle threat.
Bryan heard Sarah through a startled haze of pain. He tried to twist his body violently in the hopes of throwing her off balance, but she wrapped her hands around his throat and squeezed until he went limp.
He was only vaguely aware of the fact that she left him lying there and moved to help JL get Richie into the house. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, he thought muzzily, fighting for every breath. She’s supposed to apologize and rub my back until I can breathe again. Even the few times that she had been angry enough to cause real damage, she always came around at the sight of him moaning in a heap. And she’d most certainly never seriously threatened to kill him before.
He lay there on the cold ground for close to ten minutes while his breath returned and his body began to heal. She’d come back. She’d come down with a blanket and some soup, maybe, and she’d wrap her body around him and hold him until the pain went away. Sarie always did that.
As the buzz washed over him and footsteps echoed on the porch steps, he smiled to himself. She was coming back and everything would be all right. They’d talk a little then go after Jim together. She’d find a way to get his thick-headed lover to listen to him--she had to, as he certainly couldn’t. But the hand that squeezed his shoulder didn’t feel like Sarie’s.
Bryan choked back a sob as JL’s voice confirmed his fears. He felt her draw back and he waited another moment before rolling carefully onto his back and getting to his feet with a sharp gasp of pain. That kick must have broken ribs.
Staring past JL back at the house, Bryan winced as he tried to move. How could she do this? How could she turn him away when he needed her help? Jim was falling apart. Methos was...well, he didn’t want to think about Methos. His whole damn world was collapsing and Sarie had just threatened to kill him wearing that expression that he’d only seen on her face in the middle of challenges.
He needed to talk to her.
JL held up a restraining hand as he started for the stairs. "This isn’t a good time, Bry," she said softly. "Richie probably hasn’t even healed yet."
Bryan stopped and closed his eyes, then heaved a painful sigh and nodded slowly. She was too angry to talk right now, and he had to go find Jim before his lover got himself killed. "You’re right, JL," he finally replied. "We’ll work this all out later. I hope."
"Don’t worry. It will be fine," he assured her with far more confidence than he felt. Limping to his car, he opened the door and hesitated. "JL? Do me a favor and tell Richie I’m sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have done that."
"Do you want me to tell Sarah anything?"
Glancing up at Sarah’s window, Bryan shook his head. "No. This is between us--you should stay well out of it. As you can see, she’s not in the mood to discuss anything about me right now."
"Will I ever understand this?"
Bryan smiled ruefully. "If I ever figure it out, I promise to fill you in."
JL watched him drive off and shook her head. "I should live that long," she muttered as she turned back towards Sarah’s apartment.
+=+=+=+=+=+=+ Continued in In Fire Restored +=+=+=+=+=+=+