Alexandria, VA -- early morning, October 29
Starlight and moonlight left the room visible to night-adjusted eyes if any had been open. The barely cracked window let in the night's chill as well as the soft rush of tires over asphalt that never entirely ceased so close to Washington, D.C. Layered quilts over flannel sheets made the bed a haven of warmth and comfort.
Unfortunately the phone rang sometime after midnight.
He woke enough to grab the receiver before the second ring and snapped, "McCormick."
"I do hope you're awake." Marcus gave him a scant second to wake up properly before switching to Latin. "I need you in the Hibernian capitol as soon as you can get here. A flight leaves your city in four hours."
Matthew lay there, mind racing and body trying to catch up. It took him a moment to translate the Latin, but his thoughts shifted to the language easily enough after that. "Marcus, do you realize what time it is here? And that I already have a job?"
"I realize, yes. I've also read today's London Times. The Scottish police have retrieved a mummified body found in the Scottish Highlands, wrapped in a tartan pattern they can't identify. The body was wearing sixteenth century clothing with fourteenth century European jewelry and fifth century old era Egyptian amulets." Marcus gave the implications of that a bare moment to begin surfacing before he added, "And the cause of death was obvious: Decapitation."
Matthew didn't need foresight to see his chance of a night's sleep vanishing. "They found Ramirez. Why do you need me, Marcus? You knew him better than I did, and you've students and students of students on your side of the sea already."
"Ceirdwyn's gone walkabout in Australia, Alexis has two banks on the ropes in Geneva, and Tonio hasn't returned from chasing a headhunter into the Basque Mountains last week. Call my cell when you get in. I'll have rooms and supplies for us."
Matthew counted to ten in Latin, French, and, for good measure, Cherokee before he said, "I know where your students and my teacher's other student are, thank you. What I don't know is why I should go to Scotland."
"I need help stealing the body back, of course. Get moving." Marcus hung up.
Matthew hung the phone up and lay back, arm falling over his face in a vain attempt to shield him from the headache that was ought to descend any moment now.
He finally growled, "Romans." The word should have scorched the plaster from the ceiling. Since it didn't, he swung out of bed, mind already moving to flights, an emergency call to work, what to pack, what had to be done before he left. All of an hour old or not, it was not shaping up to be a good morning.
- = - = - = - = -
Somewhere over the Atlantic -- mid-day, October 29
Amanda squirmed into a more comfortable position in the airplane seat, a feat that had grown more difficult over the last decade or two. Once settled, she tapped the paper in front of them with a perfectly shaped nail. She continued their argument in medieval Latin, "We'll need a body bag."
Connor nodded, his eyes hooded by speculation rather than weariness. Even for him, he looked scruffy and disreputable. Not as bad as he had during the second world war, but he needed to shave before they landed at the very least. Two days of stubble and that look of plans being constantly reviewed and revised was enough to let any customs agent see past his antiques merchant façade. "We'll need some way to get him out quickly, yes. Can you ransack the labs for any of his belongings while I get him into the bag?"
Amanda couldn't restrain the skeptical lift of an eyebrow at Connor's continued use of 'him' rather than 'the body' or 'the mummy'... then suppressed a wince as she finally looked at the situation from his point of view. "Yes, of course I'll manage. I wouldn't leave any of Rebecca's belongings to them, either."
"No, you wouldn't." Connor's mouth quirked upward in a there and gone again grin. "Nor the old goat's. Interesting times with him, hmm? We'll hold another wake for him after we bury him again."
Amanda smiled despite knowing her voice had given her away somewhere. "Rebecca and I traveled with him a few times. He always could get us into and out of trouble, but Ramirez was always such fun. How in the world did anyone find the body, Connor? I don't care how young you must have been; I won't believe you didn't dig the grave deep enough."
Connor shrugged and sat back from considering the article again, but his shoulders were still too tight. As far as Amanda could tell, he hadn't really relaxed since he'd started packing to catch the first flight out. "I don't know. My solicitor's message only had the gist of it. Gavin said a hiker found a body and by the time Gavin heard anything about it being on my property, the body was already in the hands of the Edinburgh Museum labs and word had already leaked to the press. I'll have to decide what to tell him about the matter. I'm not pressing charges to retrieve the old goat, that's sure. Why risk losing a court case?"
"Why risk it when I'll help you steal him free, you mean." Amanda smiled at Connor, oddly pleased that he had asked her to come and help. It might simply have been the effect of spending eight hours together at a Monty Python film fest, or her presence at his shoulder when his assistant had called to relay the message, but she was there and could do one last thing for Ramirez as she hadn't been able to for Rebecca.
Amanda pushed that thought away again. "Now aren't you glad I wanted you to come to the movies yesterday?"
Connor grinned at her, distracted and amused as Amanda had intended. "Aren't you glad to have me along to help you, don't you mean? You'd have stolen Ramirez back yourself when you heard."
"Me?" Amanda pressed her hand to her chest, dark eyelashes fluttering in pretended shock. "Would I do such a thing?"
"Of course you would." Connor scribbled notes to himself down the margins of the paper; Amanda had no idea what they meant and he'd failed to hear any of her questions on that subject. "How much do we need to steal besides the body, d'you think?"
Amanda smiled at him. "Are you sure we couldn't have a mad and profitable fling for a decade or two, Connor? I thought I'd have to argue with you about this."
"I'd rather not be the first or third to blame for this, under any of my names. We'll need to make this look like a robbery with more than one motive," Connor said mildly.
"You have the sweetest ways of never quite saying no...." Amanda sighed melodramatically, then shifted back to business as briskly as he had. "All right. No silver or weaponry, since you sell both. Hmm. We'll be short on time if we have to ransack the labs. There won't be time to properly pack porcelain or glassware, but jewelry is always a good risk, and some of the enamels should travel well. I'll sort something out before we land, Connor. Trust me."
Connor chuckled and stood up, digging in the overhead for his bag -- and his toiletries kit, Amanda hoped. "On this? Of course I will, Amanda. That's why I asked a professional for help."
- = - = - = - = -
Edinburgh -- mid-day, October 30
The equipment lay in orderly rows of matte silver, dulled black, and dark grey on the hotel-bland bedspread. Cory Raines was whistling as he worked, checking connections, strength, ease of release. "Never thought I'd see the day you called me for help, Ryan, much less help with a job." Cory's hair was combed neatly back but he still gave off the air of a cat with all whiskers extended and tail lashing, ready to spring. He looked more feline than usual, actually, with those green eyes hidden behind the sunglasses he'd just pulled on.
Rich repressed another sarcastic comment -- number sixty-six since breakfast unless he'd lost count, and at least the oatmeal had been something familiar. Roasted tomatoes hadn't been his idea of breakfast, and he had no idea what the black stuff had been, but not even on the streets had he ever... well, okay, maybe he'd have tried it on some of the really bad days, but not today. "Are you going to be able to see anything from behind those sunglasses, Cory?"
"Of course," Cory answered, all injured innocence behind that pretty-boy face. "Better than that, I'll be able to see every laser beam in the building. Come on, Ryan, you're the one who's been out of the business a few years, not me."
"Yeah, well, some of us can find other ways to make money." Richie zipped his own bag shut. "How did you get some of this?"
Cory didn't stop, but he pointed out, "Hey, you wanted help. Don't give me grief just because I have the equipment to help."
Rich bit back a few comments, and for good measure stomped on his own nerves. Cory had a point, damn it. "Yeah. Fair enough. Sorry." The last word didn't choke him, either. Rich checked the time. "Three hours until the museum closes--"
"--and three hours after that before we go in. Four would be better." Cory was more patient than Rich had expected, given the way they rubbed each other wrong. "Come on, Ryan. We're going to seal all of this up and go for a walk. You're going stir-crazy in here."
There Rich had to agree, much as it grated on him to agree with Cory about anything, much less two points in two minutes. "Yeah," he finally admitted. "You're right. I'm winding too tight."
Cory nodded, spinning his hat along his arm, into his hand, and onto his head with a perfectly executed, overly-theatrical gesture that belonged on a movie screen, not in a sublet flat in Edinburgh. From anyone else it would have looked completely stupid. From Cory, it was just his style. It almost made Rich wish he could dance through rain puddles, or up walls, or do something equally dramatic. It also made him begin to understand how Mac had ended up helping with those bank robberies back when.
"Yeah, you are." Cory's eyes were hidden behind those glasses, his expression amused and remote, but his voice was almost sympathetic as he said, "We don't need your hands trembling tonight and I'd guess the usual distractions aren't an option."
Rich glanced over in time to see the small, reminiscing smile vanish off Cory's face again, and he reassessed, again, what he knew about Duncan, and how Cory and Amanda might have gotten him to agree to stick around for a five month robbery spree. What he said, however, was, "I don't even want to know what they are -- not your options, Amanda's, or Mac's, okay?" Cory laughed. "And quit calling me Ryan. If you're going to use a last name, my papers say Kelly. Otherwise, you could try Rich."
Cory laughed again but it was almost friendly, no longer as cocky. "Smart man. Richie was going to follow you for centuries at that rate, and you look too damn young anyway." He tossed over the second key card for the room. "Come on. A long walk, food, maybe a pint and a friendly game of darts, depending on the time. You know the type of routine: calm down, get a feel for the neighborhood, start fitting in."
Rich sighed, forced himself to relax (again), and zipped up his own bag of rope, flashlight, and other odds and ends before stowing them both in the bottom of the wardrobe. "Yeah. Thanks, Cory."
Cory shrugged. "De nada. Even if they run every test they can think of, they shouldn't find anything, but screw that. The alchemist would've loved being a nine days' wonder, but he deserves better than to end up a scientific study. Ramirez brewed the second-finest beer I ever got my hands on, and had as much fun at parties as I did."
Rich pulled on the black leather jacket that, with his slacks, made him nearly invisible in half of Europe. "I never met Ramirez. Connor said he was the only person as much fun as Kastagir." He grinned suddenly, remembered and anticipated mischief mingling with adrenaline finally. "Connor said he explain that to me when I was older, too."
Cory grinned, a wide wicked flash of white teeth and pink lips. "Oh, yeah. Ramirez and Kastagir had good times around the Mediterranean for a few years. I never heard either of them traveled with Fitz, but they'd have all gotten along just fine. For that matter, Connor's not nearly as respectable as that shop makes him look."
"So what counts as good times, chasing women and getting blitzed?"
"That too," Cory said lazily, waiting for Rich to decide he hasn't forgotten anything essential with a resigned patience that made Rich wonder whose nerves he'd waited out before. "But Ramirez was a wizard with metals and Kastagir makes blades worth their weight in gold. Every now and then, one of their experiments would feel like an extra arm I never knew I'd been missing. They made the beauty I still carry."
Rich slung the bag over his shoulders and stuffed his hands in his pockets, feeling for his room key before they left just to make sure he had it. "Makes? Mac always said Kastagir was dead."
Cory grinned and headed out. "Mistaken identity. Dead black guy reported beheaded when Kastagir was in town, and then the old bastard didn't turn back up for years. We don't know who lost his head but it turns out Kastagir'd been holed up in Algiers training a student." Cory's grin widened, turned salacious. "For all that laidback air of his, Kastagir's student's a lot of fun."
Rich groaned and followed him. "I don't want to hear it, Cory."
Cory just smiled. "Afraid Manda'll tell you the other side of it?" He adjusted his hat to a better angle, not checking to see if Rich was following, or that the door was locked, the questionable equipment tucked away. Annoying as hell, but an unexpected compliment, too, as if Cory knew Rich could keep his act together. He was treating Rich as… another adult. Younger, but adult. It was surprising and flattering.
Rather than screw up this new reputation, Rich glanced over the room as they went, twitched the curtains that half inch tighter, listened for the click of the door lock engaging, and wondered, again, where Amanda was that he hadn't been able to find her to help with this, and for that matter, where Duncan had vanished to. Hell, where was Connor? He was the one who'd drummed into Rich's head the importance of keeping up with the daily news; he had to know about this!
As long as Rich was wondering about questions he couldn't answer, had Cory really gotten both Amanda and Mac into bed, the way those cracks about Kastagir's student suggested?
Rich winced at that thought and hurried after Cory. The breeze blew away his memory of Amanda's perfume after a moment, but it took a little longer to forget the way she'd brushed against him the last time she'd needed information. Following Cory wasn't helping him not think about Cory and Mac -- or anyone and Cory, come to that. Rich forced his mind onto their surroundings and made an early new year's resolution: He was never, ever telling anyone he'd been staring at Cory Raine's ass.
- = - = - = - = -
Edinburgh, overlooking the Edinburgh Museum -- evening, October 30
He lay prone on the slate roof, protected from the cold stone and colder air by a coat that was much warmer than it looked. Dark grey coat, dark green gloves, dark blue jeans, black hat over sandy blond hair -- Kenny had bought his clothes specifically for this job, but he'd taken the money back from the guy's corpse after the binoculars had been added as 'an extra present for a good boy.' The machete and the guns he'd had to steal.
Kenny scanned Lothian Street from Bristo Place to Brighton then back again, slowly. He was watching for anything that caught his eyes: too casual motions or too furtive, extra constables on rounds or 'couples' whose proximity to each other didn't mesh with their body languages towards each other. Anyone or anything who didn't belong here at this time, although that would really be saying something; the museum's main entrance lay on the Royal Mile, but the back of the building was encircled by a church and theater to the west end of the arc, and college grounds to the east. This was the second night he'd been watching for immortals, however, and he was starting to get a feel for who did and didn't belong here at midnight.
The museum was undergoing extensive renovations, so there were building supplies piled at the back and machinery in among it. Workmen had come and gone during the day, but he hadn't been able to watch continuously. Yet another time when looking twelve was a fucking pain in the ass.
Kenny shoved that back down to its perpetual, seething simmer and went back to watching. He had a really good idea about whose remains were lying on an examination table in there and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bastard. He wasn't about to 'rescue' it. Kenny was much more interested in seeing who came to steal the body.
Someone would. It might be an old friend wanting to rebury him properly, someone worried about what science might find in the remains, or an old enemy who wanted to hack the corpse apart and piss on it. Kenny didn't really care why as long as he got a quickening or two out of it.
The click of a pebble bouncing on pavement made him turn in time to see two men walk down the alley that led to the museum loading dock. Kenny didn't recognize the man in back, but he sure as hell remembered the Roman bastard in the lead. Kenny patted his coat pocket to be sure he had the silencer and the extra clip, then slid down from his perch and started working his way down to the street and the museum doors.
He could care less why fucking Marcus more-moral-than-thou Constantine wanted the Egyptian's body. All Kenny wanted was a chance to shoot an old enemy while his hands were full.
- = - = - = - = -
Inside the museum
Amanda wrapped the last enamel tenderly in tarnish-resistant cloth and rolled the lot into a compact bundle. She stuffed it into her backpack, slung it on and absently adjusted the pack to hang at the best angle while she checked her watch. "Two minutes ahead of schedule. Ready?"
Connor nodded and carefully replaced the glass panel on the case. He'd already placed two cards where the enamels had been, both reading 'Removed for conservation.' He and Amanda had taken the time to steal them from the silver exhibit one flight down on the other side. "Ready. Sure you don't want me to carry those?"
"I won't get distracted," Amanda pouted at him, then froze. The immortal presence that had brushed her withdrew as abruptly as it had appeared. Beside her, Connor had also gone still. Amanda looked over and murmured, "I didn't invite anyone. Did you forget to mention assistants?"
Connor shook his head and came up to his feet in one smooth motion, katana appearing from beneath his coat. Almost as silently as Amanda could manage, he said, "I'll take the lead. We're still getting his body and getting out. If there's a challenge or a quickening, leave the fools to me. Just get Ramirez and go. Clear?"
"I'm the better thief," Amanda agreed softly. "I'll stay behind you. Keep to the wall as much as you can, and be careful. I'll call Rachel if we have to split up." She moved ahead to deactivate the hall sensors, then waved him forward. She paused only long enough to reactivate the alarm in the enamels gallery -- why not disconcert the museum more thoroughly? -- and followed a few seconds behind Connor.
Connor prowled down the gallery, silent as a cat on a carpet and more dangerous than any cheetah Amanda had ever hunted with. Later, when she didn't need to keep her mind on business, she was going to remember this fondly and find some good-looking boy to jump in a club, or just outside it. But that would be later. Right now, she pulled up a shield of cold professionalism and set it between her and the doubled adrenaline of a possible challenge during a major job. She could lust later, when she wasn't worrying about the immortal thieves who might be here to combine a profitable museum theft with the potentially more profitable ransom of Ramirez' body to the highest bidder.
Of course, if Ramirez hadn't been a friend, Amanda might have… well, all right, no. Some things were just too tacky to contemplate. Rebecca's ghost would have haunted her for that.
Amanda was watching the side doors to the galleries when presence poured over her again. Connor had felt it already; he'd slowed down to study doorways and ceiling suspiciously. Then he came upright and said conversationally and all too audibly, "This should be good."
- = - = - = - = -
Farther up the street
"Well?" Kastagir's teeth gleamed in the night, the only part of him that did. For this, he'd foregone his usual brilliant colors and dressed in blacks and greys.
Alex Krycek -- or whatever his name was this month; Kastagir didn't care -- put down his rifle. "I was right."
"About what?" Kastagir stood when he did.
"There's already a watcher -- in the spot we picked out this afternoon," Krycek said. He glanced over. "Want me to handle him?"
Kastagir pulled out his binoculars, training them on the rooftop perch they'd expected to use about now. He found the motion beside the window, vanishing inside before he could get a clear glimpse. Whoever was moving was small. Smaller than he'd expected, and a good bit smaller than he liked to see here. "Alex. What, precisely, did you see, since the watcher's gone now?"
Alex eyed him. "Short guy with a silenced pistol and binoculars. A good pistol, and he was looking at the back alley that leads to the delivery dock. He picked up a machete before he left."
Kastagir frowned. "Yes. I take your point." More grimly, he said softly, "A small 'guy', hmm? Any hair visible?"
"Are we going to argue that anyone carrying a gun and machete in a surveillance perch is already in the Game, Kastagir?" Krycek watched his face, nodded almost immediately. "Good. I couldn't see his hair. Who do you think was up there?"
Kastagir waved him towards the museum. "Time to see if you can hack this system, my friend. As to who I'm expecting, years ago I received a letter from a friend in Cartagena, saying that he'd taken in a blond boy of our kind who would always be a boy and needed a very good teacher and a stable life for a while." Kastagir glanced over as they sauntered across the street. "As for the Game? When I wrote back, my letter was returned as undeliverable. Miguel had died two days after he sent his. No one else seemed to know about the 'boy'."
- = - = - = - = -
Inside the museum
Rich came up from his defensive stance when he recognized the dark figure ahead of him, adrenaline warring with relief; the combination kept his blade up and ready. "No wonder I couldn't get in touch with you."
"So you came to steal the peacock for me?" Connor grinned at him, a flash of pleasure over the curve of his blade. Rich found himself grinning too when he realized Connor was proud of him. "Thanks, lad."
Cory moved into the light on the other side of the gallery, hands free of weapons and sunglasses still on as he kept scanning the room for movement. "Want a hand, then? Since we're here?"
"I want to know where you two were three minutes ago." Amanda's voice came from the shadows. "If you didn't came in from George IV Street, we still have a problem."
Cory straightened, all business for once. "Then we've got a problem, gorgeous. Come on. You're better with alarms, but I've got the lasers and IR sighted."
Rich nodded, sheathing his own sword by feel as he checked the far end of the gallery for more visitors. "I'm the one who's out of practice at this. I'll take our six."
Connor shook his head. "No. Priority is the body and everything you can find that came in with it. Get as many of the burial goods as you can, then get out. If we have to split up, call Rachel later to set up a meet point." His voice was grim as he said, "But any troublemakers are my problem."
Amanda moved past them, light soaking into her soft leather catsuit as completely as her boots soaked up the sound of her paces. "Be careful. A quickening would set off the backup alarms. And it couldn't be good for a mummy, either." Cory fell into place at her shoulder with an ease that made Rich think they'd been pulling jobs together recently.
Connor just smiled, tight and unamused, and waved Rich ahead. "I'm always careful."
Cory snorted disbelief at that; Rich heard it over his own, "Oh bullshit," and Amanda's "Hah!" and couldn't help grinning. He suspected Connor was smiling behind them, too.
Amazing how reassuring it was to have a MacLeod at his back.
- = - = - = - = -
Inside the museum archaeology lab
Matthew shoved the last push pin through his scarf and into the door, blacking the view through the door's glass pane, before he turned the light on.
Marcus handed over a body bag from the top of his pack and turned away to the filing cabinets and work stations. "Here. I'll find out what items came in with him."
The assigned tasks made sense; Marcus had been working in a museum for the last twelve years and would have better luck figuring out how the records were organized. Matthew turned his attentions to where the museum staff had enclosed Ramirez' body in plastic sheeting. The machine set up near it had humidity monitors and controls. No surprise. It would look bad if a body that had mummified in Scottish soil fell apart in a museum lab.
The whole thing still struck Matthew as ridiculous, and would probably have amused Ramirez too. A few minutes work opened the plastic and let him ease the body bag under the remains, but that was long enough for Matthew's mind to notice and seize upon a few incongruities. He pressed gently on a forearm, then against the torso, and said quietly, " There's something strange here."
Marcus looked up from a scatter of papers. "More than one something. Make sure his head's in place. And that scrambler of yours had best work."
"It does, but don't use names anyway." Matthew kept probing gently at the body, checking to see if the skull gave, or the abdomen. "Did they find any canopic jars?"
"No." Marcus looked up. "Why?"
"Because mummified is the right term. He's not bog-preserved. That would have left the skin leather and the bones eaten away. He's actually desiccated. The bones are in there, and it feels like the individual organs are dried, too. Withered, maybe, but maybe not, too, given the rest." Matthew pressed again, carefully. "No wonder the museum's being so careful." Matthew smiled, sardonic and admiring. "Leave it to him to be a puzzle even after death."
Matthew turned to see what luck Marcus had had. He was just in time to catch the first items as Marcus started tossing him oddments from the work stations: an amber and garnet rosary, a string of Egyptian amulets probably worth a good-sized fortune by now, a gold and baroque pearl earring, and a pair of sheathed knives. The balance on the knives was beautiful, and Matthew had to make himself tuck them all into the body bag, hoping he could talk Connor into selling them to him later. He didn't have much hope of it, though. He wouldn't have sold Ceirdwyn's last weapons if she died.
They were bundling up the tartan and velvets -- also beautiful and incongruous -- when Matthew felt another immortal approach. He stepped left of the door while Marcus went right -- barely in time. The first bullet ripped through and ricocheted off a filing cabinet.
Matthew leapt onto a work table, from there to the top of storage cabinet, and waited silently to see if the damned fool would venture in. He could see Marcus lying prone on the floor, but he'd been a soldier long enough to make sure to land with a nicely solid desk between himself and the door. He also lay there with one hand wrapped firmly around his sword's hilt.
Matthew's eyes narrowed when he realized the only noises were wood splintering and then the slug ricocheting. Not just a gun, but a professionally-silenced one.
One of the ricochets hit Marcus, slapping him sideways into the cabinet. His hand went white on the sword hilt, but he suppressed any sounds as blood pooled by his hip. Another slug whined past Matthew's skull, close enough he could feel the breeze. He shuddered once, convulsively, and stilled again, growing coldly angry as he began contemplating places he could stuff a gun and ways to fit it into those places.
Yet another immortal approached as the seventh shot tore through the now-empty plastic box. Marcus murmured something about,"--better not be broken."
Matthew whispered, "Could be worse. If he'd hung back with a rifle, we'd have been fish in a barrel." The new immortal was coming fast, and the first presence was fading equally fast; no more bullets ripped through the door.
Someone knocked on the door and Matthew exchanged ironic looks with Marcus before saying, "Come in."
- = - = - = - = -
Inside the museum
Amanda cursed softly, trying to will her electronics into hacking the door code faster although the characters were already a red blur in front of her eyes. Cory was literally guarding her back, watching the corridor in a tense silence she could feel through the fine hairs on the back of her neck.
The new immortal's presence didn't just brush her skin this time, it raced towards her. Someone was running with no attempt to be quiet, and the footsteps were too loud for a thief but somehow not loud enough. Amanda realized who it was just as Kenny darted left for one of the sets of stairs up into the first gallery. Shock held her frozen between an urge to catch him and the job she was doing.
In that momentary immobility, someone else ran after Kenny.
Cory shifted between her and any attack, silent, professional, and visibly dangerous as he so rarely was. So he'd seen the rifle on Kenny's back too. Cory's unvoiced whisper reminded her, "Do the job, gorgeous."
"But--" Four digits now. Almost there.
"But nothing," Rich said just as softly. "That was a mortal chasing him. Forget them both. They're not our problem."
Connor said nothing; when Amanda looked over, the corner's shadows were less dense. The fifth number clicked into place as Amanda cursed softly. "That was Kenny. Connor won't know--"
"Kenny?" Rich knew the name, which Amanda had half-expected. She hadn't expected him to growl, "Of course. He's waiting by the watering hole…"
Cory said flatly, "And that's six. We're in. Not our problem, you two. I saw the guy hunting him. By morning, Kenny won't be anyone's problem. Move it.
Amanda straightened up and pulled out a piece of gum. She popped the gum into her mouth as she folded up the wrapper and inserted it into the doorjamb. "And now Connor can follow us." She apologized to Cory with a moue.
He just nodded. "He doesn't have the equipment. And Kenny's shorter. I know who to shoot."
"Yeah, well, who was chasing him?" Rich asked impatiently, shooing them both through. "Or are we just knocking out anyone who's not us?"
Cory just shook his head. "You won't be knocking that guy out, Rich. Just don't shoot at me and we'll all be fine."
"Don't shoot you?" Rich stared at him, offended. "If I was going to--"
Amanda said impatiently, "We have a job to do, remember? Watch out for Kenny and anyone we're not certain is on our side." Cory flashed her a quick grin and moved ahead, leaving Amanda to consider the job at hand and whether seducing Cory again might get her those lovely glasses. She'd find out later what in the world Alex Krycek was doing here.
- = - = - = - = -
On the museum stairs
Krycek ran up the flight of stairs and came face to face with a samurai in armor. In a museum, it had to be a statue and that meant it was too fucking perfect a hiding space-- He threw himself sideways.
Sure enough, the 'kid' came out from behind the samurai, bringing a pistol around with him. The brat fired twice, barely missing with the first shot and completely missing with the second. Alex brought his own pistol up just as the brat snarled, "Oh fuck," and bolted up the next flight on the left.
Another man, the kid's second target, leapt past Krycek, sword on Krycek's side as if the paranoid bastard thought Krycek might be a threat to him-- Ah. No. His right arm was hanging limp while sparks shot and crackled at the shoulder.
Krycek let him get a few yards ahead and ran after them both.
The injured man wheeled on him, sword up, aware that both Krycek and the kid probably had shots left and willing to argue anyway. "He's mine."
Krycek said flatly, "My employer's one of the fish in this barrel. If we can stop this little shit, I have cable ties for him and then you can take it up with my employer. You two can flip for the bastard for all of me."
"If?" The guy tilted his head, still nothing but a dark figure in the dimly-lit gallery, his face a lighter blur above the last blue sparks from his injury. He shifted minutely again. "Who hired you?"
Now Krycek could see his profile. "Sorry, no names here. But I'll shoot that little bastard for you so you don't have to cheat and I'll even carry him after so my hands are full." Krycek grinned suddenly. "Believe me, that is not the kind of offer I make often. But I know your name and face. The exact comment was, if I piss you off, I lose my access to the boom-boom."
MacLeod laughed then. "Oh, that employer. I'll go first then. Feel free to shoot the little bastard if you get a chance."
"Damn right." Krycek followed MacLeod up the next flight of stairs, watching all around in case the brat tried to sneak down the right flight as they went up the left. They came up to the top gallery level with no sign of him yet. Not even a potshot at them.
The brat had fled ahead of them. Maybe he just knew he couldn't take them if they teamed up, or maybe he'd started to realize that a building full of strange intruders wasn't the place to take a head. Stupid little shit. Kastagir was here with Krycek, and Kastagir had signaled that there was one or more of their kind in the room the kid had been shooting up.
Add in MacLeod here and Cory downstairs and Krycek knew there were at least four swordsmen in the building. From that perch, the brat should have been able to see at least two of them come in. How was the kid going to take a head, absorb the lightning, and still get away intact?
But if he was stupid, how was he still loose? The room was huge with a center atrium with two splash ponds that hadn't splashed yet, and two levels of galleries wrapped around it. An architect had undoubtedly thought that double stairs at each end would help with traffic flow while looking elegant; Krycek suspected security a century ago had thought as well of it as he did, which might explain why the gallery sides were metal rails. Sturdy, painted white to reflect the lights and show people behind them, and you could scan along them fairly easily.
So why couldn't he and MacLeod find a kid in dark clothes? Dim lights or not, he should show up against that white picket rail....
MacLeod waved Krycek left and prowled down the right side of the upper gallery, checking among the display cases and watching the opposite, lower level as he went -- periodically he looked down to the floor, too. The fall wouldn't kill the kid, after all, just slow him down. Krycek took his side of the gallery, glancing over sporadically to see if MacLeod was still up. Once he spotted MacLeod doing the same with him and smiled a little.
The smile faded when they met at the end of the gallery and both shook their heads. MacLeod waved him down to the opposite side of the middle level. Krycek didn't argue; he didn't have immortal senses that could reach for the brat. He was starting to think the kid had snuck past him on the level below, but to do that without showing up from MacLeod's side, he must have been pressed to the outer wall, away from those white rails.
The problem with that was the exhibit cases set at ninety degree angles from those outer walls-- Krycek stopped cold to study the gallery, crouched to make less of a target for the rifle that the kid had been carrying across his back. Across the empty space, MacLeod dropped to one knee and froze, waiting on him. Krycek continued to look the gallery over, listening for motion and coming to several conclusions.
The display cases were two meters tall, give or take, and large portions of them were glass. The kid was maybe a meter and a third; he could get to the top and hide, but it would almost certainly set off motion sensors. And, unless he was back against the outside wall, they'd still be able to see him from up here. He'd have been visible if he'd dropped down to hang from the rails, too, unless he'd swung in and dropped and hidden between cases until they passed. Again, split second timing or they'd have seen him.
The best option Krycek saw was that the kid had used the totem pole as an escape route. It was dark, tall enough to reach partway up to the third floor's railings, large enough to hide behind, and well secured at the base. And it would explain why MacLeod hadn't felt him again yet.
Krycek growled, straightened again and took off again, moving faster now; the kid probably had gone that way but they'd need to finish MacLeod's circuit on that side to be sure of it. He could see MacLeod speeding up too. Either he'd decided to trust a fellow professional -- not fucking likely, Krycek thought -- or he'd seen the same possibility.
Damn. The little bastard might actually know when to run and when to fight. If so, either the kid was going to have to get greedy or Krycek was going to have to hunt him in the city instead of this enclosed building.
- = - = - = - = -
Inside the archaeology lab
It was Kastagir who pushed the door open, looking disgusted. "Of course we came on the same night--" He paused, then, "Ah. No wonder Manuel's 'child' came in hunting. Both of you if he could, then. Can you walk, old friend?"
Marcus pushed up to his feet. "Yes." It was all he said, and the set of his lips and jaw told them both his hip still hurt like hell.
Kastagir moved in and got an arm around his shoulders, not wincing as Marcus' grip tightened around his waist. "Tell me if the bone gives. I can always carry you, although it won't be comfortable." He nodded to Matthew as he took more of Marcus' weight, finding the right balance. "Sassenach. Will the old reprobate fit in one body bag or is there more to carry?"
Matthew zipped the bag shut and slung Ramirez over his left shoulder, the bag slick under latex-gloved fingers. He tightened his grip rather than risk fingerprints now. "We've got everything. Do you want point or six?"
"We'll take point. If the hunter returns, whoever's in his way soaks up any bullets and the survivor kills him." More seriously, Kastagir went on, "The shooter only looks like a child. He's killed at least one friend of mine by treachery. See to it his score doesn't improve, hmm?"
Matthew just nodded. "I hear you, don't worry. Go." He gave Kastagir and Marcus a few seconds to get ahead of him, then followed them, wondering how young this headhunter looked, and if he'd fled out of the building or deeper in. It took a minute longer for Matthew to wonder if they were heading into the building to hunt the boy, or to try a different route out.
It wasn't a shorter route, however, and Matthew and Marcus, at least, hadn't knocked out the night watchmen. If they got caught... he was the one body-snatching. On Halloween eve, come to think of it.
Matthew realized he was grinning madly and wishing Cory was there. Cory will hate that he missed this. I'll have to remember to tell him all about it.
- = - = - = - = -
Inside the museum
Cory didn't bother trying to scan the dimly lit area between the gallery and the 'employees only' sections of the museum. He was watching with his eyes deliberately unfocused instead, more interested in motion then any other ambiguity. Rich was standing guard on Amanda's other side as she muttered darkly in a dialect of French that Rich had never picked up; if he had, he'd be wincing more at some of the suggestions for what the museum workers could do instead of sex. Apparently someone had upgraded the security systems more recently than Amanda'd expected.
She'd gotten through everything so far, she'd manage this just fine. For that matter, the kid wasn't doing too badly. He'd found Cory, for one thing, and he'd grown up enough to put aside the whole motorcycle/car thing to ask for help he needed. And he was doing a nice job for being out of the business: very professional, covering his side of things well enough Cory had quit worrying on the second room. Hell, Rich had spent less time contemplating Amanda's assets in that catsuit than Cory would have at his age.
Connor and Alex hadn't turned back up yet, or Kenny. That had Cory worried, as did the question of how many bullets the little bastard had brought for that rifle, and who he was after. Anyone smart would have decided that four other immortals in a building was too many to try headhunting, but Kenny'd been crazy enough to follow a pair of immortals in. That meant he had no hesitation about killing with bullets and taking a pair of heads in sequence. (No way did he have enough strength to tow a second immortal's body out for later.)
Two heads at these relative ages was too much for Kenny, Cory's age or not. The kid was nuts and had been for a while as far as Cory could guess. Four heads like this... and there'd be a powerful, really fast-healing psychopath loose in Europe.
Crazy was a problem Cory tried not to underestimate, and he was glad, again, that he'd worn Kevlar for this job. Just in case. Pity he hadn't had a spare set in Rich's size, and hadn't thought to bring the one that fit Amanda's lovely lushness.
Something moved at the gallery end of the room and Rich warned, "Company," as they felt immortal presence rake their nerves. Amanda barely tensed, but she did quit muttering about types of livestock the security installer had been fucking.
Cory heard the smack of a bullet hitting flesh, followed by the crack of air filling in the bullet's trail through the air. Beyond Amanda, Rich fell back against the wall, barely managing not to knock into her. He did manage it, though, with one hand pressed hard against his gut. He said, "Gun," and pushed up to stagger in front of Amanda again. Good kid. Mind on the job, just like it was supposed to be.
Cory moved up beside him, both of them covering Amanda again. "I'll get him if he gets this close. Just hold on." Between his Kevlar and a little acting, Cory could convince Kenny a torso shot had dropped him. Right until he got back up too fast even for them....
Rich nodded, but his voice was a little shaky when he said, " I may not be much help. I can't feel it yet."
"You're doing fine. Don't grab me if you drop and we'll still pull this off." Cory gave him a quick grin and nodded as Rich tried to return it. Then he hissed as the door burst open on the far side of the gallery and two figures dove through, one high and the other low. The low one rolled right and red light appeared from his side of the room, tracking across the wall on that end.
Of course, that was when more immortals came into range: more than one, another, another….
"What is this, a convention?" Cory pulled a pistol from his back and handed it over to Rich. "Here. I can still use my blades."
"Murphy's Law doesn't need officers," Amanda muttered as the door behind them clicked open. She tugged Rich over to prop him up against the wall and moved to protect him. Cory gave the door one quick glance, then turned back to watch for Kenny.
God, what a mess the museum workers were going to find tomorrow. Rich was swaying and deathly white with blood pooling around his feet. No wonder Amanda was guarding him now against whoever was behind that door. But Rich was still up and he still had a firm grip on the pistol; Ramirez' line always did have guts, even if sometimes it was for the wrong things.
From the doorway behind him, Cory heard a blessedly known voice rumble, "Well, well, it's a convention." Cory's smile widened to a wolf's grin as Kastagir went on, "Here, old man, prop the youngster up while he heals."
Cory could tell Rich knew Marcus Constantine and didn't mind Constantine bracing him, even if he didn't look a lot better than Ryan did. Constantine nodded to him. "A small 'boy'?"
"Yeah. Kenny's here," Rich said. "And I don't care if security gets his name. The Egyptian's student and some mortal are after him." He waved Cory's gun at the far end of the room.
"I hope like hell that's them over there," Cory said. "If it's not, this has gotten even crazier than I think."
"By all means, let's go find out," Matthew drawled. Cory turned to stare, surprised, and realized Matthew was lowering a body bag to the ground. He grinned, and Matthew returned it, pulling out knives of his own.
Amanda had a gun out too and had already moved into position to protect both of the injured while they healed, or until she got a chance to take Kenny down. "He may hesitate with me. I'll use it when I can." She started to say more but across the long room gunfire rang out again, measured, timed shots that tracked along the wall.
The laser pointer was still on. Alex must be trying to flush Kenny out with it. The first three shots hit wall, but the fourth ripped through cloth into flesh.
Cory could hear the difference and ran to flank Kenny's current location. Alex was a pro, he'd herd Kenny towards the other immortals. Along the edges of his vision Cory saw Matthew running too, angling off to the left to drag out Kenny's reaction time. Someone else was charging forward -- probably Kastagir adding to the wall. They'd make damn sure Kenny couldn't shoot enough of them to live through this.
Fire poured through Cory's leg in a shower of pain he couldn't ignore or run past. Damn. Broken femurs took forever to heal.... Cory felt himself going down and got his knives out in front of him where he wouldn't land on them and Matthew wouldn't step on them. Then the world went dim grey in a spray of arterial red.
- = - = - = - = -
Krycek could see immortals going down like ducks in a shooting gallery, and like those ducks they were already trying to come back up. The little bastard was small but not stupid, and he could aim. He was going for waist-high or lower -- gut wounds, leg wounds, spine, nothing that Kevlar might stop and no head shots that would give him a lightning storm he couldn't afford right now.
The 'kid' had planned on immortals, even more than one, but he hadn't planned on a line of smart, pissed off immortals coming at him that fast in a staggered wave. Cory went down first, but the kid had to haul a heavy rifle far right to get the next closest guy. It took two shots to hit McCormick, and one of the men at the far end of the room was picking off careful, surprisingly close shots -- for that kind of range with a pistol, it was closer than the kid could ignore.
Kastagir was coming in on MacLeod's side. He ran in MacLeod's shadow until MacLeod fell, then Kastagir took a point blank shot in the chest. It hammered him backwards, body armor or no. They weren't letting the brat catch his breath, however; Amanda was coming in from the far side in a crazy tumbling run the brat couldn't ignore or hit.
Krycek knew a fair chance when he saw it.
He sprinted at the little shit down the blind spot Kastagir's stubbornly upright body was giving him. A bullet tore through Amanda's shoulder -- aimed for her torso, not that close to her head, Krycek would bet. The velocity threw her sideways as Krycek slid across the floor like he was stealing a base: feet first through the blood, head and arm up. He took aim and put a bullet squarely into the kid's chest. He gave it one more shot to be sure and watched the little shit fall.
The rifle had just clicked instead of firing again. That figured. When you didn't need luck, you had it.
Krycek rolled up onto his feet, pushing up with the prosthetic instead of the good hand full of pistol. He kicked the kid's rifle aside, then safetied his own gun and shoved it into his waistband. The next step was obvious, to him at least; he snagged a knife someone had dropped and destroyed the kid's shoulder joints, one then the other, before he rolled the corpse onto its face and secured the hands with a cable tie.
He kept cutting, making damn sure there were no weapons down the back of the boy's sweater where he could cut himself loose. He didn't try to blood the kid, but this place was going to be swarming with police the next day so he didn't bother being careful either.
Kastagir appeared at his shoulder, leaning in to check the boy and making damn sure Krycek knew it was him by asking, "Anything?"
"Not yet, but soon," Krycek said. "Where's his pistol? And what do you want to do with him? This isn't the place for your usual endgame."
"We take him out and finish him elsewhere, of course." There was no smile on Kastagir's face or humor in his voice, but Krycek wasn't going to waste time pitying a 'child' who'd made his bed in the Game out of bodies mowed down with not one but two guns. "I have an idea or two."
Krycek raised an eyebrow. "You do. With a mummy on Halloween, you have an idea? Do I get paid extra for playing Igor?"
"Only if you manage the right lurching walk and don't bring me any brains." Kastagir hauled the brat up with contemptuous ease.
It was just as well Krycek had the prisoner secured. Someone tugged him around by the shoulders. He'd already brought the knife up before he realized it was McCormick.
- = - = - = - = -
Amanda looked up from hauling Cory upright with Rich's help in time to see Matthew pin and kiss Alex Krycek. A little too enthusiastically, judging from the fresh blood dripping off Matthew's arm. Amanda shook her head. "He really should know better than to startle someone like that."
Cory focused in, then laughed. "Yeah. He should. Get a room later, you two. Work to do here and now. Let's go." Cory was whistling -- up to mischief as usual. Matthew flipped him off without stepping away from Alex yet; Cory and Amanda both laughed at that.
Rich stared at Alex, back at Cory, looked back at Alex. "No, wait, what? Who the hell is that?"
Cory shrugged and ignored the question. "What, never seen a kiss? Although you know, babe, this makes more sense of some of his comments after that Black Mass."
Amanda's grin flashed at both of them, and she tugged Rich's arm over her shoulder. "It does, doesn't it? Later. So, about the alarms?"
"Those things I turned off?" Marcus asked calmly. He had the body bag over one shoulder and Connor's arm around his waist. His hip had healed, but Connor's legs kept trying to buckle. "That I'll turn back on when we leave?"
"Do you mean I hacked all the door codes for nothing?" Amanda asked indignantly.
"I turned off the alarm, not the locks. Just as well, that." Marcus shrugged.
Connor just chuckled and suggested, "Call it practice."
Kastagir hauled Kenny along in the middle of them, plans turning behind those shrewd old eyes and one large hand wrapped around the boy's throat.
Amanda met Kenny's eyes -- pleading, demanding, adult eyes -- and shook her head deliberately. "Forget it. I warned you the last time we met. Like hell you're 'just a kid.' " And she ignored him to help the friends he'd injured get out of the museum intact.
- = - = - = - = -
Inside Holyrood Park
One of the benefits in hiring Alex Krycek, so far as Kastagir was concerned, lay in the fact that the man didn't care if his employer's plans sounded insane. Stupid, he minded. Insane just got a shrug and the occasional question when Alex saw something that looked like an impediment to the goal. Such as now.
Krycek just said, "Of course I don't mind killing him, Kastagir. I told you he was fair game. But if the point is not to leave someone stuck with this little psychopath in his head, why do you want to have MacLeod in range?"
Connor shrugged, took another swig of the boom-boom, and offered Krycek the flask. "He's experimenting again." Very mildly, so mildly that Krycek paused to watch his hands, Connor went on, "But this is Ramirez you're experimenting with, Kastagir."
Sunda continued to clear space beside the peacock's shoulder. "MacLeod, have some faith. The man was your teacher for less than a year. He and I spent decades together as drinking partners, brewers, and metallurgists."
"And were the terror of everyone who wanted a town left intact," Marcus added dryly. He was still contemplating Krycek and had been ever since Salisbury's greeting of the man. He hadn't asked either of them. Just as well, since Alex almost certainly wouldn't tell him the truth, and Marcus and Matthew tended to enjoy annoying each other.
MacLeod grinned and relaxed, and Sunda added, "Don't worry, Alex. None of us want the other's heads." He grinned wickedly at MacLeod and said, "After all, decades of 'commentary' in the back of my head would drive me insane, not just eccentric. And he doesn't want to chance me doing that to him, do you? "
MacLeod quirked a grin at the jibe and declined to admit he'd been talking to anyone's quickening. Instead he asked, "Alex?"
Matthew said, "Alex is simplest, Connor. He changes the rest at whim. Sunda, whatever we're doing, we'd best hurry. Daylight is coming soon even this far north."
Cory prowled back into range. "It's me again. Daylight savings ended last night. We have a little longer than you think, Matthew. Only a little, though, yeah."
Ryan had a firm grip on Kenny's shoulder; they both looked a little pale. Possibly blood loss, or Ryan might still have problems with the idea of a cold killing instead of a fight. Amanda was keeping a sharp eye on both of them, while Cory kept an eye on her. There'd been a discussion about 'cleaning up your own messes' that made Sunda think she might need some boom-boom after this, too. Fortunately, he always carried a spare flask.
Sunda finished arranging Ramirez' body and asked curiously, "Did he leave you instructions on the mummification techniques, Connor?"
Connor looked up from discussing safe quickening ranges with Alex and Matthew. "What techniques?" He came over to look, frowning. "I sewed his head back into place, wrapped him in a tartan, and buried him myself, Kastagir. No more than that."
"Well, someone mummified him, MacLeod. Here, and here." Sunda pressed cautiously. "Feel."
Marcus nodded. "No canopic jars, Kastagir, no linens, and no record that anything like that had been found or that any department had removed them for study. Some of those cuts look more like surgical incisions than sword wounds, Connor."
Connor had been prodding carefully at some of the cuts. Now he lifted Ramirez' shoulders carefully, then nodded. "Not heavy enough, and too many of us here male to be saying he's lost his mind around the women again." He grinned at Amanda, "You'd be reason by yourself if he was alive, of course."
Amanda huffed, "Thank you," but she smiled a little too, lightening a little with the byplay.
"But you didn't do it, Connor?" Sunda was watching him, eyes narrowed at the way his friend's hand was tracing the air over those incisions. His teacher's body stolen from his lands and a long few days or not, something was stirring in that peat bog the Scot called a brain. Also as usual, he wasn't telling anywhere close to everything.
"No. But I may know who did." He muttered something about, "Trust you two to know each other and work together…." Connor looked up. "Time-delay, incident-triggered 'spell.' Tied into Ramirez' quickening, I think."
Matthew raised an eyebrow. "There's an immortal who can do that? With or without Ramirez' permission, do you think, Connor?"
Amanda shrugged. "Well, I'd have bet Ramirez could, Matthew."
"This isn't Ramirez' doing, Amanda. There was a man who definitely could have done it, and this looks like his work." Connor turned his palms up. "But he's dead now. Knowing the two of them, this was done with Ramirez' permission. If not his connivance." He traced a couple of the half-healed sword wounds. "These, I remember from laying out the body. And this of course." He set a gentle hand on Ramirez' throat. "These, now... no. And the patterning looks like something we discussed once."
Connor shrugged again and looked over at Sunda. "But now's not the time to discuss it. Why is the boy still alive, Sunda?"
Krycek sounded simultaneously sarcastic and amused. "Because you're all too damn close to his quickening for a group that claims not to want the damn thing?"
"Because I have an idea." Sunda spoke over Krycek, implacable and intent as ever when he was pursuing some knowledge he wanted. "You did kill the Kurgan, didn't you, Connor?"
MacLeod gave him a sour look. "You know I did. Why?"
"Because Villa Lobos lived up to his name, and he knew more damn tricks with his quickening than the rest of us put together have forgotten." Sunda glanced at Marcus. "Yes, I know how old you are, but you were always a practical bastard, Constantine."
"I've mellowed," Constantine said dryly. "What are you up to, Kastagir?"
Sunda shrugged. "Giving Ramirez a final sacrifice to serve him in the afterlife if nothing else."
Connor looked at Ramirez, at Sunda, at the boy... and his eyes lit up with a smile that didn't make it to his mouth. "What the hell. It's Samhain. Do it." He handed over his katana as well. "You'll need this for the grounding contact."
Sunda knew where and how he'd gotten that blade; why was the Highlander giving it over in the middle of a crowd, friends or not? "MacLeod? What aren't you telling me?"
"They say a katana holds the warrior's soul. This blade was made specifically for Ramirez by his father-in-law." Connor left it at that and moved to stand in the space Sunda had cleared by Ramirez' shoulder.
"Close-mouthed man," Sunda muttered. "You're as bad as Krycek." Alex just smiled, studying Kenny and the way Ramirez was laid out before he looked over to the side where Matthew was building a tripod out of deadwood. Sunda shrugged and said, "Well enough, Highlander. Do you want to be alive or dead for this?"
The sardonic look that garnered could have peeled varnish off one of the antiques in Connor's shop. "Alive, thanks." Connor sat down by Ramirez and folded himself into lotus position without shedding the heavy cords or tennis shoes. His breathing slowed almost immediately.
Krycek asked mildly, "Seriously, Kastagir. Do we have a plan?"
"Of course we do, Igor." Sunda kept his eyes on MacLeod, finally crouching by him to feel for a vein.
Krycek smiled a little, but he was clearly starting to put the plan together. "No brains, I know. So are we doing this or not? Clouds everywhere, but sunlight in an hour."
"And lightning any time now." Sunda waved Alex silent and listened to the pulse under his fingers and the quickening pulsing against his skin and along his nerves. After a minute, he gestured the rest of them back and heard people moving away. A scuffle said the brat had tried to struggle, but he'd get nowhere with that lot handling him so Kastagir didn't bother to look back.
When MacLeod felt as steady as he was likely to get, Sunda transferred the hand he'd been holding to Ramirez' shoulder. Connor's breathing never changed, but his fingers wrapped firmly around the desiccated flesh and bone.
Sunda looked at the blade, at Alex, back at the blade. "Ah, well, I'm sure we'll have words about this later," he muttered and jabbed the katana into the sod near Ramirez. Then he backed well away and nodded to Alex.
The other pleasure in dealing with Krycek was his alertness to nuance. He didn't need any more explanation than MacLeod had.
Alex pulled Kenny up by the scruff of his neck and his bound arms and hauled him along with his good hand clamped on Kenny's neck and the prosthetic forcing Kenny's bound hands up. He kept the boy angled forward, not letting him get his balance physically or mentally, and didn't let Kenny make a sound that might disrupt MacLeod's concentration.
Kenny tried to knock the blade away, a last try at protecting his head. He couldn't quite reach it, and Krycek lifted him by the neck and shook him once, hard. His prosthetic yanked down on Kenny's arms at the same time and the boy's neck snapped cleanly and audibly. Krycek lowered Kenny's body onto Ramirez carefully, arranging the boy's legs over Ramirez' legs, chest to torso, without letting the limp body roll into Connor's hand.
Marcus looked at the arrangement of immortals and said very softly, "Gods help us if this works, Sunda."
"We'll discuss it later, Marcus. This isn't the disaster you're thinking."
Constantine only shook his head. "So you say."
Sunda chuckled. "So I say. Ground them, Alex."
Krycek nodded. "I heard you, Dr. Frankenstein. Pin him like a butterfly it is." He picked the katana up and ran it through Kenny's chest into Ramirez. (Ryan made a choking sound behind them, but he didn't interrupt.) Alex pulled Kenny's head up with his bad arm and shoved one of his heavy blades neatly between vertebrae, out the throat, and then rotated it first right then left.
Kenny's head came off in his hand, blood dripping down onto Ramirez, onto Connor's hand. Krycek dropped the head to the ground and ran, but he ran to the point Matthew had marked -- far enough away all right, and a good ninety degrees off from the rest of them. Knowing Krycek, he meant to have a crossfire position in case anything went wrong.
Properly paranoid bastard, was Sunda's approving thought as the first crackling light sizzled from Kenny's neck. Then the full quickening erupted with a roar that covered the sound of Ryan being sick and Kastagir wasn't nearly as sure that there was no way this could go too wrong.
- = - = - = - = -
Marcus watched Kastagir's mortal shooter take up position on their flank and was only somewhat reassured that both Matthew and Cory seemed to trust this Alex Krycek. He killed easily and well and Kastagir hadn't had to give him instructions on how to kill his sacrifice for this... reanimation attempt. But Krycek also hunted Kenny with MacLeod and MacLeod had offered him a drink.
None of which mattered now with Kenny's quickening behaving like nothing Marcus had seen in two and a half millennia. Lighting wasn't striking out from the childish body on the blade; it was pulsing down the blade into Ramirez in blue-silver flashes. Lightning crackled and crashed down from an empty sky around the three motionless forms, sometimes in counterpoint to the flashes and other times seemingly at random.
Marcus squinted against the lightning and continued watching the quickening to see where it went and if this would work. It would be a shame if Connor's blade died, but it would be a miracle if it didn't with that much energy pouring through it.
"-- headhunting." It was the only word Marcus caught through the tumult; he glanced over to see Cory wrap an arm around Amanda's waist. Cory didn't look away from the transfer of power, but he inclined his head to her and said something too quietly for Marcus to hear it over the thunder.
Amanda may have meant to reply but they all fell silent when Connor suddenly moved. His spine arched, body drawn like a bow by a band of electricity that held steady between his heart and his blade for what seemed forever. It was probably a quarter second.
It was long enough.
More lighting speared down around them, half a dozen blasts in a second, and then there was nothing but the reek of ozone and scorched turf. The silence that fell around them was a shock after half a minute of thunder.
Marcus glanced at Kastagir and the two of them moved forward to see what needed to be done before they abandoned this valley. Connor lay twisted and motionless where the convulsion had dropped him and Marcus lifted him to relieve the strain on his neck and check his pulse. "His heart's racing, but Connor's still alive."
Kastagir's shooter was pulling the katana out of the joined bodies; a whiff of scorched leather joined the scent of ozone, and he dropped it as soon as it was out completely. Kastagir, meanwhile, was checking Ramirez.
"So?" Krycek asked. "Frankenstein or not? And we're leaving now, Kastagir. Far side of the ridge or not, that lighting had to be visible."
Kastagir looked up and said, "In this crowd, I can't tell if he's back or not. No heartbeat or breathing yet, either. But something has happened. All his wounds are gone, and the skin and flesh are plumping out again."
Krycek nodded. "Right. Cory, come give me a hand with Ramirez. Amanda, give Ryan a hand."
Marcus looked over. "Sunda, it'll take both of us to get Connor."
Ryan brought Kenny's jacket over and wrapped it around the katana, then scooped the bundle up. "I'm all right, Amanda. And I've got this."
Amanda moved Kenny's head next to his body and stood there looking down at his corpse for a long moment. Then she straightened up and turned away decisively, prowling along the edges of their meeting place to blur any tracks.
Matthew circled across from her and took the other side while Ryan led the procession down to the road. Connor's eyes opened halfway there, but Kastagir didn't let him down until they got to the cars.
Ryan was loading the wrapped katana in the trunk by the time they got there. Krycek and Cory were both waiting patiently with their burden while he worked. Cory glanced back and nodded. "Matthew and Amanda are on their way."
Connor caught his balance on Marcus's shoulder, nodded a thanks to him that probably didn't help the dizziness, and staggered towards Cory and Krycek, demanding, "Did it work?"
Marcus went with him so he wouldn't fall face first into the road or Ramirez and his carriers. Beside them Kastagir said something about, "I don't kn--"
Cory nearly dropped Ramirez onto the pavement when his irritable baritone asked in perfectly good English, "Of course it worked, Highlander. What I don't understand is why I'm naked."
Marcus looked at him, concern for the repercussions of this warring with the pleasure of having the argumentative old bastard back. "If that's the only thing you don't understand, Ramirez, you're going to owe us all for the next century. It will take you that long to pay off the bar bill for this."
Connor stood there staring at Ramirez, eyes narrowing. "Really. If you don't know that, how do we know the right person's in that body?"
Ramirez rolled his eyes and said mildly, "Do we really have to discuss your methods of catching fish, Highlander?"
"That, you could have heard me thinking." Connor continued to study him. "I've taken quickenings that have no business going back out into the world, man. Prove yourself."
"But not to you? Put me down, Corwin, before you drop me." Ramirez caught himself when Krycek dropped his feet, and looked around, amused. "What an assortment." Typical of the man, he swept them a bow that ignored his nakedness. "Many thanks. So. Marce, do I need to explain what you burned in Taigh Iain Ghròt before Hadrian built his wall?"
Marcus didn't wince. That fire on the shore had been the best he could do for the IXth Legion's standard. It wasn't something he'd ever told Connor or, for that matter, Ceirdwyn. He and Ramirez, however, had once discussed long fruitless trips.... "No. I don't think so."
Ramirez nodded. "Good." He glanced at Cory, then Matthew. "As for you two. Do you really want me to go into a few stories I heard about who, precisely, started and kept up some of those Robin Hood stories?"
Cory laughed. "No, thanks. But you could tell me who really did the inlay on that scimitar back in Cordoba."
Ramirez chuckled. "Kastagir, of course. I forged the blade, thank you. Do you still have it?"
"Not with me," Cory said cheerfully. "But oh, yeah. Still part of my arm."
"And keep any of those myths to yourself, thank you, or word might get out about you and that lovely lady in Ephesus," Matthew added mildly.
Ramirez barely restrained a wince, which was, apparently, the correct response. Matthew relaxed, in any case, as Ramirez said, "That sounds a fair trade as ever, Salisbury."
Kastagir rumbled, "And what confirmation do you have for me, peacock?"
"That you learned the original recipe for your boom-boom in Anatolia, not in Damascus." Ramirez chuckled and added, "I won't mention who taught it to you, at least."
"Or what he charged?" Kastagir asked.
"She, thank you." Ramirez would have said more but he was busy coping with Amanda's mouth on his, a notable diversion which had Marcus raising an eyebrow. Cory, however, just grinned. Matthew looked resigned.
Amanda pulled away smiling and crying at the same time. "Couldn't you have taught Rebecca whatever you did?"
"My dear Amanda, I could never have imagined the world without her in it." Ramirez gave her a puzzled look. "Although I have no idea what kind of test that was. Have you kissed me like that before and I somehow forgot?"
"Only you would sound more scandalized about forgetting that than about being threatened by Salisbury," Connor pointed out, amused.
Krycek was standing next to him, quiet and intent. He sounded speculative, however, when he said, "My turn."
"I never met you before I died, nor the man behind you," Ramirez pointed out mildly. "How can you ask me something that will tell them yea or nay? Besides, I think they're convinced."
Richard kept watching Ramirez with all the skepticism of a former thief facing a con artist. Perceptive, that.
"That's nice. I'm not." Krycek contemplated Ramirez as the possible problem he clearly still considered him. The next request wasn't what anyone had expected, however. "Walk around."
Kastagir finished stowing his sword and coat in the trunk. "Alex? We're running out of time. What are you up to?"
"Confirming his identity. Go on, Ramirez. Move." Krycek was watching him intently now. "We can spare a few minutes more."
"Well, at least you're the last skeptic. Highlander, you'd better have brought me clothes." Ramirez shrugged and paced around the circle of people watching him and ended up back in front of Krycek asking, "Well?"
Still staring, Krycek lashed out with a kick to the stomach that Marcus, at least, hadn't seen coming. Ramirez managed to block most of the force, and nearly caught his leg, too. He fell back onto guard, glaring and watching to see who was going to come in on Krycek's side.
"Alex!" Kastagir lunged towards them as Connor reached for a blade already tucked away in a car.
Except that had been the real test; Krycek fell back and nodded. Interesting. "You're moving well enough in that body to cope with my kick, too. So? Did his walk look right, Matthew?"
"Next time, you might warn someone," Matthew drawled in that deceptively mild tone that generally presaged a verbal flaying. This time, he gave Krycek a look edged as his broadsword and said, "That said, yes, I'd have recognized him by the motions."
Connor nodded and said, "So would I." He glanced at Krycek. "Decided we needed a physical test did you?"
"Anyone would get a hard-on from kissing Amanda," Krycek pointed out. "Admitting he didn't remember doing it was convincing, but not enough. If that wasn't really his body, he shouldn't have that much control yet, muscle memory or not. And now we need to get out of here."
Connor nodded. "He can discuss the kick with you later, then. Good luck." He quickly shed his coat and passed it over. "Here, peacock. It's a start. In the car with you, we'll explain as we go."
Ramirez chuckled. "Good. Any number of things don't entirely make sense yet, Highlander."
Kastagir snorted and waved Ramirez into his car. "Yes, well, you get to explain a few things too, you know."
"So do you," Marcus warned. "Like how we keep this from being a disaster of would-be Frankensteins."
"I don't hire out as Igor to just anyone," Krycek said and climbed in next to Matthew.
"They'd have to go through mummification and reviving from it, of course," Ramirez said impatiently. "And it doesn't matter, if Nakano's dead. Since he is, shall we get moving? I've a thirst that could dry out the Nile."
Marcus smiled finally and passed over the flask with the last of the boom-boom. "This may do for a start." He smiled, too. "Welcome back, old friend."
~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~
Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:
Title from Alexander Pope's translation of the Odyssey: "And rest at last where souls unbodied dwell, / In ever-flowing meads of Asphodel."
Tonio is, apparently, another of Ceirdwyn's students, which makes him line-brother to Matthew. I haven't met him either, but no, no one's taken his head. The hunt's just taking a while.
Kastagir still being alive is, like this, my attempt to get back some of the fun immortals. See "…Greatly Exaggerated" if you want the full, canon-altering version.
Duncan is off at a Shaolin monastery. He's going to kick himself over missing this, too!
::laughing:: No, Rich isn't going to make a pass at Cory. Although after this, Cory and Amanda might drag him into bed and claim they were just making sure he was all right.
The Black Mass comments refer back to "The Devil's Own." No, that fic doesn't explain why Matthew took one look at Krycek and kissed him, but that kind of relationship might explain a few things in Devil's Own I hadn't known about. Characters! The things they don't tell me!
The blade is said to hold the soul of a samurai and, Egyptian-raised as he was, Ramirez took that a little farther. Ramirez trusted his quickening to hold his ba, or personality. But he tied his ka, his life force and his body's fuel, to a scroll he wrote with his own blood and kept in the handle of his katana. Connor knew it was there, and had time over the years to translate the spell. He left it in the sword, just in case, and made sure Kastagir used the blade in the resurrection.
No. I have no idea what it's done to that katana to channel a quickening that way. But I'm not betting it's destroyed, either.
Taigh Iain Ghrot/John O'Groats, usually regarded as the most northerly settlement of mainland Scotland. The IXth Legion, which fought Boudica, is regarded as a 'lost' legion: we know where some of the officers were after 117 AD, but the legion itself may have been destroyed in Iudea, in battle with the Parthian Empire, or (it's currently speculated) may have marched into China. Another theory is that they were sent north past York and were killed by the Picts who caused Hadrian to build his wall. I ran with that, and let Marcus make it to the far north of Scotland before he burned the legion standard and worked his way south again. Other mileage, of course, may vary.
Watcher records say Cory is the source of the stories behind Robin Hood, but Matthew strikes me as the kind of noble who tried to deal with all his responsibilities, including caring for the villagers who were under his protection. In the days of Richard and John, this might have required some subterfuge. And Cory would keep that to himself because it's wonderful leverage when needed....
As for the lady in Ephesus? She was neither a lady, nor female, and Ramirez is still embarrassed about missing that.
I know. Ramirez not sleeping with Amanda seems unlike both of them... unless he and Rebecca were sleeping together and Amanda decided to stay out of that the first few times.
I've been trying to finish this fic for eight years now, and five starts. Some of the versions were included in the background of this, some were cannibalized for this, and one running start at it was fun, but wasn't going to work. They can all be found in the next chapter. Enjoy!