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Losses

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LOSSES

 

Losses were nothing new in Joe Dawson's life, but it seemed to him they were
growing steadily more cruel with each passing year. When he had realised
what had become of his brother-in-law, James Horton, he had believed no blow
could possibly surpass that. Sometimes he still awoke from nightmares in
which he found himself aiming his gun at Horton, but unable to fire.

"I 'll light a candle for you."

Abruptly, Joe rose. He had been sitting in his office ever since MacLeod and
Cassandra left, in the darkness beyond the small circle of light the desk
lamp offered without seeing anything. Grabbing his cane, he went to the door
to switch the main headlight on. The sudden brightness hurt his eyes and
caused him to blink, but it was a welcome distraction from contemplating
shooting his sister's husband. There wasn't much furniture in his office; he
had, however put a fridge in there. For late working hours. What a joke. Joe
went to the fridge, felt the cold air inside brush his cheek and looked for
something stronger than his usual ale. There was one bottle of white wine he
had brought over from France. Touching the green glass, it suddenly struck
him how much this little room, unknown to those of his employees who weren't
fellow Watchers, resembled that cellar below Shakespeare's and Co where he
had spent days recovering from a nearly fatal shot, with two Immortals
fussing over him and plying him with every dammed wine ever stored there
during the last two centuries.

Then, Jacob Galati and Jack Shapiro in between them had almost managed to
start a war between Immortals and Watchers. For a time, Joe had believed his
efforts to stay loyal to both the Organisation and Duncan MacLeod had
ultimately cost him both. The guilty emptiness in his stomach, the bitter
taste of betrayal in his mouth - he had felt it two years ago when James had
died, and all of it was back and amplified now. In the end, Mac and he had
managed to patch their friendship up again, and he had returned to the
Watchers. But the faces of his colleagues when they were about to execute
him haunted him still, just like Galati's strangely youthful indignation
when the man realised Joe had set him up. Fragments of memories kept
flashing through his brain: MacLeod, turning away from him at the quay, and
Methos' cold, sharp statement. "You keep telling yourself that, Joe. Maybe
you'll believe it one day."
It had been one of the few moments when there was nothing, really nothing
left of Don Salzer's youthful protegé Adam Pierson in Methos. It had also
been nearly the last thing Joe was to hear from the eldest Immortal for more
than half a year.

*Then I believed I had lost them both*, Joe thought, despair and cynism
mingling in him to a toxic brew, *and it couldn't possibly get worse. I
should have known better. One thing about Immortals, they always manage to
go over the top.*

Listlessly, he put the bottle back, closed the fridge and returned to his
chair. Jesus, the desk was a mess. Printouts, papers everywhere. Even the
computer was covered with them. And the occasional volume which he had used
since he still didn't trust electronic data as the *only* research basis.
"You sound like Don", Methos had said to him, back when Joe had complained
about the first Watcher database. Suddenly, Joe grabbed the copy of Robert
Graves' "Greek Myths" which lay on the top of the quietly humming machine
and threw it in the general direction of the door. He'd probably be sorry
once he got around to clean up, and it was a first edition to boot, but
right now, it felt good.

The loss which tore him these days wasn't just another enhancement in the
game of friendship and betrayal, it looked like the all-time climax, but
worst of all, he didn't even know whether this loss was just the beginning,
and the raising of the stakes was only about to start. He sat in his office
and stared at the clock. It had only been an hour since Mac had left him and
gone on his way to the airport. By tomorrow, the Scot would be in Romania.
Looking for four myths right of the Bronze Age, including one who had sat
with him at the bar only a week ago, listening to Joe's guitar and bickering
in between sets.

Joe covered his face. Sometimes he longed for the simplicity of a child.
*Close your eyes and pretend nothing has happened, and when you open them
again, everything will be as it was. Kronos and Cassandra never came, the
four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are allegorical figures from the Bible, and
the only bad thing about Methos is that he never knows when to shut up.*

*You keep telling yourself that, Joe*, an echo whispered in him, *maybe
you'll believe it someday.*

Disbelief had been his first reaction when Mac had told him about the
meeting between Cassandra and Methos. The woman was lying, or hallucinating.
Methos could not possibly be the man she described.

While Mac went looking for Methos, Joe accessed Cassandra's file through his
computer, hoping to expose her as a notorious liar, as one of the many
Methos hunters or at least as a madwoman. He was fated to be disappointed.
There were empty places in Cassandra's chronicles, and some dark accounts,
but nothing the Watchers had documented about her long, long life hinted at
lunacy. And she was definitely not a hunter. If she hadn't been incredibly
discreet, she had taken her last head more than five hundred years ago, had
been absent from the Game for longer than Duncan MacLeod had been alive.

Of course, this didn't exclude the possibility that she suddenly had changed
her lifestyle and decided to go for the head of the eldest Immortal for his
quickening, using Duncan MacLeod as a helping tool by telling him lies about
Methos. But as much as Joe liked to cling to this theory, he had to concede
there was an equal chance that Cassandra was simply telling the truth.

Studying Cassandra's file had brought something else to his attention. When
checking her chronicles for crossreferences to Methos, he had found nothing
at first. That had been a relief until the methodical Watcher in him had had
the idea to look for other people accessing the data on Cassandra in recent
years, outside of her Watcher and the researchers who studied her. When the
name Adam Pierson had flickered over his screen, Joe had grown cold.

Of course, this still hadn't proved anything. As chief researcher of the
Methos project, Adam Pierson *had* to check the chronicles of all Immortals
who came close to Methos' age. But according to the user list, he had looked
up Cassandra's file quite regularily, the last time only shortly before
leaving the Watchers for good. Which meant he at the very least had a good
idea what she looked like. And yet, in MacLeod's dojo, he had claimed she
was completely unknown to him.

Joe had still hoped Cassandra was lying, but the seed of doubt had been
sown. Then, Mac had returned, and there wasn't even room for doubt anymore.
Joe had seen Mac angry, despairing, dissappointed, bitter, even broken,
after Tessa's death, but he had still lacked points of comparison when he
had looked at the man who was pacing up and down in his kitchen, driven by
murderous fury in one moment and sounding as if he was close to tears in the
next. There had been no time to deal with his own shock; Joe had had to go
on by instinct, try to save what was still salgable, even if it meant
confronting the shadows of his own past again.

"I have. Vietnam. Do you think our bullets managed to miss somehow all the
women and children."

"This is different. Because...," Mac swallowed and turned away, as if seeing
something unbearable, "...because he loved it. Because he had pleasure in
killing."

*Not our Methos*, Joe had wanted to protest again, but this time, he hadn't
say it. Not anymore. Whatever had happened between the two Immortals, Methos
obviously had confirmed Cassandra's accusations. So much for the gut feeling
of Joe Dawson, that astute student of human nature who had somehow managed
to miss his own brother-in-law turning into a fanatic killer intent on
ridding the earth of Immortals, while working and relaxing with the man for
years and years.

*Not James. Not Methos.*

*Not you*, the eyes of Jacob Galati told him, *not the man whom MacLeod
would trust with his life.*

Joe leaned back in his chair, trying to concentrate on the dull backache he
was feeling in order to push that other pain back. His own guilt haunted
him. Immortals weren't the only ones who had to deal with the knowledge of
their ability to kill. Yes, Joe could imagine Methos experiencing a short
time where he had enjoyed killing, even if it was so completely unlike Adam
whom he had known for a decade. But unfortunately, Mac was right. Getting
carried away with the madness of war was one thing. Not excusable, but one
could understand it. What the four Horsemen had practised, for a time span
over which more than one civilisation rose and fell, was infinitely more
cold-blooded and calculated, and couldn't be explained away in the same
fashion.

*Methos, why?*

Joe couldn't ask Methos that now, and he hadn't been able to ask him last
week, when Mac, Cassandra and he had been scouring Seacouver, looking for
some trace of him. But the apartment Methos had moved in since he couldn't
use Mac's couch for months when being in Seacouver had been empty, and
neither Joe nor Mac nor Cassandra had found anything. There had been no
call, no letter, no e-mail. Nothing.

The anger which started to boil in Joe concentrated on the easiest object.
On the stranger, on Cassandra. It was all her fault, he had thought while
Mac was sitting with a frozen face in his office and Joe was trying
desperately to make sense of it all. If not for her, the whole catastrophe
wouldn't have happened. At the same time, the nagging voice of his
conscience had told him he was simplifying things at the very least. Leaving
everything else aside, Kronos would have come to Seacouver anyway, Cassandra
or no Cassandra. What Joe knew of Melvin Koren was enough to make him
shudder at the thought of the man, even without any additional information.

It had been impossible then, and it was impossible now to imagine Methos,
Don Salzer's shy friend, Alexa's Adam who had blushed like a schoolboy when
she called him cynical in the same room with Kronos. Joe tended to treat
Methos as a boy himself most of the time. When dealing with Immortals, it
was never easy to keep their real age in mind. When faced with five
millennia and a decidedly adolescent attitude coupled with a fascination for
the immediate present, it was impossible. Joe remembered Richie Ryan
exclaiming indignantly: "Five thousand years of wisdom? HIM?"
It had been so funny. Then. Now he couldn't help remembering how that little
scene had played out.

Richie, when heatedly defending the other Methos, had pointed out how this
mysterious Immortal had offered his head to him.

"Now why did he do that?"

"Because he was afraid of you," Duncan, who was confused by the other Methos
and his message himself, had answered hesitatingly.

"Or," Methos had interrupted, "because he knew you wouldn't take it." And he
had turned to Duncan, giving him one of his patented enigmatic looks. Back
then Joe had not paid particular attention; he'd been worried about Richie,
after all, and both amused and fascinated by the idea of another Methos. Now
the moment came back to him, carrying with him an ugly suspicion.

"When did you start to suspect the old man would become a regular in your
life?" he had asked Mac once, when the Scot had been in a talkative mood.

"Probably as early as the time when he offered me his head."

Pondering torturously whether Methos had manipulated both of them from the
beginning, Joe experienced a new wave of anger against Cassandra. For this
part, at least, she was responsible. For the doubts, for the shadows
creeping out of her past, tainting his own now and colouring every moment of
the last two years with a possible second meaning. For Mac's fury which made
him look on Methos as if he were a butcher like Kronos.

Joe caught himself. The man Cassandra had described, the man who had killed
with Kronos for hundreds of years, *was* a butcher just like Kronos. Not
one iota better. In the heat of the moment it had been easy to distinguish
between the Methos of the past and the one of the present, as if it were two
people. But now, alone with his thoughts and fears, the clarity with which
he had consigned Cassandra's Methos to the Bronze Age and clung to his own,
who lived millennia later, eluded him.

He recalled quarrelling with Mac about Kage. Back then, it had been Joe who
had been unable to accept that a brutal killer could change for the better.
He had believed Mac to be naive. His own words came back to him, with acid
precision.

"Kage knows you. He's just playing with you. Someone like Kage never
changes."

*Imagine*, a cold, scornful voice in him whispered, *imagine you had never
met Adam Pierson. Imagine you were a Watcher a hundred years from now,
reading in MacLeod's chronicles about his friendship with Methos. No, you
wouldn't assume there was manipulation involved, would you, or the intent to
have a shield against other Immortals, oh no. You'd never believe that
someone who survived for five thousand years could in the end only use Mac
to survive a little longer, to be the last immortal himself.*

"I don't know any more about Methos than you do."

He'd known Adam for a decade, but then Adam had never truly existed. Methos,
he had known for eighteen months.
What were eighteen months when compared with five millennia? Nothing. And
Methos was with Kronos now. He could have called, or left a message, in some
way, just one sentence, but he had done nothing of the sort.
*No*, Joe thought, *when did he ever?* To vanish without saying good-bye was
almost a Methos trademark.
But he returned. So far, he had always returned, had been there when it
truly counted. Perhaps eighteen months were nothing for the Immortals. But
they were all Joe had left to believe in.

There had been a moment when he had tried to talk with Cassandra about this.
Basically, he avoided addressing her, since he was conscious of the
irrational extent of his antipathy which could hardly be disguised. The
situation was tense enough, and he certainly didn't want to make it worse by
creating yet another conflict. For her part, Cassandra hardly ever spoke
directly to him as well. Consequently, he was surprised when she suddenly
halted while they were searching Methos' apartment. She looked at him and
declared he'd better sit down. As a matter of fact, his prostheses *were*
hurting, but Joe was used to this and was sure his face had betrayed
nothing.

"You have been standing for too long," Cassandra said matter-of-factly. "The
pressure must be unbearable."

"What would you know about it?" Joe said tersely, before he could stop
himself, but she wasn't offended. For the first time since they had met he
saw a faint smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

"During most of the centuries of my life," she replied, "I was a healer.
Which you know about, of course. After all, you read my chronicles, didn't
you?"

He sat down on the only chair which looked even remotely comfortable and
wondered whether he should confirm this. Her green eyes did not let him go.
The searching, cool look wasn't exactly hostile, it was balancing,
estimating, and strangely familiar. At first, he did not know whom she
reminded him off, until he suddenly remembered that Methos had looked at him
in exactly the same way when they had met for the first time after Mac's
discovery of Adam Pierson's true identity. It was the alien, ageless gaze of
a being which could no longer be completely judged by human standards
anymore.

The unexpected connection startled him and caused him to remark impulsively:
"It has been thousands of years. You must have left it behind you a long
time ago."

Her facial expression changed. With a mixture of pity and condescension, she
returned:
"So he deceived you, too. He's very good at that."

"This doesn't answer my question," Joe replied furiously.

"Was it a question? Do you really want an answer?"

"Yes," he said and discovered to his own surprise he meant it.

Cassandra looked around. The furniture of the apartment was completely
anonymous; Methos didn't leave personal belongings behind. There were,
however, some visibly read paperbacks on a shelf. She went there and took
one; judging by the cover, it had to be one of these flashy science fiction
things, the observer in Joe noted.

"When you think of him," she began, "is this what comes to your mind? Books?
Company? Friendly debates?"

"More or less," Joe agreed cautiously. He didn't add anything, not wanting
to go into details with her.

Cassandra's face hardened, but her voice remained the same. "The small
everyday things which form a relationship to another human being?"

"Yes."

"The small everyday things are what comes to my mind as well. Only back
then, he didn't leave books behind. I remember the good days, those when I
didn't die. There weren't too many. Days when he didn't kill anyone else
beside me did not exist, and the others did not return to life as I did. I
don't believe you want to know just how we died."

Joe turned away. "No," he said hoarsely.

"Then don't talk to me of millennia that passed and 'getting over it'."

In order to push the images she had awoken in him away, Joe clung to what
had boiled in him ever since MacLeod had come with Cassandra to his bar.

"But why did you have to involve Mac?"

"It was Duncan," Cassandra answered coldly, "who involved himself, by
interfering and stopping me. First with Kronos and then with Methos. Now he
is looking for them as well, and it would be stupid of me to decline his
help."

"You are using him," Joe said accusingly.

"And you never did?"

So far, he had not experienced her using the paranormal powers she had
according to her chronicles, but he started to believe in them. For she
couldn't possibly know. Lauren's desperate screams, his own inability to
help her, and the burning hatred for her killer, the Immortal Durgan. And
oh, the relief to know that Duncan MacLeod would bring him to justice.
*Let's stop pretending*, Joe thought. * Not bring Durgan to justice. Kill
Durgan. That was what I wanted back then. And what I got. But Durgan killed
Lauren directly in front of me.*

Cassandra, he supposed, would say that the Horsemen had killed the people
she loved directly in front of her. Further conversation was useless. And
the worst thing was, he understood her.

 

Waiting was a slow torture, now that MacLeod and Cassandra had left
Seacouver. Waiting and remembering. He had shut himself away in his office,
so he wouldn't have to go to the bar, but it didn't help. There was still
the post card Alexa had written to him from Santorini, pinned to the wall
next to his desk. He could hear her voice, talking to him during a secret
phone call: "Take care of Adam for me when it's all over, will you, Joe? He
needs looking after. He really does. Promise me you'll take care of him."

Not wanting to think of Alexa and her slow painful death, he stared the
computer again and suddenly noticed the screen saver, which had been
organised by Methos for him when Methos had updated the dammed thing.

"Really, Joe, just because you're an historian doesn't mean you have to use
prehistoric technology."

"Says the man who subjects innocent Watchers to his medieval healing
methods. How long ago was that medicine thing in Heidelberg again?"

"You survived, didn't you?"

Small everyday things. Teasing and discussions and the memories of shared
pain, of this man saving his life. Friendship. And now he couldn't even hope
wholeheartedly that Methos would survive this disaster. Not if it meant that
Mac would die.

*Joseph*, his cold inner voice commented again, and with a start Joe
realised it belonged to his dead brother-in-law, *this is what the Immortals
do. They kill each other. You are a Watcher. You know all there is to know
about this. To become friends with one Immortal is foolish enough. To
befriend several... Duncan, Richie, Methos, Amanda. How about a little bet,
Joseph? What are the chances all four of them survive into the next
millennium?*

He didn't care. He wanted them all to survive, every one, no matter how
unrealistic that wish was. He wanted both Mac and Methos to return from the
inferno in which they had all been thrown. Perhaps he would never be able to
trust Methos again. But he had to know Methos did still exist.

Joe could only hope MacLeod would arrive at the same conclusion. He turned
to the clock again. Only two hours passed, and many more to come. Time grew
steadily slower, and the waiting more and more unbearable. But it was better
than yet another loss.