Joe wiped the counter yet again. And sighed. Yet again. An unbiased bystander might have decided, after a brief analysis, that the counter was spotless. After a longer observation the unbiased bystander would undoubtedly come to the conclusion that a madman with a pound of Kleenex had been let loose in the bar. Fortunately for himself, Joe Dawson was not unbiased. So he swiped the washcloth across the gleaming mahogany and sighed. In fact, truth be told, Joe Dawson was desperately bored. And a little sad. Not that he'd admit to either.
"Man's got to have some dignity," he muttered and nodded firmly. And then he caught a sight of the moist washcloth and his reflection in the counter. He shuddered disgustedly. "Who the fuck am I kidding?"
He scratched the three-days-old stubble and sighed. Again.
"This is ridiculous! So those bastards all disappeared and left me all alone. So they have a life. And I...not so much. I've still got Her!" He nodded, more determined now, and a small, genuinely happy grin tugged at the corner of his mouth. Amy had really outdone herself, when she’d got Her two years ago, for his birthday.
He waddled stiffly and carefully across the freshly mopped floor, the prosthetic legs squeaking slightly. As always they felt heavy and, in an absent-minded, long-familiar way, utterly alien. He left the cane leaning by the stage and pulled himself up. "Damn. A genuine." He chuckled in quiet appreciation, lovingly tracing the graceful lines of the plugged-in guitar. "A customized Oberheim. You pretty thing, you."
He sat down on the high stool and carefully looped the wide belt over his head, hooking it under his right arm. The instrument settled comfortably and habitually in his hands and he plucked the upper string experimentally. The sound resonated strongly and clearly and Dawson hummed in quiet appreciation.
"Engaging into unnatural rituals with your guitar again, Dad?" For a split second Joe thought that the voice was simply the echo of the fading note, so in synch with the clear, joyful sound were the amusement-tinged, lightly teasing words. He grinned and slowly took off the guitar. The cold gust died suddenly as the door slammed shut and the quick clicking steps approached the platform. Squinting, Dawson looked down at the young woman before the stage, examining her with a critical eye.
Of medium height, but made to appear taller by her slenderness and a page cut of brown-reddish hair, Amy Thomas looked little like her heavy-set, graying and generally somewhat grizzled father. Although at the moment her almond-shaped, laughing blue eyes erased the subtle differences, making the resemblance unmistakable.
"Nothing unnatural about a man and his guitar spending some quality time together. And you? Calling it a night early?" he retorted, squinting perceptively.
Amy wrinkled her nose. "I was bored. And it's not that early. Six -- already dark outside."
Joe chuckled and got up. "Jake didn't show, huh?"
His daughter glared at him for a second, before passing up the cane. Dawson smothered another chuckle. "C'mon. You're dripping all over my clean floor."
"How come it's suddenly your floor? Barely two hours ago when you had me clean it, it was my future inheritance."
"I ain't dead yet. Plus -- hey! I did the kitchen and the dishes."
"Slacker." Amy giggled as it was his turn to glare. She shrugged off the heavy coat, the material wet and sodden with the melting snow. Dawson hobbled toward the counter, frowning at his daughter briefly. "Hey. Hang it up, don't throw it on the table. What, were you raised in a barn? What do you want?"
"Mostly for you to stop mothering me, but since that ain't happening... Bourbon on the rocks, pretty please." Amy shuddered expressively. "It's beastly cold outside. Snow everywhere and the wind has actually gotten worse. I need something to warm me up."
"Right. Coffee it is."
"Dad! I am 26 years old, for chrissakes!"
"You suck. Don't skimp on the cream and sugar." She considered for a moment, before she finally concluding thoughtfully, "A LOT of sugar. Enough to rot my teeth from the distance."
"That'll show me."
Not dignifying the comment with an answer, Amy simply stuck her tongue out at him and looked around the murky interior of the bar. "Wow. The place is really jumping tonight."
"Hey, it's Christmas. What kind of people would spend their Christmas in a blues bar?" Amy grinned and he winced. "Ouch. I walked right into that one, didn't I?"
"Gimme my coffee, old man. Mmmm... Cofffee-coffee-coffee. Waaaaaarm." Amy closed her eyes and tasted the scalding liquid, savoring the sensation. "Suuuuugary."
"You're a shameless hedonist, you know that?" Dawson observed the intricate process of his daughter ingesting caffeine with undisguised fondness.
"I know how to enjoy life. Unlike some old and grouchy bar-owners, with disreputable rabble as an excuse for friends, who wouldn't know a good time if it sat on them." Amy smiled sweetly and blinked innocently. "Not that I am pointing any fingers, or anything."
"Of course not. Drink your coffee before I decide to charge you for it."
"You are beast, a beast I say! Will I be forever made to suffer the cruel injustices of fate and my father?!" Amy's voice climbed dramatically and she pressed the back of her hand to her forehead --an image out of Shakespearean tragedy. "And you...whoa. You're aware that you have a customer, right?"
Joe quirked an eyebrow and half turned to follow his daughter's glance. "Who, the kid?"
"Yeah." Amy's eyebrows, thin and graceful lines of black, came together in a half-puzzled expression. The blue eyes narrowed speculatively and for a second the giggling schoolgirl exterior fell away like dry leaves, revealing the Watcher beneath. Amy's gaze grew cold and perceptive, the little details all being catalogued and filed away by a trained mind.
The subject of her attention presented an interesting view to the world and dared the world to say anything about it. A short, thin figure sat perched cross-legged on a chair, the hard-worn wool-lined leather jacket thrown rather carelessly on the back of the stool. Remarkably enough the youth -- he couldn't have been older than 22, Amy thought detachedly -- appeared to be wearing only a green tee-shirt and a pair of brown slacks, both every bit as weathered as the jacket. Just thinking about going out in Seacouver winter dressed in that tee shirt and jacket made Amy shudder in sympathy and take another long sip.
Then she saw the sneakers. And took another long sip. Deciding to forego the clothes for a moment she transferred her attention to the guy himself. Her eyes immediately and unsurprisingly were drawn to the hair. In her mind it rather quickly became as "The Hair." She admonished herself for a rather childish fascination later, but... the childish fascination persisted stubbornly. Not entirely surprising, considering. The shape alone drew the eye, as the somewhat haphazard and rather spiky 'do looked very much like an irritated porcupine.
That first impression was quickly overshadowed, however, as Amy took another look. No porcupine could ever be that color. On further thought -- Amy quietly decided -- nothing produced within the laws of nature could be -that- color. The fading blond dye clashed with the even older remnants of red and with the irresistibly assertive natural light brown, the end result truly defying description.
Amy shook her head in silent admiration and stopped cold as the kid suddenly raised his head and looked straight at her. For a briefest of seconds she felt disconcerted to the point of loss, unable to pinpoint exactly the reason for the shiver of alarm that slithered along her spine. True, it was hardly a regular face, with the prominent bone structure and the hollow cheeks, the strong jaw and slightly sloping forehead all merging to produce a somewhat primal, almost simian appearance, a throwback to the Cro-Magnon age. The deep-set eyes glittering strangely in the lamplight added another note to the disturbing composition, until Amy actually Looked. Really looked, catching the green stare with her own eyes and seeing the calm, quiet intelligence.
The young man smiled at her suddenly and returned to his book, leaving Amy somehow frustrated. Joe smirked. "Unusual-looking specimen, huh?"
"He looks like a crazed weasel," Amy replied somewhat uncharitably. "Did you card him? It better not be some Immortal looking for trouble. I'm on vacation."
"Yes I did, as a matter of fact." Dawson coughed, somewhat embarrassed, remembering the raised eyebrow of one 22-year-old Daniel Osborne upon being carded while ordering a bologna sandwich. "Anyway. Speaking of slightly mad Immortals who are magnets for trouble..."
Joe ignored the blue-eyed glare with the ease of long practice and sipped his own drink, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. "Where is the Old Man?"
"How should I know? I told you. Vacation. Can you say vacation? Ho-li-day. No work. Work Bad. Amy time."
Dawson swished the bourbon around his mouth savoring the taste before swallowing it. Raising the glass and swirling the amber liquid in the artificial light of the bar, he glanced at his daughter out of the corner of his eye. "Who are you trying to kid, Em, hm?" He shook his head and seemingly absently scratched his wrist. Right where his Watcher's tattoo was hidden by the shirtsleeve. "You know exactly where he is. And I bet the current unfortunate Watching him has got your beeper number, your cell number, your home number, the bar number, and a homing pigeon. So spill."
Amy's glare reached epic proportions before she hid her nose in a cup and muttered something sullenly.
"I said he's home. Last I saw he had a six-pack and a bunch of movies. He's gonna be home all night making fun of Braveheart and Gladiator. Casting aspersions on Hollywood's historical accuracy and killing his brain cells with alcohol. All right? Now lemme alone." Amy finished her coffee in one gulp and pondered the empty cup with the air of infinite loss about her. "I'll be in the kitchen."
Dawson chuckled quietly, quickly killing the sound as Amy suddenly wheeled around looking at him with suspicion. "There aren’t going to be any of your reprobate buddies dropping by today, are there? It's going to be nice, peaceful, and quiet." Before Joe could assure her that that, indeed, was going to be the case, she'd already done the thing with the eyes. "Lie to me, Dawson. Tell me tonight is going to be nice and quiet."
"Git. Go on, get outta here."
Amy grinned and disappeared into the kitchen. Dawson muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like "brat" and, throwing his lone patron a look, shrugged and ambled back toward the stage. He didn't bother with the stool or the belt this time, simply squaring his shoulders and standing in the middle of the platform, thinking. Eventually he nodded, settling on the song. He felt the need for something old, something classic tonight, and so he touched the strings gently and closed his eyes as the first notes of Ole Miss floated gently across the bar. He didn't see the matted head of the blond-brown hair rise suddenly from the book, the green eyes narrowing as Daniel's right foot unconsciously tapped the floor, keeping the beat.
After a while Joe sunk into the melody, the soft music enveloping him as he rocked slightly, his fingers, so rough and callused at the first glance, running over the strings with surprising grace. He didn't sing; it didn't seem right. So he just stood there, swaying, the squeak of his dead legs and the intermittent, habitual dull ache pushed to the very back of his mind, drowned out by the music.
He'd just reached the moment when it all really meshed, when he and guitar teetered on the edge of becoming one, but then reality rudely intruded in the form of a thunderous crash from the vicinity of the kitchen, followed after a short pause by a timid, "Oops..."
Joe's fingers slipped and the air was suddenly split by a jagged, screeching death of a chord. Dawson's eyes flew open just in time to catch a pained wince on the face of the kid in the corner. Mildly irritated by the whole thing, Dawson drew his busy eyebrows together to fix the young Mr. Osborne with a not-quite-glare. "Problem?"
Daniel considered the question carefully and nodded. "You're dragging on the 'A.'"
"Is that right." Dawson's eyes narrowed fractionally. "You play?"
One skinny hand with black-painted nails dragged itself through the multi-colored hair. "Used to."
Dawson looked at him expectantly, tapping the guitar softly. The kid again carefully pondered the situation before closing the book and jumping off his perch. "Cool."
Daniel moved unhurriedly across the room, lightly leaping on the stage. Dawson harrumphed quietly and jerked his finger toward the back wall. "C'mon, Mr. Osborne."
"Oz." The kid didn't appear to be overly disappointed, although he clearly expected Dawson to turn over the Oberheim.
The calm green eyes abandoned the neat row of the instruments to thoughtfully regard Joe for a second.
Joe grinned suddenly. "Yeah, I expect you heard all the jokes by now."
Oz shrugged and scratched his chin, pausing for a split second before reaching for the gleaming blue Tobias. He plugged it in with a quick sure motion and gingerly plucked the strings, frowning as a false note sounded out.
Joe harrumphed again meaningfully, but with no visible effect as Oz carefully tuned the guitar. Dawson was starting to get the impression that there wasn't much that Oz didn't do carefully. Finally the kid nodded in satisfaction and raised his head, surprising Dawson with a frankly happy grin that completely transformed the somber face.
Almost reluctantly, Joe returned it. "Shall we?"
Daniel nodded, running his fingers along the smooth surface, the strings still humming from his last tuning strum. "Ole Miss?"
Dawson looked at him flatly, noting the subtle inflection. "Why? W.C. not good enough for ya?"
"Handy's cool," Oz replied laconically.
Dawson sighed. "But?"
And what did the skinny punk do but shrug and touching the strings lightly, launch into "Call It Stormy Monday." Dawson bit down a curse and, settling for a short glare, timed his entrance. Soon enough the Seacouver evening was filled with the languid sounds of T-Bone Walker's classic. But it appeared that this night was destined to thwart any musical attempt.
They were barely into the song when the door to the bar was kicked open, followed by what sounded like a truly vile imprecation, although not in a language either of the duo knew. A cold gust of air followed, bringing with it a cloud of snow and a lanky, dark-haired, and thoroughly wet and irritated man in a long black duster. "...isgusting! Absolutely unacceptable!"
"Well. Look what the wind blew in..." Joe's tone was dripping with sarcasm, almost disguising the fact that his eyes were intent on the soaked and pitiful-looking figure.
Anyone would be hard-pressed to guess the truth about the newcomer on any day, but today as the lean-almost-to-the-point-of-gauntness man shrugged off his coat and let it fall on the bar with a wet "plop" Adam Pierson couldn't look any less like a 5,000-year-old Immortal. Joe sighed with no small measure of regret and shrugged, turning to Oz with a rueful smile. "Sorry." The word seemed to break the kid out of some trance; he was looking at "Adam Pierson" with narrowed eyes as if trying to remember where he'd seen him before.
"No problem." Daniel nodded and started to take off the guitar; he stopped, raising questioning eyes as Dawson's hand gripped his bony shoulder.
"Nah, kid. I gotta go see about this snake-in-the-grass lest he steals my beer cooler blind. You can stay and fiddle with the axe if you want."
Oz started to say something, but stopped and settled for a nod of gratitude.
"Just don't touch the Oberheim."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
"Adam," Dawson repeated more firmly as he clambered off of the stage, not expecting and getting no assistance from his friend. His friend.
It still seemed surreal to him sometimes, even after over thirty years as a Watcher, that his closest friends were people who fought at Troy or stole the silverware from Louis XIV. Life was a strange, strange thing, he thought not for the first time, making his way toward the bar where Adam was making himself blatantly at home. It was odd, but sometimes Dawson found it simply more comfortable, easier... safer to think of this man as Adam Pierson, perennial graduate student, rather than Methos, one of the Four Horsemen.
He had a sneaking suspicion that Methos knew this perfectly well but let him get away with it. Up to a point. And then he'd drop comments about Cleopatra's nose with seeming innocence.
"Hands off the booze, boy."
"You call this booze?" Methos's Roman nose twitched in a moue of disdain. "Please."
Dawson smiled, an expression brimming with insincerity, and grabbed the bottle away. "All the more reason to leave to for us lesser mortals, isn't it? Get the hell out from behind my bar."
Methos sighed and shook his head, vaulting over to the other side. "Is that any way to treat a valued customer?"
"No." Joe put the bottle back with a loud clang. "Hence I am treating you this way." He turned around to find Methos clutching his chest dramatically.
"You wound me, Joe."
"I'll aim better next time." Dawson nonchalantly put his back toward the stage, from where faint notes could be heard still, and quirked an eyebrow as he silently mouthed a query.
Methos' thin sharp-featured face didn't give any clue as to whether he understood as he sighed in deep melancholy and hooked a nearest chair with his leg, dropping into it. The clever-green eyes moved almost imperceptibly toward the heap of his trench coat and back to Dawson as Methos burrowed deeper inside the chair. "I can't believe you people celebrate this time of the year. It should be mourned! Mourned I tell you!"
"Oh noooo. No. Noooo. It's not fair. No!"
Methos's eyes brightened suddenly with the unwholesome light of a cat spotting a canary. "Amy, light of my life. How's your vacation going?"
Dawson steeled himself for the inevitable, meanwhile carefully concealing the sigh of relief. The kid wasn't Immortal. Methos would never have put his coat, which also held his sword, out of his reach otherwise. Even though, as Dawson knew perfectly well, those faded blue jeans and the oversized sweater concealed at least one dagger. Methos believed in being prepared.
"You. You-- You incredible rat-bastard! What... what are you doing here, you sneaky louse?!"
Methos pondered the empty glass that Joe was cleaning just to keep his hands busy. "Vainly expecting this establishment to live up to its name. Whom do I have to decapitate to get a drink around here?"
Dawson opened his eyes wide. "Oh, you haven't heard? See, I just learned this fascinating new business concept. It's called solvency. You pay, me serve." He put the glass down looking at Methos expectantly. The latter looked back in him in undisguised horror.
"You want me to pay?! For beer?! Here? And let the carefully cultivated tradition go to waste? Joe. You vandal!"
Joe smirked and turned around, looking over the drink cabinet. Beside him Amy let out an explosive breath. "Hey! You! I asked you a question. What the hell are you doing here?"
"Who, me?" Methos sounded surprised. "Well, due to the beastly weather, the electricity in my flat went a little out. And then the beer ran out." A sad sigh sounded as Methos dragged his hand through the wet mass of the short black hair. "Everything ends. Such is life. And beer. It's all quite tragic really." He concluded philosophically.
Dawson started to consider whether the Tribunal would really be all that upset if his daughter decapitated the oldest known Immortal in the middle of his bar with a spoon. Methos, however, appeared to be less concerned.
"What interests me," He continued, ignoring the fuming young woman, "is what you're doing here, so early. I was rather under impression that there was a party today."
"I was bored. So I left. All right?"
"Ah." Methos nodded understandingly and looked at Joe. "Jake didn't show?"
Dawson nodded, keeping his face somber with a truly superhuman force of will. Amy glared at them both with an indiscriminate measure of disgust before stomping off, muttering under her breath and grabbing her cell-phone on the way.
"Here." Dawson slid the full glass down the bar toward the Immortal. "You derive a truly indecent amount of pleasure from teasing her, you know that?"
"Yes," Methos agreed complacently and partook of his beer with an air of a man fully content with his place in the world. Pausing, he raised his voice slightly. "Oh Amy, my dear heart. Do convey my deepest condolences to your fellow Watcher on his unfortunate accident with that plow truck. I do hope his car wasn't too badly damaged."
Amy's reply was clear, well-thought-out, precise and quite definitely not learned in the halls of the University.
Methos shrugged at Dawson. "She was starting to take me for granted."
Methos relaxed, long legs stretched out and beer in hand. He gave the bar a cursory overview and grinned suddenly. "That's what I like about your place, Joe. You meet the most interesting people."
The Immortal pointed with his chin toward the far corner. "Only here the customers eat bologna sandwiches and read Rumi, Joe."
"It's the ambience," Dawson replied, absently, meanwhile looking back toward the stage and reevaluating the serious young man yet again.
"If that's what you want to call it." Methos smiled lazily, shaking his head. "To imagine that you left Paris for this town. The cushy teaching job at Watchers' Academy. Fully furnished bar. For this. Why oh why would you come back to this place? What came over you? What possessed y--"
Methos stopped short of finishing the sentence as he registered Dawson's flat, serious gaze.
"Ah. Yes. Of course." He smiled a little sadly and nodded as if to himself. Dawson didn't say anything as he returned to wiping the bar.
He could have asked why Methos himself had reappeared in Seacouver only weeks after Dawson settled back in. Why the Immortal had strolled into "Joe's" one evening, loudly complaining about the weather, the people, the gas prices and the American beer. He didn't.
Although he was more curious than he might have shown. Dawson knew, without ever asking, that Methos didn't believe that Duncan would resurface in his lifetime. Perhaps he didn't even believe that if MacLeod did come back it would be to Seacouver. Still... Still and yet.
Their eyes met suddenly and the unspoken agreement passed between the blue and green. Joe nodded imperceptibly and reached behind the bar. "Check this out."
"Oh, hellooo there. Is that what I think it is?"
"Surely is. The game."
"Joe, I take back almost everything I said about you. C'mon."
Dawson chuckled and put the tape in, tilting the TV.
As the familiar music sounded from the television set, the music from the stage faltered slightly. "Is that the Rangers/Capitals game?"
Dawson nodded and Methos waved his glass in acknowledgement. In less than a minute Oz abandoned the guitar and grabbed a chair, eyes intent. "I heard Ollie is back on the roster."
Dawson nodded again and fast-forwarded the tape impatiently. Methos grimaced. "Eh. I fail to see the fascination with the Capitals. One decent player on the team and he's the goalie."
"What about Bondra?"
"Please. Mediocrity incarnate."
"Hey, shuddap, both of you. Here we go."
When Amy finally decided that she was once again calm enough to deal with the men in her life and reentered the bar, the scene playing out before her stopped her cold. She watched, biting her lip to keep from laughing, as the dignified Joe Dawson slammed his cane on the nearest table and bellowed like a wounded bear. Next to him the legendary and elusive Methos was doing serious damage to the shoulder of serious and intelligent young Daniel Osborne, whose face was buried in his hands.
"The Caps/Rangers game?"
Three heads nodded in unison, their eyes still locked on the screen where Chris Simon was going after Eric Lindross with admirable persistence and obvious homicidal intent, the players of both teams and the referees presenting only the nominal obstacles.
"Who you rooting for?" Amy asked, making herself comfortable behind the bar. The innocent and sensible question was met by three uncomprehending pairs of eyes.
"What?" Amy asked warily.
"It's Eastern Conference," Methos said slowly and deliberately.
"Doesn't matter who wins," Oz clarified.
"As long as someone kick-- Oh! Oh! Look at that. Did you see that?!"
Amy regarded the three quite obviously gone men and shook her head. She pondered her options when suddenly Methos cocked his head and his eyes grew hard. He gave respite to Oz's shoulder and, in a carefully casual manner, strode toward his coat. Amy's eyes narrowed and she glanced at Dawson. What surprised her was the fact that her father was looking a Daniel, who, in turn, was staring at the door...with his hackles quite literally up.
Just as Amy was about to say something and Methos laid his hands on his coat, the much-abused door flew open and let in a slender, immaculately dressed young woman. "Darlings! I do declare this city is not the place to spend the winter. Amy, my dear, you look absolutely ravishing!"
"Amanda." Amy grinned as the shorthaired platinum blonde, apparently completely unaffected by the snowstorm outside, proceeded to sweep through the bar like a mini-tornado. Methos appeared to be unfazed as he hung his coat up on a hook, for all the world his only original intention. Amanda nodded to him and imperiously shrugged off her coat. "Adam, be a dear--"
Amy stifled a snicker as Methos deftly caught the coat before it touched the floor and deposited it next to his own. The darkening green eyes promised dire retribution. Amanda appeared to be mostly unconcerned as she hugged Amy and kissed air near her cheek. "What are you doing here? I thought you had a party?" Amanda's eyes suddenly lit up with understanding. "Oh! Did Ja--"
"Yes! All right already! Jake stood me up. Okay?! Can we lay off Amy now?"
Amanda nodded and patted Amy's hand. "Sorry. Did these two gang up on you? Don't worry. They'll get theirs."
Dawson suddenly looked alarmed and Amanda smiled sweetly at him. Which, interestingly enough, appeared to do nothing for his peace of mind. Satisfied, Amanda turned to Methos, who was already back in his chair nursing the refilled beer glass. Feeling her eyes on him, he smiled lazily. "Tell me, Amanda... Aren't you a little overdressed for this humble establishment?"
Methos blithely ignored both Dawson and Amy's objections and quirked an eyebrow at the female immortal. The latter narrowed her eyes dangerously. "For your information I'm coming from a prior engagement."
"Should we expect company then?" Methos leaned back into his chair and closed his eyes. "You know – your usual admirers. The type who like to dress in blue and have an unhealthily fondness for handcuffs?"
"I resent that, Mr. Pierson. Why, you might give this young man a completely wrong idea with your infantile sense of humor."
Dawson winked at Daniel in sympathy, the latter appearing a little taken aback as Amanda unleashed the full force of her charm on him. It didn't take long, however, for him to collect himself. Joe noticed the green eyes jumping from Amanda to Methos several times. So he wasn't completely taken by surprise when the question was asked. "Is Adam your brother?"
Amanda was less prepared and was uncharacteristically struck dumb in the middle of a sentence. From behind Dawson Amy appeared to have swallowed something wrong and was coughing rather loudly. Methos' response was delivered with his usual aplomb and grace.
He fell out of the chair laughing.
Amanda glared at her fellow Immortal and retreated behind the bar. "You guys suck."
As Methos finally regained his composure, also his chair and his beer, he turned to Oz, with whom he'd apparently found some rapport during the time he'd used his shoulder as a punching bag. "No, we're not related per se."
A muffled "Thank God" from behind the bar was magnificently ignored as Methos sipped his beer. "So you never did answer me. What brings you here?"
"Going home for Christmas. Or I was." Oz looked toward the window, his expression inscrutable. "Airport was snowed in."
"Must be fate."
Dawson was surprised by the speed with which Oz 's head whipped to look at him. The green eyes were unreadable. "Must be." Suddenly the stare slid off Joe to the left and the eyebrows creased in a thoughtful frown. "Mate in three, right?"
In practice, Oz was a better player than Dawson. But Dawson's had the questionable advantage of playing Methos regularly for the last couple of years. Methos, with his usual catlike arrogance, offered silkily to take the black -- seemingly in the inescapable position. Dawson sighed, recognizing the situation but said nothing. Soon enough Oz was frowning, the green eyes looking at the board with an expression Dawson knew only too well.
The little guitarist also proved to be wiser than Joe and declined the offer of the rematch, retiring back to the stage to tinker with the Tobias. Methos looked around him, with the smug expression that as always proved too much for Dawson's resolve. "All right. Line 'em up."
He didn't do too bad -- Joe thought -- this time. He frowned considering the next move. Behind him, Amy coughed impatiently and Amanda, sitting next to Methos, sipped her martini with something very close to a pitying expression in her eyes. Joe cleared his throat and concentrated. The knight was most definitely gone. But he didn't like that smirk... Aha. No. "Oh, no. You ain't getting my queen, you conman."
“Bollocks! See? See what happens when I listen to you? Shite. A slues bar. We end up in a blues bar."
Dawson raised his head and Methos turned around just as the second voice joined the conversation, still outside the door. "How is this my fault?"
"Well excuse me. If we didn't pick up every stray and gave them a lift, we wouldn't be caught in the middle of nowhere. Now would we?"
"First of all -- I seems to remember you two got along very well. And the second-hand smoke alone... Yeeegh. Plus. I am not the one who got lost. Twice! And instead of doing it the easy way you are the one who insisted on...I dunno. This."
"There's gonna be no easy way. Did we forget our little 'apocalypse' conversation?" The door opened and the second comment was much clearer. "And I ain't lost. I know exactly where I am."
"Right. Where are we?"
"North." The first speaker delivered with an utmost confidence and turned toward the group around the table. "Right?"
Methos nodded. "Most assuredly. We're most definitely north of most places."
"See?" The hawkish-faced lean man turned back at his redheaded companion. "I never get lost."
The girl shook her head in exasperation and smiled at Dawson. "Sorry. He's hungry. That always makes him irritable." She paused for a moment and added thoughtfully, "Er."
Amy hid her chuckle behind the palm of the hand and very carefully did not look at Methos. "Yeah. Know how that song goes. I'm Amy. That there is Adam, Joe, and Amanda. The guy in the corner is Daniel."
"Hi." The redhead smiled again. She had a nice friendly face, Amy decided. Not beautiful but pretty. Plus red hair. Muchness of envy, she sighed inside. That'd never work for me.
The guy was... interesting. Goth? Probably. He certainly dressed like one. Black jeans, black tee-shirt, black leather coat. Even black manicure. The bleached hair completed the portrait. Yet somehow he didn't look like a complete idiot. The girl caught her examining her friend and grinned. "Walking that fine line between tragically hip and completely ridiculous, that's him."
The bottle-blond appeared unfazed as he made himself comfortable. Joe shook his head as yet another trench coat was added to the pile. Amy noted the certain protective possessiveness as the man moved to take the girl's jacket. Boyfriend?
The girl sat down by the bar with a tired sigh. "He's Sp...uhm, Will. And I’m Willow." She appeared momentarily surprised by the similarity of the names but recovered quickly. But no one at the table missed the brief confusion and Amy caught Methos and Amanda exchanging a brief inscrutable look.
Will returned, pausing briefly before the table. "Hey. Nice 'do."
Amanda inclined her head to the frankly admiring tone. "Why thank you." She glanced at Methos out of the corner of her eye. "Finally, a man of taste."
Methos responded by shielding his eyes. "Good heavens. 'Tis the peroxide convention."
Dawson chuckled and waved his hand magnanimously, his eyed locked on the board. "You want something to drink -- help yourself. Leave the money on the counter."
Will did not follow the girl's lead in dispensing gratitude but rather got right to the point of ransacking the bar. And Amy was fairly certain that she heard him praising the Lord for trusting suckers. Apparently so did Willow, who shook her head reproachfully at his back.
Amy grinned at her and waved her over. "C'mon. It's warmer in this corner." Willow hesitated for a moment but eventually couldn't resist and wedged herself in the corner between Amy and the end of the chair. Will rejoined them himself a moment later, making his disgust over the status of the bar's pallet loud and clear. Methos, to no surprise, wasn't far behind in showing firm support. Amanda shook her head as Willow started fidgeting nervously, vainly trying to catch Will's attention.
"Don't worry about it, honey." Amy patted the redhead's shoulder and nodded toward Joe, who was weathering the criticism with a truly stoic fatalism born of long practice. Willow didn't appear to be mollified, but before she had the chance to say something her companion paused suddenly, his fine-boned face tense.
"Wait. Waaaaait." He sniffed the air violently. "Bloody hell. I take it back." The crescent scar splitting his left brow into three danced as he grinned wolfishly and focused on Amy, unerringly taking her for the lady of the house. "Hot chocolate?"
"Can I have any?" Will inquired plaintively.
Amy made a show of thinking it over and the blond dug into his back pocket, his English accent getting stronger. "I have money."
Dawson coughed sternly, still not taking his eyes off the board. "Amy. Don't tease the patrons."
She sighed. "Oh fine. I never get to have any fun."
Will's face melted into a smile of pure joy for a moment before being drawn together by a wary yet hopeful expression. "Brilliant! Say... Do you have those little marshmallow thingies?'
"Green cabinet, second drawer."
Willow chuckled slightly as the black blur vaulted the bar and disappeared behind the doors. "Well. We lost him."
Amy felt her shudder slightly as she acclimated to the warmth of the room, finally letting go of the chill outside and letting the heat warm her to the bones, relaxing her. Amanda caught the movement also and wordlessly moved her brandy across the table, winking.
The question from the kitchen went unheeded as the redhead stiffened suddenly, her eyes growing wide.
"Willow..." Oz still sounded unsure and seemed to be holding his breath as Willow turned around to face him. "Damn."
"I said WOT?! Can't a body drink his chockie in pea... Oh." Will appeared in the door, holding the biggest cup Joe owned in his hand, apparently impervious to the heat of the steaming liquid inside. The blue eyes moved from seemingly-frozen Willow to Oz and back, taking in the situation at a glance. "Oh bloody hell." He chuckled disbelievingly and raised both eyes and mug heavenward in a brief gesture of respect. "Nice one."
Methos' eyes narrowed as the little guitarist sunk into a crouch and something that sounded a lot like a growl trembled through his throat. And the jovially cynical Billy Idol wannabe casually put down his mug on the bar and stepped to the right to give himself room.
"No!" Willow's scream cut the sudden tension. "No, both of you!"
Oz didn't relax, turning his head slightly. "You're with him?"
Will smiled with the arrogance Dawson found disturbingly familiar, and in a quite obviously provocative tone contributed. "Quick, ain't you? No, we're here at the same time purely by coincidence."
"Spike. You're not helping."
Will, or rather Spike apparently, appeared genuinely surprised. "Well -- duh. Hello? I am eviiiil. Pure eviiil. Remember?"
Willow squinted annoyed eyes at him. "Spike."
"Fine, fine." The blond sniffed disgustedly and picked up his chocolate, making his way to the table. "Don't get any blood on the carpet now, you hear? We're broke."
Willow sighed and, grabbing Oz's arm, pulled him away toward the stage and out of earshot.
Methos raised a calm eyebrow as he casually took Joe's queen. "Spike?"
"Yeah." Will shrugged. "What can I say. It seemed like a good idea at the time." He gulped his chocolate "She all right?"
Methos glanced at Amanda, her foot tapping the floor and eyes burning with curiosity as she observed the quietly talking couple by stage. Dawson shrugged. "Well. If she spontaneously combusts we've got a fire extinguisher in the back... Damn. Dammit!"
Spike looked at the board. "Give him the rook."
"Give him the rook, then take that far pawn."
"Yeah, right. Thanks." Joe shook his head, and muttered something about amateurs. Then suddenly paused and looked at the board again. "Hey. Heeeey now."
Methos frowned. "Two on one?"
Spike shrugged. "I could take you one on one."
"Is that right?'
Amanda sniggered softly, catching Amy's eye. "When egos attack. News at 11."
Joe didn't waste time and grabbed at the opportunity to escape. "Poor kid. He has no idea what he's in for." He shook his head in commiseration and firmly put another chair between himself and the board. "Must have hit his head when he got that chocolate."
Amanda grinned into her brandy and he glanced at her. "What?"
She nodded silently toward Spike's heavy black boots, the right shoe scuffed white. Joe shrugged. "So?"
Amanda sipped her drink contentedly and lowered her voice tinged with amusement. "He checked for the back door, Joe."
"Bollocks. All right. What about this."
Amy sighed and got up, stretching leisurely. "This is such a gyp. What kind of a Christmas is this? Hm? We don't even have a tree. Where is my tree?"
Amanda nodded firmly. "The girl's got a point, Dawson."
Joe raised his hands defensively. "Hey! Don't gang up on me, all right? I bought one. Paid and all. They were supposed to deliver it this morning."
Amy sniffed. "That's what happens when you leave it till the last minute."
"Oh, please! You can't be serious! The Ramones couldn't wipe the Pistols' collective arse. And also check."
"If you say so."
"Didn't I just? And I meant to give you that knight."
Methos added something Dawson didn't catch and Spike's eyes flared. "I knew it! I knew it! Every fuckin' time! You bloody Yanks. Every time you get into argument about music you have to drag King Cole into it. He's been dead thirty years and more! Let the man rest in peace!"
"Well so has the Billy Idol look, but you are keeping THAT alive by sheer perseverance."
Dawson frowned, looking at the board from the distance. "I'll be damned... I think the kid's got him on the run."
"What? Wait! Oh, shite. I can't believe I missed that... Dammit!"
Two feet behind him, Dawson sighed. "Dammit."
Spike propped his head up by the right hand, muttering under his breath and retracing his moves. "I don't believe this. I haven't lost in a hundred years..."
Spike threw a sullen glance at Willow before going back to the board. "Right. Whatever."
Willow grinned at the curious glances shyly, her hand lightly gripped in Oz's. "He's not a ball of sunshine."
"We've noticed," Amanda remarked dryly.
Amy sighed loudly. "I want my tree."
Dawson raised his hands in exasperation. "Don't pout. It's undignified."
"I don't care! I want my tree!"
"There is no tree!"
"I want one!"
"You can't have it!"
"Umm..." Willow retreated a step under twin blue glares but rallied gamely. "Actually... There is a tree. It's right outside. In the... uhm... snow." Her eyes suddenly lit with an unhealthy glow and she added demurely, "I am sure Sp...Will is going to be more than happy to help."
Spike's head came up sharply as he tried to catch up on the conversation. "I will not!" He regarded the suddenly sad faces of the men around him and his eyes narrowed farther. "Help with what?"
"I'll see your Ow and raise you a Gah."
"Turn it, turn it... To the right. Fuck! To. Your. Other. Right."
"Another sorry like that and there is going to be one less Spike."
"How's that a bad thing again?"
"Push, it, push it!"
"We're not giving birth here, Joe! Get out of the way!"
"Who are you calling a ho, you berk?"
Tree hit the floor with an appropriate whomp and the trio retreated, looking at the fallen giant with an undisguised loathing. Spike reached into the pocket and fished out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, absently offering them to Methos and Oz. Before either could decline, the pack was deftly plucked out of his hand. "Oi! What's wrong with you? Give 'em back!"
Amy calmly pocketed the pack and pointed imperiously at the "No Smoking" sign above the door. Spike looked at Dawson in disbelief. "She's kidding, right?"
"This is a blues bar!"
"Are you people insane?!"
Dawson shrugged. Amy frowned sternly. "You're not done, anyway."
Amanda nodded firmly. "Stand her up. Time to decorate."
"Good one, Spike."
"Shuddap, runt." Spike sighed and with quiet fatalism approached the tree. "All right. On three?"
"No! Och... Well. That's just bloody marvelous. Goodbye, spleen. I'll miss you always."
"Lean it... carefully... carefully... CAREFULLY!"
"Petty vengeance, Spike?"
"It's the best kind."
Amanda squinted and looked at Amy. The latter pursed her lips and nodded. "To the right, I think."
Methos's face appeared from between the fir and snow to glare at his Watcher momentarily before diving back in.
"Unless you are buying me dinner right after, get your damn hand of me arse!"
"Not me... And would somebody mind terribly securing this end? Quickly."
"Well, I'm sure as soon as Adam done molesting me, he'll be happy to oblige."
"I'm over here, Spike. And you're not my type."
Willow swallowed a highly undignified giggle as Amanda faced Spike's suspicious stare with her most innocent one. "Yes? Was there something?"
Spike regarded three studiously virtuous faces with a baleful expression before turning to look at Dawson. "There's no way I'm going to win this, is there?"
"You're wise beyond your years."
The blond glared at the women again, apparently debating the wisdom of getting into an argument.
"I hate to bother you but the tree is sort of falling."
"So?" Spike bit off, still glaring at the trio.
"I still say it's not straight."
Methos smiled and firmly sat on the nearest chair. "Isn't that just tragic?"
"I know my heart is breaking." Spike downed another glass of bourbon and filled it again, gingerly probing the bright red welt on his cheek. "Right?"
Oz nodded, gasping. "Yeah. Terrible."
Willow scratched her chin and squinted speculatively. "You know I could..." Her fingers moved slightly and Spike rapped them sharply without turning around. "There'll be none of that, now."
"It's just a little one!"
Spike turned around, the blue eyes suddenly stern and empty of humor. "No."
Amy held her breath as beside her Oz tensed. But after a moment's pause Willow dropped her eyes. "I was just saying..."
Spike held the silence taut for a second before relaxing. "Right. And I need my nicotine." He turned around until spotting Amy, and stretched out his hand imperiously. "Hand 'em over."
Amy stepped back, clutching her pocket protectively. "Not in here."
Spike looked at her speculatively and then at the door and the sounds of the storm outside. Then back at Amy. "Fine. Whatever. Gimme."
He grabbed his coat on the way and limped his way toward the door. Joe winced sympathetically. "Tree got you?"
Spike's steps faltered slightly. "Yeah."
He exited the bright room, closing the door carefully behind him. Willow looked after him sadly but did not follow.
He sheltered from the snow in the corner that the stairs made and, shielding the matches from the wind, lit up. The first drag filled his lungs with the acrid, biting smoke and he exhaled it slowly, savoring the bitter taste.
"Accident?" the hitchhiker had asked, nodding at his limp.
"Girlfriend," he replied shortly, lighting up and throwing the pack to the guy with the weird eyes and annoying accent.
The witch disappeared inside to pay for the gas and they stood outside, leaning against the car, the wisps of the smoke torn away by the wind into the darkness in a matter of seconds.
"Happens," said the hitchhiker as he took off his shades, looking at the billowing snow with a strange expression. "You broke up?"
"On and off." Spike glanced at the meter. "I'm on and she's off."
"Happens," Remy repeated, and they stood in silence for a time, looking at the falling snow.
"He's not going to freeze out there, is he?" Amy sounded worried as she glanced at the clock for the umpteenth time.
Willow shook her head, her eyes still sad but not alarmed. "He likes the cold sometimes."
Amanda looked toward the door perceptively. "Bad break-up?"
Willow nodded. "Something like that. He took it badly."
Oz suddenly straightened, startled. "Buffy?"
"Yeah." Willow was starting to sound a little defensive. "Riley headed for the jungles."
"I know. Ran into him ways back."
Methos chuckled suddenly without humor from the depths of his chair, looking up at the glittering, haphazardly-decorated tree. "Some gathering this is. The abandoned and the cast-out. Come all and make merry."
Willow frowned but fell silent, catching Amy's look. The latter smiled ruefully, looking at the suddenly thoughtful Amanda and Joe.
"I leave for one bloody second and you lot degenerate into a weepy angst-fest." Spike shook his head. "This is Christmas, for shit's sake. Where is your damn cheer?"
"I've got an excuse." Willow grinned at him, shaking the melancholy off. "I'm Jewish. Adam?"
"I am full of cheer, darling. It's the dye-job here that's bringing the mood down."
Spike looked around and finally put out the cigarette butt in Amy's cup. "I’m what she said. Jewish."
"That explains a lot."
Spike flipped Methos a bird and sunk on the floor by Willow's chair. "Christmas. What a joke."
"Not a fan of the gentle man from Nazareth?"
Spike shrugged, looking at the fireplace with hooded eyes. "I'm not fan of heroes."
Methos closed his eyes, his hand holding Amanda lightly as she reclined in his lap, her eyes also unfocused, looking with an unseeing stare into the fireplace. "Heroes and messiahs... A strange and cursed breed. Doomed to walk alone."
Spike laughed, a short and unpleasant sound. "A contagious curse, that. World would be a nicer place without them if you ask me. Them and their standards." He paused, his voice, losing some of the edge.
"No one can judge us harsher that ourselves. Save for our heroes."
Willow's slender pale hand reached down and ruffled the blond hair affectionately. "And yet."
"And yet," Dawson said quietly, stretching his dead legs. "In the end they stand between us and the Darkness. Even if it's our own."
"Unless it's too dark. And then we burn and they watch."
"And yet." Methos sighed, a strange self-mocking expression darkening his face for a second. "In the end if they call, we will come."
"Yeah, well. Works both ways, don't it? Ain't life grand."
Amanda refilled the two glasses and kissed Methos softly on the cheek. "To our heroes? Imperfect as they may be?"
Methos accepted the glass and locked his eyes with Spike for a second.
The latter played with his drink, letting the amber liquid swirl in an intricate play of light and glass. Finally he smiled a strange twisted smile. "Fine. To heroes. And to their faithful companions." He drained the glass in one gulp. "May God have mercy on them all."
"Do you think they're okay?"
Buffy Summers turned around, her eyes blank for a second. "What?"
Dawn patiently repeated her question. "Do you think they're okay, out there?"
The Slayer turned back to look out the window into the quiet California night. "I... Yes," she replied, her tone firm, the shudder of the shoulders almost imperceptible and the eyes almost dry. "Yes."
Dawn Summers sighed and looked at the blonde women in the doorway. Tara smiled at her tremulously and moved to softly cover Buffy in a wool blanket. "Of course they are, Dawnie. They'll take care of each other."
"And someday they'll be back." Buffy's remark sounded more like a question than a statement as she turned toward Tara, her eyes strangely vulnerable and defenseless. "Someday?"
"Of course." Tara smiled again, blinked any hint of tears from her eyes, and beckoned Dawn over, spreading the coverlet over all three of them as they stood by the window.
"We'll wait for them."
And whatever the tall dark-haired man on the hill, half a world away from Joe's bar, thought as he went through the motions of kata with a broken sword, would remain forever unknown.
And whatever the strange Cajun thought, as he surprised the girl once known as Pryde, was hidden very carefully behind the laughing red-on-black eyes and perhaps unimportant in the face of the sudden, completely unfeigned smile on her face.
And whatever other people like them - the Heroes and the Companions, the Cynics and the Don Quixotes, the Villains and the Cast-Outs, the Betrayers and the Betrayed, those that found the elusive peace and those who still walked troubled in the night -- thought on that Eve...
Well. That's a completely different story.
May all that wander find their way home.