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The Opposite of People

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Auditions

In the end, peeling off Adam Pierson wasn't as hard as Methos had feared. He was played out, worn through, ready for retirement. Methos left him behind in Paris while Duncan was off on one of his irregular trips abroad. Methos certainly didn't begrudge him the time away but he also wasn't going to bum around Paris, waiting. He had things to do. A new life to build. He just hadn't really envisioned that new life being what it had become. But that was half the fun, really.

Adam Pierson had been built with a singular purpose in mind: Join the Watchers and stay hidden while covering his rather long trail. And he had been perfect for that purpose until Duncan MacLeod showed up and his secret got out and people started asking questions and then Kronos showed up and by the time that was over he was already building a new name and background to move on to. The thing was, he didn't have a purpose for this one. No more so than "Get out of Paris and find something new to do." Somehow that had managed to land him on the catwalks above a stage, leaning precariously over the railing to tighten the bolt on a light while the stage manager below directed him through a series of barely coherent shouting and completely incomprehensible hand movements.

Eventually she gave him a thumbs up and he hoisted himself back onto firmer footing and headed down from the catwalk. He'd been working on something entirely different when the stage manager had grabbed him and told him she needed someone tall. Given that she was all of four foot ten in heels and could never have reached the light he'd been adjusting, he couldn't really fault her.

"Thanks, Jack," she said as he passed her. "Going to stick around for the last round of call-backs? They're usually pretty good."

"Am I even welcome?" he asked, stopping at the shop door. The theater was old, but some benefactor several decades back had gone to the trouble of raising funds to furnish the place with a proper set construction shop in the back. The tools were old now, but they worked and if you were careful you wouldn't lose any fingers to them.

"Of course. Just stay out of sight."

So he stayed, making himself useful by taking out the bag of washers they were using as coins for the show and touching up the gold paint so they were extra shiny.

On stage the director had the potential cast read lines together in various combinations, swapping people in and out, switching their roles mid-scene, giving them different directions to take the characters. When they were done putting the actors through those paces he had them do some stage fencing, which Methos had to excuse himself for. He briefly wondered if perhaps he should offer some lessons, but nowhere in the play were they supposed to behead anyone so maybe not.

"Right, thank you," the director said as the actors assembled on stage together. "Now, before I let you all go, I have one final request: Your most dramatic death, please. On the count of three, I would like you to die."

Well. Methos watched the actors stagger around and die with the utmost pathos. Maybe he should offer those fencing lessons after all.

Act 1 - Night 1

Dress rehearsals had gone about as well as could be expected, with only minor disasters that were easily remedied. Lights had been moved, gels replaced, a platform had been reinforced underneath, things like that. Which, according to the stage manager, director, assistant director, cast and the rest of the crew, meant that the show itself would be an absolute shitstorm.

Methos figured that sounded about right.

"Jack, ready curtain in five," came the stage manager's voice over his headset. It had proven advantageous to have strong arms and shoulders. Several thousand years of swordfighting did wonders for that, so Methos had been assigned to the ropes, flying in curtains and scrims and everything else set up on the giant pulley system.

"Ready," he murmured back into his mic. On stage the two leads were ready. Their light tech was ready on the controls, the crew was ready backstage. The lights in the hall and in the theater dimmed, and that was when Methos felt it - another Immortal had just come into range. From the feel of it, it had to be someone in the audience, so he consciously made himself relax. The other Immortal's presence sparked along his nerves but came no closer after a few moments. There were worse things than having another Immortal watch a play he was working on and by the time the curtain went up and the opening lines were spoken he'd adjusted to it like he always did when he spent time around others. It was in the background, a constant buzz, like tinnitus, and utterly unimportant for the time being.

Halfway through the first act Methos got a chance to peek out into the audience from a gap in the curtain at the edge of the stage. Somewhere out there in the dark was an Immortal who knew he was in the building. He scanned what he could see of the audience and stopped when he saw the ridiculously familiar face of one Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Duncan was apparently entirely fixated on the play itself, so Methos hurriedly went back to his post just in time to hear an ominous creak from the stage.

"They're hardly divisible, sir - well, I can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and I can do you blood and rhetoric without the love," one of the actors was saying on stage, standing on the open ramp of a wagon full of other actors (who were playing actors, oddly enough). The creak sounded again as the actor continued: "and I can do you all three concurrent or consecutive, but I can't do you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory - they're all blood you see." And on his final word the creak became a snap and the rear end of the wagon dropped to the stage floor on the back side. The now-broken wheel rolled off the stage and spiraled to a stop at Methos' feet.

On stage the show, as they said, went on. To their credit, the actors in the wagon had all climbed out as if that was what they were meant to do just then, and one of the stagehands had crept out to the stage to hide behind the wagon. When it came time to roll the wagon off the stage she played the part of the fourth wheel, carefully ducking out of sight and holding up what she could.

They went for drinks after the show that night and the stagehand who'd replaced the wheel didn't pay for a single one.

"Did you hear who was in the audience tonight?" she asked as she worked on her second beer.

Methos didn't make a habit of going out with the crew, but it seemed the thing to do after the first night of a show, and one which had included such a spectacular mishap. He sat back and listened to the gossip as they told each other about some man who'd approached the theater owner about investing. He was rumored to have a background in theater himself, but no one on the crew knew him.

"He's European," one of them said. "Some bigwig art dealer or something. He probably did some summer festival."

"Maybe he did pantomime," one of the others suggested. "Played the horse's ass!"

Methos offered to get the next round as the realization of who they were talking about dawned on him. Duncan MacLeod was going to invest in his theater.

Act 2 - Night 2

Having gone in early on the second night of the show, Methos was certain that the wagon's fourth wheel was well and truly repaired. It was a skill he hadn't ever thought to use again, but he was finding that was true of many things in this job. All sorts of little knacks he'd tucked away for the past few thousand years were suddenly useful again in the oddest ways. He'd checked the other three wheels, just to be sure, when the stage manager had come through and pointed out that having been the source of the first night's problems, the wagon was unlikely to give them trouble a second time.

"It'll be from an entirely new and unprepared-for source," she assured him. "That's live theater for you."

The show was sold out and once more Methos felt another Immortal enter just before the curtain went up. Probably MacLeod again. Methos put him out of his mind and set to his job, keeping a careful eye on the wagon as it rolled in and out without incident. In fact, apart from some minor issues no one outside of the cast and crew would notice, the first act went suspiciously well.

"Is he here again tonight?" one of the cast asked the stage manager in the brief pause between acts one and two while Methos and the other crew shifted the sets. She nodded in return.

"Same seat as last night," she replied. "Now get out of here and let me work."

Act two began without incident and continued without incident for long enough that Methos was starting to get a little concerned. On stage and off the play continued, cast hitting their marks and crew making their cues. The lights dimmed for a play within the play on stage, focusing on the action being watched by the cast.

Speeches were made during the scene and it all seemed to be going well through to the end of the mini-production when the lights were to go out completely, leaving everyone in the dark just for a moment. It was during that moment that Methos, and everyone in the theater, heard the screech of metal on metal from above. It was almost drowned out by the lines spoken by several cast members during the blackout, but not entirely.

"Shit," came the stage manager's voice over the headsets as Methos caught her panicked look from across the stage. The light was meant to come back up as a sunrise, showing two bodies. Instead, when the light came on, it was pointed directly down at the middle of the audience. It was not, Methos noted with relief, the light he'd had to adjust. It was also not, he noted with far more relief, dangling. It seemed to have simply slipped on its clamp, its angle falling sharply.

"Jack!" the stage manager hissed into his ears. "Get up there. We don't need anything flown in right now and we didn't have anyone on the catwalks tonight."

She continued to give direction to the rest of the crew, getting the person running the lights to quickly switch the problematic light off and something else on as Methos made his way up to the catwalks as lightly as possible. Amanda would have done it better, he was sure, but she wasn't here right now.

As he waited for the light to cool enough for him to handle it, Methos looked down from above the audience just in time to see MacLeod looking up. He'd been right in the spotlight for a moment there. Methos was sure he himself wasn't visible, but Duncan would know he was up there.

The crew went out for drinks again that night, the stage manager buying Methos a beer for being so quick on his feet and getting the light clamped down.

"Is this what it's always like?" he asked the whole group. He was answered with laughter and groans.

"Every single show," they told him.

"We once had an entire set almost come apart at the seams mid-show. We were patching it together during intermission. Remember that?" one of the older crewmembers asked the others.

The stage manager sighed. "I remember. That was when we had that ass who insisted we build extra tall flats and then use the shorter support pipes. I didn't see him dutching them together that night."

That started a whole long series of stories about every disaster that had ever happened at the theater and by the time Methos headed home he had almost forgotten about MacLeod. But not quite.

Act 3 - Night 3

"Are you sure it was him?" the stage manager was asking one of the other crew as Methos came in for the third show.

The other crewmember nodded. "One hundred percent sure. I was in the ticket booth the first night he came in. He's got a distinctive voice, you know? He asked her like, five times. A couple of names, too. Think whoever he's looking for is a friend or what?"

"What's up?" Methos asked, heading over to join them.

"That guy, the one who wants to invest? Maybe? He was asking about some guy he was sure worked here. Adam something."

"Or Ben," the crewmember added. "He was nice about it and all, but he said he was sure he'd seen this mysterious guy the other night."

The stage manager shrugged. "I don't think we've ever had an Adam on crew. Last Ben I remember was that jackass who kept playing with the props. That was what, five years ago?"

"You're the only new face around here," the crewmember said, pointing at Methos. "Your name's not secretly Adam, is it?"

Methos grinned at them and shook his head. "Not unless my whole life is a lie. It's probably someone he did school theater with or something, a hundred years ago. Who cares so long as he invests, right?"

The stage manager laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Exactly. Come on, we've got to go check all the lights and I need your reach."

Lights seen to, Methos did the other little tasks that came before every show and got himself ready not just for the play to start, but for the now-inevitable sensation of MacLeod impinging on his space. Not that it was entirely unwelcome. It was just that it was complicated, as Duncan's asking for him proved quite neatly.

Act one went fine, for the most part. When one of the leads missed a step and tumbled down off a platform Methos was certain, for a split second, that this was their disaster for the night. But the man clearly had some acrobatics training and had tucked just right, bouncing up to deliver his next line like it was all part of the moment.

One of the set pieces Methos had to fly in on the ropes got caught on another set piece and Methos hesitated when flying it out until a cast member idly uncaught it on her way off stage near the end of the second act. Two near misses that he'd noticed, and probably a few more that he hadn't, back in the dressing rooms or in the wings on the other side. It was entirely possible, Methos thought, that they would get through the third night without a real problem.

Possible, but unlikely. Life just didn't work that way, or so he'd found. And when, mid-intermission, he heard the stage manager start to swear in a painfully calm voice, he knew he was right.

Methos took off his headset and crossed the stage. Two other crewmembers had gathered around the stage manager, who had a look on her face that Methos was slightly amused to recognize. Something had gone horribly, irreparably wrong. Something had gone so wrong that there should be no fixing it. And she was figuring out how to fix it. He'd worn that look himself and knew how it felt on his face.

"What's happened?" he asked softly, looking at the others. He didn't bother addressing the stage manager. She was mid-plan and he wasn't going to be the one who derailed her.

"All three leads. Four if you count Hamlet. They're in the bathrooms out back, puking their guts out," one of the others said. He was usually in charge of the props on this side of the stage and kept an eye on the dressing rooms in case any of the cast needed something.

"All of them?" Methos demanded. "What happened? Someone spike their dinner?"

"Not a clue. Maybe they went to that horrible seafood place for brunch?" the other crewmember suggested. "Or… They've been spending an awful lot of time together, and my brother had one of those nasty stomach bugs last week…" he trailed off.

"Doesn't matter," the stage manager said as she snapped to attention. "They could have been downing ipecac between scenes for all I care. What matters is that they can't go on. Go get the director, round up the rest of the cast. See who's functional. We have four parts to recast in less than five minutes. We can extend the intermission a little but that's it."

Quickly, Methos and the others rushed off to find everyone and get it sorted out.

"Where are the understudies?" the director asked when everyone still upright was gathered on stage. Two of the cast raised their hands and everyone looked around for the others just as Hamlet lurched onto the stage from the wings.

"I can go on," he assured them. "I don't have any lines and then I die. It's fine."

"What about the others?" the director asked.

"Looks like whatever it is, it got everyone who's not here."

They all took stock of the group on the stage. Three leads missing and only two understudies.

"Can anyone do it?" the director asked as the stage manager made some hasty notes in her script. A few of the other cast members shrugged, then one of them raised his hand.

"I can, but… I might need some prompting for the longer speeches. I've been staying through the whole thing but I don't know it all."

The director and assistant and stage manager all traded looks, then nodded to each other. The stage manager handed a script to Methos and steered him back to the wings where he normally stayed during the third act.

"You've been upgraded to script prompter," she told him. "We'll stick a headset on him and you feed him a line whenever he pauses."

Everyone scrambled to go trade costumes and get ready and the curtain went up only three minutes past when it would have on any other night when the entire main cast wasn't struck down. Somehow it even all seemed to be working, with the three understudies picking up their new roles surprisingly well and poor Hamlet trying to pass his lingering illness off as seasickness. Given that the entire third act was supposed to take place on a ship that worked out okay.

Methos took out his red-gelled flashlight and shone it on his script, following along through the lines and whispering into his mic whenever their last minute stand-in seemed to be a little stuck. He was doing quite well, really, until right near the end, when he used a turn towards the wings to shoot a somewhat helpless look in Methos' direction. Given the action on stage, it could be interpreted as part of the scene, but Methos could see the speech coming up. It was a big one.

He got the action and the lead-in fine, then faltered, silent for just long enough that Methos started murmuring the line into his mic.

"You die a thousand casual deaths - with none of that intensity which squeezes out life… and no blood runs cold anywhere. Because even as you die you know that you will be back in a different hat." It wasn't the end of the speech but somewhere through it the actor had remembered the rest and kept going without any help. On stage one character killed another, only for the dead to come back to life, revealing it had all been a trick. Then more deaths, dramatic and exaggerated for show, then the two leads both disappeared slowly, fading from view with the help of trick lighting and scenery.

When the lights came back up after the end and it was time for the cast to take their bows Methos could see a few of them trying not to laugh a little hysterically. He felt a bit like cracking up himself until something got his attention. He looked across the stage to see Duncan MacLeod shaking the stage manager's hand. He could hear him over the headsets, congratulating her for the good handling of a total and utter disaster.

"Let me take everyone out," he was offering, and he looked up and over, meeting Methos' eyes. "My treat."

Set Strike

The production run was three weeks long and by the time they wrapped their final show there had been a loud and almost unmanageable blow-out between three cast members just prior to the second act, a curtain malfunction, an audience member fainting and a number of other, less remarkable disasters. Duncan MacLeod had been there for most of them and on the particularly hectic nights he had again bought drinks for the crew after the show. Methos managed to keep his distance. It wouldn't do to be too close too soon.

When they ended up in the same bar with the crew after a show Methos nodded to him, then struck up a conversation with someone else. Every so often they would end up in the same circle but Duncan never followed if Methos broke off to get everyone a new round or head home early. He heard Duncan ask about him a few times and heard the crew respond with what they knew about him: Single, probably. Living alone, definitely. Sort of new in town, they thought. Handy, thoughtful, quick on his feet. They all seemed to be just the sorts of things he'd been aiming for with Jack during his time at the theater.

A couple of the crew asked Methos if he was interested in Duncan. He didn't say yes, but he also didn't say no, and let them draw their own conclusions from the slight smile on his face.

It was only during set strike, while Methos was up on the catwalk carefully taking down the lights, that Duncan managed to corner him.

"I came by to see if you all needed help and they sent me up here. Said you could use another pair of hands."

Methos shrugged and lifted the light he'd been working on onto the catwalk.

"We always need another pair of hands," he told Duncan. "How else do you think I got involved in this mess?"

He started on another of the lights he'd been told to move, not turning to look at Duncan though he knew the other man was watching him. Finally, Duncan's hands gripped the light on the other side as Methos got it unplugged and started to loosen the bolts holding it on.

"I have no idea how you got involved in this. I barely know your name," Duncan pointed out.

They hoisted the light up over the railing and set it down together.

"Jack Davies," Methos said, holding one dust-covered hand out to Duncan.

"Duncan MacLeod," Duncan said, taking Methos' hand and giving it a firm shake. "So. Tell me about yourself, Jack. How did you get into this?"

Methos leaned against the railing and looked down at the stage before answering. He had a bit of a back story. Just enough to get by. He had a few quirks he'd worked out and a few preferences he'd decided on. But Jack was far from complete.

"I live next door to the stage manager. She needed some help and I volunteered," Methos said. He gestured around to the theater at large. "And here I am. I needed a job anyhow. Still finding myself, you know?"

Duncan nodded and brushed off his hands. He considered Methos for a long moment, then smiled.

"Well," he said, going to work on the next light. "I know we haven't had much chance to talk yet, but I think I'd like to get to know you better."