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Endgame

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*

She decided to wait for him at the piano and passed the time by playing a few old songs. The lacquered surface of the piano keys beneath her fingertips evoked memories of centuries past with a clarity that was almost visceral. When she closed her eyes, she could hear the sound of long-lost melodies filling the smoke-scented air of practice halls, songs played by students now long dead.

Her foray into teaching the piano had been one of her more enjoyable dalliances, to the point that she still indulged herself from time to time. Finding that rare student with the gem of talent hidden down deep made the dalliance even if the search took centuries.

Such a search would be just the sort of departure she needed from her current situation.

The last of the notes faded away as the door opened, a crack of light from the hall spilling into the room, outlining the shape of a man standing just outside the threshold.

Still shadowed by darkness, Lauren placed her hands upon the piano in view, and spoke, "Come in Jack, I'm unarmed."

Which was true, she carried no gun and her sword lay out of her reach on the coffee table. That was not to say she was vulnerable but she had learned the appearance of it mattered more than the truth.

"Ms. Reed," Jack Bristow said calmly, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. When he flicked on the light, he looked at her for a moment. "You seem well."

"I seem alive," she said, a faint smile on her lips. "Which is a surprise to you since I'm currently inhabiting a drawer in APO's morgue?"

Jack inclined his head. "It does present a rather interesting conundrum."

"Not particularly," she disagreed. "But you already suspect that the body is merely a reasonable facsimile and you would be correct. Regrettably, I don't know what her name was anymore than I know what she looked before the surgeries." She didn't bother telling him the girl's death had nothing to do with her. He wouldn't believe it and she didn't care at any rate. "She served her purpose."

He said nothing in answer to that. "The obvious question for me to ask would be what are you doing here?" Jack advanced further into the apartment and she took note of the gun still in his hand.

"But?"

"But since you've effectively obliterated your own cover to come here, it would stand to reason you'll be sharing the answer in short order." He sat down and looked at the sword. "Then there is the matter of that."

Lauren allowed a smile. "So we're going to do away with the charade? We'll both stop pretending that you have no connections to the Watchers and never heard of Immortals? It would do much to expedite the situation and we're both too old to be playing this particular game."

He looked amused. Which wasn't really all that amused, just as much as Jack Bristow could ever look. "Games aside, why?"

She moved away from the piano with reluctance and crossed the room to her coat. There she found the small text hidden within its depths and brought it to Jack. "Milo Rambaldi's work has been a thorn in the flesh for centuries that's driven my kind to all sorts of rather unfortunate acts."

Jack took the book, nodding. "The results of which I've seen." He thumbed through the pages. "A journal?"

"One of Rambaldi's," she explained. "Detailing his encounters with my kind over the years, the man was something of a groupie. If we'd known then what his true purposes were in associating with our kind," She frowned. "Your friend Mr. Sloane has come closer than any mortal in the centuries before him. We believe that he will indeed end up fulfilling all of Milo's plans and we also believe your daughter is the likely method through which we will be able to stop him."

Lauren watched him read for a moment before adding, "And the survival of Ms. Santos." The muted shock in his eyes made her smile. "She hasn't yet, but with Rambaldi's Endgame in play, it might very well be arranged."

It would be one of the few times, she thought, that Milo Rambaldi's research would prove constructive to an Immortal.

*

She expected that it would be Methos waiting in her suite so the sense of another Immortal did not surprise Lauren, nevertheless she kept a cautious hand on her sword as she stepped into the room. "You could at least have ordered dinner," she said reproachfully, dropping her sword onto the bed and shaking the rain from her coat. "I'm starving."

Methos looked up from his book. "Somehow, I suspect you'll live."

"Yes, I suppose I will," she said, sitting down on a sofa. "I'll order something myself." Just as soon as she could summon the energy or interest to go for the telephone. "Bristow has been briefed."

"And you made it out with your head still attached, imagine that." Methos opened a beer, flicking the cap into the trash. "He must have found your terms quite appealing."

"Resurrection from death usually does manage to grab one's attention," Lauren said. "He loves her." Bristow's feelings for Nadia Santos had never truly been in doubt, Michael's reports had paid attention to describing the depth of the connection, but she hadn't expected Jack to admit it so readily. She had never had much trouble reading the intentions of mortals but Jack Bristow had more than made up for that.

"Of course he does," Methos said. "She's a Derevko and therefore quite irresistible."

Lauren slanted a grin at him through the splayed fingers that covered her eyes. "Yes, I had forgotten your dalliance with her mother."

"No you didn't," he grinned. "You were saving it for an opportune moment."

"And you wouldn't let that moment arrive," she said. "It's most impolite of you." She considered pouting but decided it would be over-the-top. "Impolite but typical." She stood and turned toward the bedroom. "I'm going to change. Order something in please? Thai."

"I hate Thai," Methos grumbled.

"No you don't," she said, tossing her shirt over her head. "You're arguing for the sake of it." Rolling her shoulders to work out the tension, that was all she said on the matter, and kept moving forward. "Is the flight booked?"

"Yes," he answered, following her into the bedroom and picking up the phone. "We'll leave in the morning."

"Off to save the world," she mused, finding a clean shirt. "How unorthodox for us both."

"Given the number of times we've nearly destroyed it," Methos said, looking through the phone book, "it's only fair that we return the favor for once."

Lauren nodded absently, picking through her clothing for a pair of pants. The fabric slipped easily through her fingers as she searched, the action far more comforting than it should have been. "Do you think that Rambaldi's research will be able to restore Nadia Santos's life?" She asked, selecting a pair and sat down on the edge of the bed. "It's difficult to believe. A man of his era able to harness science and replicate Immortality?" She shook her head.

"It's difficult to believe," Methos said. He put down the phone and stretched out on the bed beside her. "But they're damned annoying that way, always doing the unexpected." He sighed, fingers tracing a pattern over her back. She shivered beneath the touch but leaned back for more. "At least we're never bored."

She chuckled. "Unless we are and then you're a terror."

He kissed her shoulder. "Idle hands..."

Lauren sighed. "You're supposed to be ordering food. I'm hungry."

Tugging the pants out of her hands, Methos let them fall to the floor. "So starve."

*

She met Jack outside the chamber, blade in hand. "He's in there," she said, tilting her head toward the chamber. "You may need this," she added, presenting him with it. "Just in case we were right."

"And if you weren't?" Jack asked her. He was skeptical but as she had anticipated, he took it anyway.

"He gets to spend eternity in two pieces," Lauren smiled. "After everything he's put your daughter through, I would think that's fitting."

"Immortal justice," Jack said. He hefted the blade in his hand and she was not surprised to see he was already skilled with it. More than one Watcher had familiarized themselves with sword play. When in Rome after all. "It is fitting."

Lauren produced several vials and held them out next. "The fluid is what we need. From our research, it seems to suggest that Rambaldi might have an understanding of DNA. If that's so, then the active agent in the fluid will deliver it to the cells and regenerate them. Whether or not it will create Immortality in a corpse or just reanimate it, I cannot say. We've yet to see this tested." She looked at him. "There are no guarantees."

"There never are," Jack took the vials, pocketing them. "Do you have her?"

She inclined her head. "My partner."

"Pierson."

Lauren didn't know whether or not he was feigning ignorance of Adam Pierson's true identity. Jack's features were carefully blank, neither revealing nor concealing anything. It was maddening and amusing all at once, she did appreciate a challenge. "Yes, Adam," she said. "He has some medical training and will suffice until we are able arrange appropriate care. An acquaintance is en route from South America, we anticipate that she will arrive before you return with the serum."

"Our agreement stands?" He prompted. "If she revives..."

"We will contact you," Lauren finished. "Yes, our agreement stands." She turned away with a calm, "Watch your head." He didn't reply but the scrape of shoe against stone said he had followed Sloane inside.

As a precaution, she started walking. If Sloane had created Rambaldi's serum and if he had become an Immortal, she had no wish of the man's Quickening (as minor as it might have been) crawling around inside her.

When she was out of range, she took her cell phone from her pocket and hit the speed dial. "It's me."

"Is he inside?" Methos asked as soon as he heard her voice.

"Just went in," Lauren said. "I gave him the vials and assured him that Ms. Santos is being properly cared for. Which, of course, she is I trust?"

"Oh yes, we're having a wonderful time, Nadia and I," Methos said dryly. "Last night we got horribly drunk and painted the town blue. I told her red was the appropriate color but have you ever tried arguing with the dead? It's terribly difficult."

She rolled her eyes. "Be thankful Jack is nowhere in earshot. He'd have your head for that one."

"And you wouldn't defend me?" He asked.

"I'd hold you down and help," Lauren said. "You'd deserve it."

"After all I've done for you," Methos sighed. "Where's your loyalty?"

"You taught me to be practical," she said. "And I'm a very good student." She looked back over her shoulder. "I'm sure he suspects I asked for more serum than we'll need, with is experience I doubt he could miss it."

"Will it be a problem?"

"Unlikely," Lauren said. "Whatever our reasons for wanting it, he'll bring the vials anyway. We have Nadia and if he wants to the serum on her, he'll need to deliver all the samples I asked for. The true concern is how many vials he's carrying as well. I highly doubt a man like Jack Bristow would pass up the chance to secure his own samples. Immortality from a single injection is too big a potential variable for him to let it pass without further study."

"Which is worrying," Methos said. "He can't do the analysis himself, he'd need a second party. He wouldn't trust the Watchers with it, he knows they'd never share the information."

"Bristow has a number of contacts," Lauren glanced up at the skyline in the direction Sydney and the helicopter had gone. "All of which are nearly impossible to monitor. He's been hiding them from the Watchers and the CIA for years."

"I do so love a challenge," Methos muttered in annoyance.

"Ask Michael," she said. "Jack may have said something to Sydney over the years."

"Unlikely, he's not the type to let things slip." Methos argued. "But we may get lucky."

She chuckled. "Well now, that would be a first."

"Lauren," Jack's voice halted her laughter and she turned to see him slumped against the entrance to the chamber. She couldn't see if the blood that decorated his clothing was his own or someone else's and she didn't like the implication.

"I'll call later," she told Methos, snapping her cell phone shut.

*

They met in Zurich at a safe house arranged by Methos. It was a quiet place in an upscale neighborhood but Lauren did not relax as she led Jack inside.

"Ah, Mr. Bristow," Methos called down the stairs with a too-polite smile. "You look well for a dead man."

Jack returned the smile, parody that it was. "I should say the same for you."

"Not just him," Nadia said, appearing at Methos' side. Resting her hands on the railing, she looked down at Jack and smiled. "Hello."

Lauren looked at her friend. "It worked?"

Methos nodded. "Quite efficiently. Grace is examining the other samples as we speak, we may never get her out of the laboratory again."

"She always was happiest in it." Lauren looked at Jack, saw the thunderstruck expression there and allowed herself a moment to enjoy it. "If you two would like to be left alone," she said. "I'm sure Methos has already arranged accommodations."

"They'll stay here for now," Methos said as Jack seemed to remember his feet and resumed climbing the stairs. "When Grace gives the all clear for Ms. Santos, we'll have them relocated."

"Housing and finances arranged of course?" She prompted, smiling mirthfully at Methos. Lauren had been toying with his temper for millennia but it had lost none of it's amusement factor in that time. She always took such great delight in evoking that glint of fond annoyance in his eye.

He gave her a look and spoke, his tone chiding, "I'm hardly an amateur, darling, it's all been arranged. The plane will be ready to leave at a moment's notice to spirit them off to parts unknown."

"Just as soon as Jack gives his approval to the plan, he'll want an itinerary as soon as he gets past the shock." Lauren said, watching Jack and Nadia move away from them. "And, of course, he'll likely agree to it only so far as it gets them away from us."

She quite expected that at a time deemed suitable by Jack, he and Nadia would take the money Methos had given them and disappear. It was the only course of action available that was truly prudent and the one that she would take in their shoes.

"Oh, of course," Methos nodded. "He'd make a fine Immortal."

Lauren laughed quietly. "Too fine, we'd have to kill him before he became a danger."

"He'd never let us have the chance," Methos sounded almost admiring.

"Pity," Lauren said. What an Immortal he would be. She looked at Methos and took a step closer, resting a hand against his back. "I believe a celebratory drink is in order?"

Methos smiled slightly, nodding once. "I believe it is. The matter of Rambaldi finally dealt with, the young lovers reunited, and both of us still have our heads." He winked at her. "A certain Scottish boyscout couldn't have done any better if he'd tried."

"Oh worse," Lauren assured. "He'd be back there in the rubble, digging himself out. You know the heroes of the story never let anyone else assume their risks. it's how we've managed to survive so long, we have no such compunctions."

"Quite wise of us, isn't it?" Methos said, leading her through the house and out onto the terrace. The afternoon sun was beginning to set and the growing shadows stretched out around them. He poured them both a drink and they stood in the silence for a moment.

"Well," Lauren said, taking a seat and looking at him, "next emergency?"

"Whatever it is," Methos sat across from her and closed his eyes. "Leave it to MacLeod."