Characters/Pairings: Gen - Joe Dawson, Methos, Duncan MacLeod, Liam Riley
Author's Notes: Endgame, schmendgame. And a big thank you to hafital and Sandy, my two kind and speedy betas!
Summary: Joe Dawson doesn't regret his choices, he just has to live with them.
* * *
Amanda Montrose and Nick Wolfe
request the pleasure of your company at their wedding
Saturday, December the first
Two thousand and one
St. Julien de Pauvre, Paris
at two o'clock in the afternoon
reception to follow at The Sanctuary
* * *
An unlikely foursome stood on a Paris sidewalk, watching as a sleek red Ferrari convertible sped away into the glittering night. What made them unlikely was not their appearance (handsome and finely-dressed to a man), but their history. No matter how you worked the math, the odds of these four men standing on this particular street corner to celebrate this improbable occasion approached vanishingly small.
"It's the end of an era," the priest said, with the hint of a sigh (and a stronger hint of Irish) in his voice.
"Tell me about it," said Duncan MacLeod, in a tone half relieved, half wistful.
"Poor Mac," said the third, hawk-nosed, clapping his friend on the shoulder. "Just think, it could've been you."
MacLeod shuddered. "Not in this lifetime." But he, too, gave a heavy sigh. "I am going to miss her, though."
"Aw, damn," the fourth man said, scowling. He was silver-haired, and had a voice like dark whiskey. "I just realized, I'm doomed to play marriage counselor for those two until the day I die."
The other three fell silent a moment in sympathy. The life of an Immortal wasn't easy, but the life of a Watcher carried with it hazards none of them cared to face.
"If they don't kill each other first," Liam said then, voicing what they were all thinking.
"And on that note," said Methos, veteran of sixty-eight (give or take) marriages of his own, "who wants a drink? Amanda's buying."
Three years earlier
Le Blues Bar, on a Wednesday afternoon in early December. Evening came early as the darkening heavens began to drizzle gray chill on the city of Paris, and Joe Dawson's mood hovered near the same bleak color as the sky.
"Stormy Weather" was not Joe's favorite song, but after a solid week of snow and freezing rain, he was having a hell of a time getting it out of his head. He put the Allman Brothers on the sound system in self defense while he dealt with Watcher business that wouldn't wait. Later on, he'd play downstairs a while for whoever showed, but for now, he was the European Regional Coordinator, that son of a bitch O'Rourke was still a pain in his balls despite being a week in the ground, and "Stormy Monday" would have to do.
Today, it was O'Rourke's Watcher he had to deal with -- Allison Michaels. She was lucky to be alive, since she'd blown her cover, been caught and questioned by O'Rourke, and consequently sold Joe down the river. Maybe he should be sympathetic, since it wasn't much different from what had happened to Amy a couple of months before -- but Amy, despite her inexperience, had refused to tell Walker a damn thing, and Joe blamed himself for what had happened to her. He'd put her in the field before she was ready, without a clue about what she was getting into.
Michaels should have known better. Worse, it was thanks to her that O'Rourke had taken Joe hostage. She had been one of Jack Shapiro's protégés, and Joe didn't doubt for a minute that had played a role in her decision to sell Joe out.
Now she was Joe's problem. He told himself that he didn't really wish O'Rourke had found time to off her before MacLeod had done what he had to, but he hoped nobody'd press him too hard on it. Protocol was clear. He knew damn well what he was supposed to do with a Watcher who'd broken her oath. The problem was, he wasn't sure he had the stomach for it, and the politics complicated things further. Michaels had been a Watcher for thirty years, and there were plenty of Jack's cronies still around.
Truth was, most days, Joe wanted nothing more than to quit and leave the Watchers far behind. He still wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up in charge of the most active branch of the organization. By all rights, Jack should have blown his brains out that morning in Lyon. But if he quit now, he'd leave too many people he cared about exposed -- Mac and Amy at the top of the list. And now there was the problem of Amanda and Wolfe. He didn't have a Watcher on Wolfe, since he'd fled from Amanda and dropped off the grid before Amanda saw fit to let Joe in on the fact that her cop boyfriend was headed for Immortality.
This morning, he'd had a report that Nick had been in a fight with Ansuman Haksar and managed to escape with his head, though he hadn't killed the other Immortal. Should he tell Amanda? She'd begged him to keep an eye on Wolfe, and he'd promised to do what he could, but he wasn't sure it would do her any good to hear that Wolfe had been tangling with the likes of Haksar.
Sometimes I feel like I've been tied to the whipping post, Gregg Allman sang. Amen, Joe thought with a wry huff. And it was then, while he was still sitting at the bar wrestling with three or four of a hundred tough decisions, that the door opened and in washed the world's oldest Immortal with the wind and rain.
They call it Stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad. Lord, and Wednesday's worse...
"Who let you in?" Joe groused, though it lacked a certain commitment. Pain in the ass that he was, Methos was one of the few people Joe didn't mind having around. He defined "interesting times," true enough, but Joe hadn't joined the Watchers to sit around bored, and Methos was always a potent reminder of that.
"Joe, I'm hurt," Methos said with an attempt at wounded affront. "I thought we were buddies!" He shook rain out of his hair and shrugged out of his coat, throwing it over a chair.
"Don't remind me," Joe said, but he put Michaels's file away gladly, and reached for a beer glass. "You look like a drowned rat."
"Feel like one. It's bloody miserable out." He took the beer Joe pulled for him and drew a long draught, closing his eyes in gratitude. "Ah, you do love me."
"Don't push your luck," Joe warned, but he pulled out a bottle of whiskey and turned to put a pot of coffee on. "What are you still doing here? I thought you'd be somewhere warm by now."
"You'd think," Methos said, settling himself on a stool. "Someone told me Paris was nice this time of year."
"Usually is," Joe said. "I think someone didn't get the memo." He poured himself a shot and set it on the bar, content for now with the promise. "So, what brings you to the best little blues bar in Paris on this beautiful, sunny afternoon?"
Methos winced. "Ooh, right to the point. Didn't anyone ever tell you subtlety is the soul of courtesy?"
"Since when do you appreciate the niceties of courtesy?"
"Since never, but subtlety turns me on. You'll catch more flies with honey, Joe."
Joe sipped at the whiskey after all, sensing he was going to need it. "Yeah, but who wants flies?"
Methos's expression quirked in amusement. "Point taken." He took another deep swallow of the beer, then reached over the bar for a glass. "Give me some of that, will you?" Joe obliged, and watched as Methos took a sip. "Ahh, that's more like it. Beer is good, but whiskey is better for warming the soul."
"And you need all the help you can get."
"Just so," Methos agreed without missing a beat. "That's why we get on so well, you and I. We understand each other." His expression was solemn, his eyes bright with false sincerity. Joe suppressed a snort of laughter despite himself, and remembered why he never quite managed to kick the old bastard out of his bar.
"Yeah, we understand each other, all right." His mood had improved by about a hundred percent, though, and he couldn't help the warm glow of appreciation that kindled behind his breastbone.
Sensing victory, Methos sat back and sipped at his whiskey, letting the music wash over them. "Mac says hello, by the way," he said, never one to waste an advantage.
Joe tensed, but did his best to hide it. "Yeah?"
Methos's lips quirked. "Well, no, but he would if he wasn't such a stubborn pain in the ass."
"Mm," Joe said, his good mood dissipating. "And if pigs could fly."
Methos tried his best persuasive, amiable tone. "Come on, Joe. Give the guy a break. He thinks you're mad at him."
"Yeah, well, Mac's a smart guy." Joe turned away and got a coffee cup down, then took the bottle away from Methos and set it down beside the coffee maker, which was still doing its job. He bent to reach into the bar fridge for some milk.
"So you are," Methos said. At Joe's look, he clarified, "Mad at him."
"What do you think?"
Methos's eyebrows rose. "I think you're both too stubborn to live, but who cares what I think? The point is, you should talk to him."
Joe's face twisted beyond his will. "I did. For all the good it did." Hearing the bitter anger in his own voice, he hunched his shoulders and turned away. "Not like he heard me."
"Joe. What did you expect?" When Joe turned on him, Methos spread his hands, his expression as non-confrontational as he could make it. "You know him better than anyone. What did you think would happen, if it was your life on the line? Your life for his. Did you really think he could live with that?"
"My life? What about his life? Isn't that worth anything?" He glared at Methos in outrage until he remembered who he was talking to, and how much Methos had risked for MacLeod, more than once. Then he grimaced. "I thought you'd be the one person in the world who'd understand."
But Methos reached out, stopping him from turning away with a hand on his arm. "You're not wrong." At Joe's dubious look, he set his drink aside. "Believe me, I get it. The guy makes me crazy, too, you know that." The admission made his color rise, but he didn't let his gaze falter. "He's leaving Paris tomorrow."
Joe's gut clenched tighter, but he'd put it all out there for MacLeod over and over, for years, and he refused to accept that it was for nothing. "And?"
"And I don't want the two of you to leave things the way they are." At Joe's refusal to bend, his composure gave way momentarily to irritation. "What, that's it? He disappears for twenty years and you don't care?"
Joe steeled himself against the pang of feeling Methos's words evoked. He cared. But he wouldn't be the price of Mac's life, not after all they'd been through. Not after all the choices he'd made. It was the one thing he couldn't live with, and damn them both if they couldn't understand that.
"What do you want me to say? We all know how this works." There's a reason we stay apart.
Methos only looked at him, and in his mercurial gaze, Joe read both understanding and pity. He didn't want it. It meant more than he could say that Mac thought he was worth giving up his life for, but that didn't mean he was going to stand still for it. And as long as Mac couldn't see that, Joe would stay away -- even if it meant choosing to live a life he wanted no part of. It still meant something, the oath he'd taken. Ian was dead, and Don, and most everyone who had made him think the Watchers mattered, but he'd invested too much to walk away now. If Mac could do better, then Joe figured he'd earned it. Maybe letting Mac walk out of his life was the best thing he could do for all of them.
Lord have mercy, my heart's in misery.
Methos sat back. "I see," he said, in a way that made Joe think maybe he did. "You surprise me, Joseph."
"Oh?" Joe growled. "How's that?"
"I thought he was the most idiotic, stubborn, single-minded idealist I'd met in a thousand years." With a crooked smile, Methos raised his glass, a salute. "I stand corrected."
"What happened to Myers?" Joe asked. They'd worked their way through half a bottle of good scotch, and he was feeling no pain.
Father Riley was likewise lubricated. "Think he went home to sleep off the bachelor party. Either that, or he had a stakeout to get to. Probably a matter of desperate international importance."
"I don't trust that guy," Methos said, topping everyone's drinks off.
"That's because you're paranoid," MacLeod accused.
"And? What's your point?"
"He's not so bad," Liam said. At Methos's look, he insisted, "Really, he grows on you."
"Do you think we should have told Nick about the car?" asked Joe.
"Absolutely not," MacLeod said with conviction. "Let him find out about Cory on his own. Preferably after the honeymoon."
"I suppose it's possible he didn't steal it," Liam said doubtfully.
"It was a wedding present. She'd never forgive him if he bought her a wedding present."
"And you criticize my friends," Methos said to MacLeod, mellow enough to risk conversational land mines.
"Cory was never my friend," MacLeod protested. "He's more like... an in-law you can't get rid of."
"If you say so."
Mac's brows lowered. "You're impossible."
Methos smiled, smug. "If you say so."
At MacLeod's expression, Father Riley laughed. To Joe, he said, "So, when do I get to marry these two? They bicker more than Nick and Amanda, and I didn't think that was possible."
Joe barked a laugh of his own. "Don't get me started."
Methos and MacLeod exchanged a look, then Methos leaned back in his chair, grinning like the proverbial cat. "Nah, never happen."
"You got that right," MacLeod said at once. "I'd sooner marry a goat."
"Whatever makes you happy," Methos shot back. To Liam, he said, "Speaking of in-laws." He shuddered in mock-horror. "No, thank you."
"What are you talking about?" MacLeod demanded. "What in-laws?"
"Oh, come on, MacLeod, Connor?" Methos winced dramatically. "I've met him. Let's just say it wasn't love at first sight."
"On his part, or yours?"
"Beside the point. I'm just saying."
MacLeod pointed accusingly with his whiskey glass. "Cassandra," he said, as if the point were self-evident. Methos's eyes widened in outrage.
"Cassandra! You can't be serious. Cassandra's yours." MacLeod refused to budge. At last Methos made a face. "All right, all right!" He pointed accusingly in return. "The deValicourts. Every insane, murderous, co-dependent bit of them. All yours."
"But with me you also get Amanda," MacLeod said, as if it were a trump card.
"You say that like it's a good thing. Besides, I knew her first. Who's to say she's not mine?"
MacLeod's triumph wavered in the face of his sense of fairness. "Joe, then," he said, gesturing at Dawson.
"Same deal," Methos countered. "I knew him before you did."
"Yeah, but he knew me first."
"Says the lawyer." MacLeod turned to Joe. "You settle it, Joe. Which is it? Him or me?"
Dawson raised his hands. "Oh, no, I ain't getting in the middle of this."
"You could share him," Liam suggested. Then at their expressions, he laughed and shook his head. "Never mind, I forgot who I was talking to."
"Quit while you're ahead," Joe advised him.
"Always good advice. And speaking of which, I've an early sermon tomorrow. Gentlemen," Liam said, getting up and retrieving his coat from a chair. "It has been a pleasure." With a twinkle in his eye, he added, "And if you should find you need my services, you know where to find me."
"God help us," Joe said under his breath, and poured himself a touch more. He'd forgotten the way the two of them could drive him to drink.
"Aw, c'mon," said Methos. "Admit it -- you missed us."
"I plead the Fifth." He had, of course, more than he would ever admit.
"Well, I, for one, missed your music," Mac said. "It's good to hear you play again, Joe."
Methos nodded. "On that we can agree."
"Thanks, guys. Now shut up, before you embarrass us all." It had felt good up there tonight, and he'd remember watching Amanda dance with her boys for a long time. She'd been gorgeous enough to make a man forget his own name, of course, and she'd saved some of her best smiles for him. One memorable kiss, too, that he could still feel the warm echo of to his toes. She was happy, and when Amanda was happy, the world was a brighter place.
Joe glanced at MacLeod, who'd rallied to the occasion almost like his old self. It had been too long since Joe'd had front row seats to the Methos and MacLeod show, and he was glad to see they hadn't changed too much. In fact, Mac looked fit, and more relaxed than Joe had seen him in a long time. He'd never expected to see the day when MacLeod would walk Amanda down the aisle to marry someone else, but he seemed genuinely happy for her.
Curiosity got the better of him. "So fess up, Mac. How'd it go up there in the woods, you and Wolfe?"
MacLeod huffed. "About as well as you'd expect. We spent most days one breath from killing each other. We got through it, though."
It had taken all of Amanda's wiles and arm-twisting to get the two of them to agree to it, but in the end she got her way, and Mac had agreed to take Wolfe on as a student. They'd spent four months on MacLeod's island, and Joe wished he could have been a fly on that wall. If MacLeod looked fit, Wolfe had looked like he'd come fresh from basic training. He even carried himself differently. Considering that three years ago, Watchers had been taking bets on how soon he'd lose his head, it was a small miracle he'd made it this far.
"He's lucky you're as thick-headed as he is. Think he's got a chance?"
Mac took a sip of his drink. "Yeah, I do. If he can cope with Amanda, he's tougher than most."
"What about you?" Methos asked him, gesturing at the tattoo on Joe's wrist. "It's been a rough couple of years. Still no plans to cash in your pension? Maybe take a vacation?"
"Wouldn't know what to do with one. Besides, I told you a long time ago, Bora Bora's not really my thing." He looked from Methos to Mac. "But as a matter of fact, I am stepping down as Regional Coordinator."
MacLeod looked surprised, and impressed. "That's a big move, Joe."
"Tell me about it. I never shoulda taken it in the first place, but who the hell else could I trust?"
"What about now?" asked Methos. "Who's going to replace you?"
"Wouldn't you like to know." It was for show, though, and they both knew it. "Your old pal, as a matter of fact. Nathan Stern."
Methos sat up, affronted. "Stern! He was going to cut my head off."
"Yeah, but he didn't, did he?"
"He's research. He's never even been in the field."
"He's never told a soul about what happened to the Methuselah Stone, either. Stern may not be my favorite guy in the world, but you can't fault his integrity. Plus, he knows the organization. Half the active Watchers owe him a favor or three. That's a good place to start."
Methos fell silent, and Joe knew he was remembering Alexa. For Methos, the crystal would always be a bitter memory.
MacLeod looked troubled, but resigned. "You've earned your retirement, Joe -- no one could deny that. But they'll be poorer without you."
Joe grinned. "Who said anything about retiring? I'll retire when I'm dead."
"But I thought you said--"
"I said I'm stepping down as coordinator. Busting myself down to field agent."
That flummoxed MacLeod. He opened his mouth, then thought better of whatever he was going to say. "That's-- that's great." He'd gotten used to the luxury of Dawson's hands-off light touch and the detente they'd reached years ago, where he kept Joe in the loop and in return, Joe gave him at least the illusion of privacy.
Dawson leaned back in his chair, struggling to keep from laughing. "Don't get your panties in a bunch. It's not always about you."
Now it was MacLeod's turn to look affronted. "You're going to Watch someone else?"
"Ooh, now you hurt his feelings," Methos sing-songed.
"Shut up, no one asked you."
"Don't take it personally, Mac," Joe said. "Blame Amanda. She caught me in a weak moment."
"It's Wolfe," Methos guessed. "She wants you to keep an eye on him."
"And I wanted a reason to get out. But don't worry, Mac, I've got somebody special in mind for you."
"Now, that sounds dangerous."
"Only if you let anything happen to her."
After a beat, Methos smiled wide, impressed. "You watch out for Wolfe, and Mac watches out for Amy. Nice plan."
"Thanks, I thought so."
"Amy?" MacLeod looked from Joe to Methos. "Who's Amy?" It was a tale he'd had no time to hear before he'd left Paris, and Methos had plainly felt it wasn't his to tell. Maybe there was hope for the old bastard yet.
Joe sat back. "That, my friend, is a long story."
While he told it, Methos got up and fetched them a new bottle from behind the bar; when Joe was finished, he felt his face warm under MacLeod's new regard.
"I had no idea," Mac said at last. "Thanks for telling me, Joe."
"Wasn't like I was keeping it from you. Just never seemed like the right time."
"And thanks for trusting me. I'll watch out for her."
"See that you do." It wasn't only Mac's protection he wanted for his daughter. Amy needed to learn first hand that not all Immortals were like Walker. Joe had done what he could to make plans for the future of the Watchers, and Amy was his best hope for some kind of legacy. The Watchers needed men of honor, Mac had told him once. They also needed men and women who believed in the necessity and importance of the lives they'd chosen. Joe knew from experience that Duncan MacLeod was the best living embodiment of everything he'd signed on for. Hopefully, Amy would see that, too.
"I still say you could use a vacation," Methos said, turning his glass to admire the amber color. "Maybe not Bora Bora, but what about New Orleans? I've got a nice place there, Carnival's coming up...."
He meant it, Joe realized. It touched him more profoundly than he knew what to do with. Just when you thought you had Methos figured out, he had to go and pull a stunt like this.
"I do love New Orleans," he admitted.
"And I haven't been back in far too long." Methos brightened. "You should come too, Mac."
Mac choked on his drink. "What, the three of us? You're joking."
"It's a big house. How bad can it be?"
MacLeod looked to Joe for support. "He is joking, right?"
Methos stood up, patting Joe on the shoulder. "Listen, you guys think about it. I'm gonna hit the head. But I'm serious-- it'll be fun, you'll see. Think of the music."
Joe was. He was also thinking that the last three years had been long and lonely ones, and that he should have listened to Methos on that cold, stormy afternoon. He and Mac had tried a dozen times to call it quits, but it was always better when they stuck together, no matter how rough the road got. Like it or not, he'd meant every word when he'd said he didn't want to imagine his life without MacLeod. Every time he tried, he regretted it.
He wasn't the only one who'd realized Methos was sincere, for once. "He's serious," Mac said, when the other man had gone.
"Yep." Joe sighed, and glanced at Mac. "Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm considering it."
"Maybe I am, too," MacLeod admitted. He hesitated. "It's been a long time, Joe. I've missed you. And not just your music."
"That's good to hear." He grinned, gesturing with his chin in the direction Methos had gone. "What about him?"
MacLeod made a face. "Him, too, I suppose. Of course, that could be the whiskey talking."
Joe studied his friend, more aware than ever that MacLeod, never aged, never changed. Three years, and he was the same, while it seemed like Joe had more aches and pains and gray hair with every passing day. He'd come to terms with that a long time ago, but that didn't change the fact that only one of them might live forever.
"Me too, Mac," he said at last. "It hasn't been the same since you left."
"I got the idea it was making your life harder, me being here."
"Always. But since when has it ever been easy?"
MacLeod nodded. "I hear you."
Joe shook his head wryly in the direction Methos had gone. "He's a sneaky son-of-a-bitch, isn't he?"
"You're just figuring that out now?" MacLeod sounded pained.
"So?" Methos asked, ambling back through the remains of the wedding reception with his hands in his pockets. "What do you say? We going to blow this taco stand?" It wasn't the nightclub he meant, but Paris, and all the baggage that came with it.
Joe met MacLeod's gaze sidelong, a grin playing around the corners of his mouth. One thing was for sure, it wouldn't be boring. "How about it, Mac? I'm game if you are."
"Oh, what the hell," said MacLeod. "You only live once."