In Media Res by Rhi
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Author's Notes:
Disclaimers: Property of 1013 and Rysher: Panzer/Davis. No money made, no ownership implied of anything save the story. Notes below.
Rated: G. No violence, profanity, or sex. Surprised? I am. Joe's place, though, and his story.

No such thing as clean endings, I don't think. Not even death's clean. Well, maybe from the point of view of the dead, if they have one, but for everyone else? Not a chance. Estates to be sorted out, wills and executors if any, heirs to be found, burial or cremation or donation, officials of all types to be dealt with... no. Death isn't a clean ending.

There aren't really any clean beginnings, either. Everything leads back or off to something else. Inspiration doesn't strike out of nowhere. Dreams lie behind it or lightning nearby, a falling leaf or apple, the single harsh word that should never have been said or a half-heard chord underneath a phrase of someone else's conversation.

Me, I like being in the middle of things, watching people and ideas and relationships come and go, change and shift, grow or vanish. I'm in one of the best places in the world to watch from, too. I run a bar. And given my other job, I get to watch some damn odd changes and inspirations.

This particular story, though, well, one beginning of it I know. Only one beginning, though. Two of the people involved go far back and know each other through most of that history, and I sure as hell wasn't around for either of their beginnings. (If I got Cory drunk enough, I wonder if he'd ever tell me how he talked Matthew into helping him start that riot?) Alex, though, I'd never seen before. Well. Not exactly. I think.

Doesn't make sense, huh? Let's try it again, then, from a more traditional approach.

A man walked into a bar.

(How much more traditional did you want?)

To be precise, a one-armed man walked into a bar. Good prosthetic, but no one wears gloves when it's eighty-five degrees out.

Too many years growing up watching The Fugitive, I guess, but it wasn't the arm being gone that made me wary around him. Alex moved like a man who had to know where all the exits were, and the sightlines, and best sniper posts in the beams. He walked like he could snap a kick that would put those engineer's boots through someone's stomach into their spine on no notice.

Oh, don't look at me like that. Yeah, right, even if I don't know who you are and you're just looking at pages you shouldn't be reading, don't think I don't know what kind of look that last statement got. Well, if you're supposed to be reading this, you know why I can spot the guys like that. And if you're not, what the hell, be confused. It's good for your character I'm sure.

But so he's lost an arm. I left both my legs in Vietnam. I wasn't going to stare at a man for that. I just wondered what he was doing in my bar and left it alone. He'd let me know some of it soon anyway, or I'd figure it out.

He walked straight to the bar, took a seat where he could watch the door in and the back door to the alley, and looked over at me. "Vodka double," he said and didn't seem to notice that I froze. "Russian, or Finnish if you don't have Russian. No ice."

Nah, it wasn't his arm that stopped me cold. It was seeing his face finally. Cory Raines has a twin, somehow. An immortal bank robber has a mortal assassin twin. I picked up my wits, thanked God I didn't have to pick up my jaw too, and filled the man's order. He was looking the bar over, this time for things other than the exits, and smiling a little.

When I handed back his drink, I gave my name. "Joe Dawson."

That got me an interested look, but no name in return. Green eyes, like a cat, or like Methos. Smart behind the looks, too. (Yes, that note is for me, whoever you are, not you.)

"Your bar, then, or coincidence?"

What they used to call a whiskey-voice. Wonder if the man sings? Man, it'd be nice. I told him, "The bar's mine, actually."

He picked up his glass and put down half the vodka in a single smooth gulp. Didn't even flinch when it hit throat or stomach, just eased off a notch like some tension had let go. One of the things a bartender picks up is a sense for which customers want to talk, and which ones really want you to back off and let them be. This guy was one of the latter. Another drink or two, though, and he'd want to talk. I'd get his name then.

Fifteen minutes later, I was restocking the bar and keeping an eye on his drink; he'd need a refill soon. Then the door opened and we both glanced over. This time my jaw nearly did hit the ground. The guy at my bar wasn't Cory, but the man walking into my bar damn well was. Good thing my usual afternoon waitress had had a dental appointment; she'd have been hitting on both of them.

Cory glanced at me and gave absolutely no sign he recognized me. I can take a hint. After an afternoon of refilling glasses for him for Amanda, and having both of them flirt with me (oh, hush, whoever you are; I never said I took them up on it), he damn well knows me. He knew he'd have to tell me what was going on later, too, but apparently that was going to be later.

Funny thing was, Cory walked in, walked up to this guy, and waved me over for a drink, but I would have sworn they'd never met before. Another double vodka, and a double bourbon for Cory, and they were both headed to one of my booths. One with a view of the door for Cory, and the exit to the alley for his near-twin.

I say near-twin because when they were together, I had no trouble telling them apart. Cory's smart as hell, and dangerous when pushed, but mostly he's solid mischief around a do-gooder core. Alex, now, is dangerous as hell on the outside, and hiding the brains behind the looks -- he moves like cold death or an incentive to riot -- but what's inside all of that, I couldn't tell you.

They'd come in during that slack period between even the late lunch crowd and the early drinkers. 2:30 'til 4:00 or so is damn quiet in my bar, and Cory knew it. I'd say he planned it this way. I think he wanted a witness, too, or maybe backup. With Cory, you never know, but he's not a fool, that's for damn sure. He's too good at what he does. The man pulls a minimum of ten bank robberies a year, all around the globe, without anyone getting killed. That's skill.

Oh, quit that. I don't work with him. I'm not even an accessory after the fact. I know where his money goes, but so do the governments in the countries, usually. They just don't pursue it. It's hard to tell orphanages, children's hospitals, or the Salvation Army that they have to return an anonymous, desperately needed, donation.

I kept a close eye on them, though, and not just because of my own curiosity. It made for some damned interesting watching. For the first half hour, Cory was asking a few questions, but mostly he was listening to his twin make some kind of business proposition. Alex wanted something, badly, but he wasn't trying to sweet-talk Cory. Cory was listening, too, disbelieving at first, then nodding. The longer he listened, the more serious he looked.

That's not a good sign, by the way. It takes a lot to make Cory get, and stay, serious. The more he heard, though, and nodded acceptance of, the more Alex unwound. Cory came over and got another bourbon for himself and a large orange juice for Alex. All he said when I handed them over was, "Later, Joe. Stay out of this, okay?"

So I kept my mouth shut -- the more so because Alex was watching us -- and went back to cursing over my paperwork and watching them to see when they needed refills.

Cory was talking, for quite a while, with only periodic interruptions by Alex. Clarification, apparently, from the way Cory nodded and went back to talking to him, and then writing out information for Alex. Alex was nodding and listening. He took the paper Cory offered him, nodded, and said something which got Cory to nod. He and Cory both stood up at the same time, and both headed towards me.

Cory settled onto a bar stool.

Alex nodded to me. "Good music here, and good vodka. Thanks." Then he walked out the back way, both hands in his pocket. He used that prosthetic well; it was hard to tell it wasn't a real arm, other than the gloves. When I turned back, Cory was completely still and watching the door close behind him.

Cory turned to me and said, "His name's Alex, Joe. That's as much as I can tell you about him." My best glare didn't get me anywhere. If anything, it just got me Cory's full attention and a matching glare. Cory glaring at you is about like being savaged by a sweet-tempered favorite dog.

"Joe, he's in so deep, I'm not going near Matthew again until Alex is done, Matthew's quit the Bureau, or I've died very publicly. I won't be coming here again until then either. So think about that to yourself. But forget you saw him." He smiled at me for a moment. "Thanks, Joe. Sorry I didn't warn you about him, but... I didn't know what to warn you about."

About the time I was wondering if Cory had known what Alex looked like, and where Matthew came into this (this time), Cory walked out the door with Alex's dangerous swagger. Somehow, I think he's going to have a leather jacket by the end of the day, too.

I always forget Cory can act. I shouldn't. I definitely need to reread some of Cory's old chronicles. I'm underestimating him again, and that makes me wonder if I'm underestimating Alex, too. I may never know though, because Cory's not going to tell me anytime soon . This once... yeah, I'm going to keep my curiosity under lock and key. Whatever's going on, it's dangerous and I don't want to be the one who screws it up. Until they tell me enough to help, I'm gonna have to stay out of the way. Man. I'll be wondering what's really going on for ages.

Guess that's why I'm writing this to you, whoever you are, so you can share the misery.

I don't know the end. I only know this one beginning, which isn't where it really started, obviously. I'm not sure about the middle either. I don't know what Alex is up against that could make Cory worry about the immortals and the Watchers. I'm not sure what Cory agreed to do for Alex, or what a man that dangerous could need anyway. Cory may be charging him, but if it's this damn serious, he may not either. Cory robs banks because he thinks other people need the money worse, not to make a fortune for himself.

So... I've got an altruistic immortal with some shady contacts. I've got a mortal who could be his twin who is a shady contact. And I have no idea what happened in my bar, and a warning that I could get a lot of people killed or worse if I look into it.

Sometimes, I hate being in the middle of things.

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~

Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:

For anyone who doesn't know Highlander, Joe Dawson is a Watcher; they Watch immortals. He's also prone to investigating things, breaking his Watcher oaths, and stepping in where angels fear to tread. He did in fact run a blues bar on the show, as his cover job, and I can easily see Amanda and Cory trying to talk him out of all kinds of information, but your mileage may vary.

Cory Raines and Alex Krycek were both played by Nick Lea, but with such superbly different tones and body language that I don't doubt they can be told apart. As for Cory's competence or lack thereof... it's canon that during a 5 month bank-robbery spree, using Tommy guns, he and Amanda never got anyone killed but themselves. You can't be stupid, or incompetent, and manage that.

This can be taken as a sequel to Doppelganger, but if you'd like to imagine Alex and Matthew met some other way, feel free.