The online access links were posted on the damn door. Watchers. It was ten o'clock on a Friday night, and his colleagues had no manners, and Methos' automatic, weary reaction was born of far too many unwelcome interruptions. Databases do not populate themselves. A day does not have infinite hours. Immortality itself is an oxymoron.
"You've got five minutes for an old friend. Let me in."
The pause was infinitesimal. "Mac." On the screen at Methos' elbow, the feed from the security camera showed the top of the Highlander's bent head and the breadth of his shoulders, under a woolen overcoat that was more than likely cashmere. His hair was short again, and the line of his back was gently curved. No sword.
"I can't say I was expecting you," Methos said, measured. Unyielding, the edges of the intercom box cut into the flesh of his thumb.
"If I make a really bad joke," Macleod said, "Will you still let me in?"
"You're lacking tonsure and creed both," Methos said. His fingers hesitated.
"I brought beer," Macleod said. He looked up and smiled at the camera, all winsome eyebrows and doe eyes, the curve to his mouth small and dangerous.
The fingers slipped. "Shit," Methos muttered, to the image of the tail ends of Macleod's coat slipping through the opening door. Generally, his judgment was sound, his defenses embrasured, his facades and battlements unparalleled. Except for this one man, ratting through the holes of them bright-eyed and bushy tailed, rattling up the stairs, too loud, too big, too... soon. Against the light in the doorway, Macleod was a unmistakable silhouette, a game piece bigger than the shape of his skin.
"Three years. You could have sent a postcard." A smile threatened, untimely.
"To where?" Macleod inquired, head cocked. There was a grin lightening the lines of his own face, which were a little better upholstered than last time, a little easier around the eyes. In person, he smelled of verbena and leather, and he brought the warmth of his skin and salt scented cold of the Seacouver night in with him, eddying from the folds of his coat as he moved. He was easy in his own flesh, edged with violence and aware of it, a white-toothed predator. "Last time I looked, there were no zip codes in cyberspace. But the new database has your fingerprints all over it."
"It's not even live yet," Methos said, and pushed his chair back from the desk. One of the wheels squeaked. His finger itched for a pen, a gun, a sword. Macleod had that effect on him.
Macleod shrugged. "I like that new watcher," he said, a feint that eddied in two different directions at once. "Your choice?"
She was small, and pretty, and clever. Too clever, perhaps. "Not my pick," Methos said, and knew he'd lost the point by the glint in Macleod's eyes. "You promised beer."
"So I did. Blond or dark?" There was a case under the Highlander's arm, wooden. The bottles were glass, packed in straw, singular and monastic.
"Both," Methos said.
Louchely courteous, Macleod cracked both caps before sliding the bottles along the desk. The scent of yeast and hops curled through the room, heady and sharp, cut with the iodine sea-sharp gold of the whisky in Macleod's hipflask, uncapped. He'd snagged a coffee mug from Cathy's desk for the pouring of it, the heathen.
"Your good health," Methos said. Pointedly. Even without the vivid drama of two separate .flv files, he could have told this story by the tick of Macleod's boot, hitched against the desk, by the compressed force of his presence and the electric static of his quickening. Macleod had killed that day, not long ago. The closing report had come in two hours ago, uploading within minutes of the lightning storm over the docks. Enrique's watcher had been conscientious. Macleod's, suspiciously short on detail, ill focused, and late.
"And yours," Macleod said, and drank, eyes steady over the rim of the mug. There were Dutch roses painted on the china, overblown and pastel. Macleod's hands were scrubbed clean, his fingernails manicured. For a barbarian, he was undeniably vain. Pompous. Convinced of his own immortality. A walking rat trap. A seducer of perfectly innocent watchers, a murrain upon researchers, a plague to the persons of scholars looking only for a quiet life and enough information to make it so.
"Stop glowering. Yours is not the only game in town, my dear, and I knew what you were planning two days after the beta went live. If you'd a mind to it, you could have had the keys to the loft three years past. It's an odd thing for a man to see his own house laid out as a stage set, and whoever dated that vase was out by a decade. Strange that the database lists my thread count and not the Kiev warehouse. And I could have sworn the bluesman was a little less economical with the truth than records would show. Could it be the designer's disguising the facts?" The cocked eyebrow was a challenge looking for acknowledgement.
Methos propped his boots up on his desk and looked at them. There was a scrape on the leather toe-caps that Macleod would have polished out, sighing, twenty years ago.
"I can't say I'm fond of the wardrobe choices, either," Macleod said.
The label on the beer bottle was irritatingly well fixed.
"And eleven points for swordsmanship? Methos," Macleod said, and tutted.
"Twelve is mythical," Methos said.
"Really?" said Macleod. "Except for the scholar?" He waited. "Oh," he said. "Wait. Was that some kind of hidden level? Like the Amsterdam house?"
"You know too much." Methos said.
"You can find anything online these days," Macleod said. "Have to say, I liked the Paris walkthrough. Almost the same as being there. That trapdoor at the end was a real kicker, though. Sneaky."
"Are you objecting?" Methos said.
Macleod shrugged. "Only to the details," he said. "Another beer?" His smile was thin, all the more dangerous for its brevity of amusement.
"It would have happened anyway," Methos said. "They were looking at cloud storage until I came along."
"Fine line," said Macleod.
"I was very convincing," said Methos.
"I'm sure you were," said Macleod.
"I was there," Methos said, tumbled and embattled as he has not been for three gentle, quiet years. "I have not forgotten Kalas. I know what I'm doing."
"So it's just coincidence," Macleod said, putting the mug down,"That I took a quickening today?"
"Nothing to do with - "
"Really?" Macleod said. "Check your facts, my friend the scholar. The GPS went live when the database did. I didn't expect a welcome mat, but a heads up would have been courteous."
"What?" Methos said, and he was already turning back to his screen and his keyboard, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling. The database was secure. Utterly secure, designed in the trappings of a game complex and layered enough to fool any professional player.
But Macleod was right. The database was live, and so was the GPS tracking. Unscheduled, unpredicted, unprotected, and not by Methos' hand. Macleod was listed. Amanda. Amanda's baby Immortal. Everyone. Every single Immortal with a watcher, tagged and vulnerable.
"Your <i>modern inclusive chronicle preservation system</i>," Macleod said, "Is a fucking death trap, and you know it. Wipe it."
"I hear you," Methos said, through his teeth. The keyboard sang out of key, the rattle of it dull and sharp: his fingers were hooked and tight on every stroke. Three different firewalls, and none of them his, and a virus coiled in the closing of them sweet and dangerous as a poisoned stiletto. Not his, not his, someone else's fingerprints, someone else's tampering, murderous and impartial. He should have known. Failsafe after failsafe and each of them eliminated in the ruins of his own programming.
"Off," Macleod said.
China clinked, definite, against the wood of Cathy's desk and the smell of the sea was stronger. He'd know it was Mac in a dark room, in ten year's time, in a hundred. The hand on the back of his neck was heated, too tight, too real: static buzzed through every cell in his body and shivered the image on the screen. "Lay off," Methos said. "I'm working."
"Methos," Macleod said, his hand tightening. "Now."
"I'm fucking trying."
"Stop looming," Methos said, through his teeth, backing up data, tearing down his own safeguards, over-writing, saving, pulling down files, ratting out his own defenses, a year's work, not just his but the team of programmers in Paris and the New York designers, dammit, dammit....
Macleod's hands spanned the length of his neck, thumbs pressed into the nape of it: his breath was hot and damp and smelled, electric, of whisky. There was the trail end of a whisper of a thought that suggested this could be a different game altogether, had been, might be, will be again, and then Macleod asked, "Just the one back up?"
"One," Methos confirmed, watching the countdown, fingers poised. Four, three, two...
"Offline?" Macleod whispered, disturbingly soft, too close.
Snapped down, Macleod's hand hit the extension drive in a burst of static.
"You crazy fucker -" Methos hissed, snatching, too late.
"But alive," Macleod said, bent, cramping, over the desk and the chair and Methos alike, warm and cold and yes, fire. "Alive," he said, and his hands were already gripped in the collar of Methos' shirt. In the sudden blank reflection of the screen, he looked up. "Don't underestimate," he said, "What I will do to stay that way. My <i>friend</i>."
There was a good answer to that one somewhere, but the code for it was already unraveling. "Mac," Methos said, and knew the word for its own betrayal.
"And you with me," Macleod said. "Hold on tight, my dear, I'm coming home."