"Ezra, you busy?"
Walking into the centre of the open-plan office that he shared with his team-mates, Ezra leaned lazily against Buck Wilmington's empty desk and said, "No, Mr. Dunne. I am not. May I be of some assistance?"
JD grinned. Ezra just couldn't bring himself to use two words when ten could do. Holding the phone receiver to his ear he said, "No Ez, I'm fine. Your mom, however..."
"My mother?" asked Standish in slowly dawning understanding. "She's not... oh dear, Chris didn't...?"
"Yup," said JD with a grin. "Chris must've made good on his threat. Security won't let her up to our floor till somebody goes down to get her. She is not happy down there."
The last was said to empty air. JD watched in amusement as Ezra snatched his suit jacket from its hanger and dashed towards the elevator in an effort to appease Hurricane Maude. In doing so, he rushed past Vin, Buck and Chris without even a nod of greeting, causing them to frown in some confusion until their youngest team member laughingly called out, "Maude's in the security office downstairs."
Buck turned to his oldest friend and said, "You didn't." Vin looked at Chris and exchanged a long glance with his friend before shaking his head in a reproving fashion saying, "He did." With a glance, Vin made his displeasure at his friend's cavalier attitude plain. In their uncanny manner of silent communication, Vin's expression was clear in its disapproval. Maude may be a pain in the ass, cowboy and you may not like the way she treats Ez. That don't give you the right to treat a man's ma like that.
Chris shrugged. His team might disapprove of his actions but it would only be a minor embarrassment for the woman and it would make the message he was patiently trying to convey to her plain enough. Mother or no, nobody would get to treat a member of his team the way she treated her son. Not on his watch. Not any more.
It had taken a good ten minutes to ease his mother's righteous indignation - Chris had no idea what he was messing with - before he had managed to get the decibel level down to normal. Ezra had not asked the reason for his mother's visit. Her eyes had clearly shown her anxiety to him. Not that the security guards had noticed. Only one person on the planet could read her expressions so easily and that was her son. That was the way she had wanted it. That was the way she had taught him.
Instinctively obeying the message in her eyes, Ezra pulled out his phone and called upstairs. "Mr. Dunne, I'm taking the rest of the day off. A family matter."
Ezra hung up before JD had a chance to formulate his response. Holding out his arm to his mother, he waited till she tucked her hand through it and they walked quietly from the security office.
Outside the building a limousine sat waiting. Wordlessly, Ezra opened the door for his mother and they slipped inside; the limousine pulling smoothly away from Denver's ATF office almost before the door had slammed shut.
Eyeing the object on the seat next to his mother with a sinking heart, Ezra said, "Tell me, Maude."
Sighing, she leaned forward to ease an imagined kink out of his hair - something that she had not done since his teenage years. Reaching up, Ezra grasped her hand and held it to his cheek and whispered, "Mother, tell me. Please."
"I'm so sorry, sweet child. It's time."
Knowing instinctively what she was not saying, Ezra shook his head in horrified refusal.
"No! You promised!"
"I know, Ezra. I know. I have to."
Maude Standish closed her eyes the despairing cry of the man in front of her... her son. Her true son... in all but blood. It had been the one good thing that she'd done in far too long when she'd adopted him.
Staring into his well-loved green eyes, her mind wandered back to the day of his fifth birthday. It had been such a glorious day. She'd been so happy that day. She'd been in Savannah for ten years by that point - almost time to move on. She hadn't, though. Her friend Mariah had been raising her son alone for a year or so and she hadn't wanted to leave her, not so soon after she'd lost her husband to cancer. And besides, Ezra had been a charmer since the moment he was born. It had been one of the great joys of her life when Mariah had asked her to be godmother to the boy.
They'd gone to the park for a picnic on the day of his birthday. The sun had shone down, nary a cloud in the sky. Even in her long life she'd rarely experienced a day so happy. Then it had happened. Fate had twisted her world once again. Mariah had simply collapsed. No warning. No explanation. She'd had to struggle with a hysterical five year old and call an ambulance while fighting to keep her own composure.
Later at the hospital she'd learned the cause. Mariah killed at thirty-five by an aneurysm, leaving behind an orphaned five year old boy. Her husband Derek's death had taught Mariah one thing, the value of being prepared. Trust funds had been established for Ezra the month after his father's death, and arrangements had been made for his guardianship. Maude. His godmother. A simple letter had been given to her by Mariah's lawyer asking her to take the boy and raise him as her own. There was no way she could have refused.
Returning to the present, she said to that little boy - her Ezra - now grown into the man sitting opposite her, "I got sloppy."
Ezra, fighting to keep his composure, said, "What happened?"
"Jennings found me... at least his people did. I narrowly avoided a confrontation in Vienna. I did manage to learn one thing, though; and it's the reason for this visit.
"Jennings knows where you are."
Maude damned Jennings for the thousandth time as she saw the minute flinch that Ezra couldn't conceal at the mention of that hated name; the devil of his childhood. No boy should ever have to endure what had happened to her little Ezra. If it hadn't been for Mac's help in finding her boy... her old lover would always be one of the most honourable men she'd ever known. Till she'd met Ezra's colleagues in his ATF team she'd given up hope of ever finding anyone that could measure up to her old lover or her son... and again, she damned Jennings for the pain he had caused.
It had taken months of cosmetic surgery to repair the damage done to her fourteen year old baby and she'd vowed never to let anything happen to him again.
That vow - more precious to her than her own life - had be been made in the chapel of the Swiss hospital she'd taken him to so that the damage from Jennings' insane torture could be repaired. Upon seeing Ezra safe, an enraged Mac had gone hunting Jennings but the bastard had gone to ground again. It was just as well. It was her fight. She was the one that had killed Jennings' lover... she was the one that he had fixated his hatred on. No-one had counted on him on kidnapping and torturing a fourteen year old boy rather than challenging her directly.
She'd pushed Ezra away - at least in public. Become a flighty man-eater that seemingly ignored her son's feelings. It was the only way to protect him. She'd had him in and out of boarding schools all over the world since his recovery in Switzerland, losing him in a sea of red tape. She'd told him what she was going to do - she'd had to. It was a lot to put on a still traumatised teenager, but she'd had to explain... and had to get his co-operation.
He'd done what she asked because he loved her... because he knew she couldn't concentrate on her own safety if she was worrying incessantly about him... because he'd been terrified she'd seek out Jennings and challenge him.
He'd extracted a promise of his own. If he did what she asked, if he lived the 'act' rather than the truth, then she would not actively seek Jennings; in fact, she had to promise to try to avoid him. When he'd been a child he hadn't minded letting strangers think that she didn't want to be bothered with him. As he'd said to her when extracting her promise, he didn't know how to be a normal teenager - not with the family life he'd had. He didn't blame her, he loved her. If it kept them safe, he'd play the loner at school, as long as she kept her promise to him. The only thing that terrified him more than Jennings was the thought of losing her.
He'd caused her a hell of a lot of worry when he'd chosen law enforcement as his career but she'd understood. His father - before his death from cancer - had been a prominent detective in the Savannah police department, and Maude, contrary to the persona she'd lived for the past twenty years, was actually a very law abiding person.
She knew from his letters that the one thing that had caused Ezra any regret in recent years was the fact that the rest of Team Seven had never been given the opportunity to know his mother as she really was. He knew it was for his protection and for hers, that was the only reason he'd never come clean. He trusted Team Seven with his life - and she knew he would trust them with hers - but he could not guarantee that someone else might notice the change in the dynamic of his relationship with his mother. All it took was one person to say something in the wrong ear and... it was not worth the risk.
Ezra - looking at Maude - knew her mind was made up. In truth, he'd been expecting this for a while now. She and Chris might not get on, but she knew Chris and the rest of his co-workers would die to protect him; as he would for them. He was as safe as could be expected to be... and being hunted for twenty years would take its toll on anyone, even a long-lived Immortal like her.
Smiling gently, Maude took Ezra's hand in her own. "Paris. Three days time. I left a message with his people."
"What happens then?" asked Ezra in a quietly strained voice.
"You know what happens then, love."
Maude averted her gaze from the plaintive look in Ezra's eyes. This was so hard. "If I win the challenge, I'll die in a car crash two days later. All the arrangements have been made."
Looking back into her son's eyes, she said, "All of them."
Looking slightly sick at the thought, Ezra asked the one question that filled him with dread. "And if you lose?"
"Arrangements have been made for that eventuality too. There are bank accounts set up for you around the world and apartments that are at your disposal. My French attorney will have messages to pass on to a few trusted friends. They'll get the warning to you to get ready for Jennings."
"I love you too, Ezra. No matter what happens. I always will."
Ezra took a deep breath and nodded. Her unspoken plea was clear. No more. Let her focus. Wordlessly he reached out his hand and picked up the sword sitting on the seat beside her. It had been something he'd loved to do as a child and he would do so now. Before she left for Paris his mother's sword would be honed and cleaned to pristine condition. Her son's hand would make sure of it.
Four Days Later
Ezra looked up as he heard the sudden silence in the office. Heart beating wildly in his chest, he walked slowly out of his and Vin's partitioned office. The rest of the guys were warily eyeing the two men that stood before them. To the seasoned eye, the two strangers screamed warrior, in their bearing and their very presence. What Team Seven were trying to figure out was, were they friend or foe?
Heads whipped round at the distinctive southern accent of their undercover agent, saying, "Please. No."
The taller of the two men moved towards Ezra, and, before the rest of his friends had the time to do little more that realise something was wrong, he engulfed Ezra into a strong embrace and said, "I am so sorry, Ezra. Maude's gone."
The rest of Team Seven looked on in slowly dawning horror as they saw the usually reticent southern agent weeping openly on this stranger's shoulder - stranger to them, obviously not to Ezra.
Chris turned to the figure still in the doorway. "Who are you two? What the hell is going on?"
Hazel eyes swept over them all and the remainder of Team Seven did their best not to flinch back at the anger and sorrow burning in their depth. In a voice of command the man said, "My name is Adam... and as to the rest, not now and certainly not here. Look after your friend."
Team Seven moved to do so. Ezra found himself released from one set of caring arms and engulfed by six other pairs. Looking up from where his head had found a resting place on Josiah's shoulder, Ezra looked across the room to the grim face of Duncan MacLeod and the unknown man with him. Unknown, except the fact that he was an Immortal too, he recognised the bearing; though he doubted very many other people would.
Not only had his mother been taken from him, it looked like Immortal trouble was heading for him and for his unsuspecting friends. Sighing, he shut his eyes again. Trouble would have to wait a little. He didn't think he could move just now without his heart literally breaking in two.
Team Seven felt Ezra's body shake with a fresh storm of weeping and they tightened their embrace. Whatever Ezra needed he would get. Whatever was going on, they'd deal with it together. Whoever had taken Maude Standish away from them would be made to pay.
Nobody hurt one of their own. Nobody.
Chris Larabee sighed as he looked around the crowded living room of his ranch. His team were there, as were the two strangers that had come to bring them the sad news of Maude Standish's death. There had been something in the very expressionless eyes of the pair and the unusual openness of his undercover agent that had had him calling Travis and demanding - not asking - for the next week as emergency personal leave for his team. He was amazed that they still had their jobs. Something in his tone must have reached the Judge, though; Travis was very good at reading the nuances of a situation... they'd been given the time they needed.
Ezra sat on the couch, flanked on either side by Vin and JD. Josiah stood gazing out of the window, lost in thought. Nathan and Buck sat on two of the chairs and the two strangers, Duncan and Adam, stood slightly to the side of the fireplace, murmuring softly to each other. Chris made his way from the hallway to the centre of the living room, depositing the tray of drinks on the coffee table, grabbing a bottle for himself as he did so and moving to the opposite side of the fireplace from Duncan and Adam.
Moving his gaze from Ezra to the two strangers, Chris said simply, "What the hell is going on?"
Surprising everyone, it was Ezra that answered. The southerner had been silent since his initial response to Duncan's news. Picking absently at the label on his beer bottle, he said, "That is a very long story, Mister Larabee. Suffice to say, she's been killed by an old enemy and I'm now the only target that remains to be dealt with."
Sighing, Chris placed his own bottle on the mantelpiece and moved round the coffee table to crouch in front of his undercover agent. "Ezra, we're all more sorry than we can say for your loss... but we can't help if we don't know what's going on!"
When Ezra bowed his head and didn't answer, Chris whipped his head round and glared at the two strangers that had brought the news of Maude's death, hissing, "Gentlemen?"
The rest of the team shifted uneasily in their positions, Chris' temper was stretching thin. The unruffled expressions that met the infamous Larabee glare quietly impressed them; not many outside their team were that calm under its gaze.
The taller of the two, the dark-haired one called Duncan, said, "Ezra is honouring a promise made when he was a child, Mister Larabee. What you want to know will betray a sacred trust that he gave."
Moving to stand behind the couch, the man placed a gentle hand on Ezra's bowed head and said, "Under the circumstances, she wouldn't mind. They have to know the truth... you know that. Tell them. Tell it all."
Shocked green eyes looked up into the calm face above him. "I can't! It'd put you all in danger!"
"Ezra," called the voice of the other stranger in the room. Ezra turned his eyes to the unknown Immortal - but clearly close friend of Mac's - that was addressing him, and his breath caught at the power in the hazel eyes staring into his own. This Adam was far older than he let on. "Do you trust them?"
"With my life," responded Ezra, without hesitation. The rest of Team Seven felt their hearts lurch at that announcement. It was not often that Ezra was so vocal with his feelings.
The hazel eyes of Adam Pierson swept over the assembled mortals in the room - only Duncan MacLeod knew that they had just been assessed by Methos, the oldest living Immortal, and found worthy - and said, "Then we trust them with ours. Tell them."
"Maude was not my birth mother, gentlemen. She was one of my mother's closest friends and was my godmother. My father died of cancer when I was very young, my mother suffered an aneurysm when I was five. As stated in a request in her will, Maude became my legal guardian... and, because of the peculiarities of her life, she petitioned to formally adopt me. I have vague and happy memories of Mariah, my birth mother; my true mother, the woman I will always think of that way, was Maude Standish."
Ezra glanced round the room at his team-mates and a first small attempt at a smile appeared on his face. The astonished expressions on their faces were priceless - if this surprised them, what would his later revelations do?
"The peculiarities in her life that I mentioned were something that you gentlemen may have a hard time believing, though I'm sure Duncan and Adam will be able to convince you of my veracity.
"Mother, like them, was Immortal. She was fifteen hundred and four years old on her last birthday."
"Don't be crazy!"
Ezra sighed and looked up at Duncan, still standing sentinel behind him. "Mac...?"
Duncan MacLeod made a face and sighed. "Why does it always come to this?" He looked over at Methos and called out, "Adam, would you care to help me demonstrate?"
Grinning, Adam moved over to MacLeod and said, "This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me."
"Oh, I'm sure," was MacLeod's wry retort, producing a chuckle from Ezra.
Ezra looked at his team, eyes firm, saying, "Do not interfere. Do not shoot him. Do not call for medical assistance. Trust me."
The confusion in his team-mates' eyes was quickly transmuted into horror as Adam Pierson calmly pulled a hidden dagger from a sheath at the back of his neck and stabbed Duncan through the heart.
Nathan scrambled to his feet and hurried round to check Duncan for a pulse. Eyes grim, he turned to Chris and said, "He's dead."
"What have you done?" breathed Josiah, looking at Ezra and Duncan.
"Everything will be fine, gentlemen," reassured Ezra as best he could. Meanwhile, the horrified members of Team Seven watched as Adam Pierson calmly wiped off the dagger on MacLeod's shirt before returning it to the sheath at his neck.
A long moment later, the rattling gasp for breath from Duncan MacLeod had the normally unflappable members of Team Seven flinching back in shock. They watched with disbelieving eyes as Adam Pierson calmly extended a hand and helped his victim get to his feet, alive and whole.
Shakily, Nathan Jackson said, "You had no pulse...! You were dead...! I think I need to sit down." Half staggering round the couch, he dropped into his former seat and stared with disbelieving eyes at the pair of impossibilities in front of him.
Duncan MacLeod took over the explanations at that point. He explained about the Immortal race, the rules that governed their lives, the only way that they could truly be killed and the mortal Watchers that had chronicled their lives throughout history. Face grim, he then went on to explain how five years after adopting Ezra - Maude Standish - who had all but withdrawn from the Game to raise him, had been challenged while they were on holiday in France. How she had won the challenge and assumed that it was just another in a long line of challenges that she had faced in her long Immortal life.
"What she didn't know was how crazy Jenna Raphael's lover was. Christophe Jennings was devoted to his lover and her death drove his already shaky hold on sanity over the edge. He became obsessed with making Maude pay.
"He kidnapped Ezra from outside his school in London when he was only fourteen years old. Distraught, Maude called me for help - we were very old friends. It took us almost a week to catch up with him... and in that week..." Duncan's voice broke off as he placed his strong hands on Ezra's shoulders, thumbs rubbing absently in an effort to reassure.
"In that week, Jennings tortured me," said the almost inaudible voice of Ezra Standish. "He couldn't reach Mother, so he took out his hatred for her on the person that she loved the most."
Muffled curses from his team-mates eased Ezra's tired soul, and he smiled gratefully as he felt Vin and JD shift in closer to him, as though to protect him.
Duncan continued the tale. "We got Ezra out but Jennings escaped in the confusion. Once Ezra and Maude were settled in the Swiss hospital we took him to, I went hunting for Jennings but he'd gone to ground... if you live long enough, you end up knowing a lot of places to hide."
Ezra took up the story. "Mother and I had a long discussion once I got better. She decided the best way to protect me was to distance me from her. That is why I was in and out of boarding schools for the rest of my childhood. She took on the part of the flighty society mother and hired the best bodyguards in the business to look after me; I never saw them, but I knew they were there.
"Neither of us were happy with the outward fiction of our lives, but it was the best way to protect me. I agreed to it as long as she agreed not to hunt Jennings and to try and actively stay out of his way.
"When she came to see me a few days ago it was to let me know that Jennings had found her and that she'd agreed to face him in a challenge in Paris. Now that I was all grown up, it was time for her to stop avoiding this fight; besides, she trusted that you would watch my back.
"Arrangements were set in place for either outcome of the challenge. Mac and Adam are obviously here to deal with the repercussions of if she lost the fight." With that, Ezra turned a questioning gaze on the Immortal pair.
It was Adam that answered him. "Maude came to see MacLeod in Paris before the challenge and told him what was going on. He called me. As a former Watcher - and that's another long story - and the sneaky, conniving bastard that I am, I can hack into their database at will.
"I read the Watcher report of the challenge. Jennings broke the rules. He had two mortal lackeys with him. When it became clear that Maude was going to win in a fair fight - she was one of the best Immortal swordswomen ever - one of the aforementioned lackeys shot her in the back. That was when Jennings took her head, but not before saying, 'The boy is next.'"
"And that is why we are here," said a sombre Duncan MacLeod. "Jennings is ignoring all the rules. We try to avoid indiscriminate killing of mortals. Targeting a mortal that is a federal agent is sheer lunacy.
"We're here to protect you all. Jennings would have his people kill you all to get to Ezra and we can't have that. I'm sure that you gentlemen could handle his human accomplices with ease... but we still have Jennings to deal with. He is Immortal business and we will deal with him. Is that understood?"
The members of Team Seven nodded, though their eyes were angry; they didn't like taking orders at the best of times, especially not from strangers. This time, however, they recognised that they were out of their depth.
The remainder of the evening was spent getting to know the two Immortals a little better and getting the more general of their questions answered. Ezra remained quiet, answering questions put to him and no more. His worried team-mates kept a careful watch on him.
Eventually, guest rooms and sofa-beds were made up and the gathering on men and Immortals turned in for the night, Josiah and Nathan took first watch. Looking at the bowed head of his undercover agent, Larabee sent a quick glance to Vin Tanner. The half nod and gentle smile he got in reply eased some of the tension from his shoulders.
Ezra's roommate tonight would be the member of the team that rivalled him for his ability to shield his feelings from those around him. Surprisingly enough, as a result of this, Vin and Ezra had often found it easier to talk to each other. Tonight, in the wake of his mother's loss, Ezra would have a shoulder to lean on.
Chris Larabee nodded his head in acknowledgement of Adam Pierson as he directed the Immortal to the guest room next to his own. MacLeod emanated the most presence of the pair, that was unquestioned; however, Chris' instincts told him that the more powerful of the pair of Immortals was the quiet and unassuming Adam Pierson.
Punching his pillow, before laying down his head, Chris Larabee sent out a silent thought into the night. Maude, I understand now why you were the way you were. I'm sorry we never got to know the real you, I get the impression it would have been a wild ride. I promise you this, we'll keep him safe. Always. Rest easy, gentle lady.
Chris Larabee's scowl as he walked out of Denver's Mercy General hospital had people clearing the path in front of his group, trying to get out of his way. For two days things had been tense but quiet and then things had gone to hell and Larabee was still raging.
They'd had to go back to the office - it had been unavoidable. Travis himself had called them in when a scheduled trial date for a major arms dealer got pushed forward. The testimony itself had gone well, and, even though they'd expected it, Jennings' people had not attacked them at the vulnerable courthouse.
They'd used a decoy convoy of cars when leaving the courthouse, but their planning seemed to have been for naught. Both convoys, decoy and real, had been attacked. Through sheer strength in numbers, they'd been overwhelmed. Nathan and JD had been shot, each suffering serious gunshot wounds. Ezra had been taken before the Immortals - riddled with bullets - had revived. The two Immortals had managed to take out eight of their assailants in some feats of skill that left the combat-honed skills of Team Seven's veterans literally gasping with wonder.
Josiah had volunteered to watch over the two injured members of the team, and to fend off the near-spluttering rage of AD Travis, who was on his way to the hospital and demanding to know what the hell was going on.
Through long familiarity with the hospital, the remainder of Team Seven had led the two Immortals through some back corridors and avoided Travis' party on the way to the ICU floor and calmly walked out of the hospital, commandeering taxis to take them to a hastily rented apartment that had been taken in one of Adam Pierson's aliases.
They were on a deadline and everybody knew it. Ezra had reluctantly been fitted with three different hidden locators - the only one he knew about was hidden in a subcutaneous implant in his left inner arm, the other two had been secreted about the clothes he'd selected for his court testimony.
Buck, using his and JD's specialised tracking equipment, had tracked the signal to a specific corner of the warehouse district. With that as a starting point, Adam had once again hacked into the Watcher database and procured the address of a warehouse that - according to Jennings' Watcher - had been leased to him three days before.
Once again reiterating the fact that the mortals needed to stay away from the person that Duncan and Adam identified as Jennings, the remaining three members of Team Seven accompanied their Immortal bodyguards/accomplices in the rescue mission to retrieve their seventh team-mate.
Using infra-red scanning equipment and some other toys that they'd brought along, the outer perimeter of guards for the warehouse were identified. The angry members of Team Seven showed the two Immortals exactly what a pair of motivated ex-SEALs and one extremely angry former Army Ranger could and would do when one of their own was taken from them.
Their silently questioning expressions as to their actions had been met with approval from Duncan MacLeod and a somewhat bloodthirsty grin from Methos; these mortals had the kind of attitude he liked.
As expected, things got slightly more complicated when they got inside the warehouse. There were guards scattered throughout the inner confines of the warehouse, but the events in centre of the building were what caught the horrified attention of the would-be rescuers. Ezra was stripped to his boxers and strapped to a metal frame. The wires and electrodes running from his body were clearly indicative of electro-shock treatment. It took both Chris and Buck to hold a quietly snarling Vin Tanner in place as he fought to get the chance to rush the bastards that had taken his grieving friend; much as they wished to loose and join him, they knew that was not the way.
Jennings called out, "MacLeod, I know you're there! Come out now or I'll kill the brat!"
While MacLeod walked slowly to meet Jennings, Adam ushered the three mortals to their positions saying, "Trust me, this will work." Buck and Vin deferred to Chris. When he nodded, they moved into position. Chris trusted this Immortal; that was good enough for them.
Once MacLeod got within ten feet of Jennings, they raised their tranquilliser guns and started firing. Jennings got the first dart, and the rest of his team were taken out by Chris and Buck. Vin had one sole area of responsibility... anyone approaching the frame containing their friend was his target. Nobody was going to get the chance to hurt him again.
Once all the targets had been accounted for, Chris and Buck began the task of tying up the kidnappers and dragging them over to one side of the warehouse. While this was going on, MacLeod freed Ezra and Vin stood guard over the pair... Adam stood watch over the still unconscious form of Christophe Jennings.
Much as Chris and the others wanted to arrest the murdering son of a bitch too, they knew this was Immortal business. Vin and MacLeod had their arms wrapped around Ezra and were half-carrying him away from the main area of the warehouse when Jennings began to rouse. Moving to stand between Jennings and the otherwise occupied pair, a stark smile graced Adam Pierson's face as he looked at the Immortal psychopath in front of him and said, "I challenge. Do you accept?"
Eyes glowing with hatred, Jennings stared at the retreating form of Duncan MacLeod as he and his human helper moved the brat out of the line of fire and hissed at the upstart youngster in front of him, "MacLeod's latest student! Do you really think you are a match for me?!" He swore angrily in his native language and his eyes blinked in suddenly calculating assessment when the 'youngster' in front of him responded archly in the same tongue, a long disused dialect of Flemish that was his native tongue.
"You are older than you appear, stranger."
The half-smile that was his answer momentarily chilled his bones. There was no way out of this challenge, and, unlike Paris, his helpers had been removed. Bowing to the inevitable of a fair fight, Jennings said, "I accept the challenge."
By this point, MacLeod, Vin and Ezra had reached the relative safety of the side of the warehouse and stood with Chris and Buck watching the stationary pair in the centre. Without hesitation, Chris removed his leather jacket and wrapped Ezra in it, doing his best not to hurt him any further than was absolutely necessary.
MacLeod spared a glance round about and spotted a sturdy looking storage room over in the corner. Jogging over to it, he checked it for any exit points - there were none. He turned and called out, "Bring the goons over here and hurry!"
The whispered, "Do as he says, gentlemen," from their injured team-mate had Vin and Buck hastening to comply. Once their task had been accomplished, MacLeod ushered their little group as far away from the windows as he could get. Chris wanted to demand an explanation, but fell silent as the combat began.
Not many mortals who weren't Watchers got to see ritual combat between two Immortals, and it was a sight that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. The deadly dance of blade, fist and foot was like nothing they'd ever seen before. MacLeod watched the battle with frustration; he should have known that the Old Man was going to manoeuvre things so that he had to protect the mortals, leaving him free to fight Jennings.
Still, it was becoming apparent as the fight went on that, skilled though he was, for every dirty move Jennings knew, the Old Man knew three. The outcome was inevitable... Jennings ended up on his knees, sword knocked clanging to the floor with a negligent flick of the Old Man's wrist.
Resigned to the inevitable, Jennings looked up into the face of his executioner and said, "Of a courtesy, your true name, please?"
Sword at his conquered foe's neck, Adam paused. Eventually, he said, "You murdered one of our best, Jennings, and then you tried to kill her adopted son. For his sake only, so that he might know that his mother's murder was avenged, you may have the name of the man who brought you to justice for your crime.
"My name is Methos."
Jennings' eyes had just enough time to widen before Methos' blade smoothly cut his head from his neck. In the still seconds that followed, the hushed whispers of both Mac and Ezra prepared the other three mortals for the event to come... the Quickening.
Hearts pounding, bodies literally shaking, the uninjured members of Team Seven watched as MacLeod approached his exhausted friend after the light-show that they would never forget, silently holding out a hand to pull Adam - Methos - to his feet.
Two days passed before the dust finally settled. The Watchers took care of Jennings' body. The Immortal's accomplices knew better than to mention him at all. The members of Team Seven who had accompanied the rescue party stated that they'd accompanied two intelligence operatives from Europe - old friends of Maude who had arrived to warn them of her murder and the imminent attack on Ezra - in the rescue mission to retrieve him, and, much as AD Orrin Travis tried to urge them to expand on the situation further, he could pry no other explanation from them.
Even the criminals refused to offer any other explanation for what had happened! He knew there was more to the story but he could not get anyone to talk. The criminals had done the crime, they were willing to do the time. They knew better than to talk and Jennings had paid them in advance. The world did not need to know about Immortals... besides, nobody would believe them.
On the third day, MacLeod and Pierson made their farewells to Team Seven and returned to Paris. Invitations were made to visit on either side; none really expecting that those invitations would be taken up. For a few days they'd shared a common purpose... a short moment in Team Seven's lives, a fleeting second in the lifespan of the Immortals.
The team were recuperating at Chris' ranch, they still had two days of the compassionate leave that Chris had demanded for them to help Ezra through his mother's death. At the insistence of the three who had not been part of the rescue party, the rest of the drama had been related to them step by step.
Vin, sitting next to his new roommate for the next couple of days, gently addressed Ezra, saying, "Ez, I've got one question."
The team chuckled at the wry comment of, "Only one, Vin? I'm surprised." Ezra would take a while to heal, both physically and emotionally, but they'd be there for him every step of the way. His gentle sarcasm was welcomed for the start to recovery that it was.
"Why was Jennings so surprised when Adam said his name was Methos?"
"What's in a name, gentlemen? What's in a name?" The grin of amusement on Ezra's face was at odds with the wonder in his green eyes.
"Ez?" prompted Vin.
"Immortals have their myths too, gentlemen. We in the mortal world have Robin Hood, Bigfoot, King Arthur... the list is endless. MacLeod and his clansman Connor are two Immortal legends; they are the Highlanders. Those two particular Scottish Immortals have many legends and tales associated with their long lives. They pale into comparison with Methos."
"Why, son?" asked Josiah, intently curious - as they all were - about the two amazing men that they'd been allowed the chance to get to know over the past few days of worry and terror.
"Methos is more than legend, he is myth. Mama told me about him as a sort of fairy tale when I was about nine. I'd only recently been told the truth about who, what, she was; I wanted to know everything.
"Methos is the oldest living Immortal."
JD practically bounced in his seat on the other couch and breathed out in a stunned and disbelieving whisper, "Adam's the oldest man in the world?"
Chris gave a slight smile; that would explain the sheer authority that the man seemed to be able to switch on and off at will. "How old is he, Ezra?" he asked curiously.
Ezra was silent for a moment, then said, "From the stories Mama told me, he's so old that he cannot remember the time of his First Death. In fact, he cannot remember when he took his first head. Mama said that Methos - if he were real - would be at least five thousand years old."
Six jaws literally dropped. MacLeod's four plus centuries had blown them away. They had been unable to put the concept of fifteen plus centuries together with Maude. Now, according to Ezra, the quiet man who had been in their midst for the past five days had seen the highs and lows of humanity over five millennia!
Two weeks after their return to work, Ezra invited his team to a private memorial service for his mother. MacLeod and Adam had contacted the Watchers and her ashes were returned to her son. Chris had offered a spot in his ranch for the final act of Ezra's role as Maude's son. In the woods that made up one portion of the ranch, Ezra scattered her ashes. She'd been a young noblewoman in a secluded country town fifteen centuries before. Her Quickening had been taken from her but had found a safe resting place within the oldest of the Immortals; the ashes of her mortal remains were given back to the quiet countryside.
Within the month, Team Seven were back at full strength and back doing what they did best. One thing was different, much though they - and the rest of the Denver ATF - had considered it impossible. The turmoil and heartache that they'd gone through with Ezra had brought them even closer.
Now, they truly were family. Nothing and nobody would ever be allowed to come between them.