(note: Massive amounts of the last year of Highlander never happened. You can guess which. Nor did Endgame. It was all a nasty hallucination brought on by too many beers on top of really bad burritos. For the purposes of this story, all the pertinent Highlander players are still alive and functional and in their respective habitats. So there.

 

The Game Begins

by suricata

Los Angeles, sometime in the near future

The vision, amazingly enough, had been clear, concise, to the point, and all those other rare things. It was also happening -- right now.   Since she was only a few blocks from the spot where it was going to happen, Cordelia had made sure she had a cross, holy water, and three sharpened stakes in her bag, then made tracks.  No time to call in for backup, despite the fact that Angel would have a cow, and Gunn would probably try to give her one of those "you’re support staff, you don’t get in the line of fire" lectures.  Wesley was the only one who would understand.

God, it was sad when Wesley was the one who understood. 

No, that wasn’t fair.  Angel knew why she couldn’t not get involved in the lives of the people she Saw.  The visions were too much a part of her now; their pain really was hers, and she lost a little part of herself when they failed. 

There were days she felt she’d been born the day she came to Los Angeles.  And others, she felt as road-worn as Angel.  And sometimes, like now, she felt both at once.

            The scene was exactly as visioned – one thing you could say for the PTB, they were accurate.  Not always efficient, and never considerate, but accurate.  Three against one.  She was making a wild guess the guy who was bleeding was the victim.  Not very fair odds, which was the norm for vamps around here.  They knew better than to hunt alone.

The Slayer would have stopped to make a quip, draw the vamps’ attention.   Screw that.  Cordelia attacked while they were distracted, dusting one before he even knew she was there.  When outnumbered, cheat.  The other two turned, snarling.  One big, the other bigger.  Both were seriously ugly.  Now would have been a good time for a quip.  Too bad she was too scared to come up with one. 

Cordelia lunged for bigger one, while their former victim tried to take out the other with something sharp and shiny – a knife?  Then the smaller vamp pulled a gun, and all bets were off.

            “So not hanging around for that,” she said in disgust, and uncorked the holy water, flinging it into vamp-gunner’s face.  His scream almost covered the sound of the gun going off.  Cordelia flinched, then realized the bullet hadn’t come anywhere near her.  Her second stake finished him off, and she whirled to see the third vamp go poof dramatically, a sword slicing its head off like something out of Zorro Meets Dracula. 

            “Nice move,” she said admiringly.  Watching Angel, she’d managed to pick up a few pointers on edged weapons, and you could tell this guy was good, just the way he handed the --

Through the falling vamp-dust, she saw the swordguy sag, then collapse to his knees.  “Oh, wonderful,” he said, in a tone of absolute disgust.  The sword came loose from his hand, hitting the ground with a faint clang, just out of his reach. 

            “Oh no…”  Dropping to her knees beside him, she barely noted the damage she was doing to her silk pants as she tried to see where he was hurt.  Blood welling on his neck showed where he’d been bitten, but there was more blood on his shirt that didn’t match – “Oh, damn,” she said, reaching under his leather jacket to touch where the bullet had gone in.  “Oh… come on, don’t you dare…”  She touched his neck, and felt the pulse slow, then stop.  His face went still, then his body sagged forward into her arms.

            “Oh, yuck.”  She pushed him away, then realized what she was shoving, and leaned him more gently against the wall.   “I saved you,” she said, her tone conversational, as though he could hear her.  “It’s really rude to die after someone’s saved you.”  She paused, frowning.  “Hey!  I didn’t see you die, damnit.  You’re not supposed to die!”

            He didn’t respond to her tirade. Wiping a strand of hair off her now-sweaty face, Cordelia ran through her options.  #1: Leaving the body here and hightailing it back to the office.  Excellent plan.  #2:  Leaving the body here and going back to her apartment for a long soak, try to get rid of the blood on her clothes, and call in to the office later – much later – to tell Angel what went down.  A more excellent plan.

            She felt a moment’s regret for the guy – he hadn’t asked to be taken out by a vamp packing heat – but what could she do?  There wasn’t exactly a no-questions-asked morgue handy, although there sure as spit should be.

            “Sorry, pal,” she told the dead guy, overcoming her disgust enough to pat him gently on the shoulder.   His head lolled to one side, then moved back slowly.  She blinked, pulled away, watching him warily as she reached behind her for the cross lying on the ground where it had fallen.  He groaned, opened his eyes.

            “Yeep!”  She recovered fast.  “You’re not dead,” she told him, half in accusation.

            “Sorry to disappoint you.”

            He had a nice voice; kinda gravelly but light – a tenor, she guessed, with a hint of an accent she couldn’t quite place.  And he had a pulse again – she could see it, quietly throbbing in his neck, right where the bite marks…had been. Right.  What dies and comes back, and heals super-fast?  If there are guy Slayers around and nobody told me, I’m going to be so pissed…

            “Okay,” she asked, proud that her voice was steady.  “What’s the deal?  Crishek?  They’re the only demons I know of that bounce back from gunshot wounds.  Although you’re not exactly bouncing.” 

            “What?”  He blinked at her, looking like he had a headache.   “I’m not a demon.  I don’t think.”  He mulled the idea over.  “Although it would be an interesting theory – “  He looked directly at her then, way too sharp for a guy she knew had been dead just a moment before.  “You say demon like you know some.”

            She rolled her eyes.  “Boy.   I could tell you stories…”  Cordelia studied the man in front of her, then made a decision.  The PTB wouldn’t have sent her a vision if he was a bad guy.  Probably.

            “Come on.”

            He took the hand she offered almost out of instinct, and seemed surprised that he had done it.  His eyes were brown, she noted.  Not chocolate-brown like Angel’s, but nice.  Hazel-y.  Sharp features.  Impressive nose.  He looked human.  Then again, so did Doyle.  Half-breed?  Maybe.  But not exactly the kind of thing you asked on first meeting.  Well, not without knowing their name, or something.

            She helped him to his feet, pleased that, even in heels, he still had a few inches on her – but only a few.  Of course, the inches seemed to have been repeated onto his nose… but it suited his face, weirdly enough.  Or as much as she could see, in this gunky alley.  And what they said about guys with big noses – okay, not going there.  At least, not yet.

            “I’m Cordelia,” she offered.

            “Adam,” he replied.  “And thank you, Cordelia, but I really have to –“

            “Go?  Isn’t that a bit rude?  Okay, so you die and come back, very nice trick, but I didn’t know that when I stepped in.  You should at least offer to buy me a drink.”

 

 

 

# #

 

Methos wasn’t sure what made him follow his “rescuer” out of the alley.  Perhaps it was boredom – he hadn’t been going anywhere in particular when he was jumped, anyway.  And maybe it was her poise, so reminiscent of an Egyptian queen secure in her divinity.  And maybe it was his damnable curiosity, getting him into trouble again.

            And maybe, old man, you just wanted a drink?

            Whatever the reason, he found himself at a small table in a small, clean, friendly bar the likes of which he never expected to find in L.A.  The bartender, an odd-looking woman with what looked like keloids on her high cheekbones, knew her brews, and he was soon presented with a fresh draft of a local ale with a perfect head.

            Cordelia, he noted, was a wine drinker.  Oh well, he thought.  Nobody’s perfect.  Although she came remarkably close.  Oval face, wide-spaced eyes, full mouth… if she wasn’t a model, or an actress, he’d eat his hat, if he had one.  Then again, models tended not to jump into alleys and save tourists from getting – whatever they had intended to do to him.

“So what the hell were those things?”

            “Vampires.”

            Methos opened his mouth to make a wise-ass retort, then closed it again thoughtfully.  Fact: one of them had bitten him, hard.  Fact: they’d turned to dust when they were killed.  Fact: who the hell was he to scoff at legends come to life?  Or unlife, as the case may be.  Demons.  Right.

            “Oh.”  He took another sip of his beer.  It was remarkably good.

            “You’re talking the news awfully calm-like.”

            “Am I?  Trust me, I’m gibbering inside.”

            Cordelia nodded her dark head emphatically.  “Oh yeah.  I so know that feeling.” 

Not model.  Stuntwoman?  She certainly had the shape for it.  Along with other things.  He smirked at the thought, and waved down the waitress for another beer.

 

# #

 

 “So.  Die often?”

            The question hit Methos just as he was inhaling the first sip of his third beer.  He coughed, recovered, and tried another sip before looking up to meet Cordelia’s steady brown gaze.

            “Excuse me?”

            “Come on, give me a break.  Coy looks good on you, but what’s the point?  I know what I saw.  And you took the whole ‘vampires are real’ thing way too easy to not be used to the weird.  So I’m curious – you do it often?”

            “I try not to.”

            “Good.  Stupid hobby.  It’s gotta hurt.”

            And just like that, she changed the subject, going off into another convoluted tale that involved a shoe sale, a starlet he’d never heard of, and her boss, whose name, apparently, was Angel.

            Methos sat back, took another sip of his beer, and smiled.  Maybe his stay in L.A. wasn’t going to be so dull, after all.

 

# #

           

 

            “Out.”  The bartender stood over their table, arms crossed over an impressive chest, but her grim face couldn’t disguise the humor glinting in her eyes.  Methos wondered, not-quite-clearly, if all bar owners learned that expression.  Or maybe you had to have it before they gave you a liquor license?

            “Aw…”

            “No pouting, Cordelia.  I know your limit, and you’ve hit it.  Go home.  Otherwise Angel will be in here the moment the sun sets tomorrow, reaming my ass out – assuming Wesley doesn’t get there first.”

            By now, Methos knew that Angel was indeed Cordelia’s boss, as well as her best friend, and that Wesley – ‘great guy, do not play darts with him.  Ever.  Especially for money’ - worked with them in a rather unsuccessful detective agency.  He also knew more about demons – like their bartender – than even a five thousand year old Immortal could be expected to handle.  Which probably explained why he had been matching two beers to her every glass of wine.  Or was it three?

            Cordelia looked at her watch, a surprisingly clunky thing, and frowned at her companion.  “Do you have a place to stay, Adam?”

            “Ah…actually, no.  I was going to stop by a friends’, see if they could give me crash space, but…”  He shrugged, pulling one of his better apologetic puppy dog looks out for her benefit.  In fact, he’d been hoping the friend wasn’t home, so he wouldn’t have to answer questions.    Oh lord, and if Ritchie were home, he’d call Duncan, and he just wasn’t up to dealing with the Boy Scout, not now…maybe not ever.  Or at least for another three years.

            “But it’s almost one in the morning,” she finished for him.  “Come on.  You can stay with me.  Dennis can make sure you behave.”

            “Dennis?”  He was drunk, yeah, but he was pretty sure she hadn’t mentioned a boyfriend at any time during the evening…

            “My roommate.  Oh boy.  You think vampires messed with your worldview…”  She started to laugh, and not even inspired pleading on his part during the cab ride to her apartment could get her to explain what was so amusing about her roommate.

           

#  #

 

            Cordelia lay in her bed, the covers pushed down to her waist, and stared at the ceiling, thinking about the guy currently sacked out on her sofa.  Dennis liked him.  There had been no temper tantrums, no blocked doors or scalding water or flashing lights.  Always a good sign.  Not that she was getting in any way shape or form attached to this guy.  He was cute, yeah, and he took vampires and demons and ghosts without batting an eye… and how weird was that, anyway?  Where did someone who didn’t grow up in Sunnydale get that kind of cool around things of the weird?

            Okay, reality check here.  The guy died.  Remember that?  Weird is obviously not an unknown  in his life.

            And yes, she was dying of curiosity about that, but on the other hand…not wanting to know.  People who died and then came back usually had trouble with them, and she wasn’t looking for more trouble in her personal life.  Not again.  Not ever again.  She was looking for a nice, normal, mortal, good-looking, preferably rich guy who wouldn’t mind that she did weirdness with her life

            And as soon as Santa gets to that item on your wish list, I’m sure Mr. Perfect will be propped up in front of the fireplace, she told herself.

            Besides, the moment Wesley heard about this guy, he’d probably go directly to some musty old book and flip a few pages and tell her all about it.  Poof, mystery gone.

            Still.  If he’s immortal, maybe he and Angel could have a long, boring conversation about stuff that happened way back when… I wonder if he’s as old as Angel?  That would be nice for both of them, probably.  So maybe I should drag him over to the office tomorrow.  It’s not like he had any plans…

            A sound from the living room caught her attention.  It sounded like a moan: a painful moan, not a good one.   She didn’t want to know- -she had enough going on in her life, damnit.  Giving a guy a place to crash after you save his life and then get him drunk was just good manners.  She didn’t need more trauma.

            And she couldn’t let the pain in that sound go unanswered.  Not any more.  Not since the PTB had so messed with her head…

 

            “Hey.”  A cool hand touching his brow brought Methos out of a pain-filled dream of a war-torn country that had once, for many years too many years ago, been home.  He sat upright, not sure where – or when – he was.  Then a pale face came into focus next to him, and the faintly ringing pain in his head reminded him.

            “Cordelia.”

            “That’s me.  Bad dream?”

            “You could say that.”  Bad, horrible, nothing less than he deserved.  “Sorry if I woke you.”

            “S’okay, I wasn’t asleep.”  She settled herself next to him on the sofa, and he became aware that she slept in pajamas as slinky and sweet-looking as herself.  The hand on his forehead moved into his hair, soothing him like one would a kitten, in slow, gentle strokes.

            Down, old man.  If she’s 21, it’s barely.  That kind of trouble, you don’t need.

            But he wanted it, very much.  It had been a long time since a woman did more than stir his libido.  Cordelia was smart, brave, and willing to let things alone.  Plus, warm, and soft, and apparently not-unwilling, if the way she was leaning into him was any indication.  It was a combination like a gift from the gods.  

            But the gods had been screwing with him, the past few years.

            “Delia…”

            She moved away, and he could breathe normally again.

            “Sorry.  Was I being very much the slut?”

            “No, not at all, and I appreciate it, believe me.  It’s just…”

            She looked at him, and her eyes were so open, so filled with pain and compassion that he couldn’t remember what he was going to say next.

            “I get it – s’okay.  Less a rejection and more a not-now, right?”  He tried to smile back at her, but the motion felt foreign to his face.  “You look like you’ve got stuff inside that needs to get out.  And I’m pretty good at that.  Like confession, only no penance.  Just letting it go.”

            And just like that, he told her.  Not all of it – no-one should ever be burdened with the things he had seen and done.  But the recent things – the people he’d seen die, the ones he’d been unable to help, the ones he’d left behind rather than risk his own precious hide…

            And she sat there, stroking his hair, and didn’t say a word as the sun rose, and Dennis started the coffee, and the pain that had been a heavy weight in his soul shifted, became not less, but more bearable.

            “I should never have gone back.  I should have learned, by now, that you can’t ever go back…”

            “You’re old, aren’t you?”

            He laughed, bitterly.  “Oh yes.  Very old.”

            “There’s someone I want you to talk to, okay?”

            “What, a shrink?  A priest?  Been there, done that.”

            She kissed his forehead, lightly, a mother to a child, and merely shook her head.  “Trust me.”

            And, much to his surprise, he did.

 

#  #

 

 

            “Stop yelling.”

            “I’m not yelling!” Angel yelled.  He caught himself visibly, straightening his posture and moving away slightly from Cordelia, who looked inclined to go after him.  Possibly with a hammer.  Methos looked at the man next to him.  “Are they always like this?”

            Wesley looked long-suffering.  “Sadly, yes.”

            “Oh yeah, like you and her don’t fight.”  Gunn shook his head and jumped down from what used to be the hotel’s check-in counter and now – apparently – was used as their communications center.

            “We…squabble,” Wesley clarified.  “She and Angel fight.”

            “Just one big happy dysfunctional family,” Gunn said.  “Welcome to the madhouse.”

            “Thanks,” Methos said, just as wryly, in return.  But he meant it.  Cordelia had fed him, sent him to the shower, and then dragged him by the scruff of the neck to the old hotel which served as their office.  He had enjoyed it, in a hapless, taken-charge-of way.  He was feeling very much go with the flow this morning. 

            Wesley was a tall, worried-looking Brit; Gunn was a much rougher-looking black kid who was probably as tough as he thought he was.  But they both had a look around their eyes Methos recognized from his own nightmares – of men who had seen too much, done too much.  It was the same look that had been in Cordelia’s eyes the night before.  But at the same time, they had a certain…vitality to them as well. 

            But Angel… now there was another story.  The moment Methos saw the other man, he knew.  Angel wasn’t an Immortal – but he wasn’t mortal, either.  His eyes had seen too much.

            This was whom Cordelia wanted him to talk to.

            And the man had seemed friendly enough when they came in.  Quiet, a little reserved, but approachable – until Cordelia had blithely mentioned the fight she had charged into, “rescuing” him.  Then the fireworks had begun.

            “Angel, will you just Shut Up!”

            Apparently, Cordelia had a boiling point as well. 

            “Guy.  Trouble.  Needs help.  Hello?  Any of this sounding familiar?  Only the help he needs, I think, wasn’t the fight.  “cause he came out of it…well, not okay, he came out dead, but –“

            “Hold on a moment.”  Wesley started forward at that, and Gunn looked intrigued as well.  “Dead?”

            “Right.  Dead.  Not breathing.  And not undead, either, as you’ve already figured out, since we came in from outside with the bright big California sun with no smoky aftertaste.  Dead – then alive again”

            Methos winced.  So much for the secrecy Immortals existed under.  Then again…demons.  Vampires.  Who were they to cast stones?  Or tell stories, for that matter.

            “You can’t die?”  That got Angel’s attention, certainly.  Gunn was looking like he didn’t buy a word of it.  Wesley had already gone to his books.  Methos was suddenly glad he hadn’t taken Cordelia’s bet on that.

            “Right.”  Gods, he wanted a beer.  “Short version – Immortals live normally until their first death.  We can only be killed permanently by decapitation – typically at the hands of another immortal, in the Game.  In the end, there can only be one.  You won’t find anything in your books on us –- we don’t appreciate study or note-taking,” – after all, nobody had invited the Watchers to start all that --  “and now that I’ve told you all that, I’ll have to kill you.”

            Nobody laughed.

             

 

#  #

 

            “You’re a vampire.”

            Angel leaned back in his chair, making a ‘what can I say?’ motion with his hands. Methos supposed that if growing facial ridges and fangs on command hadn’t convinced him, there really wasn’t anything else he could say.  They were in Angel’s office, the four of them; Gunn had taken off abruptly.  No-one else commented on it; apparently he acted that way normally.

            “So…sunlight?  Crosses? Garlic?”

            “Two out of three, anyway,” Cordelia said.  “Garlic doesn’t seem to have any effect.”

            “It makes the blood taste horrible,” Angel told her.  “But other than that, no.”

            “Demons.  Well, that does explain a lot.”

            “That’s what Oz said.”

            “Oz?”

            “Friend.  Werewolf.”

            “Were—right.  That explains a lot too.”

            “You really are taking this all rather calmly,” Wesley observed.

            “I’ve been around,” Methos told him, shrugging.  “You see a lot, it doesn’t make sense.  Now, it makes sense.”

            “How long have you been around?” Angel asked, leaning forward suddenly.

            “A while.” 

            “Angel’s two hundred and fifty,” Cordelia announced.

            “Not quite,” Angel said.  It was obviously a sore subject with them.  “You’re older.”  It wasn’t a question, and as such, didn’t require an answer.  “Why are you in Los Angeles, Adam?”

            The gloves were off.  Angel the host had disappeared.  A harder man – vampire – sat in his place.  Methos was reminded of Joe at his Watching worst – ready to take names and kick ass, if need arose.  We help the helpless,” Cordelia had said.  “It’s a karma thing.” 

            “Just passing through.  You don’t have to worry about me, Angel.  Immortals generally only hunt other Immortals, and I don’t do much of even that.  I don’t play the Game.”

            “So you’ll be moving on, then.”

            “Are you telling me to get out of town?” he asked in return, even as Cordelia’s outraged “Angel!” overrode him.

            “Not unless I have to.”

            It clicked, suddenly, and Methos wanted to laugh.  Angel wasn’t warning him, one predator to another.  Big Brother was heading off someone who might hurt his kid sister. 

            “I think we understand each other,” he said.  Message received, and understood.  But some imp of mischief made him add “I have to admit, the city’s looking more attractive today than it did yesterday…”

            Immortal hearing wasn’t any better than mortals’, but Methos was certain he heard Angel growl…