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Chapter 6

A few minutes later we’re upstairs. My place isn’t much, just a plain efficiency, all the walls stacked high with books, records and CDs. Still, for a guy who sleeps under bridges, it should be comfy enough.

Jean-Pierre unbuttons his shirt. He slides the silk down over his shoulders sensuously, folds it and lays it on a chair in the corner. Is he always this neat, or is it just because the shirt is borrowed? His torso is lithe, but much too thin. I can count his ribs under the skin. It’s a little hot in here.

Why am I watching Jean-Pierre get undressed? Not part of my job description. Hey look, it’s still nighttime outside the window.

“Are we sharing the bed or do you want me on the couch?” Jean-Pierre asks in a dark, suggestive tone. His emphasis on the word ‘want’ pushes it past flirtation into seduction. I can’t believe I arranged for him to stay here over-night.

I don’t even want to know what’s going on in his head. No, I take it back. I deserve to know exactly what is going on in there!

“What the hell is wrong with you, Jean-Pierre? First you pull that bloody scene downstairs earlier tonight to convince me you’re not human, and then you proposition me? What am I, some kind of Watcher psychology experiment?”

Jean-Pierre blushes. He actually blushes. “I’m sorry Joe, I didn’t think of it like that. I’m just … feeling better tonight than I have in a long time. I thought it would be fun. And you have great hands, very sexy.”

Lauren loved my hands. A memory of her gasping as I run my hands down her naked back raises a flush of arousal chased by a spike of grief. She’s gone. Get a grip, Joseph. It’s been a year.

Somehow I doubt that my hands are sexy enough to suddenly throw Jean-Pierre into lust with me, so what’s his deal? He’s probably just a little crazed right now, and a lot lonely. Sometimes, when you need intimacy, you settle for sex. I’ve done it myself. It never seems to work out well.

Now, Joseph, you’ve been a musician for 30 years; you should know how to turn an offer down gracefully. “Thanks, Jean-Pierre, but no. You get the couch. I’ll be on the bed. There’s some extra bedding in the closet over there. Feel free to take a shower. I could use a little privacy to get ready for bed.”

Jean-Pierre is peering at me, looking a bit concerned. He shrugs and saunters towards the bathroom. At the last moment he turns, a mischievous grin on his face. “You’re sure? After all, I got to watch your hands stroking that Gibson all night long, but you only got to enjoy half of what I can do with my mouth.”

It surprises a laugh out of me. “Yes I’m sure! Now get in there, and make it a COLD shower, for Pete’s sake.” Scamp.

I’m feeling strangely cheerful, as I get ready for bed. I’m not sure how much is the ego-boost of being propositioned by an attractive young (looking) man and how much is finding a Watcher rule I actually haven’t broken, when given the chance. I should dig out that “Watcher Purity Test” Adam emailed me back in ’91, see what my score is like these days. I’m sure he’ll get a kick out of hearing about it.

Getting ready for bed I hear Jean-Pierre turn on the water. He starts singing in the shower. The words must be Creole, but the beat is slow and strong like one of the old Negro spirituals. The sound lulls me to sleep. And if my dreams that night were filled with bright eyes, sleek thighs, and a hot mouth both playful and passionate – well, who could blame me.

The next morning I wake to the soft creak of my floorboards. I squint through the morning light leaking through the windows to see Jean-Pierre performing some bare-ass kata. Wonder if he always works out that way, or if it’s for my benefit. Checking my bedside clock, I see it’s a little before 10am. No nightmares for either one of us last night. I’m a bit surprised, with all we dredged up.

I work my way up to a sitting position and watch Jean-Pierre with professional interest. It’s different than the kata I’ve seen Mac work through. This is a softer martial art, a Tai Chi variant. Jean-Pierre slides in slow motion from one form to another, holding each position until I can see his muscles quivering from a few feet away, then flows smoothly into another.

By daylight, he looks even more painfully thin than last night. Ribs, spine, and hips all protrude enough to cast tiny shadows on his skin as he moves. But I’m glad to see him doing something vaguely martial. It’s a sign he might be willing and able to protect himself if Challenged. Finally Jean-Pierre reaches down to put his hands flat on the ground. He pushes off into a handstand, and then flips back to his feet and shakes all over like a dog.

Jean-Pierre turns around with a grin. “Morning, Joe! Sorry to wake you. I would have gone downstairs, but I wasn’t sure what time the morning shift came on.”

“No problem, Jean-Pierre. I’m sure Katie would have enjoyed the show. Where’d you pick that up?” So I’m nosy. It’s considered a valuable asset in Watchers.

“A mean old man taught me this in a San Francisco park back in the 60’s.”

I yawn and stretch. “A Mortal? What was his name?”

“No idea. We didn’t have any languages in common. I called him Grandfather, and I believe he mostly called me ‘clumsy fool’. I slept in the park one night, and woke up at dawn to see him doing this. I stood behind him, trying to follow along. After a while he turned around and let me mirror, cussing me out in some language I’d never heard before and fixing my form whenever I made a mistake. We met every morning in the park for about a month, then he stopped coming. Never did find out what happened to him. But I still practice what he taught me.”

It’s an odd form of Immortality, to be remembered by a person who might live centuries.

By the time I take a shower and get downstairs, Jean-Pierre is cutting up some limes and flirting with Katie. He’s drinking some of the industrial-strength coffee she brews up every morning, but it takes both of us to bully him into eating something.

I check the work schedule for the week. I’m not signed up for any shifts tomorrow, so I arrange to drive to the ocean with Jean-Pierre then. I’m just finishing up my omelet when MacLeod sweeps into the bar.

MacLeod pauses to check that the Immortal he senses is Jean-Pierre, and then strides towards me, beaming. Well, someone’s in a good mood. I wonder if it’s because he had the loft to himself last night, or because he didn’t? Mac won’t kiss and tell, but I’m sure Maria will let me know.

Grace follows Mac in the door. She and Jean-Pierre hug and chatter away in animated French.

“Joe! Good morning!”

“Morning, Mac. How you doing?”

MacLeod pulls my earplugs out of his pocket and returns them to me while shaking my hand. “Good, thanks. That was a great idea, getting Jean-Pierre up on stage to sing last night. He was like a different man. And such a voice! So …” I see his lips twitch. “expressive.”

He is gonna rag me about that Romeo and Juliet thing for years. “Yeah, well, you’re just lucky you weren’t up there with him, Mac. Jean-Pierre probably would have made you tango with him.”

MacLeod grins. He and Amanda nearly set the place on fire dancing the tango once when she was in town. I have to wonder, would Amanda see Jean-Pierre as a fun new playmate, or as competition? “So, how did it go after we left, Joe?”

“Not quite the way I expected. Things got a little dicey there for a while.” I can’t help but glance over at the gouge on the floor, under the table next to the stage. I’m not sure whether I should buff it out, or leave it there to remind myself not to get complacent around Immortals.

MacLeod’s looking concerned.

“Nothing serious, Mac, I just didn’t realize that Jean-Pierre was dangerous.”

The crease is back in MacLeod’s forehead, and he’s moved so that he could draw his sword without me getting in the way. I don’t think Mac’s even aware of it. I swear, the man’s as protective as a Rottweiler. “All Immortals are dangerous, Joe. But I didn’t think Jean-Pierre was a danger to you.”

I shiver at the echo of last night’s conversation. No Immortal is human … All Immortals are dangerous. I sit down on one of the bar stools and gesture for MacLeod to join me. Katie’s in the kitchen, and Jean-Pierre and Grace are on the other side of the bar. They are laughing and, judging by their gestures, discussing Mac and I in ways that would make me blush to hear it. We can have a quick private conversation. MacLeod sits down and leans in close.

"Mac, when you told Jean-Pierre about the Watchers, he immediately assumed that we killed Darius. That's why he wanted to speak to me last night." Mac looks confused for a moment, and then pales.

"I'm just lucky that he's not a 'behead first, ask questions later' kind of guy. We worked it out."

"Joe, I never meant to put you in any danger."

"I know." I wish I could leave it there, but I can't. "But the fact is, you did. I need you to stop telling random Immortals about the Watchers, before you get me killed, Mac."

If not by a homicidal Immortal, then by the Watcher's Tribunal. By putting it this way, I've made it impossible for MacLeod to refuse.

"Of course, Joe."

“Thanks, Mac.” Well, there's a victory. ‘Course, using emotional blackmail against a friend doesn't make me feel great about myself. But it's better than having some Immortal out for vengeance against the Watchers for Darius's murder. If it turns out there are Hunters still running the Watchers, I’m going to need some maneuvering room.

But if it is true, and Adam and I can’t handle it, I’ll write out the envelopes and lick the stamps for MacLeod to tell every Immortal he’s ever met about the Watchers. Hunters won’t have the chance to take out Immortals unaware of them ever again, not on my watch.

Time to regroup. “So, what are your plans for the day?”

“Oh, I’ve got a class to teach this afternoon at the University. Grace is going to take Jean-Pierre clothes shopping. Do you know he came to Seacouver without anything but the clothes on his back?” MacLeod radiates adult disapproval.

“Come on Mac, cut him some slack. When you were his age you traveled foot-loose and fancy-free plenty of times.”

MacLeod opens his mouth to deny it, then sighs and raises a hand in surrender. I can quote dates and places, and he knows it. There are advantages to being an expert in a friend’s personal history. “I guess that’s true, Joe. Is there anything else I should know?”

Mac’s really asking if there’s anything he can do to help. The two of them do have one thing in common. They both deal with their stress by moving: pacing, running, dancing, katas. “If you can, try to get Jean-Pierre to go on one of those dawn marathon runs with you tomorrow morning. We’ll be driving to the sea, to talk about what happened in Rwanda. It’ll probably be easier if he’s tired out, instead of keyed up.” It can’t hurt anyway. And Mac needs to feel useful.

Once the three Immortals clear out I leave Katie to finish the prep work. I have a stack of paper work to file. There’s the Sighting Report on Jean-Pierre, Request for Assignment of a Field Agent who can keep up with him, Request to Expedite Assignment so the guy arrives before Jean-Pierre leaves town, and then the forms of Suggested Additions to a Third-Party Immortal’s Chronicles for the stuff Jean-Pierre told me. At least I get to sign-off on all those forms myself, since I’m Area Supervisor. That means I’ll be able to look Maria in the eye and tell her it’s all taken care of when I meet her and Gerard for lunch.

Jean-Pierre is leading me on a wildflower tour. Never something I thought I’d try, but it’s the perfect day for it. Mt. Rainer is lush and green, the air is warm, and the sunshine is golden honey. The dirt path is on a gentle incline, and he’s roped us together for the hike. “Its part of the mountain-climbing experience,” Jean-Pierre claims, with a little glint in his eye that makes me think I’m missing a joke.

We walk around an outcrop, and the path changes. The slope is steeper now. Instead of dirt, it’s covered in little bits of rock that move when you step on them. Scree, I think it’s called. About ten feet downhill from us is a sheer drop-off. This doesn’t look safe. I hesitate, but Jean-Pierre blithely continues along the trail. He reaches the end of the rope and turns to look at me.

“Come on Joe, the field’s just ahead.” He beckons me on with a smile. “You’ve never seen anything like it.” Jean-Pierre gives the rope a little tug, and it almost knocks me over. Now I’m a little scared, and definitely pissed off. What the hell am I doing hiking a mountain trail? It’s not safe, and I do not belong here. “No way, Jean-Pierre. I’m going back.”

A look of exasperation flashes over Jean-Pierre’s face, quickly replaced by a fond smile. “Look, Joe, it’s perfectly safe. I could walk this trail with my eyes closed!” Like the smart-ass he is, Jean-Pierre closes his eyes, stretches out his arms and starts walking back towards me like an acrobat on a tightrope.

The bit of rock under his foot slides away. With a gasp, Jean-Pierre opens his eyes and tries to catch himself, but now that whole part of the slope is moving. He’s slipping down towards the cliff, and the slack on the rope isn’t going to last much longer. I look around for something to hold onto, but there’s nothing

Just as Jean-Pierre goes over the cliff I’m jerked off my feet by the rope. Shit! He might survive this, but there’s no way I will! I’m on my ass on this nasty rock slope, but there’s no force pulling me downhill. What happened? “Jean-Pierre? Are you down there?”

MacLeod’s voice reaches up to me from the edge of the cliff, calm and confident. “Joe! Don’t worry, I’m fine. There’s a bit of a ledge here.” Whew! I should have known, Mac has everything under control. I feel some movement at the end of the rope. “But I can’t … quite reach the edge, to get back up. I just need an extra foot or so. Pull me up, Joe.”

I should be strong enough for that. I get a good two-handed grip on the rope and pull. For a moment nothing happens. Then the rocks under me start to slide. I stop pulling on the rope and slide another 6 inches down the hill before I’m stable again.

I hold very still, gasping for air. Ian’s voice, tightly controlled but with some real fear underneath, drifts up to me. “Joe? I don’t mean to alarm you, but this ledge isn’t very stable. I’m relying on you to pull me up, and I need you to do it now. Slow and steady, that’s the ticket.”

There’s no chance Ian can survive that fall. Maybe I can do this, if I go slow enough. Very gradually I pull the rope towards me. Think molasses. Think glaciers. Ever so slowly I slide another few inches downhill. It’s not going to work.

Lauren’s shriek grabs me by the throat. “Joe! Joe, I’m scared! Please, help me! Pull me up!”

Jesus, Lauren! I try, I really do. I haul on that rope and slide three more feet down the hill. Any more and I’ll be over the edge myself. There’s no way I can save her. It’s impossible.

I’m so close that I can hear Lauren’s quiet sobs, and the faint cracks and groans from the rock ledge below. Numbly I unhook the carabineer. I’m holding the rope loosely between my fingers when I hear the crash of the rock giving way. I let go. James screams out his shocked betrayal as he falls.

I jerk awake, heart pounding, drenched in sweat. Fuck! I switch on the bedside lamp. James’s scream hangs silently in the air. I grab for the CD remote and hit play. Janis Joplin’s vocals push their way into my little puddle of brightness. I can feel the dream out there in the darkness ready to pounce if I fall back asleep.

Well, that’s a new and different nightmare. I thought renting ‘Cliffhanger’ would help me relax. Guess not. No way am I getting back to sleep tonight. Might as well get up; try to get some work done. I glance at the clock. Hell, I got less than 3 hours sleep. Won’t that make tomorrow fun?

Chapter 7

It’s Wednesday morning and I’m reading the paper’s horoscopes to Katie and Alexa when Jean-Pierre dashes in through the back door. He starts zipping around the bar like the Tasmanian devil. He’s talking so fast it’s hard to understand. “Morning Joe, front door was locked! Hey there Katie! Who’s this? Nice to meet you!” He pauses in front of Alexa and gives her a blinding smile. It would be charming if he slowed down to normal speed. As it is, I feel exhausted just watching him.

Alexa glances pointedly at me. “Oh, that’s Alexa. Alexa, Jean-Pierre. He’s the one you’re packing that picnic lunch for.”

She looks him up and down. “Hmm. In that case, I’ll pack more food.” Alexa heads into the kitchen and Jean-Pierre darts towards Katie. I manage to snag his sleeve as he passes me sitting at the bar. Jean-Pierre freezes. Is the son of a bitch high?

Jean-Pierre spits some words at me, in quiet machine-gun style; his gaze is locked on my hand as it touches his sleeve. “Hey, Joe, almost ready to go? Not quite yet? I’ll just see if Katie needs a hand, then. Bring your gun, okay?” I let go, and he immediately takes off.

Jean-Pierre isn’t high. He’s on the edge of panic. I’m tempted to call this off this little discussion about Rwanda. Being fucked up myself does not qualify me to help Jean-Pierre with his issues. At least I could put it off until another day when I’ve gotten a decent night’s sleep. It would give Jean-Pierre a chance to calm down, too.

I watch him as he chats with Katie and then moves into the storeroom to get something for her. Jean-Pierre is wearing khakis and a simple blue sweatshirt. Grace’s taste, probably. He looks like a well-dressed college student, except for the new hiking boots.

He bought a new pair of hiking boots before going walkabout in Ireland. If I let him off the hook today, I might never see him again. Scared as he is, he made it here today. God knows why, but he trusts me. Jean-Pierre needs to talk about it. So it’s time for a little tough love. I can do that.

I flip to the weather page of the paper. Partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain, highs in the low 60’s. MacLeod would move to one of the only places in the world where you need to know the difference between partly sunny and partly cloudy. Not bad weather for this time of year, and it should make it easier to get some privacy at the ocean.

I head upstairs to get my coat and gun. I always carry my Beretta when I leave home, which says something about my life. But it says something about my opinion of Jean-Pierre that I pack 2 extra clips in the harness today, just in case.

By the time I get downstairs Jean-Pierre has dragged four boxes out of the back for Katie, and is now juggling some limes in front of her. Christ. When he catches sight of me Jean-Pierre tosses the limes to Katie one by one, and picks up the picnic basket on the counter. I shepherd him out to the car, ignoring his frantic little cry that he needs to say goodbye to Alexa.

Jean-Pierre drops the basket in the back and slides into the passenger seat. He examines my hand-controls, and then takes possession of the radio. By the time I get us onto the highway he’s flicked us up and down the entire dial three times, and I’m starting to understand why Mac finds him so irritating.

I turn off the radio and slap Jean-Pierre’s hand when he tries to turn it back on. He blinks at me. “Jean-Pierre, let’s talk, okay?”

“Sure, Joe. What did you want to talk about?” He sounds miserable.

Over the next half hour, as we travel north on the I-5, I conduct an odd type of interrogation. Jean-Pierre will answer any question I ask, but he doesn’t initiate anything. I find out that Jean-Pierre flew in a plane once at a World’s Fair but wouldn’t want to travel in one. He missed Woodstock. He hasn’t recorded since the 50’s. He’s seen Bugs Bunny but only in French. Jean-Pierre agrees with me that Clapton is a god on acoustic or electric guitar, but really shouldn’t try to sing his own vocals. I also discover that Duncan MacLeod snores worse than an asthmatic camel.

Jean-Pierre’s responses are delivered in a monotone with occasional flashes of animation. His fear is a solid presence in the car. It’s like a big black dog in the back seat, panting its hot, stinking breath on the back of our necks.

As I pull off the highway and head west through a residential neighborhood, I try to dredge up another conversational gambit. “Jean-Pierre, why don’t you eat more? Aren’t you hungry?”

“Always, Joe.” I wait, sure that he’ll explain. “It is the only … control I have, over my body.”

My sudden surge of rage almost swerves the car over the middle line of the road before I rein it in. The only control he has over his body? How dare he say that!

Jean-Pierre can dance all night and do Tai Chi the next morning. He’ll never have to choose between the jagged edge of pain and the mindless fog of painkillers. He’ll never have to miss a friend’s wedding because he’s too sick to get out of bed. He’ll never need reading glasses. Jean-Pierre doesn’t fear losing his music if the arthritis in his hands gets too bad. He’ll never have to worry about lying around in his own shit until some bored nurse shows up to clean him. His body will never kill him because it’s just too worn out to work any more.

My mouth floods with the bitter taste of envy as I pull over into an empty driveway. I remind myself of the other side. Jean-Pierre can never have a child. He’ll always have to live a lie. He can never stay in one place too long, or people will notice he’s not aging. And then there’s the sword-wielding assholes coming after his head and threatening those he cares about, for the rest of his life.

I manage to pull myself together enough to look at Jean-Pierre. He is peering nervously at me. “I’m sorry, Joe. I don’t think I expressed myself very well there.”

No, really? Even running on a couple hours of sleep, I gotta admit that reaction was a little over the top. Guess my own mortality has been hitting me hard lately, hanging around with an eternally young, strong, and handsome Duncan MacLeod. It must be terrible for their lovers. And it must be devastating to watch a lover wither away and die from old age.

“Well, Jean-Pierre, why don’t you explain exactly what you do mean?”

Jean-Pierre stares at his own reflection in the side-window of the car. “My flesh is immutable, unchanging. Time leaves no mark on it. Joy and laughter or grief and tears, it makes no difference. This is what I am, forever. When I was in …”

Jean-Pierre stops, licks his lips, and exhales sharply, before starting again. “When things got bad, there wasn’t enough food. Sometimes there was none. What there was, we tried to save for the children. I was so hungry, especially after … coming back. Alone. I lost a lot of weight. My skin was loose.” He plucks at the skin of his forearm. I can see that it still is.

Jean-Pierre turns to me blindly, eyes full of tears. “When I got out, my body wanted to go back to exactly the way it was before. But I didn’t want it to. The things I had seen, felt, done. I’m not the same person I was, Joe. And for this body, this flesh, to be exactly the same, with no sign of it ... I couldn’t bear that! So. I stay hungry.”

I just meant to ask a casual question. I didn’t mean to open up this can of worms, not yet. Jean-Pierre wanted to drive to the sea. We’ll be there soon. I just need to calm him down a little first. “Well, you could always get a haircut. Or maybe a tattoo.” Adam’s Watcher tattoo seems to stay on normally.

Jean-Pierre gives a choked little laugh. “I’ll make you a bargain, then. You agree to tattoo ‘Joe was here’ on my ass, and I’ll agree to hold still for it.”

“Tempting, but no.” Between Jean-Pierre’s torch song Monday night, him still being there when Katie showed up for work Tuesday morning, and me asking Alexa to throw together a picnic lunch for us today, the rumor-mill at the bar is already in over-drive. It wouldn’t bother me, except that even the rumor that I’m sleeping with an Immortal could be a real problem if it got back to Watcher Headquarters.

I turn on the radio and tune it to KPLU. They always play instrumental jazz from 9-2. It’s pretty mellow and should give us both an excuse not to talk any more until we get where we’re going. Jean-Pierre huddles into his seat, turned away from me. I pull back onto the road.

We drive down the coast for a while, entering every dead-end and access road we come across. Finally I find a private spot, with decent footing for me. I park on the dirt road and roll my window down. The scent and sound of the sea flood into the car. I unbuckle my seat belt and turn to look at Jean-Pierre. His short, panting little breaths are slowing to match the rhythm of the waves. His shoulders had tensed nearly up to his ears, but I can see them relaxing now. Looks like Jean-Pierre knew what he was talking about, saying the sea would help him get through this.

Jean-Pierre turns to me, with a painful little smile on his lips. “Thank you, Joe, this looks good.”

We get out of the car and walk down a slight slope. There’s an old abandoned pier half-fallen into the water with a wooden shack on it. Between the road and the water is a creosote-soaked railroad track, a flat area covered in dune grass, and a seawall built of dark boulders. I carefully maneuver my way over the loose white rocks, splintering wood, and smooth metal of the tracks to get to the dune grass beyond. The rocks remind me of the nightmare from last night, and I can feel my heart speed up a bit. Some big logs have been dragged into a circle around a fire-pit. Looks like sitting on those will be my best bet. Wouldn’t be easy to get up from without Jean-Pierre’s help, but it’s better than standing the whole time. I settle down onto the largest log.

Jean-Pierre takes off his boots and socks, and then rolls up his pants legs. He clambers down the seawall into the water. He bends down to take a double handful of salt water. Jean-Pierre touches it to his lips, and then pours it over his own head. I’m reminded of a baptism. He stares west across the water for a minute. In clear weather we’d be able to see the Olympic Mountain range on the other side of the Puget Sound, but today gray waves meet gray sky a few miles out.

Jean-Pierre climbs back up the seawall, glances at me, and walks about 12 feet away. He picks up a stick, and digs a circle through the grass around himself. What is this, some kind of ritual?

12 feet is a little far for a conversation, even if it weren’t for the sound of the ocean waves. I have to yell a bit. “Jean-Pierre? Can you come a little closer?”

He lays the stick down and shakes his head. “No, Joe, this distance is good. You have your gun ready?”

I’ve been wondering about that. “Some special reason why you’re asking?”

He settles in the exact center of the circle in a lotus position. “Yes – if I step outside this circle without speaking to you about it first, you should shoot me.”

Sometimes I really can’t tell if he’s joking. “Are you serious?”

He stares up at me earnestly from inside his circle. “Very. Joe, I haven’t told anyone about what happened in Rwanda. I haven’t really let myself think about them. And you know, with Immortals, sometimes when we remember things, we relive them. I killed a man there. I wouldn’t want to hurt you, too.”

Oh, this is perfect. I should have brought a silencer. Vision-questing Immortal goes on rampage, Watcher shoots Immortal, concerned locals call the cops, and cops arrive just in time to catch Watcher and reviving Immortal. Maybe I could push Jean-Pierre’s corpse over the seawall and drive away?

I have to wonder how much of this is Jean-Pierre’s last-ditch attempt to avoid this talk. Whatever. I just need to get him talking. “Don’t worry, I won’t let you hurt anyone.”

I dust off my best no-nonsense command voice, useful for idiot Watcher interns and bands that think they’re gonna mess with my sound system. “We’re all out of excuses. Tell me about Rwanda, Jean-Pierre.”

He nods, swallowing nervously. “Sometimes, Joe, Mortals make the most amazing choices of mercy, self-sacrifice and love. Other times, they choose cruelty, hate, and evil. I’ve seen it many times before. What can I do? I smile, I sing, I listen to their stories and watch. I bear witness, and remember them. When it is too much, I walk away.”

That jerks me up short. I know that most Immortals aren’t heroes like MacLeod, but how can Jean-Pierre not even try to help? “Walk away? How can you do that?”

Jean-Pierre sighs and shrugs with one shoulder. “Joe, how old do I look to you?”

I don’t see a connection here, but I’ll play along. “Somewhere between 18 and 20.”

“Exactly. I died my First Death a bit too young, Joe. I have the look of a boy about to become a man. Grace and Duncan can stay in a place 10 or 20 years without much trouble. I can stay 3 years, perhaps 5 if I come in looking and acting my youngest. Then people notice. Richie will have the same problem.”

I wonder if Mac has talked to Richie about this? I doubt it. Richie still is the kid he looks like, in a lot of ways. Three years might seem like a long time to him now. But it’s too small a slice of even a Mortal lifetime. For an Immortal… “That would be a lot of goodbyes, Jean-Pierre.”

He nods, and is quiet for a minute. “It was hard at first, but it grew easier over the years. Now I rarely stay in a place for more than a year. So it was easy to walk away from the victims of evil. It was not my fate, they were not my people, and this was not my world. At first, I thought Rwanda would be the same.”

Jean-Pierre’s eyes grow distant, and his expressive features harden into an unemotional mask. “When the slaughter began I was killed along with the Tutsi family who had taken me in. I fixed their names and faces in my memory, and tried to walk away. But I couldn’t escape it. I spent 5 weeks trying to walk out of Rwanda. I was careless, perhaps. I would try to get food for those in hiding, try to scout a safe path. And I would die trying. 17 times I died, in those weeks. Sometimes I died alone, sometimes as one of many. But I always came back alone. I was starting to feel that I would be trapped in that place forever.”

Walk away my ass. Jean-Pierre was trying to help people escape. MacLeod did that, back in the 70’s. I’ve read his Chronicle from the Cambodian War. MacLeod made several trips in-country. He smuggled out groups of nuns and orphans. On his last trip, the kids were all killed in front of him. Mac hasn’t been back to Cambodia since.

Jean-Pierre shudders and uncrosses his legs. He hugs his knees to his chest and continues. “There were 27 of us, taking shelter in a Church. Holy Ground. We heard a jeep drive up outside. Someone from the village must have reported us. There were 8 of them. They were dressed in a mix of military and civilian clothes – militia. Militia was the worst. They had no rules holding them back.”

“Three of the men had machine guns. The rest held machetes. The one in charge marched in the door, very confident. He looked us over, then strutted to a 12-year old girl and grabbed her chin. He twisted her head to the side, and then pushed her to the floor. ‘Ugly,’ he said. ‘Not a decent looking woman left.’ We were all frozen.”

Jean-Pierre starts to rock back and forth slowly to the rhythm of his own voice. “The massacres had been going on for a month. The Tutsi whose instinct was to fight when frightened, they had died first. And then, the Tutsi whose instinct was to run, they had been killed. All that were left were the ones who would hold still, hide, be silent. And now it was our turn.”

His voice grows even more distant as he stares over my shoulder into empty air. “The man, the one in charge, he ordered us all against the wall. This was familiar. I had died against a wall 7 times. And I was going to wake up in a Church full of corpses again. I had died 4 times, on Holy Ground. And the number of people who had died around me … I had lost count.”

I can see Jean-Pierre’s gaze unfocusing. Shit! This is not a good time for a flashback. “Jean-Pierre?” Nothing. I ease my Beretta out of its holster. “JEAN-PIERRE!”

He startles and looks up at me. “Yes, Joe?”

He thinks I had a question. Let’s see what I can come up with. “Is that counting thing normal for you? Do you do it a lot?”

He thinks about it for a moment. “No. No, I don’t think I have counted up my deaths, or Mortals’ deaths, like that before.”

“Probably a stress reaction, then. I’ve heard of guys doing that, counting things to keep some feeling of control over them.”

Jean-Pierre’s lips quirk in a poor imitation of a smile. “Well, that would explain why I panicked when I lost count of how many people had died around me in those 5 weeks.”

Jean-Pierre takes a deep breath, then releases it, and continues with his story. “It was more than 200 dead, but how many more? How could I show those Mortals respect? I did not know their names, I could not remember their faces, and now I had even lost their numbers. If I did not remember them, no one would!”

He struggles awkwardly to his knees and starts speaking faster, gesturing broadly with his hands. “Suddenly it seemed so obvious, so easy, so right. I would kill this man, this man giving orders. Quick as a thought, my sword was in my hands. I lunged. He turned at the sound, and my sword slashed across his face. He fell back. His men shot me, of course. The impacts pushed me back, rolled me over.”

Jean-Pierre’s eyes are fever-bright now. The words spill out of him. “But I had gotten very used to being shot, and I moved through the pain. I was shot, I was choking on my own blood, and I was dying, but I kept attacking my enemy. I pierced his lungs, hacked at his torso, and gutted him.”

Jean-Pierre’s been creeping forwards throughout this grisly little tale. Now he’s on all fours, right up against the edge of that circle he drew in the ground. I flick the Beretta’s safety off with my thumb. I really hope Jean-Pierre doesn’t cross that line.

“I didn’t try to take his head. I knew he was Mortal. As I slid into darkness, I thought I heard Baron Samedi. The loa of the Dead was laughing at me.” Jean-Pierre’s head sags down towards the ground.

I put the safety back on. “Why him, Jean-Pierre? Why did you decide to kill that man, at that time?”

He backs up into the center of the circle and sits down. “That’s the problem, Joe. I didn’t decide to kill him. I didn’t make that choice. I just … did it. And that makes me very afraid. Next time I pick up a sword, I might do the same thing again. I know how, and my hands remember the feeling of it.”

I guess I can understand that. If you chose to do something, you can decide to never do it again. But I saw some guys in ‘Nam who had just lost it, snapped. It would be hard to trust yourself, after that.

Jean-Pierre is holding his left hand in his right, rubbing his right thumb across his left palm in a circular motion. “So, I woke up in a Church full of corpses again. 5 times, on Holy Ground. First I heard the buzzing of flies and a strange meaty, thunk sound. Next I felt my own deep breath, and the pounding of my heart. Then I smelled … I worked in a Chicago slaughterhouse one summer, and it smelled like that. Blood rots fast in the heat. And there was blood everywhere. I could feel it tacky on my hands, soaked though my clothes. The flies were all over me. I opened my eyes, and I saw the man I had killed.”

Jean-Pierre stares fixedly at the ground in front of him. “I had butchered him. The wounds were familiar. The ones I had seen before were made with a machete on the corpses whose faces I could not remember. These were made with a scimitar, with my own hands, on the man I had murdered. But the wounds looked very much the same.”

“I looked for my sword. I found it, and I found the source of the strange noise. There was a living man in the Church, one of the militia. He had my sword. He was very organized, but there was madness dancing in his eyes. He would pick a corpse and drag it to the center of the room. Then he would h...”

Jean-Pierre stops, swallowing convulsively. He raises his arm to his mouth. I can see the muscles tensing in his jaw as he bites down hard. The pain seems to center him. Jean-Pierre lowers his arm. We both watch his Quickening sparkle over the bloody bite mark. He begins again.

“He would hack the corpse apart. Legs he placed in one corner, arms in another, torsos in the third. The last corner was for heads. When I stood up, he smiled at me in childish delight. I think he was pleased, to see one of his corpses moving about. I ran away, leaving my sword in his hands.”

“You know, Joe, sometimes God moves in mysterious ways. And sometimes not. I had murdered a man on Holy Ground, and woke to a warning so clear that no Immortal could mistake it. That was my Death there in the Church. It was a warning, but not a punishment. Not yet.”

“I did escape from Rwanda. I tried to shed my skin. I had left my sword; I burned my passport and clothes. Nothing from Rwanda remained. Nothing except me. I could not shed what I had done. And so I could not become someone new. I had no money, no papers, and no passport. Travel was hard. I walked at night, crossed borders in secret. I was frightened of everyone. It took me 5 months, but I finally made it to Paris. I had to see Darius.”

“I stood outside St. Julian’s in the rain. 5 times I had been killed on Holy Ground. 5 times I had revived in a Church full of corpses. And one of those corpses was a Mortal that I murdered on Holy Ground. A part of me was afraid to go into a Church again. But I knew that it would be all right, once I saw Darius. Darius’s Presence had always been strong, as long as I had known him. I could usually sense him from the gates, but on that day I walked in the doors without a touch of him.”

“There was an old woman kneeling in prayer. I waited until she was done. ‘Excuse me, Madame, do you know where I might find Father Darius?’ I asked. ‘Oh!’ She squeaked like a mouse. ‘Have you not heard? It was a terrible thing. He was murdered, right here in his own Church! Why they say that the maniacs …’ She came close to whisper this to me, ‘they say that they chopped his head right off!’”

“I was in a Church with just one murdered corpse, punishment for the one I had left behind. I ran from St. Julian’s, just like I did from the Church in Rwanda. There are patterns in life, and this is mine.”

Jean-Pierre closes his eyes for a moment, and then slams his hand into the ground. His face shows raw anguish. “I’m 175 years old, Joe! I have so much knowledge, so much experience. Is this the best I can do? Feel afraid, feel guilty, and murder a man? I’m just like James Horton!”

“Jean-Pierre, you are nothing like James.”

“Tell that to the dead man’s grieving mother, Joe.” Jean-Pierre slumps back to the ground, lying on his back. All I can see now are his sandy khaki knees. I holster my weapon and tilt my head back to watch the same slate-gray sky that Jean-Pierre must be staring at.

After a minute I hear Jean-Pierre’s voice, husky from a tight throat. “Joe? You thought James Horton could atone, after he killed Darius. Can I atone? Can I be forgiven?”

We’re a long way from Sunday school here. I’ve had my doubts over the years, seen plenty of things that made me think God, if He was even up there, must be a complete bastard. I don’t know what I believe these days. There are no easy answers. But I can feel my grandmother’s crucifix under my shirt, over my heart. If God exists, there has got to be forgiveness for a good man like Jean-Pierre. “Jean-Pierre, I’m sure of it. Come on over here.”

Jean-Pierre stumbles to his feet. I pat the log next to me and he drags himself over to sit down. His face is marked with fresh tear streaks, and it makes him look heart-breakingly young. “I can’t tell you how to find forgiveness. You need to look inside yourself for that. But I have a question for you. When you got out of Rwanda, besides Darius and Grace, was there anyone else you could go to?”

Jean-Pierre shakes his head no. He’s shivering hard, and with him pressed hip to hip against me I can feel it. I throw an arm around his shoulders. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Look, you want some advice? Here it is. You said that people are connected to each other, but you are the least connected man I know. And it’s killing you.”

Jean-Pierre sniffles, and turns his head to look at me with wide, wet eyes. “What should I do?”

“Hell if I know, it’s your life! Join a band. Join a kibbutz. Get a job. Get a freaking pen pal. Fall in love. Just … connect with people somehow.” I rub Jean-Pierre’s back in small circles like my mom used to do for me when I was sick. He leans into me a bit, and I brace with my other hand to keep us upright. Eventually the shivering stops, and his breathing slows down to normal. “You okay?”

Jean-Pierre lets out his breath in a long sigh. “I think so. Thank you, Joe.”

I pat his shoulder, and he sits up. “Right, why don’t you grab that picnic lunch out of the car, then. Katie and Alexa expect me to feed you up while we’re out here.”

We eat our lunch in a deep silence, listening to the waves. Jean-Pierre falls asleep on the drive back. When we arrive back at the bar, he gets out without a word, waves goodbye, and walks away down the road through the drizzling rain. I catch sight of Gerard shadowing him just before he turns onto 4th Street.

Proceed to Chapters 8 & 9


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 21st, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
Ouch. Definitely, ouch. Poor kid, and poor Joe to be going through it with him.
Mar. 22nd, 2006 04:55 am (UTC)
He's been through a terrible experience.

I do still catch myself thinking of Jean-Pierre as a kid. I'm not sure if it is the way he looks, Joe's perception of him, or the way that he goes through life without any "adult" responsibilities.
Oct. 15th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
I also discover that Duncan MacLeod snores worse than an asthmatic camel.

Yep, I can believe that. :-D

"Being fucked up myself does not qualify me to help Jean-Pierre with his issues."

Great and insightful line!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )