Set post "Not To Be" (the end is the beginning!), PG-rated (foul language). Many thanks to Unovis for the very inspiring lyric which follows the story.

Up The Road
by Laura Mason

"Las Vegas, where the miles are marked in blooood--" Methos drew out the word ridiculously. "And gold," he concluded solemnly, then ruined the effect with a loud snicker.

"What's got into you?" Joe complained. "Are you drunk or high? I only ask because you're driving, and I'm not immortal."

"You wound me, Joe."

"Yeah, right."

"I'm revealing the secrets of the New World. Poetically! I've got lyrical brilliance and a song to sing, but you mock me."

Joe looked out the window rather than try to reply, his mouth twisting into a grin despite himself.

"I could let you go searching through the dust, looking for a sign. But instead I try to share my many years of knowledge..."

He kept talking, but Joe stopped listening. He'd learned to do that pretty well by now; their cross-country drive was giving new meaning to the word "annoying." Yet he had to admit, he owed the Old Guy.

***

MacLeod had vanished. Unbelievable, but true. Joe turned in his report, not really surprised when the Watchers insisted that he should return Stateside.

He'd argued halfheartedly for remaining in Paris, reminding his superiors that the trail began in Europe -- but knowing there was no trail, period. Methos had hired a discreet private detective in addition to his own investigation, all without success.

And there was no reason to believe Mac would reappear in Paris rather than Seacouver; in fact, it might be less likely. The barge was in dry dock, up for sale with the proceeds earmarked for Darius' church. The dojo and loft apparently were still Mac's property, though Joe wouldn't know for sure until he investigated further.

No, the only real reason to remain in Paris was the cranky immortal arguing with him, who seemed genuinely upset when Joe announced he'd booked his flight to the States.

"He'll be back."

"In your lifetime, sure. But I can't wait here indefinitely for him to figure out what he wants." Joe knew he sounded bitter. Despite fully understanding all the circumstances, he was damn tired of Mac's new affection for disappearing. He'd mourned Richie, defeated Ahriman, and made peace with himself. So where the hell had he gone, and why?

"Joe, he's not hiding. Not again. There's got to be a reason--"

"He vanishes without a word, just walks off. And you defend him," Joe snorted derisively. "Birds of a feather."

"I'm still here, Joe," Methos said gravely. "And MacLeod will come back, I know it."

"Great. But in the meantime, I have a bar to manage in Seacouver."

Methos snorted. "Yeah, Joe's is losing money hand over fist without you. Really amazing how you've managed to be in Paris six months of the last ten years." Joe ignored him to wait on another customer, but when he returned the harangue continued. "Besides, this bar isn't the same without you... without your music," he corrected hastily.

"Maurice told you to pay your tab, didn't he?" The immortal didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed. "Oh, the beautiful melody of free drinks."

Methos shook his head impatiently. "Joe, the Watchers -- there's something up."

"And you know this -- how? I'm the one still inside the organization, Adam. No one else speaks to you since they learned you're an immortal."

"I know because they want you to leave so badly. Since when do they care where you are based? Mac's gone, but you're just as likely to track him from Paris as from Seacouver." Had he ever seen Methos this serious? Only when they betrayed Galati. The sarcastic front was dropped as the immortal hissed. "There's no good reason for them to insist that you leave."

"My expense reports are smaller when I'm home." A lack of reciprocal candor was all it took; like a switch being turned back on, Methos' body relaxed back in his chair, his face mocking.

"Joe," he drawled, shaking his head. "The Kalas estate alone is still earning the Watchers two million a year in interest. Are you trying to tell me they're broke?"

"Adam, I appreciate your concern -- for me, not for your wallet, okay? I get it." Joe spoke sincerely, aware that his weariness was showing plainly on his face. "But I'm going home."

***

But Methos' "spidey sense," as he now insisted on calling it, had been correct. And he'd laughed his ass off when Joe caught sight of his new Connecticut driver's license, in the name of P. James Parker.

That was three days after Joe had a gun shoved in his side while changing planes in New York.

"Keep walking. Look casual." Joe obeyed, wishing he could see the face of the man pushing him through the crowd toward a service hallway.

When Methos appeared out of nowhere like the damn cavalry -- Joe hadn't known the immortal was stubbornly shadowing him -- Joe's assailant cold-cocked him. Thus, he missed all the excitement that followed.

Methos told him the gunman had a Watcher tattoo as well as a burly accomplice waiting further down the hallway. Neither had been too much to handle; he'd quickly subdued them before taking Joe to a safe place. Of course, he then left Joe lying on a concrete floor somewhere out of sight of security cameras, while he returned to question both men.

Methos probably thought it was the headache and overall joy of waking face-down in filth that kept Joe so quiet, but the immortal didn't seem to mind the silence, either. He didn't speak about what he'd learned in that cargo hangar, and Joe didn't ask.

He didn't need to ask -- Joe knew what happened to those men once Methos extracted their information. He remembered Methos' gleeful efficiency when disposing of thugs who threatened his friends. Joe did sometimes wonder when the bodies would be found, or if the Watchers would clean up their own mess first.

But since he'd been unconscious and wasn't asking, it all seemed unreal and almost silly. Of course he was perfectly safe now, despite Methos' constant paranoia. Joe agreed to the road trip, driving in a newly-purchased car rather than taking a plane, but not because he really believed that it wasn't safe to show his ID.

He felt that way until he used a credit card to fill the tank in Ohio, while Methos was across the street buying food. The next morning a bullet shattered their motel window as Methos walked past.

The Old Man was cranky as hell when he revived; he didn't like to die, no matter how temporary the condition. Joe let Methos confiscate his wallet without protest, just to calm him down, but the ranting continued for two more states.

"This isn't a game. If he'd shot you-- It's sheer luck it wasn't someone who knows you, and that they didn't have time to get him a photo." Joe marveled at how long Methos could speak before pausing to breathe. "Joe, if he'd come to check the kill while I was out, you'd be dead. Permanently." He nodded, still pretty numb, having no response. He'd sat beside Methos' body, his gun aimed at the door, for what felt like hours while his brain kept repeating 'this is really happening.' But he still didn't believe it.

And the happy-go-lucky Methos of the last hundred miles was adding to the surreal atmosphere. He'd relaxed, but Joe didn't know what had changed. Perhaps it was just distance achieved, though Joe suspected he'd cooked up a plan in his devious brain and was enjoying it.

"Mac must have figured it out," Methos mused aloud as he swung their car off the interstate and headed into Vegas proper. "That has to be why he left, to take care of this situation. So all we have to do is keep you hidden while we try to help him."

"Oh, is that all?" Joe replied, sarcasm comforting while adrift.

"The real question is whether they wanted you as a hostage against him, or if they're just getting rid of anyone they can't involve."

"I hope you're making sense to yourself, buddy," Joe answered wearily.

"Sorry, thinking out loud. Tonight let's do a little hacking and see what's up with the Watchers. You can check in with someone you trust, but you have to let me route the email safely, okay?"

"Sure, Pete."

"Now, Joe, you know I prefer to use my middle name, James." How did he switch so quickly from deadly serious to deadpan?

"If you're going to amuse yourself with your identities, you can't bitch when someone shares the joke."

"That's it, I'm setting up your new identity as Bruce Wayne."

"Why not Richard Grayson? Oh, wait, how about Alfred?"

He still knew nothing, only sensed trouble ahead on every road. Methos' laughter made Joe smile, just the same.

 

Feedback?

"Further On"
Bruce Springsteen

Where the road is dark
And the seed is sowed
Where the gun is cocked
And the bullet's cold
Where the miles are marked in blood and gold*
I'll meet you further on up the road

Got on my dead man's suit
And my smilin' skull ring
My lucky graveyard boots
And a song to sing*
I got a song to sing, keep me out of the cold
And I'll meet you further on up the road

Further on up the road
Further on up the road
Where the way is dark
And the night is cold
But one sunny morning we'll rise, I know
And I'll meet you further on up the road

Well I been out in the desert
Was doin' my time
Searching through the dust*
Looking for a sign*
If there's a light up ahead
Well, buddy, I don't know
But I got this fever
Burning in my soul

So let's take the good times as they come
And I'll meet you further on up the road
Further on up the road
Further on up the road
Where the way is dark
And the night is cold
One sunny morning we'll rise, I know
And I'll meet you further on up the road
One sunny morning we'll rise, I know
And I'll meet you further on up the road
Yeah I'll meet you further on up the road
Well I'll meet you further on up the road

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