Moral Questions and Answers
Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
I settled back into my seat on the airplane and gave a tired sigh. I'd been going full tilt for days now. It had taken several days to track the Immortal and vampire behind the attacks on President Ryan, and then a few more to clean up afterwards.
Since Washington DC was shortly going to be crawling with head hunters looking for the Secret Service agent who had "miraculously" saved the President, I figured that I'd better pull a fast fade. Between resigning from the Service, packing up our apartment, and arranging for all of our stuff to get shipped back to Toronto, neither Jennifer nor I had had much of a chance to relax.
Fortunately, my brilliant girlfriend had thought about where to go from here. She'd called her Grandma Terry and asked if we could stay in their place in Toronto temporarily. Terry readily agreed, then invited us to Paris for a week to visit and let the furor die down a little. Since it'd probably take at least that long until some of our stuff made it to Toronto anyway, we immediately agreed. Besides, it'd been a few years since either of us had seen any of the friends we had living out in that direction.
And so here I was relaxing into a seat on a trans-oceanic 777 flight. I had never ridden in one of the Concorde supersonic jets, and I quietly bemoaned the fact that I probably never would. The speed would have made this endless flight much easier to deal with.
Once the safety presentation was finished and we were in the air, I pulled out the Cussler novel I'd been working on and settled in for the duration.
I didn't make it through the first chapter before I faded off to sleep.
Jen didn't let me sleep long, though. Which was fortunate, because if I had slept for a good chunk of the flight, I wouldn't have been able to go to sleep after we landed. As it was, we got into Paris shortly before dawn local time.
Landing, disembarking, French border customs, getting my swords back from security, and finding our luggage passed in a tired blur. Fortunately for us, Terry knew which flight we were on and met us in the airport. She took one look and simply hugged us and pulled us out to her car.
I woke up the next evening curled around Jen, who was still dead to the world.
It took several seconds before my mind caught up with the situation. Paris, Aaron and Terry's home, vacation. Oddly, the fact that I felt an Immortal Buzz on awakening didn't panic me. Maybe it only woke me when a Buzz walked into range?
I rolled out of bed and fumbled into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt before shuffling out into the hallway, heading to the kitchen. I knew that if I didn't get some breakfast in me, I might keel over.
I found Aaron in the kitchen, fixing himself a plate of scrambled eggs. He glanced over his shoulder at me and nodded a greeting before returning his attention to the food. I stopped and looked at what he was doing for a moment before announcing, "I'll be your friend forever if you fix some eggs for me too."
He laughed and turned back to me with a smile for a moment. "Grumpy when you wake up, huh?"
"Mornings should be outlawed," I announced around a yawn, dropping down onto one of the stools at the breakfast bar.
"Hate to break it to you, Ryan, but it's evening."
I glared half-heartedly at his back. "You know what I mean," I grumbled.
He chuckled again and waved the spatula at the refrigerator. "Sure, I'll fix some more. Get the eggs out, please."
Standing, I crossed to the refrigerator and pulled the door open. Looking through it quickly (and ignoring the unlabeled bottles lining the back wall), I pulled out the carton of eggs and the gallon of orange juice. I placed the eggs on the counter beside Aaron and held up the juice. "Mind?" I asked.
He shook his head. "Pour me a glass too?"
I nodded as I pulled out two glasses and poured some juice for the both of us.
We were both working on our breakfasts, and I was starting to act like a civilized human being again when Terry came stumbling into the room. She came straight to one of the stools and collapsed into it, not looking up at either of us. Without a word, Aaron got her a goblet of blood out of one of those unmarked bottles I'd seen and placed it in front of her. She snatched it up and took a few sips, still staring at the countertop.
Jen came walking into the room, hair charmingly tousled from sleep. "Evening, everyone," she commented perkily.
Aaron greeted her with a raised hand. I smiled at her. Terry gave a wordless snarl.
I looked over at Terry in shock. "And I thought *I* was an unpleasant morning person."
"Bite me," Terry muttered back.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Jen also began staring at Terry.
Without looking up, Terry said, "Aaron, if I hear one word out of you, you'll die a horrible death."
I looked over at him and realized her warning was needed. He was turning purple in an effort to suppress his laughter.
Deciding I'd better leave the room before the scene became bloody, I stood and carried my plate to the dishwasher. "Thanks for breakfast, Aaron," I called over my shoulder as I escaped in the direction of the bathroom for my shower.
Arm in arm, Jen and I walked toward "Le Blues Bar". No visit to Paris would be complete without stopping in and saying hello. Approaching the bar, I wasn't surprised to wade into Mac's Buzz. Once inside I led Jennifer over to where Joe and Mac were smiling at us. Once close enough, I said, "Hi, Mac! You remember Jennifer?" They'd met last time we were in Paris. Mac nodded to answer my question and smiled charmingly at her. I continued the introduction, waving at Joe, "Joe Dawson, this is Jennifer Frost, my . . ." I glanced at her and finished, "significant other." He no doubt already knew a great deal about her from my Chronicles, but we must maintain appearances.
Joe reached over the bar to take Jennifer's hand and said, "A pleasure to meet you, lovely lady." In a gallant move, he bent over and kissed her hand.
As Joe turned to the cooler, Jen leaned into me and whispered, "So many charming men." She sighed and fanned her face as if she were a love struck teenager.
I chuckled slightly at her actions as Joe pulled a Killian's out of the cooler. "I know what Ryan wants, but what can I get for you?" he asked over his shoulder, addressing Jen.
She smiled politely and said, "Nothing, thank you. I'm fine."
Joe dropped the beer in front of me. "Well, Ryan, what brings you to Paris this time?"
I shook my head slightly. "Just visiting some of Jen's family." Taking a quick pull of the beer, I asked, "How have you two been doing? Keeping out of trouble without me around to keep an eye on you?"
Joe turned to Mac as Jen giggled. "Listen to his young punk, Mac," Joe said with a straight face. "Not even forty yet, and he's claiming to be keeping US out of trouble."
I grunted in amusement. "You'd think that Mac could be better at it after four hundred years, Joe."
"Hey," Mac objected weakly, trying to look offended.
Joe chuckled but looked from me to Jen and back again. I immediately waved a hand and reassured him, "Relax, Joe. She knows about Immortals." Hmm, so maybe he doesn't know about her. Which means my Watcher hasn't been including her in my Chronicles. Isn't that interesting?
"Well, he DOES seem prone to getting into trouble," Joe allowed.
"Hey!" Mac objected a little stronger this time.
We all chuckled.
"Seriously, how've you been?" I asked.
"Doing as well as I could expect for an old, washed up bartender," Joe said with self-deprecating humor.
I snorted in disbelief. "Don't give me that line. You're still as sharp as you ever were, you old liar."
He looked at me with a totally indecipherable expression for perhaps ten seconds before glancing at Jen and saying, "Perhaps you're right."
After the initial pleasantries, we didn't spend much longer at "Le Blue's Club". Both Joe and Mac were concerned about something Methos was into, and so they weren't much into conversation.
So Jen and I headed over to "The Sanctuary" to see Amanda and Nick. Sure enough, the instant I stepped into the bar, I ran into their Buzzes. Nick had taken a couple heads since I'd last seen him, I noted absently as I scanned the seating area for them. Neither one was in sight.
Knowing that they had an apartment upstairs, Jen and I seated ourselves and waited. Sure enough, within five minutes their curiosity got the better of them, and Nick came down and looked around. Spotting me, he smiled and indicated that we should wait for a moment. Turning around, he went back upstairs and came back down a few seconds later with a smiling Amanda. They both walked over to our table.
Standing in an attempt at chivalry, I greeted them. "Nick. How've you been?"
We shook hands and he smiled, "Good. Nice seeing you again, Ryan."
I turned to Amanda and smiled at her, giving a half bow from the shoulders. "Mandy."
Her eyes narrowed and the smile faded. Nick was looking at me strangely when she commented, "Hardly anyone calls me that, Ryan. Where'd you hear it?" She didn't sound angry so much as curious.
"Bumped into another student of Rebecca's in DC. Dana Scully."
Her face blossomed into a smile. "I haven't seen Dana in years! How's she doing?" She gracefully sank into a stool at our table and plopped her head down onto a cupped hand. Nick quietly sat down as well. Without either of them having said a word, our waitress arrived at the table and deposited a wineglass in front of Amanda and a beer in front of Nick. Amanda absently smiled in thanks to the waitress, but her attention was clearly on what I was saying.
"She's fine. Working for the FBI at the moment. Her partner is her student, believe it or not."
One of Nick's eyebrows went up in surprise. Amanda laughed delightedly. "I bet that's interesting to watch," commented Nick. "Being his partner in front of everyone else, but his teacher after hours."
I shrugged. "What's more interesting is that they're clearly in love with each other, but neither would admit it to me."
Amanda smiled again. "I'm glad things are working out for her," she said.
I nodded, and all three of us stiffened in our seats as an Immortal Buzz walked into range. I frowned since I thought I knew this Immortal but couldn't come up with the name.
Nick and Amanda were looking toward the door. They both abruptly relaxed, and Amanda said, "Liam!" She got up and walked off in that direction.
Jen turned a curious glance my way. "Liam?" she asked me quietly.
I nodded and smiled reassuringly as Amanda walked back to our table with her arm linked in Father Riley's. Nick and Liam nodded a greeting to each other, but Liam seemed more interested in Jen.
Amanda made the introductions. "Liam, this is Jennifer Frost and Ryan Chessman. This is Father Liam Riley, who officiated at Nick's and my wedding."
I stood and offered him my hand. "We met at Nick's party," I told her and reminded him.
Liam nodded in recognition. Turning an appreciative eye to Jennifer, he asked, "And this must be the cute, redheaded lass you spoke of?" At my nod, he sighed. "Pity she's taken," he commented to the general amusement of the table. Holding his hand out to her, she allowed him to bend and kiss her knuckles. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Milady."
Jennifer nodded back solemnly, but the gleam in her eye showed her enjoyment of the show.
"So, what brings you two to Paris?" Amanda asked once Liam had pulled a fifth chair over to the table.
"Visiting some of my family," Jen answered.
We all caught each other up on our recent histories for a time before Nick commented, "No offense to you, Liam, but I don't really understand the idea of living on Holy Ground in the long term."
He shrugged. Somewhere along the line he must have come to the conclusion that Jen knew about Immortals. "I'm not in the Game any longer, Nick. I have to do something to keep my head. Since I can serve the Good Lord as well as protect myself all at once, living on Holy Ground makes sense."
"It's not that," denied Nick. "It's more along the lines of knowing that the only safe place is Holy Ground. You can't do any traveling to speak of, and these weekly trips of yours here are actually dangerous for you. I guess it's more a case of not understanding how you can not play the Game."
"I wouldn't if everyone would leave me alone," I told Nick. Everyone shifted their attention to me, so I continued, "Don't get me wrong, I have and probably will again hunt someone if I think they deserve it, but I will NOT kill some random Immortal just because of the Game."
"Avenging angel?" asked Liam.
I shrugged. "If you think in those terms, I guess so. I lured Andrea's killer in, his name was Leonard Frankle by the way, but it was in vengeance for her, not simply because he was Immortal."
"Would you have killed a mortal under the same circumstances?" asked Nick.
I opened my mouth to deny it but stopped when the dichotomy of my reaction surprised me. "No," I answered slowly. "I would have gotten them arrested, but I wouldn't have killed them."
"So you're willing to kill an Immortal, but not a mortal for the same offense?" asked Nick pointedly.
"Immortals can't be arrested, Nick. You know that," I answered glumly. But I knew where this was going.
"So what you do is just to stop the killer? Are you going to deny you ENJOYED killing this person?" asked Nick relentlessly. Amanda was looking uncomfortable with the conversation. Liam and Jen looked concerned with the turn of events but weren't joining in.
"Are you accusing me of something?" I asked tiredly, just wanting the conversation over.
"Yes," he returned flatly. "You're GLAD that this guy was Immortal. That gave you the excuse to kill him yourself, instead of turning him over to the police."
Much as it pained me to realize it, he was right. Even if Frankle HAD been mortal, I would have wanted to kill him anyway. His Immortality provided me a convenient excuse to kill the bastard myself.
My emotions must have been parading across my face, because Nick nodded and leaned back with a smug look.
"That was cruel, Nick," commented Liam.
"But true," I countered quietly before he could respond. Jen laid a hand along my arm in concern. I ignored it. I turned back to Nick and said in a low, cold voice, "Yes, his Immortality gave me the excuse I wanted to kill him. Are you happy?"
His smile faded and he shook his head. "No, I'm not happy about your answer." He cocked his head and finished with, "But I'm glad you were honest about it."
Amanda's look nearly killed him where he sat. I hissed back, "Yes, Nick, I'm a killer. By necessity, perhaps, but a killer nonetheless. You think I enjoy that? You think I enjoy what I've become due to my God-forsaken existence?"
Liam winced. "He hasn't forsaken you, Ryan."
My attention snapped over to him. "WHAT?" The tone was in a shout, but I was trying desperately to keep the volume down.
"God hasn't forsaken you," Liam repeated calmly.
I sighed again and rested my head in my hands. "Damn it, Liam, I'm not in the mood for a religious discussion right now."
"Why not? You obviously need one."
I resisted the urge to yell or become violent. It certainly wouldn't help anything. "Because HE," my hand snapped out to point accusingly at Nick, "just accused me, rightly by the way, of being a killer." I turned to Nick, "Now that you have your precious answer, MISTER WOLFE, what now?" My tone shifted to mocking sarcasm. "Want me to bare more of my soul for your viewing pleasure? Maybe step off Holy Ground and hand you my sword? No, how about going to the nearest police station and confessing to all ten or so murders I've committed."
I would have continued, but Jen's hand clamped down on my arm, hard. She didn't break any bones (yet), but it was clear that she could. "Ryan, shut up before I have to drag you out of here for making a scene," she said calmly and quietly.
My gaze went to her hand for a moment before I turned a glare onto her, but I didn't say anything further.
Once she was sure I was going to hold my tongue, she released me and leaned back in her chair. "Your morality is clashing with what you have to do and what you choose to do as an Immortal, and it's eating you up inside. You have to let it out before something gives."
My hand tightened on my beer glass until the knuckles turned white. "What on Earth are you talking about?" I was rather proud that that question came out civilly.
Amanda joined the discussion for the first time, "Your mortal set of ethics versus your Immortal actions."
Liam picked up the thread of what she was saying, "You're young enough that the concepts of right and wrong that your adoptive parents taught you still control your view of the world. In this instance, you haven't started thinking like an Immortal yet. Morality changes once you cross that line. It has to, unfortunately. The Game changes us." He sighed. "I used to play the Game myself, so I know how you're feeling, Ryan. And I can sympathize. As a priest and pacifist, I can't advocate it, but as an Immortal, I can understand it."
Amanda laid one hand over Liam's on the table. She continued, "Don't be mad at Nick or Liam, Ryan. Nick antagonized you intentionally. Both of them know that you need to consciously recognize that difference in yourself before you could forgive yourself. And then form a new set of morals."
The anger slowly leaked out as her words penetrated. I leaned back in my chair to think. Liam asked Jennifer what she thought of all this, but I tuned out her reassurances that she was fine with me and my actions.
Liam was right that my moral set was what was taught to my by my parents. Of course they were just reflecting current social mores of the United States. Correction: current MORTAL social mores. And when dealing with a mortal, I'd damn well better keep following those self-imposed rules of behavior. But when talking about Immortals, those same rules didn't necessarily apply. For the most part they did, but not all the time for everyone. And even social mortal morality changes over the years. Seen through that lens, my behavior toward Leonard Frankle was acceptable as well as justified.
Did I just conclude that killing Frankle was acceptable? And what about the other Immortals that I've tricked into fighting? I wasn't referring to those I'd killed in self- defense. I had no problem with them. I was referring to those people I'd pulled into a duel with the sole intention of fighting them to the death.
But what was a set of morals except rules of behavior for the situation? As the situation changes, so do the rules. And who I'm interacting with changes the situation. Male, female, mortal, Immortal, or little gray men from the planet Reticula, it all changes the rules I have to operate under.
But does that give me the moral right to kill?
I was staring moodily at the fire Aaron had built the next evening. My mind kept going in circles, from one of the people I'd killed to another.
Most had been in self-defense. A couple I'd had the chance to walk away from, but I chose not to. I justified that to myself with the thought that they'd probably simply track me down again later if I left them alive. And they'd all been fair fights, I thought desperately. Well, aside from the five mortals I'd killed while defending President Ryan that night in Chicago, but that was in defense of three other innocents.
But it was the couple of Immortals that I'd deliberately hunted down and slaughtered that were haunting me. Jerry Markus for threatening Richie and Leonard Frankle for killing Andrea.
Even with the reasoning behind my actions, was that enough?
"Jennifer told me," commented Aaron from behind me.
When I didn't say anything immediately, he sat on the couch while I stayed on the floor in front of the fireplace. "How do you do it?" I finally asked.
"Do what?" he asked calmly.
"Live with yourself."
"If I hadn't killed them, they would have killed others."
"And what gives us the moral right to decide who lives and who dies?" I returned.
"Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that those people you've killed were evil?"
His question pulled my eyes from the dancing flames. His gaze steadily held mine as I answered, "Yes, but that isn't the point. What makes me right? What gives me the authority to choose who is 'evil'?"
"Every one of us must make that decision on our own. If your decisions start disagreeing with what everyone around you believes, they'll tell you in one way or another. As long as people whom you respect continue to respect you and your decisions, you can feel confident that you're still making the right choices."
"But then how do I know that the people around me are not a problem?"
He rolled his eyes. "Jeez, you're really into his guilt trip, aren't you? To answer the question: you don't, really." I frowned at him. That didn't help. Ignoring my look, he continued, "If you love and respect them, though, then they're probably just fine. If you need more proof, then there's one piece of truth I've discovered in the previous three thousand years. Good is loyal to other good, evil is only truly loyal to itself. If there's someone you feel is truly loyal to you, then either you're both good, or you're both good liars."
A shadow of a smile formed on my face as I slowly nodded. What he said made perfect sense.
"Now," Aaron said, smacking his knees with his hands as he stood, "you need to get up and go out with Jen. You've been staring at that fire and brooding for hours. Too much thinking and your brains will start to melt and ooze out your ears."
I laughed at that mental image.
We had decided to come back to "Le Blues Club". I took a seat a couple stools down from Mac and pulled another stool over and placed it just in front of mine, hooking my feet over the lower rungs on that one. Jen immediately hopped into the seat and leaned back into my chest. I leaned forward enough that we were balancing each other. Since getting together, Jen and I had been very tactile. She preferred using my lap in place of a seat of her own, and this was the best we could do on barstools.
Joe placed a Killian's beside me and asked Jennifer if she would like something. Shaking her head, she explained that she'd share mine, even going so far as to fake a sip from it. And then she waited until Joe's back was turned to refresh Mac's glass before she grimaced at the taste.
A few minutes quietly passed as I enjoyed the closeness with Jennifer. My mind slowly drifted back to what Nick, Amanda, and Liam had told me last night, and what Aaron had told me this very evening. I was tempted to talk to Mac about it, but he may not agree with all my decisions. Besides, based on his expression, he wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone. Damn, I wish Richie was here. I could always talk to him.
My internal musings were interrupted by Jen's quiet giggles. I pulled my head back a little and cocked an eyebrow at her in a clear question. "The lines some guys use," she explained. "I can't believe they expect a woman to fall for them."
I looked over at where her attention was focused and saw a young couple. He was smiling at her charmingly, but she was just giving him an exasperated look. Chuckling slightly, I hugged her just a little tighter. "Bionic hearing. I wonder sometimes how you can stand it."
"The noise, you mean?" she asked. I nodded in response and she shrugged slightly. "You just lean to filter it out." Sighing slightly, she leaned back and snuggled into my embrace just a little more. Not that I was complaining, of course.
She suddenly stiffened in her seat, making it feel like I was holding a statue in my arms. Her gaze darted over to the door and she looked almost frightened by whatever had snared her attention. Immediately, her eyes softened a touch and she slid off the stool and turned toward the door.
I stood and turned to see what had frightened her almost to the point of bolting out of the room. The only person I saw coming in was a small, dark haired woman. Between Jen's reaction, the set of this woman's shoulders, and the age of her eyes, I concluded that this was an old vampire.
Her eyes locked onto Jen, the mystery woman seemed to glide along as she crossed the room. Stepping forward and subtly protecting Jennifer, I held out my hand to the woman and respectfully said, "Ryan Chessman at your service, my lady."
She stopped and studied me carefully for a moment before accepting my hand. As was my custom with "older" beautiful women, I twisted her hand slightly and brushed my lips across her knuckles instead of a more modern handshake. Since I was actually touching her, I could gauge her age at roughly three thousand five hundred years.
Her eyebrows rose in response to my actions. "Tiana," she replied to me. Retrieving her hand, she turned to Jen and said, "I see that Theresa was right. He IS a gentleman."
Jen smiled and murmured a quiet, "Thank you." She leaned toward me and whispered, "Mistress of Paris."
Nodding at Jen's words, I turned back to Tiana and bowed respectfully again. "An honor to meet you."
She politely smiled back and took Jen's arm in a friendly manner. "Please excuse us, but I would like to have a chat with this delightful child."
Jen smiled in obvious relief. She nodded slightly to me to indicate that she was okay and then walked with Tiana to an empty booth.
Knowing that Jen was not in trouble with the local Community, I slid back onto my barstool and took another drink of my beer. I caught Mac looking at me out of the corner of my eye and explained, "She's a friend of Jen's family."
He nodded and turned back to his drink.
Jen came back over to me a minute later. "Ryan, Tiana would like to talk with you." Seeing my expression, she smiled and laid a hand on my arm. "She just has a few questions. We're not in trouble."
Nodding, I stood and turned to Tiana. "Perhaps we could take a walk?" I offered.
Smiling slightly at my suggestion, she agreed. Offering one arm to each of the two vampires, the three of us stepped past Mac's stool.
"Look at that," Mac said just loud enough for me to hear. "He's walking out with TWO women."
"Jealous?" I tossed back over my shoulder.
Jen's giggle, Tiana's slight smile, and the laughs from Mac and Joe answered my question.
Once beyond the door and another half block past that, Tiana gently disengaged her arm from mine. "A friend of yours?" she asked me in amusement.
I smiled. "Yes, he is that. How may I help you, Mistress?"
"You are Immortal, correct?" she asked.
I tried to prevent my reaction to her words, but it failed. My steps faltered for a moment.
"It's okay," Jen soothed me with words and her hand running along my arm. "She knows about Immortals, Ryan."
I glanced at Jennifer for a moment before turning to Tiana. "Yes," I answered simply.
She nodded. "Do you know an Immortal who stands just under six foot, blue eyes, long brown hair, usually in a ponytail down his back?"
I mentally compared that description to all the Immortals I'd met and came to the conclusion that I didn't know this person. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid not."
She sighed. "Well, if you DO run across him, please tell him Tiana is in Paris."
My eyebrows went up and my mouth twitched into a sad grin. "Assuming we're not fighting, I'll do that."
She stopped in her tracks and turned to me fully. "If you two DO fight, it would be because YOU chose to do so. He doesn't fight unless forced into it. And if that occurs, you won't survive it." Her words didn't sound angry, just matter-of-fact. And that scared me.
Nodding at her words, I bowed slightly in silent apology. Waving along the sidewalk, I convinced her to continue walking with us. Changing the topic, I asked, "What brought you to 'Le Blues Club'? Terry tell you where to find Jen and myself?"
Tiana shook her head. "No. That bar is well known to me as an Immortal gathering place."
Nodding at her answer, I said, "Well, I'm afraid I can not help you, Mistress."
"Thank you anyway," she responded. Nodding politely to both Jen and myself, she turned and walked back the way we came, almost immediately lost in the shadows.
Early the next afternoon, I paid the cabby and stepped toward the church. I'd almost made it to the huge wooden doors before I felt Liam's Buzz. Last night's talk with Aaron had helped, but I wanted a second opinion.
About Immortal morality and maybe a couple of other topics.
I was standing in the sanctuary, looking around before Liam stuck his head in from one of the side doors. "Ryan! Welcome! How may I be of assistance?"
I shook the offered hand and gave him a small smile as well. "Call it a crisis of conscience, Father. Can we talk?"
He blinked at my formality but nodded. He waved toward the door through which he'd entered and said, "Come back to my office." He led the way down a hall and into a functional and cozy office. Taking a seat, he waved me toward a chair and asked, "What can I do for you?"
I sat, but my eyes kept wandering around the room. "What you and Amanda said the other night made sense," I said, stabbing straight to the heart of the matter. "But I still feel bad about all the people I've killed."
He nodded. "As long as you feel badly, then you still have an intact conscience. Once you don't care anymore, then you're beyond hope."
I shook my head. "You're not understanding me. I don't feel badly because of most of those I've killed. Just two of them. The rest were self-defense or in defense of others. Those I feel bad that they're dead, but I'm not guilt-ridden for killing them."
Liam nodded again. "Self-defense is morally acceptable, of course. And when it comes to Immortals, decapitation IS the only reasonable form of defense." He sighed. "As for the two that you DO feel bad about, do you want to tell me about them? Perhaps then I can help you deal with it."
I stared at him for a few moments before nodding slightly. Leaning back into my chair, I tilted my head backwards and stared at the ceiling. I never could face anyone when having a difficult discussion. I vaguely wondered what that said about my psychology as I began. "Richie Ryan is the closest thing I have to a brother right now. He and Mac helped train me. Anyway, shortly after my training was finished, I got a tip from someone that an Immortal head hunter was laying a trap for Richie. I was told where to find this hunter, and I left immediately. I went there and ambushed this guy, Jerry Markus. Pinning him in place, I asked him to explain what he was doing. He lied. Acting like I believed him, I turned my back, tricking him into attacking me. And I killed him. His sword wasn't even out," I finished.
Liam was quiet for a second before asking, "How did he attack you then?"
"Pulled a pistol on me," I answered absently.
"Then you did nothing wrong," answered Liam. My gaze snapped over to him. He was looking at me calmly. "You defended yourself, and incidentally, defended Richie as well."
"But I tricked him into attacking me," I objected.
He shook his head. "He didn't have to pull that gun on you. He attacked; you defended. End of story."
Well, put that way . . .
Seeing my expression, he smiled faintly and asked, "And the other one you feel guilt over?"
Nodding as the first one fell into place in my mind, I pulled the second memory to the surface. "Andrea was a mortal that I knew before my First Death. She knew about me, and it didn't matter to her. We'd been living together for a while." I winced as I realized how that probably sounded to a Catholic priest.
He smiled. "Don't worry about that. I have rather liberal views on the subject, myself. Besides, as an Immortal, the rules of morality are slightly different for us."
You say so, man. I continued, "Anyway, one evening an Immortal kicked our door in and shot the hell out of the place. She died a few hours later at the hospital. I was devastated. It took a while to piece the information together, but I finally learned that it was Leonard Frankle. I called him and blatantly Challenged him. We met, fought, and I killed him."
"Why did he kill Andrea?" Liam asked.
"A group affiliation she had," I responded delicately. No telling if he knew about Watchers.
"Had he killed others in this group?"
"Then you were defending this group of mortals," he concluded.
"I didn't kill him because of this group. I killed him because he killed Andrea."
"On the surface, it may have been vengeance," conceded Liam, "but it also WAS in defense of others."
"Aren't my motives at least as important as the results?" I asked.
"And why are you determined to feel guilty over him?" he returned. "He was an Immortal bastard who had to die to make the world a better place."
I blinked at Liam in surprise. "You're not at all what I expected from a priest," I said eventually.
He laughed outright. "We're also part counselor by our very natures. And many Immortals need more counseling than mortals. As I said two nights ago, our reality is different, with different rules to govern our actions."
I continued to look at him. "You don't think I should feel any guilt over them, do you?" I asked in quiet surprise.
He shrugged. "If it'd make you feel better then I can hear your Confession, but I don't think there's anything to feel guilty about. If you were mortal, then it'd be a different story. But since you're Immortal . . ." He trailed off with another shrug, having made his position known.
"You've given me a lot to think about," I eventually responded. Shaking my head, I changed the subject, "One last philosophical question and then I'll get out of your hair."
"It's no bother," he assured me, "but go ahead."
Repeating the same question that Jen had asked Richie and Hoa a couple years previously, I asked, "Do you believe a person's nature determines their actions and personality?"
He frowned slightly and tilted his head. "I'm not sure I understand the question."
"For instance," I clarified, "because of our Immortality do you think we're predisposed to be murderous, cynical bastards?"
He stared at me for a full five seconds before breaking into laughter. Wiping his eyes, he responded, "Ryan, I haven't lifted a sword in better than a hundred years, even in defense of my own head. I've been a priest since the beginning of that same time. Granted I'm an exception to the Immortal rule, but I assure you that I'm not murderous nor cynical. Neither are you, Nick, Amanda, or dozens of others I could name. To answer the question: no, our natures don't necessarily force our personalities, though it definitely influences our actions." He looked at me for a moment before asking, "Why?"
I shook my head. "I don't know if I can tell you." He appeared confused for a moment before I elaborated, "It's not my secret to give, sorry."
Shrugging away the mystery, he stood with me and shook my hand.
"Thank you for the talk, Father," I said.
I got back to Aaron and Terry's home well after dark, but everyone was still there. Aaron himself was reading a book on the recliner, and the girls were chatting on the couch.
Jen looked up at me and asked, "Everything go alright with wherever you went?"
I smiled and nodded. She knew something was bothering me but wasn't pressing me on it. Yet.
Seeing that I was okay, she returned to her discussion with Terry. Without removing my coat, I asked Aaron, "Take a walk with me?"
That caught the attention of everyone in the room. Aaron nodded and collected his coat without comment, but Jen was looking at me in concern. "I'm okay, really," I assured both women. She nodded dubiously, and Terry looked on curiously but not with concern. "You two stay here and enjoy your chat," I continued. "That's why we're in Paris, after all."
Aaron and I made it a block before he opened the conversation, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," I assured him.
"Then why are we out here?" he asked reasonably.
"Why did you marry Terry?" I asked.
"Because I love her," he answered, frowning at my question.
I shook my head. "From what I understand, you were already basically living together before that point. So why marry her?"
He nodded, apparently not surprised or angered at the question. "You're right, it was probably pretty redundant at that point, but it seemed the natural thing to do." He paused momentarily before asking, "So you're going to ask Jen?"
I nodded, not surprised that he'd seen where the conversation was going. "Darius performed the ceremony for you?"
"Did he know about Terry's vampirism?"
Aaron laughed. "Oh, yes. He certainly did."
"How'd you tell him?"
He shook his head. "We didn't have a choice, really. He stumbled into a scene where it was glaringly obvious. She was feeding off of my wrist," he explained to my questioning look.
I chuckled at the described scene. "How'd he take it?"
"Surprisingly well. Didn't even try to banish, turn, or exorcise her or anything," he joked. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and asked, "Based on the question, I'm assuming that you're not considering a civil ceremony."
I shrugged. "Legally, we may already qualify as a common law marriage, so that part is already taken care of. I'm not terribly religious, but like you said, getting married to Jen seems to be the natural thing to do." I sighed. "Now the problem is how to explain this to Liam."
"Father Liam Riley?" Aaron asked.
I nodded. "Know him?"
He shook his head. "I know of him, but I don't know him personally. I doubt telling him will be a problem, though. As an Immortal priest he's probably already carrying more secrets than we can comprehend."
"Probably true," I agreed. "Now just to ask Jen if we can tell him, and more importantly to ask her to marry me."
I suddenly found myself flat on my back in the lawn of the house we'd been walking past. Gasping for breath, my mind hadn't caught up with what had happened before I heard, "Yes, I'll marry you."
By the time my mind could process the situation, I found my arms full of Jennifer who was leaning over me giving me a kiss that was trying to obliterate all conscious thought from my mind again.
Once she surfaced so I could breath again, I heard Terry state, "About time."
I looked over at her standing calmly next to Aaron. I frowned at her then at Jen. "You followed us," I accused, gasping for breath.
Jen raised an eyebrow. "So?" she challenged.
"No privacy in my life," I muttered.
"You're the one with a Watcher following you everywhere," commented Terry.
I rolled my eyes. "Don't remind me."
"Well," exclaimed Aaron as he clapped his hands together, "this calls for a celebration. How about the four of us go to 'Eclipse'?" he asked, mentioning a restaurant that dealt with mortal / vampire couples.
After sharing a glance, Jen and I readily agreed. This certainly was something worth celebrating.
I called Richie several hours later before going to bed the next morning. Paris to the west coast of the US was nine hours earlier, so he was early in his "day".
"Hello," he answered.
"Rich, it's Ryan."
"Ryan! How's everything?"
"Just fine. Say, could you hop a plane to Paris soon?"
He paused. "Yes, but why? Something wrong?"
"No," I assured him. "Nothing's wrong. In fact, everything is most definitely right. I need you here because I need someone to be my best man."
"Congratulations! So you're doing it there?"
Hoa's voice came on the line, "Congratulations, Ryan! I'm so happy for you two."
"Thank you," I said to both of them. "And yes, we're doing the ceremony here, probably. We need to talk to Father Riley first, but none of us expect there to be a problem on that end."
"When do you want me out there?" asked Richie.
"Like I said, I need to talk to Liam first. I'll probably talk to him tonight. It's almost dawn here, and I'm ready to crash."
"Can't blame you there," commented Richie. "Call me when you have a timetable?"
"Sure thing," I answered. "Just wanted to make sure you'd accept the request."
"Don't be ridiculous," returned Hoa. "Let me talk to Jen."
I chuckled and said goodbye before handing the phone over. I gave half an ear to their conversation as I got ready for bed. Jen explained how Terry had agreed to be Matron of Honor, and Aaron would have walked her down the aisle, but we weren't planning on that much of a ceremony. Jen was wanting to invite Nick and Natalie, but that was all, really. Unless we wanted to tell someone about vampires, we couldn't invite all that many.
The next evening found me repeating the cab ride to Liam's church. Once again, he stuck his head out the same side door and greeted me warmly. "Nice to see you again, Ryan. Come on back."
I shook my head. "It's a gorgeous evening, Liam. Why don't we go outside instead?"
He stopped and looked at me with a slight frown.
"We can stay on the church grounds if that'd make you feel better," I assured him.
He continued to look at me a moment before agreeing. We got outside, and I let him pick the route. As I expected, he kept us on Holy Ground. He may be a priest, but he didn't know me well enough to leave Holy Ground with me.
"How much do you believe in the supernatural, Liam?" I asked after a few minutes of wandering.
An eyebrow went up. "I'm a priest, Ryan. I believe in God."
I smiled. "I was thinking a little more tangible than that."
"I also believe in immortality," he said ironically.
"Ghosts, devils, angels, vampires?" I asked.
He stopped and stared at me intently. Presently he said, "I believe that there are things that can't be truly explained by science or nature. Why do you ask?"
I ignored the question, instead starting to walk again and changing the subject. "Are you willing to perform a wedding ceremony for Jen and me?"
"Of course," he said. His face reflected the confusion I expected after such a radical change of subject. "Could I speak with you and Jen together?"
I nodded. "She's by the front gate by now."
His brow knitted in even more confusion, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he altered his course and brought us by the front entrance to the church grounds. Sure enough, Jen was standing just outside, casually leaning against a tree.
Liam greeted her with a slight frown. "Jennifer. Nice to see you. Please come in and we'll discuss this."
She shook her head. "I can't enter the church, Father Riley."
His frown deepened. He looked back and forth between the two of us before asking, "Okay, what's going on?"
"Do you believe in vampires, Father?" asked Jen quietly.
His mouth opened once or twice before anything came out. Finally he turned to me. "That's why you asked that question last night and then the one just a few minutes ago?"
He turned to Jen and studied her. "Vampire," he asked as a statement.
She nodded, allowing her eyes to glow golden for a moment.
He took a hasty step back, but her eyes had reverted to normal as quickly as they'd changed in the first place. He calmed quickly and stared at her for a few more seconds. You could nearly see the gears turning in his mind. "Fascinating," he eventually murmured. Shaking his head, he asked, "Why can't you enter the church?"
"Religious icons. Crosses mostly," Jen answered.
He nodded slowly then suddenly smiled. "I was going to make sure you two knew what you were getting yourselves into, seeing as how Ryan's Immortality would separate you two eventually. I can see that won't be a problem."
Jen and I smiled slightly.
"How much of a ceremony were you two thinking?" Liam asked, dragging his thoughts back to the practical.
We both shook our heads. I answered, "Not much. Just an exchange of vows, mostly. We've lived together long enough that we may well qualify as husband and wife legally. We just want to make it formal. Half dozen guests or so, including witnesses."
"Outdoor, evening ceremony of course," added Jen.
Liam smiled slightly. "Of course. Religious preference?"
"Non-denominational," I answered. "We both believe in the existence of a God, but neither of us is a member of any church." I paused before adding ironically, "For obvious reasons."
He grunted softly in what I took to be agreement. "When?" he asked next.
"Couple days," I answered. "We aren't going to do any of the civil paperwork, so it's more a case of waiting for all the guests to arrive. And some of them are coming from the US."
He nodded. "Attire?"
"Semi-formal," answered Jen. "I'll be in a dress but not a wedding gown."
"Where?" was the next question.
I pointed to the gazebo on the church grounds not more than a hundred yards away. "Here if possible."
He smiled. "Sounds like you two have this all figured out. All I have to do is show up with a script?"
I chuckled. "Not quite how I would have phrased it, but essentially correct."
He studied Jen for another few seconds before commenting, "You know, I have all sorts of questions for you." Jen's face fell into a frown, and Liam nodded. "Didn't think so. Okay, I won't ask. Let me know when as soon as possible?"
Richie called hours later. "Change in plans, Ryan. I'm sorry, but I won't be able to be your best man."
My face fell. "If the timing doesn't work, Rich, say so. If it's a problem between the two of us . . ." I didn't think it was, but there had to be a reason he was turning me down.
"No, no, that's not it," he assured me. "I can't be your best man if I'm going to be getting married myself." He let that sink in for a second before hitting me with, "Hoa and I would like to have a double wedding with you and Jennifer if it's okay by you."
Jen picked up the extension in the kitchen. "YES! Oh, I'm so happy for you two!"
Damn vampire hearing eavesdrops on everything.
Richie and I chuckled at the same time over Jen's enthusiasm. Richie continued, "I was planning on asking Mac to stand with me." He rushed on before I had a chance to interrupt, "I know this means we'll have to tell him about Hoa and Jen, but he'd find out eventually anyway if we continued to be in contact with him for much longer."
Hmm, good point. I was almost surprised that he hadn't noticed Jen wasn't aging before now. But as an Immortal, he might be a little more oblivious to that for the simple reason that so many of his acquaintances aren't aging themselves.
Hoa had joined the conversation. "Jen, could you ask Grandma Terry to stand with me, too?"
"YES!" shouted Terry from somewhere in the house.
Jen laughed as I said with no small amusement, "I think Terry just agreed, Hoa." We all chuckled before something occurred to me, "Hoa, wouldn't Terry be your great- grandmother?" Jen was her "mother" after all, up to Michelle, and then Terry.
"If you followed the pattern strictly, yes, she would. But she told me to call her 'Grandma Terry'."
"I'm still not going to call you my father-in-law, Ryan," added Richie.
Everyone chuckled again before Hoa asked, "So everything went well with Father Riley?"
"Yes," answered Jen. "We'll have to tell him that you two'll be added to the ceremony, but I can't imagine that's a problem. You two going to invite anyone?"
"Nobody to invite," commented Richie. "Mac and Ryan are the closest thing to family I have."
"And I don't have any family left, either," interjected Hoa.
Richie continued, "I'd want to invite Joe, too if you two think it'd be alright."
"I'd like that, too," I agreed. "No reason to tell him anything, really." I've wanted to, but I understood the reasons to keep vampires a secret.
As if reading my mind, Jennifer said, "We're already telling enough people the secret, here. Let's not be adding too much to it."
Richie sighed. "I was afraid of that. Anyway," he continued, "we'll be there in a few days."
"Call once you have an arrival time and somebody will get to the airport to pick you up," said Jennifer.
"Rich, you and I had better talk to Mac together once you arrive."
"Good idea. See you in a few days."
I went back to Liam's church the next evening (again). I explained the addition to the wedding to Liam and he readily agreed to the changes. It really wasn't going to matter much to him. He hardly had to do anything for this wedding, anyway. Actually, Jen and I had agreed to keep it extremely simple. Other than waiting for everyone else to show up, none of us had much to do.
Jen called Uncle Nick in Toronto and invited him and Natalie. They happily agreed to come for the wedding and even agreed to go to our house and pick up my suit and one of Jen's dresses.
It was amazingly short notice, but everything seemed to be falling together anyway. Nobody had a problem getting time off or plane tickets.
Richie and Hoa arrived two days (well, nights) later. Once Terry got everyone back to her place, Richie, Hoa, Jen, and I discussed our strategy on how to tell Mac about vampires.
"Calmly or brute force?" I asked. Those were the only two choices, really.
"Calmly worked for me," pointed out Richie.
"Relatively," commented Jen dryly from where she was curled up on my lap.
Hoa giggled. "She's got you there, Rich. It DID take you a while to believe."
"And Jennifer flying around the room with glowing golden eyes would have improved matters somehow?" he asked.
Smiling at the mental image, I said, "Sounds like we're agreed on that one, then. Only one problem left. Watchers."
"How're they a problem?" asked Hoa with a frown.
"There will be, what, nearly a dozen Watchers there? Joe, of course. And you, too, Hoa. Plus Richie's, mine, Liam's, Nick's, Amanda's, Mac's, Aaron's, and Natalie's Watchers. How many of them know about vampires?"
"Five including me," Hoa answered after a moment's thought.
I nodded. "And what will the rest of the Watchers report?"
"That Richie Ryan married Vu Tran Hoa and Ryan Chessman married Jennifer Frost. Where're you going with this, Ryan?"
"Bear with me for a second. What happens in a hundred years if some Watcher sees that report and then finds out you two are still alive?"
"Oh," Hoa responded, suddenly seeing where I was going. "Watchers would suddenly think that we were Immortal, or that there was some other kind of immortal running around."
"Which there is: Vampires," Richie agreed with a sigh.
"This is getting messy," commented Jen.
"So we can only invite Immortals who have Watchers that already know about vampires?"
I sighed in exasperation. "Can't see a way around that."
Terry walked into the room, handing a goblet to Jen and Hoa before taking a seat for herself. "I'll talk to Daniel," she volunteered. "You two girls can talk to your beau's Watchers. Hopefully one of the three of them can think of something."
"Beau?" I asked with a grin. "Does anyone use that word anymore?"
She grimaced at me. "In case it hasn't penetrated yet, Mister Chessman, I'm a little older than I look. Let me talk however I want."
"Just so long as it isn't in Olde English," I said. "One of my high school English teachers made us memorize and recite 'Wan that April'. Felt like I was tying my throat in knots trying to talk that way."
She rolled her eyes and left the room, muttering, "Children!"
The next evening, the four of us piled into a cab for the trip to "Le Blues Club". It was going to be an interesting evening.
I was relieved that only Mac's Buzz met us when we climbed back out of the cab. Having Methos there wouldn't have improved matters any.
When all four of us made it through the door, I saw Mac at the same time that he saw Richie. Standing with a wide grin, he strode toward us, enveloping Richie into a hug when he arrived. Pulling back after a couple slaps against Richie's back, he greeted Hoa with a smile.
"What are you two doing here in Paris?" he asked, waving them toward a table. He snagged his shot glass of scotch on his way past the bar as we all seated ourselves.
"Nice to see you, too, Mac," I said dryly.
He rolled his eyes at me as Jen and Hoa giggled. "I've seen you for the past three days. I didn't know Richie was here."
"Just arrived this morning, Mac," Richie answered. "As for why we're here . . ." he waved at me.
When everyone's attention switched to me, I took a deep breath and plunged in. "I've asked Jen to marry me, and she's accepted. I asked Richie to be my best man, but . . ." I threw the ball back in his court with an evil grin.
Mac's face had lit into a smile, but then frowned in confusion when I trailed off. He looked over at Richie with raised eyebrows.
"But I couldn't be Ryan's best man," Richie picked up, "seeing as how Hoa and I decided to make it a double wedding."
"Congratulations!" said Mac. Standing up, he crossed around the small table to where Hoa and Jen were sitting together. Pulling one of the girls into a hug with each arm, he managed to get both of them at once.
Joe came hobbling over. "Rich!" he greeted. "Whatever brought you to Paris must be good news based on how Mac's acting."
Richie and I chuckled. He answered, "Yeah, it is, Joe. Ryan and I are getting married."
"No, we're not!" I objected with a stern look at him. Turning to Joe's mystified frown, I said, "Don't listen to him. I'm marrying Jen, not him."
"That's not -" he started, only to be interrupted by everyone's laughter.
"Well, my congratulations," Joe said, extending his hand first to me and then to Richie. Shaking Richie's hand, Joe added, "With whoever you're marrying."
Giggling at his words and actions, Hoa allowed Joe to kiss her hand gallantly.
After repeating the same with Jen's hand, he pulled a chair over and levered himself down. "When and where?" he asked.
"Two days, eight in the evening, gazebo at Father Liam's church," I answered.
"You're invited, of course," Richie added. He turned to Mac and asked, "Mac, Ryan and I would both like you to stand for us."
"I'd be honored," the Scot answered with a smile. "Who's standing for Hoa and Jen?"
"A friend of ours," answered Jennifer smoothly.
"Well, I'd better dig my tux out of storage," said Joe.
I shook my head. "It's only going to be semi-formal. No reception or any of that. Just a quiet little ceremony. Not even going to do any of the civil paperwork."
"Dress code for me?" asked Mac.
"Would you wear a kilt if I asked?" queried Hoa with a twinkle in her eye.
"Yes," he answered promptly.
"Oh," was her slightly dejected answer.
Richie chuckled. "Don't bother trying to get him to feel embarrassed over his Highland heritage or their customs." Turning to Mac, he said, "Ryan and I will be wearing suits, the girls will wear dresses, though they won't be wedding dresses."
Mac nodded, accepting the information.
The perky young waitress came over for our drink orders and returned with beers for Richie and myself moments later. Joe returned to his bar shortly afterwards to leave the five of us to discuss inconsequentialities for nearly an hour before Mac indicated his interest in leaving for the evening.
Biting my lip a moment, I asked, "Mac, mind if we go to your barge for a while? We all need to talk with you about something."
Frowning slightly in confusion, he said, "No problem, though I'm not sure I can fit all four of you in my car."
"We won't take up much space," said Jen. "In fact, I daresay all four of us could fit into your back seat if we wanted to."
MacLeod raised an eyebrow at her. "I'd like to see that, actually." Standing, he hooked his coat off his chair and waved to Joe on his way out the door. Once outside, he waved us to a mid-sized sedan of French make. Richie and I slid into the back with no problem, and the girls squeezed in and took their seats on our laps. Mac just looked at us for a moment before shaking his head. "Young love," he said with a grin.
All four of us grinned back.
"Not that I'm complaining in the least," I whispered into Jen's ear as Mac climbed into the driver's seat, "but I've noticed that you enjoy sitting on my lap a lot. Any particular reason?"
"You're warm," was the whispered answer. She must have seen my frown, because she explained further. "In essence I'm cold-blooded. You're warm."
My face cleared. Oh, that made sense. Besides, it gave me more reason to cuddle up to my fiancÃ©e. And it also explained why Hoa had become more tactile with Richie since she was brought across.
Mac presently pulled to a stop at his barge and we all piled out of his car. Walking up the gangplank, he asked, "Anyone want anything to drink?"
"I'll take a beer," Richie replied.
"I'm fine," I said, "but you may want one, Mac. You'll need it before the night's out."
He focused a long stare at me but didn't say anything to that. Instead, he fished a beer out of the refrigerator and handed it to Richie as he and Hoa were arranging themselves on the couch. Taking off his coat, he hung it up on the coat rack before pouring himself a scotch and seating himself on the chair across from where Jen and I were sitting. "Okay, what's going on?"
Richie and Hoa looked over at Jen and myself. Jen was just staring into space. Sighing, I opened the conversation, "Mac, how many types of immortals are there?"
He frowned. "Types? What are you talking about?"
"Okay, I'll rephrase. How many groups of people can potentially live forever?"
"Just Immortals," he answered with a frown. "What are you talking about?" he repeated.
"What would you say if I told you that there's another group of people who can live hundreds or thousands of years?"
He started to laugh before he realized I wasn't smiling. "You're serious?" he asked.
He frowned and leaned back in his chair. "Assuming I believe you, why are you telling me?"
"Because there's something you need to know about Jen and Hoa," I answered quietly.
His gaze went from one to the other before he asked, "You're immortal?"
Hoa nodded, and Jen said quietly. "Yes. Though we're not the kind of Immortal you're familiar with. We're vampires."
The fifteen second silence was broken by Mac calmly replying, "Vampires."
The four of us nodded.
"Blood sucking, wooden stakes, sunlight, and so on vampires," Mac continued in an amazingly calm voice.
"Yup," I answered, hugging Jen a little tighter.
"Why are you telling me?" Mac asked after perhaps a minute of silence.
Richie and I both snorted in amusement. "And if you saw me with Hoa in fifty years?" Richie asked.
"She wouldn't have aged," Mac deduced.
"Right," Richie agreed.
Looking from one of the women to the other, he asked, "How old are you two?"
"Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's impolite to ask a lady her age?" I teased.
He frowned at me in response.
"Jennifer brought me across less than two years ago. Just after Amanda's wedding," answered Hoa calmly.
"Brought you across? Made you a vampire you mean?" MacLeod asked.
At Hoa's nod, he turned to Jennifer and asked, "Why?"
She shrugged slightly. "I had the ability to let Hoa and Richie spend forever together."
"So you brought her across," he said, sounding just slightly angry.
"With her full knowledge and permission," Jennifer defended herself.
He turned to Richie and asked, "And you knew about this?"
He nodded. "I'll admit I wasn't thrilled with the idea when I first heard it, but it's turned out pretty well."
"Speak for yourself," Hoa muttered. "I still miss sunsets."
Three of us smiled slightly at her attempt at lightening the mood.
Mac turned to Jennifer and asked, "And how old are you?"
She shook her head. "Younger than Ryan, actually."
He leaned back again and processed everything we'd said, taking a sip of his drink occasionally. "Once again, why are you telling me this?"
"Sooner or later you'd notice that Jennifer and Hoa aren't aging," I said. "And instead of you asking embarrassing questions and perhaps getting yourself or us in trouble, we figured we'd better tell you the truth now."
"Trouble?" he asked with a slight frown.
"Telling mortals about us is against the Code," Jennifer replied. "Generally, nobody knows about us. But there are special circumstances."
He didn't bother asking why vampires never told mortals about themselves. He'd lived through the witch hunts and already knew the answer, no doubt. Instead, he nodded and said, "Okay, what are we going to do about this?"
"Nothing," I answered. "Don't tell anyone, don't treat them different, don't do anything differently than you have been. We told you for everyone's safety." At his nod, I added, "You know, Mac, you're taking this a whole lot calmer than I expected."
He smiled slightly. "This explains a few things. A few people I meet after a hundred years who aren't Immortal, but I would have sworn are the same person. Also this explains why the vampire legends have been so persistent. And why the two of you suddenly went to a night time schedule," he finished, indicating Richie and myself.
We grinned back. "Well, we had good reason," answered Richie.
"So I see," Mac answered in amusement. "Besides, this will be easier on you two in the long run than marrying mortals."
"Thanks, Dad," I said facetiously. "Glad you like my girlfriend. Can I borrow the keys tonight? Huh, can I?" I continued, trying to act like a seventeen year old.
Smiling widely, he answered, "Yes, Son, but you be back before dawn."
We all chuckled before he placed his drink on the coffee table and stood. Reaching out a hand, he helped Jennifer and Hoa to their feet. Pulling them into gentle hugs, one at a time, he said to them, "You two take care of these two arrogant, young fools. For what it's worth, I'm glad you're happy. All of you," he added, including Richie and myself in his statement.
"That went well," Hoa commented as we walked up the steps to Terry and Aaron's home.
"As well as could be hoped," Richie agreed.
Terry opened the door before we got there. "I talked to Daniel," she announced.
While walking in and hanging up my and Jen's coats, I asked, "And?"
She shrugged. "He said he'd give us an answer tonight."
We spent the next hour or so just chatting, Terry and myself working our way through a few games of chess to pass the time.
She was beating the pants off of me for the third game in a row when all the women looked up simultaneously and swiveled their heads toward the door.
"Someone's coming," Terry said with a frown.
"Joe," Jennifer said in surprise.
"Joe?!" Richie and I chorused.
She nodded. "Well, someone with a can and two prosthetic legs," she amended.
Standing, I peeked out between the curtains and did indeed see Joe Dawson walking up the sidewalk to the front door. I crossed over to it and opened it before he could knock.
"Joe! How're you doing?"
He smiled at me. "Hi, Ryan. Can I come in?"
"Uh, yeah. Come on in." What was he doing here?
He came in and greeted Jennifer, Hoa, and Richie with smiles. Then he turned to Terry and Aaron. I was about to introduce him when he said, "Mister Constantine. Miss Ryan. I'm Joe Dawson." Smiling charmingly at them, he approached with hand extended.
They both shook his hand with bemused expressions.
Well, it's hardly surprising that he'd know their names. Even Aaron's real name. Though why he would address him by it and then introduce himself was still completely beyond my understanding.
Joe had asked Terry for permission to sit down and then done so when she granted it. I finally pulled myself together about the time that he was settling himself down. "Joe, forgive me for the question, but what are you doing here?"
"Daniel asked me to come," was the calm reply.
All six of us looked among each other with expressions of incomprehension.
"Okay . . ." I finally prompted.
He turned to Aaron and Terry. "You two don't know me, but I'm a District Director of the Watchers." They both nodded, apparently not surprised by this bit of news. He continued, "Ryan, could you come over here? Hoa, you too."
Glancing at each other in mutual confusion, we both approached where he was sitting.
He presented his right inner wrist to us. "Recognize this?"
We both glanced down. "Your Watcher tattoo," I stated, not knowing where he was going.
He smiled slightly. "Look closer. Compare it to what you both received when you became Watchers."
Looking at each other again, Hoa and I peered closer at his tattoo. Mine had disappeared within a month after becoming Immortal. Hers had disappeared days after becoming a vampire. The only thing different I could see about his tattoo was that there were three small "stars" above and between the legs of the stylized "Y" that made the bulk of the tattoo.
"You mean those stars?" I asked.
He nodded and then twisted around so that he was showing the tattoo to Terry and Aaron. They hardly glanced at it but gave Joe a piercing stare.
"What's going on?" asked Richie.
"You want them to join?" asked Aaron of Joe, completely ignoring Richie's question.
Joe nodded, pulling his wrist back to rest with the other hand at the head of his cane.
Aaron puffed out a long sigh. "Have a seat," he told Hoa and me. "This'll take a while." Once we were seated, he continued, "You all know that Watchers have been following Immortals around for millennia. What you don't know is that Watchers have been aware of vampires for most of that time."
Utter silence greeted his remark. Watchers knew about vampires? My mind immediately went spinning off with a thousand questions.
Hoa was a little more vocal. "Why didn't . . . Why don't . . ." Well, vocal but not necessarily coherent.
Looking among the four of us, Joe smiled slightly. "You all know about Watchers, and two of you were even Watchers yourselves for a while, so I won't go into that part of it. What you don't know is that Immortals and vampires have been together for thousands of years. Antonius and Theresa here are only one example."
"You've known about vampires all this time," I said. At his nod, I continued, "How come I never heard anything about this when I worked for you?"
"As a whole, the Watchers DON'T know about vampires. Once we make high enough rank, we're told. And some of the field agents DO know, obviously."
"You worked for Mister Dawson?" asked Aaron, looking at me.
That's right, he never heard that story. "I was a Watcher when I died the first time," I explained to him and Terry. "Actually Watching Richie here," I added, waving at him.
"That's how you found Duncan MacLeod," mused Aaron.
I nodded. "I watched a Challenge of Richie's. Some of the Quickening blew a light off a pole and it landed on me. By the time I woke up, Richie was gone. I was pulled off surveillance after that, and it was a few days before I realized what I was. At that point I ran to Mac for help."
"When was this?" asked Hoa.
"Just before I met you," Richie answered. "I'll tell you about it sometime."
"Okay," Jen said, "Watchers know about vampires. Vampires as a whole don't know about Watchers or Immortals. Immortals as a whole don't know about Watchers or vampires. However, the four of us know about all of the above." She looked around and we all nodded at her. Turning to our three seniors, she asked, "Why are you telling us this?"
"Because there's a small group made up of all three that actually keeps the peace," Aaron said.
We turned to him. "Keeps the peace?" Richie echoed.
He nodded. "The upper echelons of the Watchers, the more influential Enforcers, Masters and Mistresses of a few cities, and a handful of Immortals make up this Council. Terry and I, and apparently Mister Dawson here, are members, though we don't necessarily know who the other members are." He paused to let us absorb that for a few moments.
"Keeps the peace?" Richie repeated.
"When one group starts warring with another, this Council steps in. If an Immortal starts running out of control, we step in. If a vampire starts to become a problem, we step in, though the Enforcers are usually enough to keep the vampire segment under control. Between the resources and strengths of the three groups, there is little we can't contain if the situation warrants it."
Everyone was silent for a few moments, digesting this news. "A secret group made of members of three OTHER secret groups," I muttered.
"Let's try this again," said Jennifer. "Why are you telling us?"
Terry and Aaron looked to Joe. He said, "Because I believe you four could be useful members. You four already trust each other implicitly, so you could be a potent fighting force if a situation calls for that. Individually, either of you two couples are already a good team if a smaller group is needed."
"You mean we would do your dirty work for you," I accused.
Joe and Terry frowned, and Aaron said, "Not exactly, though it may seem that way. You're correct in that you MAY be sent out on a hunting mission. You're incorrect in thinking that you'd become an assassin. If you're hunting for the Council, you'd be instructed to bring them in for the Council to put on trial. You would NOT be instructed to execute anyone."
"Ryan, you especially would be useful," Joe put in. "With your extra training, you could be an Immortal lie detector."
"You're making it sound like we'd be agents of the Council but not members," Richie said.
"True," conceded Joe. "None of you are old enough."
"Go to hell, Dawson," Jennifer snarled. "What gives a MORTAL the right to judge Immortals or vampires?"
I was startled by her attitude, but none of the three eldest in the room even blinked at her. "We don't," responded Joe calmly. "Vampires judge vampires, Immortals judge their own, and so do us mortals."
"But you let me go after Jenny Bright," I noted.
"Different circumstances," Joe said with a wave of one hand.
"Who?" asked Aaron.
"A Watcher who gave Immortals enough information to hunt other Immortals," I answered Aaron. Turning to Joe, I said, "Bullshit. You let an Immortal clean up a Watcher problem."
He suddenly looked a little uncomfortable. "We would have cleaned it up if you'd let us know where she was."
"You would have tried her and executed her," I retorted flatly.
"And what about Fredericks?" Jennifer asked, referring to the vampire she and I had killed early in our relationship.
"Seems Jennifer and I have been doing you dirty work for some time now," I remarked acidly.
"No," Terry said flatly. "Fredericks was YOUR problem. It wasn't widespread enough to involve anyone else."
"So if these aren't the kinds of problems the Council deals with, what WOULD qualify?" I asked in exasperation.
"Horton," answered Aaron. Joe flinched and let out a sigh.
Terry nodded agreement. "The Council was about to move on that one when Duncan MacLeod went after him."
"For killing Darius and kidnapping Hugh Fitzcairn," Richie added.
Terry shrugged. "Whatever the reason, MacLeod did the work for us. Without any prompting from us, before you ask."
"The first time, anyway," Joe added quietly. "I took care of James the second time around myself."
"So what HAS the Council done?" asked Hoa.
"Nothing any of you would have heard of," answered Joe. "Mostly, we help hunt renegades of all varieties. It may appear that Enforcers police the Communities and Immortals and Watchers police their own, but at least one Council member is usually a part of those actions. And the Council helps in the hunt with detective work and information. Discreetly."
"So what WOULD we do if we were agents for you?" asked Richie tiredly.
"Whatever we asked," responded Terry.
Richie and I glared at her.
"The reasoning WOULD be explained to you," she assured us.
"Explain to me again why you're telling us this?" I asked, rubbing my fingertips to my temples to try to minimize the headache forming.
"All four of you would be useful," Aaron answered patiently.
"I'm honored," interjected Hoa dryly.
He flicked a glance at her but hardly slowed his answer. "As agents, you would have skills that we could use. You are already Immortal / vampire couples, so you know the strengths and weaknesses involved, as well as already trusting in each other. You are all willing to do the right thing, as you've each proven. And you all believe in the three of us."
"So we just became your private army?" I asked with an edge to my voice. "Go to hell. I have my own life without you telling me what to do."
"We'll never TELL you what to do. We'll ASK. Council members and agents are volunteers," Terry said.
"Sounds like you're trying to draft us," I replied.
All three of them shook their heads. "No, we're asking you to join us," responded Aaron.
"And if I refuse?" I shot back.
He shrugged. "Then you refuse. No harm done. You already know all three groups exist. Knowing that a Council exists doesn't hurt." He smiled at me and added, "And I trust that you won't hurt one of the three of us for our part in the Council."
Jennifer had been quiet for a while, so I was surprised when she said, "Think about it, Ryan. The Council is for the good of Immortals and vampires. Don't we owe it to each other to try to help?"
I turned and stared at her. Rubbing a hand across my face, I said, "You WOULD have to phrase it that way, wouldn't you?"
Richie and Hoa chuckled. "So far, I don't have a problem with this," Hoa said. Richie nodded his agreement.
I sighed, dropping the argument for the moment. "Watchers have known about vampires?" I asked instead.
"For thousands of years," confirmed Joe.
"Do you Watch them?"
He shook his head. "Can't. As any of the ladies here will tell you, a Watcher is easy to spot for the vampire. A mortal following a vampire around would just be asking for trouble. No, we rely on the vampires who know of us to tell us enough to keep the vampire chronicles."
"They don't know much," added Terry. "Who is a vampire, who isn't, where they live, when someone is destroyed, and like that. Our daily lives aren't recorded."
"Following Immortals is probably tough enough. Following a vampire would be downright suicidal," Aaron said.
We all chuckled tightly. After studying my expression for a few seconds, Richie said, "Well, this solves one problem."
"What's that?" I asked distractedly, still thinking about the Council and whether I would want to be a part of it.
"We can invite Joe and more Immortals to the wedding without a problem. Our Chronicles won't expose the Community."
"Your Chronicles won't, but you want to be careful about what Immortals you fraternize with," cautioned Joe. "Most Immortals don't know about vampires. If Nick Wolfe for instance went to the wedding and then met you again in a hundred years . . ."
"He'd know about vampires by circumstance," finished Richie.
"He and Amanda have met me," pointed out Jennifer.
Joe frowned slightly. "They may be a problem eventually."
"Well, add Father Riley and Duncan MacLeod to the list of Immortals who know about vampires for sure," said Jen.
Joe nodded. One eyebrow rose slightly and he asked, "How'd Mac take it?"
"Amazingly well," Richie said. "He suspected something already. We just confirmed it."
"He suspected something?" queried Terry.
"He met a vampire again a hundred years later, the way it sounds."
She nodded, accepting that answer.
"You're quiet," Jen whispered to me.
I nodded slowly. "What do you think of the whole Council thing?" I asked her.
She shrugged. "Sounds legit to me. I'm willing to give it a shot on a probationary basis."
I looked over at Hoa and Richie, knowing that they probably heard the question as well. They both caught my eye and nodded.
Terry had noticed every by-play going on. She asked, "Ryan, you okay with this?"
I took a breath and nodded to her. "For the moment. I'll want to know everything going on before you send me off on any missions, but it sounds okay so far." I turned to Joe. "Anything else we need to know?"
He shook his head. "Any Council business will come through one of the three of us. If someone else approaches you and claims to be a member, play dumb until getting confirmation from someone you KNOW is a member."
I waved at his wrist. "Is that modification of your Watcher tattoo an indicator?"
He nodded. "Among Watchers, yes. Though a tattoo on a vampire or Immortal is pointless, so you can't rely on it for them."
"Is Tiana a member?" asked Jennifer of Terry.
Terry's eyebrow rose. "You met her?"
Jennifer and I nodded.
"Who?" asked Richie.
"Don't ask," Aaron said to him.
"Yes," Terry answered Jennifer's question. "Though she's unlikely to know you're agents."
"And don't advertise the fact," Joe added. "Few know of the Council's existence. We prefer to keep it that way, since the members tend to be the most powerful and / or influential members of each of our respective segments."
I frowned at him. "Then if you don't necessarily know the other members of the Council, why weren't you hesitant to mention it in front of Aaron and Terry here?"
He shifted uncomfortably for a moment before answering quietly, "Tiana told me."
"You KNOW Tiana?" asked Terry incredulously.
"She'd been coming into my bar on and off. She recognized my tattoo for what it was and introduced herself."
"The Mistress of Paris introduced herself to you?" asked Terry in disbelief.
"Mistress of Paris?!" asked Richie.
"Told you that you didn't want to know," interjected Aaron.
Richie ignored him. "The Mistress of Paris, who is a vampire, comes to YOUR bar?"
"You don't have to sound so shocked by it," Joe said, hurt by the implication.
"Vampire, your bar," Richie repeated. "Unless you serve something besides beer, what was she doing there?"
"Looking for a friend, from what she told us," Jennifer answered.
Joe nodded. "That's what she told me, too."
Richie had calmed down a little. "Sorry, didn't mean to insult you, Joe. I was just surprised that a vampire would go to any bar except one run by one of the Community."
Hoa frowned at him slightly. "It's not that I CAN'T go to a bar, I just don't."
"I know, and I'm sorry. It's just weird, that's all."
"Apology accepted," remarked Joe with a slight grin.
Richie smiled nervously back.
"Now what?" I asked the room at large.
"You okay with everything?" Terry asked.
"For the moment."
She nodded. "Then we decide who all gets invited to this wedding."
"You fiddle with that tie one more time, Richie, and I'll either strangle you with it or tie your hands together," Mac remarked calmly.
His hands froze in place then slowly lowered to his sides. "Just nervous, I guess," he said sheepishly.
"Noooo," I said with deep sarcasm followed by a grin.
Mac grinned slightly, but Richie glared. "What about you? You seem way too calm, Ryan. You're going to get married in less than an hour. Aren't you nervous?"
I shrugged. "Nervous? Why? It's not like this ceremony is going to change anything. We've lived together for years. We love each other. How will being married change anything?" I leaned back comfortably in the chair I was sitting in and folded my arms, looking up at the incredulous Richie.
Richie stared at me. Mac studied me for a moment before turning to Richie. "He's as nervous as you are, Rich."
I grinned slightly. "More."
"Then why aren't you showing it?" he nearly shouted.
"Why?" I asked again. "Working myself into nervous and physical exhaustion won't do anyone any good, especially me. Besides, you're nervous enough for the both of us."
Richie glared at me again. Mac chuckled.
A tap sounded at the door. MacLeod answered it and let Liam in. I noticed with relief that nothing about Liam's attire could be considered religious icons. No embroidered crosses or anything.
"Ready, lads?" he asked Richie and myself.
Standing, I answered, "As I'll ever be."
Richie contented himself with just nodding and fiddling with his tie again.
Sharing a quick chuckle with Mac, Liam led us back out of the room and down a hallway, finally emerging from one of the side doors of the church out into the grounds. Once outside, he turned toward the gazebo and the small crowd that was already gathered there.
Stepping forward, we waded into several Buzzes. My feet still automatically following Liam, I sorted through the sensations and identified Amanda, Nick, Natalie, and Aaron.
As we converged on the gazebo, I saw Hoa, Jennifer, and Terry approaching from off the grounds. Hoa was wearing a royal blue dress, as was Terry. Jen, on the other hand, was wearing the same emerald green dress she'd worn to Amanda and Nick's wedding. Though I couldn't see it in the twilight, I knew the dress matched the shade of her eyes perfectly. And she knew how much I liked that dress for exactly that reason.
Everyone arrived at the gazebo simultaneously and took their agreed positions. From the audience's point of view, Terry was standing on the left, followed by Jennifer and me, Father Liam in the middle, then Hoa and Richie, and lastly Mac on the far right.
Mac gave Nick Knight a strange look, but I wasn't paying that much attention to anyone but my bride-soon-to-be.
Smiling from Jennifer and myself over to Hoa and Richie, Liam nodded when he saw that we were all ready. Looking up and addressing the small audience, he said, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here this evening . . ."