Coffee Shop Blues
A/N: Thank you for the reviews and look, two days, two updates. This is part two of Project: Bribe Jezaeiri.
+Coffee Shop Blues
In hindsight, meeting Duncan McLeod might have been the best thing that’s ever happened to Joe Dawson. Sure, he almost lost his job over it, his old friends avoid him like he’s a teenager with herpes and he’s getting bitch slapped by his bosses at every turn, but the knowledge, oh the knowledge.
To discuss history with someone who has been there, to get an eyewitness account of Culloden from a man who stood in the front lines. Sure, he could read the same things in the journals, could look them up, get the information without running the risk of losing his job but it’s just not the same.
There is magic in Mac’s words, pain and memory. Truth. A man who spent his life hunting ghost stories and vague hints values truth above anything else.
So, when the Highlander comes to him seeking information Joe hesitates just long enough to get a deal out of the olderyounger man. Information for information. Tit for that. You gimme something, Mac, I give you something back.
It works fine for them both. A few simple accounts for little information. A location for an unanswered question in the journals. A name for a story.
But then Mac asks for the jackpot. Asks for something even Joe in his quest for truth hesitates to give. He wants to read his own file. He wants to know everything the Watchers know about him and he wants it now. Why, he doesn’t say. Curiosity maybe. Or perhaps he’s looking for something in the footnotes, some long lost memory, a lover. But those files contain information on every immortal he has ever met, living or dead, and on every watcher that’s ever come within a hundred miles of him. And that makes it dangerous. That makes the request more than Joe can justify with thirst for knowledge. So he tries to decline, starts saying no. Starts saying, that’s too much.
And then Mac, damn him, dangles the scrap of a lifetime in front of Joe. He says, “Do you have records of the woman I met during the war in France, 1871?”
The watcher stops and stares, wide-eyed. Mac is volunteering information on her
? They have records of her, oh yes, they do. The most patchy, half assed, uninformative records he has ever seen. They know she is friends with Darius. They know she is friends with the Highlanders, both of them. They know she has pulled some stunts with Amanda. They know half a dozen aliases. And that’s where the knowing stops and the guessing starts.
Some records put her at two thousand years old, some at almost five. Some say she came out of obscurity with Methos, at the beginning of time. Others murmur that she was in Troy, helped build Rome, knew Cleopatra. If one believes all those rumours, she’s the busiest person to ever have lived. But even if you don’t believe all that, even if you believe less than half of all the stories, she’s the myth that every watcher wants to crack, right up there with Methos, the oldest living immortal.
She’s the holy grail.
Hesitantly, Joe nods, trying to keep the expression of childlike glee off his face. There are few other immortals that the Watchers know so little about, mainly due to the fact that she has ways of disappearing that fool even modern technology. One moment she enters a café in Rome, the next she’s lost for another decade, then pops up again in Beijing, sitting in a park, reading the newspaper.
Mac smiles his winsome smile and says, “I’ll bring her to meet you.”
This, Joe imagines, is how a die hard fan might feel if someone told them they can meet a back-from-the-dead Elvis.
Three days later he is sitting in a random coffee shop, bouncing his cane on one nerveless leg, waiting for Mac to bring the holy grail to him, all in exchange for a few ratty brown files, filled with journals, scraps and loose pages of notes.
They come in like any couple out for early lunch might, holding hands, wearing sunglasses, talking in low voices. The only thing breaking up the idyllic view is their choices in clothing. McLeod is wearing his usual trench coat, to hide his sword while the woman at his side has voted for skin tight black leather pants and a shirt that definitely hides no weapon of any kind, unless it is a toothpick.
Mac waves and pulls the woman – she looks barely twenty but even in his head, Joe can not justify calling her a girl – over. They sit next to each other and the Highlander makes introductions.
“Summer,” he says, “Meet Joe Dawson. Joe, meet Summer.”
Joe considers asking if Summer is like Madonna, but bites his tongue at the last moment, holding out his hand to shake instead. Summer takes it and then suddenly twists, baring the tattoo on his wrist.
“Okay,” she says and her voice is stunning, light and young, bouncy, vibrant, with an undertone of age beyond measure. Unlike most other old ones, she speaks without an accent. “Nice meeting you Joe, I gotta be going now.”
And she tries to stand. Mac’s hand shoots out, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her back down. She allows it, Joe is sure. “Hold on for a second, okay? Joe is a friend. He’s doing me a favour.”
She looks at him long and hard, then relaxes a fraction. “Then why am I here?”
Suddenly the unflappable immortal looks a bit flustered, “Well, in return for the favour, I’m doing Joe a favour and –“
She cuts him off with a roll of her eyes and finishes his sentence. “And that favour is dragging me here. Cuz I’m famous, right? I don’t think so.”
She stands again.
“Please,” Joe blurts, “Just a few questions. You don’t have to answer. Just… please. Ma’am.”
Later Joe decides it’s probably the Ma’am that did her in. She’s a sucker for that kind of thing, if only because it cracks her up. “Three,” she says, without sitting back down. “Three questions in return for Mac’s damn favour and I reserve the right not to answer. And when we’re done, I’m beating the stupid Scot up.”
Joe grins from ear to ear and Duncan squirms. Apparently getting beaten up by five feet of blonde fluff is not something he looks forward to.
“Deal,” he agrees and she sits back down.
“So,” he starts that the first question really isn’t one he has to think about. But then the waitress comes and they all order coffee and wait until she’s out of earshot again.
Then, “How old are you?”
She laughs. It’s a sound like sunrise and nails on chalkboard, like summer heat and butterflies. She shakes her head, “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s not nice to ask a lady her age.”
He pouts, best as he can, being an old man and all that, “Come on, a deal’s a deal.”
A shrug. “If you insist,” she smiles, “I have no idea.”
He scowls darkly and Mac chuckles as he leans back in the booth. “That’s not the deal we had.”
“Hey, you asked, I answered. I really, truly have no idea how old I am.”
She leans her elbows on the table and looks at him, honestly, earnestly. She doesn’t know. Sweet baby Jesus, she doesn’t know. Older than calendars, older than any known measure of time. Older than time itself perhaps. A being that has no age. Joe shudders and tries not to let it show, tries not to let on how totally alien the concept seems to him. To be so old to have lost track of time, of yourself.
He considers wasting his second question on asking for big events she remembers, to try and pin her down somewhere in history. Instead he decides to ask another question, similar, but useful in itself.
“Second one then, what famous people did you know?” He does not ask, did you know Cleopatra. He is not a fan, he reminds himself, he is scientist. A keeper of records and journals. Of knowledge.
She shrugs. “Famous people? You do realize that there were twice as many great people in the world than the ones still remembered today, don’t you? And the ones you remember today are usually not the… best of people. They were either obsessed or tragic figures.” A smirk, “The cool people never make it into the books.”
She leans back and closes her eyes, starts ticking of names in apparent enjoyment. Both men are fixed on her, eager to not miss a second. “There is Caesar, of course. Met him when he was still a lowly general. A touch fanatic in his convictions, but hey, who isn’t. Charlotte Corday and no, I’m not telling you why she really did it. What else… I hung around when the Medici were big, knew most of them. A couple of popes, Henry VIII I met briefly. I wasn’t anywhere near Jerusalem two thousand years ago. I could make you a list, but it would probably take a decade or so. Next question.”
Well, Joe figures, at least he has some starting points now. She was in the Roman Empire in Caesar’s days. She was in France for the revolution. He might be able to trace her that way. Now, how to use his third question. For scientific purposes, for his own curiosity, or simply to get what he craves most. Truth. A kind of truth only the millennia can give you.
Before he can change his mind he asks, “What did you learn?”
She seems taken aback by the question, startled. Mac, too. They did not expect him to ask for fundamental truths. They expected him to want facts.
The coffee comes and she sips it slowly, looking out the window, ignoring both men sitting with her. For almost ten minutes, they are silent. Then she speaks, her voice a whisper and the years weighing in every one of her words.
“Nothing changes. Faces and names, places, things, yes, but the essential truths remain the same. People are still greedy, needy, desperate. They still love and hate the same way they did…. A long time ago. The fabric that the world is made of never changes.” She turns her head, looks Joe right in the eye, wills him to understand. He tries. “If nothing changes then the same kind of people will inevitably make the same decisions, leading to the same events. If you look close enough and long enough, then every war, every death is the same. So yeah, history really does repeat itself, endlessly.
“And last but not least,” she looks away again, “You always forget the good things.”
Something lifts and moves as she finishes speaking, and air rushes back into the room. Joe exhales and Mac says, “That’s not true. You don’t forget the good things, not only.”
She puts her mug down and turns to look at him, head cocked slightly. “What colour were the eyes of the first girl you loved, Duncan?”
She waits for only a moment, watching the younger immortal flounder, trying to remember. Then she goes on, “And how did she die?”
Mac’s mouth snaps shut with an audible click and she lays her head on her crossed arms on the table and closes her eyes.
“Wait long enough,” she says, “And the good things all go away.”
A review, please?