Lightning Fast and All Alone

by Vanzetti

John doesn't go far. Once out of the boys' sight-lines he drives around a few blocks and into an alley; might as well get the blood off his face before anything else. At least he doesn't need stitches. After that he checks his supplies. The flare was smart, good to see Sam thinking on his feet like that, and he sticks a couple in his jacket pocket, hoping he won't need them. He doesn't want to drive the daeva off. Just the opposite, draw it in to bind it and destroy it. Can't leave something like that loose in a city like Chicago; Sam and Dean'll think of that sooner or later, and he wants this thing gone before they do. Back to the warehouse, then, and the wrecked pieces of the girl's altar: it held the daeva once, it ought to be able to hold it again.

He's thinking ahead already as he heads up to the top floor, how he'll arrange the oil, figuring out how much time he'll need to light the sacred fire, once he's lured the demon in, wondering how far the boys have gone. His head is anywhere but when and where he is, and he curses himself when he rounds the last corner and sees firelight reflected on the stairwell wall. Some other hunter, that's the best he can hope for: otherwise, the girl wasn't working alone.

He takes the last few stairs as quietly as he can, close to the bricks of the wall; he can see now, a man about his own size combing through something where the altar was. Younger than John, and he could be carrying all kinds of weapons under that coat. Better dressed than most hunters, that's for sure, if that's even what he is. He picks something up, sets it by a candle, lights a match; his lips are moving. Calling the daeva back here, and the only question is whether he wants to use it or destroy it. John reaches into his pocket for one of the flares. The man might not see him, but there's no way that thing will miss his presence.

The candles send shadows dancing along the warehouse walls, and John's eyes flick back and forth, looking for anything unnatural among them. The other man gets to his feet, an unlit torch in one hand. He scans the room as well, and then it's too late to try to hide. His eyes meet John's, then look down to check his hands, and John can see him wondering whether he needs to reach for a weapon. He holds himself still, thinks how fucking stupid it would be to get shot with his hand on a fucking flare.

He sees the air shiver, sees the man stagger back and drop to the ground. He comes back up with the torch lit, swinging it out at the shadows despite the blood dripping down his leg. John lights the flare and throws it; it lands on the far side of the altar, sending smoke and light out the windows, keeping the daeva between him and the other man. Nowhere near the effect it had in that little motel room, but enough: enough to trap it, enough for them to still see. The man whirls the torch around him in a circle; the daeva shrieks, more a vibration than a sound, and strikes out. A blow to his face, then three gashes across the man's back, slicing through coat and clothes and staining his sweater dark with blood; the daeva hurls him across the room. John is there already, by the altar now, in the ring of lit candles, pouring oil in a stream on the floor and into a bowl in the center: he feels the claws on his shoulder, the force that sends him smashing face first onto the floor. He pushes himself back to his hands and knees, ears ringing and eyes barely able to see, one hand slipping on the blood, the other flicking the lighter open, tossing it into the oil just as another blow lifts him up and knocks him onto his back.

John wraps his arms around his ribs by instinct -- cut to the bone, he thinks, and Christ, it's cold, and boys. Blood is running through his fingers, down his face. He forces his eyes open: there's red fire all around him, someone standing on the floor before him. The man. He's lost the torch and is holding a sword instead, blurry web of steel and reflected light defining a form of shadow. John forces his hands away from his own body, drags himself toward the sacred fire in the cup; he ignores the pain in his shoulders and side as he reaches for it.

The metal burns his fingers. The man dances back, to the side, shows him the shadow clear in the smoke of flare and torch. John lifts the cup, hurls it and oil up at the thing, and lets himself fall back. The floor is smooth, solid, cool.

Then hands are pulling at him, lifting him up. "Come on, man, get up." A soft burr, some kind of accent.

John struggles to sit up, tried to help the man carry his weight. "I'm OK," he says. "Be fine."

"Right," the man says. "You lost a lot of blood. I'm taking you to the hospital."

That makes John push back against him. "No hospital," he says. Too many people, all of them vulnerable -- in pain, unconscious, worried, tired, frightened -- too easy for a demon to find a host, to find him. "Too dangerous." He drags himself to his feet.

"Bleeding to death isn't what I'd call safe," the man says.

"Supplies in my truck," John says. "I can take care of myself." He takes a step, feels his legs trembling underneath him

The man grabs him and pulls John's arm over his shoulders to hold him up. "Yeah," he says. "We'll see."

One flight down and John's starting to think a hospital might not be such a bad idea, and fuck the risks: his vision keeps graying out and each step pulls at the torn flesh in his right side. The man jostles him slightly and he gasps. "Sorry," the man says, and then, "Hey, stay with me here. What's your name, anyway?"

"John," he says, too out of it to remember a lie, not willing to give more than he has to.

"John. I'm Duncan MacLeod. Lucky for me you happened by, there. The flare was a good touch."

"Yeah," John says. Dammit, he can make his feet move if he has to. "My boy thought of it."

"Sacred oil on the daeva. That was a nice trick, too."

"Learned it from a priest." His knee locks up and he staggers. Fuck.

MacLeod catches his weight. "Keep going. Where're you from, John?"

None of your damn business, John thinks, but that's too many words. "Kansas. You?"

"I live in Seacouver, now."

Another half-flight of steps. "You tracked the daeva here?" John asks. It was good work, if he did: the daeva, or the girl who was controlling it-- "Shit."

"You OK?"

"The body. The girl. On the street."

"What body?" MacLeod asks.

"She went out the window," John says. "Before. Should have been..."

"She should have been out on the street, or there should have been police, an ambulance." The man mutters something John doesn't catch. "There was nothing there when I got here." They stumble out onto the street and John could curse himself for not noticing the girl's absence. At least the shock has woken him up: he stands on his own, walks the last steps to his truck and rests his hands on the door. When he turns around again, MacLeod is still there, looking stubborn. "You're not driving."

"Listen," John says, "MacLeod. The daeva's gone, we're still here, that's it. I'll see you around." Not if he can help it, but he's sure MacLeod can figure that much out.

MacLeod snorts. "You can barely walk, you're not fit to drive, and you can't bandage your own shoulder and side. And I need to know more about that missing girl." He holds his hands out for the keys, the rest of it left unsaid: this hunt isn't over, not yet.

"I'll take care of her. You go on your way." A partner's the last thing he needs now -- especially now.

"Do you think you know what she is?"

"I have a guess." A fall like that, and she just gets up and walks away? It's more than just a guess. "It's my business." Might not even look like the girl, next time around; he considers giving her description to MacLeod, putting him on her trail after all, likely there's nothing at the end of it but a corpse.

"I have an interest," MacLeod says, "in the kind of people who raise daevas."

"The daeva's dead. Your interest here is over, and I hunt alone."

MacLeod stands there, hands at his side. "If you start looking tonight, you'll pass out. I have a place -- a friend's apartment -- it's not far. Let me at least take a look at those cuts. You can get a night's sleep and not bleed to death."

John shoves his hands in his pocket, gritting his teeth against the pain as his shoulder shifts; he can tell MacLeod sees it. He sighs. It seems to be his day to give in to other people's demands, anyway. "Fine," he mutters. He grabs the keys and tosses them at MacLeod.

MacLeod is quiet as he drives over to the apartment. No more than eight minutes, but it's like another world: clean brick and sanded stone, ropes and valet parking in front of the restaurants. John shifts, uneasy; he feels exposed, even in the truck, until MacLeod rounds a corner and parks the truck down an alley. "Can you walk?" MacLeod asks.

John grunts as he opens the door, unwilling to admit how hard it is to force his body back into motion, even after such a short rest. He lets himself lean on the side of the truck before trying to move any further. The man may be nothing more than what he seems -- one hunter offering another help where it's needed -- but maybe not, and it won't hurt for him to think John's weaker than he is. He makes a face: it works better if it's a bluff.

MacLeod waits while he gets the medical supplies from the case in the truck, and doesn't try to look into the weapons box; John slips another clip and a knife into his jacket. He follows MacLeod into the building: another old warehouse like the one they just left, but cleaned up for people to live in. The elevator works smoothly and silently and there are only a few doors on each floor: a lot of space, John thinks. "Your friend here?" he asks -- and shit, he should have thought of that earlier. He's in bad shape.

"No," MacLeod says.

"He a hunter too?"

MacLeod's hand hesitates on the lock. "No." He opens the door and motions John in.

It's a big place, all right, a big open room with three doors on the left-hand wall -- bedrooms and bathroom, John guesses -- and a kitchen on the right. Good sight-lines to the door, a couple obvious places to shoot from. It's not an accident, he'd bet. MacLeod doesn't check the room, heads straight for the center door and comes back with a stack of towels. Bathroom.

"Let's deal with those cuts," he says. "Do you want something?" He's already in the kitchen, reaching for a bottle and a glass.

"I'll take care of it." The bleeding's stopped, at least for now.

"In your condition, you'll pass out and bleed all over the furniture," MacLeod says. "You've come this far. You might as well let me look at that shoulder."

He can't argue with the logic, even though he's feeling steadier now. He shrugs his jacket off and starts on his shirt.

MacLeod goes through the kit quickly, laying rolls of gauze and tape on the counter. "It can't be easy, doing this on your own," he says.

"I manage," John says. The boys are safe, far away by now. They're safe, and he's alive. Still hunting, that's what matters.

The shirt's a loss, and so's the undershirt, bloody and ripped. He starts to pull it off and grunts as the movement stretches his side pulls the fabric away from his body, opening the cuts along his shoulder and ribs. MacLeod is right there, helping him lift it off without doing any more damage. He hands John the glass of whiskey and gets to work.

"You were in the Marines?"

"Yeah," John says. Damn tattoos. MacLeod's starting on his back, cleaning out the wounds. It hurts like hell; he sucks in a breath and MacLeod mutters an apology. He waits for the other questions, but MacLeod doesn't ask. Too busy, John thinks, flinching as MacLeod picks something out of one of the cuts, a piece of his shirt, probably. MacLeod doesn't apologize again: he's working quickly, cleaning out the wounds like he knows what he's doing. Close enough. Hurts like hell, anyway.

"Were you tracking the daeva or the girl?" MacLeod's working on the gashes along John's side, now; he can see them, could take care of them himself, but it's a strange relief to let MacLeod do the work. Dean could never hide his worry, patching up his old man; it usually was easier to do it himself.

"My boys," John says. It takes him a minute to collect his thoughts. "She drew them in, but they drove it off." He bites off a curse and shuts his eyes; there's a pile of bloody towels on the counter, now. "They're safe now."

MacLeod's hands go still. "You sent them away and went back on your own?"

"Too dangerous to stay," John says.

"You could have been killed," MacLeod says. John snorts. "What?"

"Thought I'd get through this without hearing how dumb I was to get hurt this bad."

It's MacLeod's turn to snort and he bends his head and goes back to cleaning out the cuts. "I'm just using tape," he says. "I don't want these to get infected."

"You think a daeva's claws are -- shit -- full of germs?"

"I wouldn't be surprised." He looks up. "Hey," he says. "Keep talking. I don't want you to pass out."

"'M not cleaning up the kitchen," John says. MacLeod's done a good job cleaning the cuts, and there're damp towels all over.

"Your sons are hunters, too?" There's a hesitation before the word, like MacLeod's not used to it.

"New to this?"

"A few years," MacLeod says. He stands up and pours John another shot of whiskey. "There's something caught in your side." John takes the glass.

When it's over he's clean and bandaged, tape and dressings holding the gashes on his shoulder and ribs closed. Blood loss, exhaustion and whiskey are pulling him down: he barely staggers, with MacLeod's help, into one of the bedrooms before he collapses into dark.

* * *

His mouth is dry and he has to piss, that's the first thing. He rubs at his eyes and blinks them open: an unfamiliar room, light slanting in through the blinds. Nice. The rest of it comes back: the daeva, that guy MacLeod, coming back here. Before that, his boys... Christ, his boys.

Dean was right, but God, he misses them.

He shoves the thoughts away and pushes the quilt down. The bandages are holding: MacLeod did a good job. John lucked out there, that's for sure; it would have served him right to wake up dead. He tries sitting up; he's light headed, that's all. Almost himself again. There's a stack of clothes on a chair by the wall, his gun and knives resting under a clean t-shirt and on top of his jeans. He tries the inside door, probably the bathroom. The shower is tempting, but he settles for scrubbing himself clean with a washcloth, careful not to disturb the dressings.

John's looking for a towel when he finds them: MacLeod's sweater and shirt from the night before. The sweater is fraying apart, long dark-edged gashes all down the back. The shirt's even worse, blood soaking into what's left of the back and dried into a crusted black mass. He closes his eyes, trying to reconstruct the scene: the daeva slashing at MacLeod's face and then, as he twisted away, slicing down his back. There was blood on the man's face, John remembers now, dried blood and nothing underneath it, and he wasn't moving like a man who'd had his back ripped open and been tossed across a warehouse.

Shit. Hurt and alone was no excuse for how little he noticed last night. Much good he'll do Sam and Dean if he gets himself killed like this, out of sheer stupidity.

He takes the shirt back to the bedroom; it tells him one thing, and the weapons in the stack of clean clothing say something else. Maybe. He checks the gun and the clip, examines the knives. There's water running in the kitchen, so he pulls on his jeans and the shirt. He carries the bloody shirt and the gun out into the main room with him. MacLeod saved his life last night, he reminds himself. That's worth something.

MacLeod is standing in the kitchen, watching the coffee maker drip; he turns as John comes in and smiles. John tosses the blood-stained shirt on the counter next to him, and the smile fades. He holds up the gun. "Would this have any effect on you?"

"It would kill me," MacLeod says.


"Not permanently."

John nods, and shoots him in the heart.

He works quickly, unsure how long MacLeod will be out: cord from the blinds to tie the man to a chair from the dining room is the best he can do, and he worries about the play of blue sparks on the wound. He's watching from a safe distance, drinking his coffee, when MacLeod jerks back to life; his head flies up and he takes a huge gasp of air.

If MacLeod's disoriented, he covers it well. He looks at John a long moment, then asks, "Good coffee?"

"Yeah," John says. "Christo," he adds. No reaction but a bemused look; he's not surprised, considering how he's already sprinkled MacLeod's face with holy water. Anyway, demons don't heal the bodies they stole. He'd never seen anything like that blue light, not anywhere. Healing from a bullet wound: he wonders what else MacLeod can heal from.

"And it looks like the bandages held," MacLeod says. "Did you sleep well?"

John grins. "Like a lamb." He takes another swallow of coffee.

MacLeod looks calm, but John can see the muscles moving under his shirt as he tests the cords. "I've had a number of chances to hurt or kill you."

"How did you find the daeva?" John asks.

"Don't you want to skip straight to asking me what I am?"


"A few years ago," MacLeod says, "I experienced something. Since then, I've kept an eye out. I saw the deaths in the newspaper. There was a picture, with the outline of a sigil. I recognized it, so I came."

It's less than half the truth, John guesses. God knows he's told enough half-truths to know one when he hears it. "A demon?"

"It's too late, if you were thinking of telling me they don't exist," MacLeod says.

"No," John says. "You saw something, and just like that you decided to fight it." MacLeod's mouth stays shut, so John pushes a little harder. "Most people would pretend they hadn't seen anything, go on with their comfortable lives. What made you different?"

"What made you send your sons away, yesterday?" It's John's turn to stay quiet, and MacLeod leans back in the chair, apparently relaxed despite the cords. "That's why." His jaw is tight, like there's more he wants to say but won't. John stays quiet: he won't ask who it was, what happened. Too many shadows there: the kind he's seen in every other hunter he's met, the kind he sees sometimes in the mirror. He waits for MacLeod to be ready, watches him put what ever it was away. "Look," MacLeod finally says, "You saw something once too, something impossible. And when people told you it was impossible, you trusted your own eyes, your own experience. Do the same here."

"I haven't stayed alive this long by trusting things that don't stay dead when I shoot them."

"Then walk away. Your keys are on the table over there." He gestures to the door with his chin. "You have your weapons, your things. Walk away. You won't see me again; I'm no threat to you or yours."

"What are you?"

"My name is Duncan MacLeod." He pauses. "I was born in 1592."

John takes another drink of coffee, tries not to think: wait for the information, don't leap to anything. But he can't quite keep the interest from his voice. "And you don't die? How?"

"I could be killed tomorrow, just the same as you." John raises an eyebrow. "Not just the same. It's nothing to do with you, though. It's not... I can't give it away. I can't make you immortal if you aren't."

It matters to MacLeod, John can see that. He thinks about it a moment. "How many are there, like you?" And how many of them will lie, and is MacLeod one of them?

"I don't know." He's quiet a moment; John thinks he might be telling the truth, there. He opens his mouth to say something else -- and the phone rings. A cellphone, lying on the table by the door. "Are you going you answer that?"


"Look," MacLeod says, "that girl, the one who walked away from a fall that should have killed her..."

"You think she's like you?"

"She might be."

It's unlikely, John thinks, but it might keep MacLeod off his own trail, if the other man's serious about going after her. "She's connected to a demon," he says abruptly.

MacLeod's looking up at him, a smile on his face. "It's a problem, isn't it?" he says. "If I were mortal, you would trust me, but if I were mortal, I'd have died last night, and maybe you as well."

John finds himself half smiling in response. "If you were dead, I still wouldn't trust you."

That almost gets a grin from MacLeod, but then John sees the change in his posture, his attention suddenly on something John can't perceive, like a dog in a house with a ghost. John rests his hand on the counter by his gun, his fingers itching to touch it, and watches MacLeod make his decision. It comes as a twist of his shoulders, jerking one arm against the cord around his wrists. John's hand is resting on the gun now, but he doesn't think he'll need it: MacLeod is cradling his left hand in his right, wincing and shaking his head as he sets the bones he broke as he pulled it out and the skin heals where it ripped. "Damn," MacLeod mutters. Then in a louder voice, "I'm going to stand up now. Are you planning to use that gun again?"

John shifts his hand away. "Not unless I need to."

MacLeod nods and stands. He walks over to the windows, stands just to the side and stares down into the street; then he heads for the door, opens it and checks the corridor. When that's done, he flips the phone open and takes it back to the window to scan the street again. "It's MacLeod," he says. "Yeah. No. I was a little tied up." He's quiet a while. "Son of a bitch. I know, he was a friend of Sean's. I thought... Yes, I felt someone a moment ago. It must have been him." Another pause. "No, I know that, but... Yes, I know. No, I won't. You too." He flips the phone closed and turns to look at John. "Things just got a little complicated. You're probably safe if you leave now."

"I pay my debts," John says.

"I'll take an IOU. This isn't-- Damn." He's watching the door again."Whatever happens, don't get involved."

There are a ton of questions behind John's clenched teeth -- he doesn't appreciate being kept in the dark like this -- but the deadbolt clicks back and the door swings in. It's another man, keys in his hand. Light hair cut military short, dark eyes, broad shoulders under a wool coat that hangs a little heavy on the left, and doesn't quite hide the shape of the gun at his side. "Duncan," the man says. "Good to see you. Making yourself comfortable, I hope?" His eyes flick to John and back to MacLeod.

MacLeod is resting one hand on the back of the chair he'd been sitting in; it's in an awkward place, in the middle of the room, but there's plenty of space to move in any direction. He's ready for some kind of attack, John thinks, even though he can't see what. "Yes," MacLeod says. "Thanks for letting me stay. You're back early."

"Plans change," the man says. He glances back to John. "I'm Cale Martin. You must be one of Duncan's friends." He doesn't make it sound like a compliment.

John smiles, equally false. "John Adams."

"John Adams," Martin says. "Really." He turns his full attention back to MacLeod. "You know why I came back."

"You're making a mistake," MacLeod says. "It's not-- it wasn't what you think. You can walk away now and we'll forget all about it."

"Is that what you told Sean Burns?" Martin asks. "No. You know the Game as well as I do: you have the blood of your own friends on your hands."

"That’s not what happened with Sean," MacLeod says.

"Are you saying you didn't kill him?" MacLeod doesn't answer. "Well. I'll make you an offer, though. I hear you know Methos' identity. Tell me how to find him, and there's no challenge. Like you say, we'll forget all about this. We'll all stay friends."

"When and where?" MacLeod asks. There's no hesitancy now.

"Tonight, two-thirty am. In Jackson Park, the north end of the island. I'll be waiting."

"I'll be there."

Martin leaves the door open when he leaves, and MacLeod waits until he's in the elevator to close it. "John Adams?" he asks when he turns back to John.

"The game?" John responds.

"Nothing to do with you." He pauses. "You should be careful on your way out, though. If Martin turns up, if he looks threatening, you should shoot him."

"It won't kill him either?" MacLeod manages a half-smile. "I told you, I pay my debts."

He waits while the smile fades, while the other man takes his measure. "There's no outside interference in a challenge," MacLeod says. "Martin will play by the rules. He's not... We had a friend in common, and I... I wasn't in control of myself."

"A demon?" John asks.

MacLeod looks startled. "No. No, it was something else. That time." His lips are curved but it isn't a smile. "Listen, if things go badly for me tonight, there's a man in Seacouver. Joe Dawson. Tell him what you saw."

He's earnest, but there's a knowing look to him, too, like he can tell what John's planning. Probably can; anyway, he lets him go after another couple sips of coffee. MacLeod's got the meeting on his mind, John guesses, and leaves him to it.

* * *

The sun hasn't quite set when John gets there: enough light to guess where they'll meet and find a place to conceal himself. He doesn't think Martin or MacLeod will be there yet, but comes over the bridge at the south end of the island anyway, just in case. It's a warm night, quiet aside from a couple drunks, and they've staggered off long before Martin gets there to check the place he's set.

John watches him, trying to guess what will happen; he waits for Martin to settle at one edge of a grassy clearing before moving a little closer. He's spent the day at the city records, tracing names, trying to work out the connections between properties and holding companies, wishing he had Sam there to cut through the mess. The identities are better than anything he could come up with, hell, better than anything he's ever seen; as he waits, he counts off what he knows, tries to see what he can guess from that. He's never heard of one supernatural creature hunting another, and it doesn't sit right with him, somehow.

MacLeod turns up right on time, striding up in a long coat; he and Martin exchange a couple sentences, too far away for John to hear them. Martin looks angry, MacLeod resigned; then they take off their coats and each of them pulls out a sword. John blinks, but that's what it is: a quick bow and they're already fighting, and as he watches, his amusement fades.

John's seen a lot of fighting, done more. It's not false pride to say he knows he's good, or that his boys are better -- fast, strong, young, trained all their lives for his war -- and the cold sinking into his bones as he watches MacLeod and Martin isn't false modesty. The two men wield their swords like they weigh nothing, dance back and forth over rough ground, whirl and twist until he feels exhausted just from watching. John winces as MacLeod takes a cut to the calf that would cripple a normal man; he circles, limping, to give it time to heal but Martin sweeps in, sword high, just as John sees the feint for what it is -- and maybe Martin did too, John can't tell, but there's a moment when he's off balance, just before MacLeod's arm comes up and his sword catches Martin in the gut and drops him to his knees.

MacLeod staggers upright, still favoring his wounded leg. He says something and Martin answers. Then he shakes his head and raises his sword; it comes down quicker than John can see, just the body falling, and the head.

The park is completely silent, one long moment, like the whole scene is holding its breath. Then the wind starts, shaking the leaves, rustling in the grass where MacLeod is standing. The hair on John's neck and arms prickles with the change of pressure as the breeze rises, blowing dust from the path into his eyes. He's tense, waiting, not sure where to keep his attention, and the first strike of lightning -- from the clear night sky to the ground by MacLeod -- sets him ducking like he's in a gunfight. It takes his brain time to catch up to what he's seeing, caught in the flash and the fire of memory, but then a twisted cord of lightening hits the bushes a few feet away from him and shocks him back to the present. John sets out running, low to where MacLeod is being tossed by the electricity passing through him. Lightning strikes again, sending him skidding to the left, and he zig-zags across the grass to dodge the strikes and the sparks.

When he gets there, MacLeod's swaying, about to fall to his knees, lines of blue power still visible on his skin and clothes. John doesn't even hesitate, doesn't think about the possibility of shock, grabs him by the shoulders and pushes him back, momentum slamming them both back until he runs MacLeod into a tree. "How many of you are there?" he demands. "How often does this happen?" Localized electrical phenomena, he realized it while he was dodging the lightning, his feet moving before his brain made the connection. "Is it always like this?" Jesus, he can filter these out, he can see what pattern is left, he can finally catch that son of a bitch demon before it's too late, just once, that's all he needs. He shakes MacLeod by the shoulders. "Damn you, answer me!"

MacLeod's eyes are glazed, unfocused; John shakes him again. "How often do you fight?" His mind is racing, thinking of the folders back in his truck, the charts waiting to be pinned to another set of motel walls -- he's picturing what he just saw, the lightning low to the ground, the way the power is localized, the singed trees and small fires, thinking of how to identify it and cut it out of the model... He's distracted, again, and doesn't see the moment MacLeod's eyes focus until it's too late. MacLeod pushes back, sends them stumbling, clutching each other, twisting and struggling and gouging, and John knows he's good but not this good, it's only a matter of time; then MacLeod gets his hands on John's neck and a leg behind his knee. He lets go as they hit the ground and John's set to take advantage of it: then he feels the knife at his throat.

"What the hell?" MacLeod asks. "What the hell are you talking about?"

John presses his head back into the earth and away from the knife; MacLeod's completely focused on him, and John's pretty sure by now he's not the kind of man to pull a knife he's not prepared to use. "My name's John Winchester," he says. It's a gamble, but honesty's the only weapon he's got left. "I'm tracking the demon that killed my wife; I think it wants my younger son, too. Been at it more than twenty years, and most of that time it's been quiet. But now it's back, and I need to find it."

"What does that have to do with the Quickening?"

Quickening, there's a word he'll track if he gets out of here alive. "Before the demon strikes, there are electrical disturbances, freak storms. But I can't use them to predict it--"

"More disturbances than attacks," MacLeod says. He shifts back, rolls to his feet; the knife disappears into a sheath and he holds out a hand to help John up. "I can't tell you about every challenge. No one has that kind of information."

"I can filter them out." Now that he knows what to look for; MacLeod took the brunt of it, but there were strikes all around.

John starts to turn, to get another look at the scene, but MacLeod's hand rests heavy on his shoulder. "More than twenty years," he says. "What will you do after you find it?"

"After?" There is no after: there's before, warmth and light and Mary, the memories that keep him from going completely crazy, and there's now, the road, the hunt, the weapons in his hands.

MacLeod nods, like he could hear all that. "Come find me, or... I know about vengeance. It isn't always what you think."

John barely has the words to answer -- how he's been looking so long, and finally, finally, his prey is out in the open, how he can feel it hunting him too, demons tracking him to hold him back, how that only makes him more eager for the hunt, eager to keep its attention safely on him. "My sons," he says, hoping MacLeod will know what he means. "Sam and Dean..."

"I'll keep an eye out. And for the girl, if I hear anything." MacLeod releases him then, and John steps back to let him pass. "Duncan MacLeod," he says, not moving. "In Seacouver. If I'm not there, Joe Dawson can find me. If you happen to be passing through."

John can hear the if you need help under it all. He watches MacLeod get a little book from his coat, gives him his cell number. "MacLeod," he says.

"Duncan," MacLeod corrects him.

"You need a hand with the body?" He'll be back in the morning to figure out the radius of the effect, doesn't want the place crawling with cops.

MacLeod shakes his head. "I'll take care of him. I've known him a long time. Was there anyone else observing the challenge?"

Odd question, John thinks. "You have someone in mind?"

"Watchers. They don't interfere, but they do clean up, sometimes." MacLeod smiles a little. "They'd have all the information you could want, but they're a paranoid, secretive bunch. Watch your back."

"Sound like hunters." There's the small shift in MacLeod's face again. "You don't like that term."

"It means something else to me."

It's not hard to imagine hunters coming after whatever MacLeod is: it's unnatural, however you look at it. John nods and shifts his weight a little. There's no reason to stay, and plenty to do, but he finds that he's reluctant to leave MacLeod here. He thinks over the hints MacLeod's dropped: the demon, the blood of dead friends on his hands. He wants to remind the other man that he's not responsible for whatever he did, but he knows well enough MacLeod wouldn't hear it. "Well," he finally says. "If you're sure, I'll leave you to it."

"I'm sure," MacLeod says. "Thank you." He looks like he might have more to say, warnings or advice, but what comes out is, "Good luck. Maybe I'll see you around."

"Maybe so," John says. He turns to go, lets his feet carry him off the island, south to where he left the truck. His mind is already there, with his charts and calculations; behind him, he thinks, MacLeod is laying another old friend to rest. He pushes aside regret, the sense of something missed, and focuses on the unfamiliar taste of hope in his mouth. He'll find that bastard now, he's sure of it. After that, after that there might be time. Now, there's just the hunt.

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All recognizable characters and elements are the property of their respective creators. I make no claim to ownership of or profit from previously copyrighted materials. Original elements are my own.  Many thanks to Rez and Rhi for beta-reading.  Title from Townes van Zandt, "High, Low and In Between."