Strangers with Swords


Duncan MacLeod looked up from his paperwork. There was a vaguely familiar blond man standing just inside the door. He was looking around the main floor of the gym. It was outfitted with a range of weight benches and mirrors, but mostly held mats. It wasn't a mainstream gym. "Tessa's" specialized in martial arts, yoga, pilates, and dance training. MacLeod sighed, wondering why he'd bought another gym. He much preferred antiques. Next time out he'd stick to retail, even if it did mean he'd have to find some other place to work out.

The man was admiring the metal sculpture by the front door. It was an original Tessa Noel piece that had been given to MacLeod by Methos of all people. He hadn't known that Methos even knew Tessa's work before the piece had shown up at the front door as a grand opening present. "Welcome. I'm Duncan MacLeod."

"Johnny Cage." The man offered his hand. He leaned casually on a walking stick. The stick, upon closer inspection, seemed to be the bo that matched the weapons callouses on Cage's palm. He was struck again by a sense of familiarity.

"How can I help you today, Mr. Cage?"


MacLeod inclined his head.

"I'm looking for a place to work out while I'm in town."

"And how long will you be in town?"

Johnny shrugged. "A few months, a few days. I'm not really sure. Do you have a daily rate?"

Duncan nodded. "Ten dollars a day. If you'll come back to the office, I'll get the information for you."

"Paperwork, huh?" Johnny dug for his wallet as they crossed the floor. "You come highly recommended by the way. In case no one's told you. Master Jung in Toldeo says your students have the second best forms he's ever seen."

"Second best?" MacLeod was surprised. He knew a few of his students did compete, but he didn't encourage it. He believed the pursuit was more important than any title.

"That's high praise from him. He called Stein's students 'graceless water buffalos who don't know their bodies well enough to be called buffalos.'" The man's voice was full of fond affection. "He was right. I never got to see your students though. Do you hold regular classes? Could I observe?"

Jung in Toledo was notorious for hating non-martial artists. If he was willing to gossip about students with Cage, MacLeod so no reason not to let him observe a class. "Advanced classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays. Seven and eight respectively. The gym is usually empty during the day. If I'm not here, my assistant Ocean will be."

"Right. Ten per day. Best to come early afternoon if I want to be alone, evenings if I want to annoy the yuppies and teenagers."

MacLeod laughed at that. He pulled out the liability waivers. He checked Johnny's California license. "So what brought you to Chicago?"

Johnny shrugged. "Keeping an eye out for anything or anyone interesting. My agent gives me headhunting fees if I send him good prospects. Mostly, I'm just wandering and meeting people. My master left me his studio and I really haven't decided to do anything but keep the students who were teaching teaching."

"So you're investigating teaching models?"

"Something like that. I'm collecting champions too. People who are specialists who I can get to come in and at least do demonstrations." The man shrugged. "It's an excuse to get the hell out of California. I hear there's good music and food up here. Are they right?"

"Some of the best." MacLeod smiled. "Hit Joe's for both. It's three blocks west of here. A fairly quick walk."

"Great. They open for lunch?"

"Lunch and dinner. Happy hour starts at six."

"I'll check it out. Nice to meet you, MacLeod."

As Cage left the gym, Duncan evaluated his step. There were no traces of injury there that would explain the bo as anything other than a weapon. He picked up the phone and located Jung's number. It wouldn't hurt to check on his story, even if it did seem paranoid. "Who is it?" Jung answered.

"Duncan MacLeod."

Jung snorted. "Johnny showed up huh? Took his damn time getting there. Probably walked. He's a good kid. Most of the Hollywood sickness has leeched out of his brain. You should see him fight though. Gorgeous moves with his bo. Gymnastic style that Boyd used to teach. Don't think you ever met him. He turned out students that would make you weep to watch them." Jung sighed wistfully. "Convince Johnny to compete again, would you? He'll listen to you more than me."

"Why's that?"

"Because he doesn't know you. I've known him since he was a kid in the tournaments. Damn California agent snapped him up. Tell him to get off his ass and pass on his knowledge too. Man's got some techniques that Boyd only ever taught to two people. Can't let them get lost."

Duncan grinned. "I'll talk to him. After I see him fight. He's going to drop in on my classes. Should I worry?"

"Only that he'll steal a student from you and distract the women. If he pulls out his sunglasses, pitch him out the front door and tell him I told you to do it."

The Immortal Scotsman laughed at that. "When are you coming up to Chicago?"

"Never, if I'm lucky. Oh, and Mac, be careful. I don't know what he knows, but he can pick out people with Destinies. If he's got an eye on one of your students, listen to what he tells you."


"I've got an irritating whelp staring at me through the door with what are supposed to be puppy-dog eyes. She thinks that because she looks like a Japanese school-girl I'll let her get away with missing classes. Call me if he gets too annoying and I'll yell at him for you." Jung hung up without saying goodbye.

Duncan put the phone down. He shook his head. Jung was mortal, but a damned good teacher. If he liked Cage, Mac would let his suspicions go.


Joe's bar was full of dark wood and spilled beer. There was also a hamburger cooking somewhere inside the kitchen. Johnny settled at the bar and waited for the bar-tender or a waiter to notice him. He studied the small menu, even though his nose told him what he wanted. He looked around the room. There was a young man sitting in a corner booth with a book and a plate of fries in front of him. Something like a blue light flickered around the man and Johnny was instantly intrigued.

He listened to the whisper in his ear. He turned back to the bar and the bartender finally noticed him. She smiled brightly. "Hi, I'm Amy. What can I get for you?"

"Hamburger. French fries. A coke. A beer. And a phone number." He returned her smile with a wink.

"Well, I can help you out with some of that, but the phone number's going to cost you."

"Dinner? Movies?"

Amy laughed. "No such luck. Sorry. Let me put your order in."

Johnny put on a pout and she shook her head. He shrugged and went back to studying the bar. It was more of a pub than a real bar. There were tables and chairs scattered throughout the room. A small stage and a small dancefloor took up the back wall. There were high-backed booths, like the one in use in the corner, which lined the wall opposite the bar. The only thing that was missing was a dart and pool area. That was a shame. Johnny loved playing pool. Especially when he could start a bar fight. The little whisper in his ear chided him with good humor on the thought.

There were a few patrons finishing up lunches and an old man who was hunkered down at the end of the bar with the look of a professional drinker. His eyes were red-rimmed and his beard a little scraggly. His clothes were clean, but threadbare. He wasn't a threat, but he was also not someone Johnny wanted to be sucked into a conversation with. There was a wide mirror behind the bar with etching around the edges that was something between old west and the roaring twenties. The carved wood behind the bar was obviously handwork. There was a high quality scotch and several microbrews sitting on the shelves next to the more normal values. He wondered if MacLeod was the scotch drinker. He certainly had the accent hiding in his words.

Amy returned with his drinks. "Anything else I can get you for now?"

"Just that phone number, sweetheart."

"Amy," she reminded.

"I'm Johnny." He gave her his best smile. "So how did you end up in Chicago?"

"What makes you think I'm not from Chicago?"

He cocked his head and studied what he could see of her. "That's a Paris outfit if ever I've seen one. You didn't get that in the States."

She blinked. "Okay, are you straight?"

"Last time I checked."

"Good, we'll get married tomorrow. Some of my friends will be upset, but too bad."

"What sort of ring do you want?" he asked. He played it straight and serious. Her smile broadened.

"Better be an expensive one," the older man who came out from the back stated. "And she better get your full name before she tries it. Her mom would kill me if I let her do a Vegas marriage."

"Oh, I forgot. Tickets to Vegas. I should be able to swing that. So, you'd be her over-protective big brother right?"

The man snorted. "She's my daughter and I've got the shotgun if she suddenly turns out to be pregnant."

Johnny laughed. "Johnny Cage," he introduced himself. "A pleasure to meet you, Amy's Dad."

Amy giggled at that. "Joe Dawson," she corrected. "And I'm not a Dawson."

"Someone's already stolen your heart? Or your mother was smart enough not to marry a barman?"

"Bluesman," Joe corrected. His brows rose. "Your ID actually say Cage? Or is it Carlton?"

"I left the old name behind when I hit LA. It's legally Cage." He held two fingers up in the Scout's Pledge. "And yes, I really was a boy-scout in high school. And yes, getting my ass kicked was the reason I learned to fight. So, what kind of bluesman are you? You're wearing a polo shirt."

Joe laughed at that. "Order's up, Amy."

Amy rolled her eyes. "Don't go anywhere, Mr. Cage. I want to know when you learned to identify women's clothing."

"You, stop flirting with my daughter. Amy, don't run off with actors. They're less reliable than music men."

Joe's daughter shook her head and went to get Johnny's food. Cage and Dawson stared at each other for a few minutes. Johnny's little bird whispered in his ear again. His mouth moved without conscious thought. "So what's the name of the God of Beer this year? It's not ... Benjamin anymore?"

Dawson froze for a moment. "You mean Matthew? Over in the corner? It's still Benjamins."

"Good. What's his favorite of the microbrews?"

"Not as straight as you want my daughter to think hmm?" Joe's brows rose in challenge. Johnny blinked at him.

"No, I owe him a beer."

"That's a story I wouldn't mind hearing."

"Not mine to tell. So? Which one."

Joe selected a beer and handed it over. Johnny's brows rose at the name. "Kronos? Interesting." He took the bottle and walked across the room, leaving his bag and bo propped against the bar. Benjamins looked up at him with a mildly inquisitive smile. "For you. A little bird tells me this is your due. He also said that if I want a story I should up it to bourbon and if I want my head to stay attached to my shoulders I should buy you dinner, but I think he's joking on that last part."

"And who is your little bird?" The man's intelligent hazel eyes fixed on him and Johnny saw a flair of blue around him. Seeing that sort of thing used to disturb him. These days it was par for the course.

Johnny smirked at him. "Now what sort of cryptic messenger would I be if I told you that, Oh God of Wine and Storytelling."

The hazel eyes blinked once. He took the beer. "It's been a long time since I heard that. Won't you sit down, Johnny?"

"Thanks, but there's a pretty girl waiting for me at the counter and I need to get back to her. The wedding's tomorrow." The actor went back to flirt with Amy a bit more and to figure out if she'd really found her outfit in Paris or not.


"So tell me, MacLeod, have you been spreading tales?" Methos asked.

Duncan looked up from his laptop. He'd been dragged kicking and screaming into the current century by the very old man who was now sprawled across the couch. "What do you mean?"

"I had a very interesting encounter with a young, well not so young, man at Joe's last night. He referred to me as the God of Beer and Storytelling."

The highlander blinked. "Well, it suits, but I haven't heard any of those stories since Darius died."

Methos blinked once and MacLeod was viciously proud that he'd gotten even that much reaction from the old man. Over 5000 years of experience, Methos was hard to surprise. "Darius told you stories of the God of Beer did he?"

"Aye. He did. He enjoyed them. He told me to offer a beer as his due, bourbon for stories and dinner for my head."

"If I wanted your head, Highlander, I'd have taken it," Methos drawled. "Still, I wonder where he got his information."

"Could he be a Watcher?" The secretive Watchers in theory observed and recorded Immortal existence without interfering. That didn't necessarily mean that they wouldn't. Methos considered that for a long moment, his eyes turning inward.

"I doubt it. He's far too well known to make a good Watcher. It is possible that his teacher told him the story." The oldest Immortal waved a hand. "In any case, it reminded me that you have never seen the last Cage movie."

"What Cage movie?" Duncan didn't like most movies. Methos' eyes were filled with pity.

"The last Johnny Cage movie was called Immortal Blade. I'm sure you heard Joe cursing about it. It's based off of some Japanese manga, though, not any Watcher files. There wasn't nearly enough sex in it, but the fight scenes were excellent. Most people assumed he'd move into fight choreography, but he simply walked away. And ended up in Joe's bar. I should remind Joe that Amy did say she was going to marry the man today. Presumably to change his ways tomorrow."

"Wait. Johnny Cage. Late thirties, maybe early forties, blond, carries a bo with him as a walking stick?"

"You were telling stories weren't you MacLeod? There's hope for you yet."

"No, he came to sign up to use the gym on a day to day basis. You're telling me he's an actor."

Methos stared at MacLeod. "Please tell me that you're teasing me. No one is that sheltered. Even Connor's seen the man's movies. For the fight scenes to be sure, but still." The hazel eyes studied the younger Immortal for a long moment. "Let me guess, Tessa didn't like Kung Fu movies."

"Hated them."

"And you didn't go to the movies without her."


"And you were in Paris prior to that." Methos' eyes were distant again. He was pulling something up from memory. "Alright. I'll get the movies tomorrow. If you weren't telling tales, I wonder who his little bird is."

MacLeod let it go. "Amy's getting married?"

Methos' lips quirked. "Well, it seems our blond movie star turned her head with fashion. All the other boys were trying flattery, he compared designer labels. They're heading to Vegas tomorrow for an old fashioned elopement, if Joe doesn't shoot to kill first."

Duncan abandoned his laptop. He had to hear this story.


Johnny shook hands with the pretty blonde woman who called herself Ocean. She was young and spoke with the bright bubbling of a Valley Girl on crack. Her hair was tied up into a ponytail with a cascade of bright blue and green ribbons. After about fifteen minutes of a tour, Johnny carefully explained that he mostly just wanted to have a space with mats to practice on. She smiled at him. “Sure thing, Mr. Cage. Feel free to rearrange them however you'd like. The classes will be in later and they have priority on the right half of the gym."

"So I'll do my long work early. Thanks, Ocean."

She nodded and headed off to the office, head bobbing to some music only she was hearing. He looked at the pads. They were set up perfectly for what he had planned. He dropped his bag at the wall. His shoes and socks joined it. He stood in the middle of the mats, bo in hand. He started slowly on his forms, holding each position for a few breaths. Feeling properly stretched he moved on to the harder katas. He noticed MacLeod show up with a flicker of blue like the God of Beer and Storytelling did. What did that mean? Was MacLeod a god as well? There was no answer from the voice in his ear that was Rayden, God of Thunder and Lightening.

It didn't really matter. Johnny had his forms and tumbling work to do. He did a series of backflips just to get used to the length of the room, then started on the katas that Master Boyd had taught. No one knew where he'd learned them. Johnny and Jasmine – his partner in the school – were the only students he'd ever taught to this level. Johnny had to find someone to pass the knowledge onto before it was lost. Maybe he'd find someone here and steal them back to California with him. He ended his work before the shadow-kick. That was something he only did in private. It was meant to remain a secret only given to his student. He centered himself, then stood. He bowed to MacLeod, who returned the gesture.

"Advanced classes are here tonight, right?"

"Yes. They start at seven."

Johnny pulled on his socks and shoes. "Plenty of time for me to run back to my hotel and change then. Maybe I'll convince Amy to come with me."

MacLeod's lips twitched into a smile. "If you do try to run away with Amy, you'll need to duck and weave. Joe's a good shot."

"I wondered if you were the reason he kept such a full stock of scotches. No threats as her protective older friend?"

"No, Joe would have my head if I interfered in his threats." MacLeod laughed. "Would you like to spar sometime?"

"Love to. What's a good time for you?"

"I'm here tomorrow afternoon. It's usually deserted at one."

"One o'clock tomorrow. It's a date." Johnny paused. He looked the other man up and down. "I suppose I'll have to buy you a drink too. Champion." He picked up his bag and bo and left MacLeod's questions echoing in the gym.

He smirked to himself. Thunder rolled in the skies. His smile grew larger. Rayden had enjoyed that one too.


Methos studied Johnny Cage from across the bar table. There was a bourbon sitting in front of him, so he supposed he owed the man a story. He had to decide just what sort of story suited him though. The actor was content enough to stay quiet and watch Amy as she fussed around the bar. He ate his french fries with the sort of dedication only found in those cheating on their diet plan.

"When the world was younger than it is today, and was older than the mountains four men rode out of the east. Their horses rumbled like the coming of thunder and they sat tall in the saddle surrounded by thunder-clouds of dust." Cage's eyes focussed on him. "Each rider held dominion over one quarter of the Earth. They determined who lived and died. They chose which tribes would see the fall and which would be chased from the small patches of land they claimed."

The french fries were forgotten now. Johnny folded his hands in his lap like a proper disciple. Amy listened unashamed from her place at the bar. She had been polishing the same glass now for the entire time and looked perfectly content to continue until the end of the story.

"To the eldest, the priest of death himself, was given the color white and the choice of who would live in memories and who would be forgotten as dust. To the youngest, was given the color brown, and dominion over the animals, to chose which lines would grow and breed. To his elder brother was given the color green, and dominion over the plants, to determine which would be consumed and which would survive. And to the last and most fickle brother, was given the color red and dominion over life, to decide who would breed and who would have their children stolen from them.

"These four rode for millennia, for they were not ordinary men, but rather gods incarnate, or so they believed themselves. They were above petty jealousies or even love." He paused here to sip the bourboun. "But one day, they crossed a priestess with dominion of her own. To her was given the future and the color of black." He paused, feeling the small tremors in his hands and willing them away. Why had he chosen this story. "Death chose her to be his companion. His servant. He convinced himself that he was her god and that she was his to play with. And she predicted his downfall. He laughed, even as he taught her all that he knew of godhood. And when she left, to follow her own tragedy, he laughed."

He took another sip of the good stuff Cage had shelled out for. "But his eyes had been opened. And he watched as the world began to change around him, conforming to her vision. And one day, he betrayed his brothers to the dust, that they would live only as a distant memory known as the four-horsemen. And so they slipped out of the world quietly. And now only Death survives to keep memory."

"Thank you, sensei," Cage said quietly. He sipped his own drink, a sparkling water. "I'd offer a bow, but I think I've asked you to accept as much spectacle as you're willing to take."

Methos quirked a smile at him. "Did the whisper in your ear tell you that?"

"No, no, I know how to read a crowd. I don't have anything nearly as interesting to offer."

That was a bald-faced lie and they both knew it. Men these days didn't tarry with gods. Methos smirked at him. "You'll have to drink with me again."

"Of course, Oh God of Storytelling."

"And Beer. Mustn't forget beer."

"Yes, sir."


Methos lounged on the benches at MacLeod's gym. "You said you had something interesting for me, Highlander."

"Johnny Cage asked to spar with me. I want your opinion."


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