Two Minutes After Midnight

a Highlander story by Keith R.A. DeCandido

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[The bulk of this story takes place between Act V and the Epilogue of "One Minute To Midnight," the fifth-season opener of Highlander: The Series -- in other words, shortly after Duncan shoved Jack Shapiro into a coffin at gunpoint. The final part takes place shortly after the episode ended.]

"This tribunal has been convened to judge whether John K. Shapiro and Joseph Dawson are to be allowed to continue as members of the Watchers."

"This is a joke," Jack muttered. "You people've barely been toilet trained, and now you're gonna judge us?"

Carol Roman gave Jack a withering look. "Well, gee, Jack, we'd love to have you and Joe judged by your peers, but that's kind of hard, given that all the senior-most Watchers are dead. In fact, they've been dropping like flies lately -- the last two heads of the European division were murdered, one by Kalas, the other by a fellow Watcher trying to get his hands on the Methuselah Stone. The rest were slaughtered by Jakob Galati. So yes, you're being judged by us because -- of all the Watchers left in the Western Hemisphere aside from you two -- we three have the most seniority."

Under other circumstances, Joe Dawson might have commented to the effect that there were plenty of experienced Watchers in the Eastern Hemisphere. But time was of the essence, which was why the lower-echelon Watchers had suddenly been thrust into roles of responsibility. Now Carol, from the Eastern United States division, along with Lucia Abruzzi (Italy) and Edmund Page (England), had take on the role of tribunal. The same role that Jack and two others (now both dead) had taken on weeks earlier to judge Joe.

In light of all that, commenting seemed inappropriate. Besides, he found that he no longer cared. Caring had gotten too many people killed. All the people James Horton killed after Joe saved his brother-in-law's life. Charlie DeSalvo, Andrew Cord. Horton himself. Jakob Galati. Dozens of Watchers.

So Joe would stop caring. He'd just take whatever Carol, Lucia, and Edmund had to throw at him. If they reinstated him, fine. If not, he still had his bar and his music. The Watchers gave him something to live for after his legs were blown off in Vietnam, but maybe it was time he got past that. Went on with his life.

And if they decided to kill him -- well, by rights he should've died in a Vietnamese jungle decades earlier. He'd been living on borrowed time ever since. He'd had a long and colorful life, and no regrets worth getting worked up over.

Jack was still carrying on: "I did what I had to do to keep the organization intact!"

Edmund snorted. "Intact? Would you like the list of dead Watchers, Mr. Shapiro?"

"Galati killed them!"

"Yes," Carol said with a quiet calm in direct contrast to Jack's screaming, "and the question is, 'why?' And that is the basis of our decision."

Joe finally spoke. "Decision? You mean--"

"I mean, Joe, that the tribunal has already rendered its judgment."

"That's it? No trial, no chance to defend ourselves?"

Edmund replied to this. "The Watchers are under no obligation to try their own, Mr. Dawson. The previous tribunal agreed to do so with you, but we are not bound by that. The guidelines under which we work are by no means specific on the subject, and we have chosen to forego it."

"Now then," Carol continued with a nod to Edmund, who sat back, "if you've both finished interrupting, we will render our judgment.

"As I said, the question is what started this entire mess. The answer is fairly obvious: James Horton. For thousands of years, we have kept ourselves secret from Immortals. While we acknowledge at least the possibility that some Immortals may have learned of us, it has never been on a scale that we have had to worry about.

"Or, at least, we didn't until Horton. Horton believed Immortals to be an abomination, an affront to God. For what it's worth, he is not the first Watcher to make this accusation -- there's a rather vitriolic chronicle from a 15th-century Watcher named Delrio on that subject, for example -- but he was the first to act on it."

Joe noticed Jack blinking in surprise. Obviously Jack didn't know about Delrio. Not bad for a Watcher who hasn't been toilet-trained, huh, Jack? he thought uncharitably toward his former friend.

"Using his position in the Watchers, Horton began recruiting people with a mind to making them Hunters instead of Watchers. Rather than go after historians and surveillance experts, he went after fanatics and zealots, and also for more mercenary types better suited to the physical tasks he would assign them."

Jack, who'd been fidgeting throughout Carol's speech, finally exploded again. "We know all this! What the hell does it have to do with anything?"

This earned Jack a second withering look from Carol. "I'm getting to it, Jack. Try being patient -- people keep telling me it's a virtue. Then again, they also tell me it's something that comes with maturity."

Carol let that hang for a moment, then went on: "In any case, the harm that the previous tribunal attributed to Joe Dawson's friendship with Duncan MacLeod can more accurately be laid at Horton's feet. After all, the numerous recent Watcher deaths were all at the hands of an Immortal whose wife was slaughtered by Horton.

"We don't know how many Immortals Horton beheaded, but we do know that he failed to kill three. Galati was one. MacLeod and his friend Hugh Fitzcairn were two others. And it is what happened next in each case that leads us to our decision regarding Joe Dawson."

Joe frowned. He had no idea where Carol was going with this. He shifted his cane to his other hand and wished to hell that they'd let him sit down. But both he and Jack were forced to literally stand before the tribunal. At least this was in the well-heated funeral home rather than the dank, chilly basement where he'd been tried the first time.

"Both Galati and MacLeod, upon escaping from Horton, tried to track down the strange people with tattoos on their wrists. Galati eventually did so, after three years, and proceeded to systematically decimate us. MacLeod did the same, though he found us much sooner, following a trail Darius left before Horton killed him -- to Joe Dawson's bookstore.

"Joe's reaction was to take MacLeod into his confidence. Yes, he betrayed his oath -- but he also made MacLeod realize that not all Watchers were like Horton."

"That doesn't change what he did!" Jack was screaming now. "You said it yourself, he betrayed his oath!"

"Jack, have you ever tried to put toothpaste back in the tube? The secret was already out."

"Just from Horton, and he killed the Immortals he revealed himself to!"

"Not Galati, not MacLeod, not Fitzcairn. And what about his other followers who kept his work going? They weren't all successful, either. One of them went after Carl Robinson, prompting MacLeod to tell him about us. Robinson's alive and well and probably playing baseball even as we speak. And MacLeod told other friends of his about us for their protection against other Hunters. And Darius knew about us."

Joe blinked. Of course, he thought. Darius had gotten his hands on one of the chronicles. In it, he'd scrawled the zip code of Joe's bookshop. Mac found the chronicle, and eventually found Joe. But Darius had obviously known about the Watchers for quite some time.

"What Joe did," Carol continued, "was protect us. Yes, he betrayed his oath, but he kept one Immortal -- one skilled, well-trained, well-respected Immortal -- from declaring war on us. An Immortal who would be a useful ally when Kalas learned of us and got his hands on that CD." Carol smiled, and added, "I mean, let's face it, if Joe hadn't brought MacLeod into the loop on the situation with Salzer and the CD, this entire proceeding would be academic.

"Therefore," and Carol's voice took on a much more formal timbre, "it is the decision of this tribunal that Joseph Dawson be reinstated as a Watcher and as chief of the Western United States division on a probationary basis, subject to reevaluation in six months."

Joe found himself speechless. Not only was he exonerated, but given tacit approval for his actions four years earlier.

The formal timbre acquired a much harder edge as Carol turned to Jack. "As for John K. Shapiro -- while this tribunal recognizes his grief over the loss of his son, that does not excuse his subsequent actions. By declaring war on two Immortals, by pulling Watchers from their assignments to what amounted to military duty -- tasks for which the vast majority of them were woefully unfit -- and by sentencing the Immortal Duncan MacLeod and fellow Watcher Joseph Dawson to death for crimes they did not commit, he jeopardized everything the Watchers stand for."

Joe noticed that Carol did not mention Galati's execution. He ground his teeth. He supposed that that, at least, would not be counted against Jack -- not after Galati's killing spree.

"Therefore, John K. Shapiro is to be cast out of the Watchers from this time forward. His tattoo is to be removed, and no Watcher is to communicate with him, save those who are members of his immediate family."

Joe winced. That was a low blow. The only Watcher in Jack's immediate family was his son -- murdered by Galati. Throwing that in Jack's face struck Joe as unnecessarily cruel.

Jack shook his head, his face forming an almost animalistic snarl. "You people make me sick. He breaks his oath, and he's let back in with a pat on the back. I do everything I can to keep the Watchers alive, and you throw me out!"

For the first time, Lucia Abruzzi spoke, in a heavily accented voice. "We could have followed your example, signor, and called for the death penalty."

Edmund put in, "A penalty that has not been invoked in over six hundred years."

Joe noted some tension there -- he suspected that an argument on the subject had ensued between the British and Italian division chiefs; he equally suspected that the vote as to whether Jack merited death was two-against-one.

But he was grateful for Jack being allowed to live. Indeed, he wound up with the same penalty Horton received after he was found out by his fellow Watchers, and that Rita Luce incurred when her "coaching" of Michael Christian came out, rather than the death sentence that had been handed down to Joe.

"In any case," Carol said, "this tribunal has made its decision, and it is final. It is our hope that we can get beyond this and attend to the rebuilding of the Watchers. There's a lot to be done."

* * *

Joe watched as Mac retreated into his barge. Once, Joe would have been welcome to follow him in.

No longer.

Joe had actually allowed himself to be happy. He was back in the Watchers, and it looked like -- by some miracle -- everything would be returning to some semblance of normal. Now he wanted to join with his friends and celebrate.

But Methos was nowhere to be found. Obviously disgusted with the role he had to play in all this -- trapped between Methos the Immortal and Adam Pierson the Watcher -- he had disappeared to wherever it was that five-thousand-year-old Immortals went when they wanted to go away and start over.

So Joe tried Mac, and his reception could charitably be described as cold.

For the second time in a year, Mac had cast Joe aside. The last time was when Mac had let the Immortal Cord -- who once saved Joe's life, and indirectly led to Joe's becoming a Watcher -- live at Joe's insistence. Cord would go on to murder Joe's and Mac's friend Charlie DeSalvo. They had gotten past that, mainly due to some mediation by Amanda.

This time, though, Joe doubted that even Amanda could help.

For the second time in a year, Joe tried to maintain some kind of impossible balance. He didn't want Cord dead, he didn't want Mac dead, he didn't want Charlie dead. But despite those efforts, Charlie died in Mac's arms outside Joe's own bar and Mac beheaded Cord.

He didn't want Jakob Galati to die, either. He didn't want Horton's legacy to destroy everything. Those wishes, too, were in vain.

He knew that look on Mac's face. Their friendship was at an end, probably for good. It didn't matter that Joe had put his life on the line for that friendship. It didn't matter that Joe was instrumental in keeping Mac from killing Richie Ryan when the Dark Quickening had overcome him. It didn't matter that Joe's information had saved Mac's life on more than one occasion.

What mattered was that Jakob Galati, Mac's friend, was dead. And Joe helped set Galati up for that fall. And Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod didn't forgive that sort of thing easily.

Feeling a chill that had nothing to do with the cold Paris spring, Joe wrapped his black wool coat around himself and walked away from the barge.


Highlander, Duncan MacLeod, Joe Dawson, Richie Ryan, Amanda, Jack Shapiro, Methos/Adam Pierson, Jakob Galati, Irena Galati, Darius, Charlie DeSalvo, Andrew Cord, James Horton, Kalas, the Methuselah Stone, Don Salzer, Christine Salzer, Rita Luce, Michael Christian, Hugh Fitzcairn, Immortals, the Watchers, the Hunters, and anything else from the TV show are copyright © 1996 Davis/Panzer Productions. Carol Roman, Edmund Page, Lucia Abruzzi, and Delrio were created by Keith R.A. DeCandido for this story, but are, for all intents and purposes, also copyright © 1996 Davis/Panzer Productions. This story is copyright © 1996 Keith R.A. DeCandido.