Title: Watch your neck
Series: consider this part of the backstory to the "Immortal
Underground" arc, but its not necessary to have read that first.  This
follows on directly from 'Welcome to the Game,' so it may help to read
that first
Author: akire
Email: akire@mailcity.com
Status: C/U
Category: Crossover: Highlander/Relic Hunter
Spoilers: umm, got a basic grasp of the Highlander universe?  Fine.  Oh
yeah, we're a Clan Denial fanfic.  Relic Hunter , ripping characters
more than plots. 
Disclaimers:  D/P and the producers of RH really DO own them.  If you
don't recognize it, its probably mine.  If it's silly or crazy,
definitely is mine.  But if anyone sends the lawyers after me, I'm
sending out the boys with swords ;)  Oh yeah, and imitation is the
sincerest form of flattery.  If you recognize a specific fanfic
creation, it belongs to its author (when this series is finished, I may
tally them up). 
Rating: PG, prob.  Hey, I'm not offended by much, if it should be rated
higher, tell me! 
Content Warning: purists beware.  Language may offend some readers. 
Summary:  Sydney's story has made Claudia feel worse, not better, so
Nigel shares how he first died. 
Dedication:  To Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads , for such a
great theme song!

On with the show!

~~##~~

Nigel sat through the synopsis of what he'd missed with stoic calm.  To
his credit, he didn't laugh, or even grin when Claudia tearfully
explained how she'd died and why that was so bad.

"You had an accident.  Lots of people die from them every year.  I died
from an accident."

Sydney shook her head.  "You were drunk, Nige.  Don't think that
counts."

He shrugged.  "Syd, I got tanked on the local hooch, and impaled myself
on my own sword doing my impression of Citizen Robespierre!  I think
that counts as an stupid accident."

Claudia waved her hands. "Uhh, hello!  Only been alive for twenty years
here.  Who was Citizen Robespierre, and why were you impaled doing an
impersonation of him?"

Nigel rolled his eyes and muttered something about the American
education system.  "Robespierre was the citizen left in charge after
the Revolution."  He sighed as Claudia continued to stare at him
blankly.  "The Revolution.  You know, Madam Guillotine, Liberty,
Equality, Fraternity, and all that."

Connections were finally beginning to spark in Claudia's memory.  "Oh
right, okay!  You were in Paris then?  Cool."  More connections
sparked.  "Umm, weren't they chopping peoples' heads off back then?"

Nigel nodded.

"Then WHY were you in Paris then?"

Sydney's grin was mischievous.  "Nigel was the Scarlet Pimpernel."

"I WAS NOT!" He roared.

"Or at least the model for..." Sydney corrected, not the least bit
repentant.  

Claudia was swooning.  "He was gorgeous..."

"I beg your pardon."

"I saw it on cable last year, back in Cali.  The Brits made a
miniseries, it was really cool."  Claudia was forgetting her own woes
as she got into telling the story.  "I remember this one scene, he
grabbed the girl and leapt out a window, and all the Frenchies were
shooting at them, but they just rode off and..."  The figurative light
bulb went off as Claudia's mind caught up with the conversation.  "That
was you?!"  She flopped backwards to slump on the couch, hands waving
in futile arcs.  "But he was cool!" She wailed.  "I want to be cool!"

Nigel grinned and settled himself on the floor.  "I wasn't cool,
Claudia, trust me. I was young, nave, impetuous, foppish...many
things, but cool? No."

She pouted.  "Tell me about it?"

Nigel nodded slowly.  "I was still in London when the news came that
what became known as the Reign of Terror had begun.  The year was 1793,
and," he turned to glare meaningfully at Sydney.  "Despite some
people's reports to the contrary, I was not, nor have I ever been,
anything even approaching the fictitious creation known now as the
Scarlet Pimpernal.  What I was was a hotheaded youth with more money
and energy than sense.  I also had some friends who were even more
bored and rich and egotistical than I."

 ~##~

Paris, France.  1793

"Sink me, lads," John  told his friends with delighted grin.  "What
with all this demmed revolutionary business, where will a lad find a
decent cravat in these parts."

Nigel was nowhere near as relaxed as his cavalier counterpart.  "For
the love of god, man, keep your voice down!  Or have you forgotten
they're executing people like us in these parts?"

Andrew shook his head and replied in a tone of amused disinterest which
was the hallmark of a young gentleman of his rank and stature.  "It is
hard to forget when every town we pass has Madam Guillotine flaunting
her cutting edge in the square."  Andrew flashed a white-toothed grin
as Nigel shuddered and tried to pull his cloak even further around his
lanky frame.  Like wraiths, the three cloaked men turned off the main
thoroughfare and down a narrow side alley.  A sharp knock on a non-
descript wooden door and they were off the street.

Nigel watched as Andrew and John preceded him through the doors, eyes
automatically searching for Republic guards or other hostile faces.
"Right, where is the Contessa and her family?" 

Their agent appeared, leading a woman swathed in shawls and a simple
dress.  Speaking soothingly to the terrified Contessa, Andrew laid out
their plans as the woman checked the wrappings on her infant daughter.
Andrew smiled and stroked the baby's forehead soothingly.  "That's
excellent, m'lady.  She will be wonderfully warm and snug until we can
get to the coast.  Our ship is waiting for you and your family.  You
need just be brave for a little while longer, and dawn will see you
free."

John nudged Nigel in his best friend ribs as they followed the Contessa
to the door.  Nigel suppressed a sigh and batted the elbow away.  John
was jolly good fun most days, but some days his sense of humour could
get...tiring.

Pulling his cloak over his head, he stepped down onto the cobbled
street.  The sooner the French noblewoman and her children were aboard
his schooner, the better.

 ~~##~~

The roaring crowd noise ebbed and flowed like the tide around Nigel's
drink-sozzled head.  Despite having had several glasses of the local
alcohol poured down his mouth by his friends, Nigel still felt that his
heart was somewhere in his throat.  If John and Andrew had just been a
few seconds late...swish, thud, goodnight Sir Nigel Bailey.

He considered the dregs of his cup intently.  Time for a personal
resolution.  He was never, ever going to allow his neck to get anywhere
near Mme Guillotine ever again.

No matter how much John cajoles him.  It was his neck the blade kissed,
after all.  Nervously, Nigel ran his fingers tentatively over the
slight welt that marked where the blade had been pulled up short by
Andrew's quick thinking.

Looking up, he squinted through the boozy haze and found his closest
friend.  Andrew still looked far too pale, even for a bookish
Englishman, but at least the local drink had put to rosy spots on his
cheeks.

Gently deflecting the attentions of one of the local working girls,
Nigel slumped back in his corner table and watched the other patrons of
the Inn.  Their latest rescuee had already been passed on to one of
their contacts in the town, and now the Legion seemed determined to
celebrate another success right under the nose of the Revolutionaries.

They were getting casual, taking stupid risks.  Sooner or later, they
were going to get caught, and...at best, he admitted to himself with a
rueful grin...at best, they would be tried and executed.  At worse,
they could drag all of England into a cross-Channel war.

Nigel had made it a point to study Robespierre.  The man was no fool,
he knew that an external conflict would channel his citizen's
insatiable bloodlust outwards, forcing the citizens to band together
under the flag of new, French republic nationalism.  A war would be a
perfect way to steady and strengthen the fledgling State.

Why then did he let John talk him into going back to Paris time and
time again?

Nigel drained the last of the brew and slammed the cup down hard on the
rough wooden table.  No more, he was out.

"Nigel!"

"John.  That's it."  No time like the present, and besides, the drink
was embuing him with Dutch courage.  "No more.  I won't go back again.
I'm going back to Bailey Hall, I'll find myself some inoffensive young
lass to make my bride and spend the rest of my years tending to my
lands.  This secret agent rubbish is just going to get us all killed,
and for nothing."

John just laughed and beckoned to the Innkeeper for more drink.  "Ahh,
it was just one close call.  True, we should probably had planned that
action better, but we survived, and we have learnt our lesson."  He
took two fresh cups from the serving girl.  "Come man, we can't do this
without you.  We're a team, isn't that right lads!"  The others in
their group had staggered over to join Nigel and John.  "We stick
together, and we look out for one another, isn't that right."  He
raised his cup in toast as the others cheered.

Nigel was a gentleman.  A toast had been offered, and it would be
churlish to ignore it.  Tiredly, he raised his cup.

  ~~##~~

The room was spinning happily before Nigel's sodden eyes.  How many
cups had he had?  Who knew?  Andrew was slumped over the table, out
cold.  John was carousing merrily with the Innkeeper's staff and the
other's were scattered around the room, drinking and carrying on.
Loudly.

A cold gust of air blew into the room as the door was opened.  A tall,
raven-haired beauty wrapped in a simple shawl scurried in.  Drunk as he
was, Nigel still tried to get to his feet to greet the woman.

"M'lady.  Is the Contessa well?"

She wrinkled her nose at the smell of alcohol and stale bodies. "Safely
tucked in and asleep, good sir."  She took in Andrew's snoring form and
raised an eyebrow.  "Celebrating, m'lord?"

Nigel gestured for her to sit, only barely managing to stay on his feet
long enough for her to sit.  As he slumped awkwardly into his seat, he
yawned.  "Oh, begging your pardon.  We're just..." his fuzzy mind
struggled to formulate a sentence.  "We had an extremely close call,
m'lady."

She looked at him, a flash of concern flickering across her olive-
skinned face.  She was, Nigel decided, a very beautiful woman.  Pity
she was not noble born.  "Oh my.  Was it the Guard?"

He laughed, considered his cup, then put it aside without drinking. His
stomach was already feeling sour.  "No, much worse.  I had to spend a
personal eternity strapped to the boards ready to be fed to the
Guillotine."

Pure fear widened her eyes.  "But sir...!"

He found her attentions vaguely gratifying.  "No fear, good lady.  My
friends made short work of pulling me clear.  Though," he added with a
rueful grin as he once again rubbed his neck.  "They could have been a
bit quicker about the rescue.  But it ended well enough, that's the
main thing."

Without speaking, she was on her feet, her long, deft fingers gently
peeling back the collar far enough to see the spot.  Nigel was too
surprised at her boldness to stop her.  "That," she said in a small
voice.  "Was far too close.  Who knows what would have happened if..."
She stopped suddenly.

"Lady?"  Somehow, despite being drunk beyond belief, he recognized that
she wasn't talking just about him loosing his head.  "What do you
mean?"

She shook her head, wrapping her shawl around her tightly.  "Nothing,
m'lord.  I...I best get back to the Contessa.  If she wakes alone, she
might be afraid."  Ignoring his calls, she turned and almost bolted for
the door.

Nigel spared a glance for Andrew.  No, there was no time to gather
together his friends.  Grabbing up his long coat, he headed for the
doors.  

Outside the Inn, he caught sight of a shadow almost running around the
far corner.  Carefully on the slippery cobbles, he gave chase.
"M'lady," he called out quietly, wanting her to stop, but mindful of
her reputation.  "Please, m'lady!"

He rounded the corner, but could see no sign of her.  He was tired,
drunk, in an unfamiliar town in the damp darkness.  There was no way he
was going to find her tonight.

Loud voices announced that his friends had seen him leave.  "Nigel!!
What are you doing out in a demmed night like this?"

Nigel sighed.  "Just needed the air, John."  He looked over as John
strode towards him, the rest of their little company carrying the still
sozzled Andrew between them.

John always had a high tolerance for wine, but even he was tipsy this
night. "Gentlemen and colleagues, may I present my good friend and
scourge of the French Republic, Sir Nigel Bailey."

"Keep your voice down," Nigel told John irritably.  "Who knows who is
listening."

John just laughed and steered Nigel around as they headed off to their
lodgings.  All the while he kept up his running commentary.  Even Nigel
had to crack a smile as he started on 'Andrew's terrifying snores,
which keep the Guard at bay.'

The guest house at which they were staying was on the outskirts of
town.  As they walked, Nigel inhaled the cold salty air and felt his
head clear slightly.  Even Andrew woke up, and instantly began
participating in John's games.

"Now, Nigel, share it with the lads."

"Share what, Andrew?"

"The daring swordsmanship which kept Robespierre himself at bay whilst
I escorted the Contessa and her family to safety."  He turned and
nudged John in the ribs.  "T'was the finest piece of swordwork I have
ever seen."  He then winked at Nigel as if to say 'I know it's a
complete pack of lies, but it's a fun pack of lies.'

The rest of the group picked up the cry, cheering and clapping loudly.
"Well," he said, drawing his sword with a flourish, playing with his
audience.  "He tried for the direct approach, brutish and crude.  I
feigned left, then right," he demonstrated.  "Then, when he would have
gutted me like a pig, I leapt up and backwards."  Spying a barrel on
the roadside, he enacted his story, balancing with difficulty on the
narrow barrel.  "Then I slashed and parried until he ran like a coward,
screaming for his wet nurse."

Andrew obliged by screaming in French in a high pitched falsetto.  He
made it ten paces before tripping over his own legs. Nigel leant
against the wall, still on his barrel, and laughed as the rest of the
group picked up where Andrew left off, scooping up their fallen comrade
as they dashed off, squealing like French school girls.

They flew away as a pack down the sloping streets, but Nigel just leant
against the wall and laughed, the adrenaline and stress he had
sublimated since their flight from Paris finally finding release in
hysterical laughter.  Underneath his bootheels, the barrel started to
wobble.  Poorly made and unused to carrying the weight of even a
slender full-grown man, it issued only a single warning creak before
collapsing like the proverbial house of cards.

Nigel flailed wildly as he toppled forward.  There was a piercing pain
in his belly, then he felt no more.

When he awoke, he was face down on the cobble stones, the street slush
perilously close to his nose.  Twitching and groaning, he pushed
himself up into a sitting position.  He groaned again as he took in the
state of himself.  The entire suit was ruined...he fingered a
particularly nasty tear, trying to remember how he did it, and his
fingers came away bloody.

"What the devil...?"

"Not the devil, Sir Nigel," a familiar female voice told him.  "Your
sword.  Did you father not instruct you as to the dangers of playing
with sharp objects?"

He looked up, towards the voice.  It was their local contact, the very
woman he had rushed outside to follow in the first place.  She stood
above him, one hand resting idly on the hilt of his sword.  "I say,
give that back to me immediately."

She grinned.  "Not until I'm certain you won't have another accident."

He clambered to his feet, choosing to feel the wrath of the high born
rather than the fear of the lost and confused. "Good woman, if you do
not return my property this instant, I will summon the guard."

If anything, her smile grew.  "And how, pray tell good sir, will you
explain how I came into possession of your weapon in the first place."
She looked at him, then sighed.  "Walk with me, Sir Nigel.  For tonight
your life has changed forever."

  ~~##~~

Sydney sat on a stone at the base of the pier, watching Nigel pace up
and down as he tried to turn what she judged to be a quick mind to the
problem at hand.  "Let me see if I have this clear," he finally said.
"I think I understand this Immortality we now both possess.  You have
explained the Game and it's Rules with admirable clarity.  But..."

"Yes, Nigel?"

"You," he said slowly.  "Wish to teach me?  Really, what could you, a
woman and a commoner whatever your age, teach me about life and
swordplay?"

She smiled slowly.  "Perhaps a small demonstration may be in order?"

"What do you have in mind?"

With lightning speed, she flung off her shawl, tackled Nigel, flipped
him face-down onto the sands and held a dagger at his throat.
"Sufficient?"

"You surprised me!"  He accused her.  "Unfair."

"Just because the Game has rules doesn't make it fair, Nigel. Now
either you can accept my teachings, or you can try to convince some
other Immortal to take pity on you."  He stiffened under her, and she
drove home her barb.  "If you could find one before you lost your fool
head to the Guillotine."

Nigel closed his eyes and flopped onto the beach at the mention of his
near-run thing.  The possibility of living beyond his accepted mortal
span had captured his imagination, but it had nearly ended  both in
terms or mortal and Immortal life  with the downswing of that blade.
"Very well, Lady Sydney.  I am yours to teach, and I promise you will
not find a more attentive pupil."

She let up the pressure on his back.  "We'll see."

  ~~##~~

Sydney laughed lightly.  "And damned if he didn't prove me right.  Once
we'd worked through his little high-born lord of the manor issues, that
is."

Claudia was giggling.  "You were a snob!"  The giggles erupted into
full-blown laughter.  "An absolute, elitist snob!"  She sank deeper
into the soft pillows on the couch.  "Oh, I'd love to have seen that!
Actually," she said after a moment's reflection.  "I would have liked
to have seen what Sydney did every time you tried the 'Lord of the
Manor' routine."

Even Nigel had to laugh.  "It wasn't pretty, I can tell you.  But I
learnt."

Sydney grinned.  "Eventually."

They sat together in companionable quiet for a few minutes as the last
of Claudia's giggles died away.  "I'm...just going to wash up."
Quickly she grabbed the now empty take-out cartons and dumped them in
the trash on her way out the door.

"How do you think she's going to do?"

Sydney turned back from the door.  "Honestly?  I have no idea.  A
borderline personality for the Game  she'll either decide she wants to
live, or she get cleaned up in her first Challenge.  The best we can do
is teach her everything she needs to know if she chooses the former,
and hope."

~~##~~