Author's Notes:

WARNING: Past child abuse is discussed. Also religious references abound, but don't blame me--the Book of Revelation is canon! (smile)

Only one more left in this series--just something to tie up a few loose ends.

Restoration Series 6C

Becoming III: Armageddon-- Not Just A War But An Adventure

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 01-28-01)


Man is not a being who stands still, he is a being in the process of becoming. The more he enables himself to become, the more he fulfills his true mission. ~ Rudolph Steiner

Chapter Eleven

Joe enviously watched the tall Immortal flop into the chair. Even plastic airport chairs were no match for Methos the Human Lounger. "Mac still trying to get the swords checked through?"

"Yeah. Cassandra stayed to keep him company."

"How the hell did you convince him to do all three swords?"

"Actually, it's easier than trying to get one sword through. Three backs up his claim of being a dealer. It won't be long now. Just tiresome paperwork about not suing the airlines if the property is lost or sent to Timbuktu."

"I suspect a lawsuit would be mild compared to the wrath of three swordless Immortals," Joe said with a grin.

"How true."

Joe saw Methos' eyes flutter shut and he shook his head in amazement once again. The man knew how to take his rest whenever or wherever he could get it. But not before he answered some questions. "Where are we going?"

Methos didn't even deign to open an eyes. "Your ticket says Syria."

Joe growled. "I know what the ticket says. I know that I was awakened a few hours ago and told without explanation that I was going to be dropped off at home, where I was to pack a bag and grab my passport because we were going to Syria. What I don't know is why."

"Yes, you do."

"Mael is in Syria?"

"No."

"Then why are we going to Syria?"

"Because we can get to Mael by going to Syria."

Joe thumped Methos' leg with his cane. "Why 'we'? You could have left the motel without any of us knowing it--except maybe Mac. In fact, I'm surprised you both didn't leave and take care of this on your own."

Hazel eyes opened fully. "I wouldn't do that to you, Joe. You've earned your place on this mission, starting with the whole Dark Quickening in Italy."

"And what about Cassandra's inclusion?"

Methos smiled. "Don't you know every good 'world-saving' has to have a fair and impartial witness to back up the claim?"

"Sure. But what about Cassandra?"

Methos laughed so hard, he slid further down in the seat. "She is not one of your favorite people, is she?"

"I didn't think she was too high on your list either, but now...."

Methos closed his eyes again. "For over a thousand years I rode as Death. And the thousands of years before that and the thousands of years after that can't change any of it. The people I murdered, the families I destroyed, the spilled blood I reveled in--it's all a done deal, except for Cassandra."

"You're seeking redemption?"

A bitter laugh sprang from his lips. "No. I know that's out of my reach. I just--maybe by watching me fulfill the prophecy, she can find some peace, Joe. Maybe she won't think so harshly about herself once loving a monster if she sees the monster has truly changed. I owe her that much."

Joe didn't agree, but he knew better than to argue with Methos. In his opinion, Methos had settled with Cassandra when he allowed her to escape from the Horsemen. "You sound pretty confident about your reunion with Mael. I must admit your stunt with the volcano was impressive."

"Oh, you ain't seen nothin' yet, Watcher." Methos stiffened, then eased back in the chair.

Joe looked around knowingly and watched the striking couple approaching them. Both tall, fit. The warrior in both was strong and prominent at this moment. They could have been brother and sister, so similar in style and attitude. "All set?"

Duncan nodded, and took the seat next to Methos after Cassandra sat one seat over. Ever the gentleman. "So far the flight's running on schedule. What about Cassandra's Watcher?"

"Mr. Laid-back here says Spencer isn't going to be a problem," Joe replied, tossing a thumb in Methos' direction. "'Course he isn't the one who got blessed out for not calling in her whereabouts yesterday."

"And you're not the one who got scared by a little mountain smoke and lost his Immortal," Methos said with total unconcern.

"Why don't I have a female Watcher?" Cassandra asked, looking around to make sure they couldn't be overheard.

Joe shrugged. "We don't make assignments using gender, and since we have more male field agents than female...."

"You don't think women can handle the field?"

"There's a lot of travel involved. That makes it hard for a woman if she has a family. Men too, actually. Guess that's why a lot of the field agents are either young and single or old and single--like me. The few 'family' field agents we have are given Immortals who are sedentary, involved in a stable, mortal-like life."

"Like Marcus Constantine." Cassandra looked at Duncan. "I heard you had to Challenge him. I know that must have been hard for you. He was, at one time, a great man."

"Constantine took a Dark Quickening. He couldn't be allowed to--"

"I know, Duncan. And I know how brave you had to be to face another darkness. But it was very foolish of you, and your friends should have told you that," she said pointedly.

"They did more than just tell me--" Duncan began defensively, but was interrupted by Methos.

"Just how do you know anything about what happened with Constantine?" the Eldest asked. "Is there an Immortal newsletter that I don't know about? A newsgroup I haven't subscribed to? Or is it a private mailing list?"

Cassandra flushed angrily. "I keep up with the people I care about. Is that a crime?"

"Depends on how you do it. Just how surprised are you that your Watcher is a man?" Methos charged.

"Damn! Spencer's been compromised?" Joe asked, following the conversation with growing anger.

"Cassandra! How could you?" Duncan demanded, outraged.

"I only asked about you, Duncan. It wasn't like I was using him to Hunt people."

"But you were using him nevertheless."

"What's the difference between what I did and what you do with Joe?"

"Because what I tell him, I do of my own free will," Joe said acridly. "I don't have some witch playing games with my mind. Of all the underhanded--"

"Shush, Joe," Methos said. "It's already done. And besides, at least we know our story is still intact."

"Story?" Cassandra quizzed.

"I didn't take Constantine; Adam did," Duncan stated proudly.

"Why?" she asked flatly.

"Because I could," Methos replied.

"Don't expect me to believe you were being selfless."

"Selfless? Me? Of course not, my dear. Do you realize the amount of power contained in a Dark Quickening? It took days for it to settle within me."

"You love the taste of power, don't you? I warned you, Duncan. He cannot be trusted."

"We trust him more than we trust you," Joe muttered.

"Just a minute, mortal--"

"Cassandra." Methos' voice was barely above a whisper.

She closed her mouth and slumped back against her seat.

"That's it," Duncan said sharply. "I am not flying thousands of miles with this kind of bickering."

"I'm sorry."

Duncan nodded at Joe gratefully.

"Me too," Cassandra mumbled reluctantly as Methos stared at her.

"Very well done, MacLeod," Methos said, standing as he heard their boarding call. "In your next life you can be a headmaster, convincing truculent young men to amend their wicked ways."

"Well, since I'm not having any luck with truculent old men...."

"Shh. Joe might hear you talking about him. First Class is loading and that's us."

"Thanks to my credit card," Duncan muttered.

"I knew you wouldn't want Cassandra flying Coach," Methos tossed over his shoulder as he went to greet the stewardess.

"Because of yesterday's uncertainties, we've had a number of cancellations so the four of you have the section to yourselves until we reach New York," the stewardess explained. "Since you're all traveling together, you can seat yourselves and move around at will as soon as the seatbelt light goes out. We hope you enjoy your flight."

"It'll be like having our own private plane," Methos said enthusiastically. "You know, MacLeod, that's not a bad idea. You could--"

"I'm not buying a private plane for you to borrow every other week."

"But, Mac--"

Whatever Methos was going to say was lost as he stiffened. Joe saw the other two Immortals do the same, and found himself readying himself as well. Damn. He'd been around them way too long.

The Immortal walking onto the plane dropped his ticket as he came face-to-face with three others. Paling, he held up both hands. "I--I can take another flight," he said hastily. The lady with three kids entering behind him just grunted and pushed her children around him.

Methos sized up the newcomer and smiled. "Heavens forbid. No way you'd want to check your sword again. Come on in. We're perfectly harmless, aren't we?" He looked to his fellow travelers. Joe shook his head and hooked his cane over a seat. Duncan rolled his eyes at the affable Methos. And Cassandra ignored them all. "Well, at least get out of the way of traffic," he added when the man continued standing in the aisle.

"I don't--think I've seen three of us traveling together," the Immortal said, stepping out of the main aisle.

"It's not a convention--or the Gathering," Methos said with an impish grin. "I'm Adam Pierson and these two are my teachers."

"I'm George Wilson. You have two teachers?"

"Yes, it's sort of like having another mum and dad," Methos said, ignoring the warning growls coming from all around him.

"Who's the mortal?" Wilson asked, apparently at ease now.

"Mum's old boyfriend--or maybe Dad's. I'm not sure. They come from that era of consorts and whatever, you know."

"Old, huh?"

Methos nodded, surreptitiously making sure he knew where everyone was. "Dad's over the four century mark, and Mum's even older," he whispered. "I wouldn't want either of them as an enemy. Do you realize how good they must be to have survived so long?"

"Adam," Duncan warned, his voice coming too close behind Methos.

"Oops, guess I'll have to put in a few extra hours of practicing this week," Methos told his new friend.

"Didn't mean to get you into trouble."

Methos shrugged. "I'm always in trouble with them."

"Aye," softly sailed through the air.

"Sir, you need to go take your seat," a steward admonished.

Wilson stuck out his hand. "It was nice meeting you and your family, Pierson."

"Nice meeting you, too. Have a good flight."

"Seatbelt light's on, Mac. Better get buckled in," Methos said quickly as Wilson disappeared into the back of the plane.

"You find yourself awfully amusing, don't you?" Duncan asked, deliberately taking the seat beside Methos.

"I take my entertainment any way I can get it."

"At least you got listed in the credits of this tale as Dad, MacLeod," Joe groused from the seat ahead. "I'm listed as Boyfriend of Parents. Sheesh, Adam. It's bad enough making people think I'd sleep with a witch, but Mac too?"

Methos laughed. "A good storyteller always incorporates his listeners into his tales if he can. I suppose I could have made you their mortal child--"

Joe gagged. "I think I prefer being the boyfriend."

"I thought you might."

Chapter Twelve

By the time they reached the airport in Damascus, they were barely on their feet. It was the middle of the night, and the terminal was nearly empty.

"You'd think after Watching you all these years, I'd be better at traveling," Joe complained as he rubbed his lower back.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the circumstances prior to the flight," Duncan said, trying to stretch the kinks out of his own back.

"Not to mention what we're going to run into now that we're here," Joe added. "Where did Adam run off to?"

"Said he was checking on the arrangements he made." Duncan guided Cassandra to a chair.

"What arrangements?"

"I have no idea. When we went back to the loft to get ready, I heard him on the phone speaking in Arabic. But since he has my credit card number memorized, I'm certain everything will be top of the line."

"You know about that, huh?" Duncan nodded. "Why haven't you had it changed?"

"He only spends my money when I'm with him. Maybe it has something to do with the peculiar code he lives by, or maybe it just amuses him."

"You haven't a clue as to what makes him tick, do you?"

"The longer I know him, the less I know him, Joe."

"You're not alone. I first knew a shy kid named Adam Pierson. Then I find out he's the mythical Methos, oldest Immortal. Now, I'm discovering he's--hell, I don't know what he is. Perverse bastard, isn't he? Always doing things backwards. You're supposed to learn more about a person the longer you know him."

"Why do you say this with such fondness?" Cassandra asked. "He's making fools of you, and you just laugh it off as if it's of no importance."

"Because it's not important," Duncan explained patiently. "No matter what face or facet Methos has chosen to show us, he's never been a threat."

"Not even as Death?"

"Revealing that part of him was not his choice. Nor were we ever actually shown it. We were told of Death by you and Kronos."

"He didn't deny it when you confronted him."

"No, he didn't--which should have told me that Death didn't exist anymore."

"Tell me: when he takes your head will you also provide him with a convenient excuse?"

"If he takes yours, he won't need one," Joe said angrily. "Lady, look beyond your own nose and see what's really going on. The man you're accusing of being evil personified saved all our asses in Seacouver, and now he's here to do the same for the entire world. You need to get off that 'poor me' pedestal and thank whoever you believe in that Methos is who he is."

"'And he doth great wonders, so that he taketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of me, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which had power to do in the sight of the beast.'"

"That's it!" Joe cried furiously. "How dare you quote the Bible to me, Witch, and how dare you accuse Methos of being the fucking Antichrist. If anyone is the servant of the beast, it's you and all your doomsday shit."

"Seems I miss all the interesting conversations," Methos said, joining them. "Ever think of becoming a sailor with that mouth, Joe?"

"Whore of Babylon," Joe muttered, leaning heavily on his cane as he walked away from Cassandra. "So, buddy, you got someplace I can rest these nubs? They're killing me."

"I have transportation and accommodations, Joe. I also have some ointment that should make you feel better instantly," Methos replied, hooking his arm with Joe's to give the man some added support.

"God bless your calculating heart. Who's the grinning idiot ahead?"

Methos smiled. "That's Ahmed. He's going to be our driver, guide, and assistant while we're here. He was so impressed with how well I spoke his language that it would be a sin against Allah to let someone else take care of us."

"You're inspiring holy missions now?"

"Seems that way. Ahmed, come meet the rest of my party."

The bearded middle-aged man bowed. "Any friend of Friend Adam is a friend of mine. Come. I take you to hotel."

"A limo?" Duncan's eyebrows climbed to his scalp. "Am I going to have to file for bankruptcy after this, Adam?"

"Don't worry. I was a tax attorney in a previous life," Methos assured him.

"I feel much better now," Duncan said dryly.

"I thought you would. In you go, Joe."

The ride to the hotel was punctuated with yawns and occasional nods. Even Duncan didn't have any complaints when they arrived at the opulent Western hotel and were escorted to the Presidential Suite. It had four bedrooms and a large common room. Everyone quickly chose a room and disappeared.

Cassandra finished her shower and slipped into a peignoir before leaving the bath. On her bed was a note. "You were warned," it read. Her hands shook as she sank onto the cool sheets. It was unsigned, but she knew who it was from, and while the message upset her, she was more worried that she hadn't felt his Presence although she was just a wall away. Was she that tired? Or had she been around the two Immortals for so long that they no longer registered on her Immortal radar?

She crumpled the note into a ball. Warned. She hadn't set out to deliberately antagonize the mortal. It was just that they were so blind, so quick to believe that Methos' deceptions were harmless. But she knew better. She'd been burned by the difference between what Methos wanted her to see and what was real. She'd thought his feelings for her were genuine. She'd thought that when she looked into his eyes she saw love. Then he'd given her to Kronos, and she'd discovered the bitter truth. That she meant no more to him than the other camp whores. That she'd given her body and love to a man who had neither heart nor soul.

Hell hath no fury, Cassandra.

That was what the mortal had said. He thought she was launching a campaign against Methos because she was a woman scorned, because she couldn't get over the fact that she had loved Methos and he had not returned the feeling. But that wasn't true. Not in any way or any form. One, she had not truly loved Methos. Oh sure, it'd felt that way for a while but that was because she hadn't known any better. She'd been raised to give her body to the man who loved her, and since Methos had taken her, had given her pleasure when he tired of giving her pain, her mind had told her that she must love him. It was all a form of brainwashing, especially after he convinced her that he'd restored her life. Not love. Mind control.

And as far as Methos loving her, well, that was quite impossible because he was not capable of the emotion. He was not human enough. That was the problem. He'd convinced Duncan and the mortal that he was human--and he wasn't. He was a demon even worse than Kronos. Kronos couldn't beguile like Methos. Maybe it was because of the scar, but no one ever thought Kronos wasn't a threat. Methos, on the other hand, Methos could make someone feel cherished and safe.... Methos would battle Mael and win. And Duncan would think the world was safe, but it would be in worse straits than ever because Methos would have Mael's power. And Methos wouldn't just simply destroy the world. Methos would make the world suffer. The millennia of wretched tears. Methos' legacy, not Mael's.

She lay across the bed and closed her eyes. Methos would stop Mael. And she would have to stop Methos.

Like she should have done in Bordeaux.

*****

Duncan's eyes unerringly sought the red glowing lights. 5:27. Four hours of sleep. Not bad. He got up and slipped on one of the hotel's robes over his briefs. Stepping into the common room, he searched for the Presence he knew would be nearby. He found Methos out on the balcony which overlooked the city. He doubted if the Immortal had gotten any sleep.

"Who plagues you tonight? In Italy it was your ghosts."

Methos shrugged, his gaze set steadily on the city. "Deja vous all over again, eh, Mac?" He sighed, and rubbed a hand across his face. "It's me. I plague me. Much of my life has been spent either wanting to remember the Time Before or not wanting to remember. Now, I can't decide which was the right quest. Knowing changes nothing. My past can't be altered. My present is as it would be, for despite my protests, I would accept this Challenge with or without knowing the details of my mortal life. Maybe my moral fiber isn't up to your standards, but I do know when a fight belongs to me, and I will stand firm when those I care about are threatened. And as far as my future goes, I don't see that the awareness of what I can do or what I have done, will have a fundamental effect of how I live. So, nothing has changed, yet I feel that knowing has changed all."

"How?"

"Well, I no longer have the hope that I was a better person as a mortal. My hands were awash with blood long before they held a sword."

"But you were manipulated by--"

"If that argument won't hold with what I did as a Horseman, then it won't hold with what I did at Mael's behest. It doesn't matter in whose name I killed--just that I killed." He held out his hands. "Never pure, MacLeod. Never innocent."

"You're wrong."

Methos dropped his hands. "Not the first time we've disagreed." He wrapped his arms around himself as if he were cold. But he was fully dressed and the night air was warm. "I knew the light in me existed. I ignored it, but I knew it was there...and I pictured it as my saving grace. To know that I wielded it for evil--that's the greatest blow. I never knew what it was, or where it came from, but I'd vowed never to betray it to the darkness. But I did, for surely that is the source of the power inherent in me. Mael saw it, manipulated it, and I--I did so as well."

"No."

Methos sank into a crouch, his back resting against the rails surrounding the balcony. "I never told you how I escaped from Mael. The years passed after Mael made me burn that village, and in those years he'd made me kill a number of times, so much so that I was basically resigned to it and no longer hesitated. Puberty hit, but there was no teenage rebellion, no temper tantrums, no screams of 'I hate you!'. As I had from a small child, I did as I was told. Until I spied a raven-haired girl who was the daughter of a village elder. It was love at first sight. The times were different. Often first love was last love. You married early and quickly, since life expectancy rates were so low. When you died at twenty-five, there was no time for a long courtship. So I asked for her hand in marriage. Her father agreed. I was a good match--wealthy and powerful."

"He figured he could use you."

"That was typical in those days. Give a little, get a little. I got his daughter, he got the use of my magic. It was a good deal for both of us. Not so for Mael. He was furious, and forbade the union. Then he killed both the girl and her father."

Mac was horrified. "Why? Merely to show you he was in control?"

Methos gave a weak laugh. "Only that it was so simple, Mac. Tell me what you know of tantric magic."

"Tantric? That has to do with sex, right? I've done some--um--study of the practice as it relates to certain meditation techniques."

Methos gave him a quick grin, then sobered. "In magic, it's the perfect way of blending or fusing powers. Think of it. In a way, you truly do become one."

"So Mael was afraid you would 'fuse' with the girl and that's why he killed her? Did she possess magical skills as well?"

"No. She was a Muggle."

"A what?"

"Note to self: lend MacLeod your copies of the Harry Potter series. She didn't have any magical skills," he translated.

"So why--" Duncan's eyes widened. "Mael wanted to fuse with you. That's why he didn't want you to have a wife."

"You're partially correct."

Duncan frowned, trying to unravel what Methos wasn't saying. The awareness caught him in the pit of his stomach. He sat on the concrete patio across from his friend. "Mael did fuse with you." Methos nodded. "For how long?"

"Since the beginning," Methos whispered.

Duncan let loose a string of invectives in every language he knew. "I'm sorry," he said, finally getting himself under control. "You didn't need to hear that."

Lean shoulders shrugged. "Nothing I haven't said myself. Anyway, as I said, you were partially correct. He didn't want me to have a wife because it would dilute the power I gave him. That was something I figured out after I left him. Never once did he suck the life out of mortals while I was with him. That was because I was fueling his Immortality."

"You left him?"

"He'd pushed me too far, and I made plans to break out of his control. I read every text I could put my hands on--"

"So this was after the invention of writing."

Methos smiled. "That sounds like something Joe would say. He's desperate to find some corresponding date so he'll have proof of my actual age. But this isn't something you can date. Writing existed in the arcane world long before the Sumerians and Phoenicians got around to making a cuneiform alphabet. There are things in magic which cannot be spoken, Mac. Therefore, in order to pass them to others, they needed to be written down. Eventually, once writing became popular, the originals were transcribed to the mundane alphabet, and the old way was eliminated to the point that no one knew it had ever existed. Anyway, I read the texts, and I learned how to conjure a demon."

"Dumah. The demon in the boy."

"I created him out of me. I corrupted the light and created Dumah from it. Then I told Mael that I had felt great power at a particular point in the desert just beyond the last village we had passed. I led him into a pit the demon had dug. It was too deep for Mael to climb out of, but still I rolled a rock over the pit and sat Dumah upon the rock to guard against anyone moving it. I walked away without looking back."

"You married Inna."

"Several years later. I kept moving for the longest time, wanting to get as far away from Mael as I could. Apparently I didn't get far enough. You know the rest of the story."

"Dumah made you slaughter Inna and her family."

"My family."

"You slaughtered your family, and were buried alive in a cave with them. You died and came into your Immortality there."

Methos nodded. "And I went through a number of deaths and resurrections in that cave. Every time my eyes would open, Dumah would be staring at me, waiting to return home, and then I would die again. One day, I revived to find the cave was but a tumble of rocks. Perhaps there had been an earthquake, or maybe it was merely a combination of erosion and time. There was light, and no Dumah. Somehow I found the strength to crawl from the rocks. Some nomads found me, nursed me back to health. I couldn't remember anything except my name , so I made the rest of it up along the way. Eventually I met an Immortal and I found out what I was."

"This Immortal was your teacher?"

"What was there to teach? There was no such thing as a sword, and what passed for knives--to kill an Immortal in those days, you bashed his head in, then messily sawed through his neck with a hopefully sharp, but usually dull piece of stone or bone. It wasn't something you wanted to do, and it wasn't something you wanted done to you, so his best advice was if you felt Presence, run like hell. That advice worked for at least a century or more. Then I met an Immortal who chased me instead of running in the opposite direction. Pure fear got me through that first Challenge, and it was just my luck he happened to have a Watcher."

"And thus a myth was birthed."

"A mystery even to myself."

They were both silent for a long time, watching as the sun called forth the day.

"You are stronger than Mael."

Methos looked surprised that Duncan had spoken. Or maybe he was just surprised Duncan was still seated beside him. "I know."

"I just don't mean physically or magically. I mean mentally. He thinks you aren't. When you confront him he will probably still see the teenager or even the small child that you once were."

"I still am that child, Mac."

"No, you're not. Mael owned and abused a mortal. That's not what you are anymore. Yes, you've always had more power than he, but now that power is controlled by an Immortal--no, by the Immortal who has played a deadly Game far longer than any of his opponents without even knowing he had such power in his control. I hope you don't mind me saying so, but your father, Methos, is a fool. He should have killed you when he first laid eyes on you."

"Well, aren't you sweet," Methos crooned.

Duncan flushed when he thought about what he'd said. "You know what I mean."

"I do indeed. And I heartily agree. It sort of makes you wonder about prophecy and all that sort of thing, doesn't it? Just how much free will do we have? Is there such a thing as coincidence? Was Kalas destined to come in search of me, thereby orchestrating our meeting? Was I supposed to become a Watcher and Joe's friend? Did the fates decree that you find out about Watchers, meet Joe, and become friends with him?"

"You're asking this of the Millennial Champion?" Duncan questioned with a smile. "I think we're put into situations and into places, but I think the final choice is ours. It was Mael's choice to use you instead of killing you. It will be your choice to destroy Mael. It will be your choice of what to do with the power you will possess after his destruction."

Methos nodded and dug into the pocket of the jeans he'd never gotten around to taking off. From it he withdrew a small coin and held it out to MacLeod.

Duncan looked at the coin and frowned. It was the token he'd given Methos at Christmas. He'd told Methos to give it to him when he needed instant understanding, when he needed him to listen or help without questions or demands. "No, Methos. That's not necessary."

"We will meet Mael today, MacLeod, and to deal with him, I may have to become someone I'm not anymore. I need to know I can do what I have to do without losing your friendship in the process. I need you to trust me."

Duncan stood. "Put that thing away, Methos. I meant it when I said it's not necessary. I'm not Cassandra, nor am I listening to her. You have my trust."

"Despite everything I've told you?"

"Because of everything you've told me. I understand your hesitation in trusting me, Methos. Everything you've gone through in the past, you've gone through alone. But you're not alone this time, my friend. I'm going to be at your side. Joe, too. Your chosen sages aren't going to desert you. Except maybe to go take a shower and put on some clothes," he said, smiling and holding out a hand to help Methos to his feet.

"Well, that would be useful unless we're planning on staying downwind of Mael," the Eldest rejoined. "Go on in. I'll only be out here a moment longer." He leaned against the railing to look out at the city again.

"What do you see?" Duncan asked curiously, his hand on the patio door.

"The past, the present, the future."

"Nice view?"

"Parts could use some work."

"Don't get too lost in appearances. Sometimes great treasures are just a bit of elbow grease away."

"And sometimes they are just an elbow-length away. Go shower, Mac. You look like somebody who just completed a transatlantic flight, and then didn't have sense enough to rest long enough afterward."

"I think we both resemble that remark. Try to catch a couple of hours of sleep, Methos. Mael can wait."

"Yes, O Clan Leader."

Duncan looked back as he closed the balcony door. He saw a man, literally with the weight of the world on his shoulders, standing tall as he stared into the rising sun.

And he had no doubt at all that the same man would still be standing tall as the sun made its descent into the west.

Chapter Thirteen

"How long is he planning on sleeping?" Cassandra asked, pacing the length of the common room.

"Until he wakes," Joe said dryly, reading the English version of USA Today which had arrived with breakfast.

"He didn't go to bed until a couple of hours ago, Cassandra," Duncan explained, wondering why the job of peacekeeper always fell to him. Maybe because all three of them are your friends.

"Who's fault is that? No one made him stay up, plotting world domination."

"That's not what he was doing."

"What was he doing then?"

Preparing for the biggest fight of his life. Preparing to go up against a man who abused and terrified him for most of his mortal life. Preparing to do things he thought I would hate him for. "Preparing himself for what's to come."

"Hey, Mac? He's doing okay, isn't he?" Joe asked, unable to mask the concern in his voice.

"Yeah." He plopped down beside the Watcher. "I think Father's gonna be in for one hell of a surprise when he meets Mother Methos."

Joe nodded. "She's a vicious bitch, and he's pushing every button she has. It's probably going to get messy."

"It is. He tried to offer me the token this morning. Told him it was unnecessary."

"Is it?"

"Yes."

Joe patted the arm next to him. "Good man." He felt sharp eyes regarding them. "What?" he snapped.

"Mother Methos?" Cassandra asked as if the words left a bitter taste in her mouth.

"Uncle Adam's more violent and diabolical alter ego," Joe replied with a grin, enjoying her confusion. "Uncle Adam will kill you. Mother Methos likes to toy with her food first."

Cassandra frowned. "You're both insane. All these cute names. Methos is Death. Why aren't you using that one?"

"Because Uncle Adam could take Death with one hand tied behind his back. Death protected the small family he created. Uncle Adam has a bigger goal, a larger family. And Mother Methos--Mother Methos has adopted the whole world."

"And no one messes with what belongs to Mother Methos," Methos said as he stepped into the room. "Good afternoon, children."

Duncan pointed to a stack of boxes on the table by the door. "Your friend Ahmed dropped those by earlier. I think I insulted him by offering a tip."

"Infidel!" Methos said with a grin. "Ahmed is my friend, not my servant, Westerner."

Duncan rolled his eyes. "That's exactly what he said. So what's in the packages? They look like clothing boxes, but I know you do all your shopping from my closet."

"Keep working on that sense of humor, Highlander. In another four hundred years, you might be slightly funny." He inspected the packages, then began handing them out. "Woman. That's yours, Cassandra. Gray man. Must be yours, Joe. Dark man. Here, MacLeod. Friend Adam. That's me. Okay. Just remember this at Christmas."

"Whatever it is, it has to be better than the promised Salad Shooter," Duncan mumbled as he lifted the top off the box. He pulled out a long, straight gown colored a light tan. "What is it?"

"The latest thing in desert-wear. Well, actually, it's the only thing in desert-wear. It's called a thwab--don't look at me that way; I didn't invent the word."

"And this?" Duncan held up a headwrap.

"A keffiyah. It's remarkably efficient in keeping the head cool."

"I'm gonna look like goddamned Arafat," Joe huffed as he opened his box to reveal the same items.

"And goddamned Arafat has survived many years in the desert, even with a target on his back," Methos pointed out serenely.

"So we're heading into the Syrian Desert?" Duncan asked.

"Something like that," Methos said casually. "Don't look so glum, Cassandra. You don't have to wear traditional female dress. I finally convinced Ahmed that you were one of those sinful Western women who preferred a male's garb. He said he'd say a prayer for you, by the way."

"I'm not the one in need of prayer."

"That's what you think," the Watcher muttered.

"It's like watching a Tracy and Hepburn film," Methos said in a loud whisper to Duncan, grinning when Joe glared at him. "Did Ahmed say anything about a car?"

"Oh, that's what that was about. He said to tell you, and I quote, 'Tell Friend Adam him no drive. I drive anywhere and no say a word. I be down in lobby when he ready.' For not being a servant, he seems to have the role down pat."

"Ahmed's grandmother had a dream. She told him that a sheikh, a prince, was coming, and that Ahmed was to assist him in defeating the great evil he'd come to defeat. Because she also added that the prince would appear Western but have a deep understanding of their ways, Ahmed seems to think I'm the prince."

"You are," Joe said. "You know what the Watchers call you guys."

"I know."

"I don't," Duncan said.

"Princes of the Universe."

Duncan noticed how uncomfortable Methos looked. "Is that a good thing or a bad one?"

"Just a name, Mac. So, are we ready to go?" Methos asked quickly. "Anyone need to go the bathroom? I don't want to hear about it an hour from now."

Three faces flushed red and disappeared into their respective rooms.

*****

After many hours of travel, the limo rolled to a smooth stop. A second later Ahmed opened the door.

"This is where you wish to be, Friend Adam?"

Methos slid out of the car and hesitantly eyed the desert surrounding them. The harsh landscape brought back memories he wasn't entirely comfortable with. "This is perfect, Ahmed. You will be well waiting for us here?"

Ahmed shifted to Arabic and as they walked off together the others got out of the car.

"Holy Mother, I think we are in Kansas," Joe said, spying the flat, dry, plain spread out before them. Not exactly what came to mind when he pictured a desert. There was some sand, but mainly it was hard-baked dirt, gravel, and clumps of dried grass he was standing on. "But it is hot as hell," he added, wincing at the heat that beamed from overhead and oozed up from the hot soil beneath him.

"They don't call it a desert for nothing." Duncan looked his friend over from head to toe, dressed in his thwab and keffiyah. They had dressed before they left, the Immortals donning lightweight, sleeveless robes that concealed their swords. "You look almost biblical, Joe. Shall I offer you two camels for your daughter?"

"Two measly camels? Sounds like we're gonna have to haggle a bit, you cheapskate."

"Three camels. But you're going to have to throw in your ugly daughter as a concubine."

"Just because she looks more like that goat her mother adored than she does me, doesn't mean you can bad mouth her," Joe argued. "Four camels. And be sure to keep her away from your livestock."

Both men burst out laughing. Cassandra just shook her head and sidled over to where Ahmed was setting up a tent with Methos' help. Obviously, Ahmed was prepared to be comfortable while he waited for the crazy Westerners and his "prince".

"Odd things may occur, Ahmed," Methos was saying. "Just stay here and you will be safe."

"As you wish, Friend Adam. Ahmed will be here whenever you are able to return." Ahmed turned to Methos and bowed lowly. "May Allah attend thee, sire."

"Thank you, Ahmed." Methos walked away, giving Cassandra a brief smile. "Concerned that I was plotting something? And yes, I know you speak Arabic."

"I wanted to talk to you about the mortal. Should he not stay here with the other? The desert can be harsh and unforgiving."

"Why can't you call him by name? I know you have mortal friends and I'm sure you don't go around calling them that."

Cassandra shrugged. "You asked me to take care of Joe and Duncan. I do not know if I can do that in this place."

"You won't have to. You are now all under my protection. Joe will be safe."

"Even from Mael?"

"Especially from Mael," Methos said menacingly.

"And what about from you?"

"I'll ignore that remark before I have to sic my nanny on you. Joe, MacLeod. You ready?"

"Sure. Where are my camels?" Joe asked. He and Duncan started laughing again.

"I think this is one time I definitely don't want to know," Methos said. "Come along, children. No stragglers, please."

They started across the desert. Joe was uneasy because he knew he couldn't walk but so far before his prosthetics became uncomfortable in the heat. But he also knew Methos was well aware of his limitations. He trusted the Immortal not to expect more than he could give. He was right. Ten minutes later, Methos brought them to a halt.

"We're here," the Immortal who was in a pure white thwab and robe said.

"Here where? We could have driven the limo this distance. Just tell Ahmed--" Joe stopped. He'd turned around to where they'd left Ahmed, and neither the car nor the Arab was there. He quickly spun around and realized they were far from where they started. Instead of a dry plain, they were in a rocky region with hills and other elevations close to being mountains. The only thing that remained constant was the intense sun beaming down on them. "Just where the hell are we?" he asked, his voice full of wonder.

"Welcome to the land of my birth, my friends," Methos said solemnly. "Isn't that right, Father?"

Three jaws dropped to the ground as a figure materialized out of the bands of wavering heat. He was not as tall as the two male Immortals, but was more broad-shouldered than both, and had short dark hair that was graying on the edges.

And his teeth were incredibly white as he smiled at Methos.

"Welcome home, son."

Chapter Fourteen

The man walked closer. "It's been a long time, Marduk."

"Sorry. I found myself rather forgetful for a while."

"Odd that. And quite unexpected."

Methos shrugged, not surprised that Mael was fully informed. "I'm sure the happenstance is written down in a prophecy somewhere. The prophets don't seem to miss much."

"Who are your companions?" Mael asked, stepping in their direction, but Methos kept himself in Mael's path.

"They are my friends, a concept I discovered after leaving your tutelage."

Mael tried to walk around Methos, but Methos wouldn't allow it. They slowly circled around the three 'outsiders'.

"If you hadn't left, perhaps you could have been spared the years of forgetfulness." Frustrated, Mael stopped trying to get to the trio, and focused his whole attention on Methos.

"If I hadn't left, then I would have spent the years being your personal fountain of youth." Surprise flared in Mael's dark eyes. "You're almost looking your age, Father. Human lives just don't have the power they used to, do they?"

"You are as brilliant as ever. Your mind was remarkable even as a small lad. That's why I'm somewhat disappointed in your current profession, son. A professor of mortals? You should at least be a military leader or the head of a country. What happened to those wonderful boys you used to travel with? The four of you were set to take over the world. And you had outgrown that whiny stage of yours. 'Please don't make me kill them, Father,'" he mocked in a high-pitched voice.

Methos laughed, but there was no humor in the sound. "Ah, yes, those troublesome morals I had as a child finally disappeared. I learned to kill and kill easily. I bet that made you proud, didn't it? Well, what happened to those 'wonderful boys' is that I decided I didn't want to share the world with anyone, so I had them killed. Took the biggest one out myself."

Mael gave another blinding grin. "Now that's my son speaking. It's good to see you haven't forgotten all that I taught you."

"No, I haven't forgotten any of your lessons. And I've added to my knowledge as well."

"Indeed. Perhaps we should go somewhere more hospitable to discuss that. I know if I had such a lovely woman, I wouldn't keep her standing out in this heat so long," he said, bowing to Cassandra. "And the mortal looks to be a bit fragile."

Methos shook his head. "My companions are not as fragile as you think, and I consider Armageddon the perfect spot for our--discussion, Mael."

Joe had just been contemplating that Methos was right, that oddly enough he wasn't doing too bad in the heat, when Methos' other words connected. "Armageddon? We're on the final battlefield?" he asked in a strangled voice. "Does that mean this is--"

"The apocalypse, Joe?" Methos asked with a calming smile. "No. At least not for the earth. Only one will be banished into darkness in this war."

"Is that a warning?" Mael's grin turned menacing.

"Merely a statement of fact. You know the prophecies, Mael. Your time on this earth is over."

"First you have to defeat me, and although you might have the power, I doubt you have the fortitude. Not anymore," Mael sneered. "You were once a great warrior, but you turned aside the sword for what? To hide in the shadows, perhaps behind another warrior? Is that why you have brought this one, Marduk? To fight your battle?" He glared at Duncan. Duncan merely glared back.

"I fight my own battles. MacLeod and the others are here merely to witness your defeat."

"The only defeat they will see will be your own. I shall have you squirming beneath me where you belong. Do you remember our glorious times together, my son? Your tight little body--"

"Stop!" Methos cried, his eyes a glittering green. "Be sure you want to go there, Father. My patience is already paper-thin."

"What? You don't want your friends to know that you spent most of your formative years on your belly in the dirt or your head between my knees?"

Duncan felt his hands involuntarily clench. "Don't let him do this to you, Methos," he warned softly.

Methos gave a sudden shake of his head, as if trying to free himself of old memories. "I owe you one, Father, for it is due to your ministrations that no matter how low I sank into the abyss of perversities, I never participated in baby-rape. Was quite opposed to it, and it should have caused me problems, being Death the way I was. But Kronos preferred more experienced game, Caspian thought the small ones made better meals than fuck-toys, and Silas--Silas liked to tether the little ones to posts like wild dogs. I just killed them."

"That was a waste. The young ones have so much energy to give."

"I've been many things but never a vampire!" Methos said caustically. "You did the same to the mortal children as you did to me, didn't you? Draining them dry as you impaled yourself upon them."

"Jealous? Don't be. Their power was never as sweet as yours, their passion never as energizing."

"That was not passion. That was fear. It built up during the long days, and only eased during the equally long nights after you had used me. How I savored those hours of peace. Then morning would come again, and the fear would return."

"You can't fool me, my son. Near the end you were enjoying it."

Duncan watched Methos take a deep, calming breath. That's the way, my friend. Hold it together now, and later, I'll keep watch and help you put the pieces back together again.

"Yes, I did enjoy it, because at the end I'd learned how to take your power into me. Hmm. Guess I did do a stint as a vampire." He laughed as he took in Mael's shocked expression. "What? You didn't notice you were weakening? I'm not surprised. Your technique was so crude I could barely walk after merging with you. But I was, oh, so smooth at it. I could have drained you dry, and you wouldn't have even noticed until you were just a heap of dust I crushed into the mud. You thought yourself a great magician, but true magicians are one with their world. You were only one with yourself."

"Yet I still exist," Mael said, nervously boasting.

"Only because I was a child and in a hurry. I wanted away from you. I didn't stop to think that in a few months I could've caused your true demise. We both fucked up, Mael. You should have killed me along with my mother, and I should have sent you to hell instead of dropping you into a pit. It's too late for you to correct your mistake. I, on the other hand, am about to fulfill my destiny."

"I think not. Behold my true form, son!"

The earth rocked beneath their feet, and Duncan grabbed hold of both Cassandra and Joe. The three of them watched in horror as Mael seemed to explode and reform into a massive beast with seven heads and ten horns. It was shaped like a leopard, but had the feet of a bear and the mouths of a lion. When the seven heads roared in unison, the mountains around them trembled and boulders rained from their peaks.

"I shall devour you and all that is yours, whelp," the beast said to Methos. The three heads that had two horns each snaked past the Immortal to aim for Duncan and the others.

Duncan and Cassandra both drew their swords, determined to protect Joe. But ten feet away from them, the heads struck something so hard that their horns broke off and blood gushed from the wounds. Howling, the beast retreated. The undamaged four heads looked around in anger, their single horns seeking to pierce the being who caused them such pain. But Methos had disappeared.

"You would think that with fourteen eyes you wouldn't be so blind."

The beast and the humans followed the voice upward to where Methos stood upon one of the mountains. There was no strain in his voice, but it carried easily and reverberated off the other peaks.

"What's mine is mine, Mael. And soon, what's yours will be mine also. Submit now and instant death will be your reward. Continue to fight, and I will send you screaming back to those you have betrayed. You received your power at a cost, and that is a debt you have yet to repay. They await you, Mael, knives in hand."

"Not if I give them you!" the seven heads yelled. The ursine feet began to climb, the dagger-like claws gouging deep into the hard rock.

"So be it, Father. You have chosen your own fate."

Dust rose on the horizon and soon the sound of galloping could be heard. Duncan watched tensely as a white horse came into view, a golden mane and tail flying behind him. It stopped at the base of the mount, and Methos flung himself over the side to land lightly upon the stallion's back. He held up his hand and a blinding flash of lightning streaked through the clear blue sky. When vision returned, Mac saw Methos now carried a sword that appeared fashioned from the lightning itself. It wasn't metal, for metal didn't shimmer as the sword did, dancing in an odd light that came from within.

"Mael," Methos called as the beast reversed its movements and backed down the mountain. "You have always been slow, but this is ridiculous."

The beast disengaged its claws and leapt, the leopard body twisting in the air to land upright before Methos. The seven heads snarled at their enemy, baring rows of sharp teeth and fangs. "You shall service the dark gods now!"

One of the heads jutted out, using its horn as a lance to try to unseat Methos from the white horse. But horse and Immortal moved swiftly out of the way, and Methos used the sword to slice the horn cleanly away from the head. The other six heads descended upon him then, blood and saliva dripping on him as they loomed above him. When the heads dropped atop the two hapless beings beneath them, Duncan's view was blocked, and he feared the worst as copious amounts of blood began to splatter the rocky soil. But one by one, the heads began to fall away, severed from the massive body, until he could see Methos still seated triumphantly on the horse. Both were drenched in blood. Only the sword remained pure and gleaming.

The leopard body, bleeding from the seven stumps where the necks had been, toppled over and burst open. From its belly Mael crawled to lie prostrate before the horse.

"Mercy," Mael whispered brokenly. "Please, my son."

The hairs on the back of Duncan's neck rose as Methos laughed. "You dare to ask me for mercy? Why, that would require me to have a heart, Mael. And you stomped that organ dead thousands of years ago. Ground it into the mud along with my 'tight little body'."

Mael pulled himself up to his knees, flinching as the horse snorted and reared its head. "I know that clemency is something you are capable of, Marduk--"

"Do not call me that. From the moment I left you, I became Methos, and that's who I am forevermore."

"Of course, Lord Methos. I beg of you. Please show compassion upon the man who took you in, and cared for you when you could not care for yourself."

Methos shook his head. "Careful that your tongue does not cut your throat, Mael. Recalling the past is not your best line of defense."

"Then look to your companions and remember your past mercies. The betrayals and anger and conflict between you has left its stench in the connections you have with each of them. Yet, you let them within your circle of safety--you've graced them with your forgiveness."

"Because they have graced me with theirs. But there is no cause for you to forgive me, Mael, because all the fault is yours." Methos' back drew ramrod straight. "No. The beast is finished. The sentence has been declared. You will return to they who sent you, and you can plead to them for leniency. I have none for you."

"Nooo!" Mael pushed to his feet and stumbled forward.

The sword thrust through him.

"Gods of The Left-Hand Path, come!" Methos ordered. "Reclaim that which is yours, and return to me my own ten-fold as so pledged in days of old!"

"Oh, shit. Not again," Joe said as the sky darkened above them.

A funnel cloud formed, and with a roaring whoosh sank to the ground. Mael was sucked from the point of the sword, his cries drowned out by the rumble of the tornado. But glimpses of his face as he was absorbed into the sidewalls of the twister vividly showed his fear and agony. The whirlwind danced in front of Methos, the white horse and rider remaining calm. Mael was finally drawn into the interior of the angry winds and moments later a tendril of dark, oily smoke reached out to wrap around the ancient Immortal. More of the inky plumes surrounded Methos until only his outline could be discerned through the haze. Then even that was gone.

Within a blink of the eye, the maelstrom disappeared.

"Where's Methos?" Duncan asked.

"Up there," Cassandra replied breathlessly.

Methos and his steed were once again high on the mount. Sooty residue had mixed with blood to coat them in a macabre shroud. As the dark clouds retreated and the light returned, Methos stood up in the saddle and tossed the sword like a javelin toward the sun. The day star exploded, and drops of it splattered onto Methos and the horse, and both were cleaned in the sun rain. Methos dismounted. He whispered into the animal's ear, and the horse galloped down from the mountain and disappeared into the desert again.

"Is it over?" Joe asked.

"I don't think so," Duncan murmured, watching Methos raise his hands.

"Mountains! Bow before me!" he called, his voice pealing like thunder.

The ground trembled violently, and the hills and mountains surrounding them collapsed.

"Winds! Obey me!"

Dust swirled across the desert floor, hitting the mountainside and rising to settle at Methos' feet.

"Oceans! Attend me!"

A loud crash made the three turn their heads, then cringe in horror. A huge wave of water curled above them. It fell to the earth with a bang, the desert no longer dry.

"Fire! Come!"

Fire came rolling across the sky like the clouds of an approaching storm. They looked overhead and saw nothing but flame.

"Xeper!"

Duncan heard Cassandra gasp, her first outward reaction to anything. "What?" he demanded. "What did he say?"

"It is ancient Egyptian. It's literal translation is 'I have come into Being'. It is also the call of the Aeon of Set, Prince of Darkness. Methos has become, Duncan, and the world will never be the same."

"Lady, I'm gonna take this whatchamacallit off my head and gag you with it," Joe threatened. "You're not believing her crap, are you, Mac?"

Duncan looked at the lean figure standing royally beneath the roiling flames he'd called, and shivered. Here was an awesome power he didn't understand, and had no chance of controlling. Ian MacLeod's teachings told him that was a bad thing. Methos' teachings told him to have faith. "No, Joe. I'm not believing her. Methos has made no deals with the Devil this day."

As if he'd heard Duncan's declaration of faith, Methos lowered his arms. "Return, and be as you were," he ordered the heavens quietly. The flames winked out. The water retreated. The winds blew away. The mountains reformed.

And Methos nimbly descended from his throne. "I don't know about you guys, but I could use a beer."

Joe blinked at him and roughly cleared his throat. "I think I could use something stronger."

Methos laughed and patted Joe's shoulder. "I think Ahmed could be persuaded to point us in the right direction, despite Islamic law. Come along, Highlander, Cassandra. I'm buying."

"And I thought what I just saw was miraculous," Duncan quipped, willing to go along with the lightness until he could start making sense of what he'd just seen. "Cass--" he turned to urge her along and saw that her sword was still drawn. "What is it?" he asked, his hand going to his own hilt.

"Methos," she called, stepping around Duncan. "I Challenge you."

Chapter Fifteen

"Are you fucking insane?" Joe asked incredulously. "You just saw what this man did, and you're Challenging him?"

Duncan put up a hand to silence Joe, keeping his attention on Cassandra. "You don't want to do this. Mael has been defeated, and Methos has turned his back on the allure of power."

"Has he, Duncan? You heard him. Xeper! He has come into Being. Now, his will shall be done. Isn't that how it goes, Methos?"

"Is this what you truly want, Cassandra?" Methos asked softly.

"Yes."

"Then I accept your Challenge." He drew the Ivanhoe.

"Wiggle your nose, and get this over with, Adam," Joe called angrily.

Methos gave an apologetic smile. "Sorry, my friend. Magic should only be used against Magic. I will face Cassandra as one Immortal warrior against another."

"Mac, you gonna do something?" Joe pleaded.

Duncan shook his head. "A proper Challenge was issued and accepted. I can't interfere."

Methos stared at Cassandra. "I will not make the first blow."

"Fine."

Taking a deep breath, she attacked. At first her strokes were clumsy and hesitant, but as the battle continued, she grew more confident, and her movements became fluid and automatic. She knew Duncan disapproved of her Challenge, and would be upset no matter which way the fight went. But it was worth his disapproval. If she won, the world would be safe from Methos' evil. And if she lost--Duncan would look upon Methos in a different light, and she knew her Highland lad would eventually defeat the world's true menace.

Her blade danced as if it was alive and Cassandra watched in shock as Methos' sword flew from his hand and dropped to the desert floor. Recovering quickly, she drew her sword back for the fatal blow, and wanting him to see the triumph in her eyes, she looked at him. And stilled. Instead of the expected anger or maybe even fear, she found only calm reflected in the multi-hued irises of her enemy. Calm, and resignation.

No! He should be bitter, and fire should be in his eyes, not peace. Not peace. Evil such as he should not be able to obtain such a goal, unless.... Oh, Goddess. Who was this man so patiently waiting for her to mete out justice? Her sword dipped as she called forth her full talents and searched the soul before her. But her entire arsenal of skills was unnecessary, for he willingly removed the shields he wielded so skillfully, and allowed her full access to the whole of what he was. The sword scraped the ground.

In a flash, she found herself flat on her back with Methos straddling her and a sharp dagger poised at her throat.

"Choose, Cassandra," Methos said. "Live or die?"

Despite her position, her gifts were telling her that she was in no danger from this man. That even if she had been at one time, that time was well past. "Live," she whispered. "I want to live."

"Then do so, dammit." The dagger disappeared. "That is all I've ever wanted of you, Cassandra. That you live." He sat on the ground and held out his hand to help her sit up.

"You speak the truth," she said wondrously.

"Yes."

He allowed her probing to continue, and she was stunned at the amount of regret he felt for her. Apparently it had never dawned on him that she would harbor such hatred for him, such hatred that lasted so long. She would have to ease his mind.

"Contrary to popular belief, I have not spent the last three thousand years plotting your demise," she said, even managing a small smile.

"No?" He tried to summon a smile himself. "There's goes my award for Cad of the Millennia."

"Enoch kept me so busy that I rarely thought of you after the first decade." Enoch had been her teacher, and she'd stayed with him for nearly a century before going out on her own.

"Enoch was like that. Always doing something."

Cassandra's eyes widened, then narrowed. "You knew Enoch?" Methos nodded. "And he knew you?"

"Yes."

"But I told him of you, and he never said a word. I was running from the camp when--" She stopped. "What happened that night, Methos? Tell me the truth. You knew Enoch was out there, didn't you? How?"

"Because he was coming to the camp the next day to--to buy you."

She slapped him before she could stop herself. "You were going to sell me?"

Methos rubbed his cheek absently. "Kronos was right; I had become too attached to you. I needed you gone."

"You. Were. Going. To. Sell. Me!"

"What the hell else was I supposed to do with you, Cassandra? Giving you to my brothers apparently wasn't an option."

"But that didn't stop you, did it?"

"It was only for one night. I thought you could handle it. I knew you could handle it. You hadn't broken under me; I knew you were in no danger from Kronos."

"I hadn't broken? Do you remember the meek, little rabbit who had your meals hot, your drink cold, and your bed warm for you each night?"

"No. All I remember is the woman who turned a tent in the middle of nowhere into a home for a weary warrior."

The tears in her eyes spilled over. "Why did you do this to us? You were smarter than Kronos. You could have gotten us both out of there."

"I didn't want to go."

"You bastard! Whenever it came down to choosing me or them, you always chose them!"

"Dammit, woman! You were my choice! Don't you see? I had pledged to protect them. They were my family, my brothers. And somehow you came to mean as much to me as they did. I knew how Kronos would react to that, and I chose to protect you. Do you know how much I had to give Enoch to take you away?"

"Give Enoch? You were selling me."

Methos gave a long sigh. "No. It was just supposed to look that way. I gave Enoch the means to purchase you...and I gave him enough to get you far away from the Horsemen."

"You--you purchased my freedom?"

He laughed, the end of the sound catching in a sob. "That was the plan. But Kronos--god, but that man confounded me constantly. Sometimes it was as if he could read my mind."

"Not your mind--you."

"What do you mean?"

"He watched you, Methos. As you walked through the camp. As you interacted with your other brothers. As you rode across the desert on your horse. He even--" She paused, not sure how far she should go.

"Truth time, Cassandra. We've both waited long enough."

"He even watched you sleep. I woke one morning just before dawn and found him staring down at us--at you. He motioned that I shouldn't do anything to disturb you, so I got up and left to go prepare your morning meal. When I returned, he was gone and you were still sleeping."

"Why didn't you tell me? Warn me?"

She shrugged. "He didn't feel--malevolent. I sensed curiosity, confusion, and love. He would have never taken your head. Even if--Duncan had lost, he would have hurt you, killed you, but he'd have never taken your head."

"Like I took Silas'."

Cassandra flashed back to the sobbing man in the submarine base. "You did choose me, didn't you?"

"You, MacLeod, every mortal in Southern France. What was my heart in the face of all of that?" He wiped angrily at the tears he couldn't hold back.

She leaned forward and brushed across a tear he'd missed. "You are such a complicated creature. If only you had told me--"

"When, Cass? When you were wielding a sword at me in MacLeod's dojo? When you had an ax poised over my head in Bordeaux?"

"There was a few thousand years in between the times we met, Methos. You knew I was with Enoch. You could have found me."

"And done what? You hated me. Kronos was after me, not to mention a whole host of Immortals and mortals I'd pissed off in my long life. You were raised to be a priestess. I couldn't offer you the life you were destined to have. I found out that you were alive, and I put you out of my mind completely. That was not an act in the dojo. For a minute I didn't know who you were. Hell, I'd suppressed my entire mortal life; forgetting you was simple compared to that."

"How I wish I had your skill. I tried to forget you, and for long periods of time, I succeeded. But then something would trigger a memory.... You were my first, Methos. My first lover, my first love. Your betrayal was seared into my soul like a brand. Yes, it healed, but the mark was permanent. I could cover it up, but I couldn't get rid of it. I knew that tracking down Kronos meant that there was a chance of running into you again. I both cringed at the thought--and savored it." She leaned forward and dropped her head against his chest. "I know now why Kronos hated me so. We were just alike, the two of us. Obsessive personalities sharing the same obsession."

"I deliberately seduced you."

Cassandra shook her head, and Methos reached down and removed her keffiyah. He loosened the knot that she'd bound her chestnut locks into, and used his fingers to comb the straight tresses. She sighed and caught his fingers with her own. "I'm over three thousand years old, Methos, and I have been seduced more times than I care to remember. I've even vowed vengeance on others more times than I care to remember. But no one--not Kantos, not even Duncan--has left his mark on me as you have. Perhaps if Kronos had admitted to his obsession as I am now admitting to mine, he would be able to sit across from you as a friend."

"Are we friends, Cassandra?" he asked carefully.

"No. There's too much--history between us."

He nodded. "Are we enemies then?"

"No. Despite all my ranting and raving, I was a sorry excuse for an enemy. Twice I had you at my mercy; twice I couldn't go through with it."

"MacLeod stopped you the first time."

"Methos, no one could have stopped me if I had truly wanted you dead."

"Point taken. So if we aren't friends, and we aren't enemies?"

She smiled. "We are what we are. Two of the oldest beings on this planet. I don't think the word exists to describe what we are, or what we can or will be to each other."

"Then we shall be Methos and Cassandra, and that will be definition enough." He kissed her on the cheek.

She shifted, kissed him lightly on the lips, and put her arms around his neck to embrace him. "Gee, and it only took us three thousand years to reach that conclusion."

"Thank the gods we have our health and good looks because our intelligence seems to be questionable," he agreed, pulling her closer to him.

"I don't know. There seems to be hope for us."

"Another three thousand years should do it, you think?"

She nipped his ear, and when he growled threateningly, she laughed. "Better make that five thousand. There's no need for us to grow up too fast."

He pulled back to look into her eyes. "Who says we need to grow up at all?"

"Does that mean it's okay for me to cry?" she asked, her eyes not waiting for permission.

"Only if you don't mind having company."

Together they wept for what they had lost, and for what was finally regained.

*****

"Do you think they know they're in the freaking desert and not on an Oprah Winfrey soundstage?" Joe asked as he watched the two embrace and dissolve into tears.

"What?" Duncan said huskily, swiping at his eyes.

"Sheesh, why don't you go over there and join them?"

"No, this is their moment. But it's such a relief that I don't have to worry about two of my friends killing each other."

"Maybe. But they're still both the same volatile people they were. It's not going to be easy being stuck between them."

"'Easy' isn't all it's cracked up to be, Joe."

The Watcher laughed. "You're preaching to the choir, my friend."

"How are you? I know Methos and Cassandra will be upset if their reunion causes you discomfort," Duncan said, belatedly remembering Joe's special needs. Sometimes hanging around a bunch of Immortals could make one forget that most of the world wasn't as indestructible.

"I think that thing that the beast broke his horns on is still hanging over us. I haven't broken into a sweat, and these old pins of mine feel like I'm standing on carpet." He leaned back against one of the rock formations. "When I get home, the first thing I'm going to do is rip out the Book of Revelation from my Bible and burn it."

Duncan shrugged. "I don't know about that, Joe. Might make a handy reference for the next time Methos gets himself into trouble."

"What a hell of a Chronicle he should have."

"No one would believe it."

Joe chuckled. "You're right. Some of the younger Watchers think the sun rises and sets on Immortals, but I think they'd have a problem believing one of you can actually control such an event. Hell, I have a problem believing what he did, and I saw it."

"Aye, I think I'm going to join you in that 'something stronger'. Think we can find some Glenmoragie around here?"

"If not, Joe has some in his luggage," Methos said, approaching hand-in-hand with Cassandra.

"How the hell do you know, Old Man?" Joe asked with feigned outrage.

Methos pressed his middle finger against his forehead as if deeply concentrating. "The Amazing, Marvelous Methos knows all," he pronounced.

"More like Sticky Fingers Methos knows all," Joe muttered.

"You know, for an international traveler, you should invest in better locks."

"Or just be more choosy about my friends."

"Oh, Joe, you're going to hurt MacLeod's feelings. You know, Cassandra, I just don't understand why everyone can't get along like the two of us."

"I guess they have to have something to aspire to," she said laughingly. "I thought you promised to buy me a beer."

"So I did. Everyone ready to go?" Pulling Cassandra along, Methos walked forward. "I think Ahmed can get you a good deal on a nice set of luggage, Joe."

"And just you and me will have the keys, right?" Joe asked dryly.

"Hmph. That's one less beer I have to buy. What about you, MacLeod? No wisecracks?"

"No, you cheapskate. I'm getting my promised free beer."

"Syrian beer is atrocious, you know?"

"No reneging, Methos."

"And it's always warm. And it probably hasn't been strained properly--"

"I got a new platinum card a few weeks ago," Duncan said enticingly.

"Really? And it's last four digits wouldn't be 4179, would they?"

"Methos!"

"Shh. Ahmed will hear you."

Joe looked up to see Ahmed and the limo on the horizon. Smiling at life in general, he kept pace with his Immortal companions, and said a silent 'thank you' to whoever was responsible for his full and exciting life. It wasn't everyone who could say they'd seen Armageddon up close and personal. And now he had the seven-headed beast to add to his experience with Ahriman. Hmm. He'd taken an oath never to write about Immortals for profit, but the oath said nothing about demons....

"Joe, I have no idea what's causing that big grin on your face, but the expression is definitely worth a free drink." Methos threw his arm across the mortal's shoulder. "By the way, MacLeod, the next world-saving is yours."

"Oh, no. After seeing your performance, I'm hanging up my cape," Duncan replied.

"Can't. It's prohibited under section 8-dash-907, subsection X of the Superhero Code of Conduct, which states definitively that...."

Methos was still quoting the mythical handbook as Ahmed closed the limo door, and the long journey back to the city was started. Impressed with Methos' breadth of imagination, Joe decided it might be a good idea to have a co-author on the literary masterpiece he was contemplating. And maybe they'd even let Mac be a technical editor or something to keep them from going waaay out there....

He looked up from his musings as something was urged into his hand. A glass of champagne. The ultimate strategist had thought of everything.

"A toast to the future," Methos said, without a hint of his trademark smirk.

Joe smiled and clicked his glass against the others. "To the future."

(Restoration Series #6D)


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