Author's Notes:

My apologies. I know this was supposed to be up long before now. Thanks for the letters and comments I've been receiving. You guys really keep me on my toes with your insightful comments. And you keep me at the keyboard with your simple "I liked your story" one-liners. In other words, even if you have nothing pithy to say about the story, other than you merely liked it, hit the email button now! :-)

Hope you enjoy!

Restoration Series #3

BOATS AGAINST THE CURRENT

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 04-04-00)


So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


"So, how'd he take the news?"

"Take the-- You know?" Duncan MacLeod questioned his colleague, Dr. Victoria Moon, with a sinking feeling.

She poured her coffee, and opened three packs of sugar. "Everyone knows, Duncan. If you don't tell him soon, he's going to find out from someone else. I don't think he'll appreciate that."

"Oh, I'm pretty sure he won't. Besides, I don't want anyone else in the crossfire. This is my mess. I'm the one who should pay the penalty." He rubbed the back of his neck, attempting to ease the tension there. Or was he trying not to imagine Methos' sword slicing through the tender flesh when he found out what Duncan had done?

Victoria laughed, setting her Styrofoam coffee cup on the table beside her bookbag. She loved the Faculty Lounge at the University of Seacouver. It had such a 'homey' feel. "They told me you were the noble one."

"They?"

"The rest of the faculty. Said I was going to meet two mysterious men. The noble one would be Duncan MacLeod, an associate professor of Art History. The intriguing one would be Dr. Adam Pierson, Linguistics professor."

"And where was Adam and I when all this telling was going on?" Duncan grumbled. He was tired of being called noble all the time. Why couldn't he be the intriguing one? Although, he had to admit, intriguing was an apt description of one Adam Pierson, aka Methos.

"Off being noble and intriguing, no doubt," Victoria replied with a smile. Everything was so clear now that the other faculty members had told her about Duncan and Adam's secret lives as Interpol agents. "Or maybe you were just in class, like Adam is now."

"Yeah, I think I'll go--" He paused as his cell phone chirped. "MacLeod. What's going on, Joe? He has a class. Okay. I'm on it." He stuck the phone into his jacket.

"Trouble?"

"Joe just needs to see Adam and me. A minor problem at the bar."

"Of course." Victoria and her colleagues had figured out that Joe was their controller and the bar was their secret headquarters. "Be careful."

MacLeod nodded distractedly, and headed for his office, where he switched his jacket for his coat. Then, he went and planted himself at the back of the lecture room where Adam was teaching. Being what they were, Adam was instantly aware of his visitor, and started to smile, until he saw the coat. Wariness filled his long, lean body, and he ended the class a few minutes earlier than scheduled. Most of the students hurried out, grateful for the extra free time. A handful lingered behind, including a black male who stood half a foot above anyone else in the room. He was also twice as wide.

"We just wanted to tell you that we'd be rooting for you, Dr. P," he said in a deep booming voice.

Neatly hiding his confusion, Dr. Pierson smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Turner. I never turn down a good show of support."

"So, you don't mind if we come?"

"Of course not. The more the merrier I always say."

"Great! We'll tell the others. This is going to be good!"

The students bolted out of the room, leaving only the two Immortals. "Does whatever I just agreed to have anything to do with why you're carrying your sword?" Methos asked casually, as he stuffed his lesson plan into a battered backpack.

"No. Joe called. No details, just a quick 'watch your backs and get your asses over here.'"

"Joe-- an economist of the spoken word," Adam said laughingly. "So, that explains the sword. What about this other thing?"

"Uh, that was something I was on my way over here to tell you about before Joe called," Duncan explained hesitantly.

"So explain." Adam perched on the edge of the desk.

"You had a department meeting this morning."

"Yes."

"Hickman was in the lounge."

Adam knew Hickman referred to Paul Hickman, professor of music, and all-around asshole. Adam easily ignored the preening bird, but he knew Duncan had a harder time of it. Ah, youth. "And?" he questioned patiently.

"The sign-up sheet for the Annual Faculty Talent Show had been posted to the bulletin board." Adam nodded urging MacLeod to continue. "Hickman was going on and on about how he should do the rest of the staff a favor and not participate this year. He's won every year he's participated."

"What's his talent?"

"Violin. Apparently, he's quite good."

"That's nice, MacLeod, but where do I come into this?" Methos asked, trying to speed up the story. After all, they had to get to Joe's.

"I told Hickman you could beat him. Then, I signed you up for the show."

Hazel eyes widened in shock. "You got pissed at Hickman and signed me up for the talent show? Is that correct, MacLeod?"

Duncan nodded, steeling himself for a blow, and grateful Adam was unarmed. But instead of throwing a punch, Adam laughed. And laughed.

"I'm glad I can be so amusing," Duncan said, finding himself oddly pissed.

"Oh, Mac," Adam chortled, throwing his arm around his friend. "I'm so proud of you!"

Duncan struggled out of the almost strangling hold, totally confused. "What are you talking about?"

"You committed a totally selfish act, MacLeod." He pinched at Duncan's cheek. "My little boy is growing up. Oh, what wonderful mischief awaits you, son."

"Just a minute," Mac began, offended by the notion that this was basically his first step on the road to Methosian behavior. Then, he remembered he could be dodging a sword. "Does this mean you're not mad?"

"By Gods, no. But revenge is a dish best served cold." He slung his pack on his shoulder. "Come along, MacLeod. We mustn't keep Joe waiting."

Ten minutes later, Ed Robbins came into the faculty lounge and approached his usual cronies. Cliques, his teenage daughter called them. She seemed to think they were a bad thing. He thought it was pretty much human nature. "Saw the Batmobile speeding out of the parking lot. Robin taking the Batman out to beat the crap out of him privately?"

"Actually, they seemed to be getting along fine when I passed them in the hallway after Adam's class," Rose Bacall said, looking up from her lunch. "Some kids were telling Adam he had their support, and he was smiling and saying thank you. Maybe he's evolved into an adult male, and realizes violence doesn't solve anything."

Robbins snickered. "If that's supposed to offend me, try something else, Rosie."

She sniffed disdainfully. "What do you think, Victoria?"

"I think I don't see Adam as Robin. He's too-- independent."

"Maybe they're both independent operators who are working as a team," Gray Morgan spoke up. "How about Pierson as the Green Lantern?"

"He certainly has the eyes-- at times," Victoria said, earning an amused look from her friends. "What? Come on. You can't tell me none of you have noticed his eyes."

Rose shifted uncomfortably, Robbins just smirked, and Morgan just looked at her sympathetically. "What?" Victoria demanded.

"It's just not a good idea to get involved with them. Their lifestyles don't lean toward stable relationships. Ever seen a Bond movie?" Morgan asked.

"Just because I noticed his eyes doesn't mean I'm interested in him," Victoria argued. "I'm no Lois Lane."

"She was kinda a groupie, wasn't she?" Rose said.

"Now, we're throwing in Superman, too?" Robbins whined. "What is this-- Superfriends?"

Instantly, their minds flashed back to the carefree days of watching Saturday morning cartoons. Gray Morgan smiled. "So you know what that makes Joe's Bar, right?"

"The Hall of Justice!" they chorused, laughing when the others in the lounge stared at them.

Yeah, Robbins thought to himself. Cliques were all right by him. "However, the real question is what talent does the Green Lantern possess? Have any of you seen Pierson do anything? Have you heard him sing? Pick up an instrument at Joe's? Tap dance on a desk?"

They all looked at each other.

"Well, I wouldn't bet against him in a chugging contest," Morgan offered. "But I guess that's not a real talent, is it?"

Silence.

"Maybe he was taking Batman out to beat the crap out of him," Victoria said softly. Everyone just nodded.

*****

"We're here, Joe. What's going on?" Duncan asked as soon as he spied the bartender.

Joe motioned for them to follow him into his office. "A Hunting party is heading for Seacouver," the man said as he collapsed into his familiar leather chair.

"Mortal or Immortal?" Duncan asked sharply.

"Immortal. Damn it, Mac! Don't let Horton color everything for you," Joe said angrily. He turned to the other Immortal. "You're the reason why I got the heads-up, by the way, Adam. You might be an Immortal, but according to the Watchers, you're our Immortal. They didn't want to see you get caught in the crossfire."

"Because these Hunters are after Mac?"

Joe shook his head. "No, because they figure Mac will try to protect the target. His Boy Scout tendencies are well-known."

"Cut the crap, Dawson," Duncan said dryly. "Who's the target?"

"Methos."

"Adam?" Duncan asked in a shocked tone.

"No. Thank God, they don't know that. All they know is that Methos is in Seacouver, and that he's a dangerous son of a bitch who should be approached with the caution a mortal gives a cobra."

Methos laughed. "I like that. You know the Egyptians had great respect for the king cobra. I remember--"

"Methos!" Duncan shushed him with a stern look. "Who told them Methos was in Seacouver?"

"From what the Watchers can tell, it was an anonymous informant. It's not like the old man doesn't have enemies."

"But enemies who know not only who he is, but where he's at?" Duncan mused.

"Yeah, well, I have my ideas about that," Joe hedged.

"Cassandra," Duncan said bitterly.

"That's my guess," Joe agreed.

"But why now?" Duncan asked. It had been years since the whole Bordeaux fiasco.

"Because revenge is a dish best served cold," Methos answered, and Duncan was reminded that he'd just said the same to him less than an hour ago. "It seems Cassandra learned more from me than I've given her credit for. Brava, old girl."

"Shouldn't you be home packing instead of handing out compliments?" Mac asked, annoyed by Methos' attitude. What part of "hunting party" didn't he get?

"I'm Adam Pierson, relatively new Immortal. No one's hunting me."

"Methos, if any of these Immortals are over a couple of centuries, won't they be able to gauge your age, or at least be able to tell you're more powerful than a newbie should be?"

Methos sighed, and MacLeod's head whipped around toward him.

"What?" Joe asked, knowing something had happened.

"I can barely feel him, Joe. What the hell did you do, Methos?"

"Oh, the things one can learn to do in five thousand years," Methos drawled. "Haven't either of you noticed that I'm overlooked when MacLeod is in the room. Next to him, my poor Presence is pitiable."

"I just thought that was because you weren't charging around going, 'I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Fight me, you evil being,'" Joe observed with a twinkle in his eye.

"Hey!" Mac said, obviously offended.

"Well, you do have a point, Joe," Methos said, grinning at MacLeod. "But I have a fair amount of control over just how much Presence I emit."

"You do?" Mac and Joe chorused.

"I'm hurt, Mac. You felt Kronos, Caspian, and Silas. Do you really think my Presence would be weaker than theirs?"

MacLeod looked confused. "Well, no, but I just thought-- I thought it was because I was so used to yours that theirs seemed stronger. You're telling me that what I feel from you is purposely dampened?"

"That's exactly what I'm telling you. If I didn't keep it under control, I'd broadcast my position to every Immortal in a city-wide radius."

"It's that strong?"

Methos just gave a secretive smile. "Brace yourself, Mac."

Duncan felt it building, an itch, a vibration, a shiver that started at the base of his spine and crawled along the sensitive shaft until it hit his neck and exploded out of the top of his head. He didn't realize he'd swayed until hands helped him to a chair.

"Jesus Christ, Methos," he swore as soon as the ringing in his ears stopped. "Just how many of us have you taken?"

"As many as necessary," Methos growled.

Duncan looked up sharply. "I'm not judging you, Methos. I'm just curious. But I guess that answers the question why you don't like to fight."

Methos shrugged. "When is too many too many? I don't have the answer to that, or your previous question, MacLeod. The Horsemen made it a rule to take any Immortal we happened upon. Then, there were the years after the Horsemen when I hated Immortals because of Kronos, or maybe because of myself. I-- I hunted then, especially the ones with the worst reputations. In those days, I'd wager I could have even defeated you, Mac."

"I saw you take out Silas, Methos. With the right motivation, you could defeat me today." Methos didn't comment. "You keep this control twenty-four hours a day? It doesn't get tiring?"

"After a while, you can get used to anything. My survival plan, remember-- adapt, adapt, adapt. I certainly couldn't walk around with a Presence like that one, could I? Even when I have to fight, when I have to accept a Quickening, I dare not let go." He smiled at the stricken look on Duncan's face. "Don't look so horrified, Highlander. I'm still sane-- mostly. I haven't cracked under the pressure of keeping it in check."

"I'm not horrified, Methos. I'm still trying to convince my breakfast to stay where I put it. That packed quite a wallup. But despite your talents, I still think you should leave. For all we know, these Hunters might just decide to attack every Immortal in Seacouver in an attempt to flush you out."

"Are you planning on leaving?"

"I can't do that," Duncan said, truly horrified this time. He couldn't just let Hunters come into his city and have their way.

"I can't either."

"God, you are getting noble on us. You promised me you wouldn't, Methos," Joe spat out. "One honorable idiot in the family is enough."

"Honor has nothing to do with this, Joe. It's just that I have a previous engagement to keep," Methos said glibly.

"No," MacLeod moaned. "No, Adam. No."

Methos ignored him. "I'm in the Faculty Talent Show at the university. I can't let down my fans."

"Don't do this," Duncan mumbled.

"Faculty Tal-- Okay, who the hell are you, and what have you done with Methos?" Joe asked indignantly. "I know for a fact that the Old Man wouldn't sign up to go on stage and do anything."

"Ah, Joe, I didn't say I signed up. No, someone did that for me, and since I can't let dishonor fall upon him, well, as the great ones say, the show must go on."

Joe turned his fierce gaze onto the figure slumped in the chair. "You did this, Mac? You signed him up for a talent show? Why? What is he supposed to do?"

Methos smiled. "Yes, Duncan, what is my talent? I was so focused on getting here to see Joe that I forgot to ask what it is I'm supposed to excel at."

"I, uh, left that line blank."

"He left that line blank, Joseph," Methos said brightly. "So, what is it to be, MacLeod? Do I dance, sing, play the harmonica, what?"

"It's really up to you, Adam," Duncan said barely loud enough for anyone to hear him.

"Up to me? I don't think so, MacLeod."

Duncan flinched. There was steel in Methos' voice. He had to come up with something, anything. What had he seen Methos do? Nothing that Methos hadn't wanted to be seen. Like the sculpture Methos had presented to Joe at Christmas. Eerily realistic and brilliant. It occupied a corner of the bar for the moment, but he and Joe had been talking about finding it a permanent, more suitable home where it could be properly appreciated. But he could hardly expect Methos to get on stage and create a masterpiece out of a block of stone; the show had a time limit after all. Sing? Other than singing along with that "stuff" he called music, he'd never heard Methos hum a tune, so he wasn't sure what kind of voice the man had. Besides, Methos would probably opt for image rather than style, and Duncan shuddered at the thought of Methos-- the Rock Star.

Dance? For anything other than tap or soft shoe, Methos would need a partner-- and no, he wasn't volunteering, so that was out. Play an instrument? Hmm. That had possibilities, given Methos had lived through some of the most artistic periods in man's history. Of course, Methos had lived through practically all the periods in man's history.... But, hell, he'd never seen Methos even look remotely interested in the instruments on Joe's stage. He'd never plucked the strings of an abandoned guitar, or ran his fingers across a lone piano. Still....

"Piano. You should play the piano."

"Well, okay," Methos said happily. "I'm going to play the piano, Joe."

"Uh, can you?" Joe asked suspiciously.

"MacLeod thinks I can, and since he's running my life now, I suppose it must be true. Anything in particular you want me to play, Mac? Or will I have the privilege of choosing my own music?"

"Play whatever," Mac said, content in the knowledge that Methos would humiliate him to the best of his ability. Which was no less than he deserved. But he couldn't have Methos losing his life in the process. "Why don't you go to Europe and rent yourself a practice hall?"

"They have practice halls here in Seacouver, don't they? And if not, I'm sure Joe here will let me play at the bar when it's closed," Methos pointed out. "Or maybe I could entertain the dinner crowd one night. What do you think about that, Joe? I could give the place real atmosphere."

Joe shuddered. He cared for Methos in an almost paternal fashion, ached for his pain, supported him in times of crisis, but he didn't trust Methos as far as he could throw him. The man was a schemer, pure and simple. Not that that was necessarily a bad trait; it just meant that he knew better than to get in the middle when Methos was teaching Mac a lesson. "I think I like the atmosphere around here just fine the way it is," he replied diplomatically. "But sure, you can tickle the old ivories when the joint is closed."

"Such faith in my abilities," Methos said with a smirk. "One of you assuming I can; one of you assuming I can't. Guess one of you is bound to be disappointed."

"I'll be gladly disappointed if it means you're going to leave town," Duncan said, deciding to try and reason with the older Immortal one more time. "Methos, you don't fight unless you have to. This is one of those situations where you don't have to. The Hunters will come--"

"Find you and run scared? Why isn't that the picture that goes through my mind? Why am I seeing you face the six of them on your own? And why the hell do you think I can run off to a bolt hole while I have that image in my head?" Methos snarled. "Do you think me incapable of feeling? Incapable of loyalty? I told you once that you were too important to lose. And I'm too old, and too damn stubborn to change my opinions!" He stormed out of the office with a swish of his coat.

"Good going, Mac," Joe said dryly. "Alienate him when he needs you the most."

"Me? I was just trying to save his stupid neck! He's good, Joe, but he's not good enough to go up against six Immortals!"

"And you are?"

"No, but everyone knows who I am. They won't get me confused with Methos."

"But if they can't find the Old Man, they might decide you're a decent consolation prize. Wouldn't it make more sense for the two of you to watch each other's backs? If I know Methos, he's already planning how to get you both through this with your necks intact." Joe leaned against the corner of his desk, and pierced Mac with a searing look. "The last time multiple Immortals came after you, he had to go it alone, and pray that you wouldn't let him down. Don't make him do that again, MacLeod. Don't let him look to his side, and see no one there."

"I just want him to live, Joe."

"But he's not going to do that at your expense, Mac. He's right; that's something you should have known."

Duncan sighed. "I did know-- I do know. It's just that I feel responsible for him. Sometimes I think he would have been better off not knowing me. Time and time again, I've forced him to stand for principles that are not his, to fight battles that he would have just walked away from. He took Kristin's head, his first in two hundred years, because I couldn't. And I'm reasonably certain that if I hadn't been in the picture, if Cassandra hadn't embroiled me in the hunt for the Four Horsemen, he would have executed a perfect 'now you see me, now you don't' maneuver, and it would have taken Kronos another thousand years to even get a glimpse of him. But he knew I would go after Kronos, and so he gave himself over to an old enemy to give me time to prepare for the battle. He even took a Dark Quickening because he was afraid for me. Those are not the actions of a five thousand year old survivor, Joe."

"Maybe they are. Maybe it's his ability to care that has kept him alive all these years. Maybe it's his heart that keeps that light burning within him, and it's the light that protects him, Mac. You saw its strength on that Italian plain. It's fueled by the love you expect him to deny. But he can no more do that than he can stop breathing.... He's already got six Immortals against him; don't make it seven."

"Why are you doing this, Joe? Weren't you the one who was angry at me for getting him involved in the Dark Quickening? Why is this different?"

"Because we might have had a chance of talking him out of fighting Constantine. He had no personal investment in that, especially after you decided you wouldn't get involved. But when it's personal, when the situation involves someone he cares about, Methos does not back down. Do you know he knew I was setting him up with Morgan Walker, and he never once hesitated, not even when I confessed? He'd been dodging Walker for two hundred years, yet when my daughter was in danger.... You know what that tells me? It tells me that if Walker hadn't killed that slave woman, Charlotte, Methos would have taken him right then and there. Contrary to how it appears on the surface, he doesn't run away from his responsibilities, Mac. I don't think he ever has. It's just that his idea of responsibility differs from yours."

"Aye. I fight to protect concepts and ideals; he fights to protect people."

"He protects life, Mac. It's just that simple to him."

MacLeod pulled his coat tight around him. "He's not going to leave, is he?"

"No. Not without you. Maybe not even with you. He's still atoning for past sins."

Duncan nodded. "When he didn't protect life."

"But that debt has been paid many times over, Mac. Do you understand that? Do you accept it? Maybe he did kill ten thousand, but just think about how many he must have saved. He was a doctor who had slaves for patients. He stopped Kronos from wiping out southern France. Who knows what other manipulations he perpetrated during the past that saved thousands, maybe millions?"

"You're preaching to an already converted choir, Joe. I know how important he is, and if this is a battle he's chosen, he will not fight it alone. We'll both be there for him."

"You know it, Mac. But...."

"But?"

"When it comes to this talent show thing, you're on your own, MacLeod," Joe said with an evil grin.

Duncan gave a wry smile. "He was so proud when he found out that I had committed such a terribly selfish act. Said his little boy was finally growing up. Should I be terrified by that statement?"

"I think you could have worse role models than the Old Man."

Duncan nodded. "I think you're right."

Duncan left the office and found Methos exactly where he expected: at a corner table in the bar with several brown bottles lined up before him.

"I guess it's a good thing I'm driving," he said as he took the seat across from his friend.

"Well, that's the only reason why I'm still here." Methos chugged on the bottle that he had in his hand.

"I'm sorry, Adam."

"For?"

"For expecting you to run off and leave me in danger. For implying you can't do an end-run around six lousy Immortals. For making you think you were going to have to do this alone."

Hazel eyes looked up from the beer bottle. "What about signing me up for the talent show?"

Duncan grinned. "Paying me back for that will bring you so much pleasure, how could I deny you that, my friend?"

Methos held up his bottle. "To friendship."

Mac tapped it with one of the empties. "To friendship."

*****

"You want to explain to me again why I'm paying for your tux rental?" MacLeod said, as he followed Methos out of the rental shop in the mall.

"You want me to look good, don't you, MacLeod? After all, Adam Pierson, piano virtuoso, is your creation."

"But that still doesn't tell me why I'm paying for it?"

"I spent all my money on beer."

"Is this a regular habit of yours-- sponging off of your friends?"

Methos grinned, and crossed his hands over his heart. "Why, Mac, Ah have always depended on the kindness of strangers," he said in an exaggerated Southern drawl.

Duncan couldn't do anything but laugh. "You get any more dependent on my kindness, and I'm going to have to put you on my income tax form."

"That's sounds so-- domestic, MacLeod. Shouldn't I get a ring first?" Methos quipped.

"Oh, I'll give you a ring, you parasite. A ringing in your ears so loud that--"

Methos held up his hand for silence. "They're here," he said, feeling the strong sense of Presence.

"They've had someone on us for the past two weeks, Adam, hoping that one of us would lead them to Methos," Mac pointed out, nevertheless tensing. The Hunting party had spread out through Seacouver in search of the elusive oldest Immortal. Although they hadn't personally accosted any Immortals, they had put tails on the ones they thought might know of Methos' whereabouts-- the former Watcher, Adam Pierson, and the holier-than-thou Duncan MacLeod.

"But they've never followed as a group," Methos said, his head whipping around as he felt them closing in. "They're all here, MacLeod. All six."

"So, is this it, then? Have they found you out?"

"I don't know. Maybe they've just grown tired of the Hunt," Methos said resignedly. "Let's take this to the construction area." The Seacouver Mall was expanding; Methos feared that no matter what happened in the next hour or so, they were going to have to start construction from scratch.

"You sure about this, Adam? With all these people, we could probably slip away."

"I have a talent show tomorrow, MacLeod, and I'd rather not have to worry about getting caught alone backstage. But there's going to be a change in plans."

"What?" Duncan asked anxiously. It had taken him two weeks to reconcile himself to the fact that he and Methos were going to shoot the six Immortals, then fight them one on one.

"Our guns don't have silencers, so we can't shoot them. Mall Security would be on us in an instant."

"What are we going to do?" He had no doubt Methos had a contingency plan.

"Stab them in the heart and keep them dead that way. It's going to be a little bit more difficult, but I'm sure we can handle it."

"But we don't have enough weapons to keep them all dead."

"Speak for yourself." Methos reached into his coat and slipped Mac three daggers as they led their following across the parking lot. Thankfully, it was late and the construction workers had ended their day.

"Damn it, Adam. How the hell do you walk upright with so much hardware on you?"

"It's a gift, MacLeod."

"Have you ever considered that they might shoot us?"

Methos rolled his eyes. "Are you just now getting around to that? They won't for two reasons: one, they don't want security here any more than we do, and two, they haven't even considered the idea because they outnumber us. Listen to me. We're going to need an edge in order to take as many out as possible before they realize what's going on. I have that edge, if you remember the demonstration in Joe's office?"

Duncan nodded. They stood back to back in the center of what would be the new annex, metal scaffolding and support struts all around them. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! What do you want of me?"

"Your head for starters, then knowledge of Methos!" One of the six stepped forward. "Nathan Cook, at your service."

"Do you often require five others to help you hold your weapon, Nathan Cook?" Duncan asked in disgust.

"Never hurts to be prepared when you're going up against a legend. And you are a legend, aren't you, MacLeod? Unfortunately, you're not the legend we're looking for. If you give us that information, we might be persuaded to let you and your companion go. After all, he's not much of a prize, is he?"

Duncan laughed. "Oh, he's much more than you can ever imagine, Cook. But that's nothing for you to worry about. Dead men have other concerns."

"Oh, MacLeod, you have us shaking in our boots, doesn't he, men?" Cook said with a grin. "So, are you going to tell us where we can find Methos?"

"Where you find all myths, Cook; in a book of fairytales."

Cook drew his sword. "Well, I tried to reason with you. Hey, Pierson, you don't have to die with him, you know. If you tell us what we want to know, you can leave right now. If not...." He raised the sword.

"As tempting as the offer sounds, I think I have to pass," Methos replied. "MacLeod would never forgive me, and let me tell you fellows, a brooding MacLeod just isn't a pretty sight."

Duncan tsked. "And just a few minutes ago you were asking for a ring."

"Just call me Fickle Freddy."

"I should have known you'd run away from the word 'commitment.'"

"Says the original Mister I've Never Been Married!"

Cook looked from one to the other. "Uh, this is not the time for you two to be discussing your personal affairs."

"It isn't?" they chorused, looking quite startled.

"Forget this crap," Cook groused. "Kill them," he ordered.

Methos watched the men surrounding them take one step closer, two steps, three.... "Now, Mac!"

MacLeod grasped his katana in one hand and a dagger in the other. As their attackers staggered under the full force of Methos' Presence, he plunged a dagger in the closest one's chest. Even before the man fell, Mac was swiveling to sink in another dagger. But the Highlander was a swordsman, not a knife fighter, and he had trouble getting the dagger past the second man's ribs. By the time the dagger was lodged properly in the heart, the third attacker, Cook, had recovered enough from the shock of the powerful Presence that he met Mac's dagger with a sword. Duncan quickly shifted his focus to his katana.

Cook was a skilled swordsman, but Duncan was better. Ten minutes later, Cook was on his knees and his head was thumping against the bare cement of the building's foundation. In the few minutes of awareness before the Quickening hit, he saw Methos dragging bodies to a far corner. Then Cook's Quickening lashed out, and all MacLeod could concentrate on was taking in the dead Immortal's power.

"If you've had your fun, I suggest you go out and see if your little light show has attracted any attention," Methos said dryly.

Mac scrambled to his feet. "I know I didn't follow the plan, but--"

"Brood later. Just do what I tell you to do!"

Mac was shocked and angry at Methos' high-handed attitude. Just who the hell did he think he was? Then he realized if Methos was right and the Quickening had attracted attention, they were going to have to let the other five Immortals live-- and possibly go through the whole thing all over again. Maybe Methos had a right to be pissed. With a sigh, he walked out of the skeletal structure, scanning for movements or sounds which would indicate someone was coming to investigate. When he noticed that cars were entering and leaving the mall as usual, he turned to go back inside. That's when he felt it, an escalating surge of energy.

"No!" he yelled, running in to find Methos had decapitated all five captives. "Why?" he cried in frustration.

The ancient Immortal leaned on his sword, waiting for the inevitable. "Keep watch, Highlander."

The Quickenings hovered above their respective bodies for a few seconds before swirling into a funnel cloud that paused directly above Methos. After a moment's hesitation, it swept down and engulfed him, tearing deep rents into his overcoat until the garment fell off in long jagged strips. Then it lifted him, sucking him up into the eye of the mini-storm. Lightning lashed out in painful tendrils, some of it bouncing off of steel girders and beams to cause sparks which soon had Methos' sweater and jeans smouldering. The oldest Immortal jerked under the assault, his long, lean limbs flailing as if he was a mere rag doll. A spasm caused him to release the sword and it clattered to the cement, a distant sound compared to the roar of the storm pummeling its owner.

In a flash, the storm was abruptly channeled into Methos and without the support of the churning whirlwind, the Immortal's body slammed to the ground. Duncan was certain he was dead; no one, not even an Immortal, could have withstood such an assault. But what worried the Scot more was the mental damage that might have occurred. The Double Quickening he'd experienced with Methos had unbalanced him for days. Why the hell had Methos thought he could take five Quickenings at once?

Watch, he'd told Duncan. No. Keep watch. Duncan grabbed his katana and turned, just in time to stop the descent of the sword aimed for his neck. With all the hair-raising, spine-tingling force of the five Quickenings, plus the remains of Cook's, he'd been unable to sense the arrival of a seventh Immortal. He countered the move automatically, giving himself room to maneuver.

"Who the hell are you?" he rasped, moving away from where his vulnerable friend lay.

"Elias Kanton. I must say, Methos is a rather clever fellow. I never would have suspected Adam Pierson as being the oldest Immortal."

"He's not."

"Only Methos could take five Quickenings at once and not be turned into cinders, Mr. MacLeod. How did you avoid the temptation all these years? Or was this a recent discovery?"

"I have known Methos as long as I've known Adam," Duncan said obliquely. That Kanton knew Methos and Adam were one in the same didn't matter; the man was going to die. But he feared Watchers were somewhere nearby, and he knew Methos would never forgive him if he was accidently outed. "They are both my friends."

"Well, you can die happy knowing that the two of you will soon be reunited. First your Quickening, then his!" Kanton feinted to the right, hoping MacLeod would follow. But Mac had other ideas. Holding his position, he was ready when Kanton made his next move. The katana sank smoothly into Kanton's belly.

"Looks like I'm not going to be the one dying," MacLeod grunted as he pulled out the katana, and aimed for Kanton's neck.

The Quickening, while paltry compared to the five Methos had just taken, still took quite a toll on MacLeod who had just taken his second head in less than an hour. However, instead of curling up on the cold cement like he wanted, he knew that he had to get himself and Methos out of the construction area before they were discovered. Aching in places he didn't know he had, he gathered the katana, Ivanhoe, and the daggers; Methos would pitch a fit if he left the daggers behind. As a last thought, he picked up the remnants of the Ancient's coat, fearing that there may be some ID in the tattered ruins, as well as additional weapons. Finally, he slung the Ancient himself over his shoulder and staggered outside. That was when he noticed the world was a lot darker than it should have been. Apparently, one or more of the Quickenings had knocked out the power in the area. Hiding his load behind some bushes, he went and got the T-bird from the parking lot, adding his "I can't imagine what happened," to the other curious and apprehensive people's in the lot. A quick stop to retrieve his hidden "goods", and finally he was on his way home to the loft.

Tired beyond tired, he threw Methos' body on the bed and tumbled in beside it. He had a nagging worry that Methos should have revived by now, but he was too exhausted to pursue the thought. It became a moot point fifteen minutes later when Methos gasped and sat up, looking around anxiously. Mac assured him they were safe, and watched with partially opened eyes as Methos' eyes rolled to the back of his head, the older Immortal slumping back against the bed unconscious. He managed to straighten the body slightly, then did a good imitation of being unconscious himself.

Mac awoke to the sensation that he wasn't alone. He opened his eyes, wondering if Methos had come to, but no, his friend lay in the same spot as before. The Scot tensed.

"Relax, Mac, it's only me."

With a long groan, Duncan sat up to see Joe sitting in the living area. "How long have you been here?" he asked, covering his mouth with his hand when a yawn escaped.

"A couple of hours. I tried calling, but I guess you didn't hear the phone." Joe got to his feet and made his way over to the bed. "I knew it had to be bad when the old cuss over there didn't wake up."

"He's not asleep; he's unconscious."

"Un-- What the hell happened out there, Mac? The two of you take all six of the Immortals? My God, when the power went out and the radio said the entire Northwestern seaboard was knocked out, I thought...." He leaned heavily on his cane.

"You thought they'd got him," Mac said softly. "What did the Watchers see? Do they know who he is?"

"All they know was that there was one 'normal' Quickening, then a huge Quickening, followed by another normal one. What happened, Mac? Did you guys do another Double Quickening?"

Duncan stood, popping bones, muscles, and tendons back into place. He looked down in disgust at the dirt and blood covering him. Definitely way past the time for a shower. And Methos was even worse. But there was no way he was going to try to get the unconscious form into the bathroom. He looked thin, but he was quite solid. "We were at the mall picking up Methos' tux. When we realized all six of them were there, we went to the construction site. Methos said we couldn't shoot them because the shots might be overheard. Instead, he gave me a set of daggers. He unleashed his Presence, and we were supposed to stab them while they tried to regain their balance. He succeeded; I didn't. I had to fight a guy named Nathan Cook, and I took his head. That was the first Quickening. Methos then told me to go make sure the light show hadn't attracted attention. When I returned, I found Methos had taken all five remaining heads, and was waiting for the Quickenings to be released. They did quite a number on him." Duncan tossed Joe the ruins of Methos' coat.

"Shit. What the hell kind of game was he playing, Mac? He can't take one Quickening well, much less five in one shot. I don't think that's ever been done. What the hell was he doing?"

"Yeah, I was pretty mad at him myself. Then, I remembered what he said just before the Quickenings came for him. He told me to keep watch, Joe. It was a warning that kept me from being decapitated by a seventh Immortal."

"Seventh? Who?"

"Elias Kanton. Apparently his game had been to follow the six, wait until either one of them had taken Methos, or Methos had taken them, and get the Quickening when the winner was too debilitated to fight back. If we had continued with Methos' original plan, Kanton probably would have taken both of us."

Joe shook his head, his eyes falling worriedly on the figure remaining on the bed. "And he's been unconscious ever since?"

"Actually, for over an hour he was dead. It wasn't until after I managed to get us back here that he revived enough to pass out. But I'm not too concerned. I know what taking the two Quickenings took out of me. I can't imagine five-- all at the same time."

Joe fingered the shredded fabric in his hands. "He was taking quite a chance, wasn't he?"

Mac lay his hand benevolently on Methos' chest. "I don't think anyone else would have survived," he said softly. "If it was a risk, I'm sure he'd already calculated the odds on his survival and deemed them acceptable. If not, he would have thought of something else. It was his responsibility to get us both through this alive, and as you said, Joseph, he takes his responsibilities seriously."

Joe nodded and perched on the bed beside his "oldest" friend. "Toss me a wet washcloth and some soap. He can't be too comfortable being so filthy."

"I would have--" Duncan began defensively.

"I know you would have," Joe said kindly. "That's why I'm going to do it while you shower. You've both had quite a night."

"Are you sure the Watchers don't know who he is?" Mac asked again as he brought out a basin of warm water. "He took five Quickenings."

"But they don't know that. They had gotten pretty used to each other since the start of this Hunt. They would spell each other from time to time, play cards together while the Immortals watched you and Adam on campus. When it became obvious that they were going after someone tonight, they decided to take the minivan one of them had rented. This was going to be a big event, you see. Either they had found Methos, or they were going to take on you and Adam. So, they had camcorders, zoom lenses, parabolic mikes, the works. What they didn't have, however, was sense. Apparently, they parked in a Handicapped space at the mall. While you confronted the Hunters, they were arguing with the police in the parking lot on the opposite side of the mall. If it hadn't been for the blackout, I would have probably had to go bail them out." Joe smiled. "Not the Watchers' finest moment."

"Thank God for small favors," Duncan said, laying a set of towels on the bed. "If they had discovered who he was, we'd probably never see him again."

"You might have, but not me," Joe said, accepting his mortal lot.

Duncan patted his shoulder as he turned to go into the bathroom. "We need to remember this moment the next time he does something really irritating."

"You mean like five minutes after he comes to?"

"Yeah, Joe."

*****

Methos gave a long groan. "I feel like three-day old shit; almost old and brittle, but not quite."

"Would it help to say you look like it, too?"

"No belittling the not-quite-dead, MacLeod." Methos sat up and looked around, noting he was in Mac's bed. "Where's my ring?"

It took Duncan a few seconds to catch on. "Your virtue is still intact, Old Man. Old shit is a turn off for me," he said, hiding his grin behind the paper he was reading as he rested on the sofa. It was obvious his fears had been unwarranted; Methos' state of mental health was no more precarious than usual.

"Actually, I remember a time when that was quite the aphrodisiac--"

"Methos, please!"

The unrepentant Immortal shrugged. "So, how long have I been out?"

"About twenty hours."

"Twenty-- What time is it?" he asked, quickly getting to his feet.

"After six."

"Shit. Why didn't you wake me sooner? I have to get ready for the show." He swayed, reaching out to the bed to steady himself.

"The show? You can't be serious," Duncan said, lowering the paper. "You can't possibly--"

"The show must go on, MacLeod. I'll just shower and change here. You won't mind if I borrow a few things from you, will you? Now, where is my tux?"

"Uh, somewhere in the three million dollar wreckage caused by last night's freak storm?" Mac hedged, showing him the front of the newspaper.

"So, what are you doing just sitting there? Go out and get me another. You remember my measurements. And I suggest you go to somewhere other than the mall. I doubt if that store will ever let you have anything else."

"Methos, this is crazy. You died last night." And spent the next twelve hours completely unconscious.

"Your point being?"

"You took five heads, man. You need time to recover."

"Pshaw! They don't call us Immortals for nothing. Now, hurry! I need my tux!"

"Don't you even want to know what happened?"

"There was a lurker, content to wait for the kill. You took him out, just as I knew you would, and brought us back here. Did I miss anything?" Duncan shook his head. "Good. Now go!" He slammed the bathroom door before Mac could protest further.

Instead of leaving, Mac picked up the phone. "It's been five minutes, Joe," he said as soon as the familiar voice answered. "Can I kill him yet?"

Laughter came through the earpiece. "What has he done this time?"

"He insists on going through with the talent show."

"He sorta has a one-track mind when it comes to that, doesn't he?" Joe couldn't hide his amusement. "Man, he must have something spectacular planned for you."

"Gee, thanks for reminding, me, Joe. Listen, you know of a place where I can pick up a tux real fast?"

Thanks to Joe, Duncan was back within the hour with tux and accessories, determined not to think of the hit his credit card took.

"About bloody time," Methos said, as he unzipped the bag. "I'm hungry. Fix something quickly. Wouldn't want my stomach to growl louder than the music I'm playing."

Duncan started to open his mouth to complain about being given orders in his own home. Then he flashed back onto the body sprawled across his bed only an hour ago. With a silent growl, he headed for the kitchen.

*****

"My God, Adam, you're going all out for this, aren't you?" Joe asked, as Methos exited MacLeod's car, carefully making sure the long tails to his tux hadn't gotten wrinkled.

"You know, the least he could have done was hire a limo," Methos said in a loud voice, grinning as he heard the car roar off. "He's so easy. Good evening, Joseph. Lovely night for a concert, wouldn't you say?"

"Oh, yeah. Hey, you don't mind if I brought some people along, do you? Seems they suddenly lost their Immortals and have some time to spare." Joe pointed to seven men standing in a group.

"I love an appreciative crowd. What, no women? Pity."

"Hey, Dr. P! Lookin' pretty snazzy there!"

"Wouldn't want to disappoint my students, Mr. Turner!" Methos yelled back at his student. He smirked at Joe. "They love me here."

"I don't want to spoil your fun, Old Man," Joe said softly. "But maybe you want to take it easy on Mac. You both went through some stuff last night."

"Hard times build character, Joe." He turned to greet arriving familiar faces. "Victoria, Rose, you both look smashing tonight. Morgan, glad you could make it. And Robbins, I thought you didn't do 'high-brow'."

"You're involved, Pierson. How high can it be? Hi, Joe. They let you out of the bar tonight?"

"Somebody left the cage door open, but don't tell anyone, okay?" Joe joked. Mac and Adam's faculty friends were no strangers. "It looks like there's going to be quite a crowd. Maybe we should go find seats. Is it like this every year?"

"Can't answer that, Joe," Morgan admitted. "None of us has ever come before."

"But I know there's never been this many students here," Rose said. "That's all they were talking about yesterday. It's apparently the social event of the year."

"Well, let's go get the gang settled, Joe," Methos said, before bowing to his colleagues. "I shall see the rest of you inside."

They watched them gather the other seven men. "Hmm. Looks like Pierson has quite a cheering section this evening," Morgan murmured.

"Guess the criminals can do anything they want to tonight," Robbins said dryly.

Victoria shook her head. "They're definitely management. Adam must be very important to Interpol for them to come out and support him this way."

"Maybe they're using the show as a cover for an operation," Rose said hesitantly.

"It would explain a lot," Morgan mused. "Pierson has been awfully quiescent about the whole thing."

"Five bucks says he's probably going to be called away before he can play," Robbins bet.

"The students will be disappointed," Victoria said. "Apparently, Hickman has problems with the student body."

"Probably stems from the time he told the pep band they sounded like kindergartners with wax paper and combs."

"Oh, that was bright of him," Victoria snorted. "I'm surprised they haven't run him off campus."

"Would have, except that he actually knows his stuff when it comes to music. It really is sort of a given that he'll win tonight," Morgan told them.

"No matter what happens, he has Adam to thank for his audience. This is a very lovely turnout," Rose commented as they headed inside.

"Mr. Turner was gracious enough to arrange for a 'Dr. P' section," Adam explained as they piled into the empty row behind him. "As he so eloquently put it, 'What's the use of banging the head of the program committee if you can't get some perks?' What indeed."

"Is he a student of yours, Pierson?" one of the Watchers asked.

"Yes. One of my best actually." They all looked at him. "Oh, he was doing quite poorly when I first met him, but once I allowed him to conjugate profanity, he suddenly started to truly appreciate the beauty of the spoken word."

"Conjugate profanity?" another Watcher sneered.

Adam shrugged. "A verb's a verb."

"But--"

"Please don't encourage him," Duncan said, joining the group after having to park three blocks away from the university's Performing Arts Centre. "He really is incorrigible."

"Sticks and stones," Adam said brightly. When the Scot took the seat beside him, he leaned over to whisper into his ear. "Of course, swords are another matter, eh, MacLeod?" Duncan swatted him away.

"So, Pierson, you actually showed up," Hickman said, pausing in the aisle beside them. "Rumor had it that you were indisposed."

"Just getting my beauty rest, Hickman. Looks like you could have used a couple of extra hours of it yourself," Adam replied with a warm smile.

"I'll sleep with my trophy after this farce is over and done."

"Pity. I prefer something with a little more life to warm my bed. But I'm a modern sort of fellow. To each his own, I say." Someone close by snorted, and there was a hint of a giggle.

"So, what are you going to do? A stand-up routine?"

"The program says I'm going to play the piano. Guess I'll have to stick with that."

"I think you'd embarrass yourself less with the jokes."

Adam could feel Duncan champing at the bit beside him. But he'd learned his lesson about answering for Adam, so he said nothing. Adam took pity on him, and decided to dispose of the bothersome gnat.

"Why don't you go rosin your bow, or do something equally creative with it, Hickman? MacLeod here had a rough night, and he doesn't need you sucking up his oxygen."

"I can fight my own battles," MacLeod gritted out as Hickman stomped away.

Adam nodded. "And quite admirably, too. I wouldn't trust just anyone to watch my back, you know."

Duncan smiled. "You mean that, don't you?"

"Of course I do. I happen to love my back, and I really love it when my back and the back of my head are in a straight, attached line. So, thank you for last night."

Duncan was alternately warmed and dismayed by the show of appreciation-- warmed that Methos felt that way about him, and dismayed because more than likely he was being set up for the kill. With a shrug, Duncan made a vow to sit back and take what Methos dished out.

The lights went down and the curtain came up. There were a couple of funny skits put on by the drama classes before the faculty took to the stage. Most were indeed in the Fine Arts Division, and they were all quite good. Then Hickman played his violin, and they all sat stunned by the beauty of his music. Well, all were stunned except for Methos, who merely kept a bland smile on his face. Mac felt really bad about forcing his friend to challenge such an excellent musician. It had been terribly unfair of him, and the only reason he wasn't groveling for forgiveness at Methos' feet was because Methos had never taken the challenge seriously.

One act away, Methos excused himself to head backstage. Just before he left, he winked at Duncan and whispered quite loudly, "Never let 'em see you sweat, MacLeod."

Duncan just dropped his head.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the next performer needs no introduction simply because he's the reason most of you are here," the announcer said, provoking a smatter of laughter from the crowd. "That's why he's the last act; we needed to keep you here long enough to make our plea for donations to the Faculty and Staff Scholarship Fund. The money is used to further the already excellent educations of our faculty and staff. Graduate work and post-graduate studies enrich minds and refresh attitudes. Please, as you leave this evening, pick up one of the envelopes in the antechamber and mail your gift in as soon as possible. Help us give our students the education they deserve." She waited for a beat, looking for a signal from backstage. When she received it, she turned back to the audience. "Without further ado, I present to you Dr. Adam Pierson!"

The curtain parted, revealing a gleaming grand piano. "Whoa, nice prop," Joe whispered to MacLeod, who merely nodded.

Adam entered from stage right, and performed a well-executed bow to his audience who were either politely clapping or "woof-woofing", depending upon age. He expertly flipped his tails up and sat on the piano bench. A mike was next to his head, but without a word he put his hands to the keys-- and made such a horrible racket that several of the sensitive Fine Arts faculty and students had to place their hands over their ears. Thankfully, the piece was brief.

Adam turned to the mike. "That was my first rendering-- Ode To A Thoughtless Scot." Everyone laughed because the circumstances surrounding Dr. P's inclusion in the show was widely known. "My next piece is-- an original work simply titled 'Immortal Suite'."

For a long moment, Adam merely stared at the keys. Then he began to play. At first, there were sighs of relief that he wasn't abusing the instrument again, but the sighs died off as the audience realized that they were hearing something special, something extraordinary. Even the students in the back who had been talking off and on throughout the evening suddenly became silent. Dr. P was telling them a story, and although the language was unfamiliar, the images were so startling clear that everyone listened in rapt attention.

However, for Duncan the language was as familiar as breathing. Methos, not Adam, was telling the story of Immortality, beginning with the first moment of awe, the wonder of being alive when one had accepted being dead. Next came an odd mixture of elation and fear: I can't die! Why? What am I? Am I a god, or a demon? Duncan tried to bat away the tears that came as he remembered his banishment from the clan, the horror of thinking he was a creature of the devil.

A dance of Methos' fingers and Duncan experienced his first beheading. The seductive call of the Quickening, followed by a struggle for dominance, a struggle that could only be won by submission. That was the lesson that every Immortal had trouble with, no matter whether it was his first beheading or his fiftieth. It was only when his Quickening submitted and ceased fighting, that he could absorb his opponent's. Then the foreign Quickening oozed inside, sapping strength, unsettling balance, and sharing far too many memories.

Another nimble movement of Methos' fingers. Duncan felt the pain of losing loved ones, the anger, the bitter resignation that living forever meant living with loss. He wallowed in Methos' pits of despair, long, painful bouts of loneliness, recurring decisions of whether to go on or give in. The Highlander winced at the pounding which mimicked the gait of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, shivered as Methos gradually grew disgusted by his actions, as he stepped outside himself and saw what he had become. Duncan's heart ached as the music spoke of millennia of guilt and remorse, of desperate attempts to make up for the sins of the past.

Then the loneliness returned-- no, not loneliness, but deliberate isolation, and finally a re-emergence into the world, a timid step forward to see if life could be bore. Steps forward, followed by steps backward, gun shy and cautious forays into the normal, the ordinary. The discovery of a haven where shadow and light played equally. Finally, there was full sunlight and joy-- inexplicable and long-forgotten joy. When Adam's hands dropped back to his lap, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

"Stand up, Mac."

A hand closed around his arm, and he looked up into the concerned face of Joe. That was when he noticed that everyone was on his feet, giving Adam a standing ovation, even as they dabbed at their eyes and sniffed suspiciously. He stood, the only way he could get a look at Adam on stage. The Immortal looked stunned, sort of like a deer in headlights. Then he stood, bowed, and quickly left the stage.

When Joe turned to ask Mac what he thought, the Highlander was gone.

*****

Mac followed the "buzz", and found Methos in a little room backstage. The oldest Immortal was merely sitting in a chair, and didn't react when Duncan placed another beside him and sat. "Once again you have succeeded in amazing me," he finally said.

"Yeah, I did a pretty good job of scaring myself as well," Methos admitted. "I wrote the piece for Beethoven a year or so before his death. He was so bitter about dying, about being deaf. I just wanted to show him that living a long life wasn't all it was cracked up to be, that immortality just meant more instances of pain, longer periods of loneliness, deeper depressions."

"Were you a student of his?"

"No. We met through his nephew Carl. He thought of Carl as his son, was devoted to the boy. Anyway, Carl wanted to be a soldier. Beethoven didn't like that one bit. He decreed that Carl was going to be a scholar, a Professor of Languages. He enrolled him in the University of Vienna, had him majoring in Classical Greek. Everyone on the faculty knew Beethoven was going to be a pain, as parents usually are when they have one goal in mind and the student has another. Therefore it was the newest professor who was assigned as Carl's mentor. I knew I should have stayed a blacksmith in Germany."

"You were the professor?"

Methos nodded. "After I left Byron and the Shelleys, I was at loose ends. Decided to attend the University, go back to my books. They were a tad saner than my more recent companions." He gave a bitter smile. "I knew immediately that Carl had no business at the University. He convinced me to go talk to his uncle. Beethoven and I never agreed on Carl, but we came to an understanding over our mutual love of music. He died a scant three years after that. A bad liver."

"What happened to Carl?"

"He eventually convinced his uncle that he wasn't going to make it as a classical language scholar. So Beethoven let him enter the Polytechnicum instead, to major in business. That turned out to be a disaster which led Carl to become suicidal. I think it was the combination of ill health and depression over Carl which finally took Beethoven's life."

Duncan nodded. He'd been right; Methos had always been drawn to the best each era has to offer. "Does the piece affect you this way each time you play it?"

Methos rubbed at his temple. "I've never played it this way."

"What do you mean?"

"Before, it concluded with a certain sense of peace."

"You mean at the point where you're living in light and shadow?"

Methos' eyes widened. "You heard that?"

"You play as eloquently as you speak, my friend. I heard it all, including the joy at the end."

"That's the part that's giving me trouble, MacLeod. That wasn't there the last time I played the music."

"When was the last time you played it?"

"1827. I performed it at one of the masses that was held for Beethoven."

"What about when you practiced it for this competition?"

"I didn't. I'd planned on doing one of Beethoven's compositions. But when my hands touched the keys...."

"So, the end isn't written down somewhere?"

Methos stared at him blankly. "None of it is written down. I just never got around to it. And with the decline of classical music, I figured it wouldn't be that much of a loss."

"Write it down, Adam. The world doesn't need a loss that great." He smiled when Methos flushed and looked away. "Do you remember it? I'm sure it was recorded."

"I remember every note."

"It bothers you to find out you're happy?"

"It bothers me that I didn't know it until now. It scares me that I've allowed myself this privilege. Historically, great joy and me are not long-time companions."

"Maybe it's time for history to change."

"History can do whatever it wants, but what about me? I don't think I want to change."

"You changed after the Horsemen."

"And it hurt every step of the way. I'm not ready to change again." He rubbed his arms briskly as if he'd caught a chill.

"I think it's too late. You've already entered the metamorphosis, Methos. It started with the Dark Quickening, and has been propelled by the five you took last night."

"I'm changing, Duncan? Into what?" he asked frantically.

Something beautiful and precious. "I can't tell you that, Methos. I can only remind you that you're not alone, that if you let me, I'll watch your back while you go through these changes. I want to be there when you emerge from the chrysalis. I want to see you dry your wings and soar for the first time. I want to catalog the colors that have been created just for you--"

"I want to go get drunk."

"I have a friend who owns a bar," Duncan said, understanding that Methos needed to step away for a few hours, maybe even a few days before he could face what his music had shown to him.

"Sounds like a winning plan. Let's say we swing by my place first. I think it's sacrilege to mess up a good beer by drinking it in a tux."

Mac laughed, and they walked out into the hall.

"There you are! Dr. P, they're waiting for you on stage," a harried student called.

"For what?"

"To accept your award. You won-- by unanimous decision."

"If the prize isn't beer, tell them they can give it to Hickman," Adam said brusquely. "Where did you park, Mac?"

"Go, take the prize, Adam," MacLeod urged, smiling slightly as Methos caught the double meaning of his words. "No one deserves it more than you."

"I would argue with you, but that wouldn't be getting me any closer to my beer." He followed the relieved student. "The things I do for you, Highlander."

"The things you do for yourself, Methos," Duncan whispered, and headed back to his seat.

*****

"Hey, Mac," Joe called as he made his way through the crowd of people who had followed them back to the bar after the talent show. "He okay?"

MacLeod followed Joe's gaze to where Methos was sprawled in a chair, laughing outrageously at some joke Robbins had told. It was obvious the Immortal had been drinking steadily since their arrival. "Just growing pains, Joe. Don't worry. I'll make sure he gets home okay."

"Growing pains? Don't tell me you were right at Christmas, you know about him being a teenager and all. He'd wreak hell during a teenage rebellion."

"I think what you're seeing is the end of his rebellion. What you now have the privilege of witnessing is his coming of age, Joe. Our old friend-- is becoming a man."

Joe looked at the glass of scotch in front of MacLeod. "And just how much have you had?"

"You heard the song. Was that the work of a child?"

Joe couldn't repress the shivers that accompanied the memory of Methos' composition. For the first time in over thirty years of Watching, he'd finally understood the essence of a Quickening. "What are you saying, Mac?"

"He's coming into his own, into the light."

"And what exactly does that mean for Immortals-- and mortals, Mac?"

"It means we've been blessed, Joseph." Mac lifted his glass in salute when Methos turned to look at him. "It means that we've been blessed."

THE END

(Restoration Series #4)


Comments? D.L. Witherspoon

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