Author's Notes:

Okay, nobody die of shock, and no, the world isn't coming to an end. I just happened to finish this series. However, feel free to give thanks to the deity of your choice. :-)

Thank you to my beta. I always forget, so I'm getting it out of the way early.

Umm, let's see. Something in here belongs to Dr. Seuss. I started off with borrowing a few lines, and ended up with the whole thing. I could see them doing it in my head, and I got carried away. You'll know what I'm talking about when you get there. The Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, has various interpretations available on the internet. The site where I got mine is a dead link, but you can just use a search engine if you're interested, or write me and I can at least give you a general direction. My spellings of names may be different from others.

Thank you for hanging in there with me as this tale unfolded. Someone took it upon him/herself to take me to task for making Duncan too forgiving of Methos' past. My opinion is that you can't be too forgiving, not when a person has truly changed. At least, that's what I'm hoping--when my own past is scrutinized.

I hope you enjoy!

Restoration Series 6D

BECOMING IV: THAT'S MY STORY, AND I'M STICKING TO IT

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 06-19-01)


It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ~ e.e. cummings

Chapter Sixteen

"He's back."

Joe paused, balling the bar towel in his hand. "How is he?"

"Good, I think."

"I thought...."

Duncan nodded. "I was afraid of that, too."

"Well, did you give him hell for scaring us like that? It was bad enough that he went off with Cassandra for most of the summer. It's great that they have this new understanding or whatever the hell it is, but millennia of hate just doesn't disappear overnight."

"That's why they needed that time together, to find out what fear and antipathy and guilt had blinded them to over the years. Two of the oldest beings on the planet, Joe," Duncan said with awe. "Can you imagine what it's like when they discuss the 'good old days'?"

Joe smiled. "Don't taunt a Watcher like that, Mac. I don't remember half of the bars we hit traveling between Syria and Paris. All I remember are the conversations, the stories they told. I memorized what I could, managed to get a lot of it on paper actually. Did he tell you where he went?"

"He wasn't in any condition to say much at all. From what I could decipher, it took him a lot of traveling to get here."

"Yeah, well, when Methos wants to get lost, he doesn't half-step. Was it something the witch did that made him rabbit like that? I was really afraid we'd never see him again--or at least I wouldn't."

Duncan nodded. He, too, had been uneasy when he learned Methos was no longer with Cassandra. The four of them had left Syria and had eventually made it to Paris. Methos and Cassandra did a lot of talking during that time and if Methos didn't make it back to the barge some nights, Duncan hadn't worried. Both Methos and Cassandra were well over the age of consent and if they were rebuilding their relationship from scratch, that was their business. He had to admit he was surprised when Methos showed up one morning and started packing, explaining that he and Cassandra were going off together for more intensive personal therapy. Joe hadn't liked the idea one bit and had kept in pretty constant communication with Cassandra's Watcher. That was why they were aware when Methos had disappeared. Duncan had called Cassandra and she'd given him a message from Methos: Gone to find myself. See you in Seacouver.

He and Joe had returned to Seacouver soon after that to complete a project they'd been working on. The summer passed and no word from Methos. With the university personnel due to report to work in a week, Duncan had been on pins and needles waiting to hear from Methos. The phone call at four o'clock that morning had been a relief instead of a nuisance, although he hadn't let Methos know that.

"My plane lands in an hour, MacLeod."

"So?" Duncan had replied with a yawn.

Methos had just quietly hung up, and Duncan had gotten dressed.

"He looked so bad when he got off the plane that I asked him if he'd been challenged. He just laughed and said that he'd been challenged by modern transportation or lack thereof. He was asleep by the time we were out of the airport's parking lot. I managed to get him awake enough to get him into the loft and then he just toppled onto the bed, fully clothed. And let me tell you if undressing a sleeping child is like undressing an adult, I'm glad Immortals are barren."

Joe smiled, then sobered. "I guess he had a lot to work out, didn't he? So much of his lost past found. And so much of his innocence ripped from him."

"Aye. If anyone deserves to be in eternal torment, it's Mael. Methos had such high hopes about his childhood, his mortal years."

"Only to find out Mael had corrupted those years in the worst possible way. He's a strong man, Mac, but I know Mael's truths hurt him in places he didn't even know he had."

"I remember with unsettling clarity the moment Ian MacLeod banished me," Duncan said softly, "but I can balance that moment with a thousand others where me and Father just enjoyed being with each other. There is no balance for him to achieve. No wonder he repressed those years."

"Considering all the violence in his life, I'm surprised he hasn't repressed more."

"The other times, he was a man, Joe, no longer merely Mael's victim. He made his own choices, and he accepts the responsibility of the consequences of those choices. I have to admire him for that, although I still think what he did was unconscionable."

"He's still atoning."

"I know, Joe."

"Think he'll ever forgive himself?"

"No. I mean, I don't think I'd be able to, and.... Hell, Joe, I'm starting to think Methos and I are more alike than I thought possible."

Joe snorted. "He always did say you Scots were a bit on the slow side."

"You have to admit he's a complicated creature, Dawson."

"And you aren't?"

Duncan shrugged. "Maybe if I had five or six thousand more years."

"You'll have them if he has anything to say about it. And from what I saw, he has a lot more say in it than we imagined. I did some, uh, research."

"On Methos?"

"On that name that Mael called him--Marduk."

"And?" Duncan raised his hand. "Hold that thought. He's here."

They were both facing the door when Methos strolled in, grinning. "Don't you two have anything to do all day except hang out in a bar? What would the university provost say, MacLeod?"

"Make mine a double?" Duncan guessed.

Methos laughed. "You're probably right. So, pull me a beer and tell me how you reprobates spent the summer."

Joe shook his head. "No beer for you, Old Man."

Methos froze. "What? Didn't MacLeod pay my tab?"

"Didn't who pay what?" Duncan demanded.

Joe threw his hands in the air. "Before you two start one of your famous arguments, your account is still good, Adam. It's just that we're not going to be here long enough for you to enjoy a beer."

"You apparently don't know me as well as you think, Joe. And where are we going?" Methos asked curiously, stepping behind the bar and filling a glass from the tap.

"For a walk."

Methos drained the glass, and gave a loud belch. "Ahhh. I'm game for anything now. What mysterious errand are we about to run?"

Joe dug his keys out of his pants pocket. "You're the mysterious one. Running off with Miss Congeniality, then disappearing. Mac was starting to get worried."

"I wasn't the only one," Duncan muttered indignantly.

"Yeah, yeah," Joe said as he headed toward the door. "Why'd you skip out like that?"

"I didn't skip out," Methos said defensively. "I just needed to regroup. I couldn't keep up with all the recent drama in my life, and I felt myself sliding in a direction I didn't want to go."

"Toward the past?" Duncan asked sympathetically.

Methos shuddered. "A far darker place than I'd imagined. Even my nightmares hadn't prepared me for--Mael."

Duncan reached out and touched him on the shoulder. "And now?"

"I'm better."

"You didn't have to go through this alone," Duncan chided, as the three of them began walking down the street.

"It's the only way I know, Mac."

"Maybe it's time for you to learn new habits. Isn't that the way you've survived for so long?"

"You know, if you keep flinging my own advice back in my face, I'm going to be hesitant in imparting it."

"Hesitant? I'd have to be up to my nose in water before you'd even tell me to hold my breath," Duncan argued.

"Actually, I probably wouldn't say anything. You're a bright boy; I'd have every hope that you'd figure it out for yourself," Methos replied with a benevolent smile.

Joe laughed. "Sounds like my dull summer is over. C'mon, Adam, we're at our destination."

Methos looked at the iron fencing, then at the bronze plaque attached to the bars: Meditation Park--An Anonymous Gift To The City of Seacouver. Silently, he followed Duncan and Joe inside, taking in the large fountain in one section, but concentrating on the sculpture in another. It was the statue he'd given Joe for Christmas.

"Knew something was missing from the bar," he said casually.

"It deserved to be appreciated by more than a handful of drunks," Joe said.

Methos nodded and headed toward one of the benches near the statue. Taking a book out of his jacket pocket, he sprawled on the bench, and began to read.

Duncan and Joe shared a look, then joined him, each taking a seat on either side of him. With a sigh, he dragged his body parts a little closer, but still continued to focus on his book.

"You were saying something about Marduk earlier, Joe," Duncan prompted.

Methos tensed, but didn't look up.

"I researched the name. It has a very interesting legend attached to it."

Methos relaxed.

Duncan thought that was interesting. "A legend, huh? That sort of makes sense, considering who we're talking about."

"It's one of the oldest creation stories on record--Babylonian, I think. Seems that before there were gods, there were two pre-gods, one of sweet water and the other bitter water."

Methos closed his book. "If you're going to tell the story, at least tell it right," he sighed.

"Well, why don't you tell it, Mr. Perfection?" Joe challenged.

Chapter Seventeen

"Fine." Methos left the bench and sat on the grass, facing them. "A good storyteller must always see the eyes of his listeners," he explained pendantly. "That way he knows when he's drawn them into his tale."

"Yes, Teacher," Joe said, hunching Mac with his elbow.

"Children," Methos muttered. Then he took a deep breath. "This is the tale of the beginning. This is Enuma Elish. When skies above were not yet named, and there was no heaven, no earth, no height, and no depth, there were the progenitors of the gods: Apsu, the fresh water; and Tiamat, the salt water. When their waters mingled, the gods were formed."

"Oooh, mingling waters," Duncan said with a definite leer. "Gee, Joe, think we're getting ready to get 'the talk'?" Methos just looked at him patiently, until Duncan mumbled, "I'm sorry. Go ahead."

"First there were Lahmu and Lahamu, and they were named. They produced Anshar and Kishar. And from them came Anu, who begot Nudimmud-Ea. Ea was superior to his forefathers. Profound of understanding, he was wise and strong and mightier than even his grandfather, Anshar. He had no rival among the gods who were his peers.

"Other gods were created and born, and they were noisy gods, partying all the time because they were gods and they had no responsibilities. Tiamat and Apsu hated the noise; after all, they had existed in total silence for a long time. Tiamat, mother of the gods, decided to put up with the noise. They were, after all, her children. They were also Apsu's children, but under the advice of his vizier, Mummu, who was also his lover, Apsu went to Tiamat and told her of his plot to kill the noisy gods. Tiamat told him that they had to be patient and not destroy what they themselves had created. Apsu listened, but later Mummu whispered in his ear that Tiamat was just in a mood because she hadn't slept in a while. 'Kill the children, Apsu,' he said as he lay wrapped in Apsu's arms. 'Kill them and when peace descends, Tiamat will forgive you.' Apsu nodded, convinced that Mummu knew best.

"But then, as now, news spread rapidly, and soon the gods heard of the plot against them. Ea, who was wise and strong and mightier than Anshar, called out a spell that made Apsu sleep. He overtook Mummu, then killed Apsu. The mighty Ea killed Apsu and took over his palace and his powers. He made a home for himself and Damkina. In this splendid residence, in the chamber of destinies, the hall of designs, Marduk, cleverest of the clever, Sage of the Gods, was conceived and born. His body was beautiful. When he raised his eyes great lights flared. His stride was majestic. He was the leader from the first. When Ea saw him, he cried out, 'My son, my son, son of the sun, and heaven's sun!' And Anu, his grandfather, gifted him with the four winds and the tornado and the tsunami."

"Hell of a trust fund," Joe commented.

"Indeed," Methos agreed. "But it made the other gods angry and jealous. They went to Tiamat and complained. 'You did not save your husband, Apsu, from the terrible Ea and now his father, Anu, has given Marduk loud, crashing storms and howling winds to play with. We cannot rest. You cannot rest. Remember Apsu. Remember Mummu. Rouse up, our Mother. Pay them back for the pain. Destroy the lineage of Lahmu and Lahamu!' Tiamat was moved by the cries of her children. She agreed with them and set about to give birth to monsters to aid in the fight.

"She spawned enormous serpents with cutting fangs, and venom instead of blood. She spawned snarling dragons who wore their glory like gods. She spawned the Great Lion, the Mad Dog, the Man Scorpion. All these she spawned and more. And while she was busying creating this terrible army, the others were fashioning weapons, merciless creations to destroy those who were like themselves. Then Tiamat named Quingu, her lover, the general of her army. She gave him Apsu's Table of Destinies so that his word would be law.

"Of course, word of this great undertaking made its way to Anshar, and the thought of Tiamat and the other gods warring against his lineage made him sick to his stomach. He cried out to his grandson, Ea, 'Ea, you are the hero, you slew Apsu. Where else will we find someone to face Tiamat?' Ea went to fight Tiamat and when he saw the forces of her army, the terrible monsters and the merciless weapons, he panicked and ran back to Anshar, telling him that the might of Tiamat was too great for him. Anshar decided to try his son, Anu. Anu went out to fight Tiamat and when he saw  the forces of her army, the terrible monsters and the merciless weapons, he panicked and ran back to Anshar, telling him that the might of Tiamat was too great for him. Anshar was terribly upset and called the other gods to him. 'Is there not one of you who can face Tiamat?' he asked in desperation. No one came forward. Ea was distressed too, so he went to Marduk. 'Marduk, listen to your father, and put your great-grandfather's heart to rest. Go to him, my son.' Marduk nodded and went.

"'Great-grandfather, I am here,' Marduk said as he stood before the great Anshar. Anshar was filled with joy because this was the best of the best. This was the wise and clever Marduk."

"I think you like saying that."

"One more interruption, Joseph, and I will have to give you a time-out," Methos warned. "Now back to the story. Marduk stood before Anshar and said, "'Do not despair, great-grandfather, for I will go out and defeat Tiamat for you. But, as you know, this is a dangerous assignment and I think I need a little incentive before I go face this terrible challenge.'"

"Now I'm starting to see the connection," Duncan mumbled.

Methos glared at him for a moment, then continued the story. "'Great-grandfather, it is your power to decide the world's nature, the destiny of things to come. I want that power. I, not you, will decide the future. And whatever I decree can never be altered or annulled, for whatever I create will endure to the end of the world. Also, I want to be the king of the gods.'

"Anshar thought it over and figured it was a bargain. He could speak for himself and give Marduk the power he requested, but as for being named king of the gods, well, the gods themselves had to decide that. He called them together, got them good and drunk, then told Marduk to sell his idea to them. Well mellowed, they consented to the plan and named Marduk king of the gods. They gave him fine robes, a scepter, a throne, and when it was time for him to leave, they gifted him with their best weapons. So it was that Marduk gathered his weapons and his toys, and went to face Tiamat. He looked upon the army of Tiamat and panicked for a moment. Then he remembered who he was, Marduk--"

"The wisest and cleverest of the gods," Joe and Duncan said together.

"Barbarians," Methos muttered. "Marduk battled through the army to confront Tiamat. They fought a single battle. Marduk used a net to entangle her, then forced his winds into her body. When she was bloated, he sent an arrow into her belly, and she exploded. He finished the kill and straddled the carcass. He sent his net over the remaining forces and trapped them. He chained the terrible beasts and destroyed the merciless weapons. He bound Quingu and snatched the Tables of Destinies from his neck and placed them around his own. Then he went to Tiamat's body and split it in half. From the upper half, he created the arc of the sky. From the lower, he created the firmament. He gave the great gods spots in the sky and set the moon in the sky to watch the night. With her spittle he created the clouds, and from her eyes the Tigris and Euphrates flowed. From her breasts he created the mountains.

"He returned home with all the bound gods straggling behind him. Now that he was king, it was his choice what to do with them. He called them all his family, and asked that they choose only one of their own to sacrifice as penance for what they had tried to do. Unanimously, they chose Quingu. He was bled to death and from his blood, Marduk created man to take care of the marvelous gift he'd made from Tiamat's body. All the gods heralded Marduk as their king. And that is how the world came into being. The end."

"Is that why Mael named you after Marduk, because you're a sneaky bastard?" Duncan asked.

"Actually, I pre-date the story of Enuma Elish. It was just coincidence, or perhaps the person who came up with Enuma Elish remembered the story of a traveling young god-ling who burned a village to the ground. Most legends have a connection to fact, but the connection is thin at best."

"What about the rest of the story, Methos?" Joe inquired.

"What rest of the story?"

Joe shrugged. "How about that Marduk eventually got tired of being king of the gods, and left his throne to go live among his creations?"

Methos shook his head. "That was added long after the original. Everybody always calls for a sequel, you know." He scowled as he looked upon their faces. "What? Don't look at me all worshipful and crap. It's just a story, made up by some poor fool wanting a crust of bread or hoping that some two-bit monarch would be so enraptured by his tale that his pending execution would be called off."

"But you told the story so well," Duncan pointed out. "It's obvious you're quite familiar with it."

"So what? I can recite the entire text of Green Eggs And Ham, but that doesn't mean I'm Sam-I-Am."

"I am Sam. Sam I am," Joe said softly.

"That Sam-I-am! That Sam-I-am!," Methos replied. "I do not like that Sam-I-am!"

"Do you like green eggs and ham?" Joe asked.

"I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham," Methos said firmly.

"Would you like them here or there?"

"I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

"Would you like them in a house? Would you like them with a mouse?"

Methos shook his head stubbornly. "I do not like them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

Joe just looked at him patiently. "Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?"

"Not in a box. Not with a fox. Not in a house. Not with a mouse. I would not eat them here or there. I would not eat them anywhere. I would not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

Joe leaned forward, resting his chin on his cane. "Would you? Could you? In a car? Eat them! Eat them! Here they are."

"I would not, could not, in a car."

"You may like them. You will see. You may like them in a tree."

Methos folded his arms and huffed, "I would not, could not, in a tree. Not in a car! You let me be. I do not like them in a box. I do not like them with a fox. I do not like them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere. I do not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

Joe looked puzzled, then smiled. "A train! A train! A train! A train! Could you, would you on a train?"

Methos sighed, exasperated, and shook his head. "Not on a train! Not in a tree! Not in a car! Sam! Let me be! I would not, could not, in a box. I could not, would not, with a fox. I will not eat them with a mouse. I will not eat them in a house. I will not eat them here or there. I will not eat them anywhere. I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

"Say! In the dark? Here in the dark! Would you, could you, in the dark?" Joe asked eagerly.

"I would not, could not, in the dark."

"Would you, could you, in the rain?"

"I would not, could not, in the rain. Not in the dark. Not on a train, not in a car, not in a tree. I do not like them, Sam, you see. Not in a house. Not in a box. Not with a mouse. Not with a fox. I will not eat them here or there. I do not like them anywhere!"

Joe looked at him, completely baffled. "You do not like green eggs and ham?"

"I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

"Could you, would you, with a goat?"

Duncan snickered.

"I would not, could not, with a goat!"

"Would you, could you, on a boat?"

"I could not, would not, on a boat. I will not, will not, with a goat. I will not eat them in the rain. I will not eat them on a train. Not in the dark! Not in a tree! Not in a car! You let me be! I do not like them in a box. I do not like them with a fox. I will not eat them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them ANYWHERE! I do not like green eggs and ham! I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

"You do not like them. SO you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say."

Methos rolled his eyes. "Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see." He waited a beat, then grinned. "Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am! And I would eat them in a boat! And I would eat them with a goat. And I will eat them in the rain. And in the dark. And on a train. And in a car. And in a tree. They are so good, so good, you see! So I will eat them in a box. And I will eat them with a fox. And I will eat them in a house. And I will eat them with a mouse. And I will eat them here and there. Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE! I do so like green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you, Sam-I-am!"

Duncan glanced rapidly between the two and when he was assured they were finished, he just shook his head. "Adam I can understand."

"Hey, it's not my fault that I had to learn to memorize everything I read. You try breaking into a temple to read its tablets, or dodging monks to get a look at their scrolls. One shot deals, you know. Besides, without the written words permanently etched onto my brain, I don't think I would have made it through the Dark Ages with my sanity intact."

Duncan rolled his eyes. "That's debatable. And what about you, Joe?"

Joe shuffled slightly on the hard bench. "Back in the VA ward in 'Nam, there was this guy.... Right before he shipped out, his little girl had given him her most valuable possession to take with him--her dog-eared copy of Green Eggs And Ham. He considered it his good luck charm. It was the first thing in his pack, no matter what else he had to carry. And when he was on patrol, it was crammed down into the back of his pants, between his t-shirt and his fatigues so it wouldn't get too sweaty. One day his unit got ambushed. Only he and three others survived. Somewhere in between hauling him out of in-country and his arrival at the hospital, the book was lost--and so was he. Every night he'd take out an imaginary copy of the book and read it to his little girl. The other guys in the ward complained at first, including yours truly, but after awhile, we couldn't go to sleep without hearing it, and sometimes reciting it right along with him. I still find myself recalling the story when I have trouble falling asleep."

"Joe," Duncan said sympathetically.

Joe shrugged and smiled. "There's a happy ending. Once the other three were well enough, they undertook the great Seuss Mission. They tracked the book down. A G.I. had picked it up when the medics had tossed it aside while administering first aid. So the guy got his book back and was discharged home."

"Speaking of home," Methos began, "isn't it time to open the bar?"

Joe looked at his watch. "Damn. Almost past time. You still have your keys from Christmas, Adam?" Methos nodded. "Would you mind running ahead and opening for me?"

"Sure, Joe." Methos was on his feet and out of the park in an instant.

"Eager to work or eager to get away from our questions?" Duncan mused aloud.

"Probably a little of both. Although he fights it, Adam's a people person. You should see him tending bar. His tip glass has to be emptied on a regular basis because everyone likes him. I'm thinking about taking a cue from Don Salzer and leaving him the bars. The Watchers might have something to say about it, but they can kiss my dead ass, you know?"

"What about your daughter?"

Joe sighed. "Amy barely acknowledges me. Having something of mine would just be a burden, an unwanted reminder. No, I think Adam would get a kick out of running them, and he'll have an excuse to stay out in the world for a little while longer."

"I wonder how tempted he was to not come back this time."

Joe shook his head. "Promise me you'll do your best to keep him actively involved in life, Mac."

"I'll try, but he's a grown man, Joe."

"I know. It's just that--sometimes I see glimpses of that four-year-old Mael destroyed, and...and I get protective."

Duncan gave an exasperated sigh. "The man admits to having killed tens of thousands. He raped, pillaged, and murdered for over a thousand years. He wiped out an entire village when he was but a child. We, ourselves, just watched him order the mountains to bow before him and turn the desert into a sea. We saw him 'come into being.'"

"And your point is?"

Duncan spread his hands out. "The point, dammit, is that I feel protective him of him, too," he said with a sad laugh. "How does he do that?"

"Easy. He let us see a glimpse of his soul."

Duncan kept pace with Joe as they reached the main sidewalk. "Interesting story you found."

"I thought so."

"Mael was a bigger fool than we thought."

Joe nodded. "Marduk. Methos. We'll never ever really know, will we?"

Duncan could sense the outer reaches of Methos' Presence, and as it always had--even when Kronos stood between them--it comforted him. "No, Joe. None of us ever will."

Chapter Eighteen

"I went to the park yesterday," Methos said as he joined Mac in the faculty parking lot.

"To get some reading done?"

"Actually, I was trying to visualize the perfect spot for your gift."

"My--Tessa and Richie? You did a sculpture? I wasn't expecting anything so grand," Duncan said wonderingly.

"My way of working out tension, remember? Finished that one and started a few others."

"So that's what you did after you left Cassandra."

"I was angry at Mael. It was either raise a chisel or raise a sword."

"Glad the chisel won out."

Methos stuck his hands in his jeans pocket. "Me, too."

"And Cassandra? How did that work out?"

"I think she's found a kind of peace with my existence."

"And you?"

Methos shrugged. "The issues were all hers, MacLeod. I'd come to grips with that part of my past long ago."

"She's still a regret?"

"The past can't be changed. And even if it were possible, a lot of happiness would be lost with the pain. I'm not sure it would be worth it. Cassandra's a strong woman. Now that she's not chained to the past, she'll be fine."

"I'm glad. I like the idea of my friends being okay."

"Do we dare be otherwise in your presence?" Methos teased. "How'd I get stuck with both you and Nanny Joe?"

"I'm not that bad of a mother hen, Adam."

"Cluck, cluck." Methos laughed and ducked Duncan's half-hearted swing in his direction. "Ah, ah. I'm the man with the present, remember?"

"When can I see it?"

"I was going to wait and have it shipped over here for Christmas. But you'd have a devil of a time trying to set it in the park in the middle of winter. So, it's probably somewhere over Asia at the moment. Guess you're gonna have to settle for a chia-head Christmas."

Duncan refused to rise to the bait. "What's it like? Did you make it like the picture?"

Methos shook his head. "I had to use the photo for Tessa's features, but I used my memories of Richie. It's--" He paused, looking embarrassed. "I made Tessa an angel, Mac--an angel reaching out to Richie. I know it's corny and--"

Duncan reached out and snagged him into a bear hug. "Just shut up, Adam."

Methos brushed away imaginary wrinkles as he squirmed out of the embrace. "Geez, MacLeod. You haven't even seen it yet."

"But I've seen your talent, Old Man."

"Yeah, yeah. Oh, look, there are your friends."

Duncan followed the slim finger and saw their favorite faculty contingency sitting at one of the picnic tables on the university green. "I was under the impression they're your friends, too."

"Let's not get picky." Methos' eyes narrowed. "Now isn't that interesting," he murmured.

"What?"

Methos just shook his head and walked toward the group. "My favorite American Rose," he said, gallantly taking Rose Bacall's hand and kissing it.

Rose smiled. "Adam, how wonderful you look! I see Duncan took very good care of you."

Adam grinned and turned to Duncan. "Cluck, cluck." Then he focused on Victoria. "Ah, Dr. Moon, how lovely you are. Such a vision." He sat down beside her and lowered his head onto her shoulder. "Be a love and marry me before you break my heart."

Ed Robbins laughed. "Pay the man!" he said and stuck his hand out, palm up in Gray Morgan's direction.

"What's going on?" Duncan asked.

Robbins cackled again. "Double the money!"

Morgan reluctantly handed over the cash. "See if you can get your new boyfriend to loan you some money, Vickie, love, or dinner tonight will be Spam and a can of Coke."

"What was the bet?" Adam asked curiously as he continued to snuggle against Victoria.

"That not only would you be the first one to notice the change in Victoria and Gray's relationship," Rose explained carefully, "but that you would also be less than tactful in letting them know that you knew."

"And the second one?"

Robbins laughed. "That MacLeod would be completely lost."

Adam joined him in laughter, then stood at Duncan's side. "Mac, let me introduce you to Seacouver's newest couple: Dr. Victoria Moon and Dr. Gray Morgan."

Duncan's eyes widened. "When did this happen?"

"The last night we saw you," Victoria said. "Right before the Mountain exploded."

Duncan felt Methos tense, and realized his friend was far from being okay. Cluck, cluck be damned. He planned on sticking very close to a certain professor for the next several weeks.

"Congratulations," he said to the obviously happy couple. "You'll have to come to the loft for dinner now that Adam's clutter has been dispatched to his own apartment."

"We accept," Methos said brightly. "You'll need to add the leaf to the dining table; it'll never seat six at the size it is now."

"Who asked you?" Duncan inquired archly.

"Your mother would be ashamed at your lack of social skills, MacLeod," Methos said with a shake of his head. "Thankfully, I'm a forgiving type of fellow. Now about the wine. What about that lovely bottle you picked up in Italy in the spring?"

"You were in Italy?" Robbins asked. "Guess it's a good thing you weren't in the Middle East. Some weird stuff happened over there."

"Really?" Adam commented lightly. "Actually, we were all over the place during our break. It's so tiring being friends with a jet-setter."

"Jet-setter? I'm just a simple businessman and occasional teacher."

"And model," Robbins muttered.

"What?"

"I said you're a model, MacLeod."

"You mean role-model?" Duncan asked, looking pleased.

"No, I mean 'strut-your-stuff' model. At least that's what it looks like according to the exhibit in the lobby of the Fine Arts Building."

"What are you talking about, Robbins?"

"The Art seniors left you a present--a kind of one-man showing. Except we didn't know you were going to be showing so much," Robbins said dryly.

"Excuse me?" Duncan nearly screeched.

"We knew that old bat Tomlinson had you posing in a skirt, but really, MacLeod, do you think it was prudent for a faculty member to pose nude?"

"Nude? Nude!" Duncan turned slightly purple before stomping off toward the Fine Arts Building.

Adam grinned and jogged off after him.

"Oh, you do like to stir up people, don't you, Ed?" Rose chided lightly.

"MacLeod's so easy. Makes you wonder how he can be such a good agent."

"I'm sure Adam looks after him," Victoria said. "By the way, Ed, do you think it was wise not to warn Adam that Theodora has him listed as the sponsor of the showing?"

Robbins tugged uncomfortably on his tie. "You don't think he knows?"

"I'm pretty sure he doesn't," Morgan said. "After all, would he really put himself in the line of fire like that if he knew MacLeod was going to find out about his involvement in the project?"

"But--but why didn't one of you tell him?"

"You were doing such a good job of explaining everything, Ed," Victoria said sweetly.

"Oh, hell," Robbins moaned. "Pierson is going to have my head for goading MacLeod into seeing the pictures before he could check out the situation."

"Probably," Morgan said gleefully.

"Shut up. You're just mad that I took your money."

"It's okay, Robbins. You'll probably need it to get out of town for a while."

"But, my love, is there any place he can go to get away from Adam? After all, the man is a trained agent. And he just admitted that he and Duncan routinely go all over the world."

Robbins dropped his head against the stone table. "Tell my wife I loved her at least ninety percent of the time we were together."

Rose placed her hand over her heart. "How romantic. And the other ten percent?"

Robbins looked up and grinned. "Have you seen what the internet has to offer?"

The others grabbed whatever leaves and grass at hand and tossed it at him.

"Well, he doesn't look too ticked," Victoria said as Adam walked back toward them.

"Where's Duncan?" Rose questioned.

Adam slid onto the seat beside her. "In preparation, I memorized all the relevant exits in the building. He should be along shortly. You know, a heads up would have been appreciated, Robbins."

"I'm sorry, Pierson. I guess I just wasn't thinking."

"Nothing new for you, huh?" Adam replied. "If I were a different man, you'd be in a lot of trouble. But I gave up revenge a long time ago."

"Thank God," Robbins mumbled. He tried to think of a safe topic. "Uh, I saw your Mr. Turner got drafted by the Seattle Seahawks."

"Yes, he did," Adam said proudly. "Got a pretty good deal, too. If any of you need tickets to any home games let me know. I have skybox privileges."

Robbins grinned. "That's great to hear. I--"

"Any of my friends can ask," Adam continued. "You know the kind who warn me about obstacles I might have to go around, etc."

Robbins groaned. He watched Adam stiffen, and looked toward the Fine Arts Building. Sure enough, MacLeod was marching toward them.

Adam sighed dramatically. "Just ten minutes ago, he was hugging me and now.... Where's the love, MacLeod?" he called loudly.

"Come here and I'll show you love, Adam," Duncan threatened.

"It's cubism, you barbarian. Things aren't supposed to be drawn proportional, you know. None of us think any less of you because--"

"Say one more word, Adam," Duncan dared.

"Word," Adam replied devilishly. He quickly got to his feet. "Sorry, no time to chat. Lots to do, you understand. 'Bye."

He was gone before MacLeod reached the group. Duncan bobbed his head in their direction, then continued his stalking.

"It's nice seeing them so playful after such a difficult spring and summer," Rose said.

"Sort of a rite of autumn," Morgan murmured. "The dorms fill, the leaves turn--"

"And Wile E. Coyote chases the Roadrunner," Robbins finished.

"I was thinking more along the lines of Elmer Fudd going after that wascally wabbit," Victoria lisped.

"Tom running after Jerry," Rose chimed in.

"Pinky and the Brain?" Morgan tossed out for consideration.

"The Katzenjammer Kids," Robbins said.

"Beetle Bailey and the Sarge," Morgan countered.

"Sarge and Beetle never looked that good," Victoria mumbled, then blushed. "Sorry, Gray."

"Hey, I'm second best to James Bond, both the Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan versions. That's pretty good for a middle-aged Physics professor. I have nothing to be ashamed of."

"You didn't seem that middle-aged last night," Victoria purred.

"TMI," Robbins exclaimed. "Way too much information. Besides, Morgan knows those two aren't competition. They haven't got time to deal with petty stuff like love. Not when there are bad guys fucking--'scuse me, Rose--screwing around with nature, like making the Mountain blow and turning the sky into fire overseas."

"It's so sad that they can never have normal lives," Rose said. "But at least they have moments like these," she added as she saw Adam running across the green in the distance.

"You can't run forever!" MacLeod was close on his tail.

"Don't forget whom you're talking to, Mac!" Adam laughed and disappeared around a building.

"Doesn't matter what we call them," Robbins said sternly. "Only one name is good enough for them."

"What's that, Ed?" Rose asked.

"Heroes."

The other three nodded and smiled.

THE END


Comments? D.L. Witherspoon

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