Author's Notes:

This is my first purely Highlander piece.

Hope you enjoy!

Restoration Series #1

CALLED TO RISE

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 12-15-99)

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.

~Emily Dickinson

"Come on, Adam. It's not that bad," Duncan MacLeod said, and the others around the table jumped in to agree with him. Well, everyone but Dr. Adam Pierson, Linguistics professor at the University of Seacouver, who regarded him with a fond, but exasperated, green-gold gaze.

"You're wrong, MacLeod. It's just as much a shackle as anything they had in the 1800's. You are all slaves," he told the gathering of university faculty, "to this horrible invention. It keeps you securely tethered at all times, monitors your every move, and brings you to task whenever it wants. No doubt it warms your bed every night as well," he added with a wry grin.

Duncan shook his head, debating how much of this outrageous theory Adam actually believed and how much of it was his friend being his usual contrary self. In reality, thirty-year-old Adam Pierson, was a five-thousand year old Immortal named Methos, and such a long life had left the man cynical, prickly, and slightly insufferable. He liked to toy with mortals and their beliefs because he knew how transient those beliefs were, how easily the winds of fate could send certainty flying out the proverbial window, leaving confusion and flux in its wake. He also liked to toy with younger Immortals-- as was Duncan and every other Immortal on the planet.

Before MacLeod could continue the argument, which was taking place in the faculty lounge, a cell phone trilled, and he-- along with the others in the room-- checked pockets and purses frantically, while one very old man laughed.

"The master beckons," Adam said, absurdly pleased that his point was made so decidedly. Cell phones, in his opinion, were an unnecessary evil and would soon destroy civilization as they knew it. Of course, in his case, it wouldn't be the first time.

Duncan scowled, then glared when it turned out to be his "master" that was begging for attention. "MacLeod," he snarled into the harmless piece of plastic. His voice softened as he recognized the caller. "Hey, Joe, what's up? He's right here. What? Okay. We're on our way." In one fluid motion, Duncan stood, slipped the phone into his pocket, and reached for the coat folded across the back of his chair. Without a word, Adam grabbed his coat as well, following on MacLeod's heels as he left the lounge.

"What was that all about?" Dr. Victoria Moon asked, watching the two tall, handsome men walk out the door. She was new to the faculty this semester, having just secured her doctorate in Economics. To her delight, she had discovered that the small faculty considered themselves to be a family, a family that welcomed new members. She quickly felt just as comfortable in the lounge as she did at home, and now that Duncan and Adam had roused her curiosity, she felt no reluctance to ask what was going on.

"The Commissioner called. To the Bat Cave, Robin," Ed Robbins said with a grin.

"What?"

"We have a theory," Gray Morgan explained, closing the physics book he had been reviewing. "Teaching Art History and Linguistics are just covers for MacLeod and Pierson."

"Covers? You think they're some kind of spies or superheroes?" Victoria asked, with a tense laugh. Sure, they both had accents, and were terribly good-looking, but that didn't make them James Bond, did it?

"Actually, we believe they are Interpol agents," Rose Bacall offered. "Their controller is a man named Joe Dawson. He owns a bar of the same name, and we believe it serves as Duncan and Adam's base of operations here in Seacouver."

"What do you mean, 'here in Seacouver'?"

"They also seem to have a semi-permanent station in Paris. They usually split the year between here and there," Robbins said. "Anybody remember the name of Joe's bar over there?" They all shook their heads.

Victoria looked around, waiting for someone to burst out laughing and blow the joke. No one did. "Forgive me for doubting you, but...." she began.

"We know how you feel," Rose said gently. "But it's really the only thing that makes sense, that makes sense of what we've seen with our own eyes."

"Which is?"

"You haven't been with them to Joe's, have you? Well, you will. We have quite a few outings at Joe's. Dawson always gives us a decent discount, and I think it's convenient to have MacLeod and Pierson where he can contact them at a moment's notice," Morgan added. "Anyway, it's obvious from the first meeting that Joe is close to MacLeod and Pierson. The eye contact, the secretive smiles, the way he knows exactly what they want without them having to order.... Then there are the incidents."

"Incidents?" Victoria asked, intrigued despite her doubts.

"You can be talking with Duncan and Adam and all of a sudden, they freeze in apprehension-- Joe, too. Then the door to the bar will open, someone walks in, and scans the room. You instantly know who they're searching for. When all the principal parties are in eye contact, some kind of complicated signaling system is implemented, and either Duncan or Adam will leave with this person. The one left behind will be distracted and tense until the other one comes back-- usually so exhausted, he's dead on his feet. The three of them will meet at the bar, words will be exchanged, Joe disappears into the back, and Duncan and Adam make excuses and leave." Rose reached into her bag and pulled out a candy bar.

"We think this is when they're making new contacts, or are expecting vital information drops." Robbins snatched the candy bar and broke off a piece before handing it back. "Of course, sometimes it gets violent."

"Violent?"

"They try to hide the damage with those long coats they're always wearing, but sometimes a bloody sleeve hangs a little long, or you get a peek of scarlet where the coat overlaps."

Victoria's head was spinning. "So, you're guessing that something's going down now, and that's why Joe called?" They nodded. "Why here? Why Seacouver?"

Robbins shrugged. "It's a port city."

"Drugs maybe, or some other kind of smuggling?" the Economics professor hazarded.

"Or something else," Rose said softly.

Before Victoria could address the fear she saw in her friend's eyes, the door to the lounge opened and the dean of the university walked in.

"Was that MacLeod's T-bird flying out of the parking lot?" Dean Anderson asked.

"Joe called," Rose said.

"Damn. Wonder if I should try to find someone to cover their classes, or just write a note on the board and cancel them?"

"Because they went to Joe's?"

"Dr. Moon, if they went running to Joe's like that, it could be days before we see them again," Anderson replied with a sigh.

"And this doesn't bother you?" Victoria asked, remembering the contract she had signed with its strict attendance and absence policies.

Anderson raised an eyebrow. "My inconvenience versus the fate of the world? I'm not that shallow, Dr. Moon. I hope to God none of us are."

Victoria looked at the parting man, then at all of her friends. They believed. Everything-- fate of the world comment included. With a shiver, she stared at the coffee cups Duncan and Adam had left on the table. Who were they, and how had they gone from ordinary to extraordinary in the blink of an eye?

The fate of the world.

Well, damn.

*****

Oblivious to the speculation they had left behind them, Duncan and Methos strode through the empty bar and headed to Joe's back office. The Watcher looked up at them from behind his desk, his demeanor tense and wary. Whatever it was, it wasn't good.

"We're here, Joe," MacLeod said, prompting the man to talk when he continued to stare at them.

The mortal sighed, not knowing how to begin. "When it first happened, it scared the shit out of me, but I was also fascinated. To think I was an actual witness to something that had been considered a myth for so long. It could only happen once in my lifetime, right? Wrong."

MacLeod and Methos looked at each other, trying to decipher Joe's quiet ramble. Methos got it first, but Duncan was a close second. "Another Dark Quickening?" the Scot asked, with a sinking feeling. His mind flashed back to his own experience with the excess of dark power-- evil in the form of a Quickening, which controlled the mind and body of the Immortal it possessed.

He didn't remember much of his actual actions, but he knew he'd almost taken Richie's head-- would have if it hadn't been for Joe shooting him. He'd also raped a woman and beheaded an old Immortal friend. The evil would have run unchecked-- either staying in control of Duncan or spreading to another Immortal if Duncan had lost a challenge- if it hadn't been for Methos. Methos had left his dying girlfriend to save Duncan, to lay claim to the good that he knew existed in his friend, until Duncan could recognize that good for himself and banish the evil.

"Who?" Methos asked.

"Raul Montenegro was the first host. He took out Sven Holsen and Marco Finetti. He lost to Yuri Jorgenson."

Duncan nodded sadly. All three men had been honorable, playing within the rules of the ugly Game that was their lives. "So, Jorgenson is the host now?"

"Two hours ago, Jorgenson was taken out-- by Marcus Constantine."

"Fuck," MacLeod muttered. He knew Constantine, had killed to save the man once.

"How long?" Methos asked icily. "How long has this- thing been running around?"

"Two weeks."

"And you're just now finding out?" the former Watcher asked, knowing that as head of the Northwestern American sector, Joe had to have known from the beginning.

"The Council put out a gag order," Joe said defensively. "I couldn't tell you. Especially you, MacLeod."

"Why me specifically, Joe?"

Joe closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair. "When HQ realized they had a Dark Quickening on their hands, a good number of them suggested the Watchers put together a Hunting party."

Duncan didn't have to hear the rest of it. He knew what a Watcher Hunting party would do: they would shoot the Immortal, then take his head. "Wouldn't Horton be pleased," he commented dryly. Horton, Joe's brother-in-law, had created his own Hunting party and murdered Darius-- Duncan's friend and in his opinion, the Immortal best suited to win the Prize. Once a ruthless general, Darius had taken a Light Quickening, and had retired from the Game to become a Catholic priest. But even the Church hadn't provided sanctuary from Horton and his killers, who had murdered Darius simply because Immortals were "unnatural."

Methos gave Duncan's shoulder a light squeeze, both in sympathy and in warning. At the moment, Dawson had all the information. No use alienating the man before they got the complete picture. "How did the Hunters fail?" he asked quickly.

"Not everyone agreed with the Hunt. Some remembered Mac's bout with the phenomenon, and wanted to contact him. They thought you knew some way to overcome it."

"Why?" MacLeod demanded. "Why are the Watchers determined to get involved in the first place? I thought that was the sacred first rule of Watching-- never interfere."

"Jorgenson took out a family of three. That's drawing a lot of attention from the authorities."

"And?" Duncan knew the Watchers probably cared less for mortal lives than they did for Immortals. At least Immortals gave them a purpose.

"Montenegro not only killed his Watcher, but Finetti's too."

Methos closed his eyes, then opened them. "Who were they, Joe?"

"Paul Sobol and Jerry Patterson."

"Damn," the eldest muttered.

"You knew them?" Duncan asked. Adam Pierson had been a Watcher for ten years, and probably would still be one if Duncan hadn't literally forced him to a stand-- to decide whether he was Watcher or Immortal. In that time, Pierson had made friends inside the organization. In fact, Joe had known him as a Watcher and had been shocked to find out that not only was he an Immortal, but the oldest of his kind.

"Yeah. Paul did a stretch in Research before he went into the field. He was a good man."

"I'm sorry, Methos," Duncan apologized. "But I still don't think it's the Watchers' responsibility to deal with this."

"Well, the Council agrees with you," Joe informed him. "I've been authorized to dump the entire matter into your lap."

Duncan slumped into a chair. "Fuck." He looked to Methos, the five millennia old strategist, for help.

The lanky Immortal leaned back against Joe's desk. "I vote for Option 1: shoot the bastard and let a mortal take his head."

"What about the Holy Spring?" Duncan had vague memories of the grotto where Methos had taken him to confront the darkness in his soul.

The Ancient shook his head. "I knew you, Mac. I knew your strengths, the goodness inside you, and what it would take to trigger it to the forefront. Constantine is just an acquaintance. I have no idea what makes him tick, and I have my doubts about the amount of goodness inside the old Roman to begin with."

"But think of the loss, Methos. Constantine's quickening, as well as Holsen's, Finetti's, and Jorgenson's. So much power-- so much good power-- lost forever," MacLeod agonized. "It's bad enough that Darius'...."

Methos squirmed uncomfortably. The tragedy that was Darius always unsettled him. It bothered him that a man like Darius had died, while he, whose past was knee-deep in spilled mortal blood, still survived. "I don't see another choice, Mac. This Quickening has to be stopped, if not because of the loss of life, then for the sheer reason that it's going to call too much attention to our existence."

Duncan gnawed on his lip. "What if--"

"No," Methos replied, knowing Duncan's idea before the Scot could spit it out.

"But I've already--"

"No."

"Methos, I--"

"Which part of 'no' don't you understand, MacLeod?" Methos asked angrily. "I risked life and limb extracting you from that Dark Quickening, and I'll be damned if I'm going to allow you to go out and take another."

"Allow me?" Duncan repeated, glaring at the other Immortal. Methos was older, yes-- but he wasn't his father.

"Yes, damn it!" Methos said flatly. "You are not going to do it."

"And how do you propose to stop me?" Duncan challenged.

"Shooting you and locking you in a cage would probably do the trick," Methos replied easily.

"You wouldn't," MacLeod huffed, although he realized Methos would. The over four-thousand- year age difference meant that Methos would do a lot of things that Duncan wouldn't dream of doing.

"And I would help him," Joe added softly.

Duncan glanced at the barkeeper and saw what he was thinking. He was remembering a scene in the dojo-- MacLeod standing over Richie Ryan, kissing his forehead, and raising the katana for a killing blow.... Thanks to Joe, that blow never came. But a few years later, it had come, and Joe had been too late to do anything but cradle the body of the young man he'd grown to love.

MacLeod hissed in remembered pain. Methos and Joe were right. The risk was too great. Although he had defeated Ahriman, he feared the demon had left his soul too brittle to deal with such darkness again. "Tell the Watchers to do what they have to," he said tersely. It felt wrong giving the mortals such power over Immortals, but what other choice was there?

Joe nodded and reached for the phone, but a touch from Methos stopped him.

"What if," the Old One began reluctantly, "we found an Immortal who was so evil that a little more wouldn't affect him, couldn't change him?"

"Wouldn't that just make a bad situation worse?" Joe asked.

"Not necessarily. Say that this Immortal has his dark side under pretty tight control. Say that this Immortal knows his darkness will consume any other, and that control of one darkness would control the other."

"No," Duncan whispered. He knew Methos was referring to himself. Methos had been one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse-- a band of Immortals which had terrorized an entire region for a thousand years. Villages and towns had been decimated in their wake, thousands dying, ravished and bloody. Why? According to Methos, it had been because he liked doing it, but Mac had his doubts. Methos had a love and a respect for mortal life more than he'd seen in many Immortals-- even the so-called good ones, and when the Four Horsemen had been reunited, Methos had engineered the death of all of his "brothers", taking out Silas himself even though he had truly liked the big man.

"What are you ladies going on about?" Joe asked. He twisted his head from Methos to MacLeod back to Methos again. "You actually think there's some bad ass Immortal out there who can absorb a Dark Quickening and not be affected by it because he's too fucking mean? A bastard like that wouldn't give a rat's ass about saving mortals-- or Immortals, for that matter."

Methos shrugged. "Maybe he would, Joe. Maybe in his long life, he's grown attached to both."

Joe frowned. "Long life?" He looked at his friend in shock. "You're talking about yourself, Adam? You can't be serious, man."

"Oh, but I am," Methos said softly. "I'm not Adam, Joe. I'm Methos, and what I am-- what I have been-- is evil so dark that day has no meaning and light is but a fading memory."

"It doesn't look that way from where I'm standing," Joe argued.

"That's because you're on the outside. But MacLeod's been on the inside, haven't you, Mac? The double Quickening in Bordeaux. You saw the real me from the inside out. Tell him that I'm not lying, MacLeod. Tell him that I'm more than a match for the Dark Quickening."

Duncan thought back to that instance in the abandoned submarine base, when four Quickenings had danced and mated.... No, not mated. Kronos' Quickening had raped them both, while Silas' had looked on with a leer. Just when Duncan had thought he'd go mad, Methos' Quickening had linked with his and together, they had thrown off Kronos, banishing him and Silas to the place where they belonged-- the nether recesses of their souls. But in that link, before it was severed and each Quickening returned to its owner, Duncan had seen the real Methos. It definitely had not been what he had expected.

"Come on, Mac. Talk him out of this crazy stunt," Joe begged. He truly liked Adam/Methos and the thought of having to kill him was distressing. Because that's what would happen. To end the Dark Quickening, a mortal would have to behead Methos, and the nearest mortal would be him.

Duncan shook his head. "Actually, it's a pretty decent plan, Joe. If Methos can take Constantine."

"I can take him," Methos said calmly.

"Prove it to me at the dojo."

"I will."

"Mac, Methos, this is insane!" Joe fussed. "Where's that famous survival instinct, Methos?"

"I will survive, Joe. I don't make challenges I can't win."

Joe folded his arms stubbornly. "Sure, you might survive. But as what?"

Methos gave his friend a patient smile. "As plain, old me."

"Mac?" Joe appealed to the more reasonable Immortal one more time.

"Find out where Constantine is, Joe, and make the travel arrangements. If the Watchers think we're working for them now, they can pay for the privilege," MacLeod declared. "And make sure all Watchers in the area are pulled. Although they know Adam Pierson is an Immortal, they might think it's strange that such a young one could handle a Dark Quickening."

After making his choice to come out of hiding and enter the Game once more, Methos had known it wouldn't be long before someone's Watcher tagged him as an Immortal. Making a preemptive strike, Adam Pierson had confessed to his former bosses that he'd recently been killed, only to discover he was an Immortal. Scared, because now there would be people with long swords coming after him, and sad, because he knew he had to resign from the Watchers and leave all his friends behind, he had left the organization and become Duncan MacLeod's student. He'd begged Joe Dawson not to put the information into his reports on MacLeod's activities, and because of their long friendship, Joe had reluctantly agreed. But now that he was no longer a student-- he had told the Council bravely-- he wanted to confess his Immortality to the organization which had been like a family to him. He knew he owed that much to them. Five thousand years of acting had earned him a sympathetic send-off, and the opportunity to Watch himself. Faithfully, he sent in a monthly report on Adam Pierson and his activities. Sometimes it mirrored what Methos actually did-- and sometimes it didn't.

"Any other orders, Mr. MacLeod?" Joe asked dryly.

"Yes. Come by the loft for dinner," Duncan added with a smile.

*****

Three hours later, Joe made his way to DeSalvo's Gym, which housed both the dojo and Mac's loft. He found both men in the dojo part, wearing only thin cotton pants, their upper bodies still glistening from the perspiration of a long, hard sparring session. Mac stood leaning against a wall, bottle of water clutched in his hand. Methos stood in the center of the room, lost in a complicated exercise involving only him and his Ivanhoe sword.

"I didn't know he knew katas, and I didn't think that particular one could be done with such a heavy sword," Joe commented, coming over to stand beside MacLeod.

"Methos knows many things, and I have yet to find anything he can't do," Duncan replied solemnly.

"Including taking a Dark Quickening?" No response. "Is he ready?"

"Aye. His mind and body are both sound."

"Excuse me if I beg to differ with you on the mind part," Joe said bitterly. "But I have no idea why I'm telling you because you are apparently as crazy as he is." The mortal shifted his weight on the cane he used due to his prosthetic legs, as a thought came to him. "Or is this some kind of scam you're running, Mac? Is that what this is? You're just humoring the old man, right, so he doesn't go running off on his own?"

Duncan shook his head. "No one's playing games."

"You mean you're gonna let--"

"What's with the two of you? Methos and I are both very grown men. We don't need each other's permission to do anything."

"Yes, you're both grown, but I also thought you were friends. And friends watch out for each other, stop each other from taking stupid risks!"

Duncan frowned, turning his brown gaze directly on Joe. "Do you actually think I would be this calm if I didn't believe it will work?"

"But...." Joe let his eyes settle on the lone figure brandishing the sword with incredible beauty. "So, you really agree with him? That his soul is so black that a little more darkness won't hurt him?"

"I agree that I doubt that the Dark Quickening will change him."

Joe looked over at Mac with a shudder. "What the hell did you see, MacLeod? Was his soul that hard to look upon?"

Duncan nodded, watching the fluid lines of his friend. Such grace. He should have been an artist, instead of what they all were-- killers. "That brief glance was almost too much for me to handle. In fact, until he asked me about it today, I'd forgotten what I'd seen. My mind had automatically repressed the experience."

Joe looked sadly at Methos. How could he hide it so well? What kind of control did he have to exert to be the irascible, but rarely vicious Ancient, who guzzled beer, teased friends, and supported those he loved? Although he would never admit it, he was Mac's teacher. Sure, Connor MacLeod had taught his kinsman to wield a sword, but Methos was teaching him about life-- the colors only a man as old as he had seen. No, he wasn't perfect and maybe he had wallowed in blood for a time, but he had turned his back on that life-- and that in itself said more about the old man than anything else. "Well, you were there, so I guess I have to take your word for it," he told the younger Immortal, "but I'm still going to worry."

"You won't be alone," Duncan admitted. He worried about every challenge his friend faced. Just as Methos worried about him. "But he'll be okay, Joe. I know it."

"So, does that mean I pass inspection?" Methos asked as he approached.

Duncan gave a sharp nod. "Even fighting fair, you're impressive."

Methos rolled his eyes. "I know there's a compliment in that-- somewhere."

MacLeod smirked and motioned toward the freight elevator which would take them to the loft. "What of Constantine, Joe?"

"He's in Italy. A Watcher is going to stay on him until we arrive. Then, it's strictly our show."

"When do we leave?" Duncan asked, pulling down the elevator's gate.

"The 12:03 red-eye tonight. A stop in New York, then direct to Rome."

"Since you're going to be cooking, MacLeod," Methos said as they exited into Duncan's home, "you can shower first."

"I'm cooking? I figured we'd flip for it."

Methos started to remind him that it was his apartment, but quickly rejected that argument. Too many "mi casa es su casa"s had passed between them for that to work. But.... "Fine, but if I lose-- well, our plane leaves at midnight and--"

"And there's no way my kitchen will be returned to order by then," Duncan completed with a sigh. Methos was a good cook, but he had a tendency to get carried away.

"Well, don't look at me," Joe grumbled. "I'm the invited guest, remember?"

MacLeod, mumbling something about questionable parenthood, slammed the bathroom door. Methos smiled and picked up the phone. The Chinese meal would arrive in about thirty minutes, already paid for with Duncan's credit card-- a number he reeled off from memory.

"You just love to torment him, don't you?" Joe asked, settling into a chair.

"There are worse reasons for living, my friend," Methos said, grabbing a couple of beers from the refrigerator.

"And what about dying? Are there reasons for that as well?"

"There are reasons for everything, Joe," came the enigmatic reply.

"But this isn't one of them, Old Man. You said it-- shoot the bastard and let me take his head. I may not be able to do it as elegantly as you guys, but I'll get the job done," Joe avowed.

Methos gave a small, appreciative smile. "Thanks for the offer, but no. MacLeod was right; enough power has been taken out of the Game already. Accidents, mortal Hunters.... Those Quickenings are lost forever. It reeks of dishonor."

"Shit. You've been around Mac too long. Do you know how many times you've taunted him about the foolishness of honor? And now you're--"

"I never said honor was foolish. It's not necessarily a bad thing-- in moderation," Methos said with a shrug.

"I think I liked you better when you were a smug bastard concerned only about number one," Joe spat out, angry that he couldn't get through to his friend.

"Maybe I am looking out for number one. Constantine and Jurgenson are old. Maybe I crave their power."

"Bullshit. Maybe you just want to impress MacLeod."

"Impress?" Methos sputtered. "How is flaunting the darkness I harbor supposed to impress MacLeod? More than likely, it's going to send him running to his damned Highland Hills, and earn me an order never to darken his door again."

"Then why are you doing it, Adam?"

Methos finished his beer and dropped the bottle in the correct recycling bin. "I'm doing it because I can, Joe. Maybe for once, something good can come from my past. Maybe all those people weren't slain merely for my pleasure. Maybe all that evil is finally serving a purpose," he replied slowly.

"Is this about atonement, Adam, about penance for your past sins? How long do you think you have to pay for your past?"

"As long as it takes!" Methos snapped.

"Adam," Joe said soothingly.

"Methos," the man corrected. "I am Methos. I am Death--"

"Were Death," Joe stressed. "Let it go, Old Man. Your debt has been paid. If not before, then certainly after you put down the other Horsemen."

"All the lives I snuffed out--"

"All the lives you saved, Dr. Adams," the barkeeper said, reminding his friend of the years he'd been a physician. "All the lives Methos saved in Bordeaux."

"I'm the one who reunited us."

Joe shook his head. "Kronos started it. He's the one who developed the virus which would have wiped out Bordeaux and a considerable portion of France. Yes, you gave him the other Horsemen back-- but only to setup their downfall."

"You're making me sound like some fucking hero, Joe," Methos said roughly.

"No, not a hero. Just a man, Methos, a man who did what had to be done."

"That's all I'm doing now, too," Methos said softly, as MacLeod came out of the bathroom. "Doing what has to be done." He slipped past Mac and into the other room.

"Don't do this to him, Joe," MacLeod warned as he dressed.

"Do what? Try to talk some sense into him?"

"Make him doubt himself."

"You're right; I should be trying to make him doubt you."

"Joe--"

"No, MacLeod. Do you know how much your opinion, your respect, means to him?"

"That's not why he's doing this," Duncan argued.

"No. He's doing this to make up for crimes he committed three thousand years ago because you can't fucking forgive nor forget. How dare you have the nerve to accuse me of making him doubt himself, when you're the one who agrees with everything negative he thinks about himself," Joe fumed.

"It's not like that at all," Duncan said defensively. Then he took a deep breath and centered himself. "If that's the impression I'm giving off, I'm sorry. But you, both of you, will understand when this is all resolved. I'm asking you to have faith, Joe, in Methos-- and in me. We've hurt each other in the past, and we'll probably hurt each other again. It's sort of inevitable when you have a relationship with someone. But this is not me being judgmental or critical. This is about a truth that can no longer be hid."

"You are so certain of this. But what if you're wrong?"

Duncan refused to be baited. "I'm not."

The conversation ended with a knock on the outside door, signaling the arrival of dinner. Tensions still high, the three men joked throughout the meal and prepared for their journey.

*****

The flight was long and crowded. Disembarking in Rome, they made it through customs rather quickly, MacLeod's antiquities dealer credentials making it easy to clear the swords. With only carry-on bags, they moved into the main area of the airport and were stopped by a voice calling out, "Dawson!"

Two men came up to them and Joe introduced the older as Morrison, Constantine's Watcher, and the other as Keating, Jorgenson's Watcher. "We have the next flight to France," Morrison explained. "But there are some things you need to know, Joe," he added, pulling his superior aside.

Keating eyed the two men standing in front of him. He looked at the bigger one first; bigger in bulk more so than height. The brawny Scot was a legend in Watcher circles. For one, he openly admitted knowing about Watchers, and had brazenly entered into their affairs, stopping an escalating war between Immortals and Watchers. Also, most Watchers were putting their money on him to be the One. Some of that was because he was such a great warrior, but most of it was because he was about the only Immortal that they trusted with so much power. Throughout his four hundred plus years, he had been honorable, and had shown a deep and abiding respect for both mortals and Immortals alike.

"So, you are the great Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Keating said, hiding his awe behind scorn.

"Aye. I've been called that a time or two."

Methos snorted in amusement.

Keating dug into his pocket and pulled out a flash of metal. "Well, Mr. MacLeod, these are the keys to the rental car you'll be using. It's parked in one of the more distant decks. If you've collected all your belongings, I suggest you go bring the car around. Mr. Dawson would probably appreciate it."

Duncan stared at the keys for a hard minute, then snatched them from Keating's hand. He didn't like that he was being "dismissed to fetch the car", but the man had mentioned making it easier for Joe. Although Joe rarely complained about or brought attention to his prosthetics, Mac knew they had to be painful after the long hours Joe had worn them. With a glare at Methos, warning him against making a snide comment, he stalked off to the parking space listed on the slip of paper Keating gave him.

Keating was then left with the other Immortal. Tall, skinny, and nerdy, he sadly reflected that Adam Pierson wouldn't be in the Game very long. Probably the only reason he was still around was because MacLeod was his sponsor and protector. "How does it feel, Pierson, to become what you've studied?"

"Well, on Fridays the thirteenth, I don't have to worry about walking under ladders," Adam replied dryly, "but it takes some getting used to knowing that there are people out there wanting my head."

"At least you had the benefit of being a Watcher."

"Meaning?"

"You weren't thrown blindly into the Game, and you were in a unique position to choose your teacher."

Adam nodded. "Yes, I was fortunate to already know MacLeod."

"He was sent to protect you when one of those mad Immortals was searching for information on Methos, right? I always meant to ask: do you really think the old coot is still alive? Could you imagine someone living for over five thousand years?"

"It does boggle the mind, doesn't it?"

"And has probably scrambled his, if he still exists. He's probably a hermit somewhere, eating bugs and muttering to himself. If the poor creature came into contact with the recent technological advances the world has made, he'd probably behead himself," Keating added with a grin.

Methos had to stop himself from strangling the pompous fool right there in the middle of the airport. "Yes, I'm sure bright shiny objects must terrify him-- unless it's a sword, of course," he said with a smile, which-- if Keating had been a tad smarter-- should have had the mortal wetting his pants.

"What's it like, Pierson? Is life just something you take for granted now? Have you removed the batteries from your smoke detector? Do you drive without buckling up?" the mortal asked eagerly, taking the opportunity to question a "safe" Immortal. Hell, the man was probably still more Watcher than "Immie" anyway.

"Actually, it's just the opposite. Life is much more precious to me now. I mean as a mortal, like yourself, I could have dropped dead at any moment, you know? Heart attack, aneurysm, a drive-by shooting." He grinned as the man paled. Serves you right, you smug bastard. "But my life as an Immortal is my responsibility, not fate's. My survival is wholly dependent on me. My strength, my skill, my awareness of my enemies, are what stand between me and death. My life-- in my hands. It's quite liberating."

Keating was no longer comfortable with the topic, so he switched it. "Why are you still with MacLeod? I thought you were no longer his student."

"I'm not. But we're still friends, and we work together at U of Seacouver."

"So, you're here as what? His second?"

Methos shrugged. "Watching MacLeod's back has become somewhat of a habit of mine. Smoking and drinking aren't threats to me anymore, but hanging around with MacLeod-- it's as dangerous as downing a fifth a day, and as addictive."

Keating looked at him in amazement. "I think every candidate at the Watcher Academy should have to interview you as a graduation requirement. You have some great insights you need to share, Pierson."

"I also carry a long sword, Keating. If HQ approaches me with a certain proposition, I'll know where it came from," Adam muttered.

"Oh, keep it in its scabbard, Pierson," Keating said laughingly, unintimidated by the former Watcher. In his opinion, the newer Immortals had no chance in the Game at all; they just didn't have the killer instinct older Immortals had been born with. In front of him was a prime example. "It was just a suggestion."

"One that you will keep to yourself," Methos said firmly.

Keating shivered, not knowing he did so because he'd been threatened by a man once known as Death. But Joe overheard the comment, and realized he'd better step in before the Ancient really got pissed. "Thanks, Morrison. I think we can take it from here. Right, Adam?" he added rather loudly.

"You know I can handle anything, Joe," the Immortal replied meaningfully.

Joe sighed. "You two have a good trip to Paris. Tell HQ I'll call with a report ASAP."

"Sure thing. Guess we'll be reassigned. Unless I'm needed to cover Constantine again," Morrison said.

Joe shook his head. "Whatever happens here, I assure you Constantine won't need a Watcher again."

Morrison patted his shoulder. "I don't envy you, Dawson. And I certainly don't envy MacLeod. You either, Pierson. This must really be disconcerting for you."

"Being immortal is one surprise after another," Adam replied. "I'm learning to adjust. Come on, Joe. MacLeod probably has the car waiting." He started walking away, careful not to move too fast for Joe.

"Oh, Pierson!" Keating called belatedly. "Watch your head, comrade. Remember what happened to MacLeod's last student!"

A quick grab kept Joe from turning back in retaliation. "Let it go. Assholes like that are rarely worth the trouble," Methos counseled.

"Says the man who was about to rip him a new one just a few minutes ago. I should have let you."

Methos shouldered his bag and adjusted his grip on the sword case. "Yes, you should have."

*****

Duncan opened his eyes and tried to figure out what had awakened him. The only light in the room was the red glow of a digital clock, but it was enough to remind him where he was and what was going on. He was in one of the bedrooms of a three-bedroom suite in a rather expensive hotel outside of Rome. The Watchers had sprung for three separate rooms, but that had grated on Duncan's need for his clan to be together during a time of crisis, so he'd pulled out his platinum card, and felt some of his tensions ease-- some, but not all, which was to be expected considering he'd spent the afternoon driving a car with a corpse in the trunk.

He'd almost wrecked when Joe had informed him that Morrison and Keating had used whores to lure Constantine, then they shot him, plunged a dagger into his heart, and locked him in the trunk right before heading to the airport. It had been the only way, according to them, to assure Constantine wouldn't slip out of their hands during the change of watch. Duncan had been furious, Joe resigned, and Methos...Methos had just made some comment about having a weekend at Bernie's-- whatever the hell that meant.

Now, getting back to why he was awake. It had to be the Presence that was moving outside his door. He had no urge to reach for the sword on the floor beside him; the Presence was as familiar as his own. Indeed, ever since the bizarre Double Quickening, most of the time he was rarely conscious of Methos' Presence at all and when he was, it was-- comforting. It was like knowing you weren't alone, not even if you were alone in a thousand other ways. But the comfort was missing this time, and that was what had awakened him. Methos' buzz was now too unsettled to be anything other than-- well, unsettling. The clan chieftain in him could not allow that to continue.

Duncan slipped on a pair of pants and went out to the suite's main room. "Methos?" he questioned, using the moonlight filtering through the balcony's single pane doors to locate his friend.

"I woke you? Sorry, Mac." The figure didn't stop its frantic pacing, but it slowed somewhat.

"Can't sleep?" Mac knew he was inviting a sarcastic reply, but he also knew better than to come at Methos with a frontal assault. Stealth, even stupid stealth, would win him more points in the end.

Methos was too stressed to call MacLeod on the idiotic question; if he could sleep, he would have been so. "Jet lag," he lied. "Used to be you had time to adjust to longitudinal changes. Try traveling by foot-- you'd never once notice a time shift. I remember a journey I took back in 38 B.C. I was--"

Duncan sighed and navigated over to the sofa. "Talk to me, Methos." He held up his hand to forestall the expected smart ass reply. He'd avoided a stinging retort from his friend once; twice was asking too much. "Please?"

Methos ran long fingers through his short brown hair. Whether it was the feeling of anonymity due to the darkness, or the weariness that weighed so heavily upon his shoulders, he decided that for once, truth might not hurt. "They won't let me sleep," he murmured, pausing in front of one of the long glass panels to stare at the distant lights of Rome.

"They?" MacLeod prompted.

The silhouette shrugged. "The ghosts." Methos laughed, the sound sad and hollow. "You asked me about demons, and I told you I knew nothing about them. But if you had asked about ghosts, I could have reeled off a bloody book on the subject."

Duncan ached inside. "Who disturbs your rest tonight, old friend?"

"The mortals I've murdered, the Quickenings I've absorbed, those whom I have loved, and lost to time, or the Game...or to my own stupidity."

"Quite a crowd," Duncan said with a sympathetic chuckle.

"You wouldn't happen to have five loaves and a couple of fishes just in case they get hungry, would you?"

Mac grinned at the reference to Jesus feeding the multitude. Then he sobered. "Do they often plague you like this?"

"Not really, and never all at once. You know how it is: someone walks past with a familiar face, you hear a song, maybe a turn of phrase.... No, tonight is a product of what we're planning for the morrow. To let the darkness in, I have to tear down a few five-thousand year old barricades, shift some thoughts to accommodate the new arrivals-- that sort of thing. It's only logical that the memories would take advantage of such weaknesses in my defenses."

"Even your memories are calculating and ruthless."

"But of course. Otherwise, they would have driven me insane by now," Methos reasoned. "You know, I owe you an apology, Duncan."

"For?"

"For offering you my head. No doubt it would have fucked you over worse that the Dark Quickening. I think being in the relative safety of the Watchers for so long-- well, long in mortal time-- made me careless. I have never forgotten about the period I spent as Death, not to mention other non-stellar moments in my past, but I didn't consider what my Quickening would do to someone like you."

MacLeod started to protest, flashed on the pompous, moralistic jackass he used to be, and changed his reply. "Thanks to events in the intervening years, I think I could handle it better now. You haven't been responsible for all the lessons I've learned recently, but you are the reason I've understood and accepted them."

"Should I be rewarded for that, or punished?"

"Definitely rewarded," Duncan replied with no hesitation.

"Some things I wish you'd never been taught."

"And if I'd had a choice, I never would have learned them," Duncan agreed, thinking back to the death of Richie. "But it was never a question of choice.... Still, despite my new-found and hard-earned maturity, your Quickening would be overwhelming. It's a good thing that that's something I never have to worry about."

Methos turned partly, Duncan watching the sharp profile gain definition. "Never say never, Highlander."

Mac shook his head. That was a discussion not worth having. He would never take Methos' head, and he truly doubted that another Immortal could-- and come through the experience whole. The ancient Quickenings he'd taken had been difficult to absorb, and they had been nowhere near as powerful as what he suspected Methos' was. Hmm, since the ghosts were already present.... "I'm surprised the Horsemen settled so well. Caspian--"

"Caspian was almost as simple as Silas, Mac. He lived merely for his creature comforts-- sex, pain, and food. Change the pain to animals, and you describe Silas. Not that he couldn't administer pain as well as the rest of us, but it was more of a job to Silas than a lifestyle."

"And Kronos? You can't tell me he was simple."

"No, Kronos could have been a problem. But his anger, his need for revenge blinded him in the end. Kronos' Quickening should have overwhelmed you, at least long enough for him to use you to kill me. However, he felt betrayed and you ceased to matter to him. It was me he wanted to destroy, and he ended up weakening his Quickening by channeling part of it to me. If he'd been in his right mind, he would have known that controlling you would hurt me far more than he could ever--" Methos stopped abruptly, aware he was revealing more than he wanted to.

But Duncan wasn't about to let him close down again. "Come sit with me," he invited, patting the sofa beside him. He could feel Methos' wariness from across the room. "You don't trust me?" he asked, not bothering to hide his amusement.

Methos slowly crossed to the sofa. He watched Duncan pick up a pillow and place it across his lap. Then the Scot indicated that the eldest should lay his head on the pillow. He cautiously leaned over. "You will be gentle with me, won't you, MacLeod? I was a virgin once-- I think," he added, glad he was close enough for Duncan to see his wry grin.

"Was that before or after God said, 'Let there be light'?" Duncan teased.

"I would have sworn your parents taught you to revere your elders," Methos groused lightly.

"Actually, Mother-- I mean, Mary MacLeod-- was very strict on that subject."

"Don't do that," Methos said, and Duncan looked down to see that his hands were threading through his friend's soft hair. He snatched them away, but Methos reached up and put them back in place. "Not that. I mean, don't act like Mary MacLeod wasn't your mother. Maybe she didn't give birth to you, maybe she didn't stand up for you against your father as strongly as you would have liked for her to when he banished you from the clan, but you know how much she loved you, Duncan. Giving you your father's sword was her way of trying to make up for the banishment, for the way she thought she had betrayed you. Don't demean what she felt for you, or what you felt for her, by denying the love you shared."

Duncan knew that Methos had studied his Chronicles, but he'd had no idea the Ancient had seen so much beyond the dry words. What were you looking for when you looked so closely between the lines? Were you looking for other ghosts to haunt you? "Maybe there was someone who loved you like that once, Methos. Just because you can't remember the time before you took your first head doesn't mean they aren't good memories," he said gently.

"Riiiight, Mac. I've gone to all the trouble of repressing that time because I just couldn't take the love," Methos replied dryly. "I call it the Time Before, with capital letters. I must have spent centuries in China and Tibet trying to find a meditation that would open the door to the Time Before. But it appears to be permanently sealed, and maybe that's for the best. Can you imagine something worse than a thousand years of being Death?"

"Maybe it was another thousand years," Duncan mused. "Have you considered the possibility that you're older than you think? The timespan between your first death and taking your first Quickening could be considerable, given how thinly populated the world was. Since you don't remember your teacher, that must have been the first Immortal you came in contact with. If he or she wasn't your first kill, then the years add up even more. Damn, Methos. Just how old are you?"

"I wish I had an answer for you, Mac. Kronos said he was the end of time. Maybe I'm just the opposite. Maybe that's what drew the two of us together and made us the walking bipolar disorder we were." He snorted in aborted humor.

"How do you have the strength to continue joking about it?"

"Sorry. I know there's nothing funny about the Four Horsemen."

"No, that's not what I mean," Duncan hastened to explain. "It wasn't a criticism, but a compliment. I wish I could view my actions during the Dark Quickening so dispassionately. It would probably save me many a long night."

"And my dispassion is helping me so much," Methos replied dryly. "My ghosts are laughing their fucking heads off at that dispassion at the moment."

"When I was a child and had bad dreams, Mary-- Mother-- used to pull my head into her lap and tell me that I was Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, destined to be a great warrior and chieftain of the clan."

"So, your arrogance is hereditary. I should have known. Ouch!"

Duncan gently massaged the spot on Methos' scalp that he'd just plucked. "No mere dream could stand up to Duncan MacLeod, she told me. And I believed her...maybe because I believed in her and trusted what she told me. Do you trust me, Methos?"

"You're right up there with my Ivanhoe, Mac."

"I'll take that as a yes," Duncan replied with a smile. "So, I want you to believe me. You are Methos, the oldest, wiliest, and most venerable of our kind. You have witnessed the rise and fall of cities, nations, and civilizations. You have watched gods ascend to supremacy and descend into obscurity. You were there as mankind went from fearing the moon to walking upon its surface. You have seen man achieve greatness and were there as he wallowed in depths. You are Methos, and you are unique...and special. Ghosts have no power over you."

Methos turned his head to stare into the darkness. "Pretty words," he mumbled.

"But no less true because of their beauty," Mac gently reminded him. "Methos, I have no doubt that you can defeat Constantine tomorrow. You will trust your instincts, and Constantine will have no choice but to fall to your sword. But will you trust your instincts in the second, and more important battle?"

Hazel eyes turned to gaze into brown ones. "What do you mean?"

"The Dark Quickening will battle you for mastery of your soul. I'm afraid--"

"Afraid of what, Mac? That you'll have to kill me? Don't worry. Joe already has his instructions. I wouldn't ask that of you."

"Like I did of you?" It wasn't until months later that he realized how unfair it had been of him to ask Methos to take his head after Richie's death. Methos had spent years trying to get him to understand that no one, mortal or Immortal, had the right to judge others. Then he had blindly asked Methos to make the ultimate judgment. "No, Joe won't have to kill you either. What I'm afraid of is that you will fight too hard and end up suffering more than necessary. It's like my fight with Ahriman. There will come a point when you'll need to let go, my friend."

"Let go and allow the darkness to win?"

"Let go and let yourself win," Duncan explained. "Trust in yourself, Methos, and not in the reflection that appears in Cassandra's fractured mirror. That man is dead, buried with his victims, his grave overgrown with the kindnesses of the man who followed. Death is just a pale memory without substance-- just like the dreams my mother said I could chase away."

"If that's true, why do I feel him so strongly?" Methos asked, drained by this odd baring of his soul. No wonder he'd spent millennia avoiding the process.

"Why does Joe occasionally feel his legs? Because they were there once, and he relied on them, rested his weight upon them. Death is your phantom limb, Methos. He carried you through a very turbulent time in history. He allied you with others who were strong, thereby assuring his and your continued existence. However, when he was no longer needed, when the gangrene of his soul threatened your life, you severed the diseased limb, cut it away and buried it. He no longer taints you."

"But if that's true, then I have no defense against the Quickening," Methos argued nervously. His hands clenched against his chest. "You are thoroughly confusing me, Highlander."

"Trust yourself, Methos. That's all I'm asking."

"I'd rather not. I know me, remember?" He hated the slight timbre in his voice caused by anxiety.

"Then trust me. Trust my faith in you. Can you do that, Methos?"

"Do you know that I've trusted more in the past few years since I met you, than I have my entire existence-- however long that might be?"

"Then one more day of trust really shouldn't be that hard, should it?" Mac reasoned.

Methos started to sigh, but found himself yawning instead. "You don't ask much of me, do you, Duncan?" he murmured wearily.

"I only ask that which you are capable of giving, Methos. Now, sleep. If any ghosts want to get to you, they're going to have to go through me. And you know I can be one stubborn son of a bitch."

"Kronos and the others were Death's allies," Methos whispered drowsily. "Are you mine, Highlander?"

"Always, Methos. Always."

*****

Joe knew that just two days ago he would have had a different reaction to the scene he stumbled upon when he emerged from the bedroom. He would have suffered a few pangs of curiosity, but the overwhelming reaction would have been amusement. MacLeod, asleep on the sofa, with his head thrown back and snoring slightly, plus a sleeping Methos, curled up beside him, his head cradled in Mac's lap, would have been just too provocative to pass up. Yeah, two days ago, he would have killed for a camera to capture the moment to get a bit of mileage out of it. Today, he wished he had a camera to record the moment so he could have something to look back on just in case....

Leaning back against the wall, he realized he had to admit to himself, in the light of day, the thing which he had previously permitted himself to acknowledge only very early in the morning after a very long night of drinking: the feelings he had for the two men before him were-- paternal. Yeah, yeah, he knew somewhere God or gods were laughing. Mac was about eight times his age, and Methos was a mind-boggling one hundred times it, but although his mind accepted these facts, his heart decided to ignore them. His heart considered Mac to be the older of his two "boys" (hey, why should any of this make chronological sense?), being responsible, hard-working, and dependable-- a son any man could be proud of. Then there was Methos, the "baby" of the family. A little spoiled, and often temperamental, he could be counted on to either make you smile or grit your teeth. Deciding early that he could never measure up to his big brother, he rarely ventured out or risked much, content to be part of the background. The interesting thing was that when he tried, Methos usually succeeded. And when the two "brothers" combined their talents, well, the impossible was the usual result.

But could they conjure up another one of those "impossibilities"? The more recent years, save the past two, had been difficult. They had both suffered painful, permanent losses, and had nearly severed their own relationship. Christ, that had hurt-- having his boys at odds with each other and by extension, with him. Every time one of them had left his sight, he'd feared he would never see him again, and every time he'd look up to see one of them coming through the bar's door, his heart had done that Grinch thing-- grown three sizes in a flash.

The past two years had been a blessing for all of them. Duncan and Methos had found a relationship that was not only comfortable, but comforting. They worked together at the university, were regular visitors to the bar, and the challenges had been kept to a minimum. When Duncan decided to make his annual pilgrimage to Paris, he'd cajoled Methos into joining him, and had rightly assumed Joe's company. The three had gone to the cemetery where Tessa, Richie, and Alexa were interred, to the opera where Methos had stuck gum underneath his seat out of spite, and to a Spice Girls concert where MacLeod had quite openly donned earplugs. In public, Joe had tsked at their antics, then laughed in private. Even his daughter Amy's reluctance to be a part of his life hadn't stemmed his joy.

Joy. That was what he was feeling now. Joy at the trust the two Immortals were displaying-- Mac's neck blatantly displayed and vulnerable, Methos' naked and bared with Mac's hand resting gently against it. He thought it amazing that they had come so far, but he suddenly realized that wasn't quite true. The trust had always been there, hidden from casual view by the smoke and ash of their disintegrating relationship, but still strong. Even when Mac was reeling from the graphic insights into the Ancient's past, the trust had him following Methos' lead, had them fighting side by side to destroy the Horsemen. Apparently Cassandra's anger had blinded the mystic in her, because someone with her amount of psychic power should have been able to see/feel the bond the two men had-- even before the Double Quickening strengthened it.

Such a bond between two Immortals was a gift. But was it one that was going to get Methos killed? MacLeod was so confident, and Methos oddly compliant. Actually, it wasn't that odd. Keeping to his original metaphor (the wisdom of which was learned after reading and writing Chronicle entries on a daily basis), Methos often tried very hard to emulate his big brother, or at the very least, trail in his footsteps. It was only when he was certain the attempt would end in failure that he scoffed or played the class clown. Joe felt himself smiling at the old man's perpetual scheming. At times, he even outwitted himself.

Was this one of those times? Was his desire to please his sibling greater than his sense of survival? The sword fight was the least of their concerns. Although he hadn't actually seen Methos defeat Morgan Walker, since he'd been busy trying to protect his newly discovered daughter, Joe knew Walker to be a skilled swordsman-- which meant, by default, Methos had been a better one. He'd watched Mac and Methos spar a couple of times. Mac usually had the upper hand, but the Scot was one of the greats; there were not many who could best him. Still, MacLeod confided he thought Methos held back when they fought-- either because his nature rebelled against revealing all his strengths, or because he didn't want to accidentally hurt his sparring partner. Now that was a daunting idea-- that Methos was good enough to defeat MacLeod. Then again, the man had survived five thousand years.

But was that enough to dampen the effect of the Dark Quickening? Was his thousand years of being Death still strong after two thousand years of doing his best to avoid bloodshed? When he'd first heard Methos describe those years of "cunning and running" to avoid challenges, he'd been disgusted by the obvious cowardice. When time after time Methos failed to live up to that cowardice, he'd started to reconsider the old coot's tactics. When the truth about his time with the Horsemen came to light, Joe realized just what kind of strength it took for Methos to run, the depth of his commitment not to be Death anymore. It took a brave man to stand and fight an enemy; it took a stronger man when that enemy was himself. But had the binding of Death, securing him away for the good of the public, been calculated into this scheme of MacLeod's? Methos was closer to being "Adam" than he was "Death", and there was no way in hell Adam could handle a Dark Quickening. Could he shoot Adam the way he'd shot Duncan? And could he follow through-- as he hadn't been able to do with the Scot?

I could end this now. I could walk out the door, go down to the car, and sever Constantine's head before these two jokers woke up. But I would be severing more than the Roman's neck. I would sever the most important relationships in my life. Methos would be furious, but he'd eventually understand. MacLeod, however, would never understand, never forgive. He would leave, and Methos would go with him. And I'd be alone, spending my few remaining mortal years wondering why I'd taken such a huge risk, why I hadn't trusted the ones I loved? No. I couldn't do that to myself. I can't do it to them.

With a stealth he'd thought he'd lost in Vietnam, Joe went back into his room, closed the door, and wiped away his tears.

*****

"He's going to be pissed," Methos said.

"Aye," MacLeod agreed.

"Well, it'll be a perfectly understandable reaction," Joe said, looking down at the body Mac and Methos had removed from the trunk. "He's spent the better part of twenty-four hours as a corpse."

"Oh, it's not that, Joe," Methos explained. "Most of us have gone through periods of being the 'living dead'. No, what's going to tick him off is that he's...mussed."

MacLeod looked at the wrinkled clothing and nodded. Marcus Constantine was always impeccably dressed-- as were most of the older Immortals, save the eldest. Duncan reasoned that it was a product of the time when they were mortal. Well-dressed had meant well-respected, and although it still did to some degree, the modern world relied less on looks and more on cash assets.

"Gee, why don't we strip him, then take his suit back to the hotel for valet service?" Joe offered sarcastically.

Methos and Mac shared a glance. "Nah," the Ancient said, grasping the hilt of the dagger embedded in Constantine's heart. "Let him be pissed. Probably good for his digestion." He jerked the dagger free. "It's time for you two to hit the sidelines."

Duncan nodded. They had chosen an isolated plain as the field of battle, hoping to minimize the damage. Constantine's Quickening, powerful in itself, would be magnified by the evil he'd absorbed. A low hill in the distance would suffice as a safe viewing area for both mortal and non-combatant Immortal; the odd experience in Bordeaux had them fearing proximity during a Quickening. He placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Remember what we talked about, Methos?"

"Giving in?"

"Letting go," MacLeod corrected.

"Trusting you."

"Trusting yourself."

"Trusting you," Methos replied stubbornly.

Duncan sighed. At this rate, Constantine would recover and take both their heads. "Fine. Trusting me."

Methos gave him a bright smile. "Of course, I remember, Highlander. I'm old, not senile."

Mac forced his hand away from Methos before he was tempted to shake the man to death. "You make sure you live, old friend, because I want the satisfaction of killing you myself."

"Always adding those encouraging incentives, eh, Mac?" Methos teased. "Get him away from me, Joe, before he encourages me any further."

Joe rolled his eyes. "Who would have guessed that four hundred plus five thousand would equal one nine-year-old?"

"And now comes the insults. The two of you are just boosting my spirits to astronomical heights. Have you thought of doing an infomercial?" Methos asked wryly.

Joe snorted and placed his hand in the spot Mac had just vacated. "Watch your head, my friend-- inside and out."

"I like the inside of my head just the way it is, Joe. I'm not planning on making any wholesale changes. Now, go. Constantine will revive soon." He watched them climb back into the car, ensuring it would survive the Quickening (ever try to explain to a rental agency that their car spontaneously combusted?). He followed their progress for a minute, then turned back to a groggy Constantine. "Welcome back from the dead. But don't get too comfortable. You'll be back there shortly...and permanently."

Constantine sat up, patting his coat, and grinning when he felt his sword. "Bold words, Mesha. Too bold for a gutter rat to say to an armed centurion such as myself."

"Do you really want to bring up your time as a centurion, Marcus?" Methos asked, taking a few steps back as he unsheathed his own sword. "Because if we are going to dissect that part of your history, I have a few questions for you. Like, how did it feel to nail a certain someone to a cross? And what item of his clothing did you win as you and your fellows cast lots in his shadow?"

Constantine swallowed hard, and for a moment Methos saw uncertainty and fear in his eyes. He pressed further. "For your sake, I'm hoping he wasn't who he said he was, because he's not going to look upon you too kindly when you come knocking at his door in a few minutes."

"Shut up, you whoreson!"

"It's a good thing I never knew me mum, or I'd be terribly upset with you," Methos said archly. "Oh, hell, I feel like being upset with you just because. This is a challenge, you Roman dog! Stand and fight me!"

"It shall be a pleasure to gut you, Mesha, to watch you squirm in a pile of your own intestines."

"Been there, done that, and since I don't care to repeat the episode, I'll just take your head and be done with it."

"Speaking of dogs, isn't that where I first saw you, Mesha? Fighting the curs for scraps of food? I couldn't believe it-- an Immortal, a virtual god who walked upon the earth, groveling in the filth," Constantine said, obviously revolted.

Methos shrugged. Pity he'd met Constantine during his one and only bout of penance. He truly hadn't been at his best. But at least he hadn't been running around killing the potential progeny of a major god. "So, have you sufficiently recovered, or must we continue this delightful stroll down memory lane?"

Constantine laughed as he made a few experimental slashes with his sword, and Methos shivered at the evilness of the sound. "Come, let's end this. I would have taken your head then, but it was much too filthy. However, it appears you clean up quite well. Is that the influence of your friend, MacLeod?" He pointed to the two figures on the hill. "Is this, then, an amphitheater? Tell me. Which of us is the Christian, and which the lion?"

"Victor's choice."

"Then I choose the lion."

"Confident, are we?"

The Roman bowed solemnly, then gazed at Methos, allowing his opponent to see the full madness in his soul. "Either way, I win."

Methos rolled his eyes. "I thought absorbing your darkness would be the difficulty, but now I'm concerned about the amount of arrogance I'll have to take in. Is the lion ready, or does the Roman require more time to preen?"

"Is the Christian ready, or does he need more time to pray to his God?"

"Oh, didn't anyone tell you? I gave up religion for Lent," Methos said smoothly.

Constantine lifted his sword. "We fight."

Methos raised the Ivanhoe. About bloody damn time.

*****

"What is he doing?" Joe asked anxiously. "Why is he still on the defensive?" He lowered his binoculars to look at MacLeod.

"I told you, Joe. Methos likes to study his opponent first."

"But he's been studying him for fifteen minutes. Hell, I could pass a pop quiz on his technique by now!"

"Don't get apoplectic on me, man. Methos knows what he's doing. He's apparently searching for something."

"Well, I hope the hell he finds it before he loses his head," Joe muttered, lifting the binoculars with one hand, while stroking the gun in his pocket with the other. Methos had been clear about the order of things. If he lost, Joe was to shoot Mac first, then go after Constantine. He didn't want MacLeod anywhere near the Roman when he died.

When the shift came, it happened so fast, Joe almost missed it. Constantine lunged, Methos parried, but as soon as he stopped Constantine's stroke, he went into one of his own. In two flashes of his blade, Methos had disarmed Constantine. Then there was another flash as he-- severed the other man's hands? The backstroke from that maneuver sliced through the Roman's neck, and Joe moved the binoculars to follow the head along its short journey to the ground.

Stunned, Joe lowered the field glasses to look at MacLeod, but Mac's eyes weren't on the scene below them, but toward the sky. Even as Joe opened his mouth to ask what Duncan was looking at, he was already looking at it, and his jaw remained hanging. Above the plain, clouds were amassing, dark, heavy, ominous. Soon, the area looked like nightfall, the sun completely blocked by the clouds which were now roiling with lightning.

A flash caught his attention, and the mortal looked down, where Methos now kneeled, his sword held straight up in a double-fisted grasp. In Joe's opinion, he looked like a supplicant, earnestly humbled before his master. The flash which had drawn his attention had come from Constantine's lax body. The barkeep watched the flashes multiply and grow until a line of pulsating light shot up to the clouds. With a shiver, he saw the clouds give off a red glow. Oh, shit, he thought, grabbing for MacLeod's arm. Never thought he'd be at ground zero when Armageddon struck.

But the clouds didn't explode into fiery rain as he suspected. Instead, a focused beam of searing red energy shot downward and into the Ancient's sword. Joe winced as he saw the energy writhe throughout Methos, a dancing red snake wriggling beneath the stark white skin. Although the body shuddered, the sword remained steady, drawing more and more of the serpentine energy into the rapidly filling vessel. Joe didn't know how much more his friend could take without imploding.

"Let go, damn you!"

"Mac?"

Frantic brown eyes glanced at him. "He's fighting it. He needs to-- Trust yourself, Methos. Please," he murmured, in a supplication of his own.

Whether he heard MacLeod or had just tired, Joe saw the tension ease in Methos' form. At the same time, he felt Mac relax beside him. "Thank God," the Scot sighed.

"What's happening?" the Watcher demanded.

"You'll see."

And he did. The beam from the clouds never lessened, but its brightness dimmed in deference to the even brighter light that now shone from Methos. In blinding brilliance, incandescence literally seeped from Methos' pores, gathering around him, coalescing about his hands before surging into the sword. For a moment, the lights battled each other for dominance. Then the greater Methos-based light wove its way around the other, sheathing it as carefully as a mother would blanket her child. Upward it flowed, climbing the weakening red beam until it burst into the clouds, instantly dissipating them. In spectacular colors that mimicked the dawn, the sun reclaimed its sky.

"I should have brought my shades," Duncan said, a grin splitting his face.

Joe reached out and whacked him with his cane. "You son of a bitch! You knew, didn't you? You knew all along that it was light, not darkness in Methos' soul. Damnit! Why didn't you tell me? Do you know how much sleep I've lost over this!"

MacLeod rubbed absently at his bruised arm. Good thing he was immortal. "I didn't know all along, Joe. Remember, I told you I had repressed what I'd glimpsed in Bordeaux."

"Why the hell repress something like that?"

"You saw it from a distance. I was right there next to it. It was blinding, but beautiful; hot, but cool and soothing. It confused me, but was perfect in its clarity. I was stunned, so I recoiled from it. And...."

"And?" Joe demanded when it seemed as if Duncan wasn't going to continue.

"And my feeble brain had trouble comprehending that such a thing existed in Methos. I mean, I knew he was evil. What Cassandra had disclosed was nothing compared to the words which fell from Methos' own lips. He stood right there in front of me, Joe, and he told me how much he loved the killing. How could a vicious animal possess such a spectacular spirit? No, it wasna' possible. It was a devil's trick, I told myself, and banished the notion from my thoughts."

"How is it possible?" Joe asked as they made their way back to the car. "Did he take a Light Quickening after he left the Horsemen?"

"Noh," Duncan replied, the Gaelic accent seeping through occasionally. "The light is as old as Methos himself. It is the key to his long survival."

"And Death?"

"Death was an armor he donned to protect the light from an increasingly brutal world."

"Rather heavy armor, wasn't it?" Joe asked dryly.

"It was a rather cruel world."

"Seems I tried to tell someone that before."

Duncan held up his hands in surrender, then unlocked the car. "I know, Joe. As Methos is fond of pointing out, I'm a barbarian. We learn very slowly." He grinned and turned the ignition. "Anyway, as soon as the world changed, so did Methos. Death was laid aside and in its place, he put on a layer of cynicism and biting wit. Combined, they keep away most predators. But if the predators are dangerous enough, I wouldn't be surprised if Death made a reappearance. If Methos has anything, it's a highly developed defense system. But with a soul like that, he needs it."

"You think that's what a Light Quickening looks like?"

"It's possible. I always thought Methos reminded me of Darius. Maybe that's why."

Joe swallowed, wishing he didn't have to say what he was going to. "Darius died."

MacLeod gripped the steering wheel. "Darius forgot the golden rule: everything in moderation. Methos knows to cloak himself, and I doubt if Death would have allowed Horton and his Hunters to take him. I might hate the masked Horseman, but without him, there would be no Methos, and that would be a major tragedy. You see that, don't you, Joe? You understand now why he has to survive. He has to be the One."

"He thinks it should be you."

The Immortal grinned. "Yeah, I know. But whatever serves to keep him beneath the protective shadow of my sword is fine by me. If he's close enough to protect me, I'm close enough to watch over him."

Joe shook his head and chuckled. Each playing the other; how typical. Still, if they could manage to keep each other alive, then he had no doubt that in the end, there would be two, and damn the Game. What more could a father ask for? "For a barbarian, you seem very knowledgeable."

Duncan pulled to a stop near Constantine's corpse. As he got out of the car, he bent down to speak to the slower exiting Watcher. "The truth was in the light, Joe. It always was."

Joe nodded and got out, almost stepping on one of the severed hands. Still clutched in the fingers was a gun. "Son of a bitch was going to shoot him. How did Methos--?"

"Probably what he was waiting for," Duncan said as he approached the still kneeling figure. They hadn't bothered to check Constantine for hidden weapons; the Challenge had already been manipulated enough. "Methos?"

The sword was now tip down in the ground and the Ancient used it to lever himself up. He swayed dangerously, and would have fallen if not for Duncan's strong arm. "Just tell me one thing, MacLeod. Tell me you have beer in the car," he croaked tiredly.

"Nope. But I think there's a bottle of water."

"What kind of bloody Boy Scout are you? When we get back to Seacouver I'm going to have to confiscate your merit badge," Methos grumbled as Mac helped him into the car.

"You do that, my friend."

Mac and Joe collected the various body parts and stuffed them into the trunk, remembering a river they had crossed along the way. As Mac swept the area to make sure they left nothing behind, he noticed a glittery spot where Methos had been. As he squatted down for closer inspection, he realized what he was seeing was where the powerful Quickening had melted the sandy dirt into glass. Damn. No wonder Methos could barely walk.

"How are you doing?" he asked anxiously as he climbed into the car for the trip back.

Starry flecks of gold swimming in green pools stared back at him briefly before exhaustion caused the lids to droop. "I want to go home, Mac."

"Aye, Methos. I'll take you home."

*****

"I'm suing the manufacturer."

"Come on, Adam," Duncan said in exasperation. "Fan belts break. It happens."

"Not in my car. Don't try to talk me out of it. I have a law degree somewhere in my past. I know I can sue the company, and I plan to," Methos said matter-of-factly from his position in the passenger's seat of Mac's T-bird. "I'll also sue for the amount of gas you spent having to carry me around. What do you think? Will a thousand cover it?"

"Methos, I had to go exactly half a block out of my way to pick you up. And in case you've forgotten, we work at the same place."

"You're right; five thousand it is. All this mental stress of figuring out an alternate route should be worth something. Maybe I'll win enough to pay for Adam Pierson to go to law school. That idea has potential, don't you think? Adam Pierson, esquire. I like it."

"I don't think so. One Johnny Cochrane is enough," Mac replied sarcastically.

"Bah. He's just an amateur. You should have seen the courtroom theatrics back in--"

"You know, don't you?"

"What?" Methos asked, confused by the interruption. What was the Highlander babbling about now?

"About the light."

"You mean the red one you just ran through?" He grinned broadly as Mac's head whipped to the rear view mirror and saw the light was still happily on green.

"You know what light I'm talking about, Methos," the Scot growled. "Over a certain Italian plain?"

"Oh, yes. I think it's called the sun."

Duncan looked at him sharply. Surely Methos was aware of the true nature of his soul. Before he could question him further, Methos held up a hand, halting him.

"I will tell you this, Duncan, in order not to have the matter brought up again: when I gave up guilt and conscience several millennia ago, I also gave up self-delusion. But deluding others is another matter."

MacLeod smiled and reached out to touch his shoulder. "Don't worry, Methos. I won't out you."

Methos nodded, understanding that Mac meant what he said, but it was a vow he was destined to break. Duncan would seek the light again. He always did. It was his nature. It was his gift.

They walked down the hall toward the lounge, stepping aside when Victoria Moon started out. "Oh, hey, guys," she said warmly. "Welcome back. So, how is the world?"

Methos looked at Duncan and shrugged. "Still rotating and revolving the last time I checked," Dr. Pierson said cautiously.

"That's nice to hear. Keep up the good work, gentlemen."

They watched her disappear toward her office. "Wonder if someone spiked the lounge's coffee again?" Methos mused.

"You weren't in town, so the answer is no." Warm, chocolate brown eyes stared hard into laughing hazel ones. "And don't even think about repeating the act."

"You have to admit the students learned more that day than any other in the history of the university," Methos pointed out.

"It's not that they learned, Adam. It was what they learned," Duncan argued.

Methos gave him a baleful look. "Party pooper. Tell me, was that steel rod surgically inserted up your ass, or did it just inch up there by itself?"

A snort came from behind them. "Pierson, MacLeod," Ed Robbins acknowledged the backward glance. "How's Joe?"

"He's fine, Robbins. In fact, why don't you drop by the bar tonight? MacLeod's buying."

"Adam!" Mac sputtered.

"What's the occasion?" Robbins asked, wondering what would be the best way to pass the invitation along to the rest of the crowd. Maybe a note on the bulletin board? Nah. He'd just tell Marge, the dean's secretary. The speed of light had nothing on her capacity to spread information.

"Oh, nothing much. It's just that, well, Mac finally saw the light."

Robbins left them, Pierson doubled over laughing, and MacLeod glowering helplessly. Payback is a bitch, he thought as he headed to the dean's office. If they were lucky, MacLeod would get his revenge tonight at the bar. Wow, free drinks and entertainment. Yep. The University of Seacouver was blessed to have the two of them.

And so was the world.

THE END

(Restoration Series #2)


Comments? D.L. Witherspoon

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