Author's Notes:

Hi! This is the second in what I'm calling the Restoration Series (RS). I'm hoping to slowly wipe away the grime, peel back the false overlays, and eliminate the yellowed varnish of the ages, to reveal the true Methos (my true version, that is).

I'm glad so many of you enjoyed the University staff. They don't appear in this one (it's the Christmas holidays), but they will return.

If you didn't receive a reply to an earlier LoC, then either I was overwhelmed by Christmas, or Prodigy (you know, the company who promised a $400 rebate if you signed up for their service, then didn't realize how many people would take them on their offer) "misplaced" my mail in the nether regions of cyberspace. I appreciate every Letter of Comment I receive, but between Prodigy and me, sometimes I don't get to thank you personally. So, Thank You.

Hope you enjoy.

Restoration Series #2

TWILIGHT OF THE DAWN

by

D.L. Witherspoon

(Posted 01-13-00)


The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn.

H.G. Wells, The Discovery of the Future, 1901


"I can't bloody well believe this," Methos growled, his pace fast and furious. "How the hell did I allow you to talk me into this?"

Duncan MacLeod grinned, his long legs easily keeping up with his friend and colleague. "I didn't have to talk you into anything. It was your birthday gift to me. 'A favor of your own choosing, MacLeod.' That's what you said, Adam. I just called you on it."

"Yes, well, expect a freaking Chia Pet next year, Highlander. Maybe one of those creepy Chia Heads-- to remind you what could happen the next time you ask me to do something so ridiculous."

"But you were so good at it," Duncan said, with a hint of awe.

"I was, wasn't I?" Methos preened proudly.

"Yes, you were. That's why I asked for your help. I knew I couldn't do what you did, Adam."

"Too damn chivalrous, if you ask me," the old Immortal lectured.

"I know, and I'm working on that, honestly. But the look on her face when you--"

Methos laughed in remembered delight. "Oh, yes! Sort of like a fish: mouth open, no sound. What a marvelously wicked moment." He looked over at his companion, deciding that he could be lenient-- this time. "Maybe I won't Chia you next year. But you're definitely on my Salad Shooter list."

Duncan nodded agreeably, thinking the semi-useless kitchen appliance was a small penance to pay for what his friend had done for him. The morning had turned out better than he'd expected. When his goddaughter Mary Lindsey had made a last minute request for a Show-Your-Fanny doll-- the biggest and hottest item this Christmas-- he thought he would, for the first time in her young life, disappoint her. Pulling every string he had-- mortal and Immortal-- he'd found out a shipment was arriving at 6:00 A.M. at a mall two hours east of Seacouver. All he had to do was fight three or four hundred people for a shipment of seventy-five dolls. Although swordfights and hand-to-hand combat didn't faze him one bit, the thought of going up against hundreds of rabid mothers and grandmothers who were determined to get their hands on the toys made him shiver, and had instigated several terrible nightmares. Then he'd had an inspired idea, a solution so perfect that he'd shivered again. And his best friend, the oldest Immortal, Methos, a.k.a. Adam Pierson, a.k.a. Death on a Horse, had not let him down.

"That move was truly inspired, Adam, a classic in the making. The simplicity of it, the utter ease with which you disarmed-- uh, dis-dolled her was beautiful. I could have never taken on such a sweet-looking grandmother."

"Grandmother, my ass, MacLeod. The woman had 'I'm going to sell this sucker on e-Bay' written all over her," Methos scoffed, as they entered the elevator to take them to their level on the parking deck. "Trust me, Mac. We just saved the world from a wild and crazy bidding war. Then again, if you can convince sweet little Mary that--"

Duncan got a firmer grasp on his precious package, wondering if he could come up with a counter-move to Methos' slick 'dis-dolling' maneuver. "No, Methos," he said, dropping the alias now that they were in private. "You are not taking Mary's dolly and--"

"But think of the profit margin. You could buy her ten--" He paused as the elevator jerked to a stop, and the lights flickered out.

"What the--" Before Duncan could finish the exclamation, the lights were back on and the elevator continued its ascent. "See? No one likes your idea, Methos," he teased. When the older Immortal didn't respond with a pithy comeback, he looked over to see that the man had turned deathly pale and was staring frozen into the distance. The package thudded to the floor.

"Methos?" When there was no response, he gently shook a wiry shoulder. He was rewarded with a blink, then a gasp of breath. "Good God, man, what's happening?"

"Mac?"

"I'm here, Methos. Where were you?" he asked, joking nervously.

"Being buried alive."

*****

The opening of the elevator doors and a group of waiting passengers halted further conversation until they were comfortably settled in MacLeod's black Thunderbird. After securing the doll in the trunk, Duncan slid into the driver's seat and looked at the lean form huddled against the far door. "What is it, Methos? We've all been buried alive at one time or another. It's sort of a hazard of being Immortal."

Methos muttered something, and wrapped his coat tighter around himself as if he was freezing.

"Speak up, man," Duncan pressed, turning on the engine and the heat.

"I wasn't Immortal," Methos said in a hushed whisper.

"What do you mean you weren't Immortal--" He stopped, his jaw hanging open and his eyes growing wide. "You're remembering." His voice now dropped to a matching whisper. Immortals were equipped with incredible memories, but either five thousand years was asking a bit too much of the brain, or there were psychological forces at play.... Whatever the reason, Methos couldn't remember his mortal years. Actually, he couldn't remember anything before he took his first head. Or at least that had been true-- until now.

"That damn Dark Quickening," Methos finally said. "I guess I lowered more walls than I thought."

A month ago, Methos had deliberately taken a Dark Quickening. In preparation of embracing the overwhelming evil, he'd had to lower-- no, shatter, some of the barriers around his soul, bulwarks which had been forged and erected in a cruel and brutal world. Now, in a less overtly brutal era, he was having trouble calling up the exhaustive strength necessary to rebuild the millennia-old fortresses. In other words, it was just as his "brother" Kronos had told him: he'd gotten soft.

"What do you remember?" Mac asked, hoping to keep his older friend from drifting too far. Reclaiming lost memories was fine, but he knew how easy it was to get lost in a long past. Even his mere four hundred years could be a quagmire, visions calling to him, forcing him to recall moments best buried-- well, as buried as Immortal memories could be. How had Shakespeare put it? For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause; there's the respect that makes calamity of so long life. Damn right. Dreams and memories did make long life dangerous, and Immortals didn't have to wait until death; their memories became limitless when they gained their Immortality. That Methos had managed to forget portions of his life was very telling, and as curious as he was about Methos' past, a shiver of foreboding traveled along Mac's spine.

"Nothing tangible. Just jumbled, fluttering images...like film which has torn in a projector. The aural aspects are much clearer." He shuddered and hunched even further into his coat. "Screams, MacLeod."

"Whose?" Duncan found himself asking before he realized he shouldn't have.

"Mine," Methos said hollowly. "They knew they were burying me alive. It wasn't an accident or a mistake. They sealed me in that tomb on purpose, and the smell-- Pull over, Duncan. Now!"

Even as the T-Bird screeched to a halt on the shoulder of the Interstate, Methos was stumbling away from the car, bending over as his stomach violently emptied itself. By the time Duncan secured the vehicle, setting the brakes and engaging the flashers, Methos had stumbled away from his mess and collapsed onto the cold, damp ground.

"Here."

Methos gratefully took the bottled water Mac offered, swished a mouthful, then spat it out. "Sorry about the unseemly display. I can't remember the last time I did something like that. Might have been that last typhoid outbreak."

"No typhoid here, Methos," Mac said in lieu of a question.

Methos stared off at the line of trees a few yards away. "I wasn't...alone in the crypt. Someone else was buried with me, but this person was dead-- very much so. For days, the smell of putrefying flesh filled my every breath, and then...then I guess I grew used to it. Damn. No wonder I didn't mind the stench after a Horsemen's attack." He glanced at Duncan briefly, then looked away before he could see the pity in the Scot's eyes.

"It took me a while to die. The seal wasn't all that tight, so I had air. I guess I finally succumbed to hunger, or most probably thirst.... I remember dying of thirst a few hundred times in the desert. I knew I hated it. Just didn't know I had a reason for my aversion."

Duncan placed a hand on Methos' shoulder because he couldn't think of anything to say. How to comfort someone after an experience like that? To be buried alive with a rotting corpse as your only companion. To die a slow, lingering death over and over again until.... "How did you escape?"

Methos gave a chuckle that sounded too much like a sob. "That, of course, I haven't remembered yet. Guess I wanted to get the fun part out of the way."

"Methos," Duncan began.

"I'll be okay, MacLeod. Hopefully you can convince the officer of that."

"Officer?" He turned around to see that a Highway patrol car had pulled in behind his, and a tall uniformed man was making his way over to them.

"Is everything all right?" the man asked, suspicion and concern warring in his voice.

"Yes, sir. My friend just had something that didn't agree with him," Duncan replied easily, respectfully.

"I think it was the coffee from that petrol station," Methos added helpfully, his voice low and raspy.

"You fellows visiting from across the border?" the patrolman asked, catching the "petrol" reference.

Duncan tensed. Under normal situations, being considered Canadian was slightly amusing, but due to the millennium scare and the capture of a terrorist coming into the U.S. from Canada, this was one time he wanted to make sure the authorities knew exactly what side of the border he lived on. "We both teach at the University of Seacouver," he said quickly, and indicated he was going to reach for his wallet. The officer nodded and Duncan handed him his ID.

"Well, Mr. MacLeod, I think you should get your friend back to Seacouver and ply him with soup and crackers." He looked at the pale figure still seated on the ground. "Or maybe a quick trip to the ER wouldn't be out of the question either." He made a mental note to avoid gas station coffee for a while.

"Thank you for your concern," Mac said as they both assisted Methos to his feet. "We're sorry for the inconvenience."

The cop shrugged. "It would have been a shame to mess up the interior of that classic auto you have, Mr. MacLeod. I have some plastic bags in case Mr.--" He paused, waiting for Methos' name.

"Pierson," the man in question replied, holding out his hand. "Dr. Adam Pierson."

"Sgt. Terry Lamb," the officer said, belatedly introducing himself. He retrieved the bags from his vehicle. "Drive carefully, and I hope you feel better, Dr. Pierson." He followed them for a while, then got off at the next exit.

"Gods, MacLeod," Methos exclaimed weakly when he glanced down at his watch. "This has been a terribly shitty day and it's morning still."

Duncan braced himself for the accusation that it was all his fault. Not only had he gotten Methos out of bed before dawn, but it had been at his insistence that the Ancient had taken the Dark Quickening. Doubly damned. When no accusations sailed across the car's interior, however, he took a quick glance at his companion and the sight almost broke his heart. He'd seen men facing the gallows who didn't look as forlorn or as lost as the man next to him.

"Hey, you doing okay?" he finally asked, unnerved by the continued silence.

"Don't worry, Mac. I have the handy little bags if I get sick again." Methos eyed the things with disgust. "I feel like a five-year-old who can't be trusted not to get carsick."

"It's not the car I'm worried about."

Methos suddenly became fascinated with the way his fingers moved. "I'm fine. It's just that...I thought-- I hoped--" He closed his mouth and shook his head.

"You hoped?" Duncan urged. What did a five thousand year old man hope for? Sanity? No, because he had already been graced with that. How had he not gone mad in that sepulcher? How long had he been trapped in there-- living and dying for what could have been decades or centuries?

"I hoped that as a mortal, I was-- better," he said uneasily.

"Better?"

Methos shrugged. "Less evil than my Immortal self."

Duncan shook his head. "Don't let this taint your past, Methos. We both know the beauty of your soul." The pure light that existed in Methos had shown itself as it claimed the Dark Quickening and purified it.

Methos snorted. "Do you know what the state of my soul actually means, MacLeod? It means that I actively chose to be bad. I wasn't born that way. I wasn't genetically pre-dispositioned to be the homicidal maniac known, oh-so-fondly, as Death. It was a choice-- one that I made, one that I regret, have regretted for the past two thousand years. It might make some sense if this choice was made after the years of being entombed; I could call it my 'acting out' years. But the sheer fact that I was knowingly buried alive, clearly indicates the decision had been made long before then."

"Maybe--"

"Maybe what? You don't get buried alive with a corpse for spitting on the street, Mac."

"Not in this day and age, but, Methos, you are the first to admit that you lived in a different world, in many different worlds-- eras that I can't imagine, times before it became fashionable to commemorate events and beliefs by committing them to picture form or written language. You've studied law. You know how arbitrary laws can be, how they can easily reflect the skewed views of a single person, or a single power. Don't condemn your mortal self without the facts."

"And what if I never remember the facts?"

"Then base your self-image on who you are now."

"And that would be?"

Mac took his eyes off the road long enough to see if Methos was searching for compliments. Instead, he saw a man looking for reassurance, a man in need of reminders. "You are a college professor, respected by his students and colleagues. You are a good friend to me, Joe, Amanda, and a host of others, including your former Watcher colleagues."

"That's who Adam Pierson is," the older Immortal interrupted softly. "Who is Methos?"

"Methos is the man who took a Dark Quickening so that good men's essences wouldn't be lost. Methos is the man who has saved my head time and time again. Methos is my friend, my brother."

Silence. Then-- "Be careful of that title, Mac. The three men who called themselves that in the past are now dead-- if not by my hand, then by my machinations."

"And if I become as irrevocably lost as they were, then I expect the same consideration."

Methos closed his eyes, then took a deep breath. "I was cutting it close," he murmured, straightening-- well, not really straightening, but shifting into a sprawl that was less dejected.

Duncan rolled his eyes. "Translation?"

"Once every millennium, I let myself have a 'crisis of self', I guess you could call it. Very therapeutic," he added, flashing Duncan a grin. "Almost missed this millennium."

"Actually, the millennium doesn't end until December 31, 2000," Duncan said, then felt Methos' eyes burning into the side of his head. "But, of course, you knew that, didn't you?"

"What do you think, MacLeod? I used to invent calendars for a living, you know. But when you're talking about millennia, plus or minus a year or two doesn't' really make a difference."

"My mistake," Duncan said easily, taking the Seacouver exit. "I'm not as familiar with millennia as you are."

"That's all right, child," Methos said condescendingly, laughing when Duncan glared at him. "I need you to drop me by Joe's."

Mac rarely knew Methos to be social before the noon hour when he wasn't working, and the university had closed Friday past. "Something up?"

"Not really. Just trying to 'synchronize' our Watcher reports about the Dark Quickening. Want to make sure you get the glory you deserve."

Because there was no way to explain away recent Immortal Adam Pierson taking on something so powerful, it had been agreed that Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod, would take credit for the deed. He didn't like the lie, but it protected Methos, and that's what was important. "Just don't lay it on too thick," he pleaded.

"Oh, you mean I can't say anything like, 'the noble MacLeod arrived at the scene on his stalwart white steed, armor shining, sword glittering in the hot Italian sun'?"

"That's exactly what I mean."

"Damn. There goes my opening sentence."

Duncan glanced at his friend as he pulled up in front of Joe Dawson's house. "Maybe I should look over those reports before you send them in."

"An Immortal seeing his chronicles? How shocking!" Methos exclaimed in his best affronted tone. "Where do you come up with these thoughts, MacLeod?"

Duncan shrugged and smiled. "That's what happens when you hang out with a five-thousand-year old reprobate."

"You know, I think Joe had hopes that you would rub off on me, instead of vice-versa. Poor deluded man." Methos chuckled evilly.

It was hard for Duncan to reconcile the grinning imp with the brooding man in his car less than thirty minutes ago. Even chameleons couldn't change that quickly. He had to be a true shape-shifter, one of those fantastical woodland creatures he'd been taught to fear as a child in the Highlands. He thought about how he and the old man had hurt each other in the few years they had been friends. Maybe he should have kept his fear.... No. Every moment he spent with the man enriched his life. Methos made him think, made him see, made him feel. He was very lucky to know such a person. "So, we're still supposed to meet at the bar to exchange gifts on Christmas Day?" He had invited his two friends over to his loft since the bar was closed for the holiday, but Methos had insisted the exchange take place at the bar. What was the mysterious Ancient planning?

"Don't look so worried, Highlander. You know the only reason I observe Christmas is because I like receiving gifts. I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that," he said with a look which was meant to reassure, but only made Duncan worry more. Methos laughed, getting out of the car, and bending down to speak through the window. "I promise the place won't explode or something equally dreadful."

"Uh, you do remember Joe is mortal, don't you?"

"Yes, Mac, I remember. Now, go away." He turned to walk toward the house.

"Methos?"

A sigh. "Yes, MacLeod?"

"You okay?"

A genuine smile. "I'm fine. Think I'm going to keep it from Joe for a while. Wouldn't want him getting too excited."

"Your decision," Mac said. "If you need-- Call me if you need me, okay?"

"Will do, Clan Leader."

"Methoooos," Duncan drawled.

"I'll call, MacLeod," he replied solemnly. Then he grinned and turned toward the house, calling over his shoulder, "Scout's honor."

Duncan just shook his head, smiling as he drove away.

*****

"You have any idea what the old geezer is up to?" Joe asked as he and Mac waited for Methos to make an appearance.

"None, Joe. You know he can play inscrutable so well when he wants to. But he promised nothing would explode."

"Well, thank you for easing my mind," Joe said dryly. He scowled, then asked softly, "Have you noticed something different about him?"

"What do you mean by 'different'?"

Joe shrugged. "He's just seemed preoccupied the past couple of days. Unless he's being deliberately annoying, he's a pretty quiet sort of guy, an observer by nature, I guess. Sometimes I wonder what he sees when he watches us-- mortals, I mean. Does he see all the superficial changes, like clothing and hairstyles, or does that all disappear, allowing him to see how little we've changed since he first came to know us?"

"Not just mortals, Joe. To him, all of us are unchanged. I think that's why it's so easy for him to manipulate us. Even when it appears one of us has managed to surprise him, I'm not ever sure if it is a true surprise to him. Nevertheless, we fascinate him--"

"And amuse him," Joe pointed out with a wry grin. "Sometimes I think he believes we were put on this planet just to keep him entertained."

"We weren't?" Duncan asked, laughing. Then he sobered. "You were saying something about him being different?"

"It's nothing tangible, just a feeling. He covers really well, but when we were working on our reports, and even when he came to help me open up--"

"Help? Don't you mean he sat on a stool and drank up your beer while--" Duncan stopped as something flashed across the bartender's face. "Joe?"

"Adam's been helping me out around the place, MacLeod. Mike's off for the holidays, and.... And I've been having some problems with my legs. It's nothing serious, just time for a refit. But that's probably going to put me out of commission for a couple of weeks, and I wanted to make it through the holidays."

"You're in pain?" Duncan asked softly.

"Just when I move around too much. Adam's been doing most of the fetching from the storeroom."

"You told him, but not me?" He tried not to let the hurt show in his voice, but he'd never been very good at hiding his feelings.

"No, I didn't tell him. It's like I said-- he's an observer, and he's not as far removed from his doctor persona as he'd like for us to think. He's quick to recognize pain, and he acts to reduce it. Once he figured out what was happening, he just-- took over. I still haven't said anything formally to him about it. I think it would probably just make both of us uncomfortable."

Duncan nodded. That was Methos' style: to fit in where he was needed so unobtrusively that you didn't even realize how much you were relying on him until he slipped away again. "I'm glad he's been here for you, Joe. I just wish--"

"It was your birthday, Mac, and you had plans with Mary-- taking her to see the Nutcracker, and attending her pageant at church. You didn't have time to hover around an aging old man." There was no bitterness in Joe's tone; just acceptance.

"That's not who you are, Joe. You will never be that to me. You know that."

Joe looked at him with fond exasperation. "I know, and don't start brooding over this, okay? Mike will be back after the New Year, and I'm already scheduled for check-in at the VA hospital the day afterwards. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this conversation originally about another old man?"

So, had Methos thought, like Joe-- that he was too busy to help out his friends? Was the rediscovered memory still giving him trouble? "What about him, Joe?" He should have called him yesterday, just to check.

"As I said, it's nothing too worrisome. He just seems more-- introspective. Instead of watching others, it's as if his eyes are turned inward. If it were you, Mac, I'd say he was brooding."

"I don't know why everyone accuses me of that. I don't think I spend any more time worrying than the average person," Duncan defended himself. "Whoever came up with this 'brooding Scot' idea should be drawn and quartered." He stiffened, then relaxed. A second later, Methos walked through the door.

"Did I hear something about drawing and quartering?" the Immortal said as he tossed his coat across one of the tables instead of on the handy and fully functional coat tree. "I can give you some tips on that process, if you need them. It was considered quite the art--"

"Merry Christmas, Adam," Joe said quickly, before Methos could get descriptive. The Vietnam vet was hardly the squeamish type, but the old man sometimes liked to see how quickly he could gross out his audience.

"Merry Christmas, Joe. How was Christmas morning at the Lindsey household, Mac?" He wasn't offended by the interruption of his narrative; he just made a note of where he stopped and would continue it later.

"Very nice. Mary loved the doll. She just had to take it with her when they left to visit her grandparents."

"Since you like playing Santa Claus so well, please feel free to ply me with gifts whenever the need comes over you," Methos said cheerfully.

"Is that your way of saying you're ready for your presents?"

"Well, that is the reason we're here, isn't it?"

Joe laughed. Immortals could be pretty entertaining themselves. He limped over to the bar and pulled out a small package that he handed to Mac. Mac carefully unwrapped it, ignoring Methos' "subtle" hints to hurry up. The tiny box revealed a shining coin.

"It's beautiful," Duncan whispered as he held it up to the light. "It's Scottish, minted in 1592." He smiled; that was the year of his birth. "Thank you, Joseph."

Joe shrugged. "It's not easy finding something for you, Mac. Unlike the Old Man." He bent down and opened the refrigerator under the bar. He pulled out a bottle and set it in front of Methos.

"A bottle of beer?" Methos' mouth quirked at the corner. "I would say, 'how cheap of you', but I make it a rule never to refuse the gift of beer-- whether one or a case. Thank you, Joe. I love it." He ripped off the top and took a long draw. His swallow was a slow one, and he turned the bottle around to read its label. "I know this beer," he said softly.

"Yeah, it's one of the recipes you were collecting. I gave it to a local micro-brewery to make up a case. They liked it so much, they want to bottle it. They've even come up with a name." He reached down and handed Mac a bottle. Pierson's Old Tyme Ale. "I told them they would have to speak to you about rights to the recipe."

Methos grinned. "I'm going to be immortalized by beer. It's rather fitting, don't you think?"

"I can't think of a greater tribute to you," Duncan said with a snicker.

Warm amber eyes looked at Joe. "Thank you," Methos said with honest sincerity.

"I'm thinking about serving it here. It's not bad."

"I don't do bad recipes," came the affronted reply.

"Here, Joe," Mac said quickly, before Methos could complete his climb on his high horse. He slid a box across the bar. The mortal opened it and revealed a tattered leather journal. "It's mine," he explained. "I kept it for a few years after I learned how to read and write. A lot of what's in it is already in my chronicles, but I thought you might get a kick out of reading about the incidents in my own words."

"Thanks, Mac. I didn't know--"

"I don't. This was a one-time deal. If it weren't for the Watchers, most of my history would reside in just one spot." He tapped his head for emphasis. "I leave the fanatical journal writing to Watchers and certain old men."

Methos inclined his head in acknowledgment. He was rabid when it came to his personal journals. "Some of us live life more fully than others."

"And some of us have lessons and wisdom that need to be shared. I'm grateful that those persons know who they are." He handed Methos a box.

The paper was disposed of immediately. Methos pulled out a copper token. "'Good for One Free Ride,'" he read with a curious frown. "What does that mean?"

"It's similar to the gift you gave me for my birthday."

"A favor? But, MacLeod, you already do whatever I want anyway," Methos replied with a smirk.

"Don't remind me, o master manipulator," Duncan remarked with a smile of his own. "But when you hand me this, no manipulation will be necessary, Methos."

"But where's the fun in that?" the old Immortal whined.

Duncan looked at him solemnly. "There have been times in the past when there was not time for manipulations, when you needed me to listen or to help without questions or demands." They both flashed back to the day Kronos and Cassandra had appeared. Methos had gone to Mac, seeking help from the horror of his past, but Cassandra had reached Mac first. The fallout from that had been brutal and painful. "Hold this out to me, Methos, and I will be yours to command."

Methos rolled the token back and forth between his fingers. "You live dangerously, Highlander."

"Aye, but I have good friends to back me up if I need them."

Joe watched them with pride. The trust they'd shared before Bordeaux had returned a few years ago, manifesting itself in unconscious ways such as sleeping in each other's presence and letting down their guards. But this was the first "conscious" evidence that Kronos and the Horsemen were behind them.

Methos carefully placed the token back in its box. "You won't mind if I hold onto this for a few centuries or so?"

"Actually, I'm hoping you never have reason to use it at all," Duncan replied, getting a terse nod in response.

"So, Old Man," Joe broke in, intentionally lightening the mood, "everyone's given gifts but you."

Methos made his eyes widen in mock surprise. "You're expecting gifts from me? Damn. Is that little Korean store around the corner open today? Wonder if I can find some ribbon to put on a couple of jars of kimchi?"

"Didn't we have a conversation about jeopardizing the distribution of gifts?" Duncan warned him.

"Well, if you're going to be that way," Methos huffed, picking up his coat to reveal a brightly wrapped box. Duncan flashed Joe a look. Why hadn't they seen that when Methos came in?

"Merry Christmas, MacLeod."

Duncan opened the package to reveal The Clapper, Too, a device that activated certain electrical products with a simple clap of the hands. "Gee, Methos, it's just what I always wanted." At least it wasn't the dreaded Salad Shooter.

"I know. Don't think I missed those covetous looks you were giving it when we were at the mall the other morning," Methos said, his face calm, but his eyes revealing hearty amusement. "It even doubles as a security device. You'll never have to worry about strange Immortals showing up unexpectedly in your loft again."

Duncan smiled. He had expected payback for the doll "mission". Besides, he'd received his real gift that same morning-- when Methos had confided those moments of his past. It would have been easy for him to cover up the unexpected hiccup in his memory. Instead, Methos had shared his memories and his hopes, with very little prodding. Definitely a gift. "I can't see a determined Immortal being turned away by a simple monitoring device."

"True. Your friends are used to confounding much more sophisticated systems. How is Amanda, by the way?"

As if he'd been talking about Amanda. "Amanda's fine. Once Nick got over the shock of discovering he's Immortal, things have somewhat settled between the two of them. They asked if we were going to be in Paris for the holidays, but I told them I had obligations, and you'd decided to stay too, because I'm your ticket to free beer." He watched Methos closely to see how he reacted to Duncan's audacity in answering for him.

"So true," Methos replied casually, feeling Duncan's eyes on him. He knew exactly what Duncan was doing by not going to Paris as usual. He was trying to isolate himself, minimize the number of people exposed to danger because of him. MacLeod had figured out early on that he couldn't shake him and Joe; they had managed to track him easily when he'd disappeared into the mist after taking O'Rourke's head. When Methos figured he'd spent enough time brooding, he'd appeared on Mac's new doorstep and stayed until the Scotsman said it was time to head back to Seacouver and his job at the University. Knowing that he couldn't let MacLeod withdraw-- the damn fool wouldn't know when enough was enough-- he'd tagged along and put Dr. Pierson to work. No way in hell he was going to jeopardize his hard work by leaving Duncan alone now.

"Uh, Adam?"

"Yes, Joe?"

"You got something for me?" the mortal asked cautiously.

"I do?" Methos patted his pockets, and shook his coat. "Where did I--? Oh, I remember now. Back in a sec." He disappeared into the stockroom.

"I swear, MacLeod, if he comes out here lugging a case of my own stuff--" Joe muttered.

"Well, he does have a perverted sense of humor. You know that, J--"

"Holy shit! What the hell is that, Methos?" Joe asked sharply as the Immortal came in guiding a heavy-duty pallet mover. On the pallet was an unwieldy shapeless blob, covered by a sheet decorated with a single bow. Both the figure and the pallet barely made it through the double doors.

"It's your Christmas gift," he explained, blatantly surprised Joe had to ask. "Didn't the bow give it away?"

Joe looked at him, open-mouthed. Then he hobbled over to the form and snatched away the sheet. Only a chair shoved quickly beneath him kept him from hitting the floor. "Holy Mother of God," he whispered. His eyes never left the item in front of him. "It's my 'Nam unit."

The sculpture was life-sized and so detailed that it was scary. Joe felt that if he reached out, he would encounter flesh, and not cold marble. "How?" he demanded gruffly.

"The picture you keep in your office. I made a copy."

"And you had this commissioned for me?" Joe didn't know much about art, but he figured this had to run into the hundreds of thousand, if not more.

Duncan did know art, and he knew that a work this exquisite ran into the millions. Most Immortals over two hundred were wealthy, which meant that Methos, as old and as wise as he was, could probably buy the world and still have change left over-- which was why Joe never got upset about his growing bar tab; if he ever needed money, he knew Methos could-- and would-- bail him out. However, Dr. Adam Pierson was an untenured professor and was rarely extravagant. He wondered which of Methos' alter egos had purchased the sculpture.

"Not exactly," Methos was murmuring.

"You didn't have this commissioned for me?" Joe asked in confusion. Methos shook his head shyly. And that's when Joe knew. "You did this? You did this yourself?"

"Working with my hands relaxes me."

"No one's that tense, Methos," Duncan said, stirring from his surprised silence. People knitted or did minor woodwork to relax them. They didn't create museum-quality pieces.

"I started it after Bordeaux."

Okay, he could have been that tense.

"I got a lot of it completed after the incident at the racetrack."

After I killed Richie, and begged you to take my head.

"I finished the majority of it during those weeks you went missing after O'Rourke."

Shit, Methos. I'm surprised you don't have an entire gallery of stuff after hanging around with me all these years. Hell, maybe you do.

"Is it okay, Joe? I know there was that stuff with Cord and DeSalvo--"

Andrew Cord, an Immortal, saved Joe back in Vietnam, carrying the injured man to safety on his back. It was because of that interaction with Cord that Joe had been approached about joining the Watchers. So, in a way, Cord had been responsible for the life Joe was living today, and that had created a deep bond between them. Joe was also friends with Charlie DeSalvo-- through Mac. MacLeod had bought Charlie's gym when the man was down on his luck, and had kept him on as manager until Charlie left to fight in the Balkans with his lover, Maria. But Charlie returned without Maria, following Cord, who was her killer. Charlie shot Cord, Cord revived, then wanted to go after Charlie-- which angered Mac. Joe pleaded with everyone to "just let it be" and all-- supposedly-- agreed. Then Cord killed Charlie anyway, Mac beheaded Cord, and Joe was left with two less friends and a guilty, bitter Duncan MacLeod. All in all, maybe a stone likeness of Cord wasn't a good idea.

"Cord was what he was, Methos," Joe said, still unable to look away from the sculpture. "And what he was when the picture was taken, was my friend. What went on afterwards can't change that."

Methos nodded. It was that kind of attitude that had Joe defending him and his past, even as MacLeod condemned him for it. "I have no idea what you're going to do with it. It's not exactly a bar-type item," he added sheepishly. He hadn't really thought much past finishing the gift.

"It's my statue and my bar. I can do whatever the hell I please with both of them," Joe growled. "A fucking masterpiece, Adam."

Methos squeezed his shoulder and walked back over to the bar. Duncan joined him, leaving Joe to stare at his gift...and the memories it provoked.

"You studied with Michelangelo, didn't you?" Methos raised an eyebrow. "I recognize his influence," Duncan explained.

"You're the expert in art history, Mac." Methos got out a couple of his beers, and handed one to Duncan. Then he got out a glass and poured Joe a couple of fingers of Scotch, delivering it without a word.

"You're a scholar," Duncan said when Methos returned to the bar.

"What gave me away? My grad student demeanor?" Methos took a long swallow from his bottle.

"You were-- are-- naturally drawn to the best each era has to offer."

"Seeking compliments, Highlander?"

Mac ignored him. "The Library at Alexandria, the academies of Ancient Greece, Michelangelo.... Beethoven?"

"One picks up a lot of habits in five-thousand years. Some good, some not-so-good."

"Byron." The Immortal poet had burned brightly, but dangerously. His experiments with sex and drugs had been merely incapacitating to Immortals, but deadly to the mortals he inevitably attracted.

"Kronos as well." Methos sighed, remembering the man he'd spent a millennium with. "He was a psychopath, but brilliant, Mac. Too brilliant for his own good in the end, I suppose. Trust me; sometimes it's better to be just mediocre."

"I don't think you've ever been mediocre, Methos. That," he used his bottle to point at the sculpture, "was not done by someone with mediocre talent."

"Would you like-- No, never mind."

"Would I like what?"

"Would you like for me to do something of Richie? Or maybe Tessa?"

Duncan nodded and drew his wallet. "This was taken right before Grayson showed up, and I sent them to Paris." The photo revealed a laughing blonde and a younger Richie than Methos had known. "You can use this, or you can look through the album back at the loft."

Methos took the photo, fingering the creases that had come from its constant place in Duncan's wallet. "I'll take good care of this, Mac."

A tight nod. "Use whatever medium you deem appropriate," he added, instinctively knowing Methos was probably very versatile, mastering one skill after another. And what had he, Duncan MacLeod, mastered in his four-hundred years? Ah. The difference between a warrior and a scholar. I fight because that's who I am; he fights because it's the only way to survive to learn more. I should have left him to his books, to the safety he found in the Watchers. For two hundred years, he had avoided shedding blood with those talented hands. Then I come into his life....

"It's Christmas Day. No brooding allowed. It's a city law, I think," Methos commented, smiling wryly.

Brooding. "And what about you, Methos? Are you guilty of the same offense?"

"Moi? Nonsense," he scoffed.

"You haven't remembered anything else?"

Methos glanced over his shoulder to make sure Joe wasn't listening, but the mortal appeared to still be lost in his own memories. "No, and for that, I am quite thankful."

"It's a way of healing," Duncan said, but he couldn't stop the whisper of doubt following the statement.

"Is it? Or are these memories just going to peel away scars to open wounds best left covered?" Methos argued.

"If the wounds are infected--"

"Then the pus and virulence has been running through my system for quite some time now. It's too late for the lance-and-purge method to work. Hell, it's too late for amputation. If the poison was deadly, I'd already be gone, MacLeod. So, I see no reason for this exposure now."

"Sometimes when a mortal takes in a foreign object-- the tip of a needle, maybe a piece of glass-- the body accepts it. It places a protective sac around it and lets it cruise without reaction for years. Then suddenly, it decides it's time to expel it. It pushes it to the surface, the skin tears, and the object is removed. Maybe it's time, Methos. Maybe it's time you let this go. It's burdened your system long enough."

"It's going to hurt," Methos whispered. "It already hurts."

"It's all right for you to squeeze my hand when it does," Mac offered.

"Duncan, if I start squeezing, I may never let go."

"That's okay, too."

Methos laughed, despite the tears he stubbornly refused to brush away. "I'm too old for this shit."

MacLeod shrugged. "For all we know, you might just be entering your adolescence, Methos."

Wide gold eyes stared back at him. "Here's a hint; you're supposed to be making me feel better."

"We can't measure our growth, our maturity, on a mortal scale."

"Why can't we?" Methos hissed. "You do understand by using this model, you're saying that our race has no adults, and, Gods forbid, I'm the most mature."

"Maybe we do have adults, but they're not here."

"So, the earth is just an Immortal daycare center? Have a baby, and just dump it here and cross your fingers it survives?" Methos shook his head. "That would explain why we're all foundlings, why we're still foundlings even in this day and age. But what's with the Game? Why are we destined to kill each other?"

"Survival of the fittest," Joe said, as he moved toward them. "Why did families in the past have ten, twenty children, even when they knew they couldn't afford to feed and clothe them all? Because they wanted to ensure that one or more survived, and of those who survived, they were the ones with the best chance of overcoming their lowly birth."

"And I'm the only one who has survived to his teen years?" Methos asked with a snort.

Joe angled his head toward the sculpture. "You're a very talented teen. Do you know why you've lasted this long, my friend? It's because you're adaptable. As your environment changes, so do you. Kronos and the rest of the Horsemen didn't. Cassandra hasn't. Amanda is getting there. And Mac here, I think you're dragging his ass kicking and screaming in the right direction."

"Gee, Joe. I'm touched by how you see me," Duncan said dryly.

"But it's the truth, and you know it. Your vision was too narrow, your lines too well-defined-- no, not lines, but ruts. You weren't adapting; you were trying to force those around you to adapt to you."

Duncan hung his head, knowing that Joe was just being honest. "Then the immovable object ran into an irresistible force named Methos, right? And the immovable object found it could be moved after all."

"Teenagers can be quite stubborn," Methos said with a self-deprecating smile. "But back to this theory of yours. So, we're deposited here, into a borrowed nest and the clueless mortal birds, raise us, sometimes nurture us, then what? We kill them off and take over the aviary?"

"One: maybe mortals are just as alien to this environment as we are. Maybe they were brought here to be our caregivers, our nursemaids. Two: mostly, they aren't the ones we kill. Three: the idea of the Prize seems to further the notion that, yes, we are going to take over the aviary. But hopefully, that One will not rule as a dictator, but as someone who truly cares for mankind."

"Sheesh, MacLeod, you want sugar with that treacle?" the oldest teenager-- eat your heart out, Dick Clark-- asked scornfully.

"If you don't share that vision, why do you work so hard at making sure Mac's the One?" Joe remarked, lifting an inquiring eyebrow.

"Fuck you, Joe Dawson," Methos said, without rancor.

The mortal just shook his head. "Kids today have such filthy mouths."

"And empty ones too," the kid replied. "Feed me, Nursemaid."

"I think there's a jar of peanuts behind the bar. Knock yourself out."

Methos, acting his age, blew Joe a raspberry. "Guess it's to the store for kimchi, after all."

Duncan laughed. "Actually, I kind of have dinner waiting for us at the loft. I figured since we were going to get together anyway...." He shrugged good-naturedly.

"You are such a Boy-- Cub Scout," Methos amended. "But what the hell, you have your uses. I'll even donate some of my beer to the cause. I saw the rest of the case in the storeroom."

"Grab a couple of bottles of the 'good stuff' while you're back there, Adam," Joe called. "I'm not doing any serious toasting with beer."

"Snob," came the muted reply.

A negligent shoulder roll. "If that means that lately I find myself surrounded by the best stuff that life has to offer," Joe looked at the artwork, then gathered both Mac and the returning Methos into his sight, "then by all means, I'm a snob. Damn proud of it, too." He shrugged into his jacket and reached for his cane. "Mac, take the liquor from Methos. If something starts to slip, you know he's not going to sacrifice the beer. Methos, make sure you cut off the light in the back room, and double check the lock; sometimes it likes to stick."

Methos glared at Duncan when he approached to retrieve the liquor. "It was your damn theory," he whispered crossly.

"I didn't know he was going to take me so literally," Duncan said in his own defense.

"You fellas coming or what?" Joe demanded from the doorway.

Methos looked at Duncan. Duncan looked at Methos. With an evil grin, they turned as one and chorused, "Yes, Nanny Joe!"

It soon became obvious that teenage Immortals did not have the monopoly on filthy mouths.

THE END

(Restoration Series #3)

Endnotes:

Because this is an international audience: Dick Clark is a seemingly ageless TV host, and kimchee is a Korean cabbage relish.


Comments? D.L. Witherspoon

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