This is sort of the beginning of the end of this series. This is the last story, but it's going to be in four separate parts which I suppose I could have either made completely stand alone stories or waited to post the entire thing. But they're really not separate stories, and who knows how long it'll take me to finish the whole story, so I made a "author's choice" and decided to do it this way.
Hope you enjoy!
Restoration Series #6A
BECOMING I: WIZARD, WARRIOR, WATCHER, WITCH
Soren Aaby Kierkegaard
Duncan MacLeod looked up to find Joe Dawson standing in the doorway to the dojo's office. "Come in, Joe." He closed the ledger he'd been working on and gave his full attention to his visitor. "What's happened?"
Joe shook his head. "What? I just can't stop by to see an old friend or two?"
Duncan knew he was referring to the fact that Methos was now temporarily a resident of the dojo. Not only had his own apartment been trashed by a demon, but Duncan refused to let the eldest Immortal live alone until the current situation was resolved. Not only had a demon come after his friend, but so had Immortal Hunters--packs of them. Methos had taken more heads in the past three months than he had in the past three centuries. "Sorry, Joe. I guess I'm just used to you calling--not that you need to."
"S'kay, Mac. Considering all the stuff that's been happening, I understand why you assume I have bad news. But actually I have the opposite. I came by to tell you we have the permits."
"Really? I wasn't expecting them quite so soon. I guess that means we better get on the ball approving the final landscape layout."
Joe pulled back the chair in front of Duncan's desk and sat down. He'd expected MacLeod to be a lot more excited than he sounded. He and Mac had come up with the idea of creating a memorial park after Methos had presented Joe with an astounding sculpture as a Christmas gift. Such work, in their opinion, should be shared with the world. Since they knew Methos wouldn't agree, it'd been kept a secret from him. "Maybe I should have been the one asking 'What's happened?'"
Duncan rubbed the back of his neck. "It's Methos."
Joe rolled his eyes. "You knew he was difficult when you invited him to stay with you."
Duncan gave a small smile. "It's not that. It would probably amaze you at how well Methos and I live together. I think it's because we both come from times when shared quarters were the norm. Not only were inns few and far in between, but it was an insult not to stay with relatives or friends."
"So if he isn't getting on your last nerve, what's the problem? Another demon attack?"
"No. But if there is another attack, I'm not sure Methos is in any condition to defend against it."
"Spit it out, Mac."
"Last night, just as we were sitting down to dinner, Methos mutters, 'Bloody hell! Why didn't I think of that?' He then goes over to the computer--and he hasn't left the damn thing since, except for the occasional trips to the kitchen for beer and the resultant bathroom breaks."
Joe shrugged. "Sounds like he's in standard research mode. I remember Don talking about how obsessive Adam could get at times. Any idea what he's working on?"
"Except for the automatic response of 'Don't bother me, MacLeod,' he hasn't said anything," Duncan explained with a frustrated growl. "I know this may be normal for him, but these are not normal times, Joe. He's Immortal, yes, but that doesn't mean he can't wear himself out. The sleeplessness because of the dreams and the loss of energy due to the demon's actions have weakened him. He's too thin, too pale, and tires too easily. I told him I wanted him here so I could watch his back, but I also believed he needed to be taken care of. I guess I'm not doing a good job of that."
"He's over five thousand years old, Mac. Surely that proves he can take care of himself."
"You're just not getting it, man. I've seen one of the demons living inside of him, and I know there are others--whether capable of physical manifestation or not. I know I'm constantly haunted by things in my past. Can you imagine how crowded his psyche must be? And now there's someone out there who's trying to take his soul, someone who's possibly older than he is. He has to be nearing his limitations, Joe. Normally, he would retreat, go off to some bolt hole for a while until he figured out a way to stretch those limitations, but he can't this time."
Joe frowned. "Why not?"
"Because something's coming--something that only Methos is capable of handling."
"What do you mean? What aren't you telling me?"
Duncan squirmed uneasily. "To defeat Ahriman, I had to go to his realm. As a result, I can--sense--things."
Joe paled. "And this coming 'thing'? It's coming for Methos?"
The Highlander shook his head. "No, Joe. It's coming for the world. Only Methos stands in its way."
"Shit," Joe muttered softly. "Does he know?"
"Yes. That's why he's working so hard to find answers, but I think he's doing more harm than good."
"By letting himself get run down?" Duncan nodded. "Well, that has to stop." Joe got to his feet. "Let's go, MacLeod."
"Where're we going?"
"Upstairs. Nanny Joe is officially on the job."
Duncan grinned and followed.
"Hey, Adam," Joe called out as the lift gate was raised.
"Joe," Methos acknowledged without looking up from the computer located in one of the corners of the loft. "I'm busy right now. Just give me five minutes and...."
Duncan shook his head, indicating he'd heard the five minutes lie before. Joe looked at the computer, tracing its wiring to a wall socket. He smiled grimly and made his move.
"As the resident computer expert, what happens when you press CTRL and S together, Adam?" Joe asked casually.
"What? Joe, I really don't have time for--" Methos froze, staring at the electrical cord in the Watcher's hand. "Joe, no!"
"Back away from the computer, or the data gets it," the mortal threatened, tugging gently on the cord.
"Please, Joe." Methos held out his hands in supplication. "What I'm doing is important. I--"
"I don't want to hear it. Your health is important, too. You have until the count of five. One, two, three--"
"Fuck," Methos muttered and scooted his wheeled chair away from the computer.
"Go shower. You aren't fit for polite company," Joe ordered.
"What the hell would you know about polite company, Watcher?"
"Keep it up, Old Man." Joe grasped the cord more firmly.
"Payback is a bitch," Methos warned bitterly, heading for the bathroom.
"Yeah, well, let's see you survive long enough to make good on that threat, buster."
The bathroom door slammed shut.
"I'm in awe, Dawson," Duncan said. "I drew my sword earlier and he didn't even blink."
"You're too used to dealing with Immortals. I think at times Adam Pierson forgets he's one, so you have to treat him as the mortal researcher he thinks he is, and threaten him accordingly."
Duncan dipped his head. "I'm even more impressed."
"Well, get over it and start cooking. I got him away from the computer; it's up to you to feed him."
While MacLeod obediently headed toward the kitchen, Joe took Methos' place in front of the computer. He was still there when the ancient Immortal stalked out of the bathroom wearing only a towel. Joe ignored the glare sent in his direction, shocked by how thin his friend was. This was the first time in a while that he'd seen Adam without his trademark oversized clothing--deliberately chosen to conceal a rather large personal arsenal--and he knew the gauntness of the Immortal was a result of far more than a few days of bad dietary habits. He looked at MacLeod and saw his concern reflected in the Scot's eyes. Shit. This was a bigger problem than he first thought.
Methos, what are you doing to yourself? Aloud, Joe asked, "Why the search for mass suicides?" He turned back toward the computer screen while Methos dressed.
"That's how I'm tracking Mael."
"Mael?" Both Joe and Duncan spoke.
Methos slipped a dark blue T-shirt over his head and flopped onto the sofa. "That's the name he used when he...came for me...."
"Momma?" the child poked at the still body lying at his feet. "Wake up, Momma." He said the words tentatively as if he knew she wouldn't. Even at such a young age he'd witnessed death enough to know that sometimes people didn't wake up.
A hand clamped down on his shoulder. "Let's go, child. We have a long journey ahead of us."
The child was shaken. "You belong to me now!"
The boy squirmed away from the painful grip. "No!" He tried to run, but his little legs were no match for the man who took two steps and was upon him. Bowing to the inevitable, the child dropped to the ground, folding into a little ball to protect himself like the little bugs he had watched when he was in the field behind his mother. His mother. He shivered and hoped that when he woke up, he'd be with her again.
He cried out when instead of pain, he felt himself being swung up into the air. Curiosity made him open his eyes. Black eyes stared back at him, and white teeth. The man was smiling.
"A fighter, are you? That is good. Look at those eyes! It's a wonder you weren't smothered as a demon before you took your first step. You are indeed a treasure, my son."
Son? The child knew the word. "Fa--father?"
"Yes, I am Mael, your father, and I have searched the world for you." He adjusted the boy in his arms, laying him up against his shoulder. "Let us be off."
The boy watched his mother become just a speck on the horizon as the man carried him away.
"Jesus," Joe whispered as Methos' voice trailed off. "He just came and took you?"
Methos nodded. "Even though it's coming back, it's still hazy. I was really young, maybe three or four. I'm guessing, you understand. We didn't measure time by years then. I'm only going by the size I remember being."
"Why?" Duncan asked, setting a crowded plate in front of Methos. "Why had he been searching for you?"
"Geez, MacLeod. Just how much do you think I'm capable of eating?" Methos complained.
"More than you have been. Eat."
"But you asked me a question."
"The answer can wait."
Methos glared at the two of them. "Is this Pick On Old Immortals Day and nobody informed me?"
They watched Methos eat until the Immortal started just shoving a pile of food from spot to spot. With a dissatisfied growl, Mac took the plate away.
"Okay, Old Man, finish the story," Joe demanded, then felt guilty as he turned to see Methos' eyes flutter open from where they'd apparently been closing. His exhaustion was clear to any eye.
"Mael was old even then. He belonged to a people who had found the ways of manipulating the heavens. Remember what I told you, Mac? About the roots of magic? And the price that had to be paid for access to such power? The price didn't matter to Mael, and that bothered some of his fellow magicians. It was prophesied that a child born in fiery chaos would one day rise to defeat Mael. Mael searched for signs of this child's birth, and it seems that my appearance on earth coincided with a gigantic volcanic eruption. Mael claimed the eruption was so explosive and devastating that it took him years just to find someone alive in the area, and that when he stumbled upon our small--village, I guess is the best description--and saw me, he knew I was the child of the prophecy.
"I don't know if I was--am--this child or not, but it was rather obvious that I was out of place. I looked like no one in that part of the world. My eyes weren't dark. My skin was too pale; my nose too angled." Methos curled his legs beneath him. "Even without Mael's influence, I would have been an outcast. It's ironic that I've learned to blend so well, even though I've never fit in anywhere."
"Not true," Duncan said softly. "You fit here, Methos."
Methos gave a brief smile and rubbed his hand across his face. "At times."
"So, if Mael thought you were this child who would defeat him," Joe hurried to say, seeing how close Methos was to collapsing, "why didn't he kill you?"
"He was greedy. He figured someone capable of defeating him would be able to tap into enormous power. He thought to mold me to his use. He very nearly succeeded." Methos shuddered and leaned heavily back against the sofa.
Duncan shook his head. "Take the bed. I don't need a dead body cluttering up my living area."
"Dead? You know something I don't, MacLeod?"
"Yeah. I know you're totally wiped. Stop fighting it, Methos. Let go for a few hours. Joe and I will take up the slack."
"I haven't even told Joe how I'm using the mass suicides to track Mael." Methos leapt to his feet and motioned for Joe to join him at the computer. "Mael is older than I am, but he's not an Immortal."
"Excuse me?" Joe's jaw dropped to the ground.
"More of that old time magic. Mael discovered a way to siphon others life forces to feed and extend his own. As long as a mortal life is given to him freely, he can take that essence and manipulate it. So he founds these cults and--"
"And the fools just up and sacrifice themselves for him," Joe filled in. He looked at the information Methos had gathered. "It looks like the suicides have increased in the past half a century or so. Improved reporting?"
Methos shook his head. "I think Mael is needing more and more energy to sustain his life. He's approaching a--juncture of some sort, where he either makes the leap to another level or he ceases being."
Duncan reached out a hand to steady his friend when he swayed. "Enough, Methos. You can tell us the rest later. To bed with you."
"You know this is becoming a habit, Highlander," Methos said as he sat gingerly on the bed. "People are going to start talking."
"Well, if that's all they have to talk about, I pity them," Duncan replied. He'd put Methos in his bed after the Ancient had taken five Quickenings simultaneously, and Methos had slept for twenty straight hours. He looked like he could use the twenty again.
The Immortal reluctantly stretched out and Duncan draped a blanket over him. "Sleep, my friend." He stayed by his side until Methos' breathing was deep and even. Then he went over to Joe at the computer.
"God, Mac, he's in bad shape. If he's what's standing between us and the end...."
"I'd still place my money on him."
Joe smiled. "Yeah, I would too, but what would be left of him? It's just not my ass that I'm worried about."
"Agreed. Sometimes it worries me that he's not aware of his self-worth. I know that sounds stupid, considering he's taken care of himself for so long."
"For someone who looks out for number one only, he's surprisingly careless when it suits him," Joe agreed. "Wonder how he's survived?"
Duncan leaned against the computer desk. "Friends. I hate the idea of the Horsemen, the terror and destruction they caused, the blood they spilled--but they protected him, they kept him alive."
Joe harrumphed. "It's hard seeing Melvin Koren as a protector."
"Don't get me wrong, Joe. Kronos wasn't a saint by a long shot. He kept Methos alive, but only to use him. Just as it sounds like this Mael did."
Joe looked up at Duncan. "We aren't doing that, too, are we?"
Duncan shook his head. "No, we were protecting the idiot before we knew he could be of any use to us at all. You didn't even know he was Immortal, much less the mythical Methos, when you befriended him. And if all I wanted to do was use him, I would have taken his head when he offered it to me just hours after we met. Besides, to put up with his mouth as long we have, I think we both qualify as saints."
Joe sighed. "When I was three and four years old, I was running around in the backyard playing in the dirt, and getting tucked into bed at night by my mom."
Duncan smiled. "That sounds familiar."
"He watched a man kill his mother and became this man's captive. Shit, Mac. I knew his Immortal past had its moments of unimaginable violence, but I hoped for his sake that his mortal years were less excessive."
"That was his hope too. These memories are taking a lot out of him, Joe. I wonder if it is a good thing that he's remembering."
"I wonder if this is not the time of the prophecy, Mac. He said he thought Mael was at some critical juncture of his existence. Maybe Methos is too."
"God, we're starting to become experts on prophecy now. Remember when you just Watched, and all I had to worry about was the Game? For nearly four hundred years that served me well. Now--now it's not enough. This Mael is older than Methos! Yet, he's not an Immortal. It boggles the mind."
"So does the number of mortal deaths he leaves in his wake. This is one bad fucker."
"I know. And I'm helpless against him. I doubt if beheading will have much of an impact on him."
"We'll just have to play by his rules."
"But the only one who can possibly understand those rules barely remembers them. Methos is doing all of this on the fly. You didn't see him when the demon first attacked. He was so vulnerable--scared to death and completely baffled. That he learned how to counteract the demon's magic so quickly speaks well of his mental acuity, but I doubt Mael is going to give him a few minutes to adjust and adapt."
"Then he'll bluff and stall until he has the time he needs. You know him, MacLeod. He plays to win. And remember, he knows this Mael guy, probably has a detailed map of every button this man has. I don't know about you, but when the situation demanded, I could play my dad very well."
"My ma said no one could anger or frustrate Ian MacLeod as fast as I could, not even her. You're right; Methos will buy the time he needs and Mael won't even know it."
"Right. So all we have to do is to make sure he's on his feet by the time we find this son of a bitch."
"How close is he to tracking him?"
Joe frowned at the screen. "The most recent mass suicide was in Africa. But I'm not sure if all of these are related to Mael; there's lots of other sick bastards out there. Actually, there's been a lot of activity in Africa this century. If these are Mael's kills, Methos is right. These incidences are increasing. My guess is that your 'coming thing' is Mael's juncture."
"And Methos' juncture." Mac looked over at the figure on the bed. "Well, every teen has to go through a rite of passage, right?"
"Yeah, but most don't involve total world destruction. He would have to do it the hard way."
"He--" Duncan stopped when Methos sat up suddenly. Half a second later, Duncan was gathering his katana and tossing Methos his Ivanhoe. Joe reached for the pistol in his pocket.
"Duncan!" a voice called from the elevator which had started moving. "Duncan, it's me, Cassandra."
"Duncan?" Cassandra looked at the blade pointed at her, then saw the gun also pointed in her direction. Confused, she turned to the Immortal. "Duncan, please. I've come to warn you. The Old Ones have foretold of evil--"
"Is that my cue?" Methos came out of the shadows, allowing his Presence to be felt.
"You!" She glared at Duncan accusingly. "I knew you wanted him to live, but you kept this offal as a friend?"
"Still singing the same old song, Cassandra?" Methos asked, negligently tossing his sword onto the bed. "Since I know the tune by heart, I think I'll go back to bed."
"Sounds like a good idea, Methos," Duncan said, reaching out for his visitor's arm. "Cassandra and I will take this downstairs so we won't bother you." He guided her back into the elevator, nodding to Joe who nodded back. Methos would be protected.
"Duncan, how could you have remained friends with that killer? You know what he is!"
"Yes, he's the man who's been Hunted for the last several months. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
"If I want him dead, I'll do it myself," Cassandra said with a defiant toss of her auburn hair.
"As long as it stays just between you and him, I have no problem with that. But if you've come to Challenge now, I ask that you come back in a few months. He doesn't need the distraction at the moment."
"You've given him sanctuary here? From what? These Hunters?"
"From whatever he needs protecting, Cassandra. That includes you." The dojo was empty and Duncan remembered his manager had closed for the evening in order to attend a karate tournament.
Cassandra opened her mouth to protest, then shook her head. "I didn't come here to discuss him. I came to warn you."
"So you said. Another prophecy?"
"Yes, actually. But--I'm not sure that you are involved in it personally, Duncan. All I know is that the evil seemed to be directed to this place."
Duncan nodded, suspecting that Cassandra's prophecy was going to intersect with the partial one Methos had revealed. "Tell me."
Cassandra closed her eyes, centering herself. "The Old Ones have written:Darkness approaches out of the east,
Heralding the advent of the hungry beast.
It's great evil seeks to brand the years,
And begin the millennia of wretched tears.
But for one, the beast will reign;
All will suffer the chaos and pain.
Enter, though, he born of fire and night,
Covered in blood, yet awash with light.
Empowered by the elements of the ages,
Guided by the wisdom of chosen sages,
Only by his hand shall the taint be diminished,
Only by his will shall the beast be finished.
Beware, however, the allure of power;
For at his feet the world could cower.
Within him the left hand battles the right.
Internal strength will determine the fight.
Receptacle of life, crucible of hate,
It is his heart that holds the world's fate."
"Well, at least this one is easier to interpret," Duncan said with a sigh. "But I guess it helps that I already knew the basics; the prophecy just adds details."
"You knew? So, this is about you."
"No. I am the Solstice Child, the Champion. The Child of Fire--the one destined to defeat the beast--is upstairs."
Cassandra frowned, then paled. "No! If Methos is anything, he's the beast."
Duncan shook his head. "The beast's name is Mael. He's already sent a demon after Methos, and now that you've been ruled out, I suspect he's also the one behind the Hunters. Come into the office and write the prophecy down for me. It might come in handy while we ride this thing out."
"Ride-- Duncan, you are wrong! This can't be about Methos."
Duncan grabbed a notepad and a pen. "Methos was born during a huge volcanic eruption--a child of fire, and the darkness caused by the ash and smoke would definitely make it night. What else did you say? Something about covered in blood and--"
"'Awash with light,'" Cassandra filled in.
Duncan grinned. "Definitely Methos."
"This is madness," she said, snatching the notepad from his hand. She cupped his jaws and pulled him close to stare deep into his eyes. "What has he done to you, Duncan? How has he clouded your mind so?"
"My mind is not clouded and my thoughts are my own," Duncan said, his gaze unwavering. "Thanks to you getting me involved in the Horsemen, I saw the real Methos. If only you would lift the veils of hate, I know, with the Sight you possess, you could see him, too."
"Even if you are right, if Methos is the one spoken of in the prophecy, don't you see that we are all doomed? The Methos I know reveled in power. He achieved rapture by watching the world quiver at his feet. He will succumb to the power the beast offers. He will destroy all."
Duncan leaned forward and softly brushed his lips against hers. "No. He won't." He stepped away from her and reclaimed the notepad. "Do you want to write it down, or just dictate it to me?"
Cassandra sighed. "You will end up regretting your faith in him, Duncan, just as I did."
"He is not the same man you knew, Cassandra. And I think that even then, he did not betray your faith."
"He gave me to Kronos!"
"He gave you your life. In your heart you know that."
"All I know is that he slaughtered everyone I loved."
"And gave you the chance to love again. Think about all the people who came into your life after you escaped the Horsemen. Methos is the reason you had the opportunity to know and love them." Duncan shook his head. "You're dismissing two thousand years of love and laughter in order to concentrate on a few months of misery. Surely you see the wrongness in that?"
Cassandra closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Tell me about the beast. You called him Mael?"
"He's a magician older than Methos, but not an Immortal. He uses mortal life to extend his own. Come with me upstairs and I'll let Joe show you what Methos has discovered."
She nodded and followed him out of the office. "How do you know the beast's name?"
"Mael raised Methos when he was mortal."
Cassandra stood beside Duncan in the small elevator, and wondered what she could do to save him. Methos had apparently spent the past few years ensnaring her young Champion, tangling him up in a well-designed web of glib lies and beseeching looks. She, too, had fallen for the same wiles in her youth. But Methos was slipping in his old age. He had always claimed not to have remembered his mortal years, and now he was remembering them so clearly that he could name his father? But then, even she knew the name of Satan.
"Everything okay, Mac?"
The mortal stood to one side, his hand in his pocket. She recognized him as the one who'd helped her and Duncan track down Caspian. He was a--Watcher. And another one, she thought sadly. Another one Methos had blinded. But she wasn't surprised. He'd always had a way with mortals. Even in the Horsemen's camp, Methos had been the favorite among the slaves. He'd received the choicest of fruits, the leanest cuts of meat, the freshest water. His horse had been given a larger portion of feed, his garments cleaned with the most care, and the wench chosen to serve him had been well-bathed and perfumed before sent to his tent.
Spoiled and pampered. As she handed Duncan her coat, and therefore her sword, her eyes went to the body stretched out across the bed, a blanket thrown lovingly across him. The Horsemen had treated him like royalty too. Silas would bring in small animals to amuse Methos, hoping to receive some small sign of his brother's approval--a smile, a laugh, a pat on the back or arm. She remembered the time Caspian returned to camp after looting some small village he'd happened to run across. It was true that the brothers shared everything, but small raids like that never mattered and the bounty belonged exclusively to the particular Horseman. That evening as she was preparing to feed Methos, Caspian had stalked into the tent and tossed a polished tiger's eye gem into Methos' lap. The cannibal had grumbled that it wasn't a gift; it just looked too much like one of Methos' eyes and he didn't want something that ugly near him. Nevertheless, Methos had thanked him effusively--for the gift and the compliment-- and she had seen the smile Caspian tried to hide as he walked away. And Kronos loved spoiling Methos. Here, Brother, this fleece should keep you warm this winter; Brother, I found this scroll in the headman's tent and thought you'd like to add it to your collection; This whore is the most talented in the world and I brought her home to you, Brother.... She was convinced that the only reason Kronos made an issue of her was because he was jealous of the time Methos spent with her.
"I think Mael is farther east now," the mortal was saying, after Duncan recited the prophecy for him. "I looked at the pattern of kills and thought it had been too long since the last one, so I contacted some of the Watchers in the Middle East because I know a lot of what happens over there doesn't reach the Western news sources. There have been three cult massacres in the past four years in southern Iraq and another in Iran."
"Mael's running out of time, isn't he?"
"It appears that way. I think he's reached the all-or-nothing point. That's why the directed attacks against Methos."
Cassandra cleared her throat, miffed for a second that the two men seemed to have forgotten about her. "Duncan, you said a demon had been sent after Methos. What happened to it?"
Duncan shared a glance with the mortal. "Methos absorbed it."
She took a step back. "There's a demon possessing him? And you're just allowing him to sleep in your bed?"
"It's.... It isn't exactly a possession," Duncan explained clumsily. "The demon originated from Methos in the first place, so it's more like the energy of the demon just went back home."
Cassandra was outraged. "Are you listening to yourself? Are you hearing what you're saying? This vile creature whom you call friend, conjures demons from his soul. He is drawing the darkness from the east to you, putting you in its direct path. He's placing you as a barrier, the same as he put you between him and Kronos. He's protecting himself at your cost."
"Actually, I'm the one who made the offer to stand shield for him. I would do so for any friend, but especially for Methos. He's stood by me in my darkest hours, and I mean that literally. When everyone else was running for the hills, Methos stayed at my side--despite the very real danger that I would kill him. I lost faith in myself; he never did. I owe him the same loyalty."
"Even if it means your death?"
"A small sacrifice if it ensures his continued existence."
Cassandra bit back a scream. "What about the sacrifice of the mortal? He stands in the path also."
"The mortal can speak for himself, and the name is Joe Dawson, in case you've forgotten." Joe stared at her stonily. "It's my life, lady, and Methos is my friend. If you have problems with that, go home!"
Cassandra crossed her arms and turned away. Goddess, help her! Men could be so frustrating at times. How did he do it? How did he so confound the minds and hearts of so many? What manner of demon was he? And may the Ancient Ones protect them if Methos truly was the only one able to defeat the beast. He had neither the internal strength nor the heart to put down the evil. The left hand path was already too much a part of him. Maybe at one point in his life, he could have been the defender the world needed, but the evil was too strong in him now.
She hadn't realized how close she'd drifted to him as she thought until she was at the side of the bed. Perhaps it was the youth that appeared when he slept that called to tender hearts, the gangly long limbs, the unlined face.... No, it was the eyes, she realized as they suddenly opened to engage hers. It was his eyes, oddly-colored, perhaps hypnotic, that reached out and put a vise around another's soul. A snake's eyes. Or a god's.
Cassandra gasped as pressure built against her chest, then she screamed as she found herself flying through the air.
Perhaps it was his warrior instincts, or maybe a lingering trace of the connection he'd shared with Methos in an abandoned submarine base in Bordeaux, but for some reason Duncan felt the danger building in his loft. Turning unerringly toward Methos, he stiffened when he saw Cassandra standing over the bed. Before he could react to whatever threat she wielded, he watched in amazement as she was flung across the room, smacking against the far wall and sliding to the floor in a slump.
His eyes went back to Methos. The Immortal was sitting up in bed, stunned but obviously unhurt. Duncan hurried to Cassandra.
"Oops," he heard Methos say breathlessly.
"Oops?" Duncan felt for Cassandra's pulse and couldn't find it. "She's dead, Methos." He lifted her body and lowered it gently to the sofa.
Duncan looked up to find Methos and Joe had joined him at the sofa.
"I don't know what happened. I--I opened my eyes and she was leaning over me and...."
"And you kicked her butt across the room without lifting a hand," Joe said.
"I guess I thought she was a threat."
Duncan nodded, ashamed that he'd let an enemy get so close to the man he protected. "I'm sorry, Methos. Joe and I were checking some Watcher information and I lost track of her."
Methos shrugged. "You'd taken her sword, right? Then you thought I was safe."
"A sword isn't Cassandra's only weapon."
"Apparently it's not Methos' either." Joe looked at the Immortal he thought he knew. "What the hell did you do? You didn't blink, your nose didn't twitch--what the hell kind of mojo are you packing?"
Methos sprawled into a chair. "I don't know. I've never done anything like that before. I didn't know anything like that was possible."
"See if you can move me, Methos," Duncan offered, standing in front of the chair.
"This is insane, Mac."
Methos stared at him. He frowned. He flung his hands out. He blinked. He twitched his nose. Duncan remained where he was. "Nothing. It was just a fluke. Maybe it was Cassandra's magic coming back on her." He closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the chair.
Duncan walked determinedly toward the coat rack. Joe's eyes widened when he saw what Duncan carried with him when he returned.
Methos opened his eyes to see a sword descending toward his head. Instantly MacLeod was slammed against the kitchen island, his katana buried in his chest.
"Holy hell," Joe hissed as he hurried toward MacLeod.
Methos knelt beside the body, grabbed the hilt of the sword, and yanked it out. "Damn fool! I know Connor MacLeod taught him better than to joke around with a sword. I could have killed the idiot. A few inches higher and I could have--" He sank back onto his heels and dropped his face into cupped hands. "I could have killed him, Joe. That sword could have gone through his neck."
"But it didn't."
"Luck, Joe. I have no control over this--whatever this is. Maybe I'm better off on my own until I get a handle on this. I could go to MacLeod's cabin--"
"Mac's not going to let you go."
"Mac's dead. He doesn't get a say in this." Methos' head turned quickly and Cassandra gasped back to life. It took her a few seconds to get oriented and then she saw Duncan--and the bloody sword in Methos' hand.
"You bastard!" she screamed. "What have you done!"
"Stop!" Methos yelled, holding his hand up. There was nothing she could say to make him feel worse than he already did.
He knew from the way Joe said his name that he'd done something else. He lifted his eyes to the sofa and saw Cassandra frozen in the middle of getting up. "Fuck," he groaned. "I have to get out of here, get away from--"
"Don't do this," Joe pleaded.
"It's for your own good, especially yours, Joe. Don't you know what it would do to me if I accidently hurt you--or worse?"
"I'm more durable than I look."
Methos gave a sad smile, and indicated the two Immortals. "And so are they."
Duncan gasped and opened his eyes. He looked down at his bloody shirt and then at the sword Methos still held. "Dumb move, huh?"
"I have to leave, MacLeod. I'm a danger to everyone." Methos gestured toward Cassandra who was still frozen. She dropped back to the sofa, free of his control. "I don't know what I'm doing, or how I'm doing it. And I don't want to hurt you, any of you."
"We'll just keep sharp objects out of your way," Duncan said.
"I didn't need a weapon to kill Cassandra. I won't need a weapon to kill Joe."
"You shouldn't be alone. It's not safe."
"I'll go to your cabin. It's Holy Ground. I should be safe there."
"From other Immortals perhaps. But what of Mael?"
"Another reason I should leave. Mael is after me--"
"Wrong. Mael is after the world," Duncan said adamantly.
"Cassandra brought us a prophecy. It speaks of an evil which will send the world into several thousands years of chaos and pain, and only you--born of fire and night--can stop it. The fate of the world rests in your heart, Methos."
"No!" Methos scrambled to his feet. "I can't take that kind of responsibility. It's not me, MacLeod. I'm no fucking hero! I don't want to save the world. Hell, I don't even like it that much. Bloody cell phones going off. Security cameras watching your every fucking move. God-awful reality TV. Trust me--none of those people were real survivors. No. I am not the one to save this crap. I'm not a leader or a savior or even a bloody custodian. Don't force me into your mold."
Duncan stood, his hands held out in an non-threatening manner, wary of what an emotional Methos could now do. "I'm not forcing you into anything that wasn't yours from the beginning, Methos. Mael knew what you were born to be. I know it now. And so do you. Bitching and whining isn't going to change it, my friend. When I killed Richie, I wanted to escape, I wanted to die. But fate demanded I play the role I was born to fill. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide."
"But it wasn't a role for you. You were always good, Duncan. You were always the protector. But the whole idea of me being a savior of the world is ludicrous. I'm just as evil as Mael. I have the blood of thousands on my hands."
"And you have the light of the universe inside you."
Methos looked at the sword in his grip, and handed it to Duncan. "Then take the light inside you, where it will do some good." Duncan took a shocked step back. "Please, MacLeod. I'm not the one to fight this battle."
The Highlander shook his head. "I remember you telling me I couldn't fight your battles. You were right. Even with your light, I would be no match for a master magician. But you are. You've proved that." He placed a protective hand over his abdomen.
"I've only proved that I'm a danger to my friends. Mael may have taught me his craft, but I don't remember."
"Yet, Methos. You don't remember yet. But memories of the Time Before are coming back to you, aren't they? More than you've let us know."
"I remember--doing terrible things. Fa--Father said I had to. Father said...." Methos moaned and backed up against a wall. "I can't do this. I don't have the heart, MacLeod. I never did."
"Lie to yourself, but not to me, Methos. I've seen your heart. It's more than enough."
He turned his head to see Cassandra standing beside MacLeod, holding an apple. "Playing Eve now, Cass? But adding a twist by tempting the serpent instead of Adam? Oh, I guess in a way you are tempting Adam. Good show, old girl."
She ignored his words. "Focus on the apple, and when I let it go, don't let it drop." She released it, and the apple remained in the air. "Can you see the energy you've wrapped around the apple, Methos? Can you see how it holds it in place?"
"Now take the energy away." The apple dropped. "I can't help you with your heart, Methos, but I can teach you to control your gift."
Methos' gaze fell to the dented apple. Then his eyes met his enemy's. "Is that a formal offer?"
"Because I care about what happens to the world. Because I care about Duncan. Because I want to be around to keep you from totally destroying him."
"I don't want his destruction either."
"Then we have nothing to argue, do we?"
Methos sighed, and wiped his face with the back of his hand. "Mac, what's a guy have to do around here to get an hour of uninterrupted sleep?"
"You just have to ask."
Duncan took Methos' elbow and guided the exhausted man back to the bed. "This will work out, Methos. You'll see."
The old Immortal laughed tiredly. "Of course it will. Who or what could possibly stand against a 'Dream Team' consisting of a Wizard, a Warrior, a Watcher, and a Witch?"
"The prophecy. I'll tell it to you when you wake up."
A hand clamped around the Scot's wrist. "I'm not you, MacLeod."
"No, lucky for the world, you're not."
"Mael won't fight by the rules."
"Neither will you. I've seen you fight to win."
"No. You've seen me fight when I knew I could win. You've never seen me fight when I'm doubting the outcome, and there's no chance of a strategic retreat. It can get--ugly."
"Then promise me something. Promise me that you won't hold back because you're afraid of offending, disgusting, or disappointing me. I want you to win, Methos, and the only price I'm not willing to pay is your life. Later, if it means that much to you, we can have long, loud arguments about your questionable tactics and seeming disregard for all rules. But in order for us to do that, you have to live."
"And the world has to exist."
Duncan smiled. "We're going to turn you into a hero yet, Old Man."
"Perish the thought. As soon as this matter is dealt with, I'm turning back into the selfish, beer-swilling, manipulating, plain ol' guy that I am. Under--" Methos yawned, "--stand?"
"Sure, Methos, whatever you say. Now go to sleep. You have two Immortals and an armed mortal watching your back."
"I have need of only one. You have the watch, MacLeod." Methos rolled over and promptly fell asleep.
Duncan walked over to Joe who had parked himself in front of the computer again. "Where's Cassandra?" He really needed to get over misplacing her.
"At the Sheraton. Said she'd be back in the morning for his first lesson. That should make things real interesting around here."
"Aye, it will."
"The witch bears watching, MacLeod. Methos is tramping on new and shaky ground. He can't be counted on to watch his own back," Joe warned.
"I know. I'll be more vigilant. I won't let anything happen to him."
"Watch yourself, too. She's a sneaky one."
"You don't like her much, do you?"
"Arrogant beauties aren't my taste, Mac. And she singlehandedly almost destroyed the relationship between you and the Old Man. That's hard for me to forgive."
"Aren't you forgetting Kronos and the Horsemen?"
Joe shook his head. "They were just the situation. She's the one who wanted to use you as a weapon against Methos."
"That's the past, Dawson. As he would say, accept it and move on."
"I'll accept the past when she does. She says she's hanging around to keep an eye on him. Well, I'm doing the same."
Duncan rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. Life was definitely going to be challenging for a while. "How about some dinner, Joe?"
"Sounds good. I thought I was gonna have to call the Nanny's Association and complain about my lack of perks."
Duncan shook his head and made his way to the kitchen, making a mental note to go shopping tomorrow. It seemed that he was going to have a full house for the foreseeable future.
Foreseeable future. He looked at the slumbering figure who would make sure they had one, and smiled. Methos played the suffering, reluctant hero very well. But Mael was in for a hell of a surprise if he thought he had a chance of becoming this mega-evil the prophecy warned of. Reluctant or not, the ultimate den mother wouldn't let anything happen to his cubs.
After all, if the world was destroyed, where would he buy his beer?
Comments? D.L. Witherspoon
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