A Warrior's Quest
by Ashlyn Donnchaid

continued from part one...


Methos had watched as the scene played itself out. He had not been sure which direction MacLeod's mind would take the visions, but he'd had some suspicions. From what he had seen of the one side of the decidedly surreal tableau, all the people he had expected had put in an appearance. What was yet to be told was what insight they might have given to MacLeod.

He moved to his sleeping friend and draped a blanket over him. Putting another log on the fire, he brought a covered pot to the edge of the coals and started it warming. He sat down next to MacLeod to wait for him to wake.

It was a couple of hours before a small movement next to him caught his attention. MacLeod turned his head and looked at him, still a little disoriented. Methos greeted him with a little smile. "Welcome back."

MacLeod struggled to sit up. "Thanks. I think." He pointed to the beer in Methos' hand. "You got one of those for me?"

"How do you feel?" He handed the beer to MacLeod.

MacLeod took a long pull on the bottle, then looked at Methos. "Hungry. Thirsty. A little confused still. Exhausted. No, more than that. Like I've been through the wringer, physically and emotionally." Another long drink from the bottle. "But at peace. It's strange."

"You want to talk about it?"

MacLeod shook his head. "Not yet. It still doesn't make much sense." He nodded at the pot on the edge of the fire. "I don't suppose that's food?"

Methos smiled. "It is." He spooned the stew into bowls, handing one to MacLeod. "As soon as you feel up to it, we'll head back." After they ate and had another beer, MacLeod tried standing up. Deciding that his success meant it was time to leave, they packed what they could carry with them that evening and made their way slowly down to the cottage.

By the time they got back, MacLeod was almost asleep on his feet. Methos sent him to bed, then spent a few minutes putting away what they'd brought back. He got himself a beer and sat on the couch for a while, listening to the steady breathing of the first peaceful sleep MacLeod had had in weeks. When his beer was gone, he went to bed himself.

When Methos woke in the morning, MacLeod was still asleep. He sat up carefully, not wanting to wake the other man, then just looked at him for a minute. This had been the first night without nightmares, and he was pleased to see the calm on MacLeod's face. He resisted the temptation to reach over and smooth the stray hairs off his face, and got up quietly instead.

He made coffee and took care of a few things in the cottage before checking on MacLeod one more time. Satisfied that he was sleeping soundly, Methos went up to the cave to retrieve more of what he'd taken there. Blankets were folded and the cook pot emptied and stowed. When he got back to the cottage, he found MacLeod sitting outside waiting for him.

"Why didn't you wake me? I'd have gone with you." He reached to take one of the bags from Methos.

"Thought about it. Then I decided it wouldn't be fair to interrupt your first decent night's sleep." He gave MacLeod a little grin as they stowed things in the storage shed. "But don't count on that tomorrow."

"I won't." He let a little smile tug at one corner of his mouth. "Is there more to bring back?"

"One more trip should do it. No hurry, though. Finish your coffee." He closed the shed and went in the cottage. Pouring himself some coffee, he joined MacLeod, who had gone back to where he'd been sitting on the porch.

He turned and looked up as Methos came out. "You know what you said? About the decent night's sleep?" Methos nodded. "I didn't think about it when I first woke up, but you were right. No nightmares." He sipped his coffee, then continued softly. "And the strangest thing was, last night I knew that's the way it would be."

"Are the visions starting to make sense?"

"A little. They're still really fragmented, but I'm starting to sort it out."

Methos turned his chair to face MacLeod. "But not ready to talk about it yet."

"No. Not quite. But soon." He fidgeted with his mug for a minute before looking up at Methos. "How did you know about the Lakota ceremonies?"

Methos sat for a moment before he answered. "Joe and I recognized that you were speaking Sioux after..." He trailed off, unsure how to say what had happened.

"After I killed him," MacLeod finished for him.

"We thought you might follow their mourning rituals. And I'm a researcher by nature. So I researched."

MacLeod pressed one hand against his eyes. "Joe must hate me now."

"Hate you? No. He doesn't hate you." He leaned toward MacLeod. "Should people hate you? Did you mean to kill him?"

"No." MacLeod's voice was barely a whisper. "I didn't mean to kill him." He put down his coffee and put both hands to his face, trying to stop the tears. "I can't talk about this. Not yet."

Methos stood and put a hand on his shoulder. "It's OK. We have plenty of time." He went inside and poured himself more coffee, then stood leaning against the counter. He hoped he knew what he was doing. At times, it seemed like MacLeod was starting to deal with things, other times he wondered if he was out of his league trying to handle a problem like this one. He ran a hand across his eyes. Who did an immortal go to when his world was collapsing around him? He hoped that caring and friendship would be enough to give MacLeod the strength to find himself.

His thoughts were interrupted by MacLeod coming in to the kitchen, his face still damp. He filled his cup, then leaned against the counter next to Methos. "I know this isn't easy for you, either." They stood in silence until MacLeod turned and put his cup down. "Why don't we go get the last of the things from the cave."

The hike up the hill was pleasant, it was a warm spring day and they made good time. MacLeod went in the cave first. Methos was close behind him, but stopped when he saw MacLeod standing motionless by the fire pit. A shiver went through MacLeod's body, and he turned without a word and left the cave. Methos watched as he sat against a tree and stared into the woods. He finished gathering what needed to be taken back, setting it outside the cave, then went to sit next to MacLeod.

"What happened in there?"

MacLeod turned to look at him, his eyes still wide with fear. "It all came back. How alone I was. How hopeless it all seems." He shook his head a little as if to clear it, then went on. "They all kept saying it. That I had killed or driven away anyone who might help me. That I was on my own. And I was. When the visions ended there was nothing, just total darkness and isolation."

"Is that what really happened?" Methos asked gently. "Have you driven everyone away?"

"Those I haven't killed."

"Fine." Methos stood up, picked up his gear and started down the hill. "See you around."

MacLeod followed, clearly confused. "Where are you going?"

"I'm leaving." He stopped and turned to face MacLeod. "I don't want to stay where I'm not needed."

"What do you mean?"

"If you've driven away everyone important, I guess those of us who are left don't count." He turned and started to walk away, stopped suddenly by an iron grip on his arm.

"Stop that," MacLeod growled. "That's not what I meant."

"Isn't it?" He pulled his arm out of MacLeod's grip. "Why don't you figure out what you did mean and then come tell me." He turned and continued down the hill, leaving MacLeod standing speechless behind him. He'd put everything away at the cottage and had taken time to think for a few minutes. He knew he'd over-reacted to what MacLeod said, but the pain of MacLeod's rejection of him when he uncovered the past was still too fresh. What had been said on the hill only seemed to confirm that rejection. He wasn't considered one of the people who could help. Why stay? Why bother? The realization that MacLeod was still reacting to the visions from both Paris and the day before only tempered his anger a little. He was stretched out in the sunshine when he felt MacLeod's approach.

"Methos?"

"What, MacLeod?" He didn't open his eyes.

"Can we talk?" MacLeod's voice was hesitant.

He cracked open his eyes to see MacLeod standing next to him, his expression at once pleading and confused. Sighing, he sat up. "Get me a beer. Then we'll talk."

MacLeod nodded, then went inside. He came out with two bottles, handing one to Methos, and sat down opposite him, waiting expectantly.

"If you're waiting for me to start this, you're going to be waiting a long time." Methos leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Methos, please. I'm not sure I understand what happened up there."

"Fine." Methos sat up, posture stiff. "I'll give you the condensed version." He ticked off each point on a finger as he spoke. "You said the visions told you that you'd killed or driven off anyone who could help you. I asked if you thought you had. You said yes. I said since I wasn't needed, that I'd leave. You said that wasn't what you meant. I told you to think about it and let me know what you did mean." He picked up his beer. "And I'm waiting." He sat back again.

MacLeod stared at the beer in his hands for a long time. He finally looked up and spoke quietly. "I guess this is it, then." He stood up and started pacing slowly. "It's not what I meant up there. I was ... maybe I don't know what I meant. You thought I meant to push you away again. I didn't, but I should have known we couldn't avoid this much longer. But it may call for more than beer to get through this." He went in the cottage and got two more beers along with a bottle of scotch and two glasses. "Do you want to start or shall I?"

"This is your party, MacLeod." Methos sat up and leaned his elbows on his knees. "I'll leave it up to you."

MacLeod sat down and leaned his elbows on the table. "Why didn't you just come to me for help with Kronos? Did you think I'd refuse?"

Trust MacLeod to cut to the heart of the matter. They'd been carefully avoiding that discussion, but it was the crux of what had driven them apart. Ignoring it hadn't made it go away, and it was time to face it. Whether the friendship could be salvaged was yet to be seen. "Two reasons. There was no time. I was trying to talk to you at the dojo, but you already had Cassandra there. And then I knew once she'd told you her story, there was no way you'd listen to me."

"And you lied about who you were. Said you didn't know her." MacLeod got up and started pacing again.

"Right. What should I have said? 'Sure, I'm the bastard she told you about'? You'd have let her challenge me right there and I didn't want to kill her. Then or three thousand years ago." He drained the last of his beer and opened another.

"Did you care for her?"

"In a way." Methos smiled wryly. "Like you would a pet cat. You take care of them, you get used to having them around. You like them and share some good moments. But that's all."

MacLeod stopped pacing and turned to look at Methos. "How can you say that? She's a human being, not an animal."

"Back then, she was less than either of those. She was a slave." He leaned back heavily in his chair. "I don't expect you to be able to understand that. For what it's worth, she was treated better than most of the slaves of the times."

"No. I don't understand." MacLeod had gone back to his slow pacing. "It's a kind of slavery I've only read about. And it's not our real problem, either." He finished his beer and poured himself a scotch. "I still need to know why you didn't tell me what you'd been."

Methos let out a long breath. "Did you ever ask me?"

"What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. Did you ever ask me who I'd been?" His voice had started to get harsher. "You met Adam Pierson. Quiet. Studious. A little cynical. You figure out that he's actually Methos. But you decide that Adam Pierson fits the model you have for the oldest immortal. Did you really believe I'd sat drinking beer and working on chronicles for 5000 years? Did you ever try to find out?"

"No, damn it!" Now MacLeod's voice had an edge to it. "I figured if you wanted to talk about your past, you would."

Methos laughed. "That's rich. Really rich. You figured I'd talk if I wanted to, and since I didn't want to, now you say I've been withholding information." He took a long pull on his beer. "You can't have it both ways." Then a thought struck him. "It isn't so much who I was as you not knowing about it, isn't it?"

MacLeod had contained his anger and sat down. He couldn't meet Methos' eyes as he spoke. "At first it was who you'd been. When I had time to think about it, I knew I couldn't judge who you were based only on what happened 3000 years ago. That's when I started wondering what else you'd been, and realized I knew nothing. And it hurt that you'd never trusted me enough to tell me any of it." He drained his glass and filled it again.

"I was afraid to," Methos answered him quietly. "Simple as that. Some of my past is so ugly that I get up every morning and check to make sure the door is still locked on it. I know I can't change it, and I know it's part of who I am, but that doesn't mean I have to trot it out for your examination and judgement."

"Damn it, Methos, I know you have things you don't want to talk about. So do I. My point is that you haven't told me anything." He met Methos' gaze. "And yet, you know everything about me."

Trust and confidence. Finally the real issues were on the table. "And you resent that, don't you."

"Yes," MacLeod hissed, "I do. I've thought about it a lot. It isn't just that I didn't tell you and you didn't tell me. It's you -- reading my chronicles, knowing everything there was about me, and not feeling you should share anything about yourself with me."

Methos shook his head. "I read lots of chronicles, not just yours. Don't flatter yourself."

"And how many of them did you take as lovers?"

Broken trust. Betrayal. Hurt. Anger. MacLeod's emotions were palpable. Methos' emotions were more carefully hidden, but he'd been hurt by MacLeod's words too many times. He struck back in kind.

"You think I was trolling the chronicles looking for an easy lay?" He made sure MacLeod was looking at him as he continued. "If that was all I wanted, I'd have picked somebody with a lot more experience and a lot less self-righteousness." From the look on MacLeod's face, he'd hit his mark. He watched as MacLeod put a hand to his eyes, then turned away. Methos looked away himself, waiting for the return blow. It never came. He finally looked back at MacLeod, who still had his hand over his eyes, tears streaking his cheeks.

"I don't want to fight with you, Methos." He wiped his face with the back of his hand. "I had hoped we could find a way to get back what we had. I guess it's too late for that." He stood up and started to walk away slowly.

"Duncan," Methos called to him. He stopped, but didn't turn back. "Too much has happened. For us, there is no going back." MacLeod was still, his shoulders slumped in defeat. "But maybe we can go forward."

MacLeod turned to face Methos. "What do you mean?"

"We accept what's happened. Add it to who we are. We don't have to like all of it, just live with it." MacLeod nodded. "Then we go on from there. See if there's anything left for us."

"You think that'll work?" MacLeod came back and sat down.

"I don't know. I think it's the only chance we have." Methos reached over and filled MacLeod's glass. "I'd like to try."

The silence grew while MacLeod considered what had been said. "I'd like to try, too." He put the second glass in front of Methos and filled it. "But there have to be two things we agree on." Methos had reached for the glass, and his hand halted in midair. He wasn't willing to have conditions placed on their friendship. MacLeod continued. "First, I don't worry about who knows what about who, and I remember that the man I see is who you really are. Second, if something from your past comes calling, you tell me about it. You trust me to understand. And maybe, sometimes, if the mood strikes you, you tell me something just because you feel like it." Methos finished reaching for the glass, and MacLeod held his up. "Will you agree to that?"

Touching his glass to MacLeod's, Methos smiled. "I can agree to that. To friends?"

"Friends."

And maybe a little bit more, Methos thought. If we're lucky. He hadn't wanted to have that discussion yet, thinking it would only add to MacLeod's problems. Looking at his relaxed pose, he realized he'd been wrong. The strain of the questions about their relationship had been part of the problem. With it out in the open, they could talk more if they needed to, and not dance around like it didn't exist. He sat back with a little smile. Maybe now they could work on the rest of what was haunting MacLeod.

The sun was setting and the scotch was nearly gone when they decided it was time to move inside. MacLeod went to the kitchen and started dinner and Methos laid a fire, then joined him in the kitchen, offering suggestions about seasonings that were quickly ignored.

"Too bad all my good recipes are in Paris. It's a shame having to rely on your memory," he told MacLeod.

"My memory's served us well so far. I've seen some of your recipes." He glanced at Methos. "I haven't developed a taste for nouvelle cuisine, but I think I'd prefer it to some of your old favorites."

"You're a philistine, MacLeod." Failing to get a rise out of him, Methos changed the subject. "I was thinking ... it should be warm tomorrow. I'd like to walk down to the creek."

"Here, taste this." He held out a spoon to Methos. "That would be fine. You want to pack a few things and make a day of it?"

"Needs pepper." He watched as MacLeod added a pinch. "It's about two miles by the trail. Yeah. It would be a nice way to spend the day."

"Sounds like a plan, then. This is done. Get a couple of plates, will you?" They ate at the kitchen table, then, after cleaning up, relaxed in the living room in front of the fire. They read until the fire burned down and yawns were more numerous than pages turned.

"Bed, MacLeod. Now. You still need some decent sleep." Methos was concerned that the afternoon's talk would reopen MacLeod's apprehension about sharing the bed with him. From the startled look on his face, he'd been right. "If you'd rather, I can sleep on the couch. It's not what I'd prefer, though. The bed is much more comfortable."

"No, you don't have to do that." MacLeod smiled sheepishly. "We're both adults, and we're not playing any games here. Just come to bed."

Methos woke in the morning to the aroma of fresh coffee and bacon frying. He got up and went to the kitchen where he found MacLeod busily working at the stove. "You're looking cheerful this morning."

"Did I wake you?" He poured Methos some coffee. "I didn't mean to." He drained the bacon and turned off the stove. "I'd almost forgotten how good sleep without nightmares felt."

"Glad to see you're feeling better." He gestured at the bacon. "What are you going to make to go with that? Since you got me up, you might as well finish making breakfast." MacLeod smiled and pulled a few things out of the fridge.

After breakfast, Methos stood up. "I've got a couple of things that need doing before we go. Shouldn't take long. I'll let you decide what to take with us." He went outside, leaving MacLeod to clean up in the kitchen.

He'd gotten most of the firewood split that they'd need for a few days when MacLeod came out, carrying two knapsacks. He looked at what Methos was doing and grinned. "What happened to 'get someone in'?"

Methos ignored him and reached for one of the packs. "I'm assuming you managed to fit beer in here somewhere."

"I did. But it'll be warm by the time we get there."

"The creek should still be cold." He put away the ax and slung the pack on his shoulder. "You ready?" MacLeod nodded. "Let's go, then." He started down the trail MacLeod had followed the first day.

With the switchbacks the trail had and needing to stop and clear a fallen tree, it took them almost two hours to get to where the trees gave way to the grassy banks of the creek. They made the first order of business to move some rocks, creating a spot to let the beer cool in the water. Methos found a place to relax in the grass, and watched as MacLeod followed the creek upstream a ways, then came back.

"How far does it go?" MacLeod gestured upstream.

Methos pointed at the hills in the distance. "To an artesian spring up there. I followed it all the way to the source once. Took three days." He grinned ruefully. "And so did the trip back." He lay back in the grass, hands under his head, as MacLeod pulled food and utensils out of the packs. The picnic lunch, cold beer and sunshine lulled him into an afternoon nap. When he woke, he stretched and looked at MacLeod, who was sitting with a stalk of grass in his teeth, looking over the meadow thoughtfully.

MacLeod looked at Methos and smiled. "Have a nice rest?" He took the grass from his mouth and used it to wave at the trees. "How long have you owned all this?"

Methos sat up and looked around. "About 150 years. The cottage was already here, but it needed a little work. It was one of those times I needed to get away and keep myself busy." He watched the expressions play across MacLeod's face as he figured out the time frame.

"It was after you left Byron, wasn't it?" MacLeod closed his eyes, his regret for bringing up the poet clear.

"Not long after. After we parted, I traveled with some gypsies for a while, but what I really needed was to be alone. I'd always liked this area, so I came back here."

"He really was brilliant." MacLeod spoke softly. "It was ... tragic ... to see what he'd become."

"He didn't like you too much, either." MacLeod looked at him with a start. Methos was smiling sadly as he remembered. "You can't deny how you two were sizing each other up when you met."

A faint flush showed on MacLeod's cheeks. "I guess we were. Hadn't realized it was that obvious."

"Maybe only to me. But I was what you were both posturing about, so I guess I should have noticed."

MacLeod's flush grew deeper. "I'd try to deny that, but I'd have to lie to do it."

"Just tell me one thing." Methos had pulled his knees up and was holding them, his head resting on his arms. "Tell me you didn't kill him out of jealousy."

"No, of course not." He picked at some grass idly. "It was his disregard for life. His own, the people around him. Mike may not have made the best choices, but he didn't deserve to be led to his death." He looked at Methos, and then reached over and touched his shoulder. Methos raised his head and knew that MacLeod saw the tear streaks on his face.

MacLeod's voice and expression softened. "Have you given yourself time to cry for him?" Not trusting his voice, Methos shook his head. "Whatever he'd become, you loved him. It's right to mourn that loss." He moved to sit next to Methos, then pulled him close, holding him as he wept quietly, gently stroking his hair. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm truly sorry I had to be the one to cause this pain."

He'd stopped crying, but still sat against MacLeod. "It would have happened. Even if it hadn't been you, it would have happened some time." He brought a hand to his face, wiping away the streaks. "Maybe it's better it was someone like you. At least you gave him a fair chance, and you were clean and quick."

MacLeod let go of Methos and took a cloth to the creek, dampening it thoroughly. He brought it back, then sat down facing him, watching as Methos wiped his face. "I wish it could have been somebody else. Seems like all we do lately is cause each other pain."

"I know. And we keep coming back for more." He looked up at MacLeod, a faint smile on his lips. "Makes you wonder about the masochistic tendencies in immortals, doesn't it?"

"Or at least a couple of them, right?" MacLeod stood up. "C'mon, let's get a beer and walk downstream a bit. I'd like to see what's down there."

Methos picked the beer out of the water, then led the way. The creek meandered through the valley, woods on one side, the meadow on the other. At one turn in the stream, it formed a pool that was populated with minnows. Early spring flowers were starting to bloom. When they got back to their packs, MacLeod looked at Methos. "This place is beautiful. I haven't seen any of it yet that wasn't peaceful and untouched. I could stay here a long time."

"It's like your island that way, isn't it?" He started putting things back in the packs. "A place so comfortable and soothing that it's almost more than home." He stopped what he was doing and looked around slowly. "It's also knowing that it's always here. A safe place to come to." He picked up the pack. "It's getting late. We'd better get going if we're going to make it back before dark."

They got back to the cottage as the last red streaks of the sunset faded. Methos gave his pack to MacLeod and stopped to pick up wood to start a fire. He was laying the fire when MacLeod came in with a questioning look on his face. "Were you expecting visitors today?"

"What?" Quickly, his confusion faded. "The delivery, right? Sorry. I should have told you. They come once a week when I'm here. I had them stock the place the day before we got here, so that would have been a week ago. Guess we'd better put it all away." He made sure the fire was burning before heading into the kitchen. Three large boxes were on the kitchen table. Pulling open the fridge, he saw it was stocked with everything he'd ordered. The rest of the supplies were dealt with, and he stood for a moment over the last box, staring into it.

"What is it?" MacLeod asked, unsure what could be so fascinating in a box of groceries. "Something wrong?"

"No. Couldn't be better." He reached in the box, then turned to MacLeod to show him the small box tied with string. He pulled the string off and opened the box. "Look. They had some." He had a smile on his face. Half a dozen chocolate dipped macaroons were nestled in the box. "There's a bakery in town that has made these for as long as I've been coming here." He grinned at MacLeod. "My secret weakness."

"You mean after beer, right?"

"Oh no. I'll drink any beer. These, on the other hand, can't be gotten anywhere else." He closed the box and set it on the counter. "You'll find out. After dinner. With coffee. The only way to properly appreciate them."

"Which reminds me. It's your turn to make dinner. I'm going to take a quick shower." MacLeod grinned and shook his head as he left the kitchen. "Macaroons. Amazing."

Methos had dinner well under way when MacLeod came back to the kitchen, dressed in a robe and pulling at his hair. "I don't suppose there's someone in that town you mentioned that could do something about this." He pulled at the places he'd cut handfuls out of his hair nearly two weeks before.

"I don't know about in town, but I can probably help you with it."

"You?"

Methos glanced at him, hiding a little grin. "I have been many things, MacLeod," he told him, quoting the phrase he'd used in the church in Bordeaux.

MacLeod's double take was all he could have hoped for, but he recovered quickly. "Right. So you spent some time as a hairdresser?"

"Barber, actually, but yes, I did." His expression turned serious. "I'd rather not go to town if we can avoid it. There's no danger, but I'd rather not chance running into any Watchers. And the stranger visiting the hermit in the stone cottage would have the town gossips busy for a long time."

"I see your point." MacLeod smiled. "Well, I trust you with my life, I guess I can trust you with my hair."

"Tomorrow then. We can work outside and the birds can have the trimmings for their nests." He went back to working at the stove.

After dinner, Methos brought the macaroons and coffee into the living room. They were as good as he remembered. Sweet and rich, the black coffee complemented them well. He looked at MacLeod, who was nibbling on one of the confections. "So, what do you think?"

"I never realized you had such a sweet tooth."

"Too rich for you?" MacLeod nodded apologetically. "That's OK. I know they're not to everybody's taste. As seldom as I get here, they're a treat for me, though."

MacLeod had put the macaroon down and gone to browse the bookshelf again. He selected a volume and relaxed onto the couch with his feet on the table.

"Which one are you reading now?"

MacLeod held the book so Methos could see the cover. "The Warlord of Mars."

"You know," Methos said thoughtfully, "you're a lot like John Carter."

MacLeod snorted. "Sure. I was just fighting a bunch of multi-armed green warriors the other day."

"No, really. Think about it. A man out of his time and place who adopts the people he finds as his own."

"I'm not out of my time and place." He closed the book and put it on the table.

"In a way you are. Who were you 400 years ago?"

"Same person I am now. Duncan MacLeod."

"Of the clan MacLeod." Methos continued talking as he went for more coffee. "Don't forget that part. The question is, what does that mean today?"

MacLeod shook his head in confusion. "Sorry, I don't see what you're after."

"400 years ago you had a clan, right?

"Right."

"You still claim clan affiliation." Methos came back in and sat down. "Who is your clan today?"

"The clan MacLeod still exists," he answered defensively.

"True. They do. But you're not the clan chieftain. You've moved on to other places and left the old clan behind. And yet, every time you introduce yourself, you claim the clan as part of who you are."

"And what would be wrong with that?" MacLeod was starting to get a little angry.

"Nothing at all." Methos got up and added another log to the fire, then sat by the hearth. "What I'm trying to get at is what it means to you."

MacLeod sat thoughtfully for several minutes, then looked up at Methos. "It's hard to express. Part of it, no, most of it, is the code of honor and justice I was raised with. Being part of the clan meant living by those beliefs. But you knew that already." Methos nodded, waiting for MacLeod to follow the thought to its conclusion. "Your question is what clan I'm living this code for."

"Precisely."

He looked at Methos, then went on quietly. "He asked the same thing. The hermit in my visions. He asked me if I knew who Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod was. And told me I needed that knowledge to defeat the evil. 'Be who you are' he said. 'Use it to defeat the evil'." He got up and went to the liquor cabinet, pouring each of them a brandy. "I didn't know what he meant then, and I don't know now."

Methos accepted the snifter, holding it in both hands. "Maybe we need to find out who Duncan MacLeod isn't."

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth**," MacLeod quoted with a little smile.

"Something like that." He got up from the hearth and sat in his chair, feet on the coffee table, settling in for a long talk. "Why don't you bring the brandy over and we'll figure out where we want to start."

Setting the bottle on the table between them, MacLeod relaxed on the couch and put his feet up as well. "I'd like to go back to what you said about John Carter."

"That's more what you are, not what you aren't, but OK. How do you think of John Carter?"

MacLeod thought for a moment. "He was a soldier, a bit of a dreamer. Found himself on the planet he dreamed about all the time. Made a home with the red people and fought battles against the others." His brow furrowed as he looked at Methos. "What else?"

Methos smiled encouragement at him. "Go on with that last thought."

"Made a home with the red people?" He sipped the brandy as he thought. "Like you said. A man out of his place and time. Found people to love and protect. Made a home." He looked questioningly at Methos. "A man who brought his sense of honor with him and extended it to his new family."

"And..."

"And you think that's what I do?"

Methos took his feet down and leaned toward MacLeod. "I think that's what you've had to do. You need family. It speaks of a rightness in the world for you to have people to watch over and take care of."

"So I gather my own clan? I don't know about that..."

"You do it almost unconsciously." He smiled at MacLeod. "You added me to your clan the day we met. Your insistence that you'd stay close in the face of Kalas. You scared the hell out of me. I hadn't had an offer of that sort of brotherhood in..."

"Two thousand years?" MacLeod finished for him. "I always wondered why you ran off after that. I knew something had spooked you, but I didn't know what."

"And now you do. But my need to accept your offer outweighed my fear of the consequences, and I came back." He leaned back in his chair. "But I'm just one example. Think about who else you have in your clan."

"Who are still around?" he asked bitterly. "Not so many left anymore. You. Joe. Not that I've always been that fair to him, either. Amanda. But I'm always trying to make her change her ways." He rubbed a hand across his face. "Pretty short list."

"You're thinking about it from the wrong angle. It's not about having one big happy family. It's about people that, however disappointed or angry with them you might be, if they need you, you don't question it, you're just there. Later they may get the benefit of your judgement, but not until the crisis has passed." He gave MacLeod a little smile. "I think I can speak from experience there."

"So you're saying I gather people who need taking care of?"

"No. Just that you insist on taking care of the people you gather."

MacLeod looked confused. "I don't see the problem with that."

"Did I say it was a problem?" He shook his head a little. "Don't tell me you've never thought about this before."

"I have," MacLeod sighed. "Mostly when I'm beating myself up about something I said or did. Trying to figure out if I did the right thing. Trying to see what else I could have done. Wondering why I always feel it's my responsibility to make decisions for people. Expecting them to live up to my standards."

Methos shifted back in his chair, then spoke quietly. "Do you live up to your ideals?" When MacLeod didn't answer, he went on. "You set impossibly high standards for yourself and your friends. But you're willing to forgive your friends for not living up to them. When do you forgive yourself?"

"It's not about forgiveness, it's about failure." He stood and walked to the window and stared into the darkness. "I have failed over and over, and friends are dead because of it." He turned to face Methos. "I wasn't strong enough to hold off the evil and Sean is dead. I wasn't clever enough to understand the demons and Richie is dead."

"I've always wondered," Methos began slowly, "if I hadn't driven up when I did, that Sean might have reached you. If I hadn't interrupted at just the wrong time and pushed you into killing him."

MacLeod walked quickly to Methos and put his hands on the other man's shoulders, looking him in the eyes. "No. It wasn't your fault. The decision had been made before you arrived. Don't ever think you were responsible for that." He straightened up and went to lean against the mantel over the fireplace, his head on his arm.

Methos stood and moved to MacLeod, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You weren't responsible for it either. You can't blame yourself for not being able to do what a hayoka couldn't do."

"It was my hand. It was my sword. Who else do I blame?"

He brought his other hand to MacLeod's shoulders and began massaging gently. "No wonder you're so tense. Must be hell to have the weight of the whole world right here."

MacLeod pulled away from him and went back to the couch. "What would you have me do? Forget the whole thing? Just say that it doesn't matter?"

"No. But you need to accept what's happened. Learn from it. Then let go of the anguish and move on. Find a way to turn something bad into something good."

"Lovely philosophy, but I don't think platitudes are going to help."

"I'm sorry that's what you think those are." Methos sat down again. "I was actually thinking of John Carter again." He nodded at MacLeod's questioning look. "When things are at the absolute worst for him, what one assurance does he always give himself?"

MacLeod searched his memory, and after long moments, looked at Methos with the beginnings of understanding. "I still live."

"Which means?"

"That as long as he lives, there's a chance to make it right, to succeed." He gave Methos a wry smile. "Are you sure you didn't help Burroughs write those? Live, grow stronger, fight another day?"

"That philosophy wasn't new when I adopted it."

Pouring himself more brandy, MacLeod relaxed again into the couch. "So how's this all supposed to help me?"

Methos smiled. "I'm not going to make it that easy for you. Put the pieces together. Then tell me what it means."

MacLeod sipped his brandy as he thought. Methos watched as the changing emotions played across his face, and met his eyes as MacLeod looked up at him. "It's not too pretty a picture. Controlling, judgemental..."

"Caring, strong," Methos interrupted him. "Stop thinking negatively."

He nodded, then went on more slowly. "Protective, honest, trustworthy." He smiled a little as he continued. "Thoughtful, clean, loyal." The smile got broader. "Protector of the weak, defender of the realm."

"Helpful, thrifty, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, defender of truth, justice and the American way," Methos finished with a laugh.

"I think I get your point. The good parts of what make up Duncan MacLeod can also make him kind of a pain in the ass."

"I won't argue with that." Methos grinned at him.

"So, when the hermit said to be who I am..."

"He was talking about being a man of honor who cared about those around him, who was willing to make tough choices sometimes and take the consequences of his actions. Who would be willing to stand and die for a matter of principle. Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod."

"That's a lot to live up to," MacLeod said ruefully. Then his brow furrowed once more. "There was something else. I saw myself as a boy." He looked at Methos. "In the visions." His eyes unfocused a little as he remembered. "As a boy, I was sure that the most basic truth was that good would always defeat evil. I'm not always so sure any more. Things were so much simpler then." MacLeod rubbed his eyes. "Sometimes thinking about all the changes I've seen almost overwhelms me. How do you manage it?"

Methos' expression was unreadable, his eyes flat. "Sometimes I don't. At least not really well. This is one of those times."

MacLeod's eyes searched Methos' face, looking for a hint of what he was feeling. "What do you mean?"

"I don't have too much trouble with technology or civilization. It's when something like this ... this ... demon happens that I have problems." He met MacLeod's eyes. "I start to feel like having been alive for 5000 years is a waste, since I don't have all the wisdom and knowledge that I should."

"Who says you should know everything? You didn't live everywhere."

"No, not everything. Just big things like this. I keep thinking I should know something about it. Five chances to hear about the demon. Nothing. Just fables." Methos stood up and paced slowly in front of the fireplace, then stopped and looked at MacLeod with an odd smile. "Unless you count the one time that everyone thought we were the demons. Then they realized we were only the Four Horseman. It was pretty ironic. The four most feared men in history, and we took second spot to a millennial demon that wasn't even on the same continent."

"Methos." He got no response. "Methos, sit down." Finally, the other man responded and moved to the chair. "There is no reason for you or anyone else to expect you to know everything. From what we know, this demon only shows itself near the chosen champion." He shook his head. "And that's a terrifying idea. Me as chosen champion. But that's not my point. Nothing in your life is a waste. Just because you weren't ever where the demon was before is not your fault. Beating yourself up for not knowing won't accomplish anything. You understand me?"

Methos looked up at him, a slight smile tugging at his lips. "Yes, my chieftain, I understand."

MacLeod shook his head and laughed softly. "Yeah, OK, I'm doing it again."

The silence stretched between them as they sat, each with his own thoughts about the strange sequence of events that had brought them to that cottage, trying to salvage a friendship even as they tried to understand the other forces that were at work.

MacLeod drained the last of his brandy, then stood and stretched. "You know," he said with a wry smile, "some of this is almost starting to make sense."

Methos looked at the face that was less haunted each day, whose moments of calm were more frequent and allowed himself to enjoy the feeling of having helped this happen. However their own personal issues were resolved, it was important to him that MacLeod recover his confidence and sense of self before going back to face whatever was waiting for him.

"You want to talk about more of it tonight?"

"No." MacLeod put the brandy bottle back on the cabinet. "I think I'd like to sleep on it. We've got time." He went to the bedroom, then looked at Methos. "You coming?"

"No, I think I'll sit a while." MacLeod nodded and went to bed. Methos sat with his brandy for a few minutes, watching as the fire burned itself out. His plan was going well. Better, in fact, than he could have hoped. Every day MacLeod looked more like his old insufferable self. Methos smiled at that thought. That aspect of MacLeod that sometimes made him wonder what had drawn him to the man so inexorably, would be what gave MacLeod the strength to find the answers he needed to defeat the demons. This was one of the times that being Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, Highland warrior, would serve him well. But right now, the Highland warrior was snoring softly in the next room. Methos decided he probably had the right idea, and went to bed himself.

The sound of rain on the roof woke him the next morning. He lay still, partly because of no desire to get up, and partly due to MacLeod's arm across his chest. As the rain went on, MacLeod moved toward wakefulness, shifting his arm closer around Methos and nuzzling his head into Methos' shoulder. A deep breath and another small shift of his head indicated when MacLeod was fully awake.

"Morning, Methos."

"Morning, MacLeod."

MacLeod slid his head back onto his pillow and pulled his arm off Methos' chest. "That's probably not a good idea, is it?"

"Probably not." He rolled to face MacLeod.

MacLeod worried the edge of the blanket with his fingers. He finally looked at Methos, eyes soft, expression open. "I've missed us, Methos. Through it all, in spite of everything, maybe because of everything, but I've missed us."

Methos contemplated an easy, glib response. What stopped him was knowing that he felt the same way. He also knew this was all too soon. "Right now there is no us. You know that." MacLeod nodded. "Too much has happened. We still have a lot left to work out." He smiled and reached over to smooth a few stray hairs off MacLeod's forehead. "But I think we will be able to work this out. In time."

MacLeod captured Methos' hand and gave it a little squeeze, then let go. "Thanks." He got out of bed and pulled on his robe. "Guess I'll make some coffee."

He was still lazing in bed when MacLeod came back with two cups of coffee. "You going to stay here all day?"

Methos smiled. "I thought about it. Rainy days do that to me sometimes." He sat up and took the coffee. "Or we could go for a long walk in the rain. Whichever you prefer."

MacLeod grabbed a pillow to lean against the post at the foot of the bed. "I think in is better. How's this sound? Breakfast, roaring fire to keep the damp away, you practice your hairdressing skills...?"

"Barbering," he corrected with a little glare at MacLeod. "But the rest sounds fine. Which are you volunteering for? Breakfast or fire?"

"Breakfast."

It rained steadily as they had breakfast, and showed no signs of letting up as they sat in front of the fire. Putting down his coffee, Methos looked at MacLeod with a little twinkle in his eyes. "You ready?" He stood up, holding a scissors in his hand.

MacLeod hesitated. "You look like you're going to enjoy this too much. Maybe I'll just let it grow out."

"Oh, come on. Be brave. It's not like you're Samson or something." He waited, scissors in hand, towel over one arm, standing by the front door.

"I hope I don't live to regret this," MacLeod grumbled under his breath. He stood and followed Methos to the porch, then sat stoically, his eyes closed as the other man worked. The sound of the scissors ceased and he felt fingers run through what was left of his hair.

"It's done. Go take a look."

He reached a hand to the back of his head, and was pleasantly surprised to still feel the hair there. He glanced at Methos, then went in the cottage to look in the mirror. When he came back out, he was smiling.

"I thought you were going to cut it all off."

"No." Methos was picking up the trimmings. "I didn't think that's what you really wanted. I just evened it up a bit so it can grow out again." He gave MacLeod a sidelong glance. "I have to admit it was fun watching you worry, though." He put the trimmings on the porch rail, then sat down, watching the spring rain.

MacLeod pulled up a chair and sat next to him. "It's beautiful, even in the rain."

"It is, isn't it?" He sat thoughtfully, watching the water dripping off the trees, then turned to MacLeod. "Did you mean what you said last night? About it being terrifying to be the chosen champion?"

"Yes." He didn't go on right away, gathering his thoughts. "How can I be the one with the responsibility for the future of the world? It makes no sense. To have one person fight the millennial evil for the fate of the world. And no one else, or almost no one, even knows it's going on."

"But isn't it what all of life is about? The battle of good and evil?"

"I suppose it is. But on this scale? I don't know if I can do this." MacLeod ran his hands over his eyes, then looked out at the rain again.

"I'm not sure you have a choice. Seems the battle has come to you," Methos answered him softly.

"Do you believe in the demon?"

"I don't know." He looked at MacLeod. "But I'd much rather believe it's a demon at work here. The alternative is some kind of psychosis, and there's been too many people involved for it all to be happening in your head. Not to mention that I'm none too comfortable with thinking I might be turning my back on a crazy man with a sword."

MacLeod smiled. "I don't think you've got anything to worry about." He stared into the forest for a little while. "Why did the evil show up the way it did? As walking dead?"

"Do you really not know?"

"Maybe I don't want to know." He got up and walked to the end of the porch then looked up at Methos. "Kronos to remind me not to trust you. Horton to make me doubt Joe. But why Richie? Richie was alive."

"This demon is clever. It gets you to doubt two of your closest friends by reminding you of past conflicts."

"And there was no one who could drive Richie away but me." He walked slowly back to where Methos was sitting. "So the only way to get rid of him was to make me kill him." He sat down again and looked at Methos, his jaw set, fighting back tears. "I saw Richie in the visions. He asked me to make his death mean something. I don't know how, but I'll find a way to make that thing pay for his death."

"Vengeance may not be the way to defeat the evil," Methos said very quietly.

"What do you mean?"

"Only that it may want you angry." He turned to face MacLeod. "Killing Richie was part of its plan, not yours. Maybe it's counting on your quest for vengeance to keep you from seeing how to really beat it."

MacLeod thought about that for a few minutes. "You're saying that this thing is so devious that it can use my natural reactions against me?" He shook his head. "I should have seen that. That's exactly what it's doing. Trying to keep me off balance, to keep me from seeing what's really happening." He looked at Methos. "And I don't know what that is, either. I can't do this." He stood abruptly and went inside.

Methos sat for a while, watching as the rain slowed, then finally stopped. Slowly, the clouds started to break up and a little sun shone through. He wondered if he could talk MacLeod into a walk. The woods were especially nice after a rain. As he stepped inside, he found MacLeod sitting in front of the fire with a bottle of scotch.

"Little early for that, don't you think?" He crossed to sit near MacLeod.

"Yeah, probably. It seemed like a good idea." The glass in MacLeod's hand was still full and he put it down on the table untouched. "You got a better one?"

Depression and despair were still very close to the surface for MacLeod. Methos understood both the urge for oblivion that the alcohol offered and the strength it took for MacLeod to put the glass down and deny himself that refuge. Again he wondered if what he was doing would be enough. Maybe not, but it was a start.

"The rain's stopped. I though maybe a long walk. I like the woods after a rain." He glanced up at MacLeod. "And if it stays dry this afternoon, I could let you try to knock me on my bum, if you think you're up to it."

MacLeod stared at the glass for a few moments, then looked at Methos. "Sure. Why not. I'll get my coat."

It wasn't the sort of enthusiasm Methos would have liked, but at least it got him moving. They started walking down the gravel road, then took a trail that led up the side of the hill. They walked for a couple of hours, watching as the sun dried the trees, glinting through the water droplets on the new leaves, giving the impression that they were walking through a jeweled kingdom. Methos walked a little behind MacLeod, watching as the stiff neck and bunched shoulders relaxed and his gait became smoother and more fluid.

As they neared the cottage, Methos caught up with MacLeod and put a hand on his arm to stop him, then pointed. Two birds were on the porch rail, arguing over the hair trimmings Methos had put there. One flew away and the other one took the longest pieces and left. Methos chuckled as the second bird came back and took some strands for herself, then flew off. He looked at MacLeod, who was smiling at the antics of the two birds.

"Smart birds. That'll make a good lining for a nest." Methos started walking to the cottage. "I never get tired of spring, watching Nature renew itself."

MacLeod laughed softly. "Sure. As long as you're warm and dry."

"Why not?" Methos smiled at him. "Just because I lived for years without central heating doesn't mean I can't enjoy it now that it's been invented." Once in the cottage, he put another log on the fire. "Which doesn't change the fact that Nature finds a way to go on, no matter what happens. It's the one thing that's remained constant throughout my life. Man may try to build and change things, but in the end, Nature has her way."

MacLeod looked at Methos thoughtfully. "Finding a way to go on. That's what this is all about, isn't it?"

"All what is about?"

"This. All of it. Your philosophy. Bringing me here." MacLeod relaxed onto the couch. "The walks. The talks. Everything."

Methos looked at him quizzically. "Did you think it was something else?"

"No. I don't guess I thought about it at all. All I felt was pain. When you came to me, all I hoped was you could make it go away."

"No one but you can make your pain go away."

"I know that. Now." MacLeod looked at his hands. "But it was your strength that helped me start. And there's still a long way to go."

"Getting over the death of a friend by your own hand is never easy," Methos said quietly.

MacLeod looked sharply at Methos. "Damn. I've done it again. Silas." Methos nodded. "Someday," he went on softly. "Someday I'll remember to look farther than my own problems."

Methos stood and changed the subject. "How about we look as far as lunch?" He started toward the kitchen. "Then afterward we can see if you're up to a little sparring."

The ground outside was still wet from the rain, and after only a few minutes of staff work both men found themselves in the mud. As they went on, MacLeod continued to take advantage of the slippery turf and saw to it that Methos spent more than his share of time on his butt. When they were both wet, dirty and winded, they went in and showered, then relaxed in front of the fire with a pot of tea.

MacLeod had picked up the book he was reading, and seemed content to lose himself in the fantasy. Methos picked up a book for himself, deciding that if there were to be any more discussions, he'd let MacLeod start them. The issues and problems that were the most critical had at least been opened, even if not all of them had been resolved. MacLeod would need time to think about them, and when he was ready, he'd talk again.

Their next several days settled into a routine. MacLeod would be up first, going outside to do his kata. The middle of the days would be spent walking and exploring the woods. Afternoons they sparred. On the morning of the fifth day, MacLeod finished his kata and came in looking for Methos.

"I have to leave," he said without preamble.

Methos looked up from making breakfast. "I know. I can be ready in a couple of hours."

"You know?" MacLeod looked surprised. "How...?"

"Not too hard to tell. Every day you've been more focused, your workouts more intense." He handed MacLeod a cup of coffee.

"And the answers aren't here." MacLeod leaned on the counter. "I suppose you figured that out, too," he said with a little smile.

"I never thought they were. What was here was the peace you needed to figure out where to start looking. That was all I ever had to offer you." He handed MacLeod a plate. "We can be back in Paris tonight."

They closed up the cottage and packed their things into the Volvo. Methos took one long last look around before getting in the car.

"Will you come back here?" MacLeod asked.

"No." He started the car, heading out the gravel road. "Not for a while."

Neither spoke much as they retraced their route to Paris. By the time they pulled up at the Quai de la Tournelle, it was dark. Methos helped get MacLeod's things out of the car, then they both stood uneasily, leaning against the car, staring across the Seine.

"I guess this is it," MacLeod began. "I ... I don't know what to say. Except thanks. And that's not enough for all you've done."

"Where will you go?"

"I don't know. East, maybe. I can't stay here right now." He looked at Methos. "What about you?"

I don't know, either. Someplace warm." He gave MacLeod a little smile.

"I hear Bora Bora's nice this time of year." MacLeod fidgeted a little, then reached into his coat, pulling out Methos' broadsword. "I can't take this from you." He handed it to the other man.

"Will you be OK?" Methos put the sword inside his coat.

"Yeah. I'll be careful." He brought his hand to his eyes, wiping away a tear. "Damn it. I wasn't going to do that anymore." He reached for Methos, pulling him into a fierce hug. "I'm going to miss you. But I have to do this. I have to find the answers."

"I know." Methos held him tightly, knowing it would be a long time before he saw his friend again. "But you'll find them. And when you do, and when you can come back..."

"Where will you be?"

"I don't know for sure." He leaned back to look at MacLeod's face, running his fingers into the long hair. "But I'll make sure to be where you can find me."

MacLeod cupped the side of Methos' face with his hand, wiping the one tear away with his thumb. "You do that." He smiled a slightly lopsided smile. "I'd hate to have to hunt for you. You might regret that."

"Yeah. I probably would." He eased himself out of MacLeod's embrace. "You better go. We're making enough of a scene as it is."

MacLeod picked up his bags and walked slowly to the barge. He looked back as he got to the top of the gangplank. "See you around, Methos." Then he turned and went inside.

"Live, Highlander," Methos whispered. "Grow stronger. Fight another day." He turned and climbed in the Volvo, heading to his own apartment.

Once there, he pulled out the cell phone Joe had loaned him and packed it carefully in a box. Then he sat down and took out paper and pen, thinking carefully about the words for the note to his friend.

Joe: He's going to be OK. He needs to get away, and I don't know where he'll be. I'm leaving, too, for a while. We settled many things, but he needs more answers. I couldn't help him with that. Try not to worry. Thanks for everything. M.

He packed the note in the top of the box, then closed and addressed it. He packed a few more things in his bag, then locked the door behind him as he left. On his way to the airport, he dropped off the box at Joe's hotel.

At the airport, Methos looked over the list of departures. He'd decided that the gods of chance could choose his destination. He would take the first available flight to someplace warm that didn't remind him of MacLeod.


The End
September 1997

** Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four