A Warrior's Quest
by Ashlyn Donnchaid

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story starts with the tag scene of Archangel.


Sharp flashes of light from the structure lit the faces of the two men in the car. Methos parked his Volvo next to the Citroen, glancing once at the man in the passenger seat. He thought briefly of asking the Watcher to wait there, but discarded the notion, knowing he would refuse. He got out and went to the passenger side to give Joe a hand. They stood a moment, looking at the old building as the last of the lightning from the Quickening faded.

"Damn," Joe Dawson swore softly. He looked at his companion, then started inside. Neither one wanted to think about the implications of a Quickening. They knew it meant someone had died. They'd thought MacLeod was having some sort of hallucinations or visions, but no one had thought he was either dangerous or in any real danger.

As they moved farther into the building, Methos touched the sword in his coat. He didn't expect to need it, but the habit had been formed millennia ago. He could feel the Presence of another immortal, and was sure it was MacLeod, but he still wasn't going into a situation like this unprepared. They moved slowly, the building dark and cluttered with debris, until they saw the two figures, one prone and headless, one kneeling quietly next to the body. The kneeling man was easily recognized as MacLeod. As they drew nearer, they recognized the dead man. Richie Ryan.

MacLeod had lifted his head as he both heard and felt their approach. He recognized the sound of Joe's gait and knew the immortal with him was Methos. When they were next to him, he picked up his sword in trembling hands and held it up to Methos. "Take it. Please." The dark eyes that looked at Methos were flat and empty, the face tear streaked and drawn with anguish.

"Absolutely not." He turned away from MacLeod and moved a few steps to distance himself from the suicidal request. That MacLeod had killed his student he had no doubt. The question was why. The talk of demons and dead men walking had been just that, hadn't it? Just talk? He wasn't so sure now. Whatever was possessing the Highlander had caused this. If it was mental illness or an ancient curse it made no difference. Whatever was tormenting MacLeod had driven him from his friends and had caused him to kill the student he loved as a son. In his mind he was alone and wanted to die. Methos would not be the instrument of that death. He heard MacLeod get up and walk away, sobbing and speaking brokenly.

He turned to look for Joe and heard a louder sob, much closer. He went to the Watcher and embraced him as he cried, holding him tightly as the tears ran down his face and dampened Methos' sweater. As he held and comforted Dawson, he tried to make some sense of what had happened, to no avail. After a time, the sobs quieted, and Methos moved both of them away from their fallen friend.

"Joe, give me your cell phone."

The Watcher reached in his pocket and handed the phone to Methos, who stepped away as he made first one call, then a second. Joe couldn't hear the words, but Methos' tone sounded firm and insistent. When he finished the calls, he keyed the off button and slipped the phone in his pocket, then moved to pick up the two swords that were lying on the floor. He was concerned that MacLeod was not only filled with confusion and guilt, but now was unarmed. Dealing with that had to wait, though. He had a more immediate concern standing in front of him.

"C'mon. Let's get out of here." He put a hand on Dawson's arm and guided him gently toward the exit. They stopped as the Watcher hesitated and looked back over his shoulder.

"What about...?" His voice broke, unable to speak the name of their fallen friend.

"Taken care of. Let's go." After a moment, Joe turned back and they continued out of the building back to the car. The sight of the Citroen brought a second question to the Watcher's face and Methos answered before it could be spoken. "That too. I'll tell you everything once we're out of here." He stowed the swords under a blanket in the back of the Volvo and held the door as Joe climbed in, then went around to the driver's seat. He sat quietly for a moment, then put the key in the ignition, started the car and drove slowly away from the old racetrack.

Neither man spoke during their trip back to the hotel. The car was parked, swords wrapped in the blanket to be carried through the lobby. The only stop they made on their way up to Joe's room was in the hotel bar, and that only long enough to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Joe slipped the key card into the lock and pushed the door open. Methos followed close behind him, the swords bundled under one arm and the bottle in his hand. He put both his burdens on the table, and got a couple of glasses. As Methos poured, Joe sat heavily on the couch and ran a weary hand across his eyes.

"You know that won't help."

"I know," Methos answered, handing him a glass. "But tonight, it isn't going to hurt anything either." He filled a second glass for himself, then started to unwrap the blanket. Working in silence, he cleaned and oiled the swords, spending the most time on the katana, making sure there was no evidence of blood on it anywhere. When he was done, he wrapped the swords again and set them aside, then refilled Joe's glass for him. Picking up his own glass, Methos sat deeply into the armchair.

Joe looked from the wrapped swords to Methos. "You think he'll ever carry that again?"

"I don't know." He sat holding the glass of whiskey in both hands, still untouched. "All I can do is ask him. I doubt he's staying on holy ground." What was left unsaid was his hope that MacLeod wasn't suicidal enough to let the next immortal he met take his head.

Joe nodded. "We need to keep track of him. I should have followed him tonight." His voice held some of the anguish he felt for his friend, along with his own frustration at not having somehow foreseen what would happen.

"No. You couldn't do anything for him." Methos finally sipped at the whiskey.

"I could have made sure he was safe."

"No. You couldn't do that either. If he really wants to die, he'll find a way to die. No matter what we do."

Joe stared at Methos in disbelief then understanding. "And right now having us close would only make it worse for him."

Methos nodded slowly. "He'd only see us as accusers. I called and got someone he doesn't know sent out to watch him. Gave them your cell phone number."

"How did you convince them?"

"I used your name. Told them what had happened, that he shouldn't be watched right now by someone he could recognize."

Joe nodded. "Good." He reached for the bottle and refilled his glass. "What about Richie?"

"I called some people I know. They'll take care of him."

"They're not going to just ... get rid of him, are they?"

Methos smiled gently. "No. I wouldn't let that happen to him."

They sat quietly, nursing their drinks, lost in their own thoughts about what had happened. Finally, Joe looked up at Methos and spoke softly. "What are we going to do?"

"Do?" Methos echoed. "Tonight, we're going to get a little drunk. Tomorrow we start to plan." He poured more whiskey into his glass and held it in a half-hearted salute to the Watcher. "To tomorrow. And a few more after that. We may need them."

Between them, the two men finished most of the bottle. Methos made sure Joe got to bed, then settled onto the couch, sleeping fitfully. He was awakened in the morning by the sun in his face. Knowing he wouldn't be able to sleep any more, he called and ordered a pot of coffee. Standing by the window, he stared at the street below. It all looked so normal. People bustling about their business, children on their way to school. Everything looking as if nothing untoward was happening. Maybe there was no demon. Maybe MacLeod was just crazy. Maybe there was no answer to this.

A small moan from the bed interrupted his reverie. He smiled a little as Joe sat up, holding his head.

"Did you drink most of the bottle or did I?"

Methos moved away from the window. "I'm afraid you did. Aspirin?"

"In the bathroom. Bring plenty. Coffee?"

"On its way." He took the aspirin and a glass of water to Joe. "Legs or chair?"

Joe swallowed the handful of aspirin. "Neither. I'll stay here till the coffee comes." He fell back against the pillows. "Why do I let myself try to match you guys drink for drink?"

Methos sat on the edge of the bed. "Actually, last night, you won the match." He waited until Joe opened his eyes again. "Listen, I'm going to have to go out for a while today. Will you be OK here?"

"Sure. Anything I can help with?"

"I'll let you know when I get back. I won't know until then." He was interrupted by a knock at the door. Room service had arrived. He poured coffee for both of them, then sat again on the bed. "That was Sioux that MacLeod was speaking, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. Why?" Joe was sitting up, holding his coffee in both hands.

"I thought so. I need to do some research on that. Did you recognize any of it?"

"No. Just enough to know it was Sioux. Sorry." He held his cup out for a refill. "Think it means something?"

"I don't know. The only thing we do know is that he felt very bonded to the Lakota when he lived with them. That's in his chronicle." He stood up and filled his own cup, then started pacing the room slowly. Finally, he turned to Joe with a little smile. "Good thing Paris has great libraries."

The next several days were much the same. Methos would leave in the morning and come back with his laptop and a stack of books. Evenings were spent reading and making notes on his computer. When he was too tired to see the print on the page or screen, he'd sleep on the couch. Joe didn't go out at all, still dealing with his grief over Richie's death.

On the third day, Methos returned to find Joe dressed to go out. "Joe? Going somewhere?"

"It's gone on long enough. Let's at least have dinner in the dining room. I don't need a baby sitter anymore."

Methos smiled. "Are you sure who's been baby sitting who?" He put down his stack of books. "Good idea. A decent meal won't hurt either one of us."

The hotel dining room was more than decent, and they passed the evening talking and watching the other patrons. Methos went with Joe to his room, but paused before entering. "I'm going back to my place tonight. I'll be by tomorrow. There's something I want to show you." He stood by the door until it closed and then went to his own apartment for the first time in days.

As he opened his own door and stepped inside, he wondered if Joe had any idea how much truth he'd spoken earlier. If not for the presence of Joe Dawson, he might well have given in to the urge to quietly fade away. That, and knowing that MacLeod needed his help. Not that MacLeod would either agree or admit to it, but it was true nonetheless.

Getting himself a beer, he sat and thought over the plan he'd made. If he was going to stay and try to help the man he'd become hopelessly entangled with, he needed to be sure of how he was going to do it. The details seemed to fit what he knew at the moment. He could make adjustments later, if new information warranted it. He finished his beer, nodded to himself and went to bed. He'd start first thing in the morning.

A good night's sleep in his own bed left Methos refreshed and even more sure that his plan was right. First step, go see MacLeod. They'd gotten Watcher reports that he was still alive and in Paris, but Methos wanted to see for himself how the man really was. He bundled the swords in the back of the Volvo and drove slowly to the Quai de la Tournelle, turning over in his mind what he wanted to say to MacLeod.

As he got out of his car, he felt the Presence. MacLeod was there. He took out the swords, still in the blanket, and stood for a moment, wondering if MacLeod would come out to investigate. When he didn't, Methos shrugged to himself and started up the gangplank.

The door was unlocked. He put his bundle down just inside the door and looked around the barge for MacLeod. What he saw was grim but not unexpected. The place was a mess. Furniture was overturned, and a few things had been smashed against the walls. MacLeod was sitting sideways on the couch, knees drawn up, head on his arm. Empty liquor bottles littered the table in front of the couch. At the sound of the door closing, he'd looked up long enough to identify his visitor, then put his head down again.

Methos moved slowly into the barge, uprighting furniture as he got to it. He spent a few minutes bringing a little order to the space, MacLeod seeming oblivious to his presence. It was when he went to take the empties off the table that MacLeod finally spoke.

"Why are you here?" It was no more than a hoarse whisper.

After disposing of the bottles, Methos sat down opposite the couch and really looked at MacLeod for the first time since he'd gotten there. Again, he wasn't too surprised by what he saw. MacLeod was still wearing the same clothes as the last time he'd seen him. The sleeves of the sweater were slashed and had dried blood on them. He was unshaven and dirty. His hair was tangled and looked like handfuls had been cut out roughly. All this fit what he'd read about the Sioux mourning rituals. Although the sight of the man this way was alarming, it was also comforting to know his plan would fit what he had found.

"I came to see how you were," he finally answered MacLeod.

"Well, you've seen." He turned his head enough to look at Methos. "Now get out."

"Not until I've said what I came here for." Methos retrieved the bundle he'd left by the door and placed it on the table in front of MacLeod. He unwrapped it to reveal the swords, then looked at MacLeod. "Will you carry one of these?"

The look of horror on MacLeod's face was echoed in his words. "How could you bring that here? Take it away! Take that bloody thing away!" His voice rose to a shout as he backed away from the swords, ending up against the wall. "Take it and get out! Now!" He sank to the floor and covered his face with his hands.

Methos wrapped the swords and moved them outside the door, but didn't leave. He went to MacLeod and took his arm, gently leading him back to the couch.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, "I should have known." He had known, but needed to see it to be sure. There was no way that he would be able to convince MacLeod to carry his katana. He drew his own broadsword and placed it on the table, hilt facing MacLeod. "Will you carry this?"

MacLeod looked from the sword to Methos and back to the sword. "It doesn't matter. It can't be stopped with a sword."

"It matters to me," Methos said quietly. "You can be stopped with a sword."

MacLeod stared at the sword. "I can't take your blade from you."

"Yes, you can."

Slowly, MacLeod raised his eyes and met Methos' gaze. "Why?"

"I need to know you're alive. We all need you to be alive." His voice softened. "Maybe it can't be stopped with a sword, but you can't find out what will stop it if you're not around."

"Live, grow stronger?" MacLeod asked with a hint of sarcasm.

"If that's what it takes." Methos picked up the sword and extended the hilt to MacLeod. "Will you carry it?"

A long moment passed before MacLeod reached his hand out to take the weapon. "Yes. I will."

"Do I have your word?"

MacLeod looked a little annoyed. "I said I would."

"Your word, MacLeod."

He closed his eyes, then opened them again to look at Methos. "I give you my word that I'll carry your sword."

"Good." Methos stood up and placed one hand briefly on MacLeod's shoulder. "I'll be back in a few days." He turned and left the barge, leaving MacLeod sitting holding the sword. As he got in his car, he noticed his hands were shaking. Although he'd known what he might find, actually seeing MacLeod that way had been more unnerving than he'd expected. At least so far his plan was working. He took a deep breath and started his car for the drive to Joe's hotel.

Joe looked up as Methos let himself into the room, then poured him a shot of whiskey. "Here. You look like you could use this."

"Yeah. Thanks." He took a large swallow. "I saw MacLeod."

"And...?"

"And he looks like hell. But he's alive. And now he's armed."

Joe let out a low whistle. "How did you manage that? I wouldn't have thought he'd touch his sword now."

"He wouldn't. He has mine."

"You gave him your sword?" Joe's eyes narrowed slightly. "Then what are you carrying?"

Methos smiled. "Don't worry about me. I'm not fool enough to go around unarmed."

"You gave him your sword," Joe repeated softly. "That was the only way you could get him to carry one, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was." He knew that Joe understood how much a part of each immortal his sword was. To offer MacLeod his blade was to offer a piece of himself. He'd known that MacLeod couldn't refuse that. He drained the last of the whiskey, then stood up. "Let's go. I said I had something to show you today."

It had rained the night before and the walkways in the old cemetery were scattered with puddles. Methos led the way down a path familiar to both men, past the headstone marked 'Tessa Noel', and stopped a little farther down. He turned and waited for Joe to say something.

"You did it," he whispered. "I kept hoping this was what you had in mind." He clasped a hand on Methos' shoulder. "This is perfect." The headstone was simple, just the name and dates. Richard Ryan, 1974 - 1997. "Does he know?"

"Not yet. Soon. A few more days." Methos reached and brushed a stray leaf off the marker. "I wish I could have gotten him closer to Tessa."

Joe's hand gripped his shoulder. "This is fine. Really." Methos looked at Joe and saw the sheen of tears in his eyes along with a little smile on his lips. He hadn't known Ryan well, but knew how much both Joe and MacLeod had considered him family. It warmed him, knowing what he had done for the young man touched his friend so much. He pulled Joe into a quick hug, then released him and led the way back to the car.

As they drove away from the cemetery, Joe wiped the last of the tears from his face and smiled at Methos. "Thanks."

"It was the least I could do." They rode back to the city in silence. As they approached the business district, Methos glanced at Joe. "Feel like lunch? I'm buying..."

Joe looked up and nodded. "Yeah. That would be nice."

They stopped at a small café and found a table where they could talk without being overheard. Over a glass of red wine, Methos outlined the rest of his plan. When he was done, he waited for Joe to comment.

The Watcher sat thoughtfully for a few minutes. "Sounds like it might work. That is, if he hasn't just climbed inside a bottle."

"I don't think so." Methos shook his head. "No, I really don't think so. He was wallowing in his grief and self pity, but he was sober. At least he was this morning. And if I'm right, reminding him that people care what happens to him should keep him that way. The grief and self-recrimination are going to take longer."

"When do you start the next part?"

"Four days. That'll give me time to get everything ready."

Joe smiled as he tore off a chunk of bread. "I wonder if he has any idea," he mused.

"About the plan? How could he?"

"No. Not about the plan. I wonder if he has any idea how good a friend you really are."

Methos looked at his hands. "Oh, come on, Joe. I'm just trying to..."

"Don't give me that," he interrupted. "This is me. Joe Dawson, Watcher extraordinaire. I know what he means to you. You couldn't let that go without a fight. Even if you're not sure what it is you're fighting." Methos kept staring at his hands and didn't respond. Joe continued quietly, "That's part of the problem, isn't it? Not knowing?"

He looked up slowly and met Joe's gaze. "It does complicate things. Wondering if there's some demon I've never heard of or if he's just gone over the edge. I should know if this thing is real or not."

"How? You can't know everything."

Picking up his wine glass, he raised it to Joe. "To the 5000 year old man. He's supposed to be full of wisdom and knowledge," he said sarcastically. "Or so everyone wants to believe." He downed half the glass of wine. "Too bad he doesn't live up to his press."

Joe didn't answer him. Methos sat for a few minutes before he spoke again. "I was never evil enough to be the demon or good enough to be the hero. I just lived. Survived. Heard the stories like everyone else. I never met any demons, so I didn't take much stock in their existence. Until now. And I still don't know."

"Could be more than one kind of demon here." Joe refilled his wine glass. "Some you can fight and some you can't."

"What do you mean?"

Joe sat back in his chair. "Maybe there is some kind of millennial evil. Maybe there isn't. But we do know that he's fighting his own demons right now. And so are you. Neither one of you has had enough time to work through everything that's happened in the last couple of months."

Methos grimaced. Joe was right. There was more at work than a Zoroastrian demon. Their world had been shattered by ghosts from his own past and from MacLeod's past. Kronos. Keane. Byron. Horton. All following each other so swiftly that no one had time to deal with the emotions each one raised. He knew when he made his plan that the one thing he had to be sure of was that MacLeod would be ready to face the demon, whatever it turned out to be.

"I know. It's why my plan is what it is. I don't know about the demon. What I do know is that MacLeod can't face anything the way he is now. I think I can help him with that, if he'll let me."

"He'll let you." Joe smiled. "If only because you don't give him any choice. I guess this means I won't be seeing much of either of you for a while."

The next three days were spent making the final arrangements. On the morning of the fourth day, Methos stopped to see Joe.

"So. This is it." They sat in Joe's room, drinking coffee.

"It is indeed." Methos toyed with the cup in his hand. "I don't know how long we'll be gone. I'll try to keep in touch, but that could be difficult. Depends on how things go."

"I understand." Joe reached in his pocket. "Here. Take this with you. I don't know if it'll work where you're going, but it's worth a shot."

Methos smiled as he picked up the cell phone. "Thanks." He stood up. "I better go."

"Take care, my friend." Joe extended his hand and Methos clasped it warmly. "Take good care of him."

"I will." He nodded once, then turned and left. Sitting in his car, Methos went over his plan, searching one last time for anything he might have missed. Finding nothing, he started the car and headed toward the barge.

He arrived at the quay, parked the car and moved toward the barge until he felt the familiar sensation of Presence. MacLeod was there. He waited a few moments for a response, but got none. Finally, Methos went up the gangplank and inside. Standing by the door, he found the scene much as he had left it days before. MacLeod was sitting on the couch, still in the same clothes. The general disarray of the interior hadn't changed. He'd looked up as Methos entered, but said nothing.

MacLeod's gaze followed him as he went to the kitchen and filled a bowl with warm water and found a clean towel. Bringing the bowl and towel, Methos sat in front of MacLeod. Slowly and deliberately, he dampened the towel, then reached with one hand to brush aside the tangled mat of hair that covered MacLeod's face. The other hand brought the damp cloth to start washing off the markings that had been made on his face with his own blood. As soon as the cloth touched MacLeod's face, Methos' wrist was caught and held.

"Do you know what you're doing?" MacLeod rasped, his dark eyes boring into Methos' face.

"Yes." Methos spoke softly but firmly, trying to make the connection he hoped he could by using this Sioux ritual. This beginning was what his plan hinged on, the ritual ending of the mourning period. The ceremonial face washing, followed by prayers, bathing and disposal of the clothing worn was the beginning, he hoped, of MacLeod's way back to himself.

"I know what I'm doing," he told MacLeod. Gradually, the grip on his wrist eased. Slowly and gently, Methos washed off the blood and tear stains that covered MacLeod's face. As he did, MacLeod started speaking quietly. Methos recognized some of the words from his research. It was a prayer for a fallen warrior. He finished washing MacLeod's face, then sat and listened to the prayer, finishing the last few words with him. After a moment's silence, he touched his fingers to MacLeod's face, then stood up, pulling MacLeod with him.

He led the way to the bathroom, where he started running hot water into the tub. Pulling off MacLeod's sweater, he noted the blood stains that indicated where he'd slashed his arms and chest as a sign of grief. MacLeod took off the rest of his clothes and settled into the tub. Methos picked up soap and a wash cloth and started scrubbing, his movements meant to massage and soothe as much as clean. A week's worth of grime and pain were carefully washed away. His hair was washed and combed out and his face shaved. As he cared for his friend, Methos was pleased to see a little life returning to his eyes. When he was done, he left him with a towel to dry off and a warm robe to dress in, taking the old clothes away.

MacLeod came out, the robe pulled tightly around him. He walked slowly to where Methos was taking out some clean clothes for him, and just stood, watching what the other man was doing. When Methos looked up at him, he spoke quietly.

"Thank you." It was barely a whisper.

Methos searched his face, seeing the familiar features drawn from exhaustion and grief. "Are you OK?"

A shake of the head. "I don't know. Better than I was."

Methos reached a hand to his arm. "That's a start. Feel up to going out? There's something I want you to see."

"I think so." MacLeod reached for the white sweater and blue jeans that Methos had chosen for him and started to dress. As he watched the deliberate motions, Methos thought about what was happening. He'd offered MacLeod an anchor point in the search for himself, and the offer had been accepted. Drawing on the strength of that anchor, MacLeod had put on a veneer of control. Methos knew how fragile that could be and how he was now responsible to see that his strength continued to be there as long as MacLeod needed it.

He handed MacLeod his coat as they left the barge, pleased to feel the weight of his sword in the folds. It was nearly noon, but the clouds kept a gray cast to the day. They drove to the edge of town and he could feel the tension increase in MacLeod as they neared their destination. When they got to the cemetery, MacLeod was shaking his head slowly.

"I don't think I can do this."

"You can." He got out of the car and went around for MacLeod. "I'll be there with you. Come on." At his urging, MacLeod got out and walked with him down the path.

At Tessa's grave, MacLeod stopped and reached out to touch the marker. "I'm sorry, Tess," he whispered. "I don't know what happened. I wish you were here to help me." He stood another minute, then followed Methos down the path a little farther, stopping in front of the new grave. He read the marker, then turned to look at Methos, tears in his eyes. Looking back at the grave, he dropped to his knees and covered his face with his hands, his whole body shaking as he cried. Methos knelt beside him and put a hand on his shoulder, then held MacLeod tightly as he turned and buried himself in Methos' chest.

They were still kneeling in front of the grave when the rain started, the soft water mingling with MacLeod's salt tears. By the time his crying stopped, they were both soaked, in spite of the coats they wore. They stood up and walked slowly back to the car, then drove back to the barge.

Methos made a pot of strong tea and started a fire in the fireplace for some added warmth. They had dried off and changed into sweats, but a chill still pervaded the air. As the fire took hold, he looked around the kitchen for mugs, then poured two, adding sugar and lemon. He handed one to MacLeod as he sat down.

"You hungry?" He hadn't seen much that was edible as he'd worked in the kitchen.

MacLeod sipped at the tea. "No. Not really."

"Let me rephrase that. Have you eaten much in the past week?"

MacLeod frowned as he thought. "I don't remember."

"Have you slept?"

"No. The dreams ... they wouldn't stop." He looked at Methos, fear in his eyes.

"That's OK. We'll deal with that." He stood and went back to the kitchen. "If I make something, will you eat?"

MacLeod finally agreed to eat, so Methos scrounged and managed to produce a meal. Now that he'd eaten and was clean and warm, MacLeod was fighting to stay awake. Methos convinced him to lie down and try to sleep by promising not to leave him alone. He sat on the bed with MacLeod until he was sleeping soundly, then got up to do a little more straightening in the barge. His work was interrupted by a cry from the sleeping man.

Quickly, he crossed back to the bed and sat down, stroking MacLeod's hair soothingly until he quieted again. Nightmares were to be expected after what had happened, and Methos was no stranger to them himself. Good sleep was as healing as anything else he could do for MacLeod, and if it meant he had to stay with him every minute he slept to achieve that, he would. He slid down to lie next to MacLeod, curling up against his back. Memories of better times spent sleeping in this same position came to him unbidden, and he pushed them away, concentrating on the task at hand. Eventually, he dozed off himself.

Gentle fingers on his cheek woke him. He smiled at the face close to his own. "You sleep well?" He knew the answer just by looking at MacLeod. "Good." It was early evening, and the interior of the barge was getting dark. Sitting up, Methos switched on the light next to the bed. He looked around the barge, then looked back at MacLeod. "What do you say we clean this place up a bit?" Without waiting for an answer, he got up and started working.

After a couple of minutes, he looked at MacLeod, who hadn't moved off the bed. "Well? You going to sit there all night?" MacLeod got up and started looking around the barge as if he was seeing it for the first time.

"It's pretty bad, isn't it?" He moved slowly, picking things up and putting them back on shelves.

"You do tend to take things out on inanimate objects," Methos told him. They worked together until the barge looked less like a battle zone and more like a home. Methos knew that much as they restored order to the barge, removing the physical evidence of his anger and despair would let MacLeod start to restore some order in his mind.

They finished working in the kitchen, and Methos reached into the fridge for a beer, offering one to MacLeod. He surveyed what they'd accomplished and nodded. "Much better." He looked at MacLeod. "Don't you agree?" He went and added some wood to the fire then relaxed onto the couch. "I think it's your turn to cook."

MacLeod sat on the hearth. "I'm not hungry."

"Maybe not," Methos prodded, "but I am. I cooked last. Let's see how inventive you are with what's left." He watched as MacLeod got up and started looking through cupboards, going through the motions of making dinner. After a few minutes, he went to the fridge for another beer, and stopped to look at what MacLeod was making. Dipping a finger in to taste it, he looked at MacLeod. "You going to want red or white with that?"

MacLeod glanced at the pot, then met Methos' gaze with a little smile. "Red, I guess."

"I'll see what I can find."

After dinner they sat on the couch, staring at the fire, finishing the last of the wine. Methos finally broke the silence. "I think we need to get out of Paris for a while. I've got a little place in the country where we can go. Middle of nowhere. Lots of peace and quiet."

"You asking me to run away and hide?" MacLeod said with a hint of bitterness.

"No," Methos answered evenly. "I was thinking more that we needed to retreat and regroup." He turned on the couch to face MacLeod. "You're not ready to face whatever it is right now. And I'm sure it'll be here when you are."

A long silence answered him. He knew that MacLeod would be weighing all the options, unwilling to back down from what could be the toughest challenge of his life. He also knew that MacLeod would have to acknowledge the sense of stepping back and planning his next move.

"You're probably right." MacLeod still stared at the fire. "When do you want to leave?"

"Tomorrow morning."

MacLeod nodded. "Tomorrow will be fine." They sat until the fire died down, then went to bed. Neither of them questioned whether Methos would stay the night. He wanted MacLeod to be able to sleep, so he stayed with him to help ward off the nightmares. Their rest was interrupted only once when MacLeod woke, calling out Richie's name. Methos held and comforted him until he went back to sleep, and then slept himself.

He'd felt MacLeod get out of bed in the morning, but decided not to move right away. He heard him moving around in the kitchen, then smelled fresh coffee brewing. A few minutes later, MacLeod was sitting on the edge of the bed, handing him a cup. As he sat up to take it, he was pleased to note some of the old spirit starting to show in MacLeod's eyes. It wasn't much yet, but it was a beginning.

"Sorry there's no milk. I, uh ... haven't exactly been up to shopping lately." Methos had to smile at that. "I'll put a few things in a bag and we can go whenever you're ready." MacLeod got up and started pulling some clothes out of the trunk, layering them into a duffel bag. Methos watched him for a bit. It seemed reasonable that MacLeod would fall back on the easy routine they'd had in the past. He wasn't ready to confront the issues that had separated them. At least not until he worked through his grief over Richie's death. They'd have to face them sooner or later, but Methos was also willing to leave much of it for later.

They took their time closing up the barge and packing a few things into Methos' car. One quick detour to pick up a couple of things at his apartment and then they were on their way out of town. They drove for a couple of hours on the main highway, then several more hours on country roads. The last few miles were on an unmarked gravel road. At the end of the road was a stone cottage flanked by some old oak trees. Methos parked the car, grabbed a couple of bags out of the back and went to open the front door. He left it open and MacLeod followed him in, carrying his duffel. The cottage had one large main room with a fireplace, a kitchen, bedroom and bath. MacLeod's practiced eye appraised as he looked around, impressed by the quality of everything he saw. It was one of the best collections of provincial furnishings he'd seen. Someday he'd ask when they were collected. There was bound to be a story in it somewhere.

"Make yourself at home," Methos told him as he went into the kitchen. "Bedroom's through that door." MacLeod opened the door and went in, dropping his duffel next to a large chest of drawers. The bedroom had a small fireplace of its own, and one large four poster bed. He smiled to himself and went out to see what Methos was doing in the kitchen. That room turned out to have all the modern conveniences, and he took the cold beer that was offered to him.

"Electricity. Hot and cold running water. Gas cooking. I like your idea of roughing it." He smiled as he opened his beer. "But only one bedroom?"

"I don't usually have company here. In fact, you're the first person I've brought here in a long time." Methos looked around and took a deep breath. As he let it out, MacLeod could see the peacefulness settle into him. This was where Methos came to find his center and he'd chosen to share it with him. He felt a little warmth start to fill the aching hollow inside him. "If the sleeping arrangements bother you, you're welcome to the couch," Methos continued with a little grin.

MacLeod suddenly felt uneasy discussing that, and changed the subject. "How much of this is yours?" He gestured at the surrounding countryside.

"As far as the eye can see." MacLeod looked at him with amusement. "Really. That's what I told them I wanted when I bought the land." Methos pointed out the kitchen window. "Down that way is a creek. That's one boundary. The paved road we turned off is another. Over there," another gesture, "we'd have to find the bench marks. But don't worry about wandering off the property. That would take a lot of wandering." He looked back at MacLeod. "That's why I thought you'd like it here. Plenty of quiet places to walk and think and no one to disturb us."

"I never figured you as the country type."

He shrugged. "Everybody needs someplace to go off to sometimes. You've got your island. I've got this." He pushed off the counter he'd been leaning on. "I'm going to get the rest of the stuff out of the car. Why don't you take a look around? The most dangerous thing you'll run into is blackberry bushes and mosquitoes."

MacLeod followed Methos outside, then, as he walked around the cottage, found a trail that looked like it might lead to the creek. He glanced back at Methos, who waved him on, then started down the trail. He walked slowly, noting landmarks and the larger trees. A breeze carried the scent of something blooming. He smiled as he stepped carefully around an outcropping of nettles. Around a bend in the trail he found some large rocks pulled into a rough circle. In the center was what could have been a fire pit.

He sat on one of the rocks, elbows on his knees and looked around, letting his thoughts wander. He noticed how much this looked like one place he'd taken Richie camping. He let the memories wash over him, then felt the tears start to burn in his eyes. "Damn." He hadn't intended to cry any more, but couldn't stop once he started. He sat until the tears stopped, then wiped his face as best he could with his palms. Slowly, he made his way back to the cottage where he found Methos in the kitchen.

One glance at MacLeod, and Methos ran a cloth in cold water and handed it to him. "What was it?" he asked, as MacLeod wiped off his face.

"The fire circle." He reached past Methos to dampen the towel again. The cool water felt good on his eyes. "It reminded me of one of the times I tried to make a woodsman out of him." He hung up the towel and opened the fridge for a beer. "What happens when we run out of beer?"

"We go out to the storage shed and bring in another case." Methos reached in and got a beer for himself. "This may be the country, but some things I don't do without." He took MacLeod's arm and guided him into the living room, then pointed at a cabinet. "In there you'll find any sort of liquor you might want. I don't keep much wine here. No good place to store it." He let go of MacLeod, then sat in a large armchair and put his feet up. "Like I said. Make yourself at home."

"Mi casa es su casa?"

"I meant it the first time I said it," he said softly. "Nothing about that's changed." MacLeod nodded, then stretched out on the couch, holding the cold bottle against his forehead. There was so much he was confused about right now, and the man in the chair was only one part of it all. A small part, if he was to be honest with himself. In the face of apparitions from his past, Methos had done what he felt he had to. MacLeod knew it was his own reactions to Methos' past that had created much of the tension that caused their separation.

He sighed and put the bottle on the floor, then closed his eyes. He felt safe and comfortable here with Methos and wasn't going to let anything change that. He knew they still had things to work out, but that could wait. Right now he needed the support and strength his friend had offered. The past was mattering less and less as he understood the depth of friendship he had from this man today.

A hand on his arm woke him. "You fell asleep. You were dreaming." Methos was kneeling next to the couch. "It wasn't a nightmare, though, was it."

"No." He smiled as he sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes. He tried to recapture what his dream had been about. It was pleasant and had brought warm memories. "I think it was because of seeing the fire circle today. It was a camping trip. Bugs. Wildlife. He never did get the hang of pitching a tent." He picked up his beer from the floor.

Methos sat on the table in front of the couch. "You want to talk about him?"

"No." MacLeod shook his head. "I can't. Not yet." He felt a tear on his cheek. "Damn it." He wiped his face, then pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes. He felt a strong hand grip his shoulder.

"It's OK. In your own time." As Methos stood up, his hand dropped from MacLeod's shoulder. "I made some dinner. Come and eat when you're ready." He went into the kitchen.

MacLeod sat a little while, staring out the window at the darkness. He wanted to talk about Richie. He wanted to talk about a lot of things. But he didn't trust himself to be able to without breaking down, at least not yet. Soon. He knew he felt better today than yesterday. And yesterday was better than the day before. In time, he'd piece things together and find some answers. He sighed and stood up, then joined Methos at the kitchen table.

After dinner he looked at the shelves of books along one wall. As he read the titles, he glanced at Methos. "You've got a lot of fantasy here."

"Escapism. Pure and simple."

"I suppose." He finally selected one of Burroughs' Martian tales and settled onto the couch, opening the book. "At least in this one they use swords."

Methos closed his own book and stood up. "You want a brandy?"

"That would be great, yeah."

Methos brought the two snifters and handed one to MacLeod as he sat down. Picking up his book again, he put his feet up on the table and relaxed into the cushions, book in one hand, brandy in the other. He laughed quietly as he read.

"What are you reading?" MacLeod asked.

"Aristophanes."

"In the original?"

Methos looked up with a smile. "Of course."

"Figures." MacLeod went back to his book. They read until the fire burned down, then Methos stretched and got up.

"I'm going to bed. You want another log on the fire?"

He looked at Methos, then at the fireplace. "I'll take care of it. Thanks."

Methos went to the bedroom, stopping at the door and looking back at MacLeod. "There's blankets in that trunk." He pointed to a small trunk sitting at the end of the couch. Turning and going into the bedroom, he left the door open. MacLeod heard the creak of the bed as Methos climbed in and settled under the blankets.

He read for a while longer, finally putting the book aside when he realized he'd read the same page five times. Glancing at the sleeping figure in the bedroom, he tried to figure out what had made him so uneasy about sharing the bed with him. He didn't know. But he appreciated that Methos hadn't questioned it. Pulling a blanket out of the trunk, he stretched out on the couch, watching the last embers of the fire die down.

Fog swirled. Faces appeared, taunting, accusing. Killer! Murderer! His sword, covered in blood. He tried to wipe it off, but the sword itself was bleeding. A ghost, reaching out to touch him. As it did, he screamed.

"Duncan!" The ghost spoke, but it wasn't the ghost. It was Methos, one hand on his shoulder, the other on his head, smoothing back his hair, the touch gentle and soothing. "Duncan, wake up." His heart was racing, body trembling. He was covered in sweat. As his vision focused, he saw Methos' face near his, concern in his eyes. He sat up, pulling the blanket tightly around himself.

"You OK?" MacLeod nodded. "You want to talk about it?" He shook his head. Methos sighed heavily. "You don't have to do this alone." When MacLeod didn't answer, he stood up. "I'm going back to bed. When you're ready, we can talk."

MacLeod watched him as he went back to the bedroom, then sat staring at the dark. It was simple. If he didn't sleep, he wouldn't dream. All he had to do was stay awake. He stood up and paced the room quietly for a few minutes. When he sat down again, he switched on the light and picked up his book. Maybe the adventures of John Carter would help keep him awake. Red and green warriors gave way once again to accusing faces. He tried to run from them and couldn't, held by hands on his shoulders.

"Damn it, Duncan." Methos was crouched in front of him, shaking him awake. He rubbed his face with both hands as Methos stood and pulled another blanket out of the trunk. "Stubborn Scot," he muttered. "The things I have to do to keep an eye on you." Wrapping himself in the blanket, Methos sat on the couch next to MacLeod, leaning on him and arranging his head on MacLeod's shoulder. "It'll be your fault if I have a stiff neck in the morning."

"You don't have to do this," MacLeod whispered.

"No, I don't suppose I do," Methos answered softly. "I could just sit by and watch a friend tear himself apart. Or I can try to help, if he'll let me."

It was long moments before MacLeod spoke again. "He's not very good at admitting when he needs help."

"I know. Now be quiet. I'm trying to sleep."

"Methos." When he got no response, he reached over and shook him gently. "Methos, I don't want you to have a stiff neck in the morning." He slipped his shoulder out from under Methos' head and stood up. He could feel the other man's eyes on his back as he went and got in the bed. A minute later, Methos slid into the other side of the bed. As he settled into the pillows, MacLeod had to acknowledge the comfort that came from having someone close by. Maybe that presence could help keep the dreams away. He tried to relax and get some badly needed sleep.

When he woke in the morning, he stretched and looked around, noticed Methos sitting up in bed watching him, and smiled. "What are you doing? Playing guardian angel?"

"Something like that." Methos got out of bed and slipped into a robe.

MacLeod got up and pulled on his sweats. "I think I'll go outside and stretch for a few minutes." There was a clear area on the side of the cottage large enough for him to perform his kata. It felt good to go through the familiar motions. His body needed the work and the well remembered pattern helped him focus his mind. As he finished, he saw Methos leaning on the corner of the cottage holding two cups of coffee.

"I thought maybe we could explore down that way today." He handed one cup to MacLeod and gestured toward the woods behind the cottage.

They spent most of the morning following deer trails through the trees. In the afternoon, MacLeod took the ax and fashioned a makeshift staff from a sapling. He added it to the kata he did that evening. Night was still the worst. One terrifying dream woke him, but his fear was quickly eased by Methos' presence and touch.

The next day he brought out a second staff he'd made and asked Methos to spar with him. After being unceremoniously dumped on the ground for the fourth time, he didn't get up again, merely looked up at Methos with a wry smile.

"You're not paying attention," Methos told him. He sat on the ground near MacLeod, setting the staff aside. "What's on your mind?"

He sat thoughtfully for a moment before answering. "Have you ever tried to contact a Quickening you've taken?"

"Haven't been any I'd want to. Why?"

"My first Quickening was a crazy hermit. At least I thought he was crazy at the time." He paused, picking at the bark on his staff. He didn't look at Methos as he spoke. "He took his own head with my sword. I had no idea what was happening. He'd said he was waiting for me. Had been for 600 years. I was sure he was insane. Then the Quickening came. I was terrified. As soon as I was able, I ran as fast and as far as I could." He finally raised his eyes to look at Methos. "But he'd said other things. That I would have to face the demon. That it was now my responsibility. That I had to be prepared to fight an evil like none I could ever imagine." He shook his head slightly. "I didn't know what he meant. Maybe he was telling me about this. I keep thinking that if I could somehow find him inside me that I might know how to defeat the demon."

"There might be a way, if you really want to."

"I think I have to. If I don't try, I'll always wonder if there would have been an answer to all this."

Methos stood up and looked at the sky. "Tomorrow. It's too late today and if we're going to do this, I have some things to prepare." He reached a hand to MacLeod to help him up. "I'll get started. I should be done by dinner time." He smiled at MacLeod. "That is, if you make dinner."

"Can I help?"

"No." He reached his hand to MacLeod's arm. "If you help prepare, you might have preconceptions of what will happen. I don't think that would help you."

MacLeod nodded. "I understand." He gave Methos a little smile. "I guess I'll make dinner, then." It was too early to start cooking, so he spent some time reading, trying not to watch Methos as he came and went mysteriously, making preparations for who knew what. MacLeod got out Methos' sword for the first time since he'd agreed to carry it, cleaning and oiling it. He didn't think he'd need it, but wanted to be ready for anything. As the afternoon wore on, he decided to start working in the kitchen. It was always a place he was comfortable, and cooking had always been something he could lose himself in as he made choices and blended flavors.

As he was putting the finishing touches on dinner, Methos came in and grabbed a beer from the fridge. He offered no comments about what he'd been doing, so MacLeod didn't ask. They ate their meal in relative silence. Methos wore a look MacLeod recognized, one of deep concentration. He knew better than to interrupt that process, especially since he was sure that Methos was thinking about what they were going to do tomorrow. He wanted to ask. The idea of trying to retrieve the essence of an immortal he'd killed held some fear for him. What if he couldn't control what he let out? What if it took over? He told himself that Methos would be there to help, to see that it wouldn't happen. But that didn't stop him from wishing he could ask for some reassurance that he wasn't going to risk losing himself to the others.

His unease was no better by the time they went to bed. He turned restlessly, knowing he was probably keeping Methos awake. He tried to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes he saw not only the recent demons, but his own dark times that he thought he had carefully buried in the past.

A warm hand touched his back, rubbing gently. "Relax. Nothing will happen tomorrow that we can't control. Believe that. Try to get a little sleep." He wondered, not for the first time, how Methos knew what he was thinking.

Morning found him lying in bed, still awake. He'd managed to doze a little during the night, but not much. He sighed and decided to get up. A voice from underneath the pillow stopped him.

"MacLeod, coffee only. No food. You're fasting today."

He continued on to the kitchen and waited while the coffee brewed. Taking a cup for himself and one for Methos, he went back and sat on the bed. "How soon?"

"Do we go?" Methos took the cup. "Soon. We'll be gone most of the day." He swung his legs off the bed. "Dress comfortably. Bring something warm."

About an hour later, Methos was ready to leave. He'd packed a few things from the kitchen into a knapsack and secured the replacement sword he'd chosen to the outside of it. MacLeod had placed the sword Methos had convinced him to carry in the lining of the down coat he had over his arm. Methos led the way through the woods, following no trail MacLeod could see. After hiking for half an hour, they came to a small cave in the side of the hill. The opening was wide enough for two people to walk side by side, but low enough that he had to stoop to get through. Inside, the roof was high enough to stand upright. The interior was a single chamber, and there were logs and kindling laid in the fire pit in middle of the floor.

Methos shrugged out of the knapsack and sat down, indicating that MacLeod should do the same. He did, and Methos reached in his pocket and opened a small packet, handing the contents to MacLeod.

"Peyote? Where did you get this?" He looked around and realization dawned on him. "A vision quest," he said softly. "You think this'll work?"

"I don't know," Methos told him honestly, "but I thought we had two choices. This or spend months in practicing meditation skills. It seemed to me that vision quests were really searches for something already within the person. And I knew the ceremony would have meaning for you."

MacLeod sat quietly for a moment, turning the peyote buttons in his fingers. "You didn't just do all this yesterday."

"No. I prepared for several possibilities. But I had to wait for you to tell me what you needed." He laid a hand on MacLeod's shoulder and caught the dark eyes with his own. "And I'm here to join you on this quest. Whatever you need me to do."

MacLeod nodded. "Just stay with me. Be the observer." He took a deep breath. "I'm ready." He swallowed the peyote. Methos lit the fire as they waited for the drug to take effect.

He stared at the fire as he waited, barely noticing as Methos moved around the cave arranging the things he'd brought in the day before. Tendrils of smoke wound sinuously around red and yellow licks of flame. He concentrated on the shifting colors and shapes as he turned inward, carefully opening the door to all those he'd taken in, searching for the one who might have his answers. The smoke in the cave grew thicker and time seemed to stretch out before him. A quiet laugh made him look up.

You really are a fool, MacLeod. You do know that, don't you? The figure leaned nonchalantly against the cave wall, beige suit impeccable, blue/red eyes piercing, the ever present smile on his face.

"Horton. You're not immortal. What are you doing here?"

I'm your worst fear, MacLeod. Someone you can't kill. Someone you can't feel. Someone who knows how to kill you. Horton put his hands in his pockets and stepped toward MacLeod. What makes you think you can beat me now?

"I'll beat you. If I have to kill you again with my bare hands, I'll beat you." He took a step toward the figure, only to have it fade in front of him.

Well done, Highlander. Now the voice was behind him, and the figure was applauding quietly. You scared off the ghost of a mortal. Are you ready to deal with me now?

"Kronos. I should have expected you." The figure was dressed in his bronze age armor, complete with painted face.

I think you did expect me. You brought me Methos again. I should thank you.

"He's not yours," MacLeod growled. "I know you're dead."

The figure strolled slowly around the fire towards him. Am I? Am I really dead? Or will you always have to work at keeping me inside? Kronos reached for his chest. So many demons to keep contained. How do you do it, MacLeod? He stepped back from Kronos. Don't you ever consider letting us all out? Just enjoying what we could be together? Think of it. The power. The excitement. Close your eyes and let go, MacLeod.

"No. Not before and not now. You deserved to die."

Really? Then what of him? Doesn't my brother deserve the same fate? Kronos leered at him. Or are you keeping him as a pet?

"You bastard." MacLeod lunged at the figure, only to have his hands close on nothing. Then the laughter was back. Horton was again leaning on the wall, watching in amusement.

He's right, you know. You live with a double standard. One rule for your friends, another for their relatives. Horton paced in front of him. Do you really think my brother in law has forgiven you for killing me?

"He thought you should be dead, too. He tried to kill you himself."

Did he? Or did he miss on purpose. Was it all a show for your benefit? Horton walked over to where Kronos had reappeared. My friend here wonders the same thing. Has his brother forgiven you?

"He tried to kill Kronos himself. He couldn't, so I did it for him."

Really? Is that why you killed me? Kronos smiled and looked around. Or was it jealousy?

"No. You were evil. Both of you. There was no other option."

Then why did I have to die? The voice came from behind him, and he turned to see Richie, standing with his hands outstretched. What evil did I do?

"Richie..." his voice broke. "I'm sorry."

Sorry, Mac? Sorry? I'm dead. Sorry won't fix that. You tell me why.

"I don't know." He fell to his knees, sobbing.

Then make it mean something. Stop it. Find a way.

Yes, Mac. Find a way. Kronos' taunting laugh was behind him again.

It's about sacrifice, MacLeod. Another voice behind him. He turned, seeing the bearded hermit. I gave it all when I did my share. Now it's up to you. The image faded.

"Wait! What sacrifice? What do you mean?"

The laugh behind him again. This time it was Horton. No one will help you. There's no one left for you.

"I have friends."

Do you? Look around you. I don't see anyone. There's no one left, MacLeod. You've either killed them or driven them away.

He turned, searching the cave. There was no one. Not even the apparitions. He was alone. Completely alone. He buried his face in his hands and cried.

Don't cry, young MacLeod. The hermit was back, sitting behind the fire, roasting a rabbit, just as the first time he'd seen him almost 400 years ago. I said it was about sacrifice. I had hoped by now that you would know who you are. That you would understand.

"I know who I am. I'm Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod."

Yes you are. But do you know what that means?

He sat down facing the hermit, growing impatient with his riddles. "Why don't you tell me who you think I am."

You are still too young. You don't yet know what you need to do. He shook his head sadly. Maybe they were wrong to choose you. You cannot fight this and win.

Yes he can! Another voice off to his right. He looked up and saw himself as a boy. He can win! Because he's good and good always wins over evil.

The hermit gestured with a bony hand. See. Even the youngling understands more than you.

"It can't be that simple. It's got to be more than good and evil."

Why? The hermit looked at him a moment. But even I forget. It's your curse. To make things more complicated than they are. Be who you are. Be Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. See the truth of what that means.

His young self spoke again. You are a great warrior. You can defeat any evil. Why do you doubt that?

"I've done so many things wrong. Driven away so many friends. I'm not strong enough for this." He sat with his knees drawn up, his arms resting across them. He dropped his forehead onto his arms in defeat.

Mac? You didn't do everything wrong. Richie was back, sitting where the hermit had been. His younger self was gone, too. You loved Tessa.

"And I got her killed because of what I am."

You saved Joe's life.

"Sure. And it was my fault he was in danger to begin with."

You saved the world from Kalas.

"And Paul and Fitz died in the process."

You helped me learn I could trust again.

"And then almost took your head twice. Now you're dead because you trusted me not to kill you. I guess you were wrong."

Richie shook his head. I guess the hermit was right. You can't win. Not if you won't believe that every great victory has some sacrifice to be made.

"I can't keep losing the people I love." Tears rolled down his cheeks again.

Maybe you don't get to choose about that. Maybe it's your fate. What is it they say? 'That which does not kill us makes us stronger?'

"No more. I can't take any more. I'm not strong enough for that." He leaned against the cave floor, tears splashing onto the rocks.

I'd have to agree with that, Highlander. Kronos had taken Richie's place. You're soft. Weak. I'm surprised you've lived as long as you have. He was eating the roasted rabbit, tearing the flesh with his teeth. So. Are you going to give up? Will it be that easy?

MacLeod wiped his face on his sleeve, angry that Kronos had seen him that way. "No. I'm not giving up. Evil like you can't be allowed to exist."

And how do you plan to stop us? We hold all the high cards. You have nothing left. It's just you. Alone. Against something you have no hope of understanding. Kronos laughed loudly. My only regret is that I had to die to see you humbled.

"You're dead. And you'll stay dead. You may play a part in this masquerade, but that's all it is."

You seem so sure, MacLeod. Horton stood behind Kronos. How many times were you sure I was dead? Are you sure now? Can you be absolutely certain that some night I won't find you and take your head? He laid a hand on Kronos' shoulder. We are so far beyond anything you can imagine ... but you go ahead. You keep believing that the great Duncan MacLeod can beat us. It'll make it that much more satisfying when we finally see you grovel before us.

"I'll not grovel before you or any man. Not now or a thousand years from now." He stood up and faced the figures.

Oh, MacLeod, you do amuse me. Kronos was grinning at him. What makes you think you or anyone will be here a thousand years from now? We are what survives. We have been here since the dawn of time.

"Then maybe it's time for that to end." He took a step toward them, and as he did they faded, replaced by the old hermit and his young self. He knelt in front of the hermit. "Tell me," he implored. "Tell me what I need to know to defeat them."

You already have the knowledge, Duncan MacLeod. Your challenge will be to find it in yourself and know how to use it. He pointed a long finger at MacLeod. Be who you are. Use that like you've never used it before. Only that way can you defeat the evil.

The hermit started to fade away. "No! Wait! I don't understand!" he shouted at the wavering figure, but it was too late. The last thing he heard was the words of his younger self.

Good must always triumph over evil. Did ye not know that?

As the words stopped echoing in the cave, he looked around. Nothing. No one. He was alone. Body and soul, utterly alone. He lay down on the floor of the cave and curled into a ball, sobbing. Huge, wracking sobs that shook his whole being. He tried to call for his mother, but no sound would come out of his mouth. He hadn't felt this alone or scared since he was a boy. He finally cried himself to sleep.


go on to part two...