|Love Never Fails
by Maxine Mayer
YEAR OF OUR LORD, 2084, LONDON, ENGLAND, EUROPEAN SECTOR:
The all-clear siren rang out, a blatant, undulating, repetitious melody, three notes, for nearly a minute. Adam MacLeod's head ached but he ignored the feeling as he limped out from behind the counter and over to the windows. One after another, he zipped the blinds up, allowing the dark of night and the sparse illumination of the gas street lights into the hotel reception area. Then he limped the further few steps back to the reception desk counter and lit the seven-tiered candelabra from the small votive light he'd left burning during Curfew Warning. It was past nine in the evening, the Tenth Month - September, they'd once called it - and he was well into his shift.
Moving slowly back around the counter, Adam rested his elbows on the edges of the large journal he'd been reading. He'd found that was the easiest way to keep the pages flat while he studied. His forehead in one hand, his other hand rested lightly on the page, slowly moving from word to word as he studied the Archaic English, trying to recall every nuance, every reference, every trivial reference....
The slender Pre-Immortal hand felt warm as it touched his skin where the flaps of his leather tunic didn't quite meet, where the thonged seam was broken at the elbow. He glanced around and smiled at the boy, his "son."
Many of Adam's kind adopted Pre-Immortals now. It was no longer a whim for the tender-hearted, nor a ploy for the evil-minded. It was a necessity for Immortal Males. The Genetic Laws required a man's availability to any fertile woman. Owning a child was a proof of virility which often came in handy - particularly since none of their kinds' seed "caught" - ever. Adam's Identity Card was stamped in a routine manner, when he showed up at the Council Office every three months, the boy tagging along at his heels, effective camouflage.
Soon the child would be old enough to name. Twelve years. Adam MacLeod Number 1 of 1 would be Identified, Tattooed, Named, Filed. That would be his last sight of the boy he'd taken in ten years ago. The Naming Day. From then until young Marcus - he'd privately named the child Marcus long before - was eighteen, he'd live in the London Training School for Mathematics.
There were four such designations, possibilities, besides the Camps - Mathematics, Languages, Genetics, Religion. Adam felt a small stirring of satisfaction - it'd been touch and go for the boy, for a while there, in the Lower School. The child showed gifts in every direction. For Languages - almost as though he'd absorbed Adam's own aptitude through contact! For Genetics - which meant the little one was extra-smart, capable of understanding computer programming, biology, physics, chemistry - the runt! And Religion. There was the danger, the worst option, from Adam's point of view. Philosophy, religion, history, sociology, psychology - foolishly, Adam'd spoken freely with the boy, nearly from infancy. It'd been a mistake. The child's Rating in Religion had almost catapulted him into the Higher Order - the Ruling Class. It would have been a disaster, when his Immortality was triggered, to have been Cloistered or worse, on View - a Leader.
Fortunately, the little one's Rating in Mathematics was the highest of all. This was a wonderful plus - the Mathematics School trained those destined for the Space Program. It didn't matter whether or not the child was physically equipped to move into Space. Only his mind mattered. It was a position of great privilege, yet diminished responsibility, compared to the Higher Order, the Religious Ruling Class. And best of all, in the Mathematics Line, at eighteen, the boy could choose to see him again, if he wished, if he wished....
Closing the journal Adam turned to his son. "What?"
"There's another of our kind on his way, Father." Marcus' voice was strong but he spoke quietly, careful not to be overheard, though not a soul besides Adam was in the reception area, nor likely to be, at this time of night. Curfew had sounded.
Marcus was the only Pre-Immortal Adam had ever known who could sense their kind, a freakish thing, one of the many ways in which his son was set apart from everyone, by nature. "Where from?" Adam asked, quickly grabbing his rifle from behind the counter and slinging it across his shoulders and chest, then slipping his sword into the belt at his waist. He adjusted his round-collared white tunic, fastening the single button at his throat.
"From the front. A man and his 'son,' like us." Then, after a moment, "He's big. The man."
Adam grinned. "Is he? Well, it's been a while, but I think I still have the stuff, even against a big one." Ruffling Marcus' hair, he added, "Wait here."
"I shall attend you, Father. You must appear as wealthy and proud as the other one. It is only right, since you are."
"Am I?" At his son's nod, Adam agreed. "Then come along. If there's honor in this one, his boy will attend him as well. But stay alert."
Coming out from behind the counter, Adam MacLeod, Night Porter at the Gray Inn, London, stood easily, waiting for the Immortal Signature to assail his senses. He didn't have long to wait.
And when he felt it - the unforgettable aura trumpeting in his brain - he nearly fainted.
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod - I wish I could offer you a beer but I'm all out!"
"Meth - Adam!" Duncan appeared stunned.
Adam studied the tall figure, unchanged on the whole from when he'd last seen him sixty years before, in Paris. Apart from his clothing - the threadbare white tunic, the leather breeches, the thonged sandals, no stockings, the loin-skirt, lightly hanging from the belt at his waist, short, reaching only to mid-thigh - Mac looked the same. His hair was longer, braided in the current fashion for the Warrior Caste, the way the American Indians once wore theirs, centuries before. A pendant hung on a leather cord around Duncan's neck. A Watcher pendant. So, this was how Mac had preserved his life these long years, Adam thought. Made cause with the Sub-Caste. A mercenary, bought and sold by the Rulers. Poor proud Duncan - what a shame!
Releasing his shoulder sack and letting it slip to the floor, Duncan signalled without looking at his boy, a youth of nine or ten, Adam judged. Quite as tall as Marcus, but stockier, with a closed hard face and dark skin and hair, much like Duncan's. Adam smiled. Clever Mac, to choose a "son" so like himself in appearance.
The youth stepped forward and stuck out his hand. "I am Duncan Pierson, Number 1 of 1," he said proudly, almost grabbing Adam's hand when the man didn't immediately offer it. "I'm pleased to meet you, sir. I've heard a lot about you."
"What have you been telling him, Mac?" Adam asked, a little nonplused.
"That we were friends for a long time - more than a quarter of a century - and that you are the best Immortal I've ever known," Duncan said quickly. "That's why I took your last name when we parted."
Marcus spoke softly. "Father says the same of you, sir. That Duncan MacLeod was the best he'd known, and so he took your clan name when you - parted."
"Your boy - he looks old enough for the Upper Schools - when does he leave you?" Mac asked, his tone compassionate.
"Marcus? Soon. He's twelve - or will be in a month. Yours?"
"Theo? Ten. I've two more years -" Duncan took a deep breath. "I don't know how I'll stand it when he goes. Languages, it looks like. I'd hoped for Mathematics but it wasn't in the stars. He'll travel, though." Duncan put his hand on the lad's shoulder. "Later, perhaps, I can go with him, train him - if I live."
"Marcus goes to Mathematics, London, Eleventh month. I won't see him again until he's eighteen." Adam stopped. Nothing more to say.
"I'm sorry, Adam," Duncan replied. "But it's better than the other - Religion - politics. The Higher Order. I don't think any child of yours could easily stomach it. I know Theo couldn't, either."
Adam murmured something non-commital, then went back behind the counter. "I'm Night Porter here. Did you want a room? Or two?"
Duncan frowned. "A room? Oh, yes. I'm here for the Trial. I've been selected by the Watchers as bodyguard to Michael Forbes. Theo and I can share." He stared hard at Adam, who immediately realized that the Immortal and his boy were intimate, as he was with Marcus. Adam flushed. It was not something he'd expect of Duncan MacLeod. With a child. But the Wars were rough on everyone. Nobody left to trust but a youngster you'd trained yourself and bound to you with love. He was surprised, yes, but not astonished. Not under the circumstances. Sixty years is a long time, even for Immortals. He decided he'd better not assume anything about Duncan - much can change in sixty years.
"Marcus, show Theo to Room 3 - it's on the top floor, near the attic, Mac. There's a skylight to the roof, and access to adjacent roofs from there. Quite safe and convenient, I assure you."
"Did you want to talk, Adam?" Duncan asked, frowning again. "I'm tired. I'd like a wash, and a sleep -"
"Your son is safe with mine, Duncan," Adam replied sharply. "Don't worry."
"I - I meant no offense -"
"And I've taken none. Marcus is destined for the School of Mathematics. He would no more injure a Pre-Immortal than he'd make an error on an examination. Don't worry. Just wanted to catch up a bit on old times. I've got some brandy. Drink with me?"
Adam watched the conflicting emotions pass across Duncan's face, like a moving picture show. Anxiety, fear, pride, determination, and finally, decision. "Yes. I'd like that." Then he turned to Theo and lifted his chin, wordlessly telling the child to go with Marcus. "I'll be up soon, son."
Theo's face was closed and sullen again, and he eyed Adam with mistrust. But he obeyed without remark or question, following the older boy up the stairs.
Without a word Adam took a bottle from its hiding place under the counter and walked without limping over to a closed door. He opened it and led the way into the back office. Duncan followed him. Adam took a swig of the brandy and handed the bottle to his old friend, who drank deeply, then looked around for a place to sit. Choosing a leather armchair he stretched his legs, laid his head back and rested the bottle on his knee.
"I like your hair that way, Methos," Duncan remarked with a smile. "I used to wonder how you looked in the olden days, when you were young. I never imagined you with long curls held back with a clip, though. Always, I pictured you like in Roman times, wearing a toga, with a Caesar cut."
Resting his backside against a large desk, Adam folded his arms on his chest and replied, "I try to blend in. We Warriors all dress and groom ourselves pretty much the same nowadays." He flicked his loin-skirt. "Right down to the cock."
"Racial suicide." Duncan shook his head. "I never thought it would come to that - when the Wars started in '50. But it did. Sixty million men killed - or rendered impotent through biological warfare - in the European Sector alone. In one month. Incredible."
"Who are we to judge? In the end there can be only one. We've made a game of it. At least they call it by its name - war."
"It's not the same, Methos, and you know it," Mac replied hotly.
Adam looked at him for a moment, then changed the subject. "Did you go hungry?" he asked in a low voice.
"For a while. Until the dust settled. We Immortals have our talents. I could forage for food where modern man was at a complete loss." He shrugged. "I survived. How about you?"
"I was holed up in India - had been for years. Not much to eat there at the best of times," Adam remarked with a grin that didn't reach his eyes. "When the Wars reached us, the chemical bombs poisoned the wells, and whatever food we had stored. Explosions from conventional bombs burned the rice paddies, destroyed our homes. It was - grim. My family - such as it was - hell, the whole village, perished in days. I - survived."
"You always do, Methos."
"I couldn't stay there so I came north. First, to France. I looked for you -"
"I was in New York when it started. I flew to Scotland. But - I couldn't save anybody. It was a while before I hooked up with the Watchers, started working for them. By '55, when the political scene settled, and the World Higher Order took control, I'd been in service for quite some time."
"How'd you get into the Arm?"
"The Watchers wanted me there. To infiltrate. Spy. It was my ticket to freedom, I figured, so I joined up."
"You still wear the pendant -"
"I still belong to the Watchers. Couldn't get free. I spied for them. They spied on me."
"Lots of medals, Mac?"
"Not medals. Just responsibility. I helped organize the Western Arm. Then they sent me back to the States to work with the North American Arm. Then to China - I spoke the lingo - to shore up the Chinese Arm. And finally - again because I knew the language - to Moscow, to put the finishing touches on the Russian Arm."
"And after that?" Methos prompted.
"Must've forgot about me - I was in Russia for years." Mac shrugged. "How about you?"
"I stayed with the Western Arm for ten years - '60 to '70. Then I invalided out."
Duncan looked at him hard. "You what?"
"Invalided out. War wound. My left thigh, and right up my left hip." He lifted his loin-skirt and exposed a hideous scar, along with everything else that the skirt had covered.
"Methos, we don't scar, after achieving Immortality. We heal -"
"Not if we work things right! I planned it for months. Got the idea from the Watcher tattoo. Figured, if I could hang on to that, I could do this. Carried gun powder and poison with me, sliced my thigh and hip, and smeared the stuff in, healed around it - scabbed, scarred - it wasn't easy - I had to keep doing it several times, before it took. After that, it was simply a matter of time until I could maneuver myself into a situation where it would appear I'd been wounded in action." When Duncan said nothing, Adam added with a straight face, "I still limp."
"No, I don't - but I do, if you get my meaning. In my sleep."
"You really wanted out?"
"I didn't care for the way things were going. The Western Arm was brutal. And it was peppered with our kind. Bloodthirsty bastards, to a man. Made Caspian look like a rational person. I had no idea it was your brilliant mind behind it all."
"I'm sorry, Methos. I had to prove my worth, to live. I had - responsibilities. There was another boy before Theo. But he didn't survive."
"He would have, though, wouldn't he, Mac, if it'd been up to you?"
"Yes." Duncan was silent for a moment. "The Arms didn't need my military know-how and experience, Methos. There were plenty around who could train men for war - more of them every day."
"But you wanted to make your mark -"
"I modeled the Arms after Mad Max."
Adam laughed out loud. "You're kidding!"
"Thought you'd get a kick out of that! At first, the politicians thought I was crazy, then, later, they decided a crazy military force wasn't such a bad idea. So they let us dress as we wanted, do what we wanted - as long as we patrolled properly, defended their houses and women and land, 'donated' our seed, and let them run things."
"So, you didn't starve, after all."
"No. I see you didn't either. How long have you been in London, doing this?" Duncan asked with a gesture to indicate he meant being Night Porter in the small hotel.
"About ten years. Since I found Marcus. It's got the virtue of obscurity."
"Always a plus."
Adam nodded. "It's a quiet life. The management respects me, for my past with the Western Arm. And the government believes in my - potency - because of Marcus. It's a good life. Quiet, but rewarding. Watching the boy grow, teaching him, loving him - I haven't been this happy since the Golden Age of Greece and Rome. Peace, MacLeod. A blessing."
"I'm happy for you," Mac replied, then stood and handed the bottle of brandy to Methos. "Now, I've gotta get some rest. And Theo will be waiting for me. He doesn't sleep unless I'm with him. After the Wars, I didn't trust anyone, until I took him to live with me. Now, I don't need to trust anyone else. I have Theo," he asserted defiantly.
"Mac, I understand. Marcus and I are the same. It's - part of the price - and part of the reward - for taking them into our lives. Our own private Idahos. Hell, I've lived through centuries when it was the only way to go. Don't fret. It's not a problem."
"I'd - I'd hoped you'd understand. For years now, whenever I thought about you, Methos, I prayed you'd know how it was, understand."
"Well, I do. Now - go on up and get some sleep. The Trial's not until next week. You should have plenty of time to rest. Get your strength back. What have you been doing, anyway? You look like hell."
"We walked from the Russian Sector."
"Walked? But why?"
MacLeod took a deep breath. "I -"
"What is it, Mac? Spit it out."
"What I told you about the Trial, and about Theo's prospects - it's - it's not true. I'm not here for the Trial. I'm - AWOL. The Higher Order - they're not taking the lad into the Languages School. Nor any other School. He - failed his tests. He's older than he looks. He'll be twelve in the Summer, and he's destined for the Camps, not the Schools. I can't let them take him to the Camps -" Duncan sounded frantic, beside himself. His agony was apparent.
"No, of course not. How could you? He's your son -" Adam patted Mac's shoulder. "We won't let them have him."
Duncan's head jerked up and he stared into Methos' eyes. "We?"
"Hey, I wasn't too keen to lose Marcus to any of the Schools, myself - not even Mathematics. Six years without seeing him. I'd - accepted it. Resigned myself to it. Now - well, let's just say, two heads are better than one. What I couldn't do alone - hide my son - we could do together. For both of them. And both of us."
"You'd do that? Take such a risk?"
"You'd be an outlaw, Methos. They'll hunt us. I don't know where we could hide-"
"Neither do I. But we'll think of something. I've survived over five thousand years and you've been around nearly five hundred. Speaks volumes for our ingenuity, doesn't it?"
"This won't be a good thing for your boy, you know. He'd be better off in the Mathematics School. Cared for, honored, safe -"
"Shut up, MacLeod. Safe? Brainwashed, you mean! If they can. They'll try, that's certain. And Marcus isn't an easy sell. Who knows whether he'd be safe there? A few run-ins with the Hierarchy and they'd likely send him to the Camps after all, as an incorrigible. Then I'd never see him again."
"I agree. A son of yours is likely to be insubordinate. I'm surprised he's lasted this long in the system!"
"Only because I insisted he keep his mouth shut in School -"
"If you're not there to discipline him, he'll never make it."
"It's agreed, then?" Methos asked anxiously. "We'll go together?"
Duncan stuck out his hand and Methos hastened to grab it. "Agreed," Mac said.
The embrace that followed was not intended - at least not by Adam - but he didn't pull away when Mac hugged him close. And Methos' spirit soared when Mac whispered in his ear, "I haven't forgotten. I haven't changed."
"You put the life back into me, Mac."
"If I do, I'm glad."
It was only a moment before the two Immortals pulled apart. The time it took to untie the leather belts holding their loin-skirts in place. A fraction of a second before Methos was kneeling in front of MacLeod, burying his head against the younger man's belly, then settling low on his heels so that his mouth was touching Mac's genitals.
"Have you been busy, Duncan?" Adam asked pointedly, reaching a hand around Mac's cock and squeezing, his other hand clamped tight on his former lover's thigh.
Duncan's voice was strong when he answered. "I've serviced more women by Law under this regime than I fucked of my own free will in all the four hundred and fifty years before. I never take a woman by choice now. Never. It's become disgusting to me, what was once the most beautiful, natural sort of sex. That's why I love Theo so much. He's as far as I can get from everything I'd always taken for granted. I'll never go back to the old ways. That's all finished for me. Forever."
"Forever? That's a long time, Mac."
"I mean it. I - couldn't, even if the world around me changed. I'll never forget the feeling of being forced."
Methos nodded. "I know what you mean."
"And you? Kept you busy, too, have they?"
"Well, I suppose, given the length of my life, my numbers don't match up as well. But it's been a long time since I've looked at a woman for pleasure - beautiful or not. When they signal me, I close my eyes and perform, like a trained monkey. Or a prostitute. Which is what they've made us." Methos sighed, keeping up his stroking of Mac's erection while he talked. "I thought my whoring days were behind me. And the irony! I really used to get a kick out of irony but I believe I've lost my sense of humor. Forced to fuck for seed, when my seed's sterile, is more irony than even I can stomach." He kissed Mac's cock. "Loving the boy - that's as far from loving a woman as I could get. I wanted to get very very far, believe it."
Duncan closed his eyes, the better to appreciate the feel of Methos' mouth on his organ. "Your lad - Marcus. He's reached puberty, yes?"
"That's right. We've managed to keep it a secret. But soon he'd have been forced to don the loin-skirt like the rest of us. Without even the memory of having loved a woman. When he was accepted to the Mathematics Track I was glad - they're celibate in the Higher Schools, you know. I was grateful for the reprieve, for Marcus' sake. But getting him clear away, that's even better." He kissed Mac's prick, then flicked his tongue out quickly, like a snake, and licked it. "Hmm, you taste good, just the way I remember."
MacLeod took hold of Methos' shoulders and drew him up, holding him close enough that their groins were touching. He looked his friend in the eye. "This is very dangerous. I don't know where we can go with them. How we can hide them. And - they're Pre-Immortal. If they're killed now, so young -" He shook his head. "I knew a boy Immortal once. It wasn't pretty, Methos."
Mac nodded. "You knew him?"
"No. But I've heard about him. Amanda spoke of him once. And Richie. Not pretty, no."
"You still want to go through with this? I won't think badly of you if you change your mind, Methos."
"Don't be more of an ass than you need to be, MacLeod! I don't change my mind. It's not in my character. In for a penny, in for a pound. Now - my room's on the first floor. The escape route isn't so good as from the room I gave you and Theo - but then, you won't leave without him, so that's no problem. Wanna fuck?" Methos asked with a grin.
"I thought you'd never ask!"
"You're skin feels rough, MacLeod," Methos said, when he'd undressed the younger man and stretched him out on the bedspread and arranged his limbs like a sculptor's model.
"Compared to the olden days, maybe. I haven't been using the finest lotions lately. Haven't had a bath since Germany. That's a couple weeks, easy." Duncan smiled. "I don't suppose you've got hot water, do you?"
"Nope. Marcus thinks I'm rich. I suppose I am," Methos said, leaning into Duncan's body and smoothing a hand along his legs, then his thighs, and upward, to his shoulders. "Lost everything in '50. But I retired from the Arm on full pay. But even I can't buy what isn't for sale - hot water!"
Mac sat up, stopping Methos' hands. "But you do have water?"
"Yeah, sure. A shower. Cold."
"May I use it?"
"It's cold, Mac -"
"It's water! You got soap?" Mac stood, striding towards a door across the room. "Is that the bathroom?"
"No. It's a closet. The bath is down the hall. However, I suggest you don't go there. Several of the lodgers in this hotel are spies for the Higher Order. They don't take kindly to men who spill their seed on the ground - in the biblical sense."
"How will they know, Methos?"
"They'll know, believe me. They've got a nose for these things. It's a gift. One look at you, they'll know we're wasting our seed. Denounce us. We won't even have time to get the boys out of here, let alone make it to safety."
"Come on, Mac. Get back over here. I want to ravish you, rough skin and all!"
"All right." But MacLeod did the ravishing, pouncing on Methos like a starving man, kissing him, sucking on his tongue, then burying his head in Methos' groin. Suddenly, Mac's shoulders started to heave.
"What's so funny?" Methos asked, then shut up when he saw that Duncan was weeping, not laughing.
"I thought I'd never see you again."
"Never's a real long time, MacLeod."
"All the same, that's what I thought." Mac rested his head on Methos' chest and held him close. "When we 'parted,' it seemed like it would be forever."
"Ten minutes without you seemed like forever to me," Methos replied seriously. "I don't know what got into us - to give up what we had."
"It made sense at the time. We weren't fucking. The thrill was gone. We did what I've done a hundred times with Immortal Women. Took a break. But it didn't seem like a break when the Immortal wasn't Amanda, or the others. When the Immortal was you."
"Just as well. I know I'd never have survived the Wars if you'd been hanging around my neck like a millstone."
"Just kidding!" Methos ruffled MacLeod's hair. "But look at us! Has anything changed? We're still talking instead of fucking! Hard-ons like these, and we're talking! Anybody else, by this time I'd be three feet deep into you!"
"Or I, in you!" Mac grinned. "It's a curse, I guess. Sometimes I'd really rather talk to you, and hear your voice, than make love to you - or anybody else, for that matter."
"You think it's some kind of perverse foreplay?" Methos asked, his mouth twisting in a grin.
"I think I'm gonna eat you alive, right now!" And Mac proceeded to do so.
Adam tapped on the door of the room he'd given Mac, who opened it quickly and let Adam and Marcus in. All four, including the very young Theo, were dressed for travel in their best leather breeches, walking boots, heavy tunics and capes. Both boys wore insignia from the Western Arm, their right as officers' sons.
MacLeod wasn't wearing his Watcher medallion but he was sporting a Western Arm chevron patch on his cloak. Methos' patch was hidden on his vest over his heart.
"Why not wear it openly, Methos? It can only do us good. Service to the State is a plus."
"Not always, Mac. Depends where we end up. There's always time to expose it, if it's to our advantage." Adam frowned. "I don't know about the boys. Couldn't they just carry the chevrons? Must they flaunt them?"
"Okay, okay!" Then he foraged around in his shoulder sack, finally dumping the contents on the bed.
"What are you looking for?" Mac asked.
"My spare loin-skirt, if you must know. Ah, here it is."
"What do you need that for now?"
Ignoring Duncan's question, Methos pulled Marcus over to the bed and pushed him down on it. Taking a dagger from his waist, he sliced at Marcus' breeches, then ripped away the leather around the boy's genitals. "There." He kissed Marcus' forehead, gave his shoulder a squeeze, then tossed the spare loin-skirt at the child. "All yours, now. Be prepared. They might signal you. If they do, pretend you know which end's up, and spill your seed into the cunt. Don't resist. They'll take you to the Camps, if you resist. Understand?"
"Yes, Father," Marcus said quietly, sitting on the edge of the bed and fastening the loin-skirt around his waist. "We're finished now?" he asked solemnly, looking Adam straight in the eye.
"Yes. Finished. Forget me. Take care of Mac's boy when we separate. Theo seems a good sort - aren't you, Theo? A good sort?" Then he turned back to Marcus. "He's accustomed to a lot of love. Getting it, returning it. He'll keep you busy. But keep your eyes open, don't let him distract you."
"What are you doing, Methos?" Mac asked angrily. "My son isn't ready for this -"
"Then get him ready, Duncan. We can't travel as fathers and sons. We've got to separate. You with me - two military men - servants of the Western Arm. The boys as Schoolboys, off to a fresh term in a Higher Order School - Languages, I think. I've got papers around here somewhere that I can doctor up for them to carry. That would be best - for both of them. That's where they're to tell people they're going if they're stopped and asked. Just two lads together, off to a Languages School."
"Theo's not old enough -"
"To do what? To spill his seed into a fertile woman?"
"Don't be a fool, Duncan MacLeod. You want to save your son's life, you've got to let him do whatever it takes to survive. If it means servicing women at the tender age of twelve, then so be it. How do you think I've survived as long as I have?"
"I don't know - I don't care! Not my son!" MacLeod insisted passionately.
"Your son. Or - your 'dead' son. Which shall it be, Mac?"
"It'll be all right, Father," Theo said, slipping his hand into Duncan's, wrapping his arm around his father's waist and hugging him. "If Marcus can leave Adam, I can leave you."
Mac crushed the boy to him. "I'd hoped to spare you this. That's why we ran, Theo -"
"Better one or two, now and then, on the road, Father, than all of them, every day, in the Camps. Besides, they'd find me out, in the Camps. That I can't fertilize the women. That I'm sterile. Then they'll dispose of me."
Mac looked with pleading eyes towards Adam. "Please, Methos, we'll find another way. The loin-skirt so young - how can you do this to your son, to mine?"
"I do nothing except what must be done, MacLeod." Then Adam turned to Theo. "Lay down and I'll cut you a place for your father's extra loin-skirt. Mac, get it out of your bag, please. Now. We can't stand here arguing about it. I've got papers to forge before first light."
In a low voice Mac said, "Give me the knife, Methos."
Without a word, Methos handed his dagger to Mac, stepping away from the bed where Theo lay, his leather-clad legs stretched out, slightly apart, as if awaiting a more decisive cut.
Mac knelt between his son's legs and stared into Theo's eyes. Then he made the requisite cut, ripping away the patch of leather to expose Theo's genitals.
Mac buried his head in the boy's neck. Then he kissed the child's forehead, his eyes, his mouth. When Mac lifted his head, Methos saw he'd left small marks on Theo's throat. Tears fell from Mac's eyes as he gripped his son's wrists, then let them go, using both hands to hold the child's face.
Adam noticed the boy's hands resting on the bedspread. They were strong dark hands, big hands, for a youngster, but it was clear to Adam now, after glimpsing Theo's genitals, that Mac had lied. This child was not anywhere near twelve. Possibly, he wasn't even ten. Not small for his age. Tall for his age. Developed and matured physically. But not yet ten.
Adam thought the goodbyes were over at last. But then Theo twisted away from Mac, threw himself onto his stomach and started to cry. Duncan shifted to pull the child into his arms, rocking him and crooning what sounded to Methos like a lullabye. Duncan hummed for a long time, shushing the boy, reassuring him that he was loved and patting his back as one might an infant's.
Adam was aghast at the intimacy - more than he'd ever thought to share with anyone. He glanced at his own son. Marcus' eyes were shining. The vision before them - more like a Madonna and Child than Father and Son - seemed to set the boy's heart on fire. Moving a few steps closer to Methos, Marcus smiled shyly. He took his father's hand and squeezed it once. Methos flinched but he didn't drop Marcus' hand.
When Theo stopped crying and moved away from Mac, the younger Immortal stood and took his spare loin-skirt out of his shoulder sack. He wrapped the garment around Theo's waist and tied the leather belt carefully, straightening the flap so it completely covered the boy's genitals. The skirt was large on Theo, too long for him, reaching almost to his knees. Just as well, Adam thought. The less of those thighs the fertile women see, the better for Theo. Methos rejoiced that Marcus wasn't husky and well-proportioned like Mac's son. He was happy that Marcus was lanky, almost scrawny. He'd be less appealing to the women, receiving the signal to service them less often, Adam thought. At least, for a time. Good.
"Ready to go, Mac?" Methos asked his friend, clamping a hand on the younger Immortal's shoulder. Mac shrugged it away.
"I'm ready." His voice was low and angry and ugly. Pushing Mac's son into puberty was a betrayal of trust MacLeod wasn't likely to forget or forgive, Methos knew. Ah well, it wasn't the first rip in the fabric of their friendship, nor would it be the last. They'd survive it. He hoped. At the price he'd be paying, they'd better.
Methos had decided that the first order of business was for the four of them to disappear from London and the European Sector entirely. He'd been apprehensive about the train ride from London to the airport at Heathrow. However, they arrived at the train station so early in the morning that there were few fertile women about and none of them fixed on the boys or Mac or himself, for servicing. He had a scare when a Higher Order woman passed them by on the platform, though. She stared hard at Mac and Adam could almost hear his old friend's teeth clenching, but she let them be, though Adam gestured to her, smiling and tapping his own loin-skirt, to draw her attention away from the others. Instead, she selected a young man of the Worker Caste who was buying a ticket, pulling him out of the line and over to a pillar. The coupling was swift - a sting from the woman's Cane, accompanied by a rough squeeze of her hand under the youth's loin-skirt, was enough to make the fellow hard.
As was his custom, Adam watched and schooled his son to watch also. But he saw Mac's mouth tighten and both the younger Immortal and his child turned away.
The train ride itself was uneventful, the boys sitting a few seats away from their fathers, talking quietly. Methos noticed with a surge of pride that his son appeared utterly artless, and totally in charge. From the moment they'd separated from the adults, Marcus had taken the lead in his relationship with Theo but he'd cleverly obscured that fact, a befitting bit of maneuvering in his child. Methos' child, who'd deliberately and convincingly "made an error on an examination," at Methos' behest, to lower his score on the Religious Aptitude test, thus removing himself forever from the possibility of being chosen as a candidate for the Higher Order - the government.
Theo, on the other hand, Adam noted, was a natural leader, like his adoptive father, and charming, when he wished to be. Clearly, he liked Marcus and wanted the older boy's approval and affection. Theo made a beeline for Marcus' heart. With a sigh, Adam realized as well that his son was lost to the younger child. Without a doubt, Marcus would protect the lad with his life.
Theo was charismatic, Methos thought. Like father like son. Pity. Because Theo wasn't really Mac's son. Didn't really deserve that sort of devotion. Did he? Probably not, Methos considered. But that decision was not up to him, not his concern any longer. He counseled himself to say nothing, see nothing, hear nothing. Above all, to do nothing. The wisest course. He'd raised Marcus as best he could. Taught him all he knew. Nature, nurture, experience. Again, the unanswerable question sprang to his mind. What makes a world-class survivor? Did Marcus have the stuff? Time would tell. What the boy did with his life now was in his son's hands, not his.
Passing the children in the aisle as they left the train Adam plucked a wad of universal currency from his breeches and shoved it into Marcus' hand, whispering, "North America, please, m'am, you say. To the Languages School in Vancouver, m'am, you say. Yes, both of us, my brother and I. Thank you, m'am, you say, we'll try to have fun! Get it?"
Marcus nodded and Adam moved on, Mac behind him, he hoped. Adam turned - just to check, not that he didn't trust MacLeod to follow him - and saw what he'd expected to see. Mac had stopped and grabbed Theo again, crushing the child to him in a desperate farewell. Well, okay then. As long as it was a farewell, not another kidnap attempt. Could a man kidnap his own son? Twice? Sure he could! But Mac wasn't doing that, so it was okay, Adam decided.
Patiently, he waited as long as it took and gave MacLeod's arm a sympathetic squeeze when the Immortal finally joined him and they walked towards the Southern Airstrip, leaving the boys behind on the train to ride the additional few miles to the Northern Departure Terminal.
"What?" he barked. "I've had enough of your talk for now, Methos. What do you want?" No doubt about it, Mac was still angry.
"Just - if anyone asks you where you're going tell them North America, Southern Sector, California. We don't want them to connect us with the boys."
"Fine. Now leave me the hell alone. Please."
"I will. Except for sitting next to you on the plane. I promise, I'll not bother you again, once we get to California. You can find your own sanctuary, you bastard."
"I'm saving your son's life, Mac," Methos spat out, furious. "You didn't ask, and I didn't say, but you trusted me, and you trusted your child with mine. Well, I'm telling you now. Marcus will take Theo to Alaska. There's Free Territory there. Marcus knows where, and how to survive when he gets there. I've got friends in Alaska and Marcus knows where to find them. My boy will look after Theo. Care for the child like a brother. As for you - well, you don't need any help from me, do you, MacLeod? Never have, never will."
"I'm not saying that," Mac replied quickly, backpedaling. He sighed. "You're right, Methos. I do trust you. Enough not to have asked you any questions. Enough to let my son go off with yours, without fear for his life. But for God's sake, you've got to understand. This isn't easy for me. Theo's been with me since he was an infant. He's only nine years old. We've never been separated. Have a little compassion."
"Like you've got for me? I won't see Marcus again, either. Until you showed up, I was expecting to be with him again, when he turned eighteen. Now, that dream's finished. I'll never know if he achieves Immortality. Whether he's alive or dead. I've been with Marcus for ten years. He's part of me - like his Higher Order Designation - Adam MacLeod Number 1 of 1. Just because I didn't sing him a lullabye as a farewell gesture, doesn't mean I don't love the boy!You expect me to have compassion for you? Have a little for me, you bloody asshole!"
The flight from London, European Sector, to California, Southern Sector, took forty minutes, not nearly enough time for Adam to have cooled off, nor for Duncan's grief and sense of loss to be blunted. But the discipline was there, in both Immortals, honed by centuries of action against enemies, fueled by an instinct - nay, a passion - for survival second to none.
Abandoning his wretched mood when they deplaned, Methos said, "I'll mosey on ahead, Duncan, check out the taxi stands. The Hovercraft Guild's a hotbed of spies."
"Why you? Why alone? Where are we off to?" Mac asked, roused sufficiently by the older Immortal's remarks that he shrugged off his grief as well.
Methos thought Duncan sounded frightened. "It's okay, Mac. I didn't mean what I said before. I won't leave you here on your own."
"I know that! I want to know what's going on!"
"I'm just reconnoitering. If all's well, I'll be back for you."
"Reconnoitering? You mean, putting yourself in the line of fire? If they pick you off, I'm supposed to run? Is that it?"
"Such a pessimist! Yes, yes, worst case scenario, run for your life. But don't leave too soon. I've got more than one arrow in my quiver. If the Militia pick me up - rather than off - I'll try to talk them down."
"I'm feeling sorry for them already," MacLeod retorted, grinning. "Okay, go. I'll watch your back."
Adam hoisted his shoulder sack and secured his rifle and sword. Limping across the tarmac, he raised one hand and signaled a taxi. The driver, clearly impressed by the war-weary soldier, moved down the track to meet his prospective passenger half-way.
"Want me to stow your gear in the trunk, Armsman?"
"I'll keep my stuff with me. Not going very far." Adam eyed the driver through an open passenger-side window, matching the man's face to his identification hologram. "My Commander stopped to pick up a souvenir for his wife. We'll be going straight through to Mexico City. Got enough fuel?"
"I just filled up. Should be enough. But there's a layover just north of the border where I can land and refuel if we run low, sir." The cabbie'd gotten out of the car and was leaning on the roof. He pointed behind Adam. "Is that your Commanding Armsman, sir?"
Methos turned, saw Mac, and nodded. "That's him. Okay, let's get this show on the road." He opened the back door for MacLeod and squeezed in after him. "Get a move on, driver. We haven't been home in six months. Don't want to waste a minute of our leave."
"Where've you been, Armsmen? European Sector? Is it quiet over there?"
"Like a tomb, my friend," MacLeod replied, searching his pockets. After patting his breeches a few times, he asked, "Got any tobacco, cabbie? International flights, short as they are, leave me cold. No liquor, no smoke, no sex." Duncan laughed, a soldier's vulgar bray. "Takes the joy out of traveling."
Adam raised an eyebrow, then nodded his approval, murmuring, "Not bad, Mac. Not bad at all. Ever think of joining a road troupe?"
"Where'd you think I learned, dummy?"
"Here -" the cabbie said, holding a small pouch so his passengers could see it. "For a pipe - Mixture 73 - ersatz cherry bark. Or, I've got a few cigars I picked up in Little Havana when I visited my family."
"I've got no pipe. How much for the cigars - four of 'em?" Duncan asked.
"Free to members of the Arm, sir. The North American Arm defended the City against the Traitors who invaded in '81. They'd have destroyed us all - dismantled the system, demolished our Higher Schools. My brother's in Mathematics, New York. They'd have killed all those boys, if it wasn't for Warriors of the Arm like you two."
Methos raised his eyebrow again, but Mac replied mildly, "We're trained to defend the People, the Land, and the Higher Order."
"Nothing's too good for you," the cabbie remarked. "Let me see where I put those cigars." Finding them, he offered the entire box to his passengers, who took it, selected four, and handed back the container.
"Where are we now?" Methos asked, glancing out the window and looking down at a small city below.
"Not far from the border - maybe a hundred kilometers."
"That's half an hour?" Mac asked.
"Give or take," Adam replied. "Why?"
"Just thinking. Takes longer to reach Mexico City than it took to get over here from the Western Sector."
"Technology. Gotta love it," Adam quipped, then drew a swift breath. "Sorry, Mac."
"I don't mind. It's been a long time. I'm used to him being gone. All of them, being gone."
"Were you there, at the end?"
"No. Nor Anne's. But I've visited the graves. Many times. Before the Wars."
"And since?" Methos asked, curious. "Too busy?"
"Intel was, the Paris cemetery, and the Seacouver one where Joe was laid to rest, were bombed in '50, right at the outset of the Wars. I had no stomach for seeing that."
"I didn't know. But then, I haven't been back to Paris in - I don't know how long. Not to speak of Seacouver. The past is over. I wasn't about to make a grand tour of gravesites."
"Not a drop of sentiment in you, is there, Methos?" Mac asked, his tone contemptuous.
"Nope. It's a waste of time."
"I'm surprised you made time for me. To help me, that is. Amazed you still remember. Or give a damn."
"No need for that kind of talk, Mac. What's bugging you now?"
"I dunno. Just ornery, I guess. I still haven't got the hang of it."
"Of what, Duncan?"
"The hang of leaving the past behind, the way you do. Like a closet full of old clothes I don't want to be bothered packing."
"That's what you think? That I don't want to be bothered with the past?"
"It's the way it is, right? Mourning, grieving, remembering - takes a lot of time and effort. Puts a man off his feed. A little like guilt. Pointless. Not something you'd care to be bothered with."
Methos chuckled. "I don't seem to have risen much in your estimation, Mac, since the last time we saw each other. Actually, since you found out about the Horsemen. Doesn't matter what I do for you or anybody else, you seem stuck there, stuck in your horror and contempt. Haven't budged an inch."
"What you do, you do for your own selfish reasons, Methos. I know that, even if it doesn't seem that way to you. I'm grateful for your help but I don't delude myself into believing you're doing it for me. I know who it's for, when you save my life. Or my son's. Or anybody's. It's for you."
"I wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth if I were you, MacLeod. Whatever my reasons, your life gets saved. Be happy I still care enough to put effort into doing such a selfish, personally rewarding, completely egotistical thing," Adam replied venomously, gazing out the window. "Time enough to get snippy when I no longer give a shit." After a beat, "Which could be any time now."
"We've crossed the old border, into Mexico Territory, Armsmen," the cabbie called out. "We'll be at Mexico City Airport in a little under ten minutes."
"Good," Mac answered. Then, more quietly, for Adam's ears, "That's where we'll split up, right?"
"Right. All things being equal, I'll drop you off at the Monastery of Santa Clara. You can hole up there for a couple years, then take off when they've stopped searching for you. I'm for the hills. I'll join up with a friend, one of us. He's got a small resistance cell. The 'Invading Hordes,' our cabbie friend would probably call them. He's rescued - I dunno - couple hundred bright boys from the Higher Schools. Our kind. They'd have been found out, a few years down the road, and sent to the Camps. Right now, if you're looking for Pre-Immortals, Mexico's the place to go."
Mac turned to Methos, his eyes full of pain. "But why, Methos? Why'd you send Theo and Marcus to Alaska Free Territory, when we could have brought them here, to your friend?"
"Because Mexico Territory isn't free and I'm not sure Benito's Hideaway's still around, or safe. And I am sure Edward Rasmussen's in Alaska - ready, willing and able to raise our sons."
Mac dropped his head into his hands and muttered, "I'd have taken the chance -"
"Sure you would, Mac - you think with your heart. I use the body part designed for thinking - my head. You want Theo safe - or just here?"
"Safe," Mac murmured, after a moment.
"Well, then, I've done the right thing yet again, haven't I? For my own selfish reasons, of course."
"Good. Glad we agree. So - I'll bring you to Santa Clara's and introduce you to the head honcho. Father Anselm's a good sort but he might not be happy to see a Warrior of the Western Arm at his gates. I'll smooth the way."
"I'm not going to holy ground, Methos."
"Beg pardon? Did I hear a hint of insubordination, Duncan? This is a military operation. I'm in charge. You're for holy ground. I'm for the hills. It's not up for discussion."
"I'm coming with you. If your friend Benito is still around, if his safehouse is still - intact - I'm gonna travel to Alaska, find Theo and bring him back to Mexico. We can be together. I'll pay my way - help the resistance. It won't be the first time."
"Mac, why would you do that? I'll be with Benito. You can't be there too. You don't want to start us up again, do you? It's not gonna work. We found that out sixty years ago."
"Don't worry. I won't bother you. I'm sure there's enough room in the hills for both of us."
"MacLeod, there's not enough room in the universe for the two of us!" Methos shook his head. "Peace. I had peace for sixty years. Wars, famine, pestilence, death. Servicing women. Lots of irony. A kid who was too smart for his own good. But - peace."
"What's this all about, Methos? You didn't seem so unhappy to see me yesterday. Your equipment worked fine, too. What's your problem?"
"You were passing through. Now, you're not. That's my problem."
"I'm good enough for a quickie but too much trouble to live with?"
"Hey, Mac, if the shoe fits...."
"So, let me get this straight," Mac continued as he shifted in his seat so he could look Methos in the eye. "You're telling me that I'm gonna need to track you to the hills, because you won't take me there. That I'll need to infiltrate your friend's resistance cell, because you won't vouch for me. And that I'll need to find Theo and Marcus wherever you sent them up in Alaska, all on my own, because you won't come with me to get them? Is that the drill?"
Methos sighed theatrically. "No, asshole, that's not the drill. The drill is, I'll help you, then I'll fucking disappear. Like always." He raised a hand. "Suit you better?"
"Like a glove. Long as you help me, I don't give a shit what happens afterwards. I got along without you for the last sixty years - I'll be fine."
"Last stop, Mexico City Hovercraft Pad! Everybody out!" shouted the cabbie. "It's been a pleasure meeting you two. Glad to be of service. The ride's on me!"
The heat hit the two Immortals like a blast from an oven the moment they stepped onto the tarmac. It was Southern Sector heat, fiery and dry, and the sun's rays roiled and burned, blinding them with their brilliance.
"God, Mac, I'd forgotten!" Adam exclaimed, momentarily stunned. "After London, this is - incredible!"
"You always did love the sun," Mac replied mildly, hefting both shoulder sacks onto his own strong back and tugging Methos' elbow to get him moving. "We've got no time to loiter here, appreciating it! There'll be more where we're headed!"
"Yeah, right." But Adam dawdled, working his shoulders and lifting his face to the sky, his eyes closed.
"What the hell are you doing? Sun-worshipping?" Mac cried.
"Nope, just giving thanks. Sometimes I forget how beautiful life can be, if you take a little sun, stir in a little heat, bake slowly for an hour, give the mess a good poke, then turn it over...." He chuckled.
The humor of his remarks seemed to escape Mac. "Speaking of baking - do you know any place handy to pick up some supplies? I don't suppose there's a green grocer every few kilometers where we're going."
"Hmm, supplies." The older Immortal came back to earth slowly, focusing on his friend's question. "There's a guy runs a general store not too far from here - close to where we're gonna disappear into the hills. I'm trying to remember -" He turned in place, shielding his eyes with both hands and staring into the distance.
"Methos, we've gotta get out of here! Can't you remember which way to go?"
"I'm thinking. It's not far, but where?" Adam paused. "It's been a while."
"Let's just walk, then. It'll come to you. Or we'll find someplace else. You do remember which direction Benito's place is in, don't you?" Mac asked, striding away from the Hovercraft Pad, heading for the tall grass beyond the tarmac.
"That, I remember. Northeast."
"Good. Let's go." Then, "A little faster, Methos. The sun's all around. You can worship when we put some distance between us and -"
Mac gasped. "Too late!"
"What?" Adam turned, then snapped to attention, the sun forgotten. "Madam. May I be of service?"
"One of you might be - or both, I haven't decided."
The fertile female circled them, snapping her Cane against her leg. She wasn't bad looking, Methos admitted, and her manner wasn't as arrogant as some. If she'd only choose him instead of Mac, the moment might be salvaged, disaster averted.
But Adam knew, when she flicked up his loin-skirt with her Cane, then moved to do the same to Mac's, that they were goners. He'd misjudged the female. Not arrogant - vicious.
"Where you two Armsmen off to?" she asked, continuing to circle them. "Gonna piss in the bushes?"
"Actually, that's what we had in mind, Madam," Methos replied, standing as still as possible but unable to keep his eyes from following her progress around Mac and himself.
"Very well, move along," the woman ordered, directing their progress from behind with sharp pokes of her Cane. "Now, here, stop."
They'd reached the edge of the tarmac, where the parched earth was barren of grass for a stretch. But tall grass grew nearby and in the distance Methos saw a landmark he recognized - the Church of St. Angelo, abandoned for more than a century. The first lap of their journey - a path into the hills - lay just beyond the graveyard behind the church. It was less than a kilometer away. If they only could get through the next five minutes and away from this female, without her discovering that Mac was AWOL -
"Well," she mocked, "piss! That's why you wanted to get over here, isn't it?"
"Yes, Madam," Methos agreed, wondering if Mac would be completely useless in this situation or would manage to find his tongue and help out.
Lifting his loin-skirt, Methos aimed at a clump of grass and urinated, a heavy stream that seemed to go on forever. When he'd finished, the woman applauded, and then turned to MacLeod.
"Now you!" she barked.
For the first time, MacLeod looked directly at the woman. And he smiled. He pulled his loin-skirt aside and Adam saw that Duncan was sporting an enormous hard-on. "My friend had to piss," Mac said. "Not me."
"Ah, good." The female moved into the grass and stood still, beckoning MacLeod with her Cane. "Come here. I'll take you first, since you're ready."
Methos watched Mac walk over to the woman. Still smiling, the younger Immortal lifted her from under her buttocks and impaled her on his cock. Methos was about to turn away when he got a better look at Mac's face. His friend's eyes were hard as he rotated in place, scanning the horizon. He winked at Methos, lowered the woman and himself to the ground, released one hand from her buttocks and drew his dagger from the scabbard strapped to his calf.
Mac didn't leave Methos even the instant it would take to cry out, or stop Mac's hand. Mac's dagger slid deep into the woman's belly while his other hand reached around and clamped hard on her mouth. He plunged the dagger in twice more, holding his body away from his victim's to prevent blood getting on his clothes. Then he withdrew the knife, wiped it on the grass and sheathed it, all in less than ten seconds. Methos was already holding his head in his hands and moaning in horror, when out of the corner of his eye he saw Mac twist and break the dead woman's neck.
"You want my gun so you can shoot her, too! No water here, so you can't drown her, but maybe we can find a tree to hang her from!" Methos exclaimed, furious.
Mac stood up and adjusted his loin-skirt. He shrugged but didn't reply.
"Are you insane?" Methos asked. "They'll find her and start looking for us!"
"We'll be long gone, Methos."
"Why? Why kill her? She was all right. She'd have left us alone, once she'd had her fun with us."
"She made me watch you piss for her. I wasn't gonna let her make me watch you fuck her."
"Ah, I see," Methos remarked with a nod. "You are insane. Fine. Let's go. Don't bother to bury her, or hide her body. Let's just put a bit of time and space between - this -" Methos flung out his hand and pointed to the dead woman's body - "and us."
They'd made good time through the long grass up to the abandoned church, then rested in the shade of its back porch which overlooked a graveyard. Mac slid down the wall and sat with his legs splayed, his head against the stone, eyes closed.
Methos squatted a few yards off, elbows on his knees, staring at the younger Immortal. His friend's skin was grayish and he thought it would be clammy to the touch - not that he had any intention of touching Mac now.
His spirit in turmoil, Methos contemplated the man before him, and the situation. Without question, this would not work for either of them. Whatever was wrong with Duncan, that made him do such a stupid, foolhardy, dangerous thing - kill a fertile female, an Officer in the local Militia, no less - whatever was driving his old friend, Methos couldn't bring him into contact with anyone else. Mac was a liability and would be a source of great danger to Benito and his sanctuary.
Their entire situation was remarkably fucked-up, Adam decided upon further consideration. They'd left Mexico City without food or water. They'd left a trail of blood behind them. And he was saddled with a man he no longer knew or understood.
Unfortunately, the logical course - to kill this albatross and go on alone - wasn't an option. Whoever Duncan MacLeod had become, Methos loved him. That had been a constant in his life since they'd met nearly a century ago. It hadn't changed through time, neither during their life together, not in the years they'd spent apart. A passage from the bible came to mind - Adam thought it was from Corinthians - and he repeated it a few times to himself. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
"It's generally practical to begin with the fundamentals," Methos mused aloud, not expecting a response from Duncan. "I've got you. Now, what the hell shall I do with you?"
"For starters, you can see if you can find us some water. I'm dehydrated and I expect you are, too," Duncan replied, startling Methos.
Ignoring the request for water, Adam asked again, somehow compelled to renew the question, "Why, Mac?"
"I told you. I wasn't going to watch you fuck her. What's more, I'm not going to service another one of them again, ever. If I need to die to prevent it, I'll take as many down with me as I can, before I go."
"You won't die, Duncan -"
"When they find out who's doing it - and make no mistake, this will happen again before we're safe, and the boys are safe and back with us - they'll search hard -"
"Doesn't mean they'll find us -"
"The Watchers know the truth about us, Methos. They know what we are and how to kill us, so, yes, I will die, sooner or later."
"You're too valuable to them for that, Duncan."
"Not any more. Now I'm a part of them they'll need to excise."
"They wouldn't kill you -"
"They would, Methos. If it counts for anything, I'll try to keep you from dying along with me. But I won't do - this," and he grabbed his loin-skirt and twisted the leather viciously, "again. And while I'm alive to prevent it, neither will you."
"Does the expression 'cut off your nose to spite your face' mean anything to you, MacLeod? I don't give a shit about it - why the hell do you?"
"I don't know. While Theo was with me, I wouldn't have dreamed of resisting. I did whatever I had to, so we'd survive. I serviced the women with a smile. I didn't make waves. I didn't question authority. I played your game - flitted in and out of the shadows, not calling attention to myself - kept a low profile. I didn't - breathe."
"It's not my game, Mac. It's theirs."
"Nothing's changed," Methos declared earnestly. "They still hold the winning cards. Resistance is futile. At this time."
"I've been playing at this for nearly thirty-five years, Methos. I'm through. They can re-stock their filthy race without my seed."
"Listen to yourself, MacLeod - you're as bad as the Renegade Watchers!"
"I meant what I said," Duncan told him.
Throwing up his hands in exasperation, Methos tried a different tack. "Okay, so the irony gets to you after a while. It gets to me too. But you gotta have a little patience, MacLeod -"
"Only if I still want to live. I don't," Mac replied quietly, for the first time opening his eyes, looking at Methos, and smiling. "I simply - don't."
"I thought you wanted to see Theo and Marcus safe, here with us."
"Yeah, so did I. But - you had the right idea. Theo's better off without me."
"Today, maybe, but there's more than just today. There's tomorrow, and ten years from now, and a hundred -"
"I won't be around to see it. Thirty-five years of enforced labor was plenty enough for me. I've had it."
"The Soviet Union fell. The Berlin Wall came down. The Third Reich perished. Napoleon is no more. The Roman Empire crumbled. The Greeks, the Persians, Babylonia, Egypt - cripes, Mac, thirty-five years is nothing to us!"
"Nothing to you, maybe. I can't live this way. I don't want to live this way. Your - perspective - doesn't work for me. It never really did."
Methos chuckled, "No, it didn't, did it?"
"No." Mac smiled gently and got up. Stretching and kicking the kinks out of his legs, he walked over to Adam, pulling him out of his crouch and holding his shoulders. "Do you remember me, Methos? I haven't changed. I still remember. Like I said. But you - do you remember?"
"I do now," Adam replied grimly.
When Mac fiddled with his loin-skirt, beginning to untie the leather belt, Methos mumbled, "What are you doing?"
"I wanna fuck."
"Holy ground, Mac -"
"Then we're safe here, right?" MacLeod replied with a grin, lowering Adam to the wooden slats and pulling away his loin-skirt, exposing the smooth white skin, short curly hair and hot flaccid cock beneath. Swiftly, he buried his head in Methos' groin, taking the object of his desire in his mouth. He sucked slowly, and Methos closed his eyes.
"You wanna fuck. Incredible." Reaching out his hands and resting them on Mac's head as he'd done so often, so long ago, he added, "Fine. I won't deny you what I give without resistance to every cunt that passes."
Mac let Methos' cock slip out of his mouth for the moment it took to say, "Resistance is futile," then pushed it into his mouth again.
As Methos' erection burgeoned under Duncan's ministrations, the old Immortal sought and found one of Mac's braids and undid the clasp, untwining the three thick strands and then the other braid, so Mac's hair, longer than he'd ever known him to wear it, lay in a heavy mass on the younger Immortal's shoulders. Without releasing Methos' cock from his mouth, Duncan looked up into his lover's eyes.
"Yes, yes, I want you, Mac," Adam murmured, "you know I do. I always did like 'crazy' best." When Mac's fingers gripped his hips, hard nails biting into his flesh, Methos added, "Dig in, by all means. Soup's on." Then he closed his eyes and gave himself over to sensation, a fleeting memory of Mac's prick impaling the fertile female, then his knife plunging into her belly, served to fling him over the edge within seconds. He came in Mac's mouth, his body jerking in spasmodic waves, his hands pulling at Mac's hair.
Methos didn't let a minute pass after he'd come. He flipped Mac over and ripped away his clothes, muttering, "You don't need all these, in this heat. Cripes, Mac, you'll suffocate!"
Duncan grinned. "You, too. Get out of that outfit. You look like a kid bundled up to play in the snow!"
"The blood, Mac! Have you any idea?"
"A pretty good idea, old man," Mac replied, grabbing Methos by the arms and pulling him close for a bruising kiss. "Getting a clearer picture all the time."
"Good." Methos pushed Mac onto his back and slid part-way down the huge body. He took Mac's cock in his hand, pumped it a few times, then quirked an eyebrow. He let go, rolled over. "You know what I want," he said simply.
"I'm not sure I've got enough saliva to ease my way," Mac joked, going to spit into his hand. Methos grabbed his wrist.
"No - don't. Do it dry."
Mac was still for a moment, his eyes fixed on Methos' face. Then he nodded once, lifted Methos' thighs and buttocks, positioned his cock and pushed. They both screamed but Methos grabbed Mac's arms and returned the push, willing himself to open, to permit entry. Mac's cock pulsed and got larger, as the similarity to rape titillated his mind and transmitted itself to his body. Methos closed his eyes and set up a rhythm of pushing and pulling back until Mac's whole length was inside him. Mac caught him up, lifting him onto his lap and they rocked together for a minute before he lowered Methos to the floor again and began the final series of plunges, one hand beside Methos' arm, the other pumping Methos' cock in rhythm with his own violent intrusion into the older man.
While they came Mac rolled them, freeing one of Methos' legs which he immediately wrapped around Mac's waist. The final spasms were nearly unbearable. Methos cried out Mac's name on a high keening note. Duncan had no voice left. When he threw back his head and howled the word "Methos," an affirmation to the sun, all that came out was a breathless gasp, soundless as death.
"I want water, Methos."
"There's an old well around the side of the church. I don't know if it's still got juice but it's close by. We can try there first." Methos was already dressed. He grabbed both their shoulder sacks and waited for Duncan. "Okay?"
"Okay." Mac stood and dressed, grimacing with distaste when he looked at the loin-skirt but fastening it on anyway. He had nothing else to cover his genitals.
"Mac -" Methos drew a deep breath, licked his lips, but couldn't continue.
"What is it? You worried about something?" Duncan asked sarcastically.
"Just a little. About you. You mustn't resist, Mac. You can't. You've gotta promise me, if a fertile woman comes along, that you won't resist."
"Or you'll do - what?" Duncan queried, his voice hard.
"Or I'll keep us wandering around in these hills until doomsday. I won't bring you to Benito's Sanctuary - risk his and the boys' lives - if you're gonna commit suicide. I can't let you take them down with you."
"Methos, you don't understand. You just don't get it -"
"I get it. Truly, MacLeod, I do."
"If you did, you wouldn't ask me to submit," Mac replied harshly. "You wouldn't submit, yourself."
"Duncan, I've submitted to this for thirty-five years. And to worse, far worse, for centuries. It didn't make me less of a man. This doesn't make you less of a man. It doesn't say a thing about us. Only about them. And the times."
"It's tyranny, Methos! As long as we submit to it, as long as we're willing to do anything to save our skins, it'll go on!"
"No, it won't. Sooner or later, it'll stop. And we'll still be alive to enjoy the change."
"Because other men died to change it!" Mac shouted.
"Mac, listen to me -"
"I know what you're going to say and I won't do it."
"You know? Then by all means, tell me. What am I going to say?" Methos asked, dropping their shoulder sacks, folding his arms in front of his chest and leaning back against the porch railing.
"That I should just do it for a little while. Until we see whether Benito's resistance cell is still there, if the children he's rescued are safe. Until we get up to Alaska Free Territory and find Theo and Marcus. Until we bring them down here, to Mexico, to safety -"
"That's right. You got it. Just for a while -"
But Mac continued. "Until Theo and Marcus are older. Until they achieve Immortality. Until we've taught them swordsmanship. Until they've learned to defend themselves. Until they can go out on their own. Until they've taken their first heads, until they've got a few Quickenings under their belts -"
"I'm right, aren't I? That is what you were going to say? Just for a little while? Until the final trumpet blows? That's right, isn't it? Compromise, don't resist, give in, let tyranny wash over us, until the End Game. Just a little while, isn't that right, Methos? So we survive."
Adam took a deep breath and expelled it. He ran his fingers through his hair, an odd gesture now that it had grown so long. Then he smiled. "Yeah. That's what I was going to say. What do you say, Mac? Just for a little while, so we survive?"
"Why do you want me to do this? Why do you want to destroy who I am, Methos?"
"Because it won't. It can't. And before you know it, the World Higher Order will be a memory. And you'll be alive, and you'll still be Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." Methos put out his hand and took Duncan's. "They can't destroy who you are, Mac. Because they can't destroy what I love. And I love you. I'll always love you. Love never fails."
Mac sagged against Methos and squeezed his hand. "I can't win an argument with you even when you agree that I'm right! Even when I know what you're gonna say! How do you do it?"
"Do what?" Methos asked, a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his lips. "Get you to do what I want you to do?"
"Yeah. How do you do it, bastard?"
"It's all in the wrist," Methos replied with a smile.
The well around the side of the church turned out to be dry but they came upon a small lake - fresh water - high in the mountains, just before nightfall. By that time they were both so tired, hot and thirsty they could hardly move.
"Let's just stay here for the night, Methos," Mac said after they'd drunk their fill. "I'm gonna get outta my clothes and sleep in it."
Adam laughed. "Leave room for me," he replied, stripping and diving into the lake, staying under for a minute, then surging up yards from where he'd gone in, splashing cascades of water around him as he shook his head, his hair flying.
Mac smiled, "I like your hair that way."
"You really like my hair long, Mac?"
"I really do!" Duncan dove in after Methos and grabbed him by the hair, pulling him into a tight embrace, then cupping his face and kissing him. "I think you look about twenty with your hair like this!"
"Only off by a few, Mac," Methos said softly, pushing out of Duncan's arms and floating on his back.
"What are you talking about?"
"Twenty-five. I was twenty-five when I got bumped off the first time."
"I thought you were at least thirty, maybe older."
"Thirty! I'd have been an old man by then. Practically dead of old age! Never could have survived."
"Well, you look older."
"We aged fast in those days."
"You really don't remember anything before you took your first head?" Mac asked, a hint of wistfulness in his voice.
"I really don't. Sorry. Just the last bit. The raid, the spear in my chest. Blacking out. Reviving. Everybody else dead. The raiders gone, with all our 'valuables' - a few trinkets and a haunch of bison."
"You were - married?"
"I don't recall. Probably. In those times, a man of twenty-five would certainly have been married, if he wasn't a shaman or some such. I wasn't deformed, so I suppose I had a mate."
"What did you do then? When you revived?"
"Don't remember. I know I took my first head by accident - I mean, unintentionally. I had no idea what I was, let alone that there were others like me. The notion that I could bump off another like myself by doing that - go figure. I just got angry and took the guy's head."
"The Quickening must've been -"
"A big surprise. Yeah." Methos turned over and lapped up some more water from the lake, then stood and walked out onto the grass. "I'm chilly."
"The sun's nearly down." Mac followed Methos out and they both dressed. "I can't believe we're out here without food, water, camping equipment. Nothing."
"You're the one who killed a female before we could pick up supplies."
"Don't rub it in!"
"I've got a couple bars of candy in my sack. Want one?"
"If you don't mind sharing, Methos."
"Well, mostly I do, but I'll make an exception this once." He fished around in his sack. "Here. Hope you like Generic Chocolate."
"Hungry as I am, I'd eat just about anything."
Methos munched on a second bar of candy. "It's only a day or so away - the Resistance Enclave. We won't starve. But I'm freezing."
"At your service," Mac replied, moving closer to the older Immortal and putting his arm around him.
"I'm not used to sleeping alone any more," Methos said morosely.
"We'll keep each other warm, huh, Mac?"
"Absolutely." Mac smiled. "Do you have a brush for your hair?"
"You always loved to brush my hair. Never was enough of yours though, so I could return the favor."
"It wasn't a favor. It was a pleasure."
"Whatever. Get out your brush, I'm gonna braid your hair."
"What, and straighten out all these lovely curls?"
"I just wanna see. I'll fluff it out again after."
"Just ease back against my chest and drop your head forward. Right, just like that." Mac smoothed Methos' damp hair away from his neck and began to brush from the neck through to the tips. After more than a hundred strokes he asked, "You awake, Methos?"
"I don't know. Either I'm awake, or I'm dead and gone to Heaven, one or the other. I'd forgotten how it feels."
"You wore your hair like this before, didn't you? A long time ago?"
"Yeah. A long time. Been a long time since anybody brushed my hair this way."
"Not even Marcus?"
Methos stiffened. "He's my son, Mac, not my slave."
"I didn't mean it that way."
"Sorry, I know you didn't. Just -"
"I'll just keep my mouth shut, so my foot can't get in."
"Not your fault, Mac. How could you know what associations I have with my hair being brushed."
"You don't mind me doing it, though?"
"Well, you are my slave -" Methos twisted his head around and grinned.
"That's a strange thing to say."
"Is it? Suppose so. Don't read too much into it - I meant it figuratively, not literally."
"Really? You sure?" Duncan teased.
"I couldn't afford you, Mac, on my best day. Slaves like you didn't come cheap."
"Rebellious ones, you mean?"
"Healthy, intelligent, husky, golden-skinned, gorgeous ones, is what I meant. You'd have fetched a good price - well beyond my means."
"I don't suppose a slave like me could choose his master -"
"No." Methos twisted and grabbed the brush. "That's enough. My head's splitting. And I'm tired. I'm gonna turn in. You can braid my hair another time."
"What? What did I say?"
"It must've been something - I'm sorry -"
"You've got no idea, do you? 'Choose!' You're a fool!" Methos stood and looked around for his clasp. "Where the hell's the damn thing I use to hold my hair back?" Mac handed the fastening to him without a word. "Thanks." Methos scooped back his hair into a ponytail, clearly too impatient to bother with anything more elaborate. Then he lay down, pulled his cloak over his shoulders and muttered, "Good night."
"I thought we'd keep each other warm -"
"Another time, MacLeod. I'm hot enough under the collar as it is!"
"I didn't mean anything -"
"I know you didn't. 'Choose!' Bloody hell."
It was about an hour later when Mac finally lay down very close to Methos. He draped his own cloak over himself and straightened Methos' which had fallen off the older man's legs. The clasp that fastened Methos' hair had opened and the long brown curls had gotten loose. Mac took up a fistful, careful not to pull, and buried his head in it, inhaling the clean scent. Methos didn't move, his back rigid, his arms tight around his chest.
"Tell me," Mac pleaded softly.
"Go to sleep, MacLeod," the old man muttered.
"What do you remember, Methos?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean. The time before - before you took your first head. Before first death. What can you remember?"
"Nothing much. Only, that I wasn't a chieftain's son. And that I wasn't particularly unhappy when I woke from first death and found my whole tribe was dead."
"Why weren't you unhappy? Was there nobody you cared about among all those people?"
"Because I didn't get to choose my master. Nor did I love him."
Mac fiddled with Methos' hair. "How - how old were you? When they found you - enslaved you?"
"Not very. Theo's age."
"God, what a picture! Thanks a lot!"
"I thought that'd bring it home to you."
"Bastard," Mac murmured softly. "The - your owner - hurt you?"
"I don't think it was intentional."
"Is that supposed to be a joke?"
"No, it's the truth. He wasn't particularly brutal. He didn't have a thing against me. I was docile and - attractive. I think he liked me." Methos shrugged, then turned onto his back and looked up at the night sky. "He always took me with him, anyway, when he traveled - hunts and so forth. I was always very warm, under his furs. I remember, he was a big man. But I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt me."
"I didn't think you remembered - so clearly."
"I can see his face now, as if it were yesterday. Feel his beard. The sense memories are very strong. I wasn't much of a talker - none of us were. There were no women on the hunt. Just the men and the slave boys, most of us, runners. We -" he took a deep breath. "We were pretty primitive, Mac. He was - he liked to relieve himself every night and every morning, nothing fancy - slam bam thank you m'am. I didn't learn anything more until centuries later." After a moment. "I know he didn't mean to hurt me."
"And you didn't let him know," Mac concluded.
"Like I said, we didn't talk much. He wasn't the worst master. And I couldn't choose. But he kept me warm." Methos brought his arm up and covered his eyes. "In a way, I think I did choose. Him. To love - him."
"So what you told me before wasn't true?"
"That you didn't feel unhappy when you revived after first death and found them all dead."
"That was fifteen years later, Mac. He'd been dead for a decade. His son - inherited all his father's goods and chattel. I didn't like him much."
Mac curled himself around Methos and rested his head on the older Immortal's chest. "You never ran away?"
"Where to? With what? Thought never crossed my mind. That's what it is to be a slave, Mac. A state of mind, not just a state of body. That's how I know you'll never change, no matter how often you submit. Because it's not your mind they've got - just your body. If I thought for a moment they'd be able to reach your mind through your body I'd encourage you to resist."
"How'd we get back on the subject of me?"
"Easy. You're all I care about, you and Marcus. And he's gone."
"We'll get him back, Methos. Both of them."
"Maybe. He's gone for now. You're here. So I think about you." Methos took his arm away from his eyes and looked at the stars again. He kissed Mac's hair and put his arms around him. "Slaves don't get to choose their masters. But in a way, I did choose. I chose you."
At sunrise the Immortals woke, washed in the lake, drank some more of the fresh water and continued on their journey. Adam recognized they'd re-established their old relationship completely, as if no time had passed at all. He chalked it up to the fact that they were alone. Probably, once there were other people around, the changes in MacLeod and himself would reassert themselves and the distance between them would return.
They made camp when the sun was high, too hot to go any farther in search of fresh water.
"I can't make up my mind whether it's worse to wear all this clothing, or carry it in my sack," Methos remarked.
"The more of our bodies we keep covered, the less of us is exposed for the insects to get at."
"You have a point." Methos stretched out on the grass underneath a tree and closed his eyes.
"You don't happen to have any more of those candy bars in your sack, do you?"
"Yeah. I was saving them for tonight but if you're really hungry, take one. Or however many you want."
"There are things to eat out here, you know."
"I know. I'm not that hungry. You wanna hunt, hunt. I won't stop you. Just remember, we haven't got anything with us to light a fire. Nobody ever called me a fussy eater but I'm not really all that fond of raw meat."
"You might find yourself lowering your gourmet standards by tonight, Methos," Mac retorted with a smile. "I'm gonna see what I can scrounge up. Maybe not meat, maybe some kind of fruit - berries, wild apples - something."
"Go to it, oh Great White Hunter!" Adam murmured, turning on his side, already half asleep.
Mac whispered in Methos' ear, "Soup's on, sleepyhead."
"Hmm," Methos said, turning a little and stretching. He squinted up at Mac. "What did you find?"
"Here. Enjoy. I've already gorged myself - I'll probably be sick." He handed Methos his vest. It was full of small red berries. "Fortunately, we don't need to worry whether they're poisonous - we can't die from eating them."
"Wrong. We can die from them - just not permanently." Methos sat up and examined the fruit. "These look okay. I think they're wild raspberries - some harmless strain of berry, anyway." He took a handful and squashed them into his mouth. "Hmm, mmm, delicious." He finished them all. "Thanks. I was getting a bit peckish."
"Now, if we only had a little water to wash them down -" Mac replied. "I didn't even locate a stream."
"Would beer do?"
"Beer? You've got beer? What the hell have you been saving it for?" Mac asked indignantly.
"To drink with the raspberries? I dunno. I figured we weren't thirsty enough to break out the good stuff. Hand me my sack."
"Let me have a look first - who knows what else you've got stashed away in there!" Mac dumped out the contents of Methos' shoulder sack on his cloak. Rummaging through it, he remarked, "And by the way, I can make a fire if we need one. I'm sure you could, too. It's just been so damn hot in the daytime -" He grinned. "And I kinda liked the idea of keeping each other warm at night."
"It's nice, isn't it?" Methos said softly.
Mac looked up. He handed Methos a beer and put one aside for himself. "What?"
"Being together again. The lull before the storm, I'm sure. But - lovely while it lasts."
"I like it," Mac replied, separating a huge tome from Methos' belongings. "No wonder you're sagging under the weight of your sack. What the hell is this?"
"One of my old journals. I hid the rest in London but I wanted that one with me."
"It's not the most recent one?"
Methos shook his head. "No, it's from quite a while back."
Mac asked, "May I look?"
"I don't understand," Duncan muttered, leafing through the pages. "This must be very old - I can hardly make out what language it's in - is it High German? Or Old English?"
"It's a form of Old English. One of my code languages."
"When was this written - it is yours, right?"
"Mine, yes. That volume's from 2012."
"When we were still together?" Mac asked, surprised.
Duncan frowned. "Why this one, out of all your journals? Why drag this one along? 2012 wasn't our best year, as I recall. You were always bitching about our business back then. About hating to push a pencil."
"It's my favorite journal, Mac. It's a classic."
"A classic what?"
"A classic example of not appreciating what you've got until it's gone." Methos sat up and crossed his legs under him. "It's the best journal I ever wrote - for a teaching tool. For me. Every time I read my entries, any entry, I'm reminded how big a fool I can be. And I promise myself I'll never do that again."
"Never do what again?"
"Never forget to live in the present. Not the future, not the past. The present. Never forget that the present's what counts. Any joy I'll ever have, is there. Any love I'll ever find, is there. In the present."
"You forgot that - in 2012?"
"You know I did. Don't tell me you don't remember."
"I remember. A stretch in the penitentiary isn't something I'm likely to forget."
"For me, either." Methos shook his head. "I really thought I had things sewn up. That I knew what was important and what didn't matter. I really believed we didn't matter."
"Until I ran."
"Until you ran. My God, MacLeod, I can still see Tessa's sketch of Amanda on the wall of our bedroom! I'd never even noticed it before you ran. But after! I sat in that bed staring at it for so many hours, so many nights, I'll never forget it. I think I could draw it now, from memory, I looked at it so long."
Mac didn't say anything for a while, smoothing a page as he stared into space.
"What are you thinking, Duncan?"
"I'm thinking that you've changed, Methos."
"How'd you mean?"
"In the old days you never would have admitted how much you loved me."
"To whom? Me, or you?"
"I'd go just so far, and no farther, MacLeod. Just far enough to say to myself that I couldn't live without you. Not far enough to admit why."
"Do you know why?"
"I know what I thought back then. That I couldn't live without you because you sparked my passion. Gave me a reason for living. Because I admired you. Because I found you sexually attractive. Even, on my bad days, because you needed me."
Mac smiled. "I told myself I couldn't live without you because I was lonely. And that it was good to have a friend, an Immortal I could trust, who cared whether I lived or died. That there was a lot I could learn from you, if I could get past my blind spots. That it was about time I moved out of the 16th Century into the 21st, and that you were helping me do that."
"You told me, you loved me," Methos remarked quietly.
"I did love you. I just didn't know it myself. I wasn't lying to you, just to myself."
"And now? What's it feel like to you now, Mac? Me, I feel like I'm back sixty years in the past. Hell, more like seventy-five. Like I've slipped back into a pair of old shoes."
"Wondering whether it's love, or habit?" Mac asked, glancing at the older Immortal.
"You still make me tingle in places I didn't know I had," Methos replied.
"Begging the issue? Well, why not? Not like we've got decisions to make."
"No. Everything's settled. Until the boys are back with us, we won't need to make any decisions." Methos grinned. "Just logistical choices."
"Still, you're the best Immortal I've ever known. You've changed. I know I haven't. You'd think I'd be the one who could still change - I'm younger. But you - you feel different, even. Something inside you shifted over the last sixty years. I can't put my finger on what it is, but - something."
"Is this a good thing, MacLeod? Or haven't you made up your mind yet?"
"Do you still care what I think about you? If I approve?" Mac replied quickly.
"Answer the question."
"Is it a good thing? How you've changed? I don't know. All I know is, I can't remember you ever taking charge the way you did in London. Like what I wanted didn't make any difference at all. You just barreled on ahead with your agenda -"
"What you want makes all the difference in the world to me. I tried to give you what you wanted, despite your best efforts to screw it up. You wanted Theo to be safe. But you couldn't hang on to that - you were too miserable about losing him." Methos shrugged. "I just ignored the emotions that were distracting you and did what you really wanted. Saved the boy."
"Mac, I'm glad you showed up when you did. I'd made a bad decision about Marcus. Took the easy way out. I was fooling myself. He wouldn't have been 'all right' in the Mathematics School. Down deep, I knew I should get him away. Get him to Free Territory. But I was so comfortable where I was. It was - peaceful. Easy."
"A technique perfected over many centuries - do nothing," Mac murmured.
"That's right. But the minute you told me what you were doing, I admitted to myself that it was what I should have been doing. It's like you're my wake-up call. I take one look at you - doing your absurd chivalric suicidal 'thing,' and I immediately know what I ought to do. I can't snooze through your alarm."
"Methos - I've never loved you more."
"Love, or habit?"
"There is such a thing as a good habit, you know."
"Can we seal this with a kiss or something?" Methos replied with a grin. "I've talked myself horny."
"Is this another example of our perverse kind of foreplay?" Mac asked, leaning closer to Methos so he could pull him into his arms.
"Looks like it," Methos replied, covering Mac's mouth with his own, offering a fierce kiss.
"Hmm, sure does."
"Wait, Mac - let's go up to that ridge and see what we can see," Methos cautioned, putting a hand on Mac's shoulder to stop his progress. It was two days later.
"Are we close?"
"Very. Come on, this way."
Methos struck off to the left, through tough undergrowth, climbing at a great pace up the hill. Reaching the top he moved more slowly until he dropped into a crouch and peered over the edge of what Mac discovered was a cliff.
"That's it?" Mac asked, settling into a squat himself and gazing down on the valley below. A group of huts were ranged in a ring around a central space, much like wagons around a campfire. There were also a number of larger buildings behind the ring.
"Mmm." Methos squinted and looked in every direction, his expression closed, wary, concerned.
"Is there a problem? Why aren't we going down there?"
"Just wait, Mac. Let me check it out. I don't see anybody, just the cabins -"
"We're out of sensing range -"
"Not quite." Then he felt it. A swelling of aura gradually coming closer and closer. "There - that's it, that's them!"
"I - oh!" Mac fell to his knees, bracing himself with his hands. He closed his eyes. "My God, it's beautiful!"
"Yes. That's it. A choir of Pre-Immortals."
"But the strength of it - most Pre-Immortals have hardly any buzz at all!"
"Multiply by sixty or seventy, Mac. All extraordinary, chosen for their strength of aura, and other gifts. And you get - this!"
In the distance a ragged band of boys approached the Resistance Enclave through the trees on the far side, opposite the cliff. A tall slender man who appeared to be a Mexican was in the midst of them, with a couple of smaller boys at his heels, two dragging on his arms, others dancing alongside. All talking and joking, laughing. Without a care in the world. A greater contrast to life under the thumb of the World Higher Order couldn't be imagined, Methos thought.
"Who's the guy in the middle?" Mac asked.
"That's Ben," Methos replied with a smile. "The Pied Piper himself. And not just for children. He's gotten many an Immortal to give him aid and comfort - even bury themselves out here for a time - through charm and vision alone. Best of the best, our Ben," he concluded joyfully.
"I'll believe it when I meet him," Duncan retorted.
Methos sat back on his heels and turned to Mac. "Charisma isn't always evil, you know. It's neutral. It's what you do with it that counts."
"That's what I'm talking about! What he's doing with it. Why's he taking such an interest in our kind? In the youngsters? What's he doing here?"
"MacLeod, he's saving them from the present, for the sake of the future. One day, the World Higher Order will be finished. He's trying to preserve as many potential Immortals as possible, against the day."
Duncan nodded, but Methos knew he was not entirely convinced. "Shall we go down there?"
"Wait! What's that?" Off to the west a group of men - Methos counted eight of them - were making their way through the brush, heading towards the Resistance Village. "They're armed! They're local Militia!" Methos scrambled back down the hill toward the path they'd used on the way there. Mac followed. At the foot of the hill, Methos halted. "You go straight at 'em, I'll go 'round. Keep 'em talking."
"Or something," Mac replied grimly, settling into his determination like he'd settle into a cloak. "Four for you, four for me. Don't take too long."
Methos hitched his shoulder sack tighter on his back, tapped his pockets for his spare ammunition, then circled southwest, while Mac moved straight west, directly into the path of the Militia.
"Going somewhere?" Mac asked, his hands at his sides, relaxed and alert.
The man at the head of the unit looked surprised. "None of your business, Armsman. This is a police operation."
"Really? What's the target?" Duncan responded innocently.
"Traitors to the World Higher Order. A resistance cell."
"You planning to wipe them out - or take them prisoner?"
"Armsman, stand aside!"
"You gonna make me?" Duncan taunted, hoisting his rifle and taking aim at the leader.
"You crazy, Armsman? There are eight of us!"
"All of you standing there with your weapons slung over your shoulders!" Methos cried from the rear, taking his shot as Mac took his.
"Two down, six to go!" Duncan called out cheerfully as he watched the remaining members of the unit run for cover. "I'll take the three on the right."
Shots rang out and the six men were dead.
"That went well, I think," Methos remarked with a grin, sauntering over to Duncan. "Now, we can go in. I think Benito will be happy to see us!"
"How does he do it, Methos? Defend against this kind of thing?"
"Traps, early warning electronics, sentries - an occasional visiting Warrior Immortal helping out. I spent four years here myself, 2070 through 2074. Would have stayed longer but I found Marcus and decided to take him with me to London."
"Was he one of the children Benito saved?" Duncan asked as they approached the Enclave.
"No. I was on a buying trip to Mexico City, picking up supplies for the village. Marcus was wandering around in an alley, scrounging for food in garbage bins outside a restaurant. He must've been about two."
"And just like that, you decided to be his father?" Mac asked, incredulous.
"Figured he'd be good cover, once I cleaned him up. We all need that nowadays, Mac -"
"Yeah, right. Nothing personal. Nothing about saving a helpless child. Just - effective camouflage."
"Hey, MacLeod, you want to read 'sentiment' into it, go right ahead. You always did wear rosy glasses where I was concerned. Probably why it hit you so hard when they got smashed -"
"Methos," Duncan continued earnestly, "you found a child wandering in an alley. Instead of bringing him back here where he could be cared for by people who'd dedicated their lives to doing just that, you took him to London and raised him yourself. If you'd only been looking for camouflage for your sterility you'd have chosen an older boy, not a toddler who was bound to be a nuisance for years!"
"All right! All right! I felt sorry for the kid! Make you feel better to know that?"
Mac smiled. "Makes me feel better to hear you admit it, old man."
"Fine. Now stay sharp, something wondrous this way comes."
"Methos Valerius! Was that you frightening the birds of the air and the beasts of the field?" Benito Santiago called out, walking up to the old Immortal and enfolding him in a hug. The children hung back, eyes wide, enjoying the novelty of two strange Immortals who'd come to join them - Warriors, at that.
"That was us, Ben!" Methos replied with a laugh. "Did you know they were coming - an eight man unit of the Mexican Militia? After you and yours?"
"No. But we'd have taken care of them once they'd got closer. We're not entirely defenseless." He pointed east. "Twenty of our kind claim sanctuary from the Genetic Laws in the barracks out back. As the old jingle about cockroaches used to read, 'they get in but they don't get out!' That holds true for the Mexican Militia - roaches, to a man!"
"Glad to hear it! But that crowd won't be coming in or out. Maybe you should send a clean-up crew -"
"Already taken care of, Methos. Now, who's your attractive young friend?"
"You always were like an hour glass for Immortal aura, Santiago!" Taking MacLeod's arm and bringing him closer, Methos said, "This is Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, Green Boy! Mac, meet Benito Santiago, Glass Bead Society Charter Member, keeper of the faith!"
"I've heard of you, MacLeod. And your kinsman. Always, good things."
"From Methos?" Duncan asked.
The Mexican nodded. "Who else?"
"Don't believe everything you hear."
"Why not? Methos never lies."
Mac laughed. "No?"
"What's so funny? He never lies to me, at any rate! Will you two be staying long, or are you just passing through?"
"A few days," Methos replied for Duncan, adding smoothly, "just until Mac gets a feel for the place, what you're doing here. Then we're off to Alaskan Free Territory to fetch a couple pieces of cargo we shipped there, bring 'em here."
Santiago narrowed his eyes. "Precious cargo, Methos?"
"Most precious. Two young ones - not yet activated. Duncan's son and mine. They should be converging on Erasmus Minor as we speak."
"They'll be safe with him. Why drag them back here?" Santiago asked. "A trip that long is always a risk. To make it twice is tempting fate. Such exposure -"
Mac interjected, "But there's no home for children in the north. No friends their own age for Marcus and Theo. Just Rasmussen and maybe some other grown-up Immortals. Here, we can care for the boys and they'd be among their own kind -"
"And in constant danger, as you've learned," Santiago retorted grimly. He turned to Methos. "This isn't wise, old friend. If the lads make it to Ras, leave them there. They'll be fine."
"No, we can't do that, Ben. Either we'll join them in Alaska, or we'll bring them here, if it's okay with you."
"Your decision will be based on what?" Santiago asked in a hard tone.
"On what Mac thinks of what you're doing here, Ben."
"Such a luxury, choices! How can your friend imagine he's got a choice?"
"Mac always has a choice, Santiago. When you get to know him better, you'll find that out."
"Very well. Join us for lunch." Ben spoke to two of the boys. "Take our friends to the empty hut. See they have everything they want, a wash, water to drink. Answer their questions." The youngsters nodded. "Methos, I'll speak with you later. MacLeod, pleased to meet you."
"Same here," Duncan replied. "I'm impressed with your operation - saving so many. You're doing fine work." Offering his hand, Santiago shook it.
"Yes, well. Take your time. Look around. First impressions aren't always borne out in the long run. See what you think." Then Santiago sketched a bow to each of the visitors and walked away. Several of the boys followed him.
Benito's departure was apparently a signal to the two he'd left behind. Each of them grabbed one of the visiting Immortal's hands and dragged him along past several huts until they finally stopped.
"I'm Lee. This hut's yours," the taller of the two children remarked, pointing.
"Thanks, Lee," Duncan said, going inside, followed by Methos and the other boy.
"I'm Sam. What do you want to know?" the smaller boy asked bluntly when the Immortals had dropped their shoulder sacks, unhitched their rifles and propped them up against the wall near a couple army cots.
"Don't waste much time, do you, Sam?" Methos retorted with a grin. "This is Duncan and I'm Adam."
"No, you're Methos. I heard Ben call you that," Sam replied curtly. "You're the oldest living Immortal. But that doesn't matter. What do you want to know?"
"For starters," Duncan broke in, "how'd you come to be here?"
"Same as the rest."
"Sammy," Lee murmured softly, "that's the question. Tell them."
"Yes, why don't you tell us, Sammy," Methos echoed. "How'd Santiago rescue you - was it from the Camps?"
"You've been here before," Sam asserted evasively. "You know what Ben does."
"True - but that was a long time ago. More than ten years. Things change in that amount of time. For instance, none of the boys I knew back then could still be here," Methos mused, making an effort to keep his voice gentle to gain Sam's confidence.
"Why'd you leave, then?" Sam queried bluntly.
Noting that 'gentle' wasn't working, Methos simply replied, "It was time." Then he pushed. "Is it a secret, how Santiago found you, brought you here?"
"Not a secret," Lee chimed in. "Santiago didn't rescue us, any of us who are here now."
"Then how'd you get here? Who brought you?" Duncan asked, puzzled.
"We came on our own, each of us. Found out about the Mexican resistance cell. Heard it was like an orphanage for Pre-Immortals," Sam told them. "Came."
"On your own? That's impossible!" Duncan exclaimed. "You're too young."
"No, we're not. It happened like I said. We heard. We came."
"Lee's from Panama - old Panama City. I'm from the old Boston. On the eastern seaboard, North American Sector," Sam added helpfully when the Immortals didn't respond.
Methos and Duncan stared at the boys - neither of whom could have been more than ten, even now. Finally Methos spoke. "I'm not sure I follow. You're saying you heard about this place, escaped from your previous homes, or the Camps, and made your way here - on your own?"
"Yes," Lee replied, confirming Sam's story.
After a moment of silence, during which time both Mac and Methos sat down heavily on the cots, Methos asked, "Had they spoken to you about the Higher Schools, boys?"
"Sure," Sam replied as he sat down on the floor of the hut, crossing his legs under him. Lee joined Sam, sitting close to the smaller Pre-Immortal. "We'd have been sent to one or another of them, in time."
"Which track?" Duncan asked, and Methos thought the question random, just for something to say.
"Mathematics. Lee was destined for the Religious track, though. Higher Order. Politics." Proudly, "He's leadership material, everybody says so."
"And the others, the other boys?" Duncan pressed.
"Mostly Math. A few of us, the Religious track. Some, Languages or Genetics. But not many."
"Why not?" Methos inquired.
"Our scores were highest for the Higher tracks," Lee replied simply.
"Gifted," Methos murmured quietly. "Like Marcus."
"What does this mean, Methos?" Duncan looked troubled.
"One moment," he said, raising his hand to stop Duncan from commenting in a way that might upset the boys. "Why don't you tell me more about the gifts."
Lee asked, "You mean the standard ones, or peculiar to our kind?"
Lee poked Sam with his elbow and the smaller boy shrugged. "Okay. Resonating aura, absolute pitch for activated Immortal aura, music, maths, poetry, art, languages, accelerated eye-hand coordination, visual and aural acuity, photographic memory -"
Lee added with a shy grin, "We're most of us pretty good at 'fusching,' too."
Methos wasn't surprised when MacLeod latched on to the last remark. Considering the other gifts, this one sounded almost human.
"'Fusching?'" Mac asked.
"That's a word one of the German Immortals - he protects the Village - uses. It means - inventive, in a practical sense."
"Like McGuyver?" Methos turned to Duncan, who nodded that he recalled the reference to a character in an old television series, a man who could take a piece of string and a wad of chewing gum and repair a plane, or build an explosive device, in five minutes.
"I don't know. We're - inventive. Give us a handful of odd items and we can figure out a way to use them to make something we need." When the older Immortal didn't say anything, Lee added, "Not all of us, but most of us. The gifts are - uneven."
"But they're strong, and most of them are present in all of you?" Methos asked, narrowing his eyes.
Methos sighed hugely. "Well. Well. Thanks, kids. I appreciate your frankness. This has been very interesting. I'm looking forward to meeting your companions." Thinking about MacLeod, Methos added, "When all's said and done, I suppose, boys will be boys. Some of you must have a heightened sense of humor, in addition to your other gifts."
"Pardon, sir. You're mistaken." This, from Lee.
"How'd you mean?" Methos asked. "None of you have a sense of humor?"
"That's not it. Just - we're not all boys. There are about twenty girls here."
"Girls?" MacLeod exclaimed. "I haven't seen a Pre-Immortal female in years!"
Sam grinned. "Probably because they're all here, sir!"
"You're saying that girls escaped and made their way here? Girls?"
"Mac, you're showing your age. It's not impossible -"
"Near enough! They'd be presumed fertile. The Genetic Laws are stricter for young girls. They're closely guarded. How'd they do it, Methos? How'd they get here, on their own?" Turning to the boys, he asked again, "They got here on their own, too - the girls?"
"Oh yes. They're the best of us, I think," Lee replied. "Lolita of York - that's Quentin of York's child - she's about the most gifted. In every way. She was destined for the Religious track from the start, when Quentin found her. She had the devil's own time escaping from him to get here."
Methos recognized an echo of Quen's speech pattern in the boy's idiom now, and guessed that Lee picked up the style - third hand - from the girl. "Why'd she want to leave Quentin?" he asked. "Her life in Switzerland must've been paradise." Methos thought he could guess, but wanted to be certain.
"Lolita says that Quentin plans for the long term. He expected her to infiltrate the World Higher Order and take it down from within."
"She objected," Methos murmured, quite certain of it.
"Very much so, sir. Lolita plans for the longer term. She estimates that the Government will fall by 2090. Or 2100, at the latest. She believes it's a waste of time to take this temporary political apparatus into consideration at all. Or to try to do anything to change it. If we just hang loose, we'll outlast it. Lolita says it'll fall of its own weight."
"Bright girl," Methos quipped with a grin. "Now, how about that drinking water your fearless leader promised us? And when do we eat?"
"I'll bring you some water, sir. The luncheon bell will ring in about an hour. You can't miss it."
"Thank you for your frankness," Duncan said, standing and showing the children to the door. "We'll talk again later, if you can find the time."
"We'll make the time, sir," Lee commented. "We're assigned to you for as long as you're here."
"Then we'll talk some more later."
Duncan closed the hut door behind the boys and turned, staring at Methos, who'd busied himself with his shoulder sack, looking for something. He'd sensed turmoil in Mac and didn't want to face it.
"You know what."
"No, I don't. Enlighten me." Methos abandoned his delaying tactic of rummaging through his shoulder sack and sprawled on one of the cots, gesturing to Duncan to do the same. "Nice kids, don't you think? Charming. Clever. Sam's a bit hard, but Lee's very sweet -"
Methos sighed. "Okay. What is it?"
"This place is fine for your Marcus -"
"It's fine for any Pre-Immortal. It's heaven compared to the world outside. I'm sure Theo would love it here as much as Marcus."
"Theo wouldn't love it here at all. He'd be a duck out of water, and you know it!"
"Marcus hasn't got most of the gifts those two mentioned -"
"It's not the same. Marcus was accepted to the Mathematics track. Theo couldn't even pass the Languages exam. What would it be like for him with this crowd?"
"I'm sure they'd make Theo feel at home. Marcus took to him. These will too. They're nice children -"
"Methos, they're geniuses! The cream of the crop! The most gifted Pre-Immortals our kind can produce! How do you think they'd feel about an ordinary boy like Theo? How do you think they'd treat him?"
"We can't all be clever, Mac. Some of us are stuck being charming - like you!"
"And look at the mincemeat you make of me! And there's only one of you!"
"I resent that! Resent the idea that you believe a bunch of bright children would be anything but kind to a boy like Theo!"
"Get real, Methos. They'd make his life a living hell! Charitably, without even trying! Theo's normal, not stupid. He'd be miserable here!"
"Cut to the chase, MacLeod. You want to get the boys and bring them here from Alaska, or not?"
"I want to change this - refuge - into a place where a normal Pre-Immortal feels at home!" Duncan shouted, exasperated.
"You can't do that, Mac," Methos said quietly. "This isn't your turf. Santiago's been running the Mexican Enclave since right after the Wars. He started ferrying Pre-Immortals here as soon as he saw which way the wind was blowing, the moment the rigidity of the Genetic Laws kicked in. You can't interfere."
"Why isn't he looking for the children? Why's he waiting for them to come to him?"
Methos shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe it got too difficult. Maybe he couldn't feed and cloth and educate more than the few who found their way here on their own. Whatever the reason, it's none of your concern. Your only decision is whether to bring Theo and Marcus here -"
"My decision? It's not up to me whether you bring Marcus along -"
"Yes, it is. I'm handing the decision over to you," Methos said bluntly.
"Because they've bonded by now - Marcus and Theo. It doesn't take long for children to bond, when they've been wrenched from their homes and their loved ones, thrust out of the life they've been accustomed to, and forced to make a dangerous journey together. It'd already started before we got on the train out of London."
"You think they're that close already?"
"I know it. I saw the look in Marcus' eyes when Theo started to cry back at the hotel. I saw the hero worship in Theo's eyes when they were sitting and talking on the train. Where one goes, the other will want to follow. I won't consider separating them. So - whatever you decide about Theo, that's what'll happen to Marcus, too."
"Methos, Marcus belongs here, with others like him, gifted -"
"Nevertheless, that's not on the agenda for him, unless you agree to bring Theo here as well."
"This makes no sense, Methos -" Duncan sounded miserable.
"Look at it like this. You've been promoted. This military operation has a new leader. You. Make up your mind, Mac. What's it gonna be?"
Duncan didn't reply.
"Don't push. I want to see some more. Meet some of the other children."
"Fine. We'll give it a few days. But I don't think we should take too long. Rasmussen might move on with the boys. To a situation that's easier to defend. I don't think even you could track Erasmus Minor, if he didn't want to be found. We'll lose both boys if we don't decide fast."
"I'll decide. One day won't make that much of a difference. Give me another day, Methos," Duncan pleaded.
"Very well. Till tomorrow. Then, we act."
Luncheon bell rang and Methos wasn't surprised to find that he and Duncan were eating alone with Santiago in the resistance leader's hut, served by Lee and Sam. Nor was he surprised that MacLeod's demeanor was sullen, not to say, hostile.
"Well, Duncan MacLeod, what do you think of our operation?" Santiago asked cheerfully, after they'd eaten the meager meal and were drinking a vile tasting local version of black coffee.
"I want to meet the other children," Mac said curtly. "I want to see the whole operation."
"Why? Isn't it enough that we're saving as many Pre-Immortals as we can. They'd be sent to the Camps when the Higher Order discovered they can't reproduce -"
"Saving them?" Mac retorted contemptuously. "From what I hear, they came to you. And probably they could run the place themselves, blindfolded."
"That's true. They could run the Enclave themselves. But they couldn't defend it. That's where I come in, and any volunteers who care to help. How about you, MacLeod? Care to help? Save the children?" Santiago asked sarcastically, responding in kind to Mac's hostility.
"You're not saving children," Mac spat out, "you're saving freaks!"
"Freaks? How so?" Santiago was startled.
"What MacLeod means, Ben," Methos put in smoothly, "is that you're protecting the elite. The Pre-Immortal elite."
"That's exactly what I mean. The others, the ordinary ones, the boys and girls without special gifts - you leave to fend for themselves! Who knows what will become of the weaker ones! Whether they'll survive!" Duncan cried. "You're not just saving Pre-Immortal children, Santiago, you're changing the Game - for generations to come!"
"What's wrong with that, MacLeod?" Santiago replied quietly. "Survival of the fittest. It's what we do."
"These children aren't the fittest, they're just the most gifted," Mac retorted.
"Yes, that's true," Santiago agreed, clearly missing Duncan's meaning. "What difference does it make?"
"You know what becomes of the most gifted among us, Ben?" Methos asked.
"Tell me, Methos. I'd like to hear."
"They become the worst of our kind." Methos glanced at Mac, then went on, speaking, in part, for his friend. "They become like Kalas, like Byron, like - me. Twisted, distorted, power-hungry -"
"That's absurd. It's simply a question of upbringing -" Santiago put in.
"No, it's not!" Methos insisted. "They lack the one thing necessary to keep them humble. They lack heart."
"Our kind isn't meant to be humble, Methos Valerius. Humble's not on the agenda. In the end there can be only one. Humble doesn't enter in. Only survival matters." Santiago leaned forward and pointed a finger at Methos' chest. "Survival! Heart weakens us, and we don't survive. You ought to know that, old man, if anybody does."
"I'm old enough to know better. Life isn't about survival, Ben, it's about love. The end is a long time coming. What's the point of surviving, without love?" Methos asked quietly.
"But if you don't survive, there's no point at all, is there, Methos?" Santiago replied grimly, standing. When the older man didn't respond, he went on. "I stopped searching for Pre-Immortals when they started coming to me. One after another, on their own. Children of seven or eight. Brutalized or brainwashed by the system, or their foster families, or our kind. Methos, you had to be there," Santiago murmured, anguish in his voice. "The first one who arrived - he's gone now, grown up, still Pre-Immortal - was only five years old! He snuck into the Enclave during the night, repressing his aura - imagine! - and made it past all the sentries, all the state-of-the-art electronic warning paraphernalia, into my hut - without being noticed by anyone."
"Amazing, Ben," Methos replied, encouraging his old friend to continue.
"He woke me up - I've no idea how he knew I was in charge or which hut to go to. He told me his name was Atland. Begged me to let him stay."
"How'd he get here?"
"He'd stowed away on a military train headed out of Florida. Managed several changes of transport, following the railroad tracks - or the sun - west, to California, Southern Sector. Then he walked to the old border, found a family heading for Mexico, hid in the trunk of their car, and hoped for the best."
"The boy told you that?" Duncan sounded amazed.
"Atland was five but he was verbal. And lucky. The family stopped not far from here - Mexico City - and he walked the rest of the way."
"How'd he hear about this place?" Methos inquired.
"What difference does it make? He was owned by an Immortal who got his jollies whipping the boy senseless when he didn't obey his every whim instantly. Atland's back still bore the scars when he left us. He'll carry them for as long as he lives. Both kinds." Santiago took a breath, then sat back in his chair and spoke more quietly, intensely. "Atland is about survival. The Resistance, the Enclave, are about survival. Love's a luxury. Survival's what counts."
"But you're only saving the gifted ones, Santiago," Duncan objected earnestly. "What about the rest, those children who aren't clever enough, or cunning enough, or brave enough to do what Atland did? Who can't get away, save themselves? How could you stop looking for them, trying to help them?"
"MacLeod, stop talking," Santiago replied. "Go. Find the helpless ones. Bring them here. I've got no quarrel with 'normal' Pre-Immortals - we'll make room. You can begin with your own boy, if you like. Put your money where your mouth is."
"I still want to meet the other children - all of them. I won't bring Theo where he'll be looked down upon, treated unfairly -"
"Fine," Santiago agreed, standing and pushing back his chair. "They're at studies, now. Go where you like. Talk to them. When you've decided what you want to do, let me know." With that, Benito left his hut, and Methos and MacLeod walked out too. Silently, Lee and Sam followed.
"You there, Armsmen! Come here!" The voice rang out imperiously. Methos recognized the style of address, and knew immediately who the child must be. Quentin's daughter - dubbed Lolita of York - stood several yards away from the hut at the center of a group of children. Santiago was nowhere around.
Methos grinned and said to Sam and Lee, "You forgot to mention that some of you are telepathic."
Sam smiled disarmingly and replied, "Did I? Well, some of us are. Loli most of all."
Methos and Mac strolled over to the children. "I've been hoping to meet you, Loli," Methos remarked. "Heard from Quen and Marty lately?"
"We're not on speaking terms," the tall thin girl replied in a dignified manner. "My father doesn't take kindly to disobedience."
"I'll bet he doesn't," Duncan said with a smile. "But I think you did the right thing. If it's true he wanted to turn you into a Leader of the Higher Order, that is."
"He did. And I don't need the likes of you, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, to tell me I did the right thing. It was the only thing."
"I'm sure that's true," Methos offered smoothly. "Tell Duncan about the Enclave. What do you think of yourselves? What plans do you have for later - when you've achieved Immortality?"
"You're Methos, right? Father told me about you, as well."
"Then you know I was his teacher, and that he trusts me."
"Quen loves you. So does Lamartin. You'll need to prove yourself to me, though, before I tell you anything at all. I ask the questions here."
"What do you want to know, Lolita?" Duncan asked.
"Your boy - Theo?" Mac nodded. "What's the matter with him?"
"Nothing's wrong with him. He's just - average."
"Mediocre, you mean."
"No, average. He's tall, strong, well-built. He's kind and generous and loving. He's only nine -" Duncan replied.
"But?" Lolita replied curtly. It was evident that an appeal based on age wouldn't make an impression on her.
"But he's not like you," Methos explained. "Not brilliant, not gifted. He didn't pass the examinations for the Higher Order track. Not even in Languages. He's simply an average boy who happens to be Pre-Immortal."
"Not deformed or feeble-minded, is he?" Lolita asked anxiously.
"No, not at all. On the contrary," Methos added, "he's quite attractive and far from stupid. My boy liked him from the moment he laid eyes on him."
"Yours? What's he like?"
"Well, Marcus is bright - bright enough to flunk the test for the Religious track. Scored high in Mathematics, though. He'll be twelve next month. He was preparing to leave - to enter the London School for Mathematics - when I decided he should go to Alaska Free Territory instead."
"Why'd you pull him out, then?" Lolita asked through narrowed eyes, suspicious. "Ship him to Alaska?"
"Duncan and Theo needed us. Both of us." Methos shrugged. "Foolish of me, I suppose, but I wanted to help." It was only after he'd replied to her questions that Methos realized he'd been treating her with the same frankness he'd offer Quentin. His old friend's spirit seemed to have been 'reincarnated' in this girl. The notion made him smile. Trust Quen - he always knew how to pick 'em.
"My father told me that you're a fool for love, Methos." Then Lolita grinned, taking the sting from her words. "Not to speak of your friend here." She turned to Duncan to include him in her remarks. "Welcome to the Resistance Enclave of Mexico City. I've had news from the Alaska Free Territory Resistance Enclave. Marcus MacLeod sends greetings. He and Theo Pierson arrived safely. Edward Rasmussen took them home. They're well."
Methos and Duncan stared at the girl with open mouths. "You're in contact with the Alaska Free Territory?"
"Short wave. Encoded net." Lolita shrugged prettily. "What's the point of being gifted if you don't use your gifts?"
"Santiago doesn't know, does he?" Methos asked quickly. "Does he?"
Lee piped up, "Benito Santiago's all heart. Not very swift in the brains department, though. He doesn't know much of anything, sir. As your friend said, we could run this place blindfolded, and we do. The Immortal volunteers - including Benito - defend. They don't rule."
"No, I rule," Lolita added. "The question before us, is whether you want to bring your boys here, or you're willing to leave them in the Alaskan Enclave. There are no other children there," she warned.
"Here," Mac said unhesitatingly. "I want them here, with you."
"Fine. Marcus sounds like fun. Theo -" she wiggled her hand expressively "- hard to tell. But we've got nothing against normal people, and if he's the least bit as attractive as you are, Armsman, your son's welcome, too."
"Oh, Theo's very attractive," Methos replied, grinning. "He's a charmer. Charismatic."
"Hope he doesn't challenge me - he won't last if he does," Lolita warned seriously.
"He's very young," Duncan replied meekly. "I think he's still - biddable."
"If you're worried I'll seek beneath his loin-skirt, don't be. I've given up sex."
Duncan kept a straight face but Methos started to laugh. "Bit young for that, aren't you, my girl?" he remarked.
"I've had my share, and my fill," Lolita replied grimly. "I'm nearly fourteen. Quentin and Lamartin didn't bother me, but before they took me in I lived in the world. Now, I just look. I don't touch. And I won't be touched. Make that clear to your sons before they get here. Save us all a bit of bruising."
"Can you - will you arrange for me to speak to Theo?" Duncan asked diffidently. "I - miss him. I need to hear his voice."
"Tonight. Come to the girls' barrack after evening meal. I'll connect you up then. And don't concern yourself with fetching them. We've got our own system."
"I wish I'd known about this earlier," Methos murmured.
"So do I," Duncan echoed.
"Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth closed. That way, you'll learn all you need to know. Sam, Lee, show them around now. Try to convince them not to worry. We won't eat the slow boy, when he arrives. After all, he must be gifted at something." She eyed Duncan speculatively. "Perhaps your Theo's got the greatest gift of all."
"What might that be, Loli?" Methos asked, raising one eyebrow.
"The gift of the swordsman, of course! Heart for survival. Love never fails, Methos Valerius. You ought to know that, at your age!"
"I can't believe those children take orders from a female, Methos!" Duncan exclaimed after they'd been given the grand tour of the compound and Sam and Lee had deposited them back at their hut. The boys had gone off to do other chores, promising to return later.
"It's the times, Mac. Even though they know Lolita herself won't be able to reproduce, in these times, in our society, women represent Fertility, Survival of the Species. After the Wars, females became our most precious commodity. It's bound to spill over into everyone's thinking - even children raised by Immortals. With a little luck, it'll survive the downfall of this particular configuration of civilization."
"What will survive?"
"Respect for women, leadership roles for women. Maybe we can hold on to that, even after the World Higher Order is just a bad memory."
"Methos, I want to go anyway."
"To Alaska Free Territory. To get the boys. I know what Lolita said - that they have ways to bring them here without our help. I know it's probably not necessary for us to go get them -"
"But you'll feel better if you're active." Methos took a deep breath. "Okay. How about this. You talk to Theo tonight. See what's really happening with him. And I'll check in with Marcus." He smiled. "I thought I'd never see him again -"
"You were really ready to make that sacrifice. That's wonderful, Methos."
"I wasn't ready but I did it anyway. It was finished. Now - I keep pinching myself - I'll really hear his voice tonight -"
"You want to go too, don't you?"
"Absolutely. It's not enough to see his sweaty face when he arrives here," Methos said with a grin. "If I have no part in either of Marcus' journeys we'll be - strangers -"
"And the other children will steal him away -"
"Before I know it." Methos concluded. "You're pretty bright, for a Green Boy."
"I've got my talents, my uses -"
"Charm, charisma, a strong sword arm -"
"And the best gift of all, for a Warrior Immortal -"
"Oh, that. Heart. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, you've got it all!"
It was very cold in Alaska Free Territory. The snow was packed hard, icy under their feet. The air tingled and their breath steamed. But the sun shone bright on the trail and Methos felt very pleased with himself.
"Not far now, Mac, according to Ras' directions. Another mile or so."
Then they felt it. The aura of a few Pre-Immortals mingling with the greater aura of very powerful Immortals. A 'singing,' Methos thought, like a choir of angels.
"They've come out to greet us, Methos!" Duncan cried, awed by the unearthly 'music.' "Look, there! The boy - running! That's Theo!" He ran ahead up the hill, slipping on the ice and saving himself several times, until he dropped to his knees in front of his son. "Theo!"
"Father!" Theo hugged him and kissed his face several times. "You've come for me! You said you would! Marcus said! Ras said so too! But I didn't believe it!"
"I'm here - and we're going home together, all four of us, to Mexico!"
"Where's Marcus, Theo?" Methos asked when he'd reached Duncan and his child. He was breathing heavily from the exertion of the climb.
"He's with Rasmussen and the others - back that way." Theo pointed behind him.
"Why didn't he come with you?"
"I don't know."
"Go on ahead, Methos. We'll join you in a minute."
Methos trudged the rest of the way to the Alaskan Free Territory Resistance Enclave, passing the group of young Immortals who'd come out with Theo, and their teachers, several old Immortals Methos didn't recognize.
Neither Ras nor Marcus were with them.
By the time Methos reached the two of them - they were standing in front of a small cabin - his eyes were hard and he'd clamped his mouth into a tight line. "What's going on, Marcus? Why didn't you come out with Theo to meet us? You keep him here, Rasmussen?"
"Not me. The boy didn't want to go."
Methos stood before Marcus, determined not to treat him like a child by squatting down to his eye level. "Well?"
Marcus replied formally, without putting out his hand. "I'm happy to see you, Father."
"That's a relief." But Methos thought the boy was evading the question.
"Do you still plan to bring me to the Mexican Enclave?" Marcus asked.
"Do you still wanna come?"
"Then why didn't you greet me? Is it something I said?" Methos quipped.
"Yes, Father. It's something you said," the boy answered solemnly.
Methos squatted after all, despite his earlier resolution. He put his hand on Marcus' shoulder. "What might that be?"
"You told me we were finished. To forget you."
Methos grinned. "You know, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing."
"Is there, Father?"
"Yes. Particularly, when the good thing is obedience. I trust you haven't been completely subservient to my whims, Marcus? For instance, you didn't actually forget me?"
"Not altogether," Marcus drawled, grinning.
"Then don't be an asshole. Give us a kiss and find me a beer!"
Marcus lunged forward, throwing himself into Methos' arms and hugging him tightly. Methos closed his eyes. His mouth brushed Marcus' temple as he muttered, "You're still mine."
"Will you and Duncan stay with us in Mexico, Father?"
"For as long as we can. But I think Mac has plans. Wants to rescue other boys, Pre-Immortals who can't fend for themselves as well as you."
"Then you'll go with him, I suppose, right?"
"Maybe." Methos looked into his son's eyes. "Or maybe we can convince him to hold off -"
Marcus laughed. "Not very likely, according to the legends."
"Oh, lots of stories about you and the Highlander in the olden days. How you couldn't stop him from going on Quests and wouldn't let him go off on his own. How you always went along to protect him. How you saved his life over and over again. I guess that'll start up again, Father, once we've settled in."
"It wasn't all fun and games, you know, Marcus," Methos said, standing. "Very dangerous business, Mac's Quests."
"You liked it," his son said simply.
"Guess I did." Methos spoke to Rasmussen. "Thanks for looking after our boys, Ras."
"Think nothing of it. Glad to be of service. Sure you and Duncan won't stay here for a while, help the Alaskan Enclave?"
"Can't. We've got a date to keep with a girl down south. Gotta see whether Theo or Marcus can make a woman of her."
"Who, Lolita?" Rasmussen asked, smiling. "Good luck! Rumor is, girl had a bad time of it, before Quen and Marty got hold of her."
Marcus spoke softly, but no one could mistake the authority in his voice. "We'll work at it. Make a woman of her yet. Love never fails."
They shared a hut in the Mexican Resistance Village but didn't use the cots. They'd slammed the mattresses up against each other in the middle of the floor and slept together as they had in the old days. When one or the other of them landed in the crack between the mattresses they had a good laugh about it. Occasionally, they'd leave for a month or two, on a Quest for Pre-Immortals who needed saving. During those trips MacLeod didn't resist the signal to service fertile women and managed to keep his temper when Methos was forced into service. The younger Immortal didn't kill again, except in self-defense, which made Methos very happy.
"Methos, you were right about everything," Duncan declared one night after dinner. They'd kissed their sons goodnight and come back to their hut to drink a last cup of tea before lights out.
"Usually am," Methos replied modestly.
"No, seriously. When you told me this government couldn't change who I am inside - that eventually this tyranny will fall and I'd still be - myself, you were right."
"It'll fall, soon enough. And so long as you don't kill fertile women to avoid servicing them, I'm happy. I don't need to be right."
"I mean, the moment we got to Mexico, to the Village - even before we brought the boys here from Alaska - I started to revert back. I lost my desire for Theo - the only thing left was the love. I stopped being angry, lost my thirst for blood. I began to see you as a friend, as my lover, not a - one-night stand. I started having daydreams about women's bodies -"
"I noticed you didn't resent Loli, and she's not a child anymore. If she were outside, she'd be old enough to signal."
"That's true. I hadn't realized -"
"Duncan, you trying to tell me something? If you want someone else - if you want to fuck a woman - you don't need to break it to me gently. I won't mind." Methos couldn't believe the lies that came out of his mouth. All for the sake of love. But he didn't change his tune.
"Don't be an idiot, Methos!" Duncan exclaimed, grabbing the older man's hands and pulling him down onto the mattress. He gave his lover a quick kiss. "I love you! I don't want anybody else -"
"Seriously, Mac, I'd understand. This isn't a problem. You've always loved women. If the thrill's gone -"
"I haven't even begun to work on the thrill, Methos! I'm still caught up in an aesthetic appreciation of your long curls!" Mac kissed Methos again, winding his fingers in the older man's hair, holding him close. Mac's erection pressed against Methos' hardness and by mutual consent both men undressed before saying another word.
"I notice your skin's a lot smoother lately, Mac," Methos remarked, arranging Duncan's limbs on the mattress in a pleasing configuration, then running his hands along Mac's muscled thighs, past his hips, along his arms, then settling back on the younger Immortal's groin. "Why do you think that is?" he asked with an innocent expression and a grin.
"I know you're making a joke but I have a real answer, if you wanna hear it," Duncan replied, shifting a bit so his cock moved under Methos' palms.
"Don't laugh. My skin's smooth because I'm happy."
"Then it's lucky we're gonna fuck horizontally," Methos replied, squeezing Mac's cock, then bending to kiss it.
"Yeah, why's that?"
"Otherwise, you'd probably slide right off me, my skin's so smooth!"
"You telling me you're happy, Methos?"
Duncan sighed contentedly and closed his eyes. "Good."
"Don't go to sleep on me now, Duncan MacLeod!" Methos warned. "I've got plans!"
"Not another Quest, Methos! We just got back! I don't wanna go out again yet!"
"Another Quest. Right along here -" Methos told his lover, walking two fingers down from Mac's cock to his balls -"then under here -" he went on, scooping up Mac's balls and walking his fingers lower. "In here," he added, finding Mac's tight opening and pressing a finger inward. "Circling here," Methos explained, suiting action to words.
"What?" the older Immortal inquired innocently.
"For a big Quest, you need a big weapon."
"True. Very true." Pulling Mac's legs up, he used a big weapon to invade his lover's body. "That any better? I ask you, because you've got so much experience when it comes to Quests, Mac."
Duncan groaned. "Much better! I think you're finally getting the hang of it, Methos. I'll convert you to Quests, yet!"
Methos replied on a plunge. "Don't look now, Duncan, but you've already made a convert!"