Sheathing Fate
by Maygra de Rhema

continued from chapter two, part two...

Part Three

"You want to run that by me one more time?" Joe Dawson said harshly, voice low in deference to the twenty or so other people scattered around the waiting room in various postures of misery and fear and hopelessness. In truth they may not have all been expressing those emotions but Joe could see nothing but his own slide toward depression in the sterile and harsh environment. Nor could he see anything dissimilar in the expressions of his companion. Richie was twitching like a nervous cat as he tried to find a comfortable position in the bland, beige, vinyl-cushioned chair. It was not possible, of course, and Joe had the unreasoning urge to slap the younger man to make him stop fidgeting.

Except he was leaning far too heavily on his cane to attempt such an action. Too heavily to take a step and reach the somewhat more stable environment of a chair for himself.

"That's all I know, Joe," Richie said quietly and uneasily. "It's what they both think and I swear, if Methos is Immortal still, he doesn't feel like one of us anymore."

"How? What happened?" Joe demanded, knowing from the look on Richie's face that he had no answers. He had been more shaken by the call than Joe when it came through. Shaken enough for Joe to have put the band on five while he took the call.

He had almost missed the murmurs of disappointment when he directed the band to finish the set without him. Except now, in retrospect, Joe recognized the 'drive on' mode of thinking his brain had engaged while the rest of him dealt with the shock. Push pass the panic, the disbelief, the chill that had overtaken heart and soul at the terse few words MacLeod had managed to mutter into the phone.

Then to arrive here and find the papers signed but no sign of the Scot. The Emergency Room proper was off limits and no amount of southern charm or bullying could get them past the doors or the mastiff of a nurse who guarded them.

It seemed like hours but had actually only been a few minutes -- less than thirty anyway --but Joe remained standing, afraid that if he sat he would not get up again.

They had both since learned to ignore the near-constant swoosh of those doors when, after a dozen times, they revealed no one coming or going that they recognized. But Richie's head came up at the next sound and it was with great surprise that Joe whirled on the softly spoken words that sounded from behind his left shoulder.

"He's stable," MacLeod murmured, offering reassurance first before the two men waiting could register the solidity of his presence. The reassurance needed because MacLeod looked nothing so much as like a ghost.

"Stable as in what?" Joe demanded, registering the image and the words in the same instance. But the earlier concern overrode the new one and he wanted answers before he was in no shape to understand them.

"Stable as in he is breathing and his heart is working and that is all I know," Mac said and did seek a chair, sitting down with none of his usual grace but as if, like Joe, he might fall without additional support. Unlike Richie, Mac went immediately still in the chair with his head down and hands clasped before him in a prayer-like attitude. The usually steady, capable hands were shaking, however. So much so that Richie reacted on instinct and covered them with his own, remembering a similar gesture some three years before. All other concerns aside, Richie prayed it was not an omen.

"What happened? He was fine when we left," Richie said then hesitated. "Well, not fine but not..."

"I don't know...I don't know..." Mac began in a drone and stopped himself. "We were talking...arguing...and he...he was running a fever. Is running a fever, although Anne says it's low and not enough to cause...."

It took Mac several deep breaths to regain some...any...semblance of control and then he surged up off the chair as the doors opened again to the magic touch of Dr. Anne Lindsey. Three sets of concerned eyes met hers and she tossed her head, leading them to a the edge of the waiting room and a door marked 'Counseling'.

It was much more comfortably appointed than the waiting room with a small table, chairs and a sofa which still had hospital issue blankets folded across the back. Joe preferred to lean against the table and Richie to stand but Mac once more seemed to sink into himself...and a chair. Anne waited for them to settle themselves before seeking the edge of the sofa nearest to Mac.

"What I know isn't much," she began with an apology on her lips and then launched the report in the fashion peculiar to physicians with too much on their minds and too many patients needing their attention. "There is no indication of heart problems or other organ failure. Lab work, enzymes, the usual mish-mash all came back negative. I've ordered a Cat-scan and an MRI and we are loading him with fluids since he does seem slightly dehydrated and the fever is a little annoying. There is no anal or rectal damage," she said and Mac flushed slightly but listened without flinching while Joe and Richie tried to make sense of the seemingly disparate announcement, "and he shows no sign of an elevated or depleted white cell count. In fact, his immune system seems to be incredibly, gloriously, historically intact," she said with the beginning of a bitter laugh. "There is no indication of drugs or poisons although the rest of the Tox screens won't be available for a bit. My best guess, and it is a guess until I get a Cat, is a seizure of some sort, origin unknown , and exhaustion. Not the cut and dried answers I would like to give you but it's all there is. As for the rest..." her voice dropped although all in the room knew the utter oddness of their presence there. "I can't tell you anything because I have no basic data to compare his body chemistry to another Immortals," she said. "No base answers. I have seen blood samples from Immortals and can tell you that they reveal nothing out of the ordinary on first check and I am not quite in a position to send samples off for DNA testing on what looks like a simple collapse," she added more softly and her hand reached out to cover MacLeod's. He caught the small offering of comfort between his own and nodded.

"The plan is to keep him here for observation. When he regains consciousness maybe he can provide us with some more information about what happened. Or what he thinks happened since, in this case, any of you might be considered far more an expert that I am," she said and rose. "I have other patients I need to see. I'll have him moved to a private room in about a half hour. You can see him -- one at time for now. Let the desk nurse know if you need me," she said once more the cool professional but with a distance Joe did not recall from other encounters. She was out the door before he could question her attitude, however, and his eyes fell to MacLeod once more.

"Exactly what did you tell her?" Joe asked.

"Everything she asked," Mac said softly. "Except who he is, which she didn't ask. She knows that Adam Pierson was Immortal and now isn't an that he is my lover. And most of the details in between," Mac said lifting his head finally.

"And his age?" Joe whispered.

A curt nod was all he got as Mac's face slipped back into an unreadable mask.

"Why don't you just publish his biography?" Joe said with an edge to his voice.

"If I thought it would help, I would," Mac snapped back and Joe physically started, Richie tensing beside him. "Do you get any of this, Joe? I was doing CPR when the ambulance arrived. CPR. On Methos!"

"Uhm, Joe?" Richie eased himself in between the pair. "Why don't you go see him and Mac and I will go get some coffee...or something."

Mac look ready to argue but fell silent when Richie held up his hands placatingly. "Friends? We are all worried, okay?" Richie said and with visible effort Mac nodded. Joe's mind was still demanding answers but the look on Mac's face told him he wouldn't find them with the Highlander. At least, not all of them.

The magic doors opened this time without hesitation and Joe followed the blue line on the floor as the nurse instructed. He hated hospitals. Well, not hated but he had seen more than his fair share in his lifetime. Some small part of him was irrationally glad to be on the walk-in, walk-out end of this visit for a change.

Monitors beeped at him as he entered the indicated room and a nurse or a technician glanced at him with a pasted-on, reassuring smile.

The shock had worn off, leaving Joe feeling far more vulnerable than he would have liked, but the incongruity of the scene in front of him sent his entire world off kilter for long agonizing moments. He kept moving forward until he stood at the edge of the bed, hand automatically reaching out to cover the lax spread of fingers laying on the white sheets. The skin was warm and dry, disturbing in itself when the room had the average temperature of a meat locker. There were monitor leads lost under the silliness of a hospital gown that, as with all such garb, was far too large for the slender form the thin cotton encased.

I shouldn't be here, his mind murmured disconsolately at him. Not from any impropriety in his presence but in the events that had surrendered them all into the realm of the unthinkable. Methos' head was still attached to his shoulders, so no ailment should have laid the ancient this low. Of course, were his head not attached, this visit might well have been to the morgue instead. That thought settled Joe somewhat and his fingers closed tighter over those of his friend. It also served to push him back into a more understanding mode for MacLeod's distress.

"You son of a bitch," he murmured softly in the general direction of the still figure. "Do you always have to go your own way?"

He received no answer, not even the longed for clasp of fingers against his own. A glance at the monitor told Joe some things -- or rather reconfirmed what Anne had told them. Heart rate, pulse, respirations, all within normal ranges. Temperature was spiked a bit but no more than for the cold Richie said they thought Methos had caught.

There was nothing else he could say and while his presence might have provided some small measure of good, Joe found himself unable to stay, gripped in a fierce sense of denial. He left without awareness of movement, almost running into Anne. She stopped him with a sigh indicating she did not have time for this but also had too much compassion not to intervene. She guided Joe to a chair set in the hallway and crouched in front of him.

"So if there is nothing wrong, why doesn't he wake up?"

"Shock. Subconscious drives toward survival...I don't have the answers, Joe," Anne said and her voice was far gentler than it had been in the small, comfortably appointed counseling room. Warmer and more personal here in the stark and sterile halls of the hospital. "I could probably bring him out of it but it really hasn't been that long and given how much I don't know about the changes to...his metabolism, his immune system, I would rather let him do so on his own if he can." She dropped her head, her voice becoming painfully personal and Joe recognized the earlier distance for what it was. "Did you know? About Duncan and Adam?" she asked softly, two bright spots of color appearing in her cheeks. "It's not any of my business. I walked away, not Duncan, but..."

"Yes," Joe answered simply, tightening his grip on her fingers, irrationally glad to be the one giving comfort instead of needing it.

"And Duncan is...? God, this sounds so trite," she muttered bitterly.

"Yeah," Joe said, knowing what she was asking. "Yeah, he has been...both of them and that is's not something I begrudge either of them, Anne. Adam is...he's a good guy, Anne. A good friend."

Anne nodded and got to her feet, sweeping her own reactions back under her M.D. "They'll be moving him in a few minutes. Front desk should be able to give you the room number," she said and then heard a noise that alerted her, turning and leaving him. Joe fought to his feet, hovering in the doorway but not willing to get in the way. Then he could see nothing as the nurse pulled the drape.

But the sick fear that clenched at him unconsciously eased when he heard the murmur of an unknown question answered by a soft and equally unintelligible, but most assuredly masculine voice. Without waiting he headed for the magic doors and the mundane realm to find MacLeod and Ryan, moving with far more energy and assurance than he had felt upon entering the bastion of modern science.

"You would be Dr. Lindsey," Methos said, watching the pixyish face ignore him as she checked him over.

"I would. Do you remember what happened?" she asked and stopped fussing long enough to brace both arms against the bed and study his face.

"I think I was making an ass of myself," he murmured with only a trace of irony. Weak as a kitten came to mind except he had seen kittens with abundantly more energy than he possessed at the moment.

"Couldn't say. Duncan said you clutched at your chest. Did you have pain?"

He had to think about it, summoning up the feeling and shook his head. "No. Pressure more like, here," he said and pressed his fingers to his sternum, then staring in fascination at the clip on his forefinger before being distracted by Dr. Lindsey pulling his gown down, pushing his arm aside.

"Here?" she asked pressing lightly against the small wound just under the bone.

"About, yes."

"Any pain in either arm? Your head?"

"No. But I couldn't breathe."

She said nothing but pulled the robe back up. "I've sent out blood work. I'd like to run some more tests. Right now, I'm calling it a seizure. I won't know anymore..." She paused as the nurse came to swap out IV bags. "I won't know any more until I have compared your tests against Duncan's. And even then I won't know much," she added more softly. "And as for span...I can't even begin to theorize."

"Well, if life were easy, it wouldn't be any fun, now, would it?" he tossed off, not wanting to pursue that part of the conversation just yet.

"I know what happened and how," she said and her tone was cold and quiet. "The why of it I can't even begin to fathom. I should call the police but it doesn't seem like Duncan at all."

His hand reached out to grip her wrist. "What doesn't seem like Duncan?" he asked, hazel eyes holding hers intensely.

His grip startled her, brown eyes wide. "What he did. He had me do...he had me check to see if do remember what happened at the cabin, don't you?" she asked, suddenly concerned.

"Yes. What did he say happened?"

Professional detachment wasn't enough to banish the ruddy flush to her cheeks. "He Violent. He was afraid there had been permanent damage done. I can't believe he told me...well, I suppose I can. It is not like him...not what I thought of him."

"Are you under the impression that somehow this was forced on me, Dr. Lindsey?" Methos asked evenly. "That Mac...Christ! He is an ass. Where the hell is he?"

"Not forced, just out of control... a bit," she said and pushed him down when he would have gotten up. "Not yet, dammit! You want my help, you play by my rules."

Methos glared at her but it had no affect. She met him stare for stare and it was Methos who relented first. She was still uncertain, confused, but no less than he was. He drew a deep breath. "Maybe you had better tell me exactly what he told you," he said. "How are you at metaphysics?"

Despite herself, Anne had to smile. "My understanding of metaphysics is only slightly less present than my bedside charm."

He fought back a chuckle and then let it escape anyway. "Great. So what do you know about Quickenings?"

With a sigh Anne pulled up a high stool and sat down. She had a feeling she was in for a few lessons.

They had barely gotten a dozen sentences out when a familiar voice queried the floor nurse. With a grin and a sigh, Anne pulled the curtain back slightly. "Five minutes and then you can go home or wait until I'm done. I am not kidding, Duncan," she added but her tone had warmed some as she surrendered her place to the Scot. She jerked the curtain back to give them some privacy and ushered Joe and Richie back into the hall.

"I think I may be about to make a fool out of myself," Mac said feeling awkward and uncomfortable and elated to see the hazel eyes regarding him with both fondness and a certain edge of anger.

"You keep making this your fault and I will let you," Methos said. "And I have half a mind to deck you where you stand and dump your butt in this bed then go have a beer with Joe and Richie just to get away from the guilt. What the hell were you thinking letting Dr. Lindsey think this was your fault?"

Mac caught the unencumbered hand in his own and met the angry gaze. "I wasn't. I was reacting...after what you said..."

"Christ, MacLeod!! Did you listen to any of it?"

"I heard every word, felt every slap you offered, and believe it or not, actually started to believe some of it," Mac said and his own eyes darkened. "And some of it I know was true. At least as much truth as you will let me have at any one time. But I do learn, Methos. I learn from experience. I know how hard you tried to shove me away when Kronos turned up. I know exactly how much distance you can put between us when you want to and make me feel like it was my idea, and I damn well know that you will break a promise if it seems better than keeping it -- even a promise to me. Only you don't get to break this one so easily. A heart for any fate. Well, this is what fate has decided. Not you. Not me."

The slender fingers tightened around MacLeod's but there was nothing to be said. Mac was at his stubborn best. Nothing short of beheading would alter his mind now -- although Methos was tempted. He offered a short nod and got a swift kiss before MacLeod left and then returned with Anne in tow. Without a word, Mac settled himself at the end of the bed allowing Anne to take the chair again.

"Floor is open, Dr. Lindsey. Ask away," Methos said.

"All those years of med school and I get to be a researcher of the paranormal," she grumbled. "Fine. You were saying there was a a low level shock. That is still present, right?"

"To a lesser degree yes," Mac answered. "The...signature each Immortal has -- for lack of a better term. It's there still but only when we touch."

"Just touch? Not necessarily intimate?" she asked ignoring the own blush to her cheeks and the wash of confusion she felt when she looked at MacLeod.

"Stronger on intimacy, but yes. It's still there," Methos murmured.

"So let's try that...I've got you wired for sound, Adam," she said and checked the leads monitoring his heart. Methos lifted his hand and found it firmly encased by Mac's.

It took a moment before he nodded at Anne, feeling that surge, the thrum. Anne's eyes watched the bank of monitors and saw no change, shaking her head. "Nada. Not a murmur."

"It's faint, even now," Methos said.

"Then let's try this," Mac said softly and shifted, dropping the side-rails quickly and moving to the head of the bed. Strong and sure he shifted his lover, sliding in behind him, studiously ignoring Anne's look and Methos' surprise as he sat and then pulled Methos against his chest. "Just relax," he said to his partner, covering the warm hands with his own.

The sensation grew stronger with the increased contact and Mac said so.

"Still nada," Anne said, trying not to see the disappointment in Mac's face. She checked the leads again and then, on a hunch, produced two more. "Open your shirt, Duncan," she prompted and he did so.

It took a few moments while Anne affixed the electrodes and pulled in another monitor. Once hooked up she waited and watched, eyes widening as the heart rates on both men evened out, moved into synch.

"I would say it's not possible," she murmured. "Adam, how are you feeling?"

"Better," he answered after a moment, examining his own reaction. "Less like a truck hit me..."

A thermometer was popped into his mouth as Anne checked his pulse. "Pressure? Pain?" she asked biting her lip when he shook his head. The thermometer sounded and she pulled it.

"Down a point. The first time, before whatever it was completed its...transfer...Jeez, I need a damn thesaurus," she muttered. "The separation caused pain?"

"Some," Methos said.

"A lot," Mac corrected him

"This may be a silly question, Duncan, but do you have any objection to staying here, like this for a bit?" she asked but a smile was twitching at her lips. "Let me check a few other patients and I'll be back?"

"No objection at all," Mac said with an answering grin and settled back against the bed, pulling Methos with him.

"Sleep if you can, Adam," Anne advised and was gone.

"How do you feel?" Methos asked after a few moments, when he actually did start to relax. The tension was easing. Maybe because he was alone with MacLeod or because the questions had stopped.

"Very comfortable," Mac teased and felt Methos start to tense again. "Fine for now. Whatever problems I may have with your memories haven't surfaced yet. Of course, I have been a little preoccupied."

"A little. How's Joe? He was here. I thought..."

"He was, is...Richie, too. As soon as Anne can tell us something, I'll send them home, if they'll go. I think Joe is pretty mad...pretty scared for both of us," Mac murmured and shifted again allowing Methos to lay more comfortably on his chest.

Questions faltered, conversation secondary as Methos actually did start to doze off, then fell asleep, not even stirring when Anne re-entered. He did when Mac woke him gently and opened his mouth obediently for the thermometer again.

"Gone," she announced softly and Mac brushed his partner's cheek. Methos did feel cooler.

"I have no answers. I can still only offer theories," Anne said. "And I am reaching -- seeing as they are based on a broken fever and your heart rates. That little trick I have seen before -- during Lamaze classes when a husband and wife are doing the breathing exercises together. I don't understand what a Quickening is any more than I understand how Immortals heal and you still have to stay here tonight," she added with a sharp glance at Methos. "But my guess is that your body is trying to compensate for a lot of things that it never has had to before -- or not for a very long time. It is doing the job but the stress is what is causing both the fever and the seizure. Eventually, it may find a way to level out what it is trying to accomplish. Rather like a person who has been on antibiotics too long...their immune system is weakened. Your immune system seems fine, or at least as normal for a man of your apparent age can be. But your healing ability has been making minor adjustments for...Lord, I can't even contemplate it," she said shaking her head in amazement. "The body recalls how to do its job but it is over-compensating for the lack of those healing abilities. Except, if you are close enough to Mac, to what you once had...well, you are getting a boost. I don't think if you cut yourself, holding hands would heal it, but Mac's presence helps level out the compensation your body is doing. So here is the prescription. We are moving you to a private room and you, Duncan MacLeod, get to stay. But I will caution you both," she added with the blush appearing again. "Keep it calm. I want Adam to sleep and I would rather not shock the floor nurses too much."

Mac looked like he was about to say something but Methos nudged him. "Sleep. Rest. No play," Methos said with a faint smile. "We can live with that."

"For now," Anne said with honest compassion. "Let's see if we can coax your body into stabilizing and then we'll see what else we might can do," she said and left them.

Richie and Joe waited long enough for Methos to be moved, Richie promising to return with clothes and other requested items in the morning. He was far more uncomfortable than Joe who had already started a search for any like or even vague rumors of such an occurrence in the Watcher Chronicles. By the time they both left Methos was more than ready for sleep.

"I'll be here," Mac commented as he turned the light off, sitting in a chair next to the bed and folding his arms on the mattress.

"You sleep like that and you'll end up being Anne's next patient," Methos murmured. "The bed is not that narrow."

"Our bed isn't big enough for the way you sprawl," Mac chided but he moved, slipping onto the bed beside him.

Methos pulled at him, sighing softly when Mac finally settled against him, the dark head against his chest. The weight was familiar and comforting, the slender fingers threading through the Highlander's hair as they had so many nights in the past.

Mac was content. He need the reassurance of that touch. It went still finally, the heart under his cheek continuing its slow, steady beat and Mac felt himself falling asleep. He was not surprised when his dreams were not his own.

Mark lay tucked against his chest, the small thin body wrapped as warmly as possible. Glancing up he saw Gerda still distributing among the hunters what food there was.

"Mark?" he whispered, nudging the boy. Dark eyes in a hollow face peered up at him as he held the bowl to the boy's lips and fed him slowly.

Mark roused and ate, taking the food as it was offered and not rushing. Slow would make him feel fuller longer.

"Don't!" Gerda hissed. "Eat your food."

"He will starve," he snapped back, but kept his voice low.

"If you do not eat, you cannot hunt. If you cannot hunt, we will all starve. You have remained among the strongest. You must stay so," she said and reached for her son, gathering up his thin form. Gerda had lost too much weight, her skin hanging loosely on her bones. She glared at him and turned away, to put Mark to bed. The children were subsisting on a small cup of gruel a day. It was not enough. They were growing sick and still the winds howled and ripped at the lodge, the snow being driven into blinding sheets. They had lost two men already trying to get to the stores near the lake with ropes to their waists. One had come undone from the rope and was lost. The other had fallen and when they dragged him back he was frozen stiff.

The storm had broken once and the men had tried to get to the stores, digging through the drifts but the hard pack would not give way easily and the resurgence of the storm drove them back to shelter. Even now, the snow was piled almost to the high roof of the lodge.

The food had been parsed out sparingly, the men receiving the largest portions, then the mothers and then the children. The elders had begun refusing food days ago and they had lost six to the Spirits already.

Gerda returned and glared again and he ate. Done, her smile returned and she snuggled against him. "Tell me tales of warmer times, Methos," she murmured. He stroked her head and began whispering, speaking after she had fallen asleep until he was hoarse, his own voice drowned out by the cries of the angry winter spirits that attacked the lodge from outside, trying to find entry.

"Mac? Mac," Methos' voice intruded gently into the cries in his mind, cries that sounded so loud until he realized they were his own moans. He stopped them and moved, looking up to find Methos watching him anxiously, the dulled nurse's light making his lover's features seem ghostly in the darkness.

"They all died, didn't they?" Mac asked, pulling himself upright.

"Who?" Methos asked, chafing at MacLeod's hands. His lover's skin seemed chilled but it was cold in the room, Methos thought.

"Gerda. Mark," Mac said and pulled away to wash his face clean of the tears. "The blizzard..."

Methos nodded, drawing his knees up, watching as Mac tried to put nightmares and memories in their place. "Yes. It went on...a month or more, I think...never enough of a break for us to get to the food. By the time there was a break, none of us were strong enough to dig through the ice. When the firewood gave out..." he hesitated and Mac turned to him. "I didn't know anything until the spring thaws," Methos murmured. "I burned the village and headed south. It was...what would be called Siberia now, thereabouts. Mark was seven. I saw him born."

"They let the children starve first..." Mac started unable to reconcile the action with his own priorities.

"No. The elders died first. Then the children. They were a hunters, Mac. Not farmers. The food gatherers had to survive, then the women of breeding age so the tribe would survive. We had food enough to support us through the winter less than two hundred yards away," he added softly. "It was a--"

"Different time. I know," Mac said heavily, sitting on the edge of the bed. "You went south?"

Methos nodded. "I never went that far north again during winter. It was a freak storm."

"You would have stayed..."

Another nod. "Until Gerda died or beyond. I don't know. They were a remarkable people. Loving, very much a tribe, a community. Strong, brave. Yes. I would have stayed as long as they would have allowed it."

"Is this what I am...this is what you have been asking about, isn't it?"

"Yes. Not all of my past is so pleasant or pastoral, Mac," Methos murmured. "There are things beyond the Horsemen I am not proud of however expedient my actions may have been at the time."

A large dark hand covered Methos' on his knees. "But memories such as these, they offer the balance," Mac said reassuringly as the sorrow eased away.

"I hope it's enough, Mac," his lover said quietly, uncertainly, and MacLeod moved again, behind and to the side, cradling his lover against his chest before bending to kiss him softly.

"I think so," Mac murmured against his hair. "I just wonder if I am ever going to get a good night's sleep again," he said with a smile.

"There will come a time when I will happily exhaust you before you go to bed to ensure a good night's sleep," Methos promised with a chuckle. Mac laughed softly as well, rubbing Methos' back and arms until he felt the other man relax into sleep again. Sleep eluded him, however. His mind drifting back to the memory of Methos waking at the end of his hibernation. Death by starvation was not something Mac had ever experienced nor wanted to and the mere thought of slipping into that dream again kept him awake until dawn broke.

Her shift over, Anne Lindsey, M.D., gathered up her bags, her coat, some patient charts and journals and headed for the exit. A weary brain was only a partial excuse for her almost making it out the door before she recalled a rather special patient she should check on. A glance at the clock told her she had some time. She tried to always be home before Mary woke up and needed to be fed and dressed for pre-school. It was barely five a.m. She had an hour or two before her perfect treasure even thought about waking up.

The hospital was quiet, not surprisingly. The halls silent save for the ever present but almost invisible nursing staff. She dropped off her things at the nurse's station and picked up the chart, glancing over the returned blood work and found no surprises. She signed the report then made her way to the room, easing the heavy door open and pausing.

She still had some sorting to do of her own feelings about finding a man she was in love with, used to be in love with she reminded herself sharply; involved sexually and emotionally with another man. She had left Duncan, unable to deal with his Immortality. It was somewhat reassuring and humbling to realize that Immortals might have a little problem in that department as well. It helped ease her confusion and irrational hurt over the relationship to find that she liked Adam. That he seemed fiercely protective of Duncan only gained him more points in her favor.

She was also adept enough at recognizing fear when she saw it. There was more to Adam than met the eye, and not all of it had to do with his true age -- which even now was too overwhelming a concept for Anne to get a grip on. What she saw and what she knew seemed vastly different.

What she knew was that Duncan MacLeod had been as close to despair as she had ever seen him when they wheeled his lover into the hospital. What she knew was that despite the improbable tale he had told her, with all its dark implications, she had still wanted to do nothing more than fold him in her arms and comfort him. What she knew was that Duncan had lived through enough griefs and losses in his long life and she intended that Adam not be added to the list if she could help it.

Her own fierce devotion to both her art and to the enigmatic man she loved, however oddly or briefly, was reconfirmed at the sight of him sitting in chair next to the bed. One hand rested quietly over one of Adam's, the dark eyes watching his lover sleep with a calmness she had not seen the previous evening. Duncan looked up as she entered, a weary smile meeting her and she returned it, moving quietly as she checked the bed chart, reassured by what she saw. Adam was on the last of the IV's she had ordered. Anne was an old-fashioned doctor, though, and she laid the back of her hand lightly against the pale cheek of the sleeping man. Adam did not even stir, a fact that seemed to cause MacLeod some concern. She tossed her head and headed toward the hall again. MacLeod rose, pulling the blankets around his lover and followed her.

"I added a little something to his IV to help him sleep," she said at his softly voiced question.

"Drugs don't usually affect Immortals for..." he stopped himself, leaning against the corridor wall and covering his face for a moment, as if to rub his weariness away. "I see," he said as the words sank in.

"Tests are all coming back normal. I have him scheduled for the first available MRI and CAT this morning," she said. "I'll go home and get Mary off to school, grab some sleep and be back this afternoon," she promised and MacLeod nodded. "Once the tests are done, you can take him home, if nothing else crops up."

Mac stifled a yawn and glanced distastefully at the vending machines. Anne grinned and caught his arm. "Coffee? I can do a bit better than that crap," she offered and dragged him to the nurse/physician lounge. Fresh coffee waited and he took the cup gratefully as Anne sat down across from him at a small table.

"You need to sleep, too, Duncan," she scolded gently.

"I will. Just as soon as...what will the tests reveal?"

"Mostly, if there is anything organic that caused the seizure. Tumor, aneurysm, what have you. Do you know how he died the first time?" she asked, smiling wryly at the oddness of her question. Perhaps she ought to branch out into a very specialized form of medicine. Given the healthiness of Immortals, however, she doubted she would make much of a living. Her smile faded a bit at Duncan's expression.

MacLeod had paled a bit at her question but he nodded. "Yeah. Why?"

"Because, I need to know as much as I can. For all I know, Duncan, he could have died from a weak heart. Losing his Immortality might cause that condition to revert -- and I need to make sure. Granted, if that is the case, there are far better treatments for such a condition now than there were 5,000 years ago, but it would help. I have had his blood screened for as many things as I can without raising suspicion and had other samples sent to a private lab that specializes in AIDS testing -- a branch of the CDC out of Atlanta. I would hate to think that there may be some five millennia old virus running rampant in his system. But what I've found looks to be mostly normal antibodies for any number of diseases and none of them out of the ordinary."

"It wasn't a weak heart," he said reluctantly. "Immortals seem to rarely have anything less than a violent first death."

"Like yours?" she asked gently. "In a battle?"

His laugh was bitter. "No. It was rather more brutal than most...he was...murdered is the kindest way to put it. Don't say anything to him, Anne. He says he doesn't remember and I tend to believe him."

"But you do know?" she asked, his tone chilling her. "Other side of the coin, Duncan? He lost his Immortality and you got his nightmares?"

"Something like that," MacLeod said and finished his coffee, rising to get another cup. "Not all of it...I'm still sorting through it. And it's not all nightmares," he added a smile gentling his face again as he recalled the feel of young Mark hurling himself gleefully into Methos' arms, as if it had happened to him.

"Causing you some problems?" she asked anxiously.

He shrugged. "Bound to. It's like having memories but there is no frame of reference in my own experience for them. My reactions are different than his are to the same memories. He...Adam has the same problem, just fewer memories to sort through."

As willing as he was to discuss the strange turn of events, he was uncomfortable and Anne pressed no harder. "Is Adam claustrophobic at all? An MRI or CAT can be unnerving."

He thought about it and nodded. "Some. Not seriously, I don't think."

"I'll make arrangements to have you in the room with him, then, and you can talk to him, hold his hand -- whatever. He has to remain still during the scans. Duncan," she added covering his hand with both of hers when he seemed to tense again. "He seems okay and I will keep trying to find an answer. It may simply be the adjustment of his system to the changes. If not, we will find the cause," she said with far more confidence than she felt.

He turned his hand, clasping hers, and leaned forward to kiss her cheek. "Thank you," he murmured and some of the worry had eased from his face with her reassurances.

"You're welcome," she began. "Duncan," then she hesitated as her cheeks colored. It was none of her business.

"Yes," he said with that bittersweet smile that took her breath away as he answered her unspoken question. "I do love him as much as I did you, or Tessa, or anyone else I have ever been willing to make a commitment to. Don't ask me how because sometimes I can hardly believe it myself. Or of myself. I generally like my partners to have more curves," he grinned and Anne had to chuckle.

"You better get back and I need to get home," she said rising and MacLeod followed. On impulse she reached out and folded him into her arms and felt him return the embrace, lips pressed to the side of her neck briefly. Yes. There still was that spark of passion between them, the what ifs rising to taunt her again and she shoved them resolutely away. She let him end the embrace and then slipped her fingers into his as they went out into the hall.

She would find an answer, she swore to herself. Not just for Duncan or even for Adam, but for herself. She had left MacLeod but she still wished him all the happiness he deserved. She refused to let her own doubts tarnish that wish.

It was as Anne promised. Duncan having barely re-entered his lover's room for an hour when the nurses and the technicians came to gather patient and attendant both to be coaxed with much grumbling to even deeper reaches of the hospital for the revealing tests. Methos bore it well enough although denied coffee and still denied anything but the gown issued the night before. He was in a singularly lousy mood. A mood that got worse as he was ushered into the modern day torture chamber that only differed from similar chambers of centuries past in that it was neither dark, nor damp nor smelled sour and rank. In fact there was no smell at all and it was frigidly cold.

Neither Mac nor Methos really expected the older ex-Immortal's reaction to the sterile hard bed and cylindrical coffin of the CAT scanner.

"I can't do this," Methos whispered in a voice so low, Mac thought him talking to himself for a moment.

"You can," Mac said, fingers closing over the thin shoulders reassuringly. "I'll be right here to talk to you."

Short of bodily hefting his lover onto the transom and tying him down, no persuasions of MacLeod's could convince Methos to go. It did cross Mac's mind to wrestle his lover to the scanner but that course of action was like to leave the scan itself useless.

Dispensation had been given to the pair by Dr. Lindsey, to treat the patient as a VIP whose name might someday grace the wing of the hospital. Unfair, perhaps, to the other patients who also deserved such consideration but with so many in and out, occasionally the staff had to be reminded. With that in mind they left the pair for a few moments, promising privacy but unable to guarantee it with the observation windows and multiple exits.

Methos had seen too much of such a scanner and its cousins. He knew what they were and why and the basics and noises and intent and purposes and decided that Alexa had been and always would be far braver than he. Blood work might be unable to identify that specific in his genetics that marked him as Immortal but the need for such tests, such contraptions and virtual invasions of parts of his body and brain he wanted never to see this side of the grave confirmed his mortality more than anything he had yet faced to this point.

He could not voice that dread, only stand and stare at the tube with a sick fear that showed in his posture and the pallor of his face and the most unmanly urge to run like hell.

"It's just a test, Adam," Mac said, unsure who might overhear.

"I don't care if it's a fucking magic chamber to give me everlasting life," Methos hissed back. "I am not going in there," he said and pushed past MacLeod, ready to storm out of the hospital -- his anger the only acceptable response to his fear.

Mac blocked him, held him, then blocked again as the anger turned to rage. Methos nearly laid him out as yet another patient the staff would have to see to, but block him Mac did, gripping the flying arm and twisting it and then Methos to pull him against his chest. It was awkward and desperate and for the two observers who did manage to catch the last of it -- it was heartbreaking and they didn't even know why.

The struggle was over in the time it took for Methos' heart rate to speed up and MacLeod's with it.

"You aren't this claustrophobic," Mac said as he held him firmly.

True enough, Methos thought as he averted his eyes from the steel and enamel and chrome and LED's. The words would not come but the emotion did as he fought against the burn in his eyes and the sick fear in his stomach. "I am not this mortal, yet," was all he could manage. Another word, another explanation, another concession, and he would be both mortal and mad.

His own fears settling more coherently in MacLeod's mind gave him the gist of the rest of it. "What do you want?" Mac asked, ready to acquiesce to any demand to ease the rigid tension from his lover's body.

"Home," Methos murmured. " I need..."

"Time," MacLeod supplied, the irony lost on neither of them. Back to that point then. Such an ethereal creature had never before seemed so solid and real to MacLeod as the concept of time did at that moment. Nor had anything ever seemed so fragile a cradle for everything else he wanted or desired.

He released Methos slowly, turning him as he did so and caught the pale face in his hands, wondering if a kiss could ease the vacant, hollowness that shadowed the hazel eyes. He nodded once, unable to speak past the lump in his throat. Then once more drew strength from Methos as calm settled over the sharp features.

Protests voiced were ignored as politely as possible, nor did they bother to reclaim anything but Methos' jeans and shirt and shoes. Mac left a note for Anne by way of apology for the effort she had gone to and a quick call precluded Richie from joining them. Nonetheless they were both much subdued and the need for contact seemed greater than it ever had as they got into the car, Methos moving all the way to the center of the seat to lean against his lover in silence as they drove.

"Pull over, Mac," Methos murmured as they crossed the bridge toward the older section of Seacouver where a tiny park perched over the bay. No protest and MacLeod could see his lover's reasoning. Dawn had definitely broken but it was early yet and the sun had barely climbed above the skyline or distant mountains, hanging low in all its yellow and rose glory.

Benches are good things, Mac decided, glad the city had seen fit to invest in so many at strategic points. It was his turn to do the leaning and he did so against Methos' chest, the still-bruised arms fitting quite comfortably around him as Methos propped himself against the arm, using Mac's coat as a pillow for his back. He rested his cheek against Mac's head, the Highlander's body warming him against the cool air.

"I want to give it back," Mac said, breaking the silence but not by much.

"I know. I wish you could. I would undo, not do, turn back time..." Methos murmured. "I wanted to give it to you, not force it upon you. But that was then. Not now." His voice thickened and Mac rubbed his arms.

"Because you still want to live."

"Yes," Methos said softly.

"If you are wrong...."

"I know that, too."

"Live without you or live without you," MacLeod said and got no answer. The third option seemed near impossible and the risk high for an unlikely outcome. He pulled away and Methos drew his legs up to his chest, resting his head against his knees to watch the sun continue to rise.

"I know what I am asking, Mac."

"No. I don't think you do," Mac said and turned to him. "But I know why. Take the car. I need to think about this," he said and started walking.

Methos did not move but continued to watch the fiery ball rise until his eyes ached and he had an excuse for his tears.