Storm Front
by Maygra de Rhema

continued from Part Three...

MacLeod felt his lover move during the night, brushing a soft kiss across his shoulder and then Methos moved into the bathroom, returning a few moments later to rub his hands across MacLeod's back at his neck. Still half-asleep, Mac moved to open his mouth under the offered kiss, the graceful fingers still working to ease knots of tension he had not lost in sleep. The kisses were passive but rich, the massage calming him and easing him into sleep again as Methos nuzzled his neck and nipped at him once, almost sharply, before covering his mouth again. "I love you, never doubt it." He only vaguely heard the murmured oath as he was gentled back into sleep again, Methos' arms holding him as he slipped into sleep fully and without dreams or nightmares.

He woke to the aroma of coffee and so much light in the room it hurt to open his eyes. He felt sluggish and still sleepy, eyes focusing unsteadily on the figure seated beside his bed.

"Here. Take these." Two pills were thrust into his hand. "And wash it down with this." A mug followed and Mac was forced to sit up to juggle both. "He said you would come out of it on your own but those pills will make it faster." Joe sat back and sipped at his own coffee and not knowing what else to do with his brain so muddled, Mac took the pills and swallowed the coffee, glad Joe had thought to cool the coffee before he offered it.

"Where did he go?" Mac asked, trying desperately to get both his eyes and mind focused on the incongruity of seeing Joe Dawson sitting next to his bed.

"He's gone," Joe said softly.

"I know that, Joe," MacLeod said. Of course Methos was not in the house or Mac would be able to feel him. Joe knew that....caffeine or wakefulness or his Immortal recuperation kicked in at the same moment Joe's' words did. "Gone...."

I love you. Never doubt it. Good-bye.

Panic could only be met with action as MacLeod surged out of the bed, snatching at the first article of clothing he came across, his jeans.

"Mac!" Joe spoke sharply but did not move. "He's gone. He has a ten hour head start on you! It's after two in the afternoon."

"He'll go to Marcus," MacLeod snapped, searching for his boots.

"That drug he gave you has addled your brain. If he had wanted you to be able to find him he wouldn't have drugged you to begin with. He won't go to Marcus -- not now, maybe not ever. Marcus is too obvious a choice."

It registered just as Mac found his left boot. With a roar of rage and betrayal and grief, the mirror above the dresser shattered into a hundred pieces as the heavy boot struck it and MacLeod dropped down to sit on the edge of the bed, face buried in his hands.

Joe waited. He would have gleefully joined MacLeod in his destruction of the mirror or any other object in the house several hours earlier but he had been charged by one friend to watch over another and his initial anger at Methos arranging events in such a high-handed (and suicidal) fashion had faded somewhat.

"What do you know?" MacLeod asked at last.

Am I so predictable? "I tagged him as soon as I got his call. We missed him at the Roanoke airport but found his truck there. We couldn't find any flight he might have taken. Best guess is he caught a cab or a bus to another airport. He's been disappearing for a lot of years Mac."

"You checked the other airports close by?"

"We checked as far as we could. We are Watchers, not the CIA and not the FBI. I have people on the lookout for him in Europe. Word is..." Joe went on before MacLeod could respond with the anger that showed in his face, "That he is Adam Pierson... again...ex-watcher...and that someone Immortal thinks he knows how to find Methos."

MacLeod let out his breath slowly and drew another, willing himself to calm. "Are they buying it?"

"With the escalation of Immortal encounters and speculation rife about the Gathering still, yes."

Mac nodded then went still again, an expression Joe had never seen crossing his face. A moment later he was on his feet and heading for the office. Joe rose and followed him, hovering by the door as MacLeod stood searching the room with his eyes like a bloodhound fixing a scent. The office was neat, reference books alphabetized, a few spread out over the desk. The computer was booting up as Mac continued his visual search and then settled on a large old chest near an easy chair, its top cluttered with a lamp and odds and ends. Mac cleared it, checking the lock and finding it open. Popping the lid he sorted through the books and papers on top, emptying the chest carefully and then looking at it critically inside and out.

"What are you looking for?" Joe asked.

"His journals," Mac said tightly and closed the lid then turned the chest over. Without a word he slipped by Joe and went out the front door, leaving it open. Joe started to follow only to meet MacLeod on the way back, carrying an ax.

It might have looked like willful destruction but MacLeod was surprisingly careful as he levered the sharp, heavy edge against the ridged seam of the trunk. The joint gave on the third try. The trunk split open and a half dozen diskettes slipped out onto the floor. Using the ax blade as a lever, Mac pried the bottom of the trunk free, revealing the hidden compartment. He set the ax aside and knelt, carefully working out the contents. More diskettes, CD's, audio cassettes and tightly bound sheaves of paper. Mac's examination became slower, face losing all expression as he fingered the papers, scanning their contents. After long moments he rose, gathering up the storage media and carried them like the most precious and fragile of creations. "There are other copies hidden elsewhere, in Paris," MacLeod said dully. "But he would want you to have these I think."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Joe asked, taking the diskettes, not entirely sure what he was holding.

"It means he isn't coming back -- or doesn't plan to. The location of the rest of his storage places is in a safe-deposit box in Seacouver. These would be the most recent changes, additions...whatever. If he had meant to come back he would have stored them or destroyed them. He always meant...they were meant for the chronicles...for his, but not until after...until if...Damn him!" Mac said, the dull expression replaced with frightening rapidity by anger again.

"You don't know that!" Joe said sharply and MacLeod glared at him.

"I know that half of what he told us yesterday was a lie and the other half was only a half truth. But you are right -- he won't go after Marcus directly."

The computer chirped at them -- a ridiculously cheerful sound with the heavier emotions in the room making the air almost difficult to breathe. Mac moved toward it and cued up the message, swearing again at the text there. A list of locations and dates came up. Mac ran the information off to the printer and then began searching the system. Long minutes later he finally gave up in defeat. "He's erased it queries save that one, no logs. He even emptied the trash and cleared out all the subdirectories."

"He took to computers like he built the first one," Joe murmured. "Hell, he probably did," he said glancing down at the diskettes in his hands.

MacLeod pulled the papers from the printer and read over them then stopped and bit his lip. "Bastard." He offered the last page to Joe at the Watcher's question.

Love my child, was the last line on the page. "What are you going to do?" Joe handed the sheet back to him.

"Keep my promise -- because he knew I would," MacLeod said and left Joe to stare at the empty room.

"Oh, yeah," Joe whispered to the phantom that would haunt this house forever in his mind. "You knew."

It was not a difficult decision for Joe Dawson to make: to remain in Virginia with MacLeod. He had friends in Seacouver but no family--the closest thing to family Joe had, or considered family, were the two Immortals whose lives were so inextricably tangled with his own, calling them merely friends felt odd to him. Not a difficult decision at all. His bars, three now, including the newest he had opened in New Orleans only two months before, ran themselves. The original in Seacouver was something of a tourist spot, a city landmark. The one in Paris did well by virtue of still being different enough to attract an appreciative crowd and the one in New Orleans, well "Joe's Blues" was gaining a reputation that might one day rival the Hard Rock Cafe franchise.

When Joe played the clubs it was an event and he moved from site to site throughout the year, played some gigs in-between and generally was able to do what he liked when he liked. His relationship with the Watchers was...privileged...he supposed the organization would call it. He had friends and advocates: people who thought him more powerful within the organization than he was. His superiors, who had never been comfortable with his maverick ways, found themselves in the unenviable position of having their employee define his job. In truth, the only reason Joe was still in the Watchers was that he knew too much to let go easily and he was far more dangerous to them outside the organization than in.

None of which had anything to do with the reason he stayed on. He stayed on because MacLeod needed him. Not in any physical or emotional way, but because the first tremors of loss Mac felt on realizing Methos had vanished might well become earth-shattering if and when that loss became permanent.

MacLeod was not surprised and he was quietly grateful. The first urge to go haring after his lover passed more quickly than Joe would have thought. The second urge to go hunt for this lost last child of the oldest Immortal came and went without either of them noticing. The search for Cassandra's son had to begin, as most do, with phone calls. Then letters. Then computer queries, e-mails, more phone calls, more letters and on and on as Mac tracked down every lead Methos had managed to cobble together in his hasty note.

In between the letters and calls and waiting, Mac kept busy. The front window was replaced, then the glass doors. It seemed rational, logical and painful and Joe watched and kept Mac company and found a little club in town that had an open mike and spent his Mondays and Thursdays playing for an appreciative college crowd, their youth and appreciation making him feel young.

While he watched MacLeod grow old.

Not physically, of course, but as a couple of weeks rolled into a couple of months, MacLeod became, not distant but reserved, not quite complacent but as if waiting for something--like old people who were waiting for the call to come that summoned them home. He kept busy. Repairs that Methos had avoided or ignored got done. Things that didn't need to be done got done anyway. There was an extension to the porch built to make it easier for Joe to get into the house and Mac remodeled the bathroom for the same reason. Joe knew it was as much a thank you as something to keep Mac's hands occupied and his mind not pre-occupied.

Claire had popped in two days after Methos disappeared with a single question, "Is he gone?" at the affirmative she nodded, kissed Mac then Joe and left. A week later Angela called and invited them to dinner. They went, explained what they could, which was mostly lies for Angela's sake, and Mac and Claire took a walk. Mac never said what they discussed but he looked...slightly less stressed than he had and the dinner invitation became a standing one.

To an outsider, Adam Johnson might never have been a resident of Blacksburg at all. For the four people left behind, it seemed to take all of them to fill the void.

When the courier arrived almost three months to the day after Methos had left Joe knew exactly why he had stayed.

The courier had not been a drop-the-package-and-run type, but had called to make sure MacLeod would be home, arrived in a very nice chauffeured sedan and wore a suit that cost more than Joe could make in a single night's gig. Mac had not expected this, was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, working on refinishing the porch railing when the car arrived. Proof of the professionalism of his employer, the gentleman, for all his youth, was un-fazed by his host's appearance and treated Mac and Joe with the deference that might be due some British lordling of ancient lineage.

"Joshua Barton of Adamson and Pierson," he introduced himself with a firm handshake and a smile that was both polite and friendly without being overly familiar. The man was very confident. "I called yesterday to make a delivery for Duncan MacLeod."

"I'm MacLeod," Mac said easily, faint smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "This is Joe Dawson," he said.

Mr. Joshua Barton did pause for a moment. "I see. Well, Mr. Dawson, my counterpart on the west coast is looking for you. If you are going to be in town for a day or so, I will have the papers he has for you sent here."

"Mr. Barton, I speak several languages, but everything you just said makes me think I need to pick up a new one," MacLeod said easily, leaning against the unfinished section of the rail. "You said you needed to deliver some papers and have me sign something?"

Barton lost his detachment and nodded. "This is a little more...complicated than I thought. You did know a man named Adam Pierson?"

Mac stiffened at the sound of a name that had not been in common usage for two years. "Yes. Should we go inside for this, Mr. Barton?"

"That might be best," Barton said with the tone of a man who was about to deliver bad news he had not expected to be burdened with. To his credit, he did not delay his news, beginning as soon as he and MacLeod were seated at the kitchen table, while Joe prepared coffee and listened.

"Mr. Pierson' s family founded our firm, some three hundred years ago. While not our exclusive client, they are our largest--and are the legal owners of the partnership. Mr. Pierson was the last of his family. There is no way to ease this news--Mr. Pierson was killed in Frieburg, Germany, a little over a month ago."

Mac remained quiet, his calm unnerving Mr. Barton. "What happened?"

"We think...the police are still investigating. We would call it a homicide but the police in Germany are not quite sure that it was random. There was another...body...found in the same condition some week prior. They are--"

"What condition?" Mac interrupted softly.

"He was...his head was cut off," Barton said in a low voice, meeting MacLeod's eyes bravely, the look on MacLeod's face demanding truth and no soft edges. "The police don't know if they have a serial killer or if Mr. Pierson was involved in...had not gotten caught in the middle of..." He hesitated, unwilling to cast aspersions.

"Go on with information you came here to deliver, Mr. Barton," Mac said calmly and Joe could only watch, eyes riveted to MacLeod's face, barely hearing Barton stumble through his original mission until he recovered his aplomb and finished smoothly.

"...the end result being that Mr. Pierson left you in care of his not inconsiderable fortune and a trustee. You are also, by virtue of this inheritance, eligible to become a partner in the firm should you wish to exercise those rights or...change the name."

"I'm sure it's fine as it is," MacLeod said.

"Yes, sir," Barton said and opened his brief to pull out papers.

"What does Mr. Adamson think of all this?" Mac asked as he read over the papers and signed and Joe perked up his ears.

"He was disturbed...very upset. He thought of Adam...of Mr. Pierson like a son. The families were close."

"I imagine that's true," Mac said.

"If you like, I can make time to go over the accounts with you..." Barton offered, not exactly sure how to handle this calmness. Joe was a little afraid to say anything. MacLeod's lack of reaction indicated there was something else going on among the legalities and wire transfers.

"I would appreciate that, Mr. Barton, but not today. Since you need to speak with Mr. Dawson as well, perhaps tomorrow or the next day?" Mac said, rising. Barton knew how take a hint and rose as well, handing Mac his card.

"My pleasure," he said sincerely. "Please call me if you have any questions," he offered and then hesitated as MacLeod held open the door for him and the driver started the car. "Mr. MacLeod--" he paused again and then shook his head. "Never mind. It is none of my business."

Mac looked him straight in the eye and gave him a small smile, "No, Mr. Barton, it isn't," he said and confirmed without Barton ever asking, what the man had on his mind. Barton flushed just barely and nodded.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. MacLeod," he said softly, the regret and the sympathy very real indeed.

Mac thanked him and watched him drive off before moving back into the kitchen. "He's not dead," he said to Joe.

Joe nodded. He had figured as much although he couldn't tell where or when in the conversation he had come to realize it. The shock of the beheadings too much at first to be easily overcome. "You knew the minute Barton said it."

"If Methos dies, believe me, Joe, I will know. No matter where he is. I'll know. And the two dead men weren't Immortal either."

"What? How can you know that?" Joe demanded, tossing out the cold coffee and starting to make fresh then changing his mind and grabbing the Scotch off the counter and bringing it and two glasses to the table.

"I'd have felt it. We forget, when neither of us takes a head for awhile...but it's there. If Methos had killed another Immortal I would know that too." He accepted the whiskey and sipped at it, gazing at the papers thoughtfully.

"That double..." Joe trailed off nodding. Once before, years before, when Mac was taken hostage by a madman named Holly, Methos had know Mac was alive. The older Immortal had come far closer to losing his head in getting Mac back alive than Joe wanted to remember, eliciting a wariness and change in Methos that only those the closest too him had seen--a change that maywell have set the stage for his current calculated self-sacrifice. Joe stared at the amber liquid blindly, thinking. "But he wants us to think he's dead," he murmured at last. "But he would know you--"

"Not us. Someone else and as soon as we finish our business with Mr. Barton, I need to go to Germany for a couple of days."


"Because they--whoever they are, Marcus...will be expecting me to. Because Methos wants me to be there. I just don't know why." Mac drained the glass and poured another.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Joe asked.

MacLeod gave him one of those smiles that made Joe feel like the best friend in the world. "Yes, but no. I have too many calls out...if something comes in. I won't be gone long."

"Do you have any idea what he's up to? Even a guess? And if those two were mortal--Mac..." Joe hesitated, unwilling to put the dark thought to words.

"If you are asking me if he would kill mortals for the furtherment of his plan--whatever it is, the answer is, yes, Joe," Mac said quietly. "But I don't think he did it for that reason...not this soon. Not in this case. I'll know more when I get there."

"Then give me your best guess, just to make me feel better," Joe said, draining his own drink. That Methos was perfectly capable of killing to save his own life, Joe had always known, intellectually. He had never had to face it head on, however, and he didn't much like the feeling.

Trying to follow his errant lover's thought processes even when he was in the room and MacLeod could watch his face and body was an iffy process, but MacLeod gave it a shot, knowing Joe needed reassurance, needed something to hold on to. He didn't have the double-edged curse and blessing of a link with Methos that Mac had (little good it did him now save assure him of his lover's continued life), nor Mac's insight into what Methos might be planning and why. "He doesn't want the attention of the police, Joe. He wants attention, but not that kind so either they came after him or they were opportunistic accidents he used to his advantage," Mac said with a great deal more confidence than he felt. That confidence got a small boost when Joe thought about it and then nodded, some of the tension easing from his face.

"That would make sense," Joe said. "What now?"

"I finish the porch rail and it's your turn to make dinner," MacLeod said with a rare grin. "Then I'll make plane reservations. But just in case, you might want to check with the Watchers," he added a stray thought making him uneasy. Cassandra had been a woman of extraordinary powers, her Voice alone enough to urge MacLeod to things he did not want to do. Methos had never shown her skill but there was, he recalled, Methos' ability to command that same Voice on occasion. Mac would hate to find out the older Immortal had another trick up his very long sleeves that he had managed to keep from his lover.

"What for?" Joe asked already headed for the phone.

"Just check about Quickenings in Germany..." Mac said, unwilling to lay all of his suspicions and anxieties on Joe's shoulder. "If someone is watching us, they'll expect will Methos."

Joe shook his head as Mac Left him, mumbling something about spy novels and the CIA.

They should be as interesting as my life right now, Mac thought and was reminded of the Chinese curse. Just keep it interesting, Methos, he prayed silently to the shadowed hills surrounding his lover's abandoned home. The only answer he got was the cry of an owl's "Who?" and the darkness creeping closer.

MacLeod knew he was being followed. And he knew the Immortal following him knew he knew. He was half-tempted to buy his shadow a lager but thought the better of it. So much for their Keystone Kops routine. His shadow wasn't even being particularly subtle about it, as if he wanted MacLeod to turn and challenge him but for some reason was not willing to issue the challenge himself.

The police were about as unhelpful as they could possibly be and not be completely rude. He knew where the deaths had happened. A visit to the first site revealed nothing, barely any signs that a man had died there--of course, it had been over a month. What traces might have been missed by the police may have been lost to the natural obscuring of weather and time.

The second revealed no clues either save that it was an abandoned warehouse instead of the open space the first body had been inhabiting. MacLeod wandered around a bit, studying the non-descript buildings, wondering what Methos could have been doing here. Nearing the end of the long double lines of structures he felt, pausing as the faint murmur washed over him. He stopped breathing for a moment.

He had not lied to Joe when he assured him Methos was alive, but it was one thing to know it intellectually--another to actually feel Methos' presence, however distant, however faint. Collecting himself and marking the spot where that brief tremor of familiarity had taken him, he turned back, keeping to his inspection as casually as he could and praying that Methos, having felt the equally familiar presence, would not bolt. If he did, MacLeod would find him again--but not with his ever present shadow in tow.

His tour led him back to his car and then back to the hotel. Lunch was slow, Mac making random notes to himself on a pad of paper before gathering his things and with a certain mischievous swiftness, checked out, gathered his bags and headed for the train station. He hesitated in purchasing his tickets, not wanting to lose his tail. On feeling the other Immortal, he purchased, paid and sought out the designated engine, settling into his seat immediately.

His shadow vanished for a time but a stroll to the end of the car re-imprinted the other Immortal's signature on MacLeod's senses. I have either been hanging around Amanda too long or been watching too many old spy movies. Glee was predominant in his feelings as the train began to pull away. He waited until it had almost reached the end of the boards before taking himself and his belongings in between the cars and jumping to the station decking. A glimpse of an angered face was all he saw, memorizing the man's features.

It was possible that the other might follow but the train was picking up speed and by the time it reached the first level of cruise rate, Mac still had not seen any bodies being hurled from the train. He watched until his vision became indistinct then turned away. The next stop was two hours away. Not a lot of lead time but perhaps enough.


A cab dropped him back at the warehouse district, everything but his blade and a small pack checked into a train station locker. The end spot between the two rows revealed nothing--no presence, no flicker of recognition but he moved on, beyond the warehouse proper into the loading yard and the smaller outbuildings and felt it again, wavering then growing stronger. A largish shed, used for housing trucks and petrol, the sharp smells assaulting MacLeod as he moved into the darkened area, the building open but the yard closed.

The presence hit him so strongly, appeared so suddenly as if out of nowhere, that MacLeod literally staggered, hand on his sword by instinct rather than reaction to a threat.

"Damn you! Where are you?" he shouted and whirled at a noise behind him.

"Wake the dead why don't you, Mac?"

Gladly, MacLeod thought in the two seconds he took to cross the floor, katana clattering noisily on the concrete since he needed both arms to pull and hold Methos close so he couldn't escape into the shadows. The kiss was desperate and brutal and angry and needful and Methos resisted not at all, eyes dark and unreadable when Mac suddenly released him so they could breathe.

"I knew this was a mistake," Methos murmured. He had made no move to return the embrace, unable to with his wrists captured and bent behind his back.

"Was it? " Mac breathed and covered his mouth again before he could answer. Angry as he was, relieved as he was, it was all Mac could do not to free both of them of their clothes and bury himself in his lover right then and there. Not for any sudden lust or desire but because the fear was so great that he might never have another opportunity. Having firmly re-imprinted the taste and scent and feel of Methos on his senses, the need became manageable and he eased his grip in the slender wrists, pulling them up between them to kiss the bruises he had left.

"It's nice to know you can make them," Mac said when he was sure the bruises were fading.

"Make what?" Methos asked with a faint smile reaching up to thread the finger of one hand through Mac's hair.


The chuckle was warm as Methos leaned in to kiss him more gently. "All the time, Highlander. I meant to watch but..." He shrugged. "I can't..."

"Stay..." Mac finished for him. It was not a question, but a command.

"Don't..." Methos pulled away. "I have to be in the airport in an hour. If you want to fuck me, you have to do it here and now."

"Don't make this about sex! It's not...and you damn well know it!" Mac snapped at him, letting the anger go for fear it would consume him. Or letting the fear go rather than let it destroy him.

"No. It's not," Methos said. "It's about you. You told me once that you couldn't be my whole world--or something like it. The same is true of me, Mac. I am not your world. Only a part of it. I had...I came to tell you that."

"I know that!" Duncan said gripping his arms.

"No, Duncan. You only think you do. I don't intend to die for you, Mac. Not if I can help it. What I am doing I am doing as much for myself as for you, as for Joe, or my child or Amanda or even for Marcus. I'm sorry, Duncan. I didn't mean to..."

He was silenced again, Duncan not sure if this were truth or lies spilling so quickly from his lover's lips and determined to listen to neither.

Methos struggled, briefly, trying to finish at least his sentence but he wasn't fighting for anything important, he realized a moment later. Mac had both wrists caught in one hand and his other hand firmly spread across Methos' ass under his coat, the first two fingers pressing between his buttocks to pull his pelvis forward.

"This how you settle an argument, Highlander?" Methos asked when Mac's mouth finally moved from his mouth to his throat.

"Only ones I can't win--which is most of them with you," MacLeod said.

"Mac--" Methos pushed lightly, separating them, not surprised when MacLeod wrenched away entirely, turning his back as squatted down to pick up his sword.

"You scared Joe nearly to death," MacLeod said, not turning around as he wiped dirt and traces of oil from the bright blade and hilt.

"I knew he'd figure it out, or you would," Methos said quietly. "They are watching you--both of you. You had--"

"A shadow, I know. He's halfway to Berlin by now but only halfway. I am not entirely ignorant of the cloak and dagger routine. God, what John Gresham wouldn't do to get his hands on you," Mac said taking a deep breath and turning to face his lover, to look at him.

He was expecting no changes nor saw any of real note. A tightening of the familiar mouth, a hardening of the hazel eyes that gleamed more gold at the moment in the semi-shadows of the shed. "I haven't found anything yet," he said, needing to change the subject before his anger or his fear chased Methos away and made him regret this meeting entirely. "I've been tracing Cassandra back along the passport registry's. She traveled a lot in the last two years."

Methos seemed to relax a bit, settling himself on a box of auto parts. "I know. And she could have left...the child...anywhere along the way. "

"She was in Jerusalem eighteen months ago. I thought I would go there next--hard to get information out of there."

"Might appeal to her sense of irony, delivering her version of the anti-christ child into the hands of the unbelievers."

"What do you mean?" Mac asked, nearing him cautiously, keeping his voice level. Methos' voice had become brittle, almost sharp.

The dark head stared at the floor, tracing patterns in the oil and grime with the toe of his boot. "I...I don't know what you'll find when you find this child, Mac. He wasn't born out of love or from some genetic drive in Cassandra to mother a child. She gave birth to a weapon, a silver bullet, if you like, to slay the demon in her nightmares."

MacLeod sat down next to him, careful not to touch him any way but casually. "What could she do? Any child by you is less than three years old. If she is not there to raise him--"

"And how long did she have you? You, an adult, with a will, with desires and needs of your own? It may be that her...'raising'...of this child, however briefly, may have been the last cliff she could fall over and climb back up. How much of her sanity was left six months ago, Duncan? How much is left now...?"

"Don't..." Mac protested rising again, agitated as those voices rose up in his mind to laugh at him again. "Just tell me what the hell you are doing? How do you see this little romp of yours turning out?"

"I am winging it," Methos said, mouth quirked up in an ironic smile at the expression on MacLeod's face. "Most of it. Marcus knows me too well. He knows you better. I want his attention focused on the threat. Me."

"You haven't been a threat! Dammit! Is this the curse you got for loving me--you got my damn conscience?"

"No. The conscience was there, I just ignored it for as long as I could. Mac, I am perfectly willing to let other people clean up my messes if possible. You should know that better than anyone! But not this one and it's not about conscience or honor or any twisted version of right or wrong!" he got to his feet, advancing on MacLeod with something akin to real anger in his face. "I made a gesture for redemption centuries before you were born that might make it possible for some of us, a few of us, to have a life that didn't begin in misery and breed Immortals who saw the world as their hunting ground. It failed with a lot of children--succeeded with others. But being responsible for that was more than I wanted and it brought me no peace so I gave it over to a few who might be able to make the difference I seemed incapable of making; Darius, Rebekah, Marcus--three people who between them had enough decency to make a difference. To make caring a natural thing rather than something they had to work at. I gave them what I had, the genealogies, the parentage--not for all Immortals but for those Heyla had managed to keep track of, to project and plan for. I walked away.I came back occasionally just to...I don't know...keep the idea alive, and it worked. Too well. There were more Immortals than I had ever seen. Ever wanted to see," he added bitterly. "But they were still hunting, still fighting and still dying. Mortals are rushing headlong to their own destruction out of ignorance, but they have hope--they don't even know what they are hoping for half the time. Well, we do. The bloody damned prize--whatever it is. Maybe my idealistic double had the right of it--living may be the only prize. But we aren't bred to listen, to believe that because we, superior creatures that we are, know or pray, that there is some point to this. We rush headlong and headless to capture a goal as if it were written down in plain words. But it's the only goal we have. And we are rushing headlong to our own destruction without hope. Better to be ignorant."

"You can't make that choice."

"Yes, I can. But nobody has to agree with me. Not even you." Methos spat and then closed his eyes, trying to shelve his anger with obvious effort. "I have one hope and that's you, Duncan MacLeod. I don't care if you don't want it or think you don't deserve it. I thought I could give it up for you because you asked me too. I can't. I won't."

Impasse. MacLeod knew it, felt it with every pulse of blood through his veins. The only way to stop Methos was to fight him--physically and if he wasn't willing to take his head, there was no stopping him at all. No answers, and no winners. "And if you die, where's my hope?"

"I don't intend to die."

"You didn't answer my question."

"You have to find it for yourself, Mac. Where ever, how ever you find it. Maybe in my son."

"I can't...won't substitute one for the other." He said it forcefully, praying Methos would not call his bluff. Slim hope, no chance. "You can't make me choose."

"No, but I can choose for you." The ancient stepped in close, one hand reaching up, fingers curled to rub against MacLeod's cheek, then uncurling them to feel his hair, his skin, eyes searching, scanning the Highlander's face intently before he let his hand cup the back of his lover's neck and leaned close. "I have been the shield, Duncan, and you, the sword. That has ever come first. You did not, could not understand what that meant, what it means now. You have only known the Shield I was for Kronos, and the sword he was for me. Do you understand? We are no different. Being lovers only makes the bond stronger -- but it does not supplant or replace the oath."

He hated it but he did understand. MacLeod lifted his hands to frame the beloved face, closing his eyes and he leaned his forehead against the older man's as Methos continued speaking softly. "This is my sword to wield, my brother, and you must be the shield. Not for me but for all that I love or could love, including yourself. It is time for the warrior to defend what is worthy and for the scholar to put into practice what he teaches."

"I would fight beside you."

"Then we would both die and who would defend what we are, what we dream of? Live. Grow stronger and fight another day."

"Just live," Duncan whispered against his mouth then kissed him, softly, slowly, not trying to keep Methos from pulling away when he did, accepting the kiss on his forehead and not moving when Methos turned away.

"I meant what I said, Methos," MacLeod said. "When I have your son safe, I will come and find you."

Methos chuckled softly. "I'll try and make it easy for you, then," he said with humor. "I love you."

Mac nodded, still not looking up, unable to see anything but darkness even long after Methos' footsteps faded and his presence dissolved like snow in sunlight.

I have been here before, he thought, mind quieter than it should have been perhaps. The last time my fear drove you away. This time...this time...

MacLeod did not even make it to Jerusalem before it began. He kept in almost daily contact with Joe, calling his friend at every change of location, every time his passport was stamped.

The backflow of the Quickening caught him as he was unpacking in a comfortable hotel near the American consulate. He felt it, knew the fear and elation that coursed through Methos as an enemy fell beneath his sword, felt the ache that followed and reached out his strength. He had no idea if Methos knew he were there or not. The sensation faded and he swallowed, slightly ill, knowing his lover was not much better off and aware of the sick fear that had lingered in Methos that he could come to like this...the power and the strength...knew the thought alone left his lover shaking and sick to his stomach.

Alive. It was the only thought that MacLeod held on to. Even when Joe called to tell him of the Quickening...the loss of one Henry Gunther, Marcus Constantine's...student. Son, was the unspoken truth between the Watcher and his friend.

A week of legwork and tape cutting revealed little save that Cassandra had property in the city she had sold for a ridiculous price. Other inquiries along the dates and ports of call revealed the same thing. Cassandra had been cleaning up after herself it seemed, erasing her trail, obscuring her current life as thoroughly as possible.

Nearly a month passed before the shock of another Quickening alerted him that Methos had won again and MacLeod was on his way to Greece. Joe's tracking letting him know that he and Methos were moving toward one another again. There were other Quickenings, but only the ones where the challenger was identified interested either the Highlander or the Watcher.

Until MacLeod entered Rome. He didn't even make it out of the airport before alarmed airline attendants were buzzing around him and calling a physician, wondering aloud in rapid Italian how so healthy-looking a man could suddenly be on his knees as he picked up his luggage. Fast talking and a quick story about extended jet-lag got him out of what almost became a quarantine. Whoever Methos had taken had been old, powerful and not particularly nice.

"His cover's blown, Mac," Joe told him on the phone. "The guy watching Estafan is named Paul Kinglsey. He and Adam went through training together. And how an ex-Watcher now Immortal who they thought might only have been Immortal for a couple of years took out a two thousand year old killer is just a little much for them to buy this time. Not to mention that Methos threatened Kingsley."

"Seriously?" MacLeod asked pulling off his coat.

"Paul thought so. Common speculation and gossip is that he took you out and that's why he is so powerful."

"What did you tell them?"

"Nothing. Not yet. They haven't asked. No matter what I tell them they aren't going to believe me."

Tension crept into MacLeod's body. "I'm coming home. If they don't believe you--"

"They won't come after me, Mac," Joe reassured him, in quiet, smoky tones that displayed an undercurrent of humor. "The death sentence for betraying the organization is still in force but they are a little leery of using it -- and I haven't betrayed my oath. I haven't interfered. All I have done is delayed my report."

Rubbing his hands over his eyes, MacLeod lay back on the bed, thinking, fatigue and the inevitable wash of conflicting endorphins and adrenaline from the backlash along his link with Methos making it difficult to concentrate. "You said common speculation. What's the not-so-common speculation."

Joe was silent for a long moment and Duncan swore. "Any chance of them letting that little rumor die?"

"Not likely. Come on, MacLeod, can you blame them? Half of them have thought Methos has always been a myth. That he never existed. What would you do if somebody suddenly left what looked like Excalibur on your doorstep?"

"If I could find him I could probably get him to show me where Excalibur is and give it to them as a peace offering...or a bribe," Mac said wearily.

"You sound done in, buddy."

"Long day...bad day...Did Kingsley say anything else? Any..." He faltered, almost embarrassed by his need to know details, trying to summon Methos' face behind closed eyes. Was he tired? Worn? Angry? Was he eating? Able to sleep? Had he lost weight as he always did when he was stressed? Were there new calluses on those graceful, gentle hands for so often using his sword?

"He's still alive, Mac," Joe reminded him. "He is smart, cagey, ruthless...Have a little faith."

"It's not faith I lack..." Mac said and wondered if Tessa had felt like this every time he went to meet a challenge. He was not used to being on the waiting end and he hated it. "How do you do it, Joe? Does it feel like this every time I meet someone?"

"Yeah. yeah, buddy, it does. Get some sleep, Mac."

Afraid he would break down completely, MacLeod agreed, sending his best to Claire and Angela who always asked then hung up the phone staring at the black plastic and the barely reflected shadows and glimmers that made its surface seem fluid and liquid like the shadowed depths of the lochs he grew up near. Grew up both revering and fearing. Always wondering what was hidden below the surface. You are far more like those waters than I, native son of that land, he sent to his absent lover. Even today there were places in the Highlands where a man could forget that the world existed, where ancient mysteries still waited.

He longed for home more now than he could recall ever wanting to be there in the past three hundred and fifty years. Perhaps, on the next leg of his journey, he should make time...

The pressure in his chest came suddenly as he sat up, reaching for his coat and his wallet, pulling out the folded piece of paper. He had memorized it but it wasn't enough as he scanned the carefully charted destinations.

The world went out of focus for a brief moment, realigning itself as he picked up the phone and called the agent who had been making his travel plans.

"Leon, Duncan MacLeod. I need you to arrange the first flight or connecting that can get me to London or Glasgow...and a car arranged to get me to Glenfinnan."

He had not been in London fifteen minutes when he felt the presence of another Immortal...not familiar, not Methos then, who seemed to be working his way toward Paris.

It was late and as badly as he wanted to get home, he needed sleep. Waiting for the taxi to take him to a hotel was interrupted as a limousine pulled away from one curb to turn and stop before him.

"Can you use a ride, Duncan?" The familiar and cultured tone asked through the open window.

"Not from you," he said evenly and turned away only to have Marcus Constantine leap from his car in a most undignified manner and rush to block his way.

"Don't make this ugly, please, Duncan. We are friends."

MacLeod stared at him, the first hint of a dark smile touching his face. "If you want a challenge, Marcus, this is a little public don't you think?"

"I don't...I am not here to challenge you. Only to talk. To try and stop this."

"You know what it will take."

"Do I?" Marcus asked, a hint of his own anger showing. "There have been no demands made, no parley."

"Stop hunting for him, Marcus, and he'll stop killing. Of course, then there's me."

Constantine glared but MacLeod held his ground, desperately pushing away the thought that this man had been his friend for many years. Someone he admired, had shared countless dinners and social events with, played cards with. Choose your sides, gray or gray, he thought savagely, reminding himself that Marcus had not denied sending hunters after Methos.

"This isn't what I wanted."

"No. You want to control the game, the players. Not all pawns come unarmed." Mac hissed and moved in, looming over Marcus. "I thought you had given up aspirations of power, Marcus. You told me you saw what destroyed Rome, how the egos of men made them gods, power with no restraint, no control. How are you any different. How many, Marcus? Who is teaching the children you are saving. What are they being taught? The rules? Honor? Or is it a pack mentality?. I might have agreed with you...I do as far as seeing that they have a chance, that they not be left to fend for themselves as I was, as you Methos was." Marcus was pressed against his car. Out of the corner of his eye MacLeod saw the driver get out, watching the pair uncertainly.

"Then help me stop it...stop him. I don't want his death," Marcus said, raising a hand at the driver. "He also a friend."

"Odd way of showing it or did you think his little reunion with Cassandra was all sweetness and light? What was the pay-off, Marcus?" MacLeod sneered then backed away. "We fight and die enough under normal circumstances, Constantine. It may not have been a war you were looking for but when you start to literally raise an army -- people wonder."

"Is that what he's told you?" Marcus had the gall to look affronted and it was all MacLeod could do not to ram his fist into the handsome face before he took his head.

Which was tempting and confusing and MacLeod paused wondering why Methos had not done just that yet.

Because he couldn't get to him. The hunters weren't looking for Methos to capture or kill him for his own sake. They were protecting Marcus. He drew back again, realizing for the first time that Marcus had no idea how deluded by his own altruistic visions he'd become.

"Tell me something, Marcus. When you let Cassandra rape him, exactly what did she promise you in exchange?" he asked, watching the blue eyes widen in confusion. "And did you get it?"

He didn't wait for the answer, ignoring Marcus as the man called after him. How do you fight a madness that is neither truly vicious or cruel? He thought in despair at what Marcus had become. The man dwelt entirely in shades of gray -- something only Methos, with his age, could have recognized, foretold. Marcus Constantine had become as much a fanatic of his own cause as any religious leader starting a Jihad and he didn't even know it. He flagged a taxi, watching carefully to see if Constantine would follow, not surprised to see the limousine pull out behind him.

The cell phone battery was low but it made the connection. "Joe, I need help. I need to find Amanda."

"She's...she ditched her watcher a few months back at a nunnery in Calais. She hasn't resurfaced. This connection is bad, Mac."

"Find her. Yourself if you have to...Tell her to meet me in Paris in a week," MacLeod said, unable to explain, holding out money to the driver as he spotted a station for the Underground as the phone nearly cut out. "I'll be in Glennfinnan," he said and cut the connection before Joe could question, all but throwing himself out of the car, sword case and carry-on caught up hurriedly.

He was on the train and moving just as he felt Constantine's presence.

It seemed so obvious in retrospect, but only in retrospect, Duncan realized and resisted the urge to kick himself or berate himself overly much as he pulled his rental car up to the edge of the track. He would get no further using a vehicle and even a horse might have difficulty but it showed every sign of being used recently and often.

He had to fight memories every step of the way as the woods closed around him. He had remembered Cassandra his whole life, been fascinated and enthralled by her as a child, blindly and almost fatally loyal to her as an adult, trusting her as he trusted few -- believed her to be as wise and flawless as she was beautiful.

Perhaps he had been wrong to put her so high on a pedestal. She had been a legend in his mind even when she was real and alive in his arms. Until he had put another on a pedestal above her, and his fallen idol had clawed her way to pull his new legend off and reveal Methos as no less flawlessly human than she had been.

The path opened and Duncan took a sharp breath as his memories of Cassandra slammed him full in the face. He had been only half sure the cottage would be there. As a child he had searched for it and never found it then stumbled upon it centuries later. It had been abandoned then and run down. What he faced now was a refurbished cottage, still lacking in most amenities but there was light and a neat garden and all the signs of habitation.

He hesitated before knocking on the door, not sure what or who he would find. He had sensed no Immortals and the only smell he could detect was of damp earth and the scent of baking.

"A moment," came the reply, a rich brogue and when the door opened he was confronted with a slender middle aged woman. Her hair was black and braided off her lined, oval face. She met him with no fear, only curiosity. "Can I help ye'?" she asked with a cautious smile.

"I hope so...I am Duncan MacLeod--" he stopped, watching her face tighten and close off, the caution replaced by a cold indifference but she opened the door wider and turned away, tacitly inviting him inside though she did not say the words.

MacLeod entered, a quick glance taking in a warm and comfortable abode, light and bright colors glinting off the clean surfaces though the furniture was nothing remarkable. Then his gaze stopped as his hostess rose from the floor cradling a child in her arms.

It should not have struck Duncan so forcibly but it did and he felt for a moment he would faint at the solemn, hazel-eyed gaze of the boy. He was small and slight, thin but not unhealthy. His hair had the burnished brown highlights of his mother but the pale complexion and well defined features belonged to his father as did the small long fingered hands.

He didn't get the nose...quite, MacLeod thought with a faint smile. Prominent enough and the boy would grow into it as his father had.

"Are you the father, then?" The woman demanded. "She said you'd come fer him."

"No. His father a friend of mine," Duncan said.

"She's dead, then. So she said..." The woman turned to the boy, brushing chestnut hair from the forehead as if she had not heard Duncan speak. "I'll get his things."

"Wait!" MacLeod said, events moving too fast. "Cassandra said his father would come for him?"

"She said he would or she would but whoever came I was to give him up and his papers. She mentioned your name, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I hope you plan to live up to your clan name."

"Who are you?" Duncan asked.

"Lisa MacIan," she said and came forward, balancing the boy on her hip. "This is Tradere -- Tray," she amended and a faint smile eased her face once more.

Mac nodded, the irony of the name not lost on him at all, and offered a smile to the boy who still regarded him without sound. The bright eyes were ever moving, shifting from Duncan's eyes to his mouth to his hands and back again. Is this what Methos looked like as a child? Mac could not help but wonder and believe it was true. Almost shyly he held out his hands. The child neither drew away nor reached for him. Without a word, Lisa surrendered him, the child making no protest at all. "I'll get his things together," she said again.

"Yours as well, if you've a mind to it," Duncan said and met her gaze. She studied him and then nodded, another small smile escaping her. Whatever Cassandra had told this woman it had urged her to caution and some suspicion, but not outright fear. "And aren't you the fine bairn," then he said softly to Tradere, turning his head when the small hands seemed to want to explore his hair and the shiny clasp holding it in place.

"Does he talk?" he asked turning to watch Lisa pack clothes and toys into suitcases and bags. There was not much he realized. Clothes and a few toys, some bright cloth books.

"No. Not at all," Lisa said softly and stopped for a moment. "Of course, there 's not been much for him to respond to. He's solemn-like. Never laughs but he smiles, don't you Tray-love?" she asked but got no display of this charm, Tray ignoring her in his obsessive examination of the bright metal. Still there was something heartbreaking about the fine boned face and not all of it was the resemblance to his sire. Not angelic, just beautiful. "Does he look like his father, then?"

"Aye, he does," Duncan said quietly, pulling the hair clasp free and giving it to the boy who examined with hands and nose and finally, mouth. "Do you need help?"

"No. We've not much. I don't need much and Cassandra preferred the house kept simple. I fell into the habit."

"Have you known her long? Did you?"

"About ten years, on and off. I've been nanny to her children for that long. And yes, Duncan MacLeod, I know what you are and about yer' bloody game and the killing. Did he kill her? The father?"

"No. I did," he said and waited. Lisa went still for a long moment and then began packing again.

"So where is he?" she asked as if it mattered not at all.

"I don't know but know that I have found Tray, I mean to go looking for him. You've a passport?"

"I do. So does Tray," she stopped packing. "Where are we going?"

MacLeod lifted his hand up to stroke the dark hair on the child's head, aware that the boy had no more acknowledged his presence than he had anything else since MacLeod's arrival. What legacy did Cassandra leave your son, Methos?

"Paris first, then we will see how Tray likes America."

If Lisa had an opinion, she kept it to herself as she continued to pack, never questioning that her life would change so. Hadn't Cassandra predicted it all, right to the moment of Lisa's own death?