Storm Front
by Maygra de Rhema

THIS IS NC-17/ R RATED: Extreme Violence; Sexual Situations (Male/Male Sex) Language. If any of this offends you, do not proceed. Some of the scenes in this piece are graphic in content and implication.

Note 3/13/2000:  While Storm Front is a story in itself, it does rely more heavily than other stories in the arc on events that have gone before. Specificaly, the evens in Reading Between the Lines and Crosses to Bear. The story will stand alone (IMO) but there may be references that are slightly confusing if you haven't read those two stories at least.

As always, The Highlander characters: Duncan, Methos, Joe, et al, are the property of Rysher: Panzer/Davis and I am ruthlessly exploiting their characters for no monetary gain and for my own (and now your) enjoyment but I will return them unharmed and no worse for the wear. This material may not be copied or distributed without my permission-I don't want R:P/D hunting me down--I have enough problems. Do not link, publish or post this material without permission.

Input appreciated, despite all commas and comments; to be sent to Maygra at

Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.

"You look like you've settled in for the long haul," Mac said as Methos held the door open for him. The single story, cabin-like, ranch house nestled in western Virginia's hills was isolated but not without the most modern amenities. Mac took in the electronics equipment and techno toys that occupied one wall of the large main room, a faint smile on his lips as he recognized the sparse furniture--priceless to anyone who knew of the real age of the low chairs and divan--but it read like so much garage sale junk. Methos was still master of the obscure. Any thief who managed to find the remote dwelling would head immediately for the shiny new toys and leave the rest as waste.

"I think you give the term 'eclectic' a whole new meaning," he commented as his host closed the door and turned to lean against it.

"What can I say? I'm a sentimentalist," Methos said his own lips twitching as he studied his guest. Guest. What a way to think of him, he chided himself. Mac was more than a guest, more than a friend. Always had been. Always would be. The only question in Methos' mind at this point was for how long this time.

"Dr. Ramsey seems nice," Mac commented.

"She helps that she has a significant other who isn't a constant presence at all faculty functions," Methos said.

"I didn't mean to get you in trouble--"

"I don't care, Mac," the reply was soft and insistent and Mac finally managed to look at the man waiting patiently by the door. He had not changed. Not that Mac expected him to, Immortality being what it was. Nor had the near year since they had seen each other last dimmed Mac's memory of the familiar face and body. Or the voice--the voice that now reached out to soothe and reassure him that he was welcome. "Claire is not likely to fire me over an open display of affection--simply remind me that I am an academic and caution discretion."

There had been no immediate recriminations for their rather public reunion in Virginia Tech's language arts department. Some student or other had felt it his or her duty to inform the department head that Professor Johnston had dismissed his class early at the physical rather than verbal insistence of his visitor.

Dr. Claire Ramsey had felt it her duty to check on the newest member of her faculty. She had not quite discovered them in a clinch, but rather recovering from one. The introductions had been polite, cautious, and then she had offered Dr. Johnston the rest of the day off to settle his "guest"; with an invitation to the self-same academic to join her in her office for breakfast the next day.

"It was still inconsiderate," Mac said.

"If you like," Methos replied, deciding MacLeod was indulging in the familiar game of guilt out of awkwardness. He had no cure, but a partial remedy was possible if the Scot would cooperate. Pushing away from the door, he held out his hand for MacLeod's jacket. "Get comfortable, Mac--Because I'm assuming you are staying," he said. "At least I'm hoping so--for awhile, anyway," he added just in case the Highlander had any doubts about his welcome still.

"Rather a turnabout," Mac said shrugging out of the leather and handing it to his host. "It used to be you crashing in on me," he said and found his coat and hand caught by strong fingers closing over his wrist.

"Some debts deserve to be paid," Methos said and pulled the wrist up toward his mouth to lay a gentle kiss over the pulse point, making sure Mac saw the invitation and need in his eyes.

"You can just let go of the past two years?" Mac asked tightly. "Can we really pretend they never happened?"

"Mac, I treat the entire 4th century like it never happened. Two years is a breeze," Methos said with a chuckle. "You didn't come to Virginia to enroll as a student of linguistics," he said and stepped in closer, pulling Mac's hand in-between them to clasp it and kissed the tanned knuckles.

"No. I came to see you. You know why. Hell, your entire class knows why by now. But there's more. There's--"

"Whatever the more is, can it wait for a few hours? Can we concentrate on the first reason for just a bit?"

Without conscious acknowledgment Mac lifted his hand to the sharp plane of Methos' cheek, gently stroking the ridge of bone under the ivory skin. His smile was equally unbidden as Methos turned his head into the caress. "It's waited nearly two years. You're right. A few hours won't matter."

"I always knew you were an intelligent man," Methos said huskily as Mac's hand slipped to the back of his neck and pulled him close.

The beginning of the kiss was tentative, slow, each of them wanting to recommit the taste and feel of the other into the near perfect memories Immortality gave them. The first taste of the inviting mouth under Mac's took him once more to the wild, ragged shores of northern climes--not the tang of oceans but the sweet clean taste of undisturbed lands, remote and timeless. The pull of tides at the deep oceans overwhelmed him as Methos coaxed his tongue against his own, the gentle suction dragging him further away from concern and awkwardness as he re-familiarized himself with the taste and feel of his lover's mouth.

Patience, patience, Methos had to remind himself. Gentling a wild creature, calming the untamed spirit that was as much a part of Mac as his brooding ways. That had not changed--if anything it had gotten worse since they had been apart. Mac had been through rough times and Methos had done his best to be on hand, to back him up--not always successfully. But neither had he failed--both he and Mac had retained their heads, although others had not--including Richie. Methos shunted the sharp pang of loss away. It was done and past--it had changed his lover, altered him and forced him into choices he might not otherwise have made--and separated them for awhile. Until Mac had come to realize that Methos could not and would not brand him a monster for that death--not when the older Immortal was so much aware of his own demons.

It had been a hard lesson to learn for both of them and love had made it no gentler or any less painful. If anything it had made it worse as Mac isolated himself for a time from those he cared about lest it happen again. The same fear that had separated them two years ago rearing up from an entirely different direction.

The past however, never stayed where it was supposed to, as Methos knew too well, but sometimes it had its uses. Like now. The brief duration of their relationship resurfacing at Methos' bidding to remind Mac that there would always be a welcome here. If there was desperation in Mac's kiss as it grew deeper, Methos ignored it. He was far too caught up in his own renewed sensations as his mouth left MacLeod's to investigate his jaw and throat. The muscular hands gripped at his hair, guiding him, demanding of him and Methos was only too willing to comply.

The same hands caught his face, stopping him briefly as Methos met the darkened gaze in the earth-brown depths. "I have missed you," Mac said hoarsely, tone tinged with regret and with no little wonder.

"I know," Methos murmured. "It works both ways--always has, always will," he said. "You have two choices here, Mac. You can take me to bed, or we can get a beer and some dinner."

"I don't know," MacLeod said and Methos felt his lips curve in a smile to meet the one that tugged at MacLeod's mouth. Finally. Methos thought as he saw humor dance in the dark eyes. "I could use a beer."

Methos smiled and pulled away, not surprised when Mac slipped his arms around his waist and pulled him back. "In an hour or two," he added with a soft chuckle.

The leather jacket, expensive as it was, found a resting place on the floor for the rest of the night.

It was the silence that woke Mac up long after midnight had turned the darkness to blue shadows and called life out of the forests that surrounded Methos' cabin. Not the total silence that meant no sound, but the lack of man-made noise, of cars and the thrum of street lamps. It was a peace Mac had tried to recapture for years at his own island cabin, securely set on holy ground. Unless Methos was aware of a burial mound beneath the pegged wooden floors of his home, that absolute safety didn't exist here.

Absolute safety. The concept was as alien to Mac now as it had been cherished a few years ago. Surprising that so much could change in the life of an Immortal in so little time. But it had and he was still at some loss as to what to do about it. He did not have Methos' propensity for planning, for seeing the bends in every path and making accommodations for them. He met his life head on--sometimes foolishly.

The lack of direction had been as big a part of his reason for seeking out the elder Immortal as anything. He needed and wanted to ground himself in the one thing that seemed to remain constant--would remain constant as long as Methos breathed. The depth of commitment in his lover still awed him, overwhelmed him at times. Had for nearly two years. Two years in which Mac had tested that bond sorely, yet here he was again, seeking blindly for the only thing that made any sense any longer.

He shifted on the bed carefully, not wanting to wake his bed-mate but half expecting him to be awake anyway. Methos was not awake, or he was making a good try at faking it. He was sleeping, as he always did, on his stomach, blankets pulled tightly around the slender form, only he had stayed close to Mac this time, rather than sprawling or rolling across the mattress. Moonlight and blue shadings stretched across the pale skin of his face, softening the sharp edges of his features and blurring them.

But observing was not enough. Mac felt the need to touch him; to reassure himself that this was not another of the dreams that had been calling at him over the past months. But to touch him would wake him and Methos had an early appointment to keep. There was no doubt in his mind that he would break his appointment with Dr. Ramsey should Mac ask--or even not ask but give him any indication that Mac wanted him to stay.

Interrupting Methos' life had certainly been Mac's intention, but not disrupting it. Unwilling to touch he moved carefully, sliding out of the bed to snag his jeans and step into them. He made his way outside to sit on the wide porch surrounding the house and let the relative wilderness soothe him for a time. Methos had grounded him with the unconditional welcome of his body and soul, but twisted as Mac's thoughts had been of late, it was enough only to give him space to think, not to solve or cure what ailed him.

Nor was he certain there was a cure, but he had been right in thinking Methos was the right medication. Already he could feel the tight fear in his soul easing and not just from the comfort of the beloved body, but from the absolute acceptance that Methos offered.

"Four hours without brooding. That has to be a record for you, Mac," the baritone was husky from sleep and the comment made wryly as Mac glanced upward. So wrapped in his own thoughts he had not even noticed his lover approach. A sign that could be taken for either good or bad and Mac opted for good as Methos eased his long frame onto the steps beside him, wrapped in a blanket.

"I've been practicing endurance," Mac said with a chuckle, leaning against the porch post and pulling the bundled figure against his chest, Methos went willingly, relaxing against his shoulder and twining his fingers with Mac's on the Highlander's denim clad knee. "I'd say you should go back to bed."

"And miss such a gloriously chilly night?" Methos said with a smirk. "No thanks. I need a dose of MacLeod once in awhile to toughen me up against the elements."

"Smart ass," Mac chided gently and bent his head, savoring the non-arousing kiss Methos offered.

"Some things never change," Methos admitted with a chuckle. "What woke you?"

"The quiet I think. Call of nature. Take your pick."

"Whatever the second reason is you came here?"

Mac frowned and shifted his gaze to the moonlit spattered clearing, eyes catching the subtle shift of shadows across Methos' truck and his own rental car as the trees moved to an unfelt wind.

"Mac, it's all right," Methos murmured, catching his jaw and turning the troubled face to his own. "Having two reasons doesn't diminish the first. It would have hurt more if you'd come for the second alone."

"You've been practicing as well, I see," MacLeod said leaning his forehead in until it rested against his lover's. "Is always knowing the right thing to say part and parcel of being the oldest Immortal?"

"Sometimes. I think it has more to do with knowing that the second reason you came is what kept you so long from using the first."

Mac stared for a few seconds, lifting his head, dark eyes narrowing. "Damn. You've been talking to Joe again."

"I talk to Joe at least once a month--usually once a week. He's still my partner. More than that, he's still my friend. As you are. I do keep tabs on my friends, Duncan."

"Watching my back still?"

"So I swore and don't think I don't know you've asked as well," Methos said with a smile pressing a kiss against the hollow of MacLeod's throat.

"That man has the discretion of a town crier," Mac complained without rancor.

"He is discrete. He just remembers who his friends are as well."

"And I don't."Now the tone was darkening.

"You do. It's what's kept you away--apart from us--for so long, isn't it? The idea you might hurt us or cause us to be hurt?" Methos pulled away slightly and rested his hands on Mac's bent thighs. "You will always be noble, MacLeod. Sometimes foolishly noble, but noble nonetheless. You need to accept that as much as all the rest."

"I'd forgotten your lectures."

"Bright lad," Methos grinned. "They are rarely worth the time it takes to listen."

Mac studied him for a long moment, bringing his hands up to stroke the narrow shoulders, gaze a little distracted as he sought the reassurance of texture and simple touch. Eyes met and held for a long moment before a gentle pull brought Methos in and against the solid muscle of his brother's chest, the embrace nearly fierce and almost possessive.

"I'm sorry," Mac murmured. "I thought this would be--"

"Less urgent? Not so easy? There are times, Mac, when your capacity for disbelief surprises even me. Did you really think I would demand explanations or exact a punishment of sorts?"

"I don't know what I thought. I'm not sure I was thinking or if I am now."

Methos pulled back again, cupping the uncertain face in his hands before stealing as kiss--although it was the easiest theft he'd ever tried. "I am pretty much the closest thing you're ever going to know as forever, Mac. And I do and will love you for at least that long again. No matter what, no matter why. You could become worse than Slan or Kalas or Suru and that still wouldn't change. How much plainer do I need to be?"

A faint smile. "Stubborn we Scots, and dense sometimes, too. Love me enough to take my head if I become worse than those?"

"Even for that."

"But you didn't--not for Richie's sake."

Methos dropped his head, hiding the pain he knew crossed his face. "Exactly for Richie's sake was why I didn't--you know that."

"I do--I'm sorry, Methos," Mac murmured, voice contrite as he pulled his lover once more into his arms. The last had been cruel and Methos deserved better. "I did'nae meant it that way."

"It doesn't matter."

"It does," Mac said against his hair. "I need to remember why his death hurt so badly, cut so deeply--and not because of the guilt."

"Because of the love and trust?" Methos sighed. "I do understand that, Mac."

"I wish you would just get mad at me--fly into one of those cold rages of yours, rather than sitting here waiting for me like you always knew I'd come back."

"I'd rather save my rages for something foolish you do now rather than the past," Methos chuckled. "Why waste a perfectly good fit of anger on something I can't change?"

"Like me?"

"I don't want you to change, Mac. I just want you to live instead of seeking death for something you can't or couldn't control."

"You should have been a priest," Mac said after a moment, caressing his cheek fondly, the lost child comforted for now.

"Was. I get to be your penance," Methos grated out in mock seriousness before their mouths sought one another again. The words needed to be said and there were more to come, but they needn't be spoken all at once.

"You have to go to work in the morning," Duncan protested softly, pulling away from the kiss, from the heat pouring of the slender body. There were no words for how badly he had missed the feel of this man against him, with him, surrounding him.

"No. I have to meet Claire in the morning. It won't be the first time I've done so with little sleep," Methos said and ducked his head to lay kisses against the bronzed expanse of muscle across Mac's chest. His mouth found a flat nipple hidden beneath the fine matting of chest hair and Mac' hand came up to catch his head, pressing the hot mouth closer as the flesh was nipped and suckled. Methos' hand crept unerringly downward, slender fingers spreading across the swelling groin and squeezing Mac gently. His lover's body responded and Mac pulled his head back to capture his mouth again, easing him back and down as the comforter fell across the boards of the porch. Methos' hand found snap and zipper, releasing the heat, the flesh, the desire, once more.

Methos took Mac's weight, pulling the solid muscular bulk of his body against his own, cradling him, denim and steel and hardening flesh pressed against his groin. Satin skin yielded under the caresses he drew along MacLeod's back, sliding his hands across the heavy cords of muscle and under the denim to knead at the firm flesh of Mac's buttocks. The mouth that plundered his was moist and demanding, but gentle, as were the hands that suddenly closed around his wrists, drawing his arms up and over his head, thumbs pressed lightly over the pulse points, the pressure points that would drag Methos' desires to a level with his lover's. No pressure was applied as Mac met his eyes in the unspoken question.

It chilled Methos a little to think Mac had lost so much that he needed to ask at all, that MacLeod still thought there was something Methos might deny him, or would want to. That touch had been given as a gift. It was equally disturbing that Mac was asking to make use of those triggers, although they had been offered once for just such an occasion as this. He almost denied his lover that permission, desperately wanting to get Mac to tell him what was dragging so heavily on his spirit but what Mac needed now was comfort and ease and a touch of passion to help heal the festering wounds. The decision was out of Methos' mouth before he had even really thought it through.

"Yes," Methos murmured and knew he'd chosen rightly as he saw something soften in the taut face, saw another doubt fade from the dark eyes and then he was lost to everything and anything as Mac gently pressed against his wrists, moving his hands immediately to tangle their fingers as Methos arched against him.

The mechanism of that training had lost its horror over time. Or not lost it, simply turned it into something MacLeod could almost understand as he saw the body below him respond. He felt Methos' cock firm against his belly, silenced the sudden moan as sheer sensation swept over the lean muscles of his lover's body and the spine arched sharply upward toward him. He had needed to see this, to lose himself in the trust and grace and shattering sensuality of his lover. The sense of awe had not been lost and he felt himself respond, the initial thrust uncontrollable before he eased back, releasing Methos' hands so he could grasp the muscled thighs. He ducked his head, mouth covering the sudden erection. Methos raised his hips to the welcome heat, lips parted and body tight as he pressed deeper. Mac suckled him, caressing the sensitive rise of flesh with lips and tongue, fingers probing as his own cock became achingly hard. He caught the slender waist, pulling Methos upward, the arms coming around him as he continued his caresses with his hands before Methos twisted, facing away and raising up on his knees.

There was no time to dispense with his jeans entirely as Mac rose behind him. Ejaculate was already escaping both of them and he used it the lubricate his cock, making the entry slow, mouth pressed against the jointure of Methos' shoulder and neck. Methos' hands stretched back to grasp his hips, steadying him, the slender body already trembling from the harsh arousal Mac's touch had summoned. There was a trigger for that as well but Methos stilled Mac's hand when he tried to ease the need, calming his harsh breathing as his body yielded to the slow invasion. Deep muscles tightened around Mac's cock then released even as Mac began stroking his lover's now rigid sex. Mac's mouth and teeth and tongue alternately nipped and soothed the muscled ridge of Methos' shoulder as his body pressed solidly into the other man's. The dark head fell back exposing his throat and the taut muscle of his neck and chest. Mac's other hand came up to tease at one of the small nipples, smiling at the moan of pleasure his touch pulled from the vulnerable throat. He bent his head to kiss the faint white scar at the base of the slender column--able to do so now without wincing at the causal memory.

Thinking was not a priority, feeling was, and Mac had missed this feeling, sometimes desperately. His arm supported his lover as Methos leaned forward to brace his hands against the post, the slender body moving with Mac's as the thrusts began to deepen and quicken. Mac's hand still stroked Methos, strengths mingling to support one another, to find that common ground of sensation and near oneness that Mac had experienced only rarely in his loves.

In his life.

They found it, old patterns reasserting themselves as Mac released a groan of pleasure, his breathing shallowing out to match his lover's, the harsh pants softly breaking through the stillness of the night as the ripple began--first for Methos then for Mac until they both found release. The ripple became a wave and the wave slammed both of them past thought and into the depths, wrapping them in another place and time that was as frightening as it was welcome.

The taste of sweat slicked skin brought Mac back to himself, lips pressed to the hollow line of Methos' spine. They had ended up on the floor after all and Mac levered himself off his lover, hearing the soft hiss as the cool night air replaced his warmth across Methos' back.

The blanket was still serviceable enough for now and Mac pulled it over the slender body, pausing to smooth the damp hair.

"Beds are such a wonderful invention," Methos commented, eyes closed as Mac continued stroke his back and shoulders, the Highlander propped up on one elbow. "I'm amazed we don't use them more often."

"You followed me," Mac chuckled and got a grin as reward. "Not much for the 'au naturale' side of lovemaking?"

"'Au naturale' is fine if you are in a meadow with blankets laid on overgrown grasses as a cushion. Hundred year old floorboards? Nothing natural there," Methos said and raised himself up to study Mac at last, smiling inwardly at the Highlander's relaxed pose and at the easy stillness in the handsome face. "I say we leave the remainder of the night to the bugs and owls," he commented getting to his feet and offering Mac a hand. The hand was accepted and more as Mac pressed him back against the door for a kiss every bit as searing and invading as their joining had been.

Then Mac reasserted his own control, gentling the kiss, soothing the sudden burn of blood and fire.

"Testing yourself again, Mac? Or me?" Methos asked, when he could breathe again--when he could think again.

"No tests...just you," Mac said softly and reached for the door handle to let them inside. "I'd sweep you off your feet but it would be silly at best, awkward at the very least."

"Trust me, I'm swept," Methos said. "Shall we exhaust ourselves into oblivion for a few more hours?" he questioned seriously, their reunion demanding his total concentration until Mac could tell him of his second reason for seeking him out.

"Fucked to insensibility?" Mac said and Methos was startled by the language as well as the tone as Mac shed his jeans again when they reached the bed.

"Is that what you need?" he asked and Mac stared at him.

"Christ, and you'd do it, too," Mac said his voice going still. He was met with silence, Methos' eyes hidden by the slanting shadows and suddenly Mac needed to see them. A bedside lamp gave him the opportunity.

Pupils contracted sharply under the sudden brightness, but the hazel eyes never wavered as the older man regarded him, seeking some signal from Mac to provide a clue as to what was driving these mercurial moods.

"I can and will. I'll spar with you until the sun rises or show you those Greco-Roman wrestling moves you were always so curious about if that's what it takes. What will it take, Mac? I think you've half decided not to tell me the second reason after all," Methos said and Mac's tension had been commuted to the older Immortal. The lean body was tight, not with pleasure but anxiety.

Sitting on the edge of the bed seemed the easiest way to avoid the conversation. A night, God help me, all I wanted was one night to forget Mac thought a little desperately. He was not worthy of the boon, apparently.


He said it softly, unable to look at Methos or even his own hands which he knew were trembling.

"You went looking for her, after Andres Suru," Methos said softly. It was not a question. "And didn't find her. I couldn't either."

"You looked--" Mac was startled and did open his eyes almost too late to see the regret on his lover's face fade into the calm mask again.

"I know what he was...what he was capable of, as do you. I wouldn't have left Kronos to him, Mac, much less Cassandra. How could I after what he did to you--to us. I never hated her that much."

"I went to Lambert's Bay..."

"And she wasn't there any longer. I know that, too," Methos sighed and folded his long frame onto the end of the bed, drawing his knees up under his chin. "You've heard something, then."

"Through Gina Vallincourt, of all people. She's hunting, Methos. Taking out every 'bad' Immortal she can find and she's not fighting fair."

"Divine retribution from a goddess. How delightfully poetic," Methos said harshly. "Where?"

"Last word was she was here in the states," Mac said quietly and Methos closed his eyes.

"Please tell me you didn't come here just to make sure she wouldn't try for me," the older Immortal said evenly.

"Not entirely--but it did cross my mind," Mac admitted. "Worse, that she might be following me so I could lead her to you--which I may have done."

"Lovely house warming gift," Methos said more harshly than he'd intended and he glanced quickly at Mac. "Wipe that guilty dog expression off your face, MacLeod, before I do it for you!" he snapped. "She has other ways beside trailing after you--she found Kronos, remember? Even I thought he was dead. She doesn't need you to bird-dog for her," he added less sharply.

"Nice to know you can still rage," Mac commented and Methos caught the sparkle of humor in the dark eyes. Methos chuckled softly at his own mood swing and unfolded his body, to move toward MacLeod, pressing him back against the pillows and stretching out against him.

"I haven't had much practice recently. No viable target," Methos said as Mac's arms came around him. "So. I'm awake now. Got any ideas?" he added slyly, hand beginning a slow caress along Mac's abdomen and thigh.

"You could fuck my brains out. What few I have left," Mac suggested tenderly, capturing the willing mouth. Once spoken the fear had lessened but the need for comfort and for diversion had not.

"Gods, Mac....I thought you'd never ask...." Methos said huskily tangling his legs with his lover's and renewing his encouragements. "Thank god for automatic coffee brewers," he chuckled and applied himself to completing their reunion while darkness still gave them a semblance of peace.

When Mac finally surrendered to him he prolonged the pinnacle as long as he could, hoping the loss of all thought and reason would remain with them both long after the dawn broke.

"I'll give you points for good taste, Adam, but not for timing," Claire Ramsey said offering him a cup of coffee as well as a choice of fresh baked delights. Convinced Mac would not go haring off on his own too soon, Methos had kept his appointment. "Your MacLeod is quite a feast for the eyes--as half the coeds on campus are now discussing. You've been shoved off your pedestal as both the most attractive and most unattainable male on campus. Although the latter you will probably have to share with your lover since yesterday is no secret. From anyone," she added pointedly.

"I've gotten used to stepping aside for Mac's looks," Methos said with a grin. "Did you get a slap on the wrist or just a side comment?"

"Side comment, but the ruler was visible," Claire said. She was a handsomely attractive woman in her late forties, a lifelong academic with chestnut hair cropped to expose short curls. She was also the most published professor on campus and tenured which gave her some clout.

"I can take a hike, Claire, and a hint," he replied dryly.

"You'd like that wouldn't you? And never regret. Ahh, to be so young and in love again," she said and Methos almost choked on his bagel. "But I'm not quite so willing to lose you yet--not that I could stop you. You know tenure is on the line for you?" She continued, oblivious to his start.

"More fools they..." he muttered. "So what retribution are the beloved trustees leveling against you?"

"None...and you are not to worry about it," she said severely. "The Board is my problem. But if you are not going to seriously consider this tenure offer--I need to know. And I need to know if your answer is different today than it would have been yesterday."

"Prying, Claire? It's not like you," he offered but her question disturbed him because she could read him so well. Rare in a mortal.

"No. It's not--and I don't much like the asking. I am your department head, not your mother, but I will be damned if I watch you throw a promising career away over someone who broke your heart two years ago."

"He didn't break my heart, Claire. He broke his own and two years ago I barely knew you," Methos returned, and edge to his voice. The woman had a clairvoyance he'd never seen before.

"Two years ago you accepted a temporary position and then took off at a friend's phone call to help a man named MacLeod. A friend you said who had suffered a grievous loss. I didn't get until yesterday that your visitor and your friend were one and the same. And if your heart wasn't broken when you returned then I've never seen one that was. Nobody throws himself into work the way you did unless he is trying to avoid something--and it's usually not the IRS," Claire said, ignoring the warning in his tone. "Adam--I am not prying. As much as I try to avoid getting involved in the personal lives of my faculty, I will not treat any of you as fodder for the academic grist-mill. You have managed with your wit and your easy style--and as un-PC as it is, your stunning good looks--to revive what was a dying department. I am not going to lose that gain without a fight!"

She was so fervent and sincere Methos had to laugh. "Well, if my looks are the cause for the turn around, you should offer a position to Mac."

"I might!" she said with a grin. "Seriously, Adam. The young women enroll in your classes because you are attractive--just like I can't keep the lads out of Theresa Browning's economics class when they couldn't care less about the GNP. But those boys don't become economics majors. The students who enroll in your classes do become language majors--men and women. That says more about your skill as a teacher than your enigmatic ways. So, do I have to come up with a new strategy to keep my department alive or are you going to be here to help me?"

There was more personal concern in her question but Claire was doing her very best to keep things professional. Methos thought about it then shook his head. "I don't know, Claire. I had intended to say yes, but you are right. What I do here is not nearly as important to me as Mac is. And..." he hesitated. "And he and I have a mutual problem we have to deal with. Which means I won't be here for the summer session. I will do my best to finish out the semester."

"That is not at all reassuring," she said sadly. "I hope he knows how much you love him," she added.

"So do I. But this has less to do with Mac as my lover than you could possibly understand. I have no family, Claire. No...people to speak of at all. Mac is to me what most people take for granted. He and one or two others. He is my friend first, and my brother."

"One person can't be all things to another, Adam," she said, face displaying the depth of her concern.

"Not like that. But I can't explain it. I have a life without him. But I much prefer my life with him," he said softly, and Claire studied him for a long moment before nodding.

"I think I understand. Angela and I have been through some rough times--and we've been separated on and off over the years, but troubles aside, I am happier with her than without her. All right. I will leave things as they are--including the tenure offer. I don't expect to see you again until your two o'clock class on Monday. Understood? And not just because I'm nice, but because the board will be here at ten but they should vanish again before your class lets out--cut it close for me?"

"I will arrive at exactly one-fifty-nine," Methos said with a grin. "I do appreciate--"

"Save it!" Claire said, face once more all business. "Go home to your boy friend. Make him cook you dinner."

Methos laughed again. "I will and I should invite you and Angela because Mac is a great cook. I'll see you Monday."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Claire said dismissing him, head already bent to the mound of papers on her desk, a smile dancing around her lips.

The late night should have induced Mac to sleep in once Methos left him, but he found himself feeling restless and prowled around the house looking for something to occupy his time. The interior was spare and spotless, or nearly so. The house itself not overly large with four rooms and a large bath--a remodeled bath Mac was quick to note with a grin. "You can take the boy out of Rome, but you can't take Rome..." As near as Mac could tell, the closet in the smaller second bedroom now used as an office had been sacrificed to Methos' fondness for bath comforts. The master bedroom and living area were the largest rooms and the kitchen/dining area suitable for a man living alone.

Activity was still the cure for his restlessness and he unloaded his bags from the car, pulling out sweats and deciding on a run. The drive leading to the house was nearly a mile and steeply inclined--more than enough to work out the kinks. He almost left the house unarmed, but something prodded him and he pulled out his sword from his case and slipped it into the map case he had brought for just that purpose. Slung across his back it was no weight and hardly noticeable.

The air was still cool, the drive shady and Mac settled into his run, trying to think of nothing, but inevitably coming back to Cassandra. He was worried about her. Dismayed that she had come to such a behavior, however provoked, and more than a little concerned that she would, indeed, seek out Methos again. The man that had so brutalized Methos two years ago would have had no compunctions about treating the seeress to the same fate or worse. Mac still occasionally had nightmares about Andres Suru, barely displacing the ones he once had about Kronos and then later, the horde of demons he'd seen which had engineered Richie's death. All of it seemed a little unreal still--as if he had stepped out of his own life two years ago and woken to a nightmare.

He still woke to nightmares--nightmares that had become more frequent of late. They were vague--no tales to tell, no imports of doom that might indicate he was slipping into yet another kind of madness. He had night terrors that left him sweating and panting and unable to reason why. He had not managed to tell Methos about those, yet. And had kept them from Joe as well. So far.

But he wouldn't be able to keep the secret for long--not if he planned on staying with Methos for any length of time. It seemed cowardly and whiny to tell his lover, but he would rather Methos be prepared than wake to find his lover in the thrall of one of the fits and not know why.

He paused at the bottom of the drive and walked some along the secondary road. It was lightly traveled, especially early on a Saturday morning. Deep woods stretched out on either side and Mac was struck by the isolation of the home Methos had chosen. His lover had ever been an urbanite, but it would seem Mac wasn't alone in adjusting to changes in his life. Starting back up the incline he tried to piece together the information he had gained--oh, so very casually--from Joe over the months. Mostly to reassure himself that Methos was safe and happy. Reports said he was. They had missed each other by days six months ago when Methos had traveled to Seacouver for the holidays and Mac had been on his way to Europe.

A faint smile brushed his face when he had arrived back at the loft to find the unmistakable presence of his one-time lover. Mac begrudged Methos the use of his home not at all and wished he'd been there with him. Holidays had become painful with no one to spend them with--and he corrected himself again. Amanda had been with him on Christmas and silly presents had abounded. They had gone to dinner with the Vallincourts. Amazing how bright times could fade when compared with what could have been. Should have been.

He shook off the depression and anxiety. One of the best things about being Immortal was that there was time to correct mistakes -- to try again, to make things right. If he could, if Methos would let him, and so far there was every indication that his lover was more than willing to allow their reunion to become something permanent.

Permanent. Long term. Mac had spent two years fighting to get through every moment, every day with some sort of sanity -- not to mention desperately trying to find something or someone to care about. The person, he realized in retrospect, had always been there.

Mac just wasn't certain it was fair to either of them for him to bury himself in Methos' life rather than seeking one of his own again. He shrugged the feeling off again. Spiraling depressions had become a nasty habit of late.

He moved, resuming his run up the slope of the drive, then veered to the side at the sound of an approaching car. He recognized the dark green sport utility, grinning when Methos pulled up beside him.

"Run or ride?" Methos asked.

"I'll finish the run. How did your meeting go?"

"About as expected. The trustees aren't demanding my head on a platter -- yet. I'm supposed to lay low," Methos said and smiled faintly. "I suppose I can find something to occupy my time. Have any plans this weekend, Mac?"

"Nothing specific," Mac responded with a grin, leaning against the truck. "What did you have in mind?"

"I thought," Methos began voice dropping to an inviting timbre. "We might explore the 'au naturale' delights in the area," he offered. "Hike up country a bit -- there's a nice flat..."

His description was halted by the press of Mac's mouth against his. "Convinced. Charmed. I accept -- whatever," Mac said when he pulled away. "I'll be up in a bit." His expression went more solemn. "But I need to make inquiries..."

Methos let his head drop against his arms. "Cassandra."

"I can't leave her out there...I can't let her..."

"Cassandra is not your responsibility, Mac," Methos said evenly, hazel eyes locking with the darker ones. "Whatever pass she has come to, she made that decision on her own."

The Scot's expression darkened. "I know that. But if she can't be made to stop..."

"You'll what? Take her head? Still judge, jury and executioner, Mac?" Methos said and instantly regretted it when Mac went stiff and shocked. Methos gritted his teeth. If Mac wanted to take his comment as a reminder of Richie's death he would do so regardless of anything else Methos said. "She cannot use her Voice on anyone who is not willing to Listen. You know that."

"Aye. But do the Immortals she is challenging know that?" Mac demanded, shoving off from the car. "Don't you feel even a little responsibility for her?"

"Why? Because three thousand years ago I was an idiot? Because three years ago I killed a man I'd known longer than she'd been alive to save her neck -- and yours? Exactly when do I get to pay this debt off, Mac? Or maybe I should have given into Suru when I had the chance. God knows you certainly came close!" Methos snapped, the cruelty of his remark not lost on Mac. Nor did Methos give the Highlander any time to respond, gunning the engine and sending the truck on a dangerously fast clip up the drive, leaving Mac to stare after him with his mouth hanging open.

Great. Just great. Nice to know you haven't lost your touch, Duncan, Mac thought, shaking his head before resuming his run. He made it somewhat faster than he had intended and was near winded when he arrived at the house. He felt Methos, but didn't see him and heard the sound of the computer in the office. Methos was typing at something. Class notes most likely. Mac hesitated and then decided to wait on his apology after a shower. He needed a cool head -- a state of mind he'd had trouble achieving as of late. In truth, everything about his life seemed to have taken a turn for the worse, lately. He felt restless and uneasy, as if expecting something to happen. He tried to let the hot water wash away his anxiety. Cassandra had been...was...his friend, but it was unreasonable to expect Methos to want to help a woman who had wanted him dead a couple of years ago.

He winced at the raw memories. It was amazing that Methos had come to care for him after what Mac had done...Dark Quickening or no. Those nightmares had returned as well, mingled in with the ones that replayed Richie's death over and over. Of feeling Methos beneath him, trapped and helpless while Mac...

Dark Quickenings. Ahriman...perhaps Ian MacLeod had been right centuries ago when he proclaimed his adopted son a demon. Methos had been a demon once too...or close enough, but he had overcome it...changed. Mac was beginning to despair that his life would ever change.

He suddenly felt the brush of an arm across his skin as Methos reached in to turn off the water. The gold-green eyes were concerned as he held out a towel and Mac suddenly realized he was freezing. The hot water had  run out and he had been standing under icy water for who knew how long.

"Mac?" Honest concern, earlier anger forgotten, Methos slipped his hand across the pale cheek. "Got lost, did you?" he asked softly.

"Some," Mac said, feeling embarrassed. "I didn't mean...earlier..."

"I know...."

"Dammit! Don't be so bloody understanding!" Mac snapped and Methos stepped back, eyes narrowing at the flush of anger that stained Mac's cheeks. Without a word, he spun on his heel and Mac swore, following him only to be struck in the chest by a pair of his own sweats as he entered the bedroom. Methos was stripping down, slipping into a pair of loose jeans and a T-shirt.

"Get dressed," The older Immortal said coldly and pulled his and Mac's swords out, tossing them on the bed.

"What are you doing?" Mac demanded but put on the sweats.

"What the hell does it look like? You've got something to work out, MacLeod, and talking obviously isn't going to work. So I plan on beating it out of you," Methos said coldly. "Back yard." It was both command and challenge, Mac bridling even as he realized he may have pushed the line again. Why could he not get his emotions under control?

A few minutes later he joined Methos in the open space behind the house. Before he could even question, Methos was on him, fast and furious, and Mac took three quick cuts in rapid succession before he realized Methos was serious about his comment. He parried and thought he saw a spark of approval in the hazel eyes and then he was at his lover with barely restrained blows.

Mac could wear Methos down on sheer stamina, but the Scot wasn't in the mood for winning engagements on points. Once engaged, he lost himself to the purpose of the challenge. Methos was defending more than attacking and Mac barely noticed.

Mac could not say when Methos slipped from partner to opponent, only that he was furious when the other man pulled a second blade, face pale and set. MacLeod barely noticed the wounds on the slender body as he pressed his attack, driving Methos back and then down. He swung without thinking about it, the killing blow barely stopped when Methos caught his wrist and rolled with the blow. Pain exploded through MacLeod's side as Methos small blade found a home in his gut and he heard his lover bite off his own cry of pain, felt the bones in the slender wrist snap as Mac wrenched free, drawing his arms back for another swing. His eyes were caught for the briefest of moments by a pair of wide and startled hazel ones, and then there was more pain as his head seemed to explode. His last thought was more rational, grateful that whoever had just shot him had stopped him before he took his lover's head.

The shot sent Methos diving for the ground, jerking Mac's falling body with him and in front of him. There were no other shots and he could sense nothing and no one. His breath was still coming in ragged gasps as he shifted, eyeing the house and the phone. It would take the police a good ten or fifteen minutes to reach them but he was half-tempted to call them anyway, just to have them sweep the area. There was no guarantee Mac would heal before they arrived, however, and anyone hiding in the woods could vanish completely in that amount of time. Eyes scanning the tree line behind Mac, he could still see no movement.

"Shit," he muttered softly but he was far too open and Mac's body was an inadequate cover. Another shot and whoever was out there could take both their heads at leisure. He cradled his broken wrist against his chest and made a dash for the door, leaving MacLeod sprawled on the ground. The solid wood of the cabin between he and the sniper made him feel some better as he watched Mac, uninjured hand clutching at the phone. As soon as Mac showed signs of reviving, Methos would see if the sniper had retreated. If not, he could call the police then.

He had no qualms about using his lover as bait, grimacing as he jerked on the broken wrist to reset it and help it heal faster. For all he knew, Mac might come up swinging. Waiting and watching gave him a few adrenaline pumped moments of clarity to review what had happened. Mac was stretched far tighter than he had thought. It was a fool's bet to think that without the interfering gunman, Methos might well be a foot or so shorter right now. He was not even sure Mac had realized who he was fighting any longer -- he certainly had lost all recognition that it was a spar. A dangerous spar, albeit, but still a spar.

Two years and you've gotten soft, old man, he thought watching Mac carefully. Did you honestly think your life was going to stay simple once Mac walked back into it? He checked his hand, the bones were almost completely re-knit and it hurt like hell as he flexed his fingers. The adrenaline was draining away as nothing happened -- the woods as silent as the body still sprawled on the grass. He had not meant to let it get so out of hand. Mac had been angry -- usually a far easier opponent to disarm than the fully focused MacLeod he knew. Only he hadn't. He had been caught totally off-guard by the fury of his lover's attack. Had they lost so much ground, then?

They had lost something. Methos never thought rebuilding their relationship would be so difficult. That bond he had always felt to the Highlander seemed invulnerable, immortal. It was proving far more fragile than he thought and with that realization came a new resurgence of the possessiveness he felt about his troubled warrior.

Which brought him right back to questioning who had taken the shot at Mac. The only Watcher Methos knew who might even be inclined to intervene between two Immortals was three thousand miles away. Or a few seconds, he thought and dialed, then swore again as Joe Dawson picked up, voice husky from sleep.

"Damn, Joe. I'm sorry. This could have waited."

"Methos?" The recognition brought a certain wakefulness to the Watcher's voice. "You are early in the day and in the month. What's wrong? Spit it out. I'm awake."

"Do you have a Watcher on Mac?"

A bitter laugh answered him. "No. He's been making their lives a merry hell for months. Keeps moving around. Shit. He came to you didn't he?"

"Yesterday. Only today...someone just shot him, Joe. From the edge of my property," he said and his own anger at having his sanctuary invaded began to surface.

"I've got no one on him, Methos. He checks in with me from time to time and we keep tabs on him when he encounters other Immortals. And no. There is no one on you either. You are still considered a retired Watcher."

The accusation in Joe's voice was obvious and Methos made no effort to dissemble by claiming he hadn't been thinking it possible. "It couldn't have been an accident? A hunter -- it's the season," Joe offered and Methos made a rude noise, then stopped..

"You may have something, Joe. Someone hunting Mac? I won't ask the obvious, like who has he pissed off lately or who is on his top ten enemies list."

"I'm not sure I could tell you. He has been avoiding Immortals for the most part...hell, you know how may challenges he's taken as well as I do. What else? How is he?" Joe asked and there was real concern in the older mortal's voice.

Methos stared at his lover. Mac had started breathing again. "He's...I don't know...edgy. Guilt ridden. Quick tempered -- stressed. Same old Highlander." he added softly. "And coming round. I have to go, Joe."

"You want me to do some hunting of my own?"

"I'll leave it up to you, my friend," Methos said but he was smiling. "I'll keep in touch," he promised and set the phone aside.

Mac groaned and moved, rolling on his side and looking both confused and in pain but Methos remained within the house, hazel eyes narrowed as he watched the woods until Mac dragged himself to his knees and focused on the slender figure.

Then went white as he recalled the events leading up to his death. He got to his feet staring at the swords on the ground. "You should have finished it."

"It's Saturday, Mac. I never kill my lovers on the weekend. At least not before lunch."

"I almost...."

"Yes. Almost. But someone stopped you. Now, who likes me that much, Mac?"

"I should go..." Mac said unable to meet the even gaze directed at him.

"Great answer. You leave and neither of us will ever know why you suddenly decided I am expendable," Methos said and took a cautious step outside.

"I don't know what happened."

"No. I don't think you do," Methos said. "I think our sniper is gone or has decided getting close enough to take your handsome head isn't worth the effort after all."

Mac took a step forward as if half-expecting Methos to back away. His face flushed darker when the older Immortal did not move.

"Inside," Methos said finally. "You can tell me what was going on in your head when you nearly took mine." He turned and went inside. The sweet reunion was obviously over. Methos suppressed his own sudden depression as he heard Mac follow.

"I'm sorry..."

"Accepted. Forgiven. Now, tell me what happened," Methos said, snagging two beers out of the refrigerator and flinging himself into one of the chairs at the kitchen table after handing Mac one.

"I lost control. It's not the first time," Mac said softly setting the beer aside and rubbing at the back of his head, wincing as his fingers encountered the hard lump.

"I will take that out later," Methos promised. "And this is not likely the last time you will lose control," he added and Mac looked at him in surprise. "Did you think I would deny it to save your feelings?" Methos said harshly. "Damn it, Duncan! I know your dark side better than anyone. What happened is as much my fault as yours -- for not recognizing it. It's over. We both survived with a little outside intervention. Now. I want to know who and why someone would do such a thing."

"I don't have an answer."

"One of us does," Methos snapped. "I won't provoke you or underestimate you again, Mac. Trust me if you can't trust yourself."

"I do. I don't know why! If I took your would...I would...." Mac could not finish. Without a word he left the room, heading for the bedroom, leaving Methos staring after him thoughtfully.

He knew exactly how Mac felt.

"That's not the answer," Methos said.

Mac had his bags in hand, putting them by the front door. He had bathed and dressed, face as calm and removed as it had been the day before. "No, but it's an answer."

"Running away is more my style, don't you think?" Methos said leaning against the archway between kitchen and living room.

"I never said that," Mac said.

"Actually, you have. But this time I said it," Methos said and his face tensed in anger. "And regardless, I am not running away and there is no reason for you to either. Dammit, Mac! This morning was an aberration!"

"And how many of my 'aberrations' do you think you can survive?" Mac demanded, eyes darkening. "Because I damn sure don't think I can survive another. Or want to," he added bitterly.

"Tell me what is going on, Mac," Methos said. "This isn't just about this morning...or even Richie or Cassandra."

The Highlander shook his head, eyes dropping as he reached for his bags. Unreasoning anger flared through Methos and he lunged, knocking the suitcase from MacLeod's hand and propelling him against the wall. Startled, Mac hit it with an "Umph!" and an outrush of air before fighting back. His eyes narrowed as he twisted in Methos' grip but the older Immortal was not so easily fended off. Mac found his arm trapped and in another half second he was flipped, ending up on his back on the hardwood floor. Then, before he could move, Methos had him on his stomach, the older Immortal's knee pressed into his back and both arms twisted behind him. Methos was panting from exertion but his grip on Mac was like steel and try as he might, MacLeod could not buck him off.

"You want to check my stamina, Mac?" Methos hissed. "I promise I can hold you like this for quite awhile. And will. And when I can't any longer I will throttle you until you pass out and then I will tie you up and deposit your stubborn ass on my bed until you talk to me. You came here for a reason, MacLeod, and as pleasant as it is and as much as I want it, it was not for the mere pleasure of balling me for old time's sake. We've had our reunion. Time for the reason."

MacLeod twisted, once more trying to free himself only to find that wiry strength as implacable as the man himself. Why was it so hard to speak? He had intended to tell Methos of his fears all along but now found himself choking on the words.

Methos leaned down close, still retaining his grip on Mac's arms. "What's it going to be, Duncan?"

The gentle insistence in Methos' voice calmed Mac but he was still at war with himself. He had no doubts at all that Methos would do exactly as he said. He had come to his lover for help, for support, for....

"All right," he murmured and Methos immediately released his grip, settling on his knees as Mac stretched and sat up. "Nice move, that," Mac commented.

"I'll teach it to you sometime. Talk to me, Mac. Please."

Mac hesitated, wanting to pace but settling for getting his legs crossed and taking some deep breaths. Methos waited patiently but the hazel eyes were unreadable, the mobile face still.

"You knew I had nightmares...after...after Richie."

Methos nodded. "Joe said they stopped after a couple of months."

"They did. I still have the occasional...They started up again."

"Still about Richie?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes about...about Kronos. About...Byron. You. They aren't...I don't remember what happens...I just wake up and I'm...I can't remember where I am...and I can't remember the...dreams except that I wake up like I have just fought the hardest battle of my life."

"Has anything happened...a rough Quickening? Some...some challenge you didn't want to take but had to?" Methos pressed but carefully.

Mac's laugh was rough and ironic. "How about all of them? But there's more. I don't remember where I was in April."

Methos thought on the last for a moment and unfolded his long frame, heading for the kitchen. Mac got up to follow him.

Recognizing the number as Methos dialed, Mac snatched the phone out of his hand. "If I had wanted Dawson to know I would have told him!"

Calmly, Methos took the phone back. "I only need to ask where, Mac. Not tell him why I need to know. He can think what he wants. He already knows you are here." The number got entered without interruption this time. A few quick questions and a some reassurance and the conversation was over.

"You were in Toronto. You told Joe you had to see a man about some antiques there. Do you remember any of this?" Methos asked.

Mac searched his memories. Toronto? "Alistair Hodges," he murmured, dark brows knit in concentration and then he was heading toward his bags, Methos following him curiously as Mac rummaged through his carry and came up with his wallet. A quick search produced a business card. "Sixteenth century frames...the paintings are worthless but the frames..." Mac's voice trailed off as he tried to remember the details and could not. "I don't know if I bought them or not. I don't recall seeing them."

Methos plucked the card from his fingers and went back to the phone. This time Mac settled into a chair at the kitchen table.

"Mr. Hodges? This is Adam Pierson, Duncan's MacLeod's assistant," he said and glanced at Mac. "No, sir. We entirely understand. Our loss. Please advise us if you obtain any acquisitions of similar quality. No. Mr. MacLeod's mother is quite well, thank you. Yes. I will pass your kind wishes along. Good-bye, sir." He hung up and leaned against the counter. "He sold the frames. You apparently begged off the appointment at the last moment, claiming your mother had been taken ill suddenly. Not very original but sufficient," Methos said, casting a speculative look at his lover. Mac's face was blank. The incident held no truths for him at all.

"Mac, you could have found out this much yourself. Why didn't you?" Methos asked.

The dark eyes were fixed on a pattern that MacLeod was drawing into the table top with his finger tip. MacLeod didn't seem to be paying much attention to him at all.


His head snapped up, searching Methos' face, his hands going still.

"Why didn't you?"

"Why didn't I what?" Mac asked impatiently

"Why didn't you track down this information yourself?"

"What information?" Mac said surging to his feet. He did not press his finger to his temples but Methos got the distinct impression that Mac was concentrating for all he was worth to keep track of their conversation. A short attention span was not one of Mac's problems.

"April. Toronto. Alistair Hodges. Antique Frames. Is any of this registering with you?" Methos said. He had an odd crawly sensation on his skin as he watched Mac continue to pace.

"Yes. I went to Toronto to see Alistair Hodges. He had some Antique frames I wanted to look at."

Methos felt himself tense up. Mac's hand's were trembling. Nothing overt, just the faintest tremor but as attuned as Methos was to his partner's body at the moment, he was aware of it. "And you saw him..." he said softly, dropping his voice to low murmur.

"Y..yes. I went...I was on my way..."

"To see Alistair Hodges. And then what happened, Duncan?" Methos asked, the sensation of skin crawling was increasing as Mac's breath started to shallow out, eyes focused on nothing particular as he hunted for the information. "What happened on the way to--"

Without warning, Mac suddenly rushed at him. Methos twisted out of the way; he had half-expected this. Whatever had hold of his lover was something more serious -- and more dangerous - than a memory loss.

"MacLeod!" he snapped out as Duncan whirled on him and stopped. Every muscle trembling. "Think! Where are you now, Mac. Where?"

"Virginia," Mac said hoarsely.

"And why are you here?"

"I needed....Wanted to see," Mac said but his tone and his face weren't matching up.

"Somebody did..." Methos swore and he had a fair idea who. "Where is she, Mac?" his voice went calm. Deeper, insistent. "Where is Cassandra, Mac?" Compelling. He'd have let her live for anything but this.

Then he didn't need to ask. He could feel her. Mac went to his knees with frightening swiftness, gasping. "Get out..." Mac hissed. Methos turned, lunging for his sword. The glass door to the back yard shattered, covering Mac and the floor with glass as pain raced up Methos' arm. He stared at the bloody hole in his arm for a half second before moving, Backing away and turning for the front door. She was close. Too damn close. How the hell did she learn to do that? But he knew, knew exactly how and where and from whom. He should have killed her when he had the chance. He kicked Mac's bags aside, fighting to keep a hold on his sword and get the door open. The bullet entered the wood a few inches from his head.

He turned. She had cut her hair. Gone were the long tresses to be replaced by a short mop of thick unruly curls. Thinner, paler, but as graceful, as...deadly.

More than. She held the rifle in her hands easily, scope, stock fitted for her slender shoulders.

"Don't mind the door. I let myself in," she said softly and smiled.

Beside her Mac had gone still, eyes closed, face pale. "It's all right, Duncan," she said soothingly. The Voice calmed him. The trembling stopped but the face was still pale and strained.

Methos leaned against the door. A minute more and he would have use of his arm. A minute and she could shoot him but she seemed uninterested. "Is this a challenge, Cassandra?"

"No. You know it's not," she said silkily. Her fingers drifted out to touch MacLeod's head gently.

"Then what? You needed Mac to find me. Now what?" he hissed, pushing off from he door. The rifle came up fractionally.

"He'd been looking for me. I let him find me," she said, barely paying attention to Methos at all.

"Cassandra!" His voice snapped and she heard the undercurrent. She smiled again. Methos wanted nothing more than to be able to wipe that smile off her face.

"He is so very tired..." she murmured. "The killing, the dying, the betrayals," her eyes went glassy and hard. "I need your help," she said perfectly rational, eyes locking with Methos'. Maddened, hollowed, empty, cold eyes. "He wants to die and we are going to help him," she said.

"Are we? If you want his head, why haven't you taken it?"

She shook her head. "No. I still owe you. You have to do it."

"You are out of your mind."

"I know," she said. "But, then, that is as much your doing as Suru's. Isn't it? Isn't it?" she demanded and the eerie calm was gone. She was ...not mad entirely, but murderous. Her eyes shifted to Mac again and Methos took his chance, diving to the left into the living room. Three bullets ripped into the bookcases as he went through the front window and onto the porch.

The keys to both vehicles were in the house. He headed toward the woods only to have another bullet his the ground in front of him. He stopped and turned. Cassandra was on the porch, the rifle held steadily.

Another tingle and Methos swore as Mac emerged from around the side of the house, his sword out already.

"You will have to kill him or he will kill you," Cassandra called out.

"Then why didn't you let him do it this morning?" Methos demanded.

"It's his death I want, not yours," Cassandra snapped. "But you have to do it. And then you get to live with it."

Methos' stomach twisted as Mac moved in, the face devoid of expression. She was right. Whatever she had done to Mac, however she had accomplished it, the only way Methos was going to get out of this with his head intact was if he tookMacLeod's first.

"Cassandra, stop this," Methos snapped, keeping his eyes on Mac as be backed away. He jumped when she fired a bullet into the ground next to him.

"There's only one way to stop it. He will kill you, Methos," she said.

Methos backed again and heard another bullet slip into the chamber. Gods, his hearing got acute when his adrenaline was up. Mac had stopped again, sword ready...waiting...

For what? Methos' lowered his own blade, gambling and Mac just waited...was waiting for him to fight. You stupid bitch, Methos was almost, almost ready to yell in triumph. You can make him fight; you can make him a killer but you cannot make him into an executioner.

It was a gamble and a risk but one he was willing to take - Cassandra might be able to manipulate Mac into fighting for her but her wiles didn't work so well on Methos. He moved slowly, setting his blade down, watched the dark eyes follow his movements. Don't let me be wrong about this, Highlander. Deliberately, slowly he turned his back on the Scot and moved toward the porch, eyes locking with Cassandra's.

"You want my head, witch? You will bloody well have to take it yourself. And make no mistake, Cassandra, I won't hesitate to take yours given the opportunity," his voice was as hard as hers had been. He didn't care if she saw him shaking - let her think it was with fear not the rage he felt building. He could happily tear her head from her shoulders at the moment. "Suru couldn't break him -- couldn't make Duncan into something he isn't even with his Quickening. But you know that don't you?" He took a step toward her, the barrel of the rifle leveled at his chest. "Why can't you do it, Cassandra? If you want MacLeod dead or me, why not take us yourself? You can shoot me and take my head. You could shoot Mac and take his. But that's not enough is it? You want to make sure the death of one destroys the other."

He was closer and he could hear Mac behind him. Come on, Mac. Keep fighting her. A few more seconds was all he needed. "But it doesn't work that way. I kill Mac and then you expect me to kill you as well - to have both of you twisted up inside me. Do you honestly think I can't survive that? Do you think I've lived this long without learning to live with my regrets, my mistakes?" His tone had changed. It had been far too long since he had done this, too long since he had used that same control of will and sound and intent to manipulate someone. It was hard; harder still to try and control two people, to persuade them.

"Why? Why punish Mac? What did he do? He trusted you."

"He trusted you more. Believed in you more," she hissed. "Left me with that monster when he came looking for you!"

"You went to him first, Cassandra," Methos said evenly. "After Kronos died, you sought Andres Suru out. No one made you do that. You knew what he was, what he could be like. Was he your lover? Did he betray you to get to me?"

"Yes," She said, compulsion heavy on her and then she wrenched herself free of it. Methos moved, lunging forward, Cassandra unaware he had gotten so close. He watched the shock wash across her face, then the anger.

Damn! His thought was brief and then gone as she fired, point blank, pain ripping though his chest and mind. He heard her command, felt/sensed Mac moving in close, the sound of air as the Katana cut through it. His world exploded then and he may have screamed but he couldn't be sure.

"Noooonononono!!" MacLeod felt the vocal chords tear as he choked on the scream. Methos went down and Mac swung, barely acknowledging the combination of shock and triumph on Cassandra's face as her head fell from her body.

It was done. He couldn't take it back and barely knew how it happened before he was lost. Two bodies lay sprawled at his feet and he could reach for neither. His own doubts and fears were drowned out under the onslaughts of Cassandra's, under her anger, under her two-thousand year old soul.

Intents were lost under the onslaught and then summoned back again. MacLeod fought them as the tempest rose, stirring the air, gathering the frail forces of Cassandra's life as they tried to scatter and then were called back again by the lure of the familiar. It took painful effort to fling the katana away rather than let it sink into the still whole neck of the man sprawled face down in the grass at his feet.

Every detail of the last few minutes was excruciatingly clear, memories as abhorrent as the act itself would have been and then Cassandra's memories merged with his own. His body was pierced by her presence in the form of those devastatingly familiar lightnings. The need to ground them overwhelming as he fell. The maddened hatred that had resided in the body of a woman he had once called friend and lover rose up to engulf him and he fought himself free of it. Away from the object of her hatred, away from Methos and back.

The car alarm on his rental sounded, the sound adding to the cacophony of voice that Cassandra had heard over her lifetime and he could not shut them out. One voice rang clear and he saw and heard those events of so long ago, the brutality of the man he loved now but would have hated then without question. His own violence taunted him, rendered him even more immobile than the elemental forces battering his body.

The hatred came again, not for Methos but for himself, and he could not escape it, though he tried. His scream added to the sound and he ran, staggering under the continual but dying onslaught, barely aware when branches and brush tore at him. There was a voice in his head that was not his own, one he could not shut out. It railed at him, weeped for him and accused him.

His only thought was to escape it.

There was something particularly nasty about dying and receiving a partial Quickening, Methos decided as his consciousness returned in full force. No slow, easy climb out of the embrace of death but a rather shocking reawakening before he could even subconsciously set his mind up to deal with the pain. A string of particularly colorful curses raced through his brain but he was having difficulty drawing a deep enough breath to give them voice.

It finally passed just enough for him to press upward with his arms and get himself onto his back so he wasn't sucking in dirt and dust with every breath. A few more breaths and he forced himself to sit up when what he really wanted was to lay back until his chest finished healing and the pain faded.

But the movement had jarred him into a more reactive frame of mind, much more cognizant of his environment than the self-centeredness of his prior thoughts. Mac was gone. Methos thought he could still feel the barest trace of his lover through the odd connection they shared, but his lover was not physically present.

He had also left without his sword. Turning his head, Methos could see it on the ground against the porch. He closed his eyes for a moment trying to settle the left over imagery he had from the Quickening that had caused MacLeod to fling the blade aside.

He would rather have been raped than have to suffer through the agony of spirit Mac had faced with Cassandra's hatred twisting him up inside. Twisting him, turning him into...

"You bitch," Methos murmured as The pieces of her plan fell into some semblance of sense. It wasn't killing Cassandra that had sent Mac running, it was the final realization of how Cassandra had manipulated him, what she had used him for.

Cassandra hadn't been killing bad Immortals. Mac had been, for months. Under Cassandra's control. Under her direction.

Wanton, pointless slaying, a hunter under another's call, pursuing the kind of killing Mac had forsworn after Richie's death.

With effort he rolled again and got to his hands and knees. Cassandra's headless body aroused nothing in him except the realization that he needed to dispose of the body. Getting to his feet was a true exercise in willpower.

The electricity was out and the phone. Methos swore then prayed there would be hot water enough after his gruesome chore was done. An old blanket held the separated body parts and a much older and abandoned well took care of the rest. He sought the shower afterward. It had been a long time since he'd had to take care of dead bodies. Watchers were handy creatures on occasion. Luckily, Immortals had a tendency to decompose rather more quickly than most humans. Methos had tried to study the phenomenon once, his stint as a physician during both the 9th and 19th centuries availing him of interesting facts about his race. Perhaps it was time to take up that profession again.

Get it together, old man, he scolded himself as he turned the water off. His mind was wandering, his own shock settling and worse, he realized as what had happened and why crashed over him in one immutable wall of grief.

It took him longer than he would have liked to recover and he was chilled and still shaking as he dressed, a glimpse in the mirror revealing a certain pastiness to his already pale complexion. But he felt calmer after his uncommon round of anger and tears. He hauled a backpack out of his closet, partly filled already and quickly added food and water, extra clothes. Boots and jeans and a flannel shirt over his Tee and he was prepared. He picked up his sword and MacLeod's and began following the clearly marked trail of Mac's footsteps through the grass that lead to the forest. A hunch and he paused at Mac's car and found what he expected. Pulling out the cell phone, he tried it but the mountains were too close and reception poor. He pocketed anyway. Higher up, and Mac was heading high, he might be able to get a call through. If for no other reason to keep Claire from looking for him come Monday if this took more than a day. Mac might well calm down on his own but Methos too much the pragmatist to have little hope for that.

Cassandra had wrought her revenge far too expertly for the Highlander to emerge unscathed emotionally. That she had been controlling Mac for months was almost more than he could bear to think about. And that she had done it skillfully enough for him to not really notice terrified him. He had once sworn to Mac that the Highlander was strong enough to withstand any influence of a Quickening.

But now, now, he thought with a dry mouth, he was not so sure.

MacLeod had made no effort at hiding his passage meaning he was running and blindly too. If Methos got lucky maybe Mac would run himself right off the steeps side of a mountain and then he could pick him up and patch him up and put him back together.

He was, unfortunately, staying to the faint trail Methos had cut himself the summer before. It was narrow but it was obvious if a bit overgrown. He had meant to take Mac up to the top before their argument, before Cassandra had shown up. Gods, what a disaster!

Keeping his eyes sharp for signs of his lover's passing, Methos nonetheless, tried to sort through the last twenty-four hours, trying to gain some clue as to how much and how often Mac had actually been with him. In bed certainly, on the porch, but during their fight? Cassandra had wanted Methos to kill the Highlander. Had thought he would, was capable of it. Was he? It might come to that, he thought grimly. If Cassandra had indeed turned his Warrior into an assassin, how long before bloodlust and too much backflow from the Quickenings became a real problem?

He stopped. Joe had said Mac had been avoiding other Immortals. Yet, he had gotten the definite impression that Mac had been taking heads at Cassandra's compulsion. Only he would have known -- he would have bloody well felt it, if Mac had begun taking heads on a regular basis, just as he had felt the Quickening of every other Immortal MacLeod had faced in the past two years.

But if Mac had not, then who? Cassandra was, at best, and indifferent swordswoman and Immortals of the nasty sort had a tendency to be extra good with a blade. Certainly better than Cassandra.

But not better than MacLeod. His stomach did a slow, queasy roll. Could Cassandra have so insinuated herself into MacLeod's personality that she had interrupted that bond? Overwhelmed the link Methos thought as undeniable as feelings for the man himself? It was worth thinking about. It was most definitely worth worrying about.

Cassandra had not been that strong. Not when Kronos turned up. Surely she would have shown some hint of that strength. She had been with Andres Suru for six months at best.

But six months under Suru's care might feel like centuries. Methos had spent less than a day in his company and at the end of it had felt several years older and incredibly lucky to have escaped with both his head and Mac's still intact.

He stopped, squatting as he set his back to a tree. One way to find out as he concentrated, recalled the Highlander's unique presence, the feel and sound and force of MacLeod...then reached.

There, he felt it, above him, ahead of him, the strain of trying to seek beyond the normal range of his senses making his head ache. And that presence was faltering, not Mac's usual rock steady thrum of presence. Not the bold signature that reflected so much of his personality.

But his personality was there, tangled with the rest. It was a halfway formulated plan in Methos' mind to return to the cabin for the rifle. This could be...unbidden, Mac's encounter with the Dark Quickening, with Suru's forceful personality...came to mind.

Never once since their first meeting had Methos ever been afraid of Duncan MacLeod. Not in real fear of his life -- for his head. Mac had feared it, been tormented by the idea. Now, though...

It was a chilling thought. MacLeod had come damn close this morning, but he had taken Cassandra's head instead.

The two acts made no sense. Cassandra had wanted MacLeod dead...or Methos. Only she had saved him and known he would not take Mac's head. No points. No scores. No sense. Unless she got what she wanted. Which she might have done.

The rifle was sounding like an awfully good idea.

It was. Mac would come to no lasting harm even without food and it was unlikely he would terrorize Methos' neighbors...the closest of whom was ten miles away. He headed back down more quickly than he had climbed.

Only to stop when the undeniable presence insinuated itself along his overwrought senses. He had his sword out in a heartbeat, trying to source the sensation.

He saw no movement only heard it and felt it, crying out as pain wrenched through his shoulder again, a force driving him back, the bolt driving through flesh and muscle and his pack. His back hit a tree and he reached for the crossbow bolt, fingers still gripping his sword though he could barely feel them. The wooden shaft broke off, caught in the canvas of his backpack. He swore and pushed off only to be knocked backward again, fresh pain in his thigh. This one lodged in the tree, pinning him and he did lose his sword. He pulled at it, breaking it as well and freeing himself from the tree, but not soon enough.

"MacLeod! No!" he tried, pushing compulsion into his voice a fraction of a second too late as he saw his lover emerge from the dense wood and aim a third time.

"Right body, wrong name," MacLeod's voice said with an eerily familiar smile. The third arrow took Methos quite neatly through the heart.

Continued in Part Two...