Or "Laughing at the Dark Side"
by Meredith Lynne

Summer in Seacouver was no special joy but neither was it unbearable. Hot days sometimes punctuated by breezes, humidity high but acceptable. Some rain but mostly blue skies and a relentless sun.

Methos was still acclimating to the west coast of America. He had spent the better part of the last few centuries in Europe, alternating between the UK, France...occasionally Switzerland with infrequent jaunts to the Mediterranean.

And now he was settling into a new climate, a new town and an entirely new life...well, sort of. Same alter-ego, Adam Pierson to the general public. Same friends, thank the gods and fates. And he paused at the thought. Same minus one.

He glanced back at the sleeping form on the bed, gaze softening, a little sorrowed. MacLeod was taking Richie's death hard... not that anyone expected it to be otherwise. But his friends mourned with him, for him; guilt and shock and forgiveness all rolled together. And no clear explanation yet for how it had happened, for how MacLeod could have been so lost in delusion or sorcery not to recognize his own student before taking his head.

And Methos had no idea how to help his lover work through his grief.

Except by his presence. Mac had practically begged him to take his head--just retribution for the murder. Methos had been so shocked that MacLeod had even asked such a thing, so angry that it had happened he had let the Highlander leave the track alone. Only after Joe Dawson had his own grief under control had Methos sought his lover--his friend.

Hours of talking, days of cajoling as MacLeod ranged from grief to murder to suicide and back again. A constant watch until, finally, he and Joe had gotten the despairing Scot onto a plane and come home.

But not for long. The dojo was for sale. Too many memories of Richie lingered on the polished wood floors, in the echoing emptiness. Half of Mac's stuff was already packed up, the loft looking barren and cold.

Methos had seen to much of the arrangements. They were returning to Paris within the year. A slow transition but a necessary one. Although how MacLeod thought he could escape Richie's ghost in the City of Lights Methos didn't understand.

The phone rang and he cursed softly, diving for it before the second ring could awaken MacLeod. The Highlander had been up most of the night, packing, unpacking...wandering mostly. He was some better. He could actually hold a conversation now but his attention would wander after too long. Keeping busy seemed the best thing.

But sleep was better and neither of them had seen much of that in the last few weeks.

"Do yourself a favor and make this important to me," he said softly, harshly into the phone.

"It's Joe," the familiar rough voice eased some of Methos' irritation at having someone call so early. And it was early, less than an hour past dawn--Methos had seen more dawns in the last few months than he had in the last few centuries -- most of them from the wrong side.

"It's early, Joe, even for you. Are you doing some kind of Watcher penance?"

The smoky laugh that filtered through the wire warmed Methos' spirit; it had been too long since he'd heard genuine pleasure in any of his friends' voices. "If not, I probably should be," Joe said. "How is he?"

"Sleeping...was," Methos said with a sigh as he glanced back and saw Duncan stirring, sitting up, fatigue still haunting the handsome face. "It's Joe," Methos said apologetically and MacLeod nodded and got up, heading for the bathroom.

"Sorry," Joe's regret was honest but made less forceful by the reason for the call. "I know this is bad timing, but it's happening again. East coast, south east this time."

Methos went tense, gold-green eyes narrowing. "What are the odds on me waking up in a few minutes and finding this call was just a bad dream?"

"Save your money," Joe murmured. "Mortals. Three of them. One in Louisiana, another in DC and one in Atlanta and they are good, Adam. Between the three of them, they've managed to kill at least a dozen Immortals in a little over six months...and a few Watchers. Maybe more. We don't have all the reports in yet. It's why I waited--among other things. We thought...I thought... prayed, the first couple were aberrations, chance occurrences. But this is methodical."

"Three? In different cities? Gods! Anyone else know about this?"

"Who the hell am I going to tell? Amanda?" Joe asked, voice roughening further with distress. "The number of Immortals who know about the Watchers is pretty limited, Adam. I've risked the organization already trying to get this information. They know who we are! Hell, Methos," he said softly, "They know who you are."

Methos clung to the phone even as he braced his elbows on the kitchen island to drop his head into his hand. This was too much. Too much going wrong too fast. But they had to stop it; he had to stop it before this new threat tore apart or destroyed everything he cared about. Including me, he reflected dryly, sparing a moment to miss the days when the preservation of his own head was his primary concern. Teach me to fall in love...


"I'm thinking, Joe," he responded softly and felt the warmth of a hand, broad and strong, ease across his shoulder. He turned to find dark eyes watching him. There was concern in MacLeod's face, only partially hampered by a weariness of spirit. Methos caught his fingers gently. "Look, thanks for the info, Joe. Let me get back to you."

"You're not going to tell him, are you?" Joe asked. "Don't do this alone, Adam. You can't. There are three of them...." The Watcher was beginning to sound panicked.

"I get it, Joe. I'll call you back," Methos said and hung up the phone with Joe's protests still in his ears. Turning to face MacLeod, he unplugged the line.

"What's up?" Mac asked, voice deepened by sleep, fingers sliding over the slender shoulder as Methos shifted under his grip. The older Immortal's hands came to rest comfortably on MacLeod's hips, fingers digging lightly into the dark sweats the Highlander had worn to bed.

"Problems in the Watchers. Joe wants an outside perspective, but my brain's not quite up for convolutions at the moment. I'll get back to him. You want me to run out and get breakfast?"

"I'm not really hungry, but go ahead if you are. You can leave me alone for five minutes, you know," MacLeod said, a hint of a smile easing the tense lines around his face.

"I know," Methos said, pulling him a little closer. "Not a lack of trust, Mac. Just concern," he added, hazel eyes watching him with a faint trace of amusement. MacLeod nodded and bent his head slightly, Methos opening his mouth willingly under the kiss.

There was no force behind it and the passion was carefully checked. Since Richie's death, making love had become--not a memory--but the urgency, the newness had worn away and MacLeod more often than not sought Methos for comfort rather than passion. And Methos had willingly surrendered the latter to Amanda on more than one occasion. Some things demanded at least one member of their partnership be available to clean up loose ends. Such as arranging for habitation in Paris. The Barge was still there but MacLeod was at least as loathe to return there as he was to stay in the loft.

MacLeod pulled away first but didn't release the firm embrace he had on his lover immediately. Instead he ran his hands through the short hair, trying not to concentrate on the weariness haunting the older Immortal's countenance. He wanted to surrender his grief and he tried in the few hours of clarity he seemed to find every day. But the clarity was becoming tinged with a new grief as Methos carried the brunt of his depression.

And it showed. Five thousand years had never worn as heavily on the oldest living Immortal as the last few weeks had. And now something new had crept into the equation. Despite his denial, something about Joe Dawson's call had shaken the older man. Something he didn't want MacLeod to have to deal with. But Duncan MacLeod wanted to be diverted, anything to keep from thinking about the murder of his student. His friend. His son.

"Changed my mind," he said, kissing the sensitive spot under Methos' ear. "You go pick up the bagels and I'll make fresh coffee."

Methos eyed him suspiciously and MacLeod chuckled. "I know. But no matter how I feel, I do need to eat and so do you. Go on. I'll grab a shower."

Methos nodded silently and slipped out of his arms, grabbing his coat as he headed for the outside stairs. MacLeod made the coffee quickly, plugging in the phone as he did so.

Joe answered the phone with the name of Methos' alter-ego on his lips. Embarrassed when he was caught and relieved as well. It took no coaxing to get the Watcher to tell MacLeod what he had told Methos earlier--Joe Dawson was absolutely convinced in his heart that Duncan and Methos together were far stronger than either of them apart. The idea of the older Immortal haring off on his own caused Joe's heart to pound too quickly as did the even remote possibility that MacLeod might lose another person close to his soul due to foolishness. Dawson wasn't convinced the Scotsman could survive a second blow.

Information obtained, MacLeod did indeed jump into the shower, a chilled one. His anger and fear requiring cooling before his erstwhile housemate returned. That, oh, so familiar presence registered strongly as he turned off the taps and dried off. He slipped into the clean black denims he'd brought into the bath and then emerged to face his partner, expression controlled.

Methos had already set out the coffee cups and was busy spreading cream cheese over the freshly made bagels, smiling as MacLeod came to lean against the counter. The older man shoved a laden plate at him and a cup. The coffee MacLeod sipped but ignored the food until Methos looked up again.

"You promised...." the older man warned pointing his knife at the bagel.

"So I did. One broken promise deserves another, I think," MacLeod said conversationally.

Methos went still, hazel eyes locking with dark earth-brown ones. "I assume this is something I've done...recently?" he said slowly.

"More like were going to do," the Highlander said evenly, but his gaze was stormy, the well toned body tensed with repressed emotion. "Was I going to wake up tomorrow and find Amanda breezing in again with tea and sympathy? Willing heart and body?" He said coldly. "Maybe get a post card from Louisiana or DC to let me know you're still alive?"

"Joe Dawson has all the discretion and tact of a magpie on speed," Methos said, sighing. "I assume he told you--"

"A hell of a lot more than you'd have liked," MacLeod snapped. "Dammit, Methos, there are three of them! How could you even think of taking them on alone? What's happened to that finely honed survival instinct? Christ, how do you think I would feel if I suddenly get another phone call from Dawson telling me...saying you're...No!" He snarled, jerking back when Methos reached out to touch his arm, to soothe him.

"Fine!" Methos said, his own eyes narrowing. "One. There are three of them but they are not together. Two. They are mortal. Three. I'm going to gather information, not to challenge them. And four, you know what they can do, Mac. We've been hearing about it for five or six years, now. Can you honestly tell me that you're in any shape to deal with this, physically, emotionally, or mentally? Richie's dead, Mac. You killed him. And we still don't know how or why."

MacLeod turned away, feeling the pressure build in his chest again, the grief trying to get out. But Methos wasn't done. He moved quickly around the counter, gripping MacLeod's arms painfully. Forcing the younger man to look at him. "This isn't a broken promise, Mac. I promised to watch your back--to be there. I haven't forgotten that oath. But I can't ignore this either. It's been going on too long and no one has done anything but monitor the situation. A dozen Immortals in six months, Mac! How long before they get to us? To Amanda? To Joe, for God's sake? I need...we need to find out how and why they are doing this." Methos paused, praying he wasn't about to push too far, and played his trump. "And maybe, Mac, maybe they have the answers for Richie's death as well. If there's any chance of learning what happened to him, it lies with them."

Mac's dark eyes bore into the older Immortal's; anger giving way to hope...and to fear. "It doesn't matter," he said, the words bitter on his tongue. "I won't let you risk yourself for my peace of mind. You can't do this alone."

"I'd call the Ghostbusters but I think they're maxed out on sequels, " Methos said with a faint smile, easing the seriousness. "Mac, I'm going to gather information, maybe talk to them. I promise to get out if things look....unsteady."

"You don't have to promise; I'll make sure of it. I'm going with you."


The Highlander was adamant. "Then separately--you take one, I'll take the other and we'll meet in Atlanta for the third. If they're occupied by us they can't get together."

Divide and conquer. There's an original idea. Still, as much as Methos hated to admit it, the plan actually made sense. Too bad that doesn't make me feel any safer... His expression shifted again, anxiety easing his grip on his partner's arms. "Are you sure about this, Mac? This could get ugly. These three are good. Three of the best Dawson has seen...."

"Then the sooner we get started the better chance we have of undermining them...stopping them. I'll make the reservations. Which do you want?"

"Louisiana. And you eat. I'll make the reservations," Methos said, grabbing the phone before MacLeod could. "You're sure you're up to this, Mac?"

The Highlander picked up a bagel and nibbled at the edges. "Yes, Mother, I'm sure," he answered, a slight smile tilting the corners of his mouth as his lover winced. "Doing something is better than doing nothing or worrying about what you're doing. And," he added, his eyes darkening as he gripped the bagel firmly, "if any of these three had anything to do with Richie's death--however remotely, they'll wish they'd never heard of Immortals," he said softly, coldly. With a savage twist, Mac tore the bagel neatly in half.

Methos felt himself tense but said nothing, dialing the phone. Truth to be told, his thoughts had been running pretty much a long the same lines...and he had far more experience than MacLeod at making people pay for treachery.

MacLeod arrived at National Airport, moving through the crowd with efficiency born of experience in uncountable airports in uncountable countries. The summer heat and humidity of the nation's capital had a presence like a living, breathing animal as he stepped out of the air conditioned protection of the main terminal and into the long line queued up for a taxi, examining the now-sodden paper in his hand one more time before he climbed into the blue and white cab with the sprung back seat. The Ethiopian driver spoke barely enough English to be able to communicate, but once he knew Mac spoke Farsi, the story of his life flowed like an undammed river all the way past the breathtaking beauty of the monuments sparkling in the hot sun across the Potomac, through Arlington Cemetery, past the Iwo Jima memorial, and into the suburbs of Virginia, the territory of ubiquitous government agencies and beltway bandits -- the ever-multiplying and constantly changing high tech firms that lived off the dole of federal contracts.

After a few meanderings, the cab finally pulled up in front of an anonymous office building amid a score of other anonymous office buildings. MacLeod grabbed his bag from the trunk, paid the driver off after being invited over for dinner to meet the man's sister, and found his way into the lobby. At least it was relatively cool, even though the security guard gave him a frosty look and pointed at the sign-in book.

"And you are here to see . . .?" he asked suspiciously.

"Ms. MacGeorge." MacLeod responded.

"Is she expecting you?"

"Uh. Not exactly." Damn, MacLeod thought. He hadn't expected to deal with security barriers. Who was this woman anyway? The institution's name was one of those general "Business Incorporated" labels that told you nothing.

The guard called, murmured something into the phone, waited for several minutes, then smiled quietly. He stood, handing MacLeod a "Visitor" tag, waving him to the elevators.

"Ms. MacGeorge will see you. Take the elevator to the tenth floor."

The elevator opened onto a nondescript lobby, where a pleasant, nondescript receptionist announced him to someone. Curiouser and curiouser, MacLeod thought.

Finally a secretary, initially slightly hostile at his effrontery of arriving without an appointment, then blushing and smiling as she took in his extraordinary face and physique, escorted him into what was clearly the inner sanctum of the CEO of this institution. The room was large and appointed with dark, sleekly modern furniture, along with exquisite Japanese watercolors, both modern and ancient. As he stepped past a conference table, then past a sitting area, a figure rose up behind the desk at the end of the room. And kept rising. And she was pissed.

"What the hell do you think you're doing here, Duncan MacLeod?"

Her voice was low and hard, two spots of color high on her otherwise flawless ivory complexion. MacLeod was taken aback. He had expected to be the one asking the questions.

He took a second to collect his thoughts, carefully putting down his bag, schooling his features and turning to face this formidable creature. She was of almost indeterminate age for a mortal, somewhere between 40 and 50, tall, at least as tall as he was, lean and broad shouldered, long dark hair pulled back severely and tied in a blue silk scarf. She came around from behind the desk and advanced on him and suddenly Mac wished his katana were in his coat rather than his bag.

"Do you have any idea what you risk by coming here? What if someone should find out? Everything would be ruined -- for you, for me, for your friend Methos. Then there would be nothing I could do to help you, and right now I don't think you could make it on your own." The last was said with a small smile and a trace of sympathy, as though she had used up her anger.

They were now eye to eye, and Mac noticed hers were deep earth tones. The dark hair and eyes seemed familiar, as though he knew this person. As his memory searched though the faces of the people he had known, the deep well of depression he had kept tamped down over the past few hours threatened to surface again, so he turned away from those disturbing brown eyes, moving away to sit on the huge leather couch against a wall of windows overlooking a suburban landscape.

"I'm here, Ms. MacGeorge, to make a few inquiries," he said calmly, trying to soothe her anger and gather his own thoughts. "I'm not here to threaten you or hurt you. All I want is a few answers to a few simple questions."

She took a deep breath, gave him a long speculative look and sat down at the other end of the couch, crossed her legs and waited, letting the silence grow. Mac had hoped she would say a little more, that he could get a better measure of her before he revealed anything by the very nature of the questions he had to ask, but this woman had suddenly become the epitome of calm, her face unreadable. She was dressed in an obviously expensive, elegant designer suit cut to flatter, and she had crossed her legs just so -- in a manner calculated to draw the eye, to distract -- because they went on and on . . . Mac dragged his thoughts back to the problem at hand.

Then she smiled a disarming, open smile. "Relax, MacLeod. I won't bite. At least not without provocation. Now that you're here, we might as well get it all out in the open. But forget the intimidation attempt," she instructed. "It's been tried by the best of them and only irritates me. And it's really not a good idea to irritate me." Although said with a smile, the look behind the eyes was that of a predator accustomed to eating her prey still warm.

Mac thought that over for a moment, then formed his first question carefully, trying to give away as little as possible. "I understand you know a little about me, Ms. MacGeorge, and about some friends of mine. How is that? And what do you know?"

"My friends call me Mac or MacG, Mr. MacLeod. Or, maybe that doesn't work in this particular circumstance," she said with a twinkle in her eye. "Just use MacGeorge. And, yes, I know a great deal about you and your friends. How I know, well, that's a story for another day."

"And exactly what is it that you know?" he asked, probing again.

"Enough to know you're barely holding onto your sanity, that Methos is exhausted and desperately worried about you, that Joe is running on empty, that your friends are scattered to the four winds or dead."

"Dead, MacGeorge?" Mac asked. "How do you know this?" He was tired, worried about Methos, annoyed at even more complications in his already complicated life, and this damn woman was being elusive and secretive. "What do you know about death?" he asked roughly.

Her face froze and her expression closed down. She rose in one smooth motion and moved to the window, looking out, her arms crossed. "I know a great deal about death, MacLeod. I know a great deal about grief, about loss." She turned back to him. "Why do you think I try to help you? It's because in the process I help myself a little. Do you think that I would risk all this if it weren't deeply important to me that you survive, that you learn the lessons you need to learn?" She laughed quietly. "They are lessons I'm trying to teach myself as well, my friend. Maybe if you can learn them, there's hope for me."

"You're trying to help me?" Mac stood. "How? By killing Immortals, by putting my friends and me in harm's way? What about Felicia Martins? I understand there were others you had a hand in. That's helping me? Thank you very much, but I'd rather do without!"

She turned back from the window, those dark eyes meeting his. In an odd way it felt like looking into a mirror. "And what about Martins and her little friends, MacLeod? You survived, and you learned. You learned you could endure well past the pain and anguish you thought were your limits. Would you be able to stand here now, with Richie's death weighing you down, if you hadn't learned that lesson?" She stepped closer. "Each time I have interfered has been for a purpose. When Abraham Caldwell came after you, that experience taught you the value of friendship, allowed you to let others into your life, to let them help you. Would you have let Methos into your heart if you hadn't learned that lesson?"

MacLeod stumbled back, shaken. How could she know? He turned away, putting his hand over his eyes, trying to think. "This is impossible!" he murmured. "You're a mortal. You're not even a Watcher! What about Richie?" he finally forced himself to ask bitterly. "Was that supposed to teach me a lesson?"

"Richie," she sighed, shaking her head. "Losing him was the last thing I wanted to happen. It was a horrible mistake, MacLeod. I don't know if we can fix it. All we can do is try."

MacLeod spun on her, anger and anguish and guilt written on his face. "Who are you!? What are you, that you know these things?"

"What am I?" she asked softly. "I am a kindred spirit, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Probably only one of many. You aren't the only one who fights evil against impossible odds, with integrity and honor providing the only solid footing underneath your feet. You aren't the only one who feels like the sole warrior trying to do the right thing in the face of a world determined to make self-interest the only Rule of the Game. It's the same battle, different playing field. Good guys versus the bad guys."

She came close and touched his face. "And I try very, very hard to be one of the good guys. But you know better than most that sometimes, when you have to make decisions affecting so many lives, its hard to tell. There is always the risk that you have unknowingly become that which you fight against. That's the essence of your battle, MacLeod, mine, all of us."

In ten minutes this woman had laid him bare, showed him his soul. It was impossible. Ridiculous. He backed away, pacing across the deep carpet.

He swallowed against a sense of rising panic, of feeling naked in front of this supremely self-assured individual. Somehow he had to shake her out of her complacency, make her lose control. He whipped around and grabbed her arms, finding them as iron-hard as his own. "And who is us , MacGeorge? What is this cabal of sadists that pits Immortal against Immortal, Immortal against Watcher?"

There was a moment when fear flickered in those brown eyes, but it was quickly covered over as she lifted her chin, looking down on him disdainfully. "Cabal?" She laughed and twisted away, rubbing her arms where he had held her so tightly. "We are just a group of -- historians," she said with a small smile. The line sounded vaguely familiar. "Merry has a particular interest in ancient history, and a deep fondness for both you and your . . . friend. Maygra? Well, she likes to delve deeply into motivations, into the reasons for things. Me?" She laughed again, a deep musical laugh. "I just like to get to the heart what happened, to see what's there, to find out what can be learned."

Then she laughed at the consternation and confusion in his face. "Unfortunately, MacLeod, like you, I don't have much of a sense of humor and I take myself much too seriously. Now I have to ask you to leave. You can't be seen here. My relationship with you and your friends is my secret, my private obsession. Everything I do is watched and commented on, and your presence here could compromise everything. If that happened, I couldn't help you anymore."

MacLeod belatedly realized he had learned almost nothing, and had more questions now than when he came in, but before he knew it, the woman was steering him toward the elevators, her hand on his elbow in a hard, masculine grip.

"You'll have to have a little faith, MacLeod. Trust us. Trust yourself. Trust the people you care about. It's the people that matter, MacLeod, not the Game." Just before she expertly maneuvered him into the elevator, she leaned close and brushed her lips against his cheek. The elevators closed, and he found himself touching his face where her lips had brushed against him, and was suddenly afraid he would never see her again.

As he stepped into the bright sunshine outside, a tall gentleman in a navy blue blazer opened the door of a dark sedan.

"Mr. MacLeod?" he asked, indicating that he should enter the car. After a pause, the man moved to take Mac's bag from him, but MacLeod firmly shook his head and climbed in the back seat.

"Don't worry, sir, you've got plenty of time before your flight to Atlanta," the man offered as the car pulled away from the curb and headed back towards the city.

"How did . . .?" Mac started to ask, then lapsed into silence. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

After a few minutes silence, MacLeod leaned forward with a shy, endearing smile, one that usually brought a sympathetic and cooperative response. "This may sound like a silly question, but, uh, what, exactly, does your company do?"

The gentleman behind the wheel looked speculatively at MacLeod through the rearview mirror. "Whatever Ms. MacGeorge says, sir. Whatever she says."

The flight to Atlanta was delayed and Duncan MacLeod was just as glad as he sat at the airport. His mind was still reeling from his encounter with the woman Joe's Watchers had tracked down as a prime instigator in the recent upheavals in his life. That she had strewn Felicia Martins in front of him, had sent Abraham Caldwell after him. It just didn't make any sense. Why hadn't he asked more questions? Why had he let her off the hook like that? It was as though she was directing all the moves, and that was not, absolutely not, how he was used to operating.

She had implied there were more of them than the three he knew about, but had managed to get rid of him without identifying who the others were. The whole thing had been unnerving. And that last kiss -- he was no longer certain if it had been a kiss of friendship, of sexual overture, or the kiss of Judas.

Killing her had been a real temptation but he hadn't actually found out anything they didn't already suspect. It could wait. He knew where to find her.

The overhead speaker announced his flight and he got up, glancing at the bank of phones. He had not talked to Methos or Joe since arriving in DC. Anxiety gripped him but the flight to Atlanta was less than two hours, if Methos was there, there would be no problem. If he wasn't then MacLeod would be on the next flight to Louisiana

It was late when Methos arrived, dark, the air thick with humidity. Gods, how he hated the South. Stepping off the plane in New Orleans had been like stepping into a warm, wet blanket...and then having it sealed around his face. The trench coat was definitely not working for him, and he'd cast it and his sweater into the back of the rental car as soon as he'd cleared the airport. Even his T-shirt was sticking to him now, the dark blue fabric even darker with sweat.

He'd driven further south; until that chilling moment when he'd stood perusing the map outside of the duty-free shop, he hadn't known there was anything south of New Orleans. I-10 took him to I-310, which took him to a maze of back roads and low speed limits the likes of which he'd never seen.

Now, finally, he stood outside of the house and waited. One by one, the lights went out, various rooms shutting down for the night as the occupants settled in. Soon only one remained, the one in the back, where she waited.

She wasn't an Immortal, but he could sense her, feel her presence like an itch at the base of his spine. It had started when he turned the corner onto her street, and intensified the closer he came to the house. No doubt she could feel it too; the thought of her inside, alert to his presence but waiting, sent a cold chill down Methos' back. The very stillness was unnerving, the silence pungent with anticipation. The wind, so strong and steady until he'd stepped out of the car, had stilled suddenly -- as if the very night were holding its breath.

And then the silence was broken.

"You're taller than I expected," she said. "But I'd know those eyes anywhere."

Methos nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice coming out of the darkness behind him. He whirled, sword up and ready in an instant--and froze.

She sat in a lotus position on the hood of his rental car, her faded blue jeans and red flannel shirt the only splash of color against the dark paint. Methos suddenly felt as if he were a part of the scenery, just another dark prop to showcase her color.

Dark hair swept down from the crown of her head, falling to her shoulders in soft waves, and eyes the same hazel as his own watched him calmly. She was smiling slightly, sweetly, head tilted to one side as she looked at him.

Gods, but she was young. No more than twenty five, certainly, far too young to be the woman Joe had described. The other two had killed in greater numbers, but this one, if the stories were true, had done more than kill. She'd twisted people -- Watchers and Immortals alike -- hurt them, manipulated them. She caused pain without thinking, without remorse. And she was good at it.

"You won't need that," she said gently, eyes resting on his blade for a moment before moving back to meet his gaze. "I'm harmless."

"You?" Methos shook his head, eyes narrowing. "You're nothing like harmless." He paused, fighting back the question, losing. "How did you do that?"

She chuckled; the sound was sweet, and light, and something about it invited him to laugh with her. He choked back the response, pressing his lips together. "You might say I indulged in a little creative manipulation of katana space," she said with a smile.

"How do you know about--" Methos stopped, glaring as he realized he'd given something away. "Katana space doesn't work that way," he grated through clenched teeth.

"It works any way I tell it to," she said calmly, the smile widening.

"That is an extremely arrogant statement."

"And this surprises you because...?"

"Because you are sitting on the car of a man who plans to kill you in thirty seconds if he doesn't get some answers very, very soon," Methos said, his voice low and dangerous. "Arrogance would seem ill-advised under the circumstances, wouldn't you say?"

To his utter surprise, the woman jumped off the car and walked toward him without a trace of fear, ducking nimbly under his blade and straightening only when they were inches apart. He looked down into her eyes, and caught his breath at what he found there.

She knew him. He could read it as plainly as he could his journals, as if their very pages were reflected in those dark eyes. She knew everything about him, every moment of pride, shame, hurt, joy, love...hate. Every act, every emotion. Things even he couldn't remember, she knew, and she filled her eyes with the knowledge purposefully. Wanting him to see it.

He sagged, the sword's tip digging into the ground as he leaned on it for support. "How?" he whispered hoarsely.

Her voice was soft, kind. "I wish I could tell you, Adam. I don't think it's allowed."

"Why call me Adam? You know who I am. What I am."

"Adam is who you are here," she answered, her hand coming up to touch his chest lightly through his shirt. "Who you want to be."

"I am Methos," he said harshly, covering her hand and squeezing it. Wanting it to hurt--

--and finding that he couldn't.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "What are you doing to me?" There was fear in his eyes now, deep and real. He'd lived her lifespan two thousand times, and she frightened him like nothing else in his life ever had.

Never before had he met anyone he couldn't hurt, should the necessity arise.

"Merry," she said calmly. "And I'm not your enemy, Adam. You can't hurt me because you know that. Don't fight it," she said, a tiny smile lifting one corner of her lips. "Feel it."

"Gods," he said thickly, panic rising in him at those familiar words. "If you were aiming to reassure me, you missed."

The woman had the grace to blush. "Sorry," she said, grinning sheepishly. "Cheap shot." Biting one side of her lower lip, she glanced up at him through dark lashes to gauge his reaction to her apology, and for one moment she looked so much like MacLeod he had to smile. It wasn't her features; it was the emotion behind them, the mischief. The affection .

In ten more minutes I'll be putty in her hands, he thought frantically, backing away from her. "What kind of a witch are you?" he demanded. "Is this what you and your kind have been doing to the others? Ripping into their hearts with soft voices and kind words? Gods, Cassandra had nothing on you, Merry..."

"Hey!" She yanked her hand out of his, and for a moment he actually regretted the loss. There wasn't any kindness in her eyes now; they blazed with white-hot anger. "Damn it, you have never understood, have you, Adam? It is possible to go too far." Her voice broke on the last words, and Methos swallowed hard. The anger in her eyes was a shield; behind it, he could see pain. It tore at him as if he'd damaged himself somehow when he'd lashed out at her.

She'd turned away, her back to him, shoulders trembling. He stretched out a hand...and stopped, clenching it into a fist. This is the woman who's been killing Immortals and Watchers indiscriminately for years, he reminded himself, fighting the urge to comfort her. She's hurt my friends, again and again. She may have been responsible for Ryan's death as well.

He closed his eyes tightly, sighing. Then why do I feel like such an ass?

"Because you are an ass sometimes," she snapped, whirling on him.

Methos' eyes widened, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise. "How did you--"

"--do that?" she finished for him, her voice taking on a note near hysteria as she laughed. "You have definitely been spending too much time with the Boyscout, Pierson," she added darkly. "What would you say to Mac if he kept asking the same question over and over and you didn't think he'd understand the answer?"

Methos' eyes narrowed. That happened more times than he liked to think about. "I'd tell him to shut up," he said, unable to lie to her.

"Then kindly do me the honor of practicing what you preach," she snapped back at him.

Methos laughed. This was something he could deal with, something he could understand. "I'm irritating the hell out of you, aren't I?" he said, one eyebrow lifted in amusement.

She glared at him for a full minute before the laughter won out over the desire to kill. He could see it in her face, the warring emotions, so like Mac's when he'd been successfully needled. Somehow, that's the key, he noted. She's a little bit like him...I can use that...

"I'm a little bit like you, too," she said, recovering from amusement. A smile still lingered on her lips, and the tension had faded from her eyes. "Don't forget that part."

"And a little bit like...everyone else I know," Methos said, eyes narrowing.

"Oh, you're quick," she said with obvious approval. "You got it in one guess."

"But what does it mean?"

"It means, Adam, that you don't have to be afraid of me. I can't harm you."

"You've certainly harmed others like me," he answered, watching her carefully. "Many, many others. Did you tell them not to be afraid?"

"You would have rather I let Cassandra kill Mac, then? Who do you think prevented that?" she demanded.

Methos felt as if his heart had stopped. "That...that was you? You used me to kill Cassandra?" A note of horror crept into his voice. "Who else, Merry? How many others?"

"Many," Merry said. She leaned against his car, arms folded over her chest as she watched him, waiting for a response. "Is that what you want to hear?"

He winced. "I wish you'd stop doing that."

She quirked a smile at him. "Occupational hazard," she said.

He shook his head, internalizing an answering grin. Damn it, the witch was getting to him. In spite of himself, he was relaxing. Only the thought of MacLeod kept him from leaning against the car beside Merry, smiling back at her, falling into conversation like they'd known one another for ages. Mac's face in his mind's eye, tears and life streaming out of him as he knelt next to Ryan's body, gave him a few more moments of strength. He moved closer, and placed both hands on her shoulders, capturing her eyes with his.

"I need to know what's going on," he said quietly. When it looked as if she might turn away, he took her hand in his again and pressed it against his chest, squeezing. "You owe me, Merry!" he said. "If you knew about Cassandra, you could have prevented it. You could have spared Mac that pain, but you didn't. For that, if for nothing else, you owe me!"

Slowly, she nodded, regret filling her dark eyes. "Fair enough," she said softly, her voice low but determined. "I'll tell you what I can, on one condition: No judgments until I'm done. Can you do that?"

"How can I not judge you? My god, woman, the things you've done..."

Steel crept into her eyes, and Methos was suddenly on alert. She was barely a woman...but there was something inside of her like old iron. "What I've done," she said, a slight hint of danger in her voice, "is keep you alive. And keep him alive, too," she added, daring him to deny it. "Do you think it's been easy ? For the love of Heaven, Methos...do you think it's been fun ?"

"How am I supposed to answer that? You've killed, Merry. You've killed my friends. Cassandra is dead because of you!"

"Yes, she is. And because she's dead, you're alive, and MacLeod is alive, and Joe. Richie might have died there, in Seacouver, if I hadn't stopped her! It's thanks to me that the poor kid..."

Methos leaned close, and tilted her chin up, forcing her to meet his eyes. "What about Richie?" He said quietly. "Was that you, too? Was it you, Merry, who twisted Mac into killing the young man he thought of as a son? The only one of us he loved unconditionally? His only link to Tessa? Was it you who did that? Because if it was, I swear by all that's holy, I'll--"

Merry yanked her hand out of his as if it had been burned or had touched something she found disgusting. "How dare you?" She hissed. "You know nothing about me!"

"Then tell me!" He shouted, not caring if he woke the world. "If you won't tell me, what else can I believe?"

Merry's eyes narrowed, and she advanced on him, invading his space until he was forced to backtrack. "Believe this, Methos," she said, her words slow and precise and filled with anger. "I have been fighting for your life these past two years. I've killed for you, loved for you, wept for you. I have bled for you. Everything I've done has been to one purpose: To keep you and your loved ones alive. There is more going on here than you know -- more than you can know, if what I suspect is true.

"But here is one truth I want you to walk away with even if you doubt everything else," she said, her voice gone dark with velvet danger. "When I find the ones responsible for the death of Richard Ryan, I will destroy them so completely even their children won't remember their names. I will bury them."

"Then you do know," Methos breathed. "You know what happened to him."

She nodded, eyes flashing. "Oh, aye. I know what happened to him. I know all about it. It never should have happened."

"Then it wasn't MacLeod's fault," he said quietly. "Say it. Say the words."

"It wasn't his fault," she whispered. "Tell him, Adam. Make sure he understands. Duncan MacLeod is no more responsible for the death of Richard Ryan than you are. Heaven help me, I'm going to pay for telling you this, but it's God's own truth."

Relief, swift and strong, struck him to the core and left him trembling. He believed her. Maybe it was because he wanted to so badly, but he wasn't prepared to examine it. This was the answer he'd needed, and he clung to it like a lifeline.

It was a moment before he could find his voice. "You're not going to tell me what's happening, are you?"

She shook her head, and there was a sadness in her eyes that couldn't have been feigned. "I'm sorry, Adam," she said. "I can't, not yet. I've said too much already. I can't expect you to understand, but I will ask one thing of you. The thing you asked of MacLeod in Elysium church, remember? The one thing that mattered most to you?"

Methos' breath caught in his throat, but somehow he found his voice. "'What I've done...'"

"...you can't forgive," she finished for him. "It's just the same, Adam. You can't forgive what I've done...but can you accept it? Can you trust that I have my reasons, that my actions are not random, and accept my word that everything I have done, I've done to help you?"

Methos closed his eyes. "I want to," he answered, surprising himself with honesty. "I want to believe you."

"Then do it. Get in your car. Drive back to the airport. Go to Mac. He needs you, and I need you to be with him. It's imperative that the two of you stay together from this point onward. I can't be of any help to you if you separate again. The more distance there is between you, the harder it is to protect both of you. I don't want to have to make a choice, Adam," she finished softly, her voice anguished. "Don't let it come to that."

The question slipped out before he could stop it. "What would you choose?"

Merry's eyes shone with unshed tears. "I don't know," she said, voice shaking. "Would it matter? I'd lose you either way."

A tear tracked down her face, and Methos surrendered the battle. If she was lying, she had him. If she was manipulating him, she was better than anyone he'd ever known. And if she was going to hurt him, he was lost.

Without a word, he pulled her into his arms and held her close while she trembled.

"I'm sorry," she said into his shirt.

A chuckle rose in his throat. "This is completely insane," he said softly, resting his chin on top of Merry's head. "I came here to kill you, you know."

"I know."

"And you let me get close to you with a sword anyway?"

"Nobody ever accused me of having a great deal of common sense," she answered.

Methos could feel her smile against his chest; he pulled back a little and searched her face. "Better now?"

Her eyes came up quickly, and he realized she'd been staring at his lips. A blush colored her fair skin. Methos smiled, feeling a bit smug, and caught her chin in his hand when she would have looked away. His arm shifted against her back, settling her body against his and letting his eyes travel over her face. He could feel her heart beating hard and fast against his chest as he lowered his head to hers...

...and suddenly found his arms closing on air. Merry stood about five feet away from him, blushing furiously and trying to get her breathing back under control. He took a step forward, only to stop suddenly when she held out a hand in warning and backed away from him.

"You just stay over there," she said breathlessly.

"For heaven's sake, Merry, I was just going to--"

"I know what you were going to do," she said. "That's why I'm over here and you're not."

He grinned, amused. "Scared?"

Surprisingly enough, she answered with a laugh. "Completely terrified. Besides, you're taken. And it's not that kind of story. Gotta watch my rating."

"You're talking in riddles again," Methos observed. "Nasty habit, that."

"I'll add it to my list."

"You are on our side," Methos said softly, smiling at Merry with a fondness he could neither explain nor deny. "How do I know that?" he asked wonderingly.

Merry's smile was nearly blinding, and when she spoke, there was joy in her voice. "You're a very, very smart man, Adam," she said. She stepped closer and kissed his cheek softly, like a friend, then shoved him back toward the car, laughing. "Now go!" she ordered, crossing her arms over her chest.

And still confused, having learned nothing of any concrete value, Methos turned and did as he was told.

Mac almost fainted with relief when he saw Methos waiting for him and then started worrying all over again. The older Immortal was visibly exhausted and stiff with tension. The two men shared a hard embrace, oblivious to the crowd and the crowd at the airport was just as oblivious to them, a fact MacLeod found interesting.

"I really, really badly need a beer, Mac," Methos said softly when they parted. The older man seemed steadier with the Highlander's presence so close at hand.

The airport bar was overpriced and MacLeod cared not at all as his partner ordered, hands shaking noticeably less after a few sips. "Do you want to talk about it?" Mac asked gently. He had settled for a Scotch, short and neat. Nursing it slowly while he waited for the older man to get his thoughts and feelings sorted out.

"I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't what I found," Methos said after a long moment. He had tucked his long frame up into the upholstered chair. They had deliberately chosen a table near the back of the bar, seeking privacy as much as was possible in Delta's Crown Lounge. "She's young...gods, Mac, she can't have been more than twenty-five. Sweet as sunshine, cute as a button. And very possibly the most frighteningly powerful individual I have ever met."

"What happened?" He demanded, reaching out to grab the slender wrist. He eased his grip when he saw Methos wince and drew a deep breath, exchanging the grip for a more gentle clasp of hands, weaving his fingers through the older man's.

"I...I'm not sure, Mac. I went to talk to her with every intention of killing her if I didn't like her answers," he said, shaking his head in wonder. "I even came close once." He drew a deep, shuddering breath and MacLeod's fingers tightened in sympathy. "I don't think I've ever been so frightened, Mac," he said finally. "She knows me. Knows everything about me, things I don't even remember. Conversations, things I've done, been...all of it. And...there's no easy way to say this, Mac..."

"Just say it," the Highlander said softly. "I can handle it."

"It's...Cassandra. When I killed her, it was Merry's doing."

MacLeod's breath caught. "All of it? From the beginning?"

"No! No, I can't believe that. She's not...Merry's not emotionally capable of that kind of cruelty. Cassandra had already gone insane by the time Merry stepped in, and she used me to kill her. To save you."

"Methos, it sounds almost as if you care for this kid."

The older Immortal drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, eyes closing as he tried to relax. "That's just it, Mac," he said softly. "That's what frightens me. I didn't have a choice in the matter."

The older man trailed off, his voice saturated with weariness. "I couldn't not trust her, Mac," he finished softly.

"Enough," Mac said firmly. "We are not going to see this other woman today. We both need rest and we definitely need to talk," he said, rising and throwing a tip on the table. Pulling Methos up after him, he kept a firm grip on his upper arm to help guide his unsteady footsteps. The other patrons probably thought the slender man was drunk but MacLeod knew it was shock and at the moment he didn't care what others thought.

The Skycaps directed him to one of the better hotels, not too far from where their third target lived, but MacLeod was less worried about proximity than he was about Methos. The older Immortal had gone unusually silent during the cab ride that took them to the Westin Peachtree and he checked them into one of the better suites. Southern hospitality abounded as he had food and beer and coffee sent up and the concierge made arrangements for a rental car as well as detailed directions for the route they would take in the morning.

The mundane tasks done, MacLeod glanced at his companion, anxiously. The older Immortal had tried to make a recovery of sorts, but whatever he had found in Louisiana had shaken him to his very soul. There was a huge comfortable couch in their suite, but instead of draping himself over it, or throwing himself on it or on the bed in exhaustion, Methos was tucked into the corner of the sofa, knees drawn up to his chest.

MacLeod settled on coffee, pressing the cup into his lover's hands and sitting close while the older man sipped at it. Mac lay his hand on one knee both gratified and worried when Methos clung to his hand like a lifeline but the hot drink had the desired affect as some of the rigid tension eased from the long body.

"Up to talking yet?" he asked gently rescuing the empty cup and setting it aside. Then he shifted and pulled the tight body next to him, arms coming around Methos' shoulders as the man leaned against his chest.

"Talking about it, yes. Doing something about any of it--I haven't got a clue, Mac," Methos said leaning back to let his head drop against MacLeod's broad shoulder.

"Tell me what happened," MacLeod coaxed, glad that for a change, it was Methos that needed comfort and encouragement. The older man had been carrying too much of the burden lately.

"What she knows, she shouldn't know, Mac," Methos said, too quietly. "Things about me...about you. Things even the Watchers don't know. Things about my past I've long forgotten. And she was so...it was weird. When I got there she seemed genuinely glad to see me. Like I was a friend. If I didn't know better...didn't know what she and her friends have done, I would swear she cares for me. For all of us, Mac. You, me, Joe...Richie. She was sweet... intelligent.... and may all the gods help us, I liked her. I don't like anybody , Mac. Not at first, certainly, and usually not at all," he said the last harshly and Mac rubbed his arm as the body started tensing again. "She was sweet, " he said again, unable to reconcile his impressions with the profile Joe had given them.

"I had the oddest impression from MacGeorge..." Duncan murmured. " She turned the whole conversation on its ear, talking about me, revealing things about me, saying what she had done was deliberate, to teach me lessons about myself. She even described that business with Abraham Caldwell as an opportunity for me to learn to let my friends carry the load sometimes." He crossed his arm over Methos' chest, letting the older Immortal capture his wrist to hold him closer. "She implied that it had helped make us possible, and in a very real sense she was right." He sighed in frustration. "Unfortunately, she maneuvered me out of there without my finding out much of anything useful, other than that Richie's death was a mistake and that they -- whoever they are, were going to try to fix it. Other than that, I got the impression she didn't know much about what had happened or why."

"Merry did. She didn't give me any details, but when I brought the topic up I thought she was going to kill someone--possibly even me," Methos said. "She cared about him, Mac. She'd never met him...but she cared."

MacLeod shook his head, unwilling to consider even the possibility. "No," he said calmly. "I don't believe that."

"She gave me a message for you," Methos said kindly, sitting up so he could see MacLeod's face, and reaching to cup his lover's chin and bring the warm, coffee-colored eyes back to his. "Mac...she told me to tell you it wasn't your fault . You had nothing to do with it."

The pain that always hovered behind Duncan's eyes these days surged into stark agony. "Methos, I held the sword. I swung it, and Richie died."

"And I took Cassandra's head, and I carry her Quickening, but it wasn't me. I was a tool, and so were you, Mac. You didn't hold the blade. You were the blade."

MacLeod shook his head, unable to accept Methos' words but equally unable to deny them. "Leave it alone, Methos," he said finally. "For now, let it go. I can't face this now, and we're both running on fumes. Let's just shower and go to bed, okay?"

Methos nodded, willing to let it rest for the time being, and MacLeod drew a deep breath in relief. Merry's assurances were too much to process now, when the visit with the one in Atlanta still loomed before them. This was the one he feared the most. She was fast...good... and she was ruthless , by all reports.

They ate in the room but both of them were exhausted, readying for bed shortly after dinner, curled together on the big bed. But the little sleep they did get was restless and it was almost a relief to watch the dawn rise.

The rental car and maps were perfect and it took them less than an hour to get from the hotel to the eastern suburbs of Atlanta and locate the address Joe had given them. The neighborhood looked innocuous enough, new, starter homes and the address on the paperwork revealed a low one story ranch with bay windows, brick facing and two trucks in the driveway. The front yard itself was blooming in a profusion of colors, flowers peeking and covering a good portion of the front of the house.

The first thing either of them noticed was the absolute lack of humidity. The air was clean, bright, warm but a subtle cool breeze eased the heat. The day could not have been more perfect if someone had planned it. Subtle fragrances wafted through the air, roses and herbs, spicy scents and sweet ones and underneath it all, like a roll of distant thunder, there was the impression that the very air was charged with change--as if the idyllic day could suddenly become a raging storm. It was unnerving and as palpable as the cracked concrete drive they crossed to get the house.

There was a woman in the front yard, small, not quite petite any longer, red-hair tucked up into a modified Gibson girl--and elegant hairstyle that was at odds with the dirty sweatshirt and pants she wore. She was digging a hole in the front yard, a bundled sapling next to it making her plans obvious. She didn't look up immediately but when she did there was a kind of suspicious half-smile on her lips.

"Hello," she said politely enough. "Can I help you?"

"We... we're looking for a woman named Maygra de Rhema," MacLeod said.

The smile vanished, the blue green eyes going hard and remote. "Maygra? Of course...I thought you looked familiar. You're them. Those...Immortals," she spat out the word softly, glaring at both of them. "She's inside," she said curtly and yelled over her shoulder through the open bay window. "Hey, Mag!! You've got visitors!" She looked back. "You got swords under those coats, gentlemen?" she sneered. "Good. You're gonna' need them," she said and almost laughed but instead just turned her attention back to the hole she was digging.

Methos stared at her for a moment before Mac pulled at his arm and led him to the door. It was unlocked. From the back yard they could hear dogs barking. Big dogs. Deep voices rattling the window panes.

The main room, and there was only one, was a vaulted area, was full of light, decorated in a mix of classic lines and a vague hint of the southwest.

"Hellooooo!," an alto voice called, a little husky as if strained, and tinged with the gentle strains of a southern accent; a real one and not the Gone With The Wind type. MacLeod looked to his left to see a woman sitting at a modified kitchen table busily working at her computer. She made a few key strokes, finishing with a flourish, saved, and turned to face her guests with a half smile on her pale features, dropping her eyes almost immediately "I wondered how long it would take you to get to me," she said, tone a mix of embarrassment and amusement. She looked vaguely familiar but neither MacLeod nor Methos could say from where. "Have a seat. Get you something to drink? It's a little early I know, but I understand you two have had a rough couple of days, so, Beer? Coffee? Instant, I'm afraid. Glass of Glenfiddich, MacLeod?" she asked.

She got to her feet, denim jumper falling below her knees, no shoes. She looked like a plump earth mother as she headed for the kitchen. Baffled the two men followed, watching as she set on a kettle and pulled the promised Scotch from a refinished Hoosier cabinet that served as a bar. "Beers in the fridge, bottom left compartment," she invited. "Imported, Methos. Go ahead."

"No thanks," the older Immortal said watching her. The woman was big, blonde, movements completely assured as she moved around the expanded galley style kitchen. "You're Maygra de Rhema?"

"Mag to my friends, " she said studiously avoiding looking at them as she pulled glasses and cups from a cabinet. There was a tinge of pink creeping down around her ears and she seemed to be determined to keep her face hidden from them with every cabinet door she could open. "Uhm....did you guys get breakfast?" She asked and headed to the refrigerator, opening the freezer and the cooler, once again putting the doors between herself and her guests. "I can make eggs...got waffles, frozen...sorry,... but I could whip up some pancakes...biscuits...oops!" She said and straightened up to look at them wide eyed as MacLeod firmly pushed the freezer door closed. She stepped back and he shut the refrigerator as well.

"We ate. If you knew we were coming, then you know why we are here," he said and his dark eyes held her paler ones for a long moment. The pinkish tinge from her ears was steadily creeping across her cheeks and down her neck.

"Well, yeah. I got e-mails from Merry and MacG last night. Flattered as I am, you really shouldn't have come here," she said as if giving friendly advice to young boys and then ducked under MacLeod's arm to check the kettle.

MacLeod exchanged a glance with Methos and the older Immortal moved to the opposite end of the galley kitchen, effectively trapping their hostess between them. She cut her eyes left and right, biting her lip and then sighed. Switching the burner off and turning around with her back to the stove.

"Okay. Okay!" She said and swept a stray strand of blonde hair off her forehead. "You know, you really should leave this alone."

"Leave it alone?" Methos said, the careful control he'd spent a sleepless night trying to regain, crumbling.

"Yes. And you--did you two bring your swords?" She asked, swallowing a little.

"As a matter of fact..." Methos began, the threat imminent and she lifted her head slightly, blue-gray eyes meeting his in something very much like an apology. The threat died a-borning. "Maygra," He started again, moderating his tone. Something about this woman bothered him a great deal. Not fear. Not wariness. As with Merry he almost felt he knew her....or wanted to .

She bit her lip again and crossed her arms over her chest, as if coming to a decision. "Please listen to me first, both of you. You have no idea what you're messing with here--and to be honest, we'd just a soon you didn't know. I know you want answers and I'll give you what I can but then could you please, please walk away and let us do our jobs?"

"Your jobs?" MacLeod said "To kill Immortals, watchers... mortals...what is this, Murder Incorporated?"

"No. No! Mr. MacLeod--" she said, that southern accent making even the simple courtesy sound extremely cultured.

"MacLeod or Duncan," he murmured and a faint smile touched his lips. He could see Methos rolling his eyes as he turned on the charm. But it worked. That steady blush turned hot scarlet as she stared at him, unable to tear her eyes away for a long moment. Then she did break the gaze away and drew a long slow breath. "Are you sure you guys don't want something?" She squeaked--reaching for the cabinet door again. Methos stepped in and closed it, a mere foot from her, hand reaching over her head to secure the door.

"We are sure," he said softly, and she once more found her gaze locked by another set of eyes, gold-green this time. "What we want are answers," he said.

"Oh. Oh my...." She murmured, a most bemused smile on her face and Methos reacted a split second before MacLeod did to catch their hostess before she hit the floor in a dead faint.

"Now what?" MacLeod asked, as startled as Methos by the woman's reaction. This was the woman who had more Immortal kills under her belt than the other two combined? This woman had murdered Watchers and other mortals without regret?

"We wait." Methos said and bit his lip studying the woman on the floor. There was something very, very odd going on.

She didn't stay out for long. Long enough for them to get her into the living room and on the sofa. Long enough for the red head to enter, take one look, snort and leave, returning a moment later with an ammonia capsule and a glass of juice.

"Does she do this often?" MacLeod asked.

"No. She just hasn't had much sleep recently and you two....well, if I wasn't such a dyed in the wool cynic, the sight of you two would make my heart race a little fast too," she said with a shake of her head and a fond gaze at her housemate. "Just tone down the charm some, guys. She is waaaay out of practice." The red head said and disappeared again.

Maygra opened her eyes and as advised, Mac and Methos backed off, putting a little distance between themselves and the blonde woman as she sat up. MacLeod handed her the glass of juice.

She thanked him softly and sipped it, eyes down and cheeks pink again. "Err....sorry about that...not much sleep."

"So your roommate said." Methos commented. "You are definitely not what we expected."

"Not quite the evil, ruthless, villain type, huh?" she asked ruefully. "Damn."

"Not quite. Are you going to tell us what's going on? You and your--friends are--well what you're doing is a little frightening. Hunting Immortals."

"No. No, that's not it at all!" She said, vehemently. "We are trying to save lives and it's not so easy," she said and winced a little, as if her head hurt. "Look, I'll tell you what I can. After that, it's up to you okay?"

Both men nodded their acquiescence and waited.

After a few moments of silence she looked at both of them. "This is harder than I thought. Usually I'm so good with words."

"Then let us ask some questions," MacLeod said and she looked relieved.

"Did you kill those immortals...Courser, Holly...." Methos began.

"Franzia, Martin Grady,...uhm...Martineu, Keith, Richter, and shoot...what was her name...Duvet!" She said ticking them off on her fingers, carefully. "I thinks that's it....." She slid her eyes shyly over to MacLeod, "Yeah. Well, technically, you two killed them. But, yes, I kind of threw them in your path. Seemed the quickest way to get rid of them," she said without a trace of remorse. It was eerie. Men and women had died and she seemed completely unaffected by it. But at the same time she seemed apologetic. Not for the deaths but because she had dragged the two of them into it with her.

"Richie..." MacLeod started his voice breaking.

"No!" She said quickly, face paling, voice harsh. "No. That wasn't one of mine....ours...and we tried to stop it, MacLeod. We really did. We're still trying to figure a way to correct it."

"He's dead.." Mac said dully.

"Technically, yes," She said slowly and Methos eyes narrowed.

"What do you mean, technically...?"

"Well, The Powers That Be made that decision but we don't know how far they took it...yet. But we're working on it and we're trying to ...make it right..."

"The Powers That Be?" Methos asked.

Maygra stared at them, a little panicked. "You don't get it do you? There's a war going on here, guys. A battle...good versus evil....that epic kind of thing."

"That's what the professor said about the demon," MacLeod said staring at her.

"Demons? Maybe. Demons I could probably deal with," Maygra said steadily. "You've got bigger problems than demons, Highlander," She paused and drew another deep breath. "We figure there's a year maybe a little more until the Gathering. Until the Game is over."

"How could you know that?" Methos demanded.

She bit her lip and stared at him for a moment, then began again in a very calm voice--the voice of a teacher . "Do you think that everything that has happened to him and to you in the past few years was an accident? Someone--several someone's--are trying to eradicate Immortals from the planet and they are damn close to doing it."

"You and your friends?" MacLeod demanded.

The blue eyes widened and then she started laughing. "Is that what this is about? You think we--me and my friends--are trying to eliminate Immortals? Oh , I'm sorry! I know this isn't funny but if you only knew!" She pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged on the couch. "Well that explains a lot....we wondered why the Watchers were suddenly so interested in us. No, Mac, we don't want you to die. Either of you. Any Immortal if we can help it. There are some, just like in mortal society, who probably deserve it, but we're not the judges. No, I and my friends have been doing our darnedest in the past few years to keep you two and your friends alive. Some of us have devoted huge portions of our lives to that end. You think Horton and his little band of rogue Watchers were bad news, MacLeod? Well, what The Powers That Be have planned for you could be much, much worse."

"What do you mean?" Methos demanded, rising almost protectively next to MacLeod. "What are ‘they' planning?"

For the first time the woman looked frightened, chewing on the inside of her lip. "We don't know. We haven't been able to get anyone inside their organization, but we have some ideas and most of them are unpleasant. What happened to Richie isn't the end of it. Not by a long shot."

"Did you know?" MacLeod asked leaning forward, dark face pale.

"No. We suspected, but we couldn't be sure and by the time we figured it out it was too late. I'm sorry, MacLeod. I am really and truly sorry. I didn't know him hardly at all, I'm sorry to say, or I might have been able to do something, but he was important to you and that made him important to the Game. No doubt why those sorry bastards arranged his death. And at your hands, no less," she said, her breath coming out in a hiss, the blue eyes going cold and remote. A different side of her. It was gone in an instant as if she had suddenly recognized some part of herself she didn't really like and didn't want anyone to know about.

"Ya' know...." She started. "It would be a whole lot easier if you were more predictable, either of you," She said, a grin peeking out, dispelling the darker mood they'd been heading toward. " We never know which direction you're going to jump...." her tone softened. "But I suppose it's part of your charm, as Merry would say," she murmured, a wistful smile on her lips as the gray-blue eyes softened. And the smile was not for either of them but for the sprite in Louisiana, Methos knew, finding an answering smile threatening his own expression "I'm glad you met her." Maygra said with a laugh looking at Methos. "Stupid and dangerous, possibly, but.... You have no idea what she's been through on your behalf. What she's sacrificed. "

Methos looked away, suddenly very aware that this woman knew everything that had transpired between he and the sylph-like womanchild in Louisiana. He closed his eyes as she chuckled softly. "It's not a betrayal that you care about her, you know," Maygra said quietly, a smile in her voice. "Any more than it is that MacLeod found MacGeorge....fascinating," she chuckled again and there was real humor in her voice. A pleased, satisfied amusement.

"You arranged it, " the Highlander began, taking a step closer. The blue eyes lifted to his almost shyly, so familiar. He knew this woman, but he couldn't remember from where. It was so elusive, the face was...the same and not the same...the difference...it was maddening. But he knew her, or someone related to her, someone he had cared about but couldn't place a name to. "You knew we would go see MacGeorge and Merry first."

Methos' eyes flashed open, staring again at the woman, that same feeling of amusement and caring emanating from her as it had from Merry. This woman positively astonished that they had even bothered to come looking for her, as if what she had done meant nothing

"Why them first?" MacLeod asked. "Mastermind coordinating the subordinates?"

"Aaaak!" She squawked. Literally, and fell off the arm of the sofa she was perched on. She hit the floor with a definite thunk and got up again before either of them could move. "Me?" The squawk moderated to a squeak and her face flamed bright red. "Try to control those two? Are you out of your minds? They would eat me for breakfast! Oh, this is getting...I am in way over my head..." She muttered and started pacing.

Methos had had enough. This woman couldn't keep two thoughts together and she was so flustered by their presence she seemed likely to have a nervous breakdown before they got anything coherent from her. He reached out and grabbed her arm and she went absolutely still, staring at him. She glanced down at the hand on her arm and then quite deliberately and with a surprising amount of strength, jerked her limb free. The flustered embarrassment vanished like magic. His touch had somehow brought everything into focus for her.

"You grab me like that again, old man, and you will fight one armed for the rest of your not, oh, so inconsiderable life span," She said softly, a darker rumble under her tone, the blue eyes having gone from sky to steel in a heart beat, and he knew he was closer to death--to a final death than he had been in five millennia. In the next heartbeat it was gone again, Methos wondering if he had imagined it. The blue eyes a little anxious now......

"Maygra, we need answers," he said, forcing calm into his voice, into his soul. "You still haven't explained why"

"Why what? Why The Powers That Be want you eradicated? Why we intervene? Which why are you looking for answers to, Methos?"

"All of them, dammit!" He snapped, the long frame tensing.

"Because they live for change and have little regard for those of us who like continuity!" Maygra said sharply and moved back to sit on the sofa. This time she didn't perch or try to make herself small. she took up the corner and stretched a bit.

"I really didn't expect this...you...I really thought that what we were doing was making no difference that we were making no headway at all...an exercise in futility....but it is affecting something or you wouldn't be here," she said almost startled by her own realization. Her voice had changed and MacLeod was suddenly reminded of being told tales as a child. The bard in the clan much revered. Her voice had that same quality, eyes a little distant as she began again and both of them listened--mesmerized by the studied cadence and rhythm.

"Immortals have existed for thousands of years. The one constant through the millennia," she began and her blue eyes held theirs. "The Powers That Be found out and they have been watching you, manipulating you, but only the last few years. And you don't change. You are...Immortal. And beloved by those of us who know about you. We want you to survive. As individuals, as a race, as a confirmation that what we do, feel, are, has some purpose. Someone to remember us--we mortals--long after we've turned to dust....and moved on. But they don't want that. They want you gone, done. Or only one. And they are trying to force the Gathering. To make it happen sooner than it should. And they are very, very good at what they do."

"For the most part," she said. The spell was gone and she smiled a little wryly. "Now, Richie, ...we think they made a huge mistake with Richie and we think they know it. It's the closest we've ever come to thwarting them and we may yet." The two watching her were equally struck by the passion in her voice. A passion echoing the passion of the other two women they had met.

Maygra came back to herself and got to her feet. "So now you know. We will do our level best to keep them from winning but it's a race against time. By this time next year our options will be severely limited. But you need to stay out of it. Forget about us. What we do is best done in secret. And I mean secret...not the arrogant secrecy of the Watchers," she said with disdain.

"And your organization isn't arrogant?" Methos asked

"My organization?" She stared at him again. "There is no organization. There are some loose affiliations at best. We work alone for the most part. You still don't get it do you? We three, MacGeorge, Merry and I, we aren't the first and we won't be the last. We met by chance. There are hundreds of us. No one knows how many and all of us work primarily alone. All of us praying that one of us will come up with the right answer. The answer that will keep you alive. There can be only one? It's like a gauntlet's been thrown. For five years we have been trying to find a way to change that."

"Why?" MacLeod asked. "That's the Game. The prize--"

"Oh, MacLeod," she said with a soft chuckle. "God, you are a Boyscout. Don't you get it? It is a Game. You were given a set of rules," she said patiently and her eyes danced once more with fond amusement. "The Powers That Be have rigged the Game. The Prize is already won. They are trying to make you pay for it after the fact. If they get their way, MacLeod, you will ‘win' the Game. But if you play by their rules, you will lose because you will be alone. And everything will be lost."

"How can you know this?" Methos asked, staring again at the perfectly ordinary woman sitting in front of him.

"We don't for certain, but I've been watching them for many years. I've gotten very good at anticipating how their minds work. They are, to some extent, extremely predictable. But not always. And sometimes they miss things that are blatantly obvious. Like you two," she murmured, her gaze openly admiring as she viewed the two of them. "But they're getting better. Just what was Byron to you, Methos?" she asked, voice deceptively innocent.

She smiled as the hazel eyes refused to meet hers or MacLeod's. She nodded. "That's what I thought. Did you realize you were being manipulated into killing his ex-lover, Mac?" she asked coolly and got her answer in MacLeod's stricken expression. "Of course not and then they went after Richie before the two of you could even start to talk about Byron's death. They are good. Who do you think is next, MacLeod?" She said, meeting his eyes with a challenge and he saw her quick glance at Methos.

"No," he protested, reaching for his lover, large broad hand gripping the narrow shoulder. "You can't know that."

"They are slowly whittling away at your supports, Highlander. Making you distrust the people you care most about, or killing them. Oh, you may swing the blade, but be assured that they are the ones holding the bared neck still."

"You make them sound like gods," Methos whispered, sitting back down on the edge of the loveseat.

"Not quite. But they have a powerful weapon and the money to make it work. We have less money but our weapons are just as powerful. And yes, we will sacrifice some of you--some mortals as well--to make sure we win this contest."

"Why me?" MacLeod asked. "Why single me out? If they want one to win, then Methos--"

"Methos stayed hidden too long. When they finally noticed him they were already well on their way to finishing their plans for you. But now he's become as much a weapon in their hands as Richie was. As Tessa was."

"This canna' be true," MacLeod said, getting to his feet, the last too much to take in and he whirled on her. "I think this is your doing, you and the other two. Whatever it is yer doing, ye need to stop. Ye canna' twist peoples lives like this!" he said dangerously, hand going for his sword.

"Mac--" Methos said, gaze shifting between the Highlander and the woman. Maygra had gotten to her feet as well, blue eyes narrowing. For the first time realizing that she was no more "safe" than the one in Louisiana had been. Joe's warning coming back to him. This one... this one was ruthless and right now she looked annoyed and tired and exasperated.

"You pull that sword, Highlander and you'll regret it," she said her gaze slipped to Methos, something like an apology crossing her blue eyes. She darted to the back door and opened it before they could react.


She had dogs. Big ones. They had heard them when they drove up but forgotten them. Methos tensed as the animals bounded in, expecting to be ravaged by vicious hounds.

And found himself suddenly buried under the excited and obviously affectionate tongues of a Dalmatian and a Labrador, pressing him down. Close by he heard Mac protesting, almost laughing as he got a similar treatment.

And Maygra was cracking up. Her laughter was infectious and Methos found himself laughing even as he tried to push the animals away and get to his feet.

"Enough!" He protested.

"Duncan! Prudence! Down!" Maygra ordered and the two of them backed off, sitting back, tails thumping energetically against the floor, pink tongues lolling. Maygra handed Methos a dishtowel so he could wipe his face. "Portia, Clancy, Back!"

MacLeod shoved the huge tonnage of white fur back, the massive white Pyrenees staring at him with unbridled affection, the collie making sharp little excited yips.. He still had the katana in his hand but the white dog gave a deep soft whoof and he ruffled her fur as he got up as well. "Nice....pack...." he said dryly as Maygra handed him a towel too.

"Yeah, well. They have their uses. Mood breakers," she said and went into the kitchen to retrieve some rawhide for the dogs, and the four animals settled all over the place. The Dalmatian flopping down on Methos' feet to chew on the leather strip.

"Maygra, you still haven't explained why or how," MacLeod said. "What is the point?"

She sighed. "MacLeod, sometimes you are so dense, I don't know why I bother. Why? Because its important that you survive. More important than you know. As to how...." She bit her lip and then made a beckoning motion with her hand leading them both to her office. "There is a lot of power being transacted between The Powers That Be and the rest of us. It's a really old power taking on a new form. A power that may be the Prize itself because it lets us change so many things, rectify great wrongs--and also leaves us open for more garbage than anyone should have to deal with in a lifetime." She said. "And it requires only will to use. Let me show you.....uhm..." she pulled up a series of files on the computer, searching and loading.

"What are you looking for, magical spells?" MacLeod asked as Methos leaned over her shoulder to scan the documents she had pulled up. He swore softly.

"That's how you are doing all this...the killings...the plots.....?" He started, gold-green eyes livid.

"What?" Maygra asked, startled. She had not really been paying attention to Methos, not noticed he was so close as her finger hovered over a key. She pressed it, glancing back as the system chirped, blue eyes widening in shock.

"Oh shit!" she said and turned back to the computer desperately.

MacLeod sensed movement behind him, catching a flash of light off of a shiny surface, and looked around into Methos' hazel eyes, wide with confused horror. His sword was raised over his shoulder, and with a whisper of wind it came down, sliced, and cut.

Methos stood for a long moment, looking down at the body of the Highlander as the blood spread wider and wider, finally touching his shoes, wider, until he was standing in a river of red. He looked up at Maygra, utter incomprehension on his face as the Quickening rose up and embraced him. His cry rose as the energies of the Quickening began, and he sank to his knees cradling the body in his arms, his expression a mirror of the utterly appalled and devastated look on Maygra's face.

Maygra winced, squeezing herself against the desk to watch the light show, utterly fascinated as the Highlander surrendered his great spirit to the Oldest Immortal. It was gentler than she expected, as though it were grateful to be released. She had fully expected to have to replace the roof. They did lose power briefly and she had no idea what the repercussions would be in the metro area as she lunged forward to save her Grandmother's wedding tea set from being shattered when the antique table collapsed. But her surge protector kicked in and the back-up generator. The computer coming up with a satisfied blip. She checked the screen, scanning the data. Intact. It had been close.

"Oops," she sighed as she looked at the still, shocked Immortal at her feet, tea set still held in her big hands. "Not exactly what I intended," she mused distractedly. "Damn, Methos, I'm sorry. But now you know exactly what kind of power we're dealing with."

Methos could only stare at her. She stood there with a white and gold porcelain tea service in her hands, looking down at him and MacLeod's headless body as if it were an everyday occurrence. She had lulled them with her shy and flighty ways. Dawson's warning of her ruthlessness, her absolute lack of conscience erased by a blush, a swoon and a hesitant manner. Without effort she had managed to make him kill his lover, his best friend. And she had the effrontery to look only mildly annoyed.

"You bitch. You absolute shit," another feminine voice piped in. "You had to do it, didn't you? God, you make me crazy," her red headed roommate said coming in and looking at the tableau, the blood, the damage to the furniture, walls scorched. "I told you after the last time, Maygra. No Quickenings in the house!"

The two women pried the Highlander's headless corpse out of Methos' iron grip, wiped the blood away as best they could and guided him to a chair. As Maygra put a large glass of scotch in his hand, the hazel eyes finally focused, and they were fearsome, indeed.

The glass was held only briefly before it shattered under the strength of his grip. "What did you do?" he demanded, very softly, rising up out of his chair and reaching for his sword. "By God, I'll kill every one of you very slowly, very painfully, for this! But first you will tell me what's going on here."


Even as he stood in the midst of a shattered life, even as the bloodlust rose up to claim him, that word -- that voice -- stopped him cold. Methos turned, sword loose but ready in his grip...and froze. In the sudden silence, the rapid pounding of his heart rang loudly, and for just the space of a moment Methos felt faint.

He didn't think he'd ever seen fury like that in anyone's eyes.

"Merry?" He breathed the word, half a plea and half an accusation, torn between the need for comfort and the need to kill.

She spared him a glance as she moved to stand between him and Maygra, but her focus was elsewhere. The other woman stood in front of her computer, an expression of mingled resignation and trepidation shadowing her features. In the corner, leaning casually against the wall, a third woman waited, tall, dark, silent. Eyes narrowed as she watched the other two face off. She seemed to notice him not at all. The three of them fairly thrummed with a kind of leashed power, tied together somehow, but there were stresses in those bonds, fracturing, as Merry intervened. In Merry's face there was no ambiguity; the high color in her cheeks and the blaze of anger in her eyes left no room for misinterpretation.

"You'll get your turn, Adam," she said, her eyes never leaving Maygra's. "But first she answers to me."

Maygra took a step forward. "Merry, I--"

"How could you?" Merry said through gritted teeth. "My god, Maygra. Years, we've been working for them, helping them, killing ourselves to keep them alive. They were coming to trust us. I told him he could trust us." Her voice broke, and she swallowed hard, regaining control with a toss of her head. "You've made us no better than the ones we fight," she finished.

Maygra's face went white at the accusation and then slowly rose to crimson again, her lips tightening. Her hands went to her hips. "How could I? It's what I do , Merry. I plan for every eventuality. Anticipate their every move or try to. Dammit! It wasn't what I meant to happen! I was looking for examples...trying to make a point. Do you honestly think I would do anything to really, permanently hurt him?" she asked with a mix of shock and anger and hurt on her face.

Merry refused to back down, her voice low and even. "We stand accused of the worst kind of manipulation...and of murder...and of inflicting pain without thought for those who actually live through it. And what do you do? You manipulate Adam into murdering his lover, which any fool can see is drowning the man in pain the likes of which I have never seen. You think this is temporary? Think Adam's just going to get over it, get past it?"

Merry reached back, slipped a hand into his, and Methos felt a jolt of electricity pass between them; the woman was so angry she was literally sparking with excess energy. Whatever power lurked in her small frame was as strong as a Quickening, and she buzzed with it as strongly as if she were Immortal. He clutched at her hand, feeling some measure of the peace she'd brought earlier flowing into him at the point of contact.

"He's going to carry this with him forever," Merry said then, her voice an anguished whisper. "So you tell me--how is it different? How is what you've done different from what They do, every day?"

"It's not," Maygra said tersely. "And if you think it is, Merry, then you are severely deluding yourself and him." Her blues eyes sought Merry's locking with them. "What we do, is exactly what they do, Merry, only we do it for different reasons. They do it for power and money and we do it because...because we love them. And you better hope he's strong enough to stand this kind of pain, sweetheart, because it can only get worse from here. But," and she drew a deep breath..." There's a reason they say I'm fast. And there's a reason why I get to be the ruthless one. I always have a backup. And what I can do--I can undo. I think," she said and looked at MacGeorge. "Uh, maybe you better go check on....you know...if this works, well, I'd hate to be alone after that..." she said with a weak grin.

MacGeorge nodded but Merry held up her hand, asking the older woman to wait a moment.

"Haven't you done enough?" Methos murmured, his gold-green eyes staring dully at Maygra, his grip on Merry's hand fierce.

Maygra shrugged. "Apparently not...or maybe too much. But I wasn't kidding when I said there is an enormous amount of power in what we do..Now, Merry. You can help me or help him. Your choice." Maygra said calmly. "Because the faster I do this the better it will be...but I can't do it if I'm worrying about whether you are going to take my head..."

Methos held his breath, waiting, as if his life depended on Merry's next words. Maybe it does...

For just a moment, it seemed as if she would go for a sword. Or maybe just use her bare hands. Then...

Then she smiled. It wasn't a terribly pleasant expression -- there was more of predation than pleasure in it. Her voice, when she spoke, carried an undercurrent of victory.

"I'll take Adam outside," she said, the feral grin widening. "And I'll let you get on with this. But there's a price, Maygra. You know what I want to do -- what I've been trying to do for weeks -- and I want my chance. Right now. We owe them this, you can't deny it. Do we have a deal?" Her eyes flicked over to MacG, not quite asking for support but not turning it away should she find it. "MacGeorge...surely you want this as much as I do?"

Maygra swallowed uneasily, glancing at MacGeorge but the woman simply gave her a look that implied it was Maygra's call. "Decisions." Maygra muttered. "I hate decisions. One of these days I'm going to work on one project at time. But I guess..." She took a deep breath and met Merry's challenge reluctantly. "But I guess it won't be anytime soon. Okay. Deal. And, Merry? Methos? I am really sorry. I did not mean for this to happen. Honest," she said softly, biting her lip.

Merry rolled her eyes, sighing, and turned to Methos. "You see that look? That familiar at all to you? Does that not get you every damn time?....All right." An unwilling smile brightened her eyes. "Thanks, Mag," she added softly. "Do good work for us, okay? I'll let you know when I'm ready for you. C'mon, Adam. You and I have some work to do as well."

"Next time, somebody else gets to be... fast .." Maygra said with just a hint of a tired whine and reached for both a coffee cup and a pack of cigarettes. The cup was empty and without a word, MacGeorge grabbed it and went into the kitchen, casting an anxious glance at her friend. Maygra said not a word, but her hands were shaking as she lit the cigarette.

"Those will kill you," MacGeorge said gently from the kitchen as she poured the coffee.

"If I'm lucky," Maygra said and resumed working. "Oh, man. I was not prepared for this...Merry is going to owe me big time for this one.... Okay....sorting now.... " She rose, accepting the cup MacGeorge offered and surrendering her seat to the other woman. "Are you going to be able to keep all this separated?" she asked the older woman anxiously.

"Piece of cake," MacGeorge said calmly, "Disk cache most of them and trap the others...temp files...we love temp files...." She hesitated. "Damn! What about the demons?"

Maygra's face fell. "Crap. We'll have to leave them there...oooh that child is going to owe me really big...demons in the system. Great. Just great. Working around demons is such a pain in the ass," she murmured, taking a deep drag off the cancer stick.

"It'll work, Mag," MacGeorge concentrating on the data scrolling across the screen.. "You've resurrected the dead before."

"Yeah, but two at once? I've been in a car accident before, too. That doesn't mean I want to do it again. And we are messing with somebody else's work, MacG--no matter how much we disagree with them. Never a good idea.. And the timing has to be perfect. Even I have limits and we are operating on way too little information. Okay. " She scanned the other woman's work, leaning over her shoulder. "That is... amazing. I should be so organized."

"Organization is my life," MacGeorge said quietly, a note of irony in her voice. "You do realize we are stepping directly into the line of fire for The Powers That Be? There is no way they can miss this one."

Maygra nodded. "You could bow out, MacG. No one knows you're here-and you have more to lose than any of us...," she said but the other woman shook her head without hesitation.

"Life and death, Mag. Taking risks. It's what I do. There. Degrees. Just a matter of degrees. As soon as this starts, I'd better go babysit our bifurcated Scotsman. You're okay with this? By yourself.? "

Maygra smiled, grateful for the other woman's concern. "Yeah. As okay as I can be. Hey, fifty percent of this is all mine....the rest...the rest is pure faith. I just hope to hell Merry knows what she is doing. God, why is this one so damn hard?" she said, her voice breaking.

"Easy, Mag. Take a deep breath. We can do this," MacGeorge whispered, holding Maygra's shoulders lightly.

"You know, I hate the South," Merry said cheerily, picking her way carefully among fallen branches. "Humidity, mosquitoes, rain...humans evolved so we wouldn't have to live like this, you know?"

Methos shook his head numbly, in the grip of total shock. With her hand in his, he wasn't able to access the rending pain he'd felt when he took his lover's head...but with that memory in his heart, he couldn't access anything else, either. He let himself be pulled along the trail behind Maygra's house, oblivious to the scents and sounds of the woods around them. "What is happening here?" he whispered, not really caring if she heard him.

But she did, and she stopped in the middle of the trail. Turned to face him.

"Adam, I can tell you something that can take your pain away," she said softly. "But I can't make you believe it. Maybe Maygra could, or MacGeorge...they're older than I am, and they've been at this longer -- but they've got work to do, and none of us can spare them from it." She reached up, and laid gentle hands on either side of his face, forcing him to meet her eyes. "What would you do, if you were me and I were you?"

"I'd tell you the truth," Methos said hoarsely. "Merry...whatever it is, tell me. I'll try to believe it."

The young woman took a deep breath, and squeezed his hand, gaining strength from the contact. "Mac isn't dead. Not for long, anyway. Maygra is bringing him back, even as we speak."

Methos felt the world drop away under his feet. "That's not possible," he whispered. "That's--"

"It is," she insisted, her eyes filling with her own certainty. "Adam, what one of us does, she can also undo . It's a power we all share. I can't change what MacGeorge or Maygra do, but over my own Art I have absolute power. The same is true for them."

"I need to sit down," Methos said heavily, falling into lotus in the middle of the trail and drawing Merry down with him. Every word she spoke rang of truth, but the words were so complete bizarre...

"There's more," she said. If anything, the smile was brighter. Gods, there was so much faith in this girl...it was almost possible to believe...

Methos took a deep breath, trying to focus. Merry said Mac would live. She had defended him against one of her own. She hadn't lied to him so far.

He would believe it. He had to believe it, or he'd find a way to take his own head, because without MacLeod nothing held any reason.

"What more can there be?" he said finally, dredging up the beginnings of a smile. It fit perfectly, and it felt good... the witch at work again.

"You're going to like this part," she said, eyes twinkling. "Maygra is going to give you back Duncan MacLeod's life. But I..."


"I'm going to give you back his soul."

"Here goes..." Maygra reached up and took MacGeorge's hand, closed her eyes for a silent prayer, then quickly depressed the key, watching anxiously for a moment and then turning around to watch the back door as MacG slipped soundlessly away. She closed her eyes and heard through the stillness of the outside the sound, the strong sound of an engine drawing close, ripping. "Come on...come on...." she murmured softly to herself and the sound died, cut out. Her roommate's voice greeting someone outside, directing him . . . Maygra rose unsteadily to her feet to open the back door and wait with unnerving stillness.

"Take my hands," she said. "It's kind of a...I guess you could call it a Reverse Quickening...and it's going to start any minute. You know what to do?"

"Try to hold on," Methos said simply. "Are you sure this will work?"

"It's not a Holy Hot Tub," she said cryptically, derisively, "but it'll do in a pinch."

"Have you ever done this before?"

"Only with a VCR," Merry muttered. Then she shook her head, and a smile lifted one corner of her mouth. "Don't worry. The theory is sound."

"Somehow I don't find that terribly reassuring."

Merry opened her mouth to answer...something delightfully snide, Methos suspected, she did snide very well...

...but then it started. And for several moments that seemed to last forever, no one was able to say anything...

First there was the wind, a roar like thunder as the trees were whipped into a frenzy and leaves whirled around them in a mad ballet. Then the sound, a screaming cacophony of dissonant notes and mismatched harmonies...

...and then the light, streaming out of his chest, ripping out of him in a torrent. It was all he could do to stand, even with Merry's support. He leaned heavily on her, trying to stem the flow of power that surged out of him, but it was too fast...too strong...

...until the tingle of Presence washed over him, through him...

...and he sagged to the ground, drained to the very last dregs of energy and awareness. Eyes closing, darkness rising behind them, Methos struggled against unconsciousness...needing to know...

Certainty came in the form of the roar of an engine, tires spitting gravel...and finally, a dead man's voice.

"Oh, man. If you killed him, Mac is gonna be pissed ..."

When the blackness claimed him, Methos was smiling.

Duncan MacLeod drew a deep painful breath, and heard his own shout in his ears as he rose up, instinctively ready to defend himself, striking out. His fist found flesh and he heard a yelp and a splash before his eyes focused and his brain formed coherent thought. He was in a half-filled bathtub, naked. With the fascinating and irritating MacGeorge on his lap, sitting in sodden disarray, her silk suit splashed with water and what looked disturbingly like blood.

"What the . . ?" was all he could managed to gasp. His whole body burned and sang with a familiar electric post-Quickening sensation, and having a woman sitting on his lap was distinctly discomforting. The last thing he remembered was Methos' sword slicing . . . He shivered, grateful that it was just some weird hallucination or dream. These women were creepy. They had the strangest effect on him. How the hell did he get here?

MacGeorge was rubbing her chin, where a red welt was already forming. Her expression was not one of amusement.

"I'm certainly glad most of my help for you is from a distance, MacLeod. Any closer and it might be fatal," she growled. Unfortunately, there was no way she could get any leverage to extricate herself from his lap, so the next several seconds were spent in embarrassing struggle. MacGeorge's effort to find something to hang onto, hands groping, long legs flailing, were utterly unsuccessful until Mac boosted her out with a broad palm to her rear end as she pushed herself off of his abdomen and thighs. Both of them were a little breathless and flushed as she finally stood, dripping pink water onto the already soaked small carpet in front of the tub. She toweled off and straightened her suit, unsuccessfully attempting to restore some sense of dignity, but couldn't resist a small smile as she looked down at the Highlander.

"It's nice to know you live up to your billing, Highlander," she said with a crooked grin. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, 400 years old and more experienced than this mortal could imagine (and it was clear she had quite an imagination), had the grace to blush.

"Now, I'm going to find you some clothes and you need to get dressed and out to see your friend. He thinks you're dead and just may kill us if you don't get your lovely ass out there tout suite." With a final, lingering look, MacGeorge winked and reached for the door just as it was opened and Maygra entered with a stack of clean clothes.

"I didn't know what would fit, so I brought a little of everything...." She stopped as MacLeod rose up from the water, reaching a little unsteadily for a towel hung on the bath bar. His blush had nothing on the one that encompassed Maygra's face and then her neck until she looked like she been sunburned from forehead to the toes of her bare feet. "Oh....oh my...." she muttered, mouth falling open. "Oh no." The squeak came again and she thrust the clothes at MacGeorge, hands covering her eyes.

"Oh God!" she muttered fumbling for the doorknob. "There's a naked man in my bathroom. Oh shit. What would my mother say? Oh...." She moaned and found the door, pulling it open and stumbling through it then slamming it behind her with enough force to rattle the windows.

There was a pause as MacGeorge and MacLeod shared looks, then both broke into large grins. MacGeorge picked up the jeans, comparing them visually for size to the large man in front of her. "Well, they may be a little snug in places, but I guess they'll have to do." She handed them to him. "It's my guess that she doesn't have any spare men's underwear around, so be careful zipping up. I would want you to hurt anything important." She was unable to keep the smile off her face as she picked up the towels that had gotten scattered around the room. MacLeod stood there, holding the pants in front of himself, uncertain whether to laugh or get angry.

"Excuse me, Ms. MacGeorge," he said quietly. "Can a person have a little privacy here? Have you no shame?" Where have I heard that line before, he wondered.

She turned and gave him a long, appraising look. "None whatsoever," she replied with a twinkle in her eye. For a person who purported to have no sense of humor, MacLeod thought, she sure seemed to get a lot of amusement out of his discomfort. Placing the towels meticulously in a hamper she moved closer and put her hands on his smooth shoulders, her brown eyes level with his own. A shiver ran over MacLeod's skin. Her touch was very sensual, and the tingling from the Quickening had already brought a flush to his skin. His lips were irresistibly drawn to hers as he dropped the clothes in his hands to fold them around her body, which matched his inch for inch. A perfect fit.

Then he pulled away, looking puzzled. The look in her eyes was a little sad. "Don't worry, MacLeod," she said with a smile. "You're not losing it. A little like kissing your sister, eh?"

He nodded, mystified.

"Ah, Highlander, we're too much alike, you and me. You need someone who provides balance, perspective, humor. Someone like Tessa or Methos or someone you have yet to meet." Duncan's expression darkened as her words brought back his burden of grief, guilt and worry from the momentary distraction. "Don't worry, my love," MacGeorge whispered. "You've got a long road to travel yet. It will happen. That's all we want for you. We'll make it happen." Her voice was determined, fierce. She grabbed up the clothes Maygra had left for her and started to slip out the door, but he grabbed her arm and turned her around.

"What are you, MacGeorge? The others wear their hearts on the outside, but you have hidden yourself away behind this hard, aggressive facade. What happened to make you so distrustful of yourself, of letting anyone see who you really are?" he asked curiously.

"The day I write that story, MacLeod, is the day you should come back and try that kiss again," she said softly, "In the meantime, helping you is, for us, a way of exorcising our own demons. Use us, MacLeod, believe in us, let us make a difference for you."

MacLeod stood for a moment after she left, holding his breath. For a second there, he had almost believed her, believed that they could actually do it.

MacGeorge found the master bedroom and changed quickly out of her ruined suit. The pants were hopelessly short, so she ended up wearing a skirt that looked like something out of her hippie days, and a pullover sweater. Sighing at the lack of dignity of the whole thing, she ran her fingers through her long dark hair, tying it back in a habitual motion that signaled a gathering of thoughts and strength, a preparation for battle.

MacGeorge heard Duncan in the hallway as he stepped warily out of the bathroom, sensing another Immortal presence. She stepped to intervene, putting both hands on his chest to stop him. She could hear voices in the living room and her heart pounded. She didn't know if they were doing the right thing, but what was done . . .

"Duncan," she said urgently. "We have a gift for you. It may be only temporary," she said quickly. "It's a chance for you to know, to understand, to believe that things can -- no, that they WILL get better."

He took her by the shoulders, curiosity in his eyes at her obvious excitement. "What have you three done, MacGeorge?" he asked, looking deep into her eyes, then his focus changed. He had heard a voice, a familiar voice. It couldn't be . . . He pushed past MacGeorge and into the living room.

MacLeod could only stare for the longest moment before he moved, almost falling. He didn't know which of the two men to go to first but Maygra stepped up and pushed the younger of the two forward, settling Methos' arm over her shoulder, opposite Merry.

"Talk to him, MacLeod," she said softly. "He's real. But we don't have a lot of time," She was softly apologetic as she and Merry moved, all but carrying Methos toward the master bedroom. MacGeorge hesitated for a moment and then left student and teacher....father and son....two friends alone.

"Hi, Mac," Richie said, a little uncertain, blue eyes watching his mentor carefully.

"Have I lost my mind?" MacLeod asked softly, honestly wanting an answer. His hand went out automatically, breath caught, his whole frame starting to shake

"Hey, Mac....!" Richie said as the Highlander seemed to lose all his strength at once. Richie rushed forward catching him, holding him, unflinching but confused when MacLeod reached up to touch his face, dark eyes blurred with tears. "It's okay. Really. I'm okay " he said reassuringly, not entirely comfortable in the role of comforter.

"I killed you. I took your head..." MacLeod whispered. "I didn't mean to...God, Richie, I'm sorry! I thought...."

"Yeah, well. No harm done, but we have got to get you a new coping mechanism..."

Richie was grinning, that smart ass grin MacLeod thought he'd never see again...the one he never thought he'd miss. A smile -- genuine, for the first time in weeks -- broke through his pain. It's him...nobody else could say that. Nobody else would want to...god, he's real ...

"Mac, I know what you thought," Richie said, his eyes growing serious again. "I remember it. And I knew right then, that you had no idea who I was, Mac," he said urgently, the corner of his mouth quirking slightly. "I know you wouldn't hurt me if you were in your right mind. We just have to make sure you stay there from now on, is all..."

MacLeod murmured something in Gaelic, the words lost to Richie but the emotion wasn't as MacLeod pulled him into a tight fierce embrace. For joy, to reassure himself that Richie was real, and breathing and not a figment of his own guilt.

They parted slowly, MacLeod once more gripping his neck to press his forehead against the younger Immortal's. "I wanted to die, Rich,. I might have....to lose you..." MacLeod began, his voice breaking. His soul had been irrevocably damaged when he killed Richie. It still ached, but it was no longer empty. He could breathe again as if he'd been suffocating for weeks. "How is this possible?"

Richie blushed a little at the older man's broken words, embarrassment tingeing his own deeply rooted emotions. "I don't know. Whatever that girl did, she did it right. I don't remember anything from...well...from the racetrack until just a few minutes ago. It was kind of like coming back that night when I became an Immortal. Fuzzy...grey...hurt like hell , Mac... and then suddenly I was awake and on my bike heading...here. Only I didn't know where here was. And Methos....Oh, shit! Methos...."

MacLeod stiffened a little but kept one hand on Richie's neck, afraid if he lost contact with him, the young man would disappear.

"Methos will be fine...." MacGeorge said from the edge of the room. "Merry and Maygra will make sure of it.

"Is this...all of this real...?" MacLeod asked and MacGeorge shrugged with a disarming grin.

"As real as it gets," she said and then her smile faded a bit. "But, it may or may not be....permanent," she warned.

"What does that mean?" MacLeod demanded, his grip tightening on the younger man, pulling him close, as if to protect him from a new threat.

"It means, that you have to make a choice, Mac," MacGeorge said. "Richie alive or Richie in your life? Because for now, you can't have it both ways."

"Yer makin' no sense, woman," MacLeod growled, anxiety making him revert to another lifetime.

"MacLeod, what we have done has never been tried before....and you can be certain that The Powers That Be are going to notice this one. We are practically slapping them in the face. So for now, Richie's...re-emergence has to be kept a secret. A very closely guarded secret, because if they find him...I don't think we can pull this off twice...and I know Methos can't...and survive..." she said softly.

Getting a barely conscious man through the door to the bedroom was awkward, so awkward that Maygra finally told Merry to step aside and got her shoulder under the slender Immortal in a fireman's carry and got him to the bed.

"You guys need anything?" MacGeorge asked.

"Wet towels," Maygra said and pushed Merry aside again, not rudely, but as someone who knew how to deal with the sick and injured. "And there's some orange juice in the fridge. How's MacLeod?" She asked as she checked pulse and breathing, turning on a bedside lamp so she could check on her patient's color.

"Stunned. Shocked.....how would you be if you just saw the dead rise?" MacGeorge asked. "I did just see the dead rise," Maygra said crossly. "Twice." she stepped back to give Merry access, pulling a chair up beside the bed so the younger woman could sit and then tapped the girl on the shoulder.

Merry looked up at her, eyes huge and tired but face oddly peaceful, that irritatingly knowing expression lighting her features. "And you thought I was being manipulative? I hope you thought about the consequences before you offered this little deal," she said sternly, then turned to accept the damp linens from MacGeorge, bathing the Immortal's face and neck.

Merry shook her head and took one of Methos' hands in hers, twining her small fingers through his slender ones. "You said we didn't have much time. I restored a balance. This is the way it's supposed to be," Merry said but Maygra stopped her nursing and caught her chin in her hand gently , forcing the younger woman to look at her.

"No, Merry. You upset it...badly," Maygra said. "Oh, you may have salvaged the essentials of their souls, but when this gets out...and it will....we could be dealing with all kinds of resurrections and repercussions. We left the demons in the equation, Merry. I'm not a djinn. I can't hold them indefinitely and when they get out, they will very likely carry out their original instructions only they may well have developed an appetite for mortals and Immortals alike. I didn't summon them, Merry. The Powers That Be did. I can't destroy them... I can probably keep them contained for a bit...hope they like Tetrus."

Merry stared at her.... "You mean we could have to do this again? It was bad enough the first time! I didn't mean for...""

"You...led with your heart as you always do, minx," Maygra said fondly. "But I had no idea...and I didn't have a lot of time to take this into account when MacG and I did our bit...which means that I...we... are going to have to watch this situation very carefully. And you.... well, I think it appropriate that you take care of Richie and keep him under wraps until we can resolve this...or The Powers That Be beat us to it..." She said evenly and straightened up.

"Then Richie can't stay with Duncan," MacGeorge said, taking in the new situation calmly. "That's going to be very hard on him...on them both..."

"Nobody said life was fair," Maygra said wearily and glanced at Methos whose color was returning. "But the sooner they know...."

"I'll do it," MacGeorge said and Maygra threw her a look of profound relief. "Is Methos going to be okay? I don't want to add that to the mix....."

Maygra sighed heavily. "Yeah. I think I can manage that much...spin doctor seems to be my title today... Merry?" she asked as MacGeorge slipped out of the room. "If you're going to play cosmic roulette, could I have a little more warning please?" She asked, smiling to take the edge off her words, and then lay her hand very gently on the younger woman's head to stroke her glossy hair. "Because I don't want to lose you to this mess either...." she murmured and dropped a kiss on the crown of her head before leaving Merry alone with her soul mate.

Methos startled into life, as if waking from a nightmare, his hand automatically flailing for his sword. He found it, there at his side....on the bed? How did I get to a bed...?

"Shh...it's okay, Adam." Merry's voice. Methos felt himself relaxing, and didn't even bother to fight it.

"I hope you had help getting me here," he said, swinging his feet over the side of the bed and reaching up to squeeze the tense muscles of his neck with one hand. "Or did you...?" The other hand waved vaguely in the air, and he lifted one eyebrow inquiringly.

Merry rolled her eyes. "Wouldn't you like to know," she said, smiling a little.

Just a little, though. Methos frowned, suddenly worried. "It worked, didn't it?" he demanded. "I heard Ryan...that means Mac is okay. Doesn't it?"

"Yes!" Merry said quickly, eyes stricken. "Gods, I should've said right away, Adam. I'm sorry! Yes, he's fine, he's all right. He's with Richie right now...I was thinking maybe we should give them a few minutes."

Methos closed his eyes and released a long, shuddering breath, slumping bonelessly with relief as the words penetrated his panic. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you, thank you...."

"No," Merry said.

"No, what?" Methos opened his eyes, frowning at the...lifelessness...in Merry's voice. In their brief acquaintance he'd seen her amused, angry, caring, hurt...she could change moods faster than most people could change channels. The emptiness in her expression worried him.

"Don't thank me," she said simply. "MacGeorge and Maygra did it. Brought him back to you. Save your thanks for them."

"But you gave him back his son," Methos said softly, turning her chin so she had to look at him, had to meet his eyes. "I was there, remember? I saw what it took out of you. It...hurt you, somehow...but you did it anyway. For us."

She shook her head in denial, self-recrimination easy to read in her expressive countenance. "Dear gods, Adam...I blew it so badly...I shouldn't have tried it, I'm not good enough! They warned me, and I didn't listen. Wouldn't listen." She pulled away from him then, and moved over to the window, gazing out into the forest with unseeing eyes. "Stupid," she spat venomously, arms crossed tightly over her chest. "Arrogant. Crazy, naive, blind..."

"Stop it!" Methos said harshly, bristling at the litany of abuse the small woman was raining down on herself. He moved to the window and turned her, roughly, to face him. "That's about enough, I think," he ordered. She fell silent immediately, eyes wide with surprise and trepidation. It's about time, Methos observed to himself, dryly. I was beginning to think I'd lost my touch..

"Now," he said, "tell me what you did that was so awful. Something between talking Maygra into bringing MacLeod back and arranging for Ryan to come back from the dead? What, did you kick me while I was out? I probably deserved it..."

A small tug at the corner of her lips spurred him on. "Let me guess," he said, eyes twinkling down into hers. "Had your way with me, did you? Took advantage of my weakened state? You're right, that's terrible. A lady would have waited until I could enjoy it properly..."

"Adam!" Merry was blushing now, and grinning at the same time. "Cut it out," she said, probably not as forcibly as she'd have liked.


"Because...well...I'm married! Technically. For three more months, anyway..." As she spoke, the vehemence in her voice was replaced by a speculative tone, and her eyes flicked up to his.

"Think I care?"

"Ooh, you're evil. All right, I give up. I didn't mess up that badly. Or at least, not for the wrong reasons...."

Methos nodded. "That's what I thought. Besides, even if it had been for the wrong reasons, who would I be to judge you?"

Merry shook her head and smiled up at her Immortal friend, dimpling. "I knew there was a reason I liked you," she said.

"My charm? Wit? Darkly handsome physique?"

"Wisdom," Merry said, grinning, guiding him toward the door.

"Bite your tongue."

"When I have you here...?"

Merry shoved Methos out into the living room, preceded by his own laughter.

"So for now, Richie's...re-emergence has to be kept a secret. A very closely guarded secret, because if they find him...I don't think we can pull this off twice...and I know Methos can't...and survive..." MacGeorge was explaining as Maygra entered the room.

"What has Methos to do with this...what have you three done now?" MacLeod demanded.

"Mac, it was Methos ..." Richie started and Maygra gave him a sharp glance.

"We have simply re-arranged events to suit the present needs," Maygra said a little coolly. "And we needed Methos' to help do that...."

"Is he....?" MacLeod began and Maygra cut him off as quickly as she had cut Richie off.

"All right? No. But he will be in a minute," she said and returned to her computer. It took her only seconds, then she slumped down in her chair and crossed her arms, laying her head on them and closing her eyes. "Deus ex machina really pisses me off," she muttered and MacGeorge chuckled.

The bedroom door opened and Merry and Methos emerged, hands clasped together again. This time it was Merry who seemed to draw strength from the contact, but she released his hand as his eyes fell on MacLeod and then Richie, Methos taking a hesitant step forward.

He thought he had understood Mac's grief at killing his student. He'd been wrong, not even realizing how wrong until he saw the Highlander whole and hale and healthy and with his head firmly attached to his shoulders where it belonged. It made the vast pain of his murder even more enormous and healed it all in the same instant. Suddenly, the risk of losing him forever seemed so immediate he instinctively reached out, pulling the burly figure into a hard, desperate embrace.

Over the Highlander's shoulder, Methos' eyes fell on the three of them. MacGeorge moved in to put an arm around Merry's shoulders, guiding her to the loveseat. Merry, who had returned to Mac his son. And Maygra.... there was no comprehending how or what Maygra had done. She was watching him, watching all of them, the pale blue eyes fixed on them like a hawk's.

Go ahead. You didn't kill him. I did. He doesn't remember--I made sure of that. He could hear her, a whisper and a chuckle in his head. Or was it his heart?

Mac pushed gently away so he could look in astonishment at his friend. "Methos, what did you do?"

Methos felt his own grief and guilt slip away as he saw the miracle of those dark eyes, where for the first time in a very, very long time, hope had at last replaced pain and unending despair.

"I have no idea," Methos murmured and his hand caught MacLeod's, fingers twining together as the Highlander pulled him forward, his other hand still resting on Richie's shoulder. But the grip was sure and strong and Mac didn't stop at the touch of hands. His mouth caught Methos' sweetly, firmly and the older Immortal let his world right itself under that kiss.

"Uh, guys...?" Richie's voice broke through the moment, interrupted the kiss, "Did I miss something?" He asked a little embarrassed and completely bewildered.

Duncan MacLeod started laughing low in his chest until it burst forward and out as he pulled Richie in close and kissed his temple, then pulled his lover in as well, arm around his waist. "No, Rich. You haven't missed anything of importance that we can't bring you up to speed on," MacLeod said and glanced at the three women, giving them a broad wink and a charming smile.

They smiled back, Maygra perking up a bit.

"Oh my!" she said, with only a hint of a squeak.

The three men remained in the living room, talking quietly and urgently, Methos and Mac trying to explain to their young friend exactly what had happened, as far as they understood it. The three women watched them fondly.

"Hell of a day's work, ladies," MacGeorge said with a sigh, watching the three Immortals in what she felt was a slightly unseemly display of mutual affection. Merry sank slowly into a chair, exhaustion written on her face, but with a smile of deep satisfaction. Maygra leaned up against the computer, arms crossed, head cocked at the scene.

"I don't know," she said. "Maybe if we had just waited awhile before we brought Richie back, we could have...."

Merry picked up a pillow off the couch and threw it at her.

Maygra ducked and giggled. "Despite your...unorthodox methods, nice work, Merry," Maygra said softly, blue eyes full of affection for the younger woman. "And you..." she turned that pale eyed gaze on a grinning MacGeorge. "The surge protector. Disk cache. Who'd a thunk it? Transporter buffers, my ass. I can't wait to see my electric bill next month."

Merry came to perch on the edge of the table, legs folded up, perfectly still, watching the three men with shining eyes. "This is definitely a good thing," she murmured. Then she turned her eyes on Maygra. "But you ever do anything like that again and I'll make you think The Powers That Be are girl scouts."

The menace in those hazel eyes was as real as the threat, and Maygra acknowledged it with a sheepish grin and a blush. "I really, really did not plan on this one.....just a little dream sequence I had running around......"

"It was dangerous," Merry said a little coolly.

"Hey! I have to experiment....I'm the ‘ruthless' one remember?" Maygra shot back.

"Ladies..." MacGeorge intoned and glanced up at where the three Immortals were watching them.

"Are you going to explain this?" Methos asked, standing in front of MacLeod, the Highlander's hands resting firmly on his shoulders. Richie staring at them with his arms crossed looking a little...annoyed.

"Hell, no!" All three of them said in unison. And then burst into laughter...a little strained, just this side of hysterical.

"No," Maygra said finally, wiping tears from her eyes. "No. We won't. Better that just the three of us know how we managed it...there are enough rampant ideas out there and we are juggling enough fronts as it is. Look, guys,:" she said, and a small smile touched her lips, lit up the blue-gray eyes. "We should never have met in the first place. I was kind of hoping it wouldn't make any difference but it does. Not so much for us," she said indicating her companions. "But you...the Watchers. We had no idea they knew we were here and we can fix that part....but you three. Trying to fix it so you three don't know...well, resurrecting the dead is easier." she said and some of the laughter faded with a genuine sorrow. "You know Richie has to go with Merry, Mac. Right? You understand why? We will try to find a way......I can't promise anything. But one of the best of us... a guy named Kevin...he's working on it...and if he can't figure it out..." her voice trailed off, unwilling to make a promise that couldn't be kept.

MacLeod nodded. " I think so...he's a target..."

"He's a pawn, "MacGeorge said sadly. "It's complicated, Highlander. We just don't have the resources The Powers That Be do. And we can't let them know we're out here."

"They'd shut us down,": Merry said quietly. "If they knew or cared...they could stop us," her hand reached out and Methos caught it, squeezing the small fingers gently. "But as long as we remain in the background...invisible...secret... we can... sometimes change things."

"But there will always be a price to pay, " MacGeorge said seriously. "We're willing to pay it but we have to be careful. You've seen my life, Mac. They could very easily destroy everything I have."

"No," he murmured, a protest and reached out to caress her cheek. She smiled and caught his hand, that little spark of electricity still there.

"And what about you?" Methos asked Maygra. She had made no move, no words of comfort. "What price are you paying to keep us alive? Because that's what this is about. You weren't lying."

"No, old man, I wasn't lying," Maygra said. "And what I get back is worth any price. Any price at all." she murmured. "But don't think that just because we've now seen your pretty faces that this is going to get any easier. Because it won't," she warned. "And sympathy and mercy aren't my strong points. Now, is this little love fest is over? Good. I say we have some lunch and then MacGeorge and Merry have to get back home...we have work to do yet," she said and headed for the kitchen

By tacit agreement they kept the topics light as Maygra spread out pastas and chicken salad, all whipped up in less than thirty minutes. She ate with them but was strangely silent, retreating back into her shyness. Rising up again and again to get this item or that. Merry rose, taking her plate to the sink and leaned against the kitchen counter, watching the blonde impassively.

She stopped her as she went to pull more beer out of the refrigerator.

"Talk to them, tell them," Merry said. Her voice was low, but Methos heard her, saw Maygra glance at he and MacLeod and shake her head. Merry sighed as Maygra set the beers on the table and then opened the back door to escape outside.

"Excuse me," Methos murmured to the others and followed her.

"What did Merry mean?" he asked. Maygra was sitting on a stone bench in the middle of one of Mel's garden rooms. "Talk to us. Is there more that we should know?"

"You already know too much, old man," she said evenly, not looking at him.

"And how much do you know?" he asked sitting next to her.

"More than I wanted to. I didn't ask for this, you know," she said quietly, pulling gently at the long colored petals of a daisy, scattering the bright petals on the dirt. A shadow crossed over them and Methos glanced up to see Mac watching them. He rested his hand on Methos' shoulders.

"Richie's helping Merry and MacG clean up. What's going on?"

"Nothing. Your friend is being nosy again," Maygra said.

"We know what this costs MacG and Merry," Methos said. "You didn't answer me earlier. Maygra, we will walk away from this. Merry asked me to trust her and I do. I don't know why, but I do. And Duncan trusts MacGeorge. Now you're asking us to trust you...and I'm sorry...but we need a reason."

"I don't care if you trust me or not," Maygra said getting to her feet. In another age she might have been a warrior...or a teacher...or...

A Storyteller.

Methos caught his breath. That power he had sensed from her in the beginning...the one that echoed Merry's... literally burned in this one, deep, hidden, banked...controlled. Ancient power. She caught his gaze and the sense of carefully checked power vanished.

Her origins, the past lives were lost to her now. She was moving resolutely forward.

"Tell us," MacLeod said softly and blue eyes met brown then hazel and she sighed.

"Do you remember your early life, old man?" she asked softly, meeting Methos' gaze then shifting her eyes to MacLeod's when the older Immortal shook his head. She chewed on her lip for a moment and then began speaking, softly, dispassionately as from a distance, the blue eyes scanned the sky overhead and the woods backing up to the house. "I do. Like Merry, I know more about you than you know yourselves. Both of you." The blue eyed gaze searched their faces. "I know things you can't or won't remember. That's the price. I keep them. I remember so you don't have to. I keep the same secrets for lots of others. Whole other lives, other peoples....."

She smiled, the expression lighting up her whole face. "There is no price for me, guys. This is what I am. It's what I was meant to do. Finding you two...it just helped me remember that. No price. This is a debt I owe. You helped me find my life's blood again--now I get to make sure your lives continue on long after I'm dead and buried."

Her smile grew a little sly. "But you are right to be afraid of me, both of you. . Because I will do anything...anything...to ensure The Powers That Be don't win...even if I have to steal your souls to do it..." she murmured, but her tone belied her words. It was soft, almost a murmur or a caress, the soothing sounds of a mother comforting a baby, an underlying tumble of laughter like a child's. Her hands reached out to touch their faces gently. Big hands with long fingers, infinitely gentle but with steel below the tenderness.

Both men stared at her both fearing and craving that caress...a terrible longing, as if they might be missing something by not touching her. Methos went still, the hazel eyes closing as his breath caught. MacLeod watched her, brown eyes meeting blue for one moment outside of time, lips parted as if to speak.

And then she did stop, pulled her hands back slowly. Eyes shifting as the trio emerged onto the patio.

"Go ahead, Maygra..." Merry said softly, holding Richie's hand. "It's worth it."

"It is, Mag," MacGeorge said. "To know them is .... it makes what we do so much easier to know they are worth it...."

"No." Maygra said. "No. I tried that once. If I care too much, I can't do what I have to...I can't...can't be as ruthless as The Powers That Be. And I have to be....you know I have to be...some of us have to be that.... cruel," she said with a rueful laugh and stepped back. "That's all you get from me, boys. I may rip out my heart and soul for you, but I'll be damned if I'm going to do it with an audience," she said and turned to go back in the house.

Methos lunged for her and caught her arm gently, trying to understand her. "What's in this for you? You still haven't answered."

"Sure I did. Immortality," she said. "Yours and mine." She bit her lip, red color rising in her cheeks and then suddenly slipped her hands on either side of his face and gave a quick hard kiss. She pulled back with wide eyes.

"Sorry! Couldn't resist. You are way too cute!" she said with a giggle and her face went redder as she saw MacLeod laughing at the shocked expression on Methos' face.

"Competition?" The Highlander teased.

"Too right!" Maygra laughed and caught the hands of her two friends, one in each and held them up. "You want to know who we are? We are the Fates. The Three Sisters," she said softly and on touching the hands of the other two she seemed to surrender some part of herself and gain strength at the same time. Her voice lost it's high sharp edge, becoming more musical, softer. "Merry is the Heart. MacGeorge is the Mind. And I am the Soul. All the answers lay between us...as soon as we figure out the right questions," she said glancing at the two women fondly. "The rest of it, as they say, is details..."

Without another word the trio linked arms and went back inside the house, side by side. Richie stepped aside to let them pass, shaking his head.

"The Fates?" MacLeod said. "Do you think its possible....."

"I don't know what to think," Methos said, shaking off the shock of Maygra's kiss. It hadn't been passionate, more like the kiss of a sister...or a friend. A good friend. "But I intend to find out," he added and went into the house as well, Mac on his heels.

And found only Mel.

"They're gone. All three," the red head said at their questions. "Hey, Ryan? This is Merry's address. She said she'd be waiting. She also said not to put it off too long...coupla' days, max."

"But Maygra lives here...." MacLeod said.

"Sometimes. But you won't find her now. She's really good at disappearing. You could learn a couple of things from her, Methos."

"Mel, please. Can you explain any of this?" MacLeod asked and the red head sighed.

"Not much. I don't understand it all. I've known ...Maygra.... for nearly twenty years and never seen her as committed to something as she is to keeping you two alive...and your friends, but you two especially. But I can tell you this...those three....and others like them have only one motivation. Love." she said with a grin. "And they don't care if you love them back. But it helps. See ya'!" she said and whipped away, disappearing into one of the bedrooms.

MacLeod shook his head, and lay his hands on Richie's shoulders. "I think that's all we're going to get."

Methos nodded distractedly and then led them back to the office. The computer was dark. Without hesitation , he booted the system up and chuckled when the screen popped.

"Methos. Don't Even Think About It. MdR." The screen said and no amount of button pushing would get past the warning.

"Let's go back to the hotel," MacLeod said "We have some catching up to do," he said with a smile for his student and Methos nodded, then paused and scribbled a note down on the pad of paper next to the computer. MacLeod read it and chuckled. "Gods...she may kill you next, old man."

"Maybe," Methos grinned. "But I don't thinks so."

Still chuckling Methos led the way out of the house and to their car.

Maygra looked up as an e-mail alert flashed across her screen. Switching documents she pulled up first MacG's mail then Merry's and opened them side by side...smiling as she did so.....

#MacG: Okay, guys. I've managed to hold off the Gathering for the moment, but it didn't come without a price. DM is going to have to take a few more hits before this is done, and the demon thing is going to be a problem going forward. I may be able to work Darius back into the picture, in the meantime I'm just working on damage control.#

#Merry: Richie got here a few hours ago, and I'm already out of milk. I had a full gallon when he arrived. You guys are going to have to help me feed this guy -- he needs his strength. DON'T ASK. Mac and Methos made it back just fine; they're at Joe's, just as you predicted, MacG. Everything is on track for my latest trick...guess who just showed up in Cascade? That's two more for the good guys... and these guys are really good. By the way, I'm going to need a few more Watchers. You have any to spare...?

PS - Richie here: Hi, Maygra, MacG. She's lying. It was just half a gallon, and I shared some with the cat. --RR#

She chuckled at Ryan' protest, rescanning the main messages. Oh, they were good, these two, Maygra thought to herself as she began typing in her response. They were the best...but another nudge was needed...something to keep the momentum going and keep the Powers That Be from guessing how quickly their little army was undermining their efforts to destroy the Immortals.

She typed:

#Ladies. Congratulations! If I could give out raises I would, but I can't. However, I got a little news flash from one of our other "sisters". It would seem that Eng over at the HLQC has found...get this ...Methos' mother...the first....and it seems she is a computer expert to boot...no pun intended....and, we got a little help from those "other" Immortals...the fanged ones...for right now, we've managed to salvage at least the Boys...we'll worry about the others tomorrow.. Good work. Sleep well, my dears, for tomorrow we battle again...#

She hit the send button and settled back to watch the messages flash over the airwaves...through the ether. They couldn't save them all, but by God, some of them would survive as long as the Virtual Pen was still Mightier than the Sword.

Then she picked up the note Methos had left her and grinned.....

Now that I've done with the Watchers, I'm thinking of trying my hand as a writer. Watch your heads, Ladies...--Adam

Joe wiped the bar for at least the tenth time that afternoon. Business was slow and time seemed to crawl. He had heard absolutely nothing for two days from Methos or MacLeod. The Watchers he had sent after them reported they had ended up at a small house in Atlanta, and that sometime in the middle of the afternoon there had been three Quickening storms. Three. It didn't make any sense. These women were mortals, for God's sake! If they had, against all probability, managed to kill the two most powerful Immortals on the planet . . . the thought made Joe stop and swallow the grief and fear that gathered in his chest. But even if they had, how would there have been a third Quickening without another Immortal around? The questions whirled around in his head, and as long as he had unanswered questions, he refused to give up all hope that at least one of them was still alive.

Joe wiped the bar again. The door opened and gray light filtered in followed by two tall men in long coats. Joe let out a long breath and reached for a bottle of his best scotch.

Two hours later, with the evening crowd just beginning to arrive, there were two tipsy Immortals and one thoroughly inebriated barkeeper sitting at a table in the corner. He had heard their improbable story and had almost decided that MacLeod's suicidal madness had sent him over the edge, taking Methos with him. Except that both of them, as exhausted and drained as they obviously were, seemed . . . happy. They obviously genuinely believed that Richie had been . . . what? . . . reconstituted? As unlikely as it was, hearing it made something painful and hard in Joe's chest loosen, just a little, and for the first time in years Duncan's face had lost that haunted look and his dark brown eyes were full of warmth and rare humor. Methos kept stealing possessive glances at the Highlander and Joe was getting vaguely uncomfortable with the intimacy those looks implied, feeling like an intruder.

"I don't know what you guys are so relaxed about," he growled. "If what they say is true, if the final Gathering is here within a year, then at least one of you will . . ." he didn't finish the thought.

Methos and Duncan shared a long look.

"I wouldn't be so sure of that, Joe," MacLeod said with a quiet smile. It felt so good to smile and mean it he thought. "There will be bad times ahead, there always are. But for once, I think Fate, or . . . make that plural . . . Fates...are on our side."

"More like the three Furies," Methos said, grinning. "Don't worry about the Gathering, Joe. I'm not."

"Yeah," the Watcher said. "Right. I'll stop worrying about death and taxes, too."

"Taxes I can't speak to," Methos said. "But I have it on excellent authority that none of us...and that includes you, Joseph Dawson, so wipe that frown off your face...has to worry about death for a long, long time."

"And you know this because...?"

Methos grinned, and lifted a small black satchel from beside his stool. "I have an agent on the inside," he said.


Methos grinned, and turned on the laptop. As it hummed into life, he snagged the cord from the bar phone and plugged in. "Watch," he said, fingers flying over the keys. A moment later, he turned the screen toward his friends and sat back, a self-satisfied smirk on his lips.

On the screen, a window had opened.

#Richie: Hi, 'Adam'. Merry is sleeping in the other room. You were right -- they're already working -- but it looks like you guys get a break, for a while anyway. Who's Blair Sandburg? She's got reams here about the two of you. At least nobody dies... Tell Mac I said hi, and not to worry. Hey, how come you guys didn't tell me about Joe? I guess we don't have to worry about him getting hurt any more -- Merry said she hadn't quite worked out the details, but she seems to think it's a sure thing. I gotta go -- I think I heard something. More when there's more to say. --RR#

Duncan's breath caught in his throat, his eyes widening. "Dear god...if she catches him--"

"She won't," Methos said smugly. There was an odd light in his eyes...a newly-familiar burning. "Who do you think put her to sleep?"