All Things Being Equal
by Lillian Wolfe

This story is rated R, depending on where you draw the line for completely Over The Top humor and character abuse. I make no apologies for this or for borrowing the same warning Taselby and I used for "Of Sound Mind and Body." So be warned, and consider your thresholds before continuing.

The characters of Methos/Adam Pierson and Duncan MacLeod are the property of Davis-Panzer and others, although they probably don't have work for them at the moment. I'm only borrowing them and I'm sure not making money off this project.

Ok, here's the story. Well over a year ago, Taselby and I came up with a little story called "Of Sound Mind and Body," which was pretty well received. This sequel was planned from the beginning, but wasn't the highest priority on the list. So, finally in May, I got around to it, but I've had to forge ahead without the sharp wit of my cohort so you might say this is a half-witted continuation of OSMAB.

While both stories appear to take place after my Demons Trilogy and you think you recognize Dr. Miles Montgomery/Rory Myles from there, they are really in a time line of their own. Almost all of my stories are within the same time line with the exception of these two. "Of Sound Mind and Body" is most-definitely required reading before starting this one!

A Week Later. 2:15 p.m.

Warmth seeped into the ancient body, bringing a feeling of well being with it. Methos wasn't inclined to sunbathing, having spent a few occasions in his life blistering under the bright star's rays, but after his recent bout with the flu, he welcomed the healing warmth and the roof of MacLeod's barge was a perfect spot for it.

It had been a little over a week since he'd kicked off the miserable bug that had left him feeling weaker than a newborn kitten and he was now reevaluating the limits of his Immortal physiology. Although he was cured, the little monster that allowed him to get ill in the first place was still in his blood, still able to inhibit the defensive mechanisms he'd taken for granted over his long life. It was not a comforting thought that he might fall victim to another flu bug at any time.

Drowsily, he rolled onto his stomach, cushioning his head on his arms. He was almost back to normal, his body returned to its usual weight and his energy level restored, thanks largely to Mac's nourishing meals. A guilty Highlander was a solicitous Scot and Mac had been more than willing to oversee Methos' recuperation. Yep, this was definitely a sweet deal although he had paid hellishly for it so there wasn't even a tinge of guilt in his taking advantage of Mac's hospitality. Feeling the presence of another Immortal, he opened an eye to confirm it was his host returning from whatever errand he'd been running, then allowed the lid to drift shut again.

The muted thuds of boots on the gangplank and the slight rock of the boat announced Mac's arrival before the Scot spoke. "Methos?"

Stubbornly, he ignored Mac, content to just snooze in the sun. Whump! A sudden, sharp slap across his rump forced him to acknowledge his presence. "What?" he grumbled, turning his face to the cheery, tanned countenance of Duncan MacLeod.

"I've got some information on that wine festival. No one on the committee sent me tickets directly, but they sent out several blocks to major contributors." He peered over the roof of the barge to gaze at the stretched out man. "You're getting a bit pink. Come on in and we'll go over the list, see if we recognize any of the names."

With a grunt, Methos sat up, grabbed his shirt, then climbed down the ladder to follow Mac inside. He went straight to the 'fridge for a cold beer before he settled on the excuse for a sofa Mac had installed in the barge. //A futon does not a sofa make,// he thought sourly. "So your paltry contribution didn't warrant free tickets after all."

Mac refused to be baited, "No, so that means that one of these large contributors must have sent them to me. There's about a hundred of them."

"Not exactly the short list," Methos snorted as he picked up the sheet of paper and glanced at the columns of fine print listing the patrons names and addresses. "Do you really believe whoever sent the tickets would use his real name for this list?"

"Maybe he slipped up... if it is a he." Mac reached across and snatched the list from his friend's hand.

Methos slouched into the cushions a little more and sipped at his beer. "Yeah, it is possible a woman is responsible for that wretched virus. Suitable revenge plan. Are there any ladies who have a particularly strong grudge?" He didn't miss the annoyed glance the big Scot shot his direction. A small smile tugged at his lips as he gazed pointedly at Mac.

"I believe grudge-matches are your specialty," Mac countered. "You seem to be the one ladies want to kill."

"Only a couple," Methos objected. "So, have you read through it yet?"

"I glanced at it. No name jumped out, but we can go through it name by name."

"Oh, goody," the ancient voice was unenthusiastic. "Well, we can probably eliminate all the businesses right off the bat. That should shorten it considerably."

Mac's stern glance at Methos rolled off the elder's shoulders without a ripple. "Michel Avaniti... never heard of him. Elise Bichot... nope. Robert Biggens..." A pause, then a more drawn out, "Nope."

Methos sighed and closed his eyes. This was going to take a while. In spite of his relaxed, almost disinterested appearance, he was paying attention to each and every name MacLeod read and running through his own database of memories for anything that might be similar. Deep down he truly believed that attack had been meant for Mac, but there was always a slim possibility someone may have tracked him down.

"Raoul Weinstein. That's it," Mac said with far less verve than when he'd started reading the list nearly an hour earlier. "None of the names sound familiar or like anyone I've ever known. How 'bout you?"

Methos shook his head. "Don't ring any bells here either. 'Course that doesn't prove anything."

MacLeod tossed the list on the coffee table and stretched. "Do you have any ideas?"

"I suppose we could check out the owners and officers of the companies, but that could be a tedious process. There may be another option..." he mused, then got to his feet, carrying his most recent dead soldier to deposit in the kitchen garbage. As he opened the 'fridge to grab another bottle, he added, "Want a beer?"

"Yeah, before you drink them all."

"It's only my second today," Methos objected mildly and handed Mac a bottle.

"Uh huh," the Scot agreed, a hint of disapproval in his voice. "So what's the other option?"

"It's just a hunch really." The smaller man leaned against the counter, his eyes gazing into the distance as he organized his thoughts. "The one person who probably knows who is behind this is the person who sprayed it in my face."

Mac barked out a laugh, "You don't really think you can track down that gypsy? Methos, what if this really was an accident? That an old woman just happened to concoct something that affects Immortals?"

Shifting a sharp glance at Mac, Methos replied logically, "You heard what the properties of this inhibitor are, Mac. Do you seriously think an old peddler could accidentally concoct something that would have that kind of result? No, this is someone who knew what he was doing. And I'll lay odds it's an Immortal. You'd have to know about us and have sample blood to develop it. I think the hag was just the distribution system."

"Distribution system?!" Mac repeated, amusement coloring his voice in a charming way. "Now you've turned this into an evil, Immortal-destroying plot! I can't believe how paranoid you are."

The glare could have burned a hole through the Highlander. "You don't live for millennia without considering every possibility, MacLeod. Think how devastating a virus like that could be if it infected large numbers of Immortals. It could reduce all of us to sneezing, sniveling weaklings who couldn't defend themselves. You may not be there the next time and I can tell you, I would have had a hard time lifting a sword!"

That sobered Mac with the reminder that Methos was still a potential victim of a renewed bout with a flu bug. The amusement left his voice, "You're right. That could be pretty nasty."

Methos shook his head, poked a finger in his ear. "Uhmm, what did you just say?"

"It could be pretty nasty."

"No, no. The part before that," Methos prodded. "Did I hear you say I was right?"

"I'm just agreeing that if there was a plot, it would be a real mess. I'm not accepting that there is one," Mac hedged. "I still think it was purely coincidental, or at worst, an isolated incident."

"That's because it happened to me. If it had been you, you would be tearing the countryside apart looking for the source of the problem!" Annoyed by Mac's lack of conviction, Methos sprang to his feet and reached for his coat.

"Where are you going?" Mac asked, caught off guard by the sudden flare up of anger.

"Out," Methos muttered and started out the barge.


He paused, barely holding the unexpected wave of ire under control, and gazed back over his shoulder at the Highlander. "You can go back to that list and start checking out the businesses. But that's probably a waste of time."

He slammed the door on the way out and stormed down the gangplank, ready to take on any comers. If an Immortal got in his path today, he would show no mercy. He almost took out a post as he whipped his car away from the dock and onto the road.

Over an hour later, a much calmer Methos slowed his car as he entered the small village of St. Monet, the same village where he and Mac had attended the wine festival almost two weeks earlier. Of course, it looked the same as any other small French town without the garlands of decorations and the extended shopping area the booths had created at the edge of the main street. But, he mused as he climbed out and began walking along the business street, he'd been in this town more than a dozen times over the past few centuries. The place itself was not unknown, but the people were strangers.

That little grocery over there was a butcher's shop in the last century and next to it, where a card shop sold everything from stationery to stuffed toys, had once been a candle shop that had served that function for over six centuries. For a moment, a melancholy nostalgia touched the ancient Immortal. This kind of thing happened to him all the time in Europe and Asia. Places held so many memories, recalled an existence far removed from the present. America and Australia were different, more modern, and any memories from even four centuries earlier were pretty well masked by the new buildings that bore no resemblance to any predecessors. Methos shook off the low mood and plunged into the card shop.

The petite proprietress greeted him coolly, then resumed dusting off some figurines behind the counter. He made a cursory round of the shop, as if browsing, but he paid little attention to the merchandise other than to note the various items she sold. Stopping as he spotted the perfumes and oils, he checked them out more closely, but most were brand names and not likely to come from a peddler. Still, one by one, he lifted each bottle and studied the label more closely, then set it down precisely and moved to the next. Eventually, the proprietress left her post behind the counter and approached him. Just as he expected she would.

"Is there something I can help Monsieur find?" she asked, just a trace of annoyance in her voice.

With his most charming smile, Methos leaped into the opening, "Actually, yes. I encountered a vendor at the fair a couple of weeks ago who was selling scents and oils. I was wondering if perhaps she sold any to your shop."

"No, I only buy the best products from reputable companies. Is there--?" "Would there be another shop in town that might carry her products?" he interrupted.

"Perhaps," she replied with a cool gaze. "You might try the spiritual bookstore one block down. An American runs it." As if that said it all, she turned away from him.

Methos shrugged, sauntered out the door without another word. So much for his charm.

But the spiritual bookstore was, indeed, a block down the street and had that welcoming look of a New Age store. Or a flashback to the sixties, Methos amended as he stepped inside setting off the wind chimes attached to the door. A touch of sandalwood incense wafted past and the soothing sounds of Enya played softly in the background. The shop looked like it had been decorated by a hippie from San Francisco, instantly calling some very enjoyable days to mind. He'd been teaching philosophy at Berkley during the era of peace and love.

"Can I help you?" a throaty, feminine voice asked in schooled French.

As Methos turned toward the voice, he froze in shock. The young woman looked about twenty-five, long blonde hair and amber eyes, slim, with legs that never seemed to stop although she couldn't be more than five foot five. Like the shop, she looked like the summer of love dressed in an earth-toned loose blouse and bell-bottom jeans with a woven headband holding back her hair. For a moment he felt he was in a similar shop on Ashbury and the girl was Serendipity. Not her real name, of course, but the name she used the whole time he knew her.

He blinked and the moment was gone. This woman looked a lot like Serendipity, but there were many differences and that love of nearly thirty-five years earlier would be in her late fifties now. He breathed and managed to say, in English, "Yes. I'm looking for a particular perfume and I thought maybe you could help me."

"You're English," the woman blurted, then flushed. "Forgive me. I don't get too many Englishmen in here. A perfume... Do you know the brand?"

Finding his charming smile more genuinely this time, Methos shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

Arching eyebrows in apology, the woman motioned for him to follow her. "I don't know if I can help. I don't carry many of the brand names. Most of my perfumes and oils are custom made. But you can test them, see if you recognize the scent."

She led him to a section of the store where a selection of wind chimes, sun catchers, candles, and scents were displayed. The rest of the store was filled with books, he'd noted, as he passed, ranging from spiritualism to science fiction. There was even a section on ancient civilizations.

"These are all I have. Like I said, not too many." She paused as the wind chimes jingled again, then offered a smile before moving off to her new customer. "If you need me, I'm Sierra." //Sierra...Serendipity. So similar... only this one was likely to have that as the name on her birth certificate.//

There was that sense of deja vu again as Methos' eyes followed the lithe figure that slipped between the bookcases toward the front of the shop, then he pulled himself back to the business at hand.

The selection of scents was limited, only about twenty different ones counting both perfumes and oils, but the bottles were not the department store variety. The first thing he did was to look for any that might resemble the ones the gypsy had displayed and he quickly found three that were similar. None were marked with a manufacturer, but wore handmade labels that indicated their fragrance. Cautiously, he opened a bottle and sniffed as lightly as he could. Not the same smell... he'd never forget that dreadful potion. He repeated the process with the second bottle, then the third. The last one made him sneeze, but it wasn't the culprit either. Yet he had a hunch the oils might be related.

Still holding the last bottle, he edged back toward the front of the store where Sierra was ringing up a sale. He waited until the customer had gone, then called to the woman. "I think this is similar to what I'm looking for. You wouldn't happen to know who makes this, do you?"

Sierra only had to glance at the distinctive looking bottle to identify it. "Jasmine oil. Of course, I know who makes it. I told you most of mine are custom blends." The whistle of a teakettle sounded from the back room. "Oops, water's hot. Would you care for a cup of tea, Mr. uhh--"

"Pierson." He answered automatically, his mind more focused on the bottle. "Call me Adam. Uh, no-- No, yes. Yes, I'd like that very much."

She laughed. "Come on back. Have trouble making up your mind?"

"Sometimes," he admitted, dutifully following her. It had more to do with the idea that a few social moments might net the desired information a little easier. Besides, a cup of tea did sound good.

Although Methos was braced to face one of those weak herbal teas - please, God, no chamomile-- he was pleasantly surprised to find a sturdy English tea in the pot from which Sierra poured. Adding a touch of milk and sugar, he relaxed into a light slouch and resumed his quest. "Delicious tea. Thank you. Now, you said you knew the maker of the perfume?"

Sierra nodded. "Yes, I buy those scents and oils directly from the maker. Her name is Roselle. I think she must be about eighty but she's been making concoctions for over half a century."

Methos detected the sense of awe in the girl's voice as if Roselle's time on earth was something of a marvel. If only she knew... "Is Roselle a local woman?"

"No, she's a traveler, a gypsy. But this town is part of her route, has been since she was a little girl, she says. In fact, she was here last weekend-- no, the one before that." Sierra paused, facial expression inquisitive. "Was there something specific you wanted? You're not a buyer, are you?"

Taken aback by the question, Methos stammered, "Buyer? Sure, I'll take this one bottle."

"No, silly," the girl laughed. "I meant company buyer. I mean, you have the nose for it -- no offense intended."

"None taken," he replied, finally understanding the question. "No, I'd just like to meet Roselle and talk to her. The perfume is similar to what I really wanted and I think she might have the other one. Do you where I can find her?"

"Not easily. As I said, she is a traveler, but she does make many of the fairs and festivals. I believe there is one coming up this weekend in Rouxsant . Let me check." She quickly found a calendar, ran her finger along the dates and pronounced triumphantly. "Yes! It's a harvest festival. The last of the season, in fact, so you will probably find her there."

"Excellent," he replied, thanking his lucky stars that occasionally did come through for him. Just one last confirmation... "How might I recognize her?"

"Look for a gypsy wagon, primarily green with scarlet birds painted across the front and it has scarlet wheel spokes. She'll be the oldest gypsy you see. Tell her I sent you and she'll give you a discount."

Mission accomplished, Methos finished his tea and thanked Sierra by buying the bottle of jasmine perfume for a price much lower than he'd have paid in Paris for any brand.

"For a lady?" Sierra commented as she handed him change.

"A friend," Methos qualified, thinking he'd give it to Amanda for Christmas.

"Please come again, Adam," she said sincerely and her eyes told him no purchase would be necessary.

"So all we have to do now is go to the festival, find Roselle and question her," Methos informed Mac as he concluded the tale of his investigation.

"You're kidding?! You actually found out who the gypsy was?" Mac asked incredulously. In the old days, gypsies traveled more, didn't fraternize much with the locals or vice versa. When he traveled with them, finding one specific gypsy was nearly impossible for an outsider.

"Wasn't that what I just said, MacLeod?" Methos muttered.

"Yeah. I was just surprised at how easy it was."

"It was good detective work, like Sherlock Holmes looking for all the clues--"

"Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character, Methos."

"Was he?" The question was casual, meant to provoke.

Mac was dubious for a moment. Surely the old man wasn't hinting that he--? No! It was too unlikely. Then he spoke with conviction. "Yes, he was."

"Conan Doyle wasn't though. You know, I met him a couple of times." Methos added.

"No! I'm not buying it! You did not inspire Doyle."

Methos merely affected that know-it-all grin he managed so well that said, so distinctly, "that's for me to know." After an extended moment, he asked, "Did you have any luck with the companies?"

Mac shrugged, "Not really. I spent most of the afternoon on the Internet looking them up. I still have six to research, but nothing's looked suspicious. I've found two that don't have a web presence and no information in any directories."

"We'll have to research them the old fashioned way. Do you have addresses?"

Mac crossed to the bar, hefted the phone directory and dropped it on the table in front of Methos. "Sure... if they're in there."

Unconcerned, Methos nodded, opened the bottle of jasmine perfume and sniffed again. "There's something unique about this scent... something in common with that potion. I can't narrow it-- Ah choo!"

As Mac darted a concerned look his way, Methos hastily stoppered the bottle and sneezed two more times. At the unasked question in Mac's eyes, he replied, "I'm okay. It's just the perfume."

"Allergic?" That could be worrying. Immortals didn't usually have allergies and this could be something lingering from the cell inhibitor Methos carried in his blood stream.

"No, it's more like a tickle. But there's a unique-- for lack of a better word -- scent to this that the spray had in it. I think it may be the base the old woman's using. You up to a harvest festival tomorrow?"

Shrugging, Mac answered, "Why not? At least it will be cooler in the country." For mid-October, Paris had been unseasonably warm.

"Great," Methos replied, getting to his feet. "I'll see you about nine in the morning. You drive."

"Again," the Scot replied with an amused smile. "Aren't you staying for dinner tonight?"

The older man paused, seemed to think about it a moment. "Thanks, but I promised Joe I'd meet him at the club. See ya' in the morning."

Mac's eyes followed him out the door. He felt strangely uneasy with Methos gone. Ever since he'd recovered from the flu, Methos had been almost a fixture at the barge, arriving mid-morning and often staying until late evening. Fact was, he was getting used to having the old cynic around.

Saturday - 11:28 a.m.

Rouxsant wasn't far from Paris and the two Immortals made good time getting there, although Methos spent most of the drive with his head lolling against the window in a half-doze. At first MacLeod had tried to engage him in conversation but had quickly given up as the answers came as short affirmative or negative grunts and Methos had slouched even deeper into the car seat.

As he felt the car come to a complete stop, Methos opened a bleary eye and confirmed they were in a field converted to a parking lot. At the same time, Mac stated, "Wake up, Methos. We're here."

He sat up slowly and gazed out at the long walk to the copse of trees where many vibrant booths had sprung up like so many colorful giant flowers amongst the gold and brown background of the autumn leaves. He badly needed a cup of coffee and it looked like the nearest one was at least a half-mile away. Shit! It had been a long time since he'd indulged in an all-niter at a bar and Joe was one mortal you simply couldn't get the edge on. That man held his liquor better than anyone Methos had met in a very long time. In fact, he couldn't come up with the name of anyone who did better, mortal or immortal. He wouldn't exactly say he was hung over, but he sure needed either more sleep or an infusion of massive amounts of that coffee.

As he opened the door, climbed out and stretched, Mac came around. The Highlander looked like sunshine itself, dressed all in beige from slacks to sweater and a cheery smile that would almost blind any unsuspecting passerby.

"Late night?" Mac asked innocently enough.

"Too late," Methos grumbled and started walking toward the gated entrance. Mac fell in beside him, thankfully not saying too much. As they neared the makeshift ticket booth that had been set up, Methos noted the price and muttered, "Twenty francs! I remember when fairs used to be free. Now we can pay for the privilege of spending our money with vendors. It's not like they have any entertainment or a tournament or anything."

"I'll get it. Kinda grouchy today, aren't you?" Mac asked.

Eyes narrowing in annoyance, Methos glared at Mac. "I just need coffee."

"About a gallon ought to do it," Mac muttered and sprang ahead to pay the fee before Methos' bad mood extended to physical contact. Methos admitted he did feel like lashing out a little, but frankly, he was too tired to exert the effort.

Luckily, a food stand a short ways from the entrance provided the needed beverage and as Methos sipped at a large cup and nibbled on a dry croissant, he began to feel more like himself. Except for the change of venue, this fair looked pretty much like the last one they'd been to, although with far fewer wine booths. Probably a good thing under the circumstances. Still, there were the obligatory craft vendors as well as numerous food merchants and a few performers who moved through the crowd.

The two men strolled along the pathways created by the booths and wagons. They spotted three gypsy wagons on the first row alone, but none matched the description of Roselle's wagon. In fact, they didn't spot it until the fourth row. As they moved closer to confirm it was the right one, the familiar old gypsy, still waving that tambourine and shouting to potential customers, moved out into the corridor of people. Methos would almost consider her comical if she hadn't caused him such misery.

As Roselle called out to try her perfumes, Methos felt his bad mood return. "Try her perfume? I'd like to break every bottle I see," he growled. Unconsciously, he took a menacing step toward the old woman. He felt Mac's hand on his arm, warning him back.

MacLeod stepped forward, a friendly smile on his face. "Pardon me, but we saw you at a fair a couple of weeks ago. You sprayed my friend with a perfume..."

Sharp eyes in the folds of flesh of the old woman's face peered at the handsome Scot, then shifted to study Methos. "Ah, yes! The big-nosed one. It was an error." She turned away from them and stepped back toward her wagon.

"You mean you accidentally did it?" Mac questioned, moving a little closer.

"I mean I sprayed that one by mistake," she replied, pointing a bony finger directly at Methos. "I was trying to spray you, but big nose got in the way." She reached for a spray bottle of perfume. "It was this scent." Both Methos and Mac took an automatic step back from her.

"Why did you want to spray me?" Mac pursued, eyeing the bottle as if it were a bomb.

"A man paid me to do it. He bought the bottle and asked that I spray you as a joke. He said you were old friends and he 'owed you one.' He was not pleased that I missed... didn't want to pay me." She snuffled, then threw her head back and laughed.

Mac glanced uneasily at Methos, then asked, "Do you know the man's name? Can you describe him?"

"Perhaps." She arched an eyebrow and waited patiently.

//Big nose, indeed... I don't need some wrinkled old bat telling me I have a big nose,// Methos thought irritably. //If you only knew who I once was, old woman, you'd think twice about what you say.// Already annoyed, he was ready to shake the information out of her, but no doubt, Mac would pay for it.

Sure enough, the Highlander's hand emerged from his coat pocket with his wallet and he pulled out several bills and handed them over. "A name?"

As her quick hands accepted the money and snaked under the folds of her shawl, she shook her head. "He called himself Clyde, but I don't think that was his name. He is tall, not as tall as you, and has brown hair. A good- looking man, handsome, and slender, though not as thin as your friend there."

//Great! Now she's calling me skinny,// Methos thought with a scowl.

As if in answer to the expression on his face, Roselle added, "He's a cheerful man, not getting all that angry even when the joke didn't go as planned."

"How did he know you didn't spray me?" Mac asked, his forehead wrinkling with his thoughts.

"He was watching."

"What?!" Mac and Methos said it simultaneously and equally as quickly, both of them asked, "Where?"

"From my truck in the parking lot. It was almost a straight view to my booth."

//Just out of sensory range. He probably used binoculars,// Methos thought as he tried to recall if he'd even looked that way. At the time, he'd been well distracted by the cloying smell itself. He listened half-heartedly as Mac continued to get a description out of the gypsy, but his attention snapped back sharply when Mac asked if Roselle still had the bottle of the potion that she'd sprayed on Methos.

With an enthusiastic nod, she went behind the table of her booth and pulled out a six ounce bottle filled to the top. "This is it. I call it Elysian Folly."

Methos watched in horror as MacLeod bought the bloody bottle. "Mac, what the hell are you--?"

The bigger man, caught his arm and pulled him away from the wagon. "Come along, Methos. We don't want to make a scene."

Yanking his arm away, Methos fell into step beside Duncan and continued his question. "What the hell are you doing? Do not open that bottle anywhere around me!"

"Relax. I've got a hunch this potion doesn't have all the ingredients that the one she sprayed on you did. The old woman probably didn't want to miss a sale. But if it does, then we have a sample for Montgomery to study." Mac flipped the bottle in his hand nonchalantly, nearly giving Methos a fit on the spot. His slim, long-fingered hand darted out and snatched the bottle out of the air and Methos pocketed the bottle.

"Fine," he snapped. "I'll see Miles gets it. Did the description click with anyone you know?"

"Maybe." Mac left it there, not expounding any on it.

"Care to share?" Methos prodded.

Mac's face went into a thoughtful look as he considered the request a moment. "Nope." He picked up the pace back to his car.

MacLeod studiously read down the list of the companies he'd gotten from a new perspective, while Methos, eyes shut, sprawled lengthwise on the small futon and quietly sulked. The older man hadn't said much on the drive back, but Mac didn't think the brooding was entirely related to him buying the potion sample. Mac did have a pretty good idea who the culprit might be, but he wasn't ready to share the information with Methos. It was bad enough that his friend now knew conclusively that Mac was supposed to be the target of that attack.

"You feeling okay, Methos?" Mac asked, more than a little concerned that maybe he had inadvertently been exposed to the virus again just by being around the gypsy. The memory of how quickly Methos had gotten ill was still at the forefront of his mind.

"Fine," Methos snapped. "You don't need to keep asking. I'm not coming down with anything."

"Could've fooled me," Mac muttered in a low voice, not expecting Methos to hear.

Opening his eyes, Methos glared at Mac, got up and went digging for a beer. "Maybe I'm just a little disappointed that my friend isn't exactly forthcoming about information here. You're almost out of beer."

"You know where the store is," Mac answered a little more sharply than he intended.

Surprised, Methos' hand froze on the cap he was about to twist, then he straightened sharply, his face going that annoying neutral he managed so easily as he set the bottle on the counter. Without a word, he walked briskly to the door, his hand on the doorknob before Mac called his name. He paused, but didn't glance back.

"I didn't mean that how it sounded," Mac explained lamely. How did he mean it? There was no way to excuse what he'd said.

The hand on the knob twisted and Methos was out. Gone.

"Damn!" MacLeod swore sharply. This wasn't about the beer. He didn't care about the beer. Methos had a right to know what he suspected, but he just wasn't ready to go into detail. Not until he had something more to offer him than just a name. As his eyes shifted away from the door, heading back to the list in his hand, he noted Methos' coat still on the rack. He'd be back. Then, with a sick feeling, he also realized that the normally cautious Immortal had left without his armory. No sword. No gun. //Oh, yeah, he's upset.//

//It's just to the market,// Mac rationalized. //Methos will be fine... unless he's really angry and decides to not come back. Naw... he'll come back for the weapons.//

But the uneasy feeling stayed with MacLeod as he went back to checking the businesses on the list. His eye caught on one, Knickers Industries, and what had seemed like an innocent enough name suddenly became something more sinister. Cory Raines. This type of stunt would be just like him and the business name fit his style, a hint of the roaring 20's in it.

Methos was more annoyed than angry. If the tables had been turned, Mac would be demanding he tell him everything he knew or suspected. Not, of course, that he would reveal anything he didn't want to either, but he'd be more subtle about it. No, this was that lack of trust that Mac demonstrated more often than not in the past couple of years. No matter what he did, it wouldn't make up for the perceived betrayal in the Highlander's eyes.

Funny, when his fever had been so high, Methos would have sworn there was genuine fear and worry in those brown eyes. Must have been a fantasy, something his subconscious wanted to see. At one time, he'd believed MacLeod would have nothing more to do with him, that those sharp words spoken to him when Kronos had come back would be the end of their friendship, so even the kind of closeness they'd had over the past few months was a bonus. Yet, all it took was a moment of distrust and he realized how much of an illusion it had been.

With a heartfelt sigh of disappointment, he pulled the car into the parking space and started up the short set of stairs to the elevator. While it rose the three floors to Rory's office, he fingered the bottle of Elysian Folly and considered the situation. Mac was probably right that this particular bottle was harmless. He'd said it himself -- the likelihood of that old gypsy concocting something that infected Immortals was remote. And someone Mac knew wanted to try the product out on the Highlander. So it was probably someone who didn't want to challenge MacLeod but wanted to cause him discomfort. But the perpetrator also watched while it happened, which meant he wanted to... what? See the results? The virus didn't affect him until they were well away from the fair, which meant the guy just wanted to make sure MacLeod was infected. All this thinking left Methos no more ahead on this problem than he had been. "At least Dr. Watson helped Sherlock Holmes," he muttered as the elevator opened and he exited into the hallway.

The office was quiet on Saturday and Rory had left the door to his office open in invitation. He looked up as soon as Methos entered the office and a big smile crossed his face, lighting up his eyes.

"Adam! You look about five hundred percent better! How are you feeling?"

"About the same as I look," Methos answered, automatically closing the door behind him.

"Expecting trouble?" Rory asked, a slight frown of worry dampening his expression.

With a small laugh, Methos shook his head. "Just habit. I have something for you."

"Is it edible? I'm starved."

"I don't think so." Methos handed over the small bottle. "This is the same scent that carried the virus. Mac bought it this morning and thought you might test it. Probably isn't the same stuff, but you never know."

Cautiously, Rory accepted the bottle, looked it over curiously and set in on desk. "I'll have Stella check it out."

With a slight nod, Methos slid into the chair next to the desk. "Have you made any progress toward getting rid of that inhibitor?"

"Nothing yet. Maybe this will help." Rory stretched, his arms lifting his sweater up slightly to reveal the lightly tanned flesh across his flat stomach.

Under other circumstances, the other man might be tempting, Methos thought, but not now. Not today. "So why are you at the office? I thought you had weekends off."

"Catching up on some paperwork. My receptionist is on vacation. However, I am ready to call it a day and go get food. Want to get a sandwich?" Adding action to the word, Rory pushed to his feet and motioned for Methos to follow him.

"Yeah," Methos answered, becoming aware of his own hunger with the suggestion. Besides, the company of someone who wanted to be around him would be nice. He'd probably exceeded his welcome with MacLeod a bit in the past week and the change would be good.

"Where's your coat?" Rory asked as his friend fell into step beside him.

"I left it at MacLeod's," Methos answered tersely as he punched the elevator button.

Rory nodded, then asked thoughtfully, "What is it you see in that guy, Adam?"

"Sometimes I wonder," he answered with a small smile on his lips. "Most of the time, he's a pretty decent fellow even though he is a bit stubborn."

As the elevator opened, Rory shook his head, stepping in. "I dunno. Sean said that Duncan MacLeod had a noble code of honor and he did what was right... what was fair. He considered him a great friend."

Methos stepped beside him, glanced curiously at the blonde as he tried to read the expression on his face. "Don't judge him until you know him, Rory. He's one of the good guys and he's loyal to his friends."

"Yeah. Right up until they die because of him. You be careful, Adam. It seems to me that being his friend can be pretty dangerous."

"I can take care of myself."

"That's what Sean always said. And he had over a thousand years of doing it." Rory's voice contained more than a touch of bitterness.

"That was an accident. Let it go," Methos advised softly.

Rory's eyes met his, concern evident. "I just don't want to lose you." The elevator opened and he stepped out. With a sigh of resignation, Methos followed him. Converting Rory to a fan of the Highlander wouldn't be easy, but maybe the kid was right and it was better that he and Mac didn't orbit in the same circles.

Monday - 9:45 a.m.

MacLeod's head came up sharply as the internal warning signal of another Immortal told him one was approaching the barge. He expected, hoped, it was Methos. His friend hadn't come back for his coat and hadn't contacted him since he'd left in a huff on Saturday. Mac had tried calling Methos' flat and Joe's but he hadn't been either place. So, the Highlander found himself holding his breath until the sharp knock on the door was followed by Methos' voice. In spite of all the assurances Mac had heaped at himself about Methos' safety, he was, nonetheless, greatly relieved to hear that deep baritone.

"Come on in," he shouted and quickly pulled up the web information for Knickers Industries. He wanted to show this to Methos. He glanced up as the other man entered. Methos looked relaxed and happy this morning, obviously not still angry with him. "Coffee's fresh. Help yourself."

"Thanks. What's this?" he pointed to the computer screen that Mac had turned toward him.

"Possibly the source of our joker," Mac answered.

"Knickers Industries. Sounds like an underwear manufacturer. How does this tie in?"

"Actually, they produce nostalgic items from the roaring twenties, including clothing, spats, hand rolled cigars and scented oils. According to their web page, they do the latter two items at their headquarters in Paris where they have a laboratory and a small manufacturing plant. And..." Mac paused to pull up a page listing the officers of the company. "...the president of this little enterprise is a gentleman called Robert Corwin."

"And--?" Methos prompted when Mac stopped after his triumphant announcement.

"Robert Corwin." It took another moment for Mac to realize that Methos had no idea what the connection was. "Cory Raines?"

"And--?" Methos repeated.

"You haven't heard of him?"

The older man shook his head, expression still asking the question.

"I have a history with Raines. Actually, it involved Amanda as well, but the guy is a first class joker. I should have thought of him sooner."

"I thought you did," Methos commented dryly as he stepped to the kitchen to get the offered cup of coffee.

"Methos, I wasn't trying to hold anything back. I just wanted to be sure before I made any accusations," MacLeod tried to explain. "Now I'm sure. And he likely feels he owes me since I blew him up the last time we met. Of course, he blew me up the time prior to that. But he probably came up with the virus accidentally and figured he'd catch me with it as a joke."

"Some joke," Methos muttered as he settled onto the futon sofa to sip his coffee.

"Don't get comfortable," Mac warned. "We have some investigating to do this morning." At the quizzical look on the narrow face, he added. "You know, some footwork to check out this Knickers company."

"Do I look like Sherlock Holmes, MacLeod?"

"Actually, you do a little. Besides you were the one who said you were a good investigator, inspiring Conan Doyle and all that. I thought you wanted to catch this guy." Mac was stepping dangerously close to the line and he knew it as he cast an innocently entreating look at Methos.

"Okay. Fine." Methos grumbled as he finished his coffee and followed Mac out the door. With relief, Mac noted he grabbed his coat on the way out. Not that he expected trouble with Cory, but he didn't like to see Methos unarmed.

Monday - 11:08 a.m.

The address for Knickers led them to an older business area in the north east side of Paris, but the building where Knickers had its office was fairly new, built within the last decade. Mac gazed uncertainly at it as he parked the car, then shrugged.

"What?" Methos asked, noting the hesitancy.

"Nothing. It's just that it's so unlikely to find Cory Raines as a businessman. His usual pattern is to just take what he wants."

"He's a thief?" Methos caught the short nod of affirmation. "That explains the connection with Amanda. How did you get involved?"

Opening the door, Mac mumbled, "Amanda."

"I should have guessed." Methos followed him across the road.

A quick check of the building directory showed the offices for Knickers Industries on the third floor. Bypassing the elevator, the two men bounded up the stairs and made their way to the receptionist, a petite young woman, dressed in black, lips smeared with blood red lipstick, who looked like she was barely out of secondary school. To top it off, she chewed gum incessantly.

"We'd like to see Mr. Corwin," Mac announced as the girl quit filing her artificially elongated nails long enough to glance up at him.

"I am so sorry," she replied in slightly-accented English. "Mr. Corwin is not in Paris right now. He's not expected back until next month. Is there someone else you can talk with?"

"No, my business is with Mr. Corwin. Can you tell me when he left? I thought I saw him a few days ago." Mac smiled charmingly at the girl.

She gazed past him to Methos, who dressed in black jeans and a black sweater and with his pale complexion, looked more her type. She liked what she saw long enough to suspend chewing on the gum for a few moments, then she turned her attention back to the bigger man. "I'm afraid not. He has not been here for the past six weeks."

Putting on his disappointed face, MacLeod shrugged. "Must have been a mistake. I'll call back next month -- around the beginning?"

"More like the middle. Can I make an appointment for you, Mr.--"

Mac shook his head. "No. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly what my schedule will be. Thank you for your help."

The girl shrugged, cast a last lingering look at Methos, then resumed grooming her nails.

"Well, that wasn't very fruitful," Methos commented as they started back down the steps.

"I dunno. The receptionist seemed to like you. Maybe you should ask her out."

"She is definitely not my type," Methos responded firmly. "And she's way too young. I'd probably get bubble gum on my teeth if I kissed her. So now what? It seems Mr. Robert Corwin is not your Cory Raines."

"It seems. But I still think he's behind it. It's too much of a coincidence, Methos. The name of the company... someone named Corwin on the board."

"And not a shred of evidence to connect any of this with Roselle or the potion."

Mac grunted a non-committal reply that made Methos wonder at the Highlander's less than cheery mood. Now that he thought about it, Mac had seemed somewhat broody ever since they had left the barge. So what was bothering the man now?

As they started out of the building, Methos froze just outside the door, body tensing. Next to him, Mac, too, had gone on alert. Simultaneously, their eyes scanned the area until they spotted a thirty-something-looking man wearing an expensive-looking, tailored silk shirt and a cautious look. As he drew nearer, the cautious look shifted to something more welcoming and MacLeod relaxed.

Methos stepped back, positioning himself against the building and quickly scanning the area for escape routes. Even if this was Cory Raines, Methos wanted to be sure he had a smooth exit path in case things got ugly.

"MacLeod," Raines called as he came within hailing distance. "Long time, no see."

"Yeah," Mac answered. "Can't say I've missed you."

"I'm hurt, MacLeod," Raines said with a touch of feigned pain in his demeanor. "I thought we were friends."

"Yeah, friends. Is that why you tried to give me a virus?" Mac asked bluntly.

"Virus? What are you talking about?" Cory asked innocently, glancing at Methos. He offered a hand. "Hi, I'm Cory Raines. I suppose Mac has told you about me."

"Only the highlights," Methos replied, ignoring the offered hand.

"Don't play dumb," Mac muttered. "We talked to Roselle."

"Roselle?" Cory looked genuinely puzzled.

"The gypsy? The one you paid to spray me with a despicable perfume. Ring a bell?" Mac sounded more annoyed by the moment.

"Oh, the gypsy... It was just a joke, Mac." The dapper man's smile grew a bit wider. "No harm intended."

"No harm? You call inflicting a vicious virus no harm?" Mac growled back. He moved a step or two closer until he could glare into the other man's eyes.

"It was just a little cold. What's all the fuss about? Besides, the old crone missed you."

"She didn't miss me," Methos interjected, trying to keep level headed although he found himself growing angry about it all over again. "And it was a bit more than a cold."

Raines' eyes flicked back to Methos, studying him a little more closely as he continued the charming smile. "Come on, man. I had it... A few sneezes for a day or two. No big deal."

Annoyed with the nonchalance of the man, Methos abruptly straightened and moved toward Raines. "Not that simple. Maybe if you only get a whiff of that potion, it's little sniffles and sneezes, but full on, in your face, it was pretty damn miserable."

The smile faded from Cory's face. "Really? Look, I'm sorry. I didn't intend to cause you any problems, man. It was just a joke on Mac."

MacLeod, too, had moved a little closer and he frowned at that. "Oh, yeah, just sharing your little discovery with me? It's not much of a joke, Cory. But do you know why it causes it? Do you realize that it affects the ability to heal?"

"What? You're kidding," Raines answered, his response a little too quick. The expression on his face was a little too innocent.

"You know, Mac, if he had a whiff of it as well, he might be carrying the same little bug in his blood that I had," Methos commented, intentionally giving the impression he wasn't troubled by it anymore.

'Yeah, that's possible," Mac answered, taking yet another step closer to Raines. The man looked a bit nervous as the two Immortals moved in to block his exit. He was only becoming aware that the two had maneuvered him into a less public area.

"We could expose him to some nasty virus, see if he reacts to it," Methos suggested wickedly, obviously savoring the threat.

Abruptly, Mac pulled out a short-bladed knife, flipping it neatly into his hand with a single movement. "I think a blood sample might work just as well. Don't you, Cory?"

Eyes darting first to the knife, then to the very serious look on Mac's face, Raines raised his hands defensively and began trying to retreat. "Come on, Mac. It was a prank! I didn't intend to harm anyone." He bumped into Methos who was at his back.

"Fine. Then you'd be more than willing to give up a little blood, wouldn't you?" Mac growled.

His expression was deadly serious, not hint of amusement in it. Either Mac was doing a good impression of vindictive or he was really going after his friend, Methos thought as he tried to decide if Mac would follow through. His question was answered a moment later as the knife darted toward Raines and caught the man's arm. Blood oozed out, staining the blue shirt a dark red.

"Shit, MacLeod! That hurt!" Raines shouted.

He shoved backward, bumping Methos aside and in that moment, Methos sniffed a hint of that ghastly scent again. Suddenly furious, he pulled his sword, then pivoted to face Raines. "I think I owe you something," he growled.

"Isn't this a bit extreme?" Cory gasped, staring down the blade of the medieval sword. "I mean, I wasn't trying to kill you or anything."

"Better draw your sword," Methos warned.

Abruptly, Mac's hand hit his arm, knocking the sword toward the ground. "Put that down. This is my fight."

Methos circled the blade like a stalking beast. "How so? I was the one who suffered from his prank. I think I should get a swipe at him."

Mac grabbed Cory's jacket, yanking him closer to him as he glared at Methos. "I said I'll handle it. Got it?"

Meeting the glare head on, Methos snapped out, "Then handle it!"

Cory jerked against Mac's tug, trying to get away from the two men. Mac's attention shifted to him and he brought the knife up to threaten him. Reacting, Cory shoved at Mac's hand, deflecting the knife for the moment, and punched him in the stomach.

An "oof" sound exploded from the Highlander's mouth, then a fistfight broke out. Raines pounded into Mac, raining blows wherever he saw an opening. MacLeod was more picky, catching him in the face, the torso, and jabbing with the knife again.

Sword safely tucked away, Methos shouted encouragement from the sidelines. "C'mon, Mac. Watch out for that left hook..." He cringed as the blow connected. "It's okay. You've got him now. Don't let him weasel away!" As Mac grasped the sleeve of Cory's shirt, he drew blood again, enough to soak the sleeve, which was now torn from the cut. Desperate, Raines wrenched himself away and the shirt tore.

Freed from MacLeod, Cory opened up a little space between them and hefted a stanchion that was holding a "No Parking" sign at the curb and swung it around. It caught MacLeod's head and the big man staggered, then dropped to his knees, eyes crossing for a moment before he fell flat on his face to the pavement.

Methos winced as Mac went down, then took a few quick steps toward Cory, who began running toward a narrow alley next to the building. Ready to pursue, Methos hesitated and glanced around. Several curious people had gathered during the fight.

//Damn!// he cursed silently. //We don't need this kind of attention.// He shifted gears, turned back to MacLeod and knelt down beside him, slapping gently at his face as he noted the blood that had oozed from the now-healed head wound had seeped into his shirt. He stared at it a few moments as the thoughts in his mind began to connect. It was possible... Out loud, he mumbled, "Come on, MacLeod. Wake up before someone calls the police."

As if in answer, the Highlander groaned and his eyes flicked open to gaze at the anxious-looking man hovering over him. "What--? What happened?"

"Mugger," Methos said a little louder than necessary.

For a moment, Mac seemed confused, but then he picked up on it. "Did he get away?"

Methos straightened, offered a hand to help him up. "'Fraid so. You okay?"

"Hell of a headache." Mac seemed a little unsteady as he gained his feet.

Quickly, Methos scooped up the piece of blood-covered fabric from Raines' shirt, then offered Mac his shoulder to lean against as he started to guide him back to the car.

One curious bystander asked, "What happened? Is your friend all right?"

"He'll be fine. Daylight mugger," Methos repeated with a shrug as if to say "what is the world coming to?" "He ran off down the alley."

It took a few more minutes and one more explanation before Methos got Mac to the car and helped him into the passenger seat. As the Highlander started to sit, Methos' hand snaked into Mac's jeans for the car keys. Mac managed a curious look at his friend.

"I'll drive. Give you a little more time to recover. Still feeling dizzy?"

"A little," Mac agreed leaning back against the seat while Methos shut the door.

As he pulled the car away from the curb and headed back to the barge, Methos studied the rear view mirror, making sure they weren't being followed or that no one had called the police, then commented, "Your pal is really charming."

"I don't understand what happened, Methos," Mac groaned, a look of bewilderment on his face.

"He hit you with a post!"

"Not that!" Mac snapped back. "I mean I can't figure why I was so anxious to fight with him. I had no intention of pulling a knife. It was just suddenly there and I was so angry with him."

"Yeah. Me, too." Methos agreed. He hadn't had a lot of time to think about it, but he acknowledged that he'd also reacted with an unwarranted anger. "I may have a theory."

When the older man didn't elaborate, Mac prompted. "Which is?"

"I'll tell you later, after I check it out. I'm going to need a sample of your blood. A piece off your shirt will do." Methos glanced at the bloody garment again. "Head wounds bleed a lot."

Monday - 1:14 p.m.

By the time they returned to the barge, the splitting headache that had been plaguing Mac since he'd regained consciousness had abated some. Now it was merely a throbbing pain that made it abundantly clear that his heartbeat was steady.

"You okay?" Methos asked as he parked the car and gazed across at his companion.

"Better than I was," MacLeod conceded. "The headache is easing some. It should be gone by now, though."

"That was a pretty hard blow," Methos commented opening the door and coming around to meet Mac as he climbed out of the passenger side. "Are you dizzy?"

Mac thought about that for a moment, tested it out by standing on one foot to see if any sense of unbalance occurred. "No. Just the throbbing."

Methos' face seemed to be a little less concerned as he offered a smirky smile. "You'll be all right then."

Nonetheless, he offered a shoulder for the Scot to lean against as they made their way up the gangplank and into the boat. Methos steered him toward the bed.

"You'd better take it easy for a bit. Want something to drink?"

"Water." MacLeod sat on the bed, leaning back on his elbows. He closed his eyes and literally listened to the thump in his head. Something weird was happening. Even a smashed head should ease up sooner than this and the wound hadn't been that serious.

A cool hand brushed against his face and he opened his eyes. Methos leaned over him, holding out the requested glass of water. "Need help, Mac?"

Carefully, MacLeod shook his head, sat up slowly and reached for the glass. "I'm beginning to think I should invest in aspirin. I'm not getting sick, am I?"

"I don't think so. At least, you don't feel feverish." He sat beside the bigger man and reached to rub his shoulders. "Probably just tension. Why don't you relax for a bit? Sometimes head injuries are slow healing. I have an errand to run anyway."

The firm, yet gentle fingers kneading at his shoulders eased the throbbing a little and Mac sighed, allowing his body to relax some. Methos was probably right, but for a while there he was afraid that the he might have been exposed to the virus somehow. It seemed like there was an odd scent around Cory. Had Methos noticed it? He started to ask, but Methos chose that moment to rise.

"If you think you're okay, I need to see to Miles. I'll only be gone a couple of hours, Mac."

Montgomery? He'd had his head smashed and Methos was going to go see the annoying blonde? Mac almost told Methos that, no, he wasn't all right. He needed him to stay. Instead he held his tongue and fumed silently, his face darkening perceptibly.

Methos seemed indifferent to the pout, offering Mac an encouraging smile. "Why don't you nap or something? The rest will probably help."

"Yeah," Mac agreed shortly. And to think he'd practically babied Methos while he wasn't feeling well!

Without another word, Methos left.

For nearly another fifteen minutes, MacLeod fumed about the situation, until he asked himself what was really upsetting him. Was it that Methos had gone to take care of business or that the business included a visit to Miles Montgomery? Reluctantly, he admitted it was the latter situation that annoyed him. That brought up the next question, which was why did it bother him?

Mac grabbed a stronger drink and sat on the edge of the bed as he considered his feelings. With the both blessed and cursed near perfect recall that immortals had, he easily visualized the blonde man sitting beside Methos, tenderly touching his face and comforting him... doing the things that Mac wanted to do. He could see Methos leaning against Miles as he replaced his tee shirt and acknowledged that Methos was willing to allow that friend to take care of him.

For a moment, the logical side of MacLeod's brain reminded him that Montgomery had a medical degree and that Methos was simply seeking help from someone who was qualified. //Yeah, right!// the more emotional side answered as he recalled the way Montgomery looked at Methos. There had been an intimacy between the two men that had excluded MacLeod. An intimacy that made him... well, jealous! There, he'd admitted it. He was jealous of the relationship Methos had with Miles.

Taking that a step further was decidedly uncomfortable for the Highlander. He had to ask himself why he was jealous. What was it between the psychiatrist and his best friend that upset him. It wasn't just that Methos had another close friend. Methos probably had several other close friends, including Joe Dawson, and that hadn't bothered him any. Well, maybe Byron did, but he'd just plain disliked the poet from the moment he'd met him. That dislike didn't have anything to do with Methos' history with Byron.

All this reflection was causing Mac's head to pound even more. Heeding Methos' advice, he stretched out on the bed and closed his eyes. His mind still tracked on the last train of thought and he recalled the look on Byron's face when he saw Methos, followed by the speculative appraisal he'd cast over the Highlander. At the time, MacLeod hadn't given it much thought, but now he recognized the expression as one an old lover might give the newest flame in a man's affections. And his own reaction to Byron had been similar, even if he hadn't realized it at the time. He'd been jealous.

Jealous. The word hung in his mind. //So what do I want? Methos?// As if opening a door, a dozen images of Methos assaulted him... each causing him to reflect on his emotions about the old immortal.

Methos sobbing in the submarine bay in Bordeaux with Cassandra poised to kill him... Mac's own fear of losing this friend, of not being able to stop the woman in time. Then when the threat was gone, his own deep desire to comfort Methos... to hold him and love him.

Methos sprawled across his bed in Seacouver, an unnervingly sexy body in tight jeans. Mac had reacted sharply at finding Methos there. He'd told himself it was because he thought he'd been telling tales to Richie, but it was more than that.

One by one, the images stirred up feelings he hadn't realized he had about the world's oldest immortal. Feelings that weren't easy for the Scot to accept. He drifted into a light slumber with these thoughts on his mind.

Monday - 8:08 p.m.

Methos stepped through the doorway of the barge and froze. The place was ablaze with candles and the small table set for two with fine china, wine glasses and an antique candelabra holding a trio of thin tapers. To say Methos was stunned was an understatement. From the small kitchen wafted the tantalizing odor of oregano and basil along with slightly off-key humming.

Regaining his senses, Methos resumed his course down the stairs and called out, “Expecting someone for dinner, Mac?”

“Just you,” the Scot answered, poking his head through the opening between the kitchen and the living room.

“A little excessive, isn’t it?” Methos commented, thinking that the blow to Mac’s head had been a little more serious than he’d thought. //Maybe I should call Rory…//

Across from him the Highlander grinned, "I just wanted to do something special for dinner. I’ve made pesto and linguini and lemon-broiled chicken breasts. This kind of food calls for an elegant setting.”

Staring, mouth nearly hanging open, Methos started for the phone. “I think you’ve lost your mind, MacLeod.”

“No, Methos!” The big man came around the bar quickly. “I just realized I don’t often tell you how much you mean to me.”

“That’s it! I’m calling Miles.”

Mac’s hand clamped down over his as he picked up the phone. “Hold on a minute! Just hear me out. Sit down… please.”

For a heartbeat, Methos’ eyes met Mac’s dark ones, searching for any sign of madness. He seemed rational, nothing wild in his eyes, just a sincere look that bordered on pleading. Nodding, he released the phone and accepted the invitation to sit, settling on the uncomfortable futon couch.

With a sigh of relief, Mac poured wine for them, then dropped to the cushion chair across from Methos. He sipped, seeming slightly nervous, before he began to speak.

“Methos, when you were really ill… when I was afraid that I might lose you, I experienced some… emotions that I wasn’t expecting. All I knew was I couldn’t lose you and…” He paused as if uncertain how to continue.

“And?” Methos echoed softly, not sure if he wanted to hear this.

“It’s hard to explain, but I was so distrustful of Montgomery and you and he seemed to have a… friendship that was closer than we have. When he touched you, it made me angry. It just took me a while to figure out why. Then when you were delirious and muttering about hot fish and berries and—“

Methos nearly choked on his wine. “Hot fish?” he managed to repeat, his voice sounding strangled. //Oh, God! What the hell did I say?!// He felt more than slightly panicked and fought to keep a calm expression.

“Yeah… and berries and a cool stream. There was a look in your eyes that – well, that touched me deeply.”

Methos sat silently, unable to control any of the wild thoughts running through his mind, let alone voice them. Unexpectedly, a chime from the kitchen announced that part of dinner was ready and Mac excused himself to take care of it. //Saved by the bell…literally,// Methos thought.

At least, it seemed he was as the Scot began loading up the plates with a delicious-looking meal. He gestured to Methos to take a chair and happily refilled the wine glasses. Methos sat, arguing with himself that Mac hadn’t had a clue about what he’d meant when he’d been babbling in that delirium. This was followed with a fervent prayer that Mac wouldn’t ask him to explain.

Through dinner, the prior conversation seemed to be forgotten. MacLeod moved on to discussing food, from how to make pesto, and the old Italian chef who’s taught him in the eighteenth century, to the finer points of the wine they were drinking – one of the ones he’d purchased at the now sourly-remembered festival. And he kept refilling the glasses. Worse, Methos kept drinking the wine to avoid any conversation.

As soon as the table was cleared and Mac broke out a second bottle, he refilled the glasses once again and focused a probing gaze straight into Methos’ eyes. It was one of those unnerving looks that Methos was generally good at applying to others. To have it so focused on him was undeniably uncomfortable. He wet his lips and swallowed a little more wine.

"You know, I've been thinking about this for the past week or so, " Mac finally said breaking the silence that felt like it had gone on forever.

"Dinner?" Methos asked automatically, hoping to interject some levity and break the intensity of Mac's mood.

Mac's soft smile was barely an acknowledgement of Methos' response. "The night we argued… that I left you for a while--"

"Oh, hey, that was my fault," Methos interrupted. "I get crabby sometimes."

"No, no! That wasn't what I was thinking about. It was afterward, when your fever went up again. You were babbling at me in a mixture of languages… a little Gaelic, maybe Finnish. I couldn't quite make it out. But the point is, the way you looked at me then was… It was very sensual, Methos." Mac had practically blurted the last words out. His face wore an imploring look, as if begging Methos to understand and help him out.

Methos felt a lurch in his stomach and he thought there might be a good possibility he could be ill even now. Taking a deep breath, he managed to mumble, "I was delirious, Mac. I have no idea what I said or what I was thinking." Even as he said it, vague recollections of the Highlander's face peering down at him with a worried look flashed in his mind and he could hear his own voice saying words that should not have been said to Duncan MacLeod in any language.

Mac’s hand moved to rest on his and Methos reluctantly brought his eyes to meet the intense brown ones that still gazed unwaveringly at him. The look was beyond sensual and, as Mac’s thumb slowly began rubbing lightly at the mound of flesh just below his own thumb, Methos’ mouth went dry. There was no misinterpreting that look.

“Mac, I don’t think this is a good idea,” he managed to say even as the voice in the back of his head screamed at him to shut up and accept it. He wanted this, but not under these conditions. Mac wasn’t in full control, was probably under the influence of that damned potion.

“I disagree. What I’ve been trying to say is that I want you.”

"Mac, please don't--" Methos started to object, a deep- rooted fear of unforgivable consequences overwhelming his own desires.

With a slight leer, Duncan leaned forward and his other hand caught the back of Methos' neck, pulling him into the kiss. The Highlander's full mouth felt hot, the taste of the wine still hidden in tiny droplets that spread against the older man's lips. But the feeling of intoxication didn't stem from the drink.

As Mac's tongue pressed against his mouth, first begging, then demanding entrance, Methos struggled to maintain his resolution, but he couldn't control the desire, the need to accept this advance from Mac. It was what he wanted-- had wanted from almost the moment he'd first met the Scot. He yielded, returning the kiss with an enthusiasm born of years of frustrated desire. If there would be regrets and repercussions, he'd deal with them tomorrow -- or whenever Mac recovered.

It was as if a dam had burst. Suddenly their hands and mouths roved over each other in eager streams of passion, touching, tasting and seeking new channels of sensation. Mac's hands tore at Methos' shirt, nearly ripping it off him to get to the smooth muscles of his torso and caress them. Gradually, Mac edged Methos toward the bed.

With fingers that felt like sausages, Methos fumbled with the button on Mac's jeans. //Oh, jeez, this is really cool,// he thought dismally. //Who'd believe I have five thousand years of experience at this.// His only comfort was that Mac was having just as much trouble getting his own boots off. Finally! The difficult button slipped free and his uncooperative fingers found the zipper pull and he yanked it down. About the same time, Mac got the resistant boot off, laces still knotted, and helped pull his jeans off the long, muscular legs.

Mac laughed a little nervously. Nearly naked, he pulled Methos into his arms, pressing his bare chest tightly against Methos' cool, smooth one. Methos felt the warmth of Mac's skin, the slight tickle of his chest hairs against his own flesh. As his mouth found a starting point at the indentation at Methos' collarbone, Mac began working his way up the long, slim throat. Methos tilted his head back, stretching his throat even more.

The room felt incredibly warm, Methos thought. He could hardly breathe and was slightly dizzy. Abruptly, he was shoved back onto the bed, then it was his turn to be undressed and Mac took control, firmly pushing his hands out of the way when he reached to help. With less trouble than he'd had with his own boots, Mac removed Methos' shoes and socks, then tugged his jeans down. Mac cast a quick grin at him as he noted Methos wasn't wearing undergarments.

In a few more moments Mac had stripped off the remainder of his clothes and both men lay naked on the bed, hands roving freely over each other's body. Mac tried to wedge an arm under Methos' torso to roll him closer just as Methos decided to shift his position and the sharp jab of an elbow caught him in the rib cage. An 'oof" sound escaped from Mac and Methos looked apologetic, mouthing a "sorry" at him.

//Damn!// MacLeod thought. They were both so anxious about this, so wanting it to work. Being honest with himself, he admitted he wasn't quite sure what he was doing. There had been a few occasions with men in his four hundred years, but nothing that really involved much foreplay. He assumed Methos had experience, but right now the expert wasn't demonstrating his skills and, in fact, seemed as awkward as he did.

As if powered by similar thoughts, Methos changed positions and began working his way down Mac's body head first. His mouth blazed a pathway across the broad muscles, his tongue pausing to tease around the belly button. The headlong change brought Methos' own body parallel to Mac's, allowing easy access to him as well and the bigger man took advantage. When Methos lingered at his stomach, Mac slipped an arm under his slim hip, then cupped the smooth, muscled mounds of his butt in his hands, pulling him closer so that his mouth could also explore.

The mutual assault continued, accompanied by frequent gasps of pleasure from one or the other until each reached the other's now fully-loaded erection. Here, Mac hesitated where Methos didn't. He took the sensitive organ into his mouth, enveloping it and caressing it with his lips. Mac groaned as the wave of pleasure shot through him. Wanting to return the feeling, he slid his hand around the swollen penis near his face, caressing it as he had his own on occasion. The slender body squirmed against him, eager for the attention.

//This is so good,// Mac conceded happily, as the warm, moist cave of Methos' mouth held him and rippled over him. //Could he give the same pleasure to him?// He leaned his head in to lightly touch the full tip with his lips, almost a kiss rather than a caress, then letting his tongue rim it ever so slightly. He was rewarded with a deep groan from the other man.

Unexpectedly, a probing finger slipped into the tight opening of Mac's ass. The Highlander reacted automatically, jerking a leg up just as Methos raised his head. Mac felt his knee make contact with something that yielded under the impact.

Methos gasped, his whole body jerking away and a moment later he was sitting up and swearing vehemently in several languages, although the words were muffled by his hands covering his face.

Pulled out of the stupor of the sexual play, Mac sat up and muttered, "What'd you say?"

Then he saw the blood starting to ooze through Methos' fingers as the man mumbled something about "broken nose."

"Shit!" Mac exclaimed, reacting quickly. When Methos moved to get up, presumably to head for the bathroom, Mac caught him and shoved him flat on the bed. "Stay there. I'll get cloths."

He returned quickly with a bowl of water, towels and wash cloths. Positioning a towel, he removed his friend's hands from the injured nose, making sure the towel caught the well of blood they'd held. Tears ran in rivulets over the blood-stained cheeks.

//Oh, yeah, it hurts,/./ Mac thought guiltily. //I did a great job this time.// Gently, he pressed a damp cloth against the injured nose, trying not to add any unnecessary pressure. "Ok, just take it easy, Methos. I'm going to press against it just to make sure it's healing okay."

Not allowing Methos any way to respond, he proceeded to run careful fingers along the bridge and down the long, aristocratic nose. A sharp hiss of pain made Mac hesitate a moment, but then he resumed, ignoring the tension in the body below him and the clenched fist that shoved into the bed. Not broken, his fingers told him and he felt an irrational relief at knowing that, even though a break would have healed quickly. So he just smashed it with his knee and it hurt like hell. And was bleeding profusely, he noted, as he removed the cloth and replaced it with another.

"It's not broken," he told Methos, as if that would make him feel better.

"It bloody feels like it!" Methos muttered in a muffled voice that sounded almost as it had when he was congested with the cold. "Congratulations, Mac. In five thousand years, you're the first to smash my nose during sex!"

"I'm sorry," Mac replied automatically, but he meant it. This was definitely not what he'd anticipated for the evening. As gently as possible, he put pressure against the nose to try to slow the bleeding. "But it is kind of prominent," he added defensively.

Growling, Methos closed his eyes, wincing a little against the added pain. Gradually, the blood flow slowed and Mac eased off with the pressure. Satisfied the crisis was passed, he removed the wash cloth, wet another and proceeded to lightly wipe the red ooze away from nose and mouth, then carefully scrubbed it off Methos' cheeks.

Rinsing the cloth out, he returned it to the quiet face and tenderly washed over the eyes before cleaning his whole face again. Methos kept his eyes shut, holding whatever sarcastic thoughts he had within him. Mac gazed at him, watching as the bruising around his nose disappeared, and the smooth, normal look of his face returned. Mac was very fond of that face, he admitted. Fonder than he would have thought possible when he first met Methos. In fact, much fonder than he would have admitted even two weeks earlier.

Quietly, he lifted Methos' right hand and began washing the palm and fingers methodically, getting the red stains off. He repeated the process with the left hand, wiping the last of the blood away, then became aware of Methos' eyes on him.

"I could have washed them," he said simply.

"I know. But I wanted to do it."


Mac set the cloth aside, then stretched out on the bed beside Methos. He gazed deeply into the older man's face then said, "Close your eyes."

"Why?" Methos asked warily.

"Just do it."

Uncertainty still in his face, Methos complied, allowing the lids to drop until the eyelashes rested against the lower lids.

//Beautiful,// Mac thought. //He really is beautiful.// Cautiously, he leaned forward, gently planting a kiss on each eyelid. He felt Methos twitch at the first contact, but he kept his eyes shut. Moving easily, Mac shifted to match his mouth to the one below him and pressed his lips hard against it. Methos' arms slid around his body, pulling him forward and working his own way into the kiss.

"Let's take it a little slower this time," Mac murmured softly into his ear.

"No argument here," Methos answered, running his hands over Mac's chest, his fingers stopping at his right breast to tweak the nipple.

Mac sucked in air sharply, yielding to the other man's touch. He started to respond, reaching to reciprocate the same sensation for Methos. The older man pulled back a little, slipping his hand to catch Mac’s. “Let me guide this, Duncan. Just enjoy it.”

//Duncan… I like the sound of his voice saying my name. Hell, I like the sound of his voice, the deep resonance and pure tones of it. Did he ever have an accent of any kind? Even when he speaks French or Latin, it’s pure and smooth and…Oh!// His straying thoughts were focused in as Methos applied a lip lock to his throat, tongue rippling over flesh that he hadn’t realized was so sensitive to this type of stimulation. In fact, Methos was showing him all kinds of places where he hadn’t experienced these kinds of sensations before. Talk about “tingling in places he didn’t know he had!”

The teasing mouth had shifted down to his left nipple, the tongue circling it like a bee approaching a virgin flower, looking for just the right landing spot. And like a bee, Methos zeroed in and his teeth closed lightly on the sensitive nub, scraping it enough for Mac to suck in his stomach sharply in reaction. As the careful, determined scraping continued, Methos moved a hand down to run very lightly over his hip and follow across to his inner thigh. The touch was so light it almost tickled. Instead, it excited him more, making his body crave more of that delicate touch. Then the teasing hand danced lightly over his balls, rubbing back and forth against them with the same care.

“Oh, fuck…” Mac gasped, wriggling as the new sensation shot through him like an electric wire.

“Working on it,” his companion managed to gasp, just before he shifted his position and pressed his body against the slightly larger one. He matched snugly against Mac and the Scot felt the swollen warmth of his – lover’s?! – cock pressing against his belly. His own engorged erection was pressed against Methos’ inner thigh and every move rubbed it, making him groan with pleasure and anticipation.

Adjusting his position again, Methos whispered in his ear. “Lubricant?”

Not quite the sexy words he expected to hear, but Mac responded by freeing an arm and reaching for the drawer handle of the bedside table. His anxious fingers fumbled around until they were shoved aside as longer, slimmer fingers located the tube.

Mac had occasionally reached for lubricant himself, but usually from the position that Methos now occupied. A touch of concern brushed through his mind, a moment of uncertainty about what they were doing, then vanished as the warm oil was spread over his full “sausage.” The comparison in his thoughts made him smile as he recalled Methos’ outrage at being called an “unstuffed sausage.” Perhaps he had reason.

But there was no more time for his mind to linger on that as the rubbing almost brought him to the edge and he found his thoughts no longer coherent. He dug his hands into Methos’ shoulders, unaware that his nails were cutting the flesh with the intensity of the grip. Automatically, he thrust his hips forward, shoving himself further into the hot, oiled hands that held him. God! He was going to explode, here and now. He struggled to control the threatening orgasm.

Abruptly, Methos abandoned that task, shifting his legs and arms to twist Mac onto his side. In another heartbeat, the oiled hands circled over his buttocks, making sensuous circles that grew gradually smaller. Methos' mouth had resumed teasing at his nipples. Sounds almost like whimpers of desire forced their way out of him and mingled with moans of need. //Now, dammit!// his mind screamed.

With little warning, one of the long, slender fingers poked at the tight opening at his rear. Mac tensed, pulling away from the intrusion automatically. //No! Not that! I can't...// His body rebelled at the thought. Methos made a second attempt, pushing his oil- slicked finger in slightly, then retreating as Mac's cheeks tightened even more and he moaned, "No... Don't, Methos."

Without a word, Methos ceased that approach, realigned himself facing Mac, then brought his mouth to the Scot's groin, licking him to rekindle the intensity of his erection. His lips circled the tip, cleaning the juices that spilled out. Mac swallowed hard, clutching at the bed covers. He'd never realized how sensitive so much of his body was. He'd had wonderful lovers, women who knew how to please him, but this was totally different. Methos knew ways to stimulate him that he'd not experienced before, ways like... aah, that!

Mac's mind seemed hazy, as if his brain had disengaged and given itself over to the physical pleasure totally. Still, through it he thought, //When did I lose control? I want to do him, make him groan. Claim him.// With effort, he shoved Methos back against the bed, gaining position above him and growled out, "My turn." The expression on his face was pure desire.

With his pent-up passion released, Duncan MacLeod proceeded to make a lollipop of the pale, slender body as his mouth explored from his neck downward. When Methos attempted to reassert himself, trying to shove Mac away a little, he captured the smaller hands and pressed them down against the bed, pinning him down. The rich baritone voice moaned deeply as he sucked at his belly button and nuzzled the hair at his groin. His mouth lightly touched the straining cock, tasting the fluid dripping out of it. //Salty, but tolerable.// He'd never tasted a man before.

"Oh, damn, Duncan! Take me..." Methos gasped in a deep, almost pained voice.

"You want it?" MacLeod asked, his voice raw with his own desire. Groping, his hand found the tube and he squeezed oil onto his hands, then rolled Methos almost onto his stomach. Driven by the burning need of his body, Mac eagerly parted the smooth mounds, spread oil between them but barely into the opening. Vaguely, he was aware that the body under him tensed slightly just before he drove himself into Methos' butt.

A deep groan tinged with pain barely registered in his mind as he began a series of deep penetrating strokes to bring him to release. Under him, the strong body bucked and rose with each plunge, working to achieve a rhythm with him.

Then-- release! Wave after wave shuddered through him as his juices were injected into the warm, snug ass. Methos rode the final rough thrusts, gasping deeply with each stroke, his voice barely audible under the moan and exclamations that poured from MacLeod.

"Oh, god! So good," he croaked, falling against the hot body, his heart pounding as if he'd run a marathon. He fought to catch his breath, to cool down, content now to hold his lover tightly to him.

Until he realized that Methos' body hadn't relaxed, that he still panted like an old hound on a blistering day. Quickly, Mac rolled him to his side and Methos shifted a now free hand to reach for his own still-bulging erection. Guilt nagging at him, Mac intercepted the hand, and brought his own to caress the hot pillar of flesh that throbbed impatiently. Pulling Methos into the curve of one arm, Mac kissed him passionately before bringing his mouth down to suck as he continued to stroke him.

That was all it took. He exploded like a rocket into Mac's mouth, the hot fluid pouring out and Mac swallowed as much as he could before he pulled away and the rest oozed over the pair of them. A final groan as he climaxed, then Methos dropped his head against Mac's shoulder, trembling with the exertion. Tenderly, Mac pulled him closer, rubbing at his neck and shoulders, then he reached to pull a cover over them as they began to cool down.

As he held Methos close, he noted several bruises on his shoulders and at his wrists that were starting to fade. //I did that,// he realized in surprise. He pressed a gentle hand against a particularly deep bruise and felt Methos tense. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

Incredibly, Methos' lips formed a gentle smile. "It's all right. I can handle a little rough sex. Besides, I started it."

Mac just stared at him, creating a permanent memory of Methos in his arms, the sweat-dampened hair lying across his forehead and the clear hazel eyes bright with pleasure. He didn't want to let this moment go.

But eventually, Methos pulled away from him. "I don't know about you, but I really need a shower, Mac." Duncan nodded, acknowledging that they were both sweaty and sticky. Methos slipped out of bed and padded a bit stiffly to the shower. Mac leaned on his elbow, watching as he pulled the door shut behind him. No invitation to join him.

As the steaming hot water hit him, Methos turned in it, rotating around until he was completely drenched before he reached for the bar of soap. His body still ached, not exactly in practice for that particular sexual intensity. Mac had been rough, certainly not the roughest he'd encountered, but more so than anyone he'd been with in the last couple of centuries. Heaven knows, he didn't bruise easily and the Highlander had managed to put quite a few black and purple patches on him. But then, the man was practically a virgin when it came to same gender sex. It was patently obvious in how he acted and reacted.

But he hadn't been trying to soothe Mac's feelings when he said he started it. He actually had, doing everything he could to stimulate the man so that he would think this was the most wonderful experience he'd ever had in his life. //So that he would want more... Who am I kidding? You're pathetic, Methos,// he scolded himself, then rubbed the washcloth gimgerly at his backside, wincing slightly. That hurt too, but it would pass soon. He'd wanted that as well. No, needed it.

He turned to let the water pour down his back and leaned his head against the shower wall. If there was another opportunity, he'd handle it differently.

Within a few more minutes, he'd dried off, wrapped a towel around him and stepped boldly back into the bedroom. Mac looked up, smiled warmly at him as he slipped the covers aside. "Get into bed. I'm just going to take a quick shower."

Methos nodded, accepting the little kiss Mac planted on his lips as he passed him to go to the bathroom. At least Mac still wanted him in his bed, he thought, mildly encouraged. As he settled in, Methos closed his eyes and wondered why Mac hadn't joined him in the shower.

The steady sound of Mac's breathing had a soothing effect on Methos. Sharing a bed with someone new was always an adjustment, but thankfully the Highlander didn't snore. Mac's arm rested across his waist, not holding him exactly, but just resting comfortably. Apart from adding a band of warmth to his midsection, it didn't bother Methos. He tried not to think about the consequences of this night if Mac woke to a clearer head and anger that the one who was supposed to be in control let this happen.

Instead, he considered the strange potion they'd encountered twice now. His own experience with it had been totally unpleasant and the illness was severe. Mac had been abnormally angry and aggressive around Raines that morning, then amorous tonight. If all of these reactions were from the potion, then Raines had developed more than one strain of it. How many more did he have? With his thoughts on this, he remembered he needed to call Rory. He glanced at the luminous face of his watch. Nearly eleven-thirty... not too late.

Carefully, he slipped out of bed, easing Mac's arm to the mattress as he did so that he didn't disturb him. Pulling Mac's robe snuggly around his smaller body, he picked up the phone and quietly made his way to the deck. As he dialed the number, he gazed contentedly at the soft lights of Notre Dame and the surrounding city. A light smell of ship oil drifted along with the river. Once Viking ships had sailed down the Seine. He knew... he had been on one. It all looked different from the past, but the heart of Paris was forming even then.

Rory's phone rang several times before he picked it up. "Yeah, hello..." the softly accented voice answered in English as Methos heard the phone bump against something. //Oops, maybe he has gone to bed...//

"It's me," he said quietly. "Not too late, is it?"

"Adam... hi. No, I was... well, I guess I drifted off. I expected you to call earlier."

"Something came up." It wasn't a total fabrication. "Any news?"

"Yeah... hold on a sec..." The phone was set down before Methos could reply. He could almost imagine the blonde man digging through his jacket for a paper with notes-- only Rory didn't need notes to remind him of his findings.

When he returned, Rory sounded more alert. "Okay, here's the deal..." And he began to explain the test results.

Methos listened attentively, not needing to ask any questions as his suspicions were confirmed and expanded on. "Thanks. I owe you one," he said as Rory concluded.

"You owe me more than one," the blonde replied with a laugh. "And one of these days I'm going to collect."

"Right. 'Night, buddy." Methos smiled as he released the phone line. There was no question what kind of payment Rory was thinking about.

"Anything interesting?"

Mac's voice startled him and he swiveled to face the Scot. MacLeod had pulled on his jeans and little else. He leaned against the cabin of the barge, well within hearing distance.

"Yeah, there is," Methos answered. "Miles tested the blood samples from you and Raines." He watched as Mac straightened, his body reflecting the sudden attention in the Highlander.


"You're infected with the same inhibitor in your bloodstream. At least, it looks like the same inhibitor, but there's a subtle difference. You didn't get it from me." Methos stressed the last, wanting to make it clear to Mac.

"Raines?" Mac made the logical conclusion.

Methos nodded. "It was the cologne. I thought something was familiar about the scent."

"But I didn't get ill."

"No, your reaction was different. And so was mine this time. What were you feeling when you were talking to Raines?"

"Anger. I wanted to hurt him, but I've felt that way a few times when I've been around Cory."

"Only you wanted to act on it this time. So did I. I believe this is a different potion. I think Raines has more than one developed. This one affected you."

"Then Cory is infected also," Mac concluded. "He's carrying the same inhibitor."

"Well, that's the really interesting part," Methos answered slowly, allowing the words to linger. "Raines isn't carrying it. In fact, he has an additional element in his blood that seems to protect him. Miles is going to have his pals try to isolate it and make a serum."

Mac's face clouded for a moment. "Or we can go to the source."


"That company of his where the s-o-b is probably manufacturing this. Do you see what he's doing, Methos?"

Pleased with Mac's reasoning on this, Methos nodded.

"Get dressed," Mac ordered. "We have some investigating to do."

"Now? Mac, it's a security locked building. How do you propose we get in?" In spite of his protest, Methos was impressed with the other man's desire for immediate action. //About time. Now it's become personal.//

With a small laugh, Mac got that smug look on his face and answered, "Like neither one of us has ever broken into a building before?"

"You've done that?" Methos asked, innocence plastered all over his face.

The Scot tilted his head, the smug smile growing. "Amanda taught me."

"Oh? Then maybe we should call Amanda."

"I think we can manage," Mac replied, stressing each word. He motioned for Methos to move.

Chuckling, Methos followed him back inside.

Tuesday - 02:10 a.m.

MacLeod kept alert eyes on both entrances to the alley while Methos worked to open the security door. One good thing about remodeling a building in an older business district was that there was very little traffic during late night hours. An occasional car cruised by, even a patrol car, but the small light they were using didn't draw attention.

Methos had insisted they stop by his place where he picked up a few things, namely a palm-sized computer, a tool kit and an interface unit. It seemed the old immortal was almost as skilled at breaking and entering as Amanda. Or at least as well equipped. He even had paper thin gloves that he insisted they both wear. "Forensics are much better than they ever used to be, Mac. You can't leave prints on anything," he'd stated firmly as he pulled his own gloves on before getting out of the car.

"How much longer?" Mac asked in an overloud whisper. He was getting a little fidgety.

"Patience, Mac. Rome wasn't built in a day, you know. Or several decades for that matter," Methos answered in a much softer voice. "Burned pretty quickly though."

Methos had managed to hook the computer up to the security keypad and was quickly keying something into the computer. Mac admitted that he was glad Methos knew what he was doing. Breaking and entering, like so many other things in the past fifty years, had gone high tech. The older man had kept up with the changes far better than he had. It was just that the technical world had developed so quickly and Mac hadn't been overly interested.

As he glanced back again, he had to ask, “Where’d you learn to do this? Amanda?”

“Internet. Even high tech crooks have web sites…:

An audible click told Mac that his friend had succeeded.

"Voila," the soft voice said triumphantly. Methos gently pushed the door open, paused to blow a light powder into the entranceway. Satisfied, he led the way in.

Cautiously, MacLeod followed. A series of dull-toned security lights cast a pale, yellowish glow along the hallway, but once they reached the staircase, they needed the torches they'd brought to provide any illumination into the dark. Up one floor, then Methos pulled open the door onto the landing and checked it before motion Mac on.

"Apparently, the door locks are the main security," he commented as he cast the light into the corridor. "Not even cameras."

"Raines probably went the least expensive route possible," Mac commented. "After all, who'd steal period clothing and novelty items."

"Good point. The perfume lab should be on this floor." Methos worked his way toward the front of the building while Mac paused to check a couple of the doors along the way, noting that none of them were marked. No name plates, no numbers... Offices, maybe, or-- He tried a knob, but it was locked. So was the next one.

Methos approached him, returned from the far end of the hall. "Okay, I don't see anything that looks like it leads to a lab. Just these office doors all the way down. Maybe your information isn't right."

"Give me a lock pick," Mac demanded, holding out a hand. Methos looked curious but handed the requested tool over.

Old-fashioned door locks he could handle, MacLeod thought with vindication as he maneuvered the tool carefully and felt the door tumblers shift. Easing the door open, he shined the light inside and a slow, satisfied smirk crossed his face. "Take a look, Methos."

As the smaller man drew closer to look, Mac pushed the door fully open and stepped inside. The doors were a front for a long room reaching from the stairwell to the front of the building, They probably had fronted separate offices at one time, but now the walls had been removed to accommodate rows of mixing equipment, glass bottles, and other paraphernalia used to develop, produce and bottle perfumes. Near the back was a separate laboratory, which was enclosed by glass walls.

The quick grin on Methos' face as he pointed toward the enclosed office made Mac feel illogically pleased. Within a few minutes, they'd broken into the lab office. Methos went straight for the line of bottled products on the shelf while Mac gave the lab the once over, generally noting everything, before he headed for the file cabinets.

"There are codes of some kind on these samples, four letters and a three digit number," Methos said as he carefully examined the bottles, turning them gingerly in his hands. Mac watched him for a few moments, noting the bottles all looked similar, either a transparent yellow or green and about the same consistency.

Methos held one of the bottles at an arm's length and partially unstoppered it long enough to get a whiff of the somewhat musky and disgusting smell. "This is the potion all right," he announced, shaking his head sharply in reaction.

"Do you think it's wise to open it?" The Highlander looked concerned, asking the question as Methos replaced the stopper.

Almost as if it were an answer, Methos sneezed. "Damn stuff does it to me every time," he muttered. "No, Mac, it's probably not wise, but it was the quickest way to identify it."

"So long as you don't get sick again," Mac muttered.

Methos glanced at Mac and his mouth curved into a slightly amused smile. "Hey, we're going to find the cure, remember? Raines has to have it here."

"Right," Mac agreed, silently adding, //I sure as help hope so.// The very thought of going through another week with a sick Methos -- or worse, being that ill himself, made MacLeod very concerned. Impatiently, he tried another cabinet door. "This one is locked."

In a few moments, the other man was beside him, tiny lock pick in hand and, in barely another breath, the lock popped open. "Child's play," he murmured.

Mac pulled the top drawer out, noted a dozen or so folders in it. He opened the first, studied it a moment, then turned to Methos. "What were the codes on those bottles?"

Returning to the nearest group of bottles, Methos picked one up and read, "CAAC407..."

"Another," Mac ordered, flipping through the folders.


"Is there a CBKC729?" Mac asked.

Quickly, Methos checked three more bottles. "Yeah. Found it."

Mac turned, open file folder in hand. "That bottle will give you a case of the hives, immortal version. Welts, itching... won't heal for 24 hours."

Methos carefully replaced the bottle. "Lovely."

"There's a formula here for everything from a strong irritant to a severe headache, from the flu to a love potion-- all designed to affect immortals. Somehow, Cory stumbled on that little inhibitor and combined it with a few strains of infections."

"You're kidding! A love potion?"

Mac looked up at the inquisitive face. "Actually, that last one didn't seem to work."

Methos looked somehow relieved and he moved to read over Mac's shoulder. "Ah... What about the antidote? Any mention?"

"Not in this file." He set the folders on the desk and turned back to the file cabinet. The second drawer yielded several more folders, mostly of failed experiments, but nothing of real value. As he moved on to the third drawer, Methos started in on the desk, opening the lock with ease and rummaging through them.

"Scribbles, drawings, products orders... not much else," Methos complained, dumping the contents of the center drawer onto the growing pile on the desk. "Nothing here."

"Not here, either," Mac added, shoving the drawer closed a little more forcefully than necessary. "Maybe Raines doesn't keep the antidote here."

"He has to! Or at least the formula should be in these notes." Methos answered emphatically.

Feeling equally as exasperated, Mac tried to think about this logically. Would he keep a valuable item at the office? Wouldn't he want to make sure it was safe? Did Raines anticipate that they would break in? "Maybe it's at his home, Methos."

Methos looked up. "I don't like that thought, MacLeod. Have you run across an address for him? Do you have a clue where he lives?"

Shaking his head, Mac looked around the office for other options. Just the file cabinets he'd already been through and the desk... no other places to check. "The personnel files have to be around somewhere... Maybe upstairs?"

"Great!" Methos muttered, slamming his hand against the edge of the desk as he spun the chair to get up. Abruptly his knee hit a projection of some sort. He yelped, then swore loudly as his rubbed his knee. But a moment or two later, he was on both knees on the floor, shining the torch toward the back of the desk.

A box-like projection, about 10 inches by six inches, was mounted to the back of the desk. Protruding slightly from the center was an embedded combination lock on the front. "I've found a small safe, Mac. Can you hold the light down here while l try to break into it?"

As Mac complied with the request, Methos scrunched in tighter and leaned his head against the box to listen for the tumblers. It took several minutes before an overloud click marked the correct combination. Mac let his breath out, not realizing that he'd been holding it for the past minute or so.

Sliding back, Methos arched his neck a little to relieve the tension. "I am so out of practice," he grumbled, then carefully opened the door.

In the glow of the flashlight, a row of six pre-loaded hypodermics filled with pale blue liquid glistened like sapphires. They were equally as valuable to the two men who gazed at them. Quickly, Methos removed them and handled them to Mac who carefully packed them in a padded bag.

"Anything else in there? Formula... directions?" Mac asked. Even though he surmised each hypo was a dose, he would prefer something more specific than a guess.

"Nope." Methos closed the door and spun the dial. "If Raines has that written down anywhere, it's not in here."

The slender man slid out from under the desk as Mac closed up the bag and slipped it into the backpack they'd brought.

"So, where do we look next?"

Methos glanced sharply at him. "We don't. We blow this place and get out of here.'

"Blow it? Methos, I didn't say anything about destroying it."

For a brief moment, a look of exasperation slipped across Methos' face, then he patiently explained. "What? Do you want to leave all these potions here for him to use against other immortals? Do you want him to be able to recreate all this and more? If Raines chooses to use these against us, he could kill easily. Worse, someone else could get hold of them and use them to great advantage. Imagine this in the hands of someone like Kronos. He wasn't the worst, you know."

"So we take these and dump them. We can destroy his notes..." Mac offered as an alternative.

Methos bit his lower lip, shaking his head slowly. "Mac, you don't get it. We don't know if this is all he has. There could be more in this lab. The only way to be sure is to destroy it all. Now, if you're squeamish about it, go ahead and I'll handle it. You can keep your hands clean."

For a few heartbeats, MacLeod stared at his friend, trying to make his decision. Methos was right and he knew it. He just hadn't thought it would be necessary to go that far. Finally, he nodded his head, "Let's do it."

With a nod of acknowledgement, Methos pulled a pair of fuses out of the backpack. He found a couple of bottles of oil and quickly made little bombs out of them. Handing one to Mac, he sent him to the other end of the glassed-in lab to set it up while he covered the opposite side. The fuses were long enough to reach to the entry door. He then poured alcohol over the papers on the desk.

For a moment or two, Methos gazed over the area, then went looking for something. As Mac watched curiously, the older man returned with an industrial broom.

"This will be the tricky part. Go ahead and make sure the path out of the building is clear." With that, he struck a match and ignited the fuses. As Mac grabbed the backpack and started to move toward the exit, he glanced back in time to see Methos wiggling the first shelf using the broom.

Suddenly the shelf began to tip and Methos dropped the broom, jumping back as the bottles tumbled off, dropping to the floor. He slammed the door shut about the time the first shelving unit tipped into the next one. The domino effect was started.

"Let's get out of here," Methos shouted as he ran toward the door. In the room behind him, the flames had already started to grow as they fed on the oil and alcohol in the room.

That was all the encouragement Mac needed. He dashed toward the stairwell door, glanced down to make sure the way was clear, then took the steps two at a time. The thuds above him told him Methos wasn't far behind him. Before they hit the bottom, Mac heard- and felt- an explosion from above.

A brief pause as Mac exited onto the alley to see if anyone was around. "Clear," he said loudly enough for Methos to hear him, then he set a quick pace down the alley. It didn't take long for his friend to catch up with him.

By the time they'd crossed the street and gone up two block, a loud alarm was cutting into the normally quiet night. They turned to look back at the blazing fire that was now obvious on the first floor. Methos touched his arm, and Mac tore his eyes away from the fire.

"They'll get it out before it does much damage on the other floors, Mac. Just hope Raines can't recreate that damn bug."

MacLeod nodded. "Right. Let's go home."

A few blocks from the building, they passed a fire truck on the way to the blaze. Somehow that made Mac feel a little less guilty.

Tuesday - 03:56 a.m.

Methos sneezed for about the twentieth time in the last half-hour. He definitely didn't feel terrific and he suspected he had a slight fever. Obviously, he didn't get away from the breaking potion bottles as quickly as he'd hoped or the one he'd opened was another virus or flu or something.

Mac glanced at him, concern in his eyes. "You okay?" This had a very familiar feel to it.

"I am so long as that antidote works," he replied.

Mac opened the backpack and withdrew the pilfered hypodermics as Methos settled on the couch. Methos pulled a bootlace and began wrapping it around his arm to make a tourniquet.

"I assume it's intravenous," Mac commented.

"Well, it would pretty much have to be, wouldn't it?" The older man replied a bit testily, then sneezed again. "Damn! Let's do this before I get really sick again." He held out his hand for one of the syringes.

Mac ignored the outstretched hand and sat beside Methos to administer the injection himself.

Wary hazel eyes watched him. "Do you know what you're doing?"

"Relax, Methos, I was a medic. Or would you rather call Montgomery?"

Ignoring the touch of sarcasm in Mac's voice, Methos nodded slightly. "Go ahead then. Just remember I get to do you."

As it turned out, the Scot was surprisingly deft whereas the drug itself made him feel slightly nauseous and dizzy. Mac peered at him a moment, then getting to his feet, he gently pushed him flat and lifted his legs onto the couch.

Brushing his hand lightly across Methos' forehead, Mac smiled encouragingly. "Take it easy for a few minutes. Who knows what the drug is doing to your blood cells."

"It can't be as bad as the last cure, Methos mumbled. Maybe if he relaxed and shut his eyes…


Mac's voice was accompanied by a shaking at his shoulder. He opened his eyes to meet concerned brown ones watching him. He blinked, then answered, "What--? Just closed my eyes for a minute or two."

"You were out about twenty minutes," Mac informed him. "I was getting a little worried. How do you feel?"

//Twenty minutes?!// He sat up carefully, doing a quick inventory. No dizziness, no sneezing. His mouth felt a little dry, but other than that... "Fine. I feel great. I think it worked, Mac."

With an audible sigh of relief, MacLeod handed him a glass of orange juice. As Methos accepted the drink, he was mildly amused that Mac was offering it and realized the Scot's motivation. //Still a little jealousy, Mac?// Nonetheless, he gulped it down, glad for the moisture. Now all he needed was a cold beer, but first things first. "Your turn."

Mac's face changed to a more neutral expression. "I've been thinking about that. Maybe we should wait. You know, have Montgomery run a few tests to make sure it works. I mean, we don't want to waste the serum."

"You're afraid," Methos deduced, easily reading the nervousness.

The other man forced a sheepish grin. "No, I'm not. I just think we should be sure."

"MacLeod, it works. Trust me. At least, I have a medical degree."

"Yeah, but how many centuries old?!"

"A couple, but I know how to give a shot. C'mon, I let you do it and you don't have a degree at all." He caught Mac's arm and guided him toward the bed. Who'd have thought the Highlander would be so squeamish about this?

As Mac settled on the bed and allowed Methos to bind his upper arm, he continued his objections. "I've heard that most doctors aren't too skilled at nursing techniques... like injections."

"Uh huh. And we're all lousy patients, too," Methos added, forcing any air out of the syringe.

"Well, that part's true."

"Hey! Watch it! I'm the one holding a needle, you know!" But he was careful, sliding the needle into Mac's vein smoothly. "Done. You'll probably feel a bit dizzy or tired."

Mac nodded and closed his eyes, clearly ready for the same reaction Methos had. Taking advantage of the time, the older man dumped the syringe in the kitchen garbage can, poured a glass of juice for Mac and nabbed a cold beer for himself before returning to Mac's bedside.

The Scot looked mighty appealing stretched out comfortably across the covers. And somewhat vulnerable. Methos hesitated a moment, then removed Mac's boots. He was certain he would prefer not to have them on the bedspread. Frankly, he wanted to remove more than that, but he had a feeling Mac wouldn't be so receptive to that idea once the antidote took effect. In his gut, he was pretty sure that love potion actually worked. //So, how upset is Mac going to be?// he wondered. About that time, Mac opened his eyes and stretched his arms over his head.

//Less than ten minutes,// Methos noted. //Wouldn't you know...// Out loud, he asked, "How are you? Any lingering effects?"

"Nope. None at all," Mac answered and sat up to take the juice from Methos.

"It's not fair," Methos groused, disgust clearly in his tone.

"I wasn't getting sick," the Scot pointed out.

"Yeah, well that wasn't fair either. Anyway, we should now be rid of that bug and, with a bit of luck, Raines won't be able to recreate it." He refused to believe the man was clever enough to have more supplies elsewhere, but if he did, they still had a small supply of the antidote and Rory could probably create more.

"Let's hope." Mac slid off the bed, padded quietly to the kitchen.

"I'm thinking we'd better make sure, Mac. If Raines has the formula or samples at home, he can recreate this. For that matter, where the hell did he get that inhibitor? Was it an accident or does someone else have it? We'll need to find out where Raines lives."

As Mac retrieved a beer, he answered. "Already did. I found it in one of the files. We can visit in the morning. You want another beer, Methos?"

"Yeah." He moved back to the couch and semi-sprawled on it. //Maybe Mac will forget about what happened earlier. Sure...and maybe Amanda will become a nun...// He'd have to face this sooner or later, might as well make it now.

As Mac set the beer in front of him, Methos framed his thoughts and began. "Mac, I realize you were probably influenced by one of those potions and... what happened earlier was likely a result of it." He paused and forced himself to meet MacLeod's eyes. He seemed attentive and not unhappy or angry... yet. "What I'm trying to say is that I was aware of that and I should have stopped it. If you don't feel that kind of attraction to me, I understand." //There... I've said it.//

Now he couldn't look at Mac, couldn't face whatever accusations or anger might be in his face. He stared at the beer on the table, watching the beads of condensation run down the sides and puddle on the coaster.

He almost jumped when Mac's hand alighted on his face and slid down in a gentle caress. A moment later, his other hand repeated the gesture on the other side. Face cupped in his hands, Methos felt the pressure as his friend tilted his face up to meet his eyes.

"Methos, if that was a side effect of the potion, it hasn't gone away. I still feel the same way about you."

Methos started to object, worried still that the maybe the effect hadn't worn off yet. But he didn't get more than a word or two out before Mac's mouth closed over his, silencing any protests with a deep, passionate kiss. He yielded to it, accepting that Mac wanted this as much as he did.

Slowly, the full mouth inched away from his lips, dotting kisses up his neck until it was right next to his ear, then the Highlander whispered, "Now, let's explore those 'hot fish.'"

The End