|Demons at Bay
by Lillian Wolfe
Part Three of the Demons Trilogy
This story is a continuing labor of love based on the characters in the Davis -Panzer Productions "Highlander The Series". The characters of Methos, Duncan MacLeod, Joe Dawson and Amanda all slipped away to do a little moonlighting and we beg their bosses to be understanding. None of us are profiting from this, but Methos just keeps telling me stories. They are returning to their regular jobs with no permanent damage. Dr. Miles Montgomery and the rest of the characters are my own creation and those who are still living will also be returning to their regular jobs.
This story is a sequel to "Demons At The Gate" and "Demons On Demand" and while it is complete in itself, there are references that make more sense when the other stories are read first. There is a reference to Meara and more about her can be found in Tiffany's "The Causes Remain."
My thanks to Tiffany, Juanita, Kelly and Dianne for proofing, critiquing and being great beta readers. If there are mistakes left, they are my own.
Please do not copy, publish or repost without permission from the author. I don't want any legal problems.
All warnings are in effect! This story contains torture, sex (m/m), adult themes and vivid historical insights so if you're not legal age (usually 17) , please come back when you are. You have been WARNED!
The slender, blue jeans clad man strained to maintain his grip on the end of the tarp-covered sofa as he backed into the elevator. Droplets of water slid down the smooth plastic and splattered onto the hardwood floor. As the man at the other end of the sofa lowered it to rest for a few moments, Methos leaned back against the elevator wall and let his bent knees support the sofa's weight. He wiped his longish, damp hair away from his face and sighed, glad this was the last of the furniture to move. The elevator stopped and the two men bent to lift the sofa again and hauled it to the center of the open loft.
Methos offered his thanks-- and twenty dollars-- to the man, a fellow who looked like he moved crates on a regular basis. Once he was gone, the Immortal did a slow rotation to take in the details of the loft-- Mac's loft.
Oh, it didn't look anything like Mac had left it. It had been completely remodeled to suit Methos. When he'd decided to buy it those long months ago, Methos hadn't been sure he would ever do anything with it, but now it seemed like a good idea. A place to spend a few months in the winter, a nice alternative to Paris-- if he ever decided to go back there.
Mac was in Paris. The thought slipped into his consciousness with the ease it had found recently. It came like a nagging wife to taunt him with what he already knew. He knew exactly when MacLeod had returned to Paris. He'd talked to Amanda-- had to as the beautiful dark-eyed Immortal would send a posse out for him otherwise-- and he knew Amanda had not let Mac know he'd been in touch with her. Nor had Joe, both of them letting Methos have his own way in this. Their little secret-- let Mac stew in his own juices a while.
Not that he was trying to cause Mac pain. Fact was, MacLeod hadn't seemed all that concerned that he wasn't around, barely bothering to ask about him. That hurt far more than he was willing to admit and was a big factor in why he wasn't in a rush to see or talk to the Highlander and why both Joe and Amanda weren't volunteering any information either. So even after a year, Methos still wasn't all that anxious to see MacLeod. Too many things could have changed in that time. For all he knew, Mac may have found a way to blame him for Richie's death. Heaven knows, he'd done that himself, to an extent. Methos had blamed himself for a lot of things over the past few months.
He strolled to the windows and gazed out at the rain-dampened streets of Seacouver. With just a little imagination he could see the big Scot crossing at the corner with that strong, ground-eating stride of his.
He'd started off those many months ago to find MacLeod, both with the intent of trying to help the Highlander through whatever nightmares he was living and attempting, once again, to resolve the issues between them. But he'd had other problems to deal with in Mongolia and he'd lost any chance of finding Mac in the process. And worse, he'd suddenly had way too much time for personal reflection while wandering around in scarcely inhabited areas. He hadn't been too pleased with some of the recent changes in his life or with some of the things he'd done. But he knew what he was and why he did it. He'd kept in touch with Joe and Amanda on a regular basis and even called Miles Montgomery a few times, finding an odd sense of calm in the quite voice and easy humor of the psychologist.
Yes, he admitted, he'd certainly had plenty of time to analyze the events of the three months before MacLeod had made that fatal error. Time to see what mistakes he'd made along the way, what errors in judgment had strained their friendship. Perhaps he could have told MacLeod about his history with Kronos, but there didn't seem to be any point until the devil appeared. Then it was too late. Cassandra had already presented her story and Mac would never have understood after that. Besides Mac wasn't all that interested in his history, had tended not to care when he mentioned anything from his past.
And to be honest, Methos wasn't sure how much he could tell MacLeod of his life-- with Kronos, before Kronos or even just after. He'd been afraid to let any of those truths out-- afraid of what it would do to his friendship with Mac and what it would do to him. Bottled up inside, they were like a story, a fantasy-- something he could look at from a distance. Let them loose and he would have to deal with them, face the demons and settle the issues. As it was, that was happening in its own time-- ghosts from the past showing up to haunt the present-- Kronos, Cassandra, Niam, Rashid. Enough old enemies to clearly illustrate that Methos was no longer a myth. There were those who knew he still lived and too many who preferred that he didn't.
Would anything have changed if MacLeod had known about any of those before it became a problem? Could MacLeod have reacted any differently? He doubted it. The Highlander had a distinct code of honor bred into him. It came with that clan of his-- and it wasn't very flexible.
Methos sighed, turned to the 'fridge to grab a beer, uncovered part of the sofa and flopped down in a lazy sprawl. He reached for the stereo remote and turned it on. Immediately the full, rich sound of "Faust" filled the room. Opera. He didn't really care for opera but it reminded him of Mac and brought other memories with it. He recalled one night in the loft as they were arguing over music choices-- Mac had wanted opera and he'd wanted anything else, preferably Springsteen. They finally decided to arm wrestle for the choice. Mac had been astonished that he'd as much strength as he had and he'd nearly won except a phone call had interrupted it and sent Mac on a rescue mission to help Richie.
So that was another unsettled issue between them, like so many other unsettled issues. God knows, he'd tried to talk to Mac, to get the Highlander to discuss his feelings, his resentments. But he'd been shut out-- kept at a safe distance where Mac didn't have to cope with it. Back to ignoring what he found distasteful. Hell, the Highlander probably wasn't even aware he was doing it.
With Keane, he thought he might be able to open the door a little, make Mac see that it wasn't so different. Yes, the sheer numbers of murder in his past were greater, but it was still a mistake he'd made for whatever reason and he needed Mac to accept it. Not forgive...just accept.
No! His eyes narrowed sharply, his own mind repeating the thought. He didn't need MacLeod to do anything. If Mac chose to accept it, that would make life easier. But if he didn't, Methos didn't require Duncan MacLeod. I am Methos, that deep-seated part of himself said with authority, and I will survive!
He rose again to gaze out the window, saw a few people darting along the street in the steady drizzle. The rain gave a freshness to the city, washing away the dirt and sins of the prior days. Ordinary people with ordinary lives, he thought. At one time it meant nothing to me...mortals were little more than a small animals, their short life spans and violent ways making them an amusement.
He'd seen them evolve, rise to glory more than once, then degenerate back into savages. He'd made friends with some, begun to understand them, to learn their fears and their joys. Eventually, he'd come to value them, but always with the knowledge that he was different and most would fear what he was. Out of necessity, his contact with them rarely spanned more than ten years.
What I am, he admitted with bitterness, is a killer. All Immortals are...even the great Duncan MacLeod, no matter how he tried to justify it. What was it that Immortal wannabe Geiger had said? "...glorifying that they were in some game..." Oh, yes. A very deadly game, at that. And like it or not, I'm a major player.
But by what Dawson was saying, it seemed Duncan MacLeod was't anymore. The best choice for the winner of the game had put away his sword. Perhaps it was only a temporary thing and he would eventually step back into it. He would have to if he was to survive. Unfortunately the very qualities that had prompted Methos to favor the Highlander were the same ones that led him to the decision to drop out.
Gods, what a twisted life Immortals led! Kill or be killed; good versus evil; power versus wisdom. Violence and death were a normal way of life. Real death, the one you didn't come back from, always hovered over your shoulder waiting for you to make one mistake. He'd learned centuries ago about human nature, even in Immortals. He'd relied on it heavily in his survival, used it to manipulate situations. He knew the kind of man MacLeod was, yet he was foolish enough to think the Scot might bend because of him. Might be able to flex that rigid code of honor enough to see that a man could change. Might be open enough to realize that the circumstances of a civilization...or lack of one...shaped the morals and necessities of the life. That his code of honor would neither have developed nor survived in 2500 BC.
With a sharp shrug of his shoulders, Methos crossed to the stereo, ejected the CD and replaced it with an old favorite from Queen. He tossed the opera CD onto the coffee table and set his beer on it.
"I've been giving some thought to selling the barge," MacLeod announced as he set a sandwich and a beer in front of Joe Dawson. "I'm thinking it may be time for a change."
Joe raised an eyebrow. It wasn't the first time Mac had threatened to get rid of the boat...but he might be serious this time. "Then what? Go back to the States?"
Mac pulled up a stool to join his friend. "Maybe. I was thinking Dallas or even Atlanta. Or the Italian Riviera."
"Now you're talking. Beautiful women in skimpy bathing suits. A man could get used to that." Dawson grinned. If he had to follow MacLeod somewhere, Italy was preferable to the humidity of the south. "Gonna be the playboy?"
Mac's eyes sparkled a bit in amusement. "It's a possibility. I suddenly seem to be without any real commitments to anyone. Everything changes."
"What about Amanda?"
"She'll find me no matter where I am. She always does." Mac shook his head as he thought about his long time friend. Old friends were gradually disappearing. "Besides, Amanda isn't tied to any place or any one. France, Italy, Austria...they're all the same to her."
"And Methos?" Joe asked carefully.
Mac shrugged. "He'll do whatever he wants. Just like now."
"I don't care where he is," Mac interrupted before Joe could get a word out. "His life is not my concern. When he's ready to drop in again, he will."
Joe nodded, pursing his lips as he watched Mac avoid the subject yet again. He didn't want to know where Methos had gone or why. He automatically assumed Methos had pulled one of his disappearing acts, run away to find himself again. The Watcher had seldom seen a man go to as much trouble to dance around a subject as the Highlander had over the past few months. No matter what else might have changed for him in the months he was away, this much had not. He'd skittered away from discussing the old Immortal's past after Bordeaux and still seemed to be in that mode. "Ignoring it won't change his past, Mac. Sooner or later, you need to deal with it."
"It's past," Mac replied shortly. "I've accepted what I can. There's nothing more to say, Joe."
With a sigh, Dawson turned his attention to the sandwich. "I hear Daria Milkova got married again. Another mortal...her fourth this century."
"No," Mac answered. "I can't believe she keeps doing it. Another rich one, I'll bet." The countess had come by her wealth by marrying it over four centuries.
"You got it," Joe confirmed. And the conversation was off on a merry romp into the wiles and charms of the conniving Immortal woman.
Another month and a half had passed since Methos had settled in at the loft. He didn't feel any particular inclination to return to Paris, to subject himself to the stress and disappointment of confronting MacLeod again. The Highlander had apparently found a balance in his life and Methos was working on his own peace of mind. He was reasonably content...except for the phone call from Dawson that afternoon, urging him to come to Paris.
He cleared his mind, focusing on the high bar and launched himself toward it, his long sure fingers gripping the bar with ease. His shoulder and upper arm muscles tensed as he pulled himself up. One advantage to having the gymnastics training center was that it allowed him to use the equipment after hours. He'd pretty much made two in the morning his workout time. The bar was a good way to stretch out, to build up the strength in his body. He'd gotten lazy while he was out of the game, barely staying in shape for fighting. He could no longer afford to do that. If he was back in the game, he was a target again.
He pulled his legs up into a handstand on the bar. Sweat glistened on his bare back and chest as he forced himself to hold it, to keep it steady as long as possible.
"Jeez, Adam! Were you ever a gymnast?" a tenor voice asked.
Kyle. The gymnastic instructor who daily taught little girls and boys how to tumble, balance and vault in the hopes of one day producing a champion. "I thought you'd gone," Methos said, not letting his handstand drop.
"Forgot my backpack. Seriously, I didn't know you did this stuff."
"I ran off with a circus once," he said glibly, but it wasn't far from the truth. Gypsy troupes were both a great way to travel and a good place to hide. Very slowly, forcing control, he lowered himself and dropped to the gym floor. As he toweled off, he studied Kyle. The man was bulky...a bit like MacLeod, although he wasn't nearly as tall.
"Ever fight with staves?" he asked.
Kyle blinked, a bit surprised by the question. "Oddly enough, I have. In college."
"Want to give it a go?"
A sardonic smile touched the old Immortal's mouth. Some jocks were predictable. Opening a closet, he pulled out a pair of seven foot poles and tossed one to the other man. "Okay, here's the deal. You come at me full force. Don't hold back on anything and I'll go easy on you."
"That hardly seems fair," Kyle objected. He started stripping his sweater off.
"Trust me. I'm well-experienced with this. And I'd leave some padding on, if I were you."
For the most part, it was an easy contest. Kyle did get a couple of crisp swipes through to the ribs that stung, but Methos blocked or countered the majority of blows. He didn't press the advantage against the gymnast, but occasionally landed a light tap to his legs or ribs, just to let him know that he could take him at any point. Mostly, he wanted the practice in blocking, encouraging the man to vary the attacks as much as possible.
In the stillness of the gym, the sharp claps of the sticks connecting echoed hollowly. His mind heard the sound of steel meeting steel. He could almost see MacLeod facing him, could feel the pommel of the katana in his hand, a lighter weapon than he normally used, but beautifully balanced. He could have taken him then, even out of shape, but he'd seen no reason to let the Highlander know how skilled he was. Besides, that hadn't been the purpose of that encounter.
"Oomph!" The air whooshed out of him in a loud burst as Kyle slipped the pole low and into his midriff. Damn! Wandering minds can't focus on what's below the nose! he thought irritably and brought his attention back to the match where he retaliated by forcing the other man back against the wall with a series of blows that cracked sharply and bent the defending pole.
Trapped against the wall, Kyle shouted, "Hold! Enough!"
Methos halted the long weapon in mid-swing, both arms and shoulders muscled tensely with the power of the blow he almost delivered. He paused a beat, then lowered the pole and straightened his body. "Do you yield?" he asked formally.
Wide-eyed, the gymnast responded, "Oh, yeah. I yield. Jeez, where the hell did you learn to fight like that?"
"I grew up in a rough neighborhood," he replied. "It was basic survival." He reached for the staff that Kyle held. Was there ever a time I didn't know how to use a staff? A pole was in my hand long before a sword was. How long? He frowned. Sometimes it seemed like the memory was there, teasing just at the edge of his conscious mind.
"You okay, Adam?"
He shook himself out of it. "Yeah. Thanks. It was good workout. Ummm, I'm probably going to be going out of town for a few weeks. Go ahead and pay the rent directly to the bank account, if you don't mind." He reached for his sweatshirt and started for the elevator, thinking about a nice hot shower.
"Business or pleasure?" Kyle asked as he shouldered his backpack.
Methos pushed the up button and flashed a grin. "Both." MacLeod was in Paris and there would be no ease until he talked to him. It was time.
Rain again, Duncan MacLeod thought glumly. Rain yesterday, rain today. No, not a real rain, just a steady drizzle... enough to sour a good mood and turn a bad one to complete depression. Pulling his coat a little more snuggly to his neck, he turned up the ramp to his barge, pausing just a moment before going inside.
No indication of another Immortal waiting within, no matter how much he might wish to find one. Painfully, he'd come to terms with the loss of Richie, knew he would exist only in his memories. He also knew how much Rich had loved him, had considered him family. MacLeod could live with it now, accepting that he had been used as a murder weapon.
Mac gazed around his sparsely furnished barge, eyes moving from the neatly made, if unobtrusive, bed to the nook where his stereo used to reside to the small galley where a utilitarian stove and refrigerator held all he needed. He crossed to the refrigerator, opened the door and silently noted the six pack of beer there. He felt the depression come down on him even more. He'd bought the beer a couple of weeks after he'd returned to Paris... after the "necessary business" was settled. That was nearly four months ago. His current state of depression had nothing to do with Richie.
With a sigh, he grabbed a bottled water, slammed the door shut and dropped onto the floor with his legs crossed. All that long year he'd spent in Malaysia, he'd given little thought to those friends he'd left in Paris... not to Joe, not to Amanda, and most especially not to Methos. He had enough to come to terms with over those months and he chose to shut out any thoughts of his friends. Time enough later to reconcile any issues with them, he reasoned.
Well, he'd settled with Joe, Amanda had been in touch a few times although keeping her distance a bit, but Methos was gone. Joe said the old Immortal had left shortly after he'd disappeared and he hadn't heard from him in months.
What had he expected? Methos didn't tend to hang around much. Adam Pierson had, but not the more skittish Methos. It wasn't unusual for him to pack up and take off for months at a time. Sometimes it was hard to reconcile Adam with Methos, so different had the ancient become in the last few months before Mac had left. It had been a gradual change, one that seemed to be complete after the events in Bordeaux. Adam was only a part of the complex individual that Methos was and while Mac had sometimes missed the shy researcher, he'd accepted the greater whole that was Methos as his friend. But it was a friendship that had been sorely stretched, tested in the most severe circumstances and ended up as a near casualty. He'd kept Methos at arm's length after Bordeaux, unable to accept what the old man had done, yet unwilling to cast him out of his life.
Odd. He had photographs of Richie, Amanda, Tessa, Joe... even Charlie, as well as a host of other people who'd been close friends over the past few decades, but not a single photo of Methos. Not that he needed a glossy image to recall his friend's face. He closed his eyes to summon a memory.
Methos talking earnestly to him in the tunnel-like hallways of the concert stadium. Pleading with him to not take Byron's head. Hurt, regret playing on that young face with the old eyes. A pain, that in his anger at what Byron had done, Mac hadn't recognized on his friend's face. Even later when Methos had accepted what he'd done, Mac hadn't seen the soul-deep sorrow in him. He realized now that he'd done what he had to do, but he was only beginning to see just how dearly that decision had cost Methos.
Mac blinked... another memory. Methos at the church in Bordeaux. Hazel eyes almost begging him to understand, trying to explain something that couldn't be explained. He wasn't expecting absolution, Mac conceded, just acceptance. Accept what I was, he was asking, not saying approve of it...just accept it. He was angry that Methos hadn't told him about this, but the old Immortal knew Mac far better than the Highlander knew him. Knew that when he asked for understanding, it wouldn't be there. Methos had borne it, doing everything he could to keep his friend out of danger, trying to control a situation that was so volatile it could have exploded on him at any moment.
Then vividly, he recalled one of the last conversations he'd had with Methos before events had sent him in search of clarity.
"We can't even take just thirty minutes to sit down and talk about this. Can we, Mac?" Methos stated bluntly as MacLeod pulled on his coat.
"There's nothing to talk about." He said it with a suggestion of "subject closed."
"No, there's not. Drop it, Methos."
"You always think you're right, don't you? That yours is the only way. That if something doesn't conform to your belief, then it's wrong."
"And you always think you have the answers...like five thousand years has endowed you with superior wisdom and knowledge..."
"I never said that," Methos objected softly, bearing yet another tongue-lashing for the sake of friendship.
"Well, you are a fake, Methos. We both know it. And one of these days pride will tear us both apart!"
Methos raised his face to him then, the hazel eyes reflecting not anger, but hurt. "Your pride, MacLeod. Not mine."
He'd turned then and his swift footsteps had carried him out of the barge before Mac had a chance to catch up with him.
MacLeod frowned at the series of memories... Methos hurting, unhappy. Crying, he added, as yet another memory jumped to the forefront of his mind... the painful sound of his friend sobbing in the vastness of the submarine base. And his own sharp need, then, not to lose this friend as Cassandra had the ax raised, poised to take his head. God, if she hadn't acquiesced to his demand, there was no way he could have stopped her in time.
That maelstrom of combined Quickenings had been almost as debilitating to him as it had to the old Immortal. He'd seen demand, greed and possession in Kronos and he knew what Methos had been to the ruthless man... not the details, but enough to know he had held him a prisoner of sorts and that even at his death, Kronos wanted to take Methos with him. He'd felt a healthy portion of that Quickening leave him, reaching for Methos and shooting into him with an intensity MacLeod had never experienced. A shallow backwash of the power had brought him a glimpse of Silas, but mostly Methos had to bear both of them alone.
And now Methos was gone. No word from him, no contact of any kind, not even with Joe. In his gut was that awful fear that he'd never see the old Immortal again... that the unthinkable could have happened. There were no Watchers on him. Even if Joe had assigned one to him, none could keep up with him. Methos was a myth and he could be lost with no one being the wiser. For a while after the Quickening, Mac had felt that he would know if anything happened to the Old Man, but now he wasn't so sure.
And he couldn't seem to summon a happy moment with him to remember. Only unresolved issues and hurts came to mind. Methos had needed his understanding and he hadn't been able to do it. He couldn't let his pride, his ethics, down long enough to be a friend.
Mac thought he heard something, raised his eyes to the doorway. For a moment, it seemed a resonant baritone voice spoke his name and any second now he would see Methos and feel the signature of his presence. But the expectancy hung and the ghost vanished as quickly as it came. Gone.
MacLeod climbed up to the deck, ignoring the rain and gazed out toward the City of Lights. It was dusk and the lights were just beginning to wink on, beckoning people to the restaurants, clubs and cafes. Ordinary people with ordinary lives, MacLeod reflected. It was something none of his kind ever seemed to know. He'd tried to find that simplicity, probably would try again. But not tonight.
Deft fingers skimmed over the guitar strings, coaxing out the wailing sounds that marked the blues. Dawson bent over his guitar, making it do all the talking for the moment. MacLeod kept a steady rhythm as he tapped his fingers on the table. The Paris club was almost empty, their only company was the bartender getting ready for the evening's business and he paid little attention to them.
"So, how about going for dinner?" Mac asked as Dawson finished the piece.
Joe Dawson raised an eyebrow. It wasn't a frequent thing for Mac to invite him to dinner out. "What's up? You need some information?"
A flash of annoyance crossed the big man's face. "No. I just want to visit with a friend. I haven't seen you much lately."
"I've been here," Dawson replied, the statement clearly saying the absence hadn't been his fault. "But, yeah, I could use some food."
Stiffly, he pushed to his feet and reached for his jacket, then paused as he noticed the familiar look in Mac's face, the suddenly alert look. Another Immortal. He shifted his gaze toward the door at almost the same moment. As soon as the tall, slender man stepped through the door, he relaxed and a smile brightened his face.
"Well, look what the wind blew in!" Joe said. "It's about time you made it back to Paris."
"Hello, Joe. MacLeod." Methos stopped a few feet from them, like a cautious panther trying to sense the mood of the animals at the spring, waiting for the reaction.
"Methos." MacLeod acknowledged flatly.
If he'd had his choices, Methos would not have met MacLeod this way. He'd almost turned away when he'd sensed another Immortal in the club. He knew it would be the Highlander and he'd decided to face him now. Chances are he would never really be ready for this meeting anyway. What do you say to a friend you haven't seen in fourteen months?
"You cut your hair," he observed dryly.
"You haven't," Mac noted.
"Sit down. Have a beer," Joe offered. He motioned to a table and started toward the bar.
"No, thanks, Joe," Methos said quickly. "I just stopped by to let you know I was back. I don't want to..."
Shooting Methos a warning look, Joe popped open a beer and set it on the table. "We have time for a beer. You having one, Mac?"
After a moment's hesitation, MacLeod nodded and sat back down. "You're looking well. Been traveling?"
Methos took a deep breath, sat without removing his coat. This was harder than he imagined it would be. "Some. Glad to see you're okay."
"It was rough..."
"Yeah." Methos agreed softly, tipping the bottle gratefully.
Joe opened another bottle for himself and sat between the two. His gaze traveled from one man to the other, his look conveying his thoughts as clearly as if he'd spoken... stubborn, both of them.
Mac caught the expression, then turned his gaze to studying his beer bottle. Finally, he took a deep breath and looked directly at Methos. "I guess I should say thank you...although for a while there, I hated you for not taking my head."
"Not as much as I would have hated myself if I had," Methos replied dryly.
"You know, I could have used your help when I got back. No, it's all right," he quickly added as Methos started to respond. "You do whatever you have to do. It's all right." MacLeod missed the momentary pained look that crossed Methos' face before he could slip his mask back in place, but Joe caught it. Just as Joe also realized that Methos was closing himself off from Mac, putting up a shield.
"Right," Methos agreed softly.
Mac gazed at him for what seemed a very long time to Methos. He held relatively still, eyes avoiding that intense look, not wanting to see any unspoken message in them. "I'm glad you're back," the Highlander said finally, his voice soft and laced with the warm affection he reserved for his friends. It wasn't entirely there, but close... the genuine pleasure of seeing his friend again.
Methos nodded slightly... still uneasy but at least feeling that the door was open a little. Then again, if was open a little, it was still shut a lot. He could easily read the uncertainty in Mac's posture, the hint of disappointment. He didn't expect Mac to come to terms with his less than perfect past, but he had hoped he might come a little closer to acceptance.
"MacLeod, I spent a lot of time..."
"No, Methos. You don't owe me any explanations," Mac interrupted quickly.
"Don't I?" the old Immortal replied, voice scarcely above a whisper. Maybe MacLeod didn't need to talk about it but he did. There was too much unsaid between them. Too much uncertainty. He caught the look on Joe's face, saw that the avoidance was nothing new.
"No, you don't. Your life is your own."
Methos' eyes drifted down to his glass of beer, not allowing any of the disappointment he felt to show through. "Right."
"Look, Joe and I were just off to dinner. Why don't you come by the barge tomorrow?" The Highlander got pointedly to his feet.
No invitation to join them, just a "come by tomorrow." Methos nodded, "Sure. I'll see you later then. 'Night, Joe." His eyes still didn't meet MacLeod's, couldn't. He felt Joe's hand drop on his shoulder and squeeze affectionately.
"Glad you're back," the Watcher said with real warmth. Then the two of them were gone.
Methos sipped his beer slowly. Not exactly a rousing welcome back, but at least the ice was broken. Still things would never be at ease between them until MacLeod came to terms with who he was. And how the hell could he do that? Mac had barely scratched the surface of who Methos was. How could he ever begin to accept the enigma? If he put himself in MacLeod's place, he'd have trouble as well. But he hoped, somehow, that his friend could do that. And if he didn't? Well, Methos would cross that bridge later. He shoved the remains of the beer away from him and strode out of the bar.
As Amanda stepped off the train at the Gare de Lyon, she glanced nervously over her shoulder. He was back there somewhere. She could detect the presence of another Immortal, not too close, but definitely within a few hundred yards. He'd picked her up in Vienna and followed her on the train, but no matter how she'd tried, she hadn't been able to spot him, to get close enough to detect who he was.
She hastened through the station, dragging her rolling luggage bag lopsidedly as she bounded down stairs. He was still there, still tailing her. She really hated this. Why didn't the cowardly bastard show himself? She didn't care for being stalked, didn't appreciate the finesse of someone who just lingered out of distance, close enough to be detected and far enough that she couldn't narrow it down.
Hailing a cab, she hurriedly climbed in and gazed back toward the station, dark eyes darting from group to group as people exited in small clumps. Near the exit, she spotted a particularly large cluster and noted one remarkably tall, broad-shouldered man who seemed vaguely familiar. That could be him, but he was too far for her to make a definite connection. As the cab pulled away from the curb, his head turned her direction and he hastened toward the queue of cabs, looking to grab one. That was her stalker then, she was sure of it, but she still couldn't identify him.
Leaning back, Amanda asked the driver to take her to her new flat via the Montmarte. She wanted to be sure she wasn't being followed home. She closed her eyes, glad to be free of the pressure of the other Immortal's signature that had drifted in and out of her range for the past five hours.
Sighing, she thought about seeing MacLeod again. She'd wanted to get back to Paris sooner, but there had been some business in Milan to take care of and she'd stayed a few weeks in Vienna when she'd only planned to be there a few days, but Hans had been so welcoming. Actually, she could only afford a few days in Paris before she had to go to New York, but it would be a chance to see Duncan.
She had missed him and was anxious to see how he was. Joe had said he'd changed, was not quite the same Duncan MacLeod they'd known. In some ways that frightened the beautiful Immortal. Through the nearly four hundred years she'd known Duncan, he'd been a constant. He had that Boy Scout code of honor that had come from his clan and guided his life with a certainty she lacked. And no matter how irritating he could be because of it, at least he was consistent. She could rely on him. She'd really missed that over the past year.
Methos stepped through the door into the barge and pulled up short as his eyes darted around the sparsely furnished room. Nearly everything was gone and it bore no resemblance to the boat he'd once known. In fact, if MacLeod hadn't been sitting in the middle of the floor, he'd have thought he was in the wrong place. He recovered quickly. "Have a Quickening sale, MacLeod?"
"Just simplified a little," the Highlander replied, a touch of amusement in his voice.
"I see that. Although I think you may have over done it. A couple of chairs would be nice." And the couch, he added grumpily, thinking about how comfortable it had been.
Grinning, MacLeod tossed him a cushion. "Pull up a pillow, old man. Your joints are still limber enough."
"Have a little respect," he muttered, but he nonetheless folded himself onto the floor.
"You're looking well," Mac commented. "Look like you've been working out."
"A bit," he agreed. "And you've trimmed up some. I'd say we're both in good fighting form."
"No fighting. I've had enough of that."
"So you're dropping out of the game." Methos kept his voice carefully neutral.
"Something like that. And I don't need a lecture from you. Besides, how long have you been out of it?"
"I was out a little over two hundred years." Methos noted the understanding in MacLeod's eyes as the was registered.
"Kronos is gone and you've picked up the sword again." The tone was accusatory.
"I had no choice, MacLeod. My name is out there as more than a myth and Immortals are hunting."
The younger Immortal's eyes locked with his and there was a tightness in his voice when he spoke. "You could disappear again."
In spite of the words, MacLeod's voice was saying don't. Now, he told himself silently. Talk to him now. Out loud he said, "I could, but I'm not anxious to do it right now. I've hidden long enough."
"Methos, don't make yourself a target.".
The old Immortal half-smiled. "Well, I don't plan to advertise, MacLeod. I'm not going to go spreading my name around."
Mac gazed affectionately at him. "There's coffee ... or a cold beer in the 'fridge."
Methos unfolded and opted for the beer, seeking a little more fortification from it. "Mac, I really want to talk about what happened with Kronos."
MacLeod didn't look at him. "You told me all you needed to tell me about it. Why bring it up now?"
"Because I want you to understand. I want you to accept what I was."
"No! You want me to forgive it. I can't ever do that, Methos." Mac's voice was sharp.
Methos slammed his hand against the 'fridge. "It's not what I want and I already know you can't forgive it. And I don't need you to forgive it. I want you to understand what I was." He paused took a deep breath, swallowed hard against the sudden surge of emotions. "MacLeod, have you ever experienced battle rage? Do you know how it feels? Do you know the power you feel? For years, that was all I felt. And that was before Kronos. I was a mercenary. I hired out as a fighter to petty chieftains, to minor princes, to kings. It was how I survived. How I lived. I was a warrior. It was what I did."
The Highlander stared at him as if he was a total stranger. "What I don't understand, Methos, is why!"
"Mac, when are you going to hear what I'm saying? I can't change my past. It happened. I live with it. A good portion of it wasn't good - wasn't pretty. I did what I had to do to survive." Methos paced the confines of the barge liked a caged tiger.
Mac dropped heavily onto a bar stool, watching him. This was so hard; hard to look at Methos and connect him to the atrocities of his past. They kept popping up like ducks at a shooting gallery waiting to be knocked down. And when they were knocked down, they revealed parts of his friend that were so dark he couldn't reconcile them with the man before him. He needed explanations, reasons for why Methos did it - reasons he could accept. Reasons Methos couldn't -- or wouldn't -- give him.
"The horsemen weren't survival," he said. "You did that because you wanted to, you killed innocents."
Methos stopped, snapped at Mac. "You weren't there, MacLeod." Why am I bothering? he asked himself. Why do I have to justify any part of my life to MacLeod?
"No, I wasn't. But you didn't have to do it, Methos. And you didn't have to kill Meara."
The old Immortal's face froze. There it was. MacLeod was going to drag every skeleton out of the closet he knew about. This was never going to be settled.
"Methos, you're not a weak person," Mac continued. "You -- " He stopped, staring at the entry to the barge.
Methos turned, saw Amanda in the doorway. God, how long has she been there? Then he saw the look on her face - not exactly repulsion but something damn close. Thank you, MacLeod, he cursed silently. Thanks for destroying another friendship. He grabbed his coat and left as quickly as possible without breaking out into a run. He couldn't even look at Amanda as he went by.
"Methos?" Amanda called as he passed her. He didn't pause, hurried down the ramp to the dock, flinging himself into his car. Even as Amanda and MacLeod made it to the deck, he pulled the car away, narrowly missing a taxi.
"What were you doing, MacLeod?" Amanda asked. "What the hell were you talking about?"
MacLeod grabbed her arm, pulled her back inside. "How much did you hear, Amanda?"
"Something about horsemen and killing. Accusations, Duncan?"
"Truths," Mac answered. "From over two thousand years ago. I need an explanation."
She stared at him, surprised. "You need an explanation? You'd better tell me about this."
He hesitated, questioned whether he should do this. What the hell? She had a partial story, better to give her the whole thing. Only he couldn't. He could only tell her what he knew.
"Sit down, Amanda," he said, then went to the sideboard and poured a Scotch for each of them. "Methos used to be one of the Four Horsemen," he started as he handed her the drink and sat next to her. He watched her wide brown eyes grow even bigger. Speaking with as little emotion as possible, Mac told her the story of Cassandra, Kronos and Methos. When he finished, Amanda stared at him, a look of shock on her beautiful face. He could sympathize. But he wasn't prepared for her reaction.
"You call yourself his friend, MacLeod? Then you badger him about something that happened well over two thousand years ago?" Her eyes blazed.
"Amanda, I just want to know why! I need to understand this and I can't."
"You're right. You can't and you never will. You can't begin to know what his life was that long ago. You can't even know what my life was like. But I can tell you that survival was everything - even for me. It was not the more or less civilized world you were born into. The expression dog eat dog can't even describe it. But the bigger issue is to quit looking at the man he was and see the man he is." A sharp recollection of the battered body Methos had been in the well sprang into Amanda's mind and she made the connection. "He's already been through hell for that past, Duncan! Don't force him to revisit it."
MacLeod gaped at her in astonishment. "Amanda, he had a choice -"
"Did he, Duncan? Do you know that for certain? Maybe there was a choice within a limited framework. Did you consider that? Maybe his alternative was to die."
She paused, Mac's face reflected the hurt that she would defend Methos, would be so willing to accept his past. Her face softened. "Duncan, you're a noble warrior. You see good and bad, right and wrong. You're the most honest man, Immortal or mortal, I've ever known. But you've made mistakes, done things that were out of your control. Don't you think Methos has as well? Think about it, Duncan. You had your clan for strength and support. I had Rebecca. Who do you think Methos had? Think about what the life of a foundling five thousand years ago would have been like. People were nothing. Children were raised to be workers, He's probably fought for survival nearly every century of his life." Amanda set her glass down, then rose to leave.
"Where are you going?" Mac asked, voice subdued.
"To see Methos. If he'll open the door."
Mac started to get up. "Wait. I'll go with you."
She stopped, stared hard at him. "I don't think so, Duncan. You need to think about how much you value him-- because if you place a high value on him, you need to let this rest or he's going to run." Her eyes got that "try to understand look" she got when she wanted MacLeod to see a different point of view. "And you know something? I wouldn't blame him if he did."
Mac started to respond, started to say he always runs, but the look on Amanda's face stopped him. He nodded his acceptance. She arched her eyebrows in that earnest way she had and he watched her leave, feeling somewhat like a disciplined schoolchild. It was one of the few times that he'd seen the thousand year old Amanda break through the frivolous facade she usually wore.
For a long time, MacLeod gazed into the golden amber of his drink, watching the alcohol as if it might reveal some truth he hadn't seen. Amanda's words lingered. What had Methos' life been like when he was pre-Immortal? Life was hard in that era, he knew. That Methos had survived as long as he had prior to his first death was amazing. But there were no scars to indicate he'd been mistreated - at least not physical scars, although his tendency to leanness could indicate a shortage of food that his body never was able to overcome. What about emotionally? Methos didn't recall much of his life before he took his first head, but, god, when was that? How long had he been an Immortal before that happened? Was there anyone to train him? How many times did he die before he knew what he was?
He frowned. All this was doing was creating more questions. For months, he'd not really cared about his friend's past, had never asked him a question until that day he'd asked about Kronos. He would never know what answer Methos might have given him if Cassandra hadn't arrived at that moment. True, he expected that it might have been a lie or a half-truth, but he would never know.
How much did he value Methos? Far more than he would have thought possible, Mac admitted honestly. While he was gone, he tried to come to terms with everything that haunted him - the friend he'd "accidentally" killed, the people he'd sat in judgment of and those he'd used for his own purposes, whether intentional or not. He thought he'd come to terms with Methos' past as well. Until he realized that he needed the old Immortal to tell him why he did it. Maybe Methos couldn't.
Wearily, Mac got to his feet and went to the small bookcase he had on the barge. He had a copy of "History's Timeline" which he quickly located and pulled out. Three thousand, BC, he thought with a moment of wonder, or earlier. "Killing was all I knew," he heard Methos' voice echo as he started down the events that shaped a world he never knew.
Methos felt like the rug had been pulled out from under him and it had been the only thing supporting him over a bottomless chasm. He knew there would be difficulty satisfying MacLeod, but Amanda's appearance had complicated it. She'd been an unexpected pillar in the past year - never questioning him but being there when he "needed" her. And yes, he admitted, he did need her at times. It had been a very rough year for him. But she wouldn't accept what he'd been any more than MacLeod did.
He'd started packing a bag and a few boxes as soon as he'd gotten back to his flat. "Running again?" his inner voice asked. It was a pattern, a survival tactic. "A coward's way out," his own voice said. He'd dropped to the bed, his stomach aching with a tension he was feeling too often lately. If he wasn't an Immortal, he'd be suffering from very bad ulcers by now. As it was, he ached like a knife was twisting in his stomach - and he knew exactly how that hurt.
Right now, he felt like the two hundred years of relative peace that he'd enjoyed while he was "out of the game" was only a brief interlude in an existence that had known more violence in a single decade than MacLeod had known in his entire life. His choices - when he'd had them - hadn't always been good, but at the time, he'd felt he was doing the right thing.
A sharp rap at the door startled him but didn't surprise him. The buzz of presence arrived at about the same time, a reminder that he'd not been alert, letting his mind focus too hard on things he couldn't alter. He glared at the door, willing whichever one it was to go away. The knock repeated, this time accompanied by Amanda's voice.
"Come on. Open the door, please. I need to talk to you."
"Go away, Amanda!" he shouted across the room.
"I'm not going away, so... open this door now!"
He turned his back to the door, determined to ignore her.
"Dammit, Methos!" Her voice wasn't loud, but it came through the door clearly. He almost gave in, but he didn't think he could face her right now.
There was silence, but the thrumming of her presence lingered. Then he heard the lock and swung around to see Amanda stepping through the door, lock pick still in hand. She smiled brightly, "You should have put the dead bolt on."
He sighed, annoyance coloring his voice. "I didn't think I'd need to. Most people go away when they're not invited in."
She tucked the tool back in its pouch and met his eyes evenly. "I'm not most people and I'm not your enemy."
"Let me guess - you came here to ask about the killing - what MacLeod was talking about." His voice was bitter.
She shook her head. "No. Duncan already told me. At least, his version of it."
"Ah." Methos' eyes narrowed. "So, now you want to hear my side."
She sighed. "Methos, I'm not your judge. If you want to tell me, fine. I'll listen. But I don't have to hear it. I know all I need to know about you."
He felt naked, weaponless suddenly. Was this a game she was playing? He couldn't quite believe she would accept it - especially MacLeod's version - a half-truth because he still couldn't tell the Highlander the whole truth.
Without another word, Amanda was within his arms, wrapping hers around him and her mouth finding his to cover it with a warm, lingering kiss. His arms closed around her, pulling her closer. Her hands shifted on his back, running up to his shoulder blades, caressing his neck.
"My god, sweetie. You're strung like bow!" she muttered in his ear, feeling him cringe slightly at the endearment.
"- just a little tense." His reply was muffled against her.
Firmly, Amanda guided them both to the bed, settling comfortably onto it. Her fingers worked quickly at the buttons on his shirt. It was more urgent than foreplay as she pulled the garment off. "Lie on your stomach," she ordered. He didn't argue as he recalled another occasion with Amanda about a year ago. At least she wasn't trying to drug him.
Amanda straddled him, sitting on his butt and leaned forward to press her long, dexterous fingers into the muscles of his neck. He stifled a little yelp as she found the tight strings that were the tendons through his neck and pressed and pulled them firmly. Inch by inch, she mashed, pulled and soothed the taut muscles. Pain gave way to blissful relaxation. If I'd known she could do this, I would have put her to work long ago, Methos thought as he closed his eyes.
Eventually Amanda's hands moved into more intimate areas, sliding down the inside of his thighs, rubbing his jeans against his skin with just the right pressure to stimulate. She knew exactly how much to tease and Methos reacted just as she had anticipated. Her hand started to slide up between his legs to press against the bound sacs beneath the fabric, but Methos rolled away, tipping her off him.
At first she thought he was playing, so she turned her attention to his chest, laying her hand against his stomach, ready to lean in and tease him with her tongue, but his hand caught hers roughly, shoving her away.
"Don't," he said hoarsely. "Please, Amanda, go now."
Her head came up sharply at the words and she gazed in confusion at his face. She saw pain in his eyes...and despair. "Methos? What?"
His lips compressed in a tight line as he swallowed hard, getting his emotions under control. He turned away from her, sitting up. "Don't make this more difficult. MacLeod is back."
Amanda frowned, not understanding. "Yeah..." she agreed slowly, then it connected. "Is that what's worrying you?"
"Amanda, you were... and still are... Mac's lover. What happened between us shouldn't have. I never should have let it go that far."
Amanda sat back, momentarily at a loss for words. Damn him. He was trying to be noble about this. The bloody idiot! "You shouldn't have let it go that far? Do you think I didn't have any say in it? Methos, how many times do I have to tell you that I am not exclusive with any man? And I happen to love you. You're a friend and a lover and I don't intend to have you step out of my life just because MacLeod stepped back into it. Yes, I love him and I want to go on loving him. But I hope that he understands that I also want you."
He took a deep breath, but even then his voice was shaky and he looked totally miserable. "Right now, Mac needs you. I'm not someone you can count on. He is."
"He's the one that disappeared for a year without a word!"
Methos refused to look at her. "He had problems and he worked them out. I wasn't much better, hiding away on a quest for Mac. We both left you. At least he had a reason."
Amanda counted silently to ten, getting her emotions under control before she said... or did... something she might regret later. Methos still hadn't brought his eyes up to meet hers and his whole posture was one of unease. There was definitely something below the surface. "Okay, what's really bothering you about this? It isn't just Duncan."
He shifted uncomfortably, forced himself to look at her. She waited patiently for him to say something. "Amanda, I... I don't know exactly how I feel about you. I don't know that I can..." he paused, looking for the right words. Preferably words that wouldn't anger her. "...accept you and Mac and you and me. I'm not sure how I'll feel when you're with him. Knowing you're with him."
The silence hung like a heavy rain cloud for several long moments as she waited for him to continue. Instinctively, she knew he had more to say and he just needed the time to organize his thoughts. Methos was rarely at a loss for words and the fact that he had a hard time expressing what was going on inside told her far more than what he actually said. He was a man who held the important things very close and rarely put them into words. In that instant, she realized that no matter how close she ever came to him, there would always be an unopened library within him that no one would be allowed to see. A hint of sorrow touched her doe-eyes as she thought, How does he bear it alone?
"I guess I expected everything to resume the way it was before Mac left. I though I --we-- would just compartmentalize what happened between us and tuck it away. No regrets." He flashed her a half-smile then. "Amanda, I had no idea..."
She held herself still, forcing her body not to reach for him. "Who do you love?"
He didn't pretend to misunderstand the question. "Both of you."
Her eyebrows gradually worked up into an arch as his words sunk in. "Well, that does put a different slant on this."
He shook his head, responded quickly as he realized what she was thinking. "Not like that. Not with Mac... But I am connected to him, Amanda. I'd lay down my life for him." His eyes locked with hers, an intense gaze that demanded attention. "Don't you understand? I don't want to hurt him. I can't risk any more."
She nodded, understanding too clearly how this was tearing him apart. She did reach for him then, pulling him into a tight hug. "You're a pretty damn good friend...to both of us."
He returned the embrace, arms wrapping tightly around her. As he pressed his head closely to hers, he murmured, "What happened with us is between the two of us. It doesn't concern MacLeod."
Her hand pushed his hair back from his eyes and she kissed him. "Somehow the time is never right for us, is it?"
"Not in several centuries," he whispered. "We never seem to be unencumbered at the same time."
Amanda was nearly out the front door of the building that housed Methos' flat when she picked up the presence of another Immortal. Her head came up and she began moving backward automatically. It might be Duncan, she told herself, but somehow she doubted it. She was starting back up the steps when the broad-shouldered man stepped through the door and she got a good look at him. He was huge, built like an oxen, with dark hair and eyes, a neatly trimmed beard. It took a moment, then the memory came in sharply...Vincenzo Calabrese!