Demons at Bay
by Lillian Wolfe


continued from part three...

An icy rain coated the sidewalks and made walking a little uncomfortable for Amanda and Methos. "Never a cab when you need one," Amanda complained. "Usually they cruise by here in pairs."

"Not at two-thirty in the morning, Amanda," Methos said reasonably. "There's a phone booth up near the Metro. We can call for a cab and wait there out of this sleet."

"Good idea." She wrapped her arm through his and snuggled against him.

The phone booth was visible a half a block away and across the street. Amanda nudged her companion, pointing it out. They were almost even with it when she let go of his arm and started across the street, laughing like a teenager and issuing a challenge that she could beat him to it.

"With a head start, yeah!" Methos complained, not really ready to go running after her. She was mid-way across the broad avenue when he spotted the movement of a dark object closing quickly toward her. Car, his senses supplied as he detected the sound of the motor. It was running without headlights and he had no doubt that Amanda was the target. His reaction was automatic--he yelled her name and started running.

Her reaction was expected; she spun around to see what he was hollering about. "What, Methos? Can't keep--" she started, a laugh on her lips. As they both detected the familiar sign of another Immortal, Methos hit her full force, knocking the wind out of her and sending her sprawling across the road. At the same moment the front fender of the vehicle clipped him and tossed him into the entrance to the Metro. The slick sidewalk gave him momentum down the steps, arms and legs bumping roughly against the concrete.

Amanda scrambled out of the street, staring hard at the disappearing car. "Damn! Of all the cowardly tactics!" Frightened and angry, she scrambled down the stairs to where Methos was slowly picking himself up. She saw pain in his face and reached to help him. "Methos, I'm sorry. That bastard probably wanted to run over me then take my head."

He winced against the pain in his hip, aware of the broken bone that was just beginning to knit. Then there was the pain in elbow and shoulder where he'd hit the wall. Sometimes it was easier to die and come back almost healed than to go through this process, he thought. Feeling like his left hip was going to give out at any moment, he leaned back against the wall for support and took a deep breath.

"How bad is it?" Amanda asked, concern in her voice.

"It's going to take a few minutes," he said, voice sounding strained. "I'm glad no one's around at this time of night."

Amanda slid an arm around him. "You look really pale. Maybe you should sit down."

He shook his head. "I'm all right. Miles' flat is about five blocks from here. Let's pay him a late night visit."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah. It's close and I'd like to get off the streets. If that was Diego, I'd rather he didn't follow you home."

Miles Montgomery didn't often pull his sword to answer the door, but an Immortal...or possibly two, if he'd detected the signal correctly--sometimes it was hard to tell--at a little after three made him cautious. He paused to check the security camera on the foyer and immediately propped the weapon against the wall.

"What the hell happened to you two?" he greeted the bedraggled Immortals at his doorstep. They were both wet, dirty, cold and Methos had a couple of bad rips in his jeans.

"Someone decided a ton of steel on wheels made a nice weapon," Amanda replied sarcastically. "Adam didn't want to see me squashed, so he got in the way."

"I see that. Trouble healing?" He'd noted the slight limp as the two had entered the flat.

"A little slow," Methos admitted. "Walking hasn't helped."

"Then sit down. Shower or drink first?"

"Definitely a shower," Amanda decided, shivering slightly. She gazed around the flat. "Nice place, Miles."

He flashed a charming smile, then pointed Amanda down the hall. "Thanks. Shower's on the right. Plenty of towels in the closet and I'll loan you a robe. The guest room is across the hall, first door on the left. Make yourself at home."

Amanda grinned, her natural good humour returning. "You, Miles, are a great host." She disappeared toward the bathroom.

Giving Methos a speculative look, he teased, "You can use the bath upstairs, Adam, if you think you can hobble up."

"Very funny, Rory. I think I can manage." Methos started slowly up the steps, still showing the effects of the bruising and soreness in his muscles. He paused, glanced back at the psychologist. "By the way, if another Immortal shows up, don't open the door. He's after Amanda's head."

"Wasn't planning to," Miles answered. "But thanks for the notice. Incidentally, help yourself to anything that might fit."

Whistling, Miles retired to the kitchen, put on a kettle to boil, then dumped tea in a large pot. Next he pulled out three over-sized coffee mugs and poured generous amounts of Irish whiskey into each one. Nothing like an old family drink to warm you on a cold, wet night, he thought. Besides, the whiskey tended to loosen tongues and so far, the last comment he'd gotten was the only one that had begin to tell him anything other than that a car had nearly run his friends down.

Methos was down before Amanda. He'd found a pair of sweats that didn't fit too badly although they were a tad short. Miles relieved him of his wet, dirty clothes and tossed them into the washing machine, then handed him one of the hot mugs.

"Tea? I think I need something stronger than this," Methos complained.

"Just try it," Miles urged and grinned as he watched the other Immortal's expression change.

"Okay. Now, that's a tea I can appreciate."

"Thought so. Let's go in the living room and you can tell me what this is all about."

As they settled, Methos started to fill Miles in on the situation, not too much detail, but enough to give him the idea. "The thing is, it's not like Diego to try to run someone down. He's an honorable man."

"Are you sure of that?" Amanda asked, catching the end of the statement as she came into the room. "They didn't have cars when you knew him." She was wrapped in a navy blue robe, a rose-colored towel turbaned on her head. The colors suited her, brought out the pink tints in her skin.

"Yes, I'm sure. It's not his style."

"Then who was in the car? It was an Immortal."

"You tell me, Amanda. Who else might want you dead?"

"No one."

"Amanda?" Methos raised his eyebrows, doubt showing though.

She pouted, sipped the tea Miles had slipped into her hand. "Really--I can't think of anyone else. Except..."

"Except?" Methos prompted.

"No...even Gabriella wouldn't stoop to running over me... I don't think."

"Who's Gabriella?" Miles asked, intrigued by all this.

Amanda sat down, thinking. "Ummm, I sort of borrowed her boyfriend a few decades ago--and didn't ask her."

"What happened to the boyfriend?" Methos asked, not liking where this was going.

"He died. It wasn't my fault, Adam!" she objected as he gaped at her in disbelief. "I didn't tell him to defend my honor."

"Great. We have two people with grudges after you. Or are there others that might be crawling out of the woodwork?"

She scowled at him. "No, of course not. I don't go around making Immortal enemies. Besides we don't know that it's anyone except Vincenzo--Diego--whatever his bloody name is."

"There has to be another way to settle this," Methos muttered. "I just can't see Diego killing someone over a jewel--I don't care how big it was. You need to find another way."

"Well, I can't very well return the stone, can I? I sold it a long time ago and I have no idea what happened to it after that. I'll just have to face him, if he has the guts to meet me."

"He'll kill you, Amanda," Methos repeated for the second time that night.

"Maybe not. Maybe I can charm him or something." She finished the tea and yawned. "Wow, I'm really tired."

"Stay here," Miles offered immediately. "The guest room is all yours and under the circumstances, I think it's better than going to your flat."

She flashed a quick smile at him. "You are a dear, Miles. It's a double bed, Adam. Plenty of room."

He gave her a tolerant smile. "Uhmmm, I think I'll take the sofa, Amanda. I'm not really tired yet."

"Your loss," she purred, definitely feeling the whiskey, as she slinked down the hall to the bedroom.

Miles poured another tea, added whiskey and a little sugar, then handed it to Methos.

"Trying to get me drunk?" Methos quipped.

The blonde shook his head. "You're sleeping upstairs, Adam."


"No arguments. I can have you in bed without touching you. I don't think Amanda can."

"And I can just sleep on the sofa."

"The point is there's no reason to. Might as well be comfortable, Adam."

Methos thought about it a moment, then gulped down the remainder of the tea. As he started up the stairs, he cast a lecherous look at Miles. "Maybe I can't keep my hands off you."

A devilish smile blossomed on the younger man's face. "Then don't."

As it turned out, they were both too tired and too relaxed by the drink. Miles gently rubbed Methos' back as they lay next to each other. The deep blue eyes were thoughtful and more than a little concerned. Finally, he spoke, his voice quiet with a hint of accusation. "You're going after this guy, aren't you?"

"What d'ya mean?"

"I mean you're going to confront him for Amanda. Fight him."

He was silent for a few minutes, then rolled to face Miles. "I think I have to."

"No, you don't!" Miles objected instantly. "It's Amanda's battle. Let her handle it."

"She hasn't got a chance against him. It's not something I want to do--Christ! In an odd way, I owe Diego my life. But I just can't let Amanda risk it."

"She means that much to you, huh?"

"Yeah--" Methos drew the word out as if there was more to say.

"And?" Miles urged.

"She means a lot to MacLeod as well." He caught the look on Miles' face. "Come on. You know MacLeod's important to me."

"I know," he said. "I just don't understand why."

"You barely know him, Rory. Don't judge him." Methos ran his hand against the younger man's cheek, his eyes asking him to understand. Don't put me in the middle, he pleaded silently.

Miles leaned into the kiss, let Methos wrap his arms around him, then dropped his head against his shoulder. "Fine! Just be careful," he muttered. "Now get some sleep."

Hell hath no fury like a female Immortal who has just had someone try to champion her. The amusing thought flashed through Miles' mind as Amanda paced back and forth, fuming. He wasn't sure, but he suspected she might be wearing a track into his carpeting.

"Damn!" she exclaimed for about the sixth time. "I could expect this from Duncan, but not from Me-- Adam! Didn't he give you any clue, Miles? A name? Something?"

Curiosity peaked at the almost slip Amanda made, Miles shook his head. "He left before I got up, Amanda. Believe me, I'd like to know where he went. All I can tell you is that he was worried about you keeping your head."

Pausing in her pacing, she gave him an exasperated look. "Like that doesn't work both ways?"

"He's not a kid, Amanda," Miles added, watching her eyes as he said it. "He can take care of himself. He's been doing it for a few centuries."

"Yeah, quite a few," she muttered without thinking, didn't catch the interested look on Miles' face. "But I don't want him interfering this time."

"Amanda, maybe he doesn't want to lose a friend if he can prevent it. Did you think about that? I mean, you two have known each other a long time, haven't you?"

Amanda nodded thoughtfully. "A long time," she echoed. "But we haven't really been friends until recently... I've got to find him." Spurred by the thought, she grabbed her mud-spattered coat and started for the door. "If you hear from him, tell him to stay the hell out of my business."

Miles gazed emptily at the closed door for a few minutes. Amanda had known Adam a long time, quite a few centuries? How many? A thousand or more? Longer than Sean? And she knew him by a different name. He was intrigued and at the same time a little hurt that Adam didn't trust him enough to talk about any of it. But trust came slowly sometimes and he was prepared to wait.

"So that's it, Duncan. I just want to stop Methos from taking this guy on. And I don't want you to do it either. There are times a woman has to stand up for herself. I got myself into this and I need to get myself out." Amanda was firm as she explained the situation to MacLeod while they drove. The late winter shadows were lengthening as the afternoon slipped away too quickly. She'd tried looking several places on her own before she broke down and went to the Highlander.

"Well, this is a new turn," MacLeod commented. "Since when did you turn down an offer of help in a fight? And how the hell did you get Methos in the middle of this? He's not one to take on a fight for chivalrous reasons."

"I didn't!" she replied in exasperation. "We just happen to know the same man. It wasn't my idea he should go looking for Vincenzo. I would have preferred he kept his long nose out of this." MacLeod could be so annoying sometimes and this was one of them. Like this was her fault? What really worried her was that debt that Methos felt he owed the Italian.

While MacLeod didn't personally know Calabrese, he did have a hunch or two where they might find him. He pointed the car toward the Isle de Citie to check out a couple of possibles. Most older Immortals were familiar with the old city and a man who rarely came to Paris would go to his old haunts more often than branch to the newer areas. At least it was a starting place.

Sometimes people might suspect Methos had precognitive abilities, but the simple truth was he had an extraordinary understanding of human nature. Lord knows, he'd had plenty of time to study them. So he knew which district of Paris Rodrigues was likely to haunt. All he had to do was find the right place and he had a few hunches about that, too.

Consequently, the fourth bistro in the Les Halles area he approached indicated he'd found his quarry or there was another Immortal in the district and in spite of the high number of Immortals that frequented the streets of the French capital, Methos expected this one to be Diego. He wasn't disappointed.

The riveting gaze of Rodrigues greeted him as soon as he stepped into the dark bistro on Rue Montorgueil. Even across the room, the intensity of that stare gave Methos a shiver. Warily he started toward the man, sensing an easing of the tension as he drew nearer.

Diego motioned to a chair at the table. The remains of a meal were evident in the stacked plates on the table in front of the chair, but a waitress hurrried to remove it from in front of Methos. "Another glass," Diego ordered as the girl hastily wiped the table.

Methos half-smiled. "The area bears little resemblance to when we first frequented these streets."

Diego nodded. "The rude effects of time, war and progress, old friend. None of them tread gently on what they touch. Although I like the fact that I am still safe walking the narrow confines of the area and less likely to be run over by a horse these days." He paused as the waitress brought another wine goblet, then he filled it from a bottle of ruby red house wine on the table. "The limitation to foot traffic in Les Halles is one of the few good changes."

Methos sipped the wine, noting the mustiness of the flavor that was reminiscent of France in earlier centuries. Wine then lacked the finer refinements of the modern vintages, the fermenting more raw, the flavor of the barrel more prominent. This wine was like that.

He hadn't realized he'd drifted off into his thoughts until he felt Rodrigues' eyes on him. He brought his gaze to the man he'd had an uneasy friendship with centuries ago, a man who had kept him alive simply because they were drinking buddies and both Immortals. He spoke softly, his voice persuasive. "Diego, I know what Amanda did to you and I know the stone was valuable. But it was centuries ago. She has changed a lot... we all have. Let it go, amigo. It's hardly worth a battle."

Diego frowned. "I told you before. It's more than the stone. It's the principle of the thing. She killed me and stole from me."

"And you killed her for it. Since you both revived, it seems like neither one of you were permanently damaged. The value of the stone can be compensated. If you need an apology, I'll talk to Amanda--"

"That is not acceptable," Diego interrupted. "She owes and she will pay."

"Then you'll have to go through me," Methos replied firmly, if not enthusiastically.

"You would fight me after I saved your scrawny neck?" Diego asked, gaping at the audacity of his friend. "I could have let them burn you."

"You also tortured me to death," Methos countered reasonably. "I'm asking you, as a friend, to forget what Amanda did. I don't want to fight you."

Diego glared at him, reached to refill his wine glass. The big man glowered with aggravation. "There's more, Miguel. It pains me to discuss it. I was in love with Amanda and she used me. She misused my trust. She could have had anything she wanted if she hadn't betrayed me. A woman like that does not deserve to live."

Methos heard the pain in the man's voice, knew how much that confession had cost him. No man wanted to admit that someone he loved betrayed him and, for the big Italian, it was an enormous blow to his ego. Gently, he said, "Love makes fools out of the smartest men sometimes, Diego. And survival makes a good man... or woman... less than perfect. Amanda had very little in those days, lived by her wits or her wiles. Stealing was the only thing she could do. She's grown since then, matured. She wouldn't use a man these days." He didn't add that her theft had gotten more sophisticated and tended to be from museums or large public collections rather than individuals.

For a couple of minutes, Rodrigues said nothing as he leaned back in his chair. Methos waited patiently then leaned forward, his hands pressed on the top of the table, an unconscious sign of trust. "Diego, people change."

"Sure of that are you, Miguel? You were willing to suffer for a woman you believed had changed before. Would you suffer pain for this one?"

Silently cursing Amanda, Methos nodded.

Abruptly, Rodrigues rocked forward and his left hand shot out with a speed unexpected in so large a man. Before Methos even had an idea of what was coming, the man planted a six inch stiletto blade through his right hand and into the wooden table top. It took every bit of control Methos had not to try to jerk the hand back as he bit his lower lip and concentrated on the face of the man who now leaned toward him and studied his face. Diego's huge hand still covered the hilt of the dagger, obscuring the act of violence from anyone watching.

"Is she worth it, Miguel?" Rodrigues hissed lowly, his voice declaring the danger. His eyes glittered as he watched the pained face only a few inches before his eyes.

Methos knew he had accepted this challenge-- had heard the words and not registered that the former torturer would do something like this. Would make him prove his commitment. Damn, he'd walked right into this one! Through a dry mouth, the old Immortal managed to speak. "Yes, she is."

"That is too bad, old friend." He lifted up a little on the knife and twisted the blade in Methos' hand. Without mercy, the sharp blade severed tendons across two of his fingers, bruised bones and tore the muscles in his hand. Somehow, Methos managed to control the cry that wanted to escape from his throat, his anger flaring that Rodrigues would not only do this to him, but do it in public.

"Now, we fight!" Diego growled, extracting the blood-covered blade. He slid the chair back, rose to his feet and gave a sharp jerk of his head toward the back exit of the bistro.

Quickly withdrawing his injured hand into his lap, Methos glared at the man he had called a friend. The green amber eyes blazed as Methos rubbed at his healing hand, feeling the damage that still existed beneath the already sealed surface wound. The tendons and muscle tissue would take time to heal, fifteen or twenty precious minutes maybe. Time enough for Rodrigues to extract full advantage of his disability. His body tensed as the fury rose within him. He had expected better of the big Italian.

Abruptly, he checked the raw anger. He needed to be in control. Rising quickly, he shoved his right hand into his coat pocket, barely sparing a glance at the wooden table where his blood was already fading into the red wine stains to go unnoticed. Then he followed Diego into the back alley. A few doors down was an empty ballroom with a "for lease" sign on it. The big man stepped inside, taking the fight to an isolated location. Resolutely, Methos followed.

The interior was dark, very little light filtering in from the street lights through the high windows. Methos drew his sword, shifting and balancing it in his left hand as he cautiously edged into the darkness. His eyes adapted to the darkness quickly and he surveyed the layout of the open room. Above him were naked pipes across the ceiling, most likely supplying water to the rooms above them. Along one wall was a series of portable exercise bars and the whole back wall was mirrors where the students could watch their turned out toes and straight backs as they went through their warm-ups.

There was a staleness to the room that suggested that it hadn't been opened in quite some time and indicated that no one would be likely to interrupt them. A slight tinge of fish from a nearby restaurant mingled with the stale air reminding Methos of a similar encounter a few centuries earlier. Sometimes it seemed nothing changed, only the players were different. He'd been defending a lady then as well.

Methos shifted out of his long coat, wanting as much freedom of movement as possible. Diego shifted his stance as he readied himself for the fight. Even with his slight handicap, Methos knew the Italian remembered the quality of the swordsman he faced-- Diego had seen him in action more than once in their varied history and he knew the injury to the right hand wouldn't slow him down much. Methos considered all this as he brought the sword up to engage.

Once again, Methos was surprised by the speed of a man the size of Rodrigues. He moved in quickly, his long elegant sword barely missing his opponent's nose. Methos countered with a return swipe that lacked finesse but was effective, nonetheless, as he pressed into the Italian's space.

A left-hander himself, Rodrigues knew his best hope was in dispatching the wiry Immortal before his right hand healed enough to handle the heavy sword he used. He pressed his advantage, bringing the sword in perilously close to Methos' head, forcing the older man to defend and pressing him back toward the wall. The sharp clang of steel against steel echoed in the empty room, a dangerous sound as the encounters came more frequently. Rodrigues used brute force and a hard attack to wear at the slighter man.

Methos had speed and agility, but he was definitely hampered by not having full use of his right hand. It had been too long since he'd practiced with his left and he made a mental note to remedy that oversight -- if he survived this encounter. Thinking quickly, he shifted his retreat toward the row of exercise bars and gave way more easily against the onslaught.

As Duncan MacLeod shoved his way down the crowded street in Les Halles, he began to wonder if he was on the right track or not. Behind him, Amanda scurried to keep up. They'd been to eight bistros in the Isle de Citie before they'd come here and thus far, they hadn't found a hint of Rodrigues or Methos. He wasn't even sure if they should continue the pursuit. Methos could take care of himself -- he'd been doing it far longer than he and Amanda combined. But Amanda was determined so he continued.

"So what are we doing, MacLeod?" Amanda asked. "Just wandering the streets until we detect another Immortal? I don't think that's a terrific plan."

Mac turned toward her, opening the door to yet another bistro. "Look, Amanda, all I'm doing is guessing. If you have a better idea, let's hear it."

She frowned and shook her head. "No. I was just hoping we'd be lucky and find him."

Mac rolled his eyes. "Since when did you become so concerned about Methos?"

"We became pretty good friends while you were gone," she answered without thinking.

"What d'ya mean--while I was gone?" Mac stepping behind her into the rustic-looking restaurant.

"Umm, I mean for a little while there, Methos was someone I could talk to--before he left Paris."

Mac stared at her. What the heck was she talking about? First she comes off defending Methos, no matter how justified it might have been, then she's calling him a friend and worrying about him in a matter he could probably solve without any help. And what about the old man himself? Taking on a fight for Amanda? Well, maybe that made a little sense... Methos did tend to go out of his way for friends... My friends, the qualifier slipped into his thoughts unbidden.

But it didn't linger long as Mac caught the attention of one of the waiters and asked if the man had seen a tall, slim man with dark hair, wearing a long black coat. The waiter nodded. "With another man. A big fellow, dark with a beard and a huge appetite."

"Calabrese," Amanda murmured. "Where did they go?"

Suddenly the waiter seemed to have short term memory loss as he shook his head with a frown. MacLeod fished out the expected memory refresher and a few francs brought them a nod toward the back door. "There is an alley, monsieur."

The Scot wasted no more time, but crossed quickly to go out the door. Amanda was close on his heels. Outside, they gazed both ways, looking for any indicator of where the two Immortals might have gone. Amanda's eyes locked on the "for lease" sign a few buildings up. "That way, Duncan."

He shrugged and followed her up the alley. They detected the strong psychic signal of a pair of Immortals at almost the same moment and he gave her a wry look. "Maybe we were wandering until we felt them." But the humor left his face as soon as he stepped through the door.

Sharp staccatos of clashing steel assailed the ears and both pairs of eyes were drawn to the scene playing at the far side of the hall. The action reflected eerily in the glass panels against the back wall. Methos was almost backed into the line of bars, all his energy going into defending against the attack of the robust Italian. Without even a glance their direction, Rodrigues shouted, "Whoever you are, you cannot interfere. But don't fret. Your turn will come soon enough."

As he watched, MacLeod noted the lack of energy in Methos' sword work, then suddenly realized Methos was fighting left-handed, giving the advantage to his opponent. "What's he doing?" he mumbled, a frown creasing his face.

Then Methos was back against one of the bars with no place else to go--or so it seemed. Until the old Immortal dropped both hands on the bar, levered his body up and swung his legs out into the middle of the attacking swordsman's stomach. The sword blade arched away from Methos, clattering to the floor as Rodrigues lost his grip.

Seizing the moment, Methos vaulted away from Diego--literally throwing his body a good distance away that landed him on his rear rather than his feet, but at least out of instant reach. Wincing, he flexed his right hand and got to his feet, then grasped the heavy medieval sword with both hands.

As he caught his breath and regained his feet like a drowsy bear, Diego began advancing on his one-time friend again. Methos didn't wait, but moved in swiftly, swinging all out despite the pain. In the flurry of blows, he managed to catch Rodrigues' sword hand. The lighter sword slipped free and sailed several feet away, the gleam of the blade reflecting in the mirror. The next swipe of the sword brought him to his knees.

Methos moved in tight, brought his blade to rest against Diego's throat. He took several deep breaths, readying himself. But he didn't want the Italian's head... definitely didn't want the Quickening. His voice was icy, chilling as he spoke. "I will spare your life, Rodrigues, if you forget you ever knew Amanda -- or me."

Diego's eyes rested on the youthful face that glared haughtily at him, a face he had seen in the midst of the carnage and chaos of war and in the pain of torture. Then his eyes reached beyond Methos to where Amanda stood almost in the center of the empty floor. Her eyes were bright, a touch of hope and a glint of anger in them.

In spite of the blade at his throat, Rodrigues spoke forcefully. "Miguel says you have changed. To have the loyalty of such friends, you must have. I will not continue my vendetta. I am a stranger to you --" He paused, shifted his gaze up to meet Methos' cold glare. "--to both of you."

Methos raised his sword and stepped back a few paces from the man. He flexed his right hand, checking the almost healed tendons, and used the hand to rotate the sword to a resting position between his feet. With a nod, Diego levered himself to his feet and left without another word.

As the Italian left, Methos lowered his head, relief flooding through him. Then Amanda was beside him and her arms wrapped around him in a tight hug. As he pulled her closer, she planted a kiss on his cheek and whispered, "I could break your neck for doing that-- But thank you."

Through the physical let down of the fight and the emotional low of a friend's betrayal, he found himself trembling a bit. Ignoring the dryness in his mouth, he said, to no one in particular, "Diego was my friend once. I hope he'll forgive me." Sheathing his sword, he walked away, shoulders sagging wearily.

Confused, Amanda turned to MacLeod, the look on her face asking the question.

"He fought a friend for you, Amanda," Mac explained patiently. "A man he had no grudge with and he felt he owed." A whisper echoed in his mind, Kronos--a man he felt he owed, a brother. Silas, a man he had no grudge with, a friend. Mac found himself looking at the events of almost two years earlier from a different perspective. Methos had saved Cassandra's life in the Bronze Age, had managed to keep her alive against Kronos--even if he wasn't strong enough then to take on the evil Horseman. When Kronos had reappeared, he'd done everything he could to get Mac away from him and when that had failed, he'd done what he had to do to give them a chance at winning. And he'd kept Cassandra alive.

Methos hated fighting, Mac realized. In all the time he'd known him, the old Immortal never went in search of a battle. And who could blame him? He'd had enough of that over his centuries of life. Yet, for MacLeod or any of the Highlander's friends, Methos would pick up the sword. Who are you, really? Mac wondered as he put his arm around Amanda's shoulder.  The Highlander hugged her closely as they left the empty building.

"So where is Amanda off to this time?" Joe Dawson asked as he sipped at the cold beer. The bar stool was a comfortable perch, but he missed the old furniture from the barge. Methos had claimed the other stool leaving MacLeod to sit on the barge floor, but the Highlander didn't seem to mind.

Mac smiled impishly. "She says she's going to New York to arrange a showing of some of her more obscure pieces of art. She actually has a painting or two by Rafael that no one ever knew about, and she has a Picasso that the man painted for her. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if she isn't checking out the security of the building for other reasons."

Joe snorted. "And you felt you had to defend her honor for being accused of something she still does, Methos?"

"I know, Joe. But I couldn't let Diego kill her. I'm just glad I didn't have to take his head."

"At what cost?" The Watcher asked softly, his eyes seeing more in the old Immortal's expression than just the words. "You could have lost more than a friendship."

"Well, life is full of choices," Methos replied. "Some are good; some aren't. Some are sound and some are emotional. Sometimes you make a choice even when you know it's not good." He thought of Gaviota -- how he'd chosen to ignore what he had suspected about her and it had cost her life and nearly his. If he'd acted on those instincts, he might have been able to get her safely away from Spain before she was caught.

"It seems to me that Immortals get the opportunity more often than us short-timers to revisit those choices. Sometimes they even get to correct the mistake," Joe observed.

"Sometimes we do," Mac agreed.

"And sometimes we don't realize the mistake until it's way too late to do anything about it," Methos countered. His eyes rested on Mac, wondering if the Highlander would get it.

Whether Mac did or not, he wasn't certain, but it was obvious Joe had a clue. The Watcher finished off his beer and shoved himself to his feet. He seemed to lean a little more heavily on his cane these days. "Well, I appreciate the brew and the company, but I've got a job waiting for me. I'll see you two later."

An affectionate smile touched MacLeod's face. "'Night, Joe."

Methos echoed the parting in a softer voice. Then he and MacLeod sat in silence for several long minutes, each seemingly absorbed in his own thoughts. All the words Methos wanted to say sat like bricks on his chest, strangling his voice. There had been a time when he felt he could talk easily with Duncan MacLeod; when the Highlander would have respected what he said and believed him. He'd tried to be honest as much as he dared, but the few things he'd held back had the effect of land mines. So here they were, almost like strangers.

"Why don't you tell me what's on your mind?"

Mac's voice startled him out of his deep thoughts. His response was almost automatic. "How d'ya mean?"

The Scot's lips curved into a hint of a smile. The old Immortal equivocated so easily that, half the time, he wasn't aware he was doing it. "You know what I mean. You're sitting there looking like you're about to explode at any minute, but you're not talking. Didn't used to be a problem."

Methos gnawed at his lower lip. "Maybe it's not as easy as it once was. Things have changed, MacLeod, and it doesn't seem like we can find a way back to where we were."

"Where we were? You mean back to where I had a totally different picture of who you were? Back to where Methos was 'Adam Pierson' in my mind?" Mac paused, noting the slightly defined slumping of the older man's shoulders. "You know, Adam was easy to like. He wasn't as caustic as you are, was more open about things. You slipped in gradually, Methos, until there's nothing left of Adam -- and I miss him."

"Adam... that wasn't who I really am," Methos choked out, understanding MacLeod's complaint, but not knowing quite how to answer it. "It was like wearing a cloak, a covering over the real personality. It was protection, but, Christ, MacLeod, that personality is still part of me."

"I know that." His voice was gentle, hinting at understanding. "But it's almost non-existent in who you are right now. And I don't even know if this is the real Methos. What did you say once--'I have been many things...' The fact is, you've changed so much and I still don't know who you are."

Methos swallowed hard, forced himself to ask the question that badgered him. "What you're saying, MacLeod, is that things will never be the same between us -- is that it?"

"Methos, I value your friendship. You're not like any other Immortal I know. What you are...have difficult to comprehend. Difficult to accept completely--"

"It's a simple question," Methos interrupted. "A simple yes or no, MacLeod."

The Highlander gave him a look of frustration. "No, it's not a simple question. But yes, that's what I'm saying. It can't be the same."

For a long moment, Methos felt like his stomach had just been twisted into a knot. He caught his breath with a deep inhale of air, calmed himself before he spoke. "Then maybe you're finally learning, MacLeod." He reached for his coat, started to shrug it on.

He felt Mac's hand on his arm, a firm grip holding him. Please don't do this, he thought with all his will. I can't handle this right now.

"Methos, sit down." The voice was firm, not accepting any other reaction except the one he desired.

Methos could have left, could have shrugged Mac off and given him one of his scathing glares then charged right on out. Maybe MacLeod would have come after him, maybe not. Instead, he dropped to the bar stool, fidgeting uneasily. He felt trapped, like a butterfly with a pin stuck through it, unable to break free.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past couple of days," Mac started, his voice tentative, feeling its way through what he wanted to say. "I've realized that I never really gave you a chance after Cassandra told me about the Horsemen. Nothing you said then would have changed how I reacted. I was caught between two friends, one I had known a long time and trusted, and one I had only known a couple of years but had moved into a position of trust. Finding out what you were was a shock. It didn't match with everything I knew about you and I began to doubt you. I felt betrayed by you."

Methos swallowed hard, not liking where this was going. I couldn't let sleeping dogs lie--no, I had to go shake them awake and make them attack. After five thousand years, you would think I would have learned better, he chided himself. He would have laughed at his own stupidity only this hurt too much.

"In retrospect, I can see what happened from another view. I realize that when you needed me to be your friend, I wasn't there. All I could see was Cassandra's view. All I could feel was her anger coupled with my own feelings of betrayal. But even--even through all of that, I couldn't lose you. Cassandra asked me if I could kill you and I told her if I had to, but I think it might have destroyed me if it had come to that. As painful as losing Richie was, it wasn't as bad as these last few months when I didn't know if you were alive or not."

"Mac, about that--" Methos started, not sure if his voice could stay steady through a confession.

"No," Mac interrupted, his eyes widening intently in a firm warning to his friend. "You have nothing to say here. You sit and you listen."

Shifting uncomfortably, Methos dropped his eyes to a spot on the floor. It looked like a wine stain on the wood--or maybe blood. He focused on that as Mac continued.

"I can never look at you with the same...innocence again. I was naive in what I thought you were, Somehow I never considered how very different your life has been and it's not easy to understand it. I doubt I ever will be able to really look at the number of years you've lived with any real comprehension." MacLeod settled himself on the bar stool next to his friend.

As Mac studied his face, Methos felt the Highlander's eyes on him and avoided looking directly at him. The words stung. Not that what MacLeod was saying wasn't true or fair, but that they were not what he wanted to hear. He felt like he'd just been dissected-- like being tied naked on a pole and beaten was a minor pain next to this one.

"Methos, just because our friendship has changed doesn't mean it's not as strong as it was. It just has new dimensions, new considerations."

The old Immortal felt hope rising. Maybe all was not lost.

"There's something I need to ask you about Kronos. It's been nagging me..." Mac paused, spoke gently. "Methos, look at me." He waited until that innocuously young face turned toward him and he could gaze into the clear hazel eyes. "Did he torture you?"

Methos froze, the question was unexpected and a half dozen vivid, painful memories shot through his mind...being dragged across the sand until he was bruised and bloody, the feel of a leather strap against his back, the pain of fire against his face and eyes. He closed his eyes and let out his breath sharply. Christ! He hadn't been expecting that one! He said nothing, didn't trust himself to speak.

Then he felt the light touch of Mac's thumb against his cheek and became aware of the moisture on his face, Damn! He jerked his head back sharply. He didn't need pity! He opened his eyes, focused hard on Mac's eyes. "It was nothing, MacLeod. Let it be."

Mac nodded slowly, his look saying "no more questions," but he already had his answer. The old Immortal's eyes returned to the spot on the floor and focused on it, refusing to even think beyond the moment. This was his own doing-- he'd pushed it; he'd wanted to settle the issues. Well, here they were right out in the open. So now MacLeod could feel compassion and justify his years with the Horsemen because he was forced to be there and it would still be a lie. At least one thing the Highlander said was true-- he had no comprehension of what his life was like.

He heard the clink of glass on the bar and shifted his gaze slowly. Mac was filling two glasses with his best scotch. He handed one to Methos. "Your past is behind you and that's where it belongs. A surprisingly smart friend advised me to see the man you are and I listened to her. Right now, I want to share a drink with my friend-- my best friend." MacLeod lifted his glass to Methos, then raised it to his mouth.

Somehow, Methos managed to bring the glass to his lips and force a smile at MacLeod. Best friend, he thought. Why didn't it make him feel good? Wasn't this what he wanted? Or maybe it was because no matter what the words, the Highlander's stance conveyed a different message. One that said the friendship was still strained. Somehow, Methos felt empty, as if there was a great hole within him that nothing could fill.

An early plane took Methos from Paris the next morning. From a few hundred feet over the River Seine, he gazed at the small block that was Mac's barge. This time no one knew where he was going... most especially not him.

The End


Historical Notes:

The Spanish Inquisition was a particularly long period of discrimination and genocide against anyone in Spain who was not of the Roman Catholic religion. It saw its start in the rantings of an archdeacon who finally gained enough popular support to cause a riot in the late 1300's and it lasted until the early part of the 19th century. The majority of its victims were the Marranos (converts from Judaism) and Moriscos (converts from Islam), many of whom were suspected of secretly adhering to their original faiths, although no one was safe from the long arm of the Inquisitors. It mattered not whether you were male or female, elderly or only a child, rich or poor, beautiful or plain. Those who were rich had their possessions confiscated to fund the Inquisition and even those who had died who were suspect could be exhumed and burned to purify their souls... and to gain the wealth of their families.

It was not uncommon for those who were a part of the Inquisition to become victims of the same. The descriptions of the torture in this story are reasonably accurate based on the records of the time. The Inquisition was meticulous in recording the details of the "questioning." It was astounding that mere mortals survived at all.

Bibliography: New Grolier Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Brittanica, and "The Spanish Inquisition" by Cecil Roth