|Demons on Demand
by Lillian Wolf
This novella is a labor of love based on the characters in the Davis-Panzer Production, "Highlander The Series". The characters of Methos, Duncan MacLeod, Joe Dawson, Sean Burns 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 had to tell me another story. They are returning to their regular jobs with no permanent damage (except poor Sean who is still dead). Dr. Miles Montgomery and the rest of the characters are my own creation.
My thanks to Tiffany and Dianne for proofing, critiquing and being great beta readers. If there are mistakes left, they are my own. There is a reference in one sequence that refers to "Niam." If you want to know more about this lady in Methos' past, you can read about her in my story "No Fool".
This story is a sequel to "Demons At The Gate" and while it is complete in itself, there are references that make more sense when that one is read first.
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 violence, sex (m/f), implied slash and if you're not legal age, please come back when you are. You have been WARNED
Methos consciously worked to keep his wrists relaxed and his fingers loose on the sword hilt as he focused his awareness completely on the movement of the blade coming toward him, seeing the body that wielded it only as an object to anticipate, not as the face of the person who controlled it. The bright steel cut in toward his body in a quick dart. He shifted his weight easily and let it whiz just past his chest before stepping in under his opponent's guard and bringing his own sword into an unintended slice across her stomach.
"Ow! That hurt, Methos!" Amanda protested. Frowning, she rubbed her hand against the shallow cut along her mid-section, studied the blood on her fingers as if she'd never seen any before. "Aren't you getting a little rough?"
"Sorry. I hadn't intended to come in so close, but you left yourself wide open, Amanda. You can't do that. This is nothing personal, but you fight like a girl." His expression looked more concerned than sorry. Against her wishes, he'd prodded Amanda into sparring with him. She thought he was wanting to practice after his recent illness - the word sounded totally foreign to him when considered with Immortals - but in reality, he wanted to see just how skilled she was with a sword. He'd easily disarmed her the time they'd fought at the train yard and he'd suspected she hadn't been keeping up her training. So far, everything was confirming that suspicion.
She glared at him. "At least make that a woman! It's what I am." She waved her shorter sword perilously close to his nose, irritation that he didn't at least pull his head back a little showing on her face.
He reached out, caught the hand rotating the sword by the wrist and pulled her tightly to him, blade swinging up to form a slim barrier between their cheeks. She was only a couple of inches shorter than him, equally as slim, but with nowhere the strength in her arms and shoulders. It wasn't just the simple fact men were stronger - it had to do with not building the muscles up to handle a sword with speed and force. He knew women could do it, had met a couple over the centuries who could almost best him in a fair fight and could take him in an unfair one. Luckily they hadn't wanted his head - at least not the one on his shoulders. "Girl," he repeated softly, but forcefully. "You don't have any strength in your swings, no speed. And you lack finesse."
"Really?" Her eyes narrowed, dark brown pools growing deeper. Her free hand swung around to punch him hard in the ribs. As a whoosh of air escaped from his lips, she twisted the wrist he held and smashed the flat of the blade against his check, opening up a thin slice of skin only a little more than a paper cut in depth.
Methos hissed slightly with the pain, but didn't loosen his grip. Instead he pulled her hand more firmly to him, the blade still resting on his cheek and brought his mouth down over hers, ignoring the blade pushing a little deeper into his flesh. Her lips were stubborn, a pout holding them tightly together, but he pushed forcefully against them, his tongue and teeth encouraging them to open with taunting little forays and light nips at the base. The breech of the blockade was small, tentative, then the resistance gave and her tongue met his in surrender.
His hand released her wrist and the sword slipped away from his face, his blood a thin layer along the edge. Already the cut was healing, only a tiny stream of blood left to indicate there'd ever been a slice. She raised her arms around his neck, locking her hands over the sword hilt as they met. Her mouth pulled away from his, shifted to his cheek to cover the healing cut, tasting his blood with her tongue.
Abruptly Methos pulled her as tightly as possible, his chin dropping against her shoulder so she was nestled close to him. He just wanted to hold her, to not have to let go. God, how had she survived all these years with minimal fighting skills? How could he leave her on her own? He was torn with the need to go looking for MacLeod and the desire to stay near Amanda. You're an idiot, he chided himself. You can't protect her and she doesn't need you to do it.
"You're worried about me..." Amanda said with a touch of surprise. "That's what this is all about, isn't it?" She pulled back to get a good look at the green-gold eyes, learning that more of Methos' communication came from his eyes than his voice. Gently, she placed her fingers along his jaw and kissed him affectionately.
He pressed his forehead against hers, played with the almost shoulder-length strands of her hair. "How have you survived, Amanda?" he asked, anxiety coloring his voice to a strained sound.
A tiny smile tipped her lips. "Oh, sweetie, I've got other skills. I've managed all these years with more than my sword. I can protect myself."
He still cringed mentally when she called him by the sugary endearment. "At least kick them in the groin," he murmured. He knew the effectiveness of that move.
She laughed. "When did you become such a worrier?"
"When I started losing friends I care about." His voice sounded more bitter than he had intended, but it was the truth. He'd lost more friends of the Immortal variety recently than in the past one thousand years. While he didn't exactly call Kronos a friend, there was a brotherhood with the man that was difficult to explain. And with Silas. Not so much with Caspian. They had never been close, but trusted, yes. And he'd betrayed them. Then there was Byron, a good friend he'd loved and admired for his brilliance and charm. He'd forgiven Byron a lot over the years, but he hadn't had the conviction to make more than a cursory argument with MacLeod over that. Not to mention Richie, whom he hadn't even realized he'd grown fond of in the past couple of years- until it was too late. And Darius and Sean Burns who'd once counted among his companions even though he'd rarely seen them in this century. Niam, another old friend he'd found and lost equally as quickly and at his own hand. And a half a dozen others within the past eight months.
Now MacLeod was off God-knows-where and he didn't know how the Highlander was faring. Joe's Watchers had lost track of him after he left Seacouver. MacLeod was too wise to the lurking ways of that group. Once you were on to them, they were easy to spot. Methos had known every Watcher he'd had for countless centuries now, made friends with more than a couple of them. His most recent one was about four centuries ago, not counting Joe, of course. But Joe wasn't official. The blues man still counted himself MacLeod's Watcher and out of respect and friendship, kept Methos' identity unknown to the organization.
Add this new relationship with Amanda to the growing concerns he had and Methos found himself worrying about more people than he had since the eleventh century. He wasn't sure if he could actually define the relationship with Amanda. It wasn't exactly love--deep affection and concern for her, yes. A desire to keep her safe, yes. An acknowledgment that she had deep ties to MacLeod, yes. All of which made him question his motives in bed and out. Was he just protecting MacLeod's property or was he hiding deeper truths from himself? Or was it just the two of them finding comfort in the absence of someone who had dominated their lives over the past few years?
All he really knew, he conceded, as Amanda rubbed his neck and shoulders and hugged him back as tightly as he held her, was that right now, she was important to him and he had to leave her. There are issues to settle, MacLeod's voice had said in the well. Whether it came from MacLeod or his own subconscious, the truth remained. Methos wouldn't rest until he found him.
Methos hesitated at the door, nearly turned to spring away, discarding the idea altogether. He studied the bronze plaque centered in the wood - Miles Montgomery, Doctor of Psychology. It was inevitable that he would come here-- the need to know anything about MacLeod's present state of mind tantamount to his own well-being. They were connected, linked in ways the ancient Immortal couldn't even begin to explain. Ever since Mac had left him, he'd felt incomplete, as if he was waiting for something- someone.
Finally, his hand dropped to the door knob with the same sort of trepidation as picking up a snake, turned it and he pushed the door open. He felt the presence of the other Immortal as soon as he stepped into the waiting room. A fashion-plate assistant glanced at him, large violet eyes - the wonders of colored contact lenses - greeting him with interest. "Bon jour, monsieur. May I help you?" she inquired in French.
He glanced toward the connecting door, knowing Montgomery was there. "I was wondering--That is- uh - could I possibly get a few minutes with Dr. Montgomery?" His French was flawless, but his mind wasn't focused. What exactly did he expect to find here?
"I'm sorry. Dr. Montgomery is booked for the entire afternoon. Perhaps I can make an appointment?" Her fingers flipped a page on the appointment book, long polished nails already scanning for an opening.
"No- thank you. I'll call later."
He turned to leave when the inner door opened and Montgomery stepped out. A slight smile crossed his boyish face. "Pierson! I hoped you would come. How are you feeling?"
"Fine. I thought we could talk a few minutes, but I can call later."
Montgomery came forward, caught his arm gently, careful not to seem threatening. "No, no! I can spare a few minutes. I'll be done with this patient in ten minutes. Evangeline, please get Mr. Pierson a drink and show him to my office." Methos thought he must have seemed really surly when he first meet Montgomery at the hospital in Lyon. But then he hadn't been at his best that day and he'd been alarmed at encountering another Immortal.
Before Methos could protest, the doctor urged him toward the other door in the reception area. "Please, Pierson. I would like to talk to you."
Evangeline was already opening the door. "Would you like wine or, perhaps, Scotch, Monsieur Pierson?" she asked in slightly accented English.
Methos nodded, stepping into the expensively furnished office and dropping into one of the over-stuffed leather chairs. "Actually, coffee would be good." The old Immortal wanted his head clear. It was too early in the day to start drinking and he was having enough problems with being in a psychologist's office. As the woman confirmed his request and went to get him a coffee, he studied the room. Methos was a student of human nature and had dabbled a bit in psychology himself, but it did nothing to make him feel comfortable in this situation. It was a whole different ball game when you were the subject of the probing and he had no intention of being in that position.
He wandered slowly around the room, inspecting the plaques and photographs on the wall. Montgomery had a degree from the University of Missouri in medicine and Oxford University in psychiatry, having graduated from the latter in 1982. The edges of Methos' lips went up a little, curious as to whether this was the first time the good doctor had earned that degree, or if, like him, he possessed multiple degrees in the same field in different eras.
A photograph near the window caught his attention and he went over to get a closer look. The red-haired man standing next to Montgomery in the shot had looked familiar; he now confirmed it was Sean Burns. "Well, well," he murmured, "this is an interesting development."
Evangeline brought coffee, in a pot on a silver tray with cream and sugar in matching silver containers, and set it on the end table for him. All the amenities, Methos noted as she poured the coffee. Montgomery didn't hesitate to give an affluent impression, but then he probably had a very profitable practice. If he was like Sean Burns, he dealt with mortal patients of varying degrees of prosperity. But if he was truly like the now-deceased Immortal, he also gave freely of his time to those who couldn't afford.
Methos settled into the comfortable chair again, pleased that the assistant had left him alone, then added cream and a touch of sugar to the coffee and contemplated this situation. He'd been disturbed about Montgomery's reference to MacLeod and about his own mumblings ever since the remark at the hospital. Joe hadn't shed much light on it, simply saying that Montgomery and MacLeod had "run into each other" and had a brief discussion. In spite of MacLeod's uneasiness, he had learned the Highlander planned to leave Paris, possibly seeking solitude and peace in the far east and if Methos wanted to know more, he'd have to talk to the psychologist himself.
For Methos, that kind of renewal would be Tibet - it was the place he preferred to regain his sanity, but for MacLeod it could be one of several places- Japan, China, even India. He'd almost expected Mac to go back to the source, to Scotland, to regain himself, but it seemed that wasn't the case. If Montgomery could be believed. That was why he was here - to see if the psychologist had real information, to see if he could trust him.
"I'm glad you waited, Pierson," Montgomery said as he entered the room. He crossed quickly, reached to take Methos' hand as the older man rose from the chair. The handshake was firm, friendly, with Montgomery's free hand covering Methos' hand as well. It was meant to convey sincerity, trust worthiness, Methos noted. This man very much wanted Methos to trust him, all of which made him even more uneasy.
The psychologist motioned for Methos to sit again and settled across from him rather than behind the desk. "So, what can I do for you?"
"You can tell me about Duncan MacLeod," Methos stated as he sank back into the chair. "What he said to you and why."
"Well, you come right to the point, don't you? But I didn't expect you were here to talk about yourself." Montgomery poured a cup of coffee for himself.
"He wasn't a patient," Methos added, "so I want to know how you met MacLeod and why he talked to you."
"Fair enough. We met by accident - without swords raised -"
"On holy ground." Methos made the assumption easily.
Montgomery confirmed it. "Yes... a cemetery."
Methos' eyes moved deliberately to the photograph of Montgomery with Burns. The fair-haired man's eyes followed the movement, registered surprise. "Sean Burns and I were associates. I went to his grave as I sometimes do and MacLeod was there. I could see he was troubled - he seemed to be mumbling something to the headstone - to the spirit of Sean, I suppose. People often seem to think the soul resides where the physical remains do."
Unerringly, Methos' mind shot back to the image of Alexa's grave, the quiet spot he often visited where what was left of her rested, remembered all the times he'd gone there and spoken to her. "Not really. It's more a case of just the knowledge that this is all that's physically left of a person. Not that the soul is there, but that it's the only tangible link. That if the spirit can be reached, maybe it's here."
Again Montgomery seemed surprised, his eyes widening as the other Immortal spoke. "Yes. That's it, isn't it? Anyway, I introduced myself and we spoke about Burns for a bit. MacLeod said he could certainly use Sean's wisdom now. I offered to listen, but he didn't take the opportunity. But he did say he had some problems to work out and he felt he would have to leave Paris."
"Did he say where he would go?"
"Not specifically. He thought he might find his answers in the far east. I guessed China or Japan - that was my impression. Then he left me." Montgomery smiled engagingly. He was a handsome man, looked to be about the same age as Methos. And like him, he was slender and graceful although a few inches shorter, just slightly taller than Amanda. "That's it. And you see, it was not a confidentiality I was divulging to Joe if that was your concern."
Methos flashed a brief smile. "Hadn't crossed my mind." Not much, he amended to himself. "You're sure he didn't give you more of a clue that might narrow it down?"
The other man frowned, looked thoughtful as if rerunning the conversation. "No... I didn't get the impression he had a specific location picked out. More that the answer - whatever it is - is there somewhere."
"I was afraid of that."
"He's not sure where he's going."
"You're going after him." It wasn't really a question.
"Maybe." Methos conceded.
"That's insane, Pierson. There are dozens of places he could go - Look, whatever you feel you have to settle with MacLeod, it can wait. Sooner or later -"
"What makes you think I have something to settle?" The old Immortal's body tensed a bit, the eyes widening slightly, trying for innocence. Adam Pierson was good at that look.
"You said - and I quote - 'MacLeod, we can't just ignore this. If you can't accept it, then there's little chance for our friendship surviving. I did not betray you.'" Montgomery paused, poured another cup of coffee for both of them. "'Course you were mumbling it, but it sounds like an issue to me - Adam." He used the first name carefully, testing the waters.
Methos let it go, ignoring it for the greater worry as his stomach tied into a tight knot. When the hell did he start talking in his sleep? Dryly he asked, "What else did I say?"
As if he'd read the prior thought, the doctor replied, "It was probably the drug - a phenol barbital derivative. Tends to make you chatty. You were very disturbed. Whatever happened to you, it caused a severe disturbance to your whole system - all psychological. Had the doctors in Lyon going around in circles trying to figure out what was wrong -"
"What else?" Methos demanded again, his eyes narrowing as the tension increased.
"Relax, man. You didn't say much - nothing incriminating. Just that bit and a couple of 'sorry's'."
Methos studied his face, searching the dark blue eyes for a suggestion of deception. Five thousand years had made him wary of most people, mortal or Immortal, who seemed too friendly or too helpful. "Tell me about you and Sean Burns, Montgomery. You were colleagues?"
"Call me Miles. You're not here as a patient. Yes, Sean was a colleague and a good friend. I met him during the first world war. He was the reason I went into psychoanalysis. I saw what he accomplished, how good he was. I guess you could say he was my inspiration as well as my mentor. You knew Sean?"
Methos dropped his head a little. "He was an old friend."
"He never mentioned you."
"He respected my privacy. Do you know how he died?"
Montgomery shook his head. "Not really. Trying to help a friend, I heard. No details. It was the tragic loss of a good man."
"Yes, it was. Well, thanks for the information... Miles." He rose to go.
"Adam? If you go after him, I'd like to go along."
Methos shot him a warning glance. "Sorry. I travel alone."
"He might need my professional help."
"He might not want it." Methos paused at the door, pointedly gazed at the medical degrees. "Out of curiosity, why do you practice as a psychologist?"
"It's a label," the other man said with a shy smile. "I found many of my patients preferred to see a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist--difference between being emotionally disturbed and crazy. Perception thing. But I'm fully qualified to practice medicine."
Methos' eyes glittered with his thoughts, understanding exactly what the doctor meant. "That explains a few things--like why the doctor in Lyon called you and the prescription."
"I've worked with several hospitals in France, as did Sean. Be glad they called me, Adam. I was in a better position to help you than most. I'd still like to talk with you about what happened to you."
"There's nothing to talk about. But thanks." He left then, still uncertain about Montgomery and very curious why the man wanted to find MacLeod.
"Methos, what's this?" Amanda called as she picked up the airline ticket folder on the desk by the computer. She'd arrived a little earlier than the oldest Immortal had expected her and was left to amuse herself while he finished his shower.
He poked his head out of the bathroom, lower half of his face covered with a beard of shaving cream, and noted what Amanda's nosiness had led to now. Minding one's own business was not a character trait the beautiful woman possessed. He sighed, "What does it look like?"
"An airline ticket. To where?"
"To wherever I need to go. Amanda, this isn't news. I told you I was going." He ducked back into the bathroom to finish shaving.
"I know," she replied, coming to the door to watch him. He'd pulled on a snug pair of jeans, but his torso was still bare and damp after his shower. "I just didn't think it would be this soon. When are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow." He watched her face in the mirror, saw the surprised look as the brown eyes widened then looked pained. This really wasn't fair, he reflected. Why did he have to feel like he was hurting one friend in order to help another?
Amanda closed the gap between them, wrapped her arms around his chest and laid her head against his shoulder from behind. "I really don't want you to go. When were you going to tell me?"
"Tonight. With Joe." He shifted in her embrace, turning to face her. Traces of shaving cream still dotted his chin and throat. Amanda ran a hand up his throat, skimming over the little islands of white. His skin tingled with the sensuous, light touch.
She closed the distance between their lips, sliding her hand up behind his head to pull him even closer. He didn't need encouragement as he tasted the sweet raspberry flavor of her lip gloss and pushed his tongue against her mouth. As he stood in his bare feet and with Amanda in medium-height heels, they were eye to eye, chocolate brown to green amber, each aware of the spark of desire in the other's eyes. Amanda slid her free hand down his chest very slowly, then skimmed fingers just around the waistband of his jeans. Her fingertips felt feather light against his damp skin and sent little impulses of delight to his brain and other parts of his body.
"If you continue to do that, I'm going to have to shower again," he murmured against her mouth.
Amanda shifted her mouth to his right ear, gently teased the earlobe with her lips, eliciting a soft moan from him and whispered, "Is that a problem?" Her hand slid down over the front of his jeans to press against the growing bulge, massaging ever so deliberately.
Methos half-laughed through the aching pleasure. "No. But it won't change anything."
Her thumbnail pressed against the snap and it popped open. "All the more reason to do this," she answered, then shifted her lips to his collarbone, planting moist kisses along it as she tasted the little droplets of water that still coated his skin. At the hollow of his throat, she paused, pulling his skin into her mouth and biting gently as her other hand worked the zipper on his jeans down, brushing an edge of her hand against the less confined erection below the shorts.
Methos leaned back against the sink as the pleasurable wave engulfed him, yet another, deeper, groan escaping his lips. His desire for Amanda hadn't lessened any over the past few weeks. If anything, it had grown stronger with their enjoyment of each other's body, but there was more than that. Amanda wasn't quite as carefree as she sometimes seemed, but like him, she was hesitant to form relationships, particularly with other Immortals. It was uncertain, it was risky and if you thought about it, self-destructive. By the very nature of the game, it was bound to unravel sooner or later. They'd both found an anchor, more or less, in Duncan MacLeod and they'd both been cast free with his departure - although Methos had only a tenuous hold over the past few months as it was. With Rebecca's death, Amanda had lost her only other solid ground and had unconsciously turned more and more to MacLeod for security.
His friendship with her started with the Methuselah crystals when he'd actually seen that caring side of Amanda that she hid most of the time. And she'd seen just how deeply he could let his own feelings go. There were only two Immortals - and one mortal - now who knew that about him, but none of them were truly aware of how deep his loyalties went. Once he committed to someone, it was nearly unshakable. And sometimes it put him at painful odds with friends, as when Mac took Byron's head. It was friend against friend and he'd stood with his greater, more vital friendship, letting the other go. But Mac had no idea how much that had hurt. Somehow, he thought Amanda might have understood that, would have realized what he'd given up for Mac's friendship.
Amanda's mouth moved over his right nipple, sucking and teasing the little nub to hardness and bringing his thoughts acutely back to the moment. Oh, God! What she does to me! he thought, catching his breath and arching back as his body savored this latest sensation. But it was time to take control of the situation. He leaned forward, caught Amanda's lightweight sweater and pulled it out of her skirt, letting his hands lift it as he worked them up her torso, feeling the silken camisole underneath.
Within a few short minutes, she was divested of her outer clothing - skirt, sweater, nylons and shoes forming a neat little pile in the corner next to his jeans - and they faced each other in only their underwear. Hers far more erotic than his, Methos thought as he fingered the straps of the lacy camisole and brought his mouth down on her shoulder to take a delicate bite, then soothe it with his lips. His hands held her hips, rubbing lightly at the bones, then curving down to the triangle between her legs, touching her and gently pushing her legs apart with his knee. Amanda's breath caught in little gulps of air and she squirmed against him as he teased. He ventured a look at her face, capturing the image of her closed eyes with long black lashes flush against her skin and the full open lips revealing the white pearls of her teeth. She was damned beautiful for an almost twelve hundred year old woman.
The camisole soon joined the pile on the floor and he bent to bring his mouth to her breasts, first one then the other, the light fragrance of jasmine perfume stimulating his passion. Her skin was satiny smooth and taut across the belly as she tensed while his mouth worked its way across. He loved to see Amanda like this, to know she was enjoying it as much as he was - that they were partners in this. There were too many times in his life when he'd been the aggressor, seeking his pleasure at his partner's cost. And he'd been on the other edge of that coin as well, being abused and raped. Never again, he vowed. He would not willingly be in that position again.
Two pairs of underwear - lacy panties and boxers, - landed on top of the camisole. Methos eased Amanda's thighs apart and knelt between her legs, burying his face against the curly soft patch of hair, breathing the unique scent that was Amanda and tasting the sweetness of her flesh. She leaned back against the small open space of wall in the cramped bathroom and panted as her lover brought her such exquisite sensations. She thrust against him and Methos placed his hands on her buttocks, lifting her against him as he rose to position his body flush against her.
She slipped a hand between them, fingers finding his burning flesh and skillfully bringing him to the brink. With a groan, Methos threw his head back and savored the waves of red hot flame that burned his groin and shot up his back. He couldn't stand any more. He reached down, caught Amanda's hand and guided himself to the wet channel that waited for him.
Amanda wrapped both arms around his neck and dug her fingers into his shoulders as he pushed against her. Her legs shifted, wrapping possessively around his hips and she drew him deeper into her. There was a moment of calm, then Methos thrust vigorously.
Her body fit like a glove and he wanted to slip deeper into it, merging with her for these precious minutes. He braced his legs as he pushed and his hands held her tight cheeks, cushioning them against the hard battering against the wall. He could hear the increased thump of Amanda's heart against him and the short, quick warm breaths, punctuated by little moans, rasped against his skin as she brought her mouth to his throat.
His back ached with the effort, little pains of strain shooting up his spine. He felt Amanda shudder, her body tensing and relaxing with the crests, then his own peak came. Strong tremors rolled through him as Amanda's legs tightened, forcing him deeper. He felt like he was on the verge of passing out, red waves shooting across his mind, then Amanda's mouth locked on his, passionate and demanding.
Somehow, still holding Amanda, Methos sank to the floor. His shoulder banged against the bath as the beautiful woman ended up wedged against the commode. Methos would have laughed if he'd had any breath left. What on earth made him think this was a good idea? He laid there with his arms wrapped around Amanda. "Jesus, this is romantic," he mumbled when he could talk again.
Amanda giggled. "And I thought the back of a coach was confined."
He gazed at her, smoothed a wisp of long dark hair out of her eyes. "You're really amazing, Amanda." He brought his mouth to hers, kissing her deeply. "But if we're going to meet Joe, we'd better get going. I need another shower."
Her eyes sparkled mischieviously. "Me, too."
Of all the stupid ideas," Joe fumed. He poured another beer and sat down at the table with Methos and Amanda. "Methos, you have more sense than this. We don't have a clue where Mac went. What makes you think you're going to find him?"
Methos stared into his beer, both hands clutching the mug. "Joe, this isn't a subject for discussion. I'm just telling you I'm going and I'd like to know where the last place a Watcher saw him was. Now if you can't help me, that's fine, but I'm going."
Amanda arched an eyebrow at Joe and shook her head. The Watcher met her look, sighed and mumbled, "I think your brains are still scrambled. Maybe we can check you back into that hospital."
Methos looked exasperated and irritated. "Fine! If you don't want to help me, I can find him myself. Look, this is something I have to do. I believe I can find MacLeod. I just can't sit around waiting."
"You could at least wait until we have a better idea of where he is," Amanda objected. "Running off with just a hint of where he could be is- It's stupid, Methos. It's not like you. I think Joe's right. You're not thinking this through."
"Believe me, I've done nothing but think about this for the last few days. "
She slapped her hand on the table in frustration. "I was wrong, Joe. I thought he was almost as stubborn as MacLeod. He's worse."
Methos shot her a caustic look. "Thanks so much. I thought I would get a little more support from my friends on this. I thought you wanted Mac back as well." He got to his feet, grabbed his coat. "I'll send postcards."
Dawson was annoyed. "Five thousand years old and you're still acting like a kid. Of course we want to see Mac safely back. But is it reasonable for you to go searching a quarter of the world for him?"
The look of pain on Methos' face was his answer.
"All right. You have to do it. The last report I had a Watcher thought he saw him in Sapporo, Japan. The man fit Mac's description although his hair was short. Our guy lost him after that and no one has spotted him since. And you had better do more than send postcards." Christ! Joe thought, Dealing with these Immortals is worse than dealing with teenage kids. Now he could worry about Methos as well as MacLeod and judging from the look on Amanda's face, she wasn't going to sit around waiting for either of them to get back. Her next words proved that out.
"Methos, I really think I should go--"
"Amanda, we discussed this." Methos interrupted.
"No, we didn't! There was no discussion. You just made an arbitrary decision and told me I couldn't go. "
He looked to Joe for help. Dawson put his hands up in the air, shaking his head. "No, you don't. Leave me out of this."
"Please, Amanda. Just stay put. I don't need to worry about you, too. I'll call you when I have something solid. All right? Please?" His face wore that innocent, earnest expression he could sometimes manage, the one that was hard to say no to. Joe had seen it a few times before. Not as good as Mac's puppy look, but damn close.
Getting to her feet, Amanda threw her arms around his neck and he hugged her. "I want you to know I'm not happy with this, Methos. You'd better call at least once a week or I'm going to come after you."
The loft felt empty, no essence of MacLeod lingering, none of the familiar odors hanging in the air. Usually there would be a light scent of garlic and oil, a hint of soap or after shave, something that would indicate Mac had been in the kitchen or the shower.
Now the only thing Methos could detect was the artificial scent of lilac air spray and a hint of the ocean wafting in the open windows. Most of the furniture was gone, cleared out to storage, only a sofa and a bar stool remained. He sat down heavily on the sofa, feeling the loss. He wasn't sure why he'd bothered to come once he saw the dojo was for sale. It hadn't surprised him. There were too many memories here for MacLeod - Charlie DeSalvo, Tessa, Richie - the sorrow outweighing the joy now. If anything, he was amazed the barge in Paris hadn't already gone the same path. Still, he hadn't expected it to be quite so void of MacLeod's presence.
He also had quite a few memories associated with this place - mostly good - even to Mac trusting him enough to give him a key to both the building and the loft. That trust had been an almost novel experience for him - something that didn't happen often among Immortals. 'Course he'd been more Adam Pierson then than himself - Methos. Trust- it had been almost shattered by his past and was slowly coming back together. But in spite of all that had happened, Mac hadn't asked for the keys back. He'd have to remember to hand them over to the real estate agent when he left.
He rose slowly, took the elevator back down to the dojo. Standing in the middle of the empty room, he turned slowly around it, looking at the walls and seeing, in his mind's eye, an assortment of swords that were no longer on their hangers. His hands remembered the feel of Mac's katana, the detailed carving of the ivory hilt and the weight of it in his hands as he brought it around to touch Mac's throat. He'd taken a few risks with his friend, confident that Mac wouldn't hurt him and yet certain enough that if he needed to defend himself against the Highlander, he could do it.
He'd been meddling with the Game, tilting the odds a bit - something he'd been doing off and on ever since he realized that someone like Kronos could be the winner. And Kronos wasn't the only one he'd known in his long life that he didn't want to see end up on top. He wanted it to be someone like MacLeod and ever since he'd met the Highlander, he'd become his preference. Although at times he considered Mac to be too much of a boy scout, that wasn't a bad thing. Certainly it was better than a lot of the alternatives. One of those alternatives was Connor MacLeod, Mac's kinsman- the other Highlander. A good man, but not as compassionate as Duncan. His second choice? Maybe, but he'd not given up on Duncan MacLeod yet.
Methos was surprised to find tears leaking down his cheeks. He scrubbed a hand against his face to wipe them away, then started toward the door, ready to leave the memories this place held. He glimpsed something shiny on the floor, paused to pick it up. A Chinese coin. Not Japan, he realized, but China. Just great, he thought. Or even possibly Mongolia - where summer doesn't arrive until July or August. He couldn't suppress the shiver that went through him.
Beijing hadn't changed much since the last time Methos had been there nearly two years earlier on his way to Tibet. Then he'd been the one who needed to evaluate his current life - who he'd become and what he was doing. "Adam Pierson" had become too much of a Watcher and had lost a huge edge on his Immortal side. That had been a difficult revelation, one he hadn't taken pleasure in either the choice MacLeod had suggested - "You're either one of them or one of us." - or his own painful review of what he'd become.
Life had never been easy for Methos, some periods less of a strain than others, but undoubtedly, the last few decades had been the most peaceful. He'd settled into Adam Pierson easily and, in some ways, Adam was the most desirable part of his very complex personality. Schizophrenics had nothing on the five thousand year old Immortal. Yet the scholarly Adam was very much Methos, although the quiet, unassuming young man with the easy-going nature hid the somewhat paranoid, sometimes aggressive person he really was.
All of these thoughts skittered through his mind as he walked along the crowded streets of the royal city, a virtual giant among this race of somewhat diminutive people. He reached a corner with a narrow street leading away from the central city and turned down it. Fewer people went this way, but it still seemed to flow with a steady stream of bodies.
As Methos drew nearer to an herb shop, he felt the tickle of the presence at the back of his mind and it grew stronger with each step. By the time he reached the doorway, the other Immortal was a strong buzz and waiting for him just over the threshold. Methos smiled at the middle-aged Chinese gentleman who greeted him - a sword no doubt held behind his back. In Mandarin Chinese, the old Immortal greeted the man. "Your ancestors, if you had any, would smile on your fortune, Wan Xi."
The Chinese Immortal's sword quickly disappeared and he offered his hands in greeting to a friend. "Adam! It's good to see you again."
As Orientals went, Wan Xi was tall, but still a few inches shorter than Methos and the older Immortal bent slightly to greet his friend. Over tea, they caught up on the latest news, although neither one was forthcoming with much detail on personal lives. At last, with courtesies out of the way, Methos was able to cut to the question he'd wanted to ask. "Wan Xi, I am seeking a friend. I think you may know him or may have heard of his whereabouts - Duncan MacLeod."
Wan Xi nodded. "Yes, I have heard of him, although I do not personally know him. But news of such a person in my province would reach me." The Oriental paused, poured more tea for his guest and himself.
"And has news filtered to you?" Methos prompted as Wan Xi sipped at the tea, deliberately taking his time.
The man shrugged. "There was news of a foreigner who might have been MacLeod. This person stayed a couple of weeks, then moved on. He caused no trouble, talked to very few people, but bought supplies for a long trip."
"Any idea where he was heading?"
Wan Xi smiled slightly and tilted his head toward the west.
Methos sighed. "Mongolia." Leave it to MacLeod to do it the hard way. He couldn't just fly to Ulaanbaatar and go from there. In his gut, he felt Mac was heading across the Altai Mountains. He recalled a monastery near the border and thought that was possibility.
"Why do you ask what you already know?" Wan Xi asked.
Methos shook his head with a self-depreciating smile. "I hoped I was wrong. And the weather?"
"It's been a very cold, wet winter in the western mountains, Adam. But perhaps your friend didn't go there."
"Perhaps," he agreed softly.
Methos elected to take the shortest route to the mountains he could safely find. That meant flying into Ulaanbaatar then hiring a car and driving to Olgii, a long difficult drive as it turned out. The winter had been bad, the roads not in the best condition and he dreaded the prospect of trying to take the four-wheel drive vehicle up into the mountains toward Buyant.
He stood outside the car, staring ahead toward the snow-covered mountains that rose... and rose.. and rose before him and shivered. God, he hated being cold. He glanced at the pack of clothes in the back of the jeep and hoped it would be sufficient. No matter how much he wore, it wouldn't be enough to keep him as toasty warm as he liked being. Damn, and he thought winters in Paris were cold.
He climbed back in and pointed the car on the road to Buyant. He'd been driving about thirty minutes when he noticed the vehicle behind him. He was sure he'd seen it before, following him at about the same distance. As he pulled the jeep around a curve in the road, he pulled over to the side and waited.
The buzz of presence signaled what he was concerned about shortly before the truck rounded the bend - another Immortal. Following him. He stepped outside the jeep and pulled his sword, waiting. The truck completed the curve and slowed, pulling over behind him.
Methos didn't move, continued to lean against his jeep, arms crossed, sword resting comfortably against his shoulder, as he waited. He wasn't surprised but was slightly relieved when Miles Montgomery got out of the truck. Miles raised his hands to show they were empty, then walked slowly toward Methos.
Methos focused on the ground for a moment, gnawed at his lower lip, then looked up at the psychologist with a cross expression. 'I thought I said I traveled alone."
Miles smiled engagingly. "You are. I just happen to be going the same way."
"Oh, yeah. This is a route everyone is anxious to take. What brings you here, Dr. Montgomery? Are you that eager to see MacLeod again? Or do you just want to see the view from the top of Mt. Monch Chajrchan? You bring snowshoes, ice picks?"
"Well, I hope that's not where we're heading," the blond man replied as he came even with Methos. His smile faded slowly at the glare in the other man's eyes. "All right. I'm following you. Sean spoke about MacLeod a few times. He considered him someone very special - a real contender in the game. I feel like I owe it to Sean to do whatever I can to help him. When I talked to him, he was a very disturbed man."
"And was my location a lucky guess? Or have you been following me since I left Paris?" The annoyance in his voice was very evident.
Miles looked a bit sheepish, hesitant to answer, then said, "Amanda told me."
"Shit..." Methos muttered. He was beginning to really appreciate MacLeod's irritation with Amanda's tendency to get involved in other people's business. She's worried about you. His own voice echoed in his mind as he recalled more than one occasion where he'd intervened because of Amanda.
"She's concerned about both of you," Montgomery said, once again reading his thoughts. "Look, Adam, I know it's not the norm to accept another Immortal at face value. All I can tell you is that I'm not interested in your head. I fight when I have to, but I try to stay out of it."
Methos considered the possibilities as he studied Miles' face. If he was a player, he wasn't known to the Watcher organization. Dawson had already checked that out. He still felt there was more to it than the man's desire to "help" MacLeod. He didn't trust him, but if he and Montgomery traveled together he wouldn't have to be looking over his shoulder for him. He had enough things to think about without trying to keep track of the psychologist. "Then you'd better stick with me. I don't plan on a slow stroll across those mountains. We'll leave your truck at the next town."
Methos and Miles had been traveling for several days into a snow-covered valley of the Altai Mountains heading toward a pass into Siberia. His Oriental friend had been right. It had been a very long cold winter in this region and everything was still frozen. Methos had obtained horses for both of them at the last town before they entered the mountains. Miles had been sore after the first day of riding, but he was gradually getting used to the feel of the saddle. Methos, too, had felt a bit of discomfort, but not as much as he'd experienced when he and Kronos had gone in search of Silas. That had been a reintroduction to something he hadn't done in several decades.
They'd worked out their sleeping arrangements so that they were far enough apart that any move closer would signal the other that an Immortal was approaching. Montgomery had accepted this limitation without any arguments as it was the only way Methos would feel comfortable enough to get any sleep.
During the day, they generally stayed close and all in all, the doctor wasn't bad company. He kept up and didn't complain too much. Methos learned the American had met his first death in the Civil War in 1862 and he really was from St. Louis, Missouri. Even though he'd disagreed with the issue of slavery, he'd fought for the South, defending what he felt was the higher issue of the government not controlling the rights of the states. After his "death" he'd moved to California and eventually studied medicine, taking his first degree as a general practitioner. When he met Sean Burns, he was ready for a change and Sean pointed him in the direction of psychiatry.
At least that much rang true, Methos thought, and he admitted that the man had a soft, calm baritone that suggested he was very successful in his field. He was very like Sean Burns in many ways. The kind of man you felt you could trust and who would keep confidences.
Not that he was foolish enough to do that. Methos had learned no one could be trusted totally, although he'd come very close to that level with MacLeod. Then everything had pretty much blown up and confirmed that he was right in his judgment not to confide in MacLeod. There were parts of his soul that would always be private, locked away from anyone else knowing. It was how it had to be, but sometimes... God, sometimes he wanted to voice it, to have someone else hear it and see if it was as bad as he feared it was.
On a gloomy, overcast morning, Methos ventured half a mile or so ahead of Montgomery, leading his horse across a patch of particularly slippery snow near the frozen expanse of a small lake on the Khoed Gol, an equally frozen river. He was unsure how solid the ice was, but he was thinking it might be best if they went around the lake rather than taking a chance across the uncertain ice.
He was about to turn back toward Miles, when he felt the presence of another Immortal. He turned slowly in a circle, looking for the source, then glimpsed a man, dressed totally in white furs, who stepped out of the sparse trees along the western edge.
"Kaibur!" The man shouted. It was all he needed to say. Methos had recognized him. Rashid.
5th Century - Mongolian-Chinese border
Methos rode easily along side several other mounted hunters on the small, mobile horses that sped like the wind across the grassy plateau of southern Mongolia near the Khovd Gol, the fast moving river through the region. Next to him, Rashid fought with his beast who wanted to pause to eat. Like Methos, Rashid was not one of the Xiongnu, but an exile from his own land who traveled with the nomads for the moment.
But Methos knew something that Rashid didn't, that the high-spirited young Arab was pre-Immortal. Ever since they'd come together, the old Immortal had been debating whether he would take the man on as a student when his death came. Given their activities, Methos expected that would be likely to happen soon.
"Kaibur!" One of the other hunters called his name--at least the one he was using now. The man, Temu, pointed toward the horizon. Methos followed the man's arm. There, clearly visible was a small village, most likely Chinese. It seemed a bit more permanent than the tent villages of the Xiongnu. He felt a slight queasiness in his stomach, knowing that a raid on it would likely end with dead villagers. Having had enough of that with Kronos, he, himself, had tried to refrain from killing innocents, but his companions were a different story.
Rashid grinned, dark eyes glittering with the prospect of rich spoils. Temu gave the order and the band turned their horses toward to village.
Even though the villagers saw them coming, there was little they could do. Many scattered from the town, running away into the prairie land, but some stayed. Methos tried to avoid killing anyone, encouraging those people he found to leave, escape with their lives and not fight him. Most did.
On foot, he moved from dwelling to dwelling, looting what he could. Mostly the raiders took food, animals, anything of value to the tribe. As he came out of one dwelling, he looked into the startled, terrified eyes of a young girl of perhaps fifteen. But the look was riveted not at him, but at something just to his right. He pivoted, saw Rashid with sword raised, stalking fiercely toward his captive.
"Rashid, let her go," Methos said firmly.
The Arab shot him an angry glance. "She is my prize, Kaibur. Don't interfere."
Methos brought his bulky iron sword down across Rashid's blade, met the raider's eyes evenly. "She's just a frightened girl. Leave her alone.
"Her flesh will be sweet, her body tight. I want this one."
"I say no," Methos repeated firmly. He stepped between Rashid and the girl. The Arab brought his sword up to engage Methos in battle, the weapon clanging heavily against his own weapon as the Immortal easily blocked the blow. "Don't be foolish, Rashid. She's not worth it." He knew he could easily defeat the less experienced fighter; however, he was reluctant to kill him.
But his big mistake had been in turning his back on the girl. Suddenly he felt the searing pain of a knife plunged into his back, piercing a lung. As he gasped and lurched forward, Rashid skewered him with his scimitar, twisting the curved blade up to slice him open, then withdrew the weapon. Methos had only a few moments of consciousness left before he died, enough to see his steaming hot intestines ooze out as he tried to push them back into his body cavity.
And enough time to see Rashid step over him and hear the screams of the girl.
With the growing feeling that this was not a social visit, Methos watched Rashid approach him. Wearily, he wondered why all his nightmares were emerging now-- this decade. Hell, these past two years. For over two hundred years, his life had been calm, no one hunting his head and now they were popping up everywhere.
His fears were confirmed as Rashid pulled his sword-- still a scimitar, Methos noted--as he neared. Almost instantly, Methos had his own sword out and let the horse go free. It would likely find its way back to Miles and the other horse.
"I believe you owe me something, Kaibur," the dark-skinned man said as he came within a sword's length. "I think I shall collect now." He pressed the attack.
The clang of swords echoed in the mountainous valley, carrying easily. Methos struggled to keep his grip, unable to feel the hilt as easily through the thick gloves he wore. He tried to keep the fight along the bank of the river. At times they were knee deep in snow, both of them struggling to make a quick lunge at the other.
This isn't going to work, Methos thought. He knew he would tire easily in the thinner air and heavy snow. Speed had always been his best advantage in a fight and he couldn't rely on that here. Maybe there was a way, he decided, not liking the idea very much. It was risky--the scimitar nicked across his cheek, drawing blood and flipping the fur cap off his head --but this was downright deadly.
Methos carefully maneuvered the fight out onto the frozen river. His footing was reasonably secure thanks to the hiking boots, but it was difficult to move on the ice. Still what was a hindrance to him was also a problem for Rashid and it gave him an extra edge.
The olive skinned man pursued him relentlessly, enough so that Methos figured the man must have grips on his boots. He managed to parry a swipe that came perilously close to his head, but he slid backwards, out of control for a few precious seconds.
Rashid grinned. "You can't escape me this time, Kaibur. I've waited too long for this moment and I will have it. You're not good enough to defeat me." He pressed the attack then, moving in to continue to keep the older Immortal off balance.
Out of the corner of his eye, Methos spotted Montgomery at the same time both of them felt his presence. Shit! He couldn't worry about him at the moment. He just hoped he had the good sense to get far away... On the other hand, if this bastard actually managed to take his head, he hoped the psychologist would reciprocate. Another flash of the steel and Methos dodged, but his ankle twisted and he lost his balance. The steel clanged hard against his blade near his hand and it vibrated through him. Fingers went numb and the sword flew from his hand, clattering a few feet away across the ice. He dove after it, sliding into the weapon and grabbing it as his momentum carried him past.
He was half-sprawled on the ice as Rashid came after him again. Methos rose to his knees, lifted the sword straight up and plunged it down toward the ice with all his strength, the contact with the ice sending a sharp pain up his arm to his shoulder that left him praying this would work or there would be no way he could pull the weapon up in time. With a crisp snap, the ice yielded to the point, a network of fine cracks surging out from it and moments later, the crust gave way under Methos just as Rashid was almost on him. He had a brief view of the shocked look before his vision was blurred by the water several inches below the ice crust.
Shit! It's cold! His mind screamed as the first frigid sensations hit his body through his quickly saturated clothing. The river was moving, not swiftly, but still flowing along at a decent pace. He gripped the sword firmly, shoved upward to the surface and found solid ice meeting the water. He hoped to be able to find enough air at the surface between the river and the ice to stay alive, but there was precious little space and he couldn't maintain the position long enough to get air. Each gasp brought in more water and he choked painfully, struggling not to continue gulping water with the air. He tried to bring the sword up through the resistance of the liquid, but couldn't get enough momentum to crack the ice from the under side.
Precious seconds slipped from him. His lungs burned with the effort of trying to get oxygen and more water filled them every time he tried. He'd drowned before - he knew how to do it, but it didn't make it any easier. He tried to tell himself to relax, let the water in and it wouldn't be so painful. Intellectually, it was easier to do than actually instructing his body to do it. Each choke brought in more water and his lungs and heart struggled to get enough oxygen. It felt like fire inside him, then he blacked out, body relaxing except for the frozen grip on his sword. Shortly after, Methos was dead, his limp body being carried further down the river under the ice.
Well back from the shore, Miles Montgomery witnessed the battle, watched Pierson plunge through the ice. He was stunned, not quite believing the other Immortal made that move. And if he was surprised by it, the same could be said of the Arab who sprawled flat on the ice, working his way away from the gaping hole that had opened under his opponent. The network of cracks extended much further than the initial punch through the ice had produced and it was slow-going for the man to get off the river. Which was good news for Montgomery.
He sprinted away from the river, worked his way back through the thin line of scraggly pines and rocks and mounted his horse. He turned the animal to head downstream to see if Pierson came ashore further down. He figured the other man would quite probably do the same thing, but he was determined to keep well out of sight and detection distance.
The psychologist stayed well to the edge of the rocky outcrops, using them as cover, yet he was able to see the banks, and frozen expanse, of the river clearly. Pierson would have to break through the ice again to escape from the water. By now, he had probably drowned and was being carried unawares downstream. He glimpsed the dark-skinned man moving along the bank as well, scanning the edges and peering at the opaque surface as if he might see through it and know where his adversary was.
Three hours later, the Bedouin quit his search. Miles sighed with relief as he watched the man turn and head back up river. Yet he continued the hunt another couple of hours, moving the horse slowly along the riverbank until he, too, gave up for the night. He wheeled his horse around to head back to the supplies. He would get Pierson's horse, then head for the nearest civilization. He had no sure idea of the other Immortal's fate, but he suspected it wasn't very pleasant. Sooner or later, he would come out of the water, but it could be days, weeks or even months before he was free of the ice and washed onto the banks.
The hapless body bumped along the bottom of the riverbed, skimmed over rocks and banged into tangled plant roots. It was making a slow path down the mountain towards the lower valley, but the cold water was in no hurry.
Lungs filled with air for the third time in as many hours and Methos' eyes snapped open, vague awareness of where he was replaced instantly with the need to find air. He thrust his legs and arms up, propelling himself toward the surface where his head banged into the roof of ice that crowned the river. Again, he tried to pull himself to the small space between the water and the ice to find a few breaths of oxygen and again, it was not enough. He gasped, feeling his lungs beginning to fill with water once more and he choked, trying to spit it up, to replace it with air. He barely had time for thought in this brief period of life before he drowned again, his consciousness winking out in the pain of trying to breathe.
Episodes of resurrection grew further apart as he continued to find minutes of life when his body repaired his lungs and filled them with air so that he might come to long enough to discover he was still trapped and die yet another agonizing time of oxygen starvation and hypothermia. During one such episode, he had time to wonder if his body would gradually determine he'd become an amphibian and grow him a set of gills to handle separating the air from the water. He laughed at the delirium-induced thought, expelling a large quantity of air and replacing it with ice water, amazed anew that he could be so cold and still feel the agonizing burn of the water entering his over-taxed lungs.
Eventually, his natural healing system slowed, unable to keep repairing the damage and giving into the extreme cold of the icy river. Periods of life became spaced many hours apart, which in itself was a mercy. He reached a point where he no longer struggled when he woke, simply closing his eyes and giving way to the freezing liquid he couldn't escape and speeding the painful process of dying.
Time had no reference for him and he couldn't begin to guess the number of times he'd revived and died. He barely had any conscious thought any more and that was only to realize he was face down to the river bed, dragging his nose in the sand. In each first breath of life, he swallowed bits of river grass, dirt, garbage and any other debris that gathered on the bottom that he scraped along.
His eyes popped open yet again to see the bottom of the river flowing past, but it was going faster than it had been. That fact registered slowly as he rolled in the water and stared up toward the surface, seeing light breaking through it in places. Reluctant muscles responded as he tried to push to the surface before water demanded entrance to his mouth again. He rose slowly, out of control in the flow of the water, but he made it to the surface, found a pocket and inhaled, choking on the combination of air and water. Ice chunks filled the river, but there were definite breaks in it. He barely had time to take that in before one of the chunks smacked into his head. Consciousness slipped away again.
It took two more rounds of revival before he was finally able to surface long enough to pull himself to the edge of the river. The sword had become part of his right hand, the fingers wrapped so snugly around it that he couldn't unbend them, so his left hand made the grab for the grasses along the riverbank, finding them giving way as soon as they were touched. The next time he grabbed, sharp pain shot through his hand and he released the vegetation quickly, acutely aware of the stinging nettle edging the riverbank. He didn't care. Now that he knew it was there, the pain of the nettles was insignificant against his need to get out of the water.
He struggled to get air, swallowed water along with it, choked and grabbed wildly again, trying to dig into the bank with the sword as his fingers sought anything that wouldn't tear loose. Just as an exposed root at the edge of the water gave him a slight purchase, enough so he could half-pull himself out, his lungs refused to extract any more oxygen and his heart ceased to function again.
Although it was nearly the end of June, summer was finally coming to the upper meadows where Sharji and her brother Yesugei had settled their newly enlarged ger. Unlike many of the nomads who frequented the valley, they preferred to stay put, raise some basic root vegetables and sheep. She pulled her wool shawl a little closer as she and the dog walked along the edge of the river on this almost mild day. The sun was shining and the temperatures were cool, but not freezing. The ice on the river was breaking up and chunks of it were giving way. Kala, the dog, sniffed at the ground, finding and identifying scents. They were seeking a pair of missing goats.
Abruptly Kala's head came up and she snuffled at the air, a new scent touching her nose. She barked and surged forward toward the river. Sharji frowned, looking in the direction the dog had gone. She didn't see anything. Had one of those darn goats fallen into the river? She followed where the dog lead, saw a brief glimpse of a large object of some sort at the edge of the river just before the dog reached it and blocked her view. She hurried to catch up, then came close enough to see what had attracted the shepherd. A person sprawled on the river bank, half out of the water.
Missing goats forgotten, the young woman ran toward the figure. When she was almost on top of him, she saw it was a man - tall, European-looking with a long aristocratic nose and long limbs. One of his arms was splayed out to one side and the hand clutched a medieval sword. Alarmed, she turned and screamed for her brother. Yesugei was perhaps a half mile away, but he could hear her fairly easily.
Sharji knelt, shoving Kala's muzzle out of the way where she was trying to lick the man. He looked dead - face tinged blue, a deep blue shade on his lips and along his eyelids, and the chest didn't rise and fall. Maybe there was a chance, she thought as she struggled and finally pulled him the rest of the way out of the water, then rolled him onto his stomach. As she carefully turned the fine-boned head, she remembered to check his mouth to make sure the air passage was open. His lips felt frozen, even his tongue feeling more like a popsicle than the warm organ it should be.
She tried to remember the instructions she'd learned at the mission school to revive a drowning victim. Placing her hands on his back, she leaned all her weight to shove against the lungs. At first, nothing happened and she repeated the process a couple of times, then water spurted out of the man's mouth - dark river water that held bits of dead foliage and dirt. Encouraged, Sharji continued the push as more liquid poured out of him, more than she thought lungs could possibly hold. He couldn't have any oxygen in his lungs at all given the amount of water that had filled them. She gave it up for a lost cause, glancing up as her brother ran up beside her.
"Is he alive, Sharji?" Yesugei asked, slightly out of breath with the exertion of running. He was a short, stocky man with a deep yellow-brown complexion and a bushy mustache that hid his upper lip and draped along his cheeks. Dressed in the traditional del of his people, the long wool gown-like tunic gave him a look that had not changed for centuries--he could be from the eighth century as easily as the twentieth. His almost obsidian eyes regarded his sister's efforts with approval.
The young woman shook her head. "No. I think he was in the water too -" She stopped mid-sentence as the victim's back rose with the air filling his lungs. He coughed bringing up more water and phlegm from the damaged lungs. Sharji looked astonished. "I did not think he could possibly survive." She reached to turn him and Yesugei moved to help her so they could get him on his side. Sharji worked at his right hand to uncurl the fingers that locked around the sword. They were stiff and determined and it was difficult to peel them away. Finally, she managed to yank the weapon from his grip and laid it aside.
His eyes opened wide as they moved him. Pale green rims almost obscured by the unfocused black of his cornea, pain and confusion evident in the look he cast the two strangers who moved him. Then he retched, stomach convulsing to expel the revolting water that filled it. He choked, vomited up the contents in one violent wave after another. Yesugei held him up, trying to keep his head and shoulders from lying in the expulsion.
Eventually the spasms stopped to be replaced with shivering, the cold making him shake and his jaws chatter with the chills. He was icy cold, inside and out, the frozen river having acted as effectively as a freezer. The brother and sister got him to his feet and Sharji wrapped her shawl around his lean shoulders in an effort to give him a little warmth. Yesugei supported most of his weight even though the man towered over him. "Come on. We are taking you to our home," Yesugei told him in their Kazak dialect. If the man understood he gave no indication, but he tried to stumble along with them.
His legs didn't want to move, had to be forced to remember steps. He stumbled along like a drunk, the hypothermia giving him shakes rivaling a palsy victim. It was rough going getting him to their ger, the round hide tent still used by the Mongolian people. His knees folded more than once and his legs refused to support him. They got him back on his feet and urged him on with encouragement and promises of a warm bed, food and drink.
Once inside the cramped little abode, Yesugei dragged him to the men's side of the ger where his sleeping quarters were-- a small bed that was barely more than wooden supports covered with bedding. On the other side of the round tent, another bed mirrored this one on Sharji's side of the ger. He sat the man down on his bed and began stripping the wet clothing off him. "Sharji, heat water for tea," he instructed.
The man's clothing had been high quality, a good overcoat that offered a measure of warmth without much weight, a lightweight thermal jacket, a heavy woolen sweater over a wool shirt and blue jeans. They were all thoroughly drenched and doing nothing now except maintaining the cold that had set into his body. Even the hiking boots were soggy and icy cold. Yesugei dried him off with a sheet and got him under the covers, pulling the warm wool blanket up to his chin. "You will be all right. I'm going for the doctor. Do you understand?"
There was a flicker of comprehension in the eyes. "Do you understand me?" Yesugei repeated. The man nodded. "Good. I am Yesugei and the woman is my sister, Sharji. What is your name?"
There was a moment of confusion on the man's face, then he replied in a weak, but deep voice. "Kaibur... I am... called Kaibur." His Kazak was slurred, not exactly a perfect pronunciation, but understandable. Yesugei was surprised, but he flashed a grin. "Good, Kaibur. You are lucky to be alive. Rest now. I am going for help."
"Kaibur" was more than confused. He was completely at a loss to explain where he was, who he was or how he came to be there. He couldn't recall anything concrete - only flashes of moments that shot through his mind like a shower of meteors on a spring night. The name had sprung into his mind when Yesugei had asked for one. It had taken a while for his mind to even register the words that his rescuers were speaking. They'd sounded foreign to him, yet ultimately, he knew them.
He snuggled in the bed, seeking more warmth. He was freezing cold. The muscles in his calves and thighs cramped with the shivering and he felt like he'd been battered he ached so much. Sharji brought a warm drink, a tea of some sort, and helped him sit up. She placed the mug in his hands and steadied them with her own as he took a few eager sips. The salty-sweet taste of the liquid was revolting and he felt slightly nauseous, hesitated to drink more even though he wanted the steaming liquid. He leaned into the girl, holding the mug tightly for the warmth, savoring at least that. His right hand hurt, felt terribly stiff and the heat against it was soothing.
He coughed a bit, finding breathing difficult. He knew he'd been in the river, knew he'd nearly drowned, but his flashes of memory didn't seem to support that knowledge. There was so much more - periods of consciousness with the water surrounding him, the agony of trying to breathe, glimpses of dark shapes above him. Surely all that couldn't have happened in those few minutes in the water, could it? And he didn't recall how he ended up in the water. A pounding pain echoed in his skull, his jaws ached from the chilled trembling and his eyes wanted to close, shutting out everything for a while. He was dry and gradually warming. He allowed the lids to slid shut.
A hand touching his face and the foul odor of a burning herb woke him up. He gazed up into the intent face of a middle-aged man who was waving a container filled with burning weeds in front of his nose and chanting something in a low voice over him. Behind him, the girl held a tea cup and offered it to the man. Shaman, his mind supplied although he wasn't exactly sure what this ritual had to do with him.
The man slid an arm under his shoulders and lifted him, forcing him to sit up. He still trembled with the shivering and just wanted to lie still, but the shaman pressed the cup to his mouth and poured the warm liquid into it. He nearly gagged on the taste of bitter herbs mixed with a sweetner. "Medicine herbs," the man said in the same dialect Yesugei had spoken earlier and continued to pour doses of the acrid liquid down him.
As awful as it tasted, it made him feel lethargic, indifferent to what was happening. He was almost asleep again, when the shaman pulled a sharp-edged knife and reached for his left arm. Some part of him objected violently to a blade near him and he jerked away, half-falling off the narrow bed. He struggled to get to his feet or even to his knees enough to crawl away. The blankets tangled around him and it seemed like he was knotted up in his own limbs with the lack of coordination.
Then the girl was there, grabbing for him, catching his shoulders and holding him. She was speaking but his mind couldn't connect the words. He tried to break free of her hold, struggling weakly against the small woman, but he just didn't have the strength.
There was no more fight left when the shaman knelt beside him and captured his arm, then drew the knife across the vein and let the blood begin to pour into a bowl. His head dropped back against the girl and he watched the red liquid flow with a sense of detachment as if it were someone else's injury he was watching. Within what seemed like a short time, the scarlet stream ceased and the open cut healed.
Both the girl and the shaman gaped at the smooth skin where only a few moments before there had been a cut. As if to prove it was not possible, the shaman drew the blade across his arm again, cutting deeper this time. He felt the pain briefly, then it faded to a dull ache and he closed his eyes, unable to stay awake any longer.
Someone was poking him, pressing fingers into his chest, his stomach, making them hurt. He sucked his breath in with a hiss and opened his tired eyes with effort. An older man, with a white mane of thinning hair, leaned over him, his thick, pudgy digits doing the digging. Behind him, he glimpsed Yesugei and made the logical connection - this was the doctor the man had gone to fetch.
What had happened to the shaman? he wondered briefly. He didn't feel much weaker, so he assumed the witch doctor hadn't let much blood. Maybe it had been a hallucination. Barbarian custom, he thought, then turned his attention to the man who leaned over him now.
Doesn't look much like a doctor, Kaibur reflected, but then I've seen more unlikely ones in my life. As soon as it came, the thought puzzled him - another piece of that jigsaw that seemed to not correlate with what he knew.
"Try to relax, Kaibur," the white-haired man said as his patient tensed. "I am glad you're awake. How do you feel?"
He took a few moments to think about it, aware that he was sore and still felt cold, but it wasn't the bone-deep chill that had him shivering uncontrollably earlier. "Cold." He answered simply, still feeling out the Kazak words. "And sore... muscles, bones..."
The doctor bobbed his head in agreement, spoke in English, more as a mutter to himself than to the man in the bed. "Not surprising... considering you've been bumped, banged and frozen. Not to mention the local healer having a go at you. But nothing seems to be broken."
This language he understood easily, could speak, Kaibur realized. He volunteered more information in that tongue. "My chest hurts... when I breathe."
Caught off guard, the doctor's eyebrows shot up comically and Kaibur almost laughed only a cough cut it off. "You speak English," the doctor stated the obvious, then responded to the statement. "Yes, I imagine it does. You inhaled quite a bit of ice water and your lungs had to struggle for air. They'll need to recuperate some. If we can keep your jaws from chattering, let's take your temperature."
Must be English, Kaibur thought in amusement as the doctor pressed a thermometer under his tongue. He just made this a group project. Then he had to concentrate on not letting his jaws clench or his teeth bite down on the thin tube of glass. He hadn't realized he was still shaking from the chill until that moment. He focused on the activity of the doctor who checked his blood pressure. He seemed satisfied with that, pulled out a stethoscope and listened to his chest, then frowned a bit. Somehow all this activity seemed familiar but not usual - not for him. He watched as the doctor squinted at the thermometer, then looked worried.
As he reached into his medical bag for a hypodermic, the doctor spoke again in Kazak, for the benefit of Yesugei. "Our patient has a low temperature, almost two degrees lower than normal. This is not unusual with hypothermia, but he needs to be kept warm, Yesugei. If you have another blanket, it would help. I'm concerned about the liquid in his lungs turning to pneumonia. I'm going to give him antibiotics, but he will need a lot of bed rest. Can you and Sharji manage that? Or I can take him to the mission. I would prefer not to move him."
"I can walk," Kaibur asserted in English. He hated being talked about as if he wasn't there.
"We can manage," Yesugei responded. "At least for a week or so."
"Don't I have any say in this?" the irritated patient asked, this time in hesitant Kazak. His hazel eyes narrowed in annoyance. He wasn't that ill, after all.
The medical man shook his head, "No, you don't. You're a very ill young man and I want you to have complete bed rest. Is that clear? Now, roll onto your stomach."
A protest formed on his lips, then died as he realized there was no point. With a sigh, he turned onto his side. None of this seemed normal to him, there was something "not right" about the whole scenario. Doctors, medicine, shots --