|Demons on Demand
by Lillian Wolfe
It was morning, the sun slipping in through the ventilation hole in the roof of the ger. He lay awake in the small, lightly padded bed and tried to piece his life together. He was Kaibur, he thought, but somehow the name, the place and the time didn't seem to go together. Something was different, something that didn't fit. He felt like pieces were missing in his memories and the name was only that - a name he called himself, not who he really was. Vaguely, he recalled a weapon, a sword. He felt he had it when he crawled out of the water, thought he had a glimpse of it tightly clutched in his hand.
Moving gingerly, he climbed out of bed and pulled on the robe-like tunic Sharji had left hanging on a hook for him. It was a soft brown wool, a little small, but enough to preserve modesty. He felt a little sore, but altogether, not bad, considering how he'd felt the day before. Obviously, he had great recuperative abilities. Now if he could just fill in the gaps in his memory...
Sharji was in the central section of the large tent designated the cooking area. Here she knelt over an open fire pit and mixed a few stringy greens, rice and lamb together to heat them. She glanced up when Kaibur stepped through the curtain wall her brother had put up to give their guest privacy. Her face registered surprise and concern. "You should not be up, Kaibur. The mission doctor said you would need lots of bed rest."
"I feel good," he responded. "And a little hungry. That looks delicious. Can you spare a bowl?"
Shyly, she nodded. "Of course. I was going to bring you some. Sit."
Obediently, he sat cross-legged at the low table and waited as she served a bowl of the hash to each of them and set another spot for her brother. She poured glasses of goat's milk, called for her brother and joined him on the floor. As they waited, she studied his face, then finally said, "You look better today. Not so pale. And your eyes are more alert."
"It is about time, Sharji. I was starved," Yesugei said as he came through the door. He acknowledged their guest with a brief nod. "You are looking recovered, Kaibur. That is well. You will want to be on your way before too long, I would guess."
"He needs more rest, Yesugei," the girl objected. "It has only been two days. He should not even be up."
"Looks healthy enough to me," the man replied, giving Kaibur a big grin. "And his appetite seems to be fine."
Kaibur shook his head slowly. Why did everyone insist on omitting him from a conversation that was about him. "I am fine. And yes, I probably will be leaving before winter. But is there anything I can do to repay you for your hospitality?"
Yesugei eyed him speculatively. Kaibur could almost read his thoughts as he took in his tall, lean frame and broad shoulders. Comparatively speaking, he was a big man next to the small, but stocky Mongol. "You look like you could do a bit of work. I could use some help with repairs and preparing the fields to plant. If you stay a few weeks, we would feed you and give you provisions to carry you for a couple of weeks on your journey."
Kaibur gave an affirmative nod. It was a fair request. He could spare the time - especially since he wasn't sure just now where he was going next.
"Good. You can start tomorrow, then."
"Yesugei! He can't!" Sharji objected. "Not until the mission doctor says it is okay--"
"Bah! He is as healthy as an ox," her brother replied, dismissing her objections. "Look at him! No chills, no fever. He is fine and willing to work."
There they were again, Kaibur thought and interrupted the argument. "It's settled. I will work with you tomorrow. I just had a chill from the river and I'm okay now. You needn't worry."
"Good." Yesugei finished off the milk, rose to his feet, and headed back outside. Slowly Kaibur sipped the pungent milk. It was not very good, a bit on the warm side and lacking sweetness. He'd tasted better - at some point. He frowned that the memory wouldn't come clear.
As Sharji began clearing the table, he caught her hand, looked up at her surprised face. "Thank you for everything, Sharji. But I have a very important question. When I... When you found me on the riverbank, did I have a sword? I - I thought I did..." Maybe he was hallucinating, he told himself. The girl's face seemed to confirm that thought, a look of astonishment that he should ask such a strange question.
But her next words changed that. "I cannot believe you recall that. Yes, you had a sword so tightly held in your hand that I could barely pull your fingers from it. Yesugei and I spoke about how amazing it was that you hadn't lost it in the water."
"Where is it?" he asked, mouth suddenly feeling a bit dry. Confirming that he had clutched the sword only brought up the question of why?
"It was near you," she replied and motioned for him to follow her.
Unfolding himself, he got a slightly stiff leg under him and managed to get to his feet to trail her to the improvised sleeping room. There she knelt beside the low palate and dug under it, pulling out a cloth-wrapped bundle. She set it on the bed and backed away, as if she was unsure what his reaction might be.
He reached for it, feeling the weight that was so familiar in his hands, then carefully unwrapped the cloth. This isn't mine! was his first shocked thought as he gazed at the gleaming steel blade and ornate pommel hilt. He caught his breath, ready to protest this deception, when a scene from the past flashed in his mind -
Crusades - 12th Century
Horses whinnied and danced in the bare desert sands as their riders urged them into the fray. The bigger European horses were less maneuverable than the swift Arab horses the infidels rode. "Guy de Lombardy" struggled to control the big gray draft horse that threatened to break loose at any moment. To add to the confusion, the damned heathens rode female horses that were in heat and it drove the male animals to wildness.
Ahead, he saw King Philip, whose own horse threatened to drop his Majesty into a mass of uncontrolled animal legs. With an iron control on his horse, he forced it to the King's side, deflecting a short sword from a burnoose bedecked barbarian with a timely intervention from his own sword. He felt the jar up his arm as the metal blades clashed. He wheeled the horse, twisting in the saddle to see Philip just before his ornery animal decided to pursue a dainty bay Arab several yards away.
Guy cursed in Welsh, a useful language for unintelligible profanities, and tried to rein the horse back. Abruptly he found himself flat on the ground and just about dead center for a large hoof coming down on his head. He rolled, missed that but plowed face first into one of the infidels who'd also met the ground. Gathering himself up quickly, Guy rose and blocked the scimitar, shifting quickly to find himself some maneuvering room. The curved sword hunted in again, cutting toward his side, the tip grazing the light chain mail he wore and sliding down to cut a deep gash in his thigh. He barely felt it as he flipped his sword in front of him, blocking a second attack and forcing the heathen on the defensive. A quick lunge and he was through the man's defense and the sword found its target.
He swung around, eyes seeking Philip's fleur-de-lis banner, found it a few yards away as the king fought valiantly against three opponents. With a yell of fury, Guy plunged into the fight. His sword cut in madly, fighting one of the mounted enemy back from the king. His sword met the other's and - broke. The tired metal sheared off leaving him with only a dagger-sized pointless piece of junk. He jumped back as the horseman came at him again, spotted a downed Arab a few feet away and lunged for his sword. A sharp blade cut across his lower back just as his hand fell on the blade. Guy yelped with pain, knowing this one had found its way below his armour and had done significant damage. He dropped and rolled onto his back, bringing the captured sword up in front of him.
The weight of the blade was unfamiliar, as was the shape, but this was a matter of desperation. The infidel rode his horse toward Guy, leaning down to bring the sword across to finish him off. Guy de Lombardy waited, forced himself to move at the last moment, hearing the swoosh of the weapon as it whizzed past where his head was a moment earlier. He could barely move his body, his legs were numb, but he mustered as much strength as possible into the swing of his own sword, gutting the horse as it went over him. Before he passed out, he saw the horse go down, taking her rider with her and the man's neck twisted unnaturally as he went down.
"Is that Guy?" De Lombardy dimly heard the voice as he regained consciousness. He thought it was Philip. Hands pulled at the leather straps that held his helm on his head.
"I think so, your highness," a voice responded. That sounded like Louis. "Merde, he's soaked with blood. He can't be alive." Hands touched his face, pushing his long hair back from his eyes.
"Don't make a wager on that," Guy choked out, although he didn't feel far from death at the moment. He opened his eyes to Louis' shocked face.
Behind Louis, he saw the slow grin that spread across Philip's face. "You had me worried, Guy. How badly are you hurt?"
Guy used Louis' arm to pull himself up. "I'm not, your highness. The blood belongs to one of those annoying Arab horses."
"Help him get cleaned up, Louis," Philip ordered. "Then bring him to my tent." The dark, handsome man grinned at Guy and the warrior felt a warmth spread through him to see that gaze. "I am glad I've not lost you, my friend."
A short time later, bathed and in clean garb, Guy entered King Philip's tent. There were several people with him, including King Richard of England. Philip looked up and his eyes sparkled as he saw his defender. He rose even as the Guy dropped to one knee.
"Welcome, Guy!" Philip cried in pleasure. "Come to me."
Guy rose, walked to stand in front of his king, then knelt again only a foot away from Philip. The king spoke softly, for his benefit alone. "You fought well today, my friend. I saw you come to my side. It is my desire to reward you." Louder, Philip declared, "This man has served Us well and it is Our desire to make him knight." He pulled his sword, touched Guy on each shoulder, performing the field ceremony. "To reward you for your dedication and service to Us, We make you a knight. Arise Guy de Lombardy."
As Guy did so, Philip smiled and reached to Louis for a sword he held. "And I present you with this to replace that loathsome curved thing you found this afternoon." There were chuckles from all around at the king's declaration.
The new knight's mouth was dry as he accepted the gleaming new weapon, a magnificent blade with a bronze handle. Toledo steel, the finest in the world. "My thanks, your majesty," he managed to say as he took the sword in his hands and tested the weight.
King Philip grinned, pulled Guy to him and kissed him on each cheek. As his lips brushed near his ear, Philip whispered, "Later, Guy. We will make sure you are whole and not injured in any way - later." In his eyes was a promise, one that Guy understood and welcomed.
Suddenly, Kaibur felt disoriented and a little dizzy. He sat down hard on the bed, still holding the sword before him. He'd expected an iron weapon, not this splendid piece of Toledo workmanship, but the memory confirmed this was his sword. Only he wasn't Kaibur - he was Guy de Lombardy, a French knight from the Twelfth century. He took a shaky, deep breath and looked around him anew, confusion more than evident in the look on his face.
"Kaibur? Are you all right?" Sharji's voice was concerned.
"I'm not sure," he replied slowly. "Maybe I'm pushing it a little."
"I was afraid of that. Get back into bed now. You need more rest."
He found himself feeling very wobbly and didn't resist when she urged him to get back under the covers. But when she reached to take the sword from him again, he clung tightly to it and shook his head. "No. I need it with me," he explained to her puzzled look, his voice soft, but determined. "It's my life."
Even if the girl didn't understand the reason, she knew enough not to argue with him. After all, he'd not let go of it when he tumbled in the river. It was obviously very important to him. She accepted his choice and tenderly stroked his hair, pushing the loose locks back from his forehead. After the incident with the blood-letting and the shaman having to reopen his arm five times to get him sufficiently bled, she was in awe of his healing ability.
He was handsome, this man. Obviously not of Asian blood in spite of the name, not with that pale skin and long, accentuated nose. His eyes were a curious mixture of green and amber with the clarity and sparkle of an emerald, almost like that gemstone with golden topaz shot through it. It was not a common color under any circumstances and certainly not one Sharji had ever seen before. She was glad he was going to be staying with them for a few weeks. Maybe even longer...
She blushed as she realized she'd been staring at him, gazing into the green-gold pools as if entranced. Clearing her throat with a little cough, she asked, "Where do you come from Kaibur? What land?"
He didn't hesitate. "Rome." Then he looked puzzled. "No, no - not originally. I'm from..." He paused and frowned, spoke slowly. "The Steppes? Wales? God, I don't remember."
She saw the distress, heard the hint of panic in his voice and regretted that she'd asked. Her hand touched his face, soothing him. "It is all right. You will remember later. You just need to recover more. Try to sleep now." Impulsively, she leaned forward and kissed his cheek, not daring any more.
Without a word, he brought his hand to her chin, stroked long fingers along it, then guided her to his lips. His mouth was soft yet firm against hers and held a slightly pungent flavor from their meal. It wasn't a sexual kiss, yet offered a hint of the sensuousness of the man. Her heart beat a little quicker as she pulled away from him. "Sleep," she whispered and slipped quickly out of the room.
Sharji continued out of the small dwelling, leaned against the wall and gazed out at the wide expanse of grassland. She took deep, calming breaths as she tried to sort through her turbulent thoughts. She wanted this man, wanted to touch him and feel him against her, yet she knew instinctively he would not stay here. He didn't belong here.
Kaibur pulled the sword close, staring intently at the hilt as if it would answer all the questions that were zipping at high speed through his brain. The sudden flash of memory of when he'd gotten that sword was vivid and he was sure it was a true memory, but he didn't know how it could be. He was Kaibur and he was part of a Mongolian tribe... but he was Guy de Lombardy and that was the twelfth century. But this was the twentieth century. None of it made sense. Unable to reconcile the time differences and the personalities of the two memories, he began questioning his sanity. The only real thing right now was the need to hang onto the sword. He felt that this was the key and it was a very real part of his life. He fell asleep cradling the sword.
Over the next few days, Kaibur worked with Yesugei to prepare the fields for planting, to make repairs in the fences holding the small herd of sheep that would provide them with food and a small income. It was a good feeling to spend most of the daylight hours doing the physical work and seeing the progress they made each day - one Kaibur relished as if it was something he hadn't felt in a very long time. There'd been a bit of soreness the first day that quickly past and his tall, lean body felt stronger each morning.
His nights had been a different story as shards of dreams plunged through his unconsciousness. Most of them were fragments, making little or no sense. He recalled a smaller man, with a wicked scar down the side of his face, who seemed to control him. He had felt fear in the dream memory. Another moment was the soundless vision of hanging naked from a post while a red-haired man beat him with a staff. He recalled feeling cold, hungry and extremely tired through the painful blows that shattered ribs. And he recalled screams of victims in the darkness and men dressed in the deep brown robes of priests and he was uncertain where he was in that dream.
The dreams had brought him to a startled wakefulness frequently and he sat in the cool air trying to catch his breath once or twice a night. Other images had been fleeting moments, little mental snapshots. A handsome, friendly face with dark brown eyes who smiled affectionately at him as he raised a paint brush towards him. Friend, his mind supplied, but little else. Another man, older, gray-haired who walked with a cane. Father? Friend? Watcher? What did that mean? He couldn't place it. A rough-looking warrior woman who grinned at him like he was the sun yet treated him like a weakling. Grania-the name whispered in his head. Another girl, dark-haired and beautiful with eyes like smoke who raised her eyes to his in passion and desire.
Even when he was awake, the images haunted him. He could recall the faces, the details of the dream fragments, yet couldn't attach any continuity to them. They spanned time, more time than a human lifetime had. He couldn't explain them any more than he could "Kaibur" and "Guy."
On one particular afternoon, Kaibur made repairs on a fence, hammering at the crossbeams, when he missed the nail head and pounded his thumb with enough force to split the fingernail. He cursed, wincing with the pain as the nail bled and the finger quickly turned purple and blue. As he stuck the damaged digit in his mouth, he thought this was likely to take a few days to heal. But when he examined the thumb again, he was amazed to find it nearly healed, the fingernail sealing as he watched.
He leaned back against the fence post, trying to puzzle this out. It seemed familiar, this rapid healing. Part of something that was almost there, he could almost identify. He recalled how easily he'd recovered from the frozen river in less than twenty-four hours when the doctor had thought it would be days or even a couple of weeks. Curious, he took the knife from his pocket, opened the blade and with a deep breath, cut his left hand open across the fleshy mound below his thumb. He bit his lip as the injury registered with his nerves and the blood flowed freely over his hand. He wiped the red flow away with his right hand and watched with a sense of detachment as the wound sealed itself. This, too, was familiar.
He held the fruit in his hand as the woman's cries faded from him and he used his knife to cut into it. In anger and self-loathing, he shoved the knife down until it bit into his hand, drawing blood. He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could close out the voice as easily.
His thoughts flashed to the period he recalled as Guy de Lombardy. He had been seriously injured then. He recalled the burning pain across his back, the deep cut of the sword into his flesh and bone, the pain as a horse's hoof came down on his thigh. Yet he had managed to kill his enemy and still get to his feet, whole and uninjured. Just like this... And it had been him - his face, his body. The whole recollection was too clear, too complete to be a delirious fantasy. "What the hell am I?" he asked out loud.
This incident was witnessed by a distant observer. From the roadway, Miles lowered a pair of binoculars and considered what he'd watched. It had taken him a while to locate Pierson. He'd worked his way down the river, asking cautious questions in the sparsely-spaced tent villages, struggling with the language to make himself understood. He'd been grateful to find an English-run mission in this small village. It turned out it was the only one in the area and generally served the whole of the river plain for several hundred miles. A British doctor worked with the reverend and recognized Adam from his description. He called him Kaibur and told Miles he'd been amazed to find him alive although his memory seemed spotty.
Spotty, indeed, Miles had thought, if he's calling himself Kaibur. It was, he decided, most likely a name he had once used. But to be sure, he'd gotten directions to the little farm to make sure.
Now that he'd confirmed that Kaibur was indeed Pierson, he debated whether he should confront him or not. If his memories were incomplete at the moment, he didn't want to force them or confuse him. Judging from the little experiment he'd just seen, Adam seemed to be working his way back okay and was probably regaining his memory little by little. He decided to wait, give him a little more time. But he wanted to stay near in case the Bedouin showed up again.
Reluctantly, Montgomery returned to the borrowed jeep and drove back to the town where he made a call from the mission to Paris. He let Amanda know Pierson was safe, if not quite sound. She had a dozen questions, none of which he could answer. Finally, he interrupted the flow. "Amanda, all I can tell you right now is that Adam is alive, in one piece and that he seems to be doing okay."
"I'm coming over, then," she responded, her voice determined.
"No! There's no need," he said quickly. "This place is in the middle of nowhere. You don't need to make the trip yet. I know you're worried, but I think he's going to be fine. We just need to give him a little more time."
"What about the other Immortal? Is there a danger?"
"I haven't seen him around and I am keeping my eyes open, believe me. I don't want to go up against him either. I don't think he'll accidentally sneak up on Adam. He is still aware of presence and he has his sword. I'll keep checking on him."
That seemed to satisfy her for the moment although Miles could easily detect the concern in her voice. He hoped he'd been reassuring enough. He couldn't very well tell her that he had no intention of letting anything happen to his link to Duncan MacLeod. Right now, Pierson was his best bet of locating the Highlander.
In the evenings, before the last glow of the sun past from the sky, Kaibur took his sword out and practiced by the river. The weight of the steel felt natural, the weapon itself an old and cherished friend. But the memories that accompanied the sword were confusing, flashes of himself wielding it as the twelfth century knight would alter to another time for a few moments, yet the image was still him.
And the memories of Kaibur insisted there should be a different sword. He tried his best not to think about it. When he did, he wondered about reincarnation memories - if the images he saw really were his own or some fantasy. Even Kaibur didn't fit totally with what was happening now. He had been a warrior, a fighter in a valley near here, but he didn't recall how he got in the river - why he was in the mountains in the snow. And Kaibur was an older recollection than Guy. He was sure that he was neither one, yet the flashes that spun through his mind failed to jell into a solid memory.
On one such evening, Sharji stood at the door of their cabin and watched the tall man work out, entranced with the fluid grace as the strong arms fought an imaginary victim. She usually spent a few minutes studying the daily ritual of the foreigner, but this evening she lingered even longer. Kaibur now slept outside, out of temptation's reach, but when she saw him like this she wondered what it would be like to make love with him. Yet apart from that one time, he'd not made any other advances toward her and seemed uninterested in her sexually.
He paused in his ritual, set the sword down and began gathering armfuls of dead reed-like grass and bound them together to make a bundle. He repeated the process again and again, until he had several large bundles. Then he combined them together until at last, a semblance of a human figure formed. Sharji laughed. He'd created a sparring dummy. She ducked back into the cottage and found a strong cord.
With a big smile, she handed it to Kaibur and was rewarded with a grin that brought a sparkle to those marvelous eyes. She watched him tie the dummy to a tree, then stood back as he picked up the sword again and attacked the hapless hanging "victim." The lean body stood back, lunged again at it, then ducked and moved back quickly as if it was attacking. Sharji had an idea, slipped forward to unwind the end of the cord and grasped it to control the movement of the dummy.
Kaibur was pleased with the sparring dummy, but when Sharji began to control the movement, he really got into the workout. He tried to anticipate the moves, imagining where the sword would be if the dummy were actually attacking him. He knew he was quick and agile, his trim body able to shift quickly and change directions. The sword was a smooth extension of his arms, swinging easily in his hands and flowing through in a well-controlled, graceful arc.
The dummy came at him as Sharji shifted it to swing back when he'd just dodged it and he automatically brought the sword over his head, both hands gripping the hilt and sliced off the makeshift head. For a few beats he watched the oblong bundle roll away, then he straightened and planted the sword in the ground. Like a movie screen in his mind, he saw himself in the center of a maelstrom of electrical power, blue white light flashing around him and through him as bolts of lightening hit. He was on a beach and he'd just taken someone's head. He caught his breath and dropped to his knees as yet another piece of his memory clicked into place.
As he knelt, trying to fully understand what he was remembering, he suddenly felt a roaring in his head, one that made him wince with the pressure. He brought his eyes up to see the dark man that approached. Instinctively, his hand moved to his sword hilt and he began to pull it from the ground. The approaching man grinned wolfishly, giving a more ominous appearance to his face. He knew this man but he couldn't put the details to it, couldn't- His face paled as he realized this man was an enemy and --gods, he expects me to fight him!
"Kaibur, are you all right?" Sharji had let go the dummy and hurried to see if he was hurt or what had brought him to his knees. Her hands touched his arm, concern in her dark eyes. She glanced to where his eyes were riveted, took in the dark stranger who seemed to threaten them. "Do you know that man?"
He shook his head, denying it even as he put a name to the stranger-Rashid. Images flashed through his mind, a mixture from long ago in this area and more recently in a snow-covered valley-swords, fighting, companions, enemies. Kaibur caught his breath, tried to focus and struggled to clear his head against the increasing pressure as Rashid approached slowly.
Unexpectedly, Yesugei appeared, approaching the stranger on his land, the hoe in his hands held like a staff. Rashid halted, spoke with the Mongol. Kaibur held his breath, his mind screaming against what he knew Rashid could do. He watched as Yesugei pointed toward the road and seemed to speak amiably to the dark man. Heads bobbed up and down, then Rashid gazed toward him again, tilted his head slightly and turned away. Kaibur let his breath out and dropped his head against his hands on the sword hilt.
He felt arms slide around his shoulders, pressing against him and heard the intake of breath near his ear. "Are you all right?" Sharji repeated, worry evident in her voice.
When his eyes came up to meet the girl's again, he knew he was Adam Pierson and he was Immortal - the only thing that would actually kill him was losing his head. More pieces of the puzzle had moved into place, just as he knew that the pressure in his mind that was almost a sound was a warning of presence, the way one of his kind identified another. He nodded, rose slowly to his feet.
"Fine. Just a little winded." His hand brushed her cheek lightly, watched as concern turned to relief. Not as much as his, he thought wryly, knowing that the confrontation with Rashid could have been a disaster. His sword would be his constant companion from now on and he would have to think about moving on soon if he wanted to keep these people out of danger.
As Sharji huddled beside him, he was aware of her feelings for him. She was a lovely girl, but he'd tried to not violate the trust these people had put in him. As he gazed at her wide brown eyes, he wanted to kiss her, to take her in his arms and hold her close. But there was something else that kept him from touching her, some greater loyalty perhaps. He wasn't sure what, but it was there, like a shadow at the edge of his memory. Instead, he put an arm around her and walked her back to the ger.
Adam Pierson, he thought. My name is Adam Pierson, but who am I? Knowing the name and that he was Immortal didn't answer any questions. It just created more. The vision at the beach was real, he remembered it, but couldn't put names to the details. His name was clear, but not what Adam was, what he did, where he lived and what the hell he was doing here. Even the knowledge of Immortal didn't seem to be complete. There was Rashid who was like him, but were there even more like him? Was that why the sword was so important?
Over the next few days, Adam kept a close watch for a reappearance of the other Immortal, but there was no indication of his presence near. Still, he began making plans to leave. It was beginning to be a pleasant prospect as he sat down to yet another meal of mutton-boiled for breakfast this time and served with sticky rice. His stomach was beginning to object to this steady diet of sheep and he had a strong craving for something more to drink than fermented mare's milk or vodka.
He had agreed to stay long enough to complete the new pen for the sheep since the herd had increased this past winter and Yesugei had plans to add a pair of yak to the farm. Like most Mongolian nomads, the couple had a pair of horses-one of which was the source of the mare's milk-- that were kept in a small corral. Yesugei figured he could expand that facility for the yaks and he discussed these possibilities over the greasy meal.
In some ways, Adam was amused that this young pair of nomads had elected to settle down. It wasn't the way of life for most of them. In so many hundreds of years, little had changed in this part of the world. It was not surprising that his memories of Kaibur had come so easily to him. More and more, he felt that Adam Pierson, too, was merely another one of his identities-someone he was for a period of time before he assumed a new persona. Oddly, he felt like the impermanent one, a mere wraith on the wind, while these two mortals were the reality. The thought was depressing, leaving him filled with incomprehensible regrets.
Abruptly, the weather changed. Dark rain clouds began to fill the sky. Adam leaned against the fence he was working on and stared at them. His memories as Kaibur told him it was not a good sign. He had endured many storms in this region. So, too, had Yesugei. He encouraged Kaibur to complete the work on the pen so they could get yhe animals into it before the storm broke.
By afternoon the rains started in earnest, heavy pounding making a curtain of it. Sharji and Yesugei raced to round up the animals and move them away from the rapidly rising river. Well above the edge of the river, Adam struggled to finish a makeshift pen for the sheep. He was aware how rapidly melting snows in the mountains could swell the flow and he knew this situation had that potential.
Dripping wet from the downpour, Sharji and Kala herded over a dozen unhappy, smelly sheep into the just completed pen. She glanced at the equally soaked man who secured the gate behind them and laughed. His dark hair was plastered to his narrow, pale face. "You should have left yesterday," she yelled above the storm.
"It's good I didn't," he answered loudly. "You would never-- "
He was interrupted by a cry from the river and spun to see Yesugei struggling in the water. Sharji was already running toward the river, but Adam easily overtook her and raced along the edge of the bank trying to find a place where he might grab the man who fought to break free of the current. Ahead was a foot bridge, an old wooden structure, across the water. Adam poured on speed and clambered onto it, feeling the unsteadiness of it under his feet. He lay flat, spreading his weight across the uneven boards and reached out to grab Yesugei as he rode past on the crest. His hands clutched at the man's arm, fighting to hold onto him.
A shriek brought Adam's head up in time to see the earthen bank give way under Sharji's feet and the girl slide into the river with the mud. He muttered a curse, but there was no time to think and Adam had his own problems as the straining footbridge yielded to the pressure of the water and he, too, was swept into the surging flow.
He strained to keep a grip on Yesugei's arm, but it kept slipping away from him. He was getting no help from the man and his fingers could no longer grip the slick clothing and flesh. Yesugei was torn from his grasp. Adam made a grab at one of the boards from the bridge, wrapped an arm around it to keep above water and looked frantically around for Sharji. He spotted the gray wool shawl, then got a glimpse of the girl's face as she stuggled against the weight of her wet clothes. With an effort, he shoved himself and the board toward towards her, grabbed her arm and managed to pull her to the log, guiding first her arm, then her upper body onto it.
The board shot down the river out of control, spinning and rolling with the surging water. This is familiar, Adam thought as he fought to stay above water and keep a grip on the girl. He spat water out of his mouth, felt some trying to force its way down his throat and choked on it. Abruptly the memories of being in the icy water came clear, intense remembrance of the water drowning him, the revival and dying again in a repeating cycle.
Methos... The name jumped to the forefront of his mind as the memories blasted him, many lifetimes of recollections and many names he'd used over those centuries. It was almost overwhelming yet it brought a sense of relief as he realized what he was and accepted that who he was stretched a long way back through time. But there was no time now to linger in the past. His problems were immediate and demanding. Water battered him and made it difficult to hold onto the girl who was doing nothing to help him.
At last, the river curved and Methos saw his opportunity to move out of the flowing current. He shoved as hard as he could toward the shore, using the swift bend of the flow to propel him in the right direction and barely managing to push the board into the small twist of land. Gaining a foothold, he crawled out of the water, grabbed the end of the board and yanked with all the strength he had to pull it out of the water. The girl's inert body nearly slipped off and he barely caught her in time, lifting her and carrying her to a higher point on the land.
Only now did he notice the blood that covered his hands where large splinters of wood had dug into the skin and kept the wounds open. No matter. All he could think about now was Sharji. Her bother was lost and he couldn't change that, so he concentrated his efforts on her. Unable to detect any breathing, he began artificial respiration, clearing the air passages, breathing mouth to mouth and pressing against the girl's chest in an effort to revive her.
Mortals were so fragile, he thought. Their bodies so easily damaged in this situation, so incapable of repair. He fought to keep this one alive. He owed her for what she and her brother had done for him. More than that he'd felt protective of her, as if she was a delicate rose on the bleak tundra that was Mongolia and he was charged with her survival. He thought he detected a slight rise of her chest on its own, but he couldn't be sure. The rain continued to pound and he shivered with the coolness of the water soaking them.
Gathering Sharji's limp body into his arms, he staggered away from the river, angling toward where he believed a little village was situated. The darkness of the cloud-shrouded day was giving way to the true gray of twilight. Soon it would be night and he needed to get Sharji help if she was to survive.
Full night had fallen and the rains had lessened only slightly as Methos struggled to make it to the dim light that seemed only a few dozen yards away now. He was exhausted, his back and shoulders aching with the effort of carrying the still unconscious girl. His hands hurt where the splinters still pierced them and would not heal so long as the thick pieces of wood were embedded in the flesh. He'd nearly reached the building when a mental buzz warned him of the presence of another Immortal. He tensed, aware of the potential danger and equally alert to the fact that he was weaponless. His sword was still in the ger.
He imagined Rashid waiting for him, didn't hold much hope for the other Immortal allowing him to reach a sword any where. He could turn away, head another direction and hope the other hadn't detected him yet. But the buzz seemed to increase in intensity, a sign the Immortal was coming closer.
"Adam? Is that you?" The voice was familiar and even welcome at the moment.
"Miles..." Methos barely managed to croak out the name, and then it was so soft that no one could hear him.
"Over here!" Miles shouted to someone else. Moments later, the silhouette moved toward Methos, the face at last becoming clear in the dark night. Miles hurried toward him, paused only a moment before reaching to help him with the heavy burden he carried.
Even through the thick moisture and blackness, Miles saw the pale face of Adam Pierson and recognized the bundle in his arms for a human body. He reached to shift the weight to his arms before Methos' strength gave out. The other Immortal wouldn't let go although he willingly let Miles help. Miles tried to take the full weight, but Methos still held on. A couple of minutes later the mission preacher joined them and his hands, too, tried to pull the girl out of the old Immortal's grasp.
"It's okay, Adam," Miles said several times. "We have her. You can let go now." Still, he tried to maintain his grip on her.
Once they were inside the mission, the preacher forced the bleeding, damaged hands to let go. He stared at the bleak, exhausted face who let go of his burden so reluctantly. "We have her. We'll get her medical help. I'm Reverend Granger. Please, sit down before you fall down." Like the doctor earlier, the reverend's voice was British.
Methos acknowledged with an unsteady head bounce, yet still stood as the reverend took the girl away. Miles caught his arm, pulled him toward a small room where there was a cot and shoved him onto it. "Holy ground," Methos whispered, his mind seeming only half aware of where he was.
Miles gazed at the other Immortal a moment, then spoke gently. "You're safe, Adam. No one is going to hurt you here. Do you know who I am?"
Methos raised his eyes to meet the deep blue concerned ones of the psychologist and nodded. "Miles."
Montgomery let out a deep breath, relieved that Pierson was still not suffering memory block. At least he'd pulled out of that condition. He began stripping the wet clothing off the soaked man and pulled a blanket around his shoulders. Without a word, Miles left as Methos stared worriedly at the door and tried, painfully, to shift the blanket closer.
A few minutes later, Miles returned carrying a wooden tray with a glass of wine, a pair of tweezers, a bowl of water and a roll of gauze. He placed the wine in Methos right fingers, carefully closed them around it and ordered him to drink it. As Methos took several healthy sips, Miles pulled up a chair, set the tray on the floor and caught his left hand at the wrist, then dipped the hand in the warm water to clean the blood off.
"This might hurt a little," he warned, "but I need to get those splinters out so you can heal." With quick, deft moves he used the tweezers to remove an almost toothpick-sized piece of wood from the captured hand. Methos winced, catching his breath in a hiss as the uneven splinter tore its way back out. One by one, Miles removed another half dozen splinters from that hand before lowering it back into the water.
As Miles began wrapping the hand in the gauze, Methos raised a curious eyebrow. "It doesn't need a bandage."
"Well, the good reverend has seen your badly bleeding hands and is going to expect your injuries to be treated. Now if you're completely healed, he's going to be suspicious. So you're going to have to pretend your hands are hurt for a couple of days unless you want to explain your phenomenal healing ability. Finish the wine."
Methos complied, draining the rest of the wine as Miles emptied the bowl and refilled it with fresh water. The old Immortal set the glass down and held out his right hand for treatment. If anything, there were more splinters in this hand and they were embedded deeper. Methos bit his lower lip as Miles bent to dig a couple of particularly nasty ones out with the aid of a knife. Bullets his body could absorb, but slivers of wood that rivaled small daggers tended to keep the wounds open until they were either removed or completely taken in by the body.
By the time Miles was wrapping his right hand in gauze, Methos was on the edge of exhaustion, barely able to keep his eyes open. He struggled to stay awake, finally asking the question that bothered him. "How is Sharji? The girl?"
Miles secured the bandage and avoided his eyes. "The doctor's with her now. He's doing everything he can for her and we can only wait. I'll do what I can to keep him away from you. But you need to rest as well. You look beat, Adam." He saw the protest in the greenish-amber eyes and quickly added, "There's nothing more you can do. Get some sleep." He encouraged him to lie down, pulling the blanket over him as Methos stretched out his long legs on the narrow cot. In spite of his determination, he was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the little pad that served as a pillow.
At mid-morning, Miles Montgomery checked in on Methos and dropped off clean clothing for him. He'd brought the other Immortal's backpack down from the mountain with him. He hesitated, deciding whether he should wake him or let him sleep. The news wasn't good and he didn't look forward to telling him. As he started to leave a husky baritone asked, "How is she?"
Miles turned, his face conveying the answer even before he said it. "I'm sorry, Adam. She didn't make it. She never regained consciousness." He watched Adam's face for a reaction, saw nothing - no look of sorrow or shock, only an empty look. This was bad. He waited.
Eventually, Methos sat up, reached for the clean pair of jeans and started pulling them on. When he finally spoke, his voice was flat. "I'd like to see her."
Miles pursed his lips with reluctant agreement, waited for him to finish dressing, then lead the way to a small room near the chapel. Like the rest of the mission, this room was plain, unadorned. In the center was a table and the body rested on it, covered by a sheet. With only a moment's hesitation, Methos walked to the body, his still-bandaged but steady hands pulling the sheet back. Miles waited by the doorway.
Sharji's hair was still damp and tangled from the water. Her eyes were closed, blue tinting the skin even more around the eyes and lips. The small woman looked very fragile, like a porcelain doll. Methos swallowed hard, took a deep gulp of air as if he'd been holding his breath for the past few minutes. "She could almost be asleep," he managed, his voice breaking slightly. He brought his hand to the icy-cold skin, moving it to touch her lips with his fingertips. "I'm sorry, Sharji. I failed you and your brother..." His voice trailed off, choked by emotion.
"You did everything you could, Adam." Miles didn't move from the door.
Methos turned then, an unreasonable anger in his voice. "Did I? Once again, people - mortals - I cared about are dead. And these two, their only involvement was helping me. They didn't know I couldn't die. That I would be fine if they'd left me alone."
"This wasn't your fault!" Miles responded, somewhat baffled by the guilt he was hearing in the other man's voice. "You didn't control the weather, for gods sake! The storm would have happened whether you were there or not."
"Yeah, well, maybe they would have been better prepared for it if I hadn't been there. Maybe they would have seen the signs sooner." His voice was shaking now, edging near tears. His hands were tightly clenched in rage and frustration. "Maybe Sharji wouldn't have been on that bank if I hadn't gone down to try to save her brother."
The doctor crossed the room then, covered the girl's face again, then slid a gentling arm around the other Immortal, urging him out of the room. "And maybe it would still have happened, Adam," Miles said softly. "Maybe Yesugei would have still been swept into the water and maybe his sister would have gone after him herself. You can't blame yourself. You didn't do this."
Methos stopped, leaned against the wall and pressed a hand against his face. "It's not just these two. There have been so many others. It seems like I'm always losing people."
Montgomery's voice was understanding. "It's the price we pay in caring about mortals, Adam. It's inevitable. Do you want to talk about it?" He was fighting the urge to hug the other man, to offer some comfort in his touch, but he was uncertain of the reaction. Most Immortals carried a certain amount of emotional baggage, but Pierson seemed to be hauling a lot more than average.
Methos shook his head. "No."
Miles bit his lip and looked down slightly. He'd expected as much. 'If you decide to-" He paused, took a deep breath. "Adam, I'm your friend. I'm trying to help you."
Their eyes met a moment, then Methos dropped his head. "Friendship's earned." His voice was a harsh whisper. Miles had the distinct feeling he was talking about more than him.
When the dark-haired man raised his head again, there was a deep weariness in his mostly amber eyes that gave the doctor goosebumps. He met Montgomery's gaze and asked softly, "How long have you known where I was?"
"Since about two days after the doctor saw you. There aren't too many people in this area who match your description. I didn't think my sudden appearance would be too good for your memory. Come on, let's see if we can get some lunch."
As they walked, Methos asked, "About my memory... why couldn't I remember?"
Montgomery laughed. "You'd been frozen and dying in the Khoud Gol for over three weeks! The memories were all there, just not readily accessible. Your poor brain had to have time to connect the dots."
"Exactly. It's a little more complex with Immortals. Longer lives, more memories, more confusion." Miles turned at a doorway that led to a small kitchen. "How 'bout a sandwich?"
Miles explored in the small refrigerator, pulling out little bowls of leftovers and setting them on the counter. He straightened. "Let's see, we have leftover chicken, tuna salad - uhmmm, lamb, I think. A bowl of mutton. Any preference."
"You really need to eat something," Miles admonished as he handed him a cup of black coffee. "There's sugar on the counter, but I wouldn't try the milk."
"I'm not hungry. Maybe later." The old Immortal added a bit of sugar, took a sip, then set the coffee on the counter. He leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, hugging himself tightly and closed his eyes. He couldn't get his mind off the woman in the other room. Yesterday morning she was alive. Then the rains came and she and her brother were dead.
One morning there was a village full of people-living, breathing, arguing, loving. Then a band of raiders came, ending existence for the people. The thought caused him to shudder as he realized, yet again, how delicate mortals were, how easily the flames of their lives could be snuffed out, how little he'd paid attention until recent millennia. Death to an Immortal could be unpleasant, painful and sometimes extended, as had just happened to him, but it was generally an annoyance and nothing permanent-unless, of course, you lost your head. But to mortals, it was the end of their being, although you could consider reincarnation or an afterlife. He'd known several cultures who believed in the former, but he'd not really encountered anything that would confirm it. No person he'd ever known in any era had found him again, had ever remembered knowing him.
Nor could he conclusively say there was an afterlife. And if there was, did it include Immortals? As far as he knew, the only afterlife an Immortal knew was the Quickening, All that he was-- all that he had been-would be passed to someone else in his Quickening. And maybe, just maybe, there would be brief glimpses of who he was for whoever took his head. And what of all the Immortals he'd killed? Gods, he could barely recall bits and pieces of their lives from the Quickenings. Abruptly, Methos felt very depressed. Without a word, he straightened and took the back door out of the kitchen.
Miles had watched him with growing concern. Adam was a puzzle. When he saw him like that, he felt that the other Immortal was very old-maybe over a thousand, but that didn't seem possible. Had he really known Sean Burns? He knew Sean had been at least nine hundred although his mentor had never gone into detail about his life.
He picked up the nearly full coffee cup, frowned at it before dumping it into the sink. He'd been surprised when he found Adam was going to go looking for MacLeod. From what he'd been able to tell, Pierson had only known the Highlander a little over three years. At first he'd thought Adam was MacLeod's student, but that didn't seem to be the case. And the fighting and desperate measures Adam took to survive in the fight against the Arab indicated that he had far better fighting skills than a novice-that he'd been around a long time. So what kind of man was it who went after a friend he'd only known a short time? Who would undertake a journey across snow-covered mountains to find a friend he thought was in trouble? Was MacLeod that compelling a person that he could generate that kind of friendship in a man like Pierson?
Fact was, he liked Pierson. Oh, sure, the man was cautious, caustic and a loner, but there was also a certain charm about him. And he wanted to know him better. That didn't seem too likely with his unwillingness to open up. What he hoped the most, however, was that he didn't find himself at the other end of Pierson's blade. He didn't want to kill him. He leaned against the doorway and gazed out at the Immortal who'd settled against a scraggly old tree on the tundra.
Soft flakes of snow drifting down were visible through the window, settling on the elegant old buildings of Geneva. Alexa sat up in a hospital bed, propped against the pillows. She was actually feeling better and seemed stronger than she had in the past three weeks. Her eyes were alert as she spoke softly to him. He'd been tired and tense until that moment. The escalation in Alexa's illness and the attempt to gain the Methuselah crystals had left him exhausted.
He'd told her he could handle it and he would. He was determined she wouldn't see how much it was draining him. At that moment, he'd felt hope. Hope that maybe she would rally-maybe she could fight this disease that was destroying her body.
"You're losing weight, Adam," she noted, her voice sounding strained from disuse. He'd been touched that she, who was down to little more than a stick, was concerned about him.
"I'm all right," he'd answered, smiling with honest pleasure. "You're the one who needs to eat."
"I'm not too crazy about hospital food," she confided with a small laugh. They both knew she'd eaten very little, most of her nourishment coming through tubes.
He'd squeezed her hand. "How about if I go get a nice pasta dinner for us? Alfredo? With a gelato for dessert?" She'd loved that when they'd been in Italy.
"And lots of garlic bread. But only if you have it delivered. I don't want you to leave me, Adam."
"Not a chance," he'd answered and tweaked her ear gently, part of that playful little game he'd started early on with her. It generally made her smile and it did the trick this time. He wanted to take her into his arms, hold on to her and somehow give some of his strength to her, but he was almost afraid that if he held her, he'd squeeze so tightly he would hurt her.
Then she'd drifted off to sleep as he tenderly stroked her hair, smoothing it away from the tiny, pale face.
So, he'd stayed with her, thinking that when she was a little better, he would take her to the best Italian restaurant in Geneva. Foolish enough to believe that she would continue to improve. Four hours later, she'd opened her eyes, told him she'd meet him again one day and that she loved him, then closed her eyes for the last time.
A choked sob shook Methos as the memory played itself out. Alexa had not been the first mortal he'd loved and lost, nor would Sharji and Yesugei be the last ones he'd cared about and seen die in spite of anything he could do to stop it. This kind of pain went back as far as his memories did, but most of the time he was more pragmatic about it. Accepting what he couldn't control. The years he'd actually spent practicing as a doctor had taught him many things about the human spirit, but it had also taught him that he could not command that spirit.
Montgomery was right. This wasn't his fault. He didn't control the weather and the likelihood that the flood would have played itself out exactly the same if he hadn't been involved was true. But he couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't a factor. That if he hadn't been an unexpected house guest, would the sheep pen have been finished and the animals gathered before the rains started? Or maybe he just wanted to blame himself for it, to shift the helpless feeling onto some other emotion. His standard "do nothing" response to situations was proving inadequate these days.
He brushed a bandaged hand against the burning and moistness in his eyes, realizing at that point that his hands were bandaged. As if it were a dream, he recalled Montgomery doing that last night, concerned about hiding his remarkable healing ability from the reverend at the mission. Seemed strange to him, but he had to agree with the logic. His hands, of course, had healed within a few minutes of removing the splinters.
One thing was certain. He needed to go back to the ger, if it still stood. His sword was there, left in the frantic effort to beat the storm, and he would need it-more likely sooner than later. He felt Miles approaching and turned his head to face him. He noted the concern on the younger man's face, found it somewhat amusing. If the psychologist had an inkling of the host of nightmares lurking in his memories, he'd run screaming for the nearest sanctuary.
"Are you all right?" he asked, dark blue eyes regarding him anxiously.
"Fine", he said firmly. "Would you happen to have some form of transport? I need to retrieve something from the farm."
"How 'bout a jeep? Come on, I'll drive you." Miles offered him a hand up.
Methos took it as he realized he was beginning to feel oddly at ease with this soft-voiced man. That was his job, he reminded himself. Make the patients feel comfortable with you. Sean Burns had that gift also. "No need. I can find my way."
Already Miles was shaking his head. "Nope. Need to keep up appearances. Your hands. Besides I could stand getting away from here for a few hours."
Nothing had really changed at the small farm, except that Sharji and her brother were no longer there. Methos walked through the tent door with a sense of deja vu, expecting at any moment to hear the girl's voice or smell the meat cooking. It was difficult to realize so much had changed in such a short time. Water puddled on the floor indicating that the ger hadn't totally escaped the flooding. Methos spotted his coat still draped over the back of a chair and lifted it, frowning at the wet bottom that had been resting in a pool of stale water. He could tell his sword was still safely tucked inside, although likely to be very damp. It would need cleaning as soon as possible.
He felt Miles approach the tent, his presence coming into range, but he lifted the sword from the hidden sheath to be on the safe side. A moment later, Miles voice called out to him. "Adam, what should we do with the sheep in this pen up the hill?"
The sheep. He'd forgotten about them. The poor things were cooped up with no food. "Turn them loose before a snow leopard finds them." He withdrew the sword and ran a finger along the damp blade, felt the sharpness of the edge. He was glad to have it in his possession again. Somewhere, Rashid waited for him, anticipating his next move. He shook his head slowly, wishing that this complication would not show up at this particular time, but knowing with a certainty that he was somewhere near. He gazed around the room one more time, then sharply turned and left it behind.
As the jeep bounced back toward the town, Methos was aware of Miles' frequent glances toward him. He took a deep breath. "I'm okay, Miles."
"Are you?" Miles asked. "I can't help but feel you're strung as tight as a bow right now. This has been a lot to go through in a short time."
He gave a sharp laugh. "You can't help me with this. I can handle it."
"Who was that man?"
"What man?" Methos asked.
Miles chuckled, becoming accustomed to Adam's habit of answering a question with a question. "The one who is trying to kill you. The Arab."
The one who is trying to kill you. Methos repeated in his mind. God, it seemed so minor, this disagreement with Rashid. It was over centuries ago and he got the worse end of the deal. He was the one who was cut open and left to die. Rashid got what he wanted. If either of them should have a grudge it should be him. Out loud, he said, "His name is Rashid. We used to be-" How could he describe this? Colleagues? Raiders? "-in the same army."
He glanced across in time to see Miles' eyebrows shoot up. "Army?"
"For lack of a better word. It was a very long time ago. Now days it might be called a militant organization. I was a mercenary."
"You're kidding! How long ago was it?" Astonishment was on Miles face.
"Centuries," Methos replied, his voice sounding very tired. "It was what I did. It's what most Immortals did then. We were warriors. My life was built around fighting-- it was how I stayed alive. Anyway, we had a disagreement and parted company. I didn't think he would hold that against me."
For a while, Miles didn't say anything. Methos could well imagine the thoughts going through the young doctor's mind. Better to get it out now rather than have him find out later. "It was a different world, Miles. You adapt to what your environment is, do what you have to do to live. I'm not the same person I was then. Hell, I'm not even the same person I was three centuries ago. You were born into a very civilized age in comparison." And I'm not even telling you about the really barbaric parts, he added mentally. Those would probably freeze your blood and definitely give you a whole new perspective on slavery. Well, it will either send the kid scurrying back to Paris or at least make him very wary of me.
When Miles finally spoke again, his response surprised Methos a bit. "Well, you sure don't look your age. I just find it astonishing that Immortals hold grudges for so long. I would think anything that happened that long ago would not be worth the effort."
Methos turned and stared at him, not quite believing he was serious. There was no amusement in the face that glanced his way. "You really don't understand the Game, do you?"
"Oh, I understand it-or at least the rules. Maybe not why we're doing it. I just don't chose to participate."
"Sooner or later, you will. You won't have a choice. None of us really do."
"Don"t get me wrong. I fight when I have to, but only when pushed. You don't seem to be too much of a player, Adam."
A brief smile touched the old Immortal's lips. "There are many ways to play. Don't ever underestimate another Immortal-not if you want to stay alive."
Miles gave him a speculative look. "I'll keep that in mind." He slowed the jeep as they approached the little village and turned into the open field before the tin and wood structure that was the mission.
As they climbed out of the jeep, Miles gazed across at the reverend who'd just come out the door and raised an arm his direction. Methos' eyes shifted along the path of his look.
Seeing he had their attention, the reverend waved his arms broadly and motioned to them to come inside. As they went, Methos noted a rental land rover parked alongside the building. He had a bad feeling about this. After retrieving his sword, his plan was to pack up, reclaim the horses and head back to the mountains. Now-- "It appears we have company," he murmured, barely loud enough for Miles to hear him. They both sensed the presence of another Immortal at the same time. Methos' hand snaked inside his coat to the hilt of the sword. "My battle."
Miles had no intention of arguing that point. He nodded his understanding, but then glimpsed the far more shapely curves of a female rather than Rashid. Both Immortals relaxed a little, although the look on Methos' face was less than friendly. Miles suppressed a smile. "Looks like it may still be your battle."
Like a happy school girl, Amanda came running to meet them before they made it to the door, flung her arms around Methos and hugged him tightly. Her mouth found his, locked on and pressed into an enthusiastic kiss before he could get a word out.
Miles glanced at Methos who was trying to push Amanda back a little. He couldn't contain the laugh. "Don't blame me. I told her not to come." He headed on into the mission.
"I know you didn't want me to come right now," Amanda said over a glass of wine. She'd brought a few nice selections with her to help ease the adjustment of seeing her. The expression on Methos' face was not the one she was hoping to see. "But I couldn't stay in Paris any longer, worrying about you, wondering where you were and Miles told me about the old acquaintance you encountered and I was worried. Adam, you have to admit you haven't quite been yourself for the past couple of months. I mean-you were in the hospital! And-- and now you've had memory problems."
Amanda knew she was babbling, her mouth running on like a motor with no off switch, but she was afraid to quit talking. The old Immortal looked decidedly unhappy, almost brooding as he leaned against the table and turned the glass of wine in his hand. He cast a cold look at Miles and muttered, "Thanks for keeping her up to date."
Miles shrugged. "It's what she hired me to do." Unconcerned, he was settled comfortably in a rocking chair, one leg crossed against his knee, and was on his second glass of the very smooth port Amanda had brought.
Amanda rose from the chair and stood next to him, pressing a loving hand against his arm. "Please, sweetie, don't be mad at me. I was worried." Oops, wrong thing to say, she realized as his eyes narrowed at her.
"Don't call me that," he said softly, dangerously. "I wanted you in Paris where you were safe."
She glanced down. Okay, she'd overstepped the bounds a little. She understood the affectionate term was a private matter and she'd said it when he was not in the mood to hear it. And she knew he was under some strain here, but she hadn't expected him to be quite so upset with her. "I'm sorry."
His eyes softened a little, the colors fluctuating a little as he peered into her penitent face. "Amanda, this just makes it harder."
"What?" She was lost.
He sighed, sipped the wine and studied the pattern in the wooden floor for a few moments before he answered. "MacLeod. You. Me."
She frowned, understanding dawning. "Meth-" She caught herself, remembering that Miles was still in the room. "Paris was not a mistake, Adam. I said 'No regrets' and I meant it. But it wasn't just seeking comfort with you. I care about you. What was it to you?" Her voice was tight.
"I don't know." He looked away from her, wouldn't meet her eyes. "I-I needed-" He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Amanda."
Amanda gaped at him in shock. Was he saying that those few weeks meant nothing? That the lovemaking was nothing? That she was nothing to him? Anger flared in her and her hand was moving without conscious thought guiding it. She hit him, the full power of her swing catching him unprepared for this reaction and knocking him half-way over the table. Dimly, through the angry roar in her head, she heard the sound of glass shattering and a shout from Miles. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed him rolling to his feet.
Whirling around, she was out the door, a frenetic storm on the move. Tears threatened to break as she ran toward her car. She was angry with Methos but furious with herself that she was letting this get to her. Letting him upset her this way. Until he'd equivocated on that answer, she hadn't realized how much she really cared for him. And she was just realizing that her hand hurt from the punch she'd delivered and that she had actually hit him. God, she hadn't even hit Duncan like that when he exasperated her - well, punched him on the arm a few times maybe. But not let loose with a zinger to the jaw. "Oh, damn him, anyway," she muttered under her breath. Her hands trembled as she started to unlock the door.
She barely caught the buzz of pressure that signaled another Immortal and she turned to see if it was Methos or Miles. Just as she opened her mouth, a large object hit her. She was aware of a burst of red-tinged light exploding behind her eyes, then-nothing.
Methos rubbed at his jaw as he straightened up, tasting blood in his mouth where he'd bitten his mouth when the blow had connected. He didn't think the jaw was broken although it felt like it at the moment. He sure as hell hadn't been braced for that reaction-Amanda had completely blind-sided him. And he'd deserved it, he admitted. That was a pretty lame answer, but he didn't think he could tell her how he actually felt. Christ! She was MacLeod's woman. How could he continue to build a relationship with her knowing it would all end when Mac came back? He frowned. Come to think of it, Mac had more than his fair share of women. But Amanda was special to him. Nope, this was not an option.
"You handled that really well," Miles said softly as he handled Methos a damp cloth to wipe his mouth. "Are you always so charming with women?"
Methos shook his head, spoke slowly, testing the mobility of his mouth. "No. Sometimes I'm even better." He dabbed at his lip. "In a way, it's reassuring to know she can hit that hard. It's been a long day and I'm tired. I wasn't thinking."
"That's fairly obvious. She loves you, you know."
Methos stared at the door as if it might spit Amanda back into the room at any moment. He shook his head, a touch of sadness on his face. "She thinks she does-right now. It's very complicated. I'm a substitute for someone else."
For a few moments, Miles studied him, easily interpreting the expression he was seeing. "Sure of that, are you? ...And is she a substitute also?"
That garnered a glare from the older Immortal. "Don't think you can analyze this one. Why don't you do something useful and go talk to her?"
Barely able to reduce his laugh to a snigger, Miles headed out the door to find Amanda. Methos shot visual daggers at his back, then headed for the bathroom to wash out his mouth. The ache was already easing from the jaw, but the metallic taste of his blood remained.
By the time he came back out, he was mildly concerned that neither Miles nor Amanda had returned. Oh, well, if he'd made her angry enough to return to Paris, all the better. For some reason, that didn't make him feel better. He cleaned up the broken glass and spilled wine, poured a fresh glass. Maybe Miles was trying to reason with her.
He took over the chair Miles had vacated and considered his feelings about Amanda. No, she wasn't a substitute for anyone-or was she the closest tangible contact with MacLeod? That was an unnerving thought. That they'd both come together because of the Highlander being gone was a given, but that he'd substituted--? No! He cut that thought off. He cared about Amanda because of who she was and he'd cared for a long time now. She was a lively spirit, one of those people he was easily infatuated by-pure energy and fun, although not as intellectual as he usually preferred. But Amanda could surprise him. Methos rubbed his jaw again at the thought. Definitely a surprise.
As he became aware that at least a half hour had passed since Miles had gone after her, Methos grew mildly concerned. Moving with stealth, he slipped outside and made his way in shadows around the corner. No indication of either of them in the nearby area, he thought as no Immortal signature registered. His brow wrinkled in puzzlement as he spotted the land rover still parked where it was earlier. Okay, they walked wherever they went, he reasoned. There was no need to get concerned. Yet he couldn't calm the uneasiness he felt as he went back into the mission.
The more time that passed, the more concerned Methos was. Once the reverend came in and asked how he was, how the hands were healing, suggested he eat something. Dully, Methos realized he had hadn't eaten anything all day, just a few sips of coffee and three glasses of wine. With a brief smile, he accepted a sandwich, ate it without even registering what kind it was. Right now it seemed incredible that less than eight hours ago he was grieving for the lifeless body of Sharji and now he'd managed to tick off Amanda. Why did he keep getting involved with people? He could just find a cave somewhere and hole up for a century or two. With luck, he'd probably fire off another Merlin rumour.
A knock at the door startled both Methos and the good reverend. Methos glanced at his watch as the other man rose to answer the door-almost nine. What time had Amanda stormed out...around seven? The reverend spoke briefly to someone then came back and handled an envelope to "Kaibur."
Kaibur. The name was written clearly on it in a script-like handwriting-very ornate and not at all familiar. Methos held it as if it would bite, then carefully tore it open. The page inside was brief, to the point. Meet me at the river at nine-thirty. I have a pair of insurance packages that you'll come. It was a single monogram signature, unmistakably an R. Methos closed his eyes and let out the breath he'd been holding.
"Trouble?" The reverend asked, noting the sudden stillness of his guest.
Methos shook his head. "No, just an unexpected complication. I need to go out for a bit. Meet Miles and Amanda." He picked up his coat, shrugged it on and forced a reassuring smile. "Don't wait up for us."
With the long late summer days, it was barely reaching darkness outside. Methos kept a watchful eye as he made his way toward to river. He assumed he would not have to wander along it to find his target and he was right. He spotted the outline of Rashid a few minutes before he picked up the mental alarm.
The dark man stepped forward, approached until they were within ten feet of each other and halted. Methos did likewise. "Where are my friends, Rashid?" he asked without preamble.
"Safe, for the moment." He tilted his head toward the river and Methos' eyes followed the movement. They were barely visible in the darkness, a couple of lumps that appeared to be seated back to back and a post between them-no details, but Methos could guess they were tied up securely.
"The situation is this, Kaibur," Rashid continued. "We fight to the death. If you lose or try another escape, their lives are forfeit."
"Why?" Methos demanded. "They've done nothing to you. If it's me you want, then I'm here. Let them go."
The Arab's face shifted to angry bitterness. "Do you remember Acre? Do you recall the fall?"
"Acre?" Methos echoed with hollowness.
"Remember the King's encampment outside the city where the crusaders were wedged in between the forces inside Acre and Saladin's army surrounding them? I recall those final days before Acre surrendered vividly. There were many skirmishes and I took a fair share of sickly Christians."
"I didn't know you were there. I recall several Immortals at that battle, but I didn't encounter you."
Acre - 1191
Methos was sorely worried about Philip. His health had suffered greatly on this campaign. Unlike Richard, he'd come into the fray with more men and fewer resources and had marched along the Mediterranean to reach Messina while Richard had sailed from Marseilles. Then Richard had made a few personal stops along the way that netted him even more gain while Philip and his troops sailed. Methos well remembered that voyage, crowded and uncomfortable as he was surrounded by hordes of unwashed men. They'd landed near Acre and men had begun falling ill shortly thereafter.
Like many glorious quests, the reality of the crusade tarnished the image, but the soldiers were still rallied by the priests of God and had been determined to regain Acre. Methos was there out of love for Philip. He'd come to the young man's side when Philip was eighteen and had been his friend, bodyguard, confidant-and yes, sometimes lover-for several years now. The handsome youth was lost in the young man now-he looked closer to forty than thirty, but Methos still loved him and admired his skill as a king.
Methos stepped into Philip's tent, automatically knelt before his king. Only after he was acknowledged did he look up to see Richard, the Lion, sitting in the chair next to Philip. The English king was like a blaze of glory. He was dynamic, handsome and very skilled as a commander. Methos saw a little of his father, Henry in the strong warrior and more than a little of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitane.
"Guy!" Philip welcomed him with pleasure and a warm hug, as he usually did. "Richard and I were just discussing the disposition of Acre. I still favor Isabella and Conrad--
"Guy of Lusignan is the anointed king," Richard interjected firmly as he rose to his feet. "We will speak more on this later, Philip. Good day."
"You're still in battle gear," Philip noted as he motioned to Methos to pour them wine.
"Yes. Some of Saladin's heathens are still making trouble." He handed a goblet of wine to Philip, then settled next to him and took a long sip. "Will Richard yield on Conrad?"
"Most likely not, but perhaps I can maneuver a compromise. You look tired, my friend. You're not getting the illness?" Methos shook his head. "Good. I have a favour to ask of you."
"Anything, Philip," he replied without thought.
Philip took a deep breath, ran a long slender hand along his friend's cheek. "I have determined to return to France once the possession of Acre is settled. My health suffers in this land and there are matters to attend to at home. I would have you stay behind, Guy, with most of my men and serve Richard in his quest to take Jerusalem."
"Philip! You would have me leave you?" he objected immediately.
"Please, listen. I do not willingly ask you to stay, dear friend. But I need someone behind I can trust. I need to insure Richard gives a fair share of the spoils to France and that my men are treated well under his command."
"Do you suspect otherwise?"
Philip shook his head and Methos saw once again that engaging boyish smile that had once captivated him. "No, but I need to be sure. Your presence here would guarantee my peace. Will you do this for me? And when it's over, come back to France?"
Methos gazed intently at the king, his eyes growing a bit misty. He nodded his head although his heart was not willing. He was here because of Philip and he would stay because Philip asked it.
"Yes, I remember Acre," Methos said dryly. The memory still stung a bit. He'd hated that choice.
"Then you remember the hostages you helped slaughter. I had friends at Acre and there were relatives of my wife there. I saw the cruelty of your king." The deep bitterness in Rashid's voice was unmistakable.
With a shock, Methos understood what this was about. Over twenty five hundred men were slaughtered at Acre when Saladin didn't respond fast enough to King Richard's demand for a ransom. Richard didn't have the time to wait for Saladin to negotiate and raise the money. He needed to begin moving his forces to Jerusalem and it was necessary to execute the prisoners. To make the point clear to Saladin, Richard had the executions performed in front of the Muslim army.
"I saw you," Rashid hissed, his voice a chilling sound. "I saw your sword flashing, the brave warrior killing without remorse. You killed-you killed my wife's son. My adopted son that I raised from a baby. He was only sixteen. You took his head as if he were one of us."
Through a suddenly dry mouth, Methos croaked, "I didn't know. I was obeying Richard's orders. You've been in armies, Rashid. You know how it is. Allah forgive me, it wasn't something I chose to do."
A rasp of metal sliding against metal sounded as Rashid pulled his sword. His voice was contemptuous. "Don't speak the name of Allah. You fought for the Christian god, served him and killed children. Well, I choose to do this. The terms of this encounter stand. Win and you and your friends survive. Lose and I will send them to join you in hell. Their fate is in your hands, Kaibur."
Methos had his sword out, felt the hilt slid comfortably into his still bandaged hands. The constriction wouldn't interfere, the unwrapped fingers still managed a firm grip. He made one last try at reason. "This isn't about us. If you want to be angry, turn it to the source-a king who is now dead. But it was over eight hundred years ago, Vengeance now won't change anything. I don't want to kill you, Rashid."
"Third time's a charm," Rashid replied, a wicked grin distorting the otherwise handsome face. Then he made the first lunge at Methos.
The curved blade swiped the air in front of his nose as the old Immortal leaped backward. He quickly recovered, pressed in with several sharp swings that forced the Arab to loose ground. Then he shifted positions and went on the offensive again making Methos work to hold his position. The fight was engaged in earnest now, both men using all the skill they had. The medieval broadsword Methos wielded was longer and heavier, yet the scimitar was deadly and quick. A flip of Rashid's wrist brought it in and the tip raked across Methos' cheek, opening it up like a ripe melon.
Methos yelped with the sudden sting and could feel the blood running down his face in a quick stream. He tried to clear the unwanted thoughts from his mind that it wasn't just his life at stake here, that the outcome decided the fate of Amanda and Miles as well. This was a fight he must win and he needed his mind and body fully engaged in the encounter. Anything less would be disastrous.
He shifted his stance, changed his fighting technique and used an attack movement he'd learned from MacLeod and caught his adversary off step enough to score a cut against Rashid's shoulder. Then he was forced to jump backwards as the curved sword flashed toward him again and cut across his stomach, opening a shallow wound that leaked blood through his wool sweater. His mind filled with the vision of being gutted as Rashid's sword had opened him up and a rage enveloped him, propelling him into the battle with a cry of wrath. His sword cut through the air like an automated scythe, twisting and spinning to attack and block, pressing the Arab to defend more than attack.
Amanda worked against the ropes binding her hands, compressing her long slim fingers to her palms to make them as small as possible. With the constant pushing against the hemp strands, she was making headway, although it didn't seem fast enough. Her hands were cold and the fingers felt numb. She squinted into the darkness, unable to make out which man was which until a flash of sword would give her a moment of clarity before they would change positions and become uncertain again. "Can you make out anything, Miles?" she asked as the two figures became nothing more than dark shadows again.
With his back to her, Miles had an even poorer view of the fight. "No. I can't tell anything. Can you lean back a little? I might be able to work the knot at your hands free-or at least loosen it some."
Amanda complied, pushing her back against the post as firmly as possible so that the doctor's fingers lightly brushed hers. With patience, Miles began to pull at the strands that wove the knot. He caught his breath painfully when the rough rope jabbed at his fingertips but he didn't give up. He kept tugging, pulling with his fingernails when necessary.
Continuing the press her hands together, Amanda finally felt the rope begin to yield to their combined efforts. She forced her thumbs in a little more and pulled hard. A gasp escaped her lips as her right hand burned on the rope as it slid free. Then she was able to slip the other hand out easily and began to rub quickly at the wrists.
"That's it!" she declared triumphantly to Miles and bent forward to undo the ropes at her ankles. Just then the eerie glow of the start of a Quickening began to grow near the river. Face suddenly paling, Amanda brought her head up and squinted toward the growing light. She couldn't make out who was left standing. The figure was hunched over, the sword hidden by his body. "Can you tell who won?" she asked hoarsely.
"No. Hurry up, Amanda. We may be fighting for our lives soon." Miles' voice sounded strained.
Amanda yanked the rope away from her, then turned and knelt to undo Miles' hands. As soon as they were free, she was on her feet and running toward the surviving Immortal. If it was Methos, then she would be there for him when the Quickening died. If it was the oily Arab, she would need Methos' sword and she would kill the bastard before the last flash of the ancient Immortal's Quickening died.
The flashes of light began to fill the area, bolts of lightening directed to the figure that still hunched on the ground. They began to strike at him and his arms and head snapped up, his back arching into the tremendous power pouring into him. A soul deep groan was wrenched from him as he struggled to straighten his body.
Amanda stopped running as she recognized Methos in the center of the maelstrom. She planted her feet firmly only a dozen yards or so from him and waited. A few moments later, Miles stopped beside her, gaping at the light show as the powerful flares and flashes ripped into the other Immortal, then at last began to die down.
Methos hunched over his sword again, barely able to lift it as his body heaved with the deep breaths he was taking. In the stillness of the night, the gasps for air carried easily to the two watching friends. As if it was a signal, Amanda started walking toward him. Miles waited, near if he was needed but leaving this moment to the woman who had a much longer history with this man.
Methos had trouble catching his breath, his lungs ached with the effort of drawing in the cool air of the Mongolian night. He gulped at it like it was a liquid he could swallow, trying to pull it down as quickly as possible. He hated Quickenings, hated the feel of another person's essence oozing into his body, hated the loss of control during the minutes they took, hated the influx of the memories, guilt, pain, remorse and pleasure that bombarded his senses. Especially if the Immortal had taken a lot of heads in his life and Rashid was such an Immortal. He had been inherently bad, a man who played the game with commitment, not selective about whose head he took. Young, old-it didn't matter. Methos realized he would have challenged him even if they hadn't had a history. Miles and Amanda had survived only because it was a part of the game he was playing with Methos.
He became aware of Amanda approaching, spared a glance her direction, then raised an outstretched arm, hand palm up in a stop sign to warn her to not come nearer just yet. She halted a few feet from him, waiting.
Gradually the memories and emotions sorted themselves out and his breathing slowed to normal. He rose on still shaky legs and sheathed his sword, then turned to face Amanda, glimpsed the quiet figure of Miles a few yards behind her. Both okay. That was a relief.
"Are you okay?" Amanda asked hoarsely, anxiety coloring her voice.
He nodded and she covered the remaining ground in a few seconds to fling her arms around him, holding him tightly. Methos dropped his head against her shoulder, wrapped his long arms to enfold her and let her rub his neck and back. He was exhausted physically and emotionally. This had been an extraordinarily long, difficult day and right now, he needed to be held.
"I'm sorry, Amanda," he said shakily, his voice showing the strain. Sorry for her being kidnapped by Rashid. Sorry for what he'd said-or not said.
She brought her hand to his cheek, turned his face toward her and kissed him gently. "It's all right," she murmured against his mouth. "I know you didn't mean it."
He snuggled closer in to her, unable to keep any distance between them. God help him-he needed her right now. His mouth sought hers again, found it and formed a union, tasting the sweet freshness of her lips. He felt Amanda's pull back from him and reluctantly, he let her go.
She shifted her embrace to move to his side, letting him lean against her. Together they staggered toward Miles. In turn, he began a casual walk toward them. Methos reached out a hand to the younger man as they drew even. Miles clasped it, pulling Methos to him a little with his other hand at his elbow.
"Glad you're the winner, Adam," he said sincerely. "I didn't want to have to fight that asshole." Methos snorted a laugh at that, then Miles continued. "You guys go on, I'm going to tidy up a little."
Methos understood, raised his hand to squeeze Miles' shoulder, then he and Amanda continued toward the mission. Part way there, Amanda leaned in closer and confided, "I have a tourist ger rented for a few days if you'd rather not stay at the mission."
Surprised, he pulled back. "A tourist ger?"
She wore an impish grin on her face. "Uh hmm, one of the locals has three of them for rent. Believe it or not, tourists do come here now and again. It's a lot more private and we can push the beds together."
Methos shook his head in amazement. Leave it to Amanda.
Amanda leaned on an arm propped comfortably against a pillow on the bed and gazed at the peaceful, sleeping face of the ancient Immortal. When he was relaxed like this, he seemed both very young and innocent. She could almost forgive him for falling asleep mid-kiss last night and given what he'd been through in the last twenty-four hours, maybe she should. Her lips curved into an affectionate smile as he shifted slightly and a stray lock of dark hair fell across his forehead. She reached to push it back, her hand stopping just before actually touching him.
No, she told herself. He'd probably break your wrist before he realized who it was. She pulled her hand back. With a sigh, she admitted this situation was a complication. She hadn't planned to fall for Methos, but then a girl seldom did chose the people who truly captured her heart. She hadn't exactly set out to make a conquest of MacLeod either and the fact of the matter was that she cared deeply about both of these men.
But Methos wasn't quite like any other man, mortal or Immortal, that Amanda had known. He had a unique perspective about a lot of things and a knowledge of sexual positions that outdid the Kama Sutra. For all she knew, he could have written that book-or at least served as technical advisor. He didn't seem to have any hang-ups about anything... except Duncan. Then he was nearly fanatical in his loyalty to the Highlander. Part of the fascination was the duality of the man-the extremes of his personality, from kind, loving and gentle to caustic, devious and rough. He wasn't predictable and above all, Amanda liked that.
The stray strand of hair was too tempting and Amanda felt adventurous. She reached across, brushed her fingertips against it and carefully pushed it back to join the rest. His hand had locked around her wrist before she finished the move, but instead of hurting her, he pulled the hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it, partially opening sleepy eyes to gaze up at her.
"'Morning," he murmured softly. His mouth continued to explore the captive hand, tasting the fingers and biting gently into her palm, an exquisite sensation that sent little shivers up her spine.
"Nearly noon," she replied hoarsely, trying to reclaim her hand. He refused to let go, shifted his body to begin working up her arm. "We missed breakfast."
"That's all right. I'm sick of mutton. You, my dear, are much tastier." To prove it, he bit her arm below the elbow-just hard enough to make her catch her breath.
She responded by sliding her other hand down his smooth, lightly muscled chest and teasing the small nub on his right breast to alertness. Her lips quickly followed her fingers and she nipped lightly at it until his stomach tightened and he caught his breath with a little whimper.
"But I brought some goodies with me, Methos. Dried fruit, croissants, instant coffee, cheese..."
That got his attention. He let go of her arm and sat up, rolling her aside as he did. "Coffee? You have coffee?"
She laughed. The way to this ancient Immortal's heart was definitely through coffee and in a place where the main beverage was sour tea, even instant coffee was a godsend. "I'll fix you a cup. I only have powered creamer with me and you like sugar in it, don't you?"
"Just a little sugar, no cream," he leaned across and kissed her with affection. "You're an angel." He pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans and stepped outside to take care of other pressing matters while Amanda retreated to the stove to fix the coffee. Her eyes followed his lean body out the door, slightly regretting that she hadn't let him continue his explorations. But there would be time enough later.
By the time he returned, she'd made a large mug of hot coffee and prepared a plate of fruits, bread and cheese. Methos sat cross-legged on the bed and sipped the coffee slowly, savoring the taste and smell of the delightful brew. After a few sips, he picked up a piece of dried peach, ate that, then systematically began demolishing the rest of the food.
As Amanda refilled his coffee cup, she smiled at the picture he presented. The old guy looked like the college student persona he'd used just a few years earlier although his intent gaze was currently focused on the horn-shaped bread he was devouring piece by delicious piece.
He finished the croissant, licked the delicate butter taste off his fingertips and washed it down with another delightful cup of coffee. His eyes came up to meet Amanda's and he smiled warmly at her. "I'd almost forgotten how wonderful coffee is. Thank you, Amanda."
He unfolded himself, rising to his feet on the low bed, stepped down and crossed to the center of the room. Moments later his arms wrapped around Amanda and he pulled her close. Without hesitation, she responded to his touch, fitting her body against his, her lips hovering at the edge of his cheek. Ever so slowly, his mouth touched her throat, working his way up to her lips with warm kisses.
Methos halted his advance, nuzzled his head against her neck. Amanda felt the warmth of his head, could smell the light scent of butter lingering on him and right now, she wanted him more than she'd ever wanted anyone.
Yet she could feel the reluctance in him, knew he was still trying to sort out everything that had happened over the past few weeks. Joe Dawson had told her that Methos had a tendency to go where most Immortals never ventured. At the time, she hadn't quite understood that remark, but it was beginning to make sense to her. She shifted her hand to run her fingers through the thick strands of his hair, then pressed her lips against his temple.
The old Immortal had been passionate and assertive the night before, answering every demand she made with one of his own, right up until exhaustion overtook him. Often times, a Quickening could leave you so overcharged with emotion and need that every sensation was heightened by the hyper-awareness. He had needed her last night and she knew that. She had been there with Duncan often enough and had felt it herself. But MacLeod and Methos were different in almost every way. She felt like she was deeply attuned to Duncan, to his core and his needs. But Methos-he was so complex that she felt she had barely a hint of the real person. Sometimes his need seemed so great and other times he was so self-contained that nothing seemed to penetrate.
She felt, rather than heard, him draw a deep breath. His voice was raw with emotion. "Amanda, I-"
"Shh," she interrupted in a soft voice. "It's all right, Methos."
"I can't do this," he continued. He pulled back from her, his eyes meeting hers directly. "I'm not sorry for last night. I'm not sorry for any of it. I just don't feel right about it."
She closed her eyes, a soft sigh escaping. MacLeod. Even when he was not physically with them, he was still there. "I know. It's not betrayal, Methos. Duncan knows there are others. He knows I am not his private property any more than he is mine."
Methos ran a thumb along her jaw, studied her face a few moments. "The others aren't me."
He released her reluctantly, retreating back to the bed to pull on socks and boots. Amanda watched him in silence. He put these demands and limitations on himself, she wanted to scream at him. But she knew it wouldn't be settled until MacLeod was home.
"I think you should go back to Paris," he said slowly. "There's no more to do here and Mac might be on his way back already."
"And if I don't want to go?"
"Then I guess you can sit here in a rented ger for as long as you want. I'm moving on-alone."
"What about Dr. Montgomery?" she asked.
He half-smiled, "I would prefer to leave him behind, too. But I think we still have a few things to settle. I expect he'll be heading back to France before too much longer."
Amanda gazed at the floor. She could continue arguing or just give it up now. She looked up, moisture filling her eyes. "I don't want you alone out there."
"I'll be all right, Amanda. I've lived a long time alone."
She gazed at him for another long minute, then turned and left the ger. So damn stubborn, she thought.
Although it was nearly the end of August when Methos and Montgomery started back on the trail through the mountains, it was still cold and snowy in the high peaks of the Altay mountain range. They took the horses as far as they could, then set out on foot across the frozen ice of the glacier. Their destination, so Methos explained to Miles at the beginning of this leg, was the high peak at the border of Mongolia, Russia and China called Tavanbogd Uul or Friendship Peak. It wouldn't be an easy task, the climbing was dangerous and the monastery Methos sought was located just below the final ascent to the top.
"That isn't mentioned in any of the guidebooks," Miles commented as they began the difficult climb. Methos hadn't had to do any serious climbing in nearly a century and Miles was a complete novice.
"You don't have to make this climb," Methos answered. "It's not too late to catch up with Amanda. She wasn't in a big hurry to get back."
"Nope, I'll stick with you." Miles replied with a negative shake of his head and watched in anxiety as Methos began digging ice pitons into the glacier face and running a line to make his way up the slick surface. Both men wore boots with spikes to grip the ice and even then, the going was slow.
Methos had to give the younger man credit for tenacity. This wasn't an ascent for an inexperienced climber and the blond man exhibited caution, dexterity and a willingness to follow instructions. Not to mention a willingness to trust the old Immortal-- perhaps a little dumb there. But Methos had no plans to dump him off the mountain. At least, not yet.
Several hours later, Methos pulled himself up over a sharp edge of the glacier field where there was a break into the ledge that was blissfully ice, if not snow, free. Even for Immortals with superior strength and endurance, this climb was difficult and tiring. He glanced back to observe as Miles hauled himself up cautiously and somewhat nervously. The younger Immortal panted with the effort and rolled onto the ledge, darted a quick look back over the edge and his face paled.
Below them, deep crevasses cut through the thick blue white ice, any one of which could swallow even an Immortal for an incredibly long time. People made this climb in groups, not as just a pair defying Nature, and they were very cautious about it. While Methos had forced a fairly quick pace up the fifteen or so kilometers they had climbed, he had been more careful than Miles would ever know. While it was an extraordinarily beautiful view, it was also a bit terrifying for anyone with a touch of vertigo.
"Not good with heights, huh?" Methos asked.
"Not without a plane around it," Miles muttered. "Are you sure there's a monastery up here?"
"Used to be," Methos replied. "But I don't think it's been used for at least five centuries."
Almost crawling away from the edge, Miles clambered to his feet, puzzled look on his face. "Then why? Do you think MacLeod came to an abandoned monastery?"
The old Immortal smiled wryly, gave a shake of his head. "No. He's not here. Didn' t think he would be."
"You're telling me we made that climb for nothing?" Miles' voice barely hid his ire.
"Not exactly nothing. I wanted to see how determined you are to find Mac. The real question is why."
"I told you."
"No, you gave me a lame excuse. Mac might need your help? You're going to tag after me to help a stranger because he might need your help? Or was it because Amanda wanted you to follow me? Nope, I don't think that's it either. So, what is it, Miles?"
For a few moments, Miles stared at him like he'd grown an extra head. The older Immortal's returned gaze was riveting and unbending. Miles took a deep breath, moved deeper into the cut in the ledge, edging his way past Methos to get his back to the wall. Methos turned with him, eyes focused on every move the psychologist made. Abruptly Miles turned, sword emerging out of his coat with the movement.
Within seconds Methos' sword was swinging freely into his hand. Methos held it comfortably but without actual threat.
Miles lifted his weapon in challenge, his voice a little raspy as he spoke. "I don't want to hurt you, Adam. I just want to find MacLeod. All you have to do is take me to him."
Methos almost laughed. Didn't the kid learn anything over the past couple of months? "So you can do what? Take his head? Put the sword away."
The smaller man shifted his sword threateningly. "MacLeod killed Sean. He has to answer to me. Please, just take me to him. My battle is with that bastard, not you."
With a small sigh at the futility of that idea, Methos replied, "Your battle isn't with MacLeod either. Let it go."
"It is with MacLeod," he shouted back, bringing his sword up and advancing toward Methos, ready to swing.
Methos easily parried that blow, the elegant medieval sword flying into the block with a quick flick of his wrist. A moment later, he'd whipped the sword back, nicking Miles' cheek and drawing a thin trickle of blood. Before another breath escaped, he had his weapon at the blond man's throat and he pressed hard against him.
"You'll lose against MacLeod. It's not worth it," he hissed, pushing the sword just a little snugger. "And I won't let you get to him."
Miles dropped his sword, tip-first, into the ground and stared angrily at Methos. "Adam, how can I forget it? MacLeod killed Sean! He wasn't even armed! Am I supposed to just pretend it never happened?"
The younger man seemed almost on the edge of tears in his fury. Methos could see him shaking. When he finally answered, his voice was gentle, filled with reason. "Miles, I know how you feel. I was there when it happened. But MacLeod wasn't really there. He'd taken a dark Quickening and a part of him was turning to Sean for help. Unfortunately, he couldn't control the evil. I arrived too late to intervene. Sean- Sean thought he could help Mac. Believe me, Sean was his friend and it hurt him a great deal when he realized what he'd done. Miles, he's paid for it and he carries it with him every day."
Montgomery began trembling, the tears filling his eyes. "I swore I would kill him. I would-- avenge Sean. I promised him..."
"It's a promise he wouldn't want you to keep." Methos lowered his sword, found himself moving into the smaller man's space. Unexpectedly, his arms encircled Miles and he held him close as the younger man's grief finally found an outlet. Methos realized that the psychologist had kept the anger and not let the pain free for these long years. He understood this too well and recognized that he, too, had not grieved for his old friend. There had been too many other things to worry about during that time.
So the two of them hugged each other and shed more than a few tears for a man who had once been a friend to one and a mentor to the other. In this sorrow, they found a unity neither had expected and Methos began to see the other man as more than an annoying youngster.
After several minutes, Miles pulled back from him, swiped a glove-covered hand across his tear-stained face. He caught his breath, then spoke softly. "You know, it's fucking cold out here. I think we'd better find some shelter."
With a soft chuckle, Methos agreed, released him and put his sword away while the other man withdrew his from the snowy ground, wiped the end clean and stashed it in his coat. As Methos started forward, Miles reached out, touched his shoulder. "Adam-thank you."
For a long moment, Methos gazed into the boyish face. "It's a two way street. Putting aside your reasons for following me, you've been there to help me as well."
Taking the lead, Methos guided them to the back of the cleft in the glacial face where it was not as windy, a little bit warmer and mostly dry. With no small measure of coaxing, they finally got a fire started and warmed the mutton and rice curry which they washed down with vodka.
"When did you first meet Sean?" Miles asked as they snuggled into their respective sleeping bags. The blond man shivered with the bone chilling cold of the high mountain glacier.
Methos grew thoughtful, his eyes looking back to a past that most people only saw in history books. A past that really couldn't be captured in the woodcut images, vivid art or passionate writings of the time. The Middle Ages-romance, chivalry, poetry, crusades, death and so much more. There had been so many advances, changes in the ensuing centuries-changes he was grateful to see, yet some things had been lost from those earlier times. He slowly reeled his memories forward, seeing the kind face with a mass of red hair surrounding it and falling down on the shoulders of the crusading noble Sean had once been. Not the King's Crusade, the following one. That had been the first brief meeting. Out loud he said, "We first met in the twelfth century but I didn't get to know him until the fifteenth. Fourteen-fifty-three in Germany. We were both studying medicine then."
"Really?" Miles breathed, enthusiasm and a touch of awe in his voice. "Will you tell me about it? What was Sean like then? What was medicine like?"
Surprised, Methos gazed at the psychologist, saw the boyish face under the longish blond hair and simply thought Gods, he's so young. He felt a hint of a chill breeze touch him. "One day, I'll tell you about it, but not now. It's going to get damned cold on this rock. Do you want to get close?"
"What?" Confusion punctuated the question.
"Let's put the sleeping bags together, then huddle in them-purely for warmth." Methos didn't like freezing-had done it on more than one occasion and often felt like he'd never be warm again.
Miles hesitated, studied the open face and sincere hazel eyes that met his. At last he assented, slid out of the bag and passed it across to the other man. Within a few minutes, the younger man was snuggled into the pleasant warmth of two layers of sleeping bag and the body heat of the world's oldest living Immortal.
"This only makes sense, Miles," Methos said as he poured hot water to make instant coffee. It wasn't real coffee, but it sure as hell beat the sour tea. He'd forgotten how bad that stuff was. "You have no reason to continue looking for MacLeod and I don't need you to keep me company."
"And I thought you liked me," Miles responded, an engaging grin on his face.
Methos gave a small laugh. "Oddly enough, I do. Truth is, I haven't got a clue where the Highlander is now, but I have to keep going."
It hadn't been easy climbing down from the glacier-covered mountain, but they were now in a pleasant valley on the Chinese side. From here, Montgomery could easily find his way back to civilization and a plane to Paris.
"Besides," Methos continued. "I'd feel better if you were in Paris with Amanda and Joe. Just knowing you're around if they need to talk."
Miles nodded his understanding, although he still seemed a little sad at the prospect of leaving Adam. He'd grown to be a friend in the past few months and like most Immortals, Miles had precious few of the long-lived kind. Sean had been the most enduring friendship he'd ever had, yet this tentative one with Adam seemed to have that same feel.
After breakfast, they packed everything up, splitting the supplies equally. Mostly they worked in silence, neither one inclined to talk. Finally, Miles shouldered his backpack. "I guess I'll see you back in Paris."
"Count on it, Miles Montgomery." Methos paused, gave the younger man a probing look. "Is that really your name?"
Miles turned, "Is Adam Pierson yours?"
Methos laughed at that. Point made. Miles grinned, shouldered the pack and started walking toward the east. Methos watched him for a few minutes before he turned his footsteps southwest and began yet another long, lonely journey.