|Demons at the Gate
by Lillian Wolfe
"Tell me why we have to wear these masks, Methos," Silas demanded as his fingers smoothed blue dye across the newest horseman's face." Behind Silas a grim-looking skull mask hung on the brace of the tent.
"It will help build an identity for us," Methos explained patiently. "When we ride, people will know us, will know what we are capable of, what we'll do. Terror will be our companion, riding just ahead of us. No one will stand against us."
"I still don't understand," the big man complained. "The masks are hot and uncomfortable."
"You'll get used to it. They're important, Silas. People fear the unknown. Without the masks, we're too familiar. With the masks, we become the nightmare."
Methos stood, reached for the mask and pulled it over his head, then faced Silas. The skull grinned grotesquely, a symbol of what he had become.
Methos murmured and twisted restlessly in his sleep, the words foreign and unintelligible. Next to him, Amanda stirred and frowned at the garble of words. She laid a gentling arm across his chest, felt him settle again then drifted back off to sleep.
A pounding of hoofs against hot desert sand, scrub trampled in the onslaught. A glimpse of white robe flowing down the side of the horse as he leaned to one side. A villager's face, frightened but still willing to defend his home, his family-
The golden glint of the bronze sword arcing down to rip into the man's chest, bringing death. Screams, crying- panicked animal sounds- a whole village turning red with blood.
Blood splattered on him, on his white horse- staining everything. Around him people lay like unrecognizable, freshly killed meat. There- an old woman, unable to even run... And there- a small child, no more than five, guts spilling out of the terrible slash across his body, oozing blood and waste onto the ground...
Blood... Another village, more dead. More blood... More children butchered...
Gagging, Methos rolled out of bed and sprinted to the bathroom. Gods, the toilet seat was down! A woman's touch! He barely slammed the seat up before the contents of his stomach surged back up his throat and out. He dropped his head half in the toilet, trying to keep from choking as the expurgation continued. When it felt like it was over, he braced his head against his arm on the toilet bowl and waited.
The nightmares were too vivid, the intense colors of them lingering in his mind, ready to jump to the forefront at any moment. He gazed at the floating refuse in the bowl - red wine, partially digested meat, eggplant- and felt the queasiness in his stomach again as he saw only blood and gore. He squeezed his eyes shut and jerked the handle. The roar of the flush pounded in his brain and the water spiraled down the throat of the toilet, but it did nothing for his stomach. More heaving brought up the rest of the food.
Feeling very awkward, Amanda hesitated at the doorway to the bathroom and folded the robe she held in her hands. This kind of thing wasn't exactly a group project and she probably shouldn't interfere, but- Dammit, I can't just ignore it, she thought. Decision made, she carefully opened the door and stepped in.
He was kneeling into the toilet, head still braced against his arm. She bent to drape his robe around him, saw his back muscles tense and interpreted it as resentment. Fine, she understood- sort of. She went to the sink, wet a washcloth, then returned to kneel beside him. Lifting his head, she noted his very white face before she applied the washcloth to it.
His hand snatched the cloth from her and he jerked away, body taut with annoyance. "Amanda, I'm okay! Just leave me alone." Irritation was evident in his voice.
"Okay," she said, her voice trembling a bit. "I'm going to make some tea..."
"Do you want to talk about it, Methos?" Amanda asked as she set a cup of tea on the floor next to the bed. "I'm a good listener. Really, I am."
Methos wouldn't look at her. He huddled on his bed, knees drawn up to his chest and buried his head against his folded arms. The last thing he wanted was for her to be there right now... being nice to him, wanting to take care of him. Another complication in an already too complicated life! He didn't want to tell her about this, didn't want this episode in his life to horrify another friend.
"I can't talk about it, Amanda." He brought his head up, finally met her eyes, his expressive hazel ones begging her to understand and not question. 'There was a- a very bad episode in my life. I did some things I'm not proud of- things that hurt a lot of people. I was-"
Death. His mind screamed it at him.
"I wasn't quite myself at the time..."
Early Bronze Age
Methos sat huddled in the corner of the tent. He knew he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer against the constant torture Kronos inflicted on him. All he had to do was say "Yes." Yes, I'll join you. Yes, I'll be a brother to this profane trio and become a raider and killer.
Kronos was right. What did he owe humanity? He hadn't exactly fared well at their hands. He'd lived by his wits most of his long life, by using his brain when it was apparent his fighting skills wouldn't help him. He'd killed in wars, in battles and in various armies, fighting for others and being allotted a small portion of the spoils. Was this any different? This time he would be the winner. He would have what he wanted.
Except a small voice kept asking if he had the stomach for the wholesale slaughter of innocents- people whose only crime had been being in the wrong place when a band of terrorists rode over the dunes and found them. He'd grown used to the blood and the screams during the many campaigns he'd been in. He knew the look of terror on faces when they knew the end was coming and they couldn't stop it. He'd justified that by saying it was his job, his duty to whoever had hired him to do it. Gods, killing was all he knew. It was the way his kind lived.
He'd almost laughed when Kronos called him "young friend." Someday, maybe, he'd tell Kronos he was over two thousand years old and had probably done more killing than he could even imagine, had taken more Immortal heads than Kronos probably knew existed. So, why did it seem so different to be killing for himself instead of some king, emperor or petty chieftain?
The buzz of presence and the approaching footsteps alerted him that one of the trio was coming for him. The tent flap opened and Caspian leered at him. "Kronos wants you."
Methos nodded, struggled to his feet. His hands were tied behind him after his most recent attempt to escape and, following the somewhat public whipping the furious Kronos had punished him with, he'd spent the last period of darkness rather uncomfortably tied to a pole in the encampment before Kronos had him brought to the tent.
Impatiently, Caspian grabbed his arm and jerked him forward. The other Immortal wasn't quite as tall as Methos, but he was broad and tough. And about as bloodthirsty as any person could get.
Caspian shoved Methos ahead of him, a firm grip holding his arms and making movement painful when possible. Kronos waited, kneeling in the center of the camp where a hot fire blazed in the cooking pit. His hands turned the long sticks he'd carefully placed so that just the last few inches were burned. As Caspian brought the bound man to a halt in front of him, Kronos lifted one of the sticks from the flame and studied the red hot end. He gazed up speculatively at Methos and grinned, then rose to bring the hot poker just under his eyes. Without hesitation, he pressed it against the pale cheek, his grin growing as flesh hissed.
Methos ground his teeth tightly, fought against crying out. His face healed quickly as soon as the stick was moved away, but the pain lingered as did the smell of burning flesh. Caspian held him securely as Kronos raised another stick, this one finding its mark just above his left breast. He gasped, tried to wriggle out of reach and was held firmly.
One by one the sticks in the fire were applied to his body with care- across his chest, at his throat, in his navel- until he screamed with the pain and fought Caspian's grip on him to the point that they were both struggling on the ground. Roughly, Caspian rolled him onto his stomach and sat on top of him. A hand gripped Methos' hair and pulled his head back so he could see Kronos.
Kronos knelt in front of him, his expression deadly serious now. "So, Methos, have you decided to join us yet? Or do you need more persuasion?"
He shook his head.
Kronos leaned forward and whispered. "I won't stop until I break you. Why put yourself through this?"
"I- won't- join you." The words came slowly, his voice harsh. Methos was astounded to hear himself saying the words when a simple yes would end it all.
"You will." Kronos brought his hand under Methos' chin and tilted his face upward a little more. He reached for a willow-thin burning stick and brought it straight into his victim's right eye.
Methos' screams rang around the camp.
Kronos had to force his left eye open to repeat the process. He was terrified and unable to do anything about it except watch the glowing tip come toward his face. He struggled against Caspian's grip, trying desperately to break an arm free. He could feel the heat and could see only the shades of red and gold in the tip. Pain filled his consciousness and his voice was a howl of agony that he didn't recognize. Then nothing...
Methos woke to pain and darkness, and a soft whimpering that he didn't realize was his own voice. Then came the horrible memory of those last moments of vision. His hands flew to his face, touched the cloth against his eyes, started to rip at it. Hands caught his, pulled them away. "Don't, Methos! Let them heal." Silas' voice.
"How long-?" he rasped.
"Just a short while. You passed out."
"I can't see-" He struggled to get the words out.
He felt Silas' strong hand at his neck, lifting his head a little and he pressed smooth wood- a goblet?- to his dry lips. "Drink this," Silas ordered. He tasted wine and something else- an herb of some sort?
Methos sipped slowly, his thoughts only on his eyes and not being able to see. Could his body regenerate eyes? Had he ever seen a blind Immortal? Stupid thought, a blind one wouldn't last very long. He wanted to cry but couldn't. The eyes wouldn't tear, refused to do anything but burn with the agony that only seared tissue could produce.
His finger's dug into the fur pallet, trying to transfer the pain somewhere else- to ease it for just a few minutes, even. He pounded his fist against the low wooden table, wanting to break it, to make his hand hurt worse than his eyes did. His whole body writhed with the effort. The wood cracked under the intense blows, the fine bones in his hand breaking as well. Under the desperate adrenaline-driven attack, Methos barely noticed.
"Stop, Methos!" Silas cried out, grabbing his thrashing body and struggling to hold him down. Methos fought it, trying to hit Silas, to kick at him, hoping the other Immortal would knock him senseless.
Methos' fingertips brushed against a dagger in Silas's belt, deftly pulled it and unhesitatingly, plunged it into his own chest. Kronos had done this to him often enough that he knew the feel, welcomed the sharp, searing pain which would soon be followed by oblivion. His voice choked out a moan as his back arched then he collapsed limply into Silas' arms.
When next he woke, the pain had lessened, but bandages still covered his eyes and he was tied down, leather straps holding his wrists and ankles tightly so he couldn't move. He tested the straps, pulling against them with all the power in his arms and shoulders, grunting with the strain and effort. They wouldn't yield.
"It's going to take a while to heal," Kronos said softly from close to his head. "But you will heal. I've done this before and there's enough tissue for your eyes to regenerate- this time." His hand brushed against Methos' cheek, then slid down the bare chest to his right nipple. Methos cringed at the touch, his stomach tightening as he tried to withdraw from it. His tormentor captured the nipple, taking it between his fingers and rubbing them tightly against it until Methos gasped with the pain. "You broke my table," Kronos said dispassionately. "Do that again and I'll whip you until there's no skin left on your backside. Do you understand?"
Methos understood all too well. Kronos had found the way through his resistance- this horrible burning and the blackness that followed was something he couldn't hold out against. He'd already lost a small portion of his sanity. He couldn't fight anymore- he'd had enough. Kronos was right- what did he owe humanity? He'd been mistreated enough by humans. What Kronos did to him, he did out of love- to help him understand and to embrace what they were. Next to these weak mortals, they were gods!
"Methos, do you understand?' Kronos repeated.
Methos nodded. "Kronos?" he croaked, finally finding his voice. He swallowed hard, having difficulty with the words. "Br-brother..."
"At last, brother. You do see reason. There'll be no more pain, Methos, as long as you please me." He could hear the satisfaction in Kronos' reply and he felt relief.
Methos didn't relish that memory. It pained him almost as much now as it did then and knowing that he'd broken, lost a portion of his sanity in the company of that unholy trio, did nothing to alleviate the anguish. He was haunted by the memories that wouldn't go away - Kronos, who entered his Quickening from MacLeod, as if he'd been determined to get at him no matter what - Silas, who had loved him as a brother, trusted him for thousands of years, then been betrayed by him - MacLeod - he couldn't even think about that.
"Methos?" The soft, female voice cut into his thoughts- a woman's voice where one didn't belong. He blinked.
Amanda gently touched the old Immortal's arm, drawing him back to the present, to her. "Methos, you can't go on like this. Whatever it takes, you have to purge this episode from your soul. It will drive you over the edge if you don't."
He turned his gaze to her, hazel eyes dark with exhaustion. Sweet of Amanda to believe he had a soul, Methos thought wearily. He wasn't so sure.
Amanda quietly watched the pain and hurt that played itself across that deceptively young face. He'd gone into that memory, not saying any more than he had, but she knew it was something too painful for him to share with anyone- at least, right now. Maybe later, when he'd learned to trust her more... When he knew her well enough to know that she wouldn't judge him for his past, not when she had her own dark shadows to haunt her...
Compassion filled Amanda's heart as she ran her fingertips down from his eyes to his jaw, feeling the tension even in his face. When did she fall for Methos? When had he come to mean so much to her? Methos, who had, since coming into MacLeod's life, always been there for him, who had become her friend and the one she could turn to for help, who had even befriended Joe Dawson and been there for the mortal before Duncan had known of his existence. She took his face in both hands and kissed him, her mouth meeting his in the sweetest of touches, not passionate, but lovingly pressing against him. "Let me help you."
"Do what? Commit suicide?" he asked bitterly. "It's probably the only thing that's going to end this."
"Is that what you want?"
His eyes met and locked with hers for a few heartbeats. "No. Of course not. But I don't know any other way."
He shook his head. "No, I don't."
Amanda's heart ached at the depths of despair she heard in his voice. "Methos, Joe told me about Duncan's dark Quickening. What you did... the well?"
"Won't work for me, Amanda!"
"It's not the same. That- that was an evil force in MacLeod. He was battling himself. The well heals, brings the two parts back together into harmony."
"Methos, aren't you out of harmony with yourself? Isn't that why the nightmares continue?"
He shook his head, looked away from her. "I dunno. I- I can't even think rationally anymore."
She rose, put her arms around his neck from behind and leaned forward, mouth next to his ear. Her voice was a whisper. "Are you afraid to try?"
His head tilted back slightly, pushing against her as his eyes reflected his thoughts about what she proposed. All of the risk in doing it. Was he sure it wouldn't help? The well was magic- he knew that much. What was the alternative? He took a deep breath, let most of it out. The soft-voiced "no" slipped out into the air as if spoken by another person.
The wood was bursting with new green leaves, bright grasses and a few spring flowers that braved the chill of the coastal area spring. It looked cheery and welcoming, much different from the last time Methos was here. He took that as a good portent. That last time it had been MacLeod who led along the path Methos had put him on. The trees had been bare and he'd followed Mac uncertainly, a nearly broken jaw still smarting while he tried to keep a positive attitude. He'd known the risks then and he knew the risks now.
Amanda hurried to keep up with him. Once Methos had agreed to this, he moved full speed ahead, His memory was accurate and they were soon at the opening that led to the underground sanctuary and pool. It was a place of miracles, true miracles in the Middle Ages, and even before then for those whose memories could recall them. Yet few people now knew about its existence let alone its location. The sanctuary had been buried, much like the Roman Baths at Bath had been covered over, but it was still down there and the well was still potent.
Methos tossed down his backpack and began extracting rope and climbing gear. As he worked, Amanda did a slow three-sixty, studying the area. "This looks like an easy place to get lost," she commented, then turned her attention back to Methos.
He was ready, his long coat was lying on the ground. He wore black jeans and a black long-sleeved tee shirt, his body seeming slimmer than ever, yet incredibly powerful. He firmly gripped his sword in his left hand, ready to propel himself over the edge. He hesitated, reached a hand out to Amanda. As she took it, he pulled her to him. Tenderness and affection filled his eyes as he leaned toward her mouth. Their lips met and Amanda slid her hand behind his neck, pulling him even tighter to her.
Methos broke it off, spoke softly but firmly. "If this doesn't work, Amanda- If I don't come out of here in tact - as you know me - If I exhibit any other personality, you must kill me."
Shock crossed Amanda's face. "Methos! I can't!"
"You must. This isn't optional, Amanda. It's the price I'll pay if this gamble doesn't work. If you don't kill me, you'll forfeit your life. I have to have your promise."
Mutely, tears starting to fill her eyes, she nodded. She pulled him close, hugged him as if she never wanted to let go. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea..."
Sadness touched his eyes. "I don't have any others." He broke away from her then, grasped the rope and slid down into the well.
It was cool inside, a stream of fresh air blowing through the structure from some unseen source. Methos unbuckled the clamp and shifted his sword to his right hand. He'd been here more than once and he knew the dangers of this situation. He'd seen it first hand. MacLeod wasn't the only friend he'd brought here, but he was the one who came out alive and restored.
He paused a few moments, gazing into the milky waters of the pool and offered silent prayers to all the gods, saints and to the One God that he survived this. Then he stepped into the waist-deep pool of warm water and let the rising mists surround him and work whatever magic they held. He couldn't say how long he remained still, waiting.
"You're still resisting me, Methos." Kronos' voice came from the left passage of the sanctuary.
Methos turned that direction. Kronos leered at him from only a few feet away, a red hot poker of wood in his hand, a scene from the past but the image was clothed in the black leather of recent times.
"Maybe we should try again, old friend. Or -" He shifted the glowing poker to his left hand and produced his sword in his right. "- maybe I should just take your head."
Swallowing his fear, Methos advanced toward Kronos, not remembering climbing out of the water or even bringing his sword up to challenge. He held back, waiting for Kronos to make the first move. On an intellectual level, he knew the image he faced now was an illusion, yet he also knew that he had to fight it as if it were fact. The loss of his soul would be all too real if he didn't. Kronos had become a part of the essence of his being, his brother's Quickening passed to him through MacLeod. For a while he'd believed he'd managed to absorb it at the same time as Silas, but what Kronos was didn't settle easily in his soul.
Kronos chuckled, the sound all too chilling to Methos. He'd feared and loved Kronos, in that order, and he had to overcome that fear of the man. I am Methos, he reminded himself, and I am equal to any Immortal.
Suddenly Kronos was on him, moving with blinding speed and fury. Methos met his sword and parried it, sliding quickly to one side to avoid the back thrust that Kronos immediately responded with. Swords clashed, ringing in the cave-like structure and filling his brain with the magnified sound.
"Do you think you can beat me, Methos? Me? I am in my element! " The deadly fury of the man became evident as he resumed his advance, sword lashing out as if from a multi-armed beast to attack. Abruptly, the image changed and Kronos became the image of the past, painted face and long-haired, but with bronze age armor over twentieth century leather.
Methos felt disoriented, almost thrown off by the sudden change, but he recovered quickly and continued to block the blows thrown his way. He concentrated, trying to get on the offensive, saw his chance and circled his sword in after knocking the demon sword aside. He nicked Kronos, not a severe wound, but first blood, nonetheless.
Kronos looked down at the bloody wound, brought his eyes up to meet Methos' and laughed like a madman. "My turn!" And he was over the older Immortal like a starving vulture on a fresh piece of meat.
His blade sliced Methos' side and the pain felt very real. He felt the wetness as his blood soaked his shirt. Concentrating only on the gleam of the blade in front of him, Methos halted the attack and locked his sword with Kronos, buying a few desperate moments of breathing time. Methos knew this was the fight of his life- one he must win. He came back with a vengeance, forcing the smaller man back. Another thrust cut into Kronos' thigh and he stumbled to the ground. Methos moved in.
Kronos looked up at him, an evil grin spreading on his face. "We don't need to follow the rules here, do we, Methos?"
Alarmed, Methos barely heard the rush of air behind him and instinctively ducked his head as the ax whooshed over him. He spun to face Silas. You're dead! I killed you, his mind screamed even as he realized that Kronos could call him out to do battle.
Silas regarded him with hurt eyes, swinging the ax from side to side. "You betrayed me, Brother. I would never have hurt you if you hadn't done that." The big man advanced toward Methos as he backed toward the middle of the open area, trying to keep an eye on both men.
Methos blocked out what Silas was saying. It was his own guilt talking; Silas was only saying words Methos had thought. This isn't real, he repeated.
Kronos was on his feet again, moving in on Methos' left while Silas was winding up another swing. Methos ducked from the ax, but Kronos was there and only a desperate plunge in the reverse direction took the oldest Immortal out of the deadly impact of that wicked sword. The tip sliced through Methos' right arm and the sudden shift threw him off balance, which luckily saved his head as he slid under Silas' ax.
Without hesitation, Methos was on his feet again, staggering a bit, and he instantly switched the sword to his left hand. Blades found his soft flesh an easy target as another swing from the ax caught him across the chest opening a gash that stretched several inches and burned like hell. He was aware of the pain, feeling the fatigue in his limbs. He'd have to end this soon or he would lose.
He maneuvered carefully, desperately, until he had one on either side of him. He had one chance and the timing must be right. He moved in tight on Kronos, forcing him to swing and half-blocking his vision. Kronos took the bait and swung. With split-second timing, Methos ducked and the sword took Silas' head.
Incredibly, a Quickening began, a blue white vapor rising up from the body and starting to swirl around the sanctuary. "This can't be happening... None of this is real," Methos breathed, his lungs aching with a shortness of breath.
Real or not, a power very much like a Quickening threw Methos' body against a stone wall, pinning him there, twitching like a captured butterfly, as it whirled around Kronos. A low groan was wrenched from him as pain shot through his chest, ripped down his body and twisted like a whirlwind through the confined space to Kronos. As it died down, Methos sunk to the floor, his knees a mass of jelly and he gasped to catch his breath.
Across from him, Kronos stretched his arms wide, breathing deeply of the last of the essence, then turned his sword toward his old friend. Wearily Methos pulled his sword arm up to face Kronos once again, then the nemesis he least wanted to face appeared- his horseman counterpart. The Bronze Age Methos nodded quietly at him, his face confident and arrogant.
Methos shuddered. He'd expected this. Kronos and Silas were the surprise, but he knew that this dark part of his soul was waiting. Somewhere in the depths of who he was lay the power, strength and battle rage to face who he once was. This was the battle- even if he won it, he could lose all. But he had Kronos to worry about now.
Kronos advanced, sword readied and determination in his eyes. "You can't defeat me, Methos. You never could. You're weak..."
Somehow Methos managed to bring his sword up in time to parry the blow that reverberated through his arms and shoulders like an explosion.
"I own you." Kronos continued as he brought his sword down in a cross move that cut across his opponent's cheek before Methos' sword made it to position to block. He laughed. "I'll never let you go, you know. Even if you think you've defeated me, I'll be there... waiting."
"You never really knew me, Kronos." Methos countered and committed his whole body to the attack. He set a series of thrusts in motion that Kronos easily blocked, then suddenly feinted, reversed, then reversed again, finding a clear path to Kronos' sword arm and bringing the arc through to cut off the hand. The sword thudded to the dirt floor and Methos brought himself up to full height to face Kronos' shocked face.
"I am many things..." he breathed and brought the sword across Kronos' neck in one graceful, fluid move.
A soft chuckle brought the victor's head around to see the Bronze Age image rise to his feet, loosely swinging his sword in anticipation. He smiled. "I can wait." Through the wisps of the false-Quickening, Methos saw yet another figure move behind the too-solid-looking image of himself. Gods! Not another, Methos thought miserably, a cry of anguish pulled out of him.
The Quickening invaded his body, moving through it with a burning fire that touched his stomach, his guts, his whole body. Oozing through like a slimy vapor, flowing in and out of pores and orifices, turning him inside out until his guts felt like molten lava. Methos retched. He felt violated, unclean...
"You let him do it to you...to us." His own voice said the words...they drifted down over him. From his knees, Methos gazed up at the feral expression on his own face. "Are you ready, Adam?'" that familiar face asked reasonably.
"No!" Methos gasped.
The hallucination knelt by Methos, extended a hand to lightly touch his cheek, running slim fingers down it slowly. "You're tired, Adam. You've already fought more than you have the heart to fight. This isn't you." The voice was gentle, non-threatening. It would be easy to slip into that calm pool... "We were brothers, all of us... including you. You can't deny what we were. And you can't deny we liked it. It can be that way again. Just put down your sword and let me in." His hand slid across the tired Immortal's throat, wiped at the perspiration on it. "You want to keep your head, don't you?"
The caress, this velvet deception from his own mind, felt very real to Methos and his body reacted to it as if to a long lost lover. He swallowed hard, then bit his lower lip until it bled to distract himself from the words the false image was speaking. He purposefully filled his mind with all the painful memories that had haunted him for the past few weeks...the torture, the killing, the fear. He gazed into the reasonable eyes that matched his own, then voiced the bitterness he'd lived with for so many centuries. "No, I didn't like it! I did it for approval- to avoid being hurt any more. I was no better than Cassandra."
The other Methos gave a sharp bark of laughter and grasped his shoulder, leaning in closer. The half-blue face was amused. "Hurt? It was little more than disciplining a child. We had to be taught to become what we were meant to be. We were..."
"No!" Methos brought his arms up, shoving the image away. "I was weak! I allowed you to be created!" He scrambled to his feet, sword raised in challenge.
The blue-faced man responded quickly, body moving smoothly to a fighting position and sword coming up in one continuous movement. He easily blocked the wildly aimed sword and shoved it away. "You can't win. There's too much of Adam in you now. You've been too long out of the game." He stepped forward, engaging Methos in earnest now.
Bronze sword against medieval sword... the sound seemed to echo all around the structure as the two met time and again. The seductive voice and steady logic wore at Methos, the arguments too familiar. How could he fight himself?
His ages ago self was as good as he ever was, his body honed for centuries to war. The movements were fluid, graceful and deadly. The sword swept too close to Methos' neck more than a couple of times. The weary Immortal was tired, his body aching and arms feeling like lead weights as he stopped the thrusts and countered them.
Methos felt his own centuries out of the game as he struggled. More swings found their mark and Methos staggered under the blows, feeling he couldn't fight any more. He stumbled to his knees, barely brought the sword up to parry yet another strike that jarred through his whole body. His muscles screamed at the abuse.
"Fight, Methos." A new voice, familiar.
Methos snapped his head up. "Mac?"
The figure in the shadows stepped forward- Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Strong, steady, sure- the Highlander who had offered friendship, withdrew it and had shared a Quickening with him. Another man he loved and feared, but for very different reasons than with Kronos.
From some hidden reserve, strength flowed to him and Methos battled to his feet, forcing his counterpart backward. That figure was still calm, still unruffled, still tossing reasoning arguments his direction.
"He's not your friend, Adam. In the end, he'll betray you, just like all the others. I'm the only one you can count on. It's easy enough, just stop fighting and we'll merge. We'll be the One."
"No!" Methos screamed and lunged forward, bringing his sword up to meet the bronze weapon thrust at him. He countered the blow, twisted to the left and, gripping the sword with both hands, checked his swing and angled it upward. He shoulders strained with the effort and a cry of pain accompanied his shout. "I can't be you!"
"You can't kill me," the Bronze Age image said, still calm and secure. "I am you."
It wasn't a pretty swing but Methos' sword broke through the horseman's defense and made contact, finding the vulnerable line of his throat. Methos ducked his head, unable to watch... this was a nightmare he'd envisioned too many times. Like it or not, this image was him and its death was like his own death.
The whole sanctuary seemed to explode with the Quickening, bright flashes of lightening filling the confined space, tearing at the walls. Archways shuddered against it, broke and fell, pieces of rock flying towards him, making contact and cutting into his helpless body. He writhed on the floor of the cave, unable to do anything except endure the agony that shot through him. He felt like his stomach was torn out and he gagged, pain and revulsion reducing him to gasping moans and tears. It seemed to go on forever instead of a mere few minutes. The power seized him, pulled him up, lifting him up into a long stretch and raced through him one last time before completely deserting him to let him drop limply, and hard, back to the floor.
As it settled and he struggled for his breath, it was to find MacLeod's katana at his throat. Painfully, he reached for his sword, the movement seeming slow and disjointed and his fingers barely closed on the hilt. He couldn't do this- not now. His sword fell from his hand, thudding against the dirt floor. The katana rocked gently, almost lovingly, against his throat, cutting a thin line that seeped blood.
"We have issues to settle, Methos," MacLeod's voice said in a harsh whisper that seemed far away. "But not now." The sword slipped away. "Later."
An anguished wail ripped through him and he looked up. MacLeod was gone. It was the final blow for the ancient Immortal. He broke down, unchecked sobs convulsing his exhausted body.
Above ground, Amanda paced nervously, waiting, not seeing anything amiss as she kept glancing nervously at the opening that led down to the well. It seemed like forever. Then she heard a loud cry of grief, followed by sobbing groans. Dread and anxiety warring in her, she lowered herself down.
As she reached the bottom, Amanda glanced around. The sanctuary seemed quiet, calm- a place of peace, with only the dreadful sound of an ancient's anguish to disturb the tranquillity. She found Methos curled up into a tight ball next to the pool. He was covered with blood and it still oozed from over a dozen wounds. He whimpered and shook uncontrollably.
"Methos?" she asked hoarsely. Frightened, she stared at the emotional bundle of devastation on the ground, trying to determine if this was truly Methos. She'd never seen him like this. With hesitation, she pulled her sword, remembering his words.
"Methos?" she repeated, her voice breaking. She lifted the sword, even as she saw the thin line of blood around the left side of his throat that, like the rest of the wounds, wasn't healing. She positioned her sword over him, in line with the long, slender neck, and closed her eyes. Oh, God, she couldn't do this-
"I'm sorry, Mac. I'm sorry," he moaned, then his awareness shifted to the woman in front of him. "Amanda- don't!" It came out like a painful wail.
She jerked, pulled the sword away and let it drop to the dirt. Kneeling beside Methos, she pulled him into her arms, rocking him, rubbing his back and cradling him. "It's over, Methos. It's over." One arm wrapped around hers, clinging, grasping for an anchor on reality. His blood covered both of them. Wash it off, she thought. See how badly he's hurt.
Gently, she eased him back into the pool and slipped in beside him to support his unwilling body. He looked like he'd been through hell and it was still unsure if he'd won. As Amanda held him, questions raced through her mind- What had happened to him? Had Duncan gone through this as well when Methos had brought him here? How did those injuries happen and why weren't they healing?
A drawn out hiss of pain escaped from Methos as the warm waters touched the wounds, burned even as they foamed within them like peroxide and, at last, began healing. Dimly, shadows moved at the edge of his vision, figures waiting for him- an twelfth century knight, a hooded priest, an Egyptian pharaoh and more. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see anything else, fighting back the panic that threatened. He thought someone called his name, but he didn't want to look. Heard a too-familiar voice call a name he hadn't heard for years until recently- "Ceallach, what do you do with a Roman dog?" Another ghost in his soul. Abruptly the pain became unbearable and his heart pounded, leaping wildly against his ribs until Methos couldn't take any more.
Amanda felt him tense, could practically see his heart beating in his chest it pounded so strongly against her. Pain and panic filled his face. "Methos! Look at me!" she demanded, trying to turn his eyes to her. He fought her a few moments, then passed out, his body collapsing limply against her. She almost lost her grip on him as the sudden dead weight sagged into her.
It took both the buoyancy of the water and all her considerable strength to drag Methos out. Gasping, Amanda knelt and rolled his body away from the pool, then carefully examined him. She opened his shirt and ran gentle hands over the ragged-looking cuts that were almost healed now. She pushed a tear in his jeans apart, noted the deep thigh wound that was nearly closed and let her breath out. Her hand brushed against his throat where only a slight pink line showed that probably wouldn't scar. Although she was relieved the terrible cuts were healing, the man himself was completely unresponsive, his eyes locked shut and body as still as death. Dark eyes filled with concern, Amanda pulled him into her arms, holding his inert form as if he were a small child, and rocked back and forth with him, whispering encouragement and reassurances.
Time passed and Methos didn't wake up. Amanda still sat on the floor of the cave, his head cradled in her lap. She stroked his hair, ran her hand along his face and waited. He was breathing evenly, but he was totally oblivious to everything. She'd tried touch, sound, more water- even shaking him. He'd been like a rag doll, head lolling forward and flopping back with the movement. And the eyes never opened.
He'd been quiet for several hours now and it was starting to darken outside. Amanda was worried. She knew she had to get him out of this underground structure, but she also knew she couldn't do it alone. Although stronger than mortal women, she didn't have enough strength to lift him back up the line to the surface and carry him the three or so miles back to his car. She needed help.
And the extreme stillness of the man worried her even more. She'd never seen an Immortal react this way. This led to doubts and she prayed she was doing the right thing in not taking his head, that this really was Methos and not some perversion that had come out of whatever bizarre battle had taken place in this little cavern. His words kept coming back to haunt her- "...If I don't come out of here in tact - as you know me - If I exhibit any other personality, you must kill me."
Tears filled her eyes. God, she never thought it'd be like this. She thought this was a good place, a place that could heal him. Duncan had never said the process was this bad, but Methos had seemed to know this was a distinct possibility. And yet, he'd taken the risk. She wiped her eyes, tried to find the positives. Methos was still alive and he'd seemed to be himself for a few brief moments there. At any rate, he wasn't a threat right now. So, first things first, she had to get him out.
With that decided, Amanda climbed back up and rummaged through her backpack until she located her cellular phone. Thank goodness it was picking up on roam okay, she thought. She'd been a bit worried they were out of range. Taking a deep breath, she dialed the emergency number.
Giving them a wild story about how they were exploring and her friend got injured while investigating an old well, Amanda said a quick prayer that she wouldn't regret this decision. The emergency dispatch was very polite-- was her friend in critical condition? He could dispatch a helicopter- otherwise it might be a couple of hours before an ambulance could reach them?
"No, no helicopter," Amanda replied quickly. "He's stable. I don't think he's dying. I just need help getting him out."
As she closed the phone, she glanced at the darkening sky. This was crazy. But she just wanted to get Methos out of there and someplace safe. She turned and lowered herself back down into the well.
An hour later, she reluctantly left Methos alone to hike to the roadside. The rescue team would need a guide in. Much as she disliked admitting it, Methos didn't look like he was going to wake up while she was gone.
Help came within the two hour estimate. Amanda heard the obnoxious siren of the rescue vehicle long before they actually pulled up to the woman waving her arms by an inconspicuous Volvo. "It's about three miles in," Amanda started as soon as the first man climbed out. "My friend is- unconscious. I think he slipped and hit his head or something."
"Is the path fairly even?" The man asked as he unloaded some emergency medical items, piling them on a rolling stretcher while the other man called their position in, then began to get out climbing gear.
"Uh, we have a rope down already," Amanda volunteered.
The man, Guillaume, his name tag said, nodded at her. "We may need some extra, so I will take it anyway, okay?" He was a big man, at least Duncan's height and very muscular. The other man, Andre, was smaller, but seemed like he possessed wiry strength. She hoped so. The dead weight of the Immortal was not that easy to move.
Yet another hour later, and into darkness now, they arrived at the well. Amanda gave a sigh of relief as she spotted her backpack. She had spent half the journey praying she hadn't led them the wrong direction in the dark. The large flashlights had barely made a dent in the growing blackness of the woods. Oddly, she worried that Methos might wake up into the black void of the well and its vast surrounding ruins and feel deserted, abandoned by a friend. Like he hadn't been in worse situations- five thousand years surely had yielded plenty of similar scenarios, she chided herself, but nonetheless, she didn't want it to happen this time. It was important to her.
Then all she could do was stand back while the medical technician began checking the unconscious man. Andre noted the rips in his clothing, felt for damage to his body, ultimately cut the tee shirt off to get a better look. Not a mark on him, no bruises, cuts, nothing. He checked his blood pressure and tried to get a look in his eyes. "His blood pressure is a little low," Andre announced, "but I can't really see anything. Maybe shock... Let's get him to hospital where they can check him out more thoroughly."
Amanda swallowed nervously. She hadn't thought that far ahead. Of course they'd take him to a hospital. So, what was she going to say? Just get him out to our car and I'll take him home. She didn't know how to help him at this point. Deep down, she had a sinking feeling Methos wasn't going to thank her for this. At least she remembered to say "Adam Pierson" when they requested his name. No- unemployed at the moment. Next of kin? None. The closest he had were Duncan MacLeod and Joe Dawson- and her. But she didn't tell them that.
Even as Guillaume marveled that this medieval old structure existed beneath the ground, the two med techs got Methos out of the well using a harness and onto the stretcher. Andre checked him again, still surprised, given the total lack of response from the victim, that there was no physical damage that he could detect. Possibly internal injuries, he suggested, even though he couldn't feel anything.
"He is probably dehydrated," Andre said. "I don't know what, but he has been through some sort of ordeal." Quickly, efficiently, the technician inserted an intravenous needle into the Immortal's left arm and started a bag of glucose flowing to get much needed liquid into his body.
Then they carried him out of the woods, Amanda trekking along behind carrying his coat with its secret pockets and weapons along with her own. As she followed, she thought she'd be lucky if Methos didn't take her head for this. But she'd had no choice, really. And he was still out.
Slipping into the driver's seat of Methos' Volvo, Amanda followed the emergency ambulance to a hospital in Rennes. There she paced as the doctors ran tests, did x-rays, cat scans and anything else possible to determine why the man was unconscious. Amanda was torn between wanting to get him out and wanting to leave him in medical care until he woke up.
Eventually, she picked up the phone and called Joe Dawson. "Say that again, Amanda. Methos is where?" he questioned.
"Hospitale Angliterre in Rennes," she repeated. "He's unconscious, Joe."
"Are you crazy, Amanda?" he shouted into the phone, partially to be heard over the loud music, but mostly out of surprise and disbelief. "That's the last place he needs to be! Christ, you know better than that. Can you get him out?"
Amanda bit her lip, uncertain how to answer this. "No, I don't think so. And I'm not sure that I want to get him out. Joe, something terrible has happened to him..."
"Is his head still attached?" the Watched asked, applying logic to an insane situation.
"Then he'll recover from whatever it is. Look, I'll come down after my last set and we'll see what we can do. Don't let the doctors do anything. You got that?"
"Uh hmmm. I'll be here." Amanda replied. No point in telling him now that the doctors had already been doing things.
Joe had calmed down considerably by the time he got to Rennes and entered the hospital room. He had been sure he'd misheard her when Amanda had first told him Methos was in a hospital. He'd had a pretty lengthy drive to think about what Amanda had said. Unconscious? An Immortal? That didn't sound right at all. Had anything like this happened before? He'd glanced at his portable computer as if it might speak up right then instead of him having to search the database for information. "Adam" may have created problems with that database, but he'd also created a great resource.
When he got to the hospital room, Amanda sat by the bed, looking gaunt and tired. Her eyes reflected the strain of the last eight or so hours. Methos was lying still and unresponsive, his youthful face looking almost like pale marble and it seemed like he barely breathed. An IV dripped glucose into his blood stream. So much for doing nothing, Joe mentally grumbled.
"He's still out," Joe noted. "What the hell happened, Amanda?"
Feeling more exhausted by the moment, Amanda briefly filled him in on what had happened, including Methos' concerns about what might happen. While she couldn't tell Joe what had actually transpired at the well while Methos was down there alone, she did give him an edited version of the aftermath. "He told me I'd have to take his head if he didn't come out as the Methos we know. I think this is him, but it was hard to tell, Joe. I've never seen one of us so emotionally torn apart. What exactly does that well do?"
Joe let out a low whistle and stared at her in amazement. "That sure as hell didn't affect Mac like that. He said it was rough, but it was all mental. He felt whole when he came out of there. But this--" he gestured at the unmoving body, "-this is unbelievable." He pulled up a chair on the other side of the bed. "You look beat, Amanda. I've checked into the Lido Hotel, room 218. Go get some sleep. I'll stay with him for now."
She hesitated. "He's very vulnerable right now, Joe."
Dawson nodded. "I know. He's an unconscious Immortal in a public place. I suppose he's still detectable?"
She nodded. "As strong as ever."
Joe patted his coat. "I have my equalizer. He'll be all right. You get some sleep." He set his computer on the bedside table and popped the cover.
Reluctantly, Amanda left the hospital. Of course Joe was right. She needed to sleep. It had been a very long, stressful day, but there was no denying she was worried about the Immortal she left behind. He was alive, his head in tact, she reasoned with herself, but this coma was something she'd never known another Immortal to experience. If that was really Methos, then the whole experience was a mental shock of some sort. It couldn't be physical. Then there were the wounds-- wounds that shouldn't even be there- let alone taken so long to heal.
She parked the car outside the Lido, the small hotel where Joe had secured a room, reached into the back seat and picked up Methos' tee shirt. It was almost rags, but she held it to her face anyway. It smelled of him-- his sweat, his bath soap... his blood. She took it up to her room and crashed on the bed, still holding it to her face.
Amanda returned several hours later to an unchanged situation. Joe shook his head at her look of inquiry. "Not a peep. He hasn't even twitched a muscle. It's damned unnatural. And spooky. I can see why you decided to leave him here."
"I know. What if he doesn't come out of it, Joe? There isn't a vegetable home for comatose Immortals."
"Then you'd better do what he asked."
Amanda looked horrified. "You can't be serious."
"Look, I don't want you to do it. I really love this guy- like a son." Joe tried not to think of the absurdity of that statement. "But what would he want in this circumstance?"
Softly, she replied, "To live."
"Like this?" Joe asked, gesturing to the inert body.
Amanda sat on the edge of the bed, caught Methos' hand and stroked it insistently. "Come on, honey, wake up. Please, Methos."
He was in a warm, dark pool- no up, no down, no fear, no pain. Nothing threatened. He wanted to stay here forever. He felt safe. Occasionally voices broke through the solitude but he ignored them. They had no place here. Time was an obscure concept- it didn't exist.
Doctors ran scans. They tested and re-tested. Amanda cringed when they drew blood from him and worried over what kind of anomalies they might find in their test results. Had anyone ever really studied an Immortal's physiology...especially one who was as old as Methos? Joe tried to reassure her, although he wasn't certain if there were differences that might show up.
Yes, he had brain activity, but Monsieur Pierson was unnaturally still. He must have had a terribly traumatic shock, but they were at a loss. There were a few blood anomalies, but nothing that should cause problems. Perhaps shock treatment?
Amanda shuddered at the thought and Joe said no - not yet. The doctor tried different stimulants- all with the same result, no change. She and Joe continued talking to him, urging him to wake up. The only thing that seemed conclusive was that there was no reason for the coma.
Joe Dawson didn't care for hospitals, hadn't since he'd been confined to one for longer than he liked and had come out less than what he was. He was antsy hanging around one now and the corpse-like attitude of his friend was unnerving. He watched the nurses draw blood on a regular basis, bruising the Immortal's arm more than a couple of times and expressing some mild amazement over how easily he healed. And through it all, there was barely even a twitch of the eyelids to indicate that anyone was home in that body.
Joe sat with him one afternoon, nearly four days into this strange vigil, as an older nurse with a warm smile chatted with him while taking yet another sample of blood. "Are you learning anything from any of this?" he asked, wondering exactly what kind of results they might be getting.
She shook her head. "I don't think so, Joseph. From what I can tell, the results are pretty normal. Maybe a couple of unexplained things, but nothing that seems to account for this. I think we've run every test possible at least three times looking for something we might have missed. He's very young, isn't he?"
Joe glanced over at Methos. Yeah, he looked young- even younger without any tension in his features. When he'd first met him, he'd thought Adam was maybe twenty-eight. "Not quite as young as he looks," he answered carefully.
"Talk to him. Remind him of some good memories. Sometimes it helps them to get back." She patted Joe's shoulder on the way out.
"Good memories," Joe mumbled. Yeah, there were a few of them over the past few years. His mind drifted back to those days when the man was just "Adam Pierson." He smiled slightly. "So, Adam, do you recall that weekend in May, just about eight years ago now, when Don and I decided you needed to spend a little time in the real world instead of your books? We must have hauled you all over Paris from one club to another. We discovered you had an amazing capacity for booze and were a surprisingly good dancer..."
Joe thought about it from a different perspective now. The odd thing was, young Adam Pierson seemed to be discovering all that for the first time. He'd had no clue then that this was an Immortal who had probably seen and done all of that in any variation imaginable over his fifty-plus centuries of life. But he'd done it in the company of two mortals who'd developed a parental-like fondness for the young Welsh grad student and didn't know a whole different personality was dormant in that body. Joe smiled at the memory. He hadn't been able to see Adam frequently, maybe only once a year, but they'd always had a good time. Don had been extremely close to the young man, sharing a good portion of his life with Adam. Had Don ever had an idea that Adam might be an Immortal?
His gaze shifted to Methos, seeing Adam still in that face. Much as he sometimes missed Adam's softer personality, he was fearful of not seeing Methos again either. His hand went unbidden to the man's shoulder and he rubbed it forcefully, hoping for a reaction. Richie was gone, Mac had pulled a disappearing act and now this. Shit! Life loved to kick you in the face!
Nearly a week passed with no change in Methos.
"Adam, my dear sweet Adam." Alexa's voice was suddenly a part of the void where he existed.
"'Lexa?" he managed to say.
"You don't belong here, Adam. You have to go back."
"No, I don't want to. I like it here."
"It's an illusion, Adam. You can't stay."
He looked for her, but there was only darkness. Then he heard another voice- Amanda's. "Methos, it's Amanda. Come on, sweetie, open your eyes."
"Go back, Adam. Live." Alexa again. Live.
"Alexa? Don't-" his voice was low, rough with disuse and dryness.
Amanda had nearly jumped out of her skin when he'd first whispered "'Lexa." He wasn't entirely with her, but Methos was coming out of it. She caught his hand, squeezed it harder than she should and spoke to him, trying to pull him to her.
He fought his way back to consciousness, following Amanda's voice, but he struggled to get his eyes open. The eyelids weighed a ton. "'Manda?" he said in a weak, hoarse voice. His mouth and tongue felt swollen, uncooperative. Are we still in the well? It doesn't feel right.
Amanda slid her hand behind his head, lifted it as she held a glass of water to his lips, pushing it slightly against them. "Take sips, Methos. It's only water."
He obeyed, taking little swallows that began to ease his dry lips and throat. Gradually he became aware of the mattress under him, the sound of a ceiling fan swishing through the air. Not the well, not my place either. Where am I? He forced his eyes open, thin slits that winced against the light, slammed shut. He tried again, began to focus. Off-white walls, sterile-looking- hospital room?
Along with that came the awareness of the needle in his arm and the IV bag hanging above it. "Tell me this is a dream," he muttered, closing his eyes again.
Amanda took a deep breath, words hurrying to explain. "You're in a hospital in Rennes. It's been almost a week since you went into the well, Methos. I had no choice- you've been like a vegetable. Joe and I were afraid you were never going to wake up."
Methos pursed his lips together, took long deep breaths to get his anger under control before he said anything. What the hell was she thinking? Finally, he spoke, his voice low and deceptively calm. "I'm an Immortal, Amanda. This is not... exactly ... a good... place for an Immortal."
"I know that. But you have to understand that I couldn't get you out of the well alone. You were unconscious and in very bad shape. Look, I don't know what you went through down there, but you looked like hell and even after you healed, you were still a mess. You know, I could have let you die of dehydration, left you there and just come back periodically to check on you. Would that have been better?" Her voice was gradually building to a crescendo as she talked, a sign of the stress of the past few days and that she was getting angry.
Methos' annoyance faded rapidly as he realized what Amanda was saying and as spotty memories reasserted themselves... Amanda getting him back in the pool, the excruciatingly intense pain he'd been in, the overwhelming need to just let go. Those images that he'd seen forming on the edge of consciousness- the ghosts that waited for him someday. He shivered, knowing why he'd dropped into oblivion. Suddenly he gasped for air, having forgotten to breathe as memory returned, and let it out with a deep shudder.
Amanda looked concerned, "Are you all right?"
He nodded. "Fine. Where- where are my clothes?" He slowly pushed himself up, feeling reluctant muscles respond sluggishly. He felt weak and deep down in the pit of his stomach, a steady gnawing was at work. He needed food.
"Maybe you shouldn't rush this," Amanda advised as she reached to help him sit up.
"I'm hungry and I want out, Amanda. Now, where are my clothes?" He reached across to remove the needle.
She laid a hand over his. "Why don't you let a nurse do that?" Her other hand pressed the call button for the duty station. He was not going to like this. "Besides I need to bring you more clothes. Yours were pretty much ruined."
Surprised, he stared at her. "My coat?"
"I have it in your car." Amanda looked away from him.
"Then get clothes and bring my coat- now!"
At that moment, a big-busted woman in starched white pants and shirt stepped in the room. A big smile crossed her face. "Monsieur Pierson. You are awake!" She covered the room in six long strides to come up to Methos, placed her hands firmly on his upper arms and pushed him flat. "Now you stay down until Doctor has a look at you."
Amanda slipped quickly away as Methos glared murderously at her. In a defiant motion, he ripped the needle out of his arm, ignoring the mild pain it caused.
The nurse frowned at him. "Monsieur Pierson! There is no need for that!" She reached to close off the drip.
Amanda picked up her coat, backing toward the door. "I'll see you tomorrow, Adam. You just do what these nice people tell you, okay?" With that she opened the door and hurried out before he could respond.
Methos sat up in the bed, waiting impatiently for Amanda to get there. He'd showered, managed to locate a razor and shave, so he felt at least partially presentable. He was past his anger with her, but he felt decidedly vulnerable in the flimsy hospital gown and he desperately wanted his sword close by. Even though he understood why Amanda had put him in the hospital, he still couldn't quite believe she'd done it. Nor could he understand why she'd left him there after he woke up.
More than that was the simple desire to feel in control again. He'd had time to think about what had happened at the well and, frankly speaking, it scared the hell out of him. He remembered the hallucinations and the reality of the wounds. There was only one conclusion he could draw- that the cuts, abrasions and bruises were all self-inflicted. Not a happy thought, especially when he recalled the sword at his throat. He made a strong mental note to never return to that place again.
At last, Amanda breezed in, bright smile on her face as if nothing was wrong. She didn't even get a word out before he growled at her. "I hope you brought clothes with you. I want out, Amanda. NOW!"
She halted, smile fading. "Well, good morning to you, too. You're in a mood already. Here." She passed a bag to him- new clothes to replace those the hospital emergency staff had destroyed.
Methos snatched the bag. His eyes narrowed at her and the amber flakes blazed. "Let me tell you about yesterday, Amanda. They gave me a physical- a complete physical! And they ran tests- all kinds of tests. I can tell you that the Spanish Inquisition had nothing on that! And when I asked for food, they brought me Jell-O and oatmeal and pudding... Then-" he paused to breathe and half-laughed, gesturing his annoyance with his free hand, "then- I've been unconscious what? - five, six days? Then they give me a shot to make me sleep. Now there's logic for you. So, no, I am not in a very good mood."
He made his way to the small bathroom with as much dignity as possible while trying to keep the drafty hospital gown closed.
Amanda bit her lip against the laugh that was threatening to break out. It wasn't funny, but it was. "I guess this isn't a good time to ask how he feels," she muttered under her breath. "At least I know it's the right Methos."
She laid her coat on the bed and waited patiently. She knew the hospital didn't want to release him just yet; she had talked to the doctor before coming to see him. The doctor wanted to try to determine the cause of his comatose state. But she and Methos couldn't let them find out any more about the Immortal and they probably already had examples of anomalies that would puzzle them for ages.
She jumped as the door opened and spun to face the newcomer, then relaxed to see Joe in the doorway.
"I got your message. So he's awake, right?"
She nodded. "And in a foul mood today. The doctors are still running tests- only now he's aware of them."
"Ouch," Joe sympathized. "He's not the best patient, is he? Relax, Amanda. They won't find anything and it's not the first time one of you has been hospitalized. At least he won't have to explain a resurrection."
Methos stepped out of the bathroom wearing the tightest black jeans he'd worn since the fifties. Amanda turned her head and looked him over with obvious approval. Lean frame made even thinner over the past few days, dark hair longer...almost as long as when she'd first met him...and that surprisingly graceful movement as he casually tossed the hospital gown on the nearest chair.
Joe Dawson didn't miss a beat of it. Amanda had started growing closer to Methos over the past few months and with MacLeod gone, it didn't surprise him that she'd turned to the old man for more than just a shoulder to cry on.
"Hello, Joe. Amanda tells me you went along with this insane scheme," Methos said by way of greeting.
Joe raised an eyebrow. Sometimes he really did miss soft-spoken Adam who'd never sound so reproachful. "Good to see you up and around. Yes, I did go along with it- after I saw the condition you were in. What the hell happened down there?"
Methos shrugged. "A little more than I anticipated. But it's over."
"Is it?" Amanda asked. "Is it really? Are the nightmares gone?"
"Not completely. They'll never be completely gone but at least I think I can control it." He picked up his coat, sat on the bed and checked for his weapons. He smiled slightly as his fingers touched the hilt of his sword. Amanda had picked it up for him, hauled his coat out along with her own stuff, had done what she'd felt was necessary to help him... And he'd been a total ass about it. He brought his eyes up, met Amanda's, then Joe's. "I'm sorry. I should be saying thank you instead of complaining. It's just that..." He paused. This was no time to start explaining himself. "Can we get out of here?"
Joe grinned. Kind of nice to see the old guy a bit awkward for a change. Then he caught the simultaneous look on the two Immortals' faces and interpreted it instantly.
Methos moved his hand back to the sword hilt, extracted the weapon while still keeping it covered. "Get out of here, Amanda."
"I don't think so," she replied, reaching for her own sword. "You're in no condition to fight anyone."
He shot her an annoyed look as the door opened and a fair-haired man of medium height and wearing a white medical coat, stepped in. Surprise and amusement registered on his face as he took in the little tableau. He raised his hands. "I'm unarmed. Dr. Montgomery." He offered his hand to Amanda who was nearest and had seemed to relax a bit. The tense Immortal sitting on the bed he gave a little more room, staying well back.
"Amanda," she announced, shaking the hand warmly. "Doctor of what?"
"Psychology." His gaze stayed on Methos. "And you're Adam Pierson." It wasn't a question. Methos nodded.
Montgomery's attention shifted to Joe. The Watcher offered his hand cordially. "Joe Dawson."
"A pleasure." He took a cautious step or two toward the man who sat like a wound spring on the bed. "You seem to be feeling better, Adam. Looks like you're planning to leave us?"
"That's what it looks like."
The doctor chucked. "Relax. I came here to help you. I was puzzled by your case and now that I've met you, I'm intrigued."
Methos shrugged on his coat. "Yeah. Well, read the novel."
Montgomery pursed his lips, accepting that he would not be able to force this Immortal to stay and chat. "You had a restless night, Adam. Even through the sedative. I can prescribe a mild sleeping pill."
"I can handle it." Methos pushed past him toward the door. "Coming?" he asked Joe.
"This isn't just a question of handling it." Montgomery paused, dropped a literal shoe. "I know Duncan MacLeod."
Methos froze at the doorway, pivoted slowly around. Both Amanda and Joe gaped at the doctor.
"You mentioned' his name a couple of times last night."
Methos went pale, as he realized another Immortal-- this one specifically... was in the room while he slept and he was totally unaware of it. And he'd said Mac's name... God, in what context?
Amanda's first thought was that she'd left Methos unguarded and he would be really upset about that. But the second thought was the same thing Joe was already thinking... this man had talked to MacLeod since the "accident."
"Do you know where MacLeod is now?" Joe asked, hope growing in him. Mac had found help after all.
Montgomery shook his head. "No. I only met with him once ... a man with a lot of questions that I couldn't answer. I think he was going to seek solitude. He mentioned the necessity of getting away from anyone he was close to for a while."
"He didn't tell you what happened?" Joe prompted, almost positive MacLeod wouldn't have gone into detail.
Certain he had their attention, Montgomery sat on the bed, his deep blue eyes locking with the unwavering hazel ones across the room. "No. He talked a lot of abstracts and philosophical questions. But I know a trouble man when I see one." He paused, for emphasis. "And I see another."
The oldest Immortal's face was unreadable, the expression schooled to absolute neutrality. "There's nothing you can do."
"Maybe. Maybe not. But I can listen. At least take my card, Adam."
"And the prescription," Amanda added. When Methos didn't move, she did, moving quickly to take the business card from Montgomery's hand and waiting as he scribbled a prescription.
"It's very mild," the doctor commented, handing the paper to Amanda but talking to Methos. "It won't leave you senseless."
"You're from Paris!" Amanda blurted as she read the card.
He laughed. "No. I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. But I work in Paris. The hospital called me since the doctors here were at a loss. I came down last night. So, you see, I'm close if you need me." He looked at Joe. "I've seen you play. Being from St. Louis, I'm a fan of the blues. It's a pleasure to have met you."
Joe acknowledged with a smile. He liked the soft-voiced Immortal. Dr. Montgomery...not a familiar name. He'd have to check the database but he didn't believe he'd seen this one before.
"I'd like to go now, Amanda," Methos said quietly. "Keys?"
Amanda caught her purse, mouthed a "thank you" toward Montgomery and started after Methos. "I'm driving, Adam."
"Yes, I am. You won't win this argument."
He looked indignant. "It's my car!"
Joe chuckled as they argued their way out of the room, but he lingered behind. Methos glanced back as he heard Joe ask, "When you saw MacLeod, how was he?" He hesitated, but Amanda was already half-way down the hall and he really wanted to leave.
Amanda rolled in her sleep, flung an arm and a leg across the bed and very gradually registered that the appendages were resting flat. Flat? There should have been a body there- the same body she'd been sharing the bed with for the past three days. She opened her eyes and quickly confirmed Methos wasn't in bed. She frowned. He'd been a bit restless the past couple of nights, but not plagued by any nightmares. Sitting up, she squinted and scanned the darkened room, aware that he was somewhere near by the steady tingle of his presence.
Eventually her eyes focused in on the quiet figure half-sprawled in the high backed chair. He held a glass of scotch but it didn't look like he was drinking it. Amanda watched him for a few minutes, sweet recollections of their earlier loving warming her heart. She'd never intended to feel so deeply for Methos in this way. Her friendship with him had grown slowly- first from exposure via Duncan, then changing dramatically when she'd bonded with him over Rebecca's crystals- after all, any man who'd take a bullet for her- which lead to being able to have him as her own friend. And now this. Did she love him? Not the same as she loved Duncan, but yes. Yes! Her mind fairly shouted the news to her and she felt good with it, a warm glow spreading through her.
The trip from Rennes to Paris had been a fun experience, once the ancient Immortal had finished venting his annoyance- she wouldn't really call it anger. Methos had been far milder than she'd expected, but he had called her on leaving him unprotected. That had given him- and her, when she thought about it- the willys. She'd just never anticipated an Immortal problem in the hospital, especially after he woke up. They'd stopped for food almost immediately and his mood was greatly improved after that. While he understood and accepted why she'd called for help, he'd been most annoyed because she hadn't gotten him out of the hospital when he'd awakened. How could she explain to him how fearful she'd been over the past six days for someone she'd come to care a great deal about? How seeing him in a condition an Immortal wasn't supposed to be in had made her want to leave him there- as if mortal medicine would help- until she was sure he was all right? And how his words of warning had encouraged her to insure that his own personality was truly in control?
Methos hadn't really moved since she started watching him except to take a short sip of the drink. He was deeply in thought, as if something was troubling him. Amanda pursed her lips, wanting to do something to ease whatever it was yet knowing there was nothing she could do. Odd that she should see him as more vulnerable than MacLeod when he obviously was a very self-sufficient man. He hadn't needed her to get through this nightmare episode, but it had helped that she was around, even if he wouldn't admit it. Truth was that she wanted to be there... wanted to alleviate some of that tremendous loneliness she sometimes sensed in him. It had been hard enough for her for a thousand years and she'd had Rebecca, then MacLeod, and a few others, whom she could count on. How had he managed for over five thousand?
She reached for her robe and, pulling it on, slipped out of bed to go to him. "Penny for them." She said softly as she came close. No sense startling him.
Methos had been very aware of Amanda sitting up in bed for the past ten or so minutes, aware of her watching him. He was still uneasy with this new relationship with her, feeling an added layer of guilt so far as MacLeod was concerned. As Amanda had said, she had no commitment, no contract with Mac. He'd controlled guilt for centuries by not letting anyone get too close, by accepting what he did was unchangeable and he had to move on. Then MacLeod had changed a good part of that and now there was Amanda. He tilted his head her direction and shook it slightly. "Save your pennies. They're not worth it, Amanda. "
She knelt by him, laid her hand on his arm, gently rubbed it. " You're worth far more that, Methos. I'd gladly pay it if it would help you settle whatever is troubling you."
He laughed ruefully, glanced away from her with a distant look clouding his face. "It's not that easy."
She bit her lip, wishing he would let her in. "Sweetie, you don't have to be alone on this. But if you don't want to tell me, I understand." She leaned forward and kissed his bare knee, then laid her head on it, face turned away from him.
Methos dropped his eyes to her, studying the long lines of the swan neck that curved into her back. He placed a gentle hand on her head and stroked the soft hair. Gradually his hand slid down the back of her neck to rub against the smooth skin of her shoulders, slipping lightly just under her robe.
Amanda sighed, content for the moment. A few minutes passed in this quiet tranquillity before Methos leaned down and planted a sensual, skin-tasting kiss just at the joining of her neck to her back. Her spine arched up and a breathless sigh escaped. He bit carefully on the skin and a shiver rolled down her spine to the very tip of her tailbone.
She squeezed his knee, slid a hand to his inner thigh and ran teasingly light fingertips against the sensitive flesh, letting her touch extend up under the midnight blue boxer shorts. As her fingers roved to the joining crease, he shifted his legs a little wider so her hand could move easily against the stirring flesh there. Obligingly, she pressed firmly against the swell and, beginning at the base, she ran the pad of her thumb deliberately slowly up, sliding it gently under the fleshy cap.
His response came immediately, a sharp gasp of air exhaled against her skin-- hot and tingly as his mouth inched its way around her throat, finding the lobe of her ear. Methos bit the lobe delicately, a little nip that made her whimper with pleasure, then his tongue tickled the sensitive patch just behind her ear. She was burning, a flame of desire spreading through her whole body. She held her breath, felt the trembling in her legs and thighs as her lover's lips moved down her throat up to nip at her chin. She let her breath out in a rush, amazed at how erotic the trail of kisses was. It wasn't just the kiss, it was how he did it, the touch of his lips nuzzling with his tongue just lightly skimming her skin - a feather touch that sent her right to the edge.
Amanda twisted around, an arm wrapping around his neck to run her fingers through the silkiness of his hair, astonished anew at the fineness of it, wrapping the longer lengths around her fingers. Just this perfect moment she thought, it's all come together to this wonderful moment with this man- now. Unconsciously, she pulled at his hair, encouraging what she liked, rubbing her fingers tensely against his scalp. She turned her face to bring her mouth to his. Her left hand had long since stilled at its earlier task and she now brought it up to cup his face as she pressed her lips snugly to his, tasting the last vapor of Scotch in his mouth. The scent of the alcohol and his warm body merged to a tantalizing intoxicant. Her need to be with him seemed to fill every cell of her body. "Bed, Methos," she murmured somewhat breathlessly as she broke the kiss. "Let's move to the bed."
His eyes smoldered with wanting as he held hers and a mute nod indicated his acquiescence. He lifted her up, standing her on her feet before him. Her knees felt weak as if she'd just dodged a museum guard and made a run for freedom. The look on Methos' face made her feel like she was the only woman in the world. His arms surrounded her, lifting her easily and carrying her to the bed. With one arm wrapped around his neck, Amanda applied her free hand to stroking his chest, a sensuous foray from the hollow of his throat to his belly button.
Methos caught his breath, muttered, "Keep that up and I'm going to drop you."
Amanda smirked, judged her timing carefully, and just as he started to lower her, leaned in to take his left nipple between her lips and teased it with her tongue. His stomach tightened and he hissed with pleasure, dropping her dead center on the bed.
She loosened the tie on her robe, the black satin slipping away, as he levered himself down next to her, pulling her into his arms. "I'm going to have to start over," he murmured, pressing a hand against her breast as his lips moved back to her throat. He was fascinated with the lines of her neck and shoulders, maybe because it was such a vulnerable place and it seemed so fragile. Or maybe it was because she reacted so quickly to stimulation there. He bit very lightly at her collarbone and chuckled a little as Amanda squeaked. He dotted kisses across her shoulders, satisfied as he heard the intake of breath and little shudders of delight. His own body was reacting to her, growing tauter with each tremble. As he repeated the nip on the opposite shoulder, her squeak turned to squeal and she raked her nails down his back in reaction. Methos gasped at the sensation, not certain if she'd drawn blood or not.
"Sorry," Amanda breathed into his ear. "I didn't mean to hurt you." Then she became the aggressor, rolling him onto his back and sliding a leg between his, running the sole of her foot gently down his thigh.
"Its all right," he responded between the tingles that shot through him. He felt the light calluses of her foot rub against the sensitive skin and it sent shivers up his spine. Her mouth closed on his left breast, taking the nipple between her lips and rolling her tongue against it. His stomach tightened and a moan escaped him. God, she was talented, he thought. Aloud, he sighed, "You have a nimble ton- tongue." The word interrupted as she teased him again and her hands slipped into the waist of his boxers, tugging insistently down to remove them. He lifted his hips to make it easier and shuddered as the warm fingers slid across his tense muscles, the feel of the silk boxers and satin fingers driving him mad. He brought Amanda's hand back to where he wanted it and guided it there.
Her eyes sparkled as she brought her mouth to his, kissing him hard, then began an agonizingly slow assault down his chest as her hand stroked him in an irregular rhythm that threatened to steal his sanity. She was a tease... She was a torturer... She was wonderful! Then her head was between his legs and the moist, hot mouth touched his most sensitive part. He gasped and moaned, his fingers digging into the mattress.
Enough, his mind screamed, wanting release now and his groin ached in agreement. He breathed her name, almost a hiss of sound. She brought her head up, silenced him with a kiss, then rose up to guide him into the wet haven of her body, beginning a rocking against him. Methos caught her hips and guided them as he folded against her. A deep moan forced its way from his throat, just as he arched his back into the blinding explosion that blotted out all else.
Amanda clung tightly to him, her body contracting with each violent thrust until their slick, wet bodies felt like one and Methos gave a last shuddering gasp. He held tightly to her, his heart pounding against his chest and his hair damp with perspiration. She enveloped him, gently rubbing his back, pushing firmly against still tense muscles as his heartbeat slowed to normal.
Carefully, Methos rolled them onto their sides, bodies still joined together and he tenderly kissed her, brushing his fingers against her cheek and pushing her hair back from her forehead. His green eyes regarded her with deep affection and concern as he considered this particular complication in his life. "God, Amanda, what are we doing?" he asked.
"Just loving each other, baby." Her fingers touched his lips, tracing the fine line of them. "No strings-- no ties. Just loving."
He lightly took her finger into his mouth, tasting the salt of his own body on it, then closed his eyes, resolved to not think about this anymore just now. They didn't move for quite a while, each just relishing the close touch of the other. At last, Methos rolled away from her, used the sheet to wipe her body and his, then dragged the comforter over them both and pulled Amanda into his arms.
His touch was different from Duncan's, the lovely woman reflected. Different form anyone else she'd ever known. So much passion-- So much intensity-- And incredible control. And Duncan? She wasn't going to feel guilty about this-- not when Duncan just took off on all of them.
As if reading her thoughts, Methos spoke softly, "I've got to try to find him."
"What?" She froze, almost not breathing.
"MacLeod. I have to try, Amanda."
She levered herself up on one elbow, searched his face to see if there was a hint of a joke in this. "You haven't got a clue where he is."
"I have some ideas where to start. I failed him on this."
"Methos, you're not responsible for what happened. You're not his keeper!"
"Aren't I? Haven't I been guiding him over the past two years? Making him rely on me, stepping in when I thought he needed me. Forcing him to try to look at things from a different point of view. And when he needed me most-- when he needed me to see something, I wasn't there." His eyes told her she couldn't change this decision, pleaded with her to understand.
She dropped back, her head against his shoulder. "I'm coming with you, then."
He touched her chin, tilted her face toward him. "No, Amanda. You are not coming with me."
"Methos--" Her voice threatened to break.
"Not this time."
Tears slid from her eyes, dropped against his warm skin. He felt them, hot little drops that he likened to blood from a cruel wound. He didn't want to hurt her. He pressed her face close to his and kissed her closed eyes, tasting the salty tears.
She caught her breath, forced calm into her shaky voice. "Then you'd better stay in touch, Methos. I can't bear to lose you now."
"Nor I you." He laid his head against hers, arms holding her with false security, and closed his eyes to wait for dawn.