|Kindred Spirits: Ten
by Lillian Wolfe
The mid-afternoon sunlight coruscated off the river, little sparkles of it dancing on the water like brilliant gemstones. Kronos' head popped through the surface, mouth open to grab a fresh supply of air, then he swiveled his head around to focus on a rocky ledge just above the river. Methos reclined on his side, head propped on one hand as he used a burnt stick to draw on the rock. A smile blossomed on Kronos' face. "Methos, take a moment from you work. Come on in. The water's wonderful."
The dark-haired head came up, long locks framing Methos' face and draping against bare shoulders, as he smiled briefly, "In a little while. I almost have this plan worked out."
Kronos dog-paddled to the bank, then hauled himself out of the water onto the grass. This valley was lush, an oasis filled with vegetation, wild-growing fruits and a variety of animals. They'd settled here a few weeks earlier, just the four of them, and had been enjoying the luxury of having food and water in a convenient place. Squeezing the moisture out of his hair, the leader of the Horsemen climbed up on the slab next to his brother. He spared a glance at the marks and squiggles, then flopped onto his stomach.
It was a sweet day, one of the best he'd known in fifteen hundred years. Their band had prospered over the past three hundred or so years and the main reason was the man whose naked body sprawled on the warm sandstone near him. He had been right about Methos. It had taken months to break him, even longer to rebuild him to the man he should have been from the start, but it had been worth it. Methos had truly become his brother, his equal in the Horsemen. More than that, Kronos felt a true kinship with him, expected his loyalty would last forever...
..."I never thought he would betray me, you know," Kronos said lightly, as if it was of no consequence.
"So you broke him, taught him to kill and plunder and you expected loyalty?" Miles asked sarcastically, clearly showing surprise at where Kronos had chosen to begin his recollections.
"Oh, I didn't need to teach him to kill and plunder," the Horseman protested. "He already had those skills. What do you suppose the armies of that era did? Methos had been a warrior long before I met him. He knew tactics, battle skills and elements of terror I never thought of. But his greatest gift was in planning. Our raids became more successful because he considered everything in formulating our attacks. Nothing was left to chance. Even the illusion we presented to our victims was carefully calculated. Just seeing us struck terror." Kronos' eyes glistened at the remembered glory.
"What do you mean?" Miles prompted him to explain, unable to resist the fascination. His face clearly showed both his interest and his confusion.
Kronos laughed outright. "He didn't tell you about any of this, did he? Methos understood fear, knew how to create it. We wore masks, painted out faces and left our prey with a vision of horror just before the sword struck. And we left a few survivors to spread the tales. The only thing different in what Methos had done before meeting us and after was that he wasn't fighting for some petty chieftain who claimed all the spoils. We did it for ourselves."
Kronos' voice grew intense and there was a glint in the hazel eyes that was totally alien to Methos. "There was never another band of raiders like us. We were a legend then, and now, a larger than life nightmare that people feared. Methos was Death. He was brilliant."
Miles' eyes were wide as he caught his breath to object. "But Methos said you tortured him..."
Kronos paused and blinked at him, staring curiously as if he'd just popped in out of thin air. //So naïve... no concept of any of it.// Catching himself, he responded, "Tortured him? Did he say tortured? No, no. It was discipline. Think of it as basic training for military service, a stern leader guiding his young lieutenant to discover his potential. Methos had a stubborn streak and a mental block. He just needed guidance, someone to show him what he could be."
"By hurting him and pushing him beyond endurance!" Miles blurted out. "You call that discipline?!"
Kronos shifted position, sitting up straight and leaning forward. "He was Immortal. In fact, a far older one than I realized at the time. A slap on the wrist wouldn't work. I had to get him to obey me." He could see the anger in the blonde's eyes, and more. There was also fear... fear that he was telling the truth and Methos was more of a monster than the good doctor had imagined. A pleased smile spread on his lips. This was too easy. "What is it you want to know, Doctor? How I trained him? Or what he was like?"
Montgomery swallowed hard. "Start at the beginning. Tell me how you met."
Kronos leaned back. //Safe territory, then.// "I remember the day well. I had a fairly large band of raiders then, mostly mortals. I already had Caspian and Silas with me, but I'd recently lost another of our companions in a challenge. I'd chosen our target and it was easy enough to overcome the village. But as we attacked, I sensed an Immortal among the villagers. Unfortunate, really that we can't mask our unique trait. It didn't take long to spot him and Caspian went on the hunt..."
Kronos gazed at the tall, slender Immortal who Caspian held before him like a prize. No doubt that was precisely what his blood-thirsty companion was hoping, that he would allow him to take the scruffy man and do with him as he desired. But there was something different about this one. He was in pain. The paleness of his face and the thin line of his determined mouth showed that Caspian had insured that he would not be attacking anyone, yet he refused to surrender.
His eyes were defiant, not yielding even an inch. But Kronos saw more in those eyes. He recognized the intelligence behind them, could almost see the thought process happening as he gazed at him. //Extraordinary,// he thought. //A rare quality in either humans or Immortals. This one has value, I think.// He found his mouth stretching into a satisfied grin and he nodded, then stated, "I am Kronos. You live as long as it pleases me. What is your name... slave?"
Behind his captive, Caspian's face fell as he realized he wouldn't have his pleasure with this one. But Kronos kept his eyes on the man. He yielded nothing, said nothing. His face went perfectly still, almost as if he hadn't heard. But he had. //Yes, there is spirit in this one!// he thought jubilantly, //and I will use it. One way or the other...// He laughed, "I like a little spirit in a slave. Gives me a goal. Bring him, Caspian."
He turned his attention to supervising the loading of their plunder, then the small band of horsemen and their entourage began the trek back to their camp. It wasn't a large train, but they'd gained a wagonload of goods and food, enough to sustain them for a couple of weeks. A brief glance back allowed him to note that Caspian had made sure their new slave would be no trouble on the trip back. He was sprawled awkwardly in the wagon, the knife still protruding from the slender man's chest. An approving smile touched Kronos' face.
//I probably shouldn't have taken Caspian's prize,// Kronos reflected. They had few enough supplies with the numbers they had now and one more to feed would cut into it. He'd have to eliminate one of their minions to hold the line. But he had a feeling about this one. He paid no more attention to the captive until they were back in their camp and settled.
In fact, it was nearly fourteen hours later when Kronos returned to study his newest acquisition. The inert body had been dumped into the sand at the edge of the encampment and virtually ignored from that point on. Even Caspian had paid no more attention to his former prize.
Crouching down on his heels, Kronos studied the lean face, details barely visible in the muted light of the fire. He was still young when he met his first death, Kronos thought, judging him to be less than thirty cycles old. And his face was relatively unmarked, only a very light scar across the bridge of his nose. Probably a childhood injury that healed cleanly.
He reached across to push the torn tunic away from the broad, muscular chest. A slender man, yes, but not without hard muscles and a strong body. No doubt it was a body that knew well how to wield a sword. With a tight smile, his fingers locked around the knife that was buried deep in the captive's chest and withdrew it, then sat back.
Peripherally, he noted Silas drifting to the edge of the shelters and pausing, just out of range, to watch. Kronos shifted his attention to him. "You're curious, Silas."
The big man nodded.
"You're wondering why I brought him back here. Why I didn't let Caspian kill him?"
Again, Silas nodded.
Kronos chuckled. "I think this one is like us, my brother. He may need some training but I think he will be useful. If I'm wrong, then perhaps Caspian will have him to torment."
A choking sound. A gasp.
Kronos shifted his gaze back to the man on the ground. He now coughed painfully, eyelids flickering as he regained life and consciousness. A damaged heart meant an agonizing awakening as tender new growth felt blood coursing through for the first time. His chest would ache for several hours from this discipline. Kronos knew how it felt.
Dark eyes snapped wide, confused, and disoriented. He shifted them, looking for something to identify, to connect with. He started to move, to try to sit up. Kronos stood, pressed a boot against the sore chest and grinned down at the startled face. "Welcome back, slave."
Kronos didn't miss the brief look of defiance that was quickly replaced with a more complacent expression, indifference. //Oh, yes. This one has been there before and is prepared to placate me as long as necessary to find an opening to leave. I know you, friend. It won't happen.// Deliberately, he lifted Caspian's knife in his hand, ran a thumb lightly along the blood-covered blade. It was a stabbing weapon, the point sharp enough to penetrate easily, but the edges were somewhat dull.
With a light touch, Kronos laid the edge of the knife against his captive's throat. "Give me your name."
The dark eyes caught his, the intense gaze trying to hold him as his hand crept slowly toward the hilt of the bronze weapon. Barking out a sharp laugh, Kronos rotated the knife, shifting the tip against the vulnerable skin just at the hollow where the throat met the breast bone. "Uh, uh. You don't want to choke to death, do you? Nasty way to die, fighting for air and feeling blood filling your lungs." The hand dropped back against the sand. "Better. Your name?"
Still no response, just that expressionless gaze. "Come, come, man. It's only a name! Not worth dying over unless you believe that nonsense about names having power."
Hesitation in the eyes now, almost there. Kronos prodded by pushing the knife a little. It was enough to break the skin, to penetrate the first layer of tissue and halt just at the windpipe. His captive's eyes went wide with alarm and he tensed,, choking out "Methos."
"Methos..." the smaller man repeated, a satisfied smirk on his lips. "Very good, Methos."
The man relaxed slightly although he was still uneasy with the knife in his throat. Kronos twisted it slightly as he withdrew it, causing Methos to wince. He flipped the knife in his hand, then added. "Next time, respond faster, Methos." With that, he deftly repositioned the blade and shoved it through his slave's ribs, his lung and back into the left side of his heart.
Methos choked, spit up blood and jerked violently as he died again. Satisfied, Kronos straightened, motioning to Silas to come closer. "Keep a watch on him. See that no one disturbs his rest. You understand?"
The big man nodded and positioned himself to guard the temporary corpse...
"Shit!" Miles exclaimed, reacting in shock to the story. "You stabbed him again?!"
Kronos regarded him calmly. "Of course. Part of the discipline and only the first time of many over the next few weeks... A bit squeamish for a medical man, aren't you?"
"That's why I'm not a surgeon. Why did you keep stabbing him?" Miles frowned as he tried to understand what made Kronos tick.
"Because it hurt. I was punishing him for not responding promptly, for not doing what I asked immediately. If he was to be useful, I had to have his instant, unconditional response. It took nearly a month before Methos finally accepted that he wasn't going to get away and he might as well cooperate. So he began working as my slave. He was tied up when I was gone and under Caspian's supervision when we were at camp. Oddly enough, along the way, Silas befriended him. Probably my fault. I allowed Silas to bring him food and drink, setting up the opportunity. Of the three of us, Silas was the only one who never hurt him." Kronos looked a bit sad as he spoke, as if those distant memories might actually live again someday.
"I never believed he would kill Silas," he continued. "It was a total shock to see Methos fighting his brother. Maybe Caspian, but never Silas. Betrayal of me, I could expect- he'd done it before. Ironically, that disloyalty really fueled my anger, made me more determined than ever to regain Methos, to control him again. I'd made a mistake in believing I could stay ahead of him that time." He paused, eyes narrowing at Montgomery. "I will make him pay for it, doctor. You can count on that. If I were you, I'd start running now."
Montgomery's face registered the threat accurately and he paled. Kronos could see the effort as the blonde man forced himself to focus again. "Let's move on. When did you make Methos your second?"
Kronos grinned. "Do you want to know how I broke him? What kind of punishment it took to make him become one of the Horsemen? That's what you really want to know, isn't it?"
Tightly, Montgomery answered, "Not really. I want to know what kind of hold you had on him and how he broke free from you."
Kronos frowned, then settled back again, prepared to ignore the last statement. "I punished him regularly and for everything he did that displeased me. Consistency is important, you know. Sometimes I let Caspian handle it. And Silas would care for him after. I think we invented 'good cop, bad cop.' He withstood the punishment until I was finally forced to a radical one."
He recalled clearly the look of terror on his slave's face as the red hot poker came directly at his eye. Methos had struggled, fighting against Caspian who nearly broke his neck trying to hold him steady enough, while securing his arms behind his back with his other hand. As the embers burned the delicate eye tissue, Methos had screamed, an unholy sound that had frozen most of the camp in place. In the struggle, Caspian had broken his arm.
"Join us," he'd whispered at Methos' ear, just loud enough for the now whimpering man to hear before he picked up the second poker and repeated the action. The shrieks of pain had lasted longer before he'd passed out...
"What did you do?" The doctor's voice was hesitant, uncertain. But he had to ask.
"I blinded him." Kronos blinked and watched in satisfaction as Montgomery's face betrayed the horror those lightly-spoken words invoked. Eyes... the very same eyes he'd once burned out... glittered as Kronos pursued it before the man could regain his composure. "Can you imagine what it's like to be Immortal and not be able to see? To not know if someone is going to take your head or not? Do you have any idea how long it takes to regenerate eye tissue and nerves? It took him weeks. He broke..."
"You bastard..." Montgomery whispered, losing his clinical detachment at the cruelty of the man.
Kronos smiled, his lips moving into a broad grin. He did know how to tell a story.
"That son-of-a-bitch!" Mac muttered, empathizing with Montgomery for the first time.
"Miles can't let himself slip like that," Amanda mumbled, leaning over Mac's shoulder to peer at the monitor camera. Joe had the chair next to the screen and they all three watched with a morbid fascination.
"Thank goodness Montgomery has an extensive network of these security-camera monitored rooms," the Watcher added. "He's a thorough man, if nothin' else." Montgomery had sent Lyle to lead them to the security office. This particular set up was not like the tight security cell Methos had been in initially where it had a private observation room with auxiliary monitoring in Miles' office. But it did have a decent picture on the small screen and it was picking up the sound well enough.
Abruptly, Joe jumped along with the simultaneous ring of his cellular phone. As Mac and Amanda turned their heads to look at him, he fumbled to get it out of his pocket and glanced at the screen in alarm. The two men in that room couldn't hear it, he realized instantly, and a sheepish look crossed his face as he spoke quietly, but with mild annoyance into the phone. "Yeah, hello... What?! Just a sec..."
He glanced at the other two, shrugged apologetically, then stepped out of the room. "Go ahead... this is Joe."
Josette's voice, sounding near panic level, echoed through the line. Not the best connection, but he could understand her well enough.
"Monsieur Dawson, you must tell me where Adam is. Please. I fear he is in terrible danger."
//What the hell? Is the girl clairvoyant?// Joe wondered. But he sounded reassuring when he replied, "He's in good hands, Josette. Nobody can handle it better, believe me."
"You don't understand. I must see him."
Joe could picture that small face, eyes wide and earnest as she pleaded. Everything was so magnified to a teenager, so urgent. Especially if she thought she was in love. "Look, honey, there's nothing you can do for him right now. Adam is with friends and a doctor who knows what he is. We're gonna help him get through this, okay?"
The voice at the other end caught, sounding close to tears. "Please, monsieur... it's very important that I see him. I can--"
"I'll call you back when that's possible," Joe interrupted. "You want to help now? You say a few prayers." He pushed the end button terminating the call, then let out his breath in a whoosh. That was tough. He hoped he could keep that promise.
Turning the phone off as he tucked it away again, he stepped back into the security office where the eerie sound of Methos' voice spoke with a cadence and dialog that was definitely not his.
MacLeod glanced at him, eyebrow raised in question.
"I'll tell you later," Joe said and settled himself to listen again.
Kronos was getting fidgety, tired of not being able to move freely. He'd started pacing around the room and Joe was relieved that Miles had also gotten to his feet, keeping a respectable space between them, as well as a finger poised on the trigger of the tranq gun.
"I don't like it," Amanda groused. "I get creeped out seeing him like this."
Mac nodded. "I know what you mean. He's a stranger with a friend's face. Seen that before."
"It's knowing he's in there, Duncan. That he probably knows what's going on and he can't stop it." She rubbed nervously at her neck. "I wish Miles hadn't done this."
"In spite of what you think, Methos and I were very close," Kronos was saying, stretching languidly against the wall. "We were like two sides of a coin and each of us was necessary to the whole. Before him, I hadn't had as much success in my raids. It was the addition of Methos that took us to legendary status... his planning, his creativity. His ability to turn a situation our way, to even, on occasion, pull us out of a near disaster. After he was gone - well, it just wasn't the same. I couldn't recreate what we were without him."
"Did you love him?" Miles asked calmly, question coming seemingly out of nowhere.
Kronos hesitated a long moment. "Love him? He was my brother..." He frowned as he thought about it, then he brightened. "Yes, I suppose so. In the way one loves family. Not... in any mushy way, you understand."
"So, there was never any sexual..."
"No. Not my thing. There were always women around for that." Kronos replied quickly, then chortled evilly. "Caspian, on the other hand, didn't care who or what he fucked."
"You'd have to ask him, but then you can't, can you? Or maybe Methos?"
Automatically, both Amanda and Joe glanced at MacLeod. He shook his head. "I don't know. I didn't get it from Caspian."
From the small screen, Montgomery's voice prodded and he changed position once again as Kronos moved away from the wall. "If he was always the murderer, the raider that you tell me he was-if he had reached fulfillment with the Horsemen, then why did he leave?"
"He began to change, the raids were not enough to keep him satisfied. He had a need, a hunger to learn more. I thought it would help if we explored a bit, so we went to Rome. It was a mistake. I should never have let him venture into that kind of civilization. But he was fascinated with the manuscripts and the philosophy... and the Roman Army. There was no holding back, I had to let him go."
Abruptly, Kronos whipped his head back against the wall and a sharp cry of "No!" escaped from his mouth as he spun and hit the wall head on with a smack loud enough that even the three voyeurs winced with the sound of it.
"It... wasn't... like... that!" Methos' voice gasped out, protesting through the pain, and he turned to face Montgomery. Blood oozed from a cut on his forehead that was just beginning to heal. His eyes focused on the blonde with a hurt and anguish glimmering in them that echoed in his voice. "Why the hell did you talk to him?"
Nearly thirty minutes later, a cleaned up and only marginally calmer, Methos sat in Montgomery's office and glared at the doctor, a deep fury burning in him as he realized the full extent of the man's indiscretion. His gaze moved slowly to MacLeod, then Amanda and finally Joe before he cast his eyes down. Damn it, anyway! It was bad enough that Rory had let Kronos tell him that pack of lies, but to allow Mac and the others to witness it as well?! And he sure as hell wasn't going to explain everything to them.
Rory chewed at his lip, suddenly looking very young and somewhat scared. "I'm sorry, Methos. I thought it would help."
Methos could hear the air flowing through his nose as he breathed, could almost hear it going in and out of his lungs, as his anger kept Rory's office to an uncomfortable silence. All of them were keenly aware of just how upset he was.
Brave soul that he was, Joe tried to defuse the situation a little. "He didn't mean any harm, Methos. He just thought maybe if we..." He faltered. "Well, hell, it was Kronos... We'd all been taken in by him before."
"Eager to see what the real Kronos was like, were you?" Methos asked bitterly.
As Joe's face tightened in exasperation, Rory cut in, "It was totally my fault. Don't blame them. I wanted them to hear so we could all work from the same book. I hoped he would tell me how you broke free of him. You know, divulge a few things you won't."
Methos picked up a hint of accusation in his voice. "So this is my fault? You didn't get the answers you wanted from me, so you asked him?" The look on his face was hard and brittle.
"No... It was an opportunity and I took it. I didn't do it to hurt you. Jeez, I'm doing everything I can to help, Methos. You're not giving me much to work with."
Methos' lips rolled back from his teeth as he growled back, "Yeah, well, half of what he told you is lies. Is that what you want to work with? Lies? Did you think he was going to tell you the truth?"
Methos slouched down in the chair, wrapping his arms around himself protectively. //Protecting his chest... his heart,// he realized even as he did it. A little habit lingering from those old days. It had never worked then. The blade simply went through his arm as well and sometimes it just tickled at the surface of his heart, barely poking it as it beat until Kronos had pressed it into the muscle, inch by excruciating inch. He'd just about managed to bury that nightmare until Kronos had brought it up. //Dammit! He knows I know what's happening. He knows he can affect me with those stories, those memories.//
"Methos? Methos, did you hear me?"
He jerked upright, registered it was MacLeod's voice and looked his direction. "I missed that. You said?"
"I said that what was done was done. Montgomery made a mistake and we are just as guilty. It's not the first time we've watched you, Methos. We're fighting a battle here, whether you want to call it that or not, and in any battle, intelligence is a key." Mac paused, his eyes focusing on Methos in an unspoken exchange that seemed to say, //Don't argue. You know I'm right.// "Now, what just happened is not as important as what we're going to do next. Are you going to fight him or are you going to let that bastard win?"
"I... I can't let him win," Methos answered, fear lurking in his voice. "He's found a way to make the punishment last forever... and he'll take all of you as well. Except you, Joe. I think your soul would escape."
Joe didn't exactly look reassured by that. "Thanks... I think."
"Was there any truth in what Kronos said?" Rory asked hesitantly.
"Some, but sure as hell not Rome! And he didn't let me walk away in Corinth!"
"I didn't say I believed everything he said," Rory replied with a small smile. "Methos, what he chose to tell me, lie or not, is useful in under-"
"You don't understand. He chose to tell you what he wanted me to remember. Even the lies are a way to lead me to memories I would prefer to forget. " And there it was in a nutshell, the whole reason why he hadn't wanted to do any of this. He'd buried most of those distant events as deeply as he could. If Rory said he needed to get them out in the open where he could deal with them, he was going choke him with his bare hands.
"Well, I think Kronos' plan may have backfired on him this time," MacLeod drawled. "He seems to have given you a reason to fight him . Too bad he didn't pick up on the clue earlier..."
Methos frowned at him in puzzlement. What the hell was he talking about?
Mac smiled fondly at him. "You won't fight him to save your own life, but to save a friend? Oh, yeah. He didn't count on you having any loyalties, did he?"
Methos gazed at the Highlander for a few heartbeats, a silent exchange between the two men that had nothing to do with Kronos or this strange battle. He half-smiled and said slowly, "There are a couple of problems though. I still don't know how to do it and I still have to win. I've never defeated Kronos."
"I think you may have," Amanda said slowly. She'd been quietly leaning against the bar at the end of the office, but she came forward now. "Methos, when you were in the Holy well, you may have faced Kronos. I believe you called out his name."
Methos considered that a moment, forehead wrinkling in concentration as he tried to recall it. He shook his head slowly. "I don't know. Even if I did, it would have been my projection, not the real thing."
"How do you know?" Mac jumped on the possibility. "He's been with you since Bordeaux. Methos, if you beat him then, you can do it again."
"Well, if I beat him then, why isn't he gone?" Methos spit back. In the uncertain silence that followed, the ancient Immortal suddenly felt suffocated, buried under by all the emotions and fears of the past couple of hours. Taking a deep breath, he stood and gazed out the window at the overcast sky. It had been raining, but only a few sprinkles fell at the moment.
"Look, I need to walk, get some air. Want to come, MacLeod?" He only offered because Rory wouldn't let him go alone and he'd rather have Mac with him than anyone else right now.
Mac nodded, glanced reassuringly at the others, then followed Methos out the sliding glass door. Methos set a pace away from the buildings and away from the vineyard that kept them moving at a rate that made conversation difficult.
Josette stared up at the entrance to the church, St. Mary's of the Wood, studying the grotesque images of the gargoyles that surrounded the door. She had not been to this church before, but it seemed to call her as she had passed it. It's silent voice overlaid and mingled with Joe Dawson's words that still rang in her ears. //You say a few prayers.//
For the first time, she was beginning to understand that she had been given a gift, one that she had refused as a child. She could see things others did not. It was enough to know that Adam was in grave danger and he needed all the help he could get. Yet she couldn't even make Monsieur Dawson listen to her. She'd had Henri call the number again, but it was no longer available and the barman wouldn't tell her where to find the gray-haired man. He only said he was out of town and she could talk to him when he returned to Paris. Just like that... her pleas meant nothing...she was dismissed like a stupid little child.
Pray? Yes, she could pray. She would pray that God would show her the way to help Adam and a means to get there. Determinedly, she pushed open the door and entered, genuflecting before the altar and kneeling on the front pew. //Those who seek help need not be shy in the house of the Lord.// She seemed to hear the voice speak in angelic voice that resembled her mother's.
"Heavenly Father, guide me. Use me as you will in this battle to come," she whispered softly in her Breton tongue. She closed her eyes, holding herself still and emptied her mind of all conscious thought so that she might hear what the angel might say.
For what seemed like minutes, there was nothing but the sound of blood coursing through the veins in her ears and the gentle patter of raindrops beginning to splatter against the roof. Then there was a clash of noise. Thunder? No, there was a metallic clang. Swords, then? And she saw them... two men battling, swords gleaming in a dull red light, gray mists surrounding them. One was small, dressed in black, dark-hair and face... no, the face was painted black. The other was taller, long hair dropping over his shoulders onto a dingy white tunic. He turned, allowing a glimpse of blue on his face. There was a momentary flash of a skull, superimposed over the scene, its empty eye sockets suddenly filling with familiar, yet cold, hazel eyes. The taller man was in darkness, then he seemed to see her and turned her way into the light... the face was half-blue with paint, but undeniably Adam. And in that moment, the other man's gleaming sword came rushing toward his head. She gasped, choking out, "Adam!"
And the vision was gone. Josette was trembling, fear and uncertainty giving way to despair. Was she not meant to help him? Would she destroy him?
"Are you all right, young lady?" The voice was kind, concerned.
She looked up to see a young, gentle-faced priest who had moved silently into the room. She nodded. "Yes, Father. I... I had a vision, but it was frightening and unclear."
He nodded, sat beside her. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
Josette wet her lips, nervously. The simplicity of her words gave them an unquestioned truth. "I saw good fighting evil and evil won. Or at least, I think he did. The vision ended before the good man was killed."
The priest thought about this for a few moments. "Sometimes, my child, a vision is the reflection of our fears. It does not foretell the future, although it can give weight to the possibilities. I believe you might have seen the peril that exists in the world and you fear a champion is not enough to overcome it. Trust in God. Will you pray with me?"
She nodded and brought her hands to touch her lips as she prayed silently that God would show her the way, that it was not too late and that she could somehow reach Adam.
By the time Methos had slowed his pace enough to talk, he and MacLeod had put at least two miles between them and the clinic. Methos stopped, turning to glance back. His face reflected his unhappiness. "If I thought it would do any good, I'd run away."
"Would you? Honestly?" Mac's voice carried his doubts clearly.
"In a minute, MacLeod. As far as I could. It's what I do when I don't like the odds. If anybody had ever told me something like this could happen, I would have told him he was crazy."
"Methos... something Kronos said..." Mac hesitated, noting the wary look on his companion's face. "I'm sorry, but it's been bothering me. Caspian... did he ever --?"
"That's none of your business, MacLeod," Methos replied sharply.
Just as Mac opened his mouth to reply, a crack of thunder startled them, warning that the interlude in the rain might be over and MacLeod paused, evidentially reconsidering what he was about to say.
Methos turned reluctantly back toward the clinic. He didn't want to think about Caspian or Kronos any more. He really thought this had all ended in Bordeaux.
"You're right," Mac agreed as he fell into step by him. "I shouldn't have asked. It's just that I didn't get a sense of it from his Quickening, so-"
"Mac, drop it!"
'I'm dropping it. You pretty much answered it anyway."
Methos stopped, turned to face MacLeod, eyes narrowed slightly. "Have I?"
"If it hadn't happened, you wouldn't be so defensive."
Curse the man. He just couldn't let it go! //Sexual encounters... oh, yes. Even with Kronos. Mostly as a consenting partner. But there had been other times... Damn Kronos for bringing this up!//
"So you think you've got it figured out?" he snapped at Mac.
"No, I don't have any of it figured out, Methos!' Mac answered equally as brisk. "All I know is that you were in this relationship that I can't begin to understand and you don't want to talk about it. Oh, sure, you gave me the basics of it, but nowhere near the reasons for it. Yeah, I knew you left Kronos and I understand you changed. Maybe I'm still looking for reasons for why you were in it to begin with, how you were ever that person. And yes, you have every right to tell me I don't need to know... that it's none of my business. But don't you get tired of carrying this alone?"
Methos felt his throat constrict as he squeezed his eyes shut. //Carrying it alone...? I've done it for so many centuries, I can't remember any other way. And there's nothing to be gained by telling him...maybe more to be lost.// He opened his eyes, the resolve set in them like a brick wall. "It's my burden, Mac. I'm just sorry you're involved at all." He pivoted away so he didn't have to see Mac's face fall, didn't have to see proof that he'd disappointed the Highlander once again and failed yet another test of their friendship.
"What I'd really like to know is why you didn't give in sooner? Why you let him torture you like that unless you were morally opposed to it?"
He froze for a moment. With his back to him, Methos couldn't see Mac's face, but he could well imagine the look of hope in them. The need to believe that Methos had been coerced into that savage life. His shoulders slumped as he lowered his head and shook it slowly, his only answer, then he straightened and resumed his course.
Mac fell silent, dropping a few feet behind Methos as his friend stalked back toward the clinic. The rain was starting to come down again, threatening to soak the pair of them before they could return to shelter.
Feeling exhausted, Methos stretched out on the bed to try to relax. He was more disturbed by the interview Kronos had with Rory than he cared to admit. He'd over-reacted a little, he admitted, then more honestly, //All right, a lot!// He really didn't blame the psychiatrist for seizing the opportunity or for allowing Methos' friends to have privilege to it. Truth told, he would have done the same thing. It was the details that Kronos chose to relate that disturbed him. Details from one of the most intimate moments he'd shared with the Horseman to the most horrific memory he'd had of that time. Two deliberate choices Kronos had made, each more disconcerting by seeing them through Kronos' eyes.
"Why didn't you give in sooner?" Mac had asked. How could he explain how what was a show of bravado to insure Kronos recognized and accorded him his worth transformed to a genuine need to resist the persuasion to the point where he didn't recognize what he was doing? He'd known men like Kronos before and he knew his resistance would mean the difference between slave and equal. He just couldn't say at which point it went beyond reasonable and became obsessive.
He'd always been a survivor, had been forced into it at an early age, carrying enough rage to make him indifferent to life for more than two dozen centuries. It was a fury that was reinforced numerous times before Kronos. He was never afraid to fight but just about everything he'd done had been calculated. He preferred the odds in his favor, opted to choose his own place and time to draw a sword. He understood pain and knew how to control and use it... until Kronos. His brother had taught him many new things about it, taking it to extremes when he deemed it necessary for Methos to appreciate the lesson. Eventually Methos had come to expect it, to love Kronos for what he did. Yes, he understood the Helsinki Syndrome well. But to explain it to Mac? No, he believed this was one thing the Highlander would never understand.
What really disturbed him now had nothing to do with fighting or torture, but rather Kronos' casual dismissal of their relationship.
//"Love him? ...Yes, I suppose so. In the way one loves family. Not... in any mushy way, you understand... Not my thing. There were always women around for that."//
And the casual glimpse into that moment at the river, the recollection that Kronos didn't complete. Probably a good thing, he thought bitterly.
//Bothers you, does it? You were always easy to goad about some things, Methos.// Kronos' voice was as clear as if he was standing next to him. Why not? The essence of the man was inside him, waiting for him to let down his guard. Why shouldn't he chat when he wanted to?
//We're alike in so many ways, brother.// The casually pleased voice continued. //Except I easily learned what buttons to push to make you jump. What things really got under your skin. I could read you like a book.//
"A comic book," Methos growled under his breath.
A sharp laugh, cut short. //I want you back, Methos. I will have you.//
Annoyed, Methos sat up, crossed his legs into the lotus position and selected a mantra. He needed to focus, to force Kronos out of his mind. He intoned a favorite one, concentrating only on its sound and repeated it over and over. Kronos' voice became a whisper, disappearing in the wash of the self-created white noise.
Methos closed his eyes, breathing deeply and calmly, and felt his body relaxing into the meditation. He welcomed the light, disconnected feeling that came with the serene state. He was one with the universe, in harmony with his surroundings, alone in his mind...
Bronze Age - River Valley
Kronos gazed over his shoulder, studying the various marks that represented their next target's encampment. A group of nomads. They had spotted them the morning before. Over one hundred of them, they looked well-settled into their encampment and had few defenses.
"The dunes will provide us the best path," Methos advised as he pointed to the position on the map he'd drawn. "If we come in this way, they won't see us until we're on top of them. They have no horses to speak of, maybe a couple of donkeys."
"The canyon would be an easier ride," Kronos commented, leaning in and running his finger up the little narrow mark representing the canyon and ending it at the center of the camp. Methos felt the damp, warm body lightly pressing against him.
Methos shook his head a little, the dark brown mop gliding across his shoulders invitingly. "No, they would see us sooner, giving them time to arm. We go over the dunes."
"And if I disagree?" Kronos asked dangerously.
A wicked smile parted Methos' lips. "Shall we fight for it?"
Kronos laughed, smoothing his hand under Methos' hair before he leaned in to bite his shoulder fiercely, drawing blood. Methos hissed, closing his eyes in satisfaction. He swung his other arm around, catching Kronos' head and pulling him down as he rolled to face him. Their eyes met for only a moment before their mouths touched and Methos bit hungrily at Kronos' lower lip, drawing his own share of blood, before the smaller man retaliated with a fierce grip on his nipple. As he twisted and rolled it through his fingers, he shoved his tongue into the hot cave of Methos' mouth, questing for its familiar mate. Methos squirmed into him, naked hip rubbing against Kronos' groin, seeking the erection already starting there.
Kronos smelled fresh from the river with a slight scent of the sand on him. No paint hid their faces now, just their undisguised passion. Kronos broke the kiss, sliding his hands down Methos' hip, pulling him closer in. One hand shifted down to touch him, rubbing a callused finger over the growing rod of flesh. The fingers of his other hand enclosed Methos' nipple, rubbing it fiercely between them. Kronos replaced the fingers almost immediately with his mouth, working his teeth and tongue to pull and nip at the already rigid nub.
Methos reacted, arching his back up as a groan of need escaped, then he rocked back and the two of them were all over each other, biting, pinching and licking like two wild dogs. Rock scraped hip, shoulder, buttocks and knees as they rolled, rocked and slapped each other back while trying to gain the upper hand. Kronos growled as Methos laughingly pinned him under his knee and reached to fondle the eager body.
With super will power, Kronos brought his arms between them and exploded them into Methos' broad chest with a hard shove, knocking him back. In a moment, he was on Methos with all his weight pinning him down. Methos' head smacked against the sandstone with a crack and he dropped flat, dazed from the impact.
Above him, the sky was a honey color as the sun began to drop. Lazy strings of clouds flowed like cream through it, turning his mind to other thoughts, like what Kronos was doing as he drifted. Methos' body ached with wanting as Kronos crawled between his knees, lifting his legs over his shoulders. Kronos' mouth fell on the captive man's burning flesh, hot moisture adding to the heat.
//Need to move...// Methos thought dimly as Kronos lifted his hips, his forefinger searching for the path. Methos tried to move but his head ached fiercely and his arms lacked the strength to do little more than lift him slightly. He gasped as the finger found its mark and pushed into him, stretching at the tight opening. He closed his eyes admitting he'd lost this round and they'd attack up the canyon as Kronos wished.
Kronos shifted over him, eyes glistening in anticipation as he changed positions to enter. He leaned forward, offering himself to his captive, placing his body barely in range. Methos strained to reach him, working his hand to pump the hot flesh at Kronos' groin until it was coated with milky fluid like the cream across the dusky-orange heavens. Then he asked for the first and only time, because he needed to know, "Do you love me?"
Grinning with pleasure, Kronos panted, "Better than any whore I've ever known." He positioned his swollen shaft at the entrance to Methos' anus, then paused at the expression on Methos' face. "Yes, dear brother, I love you," he said without emotion, then rammed himself into the barely prepared channel. Methos bucked against him and they groaned together in combined pleasure and pain.
A sudden indication of anther Immortal overlaid the moment. Caspian? Silas...?
"Methos? Can we talk for a few minutes?"
The voice was out of place, a different person and a different time. Methos jerked as he snapped out of the past and opened his eyes to see Montgomery standing a few feet from him. It took a few moments to register the present and to connect where he was. It had been so vivid...
Montgomery gazed at him uneasily, a wary look on his face. "Are you all right?"
Nodding, Methos raised a hand to indicate wait, then gingerly unfolded his legs. They'd grown stiff from the position. "What do you want?" he finally asked somewhat gruffly. His throat felt dry.
The doctor hesitated. "I- uh- I wanted to talk. You know, about what happened. I know I made a mistake and I'm sorry, Methos."
Wearily, Methos cast an impatient glance at him. "Just leave me alone. There's nothing to talk about."
"But there is," Montgomery objected, but stopped as Methos shifted his posture warningly. "Maybe later," he concluded and turned away.
Methos didn't reply, began stretching out his muscles, indifferent to Montgomery's departure. He had other thoughts on his mind as the remembered event completed less climatically in his memories. They'd gone over the dunes after all. It had been the day before they'd raided Cassandra's village.
"You said you loved me," he whispered softly, surprised at the hurt he felt.
//I lied,// Kronos' voice responded glibly in his mind.
//Of course you lied,// Methos thought. //You never loved anyone except yourself.// He'd been an idiot to ever believe differently.
Montgomery caught up with the others at dinner. He was still a bit shaken from his brief meeting with Methos. He'd hoped to smooth things over a bit, but he hadn't been prepared for Methos' unwillingness to talk Not that the doctor could blame him. No matter what his reasons, he had betrayed a patient's trust. Beyond that, the image of Methos when he'd first walked into the room stuck in his mind. He'd been meditating, but when Methos had looked at him, Miles had felt he was looking at a stranger. The look in his eyes had been deadly, a gaze colder than he'd ever seen on his friend's face. It had been unnerving.
"I'm more than a little concerned," Montgomery stated quietly, keeping his voice down even though the table was in a private section of the dining room. He'd waited until after dinner, but he couldn't put it off any longer. "It's becoming more difficult for Methos to maintain against Kronos. He's resisting, but he's wearing down. On the positive side, I think he's ready to fight Kronos, mentally geared to take him on."
"And on the negative side?" MacLeod asked
The psychiatrist shook his head slowly, "We still haven't figured out a workable method to accomplish this type of battle."
"For crying out loud," Joe muttered. "Methos keeps talking to him. Can't he just fight him in his mind?"
"It's not that simple, Joe," the doctor replied. "Somehow he needs to confront Kronos, to actually do battle. Unfortunately, that's not something he can make happen in his own mind."
"Well, you're the expert. Don't you have some wonder drug that can put him into a trance or something where you can guide him into it?"
Joe's voice carried Mac's own frustrations. Where MacLeod could understand the problem that Montgomery was up against, he felt like there had to be some way for the psychiatrist to accomplish this.
"Medicine and therapy can do a lot, but it can't work miracles and that's what we need here. Let me clarify a bit...I can help him with enough time, but I don't think I have it. Methos doesn't have it."
"I don't think I like where this is going," Mac said, frowning at the doctor. "Are you saying you don't have any ideas?"
"Well, there's nothing that I know except maybe the well again. It's a risk, but--"
"Of course you have another option. Don't you, Miles?" Amanda interrupted.
"What--?" The blonde man looked confused.
"The VR machine," she supplied quickly, then explained for Mac and Joe. "It's a virtual reality machine a friend of Miles developed. You know, like the ones in the arcades. Only this one could allow Methos to create the reality to face Kronos."
"No!" Montgomery objected. "It hasn't even been tested! Hell, I don't even know if it works." He flailed his hands in the air as if waving off an airplane.
"Can it do what she said?" Mac asked, voice deep with his concern.
"I don't know. I just told you, I've never used it. It could be dangerous."
"And it could be the solution," Amanda persisted. "At least offer the possibility to Methos."
Montgomery looked unhappy and reluctant. "I don't think it will work... not the way we need it to. I mean, it's little more than a toy."
"Well, I think Amanda's right," Mac said after a few moments of thought. "Let Methos make the decision. But tell him all your concerns, Montgomery. And find out exactly how the bloody thing works."
Joe frowned, but nodded his head in agreement as he shot an understanding look at Miles. "I know it sounds rash and irresponsible, but we gotta do something before it's too late and Methos is Immortal. Unless you have another idea, I gotta go along with 'em."
Outnumbered, Miles sighed audibly. "This is insane. It could cause emotional damage. He could end up a wreck if this goes wrong."
"If you haven't tried it, how do you know?" Mac argued.
"Look, you're asking him to face something he couldn't face in reality before. Now it's going to be in his mind and he may not be able to disengage. Imagine facing your worst nightmare and not being able to wake up."
"Yeah, well, imagine him not being able to confront this particular nightmare and losing without a fight. Give him the option." Mac stated firmly, eyes urging Montgomery to accept this decision.
He nodded unhappily. "Fine. Okay. I'll tell him about it... But I'm also going to tell him I don't recommend it." Resolutely, he turned and left them. Mac almost got a moment of pleasure in seeing him so disconcerted. Except that it came at the expense of his friend...
Annoyed, Rory marched down the hall, crossed the entry area and back up the opposite hall to the small room where he'd stored the pieces of the virtual reality unit that Sascha had shipped. He'd opened it when it first came, looked at, decided it looked pretty frightening, then completely forgotten about it until Amanda had stumbled across it.
Nearly two hours later, Rory sat on the edge of his desk as he finished up his recommendation to Methos. The latter partially reclined on the sofa, idly digging at his palm with a letter opener, just applying enough pressure to cause discomfort. Oddly, this kind of mild pain seemed to keep him focused, enabling him to keep Kronos out of his mind. He'd listened quietly to all Rory had to say, not allowing himself to get too hopeful. It was clear the younger man was worried about what damage the machine might do and the physical discomfort of the process itself.
"You say your friend tested it?" Methos asked. "And he said it was okay?"
"Yes, but it wasn't a controlled test. Not like I would do or an accredited researcher would do. Sascha is a brilliant man but he's not exactly tuned in to reality."
Methos half-chuckled. "And we are?"
Rory shrugged that one off. "I looked at it before I brought you here and it looks like a fairly complex piece of machinery. The neural interface is the worst and it involves inserting several needle-thin probes into your brain at the key positions for all the senses to register on it. Two of them are at the brain stem and very close to the spinal cord. They have to be positioned exactly."
"Can you do it?"
"I think so, but I wouldn't try it on a mortal. At least if I miss and paralyze you, it would only be temporary... I really don't like it, Methos."
"What about the control interface?"
"It's not as sophisticated ... or dangerous. It's more like a helmet with electrodes at several contact points. It just receives whatever the neural interface is reading and transmits it to the wearer."
Methos looked thoughtful. "So whatever I encounter - or create - is sent to the control. Are you in it with me?"
Rory looked uncertain. "I'm not sure. I think there's an option to actually be a part of the event, but I'm not certain what form it takes."
"Is there a way to test it? To run through it without making the actual commitment to the scenario? I'd like to get a feel for it before I face Kronos."
"I don't have a clue," Rory replied bluntly. "I can't even guess what will happen if you do this. There's a good possibility you won't be the one controlling the scenario."
Methos understood immediately. "You think it will be Kronos?"
"Yeah. Just because of the situation. I'm going to have to sedate you in order to insert the probes. That will give Kronos an edge."
"Then don't use drugs," Methos responded without further thought.
Rory leaned forward, eyes defiant. "I have to. I am not even going to attempt it without giving you something. And if you don't like it, we can drop the whole idea right now. You know I'm against it-"
"Rory, I can handle it. I need to be as -"
"No! Listen to me. I won't do it. This is scary enough shit as it is and I don't know if I can control the situation. But I'm not going to take a chance on inserting those probes even slightly off and I'm not sticking needles in your brain without something to keep you calm and pain free."
"Hold on! I'm Immortal. You won't do any permanent damage." Methos wasn't following Rory's reaction to this.
"What if I miss one of the targets and hit another area because you twitched? I don't know how that will affect you physically or mentally when you're in the simulation. You might not be functioning correctly. You might be hindered by it."
Methos backed off immediately at the concern he saw in Rory's face. "Okay, then I'll deal with the situation if it happens. If Kronos controls the environment, I'll just have to use it, won't I?"
"Jeez, I hate this," Rory muttered unhappily. "It's against everything I think is reasonable. I don't think a piece of untried, invasive technology is the best way to address this type of problem. It's way too--"
"Can I see the equipment?" Methos interrupted.
Rory nodded and caught his arm, pulling him toward the door. "It's not set up yet, but you can see how it fits together. Maybe you'll understand why I don't want to use it."
Methodically, Methos examined each piece of the virtual reality machine as Rory leaned back against the wall, waiting silently. Methos would almost call it a sulk if he didn't know how much concern was in that disapproving expression.
Five thousand years and a few computer courses had not gifted him with enough knowledge to fully understand how the machine worked, but it looked like it was constructed well enough. The neural interface was an odd-looking contraption several generations of design away from the type depicted on science-fiction shows. It was a combination of computer chips on a motherboard and several sensors in a wire frame apparatus that could be adjusted to snugly fit a head. Attached to the frame, wires leading back from them, were six slim, three-inch needles, the probes Rory had concerns about. He carefully touched the tips, felt a slight prick of the thin steel.
Three inches of surgical steel in his brain... Methos swallowed down his nervousness. The decision was his. He could still change his mind and call it off.
In spite of being Immortal and knowing that no matter what happened, he would recover, it still wasn't easy to know something could hurt you. And he knew Rory was more concerned about the mental damage it could do. His own worries were a little different. Kronos would use any advantage he could and if he got the upper hand with this... Gods, he was committing his life-- his eternal life, if there was such a thing - to untried technology.
"How soon... can we do it?" His voice broke slightly, betraying his nervousness.
Rory frowned, chewing at his lip. "Methos, I still think this is too risky. There has to be another way."
"There isn't," he answered softly, the resignation evident in his voice. "I've already tried the other ways. It's less risky than the Holy well and I can't gain the upper hand without some help."
"And you trust me to do this?"
Methos flashed a quick grin. "Yeah, I trust you. Since you'll probably talk to them anyway, you might as well have MacLeod and Joe there. At least I'll feel like I have a cheering squad behind me. Tomorrow?"
"I'll need to get this put together," Rory replied as he looked at the various pieces. "Maybe late afternoon?"
The smile was completely gone now as Methos agreed. "Good. I want to end this once and for all."
Methos didn't miss the sharp glance Rory shot his way or the fear touching the younger man's face.
"Once and for all" described it aptly. One more time for all that he was...
Late afternoon had slipped to late night before Montgomery finally had the machine together and felt reasonably confident it was functioning properly, although he quickly pointed out that without actually putting somebody into it, he couldn't be certain.
"Not exactly building confidence here," Methos mumbled as he settled on the reclining chair and let the psychiatrist secure him with safety straps across the chest. Then he began adjusting the framework to his head. Methos was already mildly numbed from the sedative Miles had given him.
MacLeod hovered nearby, looking worried and helpless. It was a state he didn't care for. He was a man of action, but there was nothing for him to do except offer encouragement to Methos. If Montgomery was right, his friend's life, his identity was riding on this. Methos turned his gaze on him, the familiar hazel eyes asking the question Mac didn't want to hear.
"MacLeod, if this doesn't go well and-"
"Don't say it!" Mac interrupted. "You just fight to win, Methos."
Methos took a deep breath, held it a moment, then added softly. "You know what to do anyway."
MacLeod's head barely bobbed in acknowledgement, then he stepped back from him as Montgomery prepared to insert the probes. He'd assured all of them that Methos wouldn't feel it and apparently that was the case. At least Methos wasn't indicating the insertions were causing any pain.
"Okay, how do you feel? Any pain or discomfort?" Montgomery asked.
"A little pressure but it doesn't hurt," Methos replied lazily. Mac shifted around to get a better look, to assure himself that this was going to be all right and it would work.
Joe Dawson had been standing quietly near the door, but he moved in a little closer now. He reached to touch Methos' shoulder. "I expect to see you come out of this. You got it?"
A brief smile crossed the lean face. "I got it."
Moving to the controls for the VR unit, Montgomery asked, "You ready?"
"Let's do it," Methos answered.
Rory switched the control to on and a low hum crept into the room. Methos blinked, eyes went into a dazed stare and he was no longer conscious of what happened in the room. But just for a moment, as he was going under, Mac had the feeling the conscious person wasn't Methos.
Tossing restlessly, Josette rolled against her pillows as jumbled images filled her mind. She wasn't exactly awake, but neither could it be called sleep. Her consciousness moved in its own design, forming visions that weren't dreams and she was aware of the difference.
She could see Adam almost as if he were in the next room. She could see the uneasiness in his stance, the uncertainty. He was waiting for something. The sun and the moon seemed to trade places in a pattern of smoke behind him. On one side, an early Roman chariot passed him, then a horse-drawn buggy on the other side. The empty headdress of an empress, perhaps Egyptian, was followed by a faceless woman in a bonnet from the 19th century. Image after image, switching from ancient to medieval to modern seemed to spin around Adam. Even though he looked her way, he didn't see her. He brought his head up and a skeletal mask was covering it. An image of Death. Behind him, an oversized sword hung suspended in readiness.
With concentration, Josette broke her mind free of the peculiar illusion and woke fully with the sense of danger. Adam was in danger now. She knew it as surely as she knew that Madame would not be pleased at what she must do. Swinging out of bed, she dressed quickly in the dark, pulling on jeans, a sweater and rubber-soled shoes. Then she made her way out of room, slipping quietly down the stairs, careful to avoid the squeaky one.
A soft thud froze her in place and her heart nearly stopped as well, until she felt the brush of a warm body against her leg followed by a not so soft meow. Madame's cat, wanting food because someone was up and therefore it must be time. Josette shushed the animal softly, resuming her careful path to exit the house.
A few careful minutes later, she was out of the door, pulling it closed gently while pushing at the cat with her foot to keep it in. Moving quickly, she slipped into the shroud of night and moved toward the church like a wraith.
Momentary dizziness forced Methos to squeeze his eyes shut as the VR unit transported his consciousness into a realm either of his making or of Kronos' desires. Methos had a clear location in mind when he'd started this journey, but the drugs had made him hazy. As soon as he opened his eyes, he knew he wasn't on a tropical island.
//More like Dante's inferno,// he conceded as soon as the reddish haze and impression of smoke became clear. Only that didn't describe it either. It was like an Escher construction, at angles and incomplete, stairways to nowhere and labyrinth-looking structures. So this was to be Kronos' playground. Worse than Methos had expected in that he had anticipated a semblance of reality, maybe even the desert-like landscape of the Bronze Age rather than this fantasy image pulled from Kronos' mind.
"Welcome to VR," he mumbled softly and stepped forward, gauging the movement against reality.
The world seemed solid, his footsteps felt real and he could smell the air around him laced with the husky scent of wood smoke. His hand moved to check for his sword and with the thought, he felt its solid shape against his body.
"Ah, there you are. I wondered if you would just appear. Only got here slightly ahead of you myself," the familiar chipper voice called out, seeming to float from the heavens... if there were any.
Methos looked up, turning until he spotted his old companion standing atop one of the incomplete walls of his fantasy villa. At the same time, he realized Kronos was well within his range of detection and he hadn't known it. He still wasn't getting any indication of an Immortal presence.
Kronos hunkered down, resting his hands on his knees as a feral grin spread across his face. Like the setting, Kronos had chosen not to look like the Bronze Age nightmare he once was, but instead wore his more current garb of black pants, shirt and leather jacket.
"Seems we have no early warning system here," he continued, noting the same absence Methos had. "No matter. I'm surprised they goaded you into this plan, but I quite like it."
"I wasn't goaded, Kronos," Methos said quietly.
Kronos nodded his head, "No. Of course not. Tell me. How do you like my construct?"
"It seems a bit... incomplete. Like you." Methos began moving to a better vantage to see if there was a route to the roof.
"Incomplete..." Kronos mused, thinking. "Yes, you may be right. I need you, then MacLeod to get Caspian. Then, I'll be complete and we'll all be as one, brother."
Something about the conversation was odd, Methos thought. The cadence of the words, the sound of them. It hit him like a stroke of lightning. They were speaking the language of the Great Desert, the mish mash tongue that most nomads and villagers had in common and he'd slipped back into it without even noticing. //Why? Why had Kronos chosen to use the old language yet maintain a modern appearance?//
Abruptly Kronos straightened, noting Methos' shifting position. He laughed, "I think I have yet another advantage here."
Pausing, Methos peered up at Kronos with curiosity making a question of his expression. Kronos jumped, a quick hop off the wall as if he was no more than three or four feet above the ground rather than thirty. Even as Methos' heart lurched at the unexpected move, Kronos landed on the ground as lightly as if he'd just stepped off a curb.
"Welcome to my world, Methos. Every law of physics you've ever learned doesn't really operate here. I've been functioning this way for a while." His eyes danced with amusement as Methos withdrew his sword and cast his coat off. "Oh, no. It's not that simple, brother. What's the cost for betrayal?"
Instantly, Kronos vanished. Sword at the ready and knees slightly bent, Methos spun, looking behind him and around him. Nervously, his tongue slid over his lower lip and he tried to think this through. "This is going to be fun," he mumbled.
"Come and get me, brother," Kronos called and Methos looked up to see him at the top of a wall. "If you can..."
//Okay, Kronos can obviously move with just a thought," Methos reasoned, starting to run toward the wall. //So how does he do it? More importantly, can I do it?//
"The trick to this is... how do they refer to it now? Oh, yes, the trick is being able to think outside the box. You used to be good at it, Methos. Are you still?" Kronos needled.
"Think outside the box..." Methos repeated softly, his mind working furiously, as he stood at the base of the wall and considered the possible ways to get up it. He was in a simulation and he was not bound by any conventional rules. He should be able to do anything. So, how?
Behind him, there was a rumble and geyser of steam erupted from the ground, spraying hot droplets down on anything, or anyone, in the way. Methos jumped, reacting to the hot liquid as it burned his neck and head, even the tops of his shoulders. For a simulation, it felt damn real! He spun to access the danger of the steaming fissure. It didn't look reassuring.
//Okay. I need to use my mind. Just picture where I want to be.// He formed the image of the wall in his mind, placed Kronos in the position he actually was and pictured himself running and leaping up to it. There was a sense of vertigo, but he didn't move. He was still on the ground with the geyser threatening behind him. //Outside the box... the box would be the physical concept. Outside it would be... instant reaction?//
He tried again, closing his eyes for a moment as he envisioned the top of the wall, Kronos and himself a few feet from him. A spray of hot droplets warned him the geyser was warming up, so to speak. Vertigo again, a sharp laugh and he opened his eyes to see Kronos grinning at him on the other side of an extended sword.
"Very good, brother. Oh, but you never liked heights, did you?" With the words, the wall was suddenly over a hundred feet off the ground and only wide enough for them to stand on it.
Kronos attacked then, his sword coming in quickly. Methos barely blocked it and managed to deflect the blade to one side. Kronos danced back, prepared for another round. Methos tried not to look down and repeated to himself that none of this was real. Kronos' sword separated air as it cut by his face forcing Methos to jump back. Except it all felt real. He hated falling from heights and Kronos knew it. He would use any weakness Methos had against him.
He dodged again to avoid Kronos' blade, trying to bring his own in close enough to his opponent's body. Kronos shoved against him, sword out of position to do anything except butt Methos. Off balance, Methos teetered awkwardly. Arms wind-milling wildly as he tried to regain his balance, he toppled over the edge, falling toward the bottom.
//Think safe on the ground,// Methos instructed himself, reaching for a calm that wouldn't come. He squeezed his eyes shut to block out the ground rushing toward him, fought not to picture being splattered on the ground and reached to pull an image of himself standing safely...
"What language is he using?" Miles asked, forehead wrinkling in puzzlement as he checked the readings from the VR machine, particularly the erratic lines showing on the monitor from the probes. Methos was mumbling in a jumble of words that didn't sound like any of the standard languages. "Is that Gaelic or Norse or what?"
"Not Gaelic," Mac replied quickly, looking a bit worried. "I don't recognize it."
Joe leaned in on his cane, "It could be Sumarian or Akkadian. Or any of the ancient tongues for that matter. The question is why is he using it?"
"It could be the language he and Kronos used at the time of the Horsemen. Maybe it means the setting is the desert from that period. I can't see Methos choosing that place, so it's probably Kronos' choice," Mac guessed. "Are you going to monitor this?" He lifted the second VR headgear and examined the sensors on it.
Glancing over at MacLeod, Miles nodded, "Yes. As soon as I'm sure this is working okay."
Suddenly, Methos jerked, gasped in surprise and lurched to one side in the chair. The restraints pulled across his chest but held as he arched up against them. Alarmed, Mac started to grab Methos, but Montgomery shouted at him to wait. Methos settled but he was breathing hard.
MacLeod fidgeted. He needed to do something. This was Methos -- he was in a bizarre fight for his identity and Mac just couldn't stand by and watch. He rotated the headgear in his hands and made a decision. "Can this put me in the simulation? As a participant?"
"Theoretically," Miles answered. "I was going to go in with it set to observe mode, just to monitor the situation. I assume that means I won't be part of the simulation. This is Methos' battle."
"Adjust it so I can use it. I want to be an active participant. Methos may need help." Mac went to the second chair and settled in it, turning the headgear to fit it on his head.
Attention on MacLeod now, Montgomery hastened to his side and reached to snatch the device from his hand. "No, MacLeod. I can't guarantee this will work. Besides I should be -"
"What? What exactly are you going to do?" Mac interrupted. "Observe? Root for him on the side? If this thing can put me into the simulation with Methos, I might be able to help him."
Miles looked reluctant and uncertain. "MacLeod, I don't know how this works. But you can't interfere with Methos' fight there any more than you can here."
"Right," Mac agreed. "And I don't trust Kronos to fight fairly. I won't interfere if it's just him and Methos, but if Kronos isn't-"
"Silas?!" Methos' voice cut in with a shout.
Mac's head whipped around to look at Methos. The expression on the lean face seemed nervous, not exactly frightened, but wary. "Like that!" Mac growled pointedly. "Kronos has just added another player."
"Damn!" Miles muttered, then nodded to MacLeod. "Okay, let's see if we can get this to work. From what I understand of this, you'll need to focus on whatever you want to do in the simulation. Have you every played any of the interactive VR games?"
Mac shook his head. That was one thing he hadn't got around to doing. Quickly, Montgomery attached the sensors to his head. "Okay, it's going to seem a little weird, but you should feel completely corporeal in it even though you won't be. You'll feel and react like you have weight and mass because it's what your mind believes. It might feel like a very intense dream. You ready?"
At MacLeod's nod, Miles patched him into the simulation.
Mac's stomach rolled with the sensation of being transported, nausea threatening to make him ill. Then he got his first clear look at the surroundings and the disorientation was complete. He put out a hand to steady himself and leaned against a wall that wasn't quite straight. In spite of the odd angles and the surreal feel of the place, it felt solid. The ground under his feet was firm and the wall held him up.
A little more secure, he looked for Methos. Buildings that looked incomplete, odd-shaped structures, a sky that looked like it was reflecting a huge fire and ground that spit steam from various fissures filled his vision. He turned, scanning the various structures for any sign of life. //No one. No, wait!// A structure with turning walls like a labyrinth was about a hundred feet away and a figure darted across the top of the wall, then dropped down into it. Mac only saw him briefly, but it could have been Methos.
MacLeod ran for the structure, hunted for a way in for a few moments, then climbed the wall, fingers and feet seeking any holds they could find in the nearly smooth wall. Pulling himself onto the top, the Scot could see part of the shape and could tell it was larger than he would have imagined. He set a pace along the top of the wall, looking for any movement in the maze to give him a clue where Methos might be.
Mac jumped from one wall to another, working his way to the place where he'd thought he'd seen someone. In places the walls narrowed where it was easy to jump, but there were other places where he had to follow along the wall for a while before he could find a place to bridge it.
Abruptly, Methos was on the wall. Mac blinked. He hadn't seen him climb up or come from anywhere else. The old Immortal was just there. Then Methos wasn't alone as Silas scrambled onto the wall a few feet from him. At least, Mac had seen him climbing up. As Methos crouched, sword at ready and backed away from Silas, MacLeod hurried to join him. The Scot wondered if he was even visible in this place. Neither Immortal had noticed him... Then he realized that he hadn't had an indicator of either of them.
He was about thirty wide feet away and Methos was still retreating warily from the big man when Kronos joined the fray on the wall...behind Methos. Like the oldest Immortal, he suddenly seemed to arrive out of nowhere. //Shit! How are they doing that?!// Mac thought, then addressed the more pressing issue. "Methos! Behind you!"
Startled, Methos glanced quickly his direction, ducked and in the next moment, stood beside MacLeod.
"What are you doing here?!" he asked quickly, grabbing Mac's arm and yanking him off the wall into the maze.
Incredibly, they landed on their feet with no break in the movement... like they'd floated down. The surface of the maze was uneven stone, hard to run on and with enough sharp pointed rocks to make a stumble painful.
"Follow me," Methos instructed, then ran toward the blank wall at the end.
Mac followed, assuming there must be a turn that wasn't easily visible. But he was unprepared for Methos to hit the wall with his arm, swinging a section open. As he motioned Mac through, he cast a quick look up along the other areas of the walls, then slipped in behind Mac, yanking the stone door shut.
The passageway was narrow and it was pitch black once the slab rocked into place. "Methos?" Mac queried in a low voice.
"Shhhh," Methos hissed. A soft circle of light illuminated their small sector as Methos switched on an electric torch. He was leaning against the wall, ear pressed to it as he listened for sounds.
Silently, Mac studied the area, noting it seemed to be nothing more than a three-foot wide tunnel inside the wall. It ran on both sides as far as he could see.
As Methos straightened, shoulders relaxing a little, Mac whispered, "Lucky you knew about that door in the wall."
"I didn't. I created it. Now, I repeat, what are you doing here? I thought Miles was going to observe, not put you into the game."
"I thought you might need some help. Kronos seems to have brought in reinforcements," Mac offered sheepishly. Methos' eyes grew wider and he seemed to be concentrating on something as Mac talked. The Highlander hadn't expected Methos to be annoyed. "What can I -- "
He cut the sentence off as Methos brought his hand down in a chopping motion to tell him to be quiet. Above him, coming their way, he could hear heavy footsteps. Silas... Unmoving, they waited until the sound passed over them and faded far enough away, then Methos started moving the direction from which Silas had come.
As Mac fell in behind him, he nervously asked, "Methos, is there another way out up ahead?" He didn't fancy being caught inside the walls.
"There will be. Right now, I want to get to a place where we can talk." He stopped and grabbed Mac's arm in a solid grip. "I hope this works."
As Methos shut his eyes in concentration, MacLeod frowned, ready to ask what he was talking about when a sensation of movement struck and in the next breath they were in Methos' flat. Or rather Adam Pierson's flat, the one where Mac had first met him.
"What --?!" Mac looked around in surprise. It was exactly as it had been when he'd walked into it several years earlier. There was even a pack of beer sitting on the floor by the bed.
Methos went for the beer, tossed one to MacLeod. "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Have a beer," he said with a quick smile.
For that moment, he looked almost exactly as he had back then and Mac's heart softened at the memory. He looked down at the beer in his hand. It felt solid and cool. He popped the top and took a sip.
"Not bad for a simulation, huh?" Methos asked and swallowed a third of the can in one thirsty gulp. "At least it feels cool."
"How did you do this?" Mac asked, still trying to come to mental grips with this strange world.
Methos dropped onto the edge of the bed. "Okay, here's how it works. If you can concentrate well enough on a place, a thing or where you are, then you can make it happen. This is pulled from my memory. It's a safe place and Kronos would never think to look here. He didn't know this flat."
"So we can move from place to place by thinking about it?"
"Basically, yeah. But you have to be able to hold the image in your mind. I've figured out how it works and I can do this kind of thing and the door into the maze wall. Kronos constructed the wall, but he didn't think of the details," Methos grinned smugly. "He didn't think to make it solid, so all I had to do was think it hollow inside."
"And the environment back there?"
"Kronos designed that nightmare. I can't control it or change it, but I can manipulate it. If you're going to be in this, Mac, you'll need to be able to do it. Right now, Silas can't accept that it will work so he can't move about like Kronos and I are doing." Methos looked up at MacLeod, almost as if he were measuring him, his ability. "Do you think you can do it, Mac?"
Duncan hesitated, not too certain himself. "I don't know. I'll have to try."
"The thing is that I don't know what would happen if Kronos or Silas killed you in this simulation. What it would do to your mind."
Nodding in understanding, Mac said, "Then let's find out. What do I do?"
"Let's start with something easy... How about handing me another beer, without moving."
Mac resisted the urge to make a snide remark to the request and tried to teleport the requested item to Methos. The old Immortal sat cross-legged on the bed, waiting patiently for him to accomplish this easy task. He imagined lifting the can, sailing it through the air and stopping it in front of Methos. Nothing... except a headache. Methos stared pointedly at the beer, then at Mac.
"Don't picture moving it, Mac. Just see it in my hand."
Determined, Mac tried again. He focused on Methos' open hand, placed the mental image of a beer can in it. And repeated the thought over and over. All the while, Methos watched patiently, not saying anything.
Frustrated, Mac shook his head. "It's not working. Look, if Silas can't do it either, I can at least keep him out of your hair."
Methos looked uneasy. "But I can't be guarding your back when Kronos can move as quickly as I can with a thought. And Silas may eventually figure it out, then you'd be at a disadvantage. Try it again. Close your eyes and picture the beer can in my hand."
Mac complied, lowering his eyelids in concentration. Suddenly, there was a beer in Methos' hand, cold beads of condensation sliding down the side. Mac opened his eyes to see if it had actually happened. A beer was in his friend's hand, not one from the pack on the floor, but one of the brands that Mac favored.
A wide grin spread across Methos' face. "Well, it's a start. And it's cold! Let's try something a little harder. See if you can move across the room."
"Across the room?" Mac looked uneasy. Conjuring beer was one thing, but teleporting himself?
"Yep. Same technique. Walking is not allowed."
This time is took Mac a few tries to manage it. And that was only the start. Methos made him move back and forth a few more times before he was comfortable that Mac could do it easily. Then, so casually, he asked, "Do you have a sword?"
Automatically, Mac's hand went to reach for the katana before he realized it wasn't there. He looked up at Methos who held his own sword in his hands... his old sword at that. The one that was destroyed in his fight on Holy ground.
"Picture it, MacLeod," Methos said, the patient teacher with the not-quite-comprehending student. "It was the first thing I did here. Unconsciously, I pictured my sword where it normally was and it was there. It took me a little longer to figure the rest out."
Mac nodded and drew the image of his own weapon in his mind, then felt the solid weight of it in his hand. "Now what?"
"Now, we go back to Hell. Think you can manage the transport back?" Methos' voice was light, as if they were just taking a stroll in the park.
Mac shrugged, tried to picture Kronos' playground in his mind. He couldn't quite make it clear. He felt Methos' hand catch his arm, then the sensation of movement again and they were back in the bizarre landscape. He knew instantly that Methos had brought them back because he hadn't pictured the tower where they stood at all.
Methos squeezed his shoulder. "Okay, try to keep Silas busy, but watch your back. If you fall, think yourself safe on the ground." With that, he jumped over the edge, landing easily on his feet twenty yards below. He ran toward an odd-looking building that resembled a tent.
Mac shook his head and followed, taking the spiral staircase down, not willing, at this point, to trust his own ability to land as effortlessly as Methos had. By the time he was down, Methos had reached the tent and stepped inside.
Miles away, in Paris, Josette kneeled before the altar in the small church she'd found earlier. She had both faith and a profound belief in the spiritual world. From childhood, her religion had served her well as she developed her own brand of Catholicism merged with old cultural beliefs her grandmother had taught her. She'd discovered her gift early, but hadn't liked it. Often she'd repressed her cognitive skills, refusing to face any visions, especially after seeing her mother's death before it happened.
But now, the visions would not be denied and it somehow centered around Adam. While she didn't understand him entirely, she knew he was important and that what he was involved in now was critical. So she did the one thing she knew how to do. She prayed to God to show her what she might do to help Adam in his fight.
As Josette repeated the Breton words over and over, the prayer became a chant that numbed her mind into a trance-like state. Her vision became clearer, but the world she saw was an alien landscape. She didn't question it. If she dreamed of demons, then she must find them in their own environment.
Without a second thought, she offered her soul to God, "Use me, Lord. Let me do thy work."
Methos recognized the tent-like structure for the object it would have been in the past. It was Kronos' modern-day recreation of his pavilion from some three thousand years ago. It was a plain indication of where the Horseman leader had declared home in this demonic desert. He wasn't wrong.
"Hello, Methos. I knew you'd come," Kronos greeted him cheerfully as soon as he stepped inside. "What have you done with MacLeod?"
"He's around," Methos answered dryly. "As is Silas, I'm sure."
"Oh, yes. I will admit that the Highlander's presence here surprised me a bit. I didn't think he had it in him. For that matter, I didn't think the naïve blonde would be able to manage this VR thing. But it doesn't matter. You're here and you know I'll win. It's inevitable, so why don't we just end it now?"
As always, Kronos displayed that confident reasoning that he'd always used with Methos. //He'd get his own way, it was a foregone conclusion... He would always win out over Methos when it mattered...// Methos admitted it was a powerful influence on him, one that he hadn't overcome many times in their long history together. But he had succeeded now and again. Mostly, he could second-guess Kronos, speculate what the man was likely to do. He was waiting for a clue now.
Kronos stretched out, legs dangling over the arms of an over-sized throne chair. When Methos didn't answer, he added, "Brother, if you give in willingly, I'll restore you to your rightful place as my second. Of course, it will never be with the freedom you once had. I'm afraid I'll never be able to trust you that way again. After all you betrayed me, betrayed your brothers. But you can be my closest advisor. If you don't, then you'll be less than a slave when I take you. It's your choice."
Taking a couple of casual steps toward his old companion, Methos said, "And if I agree, what about MacLeod and the others?"
"I think you already know," Kronos answered, letting one leg drop off the arm of the chair. "I need Caspian back and there's only one way to get him. Now, Montgomery, he's a pretty piece, isn't he? He might make a good slave. I could possibly train him as well as I trained you, although I doubt he has your spirit."
Methos nodded. "Then I have to say no. Not this time, Kronos."
A look of disappointment, real or feigned, settled on Kronos' face before he shrugged it off. "Oh, well, I will kill you anyway. I will take your body and do as I choose with it. Neither you nor MacLeod can stop me... and you know it."
With that, he sprang out of the chair, his sword at ready in his hand. "I am in my element here, Methos. You can't win." He propelled himself forward, ready to do battle.
Instantly, Methos was at ready. This wasn't going to be easy under any circumstance, but it was to be a mentally-controlled battle more than a physical one and that meant no room for errors. He kept his eyes locked with Kronos' bluish-gray ones, relying on long years of familiarity to warn him of his movement. Kronos may be the better fighter, but Methos was better at reading people and that was what he needed to do now.
Their swords met, sparks flying where the metal clashed. The effect was enhanced in this environment and it was almost blinding. Methos spun, reading correctly that Kronos had repositioned himself behind him. His sword was in place before the heavy steel of the Horseman's sword found him. Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed Silas enter the structure. He cursed silently. He needed his full attention for Kronos. Where the hell was MacLeod?
As if in answer, Mac engaged the big man, the clang of steel telling Methos not to worry about that problem. Again, Kronos came at him, nicking him with the tip of his sword. The wound burned as if the blade had been red hot, his flesh sizzling as the blood streamed out. Once more, Kronos shifted positions, but Methos was ready for him, getting a hard jab in with his sword that pierced Kronos side.
Instantly, Kronos shifted away to gain recovery time. His eyes burned with fury as he looked up at Methos from the bent position. Just as abruptly, another fighter stood next to the leader of the Horsemen. Agnetha. One more vengeful victim Methos had not already returned to her proper place in his mind. //Shit! Nothing like cheating!// Out loud, he said, "You didn't use to need help, Kronos."
"Times change. I like a little insurance now," he gasped out, still recovering from the wound.
At first, Agnetha had seemed disoriented, but now, oblivious to the surroundings, she settled down to face Methos. Behind her, Kronos straightened slowly. //At least that's one thing that's not different in this setting,// Methos thought. //Wounds still feel painful and require healing. Instant thought didn't helped me any and apparently, Kronos can't heal any quicker either. Okay.// It gave him hope. He prepared himself for Agnetha's wrath.
Howling like a banshee, she charged him. He thought-changed positions and she was five feet away from him when she thought she would be on him. Her sword sliced thin air. Kronos laughed in amusement. "You're getting quite good at that. How well can you do it now?"
With that Kronos was in front of Methos and Agnetha was behind him. He still heard the battle between MacLeod and Silas continuing. At least, he didn't have to worry about Silas. He ducked Agnetha's swing, and lunged at her legs as he came back up. As his sword caught her ankle, she shrieked and hopped away. But his elation was short-lived as Kronos was on him again.
Obviously, the usual rules didn't apply and Kronos had no qualms about fighting two on one. As the battle continued, he felt himself tiring. Even the mental movement was wearing. Like it or not, he was slowing down. The only encouraging part was that Kronos seemed to be slowing also.
Abruptly, he slipped, going flat on his back and his sword slid to the side. Looking up, Agnetha hovered over him, long blonde hair billowing out like sun rays, giving her an almost angelic appearance... the avenging angel. It was distracting to have her looming over him. Methos tried to focus on the sword, on getting it into his hand. He struggled to picture himself a couple of yards away, holding it.
//So tired... Have to concentrate. In a moment, Kronos will be here for the killing blow,// Methos thought. It had to be the only thing staying the Norse woman's hand. Everything seemed to be moving at slow motion as he tried to stretch for his sword and see where Kronos was. The dark man was a few feet away, walking to take his prize. Above him, Agnetha's sword was poised in position to run through him if he moved. No matter what he did, he would lose, Methos realized. He couldn't get out of her sword's path without getting skewered. Once that happened, Kronos would take his head. If he did nothing, Kronos would take his head. He needed his sword NOW!
Suddenly, there was a burst of white light, an illumination so bright that Methos closed his eyes against it. He forced himself to open them again as he heard Agnetha gasp. The warrior woman gazed in fear at the center of the light that seemed to hover right above him. Kronos, too, had quit moving and seemed frozen to the spot as he held a hand up to block the intense light. Not waiting for an invitation, Methos rolled, hand grasping the hilt of his sword firmly as he came up on the balls of his feet. He whirled around to the left of Agnetha and he shot what was intended to be a glance toward the light. It riveted his gaze.
In the center of the blazing brilliance was the image of a chain-clad warrior woman, the Norse goddess, the Lady of the Battlefield. "Valfreya," Methos murmured on the exhaled breath. Unbidden, the lines of an invocation leapt into his mind and he mouthed them in a whisper as the vision held him motionless. "I shall hold my head high in the din of weapons, when the valkyrie's ice met the skulls of men.*"
But on second look, even though the image was that of the Norse goddess, the face bore more than a slight resemblance to a face he knew. The eyes, which had seemed so fierce when he first saw them, looked kindly on him now. They were the gray eyes of a young Breton girl who had reached out to help him once before and had just done the impossible now.
Bringing his sword up, Methos whirled to face Kronos while the vision still held Agnetha entranced. The smaller man backed up a little, forehead wrinkling in concentration. As Methos came close to him, a wall of flame burst to life surrounding them in a circle. Uncontrolled, Methos winced, pulling up short.
"You never liked fire, did you, brother?" Kronos hissed. "Didn't like being burned, as I recall." On the words, another pillar of flame surrounded the former leader of the Horsemen. "Come get me, Methos! Come face your fears!"
//It's an illusion,// Methos told himself firmly, swallowing down the dread that sat like a lump in his throat. He wanted to end this and the only way was through the curtains of flame. Taking a deep breath, he stepped in.
Illusion or no, it burned. There was pain, but when he looked his flesh didn't sizzle or blacken, but it seemed to be alive with fire spirits that danced all over him. He pushed on, finding Kronos in the center of the inferno. As he raised his sword, Kronos gave him a mock salute and the swords met in a loud clash.
There was nothing else in Methos' mind now except the pain of the fire and Kronos' sword. There seemed to be a loud keening of some sort in his ears, but he didn't have time to find the source of it now. There was the glint of red steel moving in and out of his vision as the pair of swords clashed and attacked. Kronos reversed the direction and grasp of his sword, coming at Methos lower. A quick parry and a jump to the side and Methos was in position. Bitterness filled his face as he brought his sword down at a sharp angle. //You never loved me!// he thought as the blade sliced through the slim neck as if it were butter. Kronos' head rolled, came to a halt in the blaze of fire, hair sizzling like ignited sparklers. Spent, he dropped to his knees, as hot tears of pain and relief rolled down his face. Methos waited. There was no Quickening, no sense of triumph in this.
And no discontinuance of the illusion. He tried to move, to shift himself free of Kronos' last creation, but he couldn't break out. He still burned in the center of a pillar of flame and with a shock, he realized the sound he heard was his own voice screaming in pain.
MacLeod felt like he'd been snapped back by a strong elastic tether that whipped him as it retracted. The invisible impact jolted his body, nearly knocking the wind out of him. He gasped, then pain filled his lungs, his chest and his limbs-- sharp, intense, but almost instantly receding. With that came awareness that he'd left the simulation.
Miles leaned over him, mouth moving in words that didn't quite reach his ears as the doctor's fingers worked to loosen the contraption on his head. Slight tugs at his temples and the probes were released. Then the ones behind his ears...
And suddenly there was sound. Methos' voice was a constant shriek and the alarm on Montgomery's face told him all he needed to know. He stumbled out of the chair, wobbly legs barely able to carry him the yard or so to where Methos was belted into the chair. His arms flailed the air, as if fighting off demons while his voice maintained the nightmarish cry.
"I don't know what's happening!" Montgomery screamed over the sound. "I'm afraid to pull him out of it."
Mac moved to catch the wild arms and to try to hold his friend steady. "Do it! It's over! Get him out of there!"
"Dammit! I knew this would happen! I need his head still --"
Methos' voice screamed, a long protracted cry of, "Noooooo" as Mac touched him. It was a sound filled with horror, fear and pain.
//Oh, God!// Mac thought. //What if we can't get him back?! Kronos may be gone but the illusion is still there.//
"I'll get a sedative," Montgomery yelled, starting toward the tray of medicines.
"No, don't! Not yet. Just get him out!" Determinedly, Mac caught Methos' arms, held them against his chest with one hand and used the other to catch the twisting head. "Methos, it's okay! It's okay! Do you hear me? You're okay!"
"Hurts! Don't touch!" Methos managed to gasp before another shriek started.
Montgomery's eyes were wide as he moved to push his friend's head forward, positioning it to remove the probes. "What the hell?!"
"He thinks he's burning," Mac supplied.
"Oh, Jesus!" Joe' voice cut through the noise.
Until then, Mac had forgotten that Dawson was in the room. How long had Methos been screaming?
Montgomery's fingers grasped the end of the probe and tightened. "MacLeod, keep him still..."
Mac brought his attention back and clapped his hands on each side of Methos' head, relying on the closeness of his body to keep the flailing hands from moving. Methos tried to twist, fighting against the touch, still reacting to the horrible illusion Kronos had summoned. Even as Methos' fingers shoved desperately against his chest, Mac nodded at the doctor to proceed.
With a quick movement, Montgomery slid the first probe free, then grasped the second. Abruptly, Methos jerked and Mac couldn't hold him. The probe ripped into nerves causing Methos to twist sharply in pain. Then his body went limp, slipping down in the chair and held in place only by the belt that crossed his chest.
"Shit!" Miles exclaimed. "I think that tore nerves."
Methos gasped, groaning painfully as he choked down a sob. It was obvious he hadn't pulled out of the simulation yet.
Mac caught his head between his hands again. "Methos! It's over! It's only an illusion. You're okay. You're..."
"...okay. There's no fire." The voice... Mac's voice... sounded urgent, but steady, reassuring. He could believe him. No fire... If he opened his eyes, it would be gone. He forced his eyelids to move, to lift.
MacLeod's face was only inches away, wide brown eyes filled with concern. He was really there. Not just an illusion. Beyond that, his eyes took in the pale blue room and identified it. //Clinic... No fire. Joe... Rory. Safety.// The pieces began sliding into place.
He started to push himself up, but he couldn't. Panic set in as he realized he couldn't move his legs or shift his hips. He tried to lift an arm. "No feeling, Mac," he gasped, the words tinged with fear. "Can't move."
Rory's face moved closer. "It's temporary. You've got some torn nerves."
Calming, Methos tried to nod. He'd heal. The important thing was he'd won. Kronos was gone, defeated. God, he felt tired, and very, very old. There was no jubilation in this victory. This time he'd marked paid on that account and really closed the books. His eyes fluttered closed, too weary to stay open any longer.
Feeling nearly as exhausted as Methos looked, MacLeod sat back and let his body relax. He couldn't begin to explain the emotions that he felt at the moment... joy, happiness, relief and oddly, depression. Tentatively, he reached out his hand and ran the back of his fingers down the side of Methos' face slowly, almost tenderly. His body tingled with the touch, surprising him, as if it seemed dangerous. Why was it this way with Methos? Not willing to search for the answer to that question just yet, Mac pulled his hand back and straightened.
If Methos had been aware of the light stoking, he gave no indication as his eyes flicked open again. He began pushing himself up carefully, moving a bit tentatively. Although nerves were healed, he seemed a bit sore still.
"You okay?" Montgomery asked, reminding MacLeod there were other people in the room.
"Yeah. I am. For the first time in quite a while, I think. Just really tired." Methos stopped, gazed pointedly at MacLeod. "You look like hell," he observed, seeing the exhaustion in Mac's face.
"Like you look any better?" Mac answered with a fond smile.
"I think we all could do with some sleep," Joe interjected. "I'm dying to hear the details of this, but it can wait until later. The sun'll be up soon. All I want to know right now is did it work and is this nightmare over?"
Methos nodded, winced and squeezed his eyes shut. Obviously he wasn't quite back to normal. Immediately, Miles' hand slipped to the base of Methos' neck, massaging it gently. Illogically, Mac resented it, objecting to Montgomery touching Methos. He had no right...
//I'm tired,// MacLeod told himself. //I'm just over-reacting. It's been a long day and we both need sleep.//
"I sure don't want to do that again, but, yeah, it's over," Methos was saying, his voice sounding strained. "Kronos is gone. Although I don't know that he isn't still there somewhere, he's not just below the surface waiting. What happened with Silas, Mac? I couldn't see."
"He just disappeared. I assumed that when you killed Kronos, Silas vanished with him. All I could see of where you were was a pillar of flames and a flash of brilliant light. I guessed it was Kronos' Quickening."
"No," Methos replied slowly, his eyes growing thoughtful. "That was something I can't quite explain. I'll tell you later." He pushed to his feet. "Right now, I'm all for Joe's suggestion. By the way, Miles, you might want to tell your friend that machine has a long way to go before it's ready to use with patients. Don't say.-- "
"I told you so." Montgomery gave him an indulgent smile, "Right. Nobody would believe me when I said it."
"Although it was kind of fun," Methos added as he and Montgomery started for the door.
MacLeod and Dawson followed them out, but Mac had a stop to make before he went to bed. Methos paused as he realized Mac was going a different direction. "Mac? I owe you."
"You betcha," Mac said, forcing a smile that he didn't really feel at the moment. Their eyes locked for a couple of heartbeats as if there was far more to say, then Methos lowered his eyes as if to say later.
With that, Mac turned to continue up the hall to the guest rooms. Finding the door he was looking for, he knocked lightly and waited. His face softened as Amanda answered the door. "He's okay."
Relief crossed the brunette's face. As Mac stepped into the room, Amanda let him pull her into his embrace and she laid her head against his chest. "Thank heavens," she murmured. "So is it really over now?"
"It's over." He kissed the top of her head, holding her tightly.
Very softly, as if the words might break as she said them, Amanda whispered, "Duncan, I have to go away for a while. I'm confused and I need to think about us. You understand?"
He nodded, not wanting to speak for fear his voice would break with the ache it was feeling. He understood more than she probably realized. Perhaps that bizarre, erotic dream had been more significant than he'd believed at the time. Amanda, Methos, himself - they all three had intertwined emotions and feelings for each other. With tender affection, he kissed her, then backed away. "Keep in touch."
Her eyes welling with tears, Amanda gave him an acquiescent nod, then shut the door. Feeling empty, Mac made his way further down the hall to his room and collapsed, fully-clothed on the bed.
In brilliant, warm sunlight, Rory walked along the lane with Methos. After a little over a day and half, he was satisfied that this unusual episode was over now, that Methos was truly back to normal, whatever that was. But there were other issues to discuss between them before Methos returned to Paris.
Uneasily, Rory studied the man who walked beside him. //Methos... Adam... the world's oldest Immortal... one of the four Horsemen. No- not just one, Death. A murder... my friend... my lover. So complex... How many other enemies does he have? How many will come after him? How many would hunt him for who he is?//
Disturbing thoughts on many levels. Rory tried to be honest with his feelings. He couldn't truthfully say that he understood that past entirely, but he recognized that the times were different and the man who walked beside him was not the same man who'd killed indiscriminately. Yet the look in Methos' eyes the night he'd come to apologize still haunted him. The normally warm eyes were so cold, so hard. He believed Methos when he said he could revert to his earlier self, that part of him was still there. Instinctively he knew that matters would never be quite the same between them, that the relationship had altered. The person he knew as Adam no longer existed.
"What's bothering you, Rory?" Methos asked. He returned the gaze, warm hazel eyes inviting Rory to be open.
The doctor swallowed his unease and tried to speak as frankly as possible. "Methos, a lot has happened in the past few weeks. I've learned a lot about you, a lot you probably would be happier if I didn't know..."
"No argument there" Methos interrupted. "I have a feeling there's a qualifier attached to this. But?"
"Well, it's a lot to assimilate. I mean, it's a little unnerving to find out that a close friend is a legend. I think I need some time.... to put it all in perspective, you know."
There was no missing the look of disappointment in Methos' face, but his voice was light enough as he answered, "Yeah. It's okay. You're not the first one to back away."
Impulsively, Rory reached out and caught his friend's arm, stopping him. "Methos, I'm not backing away. I have more than just me to consider. There's Kyra-- our future -- "
"I know." His voice was soft, understanding. "When you're ready, I'll be around."
Rory nodded, wishing he didn't feel so guilty about this. He looked away, letting his eyes wander over the gardens, trying to gain some calm. Unexpectedly, Methos' arms were around him, pulling him into an affectionate embrace, which he returned automatically. Just as quickly, Methos released him.
"I need to go, Rory. Mac will be here in a few minutes. Not that I don't appreciate your hospitality," he added dryly, trying to make light of it, "but I'm looking forward to getting back home. You be careful, okay?"
"Right," the doctor responded, watching as Methos turned and walked briskly back into the clinic. That hadn't been easy and he felt like a heel. Shoulders sagging, he headed for the solace of the maze, still trying to convince himself he'd done the right thing.
There was a sense of déjà vu as Methos joined Mac and Joe for dinner at the barge the next night. It felt curiously as it had a few weeks earlier, only Amanda had been there, too, and Mac had told her that he loved her. The interior of the barge blazed with candlelight as Mac popped the cork on another bottle of champagne. Another celebration.
Methos cleared his throat. "Where's Amanda? I thought she would be here." He hadn't seen her since that night she'd talked to him privately about Kronos. He'd been too sensitive about that and he needed to smooth that over with her. It hadn't been her fault.
Mac looked up from pouring the drink. "She left town, said something about seeing a man about a camel. You know Amanda. She gets restless in one place." He flashed a smile with all that incredible Duncan MacLeod charm behind it.
"She's uncomfortable around me," Methos concluded. "Too much happened."
Mac shrugged, handed Joe a drink, then picked up the remaining two for himself and Methos. Methos took it from the Highlander, hesitated, then spoke with a touch of awkwardness, "Thanks, Mac."
As MacLeod arched an eyebrow at him, Methos added, "Thanks for sticking with me for the past few weeks. Both of you. I really wouldn't have made it without you two... and Amanda and Miles."
"It's what friends do," Mac replied, raising his glass to clink it against Methos' in a toast.
Joe brought his up to complete the trio. "Amen to that, buddy. Glad to have the real you back."
Mac sipped, then lowered his glass. "Methos, I realize I don't often say it. But I know you would do... have done... the same thing for me. I was really afraid I was going to lose you this time."
"That makes two of us," Methos said more cheerfully than he felt. It had been much closer than anything he'd ever been through. But MacLeod had been there with him, been at his side when he needed him. That was something positive in all this. "I owe you. Both of you."
"Anytime, pal," Joe said as if it had only been a simple agreement. But the look on his face said he meant it.
A moment later, Mac pulled him into a tight, affectionate embrace, the first Methos could really remember the Highlander doing with him. It was the kind of hug that he'd often given to others, but not him. He wrapped his arms around the broad chest and shoulders and hugged back, trying to prolong the moment without seeming obvious.
"Don't ever scare me like that again," Mac whispered in his ear. Then the moment was gone and Mac released him, pulling away. "Let's eat dinner."
As the three friends settled at the table, Joe voiced a question that had bothered Methos for a couple of days as well. "What I still don't understand is why Kronos chose to use that old language? What did he gain by it?"
Methos smiled slightly, "Not what he'd hoped, Joe. I think he believed that if he used the old language, it would mentally pull me back to the past, to be subservient to him. It would put me at a disadvantage emotionally, which is what he needed to keep me in check. I think by choosing the abstract setting, keeping his modern appearance and using the old language, he was trying to communicate that he would always be superior. He still couldn't quite accept that I'd changed."
Methos fell silent for a moment or two, then shuddered slightly. Talking about Kronos in this context was still unsettling. Even though he didn't hear him anymore, he knew that Kronos was a part of him, more than he'd ever been.
"So, did you notice there's a new exhibit at the Louvre?" Mac asked, obviously changing the subject to something less worrisome. He set a platter of steaks with sauce and new potatoes on the table. "Etruscan. Thought maybe you'd like to check it out tomorrow morning."
"Make it afternoon and you're on," Methos countered and happily stabbed a piece of meat. Mac volunteering to go to a museum with him? Maybe he needed to worry the Highlander more often.
The night was warm, no cooling breeze coming off the Seine as Methos left the barge. He glanced at his car, decided to walk for a while instead. He needed to clear his mind and there was a piece of unfinished business.
His comfortable, even pace quickly brought him to the area near Maurice's restaurant. He slowed as he drew nearer. It was well past the dinner hour and the place was most likely closing up for the night. He wasn't sure what he wanted to say to Josette, only that he wanted to somehow apologize.
Methos stopped across the street, slipping into a doorway to wait for the small young woman to leave the restaurant. Inside the dimly lighted building, he could see her finishing the clean up, mopping the floor even as Marie locked up for the night and slipped out the door. She called back to Josette and the girl nodded, waving a hand in her direction, then she was alone to close up. Still Methos waited, holding back until, at last, Josette emerged from the restaurant, switching off the last light as she did.
He moved openly, not rushing, and called to her as she started down the street. "Josette, it's Adam. Please don't be afraid."
She stopped and turned toward him, her eyes wide with surprise - or was that fear? Methos' stomach tensed with anxiety over what she might still perceive him to be.
She waited as he crossed the street, an indefinable tension holding her frozen in place. "Adam? Are you all right?"
He nodded. "Yes, now. I was having a very bad time for a while there."
"I know," she said gravely. "I spoke to Monsieur Dawson several times and he said you were not doing very well. I prayed for you. Four nights ago, I dreamed you were in very bad trouble and I asked God to help you. I had a vision and you were fighting. I felt like I was there, hovering before a fierce-looking woman. Was I right?" Her eyes searched his anxiously as he stopped beside her and studied her face a few moments.
Methos hadn't been certain of how much Josette had actually been a part of that experience. He didn't know if she had truly manipulated it or if she had been some subconscious manifestation of his brain. He still wasn't positive that she'd managed to interject an image into the simulation, but if not, she had managed to touch his mind. "Yes. And you helped more than you could imagine. Thank you. I didn't realize you had the gift, Josette."
"It's inherited," she said simply, shrugging it off as easily as she might say her eyes came from the family gene pool. She reached up to touch his cheek and stroked her hand along it. "You've had a direly dangerous experience. I feared I would lose you... my protector."
He looked away for a moment, pressed his lips together and tried to find a way to frame his apology. When he looked back, his eyes were sad and reflected his pain. "Protector? Hardly that. But what happened that night we went to the movie was not really me, Josette. I am so sorry. I... I was...channeling someone else."
"I know," she acknowledged simply, with absolute conviction. "It was not Adam who desired me that way. I think in your eyes, I am a little girl and you would not force yourself upon me, no?"
He nodded. "Something like that."
"I thought I knew what you were," Josette said quietly. "Now I am not so sure. Are you a Protector or a Destroyer, Adam? Should I love you or fear you?"
"Neither... and both," Methos replied cryptically in a soft voice as he hugged her to him. For now, he was grateful for her faith in him.
* Lines accredited to Harald the Hard at the battle of Stamford. From "The Gods and Goddesses of Odinism" web page. http://www.lrbcg.com/heathen/gods/index.html
We're kindred spirits, you and I...
In the sound of swiftly pounding surf,
We've suffered and we've been lost,
Yet could I reach inside your soul,
A reader recently pointed out that the situation in the clinic, particularly in regards to electroshock treatment for schizophrenia, is not current and accurate. This is true to a point. However, as a writer, I am taking some liberties. As a non-medical person, I am using the best references I could find on the subject short of visiting a medical person to discuss it or taking classes. I realize some of my readers practice in psychology and psychiatry and you will find inaccuracies in this story.
Normally shock therapy (ECT) is used in very mild charges to treat some cases of depression. It is not painful and doctors take many precautions in using it. If you are suffering from depression, I urge you to get help and not think of the description in this as a realistic picture of what the therapy is like. It is not a painful procedure and medical personnel are not like Dr. Anjouli.
While intensive shock therapy was heavily misused in the past to treat schizophrenia (and many other forms of mental illness), it was discontinued in the more enlightened 1970s. However, according to my sources (and again, I stress, these are limited to what I could find quickly and easily, like the encyclopedia and internet sites), it is still in use to some degree, but not with the intensity it was once used.
In Dr. Anjouli's defense, she had not intended to use a strong current but a more mild one and had lightly sedated our favorite Immortal, but she hadn't counted on the resilience of an Immortal, not knowing what he is, thus it was Methos, himself, who took the session into the more intense non-therapeutic situation. This could never happen in reality! Is Miles being too lenient in allowing Dr. Anjouli to continue practicing? Possibly. She did, after all, start treatment on a patient who was not hers, but he sees a bigger picture and maybe feels she deserves a second chance, although, as you might guess, under very close supervision.