by Lillian Wolfe
This is the first Highlander story I wrote and it was published in Dianne Smith's fanzine Potpourri. Inspired by the events in the series and plagued by this Methos voice in my head, I had to write an "episode." This story was structured with a teleplay in mind before I learned that even my contacts who could get it to the right people wouldn't help.
The following story is based on the characters created for the Highlander television series and is not intended as a copyright violation. Duncan MacLeod, Methos and Joe Dawson belong to Davis-Panzer Productions -- all other characters are my own creation. If D/P hadn't given us such great characters, especially Methos, we wouldn't have felt compelled to tell their adventures. My thanks to Tiffany, Dianne and Cheryl for the beta read on this. Without their sharp eyes and wise questions, this would not be as good as it is.
Please do not post or publish elsewhere without my permission. Even though D/P doesn't seem to be using them anymore, Duncan, Methos and Joe are under contract to them and discretion is the wiser course here. Feedback, as always, is welcome.
Time: Between "Revelations 6:8" and "Forgive Us Our Trepasses"
The scene was surrealistic, like a carefully contrived image from a horror film. Indeed, some of it might have had its inspiration there, but this act was deadly serious.
In the darkness, a group of nine hooded figures circled a fire pit where the flames appeared to leap and dance with the rhythmic chant. The rise and fall of the voices sounded almost Gregorian but the words had a different root. Behind the robed figures, silent trees stood in witness to the bizarre ritual that was transpiring, but it was nothing new to these woods. Over the centuries, this particular corner of Brittany had hosted many such ceremonies.
Abruptly, the chanting stopped and the hooded heads all turned expectantly to a gap in the circle. Through the silence, the crisp crunch of boots on frozen grass signaled the approach of more than one person. A tall, graceful figure, dressed in pristine white robes the colour of the moon, stepped into the clearing. Arms raised to the sky, they displayed priceless golden bracelets. A golden torc glittered at the throat, but there was nothing visible of the face within the robes.
Behind the figure,came another two, also clad in hooded robes. The first person walked sedately in front of a smaller one who moved behind, seeming to guide the other. As they drew nearer to the firelight, the front person's face became visible -- pale skin seeming even paler against the deep red of his robes. The man stared ahead, seeming indifferent to his surroundings. His arms hung loosely down, pulled to the front by heavy cords that bound his hands together.
The woods were eerily silent as the figures shifted into the center of the ring. With a dramatic flourish, the white robed figure's hand reached into the robes and withdrew a sword, swirling it above the head. The arm that held it was strong yet not too muscular -- the arm of a woman. She rotated the sword in her hand so the fire reflected in the blade, a precursor of what was to come. Behind the red robed man, the smaller figure stepped back.
The man's eyes followed the arc of the sword, an unconcerned, lazy look as it flashed toward him. His drugged eyes had trouble focusing on the sword except perhaps to note it as a blur approaching his face. Only in the brief moment before the sword met his neck did his countenance reflect any indication or knowledge of his impending fate then his eyes widened with fear and a the mouth opened to yell in panic. Too late. The shrill scream was cut off as the blade made contact and the headless body crumpled to the ground.
The silence remained as the gathered coven waited, each member breathless in anticipation. Slowly, at first, rising like a slow wave, the blue wash of a Quickening flowed from the body and encircled the white-robed woman. Theatrically, she clasped the sword iin both hands and raised her arms to the sky, sucking in the power like a lightning rod. An experienced eye would recognize this as the Quickening of a young Immortal, almost gentle compared to the fierce fireworks of onel who has taken many heads. But the robed figures who circled watched in awe, not knowing exactly what was happening, only believing their spiritual leader was indeed a vessel of the gods' powers.
As the Quickening died down, the woman sank to her knees as if in reverence to the gods, but it was really to recover from the body-shaking power. A new chant began, the words ringing in the forest in a language suited to them -- ancient Welsh.
Springtime in Paris. A time for young lovers, old lovers. Couples strolled easily along the promenade, hands linked together, shoulders touching. Old men leered lecherously at the nubile young women who passed wearing short skirts and tight-fitting sweaters. The sweet smell of new grass and spring flowers whisked by on a breeze, chasing away the staleness of winter.
The world's oldest living being felt his companion's eyes on him. Duncan MacLeod had been studying him in silence for several minutes now, waiting for him to say something. Conversation between them was awkward these days. Neither of them was really sure what to say and he knew he was giving the man precious little to no help.
Methos had spent the past few weeks in the Aegean trying to get his life back together. Apart from a few comments about the warmth and luxury of the days there, he hadn't had much to say. MacLeod had nodded his head and made appropriate little remarks as he'd talked, yet the fledgling conversation had stumbled to a halt a few minutes earlier. MacLeod had asked for this meeting, wanting to open up a few doors and try to smooth some of the rough spots between them that had formed with the events surrounding Cassandra and the Horsemen. Methos was distracted, feeling a deeo sorrow that reached his face. Someone had once caleld him an unfeeling bastard but they were dead wrong. Even though there were times he could school his face to show nothing, he also knew when it reflected more than he sometimes wanted other people to know. Now was one of the latter moments.
"I'm sorry, MacLeod. I shouldn't have gone to the cemetery," Methos finally apologized quietly. "I haven't missed her this much in months. It's just that after being in Greece and revisiting all those places we'd been together, she was so vivid in my mind that I had to go. Alexa was the most wonderful thing to happen to me in this century... and the worst."
"I know, Methos. I often feel that way about Tessa. I'll go to an art museum that we went to together and I sometimes think I can hear her voice. But it's our memories that keep them alive, that validate their lives." The Scot's voice was gentle, the soft Highland burr barely a whisper in it.
He took a sip of the wine and forced a smile for the man who'd become his most trusted friend. He desperately wanted to bring matters back to solid ground between them. There'd been no other man, Immortal or not, that he'd willingly offered his head. That MacLeod didn't take it elevated him both in respect and trust. Never mind he'd expected him not to take it, but it was still a risk. And heaven knows, he'd given the man cause once or twice since then to take it... most recent events included. Beyond that, he genuinely liked the Highlander, normally enjoyed his company a great deal, and, lord knows, they needed to talk. MacLeod spent too much time pretending nothing happened or looking accusingly at him.
But today-- Today, a ghost was sitting on his shoulder and company was uneasy in her presence
MacLeod cleared his throat, obviously recognizing that Methos had slipped off again into his memories of Alexa. Methos straightened in the chair, trying to shake off the melancholy.
Pointedly, MacLeod glanced at his watch. "I've got a meeting this afternoon, Methos. How about dinner tonight at Chez Louisianne?"
"If you don't mind, I'd like to pass on dinner tonight. I wouldn't be fit company any way."
Unexpectedly, MacLeod moved closer to his shoulder, hand reaching out and almost touching him. The hand hovered there a moment, then withdrew. "Sure. Let's make it breakfast tomorrow. It'll be a better day."
Methos almost jumped at the near touch. He'd wanted that little bit of compassion, that slight touch of understanding, from MacLeod for so long that it was hard to just let it go. He'd shown caring to Adam Pierson, but not to Methos... as if the two were totally different people instead of facets of the same person. The forced smile was back on Methos' face but as MacLeod turned, it quickly faded. He watched as MacLeod strode briskly down to the corner and turned, then he laid a bundle of francs on the table and wandered down along the riverbank at a pace that said "I have all the time in the world and I'm not in a particular hurry."
He had all the time in the world. But he hadn't had much time with Alexa -- just a blip in the reckoning of his five thousand plus years -- but they had been magical. And it wasn't that he hadn't buried a wife or a lover before, or that he hadn't known it would happen. He just somehow believed they would have a little more time. He hadn't counted on the extreme human frailty or the sheer viciousness of the disease. For all his years of witnessing history, living through diseases and disasters, studying medicine and psychology, there was still nothing he could do. And he'd been devastated when she'd died. He'd been helpless, only able to hold her as she slipped away.
MacLeod had helped him bury her on that cold winter day, been there offering support. Now, there was a chasm between them an airplane could fly through and he didn't know where to begin to narrow it. It would be easier if MacLeod could understand what those first three thousand or so years in his life were like, but the Highlander had no frame of reference. If you weren't there, it was hard to even imagine it.
Pausing to gaze across at the Cathedral Notre Dame, he let his mind escape back to the first time he'd come to Paris. It wasn't called Paris then and the river wasn't surrounded by buildings. It was a little village on what was now the Isle de Citi that was inhabited by the Parisii tribe, a Celtic band who welcomed him with courtesy. He was a traveler, suspect in those uneasy times with Rome. But he'd come alone and they were many so they felt safe. He hadn't betrayed their trust and he had blended in, becoming one of them and learning their ways. He'd lived so long with the Celts that he'd become like everything else that touched them, a pure extension of the culture. Somehow it seemed appropriate that an Immortal headhunter found a kinship with a people who revered the head and took their enemies heads to gain their power.
His eyes focused quickly back to the present as the familiar psychic buzz that alerted him to another Immortal curtailed his thoughts. He turned to look for the newcomer, not expecting an encounter of any sort in so populated an area. About thirty feet away, a tall, raven-haired woman in her thirties, approached him, her eyes seeking him. As she neared, he saw that her face wore a slightly perplexed expression that suddenly changed into delight. As if she knew him. Methos thought she looked familiar but--
"Dylan? You are Dylan, aren't you?" The woman's voice had a sultry huskiness and a curious accent, one that he'd didn't recall hearing. But the way she said Dylan was familiar to him.
"Niam?" He couldn't quite believe it, although with a few more years on her than when he'd last seen her, she would be this strikingly beautiful woman. Her huge smile was the answer as she doubled her pace, nearly running to meet him. She hugged him tightly, her head snuggled closely against his face.
"My God, Dylan. I can't believe it! Not after all these centuries." She stepped back to look at him, running her hand against his cheek. "No beard, no mustache, a little shorter hair, but still the same as I remember. It's so good to see you, cariad."
"And you became an Immortal since I last saw you," he said, looking at her and seeing the young woman he'd known.
"You knew it would happen, Dylan."
He nodded slightly. "I don't go by Dylan anymore. These days, I'm... Adam Pierson." He wasn't sure why he didn't say Methos, choosing instead his former Watcher persona. At some unconscious level he thought perhaps it was the safer of the two to tell her.
"Adam... Adam..." She tried the name on. "It doesn't roll as beautifully as Dylan, but it will do." She stepped back, still clinging to his hand. "Do you have plans? Can you come with me?"
"I'm about to go raid an antique shop. I collect really old artifacts. But I just don't want you to go out of my sight now." She bubbled with enthusiasm and promise.
"As it happens, I do have a free afternoon. And I'd love to spend it with you." He smiled at her, his dark thoughts of Alexa put aside for the moment. Delighted, Niam linked her arm in his and began pulling him toward the boulevard. For just a brief moment, something nagged at him, but he shrugged it off.
The young woman was absolutely dazzling and Duncan MacLeod couldn't take his eyes off her. Blonde, petite, with those sultry eyes and pouty lips that rivaled Bardot's, Lysette Moraine was just as charming as she was beautiful. //It's a pity she isn't destined for Immortality, // MacLeod thought. //Such beauty should be preserved.// He was almost shocked by his own admission. He never considered physical features to be the essence of a person, but she was so amazingly beautiful. And, no, he justified to himself, it wasn't just the physical features. She was full of personality and vibrancy, like a glint of sunlight dancing on the water. Perfect.
"A banque cheque will complete the transaction, mam'selle," the third person in the room said. Lysette turned her brightness on the solicitor, a man of middle years with a paunch that spoke of too much good food and drink and a contentment that MacLeod would never know.
"But, of course," she said, reaching into the small black leather purse she'd brought with her. Even the gold trim on it matched the trim on the pumps on her small feet. She laid an envelope on the desk in front of the solicitor. "That is for the down payment and the rest will be submitted when the property closes." She favored MacLeod with a coquettish look. "I am sure that will meet with your approval, Monsieur MacLeod."
"But MacLeod," his solictor protested as he studied the cheque. "This is a thousand francs less than the requested payment!"
Dismayed, Lysette lowered her eyes. "I know, monsieur. But I had a little trouble converting some of my assets. I assure you I will have the full amount at closing."
"There you go," MacLeod replied. "Besides I have nothing to lose. If mam'selle does not have the money, I reclaim the land."
Lysette flashed a smile his direction.
"Would you join me for dinner, mam'selle?' Duncan found himself saying, and immediately thinking, //Where the hell did that come from?//'
Within moments, Lysette Moraine had confirmed their dinner engagement and agreed to meet him at the restaurant. MacLeod watched her leave the office, a pleased smile on his face. Maybe he hadn't meant to invite her to dinner but she was bound to be better company than Methos would have been.
"Slow down a bit, Joe," MacLeod said into his mobile phone as he maneuvered through Paris traffic. "Now who is missing?"
Several thousand miles away, Joe Dawson perched on a bar stool reading through the report that had come through on his FAX machine only a half hour earlier. He was annoyed he wasn't alerted sooner, but the Watcher in Paris hadn't felt it was that critical, just a basic report. As if missing Immortals could be a basic report.
"There's four of them mentioned, Mac. All over the last two years. Two are in France, one in Spain and one in Italy. Their watchers just lost them. They were tracking them, they went off somewhere and never came back. We haven't been able to pick up a hint of them anywhere."
"Joe, you know some of us change identities now and then. Maybe they spotted your watchers and changed id's." MacLeod was almost laughing at Joe's paranoia on this one. "Or maybe they met another Immortal and they lost."
"It's possible, Mac. But is it likely that four Immortals died without one Watcher tracking at least the winner or the loser? As to disappearing, how easy is it to totally avoid being spotted by someone in the Watcher network."
"Ask Methos," Mac replied with a laugh.
"Okay, Joe. Give me the names and I'll check into it." He scribbled as Joe talked.
Joe paused before the last name, almost holding his breath. "Mac, the most recent one was Etienne Duval."
"Shit!" MacLeod muttered. Etienne was a young Immortal he'd met a few months earlier and had sparred with a couple of times. Nice person, good sense of humour and a taste for fine French wine and beautiful women.
"Each of their Watchers reported they spoke to a woman shortly before they disappeared, but from the descriptions, it doesn't appear to be the same woman."
"When and where were the ones in France seen?"
"The first was at a restaurant, 'Le Couquille" and he disappeared on October 30th. Etienne was seen at 'Picasso's' on Rue Madeline on January 29th."
"Okay, Joe. I'll see what I can do. Don't hold your breath."
"Thanks, Mac. I owe you one."
"You owe me a more than that." He dropped the phone back into its holder.
The antique shop was a mixed collection of genuine treasures and a lot of junk. Methos studied a plastic Obi-Wan Kenobi figure, picked it up, turning it in his hand to see where it was manufactured. "Look at this. It's a little piece of plastic. How valuable can it be?"
Niam spared a glance his way from where she was kneeling in front of a bin of objects. "It could be worth thirty dollars or so if it's in good condition."
"You're kidding. It's hard to consider a little piece of molded plastic in the same category as a eighteenth century thimble." He set the figure down next to the silver thimble that had far better craftsmanship and wondered at the state of a world that placed such value on these things. Then again, he remembered what he was doing when Star Wars made its splash at the cinema and he was taken by it, too.
He looked over to where Niam was rummaging through a bin of old pottery. Judging from the items she separated out to look at closer, she seemed to have a good eye for what was valuable. Of course, like him, she could identify a good bit of it from first hand knowledge. As usual, he gravitated to the books and manuscripts section. There were a few old texts in the stacks, but nothing to even remotely compare to what he'd had at Shakespeare and Company. He picked up an old manuscript that could have been written around the time of Francis Bacon. It looked to be a personal journal, written in English-- or at least what passed for English at the time.
Nothing too exciting, he thought, as he carefully turned the pages. Just the day to day thoughts of an ordinary merchant in Dover... who happened to know an Immortal! The name MacLeod jumped off the pages at him. Methos turned to the cover to check the asking price, winced at the cost, but determined he would pay it. It would make an interesting Christmas present for MacLeod.
"Look, Adam!" Niam called to him and he turned to see her pulling a stone mortar out of the bin. "Isn't this a find? I wonder if there's a pestle in here also?"
The rough stone finish of the hollowed out rock carried a permanent green stain from the juices of crushed leaves. Other images formed themselves around the stone bowl...
North Wales - 60 A.D.
Young, strong hands roughly ground the pestle into the mortar, crushing the delicate leaves between them. The stone bowl rocked with the motion as Niam exerted all her strength into pulverizing the herbs, as if the very pressure of her effort would make the magic work. She was just eighteen, but very strong and sturdy. Her long black hair was pulled back with a leather thong and draped down her back in a twisted braid. As she worked, her forest green tunic slipped off one shoulder, revealing the creamy white skin beneath and hinting at the curves hidden beneath the garment.
Methos felt a heat rising within him as he paused for a few moments to watch her work. Her breasts rose with each rocking movement, a sensuous motion that even a celibate would be moved by yet alone a healthy Immortal. Niam was but an apprentice healer, young and still learning the craft. But she was bright and learned quickly and she had him to teach her.
"You needn't grind so hard, Niam." He was only a few paces away and could easily smell the sweetness of her body.
Niam's head tilted up to look at the tall, slender, darkly handsome man clad in a dark brown tunic. So alike, yet not alike the other men of the tribe. She smiled, warmth and passion filling the smoky gray eyes. She ran her tongue against her lips and spoke in a husky voice that sounded far older than her years. "Show me again, lord. I cannot seem to find the delicate touch."
He gave her a sly smile, ready to play this game with her, and stepping just behind her, kneeled so that his knees touched her thighs, an intimate closeness. His arms slid along her sides, reached below her breasts to gently cover her hands as he leaned forward until his mustache and beard brushed against her neck. "Like this," he said softly as he eased the hand holding the pestle into a smooth circular motion. "Around in a circle, so you don't bruise the leaves."
Niam shifted back against him, pushing her weight into his legs, forcing him to lean in even more to maintain his balance. "And what are the uses of this herb, Dylan?"
"Ah, have you forgotten already? It's Lady's mantle. With a tincture made of this-- just a small amount, you can treat bleeding wounds and other injuries. You should always carry it with you--"
Abruptly, she rolled in his arms, twisting her body to practically face him, her lips finding his and attaching like a leech. A knee knocked the mortar to one side and Methos dropped the pestle to catch the woman suddenly in his arms. Momentum unchecked, the two sprawled, laughing, in the grass. As they held each other tightly, he kissed her passionately, pulling her face closer as his fingers twisted in her hair. His face slid along hers until his lips touched her ear. Taking the lobe gently between his lips, he whispered, "Cariad."
Methos blinked, saw Niam standing within arms' reach, dressed elegantly in the haute couture of modern Paris, holding an ancient mortar stone in her hands. The memory had been vivid. He'd been Dylan then, a Celtic druid with some knowledge of herbs and drugs. Niam had been his apprentice and they had been lovers. She was not an Immortal yet, merely a young, carefree girl in love with life -- and him.
"I'm going to buy this, Adam," she announced. "Isn't it fabulous?"
"What on earth for?" He lifted the heavy mortar from her hands, realized again how heavy stoneware was.
"What do you think for? To grind herbs, silly."
"They have machines for that now days or you buy them preground."
Her eyebrows arched slightly quizzically. "But that might bruise the leaves. I have an herb shop now, darling, and people pay me good money not to bruise the leaves. I have you to thank for that."
Chuckling, he set the mortar and the manuscript on the counter and began counting out the asking price. Niam started to object, but he stopped her. "No, I'll get it. For old times."
Moving next to him, Niam slid her arm under his coat and nuzzled against his neck. Smoothly, her hand slid down to touch his thigh as she licked at his ear.
"Niam! Behave!" he hissed. He struggled to keep a straight face.
"You used to like it, Dylan," she said in a soft, seductive voice.
Under his breath, Methos muttered, "Woman, you are shameless."
"...so then I attended the music conservatoire to study the violin, but I didn't like that either." Lysette Moraine's voice was soft, sultry. Her long eyelashes blinked at Duncan as she talked. She was possibly the most coquettish young woman he'd met in a long time and she reminded him of a lovely lady he'd known in 1829 when coquette was fashionable.
"Okay. You're not a model, not a musician, not an artist and not a dancer. What have you ended up doing, Lysette?"
"It's really dull-sounding. I'm a personal assistant to a business woman. I handle lots of different tasks for her so it's really quite a good job and I don't get bored." She leaned closer to him, picked up a strawberry from the dessert plate, dipped it into whipped cream and deposited it sexily into her candy red lips.
MacLeod almost laughed out loud at the cliched move, yet the girl was so charming, he was still taken by her.
"Forgive my curiosity, mam'selle. What exactly do you plan to do with the property you're purchasing?"
"I don't plan to do anything with it, Duncan. I just want the woods. They're so beautiful and old. It's like stepping into the past to go there. Do you understand what I mean?"
MacLeod nodded. He understood all too well. "Isn't it a bit pricey just to have a bit of forest?"
"Oh, I'm not buying it alone. I have--" Lysette faltered, realizing she'd said more than she should. She finished softly. "I have friends who are buying it with me."
"I see. And all of you just want to enjoy the woods."
She smiled at him. "Yes. Truly."
He laughed. "All right, It's an investment. And a good one, at that, It's what I've done with it for many years."
Lysette dipped another strawberry in chocolate, leaned across the table and popped it into Duncan's mouth. Her eyes twinkled mischievously as he sipped at a brandy to wash the fruit down. The night definitely looked promising...
Methos moved quietly, and somewhat uneasily, around the living room of Niam's flat, pausing periodically to pick up an old object here and there. The room was dark-- lots of dark wood, dark colors, heavy furniture. He'd known a monk's cell that was cheerier. Stopping, he picked up a stone carving, a crude sculpture of the horned god, Cernunnos. He studied it silently, remembering other similar carvings in niches around wells and streams.
"I remember Alwynna carving it... chipping it out of stone. I found it at a flea market four years ago." Niam stood beside him, the light scent of her perfume seductive in his mind, like a fragrant flower to be pulled. She pressed a brandy glass into his hand. "It was very odd to find something that connected me so completely with the past."
Still holding his hand, she guided him to the oversized couch. As Methos sank into the cushions, she slipped onto his lap. He barely managed to set his brandy on the end table before she slid her hand inside his shirt, rubbing her fingertips lightly along his chest and her mouth found his. Without thought, his arms went around her, pulling her closer and his tongue touched against hers.
She lightly bit his lip, then pulled back to gaze into his eyes. "I never thought I would be like this with you again."
"I often wondered what happened to you. How much longer it was before you became Immortal..."
"But you didn't come looking for me." Niam stated flatly.
"No. I didn't stay in Britain. I had to leave."
"I thought you were dead. I grieved for you-- for us." Her voice was sad, a deep sorrow still lingering in it. Oddly, it pleased him, as much as it caused guilt, to have been missed.
Suddenly, she grabbed the brandy bottle and slid out of his lap. "Make love to me like then. Let's go to a park or the woods."
"You heard me. I know a park near here. Grab the brandy glasses."
Exasperated, Methos resisted. "You can't just go into a public place and make love..."
"We used to."
"That wasn't exactly the same situation, Niam. There were a lot fewer people around."
"This is a very quiet park. No one will come in, you'll see." She pulled pleadingly at his hand. "Please, Dylan. I want it to be like the first time with you." This last was spoken in the Celtic tongue he'd not heard in centuries... not quite Welsh, not quite Breton. He caved and pulled the throw off the sofa.
"You know, I always regretted we couldn't have had at least a century together." Methos sipped at the brandy as he lay on his side staring into the dark pools of Niam's eyes. Around them, the wooded park was silent, not even a breeze rustling the leaves. Behind the tallest trees the tops of a few chimneys and an occasional window light were barely visible.
Niam sat up, unbuttoned her dress, revealing she had nothing on beneath it, then leaned forward, running her hand along the side of his face. Her mouth slid along his jaw line, planting little kisses along the way. "We still can-- beginning now. I've dreamed about this, Dylan. Didn't dare to hope you were still alive."
Her hands moved under his sweater, pushing it up, then her head followed up underneath it as she moved her mouth up to pull the nub of his nipple with her lips.
With a gasp, he fumbled his glass to the grass, then pulled her closer into his arms. His hands caressed her cheeks then wove through her hair, his mouth locked with hers and a passion he hadn't known in decades surged through his body. She pulled the sweater over his head and shoved his back to the ground. Eagerly, she climbed on top of him, threw her head back and howled at the moon, a wild animal sound that seemed to echo through the park. For that moment, Methos saw again the young girl he'd fallen in love with nearly two millennia ago and he grinned ferally as he rolled over, capturing her under him. Her nails clawed his naked back and she bit at his shoulder-- eager, aggressive and passionate.
He lowered his head between her breasts, his skillful lips inching their way up the mounds. She arched her chest up toward him as a deep sigh escaped her throat. Her hand slipped down to the waist of his slacks and undid the zipper.
He could smell again the salty, crisp air of the sea surrounding Mona as he and Niam made love. His mind called forth the sounds of the night on the Holy Isle and replaced the lights in the distant windows with torches at the village gates. He'd planned to hand fast with her that spring-- and for as many springs as she would have him. Eventually, the moment would come when she'd become Immortal, then he would train her, keep her by him. Although he'd had many lovers and wives over the centuries, he'd never loved with such fire before her.
Methos flipped onto his back, breathing hard, and gazed up into the nearly full moon riding high above them. Niam snuggled next to him, tiger turned kitten in his arms. He pulled the blanket around them and they lay unmoving, watching the stars.
"We'll have a full moon for Beltaine," Niam spoke softly. "A hunter's moon."
He nodded drowsily, only half-listening to her.
The girl was like a demented beast on the dance floor, uncontrolled and full of energy. As she danced, her blonde hair bounced and rippled like a mane around her face. Her current partner, a young French student, was almost as abandoned.
Amused, Duncan MacLeod leaned against the bar and watched. He had no intention of even trying to keep up with the whirling dynamo. Next to him, a tall, statuesque, dark blonde woman sipped at a glass of white wine and turned her eyes to MacLeod. "She is uninhibited, your friend."
"Yeah. She's not exactly a friend. I'm conducting some business with her."
Alaina Greigg nodded. "I didn't think she was your type, Duncan."
"And what is my type?"
"Not saucy young girls who can't handle their drink."
He laughed. He'd known Alaina a little over two centuries and she had always been one to speak her mind.
"You're right, Alaina. Actually, I'm looking for someone-- Etienne Duval. Have you seen him?"
She shook her head. "Not since before Christmas. He came in here occasionally-- stopped at Diabolique now and again. He hasn't been around lately."
"Do you think someone--?"
"Took his head? Maybe. He wasn't anything to brag about, but he was a likable fellow. Very young though... barely twenty. There are some who prey on newbies, you know. But I haven't heard of any around Paris lately." She sipped at her drink, then added, " It's odd though-- I had a friend disappear Christmas two years ago. Paolo Debrezi. He left the club with a brunette he'd met that night and I never saw him again."
"Was the brunette one of us?"
"No. She was like your blonde friend. A party girl." There was more than a trace of contempt in her voice. "Watch yourself with that one, Duncan."
MacLeod gave her an acknowledging bob of the head. "Don't worry, Alaina. I always do." At that moment, Lysette whirled off the floor and into his arms. Laughing, she grabbed the glass in his hand and took a big drink.
"Would you like one of your own?" he offered.
Impetuously, she threw her arms around his neck. "Dance with me, cherie."
He shrugged at Alaina as he lead the girl back onto the dance floor for a slow, sexy dance. He glimpsed Alaina as her eyes followed them a few moments, then she turned her back, devoting her attention to the bottles behind the bar.
Duncan MacLeod was running late, not too late, but he hastened his pace to the sidewalk cafe where he'd agreed to meet Methos. He'd gotten back to the barge late the previous night after dropping Lysette off at her flat. The girl had been nearly incoherent as he helped her stumble up the stairs to her door, but she'd turned, planted a goodnight kiss fully on his lips, then plunged through the door, slamming it behind her. He'd sauntered back down the steps and watched as the lights went on in a different room, then switched off. She was apparently safely tucked in for the night, he'd concluded and headed back to his own bed. But sleep had eluded him. Something tugged at his mind, something about the land deal-- or about the missing Immortals. He'd finally fallen asleep near dawn.
As he turned the corner, he saw Methos waiting at a table for him. Well, not exactly waiting. The elder Immortal dipped a croissant in a bowl of expresso as he read the morning papers. He glanced up as MacLeod approached. His eyes looked tired, but full of life and he grinned at MacLeod. "Morning. Or is it noon yet?"
"Don't give me that. I'm only a few minutes late."
"Yeah. Well, what is time to us anyway? How was your night?"
"Long," MacLeod grumbled. He motioned the waiter for coffee. "You're in a good mood today."
Methos took a deep breath of the misty air, looking around him like a man who has just discovered the world anew. "One thing nice about Paris is that you never know who you'll run into while walking her streets..."
He paused as MacLeod's coffee arrived and took the opportunity to down a good portion of his before he continued. "I met an old flame, MacLeod. A very old flame."
MacLeod's stomach knotted. The last old acquaintances had been brutal. "And?" he prompted.
"And the fire's still there." Methos looked more than a little smug.
"And just like that, Alexa is just a memory." MacLeod didn't know why he said it. He watched the look on Methos' face turn to hurt.
"It's been over a year. And no, she's not just a memory. Any more than Tessa is." His tone softened. "But we move on. We can't live in the past-- any of it. What happened last year-- or two thousand years ago-- is in the past."
He sipped at his coffee and waited as MacLeod pondered that one. The Highlander was silent, thinking about it. Methos let the silence drag on, waited as the other reached for a croissant, nibbled at it, then studied the swirls of cream in his coffee. His voice shook just a little as he continued, "MacLeod, have I ever-- ever in the time you've known me-- betrayed our friendship?"
The Scot's head came up and he met Methos' stare head on, met the open hazel eyes that he once thought he could read like a book. He was just beginning to learn how complex this man was and he'd thought about that a lot over the past few months. He shook his head. "No. But you haven't made it easy."
"I never said I was easy. I never said I was simple."
MacLeod barked out a laugh. "That's an understatement."
"So, are we still friends?"
"I wouldn't be talking to you if I didn't think so."
Methos lowered his eyes, let out the breath he'd been holding.
What was going on in his mind, Mac wondered. There was so much that wasn't being said on both sides. He was uneasy around Methos, not sure what to say or how it would be taken, He seemed very tense now, very uncertain. But he couldn't forget Methos' words when he'd asked him about the Horsemen, the almost mad look in his eyes as he confirmed Cassandra's story. He hadn't forgot what those words had meant. He'd found it hard to forgive him and equally hard not to. Methos was right, he'd never betrayed him-- had risked his life more than once for him. Everyone has skeletons in the closet, but he hadn't expected a whole army of them. Trust between them wasn't an issue. Trying to understand him, accepting that this man had committed the atrocities he had, was the problem. He thought he knew him, but now-- now he was a total enigma.
He made a quick decision. "I need to visit my property this morning. Take a look around. Something doesn't feel right about this deal. Want to come along?"
For the first part of the drive, both Immortals were silent, each wrestling with his own thoughts. Methos felt slightly depressed by the earlier conversation, lamenting that his friendship with MacLeod-- he was back to calling him that instead of Mac-- was still on very shaky ground. But then, it had always been tenuous at best. Until Kronos, MacLeod never really cared much about his past. Even now, he didn't want to know. No questions about the "old flame"-- not even to ask her name. Hell of a friendship, this.
Methos almost laughed out loud as he remembered their first meeting a little over two years ago. He'd nearly been awed by Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod-- all the stories and reports he'd read about the man over the years he'd been a Watcher and even before that as rumours made their way around Europe and America. He'd really wanted this friendship... gone out of his way to get a foothold in MacLeod's life, risked more than the man next to him would ever realize. And now, now it was worse than starting over.
Duncan glanced across at him. Clearing his throat nervously, MacLeod broke the silence. "I got this property in the seventeenth century. It's really nothing special-- just a nice wooded area, about ten acres. The young lady who bought it doesn't seem to have any real plans for it, so I'm curious why she wanted it."
"Maybe she wants to build a lodge. How's the hunting?"
"Small game, mostly. At least, it used to be. A few rabbits--"
"No such thing as a few. If you have two of the opposite sex, you have a crowd," Methos interrupted, trying to inject a little levity into the conversation.
"Rabbits," Duncan continued, "fox, badger-- that sort of thing. But the lady said she wasn't planning to build on it."
"How 'bout the wood? Is it good lumber?"
"Oak. I suppose it's worth a bit. She doesn't look like a lumberjack though. I thought maybe there was something on it I missed."
"Ah. And that's why you invited me along."
"Methos, I asked you because I wanted your company." MacLeod sounded exasperated.
Methos gazed out the window. "I just don't know how to talk to you any more."
"I guess that's the problem, isn't it? Try letting someone in some time. You might be surprised."
When Methos didn't respond, MacLeod let it go. Methos didn't look away from the window. If he did, MacLeod might see the sadness in his eyes and he didn't want that. Did he dare risk telling him more? God, there were some good things in his past, but there were so many nightmares as well. Nightmares he still wasn't ready to talk about.
//Maybe I'm expecting too much,// Mac Leod thought as his friend lapsed into silence, his back turned to him as he stared out the window. //When was the last time Methos had ever really been close to another Immortal? I was surprised and flattered when the old man-- old man? Look at that young face-- close to my own age at his first death-- a little younger, in fact-- had wanted to spend time with me, had sought out my company. But I've felt connected to him, even more so after that joint quickening. Had Methos felt it, too?//
He pushed those thoughts aside as he turned the car off the main road and smiled fondly at the woodland that stretched ahead. It had been his first real property, the first piece of land he actually owned. He was only selling half of it-- not ready to part with all. Ahead the sun coruscated on the light green spring leaves on the trees. Around the base of the old trees, ferns formed cool, elegant skirts. It looked ancient and mysterious.
The herb shop was not large in itself, only a two room store in an old section of Paris not too far from the Left Bank. But it was packed with herbs and spices, imported as well as custom mixed. Behind the low counter, Niam wrapped up a small parcel for an elderly woman.
"This is a Chinese herb. Take just one tablet each morning and you will notice an increase in your energy, Madame."
The woman nodded. "Merci, Niam. Your advice is always sound." She took the package and started to the door. Just then, a petite blonde girl entered the shop, smiling as she passed the customer. Lysette was perky and alert, in a fine mood. She had good news. Her broad smile at Niam told it all.
"You got it," Niam purred, the pleasure of her companion's success evident.
Lysette nodded. "Yes. Even without all the up front money. But we'll have to have it all in a month."
"We will, Lyse. We will. This is wonderful news. That nemeton is one of the oldest and now we own at least one section of it. What was the owner like?"
"Very nice. Younger than I'd expected and very charming." She giggled. "But still influenced by a love charm."
Niam laughed. "I doubt you even need that, vixen. And now we have the holy wood, the perfect place for our next ceremony. No more sneaking into old woods to claim what is rightfully ours. Ancient druids blessed the forests, worshipped and performed rites there and so will we. My order will set down a root that will grow." Her eyes glowed with the vision.
"Your followers will know it soon," Lysette added. "And more will embrace the old ways you teach. It will truly be a new awakening for the ancient religion."
"Indeed it will. Beltaine will be the turning point."
"Do you see anything special about this?" Duncan asked as he and Methos walked through the forest. They'd left the car a couple of miles back and covered the territory on foot. It was a musty wood, old trees with lots of plants growing beneath and between them, but nothing extraordinary that either of them had noticed.
Methos shook his head. "You mean apart from being a very old, very beautiful wood, no. A few unusual plants here and there-- vervain, ladyslipper, foxglove-- plants that can do healing although you have to be careful. They can be fatal also." He pointed out the plants as he named them.
"Didn't know you were an expert." MacLeod sounded amused.
"Spent some time as a druid healer in 57 A.D." Methos paused and looked around. There was something familiar about this wood though-- something that nagged at him. //Oh, hell,// he thought. //I've been in so many woods around Paris over the centuries, why not this one as well?//
"Well, if Mademoiselle Moraine and company-- whoever they are-- want it for the woods, they're welcome to it."
"Why are you selling, MacLeod?"
"I wasn't exactly. My solicitor contacted me with an offer on a portion of the wood. It was a fair offer so I agreed."
Methos turned as the afternoon sun broke through a canopy of tree limbs. There was something to the right, a vague memory flashed. He started that way, pushing through into an overgrown meadow. Vines and ferns flourished in the open space. //This isn't right,// he thought, but decided it wasn't a true memory after all.
"Let's head back," MacLeod said from behind him.
Methos nodded, still nagged by something at the edge of memory. "Damn, I must be getting old. Memories are getting spotty," he murmured. He turned to follow his friend back.
As they drove back to Paris, Mac talked about his early experiences in Paris and meeting Rebecca and Amanda, nothing that Methos didn't already know about. But he listened anyway, glad Mac was willing to talk and glad he wasn't demanding any answers from him. But when had Mac shown that much interest except for when it affected Cassandra? In fact, if Cassandra hadn't been involved, he wondered if MacLeod would have followed him to Europe or just left him to deal with Kronos on his own? At one point, he'd felt the friendship was strong enough that he could count on Mac's support, but now he wasn't so sure.
He shifted in the seat, annoyed at himself for allowing his mind to wander down those dark alleys. For many years now he refused to give in to second guessing anything. It was dangerous.
"Methos? Did you hear me?" MacLeod's voice cut through his thoughts and he sheepishly realized he'd shut his voice out.
"I'm sorry, MacLeod. My mind wandered..."
"Uh huh. Look, I think we need--"
MacLeod was interrupted as the car phone rang. He snatched it up. Methos felt a mixture of relief and disappointment. He thought MacLeod wanted to finally talk about what had happened with the horsemen, to make an attempt to understand and he wanted to talk about it. But he was also reluctant, still not sure if MacLeod could ever accept what he had been. And God knows, he wasn't anxious to revisit the path he'd taken to get there, but if MacLeod was willing to listen with an open mind, he'd make the journey.
"Yeah, Joe," MacLeod said into the phone. "In Brittany? Okay. Yeah, I'll check it out." He hung up, glanced at Methos who waited with an interested expression. "That was Joe. A headless body has turned up in Brittany, near the coast. He thinks I should go down and have a look. Care to come along?"
"Uhmm, I don't think so. I have plans."
"A date, huh?"
"The old flame?" He watched as Methos looked uncomfortable. A touch of disappointment was in his voice as he continued, "Never mind. None of my business."
"No, it's fine. Okay if I drop you at the Metro station?"
He pulled the car to the curb. "I'll call you when I get back."
Methos hesitated, chewed at his lip. "MacLeod, we have to talk."
"Yeah. I'll call you."
Methos sighed, climbed out and watched as the Citroen slipped back into traffic. Why was this so damn difficult? He made his way to the Metro entrance and took the stairs two at a time. Was this friendship with MacLeod really worth the anguish?
The scales were as old as most of the other equipment in the herb shop, a counterbalancing unit that inched its way to even as Niam added small amounts of a greenish-gray powder to the tray. Satisfied the amount was accurate, she dumped the contents into a bag and sealed it.
Methos watched her finishing it up, waiting as she labeled it. She flashed a grin his direction. "I'll only be a couple of minutes more, Adam."
"It's all right. Take your time." He leaned back against the counter as she worked.
A few moments later, a petite blonde came in from the back room. Niam glanced up. "Hi, Lyse. This is Adam, an old friend of mine. Adam-- Lysette. She's my apprentice."
Lysette glanced at Adam, "Bonjour." She brushed past him and went to a mixing table where she pulled out several jars of herbs and began mixing them together in small proportions. Methos watched her a few minutes, beginning to wonder exactly what she was kind of apprentice she was. She dropped the measuring spoon twice, put too much of the wrong herb in one mix and had to start over and generally seemed distracted. Maybe he was making her nervous...
Niam came around the counter, took his arm. "Let's go, cariad. I'm starving." He turned his full attention to the woman at his side, bumbling assistant forgotten as he gazed into Niam's wide eyes and a hundred warm memories bombarded his mind. He felt so lucky to have found her again, to have a second chance with her.
Much later, Methos and Niam stretched side by side in her bed. His fingers lightly traced the tattoo on her breast, a reminder of those early days. At one time she'd had one on her ankle as well but that one must have been removed. He'd never had one done then-- too hard to get them to stay on an Immortal body. He'd had enough trouble with the Watcher tattoo. Unconsciously, he glanced to where the symbol used to adorn his left wrist. There was no sign of it now, no sign of a scar to even indicate it ever existed.
Niam's hand traced along the features of his face, drawing in a mustache he no longer wore and shifting down to his lips and his chin. She pressed her face against his, rubbing against him. "So many changes, yet the eyes are the same, Dylan. Eyes like the woods themselves... browns and greens and ageless. Why couldn't you tell me then, cariad?"
"Tell you what?"
"What we were. What I would become. Why did you leave me to find out through trial and error?" Her voice was bitter, anger at the edge of it. //She has reason,// he thought. //How can I explain it?//
Wales 60 A.D.
"The news is bad. Roman forces are moving from the south. We fear that our holy island is their target." Guerin spoke matter-of-factly to the small council of druids. His dark eyes glittered in a leathery old face that appeared to have aged as much as was humanly possible. He was considered the wisest druid in the order, at least the most learned.
At first these incongruities in his life had amused Methos. Because of his youthful appearance he was always considered the inexperienced one by people who mistakenly placed more credence on the look of age rather than wisdom. But it also worked to his advantage. No one ever expected a great deal from him. And, in spite of three thousand years worth of experience of dealing with mortals, Immortals, and war, he didn't want to offer an opinion now. He listened with a sense of foreboding as Guerin spoke of the coming threat to the orderly existence of these people he'd lived with for the past seven years.
"They fear us," Maelwyn muttered. "What they don't understand, they think they must destroy." Maelwyn was second in the order, several years younger than Guerin and of a fierce nature.
"Nay," said Alwynna, the purest voice of the lot in Methos' opinion. Although she was nearing sixty, Alwynna's dark hair barely showed any silvery strands and her face was nearly unlined. She was, no doubt, a stunning beauty when she was Niam's age. "I think rather they fear our control over the Cymri. If we control them, they cannot."
"What say you, Dylan?' Maelwyn asked, turning his body to face the younger druid.
Methos hesitated a moment, deciding how much to say. "That Alwynna speaks most closely to the truth. The Romans are tolerant of religion and customs so long as they control the people and it does not conflict directly with theirs. Our order represents a threat to that control. They know the Cymri will not act against the druids. Therefore, they must."
"Then we must plan to stop them..." Guerin decreed. "In any way necessary." His intense eyes met the eyes of each of the druids, one by one, saying more than we will go to war. Methos understood as well as the rest. They would fight, but one would be asked to be a sacrifice. To intercede with the gods on behalf of the Cymri. When Geurin's eyes met his, he nodded his head , signifying he was aware. At that moment, he was grateful Niam was not yet a druid and would not be a part of this.
As the gathering broke up, Alwynna came to him, touched his arm. "You are not one of us by birth, Dylan. Yet you would be part of this fight and take your chances with the selection."
"Yes. I am a druid. What threatens one threatens all."
"You seem much wiser than your years, my boy. Or possibly your knowledge is broader than any of us suspect."
He grinned. "Only a moment of insight, Alwynna. I listen and I learn. But I would like to beg a favor. If I am selected, please take care of Niam."
"Of course. That goes without saying."
It was dusk when the tribe gathered for the ceremonial meal. The small oat cakes were baked on the open fire, one cake being seared in an exceptionally hot fire to blacken it quickly. This would be the deciding cake. Young Fergus sat next to Methos in the circle, he would be the last to chose. One by one, the cakes were taken from the plate. Methos watched closely as each person took a cake, watched the expression on the faces as they touched the cake, using their fingers to explore. As he reached for the next to the last cake, Methos knew none had taken the cake yet, and a light brush of his fingers against each cake told him which was the blackened cake. He paused, hand hovering over the plate, and glanced at Fergus. The lad was barely nineteen, about to become a father. He reached for the damning bread, took it and held it tightly in his lap, not thinking about what he'd just done.
At the signal, each druid took a bite of the cake. Methos tasted the burnt grains, knew he was about to change his lifestyle again and accepted it with a resigned sigh. Guerin waited patiently for the selected one to make himself known. Slowly, reluctantly, Methos turned the cake upward to show the charred side to the rest of the circle. Across from him, Alwynna looked pained, then quickly lowered her eyes. He knew that she had expected it, but perhaps she had hoped otherwise.
"The gods have chosen you, Dylan," Guerin declared. "I think it a wise choice."
"It wasn't easy after you left and the Romans came," Niam said softly. "You should have killed me then and taken me with you."
Methos pulled her closer, kissed her forehead and caressed her hair. "It wasn't that simple, love."
"Neither was being killed by a Roman dog... or discovering that you couldn't die, even when you wanted to." The bitterness gave way to the anger, renewed again at the thoughts.
"I'm sorry, Niam. Believe me, I would never had wanted you to go through that. I hoped you would be safe after I left. I spoke to Alwynna..."
"Alwynna died trying to keep the Romans from me and the children." Niam's voice broke as tears choked her. Methos bit his lower lip. There was nothing more he could say, nothing that would alter what was past. He could only hold her and love her now.
"You won't ever leave me again, Dylan," she said softly as her lips found his.
"Not willingly," he murmured as he responded to the touch and shifted his weight on the bed. Then there was no time for words as they gave way to the desire for each other.
Methos rolled off her, sweaty and breathing hard, but content. Niam reached across and pulled him to her again, until his head rested on her shoulder. His hand moved to cradle her breast but she caught it, redirected it to her lips, kissing his palm. He smiled as he closed his eyes, letting sleep take him.
In the pale light of moon glow, Niam watched her lover sleep-- just as he had many nights long ago. Only the look on her face wasn't love; it was something much darker.
continued in part two...