An entry in the Quill Club's "Slashing the Bard" contest that didn't win, that wasn't much loved, and that wasn't slashy enough for readers who cared enough to give feedback. Ah, well, you can't win 'em all. A little melodramatic (as if any of my stuff isn't!), written while in the woods without any hi-tech for a week. If slash offends you or if you are underage, please leave now and go find some nice gen stuff.

Poisons by Laura Mason

The MacLeods were enemies of the English. So of course Duncan couldn't be in love with Debra Campbell, daughter of the hated collaborator William. Since the old Montgomery estates had been awarded to Lord Eveson by the Crown, William Campbell had been acting as if he were the Lord of the estate, though he was simply in the paid employ of the hated absentee Englishman. Campbell supervised the servants preparing the house, rode the lands and harassed the tenants in his Lordship's name. Anyone who took so much pleasure in carrying out the wishes of an Englishman was no true Scotsman, Duncan's father claimed.

But Debra was so beautiful, red-haired with a womanly figure. She couldn't be held accountable for her father's treason. What girl could control her father's actions? Debra wasn't a traitor, she was just as Scottish as Duncan himself, born and raised in Glenfinnan. Remembering the rumors he'd heard as a child, Duncan thought perhaps she was far more Scottish than he. He'd never mentioned anything to his mother or father, but before he was seven Duncan had been told that he was a foundling, not a "real" MacLeod.

The pain of those taunts had led Duncan to try to prove he deserved the MacLeod name. Over and over, with his fists among the boys his age, and with his every action as his father taught him the ways of the Clan, Duncan had fought to be a true MacLeod.

Now, as he watched Debra Campbell shopping in the square, the sunlight glimmering on her ruddy locks and her smile bright, he realized it had all been in vain. He wasn't a MacLeod. For how could a true son of MacLeod love her so?

***

The ball to celebrate Lord Eveson's arrival would not be attended by any of the MacLeods, even if they'd been invited. But Duncan's cousin Robert was willing to crash the party with him, intent on causing mischief at the ball. So they put on their Sunday best and went to the manor house. There was such a crowd no one noticed them, but as soon as they entered the ballroom, and Duncan had just glimpsed Debra in her white gown, an elegantly-dressed man approached them.

"How do you do. May I have the honor of knowing your names, gentlemen?"

"I'm Drew Williams, and this is my cousin Robert," Duncan stammered quickly. He could feel the rosy blush on his face from the lie.

"I'm pleased to meet you both." The man was close to Duncan's own age, he thought, but disgustingly self-assured. Why wouldn't he be? His tall, slender figure was attired in the latest London fashion. His face wasn't exactly unpleasant, though Duncan thought his nose was large, but the man seemed very amused by them. Surely it was rude to show that amusement so plainly. The man continued speaking. "Two Highland warriors become cavaliers. It must be for the love of a lady fair." And the scornful glance moved in the direction of Debra's dancing figure.

"You canna..." Robert began, but Duncan cut off his indignant comments.

"A gentleman doesn't discuss such things." Duncan felt ridiculously prim even as he spoke.

"Perhaps you do not, sir, but English gentlemen discuss little else, I'm afraid."

Robert snorted but shut his mouth without comment at Duncan's look. The stranger merely nodded. His eyes were sharp, but the scorn in his eyes had softened somewhat. If a woman had observed Duncan so closely -- Debra, for example -- he'd have thought she found him attractive. But this man couldn't think that, so he must simply find Duncan interesting in some way. Perhaps his manners were rustic or very different from those the man was accustomed to. Duncan was on his very best behavior, but he wasn't sure how people behaved in London.

As the stranger turned to watch the room of dancers, Duncan forgot him and concentrated on following Debra's graceful form as she stepped through the formal movements of the country dance with a partner. Her bright hair was curled and arranged with flowers -- even more lovely than in its usual state. She was smiling at everyone, and she seemed to feel Duncan's admiring look, for she turned in his direction when the dance brought her near, and sent a lovely smile at him.

Robert saw this and became uneasy. "Duncan, come away. This is foolish. We shouldna..."

"Let me be! You can leave if you wish."

"What would your father say? Flirting with that Campbell girl. Her father's a dog!"

Duncan knew his cousin spoke the truth, but he could only answer "She's so lovely, Robert. Does she not shine more brightly than the candles?"

"You must not do this!" Robert was tugging on his arm, but broke away quickly when the stranger spoke to them again, making both boys jump.

"If I may make a suggestion, gentlemen?" Had he overheard their conversation? "I can arrange an introduction to the lovely Miss Campbell for you, if you wish."

"You can?" Duncan's face lit up with excitement.

"No. I'm leaving. We're leaving," Robert interjected, angry.

"You go. I'm staying." Robert's eyes pleaded for a moment, and then he stamped off in disgust. "Thank you so much for your kind assistance."

"Ah, but I have a demand as well. Before I can introduce you, I must know your real name." The man's sharp eyes were intent.

Duncan drew himself up and put his life on the line. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. And you, sir?"

"I'm Lord Eveson, but you may call me Matthew."

The remainder of the extraordinary ball was spent in company with his host, the hated Lord Eveson, who introduced Duncan to others as 'Drew Williams' and stayed close by his side. He carefully guided Duncan to the best food and wines, showed him around the house, discussing some of the fine art in the manor from the days of the Montgomerys, and drew Duncan into talking about himself and his family.

Lord Eveson's conversation was witty and very enjoyable. He had a wickedly sharp tongue, often turned toward his guests, and Duncan decided that his initial impression of the man hadn't been completely correct. Now that Eveson's habitual scorn was not directed at Duncan, Duncan could see that it was a facade to keep people at a distance. Everyone wanted to be close to the wealthy Lord, and everyone seemed to want something from him. Thus, everyone was made subject for sport. But Matthew was very kind to Duncan, and carefully refrained from any rude comments on Debra Campbell or her father.

William Campbell, swollen with his own importance, was the greatest horses' ass Duncan had ever seen. And when he dropped a soft remark in Matthew's ear to that effect, his Lordship choked and almost spit his wine out over his expensive clothes. They watched the much-hated man fawn over wealthy ladies and preen in his new, ill-fitting finery, then laughed softly over their plans to free Debra from his influence.

Duncan couldn't think of Eveson as an enemy or an evil person after a night like this one. His father might have a grudge against the English in general -- certainly Duncan knew enough of his country's history to understand that. But Lord Eveson wasn't here to oppress them; he'd been awarded the manor and merely wanted to make a comfortable home, do some hunting, and relax. Or so he said. But Duncan couldn't doubt his words, spoken in a soft, almost sad voice as he guided Duncan through the huge house.

Very late, as the musicians played the last song and carriages pulled away from the manor house, Duncan found himself outside a window of the estate, speaking words of love with Debra. Lord Eveson, true to his word, had introduced them and asked Duncan to escort Debra safely to her room for the evening. Duncan had complied, exchanging a few more words with Debra in private as he did. He'd returned to the ballroom to take formal leave of his host, only to double back through the side door Matthew had shown him earlier. Through the scullery, into the garden, and to Debra's window. She sat under the stars, brushing out her curls as she waited for him. Duncan admired her for a moment, then found himself seeing Lord Eveson's sad smile as they'd said goodnight.

He wondered why his Lordship -- Matthew -- had helped him woo his love. As he approached her and spoke to her at last, in the back of his mind he was sure that no one else, friend or family, would have been willing to assist them. For that matter, what had drawn Lord Eveson to notice him and Robert in the first place? Their finery was no more out-of-date than everyone else's. Their accents were the same as those of the collaborators.

For that matter, how could Duncan now call them collaborators and scorn them? They were merely making money off those who had it in abundance -- the English. It seemed a small transgression when Duncan actually felt friendship, a true kinship, with the Englishman his village hated. Duncan still despised William Campbell, but it was for who he was rather than what he'd done. Why not work for the wealthy landowner? Was that any worse than becoming an Englishman's friend?

Duncan knew his father would be horrified, his mother would cry, his cousin would never understand. Yet he made another rendezvous with Debra for the following evening. And as he crept away, headed home as the dawn brightened the sky to the east, he vowed that he would also see Lord Eveson again.

***

Methos couldn't believe he'd found a pre-immortal among these once-warring tribes -- now, of course, united in their hatred of him as representative of all things English. And such a beautiful boy. Not a boy, truly, but young and naive enough to seem one. Honest, intelligent, devoted to those he believed were his family -- yet passionate enough to risk their scorn for love. Too bad the object of that first blossoming love was the voluptuous Debra Campbell. The girl was a beauty, but her father was a fool and a scoundrel, and she didn't seem to have enough brains to keep a man interested once her beauty faded. As it surely would fade, as outward appearances did with all mortals.

Methos had stayed with some of his wives for thirty or more years, and counted himself lucky. So often they died too young. But even into their sixties, their inner beauty had never faded, though few were ever considered beautiful by the mortals around them. They'd had the spark Methos sought, that made them prized to him. Debra Campbell was just an ordinary girl, there was no special spark. She was lovely and very young, period. Someday she would be older and no longer lovely, and the fiery Highlander Duncan MacLeod would probably think that was how love was always fated to be. A lusty beginning, a passionate wooing, and then boredom. If the fates were kind, the lad would come into his immortality while he was young and vital, and he'd have enough years to learn about the other kinds of love. Love that didn't end in ennui. Passion that didn't burn out.

For a brief moment Methos thought what it could be like to share such a passion with the beautiful MacLeod son, but then he quickly stopped himself. No, Methos wasn't feeling anything but paternal toward the lad. He felt sorry that the lad would be disappointed in Miss Campbell, but he wasn't jealous. Not in the least. He didn't think about those big brown eyes lighting up at the sight of him, or about those full, red lips caressing his body intimately. Men of his age didn't fantasize about pushing their fingers through raven locks as they made love endlessly.

Or at least, Methos didn't want to think about it. He knew enough about immortals to stay far away from any entanglements. He'd better find a willing chambermaid and have some uncomplicated sex.

Still, sex was only a part of what he missed. Methos had been alone too long now; he'd gone years without any true companionship. He didn't want a student, and he wasn't going to fall into company with the types of immortals who wanted a 'brother' again. But it would be comforting to have a real friend, someone like him, to sympathize with the burden of being unchanged as the years flowed past. Duncan's conversation had been intelligent and varied; he seemed interested in everything and quick-witted at absorbing and applying new ideas.

Methos felt he'd wasted too much of their time together last night dealing with his Lordship's unwanted, boring guests. But even that had shown him Duncan's ready wit. Methos didn't suffer fools without comment these days. Duncan had actually understood his cutting remarks and laughed with him at some of the more idiotic of his guests. And when he'd commented in turn on William Campbell...

Methos found himself laughing aloud over his breakfast, much to the butler's amazement.

So let the wonderful boy have his first love. Methos could have a friend, or a kind of friendship. The enmity between his "English" background and the Scots would keep them from becoming truly intimate, he feared. But he could assist the boy's courtship and thus spend time with him. Maybe help in some small ways to prepare Duncan for the immortality he'd some day enjoy. And lessen Methos' own loneliness in the process.

All in all, the trip to Scotland wasn't as much of a fiasco as Methos had feared. He'd planned this "inheritance" as his way to end Lord Eveson's life and make his way to a new country and new persona. When he'd wangled the estates out of the King, in gratitude for services rendered -- or as blackmail, depending on your view -- his only thought had been having a little peace and a chance to get away without drawing the attention of the court, nobility, newspapers, and other immortals.

He'd been shocked to feel presence at his own home last night. He'd been so sure there were no immortals in this area. So he'd sought out the immortal presence he'd felt, knowing it was not exactly the way to stay out of sight, but anxious to assess any threat. When he'd realized it was a pre-immortal, he'd been relieved and intrigued. Watching the young man stare at Miss Campbell was amusing and somehow heartbreaking. Methos couldn't remember being that young; he didn't know who his first love was or if he'd had a first love at all. His memories began with pain, suffering, death -- and lightning.

Young Duncan MacLeod deserved to have better memories of his time as a mortal. Methos would see to it that the young lovers were assisted on their way. The hell with clan politics, anyway. A few more years and English rule would have dissolved all those allegiances, anyway.

***

"She's agreed to marry you?"

Duncan nodded, pleased with his success and yet somehow shy. Matthew had been a faithful confidant throughout his brief courtship of Debra, assisting in the arrangement of their few brief trysts. Still, it was apparent in his face that Matthew thought marriage was a very big step. Duncan had overcome Debra's protests, but he couldn't imagine trying the same arguments on Matthew. Or perhaps the problem was that he could imagine it -- just not do it. If he ever kissed Matthew, Duncan's life would change forever, and in far more ways than marrying a Campbell.

"Congratulations are in order, then." Matthew pulled his horse up and dismounted, and Duncan carefully did the same from the lovely mare his Lordship had brought for him to ride. They met this way almost every day, far from the eyes and ears of the village, and spent long days under the trees, walking or riding and talking about life and love.

When he thought about it, Duncan wasn't surprised that he felt so very close to Matthew. After all, he'd spent more time with Lord Eveson than with Debra herself. "You're very kind. Thank you."

"Will your priest agree to this marriage?"

"I've already spoken to Father James and he's agreed to a secret wedding. Our families would never give us their blessing. Debra's father hopes she'll marry a nobleman, and my father hates the Campbells."

"I see." Matthew's sympathy was evident in his eyes, and though he had no family of his own, he seemed to understand how important Duncan's family was to him. Duncan had a feeling Matthew didn't share his high opinion of Debra, yet he listened to all Duncan's hopes and dreams, and had brought Debra to his manor house for several of their meetings.

But even more than his help with Duncan's secret courtship, Matthew was a good friend and a fascinating person. Sometimes his tongue was sharp, but he was never cruel. Duncan had learned to laugh at himself in these weeks. Best was when Matthew told stories of all the exotic places and interesting people he'd seen on his travels. Not only that, he could read and write, and he taught Duncan how to make the letters of his name. When Matthew related stories from books to Duncan, he always insisted that the book itself was far more detailed, and said that Duncan should learn to read for himself so he could enjoy the full effect.

Duncan knew far more about Matthew than he knew about Debra. But no matter how fair Matthew was, his slender gracefulness didn't compare to Debra's beauty And his changeable eyes were never as soft and loving as Debra's, no matter how clearly his feelings shone in them. Duncan knew men didn't always love women -- but he also knew it was a sin to lust after another man. Nor could Matthew give him children, or take a place at his side when he someday took over his father's role of Clan chieftain. Even if such things were possible with a man, Matthew was English and noble. There could be no future between them, except as friends.

So Duncan put aside his thoughts of Matthew's kindness and manly beauty yet again. He'd be content to have a good friend. Perhaps someday, as Matthew predicted, the English and Scots would live together in peace, and their friendship could be acknowledged by everyone. Duncan tried to imagine a different world, as Matthew often encouraged him to do. A world where he'd have time to travel as Matthew had done, or to live in different countries and learn their languages and ways of doing things.

They walked in silence for a few minutes as Duncan pondered all these things, leading their horses slowly downhill, and then Matthew broke the silence. "Would you and Debra like a post-wedding supper at the manor? I could arrange a private meal for you and anyone you'd care to invite. Then you could stay the night together in one of the third floor rooms. Have one night alone before you have to face your families." Matthew's eyes seemed sad as he spoke, and Duncan wondered if he was remembering the lost love he'd hinted at during some of their conversations. Matthew had never said a name aloud, but his musings on love were usually tinged with grief. For one so young, Lord Eveson had certainly experienced more than Duncan and Debra, and unfortunately some of those experiences were obviously quite tragic.

"We'd be honored. It's very kind of you to offer such a generous, thoughtful gift for our wedding."

"The honor is all mine, Duncan. It's a pleasure to witness true love, and you've shared yourself with me."

"I hope you will stand witness for us." Duncan watched carefully, afraid he'd sadden or even insult the Englishman, but Matthew merely looked pleased.

"Nothing would give me more joy, Duncan. Shall we ride back now?" At Duncan's nod, they re-mounted and headed back toward Montgomery House, talking and laughing freely in the silence of Donan Wood.

***

"Debra!" The Campbell brothers held Duncan and Robert back as the very angry William Campbell dragged his daughter, Duncan's bride, out of the chapel. Somehow he'd learned of their plans, though he'd arrived too late to stop the ceremony, and he was intent on preventing the consummation of their vows.

"Duncan!" she cried as the door closed after their struggling figures. Lord Eveson, who'd hung back during the confrontation, stopped long enough to whisper to the priest then ran out, following Debra and her father. The priest came over and attempted to separate the young men fighting in his chapel, but merely managed to urge them out the door faster, which had been the Campbells' intent all along.

As Duncan was dragged into the street, he wished he'd never begged Robert to attend the ceremony. He'd been so pleased when Robert gruffly agreed to stand witness for the MacLeods. But now Robert was fighting with Tyrell Campbell, even as Duncan struggled with Edward and young Billy. Somehow Robert managed to free himself, and Duncan saw with horror that he'd pulled a knife from his boot. Tyrell had a long knife at his belt, and as he watched helplessly his beloved cousin and his new brother were fighting in earnest. The venomous hatred between their families was about to cause a tragedy, and Duncan was forced to witness it.

"Let me go, you fools. Stop them!" Duncan struggled but the two holding him merely called encouragement to their brother. Duncan simply couldn't let Robert hurt Debra's family, so he stopped struggling and threw his weight the opposite direction, back toward Billy, who lost his grip on Duncan and fell into Edward. Duncan was free, but instead of trying to fight the boys he threw himself between the fighters.

"Robert, I beg of you, he's my family now..." But Robert was still now, his face shocked, eyes wide with surprise. Then he crumpled to the ground, and Duncan felt sticky warmth on his hand where it touched Robert's ribcage. Tyrell's last blow had fallen even as Duncan held Robert in place to receive it, and now Robert's life was bleeding out onto the dirt of the village road. Duncan fell to his knees beside Robert, holding him, crooning "no, no, no."

The Campbells stood back, Tyrell shocked and horrified, as a larger crowd gathered behind them. Duncan didn't see any of them. He only saw Robert's dazed face; saw his eyes glaze over, sightless; and heard only the choked moan as his cousin died in the dust. Duncan knelt there, shaking with grief and rage, and found his hand clutching the knife still embedded in his cousin's side.

"Campbell!" Duncan's cry as he pulled the blade from Robert's body shook the buildings of Glenfinnan and made the crowd step back. But before anyone could react -- before Matthew Eveson could reach Duncan; before the Campbells pulled their brother away; before the priest could begin the rites for Robert -- Duncan rose and whirled, blade extended, and struck down Tyrell Campbell where he stood, burying the already bloody blade deep in Tyrell's heart.

Matthew reached him as Tyrell fell, and Duncan knew he was being led away quickly through the confused, noisy crowd. Deep in shock, he knew no more for many days.

***

Methos had thrown Duncan over his own horse and climbed up behind him, riding full out straight into the woods, heading to the tiny hunting cottage that was at the furthest point of his estate. The horse was half dead by the time they arrived, and Duncan was no better. It was over a week before Methos could begin to think of leaving him alone, but there'd been no pursuit and it seemed Duncan would be safe. Of course the young Scot couldn't go back to Glenfinnan, where he'd either face trial or some Campbell would assassinate him. But perhaps Debra understood the tragedy and would come join him here. Matthew Eveson had plenty of money and wasn't long for this world -- Methos could give them a nest egg to begin again, somewhere else.

The sooner Methos could return to the village the happier he'd be. Enforced time alone with Duncan in the tiny, quaint cottage was quite difficult. There was only one bed, which he'd given to the young Highlander for the first two nights. But once Duncan was past his shock, he'd insisted that 'Matthew' join him in the feather quilt instead of sleeping in the chair he'd been using for that purpose. Methos felt that was pushing temptation to a dangerous level. Only Duncan's sweet, trusting face kept him from attempting a seduction. Well, that and the fear that a simple seduction would never be enough with this beautiful man.

Duncan was just as he'd first appeared -- passionate, intelligent, and virtuous. In the past Methos had delighted in debauching innocent, virtuous people, but he'd put that man aside. Now he'd vowed to simply befriend the young man. He was not to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh with him. Nor had he been wise to bring Duncan away that tragic afternoon.

Why had Methos whisked Duncan away, after all? If the youth had died, he would have been re-born, immortal, and at the height of his beauty and strength.

But Duncan would have been broken-hearted, and perhaps unable to appreciate the gift of his immortality. Methos didn't want to see Duncan lose his head simply because he didn't care enough to fight, or didn't feel eternal life was worthwhile without his Debra. So he'd behaved as if Duncan were a simple mortal, and preserved his life instead of letting fate take its course.

He'd interfered so much in Duncan's life and romance... Methos shook his head. He'd done the lad no favors, and someday he might lose his head for it. Still, if he was going to lose his quickening, he'd want it to be to someone as deserving of the prize as Duncan MacLeod.

"Matthew?" Methos stopped writing in his journal when Duncan entered the one-room cottage.

"Yes, Duncan?" The Highlander had been out hunting a dinner for them, and he placed his game on the table before walking over to where Methos was seated.

"I ... I didn't mean to interrupt your work. I simply felt all alone, and wanted to be sure you were really here."

"I understand, Duncan. It's fine, I wasn't busy. Come sit with me."

"I miss my family," he admitted as he approached.

"I will bring you news of them, Duncan, and hopefully bring Debra to you within a few days. I promise." Duncan sank to his knees beside the older immortal, and rested his face against Methos' thigh.

"I know, and I'm so grateful for all you've done."

"Nonsense. I'm afraid I've hardly helped you." Methos found his hand was stroking the dark curls without his volition.

"That feels nice. I wish you'd brush my hair for me sometime." And the youngster actually rubbed his face against Methos's thigh. Methos wondered if Duncan was simply the most innocent thing he'd ever known, or the biggest cock-tease in Europe. He desperately willed his body to not react to the warm breath on his leg, and tried to stop fondling the soft curls he still held.

"Perhaps after I return with Debra she can do that for you."

"Aye." But that little sigh was sad, somehow.

"Duncan, is there something wrong?"

"I'm afraid Debra will hate me now that I've killed her brother."

"Do you hate her because Tyrell killed Robert?"

"No, I canna blame her for that." Duncan looked up at him, eyes shining with tears. "I truly love her."

"She loves you, too, I think. She defied her father to marry you. Hopefully she will not blame you for your actions, either. She must know that Robert was as dear as a brother to you."

"Aye." Duncan was still staring up at him, his eyes so trusting. "I would have protected both men with my own life. But instead I sowed death without meaning to."

"Sadly, such things are far too common, Duncan. Don't berate yourself. You are young. Someday you will learn when to hold your hand and when to strike." And Methos held his Highland warrior until the sobs shaking his strong body stopped.

***

Methos arrived back in Glenfinnan bearing the lie that Duncan MacLeod had run off to Ireland. His servants would spread that news to the entire town, so he cleaned himself and made formal funeral calls to the MacLeod family, who would not let him cross their threshold, and then to the Campbells, who fawned on him and seemed to forget Tyrell's body was laid out in the room. He spotted Debra's nurse, and with a wink and a few pounds slipped into her hand, he'd arranged for Debra to be brought to his garden the next day during her daily constitutional walk.

Debra burst into tears as soon as she saw him. "Father refuses to recognize our marriage. Please, Lord Eveson, help me to find my rightful husband and to be with him again. I love Duncan. I'll die without him."

"And he loves you, Miss -- sorry, Madam." Methos had led her through his garden and into the quiet groves far from the servants. "I've spread word that Duncan is in Ireland now. It's not true; he waits nearby, hidden. He hopes you will join him. Are you willing? Can we leave tonight?"

"Nay, my father would follow us. I'm sure my brothers and cousins are nearby. He won't interfere with me meeting you; I think father hopes I'll marry into your circle. But if they find Duncan, they'll kill him for what he's done."

"I must ask you this, though it is difficult." Methos paused and looked straight into Debra's eyes. The girl had been changed by this tragedy. She had matured, but she was still quite beautiful. "Do you harbor ill will for what Duncan has done?"

"Never. 'Twas all a horrible accident, I'm sure. He loved Robert so; grief must have maddened him. I know he didn't mean to harm my family." Methos smiled down into her clear eyes, and nodded his agreement. He was glad to see Debra was more loyal than he'd feared.

"It hurt Duncan very much to see his two families fighting. He never intended to do anything but stop them both, I'm sure of it," Methos confirmed.

They continued to walk, and Debra gathered some flowers to explain her long absence. "I must be with Duncan again."

"There must be some way to assure that no one will follow you. Let me think for a day and come up with a plan."

"They'll never leave off me, not until I'm dead," Debra sighed, and Methos found himself thinking of herb-lore he hadn't used in many centuries.

"Perhaps there is a way to make everyone believe you have died. It will not be pleasant, but your Highland prince will revive you to a new life with him, far from Glenfinnan."

"I'll do whatever I must. It will be hard to leave my home and my people, but Duncan is everything to me."

"And you to him." The priest would help him, and perhaps the nurse, too. Methos was in full scheming mode, trying to think of the cleverest, foolproof plan. By the next afternoon, he had it. The only problem was that it was a slow-acting poison, and would take a few more days than he'd anticipated.

Duncan would be anxiously waiting for him, but Methos had no messenger he could trust with the scheme verbally. He wished that Duncan could read. Then he could send a sealed note. But it just wasn't possible to get word to Duncan unless Methos traveled himself. If he did that, who knew what might happen? He'd have to show someone else how to mix the herbs, and it wasn't a knowledge Methos wanted to pass on to future generations of mortals. Or William Campbell might send his daughter away to a healer. Even worse, someone might follow Methos and thus, capture Duncan.

So he kept silent and went ahead with his scheme, giving Debra's nurse daily instructions on the small doses to make her ill. Methos trusted that Duncan would remain safely at the cottage.

***

"Duncan MacLeod. Do you remember me?"

Duncan stared at the beautiful woman standing before him, as young and mysterious as she'd been years before. Still perfect. "Cassandra. It's really you. I thought you were but a dream."

"Not a dream, my dear. And not changed like you. The lovely boy has become a man."

 "Aye."

"Come here, my darling, and tell me why there is such grief in your eyes." She held open her arms, and Duncan did exactly as she asked.

Many hours later, awaking beside the beautiful witch, Duncan felt a tinge of shame for what he'd done. He was pledged to Debra, yet he'd once again made love to Cassandra without ever thinking of his wife. Somehow it was difficult to think clearly when she spoke to him. He'd only felt lust and admiration. And he'd answered all her questions about Matthew without even wondering why she was so curious about the English lord. Surely someone with her powers didn't fear the English?

"Duncan my dearest boy, I sense that you are concerned about the woman you mentioned, Debra?" Cassandra rose out of the bed and covered herself in her gauzy robes again.

"Yes, Cassandra. She's my wife, though we were cruelly parted as soon as our vows were made." Duncan stood and dressed himself. "Though my actions might indicate otherwise, I'm very worried about her. Her father is a fool but he knows she is a treasure. I'm afraid he's sent her away, and that's why Matthew hasn't returned yet."

"You trust this Englishman to bring her to you? Perhaps he's run away with her himself."

"No, Matthew is a true friend. He'd never betray me."

Cassandra looked almost displeased for an instant, but then she put her hands to her temples and hummed a note. "Let me see if I can call on my powers to check on her. To reassure you she is near. Duncan, you must think of your Debra and picture her clearly. Think on your love."

Duncan nodded and sat on the edge of the bed as Cassandra paced, still humming. He tried to visualize Debra as she'd asked. He could see her ruddy curls, her soft blue eyes smiling at him. But every picture included Matthew, smiling at him as he handed over the reins to his lovely mare, saying "She's for you to ride." Matthew talking with him, very seriously discussing the future of their Clan. Or Matthew laughing, watching a family of ducks splashing in the river. Matthew, introducing him to Debra, that touch of sadness in his golden eyes.

"You aren't concentrating enough, Duncan. Or perhaps you are thinking of your most recent love. Did that man seduce you?"

"No! Matthew wouldn't... He's my friend, a good friend. Nothing more."

"Or so you believe. Let me tell you what I've seen. There is poison. Matthew is killing your Debra. That is my vision."

"No!"

"If you don't go to her now, she'll die. At his hand."

"I can't believe that Matthew would harm her."

"Something must have changed, Duncan. You must return to Glenfinnan. It is your fate."

"I'll try to save her. But the Campbells will kill me if they see me first." Duncan was tossing on the remainder of his clothes, pulling his other goods into a pack. "Do you know the right direction to town? I'm not sure how we got here."

"Take my horse, Duncan. She'll be outside in a few minutes. Have something to eat, and pack up the rest for your travel. The mare knows the way to Glenfinnan, and she'll get you there swiftly."

Duncan grasped Cassandra's hand and kissed it. "Thank you for all you've done. I'll never forget you."

"I know, sweet Duncan." The powerful immortal woman smiled as she left the cottage. Duncan, still packing, never heard her mutter "I'll make sure you never forget me, and that you do forget that damn Horseman."

***

Duncan rode with Cassandra, though he did not realize that the "horse" she'd loaned him was the witch herself, shape-shifted. When they reached town, the first thing he saw was a mourning wreath on the Campbell's door. It reminded him of Tyrell's death, and he felt shame that he'd not even been at Robert's graveside. But then he heard Cassandra's voice in his head again, telling him that Debra would die, and fear struck him cold. He stopped the first woman he passed.

"Please, missus, who's died at the Campbell's house?"

"Ah, 'tis tragic indeed. First young Tyrell, and now Miss Debra's gone to join her sweet mother, dead these fifteen years."

"Not Debra!" Before the old lady could say another word, Duncan was running toward the church. The woman was watching him, so she never saw the horse he'd been on walk away and vanish, leaving a white wolf in the tall grasses.

Duncan burst through the chapel door and saw Debra, his beloved wife, laid out in her coffin. Flowers were all around her, reminding him of when he'd glimpsed her at Eveson's ball. Cassandra's vision had been true; his Debra was dead. But had Matthew done this? Duncan couldn't believe it, refused to think that the man who'd shown him such kindness could harm a woman. He threw himself atop Debra's lifeless body, sobbing.

The Campbells would be here any minute to kill him for what he'd done. The only way he could think to show his remorse for Tyrell and Robert's deaths, and now for the harm that had come to his Debra, was to join her in death. Perhaps then the Campbells would believe he'd truly loved her, and perhaps their families would at last find peace.

Duncan drew his short dagger and held it pressed against his heart. "I still love you, my Debra, and now I'll join you in death. Perhaps then Glenfinnan can have peace again." And with a sob of pain, he slammed the blade home, and felt his life ebb out as his body sank beside her.

***

Methos arrived at the chapel with Father Patrick and Debra's nurse in tow, ready to assist the young woman as she revived. Her empty coffin would be buried the next morning, but if he'd calculated the dose correctly, she should be reviving within the hour.

But when they arrived, instead of the peaceful chapel they'd expected, with Debra just beginning to stir, there was blood and another body draped atop her. Duncan MacLeod, a dagger still in his breast, was breathing his last as Methos ran up beside him.

"Matthew... you... didna..." and with a final exhalation, Duncan died. Methos didn't even want to think of what he 'did not' do -- he didn't come back to Duncan as promised? Didn't send word to prevent this tragedy? He gently lowered Duncan to the ground in front of the bier, unsure of what to do.

As long as the blade remained in place, Duncan's immortality would not be revealed to his love or these good people. But what good did that do? Duncan would now have to leave everyone, including Debra, and begin life in the immortal Game. A life of mistrust, fear, and deadly battles. This was the legacy Methos was about to present him. He shook his head in despair, and missed the soft sob from above as Debra revived and saw her lover, her husband, bloody and lifeless at her feet.

"Duncan. My bonny Duncan, come back to me." Debra was helped to rise by her nurse, and Father Patrick was saying a prayer with her as she slid to her knees alongside the pale body of the Highlander. "Please dinna leave me, sweet husband." She pressed a kiss to his lips, and Methos rose and walked away, angry that he could not control his own jealousy even at a critical time like this.

He needed to think, not feel. He didn't know what to do, and he no longer believed in any gods who would guide him to the right decision. His entire involvement in this boy's life had brought nothing but trouble and tragedy. He'd tried to help Duncan, for his own selfish and lustful reasons, and instead done as much damage as Methos the Horseman always did to others. Now, should he remove the knife and see if the village could accept the miracle of Duncan's revival? Should he then leave Duncan here to find his own way? Villagers like this were usually very superstitious.

Or should he spirit away Duncan's body, and keep him safe for a few years. Perhaps later Duncan could come back to claim Debra Campbell, when he'd been taught about the Game and was ready to assume the full responsibilities of his immortality.

Methos felt almost drunk with confusion. As he tried to concentrate, ignoring Debra's softly pleading, tearful voice, he missed her next actions. Debra Campbell yanked the dagger from her love's flesh and tried to turn it on herself. Fortunately the nurse and the good priest were more watchful than Methos, and they wrested the blade away from her. But as they held her sobbing form, and Debra declared that she wanted only to be with Duncan in death, the revival began right before Methos' eternally weary eyes.

Duncan's chest heaved with a breath, and the sparks of healing power closed the terrible wound in his breast. His eyes fluttered, and then he gasped aloud and sat up, clutching at his heart. The three mortals in the room jumped, turned, and stared open-mouthed as he wonderingly examined his own breast. But then Duncan saw Debra, alive and well, and the sun rose over his woeful countenance.

"Debra! Are you really alive, too? 'Tis a miracle and no doubt." He tried to rise and go to her, but all three mortals drew back in fear. "I've been spared, too. God has blessed our union and saved us from the sin of despair."

"Duncan, you're frightening them." Matthew spoke quietly. "Debra was never truly dead; I gave her herbs, a toxin to simulate illness and death. It was the only way I could think to bring her safely to you."

"Then the Witch of the Wood spoke truly, and you were the one who 'killed' my love," Duncan marveled. "I would not believe her, but she surely saw a vision of Glenfinnan."

"Consorting with witches and healing with the devil's help! His own words convict him. Begone, devil-spawn. 'Twas an ill day that Midwife Hunt brought you to replace Mary MacLeod's dead child." The priest was making the sign of the cross and sprinkling holy water.

"Come, sweet Debra. Back to your father's home, and forget this demon Satan tricked you into marrying," her nurse pleaded tearfully.

"But I'm not a demon. I may not be Ian MacLeod's own son, but I am human like you." Duncan turned to Methos with such despair in his eyes. "Please, Matthew, tell them 'twas a miracle. You were here, you saw. I died and God healed me."

"Yes, I saw and I believe you, Duncan." Methos was pale with anger at himself. He could show them he was like the boy, but then the news would travel. If anyone was looking for stories of immortals, they'd hear of the two resurrected men at Glenfinnan. And Darius had written that Kronos was in Europe, seeking his 'brother' again. So he held his tongue and cursed himself for a selfish coward.

"I believe you as well, Duncan," Debra said. "Molly, wait for me outside. Father Patrick, could you please leave us? Lord Eveson, I think you should remain." Debra was calm and the two frightened mortals did as she wished, with much muttering and crossing of themselves. "Duncan my darling, I'd love to think the good Lord answered my prayers and returned you to me simply because I love you so much. But I don't think that's what happened. Is it, Milord?" She turned to Methos, who flushed at her level stare and turned away from Duncan's stricken look.

"No, Debra. Duncan is not like ordinary men. But he did not know this until today, and everything he said to you was true."

"Aye. He truly loves me and wished to live here with me forever, raising a family and growing old together."

"Of course I do, Debra. And now we can. Our families will have to accept such a miracle."

"Duncan, Molly and Father Patrick don't accept it was a miracle. They both think you practice the black arts. And you babbled about a witch, too." Methos knew his voice was too harsh, but he couldn't stop himself.

Debra put a hand over Duncan's mouth to stop his protests. "There are so many unexplained things walking this earth, Duncan. You are one of them, I think. You see what others cannot, and you live when others would die."

"He is immortal, Debra. There are others like him. He will not grow old, and he will heal from all wounds save one." Methos had to speak, to try to help them still, despite the blunders he'd made so far. "Can you still love him, knowing this?"

"Of course I still love him, Milord. But I cannot be with him."

"Debra! You'd leave me?" Duncan's voice was choked with tears.

"I'll always love you, Duncan MacLeod, and I'll never forget you for as long as I live. If you promise me the same, I'll be happy. I think you will have many more years to keep your promise than I." Her smile was radiant and heartbreaking. "I want to live a normal life, raise my children here and grow old with my husband. You have a great gift, Duncan, whether 'tis a blessing from God or the curse of the devil. But you'll never have the life I want, not any more. I'm sorry, for I know you once wanted it, too." She grasped his hand and kissed it, then turned to leave the chapel.

"Debra, please don't leave me." But she wouldn't turn to look at him.

"Lord Eveson, I hope you'll take him someplace safe. The villagers might try to do him harm." Then she slipped out the door and was gone, as Duncan fell to his knees behind her, shaking his head.

"I'm not a demon, Matthew. Please tell them."

"I know, Duncan. Debra was right, she wants you safe. Come with me, we'll slip out through the good Father's garden." With much prodding and pulling, he managed to get the still-bloody man out and onto the horse he'd brought for Debra. They rode off together, Methos leading Duncan's horse. The Highlander barely had the energy to keep his seat; he looked confused and red-eyed with weeping.

Neither man noticed the white wolf shadowing their path.

***

Matthew spent the night explaining immortality and the Game to Duncan, who still felt bewildered by it all. He'd lost his family, his home, his wife whom he'd never bed -- and now he would live forever, without anything that made life worthwhile. Matthew tried to tell him that wasn't the case, that he'd find others who loved him, make other homes for himself. But he'd never have children, and that was a terrible thing indeed. And he'd never grow old. Others would grow old around him, but he'd go on as he was now.

"The priest was right, Matthew. This is a curse of the devil."

"No, Duncan. It's just how we are."

"We?"

"I suppose I didn't make that plain. Yes, Duncan. The reason I know what you are is that I am like you, immortal." Skepticism was obviously plain on Duncan's face, for Matthew drew his knife and scored his own arm deeply, a grimace twisting his face. The wound healed as Duncan watched, closing quickly with sparks of light dancing over it. Without a word Duncan held out his own arm, and Matthew quickly cut him, too. The same process, a little slower, repeated itself. "The headache and disorientation you feel when I approach is the signal of an immortal. An early warning, if you will, so you can recognize danger."

"Danger. My own kind are a danger to me."

"Yes, because of the Game."

"Are you a danger to me, Matthew?" Duncan's head hurt from thinking on all these things Matthew told him.

"Not at the moment, Duncan. I hope never." Matthew tried to smile reassuringly, but his doubts were plain.

"So you don't age, either."

"Not since my first death."

"When was that, Matthew? I always thought you were too young to have traveled so much." Duncan laughed a little as he spoke.

"I don't remember it, Duncan. Long ago." Matthew looked so very sad. Duncan sat beside his friend, the man who hadn't betrayed him and had stayed with him in this confusing time. And Duncan felt again the strong pull toward this mysterious man. Perhaps they were only meant to be friends, fast friends who stayed unchanged as the years passed unnoted around them. But it felt like more; it felt the same as he'd felt with Debra. Duncan wanted to touch Matthew, and protect him. And Matthew was looking at him, too, with such yearning. Without further thought, Duncan leaned forward and pressed his lips to Matthew's.

For a moment that was all it was, a pressure of lips. But then Matthew took over the kiss, and it seemed to stretch into eternity. Duncan had never known a kiss like this one, not with Debra or the village girls. Not even with Cassandra. Matthew's lips and tongue pulled sensations through his body, and he was aware of every inch of himself. It was all fire, save his lips and the place where warm, strong hands rested on his shoulders. Then his own hands were clutching Matthew's strong shoulders, caressing the lithe muscles there, and he was shivering with the desire to feel the bare, silken skin beneath Matthew's fine clothing.

As Duncan's body responded to the passion and sweetness pouring into him from Matthew's mouth, his heart yearned for a partner, a mate in this strange new world of immortality. But despite these yearnings, Duncan heard again in his mind Cassandra's cold voice. "Did that man seduce you?" And Duncan suddenly felt a rush of shame. Bad enough that he'd taken Cassandra while pledged to another. This very day he'd lost Debra, the love of his life. Yet he'd kissed his friend, found comfort with a man in his arms.

Duncan pulled away, flushed and breathing hard. Matthew looked the same, but there was confusion in his eyes, too.

"Duncan?"

"I'm so sorry, Matthew. I should not have done that. Please forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive." Matthew patted his shoulder and stepped away from him, visibly composing himself. "For a moment we both forgot ourselves, that's all."

"I do care for you, Matthew, very much. As my truest friend. But I cannot..."

"We are both immortal, Duncan. Some day we may fight to the death. Your are wise to keep your heart unencumbered." Matthew's face was composed and his voice level and cold, but Duncan felt the pain in each word. "Love is for mortals. It is not possible between our kind."

"Never say that, Matthew, for I do love you -- as a kinsman. I would never fight you, no matter what."

"You are a child, Duncan MacLeod," Methos hissed harshly.

"I suppose I am, compared to you, Matthew. Do you not know that childhood is the most wonderful time of life?" Duncan smiled his sweetest, unwilling to let Matthew push him away. He was sure the hurtful words were only a defense, for Matthew did not practice what he preached. He'd seen love in Matthew's eyes, he was sure of it. As he watched the older man, the ice in his eyes melted and he spoke again.

"Perhaps that is true for a lovely, warmhearted child like you, Duncan. I hope life is so gentle with you that you never change."

They sat silently together for hours after that exchange, shoulders touching, watching the fire while deep in their own thoughts. The moon rose over the cottage, and they heard a wolf howl. Just as Duncan was about to suggest that they retire for the evening, both men froze. Duncan put his hands to his head with a whimper, and Matthew moved to retrieve his sword.

"What is that?" Duncan asked.

"Another immortal is nearby. Duncan, this is very important. Listen carefully to me. Wait here, and keep your knife drawn. I'm sorry I don't have a sword for you. You do know how to defend yourself with one?"

"Aye."

"If I don't return, run from here. There will be time for you to get away. Take both horses; there's money in the saddlebags for you. Find a way to London, and ask for a solicitor named Darby. Tell him 'Darius,' and he'll help you get to France. Darius is a Franciscan monk; he's one of us and he'll find you a proper teacher."

Duncan repeated, "Solicitor Darby in London. Go to Darius in France."

"Right." With a final smile and squeeze of his hand, Matthew was gone into the darkness, and Duncan was left alone.

***

"Horseman."

"Do I know you, woman?"

"I'm the Witch of Donan Wood, Lord Eveson. Duncan's first love, and his protector. But when you were still calling yourself Death, I was your slave." The woman's bitter words stopped as she reached the clearing, and he saw her face at last.

 "Cassandra?" Methos was astounded. He'd had no idea she was still alive, and certainly not that she lived in Scotland. "Did you come here to challenge me?"

"No, Horseman, I came to protect Duncan yet again. When he was but a boy I saved his life. Now I must save his soul from your corruption."

"I'm not the same man you knew."

"Of course you'd claim that. Lie to yourself if you must, Methos, but don't expect to fool me. You are evil. Have you brought anything but grief to Duncan's life?"

Methos shook his head but couldn't find words to deny her. He'd had good intentions, but she spoke the truth.

"You cannot be his teacher, and you will not be his lover. I see the noxious lust surrounding you, Methos."

"Don't play the seer with me. I don't believe in magic."

"Then believe this," Cassandra hissed as she paced angrily, her sword hanging heavy in her hand. "If you try to stay with him, I'll tell him the truth about his friend Matthew. Once he knows who you are and what you've done, do you think your head will remain attached? He'll help me to kill you."

"Your pitiful blackmail doesn't frighten me. I'll strike you down right here, before you ever see Duncan."

"So threats to your life don't matter. You may have lived a long time, Methos, but you're growing weak. I will live to see you truly dead."

"Enough." Methos turned and began to walk back to the cottage.

"Horseman! Will you be his teacher? How long before you're bored with him and abandon him?" Methos stopped and turned to her again.

"What do you care? Are you now the fairy godmother of all pre-immortals?"

"I told you, I've been watching him from his youth. Duncan's life has been prophesied; he's meant to fight evil and destroy it. Perhaps he's meant to be the One. I've already sent word to his kinsman Connor, asking him to be Duncan's teacher. And I can protect Duncan until they meet."

"You swear you will do this?" Methos asked. When she nodded, he continued "Can you be Duncan's friend, and comfort him for his losses? He needs this badly, or he won't appreciate his immortality enough to fight and win."

"I'm far more capable of that than you, Horseman."

"Are you truly? Then the years have changed you, Cassandra." Methos remembered bringing new slaves to the camp, women just like Cassandra who'd watched their families slaughtered by the Horsemen. Cassandra had never comforted any of them, too proud and secure in her role as Methos' favorite to care about the others. "If you've changed so much, you should believe that I am capable of change, too."

"A snake sheds its skin, but it remains a snake, Horseman. As for Duncan, he's already made love to me in that bed you've shared with him so chastely," she taunted. "He's so enamored of me that he'll never miss you, never think of you once you've gone."

"You're wrong. Duncan is not like you or me, Cassandra. He'll never forget. Never change. If we meet in a hundred years, he'll remember me and be my friend."

"You won't meet, because I'll be guiding him still. Making sure he stays pure and worthy of the Prize."

"If you swear that you'll protect him until he has a teacher, then I'll go willingly. Lord Eveson came to Scotland to vanish."

"I'll protect him. But if you come near him again, Horseman, you will die. By my hand or his."

"Worry about your own head, Cassandra, and I'll worry about mine." Methos glanced back at the cottage. "I don't suppose I can say goodbye to him?" It came out more wistful than he wished.

Cassandra laughed. "A tender farewell? Leave now. We'll need your horses and your money to find Connor." With a triumphant smile, Cassandra turned her back on Death and walked away.

Methos, left on foot with only the clothes on his back, a few coins in his purse, and his sword, watched her walk to the cottage. He could faintly hear Duncan's joyful cry when he saw who the strange immortal was. Methos still had misgivings about Cassandra's involvement with Duncan, and wondered exactly what had happened between them. He wished he'd taken time to question Duncan more thoroughly. But telling him about his immortality seemed more important at the time.

Still, Methos knew of Connor MacLeod. That man wouldn't be held under Cassandra's thumb. Duncan would be safe with him, and learn all he needed to know about fighting, too. Methos could check back, make sure that Cassandra wasn't unduly influencing Duncan's life. He didn't have to see the Highlander to keep watch over him. His mind immediately tortured him with an image of Duncan kissing Cassandra. Well, he knew he'd have a few rough years. Despite everything he'd said to the Highlander, he'd already given over his heart. No mortal loves, brief and sweet, would let him forget Duncan MacLeod.

He moved off into the woods, trying to plan where he'd go and who he'd become next. Maybe some time as a scholar again. Or a monk; it had been years since he'd lived on Holy Ground. Lost in thought, he was startled to feel Presence approaching him. He heard a crashing in the underbrush, and his hand went to his sword as he turned. Then Duncan burst through the woods.

"Matthew!" he cried. "Matthew, Cassandra said you couldn't stop to say farewell. But I had to see you, to say goodbye -- you're traveling on foot?"

"Duncan. I'm so sorry, but I have to leave immediately. I left you the two horses because I'll be traveling by boat shortly." The lie came easy in his joy at seeing the Highlander one last time.

"Matthew, I'll never forget you."

"I know, Duncan. Believe me when I tell you the same is true. No matter how far I travel, I'll be looking for news of you. I expect great things from you." The boy looked very proud, despite the sadness in his eyes.

"Someday we'll meet again Matthew, won't we?"

"I hope so. The world is a large place, but I believe our paths will cross."

"Aye. I'm sure they will. Fare you well, Matthew."

"And you, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." He smiled at the Scot, then hugged him quickly. "Good luck to you."

Methos didn't need to turn to know that Duncan stayed there, watching him until he was out of sight.

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