This story was an entry in the Quill Club's Tempering Forge Contest. Done with much love for and apologies to Charlotte Bronte. NC-17; if you are underage please go elsewhere to read.

James Eyrson by Laura Mason

Northern England, 1835

James Eyrson, tutor, also known to a very few as Methos the Immortal, breathed in the cool dusk air as he returned to Thornfield. His errands complete, warmed from the brisk pace he'd set thus far, he slowed his walk as he entered into Hay Lane and pulled a small folio of verse from his greatcoat pocket. Lost in the music of Marmion, he didn't notice the hoofbeats until they were nearby. He lowered his book and moved to the side of the road, just in time to see a large dog run past him, followed by a man on horseback.

As the horseman neared, James realized that he was sensing the presence of another Immortal. He froze, reaching beneath his coat for his weapon, as the rider pulled up his horse -- too suddenly, for as he, too, reached for his sword, the beast lost footing and fell, rolling atop his master's leg. The man cried out as the stallion attempted to right himself, putting further pressure on the trapped limb.

James' instinct was to run, to vanish into the misty twilight fields and make his way back to Thornfield in secret. But after a year in this remote corner of England without any contact with his own kind, he was also curious as to who this Immortal was and why he was traveling down this particular byway. Had his presence in this area, his true identity been betrayed somehow?

As James stood frozen, indecisive, the cacophony around him grew in volume. The dog returned, barking loudly at his fallen master; the horse whinnied and attempted to right itself; and the Immortal's cursing grew in volume. Decision made, one hand still on the hilt of his sword, James approached the fallen man. And froze again at the sight of him.

Long, tumbled dark curls. Large, angry brown eyes. A pouting mouth, red even in the dimming light. James thought he had never seen such a beautiful man in his life. He paused in his cursing long enough to address James. "'Tis not a fair fight while I'm trapped .... Pilot, down! Have ye no honor, man?"

Caught staring, James blushed and released his sword, instead catching the stallion's bridle and speaking calmly to the horse. Then he approached the strange Immortal again. "My name is Eyrson, sir. I am not a hunter. Will you allow me to assist you?"

The dark eyes stared into his for a long, silent moment. "I'd be grateful for your help, Mr. Eyrson." James helped pull him from beneath his mount and tried to get him to walk to a nearby stump where he could rest as his leg healed. The man leaned heavily on him, staring at him.

Once the man, who had still not given a name in reply, was seated comfortably, James returned to the fallen beast. With much stamping and noise, he skillfully returned the horse to its feet. And turned to see that he was still being stared at and appraised by the dark Immortal. The mastiff left his master's side and nudged James' hand, receiving a pat in reply to his unvoiced thanks. And James still stared back at the man, waiting.

"Well, changeling, I suppose I should say thank you for your assistance. Though Mesrour has never thrown me before today, and your spell." He rose, brushed his clothes, and limped to his horse, grabbing the reins from James' grip and swinging up into his saddle with only a small grimace. "Have you lost the art of human speech? I was sure you spoke to me in English earlier."

"No, sir, I am just unsure how to reply to such ... fancies. You are welcome for my meager assistance. I'd best be going." James inclined his head slightly and turned on his heel, starting back toward Thornfield at a fast pace.

"Yes, go, before the dusk swallows you up again. You are not a native to this place, not a landowner." It was not a question, and James was not sure why the man's words stopped him in his tracks, nor why he answered so politely.

"I am tutor to Mr. MacLeod's ward at Thornfield."

"Ah, the tutor, I had forgot....Well, then, off with you before Mr. MacLeod sends out search parties to find his tutor. A hard cruel man, your master?" The man's unconventionality was refreshing to James, even as he wondered at his own response. He supposed he had forgotten what other Immortals were like, having lived so long among mortals. And conventional, boring mortals at that.

"Mr. MacLeod is a very generous master, though he neglects his holdings in this part of England. It is my understanding that he travels extensively. But judging from the way his household is run, the servants he hires and keeps faithful to him, I would say that he is a fine master, neither cruel nor hard."

"You would say. Fine opinion of yourself for a tutor, a slave among men."

"All men serve one master or another." James raked his eyes over the mounted man, taking in his gear, his clothing, his attitude. "Does not a warrior like yourself serve a king, a general? A country? I have chosen my own service."

"And why would one of us choose such a lowly position in life? Are ye new to the Game, Mr. Eyrson?" The challenge in the man's eyes was apparent, but neither man touched his sword. Methos met his stare and smiled.

"If you wanted to find that out, you would have challenged me already."

The man's eyes twinkled for just a moment, but he did not smile. Instead, his eyes quickly narrowed, then he spurred his horse and cried out "Pilot! Come!" And was gone, leaving James standing in the dirty road, his smile fading.

**Well, there's an unusual afternoon. Mrs. Fairfax will probably think I've been set upon by highwaymen.** He walked swiftly, leaving his book in his pocket and instead remembering each nuance of the encounter with the mysterious Immortal. Then he snorted at the thought. **Mysterious, indeed. Just because he didn't tell me his name or his business? As if all Immortals aren't more complex than whatever name or occupation they chose to use.** But the man's face -- such a contradiction, the beauty and anger in his eyes. Anger that didn't fade completely, not even when he was obviously enjoying their conversation. **Or am I reading my own enjoyment into this situation? It has been so long since I've conversed with an equal, with someone intelligent and strong.**

Occupied in his thoughts, Methos found himself at Thornfield's moonlit walls long before he was ready to resume his role as James Eyrson, modest tutor. He stopped outside the kitchen door to breathe deeply and shake himself into calm. Worried to delay when he had probably been missed, James forced himself into the house, then stopped in his tracks as he realized there was a highly unusual amount of bustle and noise. Instead of finding the servants at their tea, he saw them running back and forth, heard Mrs. Fairfax's mild voice raised in admonitions to the scullery girl, and suddenly found himself being accosted by a large black mastiff.

He reached down and caressed the dog's head. "Hello, Pilot."

****************

Mrs. Fairfax's voice was in his ear, telling him that he looked a right proper gent and going on about the unexpectedness of Mr. MacLeod's visit. James was walking with her to the parlor, holding his pupil's hand as young Richard, too, prattled on about the wonders of Mr. MacLeod's horse and dog. He supposed he was smiling and giving attention to each; neither seemed to think him distracted or uninterested. But his head was full of questions, mysteries really, about this man. And Thornfield was a large enough house that the buzz of presence faded and grew based on the Master's movements, disorienting him over and over.

During his year at Thornfield, Methos had often wondered about the absentee owner. To keep such a large house staffed was expensive. And despite Mrs. Fairfax's rush to hire in some local help for Mr. MacLeod's stay, the house was well-kept and smoothly run. The addition of a child and tutor had been minor, not even an inconvenience. The housekeeper herself, Dame Fairfax, was a friendly, harmless old soul. Though Methos sometimes felt she had secrets, he never felt there was any danger from the woman. She babied him, coddled Richard, and was a surrogate mother to half the servants.

"When I lived with dearest Mama, she told me that friends returning from travel would bring her presents. Do you suppose Mr. MacLeod has brought us gifts?" Richie's talk about his memories finally penetrated, and Methos slipped back into James.

"What else do you remember, Master Richard?" James seated himself in the bay window and placed Richie on his knee. The seven-year-old was happy to talk about his life with his mother. James had his suspicions about the nature of this "guardianship," but finding out that MacLeod was Immortal quashed the idea of the boy being his bastard son.

"Mama taught me to recite. Would you like to hear a fable?"

"Perhaps later."

"Mama's friends were very gay. She was very beautiful. We lived in a beautiful house, much nicer than Thornfield, and ate bonbons every day."

"Every day?"

"Oui. Yes. Well, far more often than Mrs. Fairfax will give me bread with jam for tea."

James laughed and hugged Richie tightly to himself, then froze as he was washed in Immortal presence. MacLeod was in the doorway, an unreadable look on his face as he stared at the tableaux in front of him. Mrs. Fairfax rose to greet him, setting aside her knitting, and Richie squirmed out of James' arms to run to him. James slowly rose, their eyes still locked even as MacLeod addressed the housekeeper and his ward.

An hour later James rose to take Richie to bed. Mr. MacLeod had watched him with the boy, but not spoken to him once. Mrs. Fairfax had introduced them, but beyond a nod he had been ignored. And found himself grateful for it. The silent scrutiny was unnerving enough. But his attempt to leave the room was met with an order for Mrs. Fairfax to take the child and leave them alone.

Mrs. Fairfax gave James an encouraging smile. "Mr. Eyrson has worked wonders with the boy, sir. You wouldn't notice, not having seen how difficult his adjustment was after you brought him here. And soon I'm sure he'll be allowed into any good school..."

"You needn't try to recommend Mr. Eyrson's character to me, madam. He started this acquaintance by felling my horse and almost crippling me." At that, James found a smile crossing his lips and looked down to hide his amusement. Mrs. Fairfax looked terribly confused, glanced between them both for a moment, then left the room with Richie in tow.

"And now, sir, I suppose you can find time from your grueling duties as tutor to converse with me? No errands to run to the Village or personal reading to attend?"

James was delighted with the man's caustic observations, but decided to subdue his amusement in his role as employee. He kept his eyes lowered, his attitude respectful. "Whatever you wish, sir. I am at your command."

"Oh, don't pretend modesty with me. I've seen your eyes, I know you don't need this job. Or anything else from me."

"You are mistaken, sir. I wish to keep my job. I am quite fond of my pupil. And Mrs. Fairfax."

"And Thornfield is a fine manor house, is it not?"

"Indeed, sir, quite modern."

"So why do I hate it so? Why does it seem like a pit of filth to my eyes... I forget myself. Mustn't frighten away the tutor, after all. Yes, Thornfield is lovely. The weather is fine. Do you have any more conventional remarks to make, Mr. Eyrson?"

"I believe you launched the topic of your home's fine features, sir." Methos raised his eyes, glinting with amusement, as he spoke. In time to see MacLeod's face beam before he put the mask of affronted anger in place.

"You forget yourself, tutor. I am master in this house."

"Indeed, sir. Is there anything else you require of me?"

"Yes. I require diversion, amusement, intelligent conversation."

"Unfortunately, sir, I was not employed to provide those. I am a simple man."

 "You lie, sir." MacLeod approached him, forced him to meet his eyes. "Don't lie to yourself as well. You require the same things. You, too, are in exile here. I don't know why you are hiding, but I recognize a kindred spirit. You are not challenged here, nothing stirs your brain or your heart."

Methos stared into his eyes, unable to formulate a facile reply. There was such pain in those eyes, such sorrow. He couldn't lie; couldn't keep silence. "Not until today."

His eyes glowed at the words, and for a moment Methos thought he would be kissed -- or struck. But instead he turned away, leaving Methos swaying slightly, his hands shaking.

"That will be all for this evening, Mr. Eyrson. If that is your name. I suppose there is no need to trust you beyond Mrs. Fairfax's claims for you. You are a good employee, a fine teacher. That is all."

"Good evening, sir." Methos fled the room, anxious for privacy to think, to sort his feelings. What on earth had he -- they -- been doing?

In the parlor, MacLeod stood at the fireplace. A tap on the door, and Mrs. Fairfax was there with a taper.

"Sir? Are you still planning to visit tonight?"

"Yes, yes. Leave the candle."

"You cannot mean to go alone, sir. Let me get John or some of the stablemen..."

"No! No, Mrs. Fairfax. You told me that only the senior servants were aware..."

"Yes, sir, that is correct. But you'll need assistance, she always becomes violent--"

"Hush. I want this kept quiet, more quiet than it has been in the past. Can you understand that?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you have not told the tutor?"

"No, sir. As you instructed."

"Fine. Leave me the light and go to your own peaceful bed, Mrs. Fairfax. Let me care for my dead."

Mrs. Fairfax left the room with a shudder which she could not relieve by pulling her shawl closer.

*************

A week, then two, as Mr. MacLeod tended to the business of Thornfield's farms and tenants. The house was busier than James had ever seen it, but despite the occasional brush of presence, he had not seen nor heard from the owner since that first, odd night.

James and Richie continued their lessons, staying mostly in the upper rooms they had been allocated once the Master required his library for business. Richie's concentration was badly affected by the distractions of the doorbell, carriages and voices. James found that his own concentration wasn't the best. When it overwhelmed him, he took Richie for long walks or to play with the mastiff, Pilot, a much friendlier beast than one would expect from such a master. Richie also begged visits to the stable, to see Mesrour, the wonderful black stallion. They brought the beast apples and Methos shivered to remember times when he had owned such fine horses -- he and his brothers in crime. **Never again.**

His situation as tutor in this remote corner of the world was in part due to his vow to lead a better life. His last profession, as doctor in London, had come to an abrupt end when he learned from Darius' letter that Kronos was rumored to be en route to London. While Kronos could not be looking for him, he hoped, a successful London practice was far too visible. Thus, an untimely "illness" caused him to relinquish his practice, and he removed to the countryside. Several changes of name later, he answered an advertisement for a tutoring job. The situation had been ideal, a sweet child who looked to him for affection as well as learning. A mild housekeeper his only superior. And such a remote, isolated house. At Thornfield, he decided, he could remain out of the Game for several years, readying himself for a move to the Americas or some other remote spot with wide open spaces and few Immortals.

And now, his ideal situation had changed to include a challenging employer whose beauty, intensity, and sorrow all disturbed him incredibly. As the thought crossed his mind, he realized that said Master was approaching him across the lawn, watching Richie's frolic with the dog with a slight smile.

"I see you believe in exercising the body as well as the mind, Mr. Eyrson."

"Indeed, sir. Do you know any of our kind who do not value a strong, fit body?"

"You would do well to forget our kind and the Game while here. Unless you lied when you said you do not hunt?"

"No, sir. I was trying to escape our kind and the Game when I accepted your kind offer of employment. And indeed, until your return, I had." MacLeod noted the sad, distant look which now returned. He had been observing the child and James for half an hour, until the sadness of James' face during his reverie had drawn him outside, to try to coax another smile from his enigmatic employee.

"Well, soon enough you can return to your lost paradise. You will have peace, and Mrs. Fairfax can return to mothering you as well as the child."

"Are you leaving, sir?" Methos found himself dismayed at the idea of Thornfield without MacLeod.

"You must know that I spend very little of my time here."

 "Yes, sir."

"And nothing has changed."

"No, sir."

"Have I ever told you how this boy came to be mine? Listen and learn, James -- do you mind if I call you James? I cannot stand the formality of this era, these people. Do I offend you?"

"No, sir."

"And yet, what a small voice you answer me in. I know you can do better, James. If you truly are not offended, then speak up. Or if you do take offense, tell me roundly that I am a buffoon, that you prefer formalities be observed between us."

"Sir, I do not. There is no need for formalities; we are of a kind. You are rich and powerful, I am not -- but we are the same, equals. You are no more buffoon than I am king. We are simply men."

"Immortals."

"As you say."

"And equals? That sounds very modern, very democratic, Mr. Eyrson. You must be a newborn to believe in equality."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps I am one who has been both slave and master – one who knows that there are many kinds of bondage, and knows where true equality lies." Methos met MacLeod's eyes, then dropped his gaze and resumed his Eyrson pose. "One can be truly free in his own mind."

"Oh, I wish I believed that. You must have a clear conscience, boy."

"No, sir." **I cannot pretend with you.** "I have much to answer for, much to atone for."

MacLeod stared into the distance, distracted for a moment by Richie's laughter. Then he called Pilot to heel, and summoned a nurserymaid to take Richie into the house. "Atonement. Walk with me, James. I wish to tell you about your pupil's history."

"I lived in Paris for many years. You may wonder how a Scot came to be lord of Thornfield manor. I inherited it from a friend, Fairfax Rochester – yes, Mrs. Fairfax was his cousin's wife, she came with the property. Rochester felt indebted to me for a service during my time in the Indies. I saved him from an imprudent marriage.... Well, that is enough of that.

"I did not wish to live in England. But difficulties arose." He stopped walking and shook his head. Methos watched in silence, content to let him set his own pace for these odd confidences. "So I rented my lands, hired a manager and moved to Paris. I was very ... unhappy. Despairing. Mimi was an actress. She was a very lighthearted woman and she amused me, helped me to forget. I made her my mistress, set her up in an apartment with money, furs, jewels.

"No shocked disapproval? Will I soon be receiving a polite note informing me that you have found a more desirable situation? You know, as did I, that the child is not mine. I abandoned the woman and her bastard, left them to die. But she did not die, she managed to charm gold out of some other fool's britches. And when it became difficult to explain the boy, she simply abandoned her four-year-old child and took off to look for greener pastures. When I heard of it... I could not leave him to die in some hovel. He is not my son, but I have wished for children of my own... It took me a year to find him and adopt him. Of course, the child believes his dearest mama is in heaven, an angel watching over him. He need not know she was a heartless, cheating wench."

"I do not disapprove... indeed, sir, I have no right to sit in judgement on any person. And I honor your concern for the boy, your commitment to raise him and help him despite his unhappy circumstances and your own memories."

"Mr. Eyrson, whatever are you about, neglecting your charge for this long? Indeed, the sun is setting behind the manor. Come, man, back to the house with you." MacLeod turned away before he had to acknowledge Methos' smirk of amusement.

*************

Methos had fallen asleep in his chair, reading one of his precious store of books. He woke, unsure if it was the moonlight streaming in his window which roused him. And then he felt it again – a whisper of Presence. He heard a rattling of his doorknob and rose, uncertain. Was MacLeod seeking him? At this hour?

Taking his sword in hand, he slowly opened the door to the hallway. No one, no Presence – just a candle in a dish, guttering in the breeze. He bent and picked it up, then realized that he could smell smoke -- the hallway was thick with it. He looked around, wondering if he should rouse the household. And saw the glow of flames from a doorway far down the hall.

Methos ran into his room, grabbed the basin and pitcher from his washstand, and ran down the hallway to MacLeod's room. He emptied both containers of water over the flames on the bed, and pulled down the draperies which were also in flame. He beat out the flames, coughing and choking, trying not to look at MacLeod's dead body. He had succumbed to the smoke, burns marked his flesh, but that would all be fine once he could get this damn fire doused. Time to revive, heal, then rouse the housekeeper with a story – perhaps the Master smoked in bed? – then time to find out whose presence he had felt outside his door.

At last, the flames were extinguished. Methos threw open the windows of the spacious room, hoping the fresh air would clear the smoke from the whole house before anyone else was roused. Breathing deeply, he turned and locked the hallway door, to prevent any witnesses to the charred bed and its very dead occupant.

MacLeod was nude, half covered by a light sheet. His face was more peaceful than Methos had ever seen it in waking hours. Even dead, he was beautiful. Methos ran a hand over his burns, checking that healing was taking place. Then he went to the wardrobe and took out a heavy robe, which he gently wrapped around MacLeod just as he breathed the first, surprised gasp of new life.

"Steady, sir. You've been in a fire, and I think there may be an unfriendly Immortal about the house, somehow."

"James? How in heaven's..." MacLeod still seemed fuzzy, shaking his head to clear it and accepting a glass of water from Methos' hand. "So. I am sitting in a river thanks to your quick thinking." He stared at the room, at the open windows and denuded bedposts. Then he rose, pulling his robe on, and took Methos' hands in his own.

"Thank you. I fear I've been a poor master, not anything like a friend. Yet you saved my identity, my life here. And didn't take my head when you had a perfect chance. I only wish I could repay you..."

"Please, sir..."

"No more titles between us, my friend. My name is Duncan."

"There is no need for talk of repayment, no debt. I am happy to be of service, to be worthy of your trust. You allowed me to remain in your home, to keep my life here. If there were a debt, it would be on my side."

"Well, then, let's call it even." MacLeod still had not released Methos' hands, and Methos began to wonder if he were completely recovered. "You're shivering."

"I opened the windows, sir..."

"Duncan." But he dropped his hands, suddenly, and turned to close the windows himself. Methos stood a moment longer, then gathered his courage to ask about the Presence.

"Duncan. Are you aware of other Immortals in this area, others who might want to harm you?"

"You mentioned this before. What happened?"

"I felt Presence. Outside my bedroom door. I thought it was you, for a moment, just passing. But then..."

"Go on."

"My doorknob was moved. When I took my sword to open the door, no one was there. The Presence was gone. There was only a candle on the floor next to my door. And smoke..."

MacLeod moved to him again and suddenly Methos was in his arms. "Thank God that no evil came to you. You lock your door at night? Be sure you always do."

"And so should you, Duncan." Methos pulled back a little, then forgot all questions and doubts. He reached a hand to MacLeod's face, touched his cheek where it had been burned. Staring into each other's eyes, their lips touched.

Methos felt his knees weaken as he melted into the softness of MacLeod's mouth. Their few moments together, their few conversations, had not prepared him for the man's sensuality. Methos knew he himself was skilled at lovemaking, but MacLeod's raw passion was quite overwhelming. They forgot cold, wet, discomfort. Time ceased to exist. Strong arms clutched, their bodies pressed full length into each other as they explored each others mouths.

When MacLeod broke the kiss, it was only to drag Methos to the floor and begin removing his clothing. They rolled and kissed again and again, gasping for air and pressing their fevered bodies together. Each item removed brought new areas to kiss, fondle, and lick. Then MacLeod removed his own robe and knelt before him, and Methos gasped "Duncan..." **Whatever you wish, my love, anything...**

As if the word broke a spell, MacLeod suddenly pulled back and turned away. Methos lay for a moment, then sat up and touched his shoulder. MacLeod shook off his hand and moved away, pulling his robe back on. "Please stop. I never meant..."

Methos gathered his clothes and dressed as quickly as his shaking hands allowed.

MacLeod still would not look at him, but he spoke again. "Forgive me."

"I... Of course. There is nothing to forgive. Do you wish me to resign my position?"

"No."

"Please." He turned MacLeod and forced him to meet his eyes. "Good night."

"How..."

"Good night, Duncan," Methos smiled at him.

"You claimed we were equals, James. I begin to believe you are my superior."

"No, I was correct, we are equals. Each with our own guilt, secrets -- and regrets." Methos unlocked the door and returned to his own room, only pausing for a moment when he heard a choked sob behind him.

****************

Methos found his thoughts over the next week returning to the mysterious Presence he was sure he'd felt that night. The house held secrets, he was sure of that. MacLeod was desperately unhappy, and his was not a nature formed for brooding and unhappiness. Mrs. Fairfax had never even mentioned the fire to James; had he not witnessed the damage himself, he would never have known anything was amiss.

Thornfield was a rambling old house, with towers and battlements from a much earlier time. Methos had never explored the house, preferring to spend his free times outdoors. His time inside was spent between his room, Richie's room, the library, and the kitchen. Before MacLeod's return, most other rooms of the house had been closed up, slipcovered and without fires. Now more of the main floor was on display, but the house had many unexamined corners.

Was there another Immortal here? And if so, why would MacLeod protect them? For that matter, if MacLeod were protecting someone, why would that someone try to harm him? Even though the fire couldn't permanently kill MacLeod, it could have ended his life in this time and place. Who wanted him removed from Thornfield? There were no other heirs, no apparent rivals.

Methos continued his duties, but kept alert -- more than he had in the recent past. He realized he'd allowed himself to be lulled into passive acceptance of appearances, rather than keeping his instincts sharp and his defenses up. If there were another Immortal at Thornfield, that had been foolish, dangerous behavior. Now, tutor persona firmly in place, he continued his duties, letting age-old reflexes have full sway. He even began to make time for sword work, something he had neglected for almost a year.

At night, alone with his thoughts, he wondered why he was still at Thornfield. Why care for MacLeod's safety when MacLeod obviously didn't care for him? When the man apparently couldn't care for him, couldn't love him. Not that he cared. No, he was merely his employer, his employer with a mouth like honey and strong, smooth arms. Warm, large hands... **Stop it!**

No, the smart thing would be to pack his bag and vanish. He still had money hidden in London, but he could work his way on a ship somewhere – anywhere far from England. Maybe the South Pacific, Australia. Someplace warm. Someplace with golden skinned, dark eyed beauties...

Every night, he fell asleep telling himself he would leave in the morning. Every morning he woke, put on his calm face along with his clothing, and stayed.

***********

"Mr. Eyrson, you are pale and ill."

"No, Mrs. Fairfax. I merely stayed up too late last night, reading."

"Nonsense. You haven't looked like yourself for a week. Take a holiday from lessons today. Richie will enjoy it, and you can go for a walk. Or go riding. Mr. MacLeod said that you could help exercise his horse in his absence."

"Mr. MacLeod is gone?" Methos felt his stomach drop. He knew the man had been avoiding him, but...

"Aye, gone these six hours. Took the coach from Millcote."

"I suppose he will be away for a long time again."

"Aye, it could be years. Mr. MacLeod trusts his manager and he has always been a wanderer."

Methos found himself unable to continue eating. Or to think. Agreeing with Mrs. Fairfax that he could use a holiday, he went back to his room. But he couldn't rest, couldn't sit still. He went for a ride instead, then walked beside the horse for miles, trying to exhaust himself and still the ceaseless chattering in his mind.

*********

Two weeks later, a thinner and paler Methos came to breakfast as usual, but found the kitchen and its staff in a small uproar. Mrs. Fairfax was giving orders, everyone was rushing around. Trying to stay out of the way, he filled a tray for himself, Richie, and Sophie the nurserymaid. Mrs. Fairfax saw him, however, and bustled up to him.

"Mr. Eyrson, I'm afraid you'll be giving up the Library again now. And I'd like to move you into the nursery – just temporarily, to give us more sleeping rooms on the second floor for our guests."

"Guests?"

"Oh, you weren't here when the letter came. Mr. MacLeod is coming home, in two days. Bringing house guests, and though he don't say how many, I'm sure we'll have a house full. Ladies' maids and valets..." She wandered off, giving instructions to Leah and John, and Methos found himself walking back to his pupil with a tray of food and a very silly smile.

*********

MacLeod had returned, but he might still have been miles away. It was foolish to think he avoided Methos; they simply moved in different spheres. MacLeod was busy with his guests, with hunting during the day and games of courtship each night. Music and happy voices came from the drawing room, and despite his removal to the third floor, Methos found it impossible to concentrate. Every meal below was a feast, while he ate cheese and bread in the nursery. The house was filled with the voices and feet of the guests, their servants, and the busy denizens of Thornfield itself. Only Methos was utterly removed, entirely alone.

Richie was brought to the drawing room each night by Sophie, and came back an hour later babbling excitedly about the beautiful women, the sweets they fed him, the music like angels, the dashing men who could not compare to his guardian, who towered over all like a lion. Methos was grateful that he'd been moved to share quarters with the child, for these childish bedtime observations were manna to his starved mind. Never before had he felt it a hardship to be alone, removed from the upper crust's vapid conversations, from watching the dance of courtship and flirtation play out. But as he sat alone, isolated in Thornfield's newly-flourishing society, he somehow wished for the power, money, and ability to amuse himself as MacLeod seemed to be doing.

The third week of the houseguests' stay it rained unceasingly. The whole house seemed under a pall, the men missing their sport, bored women whining and tossing aside books, staring out the windows to complain of the weather.

Methos was surprised to be called downstairs by Mrs. Fairfax to attempt repair of a lorgnette for Mrs. Eashton, who was unable to read or amuse herself without the lens. It was his first encounter with the women, who for the most part remained indoors or were completely covered when they went riding to protect their delicate complexions. They seemed an ill-assorted group, but he supposed that MacLeod's vibrant personality drew them all together. There were two sisters, both lovely – he thought the name was Ingram, and that the other matron in the room was their mother. Mrs. Eashton had her daughter Amy hovering over her, evidently trying to distract Methos. Amy seemed to be feeling neglected -- or she was an incorrigible flirt.

"Mother, can we not ask Mr. MacLeod to invite this gentleman to the drawing room in the evenings? I'm sure he can play and sing beautifully."

"I thank you, miss, but I am not a musician."

"Well, but you are educated. Your accent is quite pure. I'm sure you could play at Charades with us, or Authors."

"Amy my love, please. Allow the man to finish with my lorgnette, or we shall have to return home."

"Really, Amy. Ask MacLeod to let his tutor join us socially? The man will think you terribly gauche."

"Blanche, if Mr. MacLeod was thinking about Amy at all she wouldn't be flirting with his tutor, would she?" The sisters laughed, and Methos was reminded of crows' harsh voices.

"There you are, Mrs. Eashton. That should hold well enough with some care."

"Oh. I thank you, Mr. ?"

"Eyrson. If you ladies will excuse me, I have my duties." He exited into the hall and closed the sliding doors behind him, then froze as he felt a rush of Presence. He looked around in alarm, but relaxed when he saw MacLeod on the landing of the stairs, looking at him.

"Sir."

"James. I haven't seen you in weeks. Why? Where have you been hiding?"

As if he had been avoiding MacLeod? Yet it seemed insane to justify himself. "I have been attending Richie, sir."

"Sir? I thought we'd agreed for you to call me Duncan."

"No, sir, I don't believe we had. At least, I don't remember any such conversation."

"Ah, now you are a diplomat. And yet your face was far from diplomatic when you came out of the parlor just now. I'll wager you were forming some of your well-known strong opinions about my guests. Or were you merely flustered by their great beauty?" Methos smiled, but made no answer. "Oh, there's an interesting smile. Well, you must agree that the Ingram girls are beauties. Such white skin. Such golden hair. Such lovely, temperate personalities."

"Must I, sir?"

"Oh, you are hard." MacLeod came down the stairs and drew Methos close to him, walking him away from the parlor full of guests and to his library. "What? Do you expect modesty, intelligence, honor from beauty? You expect too much, I say."

"No, I don't believe I do, sir. I have seen such beauty." **It is before me.** "Indeed, it is rare. But well worth the wait."

"You shame me. I will have to send you away when I marry Blanche Ingram if you can't learn to hold your tongue."

Methos stared at him in shock for a moment, then lowered his eyes. "Master Richard should go to school, sir. And if you would write me a recommendation, I will be gone before you bring your bride to Thornfield."

"My bride." His mouth quirked, not a pleasant expression. "Yes. Richie must go to school. I agree."

"And I will advertise for a position."

"Advertise? No, no, I will find you a position. Perhaps in Scotland. It is beautiful country."

"Scotland... that is very far, sir."

"Far from what? You have no family, no ties. You are able to pack up and go."

"Yes, sir." **It is far from you.**

"Some brisk clean air will do you good. For as I see clearly in here, you do not look well, James. Indeed, your eyes are sunken."

"I am well, sir. I should go back to Richie..."

"So you should." But MacLeod did not release his arm, did not move out of his way. "My horse has been at your disposal, James. Have you gone riding?"

"Just once, sir."

"That displeases me, James. I left instructions with Mrs. Fairfax..."

"And she mentioned it to me, sir. But I didn't feel competent to exercise your mount properly."

"Oh, you are above a stableboy's duties, is that it? Fine. You may go." But MacLeod released his arm and rapidly left the room himself.

That night, a summons came for James to bring Richie to the drawing room himself. He dressed in his best surtout and brought the boy down. Watched as the boy was coddled by little Amy until the gentlemen joined them. At that point, Richie came back to his arms and stayed with him as the room moved around them. Coffee was passed, conversation degenerated into laughter and innuendo. Then music was suggested, and Blanche herself approached the pianoforte. She claimed MacLeod as her partner, saying she was only in the mood for a duet. And they played and sang together.

Methos could not take his eyes from them, even though he felt the foolish danger of it all. He watched MacLeod sing to Blanche, smile at her, watch her efforts to charm him. And Methos realized, watching, that she did not charm him – indeed, could not charm him. All the pettiness, vanity and cruelty that Methos had observed in her, MacLeod observed as well. Yet he planned to marry the woman! No wonder he had agreed that Richie should go away. Blanche Ingram had ignored the boy. She would be a cruel stepmother.

Methos realized it had grown late and Richie was nodding next to him. He gently shook the boy, then they quietly left the room. The boy seemed half asleep, so Methos picked him up to carry him to their room on the third floor. As he started up the steps, listening to Richie's soft breathing, the door to the drawing room opened.

"Mr. Eyrson. You're leaving already."

"I am tired, sir. Richie needs to be in bed."

"Tired, and a little sad, I think."

"Simply tired." **And disappointed.**

"Let me call one of the servants to help you with the boy."

"I'm fine, sir. Good night."

"Good night, James Eyrson. One night soon -- will you watch with me? Perhaps the night before I wed?"

"I would be pleased to assist you in any way I can, sir."

"Good night." He turned and re-entered the drawing room, and Methos climbed the stairs. Soon he had Richie tucked into his bed, and he took off his shirt and sat down to read.

Good God! What a cry! Methos jerked awake, instantly alert. He pulled on his shirt as he went to the hall door, and heard rooms being opened and voices on the floor below and around him. Then he heard MacLeod's voice, quieting everyone, joking about the cook's dream, sending his guests and servants back to their beds. He felt the man approach his door, and was glad he'd re-dressed himself and waited. He opened the door before MacLeod could knock.

"Good. I knew you'd be awake. And dressed, too. What a treasure you are. Come along. Wait, do you have any linen for bandages in your room? And a scissors? Have you done any kind of nursing?" At his nod, MacLeod smiled. "Come along." Methos followed him in the dim candlelight to a stairway at the far end of the hall, in the oldest wing of Thornfield. They began to climb, and as they reached the top, Methos felt the buzz of Presence and clutched his scissors tighter.

"Duncan..."

"I'm going to ask you to trust me." MacLeod stopped and turned to face him, holding the candle up to their faces. "You do trust me, don't you? And you will help me, and not ask questions."

Methos only nodded in reply. Then MacLeod removed a key from his waist and opened the door to Hell itself.

It was a suite of rooms. In the first, closest to the door, was a manservant, bloodied and semi-conscious on a bed. Standing over him was an elderly woman, a servant Methos had seen only occasionally and believed lived in Millcote, not at Thornfield. Now he realized that she lived here, in this remote tower room. With the snarling beast in the locked room next to them. The Immortal beast, that is. The woman sobbed and clutched the man's hand.

"As God is my witness, sir, she tried to drink his blood. She swore she'd drain us both and eat our heads off..."

"Enough. Silence, or I'll throw you both out into the road to die." Methos was shocked at MacLeod's tone of voice. And a shriek came from the locked room in response to it. Methos moved to the bed, examining the man and speaking calmly to the woman.

The man's flesh was torn, evidently by teeth as the servant had claimed. But there was a deeper wound in his arm, one done by a blade of some kind. Methos pointed this out to MacLeod, who nodded grimly. "Yes, she'd fashioned a blade for herself. I've taken care of it, and her."

"Will he live, sir?"

"Yes, he'll be fine. He's lost some blood, but we're going to bandage him up and take right good care of him until he recovers." Methos tried to smile at her, but his confusion was overwhelming him. Who was this Immortal woman, and why would MacLeod allow her to put mortals into danger?

"I swear to you, Mr. MacLeod, Rory knew all along about my charge and he's the soul of discretion. Never told anyone, and only visits me once a month, friendly-like."

"And he brought the bottle that had you both asleep with her loose?"

"Oh, sir, you cannot blame my boy. It's my own weakness. This kind of job is wearing..."

"Enough. I will move Rory to a room below and let you continue to nurse him, with Mrs. Fairfax and Leah to help you."

"God bless you, sir."

"God has cursed me, Mrs. Poole, as well you know. James, come with me." And MacLeod grabbed Methos' arm and pulled him from the room, down the spiral stairs and out of the building. He paused in the garden shed for a shabby cloak which he threw over Methos' shoulders, then silently dragged him to the old oak tree at the foot of the garden.

"Well?"

"Sir?"

"I'm ready to answer your questions, to face the inquisition. Proceed."

"Are you fond of nighttime visits to your gardens, sir?" Methos sat on the bench as he spoke.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I have often thought it the best time. Of course, it is late in the season tonight and the flowers are not at their best. But in high summer, it can be quite refreshing to come out at night and see the blooms by moonlight, enjoy their fragrance in the cool night air instead of the heat of day. Thornfield has many beauties, as I believe you pointed out when we first met."

"Cursed elf! Imp! I offer to bare my soul to you, to bow before you, and you torment me."

"There is no need for you to bow before me -- I have no right to question you. I told you, we are equals. I have a past, as do you. There are many things that I am not proud of, which are not forgotten. Evidently you, too, have a past. A woman, an Immortal, who is bound to you. And who seems quite insane, evidently needing a keeper more crafty and stronger than the one you've found. This explains many things to me, things I had puzzled over. Your unhappiness..."

MacLeod sat next to him on the bench and reached to touch him. Methos stopped his hand. "You told me you mean to marry Miss Ingram."

"I lied. As you well knew, my clear-sighted friend. She is nothing, less than nothing to me. I thought to make you jealous, to make you care for me."

"I do care for you. I think you know it. No, you wanted to drive me away, make me leave you before I would find out..."

"No -- only to have you come away with me before I had to tell you. How can I tell you? Can you understand stupidity, foolishness like mine?"

"Duncan. Please trust me as you asked me to trust you. I respect, I admire you. I will not scorn you. If you knew me better, you would not hesitate to tell me anything. There is no one less likely to sit in judgement than I."

"That woman, that madwoman is my wife. Many years ago I traveled in the West Indies with Fairfax Rochester. He was introduced to a wealthy family in Jamaica. We both were invited to many parties and dinners with the family, and we both met their only daughter. Only I knew that while she was their heiress, she was not of their family line -- she was pre-Immortal. Bertha was spoiled, charming in small doses. She flirted with Rochester and myself. He fell in love with her, while I took an interest in seeing her become fit for the Game. I convinced her father that fencing lessons would be beneficial. I tried to lift her mind and teach her, without revealing to her what she was.

"But then, we went riding one afternoon without a chaperone. Her horse was injured, and it put her into a compromising position. I could have fled, but I didn't want to harm her. Rochester was ready to shoot me. I thought I cared enough... I married her. And found out that her mind was lower, her vices greater than I had ever suspected.

"She beat servants, there was one maid she almost killed in her fury. She had no sense of right or wrong, only her own desires mattered. She slept with other men -- servants, slaves, the nobility alike. We lived there for ten years, while she destroyed my name and reputation in Jamaica, and almost my sanity. Then Rochester came to me and begged me to return to England with him. He was ill, and wanted to return home. So I made plans to sail. She went insane when I told her I would leave without her. She fought me, she threatened me. And then she killed herself.

"When she revived, it was worse than before. She felt cursed by God. She wouldn't listen to me, she couldn't comprehend the Game or her place in the world. I appealed to her vanity, telling her she would never age, never fade. She mutilated herself, then watched in horror at the healing. She tried to kill me, kill herself again and again. Finally, it became obvious that I could not leave her behind. I booked passage for her to come to England with us.

"She made the trip a living hell. Poor Rochester was failing fast, the travel did not agree with him. And Bertha's antics were causing fear and problems on the ship. She seduced several of the men, then tried to get them to mutiny so she could return to Jamaica. She set fire to our cabin, and finally I had to keep her chained at night. She was like one possessed."

Methos' eyes were sad as he watched MacLeod struggle to finish his tale. "Then Mr. Rochester died, and left you this house?"

"He never saw the coast; he died and was buried at sea. His will was in with his papers, and he'd written that Thornfield was perfect for my situation. He wrote of Mrs. Fairfax's trustworthiness, of the remote location and isolation of the house. Though he'd never discussed it with me, I saw that he knew Bertha would need to be confined, kept from harming herself or others. Despite his own disappointment, his illness, he tried to help me conceal her, to save my life. I brought her here and lied about who and what she was. Only Mrs. Fairfax knows she is my wife. The rest believe she is my sister..."

Methos put a hand on Duncan's arm and looked into his lowered face. "It is not your fault. And you cannot feel bound in marriage to a woman who is ill. I know the English laws, but you cannot feel them binding for eternity. Let her be your sister, your poor sister whom you loved but who is gone."

"I have tried. I have found other arms, other loves. I did not want to treat you as another Mimi, have more regrets. But I couldn't go, I couldn't stay away with you here. Thinking that she might break loose again, might harm you because you're immortal, thinking it's me..." Duncan sobbed into his hands, and Methos gathered him into his arms.

"Oh, my love, don't cry. I understand. It will be alright, I know it will be alright." His voice murmured soothingly until he felt the sobs stop. Still they sat together under the oak, entwined for comfort, not passion. The moon set and the stars dimmed, and they sat, not speaking but taking comfort in each other. As the sun began to rise, MacLeod rose and moved away from him.

"I asked if you would watch with me, and you have. I'm sorry to have robbed you of rest this night. Now I must go and find a way to send these tiresome people away." MacLeod turned without another word and walked back to the house. Methos was still sitting under the oak hours later.

*************

A week later, the oak was destroyed, split in two by an electrical storm. Only Methos knew that the storm was caused by MacLeod taking a head, a challenge from an unknown Immortal who had shown up after the houseguests were gone. Methos had heard the bell, then saw from the schoolroom window the two men, swords drawn, walking down through the garden. He quickly told Richie to stay put and work at his reading, then ran toward the challenge. He arrived in time for the quickening, and stayed back once he saw that MacLeod had won. The damage to the grounds was quite spectacular; he wondered just how old the Immortal had been.

Methos began to feel uneasy about remaining at Thornfield. From a safe haven with no Immortals for miles around, the house had become downright crowded -- very uncomfortable. There was an insane Immortal overhead, and now others of their kind were coming after MacLeod. It was only a matter of time before someone discovered his presence and wondered just who he was.

But how to leave? Abandon MacLeod, alone, bound to a madwoman by his honor and her sickness? Not that he was much help to him. Since their night of confidences, MacLeod had avoided him completely. The Master remained closeted in his library, busy with his affairs. Methos felt useless. And foolish. Why was he still harboring hope? MacLeod had made it plain that he simply lusted after Methos as he had lusted after other women and men in his travels. As a distraction, an entertainment. He was too good, too noble not to offer protection. But he did not love him, did not feel what Methos felt for him.

Methos was becoming accustomed to the fact that quite often, when he was thinking about MacLeod, MacLeod would appear before him. He wondered if they were attuned in some fashion. Then he smiled at the beautiful man, a genuine smile of happiness.

"Mr. Eyrson, you'll take my breath away. I don't believe I've ever seen you smile before."

"I am happy to see you, sir."

"Indeed. You may not be so happy when I tell you why I have sought you out."

"Sir?"

"You are aware that I took a challenge two days ago?"

"Yes, sir."

"Not much gets by you, does it? But from your post, you did not see my challenger?"

"No, sir."

"I thought as much. I have never before been challenged at my own door. Thornfield is quite remote, very few travelers pass this way by accident. You know, I was quite shocked to feel your presence that first night..."

"Indeed, as was I."

"Perhaps it is time for us to begin training, to brush up both our skills. The Game seems to have found Thornfield. Although this person came to my door looking for someone. Not me, mind you. For someone else he was sure lived here. In fact, he said my presence just proved it – that the person he sought would be hiding with some powerful, attractive Immortal bodyguard. But the name he gave me meant nothing, nothing beyond stories and myths I heard from my first teacher."

"Sir, I..."

"Methos. He asked about Methos – can you imagine? The eldest of our kind, here?"

"Did your challenger give his name, sir?"

"Oh, yes. He was called Caspian. He was a very unpleasant person, his death left a bad taste in my mouth. And some odd memories."

"As I believe I've mentioned before, sir, my own past is less than savory. I can understand if you would now like me to leave Thornfield and stop imposing on your hospitality and friendship..."

"Not so fast, James. Or should I call you Methos? Well, probably not. A false name seems prudent for one who is not interested in challenges, who merely wishes to lead a quiet life."

"It seemed a small deception. Though I suppose if you knew who I was, what kind of person you'd hired into your home, you would have barred the doors that first night."

"No, I don't think so." MacLeod reached forward and placed his hand along Methos' face. "I don't think any power on earth could have made me lose you once I'd met you, seen your grace and intelligence and wit."

Methos closed his eyes as the hand traced down his neck, then opened them when it was removed.

"But there is a serious purpose to this talk, my friend. Caspian told me that there are others, also in this area seeking you. I don't know how they tracked you here, but he indicated that two more of your band have come to find you. And by now they must know that he has not returned. So they will come, possibly together..."

"I should leave. I don't wish to endanger you or anyone in Thornfield."

"Leave? No, I don't think you should leave. I'd thought that perhaps there is a way to hide you, to keep you safe from them. Or we could challenge them together; there are two of us."

"You cannot fight my battles, MacLeod."

"The Game is not about two against one combat!"

"They have not come to fight me. They will not challenge you if I am gone." Methos turned and went to his room, ready to start packing at once. He'd just gathered his belongings on the bed when he felt the rush of Presence and saw MacLeod in the doorway, angry and hurt.

"So you are a coward, as he said."

"Whatever I am is no concern to you any longer." He returned to his packing, and found himself thrown across the room. He landed against the wall and sank down for a moment, dazed. Then he rose, avoiding MacLeod's eyes, and returned to his task.

"You willna leave me!" MacLeod grabbed him and held him this time, then pressed their lips together harshly, biting and bruising him. "I cannot let you go, I will not."

They fell to the bed together, both sobbing and fighting to kiss more, touch more, to hold each others' essence and never let go. Methos knew it was a bad way to say goodbye, but he couldn't make himself stop. He had wanted this man, loved this man, and now he had to flee to protect him. Was it wrong to want the memory of his touches, his taste, his love?

They wrestled the clothing off each other even as they pushed his books and clothes off of the bed. MacLeod marked his neck, his chest with bites and blood, and he scratched and clutched at MacLeod, leaving him visibly bruised as well. Then MacLeod held his wrists above his head and thrust a finger into him, biting his nipple as he squirmed under his assault. Another, and Methos cried out and pushed his hips toward him. He held still and watched Methos' face, allowing Methos to set his own rhythm as he scissored his fingers, stretching him. He reached down to give him another long, breathtaking kiss, thrusting his tongue in the same pattern set by his hand, then smiled at the glazed look in Methos' eyes.

"Please, Duncan." MacLeod removed his hand and entered him slowly, pushing carefully past the first resistance. Then he violently completed his possession in one hard thrust, screaming his own pain loudly enough to drown Methos' whimper.

 Rough sex was not his preference, not any more. But MacLeod's strength thrilled him, his raw need excited him – and his devastating beauty of body and soul had long before won him. They rocked together for what seemed eternity, then MacLeod threw back his head and pounded into him, cursing and screaming until they both reached orgasm in powerful waves.

Methos returned to his body to find MacLeod still on top of him, semi-conscious, still holding his wrists with one hand. He carefully moved his arms down and ran his hands over MacLeod's beautiful face and back, thrilled with the peacefulness he saw. Still knowing that he would leave him, must leave Thornfield . Kronos and Silas were here, somehow. He had thought Silas safe in the forests of the Ukraine where he had left him long ago. He had thought Kronos believed him dead. And now he learned that he had been living in a dream while they hunted him down.

MacLeod's eyes fluttered and Methos kissed him. "Hello again."

"Hello." He let his eyes close, then suddenly opened them and moved quickly off his partner. "I am sorry, I must be crushing you."

"I like it."

"Do you? Did you enjoy that?" His hand played in the semen still on Methos' chest and stomach. "I never would have guessed."

"But I must go. I am putting you all in terrible danger. These men, my brothers – they are evil beyond your imagining." The doorbell rang below, interrupting his explanation. Methos ran to the window and carefully looked below, seeing two horses held by one large blond man. Though too far removed to feel his buzz, he recognized Silas at once. "Too late. What can I do?" He frantically scrambled into his clothes, stuffing his books and clothes into the pack. "If they find anything, they will kill you all."

"Calm down. They will not be admitted, they cannot search..." MacLeod pulled his own clothing on, adjusting his hair as he spoke.

"You do not know them! They will harm your people, they kill mortals without thought! They will threaten everything you love."

"They already do that, they threaten you. But I have a plan. I had been thinking that poor Bertha might be our salvation. Come with me."

Methos, carrying his sword and pack, ran with MacLeod to the tower. MacLeod thrust his key at him. "Tell Grace to hide you in the wardrobe in Bertha's room. Her presence will mask yours. When they wish to see the other Immortal in my home, I will show her to them." He kissed the hand he held. "Now go!"

MacLeod descended to his guests as Methos ran to the tower. Grace Poole was appalled at his instructions, but she opened the door to her patient's room and hid him while Bertha howled and spat at them both. The Presence seemed to bother her greatly, it made her behavior much worse. Methos crouched there, his sword ready should he be discovered, listening to her curses. He wondered why immortality drove some crazy, while others seemed to be filled with goodness and gratitude for the gift. And he thanked all the gods once again that he had lived long enough to outgrow his own rebellion and hatred, his thousand years of insanity and evil.

**********

Kronos did not believe MacLeod's story, but he and Silas were still behaving politely. Since MacLeod had received them graciously, offering them drinks, they listened as he told them his tutor, James Eyrson, had vanished almost a week ago with another man he'd called his brother. MacLeod was fleshing out his story with details of Eyrson's oddness and bookish ways, hoping to give Mrs. Fairfax enough time to carry out his instructions. For he had told the woman to get everyone out of the house and send them on foot and in the carriage to Millcote. With guns and weapons for the men in case of danger.

Mrs. Fairfax seemed bewildered, but she obeyed. Something about the two men she'd admitted did not sit well. The master seemed very nervous. She'd never seen fear in his eyes before. The oddest part was that he told her to forget about Bertha and the tutor, that he'd care for them. Them? Wasn't Bertha's existence kept a secret from the tutor? But she went about her business, having Sophie bring Master Richard down to the stables, sending Luke ahead to harness the horses to the carriage, arming John and the stablemen, assisting Grace and her son from the house. Then they left, a small caravan avoiding the main drive for the back roads where hooves would not be heard by the guests. Abandoning Thornfield to its master, his mad wife, tutor and guests.

"Mr. MacLeod. Not that we aren't enjoying your brandy, but we are here to find Eyrson. And we would like to search your house, just to make sure you haven't lied." The smaller man, the scarred one, smiled as he spoke, but his eyes were cruel.

"I've no objection to your search, but I should warn you – there is another immortal in the house. Not Eyrson. My wife."

"Your wife. How touching. I don't suppose you'd care to introduce her to us? We like women immortals, some of our best sport has been with women who heal easily. Eh, brother?"

Silas laughed, MacLeod clenched his jaw but led his "guests" out into the hall and allowed them to search. Since they were merely feeling for Presence, they didn't notice that the house had been abandoned, that there were no inconvenient, innocent mortals available as hostages. They finally arrived at the base of the old tower, and MacLeod gestured them ahead of him. As they climbed, the buzz of their quickenings roused the beast in Bertha and she began to howl and pull on her chains.

"Gentlemen, my wife. The lovely Bertha MacLeod, late of Jamaica." The woman before them was tall and had once been attractive, but her face was distorted with rage and fear as she shrieked at them.

"Mr. MacLeod. An excellent game, and well played. With younger men, it might have worked completely. But we can sense our brother is here, there is more than can be explained by this poor wretch. Methos' soul cries out to us. Silas, find him."

Silas walked toward the chest, but Bertha struck out at him in fear and rage. He growled and struck her and she fell against the wall, whimpering. MacLeod drew his sword, and Kronos drew his to defend his brother. Then Methos sprang out and attacked Silas as MacLeod engaged Kronos .

The quarters were too tight for fighting, and MacLeod retreated up the stairs to the roof, followed closely by Kronos. As they re-engaged, he heard shouts below and hoped that Methos was able to defend himself against the giant blonde.

Methos, too, abandoned the crowded rooms and ran down the steps, drawing Silas away from the others and into more open areas for fighting. They fought up and down the hallway, until Methos retreated out a window onto the third floor roof. There he had room to manoeuver, and he only hoped that none of the household staff were nearby or would come to investigate the noise. Silas was strong and well-trained, but his size made him slow. Methos hoped to be able to disarm him, knock him out long enough to help subdue Kronos, then flee. He shouldn't have left MacLeod to fight Kronos. He was good, yes, good enough to take Caspian. But still...

MacLeod was fully occupied with his opponent, but still worried about Methos fighting such an uneven battle. Silas was huge, obviously quite strong.

"Methos fought at my side for a thousand years, MacLeod. Do you honestly think he belongs to you now? Do you believe he will harm his brothers? No doubt he and Silas are taking your women and gold to our horses even as we fight!"

"Whatever he was, I know who he is now."

"Oh, I've no doubt you believe that. Maybe I shall leave your miserable head in place long enough to show you the truth. You deserve punishment for killing my brother Caspian." They locked swords and MacLeod pushed the smaller man into the wall of the roof, against the stone battlements. And from below, they heard the ringing of steel and both paused to see Methos and Silas fighting on the rooftop several floors below them.

"Methos!" Their two voices spoke, then they broke apart and paused, staring at each other in hatred. Then Kronos furiously swung at MacLeod, and rashly opening himself to a sharp, killing thrust through his heart. As MacLeod swung and took Kronos' head, far below Methos swung into an opening Silas left him, misjudging the angle as Silas stumbled to his knees. He inadvertently took Silas' head. The quickenings rose from both bodies, and somehow Methos and MacLeod found themselves tied together, sharing the two very powerful quickenings. Lightening struck around them, they howled their pain to the winds, and below them, Thornfield manor burst into flames.

By the time MacLeod recovered from what had to be the oddest quickening he had ever taken, he barely had time to find Bertha, release her and get them both out of the tower and the house. Methos was frantically looking for Richie and the other servants, in the smoke-filled halls, not realizing they had been sent to Millcote an hour ago. Thus it was that when the roof of the house collapsed in flames, Methos was still inside, while MacLeod and his wife watched from the gardens.

***********

Two years later

"I still say it shouldn't have taken you so long to find me." Methos, freshly scrubbed clean and in new clothing, was eating with gusto and drinking ale at an alarming pace. They were in a private room at the Inn in Millcote.

"James..."

"No, no, MacLeod. James Eyrson died in the ruins at Thornfield. You've let Methos out now, and while it's time for a new identity, a new life – well, you're still stuck with Methos."

"I suppose all humility and subservience died with James?"

"Exactly." Methos raised his glass in a mock toast to his host, drank deeply, then continued "Two years, dying and reviving. You couldn't hurry it up a bit?" He tore back into his supper, seemingly attempting to put back all the weight he'd lost in one night.

"I couldn't exactly hire helpers to find a corpse in the smoking ruins of my house, could I?"

"When I revived, couldn't you find me by my Presence?"

"Do you know how much rubble I moved? By myself, no help, no one around save Pilot!"

"Pilot. You could have pointed me out, boy, couldn't you? But the big barbarian probably didn't even know to pay attention, did he?" The dog wriggled with joy under the caresses of his friend, while his master scowled at them both.

"I suppose you could have done better. Of course, you probably would have brought servants to cook for you and move the rubble, not camped under a tree for a year, working like a slave."

"That still leaves a year unaccounted for! Did it take that long for the smouldering to stop?"

MacLeod sobered and Methos, seeing his face, stopped taunting him. "It was Bertha... I looked for another Immortal, his name is Sean Burns. He is a doctor." Methos nodded, he had met Burns once during his own medical training. "He is interested in the mind and in Immortals. He thought that perhaps Bertha can be saved, given enough time to recover and adjust. She was more subdued after the fire. It seemed that moving her from Thornfield was beneficial for her, that keeping her prisoner here wasn't helpful..."

"But you couldn't have known that."

"Yes. But maybe I should have tried, sooner. Burns has a villa in Italy. She seemed to love the warmth, the sunshine. She was still violent at times, but not so constantly fearful. She did not need to be chained, though she still requires constant attention by a nurse."

"That is wonderful. I think perhaps Dr. Burns is right, and he can help her make a full recovery. You'll be able to visit her, too, or stay with her if you'd like."

"I've given him money for her care. But I'm afraid my presence makes her worse."

"That will pass, Duncan. As she recovers, she will understand that you care for her."

"But I do not love her."

"No?"

"No. There is another I love, one who I could never forget, who I would always seek. One I would give up my life to be with."

"One worth camping under a tree for a year to free?"

"Aye. One who cared enough for mortals to stay in a burning house, searching and trying to help them. Someone I admire very much."

"That was nothing. I'm just glad they are all safe and well. I told you I have much to atone for. If you knew what I have been, what I have done..."

"I don't need to know, Kronos' memories..." He paused, then continued "I'd hoped you would agree to come to Paris with me, to spend some time together."

"Oh, but I had my own plans for the time when I could leave Thornfield. To cross to the Americas, to find a quiet place with little society, and no Immortals."

"None?"

"Well, maybe just one special Scot..." MacLeod reached across the table and grabbed his hand, then brought it to his lips.

"Welcome back to life, my love."

 

Feedback welcome

Back to Highlander fiction page