Thanks go to Tarsh, who beta read this -- and it was a mess. Any mistakes or inconsistencies left are mine, probably from me ignoring her sound advice.

Please note this is a slash story; that means there is a male/male sexual relationship depicted. If this is not your cup of tea or if you are under 18, please leave now.

Voyagers 3: Lovers' Sighs
by Laura Mason

 Adam Pierson was in the Watcher library late again, something everyone was used to seeing. Linda Engman, Vemas' secretary, smiled when she saw him there, pouring over yet another musty chronicle. Adam was supposed to be working on his dissertation after hours in the conveniently quiet library, but it looked like he was caught up in his Watcher research instead of that boring paper on long-dead languages.

"Good night, Adam." She pointed to her watch when he looked up, then smiled when he blushed.

"Thanks, Linda. I lost track of the time."

"That's unusual. See you." Methos watched the woman leave, then looked around the room. Good, it seemed that everyone had cleared out. Time to get to work.

‘Adam Pierson' was working on a dissertation, that much was true. Some day, Methos might even finish it, defend it, and receive yet another degree. But that wasn't the reason for this late night at Headquarters. He was once again reviewing the weekly reports, using his new laptop computer to breach the Watchers' mainframe. One of these days he was going to have to leave the Watchers, he'd been hiding here over ten years now. But since meeting Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod a year and a half ago, he found himself craving the simplicity of Pierson's orderly life. And even more, found himself dependent on the Watchers for information about MacLeod.

It had started with reading the reports Joe Dawson submitted on MacLeod each week. Just checking to make sure he was safe, really. But references in those reports to other immortals led him to the chronicles written by MacLeod's previous Watchers, detailing the almost 400 years of his life since he was identified as an immortal while studying with his clansman. It became a game, to see if he could sneak an old chronicle home for the weekend, and he tried to tell himself it was no different than reading a novel. Simple entertainment. Not a dangerous obsession with a man who didn't care about him and certainly didn't love him.

Methos sighed as he pulled up the last report he wanted to carefully review. He'd identified an astonishing number of living immortals who had grudges against Duncan MacLeod, and he now found himself monitoring their activities regularly. Just to make sure there was no immediate danger. MacLeod was far too trusting for his own good, he'd seen that himself when MacLeod had accepted him at face value -- only Dawson's mistrust led to their estrangement. As if that wasn't dangerous enough, his chronicles showed that MacLeod made a habit of letting potential enemies walk away. Of course, the man was an excellent swordsman. He'd killed Kalas and a number of old and powerful immortals. But it never hurt to have advance information, a warning. Methos was counting on being able to deliver warnings through Joe Dawson, who might not trust Methos, but wouldn't allow MacLeod to walk blindly into danger, either.

Methos wouldn't try to see the Highlander himself. That was just asking for trouble, for heartache. There was no reason to see him, anyway. No need. It was over between them. Of course, MacLeod was still a friend. And perhaps their race's greatest hope for the future. That was the only reason he was here, reading these reports. As a friend. Not because he wanted an excuse to visit MacLeod.

Amanda was gone again, which surprised him a little. Dawson had reported that MacLeod proposed to her after Kalas' death. But then MacLeod had detoured on his trip back to the States, stopping for a visit to his homeland. Amanda dropped in on him in Seacouver, but then flitted off again. Methos knew Amanda well enough to understand that Mac's proposal might keep her at a distance for a while. But he also knew how possessive she was about MacLeod, and he'd seen the love in her eyes. Hell, he'd heard them confess their love the night Kalas died. She'd be back, soon. Permanently.

Maybe that final step, their immortal marriage, would enable him to finally forget about MacLeod and move on with his own excuse for a life. Amanda could watch Mac's back, she was clever and experienced enough to manage it. Methos shook himself out of his musings and settled in to read the report on Kristin Gilles.

***

Richie Ryan pulled up in front of his apartment building and yanked off his helmet, a wide smile stretching his face. He was in love with the most fabulous woman. And she was immortal, this wonderful feeling could go on forever. She'd never age, never sag or wrinkle. Never lose her taste for hot sex with him. Kristin was amazing. He couldn't wait to see Mac and tell him about her. Joe, too, would be back at the bar tonight. He'd stop to see them before meeting Kristin.

Richie ran lightly up the steps to his apartment, then paused as he felt a rush of presence. He'd just left Kristin and it couldn't be Mac yet... Richie pulled his blade as he approached his apartment, noticing that the door had been left slightly ajar. He could hear his stereo, and for a moment he was more angry than wary. Then he heard a familiar voice.

"Lousy beer, but at least you have good taste in music, Ryan."

"Adam!" He set his blade down and ran to his friend, who was sprawled on his sofa. "Hey, make yourself at home!" He laughed as he shook hands with the man who'd broken into his apartment.

"I always do, as you should know. Besides, you owe me one."

"Yeah, well, you can stay here for sure." He smiled wickedly. "You can even have the bed. I haven't been sleeping here lately, anyway."

"Young scoundrel. A new love?" Methos' eyes were guarded as he watched Ryan's reaction. Richie blushed, of all things, then a wide smile lit his whole face. Yes, this truly was Duncan's child. So many of his honest reactions reminded Methos of Ryan's teacher.

"She's wonderful. It's great to have you here, I've wanted to talk to someone about her. Joe and Mac have been out of town for the past two weeks. Anyway, did you just get in? How long will you be visiting?" Richie moved to get a soda, then sat down across from Adam.

"I just arrived today, and Adam Pierson will be doing some work for the Watchers here in Seacouver for the next few weeks at least. You're sure you don't mind if I stay here?"

"It's great, honestly. I'm so glad to see you again. When I left you I was really worried Kalas would come back for you. Of course, Mac told me you were okay."

*Evidently Mac hasn't told you anything else, like my real name or that he knew me before you met me.* "Yes, I'm fine and Kalas is dead."

"So how did you like Mac? Isn't he terrific? He's a great teacher, too, I should try to arrange a spar for you. He'll show you stuff you've never dreamed of."

"I didn't come thousands of miles to have my butt kicked by your teacher, Ryan." In fact, Methos didn't intend to see him at all.

"Well, let me tell you about Kristin, she's fantastic. Smart, funny, and sexy, just plain hot, really. She's a little older than me, but she knows everything and everyone in town. We've been to the newest clubs, she's a good dancer, too..."

"Kristin? She's not one of us, is she?"

"Yes, she is. Do you know her?"

"Kristin Gilles?" Richie nodded, and Methos went on as if horrified. "Richie, I don't know her, but every Watcher has heard of her. She's very dangerous."

"No, that can't be. She's so generous and sweet. She hardly ever carries a blade, either."

"Richie, she's notorious. Kristin doesn't break up with people, she kills them. She's even been known to kill mortals if she thinks they're rivals." Methos stood and paced, assuming his best 'distracted Adam' look. "Of course I don't expect you to take my word for it. I'll see if I can get some information..."

"Adam, man, I believe you." Richie was instantly contrite. "Or at least, I believe you're trying to help me out here, I know you're not making this up."

"Thanks, Rich."

"But Kristin and me, what we have is very special. There may have been trouble in her past, a bad breakup or an accidental death. But I don't believe she'd ever hurt me." The anxious sincerity shining in Ryan's eyes made Methos want to scream, but he put a smile on his face instead. "Or ever hurt anyone unless she had to, to defend herself."

"Listen, if you don't mind I'll plug in my laptop here and see if I can access the Watcher files. If not, maybe Dawson can help us. You might be right, it could all be easily explained. It won't hurt to know the truth, right?"

"I appreciate this, Adam. After all, she is one of us, I guess you're right to be cautious. I know Mac would agree with you." Richie looked troubled, though, at the thought of checking up on Kristin.

"Like I've said before, Ryan, in the end it's every immortal for himself." He booted his computer rapidly, initiating the modem even though he already had the file he intended to show Richie on his hard drive, ready to print.

"Yeah." Richie sounded less than enthused about that reminder. "Hey, I'm gonna grab a shower, it was a long night, ya know?" He smiled and moved into his bedroom, and Methos was gratified to note that he took his sword with him. Maybe he'd taught the kid something after all.

He couldn't believe he was here, once again trying to save MacLeod's student's ass. Damn the Highlander and Dawson for taking off on some kind of jaunt at this particular time. He'd tried to call Joe from Paris, then hacked into the Watcher e-mail system to find out where the hell Joe was. He was just doing his job, following MacLeod, but the timing was such that Richie was in danger and there was no one on the scene to warn him. No one to counsel him or alert MacLeod.

Methos suspected that Kristin had only seduced Ryan to attract MacLeod's notice. Kristin had made her move on MacLeod's student and was probably waiting for him to come riding to Richie's rescue. Anyone who knew MacLeod would expect him to do so as soon as he heard about their affair. But Kristin didn't have access to the Watcher records, she couldn't know MacLeod had gone out of town the very same morning she'd introduced herself to Richie and his friend Maria, offering Maria a session with Kristin's photographer and the possibility of a modeling contract.

Methos wondered when Kristin's patience would run out, or if she was really enjoying her fling with young Ryan. Richie obviously was. But if MacLeod didn't return soon and Richie wasn't warned about the danger, he could lose his head. Methos had flown to Seacouver to see that it didn't happen, that Ryan didn't get killed, MacLeod didn't get killed -- in fact, he felt like he was in town to see that Kristin *did* finally get killed. The woman was a psychopath.

Anyway, now Richie would be on guard -- at least a little. He was so young and so besotted. Then when MacLeod returned, Methos intended to be watching his back, too. From a healthy distance. After all, he hadn't come to see MacLeod again. Just to make sure that Kristin didn't take any of his friends' heads.

When Richie emerged from his shower, Methos had the file on MacLeod and Kristin ready for him. Richie spent the rest of the morning reading it, and then the two men went to lunch and spent some time talking about neutral subjects. Richie was trying to decide what he wanted to do with his time, whether to take a job, continue racing motorcycles, or just travel for a while.

Throughout their conversation, Methos saw indications that Richie was completely forgetting there was any age difference between them. He'd never revealed his true age or identity to Ryan, and obviously MacLeod hadn't, either. But in France, when he'd been assisting Ryan after an untimely public death, Richie had treated him like a teacher, an older-and-wiser mentor. Now, confident on his home turf, Ryan was treating him like an equal.

Under normal circumstances, Methos preferred that kind of casual treatment. It was nice to be taken at face value, to be one of the guys. Not to have to deal with awed people demanding ancient wisdom with every other word. But in this particular instance, when he wanted Richie to listen to him about Kristin, it was galling. It meant his first plan wouldn't work; he was going to have to rely on the teacher-student relationship MacLeod and Ryan shared instead. Not his favorite plan, since it came with a price – seeing MacLeod.

After lunch they separated for a while, Methos coming up with a fictitious errand because he wanted to give Ryan time to think and re-read the reports on Kristin. They agreed to meet later at Richie's apartment, then head to Joe's bar together around seven o'clock. Ryan announced that he was sure Mac and Dawson would both be there, and Methos knew from his own reaction to that announcement that he, too, needed some time alone.

As he wandered off to browse the used bookshops and coffee houses of the old downtown area, he decided it was no weakness on his part that he needed time to adjust to the idea of seeing them. They'd both probably be angry with him for vanishing four months ago, after Kalas' death. But the excitement over Richie and Kristin would swallow up their attention and those hurt feelings. Dawson was paternal about MacLeod; Methos couldn't begin to imagine how protective he'd be with the younger Ryan. Just listening to Ryan, he could tell the two men were close friends.

Seeing MacLeod was the scary thing. Oh, not that he expected Mac to draw his katana at the mere sight of him, but they'd never really had a chance to talk since their week together at sea. First the misunderstandings and confused identities of their second meeting, when he'd actually tried to goad MacLeod into taking his head before facing Kalas. Even Methos didn't pretend that a night of wild and abandoned sex counted as conversation, particularly when he'd disappeared before MacLeod woke up the next day. And then the whole misbegotten jailbreak Amanda's genius engineered, forcing them together again. With Amanda constantly between them so they'd never had to talk, never spent any time alone. Hell, with Kalas breathing down their necks, there'd been no time at all.

Which seemed like a blessing now, one he wished he could conjure again. He found himself wishing that cowardly woman had already returned to face the matrimonial music, leaving him permanently off the hook for any serious discussions with Duncan MacLeod. He wasn't up to hearing how much he'd failed the man's expectations, or how unworthy he was of his friendship. He already knew.

***

Duncan MacLeod breathed a sigh of relief as he entered his loft. He couldn't believe his simple buying trip up the coast had turned into such a nightmare. First he'd worked himself into a snit because Dawson insisted on coming along. He'd been so angry that he'd refused to cooperate, not even giving Joe his itinerary. Only to find himself sheepishly sharing a room with his Watcher at the Motel 6 when the quaint inn where he'd booked his reservations burned down the night before his arrival.

The entire trip had been a disaster, nothing worth buying and all his leads turned out to be wasted time. To cap it off, he'd been challenged by a punk yesterday at a roadside diner where he was buying Joe some coffee and apologizing for his foul mood. Something about the kid had reminded him of Richie, and when he was forced to actually take his head, it tore him up. He wasn't sure the kid's Quickening had settled in him yet, he still felt edgy.

Without even pausing to unpack his bag, he undressed and took a long, hot shower. Then he lay down in his own bed with a small glass of single malt. Incredibly, he found he still couldn't relax enough for a nap. He rose, unpacked his bag, cleaned up the already-tidy living area, and flopped down in his chair with a soothing symphony softly playing.

After half an hour, he knew he wasn't going to be able to rest. He quickly dressed and headed out to Joe's for some dinner and conversation. Hopefully Richie would be in later and they could catch up, too. Evidently he needed to be around music and people tonight; his own company was driving him crazy.

Joe's was warm, smoky, and practically empty, the only other customers a table full of after-work carousers drinking beer. The small stage was dark and empty, so he wasn't going to get any of his wishes tonight. Joe hadn't even come downstairs yet, so MacLeod ordered himself a sandwich and a cup of coffee, not willing to keep drinking alone. He sat at the bar, feeling almost lonely. Maybe he should go visit some friends. He smirked as he imagined Joe's reaction if he announced another road trip this quickly. But there was nothing holding him in Seacouver; Richie had been talking about traveling for months now. Maybe Rich would come with him, they could camp and spend some time exploring. There were lots of places he wanted to show Richie, now that he thought about it. Maybe even head into Mexico, work on his ex-student's Spanish as they traveled.

Joe Dawson smiled as he entered his bar. It was good to be back, even with that nagging feeling that something was ‘off.' Richie called earlier and left a message that he'd be in tonight to see Joe, adding that he had 'big news.' Joe was positive he knew what *that* meant, Richie was once again in love. He just hoped it wasn't another of his waitresses; Richie really needed to get out in the world more and leave his staff alone. He saw MacLeod sitting at the bar, an empty plate pushed in front of him.

"Mac. Didn't expect to see you so soon."

"Hi Joe. Yeah, I suppose you didn't want to see me quite this soon, either. I'm really sorry about this past week."

"It's okay, Mac. I understand. I don't suppose I'd like it, either."

"But I shouldn't ask you not to do your job just because you're my friend, Joe. And I was wrong. You needed to be there; I *was* challenged." MacLeod shook his head. "It was a long two weeks, and to tell you the truth, I still don't feel right. Something in the air, I guess." Joe's mouth dropped open, and MacLeod wasn't sure if he felt better or worse knowing his Watcher shared his unease.

"That's incredible, Mac, I was just thinking ..." Joe paused when he saw that expression on Mac's face; another immortal was outside. "That's probably Richie; he called to say he'd be by tonight."

MacLeod shook his head. "No, not just Richie." He stood up to face the door, and wished he hadn't when the door opened and a laughing Richie Ryan entered, tugging Methos along behind him.

"Mac! I'm so glad you're here. Hey, Joe." Ryan shook hands with both men, giving Joe's shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "Look what the cat dragged in at my place. Adam's in the States on business, and he's going to stay with me for a week or two." Richie wondered why Adam was still standing by the door. He knew these guys, after all, and there were hardly any other people in the place tonight.

Dawson spoke to break the silence after Richie stopped talking. "Adam. Welcome to Seacouver. It's nice to see you again."

"Thanks Joe. Hello, MacLeod. Where's Amanda at these days?" His voice was friendly, but somehow challenging. He didn't meet their eyes as he spoke.

"Adam." MacLeod felt defensive as he replied. "Your guess is better than mine on Amanda's whereabouts. Richie, did Adam tell you he's an old friend of Amanda's? He knew her teacher, Rebecca."

"Wow. No, he didn't mention that. Boy, I keep forgetting you've been around a little longer than me, Adam." Richie's sheepish grin was echoed by Joe's secretive smile. "C'mon, Adam, sit down and have a beer."

"I thought you'd never ask, Ryan." MacLeod watched the man glide over to a stool next to Richie, wishing he could think of something intelligent to say. Or something not so intelligent; he couldn't even come up with a commonplace. Once again Joe came to his rescue.

"So Richie, what's your ‘big news' tonight? Did you get a job?"

"Hey, no, listen guys, I've met the most incredible woman. She's terrific. Smart, funny, and so hot you wouldn't believe it."

"That's terrific, Richie. Where did you meet her?" MacLeod was relieved to have a safe subject to discuss, even though he found his eyes stuck on Methos, watching the man drink and ignore him.

"I told you about my friend Maria, right? I lived with her family for a while, between foster homes. Anyway, Maria wanted to go to this open call for models. I drove her, and when she was called in to meet the head of the agency, I went with her."

"Sounds like an older woman, you stud." Joe was laughing, still not putting the pieces together. Methos supposed he hadn't had time to review the Watcher reports on immortals in the area. "The head of a modeling agency? She must be beautiful, too."

"She sure is, Joe. Oh, and by the way, Mac, I think you know her. Her name is Kristin, Kristin Gilles." Richie lowered his voice. "She's one of us, Joe."

"Kristin?" MacLeod froze for a moment, then looked directly at Methos, who still wouldn't meet his eyes. "Yes, I do know her, we met a little over 300 years ago. Did she tell you she knew me?"

"No, that's the funny thing. Adam recognized her name, he said she's fairly well-known among the Watchers."

"Yes." Methos turned toward MacLeod for the first time since his entrance, sweeping a look over Joe as he did. "I told Richie she had a bad reputation, but he thinks she's changed. We even looked up the report in your chronicles about her and that painter. What was her name?"

"Louise Barton." MacLeod's fist clenched as he remembered Louise's lifeless body floating in the pond where they'd met in secret to confess their love. He pulled his attention back to Methos' cool gaze. "Adam's right, Kristin is a dangerous woman, Richie. You should be very careful around her."

"Mac, I just can't believe that. We've been out almost every night for two weeks, now. She's so generous and loving. We have this special chemistry..." Richie's face glowed with the memories, and MacLeod felt a sinking in his stomach.

"Richie, don't you trust me? I'm telling you, she's a dangerous woman. If she even thinks you want to leave her, she will try to kill you. Permanently. And she'll hurt others you care about, too."

"Mac, don't you understand? I'm in love with her." Richie's face was torn. "Anyway, we can talk more tomorrow. She's expecting me, I'd better get going." He stood and pulled out his keys. "Adam, do you want me to drop you back at my place?"

"Thanks, Rich, but I'll manage on my own. You have fun."

"Yeah." Richie started for the door but stopped when MacLeod called to him.

"Richie, what are you going to tell Kristin?"

"I don't plan to *tell* her anything, Mac. I might ask her about your time together, get her side of the story. I'll see you later." And Richie left in a blaze of outraged young love.

"Well, so much for plan B." Methos pushed his glass toward Joe. "How about a refill, barkeep?"

"Sure. Adam, just how much of what's going on here tonight is your fault?" Dawson saw the flinch before Adam's face went perfectly blank, and wished he'd thought before speaking.

"Well, Joe, I'm not responsible for Kristin still being on the loose. I think you can blame MacLeod here for that; he should have taken her head in 1660." He waved a hand to stop MacLeod's protest before it was voiced. "But if you're asking did I share confidential Watcher information with Richard Ryan, yes, I did. And I'd do it again, he's in danger. Read the file on Kristin yourself; you'd have done the same thing."

"And you had to tell him about Kristin and me?" MacLeod finally managed.

"He didn't believe me; I'm surprised he listened to me at all while he was still basking in the afterglow of Kristin. I'd hoped that your teacher-student relationship might give you an edge in convincing him to stay away from her." Methos sat back and waited for the outraged anger.

"Thank you. But it doesn't seem to have worked. I guess I'll have to pay Kristin a visit tomorrow." MacLeod's eyes sparkled when he saw the surprise on Methos' face. "Do you want to come along for the ride? Call me when Richie gets home in the morning, and I'll pick you up. Here's my cellphone number."

Methos considered fainting while his hand automatically reached out and accepted the slip of paper. MacLeod wasn't angry, didn't resent his interference. He was actually smiling, sort of. And including him in his plans. "Okay."

"Great. That's settled, so now Mac, tell me about Kristin," Dawson said.

"You can read all about it, Joe. All you need to know tonight is that she's a killer." He took a sip of his drink, then looked around him, a faint expression of surprise on his face. "Joe, I don't feel off kilter anymore."

"Yeah, Mac. Do you think Watcher researchers have an aura we can both sense?" Both men laughed at the confused look on Methos' face. "Let's go sit at a table and we'll explain, Adam." Joe turned to get a bottle and another beer for his friends. "Alexa? Can you handle the bar for a while?"

A petite sprite of a waitress poked her head out of the kitchen. "Sure, Joe. It's so quiet in here tonight I was afraid you'd send me home."

"Nah, you can use the hours. I've got friends here, I'll just relax and play customer for tonight."

***

Methos returned to the dojo with MacLeod after his brief and unsatisfying conversation with Kristin. He hadn't really expected the woman to agree to leave Richie alone, had he? Of course not, and he truly hadn't expected MacLeod to challenge her right then and there, either. But he was still vaguely disappointed in the Scot, whom he tended to see as irresistible and perfect. It was those damn chronicles he'd been reading, all MacLeod's Watchers must have been crazy about him. *Just like me.*

When MacLeod offered to spar with him, he was automatically going to say no. Never let someone as dangerous as MacLeod see what you can do, it was one of his mottoes. But some devilish spirit entered his brain and he found himself agreeing. Mac loaned him a sweatshirt and a pair of drawstring shorts, and they warmed up together, both barefoot on the mats. When MacLeod finished, he brought out two staffs.

"Oh, no, Mac. I agreed to a spar. Don't you have a couple of practice swords around here?"

"Swords?" MacLeod didn't exactly squeak, but it was close. "Are you sure you want to spar with blades?"

"Hey, these are your clothes. What do I have to lose?" Accepting one of the wall-mounted swords from MacLeod, he moved it experimentally, noting and adjusting to the weight of the blade. "Great. Ready?"

"Just a minute." MacLeod was testing his own blade when Methos attacked him. "Hey!"

"Don't expect your opponents to be honorable like you, Mac." He slashed at him, changing styles and trying to throw the Scot off balance. "Kristin won't wait until you're ready before she takes a swing."

In a few moments MacLeod had adjusted to his style and relaxed into the fight. Methos stayed on the attack, but soon was struggling to maintain his guard. Damn, the Highlander was really good. But Methos didn't intend to lose, he was trying to make a point here. He swept Mac's feet out from under him with a nasty move he'd learned several thousand years ago, then slammed down on his stomach with both knees, blade blocking MacLeod's own. He gave the Highlander credit for still having a grip on his sword at all; most men would have dropped it. Still, it was easy to push it down with one hand and place his blade to MacLeod's neck.

"That was a nasty move for a friendly spar." MacLeod choked out.

"Whining won't keep you alive, MacLeod. I know you're a better swordsman than Kristin, but as I've just shown you, righteousness can't protect you from dirty tricks. If you keep letting Kristin walk away, she will kill you."

MacLeod sucked in a breath of air. "Yeah, maybe. Can I please get up now?"

Methos had barely moved his sword from its place on MacLeod's neck when he was flipped over by a sneaky move, then kicked in the ribs. MacLeod learned fast, he'd give the man that. Methos moved, but he was too slow and found himself pushed backwards over his own knees, MacLeod's sword at his throat.

"Doesn't look like I'm the trusting fool now, Methos."

"You keep that attitude and I'll be a happy man. At least, once your sword isn't on my neck." But MacLeod stayed frozen in place, staring at the man he held at his mercy. Methos wondered if five thousand years was just too much temptation for anyone. Then he wished he'd stayed in France and sent Joe a telegram. It was true he'd prefer Mac have his Quickening over anyone else, but he wasn't ready to die today.

MacLeod watched the emotions flicker behind Methos' amazing eyes, thinking back to the first time he'd gazed into them -- and been lost. He forgot he was still holding his sword to that vulnerable neck. He wanted to lean in and kiss the man until they both passed out. But sex wasn't going to hold Methos, he knew that much. Better to try and put together some kind of friendship, give him some reason to stay in MacLeod's life.

A wash of presence made both men turn their heads, and Methos felt a small trickle of blood before MacLeod swore and moved his sword back. Richie Ryan walked in and froze.

"This isn't serious, is it?"

"God forbid." Methos rose smoothly to his feet, wiping the line of blood. "We were just sparring, as you suggested. You were quite right, MacLeod showed me something I didn't expect."

"Great. Hey, Mac, I just came by to apologize for getting pissed off last night. I know you're trying to be a good friend. I talked to Kristin, I asked her if she knew you, and she admitted everything, told me the whole story. That she got jealous and possessive, and then that Barton woman drowned in her pond." He shook his head. "She says it was all a misunderstanding, Mac. She doesn't have any hard feelings, though."

MacLeod saw Methos shaking his head in disbelief behind Richie. "Rich, *she* wouldn't have any ‘hard feelings,' I didn't harm her. She drew a sword and tried to kill me, and I'm certain she killed Louise."

"Mac, that's just not true. Kristin..."

"Richie, I don't believe anything Kristin says, and you shouldn't either!"

Richie looked at his friend and teacher for a moment. "Mac, you never listen to me. I'm not asking for your blessing with Kristin, I'm just trying to explain her side of it to you. But I guess I shouldn't bother." He moved to the door. "I'll see you around, okay?"

"Damn." MacLeod wanted to punch something, but instead he began cleaning his practice sword. He didn't really expect an answer when he asked in a sepulchral voice "So now what should I do?" as Methos moved over and joined him, carefully wiping down his borrowed blade.

"Eat lunch?"

MacLeod's laughter was a gift, and for the first time in over a year, Methos believed he could be a friend of Duncan MacLeod's.

***

Richie laughed at Adam's face when he returned to the apartment and announced that he'd been recruited to help MacLeod paint the house he was renovating.

"Yeah, he's had me over there working, too. Hey, it could be worse -- you could be sparring with him again." Richie enjoyed his own humor, and Adam's wry expression only fueled his chuckles.

They headed to the bar to spend some time with Joe. Richie, as usual, was meeting Kristin for dinner later. Joe joined them at a table, wondering what Methos could have in common with the 19-year-old American kid. It seemed they agreed on nothing, but they enjoyed disagreeing. When it turned to heated defenses of their favorite sports, with Richie championing ice hockey and Methos announcing that the only real sport was football – soccer to ignorant yanks, Joe found himself chiming in to defend baseball. All three men were talking at once, touting the excitement and competition level of their sport, and occasionally another table or lone patron would chime in. Alexa kept the refreshments coming, and Joe was happy to note Richie wasn't flirting with the staff for a change.

 When Richie stood to leave, Adam followed him out to his bike.

"Rich, please be careful while you're with her. I know you trust her. But keep your eyes open, and don't leave your sword too far out of reach."

"Are we friends, Adam?" Richie's response surprised him, but he answered.

"Yeah, I'd like it if we are."

"Well, my friend, I appreciate your concern. But you don't know anything about her."

"I don't know Kristin, but I'm an immortal, Ryan, and I've lived longer than you have. Even with a friend, I'd be doing just what I'm telling you. You know the rules, you know about the Game." Adam's eyes were burning with intensity. "Even with MacLeod, with me -- keep your eyes open and your sword at hand."

Richie only stared back at him for a few moments, then nodded. "Okay, Adam. I'll do that." As Adam turned to walk back to the bar, Richie called out to him. "Hey, thanks. I really do appreciate it, man." Adam smiled back at him and entered the bar, leaving Richie standing thoughtfully by his bike.

Joe was waiting for him, a knowing look on his face. "Did it help?"

"Probably not."

"But you feel better now."

"I wish. No, self-delusion isn't usually my style." He sat down at the bar. "Can a guy get a sandwich here, or do I have to go to a table?"

"You can eat at the bar, Adam, but then I'm your waitress, not Alexa."

"You'll do, Dawson, you'll do."

"Great. So how about a story for your bartender?"

"My misspent youth?" Adam smiled, but there was an edge in his voice.

"I was thinking more of the truth behind the Sphinx, or who really wrote Shakespeare's plays." Dawson handed him a beer with a winning smile. "I get a story, you get beer now, food later, and if you stay late enough, you can have a song request."

"Joseph Dawson, you have got a deal." Methos launched into a series of increasingly unbelievable stories that had Joe neglecting his other customers and occasionally laughing uproariously. But after a story about Rebecca Horne's archeology digs in Egypt during the 1920's, Methos' stream of stories slowed and he gradually fell silent, simply signaling for refills on his supply of beer.

MacLeod arrived during the band's first set to find Methos still sitting in his spot at the bar nursing a beer.

"Mac. Hi, have a beer." MacLeod realized that Methos had been drinking a long time. He sounded as drunk as he'd been the night Mac found him in Paris.

"No thanks, Adam." He gave Mike a nod for his usual glass of Scotch and settled next to Adam, who was bobbing his head in time to the music from the stage.

"Joe's really good, you know that? I mean, he's a fine musician. And such a dedicated and intelligent *historian,* too. Do you know how unusual that is?"

MacLeod shook his head. "You shouldn't drink so much, Adam, or at least not so fast." He wondered how Methos had survived this long. It appeared he regularly got trashed.

"I'm not drunk, MacLeod, I'm just having a good time and admiring the multi-talented owner of this fine establishment. Just because you're differently gifted you shouldn't sneer at Joe's abilities."

"I didn't mean to slight Joe. You're right, I suppose I do take him for granted."

"Indeed." Methos finished his beer. "Shouldn't take our friends for granted, never know how long they'll be around." He set his glass on the bar and turned away from MacLeod, trying to control his emotions. Why he picked tonight of all nights to wallow over Rebecca...

"Did you see Richie tonight? I suppose he's with Kristin again."

"Yes, young love. Or a close approximation on his part. We can't really call Kristin young. Or loving." Methos rose and donned his coat, adjusting the weight carefully. MacLeod rose, too.

"You aren't leaving now, Adam. Joe's just getting started, you'll miss the music."

"Places to go, MacLeod." He started for the door, graceful even in his current inability to walk a straight line. MacLeod grabbed his jacket, threw money on the bar, and followed him.

"If this is a ploy to get out of painting tomorrow, Adam," he threatened as they walked outside. Seacouver's version of fresh air -- the scent of the ocean, car fumes, and full city dumpsters -- accosted them, and before MacLeod realized what had happened, Adam was on his knees retching in the gutter. Finally the choking sounds stopped, and he saw Methos wipe his mouth with the back of his visibly shaking hand.

"Adam? Are you alright now?" He felt foolish and tried to think of something practical to do. "Listen, I'll run you to Richie's apartment. We can stop for a soda to settle your stomach."

"I'm immortal, MacLeod. My stomach is fine." Methos stood, looking very pale under the street lights. "You don't have to drive me home, I'll walk. I'm capable of defending myself."

"You may be sobering up, but I'd like your company, anyway."

"I thought you wanted to hear Joe's band."

"I'll come back. They're going on break now anyway." MacLeod smiled his best for Methos, noticing the dark shadows under the other man's eyes. What was going on? He'd been fine earlier today. Now he looked haunted. He'd have to ask Joe what had happened before he arrived. He wanted to understand why Methos was so unhappy. He wanted to *make* Methos happy. *Oh hell...*

Mac took Methos' arm and led him to the car. "Oh, you asked after Amanda yesterday. She sent a postcard from London, a picture of the crown jewels, and she wrote 'wish I were there.'" MacLeod laughed, but Methos didn't seem amused.

"She's a fine woman, MacLeod. There's more to her than people think. Just because she behaves frivolously doesn't mean she *is* frivolous. She learned a lot more from Rebecca than how to fight."

MacLeod was stunned at this defense of Amanda. To him. He'd known Amanda for years, he cared for her very much. Why would Methos feel compelled to lecture him about her? But he bit his tongue, holding back his first defensive response. "She's a good friend."

"And more than a friend, I know. Don't take her for granted, either." Methos sat back and closed his eyes, signaling that the conversation was over, and MacLeod started the car in silence. He was examining what had and had not been said. 'More than a friend?' Joe wouldn't have told Methos about his proposal. Could Amanda have been in contact with Methos? But she said she didn't know where he'd gone when he'd vanished the day after MacLeod had killed Kalas.

MacLeod flashed back to that night, remembering how carefully Amanda and Methos had worked together, setting up their electronic surveillance. Then he'd walked with her to his challenge... and told her he loved her. While Methos was at the barge, listening to them on that equipment. He wavered between relief at solving the mystery and feeling he was an idiot for not remembering that conversation sooner. Telling Amanda what he felt for her had been right, even if proposing marriage hadn't been. In fact, there were other people he hadn't told how he felt, how much he valued knowing them...

"Methos?" But there was no answer to his soft question except deep breathing from the thin figure curled in the opposite seat. He smiled at the worlds' oldest man, asleep like a kid after a party, and kept driving.

***

Methos wiped his face with a clean rag, wondering if this was how MacLeod treated all his friends. Mac's face as he gently swiped his brush over Methos' nose had looked so. . . beautiful. Methos tried to shake himself out of this mood; obviously wishful thinking was leading him to misinterpret everything the Scot said and did.

He'd been preaching the same gospel to MacLeod as he had to Ryan, trying to get these idealistic men to realize that a woman could be just as evil and deadly as any male immortal. Evidently Amanda had spoiled them. While both women were beautiful, both were deadly fighters at times. In addition, Kristin was disturbed and twisted, with no care for mortals or anyone she couldn't control. But the same chivalric attitude that made MacLeod protect Amanda -- and even offer to protect Ryan and Methos himself, he supposed -- made him unwilling to follow through on challenging Kristin, despite his knowledge of her wrongdoing.

MacLeod was studiously painting now, and Methos rejoined him, staying carefully out of brush range. He stole glances at the man as he worked, admiring his strength. But that outer beauty was only a small part of the man's charm. Methos didn't really want Mac to change; he was a caring person, and that was the reason Darius and some Watchers hoped he would be the One. If killing Kristin or friendship with a cynic like Methos changed him too much, he'd never forgive himself.

Of course, MacLeod couldn't win the Prize if Kristin got lucky and took his head, could he? Methos found himself resolving that in this one instance, he would do whatever it took to keep MacLeod safe, and trust to Mac's own strength to guard his integrity.

Duncan MacLeod looked over at Methos, who was working on the trim across the porch, and wondered if he'd ever get the nerve to really talk to him. It seemed today that they were falling into an easy friendship, and he was happy to see Methos relax and enjoy being with him. But he wanted to clear the air, talk about their mutual past, even plan for the future. Whenever he started to form a sentence, some inner voice told him to hold his tongue. So he did; he turned on the boom box Richie had lent him and kept working. Talking seriously to Methos today would be an instant way to spoil their camaraderie and send the man packing.

Of course, that didn't mean he couldn't admire the way Methos' body moved as he worked. Memories of that body nude, muscles rippling under smooth skin, were a definite distraction. He'd never finish Anne's house at this rate. Besides, attacking Methos like a randy teenager was not the way to cement their friendship. Sex wasn't the way to hold on to Methos; he'd learned that lesson on the night Methos had offered his head to MacLeod rather than see Kalas defeat him. The memory played in his mind as he worked.

MacLeod's blade was against Methos' neck; Methos held it there himself. MacLeod stared at the sweep of that beautiful neck, the proud lift of the head. Then he'd looked into the changeable eyes and been lost once more. "Not this way, not ever...." and he'd swept Methos into a kiss, hoping to communicate all his tangled emotions wordlessly. His blade dropped to the ground unnoticed as he concentrated on kissing, pouring his love, need, and apologies into the caress of lips and tongues. He felt Methos' surrender, knew the moment he no longer had to keep their lips locked to ensure the other man's silence. Yet he kept them kissing anyway, drunk on the sensation of having their bodies pressed together, tasting each other again.

When he dragged Methos back to the barge with him, he intended to talk to the man, to verbalize what he hoped was already understood. Instead, the night was a non-verbal cacophony of moans, grunts, and screams as they reclaimed each others' bodies. Against the wall; in the shower; bent over the sofa... they took each other repeatedly, and to this day whenever he was alone on the barge, Mac's imagination projected pale ghosts in erotic poses in the shadows.

But for all he'd hoped to say with his body and his mouth, the next morning Methos was gone. He was surprised, but not overly concerned. When Kalas showed up, he was actually kind of relieved that Methos wasn't nearby -- an assumption that was proved wrong when Methos showed up with the police, breaking up the sword fight and placing Kalas in jail, out of reach. He saw Methos, hoped for a conversation, an explanation, a vow of undying love. Instead the enigmatic man rode off with the police and nary a word for MacLeod. And vanished, his apartment cleaned out and silent.

No, sex wasn't the answer. He hoped friendship was. MacLeod moved to the radio again and turned it up louder, then lustily began to sing along.

Methos looked up from his work and smiled at him, then ducked his head again. At last he'd discovered something that Duncan MacLeod did not do well.

*****

Despite Richie's efforts to be quiet, the feeling of presence had Adam awake and armed before he could enter the apartment. But Adam's threatening pose quickly dissolved into concern when he saw Richie's bloody and torn clothing.

"Ryan, what the hell happened to you? You look like you've been through a meat grinder." He set his sword down carefully. "I didn't think it was you, you're never home before dawn. It's not even two."

"Adam, you were right. I've got to call Mac and apologize, too." Richie sank to the sofa over Methos' protests, completely unaware of how much blood he was getting on the fabric. "I still can't believe it."

"Kristin? She did this to you?"

"We had an argument and she really tried to kill me, just like Mac said. I had to jump out a window to get away from her." Richie stood and paced. "I told you Maria was offered a job modeling for Paul Marcel jeans, right? Kristin refused to arrange it, so I offered to talk to her. When I brought it up, Kristin got nasty. Said no one leaves her, even said she'd only hired Maria because she was my friend. So I got angry, too." Richie stopped to pull a can of soda from the fridge and noticed that Adam was now fully dressed and tying his boots on as he listened.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to Kristin's place, and you'd better come with me. In fact, call MacLeod, too."

"I'm not going back there, I barely escaped from her! She drew her sword on me, Adam. If I go back there'll be a challenge."

"If you don't go back, your friend Maria will be dead."

"Maria is safe at home right now. Kristin can't hurt her."

"You don't know much about her, then. Now put on a clean shirt and let's go." Methos grabbed the phone. "MacLeod. Yes, it's very late. Kristin tried for Ryan's head." He moved the handset away from his ear. "He's fine! Richie, talk to your teacher."

"Mac, I'm okay. But Adam thinks Maria is in danger." He listened, then nodded as he replied "We'll be downstairs waiting for you."

***

Kristin congratulated herself on foreseeing Richie's defection to this mortal girl. All men were stupid over a pretty young face, and Maria had obviously seduced him. She clamped down on her jealousy, wishing yet again that she'd died at 20, when she was at her peak of beauty. No one could compare to her then. She handed the girl a cup of strong coffee, knowing she'd never taste the drugs.

"I'm so glad you agreed to stay here tonight, Maria."

"But Ms. Gilles, the shoot is so early, I really should get some more sleep."

"You're leaving early, but you can rest on the way." Soon you'll do nothing but rest. "I hope you understand why I can't release you from your contract, Maria. When you're a Kristin girl, you're with me for life. Richie didn't understand when I explained it to him."

"Hm?" Good, she'd been drinking the coffee and could barely keep her eyes open.

"Maria? Stand up, dear, and walk this way with me." She led the girl out the French doors to her patio and the swimming pool beyond. "Just a little further, and then you can sleep forever." As Kristin released her, Maria toppled into the water with a loud splash. "No one leaves me."

As Mac drove them toward Kristin's oceanfront property, Richie kept chattering about how unbelievable the events of the night were. He called Maria on Adam's cell phone, apologizing for such a late call, only to find out Maria was Kristin's houseguest for the evening. When he hung up, he looked at Adam in astonishment.

"Are you psychic or what, man? How did you know... hell, how did Kristin know we'd have a fight tonight?"

"You haven't been listening to MacLeod or me, Ryan. We knew because she's an insanely jealous, psychopathic bitch. Kristin was already pissed about Maria's modeling offer; she might have killed her over that alone. But you cemented it when you played advocate for Maria tonight. Now she'll think you're Maria's lover."

MacLeod didn't even bother chiming in; Methos was ripping into Richie enough. He just concentrated on driving, keeping his speed down so they wouldn't be stopped. Three men in a speeding car, three swords...

"Adam, I just didn't think..."

"I know, Ryan, you never think! Why did I leave Paris and hustle over here to keep your head attached? You'd never miss it!"

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. Never mind. Listen, when we get there, Rich, can you get in the back way? You know, a little B and E?"

"Adam, I've been trying to get Richie to forget those skills," MacLeod interjected.

"MacLeod, the skills are useful for many things. Necessary things," Methos snarled.

"Sure, I can do that," Richie interrupted, trying to keep them focused on Maria.

"Good. Check out the house, look for Maria. Do you know your way around?" Methos' voice was once again calm, all business.

"Yeah."

"Great. We'll keep Kristin occupied, I'm sure she and MacLeod have some reminiscences to share. I'll take the upstairs, look for Maria there."

 Kristin had just re-entered her living room when she felt Presence and heard a pounding on the front door.

"Kristin!" She went to the door and opened it, holding her empty hands out to the side.

"Duncan. How charming of you to visit. Please come in."

"Where is Maria, Kristin?"

"I beg your pardon?" He stared at her. "Would you like a drink? I'm sure I have something to tempt you." MacLeod yanked her arm so she'd face him.

"I asked you to stay away from Richie. Tonight you tried to kill him. Now where is Maria?"

"Duncan, I don't know." Kristin's eyes filled with tears. "I knew you'd believe his story, even though you've known me so long. Richie was hurting me, it was simple self-defense."

"What?"

"Duncan, I love him. Just like I loved you. I'd never have really hurt him, I was just trying to frighten him away, to protect myself. He drew his sword, and I was afraid." MacLeod stared at her pleading face, and found himself unable to issue a challenge. She was truly pitiful.

Then he heard shouting from the rear of the house and moved toward the voices, still holding Kristin's arm and dragging her along.

Richie had jumped in the pool and turned Maria's face up, then brought her to the edge. Methos ran out of the house in time to help pull her out and saw that she wasn't breathing. He began CPR. MacLeod pulled his cell phone and handed it to Richie.

"Call for an ambulance, just say there's been an accident." Richie was crying, but he obeyed. Kristin watched the three men struggling to save Maria's life with a small smile on her face. Then Maria coughed, and Methos quickly turned her so she could spit up the water she'd inhaled. Richie fell to his knees beside her, smoothing her hair away and telling her she would be okay. Methos stood and looked to MacLeod, who was staring at Kristin's smiling face in horror.

"You are a monster."

"Duncan, how can you believe I had anything to do with this?" Kristin's face immediately fell into softer lines, shock and sorrow replacing the smirk she'd been wearing. "Maria was my guest, she's modeling for me in the morning. I certainly didn't know she was out here tonight. She must have been drinking or doing drugs..."

"We'll see what Maria and her doctors have to say about that." MacLeod moved her back into the house, and Methos stared after them. He could hear Kristin's voice, saying she loved MacLeod and always had. Damn it, he wouldn't be able to stop her; Kristin was pushing all MacLeod's buttons. And Richie was in no shape to challenge her, though he might wish to. He was her lover, he was upset about Maria...

Methos moved into the shadows as the paramedics arrived.

Richie rode with Maria to the hospital. Duncan MacLeod stayed at Kristin's until the police came to investigate the accident. When they finally left, he stood to go. "Kristin, this is your final warning. Stay away from me, stay away from my friends. If you go near Richie again, you will face me." He left the house and drove to the hospital to wait with Richie and Maria's family for her release.

Kristin was alone in her living room when she felt Presence again. "Who's there? Duncan, is that you, my love?"

"No, all your lovers have gone. Now you face me." The man who'd resuscitated Maria stood with a sword in his hand. "Here or outside, it makes no difference. You'll be dead either way."

"You would kill an unarmed woman?"

"Kristin, I know you aren't helpless or unarmed. I've killed women before. Now stand and fight me."

She pulled her blade from under the coffee table and was on her feet in a moment, fighting him with very little skill. Too bad she didn't practice with a sword as often as she screwed Richie. In just a few moves Methos had disarmed her. She lifted tear-filled eyes to him, pleading, but he remembered Maria's blue face instead. One clean swing and it was over.

As the pain of her meager Quickening assaulted him, he moaned and fell to his knees, remembering all the reasons he hadn't challenged anyone in two hundred years.

***

Joe Dawson had never seen a man look so bad who wasn't drinking, but there was no alcohol on Methos' breath when he came in and Joe certainly hadn't served him any. He was closing for the night and Methos walked right in just as he was locking the door, and sat at a table without a word. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back, then remained that way, silent, while Joe and Alexa put all the chairs up, locked the till, and shut the place down.

Then he stared at the unmoving immortal. "Alexa, I'll walk you to your car in just one minute."

"Thanks, Joe."

Joe moved over to Adam. Jeeze, his hands were shaking. "Adam, we've got to go now. Do you need a ride to Richie's apartment?" He wanted to ask what was wrong, what had happened, but he couldn't in front of Alexa. She was watching them intently.

Methos head swung up and his eyes opened, very intense. "Joe, I need a place to stay for tonight. Do you mind if I just sleep in one of your booths?"

"Did Richie ask you to leave? I thought you were getting along. And even if he did, Mac would let you stay at his dojo, I'm sure."

"Joe, I can't be around them tonight, do you understand?" His eyes pleaded. "I can't explain, but I need to be alone, just for tonight." He grated out something that might have been a laugh or a groan. "Maybe for a few days, it's been a long time." Joe stared at him, trying to understand what he wasn't saying aloud. Both men jumped when Alexa spoke.

"Adam, you can't stay here. Health department regulations and all that bunk. But you can come with me, there's an apartment over the garage at my house. You'll have privacy and peace." She smiled at him, a warm and beautiful smile that soothed his demons.

"Why would you offer that? You hardly know me."

"That's what you think. You haven't noticed me, but I've paid attention to you. Beer, cheeseburgers, and more beer. You're a friend of Joe's, you have the same tattoo." They guiltily looked at each other, then Methos laughed.

"Yeah, what else, Miss Marple?"

"I prefer to think of myself as Nancy Drew, complete with sporty frocks." She laughed with him, then put her hand out. "I'm Alexa Bond. And I really meant it, you're welcome to use the apartment. It's not that great an offer, the place isn't luxurious, you know."

"It sounds perfect. Joe *won't* vouch for me, though, you should be warned." He smiled at her again, but it was his harmless Adam smile, Joe noted. Charming. And Alexa blushed under his gaze, then smiled back at him shyly. Joe kicked himself for not noticing her interest in Adam before this moment.

Should he interfere? Not only was Methos still interested in MacLeod, he was an immortal, thousands of years old. How could he relate to a 23-year-old woman, just escaped from a bad marriage, with all kinds of serious health problems?

"Alexa, Adam can come home with me, you don't need to take him in."

"Joe, please. I want to. It's too quiet at my place, it'll be nice to have someone in that apartment." She hugged Dawson and whispered "You've done favors for me, let me pass it along. Good karma, you know."

So Joe Dawson watched his waitress lead Methos to her car. And it wasn't until half an hour later, as he climbed into bed, that he realized what was bothering Methos. He didn't want to be around other immortals; he'd looked sick, exhausted and jumpy. MacLeod recovered faster, but Joe recognized the symptoms. He'd bet money that Methos had taken a Quickening tonight. Kristin's Quickening.

He set his alarm early so he could check the Watcher reports before noon.

*****

Alexa hummed as she made breakfast, wondering if she'd see Adam this morning. Well, technically, this afternoon. Bar hours. She was glad she'd had the chance to talk more with the handsome man whose accent had intrigued her on his first visit to Joe's. She wasn't disappointed in what she'd learned about him, though he'd frustrated her at first. She smiled as she remembered last night.

On the drive home, Adam told her he lived in Paris and traveled a lot. Imagine that, Paris! She asked what it was like, and he said it was like any big city, dirty. She then asked if he'd seen Venice, or Moscow. He dismissed her with short, nasty answers. Oh, he was funny, but not pleasant. She let him into the garage apartment and left, sorry she'd ever met him.

Half an hour later she was sitting at the kitchen table, still staring at the mail she'd opened, when Adam reappeared at the door. His hair was wet, evidently he'd showered and changed. He was carrying a tea bag in his pocket and asked if he could borrow a cup of boiling water. When she laughed, he looked as happy as if he'd just opened a gift.

They sat at the kitchen table for hours, talking. She told him about her ex, Tony, her family, her dreams. He recounted stories of foreign countries and fabulous places he'd seen, liberally dousing the tales with romance whenever possible. As they drank tea, she realized she could listen to him forever. Yet he hadn't told her one thing about himself. She finally cornered him and asked him what he did for a living. When he said he was a historian, she laughed aloud.

"No wonder you know so many old stories."

"I can entertain you for a thousand and one nights, my lady."

He was sleeping above her garage now, and she knew it was true. She could love him, be happy with him for a thousand nights and more. Too bad she hadn't met him five years ago, before life went to hell. Before Tony. Before cancer. There was no time for a man in her soon-to-be-over life. She had nothing to offer him, anyway. No sex drive, she was too sick. No future; she'd felt the treatments were ineffective and her latest test results, still on the table where she'd left them when Adam sat down, confirmed it. She was dying.

She thought back to how haunted his face had looked at Joe's; how his hands had been shaking even though she could tell he wasn't drinking. Maybe she could offer him friendship, for a short time. He seemed to need that.

***

Richie and Mac showed up at the bar, just as Joe expected, looking for Adam.

"Joe, can you believe Kristin disappeared this quickly? She didn't even call her office. She must have known I'd challenge her today." Joe silently handed Richie the report from her Watcher, and he read for a few minutes, his mouth dropping open.

"Mac, this is amazing. After we left, some mystery immortal took her head." Richie stopped reading and stared off into space, and Joe had the impression that despite his own plans to challenge her, he was sad to hear Kristin was dead.

MacLeod snatched the report out of Richie's hands and started reading, having put two and two together faster than Dawson had anticipated. Joe decided to lay it out for Richie.

"Adam goes missing; Kristin gets killed in a fair fight but her Watcher can't i.d. the guy. Young, thin." He stared at Richie. "Big nose." Bingo.

"Why would he do that, Joe? Adam's not a fighter." Richie looked to Mac, who slammed the report on the bar, looking angry. "He could have been killed."

"He had no right."

Dawson had to jump in. "Mac, he cares about both of you. There's no ‘Watcher business' that brought him here, he came simply because he heard about Kristin and Richie."

Richie sighed. "I thought that's what he meant last night."

"Anyway, you both have history with Kristin. However much you've changed, Mac, you did love her once. Adam doesn't have that history weighing him down. I think he was trying to protect..."

"I don't need his protection." MacLeod frowned at Joe. "Where is he? Did he vanish again?"

"No, Mac, he came here and I found him a place to stay last night. He's still in town; if he were planning to leave he'd already be long gone. Amanda said that, and I think she knows him pretty well."

"Mac." Richie's voice was hesitant. "I think it's all my fault. I thought I loved Kristin, and then when she hurt Maria..." He swallowed. "Adam was right, Kristin was evil. I couldn't have killed her..."

"No, Richie, I don't think you could have. Or should have." MacLeod sighed, his anger vanishing. "Adam didn't think so either. He thought I should have challenged her, because of Louise. He said I let too many evil immortals just walk away."

Dawson's snort made both men look at him. "Well, it seems to this Watcher that you take care of plenty of evil immortals, Mac. Compared to some people who obviously haven't dealt with a Quickening in a long time, anyway." He shook his head. "Don't go all broody on me today, Mac."

"I won't, Joe. Richie, did you have plans today? I could use some help with moving antiques at my warehouse."

"Jeeze, Mac, who'd refuse an offer like that?"

"I'll buy you dinner." He smiled at Richie who nodded, then turned to Joe.

"Joe, if you see Adam..."

"Yeah, Rich, I'll let him know where you're at. But I don't think he'll be around either of you for a while. He said something about needing distance..."

"The Quickening." MacLeod paused. "When you don't fight, then take a head... it's different, it makes being around another immortal painful. Their buzz feels like you're taking it again, your own Quickening unsettles."

"I remember, my first time, when you sent me away. And I was upset, but I felt much better once I was away from you..." Richie paused. "Mac, I know you stayed out of the Game with Tessa. Was that the longest you went without fighting, without taking a Quickening?"

"Yes. But Darius went centuries without fighting, then accidentally took a Quickening after a public execution." Joe fought the urge to grab a notebook as MacLeod continued. "He had to get away fast, I think the crowd wanted to burn him. Darius traveled with a friend, he never told me who, but he was in pain until the immortal left him alone at his house. He stayed there for months, with only mortals, and told me he was still uncomfortable around immortals for a few years after he returned to his church."

"I don't know how you guys do it." Dawson spoke without thinking, reminding MacLeod he was there.

"Yeah. Well, we'd better get moving, Richie. ‘Bye, Joe."

"See ya, Joe." Dawson smiled as they left. He should be paying bills, but that conversation was going into the computer right now. He walked back to his office.

 Richie was strangely silent for most of the trip, and even more strangely docile while MacLeod used him as a mover. Finally, on the way to his favorite restaurant, he started to talk.

"Mac, can I ask you something? Kind of personal, I mean."

"Yes, Richie." He was expecting something about Kristin, and he almost swerved into another car when Richie continued.

"Have you ever been attracted to a guy?"

"Uh, yeah, Rich, I have. I've had male lovers."

"Really. Wow, that's so different. I always think of you as Duncan MacLeod, babe magnet. And you've played both sides of the field."

"Well, women are wonderful. As you know. But sometimes it's the person, not their gender, that's attractive."

"Yeah." Richie's sigh had MacLeod totally confused.

"Richie, is there someone in particular you're talking about here? Are you attracted to a man?"

"Yes, I mean, kind of. I mean, I was paying a lot more attention to Kristin than to him. But it seems like he's been looking out for me, like he cares about me almost as much as you do, Mac." And Richie smiled at him in a trusting way that tore at MacLeod, since he knew precisely where this conversation was going. "So I might be mistaken about his feelings, but I'm pretty sure of my own. What do you think of Adam, Mac?"

"I think it's far too soon after Kristin for you to be thinking about a love affair with another immortal, Rich. My God! You barely know Adam. I've probably spent more time with him and I'm not sure I trust him."

"How can you say that when he saved my life? If he hadn't kept asking me to watch out for Kristin, warning me to be careful, I might be dead now."

"Richie, I'm sorry. I overreacted. But..." *But you're talking to me about seducing the man *I* want to seduce. Again.* "I just think you should wait a while. Let your friendship with Adam grow."

Richie was silent for a while. "Okay, Mac. Thanks. Hey, I'm ordering the full slab of ribs, how about you?" But he didn't listen to MacLeod's answer, he was thinking about a road trip. It would be good to leave town for a while. And maybe Mac was right, he needed to spend some time with Adam. Without Joe and Mac around. He'd ask Adam if he wanted to see the USA for a few months.

***

When Alexa came in to work that night, Joe was rather surprised to see Methos with her. They were talking and joking, and he made a big deal of sitting at a table where Alexa would have to serve him, rather than at his usual spot along the bar.

*When did I start thinking of Adam as having a ‘usual spot?'* Joe wondered. He'd only been in town a week, but he blended in so quickly. Five thousand years of practice at it, Joe supposed. Alexa looked happier than Joe had seen her since he hired her, but there was something wrong, too. He wasn't surprised when she asked to speak to him in his office.

When they emerged from Joe's office, Alexa and Joe both had swollen eyes, Methos noted. What in the world was going on? Had he somehow hurt one or both of them? But nothing had happened; he'd controlled himself long enough to be alone and relieve himself. And he thought he'd made up for his asinine behavior in the car.

Methos watched the two mortals working together. He hadn't seen any signs that Joe was involved with Alexa, though he'd been preoccupied with MacLeod and Ryan lately. Even last night, Joe's treatment of Alexa had seemed more paternal and caring than jealous. Still, best to clear the air.

"Mr. Dawson. Can a man get a beer in this establishment?"

"He certainly can." Joe's smile didn't look forced.

"Ms. Bond is a wonderful person, Joe."

"Yes, she is." Now Joe looked sad again.

"She speaks very highly of you. We talked a lot last night, and she evidently admires you." Joe didn't react, and Methos quickly changed tactics. "I hope you know I wouldn't take advantage of the help, Joe. I can be a gentleman. We only talked last night."

Dawson laughed outright at his words. "Adam, I never thought it was any of my business. Alexa is a grown woman. And you're certainly mature enough." His smile was sly.

"Then I wouldn't be stepping on your toes if I pursued a certain beautiful waitress at Joe's Bar?"

Joe's face fell again. "No, you wouldn't. But maybe you shouldn't do that, Adam. Alexa's pretty fragile right now."

"She told me about the abusive husband, Joe. I'd never hurt her like that." Dawson shook his head, wondering what he should say. "What is it, Joe? Immortals and mortals don't mix?"

"Yes, that's precisely it. Alexa is mortal, she's dying." Joe stopped, horrified he'd said anything.

"You're all dying, Joe. Sometimes a human life span doesn't seem any longer than that of a fruit fly to me. But I've had friendships and relationships that were worth it. I thought you felt the same; in Paris you said you wanted to spend time together, talk."

"Adam..." He dropped his voice. "Methos. I do. I didn't mean it the way it sounded. I'm trying to tell you, Alexa has cancer. The doctors say she won't live a year." Joe looked at Methos' eyes, seeing shock and pain. *One night. I thought he couldn't fall in love with Mac so fast on that trip, that there had to be some ulterior motive. So what's the motive here, her tip money? One night, just talking, and he cares. Her life matters to him.*

Joe Dawson made a vow never again to judge this ancient man by his standards. Joe didn't know what those thousands of years had been like, and even years of talking to Methos about his past would never tell him everything. He knew enough right now, anyway. Methos left himself open to life and love, and that made him a worthwhile friend, someone he could trust. Even if he didn't follow all the same rules as Duncan MacLeod.

*****

Duncan MacLeod sometimes felt that he'd never have enough peace and quiet to get his act together again. Out of the blue a pre-immortal friend of his, Claudia Jardine, called and said she was in town for a visit. Then Walter Graham showed up, trying to end her life so she would become immortal while at her peak of beauty and talent. He argued bitterly with Walter, because the whole concept was distasteful, bringing back memories of Kristin whining about dying too late, past her bloom of beauty.

Thoughts of Kristin led to Louise, the lovely artist who had died because of him. And had he truly loved Louise? He'd placed her in danger, told her that he loved her and wished to leave with her. In hindsight, Louise was a convenient reason to finally make a break from Kristin. His confusing love with boredom and the need to escape had killed Louise. Similar confusion about what he owed Kristin, love or allegiance or a simple thank you, kept him from avenging Louise's death. For over three hundred years, until another man stepped in to rid the world of Kristin in his place.

He'd never spoken to Methos about Kristin's death, though he'd meant to. His feelings on that subject were confused, too, but he wanted to talk them out. Whenever they were together, there were just too many people around. The last time he'd seen Methos he introduced him to Claudia, and knew that Methos clearly saw how attractive he found the pre-immortal girl. MacLeod didn't allow himself to pursue a romance because Claudia was unaware of her immortality. Now Walter had changed all that; Claudia had just revived from her first death. Was it too late for MacLeod to confess his attraction? Did he still feel it, honestly?

He wondered if other people went around so unsure of their feelings, so undecided about what was the right thing to do. He was still attracted to Methos, that was true. But he feared that acting on that attraction would end their friendship, drive Methos away again. He'd been surprised and pleased that Methos had stayed in town after Kristin's death. It was great to see him around, run into him at Joe's. Methos had left Richie's place and actually found an apartment of his own. It looked like he might stay a while -- if Mac didn't scare him off.

Then there was Amanda, who would probably be back in town soon, or he'd see her in Paris in the Spring. He'd proposed to her, for heaven's sake, and he did love Amanda. But they'd never had an exclusive relationship, and he wasn't sure why he'd asked her to commit to one now. Or if he really wanted that himself.

Because there was Claudia, as beautiful and spoiled as ever. Talented, so young... Duncan MacLeod wondered if he was the immortal equivalent of a dirty old man. Maybe this next trip to Paris, he should talk to Sean Burns about his inconsistency.

Talk. He'd meant to talk to Richie, tell him about the QE2 and his relationship with Methos. He felt guilty every time he remembered how he'd yelled at Richie for confessing an attraction to Methos. As if Methos was his property. Well, he wasn't sure what to do about Claudia, who was now dancing around with Walter, laughing about her new immortality as if the Game didn't exist, as if there would never be a Gathering. But he knew he could find Richie at Joe's tonight.

Of course, Claudia and Walter had to come along. What was it Methos had called his loft? Ah, ‘immortal central.' Yes, that's what it felt like to him, too. The buzz at Joe's tonight would knock any passing stray immortal right on his butt.

***

Richie Ryan sat at the table with Adam, watching him flirt and talk with Alexa. He'd waited to talk to Adam, and found that Adam hadn't waited for anyone. He was pursuing Alexa with a single-minded intensity that Richie fantasized about, aimed at himself. The more unobtainable Adam became, the more he thought about him. *Well, that's sick, Rich. Time to go on that road trip, after all.*

Maybe he was just looking for a Kristin substitute, someone with the experience and magnetism that she'd had. Without the homicidal tendencies. That would be nice. But there were millions of women in the world, he didn't know why he was focused on a skinny, big-nosed guy instead. Something about Adam's eyes, he thought. Or his voice. When he laughed, really laughed, Richie felt that the whole room paused to listen.

Richie tried to tell himself he was not gay. He was as heterosexual as he used to think Mac was, and he'd gladly stay that way for the next century or so. Then he slugged back another beer.

MacLeod came in, dragging two immortals with him. Richie was startled to realize that the second buzz came from Claudia. He'd met her and not known that she was one of them. Had she just become a full immortal? There was a story there, and he wished Mac would find the time to tell him about it. So Richie was delighted when Claudia and Walter moved to the stage to play on the piano, Adam moved to the bar to help Alexa, and Mac settled next to him, ready to talk.

MacLeod filled in Richie on Claudia's situation, surprised he hadn't known she was pre-immortal. Methos had caught it right away. Maybe Richie would grow into that ability, after he'd taken more heads. Then they sat in silence for a while, watching Claudia's increasingly frustrated attempts to play. Finally, he spoke again.

"Richie, there's something I've been meaning to tell you. About Adam. I'd met him before you sent me to him in Paris that first time."

"Really? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I met him under another name, and I didn't know it was the same man. Rich, there's no subtle way to say this, so I'm just going to... Adam was my lover, a few months before you met him."

"What?" Richie couldn't believe his ears. Mac had said he didn't trust Adam, but they'd been lovers?

"Yes. When you asked me what I thought, if you should pursue Adam... I'm very sorry, Rich, for how I answered you. I think I was jealous. If you decide you want a relationship with Adam, and he wants the same, I'll be very happy for you."

"You are so incredibly dense, Mac. I'm not going to be dating Adam any time soon."

"Why not? What changed your feelings?" MacLeod worried that what he'd told Richie made a difference, that he'd spoiled it for his friends.

"Open your eyes, Mac. Adam's been concentrating on Alexa for a week, now. He's not interested in anyone else." Richie glanced at the bar. "My feelings didn't change. I was wrong about his."

MacLeod said nothing, just stared at the couple behind the bar. Methos was washing glasses for Alexa while she unloaded a tray. His smile at her was genuinely delighted as she chattered to him. Mac could remember when Methos had smiled at him like that, unafraid and whole-heartedly happy. He jumped when Richie stood and spoke again.

"Mac, I'm going away for a few days. Let things shake down here, and get my head together. I'll see you around, okay?"

"Yeah, Rich. Be safe, okay?" They shook hands and Richie left, stopping at the bar for a word with Adam and Joe on his way.

MacLeod stared at Adam until Claudia flounced by, Walter chasing after her, declaring that her talent was gone, her life was over, and she hated them both. MacLeod sighed and moved after them. Maybe Claudia wasn't quite as charming as he'd thought.

***

Methos smiled across the bar at Alexa, who looked a little tired tonight but gamely smiled back. She was a wonderful woman and he felt fortunate to be getting to know her. He wondered again why she'd ever offered her apartment to him that night after he'd taken Kristin's head. He surely hadn't been at his best that night. He hoped that the rent he was paying her was helping with the doctors' bills that were always set out on her counter. Being Adam Pierson had its disadvantages; if he were still Michael Delon, he could buy a damn hospital for her. Instead, he had to pay a modest rental fee and try to ease her burden in other ways.

Like being there to drive her home after the bar closed. Or being there to talk when she got blue. He snorted and corrected himself. She was there, talking to him, when he got blue. Like earlier tonight, when MacLeod had breezed in with his friends, Walter and Claudia. It was bad enough to be sitting in a public bar with four other immortals, it felt like the fucking Gathering had begun with that much buzz around him. But that could be chalked off to post-Quickening jitters. He still remembered how long it had taken Darius to recover after that accidental Quickening he'd received.

Ryan was awkward around him. Evidently he hadn't forgiven him yet for killing Kristin. Methos had thought he and Rich could be friends, but it didn't seem likely now. Just another person he'd disappointed. Knowing how much Ryan was like MacLeod, it really shouldn't have surprised him. But it still hurt.

The truly depressing part of the night was watching MacLeod's eyes following Claudia around the room. True, she was a beautiful woman. Talented, too. But to watch him so completely ga-ga, jockeying with Walter for the woman's attention. Methos knew from reading MacLeod's chronicle that his occasional flings with men were precisely that -- occasional, not usual. Flings, not serious relationships. His own unrequited feelings were going to remain that way, and he knew it. So why was he suddenly ready to catch the first plane out of town?

Alexa had stopped him, dragged him away from Richie and MacLeod and kidded him out of his mood. She was truly a special friend.

Joe finally walked out of his office and crossed to Methos at the bar. "Glad that's done."

"Bills again?" Methos asked, wondering if he could do something to help Dawson or Alexa financially without attracting dangerous attention to himself.

"Nope, an inventory problem. Some cases of high priced stuff were delivered here, in error. Then they got misplaced before I could arrange a return pickup. I finally tracked them down, buried under the new shipment."

"You should get a computerized system in place, Joe."

"Yeah, that's just what I want, another computer in the back. As if the one from the 'Historical Society' isn't enough trouble."

"We could slide a little inventory program right on that baby. It wouldn't interfere. You might as well use the tools you've got."

"I thought I was doing that by letting Mike and Alexa run the place while I poked around in the back."

Methos laughed with Joe and then both men watched Alexa move around the room. "She seems so tired, Joe."

"Yeah. She really shouldn't be working, but I can't pay her for staying at home. Even if I could afford it, she'd never let me. She's got a lot of pride, a lot of guts."

"Joe, I'd like your opinion on something." The Watchers' eyes moved back to his, and he continued, "I *can* afford to support Alexa for a while. There's really nothing holding me here anymore, and she's too sick to keep working. She always asks me about Paris and what it's like to travel. Do you think... I feel like I'm asking your blessing, Joe."

"You would do that for her? Even though you know she's sick, going to get worse?"

"Joe, she's been a terrific friend to me. I have medical training from a few lives back. I can probably handle whatever she's going to need, at least until she requires hospitalization."

"I have to ask this, Adam, because I think I know how Alexa feels about you. Do you love her?"

Methos was silent for a moment, staring across the room into space. "If you're asking me whether Alexa is the love of my life, Joe -- or even of this particular lifetime -- the answer is no. But she's a good friend, Joe, and I do care for her. She's never indicated that she wants anything more from me, either, whatever you may think. She's very ill, Joe. I know that doesn't stop her from having emotional needs, but she's nearly beyond the physical ones."

Joe shook his head. "She loves you, and not just as a friend, Adam. But I'm not going to stop you from taking her to Paris. If you're willing to do that, to commit to being with her and taking care of her -- well, it would be cruel to make her stay here, where there's nothing to face except pain and hard work."

"Thanks, Joe. I will take care of her, for as long as she's given. And she'll enjoy it, you'll see. I can promise you that."

Two nights later as he drove Alexa home from work, Methos pulled out an envelope. "Alexa, this is for you."

"What is it?"

"Open it and see." He smiled as he heard her gasp.

"Adam, this is a ticket to Paris..."

"Yep. It's about time for me to go home and clean out my 'fridge. I really hate doing that, so I thought maybe you'd come along and help?" He smiled across at her as he pulled into the driveway at her house. "Seriously, Alexa, I need to go back to Paris for a few weeks. But we don't have to stay there. Anywhere you'd like to go, whatever you want to see, I'll take you. I'll get a leave from work."

"But how can we afford it?"

"I have an inheritance I've been sitting on for a few years. Don't look so horrified, I can't touch the principal but there's enough to spare some money for travel. And I can do research for my historical society, so they'll pay me a stipend, too." He ducked his head in his best shy-charming-Adam manner. "Will you come with me?"

And as she choked out a tearful "yes," he wasn't surprised to feel her arms around him and her lips looking for his own. One point for Watcher Dawson. Remembering the kindness she'd showered him with, Methos found it no chore to kiss her back.

*****

Claudia was gone, Walter had also left, and Duncan MacLeod found himself heading to Joe's. He'd been telling himself he wanted some peace and quiet, but he found his loft entirely too silent without Claudia's company. He knew he couldn't stop her from making her own choices, but he was still very shaken by her refusal to learn any sword skills. He tried to understand her emotions, but he'd never had a gift that he'd risk his life to nurture.

Then he thought back to his youth. If he hadn't been cast out; if he could have held on to the life he'd always wanted -- had a wife and children, run his farm and led his clan -- simply by not fighting, by refusing to accept the fact of his immortality. It would have seemed his only choice, then. That Duncan, the man he was at that moment, couldn't have imagined four hundred years of living. Couldn't have dreamt of any other life.

Claudia's choice made sense to her, now, when all she knew was her mortal life and her music. He couldn't expect her to have the same perspective he had. If she survived long enough, she might be willing to leave music behind for the scores of other things she could explore. But right now, survival didn't seem as important as living the life she'd planned.

At the bar, MacLeod spent time talking with Joe about the situation, and asked him to keep an eye on Claudia's reports once they put a Watcher on her. The bar seemed quiet tonight, with Richie out of town and Claudia and Walter gone. Then he noticed that Joe and his assistant bartender, Mike, were working alone.

"What happened to your waitress Joe? Alexa, wasn't it?"

"I should have known the old man wouldn't tell you anything."

"Adam? Oh, that's right, he was renting an apartment from her--"

"Mac, Adam went back to Paris today. He took Alexa with him. I drove them to the airport myself." He saw the shock on MacLeod's face. "He wasn't trying to disappear on you, Mac. He just made a decision and decided to go, before it's too late for Alexa."

"What do you mean, too late? What's wrong with Alexa?"

"Cancer. She's dying, Mac. Adam knew she wanted to travel, so he took her back to Paris with him. He promised me he'd take care of her."

"I guess I never noticed. Damn it, Joe, why does it seem that I never talk with him?"

"You've had a lot on your mind lately, Mac. Don't worry, Adam even left me his phone number and address. He's not trying to duck out of our lives this time. And you two have plenty of time to work out your problems. Alexa only has right now."

"I know, Joe. I'm not upset. I'm not even sure that Adam and I have anything we need to 'work out.' It's just – I thought we were becoming real friends, and now I feel like I wasn't paying any attention."

"It happens, even with good friends. Here." Joe wrote a phone number on a slip of paper. "Call him, wish them luck. He'll appreciate it, and you'll feel better." *I'm playing counselor to a 400-year-old and a 5000-year-old. Boy, the Watchers didn't train me for this.*

"Thanks." MacLeod smiled as he resolved to call Adam tomorrow. Maybe they'd both been too preoccupied to communicate in the past weeks. But they could still work on building a friendship.

 The end of part 3 -- go to part 4

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