Thanks go to Tarsh yet again for another fast & fine beta read. And for encouragement to discouraged authors. Any mistakes or inconsistencies left are mine, probably from me ignoring her sound advice.

NC-17 for violence and rape -- this is a dark story

Voyagers 4: Still to Bleed
by Laura Mason

 Richie Ryan ran out of the building, covered in his own blood and scared shitless. It looked like Mac, but that thing in the dojo was not Duncan MacLeod. He was lucky to escape with his head intact. Thank God Joe Dawson had intervened.

Richie paused beside his bike, crouched with his hands on his knees and waited. He wasn't leaving without Joe, no matter what Joe said. He didn't trust this evil thing with Dawson's mortal life, either. But more than that, he wanted to help. How, he wasn't sure. But he was sure Mac, his friend and teacher, was still in there. Submerged somehow under a load of evil.

Mac's friend Jim Coltec came to town just a few days ago, and this supposedly wonderful guy had tried to take both their heads in about 10 minutes time. Richie hadn't know what to think of it, but MacLeod was sure his friend had somehow overloaded on evil. Mac had called it a 'dark quickening.' And despite his best efforts to help his friend, MacLeod had been forced to take his head, kill rather than be killed.

Dawson still hadn't emerged from the dojo, so Richie moved back to the building, hoping that his presence wouldn't cause further problems with Mac. Then he saw them; MacLeod was tied to the weight rack and Joe was holding the katana, poised as if to swing it.

"Joe, no!" Richie rushed in, appalled when MacLeod began laughing.

"Richie, I told you to leave."

"Come on and take your shot, little bastard. You want my Quickening instead? You'll really learn how to live then..." MacLeod's litany went on under their conversation, obscenities sprinkled in with the chilling words. Richie wouldn't have been surprised to see his head spin 180 degrees; it was that obvious a possession.

"I was worried about you. Joe, you can't do this. It's still Mac..."

"He tried to kill you!"

"I know, I know. Joe, let's just get the hell out of here."

"I can't."

"You have to. Watch and record, never interfere. You've done enough today, and believe me I appreciate it. Now put down the sword, just leave it."

"When I get free I'm coming for both you assholes. You'll pay for this, I promise. Blood and tears, old man. I'll cram his head down your throat in pieces..." Richie led Dawson out the door before they heard any more.

"C'mon, Joe. Get on the phone, get some Watchers to cover the building."

"He's dangerous." Dawson got in his car, letting Richie drive them away, and made the call.

"So tell them to stay far away."

Joe reported to someone in a low, terse tone. "No contact, but have everyone watch closely -- he's too dangerous to lose. We could be in for a lot of trouble." When he hung up, he looked at Richie, who could swear Joe had aged during the ride. "I sure hope you realize what you've done. That man is a menace to all people, not just other immortals."

"Mac's still in there, somewhere. We've just got to figure out what to do, how to get him back."

"Maybe there is nothing to do. You should have let me take his head, Rich. Mac, our Mac, wouldn't choose to live like that..."

"I can't, Joe. I can't let you, either. It would kill you." Richie pulled up at the bar and looked at his friend. "Joe, you must know how to contact someone who can help with this. Mac's teacher, maybe, or someone older who might know what to do about this dark quickening thing. You can search the Watcher records, there must be something."

"There are no records, just rumor and legends..." Dawson stopped speaking. "Legends."

"Well, maybe there's some truth in the legends. We have to help him, Joe, even if he doesn't want our help right now." Richie climbed out of the car and looked at himself, in ratty sweatpants and a bloody shirt. "Do you have a sweatshirt I can borrow?" Dawson was moving toward his office and didn't seem to hear the question.

Joe felt like his brain was going to explode. Methos. He'd been around forever, he might know something about dark quickenings. He cared for MacLeod, but if the only solution was to take his head, Methos would be ruthless enough to do it. Joe stopped himself from thinking this way; they couldn't just pass the problem along to him. Methos was with Alexa, they'd been en route to Greece the last time he had heard from her. Alexa wasn't doing well, he'd heard it in her voice. Taking Methos away from her, making him come deal with their problem would be wrong. Cruel in light of how limited her time really was.

But there wasn't anything to be done for Alexa, Methos had confirmed it. He'd talked to Joe after receiving copies of all her doctors' reports and combing them for information, and he'd confirmed their prognosis. Alexa was dying, period. Unlike MacLeod, who might be salvageable. Whether Methos could find a way to save him or not, Joe knew Methos would never forgive him for not calling him about the problem, at least checking with him before deciding to kill MacLeod. He still loved the Highlander, he'd admitted it before leaving town with Alexa.

"Joe? Are you alright, man?" Richie looked worried. "Mac didn't belt you, did he?"

"Sorry, Richie, I'm fine. Just distracted." He looked upset. "I think I know who we should call, but..." Joe paused to turn on his computer and settle behind the desk. "Rich, you should grab a tee shirt or jacket, cover up."

"You said you know who we should call..." Richie grabbed one of the staff tee shirts off a hook and put it on. "That's great. So?"

"But first, I thought I'd look up the records, check for any hints of what to do. Wait and see what MacLeod does when he gets free, too. If the police lock him up, we won't be under any pressure to move on this. Maybe we can buy a little time instead of calling him."

Richie couldn't really understand what Joe was muttering about, but he settled in to wait while Joe booted up his computer and began his search. He felt that he should go back to the dojo for his bike, go home and change clothes. But he was reluctant to do any of those things, not sure whether he didn't want to leave Dawson unprotected, or if he was afraid to be alone himself. He could still feel the press of steel at his throat, and when he closed his eyes he saw MacLeod's face leering at him, a combination of lust and hate in his eyes. And perhaps a touch of fear -- certainly not fear of Richie's skills, but of his own lack of control, his need to feed on his student's terror.

The phone call woke Richie from his doze and Joe's face relaxed as he listened to the caller.

"Thanks. Good work. No, we'll have someone pick it up on that side, now." Dawson hung up and looked over to Richie. "I've got good news and bad news."

"Bad first."

"There's nothing in here. I can't find anything concrete, just rumors of personality changes. And no solutions, either. The immortals just went on; most of the ones mentioned are dead now, anyway." He didn't mention that one of the most recent Watcher report of such a drastic change in personality was that of Harry Kant, who Coltec had killed a week before. It was as if they passed a virus in the Quickening.

"Well, that's not great, but we're no worse off than we were before. So what was the call about?"

"MacLeod has left the country."

"What?"

"He broke out of the dojo about two hours ago, and headed for the docks. He evidently signed on as a crew member on a ship headed through the Panama Canal and to Europe. The voyage ends in Le Havre. So, for the time being, Mac is out of our hands." Dawson clicked away at his keyboard, shutting down the files he'd been reading. "We'll have someone watching in France for his ship, it's due to dock in about a week's time. We'll be there waiting."

"We're going over there?"

"Yeah, but first I think you need to make a phone call for me." Dawson pulled a slip of paper from his desk drawer. "This is Adam's cell phone number. You call him and tell him everything that happened. Let him know we're on our way to Paris, and see if he can meet us once we arrive. I'll call the airline and get tickets while you talk to him."

"Sure, Joe. But why do you want me to call Adam? I can handle the plane reservations..."

Dawson looked at him, pain in his eyes. "Because you can do it without feeling like you're betraying another friend to help Mac."

Richie nodded and took the number. Alexa. She was sick, Mac had told him the story after Adam was gone. Joe must feel bad about asking Adam for help when he was busy with her.

"Hey, Joe? Why Adam? I mean, I know he's smart. But we don't have to involve him." He wondered if Dawson was counting on their relationship as lovers, but Mac had told Richie that was over.

"Richie, I can't explain it to you. I promise I will, as soon as I can. Adam may be the only immortal who can help us."

*****

Adam Pierson walked down the worn stone steps to the beach. Alexa was reclining on an old sofa he'd had the staff bring down here, an umbrella shading her painfully thin form. She was asleep, and he knelt on the sand in front of her, leaning against the arm of the sofa to watch her peaceful face. He wouldn't cry; that would only upset her. He waited, feeling the warm sun on his back and hearing the cries of the birds and the slap of the waves. Until he heard her breathing change and she struggled up to wakefulness.

"Adam? You should have woken me, I wanted to go to town." She winced as she moved upright, then smiled at him. "Just to find some of those melons at the market."

"'Lex, honey. I had a phone call from Richie Ryan. Joe Dawson..."

"Joe's not hurt, is he?"

"No, he's fine. I'm sorry, I'm botching this. Alexa, I have to leave you for a few days. Dawson is on his way to Paris, and I'm going to ask him to come here and stay with you. My uncle's house is ours for another two months, if you want to stay here. Or if you'd like to go on, see Rome or Florence, Joe can take you. I'll arrange it so he has my contacts, enough cash..."

"Adam, it's... I'd love to see Joe again." He knew she'd thought she was saying her final farewell to Dawson two months ago in Seacouver. Alexa knew she was dying. "Can't I help you with this? We can both go wherever it is you need to be, then continue our trip from there instead."

"I'm sorry, that's out of the question." Her face fell, but his remained hard.

"I suppose I'd be in the way, and you'd have to worry about me." Alexa's voice was pouty.

"Alexa, you're never in my way. And I'll worry about you either way. But I have no choice in this, I need to go alone. It's MacLeod. Ryan and Dawson tell me he's sick, in trouble, and he needs help."

"I know you've had some medical training, but why do they want you to go there? You're not a doctor." Now she wasn't pouting, just confused.

"I'm his friend, Alexa. I have to help, if I can." He looked out over the water and his eyes squinted a little, making the wrinkles Alexa loved to see when he laughed or frowned at her. "I have to try, anyway."

"He's a good friend to you, I know. Duncan and Richie, both." Methos nodded, his throat tight. "And you think it's too dangerous for me to go along? Duncan knows me..."

"Please, don't ask me anything else. I can't discuss it."

"Fine." The word was sharp, but she immediately softened as she looked at his face. "Don't look so upset. You're leaving me in paradise, for heaven's sake. I can manage a few days without you. As long as there's another attractive man at my beck and call. Joe will be good company." Her teasing smile dragged a genuine grin out of him. "Don't give it another thought. If you help me back up the stairs, I'll even help you pack."

He stood, then bent and picked her up. "You're a good friend to me, too." He buried the words in her hair, unsure if she'd heard him or not, but her arms tightened on his neck nonetheless. He carefully carried her back to the house, wondering how someone so light could be so strong.

*****

"Yes, indeed there are dark quickenings, Joe." Methos was driving like a madman, taking them from Orly to Le Havre as quickly as he could.

"So you've faced this before."

"I didn't say that, exactly." He swore viciously at another driver. Richie and Joe exchanged glances. They'd never seen Adam Pierson behave this way before. "Let's just say that I'm living proof that you can survive this kind of problem."

"Shit. How old are you, man?"

"If you want to keep your head, Ryan, you'd better learn what questions aren't polite. I'm old enough to know a whole hell of a lot more than you, buddy."

"Sorry, sorry. But you've had.. you've been through this? Yourself?"

"I'll tell you the story of my life around a campfire some other time, Ryan. Joe, how much Watcher support can we get?"

Joe reported to them on Watcher Headquarters' response to his request for additional staff. "They weren't convinced of the danger, you know what an SOB Vemas is, but he agreed to place two men at our disposal in Le Havre."

"Great. Even if it does mean 'Pierson' has to be careful or lose his job with the Watchers." Methos replied.

"You both better be very damn careful or you'll lose more than that. MacLeod was about to kill Richie, he would have if I hadn't been there. So watch your damn head first. You can always find another job, another identity." Joe was jet lagged and cranky, and he'd just found out that he was leaving for Greece in 24 hours. He cared very much for Alexa, but he wasn't happy about leaving them alone to deal with MacLeod. Methos' arguments about Alexa's needs and his own vulnerability as a mortal were logical, but it didn't feel right.

"Ryan and I will double team him, neither of us will be alone with him. And we'll keep it on holy ground, once we've secured him. Don't worry, Joe. We'll call you every day."

"Yeah, Joe, I promise. No heroics, but we'll find a way to fix this. And we'll both keep you informed."

The car sped down the road, and Joe decided it wasn't a good time to remind Methos that if the police stopped them, they might notice the two swords in the car. No, make that three swords. Methos had asked Joe where MacLeod stayed during his visit to Scotland six months ago, and somehow he had contacted Rachel MacLeod during the three days before they arrived in Paris. She'd been persuaded to ship him the clan sword, the one Duncan's father had carried and he had used to kill his father's immortal murderer. That sword was resting in the trunk of the car in an airline packing case. Great. The cops could arrest all three of them, a weapon apiece.

 They made a base in Le Havre, meeting with the other Watchers and exchanging phone numbers. Methos had brought along three new cellular phones, one each for Richie and the new MacLeod Watchers, Fielding and Berent. When Joe left to join Alexa, he felt confident that the situation was under control, despite the fact that Methos hadn't given him any details on how he intended to 'treat' MacLeod. The man was good at planning, very well organized. He seemed to have back up plans for his back up plans. It had to work out.

The night before the ship was due to dock, Methos took Richie to dinner and told him more of the plan. "I have a call out for Amanda, I'm hoping by the time we have Duncan in custody, so to speak, she'll be able to join us. We both own a few old churches in France, we'll take Duncan to one of them and keep him there, out of temptation."

"Okay. So how do we get him past this bad quickening?"

"I have some ideas Rich, but I don't know that any of them will work. Based on my experience, it's just a matter of time for that evil to work through him, for him to learn to control it."

"So we'll just keep him secure until it wears off?"

"I don't think it will be that easy, but that's the idea, yes." Adam looked out the window and his eyes looked even further away, into the distant past. "MacLeod doesn't have the kind of time we need. The Gathering will come too soon, I think. And he's too important to lose to evil. We need to give time a push."

"Adam, man, I hope you know what you're talking about 'cause you've lost me." Richie smiled at him and he tried to smile back, knowing how deadly serious this intervention was. Richie still saw it as an adventure, a "there-and-back-again" story that would end with them all living happily ever after. Methos couldn't be that naive; immortals never *all* lived happily, because there would be only one.

He believed MacLeod should be that one. Now the best man he knew, probably the best man he'd ever known, including Darius, had taken on evil he couldn't defeat, evil that was inside him. Eating him alive, if he remembered it accurately. He didn't know how to help him, though he had ideas. None of those ideas were appealing to him, and he couldn't wait to hear Richie's reaction to them. Or Amanda's. It was a good thing Joe was gone to Alexa; the paternal Watcher would probably shoot him if he heard his plans.

'There and back again.' Methos thought he might have an old paperback of "Lord of the Rings" he could dig out for Richie to read. The child needed to learn that not all adventures end happily ever after.

*****

MacLeod had come off the boat and cold-cocked Berent before he went six blocks. The Watcher was in the hospital, groggy, but he remembered that MacLeod had used a pay phone before their run-in. Fielding reported that he'd been thrown off the ship by two of the men, and discreet inquiries brought him a flood of information. MacLeod had fought almost every man on the ship during the crossing, including the captain.

They found him the next morning, leaving the captain's house with several slugs in his belly. He died on the street in front of them, and Richie's face was stricken as Methos loaded the body in the back of the car. "Okay, Ryan, take us to that little church up the hill." They'd scouted out a deserted church the day before, wanting holy ground and no interruptions.

"Adam, what now?"

"We let him revive on holy ground, where he can't kill either of us, and we discuss the situation with him. At least then we'll have an idea of what we're facing."

"What if he fights us?"

"There are two of us, and you've trained with a good teacher, Rich. We'll handle him."

 Methos' body slammed into the stone wall of the church and he wished he could take back his earlier words. Richie lay dead, shot through the head when MacLeod pulled a hidden gun from his pocket while they were trying to talk to him. Methos had managed to kick the gun away, but MacLeod was larger and stronger; he didn't need the gun or his sword. He was doing just fine bare handed, beating the shit out of him.

He felt hands grab his shirt and bash him into the pulpit, then through the haze of pain he felt the katana at his neck.

"This is holy ground! Even you cannot do this." MacLeod stared at him, then laughed.

"I can do whatever I want, old man. You won't stop me." He backhanded him, then knocked him out with the hilt of his sword. "I like you afraid, though." MacLeod moved over to Richie's body and impaled him with his blade, ensuring that Richie wouldn't revive and interrupt them.

Methos came to and saw MacLeod leaning over him, his face expressionless. "Duncan, let us help you. I know what you're going through..."

"You don't know. No one knows." MacLeod yanked him to his feet, placing his hands around his throat. "This is me, now. It won't settle, it won't go away..."

"It can." He choked the words out desperately. "I took a dark quickening three thousand years ago, Mac..." He couldn't breathe and blackness swam before his eyes. "You can... defeat..." MacLeod dropped him, or more accurately, threw him across the church floor, and he gasped in air gratefully. Then a kick landed along his head, and he blacked out again.

This time Methos awoke to find his hands were bound behind him. He fought the first reaction of panic and tried to think of where he was and who would do this. Richie's body lay nearby, blood pooled under him and the sword through his heart preventing revival. It took the chuckle behind him before he realized MacLeod hadn't left them.

"Methos and Richie. Who do I enjoy first? The little shit?" He kicked the dead body gleefully. "He kept Dawson from killing me back in Seacouver. I suppose I should be grateful. I won't hurt the little boy once he's awake." He leaned down and licked blood from Richie's still face as Methos sat upright.

"MacLeod. Don't do this, you don't want to do this to him." MacLeod's hands were running over Richie's body and his eyes were tormented.

"Of course I want to do it. And he wants it too, the fucker. He wanted you, but you're mine -- you always were, and you are now." Methos let him rant, desperately working at the belt cutting into his wrists. His own belt, he realized, watching MacLeod fondle Richie's still form. "He'll heal right up, tight as new, and then I'll have him again and again."

Glad Richie was dead and unable to hear the threats, Methos worked his hands until he had the buckle end between them. He couldn't get them any looser now, not without some help. But it was a start.

"You can both be mine, until the Gathering and beyond. I'll never let you go, Richie." He was kissing the blue lips, and Methos used the distraction to lean forward and manoeuver his tied hands to the front of his body gracelessly, wishing he were as limber as Amanda. Before he was finished MacLeod was on him with a kick and a laugh.

"No you don't. I'll decide when we're done playing." The blows began again, but his hands were in place now and MacLeod seemed too busy enjoying himself kicking him to re-secure them. He grunted and tried to avoid the blows, and MacLeod laughed and increased his efforts, holding him easily while he kicked his ribs and gut. He felt his body begin to shut down from the internal bleeding as MacLeod wrested his jeans down, flipped him over and raped him.

When he gasped back to life, it was over and MacLeod was back on Richie, working his bloody cock into the still-dead body. His back was to Methos, who cautiously stood, then slammed his hands and the heavy buckle into MacLeod's temple. When MacLeod fell, dazed, it was a moment's work to yank the katana from Richie's body and plunge it into him instead. MacLeod swore and choked out "I'll kill you, you whore," before he died.

Leaving the blade in MacLeod's chest, Methos used the edge to cut his hands free, unwilling to wait for Richie to revive and see him like this, pants around his ankles, blood running down his legs. Shit, he had to get Richie re-dressed, too. He moved as quickly as he could, in pain despite the ongoing healing. Soon Richie was decent again, though he'd have a hell of a headache after being dead that long. He pulled MacLeod's own belt off and used it to tie him, then grabbed Richie's belt to tie the legs. It would be easiest to leave Mac dead, but then they'd have to carry a body outside with them. While this church was abandoned, the area around it wasn't. Kids liked to park and neck up here, they'd seen that last night.

Richie gasped and moaned, then looked around wildly. He saw Adam, bloodied and still healing, his face almost comically swollen. He looked down at himself, at the blood all over the church. "Shit. I'm sorry, man. I missed it."

"Not your fault, Ryan." He moved away, unable to look him in the eye, though God knew he'd lied to friends before. "I miscalculated, didn't expect a gun at all. Still thinking of him as honorable Duncan MacLeod, I guess. Anyway, no harm done. It was just a little harder than planned."

"I feel awful." Richie cradled his head and moaned. "What's wrong with me, reviving isn't usually this bad."

"He kept you dead for a while, it will pass. Your brain needs oxygen, that's all. I hate to tell you this, but we've got a hell of a clean up job here, and then we've got to get him to the car. We're both so bloody, it's going to be hell if we run into anyone while we're doing it."

"My jacket's in the car, that should hide most of this damage." He looked at the other man. "You're not so bad, you'll wash up fine." His only answer was a snort. "Are you planning to leave him dead?"

"If we can move the car closer and manage his body without the whole population of France seeing us, yes."

"Boy." Richie shook his head. "Will he be crabby when he wakes up with this headache."

Methos' laughter had an edge of hysteria to it. "Look how well we did when he wasn't crabby." Ryan laughed with him, then joined him in cleaning up their own blood with paper towels they'd carried in the car and rags from the back of the church. He saw Adam's hands were trembling, but he didn't ask, concentrating on the cleaning to avoid looking at the dead man behind them or the set face of his friend.

***

They expected MacLeod to revive screaming and swearing at them. Neither expected him to sound repentant and behave like their friend. They were at a motel, a very seedy motel in a remote area, and they'd locked all the swords and guns in the trunk of the car, then locked the car keys in the manager's safe. Only then had they carried the soon-to-revive MacLeod into the room.

He revived but didn't seem concerned that he was bound. He asked for water, very calm and polite, and then apologized to them, fortunately in vague enough terms that Richie didn't suspect what had been done to his body while he was dead. After they fed him and ate themselves, they heard a sound and turned to find MacLeod crying.

"I need help. I know you both want to help me, but there's someone who I think can really cure me. I called him from Le Havre, I asked to see him." He raised big, tearful eyes to them. "I know what I've been like and I don't expect you to trust me, to release me. But would you take me to him? I'm sure he'll know what to do."

Richie exchanged a look with Adam, then crouched down to talk to MacLeod. "Who is it, Mac? Who do you think can fix this?"

"Sean Burns. He's a psychologist, he's treated immortals before. I'm sure he can cure me."

Methos shook his head, but it wasn't a terrible idea. He still believed the answer was time, time for the evil to become assimilated. But maybe Dr. Burns could help them move the process forward. He didn't think the world could handle a thousand years with this Duncan MacLeod. There wasn't time, anyway. The world had grown too small for MacLeod's safety. Either he'd be arrested and executed, then buried alive for a few hundred years, or some other immortal would come along and absorb the evil, just changing who had the problem, not solving it.

He'd heard of Sean Burns but never met the man. It didn't surprise him that MacLeod would know him; he was the kind of good man that the real Highlander loved and befriended. He watched Richie continue to talk to MacLeod, getting Burns' phone number and assuring him they'd try to get him the help he needed. Methos wished he could trust as easily as Richie seemed to.

After several phone calls and a mostly sleepless night, they put MacLeod, still bound at Methos' insistence, into the car the next morning and drove to the outskirts of Nanterre, where Sean Burns had his sanatarium. He met them at the car and welcomed them, but insisted that MacLeod be untied. Methos' phone rang as they were walking into the building, and he excused himself to take the call, praying it wasn't a problem with Alexa.

It was Amanda, who'd just gotten his messages and was frantic with worry. He tried to calm her down, filling her in on developments so far. When he finally entered the building and was shown to Dr. Burns' office, there was no hint of presence in the area. A nurse directed him to the gardens beyond the doctor's terrace, and he walked out looking for them. What he found was Richie, knocked out again but not dead. He heard voices a little further ahead and ran toward them, then abruptly stopped.

MacLeod was behind Burns, holding Burns' own sword to his throat. The doctor continued to talk in a calm tone of voice.

"Duncan, you need my help and I can't do that without my head. Put the sword down and come inside with me, we can talk." Both men felt Methos' presence and looked around.

"You can't interfere!" MacLeod shouted, the blade never moving away from Burns' throat.

"He won't, Duncan. We're your friends, we all want to help you." Dr. Burns soothed softly.

"I have no friends. There can be only one!" And with a quick movement, Dr. Burns' headless body crumpled to the ground. Richie's shout of "No!" echoed from behind Methos as they both watched in horror.

By the time the Quickening was over they had MacLeod practically hog tied. Richie ran to bring the car around, and they bundled MacLeod and Burns' body into it, then drove off. Methos was on the phone to Amanda, telling her to meet them at an old monastery he owned near Josselin. As he hung up, he realized Richie was crying as he drove them along a back road.

"Rich, pull over up here, then go under the bridge." Richie stopped the car where directed, and watched as Methos pulled the body from the back seat and carried it to the river. The head was next, and Richie sobbed aloud. MacLeod was gagged, but he seemed to be laughing.

Methos paused a moment after he disposed of the body. It was a lousy thing to do, but how would he explain the body? Should they have left it on the grounds and just driven away? It was too late; he'd been improvising again and put the body in the car without thought, forcing himself into this position. Despite his resolve against guilt, he felt responsible. He'd fucked it up, first by listening to MacLeod and bringing him here, then compounding that error by allowing Burns to untie him. MacLeod was a danger to them all, and he was damn well going to stay tied, chained, whatever it took.

He heard Richie's continued gasps as he tried to stop crying, and he moved back to the car. When he touched the youngster it first seemed to increase his distress, but then he calmed a little.

"I'm sorry, Rich. It's my fault, not yours. Let me drive for a while, you get some rest." He slid behind the wheel and Richie moved to the passenger seat, but sat facing sideways so he could watch both of the other men he rode with. His eyes were red, full of betrayal and pain.

Methos knew just how he felt.

*****

Richie walked through the trees and weeds of what used to be an orchard, according to Adam. He stopped at the end of the line of trees, looking out over... nothing. He kicked the dirt underfoot absently and wondered how, in the midst of a crisis, he could be bored. But he was; maybe no one could feel anything was still a 'crisis' after two weeks.

Just a nightmare.

The place they'd brought Mac was perfectly isolated. No inconvenient neighbors or passersby, no one Mac could hurt except them. It suited their need for privacy and security. But it was driving Richie insane. He'd be as crazy as Mac after a few more weeks. He missed civilization. He wanted his MTV, his friends and bars and some distractions. Of course, there was eye candy. Even in a life-and-death situation, Amanda looked fantastic. Once she wasn't coming after him to take his head, that is.

Amanda had been horrified when she'd arrived and found MacLeod chained to a chair in the old cellar. MacLeod had called to her, cried out for help. She'd tried to loosen his manacles, only backing down when Adam drew his sword. Then she'd scooted away, drawing her own blade while MacLeod did his best pitiful-me, they're going to assassinate me routine. Richie had gritted his teeth and backed up Adam, wishing there was some way to show Amanda what was constantly in his mind: the image of Duncan MacLeod, his trusted friend and teacher, beheading his old friend Sean and laughing as he took the Quickening.

They couldn't show Amanda, but they had tried to tell her. She'd still insisted she be allowed to talk to Duncan, in private. Adam's refusal turned into reluctant agreement once Amanda had agreed to all his conditions. No sword. She wouldn't release Mac. They would be alone, but both would be locked in the cellar, and he and Richie would be outside. After an hour, they would open the door. Not before, no matter what she said, and not later, even if she wanted more time with MacLeod.

Richie hadn't understood Adam's agreement, even on those terms, until he saw him carrying the cannister down the stairs. Amanda was locked in the room, and after about five minutes, as they'd both expected, there were loud voices from beyond, then sounds of a struggle. She'd released MacLeod despite her promise. They went to work, donning masks, rigging the line through the space under the door and turning on the gas. They heard Amanda screaming before total silence finally fell.

Richie carried her upstairs while Adam re-secured Mac, keeping the gas flowing until he was done. Then he shut it down, opened a high window in the stairwell, and rejoined Richie. Amanda was just reviving. Her face was bruised, her hands bloody, and her clothing torn. She woke ready to shriek again, then relaxed and started crying. Adam gathered her into his arms, and both men soothed her as best they could.

"It isn't Duncan, don't cry. You're safe now. We'll find a way to bring him back." Amanda's near-hysteria calmed to simple tears. She looked at Richie, then put out a hand to him.

"I'm so sorry, Richie. Now I understand why you've seemed so different." She swiped at her wet face with the back of her arm. "I apologize to both of you. I just couldn't believe Duncan wasn't there."

"So you'll help us?" Richie remembered asking, while wishing he could just curl up next to them both and howl right along with Amanda. But he'd been weak enough on the day Sean Burns died. He'd made himself stop thinking about how much he wanted life back to normal and instead concentrated on doing whatever Adam told him to do.

Which made times like this so hard, when there was nothing to be done and Adam told him to get out for a while and relax. He wasn't sure how to 'relax' by climbing around in an old stone church building or its neglected grounds. Two weeks, and MacLeod wasn't any better. He was safe for the moment, but what were they supposed to do? Brick him up here and come back in a year -- or 50 -- to see if he'd recovered yet? He couldn't imagine doing that, just leaving him. No matter how safe it seemed, he could escape. Or he could be found by another immortal who'd take his head.

Richie sank to the ground and leaned against a sun-warm boulder. Maybe he'd go back and call Joe. While he didn't envy the mortal's assignment, at least Joe could sit on a beach with Alexa, and she wouldn't try to kill him when he brought her dinner. Or scream, swear and spit at him whenever he was near. MacLeod did all those things, accused Richie of horrors, and promised to slowly torture him if he ever broke free. He mocked everything Richie had ever told him, all his dreams and goals.

Yesterday MacLeod told him that Tessa had nicknamed Richie "the cockroach" and begged Duncan to send him to jail so they could be alone. Adam told him to ignore anything MacLeod said, stating he was incapable of telling the truth in his condition. Lies or not, they hurt like hell.

 Amanda watched Richie wandering through the orchard until he was out of sight, then sighed and went to find Methos.

"Listen, we can't keep doing this. We'll all need keepers soon."

"Do you think I'm enjoying this, Amanda? I left a dear friend to come here and bash my head against a wall."

"So tell me about Alexa."

"There's nothing to tell. She's dying, she's alone now when I promised to be with her. And another friend might as well be dead for all the help I can give him."

"Richie said... well, he thought you'd been through a dark quickening yourself. Or that you knew someone who had."

"Shit." Methos ran a hand through his hair. "It doesn't help, I don't have any easy answers. I was a fool to think it applied."

"Tell me anyway. Maybe we'll think of something."

"I really don't want to discuss my misspent youth with you Amanda, charming as you are."

"I'm not asking for details, though if you think Rebecca believed you're a saint, you're wrong. Any of us older than Richie have heard rumors..."

"Fine." He stood and paced, still searching for words. "I'm not saying I was like MacLeod, not ever. But before... An immortal came, I never even knew his name. He raped and killed my wife, then burned the house. I tracked him down, took his head. And..." He grimaced. "It wouldn't settle. I'd taken plenty of heads, I was old enough to know what it should feel like. His quickening burned my nerves and hurt like hell." He sighed and sat down. "So I decided to share the hurt. I stopped trying to build a normal human life, started living like an all-powerful being who took whatever he wanted, instead."

"But you learned to control it."

"Not consciously, no. Amanda, it took a long time for me to stop being that way, to start having normal feelings. To care about other people again."

"When you say a long time, I get nervous. Just how long?"

"A thousand years, more or less."

"Oh my God. Do you intend to try to keep Mac here..."

"No, but I can't think what we should do..." He wasn't meeting her eyes, and she knew he was lying.

"Bull. You don't want to do it, or you're afraid to tell us. Methos, I learned my lesson that first day with Mac. I won't fight you or argue about anything you ask." She moved to him and touched his arm. "But you have to ask. I've never seen anything like this. I'd say we should take his head, if I didn't believe it would destroy whoever did."

Methos looked at her. "It's not that I don't trust you or Ryan to listen. I'm not sure it will work. And I dread it." She smiled at him, forgiveness and understanding in the look. "I'm a coward, Amanda, when it comes to that man."

"No, you love him. Don't deny it, I'm not jealous. We all love him, that's why we're here."

"When Ryan comes back, I'll explain it all."

"He's in the orchard. Come on, old man, it will be good for you to get some fresh air, too. And the sooner we all know what to try, the sooner we'll see if it works."

*****

Joe Dawson shook his head as he read the email from Methos a second time. They were trying to make Coltec's quickening settle in Mac, as a similar quickening had in Methos' past, by killing him. Repeatedly.

"Joe, I know it sounds crazy, but it's the only thing we could think of doing. It took a thousand years for me to conquer it, but what is time to an immortal? Our bodies don't age, nothing changes physiologically. The only changes are mental and emotional. So time itself can't be the cure. But during those years, I fought many times. And was killed, in accidents and by other warriors. Maybe our healing releases some of the quickening we carry. Maybe releasing enough allowed the bloody thing to come to a balance, for my old self to reassert itself. I'm not sure if that's what really happened to me, it took too long. Anyway, that's what we're pursuing."

Joe had heard from Richie about Amanda's arrival, and was glad to see she was behind them on this. It was crazy, but then the whole idea of a 'dark quickening' was crazy, too. Hell, the whole idea of *immortals* was crazy. He wished he could be there for his friends, be watching MacLeod as assigned. He was still submitting reports, based on Adam's information. He re-wrote it so that it sounded like Adam's ideas were based on things he'd discovered while researching Methos. It was close enough to the truth for Joe. Those reports had made it easy to get the Watchers to recall Fielding to his usual assignment, and after a few weeks in lovely Josselin, Fielding was happy to go.

"Joe?" Alexa's voice, along with a light tap at the connecting door.

"Come on in, Alexa. It's open."

"Hi." She looked rested but weak. "I was wondering if you'd heard from Adam?"

"Just finished reading a message from him. He hopes to be back next week." Joe hated lying, hated it with a passion. But what could he tell her? Adam's busy killing his friend on holy ground, and if that doesn't help him, we'll take his head?

"Joe, please. I know there's something very wrong with Duncan, and I don't believe it will be cleared up by next week. If you can't tell me everything, that's okay. But please don't pretend Adam's coming back." She looked angry and ready to cry.

"Alexa, I don't mean to lie or even to be secretive. Things aren't mine to tell, that's all." He stood and moved over to her. "Adam would rather be here, with you. I know that, and I hope you do, too."

"Can we leave here, Joe?"

"Sure. Where do you want to go next? Adam suggested Florence, I think, he said a family friend has a hotel there." He moved to a pile of maps and papers Methos had given him. "Yes, Pensione Verde. Here's a picture."

"I was thinking more of Marseilles." Alexa smiled at him, and Joe understood.

"France, eh? I thought Adam already showed you the sights."

"I hear there are some lovely places in Brittany. Isolated, but very charming people."

"Alexa..."

"Joe, you can take me or I'll find it on my own. But I'm going to be with Adam, try to help him just like he's trying to help Duncan. It's my time, I'll chose what to do with it."

Joe Dawson nodded his understanding. Once she'd gone back to her room, telling him to pack for the morning, he placed a call to Methos.

***

"It's not working, we all know it's not working." Richie stalked around the room, waving his arms. "Now Joe's coming, and bringing Alexa? How do we explain this? 'Oops, excuse me, I'll be back in a minute. It's time to go kill Mac again.'"

"Richie, please sit. You're giving me a headache." Amanda put her tapered fingers to her temple delicately. "Adam, do you intend to tell Alexa about us now?"

"It seems cruel, Amanda, unless I have to. Why rub her nose in our immortality while she's dying in front of us?"

"So she doesn't call the police and have us all arrested?" Richie piped in again, thumping the arm of the chair he sat in.

"Alexa trusts Joe and she will trust us. We won't let her visit MacLeod, for starters. And she's too sick to go rooting through the laundry looking for bloody towels. It will be fine. I'm thinking about bringing a woman in here, just for the days, to cook and free us from those chores."

"How I spent my summer vacation!" Richie was in a mood today, for sure. Amanda jumped in and shot him a silencing look.

"Fine. Now, to address the real problem. Richie is right, MacLeod isn't improving or even changing."

"Really!" Richie piped in. "We've killed him 12 or more times a day for the past week, and it doesn't do anything."

"Adam, do you have any suggestions? Other ideas?" Amanda's eyes were intense, watching for another lie.

"Maybe we've been going about it wrong. We kill him, a nice clean wound, and his quickening is engaged to heal it." Methos sounded like he was thinking aloud, but Amanda knew him too well. He had another plan.

"That's right. You thought that enough quickening would 'bleed off' to help him stabilize and let the old Duncan get control." Amanda looked tired, but Richie's hands and legs were in constant nervous motion.

"But keeping him tied up and killing him quickly and neatly might not be as effective as real fight conditions." Methos concluded.

"You've got to be kidding." Richie sprang to his feet again. "You're going to give him a sword and let him fight? Not with me anywhere around here, I'll tell you that."

"Rich..."

"He's dangerous. I saw that, you both saw it! He'll kill us all!" Methos went to the younger immortal, putting a hand on his arm.

"Please, Rich, hear me out. If it doesn't seem workable to you, we'll think of something else."

"Honestly, Richie, I'm not trying to lose my head here, either." Amanda managed not to snarl it.

"The conditions would have to be carefully controlled. In fact, I'm thinking we never face him unless all three of us are there. We're on holy ground, so we'll call these spars. But the goal is to bloody him up, tire him out, really make him work at healing. Then kill him, temporarily."

"We're going to triple-team him?" Richie looked askance at him. "That's not exactly according to the rules."

"We're not challenging him, Ryan. We're on holy ground, for one thing. And we're his friends, for another."

"It's not fair, but Duncan would be the first to understand that these aren't normal circumstances." Amanda added.

"Our Duncan, sure. That thing in the cellar isn't going to cooperate, though."

"We'll be offering him a sword and a chance. He'll try for it." Methos looked worried. "That's why conditions must be so carefully controlled. We'll be locked in with him, all of us armed. Joe can do gatekeeper duty, in case we miscalculate. And all three of us will have to be alert and ready for him to try anything, any dirty trick he can."

"It sounds like a plan to me." Amanda stood and offered a hand to Methos. "I'm in."

"Rich?" He looked at the younger man, who still seemed frightened. "We need you."

"Okay, Adam, I'm in."

***

Another session in hell ended, Joe Dawson told himself as three weary immortals emerged from the room where Duncan MacLeod was again chained and dead. They were finally able to report some progress. Methos had talked with Mac before killing him, and he thought that MacLeod was trying to fight the evil inside him at long last.

"So what exactly did Mac say?" Joe was grateful they'd moved their captive upstairs to a room behind the old kitchen. The cellar steps had been hell on him.

"He told me to leave, to get everyone out of here."

"That's nothing new." Richie couldn't help but add his two cents. "He's been telling me to get lost since we got here."

"Not like that. As if he were afraid of what he'd do to us." Methos was at a loss for words to explain why he believed he'd seen a glimpse of the real MacLeod. "He said he was damned but he didn't want to kill us."

"Sure he didn't. That's why he kicked me in the head and gutted Richie." Amanda was starting to sound more like Richie every day, very unhappy with these repeated sparring sessions.

"Please. We can't get discouraged now, not when we're finally seeing some results."

"The only result, Adam, is that we're all pissed off and sore. Mac may enjoy this, though I doubt it, but he's not back to normal."

"It's only been few weeks. Give it a little more time, guys." Dawson sat wearily and looked at them, two angry faces, one devastated. "Adam, during those thousand years, you must have died more than a hundred times, right?"

"I don't have numbers, but death wasn't an unusual occurrence for someone in my line of work."

"It's only been a few weeks, and you can only do this about four times a day. It's tiring. But still, that means we should give it another month or so before we call it a failure."

Richie moaned and Amanda laughed. "I can't believe this. Spend a month like this?" Her hands indicated her bloody clothing.

"You'll be in better shape than ever before." Methos grinned at her.

"I was in fine shape for *my* 'line of work,' old man."

Richie perked up. "I'll second that; you look fine from here." His leer caused a general laugh, and Methos offered to take them all to dinner in town. Then he left them to find Alexa.

"Joe, how is Alexa doing?" Amanda asked, looking after him thoughtfully.

"Not good, but as expected, I guess. You should ask Adam, he's the doctor."

"He's a doctor, too?" Richie looked intrigued and pissed off at the same time. "He's older than you, Amanda, and he's a much better fighter than I expected, considering how often he's told me to avoid challenges. What exactly is the story on him?"

"Ask him, Richie, I can't tell you anything. But you're right, he's the only one of us who can handle MacLeod with a sword. Probably because he fights dirtier than Mac."

Dawson wished he could really 'watch' the spars, as they called them. He could hear everything, and he had his emergency directions, including a gas mask and the cannister of army surplus nerve gas. He'd stared at them when Methos first handed him the items, wondering if Michael Delon, the incarnation he'd met Methos under, had manufactured these lethal devices. The fights never sounded the same, the tempo and rhythms changed constantly, as did the participants. The only constant was Methos' voice, rising and falling, hypnotic, calling to Duncan MacLeod and asking him to take control, to assert himself and restrain the evil. He was often hoarse when they finally came out. Joe thought it entirely possible that the only one convinced by these incantations was Methos himself.

 "Alexa? You up for a dinner in town tonight?" She was resting, something she did most of the time now, of necessity.

"Oh, you bet I am, Adam. I'm sure it's a gem among monasteries, but I'm definitely ready for a change." He'd installed her in a room that had been kept up over the years, and she'd seemed pleased enough with the old fashioned furniture, the tapestry and bed curtains, and the view from the balcony. "Pick out something for me to wear, okay?" She slowly rose and moved to the very modern bathroom he'd upgraded just a few years ago.

"It's cooling off tonight, so how about that sweater set and slacks?" He'd bought her beautiful things in Ireland, but she didn't like the cold, so they'd moved on immediately. If they could get Duncan past this, when summer came he'd take her back north while England was warm and as sunny as it ever got, and show her everything. Maybe even a trip to Scotland, a quick one, to see her delight in the kilted men and rugged landscapes.

"Fine. Adam, do you think we'll be able to leave soon?" She paused at the bathroom door to look at him.

"Probably not for another month or so, I'm afraid. Do you want to go ahead without me? Maybe Amanda could take you..."

"Adam, I don't want to be with Amanda, I want to be with you. I don't understand why Amanda or Joe can leave, but *you* must stay." She looked exasperated with him, and he couldn't blame her. Methos looked at the floor, since he couldn't face her.

"That's just the way it is. I can't explain it, if I could..." Alexa repented almost instantly, even while telling herself she was a doormat.

"So how is Duncan today?" She didn't ask every day, but often enough that he knew she cared.

"I thought... well, I might be deluding myself, but it seemed he might be a little better."

"Good." She moved into the bathroom and Methos smiled sadly as he heard the shower start. He whispered, "Just like you, my love. I tell myself you're better, not worse." He felt terrible that her last days were being wasted in this place, but it was a comfort to have her here. He never despaired while she was around to laugh with him and smile at him. That was his only advantage over Ryan and Amanda, not any belief in his 'cure,' just the knowledge that when he survived a spar, it was to get back to Alexa.

He moved into the bath area, calling out "Anyone here need their back scrubbed?" and was delighted to hear wicked laughter in reply.

*****

"Two months. And we can't even tell if he's getting better." Richie was back in full whining mode, and Amanda wished she hadn't agreed to run him to town to pick up Alexa's medicine. Of course, another day spent watching Methos brooding would be even worse. He'd seemed particularly nasty this morning, she thought, but then he'd been so insistent that they get out and enjoy the lovely day. A small errand, and then he encouraged them to stay in town and enjoy a restaurant lunch. He'd even told Amanda she should shop, get some new clothes. They were all sick of the stained and mended rags they wore for their spars with Duncan.

"Do you believe Mac said that to us? I mean, it's like I never knew him at all. I never thought he could be that cruel." Richie now sounded close to tears, and Amanda was wise enough to encourage him to let out some of his frustration. She cooed at him soothingly, and when he pulled over she took him in her arms and ran her hand over his curls, just like she had for Kenny when they'd been together.

"Do you believe what he said?" Richie's blue eyes were again as horrified as they'd been when she first arrived in Brittany. "That he raped me, and would do it again?" MacLeod had been insane this week, carrying on about events from years before. Then he'd started telling stories about Le Havre that Amanda hadn't believed. Until she'd looked over and seen Methos' face. Then she knew it was the truth, and that the only person who was unaware of the horror in the church was Richie, who'd been dead at the time.

"I don't know, Richie. I think it's a good sign that he was warning you against trusting him. That sounds more like our Duncan, doesn't it?" She smiled at him. "What I mean is, it didn't sound like a threat to me. More like he loves you and wants you to leave, be safe."

"That's what Adam said, too." Richie sat back and stared out the window to his left. "I'm sorry, I don't usually cry over everything like some baby."

"It's not a problem, Richie. I'm disturbed by all this, too. Too much emotion, too many terrible things to think about. But you and Adam kept me from having my own MacLeod horror story. I remember that, and you should, too." She kissed his cheek and smiled at him again. "In fact, I think I should buy you lunch to repay you."

"Oh, no. Buy me a new sweatshirt, mine's a rag now. And I'll get lunch." Richie smiled back, his face relaxing as much as it could now that he'd left more of his innocence behind.

***

Two months. They'd been here, fighting Mac, killing him over and over, while the spring arrived, flowers bloomed, and now the air was balmy and sweet with their fragrance. Just two days ago, he'd walked with Alexa among the violets, apologizing again for keeping her here instead of showing her the beauties of the world as he'd promised to do.

"Adam, would you please stop apologizing. You didn't keep me prisoner here, I wanted to be with you."

"Now if I only understood why." Methos smiled at her and bit back another apology.

"Maybe because I'm your friend." She smirked at him. "Your friendship with Joe and the others is beautiful to me. I feel honored to witness it. Besides, what could be lovelier than this?" She'd swept a bony arm out, indicating the wilderness of growth around them, and he'd kissed her.

He watched from the doorway as Ryan and Amanda drove away. They'd be back in a few hours, but that should be enough time for him. He'd sent Joe off for supplies earlier; he wouldn't be back for at least that long. Methos went upstairs to where Alexa lay in their bed, still in the comatose state he'd woken to. She was dying, it was going to be any day now, and he should be taking her to the hospital in one of the cars he'd sent away with the others. Not that anyone at the hospital would be able to save her, either.

Methos kissed Alexa gently, then locked her in the room and pocketed the key. It might not keep her safe from MacLeod, if he was wrong. But nothing Duncan could do to either of them mattered now. He went to the pantry and retrieved the keys, then opened the door. MacLeod lay in his bed, hands chained together and tethered to a ring in the floor. His leg was also chained, and Methos released that first. Then undid the handcuffs. MacLeod watched him carefully, then spoke.

"Where are the others?"

"They're gone. It's just us, Duncan. Get up."

He rose, slowly, and looked around. "No swords?"

"One minute." Methos went and retrieved the blade he'd wheedled from Rachel MacLeod and offered it to Mac. He made no move to draw his own.

"Do you want to fight me, Methos?"

"No. I want to know if you'll kill me. This is your chance."

"We're on holy ground, that's what you've been telling me."

"You can kill me and drag me off to finish it, you're strong." He looked at his friend carefully. "But I don't need to tell you that, you've thought about nothing else for months now. This is your chance. Take your revenge, Mac."

"I don't want to kill you, Methos. I never really wanted to hurt you, not the me inside..." MacLeod's face was full of sorrow and pain. "I know what I've done, I'm not surprised they left and told you to kill me. Go ahead." He knelt down and bowed his head.

"Mac, they didn't leave you. I sent them away." Methos knelt beside him. "I wanted to see if you were really back. We couldn't trust you, you've fooled us before. So if this is a trick, it worked. We're alone, and you're free. To kill me. Or to go back to Paris, Seacouver, wherever you wish." Their eyes met and held for a long time.

"You should have let Joe kill me." MacLeod's face crumpled. "I killed a friend, Methos, a good man who never hurt anyone, who only showed kindness to me." He sobbed and Methos held him, his own tears a combination of relief and pain. Mac was alright, he'd won against the darkness somehow. A victory Methos knew he himself had never achieved; his first instinct on seeing Alexa's still face this morning was to go kill someone, everyone, until the pain stopped.

Dawson stood at the door of the room, watching the two men sobbing together. His own throat was tight. He'd known what Methos was planning, or at least that today was the day to stay close to MacLeod. When he'd seen Methos' face this morning, Joe had checked on Alexa himself. She was slipping away, and Methos was looking for a way to finish this ordeal. Joe wondered if he'd been sure of MacLeod's victory, or if he'd been hoping to be put out of his misery. He moved back before either immortal saw him and waited.

"How can you stand to be with me?" MacLeod tried to move away. "Why did you stay and do this? When I... what I said and did to you all..."

"We all love you, Amanda said it and it's true. We can all forgive you, we wanted to be with you, to help you. No matter what. Now you must forgive yourself for Sean's death."

"I can't." He pushed to his feet and moved away. "It's still inside me, all that evil. I can feel it, it will always be there."

"Yes." Some of the bitterness crept into Methos' voice and MacLeod turned.

"You know?"

"I know."

"In Le Havre, you said I could defeat it..."

"You have won, the good in you is stronger than the evil. But the evil is still there, it will be there as long as you live. As will the memories of what you did." Methos stood and squared his shoulders. "You knew I wasn't a noble, honorable man. Now you should know that for a thousand years, I was more evil than any immortal you've killed for crimes against mankind." MacLeod was silent, and Methos turned, accepting it as his judgement. "I have to check on Alexa."

He was about to pass Dawson without a word, but Joe stopped him. "Now what?"

"You follow MacLeod and do your job, Watcher Dawson. He *can* control the darkness, and he will."

"But Alexa..."

Methos shook his head. "There's nothing to be done, Joe. I'll call you when there's any news." And Methos went back to his vigil.

MacLeod couldn't watch the other man leave, not realizing that Methos believed he averted his eyes in disgust over his confession. Duncan was focused on his own crimes, not thinking about Methos'. He remembered it all, the assault on Richie, the rapes in the church, Sean's trusting face as he'd killed him. MacLeod wished it were possible to cut the evil out of himself, to somehow believe that it was gone and that person hadn't been him. But he'd been there, enjoying what he was free to do and say. He'd laughed at Richie's tormented face, at Amanda's shock and fear. He didn't know why Methos kept him alive, unless it was what he'd just said -- that he understood because he had his own darkness.

He picked up his father's sword and set it on the bed, then rubbed his wrist absently. The chafing was already healed, it was a reflex after having been bound so long. He began to gather the few possessions he had in this place, anxious to leave. Maybe in Paris it would be easier to pretend this had never happened, to forget that whenever he judged someone else, he'd know he had the same potential for evil within him.

Joe Dawson was there, waiting for him with the car keys in one hand and the katana in the other. "Mac. Good to see you back to normal."

"Hi, Joe." He wanted to cry, to tell his friend he'd never be back to normal, never be the same again. But he could tell by looking at Dawson's eyes that he knew, and none of them would ever be the same. They didn't need to discuss it. "It's good to see you, too. Are Amanda and Richie really alright?"

"Fine. Methos sent them off for medicine for Alexa, but it was just an excuse to get them out of here. Alexa doesn't need it, she's gone into a coma."

MacLeod paused. His instinct told him to stay and help Methos. Terminally ill patients were a lot of work, physical labor as well as emotional stress. But wouldn't he just add to the stress by staying? His presence would remind Methos of too much -- MacLeod was the reason he'd left Alexa, cut off her special time with him until, now, it was too late. "I'm sorry, Joe. I know you care for her, too." It was the best he could manage. He could say he was sorry for a hundred years and not cover the depth of his despair for what he'd done to them all.

It was all his own damn fault, that was the worst thing. He'd believed he could somehow 'cure' Coltec's problem. That he was strong enough to defeat the wickedness. As he loaded his things into the car and watched Joe settle in the seat, he vowed to always remember how much depravity was a part of himself before he judged others again.

***

Amanda was furious that they'd been sent away before Adam released MacLeod, but Richie found himself strangely relieved. He didn't want to face MacLeod, particularly an untied MacLeod, until absolutely necessary. Despite Adam and Amanda's reassurances, he felt uneasy in his teacher's physical presence, and he still found it hard to believe that MacLeod was really himself again, able to control his hostility.

"You could have been killed!" Amanda ranted. But Methos didn't respond to her, he simply continued packing his and Alexa's belongings. He'd decided that Alexa needed to be in a hospital, where she could have painkillers and drugs to ease her passage. He felt split; a part of him imagined coming back to this place, someday, to remember his time here with Alexa. The other part of him wanted to blow it up right now and never look back.

"Amanda, maybe we'd better forget about Mac right now." Richie wasn't exactly Mr. Sensitivity, but he could tell it wasn't time to lecture Adam. "I'll take this stuff to the car for you, Adam." He hefted the duffel and left the room, dragging Amanda along.

"Okay, Richie, I see your point." Amanda hissed. "But I don't have to like it when one of my friends behaves suicidally."

"He's upset about Alexa, that's all. He'll get over it." Richie thought for a moment, then added "Let's go with him to the hospital, stay with them."

Amanda stopped fighting Richie and looked at him. "You're a very nice person, Richie Ryan. Thanks, that's a great idea." She moved to her own room to grab a jacket and her bag.

The 50 mile ride to the hospital was nearly silent. Methos was in the rear seat, holding Alexa's still body. Anything he said to her was whispered into her hair, unheard by the others. Amanda stared out the window, fighting back tears. She didn't know Alexa very well, but it was always hard to watch a friend struggle with death. Richie alone was comfortable, since he could concentrate on driving and stop thinking about MacLeod.

Alexa was checked into a private room, Methos no longer needing to maintain his Pierson cover and more than able to pay for private care. They arranged for a sofa and several armchairs, and all three immortals waited while the doctors examined her. As they'd suspected, it would be a matter of days.

Richie left them to drive back to the monastery and clear out their belongings, bringing everything back with him in the morning. He and Amanda had decided to stay with Adam, then leave for Paris when it was over. Amanda sat with Methos, tried to get him to talk to her, to relax and sleep a while. But it was futile, and only near daybreak did he talk to her.

"Amanda, you and Richie should go back to Paris. MacLeod will need his friends. There's nothing anyone can do here."

"Duncan can survive a few days without us."

"No, he's very vulnerable now. He thought you'd left him, that we'd decided to kill him."

"What? After all we'd gone through, he thought we'd given up on him?" Methos nodded to her. "Well, we'll all go back and spend time with him."

"No, I can't do that Amanda. He.. I..." Methos looked out the window for a moment. "I tried to tell him, not everything, but enough... He doesn't want me there, he doesn't want to see me again. What I've been, he can't forgive. And he doesn't know all of it, if he did he'd probably take my head."

Amanda sighed. "You mean the Horsemen?" Methos' head shot up and his eyes were full of horror. "Calm down, I've known for years and I haven't told anyone." She stood and walked over to him. "You must have known that Rebecca knew."

"No. How... She knew? And she let me stay in her home, she didn't try to kill me..."

"She said you'd changed."

"I can't understand why she told you, then." His face was tortured. "Or why you've been my friend."

"I found out by accident, snooping through some of her things. Rebecca taught me not to steal from her, but she didn't teach me not to be nosy." Methos almost smiled at that, so Amanda continued. "It was an old letter from some other immortal, I don't remember the name. Warning her against trusting you, telling her how dangerous and evil you were."

"Cassandra," he whispered, wincing. Of course. He'd been a fool to think she wasn't watching him for all those years.

"That might have been the name, I don't remember. I was stunned, and I had to ask her why you were living with us, how she could love you..." Methos' face twisted at that, and Amanda hurried on. "She said you weren't like that anymore, that she loved the man with her now, not someone she'd never met."

"She always was too forgiving."

"Her love and forgiveness saved me, Methos. Changed my entire life, made me who I am. So don't knock it."

"I'm not. But MacLeod's not Rebecca, he won't forgive or love someone evil."

Amanda looked at his devastated face and wondered if she should have her head examined. Why was she worried about Methos' heartache? MacLeod was hers, wasn't he? She'd been thinking about his proposal; she'd been thinking about moving in with him. And now she was thinking about talking to him about Methos, showing MacLeod he was wrong about him.

When Richie arrived, they brought a breakfast tray to the room for Adam and tried to get him to eat. While he gulped the coffee gratefully, he only toyed with the food. Amanda discussed plans to go back to Paris with Richie, who agreed as long as he didn't have to stay with MacLeod. Amanda offered him her apartment, since she planned to stay at the barge. Then they sat and watched Alexa's still face for a moment longer.

"I wish we had some magic spell, Adam." Amanda's soft voice was tearful. "If we could only share our immortality with them..." Methos' eyes met hers, and then he rose.

"There's no magic, no way to steal immortality. Even if there were, I'm not sure we have the right to decide who gets it." He moved to hug Amanda.

"Take care of yourself." Amanda breathed as he squeezed her tightly.

"Thank you both for all your help, with MacLeod and with Alexa." He moved to hug Richie, who looked surprised but happy.

"Hey, Adam, you're the one who figured out what to do. Without you, who knows?" Richie returned the embrace awkwardly. "Thanks."

"Call us." Then they were gone, leaving him alone with the sound of Alexa's labored breathing.

 Continued in Part 5

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