This story is intended for adult audiences and is slash. If you are under age or don't want to contemplate a sexual relationship between male characters, please excuse yourself and find something else to read. This story also contains male/female sex and death of a canon character.

Many thanks to Tarsh for her beta work on this (and all the Voyagers stories).

Voyagers 8: Above Mortality
by Laura Mason

 Because that you are going
And never coming back
And I, however absolute
May overlook your Track --
Because that Death is final,
However first it be
This instant be suspended
Above Mortality --
Emily Dickinson, #1260

Methos paused before entering the still-closed bar, trying to extend his range as far as possible and make sure he wouldn't run into Ryan or MacLeod. When he felt reassured they weren't in the area, he knocked at the back door. A few minutes later, Joe Dawson opened it and a big smile split his face.

"Adam! C'mon in, it's great to see you."

"Hey, Joe. Just passing through town and I thought I'd see how you're doing. Everything okay with the Watchers now?" Methos moved through the door and followed Joe through the bar area.

"Yeah, but they miss their Methos researcher."

"Well, all good things must end, Watcher Dawson. I'd been there too long as it was. I was planning on killing off Adam Pierson even before I met you."

"Have a beer." Dawson paused behind the bar long enough to retrieve a cold six pack, then continued moving toward his office with Methos right behind him.

"Don't mind if I do, but I really can't stay." Methos took a long drink straight out of the bottle, then looked at Dawson intently in the dim light of the hallway. "Since you're here, I'm assuming MacLeod came back Stateside. Have you mended fences with him?"

"Yeah, well, almost." Joe looked sheepish. "We were fine after you left Paris. Got that whole Galati thing straightened out, and he wasn't even angry with you about Cochrane anymore." Methos snorted in disbelief, but Joe continued, "Honestly. But then we got back here and there was a lot of grief with Richie. I got involved, and Mac thought I was taking Richie's side. I think I pissed him off; he's been a little cold. Still, I'm glad I interfered. They're getting along better now." As he spoke, Dawson settled himself in his desk chair, and a wave of his hand indicated that Methos could have the sofa.

"And the Watchers? Is everything okay now?"

"Things have calmed down a lot. Cragin's settling in as a good Director, I think. She's smart, you know. Look how she spotted the pattern of the murders. Now she's concentrating on training our people, not just newbies but everyone. And she's started a policy that they're instituting worldwide, to rotate Watchers off the worst assignments every year. Take people off the evil ones, the killers, and give them a chance to watch someone normal. They hope this will avoid Watchers building up the kind of hatred that Horton's people all seemed to have. I have high hopes."

"I'm glad. I suppose the Watchers have identified me as an immortal?" Methos looked up at Joe as he continued, "By the way, I'm Adam Coleman now."

"Thanks for keeping the first name. If you'd changed it, getting used to the new one would have been a real bitch."

"Joe, answer the question."

"As far as I've heard, no one knows. But security has been tight, I don't honestly know. I think MacLeod's little acting job worked." MacLeod had pretended to take Jacob Galati's quickening, knowing Methos was being observed by the Watchers.

"Yeah. Any ideas why he'd do that?"

"He's your friend." Joe tried to put as much reassurance in that simple sentence as possible.

"He *was* my friend. Now MacLeod and Ryan are both ready to challenge me on sight."

"No, they're not. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about Richie." Dawson pulled out a file and held it up. "Did you know Methos is here in Seacouver?"

Methos only smiled; he didn't seem at all surprised. "I suppose it was inevitable. This place seems to draw immortals like manure draws flies. How long has Peace and Brotherhood been here?"

"Long enough to have Richie ready to put down his sword and give peace a chance. And Mac doesn't seem to care! He said he can't tell Richie what to do anymore, that he's no longer his student."

"And no doubt Mr. Ryan is much happier with this Methos than with any others by that name that he's known."

"You're too clever for your own good. Yeah, Richie's been trying to convince both me and Mac that his guru is the real thing. He seems to think that you're using the name for some nefarious purpose."

"Like getting my fool head cut off, I suppose." Methos stood and stretched. "Well, Joe, I've got to get going. Planes to catch and all that."

"But you can't leave! Someone needs to talk to Richie..."

"Someone can, but not me. I don't go seeking out immortals who are pissed off with me, Joe. Last I heard, Richie and his first teacher both fit that category."

"No, you're wrong. Mac's not angry anymore. And I think Richie understands why you didn't tell him who you really are; he's said how dangerous it is for his guru to give out the name. But now this guy is using your name, getting immortals killed off..."

"Better that the headhunters go looking for him than investigate me, Joe. If he wants the name, he can use it. It's not like there's a patent on it."

Dawson shook his head and his voice was cold. "Why'd you even bother stopping here? No direct flights to wherever you're headed?"

Methos looked somber and a little hurt. "I wanted to see you, Joe. Not move in for the winter. I'm sorry if you can't understand..."

But Joe waved his hands and cut him off, eyes on the bar top. "I do understand, I'm sorry. I'm being a prick. But I'm worried about our friends." Then he looked up at Methos. "They are still your friends, aren't they?"

"That's entirely up to them, Joe. I'm not angry with either one of them. But I'm not looking for trouble. I've got to go make myself a new life, find a job, all that."

"So where were you all these months?" Dawson was relieved to see Methos settle back on his barstool.

"Tibet. Cheapest place in the world, once you've paid to get there."

"So why didn't you stay there?"

"Too much enlightenment isn't healthy, Joe. I might come back ten years from now preaching peace and brotherhood. Besides, have you ever tasted yak butter?"

"Very funny." Then Dawson saw the look in Methos' eyes. Another immortal.

"Shit." Methos scrambled to his feet, over to the duffel he'd carried in. He bent over it and removed his sword from the strapping.

"Adam! You won't need that."

"I'm glad you feel certain of it. Bet my life, would you?" He stood, not exactly threatening, but obviously ready for anything.

Richie Ryan barreled through the door, steeled for yet another lecture from Joe and MacLeod, and was stopped cold by the flash of a sword. "Whoa! Adam? What are you doing here?"

"I was just leaving, actually." Methos moved his sword down and grabbed his duffel. "Joe. See you around."

"Wait! Adam? I just wanted to say.." Richie blushed and continued rapidly, "Listen, man, I'm sorry I left you out to dry in Paris. I mean, I know Amanda and Mac got you out and everything was cool. But still, I should have... I was just upset, ya know?" Richie's face was so very earnest. Methos looked him over, up and down, and sighed. The duffel fell to the floor again and the sword was propped up against the chair.

"Yeah, I know. Let's talk. Joe, is there any more beer in this joint?" Dawson nodded and moved out to the bar proper, but he moved slowly enough to hear Methos' casual query. "So, where does one keep a sword in that outfit?"

Dawson smiled as he opened two bottles. Methos would talk to Richie, really listen to him and then give advice without lecturing. Methos could be a friend *and* a teacher, a talent Dawson knew MacLeod hadn't mastered yet. Probably because Connor, his first teacher, had been so heavy-handed.

Dawson felt fairly certain Methos would set aside his own plans and stick around until Richie was carrying a sword again. Despite all his lectures about remaining uninvolved, Methos was a good friend to MacLeod, Dawson, and Richie. So if Dawson knew that much about Methos, why didn't Methos himself seem to know it? Shouldn't he have some self-knowledge after all those years of living? Yet Methos seemed convinced that he was as hard, pragmatic, and selfish as he presented himself.

And MacLeod often bought into Methos' own assessment, from what Dawson could tell. He sighed and wished Darius was still alive. Or even Fitzcairn. Someone MacLeod listened to, someone who might understand Methos well enough to translate for the Scot. Dawson couldn't seem to manage it himself. *Must be that mortal/immortal divide.*

He walked slowly back to the office, and heard Richie's voice.

"So you really are Methos?"

"Yes, that's the first name I remember. But I'm going by Adam Coleman now, and I'm not as brave as your new teacher. I don't want my real name being discussed at large."

"Man, Adam, if you met him you'd listen, too. He might not be as old as you are, but he's so wise. Everything he says makes sense, and if enough people listen to him it could change our lives forever."

Dawson cleared his throat and entered carrying a tray with two beers. "You guys go ahead, I've got to go tune my guitar. See ya later." He exited, whispering a prayer that Methos could convince Richie to re-arm himself. Then he walked to the phone behind the bar and dialed a familiar number.

"Mac? It's Joe. Listen, Adam just rolled into the bar." Dawson paused, but there was no response. "He says he's just passing through, but I think if you came over and said hello, he might change his mind."

"Why would I do that?" came the terse reply.

Dawson almost stuttered as he answered, "I thought... " *Didn't you tell me you'd forgiven him for his involvement with the Watchers? And I've been telling him you're not angry, that you're still his friend!* But Dawson couldn't say the words aloud, and he didn't need to. MacLeod answered him anyway.

"Adam vanished months ago, Joe. I haven't heard from him since. Now you tell me that he's not looking for me. He's just passing through. So why should I go out of my way to see him or convince him to stay here?"

"He's not seeking you out because he thinks you'll take his damn fool head!" There was hurt in MacLeod's voice, but Dawson couldn't soothe it. "Adam stopped to see me to make sure I was okay, that the Watchers were settled. But he's also checking up on you."

"He has his own life and I have mine. I'll see you later, Joe."

"Mac, wait! What about Richie? You know he's not carrying his blade anymore. Maybe if you talked to him with Adam..."

"Richie is a grown man and he knows his options. If he refuses to carry a sword, I can't make him."

"You are making a mistake, MacLeod. And so is Richie." Dawson slammed the phone down but it wasn't satisfying. Now he had a hurt MacLeod, an unarmed Richie, and a paranoid Methos to worry about. Some days he wished he didn't own the bar and could just come here to get stinking drunk.

Hours later Dawson returned to his office, where he found Methos curled up on his sofa fast asleep. Of course, if an immortal had walked in, that wouldn't be the case, he supposed. Methos' sword was on the floor in front of him, probably in perfect reach. Richie was evidently long gone.

"Adam," Dawson gently called, afraid to touch or startle him. "Want some dinner?" There was no response, so he tried again. "Methos, want a beer?"

Methos' eyes popped open and he looked straight at Dawson. "Hey, Joe. Sorry, didn't mean to sack out here. But it's a lot more comfortable than an airplane."

"You must have missed your flight by now. Join me for dinner in the bar?"

"Sure." The immortal rose and stretched, then picked up his sword and coat. Securing the blade inside the coat, he draped it on his arm and moved with Dawson down the corridor to the main room.

"Any luck with Richie?"

"Sorry, Joe. He's never really listened to me, you know? And I can't compete with the very wise pseudo-Methos."

"You've influenced him in the past. You probably saved his life with Kristen."

"No, even then he didn't believe anything I said about remaining alert and not trusting other immortals." Methos settled at the table Dawson indicated with a rueful laugh. "I could understand if I told him to trust only me. Oh, well, he's young. He basically said that he wants to change the world, and he truly believes it can happen. Joe, the world hasn't changed in the 5000 years I've been around, but do you think Richie would believe that?"

"Adam, I don't believe that."

"Ah, you're just a punk kid, too."

Joe didn't answer for a moment as his new waitress put plates in front of them stacked with hearty sandwiches and potato salad. As she walked away, he replied "Punk kid or not, I'm glad you're here."

"Well, someone should be. Honestly, Joe, 'trust no one' is excellent advice, isn't it?"

Dawson met Methos' eyes with a very serious look. "I don't think Richie or even Mac would agree, Adam. And frankly, you don't seem to live by that motto any more than they do. Now, can you stay for a few days? I'd really appreciate it."

"Mr. Dawson, are you plying me with food and forgetting the beer?" But as he finished speaking, Karen was back with their drinks. Both men laughed as she served them. "Joe, I don't want to run into MacLeod."

"How long do you think you can avoid him?"

"If necessary, three thousand years. That's the current record, anyway." Dawson laughed but Methos' eyes were serious as he continued, "I'd really like to stay and spend more time with you, Joe, but I've never claimed to be brave or noble. Duncan's hatred is not something I enjoy. At a distance, it's not so bad. If I stay here with you, I'll have to deal with it up close."

"I've told you, Mac doesn't hate you. So what's the real reason, Adam?"

"Joe, I..." Methos faltered and dropped his eyes, unable to meet the cool blue stare.

"Eat, Adam, we can talk later. You probably need the fuel to think up some new bullshit."

Amazingly enough, Methos quietly ate his meal and didn't bring up the subject again.

*****

Methos opened his eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling and the definite feel of another body next to his. For a few moments he couldn't recall where he was or who he was, but then details came back. Seacouver. He was Adam Coleman, and he was in Seacouver, and the body next to his was not a lover, but a generous friend who'd agreed to share his bed.

He carefully moved away from Joe, who was still asleep and looked likely to stay that way, and found his way down the hall to the kitchen. Coffee started, he moved into the bathroom for a shower, still thinking about last night and wondering why he'd stayed. And why he'd been so reluctant to stay, even after Joe had told him MacLeod wasn't angry.

When the hot water started to cool fifteen minutes later, he still hadn't answered himself beyond the conclusion that MacLeod would find a reason to be angry with him again, sooner rather than later. It was the pattern of their relationship, it seemed. Maybe in some future century MacLeod would learn to be more accepting of the lapsed and the ancient. Maybe if he and Amanda ever married...

He wandered back to kitchen and poured coffee as he wondered what had happened to delay their marriage. He hoped for Amanda's sake that it wasn't the same kind of basic incompatibility, an age gap that meant they'd never see eye-to-eye. MacLeod couldn't understand what Methos had lived through, nor who he was as a result. Methos knew Amanda loved MacLeod just as deeply as he himself did. For her sake, Methos hoped Amanda's 800 years of pre-Duncan living were more palatable. Considering Rebecca had been her teacher, he felt fairly sure they were.

Still, somehow Amanda and Mac hadn't found their way into a full-time relationship. He was grateful -- or he would be if he had any hope of getting back into MacLeod's bed and life -- and curious. Cold feet on Amanda's part? On MacLeod's? No, he remembered how easily the Highlander had invited him to live on the barge. Amanda had to be the one who wasn't ready to settle down.

Still, he wished she were around. It would be nice to have a friend to talk to, someone besides Joe that is. It would be even nicer to be able to go see MacLeod, flop on his sofa and drink his beer, listen to his troubles and then fuck him silly. Unfortunately, those days were gone.

"Adam." Dawson rolled into the kitchen and Methos poured him a cup of coffee.

"Hey, Joe. I'm thinking of visiting Seacouver's resident ancient today."

"Now why would you do that? You aren't going to challenge him, are you?"

"Heaven forbid." Methos stretched, then walked over to flop in a chair, putting himself at eye level with his friend as they both sipped their coffee. "No, the longer he's around claiming to be me the safer I feel. I just thought maybe I could learn something that would help me talk to Richie."

"Richie might be more receptive if he knows you've listened to his guru?" Dawson reasoned.

"Exactly. For that matter, maybe I can convince this Prophet that he's putting his students in danger." Methos loved Joe's quick mind, how easily the mortal followed his reasoning. Why was there so much misunderstanding with MacLeod?

"I can give you some facts from the Watcher files about his other students." Dawson was looking more awake and very excited. "It might work..."

Four hours later Methos felt presence wash over him as he walked toward the house where the Prophet Methos was living. He stopped, his hand under his coat, hoping fervently that it was one of his namesake's unarmed students he was sensing, and not a headhunter looking for easy prey. Then a black car approached, and he saw the one person who was more unwelcome than a hunter. Then again, given the grim look on MacLeod's face, maybe he was a hunter.

MacLeod's heart pounded when he saw Methos' familiar figure walking ahead, but his face was grim by the time he drove up next to him and parked. Grim because he didn't know what to say to his -- friend? Lover? Adversary? Methos' hand was still inside his coat, no doubt on the hilt of his sword, and his face, which had momentarily looked annoyed, was now unreadable. MacLeod got out of his car slowly, his hands open and at his side, and he was happy to see Methos mirror his positioning after a moment.

"MacLeod." Methos felt oddly formal, but he couldn't read MacLeod's face at all.

"Richie talked you into becoming a disciple?" MacLeod suddenly smiled. "This is ridiculous, I don't even know what to call you."

"Adam Coleman." Despite feeling reassured by the smile, Methos was still wary. "Just wanted to meet the real Methos and hear the five thousand years of wisdom Ryan told me about."

"Yeah, we all wanted that." MacLeod could have bitten his tongue as soon as he said it, but it was too late. Methos looked away, his lips compressed, and MacLeod's face looked bleak again. An awkward silence surrounded them and they stood there in the street until MacLeod made an effort to speak again. "I didn't know you were still in town. Joe said you were just passing through."

"I think Dawson slipped a mickey into my beer. He was very determined that I stay and talk to Ryan, and I somehow missed my plane." Methos began to move toward the building. "Are you going my way?"

"Actually, I was," MacLeod replied as he considered what else to say. Methos was making it clear he had stayed in town because Richie was in danger, and because Joe asked him to. Not because he wanted to see MacLeod. MacLeod reviewed his phone conversation with Joe yesterday, heard Joe insisting that Methos would leave because he thought MacLeod was still angry over Warren's death. "Adam, about that whole Watcher business..." Methos stopped walking and his face again froze in an unreadable mask. MacLeod hurriedly continued, "I'm sorry I took out so much of my anger on you. I know it wasn't your intent to harm me or my friends, or to see any innocent people killed." But Methos still didn't move. "Adam?"

"Sorry, Mac, I'm just -- flabbergasted. Do you mean -- no, of course you wouldn't say it --" MacLeod thought Methos looked about Richie's age when his face relaxed into confusion. "You've forgiven me?"

"A long time ago. I just didn't have any way to reach you and apologize for not telling you that while we were still in Paris."

Methos started to walk again, and MacLeod fell into step beside him again. Then Methos abruptly stopped again. "Listen, Mac. I'm very sorry for what happened. I can't change it, but I do know how much of it was my responsibility." He began to walk yet again, looking away as he continued, "Are we still friends?"

"I'd like to be," MacLeod assured him as he once again walked beside him. "Even when I was angry, I never stopped thinking of you as my friend."

"Sometimes you expect more from your friends, I guess."

"That's true."

"Well, my friend, I expect you to help me talk this prophet of Ryan's into keeping his disciples on Holy Ground or changing his tune about self-defense." And Methos led the way to the door with MacLeod closely following him.

They were shown into a large garden, beautifully kept, where the man who called himself Methos was calmly digging. Both men were quite relieved that none of the Prophet's followers were around, but they'd relaxed too soon. As soon as they moved within range, they noticed a second signature. And when a man rose from behind the shrubs and MacLeod saw who it was, the katana was in his hands in seconds.

"Culbraith!" There was such pure loathing in MacLeod's voice that Methos quickly reviewed his memories of MacLeod's chronicles to identify the man smiling at them rather unpleasantly.

"Duncan MacLeod. I'm unarmed, and I don't want to fight you. I follow the way of peace now." William Culbraith, the immortal who'd run Andersonville prison during the U.S. Civil War and made MacLeod's time there one of his blackest memories, stood with his hands extended.

"Then die where you stand, you evil bastard." But MacLeod's advance was stopped when the self-proclaimed Prophet Methos placed himself between the two men.

"William is one of my followers now, Duncan MacLeod. He is not the man you remember, the man whose pain harmed you and your mortal friend." The Prophet was tall and dignified, and his eyes shone with the passion of his beliefs.

"What would you know about it?" MacLeod snarled, his eyes still fixed on Culbraith.

"I know that you bear guilt for a mortal's death, even though it was an act of mercy. I know why William refused you a surgeon that morning, the same day he learned that his family had been slaughtered." He looked intently at the Highlander as he continued, "And I know that Darius would tell you to forgive and put away your sword."

MacLeod's face changed at the mention of Darius. Culbraith's circumstances during that black time had not been known to him, but he would still have challenged Culbraith in memory of Jeffrey. Now the thought of Darius froze him. "Did you know Darius?"

"I have known many of us. And peacemakers like Darius have influence, even with those who never met him."

Methos couldn't keep silent any longer. "Mac, put your sword down. You're not going to kill an unarmed man no matter what he's done. I thought we came here to talk to Brother Methos."

MacLeod reluctantly lowered his blade, but he did not re-sheathe it. Culbraith still watched him, but then the Prophet spoke again.

"William, would you please bring refreshments for our guests?" And to MacLeod's surprise, Culbraith simply nodded and obediently moved off to the house. "Gentlemen, would you sit with me and learn of peace for our kind?"

"I'd rather learn something about Methos," Methos remarked as they settled into the Adirondack chairs the Prophet gestured them toward. "Five thousand years old. A lot of people must want the power of your quickening."

"A lot of people want to listen to a five thousand year old man," the Prophet replied as he settled into a chair.

"Still, it's very dangerous to let everyone know who you are, isn't it? Quite a risk." Methos felt that the Prophet was examining him very closely as he spoke, but he shook off the discomfort and smiled calmly at him.

"Can a man live five thousand years and risk nothing, do nothing? What I preach is important, it's worth the risk."

Methos looked uncomfortable for a split second, and then his face was blank and bland again, leaving MacLeod wondering if he'd imagined the look. Methos smoothly continued, "Still, in five thousand years you've probably learned so much. Your knowledge will be lost if you lose your head."

"Actually my beliefs are very simple. Any of my students can carry on my work. And they will."

"Your beliefs are going to get those who follow you killed," MacLeod interjected, frustrated at this polite fencing.

"Actually," Methos drawled, "they already have. You seem to leave a trail of dead immortals in every city where you teach." He pulled out a list, handwritten, and started reading. "Two years ago in San Francisco, you taught six immortals. Only one is still alive, and now that he's carrying a sword again he's likely to stay that way. Last year you stayed in Redding, living on a farm. You had three disciples along for the ride. Only one is still with you. The others are now deceased."

"I wasn't aware that my actions were important enough to warrant government observation."

"They're not. This is my own research, not some government's. I've always been intrigued by your philosophy. It would make sense if you were the one killing the unarmed innocents, but you don't even get the benefit of their quickenings. So why do it? Why preach peace and brotherhood, then leave them vulnerable?"

The Prophet rose, looking horrified. "I live my beliefs. I teach that only the strong can be peacemakers. While my students do not carry swords, they can defend themselves."

"Evidently not true," Methos waved the paper to emphasize his words. "So who are you doing this for? And why?" Methos was leaning forward, his eyes sharp. MacLeod sat watching them both, wondering if Dawson had provided the 'research.' And the Prophet looked into the distance, then smiled.

"Here is another of my students." MacLeod and Methos turned, then both men groaned as Richie Ryan came bouncing toward them from the house, followed by Culbraith with a tray of drinks.

"Hey guys!" Richie called. "So you really did come to listen to Methos. That's so cool, Adam. And Mac, I knew you were one of the people who could understand the idea of us all getting along together."

"These are friends of yours, Richie?" the Prophet asked.

"Yeah, this is my teacher, Duncan MacLeod, I've told you about him. And this is Adam Coleman, another good friend." No one offered to shake hands and Richie looked hurt and confused.

"Ryan," Methos began, with what MacLeod thought was the closest thing to a blush he'd ever seen on Methos' face.

"I am sad to be the one to tell you, Richie, that these men are not here to listen to me. They are here to accuse me, perhaps to assassinate me."

"What! No way, they're my friends." Richie's defense was unhesitating, and MacLeod felt himself flushing red now.

"Friends who think they are protecting you can be very dangerous," Culbraith said, with a smug look at MacLeod.

"Yes, William. We cannot condone their actions, but we can forgive them," the Prophet intoned.

"But," Richie attempted to speak, but he was staring at MacLeod and Methos. MacLeod looked flustered and Methos looked sheepish.

"Rich, come home with me and we'll talk," MacLeod offered.

"Richie, stay with me and defend what you believe," the Prophet countered. "Your friends are no longer welcome here, but you are one of us now."

Richie looked at the Prophet, then turned to MacLeod. "Listen, Mac, I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Sure, Rich. Watch your head, okay?" And MacLeod walked away, Methos following him. They stalked through the house and back to the T-Bird in silence, but then MacLeod started to ask some of the questions he'd been holding. "Methos, what was that all about? Do you really think this guy is setting up his students for someone who comes along after he leaves town?"

"Actually, that wasn't my first thought. I really thought he was just naive." Methos sighed as he was gestured into the car and settled on the seat next to MacLeod. "But seeing him in person, and seeing the kind of company he's keeping... I think maybe he's working with someone. I just can't figure out what he gains, you know? He's announcing himself as Methos, setting himself up for a beheading. He doesn't get their quickenings. Could he be greedy enough to do it strictly for money?"

"You have the most devious brain. How about this -- he's working with someone, someone he genuinely believes is a supporter and follower. This unknown immortal finances his ministry, but follows after him taking his students. So this Methos is horrified at your accusations, because he really doesn't know -- or didn't know -- what's going on."

"You may be right, Mac. The Watchers say he didn't announce himself as Methos until about five years ago, so I suppose it's possible he's a young immortal who is delusional. Someone told him a story about Methos, and he's assumed the role. And he's comfortable with the idea that anyone with five thousand years of wisdom to share is naturally going to gather benevolent supporters."

"Yeah, he wouldn't be suspicious of anyone who agrees with him. Just those who don't."

"Hmm. Hey, you can drop me at Joe's."

"We're both stopping there to talk to Dawson. Maybe we can figure out who the mystery immortal behind this Prophet is."

***

The Prophet sat at his desk that night, slowly entering words on a computer. "My dear friend, at last I believe I can repay your years of kindness. Today I met a man who fits the description you gave me, though the name he uses is not on the list you gave me -- he calls himself Adam Coleman. He is very intelligent yet completely skeptical, as you said he would be. He has friends here, Richard Ryan and Duncan MacLeod. Ryan is one of my followers, but MacLeod and the one you seek are still killers, constantly carrying weapons of destruction."

The Prophet sent the message, knowing that he might not hear back from his patron for months or years, though the money regularly replenished his account. He had never had such important information to communicate before, and he thought that perhaps they should have planned some more urgent method of transmittal for emergencies. Though he feared that he would have used it in the past, for other matters, and thus diminished its effectiveness.

"Sir?" Culbraith appeared in the doorway, a mug steaming in his hand.

"One moment, William," he replied as he quickly shut down the computer. "Is that my cocoa?"

"Yes, sir." Culbraith moved to the bed and set the cup on the nightstand.

"Have you heard from the attorney yet? I want to conclude the purchase of this estate."

"I know, sir. He's having the papers delivered tomorrow for your signature. Of course, your schedule is already very full." The Prophet stood and stretched as Culbraith reported.

"It's good to stay busy, always remember that. The longer you live, the more you'll realize that ennui is our greatest enemy." Culbraith nodded as he helped the other man remove his robe and settle into his bed, his back against the headboard and his cup in hand. "I want all my followers to be strong and live forever, William. You believe that, don't you?"

"Of course, Methos. Have a good night's rest now." And Culbraith was gone, leaving the Prophet alone in the mostly-dark room.

He sipped his cocoa and thought back to the time, six years ago, when he'd met Eugene Korinski, the man who was now his benefactor. Eugene, who'd suggested that using a name that was legendary among immortals would add power to the message of peace.

He'd been immortal only two years when he'd witnessed his teacher's death. He'd avenged him, taking the head of the killer before the Quickening was done. That experience was so painful that he was sure murdering his own kind was wrong. He vowed that he wouldn't do it again. Still, he practiced the martial arts and exercises that he'd been taught, knowing others would be coming for him. When they did, he tried to teach them to live in peace instead of fighting. But few listened, and despite his intentions he'd been forced to kill again.

That memorable night he'd found himself trapped down a blind alley with a deadly-looking man approaching. The stranger was smiling and relaxed, despite the sword in his hand. When the Prophet had started speaking of peace among immortals and an end to killing, the stranger laughed aloud.

"You're an interesting one, aren't you? Mad as a hatter, I've no doubt. Still, that can be useful..."

"My message is just common sense. If we all lay down our swords, we all profit. We have time to pursue other interests, to benefit mankind and ourselves. No more fear, no more hatred..."

"Oh, you've convinced me. Still, others won't listen to you unless you have more authority. Come have a drink with me and let's discuss how I can help you spread the word."

Their 'conversation' had continued over the course of a week. Eugene had provided money, given him a name that commanded respect and attention, and only asked for one thing in return: that he keep watch for his long-lost brother. The Prophet learned that they'd been separated years before, during a war, and that Eugene had been searching for him ever since. The Prophet, newly-christened as Methos, received a description of the lost man and a list of his known aliases. And that had been his only face-to-face meeting with Eugene. All further communication had been done by mail for several years, and now was handled via computer.

He didn't honestly know much about the man who financed his mission. Still, someone so generous, someone who still cared so much for a lost brother wouldn't be killing unarmed immortals. "Eugene would never harm any of my people. He honors my teachings. Coleman is wrong."

Culbraith glided through the hallway outside, torn between rage and laughter. It wasn't the first time he'd felt this way since taking up the "way of peace" with Methos, whom he hated almost as much as he despised him. Culbraith felt debased by acting as a servant to this fool. Still, five thousand years of wealth should make the game worthwhile. From what he'd seen, Methos wouldn't carefully read the real estate papers. Nor would he notice the power of attorney form slipped in among them, just another page to be signed. Once Culbraith was sure he could access the old man's money, he'd take the idiot's head - and that of any others who got in his way. Power and money - he'd be unstoppable.

***

When Richie arrived at the dojo the next afternoon, MacLeod braced himself for a fight. But it never happened. Richie was friendly but abstracted. MacLeod noted that he was, thank God, carrying his sword again. Richie sat at the kitchen counter and MacLeod continued with the pasta sauce he'd been making. They talked about everything except yesterday's confrontation at the Prophet's home, topics covering repairs to Richie's bike, Adam's reappearance in town, and Dawson's band.

MacLeod offered lunch for a third time, and Richie refused politely again, still toying with the can of soda he'd been handed when he arrived. MacLeod offered Richie a spar, also politely refused. Then Richie sighed, rose, and pulled his sword out of the coat sheath. He gently laid it on the spotless counter, and touched the hilt once before stepping back.

"Mac, I've decided to return this to you."

"Rich, you can't..."

"I can and I do. I appreciate everything you've done for me, everything you've taught me over the years. Not just the fighting, but the way you live, the way you and Tessa cared about my life, when I was just a punk kid. Thanks, Mac."

MacLeod didn't know what to say or how to address all the feelings churning inside him. He honestly thought he might throw up for a moment. But Richie continued.

"Part of what I learned from you is to stand up for what I care about, what I think is important. And Methos, my Methos, has an important message. I don't want to live forever as a killer. Those of us who want peace, who want to end the killing, have to be brave and strong. Ready to leave our swords behind."

"But if you're unarmed..." MacLeod thought of Claudia, refusing to learn to protect herself. But at least she was surrounded by publicity people, handlers, managers - Richie would be alone.

"I'm not defenseless. You've taught me other ways to fight, remember?" Richie smiled up at him. "Someday you'll be joining us, Mac, I'm sure of it. You don't like killing, either."

"No, I don't. But I don't think you can just walk away from it, Rich. Not unless you're ready to go live on holy ground for the rest of your days."

"Methos doesn't do that." Richie shook his head and laughed softly. "Adam said the same thing. Then he offered me a gun and told me that if I wasn't willing to take heads, I should learn to shoot and run. Don't worry, I'm not planning to do that, either."

MacLeod shook his head, smiling back at his former student. "Rich, I understand how you feel. I just think you should take more time to make a decision like this."

"I've thought long and carefully, Mac." Richie straightened, looking somehow lighter in spirit now that he wasn't carrying the weapon. "I'm heading to Methos' place now. Take care, Mac."

"Watch your head, Richie." They didn't hug, but the grasp of each other's arms was held for several moments. Then Richie took off down the back steps, and MacLeod stood in his warm, fragrant kitchen, feeling cold and smelling only the waves of fear from his own body. He dumped the hot food into containers and stuffed them in the refrigerator, then took off for Joe's.

***

Richie let himself into the Prophet's house when no one answered the bell or his knocks. Only two other people lived there, a housekeeper and Culbraith, so Richie wasn't concerned. He assumed they were out, shopping or running errands. Methos was usually in the garden, so Richie walked through the house without looking into any rooms and didn't see the housekeeper's body in the kitchen. But he saw the lightening as he approached the garden.

***

Methos was with Dawson when MacLeod arrived, and he'd already told Joe of Richie's decision to permanently reject the sword. Dawson was furious, more upset than MacLeod could remember seeing him.

"Mac, what the hell are you doing here? Why aren't you with Richie, making sure he stays safe?"

"Joe, how can I? He's a grown man. He told me he'd thought it through and this is how he wants to live. He certainly doesn't want my services as a bodyguard."

"I told you, Joe, he refused a gun, too. Ryan is being suicidal." Methos looked just as unhappy as the others.

"Well can't you knock him on the head and drag him to holy ground, then? I can't believe you're letting him wander off to be killed! You both saw the statistics on that damn Prophet's students -- they don't stay alive!"

"Joe," Methos attempted to break in to his monolog.

"I'm going to stop Richie. You two can do whatever you want." Dawson slammed through the door and headed for his car, and after exchanging a brief, slightly guilty glance, MacLeod and Methos followed him.

***

"Culbraith! What happened?" Richie ran up to the kneeling man, then saw the Prophet's headless body behind him on the grass. "What have you done?"

The eyes that lifted to meet his were full of hatred and evil joy. "I've taken this fraud's Quickening." He stood and kicked at the body, as Richie slowly backed away from him. "Bastard. 'William, fetch me this.' He isn't Methos! He's nobody! There's no money, no power -- just lies. I wasted over a year to get this worthless piece of paper."

Culbraith pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, then ripped it and threw it at the body, which he kicked again. Richie was still backing away, ready to run as soon as he could. His mind was racing with despairing thoughts. MacLeod had been right, he shouldn't have given back his sword. He'd thought he would be as safe here as he could be on holy ground, but even the Prophet hadn't been safe here. From one of his own people. Just as Richie started to turn away, Culbraith roared out a triumphant Rebel yell and came after him, sword in hand.

***

MacLeod had tried to leave them both in the car, but Methos ran after him as he dashed toward the house. Lightening was crossing the sky behind the house, and MacLeod simply ran in the open door and dashed for the garden entrance he'd been shown yesterday.

"Not Richie. Please, not Richie." MacLeod mumbled as he ran, hearing Methos' voice and footfalls behind him, asking him to wait, to be careful -- but he couldn't stop, he had to know.

The pleasant garden was gone, and instead a battlefield of destruction was spread before him. There was a headless body further away, and one at MacLeod's feet. A familiar body, familiar leather jacket. Familiar head of blonde-red curls, separated from the body. Blood staining the familiar features, the face contorted with horror and shock.

Without a second thought, rage burning through him, Duncan MacLeod drew his katana and struck down the bastard kneeling over Richie's body, still absorbing his young Quickening. Then once again lightening played havoc in the garden, uprooting trees, shattering flowerpots, igniting the shrubbery.

***

Methos peeled a check off and handed it to the annoying, oozingly sympathetic funeral director. It was just as well Dawson and MacLeod didn't have to deal with this jackass, but Methos still couldn't believe that he was the one handling the arrangements for Richie Ryan's funeral.

MacLeod was holed up in the dojo, refusing to answer the phone or let anyone in. Not that a locked door had stopped Methos. He'd been there twice in the two days since Richie's death, pushing Mac into the shower and feeding him eggs and fruit, then returning to Dawson's apartment to do the same for Joe. Since when was he the nurturer in these relationships?

Joe, being mortal, needed more constant care, which was why he'd stayed there, renting a bed which had been delivered the night after Richie's death. Methos cooked and cleaned for Joe, set up the funeral, and he'd even been the one to call the Watchers to deal with the mess at the Prophet's rented house. And quite a mess it was, even before MacLeod had taken Culbraith's powerful Quickening. There was no good explanation for the wreck of the house and garden, for the obvious fire damage. But the bodies had all been taken care of, even the poor mortal woman Culbraith had evidently killed. Finding her body in the kitchen had sickened him, but there had been so much to do he couldn't even mourn Ryan, much less a stranger.

MacLeod had been nearly catatonic since killing Culbraith. Methos speculated that his mind felt threatened once again by the evil he'd overcome after the Dark Quickening, so it was shutting down. But he honestly didn't know. He'd been surprised by MacLeod's evident rage, by his disregard of the rules to strike Culbraith without a fair fight. From what MacLeod had told him, it was totally out of character. The honorable Scot had even given Kalas time to recover from his friend Fitzcairn's Quickening. Still, Kalas had fought fairly. Culbraith had struck down an unarmed man. Two unarmed men. The bastard deserved to die, and Methos wasn't going to quibble about how it happened. He only wished MacLeod could settle his own conscience.

That day he'd dragged MacLeod into the house with him and called the Watchers, using Dawson's name, to order a clean-up crew. Methos left special instructions for Ryan's body, aware as he spoke of MacLeod's unresponsive form standing next to him, evidently not hearing anything. He'd then hustled Mac back to the car, where Dawson sat, waiting for the news.

But when Joe saw their faces, he didn't need to be told. Joe had cried then, and Methos hoped that the Watcher's sobs would break through MacLeod's silence. But MacLeod had simply curled up on the rear seat, almost in a fetal position, leaving Methos to comfort Dawson and then take them both home.

Dawson had asked him, later, to finish handling the funeral. So Methos had borrowed Duncan's phone book while the youngster showered, and called Amanda's most recent number. She was shocked and sad, she announced she was already on her way to Seacouver. Then -- most importantly -- she offered to call MacLeod's other friends. Methos was so grateful to have help from someone capable of dealing with the situation that he vowed to stop being jealous of Amanda. She could climb in MacLeod's bed and comfort him. Great. At least MacLeod would be taken care of. Terrific. After all, Methos couldn't try that particular therapy, even if he believed it would work. Which he didn't. But things were too unsettled between them for him to climb in MacLeod's bed or even spend much time with him.

Methos left the funeral home to head back to Joe's bar and help Mike open for lunch. Dawson hadn't worked, probably wouldn't go back until after the memorial service on Saturday morning. Methos had been helping to open and close each day, just to make sure everything was okay. Mike told him that mostly they missed Joe's guitar at night. Methos smiled and nodded, not bothering to tell the bartender that Dawson was playing almost constantly, old blues songs and compositions Methos had never heard before. He assumed those were Joe's own original work. A constant melody of mourning and remembrance, he found the music oddly appropriate and comforting.

Methos dreaded Saturday, when he'd be facing a bunch of strange immortals. Friends of Mac's, to be sure, but not something he enjoyed. He thought briefly of skipping the service, but the thought of Dawson there alone was too disturbing. MacLeod wasn't in any shape to be caring for Joe. Amanda would be busy with Mac. He was needed. Being needed wasn't pleasant in this case, but it was nice to have a friend worth the trouble. He appreciated Dawson's friendship, and it was a good time to demonstrate friendship in return.

***

Duncan MacLeod stood between his kinsman and Amanda, one of his oldest friends and dearest lovers, and wondered why he felt no comfort in their presence. His eyes were burning but tearless, though he knew he should be able to cry, to mourn his friend and student. Richie. Richie was dead. He'd been avenged, though not in a manner that comforted MacLeod.

He could still feel the rage, the hatred toward William Culbraith that had led to that deadly sweep of his katana. Not a fair fight. Not an honorable thing. Methos had been there, had witnessed it all yet still came to feed him, to check on him. Methos, who'd seen him during the Dark Quickening, been one of his many victims during that blackness. Who thus was not at all surprised to see evil resurface in MacLeod. Only Duncan himself had been surprised. Appalled.

He supposed that same evil was keeping him numb, too cold and dead inside to cry for his loss. At least he wasn't laughing and enjoying it, as he had with Sean's death. He looked over to where Joe Dawson stood, Methos slightly to the left and behind him, supporting him. Dawson's eyes were red and a handkerchief was clutched in the hand that wasn't on his cane. Still, Dawson didn't look too bad. Evidently Methos had made sure he slept and ate, too.

"I am the Resurrection and the Life," the priest read, his voice confident. "Richie Ryan is with our Lord today, and though we miss him, we know he would not wish us to mourn."

Methos' face was solemn, but there were no tears. MacLeod remembered conversations they'd had about younger immortals, about their chances in the Game after growing up in a time when society did not breed warriors. Methos had befriended Richie anyway, even knowing how vulnerable he was. Methos had loved Alexa, even knowing she would die. And Methos still took care of him, even knowing that MacLeod was evil enough to break the rules of immortal combat.

MacLeod looked at the casket as the mourners laid flowers atop it, knowing Richie was in there but still feeling no emotion. He wondered if Methos had made the arrangements, or if Dawson had pulled himself together long enough to handle them. Certainly everything had been arranged tastefully and in a way that seemed right for Richie. The service had been conducted by a young priest who'd actually known Richie, at an airy multi-denominational chapel. Richie's friends were all there, their own youth a horrible reminder of just how young Richie still had been. Amanda had greeted all the mourners, Richie's friends as well as MacLeod's, accepting their condolences far more graciously than MacLeod could have managed. Connor had stayed plastered to his side, where he'd been since dragging him out of the dojo this morning and forcing him to attend.

MacLeod had been in bad shape today, ready to drink some more and sleep through the funeral. He'd gotten very drunk last night after he'd sent Connor and Amanda away. Connor had been -- miffed -- to learn that he would be paying for a hotel room. He'd left with the huge basket of fruit and food that Maurice had sent, comforting himself that he'd only be paying for a bed and not for a meal. Though Duncan imagined Connor had wound up paying for Amanda's room. Or having Amanda stay with him, which was fine. Duncan couldn't be with her anymore.

Mourners filed by, and Amanda replied to their soft comments. MacLeod kept his head down, thinking about Richie's short life. He'd been MacLeod's student, his friend, his son. But so few of his other friends really knew Richie. Gina and Robert had sent a telegram, as had Grace. Gregor had called, and though MacLeod hadn't answered his phone Gregor's sympathetic message was saved on his answering machine, as were the calls from Carl and Ceirdwyn. Even Annie Devlin had sent a card, extending sympathy for his loss. Everyone understood how much it hurt to lose a student.

He looked around and realized everyone was gone and they were waiting for him to leave so they could lower the coffin. Methos was carefully walking Dawson over the uneven ground, back toward his car. Amanda was a few paces away, looking back at him and Connor. He moved to the casket and carefully laid his hand on it, trying to think of something to say or do.

"Goodbye, Rich. I will remember you." Tears came at last, and the relief of them was obscene and unwanted. MacLeod felt himself shaking so hard he almost toppled over.

Amanda and Connor were right there to gently lead him away, and he saw Methos look back at them and register MacLeod' s grief. A flicker of something passed over the ancient's face, but then he turned his attention back to Dawson and MacLeod let his friends bundle him into the car.

Amanda sat in the rear with him, holding his hand and patting his head, which she'd pulled to her bosom as soon as they sat. Now that his emotions had been cut loose, Duncan felt as close to laughter as he was to more tears. He teetered between both extremes for a moment before collecting himself again. Duncan told himself he was a maudlin drunk, but a moment later he was wondering if he could just go back to the dojo and drink himself unconscious again today. Based on Amanda's petting and mothering, he doubted that would be allowed.

Amanda had been outraged at being turned out of the dojo last night, but she was evidently still ready to hop into bed to comfort him. Her simplistic 'kiss-it-and-make-it-better' attitude set his teeth on edge, even as he admitted she was probably right. He would have slept better after sex than he had after drinking an entire bottle of single malt. He needed to reaffirm life, to be with someone.

But he couldn't allow it. Sex wouldn't be calming or restful if he hurt Amanda. He couldn't trust himself now, with her or with anyone. The evil he'd thought overcome was too close to the surface. He didn't think he'd permanently harm Amanda or Connor. He hoped they were both too wary and clever to allow that. But even the thought of temporarily hurting either of them was repulsive. As was the thought of how they'd react if they knew what he'd done.

When they came to the dojo, he'd been prepared for them to know the whole story of Culbraith's death. He'd been ready for their disgust and anger. It couldn't be worse than his own self-hatred. But they'd come in and been the same as always, loving and accepting and sympathetic. He'd been confused, astonished, until he realized Methos had told no one what he'd seen in the garden. Not Amanda. Not even Joe.

No one knew except Methos, and a part of MacLeod wondered why he'd kept it to himself. Blackmail? MacLeod couldn't believe Methos would be motivated by money or anything else MacLeod could offer him. Disgust seemed the more likely reason. So much disgust with MacLeod and what he'd done that he didn't want to waste time thinking or talking about it? Certainly Methos hadn't been trying to get in his bed since Culbraith's death. Still, Methos had come to the dojo and taken care of MacLeod. So disgust wasn't the reason behind his silence or his decision to sleep at Joe's home. Duncan shook his head and then rested it again on Amanda's warm breasts, too tired and too grieved to think about it any more. He would get drunk, and he wouldn't let Amanda stay with him.

Probably Methos was too wary, too well aware of just how evil Duncan MacLeod had become, to risk rousing his anger by telling anyone the truth about Culbraith's death.

***

"Connor, we've got to send Adam to talk to Duncan. There's nothing else either of us can do." Amanda was lounging on the unmade bed in their room, flipping idly through the TV stations available in Seacouver's second-best hotel. *At least Duncan would have paid for a suite,* she pouted to herself.

"Amanda, I've put up with you staying here in my bed. I've paid for your meals and not broken your fingers when you tried to pinch my credit cards. But I'm not going to get involved in this scheme to send poor Adam to do our dirty work." Connor stepped out of the bathroom clad only in a towel, still rubbing his hair dry with a second cloth.

Amanda smiled appreciatively and continued, "But it's not a scheme, not exactly. Adam cares for Duncan; he'll go willingly if we only ask."

"I still cannot believe what you've told me about them." Connor moved next to her as he spoke.

"Oh, yes you can. Or you wouldn't be letting me do this," Amanda replied as she removed the towel at his waist and began softly stroking his bare thigh, watching his damp cock twitch and harden slowly. "They are lovers, and until Adam returns to his bed, Duncan will be miserable."

"Amanda, I... oh, yes, please don't stop, right there..." Connor became completely incoherent as she swallowed him whole and began gently sucking at him.

Amanda didn't feel compelled to tell Connor the whole truth about Duncan's love life. She wasn't actually sure she knew it, anyway. Duncan had turned her out, so there was absolutely nothing wrong with her seducing Connor. She wasn't married, for heaven's sake. Though Methos seemed to think their marriage was imminent. How that boy -- old man, she corrected herself -- got such ideas in his head she'd never understand.

Then again, Duncan MacLeod seemed to have even stranger ideas. So he'd taken someone's head while he was down. Who cared? Culbraith was an evil bastard; good riddance. But when MacLeod had confessed to her yesterday, after a week of pleading and wheedling, he'd acted as though it was a terrible thing. Then when he'd talked about the evil of the Dark Quickening being re-awakened in him, she'd almost hit him. As if! Amanda remembered all too clearly what MacLeod had been like under the influence of the Dark Quickening. That wasn't what was going on now, and she knew it even if Duncan didn't.

Connor gently pushed her head away from his engorged member and fell atop her, pushing her down on the bed as he kissed her with a technique that was very different from Duncan's. Still very, very nice. She moaned and returned to her thoughts, even as she raked her nails over Connor's back and he pulled her bra down to start tonguing her nipples.

Poor Duncan's even-more-reluctantly confessed fear of 'hurting' her if they had sex would have been laughable if she hadn't seen the pain in his eyes. He was denying himself a comfort he desperately needed. Amanda had seen enough death, mortal and immortal, in her 1200 years to know that he needed to be with someone just as badly as he'd needed to confess all his guilt.

The problem was, it wasn't her. Amanda had seen that almost instantly. She saw how MacLeod and Methos glanced at each other, never seeing that the other was also looking. Never talking. Men! Then she heard from Dawson about Methos' daily trips to feed and rouse MacLeod from his guilty wallowing before her arrival. That Methos had handled Richie's funeral, alone -- except for her help. Hell, Methos was pining for MacLeod, who seemed to be pining right back. During what she was now calling "The Great Confession," every other word out of MacLeod's mouth had been "Methos." He saw everything. He hasn't told anyone. He must hate me, despise me, fear me.

"Ow!" Amanda screamed and rose up, shoving Connor almost off the bed. "What the hell was that?" She rubbed at her inner thigh, looking for blood and teeth marks.

"Pay attention," Connor growled as he launched himself on top of her again, roughly pulling her legs apart. "I don't want you thinking of another man while you're with me, even if I did share you with him once." Amanda smiled at the memory, then sighed as he sank into her, and let her thoughts drift away from Duncan's troubles and into the rhythm they were setting together.

Still, hours later she lay awake in their bed, Connor's arm warm and heavy on her stomach, wondering how to approach Methos. She couldn't break her word to Duncan, but she had to make Methos realize that Duncan was waiting for him to make the first move. Maybe it would be better if Connor spoke to him. Or Joe. Connor began to snore, and no amount of shoving made him roll over. Amanda giggled. Maybe it would be better if she took off for a few days. She'd heard that Cory was in San Francisco...

***

Connor gently led Duncan to the door, though his instincts told him they'd coddled his kinsman too long already. Amanda, still parking the car, was leaving tomorrow on a brief trip to see a friend. Connor wished he was leaving, too, instead of staying in this crazy town, still running up hotel charges. But even as he thought it, he acknowledged that Duncan still needed him, whether the stubborn sot knew it or not. Connor had taken two challenges in the weeks since Richie's funeral, both of them looking for the other MacLeod in Seacouver. Duncan was not in shape to fight.

When not taking challenges for Duncan, Amanda and Connor had been shopping for his groceries, visiting Duncan daily to make sure he ate and didn't drink all day and night. Connor had tried to get Duncan to spar with him, but he'd been turned down. That wasn't like Duncan, who didn't seem to be running or doing any real exercise. When he brought this up, Amanda spent an afternoon with Duncan, alone. When she returned, she said she knew what the problem was, but she wasn't at liberty to tell Connor. Which was even more strange; Amanda was notoriously bad at keeping secrets. Still, Duncan had seemed relieved after their tete-a-tete. He'd calmed enough to accept this invitation.

Tonight the three of them were visiting Dawson and Adam Coleman, the young-looking immortal who Amanda claimed was Duncan's lover, now estranged. Connor wasn't sure he understood Dawson's relationship with his kinsman or the dead boy, Richie, but he understood Coleman's relationship with all three men even less. If Coleman was Duncan's lover, why was he living with Dawson? The door opened at his knock, and he pushed all questions aside. Amanda had a Plan, and Connor knew he'd better concentrate on doing his part.

"Mac. Connor. Good to see you." Dawson looked better, much better, in fact. The circles under his eyes were gone, and even his walking seemed easier. He looked rested and well-fed, something Connor wished he could say about Duncan, who'd still been drinking far too much and losing weight despite their efforts to keep him fed.

They two men walked in, followed almost immediately by a breathless Amanda, and took seats in the living area. Then Connor got a whiff of what Coleman was doing in the kitchen, and when he investigated he thought he might have the key to both Duncan's attraction and Dawson's recovery. He could smell garlic and roasting meat -- pork, he thought. There was a pot of homemade applesauce simmering on the stove, fragrant with cinnamon and clove, and homemade rolls were rising on the table. Coleman was flushed from the heat of the stove, his hair was mussed and he had a smudge of flour on his nose. He looked domestic and debauched, all at the same time. Connor would still take Amanda's curves over Coleman's skinny body, but he was at least able to see some attraction there.

The dinner was wonderful, and even Duncan began to loosen up and talk. They told stories -- from the past, from the time before Richie Ryan was born -- and joked, enjoying the food and the excellent wine Amanda had brought. Still, good as the food and conversation were, they were surpassed when Dawson brought out his acoustic guitar and played for them. Dawson started with a song he'd written in honor of Ryan, which was beautiful. But the blues man knew all kinds of music, and eventually he was playing requests from each of them.

Then Amanda insisted that Adam sing with her, an old folk song that Dawson amiably strummed for them. Once Connor heard Coleman's voice, he forgot everything for a moment, lost in memories.

October 1939

The school turned prison was cold and damp, particularly in the basement where Connor and his resistance group were being held. The Germans had found them too easily. When they managed to get out of this place he'd make sure they had better security arrangements and that fewer people were aware of who else they worked with. Maybe if everyone had only one contact...

The noise from the corner startled him. He thought he could faintly hear voices. They'd been locked in here since dawn, but he hadn't noticed the old fashioned tube before. This was a school building, and this was evidently used to communicate with the janitor, who would have been stationed nearby ready to stoke the furnace. Connor soon had another member of his group gently tapping on the tube, trying to get anyone's attention. If there were others held here, upstairs, maybe they knew of a way out.

But the voice that called down the tube was a young boy, only 13, who was being held with his classmates and teacher on the uppermost level. According to the boy, the Germans were using the main floor as their headquarters. Which meant they could hear anything being said between floors via the tubes.

So they abandoned that hope and started planning where they could dig to try to make a way out. That night, shivering and hungry, Connor curled up near the inoperative furnace where the tube hung. He'd pulled one of the bolts loose, hoping he could free a piece of the metal for a shovel, when he heard a voice. For a moment he thought he was imagining it, but once he realized what the sound was, Connor called his friends over to listen along with him, and they huddled for warmth and comfort in the darkness, listening to the unlikely concert.

Someone upstairs was singing, sweetly and soothingly. They could only faintly hear the sniffles of frightened schoolboys, but the voice carried clearly. He sang old folk songs and lullabies, in French and in other languages they didn't know. Connor was not surprised to hear one he recognized in English, a song from the Great War.

For almost a month that nightly concert was the only comfort they all had. The food was scarce, there was no heat, and the prison grew more crowded and squalid every day. Their suffering was brought to an abrupt end by a bombing. Connor never did figure out who'd bombed the school, but it didn't really matter if it was friend or foe -- everyone died, including him. But he revived, dug himself out after several frustrating days and a few more deaths, and took off to rejoin the Resistance. He stayed in France, even working with Duncan for a few years after Diane died. Until the fateful day he found Rachel. Then a more normal life continued back in the States.

The voice in the school prison was the same one he heard now. The mysterious schoolteacher who'd been two stories up -- and evidently well out of sensing range -- was Coleman.

Connor was on his feet and standing over the other immortal before he realized how threatening his motions appeared. Then he registered that Amanda had stood up and that Duncan was calling his name. Connor stopped, colored faintly, and held his hands out as unthreateningly as possible.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to... It's just... Can I talk to you? In private?" Connor tried to look sincere, but Coleman wasn't buying.

"Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of everyone."

"Fine, then." Connor backed away and sat down on the sofa, noticing how Duncan had moved closer to Coleman. Damn. Amanda was right, wasn't she? Though she and Dawson had also moved to flank Coleman, evidently expecting the worst. Connor tried to smile reassuringly, but gave it up and instead began his story. "In 1939 I was working in the French Resistance..."

***

Duncan MacLeod listened to his teacher's story, still unsure what it had to do with Methos. Had Methos been one of the German officers? Duncan couldn't imagine that; Methos would try to stay out of wars, wouldn't he?

"Then I heard you singing, just now... It was you, wasn't it?" Connor concluded. "You were there?"

"Yes, I was teaching in a school outside Soissons. When the Germans came through, they wanted the building and practically stormed the place. It was just a school, there was no reason to hold us. Except some bright officer decided that the boys would be great hostages for their parents' good behavior until after the harvest. I suppose I was just a convenient babysitter, so they wouldn't have to deal with hysterical children."

"So you weren't arrested for doing resistance work," Connor asked, finally getting details of the story he'd wondered about for years. "Just for being in the wrong place."

"Exactly."

  Duncan found himself feeling relieved at that. He couldn't wrap his mind around the idea of Methos as a German officer, but neither could he see the pragmatic man idealistically fighting Nazis. He noticed Amanda squirming on the chair next to him, and wondered what was bothering her. But she settled down as Methos continued.

"As long as I was stuck there, I tried to keep the boys safe and calm. You know what conditions were like. It was cold and unsanitary and miserable. Not enough food for growing boys. Then some of the younger boys were taken away, evidently shipped off to be raised by good German families as proper little Nazis. It seemed horrible at the time, but they were really the lucky ones. Everyone else was killed by the bombing."

"My God." Dawson looked ill.

"I didn't know there was anyone else alive." Methos concluded. "Not that I would have helped a strange immortal out from under the rubble if I had..."

"I would have if I'd known the immortal was you. I mean, if I'd known the singer was an immortal." Connor looked embarrassed, but he plowed on. "You kept us all sane, not just the boys." Methos only snorted in reply. "Honestly."

"It's not you, Connor. Adam doesn't know what a rare gift his voice is." Dawson smiled at Methos' discomfort.

"Enough. I've got to get coffee started." Methos rose and moved to the kitchen. Duncan watched him go, then realized that the three people left in the room with him were watching him watch Methos. And Duncan realized he didn't care. He rose and chased after him.

"Need any help?"

"Believe it or not, MacLeod," Methos dropped his voice to a low-pitched hiss, "after five thousand years I do know how to make coffee. Hundreds of ways." He slammed the pot into place on the burner.

"Methos..." Duncan kept his voice low, too, but still got a dirty look. "Never mind." Duncan left the kitchen and returned to the living room, where all conversation immediately stopped. He sat next to Amanda, who looked intently at Joe as Duncan took her hand. Joe rose and excused himself, then headed for the bathroom.

"I'll miss you. I know I've been... I do appreciate everything." There was no way to express what a relief it had been to tell her the truth about Culbraith's death. Her loving acceptance of his faults had lightened his heart, even as the ache of missing Richie increased.

"Duncan, love, I understand. We all understand." Amanda turned and looked at Connor, who sheepishly left the room, before continuing. "You're the best friend anyone could ask for, and I will be back in a couple of weeks. You aren't driving me away. I just need to take care of some business."

"You'll take care of yourself?" he pleaded, even though he felt foolish. Amanda had lived for hundreds of years before he was born; she'd been taught by some of the best fighters. And he knew there were no guarantees. She couldn't promise him that she'd live forever. But he knew Amanda would fight. She'd never give up or lay down her sword.

"Duncan MacLeod, you can't get rid of me. Remember that." Amanda dropped a gentle kiss on his lips, then hugged him tight. He felt a tear slip down his cheek as he rocked her, holding her tight until Dawson returned to the room.

"Sorry, Joe." He stepped away, releasing her.

"Hey, nothing I haven't seen you two do before. I Watch, remember?" Dawson grinned at them both, then hollered down the hallway. "Adam, are you growing the damn beans in there?"

"Be right there," came the reply, and a moment later Connor came in carrying mugs and a plate of cookies. Methos followed with the rest of the coffee service on a wooden tray. Duncan didn't look up at either man, still too ashamed to meet Methos' eyes. Then Methos touched his hand and handed him a mug of black coffee and a napkin with a cookie. He mumbled thanks, still not looking up, but Methos didn't release his own grip on the cup or napkin.

"Adam, what's..." He finally raised his eyes and saw Methos looking down at him with so much affection and warmth in his eyes that Duncan released his grip on both items.

"Careful there, MacLeod. Don't want to spill hot beverages in your lap, immortal healing or not." There was laughter in that voice that he hadn't heard in months. Duncan looked around the room wildly, trying to figure out what had changed. But Amanda was sipping her coffee calmly while Connor was handing Joe a cookie. Nobody seemed to notice anything, but to Duncan the whole universe had rearranged itself. And Methos still stood in front of him, but now a smile curved his lips.

"Adam?"

"Yes, Mac, that's who I am. This is coffee. This is a cookie. You drink the first and eat the second." His voice dropped lower as he continued, "Later we'll go for a walk, okay?"

"Okay." Duncan took his mug and his cookie and Methos calmly walked away to stir large amounts of sugar and cream into a mug for himself. Amanda was quietly chatting with Joe about bookstores in San Francisco, and Connor was adding his antique booksellers to the list. All three were ignoring him and Methos completely. Which was wrong. No one had ignored him since Richie's death. They were always hovering, asking him how he was, bringing him things.

Now they'd handed him off to Methos? What the hell was going on?

"Connor, I need to speak with you," Duncan began.

"Duncan, darling, can it wait? Connor promised to take me back to the hotel before midnight. My flight is very early tomorrow, and I need to finish packing."

"But..."

"Adam will see you get home, won't you?" Amanda continued with a dazzling smile at Methos.

"Sure," came the amused reply.

"I'll call you in the morning, Duncan." Connor already had Amanda's coat ready for her, and he grabbed his own and was at the door as he continued, "I'd like to run with you tomorrow afternoon. I heard there's a nice path along the river, through the cemetery. Nothing like Holy Ground for a good place to run, eh?"

"You heard?" was all Duncan was able to manage, watching as his friends moved so smoothly he felt they'd rehearsed this moment.

"Coleman told me about it in the kitchen." Connor smiled at Methos, who smiled right back. "Maybe he could join us for the run, too."

"I'll let you know," Methos replied. "Goodnight, MacLeod." Methos shook Connor's hand, then gave Amanda a hug and a kiss. "Have a good flight and come back soon."

"I will," Amanda smiled radiantly at him, then moved to hug and kiss Dawson and Duncan as well before she took Connor's arm and flounced out the door. In the silence that followed their departure, Duncan MacLeod realized he was well and truly flummoxed.

"Well, guys, it's just us again." Methos flopped onto Joe's sofa, taking up more than half the surface.

"It's about to be just you two. I'm beat." Dawson yawned and put his coffee down with a clatter as MacLeod wondered why someone who was usually up until 4 AM tending bar felt sleepy at 11:30. "Goodnight, Mac. Good to see you. Don't be a stranger, okay? I'm back at the bar starting Friday night, and the band will be on at midnight."

"That's great, Joe. I'll be by over the weekend, I promise."

"Adam. I'll see you in the morning."

"'Night, Joe."

They were alone in the room, and MacLeod couldn't think of a single thing to say. Neither could Methos, evidently, because he simply walked over, grabbed MacLeod, and proceeded to kiss him as if he were performing a tooth count using his tongue. Duncan enjoyed the warm taste of him for a moment, before he pulled away.

"Mac?" Now there was an uncertainty in Methos' eyes that hurt to see.

"It's not that I don't want this," MacLeod managed to say. "But what is going on?"

"Amanda is leaving. I stayed away while she was here with you, but now I'd hoped we could spend some time together. Joe doesn't need me any longer."

MacLeod wanted to say that he didn't need Methos, either. That would keep him at a safe distance. MacLeod was so afraid. But there'd been enough lies and misunderstandings between them. He tried desperately to think, and wound up stammering out one small truth for his lover and friend. "Amanda wasn't staying at the dojo."

"I know that now. Connor told me tonight that he's been paying for her hotel room." Methos smiled sheepishly. "I don't understand why, but I do admire any man with the willpower to keep Amanda out of his bed."

"She's with Connor for the same reason that we can't do this. You were there, you know what I did. The evil has taken over me again." MacLeod felt the shaking begin and he crossed his arms, holding himself together.

"What?" Methos really looked shocked, just like Amanda had when he'd told her.

"You know how I killed Culbraith. I didn't fight him, I slaughtered him. If I could do that, I can't be trusted."

"You'll take my head while we're in bed? Mac, I don't think..." Methos' face had turned pink, but he looked at Duncan carefully, then shook himself and started over. "Listen, you lost your student. You loved Richie. Culbraith took him without a fair fight, *he* slaughtered Richie. What you did was justice; an eye for an eye."

"It was wrong."

"I don't think so, but I won't argue with you. To some people, yes, it was wrong. There are people who believe all judgement is wrong, those who condemn all killing. But we can't live by mortal rules and ideals, MacLeod. We are immortal. We kill to survive."

"I'm so tired of it."

"I know you are, Mac." And he was in Methos' arms again, just resting there. No sexual touches, no pressure. Just the comfort of being held by another human being. Duncan realized he needed that contact, needed it badly. Just being held was threatening to shake him apart, to make him weak.

But it was alright to be weak, for now, wasn't it? He was tired, he was still full of grief and guilt. And here was someone strong enough to help him bear that burden, just as Amanda and Connor would have if he'd let them. Somehow, he didn't mind letting Methos in, now that he'd seen the love still in his eyes. "I thought you despised me, or that you didn't want to deal with my darkness again."

"I'll always deal with everything you bring me, MacLeod. The joy and the sadness. Even the crazy amount of immortal 'friends' who hang around you."

MacLeod laughed and pulled away. "Thank you. Now I should go home."

"Oh, Duncan, we've been at cross purposes long enough, haven't we? Let's both go home."

"What about Joe?"

"I'll leave him a note on the coffee maker. He'll be fine, you know. I've been annoying him for a week now, but he felt too guilty to make me leave."

"Guilty?"

"You're not the only one, you know." Methos had his duffel out from the closet and over one shoulder in a moment. "I've been working at the bar and cooking his meals. Joe didn't think he could politely ask me to get myself another place to stay and leave him in peace."

"We both owe you for what you've done for Richie."

Methos had moved to the kitchen and was writing a note. "I didn't know him as well as either of you, but he was a nice kid." The note was finished and taped on the coffee pot.

"He... yeah." MacLeod felt tears in his eyes again.

"You do know that his time with you made a difference, right?" Methos was next to him again, touching him again. MacLeod nodded and moved away, but Methos simply pushed him to the door and stayed right behind him.

"Methos, are you sure you want to be with me right now?" Duncan had to ask again, even as Methos locked the door behind them and turned toward the car.

"Now and for as long as you want me there, Mac." The dim light didn't hide the beauty of Methos' smile. He led MacLeod to the car and settled him in the passenger seat as carefully as if he were a child or an invalid. He moved back, hand on the door as if to close it, stooped and bent over MacLeod again, kissing him gently.

MacLeod wanted to sob or to scream, but instead he grasped Methos' arms and pulled him into the car, on top of his own body, and tried to devour his mouth. Why did everything about Methos make him feel out of control? The gasp of his breath, the quiver of his muscles, the heat of his body -- all of it seemed designed to push MacLeod beyond all boundaries. He pulled his mouth away, only to refasten it on Methos' neck, his hands moving under the open coat to his lover's wonderful ass. Methos didn't try to pull away, despite the long, guttural moan he uttered. Methos hands were in MacLeod's hair, pulling his head closer, urging him on. But when he pulled away and tried to open Methos' jeans, the older man stopped him with a touch. He looked up to see a gentle smile.

"Mac, much as I'd like to do this right now, I don't think Joe's neighbors would appreciate the show." MacLeod realized that they were in a well-lit parking lot, the car door hanging open and the overhead light blazing, in full view of dozens of windows. "Can we move this back to your place?"

MacLeod nodded and Methos gracefully climbed off him and moved around the car to the driver's seat. MacLeod pulled his own door shut and they moved through the dark streets. Rain began to patter on the windshield halfway to the dojo, and by the time they pulled into a parking spot, a full-blown storm was in progress, complete with thunder and lightening. They could smell the ozone as they left the car and ran for the back entrance of the loft, climbing the slick metal stairs with breathless laughter.

Methos, soaking wet, looked young and even thinner, almost fragile. His hair was plastered down but his eyes were bright as they entered the loft, where a single lamp had been left burning. "MacLeod, what we both need is a nice, hot shower." Methos slung his pack to the floor, then pulled off his coat and dropped it, his sword thumping on the bare wood floor.

"Let me hang that up." MacLeod moved toward him, only to be caught in Methos' long arms.

"Later. Let it lie, let it drip. Let the floors rot under us. I've missed you so much." Methos' mouth was hot and insistent, and MacLeod's brain decided that Methos' philosophy was the best thing about him. No, he corrected as his eyes slid shut and he pushed his tongue into Methos' sweet mouth, his kisses were the best thing. Except for the incredibly sexy body pressed against his own. Or maybe the clever hands pulling at his own clothing, loosening and unbuttoning and unzipping, were the best...

"Mac? Shower time." Methos moved away from him and MacLeod felt bereft, but when his eyes reluctantly opened, he was rewarded with a strip show that eased the separation. Methos removed each wet item of clothing with a maximum amount of tease, pausing to touch his own body slowly and caressingly. "Move along, Mac, and maybe I'll do this to you instead," he promised as his jeans were kicked off and one finger ran up his swelling cock. "Or this," as he put a finger in his mouth and sucked it, cheeks hollowing and eyes hot on MacLeod's face. Then he deliberately turned and walked away, toward the bathroom, not turning back even when MacLeod came to life and rushed after him with a strangled cry.

***

Methos rolled over as the door clicked shut, and he sighed. Despite MacLeod's efforts to be quiet as he rose and dressed himself for a workout, Methos was now wide awake. Too many weeks listening for Joe, he supposed. Or too many weeks wishing MacLeod were asleep beside him, sweaty and sated.

He stretched and thought about what Connor had said last night. Evidently Duncan going for a workout was a good sign, though Methos felt like they'd had enough of one last night. Well, some of those muscles didn't really count in a fight, he supposed. He pulled Duncan's robe on, enjoying the texture and the scent of it, then moved to the bathroom, where even simple morning duties were invested with memories of their shower last night, and the extended bout of bathroom sex before, during, and after. Not that he'd minded. The piles of towels attested to how much both of them had enjoyed themselves, over and over. That, and the two ripped grommets at the top of the shower curtain.

MacLeod had already bent him over and fucked him silly against the vanity on their way into the shower, so he supposed his surprised clutch at the shower curtain when Mac stuck three fingers into him during the shower was excusable. He smiled at the memory of catching his balance, MacLeod's strong arm going around his waist as the Highlander finger-fucked him into ecstacy.

That stain on the outer curtain? Hmm, that must have been the drying-off sex. Was it his fault that seeing MacLeod drying his leg, one foot resting on the edge of the tub, had been so terribly sexy? No, it was the Highlander's own fault for being so graceful and beautiful. So Methos had felt compelled to drop to his knees, grab that perfect ass, and rim him until he screamed. It wasn't often that someone was sensitive enough to come just from that.

Methos left the bathroom still musing. Later there'd been bed sex, slower and more reverent. Then kitchen sex, part of I'm-starving-from-sex snacking that was absolutely necessary at that point, despite the hearty dinner they'd shared at Joe's house. Methos filled the coffeepot in the sink, smiling at the devastated butter dish still laying on the counter, the imprint of his hand obvious in the soft remains.

This wasn't something they'd done often, though MacLeod was willing to be fucked. Still, Mac usually topped, and Methos had no problem with that or with hand jobs or oral sex instead. But last night he'd been desperate for Mac, who was always a fantastic lover but who'd never before abandoned all control. The memory was still fresh.

Methos pushed his greasy fingers into MacLeod, his other hand reaching for more butter so he could masturbate MacLeod's cock. MacLeod was bent over, his upper body braced against a stool, all his muscles jerking in reaction to the fingers which now pressed his prostate regularly. Sweat poured off him, and his voice was already hoarse.

"Fuck me, please just fuck me, Methos! Oh my God. Oh."

He trailed off into a moan which rose to a scream when Methos touched his cock, and his body twitched hard enough to toss them both to the ground. But Methos was braced and supported him, even as he kept the steady rhythm going in MacLeod's ass. He added a fourth finger, which elicited a deep groan, then stilled both his hands. He watched as Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod rocked back onto his fingers, then moved forward into the warm, slick channel of his hand. Methos thought he'd come himself in a moment, just from seeing how much Mac wanted this. Instead he slowed removed the hand grasping MacLeod's cock and slathered more butter on his own neglected erection, still listening to Mac's choked sobs as his ass rocked back and forth.

Methos moved his cock into position and pulled his fingers out as MacLeod rocked forward, then stilled the Highlander with a touch. His cock was poised at the entrance to MacLeod's body, and with great concentration he just barely moved it in. Then he leaned forward to whisper in MacLeod's ear.

"Now, Mac. Fuck yourself. Show me what you want."

"Oh, God, Methos. I need..."

"Do it, Mac." And he slapped the beautiful ass once, hard. MacLeod moaned and moved himself back onto the powerful rod waiting to breach his body. Methos enjoyed watching him work at it, his arms grasping the stool, muscles straining and sweat running down his skin. Methos spanked him a few more times, fascinated by the red marks of his hands which bloomed and faded as MacLeod screamed and sobbed.

"Damn you, I need more. Fuck me, oh please fuck me, touch me..." When his pleas turned into incoherent moans and sobs, Methos bent forward again.

"Come for me, Duncan. Come now and I'll fuck you, I'll give you everything you need." And he watched as, without a touch, MacLeod's tortured penis spit ribbons of semen to the floor. Then Methos grabbed MacLeod's hips with both hands and slammed into him, shouting obscenities over MacLeod's howls until his own orgasm rushed over him and he sank down over Mac's limp body.

Methos stood with a silly smile and a spoon of ground coffee poised in the air. Then he wondered if the only reason he was here instead of Amanda was that Mac somehow felt he needed to be punished, and Methos' smile faded.

By the time MacLeod returned from his workout, Methos was dressed and ready to leave, his duffel still at the door from last night. Then MacLeod walked in, sweaty and smiling, praised the coffee, and yanked Methos to sit next to him at the counter, kissing him between sips.

Whatever the reason was, Methos was grateful for Amanda's absence and MacLeod's renewed smile. There were still shadows in his eyes, guilt and sorrow. But the playfulness in them when he suggested sharing a shower was beautiful to see, and Mac's cheerful call to his kinsman later, arranging lunch and a movie, on Duncan, was reassuring as well. He'd stay while he was welcome. Amanda would be back soon, after all.

***

Late Friday afternoon Methos was at Joe's bar, answering the proprietor's endless questions about the weeks he'd been away. Mike had given up on getting a word in half an hour ago, walking away with a guilty smile at "Adam."

"The inventory can wait, Joe," Methos whined, then stiffened. Dawson turned in reaction just as Connor MacLeod walked into the bar.

"Coleman." Connor seemed endlessly relieved to see Methos, but looked very uncomfortable about Joe. Still, he plowed ahead. "I came here to ask for your help with my kinsman." Dawson exchanged a confused glance with Methos. MacLeod had been doing great this week. When Dawson stopped by the dojo yesterday, he'd thought MacLeod looked a hundred percent better than he had on Sunday, and he'd told Methos just that.

Connor continued, "Amanda's back and she brought an old friend and there seems to be some trouble..."

"Does this old friend have a name?" Methos asked, instantly serious and intent.

"Cory Raines." Much to Connor's surprise, both men broke into laughter.

"Oh, Connor, there will be more trouble than you ever expected. But a wise man would stay well away until it's all over." Methos put his hand out to the Highlander. "Since we've learned we're actually old friends, may I offer you a beer in this port until the storm passes?"

Connor smiled back at him and relaxed. "It would be my pleasure. Now, tell me about Raines. And why Mr. Dawson knows so many of Duncan's old friends..."

Methos exchanged a guilty look with Dawson, who shook his head as he realized yet another friend of Mac's was going to hear about a certain organization.

***

The storm had passed and Amanda was gone yet again, off for more adventures with Cory. Before the thieving duo left, Connor and Methos had helped Duncan turn the tables on Cory, getting revenge for slights both old and new. None of them had gone unscathed by that duo's crazy scheme -- even Dawson had been pulled into the police station for questioning, since the suspicious characters all hung out at his bar. Still, only MacLeod had actually spent time in jail, something that gave them all much secret glee and seemed to be good for him as well. Being annoyed by Cory seemed to bring Duncan even further back to his normal self.

Certainly it worked better than weeks of concerned coddling had done, Connor noted. Though he had to admit it, Amanda was right. Coleman had somehow managed to bring Duncan back on track even before their adventure with Cory.

MacLeod had been teasing Coleman about his past since the day he'd gone to the jailhouse, claiming to be MacLeod's attorney and ready to bail him out. Connor often wondered just how old Coleman was. Sometimes he seemed very young, but other times... Well, no sense speculating. He only hoped Duncan knew who this man really was. It was fairly obvious that his kinsman loved this immortal, which Connor considered a foolish risk.

Still, he smiled when the two of them pulled up and climbed out of Duncan's car. They were - right, somehow, together. He could leave next week as planned, knowing Coleman would be there with Duncan. For that alone, he was grateful. He missed his own life, exciting as Duncan's usually was.

"Ready to see some great boxing?" Duncan seemed more cheerful than normal, and Connor guessed that Coleman's attitude was the reason.

"Yeah, MacLeod Senior. Ready to watch some poor kids beat the snot out of each other for our amusement?"

"Adam, I've told you, this program is good for the kids..."

"Right, MacLeod."

"Not a fan of boxing, Coleman?" Connor interjected, figuring Coleman being pissy to him would at least give Duncan a break.

"Got it in one, MacLeod. Quick, let's get seats where the blood and saliva can splash." Coleman led the way in, and Connor paused to exchange a bemused look with Duncan. Then both men laughed and followed him inside, where they had to buy Coleman a program and a drink and popcorn. His child-like side was in full play; tonight Connor could believe that Coleman was only a few years older than he appeared.

When he felt the new Presence in the hall, Connor agreed with Coleman's suggestion of leaving immediately. But Duncan wouldn't agree. Coleman had already slunk off, dragging Dawson along with him, and Connor found his caution reassuring. At least one friend of Duncan's wasn't trying to get himself killed needlessly. Duncan didn't need any more heartbreak. Richie's death was still stinging, and Connor feared Duncan was still having trouble dealing with Tessa Noel's untimely death as well.

Then Duncan recognized the newcomer as an old friend from the war years and Connor was introduced to Ingrid Henning, a very beautiful woman. He spent several hours back at the dojo with Duncan and Ingrid, hearing stories about their time in Berlin and their involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler, long after Connor had left the movement behind and returned to the United States to raise Rachel instead.

Ingrid was charming, intelligent -- and there was something wrong, but Connor couldn't put his finger on it. She'd explained her pursuit by the police as a problem with careless paperwork. But nothing about the woman struck him as careless or unthinking. A few times he caught Duncan with the same look in his eyes as they listened to her. Good. Any man could be a fool over a pretty woman. He was relieved to see that Duncan wasn't accepting her at face value, either.

Ingrid left before midnight, surprising Connor, who thought she'd spend the night. Duncan didn't seem disappointed, however, and about ten minutes later Coleman came sauntering in the back door.

"Old home week over now?"

"Yes, Adam, my friend Ingrid is gone. You could have come up and met her, you know. I think you saw we weren't fighting."

"I saw lots of police cars. Do you think I want to get involved with another of your dubious acquaintances?" Coleman sprawled on the sofa and smiled at Connor before he continued, "We just barely got you out of jail with Cory."

Duncan looked between Connor and Coleman for a moment, almost spluttering. Then he threw up his hands and went to the kitchen. "Want the last of this coffee?"

"Naw, but a beer is always welcome."

"And it's always in the same place, too. Help yourself." But Coleman didn't move, just pouted a moment.

"Hey, MacLeod Senior, Joe says you're invited to the bar tomorrow to help me work."

Connor laughed aloud. "Joe says? Why don't you just ask for my help, you puny thing? You need some muscle?"

"He doesn't need you for that. I've got muscles!" Duncan protested as he walked in with two beers and silently handed one to Coleman.

"Between your ears, lad!" Connor laughed again as Coleman took a long drink of beer, then sighed happily.

"With my brains and your brawn, we could do the job really quickly." Coleman stated cheerfully. "Leaving more time to sample the wares and make sure nothing's wrong before opening."

"Sorry, Coleman. Send my apologies to Joe, but I've got my own plans for tomorrow. After our run, right, Duncan?"

"I'll meet you downstairs at 6:30." Connor headed for the door, still listening to them bicker as he paused to put on his coat and adjust his sword. "Don't look so worried, you know I'll come help Joe," Duncan's voice was low and sexy.

"Joe? What's Joe done for you lately, Highlander?" Coleman purred in a voice that made Connor gulp and adjust himself as he turned.

"Goodnight!" he called out as he slammed the door behind him, grateful to be out in the cold evening air. Those two were something else together. The beautiful Ingrid hadn't stood a chance, had she?

***

Plans to help at Joe's had fallen by the wayside thanks to Ingrid's deceptions. MacLeod had returned from his run to find the police waiting for him, and he spent uncomfortable hours answering questions from Inspector Breslaw. All of which were impossible to answer honestly. How long have you known her? Where did you meet her? MacLeod hated trying to keep track of complicated lies. He wondered if Methos had made it out of the building before they'd arrived. Knowing his friend's alertness to danger and his fondness for back doors, he thought it was likely.

When MacLeod was finally alone and able to get over to the bar, Dawson had a sheaf of papers ready for his review. Methos had seen the arrival of the police and gone straight to Dawson, asking Joe to look up Ingrid's chronicle while he disassembled and cleaned the taps. MacLeod sat at a table and read for nearly an hour. When he set down the papers and looked up, Methos was sprawling over a stool at the bar and Dawson was standing behind the bar. Both men were watching him.

"Ingrid has always been passionate about life."

"Ingrid is an assassin, Mac." Methos shook his head. "You don't have to take sides in this, you know. But you should probably stay away from her."

"It's a little late for that. Somehow Interpol has figured out that she knows me.

Methos snorted as he replied, "Gee, maybe because you met up with her in public last night and then took her home?"

MacLeod stood and moved to the bar, putting his hand on Methos' leg. "Joe, how about a soda for me?" When the Watcher moved away, he added in a low voice, "She didn't spend the night, as you damn well know."

"Sure Mac." Dawson filled a glass with ice and cola, then returned to the dispenser Methos had been servicing. "Hey, it actually works!"

"Joe, I have been alive for..." Methos began.

"Blah, blah, blah." MacLeod cut him off. "Thanks. What do you suppose she's here for? And why did she come to the boxing tournament? She wasn't expecting to see me, that was plain."

Methos sighed. "Even though the police are watching you, you're intending to get involved in this, right? Find out why she's here, and either help her or stop her."

"I don't want to stop her and I don't need to help her. But she's a friend, Methos. I'd like to know she's alright."

"Mac, she doesn't seem to need help taking care of herself," Dawson said. "You read about her training, CIA, Special Services, the Massad."

"C'mon, Joe -- the great Duncan MacLeod leave a woman to take care of herself?" Methos interrupted. "How unchivalrous! How unlike our Clan Leader."

"Methos," MacLeod growled, unwilling to start a fight here, in front of Joe. "Don't start. Just don't." He turned away from both men and took a moment for a long drink. "Ingrid is a good friend. Whatever your chronicles say, I *know* her. Understood?"

"Yeah, Mac, I understand," Dawson replied with a fond smile. "You do what you need to do. Just be careful, okay?"

"I will, Joe." MacLeod moved back to the chair where he'd left his coat. "I'm going to find Ingrid and talk to her about this," and he gestured to the stack of papers. "Methos? You coming along?" There was no reply from the other man, who stayed turned away, staring at his cup of coffee. "Fine. I'll see you later, then." MacLeod left the bar without looking back, though he could feel Methos' eyes on him.

***

Five hours later MacLeod was sitting in an interrogation room, once again talking to the very interesting Inspector Breslaw, trying to explain why he'd wound up holding Ingrid's gun in a room with the New Freedom Party candidate, a hate-spewing pig named Wilkinson.

The Inspector left the room for a moment, much to MacLeod's relief, then returned to tell him he was free to go because his "lawyer" had arrived. Remembering adventures with Cory, MacLeod smiled when he felt the Presence of his attorney, Adam Coleman. Still, he couldn't be quite as lighthearted as Methos was when they exited the building and headed back to the dojo together.

"Methos, just tell me how you got there," MacLeod pleaded as they entered the elevator.

"Dawson called me at the bar and said you were back in jail. Evidently you knowing so many thieves and criminal types is no fluke, Highlander. I feel deceived..." Methos' continuing teasing rant was abruptly cut off when they both realized there was another Presence in the loft above them. Methos' hand was inside his coat and MacLeod had the katana out when he threw up the grate.

"Ingrid."

"Duncan, I'm so sorry to cause you... DuPre?" She stopped, staring at Methos. "My God, I never expected to see you again."

"Ingrid." Methos' voice was cool but not unfriendly. "I could say the same."

"You know each other?" MacLeod squeaked out. "But..."

"Yes, MacLeod. The sad little tale of Emil DuPre continued beyond the time Connor knew me," Methos rasped. "I was stupidly guilty about surviving that bombing, and I went to Paris. Darius got ahold of me there. But I'll let your good friend Ingrid fill you in. Later." And Methos was gone in a swirl of dark coat, out the back door before MacLeod could find any words.

"Ingrid, you can make up for my time at the jail today." He fixed her with pleading eyes.

"Yes, Duncan, I think that I can, now." Ingrid settled him on the sofa, then moved to the kitchen to fill two tall glasses with ice, Scotch, and water. "DuPre is just as charming and communicative as ever." She handed him a glass and seated herself across from him in the leather chair. "It was 1940, I think, and you were back in London then, weren't you? A group of French Resistance members were captured just outside the city. They all spoke excellent German, but the command had tracked their radio signal..."

Berlin, September 1940

Ingrid and her cell had been working at infiltrating the command, but she'd only gotten as far as being a secretary to an unimportant, low-level bureaucrat. The most exciting thing she'd learned thus far was that his wife liked gardenias and he didn't like cabbage. But yesterday there had been a stir in this tiny office. Three people had been captured. They were rumored to be French Resistance, and everyone in the office was buzzing. Ingrid decided that maybe she didn't need to be in a key position to hear important rumors after all.

When she reported that night, her cell leader announced that they couldn't attempt to rescue the three men. However, he wanted Ingrid to work her way into the interrogation, to hear what was revealed. Any dangerous information could then be reported to their contacts among the French, at least giving them warning if they were betrayed.

The office had only two secretaries who took shorthand. Ingrid's co-conspirators arranged an 'accident' for the other woman, only a broken arm. Just enough to insure that Ingrid would be chosen to take notes during the questioning.

Donning an impartial face as a shield against whatever brutality she'd witness during the interrogation, Ingrid sat at the long table the following morning. When the prisoners were brought in, she stiffened. Another immortal? Her heart leapt in fear that it might be Duncan MacLeod, who she knew spoke German and who'd been in Berlin so many times. She'd also heard rumors of an immortal priest in Paris, but surely he wouldn't be sent here...

Three men entered the room. All were dirty, poorly clothed, and thin. Only one had no visible bruises or cuts, and his eyes met hers intently. She didn't react, just looked down to her steno pad and held her trembling pencil a little tighter. She didn't know this man, who identified himself as Emil DuPre when questioned. She didn't know any of them, but every question, every slap, every threat was cutting into her. She wrote it all, questions and answers, and tried to think of what to do.

Hours later, she fled the room, trembling. The questioning was over, but she could still hear what was going on. They were beating the men who were now tied to chairs. She heard someone ask for a cigarette, and she ran down the hall in a panic. They would discover his immortality!

She left the building, telling the other secretaries that she was going to buy a sandwich. As if anyone who'd been in that room could have an appetite. She went instead to a public park and sat quietly, trying not to shake. When Franz arrived and sat at the far end of her bench, feeding birds, she whispered in the Schleswig dialect, closer to Danish than to the German most Berliners spoke.

"They didn't talk. They are being tortured now, however. I must go back soon."

"Any idea what will happen to them?"

"They may be killed, I suppose, by the torture. They were threatened with deportation to a work camp."

"Good work. Ana will be at your apartment tonight for further reports." Ingrid watched Franz walk off and she knew the day was bright and cheerful. A perfect day to sit in a pleasant park, listen to the birds sing...

She threw up quietly, then carefully wiped her mouth with a handkerchief and went back to her office.

***

A wash of Presence interrupted Ingrid's tale, and MacLeod almost felt relieved. But it was too soon for Methos to be back... The elevator lurched upward, then stopped. Connor MacLeod stepped out and smiled at them both.

"Ingrid. Nice to see you again." He gallantly kissed the hand Ingrid extended. "I'm sorry if I interrupted something." Connor's questioning look at Duncan spoke eloquently.

"Ingrid, would you excuse us for a moment, please?" Duncan led his teacher to the kitchen. "What's wrong?"

"The very knowledgeable Mr. Dawson told me some things about our lovely friend. Are you alright? What's she doing here? Why is Coleman back at the bar, pouting?"

Duncan didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "I'm fine, Ingrid is fine. She came to apologize for getting me in trouble today. We were just ... talking about the old days again. I guess it's not important, really." He paused for a moment, then exclaimed "Shit!"

Both MacLeods moved back into the living room, but Ingrid was gone.

***

"Of course, now you want my side of it." Methos was drunk. Very drunk. "MacLeod the fair, MacLeod the just." He'd taken over one of Joe's tables and was refusing to move.

"I don't want anyone's 'side.' I didn't even hear the whole story. Connor came running in and Ingrid vanished." Duncan knew he sounded petulant, but he didn't care. He was concerned about Ingrid's plans, but even more he was curious about Methos' past in general. To have information dangled in front of him, and then have it snatched away...

"Mac, can you get him out of here?" Dawson interrupted his thoughts.

"Not without several pots of coffee, Joe. You know what he's like."

Connor was in the chair next to Methos, and had appropriated the bottle. "Let a friend catch up, lad. No fun drinking alone."

"Alone is all I've ever been and all I'll ever be, MacLeod." Duncan and Dawson both stood, open-mouthed, at that pronouncement. Methos slumped forward on his arms and Connor patted his back.

"Rest, lad. I'll catch up to you and then we'll sing." Connor silently held out the bottle to Duncan, who carefully walked over and took it. "I'll bring him home, Duncan. Go find Ingrid."

Duncan nodded and moved back to Dawson, who was behind the bar. He handed over the half-empty bottle, gave Dawson a $50, and quietly left. As he walked to the door, he heard Connor's voice again.

"You don't have to watch us, Dawson."

"Shut up, Connor," Joe pleasantly replied.

As MacLeod pushed the door open, someone on the other side pulled. It would have been comical, but Inspector Breslaw's devastated face forbade laughter.

***

Connor felt sorry for the Interpol man, who was beating himself up for Ingrid's 'murder.' Connor also felt sorry for Dawson, who probably wouldn't ever get home tonight if things kept on this way. It was already after three. He rose and walked to the bar, leaving the others at their table.

"Joe. I can lock up for you, if you're tired." Connor smiled at him. "Unless your second job forbids going to bed before Duncan."

"Thanks, Connor. I am beat. Been a long day, you know?"

Chasing after Duncan and Ingrid? Worrying about Coleman? Connor wondered what Dawson found most exhausting. He gave the man a lot of credit for his acceptance of immortality and all the unfairnesses of life. Joe Dawson was a good man, though Connor was still quite upset about the whole Watcher organization. It gave him the creeps to think he was being followed.

Still, Connor wouldn't ask Dawson to identify his personal Watcher. He wanted to think of Joe as a friend, and he couldn't ask that kind of information from someone who so obviously felt that his work was necessary and important. Besides, Connor had a feeling that Dawson had compromised himself enough already. Coleman had told a story about a trial, but refused to go into detail, simply saying that Dawson's life was no longer at risk. Still, Coleman's information about the Watchers had been very detailed. Clever, clever man. Hiding where he could keep track of other immortals and avoid them. At least, until Duncan came into his life.

Dawson handed Connor a key and slowly left the building, turning out more of the lights as he did. Connor headed back to their table, where Inspector Breslaw was still talking. Coleman, who'd sobered up very quickly when the mortal joined them, was listening to him carefully.

"You are young men. You cannot understand how regrets come calling in the night." The Inspector stared at his glass as he spoke.

"You'd be surprised," Coleman replied. "You can only act on what you know now, not on some speculative future. That's what Ingrid did, and you believed she was wrong to do so."

"Ten years from now if that pig Wilkinson is elected president of this country, what do I tell myself?" Breslaw asked.

"That he might be better than the alternative? He's only a racist and a bigot. Someone else might be completely insane and drop atomic bombs for fun." Coleman shifted impatiently on the chair. "Let me tell you a story about people who try to use the ends to justify the means. My grandfather lived in France during World War Two."

Connor noticed Duncan sitting up and giving Coleman a startled glance, and he realized that the story being told must be what Duncan had been asking for, earlier. Ingrid's story of Coleman's Resistance work, from his point of view.

"He spoke fluent German and when he joined the Resistance, in February of 1940, he was sent to Berlin with two other men. They had a radio and a few contacts among those in the city. Grandfather went to work in the city, in one of the factories there. They needed money and they needed the cover to continue their mission. But he learned that the factory was making bomb parts. Then he didn't know what to do. Quit his job, a very well-paying job, and bring suspicion on himself? Keep working on these bombs that were being used on his countrymen and their allies?"

Coleman took a drink and sat back. "He couldn't decide, but he told the other two men and asked them what they thought would be best. One wanted him to sabotage everything he could get his hands on, even though they might be exposed. The other agreed with the idea of quitting the factory. They couldn't stop the Germans from making weapons, but they didn't have to be part of it."

"Your point?" Breslaw asked with a smile.

"Oh, the story isn't over yet. Grandpa couldn't bring himself to do it. He felt responsible for the others' lives and he didn't want them exposed to danger because of his conscience. So he kept making bomb parts, even as he read about the bombing of London and all the deaths there." A sad smile to Duncan at this, and Connor remembered his kinsman's despair after Diane's death, when Duncan had volunteered for so many dangerous assignments. "Grandpa thought the ends justified the means. They were getting information out, saving lives that way. So even if his job was responsible for taking lives, it balanced, right?"

"It's hard to know what is right." Breslaw sighed. "I don't claim to know, myself."

"You're a wise man, Inspector. Grandpa could have learned from you." The wry twist to Coleman's mouth hurt Connor. "A few months later Grandpa and his friends were captured anyway. The Germans tracked their radio signals and the game was up. They were interrogated, but they wouldn't give up their contacts." Coleman laughed, bitterly. "Hell, there was a Resistance person in the interrogation room. She eventually slipped them a note, thanking them for holding fast and explaining that there was no help for them, no hope of escape. Nice polite little thing." Another pull at his glass and another bitter look at Duncan, who said nothing.

"The Germans questioned them for four days, but nothing worked. But instead of being killed outright once they'd been broken by the torture, they were sent to the Belsen work camp to help the Reich some more. Grandpa had been *such* a helpful worker, after all."

Connor shuddered at the thought of an immortal in a concentration camp, unable to die. Afraid of discovery, at the mercy of the infamous doctors who constantly pulled test subjects from the inmates.

"So Grandpa got to watch his friends starve and sicken and eventually die in the camp. And to wonder if he'd made the right decision, building all those bombs."

"But your Grandfather survived the camp," Breslaw commented. "Surely he believed he'd done the right thing."

"Grandpa's insane, Inspector. He doesn't believe in anything anymore." Coleman's eyes were hard and dark. "But you do. You hold onto what you think is right. That's all any man can do. We don't know the future." And Coleman shot another look at Duncan, an oddly pitying look, before rising. "Connor, can you drive me home? I think I'm drunk."

A nod and they left the bar together, handing the keys to Duncan, who still sat with Inspector Breslaw, staring into that unknown future, hoping for a glimpse of truth.

***

Duncan and Methos were driving Connor to the airport to catch his flight back to New York City. Scotland had proven dangerous, no town large enough for Connor's secret to go unnoticed as his son grew up. Duncan MacLeod listened to the friendly bantering between Connor and Methos and wondered at how they'd found so much common ground. The only real similarity he saw was that both men spent too much time coddling and worrying about him.

"Call me cheap?! Dawson tells me you've never paid your bar tab!" Connor chortled. "Tis better to be frugal than to be a deadbeat."

"I pay! Why, I've closed that place more nights than you've been here. Surely washing dishes and mopping floors is valuable labor."

"Only if bartered labor puts beer in the cooler, lad."

Duncan smiled at Connor's patronizing tone, but Methos didn't bristle or even seem to notice. Evidently he felt much better letting Connor think he was the younger immortal. Duncan played along, vowing that he would never reveal the secret to anyone, not even someone he trusted with his own life like Connor. More than anything, Duncan wanted Methos safe. Immortal lives were violent and could end any hour, any day. The wrong challenger, or just a simple mistake...

Duncan shuddered and brought himself back to the car. The very quiet car, he noted.

"Duncan, are you with us again?" Connor looked concerned.

"Sorry. Just thinking."

"Oooh," Methos mocked, "I thought I smelled..."

"You do!" Connor laughed as he cut off Methos.

"Funny, MacLeod. Are you 500 or just five?"

The rest of the car ride was spent in laughter and MacLeod managed to avoid brooding until Connor was safely on his plane. They stayed to watch the takeoff, both men silent. MacLeod thought that he should be brooding, missing his mentor or thinking about Ingrid and Richie. Instead, he was stealing glances toward Methos' profile, wondering about all the past lives he could only glimpse.

A phone call to Amanda had confirmed that she'd known of Methos' Resistance work. Rebecca had recruited her to help plan his escape from Belsen, about twenty months after his capture. That was why Amanda had been so distressed that Methos denied working against the Germans when Connor questioned him. She'd seen him, emaciated and emotionally dead until Rebecca got him back to Holy Ground with Darius. Somehow the two of them had pulled Methos through, keeping him there until the Allies freed Paris.

He wanted to take Methos home and talk about those days, discuss the story he'd related to Inspector Breslaw. Discuss Darius and Rebecca, too, and share what they'd known of those two wonderful teachers and friends. Mainly he just wanted to take Methos home and keep him there, safe -- and preferably naked. MacLeod snorted at his thoughts, but only smiled sheepishly at Methos' inquisitive look.

Connor was headed back to his beloved family, and Duncan felt no jealousy or loss. His teacher and kinsman had freely given him a month of his time and always his unbounded affection. Duncan knew he was loved and cherished.

Richie. Richie would always be a soreness in MacLeod's heart, a memory of a sunny boy who never had a chance to reach his full potential. Someday, MacLeod would race a spaceship in memory of his student. But the overwhelming pain of remembering Richie was gone now, leaving just the dull ache of another loss and the memories of happier times together.

Ingrid. Ingrid had judged others. And MacLeod had judged her, and probably would do it again, given the choice, despite the horrible sorrow that her death brought him.

Methos wouldn't judge MacLeod for anything. He'd proven that over and over. Still, sometimes it seemed that Methos expected MacLeod to judge him. Duncan MacLeod knew in his heart that such judgement would never happen. It simply wasn't possible. He reached an arm out and pulled Methos close to him, squeezed, then released him, enjoying Methos' flustered reaction and furtive glances around the crowded airport walkway.

"C'mon, old man. Let's go home."

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