Alive and Kicking

Ann Wortham & Laura Virgil

What you gonna do when things go wrong?
What you gonna do when it all cracks up?
What you gonna do when the Love burns down?
What you gonna do when the flames go up?
Who is gonna come and turn the tide?
What’s it gonna take to make a dream survive?
Who’s got the touch to calm the storm inside?
Who’s gonna save you?
Alive and Kicking
by Simple Minds

Author’s Note: This story takes place immediately following Revelation 6:8 and was written before any further episodes aired. Any resemblance to future episodes is purely coincidental and any differences are to be expected.

The flight from Paris to New York hadn’t been too difficult. Methos had managed to read most of the way, and the young couple seated next to him in coach were too intent on each other to bother him with polite conversation. Once he changed planes for Seacouver, though, he knew that exhaustion was catching up with him. He’d barely stopped at his apartment in Paris to pack once he’d left Duncan MacLeod behind in Bordeaux. Getting the hell out of France had been foremost in his mind. He didn’t think MacLeod was a danger to him, but neither one of them knew the current whereabouts of Cassandra—and she most definitely did want him dead.

Why he’d picked Seacouver to run to this time was something he didn’t want to examine too closely yet. Kronos had always warned him about the dangers of becoming "attached" to others…Methos still found it incredibly ironic that Kronos’ downfall was his own attachment to Methos.

Seacouver was wet and cold. The grayness of the weather suited his mood, though, and he was growing used to it, anyway. He’d been spending quite a lot of time in this northwestern city the last couple of years. It was becoming almost as much "home" as Paris.

He’d left his Jimmy 4x4 in the airport parking lot when he’d fled town several weeks earlier, expecting to never see it again. Honestly, he’d thought that even if Kronos or MacLeod didn’t kill him, it was unlikely he’d be coming back to Seacouver in this lifetime.

He told himself he should have learned, long ago, that sometimes things don’t turn out the way they are planned.

Because, here he was, back in town against all expectations. So, he collected the car, paid the exorbitant parking fees and headed for the most expensive hotel he could think of. He didn’t worry about staying someplace Adam Pierson, his usual alter-ego, could afford. The days of pretending he was Pierson, mild-mannered grad student and Watcher, were forever over. There hadn’t been time to change his credentials yet, but he made a mental note to take care of it as soon as possible. He was rather fond of the name, but really nothing else of Adam was left. He was simply Methos, a tall, lean, dark-haired fellow with a disarming charm and an evil—if abandoned—past.

He smiled to himself at the thought. MacLeod could be so guileless sometimes. Did he really believe that Methos had survived five thousand years by being honest? Of course, Mac’s very naiveté was part of what had attracted Methos to him in the first place.

Once he reached the hotel, he registered as "Adam Pierson" and asked the bell captain to make sure his luggage got to his room. Then, he pocketed the room key and went back out into the chilly night. The sooner he went to MacLeod’s dojo and dropped off the keys, the quicker he could put this latest chapter in his life behind him. After that, he was going to see if Joe Dawson was still speaking to him.

The dojo was empty at this time of night. Methos spared a quick glance at his watch and realized that it was already close to ten p.m. local time. He’d been awake for at least twenty-four hours, maybe longer. But he was still too keyed up to sleep. He’d been operating on pure adrenaline for weeks now—ever since Kronos first showed up in Seacouver, in fact. He shuddered slightly at the memory of the several weeks he’d just spent reunited with his ancient "brothers." Well, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about Kronos finding him any longer.

He crossed to the stairs slowly and climbed them, hesitating only a second before using his key to open the door into MacLeod’s loft. He wasn’t sure why he hesitated. He knew MacLeod was in Paris and, even if he wasn’t, the internal warning system of another immortal would have announced his presence.

Methos tried not to notice how comfortable he felt coming into MacLeod’s home. He doubted he was going to be welcome there any time soon, so there was no sense in torturing himself.

Still, he was tired and it was cold outside… He slumped down into the nearest chair and let his head fall back. Even empty and silent, the place reminded him of MacLeod. Every little thing about the room was stamped with MacLeod’s own peculiar taste, leaning towards a comfortable clutter of antiques interspersed with the odd bit of modern day electronic equipment here and there. For awhile, Methos just sat there and drank it in—the safe feeling, the feeling of being home. Before he could stop himself, he slipped into a light doze, MacLeod’s keys still clutched in his right hand.

He jolted awake at the light touch on his cheek. A tall slim woman with black hair cut shorter than most men’s was bending over him, her expression concerned. In spite of the chill outside, she was wearing a brown short-sleeved sweater dress that hugged her in all of the right places, leaving little to the imagination. It hung barely past her shapely rear. A simple neck chain with a crudely shaped crystal hung down between her breasts. Now that he was awake, he could feel the presence of another immortal singing in his head. He couldn’t believe it hadn’t awakened him sooner.

"Methos? You all right?"

Methos blinked up at her. He had the impression she’d been trying to wake him up for quite awhile. "Amanda," he said, clearing his throat. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d slept through another immortal approaching. It chilled him to the bone. If the other immortal had been of an unfriendly variety, he could have lost his head while he slept.

Amanda read the fear in his eyes and backed away. "I thought you were dead at first," she said. "You were so still, and you didn’t react to me at all. I made a lot of noise coming up in the elevator, too."

Methos cleared his throat again. "Yeah. Well, I guess I was just tired."

"Uh-huh." She went into the kitchen to unpack the bag of groceries she’d left sitting on the counter. "So, what are you doing in town? I thought Joe said you’d gone back to France?"

Methos wondered how much she knew about recent events. He struggled out of the chair and followed her into the kitchen area. "Look, I didn’t come here expecting to find you. I thought you were…well, I guess I don’t know where I thought you were. But I never expected you to be here. What are you doing here, by the way?"

Amanda shrugged. "I was in town. Where else would I stay? I thought Duncan would be here, of course, but he’s run off to France again. You know…" she trailed one hand around the top of the refrigerator door and tried to look guileless. Methos would have laughed if he wasn’t afraid she’d punch him for it. "…I talked to Duncan last night." Her expression went from false innocence to deadly seriousness in the blink of an eye. "What happened between you and MacLeod?"

"Never mind," Methos bit out quickly. The last thing he wanted to do was try to explain himself to Amanda. She wasn’t as judgmental as MacLeod but she could be very volatile…and fiercely protective of her Highlander.

But Amanda wasn’t going to let go of the subject. "It hurt him, whatever it was."

"Yeah, well, he’s got to deal with it." Methos knew it was a mistake to let that tone of sarcasm creep into his voice, but he just couldn’t help it. Sometimes coping with MacLeod and his moralizing tried his patience to the breaking point.

"Alone? Was it your fault?"

"I suppose so."

"You suppose so? Well, was it or wasn’t it?"

"It’s not that simple. It never is with MacLeod, y’know." He paused a beat. "I’ll just leave the keys and go. You can tell Mac I was by with them." He put the keys to the dojo and the loft down on the kitchen counter and tried not to wince at the clink they made. He wished, now, that he had simply mailed them back to MacLeod. The way his luck was going, he’d run into Richie Ryan before he made it out of the building.

Amanda was openly exasperated. "Methos. I thought we were friends."

"Friends," he repeated dully. "Yeah. Right. Didn’t Mac tell you anything about what happened?"

"No. Not really. He just sounded confused…and hurt. Did someone get killed? Is that it? You killed a friend of his or something?"

"No." Methos shook his head, thinking back to a few days earlier and the moment when he lopped off Silas’ head. "No. It wasn’t like that. They were my friends." He stopped himself before he blurted out the whole story and turned away from Amanda’s shocked expression, moving toward the living area. "They were my friends," he repeated in a softer tone.

He felt Amanda’s hand on his shoulder. "Duncan killed your friends?"

He wanted nothing more than to turn and bury his face against her neck, nothing more than to simply cry the pain and exhaustion and shock away with her arms around him. She’d comforted him before, when Alexa had been dying. She’d probably be happy to comfort him now, especially while she knew nothing of his sordid past. But he couldn’t let her do it. It would hurt too much when she finally learned the truth and turned away from him. Besides, she didn’t really love him. She might care for him, as a friend, but there was no way she could ever understand the aching loss he felt inside. Anyone who might have understood was already dead…one of them by his own hand.

Amanda’s arms snaked around his waist from behind and he felt her leaning up against his back, her cheek pressed there. He couldn’t help himself; he curled one hand around her two smaller ones, clasping her to himself and holding on as if to a lifeline. It was the first time anyone had touched him since Kronos had died…and Kronos’ touch was certainly not something he had wanted.

His breath caught in his throat at the thought of Kronos. His friend. His enemy. His savior…his devil. But always his brother. Kronos had been everything to him, once. He’d shared over a thousand years of his life with Kronos. He’d only known MacLeod a few short years. And, still, he chose MacLeod over everyone. Over everything. Even over Silas, who had been his student once, and who had learned his lessons too well. He wondered what Silas would have been like, if he’d had a proper teacher.

"Duncan sounded awful, Methos. You look awful. Why not just tell me what happened?" When he didn’t answer her, she hugged him tighter. "I’ll make it all right, if I can."

Methos didn’t mean to laugh at her, but he couldn’t help himself. Hysteria finally bubbled to the surface. "Make it all right?" He shook his head back and forth violently. "Oh, Amanda. Forgiveness won’t come easy, if at all. I thought perhaps acceptance would be easier, but…"

"I don’t understand. Is it that you can’t forgive him?"

The hysterical laughter turned into gut-wrenching sobs as Methos collapsed onto the couch and buried his face in his hands. It was too much emotion all at once for him to handle. He hated Kronos; he loved Kronos. He hated Silas; he loved Silas. He hated MacLeod; he—loved—MacLeod. Caspian was the only one he didn’t regret helping MacLeod kill, and only because Caspian had always resented and teased Silas. Cassandra didn’t even bear thinking about. He wouldn’t insult her by presuming to think he had ever truly loved her. Alexa he had loved. Cassandra he had simply used.

"I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore," he admitted, when he finally caught his breath. Everything had been so much simpler back when he didn’t have a conscience, when he didn’t care what he did or who got hurt.

Amanda sat down next to him and put a hand on his back. She waited patiently while he tried to regain control of his emotions. When he’d calmed down a little, she pulled his hands gently away from his face. Then, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He didn’t protest, so she kept going, kissing her way down to his mouth, and inviting him to kiss her back properly.

It was the first time he’d even touched a woman in that manner since Alexa died. For awhile, he’d thought he’d never want to make love again. It was the depression talking to him, he knew, because of course nature was always going to bounce back and demand its way. He’d felt desire for a mortal woman or two in the last few months, although he’d never acted on the impulse, even when they showed some interest. In five thousand years, he’d learned how to control his physical urges. His body might have been ready and willing, but his mind was still trying to deal with the reality of Alexa being gone. Some mornings he still woke up expecting her to be there next to him, soft and warm and murmuring his name as he kissed her awake. She’d always called him "Adam," even after she’d seen him kill another immortal and he’d chosen to tell her his true name. Perhaps that was the reason he didn’t want to give the name up just yet. They’d only had less than a year or so together. Longer than the doctors had thought, but never long enough to satisfy him. Then again, he suspected a hundred years—or more—wouldn’t have been enough. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d loved a mortal woman the way he’d loved Alexa, although there had been many others he’d cared for, some he’d even married. And in the darker times, further back, there had been the ones like Cassandra.

It helped, now, that Amanda was so totally different from Alexa. The only thing about her that could even vaguely remind Methos of Alexa was her obvious need to somehow make him happy. It touched him that Amanda cared about him enough to want to comfort him, to hold him, to share a bed with him. But it scared him, too. In his mind, she was always "MacLeod’s woman," even while he knew damned well that this was the twentieth century and Amanda was her own woman, perfectly capable of deciding for herself who she would choose to make love with. "If you die, Amanda will be free to date," he’d once told MacLeod, only half in jest.

Her hands were forcing his traitorous body to respond, despite his best efforts to remain detached. "Please stop," he said, not sure he really meant it. His breathing was irregular and he could feel sweat trickling down the side of his face, mingling with the tears. "This is wrong," he said, half-heartedly. He knew he wanted to give in, and he wasn’t strong enough to fight the compulsion. Besides, Amanda was willing.

Amanda paused in her stroking of his arms and chest, and pulled back enough to look into his eyes. "I want you," she said simply. "What’s wrong with that?"

"MacLeod…"

"Is in Paris," Amanda finished for him, running the back of one hand along his cheek. "He doesn’t have to know, if that’s what’s bothering you. You think I tell him everything?"

"No." Why would he think that? He certainly didn’t tell MacLeod everything, as the Highlander had so recently learned. It had been a harsh lesson—for both of them.

"Come on," Amanda urged, injecting a false brightness into her words and onto her expression. "Let’s go to bed." She jerked her head toward the king-sized bed across the room and gave Methos a little tug on his arm.

He knew it was a mistake. What good could come of it? But he’d made a lot of mistakes in his long life. At least this one promised to be pleasurable. Maybe the aftermath wouldn’t be the disaster he feared…and maybe he could forget the look of betrayal on MacLeod’s face as they had parted in Bordeaux. Maybe he could even forget the moment when Alexa had closed her eyes for the last time.

Amanda was still pulling on his arm. "I don’t bite," she teased. "Unless you want me to, of course."

He ran a hand up her spine, letting his lips quirk slightly as he felt her flesh prickle with goosebumps. She trembled slightly as he pulled her close, but he knew it was a shiver of anticipation and pleasure. "I’ll remember that," he whispered, as he lowered his head to kiss her.

For a moment, even Amanda’s differences couldn’t stop him from remembering Alexa. For a delicious, heartstopping, frightening moment he was transported back to a spring morning on the Mediterranean, Alexa in his arms kissing him, the water sparkling and beautiful in the sun, and a day of adventure, showing Alexa the ancient ruins ahead of them. Then reality asserted itself and he was simply standing in MacLeod’s loft, kissing Amanda and enjoying it.

Amanda’s hands were already moving to pull at his clothing and he let her have that control as they fell onto the bed together and rolled onto their sides, facing each other.

"Whatever happens, it’s okay," she said.

He wasn’t sure what she meant, but he nodded and let her finish stripping him. He was five times older than her, but he still felt like a child being tended to as she removed his shoes and socks and then pulled off his pants. She wasn’t wearing much to start with and her clothes soon joined his in a heap on the floor.

He hissed in pleasure when her warm skin met his. She lay full length next to him and simply stroked his back, his side, and then lower to his hips.

"Relax," she urged. "Let me do the work this time."

Methos closed his eyes and let the pleasure of her touch wash over him. For a long time, he simply enjoyed her attention, but then he realized he was fantasizing about Alexa again.

Amanda noticed his sudden tenseness, and why shouldn’t she? Up until that moment, he’d been lying passive and relaxed. "What is it?" she asked, turning his face toward her with a gentle hand. "Didn’t you like what I was doing?"

"I liked it very much," Methos said huskily, embarrassed that he’d not only managed to ignore Amanda in his fantasies but that he would now have to explain himself to her as well.

"You looked like I was hurting you."

Methos knew his face often revealed too much when he dared to let his guard down. Apparently, this had been one of those times. "I’m sorry," he said, at a loss for a glib reply. Something flippant would probably only hurt her feelings, anyway. "I was thinking about something else."

"It’s all right," she soothed. "I just want you to relax." She turned her attention back to what she’d been doing.

Methos tried to loosen up again, but every time he let himself feel the pleasure his thoughts inevitably turned to Alexa. He tried to just accept the fantasy for a few moments, but it quickly became more than he could bear. He knew it wasn’t real and Amanda was too different to ever be mistaken for his Alexa.

Finally, he did the only thing he could think of: he imagined another time, another place, and another, very different, Methos. Amanda probably wouldn’t thank him if she ever knew he was pretending she was Cassandra. He wasn’t sure why Cassandra, of all the women he’d ever used back in those days, was the one his mind settled on, although he suspected it was simply because she was foremost in his thoughts these last few weeks. The brutal reminder of his past served to totally banish all thoughts of sweet, gentle Alexa, at least.

Later, when he was rough with Amanda, she didn’t complain. She let him do whatever he liked and afterwards, when he came back to himself and realized what he’d done, when he apologized, she simply pulled him into her arms and rocked him. "Whatever happened in France, it must have been horrible," she said.

"This wasn’t about that," he admitted, thanking God that he’d been with an immortal woman this night. If he’d lost control with a mortal, he shuddered to think what might have happened.

"Wasn’t it?"

"Maybe a little," he said, his face still buried in the hollow of her throat. She smelled like lilacs, he thought, or some other delicate flower he couldn’t quite identify.

"Did you pretend I was MacLeod?" she asked, her breath whispering in his hair. "Are you that angry with him?" She stroked the back of his neck.

He shook his head. "I didn’t pretend you were MacLeod. I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t think I can hurt him."

"But you were imagining I was someone else," she guessed. "It’s not very flattering, I suppose. But, then again, I wouldn’t like to think that you want to make love to me like that."

"I’m sorry," Methos said again, knowing words were inadequate. "I’ll try to make it up to you."

"Later," Amanda agreed. "But, for now, you need to sleep." She shifted slightly so that they were lying close together, his head still on her shoulder and her arms still around him. "Go to sleep."

He was too exhausted to argue with her.

The next thing he was aware of was a persistent, irritating ringing that seemed to echo inside of his skull. He tried to ignore it, tossing and turning under the blankets, and not quite fully awake.

The annoying ringing finally stopped and Methos was dimly aware of Amanda’s voice. The night before came back to him in a rush of remembered pleasure and embarrassment. He didn’t move, but he cracked his eyes open enough to see his bedmate sitting up on the edge of the bed, the phone receiver pressed tightly to her ear.

"Do you know what time it is here?" she hissed. There was a long pause and he could see her bare shoulders stiffening slightly. "Who told you—never mind. Yes, he’s here." She turned around and saw that Methos was awake. "Just a minute." She put her hand over the mouthpiece, holding the receiver out to him. "It’s MacLeod."

Methos steeled himself. He hadn’t intended for something like this to happen. He certainly hadn’t meant to spend the night in MacLeod’s loft, in MacLeod’s bed, with MacLeod’s woman. On the flight from Paris he’d kept reassuring himself that there was no way his life could get any worse or any more complicated. Obviously, he’d been wrong.

"Go on," Amanda urged him. "It will be all right."

Methos shook his head. He took the phone from her while she got up and headed for the bathroom. His hand was shaking slightly and he had to clear his throat before he could speak. "Yeah," he said.

"What are you doing?" MacLeod said evenly, but Methos knew the other man well enough to read the anger in the words.

"I didn’t mean to stay," he said, just as coolly. It was, after all, the truth. "I came to drop off the keys. I didn’t know Amanda was here."

"If you wanted to give back my keys you could have given them to me in Bordeaux."

"I didn’t think of it at the time." He didn’t bother to point out that MacLeod hadn’t thought to ask for the keys, either.

"So why didn’t you just bring them to the barge? Or mail them to me? You didn’t have to fly all the way back to Seacouver just for that." MacLeod sounded genuinely puzzled now.

"Look, I’m sorry you ever found out I was here. I didn’t mean to stay," Methos repeated. He didn’t know the answer to Duncan’s question himself, so he tried to divert the other man’s attention.

MacLeod’s voice suddenly hardened. "What game are you playing with Amanda?"

"Game?"

"You were in bed with Amanda, weren’t you? What game are you playing at now?"

Methos felt a hot flush working its way up the back of his neck and knew he was dangerously close to losing his temper. He’d worried that MacLeod would be jealous. He should have known better. MacLeod and Amanda had been lovers off and on for hundreds of years. It wasn’t like they weren’t used to finding one another with someone else for a time. He would have been happier to deal with MacLeod’s jealousy, though, than this absolute lack of trust. It hurt him to realize that even now, even after he’d killed Silas and abandoned Kronos, MacLeod thought he would in some way endanger Amanda simply for the sake of some sort of manipulative "game."

            "I am not playing at anything," he said very carefully. "In fact, I’m just leaving." He hesitated a moment, wondering if he should simply hang up the phone. But some devilish spirit inside made him swallow hard and ask, "Was there anything else?" with just the right dash of snideness.

MacLeod didn’t answer for a long time. Methos was beginning to think the other man had hung up first, in fact, when he finally heard, "I’m sorry," very softly.

"Yeah. Me, too," Methos said automatically, twisting the words sarcastically. He handed the phone to Amanda as she came back to the bed, a towel wrapped around her. He wondered just what it was MacLeod was sorry about, then realized he didn’t even want to know. Whatever it was, he doubted MacLeod was going to be wanting to renew their friendship any time soon.

He could hear Amanda arguing with MacLeod, the tone of her words strident. He tried not to hear what she was saying as he went to take his own shower, not wanting to eavesdrop. He did hear her say she could take care of herself. Well, that was certainly the truth. He lingered in the shower awhile, hoping to give Amanda time to finish up her conversation and to reconcile with MacLeod. The last thing he wanted right now was to be accused of having come between them. MacLeod had enough to blame him for at the moment. Besides, the hot water felt wonderful on his tense back and shoulder muscles.

By the time he came out of the bathroom, Amanda was dressed in a long-sleeved sweatshirt that hung almost to her knees. She looked disgustingly cheerful for such an early hour of the morning. Methos didn’t have a change of clothing with him, having left his luggage—what there was of it—at the hotel, so he pulled on a pair of Duncan’s jeans and a black T-shirt Amanda had already set out on the bed for him. The clothes were a bit large on his leaner frame, but they would do. He rolled up the pants legs slightly so they wouldn’t drag the ground and pulled the waist tight with his belt. With any luck, he’d have them washed and back where they belonged before MacLeod ever found out he’d borrowed them.

Amanda was standing at the stove, stirring some unidentifiable concoction with a wooden spoon. "I thought you were going to drown in there," she said. She waved a hand at the counter. "I poured you some orange juice."

Methos grimaced, but went to take the proffered drink without a word of protest. Somehow he knew Amanda was going to insist. Besides, it had been at least thirty-six hours since he’d had anything to eat or more than water to drink. He swallowed the sweet juice in several long gulps and set the empty glass back on the counter. "What’d MacLeod have to say?"

Amanda shrugged, not meeting his eyes. "Not much."

"Did he tell you about Bordeaux?"

            "No. He said it wasn’t any of my business." She spooned her creation onto two plates and handed him one.

"What is it?" Methos asked, staring down at the yellow stuff. It looked vaguely liked scrambled eggs.

"Just eat it," Amanda advised, "and ask questions later. I promise it won’t kill you."

"Hah, hah." Methos took his plate to the table and began to eat. Surprisingly, the food wasn’t half bad and the more he ate, the more his appetite came back. Before long, he was wolfing it down. Amanda sat down across from him and just watched. When he cleaned his plate, she shoved hers over to him and shushed his automatic protests. He found he was still too weary and far too hungry to argue with her for very long.

"You don’t have to take care of me, you know," he finally said, as he finished the last bite of egg and leaned back in his chair. "I’ll be all right."

"I know you will," Amanda said. "I like having someone to take care of sometimes. MacLeod keeps me pretty busy when he’s around." She smiled fondly.

Methos decided it was the better part of valor to simply accept her nurturing for now. He’d seen the way she liked to breeze in and out of MacLeod’s life on a whim, so he figured she’d grow tired of mothering him soon enough. He smiled back at her. "Thanks, by the way."

"For what?"

"Last night." He waved a hand at the table. "This."

She propped her chin up with one hand and studied him. "You look a little better this morning. Did it help at all?"

"What d’you mean?" Methos squirmed slightly under her scrutiny.

"Did it help you forget whatever happened?"

He shrugged. "Amanda… ‘it’ happened three thousand years ago. I’ve never forgotten and I suspect I never will." His gaze on her sharpened. "I also suspect MacLeod told you more than you’re letting on."

"He said your past caught up with you, that’s all."

Methos sighed heavily. "That’s one way of putting it." He stood up and began looking for his shoes. He couldn’t even remember taking them off—or whether Amanda had removed them for him. "It’s time I left."

"You don’t have to go, you know."

"MacLeod wasn’t too happy to find me here with you."

"I straightened that out. He’s okay with it."

He stopped his search long enough to stare at her. "You’re joking."

"No. Really. He’s going to be upset if you leave."

"How’s that?" Methos finally found his boots shoved underneath the couch. He flopped down in the nearest chair and struggled into the them.

"He’s on his way here. He should be here by tonight," Amanda continued casually. "He was calling from the airport."

"Great. Just great. I’m outta here." Methos tried not to let the panic that immediately clutched at his chest show. He wasn’t ready to face MacLeod again, and he knew damned well that MacLeod wasn’t ready to deal with him.

"Methos. Don’t you think it would be better if the two of you just sat down and had a talk?"

He shook his head violently. Even though he wanted desperately to believe MacLeod could eventually accept his muddied past, he didn’t think it was a good idea to meet with the other man away from the neutral territory of Holy Ground. Not yet. "It will end up in a fight! You just don’t understand! I’m not who—or what—you think I am."

"You’re afraid Duncan will kill you?" It was obvious Amanda thought the very idea was ludicrous.

"No! You just don’t get it! Amanda. Look at me." Methos crossed the room to grab her by the face, ignoring her gasp of protest and the promise of retribution in her eyes. "No," he insisted, "really look at me. I am five thousand years old. I didn’t live this long by being bad at surviving. If I have to fight MacLeod, I will fight to win. Do you understand?"

Amanda laughed in disbelief, jerking away from him and taking a step backwards. "You expect me to believe you’d kill MacLeod?"

"I will do whatever it takes to survive," he said, pressing the point home with a glare. "That’s how I’ve lasted this long. Do you think I’m going to change now?" He sighed. "I’m going to go see Joe, see if I can’t straighten some things out with him."

"Good. I’ll come with you."

"No!" he protested automatically, and then, seeing the startled look on her face, he gentled his tone. "No. I need to see Joe alone. Okay?" He could tell that she was still worried about him. Another time it might have annoyed him. He’d certainly looked after himself for enough years. But right now he found it incredibly touching and endearing. He thought, if things had been different, he could have found himself in love with Amanda in a heartbeat. "Look, I’ll be okay," he said quietly. "Really."

She managed a pretty good pout. "Okay. But promise you’ll come back?"

Methos stared at her, wondering which was the lesser of two evils: an angry Duncan MacLeod or an angry Amanda? He wasn’t quite sure.

"Yeah. Okay," he finally said. Duncan would probably just be difficult to deal with. Even if he was still as angry as he’d been in Bordeaux, his damnable honor would restrain him from doing something messy like killing Methos. Amanda, on the other hand, would probably track him down and make him very very sorry.

She followed him outside to the steps of the dojo and surprised him by wrapping her arms around him and pulling his head down for a kiss. "I mean it," she whispered, patting his chest lightly with her hands. "Come back when you’re done at Joe’s or I’ll come looking for you."

He nodded and smiled a good-bye.

Methos had only been gone for about ten minutes when Amanda felt the unmistakable presence of an approaching immortal. From the faintness, it seemed like they must be downstairs in the dojo itself. She sighed in exasperation and took the elevator down to the exercise room.

"Did you forget something?" she said as she pulled up the elevator gate, and then froze, her heart in her throat. It wasn’t Methos returning. In fact, it wasn’t anyone she’d ever seen before.

A tall, brunette woman stood in the doorway. She was dressed in a tight fitting white blouse and snug black pants tucked into a pair of almost knee high boots, with a long black coat completing the outfit. The coat no doubt served to normally hide her sword, but she was holding the weapon ready in her right hand at the moment.

Amanda backed up slightly, her hand still on the elevator gate, poised to slam it back down at the first sign the stranger meant to use her blade. She was painfully aware that she’d left her own sword upstairs. She’d been careless, certain that the buzz she’d felt was only Methos coming back for something.

"Where is he?" the stranger said brusquely, her voice a low demanding growl.

"Who do you mean?" Amanda stalled for time. It didn’t appear she was the other immortal’s target but she wasn’t going to take any chances and she certainly wasn’t going to start volunteering information. She hadn’t survived over a thousand years by being stupid.

"You know who!" the woman said. She took a few steps into the room, her head turning from side to side warily, almost like a dog questing for a scent. Then, she gave a little sigh, relaxing her sword arm. "He’s not here."

"Are you looking for Duncan?" Amanda ventured, wondering what the heck MacLeod had done to piss this woman off. She certainly looked like she meant business.

The woman smiled, although it was tight and obviously forced. Her eyes remained cold. "Where are my manners? Sorry." She slipped her sword into the recesses of her coat. "I was looking for an old friend. I heard he was here."

"MacLeod?" Amanda looked the strange immortal up and down, her eyes narrowed in appraisal. She knew she didn’t have an exclusive relationship with Duncan MacLeod, but it still raised her hackles to find another immortal woman waltzing into MacLeod’s place like she knew her way around. The woman was beautiful in an exotic sort of way, her eyes large and round, made larger still by her carefully applied make-up, designed to accentuate her generous dark eyelashes. Her hair was reddish brown and long, hanging well past her shoulders. Something about her carriage and the look in her eyes told Amanda that she’d been immortal for a long time, perhaps even as long or longer than Amanda herself.

The woman shook her head. "No. Not Duncan. Methos. You know him, don’t you?"

Amanda wasn’t sure she liked the familiar way this stranger said Methos’ name—or Duncan’s, for that matter. She might not be indiscriminately headhunting, but she had entered the room obviously expecting a fight…and just as obviously hunting Methos. Amanda settled on telling her as little as possible while hopefully encouraging her to leave. "He’s not here right now. Neither is Duncan."

"Ah." The woman stared around the room again, her gaze finally settling back on Amanda. "Maybe you could tell me where Methos went? Or when he’ll be back?" Her voice was low and compelling, demanding an answer as her eyes bore into Amanda.

Amanda shook her head no quickly, wondering why she felt a sudden urge to tell the truth. Fortunately, her talent for lying was virtually instinctual and she shook off the compulsion. "I’m not sure where Methos went. But I’ll be glad to give him a message. Who should I say came calling…?"

The woman’s eyes flickered; she clearly hadn’t gotten the answer she expected. "Yes," she said curtly, dropping all pretense of courtesy. "That would be nice. Tell Methos Cassandra was here." She paused a moment. "You might also tell him I’ll be back." With that, she spun around and was gone.

Amanda gave an exaggerated shiver as she slammed the elevator gate back down. "Brrrr. That’s a cold one. And just how do you know her, MacLeod?" Duncan could get himself entangled with some of the strangest people sometimes. She went back up the elevator and put her hands on her sword, just to reassure herself. "That was stupid, going down there without a weapon," she said out loud. "Remember not to make that mistake again."

"Well, look what the cat dragged in." Joe Dawson didn’t smile when he saw Methos come through the door of his blues club, but he didn’t look particularly unhappy to see him, either. Sometimes it was hard to tell with the mortal Watcher; he was good at hiding his feelings when he wanted to be. He continued unpacking a box of bottles and stocking them behind the bar. The inside of the club was different in the daytime, with all the lights on and the music off, making the place seem less intimate somehow.

"Hiya, Joe." Methos leaned up against the bar and studied the other man. Joe looked the same as always, his bearded face somewhat flushed and his manner a little harried as he prepared to open the club for the day. For the first time, though, Methos realized that Joe looked all of his mortal forty-nine years in age. When did Joe’s hair and beard turn quite so gray? Funny how he’d never noticed that before.

"Didn’t expect we’d see you any time soon," Joe went on, returning Methos’ perusal. "You don’t look so hot."

"Yeah, well, I had a few things to take care of." Methos hesitated a moment, then decided to get the hard stuff out of the way as quickly as possible. He’d been friends with Joe for a couple of years now and he thought he could speak bluntly. "You knew I was here, Joe. Why’d you tell him?" He knew that Joe was the one who had told Duncan Methos was at the dojo with Amanda. As MacLeod’s Watcher, Joe would be keeping tabs on the comings and goings at MacLeod’s place.

Joe didn’t even pretend to misunderstand who he was referring to. "He’s my friend."

There was an underlying edge to Joe’s words, almost a taste of bitterness. Methos wondered what it meant. "I thought I was, too," he said, hesitantly.

"Are you?" Joe’s expression hardened. "I guess Adam Pierson was. I don’t know about Methos. Is he my friend?"

The thinly veiled hostility startled Methos. Was it possible that Joe, of all people, would hold his past against him? He’d somehow counted on his Watcher friend to give him the benefit of the doubt, if anyone would. He turned away, leaning his back up against the bar, clutching the mug of beer Joe had automatically poured for him. It was awfully early to be drinking, but somehow he thought he was going to need the fortification. He had certainly hoped this meeting would go more smoothly. "I’m sorry you have to ask. MacLeod’s reaction didn’t surprise me. But yours does."

He gulped down his beer. He could hear Joe coming around the bar and moving to stand in front of him. He kept his eyes lowered, afraid to look up and meet the other man’s gaze just yet. Maybe it was time to disappear again, after all. That had been his first impulse, but he’d invested so much time with this particular group of people…and they were virtually the only ones besides himself who remembered Alexa. But, if MacLeod was going to reject him, and Joe, too…there wasn’t much point in staying around.

"If we’re friends," Joe said, "then why didn’t you come to me? Even MacLeod thought you’d come here. This was the first place he looked for you after you ran from Cassandra the first time."

Methos’ head came up at that, his hazel eyes narrowed. "Come to you? About Kronos?" He laughed, sorry to see the pain on Joe’s face, but forging onward. "I was afraid he was going to have MacLeod for lunch. What do you think he would have done to you?" He stared pointedly at Joe’s false legs and his cane, and shuddered. He had a vivid memory of Kronos ordering him to kill MacLeod, of Kronos screaming "because he’s your friend" when he asked why Duncan had to die. The thought of Kronos realizing Joe was his friend made him feel nauseous. Thank God it hadn’t happened.

"I’m tougher than I look," Joe said gruffly, but with a dawning glimmer of understanding in his eyes.

"Yeah, well, you’re also mortal. Kronos used to kill ten mortals before breakfast and call it sport."

"And you?"

Methos flinched, but didn’t look away again. He knew exactly what Joe was asking him. He wanted the same explanations, the same apologies, that MacLeod had hoped for. But he wasn’t going to get them. Methos had learned millennia ago that the only way he could live with himself was to simply accept what he had done and get on with living. "I was there. I didn’t stop him," he said bluntly. He hesitated a second, not sure he should say any more. But then he realized there had been enough things left unspoken. Joe had been a good friend to him in the past and he deserved the truth. "Sometimes I helped him."

"Was Cassandra telling the truth, then? About all the things you did?"

"Well, I don’t know everything she told you…but she probably wasn’t far off the mark."

Joe shook his head sadly. "And Alexa? Did you ever really love her?"

Now that hurt. Not only did it hurt, it set off a flash of fury. Methos was getting tired of his so-called friends doubting every little thing he’d ever done. He was quite certain he’d never demonstrated a tendency toward mass murder and mayhem that might lead his friends to automatically believe the worst of him. It had gone past the point of being annoying. "How can you ask me that?" he snapped, finishing off his beer and slamming the empty glass down on the bar.

Joe shook his head, obviously not impressed by the display of anger. "I don’t know, Methos. It’s just hard to reconcile the man I thought you were with the truth. It’s hard to imagine someone so ruthless, so totally heartless, could have loved her the way you seemed to."

"I loved her. I risked my life for her, and I’d do it again," Methos snarled. He’d put his very life on the line for Alexa in a vain effort to save her. He didn’t regret doing it.

"Did she ever know the truth about you?"

Methos controlled himself with an effort. "Not everything," he admitted, with a frown. "But she never doubted me, Joe." It was painful to think of Alexa, especially in light of the previous night when she’d been so much in his thoughts. He knew Joe had been fond of her. After all, she hadn’t had any family and by the time Methos met her, Joe was practically the only friend she’d had left. It wasn’t so surprising that Joe would want to know she had been all right, at the end.

"Look," Methos said, his tone gentler, "you know some pretty awful things about me now. I don’t expect anything—"

"Methos," Joe interrupted him, moving back to the other side of the bar and busying himself with some bottles, "I don’t know what to think. I wish you’d told me the truth before all this happened. I wish you’d told MacLeod. Maybe we could have helped you. Friends do things like that. But it’s too late now."

Methos stared at the Watcher’s back and cursed himself for a fool. Why had he even bothered coming here? Joe was going to dismiss him without a thought, just like MacLeod had. Even now, several weeks later, he could still see the look of betrayal and hurt on MacLeod’s face when he’d finally admitted the truth, the look of pain on MacLeod’s face in a church in Bordeaux where he’d told his friend even more, and the look of distress and pleading on MacLeod’s face when he thought Methos was going to stay with Kronos, help Kronos. When it came right down to it, MacLeod had truly believed Methos was running off to kill Cassandra at Kronos’ bidding.

He really had allowed himself to get attached to these people. He didn’t want to disappear. He didn’t want to leave Joe and Amanda and MacLeod behind, perhaps never to see them again—certainly to never see Joe, whose mortal lifespan would be over long before Methos would normally allow himself to resurface again.

"You know what, Joe?" he said, talking fast, not hiding his agitation. He pushed himself away from the bar, barely resisting the urge to pick up his empty beer mug and throw it at something. If there was one thing he hated more than anything else, it was being out of control. He’d spent the last few weeks spinning out of control, trying desperately to react to ever-changing conditions he had no power over. "I’m sorry. I’m well and truly sorry that I didn’t tell you. But that doesn’t change a damned thing, does it? You want to talk about it, I’ll be at MacLeod’s." He left, quickly, before the other man could turn around.

A light rain was falling again as Methos left Joe’s club. He pulled the collar of his coat up around his neck and hunched down into it. He’d left the 4x4 parked behind the building, so he cut through a side alley to save some time. The sooner he got out of the cold drizzle and back to the warm dojo, the happier he would be. Well, at least until MacLeod arrived. After that, all bets were off. He was just hoping that MacLeod had calmed down enough to listen to reason.

Then again, he knew a good deal of MacLeod’s righteous indignation was his own fault. He’d very carefully made sure the Highlander was as angry at him as possible. He’d wanted to warn MacLeod off, keep him away from Kronos. But he should have known better. Once MacLeod had decided to help Cassandra in her crusade against Kronos, nothing Methos could have done or said was going to stop him.

"You set this up," MacLeod had said, the last time they had met in Bordeaux. "You couldn’t kill Kronos, but you hoped I could."

And he’d only said "maybe," in response. Why hadn’t he just taken that opportunity to finally tell MacLeod the truth? Of course he set the whole thing up. As much of it as he could control, anyway. There were always unknown variables entering any equation—and Kronos was a clever, brilliant tactician in his own right. He’d almost outwitted Methos, in the end.

Methos swallowed hard at that thought. For a while, he’d believed MacLeod was dead at the hands of Caspian and Silas. He’d despaired then, and thought the only way he and Cassandra would survive with their heads intact was to truly throw their lot in with Kronos. Of course, the stupid woman was having none of it. It was hard for Methos to fathom her attitude, that she’d rather die than serve Kronos. Himself, he’d rather live and hope for a chance at escape. That credo had served him well for thousands of years, and he wasn’t about to change now.

He’d just reached the door of his truck when he felt the presence of another immortal. He cursed his infernal luck and his stupidity: he’d left his sword in the back seat of the truck, never considering he would be in any danger while visiting Joe. Turning quickly, he opened the door and reached inside for his broadsword.

"Don’t even try it," a feminine voice warned, and Cassandra stepped out of the shadows, her sword already drawn. "You’ll never draw it in time. I’ll cut you down where you stand. I swear it."

Methos swallowed, hard, his hand on the hilt of the sword, his back still turned to her. He didn’t know how far behind him she was so he had no way of gauging the validity of her threat. "Now or later? What’s the difference?" he said, hoping to stall her and praying she’d speak again so he could estimate her distance from him.

She laughed and his shoulders slumped. She was already close enough, that much was clear. He didn’t want to die, but he’d faced the possibility many times. He knew she was right; he’d never be able to draw his sword and bring it to bear in enough time to counter her attack.

He turned to face her, his sword still on the seat behind him.

Cassandra came further forward until the tip of her weapon was resting in the hollow of Methos’ throat. "The difference is, you might live—in the end—if you do as you’re told. I might return the ‘favor’ you did me, so many years ago, and let you escape."

"Yeah. Right," Methos said, not hiding his skepticism. "What d’you want?"

Before she could reply, they were both startled by the slamming of a car door and then the sound of running feet. A young blond man, no more than twenty-five or so, rushed toward them, skidding to a stop only a few feet away. He held out one hand to Cassandra entreatingly. "Put the sword down, lady," he ordered.

Cassandra cursed, her eyes glittering. "Get in the truck, Methos." She flicked the sword at his neck, drawing blood to reinforce the order.

Methos shot the stranger a look of helplessness and did as she said.

"Now move to the passenger side," Cassandra ordered.

The stranger tried to stop her one more time, still not grasping the danger he was in. It was evident he thought Cassandra was simply some nutcase he could intimidate or overpower. "Look, lady, put the sword down. I’ve got a cell phone." He pulled the phone out to show her. "I’m going to call the cops…" He gave a startled yelp as Cassandra laughed and swiped at the phone with her sword, sending it flying through the air. He turned pale and Methos could see him slip his hand into the pocket of his overcoat. Before he could warn the man to simply let Cassandra go, the stranger had pulled out a gun and fired it at her.

Cassandra screeched as the bullet tore into her arm, then her expression hardened. She lunged at the stranger in a blind rage, stabbing him with a vicious thrust in the chest. He slumped to the ground, a look of surprise and pain frozen on his features. Even from inside the truck, Methos knew the mortal was dead. He struggled to pull his own weapon from the back seat while Cassandra was still distracted, but there wasn’t sufficient room to pull it from the folds of the long coat it was still concealed in while he was seated in the front. He fumbled through the coat, trying to grab at his gun or his dagger, only to remember he’d left them packed in his luggage…which was still at the hotel he’d never returned to the night before. Finally giving up in frustration, he pawed at the door handle, but the passenger side door was still locked.

"I wouldn’t try that," Cassandra warned, all too soon.

Methos froze at her words, and then slumped back into his seat. He was, quite frankly, shocked at Cassandra’s behavior. It worried him that she had been so willing to attack a mortal, even under the circumstances. The behavior was not what he would have expected from her…and Methos wasn’t used to being wrong about people. "You didn’t have to kill him!" he protested.

"Shut up," Cassandra snapped as she slid into the driver’s seat. "Since when do you care what happens to one of them? He tried to interfere." She held out one hand. "Give me the keys."

Methos didn’t argue any further. He simply gave them to her and waited to see what would happen next. She started the engine and then turned to him, the dead stranger’s gun in her right hand.

"Time for you to die, Methos." She gave a harsh laugh as she aimed the weapon at his heart and pulled the trigger. "The first time."

Methos’ world exploded into red pain and then there was nothing except blackness.

Duncan MacLeod had never really thought of himself as a worrier. He’d always viewed himself as a person who saw what needed doing and did it. A pragmatist, of sorts, although he sometimes liked to fancy himself a philosopher, as well.

But, the flight from New York to Seacouver had given him plenty of time to think. He’d indulged himself and bought a first-class seat. He didn’t have an ounce of fat on his body, but his shoulders were broad and his legs long enough that a coach seat was uncomfortable. Richie and Tessa used to tease him that he was too cheap to pay for first-class seats, even though they could well afford the expense. He was naturally cautious with money, always remembering the times, way back in his youth, when he’d been without resources. Normally, he didn’t care about comfort when he traveled. It was still a thrill, when he bothered to think about it, to be able to cross the world in a matter of hours. And a plane seat, even one in coach, was a hell of a lot more comfortable than riding a horse for days. But, this time, he was too tired already, still dealing with the aftermath of Methos’ lies, the battles with Kronos and Caspian, and Cassandra’s angry leave-taking of him. He willingly paid the extra money for first-class.

He stowed his gear in the overhead compartment, and tried to relax. When the stewardess offered him a drink, he gratefully accepted a scotch. Maybe he’d be able to sleep on the long flight, unlike the flight from Paris, where he’d spent the whole time turning the last few weeks over and over again in his mind.

Unfortunately, oblivion still refused to bless him. Methos had proven himself an ally, in the end. But he’d also shown himself to be an accomplished liar on a scale that MacLeod had never even suspected. Oh, he knew Methos revealed little about himself. But, somehow, he’d always had the idea that the other immortal was basically, at heart, an idealist. He never would have suspected that Methos had a past that included rape and murder.

No matter how badly he wanted to forgive Methos, his friend, he still could not bring himself to overlook what Methos, Kronos’ "brother," had done in the past.

And now there was the added complication of Amanda.

The thought of Amanda sleeping with Methos didn’t bother MacLeod nearly as much as he thought it would. After all, he and Amanda had both had numerous lovers besides each other throughout the centuries. There had been times, when he’d been involved with someone else, when he would have been happy to see Amanda distracted. He still remembered how tenacious she’d been about trying to tempt him away from Tessa, not that long ago. And, the truth was, if Tessa hadn’t been murdered, he would have been happily married to her, even now. Under different circumstances, he might have been glad to see Amanda team up with Methos for awhile. But not now. The danger of her trusting Methos…now that worried him.

It was after dark by the time his plane landed. He thought about calling ahead to the loft, to let Amanda know he’d arrived and was on his way…but he decided to just get a cab home. He didn’t want to take a chance on warning Methos he was coming—assuming Methos was still there. Besides, he had a vague, undefinable feeling that something was wrong at the dojo. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it might be, but he knew something didn’t feel quite right. He could only hope that his fears regarding Amanda and Methos were unfounded.

Amanda was on her feet when he came through the door of the loft, her sword held at the ready, her expression wary. She looked tense, like she was going to jump right out of her skin.

"Expecting someone else?" MacLeod quipped, then sobered when he realized she really was frightened of something. "What is it?" Methos immediately came to mind, although he found it hard to believe that the other immortal would threaten Amanda.

She lowered her sword with a heavy sigh of relief at the sight of him. "Methos hasn’t come back from Joe’s."

"So?" MacLeod said sarcastically. Methos was the cause of her worry, after all, just not in the way he had suspected. He found himself slightly annoyed that Amanda didn’t even come to give him a hello hug or kiss.

"He promised he’d be back."

"And your point is?" MacLeod said, depositing his luggage on the floor and pulling off his coat. He shook the moisture off of it and pulled his sword out of its inner pocket. He propped the katana up against the kitchen counter. "You’re not really surprised? Running away from problems is a habit with him. You told him I was coming, didn’t you? Even after I asked you not to." MacLeod was disgusted that Amanda wasn’t immune to Methos’ manipulation, and he felt slightly betrayed.

Amanda glared in the face of his anger. "Look, I know you’re mad at him right now, but he promised he’d be back, and I don’t think he was lying. I called Joe, and Methos left there hours ago."

MacLeod shrugged. "Well, maybe he had some other errands to run."

"No, Joe said he was heading back here. That was at least twelve hours ago! I think something’s wrong," Amanda insisted. She crossed her arms and hugged herself. "I have a really bad feeling…there was a woman here earlier, looking for Methos. She said she was an old friend of his, but I really don’t think so. She came in the dojo with her sword drawn, ready to fight. There was something in her eyes that was really frightening, Duncan… I don’t think she was rational at all."

A shiver went through MacLeod, and the vague unease he’d been feeling ever since his plane landed intensified. "Cassandra," he said flatly.

"Cassandra? Yeah, that was the name."

"She knows Methos, all right. I wouldn’t exactly call them friends, though. She’d probably like to take his head."

Amanda paled. "I definitely got that impression. But…you don’t think?"

MacLeod shook his head slowly. "No, I don’t." He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he was certain Methos hadn’t lost his head. At least, not yet. But he had to admit he also thought Amanda was on the right track regarding Methos’ absence. Something was very, very wrong…and the presence of Cassandra in town was troubling. She’d left Bordeaux without a word to him. In fact, by the time he’d returned to their hotel room after fighting Kronos, she was already packed up and gone. Then, he’d had a rendezvous with Methos to attend to. By the time he had had a moment to search for her, she’d covered her tracks. Now he knew why, although he realized he should have suspected her purpose all along.

She was hunting Methos.

Methos gasped for air, then began to cough. The spasms didn’t subside until he was literally retching, and by that time he’d remembered what had happened to him. His eyes were watering from the fit of coughing, but through the blur he could see that he was in a mostly empty room. It was large and sound seemed to echo. He guessed it was an abandoned warehouse. At the edge of his senses, he could tell there was another immortal close by. No doubt it was Cassandra.

Frankly, he was surprised to be waking up. He’d thought she would surely take his head once she had him alone somewhere and at her mercy.

He rolled to one side and then up onto his knees, rubbing one hand at his sore ribs. MacLeod’s shirt was ruined and bloody, but he guessed that explaining that to Duncan was the least of his current problems. His coat—along with his broadsword—was conspicuously missing.

Footsteps echoed on the cold cement floor, coming toward him, and then Cassandra appeared out of the semi-darkness. She studied him with frosty contempt, then walked in a slow circle around him, her sword trailing the ground mere inches from where he kneeled. The sound it made was only slightly less annoying than chalk on a blackboard.

"I see you’ve come back," she said with no inflection.

Methos couldn’t judge her intentions. Nonplused, he admitted, "I didn’t expect to."

Cassandra’s lips quirked up at the edges, but her eyes remained hard as ice. "You live because I wish it." Then she laughed.

Methos shivered and sat back on his heels. Maybe he shouldn’t be feeling so lucky to be alive. He didn’t like the look in her eyes at all. Not at all.

"Stand up," Cassandra ordered.

Methos hesitated, but she immediately reinforced the command by jabbing his arm with her sword. Blood ran down his arm from the cut and dripped off his fingers to the floor. He got up and waited, not sure what she wanted him to do. He knew what she was up to, though. The longer she kept him in suspense, the more shattered his nerves would become. He’d played the game before—from the other side.

Finally, the silence stretched out too long, and he couldn’t stand it. "I know you don’t believe I’ve changed—" he said quietly.

"Don’t think you can fool me like you’ve fooled Duncan," Cassandra interrupted, her face twisted with hatred. "You haven’t changed, anymore than Kronos had."

"You’re probably right." Methos paused a second, then narrowed his eyes. "So, you’re going to kill me. Why’d you even bother letting me go in Bordeaux, then? You had your chance while I was down."

Cassandra was suddenly right in front of him, practically spitting in his face. "Duncan interfered. He would have killed me if I’d taken your head then. Fine. He wants you to live, I’m going to let you live…for awhile, anyway. There are many things worse than death, Methos. You taught me that."

"Yes. I know." He met her stare for stare, refusing to back down or flinch away. He knew eventually he’d break. He didn’t have any illusions about his own tolerance for pain and suffering. But, at the moment, he was strong. He figured he might as well have his moment of defiance while he was still able.

Cassandra was a little bit taken aback, but she pressed onward. "I think it’s your turn to learn."

He tried hard not to react. He knew any sign of fear would please her. "Get on with it then," he snapped. Maybe if he forced her hand he could at least end the horrible phase of anticipation. In five thousand years he’d seen his share of torture. He’d just tried to make sure he was usually the torturer instead of the tortured. Sometimes the victim had a golden opportunity to turn the tables, and this appeared to be Cassandra’s turn. He accepted the fact that she was nothing more than what he had made her. He didn’t have to like it, though.

Cassandra smiled. "You’ll be begging me to stop soon enough."

"No doubt."

She slapped him, open-handed. It wasn’t a hard blow, but it stung nevertheless. He bit the inside of his cheek, knowing that no matter what he said it would be the wrong thing. Obviously, she wasn’t looking for passive agreement.

"It was three thousand years ago," he finally said, desperately. "Don’t you think that’s a long time to hold a grudge?"

Cassandra gave a harsh laugh. "It was a few days ago, you bastard. Do you think Kronos and your friends didn’t have their way with me while you were distracting Duncan? You knew what they’d do to me when you sent them to kidnap me. You knew, you son of a bitch!"

Methos shook his head, violently. He realized, now, how stupid he’d been. It never even occurred to him that Kronos had raped Cassandra while they held her prisoner in Bordeaux. But, of course, it made perfect sense. Kronos had been waiting three thousand years to have his own brand of revenge on Cassandra. He’d seen the state she was in when Kronos first took him to her prison. He just hadn’t wanted to acknowledge his part in what was happening to her.

"I didn’t know they were going after you. I swear I didn’t know." He told the lie with complete conviction in his voice. Because, of course, he did know Kronos would go after Cassandra eventually. Cassandra hadn’t been the only one with an old score to settle. It just hadn’t mattered to him enough for him to consider her fate as part of his plans. He’d wanted to save MacLeod and he’d wanted MacLeod to save him by, hopefully, killing off Kronos.

"I was only trying to warn MacLeod," he pointed out, "give him time to stop the bomb we’d planted. I didn’t realize Kronos had his own plans."

"You expect me to believe that? You? The master planner? That you didn’t know what your good friend Kronos was up to?" She laughed again. "You must take me for a stupid fool."

"No." Methos denied her words, all of them, wishing he could stop the tremble taking possession of his body. He knew what she had in store for him. After all, she’d learned from a master. She’d learned from him.

Three days with no word. MacLeod tried not to think about it. He still had a deep conviction that Methos’ head was attached to his shoulders, but he’d had the strangest dreams the last three nights. It was as if, in his sleep, he became Methos. He could hear Cassandra taunting him, feel Cassandra torturing him, feel himself dying and then later awakening, only to be killed again. He slept on the couch and let Amanda have the bed. She probably wouldn’t have minded sharing it with him, but he kept thinking about her being there with Methos and he couldn’t bring himself to overlook the flash of suspicion and jealousy that that evoked in him.

He’d gone with Amanda to Joe’s, to see if they could find any trace of Methos’. They’d found the bar surrounded by cops and emergency vehicles. When they finally located Joe, in the alley behind the club, he was ashen-faced and looking like he was about to collapse. He was talking to a weary-looking detective and leaning heavily on his cane.

"What happened?" MacLeod asked, taking Dawson by the arm and gently pulling him back toward the club.

"Are we done here?" Dawson asked the detective, even as he let MacLeod lead him away.

The detective said yes and thanked him. Amanda hurried ahead to hold the door open and then followed the two men inside.

"One of my employees was murdered," Joe murmured, sinking heavily into the chair Amanda pulled out for him.

MacLeod went to pour Dawson a drink, making it a double scotch. Joe took it with a trembling, but grateful hand, and gulped the liquor down. He grimaced slightly as it hit his stomach, but then he sat up straighter, some of the color returning to his face.

"Bruce was only working here while he finished up law school. Nice kid, a little arrogant. Pretty cocky and sure of himself."

"What happened?" MacLeod asked again, sitting down across the table from Dawson.

The Watcher shook his head. "I don’t know, Mac. The boy was stabbed. With a sword. They found his cellular phone several feet away, broken on the pavement. He’s been dead quite awhile. Maybe ten hours or more, they think."

"Methos," MacLeod said, not really wanting to believe it but unable to stifle the urge to suspect the missing man.

Dawson shook his head again, more vehemently. "I don’t believe that. No. I don’t believe that, at all."

"He was here, wasn’t he?" MacLeod pressed. "Now he’s missing. And who else but an immortal would have stabbed someone behind your club with a sword? Come on, Joe. Even you can see how it looks."

"I don’t believe he killed Bruce," Joe insisted. "Why would he?"

MacLeod snorted. "Why does he do anything? We don’t really know, do we, Joseph?" He was getting more than a little tired of Dawson’s attempts to "understand" Methos’ past. He knew the Watcher didn’t want to believe that Methos was the same murdering bastard who had brutalized and raped Cassandra, but then neither did Duncan. The unfortunate truth was, however, that…well, it was the truth.

Amanda had an arm around Joe’s shoulders, leaning up against him slightly. "I don’t believe he did it, either," she said. "He was on his way back to the dojo. I think that woman did it."

"Cassandra?" MacLeod asked, incredulous. He knew Cassandra was obsessed when it came to Methos, but he certainly didn’t think she’d skewer some innocent mortal just to get to her nemesis. She’d never struck him as the irrational sort…and she’d had a shot at Methos in Bordeaux. She’d backed down then when Duncan asked her to. Then, again, as Dawson had once asked him, just how well did he know her? She’d been determined to see the four Horsemen—including Methos—dead. Maybe she really didn’t care who got in her way.

He hung his head, shaking it slightly. He didn’t know about anyone anymore. Even Richie had changed, become harder and more independent over the last year or so, until there was precious little of the comfortable world he’d shared with Tessa and the mortal Richie left to him. It was as if his whole world had come unstuck and nothing made sense anymore. Methos, whom he’d thought was out of the Game, someone with a nature he would have never described as "evil," not in a million years, had proven to have a past more truly depraved than anything he could have ever imagined. Oh, yes, he could understand Joe Dawson’s need to deny the truth. He’d gone through his own stage of denial, even if it had been brief. But he’d accepted the truth now. He’d heard the truth from Methos’ own lips. His friend had done everything Cassandra ever accused him of.

"If you hear from Methos," Amanda was saying to Dawson, "Please let us know. Please?"

Joe nodded an affirmative. "Of course. Same for you, okay? I’m worried, too. He didn’t look so hot when he was in here."

"I know," Amanda said, shooting MacLeod a significant glare. "Believe me, I know."

They’d gone back to the loft and they’d waited. But it had been three days now, and no word, no sign. MacLeod thought Methos was gone for good. Maybe he’d decided to disappear, like so many times before.

If only he could rid himself of the nagging feeling that Methos was somewhere nearby. If only he could dismiss his nightmares the last few nights as nothing but fantasies. But he couldn’t. He knew, in his heart, that Cassandra probably had Methos, just as Amanda suspected.

He’d spent the morning working out in the dojo, grateful for the fact that the place saw little business these days. He didn’t need the income, and he didn’t even employ Richie to manage it for him, anymore. The place was more of a cover than anything else and lately he was glad to have it to himself. He’d tried to calm his mind with a kata, but even that proved ineffective. Sweaty and tired, but still not at peace with himself, he took the elevator back up to the loft.

When he opened the elevator gate, Amanda was just setting the phone receiver back into its cradle. Her face was bright red and her shoulders were shaking.

"Something wrong?" MacLeod asked, immediately alarmed. He went to her and reached out for her, surprised when she backed away.

"It was her," Amanda said.

"Her?"

"Cassandra. She has him. I was right."

MacLeod’s heart fell to his feet. It was what he had feared. He turned away from Amanda and crossed the room, to the coffee table. He picked up the book he’d left there earlier and flipped through the pages, trying to pretend nonchalance. "And?"

Amanda reached around the counter and pulled out a large broadsword. Methos’ sword. "And she sent this along, wrapped in this—" she held up Methos’ bloodstained black coat. "—with an address. Then she invited me to come and get him."

MacLeod raised an eyebrow. "She’s setting a trap, you know. No sense in walking into it."

"How can you be so cold?" Amanda demanded, her voice close to a shout. She came to him and pulled the book out of his hands, throwing it violently across the room. "Look, I don’t know what happened between you two in France, but he’s our friend."

MacLeod scowled and snapped the first thing that popped into his head. "He’s no one’s friend." He didn’t want to deal with this right now. The last few weeks of hell had been enough to cope with. He didn’t want to accept the fact that he really did still care what happened to Methos, even though his conscience was already nagging him. His damned sense of honor and loyalty was an annoying encumbrance at the moment, just like Methos had always told him it was. He’d saved Methos from Cassandra once already. He’d killed Kronos for Methos. What more did he have to do for the older immortal?

Amanda glared at him, her mouth working as she searched for the right words. It was obvious she couldn’t believe he would be so callous. "That’s what she said. You believe it?"

MacLeod shook his head stubbornly. "It doesn’t matter what I believe." He stared at Amanda, knowing that determined set to her jaw. She was going to go after Cassandra, whether he helped or not. He made one last desperate attempt at stopping her. "Why are you suddenly so concerned about Methos? You’re the one who always said he could take care of himself."

Amanda looked slightly uncomfortable and wouldn’t meet his eyes. "He’s not quite himself, though, is he?"

MacLeod shrugged. "I don’t know. I don’t know who he is anymore." He sighed heavily. "Amanda…I learned some things about his past that are…disturbing. Cassandra is part of that past. She has a right—"

"To what?" Amanda interrupted. "To kill him? To torture him?"

"No!" MacLeod tried to interrupt, tried to explain what he’d really meant, but Amanda wasn’t through.

"She told me in loving detail what she intended to do to him. You know what? I don’t care whether you help him or not. I’m not going to sit here and just let it happen. I spent that night he was here holding him while he tried to sleep through the nightmares. I don’t care what happened in France! He’s not up to fighting her."

MacLeod went to pick up Methos’ sword. There were flecks of dried blood on the blade when he ran a finger lightly along one side. Somehow he knew it was Methos’ own blood rather than another immortal’s…or Dawson’s employee’s. He shuddered slightly. He realized now that he should have questioned the deliveryman who had brought the package for Amanda while he was downstairs working out. It just hadn’t occurred to him that the large box was anything other than something extravagant Amanda had ordered with one of his credit cards. His back was still turned to the other immortal but he was painfully aware of her glare. "What did Cassandra say?" he asked wearily.

He could hear Amanda moving to stand behind him, and then her arms slipped around his waist from behind. "I knew you wouldn’t let down a friend."

"I didn’t promise anything, yet," he warned. He turned in her embrace, holding her back far enough to look her in the face, Methos’ sword caught between their bodies. "Now, what did Cassandra say?"

"She told me what she’s done to Methos and what she intends to do. It wasn’t pretty, MacLeod. She invited me to join the party."

"And you agreed you’d be there."

"Damn straight!"

"Did she know I was in town?"

Amanda bit at her lower lip. "I didn’t think about that. She never asked. Your name never came up."

MacLeod nodded. "Then she doesn’t know I’m here. She probably stopped watching the dojo once she had Methos." He smiled tightly, not the least bit amused. "Looks like it’s going to be a bigger party than she planned."

The pain wasn’t as bad when he woke up this time. Maybe he was getting used to it, or maybe he’d simply healed faster. Kronos was right: he’d gotten soft, unused to pain. He’d certainly grown unused to the shock of dying and rebirth. He’d been out of the Game for so long and away from Kronos for even longer. The floor was slick with his own blood. The wetness was further testimony that he’d only been unconscious for a short time. At least he hadn’t died this torture session. He wondered, fleetingly, why Cassandra had stopped short of killing him. Then, he gave a mental shrug. Maybe her games grew boring while he was unconscious, so she’d given up.

Time passed, and eventually he realized that he couldn’t feel any other immortals within range. That meant Cassandra had left him, for the time being. He sat up and carefully moved his arms. They were unbound, as were his feet. The room was pitch black now, so he guessed it was nighttime. It was difficult to tell since he wasn’t certain if there were any windows. It had been raining and overcast when he was first taken prisoner, so he supposed there could be windows that just weren’t visible due to the darkness outside. If they were there, they must be high up along the ceiling. He scooted backwards until he found the wall and then inched his way up it until he was standing.

His feet weren’t very steady, but he knew he was growing stronger every passing minute. He leaned against the wall to catch his breath, then pushed away from it and stumbled forward. He had to guess at the direction of the door, although he thought he could see a faint glimmer of light in one direction. It was possible the illumination was spilling into his prison from an outer room. Time to get the hell out of this place while the coast was clear. He didn’t waste his time wondering why Cassandra had left him alone and unbound. She had, and he was going to make damned sure he capitalized on her mistake. Maybe she didn’t think he’d wake up as soon as he had.

An eternity of groping around in the dark finally lead him to what appeared to be the doorway. Up close now, he could tell that there was indeed a hint of light leaking through the bottom of the door. He fumbled around for the latch, and was surprised to find it unlocked. He’d just started to turn it, when he was struck by the unmistakable feel of Cassandra returning. He scrabbled at the doorknob desperately, wishing he could tell which direction she was coming from.

He finally managed to get the door open, only to find himself face to face with Cassandra.

"Did you really think I’d just let you leave?" she sneered. "There’s no escape, Methos. Didn’t you teach me that once?"

Methos bit his lip and nodded. "Yes." It finally occurred to him what she was doing. She was playing a cat and mouse game with him, letting him think there was hope of escape, when all along she’d been waiting just out of range. He let his shoulders slump in seeming defeat, his head lowered.

She shoved him backwards, back into his prison, flicking the lights on with one hand.

He didn’t resist, but moved passively, and seemingly cowed. When he thought she might actually be falling for his act, he lashed out with his fist, coming up under chin and sending her sprawling backwards to land, hard, on her rear. He could hear the sound of her sword clattering to the floor and skidding away.

She gasped in pain and surprise, but before he could follow through with the kick he was already aiming her way, she rolled over and came up in a crouch, a revolver in her hands.

"Stop. Now," she ordered.

He froze, his foot already halfway towards its mark. He’d only just awakened from the last round of torture. He didn’t care to pass out or die again so soon.

She got to her feet, but kept her distance from him, more cautious this time. "A lesson is needed, I see," she said. Her expression didn’t change as she pulled the trigger.

Methos grunted as the bullet tore through his foot. He stumbled, caught off guard, and fell sideways, barely catching himself with one hand before he hit the hard concrete.

He swallowed down the pain, curling around himself, trying to protect his aching chest and abdomen from further abuse. He could hear her boots as she ventured a little nearer and he tensed in anticipation. If he could just get the gun away from her…

But she’d learned a lesson, too. She stayed just out of reach. "Did you enjoy that?" she taunted.

"Frankly, no," Methos said, finally looking up at her. "What is it you want from me?" He knew he was already reaching the point where he’d be willing to give her just about anything she wanted if it would stop the torture. He didn’t have MacLeod’s high ideals to get in the way of simple pragmatism, nor did he have Cassandra’s own strong convictions that she’d rather die than submit. If there was a way to make her stop, he’d take it. If it meant submitting to her, he’d do it.

Cassandra smiled. "Nothing. There is absolutely nothing you can do to satisfy me. I want you to feel helpless and I want you in pain."

"Then you’ve got your wish," Methos snapped.

"Do you think so?" She crouched down to look at him, still staying just out of reach. "Let me tell you a story."

He sat up, letting his chin rest on his knees and stared at her. He could feel his boot still filling with blood from the wound to his foot.

She pushed her hair out of her face and shifted the gun from hand to hand. Methos followed its movement back and forth, wondering if she was going to use it again. This time he’d be prepared, at least. It wouldn’t make the pain any easier to bear, but it wouldn’t be as big a shock to his system. She saw his eyes following her and looked pleased.

"Kronos brought me a present when he called on me in Bordeaux. What do you think it was?"

Methos shrugged slightly, never taking his eyes off the gun. "I don’t know." But, he knew. Of course he knew. What else could it be?

"It was a knife. A bronze knife that I’d given to him when I left your pleasant company years ago. He said he’d waited a long time to give it back to me." She stopped tossing the gun and held it clenched in one fist. "So, he gave it back to me."

Methos could guess how Kronos had returned the gift. He flinched as he saw her finger tighten on the trigger of the gun. The expected blast didn’t come, though. She relaxed and began tossing the weapon back and forth once more. Methos tried not to sigh in relief.

"When I woke up, I was in a cage, surrounded by water. Silas held me down while Kronos raped me. He’d waited three thousand years for his chance at me. He wasn’t gentle."

"I can imagine," Methos said softly.

"No. You can’t," Cassandra snapped. "I was surprised you weren’t there. When I asked after you, Kronos laughed and said you’d be back soon, that you were taking care of MacLeod and making sure he was occupied while I was kidnapped. He promised you’d be glad to have your slave back."

"It wasn’t like that! I wasn’t there because I was trying to help MacLeod! I never sent Kronos to get you. I swear it!"

"Are you even capable of telling the truth?" Cassandra asked, unmoved. "I really don’t think so." She stood up and gestured at him with the revolver. "Get up."

Methos got to his feet, wincing at the lingering pain in his foot, but standing on it, nevertheless.

"Over there." Cassandra pointed to the far corner of the room.

He limped to the corner and waited, facing it, for whatever would happen next.

"This is stupid," MacLeod insisted, even while he held the passenger door of his Thunderbird open for Amanda. "We’re playing right into her hands." The rain had stopped momentarily, but lightning was flashing in the distance over the ocean, and every once in awhile there was the rumble of faraway thunder. The wind was cold, blowing in from the direction of the water, carrying the scent of the approaching storm.

Amanda slid Methos’ sword into the back seat of the car. "Earlier you wouldn’t even believe she’d taken him. Now you’re worried she’s luring us into a trap."

MacLeod frowned. "I didn’t think she’d go this far, that’s all."

"She doesn’t know you’re involved. She thinks it’s just me coming. That will give us an edge." Amanda shrugged as she got into the car, unconcerned.

MacLeod shook his head and slammed the door shut. Damn, she could be so frustrating. He was of half a mind to simply let her go running off to "rescue" Methos on her own.

But he knew he couldn’t do that. It was against his nature to let her handle this on her own. If he was honest with himself, it was against his nature to refuse to help Methos, in spite of everything that had passed between them recently. He realized, as he got into the car and slid the keys into the ignition, that he didn’t even feel any animosity towards Methos anymore. All he felt was a deep, abiding pain that he really didn’t quite understand. On some level, perhaps, he had expected the older immortal to be perfect, even while Methos himself was constantly reminding MacLeod that he wasn’t perfect, that no one was.

"Where we going?" he asked Amanda, not looking at her. He could hear the paper she’d written the address down on rustling as she tried to read it with only the overhead light for illumination.

"1550 Dockside. Do you know where that is?"

"Yeah. It’s a warehouse district." He finally turned to meet her gaze. "I’ve spent some time there sparring before. It’s remote and deserted. Most of the buildings are abandoned and falling down."

"No one would notice her there, in other words," Amanda said.

"Probably not," MacLeod agreed. "I ran into her in the area once before, not too long ago."

"So, you think she already had a place set up?"

MacLeod shook his head. He wasn’t sure anymore. When he’d run into Cassandra a few weeks earlier she’d been hunting Kronos, not Methos. She hadn’t even known Methos was still alive. But perhaps she had prepared a place, all the same. Maybe she had hoped to take her revenge on Kronos and only the intervention of MacLeod himself, and the unexpected appearance of Methos, had changed her plans.

For the first time, he considered the possibility that Cassandra had manipulated him as much as Methos ever had. Maybe even more so. After all, he’d been willing to listen to her long after he’d turned his back on Methos.

And what had Cassandra had to say to him? Nothing except hatred and death. She’d wanted the Horsemen dead. In some ways, he couldn’t blame her, now that he knew the whole story…but he also had to admit she had been single-minded to the point of obsession. Even he could see, by the time they reached Bordeaux, that Methos’ present-day motives were worth questioning. He appeared to be trying to help them track Kronos.

Amanda nudged his elbow, and he realized he was staring into the darkness, one hand on the keys with the engine still unstarted.

"We going anywhere?" she asked, sounding exasperated. "I can go alone if you really don’t want to do this."

"No," he said, really meaning it this time. Amanda was right. Cassandra was unbalanced and she was torturing Methos for no reason other than revenge for something that had happened an unimaginable time in the past. He suddenly understood what Methos had been trying to tell him in that dark church in Bordeaux, when they had met by candlelight and talked about the end of the world: there were no easy answers. The past was past…and words were only words. If Methos had begged for his forgiveness, it would have made no difference. It wouldn’t have changed anything that happened in the past. Methos had known that as sure as he’d known MacLeod would never be able to forgive him, anyway. "Well, you accept it," Methos had said, not long after Cassandra had told MacLeod she would never have her revenge until Kronos and Methos were both dead.

Methos may have truly been evil personified three thousand years ago. But here and now, he was the victim…and, if he was honest with himself, MacLeod knew Methos had saved his life—and others—in the past few years, with no hope of any thanks or reward, sometimes at great personal risk. What reason could Methos have had for doing that? What reason could he have had for fighting Silas in order to save Cassandra’s life? The only logical answer was that, as much as Methos hadn’t cared about Cassandra or her people thousands of years ago, the present-day Methos did care.

Duncan MacLeod had never willingly allowed another person to suffer if it was in his power to make it stop. If Cassandra was torturing Methos, he had to stop her, no matter the cost.

And he knew Cassandra was torturing Methos. He suspected she was killing him, over and over again. He’d had the nightmares every night since he returned to Seacouver, and he was very much afraid that he knew exactly what was happening now. He and Methos had shared a very powerful quickening in Bordeaux when they had simultaneously taken the heads of Silas and Kronos. He’d never heard of it happening before, but he suspected there was a connection between himself and Methos that was allowing him to, somehow, feel the other immortal’s presence, to know—even if only subconsciously—exactly what was happening to the other man.

He set his jaw and started the car.

Alexa came to Methos when he died this time. He wondered why she’d never come to him before—not in his dreams or even when he’d died before this. He’d imagined talking to her in his mind sometimes, but she never really answered him. Now, here she was. She looked as lovely as ever and her smile broke his heart.

"I miss you," he said, caught in the limbo of death, knowing that in a few moments he would awaken again with a shock of pain. Then, Cassandra would torture him and kill him all over again. For one of the few times in his long, long life he wished he could just remain dead. There was no pain here in this white void, and now Alexa was here to keep him company. "Why can’t I join you?" he asked.

"Someday," she promised, already fading away. He felt her love, still lingering.

"Don’t leave me again," he begged, but she was already gone.

"Oh, I won’t leave you," Cassandra promised, leaning over into his face as the first rush of agony signaling his return to life shot through him. He coughed on blood and grimaced. "You and I were together a long time before, weren’t we?" She smiled mockingly. "Through life and death."

"I didn’t realize you’d missed me," Methos quipped, even while he was groaning in pain.

"Don’t flatter yourself," Cassandra hissed. "No one will miss you when I finally take your head. Your last friends are gone now that Kronos and the rest of your murdering cronies are dead."

"MacLeod is my friend," he protested, unable to keep himself from voicing the thought even though he knew he was simply playing into her hands. He couldn’t bring himself to deny his friendship with the Highlander. He’d sworn a blood-oath to Kronos that he would kill MacLeod, and he’d known even as he swore it that he would break the oath. He’d looked Kronos square in the eye, clasped his bloody hand and promised. MacLeod would never understand what it cost him to break that vow.

"Ha!" Cassandra mocked him. "You think MacLeod is going to come and rescue you?"

"I helped him against Kronos. I helped you."

"And that’s supposed to somehow make up for what you did before? Where’s your precious MacLeod now that you need him? You managed to turn even him against me, in the end, but he’s not here to save you now. Whether you live or die—it’s all up to me. I’ve waited a long time to see you in this position."

Methos opened his mouth but couldn’t think of a reply. He knew MacLeod was in Seacouver. Amanda had told him Mac was already on a plane and on his way. Would MacLeod help him against Cassandra? Or would the Scotsman simply assume Methos was getting what he deserved and leave him to fend for himself?

The problem was, he couldn’t seem to angle a way out of this situation. He’d tried to escape again. Twice, in fact. The last time, Cassandra had made him regret his cleverness. She’d intended to make an impression and she had. He didn’t need to be restrained after that. He was afraid to move from his little corner of the warehouse without her permission. Even when he knew she was nowhere near, he didn’t attempt to leave. He knew, intellectually, that she’d simply programmed him like one of Pavlov’s dogs. But he couldn’t face the disappointment and the pain of another failure.

Realistically, he knew the only hope left for him was an outside rescue. If Duncan or Amanda didn’t come for him soon, he doubted he’d be sane enough to care.

"You’ve changed your mind," Amanda said firmly. "I can tell."

"What do you mean?" MacLeod asked, not letting his attention waver from the road. The glistening black surface of the asphalt was slick from all the rain, and the glare from the street lamps made it hard to see. It was a good thing he knew where they were going. Few of the streets they were passing now even had street signs and when they did, the names were impossible to read in the darkness. To make matters worse, the rain had started up again.

"You believe me now. Something changed your mind about Methos and Cassandra."

MacLeod sighed heavily, but gave in to the inevitable. Amanda could be persistent, as he well knew, and he didn’t mind admitting he was probably wrong this time. "Yeah."

"And?" Amanda insisted. "What made you change your mind?"

"It doesn’t matter, does it? I wouldn’t let you walk into a trap alone, whether I believed Cassandra would hurt you or not."

"And Methos? Are you going to help him?"

MacLeod glanced at Amanda. She was staring at him intently and he realized with a faint stab of jealousy that she really did care for Methos. How had this developed without him even noticing? Did he really take his friends so much for granted? "Yeah, I’m going to help him," he finally said, grudgingly.

"Because you want to or because of me?"

For a moment, MacLeod considered telling her the truth: that the closer they came to Cassandra’s rendezvous, the more certain he was that a powerful connection had been forged between himself and Methos. But his natural reticence—not to mention a well-honed sense of self-preservation—combined to stop him. What this connection with Methos meant—whether it was purely physical or mental or something profoundly spiritual—was something he didn’t understand yet. Amanda would try to analyze it to death or, worse, she’d try to turn it into a joke.

"Are you going to answer me?" Amanda said. "Why don’t you just admit it, MacLeod? You care about him, too."

"I never said I didn’t," MacLeod snapped, exasperated. "I just said he’d done some things I don’t approve of. Cassandra has good reasons for hating him, and I respect her feelings. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s all right for her to kill him. I stopped her from taking his head once already."

"You did?" Amanda raised one eyebrow, obviously intrigued.

But MacLeod wasn’t going to fall into her trap. He had no intention of sharing Methos’ past with her. It wasn’t his story to tell, and although he’d interfered greatly already by his involvement with Cassandra, he’d also learned a lesson: there was no absolute truth. There was Cassandra’s side of the story, where Methos and his Horsemen brethren were evil incarnate. There was Methos’ side of the story, where the Horsemen were nothing more than a product of their time, and Methos had saved Cassandra’s life in the only way he’d known how. Then there was the middle ground, where the truth—or a portion of it—could probably be found.

"Yes, I did," he said shortly, in answer to Amanda’s question, and left it at that.

A warm wind blew across the desert sand and caressed his body, soothing and comforting him.

Methos awoke to someone gently stroking his face. He blinked in confusion, then realized it was Cassandra leaning over him. Her expression was open and loving, her eyes shining with adoration. When had she fallen in love with him? he wondered. It was flattering, but it did complicate matters. She would be expecting him to return the sentiment. They always did.

"Time to wake up," she whispered softly, bring her lips down to his in a gentle kiss.

He responded to her automatically, letting her control the kiss.

He couldn’t remember the night before. He supposed he’d been so tired from the previous day’s raiding that he’d fallen onto his pallet and straight to sleep. Kronos would be annoyed with him again. Lately, he’d been so tired. He knew it exasperated Kronos that his "favorite" brother was so obviously bored of their little games, but he couldn’t even find the strength to hide his ennui anymore…even when he knew Kronos would make him pay for it, one way or another. His brother was clever and inventive when it came to mind games. It was one reason the two of them had enjoyed each other’s company for so many years. But now…now Methos found himself simply and plainly weary of it all.

He’d leave Kronos if he thought the other man would let him go. But he knew better. "There’s only one way to leave the Horsemen," Kronos had yelled at him once, in a fit of anger. Methos knew what he meant. He never threatened to go again, no matter how angry he was with Kronos or one of the others. He valued his head and wanted to keep it firmly attached to his shoulders.

Cassandra wiped his face with a warm, wet cloth. He closed his eyes again, sighing and enjoying her touch as she ministered to him. He was sore all over, as if he’d ridden far and fought hard. Why couldn’t he remember where they had gone? What they had done?

He fancied he could hear Kronos, just out of sight, talking to Silas and Caspian, their words punctuated by the sound of a horse stamping its feet. They were discussing another raid planned for later that morning.

Cassandra whispered little endearments to him as she washed him. Finally, she stopped, and he opened his eyes. It was dark, and that confused him. He’d thought it was morning. And the sand was cold and hard, rather than soft and warm. Only the area surrounding himself and Cassandra was faintly lit, and he could no longer hear the familiar voices of his brothers or the sounds of the camp as everyone roused for the day.

He blinked in confusion. Then he realized where he was, and who he was with. Kronos and his brothers’ voices were echoing from three thousand years in the past. Kronos was dead here in the present and Cassandra was his torturer, not his lover and slave.

Cassandra must have seen the growing look of recognition on his face, because her expression hardened. He wondered why he’d ever mistaken the light in her eyes for love. It was so obviously a burning hatred. "I used to hope you’d smile at me back then," she said as she turned away slightly, a catch in her voice. "If you smiled I knew you were pleased with me. I desperately wanted to please you." She wrapped her arms around herself and held on tight. Her long hair shadowed her face until she looked up and locked gazes with him. "But you hardly ever smiled. You’ll never understand what that felt like, will you?"

"There’s nothing I can say that will ever make it right, Cassandra. It happened." Logic was his only refuge at this juncture. But staring into her mad eyes he knew any attempt to talk to her was probably futile. He couldn’t help himself, though. He wanted to live, and he wanted to come out of this torture session intact. His well-honed instinct for self-preservation wouldn’t let him simply hold his tongue and let her torture him.

"Why did you stop Silas from killing me in Bordeaux? Why?" she suddenly asked.

Her words were anguished, and he questioned why it mattered to her so much. But then he realized exactly why it was important. Even now, she wanted to believe that somewhere, deep in his cold, cold heart, he cared for her. He realized there was something he could say that might reach her: he could tell her it was true, that he had loved her and he had saved her because of that love. But the words stuck in his throat. He didn’t love her. He felt he owed her something, and there was a world of difference between owing someone a blood debt and loving them. His time with Alexa had taught him that. Hell, his time with Kronos, even the more recent encounter, had taught him that. He’d loved Kronos—in his own sick, twisted way—back then, but never Cassandra. If he had ever thought he could save Kronos at the same time he kept MacLeod safe, he would have done it. Alas, he knew from the very moment he first saw Kronos in Seacouver that things were going to end badly.

He’d suffered at Kronos’ hands when he’d allowed Cassandra to escape those thousands of years ago. Why had he done it? He still didn’t know. He hadn’t wanted to share her with anyone, he supposed. It was a case of "if I can’t have her, no one will." He and Kronos played those kind of games with each other throughout the centuries. Cassandra was no more than their plaything for awhile.

Cassandra was still waiting for an answer, her eyes boring into him.

"You wouldn’t believe me if I told you," he said, knowing it was the truth. Subconsciously she might want to believe he had saved her because he loved her, but she would never admit that to herself here in the cold light of day.

"Tell me, damn it," she insisted, her jaw tightening.

He tried to think of something she might believe. Anything. "MacLeod."

"What about him?"

"He was fighting Kronos. I knew if he defeated Kronos, he wouldn’t be able to fight Silas so soon after the quickening."

"You saved me because you didn’t want Silas to kill Duncan?" she said, incredulously. It was hard to tell whether she was hurt that he was only concerned over MacLeod or whether she just didn’t believe him, altogether.

He shrugged. "Well, you wouldn’t believe me if I said I did it for you, would you?" The sarcasm, so much a part of his nature, was no doubt a mistake she’d make him regret.

Her eyes narrowed and Methos braced himself. He was beginning to recognize the look that preceded a blow. The irony of their reversed situations did not escape him. Thousands of years ago, he had been the one with the upper hand…and the one inflicting the pain. In a way, he supposed he deserved whatever she wanted to dish out to him. He just wished he wasn’t such a miserable coward, because he desperately wanted to get away from her.

She didn’t disappoint him, but she did surprise him. This time she used a dagger into his side. The air went out of his right lung in a whoosh, and it was all he could do to keep from cursing her as his vision swam from the sudden pain. Her face was close to his as she held the dagger in place and twisted it.

"No, I wouldn’t believe you," she whispered. She studied his face, her dark eyes glittering. "Hurts, does it?"

He bit his lip and nodded his head slowly up and down. He’d learned early on that denying the pain was stupid. She wanted to know that he was hurting and the sooner he admitted to it the sooner she would stop and give him a chance to heal.

He wondered how long he’d been her prisoner now. Had it been days? Weeks? Surely it had been at least a week. He’d lost track of how many times he’d died at the point of her blade. She’d promised she was going to kill him as many times as he’d done it to her all those thousands of years ago. Sadly, he couldn’t remember how many times he’d killed her. It hadn’t mattered to him, at the time, and it was so terribly long ago. Very little had mattered to him back then. And, of the things that did matter, Cassandra had been no more important than his horse. Actually, less important than the horse. He’d needed the animal to survive; Cassandra had been there merely for his pleasure.

She twisted the dagger again, driving it in deeper. "Good. I want it to hurt." Her eyes glittered dangerously. "But I don’t think physical pain is quite enough, do you?" She shook her head in mock sadness. "No, I don’t think so at all. You don’t like it, you don’t enjoy it like Kronos did, but you know how to endure it, don’t you?" She ran one finger down his cheekbone, tracing her way down to his lips. "I can’t rape you, but I can make you understand how it feels, perhaps. The helplessness. The burning desire for revenge." She cocked her head to one side. "Do you feel helpless, Methos?"

"Yes," he admitted.

She nodded. "Yes, I expect you do. But I want even more than that. I want you to feel completely powerless."

"What d’you mean?" Alarm was curling its way up his spine. She was too pleased with herself. Obviously something new was in the offing.

"I sent your sword to your little girlfriend," she said smugly. "I included a note with an address." Her smile widened when he couldn’t cover his reaction. "That bothers you, doesn’t it?"

"Girlfriend?" Methos didn’t hide his confusion.

Cassandra punched him in the shoulder. "Don’t play dumb with me. Amanda, she said her name was. I made a phone call, just to make sure she got the message."

"She’s not part of this," he said quickly, then realized his mistake instantly. "She’s a friend of Duncan’s," he added, even though he knew it was too late. His tormentor could already see that he was bothered by the knowledge—which is exactly what she had hoped for.

Cassandra snorted. "Right. I saw you with her. I saw you kissing her." Her expression turned crafty. "I even spoke to her. She defended you. Did you know that?"

"This is between you and me, Cassandra."

"Yes, of course. But if it hurts you, it pleases me."

"Don’t be stupid," Methos said, schooling his voice to betray contempt. "You know I don’t care about anybody but myself."

Cassandra shrugged. "You won’t mind, then, if Amanda gets hurt, will you?"

"She won’t be coming, Cassandra! You’re wasting your time. Why would she care about me? She’s MacLeod’s woman." Methos could tell the thought of MacLeod bothered her. "That’s right," he said, trying to drive the point home, "MacLeod is going to be really pissed off if you hurt Amanda."

"I don’t believe you," Cassandra snapped. "In fact, I have an appointment to keep. I think it’s time for you to shut up." She backhanded him across the mouth to reinforce the order. Then, she yanked the dagger out of his flesh, smirking at his startled yelp of pain.

Methos felt the warm blood running down his side and despaired.

"He’s not here." MacLeod wasn’t sure how he knew, but he just did. He was learning to listen to his instincts when it came to Methos, and this time he was absolutely positive. "He’s nearby, but he’s not here," he insisted.

Amanda stared at him, considering what he said. "Okay. But where is he, then? And why did Cassandra send this address?"

MacLeod shook his head. "I don’t know." He didn’t know what Cassandra was up to, but he was becoming more and more convinced he wasn’t going to like it, whatever it was. There was no real reason to involve Amanda in any form of revenge against Methos. So, why had Cassandra done so? Was it an elaborate ploy to get Duncan himself here? It just didn’t make sense. If Cassandra knew he was in town, and wanted him to come, all she had had to do was ask. She had to know him well enough to know that.

Amanda thought another moment, then drew her sword. "I’ll wait here for Cassandra. Obviously, she meant for me to be here, so she’ll have to show up eventually. You go see if you can find Methos."

MacLeod didn’t like the idea of leaving Amanda alone, especially when they both knew she was probably walking straight into a trap.

"I can take care of myself," Amanda insisted. "Sneaking around in the dark is what I’m good at. You go on. If you find him, maybe we can get him out of here before the bitch even shows herself."

MacLeod lingered another moment, then gave a quick nod and turned to go. "Watch your head," he whispered.

"You too," Amanda said, already creeping around the side of the building, her sword held ready.

The only illumination in the area came from one lone street lamp at the end of the building. The rain was coming down harder now and Amanda was glad for her short hair as she was quickly soaking wet. At the very edge of her consciousness, she could already sense another immortal ahead of her. She smiled and stepped up her pace, glad she had worn an old pair of practical, flat-heeled boots. The rubber soles helped her to move quietly.

When she reached the end of the building, she stopped to catch her breath. The presence of the other immortal was singing in her mind now and she knew Cassandra was close. She was still trying to decide her next move, plastering her back up against the wall of the warehouse, trying to block some of the blowing rain and wind from buffeting her, when she heard a soft splash and knew her time was up.

She barely blocked Cassandra’s sword in time as the other woman spun around the corner of the building, already on the attack.

"Very good," Cassandra allowed, backing up slightly. She was handicapped by her long brown hair for a moment as the wind gusted and blew it across her face, blocking her vision.

Amanda took advantage of the opportunity and launched her own attack, driving the other woman quickly even further backwards and turning the battle to place Cassandra on the defensive. She continued to press her advantage until the two combatants were in the small circle of yellow light afforded by the streetlamp.

"Where’s Methos?" she snarled, following Cassandra around the pole of the streetlamp.

Cassandra sneered. "I took his head days ago. You’ll soon be joining him."

Amanda hoped it was a lie. MacLeod had seemed certain that Methos was still alive. She didn’t know why he was so sure of it, but she trusted his instincts. No doubt Cassandra was hoping to distract her. "I don’t believe you," she said.

Cassandra shrugged. "Makes no difference to me."

They traded blows back and forth, neither one of them giving ground for what seemed like an eternity. Amanda hadn’t gone into this fight intending to kill anyone, but she could soon see that Cassandra meant business. Amanda preferred to avoid a fight when she could, but this battle had been joined. She was going to have to finish what she’d started and hope she was up to the task.

She spared a thought for MacLeod and wondered if he’d located Methos yet. Even if she ended up losing her head, the longer she could keep Cassandra fighting, the better chance Duncan and Methos had of getting away.

Cassandra tried to lure her outside the area they fought in several times, but Amanda refused to follow very far. She used her own skill to control the territory and managed to hold her own. She guessed that Cassandra might have set up all manner of elaborate traps in the surrounding area. At least here, under the streetlamp, she could see well enough to fight and she knew there was only asphalt surrounding them.

They bloodied each other several times, but never a mortal blow. They both slipped in the oily puddles of water, as well, but never long enough to give their opponent a good enough advantage…until Amanda faltered slightly. Her eyes widened as she saw Cassandra coming at her. She managed to twist her body just in time and the flat of the other woman’s sword connected, hard, with her lower arm.

Amanda’s sword spun out of her hand as she felt the force of Cassandra’s blow clear to her feet. She screamed and tumbled sideways, slipping on the wet asphalt. She instinctively drew on her acrobatic skills to roll with the fall, hoping she could retrieve her sword and regain her feet before Cassandra could strike at her again. Her balance was off and her entire right arm was numb and useless or she would have made it.

She scrabbled for her sword, just out of reach, the light of the streetlamp glinting on its blade, but it was still too far away. From the corner of her eye, she could see Cassandra’s sword as it arced toward her neck.

An immortal was approaching. Methos could hear their boots on the floor, feel the vibration of their step as they came closer, feel the power of their presence resonating in his mind. He opened his eyes slowly, too weary to move. He wondered what Cassandra had in store for him this time. It was taking longer and longer for him to heal from her sick games. This time he could still feel his body trying to recover hours after he’d come back to life.

The footsteps stopped in front of him.

There was a long silence and finally his abused nerves couldn’t take it any longer. Something about Cassandra’s presence felt different, although he couldn’t imagine what. He looked up.

Duncan MacLeod was staring down at him, his expression revealing a mixture of shock, pity and anger. His hair and his clothes were dripping wet, as if he’d walked a long ways in the rain.

Methos blinked. He wasn’t sure whether the Highlander was really there or if he was simply hallucinating again. The immortal presence resonating in his mind was real, though. He was absolutely certain of that. He cleared his throat and ventured the name. "Mac?" To his credit, his voice didn’t wobble too badly. Had MacLeod come to save him or to kill him? It was impossible to tell.

MacLeod crouched down in front of him, reaching out a hand that trembled slightly to grab Methos’ chin. He turned the older immortal’s face from side to side, examining it. "Well. I’d say you’re getting what you deserve. But—"

Methos’ last hope fell by the wayside at MacLeod’s words, and he didn’t even hear the rest of what the other man had to say, the words fading into unintelligible background noise. Mac wasn’t going to save him. That was all that mattered. Mac was going to let Cassandra do whatever she wanted to with him and figure it was exactly what he deserved. He closed his eyes briefly and absorbed the pain, letting it flow through him. He’d known MacLeod was angry, but he’d still hoped his friend would remember the times he’d saved him, remember the times he’d tried to do the right thing. If nothing else, he’d hoped MacLeod would remember how Methos had killed Silas in order to save Cassandra’s—and MacLeod’s—life. He knew he didn’t have the strength to fight his friend.

"Do you think you can walk?" he finally heard MacLeod ask.

He opened his eyes again at that. "Why? We going somewhere?"

"Unless you’d like to stay here while Cassandra tortures you," MacLeod said. "C’mon." He put his hands under Methos’ armpits and lifted.

Methos helped in the effort as best he could, but found that his legs were still too unsteady to hold him without some additional support. He clutched at the fabric of MacLeod’s long black coat. "I thought you were going to leave me…"

"You should know me better than that," MacLeod chided, with a hard look.

"Yeah," Methos agreed, still confused, "But you said—"

"I said you’ve had enough. More than enough," MacLeod cut in.

"How long?" Methos asked hesitantly, almost afraid to know the length of his captivity. Everything had blurred into a repeating cycle of torture, death and rebirth, and he’d had no way to gauge the passage of time. The only light in his prison had come from the light fixtures. There were no windows.

"Three days and nights," MacLeod told him with a frown.

The answer sent Methos reeling mentally. Only three days? Only three days and he’d already been ready to do or say anything Cassandra wanted. He’d never had any illusions regarding whether he could be broken. He’d much rather bend and survive, but he would have sworn at least a week had passed since he’d been taken outside of Joe’s club.

MacLeod shook him slightly, trying to regain his attention. "Let’s get the hell out of here before she comes back."

Methos nodded mutely, then froze again. "Amanda," he said, swallowing hard. "Where’s Amanda?"

"She’s checking out the address Cassandra sent. It’s not far from here." MacLeod tugged at Methos’ arm. "C’mon."

Methos shook his head violently. "No. You’ve got to get back there! Cassandra’s set a trap for Amanda! I can’t move fast enough yet." When MacLeod didn’t leave immediately, he pulled himself away from the other man to lean back against the wall. "Go, damn you!" He slid slowly down the wall to sit on the floor again. "I’ll be all right here."

MacLeod didn’t look convinced. "I don’t think I should leave you. What if she comes back here first…?"

Methos laughed, slightly hysterical. "What’s she going to do? Torture me? Kill me?" The laughter turned into wrenching sobs. "She’s already done it. She can’t hurt me any worse. There’s no telling what she has in store for Amanda. She thinks Amanda’s mine. Go!"

MacLeod was openly torn but he finally gave a curt nod. "Stay here," he ordered. "I’ll be back."

Methos tried to stifle the involuntary sobs. It was damned embarrassing to be crying in front of MacLeod every time he saw the man lately. It was as if his emotions, so long repressed, were demanding expression whether he wanted to relinquish control or not. "I’m not going anywhere," he rasped out. "Where would I go?"

"Straight to hell, if I have anything to say about it," Cassandra said, stepping out of the darkness. Her white shirt was torn and bloodied, and she was wet and covered in grime. But she was alive. She clutched her sword tightly in one hand. In the dim light of their little corner, Methos could see the lines of blood running down the blade. In her other hand, she held Amanda’s sword.

Methos groaned and buried his face against his knees. It was too much. Grief and anger raged through him, out of control, and he surrendered to his emotions. Amanda was dead and it was his fault.

MacLeod was thinking along the same lines. "Where’s Amanda?" he demanded, his voice ragged with alarm. He sidled sideways, trying to figure the best position to both defend Methos, if necessary, and to take out Cassandra with the least amount of damage.

Cassandra smiled contemptuously and took a step closer, tossing her hair back over her shoulder. "I wouldn’t worry about her anymore." She let Amanda’s sword clatter to the concrete, sending it skittering across the floor with a swift kick. She wrapped both of her hands around the hilt of her own weapon.

MacLeod blinked, his mind unable to fully absorb the loss, unable to imagine his life without Amanda popping in and out to liven things up. He could see Methos’ shoulders shaking. Cassandra was watching him warily, waiting for him to make the first move, never lowering her weapon. She had to know he wasn’t going to walk away. Not now.

He stripped off his drenched overcoat and left it in a heap on the floor, pulling out his sword with one hand. "Don’t make me do this, Cassandra. Please." He tried to reason with her, even though he could see it was a lost cause. He wasn’t going to walk away…and neither was she. But it was against his nature to simply fight her, no matter what she had done. He’d loved her since he was a child. He didn’t want to kill her, any more than he had wanted to kill Methos in France.

Cassandra glared at him. "Do you know how many times he killed me before I ‘learned’ to serve him properly? I haven’t even begun to even the score."

"Cassandra. Please," MacLeod begged again. "Let Methos go. I know what he did to you was horrible. But you’ve had your revenge. The other Horsemen are dead. Look at him, for God’s sake!"

Methos was huddled on the floor, his arms wrapped around his drawn up knees, shivering. He no longer seemed fully aware of what was going on around him.

"I can’t," Cassandra practically moaned, tears running down her cheeks now. "I can’t just forget what he did. He was the worst of them and you let him live. Don’t you see? He let me believe he loved me." She circled around MacLeod, letting the point of her sword almost touch him. "Can you imagine what that was like, Duncan? I thought he was a god."

Duncan regarded her with open pity, not flinching away from her weapon. He held his own sword ready, but down at his side. "I’ll take his head myself before I let you continue with this torture, Cassandra. No one deserves what you’ve done to him—and look what you’re doing to yourself, for pity’s sake! You’ve become worse than him!"

Methos finally looked up at MacLeod’s words, his eyes sunken in his face and haunted. "Yes," he whispered, "kill me." He staggered to his feet, leaning against the wall with one hand to find his balance. "Duncan. End this. Kill me."

Cassandra stood between MacLeod and Methos, her sword held out in front of her with both hands. "I won’t let you take him, Duncan. This is between me and Methos. I don’t want to fight you, but I will."

"Don’t do this," MacLeod pleaded, as he brought his katana up to face her, wondering what she could have possibly done in only three days to make Methos, the ultimate survivor, beg for death. "Please, Cassandra. You can still walk away. Just leave Methos and go."

"You would fight me to save him?"

Duncan’s jaw clenched and he tightened his grip on his sword. "Yes." There was no way he could let her continue her torture of Methos, let her continue to recklessly endanger and even kill anyone who got in her way.

"Mac. Don’t," Methos said, his voice raspy. He was still leaning heavily on the wall for support but he struggled desperately to push away from it. "Don’t fight her."

"You aren’t supposed to interfere," Cassandra told MacLeod. "It’s between me and Methos, and you can’t interfere."

Methos took a stumbling step towards her back, but she remained intent on MacLeod and didn’t notice his movement.

"This isn’t a fair battle!" MacLeod protested, not backing down, trying not to react to Methos’ words. He refused to believe that his friend would rather die than see him fight Cassandra. "He doesn’t even have a sword, and if he did I doubt he could lift it at this point!"

"I didn’t have a sword when he made me his slave!" Cassandra snarled. "I didn’t even know what I was! I thought I kept coming back to life because he wished it—and that’s what he let me believe, the bastard."

"He saved you from Kronos and the others in Bordeaux."

"It’s not enough. It will never be enough. It was his fault Kronos had me in the first place. You know that!"

MacLeod shook his head sadly. He could see the madness in her eyes and it frightened him. He’d seen it so many times before in other immortals—immortals he’d had to fight and kill before they hurt anyone else. Cassandra was someone he’d held in his arms and loved, someone he’d shared important parts of his life with. He didn’t want to have to fight her. "Even if you can justify what you’re doing to Methos, how does that excuse what you did to Amanda? And what about Joe’s friend you killed? The mortal outside his club?"

"No one will stop me this time," Cassandra vowed. "He tried to interfere."

MacLeod’s heart was breaking. He could hear an echo of Ingrid’s words in Cassandra’s…and he’d had to kill Ingrid to stop her from murdering innocent mortals. Had it only been a month or so ago? It seemed like forever; he’d hoped he’d never be faced with that kind of decision to make again. Yet, here it was happening, and he was powerless to stop it. "And Amanda?" he demanded. "What about Amanda?" He didn’t want to believe Amanda was gone; he wanted to hear Cassandra deny it.

But Cassandra smiled through her madness. "She was important to Methos. She had to die."

"He has to die. They all have to die," MacLeod could remember her telling him, in Bordeaux, when he had suggested Methos was trying to help them against Kronos. He realized now that she had spent virtually every minute they were together trying to poison his mind against Methos. "He’s not your friend," she had told him, over and over, until she’d persuaded him it was true. When he’d gone to face Kronos, he’d been completely and utterly convinced that Methos was his enemy. Everything, in Cassandra’s mind, revolved around having her revenge.

MacLeod understood, with a stab of pain, that she’d used him as the instrument of her revenge, and he’d fallen willingly into the trap. Now, an innocent mortal was dead, Amanda was dead, and Methos had endured days of torture. It had to stop.

He stopped circling her and lunged forward. She was startled by his sudden attack, but managed to block his blow. Her expression hardened, although he thought he could see a spark of fear in her eyes. She was good with a sword, but they both knew he was better.

He forced her backwards, quickly, leaving her little room to retreat further, and then began maneuvering her towards the corner.

MacLeod was crying now as he fought, the tears burning down his cheeks, aware that this battle was going to be like so many times before when he’d faced an old friend or lover. He was going to best her. He was confident in his ability and she was already wearing down, tired from her battle with Amanda and overwhelmed by her own strong emotions. But he wasn’t going to be able to kill her. He was going to have her at his mercy, and he wasn’t going to be able to do it, even though he knew she was going to continue to be a danger, not only to Methos but to himself. If he could disarm her and subdue her, he could at least get Methos away from here. What they would do after that, he just didn’t know.

Suddenly, Methos loomed up behind Cassandra, his hands white-knuckled around the hilt of Amanda’s sword, his face a mask of emotions MacLeod couldn’t even begin to interpret. For one horrified second their eyes met across Cassandra’s shoulder, and then Methos struck.

"No!" MacLeod bellowed, but it was already far too late for protests.

"I’m sorry," he heard Methos say as the older immortal fell to his knees, following Cassandra’s lifeless body to the ground. "I’m so sorry."

MacLeod’s screams mingled with Methos’ as the quickening took them both.

He clutched his sword fiercely, as if it was a lifeline, and marveled at the sharing. It was like the simultaneous quickening he’d shared with Methos in Bordeaux, in some ways. But in other ways it was different. Cassandra’s power washed over him, and he could feel it pouring into Methos as well. The lightning was painful as it struck him over and over again, but the physical discomfort was nothing compared to the mental anguish he shared as he relived the last few days of Methos’ torture, seeing it from both Cassandra’s tormented point of view and Methos’. He felt for them both and wished there had been some way to end Cassandra’s anguish short of ending her life. But he knew Methos had done the right thing, had done what he would never have been able to bring himself to do.

When it was finally over, MacLeod could hear someone running to him, feel their arms around him, and he blinked to clear his vision, certain he was imagining Amanda was there holding him. He shook his head, trying to think straight, but she was still there, murmuring reassurances to him as she helped him to his feet. "I thought she killed you," he finally managed to rasp out, relief washing over him in great waves. One less friend gone than he had thought.

"I know," Amanda said, hugging him tight. "She knocked my sword out of my hand, and thought she had me. But you know me, MacLeod. I always knew my years with the circus would come in handy someday. I managed to kick her and get away, but I had to run and I couldn’t get to my sword in time to retrieve it. She told me Methos was already dead, but I didn’t believe her. I followed her here; by the time I got into the building and found the right room, you were already fighting her."

He was just relieved to see her with her head still attached. His arms went around her and he lowered his head to rest on top of hers, breathing deeply, thanking whatever Gods there were for sparing her life this time. For a long time, he simply held her, rocking back and forth, taking comfort in her warmth. Then, he remembered why they were there. "Methos," he grated out.

He pushed away from Amanda, staggering slightly, and went to Methos. The older immortal was still on his knees, his breathing ragged and labored. He looked up, his face streaked with dried blood and tears, as MacLeod loomed over him.

"You broke the Rules," MacLeod said, staring down at the other man.

"I couldn’t let you do it," Methos said. "Not for me."

MacLeod didn’t bother to tell Methos that he wouldn’t have killed Cassandra, that he’d already realized he couldn’t do it. Methos wouldn’t understand anymore than he himself could understand how Methos could break the Rules of the Game. He held out a hand and pulled the other immortal to his feet, then slipped an arm around his waist to steady him. Amanda was already at his other side, her arms around him, her shoulder bracing him up. Her face was a study in confusion as she glanced up at Methos and then across him to MacLeod. He knew she had seen them both receive Cassandra’s quickening.

He shrugged. They were all going to have a lot of questions for each other. But later, when they’d all had time to recover and absorb what had happened.

"She was obsessed," he told Methos, his face twisting as he realized the older immortal was trembling violently. His own body was trying to react in sympathetic attunement. He fought off the feeling of intense cold and picked his discarded coat up from the floor, wrapping it around the other man with Amanda’s help. It was still damp but it would provide at least some warmth.

Methos clutched at the collar of the coat and nodded his thanks. Amanda touched her forehead to his, curling one hand at the back of his neck as he leaned slightly into her embrace.

"She killed a mortal," MacLeod continued. "She tried to kill Amanda. All of it to get to you." He pulled Methos upright, propping him against his shoulder, taking his weight off of Amanda. "Let’s get you out of here."

"Where we going?" Methos mumbled a halfhearted protest, but allowed MacLeod to support him and steer him toward the exit.

"Back to Joe’s." He glanced at Amanda. "Get her sword." He jerked his head to one side, indicating Cassandra’s weapon where it lay on the floor.

"He’s still asleep," Amanda reported, coming out of Joe’s spare bedroom and easing the door closed. "I don’t think he’s moved in hours."

"Let him rest," Duncan said, looking up from the couch. Joe was sitting across from him in his wheelchair and they were playing cards on the coffee table. "Anne gave him a pretty strong sedative. She wasn’t sure how long it would last on one of us, but she doubled the dose, just in case." He shrugged. "It can hardly hurt him. She’ll be back to check on him when her shift’s over at the hospital."

"What do you think he’ll be like when he wakes up?" Joe asked, frowning down at his hand of cards and then discarding two of them.

"What do you mean?" Amanda joined MacLeod on the couch, leaning back into the cushions with a heavy sigh.

Joe waved a hand in the air. "You think he’ll be…you know…sane? After being tortured like that? Look what it did to Cassandra."

MacLeod’s expression darkened. "I don’t know. We’ll have to just wait and see."

"He wouldn’t even talk to any of us last night…except you," Amanda pointed out, shoving MacLeod’s arm slightly.

"I know," MacLeod said, grinning when she made an exasperated noise and pushed at his arm again. He knew she wanted an explanation for the double quickening she’d seen. But he wasn’t sure he was ready to tell her the whole story yet. He still needed to talk to Methos. Alone. He wasn’t sure he understood what happened, himself. But a lot of things made more sense now that he accepted that a connection had been formed between himself and the older immortal. At least now he understood how he’d managed to feel Methos’ pain in his nightmares, how he’d instinctively known that Methos was still alive. He’d have to ask Joe if something like this had ever happened before. But not right now. The memories were still too raw, too painful, and far too personal. In the long run, such a tie could probably prove to be a dangerous liability. For instance, what if one of them lost their head? How would it affect the other one?

Amanda smiled, used to his moods.

MacLeod knew she thought she’d worm the truth out of him, sooner or later—and she probably would—if Methos didn’t tell her first.

He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that relationship yet. He knew Amanda had been fond of Methos since she’d tried to help him obtain the Methuselah stone when Alexa was dying. But he’d never thought she would actually sleep with Methos. He cocked his head to one side, studying her out of the corner of his eye. Then, again, it was perfectly in character for Amanda to want to mother someone she perceived of as hurting. Methos, in the aftermath of Bordeaux and everything that had happened there, must have been an irresistible challenge to her. He could hardly blame Methos for taking her up on whatever offer she had made. Amanda was hard to say "no" to.

MacLeod was a little sad to realize that if he’d been the one to come home to Seacouver first, Amanda would probably have been happy to comfort him instead of Methos. He was a bit jealous that her attention was centered elsewhere ever since he had come back, but he supposed he’d just have to get used to it. There had been plenty of times when he himself had been involved with other women, mortal women, and he’d expected Amanda to understand. It was only fair that he allow her the same freedom without fear of recriminations.

"Well," Joe said, breaking the silence that had fallen over the trio and slapping his thigh lightly, "it’s way past my bedtime. I’m going to bed. You’re all welcome to stay. The couch makes into a bed. The blankets are in the linen closet."

"I’m going to join Methos," Amanda said, glancing at MacLeod to see how he would take it.

He wasn’t surprised. He grinned up at her, then let his expression turn into a leer as he waggled his eyebrows.

"To sleep," she said, shooting MacLeod a dirty look and then slipping into the other room. "Good night, Joe."

"Night." Joe watched her go, then turned to the Highlander, a question in his eyes.

"What?" MacLeod said.

Joe gestured at the closed door of his guest room. "How do you feel about that?"

"You asking as a friend or as a Watcher?" MacLeod let just a hint of teasing enter his tone, although he was more than half-serious. Sometimes he had to wonder how much of his private life ended up in the Watcher’s official records.

Joe glared at him. "As a friend, damn it."

MacLeod shrugged, ignoring Joe’s annoyance. "We don’t have an exclusive relationship. You know that—and she makes up her own mind where she’s going to sleep. I gave up trying to control her years ago." He remembered how Amanda had run off with Corey Raines only a few months earlier and found that he actually preferred her involvement with Methos.

"Yeah. I know that. But Methos? He doesn’t seem her type." Joe shook his head.

"Her type?" MacLeod laughed, half in agreement. But then he stopped and thought about it. No. Joe was wrong. Methos was exactly Amanda’s "type." He was sneaky and manipulative and possessed a cunning rarely seen. Amanda had spent most of her long life as a thief. She and Methos would probably make a dangerous duo if left to their own devices. He shuddered just thinking about the kind of trouble they might get into. He let a slow grin steal over his face. It might be kind of fun to watch, though, and maybe even go along for the ride.

"What?" Joe demanded.

MacLeod just shook his head. "Nothing, Joe. Just…don’t worry about it, okay? Amanda can take care of herself."

"Truthfully, it wasn’t her I was worried about," Joe mumbled, backing up his wheelchair and pointing it towards his bedroom.

Methos rolled over. His eyes flew open in surprise as he realized he was lying on clean sheets in a soft bed with a warm body on one side and his broadsword carefully propped up against a nightstand on the other. Heaving a sigh of relief, he recognized the decor as Joe Dawson’s guest room. Safe territory. Cautiously, he turned his head to the left to examine the warm body. Amanda. His lips quirked upward slightly in a fond smile. She looked innocent and oh-so-young in her sleep. His hand sought for and found the familiar, comforting hilt of his sword and he sighed in complete and utter contentment. He’d thought, for awhile, that he’d never have his sword in his hand again.

Then he remembered everything that had happened. His smile faded and, for a dark, frightening moment, he was afraid the memories would overwhelm him. He lost himself in the fear for a few minutes, before some inner core of strength pulled him away from the bad memories, helping him to calm himself. He’d thought, after Kronos’ death, that nothing could truly frighten him again. He’d been so very, very wrong.

Tugging slightly at his awareness, he could feel the presence of yet another immortal in the outer room. MacLeod.

He got out of bed as quietly as he could. Amanda stirred slightly but didn’t awaken. He looked down at himself and realized he was dressed in a pair of black silk pajamas. He had no memory of getting cleaned up and into them, or even of arriving at Joe’s and falling asleep, for that matter. Running a trembling hand through his hair, he could only feel intense gratitude for whoever had washed away the accumulated sweat and blood. Now that he thought about it, he had a vague memory of MacLeod holding him in the shower while someone else cleaned him up. He thought it might have been Joe Dawson, but the memory wasn’t clear.

He eased open the door and slipped out into the living room. As he suspected, MacLeod was there and was waiting for him. He was sitting up on the couch, an open book next to him on one of the cushions, bearing mute testimony to his insomnia. He looked tired, but none the worse for wear. He was still dressed, wearing a loose black sweater and blue jeans, only his feet bare. His hair was loose, hanging down around his shoulders, giving him a wild look. Methos had to smile at the sight, even though he still wasn’t sure of the reception he was going to get.

"Hi," he ventured.

"You haven’t slept near long enough. I felt you wake up," MacLeod said. He closed the book and set it on the coffee table.

"Yeah," Methos said, crossing the room to sit down across from the other man. The moment Cassandra had died and he had reluctantly opened his soul to take her Quickening, he’d known that MacLeod was there with him, sharing everything with him, connected to him in a manner both strange and familiar. He’d felt that connection to the Highlander in Bordeaux, when they’d shared the deaths of Kronos and Silas. "What d’you make of that, then?"

"I knew she was torturing you, as well."

Methos’ eyebrows went up at that revelation. "I don’t understand? If you felt it, how could you fight her?" He didn’t understand how anybody could withstand that level of pain and exhaustion and still be in shape to fight a sword battle. He could still feel the echoes of the pain deep inside. Cassandra wasn’t the best with a sword, but she wasn’t half bad—and she had had the strength of three millennia to fight with.

MacLeod shifted slightly, his brow furrowed. "I don’t know how to explain it. It wasn’t like she was doing it to me. I could function. But I knew she was hurting you. I had dreams…I thought they were just nightmares, but I can see now that they were a product of this connection we seem to have formed. By the end, the closer we got to you, the more certain I was of where you were. A time or two, it was as if I could even feel your thoughts. During the Quickening…well, you know. I got everything you were feeling then. You and her and me, all tangled up in the pain…and the power."

"It must have been hell for you." Methos was embarrassed to think of MacLeod sharing his thoughts and feelings, and yet he was also strangely comforted. In spite of everything that had passed between them the last few weeks, he still trusted Duncan more than anyone he’d known. Besides, of everyone he’d ever cared about, MacLeod was the only one still left alive. He doubted the Highlander would understand how he felt, though, even if he did feel inclined to explain. He knew damn well MacLeod would never understand how he could have considered someone like Kronos his brother.

"That’s not true," MacLeod said softly, causing Methos to jump. "I do understand."

Methos shook his head, feeling the blood drain from his face. "Are you reading my mind?"

MacLeod’s lips quirked upward slightly. "Not in the way you think. I just guessed. I must have been right, though. You should see your face."

"I can imagine." Methos shifted, uncomfortable under the other man’s scrutiny. "Learn anything?" he asked, trying to adopt a teasing tone, but failing miserably.

MacLeod nodded. "A few things. Kronos was in your thoughts a lot. And, of course, Cassandra."

Methos grimaced. "I’m sorry you had to share that. I have much pleasanter memories you could have shared."

"Like the ones about Alexa?"

The name was like a slap in his face. He’d banished Alexa from his thoughts during the last dark times of his torture, her memories too important and too untarnished to let them be sullied by Cassandra’s mind games. He knew he’d hallucinated about her early on during his imprisonment, but never after that. Unwanted, unbidden tears stung at the back of his eyelids and he was desperately afraid he was going to embarrass himself in front of MacLeod yet again. "I don’t want to talk about this," he said quickly, feeling all the emotions of the last few days gathering inside of him, threatening to overwhelm him.

MacLeod was startled at the sudden about-face, but his expression quickly changed to one of sad understanding when he saw the open emotion on Methos’ face. He reached out to lay one hand on Methos’ arm. "We’ve been through a lot the last few weeks. We don’t have to discuss it right now."

"Maybe not ever," Methos mumbled, shifting slightly.

"Okay," MacLeod agreed easily, squeezing Methos’ arm in sympathy and then relaxing back onto the couch. "What about Cassandra?"

"I suppose…I suppose I did love her, after all. Maybe a little…or maybe I just felt responsible for her. Y’know, if I hadn’t taken her prisoner all those years ago, Kronos would have taken her for himself. He was going to. He would have used her until he was tired of her, then he would have taken her head. I thought I was doing her a favor by saving her from that."

"And?"

Methos sighed. "I made a mistake, Mac. To me, survival was everything. I thought she’d rather live, even as a slave." He paused a second. "I was wrong. Letting Kronos kill her would have been the kindness. You said it yourself, Highlander: no one deserves what I did to her."

"No," MacLeod cut in, "that’s not what I said. I said no one deserves what she did to you."

"It’s the same thing. Don’t you understand that yet? She wanted to show me what it was like. Well, she’d had a good teacher. There’s no doubt in my mind that she paid careful attention to my lessons."

MacLeod shifted, looking uncomfortable. "Is that why you asked me to kill you? Because you felt responsible?"

Methos froze, taken completely by surprise. He’d asked Mac to kill him? He tried to think back over the battle with Cassandra, trying to remember what he’d been thinking and why… "I thought it would distract her," he lied haltingly, remembering the pain and the rage and the guilt he’d been feeling at that moment. But his guilt then hadn’t been because of Cassandra; it had been because he thought Amanda was dead and MacLeod was about to sacrifice his own ideals to save Methos’ life. He trembled, recalling the moment when he’d decided death was preferable. There were few enough times in his long existence when he’d been willing to see his life end.

MacLeod cocked his head to one side. "Try telling me the truth, for a change."

"I was in pain, Mac," Methos sighed. "I wasn’t thinking straight. I was finding it hard to cope with the idea that she’d only been torturing me for three days. I thought I’d been her prisoner a much longer time…and I could see the conflict in you. You didn’t want to kill her and I sure as hell didn’t want to stay there and be tortured." He shrugged. "For a few moments, it was the only alternative I could think up. If my life was going to end, I wanted to at least have some control over when it happened. But you weren’t cooperating. You fought her anyway."

"And you interfered. You broke the rules."

Methos nodded serenely, confident that in this, at least, he had done the right thing. "It was my fault. Everything that happened to her, everything she did, was my fault. It was my responsibility to deal with her, not yours."

"She loved you and you betrayed her," MacLeod said softly, and Methos couldn’t tell if it was an accusation or a simple attempt at understanding.

"She thought I’d protect her from Kronos, and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it. He was more important to my survival than she was…and I feared him, even then. I’m not like you, MacLeod. I wasn’t going to risk my neck to save Cassandra from being raped by Kronos. If I had to sacrifice her to keep him happy…well then, so be it."

"You were the better swordsman, the better fighter. I’ve seen you in action," MacLeod insisted. "You could have beaten him."

"No. I couldn’t. Because I could no more kill him than I could—" He stopped, horrified to realize what he’d almost admitted. If MacLeod ever knew, for a certainty, that Methos couldn’t kill him…well, Methos didn’t want to contemplate the ways such knowledge could be used against him. He’d made that mistake once in his long life, with Kronos. He’d never willingly allow someone to have that power over him again. It was hard for him to admit that he was afraid of Duncan. He’d told Amanda the truth that first morning back in Seacouver. If he was forced to fight MacLeod, he would fight to win…but he still didn’t think he could kill the Scot, if push came to shove. Not even to save himself.

"What?" MacLeod finally said when the sudden silence stretched out and became awkward. "Than what?"

Methos ducked his head down, unwilling to let MacLeod see his eyes. "He was my brother. They all were. I betrayed them. They never expected that of me." "We never raise a blade against each other," Kronos had said. "We are brothers. No man or immortal will ever stand against us or come between us." Kronos had truly believed his words. As cruel as he was, he had had his own brand of twisted loyalty.

MacLeod snorted in disbelief. "You really think Kronos trusted you?"

"You have no idea, you really don’t." Methos stood up and paced the small confines of Joe’s living room. "Did he trust me? With his life. And he called me a fool. If he’d ever looked—really looked—at me, listened to me, like I asked him to, he would have known better." He thought of his last words to Silas: "I am not your brother. You know nothing about me." He remembered the astonishment and betrayal on Silas’ face. He wondered how he would have felt in Silas’ place. Abandoned? Stunned? Confused?

"You tried to warn Kronos off, didn’t you?" MacLeod said, a note of surprise in his voice. "If he’d have left, you wouldn’t have followed. You’d have let him go."

Methos stopped in the middle of the room, his head bowed. He found himself wishing the borrowed pair of pajamas had pockets he could shove his hands into. "Yeah. But he wanted me back. He wasn’t going to leave without me. It was a life or death choice, Mac. I’m not like Cassandra. I wanted to live! I would have done anything, said anything, to keep him from killing me." He turned away from the other man, his shoulders slumping. "I wanted to live," he repeated, softer. "With Kronos, it was join him or die. What d’you think I chose? I came to you afterwards. I don’t know what I was going to say, what I was going to tell you, all I knew was I needed help and you were the only one I could even think to turn to."

"But Cassandra was waiting at my place."

For once, Methos could hear the understanding in MacLeod’s voice. "Yes," he said simply. "Cassandra was already there."

"Why’d you lie to me, then? Why didn’t you just tell me the truth?"

"I thought you’d fight me," Methos said, turning to watch the other man’s reaction carefully. "I thought you’d challenge me."

If looks could kill, MacLeod’s expression would have struck Methos down right then. "I canna believe you’d even think it of me. I dinna threaten to kill you. Ever," MacLeod pointed out, the anger in his eyes replaced by a soul-deep hurt. "Not even when you went with Kronos." He hesitated a moment and Methos almost laughed at the look on his face: it was so unlike Duncan to appear uncertain. "Why were you running away? That morning I came to ask you the truth? Why’d you finally tell me the truth then?"

Methos sighed, letting his exasperation show. Sometimes he really needed to remind himself just how young, in the scheme of things, MacLeod still was. In spite of everything that had happened, he still expected there would be black and white answers, that there would be a reason for everything that made sense. "You wouldn’t leave it alone! I kept asking you to. I told you you shouldn’t be there."

"You knew I wouldn’t just walk away from someone like Kronos, Methos. You may make fun of my ‘code,’ but don’t pretend you don’t understand it or me. What’s the real reason you threw your past in my face like that?"

"I swore… I swore… damn you."

"What? Why don’t you want to tell me? How can it possibly be worse than anything I already know?"

"Kronos wanted me to kill you."

MacLeod leaned forward slightly, his eyes narrowed. "And you swore you would?"

"Yes."

"You broke that vow."

Methos bit at his lower lip, looking away from MacLeod’s searching gaze. He wasn’t sure how to reply. It was self-evident that he hadn’t carried through on the blood-oath he’d sworn to Kronos, but he knew MacLeod was expecting an explanation, some reason why he hadn’t done it…and he didn’t think he should have to explain. The answer to that question should be just as self-evident, if the stubborn Scot would only stop and think—think about who Methos, this Methos in present-day Seacouver, was compared to the Methos who rode, all those millennia ago, with Kronos and the other Horsemen. How could MacLeod have been inside his thoughts, shared his pain and despair—and his love for Alexa—and still not understand him?

"You aren’t going to tell me why, are you?" MacLeod finally said, disgusted. He leaned back into the cushions of the couch and sighed heavily.

Methos shrugged, feigning unconcern at the other man’s frustration. MacLeod had made looking petulant into an art form. But, it wasn’t his way to show his vulnerability, not even to someone as important to him as Duncan was. "Does there have to be a reason? Kronos is dead; you’re still alive. It’s quite obvious that I didn’t kill you."

"Yeah. But would you have done it? If things had gone differently in Bordeaux…?"

"Would you have killed me at Cassandra’s bidding?" Methos countered harshly. Then, he softened his tone, seeing the stricken look on MacLeod’s face. He knew the subject of Cassandra was going to be a raw and open wound for some time to come. "Look, I never asked you to trust me, Mac. You chose to believe I was something I’m not. That’s not my problem. It’s something you’re going to have to come to terms with on your own. If you want me to stay away from you, I will. But it won’t change anything. It won’t change my past, your past, or anything that happened."

MacLeod stared at him long and hard before finally looking down and away. "No, I don’t want you to stay away. I just need some time—"

"Yes, I agree," Methos interrupted. "Get some sleep, Mac. You need it as much as I do. There’s plenty of time left for us to sort out our differences."

"Kronos thought he was the end of time," MacLeod said, still looking away.

Methos laughed, although his heart still jumped at the mention of Kronos’ name. He supposed he’d never unlearn that particular visceral response. Kronos had been a part of his life for far too long to be easily dismissed or forgotten. He’d loved the man and he’d feared him. Pleasure and pain, all wrapped up together. Duncan MacLeod would never understand the attraction, the charisma, that had bound him to Kronos for so long. "It was the end of time…for Kronos," he said. "But for us, it doesn’t have to be. As long as we’re alive, we can remember those we’ve lost and carry on, keeping them alive in our memories. You taught me that, Duncan."

MacLeod nodded. But, when he finally looked up and met Methos’ eyes, Methos knew there was still a vast difference of philosophy looming between them. Mac might want to accept who and what Methos had been in the distant past, might even think he wanted to reconcile with his friend, but it was his nature to fight the impulse. He wasn’t quite ready yet to give up his black and white view of the world.

"I’m going back to Paris," MacLeod finally said, an unmistakable question in his voice.

Methos chose not to ignore it, although it would have been easy to do so. He knew Duncan expected him to disappear, to go underground, like he had so many times before. But why should he make this easier on his stubborn Scottish friend? He’d asked for MacLeod’s acceptance of his past, and he meant to have it one day. "Then I’ll go, too," he answered softly. "I’m done with the Watchers. There’s nothing holding me here." And everything pulling me back to Paris, he didn’t add out loud. Paris was home, anyway. The only thing he’d miss in Seacouver now was Joe Dawson…and chances were the Watcher would follow Duncan to Paris, as well.

MacLeod didn’t hide his surprise. "And Amanda?"

Methos shrugged. He remembered the comfort Amanda had offered him days earlier when he’d first returned to Seacouver, and he couldn’t help but smile fondly. He wouldn’t mind letting her soothe his battered soul for a while longer, if she was offering. But he knew that Amanda would be back with MacLeod before long…if she didn’t simply flit off on another adventure of her own. He understood what the other man was asking him, though. "It was the moment, Mac," he said quietly. "Nothing more. You don’t need me to tell you she goes where she wants to."

MacLeod’s lips quirked upward slightly in a reluctant smile of his own. "No. I don’t."

"I didn’t plan for it to happen."

"Another ‘regret,’ Methos?"

"No." Methos shook his head, ignoring the undercurrent of sarcasm in MacLeod’s question. "No, no regrets there." He headed back toward the bedroom. "I’m going back to bed. I suggest you do the same…"

"…and things will look better in the morning," MacLeod finished for him, sounding weary to the bone.

Methos halted, one hand on the doorknob, his head down. "I sincerely doubt that. Good night, Mac."

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