The Owlís Cry

Ann Wortham

When the moon on a cloud cast night
Hung above the tree tops height
You sang me of some distant past
That made my heart beat strong and fast
Now I know Iím home at last
You offered me an eagleís wing
That to the sun I might soar and sing
And if I heard the owlís cry
Into the forest I would fly
And in its darkness find you by.*

It was still raining, the wind blowing in gusting sheets through the tall trees and sending their branches dancing and swaying in the darkness. Quick flashes of lightning illuminated the long wooden porch and the profile of the man sitting silently on an old two-seater swing. Weíd stopped for the night when the driving rain showed no signs of stopping any time before the wee hours of the morning. It was pure luck that led us to a quaint little bed and breakfast that actually had a room vacant. We were passing through the Blue Ridge mountains at the tail-end of the tourist season and the owner told us that only a week earlier, there wouldnít have been a room available anywhere for miles. I was somewhat disappointed that weíd already missed the most spectacular of the fall foliage, but I also had to admit that the mountains were beautiful enough in their own right, no matter what the condition of the trees dotting their sides and the valleys.

I watched the rain and the lightning from just inside the open doorway for a long time, reveling in the primitive beauty revealed by the flickering light. I even enjoyed the deep rolling sound of the thunder that followed each flash of lightning. There was something very elemental and comforting about it. Towering pine trees lined the gravel driveway stretching back to the roadway some distance away. There was no sign of traffic this late at night although I suspected that there would have been some late-night travelers earlier in the tourist season. A valley, ringed by the mountains, lay to one side of the porch and the lightning display over the peaks in the distance was enough to take my breath away.

A small creak as my traveling companion shifted on the wooden porch swing brought my attention back to him. Adam Pierson. Iíd fallen asleep with him by my side and awakened not long afterwards to find myself alone. A sudden dread had gripped me and Iíd been unable to stop myself from dressing quickly and going in search of him.

I studied him from the doorway. Although I couldnít see him well in the dim light, I knew his features as well as my own. He was tall and lean, although his strength often surprised me. He wore his clothes loose, but underneath he was all muscle. I remembered the first time Iíd seen him. I was working as a waitress at Joeís bar at the time, fast running out of time and sometimes contemplating how much easier suicide would be than attempting to carry on. I had no real reason to fight to live, and the doctors were already telling me it was hopeless.

Then, there was Adam: dark hair cut short; hazel eyes that could turn so gray and enigmatic, revealing everything at the same time they revealed nothing; sharp features and a patrician nose; high angular cheekbones; a lovely accent that sounded British, although I suspected he was not from England. He told me heíd traveled a lot. He spoke several languages and appeared to be fluent in themóand he loved me. Suddenly, there was a reason to want to live again.

I thought that, like me, he was simply appreciating the scenery and the rainfall, and it wasnít until I heard the quiet sobbing that I realized why heíd gone out on the porch after we made love. Foolishly, I had believed heíd left me because he thought I was asleep and he wasnít tired yet. The evening was relatively young and I knew he had often kept late hours before he got it into his head to show me the world. Iíd seen him at Joeís when I was still working thereóoften until closing timeósometimes alone, sometimes with Joe, and sometimes with other friends of his.

I was torn. I wanted to go to him, put my arms around him, and tell him everything was going to be all right. But we both knew that everything was not all right. My own illness I could bear; Adamís heartbreak I could not. I wondered how often heíd stolen away from me during the night, just like this, and dealt with his fear and pain all alone. Iíd never seen him lose control or show the slightest hint that he couldnít cope with my impending death. He spent his days trying to make me happy, trying to make me forget about what was coming. He had never given me any indication that he was having a problem dealing with my situation.

I knew he felt he needed to protect me. I was always petite, and the months of fighting a losing battle were already taking a toll on my weight. I had a naturally fair complexion, as well, so I tended to paleness. Adam often said I looked translucent. In a way, I think he was afraid that one day heíd look at me and be able to see right through me.

Perhaps it would have been better if Iíd simply turned away and gone back to bed, if Iíd left Adam to his sorrow and his solitudeÖbut he was everything to me. All I had left in my worldÖa world that was rapidly shrinking, moment by moment. I had no family and Iíd left all my friends behind in Seacouver. Toward the end, most of them werenít coming around anymore, anyway. It was odd, the way other people reacted to a terminal illness. My doctors had warned me and tried to prepare me. Somehow, I never really believed them, though, until the visits and the phone calls slowly stopped. There had only been Joe, my boss, my friend, who understood what I was going through better than anyone else ever had Öbefore Adam.

I went to him and sat down, reaching out to pull him toward me, silent, afraid to speak. Would he be embarrassed I had found him crying? Men were often so ashamed of their emotions, although I never thought that Adam would be. Heíd always seemed so open and honest with me.

He wrapped his arms around me and I felt his lips brush the top of my head.

"Alexa," he whispered, with a catch still in his voice. I could feel him trembling and knew he was trying to regain control.

"Why didnít you tell me?" I asked. I felt safe and protected in the circle of his embrace, as usual.

"What?" He sniffled and I found it incredibly endearing. Heíd protected me as best he could the last few months. Suddenly, I wanted desperately to protect him.

"That you wereó"

"Crying," he interrupted me. "You have enough to worry about."

"No," I insisted. "I have nothing to worry about, thanks to you. You donít have to shoulder everything, you know. You offered to share my burden, Adam. Share. You donít have to carry it for me. Youíve given me everything I could ever want. You donít have to cry for me."

"I was crying for myself," he said, his tone harsh and bitter. "Iím a selfish bastard, Alexa, as youíll probably someday learn. And I was crying for myself because I donít want to lose you."

I tried hard not to laugh. The thought of Adam calling himself "selfish" suddenly struck me as the funniest thing. Iíd never known anyone less selfish. I told him so.

"You donít know me," he said sadly, his arms around me tightening slightly. "You just donít know me, Alexa."

I started to voice an automatic protest. How could I not know this man whom Iíd spent the last four months with, practically twenty-four hours a day? But the words froze on my tongue. He was right. I knew next to nothing about him. I knew that Joe Dawson was a good friend of his. Joe had been good to me, and I suppose, in a way, I had assumed that if Adam was a friend of Joeís then he must be "okay."

What else did I know? He never spoke of family. Sometimes he talked about Duncan MacLeod and Richie Ryan, who I also knew only through Joe. There was a woman he mentioned once or twice, as well. I believe her name was Amanda. I was never quite clear what her relationship to Adam was, although I saw her a time or two in the company of MacLeod and sort of assumed they were dating. Every once in awhile during our travels, Adam phoned Joe and once, that I knew of, he had called MacLeod. The phone calls seemed to be mostly social in nature although one call I remembered he suddenly excused himself and went into another room to finish. At the time, I hadnít wondered about it too much. I was too happy and I trusted Adam implicitly.

"I suppose I donít really know much about you," I admitted. "Are you offering to tell me? I suppose youíre really some kind of big city gangster. I should have asked you more questions about where this unlimited money you seem to have is coming from." I tried for a teasing tone but I wasnít sure I succeeded. He was quiet and the silence soon grew awkward. I wished I could see his face but I didnít want to move from his warm embrace. His cheek was resting lightly on the top of my head and his arms still held me securely.

Finally, he cleared his throat. "AlexaÖI want to tell you everythingÖ"

"But?" I prompted.

"It might be dangerous for you to know." He paused a second. "And Iím afraid you wonít believe me."

My heart was suddenly racing. Had I hit a target I wasnít even aiming for? Was it possible that my sweet, caring Adam Pierson, the love of my life, my rescuer, my protector, was some kind of criminal? I couldnít imagine it. What would that make Joe, then? In my mindís eye, I could see the strange blue tattoo Joe had on the inside of his wrist. The same tattoo that Adam also wore. Maybe it was a symbol of some kind of strange illegal association. I swore at myself and cut off my whirling thoughts. Sometimes having an overactive imagination was a curse. There was no doubt Adam had felt my sudden tenseness.

"Donít be afraid," he said, as he stroked my long brown hair with a gentle hand. "Iím sorry. I shouldnít have frightened you. Iíve been so careful for so long that itís hard for me to trust anyone. Duncan and Joe are the first friends Iíve had in a long time, Alexa. I never expected to meet someone like you. I never expected to fall in love."

"You donít have to tell me anything you donít want to," I said.

For a moment, I thought he was actually going to tell me something. Something very important. But, then, he stiffened, his whole body going rigid and his arms around me vibrating with tenseness.

"Not now," he moaned. "Oh, not now."

"What is it?" I sat up straight, alarmed.

He was already on his feet and grabbing for his long black coat which was draped over the porch railing. "Letís go inside," he suggested brusquely, pulling at my arm. "Come on." He glanced over his shoulder as if he expected someoneóor somethingóto be watching us from out in the darkness.

I was confused by his sudden change of mood. He seemed frightened, somehow, and his expressionÖwell, the only word I could think of to describe it was hunted. I stood up and let him put his arm around me as we walked toward the door.

When we reached the doorway, he turned and stared outward into the surrounding woods. Following the direction of his gaze, I could see nothing there except the trees swaying in the wind.

"What is it?" I whispered.

He swallowed, hard. "Nothing. Go inside." He shivered and gave me a little push on the back.

"Going somewhere?" A voice suddenly asked from the yard.

Adam froze, his shoulders slumping. He stared down at his feet for a moment and then, he drew in a deep breath. When he raised his head, his expression was one of resignation and determination. He whirled around and, in the blink of an eye he was standing on the steps of the porch, a long, very real, very wicked looking sword glinting in his hands. He was holding it in front of himself as he faced outward into the surrounding darkness.

"Adam?" I took a hesitant step toward him.

"Alexa, stay back," he growled, his voice deep and frightening.

I couldnít see his eyes and I was glad. My heart was in my throat. I had no idea where the sword had come from and, worse than that, I had no idea who this man in front of me truly was. My mild-mannered Adam was inexplicably gone.

Suddenly, as the rain eased slightly in its intensity, I could hear the sound of footsteps coming closer and then a large, broad-shouldered man was standing there in front of Adam, a drawn sword in his right hand. His pale blond hair was shoulder length, hanging wet around his face. His clothesóa plain white T-shirt and jeansówere wet and muddy, as if he had hiked through the woods for a long ways in the rain. I suppose he must have, since we hadnít seen or heard a car approaching. The only impression I had of his features were that they were blunt and square, his expression cruel. I could feel his gaze lingering on me for a moment, and even that small amount of attention chilled me to the bone.

"Adam PiersonÖand I donít even know you," Adam said, so calm, so matter-of-fact, as if strange men with swords threatened him every day of the week. "Why donít you just move along? We donít have to do this."

"James Bell," the man said, a sneer in his voice. "And you may not know me, but I know you." He paused a moment, moving a few steps closer. For some reason, all I could focus on was how white his teeth looked in the bursts of lightning. "Methos," he spat out. "Iíve followed you for weeks. Will you come down from there or must I come after you?"

Adam clenched his jaw and seemed to steel himself. His voice grew harsh. "I suppose weíll have to dance after all, then." He jerked his head slightly toward me. "Leave the girl out of it?"

Bell smiled again, the flash of teeth one of the most terrifying things Iíd ever seen. "All right. Itís you I want."

Somehow, I wasnít reassured and I donít think Adam was, either.

Adam didnít tear his gaze from Bellís for one second, but he addressed me. "Alexa, if he kills me, you must run. As quickly as you can. He wonít be able to follow right away. Do you understand?"

I tried to answer him but nothing came out of my mouth except for an unexpected squeaking noise.

"Do you understand?" Adam repeated. He had gone down the porch steps and he and Bell were already circling one another, their blades held out in front of them. There was no doubt in my mind, watching the way they moved, that both men knew how to handle their weapons.

"Yes," I finally managed to say, forcing the word out past the lump of terror in my throat. Bless Adam for not asking me to run before they were done fighting, though. He knew me, knew my stubborn streak, I suppose. There was no way I would simply turn and run away without knowing what had happened to him. I was dying, anyway. My situation had made me foolhardy, Adam often told me. I straightened my shoulders and determined that, in spite of the promise Iíd just made, if this James Bell character killed my Adam, I would do everything in my power to make him pay. If Adam was gone, I would have nothing left to lose.

The two men were still circling warily, taking each otherís measure. The lightning flashes were as strong as ever, although the rain finally stopped. The ground was muddy and slippery and I found some oddly detached part of myself worrying that Adam might slip and fall in the scattered leaves .

Bell jerked his head slightly. "Into the woods, old man," he said.

Adam nodded a curt acknowledgment and the two men moved toward the wooded area surrounding the inn, Bell backing up cautiously while Adam followed. Neither man lowered his weapon for a second. I scrambled to follow them, afraid to let them out of my sight. I was scared witless but there was no way I was going to stay behind while Adam might be murdered by this insane stranger. If I had been rational, of course, I would have run into the inn and phoned the police. But I wasnít thinking straight and everything was moving too fast for me to cope.

The moment the two men were into the trees and out of sight of the inn, Bell lunged forward, his blade striking straight for Adamís heart. But Adam was too quick for him. He jumped backwards and whirled around, bringing his sword up quickly to cross blades with his opponent.

I leaned against the rough bark of a tree and watched, grateful for the silver light of an almost full moon as it peeked out from behind the clouds formerly obscuring it. Occasional flashes of lightning and odd little sparks from the clanging swords also served to illuminate the scene. In a moment of insanity, I wondered if I had fallen backward in time like the heroines of the romances I sometimes read and that Adam liked to tease me about.

Adam and Bell were crouching, whirling, and lunging at one another, over and over again, until I was certain they would both fall over from sheer exhaustion. But still the battle went on. I could see that Adam was tired, his clothes plastered to him with sweat, in spite of the coolness of the air, but he never slowed down for an instant. A time or two, Bell managed a sharp thrust into Adamís side, and I could see the blood running down Adamís sweater. I tried not to scream, not wanting to distract Adam for even a moment, but I couldnít understand how he kept on fighting, in spite of his obvious injuries.

At last, Bell faltered slightly and lost his footing in the wet leaves. As he began to fall, and before I was quite aware of what he meant to do, Adam swung his blade in a wicked arc and separated Bellís head from his shoulders. Somehow, until that moment, my mind was unable to grasp the reality of what was happening. I suppose I was still trying to convince myself that Adam and Bell were really playing at some stupid male game and they would soon stop their sparring. Or perhaps one would stab the other in the arm and declare himself the winner.

There was blood everywhere. It soaked Bellís body as it fell to the ground and it sprayed over the front of Adamís shirt.

A thick white mist began to rise from Bellís body, lighting the area with an unnatural glow. The forest was suddenly still and completely silent, so still that I fancied I could hear my heart pounding in my chest. There was a strong feeling of electricity in the air as Adam turned to face me, still holding his sword up in front of himself with both hands.

His eyes met mine and he took a halting step toward me, but the growing tendrils of mist seemed to grab at his legs and then creep up his body, holding him in place. "Stay back," he warned, his voice choking. "No matter what happens next, stay back until itís over."

"What?" I finally found my voice to scream. "Until whatís over?" Foolishly, I had believed the death of Bell meant everything was over, that we were now safe. Although how safe I really was in the company of a man who carried around a concealed sword and chopped peopleís heads off with itÖ

Adam didnít have time to answer me because the mist had wound its way up his torso and he suddenly threw back his head and screamed. It was the most horrifying sound Iíd ever heard. If I hadnít been so terribly frightened myself, I would have gone to him, in spite of his words of warning. But the world was coming down around my ears and all I could do was fall to my knees on the cold ground, and watch as lightning and sparks and the dreadful living mist seemed to rip the very life out of Adamís body, tossing him to and fro. Explosions ripped through the trees and undergrowth, setting off small fires, as bolt after bolt of brilliant white lightning struck Adamís sword and enveloped him, twisting around him while he screamed and screamed. I plastered my hands over my ears, unable to bear the horrible sound any longer. It felt like Adamís torture went on forever.

When it was finally over and the flashes of light died down, Adam fell to his knees with a sickening thump, his sword buried point first in the muddy ground. I lifted my head cautiously, certain he was dead. But I could hear him breathing raggedly.

I didnít understand how he could possibly be alive, but I scrabbled to my feet and ran to him, flinging myself down next to him in the mud and leaves. He threw his arms around me, still gasping for breath, and pulled me close to his chest. I let him hold me and tried not to think about what had just happened. We were both still alive, but I knew nothing was ever going to be the same between us again.

A long time later, I heard him whisper, "Are you all right?"

Was I all right? I wasnít sure. Physically, I was as well as could be expected. Emotionally, I was shell-shocked.

He shook me slightly. "Are you all right?" There was a note of rising panic in his voice.

"Yes," I forced myself to say. "Yes."

Adam moved to stand up, pulling me with him. Then he staggered slightly. I steadied him as best I could. He was so much taller and heavier than me that I almost fell back to the ground when he leaned against my shoulder.

"Sorry," he said brusquely. He pulled at the hilt of his sword and it made a sharp sucking sound as its tip came out of the mud. He stared at the sword and I wondered what he was thinking. I also wondered, once again, where the sword had come from. In all our months together, Iíd never noticed it before.

As if he could read my mind, he said, "Yes, I always carry it. There is a reason." His gaze turned to meet mine in the moonlight. "Everything, Alexa. Iíll tell you everything. But first," he waved a hand at his bloody clothing, "I think weíd better get cleaned up."

I started to ask him what we were going to do about Bellís body, but when I forced myself to glance at it, Adam pulled my face gently back around.

"Donít look," he said.

"Butó"

"Donít worry," he insisted. "It will take care of itself."

"I donít understand!"

"I know."

"He knew my name," Adam was saying into the phone receiver when I came out of the shower. Heíd showered and changed first, and then sent me to clean up while he made a phone call. He raised his gaze to mine, his expression unreadable, although I thought I saw perhaps a hint of something there. Something familiar. I still didnít want to believe that the Adam Iíd known and loved was a fiction.

I was still shocked that no one at the inn had been awakened by the tremendous light show and explosions, not to mention the clanging of swords, that had just taken place out in the woods. Adam didnít seem surprised, though, and I could only conjecture that the other few guests had assumed the noise was due to the storm and had stayed safe in their beds. I was somewhat relieved, as I didnít know what explanation we could have given for Adamís torn and bloodied clothes as we made our way back to our room.

I didnít ask him who he was talking to. It was obvious he hadnít expected me to return from the bathroom so quickly, and that he would have preferred to continue the conversation in private. I sat down on the bed and continued to towel dry my wet hair. There were not going to be any more secrets between us, if I had anything to say about it.

Adam gave a slight shrug and continued. "Look, Joe. I donít know how he found out or how he found me. Iíd never met the fellow before." A slight pause. "He challenged me! What the hell was I supposed to do! Heís dead!" There was a long silence, Adam simply nodding, staring at me the whole time. I wished I could tell what he was thinking. Then, "Right. Iíll call Mac." Another long pause. "No! Iíll call him. I think it would be best if Alexa and I went to Egypt right away. We can get a flight out of Atlanta, perhaps."

I could tell by the look on Adamís face during the next pause on his end that Joe was asking about me. "Sheís all right," he said softly. Then, "I donít know. I hope so." He exchanged a few pleasantries with Joe and then hung up the phone.

"Weíre going to Egypt now?" I asked, my tone carefully neutral. I could feel myself starting to shake from somewhere deep inside.

Adam straightened his shoulders as if he was preparing himself for something awful. "If you still want toÖif you arenít afraid to go with me."

"Why would I be afraid?" I knew as soon as I said the words that my false bravado was glaringly transparent. My hands were visibly trembling now.

Adam laughed, although I didnít think he was amused. "Donít play games with me, Alexa. Please. I canít bear it right now." He stared at my shaking hands.

That hurt me to the bone. More than the realization that heíd told me nothingónothingóof himself. Tears sprang to my eyes in spite of my determination not to cry, and I couldnít stand to look at him for a long moment. I was terrified, but I wasnít playing games, as he put it. I just didnít know what to say.

Then his hand was on my shoulder, warm and reassuring, like so many times before. "Iím so sorry," he all but whispered. "I can be cruel, Alexa. I will tell you everything and then youíll have to decide if you want to stay with me. If you want to go back to Seacouver, Joe or Mac will come and get you, make sure you get back safely. I have to leave the country, or Iíd take you myself."

"I donít want to leave you," I said, knowing with all my heart that it was the truth. I didnít care who or what he was. I didnít care how frightened I was. I didnít even care that Iíd just watched him kill a man. It was true, I supposed, that "love conquers all."

"You donít know everything yet," he insisted. "Wait."

Iím sure he would have told me, then and there, but the phone rang. He looked torn a moment, then with a quick word of apology, he picked it up.

"Yes?" he said, then mouthed "MacLeod" at me.

I nodded in understanding and tried to get my reeling emotions under control. This time, Adamís conversation was short. From what I could hear of it, MacLeod was worried and wanted to meet us in Atlanta, perhaps even fly to Egypt with us. But Adam dissuaded him and promised to call him back later. He called MacLeod a "mother hen" as he said his farewells. As Adam disconnected the call, he took the receiver off the hook and carefully laid it to one side. "No more interruptions," he explained. "I think we should leave first thing in the morning, so we need to get this conversation over with."

I couldnít disagree, although I was so tired I wished we could simply go to sleep and renew ourselves first. I know my weariness was showing on my face because Adam got that certain "look," the one that always told me he was worrying about me again.

"Maybe we should waitÖ" he said, but stopped when I shook my head vehemently. As tired as I was, I wasnít going to wait one more second to find out everything I could about Adam Pierson.

"All right," he sighed. "Iím sure you have a lot of questions. Why donít we start there?"

"That man. Who was he?"

Adam shrugged. "He said his name was James Bell. Joeís checking on him for me. Iíve never met him before today."

"Why did he want to kill you, then?" The thought of a total stranger wanting to murder Adam just did not make sense to me.

"Because he knew who I was."

"You arenít Adam Pierson." I didnít phrase it as a question. The answer was already obvious, even to me.

"No."

"And?" I prompted, when he didnít continue. "Who are you, then?" I had already accepted, somewhere underneath the numbing shock, that he was involved in something obviously illegal. Normal, law-abiding men didnít carry swords in twentieth-century America, for one thing. They certainly didnít engage in sword fights to the deathÖand they didnít use aliases and get upset when people found out their real names, either. I figured that no matter what he was about to tell me, it could hardly be worse than anything I was already imagining.

"My name is Methos," he said, sounding uncharacteristically formal. He said it like the name meant something, too.

"Just Methos?" It was a strange name, although something about it struck me as familiar. Thinking back, I realized Iíd heard someone call him the name once before. It must have been Joe or MacLeod, but I couldnít remember more than that.

He shrugged again, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans. "No, not Ďjustí Methos. The Methos." Again, with a special little emphasis, like the name was more than just a name.

"I donít understand."

"You will." He gave me a hard stare. "I hope. Any more questions?"

I wondered how he could keep his voice so calm, so precise. More questions? I had a hundredóno, a thousandóquestions whirling through my mind, but Iíd settle for answers to the basics at the moment. "Why did a man named James Bell, who youíd never met, want to kill you simply because he knew your nameóor one of your namesówas Methos?"

Adamís face twisted and I wasnít sure what his expression meant. "Because there can be only one. He knew that if he killed me, heíd inherit a lot of power. Itís why I hide. Why Iíve hidden for so terribly longÖuntil I met MacLeod in Paris last year and everything changed. Until I met Joe and Richie and got involved in this damnable Game again. Damn it. I knew this was going to happen if I stayed around MacLeod for too long." He paced in front of me, clearly agitated.

He sounded so angry and so unlike the Adam I thought I knew that I actually flinched. He seemed to be talking to himself more than to me. "Adam," I tried to interrupted him, "Youíre talking gibberish."

He stopped babbling and turned to focus on me again, his eyes darkening as his expression turned soft and more familiar. "Sorry," he said. He took both my hands in his larger stronger ones, and held them, crouching in front of me. I shuddered slightly as I realized the reason for the calluses on his palms. "My name is Methos. I am immortal. More than that. I am the oldest living immortal. I am over five thousand years old."

His words came in a rush, as if he was afraid I might try to stop him before he got them all out. But I was too stunned to interrupt him. Of all the things I might have imagined him telling me, the words heíd just said had never come to mind. Could it be that Adam was insane?

"You think Iím crazy," he said quickly, before I could gather my thoughts enough to say anything. "Thereís much more. But, I assure you itís all the truth. Joe can verify it. Mac will back me up."

MacLeod and Joe, too? Maybe everyone I knew was insane. I actually considered the possibility for a whisper of time. I simply shook my head, still unable to speak. But I did remember Bell calling Adam "old man" before they began to fight. What could he have meant? To look at them, Bell had appeared at least forty years old or so. My Adam couldnít be more than thirty, if even that. Could he?

Adam let go of my hands and went to fetch his sword. For one panicked second I thought he was going to murder me. He saw the fear in my eyes, though, and I knew Iíd wounded him far worse than any physical hurt could ever touch me.

"I will never harm you," he said softly. "Never. Please believe me, even if you think Iím completely mad. Please believe that."

I nodded. Then I gasped as he took the sword and stabbed himself with a wicked thrust through his lower leg. He grunted in pain and fell to the floor, blood staining his pants. With another groan, he pulled the blood-stained blade free and let it clatter to one side. "Damn, that hurts," he said through gritted teeth.

I rushed to him, my hands automatically going to the wound. I tried desperately to staunch the flow of blood, convinced now that he was indeed insane and afraid he would simply allow himself to bleed to death rather than admit he was mortal. Then I froze, in awe and surprise and fear. As I watched, the gaping wound began to close and heal, and soon there was no sign of an injury. His pantsí leg was bloodied and torn, but the skin underneath the fabric was smooth and unbroken.

"I donít understand," I stammered. I stared at the blood staining my hands and his clothes, unable to believe the evidence of my own eyes. Surely there was some trick involved.

He reached with a trembling hand to stroke the side of my face. "Itís already healed, love. I cannot be permanently injured. I cannot die. The only way someone can kill me is to cut off my head, as I did to James Bell while you watched."

He was telling me the truth. It was there in his shining hazel eyes, in the sad, haunted look he gave me as he told me the rest of the story. He told me that there were other immortals, and that many of them were evil. He explained how when one immortal dies, their life energy is released in something called a "quickening" and the nearest living immortal receives all of the dying onesí energy and power.

"The quickening is what you saw after Bell died," he told me.

"I thought you were dying," I whispered, briefly reliving those horrified moments. "I thought no one could survive something like that. You were screamingÖ"

"Itís indescribable, Alexa. Painful, yesÖand wonderful. Absorbing another immortal isÖwell, it can be addictive. Thatís why some immortals become Ďhead hunters.í They go out of their way to kill others of us because they want to become more powerful, and because they enjoy the quickening. Bell knew that I was very old and powerful."

I stroked one finger across his wrist and the blue tattoo stamped there. "Is that what this means, then? That youíre an immortal?"

He shook his head. "No. It means Iím a Watcher, like Joe. Watchers are mortals who know about us. They observe us, chronicle our lives." He paused a bare second. "Our deaths. And they keep the secret. Most immortals donít know the Watchers even exist. Iím in charge of chronicling the life of Methos." He smiled that little enigmatic half-smile he sometimes gave when he was making fun of himselfóor somebody close to him. "I make sure I never find myself."

"But Joe knows the truth?"

Adam nodded. "Yes. He knows who I really am. Not many people do. Only Joe and MacLeod and Amandaóand now you."

Everyone knew, it seemed. Everyone who I had counted on these last few months knew this incredible secret, and no one thought it was important for me to know. I felt completely alone for the first time since I had met Adam. "If I wasnít dying, you wouldnít have told me. Would you?" I caught his gaze and held it. "Would you?" I insisted.

"Probably not," he admitted. "For your sake," he added hastily. "You can see how dangerousó"

I interrupted him, seized by a flash of fury. It was the first time I could ever remember being angry at Adam. "Dangerous! You obviously didnít mind inviting me on a world tour with you, in spite of the danger. How much more dangerous was it for me to be with you while not knowing the truth? You couldnít possibly have thought I was a threat to you?"

He hung his head, ashamed. "I couldnít bear the thought of being without you. I was only being selfishÖand how could I tell you something like this? Even I wouldnít be so cruel as to willingly tell you Iíve lived five thousand years while your time is already running out."

I knew that this, too, was the truth. Until this moment, I had never doubted that Adamís love for me was real. Even now, I still believed he loved me. There was no question in my heart that I still loved him, whoever he wasówhatever he wasó and whoever he had been. But could I live with what he was? Assuming I believed his story, the span of my entire life must be no more than a mere blink of time to him. A life that stretched back five thousand years was incomprehensible to me. "I love you," I finally said, realizing that nothing else mattered. What more was there to say? I didnít have too much longer left to live. Why should I be denied the comfort of Adamís love? It didnít matter to me that he was immortal or what he might have done in the past.

He didnít raise his head, but continued to study his bare feet. "AlexaÖI think you should go back to Seacouver. Iíve been out of the Game for a long time. Hundreds of years. But Bell knew me as Methos." He finally looked up at me. "Thereíll be others. If Bell found me, that means somehow the word is out. Mac and Joe will watch out for you."

"Whatever youíre going through, I can handle it. If youíll let me," I said, throwing his own words of months earlier back at him. Iíd treasured those words all these months, and it gave me a strange sense of power to be able to offer him back his own gift of unconditional support. "The only thing I couldnít face is being separated from you. I wonít let you send me away."

I watched carefully as the despair disappeared from his expression to be replaced by a dawning look of hope. He pulled me into his arms and held me tight.

*All quotes from "Samain Night" by Loreena McKennitt

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