Author's Notes: This is it. Finally. Thanks to everyone who stuck with me all along and wanted to know what happened between Methos and Sarah and thanks to comet, for the beta-read.
Disclaimer: Methos and Richie belong to Davis/Panzer Productions. Sarah, James, Groundskeeper Willie, and Robert Evans, are mine. Bryan Cutler--whom I managed to keep from bursting in and throwing them into a wine cellar until they came to terms--belongs to Jen Allen. If I were making any money, I'd gladly share.
"The story of love is not important. What is important is that one is capable of love. It is perhaps the only glimpse we are permitted of eternity." -Helen Hayes
Methos stretched out his legs and leaned back against the rock he had been sitting on. The rain fell steadily, soaking him to the skin, but the mist on the loch was swirling in a beautiful and eerie dance and he had nowhere else to be. The world had changed immeasurably in the years he had walked it. Civilizations had risen from the dirt and fallen into ashes. Millions of humans had died in what they thought were just wars. But political boundaries and human folly were fluid; the water, the sky, the deep green of a Highland autumn remained constant.
She wasn't here. She hadn't been here any of the dozens of times he had come and spent days camped on this beach and she wasn't here now, despite the fact that, after numerous set-backs, the dig to excavate the bodies of her family was finally underway. He'd missed her, probably; wasted time leaving Old Seacouver once the ways were clear after the recent skirmish with the Freeman faction. She'd made it out nearly a full month ahead of him and taken the boy they'd rescued from the shelling back to her home in Johannesburg. Bryan was right. He should have gone to Africa.
Close. They'd been so close to reconciliation in the tunnels of war-torn Seacouver. It could have happened if they'd had one or two more days together in a place where nothing mattered but the now. But he'd lost her in the confusion of a small riot near a holding camp and by the time Bryan's unit found him, she was gone.
She wasn't in the ruins of her village where the archeology students were marking off grid lines with chalk and rope on the grass. She wasn't in any of the towns where they erected monuments to the General she had been in the Gaelic Rebellion. She wouldn't be here now, no matter how hard he wished it or wanted it. But the air was clean, and if he closed his eyes he could pretend that it was the Middle Ages again and that they had come through Scotland on a whim.
They'd been friends in these hills. They'd danced into the wee hours at a Gathering in the MacGreggor clan seat that stood a few hundred yards behind him. They'd come to the ruins of her village shortly after her one thousandth birthday and laid flowers on the mounds that were the graves of her first husband and family.
Once--close to a century ago now, when he was in a particularly foul mood, she brought him here, rowed him out into the loch and dumped him overboard into the icy waters. Because he deserved it, she said. He came up sputtering and swearing to find her stripping off her clothes and preparing to dive in. They built a bonfire on the beach and made love all night waiting for his clothes to dry.
But she wasn't here now. And he doubted very much that he could work up the courage to go to Africa and face her. Richie would be there, for one thing; terminally infused with the vigor of youth and more a part of her than Methos could ever hope to be. *He* should have been here in 1997 to break a Rule and save her life--not that kid from the streets. *He* should have the bond of a shared Quickening with her.
Methos heaved a sigh and shifted on the stones. It was no use thinking ill of Richie. The boy certainly made a good scapegoat, but he wasn't really a threat to his relationship with Sarie. In fact, he felt rather confident that Richie would do just about anything in his power to help them get back together. Richie, like Bryan, Jim, Connor, and Duncan believed that he and Sarie were meant to be together. Soulmates.
Problem was, soulmates weren't supposed to try to kill one another over a student. Not even one that was a blood relation.
He sighed again. Adrianne. Sarie never should have figured out that immortals *were* capable of bearing children. It was dangerous knowledge at best; deadly at worst. He knew with the certainty of one who had been there that knowing you have children in the Game--brothers and sisters in the Game--would make you search every face for a familiar trait. God knows he'd spent enough time trying to figure out how many sons or daughters he might have in the world.
A third sigh banished all thoughts on the matter with practiced ease. If there was one thing that Methos had perfected over the years, it was how to get rid of unwanted thoughts. The Mother of All Defense Mechanisms, or so Bryan had called it once.
It suited his purpose, though, and he spent a few minutes staring out across the water before closing both eyes and willing pleasant thoughts. Sarie's apartment in Seacouver. He went through it mentally step by step, examining every object his memory could recall, searching for hints of the smells that were an integral part of her; the cranberry colored overstuffed couch that matched the threading running through a primarily blue oriental carpet, books stacked on every flat surface, a celestial calendar that had been an antique then and would be worth a small fortune now...her battered steamer trunks and wrought iron bed frame.
He'd almost drifted off into a peaceful, if not damp, sleep when the ringing in his head announced that another immortal was present. Methos groaned and made a mental note of where his sword was, but didn't bother to get up or scan the area. Let the other guy be nervous. He was comfortable.
A full minute passed before he heard boots crunching on the stones of the beach and almost another came and went by the time the fellow immortal was standing in front of him. He cracked one eye open and looked at the legs that were in his immediate line of vision. Long. And clad in a pair of heavy cotton pants that were tucked into wellie boots. The point of a sword hung just below the left ankle, unsheathed and gleaming.
"What on earth are you doing here?" Sarah MacGreggor asked.
Methos' head snapped upwards to take in the rest of her figure; shrouded by a brightly colored wool anorak that was open at the throat to reveal the almost vanished line of the scar that had taken her mortal life and plunged her into the Game. Her hair, long and loose, hung in damp waves across her shoulders and her cheeks were flushed with the coolness of the day.
God she was beautiful.
And he was grinning like an idiot.
Sarah sheathed her sword in a fluid motion and pushed her hair off her forehead. This was about the *last* person on the planet she expected to find in Glenstrae.
Methos swallowed and found some semblance of composure. "I came for the view," he said, sweeping one finger to indicate the water and the dramatic landscape of the shoreline.
Her face twisted into a crooked grin that wrinkled her nose. "It's better up on the point."
"Yeah?" He got to his feet. "Let's go, then."
She fell into step next to him, unconsciously matching her stride to his long legs and letting her memory guide her feet across the stones while she tried to make sense out of the emotions swirling in her head.
She had missed him. She missed the way he spread his eggs onto toast and ate them like a sandwich in the mornings. She missed him falling asleep at his desk and snoring softly into his journals. She missed the way he smelled and the lovely warmth of his breath against her neck. But most of all, she missed the sound of his voice.
"Bryan found you, I see."
Methos nodded. "Well, one of his men, yeah."
"It took this long?"
He glanced over at her, trying to decide if it was a loaded question or not. "No," he shook his head. "I came into camp about three days after you left, I think."
"Ah," Sarah projected backwards through her memory. Three days after she left Bryan's camp, they were only about half way to Calgary. Fuel had been harder to find than she'd anticipated and it took nearly a week to make the journey with James--who, on top of being a mere eight years old, was wounded and unable to travel hard. "And then?"
"And then," he buried his hands in his pockets and focused on the stones beneath his feet, "I thought about coming to Africa."
"But you didn't."
Methos shook his head again.
Part of her wanted to ask "why not?", but Sarah knew the answer. It was for exactly the same reason that she hadn't gone to find him any of the numerous times she'd wanted to: fear. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of the possible realization that their time together had simply passed.
"You're here, though," she said.
He nodded as he scrambled over the top of a giant driftwood log, then turned to offer her a hand.
Sarah hung back for an instant. "Why?"
Methos looked down at his shoes for a moment, then drew in a deep breath and sought out her eyes. There were a thousand answers he could give, but only one was the truth. He extended his hand again and waited until her fingers closed around his own before speaking. "Because it smells like you."
Sarah awoke to the insistent chirping of the vid-phone on the table across the room. She rolled onto her back and groaned, cracking one eye to look at the ceiling. The Blue Dolphin was a nice B&B, but she preferred the days when Scotland's inns were lacking phones in the guest rooms. In fact, she generally preferred the Scotland of her memory to its modern day counterpart, though certainly it was still rather rural compared to other places in the world.
The phone chirped again and Sarah threw back the covers, heading for the table with bleary eyes. Wine. She'd had far too much wine last night with Petey--who, by the coincidence of Fate, was staying two rooms to the left of her own.
The screen leapt to life to reveal Richie's tanned and smiling face and a view of the dishes stacked in her kitchen sink. She wondered vaguely if they would still be sitting there upon her arrival back home.
"You look like hell," he said.
Sarah scowled and crossed back to the bed to retrieve the heavy down comforter--some things in Scotland never changed--then flopped into the chair, wrapping it around herself. "*You* woke me up."
Richie's grin broadened. "Wild night with the archeologists?"
"Something like that," she grumbled. "What's up?"
"Nothing, really. I just have a couple of messages for you that I thought you might like," he bent his head to shuffle through some papers. "You want the one from Bryan first? Or the one from Dr. What's His Name?"
Richie looked up, an expression of exasperation evident. "You know, the guy from the dig...what's his name..."
"Evans," she supplied. "Robert Evans."
"Right. Him," he grinned again. "Hey...wasn't that a chain of restaurants back in the 90s? They had good burgers."
Sarah rolled her eyes and tucked her feet up onto the chair, wrapping the blanket tighter. "What's Bry got to say?"
Richie shuffled some more papers, then the screen blurred with the motion of his hand for an instant. In his place, a photograph of Jim, Bryan, and the dog she had rescued from the streets of Old Seacouver during the shellings appeared. Barclay, as she had named him, looked rather comfortable sprawled between them on the leather couch of Bryan's study.
"Sarie," he read, "just a quick note to let you know we got out okay and that Barclay is enjoying his new home. Jim insists dogs don't belong in bed, but Barc and I know better. Come play in Tuscany when you're done being damp and shivery in Scotland. Love you. PS. Did you get the present I sent you? Or did he chicken out?" The screen blurred again and Richie appeared once more. "What present?"
Sarah sighed. "I'll tell you when I get home. What's the one from Evans?"
"Audio only, hang on," Richie hit a button on the bottom of his view-screen and a somewhat static filled message played.
"Miss MacGreggor, Dr. Robert Evans here. Sorry about the primitive communiqué, I'm on my way to Glenstrae and the transport vid-phone is out. I've received your request regarding the dig in Scotland and have spent considerable time pondering it. Unfortunately, I cannot authorize such a petition at this late date. I'll be out of touch while on the dig, but would be happy to discuss this with you upon my return."
"That's it," Richie said. "Did you get it all?"
Sarah made no response. She was too busy fighting down her temper. How *dare* he tell her she couldn't have her own father's sword? The arrogant little...
"Sarah?" Richie tapped on the screen lightly. "Hello? I can play it again."
"Don't bother," she snapped. "I heard him."
Richie watched her face contort with the effort of controlling her temper and gave a small sigh. "I'm sorry. Is there anything you can do? Petition the government or something? Maybe we could call Amanda and have her steal it for you."
"Don't tempt me."
"Maybe you could go talk to the laird," he offered.
Sarah sighed heavily, then blinked as his suggestion sank in. "Hmm...yeah...maybe. He doesn't really have a reason to give it to me, though. As far as he's concerned, it means more to him than me."
Richie shrugged, "So tell him who you are."
"Yeah, right," she barked out a laugh. "And after he has me committed, maybe he'll stop laughing."
"Or maybe he'll give it to you. You won't know until you ask, right?"
She sighed again, turning over the suggestion in her mind. The laird likely had rights to the artifacts from the dig, it *would* be his call to make. *If* she could come up with a plausible story to convince him, of course. "Maybe," she said at last. "Is that everything? How's James?"
Richie's face broke into a grin behind his coffee cup and he swallowed hastily. "Complaining about doing his Math homework, but fine. I think he misses you, though. He keeps asking me what Scotland looks like."
"I'll be home by the end of the week," she answered. "Give him a hug for me?"
He nodded. "Will do. Go back to sleep, you look like you could use it."
Sarah offered him a playfully sour expression and reached for the keypad to terminate the call.
"Tell me again why we're out in this weather instead of sitting by a fire sipping brandy?" Methos asked, turning up his collar against the steady deluge of rain.
Sarah spared him a glance over her shoulder. "No one forced you to come, Petey. You're the one who followed me out the door."
She had a point, he had to admit. "Details," he said. "Where are we going?"
Sarah stopped to push her wet hair out of her eyes and pointed through the trees to an expanse of green a few yards away. "To the castle."
"Ah. That explains it all."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "To talk to Laird Stephan, if he'll see me. That pissant little mole Evans won't let me have the sword."
Methos spent a moment assessing her mood, carefully noting the bulging muscle in her jaw and the hard glint in her eyes. Then he said a silent prayer of thanks that *he* wasn't the pissant little mole of whence she spoke. "Okay," he nodded, taking her elbow lightly to guide her over a fallen branch. "Let's go then. Watch your step."
The castle had been damaged during the Gaelic Rebellion and looked quite different from the last time Methos had seen it over a hundred years prior. For one thing, a moat had been added in roughly the spot where the circular drive had been and, unless he was mistaken, there was a large patch of watercress growing on precisely the spot where he had left Duncan MacLeod to deal with minor details such as taking the rental car out of gear and turning off the engine in the wake of his own hasty park-job as he dashed in to make a belated rescue attempt.
He followed her across a stone bridge, pausing to glance down at the water. "Nice moat."
Sarah ignored him in favor of muttering Gaelic oaths not quite under her breath; both hands planted squarely on her hips.
"Who's a sod-licking, sheep-buggering half-wit?"
She pointed to the roof of the western tower, but the gesture was lost as an explanation. "And that's not the word for *sod*--not the kind that's made of grass, anyway."
Methos' face twisted into a smirk. "I know. I was being polite in my translation. But, really, what's wrong?"
Sarah pointed again. "The flag is gone. That means that the Laird isn't home."
He shrugged, scanning the grounds absently. "Maybe he's gone to the store. We could ask that chap when he'll be back."
"No, if the flag isn't flying, it means he's not staying here...out of the country, most likely."
"Still," he waved across the lawn to the tiny mackintosh-clad figure of a man pushing an ancient wheelbarrow. "Can't hurt to ask."
Before she could protest, Methos took her elbow once more and propelled her across the lawn to meet the Groundskeeper.
"Ach, 'tis not the day to be tourin' the grounds, folks. Na unless ye enjoy being soaked straight through," the man said, adjusting his woolen cap against the downpour.
"Just admiring the moat," Methos smiled. "It's certainly...medieval."
"Ach," he rolled his eyes. "Right bloody stupid, if ye ask me. But the castle was damaged in the war an' auld Laird Richard fancied himself a historian."
Sarah snorted, drawing the attention of the old man.
"William MacGreggor," he swept off his hat and offered a somewhat stiff, yet none the less gallant, bow. "I tend this place. Call me Willie, aye?"
"Sarah," she smiled. "This is Petey."
Willie shook Methos' hand, but turned quickly back to Sarah. "Yer clan, then? Ye've got a bit of the burr, no?"
She smiled again. "Aye, but it's been a long time since I've been here in Glenstrae."
"Oh, lass, the Highlands never forget their own."
"We were hoping to get a word with the Laird," Methos interjected. "Is he at home? Do you suppose he'd see us?"
Willie tore his gaze away from Sarah and shook his head. "Na, Stephan left this morning for Germany."
"Oh," Methos frowned. "I see. Any idea when he might be back? It's rather urgent."
"A month, maybe. He's gone to take his youngest girl t' boarding school an' she's a bit...tied to her da's boot straps."
Sarah sighed audibly and thought very seriously about flinging herself to the ground and sobbing. Nothing. Absolutely *nothing* was going right with this trip. In a month, the sword would be beyond her reach all together.
"Mmmm. I don't suppose you know anything about the dig?" Methos asked.
"Dig?" Willie scratched his chin, turning to Sarah. "Ach, in the ruins, ye mean, aye?"
She nodded. "That's the one."
"Na, I'm afraid not, lass. Are ye hopin' t' find something, then?"
Sarah swallowed, suddenly unable to speak.
"Yes, actually," Methos cut in, "Sarie here is a Sword Collector. Rumor has it that Ian MacGreggor's sword is on the list of hopeful discoveries."
Willie let out a low whistle, then chuckled softly. "Aye, now that'd be a find, no? Dinna fash, lass, I've a hunch they'll not be finding the sword."
"And why's that?" She asked.
"Oh, legend says that Ian MacGreggor and his family might not even be buried here. They've dug the site before, ye ken, an' didna find a thing. Some say the Campbells raided not two days after the ashes were cold and took everything they could carry...a Chieftain's sword would be quite a bit of booty, no? Others think that the youngest daughter of auld Ian survived and took the bodies away with her. "
Methos watched the color drain from Sarah's face and snaked a quick arm around her waist. He'd never known her to faint, but that last bit about Ian MacGreggor's daughter had certainly hit hard. "Well," he said brightly, "I suppose we'll know in a few days, eh?"
"Aye, lad," Willie replaced his cap with a nod at Sarah, "I expect we will."
Methos was silent, one hand perched idly against his left temple as he walked. The gesture had begun as an effort to sweep his rain-soaked hair off of his brow, but it stalled out as his mind worked at digesting recent events. There was something about that groundskeeper. He'd answered all their--well, all *his* questions--politely enough. Down right chatty for a Scot, actually.
But the small man had been watching Sarah the entire time from the corner of his weather-beaten eyes. And there had been...*something* in his stance and tone when addressing her. Something akin to reverence, almost. Something wholly unrelated to the mannerisms of an old man admiring a young and pretty woman, anyway.
He turned to ask her opinion of the matter and realized with a start that Sarah wasn't next to him. In fact, she was some thirty yards back through the trees, her presence on a large rock made notice by the bright red of her anorak against the greys and browns of the rainy day.
Methos shoved both hands deeply into his coat pockets and retraced his steps, coming to stand at her right.
"Sarie?" He asked after nearly a minute without acknowledgment.
She sighed and her hands went briefly into the air, only to slap down on her thighs limply. "That's it, then."
He shrugged and leaned against the rock, wrapping the coat tightly around his torso. "Maybe."
"Maybe?" Her voice cracked slightly. "You heard him. Stephan is in Germany--not due back until long after the sword is safely ensconced in some museum somewhere. Probably not even in Scotland."
He opened his mouth to answer, but she cut in in an alarmingly accurate sounding imitation of what the text books would politely refer to as "Rural American" but was more commonly known as a hick accent.
"Whoo eee, Jim. Lookie here at this sword. Says it was a Scotsman's. Reckon that Balmy Prince Charles guy carried one just like it. You know, they say they didn't wear nothin' under them skirts they had."
Despite himself, Methos grinned, swallowing it quickly as she turned to look up at him.
"Fucking Sassenachs," she growled.
"And that, children," he said, hopping up next to her. "Is how General Maeve Wallace rousted the English out of Scotland."
She shot him a warning glare.
Methos gave a small smile and reached over to flip up her collar against the rain. "My point being, perhaps this matter is one best dealt with in a way that doesn't involve your Scottish...tenacity."
"Let me guess," she rolled her eyes. "You have a plan."
"Well, let's hear it then," her jaw set into a line of stubborn expectancy.
Methos took his time in getting down from the rock and waited until she took the hand he offered in assistance. "First, we go back to the Dolphin and thaw out in a bath with some brandy."
She cocked an eyebrow at his choice of pronouns.
"Or perhaps by a fire," he amended with a wink. "And tomorrow, we go find that pissant little mole, Evans was it?"
She nodded and fell into step next to him, grateful of the warmth of his fingers and the strength of his hand curled around her own. "And? Do I get to gut him?"
"No, mein General, you don't. But you do get to offer him more money than his pissant little wallet has even dreamed of seeing."
"Miss MacGreggor," Robert Evans sighed, pushing away the empty beer glass in front of him, "I really wish there were something I could do for you."
"There is," Sarah answered flatly, "sell me the sword."
Methos studied the Archeologist as he rambled on at Sarah about national heritage and valuable artifacts. She was right. He *was* a pissant little mole. And a pasty one at that.
Negotiations weren't going well. In fact, Evans wouldn't budge an inch, despite the fact that she had offered him more money that he was likely to make during the course of an entire lifetime. The good news was that she hadn't actually resorted to physical violence. Yet.
He watched the muscles in her forearm tighten as she gripped the polished wooden armrest of the chair she was sitting in. The chair was oak and looked to have survived about a hundred years of Scotsmen drinking and laughing away their evenings. But, judging by the whiteness of her knuckles, if Evans continued with his haughty demeanor, it was likely to meet an untimely demise across his skull.
"The Glenstrae site was dug in 1978," Evans said in a tone no doubt reserved for the students taking Remedial Archeology 102, "but the graves of the Chieftain and his family weren't found. It's been the cause of speculation in the Archeology Community for centuries. Do you have any idea what you're asking me?"
Sarah rolled her eyes and inhaled deeply, resisting the urge to grab him by the lapels and shake until he understood that he was desecrating her family's graves. Of *course* they hadn't been found in 1978. She'd made damn sure of that by pitching the work-tents smack over the spot. But, with modern technology like the sonic-imaging cameras Evans had used to scan the area for signs of another burial site, tactics like that would never work again. The dig was inevitable.
She'd come to grips with that. She'd even come to grips with the fact that the bodies of her husband and family would likely be put on display somewhere. All she wanted in return for the sacrilege was her father's sword; an object that was perhaps the most tangible tie to her youth.
Methos watched the frustration settle on her face and decided to intervene before she did something rash. It looked like she was about to shake him senseless. "Sarah comes from a long line of Archeologists, Dr. Evans," he said. "In fact, it was her great-great grandmother who lead the dig in 1978. She is also, quite obviously, a MacGreggor and has strong ties to her clan. Can't you see that preserving history would be best accomplished by allowing her to purchase the sword?"
Evans opened his mouth, but Sarah cut in before he could speak.
"Who has the rights to the artifacts?" She asked.
She leaned forward across the table and spoke very slowly in an excellent imitation of his earlier patronizing tone. "As you well know, Dr. Evans, the Archeologists manning the dig do not have rights to anything uncovered unless they are expressly given such by the owner of the property. Lord James, in this case."
A very smug, yet triumphant, smirk erupted onto his face. "Lord James," he said, "is my uncle. He's given me full permission and rights to all the artifacts uncovered."
"You're not even a Scot!"
The smirk broadened into a smile. "My mother, Jenny MacGreggor, was born and bred in these very hills. She married a Canadian, though. So, you see, *I* have a vested interest in preserving my clan heritage as well."
"Bullshit," Sarah spat.
Evans looked startled by her bluntness, but Methos recognized it as a warning sign and lay a restraining hand on her elbow.
"I do thank you for the beer," Evans stood with yet another smile. "I must be going though. Early start in the morning."
Methos watched him make his way through the pub and exit, then blew a small sigh and turned his attention back to Sarah. He fully expected her to be two steps from flying into a patented Sarah MacGreggor temper tantrum and was rather surprised to see that she had slumped into the chair in a pose of obvious defeat.
She started at the sound of his voice and dashed the back of her left hand across her face, leaping to her feet. "I need some air."
"Okay," Methos nodded. "I'll walk you back to the Dolphin."
Sarah shook her head and grabbed her coat. "I'm fine. I'll...see you later, I guess."
And with that, she was gone.
He sighed again and finished off his beer, then took up her mostly untouched pint and sipped it thoughtfully. Well, the trip to the castle and the interview with Evans had bought him two days. Two days without so much as a single lead, though. It was time, he supposed, to get down to it.
"Excuse me, miss?" He caught the waitress' eye as she passed with a tray of drinks. "Is there a phone I could use?"
The place where her house had been was little more than a flat space of ground, but Sarah could see the cottage as clearly as she had on the day Alan MacGreggor had carried her over the threshold in 1059. The low roof was thatched neatly--a job that had taken Alan and her brother Robbie nearly three days to complete--and the stones of the foundation were solid and uniformly mortared. Two oak trees shaded the stoop from either side, but the northern face of the house received enough sun to warm her garden. It was a beautiful home; warm and filled with the excitement of a new marriage. And it was theirs.
Her father had given Alan the small plot of land as a wedding present with the stipulation that he would not allow his only daughter to marry until there was a proper cot for her to reside in. Ian MacGreggor helped build the house. She remembered sitting on the stones by the stream that rambled nearby and watching them--her husband to be and her father--stripped to their kilts and stacking building materials. And she remembered her father, resplendent in his best finery, on the day of her wedding. He blamed it on the whiskey that an uncle had sent for the occasion, but the tears in his eyes had been real.
Nine years. She and Alan spent nine years living in that cottage.
Then the Normans came.
"Ye've been here before."
The words startled Sarah and she looked up suddenly, silently cursing herself for allowing someone to sneak up on her. She relaxed once her companion's face registered: the Groundskeeper.
"Yes," she nodded. "I was here last summer when Laird MacGreggor agreed to the dig."
"No, lass," the old man smiled and leaned heavily on his walking stick. "I mean ye've been here before. Long before the laird--or even I--walked these hills."
Sarah didn't have to feign confusion at his implication. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"Oh," he smiled again. "I think ye do. Come, walk with an old clansman?"
Sarah got to her feet and fell into step next to him as he picked his way across the small meadow, adjusting her long stride to his shuffle.
"Ye claim the blood?" he asked, not bothering to wait for her reply. "Then ye must know the clan stories."
Sarah chuckled. "Rob Roy, you mean? He was Clan Gregor--one G."
"No. Not him. He was a rogue glorified by folk tale. Yer going to make it hard for me, aren't ye," he grinned. "All right, then, I'll spell it out."
Sarah tucked her hands in her pockets and dropped onto the bench the laird had erected near the marker for her clan. "Please do."
"When I was a wee boy, my Gran told me about something she saw up t' the castle one night. There used to be another tree, a huge one in the gardens. It was struck by lightning and blew into a thousand pieces in March of 1997. Gran was there--she was a cook fer Laird Donald and later for Laird Ethan."
Sarah nodded. "I've heard that story. They planted a new tree," she pointed to where a medium sized oak was thriving in what used to be the center of her village.
"Not they," he corrected. "A stranger. He came and donated the tree and a sack of money t' go along."
That was part of the tale she was unfamiliar with. The new tree had simply *been* there the next time she'd visited Glenstrae--nearly eighty years after the night Richie had broken one of the Rules to save her life--and she assumed that young Ethan had planted it.
Groundskeeper Willie nodded and tapped his walking stick against the heavy sole of his boot. "My ma said he told the laird--it was Douglas' father by then--that the money was to make sure no harm ever came to Sarie's tree."
Her eyebrows shot up of their own accord. The use of her nickname certainly narrowed it down to either Bryan or Petey.
"So," he smiled, "imagine my surprise when the Englishman showed up and started to call ye by that name."
Sarah shrugged. "It's a diminutive for Sarah. I'm sure there are hundreds of Saries in the world."
"Aye, but they're not all coming to Glenstrae looking for the sword of Ian MacGreggor, are they?"
"And you think I'm her, then?"
"You do realize that that would make me a hundred and eight years old?"
"Oh, lass, I think yer a lot older'n that. Y'see, my family has been working this estate for generations...an' we all know about The Lady."
Sarah shot him a skeptical glance, distracted by trying to figure out who had planted the new tree. "The Lady?"
"Aye," he nodded. "My gran's gran saw her here in 1894. And *her* granda saw her in 1746--after The Rising. An' they all said she was fond of walkin' in the ruins."
Alarm bells went off inside her head. This was not good. "And because I'm here, you think I'm this...immortal woman? Are there wee folk and ghosts ye'd like to show me too, then?"
"Oh but yer a stubborn one," he chuckled. "MacGreggor to yer core. Fine, be that way. But you come with me to the cottage and let me show you something, and then we'll see whose head is full of fancy."
Sarah had little choice, really; she needed to know if her cover was blown. She followed him down the path, silently puzzling both the mystery of who planted the tree and the concept of being a legend in her clan.
When they arrived at his home, Willie lead her to the kitchen and put on a kettle to boil before disappearing into what looked to be a bedroom. There was much shuffling and grunting from behind the door before he emerged carrying a wooden cigar box.
"Be a good lass and make the tea while I look?"
Sarah chuckled and got to her feet. This man had just accused her of being immortal, yet here he was setting tea. Just like a Scot to drop a bomb like that and carry on as if they'd been talking about the weather. It was good to be home.
By the time the tea had steeped, she'd found cups and shortbread cookies. Willie had a small stack of papers in front of him on the table. He adjusted his spectacles--an anachronism in the day and age of corrective eye surgery--and smiled as she set a steaming cup at his elbow.
"Now," he waited for Sarah to take a seat next to him, then handed her a very worn leather bound journal. "This is a copy my da had made of his ma's journal. Read this."
Sarah scanned the page he had marked for her.
"Read it *aloud*, lass."
She shrugged and began to read, falling into the lilting dialect. "March 22 1997. We're done cooking for the Gathering, at last. Debra thought for sure that Laird would cancel in light of the tree, but it's on with the show. I watched them do some clean up this afternoon from the kitchen windows. It's all verra sad--the oak is in shards scattered from one end of the grounds t' the other and she was out there, standing alone in the rain. Jes' watching. I've not actually spoken with her, but I just know she's the one. She looks just like Gran said she would--tall and blonde with a crooked nose and a scar on her neck."
"That'll do," he said quietly.
Sarah closed the book carefully and slid it across the table to him. "I fell through a window when I was nine years old. That's how I got this scar."
Willie smiled and shook his head, handing her another ancient piece of paper. "Turn it over."
Sarah obeyed and gasped involuntarily at the rather faded sketch of herself. She traced one of the pencil lines down to what would have been her shoulder on the page and saw the initials EMG followed by the date: July 1747.
Willie tapped the page lightly. "Ewen Michael MacGreggor. My great gran's granda. It's a good likeness, I'd say."
She wanted to quip something about genetics and descendants looking like their ancestors, but no words would come. Instead, Sarah was held captive by the image.
"Gran said that he told her The Lady rode in on a war horse, dressed like a man an' carrying sword and pistol."
Sarah swallowed back a wave of emotion and set the picture down so her hands could shake in peace.
"I always thought she looked very sad in that sketch," he said quietly.
She nodded. The lines of pain and sorrow were very clearly marked in pencil--just as they had been etched on her face in grief at the time.
"I like this one better," Willie handed her a small frame. "I don't know how Gran got it, but it's a nice picture."
Sarah looked down at the frame and drew a long breath. It was a snap shot taken at the Gathering in 1997. Duncan's profile was visible in the background and Richie was seated to her right and grinning broadly. Methos was to her left--leaning in close to say something directly into her ear--with one arm draped around her shoulders.
She looked up and met Willie's gaze, holding it for a moment before exhaling. "This," she pointed, "is Duncan MacLeod. And this, is Richie Ryan."
Willie smiled, showing slightly crooked teeth that were stained from the smoke of his pipe. "And this is the fellow who calls you Sarie."
"Will you tell me the story? If only so that I can try and convince myself that I'm not crazy?"
She chuckled. "The story will convince you that *I'm* crazy."
"Give it a go, lass. I'll be the judge of that, aye?"
She smiled and drew another deep breath before launching into her tale. "My name is Sarah MacGreggor, I was born in these hills in 1042. It was my clan that was massacred here in 1068 and I planted the first Glenstrae Oak in 1497 to remind me of a very dear friend. I fought at Culloden Moor and stopped here on my way to America in 1746. I was back in 1894 and put flowers on the graves of my husband and family. And I was here in 1997 when the Oak was destroyed."
Willie nodded, then spent a moment sorting through his pile before producing another slightly tattered picture of her--this one a clipping. "And ye lead Scotland to freedom in 2073, General Maeve Wallace."
Sarah echoed his nod.
"I was there, in York. I was one of your men. We even spoke once."
"And you knew?"
Willie shook his head. "Ye looked familiar to me, but no. I didn't put it together until just now, actually. You're..."
"Immortal," she supplied. "So is Petey. I've known him for over a thousand years."
"A thousand years...holy God."
Sarah bent to study the framed picture once more. That weekend had proved to be pivotal in her life. "Can I keep this?"
Willie glanced at her, obviously startled from thought. "Aye, lass. They're all rightfully yer's."
Sarah studied the pile at his elbow for a moment, wondering what other tidbits of her life had been safely ensconced in this cottage for generations. "No, just this one," she said. "Can you tell me about this legend that's sprung up around me? Did you think I was a ghost? What are the stories?"
"Oh aye," he grinned. "Though I'd hardly call them legends. Just fireside tales, mostly. And more questions than answers. They never told me ye were a ghost, though. I grew up thinking ye were...I don't know as I can say what. I certainly never expected to actually see ye on my grounds, that's for right sure."
"I'm here because of the dig."
"And yer fellow? What did ye call him?"
"Petey," she smiled. "He's here because..."
"Because he loves ye, lass. And has for a very long time if I can judge by this picture," he tapped the frame and smiled.
"Yeah," she nodded slowly. "He has."
Willie sipped at his tea, then produced a small flask from the depths of his sweater and added a healthy drop of whisky. "'Tis not right," he said at last.
"What's that?" Sarah took the flask when he offered and added a good splash to her own cup.
"That sword is yer's, lass. Not young Bobby's."
She shrugged and took a long swallow. "There isn't anything I can do. Laird Stephan gave him the rights to the dig and he won't sell it to me."
Willie's face wrinkled in thought and he chewed on his lower lip. "Ye should let me talk t' Stephan...tell him the story. He'll know ye and know that it's yer's."
"No, you can't tell Stephan about me. You can't tell anyone. It's important, Willie; no one can know."
There was a long moment of silence and Sarah began to worry that she'd have a problem on her hands with the Groundskeeper. Telling stories was part of being a Celt...and this one was a doozy, especially since it related to local lore.
"Aye," he nodded into his tea. "Aye, I'll tell no one, lass. Ye've a right to yer privacy. But, if ye' don't mind, I'd like to put it all down in my diary...so the next ones will know ye."
Sarah ran both hands through her hair and spent a few seconds looking up at the ceiling. Sure. Why not? She wasn't going to get the piece of her home that she wanted, but at least a piece of her could stay forever in her home. "Of course, Willie."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Methos asked.
Sarah paused mid-stride and drew in a long breath, then nodded.
"And you're sure that Evans will let you on the site?"
She nodded again. "He said I could watch as long as I stayed out of the way. Kind of him, no?"
"You know, maybe this isn't a good idea," he held out a hand and closed his fingers around her own when she took it. "It's bound to be...traumatic."
"They're my family, Petey, I need to see them one more time. Here. Not in some museum."
"Okay," he sighed, then forced a smile. "Okay. Let's go, then."
Sarah let him tuck their hands snugly into the pocket of his coat and they continued across the glen to where Robert Evans and his team of archeology students were busy uncovering the graves of Ian MacGreggor and his family. They came to a stop on a small hillock just north of the site and stood silently, watching.
He wondered if she'd ever move. The ruins of her village were alive with the sounds of crackling flames and carrion birds, but Sarah stood deathly still beside the grave they had just filled with her family. She'd been that way since he'd tossed the last shovel of earth down; nearly a quarter of an hour ago.
He'd only known the girl for two days and most of that time had been spent explaining the Game to her. Maybe it was all too much. She'd shown immediate promise in drawing his own knife on him upon her awakening, but perhaps that had just been a fluke. Not everyone, after all, was cut out for the kind of life she'd just been thrown into. Maybe he should have just taken her away directly and not let her talk him into disposing of the bodies of her clan. His first impression of her was that she was a woman of amazing strength and character. But what kind of strength wouldn't crumble under the stench of burning flesh?
"Sarah?" He approached her cautiously, having already learned that startling her from behind was not a wise idea. *Someone* had taught the girl how to use a knife and she wasn't reluctant in the slightest to put her knowledge to use. More promise.
She didn't answer, but swept a grubby fist across her cheeks. At least she hadn't gone catatonic on him.
"Sarah?" He asked again, giving her plenty of warning before getting close enough to lay a hand on her shoulder. "We should probably be going. The smoke is bound to attract attention..."
"It didna attract any bloody attention when they were burnin' the place, did it?" She answered, the hardness of her tone amplified by the smoke-induced gravel in her voice.
"It attracted my attention."
She turned to look at him and Methos felt a sharp pang of sympathy at the sight of the obvious grief on her face. "Aye. I'm sorry."
He had a very strong urge to pull her against his chest and let her cry herself to sleep, but doubted that it would be received well. "Do you want to take anything with you?"
In response, she opened her palms to him, displaying a small collection of trinkets: two kilt pins, a broach, a heavy silver bracelet, and a whet stone, or what was left of one, anyway. It was worn to a practically useless nub. "I've a few coins, too. They didna leave much, though."
Methos nodded. He'd been slightly worried that she would want to pack all she could carry as remembrance of her life. It was good that she seemed willing to let it go and move on. She was practical, too. He hadn't thought to look for coins in the ruins. He hoped that she hadn't traded money for tokens of her life. Maybe he should urge her to take more momentos. Someday, when the pain and fear of these past few days was gone, she'd want them.
Sarah closed her hands again and gestured to the grave. "They...deserve more than this. It isna even a proper burial."
He nodded again. They'd done the last rites as best they could, but neither of them were clergy. "I've a friend not too far from here. We'll go to his house and ask him to send a priest down."
"Aye," she answered. "That would be nice. An' then, I want t' leave Scotland. I dinna care where we go."
Methos nodded for a third time. "We'll get you a horse as soon as we can."
"Do you want to sit?" Methos asked.
"The ground is wet," Sarah answered without bothering to look at him.
He studied her for a moment, taking advantage of the fact that her attention was focused elsewhere, and wondered privately how someone could stand so perfectly still for so very long. They'd been there for at least forty-five minutes and she'd barely moved a muscle, aside from the occasional shivers that resulted from the wind off the loch.
"Here," he took off his coat and spread it on a nearby rock. "We can sit on this. I don't know about you, but my feet are about to fall off."
"Nah," he plunked himself down. "I'll be fine."
Sarah spent a moment in obvious decision, then settled herself between his knees and put her back to his chest. "At least put your hands in my pockets."
Methos all too happily obliged, resting his chin on her shoulder. "Sorry I was late for breakfast this morning, I was making some phone calls."
"Hiring thugs to come steal my sword?"
"No," he laughed. "Watcher business."
Sarah didn't answer right away in favor of watching as Robert Evans directed three of his students in the removal and placement of a human skull. Her brother Robbie's, she guessed by the location inside the grave. She waited until they had safely ensconced it in a plastic bin, then craned her head back to look at Methos. "Ah, that's right, you're my Watcher, aren't you?"
"No, actually, that was just a temporary assignment in Seacouver because *you* had managed to slip poor Susan in London."
Sarah chuckled. "I like Susan. She's taken classes from me. Drinks far too much coffee for her own good, but she's got a great mind for Anthropology."
Methos opened his mouth to chide her for deliberately leading her Watcher astray in London and vanishing into thin air, but a burst of excitement down at the site distracted him. "What do you suppose is going on?"
Sarah shrugged, trying to catch stray bits of the conversation as they floated up to them on the wind. Before she could make any of it out, though, Evans detached himself from the group and began to stride rapidly toward them.
"This doesn't bode well," Methos muttered.
Sarah had just gotten to her feet when the Archeologist arrived red-faced and waving his arms in obvious anger.
"*You*!" He poked her savagely in the shoulder. "What have you done with it?"
"Done with *what*?" She caught his wrist as he moved to make another jab and gripped it hard. "And if you poke me again, I'll break your finger off."
Evans sputtered at her for a moment, then clapped his mouth shut and nodded; an indication that he wouldn't repeat the offense. "The sword," he said, rubbing his wrist idly once she let go. "Ian MacGreggor's sword is missing."
Methos opened his mouth, ready to cut in, but Sarah beat him to it.
"And you're accusing *me* of stealing it? Are you out of your mind? How on earth could I have done that without disturbing the site?"
Evans' jaw worked in confusion and his face ran a gamut of emotions before settling into a scowl. "I suppose you're right. But if I find you had anything what-so-ever to do with this, I *will* press charges."
"I'm sure you will," Sarah answered, locking him with an iron gaze.
Unwisely, Evans chose to enter into a contest of wills with her--one that Methos knew he hadn't a chance in hell of winning--and glared right back. They could be here for days.
"Maybe the sword is gone because the remains are cursed," he offered, neatly inserting himself between them.
Methos shrugged and put his hands into his pockets. "Ever heard of a guy called Tutenkamen? From what I know of the Scots, they're twice as superstitious and three times as vindictive about their dead. Count yourself lucky, I'd say."
Methos turned off the vid-screen with a satisfied smile and rocked back in his chair, propping both feet up onto the desk. It had taken sixteen phone calls, three threats in Watcher circles he didn't have the authority to make good on, some sweet talking to one particularly perceptive researcher by the name of Marybeth and a promise of dinner and dancing to the same, but he'd done it.
Sarie would likely be mad when she found out. And Robert Evans would certainly blow a gasket if he knew that the prized sword of the MacGreggor Chieftain hadn't even been within his grasp, but he didn't care. He had a ticket to Milan and a guarantee from his old friend Fitzroy Buchanon. Life was good.
Fitzroy Buchanon was a barrel-shaped man and looked, to Sarah's considerably experienced opinion, absolutely ridiculous in a kilt. His legs, rather bowed and incredibly hairy, stuck out at odd angles and gave him a rolling gait that sent his red head bobbing as he strode across the yard to greet them. He had a nice smile, though, and was obviously pleased to see her companion.
"Cam shron!" Their host exclaimed, pulling Methos into an embrace and thumping his back soundly. "Ye auld fool, what brings ye to Scotland?"
Sarah snorted softly at the nickname, but said nothing, choosing instead to dismount. Crooked nose indeed.
"Och! This one speaks Gaelic, aye?" He winked at Methos. "Aboot time ye found a lassie who did, I'd say."
Methos scowled playfully and swept a hand to indicate Sarah. "Sarah MacGreggor, Fitzroy Buchanon."
Before she could speak, her hand had been swept to his lips and Buchanon was bowing low before her. She started at the sudden contact and stepped back instinctively, coming up short against her horse.
Buchanon spent a moment studying her, then dropped her hand and stepped back himself. "Och, lassie, I'm sorry. I didna mean t' scare ye."
Methos stepped between them and put a hand on Buchanon's shoulder, speaking quickly in French. "She's had a rough time of it, Roy, and we've been on the road from Lommand since..."
"Lommand?" He cut in. "She's one of *those* MacGreggors?"
Methos nodded. News had always traveled with amazing speed in the Highlands. "Was. Whole clan's gone. Is Ellen around? She could use a woman's company, I think."
Sarah squirmed against her horse's flank as their host studied her over Methos' shoulder. Good Christ, they could at least speak English so she could catch a stray word here or there.
"Of course," Buchanon said. "Come inside. One of the lads will tend your horses and I'll get Ellen to fix you both a hot meal." He dropped back into Gaelic and smiled warmly at Sarah, gesturing toward the house. "If you like, Lass, my wife will find you a hot meal and some clean clothes."
As if by summons, a plump woman appeared in the doorway of the house, waving them inside with a torrent of Gaelic. Sarah heaved a sigh of relief. She and Methos had been communicating in a crude mixture of Gaelic and English for the past two days and her brain hurt from the stress of constant translation. It would be good to be with folk who spoke a civilized tongue again.
"Some parritch would be heavenly," she answered.
"Yer leavin' Scotland, then?"
Methos nodded across the brim of his mug of ale. "She asked to, actually. And I suppose it's probably a wise thing. It would probably be harder to adjust to her immortality surrounded by the familiar. Too...tempting."
Buchanon grunted and took a long pull from his own mug. "The lass spent her whole life as clan, though....I canna imagine it'll be easy for her."
"It never is. And it may be a mistake to leave. But, Christ, if you had seen what happened there...I'm amazed she's as stable as she is."
"Stable?" He cocked an eyebrow and reached for the pitcher, pausing to offer Methos a refill as well. "Skittish as a colt if ye ask me, poor lass."
Methos shrugged and peered into the golden liquid for a long moment. "You'd be skittish too, Roy, if you'd been through what she had. No...I've seen rape victims before--weeping, wailing, clinging...sometimes staring off into nothing. This one woke up and pulled a knife on me. She'll be fine once she's had some time to heal."
"Aye, stubborn lot, those MacGreggors. I've met her da...solid as a boulder and about as yielding. Her mam, too, come t' think of it."
Methos chuckled, he'd made the comparison between his newest student and Highland granite a day and a half ago. She'd been amicable enough, so far...but something about her had suggested stubbornness right from the very start. "I've a favor to ask you, Roy."
"Anything, Cam shron. Ye ken that, aye?"
He waited for her for nearly forty-five minutes, despite the fact that he was practically bursting with the urge to tell her the news. It wasn't until the very ancient clock in the hallway struck the hour that Methos gave in to the growing feeling of dread in his stomach. Sarie never missed a meal unless she was either completely distraught or physically unable to come.
He strode rapidly down the hallway and knocked on her door.
There was no answer.
He didn't waste the time in trying to track down the desk clerk and ask if she had checked out. He simply raced to the transport station as fast as his legs would carry him.
Yes, the ticket agent said, there was a transport to London that had left fifty minutes ago. And yes, there had been a tall blonde woman aboard who had checked a curious piece of oblong luggage.
Methos swore profusely, then debated on whether to book himself a ticket to Johannesburg. In the end, he decided to catch an early transport to Milan. There was no sense in going to Africa without the sword, after all.
"Oh, aye, the tall gent with the dark hair and sexy voice," the young lady behind the desk at the Blue Dolphin nodded with a smile. "He's checked out."
"Checked out?" Sarah asked. "When?"
The clerk glanced at her terminal screen. "Oh, about two hours ago, looks like."
"You're sure? Did he leave a note for me?"
The clerk made a few key strokes and shook her head, then scanned the desk area, looking for any sign of a message. "I'm sorry, he didn't."
Sarah stood gripping the edge of the counter. For a moment she spun with the same sort of panic that had overcome her in Lindau in 1367 when she'd been convinced Methos was dead. He was her rock. Her foundation. How could he leave without saying good-bye?
"Right," she said aloud.
Right. She wasn't a kid any more and could certainly take care of herself. He wasn't dead. He was just...gone. And he was bound to have his reasons for it.
"Right," she repeated. "I guess I'll be checking out in the morning. Thank you."
The clerk nodded and made a note in the computer. "Did ye have a good supper with Willie, then?" She asked.
"Willie...the Groundskeeper up at the estate. I saw ye walkin' toward the woods with him. Figured he'd made you his famous sausage pie for supper."
"Oh...yes, he did."
They'd had a lovely dinner, actually. Willie had brought out pictures of his unit from the Gaelic Rebellion and Sarah had amazed him by being able to name most, if not all of the men in it. She even remembered him, once given a younger face to jog things by, and reminded him of a time that he and a friend had been before her for disciplinary measures regarding missed curfews. They'd had such a wonderful time, in fact, that Sarah completely forgot about the fact that Methos was waiting for her and had agreed to stay for dinner.
The clerk smiled broadly. "An' how was it? Willie is famous fer it, ye ken? Always wins prizes at the fair."
"It tasted like my Ma's," Sarah answered.
Richie was in the middle of fixing himself a gigantic turkey and salami sandwich when the doorbell rang. He ignored it long enough to spread mustard thickly across the lettuce, then slapped the bread together hastily, heading for the door and chewing at the same time.
The buzz hit him somewhere in the middle of the foyer, sending a small rush of adrenaline though his body and causing him to choke slightly, but he managed to swallow his bite and head for the vid-screen. It was most likely Bryan on the other side of the door, he'd called twice while Sarah was in Scotland and she hadn't bothered to return either since her arrival home two weeks ago. Undoubtedly that would make Bryan worry...and he was famous for just hopping in whatever expensive method of transportation was the vogue of the day and popping in to check on her.
Richie set his sandwich on the edge of the hall table and dusted off his hands before hitting the "display" button on the screen. It was a good thing, too, otherwise he would have dropped it onto the tiles.
"Methos," he said aloud.
Sure enough, the world's oldest man was standing out on the stoop looking rather travel-weary and balancing two very large packages in his arms.
Methos. After all these years. Interesting.
As if privy to Richie's ponderings, the immortal on the stoop suddenly shot a rather annoyed look into the lens of the security camera and shifted his boxes with some difficulty.
"Well," Richie muttered, reaching for the doorknob, "she can't kill me *too* much..."
"Ah," Methos smiled as the door opened. "About time."
Richie found himself grinning. No matter what had passed between Methos and Sarah, he genuinely liked the older man and had missed him. "Come on in. Can I help you with that stuff?"
Methos shrugged. "Nah. But get my bag, please?"
Richie bent to take the duffel and scooted out of the way as Methos made his way through the door. "What's in the boxes?"
"Presents? Yeah? Anything good?"
Methos rolled his eyes at Richie and glanced around the foyer, taking in all the detail that he could. It had been decades since he'd been in a place where Sarah lived. "They're not for you. One's for Sarie and the other is for James."
"Oh," Richie's face fell. "Well, *she'll* be glad to see you, anyway."
Methos chuckled. "There's some gum in my bag if you're feeling left out, Rich."
Richie scowled at the older man. "No thanks. I'll make do. They're out in the garden," he scooped up his sandwich, leaving the duffel sitting by the door. "I'll take you back."
Methos followed him through the house trying to simultaneously drink in every bit of detail and avoid banging into things as he balanced his boxes. All of the furniture was quite different, of course. But there was the clay oil lamp that used to sit on her bookcase in Seacouver. And there was the watercolor Colin had done of Bryan's house in Tuscany. He wondered idly if the giant steamer trunk he'd helped her carry up three flights of stairs to her attic apartment still resided at the foot of her bed.
"Down back," Richie pointed to a cobbled path that wound through the vegetation of the yard. "In the hammock, probably. It's reading time."
"Reading time?" Methos ducked down and left to counter a sudden shift in balance from the box on bottom.
Richie nodded. "CS Lewis this month. Last it was Tolkien and the month before that um...Homer, I think."
"Tolkein? Really? She reads him Tolkein?"
Richie caught the top package as it slid precariously to the right and helped Methos regain his balance, wondering what on earth could be causing such turbulence in the lower box. "No, he reads it to her," he grinned.
Methos found himself grinning as well. Of course. Sarie was a teacher at heart. Naturally she'd encourage James to read for himself. "Thanks," he said, nodding toward the boxes.
"No problem," Richie smiled and turned on a heel, heading back to the kitchen for some pickles for his sandwich.
"Right," Methos muttered to himself. "You can do this."
He picked his way down the path gingerly, almost landing squarely on his backside when a large grey and white cat darted out from the bushes and dashed between his feet. Eventually, the path opened up onto a wide space of what passed for grass in South Africa and he spotted James and Sarah cuddled together in a large hammock. She looked up at him over the boy's shoulder, then bent her head once more, obviously absorbed in the tale he was relating.
Well, she didn't draw her sword. That was a good sign. And she obviously wasn't going to get up and leave. Even better.
He squared his shoulders and started toward them. Unfortunately, the cat returned, this time successful in his attempts to trip Methos. The immortal hit the ground with a seriously rude oath and a wholly inhuman yelp.
"Ogelthorpe!" Sarah bellowed.
"Methos!" James exclaimed, wiggling out of her lap.
"Christ," Methos moaned, trying to figure out if any of his bones were broken. He'd just decided that the answer was "no" when the boy literally threw himself onto Methos' chest in a gleeful hug.
"I *knew* you'd come!" James squeezed his neck tightly, cutting off Methos' air supply for a moment.
He struggled into a sitting position and hugged back. "Of course I did." James clung to him and Methos rested his chin on the boy's shoulder, suddenly remembering how wonderful it was to have small arms wrapped around his neck. "You've grown, I think."
"Uh huh, Sarah says I'm almost a head taller," James answered proudly, pulling back to look Methos in the face. "Whatever *that* means."
Methos chuckled and winked. "She never was very good with the Metric System."
"No, I wasn't," Sarah added, pointing at the square box which, at present, was meandering away across the lawn, "but I'm reasonably sure that boxes aren't supposed to move of their own accord...*what* is in that thing, Petey?"
Methos opened his mouth to answer, but before he could put a sentence together, the box answered for him in the form of a few tentative, but unmistakably canine, yips.
"A puppy!" James squealed, vanishing from Methos' embrace in a flash.
"A puppy?" Sarah's eyebrows shot up.
Methos nodded. "For James...and because I gave Bryan your dog."
James was busy battling with a small pink tongue that was trying very hard to lick his entire face at once, but managed to get the phase 'can I keep him?' out between giggles.
Sarah scowled down at Methos, but it melted away quickly as he flashed her his best puppy-dog eyes. "*You*," she poked him lightly in the ribs with one bare toe, "are worse than he is."
"Can I?" James asked again.
"Yes, you can keep him," Sarah rolled her eyes.
James bounded to his feet, scooped up the puppy, and did a perfectly primal dance of joy.
Methos chuckled and took the hand that Sarah offered, hauling himself to his feet. "What are you going to name him?"
In response, James stopped cavorting and scratched his head in thought. "I don't know...hmmmm...the Prince is named Caspian....that's a nice name."
"Not for a dog," Methos and Sarah said in perfect unison.
"Why don't you go ask Richie to help you," Sarah added quickly. "He's good at naming things."
"Good idea! Hey! Richie!" James shouted, already running for the house.
"*That*," Sarah poked him again with her index finger, this time in the shoulder, "had *better* not be something alive."
Methos glanced down at the remaining box and smiled. "Not hardly." He bent to scoop it up and passed it to her. "Here, it's for you."
Sarah frowned in confusion, but carried the box over to the hammock and sat down, tugging at the tape. "It's heavy."
Methos followed her and took a seat on the grass, resting both elbows on his knees and smiling quite broadly. "I know, I carried it here."
She tossed a wad of packing tape at him and began to sift through the layers of padding, all the while wondering what on earth he could possibly have brought her in this tremendous oblong box.
Oblong box. Heavy.
The pieces started to fall into place just exactly as her fingers made contact with something cool and undeniably metallic.
Sarah jerked her hand back and stared at him with a slack jaw.
He nodded, answering her unvoiced question. "Go on."
She hefted the ancient claymore cautiously, bringing the flat of the blade to rest against her forehead and closing her eyes. Her father's sword. She could almost smell him...almost feel his comforting bulk against her back as she sat on his lap with the whet stone while he sharpened the sword by the hearth.
"He never let me touch this," she said after a few moments of silence. "'Twas not for a wee lassie t' be learnin' of swords."
Methos smiled, delightfully entertained by the image of an adolescent Sarah arguing with her father as she had argued with him in the early days of her immortality.
"If he had known...if he had any idea of what I would become...how many swords I would use..."
"He'd be proud of you, Sarie," he said. "You lead Scotland to freedom."
She lowered the blade slowly, waiting until the point made contact with the ground before drawing in a deep breath and opening her eyes. "How? How did you find...wait...you knew all along, didn't you?"
Methos nodded. "Fitzroy had it. I asked him to keep it for you."
You *asked* him to dig up my father's grave and rob it, she thought, checking herself before the words actually escaped her lips. It didn't matter, really. At the time, she would have been mortified at the thought of someone desecrating her father's grave; if only because that was a sure-fire way to incur the wrath of a Scottish ghost. But, since then, Sarah had dug enough archeological sites and seen enough death to understand that bodies were just that: flesh and bone to house the essence of the person who owned them.
"Why?" She asked. "I mean...how did you know..."
"That you would want it someday?" Methos shrugged. "I just did. You didn't take much of anything from Glenstrae when we left. I thought it was important that someone, somewhere have a piece of your past for you to hold when you were ready."
He watched her absorb his words as she stroked the polished wood of the grip with her thumb. Bryan had done an excellent job restoring the trappings of the hilt on such short notice. Combined with the expertly carved twisted oak grip that William MacGreggor had supplied--also on a short commission--and the freshly sharpened and polished steel of the blade, the claymore looked nearly perfect.
"Bryan did the restoration work," he said. "And Willie stayed up for nearly three days carving and staining the new grip--the old one had rotted mostly through."
Her head snapped up suddenly and Methos spotted a spark of what could very easily flare to anger in her eyes. "You knew," she said. "You watched me rant and rave and string myself out over that dig and you *knew* all along where it was!"
He shook his head. "I knew who had it last...not where it was. And I didn't go to Glenstrae to play head games about it with you. It didn't occur to me that you would be there looking for it until I saw you. And yeah," he paused, "I suppose I did stall you out for a while...but only because I was hoping to find Fitzroy before they dug the grave and found it missing. I didn't want you to ever think that it was lost forever."
"If you didn't come to play games, then why were you there?"
"I told you why on the beach," he answered. "I was there because it smelled like you. Because I missed you."
Her lips twisted into a small smile. "I went to Paris."
Sarah spent a moment studying the reflection of his shirt on the blade, then squared her shoulders and met his gaze. "When I was missing you. I went to Paris and walked along the Seine. There's something about the cobbled walkways and the smell of the water that always reminded me of you."
Sarah nodded. "After Lindau...when I thought you were dead, I went to Paris--to Darius. He played chess with me and fed me tea and told me that no matter where I went or what I became, you would always be with me," she paused and looked down at the blade again. "And I walked the Seine and thought about all of it...and realized that he was right. From then on there was just something about those stones and that smell that always brought you back. So I went there...when I was missing you."
Methos inhaled deeply, taking in her words and rolling them around in his mind. It hadn't ever really occurred to him that she might have been doing what he'd been doing--feeling the same kind of loss. He'd always assumed that she'd simply gone on with her life and forgotten about him.
"So," she asked, turning back to the blade. "Why did you check out without saying good-bye?"
"I thought you were gone already."
Her brow twisted in confusion. "Why on earth would you think that?"
Methos drew in a deep breath and hung his head for a moment. "I just assumed the worst."
Sarah frowned. "Like in Lindau."
"Like in Lindau. I'm sorry. For both."
She nodded and the frown faded, leaving a rather lengthy pause in its place. "Do you remember the day we left Scotland?"
Methos shifted to a more comfortable position. "It was pouring rain and absolutely freezing. The wind was whipping the droplets into our faces like razors."
Sarah spent a long moment getting the blade of the sword balanced between the balls of her bare feet before nodding as well.
"You," he continued, studying her profile, "you rode with your back straight as an arrow and didn't say a word; didn't look back even for an instant."
"I wouldn't have been able to do it if I had," she answered, catching the pommel of the claymore as it rocked toward her chest.
"I know. And I was very..." he paused, searching for the right word and finally deciding that one would simply wouldn't be enough, "...moved by it. And proud of you. It was touch and go for a while there, Sarie. I wasn't sure you had it in you."
"Neither was I," she snickered softly and glanced at him from the corner of her eye. "But turning my back on all I knew proved to you that I did?"
"Understanding that it was all about change from then out did, yeah," he smiled.
A pleasant silence fell between them, but Methos knew she had more to say. She'd get to it when the words were right. This was the woman who, as a girl in Italy in the Middle Ages refused to speak Italian until she could construct nearly complete sentences. Sarie waited until she had it phrased the way she wanted it before opening her mouth.
In the meantime, he sat back against the tree, content to bask in the magical light of the time of day known to Scots as The Gloaming. It never lasted very long--a few minutes at most--but what they said about that moment between dusk and dark was true. The world really was still and beautiful as a Highland Summer and you really did feel like anything was possible.
"And do you remember," she asked at last; just as the green of the trees was fading into grey shadow, "what you told me when we landed in Spain and I asked you if it would ever stop hurting?"
She bobbed her head in agreement and leaned back in the hammock, setting it swaying slightly. "All these years...since London and Adrianne, people have been asking me if I thought we'd ever mend things between us. At first, the answer was no. But then...it became a maybe...someday."
"And both those somedays came?"
She took forever to answer. A thousand years, at least. Maybe more. He couldn't be sure due to the fact that he was distracted by the sensation of actually feeling his heart cease to beat in anticipation.
"Yeah," she said, reaching for his hand. "I think they finally did. If you can stand the thought of it."
Methos caught her fingers and squeezed gently. "Without a backward glance, Sarie."
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