Disclaimer: Bryan and Jim belong to Jen Allen. Methos is daddy Panzer's. The theory on immortal origins comes, with permission, from Sandra MacDonals's "Seeds". Sarah MacGreggor and James are mine. All in good fun, all in good fun.
Old Seacouver 2105
Methos dropped into a high backed chair across the desk from the newly appointed Regional Coordinator of the North American branch of the Watchers. He was fresh out of the Academy yet again, and had used his contact John Barrett --who had recently abdicated the North American position in favor of a more sedate job as a member of the Watcher Tribunal-- to get assigned as a researcher in Old Seacouver.
The city, so recently war-torn by the struggles of the Freemen in their attempt to overthrow Canadian rule, was finally starting to return to some of its ancient charm and prosperity and he was glad to be in a relatively familiar place laced with pleasant memories.
"Ah...Moore, is it?" his boss mused, shuffling through the stack of papers on her desk. She was very young, perhaps only in her mid-forties, but was quite in possession of the air of authority demanded by her position in the organization.
"Alexander, yes," he smiled and offered a hand.
"Top of your class, expert in Ancient Languages and...twentieth Century Pop Culture?" She eyed him briefly over the rims of her sliver framed glasses before glancing down at the paper once more. "John Barrett speaks very highly of you."
Methos let his hand drop back into his lap and smiled sheepishly. "John was a very good friend to me while I was in the Academy. I learned a lot from him." He neglected to mention the fact that John was also the grandson of Mike Barrett, former bartender and Watcher agent for the legendary Joe Dawson. He also chose to leave out the pertinent fact that John was the one who'd helped him erase any photographic traces of both Adam Pierson and Methos from the Watcher database.
Between Joe Dawson's diligence following the mishap with Linna Wolfram and the Hunters in 1997 and the destruction of several key pieces of Watcher computer banks in the recent turmoil the Seacouver area had suffered, all but one picture of Methos had been destroyed. That one, an ancient and cracked print of himself and Sarah at the beach taken by Dawson himself, had been found tucked in with the oldest paper copies of her Watcher File; but now resided safely in one of his journals as a bookmark.
"It says here that you've been assigned to me as a researcher."
"Well, I have a field assignment for you," she said, shuffling more papers and producing a rather thick printed file.
"That's not a good idea," he said quickly.
"Oh, really? You think you know my job better than I do?"
"No...it's just that I...uh...haven't had much field training. I'd make a lousy field agent."
"Doesn't really matter in this case," she handed him the file. "This immortal is only going to be in town for a short while. All you have to do is trail her discretely, stay out of her way, and make sure you write it down if she takes any heads."
Methos swallowed hard. This was most certainly *not* a good thing. "I'm really much handier in the library," he started.
"I don't believe in dedicating personnel to research," she interjected with a definite tone of finality. "History is being made every day by the immortals...*that's* what we need to know about. Read this file. She's staying at the Royal Amblin Hotel."
Methos took the printout mutely, still trying to figure a way out of the assignment. "Just who am I watching?" He asked.
She spared him one last glance before returning to her computer terminal and last week's reports. "Sarah MacGreggor."
It was the only word he could find amidst the swirling turmoil in his brain.
Sarah MacGreggor was quietly enjoying her iced tea and what was passing for a cheeseburger in 2105. Whatever it was, the patty most certainly was *not* beef. And the cheese was obviously some kind of soy substitute, as dairy products had been phased out alongside beef in the early twenty-first century--a direct result of England's inability to control what the media had called "Mad Cow Disease." Most likely, it was some kind of tofu and vegetable burger. Sarah prided herself on her ability to adjust to the changing world as the centuries passed. But, there were moments like this one, when she longed for bits of cultural comfort that were long dead.
The outdoor cafe she was sitting in used to be Joe Dawson's bar, before Seacouver had fallen victim to the social unrest that had plagued most of the North American continent over a hundred years prior. The bar was long gone, though, taking with it many happy memories of beers shared with her friends and blues music drifting softly though the air. Now, the lot housed this cafe, as well as several artist's studios nestled into the ancient bricks of the reconstructed building. "A bit of history," the brochure at the Transport Station had called it. "Come visit a place where the splendor of Old Seacouver's past mingles with the culture of modern-day."
Her most recent trip to Seacouver, a scant nine years earlier, had found the city in the midst of rioting and social squalor; both a direct result of the quasi-American group calling themselves the Freemen railing against the Canadian rule. This part of the world had changed dramatically since the days when she and Richie Ryan spent evenings rollerblading through the parks. There was no longer an America for the Freemen to call home, for one thing. But, the Canadian Government, aided by troops from the Free State of California, had managed to quell the Freemen shortly after her trip to find Duncan MacLeod and now, Seacouver was up-and-coming once more.
Sarah swallowed her mouthful of burger and washed it down with the tea, pretending it tasted good. This was considered "quaint" food and people flocked to the outdoor cafe in their ultra-modern clothing, driving their personal transports, and speaking to business associates on their hand held vid-phones. It was, she thought, an uncanny repeat of what the world had been like when she and Methos had spent hours lobbing darts at the board next to Joe's stage. The clothing was different. The technology had improved. But the people were the same.
As she reached for the ketchup, which was, thankfully, still a legitimate tomato product, a low and rumbling boom echoed through the city. None of the other patrons seemed to notice the two-toned noise, but the hair on the back of Sarah's neck stood up in recognition and she began to count silently. At thirty, the high-pitched whistle she had been both expecting and praying wouldn't follow sounded...that same eerie droning that had announced the imminent arrival of destruction on battle fields since World War I. Three more booms sounded, but still no one seemed to be paying attention to the fact that Seacouver was obviously under attack.
There wasn't time to wonder who was shelling the city and ponder their motives. Nor was there time to realize that the natives were so oblivious to the threat because they had never experienced an attack from such an outdated form of warfare. Instead, the instincts that the Blitz had awoken in her in 1940s London--the same ones that had kept her alive through the British air raids of the Gaelic Rebellion in 2073--inspired Sarah to dive for cover next to the cement wall that lined the dining area. It made for poor shelter, but it was the only thing even reasonably stable in the immediate area.
First, came the shuddering cacophony of the explosions. Then, potted plants and debris started raining down onto her back. Next, people began to scream and run in panic-induced circles, finally comprehending the danger to both themselves and their fair city. She glanced at her watch, wondering briefly how long it would last, then blacked out as the windows of the cafe shattered, sending shards of glass flying into anyone nearby.
By the look of the light filtering through the rubble above her head, Sarah awoke several hours later. It took her close to ten minutes to dig her way out to the surface of the pile and what she saw there flipped her stomach. No matter how many centuries she lived through, no matter how many wars and battle fields she had traversed, the sight of dead and wounded bodies never ceased to shock her senses.
Sarah stood up, making a series of mental checks to assess the condition of her own body. There was a sharp pain in her left forearm and she looked down to see a long and jagged wound that had no doubt healed over some imbedded shrapnel--most likely glass. Aside from that, though, she appeared to be in one piece. Sarah puled out the largest of the shards and tossed them aside, knowing that she'd need to clean out the offending foreign objects soon, or the flesh and muscle would heal over them permanently, leaving her with the prospect of painful extrication, or, worse, a damaged arm. There was, however, a more pressing need to find shelter before darkness fell.
She began to move through the debris, checking for life signs at every prone figure. The sounds of the shelling were still echoing through the streets, but it appeared that they had shifted their target away from the east end of the city for the time being. Other noises were filtering their way through her consciousness now that the shells had been determined not be an immediate threat any more....building alarms and transport horns, screaming out for attention that no one could spare them...the hissing of fire and broken water mains meeting...a dog barking frantically. Sarah kept one ear trained for sounds of surviving humanity and began to make her way down the rubble-strewn street toward the dog; the other alert and searching for signs that the target might be shifting her way once more.
The attack must have come from the sea, as she hadn't heard any planes. That meant that, somewhere off shore, battle ships sat safely outside the range of the radar grid the Canadian government had installed during the height of the North American wars. If enough damage had been done to the city's communication lines, those ships could remain undetected for days and the ground troops they undoubtedly housed could get a strong hold on the area before help could arrive.
She found the dog to be a medium sized Australian Shepherd mix that appeared to have suffered only a minor injury to one leg; its leash still tethered to a cold hand undoubtedly belonging to the same body as the twisted legs that were sticking out from underneath a large piece of concrete. There was, quite simply, no way the dog's owner could have survived being crushed, but it was obvious that the animal didn't seem to realize this as it barked continuously in a vain effort to rouse his master.
It took close to twenty minutes, but Sarah finally managed to soothe the animal enough to detach the leash and coax him away from the body. She bound the wound with strips torn from the tail of her shirt and tried to convince it to follow her toward where she hoped the entrance to the ancient subway tunnels was, but had no luck, opting instead to scoop him up and carry him through the debris in the growing dark, ignoring the pain in her wounded arm. If this attack held true to the conventions of battle that she had learned through the years, dawn would likely bring the arrival of ground troops and Sarah had absolutely no desire to be anywhere in the open when that happened.
Methos was across the street in a small store watching Sarah polish off a cheeseburger in the outdoor cafe when the shelling started. It was the second day of his assignment as her Watcher and he was finally recovering from the shock of seeing her in person again. Forty-seven years before, he had slammed his sword into her chest, pinning her to the floor of their dojo in a fight that had very nearly cost him his head. She'd left him and their marriage that night and they hadn't so much as spoken to one another until seven years ago, when he had called to share the terrible news of the deaths of Richie Ryan's wife and student. But even that had only been a very brief vid-call.
Yesterday morning, as he trailed her along the jogging paths of Seahawk Park, had been the first time in decades that they had breathed the same air and he spent most of the run vacillating between wanting to pull her into a hug and wishing he could simply run the other way. It wasn't easy, he'd decided, to watch the woman that you considered part of your very soul without dredging up memories of the life you had built together. Problem was, no matter how wonderful those images started out in his brain, they always managed to twist their way into the cold rage of her eyes on the night she had challenged him.
He saw her head snap up attentively at the first round of booming and watched as she dove for cover amidst the started faces of her fellow patrons. Then, he dove for cover himself, trusting her instincts despite the fact that nothing appeared to be wrong. Seconds later, the world exploded, bringing a rack full of the latest technology in guitars crashing down on his head and rendering the world's oldest living man unconscious.
Methos recovered quickly, but found himself pinned under the rack. He struggled for a few moments, driven by the panicking thought of Sarah being outside with no shelter. As the shells continued to fall, however, he realized that the smart thing to do would be to stay put for the time being. Methos scanned the room.
The man who had been buying a set of sheet music for his wife was most certainly dead; as were the couple near the rack of Classical Jazz and the middle-aged man behind the counter. Methos heaved a sigh. He'd spent far too much time in the company of dead people during the course of his lifetime.
He stationed himself in the doorway between the store and its small office, knowing it was poor shelter, but hoping that the reinforced door jamb would provide some protection should the building come down. Thankfully, he couldn't see the street from his position, which made it that much easier to pretend that he wasn't worried about Sarah.
Nearly two hours later, after he had entertained himself by humming the complete score on every piece of music within grasp, the attack began to shift away from their area of the city. He stopped in the middle of The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" and cocked an ear toward the outside once more. Yes, the shells were most certainly not making as much noise now and the building hadn't shaken him to his core in several minutes, at least. He scrambled through the wreckage of the store and out into the street, taking a moment to marvel at the destruction. Whomever had planned this attack, knew their target very well and had been right on in their assumption that Seacouver's Cultural Center would be crowded on a Sunday afternoon. The sight of the ruined cafe brought him back to the urgency of the moment, though, and Methos raced over to the spot where he had seen her dive for cover.
She was gone.
He searched the rubble three times, only finding some bloody shards of glass to indicate her presence. Methos swore loudly and started sifting through it yet again, mentally projecting himself into what he hoped would be an accurate assessment of her own thoughts upon reviving. There was a subway entrance a few blocks from the location when it had been Joe's Bar...it was likely she was heading in that direction, looking for cover. He began to pick his way down the street, weaving around debris and bodies and checking for life signs any time it looked even remotely possible that they might be found.
His luck proved greater than hers and he found a weak, but consistent, pulse in the ankle of a small boy lying prone amidst the twisted wreckage of a single-family transport. Methos scooped the child into his arms gently and glanced around for signs that his family had survived as well. Finding none, he chose the fastest path through the destruction and headed for the tunnels.
[end part 1]
Sarah awoke to the loud growling of her new pet interwoven with the pain in her arm and the disorientation of a buzz. She scrambled to her feet, or tried to anyway, but wound up caught in her own overcoat and lying twisted sideways, effectively burying her sword underneath her.
"Call off the wolf," came a familiar voice. "I need your help."
She responded by laying her free hand on the dog's neck and telling him to sit. As her eyes adjusted to the dark of the tunnel, the outline of her guest became visible near her feet. It was equally familiar. Barclay, as she had named the animal, complied with the request to sit, but continued to growl at the man who had startled his savior.
"Petey?" she asked, scrambling to sit up and not entirely convinced of her own sanity.
Methos nodded and dropped to his knees, laying the child in her lap. "He needs medical attention. I'm going back out for bandages and some supplies; can you keep him warm until I get back?"
Sarah nodded, too shocked to speak. This had to be a dream. Petey hadn't been close enough to touch in nearly five decades.
"I think he has a concussion and some broken ribs. That arm looks fractured as well," Methos continued, helping her straighten the coat and wrap it around the boy. "You should move farther into the tunnels, I'm betting there will be ground troops soon."
That woke her up. This wasn't a dream; Seacouver really had been shelled and Methos...Petey...really was squatting over her lap depositing a child there. A child who, by the feel of his clammy skin, was likely in shock.
Somewhere in her head, alarms were sounding about the boy in her lap, but her heart and her focus were with the man she hadn't seen in fifty years. "What the hell are you doing in Old Seacouver?"
Methos' face twisted into a half-grin that could barely be seen in the dark. "I'm your Watcher."
"Long story. I'll be back."
"Wait!" She grabbed his arm as he moved to stand. "You're the doctor, you stay. I'll get the supplies."
Methos shook his head. "It's not safe. There's a pharmacy just up the street, I'll be back in a minute or two."
And with that, he was gone.
Methos might have two medical degrees, but she was the one who had the more recent experience in battlefield triage, and they both knew it. It would be easier if she had some light, but Sarah set to work examining the child anyway; she had certainly treated soldiers under worse conditions. By her assessment, there were two, maybe three, broken ribs and a definite fracture to his forearm. He was bleeding from several minor wounds that would likely heal without so much as a scar if he lived to see his next birthday, but the lump and corresponding gash on his forehead concerned her.
Mercifully, the bone in his arm snapped back into alignment quickly, only soliciting a loud groan from the still unconscious child. She found pieces of an ancient handrail that would serve as a splint and lashed the metal to his arm with the belt of her coat. Once that was done, there was nothing else to do but wait.
Methos returned with a high-power flashlight and a backpack full of medical supplies to find Sarah dozing lightly with the child snuggled against her chest. He paused a moment, simply watching them sleep. The scene was oddly peaceful, until Barclay launched himself from the shadows. Amidst the snarling and incredibly painful bites, he heard Sarah's voice calling the dog off, then felt her haul the weight of an angry Australian Shepherd off his chest.
Methos peered out from between his bleeding arms, wishing he had thought to steal a gun as well.
"Are you all right?" she asked, struggling to control the snapping animal.
"No thanks to the Hound of the Baskervilles," he grumbled. "What's with that thing, anyway?"
"His *name* is Barclay. And *you* keep startling me, what do you expect?" Sarah answered, ushering Barclay into a down-stay a few feet away and soothing him with soft words.
Methos thought that he should be the one deserving soothing, but got to his feet and picked up the flashlight, aiming it at the boy. "How's our patient?"
Sarah followed the light to where it fell upon the wide-eyed child. "Scared, I'd say," she muttered, hurrying back over to the makeshift bed.
Methos ignored the residual pain in his arms and followed, shucking off the backpack before kneeling next to the boy. "Hi," he said, smiling pleasantly. "My name's Methos, what's yours?"
The boy looked around, obviously assessing both of them before speaking. He had vague memories of being in the transport with his mother and father and hearing a funny noise that they wouldn't listen to. Then, he had woken up here, in the arms of that woman standing next to him. She was warm, and her hair smelled nice, but he had the feeling that something was terribly wrong. "James Randall Sayles. Where are my parents?"
Sarah and Methos exchanged a long glance, holding a silent conversation in an attempt to determine what the best answer to that question would be.
"Well, James Randall Sayles," he answered, "they've run into a bit of trouble out there. I'm afraid you're with us now. This is Sarah, and *that*," he said, jerking a thumb at the dog, "is Barclay."
"Methos is a weird name," James said, struggling to sit up.
"He's a weird guy." Sarah knelt behind him, smiling and offering her lap as place to sit. "How are you feeling?"
James thought about that for a minute and decided that he wasn't feeling very well at all. "My head hurts."
"I should imagine so," Methos answered. "Do you mind if I take a look at it? We have to get you bandaged up so we can move to a safer place."
The boy regarded him cautiously for a moment, but nodded his consent. He allowed Methos to examine and treat all his wounds without so much as a word until one of the gentle prods sent a spasm of pain racing through his ribs. Then, like any seven year old would, he let out a howl of agony.
Methos tweaked a finger in his own ear at the volume and shot Sarah a rueful smile over the boy's head. She scowled in return and wrapped both arms around James from behind, cradling him against her torso and speaking quietly in his ear. Miraculously, after a few minutes of sobbing, the boy grew quiet once more, though he continued to sniffle into Sarah's sleeve.
Methos quirked an eyebrow at her, but focused his attention on the child. "James, you've got some pretty serious injuries here. And we have to move to somewhere safe," he said.
"Safe from what?" James asked, his curiousity piqued.
The two adults held yet another silent conversation over his head, resulting in Sarah explaining to him that the city had been shelled and that invading forces would be coming soon to take it over.
"Why would they want to do that?" he asked.
"I don't know," Sarah answered truthfully. "But I do know that we need to get somewhere where they won't be able to find us."
"I think we should go kill the bad guys," James said, quite seriously. He'd seen films about wars; classics like _Rambo_ and _Under Seige_. They were supposed to kill the bad guys.
"That's not such a good idea," Methos interjected.
"Why not? Sarah has a sword, I saw it."
Methos shot another glance Sarah's way and she responded with a shrug that clearly conveyed she was equally puzzled on how to proceed. He neatly removed himself from the quandary by turning to clean up the first aid kit.
"James, there are only three of us," Sarah said. "And a whole lot of bad guys..."
"Yeah," the boy insisted. "But if we kill some of them, we might be able to even things out."
Methos chuckled softly, but came to Sarah's rescue. "They are on boats, James. They aren't in the city yet," he said.
"How do you know that?"
It was Sarah's turn to chuckle, but she hid it well behind her hand in a masked effort to stifle a yawn.
"Because of the way that the shells fell and how long it took them to get here," Methos answered.
James thought about that for a minute. "Was that the sound I heard in the transport? That funny whistling noise?"
"Exactly," Methos said, still rummaging in the pack.
"Momma and Daddy wouldn't listen to me. I told them to listen to the noise, but they weren't paying attention to me," James said.
Sarah frowned and hugged him gently. She had lost her parents at twenty six and remembered feeling utterly alone in the world; this poor child must be reeling in a whirlwind of fear and confusion.
"James," Methos turned to face them once more, "I have something to give you for the pain. It'll put you to sleep, but I promise that Sarie and I will take good care of you and keep you safe, okay?"
The boy glanced up at Sarah, who offered a reassuring smile, "You'll listen to me though, right? If I hear that noise again?"
"Of course we will," Sarah answered. "You can be our Official Scout, okay?"
James fixed a questioning gaze on Methos, who nodded solemnly in agreement with Sarah.
"Okay. No prickers, though. I *hate* prickers," the boy warned.
Sarah was confused by the term, but Methos got the point well enough. "No," he said. "It's not a shot. It's pills."
Once the two painkillers had been dutifully swallowed and followed by a candy bar that Methos produced from seemingly nowhere, the medication kicked in quickly, leaving the two adults to discuss the finer points of how to survive an invasion.
"Are you sure that was a good idea? He's likely to have a concussion," Sarah said.
Methos nodded. "He does. But that arm is going to hurt like hell and we need to be able to move."
She shrugged, obviously disagreeing with his decision, but recognizing that it was the only one he could have made. "How long will he be out?"
Methos glanced at his watch. "Probably at least four or five hours, maybe longer if we can get him to somewhere he can actually sleep."
"Okay," Sarah stood. "I'm going out to get us some more supplies. There has to be someplace around here where I can find food and some camping equipment."
"Not safe, I know. But one of us has to. And I can't breathe down here," she interrupted. "Relax, Petey, the worst they could do is shoot me."
That thought didn't make him particularly inclined to relax, but Methos knew there was no use in arguing. "Take my coat, General Wallace," he said. "You'll need it to conceal your sword."
She flashed him the same crooked grin that had enchanted him since their first meeting. "Haven't been called that in a good long while. But it's good to see you remember that you're not the only one with this kind of experience."
Methos held the coat up for her to take, but dropped it in favor of catching her left arm and pulling it into the light to examine the lumpy section.
"What's this?" he asked, his face twisting with concern.
"Glass, I think," she answered. "I didn't have time to do anything about it."
"Well, we do now," he stood, grabbing the flashlight. "If this doesn't heal right..."
"I know, I know...I just didn't have time," she followed him to a spot several feet away from where James was sleeping and sank to the floor obediently. If there was one thing she had learned about Methos through the years, it was not to argue with him in situations like this. Especially if he was right.
Barclay joined them, wedging his body between his new mistress and that man with the nasty looking knife. His growling set Methos on edge.
"What do I have to do to make that beast stop trying to kill me?" he grumbled.
Sarah laughed and shoved the dog out of the way. "He's getting used to you. A few more days and he'll be your best friend."
"A few more days and he'll be our dinner," Methos responded, angling the light on a nearby hunk of concrete to illuminate her arm.
Her mouth fell open in shock.
"Relax," he winked. "Dog meat is tough. And we won't be here long enough to get that hungry."
"Well, *that's* a relief," she rolled her eyes.
Methos offered a quick smile, then bent to study her arm. "Are you ready for this?"
She nodded, steeling herself against the coming pain. "Go ahead."
"It's going to hurt," he said.
Methos took her forearm and set his knife ready to lay it open, but hesitated just before the blade found her skin and looked up at her. "I'll be as careful as I can."
Sarah swallowed and met his gaze, falling quite easily into its depth. Her mind flew back to a day well over a hundred years before when she and Methos had sparred in Duncan's dojo, resulting in a wound to her leg that had bled quite profusely. That moment--when he had used his bare hands to put pressure on the wound in a position that was very similar to the one they were in now--had been the beginning of a sixty year romance.
"I know," she swallowed again and forced her eyes downward. "Go on."
Sarah studied his hands as they deftly maneuvered the knife and picked carefully at the resulting wound, searching for the offending bits of debris amongst the otherwise healthy flesh of her forearm. It hurt; a lot, in fact, but she found she could ignore the pain by focusing on the movements of his fingers instead.
These were the hands that had given her her first sword and patiently taught her how to wield it. These were the hands that had bound her wrists with strips torn from his own shirt when the tendons proved to be too weak to bear the weight of combat blows. These hands had stroked her back through hundreds of nightmares and had caressed her face lovingly. They had zipped up the backs of formal dresses and unbuttoned both blouses and jeans, roaming over her body with delicious familiarity...massaged sore muscles...tickled her mercilessly. And even now, covered in her blood and grimy from the tunnel's filth, making continuous yet somehow gentle, cuts into her arm, she loved them.
"Got it all, I think," Methos said, setting the knife down and turning her arm into the light with the hopes of examining the wound before it healed. He had no such luck, though, and resorted to massaging the site with his thumb, searching for the telltale bumps that would indicate he had missed some of the shards. When it became apparent that his efforts had been successful, he found himself more than a little reluctant to let go. So, quite simply, he didn't.
"Thanks," she said, flexing her grip.
Methos slid his fingers down to catch her hand and tapped the ring on her third finger, asking an unspoken question.
She made no response aside from dropping her eyes to study the blood encrusted gemstones.
"MacLeod?" he queried.
Sarah nodded. "It's not what you think..."
"It doesn't matter what I think," he answered, dropping her hand and wiping his bloody fingers on his pant leg.
Connor MacLeod had come to see Methos in the days between his departure from tSarah's house in Johannesburg and her arrival in London with the grieving Richie Ryan. The Highlander had tried to explain the nature of his rather strange relationship with Sarah and had gone away feeling like a failure. But Methos had understood him well enough.
"Connor and I..." Sarah trailed off, unsure of how to voice her thoughts; unsure of her very thoughts themselves.
Methos wiped the blade of the knife as well, then folded it carefully into its handle and slipped it back into his pocket before getting to his feet. "He loves you. He's loved you for as long as I've known him."
Sarah wanted to focus on the space of ground between her knees, but her eyes were drawn upwards to meet his gaze by both the emotion in his voice and the power of her own guilt. So, she looked up at him, unable to speak any of the dozens of swirling thoughts and emotions that were ripping at her heart.
"And you love him enough to let him into a place that you shut me out of completely," he continued. "There is no neat and tidy way to compartmentalize all of this, Sarie. Stop trying. And stop beating yourself up over something that happened fifty years ago."
Sarah swallowed hard, forcing her voice to be calm. "What I did..."
"What you did is what you had to do to survive that anger," he interjected in that calm and practical tone she knew so well.
"That doesn't make it right."
Methos shook his head and wiped his hands on his pants again, chuckling softly. "I've never known you to be judgmental, Sarie...until now."
With that, he walked off, heading back to their small camp and leaving her sitting in the ring of light from the lamp.
Sarah stood slowly, shrugging on his coat and tucking her sword neatly inside. "I'll be back before dawn," she said.
Methos settled himself into a relatively comfortable position next to James and looked at his watch. "Be careful, Sarie."
[end part 2]
Sarah returned about two hours later, mere seconds before Methos was about to leave the boy and go in search of her. She carried a large backpack with two sleeping bags strapped to the bottom and was sporting a very serious frown, apparently oblivious to his smile of relief.
"You know, I keep forgetting how prone mortals are to panicking," she said by way of greeting. "I must have seen about three dozen people out there just milling around aimlessly. Don't they have the good sense to look for cover?"
Methos shook his head. "They've never lead nations to victory, Sarie. And people get lulled into complacency very easily when the government talks about peace. Seacouver hasn't been war ridden for nearly a decade now."
"True," she sighed loudly. "What's the master plan, Petey?"
God it sounded good to hear her call him that. "Depends," he answered. "What's in the backpack?"
Sarah shucked it off and flipped open the cover. "Some food, two sleeping bags, a camp lantern and another flashlight. More medical supplies...a couple of anoraks in case it gets cold...ummm..."
"Only two bags?" he cocked an eyebrow.
Sarah blushed a lovely shade of crimson that sent Methos laughing.
"I uh...I guess I just wasn't thinking," she said.
Methos swallowed his grin and fought back another laugh, but managed a half-serious tone. "It's just fine by me, so long as your Highlander doesn't come charging after my head when this is all over and done."
Sarah's face fell visibly and she looked down at the backpack for several moments before answering. "I don't have a Highlander, Petey. Connor and I aren't together any more."
He squatted next to her and squeezed her shoulder gently. "I know. I'm sorry."
Methos nodded. "He came to see me in London right before you and Richie arrived."
Sarah blinked at him for several seconds, digesting his words. "And that's why you weren't there..."
"Yeah," he answered, studying the laces of her shoes quite intently. "I couldn't deal with it just yet."
Sarah snickered. "Gee, I wouldn't know anything about *that*, would I, Petey?"
Methos looked up at her and resisted the urge to brush the hair out of her eyes with supreme effort of will.
"We should move," he said.
Sarah nodded, gathering up the pack, "I'm betting it's the Freemen...who else would have outdated weaponry?"
"Hard to say," he answered, scooping James into his arms and watching while Sarah collected her coat and the first aid kit. "But it's a likely guess."
She stopped to tie the small camp lantern to the back of the pack and shrugged it on, then whistled for Barclay and began to move slowly through the decrepit tunnel.
"What we need to do," Sarah said, picking her way along, "is get the hell out of Seacouver before whomever it is that is invading establishes a good hold."
Methos grunted in agreement, concentrating on where to put his feet as he carried the still sleeping James through the rubble. "He won't be up for any kind of travel for a day or so, at least."
"And I don't suppose it's a good idea to keep him sedated so we can move faster, huh?"
"No, not really," he answered. "Hey, can you adjust that light downwards a little bit? When you duck, it blinds me."
Sarah nodded and stripped off the backpack to re-arrange the lantern. "We might not have time to wait for him to heal," she said. "How's that?"
"Better," he answered, falling into step behind her once more. "Where'd you get the dog?"
Sarah watched Barclay's tail wag in the beam of light ahead of her and sighed. "I found him up on the street. He and I were the only living things I could see."
Methos awoke with a start, instantly aware of three things. His back was cold. Barclay was growling. And there was a heavily booted foot in his line of vision that most certainly did not belong to Sarah.
He followed the boot up to a leg clad in the signature grey of the Freeman movement and followed that leg up to the chest and face of a young man pointing a machine gun at his head.
"Good morning," Methos smiled.
"Get up, before I blow your head off," was the response.
"Certainly," Methos answered, rolling over slowly and making sure his hands were in plain sight. His captor was obviously too young to have done this before; which meant that he would likely be both trigger happy and nervous--a combination that had boded well in Methos' experience.
"The boy too," the young man grunted.
"He's injured," Methos answered, getting to his feet. "He can't walk very far."
"He's gonna have to or I'll shoot him," he said, changing aim and cocking the weapon.
Methos threw himself between the gun and James instinctively. "Wait! I'll carry him, just tell me where to go."
He was about to respond by filling Methos' chest full of lead, but they were both distracted: Methos by the unmistakable sensation of Sarah's return and the young man by the sound of a piece of rubble turning under her foot. The young man started to spin to face the noise, but stopped short, dropping his gun. Methos followed his horrified gaze down to his ribcage; equally shocked to see the point of Sarah's rapier protruding between the man's belt buckle and ammunition belt. He watched the point of the blade twist and heard, rather than saw, Sarah drag him into the surrounding darkness. Moments later, Methos recognized the unpleasant odor of freshly spilled blood and guessed that Sarah had dispatched the young man by slitting his throat.
"What happened?" James asked.
Methos stared ahead blankly for a moment before answering. "Sarah just saved our lives."
"What about that man?" James persisted, struggling to sit up.
Before Methos could answer, Sarah reappeared, stripped down to a tank top and carrying the dead man's jacket. She tossed the gun to him and took a moment to strap the ammunition belt across her chest before gesturing for him to return it.
"They're searching the tunnels," she said rather matter of factly. "We need to get out of here."
Methos handed her the gun numbly and watched her check the sights and unlock the safety. "You have blood on your cheek," he said.
Sarah used the sleeve of the jacket to wipe her face with, then shrugged it on and looked at him impatiently.
"Did you have to do that?" he asked.
"You would have preferred a bullet in your head?"
Methos shook his head, which was full of remembered images from the vid-screens during the Gaelic Rebellion. He'd seen Sarah kill before--but never like this. And he had most certainly never seen her with a machine gun strapped across her back. No wonder the Scottish Rebels had followed her to victory in 2073. This wasn't Sarie MacGreggor. This was a woman who had fought and won wars for a thousand years...and she was a formidable figure.
"I want to know what happened to that man!" James interrupted.
Methos helped the boy to his feet with the intention of placing him on his shoulders, but James refused to cooperate, insisting to know what happened.
Sarah sighed, reluctant to share the truth with the child but seeing no other option that would facilitate their quick escape. "I killed him, James," she said.
"With your sword?" the boy asked.
She nodded. "With my sword. He was going to hurt you and I couldn't let that happen."
"Why was he going to hurt us?" James asked.
"I don't know, James," Sarah answered, gathering the pack together. "But we have to get moving or there will be more like him."
"How many?" Methos asked, beginning to gather up their things.
"At least a dozen. One of them spotted me in the street. I thought I lost him...but I was obviously wrong." Sarah took the backpack from him and shrugged it on, pulling the straps tight.
"What the hell were you doing up there anyway?" he snapped.
Sarah gave a soft whistle that brought Barclay to her side and heaved a sigh at him. "Trying to figure out what is going on. I didn't realize I needed permission to get out of bed."
A dozen stinging replies came to Methos' mind, but he chose to keep them all to himself. An argument was the last thing they needed at this point. "And just what *is* going on then, General?"
If the boy hadn't been there, she would have run him through with her sword, or at least taken a swing at his jaw. Instead, Sarah took a deep breath, forcing some semblance of calm into her voice. "First of all, which one of us has the more recent battle experience, Methos? And secondly, if you call me that again, I'll gladly demonstrate just how recent mine really is. I'm not your student any more, don't make the mistake of thinking you're in charge."
Methos set James on his shoulders and walked over to stand face to face with her. "And don't you make the mistake of thinking that I'm one of your Gaels. We're not going to get out of here if we don't work together."
No one. Not one person in the entire thousand-plus years she had been on the planet had ever been able to incite her temper like he did. But, angry as she was, he did have a point. And James was looking more than a little distressed by the exchange.
Sarah drew a deep breath and counted to ten in Gaelic silently. This was not the Gaelic Rebellion. She was not responsible for the lives of her countrymen.
She exhaled rapidly, sending the hair on her forehead flying upwards. "The streets are crawling with Freemen. They're rounding up the survivors and herding them toward the transport station, I think. So far, there doesn't appear to be anyone from the "good" side here, but I'm sure they're on the way."
Methos nodded, recognizing a truce when it was called. "Once the Canadians arrive, it's going to get uglier. We should try to be gone by then."
"Any bright ideas about how to make *that* happen?" she asked, tucking the flashlight into her waistband. "We're in the dark for a while."
"Dunno, just head for the harbor. There's got to be some kind of boat down there that they haven't confiscated yet."
Sarah sighed and crumpled the wrapper of the granola bar she had been chewing, tossing it into the darkened rubble.
"I know," Methos said. "I'd kill for a steak."
She grinned suddenly, "On the patio of that restaurant in Munich....Die Alte Schule, remember?"
He nodded. They'd eaten in that restaurant on and off for most of their marriage. With a sigh of his own, Methos tucked the sleeping bag snugly under James' chin and gave Barclay a wary pat before moving to sit next to her.
"I think your beast is getting to like me," he said.
Sarah handed him the canteen with a smile. "I told you he would. All you had to do was turn on the charm."
He took a small sip of the tepid water and re-capped it, studying her under the guise of rooting through the pack. She was filthy and showing signs of both exhaustion and the stress of being in a confined space for so long, but seemed relatively relaxed. Frankly, he was amazed by this; he remembered quite clearly that her claustrophobia often manifested as panic.
"How're you doing?" he asked.
Sarah shrugged, then sighed once more. "I'm tired and hungry and all I want to do is get out of this godforsaken place."
Methos offered a small smile and gestured to the sleeping bag she was sitting on. "Come on, let's get some sleep. We're pretty close to the harbor, I think. We can get out of here in the morning."
She glanced at her watch. It *was* morning; nearly five am, actually. They'd lost all sense of time in the perpetual dark of the tunnels.
They both knew that the question extended beyond the immediacy of the situation at hand. Getting out of Seacouver was inevitable. They'd been in worse places and come through. Eventually, they'd find their way through the war zone, boy and dog in tow, and then...what?
Methos shrugged. His house, a small two story on the outskirts of Sydney, could stand her touch. And his bed, though never lacking of willing partners, could only be more comfortable with her breath in his ear and her hair spilling across the pillows. It could be that easy.
"It's not going to be that easy."
His head snapped up. Had he spoken aloud?
"Getting out of here," Sarah continued. "If the Freemen came in by sea, the harbor is bound to be blockaded."
Methos sighed, deeply relieved. "We'll cross that bridge when we get there. Now come on, let's get some sleep."
Sarah nodded and crawled under the open bag, making herself as comfortable as possible on the hard ground. When Methos settled in next to her, tucking an elbow under his head as a cushion, she found her body relaxing into the familiar and comfortable warmth of his own. Barclay came and sniffed both their faces briefly, then curled up at her feet, his nose resting near James' neck. If they had been somewhere--anywhere--else, she would have named the feeling washing over her as content.
"Sarie?" his voice came softly, almost hesitantly into her left ear.
Methos paused, searching for words that he knew would evade him. Her breath was rhythmic and comforting and he could feel her ribcage rising next to his own. There was something *right* about this, in spite of the sheer lunacy of the situation and the miles of emotional turmoil between them.
"What?" she repeated.
He opened his mouth again, but no words would come. Instead, Methos sought out her hand and wove her fingers through his own with a light squeeze. Much to his delight, she returned the gesture in kind.
Methos blinked against the sunlight and stepped out through a pile of rubble, moving aside to let Sarah carry James out behind him. Across the street, in what used to be a park, dozens of people were milling about; both Freemen and civilians, none of which seemed to take notice of the three figures crawling out of the ancient tunnel.
"Some kind of internment camp," Sarah said, coming to stand next to him. "Look at the wire on the gates."
Methos followed her finger to where it aimed toward a wrought iron fence that surrounded the area. Razor wire had been strung along the top of it and glinted wickedly in the evening sun.
"Great," he muttered.
"I can smell the water, anyway," Sarah said. "We must be close."
"It's Curme Park," James said suddenly from where she had left him sitting. "My dad took me here once. We got ice-cream."
"Do you know where the harbor is?" Sarah asked, squatting down to the boy's eye level.
Before James could answer, Methos lay a hand on her shoulder wordlessly. She looked up at him and followed the curt jerk of his head, spotting a Freemen officer striding toward them.
"Corporal?" the middle-aged woman asked.
Sarah stood and pulled herself to what she hoped was still passing for attention, straightening her bloodstained coat self consciously. "Ma'am."
"Is there a reason you're loitering?"
"No ma'am....I mean....yes, actually. This boy is hurt, he needs a doctor."
The other woman looked down her nose at James, then took a moment to study Methos before responding. "He can walk, he'll be fine. We don't have the doctors to spare. Get them inside the gates and return to your post."
Sarah opened her mouth to protest, but Methos cut in smoothly.
"I'm a doctor," he said. "If you could get me a first aid kit and some water..."
The Major fixed him with a steady glare. "You're not really in the position to be making demands."
"It wasn't a demand," Methos smiled soothingly. "It was a request."
"And it was denied, Prince Charming. This isn't your city any more, get used to it."
Methos let the smile fade from his face and thought that Seacouver had ceased to be his city long before this woman's grandparents were born.
"Guards!" the Major called, "Help this corporal get these two inside."
Instantly, two rather large men had Methos by either elbow and were hauling him bodily toward the gate to the camp. Without thinking, he planted both feet and locked his knees, shoving backwards against their grip. His reward came in the form of the butt of a rifle in his left kidney.
Amidst the white-hot pain, Methos heard the sound of Barclay launching himself at one of the guards. Seconds after that, there was swearing and a startled cry came from James. When his right arm was suddenly released, he took advantage of it by slamming a fist into the throat of the man on his left.
Nearby, Sarah was busy dispatching the Major with a well aimed elbow to the bridge of her nose. The smaller woman dropped to the ground neatly, but a small crowd was forming on the other side of the fence.
Attention was *not* what they needed. Sarah glanced over at Methos, then back to the gate. Freemen were shoving their way through the gathering crowd of civilians, fighting to hold off what could easily escalate into a riot.
It took but a moment's thought, really. The situation was bad, but not wholly unsalvageable. Those civilians were the ticket out. It was cruel and immoral, but she didn't care. With a deep breath, Sarah, drew the pistol from the belt of the fallen Major and calmly put a bullet into the woman. Then, she turned toward Methos and pumped two into the man he was struggling with. The third man, who was busy with Barclay, cried out loudly when her bullet tore through his chest.
"Have you lost your mind?" Methos demanded.
"You're welcome," she answered, scooping up James and pointing to the scene in the camp. "The choices were be hauled in there, or give them too much to think about to haul us in."
He scowled at her fiercely, but there was no time to argue.
Across the street, civilians were cheering and Freemen were doing their best to wrestle them back from the gates. It wasn't working. The gate burst open accompanied by a loud cry and several gunshots, then a river of bodies poured out onto the street.
"GO!" Sarah yelled, shoving the pistol into Methos' hands and taking off
He had no choice but to follow as best he could in the confusion.
Sarah shouted for James to keep his head down and ducked her own as more gunfire sounded. She ran, dodging debris and people and not paying attention to anything aside from where her next step would fall, until she thought her lungs would explode. Then, finally, she ducked into a doorway and collapsed, leaving James to crawl out of her lap of his own volition. It was several moments later before she realized that both Methos and Barclay were nowhere to be found.
[end part 3]
The last thing Sarah heard before a bullet ripped through her chest was James' voice in her ear shouting "look out!". She tried to go down in a way to cushion the boy's own fall, barely aware of the fact that a buzz was washing over her. Her final coherent thought was that this was most certainly not a good thing.
Ten minutes later, she came gasping back to life with the buzz still pounding in her head, adding to the panic and disorientation of the moment. Firm hands pressed her shoulders against the floor and a voice that was familiar, but unplaceable, was speaking to her gently.
"Sarah, it's me, Jim."
She blinked up at him, drawing his face into focus. Different haircut. Same chiseled features and luminous eyes. This was an old friend, she could relax for a moment. No, wait. There was a child...."James?"
"Right here," he answered.
She pushed his hands away crossly and sat up. "Not *you*. *James*...the boy I was carrying. Where is he?"
The man she knew last as Jim O'Leary chuckled and pointed across the small room he had tpulled her into to avoid the firefight on the street. There, tucked in a corner, James was busy stuffing his face with MRE rations. "He's fine, no thanks to the woman who dropped him on his head out there."
Sarah heaved a sigh of relief that was punctuated by a sharp pang in her chest. She put a hand to the pain, drawing back bloody fingers, and glared at Jim. "You shot me!"
"*You* are dressed like the enemy," he responded rather nonchalontly.
Sarah took in his disheveled, but still obviously new, blue uniform with an appraising glance. There was a red cross on his helmet, marking him as the doctor she had always known him to be and the patch on his sleeve bore the shield of the Californian Free Army. It must be bad if Jim was out working recon; he usually stayed behind the scenes to stitch up the wounded.
"Yeah, well, at the time it seemed like a good cover. I didn't know that the cavalry was on its way and trigger happy."
Jim helped her shuck the bloody coat and tossed it aside disdainfully before sweeping a mock bow and offering a grin. "Colonel Joshua O'Roarke, at your service, Miss. Or should I call you General?"
Sarah shook her head. "Maeve Wallace died in York, Jim. I'm sitting this one out."
He glanced at the boy again, dropping his tone to a whisper. "You'd best do that somewhere else, Sarah. I think this little skirmish is going to last a while."
"Gladly. Just point me in the right direction," she answered, sucking in another deep breath and wincing slightly at the residual pain.
"Tell you what," he offered. "I'll get you back to camp, where you can clean up a bit before catching a ride out of here. But first, I want to examine your little...."
"Friend," Sarah supplied, correctly reading the expression of inquiry on his face. "Petey found him after the first shelling. Poor kid lost his whole world."
Jim nodded grimly and shot an assessing gaze at the boy before her words had the chance to fully sink in. "Petey?" he asked suddenly. "You and Methos are back together? That's..."
"A leaping conclusion on your part," Sarah interjected. "We just bumped into each other here."
He frowned, making no attempt to hide his disappointment. Jim had known Methos for nearly two thousand years, and Sarah for most of her immortal life. He'd watched their relationship evolve from teacher and student into a friendship that rivaled any he had seen. He and his partner Bryan had both been invited to their wedding in Glenfinnan in 1999. Soulmates. Those two were soulmates if he had ever seen a pair. They belonged together. Period.
"Where is he, anyway?" he asked.
Sarah shrugged. "We got separated in the fray at the internment camp."
Jim chuckled. That "fray", as she so blithely put it, was the reason he was out here on the streets instead of back in his hospital. He should have guessed she was involved; calculated chaos was one of Sarah's specialties. It was also one of the many reasons she and Bryan got along so well.
"Your Benito's doing recon. When we get back to camp, I'll radio him and tell him to be on the lookout for the old guy. We'll make sure he gets out okay."
She offered a smile of relief. If anyone could find Methos in this mess, it was Bryan. "Thanks, I owe you one."
"You owe me several, actually," he answered with a wink. "And you can pay me back by coming to your senses and getting back together with my old battalion leader."
Her smiled transformed into a frown quickly. "Don't play matchmaker, okay? The last time you and your partner did that, it failed miserably, remember?"
"Did it now?" Jim grinned. "Seems to me that you and Connor MacLeod made a good match. And it's not my fault you two were too young to hold your liquor."
"Not your fault? You were pouring it down Connor's throat...and Bryan was doing the same for me. I was just too stupid to see that you were obviously up to something."
He laughed. "But it was a lovely wedding, Sarah."
She responded with a scowl. "Jim, don't you have a sick child to doctor with all your thousands of years of medical expertise?"
"Indeed," he answered, suddenly mindful of the situation. "I do. Care to introduce me? He's half convinced I'm Satan himself."
Several hours later, after both of his charges had been treated to a hot meal and a bath and the younger was safely ensconced in the infirmary, Jim O'Leary sat sharing a bottle of brandy with Sarah in his tent.
"I must say, you look far nicer in our uniform than you did in that ratty grey thing," he joked.
Sarah laughed and set down her cup, opting to braid her wet hair and twist it up off of her neck. "Very glamorous, I know. How's James?"
"He'll be okay. That cut on his head will likely scar. I could have stitched it cleanly if I'd been there when it was fresh. We put a cast on his arm and taped up his ribs...he's young, he'll recover."
She drained the cup and held it our for a refill with a smile. "Thanks."
"I doubt we'll be able to find any of his family, though," Jim continued, topping off her drink. "The city is a mess. They're rounding up refugees to use as hostages and the ones that we've found wandering around are missing relatives left and right."
Sarah sighed. "It's always like this, Jim. Don't they get that?"
"No," he answered, echoing the sigh. "They don't live long enough to see past the moment."
Sarah nodded and swirled the liquid around her cup before taking a long swallow. "When will he be ready to travel?"
"A week, at least. But he really should have all the time he needs to heal and recover."
"I don't want to stay that long, Jim. I'll wind up involved in this, and I don't want to be. I've done the lead the people to freedom thing a few too many times in my life."
"We're setting up a refugee camp, you could leave him here," he suggested.
Sarah shook her head. "You won't find any of his family and we both know it. He trusts me now, I can't leave him here."
Jim took a swallow of his drink and nodded. He didn't agree with her plan necessarily, but he did understand her motivation. "Then you'll need to stay while he recovers."
"A week?" she asked.
They had done this before...sat at a campfire sharing comfort. In the mid 1700s, Bryan had adopted the Jacobite cause as his own, dragging Jim along for the ride. He had very vivid memories of a haggard Sarah MacGreggor--disguised as the fallen son of the Chieftain of Clan Cameron--using twigs to draw battle plans in the dirt, swearing under her breath and holding the small unit of Highlanders together with the sheer force of her will. And he'd seen news footage of General Maeve Wallace leading the Gaels to victory in the rebellion of 2073. Yet, it always surprised him to see her face twisted in grim determination and marred by the stress and fatigue of leadership.
His earliest memories of the girl--who had ceased being within the realm of that term over a thousand years ago--were brimming with her wicked and slightly crooked grin. She and Bryan had hit it off immediately, most likely due to their mutual penchant for irritating Methos, and Sarah had been positively enchanting in her rough-and-tumble appearance back then.
"You're not old enough to be this cynical, Sarah," he said.
"I'm older than you were when we met, Jim. And I'm not cynical, I'm just...tired."
Jim noted the set of her jaw and recognized it as the very same one that marked her stubborn streak, but decided to voice his opinion anyway. "You're tired because you are trying to make it through this world without the other half of your soul."
Sarah drained her drink and set the cup down on his footlocker with a thunk, then spent some time scuffing the dirt floor with the heel of her boot before answering. "I'm tired because people have been shooting at me for two days. I haven't slept soundly, and that was the first real meal I've had since a pseudo-cheeseburger right before the shelling started."
Jim smiled. "He taught you well."
He got up and dragged his seat closer to hers, draping an arm around her shoulder companionably. "Methos. He taught you well. You're almost as good at avoiding the real issue as he is."
"You know," she responded rather curtly, "I'm tired of people telling me what I feel."
"Well, if you won't listen to your own heart, you're going to have to deal with other people repeating what it's saying. Talk to me, Sarah. Tell me the whole story of why you're not where you're supposed to be."
"I'm supposed to be meeting with Doctor Stephen McFadden, the guy who is heading the dig in Glenstrae that will exhume my parents and my husband. But, some idiots decided that now would be a good time to bomb Seacouver to make their damn political point and, instead, I spent two days crawling around in a hole with Petey."
He sighed, knowing that he was about to see her temper flare. "There was a student. Her name was Adrianne Riordan. She lived with you and Methos in London."
"Jim..." she warned.
"She challenged him. He killed her. Then *you* tried to kill him. Why?"
Sarah tried to stand up, intending to stalk off to her tent, but he pulled her back down firmly.
"Let go of me."
"No student is worth this, Sarah," he said patiently. "Tell me the story so we can figure it out."
"I thought Bryan was the psychologist," she muttered.
"He is. But even *he* knows that you belong with Methos."
They sat in silence for several long minutes, Sarah poised just on the edge of his reach and nearly straining to break his hold. She had a solid three inches on him when standing and Jim was, by appearance, a slight man, but they both knew that he was physically stronger and not adverse to playing that card if necessary.
It was patently obvious to him that no one had forced her to deal with the issue at hand--that she, and thus Methos as well, had been languishing in the pit of dispair and confusion that this Adrianne Riordan had dug for them. That was about to change. He'd keep her here all night if he had to.
"You belong with him. No student is worth this," he repeated.
The muscles in her shoulders relaxed with a defeated heave, causing her to slump forward. Jim loosened his grip and rubbed her arm affectionately, knowing he had won the contest of wills.
"She wasn't just my student, Jim," Sarah said quietly. "She was my daughter."
He listened intently as Sarah told him an impossible tale of fertile cycles and accelerated pregnancies. If it had come from anyone else, Jim would have dismissed the story as fantasy, but hearing Sarah talk about a night with Duncan MacLeod in the 1940s and watching her face as she spoke of the girl who had awakened the maternal instinct in someone who was supposed to lack it utterly convinced Jim that, however unlikely, this was the truth.
"Still," he said, "daughter or no, she wasn't worth it. I know you were angy. And it must have been the only thing you could do at the time, but it was fifty years ago. Let it go, let it end."
"He dug some shrapnel out of my arm, down in the tunnels," Sarah said, tracing where the line of the wound had been. "It was the first time we touched since...it hurt like hell. But when he was done, all I wanted to do was go out and find some more glass so he'd have to do it again."
Jim smiled and gave her shoulders a squeeze. "So if you've forgiven him, why haven't you forgiven yourself?"
Sarah looked over at him, wearing a painfully vulnerable expression. "I don't know. I just don't know."
The following evening, Sarah stood with both hands squarely on her hips, surveying the twilight view from the compound. The combined forces of the Canadian government and the Californian Free Army had made their camps on the hills surrounding the city, effectively cutting off all land-based escape routes for the Freemen. Three gigantic battleships sat moored at the edge of the harbor, eliminating any hope for the ground troops to reunite with their compatriots off-shore. This war was all but over from a strategic standpoint. What remained to be determined was the willpower and commitment of the Freemen, whose decrepit weaponry and inferior positioning left them clinging to nothing but a belief in a futile cause. Still, there were civilians to consider, and the wait could prove to be a long one, if the Canadians wanted to avoid loss of further innocent life.
She heaved a sigh and paced three steps to the right and back again. Waiting was the part Sarah hated most. Waiting in war meant rationing supplies and manning graveyard patrols. It meant wondering what your enemy was up to, and hoping they had less food and water than you did. Endless games of cards. Morale issues. It was easy to keep the troops happy when they were busy, but force them to sit around for days or weeks and interest and enthusiasm slip slowly down the drain. Give her a sword or a gun and an attack to plan and Sarah was ready for anything...force her to pace around and thoughts would turn to worries.
Sarah scanned the ruins of Seacouver, unable to pick out anything but the largest of details--building fires and devastated city blocks--yet still searching unconsciously for that lanky figure that she knew so well. Odds were that he was perfectly fine and holed up somewhere reasonably comfortable waiting out the storm. Methos had a knack for survival and a downright uncanny ability to find creature comforts. If the Seacouver Hilton was still standing, he was likely in the Honeymoon Suite, drinking champagne from the bottle and raiding the honor bar.
Still, there was the possibility that just the opposite was true, and that had her worried. In the fifty some-odd years since their separation, Sarah had managed to become quite adept at not thinking about him. But the tunnels had changed that. His voice was the same. His touch was still equally gentle and deliberate. He'd called her Sarie and had wound a protective arm around her in his sleep. There had been moments where it was easy to pretend that the last five decades had never happened...moments when the task of cooperating toward survival had eclipsed all of the emotional rubble between them.
That was precisely what Sarah wanted to do. Pretend it never happened.
She'd spoken to Bryan on the radio; told him where she'd last seen Methos and shared their plan to head toward the harbor. Benito, one of her oldest and most dear friends, would find Petey and bring him to her. Then, after a day's rest, Methos would join James and herself on a transport back to Africa. They could renew their vows and raise the boy...
Or, Methos could be long gone by now, having found his own way out of the war zone. Maybe he had a wife to go back to. Maybe they just weren't ever meant to be together. Fate had certainly conspired against them in the past. Fate and her own stupidity.
She felt the approach of another immortal and her heart sang. Methos.
But the step was too heavy to be his and Jim was busy in the hospital. This would be Bryan, then. And, judging by the hesitation in his step, he did not bring good news. Sarah drew a deep breath, screwed on a smile, and turned to face him.
What started as a forced gesture faded quickly to genuine feeling as he wordlessly scooped her into a bone crunching hug. Bryan stood an inch or two shorter than she did, but made up for it in bulk and muscle. He was handsom enough to set most women a-twitter--a fact that he was not above using to his advantage when the situation warrented--and had green eyes that were as startling as hers were murky.
"Give a girl some air, Bry," she groaned, wedging her arms between their chests and shoving him away.
Instead, he squeezed her once more, pulling her feet off the ground, and buried his face in her neck, inhaling deeply. "Gorgeous as ever, Sarah."
She flushed slightly as he let her slide to the ground. "Good to see you too, Benito. But I wish it were under better circumstances."
"Me too," he agreed, "but I never seem to be able to talk you into coming to Italy for the harvest."
Sarah shrugged, opting to head straight for the point.
"No luck?" she asked, wrapping both arms around her torso against the evening breeze and turning back toward the city.
Bryan wrapeped his arms around her waist from behind and spent a moment studying the goose flesh on her forearms before answering. "No, none. But we'll find him eventually."
Sarah nodded. She'd be gone by then.
"There's going to be a supply convoy in a couple of days, why don't you stick around?"
Sarah smirked and knocked shoulders with him lightly, brushing a stray lock of hair from her face and tucking it behind her ear. "You just want me to stay and keep your bed warm while Jim is working those twenty hour shifts in the hospital."
Their relationship had been both physically and emotionally intimate since the very beginning, affording them each with someone to place complete and implicit trust in without the ties of a romance. In many ways, it was akin to the ties between first loves. And in many ways they *were* first loves--she the first woman he had found the courage to explore his heterosexual urges with and he the first man she had taken to her bed in the wake of the brutality that robbed her of her mortal life. It was a twisting and complicated connection that ran the gamut from sibling banter to sexual disport, but what it all boiled down to was the only thing that mattered. They were friends.
"I wouldn't kick you out of my bed," he answered. "But mostly I want you to stay because I like having you around. And because I want you to leave here with Methos."
Sarah turned in his embrace and cocked her head at him, taking in his filthy gear and bloodied face. That was not what she had expected to hear him say. Jim was the one who believed that she and Methos belonged together. Bryan was forever pushing her to forget the old fart and take up with a fellow Scot. He had even orchestrated her marriage to Connor in 1680--determined to believe that they would fall in love once faced with the concept head on. He had been marginally right on that one, she had to admit.
"You look exhausted," she said.
Bryan nodded. Exhausted was one word for it. "I never expected to have to *fight*, Sarah. I signed back into the Army to learn new triage techniques and because I like playing war games with cadets. This was not in my master plan. I've lost count of how many of them I've shot in the past two days. They're all just infants, really."
She understood. The men and women that had served under her in the Gaelic Rebellion had all been children doomed to single deaths. It was downright heartbreaking to watch their enthusiasm be stripped away by pain and fear.
"Come on," she said, wrapping an arm around his waist. "I'll buy you a drink. Jim's got a stash in his footlocker and I've picked a few locks in my day."
Bryan pulled her into another hug that lifted Sarah's feet off the ground again and popped two of her vertebrae audibly. "Stay a few more days. I'll find him for you, I swear."
She rubbed three circles on his back and gave Bryan a quick kiss on the chin before answering. It broke her heart to see him like this. Bryan was too sensative to fight wars. Too dedicated. Too caring. Too loving. They should be sipping wine on the veranda of his villa in Tuscany, not staring out over the ruins of this place. She shouldn't leave him here. She could, and should, drag him to Africa with her; if only to see him smile.
"I'll stay until the next convoy leaves," she said, planting a gentle kiss on his lips. "But only to make sure you don't fall on your sword."
Sarah strode through the make-shift hospital, focusing her attention on getting to the adjoining building that housed the civilian's ward without being overcome with the smells and sounds of wounded men. She'd done her stint at Jim's side earlier in the day, sorting out patients in triage and dressing wounds, and had finished her shift covered in blood and other not so pleasant bodily fluids. It was not her favorite way to pass the time, but she hadn't been able to sit idly by watching the men bring in stretcher after stretcher of their wounded comrades.
Things were relatively calm now, though Jim was certainly still in surgery, and the ward was darkened, allowing her to slip though without recognition by any of the men she had treated earlier in the day. As much as Sarah understood the need for comfort they felt, her purpose was to find the boy and explain recent events to him as best she could--something she had been putting off since their arrival at the camp. These men and women were soldiers, signed into the army with the knowledge that they would likely have to put their lives on the line at some point. James...James was a small boy who had been on his way to the zoo with his family when the Freemen shells had begun to fall.
A small boy who had spent two days being hauled around a tunnel with Methos and herself and subjected to images as graphic as three hollow point bullets ripping through her chest on the street. He was no doubt severely traumatized. And she owed him an explanation, if not a loving home as well.
"Hey, kiddo," she said softly, "mind if I take a seat?"
James looked up from the magazine he had been leafing through and smiled. But it faded nearly instantly and was replaced by a suspicious scowl as he remebered the last time he'd seen her. "He shot you," he said.
Sarah waited for him to nod before she sat down on the edge of the bunk, then sighed, searching for the right words. "Yes," she said at last, "he did."
"Then how come you're not dead?"
Right to the chase.
She sighed again, deciding that the truth was stranger than fiction and that she owed him that, at least. "I did die. But I came back. I'm immortal."
James pondered that for a long moment, tugging at his lower lip absently. He'd read stories about immortals. But they were all Greek gods and heroes. "Immortal? You mean like Hercules?"
"Sort of, yeah," she smiled. "Only my parents weren't gods and I don't have any special powers."
"Except not dying," he said.
"Except not dying," Sarah agreed.
"Are there more of you? Do you live in magical places?" he asked. All the immortals he had ever heard of lived in magical places. And wore weird clothes. Robes and sandals. Leafy crowns.
"There are a bunch of us," she said, being deliberately evasive. "And no, we don't live in magical places. My house is in Africa."
James closed his magazine and looked at her, obviously trying to make sense out of what he was hearing. Even for a nine year old, it was pretty fantastic. Africa, though. He'd read about Africa, too. They had lions there.
"It sounds crazy, I know," she said, picking at the rough blanket nervously. "But it's true."
"How do you become immortal? Can I?" he asked. Living forever would be a neat thing, after all.
Sarah chuckled, amused by his enthusiasm. "I don't know how it happens. We're just...born this way."
Twenty minutes and what seemed like a hundred questions later, she had satisfied most of his curiosity on the subject while at the same time managing to leave out some of the more gruesome aspects of immortality. Joe Dawson would be proud; she had just recruited the youngest Watcher in history, most likely.
"But...I want to know...how come you don't get older?" he demanded. "You don't look like you're a thousand!"
"Closer to two thousand, actually," she responded, tucking the covers in around his shoulders. "But it doesn't matter, you need some sleep now."
Sarah shook her head. "No buts. You need your rest so you'll get better."
"What happens then? When I get better?" he asked, the excitement in his voice suddenly waning.
He was so small. So fragile. So *mortal*. And so scared, no matter how much he pretended otherwise.
"I have a friend," she said. "He's kind of like you. He lost two people that he loved very much...and he needs someone to help him through it. I thought maybe you might want to do that."
"I want to stay with you and Methos," he answered, rather indignantly.
Sarah smiled, despite the sudden pang that ripped through her chest. "James, honey, I wish that were possible."
"But..." he persisted.
Sarah shushed him with a finger to his lips and smiled again. "You don't have to make a decision right now. Right now, you have to sleep. I'll be back in the morning and we can talk some more."
James caught her fingers and gripped them tightly. "Please stay? I...I don't like it here alone in the dark."
Sarah sank back down onto the bed and smoothed his covers once more. "Okay, I'll stay. But you get some sleep, you need your rest."
Two days later, Sarah was pulled from her sleep by the sensation of Bryan arriving at her tent. Before she was coherent enough to chastise him for waking her, though, he was at her ear, whispering harshly.
"Get up. We're under attack."
It became clear then. The shouts and noises she had thought to be part of her dream were, in fact, real. Sarah bolted upright in her cot, one word forming in her mind.
Bryan handed her a helmet and a pack, stepping back to allow her room to stand. "Jim is bringing him. You two have to get out of here, now."
Sarah nodded, instantly on her feet and pulling on clothing: her mind already racing, her body already flushed with adrenaline. "How many? Where are they?"
Bryan shrugged. "Dozens, at least. And they're *everywhere*. Jim radioed me...they're at the east camp as well. He managed to get an ambulance out of there before the fighting got too thick. They'll be here soon."
She nodded curtly, looking around the tent for a more suitable weapon than her rapier. Outside, she could hear the sounds of battle and the walls of her tent were lit by the glow of fires. Somehow, through brilliant strategy, or uncompromising bravery, or perhaps just dumb luck, the Freemen had managed to rally their scattered troops and infiltrate the camps. Amazing.
Bryan shoved a pistol into her hands. "It's all I can spare," he said apologetically. "There should be some kind of weapon in the ambulance, but once you are inside don't stop...just drive until you run out of fuel. You know the way to Calgary, right?"
Sarah nodded. It had been over a hundred years, but she knew the general direction of the capitol city and could no doubt find a transport station between here and there.
"Come on," he grabbed her arm and yanked her toward the entrance. "Stay low and stick with me."
The latter was easier said than done, though, and Sarah found herself nearly instantly separated from him as they stepped out into the compound. She took a moment to orient herself to the noise and the smells of battle, drawing in the scene with one sweeping gaze. This could be Stirling. Bannockburn. Culloden. York. The world had changed greatly during the course of her life, but war remained the same; bloody and filled with the scent of fear.
A footstep sounded behind her and Sarah whirled in time to neatly put a bullet into the throat of a woman who looked to be about the same biological age as she was. She watched the girl fall, then calmly pulled the trigger once more, dispatching a second slug into her brain and killing the Freemen soldier instantly.
"Bryan?!" She called loudly, stooping to strip the body of its gun and ammunition.
"Here," he appeared at her elbow. "Come on, we need to get to the road."
Sarah clasped his hand tightly and let him lead her in a winding path through the destruction, grateful for the padding his body provided as they dove for cover in a roadside ditch. Before she could thank him, though, Bryan had maneuvered himself on top of her, sheltering her from the flying debris.
"Idiots," he muttered. "They're going to kill their own men with the mortars."
"Where to now?" Sarah asked, her breath shortened by his weight on her ribcage.
Bryan eased himself up onto his elbows and offered her a half-smile. "Italy?"
Sarah was about to quip back a response, but was cut off by the sound of a shell exploding nearby and the force of his body crashing down on her once more. This time, Bryan stayed down, speaking directly into her ear.
"This is it. Jim's gonna come through here any minute now. I'll lay down cover fire and you get into that ambulance. Then *drive*. Don't look back, don't stop. Just go."
"What about you?" she shouted back.
"I'll be fine. And I'll find your Petey and bring him to you, I swear."
She flung both arms around him and squeezed tightly, her words of thanks lost in the combined sounds of an engine roaring and machine gun fire. Seconds later, Bryan rolled off of her and hurled her to her feet, tossing one last wink at her before spinning away to fire in the general direction of the enemy.
Jim was already out of the ambulance and making his way into the ditch on the opposite side of the road by the time she reached the door of the vehicle. He hollered something that sounded like "run like hell" and dove for cover, vanishing into the darkness.
She leapt into the vehicle and ordered James to keep his head down, then slammed the ambulance into gear and turned the wheel sharply, opting to cut across the fields instead of following the road through the center of camp.
"Listen for the whistling, James," she panted. "If you hear it, you let me know, okay?"
The boy, terrified and disoriented, was glad to have something to focus on.
Bryan Cutler stood under the first shower he'd had the luxury to take in nearly three days. The battle was over; the Freemen army decimated. They'd be stationed here for another month or so, to assist the Canadian forces in rebuilding the city but, for the most part, his work was done. Thank god.
He'd failed at one task, though. For all his searching and all the descriptions he had passed around through the ranks, Methos had not been found. It was highly unlikely that the older immortal was dead, but still, he'd promised Sarah that he'd bring her Methos and it was beginning to look quite certain that he would be unable to deliver.
Bryan hated to fail at anything, it shook his confidence and bravado and reminded him that he was far from perfect. But to fail Sarah, especially in something as crucial as this, was absolutely crushing.
There were people who were meant to be together in life. Connor MacLeod and that lovely mortal, Heather. Himself and Jim. Sarah and Methos. She loved Methos. Bryan had known that from the instant they had met, locking swords in a forest in Italy as she protected Methos' neck against a playful sneak attack from his old student. And she loved him still. That much was obvious from her posture on the hill the other night. Everything from the way she has hugged herself against the breeze to the constant searching gazes at the city below spoke of only one thing. Arden. Methos. Her Petey.
Sarah never asked for help unless she needed it desperately. Yet she had
asked him to find Methos for her...and he hadn't come through.
"Sir?" the word startled him and Bryan silently kicked himself for allowing the lieutenant to arrive unnoticed.
"Yes?" he snapped.
The young man politely averted his eyes from his CO's naked frame before speaking. "That civilian, Sir, the one you told us to keep an eye out for? I have someone who matches his description."
Bryan's heart leapt into his throat, but he quickly checked it and nodded curtly at the other man. "I'll be there in a minute."
"I'll escort him to your quarters, Sir?"
The immortal nodded again. "That will be just fine."
Once the junior officer was gone, he sluiced off any remnants of soap and toweled himself quickly, struggling into his pants and starting off across the compound barefoot; buttoning his shirt along the way. Bryan felt Methos' presence about twenty feet from the door of his tent and allowed himself a moment of pure unadulterated joy before continuing on.
"Nice little war you have going here," were Methos' first words.
The world's oldest man had made himself quite comfortable on Bryan's cot but looked a lot worse for wear. There was a medium size grey and white dog curled up at his feet, also looking quite at home on the cot, but Bryan didn't care.
He crossed the small room in two strides and hauled Methos to his feet, wrapping both arms around his friend and thumping him on the back several times. "Where the hell have you been? I've had the whole damn army looking for you!"
Methos chuckled and extricated himself from Bryan's grasp, sinking back down onto the cot wearily. "I've been in the bowels of Old Seacouver, making friends with the rats and trying to avoid the Freemen."
"Sarah was worried sick about you, not that she'd show it, of course."
Methos' head snapped up suddenly. "You've seen Sarie? Is she here?"
Bryan shook his head. "She was. Jim brought her in a few days ago. But we had a little skirmish with the Freemen and I sent her and the boy heading toward Calgary. They should on a transport to Europe by now."
Methos didn't answer, settling instead for heaving a sigh that was tinged with both relief and regret. This was it, then. They'd had their chance and lost it yet again.
"I'm sure she's left word at the house in San Francisco," Bryan said, recognizing the defeat in Methos' posture.
Again, Methos didn't bother to respond.
"What you need," Bryan continued, poking Barclay lightly in the ribs to encourage the animal to make room for him on the cot, "is a hot shower, some real food, and a good night's sleep. I can see to that."
Methos glanced over at him and barked out a sharp laugh at the sight of the dog rolling onto its back as Bryan offered a belly-rub. "Even her *dog* likes you better. What is it with me, anyway?"
"You make the mistake of giving her time to think," he answered, giving Barclay one last pat. "Me, I just dive right in and don't give her any choice but to love me."
"And you and Sarah are nearly identical when it comes to things like this," Bryan interrupted. "Rest a day or two, then go find her. Make it right between you. Neither of you will be happy until you do."
Methos sighed once more. "I have no idea where she is."
Bryan gripped his shoulder, digging strong fingers into Methos' flesh. "You know exactly where she is. You just need to listen to your gut about it."
He was right, of course. She would take the boy to Richie, to the house they were sharing in Johannesburg, and then she would go home. To Scotland. To Glenstrae. Back to where it had all started over a thousand years ago.
"I'm tired," Methos said. "I need some sleep. And Barclay needs something to eat. Then Jim will need my help in the hospital; he probably hasn't slept for days."
Bryan exhaled sharply and nodded. He'd done all he could do, short of tying Methos up and delivering him to Sarah with a big red bow attached. The rest was up to them.
To Part 16: All Roads
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