Elena and Methos

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Standard disclaimer: the concept of Immortality and the characters of Duncan and Connor MacLeod, Methos, Joe Dawson, Richie Ryan and Amanda belong to Rysher and are copyrighted by them. This story is for fun, not for profit. The other characters are copyrighted by me, Vi Moreau.

PREFACE

Paris, France, January 5, 1999

Anise shuddered in the cold room. Thinking back, trying to think clearly, she couldn't remember ever being warm or being free. And especially, she couldn't remember ever not being afraid. It was the fear that really mattered: the fear that filled her head; that made her mouth feel like it was stuffed with a sour sort of cotton candy she could actually taste; that made her whole body tremble with such violence she thought her bones would break.

At first she'd asked these people why they'd kidnapped her, as she literally had no clue. Her questions were answered with blows. The girl had pleaded, begged, especially when the men came at her, holding her down, taking turns ... but they'd hit her repeatedly when she spoke, when she asked, when she pleaded. And soon she'd learned to bear them in silence, to keep from being hurt even more, to submit. Then when she first saw the woman she'd hoped, asked for help, for mercy. Surely a woman ...! But the woman had simply watched.

There were five men, and the only one who didn't lay hands on her was the darker one, Talik. But the worst, the one who really scared her; the tiny Asian whose face, whose unique smell made her start hyperventilating; the quiet one with the black, black eyes with no feeling in them; the one they called Temujin ...

He scared her more than anyone or anything had ever done, more than the monsters in the closet of her childhood's imagination, more than the bad men her mother had warned her about. More than that. Much more.

Chapter 1

Orly, France, January 19, 1999

Methos slipped down an alleyway between warehouses and hangars, dimmed by the rain and darkness. He was close enough to hear the planes taking off and landing at the other side of Orly Airport, but even that sound was faded into the background, overwhelmed in his consciousness by the sound that really interested him at this moment - steel against steel.

His best choice, he knew, was to run. The chances were high that the very experienced English Immortal Simms would win. That meant that Simms' opponent, who had inadvertently intercepted Simms while the latter was hunting Methos, would lose his head tonight, unknowingly giving his life so that Methos might live.

So take the opportunity he's given you, Methos said to himself. Get out while you still can, while they're still fighting. That is what you should do.

But it wasn't, he reflected, what he was going to do. Gods! He wondered if it was the influence of MacLeod's damn conscience on him, again, affecting Methos' thoughts, and now even his actions. So instead of leaving, he came closer, to get a look at his unwitting benefactor. If Simms won, Methos could always behead the Englishman while he was still weak from the Quickening. And if the other man won - after all, look how long the fight was lasting! Whoever was fighting the Englishman was no inexperienced, unskilled youngster. In fact, he might win.

And then perhaps he might turn around and behead you, he said to himself. That was a nice, cheery thought. If Simms lost, Methos would just leave - he'd have plenty of time. Simms' Quickening would be strong and lengthy, he knew. And there was no sense hanging around what could potentially be an even stronger enemy.

Or maybe, he thought pragmatically, I'll just the take the winner's head, whoever it is. It would leave a completely cold trail for his hunters, for those bastards; and, after all, 'there can be only one.' Keeping that in mind, he sneaked closer to the sounds of battle.

They were two shadows, almost insubstantial, so completely involved with each other they either didn't notice him or didn't care he was there, or possibly didn't dare break their concentration on each other. Methos felt removed, as though he were watching a film, and the certain upcoming bloody death of one of the combattants left him unmoved, uninvolved. I should leave, he thought again. This was an old story, and he was sated with the killing. But he stayed, out of morbid curiosity and a little self-interest.

As he watched for a minute, the opponents circled each other in the rain - measuring, attacking, parrying, thrusting. He could feel their aggression, their wills clashing; he was close enough that he could smell their blood and sweat, hear the grunts and cries of effort they each made. He also, with a practiced eye, noted their expertise, their tiredness, their wounds.

It was very dark - he couldn't see their faces, or make out their flashing swords very clearly/ But he quickly still identified Simms. The Englishman was obviously favoring his right leg. And the other - the other was a woman! In spite of the bulky winter clothing, there was no mistaking the contours, the way she held herself. She, too, was near exhaustion, and obviously hurt. But she was still standing against Henry Bidford Simms, circling her slowed opponent, taunting him softly, now - he could just hear her voice, but not her words - in spite of the fact that her right thumb was hooked into her waistband, that arm probably broken, useless; in her left hand, a broadsword that was shorter than ...

Her left hand.

[!Carajo!] How could he not have recognised her? He saw her as clearly now as if it were bright daylight.

Maria Elena Conchita Duran y Agramonte. The Argentine Immortal. Duncan MacLeod's lover.

Just as he realized who it was, she let out a harsh, horrible cry and doubled over onto her knees. Simms sword had torn into her deeply, diagonally across her abdomen, opening her like a can of sardines from the bottom of her ribcage down to her opposite right thigh.

Then, as Simms raised his blade above his head, Methos involuntarily took a step toward them, wanting to stop him, help her, do something ...

But she was rising somehow, unbelievably, from her knees, like the phoenix. With a great scream of pain or rage or desperation - Methos didn't know which - her sword thrust violently up and across her body as she came to her feet, going for a very surprised Englishman's neck. She decapitated him so quickly, so neatly, that the ancient Immortal almost missed seeing it.

But the Quickening didn't miss the Argentine; it hit her like a sledgehammer, knocking her back down to her knees.

Methos stepped back to a safe distance and watched, his eyes narrowed against the harsh light. Then, traces of the spent Quickening making his skin tingle, drawing him near, reminding him of so many other times, so many deaths, Methos was by her side. Engulfed in that all too-familiar, coppery-ozone smell, he got under her to lift her upright as her head rolled forward. She moaned, low, in agony. Even through her coat he could feel that she was soaked through in water and blood. He walked her, almost completely carrying her, along the alleyway and into the shelter of a building, through an unlocked door, trying to get her out of sight of any possible onlookers who might be attracted by the just-finished light show.

Methos knew she was dying, so he just let them both sink to the ground right inside the door. But even that movement, as smooth and easy as he could make it, elicited a sharp, agonized cry from her. ["!Dios mio!"] she gasped. ["?Quien ...?]

"It's me, Elena." Methos laid her down, then used a handkerchief to wipe away the sweat and blood that covered her face. Her nose was broken; her one good eye was swelling shut, and a stream of blood flowed down from her long, loose black hair, from some head wound. As he'd carried her inside, he'd felt broken ribs slide together on her left side. But of course, these were minor considerations, details. It was her stomach, laid open, leaving stains down the front of her jeans, turning her shoes into a kind of Jackson Pollock abstract art splatter, that was killing her.

She gasped, every breath another agony, but breathing nevertheless, trying desperately to fight, to hold onto life, as it had been bred in her to do, even though she must have known it was hopeless.

Methos got on his knees beside her. "Let go, Elena," Methos murmured. But she couldn't, or she wouldn't, and Methos understood why. He really did.

"Methos," she gasped softly, followed by a painful bout of coughing that brought up dark, clotted blood. Still she fought back, and in the weak hallway light Methos could see the pain growing in her one grey eye.

There was nothing Methos could do but wait for her to die, and he knew how long it took to die from a gut wound. Actually, there is *something* I can do, he thought grimly. He moved over and lifted her head and shoulders onto his knees; making her groan, sobbing now with every shuddering breath. Methos put one hand on top of her head and cradled her jaw with the other. But she wasn't as far gone as he thought, or as he hoped, because one bloodstained hand came up to grab his wrist in a strong, desperate grip.

He could see real fear in her eye now, fear she was in too much pain to even try to hide. Immortals didn't die any easier or faster or less painfully than mortals. But it wasn't just bleeding slowly to death that she was afraid of; it was dying in front of another Immortal, leaving her completely helpless, completely dependent on his good will. On his, Methos', good will.

So he did the only thing he could to give her any peace of mind. He waited, her head firmly in his grip, letting her make the decision, letting her decide to trust him. Or not. And she quickly, obviously realized it wouldn't matter anyway, because she was bleeding to death anyway. So when another coughing spasm hit her, and she started choking on her own blood, she deliberately opened her hand, releasing his wrist, her glance locked with his.

Methos met her gaze for one more long second; then he took a deep breath, and as he let it out with a "ssss," expertly broke her neck.

She sagged immediately, and he wondered if she would thank him for it. "Provided I don't take her head," he whispered, his voice loud in the instant quiet that follows sudden death.

///////

Elena arched her back on the floor, her chest rising, gasping painfully like the awakening Creature of Mary Shelley's fevered imagination. And immediately there was a weight on her, a man on top of her, a hand covering her mouth. She struggled weakly, disoriented, finding it hard to breathe. Still lying heavily on her, the man, the other Immortal, lifted his head slightly, and now she could see ... Methos, it was Methos! his hazel eyes glittering just centimeters above her face.

"[Callate,]" he ordered softly. Through a haze of pain and confusion she heard the other voices, men's voices, speaking in French and *very* close by; probably, she thought, glancing in that direction, quickly taking in the door and the cement stairs, on the other side of the stairwell door.

"And then she said, 'Come by and visit me, Francois.'"

"[Sacre,] Francois, she said that? These women today! But what about your wife? She'll find out for sure!"

"No, why should she?" Laughter. "She's not really smart, you know."

"But she has a nose, doesn't she? She'll smell Victorine out ... if I were you ..."

The voices continued for a moment, then faded slowly.

In the meantime Methos held her down with his weight and with a very strong grip, fighting to keep her from thrashing, pinning her wrists above her head, knowing he was hurting her broken arm. And having coldly taken note, for future reference, that she hadn't quickly revived.

Elena closed her eyes, locked her lips together, and Methos released her mouth. She concentrated on being still, on keeping quiet, even though she wanted to writhe, to cry out with the pain in her abdomen and her arm and her head and the hurt that accompanied air filling her lungs again, with the agony of every new 'rebirth.'

When they could no longer hear the Frenchmen, Methos slowly counted to ten, then released her and rolled off her and to his feet smoothly, quickly. He studied her very briefly, then held his hands down to her. "[!Tenemos que marcharnos, Elena; vamonos!]"

His Spanish has improved, she thought absently, and started to hold her right arm up, then winced as pain shot through it again. Unlike many other Immortals, she never healed while she was dead. Oh, no; the agonizing knitting of bones, closing of wounds, inside and out, always happened when she was alive and very much able to feel each unique sensation. She put her head back, closing her eyes, sobbing softly as spasm after spasm shook her, trying to keep as immobile as possible while her body repaired itself, wild blue light circling her cuts, slashes, abrasions, and broken bones like tiny, visible tornadoes. For a full minute she lay, the agony especially bad in her abdomen.

And very much aware of Methos standing over her, watching her.

Finally she nodded, "[Ya.] I'm ready," and he helped her to her feet. "My sword," she whispered, and Methos, looking around one last time, slipped it out of his coat and handed it to her. She placed it under her sodden coat as he slung both their duffels over his shoulder. Arm in arm, he still supporting her slightly, he steered her back outside into the rain.

"Wait! Where are we going? I need to get out of here," she said, feeling her strength coming back slowly, still exhausted and in pain from the fight and her subsequent demise.

"Well, we need to get out of this airport." What an amateur mistake I made made coming to Orly, he thought, ruefully. It was, of course, the first place they had looked for him. And they probably had been waiting for him at De Gaulle Airport, too. Also, Methos hadn't noted any Watchers around for the other two Immortals; and he had carefully scouted for them, was usually good at spotting them. Where were they? Another unanswered question, he sighed. What he did know was that his opponent was no fool - and that his enemy had done this before. Many times. "At least they don't know where I'm headed, exactly."

"Where are you headed, exactly? And who are 'they'?" So that was the reason Simms had wanted her out of the way - it was obvious Methos was the one the Englishman had been hunting. [!Cono!] The cold wind whistling through her wet clothes chilled her to the bone.

"I'll tell you all about it, [nina,] later, when we're more comfortable. As to where I'm going," he smiled at her, easing away from her as he felt her walking more on her own, "I expect the same place you are. Seacouver. To Duncan MacLeod."

"And ... we're traveling together?"

Methos didn't miss the irony in her voice. "That's up to you. I'm not very safe to be around these days." Safe was simply not a word in his current vocabulary. "But I'm sure Simms relayed your description to his ... friends. Did he make a phone call before you fought?"

"Si. His friends?" she asked him.

Methos cursed inwardly, nodding. "Then we might do best to stick together." For both our sakes, he thought. "We hire a car. You hire it," he amended. "We drive out of Orly tonight. Maybe east, to Geneva," he said, wincing inwardly, still remembering Alexa. "Or south to Marseilles."

She stopped briefly, saying, "Wait," getting her breath, leaning against a wall while most of her strength flowed back into her. At the same time she studied him under a street light. He was much as always, the cool smile ever on his lips, but his face seemed more taut somehow, and there were ... could those actually be worry lines? around his eyes, a slight tension in the mouth. Or maybe she was imagining things. It was a good thing, anyway, she thought, that he was wearing dark clothes, to hide the bloodstains on them. Her blood.

And Simms' blood, too, she thought with some satisfaction.

The question was, did she want to stay with him, especially if he was being hunted? Well, at least she could listen to what he had to say. "Can I change my clothes first?" She'd managed to pull her duffel off the conveyor belt just before it went on the plane, which is why she had her sword. But before the fight with Simms she'd dropped her bag.

She should have been on that plane, to New York, then on to Seacouver; except she'd sensed an Immortal at the airport, and Henry Bidford Simms had rushed up to her, pushing people aside, practically challenging her in public, whispering harshly, "He's mine, and you can't have him, bitch!

For an answer, Methos lifted her bag, smiling. With the immediate threat gone, he could plan more carefully, with less pressure. But he knew others would come to Orly, soon, to try to catch his trail. "Don't worry. I've thought of everything, Elena."

"I'm sure you have," she murmured.

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Translations: (all Spanish)

carajo - double damn

Dios mio - my God

quien - who

callate - shut up

sacre (French) - holy

tenemos que marcharnos - we have to get out of here

vamonos - let's go

ya - already

cono - damn

nina - girl

Chapter 2

Methos heard the soft thwack of the silenced bullet, and others, too, just as his ribs exploded in pain. Dammit, it hurts! He let out a long low groan.

This time around it was Elena who helped keep him on his feet, pulling up on his coat, then getting his right arm around her shoulders and muscling him inside a hangar, past a couple of small airplanes and into a tiny office. There they both more or less collapsed together.

He rolled onto his back on the ground, panting, and she asked, whispering, "[?Tres hombres?]"

Methos closed his eyes, visualizing the scene, the men who'd come around the corner and shot him. "[Tres,]" he agreed between gritted teeth. He was hit in the lower left side, and although he didn't think the wound was fatal, he had shattered ribs, was quickly losing blood, and every breath felt like a chunk was being carved out of his side.

Elena was beside him on her hands and knees. "Can you walk?" she asked him, breathlessly.

"Yes!" he answered immediately, trying to keep himself quiet and aware. He couldn't pass out, couldn't! Duran might just dump him and save herself.

While she thought, [!Dios mio!] I hope he doesn't lose consciousness. Then she'd have to carry him, carry a full-grown man; and she didn't feel completely recovered herself, yet. "Come on," she said, pulling him to his feet, helping him along, and thinking, with a wry smile: it could be worse; at least he wasn't as heavy as Duncan!

Before they went out the office door, Methos put a hand in his overcoat pocket. "Are you any good with this?" he asked her, pulling out the automatic he'd taken off Simms' body.

She shook her head. "I'm just a fair shot." Especially with only one eye, she thought ruefully.

"Take it anyway, just in case. I have another one."

"[Que sorpresa,]" she murmured. But she checked out the pistol briefly, then pocketed it.

There was a window in the office leading to the attached hangar, and they both saw the flashlight moving steadily in their direction, which meant they couldn't take the time to let Methos heal, not now. So they went to the other door, the one leading outside. The rain had softened somewhat, still drenching them, freezing them, but providing less cover than a greater downpour would have. They slipped outside, his right arm still around her shoulder, the gun in his left hand. He'd have to be very stingy using the gun - there was no silencer on it, and they couldn't depend on the rain or the roar of nearby jets to completely cover the sound of a gunshot for the other gunmen. Still, the nearby flashlight was a tempting, relatively easy target, and he nodded toward it with his head.

Elena eased Methos against the wall behind them, freeing her sword arm. She had a pair of throwing knives, but their use was limited by the rain and the heavy coats they all wore against the January chill. [!Feliz ano nuevo!] she thought. She'd been hoping to spend the new year with Duncan, but her adopted son Stephen Holz had made Christmas so difficult, Duncan had decided to leave Argentina so she and Stephen could celebrate Epiphany on their own. Then, she'd had to travel with Stephen to leave him at his boarding school in France. Otherwise, she wouldn't be here now, she thought sadly and a little bitterly, being stalked by killers with guns. And since other Immortals were involved, she had no doubt that shooting her and Methos was only the beginning of the end.

She turned to study the ancient Immortal again, but could only make out the light oval of his face. However, she could see he was standing a little bit more on his own. Good, because he'd have to deal with this shooter. She gestured that she'd go inside the hangar. "Five minutes," she whispered, her words not quite swallowed by the rain, "then shoot this one. The last one will hear and come to you ..." Assuming there aren't more, she thought.

He nodded in agreement, then said, still breathless, "You circle round behind the last one." At least I hope it was the last one, he thought. He felt calm, his confidence increasing with his returning strength. His situation was not hopeless. He had a gun, he always had his sword, the pain was lessening and he knew now that he could stay conscious - and that Duran was going to stay with him. She'd already passed up her best opportunity to leave. And as he watched her, like a stalking cat, stealthily slip back into the open hangar behind them, it occurred to him that he'd rather have her, alone, on his side, than have the three gunmen backing him up against her.

Flattened against the wall, he watched patiently as the shooter passed him. Five minutes, she'd said, but he didn't want to lose sight of this one, or have to go after him, and was pleased to see the torchlight turn and come back in his direction. When the alloted time had passed he aimed and fired three unfortunately very loud shots. The man went down with a scream, and Methos, now feeling almost up to full strength, quickly changed positions.

Inside the hangar, Elena was crouching on the wing of a small jet, pressed against the fuselage, watching the light beam dance around the room. She'd sheathed her sword and pulled out a knife, and when the gunman passed beyond her, she took a deep breath and leaped. She landed with her knees on his back, knocking the breath out of him, and before he could even try to bring his gun around to bear she lifted his head up by the hair and cut his throat, pulling back to avoid the spraying blood - she had enough blood on her already. Just then she heard the popping sound of gunshots, pulled out her sword, and went back outside.

Another man was outside, firing a silenced pistol. He'd just caught someone, Methos! in his flashlight beam when she ran up behind him and put her sword in his body, up to the hilt.

"Aaaarrrggghhh!" He made a wrenching, horrible sound. A sound she always steeled herself for; a sound she thought, by now, she'd be used to. She reached around, took the gun out of his hand, and coldly shot him in the back of the head. He went limp and slipped down off her blade, dead before he hit the ground.

Methos saw his would-be killer go down. At least he'd managed not to get shot a second time, he thought to himself. But there was still one left. The man he'd first shot lay in the rain, propped up on one arm and crying out - but with a gun still in his hand.

"Throw away your gun or I'll shoot you dead this time," Methos threatened, in French, from the shadows.

"Do it," Elena ordered the gunman from somewhere behind him.

The gunman whirled, considered, then tossed away his weapon. Methos came at him from one side, pointing his gun down at the prone figure; Elena from the other, the rain slowly washing the blood from her blade.

"How many of you are there working for the man named Temujin?" Methos asked.

"The three of us! We work for Simms! That's all I know, [m'sieu, je vous en prie!] "Simms asked you to shoot me and bring back the body?"

"[Oui!]" the man answered, and Elena whispered urgently, still looking around for more unseen, unfelt enemies, bracing herself for the feel of a bullet hitting her, "We don't have time!"

Methos raised his pistol to fire.

"[Attendez!] Don't kill me, please! I told you everything I know! You said if I threw away my gun ..." But he never finished his plea.

On the road to Geneva, Switzerland, later that night

Elena had been driving their small rented Renault for a few hours when Methos took out and looked at a small ... "What is that? A tiny computer?" she asked him.

"Simms' PDA," Methos answered. "A personal digital assistant, like a small electronic diary. You are behind the times, Elena," he chided her, having regained his good humor. "Now let's see whose names he has down here, and what his schedule looks like." He recognized several names, among them the Persian and the Chinese Immortals, whom he already knew. Isidora Magdalena. The name was familiar - she could be another Immortal. There was also a CB mentioned very often. "Well," Methos muttered, "Simms was supposed to meet a "T" day after tomorrow at three." He shrugged. If it's Temujin, he'll be frustrated, infuriated, Methos thought. Good.

"Computers," she said, obviously complaining. "So who is T, and where are they meeting?"

"I believe T may be Temujin," he answered as he checked the rest of the information, most of which was remarkably unhelpful. "And to answer your next question, Temujin is an Immortal I've know for ... a while."

"I've heard the name - Chinese, isn't it?" Her mind felt fuzzy - she needed to get some sleep. But she remembered Simms had mentioned the name Temujin. And so had Methos. "Mongolian ..."

"Mongolian. I don't know his real name; but he's arrogant enough to use the great khan as his namesake."

"That's it, the khan!" she remembered. "Ummm ... he isn't *the* Ghengis Khan, is he?"

"Absolutely not!" Methos answered, a bit piqued. "This Temujin claims to have fought under Ghengis Khan. In fact," he added, sarcastically, "he also claims to have ridden with Batu Khan and his Golden Horde."

"The Mongol hordes. Immortal Mongol hordes. Wonderful! So this is who's after you?" she asked ruefully, shaking her head. First the Immortal Four Horsemen. Now this! "[Carajo,] Methos, your life has been exciting, eh? And when you get yourself into trouble ..."

"It's a long story, Elena. Do you want to hear it now?" he interrupted, a bit irritated. He knew that she needed to sleep, and he needed to think about how Temujin had tracked him so neatly, so effectively.

"Maybe later ... how about you drive for a while."

So Methos drove while Elena slept, the sharp lines of her cheekbones rounded somehow, long limbs loose, seemingly too tall for the small space. He also noticed she came awake quickly, looked around briefly and said, "[Ginebra.]"

"You've been here before," he remarked. "The bank won't be open for ..." he glanced at his luminous dial watch, "... four hours. That gives us some time to rest."

"Where?" she asked.

"My house, of course."

She sat up, interested. "You have a house here, too."

"We're almost there." She had chosen to sleep instead of asking him questions, making plans, or accusing him of getting her in a mess, and this had surprised Methos, a little. Perhaps Simms' Quickening and/or her death had taken more out of her than he thought. Or maybe she trusted him to make all the arrangements - after all, he'd done such a sterling job so far. Or maybe she just didn't care.

Yeah, right.

They arrived in the middle of the night and she looked up at the house. It was very old, although not nearly as old as its owner, she thought, amused. Tucked down a narrow alley, out of the way, it was fenced in on all sides by similar old dwellings, like a modern rowhouse, or a townhouse. But no modern rowhouse could compete with this solid, ancient facade of age-stained white stone, shuttered windows, and cast iron railings. And what a nice little defensive tower at the top - he'd be able to see his enemies approach, as other dwellers before him had done for the past half-millennium.

He saw her examining his house, and wondered now if he should have brought her here, if he should now get rid of it, leave Geneva for a few decades ...

They brought their suitcases inside. "Hungry?" he asked, and she shook her head. "Have a beer, then," he said, pointing to the refrigerator, but she opted for wine instead.

They drank quietly for a few minutes, but she couldn't just sit; she had to pace around, check out the house, look in every corner, making little "mmm" sounds at the sculptures, looking at book titles, examining his small music collection. Methos noted how, in spite of having just a few hours' sleep in the car, she looked very vibrant, full of life. And alert, as always. She probably didn't need a lot of sleep, he realized - a good quality for an Immortal. Or maybe, he thought, considering further, she just didn't sleep very well.

And then he saw her stop and closely examine one particular pencil drawing. That one, he thought. She had a good eye.

She recognized the hand before she saw the signature. "This must have cost you [un dineral,]" she commented.

"Yes, it was quite expensive. But worth it, don't you think?"

She nodded. "It's a clichi, I know - but what that man could do with a pencil or a paintbrush! I told Pablo he was a genius. But of course, he didn't need me to tell him that; all he had to do was look in a mirror." She smiled, remembering.

"You were one of Picasso's paramours, Elena?" Picasso was famous for his lovers, and Methos shouldn't have been surprised that Elena Duran had been one of them. He was certainly interested.

"Only for a few months. The man had such a strong personality, he devoured everyone and everything before him. So I left." She shook herself loose of those memories. As always after a Quickening, Elena was full of nervous energy - specifically of nervous, sexual energy. The few hours' sleep sitting up in a car hadn't really rested her; not that rest was really on her mind, anyway. "I hadn't realized you were into [necrofilia]," she said, suddenly, conversationally, looking at him directly, the wine glass still in her hand.

Typical, he thought, that she would choose to talk about the incident in the stairwell, instead of the fact that they were being hunted. It was a very woman-like thing to do. Quickenings had a definite effect on his, and others Immortals', libidos. Obviously she was not exempt from that reaction. He smiled, reliving the feel of her body under his. "Well, I had several ways to keep you quiet, but that seemed like the most ... enjoyable one. I could have broken your neck again, you know. But you were very much alive, believe me," he protested lightly.

"I'm disappointed - I thought you'd done everything," she said, taking a last sip, studying him carefully.

"I have done everything. But some things I didn't like, so I didn't do them again," he explained, drinking more beer. "I much prefer live females," he finished, looking right at her. She was ... an alluring, fascinating woman. Well worth knowing, in every way. And maybe he wasn't that tired, after all.

"And males, too, sometimes, I'm sure," she said, looking amused, raising one dark eyebrow.

He knew she was trying to get a rise out of him, but he wouldn't take the bait. He shrugged. "Five thousand years is a long time, Elena. What's your excuse?"

She smiled, shaking her head. It occurred to her that it might be easier to cross swords with this man than to cross words with him. But as her eyes drifted slowly down his long, lean form, she thought, maybe not. "I thought you were going to rest; but apparently you are currently quite interested in ... something."

Methos wasn't in the least bit embarrassed by his obvious state of arousal. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he'd been embarrassed. However, he was not about to let this opportunity slip by. Elena Duran was a beautiful woman. Why not? "Yes," he said, a certain inflection in his voice.

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Translations:

tres hombres (Span.) - three men

que sorpresa (Span.) - what a surprise

feliz ano nuevo (Span.) - happy new year

m'sieu (French) - sir, mister

je vous en prie (French) - I beg you

attendez (French) - wait

Ginebra (Span.) - Geneva

un dineral (Span.) - a $ fortune

necrofilia (Span.) - necrophilia

Chapter 3

Elena looked him over a moment longer. Not just the Quickening itself, but coming so close to death - actually, she had died - always made her think of life, which made her want to celebrate life, which made her want to ... she deliberately looked away from him and shook her head. "I'm sure, as a purely physical exercise, it would be wonderful, unique. If you haven't learned in five thousand years how to make a woman scream and beg for more, you've wasted four thousand nine hundred fifty of them."

"I will admit I have wasted a lot of my time; but not all of it," he whispered, smiling knowingly.

"[No lo dudo.]" He was attractive, willing, a mystery. Very enticing all around. She could sense him, his maleness, smell his desire, feel hers. Even the way he just sat, apparently bonelessly - actually, not completely bonelessly - on the couch ... "But I can't be on my way to one man's bed and stop at another's. It would be wrong. My moral code may be warped and unique, but I do try to stick with it. The answer is no."

Methos shrugged philosophically. He wasn't going to push her - she might complain to her lover, Duncan MacLeod. And after all, he was going to the Highlander for help. Besides, it was entirely possible that she would be moved by lust and/or curiosity later. Then it would be against her own interests to tell MacLeod. It would be their secret.

"My turn to be disappointed," he said. Well, all things come to those who wait. Sometimes. And [que sera, sera,] he thought. "I guess I'll go get some sleep, then," he added, getting up gracefully.

"You can sleep on the plane," Elena said, smiling. "Tell me more about this Mongol Temujin, and why he's after you, specifically. And how many of them are there."

Methos sighed and sat back on the sofa, making himself comfortable once again. Time for an explanation. "Temujin always works with a group of six Immortals," he began. "But what did Simms tell you, Elena?" he asked, curious.

"That you were his, and I couldn't have you. And that he and Temujin couldn't waste their time on 'small fish' like me."

Yes, he thought, bitterly; but Temujin is perfectly happy to kill small fish on his way to catching the big ones, isn't he? Bringing his attention back to Elena, he asked her, "And that's why you challenged Simms?" He had her just about completely figured out: proud, impulsive, violent.

She shrugged. Actually it had been Simms who had challenged her, but she was willing to let Methos think she was a bit bolder. "I hate arrogance," she announced.

"Then by your own lights, I might be in trouble," he quipped.

"Oh, no, not you, Methos," she said, then sighed. "He was better with a sword than I'd hoped. Looking back on it ..." She shook her head.

"Never look back, Elena; it will depress you. All the mistakes ..." he said, drifting off himself, shaking his head in turn. Not to mention the failures, he thought.

He was getting philosophical, she thought. Or maybe just insulting. "I thought we were supposed to learn from our mistakes. Besides, I don't like to run, Methos. I like to stand and fight."

She was pushing again. Always pushing, this one. "But not six of them at once," he said.

"Five, now," she said, with some arrogance of her own.

Yes, but there are always more where those six came from, he thought. "I stand corrected, senorita," he said, nodding slightly, giving her that victory. Methos was amused. She was harder to predict than Duncan, but he, Methos, would manage. "We make a fairly good team. And at least now you know you can trust me," he continued, taking another swallow, watching closely but not obviously for her reaction.

"Why?" she said, laughing quietly. "Because you didn't take my head after Simms gutted me?"

He nodded. "Someone more unscrupulous might have."

"I'm sure you're not unscrupulous, Methos, " she protested. "Especially since I'd just taken a hit meant for you."

What's your point? he wanted to ask her, but remained silent.

"Of course, that wouldn't make any difference to you, would it? You didn't take my head because of Duncan." She thought it over. "Or maybe ... hey, maybe you actually need me this time."

He wanted to convince her, damp her suspicions; so he said, "You did help me when I was shot, didn't take my head. I consider that a good omen."

"Yes ... but you thought I was going to desert you, didn't you?"

"No," he lied smoothly, protesting. "Not a student of Don Alvaro Eugenio Duran y Agramonte. A Spanish [caballero] of the old school. A man of honor."

He was stroking her; she knew. She wanted to be angry that he was making fun of her father, her mentor, a Spaniard who had been every inch a gentleman, who had valued honor more than his own life, and had taught her accordingly. But Methos actually seemed sincere - this time. Maybe. "Since when do you admire men of honor, Methos?" she couldn't help asking.

He leaned toward her. "Since I met Duncan MacLeod," he said softly, completely serious now.

That she accepted, and the moment hung in the air, then passed.

He leaned back; his old sardonic smile returned. "Now ... shall I tell you a story?"

But before he could begin, she said, "I wouldn't have left you, you know. Not when you were wounded, and there were three of them against you. I wouldn't have gone." It was important that he knew this; she wasn't sure why. Perhaps because of Don Alvaro. Or perhaps because of Duncan. Because Methos didn't believe her, didn't think she was honorable like the other two Immortals. And why did this matter to her? she wondered; his opinion? - the opinion of a man who probably just couldn't really trust anyone, and whom she didn't completely trust in turn.

Methos now knew for sure what he'd supected, that she really wouldn't have left him; but it was time to give a little push of his own. "And you weren't tempted to take my head?"

"No," she replied instantly.

He raised his eyebrows, in amusement or disbelief, she couldn't tell which. Or both. He didn't trust her; [!que sorpresa!] Oh, well. She had her own reasons for not wanting to behead Methos - assuming she ever really had the chance - but she didn't necessarily have to share them with him. He was so smart; let him figure it out. Then something else occurred to her, and she asked him bluntly, "You think I'm afraid of you, don't you?"

He smiled at her, not completely sure of the answer; whether he thought she was afraid of him, or whether she in fact was. If she was, there was no harm in that for him. Up to a certain point. "Do you want to know what's going on, or not?" he asked her.

"Talk to me, [viejo,]" she said. He'd eventually get around to answering her question; or she'd ask it again. She wondered if she was really afraid of him. The first time they'd met, Methos had managed to get close to her, walk right up to her, before she realized what he was doing. His past wasn't exactly full of sweetness and kindness. And she never really knew what was going on in his mind. But Elena didn't lie to herself; and the answer was no, she wasn't afraid of Methos. Although she probably should be. So, damping the sexual urge once and for all, burying it, she sat down on a chair across from him, a bottle of wine on the coffee table between them.

He studied her briefly. She was bright, lovely, strong. She was also a fighter, and especially after tonight, he should be able to get her on his side. The chivalric, overprotective MacLeod might not like having his woman drawn into such a battle, but ... maybe this one would survive. Maybe this time he actually had a chance at Temujin.

He took a deep breath, and began, "Once upon a time ..."

///////

In lieu of sleeping, Elena took a long, hot bath. And instead of resting, Methos sat, a full bottle of beer still in his hand, staring out through the French doors at the moonlit night, and remembered.

Sulia, a village fifty miles east of Roma, 208 BC

Methos walks up to the center of the village, the houses colored brightly, shining in the afternoon sunlight. The boy is there, tied to a post, his light tunic drenched red with the blood from his beheading and from his many stab wounds, which had never had a chance to heal.

Not too far away, lying in the dust: Varus' head.

Methos picks it up. It's drained of all color, the golden curls limp and dry, the face pasty white, an expression of ... what is it? surprise, fear, anger - it's hard to tell - on that beautiful, intelligent face. Methos has seen many severed heads in his time. But usually, they don't belong to a young man he'd loved, nurtured, called friend; spent the last sixteen wonderful years learning from and teaching.

And loving.

An old woman comes near; the only one in the village with the courage to approach him. Perhaps, Methos thinks, because she has nothing to lose.

"What happened?" he asks her, fully knowing the answer.

"A battle. A sacrifice. And a visit from the gods," she answers. "Lightning, thunder."

A sacrifice? Yes, but why? Why Varus? Why did it have to be him? "How many?" he asks, knowing the answer to that, too, but needing to hear, somehow, to let the words sear his soul. "Were there six? A small one in red robes, with a pointed beard? And strange eyes?"

"Six," she agrees. "He did have odd eyes, that one."

"Tell me," he says, and she sits on a rock, gives him the whole tale. Varus' fear, his bravery, his pain; and his defiance, his insults to the Immortals surrounding him, overpowering him, cutting him down. Perhaps Temujin had believed that Varus, so bright, young, handsome - one so obviously blessed by the gods - had to be the older Immortal. So he had gathered his team, his pack of baying hounds, and ran Varus to ground like a great stag.

Every one of the old woman's words is like a hammer blow to Methos:

("He didn't run; he wasn't afraid ...")

("He called the little one a coward, a dog ...")

("They surrounded him, stabbed him so many times; they wanted to cut him to pieces ...")

But he needs to listen to someone, to hear a human voice, now that Varus' voice is stilled; now that he'll never hear the boy again. He needs ... and when she's done, the pain grips him, strongly, a huge hand of the gods come down from the heavens to squeeze all the life, all the joy out of him. He suddenly finds it hard to breathe, and collapses in the dirt, weeping openly, wondering if an Immortal could simply drop dead with grief. And wishing, praying that it were true.

Geneva, Switzerland, January 20, 1999

Now ... now it was Temujin, again, just like before. Except this time - this time not Varus, his beloved, golden boy, but he, Methos, was the target. As he'd been so many times since.

But this time; by the gods, this time ... it was Methos' turn.

Kennedy Airport, January 21, 1999, midnight

Methos looked around, sensing one of their kind as soon as they got off the plane. The Immortal was waiting for them at customs. Smart looking, efficient, talking into a cell phone as their eyes met - and how the hell did Temujin know Methos was coming to the United States? This was too much. But actually, he quickly realized, the answer was simple: someone in the Watchers had known that Adam Pierson was an Immortal and had given that information to Temujin, who had picked up his chase where he'd left off. Who was the Watcher, the renegade, and what the hell else did he know? Methos wondered, giving in for a moment, just a split second, to savage, bloody thoughts of murder, revenge, mayhem. He was shamed at furious at himself, too, hated the fact that his enemy had found him, again, so easily ... but it had been so long, so long since he'd been hunted, and hardly ever as himself, as the ancient Immortal Methos. Not since Kronos. And before that ... before that it had been Temujin, again, hadn't it?

He took a deep breath. This would do him absolutely no good. In fact, it might hurt him and Elena. But sometimes it was good to allow himself to feel like that, to let himself go. For a moment only.

Setting aside the rage now, and worry - and fear, too, he admitted to himself - he studied his current problem: the sturdy, red-haired Immortal before him. He burned her image into his memory, with every intention of looking her up in the Watcher database later. He could read her, the way she stood, her obvious confidence, strength, aggression. This was to be expected. Another experienced Immortal. Temujin had no weak, young 'team' members, did he? even though Methos would not have expected a woman. And although Temujin himself was Mongolian, he cast a wide net for his recruits. There was always someone willing to join his greedy team of cowards.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: (all Spanish)

no lo dudo - I don't doubt it

que sera, sera - whatever will be, will be

caballero - knight, gentleman

viejo - old man (in Span. it's often a sign of respect)

Chapter 4

Elena had looked around expectantly, and her color rose when she spotted the other Immortal. "Isidora," she murmured. Waiting to get through customs, damping her impatience, not wanting to call the sharp-eyed customs agent's attention to herself or to the broadsword in her bag, she smoothed out her expression until it was bland, neutral.

"Business or pleasure, Miss ... Agramonte?"

"Pleasure," she said, with just a hint of a smile. She was burning to get to Isidora, talk to her, confront her. Already she was tired of being the mouse. She was eager to be the cat.

"You've visited us before," the customs agent remarked, paging through her passport and pulling her back to the present.

"I like your country," she answered noncomittally. In the end, he didn't even check her luggage. It was a good thing she had her bag, too, and thanks to Methos. At Geneva, she had started to check it through all the way to Seacouver. But Methos had put his hand on her wrist as she placed the duffel on the counter.

"We're just checking them as far as Kennedy Airport," he'd told the agent.

"Of course," Elena had whispered to him as they boarded, realizing her mistake. "Keep your sword as close to you as possible." She herself usually traveled by charter, but Methos had convinced her that would be too easy to trace.

"You're learning, Elena," he had replied - smugly, she thought, and she'd ground her teeth together. [!Arrogante!]

"Yes, I guess I make an excellent rabbit, and you're a fine model to follow," she'd answered.

Methos had smiled blandly. He'd gotten into trouble many times because of his 'comments,' but sometimes life was too short not to indulge. She didn't have many buttons, but those that were visible were tempting indeed. And he still suffered, he admitted to himself, from a bit of sexual frustration. He had fallen asleep on the stuffy plane with the delicate scent of jasmine in his nostrils, and he knew, while they were together, that it wouldn't leave him.

As soon as they cleared customs Elena started to head straight for the other female Immortal, but Methos put a hand on the Argentine's arm, stopping her. He'd much rather simply ignore Temujin's minion, but her presence meant they couldn't fly on to Seacouver as planned. He didn't want her to know which flight they'd boarded; and once they were in the air, they were helpless, in someone else's hands. And Methos was not about to place himself under someone else's control.

But now was the time for damage control; he wanted to make sure Duran didn't do the wrong thing, slow them down, give away any information. "Do you know her?" he asked the Argentine.

"Yes. Isidora Magdalena. I can handle her."

He remembered the name, started putting some things together. "Not a good idea. We can just take a taxi into the city, lose her there, and find another way out of New York."

"Why not take her head, cut the odds against us down further?"

She'd said, 'us.' Good, he thought. "I applaud your bloodthirsty instincts, [nina,]" he answered. "But that will take time, and she's already made her phone call. We don't know who else is nearby; and we know very well Temujin will use mortals, don't we?"

"So we run again," she said, disappointed. But of course he was right. Again.

He wanted to tell her, "We only fight from a position of strength." But he could see that she knew it already. Elena was impetuous, but she wasn't stupid.

While they stood whispering, Isidora had approached them through the rushing coat-clad crowds. She ignored Elena.

"Methos." It was said with a flourish, as if it were a quiet announcement, but she looked him up and down, made her assessment, and said in Italian, "I must admit I'm disappointed."

Methos smiled charmingly. One didn't keep one's head for five thousand years by being anything other than nondescript. But this woman before him, this Magdalena, did not understand that. She was the very opposite, flamboyant, a flame red leather coat buckled around her small waist. He could sense her pride, her ambition - and her impatience. She'd also, by using his name, given him information about how much she knew. He'd definitely have to look her up in the Watcher files. "I'm desolate," he replied in a slightly mocking tone, bowing his head.

Elena whispered one quiet, vicious word. "[!Ramera!]" and was gratified to see two bright spots of pink on the other woman's cheeks.

"What happened to your eye, Duran? You know, it will just make it that much easier to take you head," she said, not waiting for an answer. "Tell me, are you his bodyguard, or just his whore?"

"Goodbye, [signorina,]" Methos said, taking Elena's right arm in his left, drawing her gently away. "I do hope we'll meet again."

The Italian tried to block them, but Methos said calmly, seriously, "You do not want to make a scene at an airport, all of us with swords, and maybe other weapons. I see at least ... three policemen." As he spoke, he and Elena simply moved past the Italian, walked briskly outside and got into one of the innumerable yellow taxis.

Elena turned. "She's in a taxi behind us, Adam."

"Not for long," he said, and leaned forward to speak to their driver.

2:00 a.m., 2 hours later

Connor MacLeod ran his hand through Chris' silky blonde hair, enjoying the feel of her long body stretched beneath him. She reached up to him, pulled his head down to hers, kissed him long and slowly. Then her hands slid down his body to his buttocks and she pulled him closer to her, arching her back to press them as close together as possible.

Lifting up on his knees, Connor took the hint and entered her gently. Her soft moan thrilled him, excited him, and then she wrapped her legs around him, digging her heels into the backs of his knees. This was wonderful, he thought, as the two of them began to find a mutual rhythm. And as always, his thoughts scattered and left nothing behind but feeling ...

Just then, the telephone rang; a buzzing, penetrating sound, annoying enough to set his teeth on edge. Plus, it was - he glanced at the bedside clock - two o'clock in the morning. Dammit, he thought, who could possibly be calling? And what a lousy fucking sense of timing, he thought angrily. Another few minutes and ...

Beneath him, Chris stirred, sensing, probably sharing his frustration. "Just ignore it, Iain," she said.

He smiled softly down at her, all movement stopped for the moment. The phone continued to buzz stubbornly. "If your phone rang in the middle of the night, Chris, what would you think?"

"I would think somebody's timing sucks." She sighed. "And that something must be wrong."

"Yeah," he agreed with her. Something was going to be very wrong for whoever was on the other end. It better be some real damn serious emergency! "I'll be right back," he whispered, mentally gritting his teeth and pulling himself out of her with extreme reluctance.

"Dammit, Iain!"

"My feelings exactly." He smiled at her, kissed her lightly. "I won't be long." There was, of course, a phone in his bedroom, but, just in case, he quickly went to the one in the hall instead, closing the door quietly behind him. "MacKinnon," he announced frostily, breathlessly.

"Connor, it's Elena Duran. We're here in New York. I called to ..."

He recognized her voice at once, just from the way she pronounced his name. "It's the middle of the fucking night!" he interrupted angrily. Leave it to Duran to pick a really lousy time to call. Then he thought, *we?* as she continued.

"I know it's the middle of the night," she bristled. "But we won't be here in the morning." He's panting, she thought, surprised.

He shifted from one foot to another. "Is Duncan with you?"

"No, I'm with Methos."

Methos! that arrogant bastard. What the hell was she doing with Methos? He wondered if Duran was in some kind of trouble; and this time, bringing her latest lover along - it certainly fit her MO to call him, involve him, he thought, sarcastically. "What the hell is your problem, Duran?"

"Actually, it is *your* problem too, [mi amigo,]" she said, testily. Yes, it was two o'clock in the morning, but was he so dense that he didn't consider ... and then she thought about how he was out of breath, panting slightly - in the middle of the night? - and how irritated, angry even, he sounded, and she put two and two together. "Look, [escoces,] I'm sorry if I interrupted your fucking. But if you put more value on *that* head than on the one on your shoulders ..."

Methos, standing just outside the open phone booth door, could not hear Connor's words; but his eyebrows shot up at Elena's words. This was good! he thought.

Connor felt the old, familiar anger flare up inside him, at her, at this woman who always said and did exactly the right thing to enrage him. "I'll worry about my heads, Elena! Both of them! In a harsh whisper, mindful, in spite of his anger, of Chris nearby, waiting for him, dammit, he began, "Why don't you just worry about whose cock you're sticking up your ..."

"Fuck you, Connor!" she interrupted him, her voice loud and angry. She was exasperated. He made her furious - but there was a good reason she'd called him, so she fought for control. "Look, I just called to warn you that you may have some visitors. They're here in New York, they work as a team, they don't believe in one on one."

Connor shrugged. This was nothing new. "This is why you called me? To tell me someone isn't following the rules? I'm shocked, Duran," he said, dripping sarcasm. "But I've handled a pair of swordsmen before ..."

"[!Estupido!] I didn't say two, did I?"

Connor sighed, grinding his teeth for real this time. But by now he'd noticed the edgy, nervous quality to her voice; a tension, a seriousness. And he knew that Elena Duran was not one to panic easily, and what she was saying ... "Who?" he asked.

"He calls himself Temujin; and he has several friends."

"I know the name, the khan; but I never heard of this Immortal," he snapped.

"Fine; we'll put that on your tombstone."

Methos thought Duran's end of the conversation was delightful. And quite revealing, too. But right now he had other things to think about. Glancing around at the nearly-deserted street, he leaned closer to her, into the phone booth. "We have to go," he whispered. They'd already changed cabs and lost their 'tail,' the red-headed Magdalena, but he was uncomfortable standing out here, in the open, in the early hours of the morning, in a city with one of the highest per capita populations of Immortals in the world. Still, he had been unable to dissuade Elena from stopping in New York to warn Connor MacLeod; and Methos picked his battles.

She nodded at the old Immortal. "Goodbye, Connor," she said into the phone. "Watch your head."

"Wait - where are you going?" Connor asked, more urgently than he'd intended.

"Seacouver."

They were taking the battle to Duncan, Connor realized, which meant Methos felt he needed reinforcements. Methos must be worried. Which meant ... "I can fly you there in my jet," he said, not believing he was actually making this offer.

Elena paused, said, "Hang on," then turned to Methos, covering the mouthpiece. "He just offered to fly us to Seacouver in his jet."

Methos was close enough that he had heard Connor's comment this time, and now he hesitated, gauging again whether having Connor MacLeod would be a help or a hindrance to him. He and *this* Highlander didn't get along well. For some reason, they hadn't hit it off - perhaps because of some of Methos' old friends and previous activities.

"He's going to be a part of this whether you like it or not, Methos. Connor has headhunted Immortals like this in the past. I say we might as well fly west with him." Not waiting for Methos' reply, she said to Connor, "We'll be there in ten minutes."

"I won't be here," he answered. "I've got to see the lady home safely."

"Yes, by all means, don't let us interfere with your love life," Elena answered, sarcastically.

"Why change now, Duran? Just wait for me this time, all right?" he growled, then hung up hard, abruptly. And stood for a minute, staring hypnotically at the wallpaper print, gathering calm around himself, before going back to talk to Chris. Dammit! Connor thought again. He'd have to lie to her. It was something he didn't like to do, even though he was so good at it, had such practice ... He liked this woman, and wasn't going to let Duran and Methos wreck it for him. He really hoped the two Immortals weren't overreacting ... but in his gut, he knew they weren't. It didn't make their intrusion any easier to take, however.

He sighed and went into his bedroom.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: (all Spanish)

arrogante - arrogant

ramera - whore

signorina (Ital.) - miss, young lady

mi amigo - my friend

escoces - Scotsman

estupido - stupid

Chapter 5

When Connor got back to his apartment an hour later, the two had already broken in, made themselves comfortable, even gotten into his bar.

"Make yourselves at home, have a drink," he said, sarcastically, scathingly.

But as he did, Methos rose smoothly from Connor's sofa, a bottle of beer in his hand, and said, "It's a pack, MacLeod, hunting together."

And hunting you,Methos, Connor realized, as the two men's eyes met. Connor saw the tightly held-in exhaustion and, something else, he couldn't quite ... fear. Was it fear? Desperation, perhaps? Or was that what Methos wanted him to see?

He considered for a moment. Duncan had told him how Methos had helped him through the Dark Quickening, how Methos had befriended him. And also the history the older Immortal had; the things he had done; the Four Horsemen. Connor wouldn't easily have believed it of the slim, inoffensive-looking man before him. But of course, that was the point with Methos, wasn't it?

And now, looking into those hooded, ancient eyes, Connor paused and thought, briefly, about his own sins, his own crimes. And what it was like to be hunted, outnumbered, overwhelmed.

"Do you know where Duncan is, Connor? We haven't been able to reach him," Elena asked, interrupting Connor's musings. She could sense the Highlander's irritation, and found it unjustified, especially when she felt she was doing him a favor. But she was determined to stay calm if possible.

In fact, Connor wasn't angry at Methos; not too much. He hated the idea of a hunting pack; and if the old man was that serious, it must be something to worry about. As much as he didn't particularly like or trust Methos, he had a healthy respect for this Immortal's instincts. Elena Duran was a different story, however. The last time they'd met, in Joe's bar in Seacouver a year ago, they'd actually gotten together, talked. But even then she'd insulted him, taunted him. And it always came back to this, didn't it, he considered bitterly? Her showing up in his life, uninvited, and always causing him harm somehow, interfering, interrupting ...

When she spoke, he turned to look her over. She was beautiful as always, but looked worn, harried, with dark circles under her eyes. And she'd been drinking whisky - not a good sign with Elena, he knew. She obviously hadn't slept much. And he knew about that, too ... hell, was there any Immortal she hadn't gone to bed with? Besides *him,* that is?

So he answered her, "I thought you'd be more likely than I am to keep track of Duncan's comings and goings, Elena; but I guess you're busy screwing Methos now, right? Tell me, how long is it since you've been with Duncan? A whole month?" He shook his head. "You're such a slut, Elena!" he finished, contemptuously, then went to the bar and poured himself a whisky.

Not again, Connor, she thought! She wanted to slap him, held herself back with an effort. He was the only person who got away with insulting her like this! "[Bastardo!]" she hissed at him. "[!Os habia advertido que este pendejo escoces me hiba a acusar otra vez de ser putana!"] she said to Methos, deliberately in Spanish.

Methos nodded sagely, trying to keep from chuckling out loud. "[Tuviste razon, nina.]" Elena had predicted that Connor would jump to that conclusion, call her a slut. And the Highlander had done exactly that. This really is too good! Methos thought.

Then she turned back to Connor, seething. "One, there is nothing going on ... and two, it's none of your fucking business! Tell me, [cabron], do you stay up nights thinking of the nastiest thing to say? Or is it just me?"

He took a swallow. "It's just you, Elena!" he said, angrier because they were speaking Spanish, about him, in front of him. At least he knew what the word [putana] meant. And [pendejo escoces.] That last one had been one of Ramirez favorite names for his Highland student.

"Great! Go to hell, Connor!"

Methos was thoroughly enjoying himself now that they were inside, warm, relatively safe - and a little glad MacLeod's anger was aimed at her, not at himself. Duncan tended to talk when he was angry. But this MacLeod was more ... physical. And as always, he could feel Connor MacLeod's ever-simmering rage; perhaps a little too close to the surface for comfort this time, in fact. He wondered if it would actually come to blows between the Argentine and the Scot. He was fairly sure they wouldn't use their swords, but ...

"Elena ..." Connor began, putting his drink down now, closing his right fist, enunciating carefully. "What exactly do you want here?"

She saw the fist, mentally daring him to even try hitting her. "I want ..." she began harshly, then thought about it. She'd wanted to warn him, but now that they were here she wondered why. [!Que sangron!] She should have just gone on, left him on his own, not bothered with him. Methos was right - Connor was a big boy, and he wasn't in any immediate danger.

But then she realized what it was that she really wanted. And it surprised her, a little. "I want you to live, Connor MacLeod," she answered, more calmly. "Is that so difficult to understand, so difficult to believe, that I would want you to survive?"

There was a moment of awkward silence while the two of them tried to stare each other down.

Then Methos thought, enough! "Well," he announced. "As much as I'm enjoying this little tete-a-tete, it's time to make some plans. Now, do I have your attention, MacLeod?"

4:30 a.m., two hours later

Elena sat up abruptly in bed, bathed in sweat, panting, frightened. Another nightmare, [!cono!] she thought.

Feeling shaken, she dressed and walked down to the living room. Standing, staring out the floor-length windows, she indulged in a bout of self-pity. It never ends, [!Dios mio!] Sometimes her life was a nightmare; they still hadn't been able to reach Duncan, or Richie Ryan, or Joe Dawson, and finally, after Methos had explained everything to Connor, the Highlander had said to her, ordered her: "Get some sleep, Elena. You look terrible."

But often she couldn't escape even in sleep ...

There was a rustling behind her, or maybe just a feeling. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you, Methos," she whispered.

I've got to practice more, he thought. "What sharp little ears you have, [abuelita,]" he said to her.

She smiled slightly, silently, and he asked, "Couldn't sleep?"

"No. Must be my guilty conscience, eh?"

"Well, I wouldn't know anything about that," he answered, smiling. He stood with her for a moment, gazing out onto the quiet Greenwich Village street, then added, "Beer always seems to help."

"Alcohol; the cure for everything," she said somewhat bitterly. "But actually, when I'm depressed I prefer Scotch."

"You've spent too much time with the MacLeods, Elena," he said, shaking his head. Actually, he hoped she'd say something about Connor MacLeod. He had heard the Highlander earlier, in the kitchen, and knew MacLeod had not gone to sleep. And this was interesting. The dynamics between Connor MacLeod and Elena Duran were so ... interesting, and he wondered what her side of it was.

"[Yo me jalaba ...] I was getting tanked on Scotch before I met Duncan. All he did was introduce me to a better brand," she said, smiling.

"Single malt. Well, Connor has some very fine whisky here," he added, hoping to get her started talking more about the Scot. He was not disappointed.

"Connor MacLeod," she said, shaking her head. "[No lo puedo pasar, che.]"

He understood that, and a lot more that she wasn't saying. "But if you can't stand him, Elena, why are we here, warning him? Because of Duncan?" He wondered if MacLeod could hear their conversation, then shrugged inwardly.

"It used to be because of Duncan. But not anymore. It's because ... why are you so curious about him?"

"Just naturally inquisitive."

She laughed softly.

"But do you trust him, Elena?"

She turned to look at Methos closely. "If Connor MacLeod comes for my head, I'll know about it, because he'd tell me."

("Look, if I were your enemy, if I wanted you dead, I would come at you from the front, and you'd see me coming, and we would both be armed, and we would both have a fair chance" - she remembered this whole long speech from Connor MacLeod on a cold night in the woods.)

Fascinating, he thought. "So you do trust him. But you don't like him. Now I believe you like me, quite a bit - but you don't trust me, do you?"

She'd never thought of it quite this way, and it took her a while to answer. So long, in fact, that Methos had time to pour her drink.

"You're right," she finally agreed, as he handed her the Scotch. She took a sip, then thought of something else: her nightmare. "Methos," she asked him earnestly, "you said something to me once about Stephen, a warning of some kind?"

(He remembered clearly saying this to her, about Stephen Holz, years ago: "He's sullen.")

"You're worried about him," Methos said to her now, noncommitally.

"Every minute when I'm not right there with him. Maybe I'm obsessed."

"The boy is worrisome," Methos admitted. But this was territory he didn't really want to go into, if he could help it.

"That's what I mean!" she agreed, leaning into him, making a large gesture, almost spilling her drink. "You know, we've talked about this, Stephen and I, Duncan and I, Duncan and Stephen. Sometimes I think the boy has finally accepted - maybe even begun to forgive - Duncan. Still, I'm afraid ... I don't know what I'm afraid of."

Methos thought about it. Stephen Holz' Immortal 'father' had been beheaded right in front of the boy. Worse, Duncan MacLeod had promised Stephen to try to save his father, but couldn't (or wouldn't) interfere in a one on one fight. And the elder Holz hadn't wanted Duncan to interfere, anyway. Since then, Stephen had blamed Duncan in particular and hated all Immortals in general, except for his adoptive mother - Elena. "Stephen is ... sensitive. And he had a very traumatic experience, Elena," he finally said.

"Yes ... but we've all had ... I've had traumatic experiences. My childhood was a nightmare of abuse: rape, beatings, slavery. Even as an adult ..." here she paused, smiling, "But I'm sure you've looked up my history in the Watcher chronicles, right?"

He didn't answer that. "But Stephen isn't you, is he?"

"No, he isn't But can he let this go? This hatred of Duncan, this blaming him ... can Stephen let it go, do you think? Some days I think he has, but other days ..."

"I honestly don't know, Elena," he answered truthfully. "You're the one who knows him best." Well, he should, or at least could, give her something without committing himself. So he added, "But I would watch him."

She considered for a moment, then finally said, "I am watching him. I just ..." She turned to look out at the sun just peeking over the tall buildings and shook her head. "Maybe he just needs more time," she sighed, then murmured, "To another bright new day," and drained her Scotch.

But before the sun could finish turning the blackness into grey, they sensed an Immortal.

"[!Cono!]" Elena said, looking at Methos.

Then the phone rang in the loft for the second time that morning. Two rings, it was picked up, and a moment later Connor rushed into the living room and pushed the speaker button on the extension there.

"... you there? MacLeod? Are you still on the line?"

Methos recognized Temujin's voice immediately, and a mental frisson went through him. Goddammit! How had that bastard Mongol found him again so soon? It wasn't possible ...

While Connor had been looking at Methos closely, deliberately, and had seen the quick surprise, the anger, and yes, it was definitely fear. Real fear this time, flicking across the old Immortal's face, for just a second, an instant. Then it was gone. So at least part of what Methos had said was true. Wonderful! Connor thought, sourly.

And in that second Methos confirmed the suspicious he had had from the start.

Watchers.

"I'm here," Connor replied conversationally.

There was a pause. "I see your friends have joined our discussion," Temujin said, his high-pitched, perfectly-enunciated English echoing in the loft. "I had hoped I could make my proposal to you privately. But it's just as well that they know." He paused again - this time, Connor thought, for theatrical effect - then ordered: "Send me the Immortal called Pierson and you live another day."

Connor glanced at Methos, who shrugged, then at Elena, who was shaking her head. "Why him?" Connor asked, knowing the answer.

"I have a personal score to settle with him, MacLeod."

"Why I should care?"

"He came to you, so you must be his friend. This is unfortunate. But we both know there can be only one. And you are a realist, MacLeod, and an intelligent man. My men have your building surrounded. All you have to do is put him out the door, and I'll let you go. I'll even let you keep the Latino woman, what's her name?" There was a voice in the background, then he continued, "Duran. I'm sure you can find something more pleasant to do to her than losing your head, and hers."

Connor glanced at Elena, smiling ironically. Actually, he thought, losing his head might be more pleasant than spending time with her.

And Elena stepped forward, started to say, "[!Hijo de ...!]" but Methos put a hand up to quiet her.

Connor knew that if Temujin got Methos' quickening, it would make the Mongolian Immortal that much stronger when he came after Connor himself. Which Temujin would of course do. "So tell me again why I should believe you?"

"I'm not here for you, or Duran. I give you my word that you will go free."

"Your word," Connor repeated, his voice filled with irony.

"I didn't come for you, MacLeod."

"Not today," Connor answered pragmatically.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: (all Spanish)

bastardo - bastard

Os habia advertido que este pendejo escoces me hiba a acusar otra vez de ser putana - I warned you that this fucking Scotsman would accuse me of being a whore, again

tuviste razon, nina - you were right, child

cabron/sangron - bastard/asshole

cono - damn

Dios mio - my God

abuelita - grandmother

yo me jalaba - I was getting drunk

no lo puedo pasar, che - I can't stand him, my friend

Chapter 6

They could practically hear Temujin's shrug over the phone line.

Connor smiled, and Elena thought what a dangerous, unpleasant smile it was, and that she'd seen that smile before - directed at her.

"No," Connor said.

There was another long pause. "And the woman, Duran? What does she have to say?"

"No," Elena said, loud enough for Temujin to hear.

"So be it. I will take all three of you. But tell me ... why are you willing to die for Pierson?"

"He's a guest in my house," Connor replied noncommitally.

"Ah, yes. The old rule of hospitality. You are a Highlander, after all. But surely you've given up those old fashioned ideas, along with believing in fairies and gold at the end of the rainbow?"

"That would be the Irish," Connor corrected him. "And we all have to believe in something."

"I believe in power, MacLeod."

Having nothing more to say, Connor hung up the phone abruptly and turned to Methos. In a low, even tone he said, "You bastard, you led them right to me!"

"No, Highlander," Methos replied smoothly, soothingly, unhappy with the way Connor MacLeod was looking at him. "We lost them in the streets of New York. They didn't come here following me - they came here looking for you. Which means they were aware that you knew me from before. Or," he continued, musing out loud, "they want you, too."

"It also means you're lucky we're here, Connor, as I said. Otherwise you would be alone against all of them," Elena contributed.

"Yeah, I'm overwhelmed with my good fortune!" he snapped at her, then asked Methos, "How did they know ...?"

"Why don't we discuss this on the way out of here?" Methos interrupted him, pulling an automatic out of his pocket and checking the clip, then smiling grimly. "Just in case," he said.

Connor nodded. Apparently what Methos had told him was true, and running was their only option. The enemy had information and numbers. Connor, Elena, Methos - they would probably need more soldiers: Duncan, for one. Amanda, maybe? How helpful would she be in a fight? Even the 'children,' Emma Cuzo and Richie Ryan, might have to be brought in on this.

And yet it stuck in his craw, having to leave his own place, to run, again. And somehow or another, Elena was here, again. Always.

"Let's get the hell out of here," he snarled, and after getting a few items, their coats and their swords, he led them to his secret door.

4:00 p.m. that afternoon

Methos walked into the dim familiarity that was Joe's, getting a pleasant sense of deja vu. Unfortunately, MacLeod hadn't been at the dojo, and he wasn't here either. In spite of the fact that Elena Duran and Connor MacLeod had walked in behind him, practically as his escort, his bodyguard, he was almost embarrassed by the sense of security that the dark Scot could give him by his presence alone. Relief, or security, were not feelings Methos was much used to these days.

He shook the sleet off his coat, remarking to himself that it rained almost constantly in this city, then glanced at the stage. The abandoned instruments left during the band's break looked lonely, neglected. Forlorn. Very fitting.

He stopped by the bar, ordered a beer; and before he could ask the bartender anything else, Methos noticed his grey-haired, whisky-voiced friend stiffly making his way toward the three of them.

"Adam! What a surprise!" Dawson called out, smiling, pausing to hook his cane over his arm and pump Methos' hand with both of his. "How the hell are you?" Then Dawson continued, looking beyond the ancient Immortal, and by now obviously consumed with curiosity. "Connor MacLeod; nice to see you again. It's been what? A couple years, anyway." What the hell ...!? Dawson thought.

"A couple," Connor agreed, noting that Dawson had left Elena for last, even though she was the only woman in the group. No love lost between these two; not that he, Connor, blamed either one of them much.

"Duran," Dawson continued, nodding at her. "Still listening to good music?"

If Elena had noticed the slight, she gave no sign. "Yes," she answered, smiling slightly at Dawson, then asking him, "Are you still making good music, Dawson?" much to Methos' surprise. But she didn't wait for an answer before asking, "Where is Duncan? We've been trying to reach him since yesterday."

"Yes, where is my favorite storybook hero?" Methos asked, wondering why the Argentine Immortal and the Watcher weren't at each other's throats anymore, what had happened between them. Well, he'd find out later.

"The cabin," Dawson answered. Methos nodded but said nothing else. And Dawson wondered just what these three Immortals were doing here. Together. As far as the Watcher knew, Connor and Methos didn't trust each other; Connor and Elena didn't like each other; Elena and Methos - hell, the only reason these three were even on speaking terms was their one common link: Duncan MacLeod. "So, is something up with MacLeod? Duncan, I mean?"

Methos smiled. "It's a long story, Joe. When will Duncan be back? I can tell you both at once."

"Today or tomorrow." He decided to be blunt. "But I can't wait that long to find out what's going on! I don't think I've ever seen the three of you ... well ..."

"Together?" Methos filled in, still smiling.

Connor, too, smiled, then went to the bar for a drink.

Elena said, "Maybe I'll go to the cabin and get Duncan. If your Mongol friend found us so quickly in New York, he should be able to locate us here as well."

Dawson had been about to ask Methos again ... but he heard Elena's comment. Mongol? he wondered, searching his memory for a Mongolian Immortal connection.

Methos shook his head. "We'd do best to stick together, Elena."

Immortals together? Methos together? That comment pushed Dawson's curiosity up another click. "Well, Richie's with Duncan," Dawson volunteered. "Who is this ..."

"How is it going, between them?" Methos asked, interrupting the Watcher. Methos knew the relationship between Richie and Duncan had changed and he wasn't entirely sure how useful the redheaded Immortal would be to him. Richie's being here could be good ... or not.

///////

While the trio were talking to Dawson at Joe's, Duncan was throwing some dirty sweats in the laundry basket at the dojo. He'd spent an interesting few days with Richie at the cabin. In fact, Richie was now spending quite a lot of his spare time with Duncan: at the dojo, working out, sparring, generally hanging out. The younger Immortal had decided, apparently, to stay in Seacouver for the time being.

Not only that, but Richie was showing signs of entrepeneurship, having set up his own motorcycle repair shop in one of the seedier parts of town. Duncan didn't know where Richie had gotten the money, and didn't ask, but the young Immortal had even hired two mechanics, one of whom was teaching Richie the finer points of motorcycle maintenance.

"It's all Zen, isn't it, Mac?" Richie had asked him; and Duncan had been surprised and pleased at Richie's expanding culture, his new insights. Not to mention Richie's new real interest in physical conditioning. In fact, Duncan thought, remembering Richie chopping wood for their fireplace in the cabin, he'd never seen the young Immortal in better physical, mental, or emotional shape.

In a hundred ways, Richie was trying to prove himself to be Duncan's equal now, not just saying it; and Duncan wanted to tell him, "I'm proud of you, Richie." Instead, in a hundred ways Duncan tried to show his friend how he felt.

For Richie's part, in spite of his newly acquired maturity and independence, he quite simply basked in Duncan's unspoken approval. He was coming around to the Scot's point of view about some things. Although they would never agree on everything - and now, more than ever, Richie knew there could be only one - for the first time he absolutely realized that Duncan MacLeod was one of the few people alive who had ever actually cared about him, who had ever wanted him, Richie Ryan, around. And who still did.

So he stayed.

Now, back in the dojo, Richie was bench pressing a weight Duncan hadn't thought he'd be strong enough to lift.

"Need a spotter?" Duncan asked.

"Nah. I'm almost through. I just still have this head of steam, you know. I'll shower and go on home in a few minutes."

"Take your time," Duncan replied, then immediately tensed as he sensed an Immortal - maybe several Immortals? - approach. Elena he was expecting, but who else ...?

Richie put the barbell on the rack and picked up his sword, quickly but not in a panic. Another sign of his growth, Duncan thought. Or maybe just a sign of his growing paranoia.

Duncan looked toward the double doors, secure in the fact that his katana was, as always, nearby. He smiled in relief and anticipation when Elena came through the door in a burst right at him - her hellos were always enthusiastic, and he had to physically brace himself to meet her. But he was almost bowled over anyway with surprise when he saw who else came in with her.

Connor.

And Methos.

And walking in next to the ancient Immortal was Joe Dawson.

"Damn!" Duncan said softly. Beside him he could hear Richie whistling softly through his teeth.

"I was worried about you, Duncan," Elena was saying. "And Richie, too. We were worried."

"We're fine, sweetheart," he said, kissing her lightly on the mouth. Keeping his left arm around her waist, he swung her around and shook hands enthusiastically with Connor.

"You look good, cousin," the elder MacLeod said, smiling. "And I wasn't worried."

Like hell, Duncan thought. Connor was good at hiding his feelings - expert, in fact. But Duncan knew him very well. He'd seen the tension, just under the surface; the way Connor held himself. And the ever-so-slight relaxation as Connor strode up to his one-time student and shook his hand warmly.

"So you've been communing with Nature again," Connor continued.

"With a little help from my friends," Duncan said, glancing at Richie.

The elder Highlander shared his smile with Richie. He had some idea how Duncan felt about *his* student.

"I'm surprised at the friends you're with," Duncan continued, still speaking to Connor.

"Them?" Connor was amused. "It's not an alliance made in heaven, but ..." he shrugged. "We had a chance business meeting. In Manhattan."

The word 'business' alone told Duncan the tale. It was always Immortal business with Connor. "What is it?" Duncan asked his kinsman.

Connor shrugged again, but Elena said, "It's war, Duncan. Methos has been recruiting us like ... like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. And women," she added, smiling slightly.

"More like the Children's Crusade, I think," Methos contributed.

"But Methos; in the Children's Crusade, they all died," Duncan said.

The ancient Immortal smiled slightly, but there was very little humor in it, a fact which surprised and worried Duncan. In fact, now that he looked at Methos more closely ...

"Got a beer?" Methos asked.

Duncan sighed. "Come on upstairs."

Meanwhile, Richie had been looking from one Immortal to the other. He knew something really serious was happening, and wondered out loud, "So ... am I in on this *war,* or what?"

Methos turned his attention to the youngest man there, younger even than the mortal with them, and studied the boy openly ... no longer completely a boy, was he? Well, they could use all the help they could get, and Richie was another sword. Methos could probably trust this one as much as the others. And he looked fit, too. Youth and enthusiasm didn't make up for age and experience, Methos knew - but they were not to be ignored. And with the more experienced Immortals around, maybe Richie would survive. Richie certainly had a better chance with them than he did alone. "Do you want to live?" Methos asked the redhead.

Richie chuckled, then got serious. "Who do I have to kill?" he answered, coldly.

Chapter 7

"No," Methos insisted. "This Temujin is not the original Ghengis Khan. He's a pretender and a sycophant," he explained in his best lecture tone. He'd been through this already with Elena, then with Connor, and now with Duncan, and he was a bit tired of it.

"A sicko-what?" Richie asked.

"An ass-kisser," Connor supplied.

Elena smiled at Connor's definition and at Methos' subtle discomfort.

The ancient Immortal didn't miss that, either. "What we should be concerned with is not who he is, but what he can do. Temujin calls this technique 'cleaving,' but it's really shared Quickenings," Methos concluded.

They were sitting on the sofas on either side of Duncan's coffee table, the chess pieces pushed aside for the moment. Dawson sat in a chair, apart. He knew he wasn't really included in this Immortal 'war council,' and actually felt privileged to be there. So he sat listening quietly, observing, trying to efface himself as much as possible.

Richie, hungry as usual, had made himself a sandwich. Methos had a beer; the others were drinking whisky - even Elena, Duncan thought, slightly worried. He put his arm around her and squeezed lightly.

"Is that possible?" Duncan asked Methos.

The ancient shrugged. "Does it matter? As long as they believe it's possible, and act accordingly."

"Simms believed it," Elena contributed.

Henry Bidford Simms? Dawson wondered. Damn, Simms had quite a reputation as a swordsman - and Duran had taken him! He shook his head in wonder, being careful to say nothing.

"Methos is right," Connor said. "Whether they can do it or not doesn't really matter."

But Dawson thought it did matter, and he wondered if this technique, this 'cleaving,' really existed; it was something he'd love to document, for the record. And of course, Methos had never mentioned it; at least not until his head was in danger. He also found it hard to believe that none of the Immortals here seemed interested in finding out more about this, about how to do it. It represented a chance at acquiring real power with little risk. Surely ... he looked around him. Well, not Duncan; maybe Connor - but he didn't know the elder Highlander that well. Or Elena ... Richie? or maybe not. And what about Methos himself? What was it Churchill had said once about the Soviets? A puzzle wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma - or something like that.

"So let me get this straight," Richie said. "A group of Immortals kill another Immortal, then they each get part of the Quickening?"

Methos explained again, patiently. "Not quite, Richie. It's not sharing, like pie wedges. Through cleaving, Temujin's 'team,' as he calls it, beheads an Immortal and each one gets the full Quickening. All the power."

"Wow!" Richie said. "Damn, I wonder what that would feel like. To share a Quickening like that. I mean ..." But then he took a good look at the faces around him and his words died out.

For a moment there was silence in the room as the others realized that Richie had just openly expressed the same thing they'd all been thinking but not saying. It was an experience none of them had ever had. What *would* it be like, they each wondered?

Dawson almost held his breath, curious about what they would say. And what they would do.

Duncan was the first to break the silence. He, too, was curious, but ... "No," he said, to himself as well as to the others. "Let's not go there, Richie."

"Now, wait a minute, Duncan," Connor put in. Maybe Duncan had been the clan chieftain's son long enough. He sure as hell wasn't going to tell them what to think! "We need to talk about this."

"There's nothing to talk about," Duncan said, leaning back. "Cleaving involves six Immortals pitted against a single opponent. It's not something we want to know about, or will ever use."

"You're not thinking this through; and speak for yourself, Duncan. Knowledge is always valuable; especially knowledge of fighting techniques." Even if he was contradicting his own statement - maybe it did matter, after all - Connor was not about to let Duncan get away with this little bit of tyranny.

"Are you speaking for yourself, Connor?" Duncan asked, leaning forward diagonally across the coffee table, putting his palm down on it, pressing Connor. "Would you ever use such a *fighting* skill? It has nothing to do with fighting! It has to do with cutting down your opponent with other Immortals' help, not giving him a chance. It's not honorable! Hell, *you* were the one who taught me about one on one - an inviolate rule!" In his heart he knew that Connor was really not serious about wanting to do this; that he was just yanking his, Duncan's chain; challenging him on everything, as his kinsman always did. Connor could never forget that he had been Duncan's teacher. Or let Duncan forget it. Well, now Duncan himself was reminding his clansman.

"I never said I would use it, Duncan. But it's always good to learn something new."

"Why?" Elena asked Connor. She, too, leaned forward on the sofa, where she was sitting directly across from the elder Highlander. She couldn't believe Connor MacLeod was making such an argument. "Why gain knowledge we're never going to use? Why put that temptation in our own path? God knows we have temptations enough; it's hard enough to do the right thing as it is! And sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we still don't do the right thing, do we?"

"That's a matter of self-discipline, Duran. And of our consciences. You said it yourself, remember?"

"Of course, Connor," she said in a mocking tone. "I'd forgotten about your self-discipline, your perfection!"

Connor glared at her.

"Dammit," Duncan said, exasperatedly. Couldn't these two be in the same room for five minutes without making it personal? Going back to the original argument, he said to Connor, "This is just not ... something we need to know for our survival. Is it, Connor?"

Connor opened his mouth to say something else to Elena, then decided to ignore her and answer Duncan instead. "No."

Duncan pulled slightly at her arm, and she sat back, still angry. Then Richie said, "Look, guys. Between you three - you four," he amended, including Methos, who had said nothing so far, "... you already know just about every damn way there is to kill. Do we really need to learn yet another way; and a way that *is* dishonorable? That's just plain wrong? I mean, maybe I'm being naove, here - but we *are* the good guys, right?"

"Yes," Duncan stated firmly, challenging Connor to argue with that. "As naive as that may be, we are the good guys."

"And good always triumphs over evil, right, Duncan?" Connor asked.

Duncan thought back to the time he had talked with his own young self, when Roland was hunting him. "I believe that, yes."

Connor said nothing to this. In his heart, in spite of everything he was saying now, and of everything he'd learned in almost half a millennium of life, he believed that, too. But then he thought of something else. Turning to Methos, he asked him, "What do you think, old man? Do you want to learn how to do this cleaving, or not?"

Methos had been watching the argument with great interest. He knew Connor MacLeod was being the devil's advocate, and wondered what blind spot was keeping Duncan from seeing that. Interesting dynamics; there was a lot of unresolved hostility between these two. And a lot of obvious hostility between the elder MacLeod and Elena Duran, hostility which Methos believed masked other feelings. As for Richie ... but he was distracted from his psychoanalysis of the various personalities by Connor's very direct question, damn him.

And of course, Methos knew the answer. "I take it we're trying to decide whether to try to acquire this knowledge or not? I think we should stop arguing and take a vote."

"Fine," Connor agreed. "But it doesn't answer my question of how you feel about it."

Methos had no doubt which way the wind was blowing in this group. Not forgetting his ultimate objective, he shrugged noncommitally. "I'll go with the majority."

"You're still not answering the question, Methos," Elena said.

He smiled at her tenacity. "Well, Temujin and his pet Immortals know this 'cleaving.' He's been trying to use it on me since Jesus of Nazareth was born. I want to kill them all. Does that give you a clue how I feel about it?"

"So ... I take it you vote 'no?'" Richie asked him.

"I vote no," Methos said.

"So do I," Duncan said. "Connor, Elena, Richie?" and got a "No," from each of them. "That makes it simple. We kill them all."

"So," Connor couldn't help saying. "At least there's *one* thing you don't know, old man. And when we wipe them out, I guess you never will. Or should I say, for now."

"Exactly," Methos said. For now, he silently agreed.

Dawson cleared his throat, feeling he could add something here. After all, Methos himself had invited Dawson to come along, and the Watcher was beginning to see why. The ancient was always plotting, wasn't he? And now they were all looking at him, so he hurried to say, "It may all be a moot point. I ... we don't know if this cleaving is actually possible, do we?" he asked, looking directly at Methos. Getting no answer, he continued. "There's no record of that in all the chronicles. Believe me, I would have seen it. Although ... let me check something." Dawson had brought his computer and now did a short search on Temujin, looking for a name he vaguely remembered being one of the Mongol's kills. "That's the name: Varus."

Methos kept a perfectly straight face. He had an idea the boy's name would come up at some point - and maybe Kate's too, as well as others - and was outwardly prepared. But he couldn't avoid the surge of emotion that gripped his heart like a fist, hard, just for a moment. He stared off into space, took a deep breath to center himself, let it out.

Dawson found the entry he was looking for. "Here it is. Rome; 208 BC. Long time ago. He was cut down, tied up, killed by a group, and supposedly, his Quickening ... his Watcher was reprimanded for his mistaken observations, but he reported that the Quickening went out in all directions, to several Immortals present." Dawson read for a moment more, then said quietly, to Methos, "His name was associated with the legendary Methos; so ... I guess you knew Varus, huh?"

"I knew him," Methos said. They hadn't even tried to hide the corpse, hide what they'd done ... the sheer arrogance ... "They only go after powerful or old Immortals - but they kill anyone else who gets in their way, of course, Immortal or not. Varus was ... young, but he boasted about his age, his ... abilities. It was a foolish mistake. A fatal mistake."

He stopped, and there was a moment of silence. The flat emotionless tone in Methos' voice told Duncan what had happened more poignantly than any show of feeling would have. "And you couldn't save him," Duncan whispered. Been there, he thought. So had they all.

"I was elsewhere, MacLeod," Methos said, somewhat bitingly. Temujin lured me away - or maybe, Methos had thought more than once, Varus lured me away, sacrificed himself for me ... "There were six of them. Always six. That seems to be the magic number."

Elena thought Methos seemed genuinely distressed. She wasn't sure, but maybe this Varus ... "How long did it take you to hunt them down, Methos?" she asked.

Methos' voice was calm, but his eyes shone. "Almost a century."

"But you didn't get them all," Duncan said quietly. He could almost feel Methos' sorrow across the table, and it depressed him. He himself was only four hundred years old. And yet here was Methos - cold, sarcastic, experienced, and still, after two millennia, hurt by the loss of a boy. A son, a student, a brother, or ... a lover, perhaps.

They all stay with you, he'd told Richie once. All the ones you've killed. But the ones you've loved - they haunt you, too. Maybe more so. He ran his hand over his face. "You missed one of them. And now he's hunting again. And you're the target."

And Temujin always had someone near him, and I didn't have the courage to even try to avenge my golden boy. Or my beautiful Kate! I ran, Methos thought, miserably. "Yes," he answered simply.

"So, do we know which Immortals we're talking about?" Richie asked.

"I've got Simms' notes," Methos said, swallowing his guilt - yes, guilt, dammit - pushing it down inside. In this moment of weakness, he thought how good it might feel to open up to Duncan, to tell him, to explain ... surely the Scot would understand. But the ancient Immortal didn't have that luxury. And he never would. He was Methos, the old man, the experienced one, the untouchable, the cynic. And while he never let anyone forget it, they never let him forget it, either.

Shrugging mentally, letting it go, he held up the PDA. "There are several names we can look up - Joe?" he said, looking round him quickly, knowing he'd hidden his feelings well enough. Again. He smiled at Elena. "I know one of the Immortals is signorina Isidora Magdalena," he said to her.

"Yes, and I want her head," she said.

"You could have fooled me," Methos replied, grinning a real grin this time. Wanting to kill someone: that was a nice, plain, honest feeling, one he readily understood. "There's also the Persian - or the Iranian, for you youngsters: Mohammed Talik; a Turk by the name of Achmed Carraba; and Li Huan. Chinese. I don't know who's replaced Simms," he concluded, nodding at Elena.

"Whoa," Richie said. "Persian? So these guys aren't exactly novices."

"It's not just the quantity, Richie; it's the quality. They're all experienced Immortals who want a shortcut in the Game."

"There are no shortcuts," Duncan stated, then took another sip of whisky.

"No?" Methos asked, somewhat bitterly.

"We're taking a shortcut ourselves, Duncan," Connor reasoned. "We're getting information from the Watchers to use against our enemies. It's not exactly ... the right thing to do, is it?" he asked, wryly considering what he'd just said on that very topic. He ran his hand through his hair. Even though, on principle, he didn't like them, Connor MacLeod recognized that it could be an advantage to be on good terms with a Watcher. Sometimes. And he was willing to use them for a good cause. Or for *his* cause, anyway.

"Yeah, but it's not the same," Duncan insisted. "We're still planning to fight one on one, not gang up on someone."

"Five of us and six of them - plus their mortal hirelings - is not one on one, MacLeod," Methos said practically. But inside he felt a bit ... depressed. So he took another swig of beer.

Meanwhile Dawson had been doing some lookups based on the names in Simms' computer. "I got your six, Methos. Uh ... five, I guess. Wanna hear the particulars?"

"Hit me, Joe," Methos said, and Dawson read descriptions from the database.

The Watcher felt somewhat guilty about sharing Watcher secrets with this group of Immortals, but he kept it to himself. Temujin and his team had to be stopped; plus, as the Watcher Adam Pierson, Methos would eventually be able to get the same information he was getting, Dawson rationalized. He himself was just ... expediting matters. That's it. He was a facilitator.

Yeah, right.

Chapter 8

When Dawson was finished, Elena said, "Very nice. And we just wait until they show up?"

"I believe they'll wait to come after me until they have six. But they found one of the MacLeods. I'm sure they'll find the other," Methos said. "Especially since they have Watcher help, too."

"Watcher help?" Dawson asked. "How do you know?"

"It's the only way they could have found me in Paris, Joe. There's probably a Watcher, giving Temujin information. Maybe this CB I keep seeing in Simms' journal. The Watchers don't know I'm Methos, I hope, but Temujin does. After he took Varus' head he realized his mistake - but by then his team had split up, disappointed at the 'weakness' of the Quickening. That's how I was able to pick them off, one by one. However, Temujin didn't give up." I'm the one who gave up, Methos thought, bitterly. But now - now I'm going to kill him.

"For a while," Methos continued, turning to Duncan, knowing how strongly the Scot still felt about the murdered priest, "Temujin was after Darius. Temujin was particularly peeved because Darius had killed the ancient Parisian holy man. Then Darius went to Holy Ground and out of Temujin's reach."

"So he had to choose a new target," Duncan filled in, nodding.

"Actually, I was his old target. And he keeps coming. With his little group. For two thousand years, give or take a century," Methos said, wryly. "It's not easy, getting a bunch of Immortals together. Our individuality is our greatest strength; and also our greatest weakness. But he manages it."

"So have we, right?" Richie said.

"Yes. The Children's Crusade, remember?" Elena answered, her voice laced with irony.

"Oh, I have higher hopes for us than that," Methos said.

"You're so inspiring, Methos," Elena said. "Well, since they'll be here soon, and we're all going to die, I think I'll get myself very drunk on good Scotch. You're all welcome to join me," she added. "But be warned that my goal is to let Duncan have his way with me. All of you have to be sober enough to know when to get out, because even drunk I don't do public performances."

Connor suddenly remembered a very hung-over Elena, naked from the waist down, lying on his living room rug New Year's Day - two years ago? The thought made him grin, and Elena said to him, directly, as though she knew what he was thinking, "Even though I'm a slut, right, Connor?"

Connor MacLeod knew the value of silence. Sometimes.

Arrogant bastard, she thought, leaning across the small table again, getting inside his personal space.

"Oh, no," Duncan groaned, and Methos thought, not these two again! Hopefully this antagonism wouldn't get in the way of the upcoming fight, hurt their concentration. And Duncan's as well.

"You need another drink," Connor said, then poured and held her glass out to her.

She took it abruptly, and Duncan leaned forward toward her and wrapped her up in his long arms, pulling her back against him before she could say or do anything else. "Gentlemen," he addressed the others. "One drink for the road; then you'll have to excuse us."

"Fine," Connor said, saluting them, then draining his glass. He stood. "Ok, Richie, let's see if we can get ourselves into a little trouble tonight." Connor had noted a real difference in Richie Ryan, a seriousness, a maturity. If the boy had changed ... but he was still with Duncan, so Connor decided to trust Richie. Up to a certain point, of course.

"Are you kidding?" Richie asked, delighted to be asked to drink with Connor MacLeod, but already dreading tomorrow's hangover. He downed his own drink, coughed once, and went for his jacket. And he thought he might be able to do a good deed, too ... "And afterwards, Connor; would you like to bunk with me tonight? I mean, while you're here?"

Duncan was surprised and pleased that Richie was volunteering to put Connor up; not only did he want some time alone with Elena, but keeping Connor and Elena apart would be good for his peace of mind. For all of them, actually.

"Yeah, thanks," Connor agreed, looking from the young man to his kinsman.

"Well, I've finished my beer, and I'm outta here, Mac, Elena. Enjoy," Methos said, really meaning it this time. He, for one, wasn't just going to sit around and wait. He knew of a way to find Temujin: the Watchers.

He stood, then said, "Oh, there is one more thing, gentlemen. Lady," Methos bowed gallantly at Elena, making sure he had their attention. "When we do find them, or they find us - Temujin is mine."

Duncan was frankly stunned. He'd never heard Methos make such a statement; never thought he'd hear it.

Methos ignored Duncan's surprise. Taking their silence for agreement, he nodded, then turned to Dawson. "Joe," he said, leading the Watcher toward the elevator.

But Dawson balked. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed, addressing the others. "This Temujin bastard is on his way with a bunch of Immortals, and all you guys can think of is getting drunk, or getting laid? Am I the only one who has a problem with this?"

Everyone turned to look at the mortal, but it was Connor who spoke first. "A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink and to be merry, Dawson. For tomorrow ..." he shrugged elaborately.

"Yeah," Richie said, smiling in agreement. "[Que sera, sera.]"

"Life's but a walking shadow," Duncan contributed, lifting Elena easily onto his lap and kissing the nape of her neck.

"[Carpe diem,]" Elena said, half-giggling because Duncan was kissing the nape of her neck.

Everyone waited, and Methos finally said, "Ad nauseam," and walked into the elevator. "Coming, Joe?"

///////

"So ... it's your town, Richie. Where to?"

"To drink?" Richie asked. "Or to get in trouble?"

Connor shrugged, and Richie said, "Well, the places I hang out ... they may not exactly have single malt Scotch."

"You mean there's something else to drink? I must have led a sheltered life," Connor protested, smiling at a grinning Richie. "Lead the way."

"That's it," Richie finally told Connor, gesturing to a seedy-looking bar across the street. "I know the owner," he explained.

Connor nodded. No single-malt whisky, indeed, he thought. He'd count himself lucky if the place had clean glasses. Of course, he'd been in worse places ...

The Highlander had driven the two of them in Duncan's T-bird, and after he'd parked it, he'd taken one look around the neighborhood and quietly paid two tough-looking teenage boys to watch it. "Duncan would never let me hear the end of it if the damn thing got scratched; or stolen," he told Richie. "And for us, you know, never is ..."

Richie nodded. "Yeah, a long time, I know," he said, grinning. Frankly, he kind of enjoyed it when Connor and Duncan got into it - the Scottish brogues got hot and heavy and then they'd both lapse into Gaelic, English apparently not being expressive enough.

Just as Connor and Richie were about to cross the street, a couple of girls approached them, one a blonde, the other a redhead. They were both dressed in clothes that were much too skimpy for the January weather.

"Hey, baby," the blonde said.

Richie was about to go on past them, but Connor stopped. So Richie stopped, too. As far as Richie knew, Duncan had never been to a prostitute in the whole time Richie had known him. So he'd assumed that Connor ...

"Good evening, ladies," Connor said, smiling, anticipating, with just a slight ironic emphasis on the last word.

///////

A few hours, and many many drinks later, and other things, Connor said, draining his glass with a grimace, "This is pure rotgut. I wouldn't give it to my worst enemy."

"Well, I'm not trying to poison you. And I did warn you." Actually, Richie was amazed at the amount of liquor Connor MacLeod could hold and still look so ... sober, while Richie, who had drunk much less, was feeling no pain.

"So, do you trust him?" Connor suddenly asked.

"Methos?" Richie asked, guessing correctly. Who else had they been talking about? "Kinda ..." He was speaking in short sentences, not really trusting that his tongue would do what he wanted it to. He looked the Scot over. "You?"

"More than some. Less than others. This time, more than usual." He gazed solemnly at his empty glass. He wasn't drunk, not exactly, but ... "Do you know the three things drink provokes?"

"Three things?"

"Nose-painting, sleep, and urine."

Richie almost choked on his drink. "Nose-painting?" he asked, laughing.

"Well, what Shakespeare meant by that ..." Connor began, then tried to reason it out, but his thinking seemed a little fuzzy right now, so he let it go with a shrug.

"Shakes ... peare ... I should have known. I never unnerstood anything that guy wrote," Richie said. He looked Connor over carefully again. "So ... look, I'm kinda ... loaded. An' I guess I need ... I could use some sleep. Are you too drunk to drive?"

Connor was still smiling. "You know, Richie, this bluidy stuff is terrible. How about I treat you to some real good spirits? Do you know anything about wine?"

Well, Connor wasn't going to answer that, Richie realized. And Connor didn't really look drunk. But in spite of a slightly out of focus feeling, Richie had clearly heard the brogue slip out in the word 'bluidy." Clearly. He drew his own conclusions, but said only, enunciating carefully, "You mean like Chateau Rothschild forty-three or somethin'?"

Connor laughed out loud. "Or somethin'. You know, Duncan has sadly neglected yer education. I'll have to chide him about it. But maybe I can help - I have a very nice wine cellar back home." He'd been about to invite Richie to come back to Manhattan with him, after Temujin was taken care of. But then Connor thought of something else. "When this whole thing is over, give me a couple of weeks to get back in the good graces of a young lady I had to leave rather ... abruptly ... and then come visit me. I'll teach ye a thing or two."

But Richie had heard something more interesting than learning to drink. "How abrup ... abruply?"

Connor said nothing, and Richie added, "Oh, I get it. A gentleman never tells. Gotcha. So, yeah, I'll be there. You think two weeks will be enough?" he couldn't resist adding.

"Aye," Connor answered, then threw some bills on the bar, smiled at Richie. And then Richie thought of something else, too.

"Listen, when you 'chide' or ride, whatever, Duncan about this wine business, you can tell him about the girls; Lucille an' ..." he tried to remember the redhead's name, and Connor supplied it.

"Ginger."

"Right, Ginger. But don't tell him about the guy. Ok?"

"The guy?" Connor asked, knowing exactly what guy Richie meant.

"You know ... the guy who came up to me ..." Richie broke off, having yet another occasion to curse his light complexion.

"Oh," Connor said, smiling broadly, stifling a laugh. "You mean the man who asked you t' come home with him?"

"Yeah! And it's not funny, MacLeod!"

"Don't worry, Richie. I'll carry yer secret to my grave."

"Damn right!"

Connor couldn't help laughing. "Absolutely," he finally said. "And now I propose we call it a night. I need to sleep and urinate."

Richie laughed out loud, too, forgetting his discomfort of a moment before. "What - no nose-painting?" he asked.

Connor shook his head. Laughing together, feeling a real sense of camaraderie, the two of them made their way back to Duncan's T-bird. Connor peeled off some more bills, paid off the teenagers, and carefully drove the two of them back to the dojo.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: carpe diem (Latin) - seize the day

Chapter 9

Seacouver, January 21, 1999, 9:00 a.m.

The next day, Connor was on the phone to Chris in Duncan's office, sitting on the desk and looking out the glass walls into the nearly empty dojo. Elena and Richie were doing a little friendly sparring, with Methos watching. Frankly, Connor was surprised and impressed that Richie was able to lift his sword, much less fight, after the night before - the drinking; the 'ladies,' Lucille and Ginger. Connor himself felt just a bit hung over.

Methos watched Elena and Richie spar. Richie looked strong and confident, even facing a much more experienced opponent. Methos had never seen Richie fight, and saw clear evidence of Duncan's moves. But he saw differences, too, subtle and real. The student had learned other things. The result was that Richie had turned out a fair swordsman; still in need of a *lot* of practice; perhaps a bit too agressive for his own good ... but the boy looked in damn good shape, in any case. He was glad this one would be fighting for him - with him - instead of against him.

And Elena, fighting very differently from her opponent. This was not a chore for her - she was obviously enjoying it. Her left-handedness was causing some trouble for Richie, putting him off stride. Methos had faced a left-handed Immortal opponent twice - no, three times - and had not much enjoyed it. He could see the Spanish fencing style mixed with others, French, Japanese, whatever worked. And she looked ... strong, at the top of her form. All she was wearing were black shorts and a bra and tank top; he could see the smooth play of muscles under the dark, shiny skin of her shoulders, arms and thighs, hear the puffs of breath as she exerted herself. Impressive. Confident. And without a doubt, dangerous. And as he thought that, she caught Richie smartly with a right cross that sent the young man staggering back.

But not staggering enough. Richie suprised her by coming back strong, and actually had Elena retreating across the dojo floor, slowly but surely, being very careful not to lose her footing.

Then she trapped his sword against the floor, point down, their faces very close as they leaned forward - and she whispered something Methos couldn't hear. Richie flushed, sucking in air. And she simply reached down with her right hand and twisted his sword out of his grasp.

She bowed, smiling triumphantly. As Richie rubbed his right wrist, she handed him his sword back, hilt first.

Connor came out of the office to hear their conversation. Even from behind Richie he could tell the redhead was not happy.

"That was not a ... nice thing to say, Duran," Richie said, his complexion still a deep red.

"Nice? You want nice in a swordfight? [!No me digas!] Did Duncan forget to tell you that these fights are to the death? And you use every weapon you have - including words."

Methos and Connor were both curious to find out what Elena had said to Richie. But neither man would ask.

"For example," she continued, "you should never have cut off your curls. You looked like such an innocent! So vulnerable."

"Yeah," Richie said, with some bitterness. The pounding in his head from all the drinking last night wasn't helping. "That was me: the young human pincushion."

"But you can use that to your advantage. Methos here," she pointed at him, "has perfected the art of looking inoffensive; while you and I know what a ... that he isn't like that at all. We have a saying in Spanish: [Esta que nada sin mojarse la ropa,] which means, he can swim without getting his clothes wet."

Methos laughed. "I hadn't heard that one, Elena, and I accept the compliment," he said, bowing slightly, but keeping his eyes on her. She amused him infinitely. He knew what she'd been about to say about him, too, and how she had deliberately *not* said it. Always pushing.

She looked him over. "It suits you." Then turning back to Richie, she continued, "And you won't believe the number of men I've taken down because I'm a woman."

"Because they underestimated you, I know."

"Because, deep in their hearts, all men think they're superior to all women. You're all sexist pigs. But that's for another discussion." She shrugged. "Appearance is reality, Richie. Am I right, gentlemen?" she asked the other two Immortals.

"Yes," Methos answered, thinking, look out, Richie.

Connor nodded. Now he was curious about exactly what she'd been about to say about Methos, but wouldn't ask that, either.

"For example: if you met Methos and Duncan, complete unknowns, and had to fight one of them - which one would you choose?" she asked the young Immortal.

Richie smiled. "Methos," he nodded.

"Because Duncan has a longer reach, looks stronger. He appears to be more of a threat."

"But that's not necessarily true," Richie argued. "Well, maybe in this case ..." he added.

Methos smiled at the unconscious slur on his abilities. Fine with him. "Maybe; and you're right. It isn't necessarily true. But first impressions are hard to shake. All right; if you didn't know us, would you rather fight me - or Connor? Snap decision."

Richie shook his head. "You," he said.

"Of course," Elena agreed. She'd stepped up to him - and now she suddenly backhanded him, putting her shoulder and hip into it, knocking him to the ground.

Richie was already hung over, and now he felt dizzy. He thought he might just throw up, and controlled it with a sheer effort of will. "What the ..." he finally began. He could hear both Methos and Connor laughing out loud. You bitch! he thought to himself.

"That is for being a sexist pig, Richie Ryan!" she exclaimed. "Like every other man I've ever met!"

Richie moved his jaw slowly. Some of his teeth felt loose, but at least nothing was broken. His head, however, felt like it was cracked open. "So are you going to hit every man you see?" he finally asked her through his teeth, looking up angrily.

"Of course not," she said, sweetly. "I won't hit you again because, well, now you're expecting it. I won't hit Duncan because I love him. And I won't hit Connor if I can help it. "

Richie got to his knees, pulled himself to his feet. His pride and his face both hurt. "Because he hits back, right?" Maybe he, Richie, should hit her back, he thought, glancing at the Highlander.

Elena nodded enthusiastically. "Damn hard, too," she agreed.

Connor said, "Don't forget it, Duran," but he was still chuckling at the way she'd trapped Richie.

She turned to Methos. "What about you? Are you a sexist pig, Methos?" she asked him innocently.

"Like every other man you've ever met, Elena," he agreed cheerfully. Unlike Richie, he'd seen the blow coming and wondered why she was doing this. Maybe, he thought, Joe Dawson was right - she was just a nasty bitch; she needed to get her frustrations out, and Richie was an easy target. Or maybe she was trying to teach the younger Immortal a lesson. The hard way.

"But you would never underestimate me, would you?" she asked Methos sweetly.

Methos smiled in return. "Of course not." Never, senorita, he thought. She was quick, no question. And good with a sword. In spite of her ... personality quirks, he enjoyed spending time with her, and hoped ... for the first time in a long time he found himself caring whether another Immortal, besides he and Amanda and Duncan, lived or died. And not just Elena, either.

Elena turned away from Methos. "Come on, Richie. [?Amigos?]" she asked him, holding out her hand. "And by the way - you can get yourself in trouble by being too aggressive. But otherwise, you're getting to be a good [esgrimista,]" she finished.

Richie shook it. "Thanks," he said, somewhat mollified by her smile. At least he wouldn't fall into that snare again. Plus, she'd said he was getting good - and he knew from experience that Duran was not generous doling out compliments.

In the background, Connor had heard the elevator come down and stop. Duncan walked out towards him, taking in the scene, and wondered exactly what had happened.

"Are you ready?" Elena asked Richie, and by the time the two Highlanders were together, Elena and Richie were into the tai chi form - and they had to listen carefully to hear her soft directions.

"... white crane in flight; draw and land; drop hands and withdraw; crane returns; shoulder strike ..."

Methos recognized this ancient introductory form, one he hadn't done in ... probably decades. He watched the pair, the blond and the dark, the man and the woman, working together. And the remembrance brought back soothing memories of peace and safe haven, of hard work, of effort and reward. The near darkness of the temple; the smell of incense; the self-awareness; the drone of Master's voice as he repeated the moves, then said, "Again. Together."

They finally finished, and Elena said, "[Muy bien,] Richie. Shall we go again?"

"I'm right with you, ma'am," the young man said, grinning. Staying mad at her was hard, and he really had walked into that one, hadn't he? But not again, Duran. Fool me twice ...

"Don't say that," she complained. "Ma'am makes me feel so old!"

"I got a newsflash for you, Duran." Hell, even a four-hundred-year-old woman was vain about her age, he thought, but was careful not to say it.

"Never mind." She paused to throw a dazzling smile Duncan's way. "Ready?" she asked Richie.

Richie nodded, and she murmured, "Take your breaths. First, we remind ourselves of our principles." She paused while they breathed. "Now: sink twice to find the earth; open the exercise."

As they started moving together to their right, Methos placed himself just in front and between them and warded off to the right; shifted his weight; warded off to the left; engaged to the right, joining them in their graceful, slow dance. And they matched themselves each to the other, moving in unison, each one different, with his own style and grace, and yet each one the same as they shared the ancient art, the old moves.

When they finished the form, Methos turned, smiled at the two, and bowed to each in turn, keeping eye contact. They both formally returned his bow. Then Methos twirled again, faced the MacLeods, and bowed to them.

Connor and Duncan hesitated one moment; then, independently, they both put their feet together and bowed back as one man, as one force. And that brief hesitation let Methos know, unequivocably, that they weren't just reacting; that they were doing it specifically for him, for Methos.

It was a simple movement, feet together, hands on the thighs, bending forward from the waist, keeping eye contact - but it was an ancient tradition which embodied nothing less than mutual respect. And Methos realized at that moment what held the five of them together. Not love, or hate, or fear, or any strong passion, although all those passions were present. Immortals were, by the nature of the Game, loners in the end, although for a while they could make alliances; they could get together as Temujin had gotten his 'team' together. But the Mongol held them by appealing to their greed; their lusts, their fears. In spite of all the arguments, the sniping, the little tricks they played, these four were joined, for now, by a mutual respect for each other.

He looked at each one in turn - the inexperienced, strong American; the dangerous, unpredictable Argentine; the cold, deadly elder MacLeod, who made no secret of the fact that he didn't even like Methos, but was here, nonetheless; and the charismatic, dark Scot, who was quite simply Methos' best friend. Methos knew that they would do their best, that they would fight to their deaths. And that they would not stab him, or each other, in the back.

Five blades. Mutual respect. Could be worse, Methos thought to himself. Could be a hell of a lot worse. However, he knew it wasn't enough. They were still five strong Immortals, all pulling in different directions, each with their own motivation, still playing games with each other; *against* each other, as was proved just a moment before. Whatever else, Temujin's 'team' was efficient. They had very efficiently killed off Varus; and later on, Kate ... Methos shook his head, scattering the memories of that defeat, of that murder. Because, in Methos' own "warped and unique" moral code, he considered what Temujin did to be murder. And to defeat the Mongol, their 'team' would have to learn to work together somehow, to trust each other and to have a real sense of purpose.

And to provide that they needed a leader.

Methos knew himself for a planner and a schemer, although he generally avoided openly stepping up to the leadership role. Fortunately, he just happened to know the son of a chieftain ...

Seacouver, January 22, 1999, 5:00 p.m.

After the first night, the five Immortals all stayed in Duncan's building, close together, not wanting to be overtaken by six Immortals at once when they were alone. So the next evening, after they'd finished their workout, Methos put his plan into action. "I think it's time we came up with a strategy to deal with Temujin and his friends. And since I'm famished, I suggest we do it over dinner."

"Good idea," Duncan agreed. "Italian? My treat."

"Hey, I'll take a free meal. Plus, I'm tired of waiting," Richie said impatiently.

"It's only been a couple of days, Richie," Duncan reminded him.

They all started to go upstairs, but Methos stayed behind. "MacLeod," he called out, and both Highlanders turned to him.

Methos smiled. "Duncan - a word?"

Connor and Duncan exchanged wry glances; then Connor walked off and Duncan nodded, coming back into his office with Methos. The Highlander raised his dark eyebrows.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: (all Spanish) no me digas - you don't say amigos - friends esgrimista - swordsman/fencer muy bien - very good

Chapter 10

Methos considered his words. This was not going to be easy. Finally he just said, "Do you know one of the main reasons I stayed with the Horsemen for almost ten centuries?"

"Is this going to be true confessions?" Duncan asked, a bit testily. He didn't want to have this conversation, but he would listen, if Methos insisted.

Methos ignored the interruption. "The reason was that, during that time, I knew I could go into my tent at night without having to worry that an Immortal was going to take my head in my sleep. Not only that - I knew that the other Horsemen would fight for me. They would protect me because we were comrades in arms. Because we were *brothers.*" He moved closer to Duncan, scrutinizing the Scot. "Do you know what that feels like, MacLeod?"

"Yes," Duncan said. There were several Immortals he trusted that way right now: Connor, of course. Elena. Richie. Amanda. Methos himself, perhaps ... but if Methos thought this would excuse what he'd done while he was 'Death' ...

"Yes, you would. But I didn't. Except for my first teacher, not until then. And not since. Not completely."

Duncan thought about it. Five thousand years, not just of living. Five thousand years of mistrusting everyone who really understood who you were, what you were. Surely he must have trusted some other Immortal. Certainly Darius. One of his many wives, perhaps? This Varus that he'd seemed so upset about, for instance. And didn't Methos trust him, Duncan MacLeod? "What about ..." Duncan began.

"What about you?" Methos interrupted. "You and Connor and Elena and Richie? For the first time in a long time - in millennia, MacLeod - I feel, again, that I can close my eyes and not be cut down by my comrades in my sleep."

Duncan was gratified, but ... "This isn't good enough?" he asked.

"It's ... good enough. Except this time, they're not here for me, are they? Maybe you are, in your own way. But not the others." He was being completely honest with MacLeod, and that surprised even him, a little.

Duncan shook his head. "But you're the one who got us together, Methos."

"Wrong. I gave you a reason to fight together, and a common enemy; but I didn't get you together. Don't you understand? This group is here for you, for Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. You are the mortar that holds us together. You are the one everyone trusts. You are the one everyone would fight for, die for." Methos paused, for effect, then said, "And it's all right, you know. I'm a pragmatist - I'll take what I can get. Do you understand? I wonder ... I wonder if you know how lucky you are."

Duncan looked carefully at the old Immortal. "Methos, I ... I do know," he finally said. Christ! he thought.

Methos studied him briefly. "Yes, you do, don't you? Savor it, Highlander. It's a rare, heady feeling. It's an addiction. But don't get too used to it, or you'll do anything to keep it. Anything." And with that warning, Methos went upstairs, leaving Duncan deep in thought.

7 p.m., later that day

Methos looked around the dimness of the Italian restaurant. It was quaint, expensive, cozy, with traditional red checked tablecloths and well-trained waiters wearing impeccable white aprons. But for some reason he found himself resenting the cold and the darkness of Seacouver. He found himself longing for light; for the desert of his youth, of his mortal life, such a long time ago he could just dimly remember it. And the only time he ever felt like this was ... he sighed. For once, he was drinking wine instead of beer. The dinner had been oddly silent, devoid even of small talk, and Methos thought the others might also be thinking about home, too.

They were into their second bottle, almost finished with their dinner, when he began by saying, "The Watchers are the key."

"I agree," Duncan said. "Why can't we just find them that way?"

"Right," Connor said. "For example, who's Temujin's Watcher?"

"Dead," Methos answered. "Li's Watcher - dead; Talik's ..."

"Let me guess," Richie put in, drawing a finger across his neck.

Methos continued. "The only one still alive to my knowledge is Luisa Ferranti, Magdalena's Watcher. But she's in the field, and I can't locate her at the moment. Since the Galatti fiasco, the Watchers have relied more on local controls, on cells instead of one central Big Brother."

"Cells?" Richie asked.

"Like World War II Resistance cells in Europe," Duncan explained. "Each local group kept its own secrets so capturing and torturing the members of one cell didn't betray them all."

"But if Ferranti gets in the area, she should check in, as a courtesy, with the head honcho: Dawson," Methos reasoned. "At least then we'll know when they arrive in Seacouver."

"Not good enough," Duncan said. "Temujin knows where to find us; and although we have the advantage of home ground, the best defense ..."

"... is a good offense," Connor finished for him. "Will Dawson cooperate?"

"Yes," Methos answered. "But Signora Ferranti might not."

Now that the bottle was almost empty, the waiter hovered. Duncan nodded at the waiter, who brought a third bottle. They opened it and drank the red wine appreciatively in silence for a moment while they finished their meal. Everyone ordered dessert.

"Signora Ferranti can be persuaded," Elena spoke for the first time, digging into her tiramisu.

She'd been uncharacteristically silent, but now what she had said worried Duncan. "No," Duncan replied, very much aware of Elena's history of persuading Watchers. Torturing them, actually. "I'm not going to take the information Joe gives us and use it to harm one of his own people."

"Duncan, we don't have to harm anyone," she replied, waving her spoon. "We just let her *believe* we ..."

"Elena, we convince her with words only. Understood?" He took her hand and kissed it.

"Yes, Duncan," Elena answered, sighing. "Words only. But they can be ... threatening words, no?"

In spite of himself, Duncan smiled slightly. "Yes. Then, as soon as we locate them, we go after them, surprise them."

"Temujin already knows about the two of us," Connor said. "And Methos. But he doesn't know about Richie." Connor glanced at the youngest, giving him a ghost of a smile. "He also knows Elena is with us; but I have a feeling he'd tend to discount her."

"He's old-fashioned about women," Methos agreed. "But discounting you is a mistake, isn't it, Elena?" There was no harm in stroking her. Besides, it was true.

"I'll take that as a compliment, [viejo.]" she said, smiling.

"That's how it was meant, [nina.] Still, I'm surprised he has Magdalena with him," he continued. The expresso was excellent, he noted absently, and he took another swallow, then asked her, "Anything special we need to know about the signorina?" He had already looked up the Italian in the Watcher files, knew about Elena and Isidora's personal quarrel, about Andres Vasquez. But Elena might have something to add ... or perhaps Elena might leave something out.

"Yes. She's a bitch and I'm going to take her head," Elena answered, flippantly. But the others just stared at her, and she finally said, "Well, she's a fierce little thing, very energetic, eighteenth-century Italian sword and dagger, poison on the dagger at least. Sadistic. She likes to *hurt* her opponents, not just kill them." For a moment, just for a moment, she saw him clearly in her mind's eye, Andres: so young, basically so helpless. And the evidence, on his beheaded corpse, of how Isidora had toyed with him, shredded him, slowly cut him to pieces.

"Yes, it fits," Methos said. He already knew about the poison daggers. "Temujin likes to play with his food, too. They're obviously lovers," Methos surmised, "with the Mongol in charge."

"And she's [siniestra,] left-handed." Elena finished. "That's why I had some ... trouble with her before."

"You're kidding! *You* had trouble with a southpaw fencer?" Richie asked, thinking how ironic this was.

"Yes, Richie!" Elena answered, with some heat. "Like you, I'm used to right-handed opponents. Guarding against a left-handed attack is different, requires adjustments ... ask Isidora! She had trouble with me, too."

Methos smiled to himself. He *hadn't* known that the Italian was left-handed.

"We'll remember she's left-handed, thanks, [querida,]" Duncan said. "Now about this Watcher you're worried about, Methos, the one you think is giving Temujin information ... the Mongol and his friends are our first priority. This Watcher is our second."

Methos thought, very good, MacLeod. "Agreed," he said.

"So," Elena asked, "we can capture one of these Immortals and *persuade* him - or her - to give us the name of the traitor Watcher?" She wanted to add, 'with your permission, o leader,' but didn't. She knew what Duncan was trying to accomplish.

Duncan thought he might hear sarcasm in her voice; but it wasn't there. "If possible, yes."

She nodded, and Richie said, "So this Temujin must be a coward, right? I mean, he's got inside info and five other Immortals like his bodyguard. That's why you could never get to him."

"Coward or not," Methos said, "he gets the job done."

"How many times, Methos? How many times has he hunted you with a group like this?" Connor asked.

Methos turned to the elder MacLeod. "More than once," he said, resignedly waiting for the taunt that was sure to follow, getting ready to riposte, maybe make some comment about the Kurgan ...

But Duncan locked glances with Connor, and the latter paused, then said, "This time, you hunt him, old man."

"We hunt him," Duncan put in. "Six of them against five of us. We have a lot of experience between us; we can do this, together; I'm not worried." He looked at the others, radiating confidence. "Connor and I have fought back to back against more than one opponent at a time."

"But they weren't Immortals," Connor countered.

"Mortals or Immortals, they still die when run through. We just have to make it permanent, that's all," Duncan added. He considered each person around the table. Connor; well, Connor ... was Connor. If Elena were worried, she'd say something - she wasn't exactly the shy type, and could fight. And Richie - Richie was safer with them than he'd be alone, anyway.

Then there was Methos, who seemed pretty eager to get this done. And no wonder - he'd been the prey for two thousand years, and may never have an opportunity like this again. "What I'm worried about are the mortals," Duncan said. "Temujin's men."

"They'll have guns; and we'll need guns, too, won't we? Just don't count on me; I'm not a good shot," Elena said.

"I'm a fair shot," Connor said. "Duncan is better, I think. But close work would be quieter. A garotte. A knife."

Methos considered that several hand grenades would be better, although admittedly not quieter. And he knew where he could get a hold of an Uzi, locally.

While Duncan glanced at his kinsman, trying to remember if this was the first time Connor had ever admitted Duncan did anything better. Especially fighting.

"So ... we kill them. All of them. I mean, the mortals," Richie asked, remembering killing another group of mortals, Hunters, and how that had made him feel. It was a long time ago, and he'd changed since then. Still ...

Connor said, harshly, "They'll kill us if they can, Richie."

"He's right, Richie," Duncan said. "If we just knock them out, they could come at us from behind, maybe even shoot us while we're fighting. And once the Immortals sense us, we won't have a lot of time to spend on the mortals. Killing them ..." he paused. He'd never liked killing mortals, but saw no way around it here. This was war, dammit! "I don't like killing mortals either; but these are hired guns. And the penalty for failure in their profession is death." Then he added, "But if this will be a problem for you ..."

"I can handle it," the redhead stated bluntly.

Methos wondered how much Richie was bluffing. He couldn't remember Richie's ever having killed a mortal before, and they couldn't afford to have him choke at the last minute.

Duncan looked at Richie for a long moment, then glanced at Elena and Methos. Getting no objections, he started to say, "Then ..." when his cellular rang. "MacLeod," he answered. "Right ... I see ... thanks, Dawson." Goddammit! he thought.

He closed the phone and turned to the others, taking a deep breath, collecting himself. "Temujin went back to Paris, for some unfinished business; a quick killing. He and his 'gang' took Marcus Aurelius' head this morning."

"The Roman?" Elena asked, remembering that Immortal's tired, kind face, his sad eyes.

Damn, Methos thought, gritting his teeth. Marcus. Another drinking buddy, someone he'd once called 'friend,' someone else who was gone, whom he'd miss. And another strong Quickening for that bastard Temujin. Soon the Mongol would be too powerful to fight; if he wasn't already. "Then we should expect them here by tomorrow," he said, practically.

But Duncan looked at Methos sharply, wondering; he'd been around the old man for a while now; and he thought maybe he heard something in Methos' voice ... "You knew Marcus?"

"I knew him," Methos answered shortly.

Well, it wasn't any of his business, Duncan thought. "Tomorrow," Duncan agreed.

Seacouver, January 22, 1999

Anise was cold again, still, even colder than before. She was in a different place, a large, unheated place with boxes and old abandoned furniture. They were near the ocean - when they'd first arrived she'd smelled it, and hear the sea gulls outside. Which meant they had left Paris, but she wasn't sure when that had been. Because she was no longer really tracking, no longer really that aware. The only thing that moved her now was when the men came in, and they always wanted the same thing.

They called her grandpapa, made her talk to him, a few words. Hearing the tears in his voice was almost more painful than what they did to her afterwards. Almost.

The Chinese man in the red robes was always first. And he didn't like her to cry out, either. In fact, unlike the others, he had never talked to her, never made a sound, and he wanted her silent, too. So she was silent.

Then, when he was finished, the other men forced her while he watched.

After a while - was it days, or weeks? - something inside Anise simply broke. She became numb with terror, almost uncaring of what happened, as long as they didn't hurt her too badly. After a while, she gave up hope; she stopped praying to escape; she stopped praying to see her sisters and her friends and her grandfather again; she stopped praying to live.

After a while she started praying to die.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: siniestra (Span.) - sinister, in this case referring to left-handedness

Chapter 11

Seacouver, January 23, 1999, 5:30 p.m.

Methos came out of Dawson's office at the bar, feeling triumphant. One of his contacts had finally come through with the location of Luisa Ferranti, Magdalena's Watcher. They could move against Temujin at last!

He glanced around the bar, always dark, whether at high noon or now in the pale of the waning day. There were two or three early birds here already. Richie was doing pushups against the end of the bar - obviously bored - and Elena was sitting at the piano, next to ... Joe Dawson. They were talking, and didn't seem to be arguing, which fact Methos found, again, surprising. And he hadn't had a chance to talk to Joe, to ask him about his new and improved relationship with Elena.

The MacLeods were nearby, but not in sight. This was too much of a good opportunity to pass up, Methos thought. He went to the small stage.

"...so no composer would write anything for this concert pianist ..." she was saying.

"Because he'd lost his right arm in WWI," Dawson said.

"[Exactamente]. Except for Ravel; he composed the Concerto for the Left Hand, just for him. Now, I'm not very good on the piano, but I can give you an idea. [Vale;] it starts with deep rumbling, which turns out to be a bassoon ..." She turned to the keyboard, but before she had a chance to play a note, Methos interrupted.

"Elena; [un momento, por favor.]"

He drew her away under Dawson's scowl, then looked at her, his mind racing. If he told Elena that he'd found out that Ferranti had just arrived in Seacouver, the Argentine would probably rush to intercept the Italian Watcher, which would fit in exactly with Methos' plans. Although they'd agreed to stick together, he was almost certain that Elena felt the same way he did about Duncan; that the Scot was too kind, too chivalric, to successfully question a woman. Especially a mortal woman. Especially one who was just doing her job, who was trying to keep her oath. Duncan MacLeod was a sucker for oaths.

Elena, on the other hand, could frighten Watchers by the mere mention of her name; it hadn't been too long ago that she'd been hunting and killing Watchers and Hunters alike. If the Argentine could only have a few minutes alone with Ferranti ...

However, he realized that if Elena rushed off she would separate the group after they'd agreed to stay together. That would wreck their plan, endanger their whole mission - not to mention endanger her, by being alone. For all Methos knew, Temujin's men could be already watching the dojo. Temujin's minions also knew about Joe. Dawson's alliance with MacLeod was well known among the Watchers, and that's why Temujin was here, probably - the link between the MacLeods, Dawson, and Adam Pierson. If anything happened to Elena because she'd left on her own, there would hell to pay. She would also piss off both MacLeods, and a lot of their anger would spill over onto him, Methos, as the instigator. Provided she survived. If she didn't survive, all of their anger would fall right on Methos.

He quickly weighed his options. He hated to give up his advantage, his ability to manipulate the others. In spite of what he'd said to the Highlander, he had never liked being *led,* not by Kronos and not by Duncan MacLeod. For eons he'd acted on his own, controlling his own fate and that of others, using them guiltlessly, shamelessly, to ensure the thing that most mattered to him: his survival. And isn't that what you're doing now? he asked himself. But he'd come to the conclusion that the main goal - the elimination of Temujin - was best reached, this time, by cooperating.

["?Y que, viejo?"] she asked him.

So he waited a moment before answering, studying her. He'd tell her, and she'd believe he was trusting her specifically. If she got this news and did decide to go after Ferranti on her own, she might well get by Richie, who would probably try to stop her. But she wouldn't get so easily past one of the MacLeods. So all he had to do was wait until one of the Scots returned.

"What's up, Adam?" Dawson said, coming towards them. As much as he liked Methos, he believed the ancient Immortal would, ultimately, sacrifice them to save himself. Maybe. And what was worst about Methos, Joe thought, is that he, Joe, wasn't sure, one way or the other.

"Joe," Methos began, then saw Connor MacLeod coming from the bathroom. Methos smiled at Elena. "I found Luisa Ferranti," he said to them.

"Where?" she asked avidly, immediately. If she could get away, just have a little time alone with the Watcher, before Duncan arrived ... but they had agreed to stay together, hadn't they? To keep the odds, if they were attacked, as high as possible. [!Cono!] she thought. If she left, Duncan would be furious. Not to mention Connor. But if Duncan was too soft on this Ferranti ... But Methos wasn't telling her where Ferranti was, was he? Besides, she, too, had seen Connor. Any chance she had of getting away on her own, without explanations, even past Richie, were history.

In the meantime, Dawson said, "Wait a minute! How the hell did you ..."

Methos interrupted the Watcher. "Where's Duncan?"

"He went to the cellar, to get a case of wine. He should be right back. Adam!" Dawson called out, then lowered his voice as the two nearest drinkers looked his way.

But Methos didn't mind calling out across the room. "Hey, MacLeod," he called out to Connor. "Are you a fan of Sherlock Holmes?"

Connor smiled. "Who isn't?" he asked, then, "Why?" He came closer, wondering.

"Yeah," Richie asked. "What's going on, Adam?"

Thank you, boy, Methos thought, then smiled, waiting a moment more, increasing the tension, the others' curiosity, as he heard Duncan coming up the stairs.

The younger Highlander immediately noticed something new was going on, put the bottles down on the nearest table with a thump, and asked, "What's happened?"

It was Methos who answered. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, with a flourish. "The game is afoot!"

///////

"Ten minutes, Duncan," Elena argued. They were sitting in a corner in the back of the bar, talking in hushed tones. "Just let me have ten minutes with her, alone. I won't hurt her, and I'm pretty sure I can get her to cooperate. If I can't ..."

But Duncan was shaking his head. "No. There's a saying, [mi amor:] You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

"There's another saying, [mi vida,]" she said, sarcastically. "You don't trust me as far as I can throw you, do you?"

"You're the one who doesn't trust me, Elena. You don't think I can do it. You don't think I can get Ferranti to cooperate, do you?"

"Duncan," she answered, smiling at him, caressing his face, "you can get any woman to do anything you ..."

Methos shook his head, Connor barked with laughter, and Elena looked annoyed. But she couldn't help smiling at Duncan's triumphant look, amused and irritated both at the way she'd neatly fallen into his trap. She nodded, then shook her head. "[Muy bien;] we do it your way, senor."

"Damn right," he said, then leaned over to kiss her on the lips, briefly. It was a clichi to say she looked beautiful when she was angry; but the truth was Elena Duran looked beautiful to him all the time, her bright grey eye shining, her lips full and inviting, her hair finally grown again and falling almost to her shoulders like a heavy black curtain. He kissed her again and cursed the presence of the others. Damn the circumstances, he thought; if he could only get her alone, for just an hour ...

Elena's lips smiled into his. "I know what you're thinking, [querido;] and your timing sucks," she whispered.

Connor rolled his eyes. This was an old story. "Well, if you two are so desperate, I can clear this table top. Of course, you wouldn't have much privacy; but as I recall, Duncan, that never stopped you before."

Richie thought that two nights ago, with Lucille and - what the hell was that other girl's name, anyway? Ginger - Connor hadn't seemed to be too concerned with privacy either. But the young Immortal wisely kept any comments to himself.

"We don't need a history lesson, cousin," Duncan said harshly, brought up short by his kinsman's bluntness. Again. "Besides," he added, voicing Richie's thoughts, "--isn't this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?"

"Don't worry, Duncan," Connor added, ignoring Duncan's comment and looking at the Argentine. "She won't turn you down."

[!Cabron!] Elena thought. "[Pobrecito,]" she said, with mock concern. "You're still frustrated because we took you away from your woman in New York while you were in the middle of screwing her, aren't you, Connor?"

At this, Methos snorted, almost spitting out his beer, and Duncan gave Connor a sharp look, wondering what he'd say. Or what he might do.

But it was Elena who continued pressing. "Look, it's a nice, dark room. As long as you're sitting down, no one will even notice if you jerk off under the table," she added, helpfully. "Or care."

Methos' mouth twitched, and Richie stared, unable to believe he'd heard her correctly.

But Duncan thought this had gone far enough. "That's enough, Elena!" he said, with authority and some anger.

Elena was a little hurt that Duncan would be angry at *her.* After all, she'd just been defending them both from Connor's attack.

Connor looked at her blandly, hiding his very real irritation. In fact, he'd gotten over his frustration the night before, with Ginger. Twice, actually. But Elena still had to have the last word, so before she could say anything else, he cut in. "I'm sure you've seen the underside of a lot of tables, Elena. In fact, if you're so worried about my frustration, why don't you get on your knees under there now and ..."

Methos sat back and thought, ummm, I wouldn't make that suggestion if I were you, Connor MacLeod. This woman would use her teeth!

"Dammit Connor, no more!" Duncan warned him with what was almost a growl, now angry at both of them. He had to stop this right now.

Connor's eyes narrowed as he looked at Elena, then at Duncan. But he took a breath and shook his head.

"Hey, guys; let's chill out," Richie said placatingly, a little worried, thinking this was going too far.

Dawson chose that moment to call out from the bar, where he'd gone to answer the phone. "Hey, MacLeod, how do you say 'dinner at seven,' in Italian?"

Duncan, Connor, Elena, Methos and two patrons simultaneously called out the phrase, which Dawson dutifully repeated into the phone. And that broke the tension, for which more than one of them gave up thanks.

Richie chuckled, somewhat relieved, shaking his head. "Why do I get the feeling I'm way out of my league?" he said to no one in particular.

Duncan answered, happy that this argument was over. For now. "Adam, Temujin's yours. That leaves five of them for four of us. Elena, if you're double teamed, Richie has your back," he said, smiling at Richie. "And Connor has my back," he added, with complete confidence.

"So ... do you think I can guard your back, Duran?" Richie asked her in an amused tone. But it surprised him how important her answer was to him.

"So ... do you think I would risk my head to keep from hurting your pride, [che?] The answer is yes, [absolutamente.]" She looked straight at Richie, reassuring him, and he smiled back at her.

Dawson walked over to the Immortals, now looking at him expectantly. "She's coming here."

"Luisa Ferranti?" Duncan asked. "That was her on the phone?"

Dawson nodded without enthusiasm. "She just arrived in town and wants to discuss her assignment with me. Her English is not so good, but I assured her I could provide a translator."

"She'd be most likely to trust me," Methos put in. "I have the Watcher tatoo." And he wanted to be absolutely and personally certain that the [signora] told them what they needed to know.

Elena thought, good, Methos was more likely to get information out of Ferranti than Duncan was.

"But I want to be sure ..." Dawson said, worry evident in his voice, "... that she doesn't get hurt. That I haven't led her into a trap," he added, looking at Elena and Connor in turn.

"Nobody's going to hurt her, Dawson," Duncan assured him. In fact, he was slightly more worried about Connor, who was also not fond of Watchers, because Elena had promised him, after all, not to kill Watchers - and he could persuade her more easily in any case. Connor, as always, was a wildcard - and uncontrollable. But Connor was also a reasonable man, Duncan knew.

He was a reasonable man, Duncan repeated to himself.

///////

Luisa Ferranti came in promptly at seven. She looked around briefly, but the other Immortals had deliberately moved to the dimness of the back of the bar.

Well, Methos thought, amused, this woman is special; I haven't run across a punctual Italian since the time of the Caesars. Introductions complete, the three Watchers went into Dawson's office, leaving the other Immortals waiting impatiently.

Mindful that they might be fighting for their lives before the night was over, they were sparing in their eating, and especially in their drinking. The MacLeods were both content nursing one whisky each, and Elena stuck to soda and water; but they noticed the tray of food and the liberal amount of alcohol that the waitress took into the back room. When the waitress went in with a second round of drinks, Elena heard, through the open door, a woman's voice exclaim, "But you can't ask me to do that, signores! It's against the rules!"

In Dawson's office, Luisa Ferranti stood up abruptly. Methos could feel the heat of indignation come from her - she had the moral high ground, and she knew it. Well, they'd explained the situation; now came the task of convincing her.

Dawson said, "Thanks, Megan," to the waitress, and Methos offered Ferranti more wine, while he himself took a swallow of beer.

"Luisa," Dawson began, "You came here to me because you had doubts about this assignment, right? Because someone of your experience knows there's a time to throw the rule book out the window."

"The window?" she asked, uncomprehending.

"To break the rules," Dawson explained. "For the common good."

"For whose good, Joe? The Immortals' good? They are just killing each other, as they always do. Why should we ... what is the word? ... interfere this time?"

"Because what Temujin is doing is wrong! And you know it! Damn it, trust your instincts, Luisa!" Joe answered, with complete conviction.

Methos translated, to make sure she got it.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: (all Spanish) exactamente - exactly vale - let's see un momento, por favor - one moment, please ?y que, viejo? - what's happening, old man? cono - damn

Chapter 12

"I do trust my instincts, Joe. But tell me, who are we to make this judgement, eh?" she replied.

"Look, signora." As the youngest 'Watcher' present, Methos was being respectful, deferring to his elders. "What judgement we Watchers make has become ... irrelevant. Unimportant. The Immortals waiting outside have formed a group of their own, to kill Temujin and his ..."

"What Immortals waiting outside?" she interrupted him. "Where?" she asked, turning towards the door.

"In the bar. They agreed to let us talk to you first; but I'm afraid they will insist on talking to you, too. And I understand Elena Duran can be very convincing. She ..."

"Ah! Elena Duran, the Argentine ... oh ..."

For the first time, Ferranti didn't seem so sure of herself. There was a slight quaver in her voice, just as Methos had expected. He quickly pried at this little chink in her armor. "Well, I'm sure the MacLeods won't let her," he paused briefly, leaning towards her conspirationally, "--hurt you, but ..."

"Joseph," she turned to the older Watcher, a definitely worried look in her eyes now. "What is she doing here? You won't let her hurt me. Not Duran?"

Dawson looked daggers past her to the old Immortal, thinking, damn you, Methos! "Luisa, don't worry ..."

But suddenly she looked back at Methos, seemingly forgeting her fear of a moment before. Eagerly, she said, "Wait. Did you say the MacLeods? Connor MacLeod? He is a part of this?"

Methos heard the catch in her voice and made a quick decision, thinking, yes! this might be it. "Naturally. Do you think someone like Connor MacLeod could let Temujin get away with this kind of treachery? Something so dishonorable?"

"No. Of course not. Not him." Ferranti was emphatic. She paused for a moment, then reached a decision. "Very well. Magdalena and her friends are at a warehouse, at the end of West Street, on the docks," she said, in a flat, narrative tone. "Two of them first went to a building here in town, called," she opened her tote, consulted a notebook, then continued, "De Salvo's. But after a few moments they went back to the docks. They sent snipers - two snipers, with rifles, to the roofs. I just came from there."

Methos translated for Dawson, who thought, Temujin does know how to find Duncan MacLeod. And snipers? This was just great! He got up, took her hand in both of his. "[Grazie mille, Luisa.] You've done the right thing, believe me."

"I hope so, Joseph," she answered.

Meanwhile the others had moved to the bar. After about a half-hour of waiting, failing to appreciate the new blues band Dawson had hired, and of listening to inane songs on the jukebox, Elena's stomach was tied up in knots. She alternately sat and paced.

Finally she sat again, and Connor smiled at her quietly, aware of her feelings - even sharing them - but he didn't comment on that. Instead, he said, "Dawson's new band isn't too bad, is it?" He thought it was a neutral remark, but Elena jumped on it, leaning into his face.

"[!Pero que rayos importa la banda de mierda ahora, Connor!]" she hissed at him, her tone obviously insulting. Several people looked their way.

Whether she was insulting him or the band, or both, Connor wasn't sure, but he opened his mouth to answer.

At that precise moment, Ferranti and Dawson came out, closely followed by Methos. "Good bye, Luisa," Dawson said. "I hope we'll meet again."

She murmured a reply. Richie was closest to the end of the bar. "Hey, Mac!" he called out softly to Duncan.

But Ferranti must have heard, because before answering Dawson she immediately zeroed in on Duncan, walked up to him. Her eyes were shining; perhaps too many beers, Duncan thought. "You? But you are not Connor MacLeod?" she asked him softly, almost breathlessly. "You are too dark ..."

Duncan couldn't help smiling. He shook his head.

"I'm Connor MacLeod," the elder Scot said quietly from down the bar where he'd been arguing with Elena about ... he'd forgotten what they'd been arguing about. He stood, facing the Italian as she rushed to him.

"I watched the Kurgan," she explained, very low, in hesitant English, "for a year. Not all of a year. I saw ... the things he did. He once found a little girl; she had eight years ... I could hear her pain, her screams ... I called the police, but they were too late. What he did to her ... and I was helpless. I could do nothing. Nothing."

Connor watched her, outwardly impassive. Her eyes were bright and full of emotion; she was baring her soul, maybe cleansing it, confessing. And suddenly it seemed to him that they were standing alone. The sounds of the bar around them faded and disappeared as she focused those brown eyes on him. He felt as though they were standing in a spotlight.

"I could not ..." she hesitated, then lapsed into Italian, "I couldn't continue watching him. I almost resigned then. Do you understand?" she asked him.

He wondered if she was asking if he understood the Italian; or if he understood about the Kurgan. And he certainly, absolutely understood. He nodded.

Her head bobbed up and down, tears filling her eyes now, falling heedlessly down her face. "Then I heard that you, Connor MacLeod, had destroyed him. The Kurgan."

Connor nodded again, his eyes still locked with hers. "Si."

The Watcher held out her hand. It was trembling, and after a pause, Connor took it. She put her other hand over his, squeezed his almost painfully, then ran out of the bar.

Because it was Connor, Elena opened her mouth to make a snide remark: "I guess you have an admirer." But somehow it came out as a compliment instead, and Connor met her eyes briefly, surprised - maybe as surprised as she was - then smiled his vanishing smile at her.

Duncan clapped his kinsman on the back, briefly, as the others came back to the table. And Connor smiled at Duncan for an instant, too, accepting his kinsman's gesture of acknowledgement.

Methos was tempted to say something about not resting on one's laurels. Instead, he nodded at Connor and said, "Well, boys and girls, we're in luck. They're in the last warehouse at the end of West Street, where it meets the harbor. But they apparently have two snipers - imagine that."

Duncan remembered the place. It was there that he'd fought - and been defeated by - Hosokawa Hiroshi, the samurai Immortal. It was also the place where he'd taken Kinkaid's head; and where Kenny had almost taken his. A dangerous part of town indeed.

"They've already paid a visit to your dojo tonight, Duncan," Methos continued. "They might know about this place, too." Courtesy of their unknown Watcher friend, Methos thought.

"They won't be expecting us to return the favor tonight," Elena suggested.

"The harbor will make good place to dispose of the bodies," Methos added pleasantly. "Shall we?"

And all eyes turned to Duncan as he said, "[Andeamo.]"

///////

Methos drove with Elena, following the Thunderbird with the MacLeods and Richie in it. She looked across at the ancient Immortal. "What are you thinking, Methos?" she asked. She studied his patrician profile and smiled as he turned that cynical look on her. The man filled her with curiosity, with fascination; but she had no real expectation that he'd give her a straight answer. She had learned some things about him from Duncan and others on her own and had come to the classic conclusion that the only thing she knew about him is that she didn't know anything about him. Layer upon layer, like the finely crafted croissants of a French bakery, she knew he had complex depths that made the *true man as unattainable as [satori.]

Methos stared at her openly. Sitting in the confines of a small car, tied in by a seat belt, cold wind whipping at her hair, she reminded him of a prize racehorse, trembling with impatience - but being reined in. Now, at her question, he reflected that he was taking Duncan MacLeod and the three people the Highlander loved most - his teacher, his student, and his lover - into a fight where they were outnumbered by both mortals and Immortals. And all the emotion he, Methos, could manage was a slight regret. Better get your act together, he said to himself. Then he said, "You're worried for him." He could feel himself getting starting to get excited by her infectuous energy.

There was only one him, of course. "No," she answered. "Because I won't get a chance to mourn him."

"Of course not," he nodded, understanding perfectly. "If he dies - if any one of us dies - we all die."

"Us?" she repeated, chuckling. "I fully expect that you, Methos, will survive this night. As you always do."

"And for my next trick," Methos said smoothly, "I'll pull a rabbit out of a hat."

She nodded, agreeing. "That's your speciality!" she said, deliberately pronouncing it es-pe-si-a-li-ty. She peered at him in the alternating brightness and darkness of the street lights. "Are you sure you didn't know Houdini? Or hell, maybe you were Houdini!" she laughed.

The smile was in his eyes now, as well as his mouth. "Don't you know, Elena? I taught Harry everything he knew."

She stuck her tongue out at him, and he said, amused, "So that's what you do when you can't think of anything more to say!"

"No; usually when I can't think of what to say, I hit someone."

He nodded at that, too, then turned his attention to the car ahead. Because the Thunderbird had its brake lights on, and through the partly open window Methos had been, for the last two blocks, smelling the sea.

As soon as they got out of the cars, Elena drew her sword, held it in two hands in front of her, kissed the hilt, and whispered, "[Ayudame, Dios mio.]"

Methos watched her across the hood of the car as the other three Immortals walked quietly toward them. "Are you so sure God is on our side, Elena?" he asked her.

"My God is; I don't know about your gods," she answered, with perfect confidence. She knew, for a fact, that her God was going to help her tonight, help her avenge Andres Vasquez. It had been so long ago, well over a century, when Isidora had gotten a hold of Andres, Immortal for barely a year, and beheaded him. But not just beheaded him. Isidora had first played with the boy, frightened him, humiliated him, broken him. Then, methodically cut him apart. Literally. Grimly, shaken beyond tears, Elena had had to piece the boy together, like a jigsaw puzzle, one arm here, a leg there, before she could bury him ... and even on the headless, limbless torso, bleached white by bloodletting, Isidora had left her tell-tale marks: cuts out of all proportion to what was necessary to kill him. Elena wanted to pay Isidora Magdalena back; to cut her slowly to pieces the same way the Italian had killed Andres. But Elena had never had a taste for butchery. She'd settle for just taking Isidora's head. That's all. She shivered ever so slightly with anticipation.

It would be enough.

Duncan's voice brought Elena back to reality. "Let's have a look."

They got as close as they dared to the series of block-long ramshackle buildings at the northernmost point of Seacouver Harbor. Years ago this part of the harbor had been busy night and day, full of cargo ships, stevadores and equipment. But the southern section had been built up in the seventies, the northern section abandoned, and the typical eighties gentrification hadn't quite reached here. No restaurants or chic shops on the water; no old warehouses converted into expensive, brick-walled lofts. Just a half dozen old, long buildings full of rat holes, entrances and exits, places to hide, places to form an ambush.

The building they wanted was at the end, and looked, from a safe distance through night-vision binoculars, more solid than the others. And a good place to defend, Duncan thought. Even if it weren't too cold for a midnight swim in January, the broken down piers were too open and so was the water on the west side. No approach there. On the north side was an open field, strewn with rocks and garbage. They'd be easily visible from inside, standing out in the moonlit night, if they came from that direction. On the east was the street, and other buildings across the way; one of which they were in now. The best way to get near without being sensed by the other Immortals was from the south, cutting across the next abandoned building and quickly running into one of the many open doorways of the Immortal's warehouse.

But that still left the problem of the snipers. Duncan and Methos focused their binoculars on the roofs, having to stop every few minutes to clean the moist ocean fog from the lenses. Elena had her own set, but she couldn't see very well, either. She finally gave her glasses to Richie. "You try," she told him.

After a few moments of observation, Methos said, "One on the roof of their own building, near the water; I just saw him lean over. Gone now." He handed his glasses to Connor.

Duncan looked in that direction, but the sniper was gone. "I don't see him," he said, but he took Methos' word for it. "Ferranti said two, but there could be more. Do you see any others, Connor, Richie?"

"Not yet," the elder MacLeod answered, and Richie stopped scanning long enough to shake his head. "But I also don't see any light on in their warehouse," Connor continued. "They can't be just sitting in the dark."

"We can't see the other end of their building near the water," Methos said. "We need to get closer."

"Not until we find the other sni ... wait! Got him!" Duncan said, triumphantly.

One shooter, the one Methos had just gotten a glimpse of, was on the roof of the building with Temujin and his friends, all the way down near the water; the other was on the east side of the next roof, closer to them, looking out over the eastern approach into town. Duncan pointed him out to the others, who each took their turn having a look.

///////

The first hurdle was to get rid of the near sniper. They slowly spread out in various niches across the street, hugging the building as close as they could, ready to move if they had to. Duncan opened up the small case he'd brought and quickly assembled a rifle with an infrared sniperscope, found his spot and waited. The man on the roof was pacing and not always visible, and when Duncan, impatient, found himself holding his breath, he forced himself to relax. Finally, aiming carefully, he waited for the covering sound of a boat horn before squeezing out his shot. His target fell soundlessly.

"You took long enough," Connor groused.

Duncan could just make his kinsman out in the darkness. "I saw my man speak into a radio just before I fired, so we may not have much time," he murmured. "I'll go up on this roof and shoot the other sniper. If I'm not back in twenty minutes ..."

"I'll come with you," Connor said, and Duncan nodded. He was, of course, by now used to Connor's irrascible nature - but, in a dangerous situation, he was unfailingly glad to have his kinsman with him. One day he must tell Connor this, he thought.

They found a set of rickety stairs and slowly, carefully worked their way up to the roof, trying not to lose their footing; to make too much noise. In the stillness of the night, and especially this near the water, sound carried a great distance. It was also very dark inside the building, and Connor kept his flashlight beam low, aimed precisely ahead of Duncan's feet. He was walking so closely behind Duncan they were almost touching, and the younger MacLeod found it amazing how well they moved together, again, even after so many years; how the body easily remembered how to do what it had practiced so many times. It was a good thing, too, he further reflected, because they'd undoubtedly be fighting together, as a team, before this night was over. Unless they were all shot first.

Once on top they felt naked, exposed to the other sniper. Being careful to stay crouched under the edge of the roof, they went first of all to locate the dead shooter. He had a small round bullet hole under his right eye.

"I assume you were aiming for his head," Connor whispered, never taking his eyes off the other rooftop.

"I was taught to always aim for the head, Connor," Duncan answered, his teeth white in the darkness.

Connor didn't reply, and they went to the edge of the roof and peeked over cautiously. From this high vantage point they could easily see the other sniper on the flat roof. It wasn't a close shot, or a clear one, but they didn't dare move in without killing this man first for fear of being sensed by the other Immortals.

Duncan settled himself and aimed, waiting for the right moment. Unlike the other, this sniper stood almost perfectly still, making him an easier target. Duncan waited ... and when he finally fired he used another covering noise, from another ship. His target dropped like a stone.

For a long moment, Connor kept his binoculars on the sniper, who didn't move. Finally satisfied, he nodded, saying, "He's either dead or very good at pretending. Let's get going; they'll be waiting," and moved to the stairs.

Now for the Immortals, Duncan thought.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: pero que rayos importa la banda de mierda ahora (Span.) - but what the hell does this shitty band matter now andeamo (Ital.) - let's go satori (Jap.) - nirvana, true enlightenment in the Buddhist religion ayudame, Dios mio (Span.) - help me, my God

Chapter 13

When they joined the others, Elena asked, "Won't they have someone with a gun inside the building?"

"I would," Duncan said.

"I'll take care of him," Methos answered her, pulling a pistol out of his pocket.

"Fine," Duncan agreed, thinking about the gun he'd brought, too. He wasn't taking any chances with a group of mortal gunmen. "It'll be a rat's nest inside, full of debris. If you absolutely have to use your torch, aim it at your feet; otherwise you'll make a perfect target in the darkness." This was probably unnecessary advice to the older Immortals, but he said it especially for the benefit of Richie. He then gripped his former student's shoulder and squeezed.

"Good luck, Mac," the young man answered.

To his kinsman Duncan said, simply, "Connor," nodding his head toward the room.

The elder Highlander nodded in agreement, a feral smile on his face. He was ready, and more than that - he was pleased and proud to be here, especially proud to be with Duncan. And their goal - keeping Methos alive - well, there could be worse things he could be doing with his time.

Then Duncan turned to Elena, and she could see the brightness of his teeth in the dark. He took her hand and kissed it. "All right, [querida]?" he asked her, and she nodded.

And he'd saved his special smile for her. She couldn't quite see his eyes, his most beautiful, sexy feature, in her opinion; but it didn't matter. She could still feel his love reaching out to her, warming her, making her feel like the most special person alive! And she thought, for this man - [!Dios mio!], for this man, I would go anywhere, do anything, kill ... or die if necessary!

They moved forward across the alleyway between buildings and into the last warehouse, Duncan in the lead, and went into blackness, waiting for a moment for their eyes to adjust. The only light was what filtered in from the outside through open windows and gaps in the walls. At this point they still hadn't sensed any Immortals, which meant they hadn't been sensed either.

But a moment later, as they turned west, towards the harbor, the chorus of the Quickening hit them all at once, together. And it was strong, Methos thought, stronger than the last time he'd sensed Temujin and his team.

"Ready, old man?" Duncan asked him, a little tenderness creeping into his tone.

Methos heard it. But he cleared his mind of all thoughts but one, by now impatient to get on with it. "Yes," he answered.

They moved slowly. The warehouse was dark and full of obstacles; as best as they could make out, there were a series of shelves and/or partitions dividing the place lengthwise, and they split up, Methos on the outside, the two MacLeods in the middle, then Richie and Elena, moving quietly abreast down the length of the building. The going was slow in the darkness full of smashed debris, abandoned boxes and crates, some closed, some empty, some spilling out their forgotten innards like sad, broken pinatas. All this made their movements hazardous, their footing precarious, and their pencil-beam flashlights provided only very localized, puny illumination.

The building was inhabited, too; more than once they heard small scurrying, and at one point Methos stepped on something that moved under his foot, hissed at him, then ran off. "Vermin," he whispered, a little nervously, reaching out to what he hoped was a steady support, to keep his balance. It wouldn't do to fall, he thought, especially with a loaded gun in his hand. His eyes strained into the darkness ahead, and there was a hollow feeling in his stomach. And ever before him, mocking him, was the pulse of Temujin's Quickening.

At the end of the building, ahead of them, was a horizontal partition intersecting their path. It didn't reach the tall ceiling, and probably, Duncan surmised, divided the storage section proper from what had been the offices or maybe the loading area. From above this partition came their best source of light, and as they got closer they could see better. And coming out of darkness into light, they wouldn't be seen as well.

That's where they are, waiting for us, in the light, Duncan thought with a thrill of anticipation and a little fear. Hopefully we won't have to fight in this obstacle-ridden darkness. But what still worried him was the other mortal henchmen they were sure were also waiting for them. And although they were stepping carefully, they were certainly making some noise, obviously approaching, while a man with a gun could easily be quietly lying in ambush ahead, unmoving, invisible, waiting for them to get close ...

The figure who suddenly jumped into their path didn't just have a pistol or a rifle - he had a machine gun. They all dived for cover as the machine gun sprayed left to right indiscriminately, then swung back around. The noise inside the building was deafening for a full minute, and none of them dared move or make a sound. When it finally ended there was a long moment of total stillness, broken only by the panting, short breath of the shooter.

Elena had cried out as one of the first few bullets tore into her left hip, shattering the bone and sending a shard of pain up her spine and into her brain. That leg gave way, and she twisted to try to fall to the right and do as little further damage as possible. But as she landed she bumped against the edge of one of the many boxes, further injuring the same hip. She had to bite back a whimper, and for a moment blackness encroached on her vision.

This was the worst thing that could happen, she thought, being injured badly like this, hors de combat before she even got a chance to fight, lowering their odds even more, being a sitting target for the shooter, who could now just walk up and ... stop! she said to herself. She was not going to panic; she took a breath and assessed the situation. Their main objective was the man with the gun; the other Immortals, their enemies, wouldn't dare come into this darkness and take a chance on being shot themselves. Plus, nobody but a fool would deliberately fight with so many obstacles underfoot. So, all that Temujin and his friends had to do was wait until Methos and *his* friends were riddled with bullets, then come and finish them. It made sense that their main objective was, for the moment, the gunman. They had to get past him, but they had a little time. And she knew that both Methos and Duncan had guns, too.

She grabbed her flashlight just as the gunner began firing again indiscriminately, but louder - he had obviously moved closer to their line. Doing her best to ignore the pain, her blood soaking into the broken wooden floor, she used a box to carefully pull herself to a sitting position, uncaring of any noise she might be making. She then turned on the light, carefully keeping it covered, braced herself on her right arm, and with a moan, threw the lit flashlight forward and to her right, then fell back.

Methos was plastered against the end of a tall shelf, hoping all of him was under cover as bullets sprayed all around him. But suddenly there was a silent pause as the shooter changed clips - Methos heard it clearly. But they were all still too far to try to rush the gunman, too far.

He looked around the edge of the shelf. He could see that the gunman was partly backlit and had paused in his slow movement toward them while he set himself up to shoot again. Methos had a relatively clear line of fire.

And now suddenly the shooter was veering to his left, sharply, the furthest away from Methos, and firing in that direction ... the ancient Immortal didn't hesitate. Moving from cover, he pivoted, his pistol in both hands held out in front of him, took a moment to aim carefully, and emptied his weapon into the machine gunner. And as he released his own empty pistol clip and jammed in another, he had the satisfaction of seeing the gunman drop, bullets spraying wildly towards the ceiling as the machine gun muzzle tilted up with the man's fall.

Methos smiled.

Richie Ryan hadn't heard Elena's initial scream; but now he'd heard her moan just before the gunman sprayed in their direction, again. Realizing she was hurt, he slowly but grimly dragged himself along the ground toward her, keeping low, mindless of the debris that covered the floor, cutting him, impeding his progress.

When he finally reached her the firing had just stopped, and he could just make her out, lying on her back at a sort of strange angle. He moved closer to her.

Connor saw the gunman fall and moved forward cautiously to scout things out, while Duncan heard Richie cry out, "Mac!" Still keeping low, Duncan moved toward the sound of the young Immortal's voice. Elena was down, gasping.

"I'm hit, [!cono!]" she whispered.

"How bad?" Duncan asked.

She shook her head. "I can't walk - I'll need a little time." She was angry, but also scared. She was pretty helpless like this; what would Duncan do? she wondered. They couldn't back away now. "Duncan ..." she began.

Duncan hesitated, his shoulders knotted with stress. Connor came up and whispered, "The gunman's dead." But even if there weren't others, now they'd have to face the Immortals, Duncan knew. They either had to go forward or retreat.

"Me - thos!"

It was Temujin's voice calling out, filling the building. "No more hiding, Methos. No more games! Just swords! Come and show yourself! I know you're still there! I can feel your Quickening!"

And I can sense yours, Methos thought to himself. But not for long. He moved across the room until he was with the others. "What's happened?" he asked softly. "We don't have much time, and I'm being paged."

The ancient Immortal was pretty confident that once it was just Immortals, Temujin would go back to swordplay, if only out of pride. And as much as he, Methos, might want to just shoot the Mongol bastard, then behead him, he couldn't very well do this in front of his confederates. Too much nobility in the room, dammit! But then, he further reflected, that's why they were here with him, wasn't it?

"You're not going to run away again, are you, Methos?" Temujin called out. His voice was high-pitched, mocking. "Let's settle this now, shall we? Today!"

Duncan couldn't make out Methos' face, but didn't care. He made a decision and gave his gun to Elena. "Shoot anything that moves," he told her. "And join us as soon as you can."

She nodded, then heard Connor say, "And don't dawdle. We need your sword, Duran."

"I won't let you down, [escoces,]" she answered, a little angry, a little proud.

As they moved away in the darkness, there was a faint, whispered, "I know."

And she wasn't quite sure which man had said it.

///////

Elena waited in the darkness for her wound to heal, using her hard grip on the pistol to help squeeze away the pain. She had seen the others' silhouettes from time to time, their flashlight beams on the floor. But by now the others had disappeared. Then she saw was more light, and she pulled herself up to get a better view, sweating with the strain.

She saw the rectangular block of light of a doorway opening and watched as the four men entered into it. They didn't bother closing the door, and while she stopped bleeding out and her bones knitted, the light beckoned to her. She remembered reading stories of dying men and women, mortals, who had come back from the brink and described the feeling of going towards a bright light, a holy illumination. But there was nothing benevolent about this light, and she had the impression that they were walking into the glow given off by the fires of Hell.

So be it. All you have to do is wait, Elena, she said to herself; a minute more ... then she heard faraway voices, and the distinct, unmistakeable, familiar sounds of swordplay.

She put her hand over her missing eye, again, in an almost unconscious gesture of despair. She was frantic to get there now, realizing her friends would be outnumbered six to four - not including any gun-carrying mortals remaining - and she tried to will her body to heal faster. She knew she couldn't walk with a smashed hip. It was physiology, not strength or willpower, that was stopping her, and she ground her teeth in frustration.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, she was able to pull herself to her feet, put some experimental weight on left leg, and take a first step. Using her sword as a crutch, the gun in her left hand, she inched her way forward. The light from the doorway illuminated her way around the many obstacles in the dark at her feet. By the time she reached the door she was almost back to normal. She rotated her hip, figured it was good enough, and carefully looked around the edge of the doorframe and into the next room.

Elena saw: a large room, with boxes piled on either side in disarray, several doors leading out, windows with broken glass, a desk, table and chairs in one corner. Light bulbs hanging forlornly in no discernible patter from the ceiling, unevenly lighting the shadow-filled fight below. To her right, Richie Ryan was being hard pressed by his opponent, the Chinese Li Huan. And against the far wall facing her, perhaps fifteen meters away, fighting back to back so close to each other they were almost touching, were the MacLeods. Against four opponents. Four!

"[!Carajo!]" she muttered. She could see the backs of their enemies, and noticed with a practiced eye that the Immortal on the far right was hurt but still fighting. Looking through the four moving, twirling bodies, she could make out Connor MacLeod facing her way on the right side, his face taut, filled with concentration and pain; his shirtfront stained, darkened, wet.

Clearly Connor was not enjoying this little rumble, but since his left was to the wall, he had some freedom of movement with his sword arm, and was in constant motion. Duncan, on Connor's right, was tall enough that Elena could clearly see the grim smile on his face, and the deep, bloody gash on his cheek, his black hair plastered to his skull. Because of his location he was forced to present more of his front to his enemies than Connor did. Of course the left-handed sword, Isidora Magdalena, was on the far left, and Elena saw right away how well these four Immortals, this 'team,' fought together, how they meshed like well-oiled gears. And although the Scots had obviously chosen the best spot defensively, and their own closeness crowded their antagonists, the Highlanders were pinned to the wall. They had literally nowhere to go.

Suddenly Duncan fell to his knees, hard, one of his legs giving way to Isidora's slashing blade, and Elena heard both Duncan's pained cry and the Italian's triumphant one. Immediately his second opponent, a blond man, began to rain powerful blows down on Duncan, who put his katana up to block them.

For a split second, Elena considered shooting one of Temujin's team in the back. But she was not confident of her aim, was afraid to hit one of the MacLeods. I'll have to practice my marksmanship, she vowed, then put the gun in her pocket and rushed forward on silent feet, her broadsword held two-handed before her.

As Elena quickly moved through the room, her breath catching, she realized one last thing. No Mongol. And where the hell was Methos? Then she caught Connor's eye.

Connor had just seen Duncan fall beside him. He raged, hurting, powerless - and now, also, afraid for his kinsman. But Elena's arrival gave him new hope. Thank God she's here! he said to himself. He suddenly cried out "MacLeoid!" and lunged at Talik, trying to divert attention away from the silently approaching Argentine.

Unfortunately, Richie's Chinese adversary called out a warning to his comrades, and in passing Elena saw that Richie took advantage of the Asian's momentary lapse of concentration to stab him. But now Elena's own concentration was on Duncan and on Isidora's sword, which was even now angling its way down toward the dark Scot's neck.

Before the Italian could connect with Duncan, however, Elena's broadsword was in Magdalena's back, severing her spinal cord. Magdalena dropped immediately and bonelessly to the floor, in the process wrenching Elena's sword almost out of her hand.

Now, Duncan's male opponent moved back quickly and expertly shifted his sword to his left hand and slashed at this new threat. They were so closely packed that the blond's rapier cut very deeply into Elena's right arm while she was trying to get her own weapon free.

Elena cried out in pain, surprised and dismayed by the blond fencer's speed.

But attacking Elena had exposed his full front to Duncan, giving the Scot his best opening. Fear, anger, adrenaline all combined to move him. Putting all his weight on his one good leg, Duncan pressed against the wall behind him and catapulted from his knees into the air, katana held in front of him, calling out the same battle cry Connor had used a moment ago. He neatly impaled his adversary. Then, standing unsteadily on one foot, he swept down and took the dying man's head, whispering, "[Go to hell, you coward!]" But this had taken all the strength he had left, and the Scot collapsed forward, exhausted, almost on top of his defeated opponent.

Chapter 14

After hugging the wall defensively for so long, Connor noted, with some satisfaction, that his yell and lunge had somewhat unnerved the already wounded Talik. The Iranian gasped, as though in pain. So while Duncan was stabbing the Frenchman, Connor thought, this is it! and got through Talik's guard, decapitating Talik with a smooth horizontal slash, then continued the arc to his right and just barely deflected Carraba's thrust.

At that moment Carraba groaned and hunched over as though he'd been stabbed in the stomach.

What the hell? Connor wondered, then immediately punched his opponent in the face. Then, moving as quickly as he could, Connor turned back to Talik before the Quickening had time to coalesce, and, with a loud exhalation of effort and pain, kicked Talik's headless torso right into his second opponent.

Talik and Carraba went down in a tangle of arms, legs and swords - but only one head, Connor noted with grim satisfaction, as he stepped back, close to the wall. And before Carraba had a chance to get up, Talik's Quickening hit him, full force.

The strength of two Quickenings so close together plastered Connor against the wall and sent Elena stumbling back. Both of them stood, panting, watching Duncan and the Turk take into their bodies, into their souls, the life energy of the dead Immortals. Watching even one, much less two Quickenings like this, instead of taking one, was fascinating and rare. And for a moment, it took her mind off the pain in her healing right arm, cradled in her left.

In fact, watching Duncan on his hands and knees, taking the blond man's Quickening, she reflected that she'd only seen her lover do this one other time. And as before, she was moved, immediately and intensely aroused. She wanted now, this minute, to pull his tall, hard body against hers, to feel him touching her, to feel him inside her, pulsing, vibrating with energy and electricity and life. Her eyes narrowed to slits, and she swayed slightly with a combination of pain, shock, and lust.

Connor, having nowhere to go, was too close to both Quickenings for comfort. Lightning scorched the front of his body, burning into his eyes painfully. He felt like a very close witness to an explosion. But he waited it out stoically, his lips pressed together, his blood and sweat dripping onto the floor, not even closing his eyes.

There were still tiny flashes of light visible when he moved forward to stand over the kneeling, weakened, but still living Achmed Carraba. Their eyes met, the Scot and the Turk, and Connor saw the terror there as Carraba realized that Connor was not going to wait until he recovered, until he was able to stand and fight. Connor smiled malevolently, and he was still smiling as he sliced through Carraba's neck.

///////

When Duncan came to, he was lying on his back, away from the wall, his head resting on Elena's lap. And the next thing he noticed, immediately, was that yet another Quickening was taking place. And the sound ... it was a long, drawn out, "Aaaahh!" sound, a hoarse, continuous scream that Duncan felt all the way down to his bones. The sound, he thought imaginatively, of a body and soul being ripped apart. Bringing his mind more into focus, he realized that it was a man's voice. Then he identified the man.

Christ! Duncan thought. "Connor!" he called out. He tried to sit up, and Elena helped him awkwardly, pushing with her left arm, until he was halfway sitting but still leaning back against her chest. "Shhh, [querido,]" she soothed him, tearing her eyes away for a moment from the other Highlander. "There's nothing we can do for him."

She was right, Duncan saw right away. Connor was taking a Quickening. But, God! What a Quickening!

///////

The combined Quickenings of Talik and Carraba, coming so close together, had formed what was almost a solid mass of energy. Like a giant fist, the force had lifted the elder Highlander off his feet and slammed him into the wall. He hit with such force that Elena, meters away and struggling, one armed, to pull an unconscious Duncan back, distinctly heard Connor's bones break. A part of the ceiling collapsed in front of Connor, some landing on the younger Highlander's legs.

Now she felt Duncan stir and call out Connor's name in alarm. She, too, could hear the elder Scot's continuous cry of what? Surely pain, and more. Much more. She couldn't tell by his twisted features, but she watched, holding her arm and still feeling dizzy from loss of blood. And something else. Still. She felt her body light up even more, as though she, not Connor, were taking the Quickening; and for a moment, just one brief moment, she imagined Connor MacLeod on top of her, impaling her with such passion, she felt herself actually close to an orgasm. [!Madre de Dios!] she thought. How she wanted him! Guiltily, she shook herself, trying to break - or brake - her imagination, then struggled to help Duncan sit up and tried to calm him and herself as best as possible.

///////

Connor was held against the wall, several feet off the floor, arms and legs spread, by raw, pure power. The fire in him was so great, sweet Jesus! - only the Kurgan's Quickening had been stronger than this! When he'd hit the wall he cried out as his elbow broke, and he dropped the katana. The whole decaying building shook, and a part of the ceiling cracked and fell down just in front of the Highlander, raining roof tiles, lumber, and dust. The impact against the wall had broken several of his ribs, too, and his cracked skull almost made him pass out. It might have been better if he had, he thought ruefully, as the Quickening burned through him, reaching the marrow of his bones, filling him with a wonderful, horrible agony and simultaneously, a terrible, magnificent joy. He was aware, too, that he was screaming, but had no energy or will to stop. And it seemed to go on forever ...

///////

Out of the corner of his eye, Richie saw Connor MacLeod lifted into the air and thrown against the far wall by the force of a Quickening. But he was far too busy to really care.

Richie had realized early on that his opponent, Li Huan, was a more skilled fencer than he was. Li had been taunting him - in Chinese, probably - but instead of unnerving him, the teasing had energized Richie. He was here with the Immortals - no, with the men and one woman he most respected and loved in the world - and Richie Ryan was going to make them proud of him.

He'd let this pride and this determination drive him, putting all other emotions aside, burying the fear and the anger and the insecurities down deep, staying clear-headed and focused, just like Duncan had repeated over and over.

Li couldn't or didn't choose to get past Richie's guard all at once, but Richie knew he was being whittled down, pecked to death by ducks. He even suspected that Li was holding back, maybe toying with him, smiling, taunting; and yet - as they continued to fight and Li didn't finish him, Richie's confidence grew, and it seemed to the young Immortal that Li began to look more tired, less sure of himself. And Richie had managed to cut the Chinese man, more than once, although not seriously. By the time Elena ran into the room Richie was beginning to weaken from simple blood loss - too many cuts. But he'd used that moment of inattention on Li's part to stab his Chinese opponent, slowing Li down considerably. And a little voice inside Richie cheered as Duncan seemingly flew through the air to impale the arrogant Frenchman.

Richie wanted to taunt Li with that, at least, with his mentor's triumph; but he had no breath for anything but the duel. Both combattants determinedly ignored the Quickenings taking place on the other side of the room, although Richie had seen that Li had faltered as though he'd been physically injured himself by the Frenchman's beheading.

But it was the spectacular Quickening of Connor MacLeod that actually halted their own fight. When Li stopped, gasping in obvious pain and possible despair, and frankly stared at the Highlander, Richie thought, Ha! He's made a mistake! *The* mistake! He desperately wanted to lunge at the Chinese man, impale him, take his head; instead, the young Immortal was so tired and hurt he didn't have the strength to move. He used the hiatus to rest a little, wiping his face with his bloody sleeve, then putting both hands on the hilt and keeping his sword as high as he could, trying with all his heart not to look at Connor MacLeod, and almost succeeding.

Richie saw that the Quickening Connor took had hurt Li Huan, somehow. Li had let his Chinese sword drop a bit, and now he looked around swiftly, a stamp of fear - was it fear? Richie wondered - on his face. Then he suddenly lunged at Richie. Richie managed to deflect the blade but not completely parry the blow, and Li's sword plunged into his shoulder instead of the middle of his chest.

"Ohhh!" he cried out, pain and fear overtaking him, wondering if he'd even be able to lift his own weapon after this, believing that this was it, that li's next blow would take his head. But there was no next blow.

Li turned and ran.

For a moment, Richie was stunned, unmoving. Then, in slow motion, he gathered himself and ran after Li, leaving drops of his blood on the scarred wooden floor. Li had run to a side door, to get outside. But it was locked, and he had to pull back and burst his way through. Richie caught up with Li just as Chinese man exploded through the door, at the same time twisting, losing his balance, but still putting his sword up to guard against Richie's attack.

Richie was exhausted and knew he didn't have a lot of fight left in him. Almost in desperation, he aimed for that wrist and cut off Li Huan's hand. The noise that the blade - and the hand - made as they hit the floor was muted by Li's agonized, high-pitched scream.

Then Richie Ryan cut off Li Huan's tortured scream by decapitating him. My God! he thought. I did it! He honestly wanted to cheer, to yell, to throw both fists in the air - but his celebration was short-lived. To the young Immortal's horror, Li's head continued to scream for a few seconds *after* it hit the ground, mouth still wide open. Richie had just enough time and strength to turn away in revulsion, to face his comrades inside, as the Quickening hit him, driving him to his hands and knees.

And later, the first thing he thought after it was over was not, I'm alive! or, are my friends all right? His first thought was about the terror of the new set of nightmares he was going to have involving severed heads coming after him in the night. Severed, screaming heads.

And just when Elena felt sure she was going to get to keep her arm after all; and just when Connor, who had slid down the wall, leaving a long, red vertical stain behind him, was starting to stir - just then, it began.

They saw it and felt it deep in their exhausted, abused bodies before they heard it. This new Quickening ripped through them, lights and sounds and fury, burning their eyes, rattling their bones, seemingly taking their skin off in strips - physically pushing at them with the power of it. Richie, still on his knees, felt the force in the fillings of his teeth, deep inside his body, and he sank down to his belly, closing his eyes, covering his head, his ears, totally overwhelmed by the sheer force of it.

It lasted for almost ten minutes. The explosion brought down the wall behind Connor right onto the wounded, exhausted Highlander, who had no strength or time to get out of the way. With a great crunching and groaning of wet wood, parts of the ceiling collapsed, raining wood beams and glass onto the Immortals inside.

Afterwards, there was a long moment of silence. Cold jets of sea breeze now entered the collapsed end of the building. Every light inside and out had blown in a blinding shower of sparks, darkening what was left of the room. Dust filled the air, making it even more difficult to see.

Finally Duncan moved slightly. He'd seen the wall start to come down and knew he needed to get Connor out from under the rubble, and that Elena was somewhere behind him, possibly hurt, and that Richie - Christ, Richie! No, he'd heard Li scream and seen Richie take the Quickening. But after that, this other Quickening ... my God! he thought, despairing.

Methos!

Duncan tried to sit up, but coughed instead; and a great, horrible pain stabbed into his side; a pain which threatened to take him back under. He put his right hand on the spot and felt the long, jagged piece of wood that had impaled him like a dagger, sticking obscenely out of his lower ribs. He heard Elena say something softly, a curse word in Spanish, then call his name in a stronger tone - but nothing from Connor or Richie.

"I'm here, [querida,] wait, I'm coming," he said to her, breathlessly, but she was moving behind him, coming to him. He called out, "Connor! Richie!" and got no answer. So he pulled the wood 'dagger' out of his body, with a soft "uh!" exhalation of air, tossing it aside and covering the wound with his hand, trying to stem the blood that welled out of it. Then, taking deep breaths, keeping the pain at bay, Duncan sat up, got to his knees; then, eventually, he got to his feet. But he tottered and fell, blacking out again.

///////

When they'd first come through the door, the four of them, into the large, lighted room, they had met the six opposing Immortals: Isidora; the Chinese Immortal Li Huan; the Turk, Achmed Carraba; the Iranian, Mohammed Talik; and a very fit-looking blond man who introduced himself as Franz Jorneau.

But Methos looked only at his old enemy, at Temujin. Short, spare, the Mongol was wearing an old-fashioned red and gold Chinese robe that was surely an original, had a carefully tended Fu Manchu mustache, and epicanthic folds around the coldest coal-black eyes Methos had ever looked into in his five thousand years. Methos had always had the impression that looking into Temujin's eyes was like staring into a dark, bottomless pit, and the only emotion he'd ever seen on the Mongol's face was an overwhelming arrogance.

It was there now, on Temujin's face, as the Mongolian Immortal had smiled at him directly, completely ignoring the others.

"I am so glad to see your face, for a change, Methos. Instead of your back."

Methos answered nonchalantly, "The reason you haven't seen my face, Temujin, is because you're always hiding behind your minions. And you're just too short to see over their heads."

Temujin shrugged, unruffled. Then he turned the full force of his personality on the others, using his charisma to try to separate the ancient Immortal from his Pretorian guard. An impressive and totally confident little man. Like Napoleon, Methos thought. Or Hitler.

"The MacLeods," Temujin began. "I'm impressed. But I'm also surprised that you're here, that men like you would fight for someone like him. He has told you, has he not? About his crimes. About the centuries of murdering, plundering, raping across two continents with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse? He is Death, and thousands of innocents have died under the hooves of his pale horse. The blood of his victims cries out for vengeance; and for justice!"

Duncan MacLeod listened thoughtfully, paying strict attention, thinking, in fact, that Temujin had a point. But let he who is without sin cast the first stone, Duncan thought, then smiled viciously and answered. "If I'd known you were going to make such a heartfelt speech, Temujin, I would have brought my violin. Did you bring it, Connor?"

"No," the elder Highlander answered calmly, shrugging out of his trenchcoat, pulling out his katana. "I must have left it in my other coat." But the little Mongol was somehow so confident - stirring, he had to admit. Listening to that captivating, hypnotic sing-song voice, Connor could almost understand how this small man had managed to convince the other Immortals to break the rules and attack en masse. Almost.

Then Temujin turned to Richie. "Leave while you can, boy. No sense in your being slaughtered. Your mentor has led you astray. Surely, MacLeod, you won't sacrifice this young man - give him a chance. Send him away, like you sent your woman away."

Richie said nothing; he'd known from the start what he was getting into. The Mongol was just so damn sure he would win! Temujin's arrogance and confidence made Richie angry. But it also scared him, more than he cared to admit.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Translation: (all Spanish) madre de Dios - mother of God

Chapter 15

Methos waited until all the words were done. Then he stepped forward, removed his coat, folded it almost fastidiously, put it on a desk. His broadsword seemingly appeared in his hand. In a quiet voice, he said, "Now, Temujin."

Temujin sighed theatrically. "I see you're determined on this suicide run. Very well. Four of you against the MacLeods," he continued, addressing his 'team.' "One on the boy - Li? He should go down easily, then you five can finish the Scots. In the meantime, I think I can keep our old friend entertained. But don't worry, my brothers - I'll keep his head for all of us to share." And with that, he went out the back door.

Methos knew that he'd be leaving his friends at a disadvantage, outnumbered against some very skilled, experienced fighters, and he felt uncharacteristically nervous. Although he'd done his best to set this up in his favor, it had been damn bad luck that Elena had been shot, and it was still possible that his allies would lose their heads. Because of that possibility, he needed to take Temujin's head now, quickly, recover from the Quickening, and come back to help ... *or* be ready to get out if necessary. Of course, if Duncan MacLeod and his kinsman and Richie and Elena died, Methos had the others' names branded in his memory. He'd hunt them down: Li, Talik, Carraba, Jorneau and the signorina. No matter how long it took. Provided he survived this night.

But first things first. First he had to avenge Varus. And Kate ...

England, 1803

Methos is still quite a distance from the cottage when he senses the Immortals' presence - it's that strong. More than one, and not weak, young ones. At his cottage.

Kate!

But depending on who it is, who they are, Kate might still be all right, he tells himself. She might be alive ...

His heart pounding in his throat, Methos waits, reining in his mount, who is impatient to get home to his oats. The ancient Immortal doesn't dare get closer, knowing his visitors have sensed him, too.

And after a moment, they emerge. Two, five ... and the last one, makes six. No! Methos feels a cold hand grip his bowels and squeeze painfully. When he sees Temujin, dressed in his signature red Chinese robes, a cold sweat breaks out on Methos' body. Then Methos knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Kate is lying in the cottage on her back, her skirt hitched up over her face, her bodice torn, great dark bruise marks on her thighs ... and her throat slit from ear to ear. He imagines Kate's soft brown hair matted by her own blood, her sightless blue eyes - blue, the color of cornflowers - staring, her face a mask of pain and fear, her last moments a terror he wouldn't wish on anyone. Well, almost anyone.

And all because of him ...

Methos looks at the Mongol. Their eyes meet across the distance, and it seems to Methos he could have locked gazes with those icy black eyes even if they'd been miles apart.

Temujin lifts his arm and slowly wiggles his fingers at him in an imperious beckoning gesture.

But Methos doesn't see their horses, so he still has a chance. Swallowing useless tears, asking Kate's forgiveness and commending her spirit to the gods, he turns his mount and gallops off.

Running. Again.

Vancouver, January 24, 1999, midnight

And Temujin had read him correctly, damn him. Methos was not about to let the Mongol get away.

So he followed Temujin outside.

The cold wind off the bay sliced through his undershirt and wool sweater as though he were naked. He shuddered once, then rolled his shoulders, oiling the joints, pulling cool air into his lungs, breathing out tension and fear, filling himself with energy, with strength. Watching the red-clad figure under the sulfur lights, looking orange and bright, Methos noted with some satisfaction - and some frustration - that Temujin was not totally confidently walking ahead of him, but instead was backing away from him, not giving Methos the chance to come at him from behind.

"I don't really have to kill you, you know," Temujin said. "All I have to do is keep you fighting until my comrades join me."

"You're assuming a lot. I'm not unprepared this time. Or alone."

"Yes, this time you didn't run. You might actually be growing a backbone, Methos."

For an answer, Methos feinted at the Mongol, who parried easily.

"I'm truly surprised, Methos. Three thousand years alive, and these friends are the best you could come up with? The MacLeods are merely strong children; and that poor boy! What a sacrificial lamb - you ought to be ashamed!"

"I'll apologize to him later," Methos said, engaging the Mongol again with a series of attacks, which Temujin defended against effortlessly. Methos was sure he wouldn't be able to talk and fight at the same time - he knew Temujin would push him to his limits. But he had no regrets. In fact, he realized he wasn't angry; didn't feel vengeful. He didn't, at this moment, hate Temujin. He didn't even feel ennui, wasn't sated with the killing, which was his usual feeling these days. He was simply coldly determined to take the smaller man's head because it was necessary for his survival. And this time, nothing would stop him. He wasn't going to get carried away by emotion.

After all - he was Death!

But Temujin was talking again, taking small breaths, so Methos listened. "... you offer them? I offered my 'team' power," he was saying. "Unlimited power."

"I offered them nothing," Methos said, thinking that they were here because they wanted to be.

"Then they're here for you?" Temujin asked mockingly, incredulously.

Methos sliced the Mongol shallowly along the ribs.

Temujin did not appear to notice. "I understand - they're noble creatures, doing the right thing?" His voice was filled with sarcasm, amusement; but he was short of breath, too, Methos noted.

Methos thought about it for a moment. "Yes," he finally answered. That was it, wasn't it? The right thing to do.

"How noble! How romantic! And how suicidal! Methos, I'm the best swordsman in Asia." He punctuated this statement with a lunge which was meant to enter his opponent's chest and instead went through the top of Methos' right shoulder.

Methos cried out and retreated, his shoulder on fire, gods! and he had to quickly switch to his left hand, windmilling his sword to keep the Mongol at bay, parrying, buying time to heal. But Temujin was there, in his face, pressing him. The Mongol was so arrogant, so sure ... then Methos saw the opening and slashed at his opponent, opening up his chest. It was not a deep cut, but it was enough to make Temujin withdraw, hissing in pain.

Methos took advantage to get a breath of air. "You were once the best fencer in Asia," Methos panted. "But now others do your fighting for you." He stabbed at Temujin, forcing him to retreat again. "And I've been practicing."

They engaged, Methos on the attack, using his greater strength and reach, just barely dancing out of the way of the Asian's very quick blade. And sometimes failing. In most fighting - even where strength really counted, like wrestling - the faster man usually won. And this particular duel was more than anything else a test of quickness.

The wood under their feet was wet and partially rotten, and suddenly Methos stepped through it, getting his left foot caught. Before he even had time to panic, acting purely on instinct and adrenaline, he threw himself to the ground as his opponent's sword whizzed just barely over his head. This ripped his foot loose from the pier's flooring, badly hurting, perhaps even fracturing, his ankle. He rolled hurriedly to his feet as Temujin's blade buried itself in the wood just where Methos' head had been a second before. While Temujin wrestled to pull his weapon loose, Methos moved to attack - but as soon as he put weight on the ankle, a shard of pain shot up through his leg all the way up his spine. His vision faded slightly, and he took great gulping breaths. Time! He needed a few minutes before he'd be able to dance again, he thought worriedly.

But Temujin attacked again immediately. This time, instead of retreating on his bad ankle, Methos made a grab for the Mongol's wrist, and they grappled for the blades, pushing against each other, strength against strength. Here Methos felt more confident because of his greater size, and he pushed hard. But he couldn't put any weight on his left leg, and Temujin was stronger than he looked; so Methos suddenly gave way, dropping down on his back onto the hard wooden pier and flipping the Mongol over his head. The Mongol landed with a thud and a loud exhalation of air, and Methos hoped his opponent might have broken something. But by the time Methos got to his feet, Temujin was facing him again.

May the gods curse him! Methos raged inwardly, as Temujin pressed the attack. Methos, limping, took a slash to the arm, one to the thigh, another which left a thin line of blood right under his collarbone and just too close to his neck. Too damn close! he thought, his heart in his throat.

As the pain and bleeding started to make him feel slightly lightheaded, Methos wondered if he had indeed practiced enough. But he remained calm and took a closer look at his enemy's face, noticing Temujin's own frustration and his slowness, his tiredness. It occurred to him then that maybe all he had to do was wear out the smaller man. Stay on his feet. And although he was in a hurry to finish, he forced himself to slow down, to concentrate on his fencing. Because now, he realized, in these last few minutes, that this fight had become not a matter of speed but of endurance.

And for the first time tonight - for the first time in two millennia - Methos actually believed he would escape his hunter. No, not escape - defeat him, this time. Now.

Almost on cue, Temujin's eyes widened in pain and surprise as Methos, out of the corner of his eye, caught signs of the first Quickening from inside the building. The ancient Immortal immediately took advantage of Temujin's break in concentration and tried to run him through.

Temujin just barely stepped aside. Pale but determined, he trapped Methos' sword against the ground with his own blade and punched up toward Methos' throat.

If he'd hit, Temujin would have crushed Methos' larynx.

Reacting even as he saw that iron fist come towards his neck, Methos dropped his shoulder and slammed it into the Mongol's chest, knocking the breath out of Temujin's lungs, and making him stagger backwards. Before Methos could use his freed-up sword, another Quickening began inside the old warehouse. And this time the Mongol screamed, doubling over.

Without preamble - even without saying, "There can be only one" - Methos swung his blade upwards as he came up, cutting off the other man's head with such force that he lost his balance and fell on top of the Mongol. And as he did so, he saw Temujin's head fly through the air and hit the frigid bay water with a loud splash.

Exhausted, Methos slowly rose and stood swaying, alone now, on the half-rotted, neglected pier, his dripping sword pointing down, himself wet and panting with effort and pain and almost sick with relief; wondering, waiting. He knew Temujin's Quickening would be spectacular. And he dreaded it, a little. At the same time he wanted to dance, to sing, to cry, to thank every god he'd ever known! After two thousand years of running, he was finally rid of this dread enemy, this powerful and persistent little man who had made him, Methos, feel small; feel weak, impotent; feel cowardly, again and again! After all this time, his sweet Varus and his trusting, dark-haired Kate could rest, could stop haunting him in his guilt-filled dreams.

For three millennia Methos had lived in the shadow of two great enemies: Kronos and Temujin. And now, within the space of a mere decade, both were gone. Both of them! Methos felt liberated, free. He took a long deep breath that reached his soul and nourished it; he felt filled with light and just plain joy. And it struck him, then, that in both cases he partially owed his freedom, his salvation, to Duncan MacLeod.

Oh, no! MacLeod ...

Dismissing the Mongol completely, he turned to the warehouse, toward the Scot. That's when he noticed the start of yet another Quickening, a bigger one this time, or maybe several at once. Now he could afford to really worry about the Immortals who'd come with him.

But by that time he had seen Temujin's Quickening depart from his body, leaving the Mongol curiously shrunken, like an empty lobster shell. A vision of a real-live ghost from the movies, the force swirled out into the cold air and hit Methos, consuming him completely, devouring him from within. And then Methos stopped thinking, and started feeling.

Because the Quickening knocked him down to the pier, onto his back, and ground him down, smothering him, pushing a single, ragged cry out of his lungs and making it impossible for him to get air back into them. The sensations were so great that he briefly wondered if this power transfer would accomplish what Temujin's blade had failed to do - because he was being ripped apart, his limbs pulled out of their sockets and his head torn off his neck, drawn and quartered in *five* different directions, at the same time being crushed by a great weight. And the strongest of all sensations: pain ... by all the gods! The agony was incredible, unbelievable, indescribable! He was pain incarnate. And he couldn't even scream ...

But slowly, too slowly, this pain changed to something else, to a sense of strength, of brute-force power enveloped in a feeling of well-being so great that Methos didn't think he could survive that *gift* either. He pictured his whole body giving off light like a giant lighthouse, giving off a surplus of energy, because there was simply too much for him to handle, to keep inside. He couldn't hold it; he couldn't even bear it. And he could remember no Quickening ever making him feel worse, or feel better, than this one.

And as he thought that, something exploded inside his chest, as though his heart had simply burst, and the Quickening pushed him down into a sudden sweet, dark oblivion.

Chapter 16

Elena pushed the hair and sweat and dust out of her face. She felt a little nauseated, her eyes didn't quite focus - and her brain was slamming inside her head. Plus, her arm still hurt, although she could see the tendrils of soft blue light now, surrounding it, healing it.

The only illumination came from the few outside sulfur streetlights around the docks which had survived the Quickening and from the weak light of the half-moon streaming in through the holes in the roof and walls. The force of the Quickening had physically pushed her away from Duncan. She saw him in outline sitting up, then standing up. She called his name, but she could clearly see he was hurt, and he fell again. Crawling to him, she touched the wound in his chest and knew he'd be all right, eventually.

But what about Richie, Connor - and Methos! And especially, the other Immortals, their enemies; if any of them were still alive; she wasn't completely sure ... she glanced around, wiping Duncan's blood off her hands onto her pants. She could just make out Richie getting up; and Isidora Magdalena - [!cono!] she was gone! No, not quite. Catching a movement at the edge of her vision, she saw the Italian running off. Elena looked around for her sword. Isidora was *not* getting away, not this time!

"Hey!" Richie said, pointing to Magdalena.

Elena called out, "I have her!" scooping up her broadsword as she came up. But she had risen too quickly to her feet, and she got dizzy, disoriented. Taking a deep breath, she went after the Italian. Magdalena was on the other side of what was left of the wall, waiting, and slashed at Elena, who fell back with a cry. By the time she got back to her feet, Magdalena was gone.

"[!Me cago en la mierda!]" she growled, panting in pain and frustration. For a moment she considered giving chase - but she honestly didn't think she could catch Isidora, who had seemed very lively. Even if she did catch her, Elena wasn't sure she could stop the Italian Immortal. But [!carajo!] having to find Isidora all over again!

However, Elena had other things to worry about: Methos. She wanted, needed to find him. Or find Temujin - hell, if Temujin had beheaded Methos, Elena might be fighting the Mongol in the next few moments. Not a pleasant prospect, but ... "[!Ya nos veremos, Isidora!"] she called out, then went toward the water warily, on trembling legs. She was afraid this incredibly strong Quickening they'd felt could only have come from Methos, and steeled herself for the loss of yet another person she cared about; even if only a little. Actually, more than just a little ...

She didn't have to go far before she discovered the two bodies, almost tripping over them in the moonlight. And only one of them had a head. In fact, she couldn't even see Temujin's head. A spark of joy surged through her. Methos was alive, she exulted, then looked at him more closely. Maybe he was alive?

Ignoring the Mongol's corpse, she knelt over Methos and verified her intital impression, from the way he was lying: he was dead, his fingers still curled around his sword hilt. She put down her own blade and set his sword aside, then examined him front and back, rolling him over roughly. Icy seawater - she could smell it -probably brought up by the force of the Quickening, had drenched him and washed away most of the blood; but what wounds he still had were not fatal, and they healed before her eyes with quick blue lightning strokes, before he revived - lucky bastard! This made her wonder, [!Maria Santisima!] if the Quickening, that same Quickening that had brought the building down on them, had actually *killed* Methos.

She waited. Eventually he gave a little start, then a gasp, then a moan. His eyes opened suddenly, filled with panic. She met them with a little smile in hers. "Methos, it's me, Elena," she murmured in a calm, reassuring voice, a hand on his chest. As soon as she saw that she had his attention, she continued, teasing him, "[No hay quien te mate, Matusalen!]"

Flooded with relief at just being alive, Methos tried to smile, but his muscles weren't working quite right. He could just barely make out the Argentine kneeling over him, but the tone of her voice reassured him. "I'm happy to see you too, Elena," he said, but it came out differently than he intended.

She shook her head and chuckled. She could hardly believe it. They had survived, all of them! At least she was fairly certain they all had. Well, Methos was making garbled noises, and his eyes weren't tracking, and he looked afraid, or worried, and he was grimacing. Or maybe that was a smile; he had to be pleased, relieved, after all this time, to have finally killed Temujin. But the old man looked different, and she knew he wasn't completely there, with her, yet - but he'd come back. "Listen, this is getting old, but - can you walk?"

He could shake his head. Almost. And that helplessness made him mad. He forced his lips to say, "No," clearly this time.

"Well, let's see." She decided it would be easiest to just wait. "We'll just wait here - aren't you cold? I'm cold," she continued, shivering, remembering her coat inside. "Do you want me to get Duncan?" Assuming Duncan is conscious, that is. And what about Connor? A wall falling on him couldn't have taken his head, could it? No, there would have been a Quickening ...

"No," he said again, gripping her arm as hard as he could, wondering just how strong his grip really was. Because he felt weak, numb, physically helpless. At the same time, he was stronger than he'd ever been. Or he would be, if he could ever stand up. And put a sentence together. He couldn't quite puzzle it out. His skull felt like it was filled with molasses instead of his wonderful, valuable brain. This was not good.

"[Muy bien, mi amigo,]" she said, reassuring him. He was afraid, she decided, and his hold on her arm was so weak ... "We'll wait together until you feel better." He'd stayed with her when she'd been killed by Simms; even spared her further agony. Then she'd stayed with him when he was shot. I guess we're doing this a lot for each other, she thought, surprised at this turn of events.

"Mac ... Duncan ..." he asked - but as soon as he did he realized she wouldn't be here, with him, wouldn't look so cheerful, if something had happened to the Highlander. And this thought - plus the fact that he was finally able to have a coherent thought - made him feel better. Mentally, at least.

"Duncan is alive. Everyone is fine. Connor had a whole wall fall on him, plus he was already hurt." She didn't bother to fill him in on Isidora's escape; she was sure she'd hear plenty about that later. "Richie [le corto la cabeza al chino.] Am I talking too much?"

Methos smiled, a real smile this time - he could tell by her answering smile. And he was starting to be able to feel his body again, to lose that numbness, that sense of being outside himself. And to be able to think, thank the gods! But even after the deadness started to leave, he still felt exhausted and weak.

He tried talking again. "We need to get out of here," he finally whispered.

"Now there's the Methos we all know and love! Welcome back!" she said cheerfully. She braced herself and, leaning on one of the pier supports, slowly and painstakingly helped him to his feet.

///////

Inside, Richie, his hands cut and bleeding, was slowly, laboriously trying to dig Connor out of the rubble. The young Immortal's shoulders hurt, and he was so tired he wanted to lie down and cry. He kept digging until he heard Duncan groan and sit up again. "Hey, Mac," Richie called out, softly.

Duncan took a moment to focus his eyes, then looked around briefly, squinting in the semi-darkness. He counted the bodies, and some people were definitely missing. Where the hell was Elena? And Methos? But his major concern was ... "Connor!"

Richie explained, "I'm gettin' there. The whole damn wall and part of the roof fell on him."

Duncan crawled on his hands and knees to Richie, noting his young friend's pallor, his tiredness; other than that, however, Richie looked fairly healthy. As they dug, Richie breathlessly told him what he knew - and what he didn't know, like anything about Methos. Eventually found the body of the elder Highlander, whose neck was broken, his chest crushed - but his head was still on his shoulders. And at that point Duncan started to relax a little, then think about someone else. "That Quickening ... it could have been Methos," he wondered out loud, a heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Richie shook his head, saying, "I don't know, Mac."

By the time they got Connor completely dug out, Elena and Methos came back, he leaning on her as they walked.

Duncan looked up and exclaimed, "Methos! Thank God!" He couldn't keep the thickness out of his voice, and he cleared his throat. "Elena, sweetheart," he said.

Methos didn't miss the quaver in Duncan MacLeod's voice as the Scot spoke his name. It was nice, damn nice, he considered, to have *one* good friend, someone who cared whether he lived or died. But hadn't MacLeod made that abundantly clear before - more than once? Then Richie greeted him, obviously pleased: "Hey, Methos!" And Elena, too, had stayed with him, helped him.

Well, maybe more than one.

His confidence returning with his waxing strength, he grinned at them.

///////

After making Connor and Methos, both still weak, as comfortable as possible outside the still-dangerous building, Duncan went to make sure there were no witnesses, no mortals who had been drawn by the fireworks. He promptly ran into Joe Dawson, who was coming their way between the buildings.

"Dawson!" he called out, softly, as the Watcher slowly approached him.

"MacLeod! You're all right! And the others? Methos?" But as he asked, Dawson studied the Highlander, realizing that if any one of the others had lost their heads, Duncan would show it. He breathed easy at last, and once more it was brought home to him how much he'd come to care for this friend, and for Richie, and for Adam Pierson. Hell, he was feeling generous, magnanimous - he'd even give thanks that Connor MacLeod *and* Elena Duran had survived.

"We're all alive, Dawson. Temujin and his friends weren't so lucky."

"Luck had nothing to do with it." He sighed, smiling. "So ... that was Temujin's damn Quickening we saw?"

Duncan nodded tiredly.

"Jesus Christ! Excuse my French, but I was sure ... I thought ... ah, hell, never mind. It was something, though!"

"Yeah," Duncan said. "Listen, Dawson; have you seen anybody else around? With all the light shows ..."

"Nah. I think we're pretty much alone," Dawson said, as they walked back together. He didn't need to tell Duncan about any Watchers in the area, except for ..."Even Luisa Ferranti is gone - and I know she didn't see Methos. She went after Magdalena."

"Magdalena?" Duncan asked. That's right - he hadn't seen the Italian's body.

"Yeah! She ran outta here with her tail on fire. I'm surprised you let her get away, MacLeod," Dawson said, shaking his head.

"Well, I was a little busy."

They arrived outside the ruined building, where Connor was sitting up, his eyes closed. Methos, too, was on the ground, resting against a large box. Neither man said a word as Duncan returned.

"Richie!" Dawson said, and the young Immortal nodded, grinning. Then Dawson went up to the ancient, bending down from the waist, as best as he could, as close to him as he could get. "So Methos," he said, relief marking his voice. "It's real good to see you again, my friend."

Methos opened his eyes and studied Dawson briefly. Definitely more than one, he thought again. He smiled his usual superior smile. "You didn't really have any doubts, did you, Joe?"

"Not really," Dawson replied. Yeah. Right. "But that Quickening ... Temujin must have killed a lot of experienced Immortals; even more than we thought."

"Yes," Methos said shortly, closing the subject.

But Duncan had another question for them. "What happened with Isidora Magdalena?"

"Well," Richie contributed. "She took off, and Elena went after her. You nailed her, right, Elena?"

"I thought we were supposed to keep one of them alive," Methos said softly. "I wanted to talk to her about ... several things."

Elena was sitting on the cold ground, her legs crossed, her head hanging down. Now she sighed, bracing herself, and looked at the others. "Yes, well, she's gone. She's alive, but not for long."

"What?!" Connor MacLeod sat up straighter, then used the wall he was leaning against to push himself up to a standing position as Duncan hurried to help him. His voice was still hoarse from the scream he'd let out during that double Quickening. "What's that, the second - no, the third time you let her get away, isn't it, Duran?"

Elena thought it fitting that Connor would be the one to point out her failure so completely - and so contemptuously. She turned to him. "I'll find her, don't worry, Connor."

"Oh, you don't seem to have any trouble finding her. It's the killing her part you can't seem to get right. Maybe you need some help."

"Not from you, [escoces!]" she spat out angrily. Who the hell did he think he was? "I think you'd better get back to your woman in New York." And away from me, she thought, still feeling guilty about having been so aroused by the sight of him while he was taking those Quickenings. "After all, I doubt that you can get too many women to let you fuck them!"

They're off again, Methos said to himself, thinking he'd be more amused if he weren't so damn exhausted.

"That's what makes us so different, Elena, since you spread your legs for every man you meet!" Connor replied viciously.

"Damn it, Connor, Elena, both of you!" Duncan said. "Not again!" Hell, he'd even made sure they hadn't ridden over here in the same car because the two of them couldn't get along for the ten minute drive!

But Elena had already stood and come up to Connor, her face very close to his. "Except for you, Connor! I'll never let you touch me, and you know it, and it's eating you up inside, isn't it?"

Connor grinned, but there was no humor in it. "Now why would I want every other man's leav---"

"Enough, Connor!" Duncan interrupted, by now angry himself. "I want you both to just ... shut up. And stay that way." Duncan took a deep breath, fighting for his own temper; and there was a moment of silence, Elena and Connor glaring at each other, Joe Dawson rolling his eyes, Duncan regretting.

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Translations: (all Spanish) me cago en la mierda - double shit ya nos veremos - we'll see each other again Maria Santisima - Holy Mother of God no hay quien te mate, Matusalen - no one can kill you, Methuselah muy bien, mi amigo - very well, my friend le corto la cabeza al chino - he took the Chinese man's head escoces - Scot

Chapter 17

Richie, tired of listening to this, had moved slightly away. No wonder Duncan had looked so relieved when Richie had invited Connor to stay with him! And now, in the silence of the softly lapping waves, he heard something else. "You guys, listen!"

The others looked at him, straining to hear.

After a silent minute, Dawson spoke. "I don't hear ..."

"Shhh!" Methos said, angling his head slightly, his mouth open as he stilled his breath, concentrating. He identified the sound. "It's a crying child."

"Or a woman," Elena said. "Maybe there is someone else around. Why don't I take a look," she suggested, considering she was the probably the healthiest one there.

"You go ahead, [querida,] but be careful." But by now Duncan was calm and no longer worried. In fact, he was beginning to feel almost euphoric. Temujin was dead; Methos was safe, it was over, and they'd won. And dammit, Elena looked really fine!

"Don't worry," she said, smiling back at him, thinking about how good he'd looked, about how good he always looked; hoping she could get Duncan into bed as soon as possible.

As Elena walked away, Duncan checked Connor and Methos over. "The two of you still seem exhausted. Richie and I will wrap this up. Right, Richie?"

"Yeah," Richie said. He waited until they were alone, back in the warehouse, before he added, his voice slightly filled with wonder, "Hey, Mac. We did it, didn't we?"

Duncan couldn't help smiling. "Yes, we did, Richie."

///////

Anise heard the person come in. She never bothered anymore to resist them in any way. But the loud explosions, the whole building shuddering as if in an earthquake, had lifted her a little out of her lethargy, and she'd hidden under an old desk, trembling, terrified.

"Who's there?"

She heard a woman's voice, and it wasn't her voice, the Italian's. But it could be another one of them, someone else come to hurt her. She tried to hold her breath, to make herself small.

But the woman stopped right in front of where she was hiding, then knelt and put her head under the desk, looking right at her. It was a different woman, a dark-haired one, with an eyepatch. For a moment the woman was scary, her face - but then she smiled, and her smile was not like the others', not scary at all.

The woman asked something in a soft voice. "My name is Elena," she continued in English - Anise recognized the language.

The woman said something. Anise didn't understand all the words, but the tone was clear enough - soft, soothing, understanding. It could be a trick to draw her out, and yet what was more important to the girl was what the woman was doing - or what she wasn't doing. She wasn't reaching for Anise, pulling her out. She wasn't touching her. She wasn't hurting her.

The woman said something else. Something else about "your name." Anise understood that much. And she'd said her name was Elena ... Anise closed her eyes. She couldn't imagine being worse off with this one than she'd been with the others. The only time the Chinese man had spoken to her, just a little while before, he'd said he would come back and kill her. Maybe he'd sent this woman to do it, to kill her. Anise had wanted that before, but now she found she didn't anymore. She wanted to live. But she was so afraid.

The woman said something else, her voice patient, caring. Anise took a deep breath, then took a chance. "My name is Anise Boucheron," she whispered almost inaudibly, in English. "[S'il vous plait, madame ...]"

But the woman heard. She shifted her weight, but still didn't come under the desk after her. "Anise Boucheron? [Tu parles francais?] Anise?"

Anise had used up most of her remaining courage just saying those words, and now she was frightened again. But now the woman began to talk to her in French.

Anise looked at the woman, and the woman smiled and talked some more. Now at least Anise understood her. Then the woman sat back on her feet, still kneeling at the desk opening, and waited.

After a few minutes Anise took another chance. "Madame ..." she began.

Elena looked under the desk again. Her smile was still friendly, and she was still not coming after her.

"I want to go home, madame."

"Of course you do, [mignone]. Are you from Paris?"

Anise nodded minutely.

"I promise you I'll take you to Paris to your family. But first you have to come out of there, eh? No one will hurt you anymore. But you have to get some clothes on. I think a doctor should check you over, to make sure you're okay. Tomorrow or the next day at the latest, if you're well enough, you'll be home with your family. I give you my word, and I don't break my word, Anise."

Anise didn't completely believe her, not completely. But she couldn't stay where she was forever. She really had no choice. And this woman with the kind voice ... maybe she would really help her. "I want ... will you really take me home, madame? You won't hurt me?"

A little light was hitting the woman's face, and Anise saw her one eye glisten as the woman shook her head. That convinced her more than any words Elena had said. Anise nodded and slowly crawled out from under the desk.

///////

It wasn't until they'd gathered the dead, weighed them down and dumped them into the bay from a rowboat that Temujin had so "thoughtfully provided," as Methos put it, that they found out who'd been doing the crying. In fact, it took all that time for Elena to come back, and Duncan was about to go after her when she showed up - but not alone. She'd taken her coat off and put it around a young girl whom she was carefully escorting back to the group, all the time speaking soothingly to her.

In French, Methos heard. He looked the child over, saw that she was in her mid-teens, and muttered, "Temujin always did like them young, damn him!" thinking again of Kate, who hadn't been too much older than that. He exchanged a glance with Duncan.

The girl had blond, matted, dirty hair. Her face was badly bruised and she was breathing with an open mouth, her eyes flitting from one Immortal to the other in obvious fear. She was filthy, her feet were bare, and Duncan wondered if she were wearing much of anything under that coat, and in this damn cold weather! Well, she obviously wasn't a street child, not with those braces on her teeth, glinting in the poor light. But she was just as clearly terrified ... and, from Methos' glance, it occurred to him that maybe Temujin ...

The girl stopped walking abruptly.

Elena could feel her tremble beside her, start hyperventilating. Instead of pushing her forward, she, too, paused, and turned to murmur soothingly down to her. It had taken her some time and two different languages to convince the girl to leave her hiding place under the desk, to let the Argentine near her, touch her, to come with Elena. "It's all right. These are the friends I told you about, remember? We're here to help you. No one will hurt you. Those other men, the ones who did hurt you, are gone, absolutely. I keep my promises, [cherie.] Please trust me."

After the child's heartbeat had slowed down somewhat, Elena turned to the others. They still hadn't gotten any closer. "[Voici Anise Boucheron,]" she began.

"Charles Boucheron ... is a Watcher," Dawson whispered to the others, his heart plunging down to his feet. This couldn't be happening again, not with the Watchers! But at least this man had been forced ... surely Methos and the others would understand that!

Boucheron is a Watcher! That explains why this child was kidnapped, Elena thought.

Methos said to himself, CB, remembering the entry from Simms' PDA. Charles Boucheron was a high-ranking Watcher from the Paris office. Methos knew the Frenchman just to speak to; they'd had lunch together once, in a group. Thinking back, he realized he hadn't seen Boucheron for some time before he, Methos, had been chased out of Paris. Then he remembered hearing something about an accident in the Frenchman's family a few months ago and about the man retiring shortly thereafter. Retiring. And if this was Boucheron's child, he thought, grimly ...

"I found her locked in a room," Elena was explaining. "She's very cold and very scared, and those men hurt her badly, but I told her she was safe now. She was taken from her home in Paris right after Christmas. I promised her I'd return her to her grandpapa tomorrow or the next day at the latest, because it's very late, and we have to travel there, and we're very far away, in America. Remember, I told you that, [mignone]? Richie, why don't you call Anne Lindsay to come to the loft and look her over?" she said to Richie in English, then switched back to French. "I asked him to call Anne Lindsay, the doctor, [cherie,]" she explained to Anise. "And the ground is cold and full of sharp objects, and it's dark. Duncan, perhaps you could carry her to the car."

She had said all this in French, to make sure Anise understood, and then turned to the girl again, repeating what she'd said several times already. "No one will hurt you while I'm with you, and I will stay with you until you're safely back with your grandpapa." She smiled into the teen's face, putting as much warmth and empathy into her own face as she could, pushing down the anger she felt at seeing a child terrified, beaten, raped, an innocent mortal brought into the Game and used so badly by those bastards. Concentrating on Anise, and trying to forget about what she planned to do to Isidora Magdalena.

Elena's voice was soft, calm; but Duncan knew her too well. He could hear the tight control underneath, knew how protective Elena could get about children, and how furious she was. He also raged against the dead Mongol and his cohorts, but made sure he kept his expression calm as he slowly approached the French girl.

"[Non! Il y a du sang!]" Anise said, drawing away from him.

Of course, Duncan thought. They were all of them pretty bloody to some extent, and the child could probably smell it, even under their coats. And it spooked her, as it would any young animal.

Elena cursed her own stupidity. These men were covered in blood, Connor and Methos especially; but Duncan, too. If she could smell it, so could Anise. And the last thing this little girl needed was to face another group of four hard-eyed men.

Time for more reassurance - she was sure she'd have to do a lot of this in the next day or so. "We were hurt, Anise, and did bleed some. I did too. But it has nothing to do with you. You're safe, I promise. Please let us help you. We'll get you home."

"Let me help you, [ma petite,]" Duncan said, in his most gentle voice, the one he reserved for young children and for new, frightened Immortals. Carefully, gingerly, he scooped her into his arms. Making sure Elena was always in sight of Anise, the group made their way back to the cars.

And meanwhile, Methos remembered that Temujin had known, had felt it, when the other members of his group had died. It had hurt the Mongol, and had helped Methos defeat him. He'd have to ask Richie and the Scots if they'd seen any effects of each Immortal's death on their opponents. Because if his theory was correct, and their Quickenings were truly joined somehow, he, Methos, would want to have a long talk with Isidora Magdalena. Before he took her head. And especially before Elena Duran found her.

But first things first. First, this little girl, the last of Temujin's innocent victims, had to be taken care of. Back to Paris, where it all began.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: (all French) cherie, mignone, petite - diminutives; sweet little one fille - girl il y du sang - there's blood

Chapter 18

New York City, January 25, 1999, 10:00 p.m.

Elena had been surprised when Anne had pronounced Anise fit to travel, but the doctor had explained that Anise didn't need emergency medical care and would do best to get home to her family and her own doctor as soon as possible.

The other thing that had surprised Elena was the difference between Methos and Connor MacLeod in the way they dealt with the French girl. Methos had been enigmatic and mostly quiet, reserved. He probably figured the girl would be afraid of him, or of any man, at this point. But Elena thought of another possible reason. Maybe he planned to kill the old Watcher and wanted to keep himself removed from the girl, not get to know her too well or sympathize with her too much. Assuming, of course, that made a difference to Methos.

On the other hand, Connor had been particularly pleasant the entire trip back to New York - even to Elena herself. She'd simply never seen him so gentle as when he spoke to Anise Boucheron. More than gentle - his usually hard eyes were soft, kind. He was obviously comforting and protective of her, even while saying very little in his flawless French. Now Elena better understood why little Miyu, the Japanese pre-Immortal, had said that she felt very safe while Connor was protecting her. Connor had even managed somehow to get Anise to smile, a little. Her first and only smile, Elena remarked.

"You were very sweet to her, Connor," she said to him as the three Immortals sat late that night in Connor's apartment. Elena had eaten very little and had joined Connor in a Scotch, while Methos drank his usual beer. "You even made her smile."

The Highlander bristled, sitting up on the sofa. "What did you expect; that I'd make her cry?" Why did she always have to find a way to insult him? And did she have to look so damn good ... but anyway, they'd be gone in the morning, she and Methos, together. He couldn't quite understand why Duncan had let her go off alone with Methos - but it was none of his business. Tomorrow he could call Chris and get back to his life.

[!Cono!] Elena thought. Why did she always say the wrong thing to him? "No! Of course not, I ... hell, can't I even pay you a compliment correctly? Or maybe," she considered out loud, wondering why he always took everything she said the wrong way: "What is it with you, a [pundonor] that you can't graciously accept an honest compliment from me?"

"Honest? Dammit, this was a left-handed compliment!" he growled back at her.

"Shit!" she said, simply, feeling angry, and frustrated. But not at him, this time. For one thing, she and Duncan hadn't been able to make love before she'd left, and ... the good-bye kiss he gave her said it all, his urgent want of her. And she'd certainly wanted him. Still did. Looking from one man to the other, she imagined, especially after taking those Quickenings, that they, too, were extremely frustrated. It was pretty obvious, actually.

But what was really troubling her was something else again. She changed the subject abruptly by saying, "I guess ... I just feel so sick for this girl, Anise. They used her like an animal, broke her, then discarded her as though she were a dirty rag. It wasn't even deliberate cruelty. They just didn't consider her worth ... anything." She took a swallow of Scotch, her poison of choice to dull her pain, a little, felt it burn its way down into her, push her a little more towards numbness. She was desperately tired by this time and felt like a bit of a dirty rag herself.

Methos contributed in a quiet voice, "Children are very resilient, Elena. She'll get past this and survive because she has to."

"Surviving may not be enough, Methos. Maybe if she had five thousand years," she argued, "or five hundred, she could 'get past it,' as you say. But she only has seventy more years of life - and every one of them will be colored by this horror."

Methos said nothing to this. Elena herself didn't forget things easily, did she? And that reminded him of Cassandra, who still wanted him dead after three thousand years. He finished his beer, pulled himself out of a very comfortable slouch on the sofa, and went looking for another.

Elena wondered if they understood, if men could really understand; then thought, of course these two probably do, but ... as soon as Methos returned and sat down, she tried to explain it to them, her hands moving eloquently in front of her, her voice serious, low. "When I was a child, before Don Alvaro adopted me, my Spanish conquistador father and his friends used me like that, for their pleasure. Like an animal. I fought them, but I was helpless ... I guess even then I wanted the right to spread my legs only when I wanted to; not when anyone told me to," she said, looking directly at Connor - and immediately remembering how he looked while he was taking that double Quickening, and how much she'd wanted him then, in that Godforsaken ruin of a building. And right now, [!cono!] she'd happily spread her legs for him, and damn the consequences! No, she wouldn't - how could she even think this!

"I guess you did," Connor said, smiling briefly. Elena Duran always fought back. That much he knew and liked about her. But there was something else now. In spite of what she was saying, she was ... she seemed ... unless he was completely wrong, she was aroused, dammit, that was it! Her eye - that pulse at the base of her throat! He could sense it; he could smell it. And he'd seen her like this before, with Duncan. Of course, Duncan - Connor had easily noticed his kinsman's frustration this morning, when they left Seacouver - Elena hadn't left Anise Boucheron's side, day or night, since the rescue. But Duncan wasn't here - it must be Methos, then, who had aroused her, since she'd certainly slept with him already. Hell, she'd been to bed with every Immortal man she knew - except for himself, he thought again, rather bitterly.

He drained his whisky in one gulp, thinking again about Chris, about picking up with her where they'd left off. Something he could hardly wait to do.

She turned away from Connor to Methos, but that didn't help! These two such attractive men ... she resisted the urge to run, to leave the room. Instead, she took a deep breath and continued, her voice steady, in control, going back to her argument. "The point is that this happened at the beginning of the seventeenth century. We are now at the end of the twentieth century. And I've gotten past it, Methos; but I haven't forgotten it. I'll never forget it. And neither will Anise Boucheron."

Methos opened his mouth to say something about letting go; but he, too, had noticed that Elena's words didn't match her mood. Damn! And her mood was, definitely ...

Then she changed the subject abruptly again, like a sailboat whose wind has suddenly shifted. "Anyway, Connor; I'm exhausted, I haven't slept in days and I won't sleep tonight. And I did *not* intend to insult you - believe me, if I had, you would have known it."

The Highlander did not reply; instead he looked past Elena, who turned around to see Anise coming down the hallway.

"[J'ai peur,]" the girl said. Glad for the distraction and a little ashamed of that feeling, Elena went to her at once, putting an arm around Anise's shoulders.

"I understand that you're afraid, Anise. But we'll protect you; and by this time tomorrow you'll be back in your grandfather's house."

"But ... what if ... the Chinese man, in the red ..." She broke off, her eyes widening, unable to bear the thought, obviously trying hard not to cry.

Elena pressed Anise into her shoulder, exchanging glances with the men. Then she made a decision, and pushed the girl away a little by the shoulders so she could look down into her face. [!Dios mio!] she was so small, so young! "Listen to me, Anise. His name was Temujin, and he will not come for you again. I didn't want to tell you this, but I see that it's necessary. Temujin is dead, and so are the other men who hurt you."

"Non ..."

"It's true, Anise," Connor insisted. "They are all dead."

"He said he would cut my ..." she put her hands up to her neck, long fingers trembling, "... my throat. He said he could never die!"

Methos stood, turned to her. Damn that bastard! "He lied," Methos said, simply; but with enough firmness that Anise looked at him and slowly nodded.

"Anise, he's gone forever. It's over." Yes, the part with Temujin was over. Now would come the nightmares, the terror, the memories, maybe the mental health problems. And considering what most Immortals had been through in several lifetimes, what their life was like, sometimes Elena wondered how any of them remained sane. And sometimes she wondered *if* any of them were sane.

"Now - can I get you some tea?" she continued in a calm, soothing voice. "Or wine?" she added, remembering this was a French girl.

"Non, but will you stay with me, Elena? I don't want to be alone."

Suddenly Elena clearly remembered when she'd just escaped from the Immortal Claude Bethel, who had tortured her for three weeks. She remembered being in Connor's cabin, after the Scot had helped her get away. She remembered being terrified, and asking him ...

("... may I sit here? I ... I don't want to be alone. I have bad dreams. Will you please ... will you stay with me, Connor.")

Now she looked squarely into Connor's eyes, realizing that he, too, was remembering. And she was glad for once that she *had* honestly complimented him and let him know she really meant it.

The Argentine nodded at Connor, said yes to Anise, and the two women walked back down the hall.

c As Methos looked after them for a moment, thinking how much he'd love to take Elena Duran to bed right now this instant, he internally shook himself. Surely MacLeod had felt the same thing he had, had seen how aroused she was! But this was absolutely not the time to do or say anything about it. Also, the look on the Highlander's face was different now, faraway; and Methos recognized that look from long experience. He wondered exactly what else had passed between the other two Immortals. However, he knew Connor wouldn't tell him, so he said, "I hope your sofa is more comfortable than your clansman's. It would be nice if one of us got some sleep tonight."

Connor shrugged. "There's a pillow and blanket in the cabinet there." He had been upset by Anise Boucheron's fear, her suffering - just as he'd been angered and upset by Elena's after she'd run away from Bethel - was it four or five years ago? But he doubted that Methos had been much affected by the French girl's troubles. In fact, Connor didn't think that Temujin's death would truly be the end of the pain Anise Boucheron would have to bear before she could start to heal. Because the question was: what would Methos do about the grandfather?

But that was none of his business, either; and he wouldn't ask anyway. "Good night, old man," he said, and started down the hall to his bedroom. As soon as they left in the morning ...

"MacLeod," Methos called out. He waited for Connor to turn back, then raised his bottle in a semi-toast. He smiled. "Good beer."

This was all the thanks he was going to get from the 'oldest Immortal,' Connor knew. The old man had probably had much more to say to Duncan. Well, they all knew every Immortal there had been ultimately protecting himself. Still, he was glad Methos hadn't been hunted down by a pack. "Yeah. I always keep some in stock."

Methos' smile grew. Could this be an invitation - from *Connor* MacLeod? "I'll remember that, MacLeod," he retorted, his eyes dancing.

This time Connor returned the smile. "You do that," he answered, then went to bed.

Paris, January 27, 1999, 1:00 a.m.

"I promised to bring her back to her grandfather, Adam," Elena said in halting, broken Russian. Her eyes slid to the girl sitting next to her. Although Anise had some English, they'd already determined, absolutely, that she knew no Russian at all. And they didn't want her to know what they were saying.

"Isn't this exactly what we're doing?" he asked her.

"It's what I'm doing."

Methos shifted in his seat as he drove through the bright streets of the city of light, busy even at this hour. He glanced in the mirror to meet Elena's eyes, then angled it slightly so he could see the girl sitting quietly, too quietly, next to the female Immortal. Duncan's friend, Dr. Lindsay, had checked out the girl, and the Argentine had cleaned Anise up, fed her, soothed her as best she could. But in spite of what he himself had said about the resilience of children, the terror of the last few weeks would not be erased with a few soft words and a few warm meals; he'd seen shell-shocked people like this before, victims ... he sighed, thinking, what a waste, taking in the girl's fine features set in an obviously intelligent face. And he knew from long experience that the smart ones always suffered the most.

"Look, I know you won't do anything to him tonight," Elena continued. "But ... she needs some time with him, some time to rest, to heal, to feel a part of her family again." She paused to consider what to say, how to reach him, to convince him. She didn't know enough about him to know if she could convince him. If she could just figure out a way to make it to his advantage to give the Watcher a chance, she thought, then laughed at herself. Here she was, Elena Duran, Watcher hater - hell, Watcher killer! - and she was trying to save a Watcher who had broken his 'oath' and broken the rules; who had given one Immortal information to use to hunt down another, with a group.

But no, it wasn't Charles Boucheron she was defending. "No matter what the Watcher has done, Adam, the girl doesn't deserve to suffer any more. Eh?" Elena's tone was insistent but calm - she had an idea that Methos would not respond as well to strong emotion - but she felt Anise shift beside her in alarm. So she turned to the girl and smiled warmly, reassuringly, squeezing her hand.

He parked on a side street, a block away from Boucheron's apartment building, and turned in his seat to face Elena directly, sparing a glance for Anise. Then he got out of the car.

Elena got his silent signal. "Just stay here for a moment, [chica.] I'll be right back," Elena told Anise, then stepped outside to talk to her companion.

They moved slightly away, out of earshot of the girl, then he switched back to Spanish to make it easier for the Argentine. "I don't want the child to suffer any more, either, Elena," he said, meaning it.

"I know you don't. But you'll do whatever it takes to survive, won't you, Methos? " she asked him caustically, going back to his original name. The cold Parisian wind whipped the words out of her mouth, and she shivered a little.

Methos shrugged, unmoved by her sarcasm. He'd already told Elena everything he'd learned about Boucheron; now it was time to face the man himself.

"Look; Temujin forced his hand by abducting the girl, and Boucheron kept it quiet. Methos ..."

He interrupted her, impatient. "I agree - that's probably exactly what happened, Elena. But I need to be sure. I need to talk to him; then I'll decide."

Decide to kill him or not, she knew. She nodded again, opened her mouth, closed it. She really didn't think there was anything she could say ... except maybe use his own words against him. "You praised me once for showing mercy towards an Immortal 'friend' who betrayed me, tried to kill me in my sleep. Maria Feliz - remember?"

He smiled slightly. "I also said you should not let her live just because of sloppy sentimentality; that it would get you killed. And it will."

She should have realized she couldn't trap him; not even with his own words. "Fine, Methos," she said, sighing. "We'll wait here."

"I'll call you on the cell phone." He started to say something else; but he didn't need to justify his actions to Elena Duran - or to anyone else, for that matter. So he walked to the Boucheron apartment house on the Rue de la Providence, thinking wryly that Providence sure hadn't smiled on this family.

Chapter 19

Methos took one look at the ancient elevator and used the much quieter stairs instead. In spite of the late hour, the door to the apartment was unlocked, and a light was on in the front hall. He walked in, carefully noting where the Watcher was but not disturbing him until he had quietly and efficiently looked around the entire place, making sure there were no other granddaughters in residence. Then he went back to the living room, where long dark curtains were shut against the night. There Charles Boucheron sat softly snoring in front of a dying fire, a worn afghan half-covering him.

Methos briefly studied the old man by the firelight, seeing the changes Temujin had wrought: purplish smudges under the eyes, sickly pallor, sunken cheeks, and a weight of years on the Frenchman over and above his actual age. On a small side table by his chair were a lamp and telephone, his wire-rim spectacles, an empty glass and an open bottle of - Methos sniffed delicately - rather nice brandy; but the Watcher was probably not drunk.

Methos looked around the comfortable, messy room, noting the thin film of dust and an odor of sweat, of closeness. It was the smell of the lair - obviously Boucheron had moved into this room. Over the mantel, a very sharp, well-cared for rapier. A souvenir; or perhaps a weapon. Across the way, a comfortable-looking sofa and chair, pillows on the floor. Under the window on a table a dish with the remains of a sandwich, and a few letters on it. He checked the envelopes. On a desk by the corner was a thick, open book, "Les Trois Mouquetaires." Sorry, Boucheron, Methos thought. There are no d'Artagnans, no brave musketeers to come to your rescue.

Unfortunately, there are dragons.

Red dragons.

He briefly studied the papers strewn about, and a notebook, turned on to a daily schedule. Methos sat down quietly and scrolled down, but found nothing of interest.

Just as he noticed the bowl of milk on the floor by the desk, there was a slight movement at floor lever - and a Siamese appeared to welcome Methos by rubbing against the Immortal's legs and making its peculiar, infant-sounding mieow. Methos went to sit on the arm of the couch across from Boucheron and the cat promptly jumped onto the Immortal's lap. He stroked the animal absently, then leaned forward and called out, "Charles. Charles."

Boucheron came awake with a start, made a soft grunting sound, stared ahead blindly at his visitor, fumbled his glasses on, focused. Confusion; then all of a sudden, clearly: recognition. And fear - there was no mistaking the raw fear in the brown eyes. But it was gone in a moment, and the old man coughed once, settled himself, and asked, "Monsieur Pierson? Is that you?" He leaned forward, studying Methos, then looked at his watch. "I ... it's one o'clock in the morning. I don't understand ..."

Methos gave him points for effort. "I know it's late, Charles, but I had to see you." He spoke in a relaxed, conversational tone. "I need to find out exactly what you told our late, mutual friend, Temujin."

It was back, the fear - no, terror this time - on the Frenchman's face. "I ... Monsieur Pierson ..." He swallowed thickly, and Methos saw the exact moment when Boucheron gave up - his whole body sagged in defeat. "I had no choice. I had to betray my oath, my beliefs. You see, he has - had - my granddaughter. But ..." He was obviously thinking about it now, Methos saw, "... you said, if he's dead, then where is she? Do you know, please, where my granddaughter, Anise ... is she ... is she alive? He called me almost every day, just so I could hear her voice. When I didn't hear for almost a week, I thought ... I was so afraid ..." He drifted off, unwilling or unable to continue.

Just so I could hear her voice, Methos repeated to himself. Bastard Mongol! Still ... he looked into the Watcher's eyes. "Your granddaughter is alive. She's here in Paris."

"Alive? She's ... [mon Dieu!] Please, Monsieur Pierson... where ... what ... what do you want me to do? [Je vous en prie!]" Boucheron's eyes misted over and he leaned forward, breathing hard.

"I'll have her brought to you tonight - as soon as you tell me everything that happened between you and Temujin. From the beginning, Charles."

"Yes, of course, anything you say ... but she is all right? Please, kill me if you like, but please spare her, she's just ..."

"You're wasting time." Methos sat on the sofa seat, sliding down until he was comfortable, and pulled one leg up, putting his heel on the seat and clasping his hands around his knee. His smile didn't reach his eyes. "Don't leave anything out."

"He ... wanted to know where you were, who your friends were ... Well ... he first came to me one month ago last ... Tuesday ..."

Charles Boucheron had an almost photographic memory and an eye for detail - Methos had already determined this by reading parts of one of the chronicles the man had written. The Watcher spoke for the better part of an hour in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, sometimes closing his eyes to better concentrate, remember.

Methos asked few questions. And although he looked bored, he was paying very close attention to every word Boucheron said and didn't say; gestures; body language. Because the Immortal was after one vital piece of information: if Charles Boucheron knew, or suspected, or deduced that Adam Pierson was actually the legendary Methos, then nothing, not even his granddaughter, would save him.

The Frenchman finally stopped, sweating, panting from his effort. "That's all I know, Monsieur Pierson. I swear on my granddaughter's souls, that's all of it! Anise ..."

Methos was convinced he'd wrung the old man dry; and that Boucheron knew nothing of Methos. He nodded, then stood up, the Frenchman standing with him. "There is one more piece of business," he said, calmly.

"One more ... oui?"

"Temujin's associates. The ones you told me about. They are all dead except one. The redheaded Italian woman."

"I remember her, but as I said, they didn't tell me their names."

"And you weren't curious?" Methos asked.

"I ... I believe she may be an Immortal named Isidora Magdalena. But I'm not sure."

Methos smiled. "And her Watcher?"

"Luisa Ferranti. As for the others: their Watchers ..."

"Are dead, I know. Now, you're a very resourceful man, and a good Watcher, Charles. Think about this - if Magdalena is still alive ..." he let the sentence drift off.

Boucheron got the gist at once. "You mean ... she might come after me, again? [Mon Dieu] - my girls!" Boucheron licked his lips in an unconscious, frightened gesture. "What should I ... what do you want me to do?"

"I'll track her down eventually, of course. But it would be better for both of us if I can find her quickly."

"I agree, Monsieur Pierson. I can ... probably locate Ferranti." He moved to the notebook, did some typing, typed some more. Finally he looked up at Methos. "Miami, Florida. In the United States. She's at the hotel Cavalier in South Miami Beach."

Methos nodded again, then pulled his cell phone out of a pocket and dialed. "Bring the girl," he said, and closed the phone.

"Thank you, Monsieur! Thank you so much for ..."

Methos interrupted, steel in his voice. "You will retire from the Watchers, this time permanently. You will have no further official contact. You might even want to leave Paris, at least until I find the Italian. A week's vacation for you and your four granddaughters." He walked slowly to the door, the Watcher trailing closely after him. "There's no reason for us to have any contact either; but if you should hear from any other Immortal, send an email message to Adam Pierson. [D'accord?]" As he spoke, he sensed the approaching Immortal outside.

"[Oui, d'accord, Monsieur Pierson, d'accord!]" Boucheron exclaimed. But by now his shining eyes, his whole being was focused on the door to the apartment, his body trembling.

Methos opened the front door just as Anise Boucheron got to it on the other side. Timing is everything, he thought, standing to one side and letting her pass. There was an exclamation of joy from the man, a sob from the girl, both muffled as he closed the door behind him.

Methos joined Elena and they walked down the stairs in silence. Silence in the lobby of the apartment house, in the block's walk back to the Peugot. Elena was determined not to ask him, to just wait him out ... but finally it was she who broke, not he. "All right, Methos. You win. What are you going to do with Boucheron?"

He smiled slightly in his victory, then said, very seriously, "I've already done it. It's over."

She'd kept her promise to see the girl safely right into the old man's arms; but now, for a brief moment, Elena had a future vision of Anise walking in on her grandfather as he lay sprawled in a slowly spreading pool of his own blood on their living room floor or in their kitchen, his bladder releasing, his open eyes staring up at nothing ... No! she decided. Methos wouldn't do this. He wouldn't put the girl through this.

She hoped.

"Hmmm?" Methos asked her, knowing full well what her suspicions were.

As they opened the car doors, she spoke to him over the roof of the car. "[Nada, viejo,]" she answered. She either trusted him, or she didn't. And on this point, it just so happened that she did. After all, he had said it was over. So although she'd already given herself away, she repeated, "[Nada.]"

Then she went on to another topic. "So, where did Boucheron say Isidora is? Or her Watcher, Ferranti?"

Clever girl. What was that Spanish phrase? [Las coge volando.] She catches them in midair. He found it hard sometimes to fit his lanky frame into these small European cars, and as he settled himself, letting her wait, he thought, Elena is not going to let Isidora Magdalena go. That was fine with him; but he wanted a chance to talk to the Italian first.

He pulled into the street before he answered. "It's possible the signorina may already be gathering a new little group of six around herself, you know."

"[Claro que si,]" Elena replied. "[?Y que?]"

He took her in at a glance, noting how exhausted she looked, the black eyepatch stark against her pallor. And it wasn't so much the other Immortals - it was dealing with Anise Boucheron especially that had taken a lot out of Elena. Which explained why he'd been able to get some sleep and she hadn't. But she was still as much of an asset as before. "We should pool our resources once more."

"You mean both of us go after Isidora? Together, again?" She chuckled, shaking her head. "Well, at least this time we'd be the hunters instead of the prey. Although the last time we 'pooled our resources,' I was gutted, hunted by a pack of Immortals, shot, and had part of a building fall on me. Not to mention finding that poor little girl ... you know, you're a fucking dangerous traveling companion, Methos."

Methos sighed. "I've heard that before too, Elena," he said.

"You've heard everything before," she said, chuckling, then stretched slowly, luxuriously, as much as the cramped quarters of the car would allow.

He could hear vertebrae popping in her back, and the jasmine smell wafted over to his side of the car.

"[!Madre de Dios,] but I'm tired!" she exclaimed, stifling a yawn and holding her right hand in front of her missing right eye briefly, as though it pained her.

"No wonder. The barge, then? I'll flip you for the bed."

She turned to him, all tiredness forgotten for the moment. She felt a little heat, swallowed. "You're not going to propose we share it?" she asked him, wondering.

He was listening very closely, as usual. Her seemingly innocent tone had a note of both irony and challenge in it. And maybe something else. If he was going to make a serious move, this was a good moment. This woman, the lover of two very strong Immortals that he knew of, Duncan MacLeod and the samurai Hosokawa Hiroshi, was very strong herself, and would not be impressed by a weak man, a man who was shy, or held back.

And this - this was a clear sexual challenge. It would be his chance, maybe his only chance, and his own prideful little voice insisted that he impress the lady. A lady who would not be easy to impress. A lady who spent a lot of her time with one dark, brooding, attractive, and very romantic Scot. A real challenge.

But he'd dealt with strong women before, and he had the idea that this time ... "You want me to proposition you so you can turn me down," he stated.

It was so close to the mark he would have seen her slight blush if the light had been better.

Well, she knew the best defense is a good offense. "Is that what you think? Don't you ever stop thinking? Tell me, do you ever just feel anymore, Methos? Or do you calculate, evaluate, examine every situation?"

It had been a clear sexual challenge; now he was sure of it. She wanted him to make the 'indecent' proposal to her, wanted him to plunge in. But now, because he had publicly predicted she'd refuse, she might contradict him, maybe even agree.

Well, he certainly wanted her. But he never left himself vulnerable to anyone if he could help it. The first move will have to be yours, senorita. For now, anyway. "The answer to your question is, no, I never stop thinking. It's a good habit to develop, Elena. You might consider it."

Ouch, she thought. But she pushed back. "Very well. Let me think. Right now I think you'd like to get to the barge, strip us both, and [metermela] until the sun rises," she said, smiling at him cheerfully. "Am I right?" she asked, and for a moment, almost held her breath ... she knew she was taking a chance, and wondered why she was perversely pushing this particular man in this way. She was playing an exciting, but potentially dangerous game; Methos was unpredictable and far too clever for her own good. Still, she persisted - probably because she was horny, and curious and stupid, she decided. So far, it was only words; however ...

That's close, senorita, he said to himself, and only to himself. Always pushing, aren't you? Out loud, he said, "I don't know why you need me in this conversation, Elena. You seem to be doing so well on your own."

Slash. Well, he wasn't going to answer that, either. Damn, he was good at this! This was one lesson she had to get into her head, once and for all: verbal sparring with Methos was, even when she was at her best, like her dagger against his broadsword. And right now her brain was fogged up and her body felt like lead. Right now it was more like a toothpick against his sword.

She sighed. "Fine. Look, if I don't get some real rest soon, I might as well go walking on the Champs Elysses with a sign around my neck reading, "DECAPITATE ME."

He laughed softly. "Then by all means, let's get to the barge and get you into that bed, senorita."

She couldn't resist one last comment. "And you'll watch over me like my guardian angel."

"Of course," he replied matter-of-factly. Maybe another time, he thought to himself. Again.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: mon Dieu (French) - my God d'accord (French) - agreed nada, viejo - nothing, old man claro que si . y que - of course. so what

Chapter 20

Well, that moment was past. Good. But she wanted to make sure ... "There is one more thing," she began. "About Isidora."

Methos sighed. Now Elena was going to say: she's mine! I will take her head, and you will stay out of it, etc., etc. He wanted to tell her: I've heard this before, many times, Elena. Even used it myself - just recently, in fact. Same old pride, hatred, revenge. A bit disappointed in the Argentine, even before she spoke, he asked, "Yes?"

"If you'd rather I did the fighting, I'm willing. However, as long as she dies, I don't much care who takes her, you or me."

"Is that a fact?" he asked her, a bit unbelieving.

"Why would I lie? To impress you? No, I really am beyond caring. I just want her dead, absolutely."

"Absolutely," he agreed. Then he added, whispering, "Good, [nina,]" and saw her answering smile.

At that point his attention was drawn away by a group of drunken tourists who tried to run under his wheels. A few frantic moments; then he glanced back at her and smiled to himself. It was a measure of her trust, or her exhaustion, he thought wryly, that she was asleep before they even reached the Seine. As soon as he turned off the engine, however, she came instantly awake.

"You're a light sleeper," he said by way of a compliment.

"Si, senor," she agreed, and was asleep again on the bed, without even bothering to change her clothes, within a minute of their walking into the barge.

Methos looked down at her for a moment. Then he got a beer out of MacLeod's fridge and settled himself on the couch, the lingering smell of jasmine still faintly filling his senses.

South Miami Beach, Florida, January 29, 1999, 6:00 p.m.

Elena's first thought when the phone woke her was, jet lag! Traveling is a pain in the ass, even with an Immortal constitution, even after sleeping the day away. Her eyes felt like they were full of beach sand, and the taste in her mouth ... but even as she was moaning about this, she had her second thought of the day.

Methos was not in the building.

She dragged herself up, brushed her teeth, and stretched. Then she pushed back the small table and did a sword kata to limber and wake herself up. She called the desk and asked for a snack to break her fast, then went in to shower.

The hotel restaurant was Italian, not Cuban, but they still managed to provide what she just had to indulge in, the black Cuban coffee and a couple of [croquetas]. Now she not only awake but actually happy about it, but she still hadn't sensed Methos. His cell phone was turned off; he'd left no message at the desk for her; hmmm ... if I were a five-thousand-year-old Immortal, where would I be? Well, she wouldn't worry; not yet anyway. Methos could certainly take care of himself.

Shrugging, Elena liberally applied sunscreen, even against the soon-to-be-setting sun. She'd been sunburned more than once in four hundred years under the hot southern sun, and had no wish to repeat that painful experience. Then she slipped into a black bathing suit, threw a t-shirt on over it, put on a panama hat and went across the street, thinking, while she was on one of the most beautiful and famous beaches in the world, she might as well go for a quick swim. Even in the middle of a crowded tourist city, she'd wrapped her sword in a towel and brought it with her inside her long duffel bag.

The most interesting thing she noticed right away was that this section of Miami Beach was topless. And furthermore, it was inhabited by a large number of very attractive, mostly hirsute young men, some of them running in pairs rather than in packs. So after taking a quick swim - keeping a careful eye on her duffel bag while in the water - she came out to sightsee, spending an hour or so gazing at firm, muscular bodies cavorting in the sand and surf, showing off their breasts, their delts, their abs and their gluts. And remembered why she loved the beach so much. At this time of year, and especially this late in the day, it was still not too hot, and the beach was more full of tourists than natives, although the Spanish language was predominant. Years ago South Florida had become almost a new Cuban province, she thought with a grin. And that was before the Nicaraguenses and the Costa Riquenses and all the other Latin Americans had joined them.

She drank water and dozed, not really wanting to fall asleep completely out in the open - not with several Immortals in the city. The sun's last rays sank into her bones. Behind dark glasses she watched sunbunnies struggling to hit those nerf balls with their paddles and body-builders strutting. She listened to the sounds of salsa and the "new FM WROR!" from nearby competing radios, of children running in the sand and splashing water on each other and sometimes on her, of muted and loud conversations drifting by. She smelled suntan oil and the sea and chips.

"Hi." The little girl was about three, curly brown hair, dark eyes, a pink hat and two piece suit. And those cheeks that you just wanted to pinch, Elena thought, smiling.

"Hi yourself," Elena answered, as a young woman came up and snatched the child away, chattering to her in Spanish.

Shaking her head, Elena finally called Methos again, to no avail, then decided to go back and check some of the hotels, have dinner, walk around - and incidentally try to locate her supposed 'partner.'

"[?Me ha llegado algun mensaje del senor Pierson?]" she asked the desk clerk.

The Cuban - like most South Americans who listened carefully, she could differentiate one country's accent from another - checked her box and his computer screen. "No, senorita. Senor Pierson has not called; or anyone else," he answered, in his careful professional manner, carefully but tactfully not staring at her eyepatch. He had very white teeth, bright in his dark-complexioned face - and suddenly Elena sensed in his smile an undercurrent of sensuality which was both subtle and real and which he obviously meant for her to notice. It occured to her that this man, Ricardo, was probably very popular with his female guests. In fact, except for his smaller stature, he certainly had the musculature, and his dark beauty reminded her a little of Duncan when he ...

[!Cono!] Methos - she was supposed to be concentrating on Methos, not Duncan! And not those kinds of thoughts, either! Too many hard, almost-naked bodies on that beach had gotten to her, she realized, especially after those Quickenings in Seacouver.

She took a deep breath. Back to business. Where are you, Methos? she asked herself, then called his cell phone again. It was still turned off, and by now a little concern had wormed itself into her thoughts. After all, he's the one who had suggested they travel together. The least he could do was keep in touch. The most obvious answer was that he was looking for Isidora. Elena had already gone alone to check the hotel where Luisa Ferranti was staying, since Methos didn't want to be seen again by that Watcher. Ferranti was registered there, but there were no Immortals in the Cavalier.

But that was this morning, when they'd first arrived. This evening Methos was gone. Maybe he'd gone out earlier in the day, while Elena was still sleeping off the jet lag, and met Isidora. In which case, if Isidora was not alone, Methos might have already lost his head.

Or, there was also the possibility, Elena knew, that Methos had talked with Isidora and had *not* lost his head. He'd told Elena he wanted to talk to the Italian about Temujin. What about Temujin? He was dead, right? What else was there to talk about? Elena wondered. Maybe ...

She let go of those thoughts for now. Whatever Methos was up to, she'd find out eventually from him. Or not. So she concentrated on something more fun.

Shopping.

An hour and a half later, Elena was admiring herself in the triple full-length mirrors of a trendy little swim shop on Washington Avenue. The white bikini contrasted with her dark skin, giving her a burnished glow, like copper. [Piel canela,] from the old song, cinnamon skin. Her hair lay black on her shoulders, the greater length and weight having made it lose its curl again. The white of her eye was almost blue in color, the pulse at her throat was slow and steady, and muscles flexed under the thin cloth as she turned this way and that. She was just turning to try to get a good look at her ass when her cell phone rang.

Well, she knew it wouldn't be Duncan. He'd already called her the day before to ask about Anise Boucheron, and had been surprised to find Elena was back in the states.

"So how long do you think before you and Methos hunt down the Italian?" he'd asked her.

c "I hope soon. Eager to see me?"

"See you? Well, yes, I guess so." She'd heard the smile in his voice, and the slight breathiness. "What I really want to do to you is ..."

"Duncan, please!" she'd protested, giggling. "Just keep that thought for my return," she'd added.

Now she saw the number that was calling and said, "Hola, Methos," into the phone.

"Elena," Methos answered smoothly. "Get rid of Ferranti and meet me at Flamingo Park at midnight. The soccer field."

No explanations, she thought. Of course not. And that sounded a lot like an order. [!Cono!] he was irritating! But apparently he *had* found Isidora. Well, they'd talk later. There was always time to talk after the killing was done. "I'll be there. And I take it we'll be playing with sharp objects?" Dammit, why couldn't he just come right out and say it? Maybe he couldn't speak openly; maybe he wasn't alone ...

"Si, [nina.] And wear good shoes," he answered, then hung up and turned to Magdalena, sitting next to him on one of the seats in the Jackie Gleason Theater. "Satisfied?"

The Italian leaned toward him. "You tried to warn her," she accused, heatedly. "She'll know it's a trap!"

He nodded. "Of course. She'd expect me to warn her; so I did. Otherwise she'd get suspicious."

He could see she still didn't trust him, and no wonder. He started to say something else, but Magdalena interrupted. "You're sure she'll come."

He smiled without humor. "She'll come," he answered.

South Miami Beach, January 29, 1999, 11:30 a.m., earlier that same day

Methos easily got Elena to agree that rather than take a chance on finding their enemy when they were still groggy from the trans-Atlantic flight, they should get some sleep.

First they'd checked the Cavalier Hotel the morning they arrived to make sure Ferranti was registered. Luisa Ferranti made Methos nervous - she was smart and experienced. If Ferranti saw him here in Miami Beach, he could explain to her that he had come following Duran; that he'd taken a personal interest in these Immortals and wanted to see the end of it. But if Ferranti saw him with Magdalena ... the Watcher might guess he was after the Italian Immortal himself, and he'd have to do some tall convincing to steer her away from the realization that he himself was Immortal. Otherwise his time with the Watchers would be over for several generations; and he enjoyed being the mild-mannered Watcher, liked the access to information it gave him. So they'd have to take care of Luisa Ferranti somehow. He wasn't prepared to kill her, but ...

"If Ferranti sees me, all the trouble I've gone to will be wasted," he mused out loud.

"All the trouble *you've* gone to? I've gone to some 'trouble' too, [cabron!]" Elena countered, then considered a moment, thinking along his same lines. "Well, I can make sure she's out of the way, and doesn't see you, Methos," she said, staring out of their taxi, noticing that there sure were a lot of colors in South Beach these days. They arrived at the Casa Grande. She'd stayed at this hotel years before because it had a Spanish name, and was glad to see it was back to its former glory. But painted yellow?

He deliberately picked up the conversation after they'd both checked into their hotel rooms and had left their wake-up calls at the desk. Standing in the doorway to her room, he advised her, "Get some sleep, [nina.] Oh, and I hope whatever you have in mind for Luisa Ferranti is not ... permanent," he added nonchalantly, waiting for her answer. Elena would have no good reason to kill the Watcher - certainly not to protect Methos' secret. It was his problem. Still, she might ... he wondered ...

She raised her eyebrows, obviously amused. "You don't have a plan?" she asked. "The great Immortal Machiavelli? No, don't worry. I gave my word I wouldn't kill any more Watchers, and I won't break it. Not easily."

"I know you won't," he said, knowing exactly how she felt about this.

She looked at him sharply. Probably the fact that she was a woman of her word was, in his opinion, a weakness on her part. And one he wouldn't hesitate to make use of. Well, the hell with him! "Drugs," she said, going back to their conversation about the Italian Watcher.

Methos smiled to himself. They were on the same wavelength. And that was one problem out of the way. Elena would take care of Luisa Ferranti for him.

"But first," she continued, "into the arms of Morpheus."

"Somnus was the god of sleep. Morpheus was his son," he corrected her, then shook his head. "All those gods were fakes, you know. I was there. Their oracles were always unintelligible or just plain wrong, and they never answered your prayers."

"I was told once by a nun that God always answered your prayers. But sometimes the answer is no."

"The answer is usually no, [chica,]" he said, feeling a little bitter, but deliberately sounding amused. "Pleasant dreams."

Leaving her, he walked past his room and went downstairs to the desk. "Ricardo," he called to the clerk, having previously asked his name.

"Si, Senor Pierson?"

In Spanish, he said, "I'd like to change my wake-up call from six to four p.m. You'll still be on duty?" Getting a nod, he continued. "Do you remember the woman who checked in with me?"

Ricardo brightened. "[!Claro que si, senor!]"

"If she should leave the hotel before four, let me know immediately." He handed the man a rather large bill. "Immediately."

Ricardo was well-trained enough not to look at the denomination when he pocketed the money. "[A sus ordenes.]"

He handed Ricardo a second bill. "And she doesn't have to know that we had this conversation."

"She won't hear it from me, senor."

Satisfied, Methos went back to his room, stripped to his underwear, stretched out on top of the quilted aqua and yellow bedspread and within minutes fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.

///////

He awoke on his own at three fifty, totally refreshed, showered quickly, and dressed. By a little after four he'd checked with Ricardo and was walking north along the Ocean Drive hotels. If Ferranti was at the Cavalier, Magdalena wouldn't be too far away, and he sensed an Immortal - probably more than one, actually - with ridiculous ease, at the Cardozo right next door to Ferranti's hotel. But he quickly backed away - before he approached the Immortal, he had to make sure her Watcher was not currently on the job. An anonymous phone call to the Cavalier assured him that Luisa Ferranti was in her hotel room, but that could change any time, so he had to get out of sight as quickly as possible.

He called the Cardozo and got Isidora on the phone - he could practically hear her salivating - and arranged to meet her that night at the empty theater of the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Alone, of course.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations: (all Span.) croquetas - croquettes ?me ha llegado algun mensaje del senor Pierson? - do I have a message from Mr. Pierson? claro que si - of course a sus ordenes - I will obey your orders

Chapter 21

When Methos' taxi pulled up to the Jackie Gleason Theater, it looked empty, as it should be on a weekday evening, although there were plenty of people on the street. Good, he thought - except that it wasn't. He was irritated that Isidora and her friend or friends had gotten here before he had.

He circled the building and found where she'd broken in, then went inside the same way. The Italian was onstage, illuminated by some of the stage lights. His footsteps echoed deliberately in the empty auditorium as he walked confidently down to her.

She looked to be alone, but by now Methos knew she wasn't, and hoped she'd only had time to recruit one other - more than that might be too much for him to handle. He knew in any case that he was taking a big chance with the double-crossing Italian, and he had to get rid of her confederate right away. But ultimately what he really had to do was convince Isidora Magdalena that he was more valuable to her alive than dead. No, more than that. He had to convince her that she was valuable to him; that he was her master.

He smiled to himself. No worries. Let the MacLeods muscle it out against the big hulking opponents. His style of fighting was more sophisticated. And he was very good at it.

"I expected to hear from Duran, not from you, Methos," she said, by way of greeting.

He studied her briefly. First thing: her rapier was in her left hand, quite ready. She was dressed in a black short-sleeve turtle neck shirt and very tight black pants, a good color for her red hair to lay against, but not really suited for the pastels of Miami Beach. It attracted attention, however, which is what he knew she wanted and liked. Right now her eyes clearly shone with anticipation and barely suppressed excitement. She had a hard, white-knuckled grip on the hilt of her sword.

"You seem very pleased to see me nonetheless, signorina. Too bad it's my head you want," he shrugged.

"If you're here to make a challenge, I accept."

He chuckled as he came up onto the stage itself. "You and friend both," he said, motioning to the Immortal who came out of the wings to stand beside her.

The new Immortal drew himself up to his full height. "I am Dmitri Ivanovich Korolyev," he announced, then asked Magdalena, "This is Methos? I don't believe it! Methos is a story, a legend. This is what you meant when you said we would go after powerful Immortals? Methos?" He scrutinized the old Immortal carefully. "Are you sure?"

Obviously Russian, pale, and big, but not extraordinarily so. But he looked quite strong, and stood easily and gracefully. Like a dancer. Or a fencer. However experienced he was or wasn't, Korolyev was at ease with his body, and Methos knew that was bad news for himself. And yet, he believed Magdalena had chosen this man for his brawn, not his brain, and this thought flitted through Methos' head: 'It's better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and dismiss all doubt.'

Of all qualities, the one Methos most feared in an opponent was intelligence, and neither Magdalena nor her Russian friend had impressed him with an overabundance thereof. But he also knew that in an actual duel, skill with a sword was a close second, and one didn't have to be a genius, or even live more than one lifetime, to become a master swordsman. Not that it would matter at this particular moment. Later, perhaps.

Methos took a long breath as he approached them, his hands sweating a little. When he was close enough, but not too close, he reached into his pocket. Almost at the same moment, Korolyev snarled and drew his sword seemingly out of nowhere and rushed at him in a blitzkrieg that was so fast, gods! Methos hadn't counted on his being so fast! He shot Korolyev, then actually had to move out of the way of the Russian's charge ... but the poison was very fast-acting, and he had the dart gun pointed at the Italian before Korolyev had completely fallen.

"I did say ne,dora, although I'm not surprised by your treachery."

She glanced at the Russian, who was wheezing, dying, making rasping, unintelligible sounds. "You don't call this treachery?" she spat out. "At least we were willing to use blades!"

"Yes; two of them." Methos shrugged, completely unaffected by Korolyev's final shudders. "We have a lot to talk about, you and I. I can't talk with my head beside me on the floor. So put these," he slid a pair of handcuffs on to the floor towards her, "on him, behind his back, and we'll talk. If you refuse I'll shoot you, then take your head right inside this building. Believe me, it won't be seen from the outside, and Korolyev will be dead for a while. Then I'll take his head and go have a nice dinner."

She had no way out, so she put her sword down on the stage and handcuffed the dead Immortal.

Methos heard the clicks, then walked around to check that she'd put the cuffs on Korolyev correctly.

The Italian followed him with her eyes. "I'm next?" she asked, venomously.

"Not at all," he said nonchalantly, then suddenly came close and leaned into her, pinning her with a hard, savage look. "I intend to take over for Temujin," he stated, with full conviction. "A new group, with me as the leader. We'll be unstoppable! Every time you and the others took a head, you'd feel and share the strength of my three-thousand-year-old Quickening." He moved slightly away, then added, softly, "But for that, I need you, Isidora Francesca Magdalena. Alive. And cooperative. Or ..." he paused, letting the thought hang in the air for a moment, "I'll get what I want from you anyway. One way or another, Isidora."

She shook her head, her eyes still locked with his. "Temujin told me you were Death, from the Bible, the Four Horsemen. That at one time, you would have made a great 'team' member. But then you changed. You became weak, and he could no longer trust you."

"He was right. I did change, did weaken. But that was before." He paused to study her; to judge her. He had to get her to believe him, and the gun was in the way, so he took a chance and put it back in his pocket. And he could still feel the reassuring weight of his sword against his ribs.

"Before?" she finally asked, as though he'd fed her her line.

"Before I took his head, of course. Before I knew what kind of power he really had. Before I realized the full extent of the power involved," he said, stressing every word, his eyes glowing.

She licked her lips. "You want that power," she whispered, making it a statement rather than a question.

"Of course!" he replied, as to a wayward student. "As a horseman, as Death, I killed thousands. Tens of thousands! And I enjoyed it! I was good at it!" He remembered saying this to MacLeod, convincing him like he was convincing her. Convincing them both because it was true. "But they were mostly mortals. I got nothing from them in the long run. On the other hand, Temujin beheaded many old Immortals, and now they're all inside me - all their strength, all their knowledge ..." He narrowed his eyes, approaching her again. "Do you know that taking Temujin's Quickening actually 'killed' me? Me?"

She shook her head in obvious wonder. "It was that strong?"

Methos smiled, knowing she believed him and was considering if she herself could absorb that much energy. He knew she was impressed for now, but would ultimately decide she wanted to be that powerful herself. Then she would betray him - unless he made her his, completely - which he knew he could do. "[Si, cara mia.]" He was very close to her again, the front of their bodies almost touching. He used his physical presence to control her, to overwhelm her, the way he'd controlled others before. So many times before.

She licked her lips again, a mixture of fear and fascination and maybe sexual desire thrown in, he hoped.

"How do I know I can trust you?" she asked him, whispering.

"How can I prove my good intentions?" he asked her, breathing into her face.

She nodded toward the Russian.

"No, that would be testing his good intentions. And he may be a bit ... cross with me." He took a few steps away from her, as though considering, then said, "I have an idea. How about if I give you Elena Duran's head? I know you don't much like her."

"She's here? With you?" she asked, her eyes wide with surprise.

He snorted. "You're not here alone. Neither am I."

"She's your woman, then?" Magdalena asked, her eyes narrowing.

Now this was an important question for their future relationship, so Methos wanted to be very clear and convincing on this point. And in spite of his talent for 'romance,' the truth was always more believable than any lie. "I'd sleep with her if I had the chance. But she belongs to Duncan MacLeod."

"Then the MacLeods will come after you if you take her head."

He laughed softly. "I've outwitted and beheaded the other three horsemen and your own leader, Temujin. What makes you think I'd be afraid of those Gaelic barbarians? We just go after them one at a time, that's all."

"We?"

"You and I, Isidora," he answered, including her, making her an important part of his plans. "And the rest of our 'team.'"

He saw her almost imperceptible acceptance of him, her belief. Then she nodded at Korolyev again. "What about him?"

Methos looked at the Russian lying on his stomach on the wooden stage floor. He was so broad and so well-muscled that his arms were pressed against his ribs. He could just see Korolyev's face, and noted the mucus, saliva and blood that had exploded out of his nose and mouth while he'd convulsed. It hadn't been a painless death, but it had been relatively quick. "He should get over his anger once he sees I've left him his head," Methos stated, shrugging. "But you chose him, Isidora; if you think he's worthy we'll ask him to join us or die." He had to give Isidora some choices, some say, while at the same time making sure her choices were the ones he wanted her to make.

Magdalena took her time to think things over. Finally, with a small nod, she told him, "Call Duran."

They left the stage and went to sit in the front row of seats. The Italian picked up her sword, and Methos didn't try to stop her. However, when his hand went in his pocket to get the cellular to dial Elena, he kept it there on the pistol grip until he saw her put her blade down on the edge of the stage.

After he hung up, he assured Magdalena that her longtime Argentine enemy would show up at midnight, which he was sure she would do. Then he asked Magdalena, bluntly, "You didn't try to find Temujin on that pier because you knew he and the others were dead, didn't you? Each of you knew exactly when the others died."

"Of course," she answered. "Our Quickenings were joined in the cleaving."

"How?" He sat up in his chair, getting close to her again. Now she'd tell him what he wanted to know, all about this cleaving, and whether it was worth his going after it.

"We extended our consciousnesses, our Immortal senses, to encompass that of the others; to get inside them, so to speak." She shook her head. "It's easier to show you than to tell you."

Methos nodded. This was the same theory of Juan Ramirez. The Egyptian had often told him how he could feel the life force, or the Quickening, of all living things, even animals in the fields and forests ... but Methos hadn't paid much attention at the time. Ramirez, for all that he was bright and a good drinking companion, had always been full of mysticism, portents, and curses. All in all, a very superstitious man. And, to Methos' knowledge, Ramirez had only been right once, about Connor MacLeod being the one to ultimately kill the Kurgan. Methos wondered if the Egyptian had taught or tried to teach any of this sharing to the elder MacLeod, and if that's why the Scot had been so interested. He also briefly wondered if he, Methos, had made a mistake and should have listened more closely to Ramirez.

Well, he was listening now. "And it requires six of us at the same time?"

"That is what Temujin taught us," she answered. "When there are six of us who trust each other, then I can show you ..."

"But for that to work, the six have to kill an Immortal, together? Or at least be present at the Quickening?" he interrupted her. He was relatively sure the number six was a convenience for Temujin, nothing more. One strong Immortal might be able to behead two opponents; maybe manage to escape from three. But six was too many. It was a sure victory. And only five of them did the actual fighting. It meant Temujin didn't have to put himself in danger or get his own hands dirty - until it was time to hurt and to rape, of course. A greedy, ambitious, arrogant and cruel little man with a large libido. Good riddance.

Magdalena nodded briskly. "The six have to be there to take the Quickening of the dead Immortal. It's the only way to share it." She paused and looked at Methos while he was considering this, then stretched luxuriously in her auditorium seat. "We have some time between now and midnight," she murmured. "We should go back to the hotel and seal our bargain."

Methos started to say something about the right time and place, but her would-be seduction was interrupted anyway by a muffled cry from the stage, where the Russian was weakly struggling, returning to life.

Surely she hadn't forgotten Korolyev already, he thought. Methos glanced at him. Korolyev had recovered fairly quickly - they'd have to do something about him. They stood and went to talk to the Russian, who was angry at the sight of Methos. But the ancient Immortal could also see fear hiding deeply in the blue eyes. Not hiding it quite well enough, comrade.

She knelt beside him and tried to calm Korolyev. She explained, in halting Russian, the deal she and Methos had struck. But Methos could tell Korolyev was not satisfied, so he interrupted her with a wave of his hand, coming up to him and surreptitiously double-checking the handcuffs. Keeping part of his attention on Magdalena, he drew his sword, crouched next to the Russian and placed his blade against Korolyev's carotid artery. "It's very simple, [tovarisch.] Join us or die."

The Russian didn't need to think it over. "How can I refuse such a generous offer?" he asked, sarcastically.

"You can't," Methos smiled. "But I'm not convinced of your good will. Tell you what - join us at Flamingo Park at midnight. On the soccer field. Then you and Isidora here," he pointed at her, "can kill Elena Duran. It will give you the chance to prove yourself, and give me an opportunity to see you fight."

"You will judge me?" the Russian asked angrily, straining against his bonds.

Methos tsked internally. This one was gutsy, even with a blade at his neck, but he hadn't yet learned to pretend, to hide his true feelings. A true babe in the woods - and these woods were dark and dangerous, child. "Yes. I will be leading this team, and if you can't obey orders, you're out. Permanently. Your other choice is to simply run. We might not get back around to you for quite a while."

"I will not run," Korolyev announced proudly.

"I didn't think so. And you go with the winner, too, don't you?" He knew exactly what the Russian would do and say; Korolyev was even easier to manipulate than Isidora, Methos thought, with a small thrill. "That would be me, of course."

Korolyev took a deep breath but no time to reply. "I will join you."

"Wise choice," he answered coldly. Methos stood, sheathed his weapon, and took Magdalena's arm, leading her away from her short-term partner. "I'm sure you can get free before midnight. Don't be late, comrade," he said, then the two of them walked out.

Chapter 22

Methos knew he was taking a chance leaving the Russian alive, but he couldn't behead him and still keep Magdalena by his side, or trust she wouldn't take his own head while he was still weak from Korolyev's Quickening. Moreover, Methos was relatively sure, from the look on Korolyev's face, that the Russian would in fact go with the winner. And Methos was, absolutely, the winner. Gods! It felt good!

He didn't want to go back to Ocean Drive, didn't want to be found, so he asked the taxi driver to take them up the beach to the Fountainbleau Hotel. Now all he had to do was keep Magdalena entertained until midnight and everything would be taken care of. Dinner; a little drinking, not too much. And then ... Methos really didn't want the Mongolian's leavings, but if he had to ...

9 p.m., later that night

The ocean breeze ruffled the long sheer curtains and brushed softly against his face. Methos looked down from the window of the Fontainebleau corner suite at the brilliantly-lit, award-winning set of landscaped pools. A group of children, looking very small from his vantage point, were taking turns cannonballing into the closer pool, trying to see who could make the biggest splash. He could just make out their voices and shrieks of laughter, and for one single instant he had a quick flash of memory, a remembrance of himself as a child jumping into a pool or a stream of clear water somewhere ... but as always with his childhood memories and dreams, it eluded him.

His eyes continued further east to the ocean, dark beyond the whiteness of the sand where the waves broke hard at high tide, adding sparkle and foam to the black mix. He'd always liked the beach at night. There was a time when he'd believed that that's when the sea monsters came out of their underwater lairs to attack unwary sailors. Of course, by now he had outgrown such fears, although he still believed in other monsters. He remembered walking on the beach with Alexa, the salt spray on their faces ...

His reveries were interrupted by the purring of the Italian. At no time had he completely forgotten about her. In fact, his broadsword was never more than a meter from his hand, and he glanced at it now, quickly, quietly, surreptitously. In the same movement he turned and saw her laying across the king-sized bed, still in her black top; but she'd shed her pants to reveal bright orange satin panties underneath - and he hadn't noticed when she'd done that, he thought, annoyed at his potentially fatal inattention and his underestimating of her.

The signorina wanted to be convinced - but she was not totally stupid. "I wonder what it feels like to make love to a three-thousand-year-old man?" she murmured.

He smiled. Apparently Temujin had lied to her about his age, too. But now he had to concentrate: focusing his full attention on her, he started his appraisal with her bare feet, her muscular pale legs leading up to the colorful panties and the small curl of dark hairs peeking out on either side of the crotch. His eyes swept up lazily, appraising, judging. A small waist, then up to her chest, where he lingered significantly, staring right through her blouse. Then on up to her face.

She had a stunning figure, with her face being her weakest point. Her features were in some strange proportion. Her mouth was too big, too red; her green eyes closer than they should be; her nose almost hooked, giving her a predatory appearance in spite of a small, weak chin. Not beautiful, but certainly an attractive overall package. Different. He wondered, however, how many men actually got to her face. And when they did, how they responded to the arrogance there. If they were strong enough, they would take it as a challenge, pure and simple.

He was up to the challenge. If he wanted her, he could have her. But it wouldn't be the safe or smart thing to do. He had no intention of letting his guard down, nor of letting Isidora get the upper hand, not in any way, not for one moment. She obviously wanted some hold over him, but this woman also wanted firm reins, and he was reining her in, he was getting her to obey him. And it was so easy. And, more importantly, he was enjoying it!

What he said was, "Right now I want to think about business, Isidora, about which Immortals can join us." There might be other Immortals she knew, whose names he'd want to have for future reference. "We also want to concentrate on the upcoming job you and Dmitri are going to do for me at midnight, don't we? Later, when I want you, you'll come to me."

"And what if later, I don't want to come to you?" she asked him slyly, sitting up in bed.

He smiled, feeling an anticipatory surge of satisfaction. So far he was sure he had her mostly convinced, but this direct challenge had to be addressed immediately or she'd never follow him. This was an old game, one he'd played successfully many times before. But not recently. In fact, it had been a long time since he'd had women, like the Italian and the Argentine, at his beck and call like this.

Moving quickly, he went to her, grabbing her by her golden red mane and twisting, then pulling her up to where he stood looking down on her until their faces almost touched. His voice was cold and deliberate. "You don't understand, signorina. Let me make it clear. If our ... relationship ... is to work, I will make the decisions, and you will obey me." He was making some intelligent guesses, knowing that Temujin would never have had a woman around him unless she was completely subservient to him, and reading the Italian as one who thrived on being ruled by the dominant male.

There was a slight twist of pain to her smile, but he knew he'd read her correctly. "Si," she murmured, and he could sense her perverse pleasure and her promise underneath.

"[Molto bene,]" he answered, and released her, feeling the eternal seduction of power ... he hadn't felt this way for centuries, not until the last time Kronos had come back, talking to him, trying to convince him, tempting him. And for a moment there, more than just a moment, actually ... it was glorious ... manipulating others, the Watchers, Joe and Ferranti and Boucheron. And then the Immortals, the Scots and the Argentine and the young American; then the Italian and the Russian, getting them all to do what he wanted by his wits and his will alone! This was the real temptation to go darkside, the temptation of Faust; and as Darth Vader had said, the power of the dark side of the force is strong!

But Methos was no young, innocent Luke Skywalker. He'd been there, done that in csarist Russia and in the court intrigues of Versailles and in Constantinople and in the throne room of Rameses the Great. And then he'd felt it again, relived it in the flesh, when he'd taken the Mongolian's Quickening - hell and damnation in one package! The glorious pleasure of power over others coursed through his blood. It warmed him, heated him, filled him - an actual physical, carnal sensation. To Isidora Magdalena, he had to be all power, all arrogance and greed, and had to let her know about it; let her see it on his face.

So he did.

///////

Elena stretched out on Luisa Ferranti's bed, reading about Rima, a girl who lived alone in the jungles of South America. Rima was deciding, just as her African counterpart Tarzan had done, that she must return to the wilds of the forest where she belonged, when Elena heard footsteps stop in front of the door. As the keycard was inserted, Elena thanked her lucky stars that Amanda had spent many patient hours coaching Elena on electronic breaking and entering techniques.

The Italian Watcher never knew what or who hit her, and Elena easily hefted the smaller woman onto the bed and quickly and expertly tied and gagged her. Then she pulled a syringe out of her long duffel, uncapped it, made sure the bubble was gone, and injected the Watcher. As she waited for a few moments, she reached inside Ferranti's tote and picked up her Watcher notes. All about Isidora, of course, although there was an entry on her, Elena Duran, in very neat script:

The Argentine Elena Duran seems to have a history with Magdalena. Must do more research on this. I believe one of them will take the other's head before this whole affair is concluded. Now that Magdalena no longer has the protection of her group ... I'll take a chance and predict that when they meet Duran will be victorious.

There was nothing else of interest, and Elena smiled at the vote of confidence from the Watcher, then checked the mortal's pulse. It was strong and steady, if a little slow. She nodded. She made Ferranti as comfortable as possible, tucking a pillow under the woman's head, making sure she wouldn't strangle on the gag. Then Elena slipped out, closing the door behind her with a satisfied grin.

Three hours before midnight. She'd already done her errand, and checked out Flamingo Park - the football/soccer field, the killing field - in the light of day. Now she had more than enough time for a late light dinner and a glass of Spanish sangria at Puerto Sagua, a new Spanish restaurant she'd spotted on Collins Avenue. She might even get in a little dancing at one of the hotels, she thought, and get herself warmed up for the upcoming fight.

Flamingo Park, South Miami Beach, Florida, January 30, 1999, midnight

The only light in the park came from distant sulphur street lights, closer to the sea. Methos thought they might have to fight sword and electric torch and wished he had one. He clearly remembered, centuries ago, fighting sword and torch and actually setting his opponent's tunic on fire. This time he'd be lucky if he could *see* his opponent.

The Italian stood next to him - he'd made sure she was not behind him - while they waited for the others to arrive. And the first one to do so was the Russian.

Dammit, he thought to himself, wishing Duran had been smarter and punctual for once. Korolyev was the pawn he was least sure of, the possible wild card in the game he'd been playing so well so far. Isidora had answered all his questions, telling him she'd known Korolyev even before she met Temujin. She'd asked about the Russian joining the group, but the Mongol had refused, saying Korolyev was too young, too inexperienced. And she had, of course, obeyed. But once Temujin was gone, she'd looked up the Russian right away. Because, in spite of his youth he had one quality to recommend him: he was good with a sword. A master.

Not that they'd need a master swordsman to fight five or six against one, Methos thought sourly. Still, he could tell the Russian's skill from just watching the way Korolyev stood, his physical poise and confidence. They way he walked towards them now.

Breathing hard in her eagerness, Magdalena had urged Methos to let Korolyev join them, assuring him that the Russian would be loyal. She had also given the ancient Immortal a piece of good but unwelcome news: just the day before, she and Korolyev had found and killed the Russian's Watcher.

"I thought these Watchers would be used to swords, to seeing them used. But once we started killing them, I realized it's different with mortals, isn't it?" she'd said. "They're not as strong as we are. This one begged for his life, and he was one of the worst - he even soiled himself," she'd explained, contemptuously.

You knew the job was dangerous, Methos thought, as he now turned to take in the approaching Russian. Korolyev walked easily toward them through the dark night to come to Methos' other side, his left hand. They'd flank him, Methos thought, and he swallowed convulsively, forcing himself to calm down even though he knew what was coming: the fighting, the death. Deaths. Again. And this time, he couldn't run away, couldn't avoid it. In addition to the dart gun, he carried a .357, uncaring of the noise it would make, wanting to make sure it would punch a quickly fatal, very big hole in the Russian. Because if the two teamed up against him ...

As Korolyev joined him, Methos asked, "So, [tovarisch,] are you fully recovered?" And how badly do you want revenge? he wondered, but didn't say out loud.

The Russian's cold blue eyes stared at Methos, almost through him. "As you knew I would be." Then he asked, "Where is she?"

Methos was a long-time expert at hiding his feelings, especially his nervousness. He shrugged nonchalantly. "She's late. Typical South American [manana] attitude, I'd say." He smiled confidently at Korolyev in the darkness. "But she'll be here."

"She trusts you, then?" Korolyev asked, studying Methos closely.

The slight catch in Korolyev's voice made Methos pause. This could be a tricky question to answer. If he made light of betraying Elena, Korolyev might think that Methos would betray him just as easily, and decide to just take the ancient Immortal's head now, get it over with. And Isidora had said that Korolyev would be loyal. Even if Methos could handle the Russian, Isidora might ... "It's a pity, because she's a good fighter. But she would oppose us," Methos finally said. "She would never go against the MacLeods, because one of them is her long-time lover. And the MacLeods would never join us."

"I have heard of this MacLeod, the Highlander," Korolyev said. "He took the head of the Kurgan."

Methos listened carefully for fear in the other man's voice, but all he heard was respect, perhaps a little awe. "Oh, he's a slippery, nasty, dangerous bastard, no question about it. It will be a challenge taking him down. His Quickening should be quite satisfying," Methos replied candidly, in a conspiratorial tone, stressing what he knew would appeal most to the Russian. "As for his kinsman, Duncan MacLeod ... but let's not get ahead of ourselves," he continued, nodding toward the darkness, where he'd already sensed the Argentine coming. "We take them one at time. Starting with her." He looked from one to the other. "Make me proud," he said.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Translations:

cara mia (Ital.) - my dear

molto bene (Ital.) - very good

tovarisch (Russian) - comrade

manana (Span.) - tomorrow

Chapter 23

Elena was not late. She was never late for a fight, except when she did it deliberately, like the legendary samurai Musashi had done to play mind games with his enemies. She had stood on a nearby second floor, watching through an infrared sniperscope as the two Immortals, then the three of them, talked. She was afraid Methos might have been taken, coerced somehow - but he appeared completely at ease, standing tall and lean, without a care in the world. Of course, he didn't lose his cool easily, and would never show it in any case. She'd just have to trust him, that's all. Although ...

Now the man on his left, Isidora's newest acquisition - [!cono!] she didn't like his appearance, the confidence and ease about him. The man was as tall as and broader than Methos, which meant a greater reach than hers. An athlete, born and bred. Well, maybe she'd draw the Italian, a known enemy. She hoped Methos would be a good enough swordsman to defeat ... with a start she realized she'd never actually seen Methos fight. But he had killed Temujin, so ... no, too much thinking, Elena! She shook herself, loosening her mind and her muscles as she picked up her duffel and went toward the park. [Que sera, sera.]

Before coming too close she put down her duffel and pulled her sword out of it. The sight of the three of them ranged against her made her nervous. But she trusted Methos. She did.

"Don't worry, Methos," she said by way of hello, smiling, getting ready, waiting, watching him especially.

The Russian announced himself to her: "I am Dmitri Ivanovitch Korolyev ..."

"... and he's here to take your head," Magdalena finished for him. "He won't need my help," she explained to Methos. "Duran is no match for him, and I will enjoy watching her die."

"Yes - it seems our Russian friend here is a true [espadachin]," Methos supplied, taking a step back away from the others. Elena had told him not to worry, he thought. Not to worry! It was almost funny. She - this youngster, this child - was reassuring him! But now that the Argentine was here he was surprised to discover how much he was heartened by her presence. And especially, by the fact that she was still on his side, to the end. He contrasted this with how he felt about Isidora Magdalena.

Elena was touched, a little. He was giving her information on the Russian's expertise, warning her; but of course, it was to Methos' advantage ... but a moment later she stopped thinking about that as she was forced to meet Korolyev's very quick, strong attack.

Methos glanced at the combatants briefly before turning to the Italian. "You won't be able to help him anyway, to double-team Elena, Isidora. Because you'll be occupied with me. But that should be all right," he continued, moving further back, away from the track and into the middle of the field, giving himself and Elena more room, pulling his own broadsword out of his light trenchcoat. He shrugged out of it - in spite of the time of year, it was already a little muggy in Florida. "You wanted my head from the beginning, didn't you?"

"What?" Magdalena asked. "[Bastardo!] You lied to me?! No, you couldn't have! You said ..."

Methos smiled at her - a malicious, patronizing smile. "Mostly the truth, Isidora. Some lies. Especially about you. I go with the winner, remember?" He leaned towards her, not too close, whispering viciously, his expression hard now, ruthless. "And you, my dear, are a loser."

He now knew he couldn't learn to do this 'cleaving'; not this time, anyway. The only Immortals he trusted enough to try it with would never consent, and the secret would die with Isidora Magdalena tonight. Unless the Mongol had taught others, that is.

He also knew that not too long ago he would have betrayed Elena Duran and the MacLeods and Richie without a single hesitation or regret. But now, today, he wouldn't; he didn't want to betray Elena. No - not her so much. He didn't want to betray Duncan MacLeod.

But especially he didn't want to betray himself.

He wondered, not for the first time, when he'd acquired all these scruples; then answered his own question. With a snarl at fate, at the way things were, and at the way they might have been; with both regret and joy at what he'd lost and what he'd gained, he faced Isidora Magdalena's blades, casting in his lot with the 'good guys.' For now.

"Why, Methos?" The Italian's voice was raw, savage with anger. "You could have had all the power Temujin had. For centuries, for millennia, he was unstoppable! I know you wanted his power - you didn't lie to me about that!"

He had totally fooled her, as he knew he would. And only in his own heart did he know what of everything he'd told her had been true, and what had been lies. Then they heard Elena cry out in pain from Korolyev's relentless, expert blade, and he saw Isidora's confident smile. Methos narrowed his icy concentration on his opponent and attacked, thinking, fleetingly: make me proud, Elena. And he thought how ironic it would be if they lost. Because he knew from hard experience that sometimes the good guys lost.

Most times, actually.

///////

"[!Al carajo!]" Korolvev said savagely, bitterly, condemning Elena to perdition. It was apparently the only Spanish phrase he knew. He said it just before his head rolled down the steps of the empty football stands.

Elena turned to see that Methos, at this very moment, was taking the Italian Immortal's Quickening. And before Korolyev's Quickening overtook her, Elena looked down on Methos from the bleachers she'd climbed during her duel, trying to get and keep the advantage of higher ground against her stronger opponent. Methos was illuminated as he shuddered, his mouth in a thin line, his jaw tight; his arms held up above his head in a sign of victory and joy and acceptance and pain; his tall, rigid, slim body ...

Then she was hit with the lightning bolts which bounced off the metal bleachers with more energy than she expected, and she felt on fire, consumed from the inside out. Her blood was surely boiling, and she thought that any minute now the top of her head was going to come off and splatter her brains all over the park for the tourists to find the next day.

Almost in shock, she saw the life forces close in on one another. Then the lightning bolts merged, became one, then forked again ... Duncan had told her that he and Methos had 'shared' two Quickenings, those of Kronos and the other horseman, in a different way than usual. And that for a moment there, Duncan and Methos had felt each others' souls and the horsemen's souls

Now she felt it, the Russian, especially the Russian who was the closest, and the one she'd actually beheaded. But the Italian, too. And Methos.

[!Madre de Dios!] Methos' Quickening! She could feel Methos' Quickening, his heart, his soul inside her, within her, one with her! She could feel it, and it was the strongest, the most unbelievable ... Her head and heart were suddenly filled, overwhelmed with images and feelings. The heat of the desert; the smell of cooking food and of horseflesh; happiness and satisfaction; hatred and cruelty. Lies. Long nights. The taste of a woman's lips and of beer; the sound of singing and of mourning; the feel of the whip and the blade cutting into flesh. Joy and frustration and lust; the smell of disease; pain and mind-numbing terror. The beauty of the sea; anger and sorrow; the feel of a sword in hand. Loyalty, curiosity, arrogance and the strength of the body. Fear and ecstacy and guilt and pride. And the smell of blood the sight of blood the taste of blood, the feeling of blood pounding through his body and hers, throbbing, the sticky feel of blood, the blood, gods! the blood! [!Madre de Dios!]

Elena dropped her broadsword and held her hands at her temples, trying to keep her head from exploding out of her skull. Her heart was hammering wildly, erratically, threatening to pound its way out of her chest, burst out - or maybe just simply stop. She was panting, laboring to breathe. Her mouth and nose were filled with blood; she was going to drown in it! She coughed up a mouthful of red gore and spat it onto the seats - then the last of the lightning bolts, the Quickenings, hit her. Elena threw her head back and screamed until she thought her vocal cords would be shredded.

Then it was gone, done. The Quickenings were over, and she sank down heavily, wounded, winded, exhausted, trying to catch her breath and regain some modicum of strength. But more important than that: she absolutely knew that she either had to get away from Methos, or she had to get to him and fuck him now, right now, on the grass or on the stadium seats, close to where the headless corpses of the Italian and the Russian were lying, already forgotten, already starting to decay.

It had been too long, and there had been Quickenings all around her, within her. She was burning - and now Methos had vaulted the fence and was slowly climbing the steps toward her.

"Elena!" he called out in a ragged voice.

She couldn't make out his face in the darkness. But he was coming for her, and she heard the passion in his voice, clearly. For once, he was neither cold nor detached.

Methos was coming for her.

She still felt weak from the incredible Quickenings, from the real cuts she'd received. Her throat burned. But she quickly looked around, picked up her weapon and pushed herself to her feet. She wanted to run away; instead she stood her ground as she always did, sword in hand.

When he was close, only a few steps below her, he stopped abruptly, puffing heavily from the fight, the climb, the rush, the Quickenings, [!carajo!] He'd felt her, Elena, and Korolyev and Isidora, like he'd felt MacLeod and Kronos and Silas all together, for just a flash. They had shared the Quickenings! Elena Duran had been inside him, and he'd seen into her heart, her mind, her soul. And of course, she had seen into his. Methos wondered what she'd seen, what she now knew about him ...

But those thoughts were overwhelmed by the damn lust! He couldn't see the expression on Elena's face, but she was still holding her sword, and her body language made him suddenly wonder if she thought ... could she think he was after her head? Dammit, that was the last thing he wanted now! He was driven as close to desperation as he ever got, these days, desperate to have her, Elena Duran. Now, right now! But ever mindful of her sharp blade, always thinking, he waited, panting on one of the risers beneath her, coming no closer.

Elena knew that Methos was not after her head. She knew what he wanted from her, because she wanted the same from him. [!Dios mio!] She ached to feel him against her, inside her ... She spit out more blood, but was feeling a little better now, stronger. "No, Methos," she pushed out past dry lips, whispering brokenly, urgently, almost to herself.

He heard her and wondered why she was saying no. "What? Elena, listen ..." he began. She was still bleeding, still hurt, and obviously poised, ready to move one way or another. He did not want to fight her! What the hell had happened? What did she not want to happen? Didn't she feel it; hadn't she felt it? What exactly *had* she felt?

"No," she repeated, louder, then ran to the end of the stadium seats and jumped off, landing awkwardly on the grass, regaining her balance. Finding her duffel, the long one she carried when she couldn't wear a coat, she pushed the still bloody sword into it and hefted it over her shoulder. Then she ran towards the sea.

But he was close, he was right behind her, hunting her.

No, chasing her.

Elena was overcome with excitement, with powerful, conflicting emotions, with frustrated desire, with blood lust and loss of blood, with joy at having killed and having survived. The Russian's consciousness had struggled inside her briefly before it was subsumed, pushed under to drown with the others. Isidora's and Methos' - especially Methos' - had touched her briefly, violently, but left her again.

Now she ran toward the beach, drawn by the pulsing music, the lights, the sounds of night people having fun just being alive. Drawn by life.

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Translations:

espadachin (Span.) - master swordsman

bastardo (Span.) - bastard

al carajo (Span. or Ital.) - go to the devil

Chapter 24

All along the length of Ocean Drive, on the hotel side, the sidewalks and porches, lobbies and bars were tightly packed, standing room only. Tiny, umbrella-covered tables were filled with talkers, drinkers, dancers, smokers, wheelers and dealers; mostly young, all of them shiny and slick with the moisture and heat of the unseasonably tropical winter night in South Beach.

Elena ran through the milling, sweaty bodies, past hotels familiar to her from post-Depression Miami Beach, in the heyday of the graceful, rounded, Art Deco style. Thirty years after that she'd swum again in this beach, by then deteriorated almost to a slum, amongst young families with children, Cuban refugees, and an army of the old poor, mostly Jewish, walking slowly by, fading away in the sun. Now the area was alive again, back to its former glory and now full of color, maybe even greater. Certainly glitzier.

She ran past the old Winter Haven; the Netherland; the Cavalier, where Luisa Ferranti still slept, hopefully, above the papaya and gold-colored lobby; the Cardozo, with its round faux-marble pillars; the Leslie; the Ocean Front, which she hardly recognized, it was so different. Then the original round portholes of the Tides. The Adrian was several buildings wide, huge, pink, with pink lights.

Elena took it all in, too well-trained in spite of her excitement not to be fully aware of her surroundings. And more than that, very aware of the Immortal coming behind her, still after her! Then, the Clevelander. The large patio, outdoor bars, fountains, the pool, pink letters, a neon purple porch. She didn't have to push her way to the center of the crowd here, because the press of bodies parted before her like a Red Sea of beautiful people. She could tell the men were immediately, obviously appreciative; the women mostly irritated, some of them also aroused. More than one jealous glance; and many comments in several languages.

"[!Uuy! !Carajo! !Pero que linda estas, mujer!] I'm in love! [Wunderbahr! !Nina!] I want you baby! [Mama mia!] Jesus Christ!" And there were also the hands, reaching, grabbing at the tall woman in red with the black eyepatch. Elena was obviously, frankly, in heat, and she knew they knew it. But she didn't wait; she was always moving and knew too much to let the groping hands, the comments stop her.

Methos didn't fare as well. What had begun as a simple chase, a need to stay with her, to talk to her, to touch her, had turned into something else. As she ran through the streets, always just ahead, outdistancing him, he followed on tired legs, sweat trickling down his back. It had turned into the chase, the single-minded pursuit of the male after the female - possibly the single strongest driving force of the human race. The crowds didn't part for him, however, and he saw them surround her, swallow her up whole. He used old techniques to move through them, to keep up with her, and had to hold himself back from pushing too hard, from hurting those in his way, those who were frustrating him, keeping him away from her. From the one person he most wanted to reach at that moment.

There were gasps and fascinated glances for him also, some from sweating females with rummy breath, lots of dark hair, and very little clothing. Others from young, lean-looking men. Someone snatched at his ass and he slipped sideways, always working his way inexorably toward her, toward Elena Duran.

Finally the music's beat got to her, and she stopped running and began weaving, undulating, dancing.

A minute later Methos had to physically break through the ring of predatory men who had immediately singled her out. A particularly bold one had started moving with her, taking her by the waist and pressing his hips against hers, back and forth.

Enraged with lust and frustration, Methos squeezed hard on the nerve between the man's neck and his shoulder bone. The man made a weak, choky sound and took a step back, and Methos immediately replaced him. Now he was there, he'd caught up with her! Elena Duran was his, he was taking her! But as he pulsed with her, watching her head thrown back, her lips open, her eyes closed, her face flushed with effort and heat and the most obvious desire, he wondered if she had noticed he was here, or who was in front of her. Or if she cared.

But Elena was much too aware of his strong Immortal thrum; she knew it was Methos touching her. As her hips moved forward and back he matched her rhythm, following her lead, then moved to lead her, their pelvises close, his erection pressing against her. That was a fiery feeling, and she laughed in delight, deep in her throat. She was panting after her fight and her marathon run. She could feel the sweat on her face and under her breasts, the wetness between her legs, drops sliding down the insides of her thighs, the heat and humidity filling her with a strange sort of energy. In spite of the loud music and the roaring of her own heartbeat in her ears, she could still hear Methos' exhalations.

Methos couldn't quite hear her delighted laughter over the noise, but he saw her laugh, saw her face, felt the vibrations. Gods! he thought, at the point of bursting. He leaned forward and down to lick at the sweat over the pulse in her neck.

She felt his tongue on her; he was so close that she could distinguish his smell above all the other odors. She could smell the blood on him, Isidora's blood as well as his own. And that reminded her of how Methos had looked, just scant minutes before, as the Italian's Quickening had coursed through him.

That's what did it, what finished her: the scent of blood on him. He chose that moment to put his lips over her open mouth and pull her closer to him, flush, still moving. They'd been standing almost alone in the center of a group of people who had moved back to watch them, to watch the two of them dance. She twisted away from his touch, picked up the duffel where she'd dropped it near her feet. Once again the crowd parted and she made her last run to the Casa Grande, a block away.

Methos cursed out loud in several languages that had died centuries before. Without pause he dashed after her again, determined, keeping on her trail when he couldn't see her directly by watching for her wake. He knew where she was going, to their hotel; but he didn't want to lose her from sight, not even for a moment. This time he'd have her!

She finally got to the Casa Grande. The long, cool, elegant corridor was a quiet oasis from the chaos on the street outside. Forget the elevator, only two floors to her room. Up the stairs, fumbling for her keycard as she heard him, felt him come up, panting, behind her. She got inside and slammed the door in his face.

He pounded on the door. "Open up, Elena!" Not again, not this time, senorita! You've turned me down for the last time. Vague alarms and warnings about Duncan's possible anger; about Elena's own antipathy and guilt come the light of day; about the fact that he, Methos, did not let his penis make his decisions for him; and the fact that he didn't completely trust her - all these flitted in the back of his mind like butterflies. His erection, which had made the trek from the dance floor to here an agony of torture and pleasure, throbbed painfully against his jeans' zipper.

"No, Adam. Please go away; I can't open the door!"

"Yes, you can, Elena. Open the door." He put his head against it. The wood felt cool against his heated forehead. His tone was calm, even if his body was not - he was ever aware of where he was, and didn't want to get arrested. Although what he wanted to do to Elena Duran was probably illegal in most states and many countries.

Elena thought she would scream. Why not? Why not open it? Because it would change everything between them. Because she didn't love him, and she only made love with friends, and making love meant something more to her than just wild animals rutting. Although she desperately wanted a man inside her ... but she still didn't completely trust Methos. And how could she do this to Duncan? If only Duncan were here, [!carajo!]

"[Largate, condenao!]" she called out through the door. She felt herself weaken, the heat in her body burn away her thoughts, her will. She could still sense Methos on the other side of the door, within touching distance, and she put her hand on the door, fingers splayed, whispering, "Please, just go."

Methos took a series of deep, shuddering breaths, finding his center, trying for control. "No. You don't want me to go. You want me to come in; and so do I. Open the door, Elena," he repeated for the last time. His voice was almost conversational, but he felt an urgency, a desperation he hadn't felt in a long time. He couldn't believe it, couldn't believe that she'd actually turn him down, lock him out! After everything that had happened, everything the two of them had done, she couldn't refuse him now! This was the ultimate conclusion of this whole bloody mess, of this night, the culmination. This is what they'd been leading up to, these weeks of being together, of the Quickenings they'd both taken! And he was going to have her; he was going to take Elena Duran, tonight, now, if he had to break down the damn ...

She unlocked the door.

He looked around inside, briefly, automatically, as he slammed the door shut behind him, then focused on the Argentine.

She was naked.

With a low growl, he was on her, kissing her, taking her. The taste of her filled his mouth and the smell of sweat and blood and jasmine filled his head. He wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her abruptly to him so tighlty he heard her "uh!" exhalation. His right hand went to the nape of her neck, long fingers splayed apart, holding her in place as he kissed her with the power and the confidence of a man who'd gotten what he wanted for a very long time. Yes! he thought.

And in spite of the fact that this was Methos, not Duncan, and she had to be careful, that she really didn't want, she didn't ... she responded immediately. Her lips opened to his probing tongue, her scalp tingled, the front of her body lit up where he pressed against her. She wrapped her arms around his waist, pulling him closer. She could smell him, her head was filled with him, her body ... she sagged against him, thinking her bones would melt.

Then, as she straightened up, Methos reluctantly released her so he could quickly strip. And in those few seconds she had hitched herself onto the bed on her back and reached down between her spread legs to rub herself, playing with her breasts. He sucked in air, and for a moment paused, transfixed, watching her. Yes! She was as beautiful as he had imagined her!

Impatient, she said, "[Veni.]"

He climbed onto the bed on all fours and leaned down to suck first one breast, then another, putting two fingers of his right hand deep inside her, right next to where she was rubbing herself eagerly, and using his other hand to stroke her dark hair, her face.

She was dripping wet around his fingers, and she made a purring sound which caused his penis to throb in response. She arched up to let him have her breasts while she reached to grab and squeeze his cock, her other hand trying to pull at his too-short hair.

Methos took several deep breaths for control, panting over her breasts. He knew her first come would be explosive, and wanted to be inside her when it happened, so he carefully watched her face, the closed eyes, the clenched jaw, the sensual concentration - and soon, when he judged she was close, very close, he pulled himself out of her grasp. Then he suddenly reached for her wrists, trapping them against the bed, and swung over on top of her.

"!No!" she cried out, fighting him because he had interrupted her when she was so very close ... but he bore down, pinning her, controlling her; then kissing her mouth, her cheekbones, even her eyepatch, her throat and the faint scars there. At the same time he softly rubbed the tip of his penis against her clitoris. This satisfied her, and she was starting to move in a rhythm again, hips up and down, when he paused, positioned himself, and slowly, carefully, inserted his penis into her dark, wet warmth as she surged up to meet him.

Now! He gasped loudly, filled with satisfaction, relief, joy. At last! He finally had her, Elena Duran was his, and he felt thriumphant, ecstatic - because no matter how many thousands of years passed, how many times he plunged his whole being into a beautiful, desirable woman, it was always fresh, always new, and always the greatest feeling in the world - even exceeding a good Quickening! This! This was one of the times that made it all worthwhile: the killing, the death, the fear, the loneliness; even the sheer boredom! And this particular woman, Elena Duran! He determined to give her a night she'd never forget.

"[!Aaaayyy, cono!]" she exclaimed, sobbing with pleasure as he shifted back and forth and sideways, screwing himself inside her as deeply as he could, while trying desperately to keep from pumping himself dry. But she obviously wanted him to pump, judging from the rhythmic lift of hips underneath him. She cried out again: "Methos! [!Ahora, ahora mismo!]" this time.

Elena was close, desperate, frustrated; and after he thrust once, impaling her, twice, gutting her from within, three, four times, she exploded with a loud, hoarse cry like the one she'd made when Simms had eviscerated her. Fireworks went off and spread up her body and into her head, raging inside her brain, turning it into a ball of fire. She froze in place, unable and unwilling to move, to change anything that might stop or change the crashing within her.

He expected that she'd buck under him; instead, she planted her feet and raised her hips, almost lifting them both off the bed, making sure he was as deep in her as possible, and didn't move while her inner muscles spasmed all around him. So he was inside her when the first one happened, and every other time she came that night. Mostly.

South Miami Beach, January 30, 1999, 6 a.m.

Methos opened his eyes, and in a breath, without even moving, had identified Elena Duran as the Immortal in bed with him. As soon as the immediate, instinctive panic left him, he remembered where he was - the Casa Grande Hotel in Miami Beach. He lifted his head to check the little clock on the bedside table. Six twelve, and the only sound in the room was the air-conditioning's hum and Elena's quiet breathing.

But as he moved his head he detected a subtle shift in the tempo of her breathing. She was awake, too, and he remembered how quickly she'd come awake before. No sneaking up on this one, he thought, pragmatically. Plus, she was lying on his left arm, pinning it - and it was numb, which meant he couldn't count on it, not right away, if he needed it ... because in the back of his mind he remembered that this woman had managed to surprise him before ...

Elena felt him move, and that woke her instantly. Him was ... Methos, in bed with her, in Miami Beach. Oh, great! She'd slept with Methos! Actually, it *had* been great! No! [!Carajo!] If he'd been insufferable, arrogant, before, how would he be now? Actually, what would he do? Or say? And would he tell Duncan? [!Cono!] Duncan! How could she explain this, this rutting like a wild animal, with Methos, to Duncan?

He pulled his arm out from under her and propped himself on his left elbow. First, he wanted to ascertain her mood, judge how she might react the morning after - with him. So he smiled into her eyes while carefully examining her face. Then, pleased with what he saw - no danger there, as far as he could tell - he let his eyes roam down the full length of her naked body. His penis stiffened under the sheet.

What he said was: "I believe the criteria were, and I quote, 'screaming and begging for more?'" He smiled, very pleased with himself.

She closed her eyes but couldn't keep a smile off her own face. She'd been right. Such complete arrogance! For a moment she remembered the Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev coming onto the stage, making everyone else there disappear into the background, claiming for himself not just the stage but the entire theater as well, saying, in effect, [!Aqui estoy porque he llegado!] And others she'd met, too, other proud, totally confident men and women. And she excused Methos now, as she'd excused Nureyev and Pablo Picasso and O Sensei and Simon Bolivar, because ... well, because they delivered!

But there was more. She'd always been attracted to strong men, and she knew, as well as he hid it, that Methos was no lightweight. She had certainly expected him to be an experienced, skilled lover, and had no doubt that he'd play her body into just such a mad frenzy. But she had envisioned a cold, efficient sex machine. What she didn't expect was his passion, his lust, the heat that poured out of him as he entered her, again and again, from above and under her, from behind, in her mouth, then inside her again, and as he sucked and kissed and played with her body, her nipples, her clitoris, her neck, her belly, her fingers and toes. She had been inflamed almost beyond reason; but, [!Dios mio!] there was no way he'd been faking his own excitement, his own overwhelming desire. This was no act on his part just to please her or to show off his expert technique.

She had expected him to be world-weary, as he always was, because he had been there, done that all before. Instead, he had treated her as though she were the most exciting woman he'd ever been with. And she knew for a fact that during those hours they'd been making love, she had been the most exciting woman he'd ever been with. And although that sardonic, superior smile was back, and he was his old self again, the thought of the other Methos set a bubble of warmth off in her stomach, starting to reach down between ...

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Translations: (all Span.)

pero que linda estas, mujer - how beautiful you are, woman

wunderbahr (German) - wonderful

mama mia (Ital.) - wow

largate, condenao - get out, damn you

veni - come here

ahora mismo - right now

Chapter 25

Elena took a deep breath, shrugging herself sexually loose from him once and for all - she hoped. First, though, she thought, let's give credit where credit is due. "[!Que maravilla, che!]" she began.

Methos chuckled.

"I've never been with a man who could do it so many times in a row," she said, frankly and truly impressed. "And with such ardor."

"Ardor, huh?" He shrugged, even more pleased with himself. "It's a matter of practice, control ... and of course, inspiration," he answered, giving her a truly warm, mischievous smile.

"I'm glad I inspired you. You drove me temporarily insane."

His smile broadened, eyebrows raised. "Temporary insanity? Is that your defense?"

"Do I need to defend myself?" she asked, a little coolly.

"Senorita, I was attacked." Almost out of control, she'd bitten him, clawed him, thrashed underneath and above him, yanked at his hair and cried out in his ear - sweet Spanish phrases and curses as well as inarticulate animal noises, with maybe a few Indian words thrown in. Gods, there'd been almost as much pain as pleasure in having sex with Elena Duran, and she'd been in pain, too, or sounded like it! In fact, he was surprised that the management hadn't come to her door, suspecting murder. And of course, he'd gone out of his way to drive her to just such extremes.

"[Pobrecito.] I guess I would like to think that in some way I gave you a little trouble back, a little dose of your madness," she said, just to hear how he would react.

"Yes," he answered simply, giving her very little. Then he generously added, "I've had unbroken horses between my legs that were less trouble to hang onto, senorita."

She made a pleased "ha!" sound at what she knew was a true compliment. But the spell was broken, and they both knew it.

And Methos thought: now she will say, well, we got carried away last night, but it was the Quickening and the heat and the music, and this won't happen again, and that would be that. Well, it had been fun, and it was over. Fine with him; he didn't need or want a repeat performance. He didn't. The one thing he would do this time, just for her - and it required an effort on his part - was not tell her he knew exactly what she was going to say.

Of course, there was still that other possibility, he considered - not probable, but still possible. She might want more, a 'romantic?' relationship, think of this as a beginning. Well, he was arrogant but not quite that arrogant, and knew she was in love with Duncan MacLeod. But she'd surprised him before. On the other hand, she might feel guilty and regretful, and get angry with him, or blame him. And maybe even become violent - and he hadn't forgotten, not for one moment, that she was dangerous. He opened and closed his left fist to make sure all the circulation had returned to that arm.

In a sexy, breathy voice, letting out little sighs, she clutched her bosom, a sad and tragic expression on her face. Then she whispered, "Oh, Methos! It was a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime night, and we were overwhelmed by passion and circumstances. But we can never meet like this again!'" She put her hand on his. "'[Mi amado,] please try to understand. We must go our separate ways and forget this ever happened,'" she finished, her eye wide and moist.

It was a bravura performance, and he liked her sense of humor, was relieved that she was taking this attitude. He grinned, then put a mock-tragic look on his face and answered her in the same overly-dramatic tone. "Darling," here he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it softly but with deep feeling, "--you're right. It was our moment, and it's over. I understand. You can ask me to make sure it never happens again - I understand that, too. But please don't ask me to forget this glorious night of passion, of love, because I can never do that. Not as long as I draw breath!"

She laughed. "You overact just like Rodolfo Valentino, but with sound. Except he was more good looking." She examined him carefully, shamelessly, for a moment, then reconsidered. "But not by much."

"And you, senorita, are very beautiful," he said, touching her cheek lightly with the back of his hand.

"Gracias," she said, accepting that compliment, too. She closed her eyes and stretched luxuriously on the bed, getting kinks and morning stiffness out of her muscles, then shaking herself like a shuddering horse. She took a deep breath, taking in the odor of sex on them both, and Methos' unique scent. A scent she'd never forget.

Elena opened her eyes and looked at him. He was smiling at her with what appeared to be tenderness and good humor. Well, at least she knew he would be the last man to judge her. And he had given her a good time, a great time. But she wanted more from him, and at this moment she realized what it was: she wanted his approval. She wanted his trust. Like a small, needy child, she wanted this particular, powerful man to value her, to be glad that she was here, and that she was his friend. It was the same thing she'd wanted from her mentor, Don Alvaro, and from her Aikido Master, O Sensei, and from Madre Luz, the Mexican Mother Superior who'd saved Elena from being beheaded. From all the men and women she'd respected and who had taught her for four hundred years.

But when Don Alvaro had said, "I'm proud of you, [hija,]" or when O Sensei had nodded softly and said, "Better," she'd thrilled because she'd known they meant it, they were proud of her, they cared about her. However, ultimately she knew she couldn't trust Methos, because everything he said or did was thought out, calculated, designed to suit his own purposes.

She closed her eyes again and leaned her head back on the pillow, aware of Methos' frank stare. She'd just realized that his eyes were hazel, not light brown as she'd thought. She wondered what she could say to him.

She knew in her heart that Methos had considered betraying her, had been tempted. Going against her was one of his options, so of course he'd thought of it. And although he could have told her he was going to Isidora, he had chosen not to tell her, Elena; not to trust her. But the important thing, she said to herself, was what he'd actually done in the end, not what he'd thought about doing; his actions, not his possible intentions.

She wanted to ask him that, if he would have betrayed her; even though she knew what the answer would be. She wanted to know if he would be honest with her, knowing that it would put him on the spot, knowing that it would make him vulnerable. Just for once, she wanted to have Methos trust her with the truth for the truth's sake, not for any of his ulterior motives. And she wanted him to volunteer the truth, not just learn about him from his Quickening, without his cooperation, against his will.

She opened her eyes again and looked into his innocent-seeming face. There was a lot of humor there, but his eyes - she looked into them again, deeply. His eyes were not the least bit innocent.

She was the one who was childish, naove, innocent, she thought, kicking herself. How he'd laugh at her if he knew what she was thinking! In fact, he probably had an idea what she was thinking anyway, she thought, and lowered her eyes from his gaze with a slight color in her face.

At least in bed they had been just a man and a woman. For a few hours they'd been equals, sharing that ancient dance. And she was sure that he'd wanted her so badly he hadn't been thinking very clearly, hadn't had an ulterior motive or a hidden agenda. She'd gone out of her way to drive him temporarily insane, too, and maybe had even seen the real Methos, the one whose Quickening she'd touched. Maybe.

Yes, maybe.

She met his eyes again. He'd said nothing, and was looking at her with his usual insouciance; but now there was a certain intensity there ...

"Yes?" he asked her. He knew that she suspected him, and wondered if she would blurt it out, ask him point blank. A difficult question for him to answer, either way. But he would manage it. He also wondered what else she was thinking about him; and how much she'd tell him.

[Cono!] She'd given herself away. Again. And that's how it would always be between them. She shook her head, then shrugged. ["La vida es un tango, eh?]"

Nice allusion for an Argentine, he thought. Life is just a dance, a game. "I agree, [nina.] I do find life rather a lark myself, not to be taken too seriously." But Elena took some things quite seriously. And that's what she wanted, for him to take her seriously, didn't she? "But some few things are important, [che,]" he added.

[Che.] He'd used the Argentine word you used with your comrades, your 'buddies.' It meant friend ... but it could mean so much more. She wondered what Methos meant by it. When he said nothing else, she asked, whispering, "Like friendship?"

Although they were naked together in bed, he was very careful not to touch her now. It had been fun, a lark, a tango, as she put it. But their relationship was not about sex, and he wanted her to know that he understood that. For the past two intense, dangerous weeks this woman had stayed by his side when he'd been hurt, hunted. When he'd been helpless and frightened. When he'd died. And of course he could trick her, manipulate her, get her to do things his way.

But she hadn't stayed with him because he'd manipulated her, or for fun and games. He clearly remembered Duncan MacLeod crying out against Cassandra, about him, about Methos: "I want him to live!" Well, Elena Duran, too, wanted Methos to live. And she had not betrayed him or deserted him. Even if she had considered it, which he didn't think she had - ultimately what mattered was what she'd done, not what she might have thought about doing. All she wanted was for him to acknowledge that.

All these thoughts raced through his head in a split second while he smiled at her, his head propped up on his hand. Of course, he couldn't just be direct and say, "I appreciate your help, Elena." She'd be insulted, suspect him trying to trick her, of lying right to her face - even if he really meant it. This was the down side of never telling the whole truth, of always having a hidden agenda. Because on top of everything else, she amused him; he liked being with her; he cared about her. He had for a few moments looked into her psyche - and he liked what he saw there. He deliberately let these feelings reach his eyes, color his smile. Finally he said, "[Si, che.] Like friendship."

She felt a warmth inside her, and she knew he saw it. She nodded, then sat up in bed, bringing her knees up and curling her arms around them, instinctively covering herself.

So, she wasn't going to ask him, and she had understood. She'd matured a little, our Elena. But there was something else she wanted to talk about. The Quickenings. He looked at her closely, studying her while he smiled. What did you find out, Elena? What do you know about me? he wanted to ask her.

Her chin was resting on her left knee, and suddenly she turned to him and asked, "What about ... did you feel it, Methos? The Quickenings together, the connection? And afterwards, in bed ... I'm not sure ..." She could vividly remember Methos' Quickening, and it made her feel afraid and thrilled all at once.

"Yes, I felt it, too, Elena. As though our spirits were joined, temporarily, when we took the Quickenings at the same time," he explained, partly to himself. He wondered again what she'd sensed about him, and if there was something she could now hold over him. "But it's gone now," he added, thinking he could probably safely dismiss it. What could she possibly do, anyway; or try? Besides, it had been a one-time feeling and not that important except as a curiosity factor. Right? The only time he'd ever felt anything close was when he and Duncan had both taken the horsemen's Quickenings, Kronos' and Silas', simultaneously. Except, he thought, smiling to himself, he hadn't gone to bed with Duncan MacLeod afterward!

MacLeod! Methos thought, with some satisfaction. He had to admit that he'd gotten a special perverse kick out of taking MacLeod's woman, even if just for one night - something he hadn't managed with Amanda since the whole business with Kalas. Amanda had become particularly attached to the Scot in the last few years, Methos thought, ruefully. But now, tonight, he had triumphed over the Highlander, secretly winning the eternal male competition between them by taking the body of his woman. One of his women.

"So when our bodies were joined ..." she was saying, then drifted off, considering.

"Yes," Methos said again. "It was stronger than usual, special. It was very nice, Elena." He could admit that much to her and to himself. It had made their lovemaking more ... intense than what he usually felt. He wondered, if he had sex with her one more time, if there would be that same depth, that intensity of feeling.

But not today. That moment was gone for today. And yet he found that he really, really wanted her again.

Elena shook her head, thinking how unique this was. How different Methos was, everything about him! Except for the fact that he was a man, like any other man ... her eye was drawn to the movement under the sheet covering his lower torso. And that he wanted her again, she realized. Again?

She hurriedly got up to go shower.

But before she closed the bathroom door behind her, she turned to Methos, thinking, Duncan! letting the guilt fill her. And the fear, too, as she thought about the hold this ancient Immortal now had over her, and how he could try to use it against her. Now she wished she'd covered herself with a sheet, or had a towel, or something. But she also realized that she knew something about Methos as well. And he might not know it. Calmly, she said, "Duncan doesn't need to know about this."

Of course, Duncan MacLeod. She was feeling guilty now. And a little scared, perhaps. Methos knew there was a time for teasing, and a time for directness. "No, he doesn't," he said. Methos really wanted to reassure her and let it go; but his friend, his [che,] deserved a little more honesty than that. He sighed, cursing at himself, a little. "Elena ..." he began.

"But he'll know anyway, won't he? The next time the three of us are together ... or you'll tell him yourself, if it suits you, Methos."

He sighed again, internally this time. This total honesty business was tiresome. "Do you want him to know, Elena?"

"No," she whispered. "Duncan and I ..." They'd both had other lovers, but it didn't take away her love for him, or his for her. However, she didn't want to hurt Duncan by letting him know she'd slept with his friend, with Methos. But she couldn't explain this complex relationship to Methos, who probably already knew about it anyway, and who might get some small pleasure or advantage out of rubbing this in Duncan's face.

He waited, but she didn't say anything else. "Then don't tell him," he advised, shrugging. "The next time the three of us are together may not be for years to come."

"So you're saying, don't go looking for trouble." She shook her head. Simple and pragmatic; she didn't lie to Duncan, but she didn't have to volunteer information. Or worry about it now.

She put it aside because it was a done deal, and the consequences would just have to work themselves out. Later. Now, for now, all things considered, she was ahead. She'd gotten the most from Methos that he would give, and found out more than either of them had bargained for. She had enjoyed his company, very much; she'd come through for him, and he for her. They'd formed a friendship and created no small amount of trust. And friendships and trust among Immortals were as rare as ... they were almost non-existent. She now had Duncan, Connor, Richie *and* Methos - their whole 'team,' as Immortals she could trust. Up to a certain point, of course.

She took a deep, satisfying breath, then said, "[Vaya con Dios, viejo. Hasta la proxima.]"

"I'll look forward to meeting you again, [nina,]" he echoed, meaning it. And the last view he had of Elena Duran before he got up to dress and leave was of her naked, proud body and the bright, honest smile on her tan face.

Not bad at all, he thought.

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Translations: (all Span.)

que maravilla - wow! marvelous!

pobrecito - poor baby

aqui estoy porque he llegado - I have arrived

mi amado - my lover

hija - daughter

che - all inclusive Argentine word for comrade, friend, partner

vaya con Dios, viejo - go with God, old man

hasta la proxima - until next time

The End

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