When Connor and Duncan returned from their all afternoon jogging event, they could immediately sense that something was wrong. Adam was doing the dishes, Richie was sweeping the kitchen and Joe sat listening to music in a spotless and tidy gathering room, oblivious to the world thanks to the headphones he wore. His lap top computer was open on the coffee table, but he paid it no attention.
Connor went to the refrigerator for bottled water. Duncan leaned on the counter, watching the two younger looking immortals in amazement. "Alright, Joe." He hollered into the next room. "What did they do?"
"He can't hear you with the headphones on," Adam reminded him. "What makes you think we did something?"
"Because I've lived with..." Duncan stopped as he realized what he was saying. "You both have spent enough time on my couches that I know perfectly well the only time you voluntarily clean anything is if you've done something. You clean on guilt alone."
Richie brought his broom to a halt. "Hum. One more piece of my past revealed."
"Don't be smart." Connor held a cold bottle of water against Richie's neck and handed another to Duncan. Richie squealed and even Adam grinned. "Don't jump to conclusions Duncan, I've seen them clean without guilt." Connor pulled the oven door open to reveal a pot roast cooking. Adam looked off to the side trying to hide the guilty look on his face. "Alright, what did you do?"
"Now you just said..." Adam started to protest.
"Clean, yes. Go for pizza. Drink beer. Yes. Cook- never. What did you two do while we were gone?"
"We went for pizza."
"Pizza?" Connor and Duncan looked at each other.
"You two used to do that all the time in the city. What's different this time?"
"Nothing," Richie tried to assure them.
Connor visibly turned on his mind reading ability, also known as the fact-extracting stare down, and studied them each until he received some hint of the problem. "Who did you meet?" He demanded.
"You're good at this." Adam smiled nervously. "How do you do that?"
Connor said nothing, but only stared at Adam. Duncan straightened up and for old time's sake stared at Richie.
Joe entered and took a quick glance at all of them. "I see they told you about Michaelis?"
"Michaelis!" Connor hit the roof. "You met Michaelis in town?"
"How were we suppose to know he'd be there?" Richie tried to defend them. "We haven't seen or heard from him in months."
"This is why you should never go in town alone!"
"I had Adam and Joe with me. I didn't go alone. Besides its me he wants not you guys."
"You think that matters to me? It's me he's going to get!" Connor shouted. "I challenge him once and for all. I will not have this gutless punk hanging around preying on the young anymore!"
"It's my fight," Richie insisted.
Duncan started to jump in just then but managed to stop himself. He was Connor's student at the moment, but the old stubborn Richie was obviously not affected by his amnesia. He had to suppress a grin as he tried to play quiet observer in this battle of wills he had so often participated in.
"You are not ready for him and don't argue with me. This man needs to be stopped. He must have been watching my place in New York. He must have followed you." Connor turned on Duncan.
"Hey, I had no idea. He was never close enough to- " Duncan looked worried. "You better call Rachel."
Connor had already started for the phone. Duncan turned on Adam and Richie. "Does someone want to bring me up to speed on Michaelis?"
"He just prays on the younger immortals, MacLeod." Joe finally announced after a painful silence from Adam and Richie.
"I want more than that. How good is he? Where is he staying?"
"We don't know." Richie gave his most sincere look. He wasn't sure why he was caving under Scott's stare, but it felt well practiced and natural. "We just went for pizza. Then he showed up and started with his usual invitation to meet him."
"Where?" Duncan pushed.
"He didn't name a time or place."
Duncan turned his disbelief toward Adam.
"Really, " Adam nodded. "Nothing was established. I tried to convince him to fight me, but he wouldn't go for it.
Duncan rolled his eyes back in his head and gave an exaggerated sigh. "Neither one of you will be going. This son of a bitch has to be stopped."
"He's not going to fight you." Adam insisted. "He suspects I'm more experienced than Richie, and refused to accept a challenge from me."
"Well, he's not going to have a chance to refuse. The hunter becomes the hunted."
"No," Richie protested. "The hunted becomes the hunter. I'm not running from this fight."
"I wouldn't ask you to run from it, Richie, but I won't allow you to run to it. This is not a fair fight. You are too new at this..."
"According to Adam, I have more experience than he has in the recent past."
Duncan turned a devastatingly dangerous stare on the ancient immortal who was trying to disappear in a very childish manner. "That's not exactly what I meant, Richie."
"Everyone has more experience than Adam has had in the recent past, Richie!" Duncan thundered. "Because he chooses not to fight anymore."
"I defend myself if I need to."
"But you avoid fighting mostly." Duncan pointed out. "I'm not condemning that!"
"Then why are you yelling at me?" Adam questioned.
"I'm not yelling at you, I'm yelling at him! Richie, just because Michaelis fights the young doesn't mean he can't fight. You don't know enough about him to assume that."
"I'm old enough to fight my own fights!"
"It's experience you lack, Richie."
"Well how am I suppose to get it, if I don't get it? I don't get it!"
"You are not fighting him, Richie." Duncan grabbed Richie and gave him a hard shake. "We just got you back, and I'll be damned if I loose you now!"
"I don't even remember you!"
"But I know you! I know you and that just has to be enough for you!"
Richie squirmed free of Duncan's hold. "I may not know much about my life, but it is my life! And I don't want to spend it hiding!" He stormed across the room, brushing past Connor who was still on the phone, and up the kitchen stairs. Connor had one hand over his free ear trying to hear.
"Well," Joe smiled. "Just like old times."
Methos, a.k.a. Adam, went to check the pot roast in the oven again.
"Don't you walk away like nothing's happening, Adam! I'm not done with you."
"I'm just checking dinner, MacLeod." Adam stood back up from the oven. "Or would you rather I crawl in with it?"
"Don't tempt me." Duncan glared. "What ever possessed you two to go into town anyway?"
"We wanted pizza and beer. Staples for those of us permanently frozen twenty somethings."
"Richie was barely nineteen."
"You know what I mean. But let's not quibble. If you can find a way to blame me for this, go right ahead! I won't even argue the point."
"I'd rather know what you think of Michaelis." Duncan softened only a bit.
"Oh." Methos tried to hide his shock. "He's a bastard."
"Could Richie take him?" Duncan forced patience.
"I don't know that I could."
"Give me a break, MacLeod. You beat Kronos. You could take this jerk, if you stayed focused."
Duncan was quietly considering the point. "Then I'll stay focused."
"No you won't." Connor rejoined the group. "This is my fight. It started in New York and that's where it should have ended."
"Rachel?" Duncan asked.
"Rachel is fine. She doesn't remember talking to or seeing anyone out of the ordinary. She's had a lot of experience over the years."
"Well, then it must be something we did. He said that we led him here, but how? It's not like we can sneak around on each other." Adam began slicing the bread they had bought earlier in the day.
"Pizza." Duncan guessed.
"You had to stop for pizza at that restaurant around the corner. Then you went for pizza today."
"See, I told you. I knew if you tried real hard you'd find a way to blame me for this." Methos smiled tensely. "But this is stretching it even for you."
"It's not your fault." Connor assured him. "What are you saying, Duncan, this man is the Immortal Pizza Delivery Man?" Connor almost scoffed.
"He's saying it's my fault." Adam stabbed the loaf of bread with the knife, brushed his hands off on his jeans, and walked out of the kitchen.
"Yep," Joe grinned at Connor. "Just like old times. The only person you have yet to piss off, MacLeod, is me."
"You're right, because he's already pissing me off." Connor gave Duncan a warning glance.
Duncan rolled his eyes. "Well pardon me for caring."
After about five minutes Richie decided his room wasn't big enough for pacing so he threw himself on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He should have gone outside. Note to self; next time you get mad don't go to your room like a twelve year old. Of course, that was just about the way everyone was treating him, so what difference did it make?
Scott was really starting to tick him off. The man expected Richie to know just who he was and seemed to be under the delusion that Richie should listen to him. He acted like he was Richie's teacher rather than Connor or Duncan MacLeod. No one had ever even mentioned a Scott MacLeod until he'd shown up at the lake yesterday. Again he found himself wondering if Scott was really Duncan MacLeod, but that was so silly. Why would they lie to him about that?
He fumbled in his back pocket for his wallet and pulled out the picture of him and Tessa. "Tessa, why can't you help me remember anything? Who are these people? Hell, who am I, and why should I listen to anything they have to say?"
He closed his eyes tightly, trying to explore his mind. Vacant dark corners, glimpses of Tessa's face embedded from the photograph he often found himself staring at. Connor, Adam, Rachel. The few friends he'd made here and in New York. The pizzerias he and Adam frequented. The island off the coast of Greece where they had lived with Adam's caretaker, Michael. Then darkness. Tessa.
"Richie, listen to Mac. He knows what he's talking about."
The voice in his mind shocked him. He sat up suddenly, eyes wide open. This time she actually spoke with the French accent he had only heard in his dreams and nightmares. What a beautiful voice. He regained control and forced himself to lay back down and close his eyes.
Why should I listen to him?
"Mac cares about you very much, Richie. He's very old fashioned, but you would be too if you had lived for four hundred years."
Then he needs to come out of the dark ages.
"Yes, I suppose. Be careful, Richie. We love you very much."
The loud swoosh of a sword jolted him off his bed and onto the floor. He sat up and opened his eyes on an otherwise empty room. No one was in there. The sound of the sword had shaken him to his very core, much like the sensation of falling when you're just about to drift into a deep sleep.
He slowly crawled back onto his bed, grateful that no one had witnessed his silly descent. He settled back down, once again trying to summon Tessa's voice back, but nothing happened. Eventually he just fell asleep until Connor came knocking on the door. Connor seldom waited for the expected invitation to enter the room, but today he did. Richie sat up still groggy.
"Hey, this dinner you and Adam fixed looks pretty good. Ready to eat?" Connor half smiled hopefully.
Connor was tough, but he obviously had a soft spot for Richie, and the kid had figured that out pretty quick.
"Yeah, I suppose. Is Scot still here?"
"Yes, he is our guest. Don't you like him?"
"So far he's mostly pissing me off. I don't like the way he treats Adam, either."
"They've had some problems they're working out. They're good friends, so this time will do them some good. Don't let that influence your judgement. Scott is a good man, Richie. One of the best."
"You said that about Duncan, too. How many immortal MacLeods are there?"
"I know as many as you do." Connor hedged the truth.
"Good, cause I don't think I can take any more of you."
Connor smiled sadly at Richie, but finally shook it off. "Come on, kid. Let's find out what kind of a cook you are."
"Actually Adam did the cooking, so don't blame me."
Methos sat sulking on one of the large boulders in the clearing they had been practicing in earlier in the day. What was he doing here? He needed to go find Michaelis, kill him, and then hit the road. Richie would be fine. Duncan obviously had no problems accepting him as the real kid, and if something did come up, Connor would always be there. Connor had the situation well under control.
He just didn't belong here. He had never truly belonged anywhere. The revelation of his dreams only made him loathe himself even more than he had two thousand years ago, when he'd awoken to the possibilities that there was more to life than butchering innocents and stealing from people.
They had been a plague. They killed anyone they wished. Whenever they needed something they took it. Brutally. How could he have lived that way for so long? Why had he never come to the conclusion that killing was wrong earlier than he did?
Kronos. Kronos had made him everything he was, but it wasn't just Kronos he hated. He hated himself. How could he have ever been so weak? How could he have ever let Kronos feed him full of lies and hate and insanity? He should have been able to resist him. How long had he tried? He had no way of knowing. Years, a century? How much time had elapsed before he finally snapped and killed the boy in the tent? How much torture did he suffer before he became such a hideous monster? If only he could remember how weak he'd been.
The sensation of another immortal roused him from his deep inner reflections. He looked up to see Duncan standing in the clearing, sword drawn.
"Come for your revenge?"
"What?" Duncan was confused. "No, I thought you might be Michaelis."
"I might have been- or worse- in another lifetime."
Duncan studied him for a moment. "Dinner's ready."
"I've lost my appetite."
"Come on." Duncan ordered. "Now."
"Do I look like Richie?"
"No, but you can be just as insolent." He smiled.
Methos closed his eyes trying to shut out the vision of Kronos backhanding him to the ground. I will not have such insolence from a slave!
But you said I'm your brother.
But never my equal! Never!
"Methos, " Duncan urged gently. "Thank you."
"For what, MacLeod?" Methos asked wearily.
"Looking out for Richie. I know you did what you thought was best. I may not agree with you, but given the circumstances you did what you could."
"We could have never stopped you- if you thought he was a demon. Richie nor I."
"I know. Look, I'll eventually get over this, I'm sure. I'm still not happy you didn't tell me when I saw you in Paris the last time, but I know what it's like to be under Connor's orders. He can be very persuading."
"After five thousand odd years you would think I'd be used to bullies," Methos scoffed.
Duncan laughed nervously. Methos was in a real mood.
"Well, Connor knows me better than anyone. I can see why you'd want to take his advice."
Methos nodded. Is that what he'd done? Why did he let either of the MacLeods order him around like a new recruit?
"You hungry?" Duncan coaxed. "Dinner looks great."
"I'm always hungry." Methos scooted off the rocks. He felt a sense of relief. MacLeod was still angry with him, but at least he acknowledged that he understood why he'd done what he had.
"The dangers of dying young. Did I ever tell you my theory on the age thing? The personalities?"
"No." Methos shook his head and followed MacLeod.
"Well, it's similar to your permanently frozen remark. You and Richie will always crave pizza and beer. You'll always be smart alecks and your over all maturity level will always be that of a college student."
"Does this get flattering at all?" Methos shoved his hands in his jean pockets.
"You'll never have arthritis."
"Never be called sir." Methos grumbled.
"Never have gray hair."
"Never get a senior citizens discount."
"And Connor and I will always be- "
"Know it all, over bearing, power hungry,..." Methos nodded as they walked along.
"Does this get flattering soon?"
Methos sighed and changed the tone in his voice. "Fatherly to the young, jack of all trades, concerned, counselor to the weak and down trodden, savior to the masses and the world in general and everybody's favorite hero."
"It's a burden." Duncan sighed comically. He stopped when he realized Methos already had.
"I owed you, you know?" Methos spoke hesitantly.
"What do you mean? Revenge or gratitude?" Duncan eyed him cautiously. He looked so young and fragile, standing there in his baggy sweater, hands in pockets, and obviously seeking some approval from MacLeod. Sometimes Duncan was tempted to agree with Connor. How could this graduate student possibly be 5,000 years old?
"Gratitude." Methos cocked his head slightly with a grin. "While we're holding this mutual admiration fest here." Methos looked shyly away. He wouldn't get through this if he had to look at MacLeod. His concerned, eager face upset the ancient. MacLeod never looked at him with the awe and reverence one should when looking at a five thousand-year-old man. Instead, no matter how much he pretended to do otherwise, he looked at him the same way Connor and Joe did. Just a shade above the way they looked at Richie. He'd long ago gotten used to it. Let people underestimate him. Let them think he was a twenty something graduate student. It was his best defense. What bothered him about his older appearing friends was that they knew what he was, the good, the bad, his strengths and weaknesses. They couldn't underestimate him and there went his defense. Had it not been for MacLeod, he would be dead- or more than likely Kronos' favorite toy of the century.
"You gave me true freedom. I would have always been his slave if you hadn't killed him."
"Nah, he would have just killed you."
Methos shook his head. "No, he would have never killed me. In his own sick and twisted way he loved me too much for that. Kronos was all about control. If I was dead, he couldn't possess me. And believe me, he had far too much fun torturing me to let me off the hook that easily. I spent years trying to get him to just kill me. Until I forgot who I was. Anyway the hideous monster he made me would have never truly been gone. But you killed them all. Now I have only myself to deal with."
"Want to tell me about it?" Duncan put a hand on his shoulder.
"No. I want to forget."
Duncan nodded and led him back to the cabin. "Sometimes the only way to forget the past is to face it."
Methos obviously considered the reply but said nothing. Duncan remained quiet. So it was as he expected all along. Kronos was responsible for Methos' past actions. He had enslaved, tortured and abused him until he had snapped. He'd created the monster. He understood Methos' desire to hold himself accountable. He would probably do the same thing. He usually did. But it wasn't fair. This was different. This wasn't about the conscious choice of seeking revenge. This wasn't about throwing caution to the wind and unleashing any morals you might have. This had more than likely been full scale brain washing. Insanity created through centuries of terror. Insanity was insanity. Whether obtained through terror, brain washing or a dark quickening it was something Duncan understood. He could no more hold Methos responsible for his actions than he could judge himself for killing Sean Burns, or his several attempts at killing Richie. Just as Sean and Richie had been his unfortunate victims just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time so had Methos' victims. Duncan almost shuddered at the thought of what he would have done had Methos not have taken him to the holy spring. The ancient had no one to help him, just Kronos to further torment him.
"Don't forget you found yourself. You got yourself out of that life. You made the changes on your own. And you've done a damn good job at life the last two thousand years."
Methos nodded thoughtfully and remained silent.
At dinner Connor and Duncan took turns regaling the group with stories of their days in the Highlands. Richie found himself studying them both carefully. By the end of the meal he was more convinced than ever that Scott was Duncan MacLeod. What kind of an idiot did they take him for? He was so tempted to stand in the middle of the table and shout, "Hello? Just because I have amnesia, doesn't mean I forgot how to think."
There was just too much history between Scott and Connor, for the older Highlander to have never mentioned him before. Richie had lived with Connor now for well over a year, and they really expected that he would believe Connor would have never said anything? The only thing that kept him from making such a grand stand was the tiny fear that, Scott could really be Scott. Then wouldn't he be offended to learn that Connor had never mentioned him?
So he sat there listening and watching. Observing and studying these strange guests. Joe in particular was very kind, and Richie felt relaxed and happy to be around him. He also felt an intense craving to have a drink when he was with Dawson, cola, beer, it didn't matter. He also had an equally intense desire to start spilling his guts to the older man, but managed to restrain himself considering he really didn't have much of a past to drudge up.
Then there was Adam. His brother. His friend. What had happened between Adam and Scott? Was it merely that Adam hadn't told him that Richie was alive? Adam was too quiet, too reflective, much as he had been in the days before they had joined Connor in New York. He wanted to get him alone and talk to him, but that seemed almost impossible here lately.
At one point he noticed Adam get up and leave the room, after quietly excusing himself. He wanted to follow, but Connor had particularly addressed Richie, when he began to tell him another story about his former teacher Ramierez. Connor was in a nostalgic mood and enjoying discussing the ancient immortal who had died protecting his wife, Heather, while he was away.
Joe Dawson apparently noticed Methos leave as well. After only a moment the Watcher excused himself and followed Adam outside.
Methos was in the fight for his life. His attacker stabbed at him with a sword repeatedly. All he had to defend himself with was the long spear Kronos let him carry on raids and it was doing him little good. Everywhere he turned he could see nothing but blurs of people running, screaming, dying. The constant fluttery buzz in his mind told him Kronos was somewhere nearby, but he had not seen him since the raid had began. Usually his owner preferred to keep his property close at hand, but lately he'd been letting him venture further and further away. He had told Methos that he could always find him using the constant hum that seemed to connect them. Methos had no other choice but to believe him. He spent most of his time in a strange daze. He had few thoughts of his own and could only remember his name because Kronos had called him that so often.
The outraged villager with the sword had caught Methos off guard. He had thought he was walking in on Kronos when the buzzing in his head had grown so strong, but Kronos was no where to be seen. He jumped sideways and shoved his spear into his opponent's heart just as he felt the sword sink into his side. He fell to the ground in a heap next to the dying villager. He was dying as well. For the first time he realized how much he needed Kronos now. Would he die if his cruel master wasn't there to use his magic? A glimmer of wanting to die surfaced in his mind, but he couldn't imagine now why he'd want to.
The man next to him stirred slightly as though he was trying to get up.
"Methos!" Kronos shouted from halfway across the village. "Take his head!"
Methos could barely understand. Why, take his head? He struggled to get to his feet, not wanting Kronos to see him so weak.
"You must take his head, or he will kill you!" Kronos had actually run to Methos' side. It seemed odd to Methos that his cruel leader would run to help anyone. Kronos was used to having everything done at his bidding.
"You bring me back." Methos gasped out, the closest he'd ever come to ordering Kronos to do something.
"Not if he takes your head." Kronos could not hide an amused smile. Even when dying his young servant showed spirit. Kronos, of course, loved finding new ways to break that spirit, but right now he was more intent on giving Methos his first lesson in immortality rather than humility. After all, if the boy died, he would actually be saddened to lose such an able servant and soldier.
Methos pushed himself up a bit more, struggling to get to his knees. "I don't understand."
The other man was also dragging himself upward.
Kronos threw his sword to Methos. "Take his head now, or there is nothing I can do for you."
"You do it." Methos started to slump downward, dropping the sword, but found Kronos pulling him up.
"You must obey me now, or you will die. Take his head! I can't do this for you. It's against the rules."
"You don't follow rules."
"You can't help him." The other man struggled up a bit more. "He has no idea what he is. You've just been beaten by a new one. A child."
"Kronos, why are you making him live again?"
"I'm not. He has the power, and you must kill him once and for all. NOW!"
"Kronos, I can't..."
"Take his head now, or I will take yours!" Kronos' fierce, commanding stare entranced Methos for a moment.
Methos had seen Kronos do a lot of vicious things in the last few years, but he had never seen him behead anyone. He must be telling him the truth. Kronos wasn't the only one with the power. When he felt a sword bury into his side, he suddenly came alive with the fear driven instinct of survival. He swung the heavy sword around as his opponent pulled himself upward and cleanly took his head in one swift stroke.
Kronos smiled crookedly. "Very good. Very good."
"I don't feel so good. What's happening to me?" Methos' eyes opened wide with fear as he watched his dead opponents soul rise from his body. Why was Kronos leaving him?
"It will be over soon. Then I will explain."
Methos crumbled to his knees with the first charge of electricity that surged through him, but the next bolt brought him back up again. For several minutes he screamed in agony as the surges racked his entire body and lightening danced from his flesh. Then he fell in a crumbled heap. When he looked up, Kronos stood over him. He must be willing him to live and recover, because he was beginning to feel stronger.
"What happened? What was that all about?" He rolled his eyes back looking over his head to see Kronos smiling.
"That was the power I use to heal you." Kronos laid his bloody sword against Methos neck. "This is the only way your kind can die."
"What about you? If someone takes your head?"
"I am the beginning and the end. You can kill my body by removing my head, but that will only unleash a hell you can't imagine."
"So you can't be killed like me or him?"
"No, young one. I am the end of time."
Methos shuddered as the memory embedded itself in his mind. Perhaps he would have been better off not remembering that. He looked over at the sound of Joe's footsteps and cane on the wooden porch. He swallowed deeply and stared up at the clear star filled sky.
"I haven't seen that many stars in twenty years." Joe said appreciatively.
"Well, that's what happens when you spend your days and nights in dark alley's watching people behead each other."
"Maybe I should just keep this extra beer to myself." Joe pulled the unnoticed bottle he had been extending to Methos back to his side.
"I'm sorry, Joe. That lost its humor the minute it left my mouth." Instead of reaching for the beer, Methos pulled his arms a bit closer as protection from the crisp air, continuing to watch the stars.
Joe studied him closely, then opened the bottle and handed it to him. "You know, about those demons?"
"Hmm," Methos barely uttered.
"I met him, too. He appeared to me as Horton."
"I'm sorry." Methos nodded. "He was Kronos."
"You mean he appeared to you as Kronos?"
"Yeah, that's what I mean." Methos smiled weakly and took a sip of his beer.
Methos had just gotten Richie back to sleep after yet another nightmare. He turned out all but one light and left the eternal teen sleeping peacefully, with the door slightly ajar. Making his way to the kitchen in the well-lit house at midnight was as easy as doing so at midday. Visitors would be surprised to find that two grown men would leave the house lit up 24 hours a day. They had realized that daylight didn't keep demons away, but at least they didn't give you quite the same fright they did when popping out of the dark. It had been several weeks since the last visit. This had actually been the first night in awhile that Richie had had a nightmare. Maybe he should try to call Joe one more time. Perhaps the demons had found someone else to terrorize.
Pulling a beer and a plate of cold chicken from the refrigerator, Adam sprawled out at the kitchen table. The coolness of the floor tiles against his bare feet reminded him that he was an individual person. Sometimes this around the clock baby sitting of his recently cured catatonic "brother" grew very tiresome. He picked up the phone and started dialing Joe Dawson's cell phone. When he sleepily reached for a piece of chicken, eyes averted to the key pad, he brushed against a cold hand. He dropped the phone, and looked up startled, half expecting to see Richie.
Kronos stood above him, in full warrior gear, face paint specifically designed to scare the hell out of the average fellow trick or treater. Kronos took the chicken leg Methos had wanted. "Methos, Methos, Methos, how many times do I have to kill you before you learn?"
"Fine, you take that piece." Methos reached for another piece, but Kronos stabbed him in the stomach with a small knife he had concealed in his left hand. Methos doubled over in pain.
"I'm talking about the phone call, idiot." Kronos casually strolled to the refrigerator for another beer, leaving the knife implanted in his victim.
Methos pulled the knife out of his stomach and threw it into Kronos' back, but it fell to the floor.
"I'm no longer of your world, Methos. I'm regular Teflon." He said patiently.
"Fine, I'll forget the call." Methos held his stomach tightly, gasping in pain, waiting for the healing to begin.
"Good choice." Kronos came back and sat at the table opposite of him. He watched Methos grimacing in pain, and gave him a half a smile then shook his head. "You always were such a whiner. I don't remember why I kept you around so long. Oh yes. You did have special talents. You were a quick study once I broke you. All that grooming, all the years I spent making you what you were, for what? You run off and leave me the first time you got a glimmer of your conscience. You never call, never write, not even an email. Ungrateful little urchin." Kronos inhaled the chicken and washed it down with a beer.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I did have to leave the nest after nearly three thousand years." Methos tried to regulate his breathing.
"Yes, I suppose, but I had such great hopes for you. With your brain? Think of the possibilities. And you became a doctor! Tell me Methos, in your crazy mixed up little mind, does saving lives help compensate for all the lives you took? How's your score?" Kronos cocked his head to the side and watched the mental torment combined with the physical on the face of his former student. "Come on, you know you can't keep anything from me. Does it alleviate some of the guilt?"
"Why? Thinking of trying it?"
Kronos held his gaze for a moment then laughed. "That's the other reason I kept you around so long. Besides all of your conniving, scheming, lying, and general reformation, you are good for a laugh now and then."
"Yeah, that would be me." Methos tried to sit up.
Kronos suddenly stood and grabbed another piece of chicken. "Well, I must be going. We've reached yet another understanding, haven't we? Don't contact Dawson. He hasn't heard from MacLeod anyway."
"Good boy." Kronos caressed Methos' cheek. "Ironic, isn't it? I've nothing but time. It's my curse, actually. Yet I won't go back and reclaim you those many years ago when you tried to leave. "I could do that now, you know?" Kronos vanished.
Methos fell back in his chair trying to decide whether or not he should fear Kronos' claim. Could he truly eradicate the last two thousand years? No, not even Kronos could do that.
"Son of a bitch! He ate the piece I wanted." He looked down at the plate, still full of chicken. The bones Kronos had left were gone. The pain in his stomach had faded away. "This can' t just be my imagination."
"Hey, Methos. Snap out of it, kid." Joe nudged Methos' shoulder. "What's bugging you?"
"Hum? Oh, nothing really."
"You do know that Ahriman was not Kronos, right?"
"How can you be sure?"
"Well, for one thing, Kronos doesn't disappear every thousand years and then resurface just to be defeated by an immortal. I mean you rode with him for how long?"
"It's hazy, but close to three thousand years."
"Jeez! That long?"
"I knew nothing else. But just lately- "
"Little bits are coming to me. Who I was. What happened."
"Do you remember how you became immortal?"
"Well, it could just have been a dream, but it was very real. Kronos killed me. In my nightmares, I was someone else before he found me. He- he killed me a thousand times before I finally snapped. Before I became like him."
"Wow. That kind of pressure- what a vicious son of a bitch."
"Yes, and I was molded in his image. I just wish I'd been strong enough to resist."
"Did you try to get away?"
"Yes, many times. He'd find me- usually after I starved to death. Death became a release for me."
"So you went around releasing others like you couldn't be?"
"Pretty twisted, but I think that was how it started."
"So how did you finally break that cycle?"
"It was a very slow realization, I'm not sure. Cassandra showed me what love was again. After that seed was planted my conscious sprung forth with a vengeance. I spent the next two thousand years, running from it and Kronos, trying to make some restitution with the human race."
"So you didn't leave Kronos peacefully?"
"No, he doesn't understand the word. I was his prisoner from my first death forward. He had just kept me around so long that I forgot who I really was and became what he made me. It's taken me five thousand years to remember that."
"Well, I can see why you would want to forget it."
=After his fifth attempt to wake Richie up, Duncan swung the door to his room open. "Come on, kid, you're burning daylight. Let's hustle."
He found the groggy eternal teen snuggled under a pile of blankets. His rumpled curls and wrinkled t-shirt barely visible until Duncan pulled the blankets back and gave him a shake. "Let's go, Sleeping Beauty, before I dump you out of this bed."
Richie focused slowly. "Scott? What's up?"
"Obviously not you. I've been calling you for a half an hour." Duncan resisted the smile that kept trying to spill out. Richie had no idea how much the older immortal had missed these moments. Duncan wondered how he could have ever been grumpy with the kid on mornings like this. How many times had he and Richie played out this very scene? How many times had he finally, physically drug the kid to his feet, steering him to the shower, after a late night out or an all night monster movie marathon?
Tessa, sat the bowl of popcorn down between her men and snuggled up to her lover. Duncan had chosen the high ground on the couch while Richie had opted to slide down to the floor with a large throw pillow. He had turned back long enough to scoop up a handful of popcorn. He'd become entranced in the original version of the Mummy, even though he'd spent the first half of the movie complaining about the primitive special effects.
"I think he's finally interested," Duncan whispered as he traced kisses along her neck and throat.
"Good. It's better than all that hack and slash he was watching." Tessa smiled trying not to giggle when Duncan's rough whiskers tickled her.
"He's right here, you know?" Richie turned back for more popcorn. "Why don't you two get a room or something."
"And leave you with these scary movies by yourself?" Duncan scoffed and chucked a pillow at Richie's head.
"Oh, yeah real spooky." Richie flung the pillow back nailing Duncan in the side of the head just as he leaned to kiss Tessa again. Tessa's drink sloshed onto her gown, causing her to squeal. "Oh, Tessa, I'm sorry!"
Tessa quickly grabbed a napkin to absorb the excess liquid.
"Now you've done it." Duncan jumped swiftly to his feet and bolted for the teen, who immediately looked panic stricken, closing his eyes, readying for the first blow. The pillow to the side of the skull was not exactly what he had expected. When he opened his eyes with a half a laugh, he barely saw the second throw pillow leave Tessa's hand. Duncan grabbed another pillow from a different chair and again bombarded the kid. Richie couldn't remember there being so many pillows in the living room, but for the next couple of minutes they fired the fluffy missiles back and forth, until Duncan finally toppled Richie over and pinned him to the carpet.
"Okay, Tough Guy, you win the air war, but I've got you on the ground." Duncan couldn't resist the intense urge to tickle his prisoner until he yelled for mercy, which Tessa wouldn't grant, until he delivered the customary, "Uncle!"
"You don't have an uncle." Duncan mussed the reddish curls and finally allowed Richie to sit up a bit and catch his breath.
Richie was still grinning in amazement at this latest revelation from his employers/ foster parents.
"Look, quick, you're going to miss the best part!" Duncan pointed to the TV. Just as Richie turned around again, Duncan slammed him with yet another pillow.
Tessa fell back against the couch, clapping her hands together over her heart and laughing hysterically. Duncan stopped and smiled at them both. He would cherish this moment forever.
"Where's Connor?" Richie asked, a little nervous with the way Scott had been staring at him.
"He's out with Adam."
"Oh, okay." Richie was obviously confused.
"Come on. Get up."
"How long have they been gone?"
"Awhile, I'm not sure. Maybe we'll run into them on the trail."
"We're going jogging? You and me?"
"We're going running." Duncan corrected.
"I'm hungry. Let's eat first." Richie was obviously stalling for time, probably waiting for Connor and Adam to return. It hurt Duncan to think he could make him that nervous. A hundred regrets of dark quickenings, misunderstandings, Mako, and long absences surfaced suddenly. The boy would probably be even more nervous if he could remember the past.
"Sorry, you'll throw up." MacLeod pulled himself back to the present.
"How did you know?" Richie looked suspicious.
Duncan rolled his eyes around as though he was searching for the excuse. "Lucky guess?"
"Connor told you, didn't he?"
He smiled fondly at the boy. "Richie, you'd be surprised what I remember about you." He crossed to the window, opened the blinds and stared out into the forest. Get it under control MacLeod. This emotional pendulum act is going to get the kid really worried.
"That's right. I keep forgetting we knew each other. That's why you just..."
"What?" Duncan's voice hinted at its four hundred plus years.
"Barge right in." Richie smiled.
"Yeah, I tend to do that. Mostly because I know you."
"I'm sorry." Richie said quietly.
"No need, unless you don't get up right now." He turned back around smiling again.
"Well, leave so I can dress, will ya?"
"Hmm?" Duncan had to give the request some thought. He could still remember the Richie who'd finally become so comfortable with Duncan and Tessa that he would walk around in boxer shorts. "Oh yeah, sure. The Richie I remember wasn't very modest."
"Well, this Richie is."
Duncan left the room and returned downstairs. Richie soon joined him, fully dressed in jogging pants, t-shirt, and shoes. After a few minutes of warm-ups, they sat out at a more than leisurely pace. Duncan was surprised when the boy managed to keep up even in the roughest terrain. Connor must have had him running every day. Duncan was never able to get more than two miles out of him, but today Richie didn't collapse until the fourth mile.
"Hey, what's this?" Duncan jogged in place beside him.
"I'm tired. Need to catch my breath."
"Connor said you could do five miles."
"Usually, but I'm tired."
"So why didn't you sleep more?"
"I don't know. Pre-occupied, you know?"
"Among other things."
"Like what?" Duncan prodded Richie's leg with a foot playfully.
Richie found himself once again resenting this man's intrusion on his space, but it was important to Connor that they get along. Besides, if he truly was Duncan MacLeod, Richie might be able to trick him into a confession.
"Tell me more about Duncan. What does he look like?"
"A great deal like me." Duncan nodded nervously. "We could practically be twins."
"Richie, your past will come back to you in due time."
"I know, I guess, but everyone seems to think Duncan MacLeod knows why I lost my memory. Adam tells me it had something to do with demons."
"He told you that?"
Richie nodded. "Weird, huh? But I remember the nightmares and spooky visitors. So does he. Once that all stopped, we came to see Connor."
"But you don't remember details?"
"No, I don't remember anything clearly, until the night we were attacked by an immortal. He wanted to kill us both. Adam won. I died and when I awoke, I could think clearer and started to remember things. There weren't very many visits after that."
"Tell me about them."
"There was a man named Horton. I don't know how I knew that, but I just always knew. I would wake up and he would be standing over my bed." Richie stopped talking for a minute and looked up at Duncan standing against the tree-filtered sun of the forest canopy. "I shouldn't be telling you all of this. I'm sorry."
Duncan kneeled down to his eye level. "Hey, Richie, it's okay. I know you don't remember me, but we're practically family. Whatever you tell me stays here. Maybe it would help."
"To find Duncan?"
"Who knows?" Duncan smiled nervously. Lying to the boy wasn't a great new beginning. "So what did Horton say? What did he do?"
"Well, it was mostly confusion. He would talk about things I really had no memory of."
Richie jarred suddenly awake to the sound of a loud scream he recognized as Adam's. He barely had his eyes open as he stumbled out of bed. He felt a hand push him down. He tried to focus his eyes in the darkness. Finally he could make out the image.
Horton. Great, just great. The Demonic Duo was back.
"Just stay put, Richie," Horton smiled.
"Why are you here again?" Richie's voice almost cracked. "Why must you keep showing up?"
"Hmm? Where do I begin?" Horton cocked his head to the side smiling.
Richie heard another muffled scream.
"You can't help him, Richie. He has his own demon to deal with."
"But why? What do you want with us?"
Horton laughed gently. "Nothing, nothing at all- from you or Adam."
"Then why are you here? Why does he come and hurt Adam?"
"Is he really hurting him? Or is it all just in his mind? Am I just in your mind?"
"Why would it be in our minds?"
"Guilt." Horton mused pleasantly.
"Guilt?" Richie shook his head. "Why? Guilt for what?"
"You tell me. What happened to Duncan MacLeod, hmm?"
"I don't know."
"Don't you? What happened that was so awful you chose to block it out?"
"I don't know," Richie insisted, his voice growing extremely tense. He cringed at yet another scream from the next room.
"Oh, I think you do. I think you know exactly what happened. I think you killed him."
"No." Richie shook his head urgently.
"Didn't you?" Can't you see him lying there, headless?"
"You're lying, Richie. You killed that self-righteous son of a bitch and you know it. But, your secret is safe with me. Just tell me, why did you do it?"
"Oh, come on, Richie. You remember."
"No!" Richie's torment was only broken by an agonizing scream from Adam. "What is he doing to him? Why is he hurting him? What is his guilt?"
"Betrayal," Horton nodded. "You see, he didn't kill his teacher, like you did, but he might as well have. He arranged for his demise."
"Adam wouldn't do that."
"Really? Oh, don't worry, Richie, the son of a bitch more than deserved it. Years of abuse and torture. Do you know what that's like for an immortal? He just wasn't strong enough to do it himself, so he tricked everyone's favorite hero into doing it for him. But you were strong enough, weren't you, Richie? You managed to kill MacLeod, didn't you? Tell me, was he as abusive as Adam's teacher? Is that why you killed him?"
"He's not dead. No matter what you tell me, he's not dead. Adam told me!"
"Adam had his own teacher killed, Richie. And now you've killed yours. You both had good reasons, I'm sure. So why do you feel so guilty?"
"No!" Richie bolted up in his bead, his screams echoing Adams. But Adam was here at his side, trying to calm him down. He wasn't screaming. "Did he hurt you, Adam? What did he do to you?"
"Nothing, Richie. It was a nightmare. We were just having nightmares, that's all." Adam held Richie until they both had their senses and wits about them again.
Duncan slowly touched the side of Richie's face. I'm so sorry you had to go through that."
"Adam had it as bad, if not worse."
"I'm so sorry, but let me assure you that Duncan MacLeod is very much alive. He would never intentionally hurt you."
"Did Adam have him kill his teacher?"
Duncan nodded slowly. "He tried forever to be free, but eventually he always found him. But it was Duncan's idea. He wasn't tricked. He knew it needed to be done. He had his own war going with that sick monster already. Does that bother you?"
"No." Richie found that it didn't bother him at all. It did bother him that Scott knew too much, not to be Duncan MacLeod. Adam had said he had only told Richie the truth about his teacher. He had offered no details, no names or explanations. Listen to Mac, Richie, Tessa's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Do you believe in demons, Mac?" Richie wasn't sure if he should despise himself or congratulate himself for the ease with which he slid that one simple word into the conversation. Mac.
He got the reaction he expected. Scott turned pale. He couldn't find his voice for a moment. When he did, he finally stammered with an amazed grin. "What did you call me?"
"Mac. I'm sorry. It just seemed like a good name for you. Didn't Adam call you that?"
"No, but that's fine." Truth was no one had called him by name for several days. Everyone had been so careful to not call him Duncan when Richie was around or fully awake, but no one could get used to calling him Scott. It seemed even Richie was having trouble with that. "You can call me Mac if you want."
To Part Seven