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Part 3

Scene 1 0

{If this is Watcher business, it had better be important,} Joe thought, trying to disentangle himself from the sheets before the answering machine picked up. He grabbed the phone just in time and said, "Dawson," with only slightly more irritation than he felt. Mornings were always hell.

"Joe? It's Richie. Mac's been kidnapped."

"What?!" Joe said, as he came more fully awake. "When?"

"Last night, when he was with that friend of his. I got a call just now, with a taped message from Mac. It's a ransom demand. Apparently, they were after Peter but decided they might as well make some dough off Mac, too."

"Why in the hell haven't my people told me?" Joe said angrily.

"How would I know? I was hoping maybe your guys had followed the kidnappers and could give me some clues."

"You going to have any trouble getting the ransom?" Joe asked.

"No, Mac gave me authorization to use some of his accounts a long time ago, in case of emergency. This definitely qualifies. Listen, I'll come by the bar later to see if your Watchers have anything."

"I'll get right on it," Joe promised. "Take care, Rich."


Scene 1 1

"The least they could do is feed us," Duncan grumbled. He and Peter sat back to back, tied to chairs in the middle of an abandoned warehouse.

"Stop complaining," Peter said. "You're the one who wanted to cooperate with them."

"They had a gun to your head. What was I supposed to do, say, 'Go ahead, shoot my friend, he's Immortal?' You know damned well that neither of us can afford to get any mysteriously healing wounds in public."

"The one who calls himself John does seem a little fixated on the idea of cutting us into bits," Peter admitted. "Perhaps they haven't fed us because they don't mean to keep us long. After all, the ransom demands weren't extravagant; they seem to have chosen an amount that could be gathered quickly."

"If Richie's at home, for a change," Duncan muttered darkly.

"That's your assistant?"

{Not exactly, Peter, but I'm not going to explain things right now,} Duncan thought. {If the kidnappers think he's only some employee of mine, they won't be interested in him. I'm sure you wouldn't tell them anything voluntarily, but...} Duncan forced that thought aside and answered Peter's question. "Yes. He used to manage the dojo and still has access to some of my accounts. Completely honest with money, but likes to wander on his motorcycle."

Peter chuckled. "A motorcycle? Sounds a lot less stuffy than my business manager."

"Oh, he is. Doesn't have much snob appeal, but he's good with the books and he knows how to mind his own business."

"So he won't call the police?"

Duncan smiled. "No, he won't do that. What about your business manager?"

"Emile would never dream of disobeying me."

{Wish I could say the same for Rich,} Duncan thought. He was about to speculate on their chances of survival when one of the kidnappers approached them from the far end of the warehouse. It was the man they were most familiar with, the one who had sneeringly called himself John Smith. Duncan thought of him simply as "HIM." {Perhaps not the "brains" of the organization, but definitely the man in charge of the ones doing the dirty work.} Duncan tensed when he recognized his katana held loosely in John's hand.

"You two have very interesting toys," the man said to Duncan. "Is this how the rich get their excitement? Carrying swords and pretending they're the Three Musketeers?"

Duncan remained obstinately silent. John snorted, saying, "Coward," but that also failed to get a rise out of Duncan, so he moved into Peter's field of vision. "And what about you? Is this your idea of excitement? Of danger?"

"My idea of danger is smuggling people out of Occupied France," Peter said lightly, "but I haven't tried that one in about fifty years."

FLASHBACK: FRANCE - 1942

"I don't like doing this in the daytime," Duncan complained, as he and Sean creaked along in a horse-drawn wagon loaded with casks of wine.

"You know we'd be far too conspicuous at night. If we're stopped, let me do the talking. I'm a familiar face around here since I own the bloody vineyard. The Nazis aren't going to remember what all my workmen look like, so you should be safe enough."

"I've never made wine," Duncan mused.

"Too damned busy working on the women, probably. God knows you're none too proficient in the `song' department."

"Some people like my voice," Duncan said indignantly.

"Your mother doesn't count," Peter replied.

"And what do you know about singing?" Duncan demanded. His brogue was starting to show.

"My first wife -- my sweet Lizbet -- could sing like an angel." Peter seemed to lose himself in the memory of her, and Duncan inwardly kicked himself for opening an old wound. He was grateful to see the farmhouse coming into view beyond the trees.

"Isn't that the place?" Duncan asked. Peter nodded silently and turned down the lane.

He pulled the wagon into the shelter of a small barn, where he and Duncan began unloading the wagon with the farmer's help. Two small heads peeped curiously around the edge of the barn door, only to be pulled away by a housewife busily scolding in French.

When they'd removed enough casks to reveal the hiding place in the wagon, the farmer disappeared, returning with the Allied pilot they'd been hiding.

Just then, two motorcycles and a car rushed down to the farmhouse. German soldiers leapt from the vehicles, raising their weapons.

"You will put up your hands and show us your papers," a young officer shouted in execrable French, only to be shot the next moment by the housewife. The farmer had also produced a weapon, seemingly out of nowhere, and Duncan lunged for the wagon to get the guns they'd hidden there. Peter shoved the bewildered pilot to the ground and accepted a weapon from Duncan just as the housewife was struck by a bullet. The soldier who'd shot her fell dead to the ground; Duncan wasn't sure which of them had hit him.

The farmer was killed as another soldier fell, and the housewife screamed. Turning towards Duncan and the pilot, Peter shouted, "Get him out of here!"

"Peter..."

"Now! While you still have a chance to get away. I'll delay them as much as I can."

Yielding to the logic of the situation, Duncan promised, "I'll be back for you," then forced the protesting pilot through a side door and into the cover of the surrounding woods.

PRESENT:

"World War II, right?" John said sarcastically. "You do live in a fantasy world."

"He's very well-preserved," Duncan explained. "All that wine."

Peter laughed, displeasing the kidnapper. "I've wanted to try this out," John said, slowly waving the katana in tantalizing circles. "Doesn't look like I'm going to get the chance now. Maybe another day, once you've had time to grow rich again?"

He placed the point of the katana just under Peter's chin, forcing his head up. "Yes, we'll do business together another time. If you live," he said, and then walked away laughing.

"I think he likes you," Duncan said. "Maybe he prefers blonds."

"Very funny. Perhaps they'll let us go, soon."

"Unless they decide to kill us anyway, once they've got the ransom," Duncan said morosely. "We've seen their faces."

"Duncan," Peter said with a smile, "we're not going to die. I can't. We're not in France."

FLASHBACK: FRANCE - 1942

Duncan had returned to the village as soon as he'd taken the pilot to the next safehouse. A few discreet inquiries told him what he'd feared: all of the occupants of the farm had been killed as a warning to other would-be Resistance fighters. He'd waited for nightfall before making his way quietly to the cemetery.

He groped his way along the row of fresh graves in the darkness before finding the one that beckoned him. Casting a furtive glance about him to check for onlookers, he began digging.

By the time he'd reached Peter's corpse, the moon had come out from behind the clouds. {Please don't let us be seen,} he prayed, {I've got enough of a mess on my hands as it is.} As he'd expected, there was no coffin; firewood would be scarce enough this winter without wasting potential fuel on the dead. Duncan hurried to brush away the remaining dirt before Peter could revive and begin screaming.

Duncan felt a sudden jolt as Peter returned to life, coughing and choking and thrashing out blindly with his arms. Duncan quickly clamped a hand over Peter's mouth to muffle any sound, and held his ground while Peter struggled wildly beneath him.

"Peter!" he hissed. "It's Duncan. You have to be quiet."

After a moment, Peter relaxed and Duncan took his hand away. "That's better," Duncan said with approval. Peter struggled to his knees and Duncan supported him gently while Peter retched and coughed as quietly as he could, trying to rid himself of the dirt inhaled during previous attempts to free himself. "We have to hide you until we can get you some papers. Come with me." He offered Peter a handkerchief.

"How did I end up here?" Peter asked, while wiping his face and eyes.

"The Nazis shot you."

"Who?" Peter asked, as Duncan pushed him over the lip of the grave.

Duncan froze momentarily, before climbing out of the grave with Peter's assistance. "Peter," he said carefully, "what year is it?"

"1918," Peter replied, looking frightened. "It's not, is it? Oh, God, what have I forgotten this time?"

"Calm down, Peter; you'll be all right," Duncan assured him. "I was thinking of taking you to Sean, anyway. Come this way, and no loud noises." Duncan set off towards the south, hoping that physical exertion might dampen Peter's panic.

Either his tactic worked or Peter made an effort to compose himself. "So who are the Nazis and what year is it?" he asked conversationally, as if the answers were of no great importance.

"They're Germans and it's 1942. We're in France."

"France," Peter said with bleak humor. "The best place to live. And the best place to die. Duncan MacLeod is always around to dig me up."


Scene 1 2

PRESENT

"If there's one thing I hate, it's sitting around waiting to get killed," Peter said. "Say, whatever happened to that student of yours? Sean said you were teaching a young man with red hair."

Duncan smiled to himself. "He's still in the Game. Writes romance novels, if you can believe it."

"No!" Peter chuckled. "Some teacher you are. Well, at least he'd get the swordfighting scenes right. How much longer do you think it will take them to get the ransom?"

"Not much longer, I hope. Peter?"

"Mm?"

"Have you ever heard of a Dark Quickening?"

"Why, yes," Peter said, "Sean told me about them. That's where you kill someone really evil and after that you grow hair and three-inch fangs whenever the moon's full."

"Peter! This is serious."

"Sorry. Yes, I have heard of them, but Sean wasn't sure whether they were real or not."

"They're real," Duncan said grimly. "Once, there was an Immortal named Coltec."

"He was a healer?" Peter said uncertainly. "Sean mentioned him, I think."

"Yes, he was a healer," Duncan agreed. "A special kind of healer. He had the power to absorb the darkness and hatred and anger in other men's souls. He did it for me once, after the murder of some people I loved."

"He must have had a great power," Peter said quietly.

"Yes, he did, but one day, the evil became too much even for him to absorb. He became evil... and I had to kill him... and then I became evil myself. I took a Dark Quickening," Duncan said. The shame in his voice was palpable.

"What was it like?" Peter asked, transfixed.

"I... the person I'd been was trapped, squashed down, overpowered by more hatred than I'd ever seen or felt, even in battle. There was so much rage... and so much pleasure in hurting others... somewhere deep inside me, the real me was fighting to get out, but the Darkness was so strong. I would have killed my student if a mortal friend hadn't shot me to death, and I nearly took the friend's head when I revived. Being dead seemed to weaken the monster for a little while, so I decided to run away before I could hurt anyone else I cared about. But I knew I needed help."

"What did you do?" Peter asked in a near-whisper.

"I called Sean and asked for his help, but when I got there... it was too strong, Peter; I couldn't stop it," Duncan said, struggling to control his emotions. "It made me take his head and it laughed at me while I did it."

"So it wasn't me," Peter said.

"No. I'm sorry, Peter. Sorry that I killed Sean and sorry that I didn't tell you about it before now. After I killed Sean, a friend found me and took me to a holy spring, where I was healed. Since then... I've tried so hard to forget what happened..."

"Duncan," Peter interrupted, "it's all right. I believe you. I've known you most of my life. I know you're not a killer, I know that Sean was your friend, and I know you'd never take his head by choice. Oh, God, I'm so relieved... all this time I thought it was me." Peter swallowed, then said, "I'm sorry, I know that sounds insensitive, but I've been so afraid... so afraid I hurt that gentle man and didn't even have the guts to remember it."

"Peter, if I'd known..."

"It doesn't matter now. What matters is that you found yourself again and that Sean's at rest with someone good."

{How good am I?} Duncan wondered. {Why do I survive, when Immortals like Darius and Sean have perished?}


Scene 1 3

"Any luck?" Joe asked, as a weary-looking Methos entered the bar carrying a map.

"Nothing. Driving around hoping to sense another Immortal is basically futile."

"Then why'd you agree to help Richie do it?"

"It's as good a way as any to kill time while we wait," Methos replied. "Besides, what else do we have to go on? All we can do is start from the place where your Watchers lost the kidnappers and hope for the best. Ah, that should be Richie," he said, turning expectantly to the door.

Richie entered, looking pale but determined. "I got zip," he said.

"Only to be expected," Methos said. "Show me what you covered."

Richie and Methos consulted over the map for a few minutes, then Richie turned to Joe. "Anything worthwhile in the Watcher files?" he asked.

"Not much," Joe said. "Someone has been stalking Peter, but that's really all we know. Whether it's Hunters or Immortals or somebody else, they're using mortals to do their dirty work and they're hiding their tracks well. I've got some people ready to help follow the ransom after it's dropped."

"That's a bit unorthodox," Methos remarked.

"The Watchers need to know where Mac and Peter are, even if we're not allowed to do anything," Joe said.

"And if you just happen to pick up the phone and let us know what you know..." Richie suggested.

"The folks at headquarters will have a fit," Joe admitted. "This is new?"


Scene 1 4

"Good news, children," John said, as he walked over to Duncan and Peter. Four men followed in his wake, their weapons at the ready. "The ransom's been paid. It's time for you two to return to fantasy-land. Untie them," he instructed the nearest two kidnappers, before turning back to Duncan and Peter. Waving a finger, he said, "No tricks, now."

John and two of his men trained their guns on Peter and Duncan while the other two men cautiously untied Peter. "Thank you," Peter said formally. They began untying Duncan. "No, not him," Peter said. "Kill him."

Duncan's head whipped around in surprise. "Sorry," Peter said, with genuine regret. Duncan stared at him in mute disbelief.

"It's not part of the deal," John said.

"You'll be paid extra for your trouble," Peter said, in a bored voice. No one leapt to obey him. In annoyance, he yanked a gun away from one of the kidnappers and shot Duncan twice in the chest, then turned to John. "There; all you have to do now is get rid of the body. In pieces. You did tell me you handle disposals, for a fee. I can pay."

"You already have," John said, and shot Peter in the forehead.

As Duncan died, he heard the kidnappers laughing as they left.


Scene 1 5

{He's got to be alive,} Methos thought, as he began covering a new section of the map. {I've put too damned much effort into keeping him alive to lose him now.} He began a mental accounting of just how much trouble Duncan MacLeod had put him through, and was startled when his cell phone rang.

He grabbed the phone and said, "Talk."

"It's Joe. We're following the package now but it's headed far out of your area."

"It may not be going to the same place they are," Methos said, careful not to discuss their situation too specifically on a cell phone.

"I know. Do you want to take a chance on following it?"

Methos thought briefly, then said, "Tell Richie to stick to his original plan. I'll follow the package."


Scene 1 6

Duncan revived and looked around himself. {Good, the kidnappers are gone. Here's hoping they don't decide to come back and dispose of our bodies.} He finished freeing himself while thinking, {Why? I would have trusted Peter with my life. Hell, I did trust him with my life, when we were in the Resistance together. If he needs to avenge Sean, I can accept that, but why do it this way?}

Duncan slowly made his way to the far end of the warehouse. {Our swords must be here somewhere, unless the kidnappers took them when they left. God knows they spent enough time playing with them. There.} He picked up his katana and Peter's sword and reluctantly walked back to Peter, who was just reviving.

"Those bloody kidnappers," Peter said. "Never hire anyone stupid. I told them I'd hired someone else to make sure they wouldn't run off with the ransom, but did they believe me?"

Tossing Peter's sword down in front of him, Duncan said, "Why, Peter? Because I killed Sean?"

Peter slowly rose to his feet, looking defeated. He held his sword loosely, not wanting to begin the fight which now seemed inevitable. "Not because you killed him. Because you have his Quickening."

"What's the difference?" Duncan asked, confused.

"You know what Sean was," Peter said. "You know what he did." He and Duncan began circling each other, slowly, tentatively, neither of them ready to lift his sword to an attack stance.

"I don't understand."

"You have his Quickening, Duncan. His power. His knowledge. His memories. His secrets."

"Peter, I wouldn't know how to retrieve Sean's memories even if I wanted them. Whatever secrets he had died with him."

"No. They're inside you somewhere. I can't let them come out. Even if you promised never to reveal the things his patients told him in confidence, the next person to get his Quickening might not be so honorable."

"Is that why you wanted those men to kill me?" Duncan asked, astonished. "So you could have Sean's Quickening?"

"No," Peter said, "I never wanted your head. I don't deserve Sean's Quickening. If you weren't the one who'd killed him, I would have pocketed your ransom and let you go free. But since you were the right one, I was going to have them kill you here and behead you where no one could ever get his Quickening."

"Why? Peter, I don't know what you're talking about. Why is this so important?"

"You must know," Peter insisted angrily. "You have to know."

Duncan shook his head in puzzlement and a dizzy sensation came over him momentarily. He had the briefest mental image of being in Sean's office on a blustery night. Startled, he backed jerkily away from Peter's cautious approach. "I don't know," he repeated, while thinking, {Sean's office? Why should I be seeing it now, and why in the rain?}

A memory, long unvisited, swam into his consciousness. He and Connor, that first winter, huddled together over a fire...

FLASHBACK: SCOTLAND 1625

"So when you take someone's head, you get their soul?" Duncan asked.

"I don't think so. No one really knows," Connor answered. "You do get their power, their knowledge..."

"Then you have their memories?"

Connor hesitated before responding. "Yes. They go somewhere inside you. Ramirez told me that we suppress the memories; some sort of survival instinct."

"Then you can't use them? What good are they?" Duncan said impatiently.

"Ramirez told me there was a way to access them, but he never taught me how to do it. I'm not sure he knew himself. He told me once that our own memories are a heavy enough burden to carry without adding someone else's."

PRESENT

{There is nothing to remember,} thought Duncan. {Nothing inside me; nothing for Peter to be afraid of. How do I convince him?} Then another flash came to him: a brilliance of lightning beyond the chestnut trees outside Sean's office, and the smell of the fire...

{He knows,} Peter thought. {He sees it. Oh, Duncan, why did it have to be you? Far better that some stranger knew my shame...}

FLASHBACK: FRANCE 1942

Peter was fidgeting on the settee. "I don't understand this," Sean muttered to himself, "hypnosis usually works so well with you."

Sean quickly crossed to the settee and perched himself on its edge, gently smoothing the hair back from Peter's forehead. "Peter," he said gently, "you're home. You're safe. The things you see now are only images, dreams; they cannot harm you. They're not real."

"Sean?" Peter said, sounding almost child-like.

"Yes, it's me," Sean said, in soothing tones. "Relax, Peter; no one is going to hurt you. Do you remember how you got here?"

"Duncan," Peter said, as if not quite sure.

"Duncan brought you home," Sean confirmed. He rose to retrieve his notebook, discarded in haste a few minutes earlier. "What were you and Duncan doing before you came here?"

"He was digging. I was dead," Peter said tonelessly.

"Good," Sean said, making a brief entry in the notebook. "And before that?"

"Wine. We were moving some wine... in a wagon, not a lorry... petrol is so hard to get these days. But there was something else... a soldier... no, a pilot. We were smuggling a British pilot out of France," Peter concluded triumphantly.

"And what happened?"

"The Germans came. They had guns. We had guns. The husband was dead. The woman... the woman screamed... the children," Peter said, beginning to cry. "Oh, God, I killed the children."

Sean glanced up from his notebook in surprise. {Duncan said the Nazis must have shot the children. Could he have been mistaken?} "Peter," he spoke carefully, "I don't understand. Did you shoot the children by accident? Were they caught in a cross-fire?"

"I killed the children," Peter repeated, as if unaware Sean had even spoken. "Not their fault, not their fault. Their mother... was so lovely... so lovely... and she lied to me. All those years, she lied. I went to see her, to say, `It's your husband, darling. I'm not dead,' ... not dead... Immortal... and I saw him kiss her goodbye, saw him laughing with the children, and suddenly I knew... all those years... all those evenings she'd `stayed on a bit after choir practice to work on a solo with the vicar, darling,'... suddenly I knew what she'd really been doing, and why they smiled at each other so, and I knew whose children they were", he said, with the rage growing in his voice.

"Peter..." Sean began, horrified, but Peter ignored him.

"He left the vicarage, and I went up to the door to speak to the vicar's wife... to my wife. And I killed her... the anger in me killed my poor Lizbet, put my hands 'round her neck and squeezed... and then I found those bastard children... not mine, not human... and when I'd killed the children, I went to the church... not to kill him... to tell him I'd taken his wife and children just as he'd taken mine and he'd spend the rest of his life pining for something he couldn't have and it served him right... only he wasn't there... he wasn't there, but God was, and all the anger drained right out of me and I was ashamed, so ashamed, so sickened by what I'd done... and then Duncan came... Duncan came, but I didn't tell him what I'd done, and their bodies were only a hundred yards away from us... why couldn't Lizbet have been Immortal? Why was I the one punished with life?"

PRESENT:

As Peter stood there, reliving the memory of his confession, a part of him saw Duncan's face go slack with dismay. {I'm sorry, Duncan. So sorry.}

Duncan shook his head to clear it, not trusting the fragmented images that had come to him. "You killed someone?" he asked, in stunned disbelief.

His question had a galvanic effect on Peter, who immediately raised his sword to a more aggressive posture and lunged at Duncan. Caught off- guard by the sudden attack, Duncan received a deep cut in his left shoulder while warding off a blow aimed at his neck.

"You know I killed someone, and you know who. You saw!"

"I didn't see you kill anyone," Duncan insisted.

"I killed Lizbet and the children," Peter said, with tears on his cheeks, as he slowly advanced.

"No. No," Duncan said, almost pleading as he backed away from Peter. "You didn't. You loved her. It's not real. You didn't tell Sean you killed her."

"You know I did," Peter said. "After the Nazis killed me. There was a terrible storm one night..."

"No," Duncan said, not wanting it to be true.

"Yes," Peter said, lunging in to slash at Duncan's side. Duncan parried the attack, but only just in time.

"We don't have to do this!" Duncan hissed, as Peter withdrew, looking for an opening. "I don't want to kill you!"

"I killed them!" Peter shouted, as he made another attack. This time, Duncan was ready for him and Peter came away with a shallow gash across his chest.

"I know that!" Duncan roared back, as their blades collided yet again. He stabbed Peter in the chest, then said, "You were ill. Sean knew that. Sean forgave you. Why not forgive yourself and leave me the hell out of it?"

Duncan backed away, giving Peter the choice to continue or withdraw. {Please stop. Please. I don't want your head.}

"I can't," Peter said, as he crumpled to the floor, clutching his chest. "Do you think I'm proud of what I did? Do you think I want to remember? God help me, I avoided Sean for nearly ten years because the temptation to kill him was growing too strong, and he was my teacher. No one can know. No one.

"I didn't go to Sean's funeral because I was ashamed of myself for wishing him dead. And then I ran into Keane and he told me he thought you were responsible for Sean's death. I stayed away, Duncan. I stayed away as long as I could, but I couldn't bear knowing that you knew. So I decided to kill you. I had some men following you, even told them to be on the lookout for your student in case I needed to bait the trap, but that wasn't necessary. Our friendship was enough to lure you."

"Peter," Duncan began, but Peter continued as if he hadn't heard.

"I could have had you killed without ever seeing you, but I wanted to be sure, so I had us kidnapped. That way, you couldn't take my head, and I knew you'd confess to killing Sean if you thought you were going to die. I knew you, you see. Because of what you are, I knew you'd tell me if you'd done it.

"And because of what I am, I have to kill you," Peter concluded, struggling to his feet.

"No," Duncan protested, but Peter was already swinging his blade in earnest. Duncan stabbed Peter deep in the abdomen. "Peter, don't do this," Duncan pleaded, as he pulled his sword free. Peter staggered, but did not fall this time. "Walk away. I don't want your head. Stop this."

"Can't," Peter gasped.

Duncan sobbed as he severed Peter's head. As the Quickening took him, forcing him screaming to his knees, he thought he could hear the sweet, low voice of Peter's Lizbet, singing a lullaby to her children.


Scene 1 7

{Come on, Mac, you've got to be here somewhere,} Richie told himself. A few miles in the distance, he could suddenly see lightning against the darkness. He nearly rear-ended someone while looking at it, trying to determine whether it was genuine lightning or a Quickening. With sudden decision, he pressed down on the accelerator and headed in the direction of the lightning.

He circled what he judged to be the right area for fifteen minutes before picking up the sensation of another Immortal. He turned down the next street and immediately lost the sensation. Painstakingly, he drove back and forth until he found the right place: a rundown warehouse. And there was Duncan, sitting on the pavement just outside the door, looking as if he'd run a marathon. Richie skidded to a stop and jumped out of the T-bird.

"Mac...?"

"It was Peter," Duncan said wearily. "His body's inside. He hired the kidnappers. They've gone."

Richie's eyes widened in surprise, but he took in the defeated slump of Duncan's body and decided not to press for details. "Methos is trying to follow the guy with the ransom."

"The money's not important," Duncan said. Richie nodded and sat down next to Duncan, occasionally stealing a sideways glance at the older man's face. Duncan sensed his concern and said, "We should never have to kill someone we care about."

"I know," Richie answered softly. "But sometimes we don't get a choice."

A companionable silence fell between them, then Richie said, "I went to Joe's the other night. You know, to do the tape thing."

"How'd it go?" Duncan asked blankly.

"Okay, I guess," Richie said. "But..." he paused, awkwardly searching for the right words.

Duncan looked at him, suddenly reminded that he'd had other concerns than Peter. "But?"

Richie hesitated, then squirmed visibly before saying, "Diapers?"

Duncan's lips twitched with amusement. {Gotcha, big guy,} Richie thought in delight, before blurting out a half-serious grievance. "You couldn't have come up with something a little more embarrassing?"

Duncan gently shrugged and explained, "I didn't say it to embarrass you, Rich; I was simply being honest. Besides, those tapes are meant to be kept secret until after the Gathering, so they can't be used against us. This thing of Joe's... Watchers can follow us all our lives and end up not knowing much more than who we've fought and where we've been. They can't see into our souls. {I couldn't see into Peter's soul. Even Sean couldn't. Can any man ever truly know another's heart?}

"Joe's a good man, and a sharp observer of human nature, which makes him an excellent Watcher, but Watchers like Joe are rare. Someday, when the Gathering's over, there'll be nothing left of us but stories. I wanted some of the stories about us to be by us, so people can get the whole picture. Mortals... have a lot of trouble identifying with Duncan MacLeod, the Immortal, because they don't go around carrying swords and cutting people's heads off. They can identify with Duncan MacLeod, the guy who can't get his teenager to do as he's told, because that's something they've experienced."

"I wasn't that bad," Richie protested. Duncan raised his eyebrows, prompting Richie to admit, "Okay, so maybe I was kind of a pain in the ass. But I've gotten better."

Duncan smothered a quick smile before continuing. "I agreed to help Joe out because I want the world to remember us not just as a bunch of sword-wielding killers, but as men and women who have loved and hurt and had to rebuild their lives from nothing, again and again. Someday..." Duncan's voice cracked slightly, and his eyes were moist as he continued, "Someday, I'll tell Joe all about Peter. How I found him, how I befriended him, how I trusted him... and also how I killed him. And that won't be an easy story because I liked Peter. He wasn't really an evil man... just wounded... wounded in a way he never recovered from."

Duncan wiped his eyes with the back of a hand, but smiled weakly when Richie placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "So you'll have to excuse me if I take a little wicked pleasure in embarrassing you. There are never enough happy stories."

"It's all right," Richie said shyly. "I mean, like how bad can it be?"

Duncan grinned and said, "You have a very short memory." He rose and began moving slowly toward the T-bird with Richie in his wake.

"What?" Richie asked, suddenly suspicious. "Mac!"


Scene 1 8

The next day, Joe came out of his office to find Methos sitting at a table alone, nursing a beer. Joe grabbed a drink for himself and joined him.

"To you," Joe said, raising his glass in a toast.

Methos was bemused. "And what am I being lauded for today? Not, of course, that I don't deserve it."

"Being one calculating son of a bitch," Joe said amiably.

"Ah, the usual," Methos said. "At the moment, I'm afraid the only thing I'm calculating are my chances of getting some free beer."

"Done," Joe said magnanimously, gesturing to a waitress. "Bring my friend a pitcher on the house."

He waited until the pitcher had arrived before casually remarking, "I know you set Richie up."

Methos looked up from his beer with a wide-eyed innocence that was a little too perfect. "Set him up to do what?"

"Get caught breaking into the bar. You see, I remembered the other day that you heard me telling Mike he could borrow my car because I was going to spend the night here. Wasn't too long after that that Richie dropped by; that must have been when you `accidentally' told him about the tapes. My guess is you acted all surprised when he told you he didn't know about the research project and then you tried to downplay the whole thing like it wasn't really anything for him to worry about."

Methos smiled lazily. "Now why should I do a thing like that?"

"You wanted to bring him into the project."

"Joe, if I'd wanted that, I could have simply asked him."

"He might have said no. By telling him about the tapes before Mac did, you made them seem like forbidden fruit, a little secret the grownups were keeping from him. There's no way he would have turned down that kind of bait. Once he was caught, you talked him into joining the project while he was still feeling guilty about breaking in."

"Definitely not my style," Methos said. "I actually tried to discourage him."

"I'll bet you did," Joe said with a knowing look. "That's exactly your style. You don't force people to do anything. You set options in front of them and wait for their natural inclinations to take them down the paths you want them to choose. The trick is knowing which way people will jump and what sort of bait to use."

"I must say you're giving me credit for an admirable amount of deviousness," Methos replied with a grin. "You've neglected to explain why I'd bother."

"It's no secret you'd like Mac to take the Prize," Joe said, "and we both know his relationship with Richie could affect his chances in the Game. If we didn't realize it before, we sure learned it in spades when Mac thought he'd killed him. My guess is that you want to manipulate that relationship in order to protect Mac, and you can't do that unless you understand it. Getting Richie's side of things gives you more to work with."

Methos said nothing for a long moment, then slowly nodded to himself as if arriving at a decision. "Think back, Joe," he said, with a smile that was a little too pleasant for comfort. "When did you get the idea for your research project?"

Joe looked puzzled, then thoughtful, then ruefully amused. "You bastard," he said slowly, "you did it to me, too. You're the one who started it. You did all this just to manipulate Mac?"

"One tool can serve many purposes," Methos said cryptically. "In return for that tacit admission of guilt, I'd like you to help me with another piece of the puzzle. Help me find a way to bring Connor into this."

"Connor?" Joe exclaimed in a mixture of admiration and irritation. "Because he was Mac's teacher? You don't quit, do you?" Methos shook his head in grave amusement. "Just what are you planning?" Joe asked, suddenly suspicious.

"Nothing you wouldn't approve of," Methos hastily assured him. "I'm certainly not trying to drive a wedge between Duncan and Richie."

"Think I don't know that? I'd have slugged you by now if you were," Joe said, with a gleam in his eye. "You may not give a damn about Richie, but I do."

"I never said I disliked him," Methos said, sounding mildly irritated. "What's the average life expectancy for someone who's been Immortal for less than ten years? I've been Immortal for fifty centuries, Joe. I've seen far too many newborn Immortals slain to want to become attached to another one. If you'd spent five thousand years watching some dread disease kill young dogs, would you want to get a puppy?"

Joe said nothing, but the troubled look on his face told Methos he'd gotten his point across.

"Joe," Methos continued, "When I first met Duncan, Richie was going through one of his prickly adolescent phases, and their relationship was strained. Even then, I knew I couldn't break the bond between them without doing serious damage to both of them. Not just to Richie; to Duncan as well. And that, if nothing else, should convince you that I don't intend to hurt Richie. The last thing I want to do is give MacLeod something to brood over; the distraction could cost him his head."

"So what are you up to?"

"I simply want them to see each other for what they are. Duncan's been trying to grow Richie up as fast as he can, to improve the boy's chances in the Game, but he can be astoundingly dense about Richie's emotional needs. The more secure Richie feels, the more smoothly their relationship runs, and the less Duncan has to worry about."

Joe thought for a moment. "All right, I'll see what I can do," he promised, "on one condition. You're going to tell us all about your teacher. And I do mean all."

Methos, who had practically been purring throughout most of the conversation, suddenly lost his air of self-satisfaction. His eyes widened fractionally, then he said, "That's not really relevant, Joe."

"That's the deal," Joe said, "and it's a one-time offer. Take it or leave it. And make up your mind fast, 'cause Mac just walked in."

"I'll take it," Methos said quickly, as Duncan came up to them. "And it is you who are the bastard."

"He is?" Duncan said, having caught the tail end of their conversation.

"It's nothing, Mac," Joe replied. "I was just pointing out a few unpleasant truths to our elderly friend here. Like how his habit of manipulating people is really a sublimated power trip left over from his Horsemen days."

"Thank you so much for bringing that up," Methos said lightly. "You must remind me to plunder your village sometime."

"What's this all about?" Duncan asked, looking from Joe to Methos as he took a seat.

"Nothing, really," Methos said casually. "We were just having a smartass contest."

"Who won?"

"Joe did," Methos said sourly.

"Congratulations, Joe," Duncan said with a smile, "and thanks. Richie told me you helped him find me with some Watcher information."

"Forget it, Mac. I'm sorry things turned out the way they did."

"Not your fault," Duncan said.

"It's rather ironic, though," Methos said. "Peter wanted to kill you to bury a shameful secret, as if hiding what he'd done could somehow make it untrue. But the Watchers knew his little secret, so..."

"What?" Duncan said in surprise, looking at Joe.

Joe nodded. "Not all of our records are online. I had to get the office in Europe to pull the paper copy of Peter's file."

"You had a Watcher on him back then?"

"Actually, I think it was Sean's Watcher," Joe explained, "but we'd guessed Peter might be Immortal since you'd taken him to the asylum. Anyway, our people got alerted and someone picked up his trail in London and they reported the murders."

"So killing you wouldn't have done the least bit of good," Methos concluded. "As long as the Watchers survive, Peter's secret can never be erased."

"Well, the Watchers won't survive if I don't get caught up on my paperwork," Joe said. "I'll see you guys later."

"Bye, Joe," Duncan said absently as Joe left them.

"Duncan?" Methos said, but the Highlander's thoughts were elsewhere. "Mac!" he said a bit more sharply. This time, he succeeded in capturing Duncan's attention. "It's not your fault."

"He died for nothing."

"Many of us do. You're not to blame for his obsessions," Methos gently reminded him. "I think it would be a good idea in future to keep your mouth shut about having Sean's Quickening. Peter may not be the only Immortal with secrets to suppress."

"Methos," Duncan said hesitantly, "I don't think Joe should go on with this project of his. It's too dangerous. If any Hunters got hold of the tapes... or other Immortals... What would Peter have done to get at those tapes if he'd known about them? We're endangering Joe as well as ourselves."

"It is a risk," Methos agreed, "but most of what we've said is hardly suitable blackmail material. I think the potential benefits outweigh the risks. You know why Joe's doing this, don't you?"

Duncan nodded. "If the Gathering lasts a century, there may be no Watchers left who were friends with Immortals, who knew what we were really like. The tapes are a way of humanizing us."

"Yes, that's the public reason," Methos agreed. "There's also a private reason, one I'm not sure Joe will admit, even to himself."

"Which is?"

"Look at things the other way. Suppose the Gathering only lasts another decade... perhaps even less than that." He paused, waiting for Duncan to make the connection.

"Joe could outlive us," Duncan said, realizing it for the first time.

"Yes, he could," Methos agreed. "Those tapes would be all that he has left of us."

In his imagination, Duncan pictured an older version of Joe, sitting alone in near darkness with a drink in one hand, listening to the voices of his dead friends. {All that he has left of us...}

The mental image shifted, and Duncan saw a much younger-looking man sitting in a room full of books, scribbling in a journal. A man who surrounded himself with millions of words written about thousands of Immortals because most of the Immortals themselves had gone to dust.

Methos the gossip. Methos the manipulator. Methos the lonely.

The End

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