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Legend

Part 3


Scene 1 5

"Why am I doing this?" Methos asked an uncaring world. He was lost again. {It's all very well wanting somewhere quiet to do your writing, but this is ridiculous!} He turned and ambled back the way he had come. {There are only three roads it can be off of now,} he comforted himself. The next turning was leafy, in a neat, restrained sort of way. Half way down it was the street he'd been searching for for the past half hour or so. There was a row of villagey kind of shops, and there, at the far end was the house. Soft red brick, with a unkempt front yard, grass peeping through the concrete. He trotted up the five steps to the front door and, for form's sake, rang the bell. There was no answer, not even the distant thrum of an Immortal. He slipped his hand into his pocket and glanced quickly round before bringing out the lockpick.

{It's all very pretty, and I suppose they're away from the hazards of the city and MacLeod's 'friends', but really, a nice apartment in town would be just as safe, and a lot less effort for people like me,} he groused as he picked the lock on the door and walked in.

{God, what a mess!} There was stuff everywhere and some of the furniture had been overturned. {How can he live like this?} He smiled unkindly when he realised he was attributing all the mess to Richie.

He wandered through the house to the far end, looking quickly in the study as he passed it. From the living room he immediately felt the blast of chilly air coming through the open window, and stepped into the kitchenette. When he leaned out over the kitchen sink he could see the back yard, not in much better condition than the front, and showing distinct signs of scorching. For a moment he thought the marks were recent and that he was too late. {No, the glass is intact and it's been opened, not jumped through or blasted out. And his shattered corpse isn't lying around out there cluttering the place. He probably didn't use it then.}

He noticed the flashing light on the answer phone and hit play. He half smiled, listening to four messages, of varying degrees of urgency. One from Joe, two from MacLeod, and one from Altea, who sounded merely exasperated, all demanding that Richie pick up the phone right now, or, if he really wasn't there, to call them. He saved the messages, and sighed. {If I do this my cover is gone, ditto my head. If I don't then I stay alive, safe and out of sight. Either Richie winds up dead, or Vittoria winds up dead.} He shrugged.

{They're all grown up. He's not here. I've done all I can.} "There's nothing else I can do," he finished out loud, drowning the voice that told him exactly what MacLeod would think of that line of reasoning.

"No Duncan MacLeod in Bali this time of year," he said out loud to himself with a happy smile. "The perfect holiday."


Scene 1 6

Duncan's fist hurt. First, he'd used it to hammer on the door to Richie's place. When there had been no answer he used his key to break in. He honestly couldn't tell if there had been a fight in there. The crockery was in one piece, and so were the windows... {Perhaps he's okay somewhere else. But everything else is in such disarray... But then it always looks like this - but then, where is Richie?} He was starting to panic all over again, when it was with a feeling of considerable sheepishness that he suddenly remembered that Richie and Altea usually met at eleven, after she'd finished at the stables for the morning. It was half past now. Goodness knew where they'd've gotten to - it could be anywhere.

{He'll be safe enough with Altea around: Vittoria would never take on two of them, she's too careful of her precious skin to try that,} he tried to comfort himself.

Next he went back to Methos' place. By now it was nearly two, and there was no sign of him either. The place was deserted and bare - no different to usual. He had no idea what to look for that might indicate whether the ancient Immortal had just gone out or had left entirely. Somehow he couldn't see him with a suitcase.

Duncan went back to the barge in the hope that someone - anyone, would be there waiting for him. The answer phone had no messages, and it appeared that no one had tried to call him since Richie's last call a couple of days back.

He tried to sit still and figure out where they might be. {Only this morning they were all there. Where are they? What if?} His face set. {I should let him go. This hurts too much. I've got to let go. He's five years Immortal now, and has been killing people I never thought he could take. His luck is phenomenal.} A small, unwelcome voice said, {What if today's the day it runs out? And Methos? What about him? What if you took Vittoria straight to him?} He was pacing nervously by now, between the phone and the door. {He can take care of himself - he's survived this long hasn't he?} he tried to reassure himself. He forced himself to sit down again, and wracked his brains to think where he might find any of the protagonists. He remembered Vittoria mentioning a place he could get in touch with her - who was it...

"The Forouchon's! What's happened to my brain?" He leapt to his feet and hurried out again.

The Forouchon's turned out to be a private residence, and Vittoria's business associates were in fact a rather pleasant elderly couple, the Comte and Comtess du Forouchon.

They opened the door warily to him, peering over the security chain.

"Good afternoon, my name's Duncan MacLeod, and I was looking for Ms Ursini," he said, in his best charming voice.

"Pierre du Sainte Ville. What do you want with Donna Ursini?" the man, greying and in his early sixties, demanded shortly.

"I'm an old friend of hers, and I..." He was interrupted.

"Ms Ursini left clear instructions on the topic of 'old friends'. Sorry M'sieur MacLeod, I can't help you."

The door swung to, but he got a foot wedged in it, and said hastily - "Please - it's really important that I speak to her as soon as possible." The pressure against his foot eased, and he sighed with relief.

"Why?"

"I think we're both looking for a friend of mine, and I have to talk to her about him. She might be in danger." {Especially when I get my hands on her,} he excused the lie mentally.

The man considered him for a moment, then grudgingly offered "You can give us a message if you wish. We might be able to contact her if you will wait."

"Thank you." Carefully he worked what he wanted to say into language that would not give anything away to mortals.

"Vittoria, Would like to meet up as soon as possible to talk about your legend. May have information. Duncan"

The old man read it, and said "I'll see what she says." He closed the door, and Duncan was left cooling his heels outside the pitted oak.

After five minutes he was pacing up and down the driveway outside the old grey stone house. Ten yards this way, ten back to the door. The gravel kicked up and scuffed his boots, every passing moment, another one wasted. Another chance lost. Finally the door re- opened.

"Mr MacLeod?" The man's voice was less than cordial.

He turned quickly and hurried back to the door.

"Yes?"

"Ms Ursini said to tell you: 'Thank you, but I have all the information I need.'" The door was slammed in his face, and nothing he could do would get them to open it again.

"What is that supposed to mean?" he muttered. {If they don't know, then they don't know.} He couldn't help cursing the delay, and wondering how he could get that phone number they'd used to contact Vittoria.

{I could try breaking in I suppose.} He eyed the house. It looked sturdy and depressingly well warded. Windows locked. Doors closed. The fine wires of burglar alarms along every possible point of entry. He walked away, wondering what he could try instead of this dead end.

{Maybe Altea... Of course. She'll know where he is.} He hurried for a phone box, rummaging through his pockets for more change. There was none left.

The newsagent looked irritated when he paid for a chocolate bar with a two hundred franc note, but did it anyway. Now he could call her at the stables.

The number was engaged. Duncan scowled, then thought {Maybe Richie's on the line chatting to Altea.} He felt a momentary annoyance that the two kids couldn't be bothered to let him know where they were. He wasn't to know that Altea was trying to get through to Richie. By the time she gave up phoning their house, Duncan had decided it would be quicker just to go to the stables. He locked up the barge and got into the T-bird, intending to drive there. {Should only take twenty minutes,} he thought optimistically.


Scene 1 7

The mid afternoon traffic was horrendous. A set of diversions took him halfway out of Paris altogether, and when he tried to dodge around the traffic he suddenly found himself in a gridlock.

"It would have been quicker to walk," he growled through gritted teeth, taking risks that had pedestrians and road users alike scattering before him, and screaming invective after him. Forty minutes later, he arrived.

The place was deserted. The courtyard, ringed by horseboxes, had only horses, gazing soulfully at him from over half doors, and whuffling gently. He took a deep breath to call for Altea and choked - for all that he had lived with horses for the best part of four centuries it had taken him very little time to get used to breathing clean air.

"Altea?" he called once he caught his breath. He walked towards the exercise yard, not really expecting a reply since he couldn't sense her. {She might be anywhere,} he thought morosely. {He's probably with her, with the phone off the hook in some hotel} he added rather unfairly. He was on the verge of giving up and returning to the car when he felt it, the presence of one of his kind. He leaned against the gate post and waited. It wasn't long, in fact he heard her long before he saw her.

There was a whoop, and a pounding of hooves, and a blur of movement frighteningly close to his neck. By the time his katana was out the horse had slid to a halt and she landed square on both feet before him, labrys held casually in one hand.

"Now tell me it's not an effective weapon against Immortals!" she gasped triumphantly up at him.

His heart was still pounding in his ears from the shock. He shook his head, carefully, in case it toppled off, but only said, "I'd still have to see it against a sword."

Altea smiled evilly and lifted her axe against his sword invitingly, but Duncan shook his head. She took a closer look at him and became serious.

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"Altea, I ..." he began, but she was ahead of him. Duncan MacLeod never really bothered with her, so it had to be...

"Richie?" she asked thinly. Her pale skin seemed to lose a few more shades, and unconsciously her hands were moving into a battle grip on the double headed labrys.

He simply nodded, then, realising she thought he meant her lover was dead, put an arm around her and said, "No. I didn't mean that - Altea, I just can't find him, and I think... I have reason to believe that he... that a headhunter is after him."

"Who is it?" she demanded hotly. "Your tattle-tales told you didn't they? Where is he?"

"I don't know. Altea," he tightened his hold on her as she seemed about to rush off to Richie's rescue, killing anyone and everything that got in her way. "Altea, I know how you feel, but nobody knows where he is. Not even the Watchers. It happened too fast. If anything has happened at all," he added scrupulously.

She relaxed a little and gave him that disconcertingly clear, green stare of hers. "Explain MacLeod. Why do you always give the worst possible slant on anything?" she asked rhetorically. "Just tell me what's happened."

"Richie got in the way of a headhunter. She thinks that he took her prey..."

"She?" Altea interrupted, comprehending. "Oh. Your 'old friend' turned out not so friendly after all. If I find out he went off to talk to her because he thought she was your friend..." she threatened.

"She's looking for someone else, but she thinks Richie knows where he is. She may even think Richie is responsible for killing him." He trod carefully between the truth he was allowed to tell, and Methos' secret. He couldn't for the life of him remember whether she knew or not.

She sighed. {He's just over-reacting,} she comforted herself, then stole a look at MacLeod. {No,} she accepted, taking in the real fear lurking at the back of his eyes. She took a step away from Mac, and looked at him steadily. "Why don't you ask your nosy 'friends' where he is. I'll go see if I can find him."

"Do you want a lift into the city?"

"No," she said, almost contemptuously. "I'll be quicker on my feet." She jerked her head at him, and led the horse she had been riding into its stall. Duncan watched, startled, as she wasted precious time carefully brushing it down. Then he turned on his heel and got back into the car.

Just before he drove away, she called - "How will I find you?"

He glanced back at her and said "Your place, two hours. Or leave a note on the coffee table in your living room, if you get a lead and can't wait."

She nodded, and he drove away.


Scene 1 8

Adam Pierson was queuing. It was one of his least favourite occupations, but he had been doing it a very long time, and so was good at it. Shuffle, pause. Shuffle, pause. In the background the tinny female voice that all airports inflict on their 'guests' floated dimly though the air, first in French, then half a dozen other European languages. Adam choked slightly at the Russian pronunciation, which rather implied there was a small fish farm on the concourse, instead of crowding. The woman at the desk of Air India smiled at him, and asked if she could help. {Why do they say that? Am I likely to be hanging around for the sheer wild thrill of it all?}

"Yes, I'd like a ticket to Bali. First class. Immediate travel."

"The first flight is this evening at eight thirty." she told him, the too long fingernails clicking on the keyboard. "Is that a return sir?" She smiled brightly up at him, a small Asian woman resplendent in green and red outfit that someone in her firm had clearly decided said all they wanted to say about their aircraft. {They're probably right. Loud, ugly, synthetic, and guaranteed to make you feel ill after too long in it.}

"No." he replied absently.

"Any luggage, Mr Pierson?"

"No." She looked faintly surprised until he added, "Just hand luggage, thankyou," and forced a smile.

She handed his passport and credit card back with, "Enjoy your trip." He hadn't even turned away when she began the same rigmarole with the next customer.

The airport lounge had a bar. Methos took up immediate residence, and started working his way alphabetically through their beers, ales and lagers. He had finished the Boddingtons and was wondering whether Budweiser counted when all the thoughts he'd been avoiding started intruding again.

{They can take care of themselves,} he told himself firmly.

{What if she gets him to tell her who I am - where I am...}

{That's why we're going to Bali. Think of it. Sun, sea, nubile girls. I haven't been back to my house there in - } He counted hastily on his fingers, ran out, and guessed, {Thirty years? No Scots. No silly teenagers. No crises. No beer either,} a spoilsport in the back of his mind remarked. {I'll cope.}

{Oh yeah? If there is any beer, it's warm. Remember?}

Methos sighed. He remembered. The yeasty flavour of the beer imported from Hong Kong which then fermented in the barrels at a ridiculous rate, turning it extremely alcoholic, and a strange pinkish hue. The ultimate flavour, as he recalled, was reminiscent of the smell of a farmyard after a bad case of stomach trouble in the pigs, and a long hot summer.

{If that woman has him will he be able to hold out?} He scowled at the empty glass, then wiped some of the pale brown froth from the inside of it and thoughtfully sucked it off his finger. He considered what he knew, from his own experience, from gossip, and from his filched copy of the Watcher cd, of Vittoria Ursini. She'd murdered her own teacher, some twenty years after he had taken her in. He'd been friends with Georg von Witt, and had seriously considered taking his student's head, but she had long since left Avignon by the time he reached there. Not long after his Watcher had told him about her obsession with Methos. He'd heard other things too, about some of the methods she used to find her information. In her book, everything had a price, and she wasn't too fussy about how that price was met - money or murder, she really didn't care. It was about then that he had disappeared again, staging his own death for the benefit of his Watcher, and heading for China instead. Over the years she had kept her hand in with the Game from time to time, and had meddled in countless wars and political intrigues, always for the highest bidder. His face turned grim, {If she does get hold of him he won't hold out forever. Or she'll just kill him to find out from his Quickening, if she can. Either way, my secret's not going to be safe while Ryan's alive. Maybe MacLeod will manage to produce the cavalry again. That's a nasty thought: MacLeod. It doesn't really matter what I do, he's going to blame me either way.}

{It might be easier to find her myself and kill her. Shouldn't be too difficult. And I have been meaning to get rid of her for centuries.} Before he knew it his feet had walked him over to the phone booth. Three phone calls later he had all the information he was likely to need. {If I start with the factory, then the house... They always go for factories. No imagination.}

{I'll do it. Maybe then I'll stop talking to myself.}

{Not likely, old man.} He ignored that, and walked back out the way he had come.

{This is definitely against my better judgement.}


Scene 1 9

Altea's feet ached. It had been nearly two hours since she had begun searching.

She had started at their house. She could tell that Richie had begun the cleaning she had asked, but he'd been interrupted. The clothes she had left him in were flung carelessly on the bedroom floor, and his jacket and sword were gone. She looked narrowly around the rooms, and decided that the place had probably had at least one more visitor than just whoever had interrupted Richie. The scratches on the doorframe were no indication - both of them at one time or another had needed to break in - Altea wasn't used to keys, and Richie was just careless, so every couple of weeks they'd find they were locked out. But the place looked - invaded. Like people had been tramping in and out all day with careless feet. A shoemark on a magazine was too large for Richie's feet. Marks of stiletto heels showed on the parquet by the front door. {At least one man and one woman then.}

After the house she headed back into the city, and tried the cafe they usually met at. After that, the Louvre, various jardins, the several different quiet spots where she knew he sometimes went to sit and think. {His bike hasn't gone, nor his lap top and notebooks, so he can't be far,} she thought hopefully, then wondered if she was telling herself or asking. She tramped down the Seine as far as the Ile de la Cite and Duncan's barge, where she broke in to make herself a drink. Duncan himself was nowhere in sight.

It was only when she re-emerged she realised she was being followed. Not just by her Watcher, who she recognised as the dark dressed figure admiring the view of the Seine from Pont St Michel, but by someone else as well. This one was far nearer. {She obviously hasn't heard about me,} she thought gleefully. {She's good, I'll give her her due. She's probably been following me all day and I've only just spotted her,} she added fairly, as she slipped behind the deckhouse, and over the far side of the barge, then swung along it monkey fashion, dragging her legs silently through the water as she pulled herself along to the next barge, then the next. Once she had moved two or three hundred yards, as near as she could reckon, she grabbed the edge of the green and blue barge hiding her, launched herself upwards, paused a moment with her arms stiffly holding her out of the water, then vaulted onto its deck.

The barge rocked, and Altea crouched low, hoping her shadow wasn't watching the right barge. After a couple of minutes she eased herself around from the shelter of the deckhouse, and peered cautiously over to the place she'd last see her. She was still there, her body facing the Duncan's barge, oblivious to her mark's disappearance. In fact it looked like she was making notes... Altea smiled coldly and casually walked off of the barge. The cars parked along the quai went some way to hiding her, and she walked close against the wall along the pavement until she was within about four or five yards of the spy. She flicked a glance around - {No one but the Watcher to see this...} she saw with relief.

In a sudden burst of speed she was on her enemy. One arm firmly about her throat, the other pressing a knife into her ribs, enough to draw blood, but not so deep as to be more than a warning.

"Who are you?" she demanded harshly.

"What are you doing? Let me go! Help! Help!! Au secours! M'aidez!" Her words were choked off as the arm on her throat tightened.

"No games! You're coming with me." Pressing a little deeper with her dagger, Altea began dragging the woman to Duncan's barge. She wound one hand into the long dark blonde hair and tugged cruelly. It was something of a battle to get her on board, but once inside with the door locked behind her Altea could relax a little. She shoved the spy down onto a chair, and held her wrists together behind her with one hand as she looped her belt around them.

She pulled up a second chair, and sat on it, legs demurely crossed, bloody dagger gently cleaning out from under her nails. Her captive looked faintly sick.

"Haven't been doing this long, have you?" she said conversationally. There was no reply. "Oh come on, at least make this a little interesting. Or I could make it really interesting for you."

Still silence.

"What's your name? And why were you following me?" If anything the spy's face grew more stony. Altea looked her captive over carefully, then swiftly patted her down. About Altea's own height. Light coloured eyes. The endemic jeans and sweater, a silk scarf. No weapons. One note pad. One cellphone. No wallet. Rather too much cash in a back pocket for honesty.

Altea drew a deep breath, and let it out again, slowly. "You know, I used to have an aunt. Well, let's call her an aunt. I really couldn't stand her. Horse faced, and thick as two short planks. If I don't have your name, I could just call you Melippe after her. It suits you," she added blandly. There was no reaction, though the face almost looked as though it wanted to spit insults back.

"Okay, Melippe it is. On to the next question. What were you doing outside my barge?"

She didn't bother waiting for the reply this time, but went straight on. "Perhaps you were waiting for a customer. No. You're well fed, so that can't be your trade. Unless you're really good at it, in which case you wouldn't be hanging around outside. Maybe you were hoping for a handout. Nah, same applies. You don't seem too concerned about the next meal. Though if I were you, I would. Whether it's going to happen that is, not where it's coming from," she added with an untroubled laugh. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the woman shiver slightly, then hold herself still.

{So, the thought of dying bothers you does it. Coward,} she thought contemptuously, forgetting how fearful she had once been, before she had escaped her eternal tomb.

The Immortal stood and hefted the labrys that she had left leaning against her chair. She whetted the blade with her thumb, letting a single drop of blood trickle down it and drip onto the knee of the other woman. Eyes wide with fear she jerked away, then froze at the feel of the curved axe head lightly scraping the skin beneath her ear. The weapon moved round, she could almost feel the tiniest layer of skin parting where it passed, could see in her mind's eye the little beads of blood welling up, breaking capillaries, only millimetres away from veins and arteries...

"Jugular, carotid..." Altea whispered, naming each blood vessel as the blade sliced over it, and her prisoner's eyes snapped up to her face, frightened to hear her own terrified thoughts on this psychopath's lips. "So vulnerable. A little nick. Just here," and the woman moaned as the pressure increased for a fraction of a second, then was lifted. "And it would all be over. Imagine that. No more worries. No more bills to pay or people to follow. Just the cold dark tomb. Or maybe they'd burn you, just bones and ashes, thrown out like so much garbage. Or leave you to some medical students for practice on. Would you like that?" The red haired Immortal's voice was low and sympathetic, her cheek close against the fair hair, whispering into her ear.

"No..." came the soft wail. Altea pulled back abruptly.

"But I can't let you live," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "You'd just go tell people my secrets. If you won't give me a reason to keep you alive, what can I do?" The head beside her face began to shake - no.

"Yes. Unless you give me some reason to trust you, it'll be over the side of the barge with you. Unless I remember to weight you down you'll be found in a couple of days. Maybe less. I'm sure your employers will give you a splendid funeral. Now, hold still, this won't hurt a bit. Or at least, you won't care for very long..." She took a step back and swung the axe high over her shoulder. As she began the downward swoop her prisoner cracked.

"Louise! My name's Louise - Louise Kerly! Please!"

"Tchah. At least die bravely. You've gone and put me off my stroke."

"Please. I - I don't know what you want to know, but I don't want to die! Please!" Louise said desperately to her captor.

Altea put the labrys down with a show of reluctance. In fact she was relieved. She would not have been able to bring herself to kill the little spy, and yet she had little else to hold over her. If she had waited a fraction of a second more, Louise would have discovered that when Altea pulled the killing blow, and might never have spoken.

"So. Talk to me."

"What do you want to know?"


Scene 2 0

Richie woke abruptly into searing light. Long before his eyes adjusted to the wall of light blinding him, he could sense an Immortal somewhere nearby.

{Vittoria,} he thought painfully. He tried to move, and was surprised to find his hands tied together in front of him, arms free to move. His eyes focused on the area around him through the glaring light pouring into them. Gradually he realised it wasn't bright everywhere, that there was darkness beyond the brilliance. Finally he could see. He was sitting in a small circle of light, one of dozens which ran across the room in long lines, like checkers, neatly laid out on an all black board.

He was sitting on a hard wooden chair. He closed his eyes briefly and tried to estimate the size of the place he was in from the sounds. Large, and by the positioning of the lights, he was probably in the centre. His eyes opened again and he looked at the knot in the loosely tied rope holding his wrists. {I could just yank my hands out of this,} he thought contemptuously, and he tried the rope. His backside felt numb, and so did his legs. {Made up for the wrists by tying my legs too tight?} he wondered. He tried standing, but nothing happened.

"Ah ah ah. No starting the party without me." The voice startled him, and he looked up at the room around him, distracted from his concern about his immediate condition.

In between those circles of light filled space were greying areas filled by black, where the lights failed to overlap, and left only the imagination with eyes. In one such patch of darkness Vittoria was standing, watching him wake.

"I meant to kill you while you were dead, little one," she said conversationally. Her voice echoed in the cavernous warehouse, and Richie's head twisted, trying to follow the streamers of sound to find her, as they filled it, then faded. He thought he had located her, and stared in that direction, silently defiant, into the dark.

Her voice came again, mocking, "Aren't you even little bit curious why I didn't?"

"I expect you'll tell me sooner or later. It wouldn't be any fun if you didn't, would it?" He understood her well enough. She was a bully. The sort that found a secret and exploited just because she could, not because she really wanted something. She had no interest in him, not even any interest in his Quickening or his pain. She was only interested in herself. It made her unpredictable, but only in detail. If it amused, pleased - whatever she cared to call it, he might live. He might do so anyway. She might even get bored.

She could see the thoughts flickering over his face. He was brightly lit, every angle and plane in sharp relief. Seven hundred years was more than enough to read this puppy, who could barely lift a sword, never mind understand her. She laughed softly, and the echoes took the sound, and cast it through the building, only to be buried by the sound of a train pulling out from the Gare du Nord, clattering past the industrial estate.

"I want to know," she stepped forward into a pool of light, "I want to know where Methos is." Another step forward, and she slipped into shadows again. Richie began to feel frightened - he had misjudged her badly once already, and was wondering how much more that he thought he knew about her was in fact incorrect. He tried to stand again, and found he still couldn't move. This time he started to really worry as it finally registered with him that there was nothing binding his lower body to the chair. Something was seriously wrong. His hands and arms had movement, even if restricted. His face and torso were normal too, but he couldn't shift one inch from where he had been placed in an open backed chair. As he twisted round, trying to understand, something caught against the chairback. A little further, a little further...

He slumped back, sickened.

"Oh, don't worry. It will heal. It may just... take some time." She smiled into the darkness, watching a little more of the bravado seep away from him, in its wake a little more fear. She saw it pulling his shoulders back, narrowing his eyes, thinning his lips. "Be brave. Yes, that's it. Like that. Good boy. You might even have that time. If you co-operate."

"Now. Methos. You say you didn't kill him. Convince me." Suddenly she was by his elbow, a hand rocking idly on the dagger embedded in the middle of his spine. He gasped at the pain, then bit his lip till it bled to keep himself silent. She caught the flicker of light as it healed and frowned.

"So, I will tell you what I know, and you will do the same, and then you will go, head and all. In one piece," she added as an afterthought. "A bargain?" She didn't wait for him to respond. "He was born a long time ago, probably in the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris and the Euphrates. He has been many things, but mostly a survivor. He was a murderer, an artist, a priest," she smiled, "Well, everything," she said with a conspiratorial grin. "What else would you expect from such a person? And you met him one October, some years after he had decided to become a man of peace."

Richie's mind worked furiously. She had the wrong man, the wrong Methos. {So it might be safe to tell her. . . unless she decided to kill me for the Quickening I supposedly carry. Perhaps if I tell her what I know, maybe I can convince her to give up . . . Maybe. Maybe even convince her she's got to start over again. As long as I don't tell her about Adam, I'm not breaking my promise.} She watched as his expression changed from uncertainty to a decision.

"I'll tell you what I know." He flinched as her hand moved again on the blade in his back. She twisted it viciously, then yanked, dragging the dagger from between vertebrae. His eyes watered as feeling slowly returned to his lower back and legs, the severed nerves reknitting themselves. The relief as he felt - felt - a sticky runnel of blood soaking the waistband of his jeans and trickling uncomfortably downwards.

"Speak then. I am all ears." She sat before him, cross-legged. For all the word like a child waiting for a bedtime story, an unchildlike sword resting across her knees.

"Methos--" Richie sighed, trying to work out how best to go on. "He came to Seacouver more than a year ago... I wanted to believe him. I wanted so badly for him to be right, y'know - for him to truly have a way that meant I could leave the killing behind. I hate it. It's nothing I was brought up to do. I can't treat death casually..." He was lost in his own thoughts now, barely aware of the circumstances which left him in this place.

"I laid down my sword for him. I gave it back to Mac - he gave it to me once when I'd needed it - needed him. I wanted him to have it back. I suppose... I think I hurt him. I turned my back on him and everything he wanted me to be. I guess it was partly deliberate, some kind of rebellion. I didn't want to be like him any more. I didn't want to remember how-- I didn't want to remember... I didn't want to kill any more!" He looked straight at her for the first time in his tale, and she stared back intently. Cautiously he tried lifting his legs - they were almost working again, only the agony of pins and needles was stopping him from getting up and leaving. He tried to ease them a little, without her noticing - her eyes were rapt, fixed on his face. {Perhaps she won't see,} he hoped. {Who am I kidding, she just took the damn thing out herself. She's waiting for it.}

"So, we fought, kinda, me and Mac. And then I went back to his house. Methos' house." He paused, seeing it all again in his mind's eye. "It was beautiful, you know? Blue skies, sunshine, just that little bit of breeze - just enough to stop the day being sticky. All that green and brown and gold as the leaves began to turn. And as I got there I saw the last traces of lightning. I went into the garden - he wasn't there. And then I saw him. Culbraith." He sighed again, but his fists tightened. "He killed him. He was unarmed - Mac says that he died as he lived. That it was his choice. But the point is, he was betrayed. By his own student. It shouldn't have happened. Perhaps if I'd been there-- " He cleared his throat. "I... I wanted to kill him," he said, sharp edges on each word. A moment later his shoulders slumped, and his mouth, which had thinned in remembered rage, quirked into a half smile. "But I was going to die. Like my teacher, empty handed. And I didn't want to die. It seemed worth fighting for after all. I'm such a hypocrite." He shrugged, and glanced at his enemy. "Then Mac shows up, throws me my sword. I don't think Culbraith expected that. After, well, taking his head was easy. But - Methos - was still dead."

"So, you do have his Quickening?" she asked, still caught in the story. "Can you remember what it was like? Being him? Is there anything of him in it?

"I don't think so. It came to me through Culbraith, and I don't think that it can get through all that. . . Sometimes -" He fell silent.

"Yes?" she said eagerly.

"Sometimes do I think I get something from them. From the Quickenings - I... I suddenly start doing the weirdest stuff. Things I never cared about before."

She leaned forward, an excited light in her eye. "And did you 'get something' from him?"

"No, nothing," he said softly. He shook his head, and it was as if that cleared his mind of the memories. "No," he said more firmly. "Maybe he wasn't even Methos. How could you tell? I suspect he wasn't." He wondered how far down the truthful path he dared go, whether Adam could take her if he told her who he was. Whether he dared break a promise made to his first teacher and his teacher's friend.

"Oh. That's a shame. Maybe it won't do any good then. But if I don't take his head, I'll never know, will I, Georg?" she whispered to herself. Richie looked at her, confused. "So, I'll have to take your head. I'm sorry. Not much, but a little bit sorry. You told such a good story," she said regretfully, almost childishly.

He needed to stand, wanted his sword, somehow found himself on his unsteady feet. In the strangely lit place he could see no sign of his jacket, and the sword hidden inside it. {Unarmed against a lunatic, again,} he realised, and began backing away from her, tugging desperately at the bindings on his wrists.

"Nowhere to go, little one," she called merrily, and raised her sword, rolling smoothly to her feet. He ran, stumbling over his recalcitrant feet and legs as they tried to heal from the paralysis she had inflicted. Keeping to the dark as much as he could, letting his eyes adjust, trying to spot his own sword. He fetched up hard against an unseen wall, and heard her snicker.

"Richie, nino mio, you'll hurt yourself like that. Come here, I'll make the pain go away. You won't have to kill any more. No more deaths, no more swords. No more anything. No more pain. You don't even have to choose to lay down your sword. I've taken it away, so you can just let go. Let me have him, Richie, I want him - you don't, not the way I do," she said softly, stalking nearer through the darkness.

For a moment she was saying everything he had most wanted to hear, those dark days, a year and a half ago. He was held, unmoving, wondering... Now that he was not moving she could not tell where he was, and took it for defiance.

"Give him to me. I want him!" she repeated harshly. "You don't want him," her voice gentle and low again, "You don't want any of this... Let go... Stand still... Let me..."

"Richie!" A man's voice broke the seductive web she was weaving with her voice.

The two of them realised at the same moment that they had barely registered the approach of another Immortal. Richie thought he recognised the voice, couldn't place it for a moment, then with pure shock - "Me-- Adam? Adam! Over here!"


Scene 2 1

"I don't know who you're talking about!"

"Tall. Fair, reddish hair. Carries a sword." Altea moved back a couple of steps and regarded her prisoner thoughtfully. Louise Kerly looked terrified, true, but also rather bewildered.

"I would help if I could, but I just don't know who you're talking about." she said, meeting Altea's eyes.

Altea sighed. As far as she could tell, the woman was telling the truth. {Perhaps another tack?} She turned away from her and stared out the barge's window.

"What about your employer?"

"I..."

"Where can I find someone who does know what I want to know?" She impatiently turned back to face her.

"I c-can't... they'll k-k-kill me," she stuttered.

"And that will be different from what I plan to do how?" Altea retorted.

Louise swallowed. "There's a house in the Dordogne..."

"Are you stupid or just trying to make me lose my temper? That's too far away. I need somewhere in Paris. Today."

"Uhh, I think there's a warehouse, near the Gare du Nord. It's where we do drop-offs, pick up new equipment. It's where I was first taken when I came to Paris for them."

"Who are 'they'?" Altea snapped at her.

"Como Lakeside Inc. At least, that's the American front end. They may go by something different over here."

Altea considered this for a moment. "When did you join them?" she asked curiously.

"Straight out of university, about six years ago. I was a science major, electronics and all that, with a languages minor." She shrugged. "They contacted me through the department, just before I graduated, I had a few interviews, and that was that. I wouldn't normally be doing this, but we're short staffed at the moment - I guess we're running a big operation on this. I don't usually go into the field, I'm meant to be the long distance surveillance expert. I suppose I should have stuck to what I'm good at," she finished sourly.

Altea nodded absently. "The address of the warehouse?"

"I don't know for sure... It's on the St Denis industrial estate, near the Electrolux factory. It looks derelict - there's a big sign outside which used to say Theroux et Cie, but it's badly faded. I could show you it?"

"No. I think I know the place you mean, and I'm quite sure I'd be happier if you stay here." Altea walked towards the door, thought a moment, then stepped back quickly. A hard blow to the back of the woman's head with the handle of the labrys, and she flopped to one side, unconscious. Altea tied her legs to the chair, and gagged her. {Secure enough. Time to leave.} She glanced at her watch, {The watch Richie bought me...} She should still make the deadline to meet Duncan. {I only hope he waits. Maybe I should leave a note here, in case he tries to get hold of me here.} She grinned suddenly as she imagined Duncan's face when he walked into his barge to find an unconscious woman bound and gagged on one of his dining chairs.

She scribbled a short note, telling him she'd be waiting for him at the house, and left for it at a swift jog.


Scene 2 2

Richie's cry of recognition echoed through the empty factory.

"Go away!" Vittoria shrieked at the intruder. "Go away! Pierre! Valjean!"

"Oh, were those their names? I'm glad someone will be able to identify them." Methos stepped casually into a ring of light, sword resting over his right shoulder.

"He's mine! Go away!" she yelled, moving closer to him.

"Really? I believe I have the prior claim. He broke a promise which I expected him to keep. Didn't you, Ryan." The eldest Immortal looked coldly at the young Immortal.

"No. Adam. I told her nothing..." There was a loaded silence.

"Oh Richard," Methos breathed, almost sadly.

At the same moment, Vittoria said, "Told 'her'? told me... told me what? Why would you care who Methos truly was, unless. 'Adam'?" She turned to look straight into Methos' eyes. "Oh clever." Both men could see the understanding dawning.

"That's why you were so adamant that the Methos who was your teacher wasn't the genuine article. You already knew! Oh Richie. This is a gift beyond compare... You can go now." she added casually.

"No he can't," Methos said calmly. "If we are to fight, Vittoria Ursini, then I want to kill him first."

"Why?" she asked, but she knew why. "He betrayed you. Yes, yes of course, you're right, he does deserve to die for that, doesn't he."

"Where is his sword?" Methos smiled cruelly, "I always like a fair fight, don't you?"

"Adam, what are you doing? I said nothing. Nothing." Richie's eyes darted from one to the other, both armed, both intent on taking his head. Somehow this had escalated beyond mere kidnapping, from the quiet of the story-telling, and a hope of escape to betrayal. He slid along the wall, his back pressed close against the corrugated iron, shirt catching on patches of rust. To his left Vittoria approached, to his right he could see Methos. Weapons raised. He tugged wildly at the ropes on his wrists, tearing skin but finally shaking free. Desperately he felt the wall behind him, anything - and there was nothing.

There was a clatter, and his sword hit the ground by his feet. He dipped for a fraction of a second, never lowering his eyes from the others for a moment, and was straight again, hilt in hand. Vittoria paused.

"Your kill, my lord," she said mockingly, parodying a courtly bow, offering the young Immortal to the dark haired stranger. "Let me see how the great Methos fights."

"Thank you. Do you wish to wait for your death, or shall I come after you?" Methos replied conversationally.

She looked at him, fearful, but only for a moment. "I'll see how you fight. Then I'll take you when you're weak from the Quickening..."

"Oh, that won't happen. He's nothing. A baby of four. Come here, and we will see what a real Quickening is like. Him? He'd barely set a match alight," he told her dismissively.

He raised his sword to her. She waited a moment, reading the fatal look in his eyes. After a moment she backed away. Methos smiled again.

"Come here, boy." Richie circled away from the wall, keeping his eyes on Methos.

"Don't call me boy."

"Don't you like it? Ahhh, poor baby."

"Save your sympathy, old timer." And their swords clashed.

Vittoria's hand went to her mouth. There was no contest. This 'Methos' - if that was who he really was, outmatched Ryan. Outmatched him so effortlessly that she began to think she could not in fact carry through her plan. She could see them still speaking, exchanging insults, but where Methos was barely breaking a sweat, Ryan was already breathing heavily, stumbling back. {Partly his legs not healed yet I suppose,} she thought absently, then frowned as a particularly complicated movement flurried between the two men, leaving Ryan rolling desperately across the floor, scrambling to get to his feet before the final strike of that plain, battered looking sword came down. {I'll die if I face him.}

Slowly she began to back away from the two immortals engrossed in their fight. She flinched as she heard Richie cry out. She glanced back and saw the boy on his knees before her legend. She swallowed, and slipped through the door.

There was a howl and a crash behind her, and she began to run.


Scene 2 3

The car screeched to a halt but even over the sound of the brakes they could hear the chime of sword on sword. Altea launched herself from the car, and Duncan followed, scant feet behind. They ran through the estate, desperately trying to find the fight. They sensed an Immortal at the same time. As they swerved around the side of a building they could see another, up the far end, the sound of metal on metal clear through the closed doors.

Duncan grabbed her arm.

"Let me go," she hissed coldly, murder in her eyes. The labrys appeared in her hand again, and rang against the katana.

"You can't interfere." Duncan said urgently, bearing down against the axe as hard as he could. His grip on her arm softened. "Altea, I'm sorry, you can't imagine..."

She looked at him, saw the braced expression, awaiting pain, too close to her own emotions to watch for long.

"You'll only distract him. If he wins, he wins. If not..." She tried to jerk her arm away again. "If not," he repeated, his fingers holding onto her forearm," It's better...not to see."

She looked at him with understanding - he had stood here before.

A distant cry. Lights flickered, white smoke drifted under the closed doors. The lightning never even made it out of the building, not a powerful Quickening then. Perhaps one only five years old, certainly not one of a seven hundred year old Immortal. Gouts of flames appeared, seizing merrily on the walls and roofs of neighbouring buildings. Duncan heard Altea whisper, "No!"

One by one the windows fractured, debris flying outwards. Out of the sudden quiet a small dark figure emerged at a run.

It was dark, but even in the twilight they could see all they needed to know. With a roar Duncan charged at the distant Immortal, brandishing sword, but Altea was ahead of him, lightly covering the ground, utterly silent, labrys raised in both hands.

Duncan ran after the two women. He lost them for a while as Vittoria fled before Altea's implacable fury. Finally, some minutes later, he caught up, to hear Vittoria say, begging, "It wasn't my fault! I didn't do it! Please! Let me go! It wasn't me! He came. I - I ran. I didn't want to face him, he's too good, and he took it, he took Ryan's head, I think." She raised her rapier to ward off another crushing blow, then changed her mind and skipped backwards, out of the way. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" she gasped, wildly parrying Altea's sweeping two-handed blows. Vittoria could still move fast enough to dodge them, but the moment the axe touched her she knew there would be nothing she could do. She drew blood, pinking her opponent's shoulder, but it was as if it never happened. With each strike, each frantic dive for safety, Vittoria lost a little ground, and a little strength. Altea simply pressed forwards, nothing resembling thought in her icy eyes.

"Who are you? Please! Let me go! It wasn't me! I didn't do it. . ." and moaned as her wrist was snapped, bent backwards beyond endurance as labrys and rapier met. The sword fell, her hand dangling uselessly. She went to grab it left handed, a split second decision, wrong choice, {No, go!} her mind screamed at her sluggish feet. Altea was already there.

With one blow she severed Vittoria's sword arm at the shoulder. She screamed in agony even as she turned to flee. Altea's next blow dug deep into her left side as she turned, the blade catching in the Vittoria's spine. With a wrench she yanked the axe out, letting the dark haired Italian fall to her knees. Vittoria clutched at the weeping stump of her right arm, spitting blood as it filled her lungs.

{Not like this, not when I was so close. . .} "Methos. . ." a howl cut short.

With a wordless scream Altea lifted the labrys high above her head, and slammed it downwards.

She stood through the Quickening, silent tears streaming down her face, until she could not bear it any more, and tumbled to her knees. When the lightning ceased Duncan dropped to his knees beside her, not quite touching her.

"Altea?" he said softly.

"Um?"

"I think we should go."

"But..."

"I don't think... I suspect..." He paused. Something didn't feel right. "Wait here. I need to check something." He jogged into the burning factory. On the ground around the edges were stones, one or two had glass all around them. Then he caught sight of something else. He smiled grimly as he picked it up. "When I get my hands on those two..." he muttered.

He took it outside, flipping it from hand to hand, and held it out wordlessly to Altea.

She turned it in her hand and looked up at him in puzzlement.

"It's a smoke bomb," he said.

She looked at it again, then at him and took a deep breath. "I think," she said unsteadily, "I need to sit down somewhere and have a drink. After that, I'm going to find him and kill him."

They looked at each other for a moment, and began laughing, faintly hysterically.


Scene 2 4

"Who the hell are you?" Richie demanded.

"Mmmph! MMMMph mm!" Louise Kerly tried to answer.

"Let her go, Rich," Methos said, and collapsed onto Duncan's sofa, still, well, there's no other word for it, still giggling.

Richie yanked at the gag, pulled the rope from her wrists and asked her, "Do you want to explain what happened here?"

"A mad woman! With an axe!"

"Altea." Methos suggested helpfully.

"She wanted to know where some Ricky person was. And then she rushed off."

"Seems reasonable," Methos dragged himself to his feet long enough to get a beer from Duncan's fridge, and now wandered back. "Let her go. The important people are ... gone."

Richie shrugged, "It's your head." He unbound her wrists and ankles, and watched in silence as she went, thinking of something else now. "Altea was waving her axe around again."

"Labrys." Methos corrected him, taking another swig of beer.

"Whatever. Do you suppose she's pissy at me? I didn't mean to get kidnapped."

"Don't explain it to me, explain it to her."

"Why me? It's your fault too. If you didn't exist--"

"You'd be dead right now."

"No, I wouldn't have gotten into this mess, because she'd never have come after my head looking for you."

"Yes, but if I hadn't been around when--" They were interrupted in the raking-up-ancient-grudges game by the sense of another Immortal close by.

"Altea!" Richie ran for the door.

"Duncan," Methos said morosely, and made a quick dive for the fridge, grabbing another two beers, and hiding them down the side of the chair he was sprawled in.

A couple of seconds later his worst fears were realised.

"Richie!" Duncan's voice.

"Richie!" Altea's voice.

{Group hug,} thought Methos sourly.

Richie came back in, Altea's arm tightly around his waist, Duncan's eyes on him, full of relief, and something else. Just what he discovered when Duncan flipped a small canister onto the table.

"What is this?" he asked mildly.

Richie and Methos looked at each other.

"It was your idea."

"It was your neck."

"It was your--"

"I just asked a simple question. What is it?"

"A mark 4 gas canister." Methos tried the factual approach.

"Ah. Why was it in the warehouse where we thought we saw a Quickening take place?"

"You saw it?" Richie almost looked contrite, "Look, Mac, Al, we never meant for you to see it. It was just the quickest way out of a bad situation. Methos came in, pretended to want my head, and scared her off. Though you could have told me a little more of the plan than whispering 'Lose! Lose dammit!' at me. I thought you were just trying to faze me," he added accusingly to Methos. Richie caught Altea's glare and spread his hands in surrender, "It was just meant to get rid of her. I never meant for you to think either of us got ourselves killed. We just snuck off, till I got the poison and the injuries all healed, then I was gonna go back and get her. Honestly."

"Al?" Altea said in puzzlement midway through the spiel, low enough that Richie didn't hear it.

"So what exactly happened?" Duncan asked resignedly.

"I brought some odds and ends with me when I came looking for Ursini. Enough to create a diversion if I needed one." Methos said, burrowing deeper into the easy chair.

Duncan simply glowered at them.

Richie grinned back. "But it was great, Mac. He was standing there flipping the lights on and off, then he shorted them across the girders in the roof somehow. And the smoke bomb went off, and I was throwing stones through the windows." He laughed, "It was fantastic. A faked Quickening! Never seen anything like it." He perched on the arm of the chair Methos was seated in, and dropped a hand on his shoulder. "And it was all his idea. Now, we just have to find her and get rid of her. Sorry, I know she's your friend and all, but jeeze Mac, why are all your friends psycho?"

"No, you don't." Duncan glared at the two miscreants. "Altea's saved you the trouble. She thought - we both thought she'd killed you."

"Come on Mac, you know I'm harder to kill than that. I'm truly sorry you got misled like that but I wasn't to know you were running around after me. I'm a big boy now. I can look after myself."

Duncan let that pass and turned to Methos.

"Al?" Altea repeated a little more loudly. Methos caught it this time, and started to grin viciously.

"And I thought you were halfway to the tropics," Duncan remarked to Methos with a faint smirk.

"I won't say I didn't think of it," the oldest man alive admitted cheerfully. "But we all had a good time, didn't we?"

"A good time?" Duncan asked, eyebrows raised.

"We're all alive," Methos shrugged, as if that was all that really mattered.

While they argued, Richie went over to where Altea was sitting on the sofa. He brushed at the tear streaks on her tired face, and said "I'm really sorry you had to go through all of that. Thank you. I never imagined..." He wrapped both arms round her and kissed her. After a moment she leaned back and smiled at him.

"Well, I'd rather have you around than not, so I suppose it was worth it." she said, thinking {Al?}, and a half frown creasing her forehead.

"Of course it was, Allie," Richie replied, not meaning to sound smug, but definitely achieving it anyway.

She looked at him, a thoughtful expression on her face, and said, "That reminds me. Who is this 'Al'?"

"Ummm . . ."

Methos grinned at the suddenly wary look on Richie's face. He dug out one of the spare bottles of beer from the side of his chair and passed it to Duncan. Duncan saluted him with it, took a swig, then they both settled back to enjoy the show.

Finis

Thanks to my brother Alex for not laughing at it, Silvia Barlaam for information on medieval Italy, monasteries in the Lake Como area, and for the translations, and Tasha for laughing at the right bits. Now that's my kind of editor

The End


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