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Part 3

Scene 1 4

Methos watched his friends' backs carefully as he strolled down the darkened Paris street. It had been two days since Richie's return and after forty-eight hours of confinement to quarters, the old man had finally persuaded his comrades to go out for overdue shore leave. There had been little progress in discovery of information related to the adversary who remained a constant at the back of all four minds, and the ancient had seen the very real need for a relief of tension. As he observed the two men talking in low tones, the elder Immortal knew that they were far from back to normal, but it was a hundred percent improvement from a few days ago. Both he and Joe had returned to the barge on the night of Richie's restoration to find MacLeod tending over a deeply unconscious comrade. A few hours of alarm had eased as the oblivion had softened into an exhausted sleep, but Ryan had shown no signs of waking until the next evening. Now, although subdued, he was holding a casual conversation with his attentive comrade and Methos had begun to pay more attention to the second casualty of the situation.

Duncan's trauma had been largely ignored as he had drawn on his age and experience to weather the last eddies of the storm which had raged in his psyche. Yet now, as the old Immortal paid more attention to his resilient friend, he saw the lines of despair which had been added to his face. It would be a long road to recovery, hampered by the constant threat of the unresolved confrontation, but the insightful ancient was glad to see the first signs of wounds healing.

A hand was laid on his shoulder and Methos glanced across at the companion who walked beside him. He smiled at Joe as the mortal met the thoughtful shadow at the back of his gaze.

"It was a good idea," Dawson rumbled in his deep, melodic tones, referring to the quiet, contemplative dinner they had all just shared. "We all needed a break."

Methos merely nodded his assent, replete in both good food and company. However, the grey man's comment had been heard, and Richie turned round, keeping pace as easily backwards as forwards.

Uncertain of the form of address, but with quiet sincerity, the young man agreed, "Thanks, Methos," and he wasn't just referring to the dinner.

The old man felt very odd as he accepted the largely unspoken gratitude - he wasn't used to caring about anyone but himself, and now he was up to his neck in the dangerously bizarre thanks to a do- gooder Scot, a Blues-playing spy and a horrendously impetuous youth. They made a strange team, three Immortals and one Mortal, fumbling in the dark against an enemy that they had no idea how to defeat. Methos couldn't quite put his finger on why he wasn't bailing, or why he hadn't done so as soon as MacLeod had gone off the rails. Heroics weren't his style - but then again, there was a good chance nothing would be anyone's style if the demon won; 'Demon', it sounded so fanciful, but it was the only way human experience had to describe this creature with powers beyond anything in either the Mortal or Immortal spheres. Five thousand years of experience and he hadn't even the first clue about how to deal with the Evil facing them - then what did he expect? He was the first person to admit that he didn't know everything.

Methos pushed away the musing, this evening was intended to be an escape from all that, even heroes needed a break now and then. The man snorted to himself as that thought occurred to him. He shook his head and grinned dismissively at all three men as he finally succeeded in drawing Duncan's attention to him as well.

"Something funny?" MacLeod enquired lightly, a questioning smile crossing his features.

"Nothing important," the Eternal student shrugged lazily, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"Getting giggly at your age?" Joe teased.

"Well he did finish that last bottle of wine," Richie joined in, the ghost of an impish grin lighting his face for a moment.

"And the rest of you were all acting like you'd taken the pledge, I suppose!?" Methos scoffed back, launching into the comfortable exchange as a far better alternative to dwelling on bigger things.

"Shpeak fer yershlef," Duncan slurred with comic exaggeration, turning fully now and leaning his elbow on Ryan's shoulder.

The blond youth pushed him away with a playful laugh, and the Scot did a good impression of inebriation as he staggered into the deserted road. His comrades' amusement seemed to egg the man on, and Methos caught a rare glimpse of the actor that was usually buried under the sensible exterior.

"Bravo!" the ancient applauded the comic moment as Duncan crashed into a lamppost and sunk into a graceless heap.

He strode past his laughing companions and offered a hand to the Highlander as he moved to rise. The entertainer was hauled to his feet to appreciative chuckling. Methos grinned widely at the successful release of tension, patting his comrade in the back as they prepared to head back to the pavement. Yet the temporary reverie ended more abruptly than planned. The communal laughter was so comfortable, that when one voice fell away it became immediately obvious. Richie's contribution to the amused sound halted in an instant, and all three of his comrades centred on him as one. His bright eyes had clouded with anxiety and scanned the now inhibitorily lit area urgently. The hairs on the back of Methos' neck stood straight.

Duncan had drawn his sword before they all heard the self-amused snigger which crossed the partially displayed street to them. Joe moved to Ryan's side, while his Immortal companions spun to face whatever stood off in the darkness of the far wall. The stride to close ranks with MacLeod was instinctive as Methos caught sight of the indistinct shape which appeared from out of an alley which had been irrelevantly invisible before. He drew his own weapon, although uncomfortably aware that it was probably worse than useless. The old man didn't like feeling helpless, but as he watched the mediocre blond man in the long dark coat walk into the glow of a street lamp, his gut told him that waving a bit of steel at this creature was going to be unproductive. However, he could hear the constricted breathing of his young friend behind him, and he sensed the intense hatred in Duncan; these two things served as the motivation which kept him staring down whatever it was.

"James," Joe murmured in disbelief.

"It's not him," MacLeod warned his stunned affiliate.

"Of course it's not," the clipped British accent sneered, "I just like the reaction this shape gets me."

"It doesn't work anymore," the Highlander took the lead in this confrontation. "We know what you are."

"Oh, I don't think you have the first idea what I am," the figure condescended and displayed the red glow in its eyes, "but then ignorance never stopped a human before. Are you ready for me, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?"

Scene 1 5

As Duncan looked around the barge, he realised, that like himself, the recent encounter had made a great impression on his friends that would not be forgotten easily. The one taking it the hardest was not unexpected; Richie's reaction was not as extreme as a few days earlier, but his tight-lipped expression left MacLeod under no illusion as to his train of thought.

The demon had departed swiftly after its challenge to the Highlander, it's appearance meant only as an intimidation. However, that speedy meeting had meant a long, silent walk back to the mooring. Joe had hovered over their youngest compatriot, but the youth had been ominously uncommunicative. Now, under Duncan's unobtrusive gaze, Richie was making coffee in a manner which suggested he was trying to destroy the cafetierre. The state of his kitchenware was irrelevant to the Scot, but the motivations that caused it at Ryan's hand were. As he turned to gauge Methos' mood, the Highlander received a glance which mirrored his own concerns. In tandem, both observers brought Joe into their conspiracy; his face was grim.

Watching, all three saw thoughts flick across Richie's visage, some which inspired emotion he buried instantly, but others which came out in the frustration which he vented on the coffee-maker. This couldn't go on. Yet it wasn't conversation which brought the young man out of his self-concerned musings, no one could find the right words. Instead, the complete stillness of his compatriots obviously encroached on the blond youth. As the eyes followed his progress, Richie slowly became aware of the attention and looked anxiously up at the examination. At first, his reaction was annoyance at their intrusion, yet the defence quickly dissipated into unhappy admission of trouble. The question didn't need to be asked, as he launched into a diatribe.

"I don't know," he began in exasperation, "when that thing turned up, I felt something. It's not like sensing one of us, I see everything differently when it's close. It's like it's in my head. First time I woke up after I was free, it was there waiting, in another body, but I could see it inside her. I couldn't tell you what I saw, but I know I saw something, and it was the same with you..you and Methos when it turned up in the street."

Richie sagged a little, leaning on the counter as he ran out of words and Duncan felt for him. It was Methos who made a conclusion from what had been said.

"So you see Immortals differently when its around?" he began tackling the problem.

"No," Ryan replied, apparently without out even taking time to think about it, and he waved his hand dismissively. "It's nothing to do with Us."

The young man looked almost surprised at this admission as if he'd only just realised it himself. Duncan could see that there were things going on in his friend's subconscious of which Richie was not aware. Again, however, it was Methos who went about another question with a researcher's knack for following leads.

"Just Duncan and I, not Joe?" he clarified to an affirmative nod, and then pressed. "Can you try and tell us what you see."

The youth looked defeated, but closed his eyes in concentration.

"I really don't know," he echoed his earlier admission even as he pursued the loss in his psyche.

The next inquiry occurred to Duncan, and he jumped in before Richie lost whatever concentration he had, "Can you try to explain why you can't remember," he approached the problem from another angle.

"I think I've buried it," the young man replied with the speed of a conclusion already mulled over and made.

In the pause that followed the revelation all four comrades looked around at each other. For that moment, Duncan's attention turned to Methos and it was one of the rare occasions when he had seen the old man look awkward. An idea seemed to have occurred to him, but he was obviously pensive about it. However, MacLeod's scrutiny drew the other's focus.

"What is it?" it was Richie's turn to ask.

The Highlander had the immediate impression that if anyone else had made the enquiry, the ancient would have brushed it aside, but the hope of solution in the young Immortal dragged the information from him. With a tense glance at everyone, he began carefully, "If you're suppressing this, its probably the best thing for you."

Duncan knew there was a 'but' coming.

"However," Methos breathed heavily, "sometimes you can bring things like this back through hypnotism."

"Hypnotism?!" Joe's alarm broke him out of the stony silence with which he had observed the rest of the conversation. "Don't we already have enough hocus pocus to deal with?"

"This isn't where I make him bark like a dog, Joe," the oldest Immortal countered with his usual cynicism. "It's merely a mechanism of releasing controls on the human mind, that's why it can be dangerous, and why I wouldn't suggest it unless we were out of options."

MacLeod was instinctively of the same mind as his Watcher friend, especially when he saw the vague horror on Richie's face.

"I have to go with Dawson on this one, Methos," the Scot voiced his apprehension, "Richie's been through enough."

"Well, I'm with Methos," a quiet, sincere tone cut through the wrangling.

Silenced, the three men returned their gazes to the prior centre of attention.

"It's my head," Richie told them, "and you can't mess it up any more than it already is."

Joe seemed unconvinced, but MacLeod's opposition wavered at the courage it had taken for his young friend to make the statement. The Watcher shook his head in dismay, as the defendant started to argue the prosecution's case.

"Look," their youngest member pressed, "Methos's right, we're between a rock and a hard place, and I might just have the bazooka to blast us out of here. The holes in my head need plugging and we don't have time for six months with a shrink. Methos, how does this work?"

Scene 1 6

Ten minutes later, Richie was sitting on the couch staring at a candle flame on the coffee table in front of him. Methos sat beside the young man, talking smoothly into his ear, while Joe and Duncan observed the proceedings from a little way off in the now dimly lit cabin. Duncan had to admit to himself that his youngest friend looked calmer than his own psyche, and the Scot could also feel the tension emanating from his closest companion; Joe stood statuesque beside the Clansman, clearly uncomfortable with the semi-conscious state of his younger compatriot.

The mesmerism had begun to take affect with surprising speed as Richie gave himself up to Methos' guidance. The hypnotist had led him down a path where he had relinquished conscious contact with the world. The passive-faced youth was totally in his comrade's hands, vulnerable to the slightest suggestion, and it was time to begin peeling away his barriers.

"Okay Richie, you're feeling calm and detached," Methos soothed, "are you ready?"

"Yes," slipped dreamily from the subject's lips.

"I want you to think back to earlier this evening, walking back from the restaurant," Methos cajoled.

Richie grinned and a small laugh escaped his throat.

"What's happening?" the old man asked.

"Mac's horsin' around," came the almost chatty observation. "He's fallen over."

"That's good, Richie," the guide coaxed, "now lets move forward, what happens next?"

The happy face suddenly became distressed, frowning and less forthcoming.

"There's nothing to be afraid of, Richie," Methos immediately calmed, "it's only a memory."

The young man shook his head vigorously and moaned, "It's here, I know it's here."

"Now do you know, Richie?" it was now or never and Methos launched his interrogation.

The following raised the hairs on the back of Duncan's neck as something stirred in his own thoughts. He saw the change of expression coming, but it was even more dramatic than the first that the remembered events had caused. The apprehension fell away from the young man and MacLeod watched the Richie he knew disappear.

"Because I'm in his head, you fool," came from the new presence, and the self-amused face turned from the point of light to address Methos directly.

The old man looked shocked, but held up a rapid hand to stop any approach that either of his colleagues was contemplating. The Scot realised that the situation had dramatically changed with this new development, but it didn't cause him as much anxiety as his fellows.

"It's not the demon," he disclosed urgently, "whatever it is, It's not here."

Methos' attention had been held by the intense stare of the subject who had left his control, and the intrusion into this moment annoyed whatever Richie had become. Hatred rested in the deep blue eyes which snapped across to bore into the Highlander's soul. Yet Duncan held his ground, he knew not everything was as straightforward as it seemed. The horror in Joe and the concern in Methos were aimed at a demonic possession - that's not what this was. Duncan addressed what he felt.

"You are not Ahriman," he accused firmly.

"Ahriman, Seth, what does a name matter?" the creature defended itself in tones that didn't seem to belong to Richie.

"But you're not any of them," he informed himself as well as the gathered company.

What had been intended to release Richie's instinct also seemed to be working on The Highlander as he felt a trickle of realisation begin within his being.

"You're just a shadow," he revealed.

"A shadow which has control of this boy," the entity shot back.

"Not so much control as temporary residence," Methos' confidence seemed to return as his ally made the conclusions.

"I am here, I will always be here," it returned, annoyed at losing the dramatic ace it had held for a moment.

"That's irrelevant," Methos took control of the situation, "you're here because Richie wants you here."

"I am destruction, I am anarchy, I am chaos," the being threw at its opponents, but the glance that both Immortals exchanged agreed that it was on the defensive.

"Why can I defeat you?" Duncan asked directly.

He knew he'd lost his advantage when it laughed, twisting Richie's features into a grotesque parody of natural mirth.

"Everything has to have a nemesis," was the off-hand reply.

The flippancy seemed to galvanise Methos' resolve, and his manner was stern as he commanded, "What make's MacLeod your nemesis."

"None of your business, Pretty Boy," the being snapped.

"Answer the question, Richie," the ancient man ordered directly.

Anger mixed with pain as the guide once more clarified his position, and the creature defended itself with a threat.

"The Boy forgot me for a reason," came the caveat in menacing tones, "bring him back now, and I'll drive him insane."

"I don't believe you," Methos gambled, and Duncan silently prayed he was right.

The tension was almost tangible, as a Herculean struggle played out within the mesmerised youth. His jaw was clamped shut, the muscles in his cheeks showing through the skin with the effort. His clouded gaze returned to the candle.

"Talk to us, Richie," Duncan encouraged, putting his determination behind his protege, "what do you see?"

The first response was a forced grunt as two forces fought for control of one body, the strangest thing being that Duncan knew they were two aspects of the same psyche. The young man's face was beginning to darken with blood and the veins on his temples stood out as he struggled even to take a breath. Richie raised his hands to his head, his body trembling with an almost overwhelming stress. In any other situation, MacLeod wouldn't have believed what he was seeing. The back of the fighter's left hand, lit by the candle glow, demonstrated Immortal healing in reverse. Wounds, some tiny, some more dramatic began to open up all over his flesh, loosing blood down his arm. The single grunt had developed into a low moan, and there was now physical pain displayed on Richie's face.

"Bring him out, Methos," Duncan commanded, his tone defying protest.

"It's alright, Richie, you don't have to answer the question," Methos attempted to regain control of his subject.

However, it was too late, the conflict was resolved by the young man himself. The moan spiralled to a cry and with a violent spasm he stood up and broke free. The young man's hands fell to his side and some of the tension dropped away immediately, but his disposition was that of alarm. His eyes wide with shock, all he seemed able to do was stare, first at Methos and then at Duncan. As it locked with MacLeod's his gaze darkened.

Scene 1 7

Taunting MacLeod had been fun, but it was time to get down to the serious business of defeating the enemy. Ahriman watched the darkened barge; this host had heard the cry of his previous toy sometime ago, and curiosity stopped it from relinquishing its vantage point and returning an exhausted puppet to its new dwelling. The boy had been quite surprising and amusing, and the demon wondered what diversion his extreme reaction had created this time. Out of the three bodies it had occupied recently, the Evil had to conclude that Ryan had been by far the most entertaining, and the youth held a perverse attraction for it. This woman it now held, cowered in the dark places of her mind - no fun at all.

Boredom was just about to set in, when Ahriman was pleasantly surprised, he saw the boy and MacLeod storm onto the deck of their haven. Neither human appeared particularly happy, in fact Ryan was in a rage and the Highlander's presence seemed only to be stoking the fire.

"Go away, leave me alone!" the youth yelled, almost hitting out at a hand laid on his shoulder.

"Rich, calm down," Duncan tried.

"You lied to me!" the accusation flew into the night, full of bitterness.

Then the Demon watched the boy do the most remarkable thing - he charged off the boat, climbed onto his motorcycle and drove away very fast.

{This could be interesting,} the Evil tried to illicit a response from its host, but there was none, so it continued whimsically, {I can surmise where the boy will be going, shall we see?}

Scene 1 8

Richie surveyed the room in which 'he' had been killed and, despite any feelings the idea inspired, his overriding state of mind was unusual calmness. Everything else was held back by the new knowledge in his thoughts, the bittersweet chill that was part his own darkness and part a shadow of the creature which had inhabited his body. He had known the touch of pure evil, but it was his own imperfections, the strands of corruption that run through all but the purest souls, which kept the memory there. The young man had had to face his own iniquity to reach into the answers that lay behind the barriers of his psyche; the pain of that moment had been intense, beyond the brink of sanity, but the doors had not remained open long. The memory of that instant was already fading, buried carefully by natural human instinct to deny the darker sides of the soul, but the knowledge of his oppressor remained with Richie. The recollection wasn't pleasant, but it made him feel stronger, he now knew his enemy better than ever before, and his fear had dropped away. The youth considered that lack of perturbation might not be fortuitous, but he knew that there would have been no middle ground between the disabling fear and his present condition, so he chose the calm.

There was no doubt in Richie, as he stood in the silence, he was waiting, waiting for It to arrive. He recalled the fascination with himself that was not his own, and he knew that this moment would not be overlooked by his adversary. It was the first time he'd been alone for days, and the young man felt slightly strange; he realised he should have been feeling vulnerable, exposed, but the composure swept all that away. He wasn't even carrying a sword. Ryan wondered for a moment if he had actually stepped over the line from sanity into the madman's realm.

When It arrived, the presence was hard to ignore; then Richie felt a confused comfort in the first pangs of fear which the touch on his soul gave him - he could still feel. The shadow within stirred, threatened him, but it could not trouble him too greatly now that he understood what it was. Ignorance had not been a favourable situation where this touch was concerned, and comprehension gave him the power to fight. The young man turned to greet the light, female footsteps which rang down the hallway towards him, his gaze level, if not confident.

"Well, well, Boy," the host spoke casually, "alone again at last."

Richie didn't reply, prudence merely keeping his attention locked on his companion for any sign of danger; he was ready to run if he had to, his serene state of mind could not dampen that survival instinct. The demon was well aware of its prior victim's lack of outward concern, and it stopped the doctor a few metres away, as it too examined its position. She stood, hand on hips, eyeing him carefully. Eventually, the observation came, "Not so entertaining today, Boy?"

"I remember you," Richie answered simply, "the things you wouldn't show me - I remembered them."

The response was not unexpected, his adversary laughed at Ryan.

"So that's what you were doing," the woman nodded as if a question had been answered, "I had wondered what you and your friends were playing at. But that really doesn't matter now, does it?"

"You can't have me back," the young man snapped the warning, recognising a tremble as the idea struck him.

The crack in the veneer did not go unnoticed, and his companion began to walk, not towards him, the Evil could see the flight close to the surface, but round in a circle. It was a leisurely pace, casual, unperturbed.

"I don't have to touch you, Boy, to have you back," the enemy went for the raw nerve with a hot poker.

"No, but it takes more effort to leave that body and then take me," Richie cut right back, ready for this argument, "you'd have to personify, and that makes you vulnerable."

"Oh, very good, very good," the demon drawled, still smiling like a cat who had found the cream. "What else do you know, Boy? Tell me about myself."

The youth turned slowly, keeping his antagonist in his sights at all times. He couldn't help wondering at the absurdity of the conversation he was having, the danger in the game of cat and mouse he himself had initiated by leaving the barge. Yet he wasn't going to stop now, the mouse was becoming a man again.

"You are afraid of Duncan MacLeod because he can send you back to where you came from," Richie fired back, "and I know how he can do that."

The young woman was stopped mid stride, and she turned to face the informer, the Evil's attention now riveted.

"You don't know, yourself, do you?" Ryan felt himself taking control of this meeting, and he explained with more confidence, "I have both halves of the puzzle, what you know, and what Mac knows, and with both pieces, I know how he can defeat you."

"Really, Boy," his adversary's tone was darker now, less amused, and Richie found his stare locked not with the woman but what lay behind her gaze. "Do tell."

There had always been two images before his eyes, one that his physical being saw, the other the veil which the touch of darkness revealed to him, yet, as he faced Evil, the first, natural figure blurred and the second became more distinct. The young man became transfixed by the glow which appeared in the host's eyes, deep, blood red, being displayed both within and without. The psychical became more important than the physical, and Richie wasn't sure if he was focused inside or outside of himself. The shadow on his soul churned as his opponent actively called out to him. There was no fighting his own being, and the youth closed his eyes against the shifting of control.

"You feel me, Boy," the tones slid into his ears, and the image in his head did not change.

Ryan spat back his defiance through gritted teeth, "I am not a boy!"

"Compared to me, you are an infant," the Evil answered smoothly, its host's voice beguiling in the softness of her lilt. "You will never be free of me, let me in."

"Not a chance!" Richie opened his eyes to find his adversary dangerously close.

With his senses distracted, the host had been moved silently forward, and she reached out to him. The young man stepped rapidly backwards, and he almost turned away, his instincts taking over. Yet, a change in his opponent froze him into a statue. The figure crumpled, and agony swept across the pale face. Her hand remained out-stretched, but rather than an easy reach, ever fibre of her being strained out towards him.

"Richie," slipped desperately from the helpless woman, almost lost in a sob of despair.

The action spoke directly to the vulnerability and terror that the young man had been suppressing and the crack in the wall paralysed him. Even as he watched, alarm signals told Richie that this couldn't be the soul trapped within the possessed body, but then the display wasn't designed to fool, only to disarm.

"No," he muttered, quite unable to stop the welling of emotion behind the crumbling defences.

The woman screamed, falling to her hands and knees, wracked by an unnamed horror.

"Help me," her sound was pathetic as the body collapsed at Richie's feet.

The youth could only stare, disgusted by the display and by his reluctance to move - falsehood or no, Ryan's survival instincts were fighting with his compassion and he could neither flee nor aid the tortured soul before him. He remained immobile as the host writhed on the concrete, her limbs contorting in all directions. Richie was so mesmerised by the horrible exhibition that he missed an important fact, that the being was making its way closer to him, and it was almost too late when his brain made the conclusion. Her body in a tight ball, the woman's arm suddenly shot out towards him. The young Immortal reactions had been dulled, and he barely moved at the sudden attack, however, he was no longer alone.

A shriek not of pain, but of anger daggered into Methos' hearing as he dove past his transfixed friend and grabbed for the hand which was a hair's breadth from Ryan's ankle. His fingers closed around a delicate wrist and he pulled the woman forcefully away from their bait onto her feet. The old man brought the host nose to nose with himself through the urgency in his movements, and she growled.

"You don't get seconds," the ancient hissed, using his anger to stall any anxiety he felt about staring into the red pupils.

"I want him!" the response came back, vehement and obsessive, very little coherence behind the snarl.

Methos hooked onto the weakness that was being displayed; there weren't many cards to play in this game and he was going to take every one he was dealt.

"Aren't we being a little petulant?" he taunted with surprising calculation, even as his five-thousand-year-old survival instinct screamed at him to cut and run. "What is it you find so compelling about our young friend?"

The demon-woman merely grunted as she tried to pull out of his vice- like hold.

"Not so easy being a woman, is it?" the old man pushed as he maintained his grip without trouble, "Not so easy being mortal either. Richie happened to mention that you have a minor aversion to death - that's a bit unfortunate in this body."

The Immortal shot his free hand straight at his prisoner's neck and closed his fingers carefully around her slender throat. He didn't squeeze, not quite yet, only applied enough pressure to make his presence felt.

"What happens if a body dies around you?" the man asked, sounding almost casual in his coolness. "Are you trapped, or merely forced out?"

He began to exert a vague constriction on the host's throat. The weaker, feminine hand reached up as breathing became difficult for the woman.

"You won't kill an innocent," came the hoarse objection, but there was no conviction in the statement as both beings assessed each other.

The ancient remained dispassionate both inside and out, as he disclosed, "You're not dealing with the Boy Scout now - I'm willing to sacrifice one to destroy you!"

Fingers tightened further and breath cut off completely. Methos stared into the wide eyes of his captive, first into anger and defiance as the supernatural fought him, but then the deep red gaze began to fade. The woman's struggles weakened surprisingly fast as the pain in her face told him the demon was loosing its grip. The soul beneath the Evil was battered, tired and without the master, the puppet had no will left to fight. The body began to go limp in his hold, but it was too soon for suffocation, the old warrior knew, and did not relinquish his hold. The Evil was in retreat, but still within the host - would death be the only thing to drive it out completely? The Immortal was almost resigned to the murder when, at the last moment, he was spared the task.

Playing chicken with a woman's life had not been a pleasant prospect for Methos, but he won. Victory, however, was a nasty pill to swallow, as, with it came the outcome on which the layers of this trap had gambled, first baited by Richard Ryan. The ancient started and reeled away from his victim in shock, as he felt a weight descend into his being. The old man had experienced unnatural penetration of his soul many times in the form of a Quickening, but the union being attempted in this instance was far removed from that open marriage. The power from without was not welcome and had no concern for the host with which it joined. Tendrils of an alien control crept through Methos' being and reality flipped out as he instinctively fought it. He barely felt his body hit the floor as neither owner, nor parasite managed control, and his cry was a distant sound in someone else's ears. For a moment, Methos was afraid.

Yet, the touch of another Immortal close by reached the struggling man, and he recognised him. The mechanism for the Evil's destruction had been revealed by a dazed and confused Richie; something between two men, something which meant Ahriman faced not one nemesis, but two. It had taken a few minutes of discussion to conclude that a shared Quickening had linked Duncan MacLeod and the ancient Methos in ways neither could have ever conceived. The demon could not touch the Highlander, that it knew from its millennium cycle, but the old man now shared part of the Clansman, enough to fight off possession, a feat which was now tricking the monster into the open.

There were no more innocent bodies in which to hide. Duncan MacLeod had placed himself between Methos and the demon's two surviving victims as soon as Richie had dragged the shocked young woman out of range. The Highlander glanced once at the blond youth and his companion, concerned for their distress as they collapsed into a huddle, but returned to the confrontation they had prepared for him as the cries of his second comrade reached his hearing. The Clansman watched Methos' battle, helpless to aid him in those moments of danger. They were one force fighting this devil, but each had to face the creature alone in their turn. Duncan hoped his chance would come soon as he could only observe his friend shuddering in a convulsive ball on the floor a few feet away.

There wasn't long to wait as the dangerous gamble made good. MacLeod gripped the hilt of his sword, raising it into readiness above his head as the tide began to turn. The Highlander wasn't sure if he was really seeing the gaseous cloud which began to erupt from his struggling comrade. It was no natural substance which seemed almost reluctant to relinquish contact with the body from which it was expelled; it trickled over the floor, staying low, turning the concrete into a black sea an inch deep. But Duncan more than saw this substance, he sensed it, and he was aware that his companions sensed it too as he heard their gasps of horror. A tension held the room static, only the heavy cloud slithering wider across the open area around Methos. The old man's clenched body almost disappeared under the blanket as it clung to him, stroking him, trying to return to the sanctuary of flesh. Yet, with a yell of final defiance, the fighter repulsed his enemy once and for all. The cloud parted around him as if a down draft had chased it away, and the Immortal relaxed onto the floor, dazed and exhausted, his part played.

"Show yourself, demon," MacLeod challenged, feeling its presence in the raw all around him. "Let's finish this."

A woman's whimper muffled by an embrace was the only sound in the room as the demand was met. At last, the adversary had no choice but to face him on his terms, and the Clansman felt the thrill of the warrior as he focused on a darkening area a few feet away from him. The dense smoke rose off its refuge, unable to stay scattered. It billowed upward, but not outward, it was like watching gas flow into a glass tube, filling all the reaches of the vessel, but now, there was no physical container, only an outline which slowly solidified. Seven feet in height at least, a figure took shape, a black shell becoming opaque around a burning red heart. The outward form was vaguely humanoid, bipedal, broad, something out of a fairytale book of monsters, but then, MacLeod was aware that it was his mind which was creating this image, the classical demon of his childhood. The external form was inconsequential, those who knew this Evil, looked deeper, to the scarlet heart that only remained visible through gaping eye sockets. That was where the real creature lay, the terror that had to be destroyed.

The forming figure remained inactive, and held its creator in the same way, transfixed as his mind was used to mould the body. Duncan was working on an instinct he never knew he possessed, something the old hermit had passed on to him centuries ago. There would be a time to strike, a moment when a slice of a blade would sever this creatures link between the world and the unthinkable from which it had come. Warrior, Immortal, Nemesis, Man, he waited, poised for the lethal blow and the world waited with him. Then suddenly, the instant arrived.

A shriek of the Native American filled the chasm of anticipation around him, and Duncan MacLeod flew at his opponent. He spun, as he did so, gripping the katana with both hands, and he brought it down in a graceful arc. The personification of Evil barely had a chance to breathe its first as that intake became a cry of rage. The razor's edge sliced through something that at the same time as being almost indiscernible to its touch, still slowed its progress like a thick treacle. However, the trajectory could not be interrupted completely, and the Highlander sliced clean through the invisible heart. As his blade escaped the other side of the apparition, Duncan lost his balance and fell to his knees.

For a moment, there was nothing, not even a sign to suggest that the body had been cut. The hiatus gave the Clansman time to consider his friends. He glanced at Methos, still lying on the ground, his eyes half closed in fatigue, but determined to observe the final moments of this confrontation. Then the man turned to check on Richie; the young man was hunched up against the wall of the escalator his body enfolding that of the woman with whom he shared the terrible memory of possession. And there was one more witness to this event. He stood close to the huddled couple, a protective hand on Richie's shoulder, but observing his assignment as usual.

Joe nodded to the Highlander in that instant of pause. The Watcher knew there were more things going on in the room than his mortal eyes could see. He'd seen the mist fall, he'd seen the body form, he'd seen his friend pass a blade through the demon, but he'd known as he watched that he could not witness the most important part of this event, only guess at it from the manner of those who could feel it. Richie sensed it - he could feel his trembling where his hand gripped the young man's shoulder. Methos too, was aware, unable to give in to oblivion as the atmosphere around him demanded his witness. And MacLeod, the final conqueror, the knowledge of it hung in the Highlander's gaze that levelled on the mortal. As the dark man turned away, back to the immobile Evil, Dawson braced himself for whatever still lay ahead.

The sound began as a whisper, a hint of a moan, almost out of audible range, but once the ear had fixed on it, there was no ignoring it. It teased the sense for a few moments before becoming more definite and then it turned Joe's blood cold. He tensed as a wail grew in his hearing, cold, angry, defiant and he knew that the fight was only just beginning. As the noise crescendoed and became painful, the mortal could do nothing but fall back and cover his ears with his hands. Yet his was the least of the discomfort.

Joe could not help as a woman's scream joined the infernal noise. The distraught young doctor put her head back and released an anguish that showed in the dim glow of her eyes. Richie kept tight hold of her, making no sound, but his teeth were gritted against some kind of pressure as his eyes also echoed the shadow of the Evil too close to them both. Those blue irises stained red were hidden as he buried his head into his fellow's shoulder.

"No!" Duncan snarled at the torture being imposed on his companions, "You have no right - face me!"

The Highlander climbed to his feet, brandishing his sword at the form he had already decapitated without apparent success. Yet the solid figure was losing its cohesion, the cloud becoming less defined around the edges and the scarlet glow staining its centre once more. Joe couldn't quite believe what he was seeing, as Duncan dropped the blade. As it clattered to the floor, the Immortal walked forward into the black mist.

The shadow shuddered and the Evil's wail disappeared, leaving only a woman's sobs in their place. The tension fell away from Richie, and he began to rock his charge as she wept; his gaze joined his Watcher friend's, surveying MacLeod. The Highlander's body disappeared in the swirling mass for a moment, but then the contours of his face suddenly reappeared, lit by a flash of red light. The man grunted, and he held his arms out as if he were receiving a Quickening. He started in tandem with the mass surrounding him, and another brilliant flash of blood-stained light surrounded his form. Yet this time it lasted longer, and there was a retaliation. The Immortal released a more definite shout as the bright blue of Eternal Quickening lanced over his body, eradicating the red streaks in purple sparks. This was only the first instant of attack, and the defence inspired a stronger assault. The Highlander shook as the entity around him centred its aggression in bolts of scarlet lightening and his body retaliated with its own brilliant energy.

The man was helpless as raw power fought, using him as a medium. He held out his arms, unable to do anything but accept the onslaught. Dawson saw the pain in his face as his friend collapsed to his knees, knocked to the ground by the contortions.

The battle seemed to go on for an age, far beyond a Quickening, as the two opposing forces danced around and through his body, and for a moment, the Watcher wondered if he saw defeat in the Highlander's face. The man was failing, the light of his Quickening growing dimmer and his eyes lit with the enemy's fire as he threw his head back and released a cry from deep within his being. Joe couldn't believe what he was seeing - to lose after all this?

"No!" Richie yelled as his mentor weakened before him. "Mac, fight!"

MacLeod was spent, the last of his defence shivering over his body, dowsed by the reforming smoke. His cry deepened with the harsh tones of Ahriman. Yet, the power of the nemesis was shared. Methos pushed himself up on one arm and reached out to MacLeod. Nothing visible passed between them, but Joe felt the power transference none-the- less and he watched in awe as the well of the Highlander's resistance was rekindled. Dawson shied away, blinded by one last, intense blue bolt of Immortal power.

The Watcher's ears rang in the sudden silence which descended immediately. He blinked away the bright spots in front of his vision, trying to take in the now dark hallway. Richie and his charge were still near by, the young man's low murmur of comfort reaching the mortal's hearing first. Then he began to make out the two figures further away from him. MacLeod just about supported himself in an awkward kneeling position; Methos was lying motionless on the ground. Joe wondered if the old man had expended the last of his energy and passed out, but then he heard a slightly dazed voice observe dryly, "Well, Highlander, we won."

Scene 1 9

Joe's attention to his colleague was politely fleeting; he bent slightly to the driver's window of the blandly inconspicuous car and said a quick 'thank you'. Almost immediately, however, his focus switched to his other companion, Richie, who stood a little way off, faced very definitely away from the vehicle. The young man still seemed uncomfortable around Watchers, and in the last couple of days he'd been surrounded by them. When Ahriman had left his last victim battered, the secret society had stepped in to offer a refuge in which to recover. The terrible possession, of which both she and the young Immortal had experience, had held the pair close in those days of recuperation, and for his fellow's sake, Richie had put up with the knowledgeable mortals' company. Despite trying to get along with his uneasy allies, Ryan's true feelings had always been obvious on his expressive features, and now Joe could still see the remaining tension in the youth's stance.

In the last hour, Simone Demin had been waved off at the airport. She was gone, flown away from Paris at her own request to begin a new life apart from the scene of her torture. Joe was a little concerned for the quiet youth whom she had left behind. The journey back to Mac's barge had been largely silent, Richie having sat in passive contemplation next to his friend in the back of the Watcher-driven car. The older man had found himself doing what he did best, observing, but this time he wasn't sure of the thoughts which lay behind Ryan's cool exterior. In the company of a colleague, knowing that a Watcher as never off-duty, Joe held his tongue during the trip to prevent Richie's personal feelings appearing in his chronicle, but as he walked away from the car to join the young man, the mortal considered voicing his anxiety.

"You okay, Richie?" he asked directly, placing a hand on the hunched shoulder of his companion.

Joe was surprised to receive a smile in response to his question, not the cheeky grin, but an honest, vaguely unsure gesture attempting reassurance.

"I'll be fine," the youth nodded earnestly.

"Want to talk about it?" the elder enquired as they began to stroll down the wharf to the boat.

Richie was staring at his feet as he laughed with a ghost of exasperation.

"No thanks," he replied, but still continued, "I haven't stopped talking, to Mac, to you, to Simone, even to Methos - which was spooky, he didn't evade a question once!"

Joe had to smirk at that one, he had to admit that par-possession had done wonders for his oldest comrade's directness - he wondered idly how long that would last. Yet he left that musing behind, choosing instead, the most relevant of those Richie had mentioned.

"And Simone," he pressed, determined to address the muted manner evident in his friend. "Will you miss her?"

"No," the answer was fast and sure; the Watcher had the reason behind Ryan's contemplations.

He showed his surprise at the reply as Richie looked into his face for reaction. The young man halted their progress and turned directly toward his companion.

"She won't miss me either," he shrugged, trying to seem dismissive, but merely admitting resignation. "We helped each other, but now its time to let go. Simmie wanted to get away and I know how she feels. Every time we looked at each other, It was always there - we remind each other of things best left in the past. She had my number, but she won't call."

The admission was frank, but the youth backed away from the moment after it with another smile. He shrugged again and continued walking, hands fixed resolutely on his hips. He didn't swagger, the bounce in his step damped by recent experience. Yet, Joe recognised the wont to move on in the manner and accepted it. He fell in beside the forward-looking figure once more. They walked in silence for a few paces, but there was more on Richie's mind, and he spoke once more.

"I'm leaving," he disclosed simply.

"I thought something like that," the elder confirmed to himself as well as to Ryan, as he realised his unconscious suspicion.

"I need to get out of Paris," the youth continued in justification. "I think I'll go home for a while. I have a couple of projects to work on."

"Only a couple?" Joe joked, protecting them both from his pang of sadness at the news; yet the glance Richie gave him said the young man had recognised the hidden emotion none-the-less.

They smiled easily at each other - some things didn't need saying between friends. As they stepped onto the gangway of the barge, Ryan snorted and, shaking his head, told his comrade, "You wouldn't believe some of the stuff I'm into. Last year, I touched base with Angie and we got talking -"

"They're back!" came the raucous call from within, which interrupted the conversation.

The two new arrivals gave each other a mutual, quizzically amused look as they recognised the slurred tones in the voice.

"Methos?" Richie worded their disbelief at the lack of sobriety in the old man's greeting.

"Sounds like someone's having a party," Joe grinned widely and waved his friend ahead of him.

"So why don't we join in?" the young man hopped onto the deck, some of the old bravado showing.

Joe Dawson paused a moment outside, as his companion disappeared down below. He smiled even more broadly and shook his head as he heard the ancient Immortal's less than dulcet tones announce, "Richie, have a beer!" The Watcher took the respite to consider; Ahriman had changed all the lives It had touched. He had experienced things of which he'd never even dreamt, even in the Immortal world he observed as a partial initiate, and his friends had encountered even more. He didn't want to contemplate the horror his youngest comrade had suffered, or the grief he'd seen in Duncan only a few days ago. They were painful memories of a time when Evil had isolated each affected soul in its own unique prison, whether it had been fear, or regret or defence. Richie was right, it was time to move on now, to leave those torments safely in the past. With a deep breath, Joe took his own advice and decided to join his friends.

The End

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