Part 1/Chapter 4

"It has to be done, Jarod. We can't just ignore this opening when she dropped it right in our laps. Now that this has come to light, it changes the finale totally. We have the foothold most likely to break her down and bring back her full memory. We've come too far to walk away now."

"I don't agree. It's too severe. It'll push her so far down she won't have a way back. She'll end up suffering a psychotic break or maybe even slip into MPD. It's happened before."

"I know it has. I've seen it. I even caused it once or twice when I was naive and had no idea what messing with the human mind could do. I'm not that young anymore, Jarod. Trust me. Please trust me a little longer."

"This crosses the line. I won't allow her to be hurt."

"I would never hurt her. The idea is to help her become what she was meant to be and get the hunters off your trail, at least for a while. Let me do what I think is necessary, the way I feel I have to do it."

"Necessity and cruelty aren't that far apart...."

"Listen to him, son. He's usually right."

Spinning at the sound of an unexpected voice, Jarod tensed, his eyes narrowing and darkening, his body poised for flight or counterattack whichever might become necessary. Seeing Methos, he instantly relaxed, striding to greet and embrace the friend he hadn't seen in weeks. Macleod, however, wasn't nearly as enthused.

"What are you doing here?"

"Good to see you too, Mac. Hi, Jarod."

"I'm so glad you decided to come. I've missed our talks."

"Me too. Let me settle in and maybe...."

"You haven't answered the question." Macleod reminded his friend.

"Vegas was thoroughly disappointing. Too many doves and not enough birds. Magicians everywhere. Town has turned into a damn theme park."

Confused by Methos' words, Jarod turned and looked at Macleod.

"Bird is British slang for a woman."

"Ohhh."

"I thought you wanted nothing to do with this. For the third time; why are you here?"

"You know why."

His expression darkening further, Mac broke in before the other man could continue.

"I thought so. Out. You and your luggage, get out. I'm doing fine on my own and the last thing I need is you sticking your well preserved nose in."

"Just the type of comment I'd expect from an infant." Methos retorted as he dropped his bags by the kitchen door and vanished in search of a beer.

"I did not just hear you say that. You know so much better than to go there...."

Intent on loosening a few ancient teeth, Macleod started for the spot where Methos had disappeared, but was halted by the solid grip of Jarod's hand on his forearm.

"We don't have time for this. Butting heads with each other will just get us migraines. Let him have his jet-lag tantrum. We do need him. He's probably forgotten more about the human mind than you or I ever knew. He can help."

Slowly, Mac released a deep breath, and with it, his brief flare of irritation. Glancing quickly at the monitor, he began to realize how much more comfortable he'd be executing the final act of their script with Methos around to back him up in case of emergency or monumental screw up on his part.

Grimacing, Methos re-entered the living room, gingerly carrying a beer bottle with the fingertips of his left hand and massaging his right temple with the other.

"God. Never again. Commercial airlines treat you like dustbin rejects. Next time I charter and fly it myself."

"Trash dumpster." Macleod explained, before Jarod could ask.

Dropping into a recliner, Methos looked from one to the other, then grinned.

"I really hope this innocence and trust disease he has isn't contagious. I catch it and a forty year old chihuahua with arthritis could take my head."

"Don't knock it until you've come down with it." Macleod advised. "I happen to like how it feels. Jarod and I have even discussed me taking a few of my established identities and joining him on the road for a few months. It's past time I took a break from the game and did some real good again."

"You can't be serious."

"Wait and see. So. Will you stay?"

For several moments, Methos sat quietly sipping his beer and considering Macleod's request.

"I could get her over the really rough bits."

"You could, but the way she reacts to us, we'd be better off saving you for the finale."

"Are you talking about what was going on in your session with her today?" Jarod interjected, his expression open and intensely curious as it always was when he anticipated learning some new fact about Immortal life.

"Right. You remember I explained how Immortals know when another of us is around?"

"Of course. Wait. You can't be saying...."

"No. I'm certain she's not even a potential Immortal. What she is, is sensitive to the difference between us and the rest of the world, and far more aware of Methos than me, from how he tells it. She already has a mild hangover thanks to the chloroform and nine-tenths of a bottle of wine. Every time I get too close, the awareness signal kicks in and pushes her headache and nausea into the red zone."

"It only stands to reason. He's been alive so much longer that his signal would be amplified and bass boosted compared to yours."

"Hey." Methos interrupted, "I don't care if you talk as if I'm not sitting right here, but can't you do it without bringing up my age?"

"I can't believe you're still hung up on that. You're Immortal for God's sake. What does age have to do with anything?"

"I feel it here." the other man replied irritably, placing a finger on his forehead. "I've seen too damn much. The years weigh more with every one I see go out. I'm tired."

"God! Go to bed and take your black hole mood with you. You've got me ready to put a gun to my head."

"Not until I get something in my stomach."

Grinning, Mac couldn't pass up an opportunity to needle his old friend and give himself a laugh as well.

"Still can't hack airline food, old man?"

"I refuse to consume anything that looks like it got caught in the engines on a previous flight. And I said watch the "old man" cracks. Have you two decided how this thing is going to end, by the way?"

"Not really. I discovered something earlier today that could be the key to unlocking her, but Jarod thinks using it would be going too far."

Turning to Jarod, who had perched on the edge of the sofa not far from Macleod, Methos merely raised his eyebrows, waiting for the younger man to explain. Jarod's only response was to rise, walk into the kitchen and proceed to bash the cooking pots and pans around as he began to make a late supper for the four of them.

"Oops. Not going to get it from him am I? You talk."

"According to what she gave up today, they.... he threw her in one of the Pretender cells at some point just after her mother was killed and left her in there for over seventy-two hours with no food and only a little water."

"Three days?! Lord! she was only, what.... seven?"

"Eight, I think. Jarod was younger. The more I understand about what mortals are capable of doing to their own children, the less I understand why you and I.... how the hell could he do it?"

"Are we thinking about the same he?"

"She wouldn't say it out loud, but it had to be Daddy Dearest. He must have given in to the bastards and handed his own child over...."

"He would have had no choice, Mac. They'd already terminated his wife, and with extreme prejudice yet. He would have been no harder to sacrifice."

"What baffles me is, I think he was the one that came and got her out. He puts her in there and then pulls her away again? I don't get it."

"He's the only one who could answer that. So what does all this have to do with the end of this elaborate little production?"

"I want to put her through it all again; the darkness, the hunger and thirst, the panic. I'm hoping it will open the floodgates and she'll remember everything they took from her."

"Good God, Mac. Let's be brutal why don't we?"

"Brutal it might be, but I'm convinced it will work."

"Yeah. Done right and really, really, carefully. Done wrong it could leave her with a permanently fogged windshield."

"I won't let that happen."

"You don't want it to happen. There's a world of difference there." Methos reminded his friend, wincing as a pot crashed particularly loudly in the kitchen. "Well. I think I upset him. Better go make it up or get rat poison in my stroganoff."

"Good thinking. Methos."

"Yeah."

"What do we do for her when she does remember?"

"Nothing to do. She'll handle it, and God help the Centre when she decides how."

"Not likely He'll bother."

"Agreed." Methos said, smiling lightly as he walked off. Entering the kitchen, he moved cautiously, eyes open for flying steak knives and dishes.

"Jarod?"

"You don't need to apologize. It's me. I wasn't allowed genuine emotions for a very long time. Now that I'm able to explore them, the negative ones sneak up on me sometimes. I'm sorry."

"Me too. Mac explained why it's a touchy subject."

"I care about what happens to her. The purpose of all this is to help her. How can torture possibly fulfill that purpose? How can I justify it?"

"How could her father allow it in the first place? At least we're trying to undo some of the damage that.... toxic, abhorrent mental illness factory has done to her. Sometimes pain and suffering, in the name of a right cause, are acceptable, Jarod. They stole her childhood and her soul just as much as they did yours. We have a moral duty to try to help her find them again."

"But I haven't even got all the pieces of myself back yet. It's like they're.... hostages in this pitch black place that I can't get to. I keep hoping I'll feel a little more whole with every person I help, every person I keep from the darkness. Instead, I feel like I'm losing myself to it, and I'm not strong enough to fight back. Who saves the savior, Methos?"

"An age old question, my friend."

"And the answer?"

"No clue. Haven't given it enough thought. Never saw myself as a particularly heroic person, I suppose."

"Just doing what you and Macleod did at the Centre was more heroics than most people will see in a lifetime."

"That was nothing like bravery. It's not all that brave to risk getting a bullet in the back when you know you'll be getting up in ten minutes."

"I meant risking the scientists finding out what you are. You went there knowing that if they discovered...."

"Oh. That."

"Sorry. Votre (your)touchy subject. Oui?"

"Oui. Votre pardon."

"Mais, non. Nous tout a un cent d'eux. (No. we all have a hundred of them.) At least I do, but then, considering...."

Laughing gently at the sudden change of language and the ease with which Jarod switched from one to the other, Methos reached over and brushed a stray lock of hair away from the other man's forehead.

"You never cease to amaze me, son. We can't do this without you. You know that. Mac's scheme may be tough on her, but it will work. If we plan it to the last detail and then some, it will do exactly what he says it will."

"It could also...."

"I know all that too. In the name of a right cause, remember?"

"I understand the logic of going ahead with this. She and I were so close as children.... as much as I hate what she's done to me in the past year or two, I don't hate her. I never could stand to see her in pain."

"She's in pain right now. She just doesn't know it. We can heal that."

His brow furrowed, eyes closed, Jarod held very still and poured all of himself into the decision, incorporating all the strong, honorable, moral essentials Sydney had tried to instill in him, despite the Centre's influence. When he lifted his head, Methos could instantly see that the younger man had made a hard choice. He began to hope he knew which side of the barbed wire Jarod had landed on.

"There are things we can't do for her; things she'll have to heal for herself."

"I know. Trust, hope, unconditional love. Once those are stolen it's a hell of a fight to get them back, but I think you'll both do it eventually. You're certainly strong enough."

"Both of us? I don't have any illusions about how far I still have to go, but I've done some serious healing since...."

"We'll discuss that later, when she can participate. Are you in or out?"

After another long silence, during which Methos' hope began to fade, Jarod agreed. "Thank you. It's the right choice."

"I hope so. Now out of my kitchen. Masters create in solitude."

"Masters? Knowing what I do about you, I can't wait to taste this meal."

Suddenly, Macleod burst into the kitchen, his face a mass of fluctuating emotions.

"The monitor.... you two have got to come. You won't believe this!"

Methos didn't hesitate, never having witnessed such an expression on the Scot's face before. Dropping the utensils he held, Jarod was off nearly as fast. When they reached the monitor, Methos and Jarod stared at it, and then each other, and both silently proclaimed Macleod the Eternal Emperor of understatement.

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