AN: The writing team known as Blade-girls accepts absolutely no responsibility for the creation of the concept of The Highlander, nor for ownership of any of its characters.  We frankly wish Davis/Panzer would stop calling us about it.

Chapter One

Methos awoke to absolute misery. His chest was screaming with each throbbing heartbeat; every breath was agony. He knew instantly that he had died again, and he remembered how.

He had been about to get into his Jimmy when it had happened – a knife to the heart, courtesy of an old familiar face he'd foolishly thought never to see again. After the stabbing, Methos had just had time enough to note the identity of his assailant, speak his name, and experience a generalized wave of shock and fear. Sinking into the inevitable blackness, he also felt a passing annoyance that he'd chosen this of all days to wear a brand new sweater.

Now he found himself in what appeared to be an abandoned power station – there never seems to be a shortage of sinister deserted buildings for this sort of thing, he reflected grimly -- being taunted by his strutting kidnapper. The man had a taste for the sensational, but Methos knew from long experience that he was someone to be feared.

"So you've come to kill me," he said to Kronos.

"It's what I do best," leered his former crony. But after more discussion it became clear that Kronos was really after something else. "I'm giving you a choice: You can lose your head…or join me."

Not much of a choice, Methos thought. Joining Kronos meant a return to old ways long cast off, and Methos hated regression. Life should always be about change and forward progress. Dying, on the other hand, had the element of change going for it, but represented the ultimate halt in forward progress. What to do, what to do…

He was right on the point of hedging his bets, of playing along with Kronos to buy some time to figure a way out, when something unexpected popped into his mind and past his lips.

"How about what's behind door number three?" He himself was amazed at having uttered it, but kept his air of detached cynicism firmly in place.

"I give you an important choice to make, and you answer with a joke," Kronos intoned, shaking the shackles he held ominously. Methos suppressed a sigh. Always one for dramatic excess was Kronos. He did so lack balance. "Not a very smart course of action under the circumstances. Your mental gifts are not what they used to be, brother."

"Not at all," said Methos evenly. "You offered me a choice; I'm simply returning the favor." Seeing Kronos' puzzled expression, he continued.

"Here's how I see it, Kronos: You want to return to the glory days of the Horsemen, but you need someone to plot and to strategize; someone to temper your tendency to rush in with guns blazing when a quiet ambush with knives is called for." The irony of how he had come to be sitting here registered briefly before he shrugged it aside.

He paused, noting Kronos' glaring silence, then continued again.

"So you create a situation in which you feel I'll be forced to join you, knowing as you do that survival is always my top priority."

"It's truly your greatest talent, brother."

Methos gave a sarcastic nod of thanks. "But there's a rub here, isn't there? You may not want to believe it, but you know that I, unlike you, have changed since we were together. You've learned how I've been living these last two thousand years. You know I'm not the guy who once rode with you."

Kronos said nothing; he continued to stare unblinking into Methos' eyes, half-smiling.

"And I think you know that if I'm forced into doing something," he leaned closer to Kronos, "you can never be sure that I won't find a way to…improve the situation."

"Ah, Methos, you haven't changed as much as you believe. You've just tried to deny your true nature. I saw this starting to happen to you two thousand years ago. I'd have helped you halt it, if you'd have let me. And as for not being able to trust you," – here Methos saw Kronos finger his blade absently – "I know very well how your mind works. Keeping a step ahead of you will be a worthwhile price for your considerable services, brother."

"Perhaps," Methos granted, dearly wishing Kronos would drop the brother crap, "but what if I offered you a chance to win my wholehearted cooperation – a happy camper instead of a partner by force?"

Kronos smiled his disbelief. "And just how would I get that from you?"

"We'll strike a bargain, make a wager. A contest, just like the old days." He noted the spark in Kronos' eyes at that. "If I win, you exit stage right and never darken my life again. No challenge, no head-taking, just 'sayonara, sweetheart' and you're on your merry way."

Arms folded, Kronos chuckled, happy to indulge him for the time being. "And if I win…?"

Methos sighed, to underscore the point. "Then I surrender. I join you, resume my place at your right hand…and the Four Horsemen ride again."

He waited a beat, watching as Kronos' expression turned almost comically to surprise, just as Methos had known it would. He, unlike his captor, was a virtuoso of drama.

"What do you mean, the Horsemen ride ag—"

"I know where to find Caspian and Silas," Methos said deliberately, pausing for yet another bit of dramatic effect. "I can take you to them…but only if the wager is made."

Kronos stared at him for a long moment. The beating of his heart was no longer painful, but Methos was uncomfortably aware of it anyway.

"Tell me what you have in mind, brother."

Ten minutes later, Kronos was laughing, but the hard edge in the sound eradicated any hint of humor. "You were always the mad one!" he cried with almost grudging admiration. "Can you honestly think I'd accept these terms? It's ludicrous."

"No more ludicrous than many of our past contests, really. Just a bit updated."

"It's a ridiculous suggestion, really beneath you. You must have come to cherish life a lot less than I remember in the past two thousand years."

"You know as well as I do that the content of the contest is irrelevant to the gravity of the dispute. That was always our way."

"You talk so reverently about the old days, brother," Kronos said with vicious heartiness, his voice ringing through the empty building. "And yet where have you been all these centuries but running from them – hiding from your true self, from me." Putting his sword to Methos' neck, his voice lowered abruptly, infinitely more threatening. "I can take what I want from you right now, without any games, without any bargains."

Steadily (though with some effort), Methos replied, "You can't do that without breaking the cardinal rule, the one that you created and we enforced."

Still holding the sword to Methos' throat, Kronos looked him in the eye for a moment before saying, "We never raise a blade to each other…in anger." He took a step back, lowering his steel but not his steely gaze, once again half-smiling. He was clearly appreciating Methos' agility in finding just the right notes to sound, again and again.

Careful not to gulp noticeably, Methos nodded. "You can take my head, sure. That's not what you want. You can probably force me to come with you, but again, that's not what you want. What you want, Kronos, what you truly want from me, you can only get with the contest." He leaned back and cocked his head slightly, affecting his trademark look of detachment and nonchalance.

"What I offer you, if you win…is loyalty." He took a breath, forced himself to add, "…brother."

Kronos' eyes burned into his, afire with the promise of choices.

A short time later, Methos left the abandoned building, alone and intact, hands thrust casually into his coat pockets, his easy stride belying the churning he felt inside. He had won the first hand, but he was playing a game fraught with risk, and there were a great many wild cards in the deck he was using. There was certainly no cause for celebration yet, nor even for relaxation.

At least, he noted with a downward glance, the knife had somehow left no hole in his new sweater.