Halfway up to the loft, I felt the deep jarring throb of Immortal presence. It had been about three months since I'd seen Methos, which meant it was probably him--he seems to enjoy dropping in on me a few times a year. Hassling me, flirting shamelessly, stealing things. Generally making a nuisance of himself.
Amanda has more sense and tact, and a kinder tongue.
Sure enough, Methos was sitting on my couch, sharpening his sword. His muddy boots were on the coffeetable and he'd raided the fridge, by the look of the scattered food and flatware.
I glared at him and he looked back at me, his eyes wide. He looked about twenty. I've never quite gotten used to Immortals who look young; they always seem like children to me. Luckily, he spoiled the effect by smirking a moment later.
"Methos, what are you up to?"
He sighed and laid his sword over his knees. "I have a challenge tomorrow, and I need a favor."
"A challenge?" Methos and a challenge. Wonders never cease, do they?
"And you want me to, what? Shoot your opponent?"
"It might come to that," he answered, his expression serious. "But I hope not." He reached down and lifted a duffel bag onto the couch. "Hand me that glove, will you?" he asked, and I looked around. On the counter was a single leather glove, which I tossed to him. "Thanks." He put it on and pulled a sheet out of the bag, and then a small copper tube. He studied it a moment, turning it in his hand, and then looked back at me. "If I lose--don't look like that; I'm not *planning* to lose--if I lose, I need you to do something for me."
I nodded, thinking--not only a challenge, but one he could lose. The thought of it--*him*, losing, after so long. "I'll--yes, of course. Whatever you need."
"Good." He touched the sheet, and I saw it was actually two pieces--the sheet and another piece of fabric, long and thin. "Get my head and my body. Tie them together and put them in this sheet, and put this in my mouth." He held up the tube. "Then get me back here. And whatever you do--and this is important--do *not* take the head of my challenger. Kill him if you have to, but not permanently."
I swallowed, wondering if this was how he had learned to deal with his own death, if once he had buried his teacher this way, or his friends--or wives, or children, or students. God only knew where he'd learned it, and how long ago.
I met and held his eyes. "I promise."
He smiled and held out the tube. I walked over and he laid it in the palm of my hand, the leather of his glove warm against my skin. It was polished to a high gloss and heavier than it looked.
"It's in your hands," he said, and laughed. "Mind if I stay here tonight?" He gestured at the duffel bag. "I hate being alone before a challenge--I never sleep well."
"Yeah, sure," I answered. "But you're buying dinner."
* * *
He stayed in my bed that night, one arm draped over my back, every line that five thousand years had etched on his face easing out as he slept. I hadn't shared a bed with him before, and I was relieved to find he kept to his half. There's nothing more annoying than offering to share with someone who turns out to be a bedhog.
I woke up before he did and went to make breakfast. He rolled himself into a cocoon as soon as I got out of bed, and then unrolled himself onto the floor.
"Mmmph. Good morning," he said, scratching his stomach.
"Yeah, sure. Need the protein." He ambled over to the table and straddled a chair.
I grinned at him and served him some scrambled eggs. "So. Tell me about this challenge." I leaned against the counter.
He blinked up at me. "What?" A bit of egg fell out of his mouth as he spoke.
"Well." I held up my hand and ticked off on my fingers: "One, you've set up a challenge. Two, you think they're good enough to beat you. Three, you're not running. So, tell me about the challenge."
He sighed and twirled his fork around his fingers. "Remember what I said to you about Kristin? How she'd keep coming?"
"This one will keep coming. I'd rather face him with you at my back than alone." He shrugged and went back to his eggs.
Well, it made sense. It was even a little flattering that it was me he wanted there if he lost. I shivered a little, thinking about it.
After breakfast, he stole the financial pages and spread them out on the floor. He sat by them and stretched while complaining about his investments and how he was going to fire his accountant. He didn't sound at all like a man who thought he might die.
I couldn't help but laugh at him. His hair had grown out a bit and was sticking up in random directions, he had a smear of catsup next to his mouth, and the soles of his feet were black. "What?" he said, glaring at me.
"Nothing," I said, snickering and wiping down the counter.
He narrowed his eyes. "I'm going to take a shower."
I ignored him.
"And I'm going to use all your clean towels."
I rinsed the sponge out in the sink and he disappeared into the bathroom.
I thought about waiting until he was in a nice hot shower and then going in and flushing the toilet, but today wasn't really a day for a game of one-upmanship with The World's Most Annoying Man. Instead, I picked all the grocery-store labels off of the apples in the fridge and built a pyramid on the counter, resisting the temptation to hear him jump and swear and threaten to kill me. He didn't need that now.
He had a challenge to meet, after all. Forcing him to do an imitation of a boiled lobster would probably have unpleasant consequences, like a good ten minutes of the sharp side of his tongue.
Twenty minutes later, I regretted behaving myself when he walked out of the bathroom, shedding five or six damp towels behind him. What's a little scalding water between friends?
He pulled a pair of boxers and some red camoflage BDUs out of his duffel bag and began to dress.
"What the hell are you trying to do? Blind him?" I gestured at the pants.
"No," he replied. "If I were going to blind him, I'd wear the yellow." He yanked a pair of the most god-awful yellow camos out of the duffel and flung them at me, then pulled a tank top over his head.
He looked like a kid dressing up to play war, and I frowned at him. "How old were you when you died the first time?" I asked.
He shrugged and strapped a knife to his forearm. "I'm not sure. Early twenties, I think." He shook his arm and the hilt dropped into his palm. He smiled and tucked it back in the sheath. "I'd got my adult growth, obviously--my shoulders are too wide for me to have been much younger."
"You don't remember."
"It's part of that whole before-I-took-my-first-head class of things, MacLeod." He pulled on a webbed harness with a long knife in it and rolled his shoulders, settling it along his spine, then put on a sweatshirt.
It hid both knives and made him look vulnerable.
God, did I ever know better.
"You don't even remember the first time you died?"
He shook his head. "MacLeod, I'm not even sure 'Methos' is my real name." Then he grinned, and winked at me. "Are you sure you're Duncan Mac--"
I threw the balled-up yellow pants back at him, hard, and hit him in the face before he could finish his sentence. He dropped them to the floor and continued getting ready.
I'd never seen him prepare for a fight--really prepare for one. There was nothing casual about it, nothing slapdash. This was Methos when he decided to stand and fight. By the time he was ready to leave, he'd added a gun and at least one more knife to his personal arsenal; I was sure I hadn't caught all of what he was concealing.
We headed downstairs and hopped into his truck. He hummed tunelessly as he drove, and I watched him from the passenger seat.
"This guy an ex-lover?"
He shook his head. "I've had very few Immortal lovers. Too much potential for a bad breakup." He wove his way across three lanes and sped down the exit ramp with obvious relish. "Besides, I seem to attract psychopaths."
I snorted. "You are a psychopath."
"Be that as it may." A smile flashed across his face. "Just think of what that says about you, darling."
"So who is he?"
For a long moment, Methos was silent. Then he glanced over at me and sighed. "I killed his teacher a few hundred years ago."
I knew that scene. Some Immortals never got over the loss of a teacher, especially if they were very young at the time. Connor never had; I suspect that even if the Kurgan had taken to a life of good works, Connor still would have gone after his head for killing Ramirez.
"Did you know the Kurgan?" I asked, knowing he'd follow my train of thought.
"Yes," he said. "Yes, I knew the Kurgan." He looked suddenly sad. "The Kurgan was a master smith, among other things. I know you have Kronos' sword--take a look at it. That's the Kurgan's work, and design. For that matter, look at my own sword." He pulled the truck into a parking space and stared at his hands on the wheel. "The Kurgan was many, many things. He was one of the worst of us. But he was the best smith I have ever met. He had no equal. He may never have an equal."
We climbed out and he tossed me the keys. "You remember what I told you?"
"If you lose, don't take his head, no matter what. Put you back together, wrap you up, take you back to the loft."
"The case," he said. "Put it in my mouth. Don't *forget*, Duncan. It's important."
"I won't." I held up the tube he'd given me, and he smiled.
He jogged a few steps in place and put on his coat, settling the sword into its sheath in the lining. "Let's go, then."
The other Immortal was waiting for us, a blond man with beautiful, even features and a child's sweetness to his mouth and eyes. He watched me nervously as I stopped just behind Methos. "I'm Duncan MacLeod," I said. "My friend has made me promise not to take your head, should he lose."
He nodded, a short sharp nod. "Your reputation precedes you, Highlander." Then he turned to Methos. "I am J. F. Sebastian," he said.
"Riiight," Methos drawled, obviously amused. "And I'm Rick Deckard."
And so it began.
I'd sparred with Methos on more than one occasion. I'd seen him fight in earnest. He was cagey, light on his feet, strong. Quick.
Sebastian was slower, but stronger, and very good. Not as good as some--but good enough. A minute in, I could see how it would go: whoever had the endurance would win. Methos wasn't strong enough to get past Sebastian's guard, and Sebastian wasn't fast enough to get past Methos'.
So it was down to time. And they were Immortal; they had time.
Their swords blurred in the light. Methos' sword, which I had loved from the moment I saw it; Sebastian's sword, plain but with the sound of good steel.
And, eventually, it happened.
Methos was a shade too slow, and the sword slid between his ribs.
On his knees, blood running from his mouth, Methos spoke, his voice rasping. "Don't take his head, Mac--remember. Not the head."
Sebastian yanked his blade out and swung, cutting clean.
I closed my eyes, but I still heard the body fall, and my heart nearly stopped in my chest. No. Not Methos. Not Methos.
The Quickening was surprisingly brief, without much of a light show at all. It was enough to send Sebastian shaking to the ground, weak as a kitten--but I'd expected more, somehow. Kronos' Quickening had been a firestorm I couldn't absorb, and I knew Methos had taken that into himself, absorbing his brother's strength. Still--each Immortal was different. Sometimes the young ones could take out city blocks; sometimes the old ones faded quickly.
It was just hard to believe that someone as eternally bitchy as Methos had been wouldn't have one bitch of a Quickening, one last fuck-you at the universe.
When it was over, I pushed Sebastian aside and spread out the sheet. I could see my hands shaking, but I ignored it: this was what Methos asked me to do, so I'd do it. Get the head. Tie it to the body. Wrap it in the sheet--don't forget, the tube in the mouth--it's important.
And don't take Sebastian's head, no matter how good it would feel. No matter how vulnerable he is.
I set Methos' head back on his neck and tied the narrow strip of fabric around his throat. Blood still seeped out, his body emptying slowly now that his heart no longer beat. When I pulled the tube from my pocket, I left streaks of his blood on my clothes and on the polished metal.
I slipped it between his reddened teeth and wrapped the sheet around him.
A few feet away, Sebastian wiped his sword on the grass and stared at me. "MacLeod?"
"Leave," I said, my voice steady. "Please. Just go."
I picked him--what was left of him--up, and took him back to the truck. I put him in the back seat and buckled him at the shoulders and the feet. Then I went back to fetch his sword, that beautiful sword, made by the Kurgan, God knew how long ago. The Kurgan had had no equal, Methos had said--funny. I thought it was Methos who had no equal, and now he, too, was gone, along with everything he knew.
The loft. He'd wanted me to bring him back to the loft. I'd do that, and then decide what to do--to burn him, or take him out to sea, or perhaps take him to my island and bury him there. I could decide when I got him to the loft.
I climbed into the truck and dug the keys out of my pocket. The engine roared to life. My hands had stopped shaking; I'd lost so many people, and the rituals of grief were taking over. I remembered the feel of his skin and sword and laughter, the scent of Old Spice (a joke on his part, I think), the taste of his mouth. I'd keep remembering. I'd even remember Alexa for him.
I'd have to tell Joe, I thought as I drove. That is, if the Watchers didn't do it for me. I can see them now, writing their "terminal reports" on the Immortal they knew as Adam Pierson, ex-Watcher. About a year ago, Methos had told me he was fairly sure they'd managed to associate Benjamin Adams with Adam Pierson. He'd sat on my counter and kicked his heels against the cabinets underneath, gesturing with his beer can as he told me about Morgan Walker. "If Byron's Watcher didn't twig that Pierson and 'Doc' Adams were the same," he'd said, laughing, "I'm sure Amy's told them by now. Probably has the whole organization in an uproar over an Immortal getting around their entrance checks."
"What," I'd said, "did you fail an exam on ancient history, so they let you in?"
It wasn't that funny, but it had made him snort beer out of his nose. He was easily amused. Had been easily amused.
He'd been certain they didn't know he was Methos, and that they thought he was younger than a thousand years old and probably Welsh originally. "Welsh," he'd said, and giggled. "Well, I suppose I could be, but I don't remember it."
I wondered if, at the end, he'd seen his life before his eyes, and finally remembered his real name, his beginnings, the face of his mother.
I hoped he had.
I left his sword on the floor of the truck and carried his body upstairs to my bed.
He was horribly still and quiet. Dead. Yes, of course.
I poured myself a drink and thought about calling Joe. I didn't want to, not yet; I wanted to be alone. I knew that I should call. I knew Joe would want to know--both that Methos was dead and that I would be fine. If I'd be fine. I didn't reach for the phone.
I finished my Scotch and poured another, which I sipped slowly, staring into space. Call Joe, I told myself. Decide what to do with the body.
A soft sound came from the bed, and I turned. Methos' sheet-wrapped body bent, moved--and the sound came again, a low moan.
I barely noticed my drink falling to the floor. All I could think was that this was how my clan had felt when I came back to life: terrible numbing fear, the maddening desire to beg God to make it not have happened.
The loft filled with mist, and Methos' body convulsed, rising from the bed to hover in the air.
And then the screaming began.
It was his voice, rough with pain, like the sobbing after he'd killed Silas. His voice, in greater pain than I'd heard any voice in my life, a scream that went on and on. His body twisted, and the sheet burst into blue flame where the mist touched it.
And still there was the screaming.
I backed against the counter and lost my footing in the spilled Scotch and shards of glass.
The mist touched me, twisting into me like a Quickening.
No, *nothing* like a Quickening. Quickenings were rarely so detailed, so concrete. I closed my eyes against the images, against the memories, but they kept coming, painful as a sword between the ribs.
*Kronos tasted like salt and sand and wept when I fucked him, arching into my touch as I took his body.*
*MacLeod looks like a five-year-old when he laughs.*
*My baby girl, you son of a bitch, you've killed my baby girl.*
*Teacher, where is your life? Teacher!*
*Alexa was translucent by the time she died.*
*Joe is the wisest man I have known in three hundred years.*
*This is the way the ladies ride, trit-trot, trit-trot--Lizzie, be careful with your brother!*
The screaming stopped.
I opened my eyes and pulled myself to my feet.
Methos' body, wrapped in shreds of sheet, shreds of coat and shirts and pants, lay crumpled and bloody on my bed. I walked towards him, afraid of what I would find.
Two steps from the bed, the sense of an Immortal's presence slammed into me: that rich deep Quickening I'd felt only a few times before, with laughter and voices echoing through it.
It was unbelievably strong, this close to him. I stared down at him,watching the rise and fall of his chest--it had been still only a few seconds ago, hadn't it? I was sure it had.
He opened his eyes. "MacLeod." His voice was rough, but his neck was unmarked. He looked up at me with dazed eyes. "I lost?"
I couldn't find words to answer him.
He tried to get up, but his arms buckled and he slumped back. "I hate losing." He rolled over, and I saw tears in his eyes. "Thank you, Duncan. I owe you my life." His voice was clearer now, but he'd started trembling violently. I reached out and touched him, sliding my hand over his skin: he was cold, freezing cold to the touch, but I could feel his pulse.
He fumbled in his coat pocket and pulled something out of it. His hand moved over mine, and all of a sudden something hard and sharp and painful dug into my skin. I jerked away and looked at the place he'd touched me. A neat row of shallow indents marked my skin, and I stared at him. "You--you--"
"Spit it out," he said, wearily.
I took his hand and turned it over, exposing the white plastic between his fingers. "You *stabbed* me with a *spork*."
"What's wrong with that?"
"My secret weapon: indignity." He raised his head and blinked at me. "Besides, you needed it. Can't have you in shock."
"You're alive," I said, tangling my fingers in his, letting the spork bite into our palms.
He laughed, still shaking. "Not all it's cracked up to be."
He turned his face into the bedspread and coughed up blood, then passed out.
I slid my fingers into his mouth, wondering what the hell had happened to the copper tube. He couldn't have screamed around it, couldn't have spoken around it.
There was nothing there but blisters which burst under my touch. His mouth was empty.
I looked at him, battered and unconscious but *alive*; neck smooth and strong and white above the remains of his clothes.
What the hell had he done?
I stripped his clothes off of him and put him in sweats from his duffel, then put him under the covers. He continued breathing, slowly and raggedly, and didn't react to anything I did.
I called Joe, asked him to come over. He turned up a half-hour later and I set him to watching Methos while I went out to buy steaks for dinner.
Coming home, I stopped at the truck and got Methos' sword. He'd want it, I was sure. As I stepped through the front door, his Quickening throbbed painfully in my head. I winced and waited for it to fade into background noise before continuing up.
Joe met me at the door to the lift. "You've got some explaining to do," he said.
"I got two calls while you were out. One to tell me that Adam Pierson had been beheaded, and the other to tell me that his challenger had dropped dead--apparently permanently--without a mark on him."
My jaw dropped. "Sebastian's dead?"
Joe glared at me. "Sebastian? His name was William Budd. And yeah, he's dead. And Adam over there is definitely *alive*."
I put the steaks in a marinade and put the other groceries away. I frowned at the celery and swallowed hard. "I don't know what happened. I really don't. Methos showed up last night, told me he had a fight scheduled--*scheduled*--and asked me to do him a favor if he lost. He lost. I did it. And he..." I waved a hand in the direction of the bed.
Methos, as though impelled by my wave, fell out of bed for the second time that day. "Ow," he said, from the floor, his voice muffled by cloth. Joe and I looked over at him as he popped up like a jack-in-the-box. "Starving," he said. "I'm starving."
"I'm making steak," I said.
"Mm. Not fast enough." He trailed blankets behind him and attacked the pyramid of apples I'd made yesterday.
Apparently, Methos can, when motivated, eat an entire large apple in three bites. He ate five apples before I decided to give up on letting the steaks marinate and just started cooking them.
Methos hung over my shoulder, eating apples in huge bites. After a minute or so, he reached into the pan and flipped a steak with his fingers. I kicked him in the shin, and he elbowed me back, then took the steak out of the pan and ate it, the blood running over his chin. "MacLeod," he said, between bites, "in case we ever go through this again, dying makes me very, very hungry."
"That was still *cold* in the middle," I said, staring at him.
He wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "So?" He ate another apple, more slowly this time. "I'm going to take a shower." He headed for the bathroom, shedding blood-and-marinade-and-apple-covered clothing as he went.
Joe and I decided to eat our steaks before he came back and stole them.
After about ten minutes, Methos stalked out of the bathroom, naked and damp. "Don't you hang up your towels?" he asked, picking some up off the floor. "You're turning into a pig."
Why, that arrogant son-of-a-bitch. "*You* put those towels there--"
"Oh, stuff it, MacLeod."
He dressed himself in the god-awful yellow camo BDUs and one of my sweaters and came over to raid the pile of apples again. He hopped up on the counter and swung his legs, drumming his heels. "I expect you two want to know why I'm still alive?"
I looked at Joe. Joe looked at me. We both looked at Methos.
"Right," he said. "Long story short. Someone, a long time ago, taught me how to...." He waved a hand in the air, vaguely. "I don't know. Store my life somewhere other than my body." He shrugged. "I already knew how to do it when I took my first head. I don't know where I learned it, or when." He studied the apple in his hand, and smiled. "The copper tube--a battery, MacLeod. A dry cell, if you will. I made it after Kalas, to keep my life in."
I inhaled sharply. "Your Quickening. That's why it changed."
He frowned. "Changed?"
"You--since you came back, I can sense you from farther away. And there are voices--" I shook my head, unable to explain.
"Really?" He looked fascinated.
"Really." I leaned back in my chair, smiling at him. "Can you teach me that trick?"
He bit his lower lip. "I've tried to teach it to my students, MacLeod, but no one ever succeeded. I'll teach you what I know, but...no promises."
Joe just shook his head. "I can't believe it. This is completely unprecedented."
Methos narrowed his eyes and his knuckles went white where he gripped the counter. "This isn't for anyone's Chronicles, Joe. This goes nowhere. I'm disappearing for the next hundred years or so--and Adam Pierson stays *dead*. So does Benjamin Adams. Get me?"
"A hundred years?" Joe and I said, together. I shot Joe a glance and continued. "That's a long time, Methos."
He shook his finger at me. "It's only a long time to you, you young whelp; it's barely any time to me." He smiled and relaxed his hands, but his face was still tense. He turned back to Joe. "Dead, Joe. I mean it. This goes nowhere."
"Methos, I have kept more things out of Chronicles--"
"It. Doesn't. Go. In. Or I swear I'll destroy the Watchers."
Joe nodded slowly; I could see he believed it. Hell, I believed it. "All right. It doesn't go in."
Methos exhaled slowly and picked up another apple, rubbed at an imperfection on its skin. "Can you give me a ride to the airport, Joe? I can't take Pierson's car."
"Yeah," Joe said, his tone subdued. "I'll give you a ride."
"Thanks," said Methos, almost cheerfully; his voice barely shook at all. He took a deep breath and hopped off the counter to kiss me squarely on the nose. "Adam Pierson transferred ownership of everything he had to you, MacLeod. Something to remember him by." He brushed a thumb over my mouth. "I'll see you in a hundred years, Highlander."
He straightened and went over to the bed for his duffel, and packed his sword in a flight case. "And I'll be in touch," he said, draping one arm over Joe's shoulders as they stepped into the lift. "I have to teach you how to survive, after all."
One hundred years, and a promise.
The last I saw of him was that sunny smile, a boy's smile in an old, old face. I looked around at the soggy towels, wrecked bed, spork, discarded clothing--and then I closed my eyes and listened to the laughter of his Quickening (alive, alive, he's alive) until it faded out of range.
dry cell, n. A voltage-generating cell having an electrolyte in the form of moist paste. (So called because its contents cannot spill.)