"A Gift of Swords"
by Trudy A. Goold

Highlander is copyright © Rysher Entertainment. No infringement of that copyright is intended by this story.
"A Gift of Swords" is copyright © 1998, Trudy A. Goold.
This story may be distributed electronically, as long as this copyright notice remains intact.

[December 21st (the Solstice)]

The sound of the door slamming shut echoed like a shot in the spacious room.

The condominium, located on the outskirts of the city of Athens, belonged to a young Greek millionaire by the name of Colin Akeros; the same man who had just entered so abruptly.

He turned around to glare at the door for a moment, and then stalked further into the main room of the condo, which served him as a combination study/den.

"Damn, damn, damn!" he hissed under his breath, as he dumped the large - and heavy - duffle bag he'd been carrying on the futon couch.

The first ticket to Seacouver he'd been able to get was a red-eye for the 28th. He'd hoped to be on his way there within a couple of hours, so as to arrive on time for MacLeod's birthday, with a few hours to spare to finish the Highlander's gift. As it was, he would arrive mid-afternoon or early evening on the 28th - and be absolutely exhausted, as he couldn't sleep on planes.

Wonderful... just what I need. MacLeod can be difficult enough to deal with at the best of times... he'll be impossible to deal with when I'm that tired - assuming, of course, that I have to deal with him. I may get lucky.

At that thought, Colin snickered. "Not bloody likely," he muttered under his breath. "At least, not until he gets his gift..."

Reaching into the bag, he pulled out a large box, placing it carefully beside the bag. He placed the duffle down on the floor, and then slowly raised the lid of the box.

Sitting inside were three swords of Oriental design: katana, wakizashi, and tanto. He had spent the last several months getting them finished, ready for gifting.

They were now perfect; or, at least, as perfect as he could make them. An excellent match to the one he'd made them for. All that remained to be done now was the final tempering.

And, of course, that just happens to be the part I hate above all, Colin thought, taking a deep breath, even as he picked up the longest blade out of the box, holding it carefully by the hilt. I don't like leaving myself this vulnerable...

And, he added to himself, lifting the blade up, preparing to start, it makes an absolutely dreadful mess...

He could no longer remember who had taught him this; that secret was hidden somewhere in a time that he couldn't remember, or that he wouldn't remember. Either was possible; he'd forgotten more centuries than Duncan MacLeod had lived, some of them on purpose. However, the knowledge he had been given remained, even though he had rarely put it to use - remained bright in his memory, despite the millenia since it had been given to him.

Gritting his teeth, Colin raised the sword higher, and then brought it down, giving himself a slice across his neck.

It wasn't large enough to threaten his life; he was much too careful to allow himself to do that. It did, however, stain the blade with his own blood - blood from his one vulnerable point.

Then, rather than pulling it away, he placed the flat of the blade against the wound, even as he felt his Quickening surge toward the cut to begin the healing.

Blue sparks flickered at the edges of his vision as his Quickening found the wound... and the sword. Attracted to his blood on the blade, and slower to heal - the wound was on his neck, after all - the Quickening flared down the sword, causing the blade to glow with an eerie blue-white light for a moment as the power flowed through it, strengthening and reinforcing the blade.

Then, sapped by the drain on his Quickening and the relief that this sword, at least, had been tempered, the man slumped to the floor, the sword leaving his throat as he did so.

With the sword no longer pressed against his throat, attracting his Quickening away from the wound, the healing sped up; as the Immortal started to faint from loss of blood, he was relieved to feel the last bit of pain flicker away. His last thought before he passed into the blackness was, Only two more to go...


[December 24th (Christmas Eve)]

He was standing in a large, spacious room; almost empty, save for a vaguely familiar pine desk against one wall, right by the floor-to-ceiling window. Standing on the far side of the desk, face hidden by shadows, was a familiar figure.

Duncan started toward him, a smile crossing his face. "Methos..."

The ancient Immortal stepped into the light. He was holding a sword in one hand; it looked like Duncan's katana. Duncan frowned, suddenly alarmed, although there was no obvious reason to be. "What are you do--" he began.

Methos held up his free hand to signal for silence. "Watch, Duncan," he said, his tone a peculiar mixture of comfort and tension, made even more strange by Methos' use of his name. The ancient usually called him 'MacLeod', or, occasionally, 'Mac'...

Then Methos held the sword up to his own neck, and, as Duncan watched in shock, Methos used the blade to cut into his throat.

As the blue-white flickers of Quickening came from the wound, moving down the sword, Duncan let out a scream of anguish.

"Nooooo!"


Duncan MacLeod sat up abruptly, woken by the sound of his own screams.

Pushing sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes, he glanced around, trying to regain control of himself. Nothing was out of place; everything was as it had been before he'd fallen asleep.

This was the fourth night in a row that he'd woken up in a cold sweat, terrified by the sight of his katana cutting into Methos' neck. The fourth night in a row that he reached frantically for the Quickening link that bound him to the ancient Immortal, hoping that it was still there. The fourth night in a row that he found the link exactly as it had been from the start, intact and quiescent.

The Highlander glanced at his bedside clock, and then sighed. It was almost 5 am; there was no way that he would be able to get back to sleep now. Resigned, he got himself up out of bed and headed into the bathroom for a shower.

As he started the water, he also resolved to call Joe a bit later - maybe around 9 or so - and find out if the Watcher had heard anything from Methos lately.


As it turned out, Joe hadn't. Nor had he heard anything about Adam Pierson's status vis à vis the Watchers.

"I don't know, Mac," Joe said, leaning back in his chair and taking a sip from his cup as he watched the crowd of last-minute shoppers hurry past the coffee shop. "I mean, according to the information I have, Adam Pierson is still a Watcher. In fact, that information - and it's recent, put out just last week - doesn't make any mention of him leaving, except for the sabbatical he took to be with Alexa, and his months in Tibet."

"That doesn't make any sense, Joe," Duncan said, frowning as he absentmindedly stirred his cappucino. He hadn't even tasted it yet. "He told Amanda that he was out. He wouldn't have any reason to lie to her about that, would he?"

"You're asking me?" Joe asked, one eyebrow going up incredulously. "Mac, of everyone in the world, I have a feeling that you understand the most about how Methos' mind works. I'm not even going to try and guess."

"Yeah, well, you know the Watchers, and you knew 'Adam Pierson' for years before we met Methos, Joe. That's why I'm asking you."

"I really, honestly, don't know," Joe replied, taking another sip of coffee. "It might be that he reconsidered his decision; he does change his mind, you know. Or... he's the Watchers' expert on Methos, Mac. With the Gathering near, most Watchers, both field and research, think that Methos is bound to reveal himself soon - those that think Methos is still alive, of course." Joe gave him a tight grin. "Added to that the fact that Adam Pierson is a recognized linguistics genius, and they might not want him leaving. They can't block his resignation, but they can delay it, and try to persuade him to stay in. That may be what's happening.

"But this is all just guessing, Mac. We don't really know; we won't know, unless Methos actually tells us," Joe pointed out. "And, of course, none of this helps us locate him, since - if he has handed in his resignation - he doesn't have to check in wherever he goes..."

"Wonderful," Duncan muttered sourly. He took a sip of his cappucino, and grimaced in disgust when he realized it had gotten cold. "Anyway, I've got some shopping to do if Richie's going to be over tomorrow; the way he puts away food, we might have to get an entire turkey just to feed him." He sighed, putting down the cup. "Would you be willing to lend a hand?"

"Sure thing, Mac," Joe replied, standing up.

"Thanks. We'll hit the grocery store first, I think..."


[December 28th]

Methos groaned under his breath as he stumbled out the door of the airport.

Not only was he exhausted - Immortality could take care of a lot of things, but not 44 hours without sleep - but Seacouver was cold! Of course, it was winter here... but he'd been in Greece only 15 hours ago, and not even the air temperature on the plane had prepared him for the actual outside temperature here.

Shivering in his thick sweater, the ancient Immortal grabbed the first cab he saw. Clambering in, he gave the driver the address of MacLeod's loft, and settled back in the seat to adjust to the temperature and bitterly curse the impulse that had brought him here in the middle of winter. And to think that this weather is actually warmer than normal... Methos thought in disbelief. Never mind that he had, at times, lived year-long in places where this would be a sauna... it was still cold.

The taxi driver obediently dropped him at the back door of the loft, and Methos hurried up the stairs as soon as he paid her, glad that he carried only his duffle bag. If he'd had bags of luggage, like Don always had, he'd have been freezing into an Immortal-sicle by now.

He couldn't sense MacLeod - or any other Immortal - around; the Highlander was probably at Joe's or visiting young Ryan. Methos couldn't help but grin as he picked the lock on the door. MacLeod didn't seem to realize just how easy this lock was to open; even an amateur could do it. Certainly he had no trouble with it; of course, he was hardly an amateur. The ability to pick locks was a very useful skill to have; one that had proved quite handy on occasion.

Dumping his duffle bag on the couch, Adam wandered into the kitchen - avoiding the huge, brightly decorated tree right by the elevator - and opened the fridge.

"Oh, great," he muttered out loud. "Only three bottles of beer left... maybe MacLeod's gone shopping."

Grabbing one of the beers, he closed the fridge and sprawled on the couch next to his bag. "I hope that he's gone shopping," he added to the room at large. "Because I am not going back out in that cold tonight, no matter what; not even to get more beer.

"In the meantime, I think I'll have a shower," he added to himself, after a moment. "With a bit of luck, it'll keep me awake enough to greet MacLeod when he comes back."

Getting no response - not that he expected one, of course, but he was just tired enough to be feeling somewhat irrational - he headed for the bathroom.


Duncan walked into the dojo, and then stopped abruptly as he felt a humming vibration go through him. It was another Immortal - he could tell that much - but it didn't feel like any other Immortal he'd ever felt before.

When he came within range of another Immortal, most of the time he felt a distracting, grating vibration in the back of his mind; a feeling that made him reach instinctively for his sword. This was different; very different. It was a hum that soothed him as it went through him, encouraging him to relax as he felt a tension - one that he hadn't even realized was there - depart.

What's going on? What is this? Duncan wondered, as he headed toward the elevator. And who's up in the loft? It can't be Amanda - she's not arriving until New Year's, and anyway, I can't sense her like this - and it's not Richie... So who?

Getting into the lift, he put his hand on his sword, just in case, and sent it upwards.

As he raised the grille and stepped out into the loft, he could hear the sound of running water coming from the bathroom. As that was also where the peculiar sense of presence was coming from, Duncan figured that he could relax. It was fairly obvious that whoever it was, it was a friend.

He had just put the bags he was carrying onto the counter when the sound of the water was cut off abruptly, and a familiar voice called from the bathroom, "I hope you've bought some more beer, MacLeod; you're almost out!"

Duncan had a hard time trying to keep himself from grinning as he recognized the voice. Well, this explains why the presence felt so different; it must be the link, he decided. "Hello, Methos," he replied as the bathroom door opened. "And yes, you're lucky; I've just been to the liquor store."

Methos came out, dressed in his usual jeans and loose sweater, towelling his hair. "Good," he declared, dropping the towel on the table by the couch, ignoring Duncan's mock glare. "You have no idea how thirsty I am. Of course, I'm also exhausted, but beer is the more important matter at the moment."

"It's good to see you again, old man," Duncan said quietly as Methos started going through the bags. He resisted the urge to hug the older Immortal - he knew that Methos would either pull away or start teasing him if he did so - but it was hard. After all the dreams of the past week... well, it was certainly a relief to see Methos here, alive and looking well. He reached in to the proper bag and handed Methos a beer.

Taking the bottle from him, Methos looked at him for a moment with an indecipherable expression, and then flipped the cap over the fridge and slumped down on the couch with a yawn.

"So, I gather you'll be staying here?" Duncan added, shooting a glance at the large duffle beside the sofa.

Methos tried unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn and nodded. "Gods, I feel like I could sleep for a week," he murmured. "I absolutely cannot sleep on planes, especially when the entire fifteen hours is spent with a family of screaming kids right behind me. In fact," he added, bending over to take off his boots before swinging his feet up and lying down, "I think I'm going to crash right now."

"What? You're not going to help me put groceries away?" Duncan asked in mock surprise, smiling as he watched his friend take a swig of the beer and then close his eyes.

"No," Methos mumbled, putting the half-empty bottle of beer on the table. "And don't worry about making too much noise, Mac; at the moment, I think I could sleep through a Quickening."

Duncan felt a sudden flicker of alarm at that, remembering his dreams - his nightmares - but pushed it away. Methos was here, he was safe, and that was what mattered. The nightmares were just that, nightmares, nothing else.

Reassured by his own rationalization, Duncan turned his attention to putting the groceries away, and starting to plan tonight's dinner.


[December 29th]

The room was pleasantly warm; a strong contrast to the winter weather of Seacouver. The sun shone in from the window, giving the wooden floor a warm glow. There was a painting on the far wall, and sitting on a small display stand in the centre of the room was a familiar sculpture; one of Tessa's. Curious, Duncan moved closer.

The sculpture was of two men engaged in a sword-fight; Tessa had insisted that he and Richie model for it. Duncan vaguely remembered that he hadn't wanted Richie to have anything to do with it, but Tessa had overriden him. The sculpture was entitled 'The Eternal Struggle', and had been purchased almost as soon as it had gone on display, in Paris.

Frowning, Duncan walked around it, studying it. This wasn't Paris; although he couldn't remember how he had gotten here, he did know that much.

He was just about to walk over to take a closer look at the painting, when he heard the sound of a sword being drawn from a scabbard. Whirling around, his hand going instinctively to the hilt of his katana, he was astonished to see Methos standing just in front of the window, a sword in one hand and an inscrutable expression on his face.

"Methos?" Duncan said, puzzled. "What's going on?"

"Do you trust me, Duncan?" Methos asked.

"What?" Duncan sputtered, confused. What the hell is going on? And where are we?

"Do you trust me?" Methos repeated, not moving from his position by the window.

"Yes," Duncan replied slowly, finding himself both surprised and pleased by the answer. "Yes, I do trust you, Methos."

A smile crossed the ancient Immortal's face. "Good," he said. "Then just stay where you are, Duncan; this will be quick."

Before Duncan could question what Methos meant by that, the older Immortal had raised the sword he held to his own throat. Duncan stared at him in stunned shock, absently noting that the sword appeared to be his katana, but unable to care at that moment just how Methos had gotten it.

"Methos, don't!" Duncan shouted, stepping forward, one hand reaching out in a futile effort to prevent what was about to happen.

Methos looked momentarily puzzled. "Don't worry, Duncan; I'll be fine," he said reassuringly. Then, before Duncan could stop him, he placed the blade against his throat, and sliced down in a smooth movement.

"Noooo!" Duncan screamed, frozen in place with shock, as the ancient Immortal's Quickening streamed down the sword.


"Mac! Mac, wake up!"

Duncan opened his eyes slowly, to find Methos sitting on the edge of his bed, looking at him, an expression of concern on the ancient Immortal's face.

"You all right, Mac?"

Duncan took a deep breath and sat up, rubbing his face with his hands for a moment or two. "Yeah," he mumbled, his voice shaky. "Yeah, I'm all right."

"You sure?" Methos asked, the concern still in his voice. "You were screaming..."

Duncan nodded, momentarily unable to speak as the images from his dream flooded back over him. Damn it... This is the ninth night in a row! What the hell is happening?

"I'll go get some tea," Methos said, standing up. "I think you could use some."

"Methos... thanks for waking me up," Duncan said, once more able to control his voice.

"No problem, Mac," came the swift reply, as the other Immortal filled the kettle. Then he turned around, and even across the dimly-lit length of the loft, Duncan could feel the ageless hazel eyes fix on him. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Do I? I don't know... after all, Methos is fine... it's probably nothing to worry about, Duncan reassured himself. "No, it was just a nightmare," he said out loud.

Methos' expression was sceptical, but to Duncan's relief, he didn't challenge the statement. "As long as you're sure," the ancient Immortal said simply, taking two mugs out of the cupboard. "You do realize, I hope, that's it's only just past 5 in the morning?"

This is eerie; not only are the dreams almost the same, but I keep waking up at the same time... "It figures."

Methos smiled as he came back toward Duncan, a mug of tea in each hand. "By the way, Mac, it looks like Santa got you a belated present," he added.

Duncan looked at the ancient Immortal in confusion, wondering if maybe the fact that Methos was actually awake before sunrise had somehow made him irrational. "What?"

Handing him his cup, Methos nodded toward the kitchen counter. Duncan could just make out a large shape sitting on top of it. "I know that wasn't there when I went to sleep," Methos said, a faint grin on his face. "And it's addressed to you."

Frowning in confusion, Duncan pushed back the covers and, pulling on his robe, turned on the lights and strode toward the kitchen to take a look.

It was a large, oblong shape, wrapped in cheery, bright gold paper. Studying it, Duncan estimated that it was about 4 feet long, and about a foot and a half wide. Stuck onto it with a dark green satiny bow was a creamy envelope that had 'Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod' written on the front, in a smooth, flowing hand.

"So?" Methos asked, coming up behind him and leaning on the counter. "Are you going to open it?"

Duncan glanced at his friend. Methos' eyes were fixed on him, and he looked extremely curious.

"I'm sure it'll wait 'til later," he replied, hiding his grin as Methos looked from him to the present and back again, dismay written all over the ancient Immortal's face.

"But, Mac, it's four days past Christmas! Why wait?" Methos protested.

Duncan grinned wickedly at him. "Because it'll drive you crazy," he replied. As Methos stared at him, open-mouthed, Duncan headed into the bathroom to take a shower.


When he came out, about twenty-five minutes later, Methos was in the kitchen, bending over something on the stove.

"What are you doing?" he asked, walking into the kitchen, glancing sidelong at the present where it lay on the counter.

"Making breakfast," Methos returned. "So, are you going to open that present?"

"Depends," Duncan replied. "Is it from you?"

At that, Methos turned to look at him. "Well, you won't find out unless you open it," the ancient Immortal countered, a hint of a grin on his face.

Duncan sighed. "All right, you win," he declared.

Taking the envelope off the present, he opened it and pulled out the card. It was a simple one, showing a winter-time scene: an icy pond, with skaters, and snow-covered trees around it. Opening the card up, he quickly skimmed the message inside.

Duncan,
Happy birthday and Merry Christmas all in one. Part of this was meant to be your birthday present, the other part your Christmas present; unfortunately, I couldn't get here in time, which is why you're receiving all of it today. I hope this gift serves you well, and that you have less and less need to use it as time goes by.
Methos

Duncan looked up to find the older Immortal watching him. "How did you hide this in your duffle?" he asked.

"I didn't put it together until a little while ago, while you were asleep," Methos replied. "Go on, open it."

Smiling, Duncan undid the wrapping paper. Pulling it off, he found a chest of polished mahogany, with a gold nameplate on top that had been inscribed 'Duncan MacLeod'. "It's beautiful," he said quietly.

Methos looked amused. "Thank you, but that's not the main part of your present, Mac. You're going to have to open the chest as well. The key should be in the envelope."

Duncan turned the envelope upside down, and a key of polished steel slid out. Putting it into the keyhole in the front of the chest, he turned it, then slowly lifted the lid. And then stared in absolute and utter shock at the contents.

Inside, the chest had been divided into three sections of different sizes. Each section was lined with a cushioned fabric that bore the sheen of real silk.

In the smallest section, lying on dark green silk, was a samurai tanto. The blade had the burnished glow of high-quality metal; the scabbard was a deep gold and green lacquer; and the hilt, of polished ivory, was a replica of the hilt of the katana that Hideo Koto had given him. Looking a bit closer, Duncan saw that the blade was engraved; Gaelic characters, that spelled out Donnchadh MacLeod*.

In the next largest section, also lying on dark green silk, was a wakizashi that matched the tanto, even down to the engraving on the blade. And the third section held a katana, on golden silk, that was the mate to the other two.

Feeling awed, Duncan slowly reached into the chest and carefully took out the katana, half-afraid that this was a dream, and that if he moved too quickly, he'd wake up.

The hilt fit into his hand as though it had been made for him.

At the thought, he looked across the kitchen to see that Methos was still watching him.

"Is the balance right?" Methos asked quietly.

Duncan hefted the sword, watching as the light skittered over the engraving, and then nodded. "It's perfect," he replied, equally quietly.

Methos relaxed visibly. "Good. I was afraid that I hadn't judged accurately."

"You made these?" Duncan asked, his voice still soft - with mingled awe and wonder. He had never, ever, thought to receive a gift like this... and one that the ancient Immortal had actually made himself... it was both awe-inspiring and terrifying.

Methos smiled, the expression surprisingly shy. "There have been times, you know, MacLeod, when there hasn't been a smith nearby, and I've needed a good sword in a hurry. A lot of times. I've had plenty of practice."

"They really are beautiful," Duncan said, carefully placing the katana back in the chest and lifting out first the wakizashi, then the tanto, testing the balance and the feel of them. "Absolutely perfect."

The shy smile widened a bit; and then both Immortals smelled something burning.

"Oh, no!" Methos wailed, turning around and grabbing the frying pan from the stove. "The eggs!"

Duncan couldn't help but laugh as he watched Methos frantically try to rescue their breakfast. "You should have been paying attention to what was going on, old man," he chuckled.

Methos glared daggers at him. "Do you want to clean this mess up?" he demanded, brandishing the frying pan and the burnt, congealing eggs at Duncan. "I'd be perfectly willing to let you..."

"No, that's all right," Duncan replied, relieved in spite of himself that the intensity of the moment they'd shared over the swords had vanished. It had been almost too intense for his liking. "You can do it."

"Wonderful..." Methos muttered, turning back to the sink. "I suppose you'll want me to make another breakfast," he tossed over his shoulder at Duncan.

"I certainly wouldn't object," Duncan replied, slipping easily back into the close camraderie he shared with the oldest Immortal.

"Sausages and bacon all right?" Methos asked. "I don't think I want to try doing eggs again, unless you promise not to distract me this time."

"Distract you? It was your idea for me to open it then," Duncan countered.

"You were supposed to open it before I started breakfast," Methos returned. "So, sausages and bacon; with or without eggs?"

"With. I'll be good, I promise," Duncan assured him.

Glancing over at him, Methos rolled his eyes and snorted in disbelief. "Right, MacLeod. Tell me another one."

"Cross my heart?" Duncan said hopefully.

"Oh, fine; but if you aren't, you get to clean up the next mess," Methos replied, returning his attention to his second attempt at breakfast.


Joe parked his car in front of the dojo and got out, stretching as his back muscles protested all the driving he'd been doing over the last several days.

He hadn't seen Mac since the afternoon of Christmas Eve, having spent Christmas with his niece and her family. But Mac had been really antsy about Methos over the last couple of weeks, and after the call Joe had gotten from Sam Alliston - Don's successor - last night, he figured that it might be a good idea to talk to Mac in person about the oldest Immortal.

As he got onto the elevator and sent it up to the loft, his mind replayed the conversation he'd had with Sam.

He'd picked up the phone after one ring. "Dawson here."

"Joe, it's Sam - Sam Alliston."

"Hi, Sam! How's it going over there? Did you have good weather for Christmas?"

"Yes, we did... Listen, Joe, there's something I've got to tell you," Sam had said then, her voice urgent.

"What? What is it?"

"It's about Adam... Joe, there's no easy way to say this, but... we've just found out that Adam is an Immortal."

"What?!" Joe had exclaimed, shocked. He'd wondered if they knew just who Adam was.

"One of the field agents in Greece saw him take their Immortal's head, Joe. He got pictures of Adam taking the Quickening. It looks like that's why he resigned. I know that he was a friend of yours; I thought you should hear it from me, as opposed to someone else."

He'd managed a bit more small talk with her, and had then hung up, stunned that Methos' secret - or, at least, the secret that Adam Pierson was an Immortal - was now out. It had been too late to call Mac then, so he'd decided to come over this morning.

As the elevator reached the loft, Joe was startled by the smell of something burning. He was even more startled when he lifted the grille and saw Methos sprawled on the couch, a beer in one hand and a book in the other.

"Methos?" Joe exclaimed, too surprised to do anything but stand there, staring.

"Hi, Joe," the ancient Immortal said, looking up. "Good to see you. Mac, aren't you finished yet?" he added, looking toward the kitchen.

Joe followed his gaze to see MacLeod standing at the sink, scraping industriously at a frying pan - or trying to, at least.

"What happened?" he asked, trying to figure out what to do now. "What burned?"

"Don't start, Methos," Mac ordered.

Methos ignored him. "The eggs," he replied. "Or at least, first it was the eggs. Then Mac decided to lend a hand, and the bacon got burnt, and then the toast - that toaster really needs to be fixed, Mac," he added in an aside to the Highlander. "Then, while Mac was trying to rescue the toast, the sausages..."

"Methos..." Duncan said, a definite warning in his tone.

"So the upshot of it all," Methos continued, still not paying any attention to Duncan, "is that we haven't even had any breakfast yet, and it's already nine-thirty."

"So why is Mac doing the clean-up?" Joe inquired.

"'Cause it's his fault," Methos replied smugly.

"You were the one who burnt the eggs," Duncan returned, finally giving up on the frying pan and drying his hands off. "That wasn't my fault."

"Yes it was," Methos countered. "You distracted me... both times."

Deciding that it might be a wise idea to intervene before they got too preoccupied with their little argument, Joe sat down on the couch next to Methos. "I'm glad you're here, old man," he declared. "There's a little something that you should both know."

The two Immortals exchanged a wary look as Duncan left the sink and came over to lean against the counter. "What?" the Highlander demanded.

"Adam Pierson's been identified as an Immortal," Joe replied.

For a moment, there was absolute silence. Then, "Oh, great," Methos groaned. "Don't tell me those pictures turned out well enough to identify me..."

"I'm afraid so," Joe told him, surprised that Methos knew about the pictures.

"Damn... usually pictures of Quickenings are so unclear that you can't tell who's taking it..." Methos sank back against the cushions, muttering a few choice curses under his breath.

"What pictures? What Quickening?" Duncan demanded. "And does this have anything to do with why you were still a Watcher two weeks ago?"

Methos sighed. "I know I told Amanda that I had left the Watchers," he said, slowly and carefully, "but when I found out that Julia - Cassandra's Watcher," he added to Duncan, "never actually saw me, I figured it was safe enough to stay in.

"Unfortunately," he continued, "discretion was never one of Kronos' virtues... I'd been in Greece less than a month when I was challenged by an idiot that Kronos got to help him find me. I took the guy's head; however, his Watcher was anything but an idiot, and got pictures of me taking the Quickening. I'd hoped that they wouldn't be able to identify me from them."

"No such luck, I'm afraid," Joe told him. "Sam called me last night to let me know that you've - or rather, Adam Pierson has - been identified as an Immortal. They figure that your First Death must have happened sometime between your trip to Tibet and when you left for Greece, and they think that you got Mac to teach you how to use a sword."

"Well, at least they haven't figured out who I am yet," Methos muttered. "I suppose that's one bright spot in the whole thing..."

"Well then, if Adam Pierson's going to become my student, it looks like I have my work cut out for me," Mac said, grinning.

"Me become your student, Mac? Are you crazy? We'd probably all be better off if it was the other way around," Methos retorted.

As the tension eased, Joe leaned back and watched the two Immortals trade friendly snipes, trying to keep his amusement from showing so as not to be brought into it. He suspected that as soon as he'd mentioned it, Methos had begun working on a plan to ensure that things went the way the oldest Immortal wanted, and Joe was happy enough to leave him to it.


[December 31st (New Year's Eve)]

Duncan looked around, puzzled by the sparseness of the room he stood in. It was completely empty, with only a rug covering the sun-warmed planks of the floor; no paintings, no sculptures, no furniture... not at all the sort of room he associated with Methos.

Almost as if his thought had conjured the older Immortal, Duncan turned to see Methos sitting cross-legged on the rug, Duncan's katana lying across his lap.

"Hello, Duncan," Methos said quietly.

Duncan walked over and sat down next to him. He wasn't surprised any more by Methos' use of his first name; here, they were too connected for it to be otherwise. Nor was he surprised to see his name engraved on the blade of the katana; Methos held the one he'd made for Duncan.

"What's going on, Methos?" Duncan asked. "I don't understand, and it's scaring me."

Methos reached over to grasp his hand. "Don't worry, Duncan; you don't have to understand. All you have to know is that this won't kill me."

Abruptly realizing where this was going, Duncan stiffened. "No! You can't keep doing this, Methos. It's too dangerous!"

Methos sighed. "It won't kill me, Duncan," he repeated. "I've done it before; how do you think my own sword remains strong, even after so long? I don't like doing it, mind you - it makes an awful mess, and I hate having to get blood out of cream rugs - but it won't kill me. And it needs to be done; you need weapons that you can rely on, absolutely, and know that they will never break."

"It's too dangerous," Duncan repeated stubbornly.

"Duncan... this is my gift to you." Methos' voice was quiet; almost shy. "It's not something that you can make me do, or make me not do; it's something that I can only choose to do for you. It can't be forced, only given; and it's all that I have to give you."

"No, it's not--" Duncan started to say, wanting to protest that Methos' friendship alone was a gift he'd never dared hope for; but Methos was already lifting the sword to his throat.

"Methos, noooo!" the Highlander screamed, grabbing for the hilt even as Methos brought the edge of the blade down against the fragile skin of his neck. As the ancient Immortal's Quickening suffused the sword, Duncan touched the metal of the blade...

...and screamed again, as Methos' Quickening flowed through the blade and into him.


Methos raised his head off the pillow and glared blearily at the clock. He wasn't in the least bit surprised to see that it read 5:00 AM.

Pushing himself up, he looked over the back of the couch to see MacLeod twisting restlessly on the bed, moaning.

At least it was only two screams this morning, he thought with a sigh. Yesterday, he'd endured almost five minutes of screaming before he'd managed wake MacLeod up.

This has got to stop, Methos reflected sourly, pulling on his socks and sweater before walking over to the bed. He's been having this bloody nightmare every night since I've arrived, and he's been waking me up at 5 am every morning because of it. If it doesn't stop now, today, I'm outta here. He ignored the little voice in the back of his mind that warned him that leaving MacLeod wouldn't be that easy.

Leaning down, he grabbed MacLeod's shoulders and shook him. "Mac! Mac, wake up!"

Duncan jerked up, opening his eyes and staring blankly at Methos for a moment, before grabbing him and pulling him into a hug.

"Mac, let go of me!" Methos exclaimed, squirming uncomfortably until MacLeod loosened his grip.

"You're all right," Duncan said, sounding relieved.

"Of course I'm all right; except for the fact that it's five o'clock in the morning... again," Methos returned sharply, getting off the bed and moving a short distance away. He eyed Duncan warily. "Why the hell wouldn't I be all right?"

MacLeod looked away, obviously embarrassed by his reaction. "It's nothing..." he began.

Methos gritted his teeth. "It's not 'nothing', Mac," he snapped. "This has been happening every... single... bloody... morning since I got here, and I'm getting sick and tired of it. Now, you've got two - and only two - choices. You can either admit that something's going on, and tell me what it is; or I'm packing my things, and leaving. Which do you want?"

A look of shock crossed the Highlander's face, swiftly followed by defeat. "All right, I'll tell you," he said quietly. Taking a deep breath, he started.

"The dreams started coming the night before my birthday," he began. "For the most part, they're all the same, except for where I am and exactly what is said."

"Go on," Methos said.

"It starts out with me in a room, one that I've never seen before. Each dream, the room and its contents are different, except for the fact that they all have wooden floors, and one whole wall is actually a window that the sun is shining through."

Methos felt his eyes widen in surprise; it sounded almost like his den in the condo in Athens.

Duncan didn't seem to notice his reaction. "I look around, and despite the fact that I've never seen or been in the room before, it looks almost familiar to me. Most of the times there's been a piece of furniture, or a painting, or something that I have seen before, but it's always different.

"And then, while I'm looking around, I suddenly realize that you're there as well," he added, looking up at Methos. "You're holding my katana. We talk for a few minutes - and again, the conversation is always different - and then... then you raise my katana to your throat, and... and..." Duncan took a deep breath, obviously trying to regain control of himself. "And you slice into your neck. Then your Quickening goes along the sword... and that's when I wake up."


Duncan wasn't sure he wanted to look at Methos, but did anyway. The ancient Immortal was staring at him in obvious shock, his eyes wide and his face pale.

"Oh, gods..." Methos murmured, dropping gracelessly down onto the chest he'd given Duncan.

"What... what is it, Methos?" Duncan asked anxiously.

"The swords..." Methos ran his finger over the top of the chest, and then looked back up at Duncan. His face was still pale, and he looked more than a bit scared. "I don't know how, Duncan, but what you were dreaming... that's how I... that's how the final tempering of the swords I gave you was done."

Duncan found himself momentarily speechless, at a total loss for words.

"It's an ancient technique... older than I am, I think," Methos continued quietly. "I can't remember when I learnt it, or who taught it to me... but I do remember how to do it without endangering myself. The process... it makes the swords stronger, more resilient... less likely to break or get damaged."

"You... you mean, you really did that?" Duncan managed to say.

Methos nodded, and then looked at him, an expression flickering so quickly across his face that Duncan couldn't identify it. "It was... something that I could give you," he replied, the shyness he'd shown when Duncan had accepted the present back in full measure. "A gift that meant something. You pulled me back into life, Duncan. I wanted to... to give you something that would last, and that could help you protect yourself."

"Thank you," Duncan said quietly. He wasn't sure what else he could say.

Then he turned his attention to what had started this conversation. "What about the dreams?"

At that, the fear came back into Methos' face. "I don't know," the oldest Immortal whispered. "But... I thought it would be a good idea to do the final tempering on a day that was significant to you... so I did it on your birthday. I finished the katana at 3 in the afternoon there - which would be 5 in the morning here."

The two Immortals just looked at each other for a moment.

"The link," Duncan murmured. "That must be what's causing it. It's changed..."

"I know," Methos replied, his mouth tightening.

"Your presence feels different," Duncan continued, trying to explain what he meant. "Like a hum... almost soothing."

Methos' eyes held a bitter amusement as he looked directly at Duncan. "I don't think there's anything 'almost' about it, Mac. It is soothing. And that's dangerous."

"It hasn't changed the way I feel other Immortals," Duncan protested. "Only how I sense you."

"But will it have changed how other Immortals sense us?" Methos asked.

Duncan shook his head. "I doubt it; Richie hasn't mentioned anything strange to me."

"Mac... even before the double Quickening, I could identify you from your Quickening," Methos said quietly. "As long as I've sensed an Immortal before, and I know who he or she is, I can do that. I taught myself to do it even before the Horsemen. Ryan's young; but there are older, more skilled Immortals out there."

Duncan kept shaking his head. "Amanda hasn't noticed anything either, Methos," he said reassuringly. "And she's over a thousand."

"And had Rebecca as a teacher," Methos added, looking more hopeful. "Rebecca knew a number of tricks that can be done with Quickenings."

"In other words, there's probably nothing to worry about," Duncan reassured him. "Oh, and speaking of Amanda, she's arriving today."

"Today?" Methos repeated. "Mac... how am I supposed to find a place during the middle of New Year's?"

"Don't worry," Duncan said, grinning. "She won't be staying here; she told me she has her own plans."

Methos gave him a look of complete and utter disbelief. "Her own plans?" he repeated, his voice getting louder as he went on. "And you're telling me not to worry? Mac, that woman is a walking trouble magnet! She's worse than you are!"

Relieved that the tension had eased off, Duncan chuckled. "Oh, come on, Methos; it's New Year's. What kind of trouble can she get into?"

Methos looked at him for a moment longer, and then shook his head. "Something tells me you're going to regret saying that," he warned, getting up and heading into the kitchen to start breakfast.