Joe paid as much attention to Immortal folklore as he suspected everyone did: just enough to pass the class at the Academy. He's certainly never thought of it much since. If you asked Joe about Ahriman, he'd probably assume you were talking about a rock band.
But even he's heard of Methos.
"He's a legend," Joe protests to MacLeod. Over the phone, Joe can hear traffic. "He's the boogeyman, he doesn't exist."
"Oh, he exists," MacLeod says, dark and low. He sounds sure of it, sure as anything, and Joe knows Mac's chronicle backwards and forwards. That ain't in there.
Joe pinches his eyes closed for a moment, then opens them. "We've got a guy at the university, a folklorist, name of Adam Pierson. He's the best authority we've got on Methos. If anyone can figure something out, it's him."
A long time ago, Connor had told Duncan about Methos. About the great Immortal warlord who waited centuries -- perhaps sleeping, perhaps merely biding his time -- before he would rise again. His rule was always brief and always brutal. He destroyed everything in his path. You will know him, Connor said, by the scar on his face and the cruel twist of his lips. His laugh has destroyed thousands. When he rises, for he will again, he will bring Immortals with him, and he will let his enemies kill them; he has no loyalty.
Everyone who has gone up against him directly has died. He only vanishes once more when it is clear that he has lost. But even when surrounded, ambushed, utterly defeated -- he slips away. He has been thought dead a hundred times, but has always returned.
"Might it not be another man taking up his name?" Duncan had asked, and Connor had shaken his head.
"It is always the same man."
And so Duncan understands why Joe believes this to be a myth, but Duncan has met survivors of Methos's rages, he has seen the horror in their eyes. And they have all only ever described the same man. Duncan knows this is not a myth, it's a warning.
And, Duncan thinks, he might have met Methos once. Or merely glimpsed him in the chase. There had been an outlaw named Melvin Koren, who had been scarred and cruel and unkillable. That, perhaps, was how Methos waited out the time between his rampages: by committing smaller ones. Duncan doesn't know for certain, but, oh, is he suspicious. And to have been so close to Methos and so far from truly defeating him...
And now Kalas is trying to find Methos. To try take his head for his power or to join him? Either would be a nightmare. But they don't need to find Methos, they just need to set a trap for Kalas.
"Good luck," Joe says, and gives him Pierson's address.
There's someone here.
Duncan can sense the other Immortal even before he opens the door. He draws his sword and keeps it at the ready as he enters and looks around, hoping he's not too late, that Kalas isn't already here. But the only person he sees is a stranger sitting on the floor by the bed. He's long and lean, maybe even taller than Duncan, but he makes himself seem smaller than he is. He must have felt Duncan as sure as Duncan felt him, but Duncan sees no sword. There are merely books and beer and--
"Adam Pierson?" Duncan asks.
The man nods. "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." He throws Duncan a beer.
Duncan catches it in one-hand and then warily sheathes his sword. "You're Immortal."
"Really?" Pierson asks dryly. "I hadn't noticed." He pushes himself up. "Come on, I'd like a walk."
Pierson's about two hundred, "give or take," he shrugs. "I was an orphan and some things are a bit blurry." He was recruited by the Watchers when he was just a kid, he ran messages back and forth. "They're my family, I couldn't leave just because things were about to get awkward." He owns a sword and knows how to use it, but doesn't keep in practice. "I don't need to, I don't socialize."
The more he says, the more convinced Duncan is that Pierson's about to die.
"Kalas is going to kill you," Duncan tells him. "He's killed Salzer to get to Methos, he'll kill you, too."
"I can take care of myself," Pierson says. "I don't need to kill to defend myself."
Duncan stops walking. Pierson keeps going, then turns to look at Duncan. "Have you ever killed anybody?" Duncan asks.
Pierson frowns. "Yes," he says. "And let's leave it at that, please. It's not something I'd like to do again soon."
"Was it an Immortal?" Duncan asks, because he has to know. "Have you ever taken a Quickening?"
Something gets very tight in Pierson's face. "Yes," he bites out. "Now I think we're done here."
He walks away. Duncan doesn't go after him. They aren't done here; Pierson can walk away, but they will both still have to explain this to Joe, will still have to deal with Kalas. But Duncan can give Pierson space to think. He's confident that, given a night to think it over, Pierson will understand the position he's in. He's two hundred, maybe fought once, maybe got a Quickening by proximity while Watching, but he's not a fighter, and Kalas might be coming after him. Pierson needs Duncan's help; Duncan respects a fellow Immortal enough to let him walk away, and owes Joe too much to let Pierson stay away.
Kalas comes for Pierson that night.
Duncan finds out in the morning when he's woken up by a call from Joe. Kalas has been arrested for trying to kill Pierson. Pierson is willing to swear up and down to it, that he'd seen Kalas kill Salzer and now Kalas was coming after him to tie up loose ends. It's a neat little trick and Duncan's impressed. Pierson'd said he didn't need to kill to defend himself and Duncan believes him.
Jail will only delay Kalas, not defeat him, but Duncan's grateful for the time anyway. It's not a solution to their problem, but Pierson needs to learn to defend himself. He's antsy, talking about maybe taking a vacation, telling Duncan that holy ground is very nice this time of year.
"I'm a pacifist," Pierson complains as Duncan yanks him back to his feet after a particularly short bout.
"Tell that to Methos," Duncan says, and Pierson goes very silent, very still.
Then he nods.
"I take your point," he says, and when his blade meets Duncan's, there's a renewed strength behind it.
And Duncan ignores the hint of panic in Pierson's eyes.
Joe's always been protective of Adam, so all it takes for Joe to come over is Adam's voice on the phone, wavering slightly, saying that Christine is talking about going to the press, will you please come and help, Joe, please. Joe spends the trip over thinking about ways to prevent it, and when Adam picks him up at the gate, they start talking about that immediately. It takes until Pierson has Joe settled in that Joe grabs Adam's arm and feels new muscle.
"MacLeod?" Joe asks, a full lecture in one word.
Adam flushes a deep red. "He's trying to protect me," Adam says.
MacLeod's been pretty secretive about how he's been training Adam to protect himself, and Adam won't give details. He just huddles inside his sweater, the long sleeves covering over his hands. Joe's sure that Adam's nails are bitten ragged. Adam has a poker face as good as anyone Joe's ever met, can cheat at cards and swear in seven languages, and Adam is not a fighter. Joe's heart aches for him.
"We can pretend the database was just me learning how to program one?" Adam suggests. "It's not even that much of a lie, that's how it started. I mean, come on, who's going to believe it's actually real?"
Joe's never even seen the completed database, and so they bring it up on Adam's computer. It looks convincing. They might be able to pass it off as some grad student's lark, except for the historical photographs. Adam's not that good at faking pictures. There's an entry for every Immortal with an active Watcher and there are as many photos as they can get. Adam flips through him at Joe's direction, and Joe notices that while Adam has gotten official photos for most of the Watchers, Adam's own photo looks casual and recent.
"I was talking to Don," Adam explains. "I thought, since the idea was that we'd want a way to identify Watchers we saw in the field as Watchers, not dangerous Immortals, that it would be better to have these kinds of photos. But getting casual pictures of Watchers is harder than you'd think. It was something to bring up to Headquarters if they wanted to go ahead with all of it."
"We're not going ahead with it," Joe says firmly, and Adam nods.
"I realize that now. I thought we could keep this in-house and secret. I was wrong." Adam's hands twist in his sleeves. He has calluses Joe hasn't seen before. They look like sword calluses. What is MacLeod doing? "I just thought it could be useful," Adam whispers.
Joe shakes his head. He'd thought it was a risky idea when Don talked to him about it, but Adam had been so enthusiastic, and Joe's been trying hard to be a good mentor and have an open mind about the future of the Watchers. Don had convinced Joe that with proper security, this database could revolutionize Watching. And now it might be their downfall.
"Is there anyone who matches Methos's description?" Joe asks, because if Kalas ever finds out about the database, that'll be the first thing he'll want to know.
"No," Pierson says. "You know-- for my research, I've been trying to see if there's any sign. Someone like that can't just disappear, he's got to be keeping a low profile between sightings, but he can't just vanish into thin air; he's a monster, not a ghost. Someone must be encountering him, and the descriptions are so distinctive, he'd stand out in a crowd. So I thought, I'd see if I could find him. Prove the stories right. And I haven't found him." He smiles wanly. "I think I found some of his lieutenants, so that's something. But not Methos. I've been looking harder, these last few weeks, hoping that I can find him and he's five thousand miles away and has never heard of Kalas. But there's nothing. He's not there. He's not there!"
Joe politely ignores the tears in Pierson's eyes. He pats him on the shoulder. "Kid, let me get you a drink."
All at once: Amanda breaks Kalas out of jail. Christine goes to the papers. Kalas kills her and gets the database. It seems like everything is about to end.
And then Methos arrives.
Of all of them, it seems like only Adam is prepared.
Methos walks out of the mist near the barge. "Melvin Koren," Duncan acknowledges as he and Amanda draw their swords, Joe pulls his gun, and Adam... Adam steps forward.
Adam says, "it's not them you want."
The scar on Methos's face twists as he smiles.
Adam says firmly, "Kronos, it's not them you want."
Methos raises an eyebrow, looking them over sardonically. "This is how you greet your brother, with weapons?"
Adam puts his hand on Methos's shoulder and says, "Don't."
Then Methos stabs him in the chest.
Joe denies he screams. He fires four bullets, one of them hitting Methos in the shoulder. Duncan is stepping forward to challenge, Amanda with him, and then Adam is coming back to life on the pavement, choking and coughing. Methos kicks him hard in the stomach. Adam doubles over again in agony.
"None of you are worth my time," Methos pronounces. His shoulder is bleeding, but he doesn't seem to notice or care.
Adam gasps from the ground. "Kronos," he says again. He coughs hard, getting onto his hands and knees. "Leave them, they're nothing. You have me, leave them."
And none of this makes any sense.
Amanda asks what they're all thinking. "Pierson, what the hell's Kronos?"
Methos laughs at them. "I am!" he says delightedly. He bends down, puts his arm around Adam, and yanks him to his feet. "One thousand years he's hidden from me. I must thank you for returning him."
Duncan comes at Methos from the front, Amanda from the back, and Joe shoots him again.
And then... then they are surrounded.
Methos wakes up underground. He starts to count his aches, but gives up after ten. He sits up carefully.
Kronos is watching him, grinning. He is tossing a knife back and forth between his hands. Methos remembers that knife. It was his, once. How nice and thoughtful of Kronos to keep it all this time to return it to him.
The stab wound near Methos's heart still aches. "Kalas?" he asks. He braces himself back against the wall and tries to stretch his legs out. They're stiff, still mending broken bones. But Methos has a dagger hidden and it's still accessible. Kronos hasn't taken it yet.
"I'm thinking about allowing him to live." Kronos tests the knife against his thumb. He always had such joy in killing, Methos remembers. It's such a shame that the years have not cured Kronos of it as surely as they have Methos. "What do you think, brother?"
"I think," Methos says clearly, "that I have no interest in being a part of your plans." Almost there. He merely has to bend just so...
Kronos tsks at him. "And after everything I've done for you." He stands and turns to the side, flipping through an old book. A Chronicle, most likely. Methos doesn't recognize it, but he knows the type.
It may be the best chance Methos gets. He pulls the dagger from his sheath and strikes.
Kronos's blade meets his, and Methos curses. Kronos laughs triumphantly.
"I knew you hadn't gotten soft," Kronos says.
Amanda goes to work on the lock on the cell with all of the expertise of an accomplished thief, while Duncan sees to Joe's wounds. Amanda and Duncan had both pushed Joe to the ground when the bullets started flying, but a bullet had grazed him anyway. Joe's sure that Methos -- Kronos? Adam had called him that and Methos had acknowledged it -- he's sure that whoever this guy was, he'd've been happy enough if Joe had died and saved him the trouble of having a third prisoner. Or maybe Joe's the thing meant to keep Duncan and Amanda here; injure the human and have The Good Guys feel honor-bound to stay and help. Because, yeah, Joe's not getting out of here tonight, even if Amanda could open the door. Tomorrow, maybe. The day after, sure. But right now, he needs the help.
But there are two Immortals in this cell, and Joe only needs one extra pair of hands. Amanda's sneakier than Duncan is, and Duncan feels guilty for dragging Joe into this, even guiltier when he'd found out that the Immortals had never gotten a physical description of Melvin Koren, that there was no way they could have known. Duncan will stay with Joe. Amanda will get the door open, Amanda will stake out the situation, and then Amanda can come back and tell them all about it, or just get to freedom and then get help, if possible. Meanwhile, Joe will just lie here and try not to bleed too much.
And also try not to resent Immortal healing too much. Just enough is fine. But not too much. Resenting it too much will give him something to think about other than that Adam is an Immortal. And not a new Immortal, either. Definitely not a new Immortal. That was the resurrection of a man who'd had his share of them and knew the score.
And they'd known each other.
Adam, who has spent years calling Methos a myth. Adam, who is everyone's favorite little brother. Adam, who will never go into the field because he doesn't like violence.
Adam, who put the Watcher database together.
Adam, who knows Methos. Adam, who Methos calls his brother.
Adam, who knows that Methos wants him and no one else.
Joe doesn't sleep much that night, and not enough of it can be blamed merely on his wounds.
Kronos's minions are unimaginative, "nothing like we were in the old days," Kronos complains, and Methos has to agree. But Kronos didn't take them on for them to challenge him; he wanted henchmen, not equals. But there's one henchman Methos hasn't seen yet, and that could create possibilities he can exploit.
"Where's Kalas?" Methos asks, the beginning of a plan tickling at his mind. He'd like to get out of this alive, if he can. If he has to temporarily join back up with Kronos for that to happen, well, Methos has done worse. But he hadn't wanted to do any of this again; hence, the last thousand years. And there's also Joe to think about. Methos has left men to die before, but never if he could help it.
"Playing with his computer," Kronos says with a sneer. That's right. Kronos has always resented technology. Methos had been driven to drastic measures to teach him to read and write. If Kronos couldn't kill with it, he wasn't interested in it. Methos never had been able to teach him how you could kill with a pen. Well, that's certainly convenient now.
"He still wants to take this circus public?" Methos asks. He examines his fingernails carefully and says nothing more.
"He wants your friend MacLeod," Kronos says. "I'll probably give him to him as a gift for giving you to me. The news came to me, someone is looking for Methos in Paris. And here you are! I'd like to kill MacLeod myself, but that would be an appropriate payment for the man who gave you to me. Don't you agree, Methos?"
It's a challenge and a threat, but Methos merely shrugs. "Hey, I only met the man a couple months ago. What do I care?"
"You used to be more loyal to your friends," Kronos says.
"We were never friends, we were brothers," Methos replies. Before he can say more, Kronos slams his fist down on the table.
"Are brothers," he insists.
Methos inclines his head gracefully. "As you say."
That's not enough for Kronos. "A thousand years I searched for you!"
Methos cuts him off while Kronos is taking a breath. "Am I supposed to be impressed?" he asks coldly. "Your persistence is impressive, but your tactics have been juvenile. Stealing my name, making sure I could never use it again, trying to drive me out with tricks. Of course I knew you were looking for me. Why do you think it took you so long to find me?"
"My, my, my," Amanda says, "what a merry family reunion."
They don't have a lot of time before Amanda's disappearance will be noticed. At some point, a guard is going to come and check on them, maybe even bring them some food. Duncan hopes Amanda found a sword.
Joe's sitting up, his back against the stone wall, his eyes closed. "It's starting to make sense," he says.
Duncan leans as far out of the bars as he can, trying to see if anyone's coming or if he's just hearing the wind outside. "That's nice, perhaps you could enlighten me."
"Adam doesn't like fighting." Joe sounds sure of this. Duncan's not so certain, not anymore. Anyone who had once been on friendly terms with Koren was someone who had done his fair share of killing. Duncan knows some Immortals like that. They don't dislike fighting, they like fighting too much. Adam doesn't fight, but Duncan's sparred with him. He's not sure anymore how much of it had been Adam keeping up appearances, but Adam had been rusty. Beneath that rust, now that Duncan is looking for it, was a trained fighter. Adam had kept him distracted, but Duncan can see beneath the veneer now. He hadn't been teaching Adam to fight, he'd merely been helping him shake off the dust.
Joe's talking, saying things about the Watcher database and Adam keeping himself safe, but Duncan's spotted a shadow at the top of the stairs and he motions Joe to be quiet. The sudden headache hits him a moment later and Duncan wishes suddenly for a sword.
Because Kalas is standing at the top of the stairs.
Amanda had managed to disarm one of the guards and then shoot one of the Methos's Immortal lackeys and take his sword. She'd left him tied up and knocked out and then moved on. It's not a bad sword, but it's very different from the one she's used to. She wishes she'd had time to find her own sword, but every second counts.
She fights to make a mess, putting every obstruction she can between herself and Methos. Pierson doesn't have a sword, but he's gotten a dagger from somewhere and he's on her side, at least for now. She doesn't know the history between Methos and Pierson, but that was not a friendly conversation she walked in on, and you don't stab someone hello unless you mean to kill them permanently later. She's relatively confident Pierson will remain on her side, Methos's brother or no.
Methos is better than the both of them, but there are two of them, and Pierson isn't even pretending to play by the rules, throwing himself and everything around him at Methos, doing everything he can to force Methos to lose this fight he should be winning. All three of them are bleeding and then Amanda manages to disarm Methos. Pierson makes a run for the sword and grabs it before Methos can.
Pierson is more sure with Methos's sword than Amanda is with her stolen one, adding more evidence to the theory that, once upon a time, Pierson and Methos knew each other very, very well.
Pierson meets her eyes. "I don't want any part in this," he says.
Methos hisses at him and then spits, "You always were a coward and a traitor, Methos."
Amanda glances to Pierson. "What the hell?"
"It's a really long story," Pierson sighs. "I'm actually Methos, not him. But, hey, what's in a name?"
Methos -- the one on the floor -- is starting to inch away, and Amanda steps on his back. "Uh-uh. You're not going anywhere." She nods at Pierson. "Better run if you don't want to be caught up in it."
Pierson returns her nod and starts moving towards the door, and Methos suddenly explodes into motion. Amanda takes a step back and swings on instinct, connects.
Methos's head falls to the floor.
"Apologies for the delay," Kalas growls, and throws Duncan's sword at him. Duncan's already out of the cage and he grabs the katana quickly off the floor. "Methos thought he could hide you from me."
"It's nice to be in demand," Duncan says. When Kalas attacks, he's ready.
They've fought enough that Duncan can easily fall into the rhythm of it. He knows Kalas's tricks, but Kalas also knows his. It's uncertain terrain, but Duncan's had the advantage of studying it since they were locked in here. He has the advantage and he presses it.
Kalas fights hard to the end and then Duncan has him on his knees. He risks a look over his shoulder, and says sharply, "Joe, get out of there." He doesn't know what the Quickening will do with the cage, and he doesn't want to risk it. Joe had stayed in the cage during the fight to keep himself safe, but it wouldn't keep him safe now. Duncan keeps half his attention on Kalas, the other half on Joe, until Joe is far enough away from metal.
Then he swings.
For a long, beautiful moment, he thinks he's made it. He thinks he's far enough away, and that Amanda is close enough, that the Quickening will miss him.
It doesn't miss him.
The first lightning strike inflames old memories and he can feel scars that never formed begin to re-open all over his body. The energy flows through him and he hears his own voice, three thousand years ago, say, "and then we fight!", and he hears his own voice, from that oh so brief meeting in Moscow, say sadly, "Kronos, you haven't changed at all." He had been running from Kronos for a millennium by that point, but it was only then that he had begun to mourn for Kronos, for a man so stubborn, so stuck, that he had remained exactly the same. A man who may as well have already been dead.
The lightning strikes again, and they are back in the desert, but Amanda is there, looking around, and Methos recoils, because this is not his memory, this is hers, and he brings his hands to his head to try to block it out, but the lightning strikes again and again, and he is in Amanda's mind and she's in his, and Kronos -- Kronos is all around, laughing like he used to, and Methos can hear him chortle, "brother, how I will haunt you," and Methos remembers this, remembers their first parting, how it hadn't lasted, remembers their second, remembers all of them, remembers his brother. His brothers.
Methos knows where Silas and Caspian are, but, he knows now, Kronos never did. Kronos hadn't even been looking. First he would have found Methos, then the others would have followed. Kronos had been so certain of that.
Methos hasn't been that certain of anything in a very long time.
Finally, the lightning ceases. Methos collapses to the ground. From a long way away, from the reverberations inside his head, Amanda comes over.
She offers him a wary smile. Methos tries to return it.
He licks his lips, tries to find his voice. "Live," he whispers, "grow stronger. Fight another day."