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Sight Unseen

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A librarian wearing dark glasses asked him: 'What are you looking for?' Hladik answered: 'I am looking for God.' The librarian said to him: 'God is in one of the letters on one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand volumes of the Clementine. My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have searched for this letter; I have gone blind seeking it.'

The Secret Miracle, Jorge Luis Borges

+

Prologue — Nor Pale Fear Dwells

"Damn it, Joe! I won't let them do this!" Duncan MacLeod closed his eyes against the tension in his head and listened stoically to the protestations of his Watcher, sure that nothing Joe Dawson could say at this point would sway him from his intended course.

"Joe, I'm on my way whether you like it or not. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Then you're going to tell me where he is; you're going to tell me exactly what's going on."

With a suffocating sense of his old detachment, Duncan waited as Joe repeated his argument, restated his reasoning: Adam Pierson has been relocated by order of the highest levels of the Watcher Council. His whereabouts are unknown and unknowable. It's better this way, Mac. I warned you that nothing good would come of your obsession with him. Duncan listened without interrupting as Joe warmed to the notion that his words were finally sinking in. It was only as Joe again stated his absurd conclusion–He's gone, and there's nothing you can do about it–that Duncan reacted.

"No! He– You don't have the right to just–" Duncan stopped, took a deep breath, realized that other people in the cafe had stopped talking and were looking at him oddly. He made a conscious effort to calm himself, to slow his racing heart. "I appreciate everything you've done for me, Joe. Everything. But I won't stand idly by while the Watchers make him do something I know he doesn't want to do. Not this time. I can't." Duncan shook his head. "It's one or the other, Joe," he stated with finality. "The decision is yours. You're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem."

Duncan flipped his cell phone closed, effectively ending the discussion. He got up, dropped some money on the table and exited the cafe, heading toward the waterfront at a clip, in the direction of Joe's bar.

His gait was long and purposeful as he walked down Washburn Avenue in the fish market section of Seacouver. The air was crisp, chilly, the sky overcast and heavy, weighed down by cumulous clouds colored a dirty white and gray. It's going to snow, Duncan realized with disgust as he crossed a busy street against the light.

Exhaling sharply, he veered to avoid a small woman with a baby carriage. His argument with Joe had upset him more than he wanted to admit; Duncan prefered not to draw a line in the sand with a man who had saved his life, a man he had come to consider a friend, but his desire to confront his Watcher about the disappearance of Robert de Valincourt and . . . other things . . . was a tangible force nipping at his heels. Duncan was through being diplomatic. He was finished with platitudes, with accepting indignities heaped upon him like a truckload of cow crap by the Watcher Organization; with being told who he could associate with, and when, and where. With having his life threatened–and his sanity–by so-called 'rogue' Watchers who never seemed to be sanctioned by the Watcher Organization but who always managed to have every organizational resource at hand to perpetrate their madness.

This last year of his life had been one long tragedy. He had been kidnapped, tortured, hunted, treated like an animal in a zoo–all at the behest of the Watcher Organization or members of that organization. Distinctions between the various classes of Watchers were mere semantics at this point. Despite Joe's rationalizations, it no longer mattered to Duncan that there were 'good' Watchers and 'bad' Watchers; that, supposedly, the 'rogue' Watchers had been brought to justice. The assurances the Watcher Organization had offered that they had completely excised the Column and punished the Hunters, and that such an infiltration into their ranks would never happen again was worth about as much to him as a tin penny.

Never interfere. Bullshit!

Duncan wanted answers–about everything. Along with those answers, he wanted some sort of guarantee that the Watchers would respect his right to live his life without their interference. He wanted some privacy–and the freedom to be friends with Joe or with . . . Adam, even. Most of all, he wanted the freedom to explore the enigma that was the Watcher Adam Pierson.

Adam.

Though many times in the last year he had felt as if he were standing on the edge of a precipice, Duncan knew he wasn't crazy. He wasn't. He just wanted to get to know Adam better, after all the man had done for him.

Who the hell did the Watchers think they were–to say that the two of them couldn't be friends?

He reached another busy intersection that was artfully framed by the leafless skeletons of trees. Duncan stopped at the curb. He was only five blocks away from Joe's bar, but he couldn't get there quickly enough. Not bothering to wait, he timed his advance upon the street and proceeded against the light.

Duncan was midway across the street when he froze. A car stopped short, barely missing him. Horns blared loudly as he stood in the midst of traffic, unable to convince his legs to move. Confusion blanketed him like a wall of white noise as Duncan felt that prickling, tingling sensation at the back of his neck–the inimical announcement that another Immortal was in the area.

And worse–it was happening to him . . . again! Bile like bitter beer pooled in the back of his throat. He experienced an instant of all-consuming panic. Choking, Duncan had to force himself to move, to finish crossing the street. Standing on a sidewalk that was suddenly, eerily deserted, looking around cautiously, it took all of his willpower not to simply turn and start running.

Reflexively, he started to move in the most likely direction of escape before he could control himself. He forced his legs to stand still, wiped the back of his hand across a brow that had become damp despite the coolness of the winter air. This couldn't be happening to him now!

What was this thing within him that made him consider doing something he would never have done before–before the Watchers had gotten their hands on him?

This rush of heat.

This inability to think.

This pressing panic.

He examined the feeling closely and named it fear.

He had been afraid to fight before. A few times over the years he had even run away from a challenge, to his shame. But he had never felt so completely paralyzed, unable to move, unable to think. He had never felt like this!

But there was no more time for introspection because his adversary–adversaries, Duncan noted with alarm–were approaching.

There were three of them. Three.

Duncan knew he had to find himself. Had to. He would not live his life like this–even if it killed him, even if he were to die today. He forced himself to stop and announce himself..

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," he proclaimed loudly–too loudly.

The tallest of the three–Eastern European by the look of him–stepped forward. His gaze was hard and piercing, and Duncan had to force himself not to look away. Duncan's implacable façade was like the first thin, treacherous, layer of winter ice on a lake and Duncan could tell that his adversary could see right through him. "Skip the pleasantries," the Immortal snarled in Russian. "We can do this here, or we can take this over to the alley–your choice. You decide how many of these sheep you want to take with you."

Duncan looked around quickly; saw a woman with a baby carriage waiting at the light and a senior citizen standing at the bus stop, staring at them with undisguised curiosity. Duncan knew it would be a disaster to accept a challenge in broad daylight, in the middle of a pedestrian throughway. He had no choice but to take this to the alley.

"The alley," he said shortly, and turned his back, using all of his willpower to seem unconcerned and not to break into a run. He consoled himself with the thought that, once away from innocent bystanders, he could use the change in location to somehow escape the situation.

They reached the alley. Duncan pulled his sword from its sheath in the lining of his coat…and turned.

Three Immortal challengers advanced on him, swords drawn, with the dark-haired Russian in the lead. Duncan knew he should move, that he should determine the most defensible position and relocate, but he was frozen in place, like a deer in headlights, and his right arm felt weak. Never had his own sword felt so strange in his hand. Not since he was a boy had he felt so unsure of himself: the light sheen of sweat that beaded his brow; the terrible weakness at the back of each knee that made him feel as if at any moment his legs could give out from under him; the awful, awful feeling of unease that lay coiled like a snake in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't move. He was immobilized by terror that had somehow crystallized, sitting in his bloodstream like sediment. The tip of his sword hit the ground with an ominous thud, the impact reverberating up his arm, and it was that reverberation that shook him from his malaise. He scrambled backwards, practically tripping over his own feet in his haste to put space between himself and his advancing nightmare.

"Fight you cock-sucking son of a whore!" the Russian snarled, clearly disgusted by Duncan's strange behavior. His two cohorts hung back, saying nothing, but watching for the opportunity to intervene. "What of your glorious reputation? I came to fight a lion and find a sniveling woman instead!"

Maybe if there had been only one of them, Duncan could have mastered the fear by sheer strength of will. Had there been only the Russian snarling at him, maybe he could have found some luck somewhere in the depths of his soul.

But instead, luck found him.

"What have we here?" a disembodied voice asked from the mouth of the alley. "Three against one? Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. That hardly seems fair. And it's against the rules."

Duncan blinked. He knew that voice. "Connor!"

"Duncan." Connor had his sword out and was carefully maneuvering around the Russian's two cronies. He nodded his head towards his kinsman.

Duncan realized that Connor was not alone. Another Immortal, a short, swarthy man Duncan had never met before, took up a position to the right of his adversaries, and suddenly, the situation in the alley was at an impasse. Connor reached his side.

"How did you...?"

"Later, Duncan," he said.

"I have issued a challenge!" the Russian bellowed, in English this time.

Connor stepped towards the Russian, pointed his sword at his neck. "You," he declared. "You will give my kinsman a minute. A fair challenge you may have, but this," he gestured to the two Immortals who had accompanied the Russian, "looks like an ambush."

"No ambush!" the Russian objected.

"Fine. Then you won't mind backing the fuck up and giving us a minute," Connor snarled. The Russian lowered his sword.

Connor walked over to Duncan, pulled him a little to the side, whispering, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, thanks, Connor." Duncan placed his sword back in its sheath and wiped his palms on his jeans. "I…what are you doing here? Wait, it doesn’t matter. I need to get out of here. I didn't think…the three of them…"

Connor interrupted, looking at Duncan strangely. "Don't worry about it, Duncan. Give me your coat. Take that one's head," Connor pointed at the Russian, "and don't worry about his friends. I'm pretty sure they won't be issuing any challenges once their 'leader's' head is rolling around on the ground."

"Isn't that right boys?" he called out, smirking. Connor pointed the tip of his sword in their direction. "If you interfere I'll take both your heads."

"Let's get this over with," Connor announced. "Duncan," he turned towards his kinsman, "your coat."

"Yeah."

Slowly, Duncan removed his sword and shrugged out of his coat and took up a stance. With an earsplitting howl, the Russian ran towards him. The breath hitched in Duncan's throat, he raised his sword to defend his face instinctively and retreated. The way he moved, awkward and stilted, the way he flinched as the sword swung in the direction of his face–he did not recognize himself. He had never–never–felt like this before.

"STOP!" Connor yelled from the sideline. The Russian snarled and refused to halt. Duncan, tripping over his own feet, stumbled to one knee. Convinced that the end had finally come, he closed his eyes, waiting for the feel of steel on his neck. Instead of feeling steel, he heard the sound of steel meeting steel and opened his eyes to see Connor standing over him with his sword blocking the Russian's killing stroke.

"You can not interfere!" the Russian yelled.

"Wait, I need five minutes with my kinsman. Just five minutes!"

"No! You not interfere!" the Russian was virtually foaming at the mouth and his English had deteriorated markedly.

"A deal," Connor snarled. "Five minutes. Give me five minutes with Duncan, then you can continue. If you give me five minutes with him and can still take his head, I will give you my head–without a fight."

"No!" Duncan yelled, jumping up and grabbing Connor's arm.

Connor shook him off. "I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod and I have four hundred and seventy-seven years and one hundred and twenty three heads. I place myself in the balance for five minutes."

The Russian had calmed. "How I know you keep your word? What about him?" He pointed his sword at Connor's mystery companion, who, along with the Russian's two cohorts, watched the proceedings poised for action, as if on the edge of a precipice.

"He will not interfere." Connor nodded to his friend. "He will abide my decision. You have my word."

The Russian smirked. "You sell your life cheaply, for this petookh who fights like a woman. You have five minutes."

Quickly, Connor grabbed his kinsman by the arm and dragged him to the side.

"Duncan, what's wrong with you?" Connor whispered fiercely.

"I don't know! I just . . . It's just– I froze, Connor! My mind just went blank. I don't know what's wrong with me."

"Do you need me to get you out of this?"

"No!"

"Okay. Okay. Wait." Connor paused. "Duncan, do you trust me?"

Duncan nodded.

"Okay, your problem is what was done to you by the Watchers–"

"How do you–?"

"Not now Duncan!"

"It makes sense that this is simply a mental problem, one that you can work through given enough time. But we don't have time." Connor breathed out explosively, as if he were about to take a great leap of faith, then he shrugged out of his coat, threw it to the side and started unbuttoning his shirt. He pulled it off and ripped the shirt down a seam. "He better be right about this," he mumbled.

"Duncan," he said quickly, "you're going to have to trust me. I'm going to blindfold you–"

Duncan took a step backwards. "What!?"

"I'm going to blindfold you." Connor grabbed his arm and turned him, using a swath of shirt to cover his eyes, tying the makeshift blindfold behind his head. "Your Quickening is so much more than you know, Duncan. Trust your power; trust your instincts. Everything that is real will call to you, all of nature, all of life. You do not need to see it to know."

"Wait! I can't do this! Why are you doing this?"

"I know you can do this, Duncan." Connor closed his fist around his sword and maneuvered Duncan forward, into position. "I know you can do this," he said again, more quietly, fervently, and Duncan, too shocked to do anything but follow his kinsman's lead wondered Connor believed what he was saying, or whether he was just trying to convince himself.

"Clear your mind. Just use your Quickening, Duncan–it's like a sixth sense. Your instincts will not fail you."

"What is this?" the Russian taunted. "You expect this woman, this petookh, to fight blindfolded? Now you make mockery. I will make short work. I will take both you heads. I fuck Clan MacLeod like the whore she is!"

Duncan met the first stoke through a sort of muscle memory, a reliance on centuries of experience that told him were to expect the first strike to fall, like an expectation of one of a finite number of opening moves in a game of chess. Faltering in the dark haven of the blindfold, he stumbled back. It had all come down to this: he was about to be butchered in an alley, his head lopped off like a chicken, a descent that would utterly ruin his kinsman in its wake. It was an unacceptable reality. He would not have it. He was Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod and he would at least meet his end like a man; he would not let what was done to him by the Watchers be the final expression of his four centuries and more of existence. He would not let his fear cost his kinsman his life. He would try, and in his resolution to try, he let go of reasoned thought. Leaping into the abyss of his own Quickening, he found a kind of equilibrium that broke his fall, and in the process entered an entirely different realm–a realm where one did not have to see to be able to act.

The Russian's Quickening hit him, when it hit him, like the soft touch of a feather down his spine rather than as a both of energy, so deeply was he swimming in his own power.

When Duncan came back to himself, he was standing in the alley with Connor and a headless body, alone, the three immortal spectators having taking themselves off to where Duncan knew not.

"Connor," Duncan said tiredly, passing his kinsman his sword in exchange for his coat. "Not that I don't appreciate the help but what are you doing here?"

Connor was grinning like a proud parent, and after all Duncan had been through, he found it all rather annoying. "Your Watcher friend called," Connor explained. "He said you were in trouble. That there were three hunters after you who liked to play dirty."

"Joe called you?" Duncan asked in surprise.

"Joe? I don't know anyone named Joe. The guy's name was Adam. Adam Pierson."

Duncan froze in the process of putting an arm into a coat sleeve. "Adam Pierson called you?"

"On my cell phone, no less," Connor said dryly. "I have to admit it took a little convincing for me to believe that there's a whole organization dedicated to 'watching' us but Pierson was pretty convincing. These Watchers are way too knowledgeable for comfort." He knelt down and wiped Duncan's sword on the coat of the headless Immortal. "Think we'll have to do something about that," he mumbled.

"So, Duncan," Connor said, straightening up, "who is this Watcher and why is he so concerned about you?"

"He was concerned?"

"Yeah, and good thing, too. This was a mess and a little too close for comfort." He stopped, cocked his head, looking at Duncan speculatively. "You're a mess." He declared, with a certain finality that made Duncan sigh. They started moving towards the mouth of the alley, towards the street, towards ordinary mortal civility.

"What did he say?" Duncan asked quietly as they walked.

"Who?"

"Adam."

"Oh. You want it verbatim? Is he your girlfriend or something, Duncan?" Connor smirked. Duncan scowled.

"He said the Watchers had captured you, held you prisoner for months. He said they tortured you, ran some rather gruesome tests to determine the limits of immortality and to test certain theories." Connor paused. "Basically, he told me you needed my help; that there were hunters after you and he was quite sure that your time with the Watchers had affected your ability to protect yourself." Duncan looked away, embarrassed. "In fact, he gave me very specific instructions about what to do when I got here, something about telling you to, 'Trust the force, Luke,' but I decided on my own to leave all references to Star Wars out of it and to reference my own experience instead," Connor said dryly. "I needed you to trust me, not think me crazy."

"So you blindfolded me? What made you think it would work?"

"Ask Pierson. It was his idea. He seems pretty smart. I was skeptical at first but then he reminded me of something my teacher Ramirez used to say. I have to give it to him, he was right on the mark."

"What if he had been wrong?"

"Well, you were going to get your fool head cut off anyway. I wasn't sure how many rules you would let me break to take out those three piles of walking sheep's dung myself. Seemed like as good a plan as any." Connor shrugged. "Your Watcher friend seems to know you very well."

"He's not my friend."

"Really? Strange for him to go through so much trouble on your behalf, then." He looked at Duncan speculatively as they stopped at a light. "So what's his agenda?"

"I don't know," Duncan said slowly. "But I intend to find out."

"Don't worry." Connor said sarcastically. "I'll lend a hand. I'll be here for the duration anyway."

"What?" Duncan was pleasantly surprised. Connor was staying?

"We need to practice, Duncan. I'll not have you losing your head." The light turned green. "Let's go."

+

"Duncan, are you listening to me?" Connor said sharply from his chair at the other side of Joe Dawson's office.

Duncan looked up from the magazine that he was flipping through absently. "Of course," he answered.

Connor had been talking nonstop. He seemed not the least bit deterred that Duncan was less than responsive. He said, "Duncan, we'll start training in the morning," and Duncan responded with a noncommittal, "Hmmm," that seemed to satisfy his kinsman; Connor said, "You have to get past whatever is bothering you, Duncan," and Duncan said, "Hrmph," while nodding his head as if in agreement. It wasn't that he completely ignored Connor; on some level he heard everything that was said; on some level he even processed the information, stored it for consideration at a later date, but the bulk of his active consciousness was consumed with other, more pressing matters. Things more important to him, crucial even. Everything that Connor was saying, while very important in its way, did not mesh with the fact that Duncan had no intention of being around the dojo tomorrow to practice. This problem, this fear of fighting–whatever it was–Duncan was sure he could master it in time. The matter was not even uppermost in his mind.

He needed to see Adam.

"Hey Connor, can I get you a beer?" Joe asked, standing in the office doorway.

"Yeah, a beer would be great," Connor answered.

"How 'bout you, Mac?"

"Sure."

Duncan stood up when Joe excused himself to go gather the drinks and attend to his business in the main area of the bar. Quickly, Duncan made his way over to Joe's computer and logged on.

"Duncan, what are you doing?"

"Nothing," Duncan said casually as he powered the machine down and turned towards Connor with a slight grin, with the calm euphoria of having done something irrevocable. "Just needed to check something on the Internet."

Connor gazed at him for a long moment, assessing. "Duncan," he said slowly, "I'm worried about you. I've been hearing strange stories about you for a while now, and what do I find when I investigate? I find that the truth is stranger than the story; that the Duncan MacLeod sitting in front of me bares little resemblance to my kinsman. I want to know exactly what has happened to you Duncan. Is this really all related to what happened with the Watchers? Does this have something to do with Tessa's death?"

"Tessa." Duncan sighed. "No, not really."

"Then, what?"

"It's a long story, Connor. A long, unbelievable story."

"Well, I seem to be the only one out of the loop. Why don't you start from the beginning?"

The beginning. Duncan wasn't sure he could pinpoint that exact moment in time. It had all started with the Watchers, surely, and with the Watcher, Adam Pierson, in particular. Everything seemed to start with Pierson, much in the same way that the day can only start with the rising of the sun. But that was unfair, Duncan knew. His problems began long before Pierson entered his life with his sly smile and cynical ways. In fact, if he were to be truthful with himself, he was responsible for his own downfall. He could probably trace its genesis back to the feelings of depression, guilt and remorse he had been wallowing in after Tessa's death; traced all of his difficulties back to those dark days, those self-absorbed, self-indulgent days when his ability to reason seemed somehow stunted. How else to explain his inability to recognize a situation rife with potential danger? Especially since he had been trained to handle such situations. How else to explain why he did not beware the Watcher Organization and take appropriate countermeasures from the very beginning? Did he think they would just go away? After what they did to Darius?

Darius.

Maybe . . . maybe it had really all started with Darius, and his closely guarded knowledge of the legend that was Methos.

Chapter Text

I – Aweary of the Sun

Seacouver - April 23, 1994

It was early one bright spring morning in midtown Seacouver. A few cars hummed along wide, tree-lined boulevards. The sky was blue, the flowers pretty. A cool April breeze blew languidly. It was one of those days when it seemed the whole world was bright and new and—happy. Duncan walked slowly, aimlessly down the cobblestone street, past a popular Italian bakery with a line of patrons extending halfway down the block, past three sidewalk cafes and the strong scent of coffee, past a young woman standing at the curb hailing a cab. Duncan watched the wind take hold of her long, blond hair, whipping it into her face.

He stopped. His breath went in. His heart skipped one or two beats as he watched her get into a cab and the cab carry her off—and her blond, windswept hair. He expelled air harshly and resumed his pace, staring straight ahead, his hands buried deep in the pockets of the long, gray trench coat that he wore against the unseasonable chill in his bones.

Six months had passed—six months—and it was spring again. Unbelievable. Even funny, he thought with a sort of dark hilarity as he crossed a busy street against the traffic light. It was funny how the perception of the passage of time changed as life changed. Funny that once, not so long ago, he would have marked the shift in season by the proximity of the current day to other happy days—two months since Valentine's Day, four months since Christmas, fifteen weeks since he celebrated yet another meaningless birthday. Now everything had changed again, and the passage of time hung heavy over him like a blanket soaked in blood—six months since Tessa had been killed. Six months! Six months since he had lost Tessa, eleven months since he had lost Darius, two weeks to the day since Richie had left for parts unknown. He turned the corner, realizing absently that he had been down this same street about twenty minutes earlier. Irrelevant. He walked along the cracked sidewalk slowly, noticing everything and nothing, lost in a disparate sort of sad wonder at how time does pass.

And he was alone again.

Strange, how the ordinary, worn out ways of every day seemed so muted, blunted, like a repetition of vanities. Stranger still, that the whole of his four hundred years of life could be reduced to this one isolated perspective. Lately, the world seemed nothing more to him than a thin covering of life drawn over a thick foundation of death, like algae upon a rock. How many people had he lost over the years? How many people had he killed during his long life, with his sword and his own two hands? Many. Too many. For someone who was supposed to be gifted with eternal life, he was as intimate with the howling wind of death that blew open and closed the doors of his heart as with any forever lover. The bottom line was that after all his years of living, there was still nothing to be done about the worst losses, the losses that beat you down and cut your legs out from under you. Nothing to be done about the life that teases you and defeats you, until all you can see in life is death, and in the sunrise a sad, sad gold.

He was tired of it.

Duncan shook his head and quickened his pace. Pointlessly. He had nowhere to go—nowhere he needed to be. No one was expecting him. Early this morning, sometime around dawn and after another haunted, sleepless night, he had decided to go out walking. That had been about three hours ago, and he had been walking the streets of Seacouver ever since. He just wanted to walk away, go away—get lost. He had no one left, except for Richie, and Duncan had a sinking feeling that Richie could be lost to him at any time. The boy was just too young to be on his own, too inexperienced and too headstrong; the Game was just too unforgiving. Who would be the one to call him and tell him that Richie had lost his head in some dirty back alley, miles away from the person who was supposed to protect him?

When it was all said and done, how many losses could he reasonably be expected to suffer and still remain a whole person, the Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, the person of conviction he had always been? He had been thinking about that finite number of losses, wondering if it did, in fact, exist because every new loss felt like the worst loss, like the very first. There had to be only so many losses that any man, even an immortal man, should have to suffer. Therefore the number—that threshold number—had to be quantifiable.

Duncan stopped walking, halted abruptly, causing the other people walking down the same sidewalk to veer around him in alarm. Frozen, his thoughts strayed, flicked, came to rest on fleeting memories, past sensations, fading pictures. He thought about things that might have been and never were, meanings clouded by unspoken things, affection daunted by indifference, love stilted and cut too far short.

She was the flower floating on the sea. He was the hand stained black with ink.

This street. He had arrived at the very spot he most wanted to avoid, should have avoided. Right over there they had lived together for years. Right over there— across the street, in the red brick building with the facade of glass—they had been happy. So happy! His feet had betrayed him.

A hollow pain went through the pit of his stomach, a kind of longing for a time, for a state of being irretrievably lost to him. A thought hit him quickly, with a razor-sharp clarity. He would give up forever if he could just be sure that she would be there, on the other side of his pitiless life, waiting for him. Will I see her again, Darius? Will our separate journeys put us in the same place, together, at the end of it all? Darius? Will I see you there? He did not want to live forever, like this, trying to exist in the memory of that one moment of peace, of happiness, waiting in vain for a moment that may never come again.

But what else was there for him to do?

What every Immortal must learn to do, Darius would have said. Accept that much of life involves the bearing of what cannot and should not be borne.

And, of course—

Never fall in love with the warm summer breeze, with the way the moist air licks and caresses the skin. Never fall in love with the sun and its crystal fingers of light that pierce the heart through and through. Never fall in love with the stars, even when they sparkle and shine and seem close enough to kiss. Never fall in love with the sweet sound of music. Never fall in love.

People were staring, Duncan realized. They were looking at him, the strange unshaven man in the gray trench coat standing stock still in the middle of the sidewalk. Duncan looked around curiously. Which car was his Watcher in? Or was he—or she—walking? Did they bother to follow people around all the time or did they circle like buzzards only after the kill? He had yet to discover a method to the madness, even though it seemed that the situation with the Watcher Organization was becoming more and more critical. It was all somehow so terribly obscene to know that people were chronicling his every move.

For some reason, he had yet to come up with an effective strategy to deal with the whole Watcher problem—and it was a problem. Horton's death months ago seemed to have staunched the influence of the more malignant members of the organization. Duncan had gotten to know Joe Dawson a lot better. It seemed that Dawson was more the rule among Watchers than the exception. So although there was clearly more that needed to be done about the situation, Duncan couldn't seem to find the impetus to seriously consider the problem further. But his sleep, when he slept at all, was troubled. He dreamed often of the time Darius had shown him, by means of a chessboard, the paradox of the race between Achilles and the tortoise. He was just never able to determine if there was a relationship between the two thoughts.

Did you bequeath me your strange dreams too, Darius?

Duncan shook his head to clear it of useless speculation and resumed his pace, deciding suddenly, and for no real reason, that he should find something to eat. Even though he wasn't really hungry—couldn't remember the last time he had been hungry—it seemed like a good idea. Besides, his mouth was dry and there was an ache at the back of his throat. He stopped at the first sidewalk cafe he encountered, picked an isolated table at the back of the patio and sat down, nodding his head at the waiter who was helping customers on the other end of the raised platform. The table was small, and the yellow flowers sitting in the vase at the center were wilted. The waiter looked at him strangely from across the way but nonetheless hurried over and asked him if he wanted coffee. Duncan nodded once. The waiter filled a mug with dark brown liquid and set it carefully on the table in front of him.

Of course the waiter would look at him strangely, Duncan thought to himself tiredly. Surely, he looked a mess—unshaven, unwashed and unkempt, with a long trench coat and a baseball cap pulled way down over his brow. He probably looked just one step up from a vagrant, and the waiter probably suspected that his ability to pay was doubtful. Duncan pulled his wallet out of an inside pocket, flashed a few bills discretely, jostled his credit cards to put the waiter's mind at ease. Duncan was considerate in that way. It was his nature to be considerate, to put everyone else's needs before his own; to always be there for his friends, the people he considered family. But who was there for him…?

Nobody.

That startling insight caused him to fall into a tripping examination of the tenuousness of his connections to everything, even life, especially life. What reason was there for him to go on, like this, when every sensation that would make an ordinary person happy pained him? He thought about his future and his current relationships with a sort of clinical detachment, dissected those connections like a surgeon with a scalpel, testing their ability to be excised completely, unaware, really, that his coffee was getting cold, that his hand was tightly clenched around the mug and that people were looking at him surreptitiously out of the corners of their eyes, wondering at the identity of the bedraggled stranger who was staring into space like a man lost.

People telephoned him from time to time. People he knew as friends, but usually only when they needed something from him, needed him to solve some problem.

Just last week he had gotten a call from Amanda. She was in Cairo and was apparently in some sort of trouble involving money. He had wired her some cash in lieu of making a trip east like she had wanted. Just yesterday he had gotten a phone call from Gina de Valicourt regarding her husband Robert. Apparently, Robert had taken off for parts unknown after a particularly ugly fight with her. Robert had been gone for three days, and Gina was convinced that something was wrong, that Robert wasn't just taking some time away to clear his head. She had called the dojo, hoping that he had heard from Robert recently, but all he could tell her was that he had not heard from her husband and try to reassure her that Robert would return home eventually. Of course, Gina wanted him to come to Paris, but Duncan did not have the heart for Paris, especially Paris in the spring. There were just too many memories, too many sepia-toned echoes. So he had put her off, and she had been surprised that he had not just dropped everything to help her, much in the same way that Amanda had been surprised when he had not dropped everything to fly to Egypt. When had he not just dropped everything to help a friend in need? But, really, what was he to do about Gina's problems, or Amanda's? It wasn't as if he had the answers to anything.

That was the issue, the crux of it all. Answers. Even Darius—even Darius did not know the truth, did not know the secret of immortality, could not explain the purpose behind the Game; why men were made to live hundreds, thousands of years only to watch everything that they had ever known and loved wither and die, their only edict in life to find and kill one another. Darius was the only person Duncan had ever met that seemed to have found some answer that satisfied his soul, the only Immortal who seemed to have found some peace. Duncan had coveted that peace, had wanted to know that answer; had relished their intimate discussions on the nature of life. He had grown so much under Darius' tutelage. Now that the monk was gone, what hope was there that he would ever know anything again? Some bygone Greek philosopher (he did not remember the man's name; Darius would have known) had claimed that a name is the archetype of a thing; that a rose is in the very letters that spell rose, in the composition of consonants and vowels that comprise the word. Wouldn't that mean that there must exist one awe-inspiring word that, when spoken, held the answer to everything in sharp syllables?

What if that one awe-inspiring word had been Darius, and what if all the answers had been dispersed, unknown and unknowable, like his Quickening into the disparate air, like his life's blood on the floor of that church?

If only he could find that word! Then maybe his long life would start to make some sense, because right now, everything seemed so irredeemably pointless to him and he was drowning. He had lost the love of his life to the bitter vagaries of a graceless age. He had lost his nearest friend, his dearest friend to vicious and superstitious mortals—the one person he was not prepared to lose, never thought that he would have to lose. He had been prepared to lose Tessa one day, on some dim day—she was mortal—but Darius had taken himself out of the Game. He never left Holy Ground. He should have been safe. He should have been safe!

No one will ever take his place, Tessa. No one could ever take yours.

Duncan got up from the table in a sudden rush, spilling his untouched coffee, knocking the vase over, but he did not notice. He hurried back outside to the sidewalk with the mad press of people and the mountains framing the horizon in the distance, picked up his pace and pointed himself in the direction of the park. He had to keep moving. There was a restlessness in his soul that was so keen—it was almost an imperative. He had to go.

Then it hit him with the clarity of a revelation, and he stopped in his tracks. It seemed all so clear to him suddenly. This unfocused trek that had occupied his morning, this revisiting of all the familiar places—perhaps it was just his need to say goodbye to the places, to the memories. Perhaps, finally, he was ready to go, to make a change. After all, he hated Seacouver, hated the place with a crimson flowering that had taken root in his soul. Hated the city so much that he had to go; hated it so much that he had been compelled to stay past his time.

He crossed a busy street, moved past artfully manicured public greenery including odd clumps of bushes and the sun-kissed skeleton of a dogwood tree flowering gently with the bright white buds of the rebirth season. He moved quickly past storefronts and shoppers, bicycles and cars, like a wraith who just barely existed in this time, in this place. It was clear, and Duncan had decided. He would leave this place. Seacouver. He would head back to the dojo, grab his car and some few things and leave. He would go east, perhaps drive all the way to New York City. He would spend some time with Connor; he would try to find some meaning in life again. And if he could find no meaning, if there was no way to recapture the sun, who better to take his head than his kinsman? There was no one better.

Turning to make good on his thought, he felt the intrusive buzz of an Immortal signature.

Duncan stopped walking, looked around cautiously, his hand automatically finding the hilt of the katana secreted in the long folds of his trench coat. This was a terrible place to run into another Immortal, in the middle of the street, in broad daylight, with dozens of people milling about. He considered turning in the opposite direction, ignoring the strange signature that pressed against his consciousness—that called to him enticingly. But running was not in his nature. Actually, he almost welcomed the confrontation with an odd sort of fatalism. Perhaps this was his destiny. Today was as good a day as any to die. He walked slowly in what he felt was the right direction.

"Duncan!"

Someone called his name from across the street. Duncan's eyes scanned the faces of strangers and came to rest on . . . Robert! It was Robert de Valincourt on the other side of the bust byway, in the distance, appearing out of thin air as if conjured of smoke. Duncan stopped short in surprise, removing his hand automatically from the hilt of his sword. "Robert?" he said under his breath, confused. What was Robert doing here? Duncan started moving to cross the street to meet his friend.

Robert was waving and as Duncan navigated traffic, he sighed heavily, knowing that Robert's appearance would catapult him right into the middle of his friend's problems with Gina. Why did everyone feel the need to come to him?

Duncan lengthened his stride. He was surprised that instead of walking towards him, Robert turned and hurried in the opposite direction.

"Robert!" Duncan called out in surprise. He sped up his pace, amazed when Robert broke into a run. Duncan started running too, as Robert turned the corner and dropped out of sight. Nothing could have surprised Duncan more than having Robert show up in Seacouver, unannounced, and acting so inexplicably. What was going on?

He turned the corner, saw Robert in the distance, running, further away now than Duncan had expected. Robert dashed across the street, almost getting hit by a car. Duncan inhaled sharply at the close call. Robert reached the sidewalk, turned and hollered, "Duncan!" as he frantically waved his arms.

Duncan stopped short momentarily, shocked, then picked up his pace again, determined to catch Robert and find out what was going on. Was the man on drugs? Duncan could only wonder.

The distance between them was shrinking rapidly as they passed from a busy shopping area of downtown to the more deserted garment district. Now that Duncan was closer to Robert's retreating back, he could tell that all was not well, that Robert ran with an odd, limping gait that was completely at odds with the sporting gracefulness of the man he had known for so many years. Duncan noticed, too, that Robert was dirty. His clothing could qualify as rags and looked to be the soiled remnants of the same clothing that Gina had mentioned him wearing when last she saw him in Paris. Duncan was mystified and very worried. Perhaps Robert was having some sort of psychotic episode.... Duncan ran faster, determined to tackle Robert from behind, if that was the only way to stop his friend's mad dash along the streets of Seacouver. Robert looked back as Duncan's footsteps bore down upon him. The look of terror on his face took Duncan aback.

Robert swerved, bumped into a truck that was backed up to the loading dock of a warehouse. They had passed into the garment district proper, and people and cars had become sparser. With a sudden burst of speed, Robert darted across a street. He turned a corner to his left and was lost to sight.

A truck rumbled down the street in front of Duncan, forcing him to pause before darting across after Robert. He quickly reached the corner where Robert had turned but the man had disappeared. Duncan stopped, wondering what he should do now.

He moved slowly down the sidewalk, hoping to pick up Robert's signature again. Duncan stopped as an inaudible alarm sounded in his head.

Found him! Duncan took off in the right direction, towards a large warehouse building at the end of the block.

He slowed as he approached the structure. The door was slightly ajar and the building looked sufficiently abandoned so that if Duncan had to resort to force to subdue Robert, there wouldn't be any awkward questions from witnesses. He reached the side alley first—the alley that ran along the east side of the building where the trash was piled and where the loading dock was located.

There was a man sitting there, propped against the alley wall that was also the side of the building, a vagrant or a homeless man, by the look of him. He was wearing dark glasses that covered practically the whole of his face. He was blind. There was a German Shepherd sitting by his side, harnessed, and the man had a long cane in his right hand. He was tapping the cane lightly on the hard concrete.

Tap tap tap . . . tap tap . . . tap tap tap . . .

Duncan noticed the man only vaguely and only because the man seemed to be looking in his direction with those dark glasses as he moved towards the warehouse door. He noticed him fully only when the old man called out in a gravelly voice, "What are you looking for, young man?"

Duncan paused briefly to answer, "A friend of mine," out of courtesy before he pulled the wooden door open and entered the warehouse in search of Robert. Behind him, he heard the old blind man mumbling with his hoarse voice, "You can only see with your eyes shut. Only with your eyes shut. Remember that, young man," and the rhythm of the tap tap tap of the cane.

It was dim inside the building. Pale sunshine streamed through windows high in the rafters of the cavernous structure. And there was Robert, sitting in the middle of the floor, with his knees pulled up to his chest and his face ducked down and covered by his arms. He was sobbing uncontrollably, great racking sobs that shook his whole body as he rocked back and forth, back and forth. As Duncan slowly approached, he looked up, eyes wild, hair wild, looking like a man possessed.

Duncan felt off-balance—something was wrong about all this—but Robert looked worse. He was pale and trembling; he looked like an absolute train wreck. What had happened to him?

As Duncan approached his friend slowly, so as not to startle him—his phone rang. In surprise, Duncan reached into the inner pocket of his coat and put his phone to his ear.

"MacLeod," he said softly.

"Duncan MacLeod. Get out of there. It's a trap. Get out of there now!"

Shocked at the imperative, he almost dropped the small phone. He looked around quickly. "Who is this?" he said into the receiver, but all he heard was static in response. Duncan didn't know what was going on, but he put his hand to his sword and carefully pulled it out of its concealing sheath in the inner lining of his coat. He turned in place slowly, taking in his surroundings, trying to identify any pending threat. Robert watched him intently with eyes huge and red-rimmed. At some point, he had stopped crying.

"Robert?" Duncan said, advancing on him slowly. It was only now, as he stood within arm's reach, that Duncan noticed the strange filament around his friend's neck. It was thin, like a gold necklace, but tight around the column of his neck like a choker. "Robert...?"

Yelping involuntarily, Duncan slapped at the back of his neck with his free hand in alarm. He felt a burning sensation, like being bitten by ten dozen mosquitoes all at once. His arms! They started jerking—he could not control his limbs. His sword fell from a hand too rigid to grasp the hilt, hitting the concrete floor with a loud clang like the tolling of a bell.

"Robert?" Duncan voice was a confused whisper as his legs buckled. He fell heavily to the floor. His last sight of Robert was of him rocking, rocking, and of Robert's large, red-rimmed eyes, and that intently level gaze. Then perfect sunlight flooded Duncan's brain and blew the husks of his vision away.

Duncan tried to get up, with no feet under him, and no hands and no body that would respond to his command. The world shifted and fell apart. And just before his eyes lidded down, sinking him into deeper and deeper tides, he heard the faint strains of music threaded with the beat of an Immortal signature, and the tap tap tap of a cane against the ground.

Chapter Text

II — And Much of Madness, and More of Sin

He had had a name once. Once, a long time ago, he was known by something, as something. He used to have a name. Of this one thing he was certain.

"Don't worry about it, Steve. You can't really hurt him. Just do it. Watch, he'll heal right up. Spooky, huh?"

"Bloody hell!"

"See? What did I tell you: These Immortals–they're not even human...."

The light–it was so bright, it burned his eyes. Everything was a halo of bright white color. He could barely make out the shapes of the people crowded around him. Who were these people? What were they doing to him?

"No . . . Wait . . . Who…are you? Where am I?"

There was another sharp pain. He struggled. His wrists, his legs were restrained. He was strapped into some sort of chair. As a white shape approached him from the back and the side, he started screaming.

"Quiet him down, Sarah. I can't hear myself think."

There was a needle. He felt its sting.

"WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?"

As the corners of his vision fogged, as awareness dimmed, he saw the vague outline of a knife, and felt its edge.

Time passed.

Everything had faded to black–how rapidly, how helplessly it was fading–the voices, the luminous human figures and the names of those figures. Receding to the size of a spark, the head of a needle. He felt himself shrinking, and the shrinking was agony. He forgot what he had known; began to know only what a captive knows.

What you must not remember, you won't be able to remember.

It was happening; it had happened already. But he could not remember.

Time passed.

He exhausted himself, screaming, doing the only thing he could do. As the pain hardened, crystallized and was built upon, he felt long-suffering and a crude, incurious misanthropy.

And time passed, crumbled, flaked like rust.

He was whimpering, his bladder threatened to spill, did spill. His eyes were burning in their sockets as if he'd been staring into a fierce light though the room was darkened. His vision was not working properly. He saw several different views of the world, and pain filled his skull like a silver cloud.

Tell us! You WILL tell us what you know!

And the voices–they were fading into the darkness. It was so cold, the darkness, so vicious and clinging–and bottomless, like despair. It seemed as if all of eternity was taking its exercise by lashing him with golden flails, relentlessly demanding answers to questions he did not understand. Who is he? Where is he?

Methos.

His hands, his ankles, were held in manacles of gold that were not real, yet were stronger than iron. The pain–it was pitiless and endless and his heart pounded as he died, and died again. His head was filled with blood and in his ears the drums pounded.

Methos.

Chapter Text

III — God Moves the Player, He in Turn the Piece

Paris, France — April 23,1975

The air was littered with a palpable tension that hung heavy over the large, oddly furnished room like an invisible fog. Two men were sitting in simple chairs on opposite sides of a low wooden table, staring at an antique chessboard with an intensity that belied the most obvious reality of the game. It was late at night, and the room was dimly lit by three Roman candles and a wash of pale moonlight. Gentle gusts of wind circulated a breeze around the room from a window that was held slightly ajar by a hard-bound book. The disturbed air caused the flames in a fireplace mantled in bronze to dance and cast iconic caricatures on the walls of chess pieces that were oddly vertical in design and unusually tall and long of feature.

Sparse of redundant luxuries, the room was, nonetheless, richly adorned with unique items that teased the ordinary mind in a pleasantly obscure fashion, inviting, by their very obscurity, all manner of intellectual speculation. There was a large mahogany desk in the middle of the floor cluttered with documents that were anchored by an hourglass and a prodigious well of black ink; an even larger four post bed abutting the wall across from the desk, and what seemed like hundreds of books in cases, in stacks on the floor, piled on top of the tall armoire and on top of the mantelpiece. Curios of much interest were displayed here and there, including a hollow globe of beaten silver rings that was, perhaps, Duncan MacLeod's favorite item of fantasia–after the chess set, of course. The room was clearly a scholar's room, decorated with things of interest to a serious man of letters. Most noticeably absent from a place that served as the abode of an Immortal was the presence and display of a sword (or two, or three) or any other formal weapon of death. But then, this was Darius' room, and such an absence was to be expected.

In the portentous silence before the first committal, Duncan flexed his fingers and took a deep, cleansing breath. This time, he swore to himself, it was going to be different. Why different? As he reached out slowly and pushed White's King's Pawn to K4, he resolved that it was going to be different this time simply because he wished it to be different. And the thought and the deed went hand-in-hand, he well knew. Very little was accomplished without first having the resolve to believe it would be so; and, certainly, the reverse: Nothing could happen that one did not, somehow, allow to happen. Hence, he made up a stubborn mind and obstinately refused to lose to Darius–again.

Duncan further firmed his resolve through an exercise in creative visualization, seeing himself victorious as if at the end of a hard fought battle. He stared across at Darius with a level gaze, waiting for his friend to decide on his first move, the move that would tell Duncan exactly what type of battle he was to be engaged in this time. Darius was a monk and a peaceful man, but if ever it could be said that violence was perpetrated in absentia via a chess game, Darius routinely waged war on Duncan's ego by trouncing him off the fictitious battlefield of black and white squares. For some reason, it seemed discordant to him that a religious man could be so ruthless, so calculating. He knew in the past, Darius had been a general and a masterful tactician but Duncan had only really known Darius as the nonviolent man he had met and become friends with on that cold, snowy day during the war. Duncan realized that through their chess games, he was able to see a whisper of that other Darius, the Immortal warrior as he had existed some fourteen hundred years ago. This testament to Darius' age was humbling, but it made Duncan proud to know that one of the oldest Immortals trusted him enough to allow these glimpses into this other facet of his personality. But respect for the aged aside, Duncan really wanted to best him, if only once.

With a small, engaging smile and a shake of an arm to jostle the cumbersome sleeve of his brown robe out of the way, Darius' hand moved to advance Black's King's Pawn to K4.

Pawn to K4? Duncan sighed inaudibly with much frustration accompanying the silent exhalation. He hated it when Darius' first move mirrored his own because, really, the move was the functional equivalent of a non-move–it told him almost nothing of the man's overall strategy. Darius gained little by his play at mirrors, but neither did he lose much, for his advance only served to change the tenor of the game, moving the focus elsewhere in the purlieu–moving the onus back to White. At least, that was Duncan's opinion.

In consternation, Duncan sat back in his chair. It was not a comfortable chair, being more utilitarian than anything else, but it was one of the only pieces of furniture set aside for guests. Nothing was really designed for comfort in this large room in the rectory behind the old Catholic church that Darius called home, but Duncan did not mind. He understood that comfort was one of those trivial things that had to be sacrificed if he wanted to spend time with one of the few Immortal men that he truly admired.

Then, too, the room's paucity of luxuries was more a reflection of Darius' nature than of any restrictions placed on him by his religious order. Duncan was aware that many of Darius' colleagues knew about his unique nature. After all, he had been affiliated with the same order for many, many years, and he had not aged–explanations were rather obligatory, and it was not in Darius' nature to lie.

In fact, Darius' immortality was a well-kept secret within the order and, as a consequence, he was afforded more privileges than the average monk–a larger room, more autonomy, privacy, guests in the middle of the night, guests all night. Duncan supposed it was a serviceable arrangement. A man almost two thousand years old should have something to call his own, even if he was a monk. So even though the room was not exactly comfortable by Duncan's standards, it was large, and private and interesting in all the ways that Darius was interesting. The room was a perfect reflection of its occupant.

Duncan leaned forward, his large frame hunched over the smallish table, and considered his second move carefully. His hand hovered above the white pieces as he thought through his strategy. Years of experience had taught him that each and every advance or retreat was crucial, almost monumental, and consisted of so much more than just the moving of hand-painted ivory figurines across checkered marble. He had learned to play chess a long time ago and was always very good at the game, but it wasn't until he had started playing with (and losing to) Darius that the fictitious battle had taken on an added dimension. It seemed that their chess games were always a springboard to some discussion of the nature of life, especially Immortal life. Over time spent discussing esoteric ideas with Darius, Duncan had really come to appreciate the philosophy behind the game, not just the strategy concerning winning and losing.

He had learned that in each decision to move a piece was the evaluation of his opponent's most likely counter move and his own move after that, and his opponent's counter until a clear and bright path emerged like a mental filament leading him to checkmate. The actual movement of each piece was anti-climactic and unimportant. As Darius liked to say, the game in its purest form was mental and was most often won or lost through the ability to understand and anticipate. More important than any series of opening attacks which could be memorized or gleaned from the pages of a book was the answer to the fundamental question: Can you accurately take your opponent's measure? Darius had taught him the importance of answering that question before he committed to any course of action. Consequently, Duncan pulled his hand back from above the white pieces and, instead, sat back in his uncomfortable chair again and studied his opponent.

Duncan's stints in Paris were sporadic of late and in one week's time he was expected in Cambodia to meet with a close friend assigned to the French Embassy about the alarming events surrounding the Khmer Rouge insurgency, but even though he was busy and did not get to see Darius as often as he used to, Duncan enjoyed every minute of the time he was able to spend with his unusual friend. They had two different philosophies of life, and on many levels, Duncan could not relate to Darius' decision not to fight when necessary, but he admired the man's respect for life, his strength of conviction, his tenacity and, most of all, his intelligence. His time with Darius filled a different need than, say, the time he spent carousing with Fritz or loving Amanda. Duncan guessed that his relationship with Darius was most akin to his relationship with Connor, only with an added dimension that was as much gratifying as it was stimulating. Whereas he and Connor spent much of their time joking around, drinking and sparring, he and Darius spent mostly quiet time together, talking about immortality, the nature of things or playing chess. That comforting connection was there, just like with Connor; that bond that he only felt with those few people whom he accepted as a teacher. Those few people that he loved–dearly.

So instead of making his next move, Duncan decided to see if he could get a rise out of his friend. There was more than one path to victory and a little provocative discourse just might distract Darius enough to give him an edge. Duncan looked over at his friend and scowled. "You're going to drive me crazy, " he said to him with feigned peevishness. "Next game I want you to be white. Every time we play, I'm white, you're black, and I have to move first." Duncan waved a broad and calloused hand to punctuate his frustration.

Darius raised his head. He had been leaning over, elbow on knee, staring at the chess board in the poor light, waiting for Duncan's next move, but as Duncan finished his complaint, Darius sat back in his chair, the left corner of his mouth quirking in an ironic half-smile. "But going first is the nature of controlling the white position," he answered mildly, with a slight nod of his head down at the board.

"Exactly!" Duncan said. "Why am I always white? It seems every time we play, I end up being white. In fact, I can't remember one game where I was black and you, white." He looked at Darius suspiciously. "Why is that?"

"Duncan," Darius answered dryly, "we really haven't played so terribly many games. If you recall, that one game we played took over three months . . . and remember that other match that took almost a year? You just happened to be white then, and now."

"And about fifty games in between," Duncan objected.

"My friend, at the beginning of every game we have ever played, you picked your piece blindly, from my closed hands. Each time, you selected the white piece. Hardly my fault," Darius countered reasonably.

"Yeah," Duncan pointed an accusing finger at Darius, "about that. There's something fishy about that."

"Are you accusing me of cheating, Duncan?" Icy-blue eyes were opened wide, innocent, and Darius looked to be about a half-second from bursting into laughter. "You know I would never do that," he admonished.

"Then how come I always pick white?" Duncan complained petulantly.

"Perhaps you end up picking the white piece because you have an affinity for the color or for the stratagems behind the color. Who knows? But before you blame me," and here his mouth broke into a full-fledged grin, "ask yourself how it is that you unerringly know which hand holds the white piece. That would seem to be the more pertinent question."

"Well, next game," Duncan grumbled, unsatisfied with his friend's explanation, "I want to be black. You move first for a change."

Darius sat back in his chair and looked at Duncan curiously. "Is your problem with going first or with controlling the white position?” he asked finally with that genuine desire to know that Duncan found so endearing. "They are actually two different issues, you see. In chess, it is the nature of white to attack first. This proclivity controls every move that white can and should make during the entire battle, as having the first move allows white to proceed from a position of strength right from the outset. Black, as you know, opens with a counter attack, which is inherently a position of weakness."

Duncan interrupted him. "Are you saying that black is the weaker position overall?" he asked, unsure of the point Darius was trying to make.

"That is the wrong way to look at it, Duncan. Really, weakness is an illusion. Controlling black's position is as much a matter of exploiting black's relative weaknesses and turning those weaknesses into strengths as it is an exercise in perspective." He paused for a moment and shrugged a shoulder in a self-deprecating manner, modest in his analysis. "So it is more accurate to say that one of the most important things about the nature of the black position is being able to exploit the strength inherent in the weaker position. Both the white and the black are equally strong, just in different ways.

Remember, Duncan," he added lowly, his voice suddenly as quiet as a lullaby, "there is always at least two types of reality–what you perceive and what is true."

Duncan sighed melodramatically, simultaneously extending his long legs out in front of him under the low table, crossing them at the ankles and folding his hands on his stomach. "Why is it that you always manage to turn something simple into something complicated?" he asked dryly.

"Perhaps because there is much that is important for a child of your tender years to learn," Darius admonished, shaking his head when Duncan burst into laughter at the thought of being considered a 'child of tender years'–after all, he was three hundred and eighty-three years old! "Remember, Duncan," Darius continued unperturbed, "in order to exploit weakness you must be able to understand weakness. To be successful with the black, you have to think about things differently, try harder to keep an open mind." He paused again, looking at Duncan with an unfamiliar intensity.

"Before you decide on the move," he added at last, "always remember who you are."

Duncan rolled his eyes in mock disgust at the cautionary words of wisdom–a wisdom that Duncan supposed only came with age–which always seemed to fall like leaves at the change of the season from his friend's mouth. He was listening closely, but it would be unseemly to be caught doing so in light of their friendly competition. He returned his attention to the chessboard and studied his position with renewed vigor.

"Duncan, are you going to move any time this century?" Darius quipped lightly after some time had passed. "When I suggested that you apply a different thought process to each move I didn't mean for you to take it to heart so. I don't want to turn this into another three month game."

Duncan ignored him. He knew that Darius' comments were just a ploy to distract him, make him rush to a decision. Carefully, Duncan advanced his Knight to KB3. Darius immediately and casually moved one of his own Knights to QB3.

Palpable tension descended upon the room again. Suddenly parched, Duncan took a large swallow from the glass of water that was sitting on the table, off to the side, and then moved his Bishop to N5. Darius moved quickly thereafter, advancing his other Knight to B3. Duncan immediately castled and Darius moved the Knight to take Duncan's Pawn.

First blood. Darius had drawn first blood and Duncan sat back in his chair again to think about this first series of moves. This game was progressing faster than most of their previous games and Duncan was concerned about what that boded for his continued survival. Everything with Darius seemed to have some other meaning and Duncan knew that if he were not careful, this game would be lost, like so many others, before he knew to make the proper adjustments. So while one half of his brain worked out the most likely path to checkmate, Duncan looked at Darius casually, as if merely taking a break from the game, but actually thinking to further probe his opponent's mindset with more conversation.

"Do you believe in God, Darius?" Duncan asked out of the blue-black of the night. The monk looked across at him quizzically and Duncan hurried to explain what he was really asking. "Of course you believe in God," he answered his own question sheepishly. "I guess what I want to know is if you believe in this God," Duncan made a sweeping gesture with a hand intended to take in all of the church grounds, "the Christian God?"

Darius sat back in his chair, studying Duncan for a moment as if weighing his words carefully. "I don't know exactly how to answer that question, my friend," he said slowly. "Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I consider the Christian exposition on the nature of God to be definitive on the subject?" He shrugged a shoulder noncommittally. "Well, I'm old enough to know that rarely is anyone blessed with complete understanding of the nature of anything." Darius' mouth quirked and he smiled, his blue eyes dancing.

But Duncan pressed on like an adolescent questioning a parent on the nature of things, trying to get to the heart of an issue that had been bothering him for quite some time. There was no one better to talk to about these types of matters than Darius, and Duncan had been meaning to raise this subject with him many times, curious about the elder Immortal's opinion. "Do you believe in all the Christian accouterments?" Duncan continued. "That each person has a soul and that all souls go to heaven when the body dies? And if you believe that," he added quickly before Darius had a chance to answer, "what are we exactly? Where do we fit in the scheme of things? I mean, we're Immortals. Where do we go when we lose our heads and our Quickening gets absorbed into someone else's body? Is there an after-life reserved for us?" Duncan paused before revealing the crux of his interest. "Will all the people I have loved and lost over the years be there waiting?"

Duncan shifted his body in the chair, his gaze grazing the open window, his attention momentarily captured by the stars outside, adding to the conversation almost as an aside, "The Game and everything–what's it all for? What comes after all of this?"

Darius looked at Duncan with fond amusement. He got up from his chair and rested his hands lightly on Duncan's shoulders before moving to the tall table and the pitcher of water waiting there. "You don't ask for much, do you?" he said wryly. "Just to be told all the secrets of the universe and plainly. You would have made a grand general, Duncan. Once upon a time, we could have ruled the world." Both men grinned at each other as Darius refilled their glasses, brothers in experience and ambition as only men who have led other men in battle can be. "But what makes you think that I have the answers to all of your questions?" Darius asked.

"You're one of the oldest Immortals still living," Duncan said reasonably as he watched Darius return to his chair and settle long limbs in a familiar position. "After so many years, if you don't know the purpose behind all the madness that is the Game, who does?"

Duncan had decided on his next move and while Darius considered his response, he advanced his Pawn to Q4. Almost negligently, Darius countered by withdrawing his Knight to Q3. Then he responded, with a well-considered air, "I guess, then, I'm not old enough because I don't have any answers for you, Duncan. You want me to reveal to you the nature of the Divine, the mystery of life and of Immortal life. But there is nothing that I can tell you. These questions–we each have to find the answers for ourselves. I do not know what is true for you."

Duncan opened his mouth to protest, but before he could verbalize, Darius raised a hand to stop him and continued, "But as a scholar, what I can say is this: The question of the Divine has changed much over the course of time. Over many centuries, I have seen all types of religions, most adopted and pursued with less clarity than zeal. One school believes that there is one god; another school holds that there are many. Still another school has it that all of history is merely handwriting on the canvas of the universe, produced by a minor god in order to communicate with a demon, and still another maintains that the universe is comparable to those code systems in which not all the symbols have meaning, and in which only that which happens every three hundredth night is true. There is even the theory that, while we are asleep here, we are awake somewhere else, and thus every man that lives is actually two men."

"But you must have come to some conclusion, after all this time," Duncan pressed him, leaning forward intently.

Darius looked at him seriously for a long moment. "Some even think that there is no God; that all that is Divine is encompassed in something as simple as the perfect musical note; that this simplicity is the shape a god might choose, that some universal constant might assume.

What was it they used to sing?

The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.

Perhaps they have the right of it." Darius paused, looking towards the window contemplatively. "As for me, Duncan, I have come to realize that there is nothing to know; that so many things–the most important things–are unknown and unknowable." He smiled, the light of a crystal clear kindness infusing his features, calling to mind the many reasons why Duncan cared for him so. "For me," he continued, "the meaning behind our immortality has always come down to the ability to give credence to the evidence of things not seen. Since discovering my own path, I have felt no real need to know the answers to everything. I am content in what knowledge has been given to me. I do not seek that one forbidden bite of the apple." Darius paused again. "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Book of Hebrews, 11:1. It is St. Paul's definition of faith," he continued as Duncan nodded his head, indicating knowledge of the reference. "And I have oft times been accused of having more faith than most.

So to answer your question in a roundabout way, my dear friend, Christianity falls somewhere in the in-between, adopting many of the same concepts that infused so many other religions and theories of the Divine that have held sway over the course of time. And it meets my needs, what I feel is right for me."

Duncan nodded his head in understanding but, truthfully, he was disappointed. He did not know what he had expected Darius to say but somehow he expected more of him, he supposed in the same way that a child expects his parents to know every answer, to solve every problem. Saying that things 'are the way they are simply because they are' was singularly unsatisfying. The answers behind immortality, the Game, the Gathering and everything existed somewhere, waiting to be found. Duncan was sure of it.

He returned his attention to the game, knowing that he had allowed his expectation that some deep insight into the nature of God would come pouring out of his friend's mouth to distract him, which was hardly his intention when he had raised the subject. He leaned forward and closed his eyes, picturing the likely play of the game over the next several moves. Duncan knew that the simplest thing for him to do would be to take Darius' Knight with his Bishop. But he did not move to do it. Somehow, Duncan realized, Darius had quickly entered into a ferocious mid-game and had backed him into a position of dwindling security. Hardly the predicament he wanted to be in, and his plight called for some strategy outside the norm. Remembering what Darius had said earlier about the nature of strength and weakness, he thought that what he really wanted out of a game of chess with Darius was to retain the white position while having black move first — which would be a move unusual, a situation outside the rubric.

Darius had said that there were two types of reality: what is perceived and what is true. Duncan thought, if that were the case, what was the true nature of the white position, or the black, for that matter? If they played a game in which Duncan was black but moved first, would that mean that for purposes of that one game, black was white? Duncan realized that there was an idea somewhere that was immensely important, if only he had the presence of mind to grasp it. He turned the idea around in his thoughts, bringing the whole of his experience–with chess, with Darius, with life–to bear upon it. Finding no obvious path, he suddenly decided to let the problem go, to empty his mind of the convoluted ponderings–and experienced a moment of pure whimsical clarity, like symphony music.

Duncan made his decision. He advanced his Pawn and captured Black's Pawn.

Darius looked up at Duncan quickly then back down at the board. "Hmmm . . . " he mumbled. "This is your move, Duncan?" Darius said at last and Duncan nodded in response, confused at the question, at Darius' response to his move, thinking that, maybe, he should ask to take the move back. "Interesting . . ." Darius said finally, studying the board intently. He sat back in his chair and looked at Duncan speculatively. "My friend, you amaze me," he said quietly.

"What?"

"Just when I think I have tested the limits of your talents, of your imagination, you manage to surprise me. Is it any wonder that I believe you are the best hope for sanity amongst Immortals?"

"Hardly that, Darius."

"Exactly that, Duncan. Some would claim that you are the best hope for the Game. In fact, I think you are the best hope for immortality. There are some who think that there can never be peace amongst Immortals, that the best way to make certain that the Gathering does not reach some horrible end is to manipulate the Game, ensure that only the righteous ones contend for the Prize. I have never been convinced of this.

I have believed, for many, many years, that there doesn't have to be a Game, Duncan; that we don't have to kill each other; that death is not the only answer; that there is a higher scale. Some argue that there will always be a quest for more and more power, that it is our heritage, our nature. I do not know. I suppose, absent sanity, you are the best hope for the Game."

"The best hope for the Game? Hardly," Duncan scoffed. He was amazed at the turn their conversation had taken, at a loss to say anything in response to this evidence of his friend's confidence in him. Darius had never spoken at such length about his thoughts on the Game, and to know that he had such faith in him was…daunting. It seemed that their conversation had reached a higher level. Darius spoke to him as a person equal in age and wisdom and revealed a side of himself that Duncan had never seen. He wondered for whom Darius reserved this aspect of himself, because, surely, it was a new aspect to Duncan.

Darius smiled slightly. "My friend," he said, "There is a path between what is and what can be, but finding it will take a lot of imagination. Only the right person would recognize it. So our conversation comes back to the crux. You have to have faith, Duncan, as I have faith. In you."

Duncan was speechless as Darius returned his attention to the chess game. He stared at the board for a quiet minute. "Bishop takes knight," he said, moving the specified pieces and removing Duncan's Knight from the board. Duncan raised his hand slowly and moved his Pawn in front of the Queen's Rook two steps ahead.

"Really . . ." said Darius, leaning forward, his attention now totally consumed by the resumption of the game. "That's interesting." He advanced Black's King's Pawn to Q3.

Duncan stared. What to do now? He tried wild combinations in his head, seeing ahead with great clarity. "Pawn to king six," he said suddenly, executing it.

"What?" Darius said in surprise. Then, "Give me a minute. I want to study this."

"Take your time," Duncan said smugly, sitting back in his chair and going over some of the things Darius had said earlier in his head. Duncan could have crowed with joy. It was so very obvious to him that with one unusual move, he had thrown Darius completely off his game. Bursting into song was not unwarranted. He quickly moved to press his advantage.

"Tell me about the old ones," Duncan said. "Tell me about Methos. Do you think he's still alive?"

Darius froze and looked up at him so quickly, and with such surprise in eyes gone wide and dark, that Duncan asked quickly, "What's wrong?"

Then Darius sat back in his chair casually, his face clearing. "Nothing, Duncan. You just surprised me." Duncan raised an eyebrow in query. "I had a dream a long time ago that we were sitting here, like this, and you asked me that very same question."

Darius' voice sounded peculiar, Duncan thought. His face looked odd, too. Shaken out of its calm, its patient humor, on the verge of an unfamiliar expression. Duncan was familiar with Darius' strange premonitions. He had asked him about them once but Darius had laughed the question off, saying that an 'aged Quickening held many burdens.' Of course Duncan was very curious, but Darius would not elaborate. "And?" Duncan prompted. "What happened? In your dream?"

"Nothing specific. It was vague in the way of dreams." Darius waved a graceful, ink-stained hand dismissively. "It was just the sense of déjà vu that surprised me."

Duncan was puzzled. He would have laid odds that Darius' reaction to his question was more serious than just having had a vague 'dream'. He decided to pick up his line of questions while watching Darius closely to see if there was more to the conversation than was immediately obvious. "So . . . you've been dreaming about me," he teased.

"Duncan . . ." Darius complained with a pained expression.

"What?" Duncan asked disingenuously, but the implicit invitation was out there, hanging in the air like a wonderfully persistent idea, and Duncan congratulated himself for slipping the thought into the conversation. There had always been much unspoken between the two of them, things inappropriate because of their life choices, but which lay there nonetheless. Duncan could count on one hand the times over the long years that he had been able to entice Darius into some sexual intimacy. But those few times were spectacular. Though always wanting more with Darius, Duncan did not dwell on the lack in their relationship. He realized that they both had different paths; Duncan could not stay in Paris and Darius would not leave Holy Ground. But the intimacy between them was special, when it did happen, and Duncan often took any opportunity to remind Darius of what he was missing. It was an unspoken battle between them–Darius' vow of chastity, broken only rarely, but never with any regret. A requirement, if Duncan had to guess, Darius did not feel meant much; a vow observed simply because he had given his word. And Duncan felt no guilt in being the instrument of his temptation. He felt keenly that a vow of chastity was an unreasonable burden to place on an Immortal. After all, they were still men at the last, even though long-lived.

So the invitation was out there, floating, and according to their unspoken rules, it was Darius' move. So Duncan returned to their previous subject.

"Tell me about Methos," Duncan asked instead. "Does he exist?"

"Methos?" Darius responded quietly picking up the thread of their conversation and decisively leaving that other aspect of their exchange to that in-between place of what might have been. "There's not much to say about a myth.” He looked at Duncan seriously. "Why do you ask? Do you think he exists?"

"I don't know, really," Duncan said. "I've heard snatches of things from time to time and Connor used to tell me stories — but then Connor was always good for a tall tale. You should hear the things he says when he gets going." Duncan shook his head ruefully.

"I probably couldn't tell you much more than Connor," Darius explained. "A reasonable person would have to assume that Methos, if he ever existed at all, is not still among the living; it would be near impossible to hide forever from those Immortals who would covet his power."

"But what if he does exist?" Duncan asked excitedly, liking the idea. "Don't you think an Immortal that old would know what the whole Game was about?"

"Be careful, Duncan," Darius said slowly, "of expecting too much of one man. Even if that man is five thousand years old, he is still just a man."

"He's five thousand years old?" Duncan repeated in surprise. He had never heard anyone assign an age to the mythical Methos. "How do you know how old he is?" he asked curiously.

Darius smiled warmly and shrugged a shoulder. "Just a guess," he said negligently. "I should be careful of how I say things. Impressionable young men like yourself, for instance, might take my random suppositions for gospel." He grinned.

But Duncan would not be put off that easily. "Have you ever met Methos?" he asked suspiciously.

"Duncan you're a gem!" Darius' laughed quietly and took a drink from his glass of water before continuing, emptying it of its contents. "In fact, I've met dozens of people claiming to be Methos over the years," Darius continued as he got up and retrieved the pitcher of water from a high table and refilled both glasses. "Every so often a man appears, claiming to be: Methos, the Oldest Immortal Still Living. Young Immortals, like yourself," he added with a grin, "flock to him, hoping in his age to discover the secret of the Game, the Gathering, the secret of survival."

Duncan listened avidly, surprised. "I've never heard of anyone claiming to be Methos," he said.

"Probably because they didn't survive long enough to profit from the charade, and you are hardly one to hunt Quickenings. The name 'Methos' brings with it more than its fair share of danger. Most would meet a quick end, especially considering that even if the charlatan realized his mistake and tried to disavow the name, it would avail him not at all. The only way for a hunter to know whether an Immortal calling himself Methos is truly the old one would be to cut off his head." Darius shrugged a shoulder and shook his head sadly. "Which, of course, is more than a little irrevocable."

"So you've never met anybody that convinced you that he was the real thing?" Duncan pressed, suspecting that there was something more to this conversation, something just out of reach.

"Unfortunately, Duncan, I don't have all the answers you seek."

Duncan nodded and looked back at the chessboard. He was still curious but saw little benefit in berating his friend. There was more to be told, Duncan was sure. He had known Darius long enough to be able to tell when his friend was being less than forthcoming, though he would certainly hesitate to think that Darius was actually lying. Not lying, just not volunteering the whole truth, and as with anything, the key was asking the right questions.

"Well, I would think that if Methos were still alive," Duncan said, watching Darius closely for any sign of a reaction, "he would be just like you, Darius. Probably withdrawn from the Game, doesn't bother with fighting. He's probably above all of it."

Darius looked up at him curiously. "What would make you think that? Do you suppose that just because a person is a few thousand years old that he is necessarily–what?–good or wise or just?"

"Well, what good is living all these years, watching everyone that you have ever known die around you if not to reach some place of peace? Are you trying to tell me that we could live five thousand years and still be subject to the same petty, pointless, unknowable system of killing for no reason?" Duncan shook his head. "I can't believe that. I won't believe that. There has to be some point to it all."

"Duncan," Darius said sadly, "you are so close to your mortality, so mired in trying to understand what we are meant to be. So what that any of us may live to be five thousand years old? At the last, we are still only men and will live our lives as men, making good choices and bad. 'Long are the lengths, east to west, south to north, but the south to north span is the longer'" he quoted. "Age does not cleanse our spirit. In fact, we fall further, having so much longer to fall."

"So I guess you're saying that Methos could be either good or bad and to not assume that just because he's been around so long he would know the answer to every question."

Darius smiled as he raised his hand to make his next move. "I'm saying, even if there was once a person who lived and bore the name Methos, who would he be now? Would you even know him if you met him? Living life as an Immortal takes its toll. I suspect that if you ever met the real Methos you would be disappointed. I don't think any one man, even a five thousand year old man, could ever live up to your expectations."

"I'll take the pawn," Darius said quietly, as he executed his next move.

"I'll take the knight," Duncan said.

"Knight to K2," Darius said.

"Knight to B3."

An extremely long pause ensued before Darius moved the Knight to N3.

Duncan moved his Knight to N5. And immediately, Darius moved Black's King's Bishop to K2.

Keeping Darius from castling had to be the most important thing at the moment, Duncan thought. So he moved his Queen to R5. Darius made a tiny "hrmph" sound that let Duncan know he was on the right track.

Darius moved his Bishop to capture the Knight.

There seemed to be no choice for him at that moment, but Duncan studied the position for a long while anyhow. Finally, he said, "Bishop takes bishop."

"Of course," Darius answered and Duncan's doubts settled like rocks in the pit of his stomach. Darius moved his Queen to Q2.

Duncan stared. What was he doing? "Pawn to N6," he said, moving the piece.

"Pawn to N6? Really?" Darius said. He shrugged. "All right then. Bishops' pawn takes pawn."

Darius' eyes narrowed as Duncan moved the Knight to Q5.

"Pawn takes knight," Darius announced.

Duncan moved the Rook. "Check," he said slowly.

"Yes, it is," Darius remarked dryly. He moved his King to B1.

"Maybe one day I'll look for the old guy," Duncan said airily. "Ask him what he thinks about the Game and everything. Maybe the mythical Methos knows something the rest of us don't know." Duncan leaned forward and pushed the Rook to R3. Duncan looked at Darius slyly. "Have any idea where I should start?"

Darius looked up, stared at him. "Not bad," he said as he waved a hand at the chessboard, ignoring Duncan's question and referring to his last move. Darius looked back at the board, then almost carelessly moved the Knight to K4. Then he sat back and said, "Well, if you are going to hunt for Methos I suggest you start looking in the most unlikely place." Darius shrugged a shoulder. "The Chinese would say that you would find him in the last place you would ever expect; he'd be the last person you would ever suspect. Eliminate all other possibilities and whomever remains would be the person you are looking for."

Duncan nodded slowly and reached out to advance his Rook and captured Darius' Knight.

"Of course," Darius said and then captured the Rook with the Pawn.

"But searching for him would be rather pointless, don't you think?" Darius continued. "I think Methos is an ideal, a fixation representing all those things that we don't know and will probably never know about the nature of our immortality. All those amorphous things that we just have to take on faith . . .

Remember, Duncan, you have to have faith."

Duncan stared at Darius for a moment, wondering what his friend was really trying to say, wondering why he wouldn't just say it plainly. Perplexed, he moved his own Rook to KB3. "Check," he announced, his confidence in his own endgame growing with each second.

Darius looked at the board then up at Duncan, his blue eyes sparkling in the firelight. "I guess there's one way to be sure to flush him out," he said. "Be there at the Gathering. If Methos has lived this long, he's sure to be staring at you from the far end of a sword on that day. I hope you aren't disappointed."

Duncan watched and waited and finally saw Darius move his King to N1.

Duncan moved his Bishop to R6 and Darius moved his Queen to K2. Duncan took the Pawn with the Bishop.

Darius' head came up and he seemed to listen for a moment. Then his focus returned to the board and he captured the Bishop with the King.

"Duncan. Stay the night," Darius said with a calm surety that always managed to send shivers down Duncan's spine. Duncan nodded his assent, a keen anticipation unfurling like dark smoke in his stomach. Was there ever any question? "Of course," he responded unnecessarily.

What had changed his mind? Duncan wondered briefly. Wanting to finish the game quickly, Duncan moved his Rook to KN3. "Check," he said, triumphant.

Darius returned the King to B1.

Duncan moved the Rook to KB3. "Check."

Darius pushed the King to N2.

Duncan moved the Rook back to KN3. "Check"

Darius returned the King to B1, looked up and stared at Duncan. "Looks as if we have a drawn game," he said quietly, suddenly serious, his icy blue eyes piercing. He got up from his chair and took one step towards Duncan. He held out his hand and said, "Come," with a small nod in the direction of the bed. Duncan rose from his seat slowly and grasped the hand that was extended to him, pulling Darius close, until they were standing facing one another, chest to chest. Darius' eyes gleamed with a blue-tinged heat, and Duncan's heart beat quickly in anticipation.

Darius stepped in closer, putting a light kiss, a small caress of the tongue, on Duncan's lips. The taste was like honeyed mead. Pulling on his arm gently, he led Duncan over to the bed.

And before he pushed him down, down onto the soft bed, Darius whispered something that Duncan, in the flush of passion was not to remember for many, many years. Something that was lost to mind in the spiraling heat.

Darius whispered, "You are ready."

Chapter Text

IV - Where Black Nights Alternate With Whiter Days

Seacouver — November 8, 1994

Duncan MacLeod opened his eyelids slowly, his lashes fluttering uncertainly, to such a shock of negative sensations that he drew in breath harshly, choking on the staleness of it. Indigo darkness, blue-black and impenetrable, confronted him. A conundrum of pain, and remembered pain wrapped itself around him, smothering him mercilessly. But in the midst of his pain and confusion he noticed that some thing of the endless sameness of his pathetic existence was different. Anxiously, he paused and waited in fear–for something fearful to happen.

He felt the air move, a lost and listless kind of caress against his exposed skin. This slight breeze, where a moment before there had been only torpid air, was what had roused him from his stupor. Was someone there? Slowly, painfully, Duncan turned his head.

"Duncan MacLeod." An inquiry disguised as a statement floated across the room in Duncan's direction, whispered and hushed like baby's breath.

Again? Duncan thought wildly. So soon? The voice calling his name in the darkness invoked a systemic response of terror and sickening apprehension. In alarm, he flung himself against the straps binding his arms to the table. He felt a panic-stricken cacophony rise up in him. His consciousness allowed only one coherent thought, a stuttering, "N-No . . ." whispered over and over in the hollows of his mind. His jaw worked frantically, opening and closing his mouth–a mouth caught between a scream and a question. "Who's there?" he asked the air anxiously. He wanted to scream the question, but he had learned some time ago that screaming was an exercise in futility, a waste of precious breath–nothing good ever came of it.

Abruptly, hands and the feel of imminence pressed against him, weighing him down. Duncan struggled in vain, pulling, straining against the straps that kept him tethered and helpless on a cold metal table, the table that had been his only bed for days, weeks beyond counting. Duncan's battered body felt the pain of movement–it was intense but of no moment–a sign that his most recent injuries were healing, but slowly. The injuries–they always healed but never soon enough to matter. Even though he was restrained and helpless on a slab of cold steel, Duncan fought as best he could. He fought mindlessly, and although his struggles had never made any difference in the past, he fought again for what was left of his sanity, against the injustice of pain inflicted for its own sake.

Then, all of a sudden, his right leg was free–but it was badly injured. Perhaps the thighbone had been broken this time. Duncan could not get it to move, to kick out at the person assaulting him.

"Stop it!" a voice hissed, dark and low, quiet but urgent. The faintest exhalation of breath tickled Duncan's face and kissed his skin like a tang of fire.

A restraining hand was placed on his chest, pushing him back onto the table. The hand was large and strong, but gentle, insofar as any unwelcome touch could be considered gentle. "Relax," was the second command, then more movement, more hands. Inexplicably, in a matter of moments, Duncan's arms were freed.

Duncan reacted instinctively, like a wild animal whose cage door has mysteriously swung open. He reached out and grabbed in the direction of the disembodied voice, the richly timbered voice that seemed to press on him from out of nowhere. He felt the cloth of a shirt and reached to grab hold of it desperately with one hand. The other hand groped and struck the skin of a person's face. Duncan's hand flailed momentarily and sought purchase around a neck.

With the suddenness of thought, he was repelled, held down, restrained once more against the table. Panicked, Duncan bit the arm pressing him to the table and used all of his failing strength and a startling effort of will to knock his assailant back and away from him. Duncan struggled to fall and break himself and all of his torment to bits. He tried to get off the table, to stand–some disconnected notion telling him that he should be standing and perhaps fighting–but the sudden exertion upset his balance and his legs, his arms, refused to work properly. He careened into his attacker and they both fell, sprawling, to the floor.

"Oww! You bit me! Bollocks, you bit me!" and then, "Get off me you big moose!" The voice sounded outraged, and Duncan flinched instinctively as he raised his hands to protect his face. The expected reprisals did not rain down upon him this time, however. He was merely shoved, none too gently, to the side as the man–the one who had spoken–jumped up from under him in an explosion of arms and legs.

"Calm down, will you!" The voice. It whispered fiercely and caught at Duncan's shattered attention with fingers as insubstantial as smoke. Duncan turned his head towards the sound and heard footsteps circling him. His heart raced in alarm as he tried to breathe around the pain in his legs.

"You'd think you'd know when you were being rescued." The voice again. Now it really sounded annoyed, and Duncan flinched.

"Oh, stop that!" The sound of indignation. "I won't hurt you."

Duncan lowered his arms cautiously. He was disoriented, unable to think clearly. The drugs– Through the haze, Duncan's mind processed thought sluggishly, like a clogged up drain. He remembered now. Needles, always another needle, sticking him. It was so hard to think! He heard the sound of speaking like an echo from the far end of a tunnel and paused to consider its content and, more importantly, its origin. The voice was deeply resonant, male and slightly accented. Thankfully, it did not seem overtly hostile. Duncan decided, absently, that the sound of it was pleasant. The words themselves registered more slowly.

"Rescue me?" he mouthed slowly. It had been so long! "Who are you?" he asked the moving air intently.

"Shh!" The voice hushed Duncan peremptorily. "Do you want to get out of here or do you want to chat me up?"

"Give me your hand," the man instructed. Give me your hand.

The man's voice reverberated. Duncan could feel the beat of it clearly, almost as if it were coming from inside his own chest. The sound of it seemed like a bridge of sorts, or a funnel, or a conduit. The inflection was soothing to Duncan's savaged edges, like the base notes of a song. Strangely, Duncan knew that what he decided to do next would be crucial.

But Duncan hesitated. He had become so convinced over the immeasurable length of time that he had spent locked in a room, strapped to a table, beaten and abused viciously, that hell itself had usurped the place of earth, that this place was hell and he its only penitent. He was scared, afraid that this was just another game arranged by his tormentors to extract from him information that he did not have. Also, in the quiet of his thoughts he was not sure he wanted to get up because he did not know if he could. Failure, like pain, exacted its own price. So he hesitated.

"You have to get up. I can't carry you. I want to help you but you have to get up."

The man cajoled him, goaded him to action. He expected something from him, more then he had any right to, Duncan thought.

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, get up!"

He was so insistent!

Duncan heard the words, but still he hesitated, sprawled on the floor and in pain. He was broken down. His confidence was tattered. He was not sure what he should do, what he should think. He had learned in this place over time that every action, every inaction had grave consequences. As Duncan faced this paradox of indecision, he felt a gradient of air move before his face. It told him that perhaps a hand really was waiting there to help him. That perhaps, the voice that had sounded impatient but not harmful was the voice of a friend. Someone who would help him when there had seemed to be no help, no hope in the world. In one exhalation of trust, he reached up tentatively and grasped it.

The man's grip was firm and painless and like a balm to Duncan's abused senses for it was what it purported to be–a true offer of assistance. Fingers intertwined with fingers, palm touched palm. The touching was magnetic and soothing and Duncan rejoiced in its simplicity. An arm encircled his shoulder, strong and supportive. Slowly, arduously he was hauled up off the floor.

Duncan could feel the electric sting of his Immortal healing working on the worst of his injuries. Soon, his pain would be a hollow memory, to be replaced by more and different pain–or so it had been for a time now past remembering. He shuddered with the intensity of his remembrance as his rescuer maneuvered him over to a chair. Gently, he was pushed into it.

"I can't see," Duncan said mournfully, apologetically, by way of explaining that he would be of little help in his own deliverance. His mind was still sluggish and he felt keenly that his simple statement had explained all.

"Yes. Well. I had figured that part out already."

The voice was dryly sarcastic and the sarcasm was biting; it stung Duncan's fragile sensibilities. He could not see! He had been stripped of his sight by his tormentors some time ago as another indignity, as another way of controlling him, of keeping him locked in this place. His mind shied away from the enormity of the consequences of his admission, of what had been done to him. A blind Immortal was a dead Immortal. Suddenly, he knew, with the cloudy clarity of despair, that he would never get out of this place. He had died here. He was already dead, and it seemed to him that the man who was his only hope for salvation was saying that his pathetic condition was all too obvious.

Also, in the midst of his despondent ponderings, the sarcasm irked Duncan like a pinprick, a pinch, maybe even a paper cut. It called up the indignation of a past Duncan MacLeod who had been alive, hale and whole, before hell had consumed everything. Perhaps Duncan expected sympathy from his deliverer, some acknowledgment of his suffering. None was forthcoming, and Duncan found that he was offended at the injustice.

"Listen, there's no need for you to be–" Duncan began hotly but he was rudely cut off before his sluggish thoughts could find utterance.

"Shh! Pipe down would you? I have to figure out a way to get you out of here. I can't think with you babbling at me. Bloody hell, I can't believe they blinded you. And you're practically crippled."

Duncan was startled at the reprimand and sat, dumbfounded, as the man mumbled some choice expletives in a beautifully cultured voice. In three languages, Duncan noticed absently.

"I'm going to kill Dawson for dragging me into this!" the man muttered furiously.

"Joe Dawson?" Duncan asked quickly.

"Who else?" the man responded sharply. "You didn't think your fairy godmother sent me.... Did you?" he finished dubiously.

Joe Dawson. His Watcher. Duncan's brain struggled to process this information. Duncan had only known Joe for a short time but the man had proven himself to be a good friend time and time again despite the fact that he was a Watcher. Through the fogginess, it was hard for Duncan to categorize the implications behind the words. Did this man that Joe had sent to help him think him stupid? Duncan had enough presence of mind to take umbrage at the idea. He was drugged and blind, not stupid. He thought he would tell the man so.

"Listen–" Duncan began stridently, but he was distracted by a rustling of air. With no warning or explanation, hands were on his head, brushing against his face.

"Hey!" Duncan jerked his head back in surprise.

"Relax," the man told him calmly, reassuringly. "I'm just going to pull your hair back from your face. It's all over the place. You look like a reject from the Planet of the Apes." The hands continued their gentle ministrations. "Besides, it'll be easier for you to manage and we'll attract less attention with you looking human."

Softly, gently, the hands tended him. Duncan could not think clearly with the man's fingers combing his hair. Vaguely, he thought that he should be upset at being insulted, but the waves of pleasant sensations washed those concerns out to sea. How long had it been since he had felt a gentle hand touch him? How long? The recent past had all the fixedness of a faceless clock. It had been a long time, of that Duncan was certain.

Hands pressed against his cheeks, smoothing the hair there. After what seemed to be a lifetime, the man was finished with his ministrations. Duncan could have sighed wistfully at the ending. His faceless benefactor was moving again and the air was restless. Duncan tried to get up. He felt that, perhaps, he could get his legs to work properly. They needed to get out of this place.

"Wait a minute." A restraining hand was placed on his shoulder. "We have a few minutes."

Duncan felt the stranger lightly grab his hand, turn it over and press a cold metal object into it. A gun. The man took Duncan's index finger and moved it deftly over the safety latch. Duncan could tell it was a 9 mm. "Thank you," he said quickly. He slipped it into the waistband of his pants at the base of his spine. Having a weapon again felt so good, surprisingly liberating. It almost made him believe that he would get out of this place. Almost.

"Just make sure you don't shoot me," the man instructed in a laconic whisper.

"And exactly how am I supposed to do that?" Duncan replied heatedly.

"You're the four hundred year-old Immortal. Figure something out," the man answered dismissively. Impatience was very evident in the sound of the stranger's pacing and the tone of his voice. "Can you walk yet?"

Duncan felt guilty for being a burden, and the man's impatient sarcasm stung, so he nodded and struggled out of the chair, even though in the back of his mind voices whispered that perhaps he could not walk and perhaps it was not a good idea to try too hard. Surprisingly, Duncan found that he was able to get out of the chair. He was unsteady but his condition was improving every minute. He had spent an uncounted number of days cursing his Immortal healing. So many times he had wished that he would be allowed to die permanently. It was ironic that at this moment he should be grateful for that same Immortal faculty. But that was the way of things. Life pressed on despite all its ironies.

Duncan felt a light touch on his arm, then a firm grasp as he was led across the room and towards the door. The door. Abruptly, events of past days, past weeks, overwhelmed him, rushed him, swept him up like a tornado and dragged him down like quicksand. He stopped abruptly and pulled his arm away from the man who was trying to help him move forward. Was this man really trying to help him? Duncan thought to himself in panic. Leaving his room had always meant pain–new and unique pain. Was this a trick, a new method of torture? Duncan was uncertain, and the uncertainty pressed on his mind like a hot iron. He did not know whether he could walk through that door, and he didn't want to try and fail.

"You have a plan?" he asked the air nervously to forestall further forward movement.

There was a pause and Duncan could feel the searing heat of the other's regard though he could not see the man to know that he was being studied and weighed and perhaps found wanting. Duncan shifted nervously, suddenly embarrassed at his unwillingness to leave the room, felt that this stranger who had undertaken to offer his assistance would recognize his hesitation for what it was–fear. He felt so completely alone and yearned for the feel of the other's grasp on his hand or arm. He had been alone for so long and endured so much. Was it wrong to be afraid of what he could not control?

"Not exactly, but we can't stay here." The man answered his question slowly and his voice was dry and sardonic. Duncan found his answer to be somewhat less than comforting.

"Well, what are we going to do?" Duncan protested anxiously, "Just waltz out of here? Don't you think–?"

"Listen," the man interrupted him, "I agreed to come in here and unlock the door, so to speak. I can walk out of this place through the front gate, no problem. No one would look at me twice. You're the Immortal. After I unlocked the door, you were supposed to get yourself out. Now, I'm in here. You're blind. Obviously, you're not going to be much good on your own. So that leaves me to figure out an escape route that doesn't get me locked up in here with you. You're going to have to trust me. We need to leave. Now. Shut up and let's go."

Duncan was stung by the harshness of the man's response. "If you're so worried about yourself, why did you agree to help me in the first place?" he asked bitterly.

"I don't call being blackmailed by Joe Dawson, infamous interferer in the lives of errant Immortals, 'agreeing to help'. Believe me, if I had a choice, I wouldn't have."

Duncan felt the press of too many things happening too quickly. He needed time to think. He couldn't just walk through the door, leave this room. It would get him in trouble....

"Thanks but no thanks," he said. "I don't need your help. Just tell me how to get out of here. I can take care of myself."

"Right," the man said sarcastically, "and I'm Monty Python."

Duncan heard movement, felt the sudden emptiness that told him that the man had placed more distance between them. Perhaps the man had accepted Duncan's dismissal and was heading for the door himself. Perhaps he really was leaving.

"Far be it from me to force you to do something you don't want to do."

"I wish you luck Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. You need to go out the door that is directly in front of you and make a left at the end of the corridor. Follow the corridor straight on until you can't go any further. In front of you will be a window and to the right of you will be a door to the emergency staircase. You have to go down three flights - remember three. That will put you in the basement. At the bottom of the third staircase the door is right in front of you. Go through it and make an immediate right. Go straight down that corridor until you come to another door. This one leads to the loading dock. You have to be careful here because if you go straight ahead you will fall off the platform. You have to make your way carefully to the left. There is a staircase there that will put you outside the building. Once you're outside the building, you're on your own. You will still have to get past the guard gate. But I'm sure you'll figure something out."

The man's voice was softly sarcastic and there was no sympathy there, at least none that Duncan could ascertain. Duncan heard the door to his room open and he opened his mouth to say, "Wait, I'll go with you." But before he could, his erstwhile rescuer called out, "See you around, MacLeod," and Duncan heard the door shut.

Suddenly, Duncan was alone again and his heart started to pound in time to the discord of sound in his ears. He took a tentative step forward. Wait! Don't leave me here! He wanted to shout it out loud. He wanted to beg, to plead with his faceless and insensitive deliverer, the only person in what seemed to be a lifetime of pain who had offered him help, who had not inflicted upon him some sort of torturous pain. There was a time when he was first brought to this place that he would have accepted help gladly; when he would have led the charge to his own deliverance. But he had lost that semblance of Duncan MacLeod, and all that was left was this anxiety and indecision and everything that was anathema to his old self.

But surely, there could be nothing worse in all the world than to be left alone again in this place, without help, without hope. Surely, nothing could be worse than that. Not even walking through the door of his only sanctuary into the arms of his tormentors. Not even failing again. Not even that.

"Wait," he whispered futilely into the darkness, knowing that it was too late, "I'll go. Take me with you."

"Great. Now let's go."

Duncan spun around on his heals to face the sound of the man's voice–his irritatingly beautiful voice. The man hadn't left the room after all. The man was standing behind him!

"I can't believe you! Didn't anyone ever tell you that it's rude to play jokes on blind people?" Duncan whispered accusingly.

Irreverence seemed to ooze across the room and pool at Duncan's feet. "This is me flipping you the bird, MacLeod. You're Immortal. Like your blindness, you'll get over it." Duncan felt a gentle tug on his arm and the feeling that washed over him was sweetness and light, like sunshine. "Now can we please go?" the man asked plaintively. "Dawson will kill me if I show up without you," he groused.

Duncan nodded his head and allowed himself to be led towards the door to the room. "Okay, you're right. I'm sorry...."

"Listen, spare me your apologies. I just want to get out of here before I get killed. Now, let's go!"

"Fine," Duncan said irritably as the man positioned him slightly to his rear. Duncan felt the cool breeze of an opening door. Desperately, with a pang of horrible terror, Duncan knew the abyss lay ready at his feet. And that he could only leap forward, into it. They moved through the door slowly.

"Wait. My sword . . ." Duncan stopped short.

"Well, what about it?" his rescuer prompted in exasperation.

"I need to get my sword. There should be a room to the right . . ." Duncan turned hesitantly towards his right as he tried to remember the floor plan of the compound absent the ability to refresh his memory with his eyesight.

"You can't be serious!" the man exclaimed disgustedly in a low voice. "You want me to skulk around with a blind, crippled Immortal just to locate your damn sword!" Duncan could tell by the faint disruptions in the air space that the man was gesticulating. He ended his expostulation with, "Yeah, right. This ain't Mission Impossible and I ain't no Tom Cruise."

He snorted. "And you're the leading contender for the Prize. Somehow I thought you'd be a little quicker on the uptake," he added sarcastically.

Duncan was stung.

"Let's go." The voice brooked no argument. Duncan had no real choice but to comply.

But the reality of leaving his sword behind, his one of a kind, irreplaceable katana, soured his disposition dramatically. If only he could see! Then I would tell this fly by night, let's get out of here, coward, what he could do with his help, he though to himself bitterly.

They walked slowly, carefully down the corridor. Duncan relied totally on the man leading the way, and despite his irritation, he found it not distasteful. Although the man's verbal interaction with him was caustic and abrupt, his manner was gentle, his touch compassionate. Duncan found the feel of the man's lightly calloused hand holding his own to be a well-spring of comfort and when they were forced to stop abruptly and Duncan's body pressed close against the man's back, the smell of his hair was sweet, like summer, like freedom. They reached the loading dock without difficulty.

"MacLeod, I need you to wait here. I have to get my car. You'll need to get in the trunk so we can get past the guard and through the gate."

"They won't stop you?"

Duncan could tell that the man was grinning. "Why would they want to stop me? I go in and out of this place all the time. I'm harmless."

Duncan's stomach turned with a sort of amorphous apprehension. Who was this man who could walk in and out of hell with impunity?

"Now just wait here. I'll be right back."

Duncan felt the suddenness of panic well up in the back of his throat like bile at the thought of being left alone again in the darkness, without the ability to see or to defend himself. He protested, "No . . ." and reached out quickly, grabbing the man's arms to stop him from leaving.

"Yes," the voice said firmly. The man disengaged himself from Duncan's grasp. "I'll only be a few minutes. My car is not far from here. I promise I won't leave you. You have my word."

Duncan felt a hand cup his cheek gently, comfortingly, and the touch was sweet like honey. The man, the one who had led him through the desert, who had parted this tortuous sea, stepped close and whispered in Duncan's ear, "It's over, MacLeod. You survived. You made it through to the other side, and you are the stronger for it. Despite what you may feel, your suffering — it was not in vain." The warm breath tickled Duncan's ear, kissing his skin like the breeze.

The hand was removed from his face and the man stepped away. "I will be right back. I promise," the voice said softly. "Remember, you have the gun." Duncan was led to a wall and deposited against it.

"Just don't shoot me."

Duncan waited. He waited with tendrils of trepidation coiled in the pit of his stomach. Until he heard a sound. He raised his gun and pointed it.

"Please, don't shoot me."

Duncan could have shouted for joy at the sound of the wearily sarcastic baritone that, in such a short time, he had come to know so well.

"Well, I guess you shouldn't sneak up on a blind person holding a gun," Duncan retorted briskly and for the first time in what seemed like forever, he felt a tug at the corners of his mouth. To his surprise, he couldn't suppress a smile. Duncan thought it amazing–the resiliency of the human spirit. Who would have thought that there would be a smile left in him after what he had been through? And for such an annoying fellow! But Duncan also knew that the man had provided to him what he had needed most–help. Help when all had seemed hopeless. Help.

Chapter Text

V - And After That, Darkness

It was uncomfortable, being scrunched up in a trunk, but no more so than being strapped to a table for most of the day. Duncan had become used to such discomfort. His injuries were mostly healed and the pain that had accompanied them was fading into memory. Duncan had come to realize that pain was a wholly present feeling and was, thus, transitory; no memory of it could ever take its measure.

Duncan's mind had also regained a modicum of its sharpness as the drugs he had been given to keep him pliable worked their way through his system. The car stopped briefly at the gate of the compound that had been his prison, his personal hell. Duncan held his breath as he heard his rescuer answer the guard's query briefly, but he relaxed again at the sound of confidence in the now familiar voice.

And then they were through the gate. And free! They drove for some distance, not too long or too terribly far. Duncan felt the change in speed as the car slowed and finally came to a stop. He heard the car door open.

"Dawson."

"You have MacLeod?" Duncan heard his Watcher's voice ask anxiously.

"Yeah, he's in the trunk."

"You put him in the trunk?" Joe Dawson's voice rose an incredulous notch.

"Well, what did you expect me to do with him? Secure him in my back pocket?" Duncan could have laughed at the sarcasm in the remark. He was glad to know that the man's acidity was not reserved for him alone.

"Did you have any problems?"

"Oh, now you're worried about my safety?"

"Listen, you can take your safety and shove it up your ass. I just want to know if we're going to have the Council breathing down our neck any time soon." Duncan recognized that tone of voice. Joe was about to lose his temper.

"We'll both be lucky if we don't end up dead," the man responded in a rich baritone that rose a little at the end of the statement for dramatic effect. "I go in and out of the compound regularly. No one saw MacLeod. Even if anyone remembers that I left there tonight at the same time that Goldilocks made his escape, no one would suspect me. I don't usually make it my business to interfere with things that don't concern me."

Goldilocks? Duncan thought indignantly. He heard the jingle of keys and could tell by the growing proximity of the voices that someone was about to let him out of the trunk. And not a moment too soon. Duncan felt like a giant pretzel. He needed to stretch his newly healed limbs badly. He continued to listen to the conversation going on around him, soaking up information for posterity.

"I need to get back to the compound."

"Yeah, well thanks. I'll call you if anyone starts getting suspicious."

"Listen Dawson, don't call us, we'll call you . . . running around interfering with Immortals! Bloody ridiculous . . . And by the way, your Immortal is in bad shape. For some reason they felt the need to blind him. Looks like they used lye. I suggest you take him to that island of his. His eyesight should return in a day or two. Three, tops."

"How the hell would you know?" Joe asked with exasperation and a dismissive wave of his cane.

"Oh, I pick up tons of interesting information when I'm working on the chronicles," Adam answered. "Just trust me. Take him to the island. He'll need some time to recover his equilibrium. It looks like he had a hard time of it. And Dawson . . ."

"What?" Duncan did not think that he had ever heard Joe sound so irritated.

"Don't baby him. He needs to stand on his own two feet or else he'll never get over this. And don't be seen with him, at least until this all blows over. Try being a normal Watcher for a change. You know, watch but never interfere? You do remember that?"

The trunk popped open and Duncan felt the breeze and the touch of hands simultaneously. The same hands that had touched him, had helped him for the past hour. He thought he would always associate those hands with the first breath of unrestricted air he breathed after being liberated from that place. The caress of the breeze against his face and the feel of hands on his arm, helping to pull him from the trunk, were the same. Both were soothing and free and easy. And, perhaps, the hands lingered a moment longer than necessary and a reassuring pressure was applied before he was released. Duncan knew that in his own contrary way, the man had told him goodbye and good luck. Duncan smiled, hoping that the man was still looking his way to see.

"Dawson, you're going to get us both killed..." Duncan heard the mumbles fade away until there was nothing but the sound of his own breathing.

Duncan felt new and different hands touch his arm. "Joe?"

"Hey, MacLeod, don't worry about anything. I have everything under control." Duncan was guided to the passenger side of Joe's car and settled into the seat, but before Joe could close the door, Duncan grabbed his arm.

"How long, Joe?" Duncan heard Joe's sharp inhalation of breath.

"Six months," he said slowly.

Six months! Six months of his life gone, never to be returned to him. Duncan was astonished. How could it have been so long? What in the world had he done to make someone do this to him? He settled back in his seat in shock.

He heard Joe close the car door distantly, distractedly, still trying to wrap his mind around the knowledge of the passage of time. He barely acknowledged Joe as he settled himself in the driver's seat and started the engine, but suddenly, he pulled himself out of his reverie. He had questions about his captivity. So many questions. But they could wait until a better time. There was something important he needed to know now.

"The man who got me out. Who is he?" Duncan directed his words in the direction of Joe's breathing.

"Oh, him," Joe sniffed disparagingly. "That's Adam Pierson. He's a Watcher. He works on the Methos chronicles."

Methos! The name scorched Duncan's mind like acid, and the letters of the word, seared into his consciousness, burst into torrid flames. Methos!

And after that, there was nothing but darkness.