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France, 2005

Methos stared out over the boringly perfect landscape, half-listening to Joe fiddling around on his guitar. There was a gig coming up, time to head back to Paris for a little while, he guessed. He sighed and wondered if it was worth the effort to get up and get another beer.

Five thousand years old, and bored out of his mind.

It didn’t used to be this bad. For a very long time, he’d wandered. Lost his mind for a millennium or so, damned horsemen who just wouldn’t give up already, then spent quite a long time running from Kronos. He’d gotten away for a while, immersed himself in the magical world. Then, well, hell had broken loose, and he’d run back to the mundane world. A few centuries playing in the old world (China was interesting) and the new (the early years of the USA were fun), but then he’d slipped into routine. Once in awhile he’d meet a friend, have a tumble – unless Rowan saw him first, then there’d be a chase before the tumble. But for the last couple centuries he’d kept it calm and quiet, until the Highlander came along.

More excitement than one old man could handle, right there. Even before the demon showed up.

Still, it hadn’t been boring. Much as he loved Joe, and he did… if something didn’t happen soon, he was going to do something drastic.

~

flashback: Eridu, Southeastern Mesopotamia, circa 3800 BCE

The young man sat perfectly still under the watchful eye of his master. His hands applied perfect, unwavering pressure as they carved the cuneiform into the clay tablet. His face was utterly expressionless, the perfect temple scribe. No one could tell by looking at him that he was bored nearly out of his mind, wondering if this was all there ever would be to his life… clay, sore fingers, tired wrists, complete boredom, and the interpersonal politics that were the only amusement he got out of life.

He couldn’t even find a lover. The master watched them all too closely. It was intensely frustrating.

Still, he did have that little plot going to undercut the apprentice to the Offerings master. The little bastard thought he could get Methos’ share of the wine, last festival. Watered down as it was, it was still his wine, and Methos didn’t appreciate people stealing from him. The scrap of cloth he’d planted in the other man’s quarters should be enough to start the whispers. He’d let it simmer just long enough to catch the Head Priest’s attention, then he’d have his friend… minion… indentured servant hide the fragment of pottery in the bastard’s room. That should break the thief’s reputation nicely. When he was beaten out of the temple with sticks, he’d damned well learn to leave other people’s wine jugs alone.

The smirk still lingered on his lips as he stepped around the corner toward his quarters at the end of the day. He was, unfortunately, too caught up in anticipatory gloating to notice the slave’s presence in the shadows.

He certainly felt the knife that slid through his ribs into his heart. It was like ice stealing his breath, leaving him lying in a swiftly-spreading pool of blood. It actually hurt more coming out than it did going in. One hand scrabbled weakly against the wet stone floor before falling still.

Waking up was a shock.

Being chased out of the temple, with his pursuers screaming that he was a demon, was a bigger one.

Methos lost track of how many times he died trying to cross the desert.

After awhile, it all got a little blurry. As time passed, it became harder and harder to recall, until the only thing he could remember was the shock of regaining life, and a lingering distaste for wine.

~

flashback: Achmore, Scotland, circa 2500 BCE, Beaker village

Daniyyel sat quietly in the shelter of the stone hut, listening to the wind batter against the walls. It was hard to see by the guttering fire, but he was patient, gently tapping out tiny dots around concentric circles in a sheet of copper. His people were rightly proud of their artistry in metal, and he was one of the finest hands in the tribe.

His vision twinged, and the bright blue eyes shut tightly. Feeling his way quickly, he placed his work out of harm’s way, barely in time before the vision hit.

His people were proud of their seer.

He thought it was a terrible gift, inconvenient, painful, and most of the time, too late to do any good.

Like now.

The raiders hit the village like thunder. They were upon them before he could leave the hut, much less give warning. Surrounding him was a cacophony of screams, the dull thud of bodies hitting stone, the squelch of spears piercing bodies. His magic brought his spear to his hand, and he crouched, moving to the side and thrusting upward. The point struck true, but the haft was not strong enough, and broke under the weight of the corpse falling toward him. Before he could disentangle himself from the heavy body, still clutching the broken wood in his fist, a flash of movement came from his right.

The world went white in a splash of bright pain, then sweeping numbness.

When he woke, he was alone amid the broken remains of his village. He was too numb to cry, as he washed the blood from his clothes. Gathered what he could scavenge. Worked as quickly as he could, curling his friends’ bodies into holes in the ground, gently placing what few belongings remained beside the few intact bodies he could bury, always watching over his shoulder in case the raiders should return. Then he left, not once looking back.

Thus began the wanderer’s life.

~

flashback: Minoan Crete, circa 2300 BCE

He’d felt him before he’d seen him. Methos followed the man from the temple to the market, watching him as the sun rose. He was beautiful, not as tall as Methos himself, but broader in the chest and thicker in the thighs. Strong hands, narrow waist, long legs… just his type.

Too bad he’d have to take his head.

The other Immortal took his time, picking over fruit, as Methos followed, keeping carefully out of sensing range. It was the wrong time and place for a battle, too many witnesses, too many questions when the lightning began to fly. So when the other man ducked around behind a stable, Methos followed.

The sword tip under his chin was a surprise.

“I take it you aren’t in the mood for a talk?”

“Why are you following me?”

Oh, very pretty indeed. Intense, bright blue eyes ringed in thick lashes, a pouty mouth doing its best to be stern, a furrowed brow that tried to be intimidating and just made Methos want to smooth it with his fingers.

“Don’t you know?” Maybe there was time for a fuck before the fight? He was used to taking it where he could find it, and this one was sweet.

The brow furrowed a little more. It was adorable. The sword didn’t waver. Damnit.

“You will not take my head.” He sounded so determined! Methos grinned a little, then raised a bit up on his toes as the sword lifted a bare inch.

“Not even the little one?”

Ah, yes, perverse flirtation, that almost always worked as a distraction. The sword shook, for only an instant, but it was long enough. A shift to the side, down to the left, a leg going out, one hand knocking away the fists wrapped around the hilt, the other tugging just so on that trim waist, and Methos had a catch worth savoring.

The man stared at his own sword now being held to his throat and growled.

“So, my name’s Adam,” Methos lied. “What’s yours?”

Incredulous blue eyes stared up at him.

“Right, nameless, would you put up a fuss if I kissed you?”

The man was still sputtering when Methos tossed his sword into a nearby water trough, grabbed his shaggy brown hair, and licked the man’s lips.

He tasted of citrus.

When he finally let the man breathe, he heard a strangled, “Not here!”

“Your place, then?”

It was, and they did.

They barely maintained a semblance of propriety (well, Nameless did. Methos was too busy pulling down the neckline of his tunic so he could suck on his pulse point) as they stumbled toward lodgings. It wasn’t much, barely a hole in the wall, but it was private, and there were cushions and draperies of a sort.

Not like he cared. He’d finally gotten the straps untangled.

Once Nameless was past his fear of getting beheaded and his modesty at being stripped in public, he turned out to be a firebrand. His hands were as busy as Methos’, unwrapping and pushing fabric and leather away, tossing Methos’ sword with the same disregard as his own had been tossed, though that might have been one last stab at ensuring personal safety.

He hadn’t quite gotten that it wasn’t his Quickening Methos was after.

Then he did something truly unexpected.

Rough cloth pulled itself over the entryway, cutting out the sunlight. Fat candles placed about the tiny room flared to life. A cool breeze came from nowhere.

Magic.

Methos’ grin slipped from anticipatory to feral. He’d had magicals before. He’d had an Immortal or two. He’d never had a magical Immortal.

He’d thought he was the only one.

It just got better from there. He dragged his own magic up to the surface, flaring it a little. Nameless smiled up at him, eyes sparking with interest and magic, then pulled him down into a hungry kiss. Long fingers tangled in his hair, holding him in place, tilting his head just so, falling into the hunger. His own hands weren’t idle, now that all that warm skin was freed of its cloth covering. The musk rising from him was intoxicating, the movement even more so.

Mouths slipped apart and roamed, lingering on the line of a throat, tightening around a nipple, nibbling along the inside of a thigh. They found themselves head to thigh to one another, and he found the taste heady, slick, salty. The pulse of Quickening between them, the rush and flow of magic surrounding them, the carnal heat of bodies sliding against one another… it was all too soon, too fast. Methos pulled away and gulped air, determined not to finish first, then bucked his hips when Nameless did something very talented with his tongue.

So much for not coming too soon.

He was flying, a tight-wound ball of tension exploding into pure relaxation, magic pushing the peak higher. It was always that way with another mage, that extra layer of reality, making the colors so much sharper, scents and sounds and sensations so much more intense. It didn’t stop there, as he felt himself held, lifted, turned. Nameless slid behind him, slid into him, an inferno against his back and his hips, hands like a raptor’s on his hips.

Then the tension built again, and Methos gave himself to it, letting Nameless lead him, take him, set the pace and punish him with it. For a short while that felt like forever, there was nothing in the world but the connection between them. Hard, and deep enough to touch his heart if he had one, Nameless carved his way into Methos and pulled him completely out of himself.

When he reached the peak again, he pulled his lover with him. A contraction, connection made and dissolved.

Fingers unclenching, falling to lie against his stomach, his hip. A warm breath panting against the back of his neck, heat blazing from his shoulder to his knees, sweat and semen and lightning dancing across their skin.

If every death were like this one, he’d be fighting a lot more often.

“Daniyyel,” Nameless mumbled into the wet hair at the nape of Methos’ neck.

“Eh?” Perhaps not the most intelligent response, but he couldn’t make his tongue form words quite yet.

“Stop calling me Nameless. Name’s Daniyyel.”

Oh. Apparently he’d been moaning the wrong name… well. Now he knew.

He put the new knowledge to good use. It was a very long day, and a nice long night.

It was halfway through the next day, when they desperately needed food, before they dragged themselves out into the sunlight. Daniyyel, as he now knew him to be, cursed when he saw the state of his sword. It had been a pretty mucky water trough. More like a piss trough, really.

Methos was still laughing when Daniyyel used the blunt edge of the blade to beat him.

Yes. Very mucky.

That was alright, though. Muck led to bathing. Bathing required nudity. Nudity led to interesting activities. Which got them kicked out of the baths.

The next several months were more fun than Methos had in years. His new lover was inventive, intelligent, paranoid, and had great stamina. He was also a priest in a local goddess cult, which supposedly enforced chastity, so there was the added thrill of avoiding discovery. He didn’t know how long he would have stayed, if he hadn’t made the mistake of drinking a little too much beer one day when Daniyyel was on duty and getting into a bit of a dust-up with a few of the local thugs.

Unfortunately, they were better with knives than he expected, a lesson in underestimation of the enemy that he should have learned before, but really took to heart, after the knife was removed from it. Daniyyel was staring down at him disapprovingly when he jolted back to life.

“Shit,” Methos grumbled.

Daniyyel was in the process of handing him a bag and kissing him goodbye – well, groping more than kissing, really, but Methos wasn’t complaining – when the man stiffened in his arms. Methos leaned back and stared.

The blue eyes were dull, almost silver, with tiny bolts like Quickening slashing across the iris. It wasn’t the first time Methos saw a seer caught in a vision, but it was the closest he’d ever been.

He dropped his bundle, wincing at the thump of his water bag when it hit the stones, and held onto his lover. Daniyyel shuddered, his eyes flickering rapidly side to side, the silent lightning storm turning them from silver to flashing white. As quickly as it came, it passed, and he took a deep, wracking breath. It was only then that Methos realized Daniyyel hadn’t breathed all the way through it.

“Are you all right?” he asked quietly.

Daniyyel’s head bowed and he shivered once, hard, before shaking it off. Lifting his head, he stared hard into Methos’ face.

“Pain,” he whispered, “and death. When next we meet, the cycle begins.”

The gravity in the words sent a chill up Methos’ spine. Attempting to lighten the atmosphere, he laid a butterfly kiss on the end of Daniyyel’s nose. “At least that means we will meet again, yeah?”

He probably deserved the punch in the belly that got him.

Still, he looked forward to it. This one was as close to a keeper as he’d found so far.

~

flashback: Aram, circa 420 BCE

Malaga to Carthage, Sulcis to Rome, Epirus to Lycia to Tyre, Daniyyel had wandered for centuries. Ancient magics called him, feeding his hunger to learn. Visions led him. Now on his way across the desert four days journey from Palmyra, he felt his eyes flash.

Vision. Pain. Screams, and terror, riding down on them from out of the sun like a nightmare manifested by demons. Too late, as usual.

He curled around his saddle, knees digging into the quivering sides of the camel he was riding, as reality overtook the hell he saw in his mind. Four men, draped in fur and skin and painted blue, black, red, with spear and axe and sword, fell on the caravan of traders like a plague. His eyes cleared as he felt a wave of power hit him, not one, but several Quickenings: strong, old, malevolent.

Familiar. At least, one was.

He raised his head, eyes wide, and met cold eyes in a chiseled face smeared with blue pigment.

Then he was knocked from his camel by a spear through the chest.

He woke in a tent. A small fire burned outside, encircled by rocks that he could see through the open flap. He could hear the sounds of a bustling camp. He brought his hand to his chest.

He was healed. He was also clean. And naked.

Except for the shackle around his right ankle. The cuff and chain were engraved with runes, strengthening the metal and utterly negating his magic. Daniyyel discovered this when he automatically reached for his magic to loosen his bonds and found… nothing. He panicked at feeling the void where there should have been power. Being cut off from his mage senses was like having his brain bound tightly in layers of wool. It itched. It felt like he was going to explode. It hurt.

A memory of a centuries-old vision flashed behind his eyes. Pain.

“Death.”

“So I am called.”

He turned his head to see his once-lover, sitting across from him, staring at him. “Adam.”

“It’s Methos, actually. Call me master.”

Daniyyel closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Or?”

“Or my brothers will see how many times you can die and still wake up.”

Oh, this was not good.

His instincts proved correct. Methos had been twisted. He was cold as ice, but behind his eyes, Daniyyel could see despair. Fear.

Hunger.

The others Methos called brothers were monsters. Over the course of the days and weeks that followed, hidden in the shadows of his tent-prison and obscured from view by Methos’ magic, Daniyyel spied on them, and came to know them by their actions. Caspian was disgusting, a true animal who would as soon eat a slave as fuck it. Silas was touched in the head, a huge man who loved his axe, was kind to animals, and laughed as he chopped captives into pieces, some of which Caspian ate.

Methos was the quiet one, who spent most of his days planning the raids the band went out on, and his nights with Daniyyel, silently taking him, a hand over Daniyyel’s mouth to keep him quiet, then withdrawing and disappearing as soon as he was finished. His instincts told him Methos didn’t go far, because he could feel eyes on him, and magic obscuring him. It was a good thing, because the last of the so-called brothers was the worst.

Kronos was a demon in human form. His evil revealed itself in his love of killing and chaos, destruction and dealing out pain.

Daniyyel was absolutely certain the only thing keeping his head on his shoulders was Methos hiding his presence.

His days were long, and oddly boring, for all the fact that he was living on the razor’s edge of discovery and death. Methos eventually brought back a body slave, a witch who looked after him, and Daniyyel spent most of his time watching her. Her powers were sound-based, and her magic was weak. She never saw him through Methos’ obscuring spell. Never woke when Methos came to him and they coupled, never spoke of him to anyone. While it made for a lonely, solitary confinement for him, it also distracted Methos to an extent, and gave Daniyyel time to work on translating and breaking the runes keeping him captive.

Still, her presence was disruptive to the band. Methos didn’t share her, and that rankled the others, particularly Kronos. One night, Kronos came into their tent, startling Daniyyel so badly he almost gave himself away. Kronos demanded the witch, and Methos, as always, gave way before him. After the woman left and Kronos was no longer in sight, he came to Daniyyel and dropped down on his knees next to him.

For the first time since he was captured, Methos kissed him. There was desperation in it. When he pulled back, he brushed his hand over the shackle.

The runes gave way.

“Not yet,” Methos said quietly, then leaned down and kissed him again.

This time when he was pushed back against the blankets, he was free to touch as he was touched. It was silent as always, because Astarte knew he didn’t want any of the others to hear, especially Caspian. But it was different, more like the first time, when they both were free. There was tenderness in the hands that gripped him, gentleness when he was entered. It didn’t feel like punishment. When it was over and he lay trembling, Methos’ arms held him close until he relaxed into sleep.

He awoke to chaos. Sometime overnight the witch had stabbed Kronos, stolen his horse, and escaped. Methos and Kronos were screaming at each other, Silas bellowed like an ox with a broken leg, and Caspian gibbered at everyone. Daniyyel checked, and yes, he was still free of the chains. This was his chance. He took it, stealing some of Methos’ clothes and a long cape, a short sword, a water skin, some dried meat stuffed in his pack, and he slipped out the back of the tent and headed for the horses.

He had one foot on the ground and was halfway up a horse when Kronos caught him.

Feeling a rush of magic for the first time in weeks, he snarled an incantation and pushed. Kronos staggered back, hand going to his belly as fresh blood spurted. Catching himself immediately, he hurled himself forward just as Daniyyel got himself seated and kicked the horse in the ribs. Before Kronos’ outstretched hand could catch him, Methos threw himself at his ‘brother’ and knocked him face-first in the dirt. In the background Silas roared again, and from the sound of it, Caspian was attacking him. Any excuse for a fight, with those two.

Daniyyel risked a look back, and Methos urgently waved him on. Daniyyel took the hint and got the hell away from there as fast as his stolen horse could run.

~

flashback: Llwyn Bryn Dinas, a forthill settlement in Bronze Age Wales, circa 400 BCE – 200 CE

He’d done everything he could, and it wasn’t enough. Methos felt like he’d been living in a daze for centuries, until he’d found Daniyyel again. Then the haze was stripped away. He could see himself. He couldn’t save himself.

He could hide his lover, at least.

Things were tense, but they were always tense in a camp with a raving murderer who thought he was a god, a cannibal, a devil with a child’s mind, and himself. He could hide away under the pretense of planning only so long. They thought him a prude, and too squeamish, but smart, so they kept him.

He used their preconceptions against them.

There was no way to explain it to Daniyyel, how he’d had to take him or Caspian would have gotten him, and since they were all Immortals, he would have been tortured into insanity long before he was allowed to die. Be eaten. Nothing Methos did could be worse.

Although at times it felt like it.

So he’d bound his magic, chained him in silence, hidden him the best he could. The temptation was too great at night, to take comfort, some semblance of the closeness they’d once had. To pretend that they were equals, at least there in the deepest part of night, when there were no words. He put on a harsh front, master to slave, but they had both been slaves at different times in their lives, and he knew that Daniyyel knew the difference. It was a hard part to play, a difficult balancing act, but he did it.

Until they came across Cassandra. A magical Immortal, like them, with her first death, and Methos couldn’t bring himself to kill the infant. Still, as always, it wasn’t mercy on his part. He needed to get Daniyyel away, he needed to find an excuse to escape, before the illusion was broken, and one of the others found Daniyyel.

Being the only mage in the Horsemen was good, but it wasn’t foolproof.

Cassandra was an opportunity, and a good one. He acted like he’d fallen in love with her, though he hadn’t lain with her. Why would he when he had Daniyyel? So he let her believe he was tender with her because he had feelings for her. Then he let Kronos see his act, and the result was exactly what he expected. Cassandra was pulled into Kronos’ tent, and instead of sucking him as she was ordered, she stabbed him. Then she stole a horse, and in the confusion, Methos got Daniyyel out.

It almost worked.

Unfortunately, Kronos always healed fast. He nearly caught Daniyyel, and Methos had to directly intervene. After that, there was no choice. He kicked Kronos in the wounded gut hard enough to kill him temporarily, then grabbed a horse of his own and took off. With Silas and Caspian busy trying to kill one another, Kronos groggily trying to keep his belly intact, and three escapees all going in different directions, Methos managed to pull it off.

Once he got far enough away that he couldn’t feel anyone’s Quickening, he circled around. Tracking by magic, he picked up Daniyyel’s trail, and followed him. He had to keep him safe

They traveled for days. Daniyyel was swift but smart, using magic to cloak himself, to gather game, to hide his fire, to conjure water. Methos did the same, further back, shadowing his magic with Daniyyel’s to keep his presence secret. The passage on the ship included a few close calls, but he kept hidden. It helped that he spent most of his time hanging over the side in the back while Daniyyel kept to the upper deck, immune to seasickness, the lucky bastard. Methos nearly kissed the ground when they made landfall, if he hadn’t been too busy making sure Daniyyel didn’t notice him.

Eventually, finally, he watched as Daniyyel found a group that would take him in. Magic, but not Immortal.

After ensuring his lover was safe with the Keltoi, Methos headed off to get as far as he could from Kronos. China was supposed to be interesting. On the eighth day, coming through the woods at the base of a fortified hilltop, he felt the glimmer of a Quickening. It wasn’t complete, was a mere wisp. A pre-Immortal. He was going to avoid it, not wanting the trouble, when he heard a cry.

A baby.

It was wrapped in a cloth and left under a bush. Who left a baby under a hedge? He dropped down from his horse and crouched next to the infant. Bright green eyes, reddened from tears, stared up at him from beneath a thin black fringe. His tiny nose was reddened from the cold and he looked hungry. He opened his little mouth to cry again and Methos reached down, giving him a knuckle to gnaw on.

Sometimes, he was such a sap.

While normally, he had no trouble at all being pragmatic and placing his own survival first, he had to admit to an almost infinitesimal weakness for babies of any species. Who knows? Perhaps if he believed in the gods, he might see this as the gods’ way of giving him a chance at redemption.

Ridiculous, of course. But there was more than a proto-Quickening to this babe.

There was magic.

It was strong, and had to be, as it was keeping him alive. Mind made up, Methos retrieved his finger, now dripping with slobber, and picked up the infant. He would take the foundling and raise him as his own.

China could wait.

They’d go to Greece instead.

In the ensuing years, his son and first student grew to be a fine warrior, while Methos hung out with Mencius and played philosophical word games. The boy, now man, he’d named Godric, in a nod to the probably nonexistent gods who had led Methos to him. Unsurprisingly, he grew up to be sword-mad, a skill that would serve him well over a long life. He also proved to be skilled at practical magic, though he tended to fall asleep when Methos wanted to debate theory.

Eventually, when they had knocked around Greece long enough that the lack of aging was starting to raise questions, Godric headed off to fight with the Romans. Methos, bored and getting antsy with the feeling that Kronos was getting too close, followed. He ended up staying in Rome as Godric went wandering with the army, fighting all over the Empire.

Methos sighed over the fact that his son wanted nothing more than to spend his life as a soldier around lots of sharp pointy things. Godric laughed and headed off to pick fights with the Picts. Lots of fun to be found there!

His father was pretty sure the boy was completely mad, but at least he was enjoying himself.

~

Replicator Ship, 2005

Daniel could do nothing but stare as the shackles slid out from around his forearms and shins, as the columns of replicator sensors drew back from around his head. The strange currents running through the replicators messed with his magic, leaving him helpless, something he’d hated for centuries, since the first time Methos had chained him.

There would be no eleventh hour miracle to save him, this time.

He saw the psychotic robot wearing Sam’s face change her right hand into a blade, and had the sudden, extreme hope that she would only gut him, not decapitate him. Although given that he was somewhere in space, he wasn’t sure either his magic or his immortality would save him this time. What would life be like floating along as space junk? Probably painful.

Guess that left only one choice.

He wondered if Oma would let him back in to the clubhouse.

~

flashback: Belgium, circa 200 BCE

Daniyyel’s wanderings brought him back near the beginning, two millennia later, not that he counted years as such until much later in his life. Still, he was starting over, again. For the first time, he would leave his name behind, as he had the desert sands of his last home. Here, in the lush forest, in the shadows of a new religion, it was time for a new persona.

Mysterious figures gathered around a fire, chanting in a language he found fluid and lovely. The stories were familiar, new names to old deeds, but he felt no others like himself in the group. Mages, yes, with a wild green magic that hummed to him, but no Immortals. Here, he could find a new place.

Here, he could be safe.

As always inconveniently timed, a vision struck him as he hid in the trees, spying on the people who would one day be known as Druids. A brief respite, a stay before tragedy. Honor. Justice. Courage. A time to learn, and a time to heal. Old faces made new, love to pain, fullness to loss, a circle never-ending.

When he could see again, an old man dressed in brown and green was staring down at him. “Welcome, Dreamer.”

Thus was Rowan the Raven born.

~

flashback: Alexandria, 415 CE

At one time, Rowan would not have followed his visions. But three and a half centuries before, he’d had one that actually gave him enough warning to escape as the Romans destroyed the Druids. He’d fought as long as he could, but he knew an ending when he saw one.

He’d gone back to wandering, ever on the lookout for new things to learn. Then he’d come across something exciting.

Writing.

Learning that lead to reading.

Now he followed the words, and those from whom they fell.

They led to Alexandria. He’s always loved philosophy, wondering why, seeking answers for the unanswerable. He loved to learn, from anyone and everyone, but sometimes a truly incredible teacher came along. When that happened, he would circle, like a ship in a tempest, content to see where it led him.

Hypatia was a wonder. Mathematics, astronomy, the intricacy of the skies and the beauty of symmetry. She taught him, and any who would learn, of Iamblichus’ reality and the Platonian complexities beyond human understanding.

For a mage who had lived for centuries and never stopped seeking answers, she was a gift from the gods.

Late one afternoon, heading home after dinner, Rowan felt a nudge at his Quickening. It tingled, bringing with it a sound like a small boy’s laughter caught on the wind. Never one to take chances when it came to his head, he slipped around the corner, threw up an imperturbable shield to keep normal eyes from seeing what was to come, dropping his hand to the hilt of his sword. There, leaning against the side of a building, a tall, lean figure topped with a wild head of dark hair over a Roman nose and bright eyes the color of fall leaves.

“Hello, Daniyyel.”

His voice hadn’t changed, still low, still made his skin prickle. For a moment, hatred ran through him. Nights of being chained like an animal. Magic bound, a rough cloth between his teeth, Methos’ warmth searing him, invading him, smothering him. But the hatred was tattered, holes ripped in it from memories of moments within the madness. A soft touch in the darkness, swift, stolen. The fear he felt, reflected in otherwise cold, dead eyes. The sadness underneath the fear. Each in his own way, they had both been trapped. He had escaped, and as much as Methos was responsible for his captivity, so, too, was he responsible for his chance at freedom.

Forever was a very long time. He could hate, or he could understand, and move on.

“It’s Rowan, now.”

“Like the tree?”

“It’s a Druid thing,” he shrugged. Waved his hand, ending in a downward slash, and tugged Methos toward him by the belt.

“Is this a hint?” Definite interest, and outright laughter, in that voice. Beneath the laughter there was relief.

“I have beer, too.”

Before he could blink, Rowan found himself pinned to the wall. Kissed quite enthusiastically.

“Where?”

Well, that was easy. Considering the last time they’d met, he’d been a slave and Methos had been Death. They had some talking to do.

Later.

For that moment, there were different touches. Still a little rough, but with more tenderness when hands stroked over skin. The kisses remained fierce, but they softened as they lengthened, until they were given as well as taken. No shouts were muffled, this time, and when they curled together, Methos’ long legs wrapped firmly around his waist, they faced each other. Watched each other’s eyes as they came together, and flew apart. When the tension released, they remained close, sharing tiny bites and licks and tastes.

This time when they lay together afterward, the silence was calm.

Methos proved to be just as interested in the scrolls as Rowan was. The days blended into one another, as they learned, as they challenged and debated through the day and lie together through the night. It was easy to get caught up in the heady atmosphere, easy to fall into the realm of logic and reasoning. All too easy to dismiss the politics that surrounded them, the pettiness and the ignorance disguised as faith, used to whip up the minds of the jealous and the confused.

They were coming back to the Library after a meal when they heard the mob. Men, no women, no children, a few youths, but mostly men old enough to hold clubs, sickles, torches. Methos pulled Rowan out of the path of the chanting, howling mob, throwing a quick obscurity charm up to keep them out of whatever trouble was brewing this time.

Until they saw her.

Near the front of the mob, being dragged by her hair, by an arm, kicked and struck with their rough weapons. Her clothing was torn to the point where most of her skin was showing, what could be seen beneath the dirt and the blood. Her eyes were open, but the warmth and light that had always been there was gone.

Intellectually, Rowan knew Hypatia was dead. Instinctively, he moved to save her.

Methos’ arms wrapped around him like chains.

It was a bad association in his memory. He fought, forgetting his magic, forgetting himself, forgetting his lover. All he saw was his teacher and the ignorant bastards who had murdered her. He wanted to kill them. He wanted their blood to run in the streets as hers was.

“Yes, I know. I do too. But it’s too late, love.”

The words made no sense to him.

“There are too many of them. She’s gone.”

“Let me go!” He didn’t recognize his own voice, didn’t realize he’d been speaking aloud the whole time. His word were ragged, low, like an animal caught in a trap.

“If I let you go, they will simply tear you apart as well. I cannot have that.”

A whisper in a language he didn’t recognize, and everything went black.

When he awoke, they were in their quarters. He lay, covered in blankets, tucked on their pallet. Methos sat on a stool beside him, watching him somberly.

There was an explanation, of course. Methos was always exceptional at reading the political climate, making sense of idiocy, knowing exactly what plots were ongoing. His teacher had been the friend of one politician, the Christians had been led by another, and Hypatia was a symbol who needed to be destroyed to further one man’s agenda over the other’s.

He didn’t care.

He levered his tired body to a sitting position and stared out the window. The mob was still there, celebrating their great victory, dozens of men against a single unarmed woman. Such bravery. Such heroes.

Such fools.

Abruptly, he was sick of it. Sick of the idiots surrounding him, sick of himself for not being of any use to his mentor, sick of Methos for holding him back. He knew, vaguely, that one day he would appreciate his lover’s pragmatism, but right then, all he wanted to do was gut him.

Without a word, he threw the blankets aside and pulled on his sandals. Reached for his pack. Shouldered Methos out of the doorway and walked away.

“Be safe,” he heard from behind him.

“You too,” he muttered, then took the first turn away from the crowds, and left the city.

He felt Methos’ Quickening in the distance for a few weeks, always at the furthest edge of his awareness. Keeping an eye on him, making sure no one snuck up on him and took his head while he grieved, trying to put his mind and emotions in some sort of order. It was reassuring, and irritating, and so wholly Methos.

Rowan ignored him and continued on his trek.

~

London, 2005

Rupert Giles stared at the computer screen, wishing for the millionth time that he had some form of magic that worked with the infernal machine. The latest reports from Africa were encouraging, but the reports out of Canada and Korea were concerning. The issue was that, while there were now more than enough Slayers to deal with paranormal and supernatural threats, the Watchers were spread so thin as to be transparent.

He sipped his tea, grimaced at the floating bits of twig on the top, and paused to curse their latest hedge-witch’s obsession with herbals. This brew was supposed to help with mental clarity and combat fatigue. He couldn’t help but think that it tasted worse than some of the potions he’d been forced to ingest at Hogwarts.

Overall, though, things were going well. It was a bit strange to consider that he was now the Grand Old Man of the Watchers, but given that they were essentially Andrew, Xander, and himself, that wasn’t saying much. The boys, well, men really, were doing quite well, acting independently and seldom needing to come to him for advice. He felt rather as he had when he’d first been fired after Buffy’s coming-of-age. He’d be feeling left behind, if he wasn’t drowning in paperwork.

God, he loathed paperwork.

No, the problems weren’t coming from the Slayers, or the Covens, who were working quite well together. Not from Los Angeles, which had settled some since the latest Apocalypse, nor the street gangs who had sprung up, much like young Gunn’s, all over the world. People would look after their own, after all. Every Slayer had her own Scoobies, as Buffy would say.

The problems were more whispers, really. He’d always kept an ear open to his home grounds, needing to know what was happening in the British Wizarding world. He could never really leave it. The nineties had been awful, what with Voldemort’s resurrection, and all the travails that poor Potter child had to go through. He’d been busy himself, preparing for Buffy, dealing with the insanity that came from being her Watcher, and had kept his distance.

One would think, with all they’d been through, that those in charge would learn from their mistakes, particularly as the winners had been the moderate progressives and not the pureblood bigots. But tradition, money, and influence-peddling survived anything, much like cockroaches, and the rumors coming from England were becoming increasingly concerning.

Malfoy really should have gone through the veil. He was a slimy bastard as a child, and he’d only gotten slimier. Giles still didn’t know how the man twisted himself out of trouble, and now his son was following in his footsteps. All that blood shed, all those lives lost. Yet nothing changed.

“What’s with the long face, Head man?” Oz’s mellow voice behind him gave him an excuse to stop poking at the laptop and push away from his desk.

“I’m getting too old for this, I’m afraid. It’s all starting to blend together.”

Oz nodded wisely. “Sacrilege,” he informed him. “You’re only as old as you feel.”

Given that he could claim centuries, Giles barely managed to hold back a snort. “I’m ancient, then.”

Oz grinned at him, a sliver of teeth and cheer, then came over to perch on the corner of his desk. He peered at him, and it felt to Giles like his soul was being read. “What’s up?”

Giles settled back in his chair. “It’s nothing, really.”

Another stare, and he sighed. “Just… some people I used to know. I may have to take a little sabbatical. I think trouble is coming. May be already here.”

“People?” Oz asked, concerned. “Like Ethan people?”

“Well,” Giles cleared his throat. “Magical. Not so much like Ethan. Not many are.” He coughed slightly. “Mercifully.”

Before Oz could respond, a bright light grew in the room, quickly, until neither man could see. Strangely, it felt warm, friendly, not alarming at all.

~

flashback: Kent, 457 CE

The battle was pure chaos, as they always were. Swords flashing everywhere, blood flying, body parts being hacked off. The stench of guts and corpses trampled into the mud. Men crushed and maimed and mutilated, all in the name of glory.

Hurrah.

Hengest, called the Hellhound, knew nothing different. He fought as he always had, with sword and fist and magic, giving everything he had for his liege lord. Foes blurred into a wall of duty, exhaustion, and victory. At one point, his sword crossed that of a young man, vivid green eyes in a filthy face, meeting his with the light of battle gleaming in them. His armor was scored and stained, he’d lost his helm and his black hair stood in all directions. He moved as though he’d been born to combat, and for the length of that fight, Hengest enjoyed himself. The other man was also a mage, and a skilled one, as skilled with the blade as he was with magic.

But not all battles went to the strongest, or the most skilled. Sometimes it was luck, and sometimes that luck was bad.

His opponent’s foot came down in the wrong place, slipped as the severed arm it landed on rolled, and Hengest took his strike. Up the side, under the ribs, into the heart, and back out. For a moment they were face to face, as intimate as warfare could be, and he saw the light die in those bright green eyes.

“Shit,” the man murmured as he faded from life, sounding more disgruntled than anything. Hengest found himself smiling, even as he laid the cooling corpse down with more care than he usually showed.

Then it was back into the fray, the odd moment of connection lost in the swirl of strikes and shielding, parrying and slashing. Eventually he fought the leader of his opponents. Vortigern was a strong warrior, and Hengest gave it his all. But it had been a long battle, and he was weary. This time, the bad luck was his. The sword entered the side of his abdomen and slashed up, catching on his armor, before being ripped away. The pain was unimaginable, for a time that felt like forever. He dropped his sword, his hands curled around his stomach, holding in his guts, feeling the warm blood spurt through his fingers. Then he was cold, and it was dark, and it was over.

Until it wasn’t.

To his complete shock, he woke up.

“Welcome back,” a light baritone voice came from above him.

The man with the green eyes and the wild hair stood there, holding out a hand to help him up.

Stunned, Hengest took it, levering himself up from the clinging muck, a combination of mud, blood, and other things too disgusting to mention. He gingerly felt under his armor.

He was sure he’d had his guts ripped out.

“Wha?” he sputtered.

The other man laughed. “First death’s a bit of a shock, isn’t it? My name’s Godric, by the way.”

“Godric?” he repeated stupidly. It felt like his brain had died.

“Yeah. What’s your name?”

“Hengest,” he automatically responded.

“The Hellhound?”

Oh, he’d heard of him. How nice. “What the bloody fucking hell is going on?”

“Let’s get cleaned up, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Hengest gave a thought to standing his ground and demanding an explanation, but considering he was sinking in muck up past his ankles, a wash and something fiery to drink sounded good.

After obtaining both, he sat huddled under a blanket next to a fire, his hands wrapped around a mug of hot mead, while his new friend Godric told him a strange and bizarre tale that would become his life. It seemed there were such a thing as Immortals, and he was one. They could die, but would regain life, unless they were beheaded. At that time, whomsoever took their head, took also their life force, called a Quickening. Some Immortals hunted others, and some refused to play the game. Godric was a soldier, and had been for centuries. Hengest, it now seemed, was his student.

“Teach your grandmother to suck eggs,” was Hengest’s immediate reply.

After Godric stopped laughing, he explained that there was more to being an Immortal than just coming back to life. He was willing to teach Hengest, if Hengest, in turn, would teach Godric.

Hengest the Hellhound was a famed battlemage, after all, and Godric loved to fight.

Thus began a few of the most frustrating (for Hengest) and entertaining (for Godric) decades for the two.

Oh, life continued, of course. Hengest went on to become the first King of Kent, with Godric as his strong right hand. He adopted a son, taught him what he needed to know to thrive, and shoved the crown off on him as quickly as possible. Then he gave Aesc a manly hug, told him to make his father proud, and rode off into the sunset with Godric.

Several months of traveling, bickering, taking a head when absolutely necessary, dragging Godric away from the ladies, and dragging himself away from the arcane magics they found along the way, they ended up somewhere by the sea. Coming upon a stone forthouse, Hengest felt a strange, deep Quickening. It seeped into his bones, surrounded him with the sound of a small boy’s laughter, made his hand itch for his blade. Godric grinned at him like a loon, and hailed the house.

The man who came out to greet them looked younger than himself, but held the weight of ages in his eyes. He was tall and slender to the point of skinniness, but his shoulders were broad, his legs looked strong, his hands were made for a sword. He angled his jaw at them and gave Godric an affectionate, disgruntled look.

“What’s this, then?”

Hengest might have felt insulted, if his spine wasn’t still trying to curl into a ball.

Then Godric spoke up. “He followed me home. Can I keep him?”

His hand lashed out and smacked the idiot alongside the head. He sputtered, and Godric laughed like a hyena.

Introductions followed. The man, Methos, was as cracked as his son Godric, but there was a ferocity barely underlying his eyes that kept Hengest wary.

Regardless of Godric’s desire to keep him, it wasn’t many months before Hengest left to return to Jutland. Alone.

~

flashback: Gaul, circa 600 CE

Godric seldom, if ever, ran from a fight. Methos ran from them habitually… there was a reason he’d lived so long, and while he could fight, and incredibly well, he didn’t like it. But this time they were both running like rabbits.

A Gaul warrior the size of a bear, suffering from the effects of a Dark Quickening, was a nightmare. No sane Immortal fought a nightmare. Not to mention how taking a Dark Quickening would completely fuck one up.

Godric’s senses were all over the place, the stench of the evil Quickening overpowering his own ability to sense Immortals and confusing his magic. Methos kept his silence, but his hand was hard on his son’s shoulder as he hurried him through the woods. Every time Godric opened his mouth to ask, Methos shook his head sharply.

Finally, they saw buildings, and Godric made to run for safety. Of course, that was the moment Methos froze in place. Godric nearly ended up flat on his face when his father didn’t move.

Then Methos smiled, and stared at a man coming out from a building.

Another Immortal, definitely. This one in a monk’s habit. He had long, shaggy brown hair, bright blue eyes with the slightest squint, and a sturdy build, with long legs and strong arms that looked useful in a fight. Methos dragged him over to the man and smirked.

The man raised a brow.

Godric opened his mouth to ask who he was, when Methos leaned forward and kissed the man. Like he was dying of hunger and the man’s mouth was a feast.

Oh. He’d heard stories.

“Rowan?” he guessed.

When the man got his mouth back, giving Methos a long-suffering look, he glanced over at Godric and smiled. “Yes. Godric, I presume?”

“Nice to meet you,” Godric barely got out, before Methos clapped his hands and interrupted. “All well and good, so glad we’re all getting along, there’s a monster with a Dark Quickening on our heels. Think you can help?”

The now-identified Rowan slapped Methos on the chest with one hand, grabbed Godric’s near shoulder with the other, and pulled them both inside the Sanctuary.

The trap was set, and sprung. The Gaul came in roaring like a beast. Either there were no other monks around, or they had sense enough to hide. Methos pulled Godric into an opening in the wall, hiding them in shadows, as Rowan stepped forward.

The Gaul spotted him, and ran forward. Rowan held up a hand, there was a flash of magic, and their surroundings changed.

Godric caught his breath. This Rowan was an accomplished mage! He’d barely felt the translocation.

They were deeper in the Sanctuary now, surrounded by stone walls. The air was damp, with an oddly expectant feel. Next to him, Methos leaned forward, watching intently. To the right, Rowan stood, unarmed but for his magic, beside a still pool with deep green water. He spoke to the Gaul, his words too low for Godric to make them out.

Then the Gaul lunged.

Methos twitched, but held his place, still watching. Godric took his cue from his father, and held his peace.

Rowan dodged fluidly, and the Gaul fell past him, directly into the pool.

As soon as the maddened Immortal touched the water, a light grew. Where it touched his body, it was as golden as sunlight, while where his sword landed, it was silver. Mist rose from the surface of the water, and the Gaul froze in place.

As he stood, the water rose about him, then gently fell back. A cut appeared on his chest, then another over his eye. One more, to his upper arm. Then the mist faded away, and the Gaul folded into the water. He stared at his sword as if he had never seen it.

Then he began to sob.

Rowan backed away, coming to join them, as two monks came out of the shadows and walked to the edge of the pool.

“They have him now,” Rowan said quietly.

“Will he be all right?” Godric asked.

“If he’s strong enough.”

They didn’t speak as Rowan led them out of a maze of corridors back to the courtyard outside the Sanctuary. Godric sat on a nearby bench while Methos paced. Moments later, they felt it.

The Quickening. Not dark, now, but still discordant. Grief, madness, and rage.

All three turned, but Rowan was closest to the entryway. The Gaul came tearing out, sword raised high. Rowan lashed out with one hand, magic flying out to impede the oncoming beast. Methos whistled, a brief note calling Rowan’s attention, then tossed his sword to him. Rowan caught it and turned, meeting the blow that came as the Gaul shook off the magic.

The fight that followed was brutal. The Gaul had no finesse but immense strength. He was slow, but if a single blow connected, Rowan would have no chance of survival. Rowan moved like water, using his blade and his magic interwoven, getting in several small cuts that barely slowed the behemoth down.

Beside him, Godric could feel how tense Methos was. Rowan may not win the fight, but if he lost, the Gaul would not be long for the world.

Unfortunately, the warrior was too far into his blood-madness to care. He pressed harder and harder, until he had worn Rowan down to the point where he faltered under a two-handed slash. Then Rowan appeared to collapse, hissed something in a language Godric had never heard, and with a flash of deep blue light, knocked the Gaul back on his heels. Rowan rolled to the side then came up to one knee, threw his arm out, and used his entire body to power his strike, as his sword swept to the side and back.

The wind died, there was silence for a bare moment, then the storm hit.

Methos pulled Godric back into the shelter of the stone building, not that he needed much encouragement. From the entry he could see the body of the Gaul, his head now an arm-span away on the ground. Tendrils of white lightning surrounded the corpse, picking up speed, swirling out in a vortex, now with Rowan at its center. Rowan’s back arched, his limbs spasmed. He dropped his sword, and his head fell back. His eyes widened and his mouth opened in a soundless scream.

The strength of the Quickening lifted him from the ground, as lightning flashed through his body, striking it again and again. When it finally died down, Rowan was curled up like a child on the burnt grass, his arms crossing his chest, his shoulders hunched. He stared vacantly into the distance and panted for breath.

“What was that?”

Methos looked at Godric like he was a simpleton. Godric huffed. “The spell? I know what a Quickening is. I just hope it wasn’t dark. I’d hate to have to wrestle him over and toss him in the spring.”

Methos shook his head. “Sumerian. He has been doing his homework! And no, he’ll be fine. A Dark Quickening is literally that. The power is dark, not light.”

He moved forward, Godric trailing behind him, and knelt at Rowan’s side. He brushed the sweaty hair away from the dazed blue eyes and ran a hand down his back, over and over. Godric recognized the soothing motions from the many times his father had done the same for him. Once Rowan was back to himself, they slowly walked back to the Sanctuary.

“Will they have a problem with us?” Methos asked.

It took a moment for Godric to understand what he was asking, then he blushed.

As it turned out, the monks had no problems with Methos and Rowan. However, they often reprimanded Godric. Apparently, he was a loud disturbance who cut down too many trees.

Well, he had to do something while the old men were sequestered doing things he didn’t want to think about!

One night, near time for them to leave holy ground, they sat at dinner and discussed possible destinations. Godric had been a soldier for centuries, used to going where he was told, and had no great preference. Methos had some Immortals he was avoiding – some lunatic called Kronos, among others – and, since Rowan had been a wanderer for a long time, was leaving it up to his lover to choose. Rowan shredded a roll and took a deep breath.

What he said surprised Godric. He wanted to start a school. For mages.

“Here?” Methos asked, looking askance at the empty forest and grim monks shooting them – mainly Godric – dark looks.

“No,” Rowan replied, “In Alba.”

Godric looked on with interest as Methos grinned. “You know, I know a guy…”

~

flashback: Alba, circa 781 CE

For once, Godric wasn’t looking for a fight. His father Methos, and his new father, Rowan, were scouting out locations for the school. There was an old Immortal with an amazing library in a castle by a large lake, next to a forest. He called himself Emrys, and he’d greeted Rowan like a long-lost son.

Turns out the guy Methos knew was also the guy Rowan knew, and neither one of them knew it.

So he left Methos yapping with Emrys and Rowan immersed in the library while he went out and got some exercise. He fought with a couple centaurs in the forest, strictly for fun, of course, but eventually that got boring. So he took a horse and wandered a bit.

Right into a Viking raiding party.

To be fair, a pretty maid had distracted him, not an uncommon occurrence. Then she screamed. He wondered what he’d done wrong when that line had worked so often in the past, then ducked when his instincts told him to. Unfortunately, the maid took the blow, and ended up in two parts on the ground.

That ticked him off. She’d been an innocent. They’d been aiming for him.

The bastard who’d killed her was dead before he drew his next breath. A blade across the throat, impetus aided with a magical push, did that. Godric continued the turn that had ended the Viking’s life only to see a few more enemy than he usually liked to cross.

Especially since he was still trying to get his trows fastened.

She’d been a very pretty maid.

Still, he did his best, which was pretty damned good. He was distracted for a moment by the feeling of a familiar Quickening, and immediately fought harder. He couldn’t trust Vikings not to behead him, and with their own Immortal, probably leading them, he had no chance of keeping his head unless he won.

Which, pressed by nearly a score of battle-hardened, berserker Vikings, looked to be a challenge.

They were on the point of overwhelming him by sheer numbers when he heard a muttered, “Well, fuck it all,” to the side. Then one of their own, his face obscured by greying brown curls and his helm, flanked the raiders and began mowing them down.

Seeing help decide to pitch in energized Godric, and he was able to take out the four that were holding him down. By the time he killed the last of them, Hengest the Hellhound stood in front of him in all his bloody, grumpy glory.

“I had ‘em!” Godric beamed at him.

Hengest smacked him on the head with the flat of his sword.

“Ow.”

“Come on, then,” Hengest hauled him up by the arm. Godric rotated it once to make sure it was still in the socket.

“Where are we going?”

“Wherever you came from, lad.”

If possible, Godric’s grin widened. “You’re coming with me?”

Godric shrugged, finished cleaning his blade on the torn cloak of one of his dead erstwhile companions, and nodded. “No matter how old ye are, ye still can’t look after yerself,” he sighed.

Hengest got the horse, on account of he’d been raiding and was tired. Godric’s protest that he’d just been in a terrible fight for his life won him no points, and he gave in with a laugh, leading the way on foot. As they headed to the castle, they caught up.

“So what have you been up to?” from Godric.

“Conquering Jutland. Got bored. Went raiding.”

Nearly four hundred years in six words. That was the usual from Hengest. Godric glanced over his shoulder, a wicked gleam in his eye.

“We’ve been busy!”

The rest of the walk was spent filling him in on everything that had happened since they’d last met, finishing up with the plans he and his fathers had for starting a school for mages. He didn’t notice that Hengest only woke up when he got to the last part.

“A school? Sounds interesting.”

When they turned up at the castle, it was dinner. Rowan, Methos and Emrys were sitting down to table when Godric came in, half-dragging Hengest.

“You look like you’ve been dragged backward through a hedge,” Methos remarked. His eyes narrowed. “Both of you.”

“Are you all right?” Rowan asked, concerned. Such a worry wart. It was adorable. Godric grinned at them all, then turned to Methos.

“He followed me home again…”

~

flashback: Scotland, Hogwarts Castle, circa 987 CE

After a few decades of reciprocal learning, Emrys told them they could have the castle, as it was time for him to ‘begin the cycle’. He didn’t explain what that meant.

He didn’t explain a lot of things, but by then they were all used to it.

Outside the castle walls, the war with the Norsemen was heating up. Further south, it was getting particularly difficult, and it made Rowan happier that he’d chosen Alba. The most they had to deal with here were raiders, hostile non-magicals, bandits, the occasional Immortal hunter, a few mouthy priests, unruly centaurs (though Godric had fun with them), brutal winters, random overflights by dragons, and overly-helpful house elves. Still, everything was falling into place.

Each had their strength. Rowan and Methos were true scholars, Methos being strongest in soul magic. He was also the best strategist of them all, and busily planned for every eventuality under the sun, to keep the school safe and running for at least a couple millennia. Rowan thought he looked a bit like he had as a Horseman, with all his planning, only happy, and without the underlying terror, desperation, and madness.

Kronos didn’t like the cold, apparently, for which they both were thankful.

Rowan himself took on the library, sorting and making it usable and accessible to a variety of levels of scholarship, from neophyte to master. His visions came regularly, mostly benign, and he huddled with Methos to give him insight on what possibilities they might encounter in the future. His own strength was in Mind Magics, including occlumency, legilimency, divination, and the emotions. He was also strongest in theory, as Methos tended to find (or make) short cuts.

This led Rowan to work with Hengest quite often, as the quiet Hellhound was the most practical among them, and was busily, if somewhat crankily, sorting out the curriculum. There had never been an attempt quite like this, as mages had always been taught by Masters before, so there was a lot of work to do.

As much as he complained under his breath, he enjoyed himself.

Godric got bored often, but that was fine, as he was in charge of physical security, which gave him the opportunity to go out every day and play with the centaurs… er, patrol the perimeter. He often met raiders and killed them. He also began to scout out the local villages, what few there were, for budding magical talent. When he was at the castle, he sparred with anyone who would cross swords with him, and as a last resort, when no one else would keep him occupied, he displayed his strengths in the practical application of magic. Essentially, he was their healer and he also did the majority of the building upkeep and expansion.

With the four working together, it was only a decade or so before they were ready to open the doors to students.

One afternoon, when most of the preparatory work was done and even Godric was too tired to move, they sat drinking mead, lazily eating, and tossing around ideas. They’d come up with the idea of houses, a remnant of the apprenticeship system, to give the students a nominal Master they could turn to in times of need, though they would all be sharing the students. Now they needed what Hengest called the fripperies… symbols, colors, devices.

Rowan wanted a tree, unsurprisingly, being a Druid among other things. He was voted down.

Methos decided on snakes, surprising no one. What did cause a moment of silence was when he announced his new pseudonym. They were nothing new, as he changed his name every time he changed his location, but this one was hilarious.

“Slithering? A slithering snake!” Godric laughed so hard he nearly spilled his mead.

Methos gave him the stink eye. “What’s wrong with puns?”

“Lowest form of humor,” Rowan told him for what must have been the thousandth time… that year. Methos had a strange sense of humor.

“Slytherin,” Hengest announced.

Methos looked askance at him and nodded, slowly. “That’s what I said.”

Hengest shook his head and pronounced it slowly. “Sly-the-rin. Sounds close enough to ‘slithering’ to get it across without embarrassing any students you happen to get.”

That drew nods, even if Methos’ was reluctant. The man loved his puns.

“Sal!” Godric exclaimed, and they all looked at him. “Well, slithering isn’t much of a name, really.”

“True,” Rowan said , wincing when Methos glared at him. “It’s a verb, not a noun.” The table groaned. “No, really. You need an actual name, then use slithering as a descriptor.”

After much discussion and another several rounds of mead, Salazar the Slytherin was born.

Rowan kept his name, as did Hengest and Godric, though Methos had his revenge when he dubbed him ‘the Raven’s Claw.’ Godric barely got out of an even worse moniker when he latched on to the gryphon he’d ridden the week before (on the dare of a centaur, but it had been fun!). So then came Godric the Gryphon.

Hengest remained the Hellhound, and threatened to thrash anyone who tried to name him anything different.

They got their revenge later. When their castle banners were created, each had a symbol evident in their names. Methos liked his snake, Godric was puffed up over his gryphon, and Rowan reluctantly accepted his raven.

The badger was Godric’s idea, of course, as badgers were both fierce and curmudgeonly. After he accepted his arse-kicking for it, Hengest let it slide.

The next six decades were an amazing adventure of a completely different kind than any they had lived before, all too short a period in an Immortal lifespan.

Sadly, the times were against them.

~

flashback: Outside the castle walls, Hogwarts, 1034 CE

The enemy of my enemy is my ally. Never had that held more true than it did now.

It had been hard enough to convince the hidebound traditionalists that a school would not displace them as Masters and would, in fact, take care of all the preliminary education most of them couldn’t be bothered to give. Thus giving them more advanced apprentices.

The children born of non-magicals were another thing. The unwanted, the majority of such children, were rescued. But as time passed, a few children had families who considered them blessed rather than cursed. These families lived in villages, however, that were run by the Church.

The four founders did what they had to do to protect their students.

Godric, as always, was Master of the castle protections, and even with his duties to their students, made regular patrols of the castle perimeter. Hengest patrolled a little, and Methos more, but Rowan and Hengest were the fallback protectors, those who would ensure the castle remained secure against all comers. Methos and Godric grew, if anything, even more close as they rode together, fighting raiders and villagers and a mad priest or six.

The day it all fell apart, Methos had been busy with Rowan, working on the castle wards and sneaking off into dark corners to cop a feel – or a bit more. Rowan was laughing and trying to keep his robe from getting rucked up around his waist when they both felt it.

A Quickening.

Godric!

They teleported to the front of the castle, straining to see where the fighting was. They could hear it. Hengest met them there, a quill caught in his robe, his sword already drawn, eyes sweeping the horizon.

“There,” Methos barked, honing in on his son’s presence. Rowan grabbed his arm and Hengest barely got a hand on his shoulder before he relocated all three of them.

They appeared in the middle of a nightmare.

For once, it wasn’t villagers or priests. The bodies of the raiders made it clear exactly how Godric had died. But that hadn’t loosed his Quickening.

No, he’d had the terrible luck to return to life surrounded by mortal wizards. Necromancy was only practiced in secret, as Methos well knew, and was shunned by most mages. They considered it a sign of true evil, and when they saw the man inhale after taking a mortal blow, they went insane.

They fell on the newly-arisen Immortal like a pack of wolves, tearing him to pieces. For Rowan, the horror of seeing his foster son’s body ripped apart was compounded by memories of seeing the same happen to his mentor Hypatia. For Hengest, he was thrown back to the worst depravities he’d witnessed when he’d run with a Viking raiding crew. But for Methos, it was the most horrifying.

This was his son, the boy he had raised from infancy.

His first, and still finest, student.

Yes, his body was being desecrated as Hypatia’s had been… and as Methos himself, as Death, had done to a few Immortals when he had ridden with the Horsemen.

If finding Godric was his redemption, then surely losing him like this was his punishment.

He didn’t realize he screamed as he tried to run toward the crowd. Hengest anchored himself in the turf and wrapped both strong arms around Methos’ waist, keeping him from running into the mob. These mages knew Godric was his son. They would tear Methos asunder as they had Godric. There were too many to fight.

Rowan planted himself in front of Methos, partly to stop him, partly to shield him. Methos saw the tears on his lover’s face, the anguish in his eyes, and they meant nothing.

That was his SON.

Godric’s Quickening dissipated into the earth, too far away, too dispersed, for any of them to carry it. Had Methos been in his right mind, he would have appreciated that. If a Quickening from a mage was not taken by another Immortal, there was the chance it might, over time, reform into a new Immortal. But he wasn’t in his right mind.

Rowan held Methos’ head, one hand wrapped around the back of his skull, the other clamped over his mouth to keep him silent, until the mob broke up. It didn’t take long, as the superstitious mages considered themselves on cursed ground where a necromantic ritual had taken place. When they were clear, Hengest finally let go. Rowan drew his hands away, and Methos punched him in the face.

Hengest responded immediately by clouting him on the head. Rowan held up his hands, gesturing for Hengest to back down. Methos snarled wordlessly at both of them, and walked slowly to the remains of his son.

It was the work of hours to find all of him. To gather the pieces and gently lay them, to build the pyre, to set it alight. As the time went by, Rowan and Hengest helped where they could, where he allowed them. At the end, Rowan stood at Methos’ right shoulder, and Hengest at his left, as they watched the end of Godric’s shell and prayed, in their own ways and to their own gods, for his safe passage, wherever it might lead.

Rowan honestly expected Methos to leave. He didn’t. For the next several months, he stayed. He taught, though there was a distance between him and the children that hadn’t been there before. He came to their chamber most nights, but he was cold, and nothing Rowan could do would warm him up. His disagreements with Hengest became arguments, and they had a sharp and bitter undertone to them. Then one morning Rowan woke to a cold bed.

Methos was gone.

From Hogwarts, at least. With the coming summer, they learned what had distracted him so in the months before he left them.

He had been planning.

Infiltration, assassination, utter destruction. It was played over and over against the Masters and apprentices that had participated in the mob that murdered Godric. Hengest said nothing, made no indication each time the news came in, that he had any idea it was Methos’ doing. Neither did Rowan.

If he’d asked, they would have helped.

For the next score years, Rowan remained at Hogwarts. His students were the saving of his soul, and Hengest the saving of his sanity. But he felt the distance growing in him, as well. Without Godric’s humor and enthusiasm, without Methos’ creativity and sheer presence, wanderlust was taking him over again. In time, it became too much, and not even his dream could keep him.

What was a dream, without his lover and his son?

“This is it, then,” Hengest said, leaning against the door jamb, watching him put together a small pack.

Rowan nodded. His books would stay, forming the nucleus of what would in time be the most complete library of magic outside Alexandria. He sat back on his haunches and looked up at Hengest.

“Thank you,” he said softly.

The Hellhound shook his head. “Get.”

Rowan smiled, hefted his pack, and walked out to the stables. Hengest kept pace with him. The silence was filled with understanding, underlined with grumpy patience, for it was Hengest, after all.

He mounted up and turned to leave. Hengest stopped him with a hand on his knee.

“It’s home. Don’t be gone forever, eh?”

Rowan nodded, his throat too tight to speak. For once, Hengest had the words and Rowan held his peace.

~

Hengest watched as the last of those he could call his friends rode away from him. It was ever thus. Somebody has a big idea, makes a big mess, and leaves the Jute to clean it up. He shook his head and stomped back to the castle, covering his sense of loss with familiar irritation.

Work to be done. Never ended.

It was another forty years before he felt the castle was secure, the students were safe, and the faculty he’d brought in could cope. The majority of the raids were done, the local area either beaten, appeased, or set under a security spell. The wards were as strong as he could make them, working off his friends’ genius. By that time he had a daughter, an orphan mage who’d been abandoned as a small child upon her first accidental magic. He’d fought off the men who’d chased the girl, taken her back to Hogwarts, and raised her well. Now his Helga would take his place, leading the school into the future.

He’d had enough.

He wandered south, tired of the cold, and eventually found himself in the wilds of Africa. The magic there was different, and he learned new things every year. One day, he stumbled across a young girl who reminded him of Helga, only she wasn’t magical. Wasn’t Immortal. Yet she was fighting off demons with the strength of a dozen men.

Hengest didn’t interfere. The battle was too close, and she didn’t need the help. When the last demon fell, she turned to him and raised her wooden spear.

He smiled. Laid his short sword down, and gestured for her to take it.

After staring at him so fiercely he wondered if she could read his soul, she eased forward and picked up the blade. After watching her make a few experimental slashes, he drew his own sword. She instantly stiffened into a protective stance.

Maintaining enough distance to show he was not a threat, he began to run through some training stances. A few repetitions later, she hesitantly began to mirror his actions. He smiled, and kept moving. Soon, she was moving nearly as smoothly as he.

He had another student. A reason to stop wandering. Someone to protect.

As it turned out, the Slayer didn’t need much protection. But she did need someone to watch over her, and so Hengest found another calling. As a Watcher.

~

flashback: Heidelberg, Germany, 1458

It had been a few centuries since the last time he’d felt that Quickening. Methos stopped at the tollhouse before urging his horse across the bridge. The University of Heidelberg was beautiful, a collection of buildings at the base of rolling green hills. The central fortress stood above the town atop a small hill, separated from the Church and the houses. He turned toward the main hall and followed his instincts.

The library. Of course. Rowan was waiting there, in the stacks, not even pretending to read the book in his hands.

For a moment, memory overlay the present. It was Alexandria, over a thousand years ago, not at the end, but at the beginning. How Daniyyel, now Rowan, had the courage to face him after being Death’s captive. It was Gaul, eight hundred years ago, and forgiveness in the kiss of a monk. This time, it was Rowan needing the forgiveness, for saving Methos, and Methos needing acceptance, after running away.

Rowan put the book on the table without losing eye contact. Methos moved forward as if pulled by a magnet.

What this man did to him. Every time.

He cupped Rowan’s cheek and stared into the shadowed blue eyes. Never as bright as they had been, couldn’t be, with all they’d lived through. But still that spark lingered, that hunger for life, and Methos was entranced.

“Rowan,” he whispered, his mouth a breath away from the other man’s.

“Actually, it’s Daniel now,” Rowan said, and kissed him.

Methos would tell him to make up his mind, but he’d had so many pseudonyms himself it was a wonder he could keep them straight. Besides, Rowan… Daniel’s tongue was in his mouth, and it was rude to talk with his mouth full.

By the time he got possession of his lips again, talking was the furthest thing from his mind. As luck would have it, there was a nice sturdy table right there.

He’d always had a thing for libraries. And for… Daniel, in a library.

The usual happened. He tried to get Daniel’s clothes off, Daniel maintained his modesty by the skin of his teeth, and some nosy bastard told them to take it to a room. At least they weren’t being chased by prudes with pitchforks.

He loved universities.

Daniel had a room, as it turned out, he was a lecturer. On philosophy, of course. Hypatia’s lessons had stuck, and he’d only learned more since then. He was also one of the central figures in the underground school for German mages, along with, of all things, a Catholic priest who was also a mage. Wonders never ceased.

He found this out much later. He was too busy right then getting Daniel out of the multiple layers of cloth he’d wrapped himself in. There was much to be said for the old ways of clothing. It was a lot faster to get to the tumble when all one had to do was flip up the edge of a robe.

“Anticipation,” Daniel panted, “makes completion all the sweeter.”

“Less talking, more skin,” Methos informed him, finally getting his braies off. Bloody damned strings.

Then it was heat, and slick sweet soft skin under his mouth, under his hands. Daniel arched into him as Methos tasted him, stuffing his fist in his mouth to keep from crying out as he came.

Tolerant they may be, but the walls weren’t that thick. Better not to take chances.

Then it was Methos’ turn to hiss and swear under his breath. Daniel was tight as a virgin, shifting beneath him. He took as much time as he could, half-fearing he’d go off before he got properly seated. It had been awhile for him, as well. Still and all, they knew one another, and each knew precisely how to keep the other at the edge, how to bring him over, how to sink into one another and hold on when it was over. They nearly fell asleep that way, but for Daniel making little whining noises about being too damned sore to walk in the morning while Methos chided him for being a weakling.

Daniel tightened his hindquarters at that and Methos sang in a different octave.

Which, of course, led to round two. Daniel was, indeed, too sore to teach the next day. Not that he minded, since they never left the bed.

The following years were calm, at least for the two of them. After a decade they left the university to wander Europe, finding themselves in Spain when Pope Sixtus declared the Inquisition. Between them and their compatriots, they managed to get most of the mage apprentices out of the country, but the persecution followed. Within a century, Paul III declared the Roman Inquisition, and it was getting a little too hot to stay in Europe.

If they weren’t burned for being mages, they’d be stoned to death the first time anyone saw them take a Quickening. Or, even worse, wake up from death.

Daniel wanted to head to the New World, as he was fed up with the Church and wanted to get away from people for a while. Methos was in the mood for luxury. Wanderlust pulling at them again, they kissed and parted. Daniel boarded a Dutch West India ship headed to New Netherland in 1615. Methos watched him from the dock, then headed back to the Ottoman Empire. He didn’t land in the New World until 1804.

~

Staging point before Ascension, aka the Diner, 2005

It turned out Oma might let him in. The only catch? He could do nothing to save the galaxy. Nothing to save his friends, his planet, his allies, all the innocents on all the worlds that the other Ascended were giving Anubis free rein to destroy.

He tried to fight.

The damned light bounced off again.

Seeing him struggle and fail broke Oma. She gave up her work, all her efforts to help the deserving, like Daniel, find their way. She met Anubis head-on, fought him to a standstill, and would continue that fight into eternity.

It was horrifying.

It also finally got all the rest of the Ascended to look at him.

He blamed them. They should have listened. Should have acted. Should have balanced the incredible good Oma had done over eons against the one mistake she’d made. Should have balanced their justice, their punishment, with mercy. With understanding. With fucking common sense.

Daniel turned his back on them and walked out the door. Even death was better than being around the Ascended for eternity.

As his foot crossed the threshold of the diner, the sunlight blinded him. He was paralyzed by the rush of memories from his time as an Ascended, jolted loose by Replicator Sam’s brutal mental assault. For a moment, he thought he would break, fly apart into particles of sunlight and dissipate into nothingness.

Instead, it was the light that broke.

The sunlight became a curtain of threads, holding that point in time at the center of the strand. He could read them, backward into the past, forward into the future. It was like he was having multiple visions but could still make sense of each of them.

A flash of vivid green eyes under an unruly thatch of black hair caught his attention.

It was Godric, but not the Godric he’d known. There was little laughter in this youth’s expression. His eyes were haunted, his body marked by hardship and malnutrition. His skin was scarred, his arm, his back, his leg, even a rune carved into his forehead. He reached out with an unsteady hand and touched that beloved face with one fingertip.

His vision fragmented.

To his left, he saw the past. His foster son, targeted by a psychopathic mage, orphaned as an infant. His entire life manipulated by two old men, one calling himself light, the other reveling in the dark, neither seeing the child for the weapon. To the right he saw his son’s future, in a stagnant world where nothing had changed, forever under the watchful eye of the government and the populace. Until his first death in this new incarnation. Awakening as an Immortal.

Torn to pieces by demons calling themselves wizards.

History. Repeated.

Not again.

He wasn’t willing to have his boy go through that hell again. Wasn’t going to wait another thousand years on the off chance that Godric would get a third try.

A chime sounded behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw another path. This led back to his current life. Back to Jack, and Teal’c, and Sam, and SG-1, with all that entailed.

He turned away. He had a duty that came before his current team. They would do fine without him. Later, when things were settled, he would look in on them and make sure they were okay. He knew the path now, could ascend at will. Besides, they all thought he was dead, anyway.

Well, Sam said she didn’t, but she always was stubborn.

Right now, he had a different duty. It was time to call on his lover and his brother, to rescue his son.

In this, his Ascended knowledge was an incalculable aid. Daniel, with what he knew, was not bound by time nor place. He gathered his will, let himself slip into the energy patterns he remembered from his first time on the higher plane, and reached out to Methos.

~

“A big ball of light.” Joe sounded more resigned than surprised.

“Well, more of a squid, really.”

The face surrounded by light looked a bit insulted. “I’m not a squid.”

“Magic,” Joe continued, in that same world-weary tone.

“Hm, maybe not a squid,” Methos squinted at the light, smirking. “Tentacles. Possibilities spring to mind.”

“Still a pervert, I see,” the glowing… man? remarked.

“Always, and you love it,” Methos retorted, and Joe sighed.

“You have a thing for the glow-squid.” It wasn’t a question.

“I’ve had a thing for that glow-squid for millennia, Joe,” Methos answered anyway, the smirk softening to a real smile. Then he tore his eyes away from the face, now smiling back at him, to look over at Joe.

Before he could say it, Joe did, for him. “Get out of here, old man.”

No one in the room mentioned the fact that, of the three of them, he looked by far the eldest.

“You’ll be all right?”

The look Joe gave Methos could blister concrete, before he shook his head. “I watched over myself a hell of a long time before you came on the scene, man. And if that ain’t enough, Amy’s around every chance she gets. And there’s always Duncan.”

Methos paled, not that it was noticeable with his natural complexion. Joe waved him off. “I’ll explain it to him. After Ahriman, magic and glowy squids shouldn’t be a problem.”

“I’m not a squid,” the glowing being growled.

Methos pulled Joe into a hug, then stepped forward into the light. Joe watched it fade, blinked away the afterimage, and sighed. Yeah, the Highlander would believe it, but he’d bet a bottle of his best whiskey he’d also want to go along and help.

Damned good thing glowy squid guy didn’t say where they were going.

~

“Hengest.”

He hadn’t heard that name in a long time. Absently reaching for a bookmark, he replied, “It’s Giles now.”

Beside him, Oz choked. He looked up.

Rowan, surrounded by light. What magic was this?

“Will you come? It’s Godric.”

Giles stared at the face of his brother staring back at him from within the cloud of light, and hesitated.

“Go,” came Oz’s calm voice. “We’ll be okay.”

In the background he could hear, as always, the muted cacophony of dozens of Slayers, training and bonding. Willow’s voice came through, words indistinct but tone encouraging, and Giles smiled.

They would be okay. The coven would watch over Willow. Oz and Xander would help the Watchers, such as they were, and the girls would be just fine. He wasn’t needed here.

Rowan needed him.

A thought struck him. Yes, the Potter child’s face had looked familiar.

Godric, no, Harry needed him.

And Giles needed to be needed.

He took the hand extended to him, watched his wrist be wrapped in tendrils of light. It felt like sunlight after a cold night.

“Take care of them, please,” he said quietly, turning to stare at Oz’s face, as it grew hazy before it disappeared into the whiteness that filled his vision.

Oz’s smile told him everything he needed to know.

~

It was a little like apparition, Giles thought. Except it really, really wasn’t.

It was being, and nothingness. Forever, and a pinpoint. It was the universe, and a grain of sand.

And he was getting poetic, so it was either time to find a book, kill something, or get drunk.

He felt more than heard Rowan’s voice.

“It’s Daniel now.”

Right. Okay. Legilimency. But really not.

Soul magic was more Methos’ thing than his, by a long shot. But this was it, if ever it was.

There weren’t words, but there were images. He saw fifteen years of hell, and another fifteen to come, before young Harry met the same fate he had as Godric. He felt Methos’ vicious rejection, and Rowan… no, Daniel’s gentle query.

If not now, when?

The boy alone, or the world as well?

There was so much wrong with the British wizarding world, and inertia was a strong opponent. Should they intervene now and simply whisk the boy away? Teach him the truth, protect and hide him? Should they enter the time stream later, after the war, after he’d accepted his place as Master of Death, and do what they couldn’t the last time, save him from the mob? Or should the intervention come earlier, before he had experienced so much pain, and do as adults should, take care of the problems so the children didn’t have to?

It was unanimous. With a thought, they moved. It was like being caught in a whirlwind whilst standing in place.

~

Privet Drive, Surrey, England, October 31, 1980

Daniel sifted through the threads of fate, searching for a flux point that would accept their energies. He wanted to save Harry’s family, but the death of his parents was a nexus. He inserted them as close to that explosion of energy as he could get.

“Good god, talk about cookie cutter neighborhood,” Hengest… no, Giles, said. Grumpily.

Daniel grinned despite himself. He’d missed the old grouch.

Methos’ fingers wrapped around his, and he welcomed the warmth. He’d missed his lover even more. But it hadn’t been safe to expose the oldest Immortal to the inquiring minds of the US military, who were already jumping at alien sightings (with good reason). It was bad enough that Daniel himself kept dying, but at least there was always a convenient sarcophagus or friendly alien around to take the credit when he popped back up alive.

Although Oma had been in a class by herself. He sent a mental thank you to the being who had made this possible, and flipped her brethren a mental finger for being such complete assholes.

A tiny cry brought his attention back to the present, along with Methos cursing in Etruscan under his breath. A tug on his magic led him toward a dark stoop, and he caught his breath.

Albus Dumbledore was a moron. Leaving a baby in a basket on a porch in November, with a single blanket, a warming charm that was fading, and a sleep charm that never took.

“I’m going to kill him,” Methos said, scooping the baby up from the basket.

Rowan’s finger twitched, and the enchanted parchment lying on the abandoned wicker went up in a spark of blue flame, along with the binding magic attached to it. The vampiric blood wards that would otherwise have latched on and drained their boy would never take root.

“You leave that to me,” Giles growled as they turned and moved away from dark, cold house. “It’s my school he’s been screwing with. Time he got what was coming to him.”

“Our school?” Rowan asked absently, concentrating on layering comfort charms around the toddler in Methos’ arms.

“I was the last headmaster among us,” Giles stated, tucking the trailing blanket around Harry’s little feet and glaring around, ready to slaughter anyone who got in their way.

“Good point,” Rowan conceded. Once they were around the corner into the alley, away from any insomniac eyes that might spy them, he embraced both men and the child.

“I know just the place.”

Ravenclaw’s Keep looked exactly as it had the last time he’d seen it, over three centuries before. The house elves took excellent care, as was their wont. Upon arrival, they were instantly surrounded by a dozen short, energetic, goggle-eyed beings. As one, they raised their hands and cried welcome to Master Rowan Daniel… then fell silent and stared at the baby.

Harry stared back.

It was love at first sight.

It was also very late – or very early, really – and the poor kid had endured a horrible day, losing his parents, being shot at by a maniac, having the roof fall into his nursery, being kidnapped and flown away on a motorcycle while freezing half to death, then being abandoned on a cement step in the dark. He was more than ready for sleep.

The elves descended, and the Prince was cared for.

This left the adults, who were all wide awake and fuming, with several hours free to plan.

Well, plot, really.

Something at which Methos excelled, Giles wasn’t too bad at himself, and Daniel supported whole-heartedly.

By dawn, they had a working draft of an action plan. Daniel would take care of Harry. Daniel was the best at wards, theory – which would help Harry as he learned the old-fashioned way, since his teachers came from the time before wands – and mind magic, to protect him from the powerful individuals who would try to use him for their own ends. The boy would be hidden, protected, and taught.

They would all take care of making sure he knew he was loved.

Giles would take care of Hogwarts. Dumbledore had to go, and his sycophants with him. As a Watcher, then the Head Watcher, part of Giles’ purview had been keeping tabs on what was happening in the wizarding world, particularly in England. What had happened to Hogwarts was heartbreaking. The curriculum had been gutted, over half the faculty were incompetent if not downright dangerous to have around children, and the Board of Governors was an abomination that had no place in the institution. Not to mention the duffer reputation of Hufflepuff house (and how on Earth had Helga come up with that?). Things Needed to Change.

Methos was going hunting. His strength had always been soul magic, and from what Daniel had shown him, Tom Riddle had created perversions that were exactly what Methos could clean up. Add to that his penchant for infiltrating, assassinating, and burning down the houses of mages that pissed him off, and the British Wizarding World was about to get a long overdue kick in the arse.

Less than a day since they’d reclaimed Harry, Daniel gave him a physical and magical checkup. The poor kid was in overall very good health, but there was something weird about the rune scar on his forehead. Giving it a glare, he cuddled Harry to his chest and went off in search of Giles. When in doubt about anything Norse, ask the Viking.

“Sowilo?” Giles asked absently, smiling gently down at Harry, who stared back up at him with huge green eyes. If he found it strange to see his long-ago comrade in arms as such a tiny tyke, he didn’t mention it. He then made the mistake of touching the scar. “Shit!”

“Language,” Daniel automatically called him on it.

Harry looked interested. “Tht?” he asked.

Giles muttered something under his breath in Aramaic that Daniel was glad Harry couldn’t hear, then told them they needed to ask Methos. “Whatever it is, it goes deep, and it’s filthy.”

Methos took one close look at it and began to curse a stream, thankfully in Old Wu-Min. Daniel had the odd idea that by the time Harry spoke in complete sentences, given the adults in his life, he’d know obscenities in half a hundred languages, many of them dead.

“Tht?” Harry asked Methos, and Methos stopped in his tracks.

Daniel pointed at Giles.

Giles blushed.

Methos smirked, then made a ‘gimme’ motion toward Harry, who responded by enthusiastically flinging his body toward his dad. Daniel wondered for a moment about genetic memory, then shook it off. He could dream about philosophy later; right now he had some kind of infection to extract from his son.

Down to the ritual room they went, with a quick stop by the stock room to pick up some chalk, some hematite, opal, lapis lazuli, and obsidian, and several fat beeswax candles. As they were leaving, Harry reached out with one hand, and a chunk of rose quartz flew at Daniel. He caught it by reflex and added it to the pile.

“A year and a half, and already showing deliberate magic. Kid’s going to be a powerhouse,” Giles mused, acting as pack horse for the majority of the supplies as they entered the ritual room.

Methos placed Daniel in the center of the room, handed Harry to him, and beckoned Giles to follow him. The next hour went quickly. Harry was surprisingly well behaved, watching his father and his uncle in fascination from the safety of his dad’s arms. Methos wrote runes in a running circular script, over, under, sideways, stopping once in awhile to think, then diving back in. When the pattern was complete, he had Giles place the candles, then he himself placed the gems. Daniel held the rose quartz directly over Harry’s heart, and Harry placed his little hands down on the crystal between Daniel’s hands.

Giles moved back to guard the door out of sheer habit, as Methos stepped carefully through the winding runes to kneel behind Daniel. He placed one arm around both man and child, and hovered the other over the Sowilo rune on Harry’s forehead. He began a low chant in a language it took Daniel a while to recognize as Elamite.

There was a hush. Even the candle flames stilled on the wick.

Suddenly, the gems flared, one after another. All three men tensed, but the shooting sparks didn’t burn when they landed. The rose quartz suddenly blossomed with light.

Harry giggled.

From nowhere, and everywhere, there came a scream, then another, and another, until the chamber echoed with the sounds of men and women in agony. Daniel instinctively curled to protect Harry, but Methos’ arm kept him in place. From all four cardinal points, streaks of black shadow arrowed into the chamber and hovered, looking like nothing more than a sickly ink spill in the air. The shrieks wove together and came to a crescendo, then abruptly cut off. The instant they did, the rune on Harry’s forehead split open.

A single drop of blood traced down the side of his face.

Then, a narrow stream of smoke poured from it. The hovering shadows immediately joined with it, and it congealed slowly. The smoke took the shaky form of a man, contorted beyond recognition. The light from the rose quartz solidified into a translucent shield, curving over Harry, Daniel, and Methos. The shade flew toward the shield.

It bounced off.

It then set its sights on Giles, and flew screaming toward him. It hit the edge of the runic inscription, and it bounced back.

That was all the chance it had. As it rebounded toward the center again, Harry sang out, “Bye!”

A hole opened between two layers of the runes on the floor. The wraith gave a rather comical double-take, and they distinctly heard the word, “Fuck!” as it was sucked into the hole. Then there was another garbled scream, a blast of heat, and the hole closed.

“Welcome to hell,” Methos said lightly.

“Fck?” asked Harry.

Daniel couldn’t help it. He laughed so hard he fell over.

Thankfully the ritual was complete, so it didn’t matter that he smudged the chalk lines. Otherwise he never would have heard the end of it from Methos.

~

After Daniel regained his composure and left to give Harry his brunch, Methos shooed Giles away so he could complete his work. He carefully erased the runic construction that had drawn out the horcrux, such a disgusting piece of crap to stick in a baby’s head. From the way the ritual had gone, the idiot had made several, but that wasn’t a problem. They had been drawn toward the origination point, and once reintegrated, had been literally sent to hell where it belonged.

No one split a soul on Methos’ watch. They most certainly didn’t do it using his son.

There had been a complication, though. The multiple screams was an unforeseen aspect to manifest. He had to find out what that was all about.

Taking up the single element of the ritual that hadn’t been part of his plan, Harry’s crystal, Methos stared at it for a long time, feeling it out with his magic, trying to determine what it had done, how it had done it, and why.

Nine hours, a trance deep enough to nearly cause a migraine, tracing spells in Akkadian, Phoenician, Ancient Cyrillic, and even a stab at Khitan – though old Mongolian had never been his strong suit – and he finally landed on a Brahmi hex that was used to track lineages in order to gain vengeance in the case of a cursed family. It made him sit up and peer intently into the rose quartz.

A lineage. A family tree. A master with a whole shitload of slaves. Voldemort, tied to his death eaters.

Taking them with him to hell.

He extended his hands, the crystal in his right, his left writing in smoke in the air. Tendrils curled throughout the room, but at the end of every branch there was nothing but a shriveled nub. From the look of it, Riddle had tied his minions to him by soul magic, and as he’d done with the horcruces, he hadn’t realized, or hadn’t cared, what he was dealing with. Uniting and damning Riddle’s soul had caused him to draw on the magic and life force of all his followers. All over England, a bunch of bad guys and gals died screaming in hideous agony.

Methos reached through the smoke and pinched one of the shrunken ends. A picture formed, the blurry outline of a lovely room, a bit too much gilding and the peacocks crying in the background were overkill, but still lovely. A woman, half-hiding in a corner behind an armoire, terror contorting her beautiful face into an ugly mask. A man, long blond hair and too many embroidered snakes on his waistcoat, writhing on the ground, pulling at his arm as if trying to detach it. Screaming, until his voice fell silent, until his movements stopped. Then his body began to shrivel just as the mystical representation of his life force had, until he was nothing more than a husk. The image disintegrated back into smoke.

He watched dispassionately as the death eater died and the vision dissipated, then muttered, “Well, that was easy enough.”

A ritual cleansing of the room, an affectionate pat to the rose quartz, and Methos headed upstairs to be with his family.

It was about time for Harry’s bed time story. Maybe the one about the dragon. Or, no, that might teach the boy more new words Daniel would smack Methos over. How about the Manchurian princess? No, that would get him in trouble, and he’d just gotten Daniel back. He didn’t want to sleep on the couch already.

He whistled as he went toward the family quarters, turning five thousand years of experience over in his head. Surely there was something kid-friendly in there? He was still thinking when he got to Harry’s room.

Moot point. The kid was already snoring. He guessed getting a Horcrux pulled out of one’s head did made for a tough day, and it had already been a tough week. He planted a light kiss on the flawless forehead where the scar used to be, and walked silently out of the room.

Time to find Daniel. It had been way too long.

~

Hogwart’s, Headmaster’s office, November 4, 1980

Albus Dumbledore stared at his non-whirling, non-tweeting trinkets, also known as tracking devices, with consternation.

Why hadn’t the blood wards taken? He’d left a compulsion charm on the letter. Petunia was a bitch, but she was an easily-led bitch. Give her a sniff of danger to her own whelp, and she’d take in her orphaned nephew with alacrity. She would keep him out of sight, safe from Voldemort’s followers, and not let him get a big head for being Savior of the Wizarding World. When the time came, he would be pliable, strong enough but not too strong, and willing to sacrifice his all for whomever rescued him from the Dursleys, and by extension, for the Wizarding World. Thus extending whatever arcane magic Lily performed that saved him from the killing curse to the entirety of his magical brethren and ridding the world of Voldemort all at the same time.

It was a genius plan.

That had apparently imploded before it even began.

He sighed, pulled out his wand, and readied himself to see what fly Petunia had managed to stick in the ointment.

Then he nearly shat himself when his wand wrenched itself out of his hand and flew across the room to land in the hand of a tall, broad-shouldered stranger stepping out from the shadows of the back corner of the room.

How in Merlin’s name had he gotten in? And who the bloody hell was he, to take the Elder Wand from him without so much as an incantation or a wand movement? Or a damned wand, from what Dumbledore could see.

The wizard who came to a stop a few feet away from him was rather unassuming. Attractive, yes. Albus was old, not dead, and he could certainly appreciate a handsome man. This one was lean, well-built, with an angular face. Piercing green eyes stared back at him, the left iris highlighted with a bronze spot.

A mage spot.

Albus shivered.

“Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Order of Merlin, First Class; Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and Grand Sorcerer.”

For some reason, his accomplishments sounded more like an insult than a compliment, listed out in that deep voice.

“Who are you?” He was proud his voice didn’t waver. He had to get his wand back.

“My name is Hengest. They call me the Hellhound.”

His heart stuttered.

Every headmaster of Hogwarts, upon taking up the position, learned of the true Four Founders. Unlike the popular history, that celebrated diversity and pretended that a female mage would be allowed to wield power in medieval Scotland, the Founders were actually all men. Men who lived for centuries, and other than Godric Gryffindor, who’d had a fatal run-in with some of the locals, none of them had died. All of them had left, and all of them left writings that indicated they would one day return.

It was that day.

He had a feeling he was in deep, deep trouble.

The following hours were very unpleasant for the Headmaster. Physically constrained to a straight-backed wooden chair that Hengest had conjured with a thought, he’d been forced to hear some home truths that he’d been avoiding for decades.

He was over-extended.

He was not fit to oversee children.

He was lucky it was Hengest here dealing with him, because Slytherin was also in town, and was not happy with the way young Harry Potter had been treated.

Albus nearly swallowed his tongue at that one, but it did confirm something he’d suspected. Lily Potter had been an Unspeakable. She’d also been barren. So when she and James presented their son, the Potter heir, to the world, it caused Albus quite a lot of suspicion. From what he was learning now, and from whom he was learning it, it would appear that somehow Godric Gryffindor was reborn. The Founders Four were reunited.

And they weren’t happy with him.

The single bright spot in the night of fear for his life was that Voldemort was dead. He’d wondered, when the Daily Prophet reported that so many ‘fine upstanding members of the pureblood community’ shriveled up like prunes all at once, but he hadn’t been certain. Hengest the Hellhound confirmed Voldemort’s death, and Albus had a moment to appreciate that his plans, and young Harry’s sacrifice, would not be needed.

Then Hengest started back in on the state of the school, and how Albus’ leadership had sent it down the toilet, and he was back to fearing for his life.

An hour before breakfast, he was finally released from the magical chains, as the chair dissolved beneath him and he landed on his arse on the stone floor. That was going to bruise. He hauled himself up and shakily called for an elf, Hengest fulminating at him from his perch on the corner of what had been Albus’ desk. Several tense moments of silence later, Minerva came bustling up the stairs.

“What on earth is this all about, Alb-“ She cut off abruptly when she saw Hengest.

Her response was mirrored by the Founder, who sat up straight, then stood up, pulled his glasses from his face and began to polish them furiously.

It would have been funny, if not for the lingering terror Albus felt at Hengest’s mere presence.

“Minerva, my dear, I am sorry to drop this on you, but I will be retiring. Immediately.”

She tore her eyes away from the man blushing at her, and turned on Albus. All she got out was a splutter, before he continued. “Minerva McGonagall, may I present Hengest the Hellhound, the Founder who preceded Helga Hufflepuff and whose house she took on.”

Minerva wheeled back to stare at Hengest in shock.

“I go by Rupert Giles now,” he said mildly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She had one hand on her heart, no doubt to calm minor palpitations. Albus patted her on the shoulder and slid behind her, more than happy to finally have a human shield between himself and his Hufflepuff nightmare.

“Lord Hengest, this is Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress, Head of Gryffindor House and Transfiguration Professor. I’m sure you will get along delightfully in your new role as Headmaster. Goodbye!”

He scurried down the stairs faster than he had moved in eighty years. He’d have an elf pack for him later. He had to get out of there. He’d worry about details later.

After he obtained another wand. Blast it.

~

Giles was quite taken with the animagus before him.

Minerva was quite charmed with the mage before her.

It was the start of a rather romantic and quite sweet relationship that would shake the foundations of the magical educational world.

~

Gringott’s Bank, and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic, London, December 11, 1980

Daniel left Methos curled up asleep around Harry, but not before snapping several photographs. Besides the blackmail potential, it was just too cute to pass up. He dressed in Ravenclaw robes, which oddly didn’t look out of style, since styles in the Wizarding World hadn’t changed all that much in centuries, and if they were a little old-fashioned, he could always claim they were ‘retro.’ If he cared. Which he didn’t. Stopping the mental babbling before it could become verbal, recognizing his own coping mechanisms when he was nervous, he took a deep breath and walked up to the nearest goblin.

He hated goblins. Venal, amoral, vicious little bastards that would sell their own mothers for a spare galleon, if they even knew who their mothers were. He’d voted for the gnomes, but nobody else wanted to go to the Alps to do their banking, so he was over-ruled. So here he was, a thousand years later, letting one of the little creeps stab him in the hand with a knife to prove he was who he said he was.

It was kind of satisfying, he had to admit, to see the little pest fall off his stool in a faint.

The rest of the morning was as entertaining, if not more so. The wards he’d placed on the Founders’ Vault – there was only one, as they actually did consider each other family – had weathered the times so well none of the multiple efforts the goblins had made to get into it had succeeded. He wondered how many had been torched trying.

It was all there, and he smiled. One more piece of business, and when he was done, he was going to transfer everything he could get his hands on to Switzerland. The gnomes were forewarned and waiting.

First, there was the Potter will to expedite.

The branch manager thought he was going to insist on Daniel bringing little Harry to the bank personally. As if. There was no way he was bringing a toddler in so a goblin could stab him with a knife and scar him for life, at least mentally. Daniel looked at the officious little bastard, and let a little of his magic flow out. His eyes glowed. The ground shook. Dust filtered down, and the goblin looked up, turning an odd shade of green.

Then Daniel handed over the paperwork he’d already filled out, with Methos’ signature as Salazar Slytherin, and Harry’s magical matrix embedded on it.

He’d had it the whole time, of course. He just wanted to see them sweat. He didn’t get petty very often, but the goblins had metaphorically knifed him in the back more than once through the centuries, and a little payback was fun.

They couldn’t get him the will, the keys to the Potter Trust and Family vaults, and a full accounting on a pile of parchment, fast enough. He smiled sweetly, took everything with him, and tapped the aventurine and citrine communication crystal in his pocket. That was the signal to the gnomes. By the time the goblins figured it out, every last sickle from the Founders’ Vault, the Potter vaults, the assorted Hogwarts’ vaults, and the dozen or so vaults he, Methos and Giles had under other names from over the years, would be translocated to their counterparts in the Swiss Alps.

None of them would have their money held hostage by the greedy goblins again. And now that Giles was back in the Headmaster’s seat, he could unseal the on-site vaults that no faculty had been able to access since Helga died. Funding issues would be a thing of the past.

Humming merrily under his breath, he stopped in at Fortescue’s Ice Cream Shoppe for a pick-me-up of dark chocolate, raspberry and honey crumble. Then he opened the Last Will and Testament of James and Lily Potter.

Later, he’d have to admit it was a pretty impressive spit take. At the time, he was just irritated that he’d knocked over his sundae.

Ten full hours, a surprise visit to the office of Bartemius Crouch that turned ugly for a moment until Daniel verbally stomped him into mush, a loudly explosive visit to the office of Minister Millicent Bagnold, a quietly furious hearing at the hastily-assembled Wizengamot – lead by Lady Longbottom in the unexpected absence of Albus Dumbledore – and Sirius Black was free from Azkaban Prison. The Order of Merlin awarded to Peter Pettigrew was hastily rescinded, and an arrest order was issued. Bartemius Crouch was fired. Amelia Bones was promoted.

All in all, a good day.

In the weeks that followed, Giles would thank him. With the curse on the post of Defense against the Dark Arts dissolved with Tom Riddle’s death, with Snape dead and Binns exorcised, Giles had been up to his ears revamping curriculum, disbanding what was left of the Board after half of them died along with their master, and scouting for new faculty. Andromeda Tonks stepped forward to teach Potions, sending Slytherin house into shock as a blood traitor became their new Head. Methos got a kick out of that.

Remus Lupin came forward to take up the DADA position. With no Board to throw a fit about his status as a lycanthrope, and Andromeda more than willing to brew his Wolfsbane, he was reassured that he could be around the kids without being a danger to them. Giles was pretty sure he had the notes for a potion that would do the same or better than the current version of Wolfsbane, as well, without the nasty build-up of poison that would eventually kill any werewolf who took it. He’d ask Daniel to collaborate.

He didn’t tell Remus. Better to cure him first, then find out the guy who’d invented the potion to help him keep his sanity during the change actually hated werewolves with a passion.

Sirius Black was happy to take the History professorship, throwing himself into it to divert his mind from recent tragedies. He rather enjoyed turning all the history he’d had crammed into his head by his crazy relatives upside down for the next generation of Hogwarts students. Gryffindor house was quite happy with their new head.

Things were coming together. Their school was getting back on track. And Giles had a girlfriend who could turn into a cat.

Daniel and Methos teased him mercilessly. Right up until they met her. She turned them both into ferrets, and spent the rest of the afternoon holding hands with Giles and cooing at Harry.

Harry adored her.

Daniel could have lived forever without discovering that Methos was just as horny as a ferret as he was as a human.

~

Ravenclaw’s Keep, April 19, 1986

Daniel watched as Harry carefully traced out his letters. Unlike the centuries before, or five years ago before Giles modernized Hogwarts, he didn’t have to fight a feather to learn how to write. A pencil worked just fine.

Padfoot came bouncing down the hallway, caught sight of his godson hard at work, and flung himself at the doorway. Work could wait! It was time to play!

Sadly for his plans, he bounced off the barrier Daniel placed in the doorway to keep the ebullient dog animagus from bowling Harry over in the middle of his lessons. Over the last four years, Sirius had spent every second he wasn’t teaching at Hogwarts – or chasing ladies – at the Keep. Daniel was quite used to his antics.

Harry chortled then made a show of concentrating on his bookwork when Daniel raised an eyebrow at him.

“Work now, play later. Gotcha, dad.” He grinned and Daniel smiled back at him.

“It’s about time for your next lesson, anyway.”

Bright green eyes met his, glittering in happiness. Daniel called an elf for hot chocolate, then sat cross-legged facing his son. In his peripheral vision, he saw Sirius doing his best impression of an unwanted orphan puppy sitting in the rain begging to be let in.

He was ignored.

Harry drank his chocolate, poking at a marshmallow and giggling, before setting his cup aside. It disappeared before it hit his desk. Daniel grinned. He loved house elves.

Then he put his hands out, palms up. Harry placed his much smaller hands in them, and they clasped lightly. Green eyes met blue. In the hallway, Sirius gave a huff and lay down for a nap.

Harry’s mind was chaotic, as it should be for a child. Daniel worked with it, teaching his son as he had been taught, long before standards aimed at the slowest in the herd had taken hold in the educator’s mindset. In Harry’s mindscape, at the center of the whirlwind, Daniel extended his hand, and Harry took it. Then they sat, mirroring the positions they held in the real world. Next to them was a huge pile of Lego blocks.

For the next hour, they played. Laughed. Built walls with the Legos and set them around Harry’s mind. Over time, with no stress and no fuss, the Legos blended into a sphere of solid lonsdaleite, half again harder than diamond. Very few wizards knew what it was, and Harry thought meteorites were cool. By the time he was ten, he would have occlumency shields stronger than any other modern wizard, and he would refine them for the rest of his life. This, in turn, would help him organize his thoughts and retain what he learned, honing already impressive innate talent into incredible skills.

But for the moment, he was just a child, playing with blocks with his dad. Daniel looked around and nodded, proud of his son, as always.

The kid was a natural.

~

The Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle, Sorting Ceremony, 1991

A happy, well-adjusted, healthy Harry Potter took his place under the Sorting Hat. The hall held its breath for a long moment, before the rim moved, and a voice that sounded suspiciously like Salazar Slytherin cried out, “Hufflepuff!”

The headmaster smiled at his boy, ducked his head, and polished his glasses.

The End!