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Immortal Haven

Chapter Text

Excerpt from the Watcher CD:
Report from the Methos Project's team leader, Amy Zoll, 1998.

It's my sad duty to place Methos on the Missing List once again...

...We'll institute the standard protocols, but as he's quite familiar with all of them, it could be a while before we find him again. At least this time, we've got those ID photos to work from.

...o0o...

Two years later.

Joe Dawson stretched his back while trying to hide the fact that he was stealing a glimpse at the time on his wristwatch. Not much longer now. He looked over the audience of his fellow Watchers, continuing the speech he'd given so many times in so many cities around the world now, he no longer needed his notes. Last month he was making the rounds of each regional headquarters in China, this week he was back in the States touring the midwest. After this lecture, he'd have a nice long break before his next booking in South Africa. Joe hadn't seen his own home or bar in months and had only seen Duncan MacLeod because his friend deliberately flew out to visit Joe when he was in Singapore. Oh, how Joe had wanted to invite Mac to that day's lecture and give the Watchers' attending it a shock.

Joe was coming up on his favorite part now and not just because it was near the end.

“...Out of all the Immortals MacLeod has introduced me to,” Joe said with a wry grin, “the most memorable is Methos.”

There were a few surprised gasps and some disbelieving looks, but for the most part this audience had heard enough rumors in the last couple of years to take his statement seriously.

“Not because of his wisdom, survival skills, or aura of mystery,” Joe let the sarcasm drip as he listed the favorite topics when Watchers usually discussed Methos. “It was how normal he seemed. I'm sure you all noticed when Methos appeared on the Active Immortals List for the first time in centuries... only to go right back to Missing a few weeks later.”

“Still no photo of him on it either,” someone three rows back commented.

“Not for lack of trying,” Joe lied in what he hoped was a convincing tone. “The oldest living Immortal's reputation for elusiveness is well deserved. A team of seven tailed Methos when he left my bar and they all lost him.” That part was the truth and seriously irritating. Worse still, MacLeod had laughed after Joe told him what Methos had done.

“Remember the dreaded 'Find the Immortal' exam?” Joe asked rhetorically.

The most crucial test given at Watcher Academy tasked students with picking out an Immortal in a crowd without the benefit of ever seeing a photo of said Immortal before. It counted heavily towards whether you qualified for field work or not. When Joe was training, they arranged the test in the field with a Watcher assigned to a local Immortal. Nowadays, students viewed one of a handful of a news report videos that just happened to include an Immortal moving in the background. Determining which random person, all of which were wearing long winter coats capable of concealing a sword, was the male or female Immortal was tricky. Depending on which video you got, there was the added distraction of a mortal news reporter in the foreground talking, moving vehicles partly blocking the view or it was an aerial shot of the people passing by. Students hated the test. Not only were they judged on whether or not they found the Immortal at all, but also on their speed and how many details they could remember if they did guess correctly.

“I think everyone can agree that the longer we're in the field, the better we get at spotting the little mistakes Immortals make when they try to blend in. Most of them can't help moving like athletes, some fumble with technology, have outdated manners of speech or unusual fashion choices – and not everyone uses a coat to hide their sword. Get close enough and the look in their eyes alone will give them away. But believe me when I say that if Methos was sitting in this room none of you would know it.”

A few people scoffed at that, there were always skeptics, but Joe was undeterred. He had to say the next part carefully so as to not indicate exactly when he first met Methos. It was safer to imply he only met him recently without actually saying so.

“I wouldn't have guessed he was Immortal when I met him, much less that he was Methos, if MacLeod hadn't told me,” Joe revealed that humiliating truth with a sigh. “Methos blends in so well that his Watcher had a hell of a time convincing the higher ups she'd identified him and I don't envy the team working to relocate him now. Methos is just a guy... who after five thousand years is exceptional at hiding in plain sight.”

That was the end of his little lecture and the local director walked on stage to thank him for coming. The crowd clapped appreciatively as Joe ambled away tiredly, not wanting to stay for any questions from the assembled Watchers. Jet lag was still plaguing him. He checked his cell phone at the base of the stairs outside and saw that his daughter Amy had called during the lecture. He punched in her number and waited for the overseas call to go through. Amy answered after the first ring.

“We found him!” she exclaimed, breathlessly skipping over the usual pleasantries in her enthusiasm. “Somebody recognized him from the 'Ben Adams' alias we put on the Missing List.”

“Where?”

“An archeology site in Croatia.”

Joe booked the first flight out, jet lag or not.

...o0o...

After centuries without a credible Methos sighting, once the Watchers officially did rediscover the oldest living Immortal, very little actual Methos watching had occurred. Not by the team of Watchers assigned to him anyway, just as Joe had told his lecture audience. Occasionally, Methos called Joe or Duncan MacLeod, even dropping by to visit them unexpectedly a few times. Yet the most the Watchers had kept up with him was a few months in 1996. Methos then vanished for a year, resurfaced in Paris giving every indication that he was settling there again, only to disappear again not long after he'd taken Morgan Walker's head and the O'Rourke incident. The situation was likely exacerbated by the journal debacle. Not the Watchers' finest hour, but at least no one died.

Joe was the only Watcher to catch more than a fleeting glance of Methos since then and the 'really old guy' was careful not to give his mortal friend any forewarning of his visits or stick around long enough for Joe to call for sufficient backup most of the time. It was much easier to watch Methos when Joe was the only Watcher who knew who Methos was. It had gone a long way towards vindicating Joe's choice to keep a secret chronicle on Methos rather than turn the guy in like any other Watcher would have all those years ago. Didn't mean Joe wouldn't rather see his friend though. Everyone was cranky at Watcher headquarters, especially Joe, at Methos' continued absence.

Presently, Joe's primary concern was the less than stable looking elevator contraption they were going to use to descend a deep shaft into the ground. Apparently, miners installed this lift in a natural, nearly vertical shaft to survey the mountain for oil and copper. What they found instead was evidence of past human habitation.

Not what Joe imagined when he heard Methos was working at a cave site in Croatia.

He'd thought they'd be perched on the slopes or in a valley, viewing ancient hand prints on shallow cave walls and finding a scattering of mostly broken pottery. Looking down the dark hole in the mountain, he did not appreciate what was clearly a deliberate lack of warning about what they'd be getting into here.

“Welcome, I'm Dr. Jelena Conrad,” a middle-aged woman, possibly a little younger than Joe despite the streaks of gray in her short brown hair greeted them. She held up her wrist to show them the edge of her Watcher tattoo peeking out of her coat. Joe and the three other Watchers with him did the same. As was proper, she'd stayed with the Immortal and asked a non-Watcher to drive them to the site.

The wind was loud and biting, even in this sheltered part of the mountainside. Joe strained to listen as Dr. Zoll, with the air of a serious business woman, introduced herself as from Research. Timothy Wyatt, balding early and thoroughly fitting the nerd stereotype, was labeled her assistant. Joe's daughter, Amy Thomas, the youngest here by more than a decade and looked very conscious of it, was presented as the 'Ben Adams' Watcher. Zoll described Joe as an instructor looking for new material. A rather flimsy cover for him, but it was all they had come up with on short notice.

No mention was made of Methos.

“Mr. Dawson,” Jelena said over the wind and shook his gloved hand politely. “I attended your lecture this summer in Segedin. It was quite interesting.”

“Thank you,” he answered in kind, not sure if she meant she liked it or not. He didn't remember her from it, but then he'd given several lectures this year. Even a Watcher couldn't remember every face.

The archeologist then caught them up to speed on what 'Ben Adams' was doing. “He is going by the name Dr. Douglas Adams here. At first, he only showed interest in the pottery. I'm sure you've seen it all over the news. It's early bronze age, or copper age as some have taken to calling it, and similar to the famous Vučedolska ceramics. Yet this cave is far from other places we've found it,” Jelena told them. “Current theory is these cavern people traded their copper ore for the pottery, grains and other goods.”

Joe vaguely recalled a small mention on the American news recently about newly discovered artifacts believed to be between 4,000-6,000 years old. The reporter sounded bored next to a single picture of a cracked bowl covered in simple spiral designs. However, this find was clearly very big news in Europe. Joe was not an expert on ancient dishes, but listening to Dr. Conrad continue to detail the significance of the artifacts they found made Joe aware that this was regarded as an amazing discovery. What is more, the location was being kept secret for now to protect the site from damage.

Though Joe couldn't imagine what damage could be done to an archeological site so very deep under the ground. Were they fighting against oil companies wanting to drill in the mountain? Or a ski resort wanting to build on top of the entrance? Was it a burial site down there? For that matter, wouldn't everything have broken from the fall? He couldn't see how ancient people could climb this fissure in the ground or reach the bottom without technology. It was too deep. They must have used a different entrance into the cave no one had found yet.

“For the last few days, Adams has mostly wandered up and down the streets,” Jelena finished her report waving her hand in the air as though shooing away a fly and shrugging one shoulder in bafflement.

“Streets?” Joe asked, wondering if he'd missed something in the conversation due to the grinding sound of the lift, but the other Watchers looked confused as well. Why were they going underground here if Methos was back in the nearest town?

“Yes, streets,” Jelena answered with a secretive smile. “We found a city.”

…..o0o.....

The cavern below was stunning in both its size and beauty. Comfortably cool, almost warm compared with the surface and startlingly quiet, it was a welcome change after the rough weather outside.

The archeologists had set up camp in a section of the cave floor that was surprisingly level and away from the more intact limestone formations. Thick electrical cables sat in coils on the ground and supplied power to free-standing light poles.

“You are living down here?” Amy asked, astounded as she looked around at the tents, tables, portable toilets and cook stoves.

“It's better than riding the lift to sleep on the cold mountainside. Chose your tents,” replied Jelena as she pointed to a row of empty tents already assembled for them. “I'll be back.”

Jelena left to talk with a few of her colleagues and returned just as the other Watchers finished putting away their baggage. She began issuing each of them battery-powered lights, hard hats, hand-held radios, a rudimentary map of the excavation site and other assorted gear.

“I've told the director the usual cover story. You are museum representatives looking to display what we find. I'm responsible for you and will vouch for your movements, though I doubt anyone will question you. Enjoy looking around, talk as much or as little as you like to the other archeologists and don't touch anything. Adams was assigned to the Orange Road today, but didn't return with the others for luncheon. This way.”

Joe hoped the city wasn't far, as he could only walk so long on uncertain terrain with artificial legs. But Dr. Conrad had assured them beforehand on the phone that wouldn't be a problem. Now he saw why, there was a vehicle that looked like a bizarre cross between a roofless army jeep and a small lorry. Joe had the privilege of the bench seat because of his legs, while the other three squeezed into the small flatbed.

“Normally, we wouldn't bring even electric carts like this one down here,” Jelena explained as she took the driver's seat. “But there is nothing for the tires to damage on this dry riverbed.”

Riding it saved them a great deal of walking. The headlights showed more of the large electric cables running along one side of the path. As they traveled, he saw the dirt slopes on either side change to sheer cut stone that became shorter as the riverbed grew shallower. From their low vantage point, there wasn't much to see beyond obvious man made stone railings until their route widened at the top of a gentle hill. Jelena stopped the cart a moment for them to take in the view. Twinkling lights showed where others were working and a scattering of enormously bright spotlights were set up in one courtyard, but otherwise the rest of the city was hidden by darkness.

“See the highest lights,” Jelena pointed out teams of people exploring. “We've counted nine levels of living quarters going up the west wall to the cavern ceiling and have yet to find the back of this chamber. Too much debris. Most of the cavern floor is covered in what were once shops and other public buildings. We've found remains of rough cloth stretched across the tops of some, the houses probably, but we think most of the buildings never had roofs. What for, when there is no weather? There are numerous copper mirrors mounted on pedestals that would reflect light when polished, but we're not sure yet how it would be enough to comfortably light everything.”

She stopped the cart next to a sloped divide in the river's stone wall. It looked similar to a boat ramp and allowed Joe to walk out of the riverbed and up to the street level with ease. Although there were boulders and other pieces of the ceiling scattered about on the ground, it was amazing how many of the rock walls of the buildings were still standing. Bright, reflective caution tape marked unstable ground or sections of road below precariously leaning pieces of stone.

“Travel in pairs and don't venture beyond the marker flags and cones. There is a lot of ground we've not covered and the director doesn't want any accidents. When you need a cart, make a general call on the handset. Go down that street,” Jelena said pointing to her left. “And turn right when it ends. Hopefully, Adams hasn't wandered off it again.”

They thanked her as she left them to return to her assigned part of the excavations.

“Okay, time to re-plan how we're going to do this,” said Dr. Zoll tapping her foot on the roadway. “I thought we'd be mostly on the surface with plenty of high vantage points to watch from without being seen and an inn to retreat to at night. Thoughts?”

“I won't get distance photos here,” Timothy Wyatt replied. “It's too dark and I don't fancy falling down a hole.”

“Everyone is too spread out for us to blend in as random archeologists,” pointed out Amy Thomas. “Besides, we'll be sharing a campsite now and Methos already knows our faces.”

Joe shrugged and said, “I wasn't instructed to hide anyway, so my job is unchanged.”

“Very well,” said Dr. Zoll. “Amy, you go with Joe, but keep back while Joe talks to him. Tim and I will explore the main part of the site for safe watching spots. If Methos doesn't spook entirely, we can at least be as unobtrusive as possible while he is down here.”

Joe and his daughter left the other two consulting their maps. He ambled along surprisingly well on this ancient roadway. It was smoother and more level than he'd expected. There was plenty to see as they went, the lights from the square behind them were bright enough they didn't need to use their flashlights yet. Joe wanted to stop and marvel at the scattered remains of this forgotten culture, but there was work to be done first.

Amy scouted ahead to and came back from looking around the corner. “He's there,” she confirmed. “Want to sneak up on him?”

“He'll recognize the sound of my cane.”

“I could create a diversion,” Amy offered slyly.

Joe grinned at her and replied, “Your boss wouldn't approve, but thanks.”

Amy stayed out of sight to listen and take notes, while Joe turned the corner to enter a dust covered road lined with orange painted buildings, hence the nickname the archeologists gave it. That the paint was still there after thousands of years was astonishing until he remembered that this cavern was protected far from the ravages of sunlight, water and weather. Yet something had destroyed it enough for people to abandon it long ago.

Methos was sprawled on the ground by himself, but still within sight of a group of archeologists working on a pile of stones further down the street. Dressed like the others, he still managed to look a bit like his Adam Pierson persona to Joe. Methos' face was pensive as he leaned against one of the sturdier looking walls while writing in his ever present journal. Joe almost felt bad about disturbing him. Almost.

Joe didn't make it three steps before Methos looked up at the sound and his face transformed into astonishment. It was always nice to surprise the really old guy.

“Didn't think we'd find you?” was Joe's greeting.

“Didn't expect you down here,” Methos replied slowly, eying Joe as though he didn't quite believe what he was seeing. “How are you, Joe?”

“Good. You?”

“The same.”

“Where have you been?”

“No where.”

“What were you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“Who did you see?”

“No one,” quipped Methos like a teenager unwilling to tell his parents what he'd been up to while out all night. “How is teaching at the Watcher Academy going?”

“Fine.”

“And?”

Fed up with the pithy answers, Joe gave Methos his 'I'm not telling you, you're Immortal' look. Which was mostly meant to be only annoying, not serious. Getting information out of Methos wasn't insurmountable. You just had to know what to trade, be very sincere or be Duncan MacLeod to persuade him. An assessment that Joe was well aware could also be applied to himself.

“Come on, Joe?” Methos almost, but not quite pleaded.

Joe stared him down and said, “You first.”

“Fine,” Methos conceded. “Half the acquaintances I contacted have heard rumors about Watchers. Mostly from from someone they trust: a friend, student, or teacher. Galati told a lot of Immortals, far more than MacLeod has, and they're asking around to see if anyone knows more about you guys.”

“What kind of rumors?”

“The usual drill. A group of mortals who are aware of us. Some know what you're called, but most aren't certain why you follow us. A few know about the tattoo. They now are rethinking the times they've dismissed the feeling that they were being watched. The policy of rotating temporary Watchers will need to be implemented more.”

Oddly enough, that recommendation was exactly how the Watchers were trying to handle Methos, so far without success. When they did know where Methos was, Dr. Zoll swapped out the people following him so often she couldn't even tell the Watchers she sent the real name of who they were watching. Eventually, it would look suspicious to keep calling out for massive reinforcements to track 'Ben Adams,' an Immortal with a very unremarkable chronicle. It was hard enough keeping quiet those who recognized 'Ben Adams the Immortal' as 'Adam Pierson the former Watcher.' Watchers were compulsive gossips and Joe dreaded the day someone else pieced together the mystery the way Dr. Zoll had.

“Who did you talk to?”

“Not giving you names, Joe. Your turn,” said Methos pointing a finger at him.

“Responses to my classes at the Academy are mixed. I cover all the dirty laundry - Horton, Shapiro and more. Mostly, I let the students debate the consequences of my experience with Mac to other Watchers who died at the hands of their assignment.”

“And the benefits?”

“Are mostly discussed in the other class I teach.”

That made Methos grin. “So,” he said drawing out the word. “They're really making all the field Watchers attend your lectures?”

“Oh, yeah. The researchers and historians, too. I'm traveling to all the regional branches around the world.”

“Don't they resent the remedial lessons?”

“Not at all. Its a packed house,” Joe said with an evil grin. “I get to talk about finding you.”

Methos froze up at that for a moment before saying, “You didn't find me. MacLeod tattled.

“True. Actually, Dr. Zoll gets official credit for locating you. She did the research after all and properly reported you to the Tribunal, unlike me. No, I'm allowed to tell the more experienced Watchers how my friendship with Mac gives me access to long lost Immortals. No one sees your picture and no mention is made of your stint pretending to be a Watcher.”

“Of course not, that would be too embarrassing. What do you tell them about me?”

“Sorry,” Joe answered in a sing-song voice. “You have to take my class.”

“Not likely,” Methos replied. “What's MacLeod up to?”

“Spending this week on his island. I left him a message that I'm over here.”

Methos laughed and said, “A Watcher telling his assignment where he is going... though I suppose it is only fair since Mac practically watches himself by reporting his activity to you.”

“I put a kid on him when I'm gone,” Joe defended himself, but grinned as well. “Mac is good practice for trainees.”

“Bet he loves being Watcher finishing school.”

Joe was unapologetic. “Better than putting them on you. How did you lose the Watchers in Hong Kong?”

“Didn't they tell you?”

Joe just raised one eyebrow at him and waited expectantly. If he played this right, Methos just might be tempted to boast.

“I wasn't there,” Methos confessed.

What?!” Joe exclaimed.

“I hired an actor, paid for his ticket and swapped clothes with him at Heathrow airport. I never boarded the plane. It was a one way flight, so Dr. Zoll had two options: try to get one of her team on the plane by flying standby or rely on the Hong Kong Watchers to be waiting when it landed while she took a later flight. From your reaction, I'm guessing the second is what happened.”

“They thought you disappeared in a group of tourists the next day. That guy had to resemble your photo a lot.”

“Foreigners all look alike, Joe.”

Deciding to think more about that later, Joe gestured to the cavern they were in and said, “Next question. Did you once live down here?”

“Yes.”

Joe was a little surprised at the straightforward answer, but also disappointed by the lack of detail. “Is this your homeland, where you are from?”

Methos laughed and said, “You just want to put 'caveman' in my chronicle, don't you? Truth is, I don't know. I mostly remember re-reading what I wrote about this city.”

“Has seeing it again jogged your memory?”

“A little, yes.”

“What happened here? Why did everyone leave?”

“Isn't it obvious, Joe? Earthquake.”

A commotion from the archeologists at the end of the street stalled Joe's next question. They'd cleared the fallen stone they'd been laboring on and were well rewarded for their effort if their exclamations of delight were anything to go on. Methos stood up and went to see what they'd found with Joe following. Amy, he knew, would quietly keep her distance and watch.

...o0o...

Entering the large, roofless hall the archeologists found, Joe vowed he would never think of cave paintings the same again. It was nothing like the simple drawings of animals, stick figures and hand prints occasionally found in caverns.

The Gallery of Ancient Immortals, as the Watchers would later come to call it, was decorated with pictures you'd expect to see hanging in any number of portrait galleries around the world. Life sized, individual images of people were beautifully painted on the walls. They were a mixed medium of paint and glass or semi-precious stone mosaics and metals. Though only five main colors were used, they were still blended well enough to create depth. Not being a painter himself, Joe could only suppose the stones and glass were mostly for when they couldn't mix that particular shade of paint or to give more of a three-dimensional look.

The realism of the faces was astounding and rarely found in ancient art. Most of the subjects were not looking at the viewer nor smiling, typical of most portraits throughout history. Care was taken to detail the sophisticated clothing for the time and the items each person was holding. Some of the objects in the pictures were likely symbolic of the character of the subject, others he supposed were literally things the people owned or represented professions they were known for. Copper axes, spears, maces, clubs and knives were commonly featured. There were no swords at all.

So accustomed to seeing swords in general, it took a moment for Joe to remember why there wouldn't be any represented on these walls. Swords as he knew them were not invented yet. Even the early bronze swords were more like long knives compared to the Immortals weapons today. How very different the Immortal battles with axes must be. He'd read of such duels in chronicles, but few Immortals were left from ax wielding cultures. Or like Methos, they adopted the sword over time.

Getting close, you could feel like you were standing beside a real person. As he watched, one of the younger assistants did just that, comparing his height to one portrait of a brunette woman. A long coil of hair fell from a high top knot on her head with loops of beads around it. She wore a knee length white coat-like dress with vivid green stones representing two rows of spiral embellishments. In one hand she held up a bowl shaped lamp gilded with what looked like real gold and the other hand was holding a spear. Her expression was determined and her eyes looked slightly to the side at what her lamp was presumably illuminating.

“Can you believe this woman was as tall as I am? Weren't ancient people supposed to be short? Take my picture, will you?” the assistant handed over his camera to a friend.

His friend obligingly backed up to snap a photo of him posing next to the portrait and stated, “Awesome! Hey, is that more of the new writing next to her?”

Most of them started taking photos with the ancient paintings, only to freeze at their leader's harsh order of, “Stop!”

Joe only half listened to the archeologist berate his team, lecturing them about 'respecting sacred places' and 'harming artifacts with flashes from their cameras.' Something Joe considered total bull. A handful of small camera flashes from the kids working down here couldn't be worse than the large spotlights they were busy setting up to fully document everything. It sounded more like they didn't want personal photos getting out.

Moving further down the wide hall and away from the barking leader, he shined his light along the wall until he found another portrait of a man holding a mace and shield. He gave each work of art a long look of appreciation. Though he knew the Watchers would eventually obtain a copy of photos, video and other documentation the archeologists were making down here to look for clues of Immortals, this could be his only chance to see these artworks in person.

Speechless, Joe gazed in wonder at the ancient faces. Most of the people were very pale skinned, with dark hair and brown eyes leading him to think that was likely the ethnicity of these cave people, until he came across a portrait of a darker skinned man with a curled beard, like he'd seen in Sumerian art. A sheathed, long dagger was at his side and he was in the act of drawing a bow and arrow. Either it was a picture of a man the artist encountered while visiting a major port city elsewhere or the subject journeyed very far to get here.

Next to each portrait, a portion of the wall was covered with inscriptions that were unlike anything Joe had ever seen. Someone ahead of him began asking for paper. A group split off from those taking photographs, pulling out artist's charcoal and blocks of wax to make rubbings of the wall inscriptions on long rolls of paper. Once they had enough standing lights in place, Joe expected they'd begin taking video of the hall.

Between the pictures were long stretches of blank wall presumably to allow for future writing or additional portraits. How much was written next to each picture varied widely between them. Halfway down was a portrait of a barefoot woman wearing a crown of yellow flowers on top of her short black hair. The gentle appearance was rather spoiled by the flint knife she was poised to throw in one hand and a dagger hidden in the folds of her wrapped gown she was drawing out with her other hand. Her section of the hall was entirely filled with text. To compensate, a short wall about his height, obviously added later, projected outward to continue her story. He supposed that once the wall became filled, another would be added to it until her portion of the hall was divided off into a separate enclosure. What had they planned to do if they completely ran out of room?

Rounding the wall, Joe was startled to find a portrait of Methos.

It was a good likeness of Methos in profile to better show off his distinctive nose. He was gazing slightly downward at a stone tablet in one hand and holding a stylus down at his side in the other, a pose Joe had seen Methos make many times when writing in his journal or reading a book. He had a short, neatly trimmed beard and most of his hair stopped just above his collar, excepting two narrow, beaded braids hanging behind the one visible ear and draping down his back. Matching beaded bracers were on his wrists and likely only decorative from the number of sea shells threaded on them. Falling from his shoulders was a cloak made of pieces of leather sewn together and clasped by a copper pin so large it looked like it could double as a weapon. The knee-length tunic was a dull blue, possibly sleeveless as his arms were bare below the cloak and held closed with an ornately woven cloth sash in many shades of orange. Dark gray wrappings wound about his legs instead of trousers and the short leather boots were covered in tooled geometric decorations. There was a conspicuous absence of weapons in the portrait.

A long-suffering sigh drew Joe's attention.

“I forgot about this,” Methos said plaintively from behind him.

Joe turned his light away from the painting to shine it into the face of the original subject who squinted and protected his eyes with one hand. In his awe of the pictures, Joe had momentarily forgotten who he was with and why. Very bad for a Watcher, he didn't need to make a habit of it.

“Sorry, man,” Joe murmured as he lowered the light. “Seriously? You asked to work on this road. Weren't you searching for it?”

“I couldn't remember what I was looking for. Now I do. Anyone else seen this?” Methos asked quietly and gesturing to the painting of himself.

Joe shook his head and said, “Not yet.”

“Good.”

A cold feeling crawled over Joe's skin. He had a terrible idea that he knew what Methos was about to do. Acting on instinct, Joe swung his cane straight at Methos' head. The Immortal ducked and stepped backward on silent feet into a combat ready stance Joe had seen Immortals use a hundred times in duels. Methos didn't pull out a weapon though.

“Don't you dare,” Joe hissed angrily, drawing out each word and this time deliberately shining the light in Methos' eyes to blind him.

Chapter Text

Joe spotted a piece of rock debris in Methos' hand and in the absence of a better tool, he guessed Methos intended to ruin the face of the painting with it.

“I must, Joe,” Methos said imploringly.

“No!”

“Joe, they'll hear you,” whispered Methos, making Joe briefly consider just yelling for help from the archeologists on the other side of the wall at the front of the room.

However, Joe knew Methos could foil that easily by simply yelling that he was handling it and no further help was needed. He couldn't convincingly accuse a man they thought to be one of them of attempting to destroy an artifact either. Joe was the newly arrived outsider here, while Dr. Adams was their colleague. They'd never believe it unless Methos succeeded before their eyes and Joe couldn't let the painting be damaged. If he did somehow persuade someone to join him here, what would he say to make them stay? They'd just go back to the front of the hall to continue their tasks and Joe would be right back where he started... in a lone stand off.

Methos moved forward again, as though to go for the cane and Joe tapped him hard on his elbow for his trouble. Nearly losing his balance in the process and desperate to remain upright, Joe dropped his light to put a hand on the wall. It hit the floor with a bang. The beam now pointed eerily up to disappear into the darkness of the high cavern ceiling. The shadows cast half of Methos' face in darkness making him look like a stranger.

“I don't want to hurt you, but I will dump you on the floor if you don't let me by,” Methos threatened lowly.

Joe was more insulted by the lie than afraid. Methos had never attacked him and Joe didn't believe he would now. He stood his ground anyway.

Amy Thomas came barreling out of the darkness. Her attempt to knock Methos to the ground failed as he neatly side-stepped her assault and caught her about the waist, saving her from a hard fall in the process. Joe was proud of his daughter for coming to his defense and now he'd have someone on his side. Joe hadn't expected her to be close enough hear their argument, but the scuffle was enough to make her act and attract attention. Footsteps approached quickly and everything grew brighter as more lights came near. Methos let go of Amy and stepped away. Joe knew he wouldn't do anything in front of a crowd. Two young archeologists came around the wall, shining their lights around to see what the fuss was about.

“Sorry, guys,” Joe said in an abashed tone. “Dropped my flashlight.”

One of the kids knelt, retrieving the light and returning it to Joe. The noises now explained away, Methos appeared to be waiting for them to leave. Joe had other ideas.

“Come take a look at this,” Joe said to the pair and turned his light back onto the painting.

They moved forward to get a better look and Methos shrunk into the shadows.

“Dr. Adams says this guy looks like him, but I just don't see it,” Joe told them. “Do you?”

“A little, I guess,” one conceded as he examined the painting with his own light.

“No, it doesn't,” the other disagreed.

“That's what I thought,” Joe said in a satisfied voice.

After the two men returned to the front of the hall, Methos stepped back into the light. For a long moment, the three of them didn't say anything. Amy took up a protective stance between Methos and Joe. She didn't ask questions, probably didn't need to if she was watching and listening well the entire time.

“Hello, Amy,” Methos greeted her, suddenly very amused. “Keeping it in the family, Joe? You could have said.”

“I'm not supposed to. Look,” Joe said, not wanting to delve further into that and waved at the painting instead. “You don't have to destroy it. You can't now that others know it's here. Intact.

“Can't I?”

“Those archeologists didn't recognize it as you,” argued Amy.

“Of course, they didn't, the light was too dim,” Methos countered. “Besides, they don't know about Immortals. Logic told them there couldn't be more than a few similarities. Its those who will know otherwise that I have to worry about, the Immortals who know me by other names. All it will take is one or two of my enemies seeing a brightly lit photo of this with a label of 'estimated between 4,000-6,000 years old' for them to guess who I am and word will spread.”

“We'll digitally alter the photos or mislabel them,” Joe said said in a rush, saying anything he could think of. “Or something!”

“We? Joe, I can't erase all files or destroy every random personal photo and video taken down here now, much less those made by future generations. Or will you get the Watchers to help?”

“Yeah,” Joe promised recklessly. “We clean up dead Immortals' bodies when the victor doesn't hide them well enough to keep what you guys are a secret. Why not alter a few photos? Or we'll take the whole slab off the wall and have it conveniently become lost on the way to a museum.”

“Disappearing straight into Watcher archives, no doubt.” Methos was still shaking his head, unconvinced. “What makes you think Croatia will let any of these paintings out of this cave even into their own museums? You can forget anything down here leaving the country, I can tell you that.”

“Methos, please. Don't destroy history. Just don't do it, man.”

Methos eyed him for a moment before taking a step backward and saying in a wistful voice, “It is nice to know something of mine is still here after all this time. I don't know if I'll find anything else, like my house.”

Joe wasn't buying the act, he'd seen Methos pull stunts like this before. All his instincts were telling him that Methos was only putting on the appearance of backing off. Sure enough, Methos unclasped the light hanging from his belt, turned it on and began to wander further down the hall to look at the other pictures.

“You coming?”

Joe didn't take the bait. He pulled out the hand radio he'd been issued when they came underground to this site and answered, “Not until this is safe.”

“Suit yourself,” was all Methos said, his face blank. He turned and moved purposefully away, shining his own light further down the hall.

Joe didn't sigh with relief just yet however. He needed to warn the others. “Dr. Zoll, there's a portrait,” he said into his radio. “One of the archeologists can show you the way.”

He thought his message was discreet and simple. However, the excited gossip from the archeology team calling for their own reinforcements to bring more lights and cameras gave away a lot more. Quicker than he expected, all three of the other Watchers invaded the hall to join Joe and Amy. The rest of the people were still focused on the paintings near the front of the room and paid little attention to anything else. The protruding wall helped hide their numbers, also useful was the stunned silence of the other Watchers as they gaped at the portrait of Methos for the first time.

Dr. Jelena Conrad recognized the painting as 'Adams' much better than the archeology assistants had. She looked from the picture of an Immortal the Watcher database described as less than three centuries old back to the rest of them. “Somebody want to catch me up?” she asked, dryly.

Dr. Zoll answered her. “As you were already embedded with the archeology team, the Tribunal gave me permission to tell you should it become necessary. We are watching Methos.”

“I see,” she said blinking owlishly at the painting. “I had wondered why four of you showed up following one Immortal, especially you, Mr. Dawson. I'd heard Methos was found even before attending your lecture, but the new update on him is sparse... I assume a short list of people know what Methos looks like, hence the 'Adams' listing in the database?”

“Yes, and it must stay that way. The Tribunal felt a team would be better than a single Watcher given who he is. As far as the rest of the organization knows, Tim and I work on the Methos Project in Research, Amy is assigned to the 'Adams' alias and Joe is still MacLeod's Watcher, he just pulls double duty for us.” Dr. Zoll answered. “And you must keep this knowledge confidential.”

Jelena nodded her head and said, “Understood.”

“We have a problem. Methos tried to smash the painting,” Joe spoke to Dr. Zoll. “He's worried it will cost him his head.”

Dr. Zoll pursed her lips angrily, Dr. Conrad swore under her breath and Timothy Wyatt pulled out his camera, snapping photos of the painting rapidly at every angle he could manage, not wasting any time.

“It will get him killed,” his daughter Amy agreed seriously. “The whole world will see these paintings.”

Tim paused in his photography to clutch at what little hair was left on his head and hissed out, “We can't let him destroy it though!”

“But we can't stop him from protecting himself either,” said Dr. Zoll through gritted teeth. “Don't interfere.

“Methos interferes with us all the time,” pointed out Joe. “Its like I keep telling everyone, an Immortal who knows about us must be watched differently. I'll camp right here if I have to and dare him to go through me to get to this painting. There has got to be another way.”

“This is why I applied to research long dead Immortals instead of fieldwork. I can't sit by and do nothing either,” commented Jelena quietly. “What if I change this painting without permanently damaging it?” she offered and pulled out a stick of artist's charcoal from her pocket to show them. It was the same kind the other archeologists were using to make rubbings of the inscriptions.

“Won't they know someone tampered with it?” asked Amy.

“Eventually, yes, if they think to look for it. But as the paint for his hair is almost certainly made from charcoal, it will take time before they realize what I draw isn't an ancient addition. They may even clean it off later, but not until long after the photos with my changes are widely circulated. I doubt discovering the alteration would even make the news by then. It's not sensational enough and it buys us time to protect the original here or remove it later.”

“Tim, do you have enough pictures?” Dr. Zoll asked her assistant suddenly. At his nod, she turned to the archeologist and commanded, “Do it.”

Bracing her arm to stop her hand from shaking and standing on tiptoe to reach, Jelena wet the tip of the charcoal with her tongue and began drawing wisps of hair from the top of the painting's forehead. The new hair appeared to fall behind the nose out of sight. From there, she filled in a little of the top, smearing it with her pinky finger until the bridge of the nose was smaller. The addition of a strand of black hair allowed her to disguise that she'd altered the profile and was just enough to effectively transform his face. Joe thought it fortunate that the picture was of Methos standing up and not in his distinctive sprawl. That would have been impossible to change.

“Will that do?” Jelena asked the others as she stepped back to scrutinize her work.

The other Watchers made quiet murmurs of agreement and there were even a couple of stressed sounding sighs.

“Very nicely,” Methos' voice came suddenly from behind them. “I'm much obliged to you, Dr. Conrad.”

True to their training, the Watchers didn't shriek, yell or curse when startled. What they did do is stare, or in Joe's case glare, at the Immortal for sneaking up on them. Methos looked calmly back, his face unreadable as he leaned against the short wall.

“Will you stop doing that!” Joe growled quietly under his breath, extra annoyed at being caught unawares by Methos a second time.

“Sorry, Joe,” Methos answered in a tone that didn't sound apologetic at all. His gaze traveled over the others. “Hello again, Dr. Zoll,” he greeted his official Watcher and leader of the Project Team. He favored Amy Thomas and Dr. Conrad with smiles before his eyes turned to Timothy Wyatt. “We weren't properly introduced last time we met.”

Timothy was speechless, either unable or unwilling to tell Methos his name. His hands clutched his camera in a white knuckle grip.

“No matter,” Methos said genially. “I'll just ask around.”

“Listen,” Joe interrupted before Tim could potentially have a meltdown. “If anything happens to this picture or anything else with your face on it down here, I'm calling MacLeod.”

“Mac won't like you dragging him into this.”

Joe played his trump card saying, “He'll hate the destruction of art more.”

Methos didn't retort to that. Joe could only hope that the threat worked and sighed silently, feeling very tired. “Scram already,” Joe said next, but not unkindly. “You aren't supposed to be watching us.”

“Why not? Its only fair,” replied Methos with a shrug. “Oh, alright. Try not to look so suspicious, the archeologists have two paintings to go before they get here.”

They listened to his now deliberately audible footsteps as Methos walked back to the crowded entrance of the hall.

“Was he eavesdropping the entire time?” Timothy asked.

It wasn't quite an accusation, but it was close. “You all came from that direction, you'd have seen him,” Amy pointed out. “He must have slipped by us in the shadows while we were talking.”

“Not exactly how they described him at the academy, is he? And he knows about Watchers,” said Jelena, putting together the things she'd overheard the rest say in the last few minutes. “You didn't mention that in your lecture, Mr. Dawson, but I suppose now it was rather implied.”

“Yeah,” Joe finally answered her in an almost embarrassed sounding tone.

“Working next to an Immortal will be even more interesting than I thought. Let's move along, before the others catch up.”

They wandered down the hall casually to the next painting of a heavily muscled man with longer hair and a large beard who was holding a copper headed ax aloft. It was the opposite of the harmless appearance that Methos' picture exuded. Despite being slightly shorter than Methos, this man was an intimidating sight and not someone Joe would want to meet in a dark alleyway. They kept one light pointed in the general direction of Methos' portrait, but pretended they weren't watching it. It wouldn't completely prevent him from sneaking back up to damage it anyway, but as the rest of the people were wandering around both sides of the wall now, he was very unlikely to act. The Watchers didn't need to be seen paying any special interest in it either. Someone might remember that later when the tampering was discovered.

“Will the threat of MacLeod work?” Amy asked her father.

“Probably,” Joe said with a sigh. “Mac's kind of Methos' Kryptonite.”

“And here I thought you were,” she told him with a smile.

Timothy was taking photos of the next painting and asked, “Do you think all of these pictures are of Immortals?”

“Perhaps,” Dr. Zoll answered. “Ask Methos later, will you Joe?”

“Why do I have to ask him?” Joe grumbled rhetorically.

“Because the rest of us aren't allowed to talk to Methos beyond the minimum conversations necessary in public around the archeology team,” his daughter stated, quoting the rules back at him anyway.

…...o0o.......

Methos felt like he was tripping over Watchers in the confines of the camp and it wasn't even the most they'd sent after him before.

He suspected that the Watcher Society deliberately placed Joe in his path in the hope it would distract him from noticing the other Watchers around him as much. He'd already proven himself too good at shaking off stalkers after all, when he was paying attention that is. If the scheme succeeded in guilt-tripping him into staying still for awhile, all the better for the Watchers and of course, Joe. Methos couldn't fault Joe for agreeing to it. He was pleased to see his friend and missed the old days of hanging out at the bar listening to Joe play Blues music.

That didn't account for how the other Watchers were keeping close instead of their usual distance. Certainly there was nowhere to hide in a shared campsite. That didn't mean they had to stay practically within arms reach at all times though, even doing so while Joe was present. Perhaps attempting to deface his own portrait prompted this sudden reversal of standard procedure? Or they were giving up on hiding that they were watching him? Either way, he wondered how long it would take for them to crack and actually speak to him. At the moment, they were understandably upset for a number of reasons, so he didn't expect the first conversations would go too smoothly.

Methos' only real regret over the portrait debacle was the confrontation with Joe. It didn't help their already strained relationship, but Joe would forgive him. Methos suspected Joe had even forgiven Horton. Joe was that kind of guy. Methos would make this up to him somehow. As delighted as he was to see the portrait had survived all this time, vanity was not something he could afford when his life was at stake and he refused to apologize for trying to protect himself. If anything, he felt possessive of it and not just because it was a piece of history. So few artifacts survived from his youth.

Feeling obliged to show gratitude for the Watcher's solution to save the painting was distressing Methos. Appreciation was fine, feeling indebted was dangerous. It was warring with his need to hide to stay alive and fear of what they might discover down here about him. Bits of his past that he may need to give up freely to repair his friendship with Joe he could do. Joe was a friend. It left him uneasy to think of what he might rediscover with an audience of Watchers and possibly be unable to control what they learned. He wasn't sure if he could trust himself not to give more away than was safe.

Having skipped the midday meal, Methos didn't hesitate to join the few people starting the chow line. There wasn't quite enough room for all to sit at the tables at the same time, but not everyone was in a hurry to eat either. People were still trickling in from the excavation site and a few were on the surface with the director using the satellite phone.

Methos accepted a plate that was thoughtfully loaded with extra food for him and graced the cook with a thankful smile. He turned around to discover the Watcher Timothy Wyatt waiting in line directly behind him. It hadn't taken Methos long to discover the man's name. His own group leader informed him of the newest arrivals' names without needing to be asked. Ignoring the Watcher pretending to ignore him back while dogging his footsteps, Methos picked a spot in the middle of the table deciding to eat first and cope with the Watchers later.

Dinner conversations around him were exuberant. The archeologists were understandably excited about the portrait gallery. Much of the discussion was about whether or not the pictures were a pantheon of gods and goddesses or portrayed real people, something Methos was careful not to laugh about. It was especially difficult not to look amused when they began speculating on what each person represented. Methos was all ears and carefully expressionless when the discussion turned to his own picture.

“I think we can all agree that the inclusion of writing implements in the next portrait earns it the appropriate label of Scholar or Scribe.”

“Or god of learning or wisdom.”

“Perhaps a god of travelers. I'm very interested in the red coral beads and seashells he's wearing. The Adriatic sea is what... a hundred miles away from here?”

“Could be acquired by trade with the early Helladic people of Greece, you think?”

“Or from going there, if he was a real person. None of the other paintings include a leather cloak and that copper pin is strange.”

“Perhaps the middle eastern man on the wall gave it to him. It looks rather like the straight clothing pins found in Mesopotamian ruins and featured in Sumerian art.”

“It reminds me of my grandmother's knitting needles.”

That made everyone laugh good-naturedly.

“It does imply that the Scholar was either foreign or quite the traveler. He'd have no need of that cloak underground, it isn't that cold down here. Nor those trousers, such as they are, that is horse-riding apparel. Yet his traveling clothes are missing the usual symbols of a merchant. No money bag for one.”

“There wouldn't be one if they didn't have coins. We haven't discovered any currency yet. This could be a barter culture or trade by raw metal ingots instead of money.”

“Perhaps he was hired by merchants as a scribe to tally goods and paid for his work with foreign items?”

No one made any mention of the picture's resemblance to the Dr. Adams on their team. Nor did the two assistants who'd seen the painting before it was altered seem to notice a change was made to it. It was a wonder how often people didn't believe their own eyes or didn't wish to speak up for fear of being called a fool, Methos thought.

The gallery wasn't the only find of the day. Another group at the table shared photos they'd taken of a copper water wheel system they correctly deduced was used to carry a lift up to the higher levels of the city. Methos wished it was safe to ride now. He knew Joe likely walked too far today for his prosthetic legs, climbing those stairs to the upper city would be excruciating if he tried.

A faint clicking sound started up pulling his attention away from the nearby conversation. Methos looked to see the source of the noise was sitting across from him. Wyatt had already finished his dinner and was typing something on one of those new pocket PCs or PDAs, he'd heard them called. Methos thought them rather clever, but too bulky, like the early cell phones were. Half the archeologists down here had one, favoring it over paper or micro voice recorders for their field notes.

Which meant Wyatt was likely making a Watcher report. Right in front of his assignment, no less.

It was irksome. Joe at least had the decency not scribble into his Watcher notebook in front of MacLeod. Trying not to let it bother him, Methos listened to the discussion around him as it changed from the advances of this lost culture into a lament for forgotten knowledge in general.

“How could they know how to do this thousands of years ago? Only to forget?” asked one of the younger archeologists down the table. “We all thought the water wheel was first invented about twenty-three hundred years ago, but there's an older one down here.”

“Guild secrets, war, famine, metal corrosion,” Dr. Jelena Conrad answered her team member. “Could be anything. More recent knowledge than that has been lost. Like concrete. Most of our modern concrete lasts fifty years and the best we have might make it two centuries if it's well maintained. Yet, Roman-made concrete has endured for two thousand years, even in the ocean. Modern science still cannot replicate how they did it without relying on our technology.”

Another archeologist spoke up joining the discussion, “Or the ancient alchemy arts, like that of gilding and strengthening objects with metal. There is an iron pillar brought to India as loot sixteen hundred years ago that still does not rust.”

“What they are trying to say is,” added Methos, suddenly feeling compelled to intrude on the nearby conversation, “don't blame the survivors of places like this when it's their eighth or ninth generation descendants who didn't pass the knowledge on.”

Wyatt paused in his typing. “I don't blame them for forgetting,” he abruptly added his opinion and met Methos' eyes with a look that dared him to defend himself from the hidden accusation that Immortals were to blame for lost knowledge.

Methos grabbed the PDA out of Wyatt's hands and slammed it into the tabletop without warning. Thin plastic and glass met hard plastic with a bang. Protests and startled yells echoed from the rest of the people seeing them argue, though only the other Watchers would understand what had set the pair off against each other. The loudest objection naturally came from the offended party who was incoherent with anger and gaped like a fish at the shattered remains of his property.

“Fix it,” Methos taunted him slowly in a deceptively calm voice. “You don't know how, do you? Curious how repairing electronic devices isn't common knowledge despite that we all use them.”

“You better pay for that,” Wyatt hissed out, finding his voice at last.

Lazily, Methos withdrew his wallet and tossed a more than sufficient stack of bills on the table to replace the device if it couldn't be repaired. Wyatt's eyebrows shot up at the extra amount, and at the wad of cash Methos carried about, but took the offered money without further protest. As a Watcher, he couldn't get away with making demands of an Immortal or forcing any compensation, after all.

Methos then said in a more relaxed tone, “How nice that you can simply buy a new one in town, no need to reinvent anything, because civilization as we know it won't end tomorrow. Well, it probably won't.”

Timothy Wyatt snatched up his empty plate and broken tool before stalking off. Mysterious argument apparently resolved, the rest of the table slowly resumed their discussions and meal, falling back on the polite social convention of pretending nothing unpleasant had occurred. It was somebody else's problem. Methos knew that later the site director would have words with him about his behavior once someone informed him about the incident. He was already thinking of ways to placate the director when he heard Joe approaching.

Joe came around to the table with his own plate of food and took Wyatt's empty seat across from Methos. “Did you have to smash his PDA?” he asked exasperated, but trying not to be overheard too much by the others nearby.

“Would you prefer his face?” Methos countered. “Attempting to reinvent something you never learned how to make or convince someone who has never seen it that it is even possible... is maddening. Try to explain that to Wyatt, if you don't mind?”

Joe heaved a sigh before changing the topic to ask, “Does it bother you that the archeologists think the portrait hall represents deities?”

“Yes and no,” Methos replied, deciding to give Joe something to make up for the scene he'd participated in. “Most portraits made before the invention of photography are of rulers or are religious. Naturally, they think making pictures of anyone else to be a modern convention. What is that mountain in States, the one with presidents' faces carved on it?”

Obviously a bit thrown by the sudden non sequitur, Joe hesitated before he answered, “Mount Rushmore.”

“Yes, that one,” Methos said. “Four huge faces carved into a mountainside. Now, imagine someone rediscovers it thousands of years from now and they speculate that it was a place of pilgrimage to worship gods representing the four seasons.”

“There are placards and a sealed vault explaining why it was built.”

“You are assuming those will still be there and that this language is not forgotten by then.”

Joe looked rather pained at the thought. “And without still remembered languages written there, like when the Rosetta Stone was found, people in the future would dismiss anyone who can't explain how they were able to translate it. Damn, we're going to have the same problem with the inscriptions down here, aren't we?”

“Possibly,” was Methos' vague reply.

More of the archeological team members were finishing their meal and leaving the table, so Methos decided to move to the subject that had bothered him since the Watchers descended into this cave. He didn't think he'd get an answer he liked, but Methos couldn't help but ask anyway.

“Joe, how did you know I was down here?”

“Isn't it obvious?” Joe shot back in between bites of his dinner.

Who had called Watcher headquarters was clear, but a little paranoia made Methos ask, “Was Dr. Conrad lying in wait in case I showed up?”

“I'd like to let you believe that, but no. She was genuinely working the site,” Joe answered, the words 'to look for evidence of bronze age Immortals' was left unsaid, but they both knew how the various branches of the Watchers worked. Not everyone had the glamour of a living assignment, not to mention the researchers and historians far outnumbered the field agents.

“How...?” Methos started to say before answering his own question. “You put my photo on the Missing List.”

“Yeah, but before you panic, its under an alias.”

“Still, you put my photo on it,” Methos grumbled. “How did you explain to those who knew me when I was in Research?” Though 'Adam Pierson' was careful not to become well known, he'd spent more than a decade among the Watchers. There were enough people who'd ask why a face they recognized as a one of them was now on the Immortals list.

“Told them we'd been infiltrated and to keep quiet while we handled it.”

“Bet they loved that,” answered Methos, imagining the Watcher Tribunal interviewing the people he'd spent years working with. His shoulders slumped as he asked, “So, tracking me here was coincidence?

“Yup,” Joe replied with mock sympathy. “Don't take it so hard, you couldn't memorize the names of all our members and there are so many archeologists down here, one wrist tattoo just... slipped by you.”

Methos appreciated the irony and could admit to himself that it was his own fault for being sloppy. However, he wasn't willing to make things too easy on the Watchers. His earlier feeling of gratitude towards them wilted under his embarrassment of being caught unawares and the squabble with Wyatt didn't help.

“I'm tempted to make a trek through the Himalayas after this. In winter, on foot,” he said airily. “I was just there, so I won't even need a Sherpa to guide me. Do you think Dr. Zoll and her crew will stake out the villages below until I come down? Or risk sending someone up avalanche prone mountains after me?”

“At least we'd know where you are,” Amy Thomas' voice piped up suddenly from three empty seats down the table from him.

Methos was startled to realize he'd failed to notice her sit down at this table. Joe was proving to be a distraction after all, just as the Watchers hoped, he was sure of it now. Or was their unavoidable presence in this camp causing him to treat them with the same familiarity he'd grown used to while posing as a Watcher himself? It was almost second nature to be on alert when he was forced to look for hidden Watchers. Not so much when he was walking the halls of Watcher headquarters. This could become a dangerous level of complacency here.

Amy was deliberately not looking at them as she attacked her food, but wore a peeved expression he'd seen on Joe's face many times. It was rather adorable how she was following her father's footsteps. Though he supposed Joe would like it better if his daughter was assigned to MacLeod someday instead. Or perhaps not, Joe barely survived being Mac's Watcher as it was. Methos smiled in her direction in spite of himself.

Tomorrow was going to be fun.

Chapter Text

The easiest way to get an answer from a person is to ask them. In Joe's experience, directly questioning an Immortal often got you only silence or a careful lie. Many Watchers privately praised Joe for the wealth of information about Immortals he'd gained as MacLeod's friend. None of them knew the long list of topics Mac clammed up on and they had no idea how frustrating talking to Methos could be. Methos had no qualms about speaking to him and Mac, it was whether or not Methos was truthful they had to worry about.

Unless you had an audience of mortals who didn't know who Methos was apparently. Joe and Dr. Zoll were tagging along with Methos' group of junior archeologists today. They were dismantling the extra lights on the 'orange road.' Joe noticed that when Methos' colleagues were listening he seemed less prone to making up wild tales that could jeopardize his current job. He didn't try to correct any historical assumptions anyone made around him though. How could he explain why he thought they were wrong? Neither Methos nor the Watchers could talk about Immortals without extreme caution and euphemisms in front of everyone else, but Methos did speak when spoken to. It would look strange if he didn't.

Joe decided to take full advantage of that to get some honest information out of Methos.

“Dr. Adams, do you think there was a class structure with only scribes knowing how to read?” Joe asked in a tone that sounded like he had complete confidence that 'Dr. Adams' would know the answer.

Methos looked up from the free standing light he was unbolting and bluntly stated, “No.”

“What makes you think that?”

Methos pointed down the street at a stalagmite rising from the floor that was covered in ornate carvings. It still retained remnants of paint on the bas relief styled inscriptions. “Only literate societies use street signs,” he said.

While many limestone formations deeper in the cavern that survived the earthquakes were pristine and untouched, those inside the city were put to use however was convenient by the builders. Any geologist or caver would be horrified to see vandalized stalagmites and stalactites just as nature lovers hated how modern cities routinely cut down majestic trees in the way of road construction. At least here, Joe could see that the city was designed to re-purpose the formations as parts of buildings, bridges, railings, staircases and even occasionally sign posts when they happened to be located at a crossroad. Joe couldn't help but find them beautiful even changed as they were.

“Everything we've seen is written on stone. Any idea if there was parchment or anything like that used?”

“No, we're unlikely to find anything like that,” answered Methos and he gave Joe a piercing look.

Joe pretended not to notice that Methos was on to him. The director instructed the archeologists to be polite to the 'museum representatives' the Watchers were pretending to be, therefore Joe could ask anything he liked. Methos would have to accommodate him or look ignorant in front of the others. “Why not, Dr. Adams?” Joe pressed.

Methos did a good job of hiding that he was peeved and better still, he answered with, “They used chalk for temporary things and painted marks or carved into stone or wood for permanent ones. Papyrus would be very expensive to import from Egypt and it would certainly disintegrate after fifty years down here. The humidity is low now, but the dry riverbed once carried water through the city.”

That sounded like Methos had brought papyrus from Egypt only to find it didn't last well in this climate. “I wish,” said Joe in an extra wistful voice, “that there was a way to translate their writing.”

Dr. Zoll appeared to be catching on to what Joe was doing. She didn't address Methos, rather she turned to Joe striking up a normal sounding conversation. “People are saying,” she told Joe loudly enough for anyone to hear, “that some of the symbols look like the Vinča culture's proto-writing which also bears a resemblance to the Minoan Linear A.”

“Seriously?” Joe hadn't known that. He'd been told that the Vinča people were known to be in this part of Europe, but Crete was out in the Mediterranean Sea. “How could these cultures have the same language?”

“Shared roots, I suppose would be a better description,” she replied. “For example, it is rather like looking at the Romance languages. Similar letters and words, but enough differences to be separate. If you already know how to read one of them, learning to read a second is easier for the familiarity.”

Joe agreed with that. French was the language of the Watcher Academy and he remembered a Portuguese speaking classmate from Brazil learning it much quicker than he did. Had he paid more attention to his Spanish class in high school or had actually taken French back then, perhaps he wouldn't have struggled quite so much.

“The Vinča and Minoans predate this cave settlement,” Dr. Zoll continued. “Neither of their languages have been deciphered. Perhaps this cave language grew out of the Vinča the way hieratic did from hieroglyphics in Egypt?”

“Could be and that might help us understand the older languages at last,” a nearby archeologist agreed with them. “The Vinča and any number of different cultures may have lived in this cavern over time. Good places to live usually remain inhabited. If it weren't for the cave collapse, it might be a modern city today.”

“I don't suppose you could 'discover' how to crack the language, Dr. Adams?” Joe inquired, now deliberately sounding like a curious tourist blithely unaware that his question sounded ridiculous.

“People's careers are depending on what they find here. You want me to steal their glory?” Methos whispered to Joe.

Joe quipped back, “Convenient excuse.”

The glare Methos gave him made Joe wonder if he'd pushed the old man too far.

“Oh, go look for the school,” Methos suddenly retorted in frustration and a little too loudly.

“What?” Joe asked and he wasn't the only one asking that question. Methos had just gained the undivided attention of every archeologist and Watcher in the vicinity.

“The school, you know, a place of learning?” Methos said sarcastically. He paused, appearing to catch up with what he'd just revealed. “I came across it... last week,” he added. Though Methos said it smoothly, Joe suspected that was a lie.

“Really, Dr. Adams,” chastised an archeologist behind him. “You should have told the director.”

“He was too busy to see me. You are welcome to take credit if you find it yourself,” Methos shot back.

“What does it look like?” Dr. Zoll suddenly asked Methos directly. As a linguist herself, Joe knew she'd be itching to get a look at it. If they could translate those gallery walls themselves...

Methos appeared to have regained his composure and sense of humor as he looked at his Watcher. “Much the same as every other school in the world,” he said lazily.

“But these are ruins...”

“How many ruined cities retain their original contents? And don't say Pompeii or Thera, they were mostly vaporized.”

Dr. Zoll crossed her arms and demanded, “Just tell me where it is.”

“Would you like me to hold your hand to walk you across the street as well?”

“No, but a point in the right direction would be appreciated.”

Methos raised an eyebrow before lifting one arm to point his finger at a higher section of the city behind her. The prospect of exploring a school obviously trumped packing up the lights and gear on a street they'd finished documenting. Leaving 'Dr. Adams' behind to finish the last standing lights, the rest took off for the upper levels of the city with Dr. Zoll in tow now talking animatedly into her radio. Joe expected she was calling Jelena to join her, if she could leave her current assigned section, this was right up her alley. Amy was back at camp sleeping since she'd taken the night shift, just in case Methos tried to sneak out and down the mountain. Wyatt was watching nearby via telephoto lens, but that didn't mean Dr. Zoll wouldn't call him to go up as well to have the Watcher's camera document things for themselves.

“Have fun,” was all Methos said to their retreating backs.

Joe didn't go with them, the route was a bit treacherous looking and he'd be the only one left to watch Methos if Dr. Zoll did summon Wyatt to bring his camera. “I'll see photos later, but tell me what will they find? Please?” he asked.

Joe's pleading look apparently wasn't necessary, Methos didn't hesitate to speak now that the others were gone. A wistful expression came over his face as he remembered and said, “Pictures of animals, plants, numbers, common objects and tools we used.... all neatly labeled. Child sized, white marble topped ledges along the wall are still covered in the writing or possibly even math equations the kids were practicing in red chalk when they were forced to flee.” His voice trailed off quietly before he seemed to get a hold of himself to finish saying, “A treasure trove of information fill those classrooms. Translating the language fully will probably take years, but they have an enormous start.”

Listening, Joe realized that Methos was much too calm about this... and he shouldn't be. Without preamble, Joe blurted out the question as it came to his mind. “You wanted to destroy your portrait, but why aren't you worried about anyone learning to read what is written on the wall next to it? Isn't that just a dangerous?”

“Nope.”

“Your real name isn't on there?”

“Oh, it's there... as a pictograph. Names were written as a unique property symbol, like modern signs or marketing brands. Similar to the Watcher tattoo, ironically.” Methos added with an amused smile. “We didn't spell names phonetically because many names were too common and we didn't use family names. Think of how many guys named 'Joe' you've met? Symbols were how it was done long before I was born and that didn't change with the invention of proper writing. So, today no one will know how to pronounce my name on the wall.”

“Except for Watchers now. Are you okay with us reading everything on those walls?”

“Yes.”

“What's the catch?”

“Not much on there you didn't already know about me. Its one of the shorter biographies, as I'm sure you've noticed. I wasn't here long. Historians outside the Watchers will see those walls as curious fairy tales, no more.”

Joe was skeptical of Methos' claim that they'd glean little from the inscription. What the Watchers knew about about Methos' first five hundred years could be summed up as 'not much.' Anything new would be huge. Learning how he wrote his name and the fact it was a personally designed symbol was a great addition to the chronicles in of itself.

“The rest of the Immortals whose pictures are in that hall won't care who reads their stories,” Methos said and then sighed before adding, “because they're all dead.”

That answered the Watchers' question of whether or not all the other pictures were of Immortals and Joe hadn't needed to ask. “Will you tell me their names?” he inquired.

“Probably, later,” Methos answered and then diverted the discussion. “Have you noticed we aren't coming across bones down here? People had time to carry out the dead or injured and escape before the entrance fully collapsed. I expect the only remains will be found under there.” He pointed to the massive pile of rubble mostly hidden in the darkness on the far end of the cavern and indicating where the original cave opening once was.

“Dr. Conrad thinks at least some of the survivors resettled with a group of people near what is Vukovar today,” Joe told him. “They never built a city like this again and their writing system vanished. Why?”

“Maybe there weren't enough people left or they were too busy trying to stay alive. I don't know. I wasn't here when the earthquake happened, Joe,” Methos confessed.

“Then how can you be sure all of the Immortals that lived here escaped?” Joe asked, mulling over Methos' claim further. “We aren't going to find one buried down here since the earthquake are we?”

“Absolutely not,” Methos replied, shuddering at the thought. “I've climbed far enough to sense one if that was the case. Besides,” he added. “These people wouldn't leave an Immortal behind.”

“I'd guessed that someone down here knew about you guys, it would explain the portraits, but how could they be sure in the chaos if all of you made it out?”

Everyone knew about Immortals, Joe!” Methos exclaimed. “Taught from childhood. That gallery was a public hall. School children regularly toured it and studied us in class. Sound familiar?”

“The Watchers didn't exist yet,” Joe pointed out. The Watchers' purpose was keeping history and therefore they knew their own history very well and this place wasn't featured in it. Joe wasn't going to put up with being yanked around with false stories if Methos claimed otherwise.

“True, you won't find the Watcher symbol anywhere in this city, but these people shared your interest in us. Immortals were exposed rather often in ancient times. Not everyone rejected, persecuted or worshiped us though. The Lukoros were one of the few civilizations that gave us a place to belong in their community. The Watcher society was born from another like-minded culture, only less inclined to be friends.” Methos gave Joe a wry smile as he added that last bit.

Joe still didn't see how it fit. “Small settlements of people might accept one Immortal for a generation or two, but that's rare. Even we started from a tribe, not a city like this populated by thousands. More people means more disagreement of what to do with you guys. How did it even work?” Joe asked skeptically.

“There are thousands of Watchers right now.”

“And we have to root out Hunters because of it. How did it work?” Joe repeated his question insistently.

“Rather well for about six hundred years or so. We were their heroes, Joe. Why send a mortal into danger when we could take the risk instead? We parlayed with strangers, mediated disputes, met the enemy in battle, fought fires, saved the drowning and climbed down holes after the fallen. There was quite a lot of rescuing people from rock falls.”

“Immortals served the people? Openly?” Joe asked in awe, starting to believe Methos in spite of himself.

“Yes. The community provided our basic necessities - food, clothes, shelter - in return for being on retainer. Whether it was infrequent or often, easy or painful, compensation didn't change because they couldn't predict the next crisis or which Immortal would be nearest. We had to get a normal job like everyone else if we wanted more than that.”

“Did Immortals have government positions?”

Methos gave him a long look. “Worried that Immortals ruled over mortals, Joe? Don't be. We didn't lead because we couldn't have children.”

Joe frowned and said, “Immortals don't usually need heirs.”

“Didn't matter, all leadership positions required a blood line successor. That was the custom. I don't think it occurred to anyone to think otherwise.”

“It sounds like a good life. Not hiding, being valued for what you are, not a lot of fighting with other Immortals down here I presume... so, why do you look so grim?” Joe asked.

Methos hesitated before saying, “We weren't allowed to leave anymore. It didn't start out that way. As their first responders in a crisis, it was a courtesy to inform them if we were traveling to other lands. Later rulers changed the laws. Suddenly traveling beyond the valley outside required government approval... which was granted less and less, then forbidden altogether. Those who tried to go anyway were punished.”

“I hear an 'including me' in there.”

“Yeah, for succeeding,” Methos admitted. “Only I didn't run far enough and they brought me back... in chains.”

...o0o...

Flashback somewhere between 2,800-2,500 BC:

Methos awoke to far too much light suddenly filtering through his cloth roof. Because the sun did not shine this deep into the cavern, the Light Bearers compensated with an unnatural dawn and did it with too much enthusiasm, in his opinion. Most of the population emerged from the cave daily, yet they didn't seem to grasp that daybreak was a gradual process of steadily increasing light. Not this almost instant change from the near darkness of one dim lamp per street to fully bright light as the workers lit the rest of the street lamps.

He supposed it was too much to ask for them to wait a little in between lighting each lamp, but did they have to make it look like they were competing as to who could do it fastest? And the way they ran along these twisting and sloped passageways, it was a wonder they didn't knock each other down turning blind corners.

Though he'd much rather sleep in, there was no avoiding the light, no matter how deeply he buried his head under his pillow. Deciding it was better to start early and avoid the crowds, Methos began his usual day. He rolled up his bedding, lifted it off of the floor cushions and placed it in a niche in the stone. If he were more affluent, he could afford to have cushions in a room just for sleeping. As it was, these cushions were the only ones he had and so must serve a dual purpose for sitting or sleeping.

He collected his chamber pot and a set of clean clothes. Rather than put his shoes on, he carried them walking barefoot on the cold stone and stepped out of his one room apartment. It had no windows, only the tarp ceiling for there was nothing to view but more stone. Unlike the poorest of residents, he did at least have a wooden door. Not that it would keep out anyone wishing to enter his home, but it afforded more privacy than cloth drapes hanging across a doorway. Theft was rare when all valuable personal items carried your name and removing that mark usually required damaging the item badly. But he had a much simpler reason to not worry about anyone taking his belongings.

Methos no longer owned anything worth stealing.

When he sneaked out of the cavern, he'd taken only what he could carry, therefore the city leaders decided he didn't deserve any of his possessions he left behind. They didn't give him back his old house either. If living in poverty was good enough for him while traveling through other lands, then it would be good enough for him here, they argued. Never mind that living on the road was not the same as living in a house and that with time he could establish himself nicely in a new town. They told him to accept a one room apartment in the poorest neighborhood or stay in prison.

Moving quickly down the narrow passageway and almost needing to duck under a low hanging flow stone formation with images of fish painted on it, he came out into a moderately sized chamber with a single winding road through it. He deposited his chamber pot at the laundry cleaners. Proceeding down a rough cut staircase to the bath house, he was pleased to see he was the first to arrive and need not put up with mindless chatter or worse, verbal abuse. Unfortunately, the attendants had yet to arrive to add more water from the hot spring. Washing quickly in the lukewarm bath and dressing for the day, he dropped off his dirty clothes with the cleaners and retrieved his now washed chamber pot. The better neighborhoods would deliver your laundry and pot to your house. The best homes included private latrines and bathing facilities.

He used to have one of those.

Walking along the street, Methos was mostly ignored by the residents now emerging from their homes. He didn't know them like he'd known his old neighborhood. They seemed to be divided between being glad to actually have an Immortal among them like the other areas of the city did and disgust at the reason why he was demoted here. Methos returned to his apartment to retrieve food to make his breakfast, if he hurried he might be one of the first to the cooking courtyard, too. Only he remembered too late as he gazed at his empty cupboard that he needed to go to market today.

Methos hated going to market.

He wandered back out into the passageway and through the cavern lost in thought over what to do. Even before his disgrace, the market was an annoying place. Before, he'd arranged deliveries of food from his favorite seller who proudly picked out the best for him. Merchants were one of the wealthier professions, so the rulers didn't directly compensate them for the food donated to the Immortals. Some people competed, taking pride when an Immortal favored their offerings and gaining more business. Unfortunately, that sometimes left the other vendors feeling insulted that an Immortal didn't endorse their wares. Of course, there were always some people who disliked giving anything away for free and didn't care what it did to their reputation to be so rude that no Immortal asked anything from them again.

That was the problem Methos faced now. No one had to offer their goods to an Immortal, but they couldn't refuse to give him food if he asked for it and they did have the option of how much or how little to give. It made him feel like a beggar, more now than ever. The more vindictive might insist their best was already promised and offer something so spoiled vermin wouldn't eat it. Others could force him to listen to them rant about his disgrace as they slowly wrapped his food. If they were offensive enough, he wouldn't want to return to their booth. It seemed no matter who he went to, the food was likely to cause indigestion.

His feet took him out of the deeper chambers until he emerged into the largest part of the cavern and the heart of the city. He stopped on a bridge over the river looking down at the marketplace already filling with people below. Beyond it he could see angled rays of dawn beginning to shine down from the enormous cave entrance in the ceiling. This is what gave these people their name, Lukoros, which was an old combination of words from a long forgotten language describing a brightly lit mountain cave. The hole above was almost a circle and so wide that a few stunted trees and bushes tried valiantly to grow on a part of the floor that received the most light each day. Clean air was never a problem in the cave. Rain, snow and the occasional boulder breaking off the edges above was.

Stairs cut into the outer edge of the rock curved down one nearly vertical side to the cavern floor and a copper lift on the opposite side carried a platform up to the overhanging ledge. The better houses were just inside the cave, away from the elements, but still enjoying some natural light. Here people were extinguishing their lamps, not lighting them. The oldest, original buildings directly under the sky had layers of branches for roofs, but no one lived in them anymore. They were converted into communal kitchens since the cave opening made a perfect chimney.

“Methos,” the soft voice of Hecate called his name on the other side of the bridge.

She was one of the older Immortals he knew. There weren't calendars when Hecate was born, but working with the knowledge they had now of tracking time and her memory of the location of the stars when she was young, they'd estimated she was likely over a thousand years old. Hecate was almost his own height, something she'd used successfully to disguise herself as a man when traveling dangerous roads between settlements. She was foreign, from a land across the sea and knew a great deal about sailing ships. The stories of her sea voyages were wonderful, yet she hadn't gone on any sort of journey in nearly a century to his knowledge. Even before the ban on Immortals traveling, she'd stopped venturing out.

She held out a basket heavily laden with food to him. “Here,” she said. “This should be enough for the next several days.”

“Thank you, Hecate,” he answered sincerely, touched by the gift, but also embarrassed. “You heard about my last trip to market, then?”

“I can bring you more when this runs out,” was all she said, politely making no other comment.

It was kind of her to offer, but it was a temporary fix only. “No one will hire me for a job. Not even to clean soot off the ceiling,” he confessed. “The vendors will be less stingy or opinionated if I have something to barter for food. My old friends won't speak to me and scribes aren't exactly in demand.”

There lay Methos' trouble, for his profession was in writing. There were two societies where such a skill earned the least profit – those that had no use for reading or writing and places like this, where everyone could write for themselves. Sharing stories of his travels was enjoyable, but it wasn't something he could barter with to make a living when everyone was too angry to listen.

“It isn't as though I can get my old job back,” Methos said with sarcasm. “Immortals aren't allowed to guard the caravans across the trade routes, not even for only a season, anymore. Did you know I can only see the sun and stars from below the cave entrance? They won't let me out at all.”

“Only because they fear you won't come back. Prove yourself and you will be allowed topside again. Be patient and wait for the laws to change back to how they were.”

“What if I refuse to help the next time Isaphor's clumsiness starts a grease fire in the cooking courtyard? What do you think will happen? That I'll be merely evicted from that little hovel and left to starve? You know they won't exile me from the city, that would be giving me what I wanted. What I think is that they'll put me to work in the deepest part of the copper mine with the criminals. It isn't as though it would kill me and once I'd learned my lesson, they might let come crawling back. Or perhaps they'll leave me there forever as a warning to the rest of you.”

“I will not believe such paranoia and slander,” she stated bluntly. “These are good people who mean well. They feel like you've rejected them and don't understand why you'd ever wish to visit other lands that won't appreciate you. They made it against the law to take heads to protect us from each other. Immortals are national treasures here. Do you not understand what that means, Methos?”

“Yes, we're property of the state,” Methos grumbled back.

She could only stare at him in shock before they were interrupted by a stranger calling out to her from ahead, “Hecate! Hecate!”

“You're irrational,” Hecate said quietly to Methos with a sigh. “We will speak again later when we are both better tempered.” It was effectively a dismissal and she turned to address the woman approaching them. “Yes?”

“My name is Pelagia and I ask for your counsel on a decision I must make,” the flustered woman said ritually.

“Tell me your dilemma, Pelagia,” replied Hecate kindly, giving her full attention.

Methos left, not bothering to stay behind to hear what the woman wanted. It was probably to do with a dispute with her family or her love life. Most requests for wisdom were. The woman likely didn't have much to pay with either... a trinket, piece of fruit or the shawl around her shoulders perhaps. Knowing Hecate, she'd worry over accidentally offending the woman by offering her advice for free and feel guilty if she accepted even such meager compensation from someone living in poverty.

...o0o...

Present day

“Selling advice was a good living, if you could build up a reputation for wisdom,” Methos explained with an ironic smile. “Payment was similar to how waiters are tipped in restaurants today. Hecate was generous, you could approach her at any time. Some Immortals had a regular seat under the cave opening and used the movement of the shadows along the cavern wall to time how long they were available that day. I think it was probably an old sinkhole. I remember it as very round and it was directly overhead.

“Mediating disputes was the worst though,” Methos said getting back to his tale and shaking his head in memory. “No one had to accept an Immortal's judgment, but people usually did from peer pressure. The incident Hecate heard about was when people deliberately waited until they spotted me to start a fuss over prices and demanded I mediate. It's impossible to make both parties happy, so I refused to pass judgments at all... thoroughly displeasing everyone.”

“I can imagine,” replied Joe, “doing that didn't help you after you broke an already controversial law. Did the other Immortals back you up for trying to leave the city?”

“A few, but for different reasons. My elders either pleaded for clemency or said I deserved to discover for myself the hard way how good I had it here. The rest were angry I caused trouble. It didn't matter though, we were powerless to change the law. Like most kids, commanding me to stay only made me rebel more. I ran much farther and longer the next time.”

“Kid? Weren't you about MacLeod's age?” Joe asked, a little startled at Methos' description of himself. “Did you ever come back here?”

“Yes, only it was too late. I returned when I was sure all the mortals I'd known would be dead of old age. I wasn't penitent either. I wanted to prove I was right to come and go as I pleased, to tell them of the new places I'd seen. Only there was no one left to show off my accomplishments to, just an abandoned rubble filled pit. I never found the refugees from this place either, but I did encounter a few of the other Immortals eventually. None of them would to talk about how we lost paradise, especially to me.”

“But you didn't think of it as paradise then.”

“I was an idiot, Joe.”

“Do I need to quote your own advice to Mac when Keane wanted to punish him for his actions after Culloden?” Joe asked seriously.

Methos' shoulders slumped and said, “You're right. I didn't think that way then. I wanted to see more of the world and would spend years at a time away. I always came back though and had done so since the lifetime of the oldest mortals' grandparents. You'd think they'd trust me to go out from time to time.”

Joe silently sympathized with the Lukoros people. He didn't condone their restrictions on the Immortals, but he could see why they didn't trust Methos to come back. He didn't either.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Joe.”

Joe looked up to see Methos was ready for the new day and waiting for him. “Sorry, man. I'm not feeling so good. Think I walked too much yesterday, you know. I'll join you after lunch, okay?”

“Sure, you rest, Joe. Catch you up later.”

Joe was pleased to see Methos looked genuinely concerned for his health. Not that he expected Methos to be uncaring, but rather it was always tricky trying to lie to Methos. Though Joe was aching pretty badly this morning and not just from standing so much on his double leg prosthesis, so perhaps that is why the old man looked convinced.

Methos paused in the act of leaving and stepped back to ask, “Am I to assume the entire entourage will be with me in your absence?”

Joe laughed at Methos' description of the other Watchers. “Well, Tim's got the morning off and Dr. Zoll is heading back to the school they found yesterday. So, Dr. Conrad and Amy will be following you. Please be nice to my daughter, okay? I won't be surprised if you try to ditch them, just between you and me Amy needs the practice, but be nice,” Joe stressed the last.

It was a risk, encouraging Methos to sneak away from his Watchers today. There was a fine line between giving his reluctant permission for him to do so and sounding like he was setting the man up... which is exactly what Joe was doing. The other Watchers believed Methos would feel too guilty to take off on Joe, no matter what Joe said to the contrary. However, they all agreed Methos had a habit of losing Amy, much to the young woman's consternation. If Methos was going to try to explore more of the cavern unobserved, they had to contrive a reason for Joe to be absent and had to let Methos believe he eluded the rest of them.

Joe tried not to feel guilty for the ruse as he watched Methos go with the rest of his archeology team mates, while Amy and Dr. Jelena Conrad followed in plain view. Jelena had more autonomy to choose where she worked on the site from both her seniority on staff and being responsible for the 'museum representatives' the Watchers were posing as. It made it easy to follow Methos around, though according to Jelena, Methos had charmed his team leader into not reporting the frequency in which he took off alone. Joe could only hope that played out well for them today.

...o0o...

After two hours of working on a new city street, the first Watcher finally gave into temptation and talked to him. Though Methos couldn't say if it took that long because that is when the rest of the team spread out sufficiently for semi-private conversations. Even so, the two women watching him today could have chosen to work with the rest of the archeologists divided at intervals down the road. They should have stayed as far away from him as possible to do their jobs properly. As it was, he found himself working alongside them, removing debris and cataloging broken pottery.

“Methos,” Dr. Conrad addressed him and seemed to lose her voice as he turned his attention to her.

“I don't do the wise sage gimmick,” he interrupted apologetically, already anticipating what she was going to say. “Other than... wear sunscreen.”

“Wear sunscreen? That's your advice?”

“No, the long term benefits of sunscreen have been approved by scientists. I don't give advice, but you are welcome to ask anyway.”

“Have you found the reason for it all? For life?” Dr. Conrad asked, stumbling like she wasn't sure how to put her thoughts into words, but stubbornly trying to ask Methos some deep, important question anyway.

Methos blinked at her. “For life, the universe and everything, you mean?” he asked vaguely.

She nodded back.

“Forty-two.”

She frowned, even more baffled by this answer than the sunscreen response. Amy Thomas meanwhile, burst into hysterical laughter.

“Is that why you chose the name Douglas Adams as your new alias?” Amy said in between giggles and at the other Watcher's confusion explained, “It is the name of the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Have you never heard of it?” she asked Jelena. Apparently not from the look on her face.

“I'm surprised you have,” Methos said to Amy.

“My mum has every book he wrote and she let me read them. She's a huge fan, since the radio series,” she said before her face turned suspicious. “Please tell me you didn't write the books?”

“I didn't write the books,” Methos parroted back in the same tone, but with a sneaky smile.

“Oh, now I don't know if I should believe you!”

“Amy... don't panic.”

Amy dissolved into giggles again only to be interrupted by Dr. Conrad's radio.

“Jelena, here,” she answered it.

The response was quiet and scratchy, as though she'd turned down the volume on it, but Methos could just make out a man's voice saying, “We need you at the main square.”

“On my way,” she answered into the radio. “Well, I must be off,” she said and left Amy and Methos behind.

The pair worked quietly for a few minutes, he passed bits of rock to Amy to set aside out of their way as he looked for artifacts. It was the most work she and the other newly arrived Watchers were permitted to do on the site. As the silence stretched, Amy couldn't restrain herself any longer and spoke to Methos again.

“Is there any place you haven't been?” she asked.

“Outer space,” Methos said seriously. “I'm fairly confident I'm not from another planet. Unless you subscribe to the 'Immortals are Aliens dropped on Earth as infants' theory, then I wouldn't know it myself, would I? Seeing the Earth from above though, that would be amazing. How about you, Amy?”

“I don't think Dr. Zoll's department budget would cover the space tourist ticket and it isn't as though you'd have anywhere to go but back down to Earth.”

“True. I think I could pick up a second ticket if you wanted to fly.”

“Don't tempt me.”

“But its so much fun.”

“Have you made an offer like that to Joe?”

“I would, if I thought he'd take me up on it.”

She laughed and stood up. “I'm going to spend a penny and then top up my Thermos. Shall I bring you anything?”

“Water, please,” he replied.

As Amy walked down the road where the portable toilet and a box of bottled water were located, Methos discovered that, for a few moments, he would be left alone by all the Watchers. He hoped Amy wouldn't be too irritated to find he'd gone when she returned from the loo. Joe had practically given him his blessing after all.

...o0o...

Amy in fact, had not bothered with either the toilet nor with refilling her travel mug. Rather, she was well concealed in darkness behind a stone railing at the top of a staircase not yet approved for climbing by the archeology team. It was a risk, leaving the designated safe areas, but such circumstances were part of the job when watching Immortals.

For a moment, Amy thought Methos wouldn't take the bait and she'd have to backtrack to fetch a bottle of water for him after all. But no, he gave one last furtive look around before sidling off the road and down a narrow side corridor. Only her higher vantage point and the gleam of his light allowed her to follow his progress.

“Methos is ground level, moving east,” said Amy into her radio.

“We're ready,” came Dr. Zoll's voice in reply. “Remember your lines, everyone. Switch back to the other channel now.”

They'd chosen an undesignated channel on their hand-held radios today, they couldn't talk freely on a channel Methos knew they'd been assigned. It didn't mean that Methos couldn't listen in on their conversation if he thought to try all the channels though. For that reason, they had a little drama to play on the channel the group of Watchers had been assigned in the hope that he wouldn't think to try the others if he heard what he expected to on the channel they were supposed to be using.

Faking a tone of frustration, Amy said, “I've lost him,” into her radio on the channel Methos might be listening in on to hear if they'd noticed he'd gone and where they were looking for him.

Dr. Zoll responded promptly asking, “Can you circle back around?”

“No, its all marked off as dangerous.”

“Amy,” said Jelena's voice joining in. “I'm down in the main courtyard. I'll walk your direction until I find him or you.”

“I'm still at the school,” replied Dr. Zoll. “Check back with me in a quarter of an hour with an update and I'll come down to help if you haven't found him by then.”

Finished with their performance, they changed back to the new channel.

“Well done,” said Tim, sitting beside Amy in the darkness.

Neither Joe nor Tim were taking the morning off as Joe had claimed to Methos. Instead, Tim had spent his time today guiding each of the other Watchers to good viewing locations scattered about the cavern. Dr. Zoll was not at the school and Dr. Conrad hadn't been called away to the courtyard. Rather it was a signal from Tim that he was ready to show her the way to the upper levels and it gave her a plausible excuse to give Methos the belief that he had only one Watcher on him. Tim had even gone so far as to ask one of the archeologists to speak into the radio for him because Methos would recognize Tim's voice if he'd spoken. Who knew what the other man thought of the strange request, but he'd done as Tim asked.

Carefully orchestrated as it was, there were flaws in the plan. They couldn't cover the entire area and Joe wasn't quick on his feet or good at climbing, which was why he was only on the second level. Not to mention the danger of changing positions to follow Methos' progress from above over uncertain terrain. Or that Methos could literally stumble across one of them. They also had no choice but to use lights to see, which would also give away that someone was above Methos in the cavern, but only if he looked or didn't think it was normal for people to be up there today.

“I can see his flashlight now,” said Joe over the radio. “I'm hoping it doesn't occur to him to use two lights. He'll be indistinguishable from the people exploring in pairs if he does.”

“Clever idea, Joe,” Amy complimented her father. “We should all turn on two when we move about alone to better blend in and not confuse each other with him.”

“We need to go up now. This way,” Tim said quietly to Amy. They both turned on their lights and she followed him through the rubble. More than once, he had to warn her of unstable ground and carefully demonstrate where it was safe to climb through a shortcut to the third level he'd explored yesterday.

“I'm glad you are the last I have to guide up here today,” said Tim, sounding exhausted. “I'm knackered.”

...o0o...

Methos hadn't realized how purposefully he'd moved through the streets until he found himself standing before his old house. He had avoided this, told himself he would not look for it even, yet here he was. He'd like to say his feet carried him here of their own accord... but even he couldn't convince himself of that. He wanted to once again see one of the earliest and best homes he could remember owning. See if it was as comfortable as he remembered or if he'd glorified it in memory in the many centuries afterward that he'd rarely had even a tent to protect him from the elements.

This was the original home the Lukoros people granted him, not the embarrassing hovel of his later disgrace. It was along a natural slope where tiers of homes were built up one cavern wall and not too close to the cavern entrance which explained why it wasn't buried in rubble now. Nor was it quite as high up as some houses, at his request, when he was given a choice of neighborhoods to move into. He hadn't liked the idea of climbing too many stairs and didn't trust riding the copper lift. It seemed a ridiculous fear now that such technology was commonplace. He'd ridden numerous lifts in the past century, including the one to descend into the cave with the archeologists, all without a second thought.

Other than being shaken from the earthquake, most things inside the house were undisturbed.

Methos stared in awe as he began to remember. He hadn't fully recalled what it looked like until he saw it again and hadn't expected to at all. Yet he recognized it as being exactly as he'd left it at least four and a half millennium ago. All this time, he'd assumed the Lukoros gave away it and all his possessions after he left the first time. Sneaking out meant he'd taken only what he could carry and while it hurt to part with some of these things, it had been his choice to do so. Never did he imagine that they'd preserve it intact. He'd thought the worst of them when they'd forced him to live in the poorest district.

Now he saw that all along they'd meant to someday restore his belongings to him... likely once he'd willingly rejoined their society. He'd run away from them again instead.

Vivid murals covered every inch of the walls depicting stylized plants and animals. His hands trailed lightly, barely hovering, over everything as he walked through each room. He smeared away the dust on a water jug he once used, carefully stepping around the remains of once thick animal fur rugs on the floor and let his fingers rest on the soft coverlet of his bed now so fragile the woolen threads were coming apart from age. Ordinary objects he once took for granted as easily replaced were suddenly valuable relics of his past. He chided himself for caring now. These things were no different than his toothbrush today.

The real treasure was his library.

He hadn't valued it as much then. He was young and didn't know he'd someday suffer from memory problems. Methos could honestly say that the human brain wasn't meant to hold 5,000 years worth of memories indefinitely. It made his journal all the more precious now and the earliest surviving copies could be in the next room. Yet at the time, his life was short enough he could rewrite all the important bits from memory in a pinch. He had no choice but to do so when the papyrus scrolls he brought from Egypt rotted. He learned not to take his scrolls out of the desert after that. Ironically, with the river gone and most of the moisture with it, scrolls might have lasted until now better than they ever did before the cave collapsed.

He set up a more powerful lantern in the center of the floor, flooding the entire library with light and revealing that here too, things were precisely as he left them. The shaking of the earthquake had knocked some tablets off their shelves, yet not as many were broken as he expected. The unfired, newer clay tablets were smashed to bits, but most of the kiln fired ones were as beautiful as the day he wrote them. Three written languages were represented on them, Egyptian, Cuneiform and Lukoros. Methos was unusual in that he kept permanent records of his life and travels using a technique he'd learned in the southeast nations. Most never fired tablets, preferring to reuse them. Even Egyptian or Sumerian accountants and scribes used them for temporary notes, soaking their air dried clay tablets to erase the impressions.

In this cave, he was the only person to use clay tablets, fired or air dried. Everyone else wrote messages on stone shards with chalk or paint. Easily wiped off and reusable, any piece of stone around the cavern would do. Important official documents were carved into stone walls to better preserve them.

Methos made his temporary writings directly onto his desk top, a large, low ledge carved from the back wall that dominated one side of his library. It was wide enough for him to redo what he wanted to write numerous times and have space for a row of wet clay tablets to copy it to, pressing a sharp pointed reed into the clay to make his marks. Then he'd wipe the desk surface clean to compose a new document.

He looked closer at the desk. The old cushion he once knelt on while writing was still there in tatters with age, the animal skin was split and the plant stuffing reduced to scant crumbles on the floor. The stacks of unfired clay tablets nearby were a shattered loss, but the desk top... was covered in a fine layer of dust.

And there was still writing on it.

Methos gently blew the dust away and stared as his own handwriting was revealed. It felt like he was reading it for the first time, he had no memory of writing this. Puzzled, for it was too short to be practice for a journal entry, he began to read it.

To Bitaia and Oggai, my friends and teachers. I will miss you, yet I trust that someday we will meet again and that you will respect my reasons for leaving this splendid city.

To Hecate, thank you for your kindness and your stories.

To Perkūnos, I hope you are buried alive in an avalanche someday.

To the great king, (here was a name symbol he no longer recognized), to the city counselors and the people of Lukoros, I wish I could take my leave with honor. Though you are more generous and kinder than any other people I've known, I yearn for wild places and new sights. I will return in the time of your great grandchildren and hope for a better relationship with them. Know that I leave without aid from any mortal or Immortal and that I take all responsibility for my actions.

Methos

 

It was his farewell missive to the Lukoros and the four Immortals he'd known the best while living here.

He'd read all the ancient Immortals' chronicles, especially those who he remembered such as the first two listed. It was how he'd eventually come to discover that he was the oldest living Immortal. Bitaia was from the island of Crete, likely from the people referred to as Minoans now, though she wasn't living there when the Watchers discovered her. She lost her head to her student around 1,940 BC and the Watchers had no idea she was over 1,300 years old at the time of her death. Understandable as the Watchers were a new organization at the time and couldn't exactly ask her about her age.

Oggai was either a Hittite or Assyrian man from what was now the country of Syria. The Watchers had less information about Oggai, losing all track of him in the twelfth century BC and only had another Immortal's bragging that he'd taken Oggai's head to go on. Methos however through careful research had determined that Oggai lost his head three hundred years later while using an alias. The Watchers hadn't connected the two names as the same person or that he lived about 2,400 years. It always amazed Methos at how common it was for Immortals from the Bronze and Iron ages or even earlier to live to see their first millennium, yet Immortals born in the modern age often lost their heads before their third century. He couldn't attribute it to easier travel forcing more frequent encounters with other Immortals, for even in ancient times crisscrossing the continents and navigating oceans wasn't impossible. No, he blamed increased obsession with the Game.

Watcher files aside, Methos himself only remembered the pair vaguely as highly respected Immortals in this city and that both were a few centuries older than himself at the time. He never met either of them again and had forgotten he'd been friends with them, much less their student. It didn't fit with his memories, not that those were terribly reliable, that he still had teachers then. He was too old, surely? Immortals usually stopped seeking out new instructors by their third or fourth century. MacLeod was a good example, for he'd studied under a number of brilliant warriors and depended on Darius for wisdom. From a certain point of view, Methos himself could be described as a new teacher or a replacement of Darius' role in MacLeod's life. He doubted MacLeod would see him that way, no matter how many times the Highlander came to him for advice. Mac would feel beyond the need for teachers at his age now.

Hecate he remembered better, as a friend and source of knowledge. She allowed him to record her tales of the sea people, amazing events, and fantastic places. He wasn't sure if those tablets were still in this room or if he'd given them to Hecate before leaving. He was certain her house was crushed in the earthquake, it was too close to the entrance. If the tablets were there, they were lost. Her name wasn't in the Watcher files at all, he'd looked for her along with every other Immortal he'd ever met. That didn't mean she wasn't there under an alias, he found only a few female Immortals fitting her description listed in the chronicles and upon seeing them himself, he knew none were Hecate.

Perkūnos was a fierce Immortal he'd encountered only once more, centuries later near the Black Sea. They'd avoided each other without fighting or speaking that day. Apparently, he'd held a grudge against the man when he lived here, but Methos couldn't recall why now. He would have to re-look up the man's chronicles later. He didn't recollect any further details about what he'd read other than he lost his head over two thousand years ago. Though he didn't recall how to read the last name written in the letter, he thought the mortal king responsible for refusing Immortals the right to journey out of the city was called Nar'um. He couldn't say for sure if that was the man he was referencing or a later king.

Methos pulled out a camera and snapped a few pictures of his desk top farewell letter before using his sleeve to wipe it away permanently.

...o0o...

Four Watchers, breathless with excitement (and Amy still breathless from finishing her climb) sat with binoculars aimed at Methos. Tim had left for camp, to get some much needed sleep. He'd shown Amy where her father was on the second level before taking her further to the third. Joe was on a wide, mostly intact promenade where he wouldn't need to climb over anything. Amy was close enough to rejoin him when it was time to climb down later. Dr. Zoll and Dr. Conrad were on the fourth and fifth levels respectively, as they didn't know how high or how far Methos might climb or if he'd climb at all. The light wasn't good enough for decent photos, Tim was the expert at getting impossible shots, but it was enough for them to identify what Methos was doing on the second level. From their vantage points above, they could look down through the open roof, its privacy cloth long gone, and follow his progress as Methos shined his light around. Though none of them could hear each other separated as they were unless they spoke into their radios, there was a collective gasp when Methos entered his book room and his light revealed stacks of tablets.

“Am I pathetic to want to keep a stylus or piece of chalk Methos discarded nearly 5,000 years ago?” asked Dr. Zoll in a woebegone tone over the radio to the rest of the team.

“Yes,” answered Joe, amused, “but I'd help you smuggle it out anyway. I expect they'll search our baggage, but it might get through.”

When red snow falls,” cautioned Dr. Conrad, half serious and half in humor with them. “They'll search you before you're allowed out of the cave, not merely your luggage. Try it at your own peril.”

Dr. Zoll laughed, but took the warning seriously. “You're right, I shouldn't joke about it,” she said. “Joe, has he narrowed down how long ago he was last here?”

“He said, and remember he might not be telling the truth,” Joe qualified his statement over the radio, “he said he was less than five hundred years old at the time. But that was his best guess and don't be fooled by his claim he didn't live here long. Immortals don't estimate time like we do. He also traveled away frequently. His old journals may give him a better answer,” Joe told her. “Have you worked out the two numbers written in his gallery biography?”

“Yes, they are dates in this people's calendar separated by ninety-three years. I believe one of the dates is when he arrived in the cavern, but that doesn't tell me if he was born here or not. If he was a native, it could be a real birth date making the second date a mark of some significant event he participated in.”

“Like when he fled the cave perhaps?” Amy asked, joining back in on the radio conversation.

“No, both dates are at the beginning of the inscription,” replied Dr. Zoll.

“If he was foreign, then that first date could be the birth year Methos told them, provided he was truthful about his age to when he met these people.”

“Making the second date possibly when he joined their culture, at age ninety-three?” Joe then asked.

“Precisely,” said Dr. Zoll. “The challenge now is to translate their calendar into ours and perhaps we'll have a more exact age for him than the vague 'about 5,000 years old' we are stuck with now.”

“I might be able to help you there,” answered Dr. Conrad. “Remind me to introduce you to our archeoastronomer when we go back to camp.”

They continued to watch as Methos moved about his library, shifting tablets here and there as he photographed them. A good choice the Watchers agreed amongst themselves as there was no certainty that Methos would succeed in smuggling them out of the cavern or that they remain intact on the journey. No one suggested Methos might be taking photos because he intended to destroy the tablets, but they were all thinking it.

“Does anyone think we'll have a chance to take pictures of the tablets ourselves?” asked Amy over the radio.

“Some of them,” decided Dr. Zoll. “If he does not remove any of them today, we may get photos of them all, not merely of the interior of the rooms later today.”

“Or we could just nick the film from Methos' camera,” quipped Amy. “Or Joe could.”

“No way,” answered her father.

“Oh, go on, Joe.”

“Not happening. Besides he's using one of those new digital cameras, no film to steal.”

“Even better,” replied Jelena. “We need only copy the memory card and return it while the camera is out of Methos' sight at camp.”

“How long would it take to copy? And what if he uses several memory cards? Just one doesn't hold much, does it? Could it really be done without Methos noticing?”

“Tim would know. I will ask when we return to camp. Taking our own pictures will likely need to wait until tomorrow either way. I'd rather send Tim to document everything in the house while Joe distracts Methos.”

...o0o...

Hours later, for Methos had again skipped the midday meal and unknowingly forced his Watchers to do the same, they each returned to camp as nonchalantly as possible when it was obvious Methos was done with his house for now. Amy rather gleefully made a show of re-finding him once he was back down on the cavern floor. Joe worried she might overdo it and give away that she'd never actually lost him, but Methos seemed in too good a mood to notice. Joe easily explained away being at the site with her by saying he'd felt ready to explore again after lunch and was helping her relocate Methos.

The three of them rode back to camp in high spirits to find Dr. Conrad and Dr. Zoll had rounded up some sandwiches for the rest of them. It was a bizarre sight, though none but themselves knew it, for an Immortal to talk and laugh with four Watchers. The only Watcher missing from the group was Tim. Joe glanced back at the collection of tents deeper in this chamber and noticed that Tim's tent doorway was pinned open.

Not wishing to alarm the others, Joe got up from the table to refill his drink and took the opportunity to move further to one side to get a better view of the inside of the tent. No one was there.

“Has anyone heard from Tim lately?” Joe asked the rest of the group.

“No,” answered Dr. Zoll as the others shook their heads. “Shouldn't he still be asleep?”

“Tent's empty.”

Dr. Zoll got up to verify that for herself and make a circuit of the chamber to check if he was merely elsewhere in the camp. The others helped, knocking on the doors of the loo and the shower room. It was becoming obvious he wasn't there and Dr. Zoll began calling for him on the radio – on both channels they'd used that day. When that failed, Dr. Conrad contacted other members of the archeology team.

“Odd,” Jelena said. “No one else has seen him since we all left camp this morning.”

“I still cannot ring him on the radio,” Dr. Zoll said, now looking very worried.

“Maybe he turned it off?” suggested Joe. “The noise would give away his position while trying to watch this joker,” Joe pointed a thumb at Methos standing right next to him.

“Even if he did turn it off, he should have checked in by now if he went back out. Especially as he is alone.”

“Weren't you warned to stay together or at least in pairs?” Methos asked rhetorically.

“It couldn't be helped. You know that,” Joe shot back. “You took off by yourself today, too.”

“Yes, but I'd fare rather better than Tim would at the bottom of a fissure,” Methos replied.

 

Author's notes:

Little nod to “Everyone's Free to Wear Sunscreen” song by Baz Luhrmann, which is in turn based on an essay written by Mary Schmich. And I couldn't resist the coincidence of grabbing the Adams name Methos favors from the “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” author. I can totally imagine that sardonic wit as Methos' style of wisdom.

Chapter Text

Their sandwiches abandoned only half eaten, the lot of them returned to the city where the director was organizing a search party. As guests and not being experienced enough to help in the unexplored areas of the cave, the Watchers were left in the designated safe areas. The archeologists focused their search on the upper levels that Watchers had had no choice but to admit was where they'd last seen Wyatt exploring.

The odd man out and unable to join the search, Joe sat on a stone ledge in the safety of the main courtyard coordinating with Amy and Dr. Zoll as they patrolled together along the city streets. They could alert the others on the radio if Wyatt turned back up. Meanwhile, Methos was paired with Dr. Conrad who had become a nervous chatterbox in her effort to cope with the fact that one of her charges disappeared in the cavern.

“If Wyatt lost or broke his radio,” Jelena was theorizing as she and Methos climbed, “his flashlight might have fallen, too. His bulb may have broken. Or what if he ran out of batteries?”

“Batteries last nearly a day. Didn't you instruct them all when they came down about always taking three lights and spare batteries?”

“Yes, but I didn't verify that Tim did so. Or check that he'd replaced yesterday's batteries with fresh ones this morning. He wasn't wearing a light on his hard hat anymore. He kept complaining yesterday that it kept slipping off,” she said sounding guilty and horrified, her maternal instincts running rampant.

“You are not his mother. Wyatt is a grown man who can take responsibility for looking after himself.”

“That doesn't mean Tim is in any condition to use anything he has to help himself or he could have lost it all.”

“What other means of light might he have if he forgot to bring an extra torch?”

“If he has a wrist watch like mine, he could do this,” she said as she pressed a button on the side of her digital watch producing a faint blue glow, just bright enough to read the watch face. “It wouldn't last long, though.”

Methos remained quiet and let the woman ramble. At least she was making enough noise to jolt Wyatt even from unconsciousness if they came across him.

“Do you think he knows how to start a fire with a bit of wire and a spare battery?” she asked.

“With what fuel? This is a cave.”

“His coat? That would last a few minutes. Lip balm! That burns. No, he'd have nothing to carry it in.”

Deciding to have some fun during her frantic speculation, Methos removed first a pencil, then the metal spiral from a notebook he carried. Methos gently split open the pencil wood and eased out the graphite only to then snap it into a few pieces. He bent, broke in half and twisted the metal wire loops until they were wrapped securely enough around either end of one short piece of graphite.

Finally noticing his behavior, Dr. Conrad asked, “What are you doing?”

“Parlor trick. Not one that Wyatt can do though.”

Methos then plunged the opposite ends of the two metal spirals into his thumb and first finger.

Tiny arches of blue lightning shot up the metal coils before the piece of graphite blazed with light brighter than any electric light they were carrying. They were almost blinded by its intensity for their eyes had already adjusted to the dark. Jelena squinted at him, stunned at the white light that almost appeared to hover above his hand.

“What? Never seen a Quickening torch before?” Methos said laughing.

“Not funny, Methos. You could have warned me.”

“Aw, come on. Joe laughed when I used my Quickening to shock a metal chair MacLeod was sitting in,” Methos told her. “Mac kicked over the table and split beer on Joe, but Joe still laughed.”

Eying the blood welling up around the two pieces of metal stuck into Methos' fingertips, Jelena asked, “Doesn't that hurt?”

“Yes,” said Methos drawing out the word in a hiss, but he did not remove it. Rather he held up his hand to better cast the light upon a small clearing in the passageway ahead of them.

A clearing distinguished by a skeleton.

Even Jelena was shocked speechless. After weeks of working the site, everyone had gone from being surprised at the lack of human remains to no longer expecting to find them. Yet, here was the first they'd found. The bones were arranged exactly as the body had fallen, anyone could see that. Covered in a thick layer of fine dust, fragments clothes were almost indistinguishable on the bones. From the shape of the pelvic bones and small size of the bones of the hands and feet, they could see that this was a woman.

The only thing missing was the skull.

Methos carefully stepped around the body, searching until he found it tucked against a pillar. Remnants of dark hair clinging to the head did nothing to help him determine which Immortal this was, but he'd already guessed. He knew of only one female Immortal this tall who'd lived in this cave.

As Methos removed the graphite from his hand and let it drop, still burning, to the stone floor and he put the flame out, he whispered a name, “Hecate.

“This is where it happened. One of us did this,” Methos hissed out the last viciously in shock. For all his protestations, he'd never felt angry enough to wish harm on these people. Another Immortal did apparently. “But who would deliberately take a head underground and risk being buried alive?” he asked the last aloud. “We all knew a Quickening could destroy the city.”

Jelena crouched down next to Methos and said softly, “Maybe that is exactly what they wanted? To destroy the city.”

“Not her. She never lost faith in these people.”

“Perhaps that is why Perkūnos took her head?”

Methos stood up quickly, his face showing his surprise as he looked down at the Watcher. “How do you know he was here? There is nothing in the chronicles about this cave. I looked.”

“But there is an old Immortal by that name who lost his head about 200 BC that we think is the source of a legend predating the ancient Greek myths. Thunder god Perkūnos decapitated the moon. I took a guess to see if you'd recognize him, I wasn't even sure I was pronouncing it right,” she glanced downward before looking back up to meet him in the eye. “Stories disagree on whether the moon deity he killed was male or female, but most ancient cultures had moon goddesses... like Hecate. Its a theory that fits, for what its worth."

Methos sighed sadly. “For a moment, I thought you somehow knew how to read the names in the gallery after all.”

She shook her head. “Which portraits are theirs?”

“Hecate's picture is the one holding a lamp near the front of the hall. Perkūnos is the man next to mine with an ax.”

Jelena nodded, clearly not surprised but rather only seeking confirmation of what she'd already suspected. “So, the portraits are depictions of deities after all and their attributes like Hecate's torch are still used in art thousands of years later.”

“No one worshiped us here,” Methos argued disdainfully. “Hecate would be appalled if she'd known temples were built to her after her death. Not all of those portraits were given divine status later or even remembered. I was forgotten.”

“Are you sure? There may not be shrines or altars, but where do you think we get the word myth from? We take it to mean fantasy tales today, but the for the ancient Greeks it meant any story. Haven't you ever researched your own name?”

“I'm not Greek.”

“I know. The word mythos predates the ancient Greek language,” Jelena answered seriously. “Like the rest of this cave.”

...o0o...

While Dr. Conrad watched Methos mourn the death of his friend, elsewhere in the cave the search party was successful at last. Though it took hours, finding Timothy Wyatt turned out to not be as difficult as was feared. It was mostly frustrating given how easily it could have been prevented, at least from the archeologists' point of view. Wyatt had lost his radio, which was turned off as they suspected. Had he remembered to turn it back on after guiding each of the other Watchers to their hiding places, the later noise of others ringing him on it could have led him back to his radio in the cave. He did have properly working lights, however he became thoroughly lost walking in the wrong direction.

The other Watchers met up with those who found Wyatt as they reached the main courtyard. Wyatt was walking with a slight limp and supported on either side by archeologists. He looked exhausted and wan, but at least hale enough to not need to be carried out. His clothes were dusty and there was a large smear down one side of Wyatt's hard hat.

Wyatt mumbled his gratitude as the men helped him to sit down and left him to the care of his colleagues while they waited for the team's field medic to arrive.

“Tim,” said Dr. Zoll, crouching down next to her assistant, “do you remember what day it is?”

“Thursday?” he mumbled before getting a hold of himself and rattling off the correct date for them.

“Good. Do you remember what happened to you?”

“No. I woke up on the ground, no idea where. Got hopelessly lost trying to find my radio.”

“I think we need to get you to a doctor in town,” Joe said.

“No,” Tim protested at once. “I'm fine really. I can keep working.”

“You might have a concussion.”

“Isn't there someone else down here that can check him over?” asked Amy. “Don't these teams have someone trained as a field medic on these sites?”

“I'm afraid Methos is the medic,” Dr. Conrad explained. “That's why the director signed him on so quickly.”

That was good enough for Joe and he turned to see Methos already walking towards them, medic bag in hand. Joe was grateful someone else had contacted him so there wouldn't be a longer wait for Tim to be treated. He waved the Immortal over. Tim swore under his breath, but didn't try to resist any longer. He only asked, “You're sure he knows what he's doing?”

“You know he patched up a bullet hole in Joe's shoulder once,” Amy said referring to the Galati fiasco.

“Yeah, but was he any good at it?” Tim grumbled anyway. He hushed as Methos approached.

Joe counted it as a mercy that Methos didn't smile, laugh or otherwise seemed amused by the situation. Rather he was serious and professional as he examined Tim, helping the man to remove his hard hat and checking him for neurological damage and his limbs for injury.

“Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?” Methos asked as he sat back.

“Good news,” decided Tim.

“Yes, you have a concussion and a sprained ankle.”

“What's good about that?”

“Only that it is minor and with rest, you will recover well. The bad news is that someone knocked you unconscious, then lowered you carefully to the bottom of the fissure. The question now is who wants to make it look like you'd accidentally fallen, yet isn't interested in committing murder and will they assault you again?”

“This was a scare tactic?” Joe asked.

“Yes,” Methos confirmed. “Has anyone tried to run the rest of you off? Discouraged you from looking around the ruins?”

“No,” said Dr. Zoll answering for the group, “everyone has been most accommodating.”

“I was attacked?” Tim asked, only just catching up with their conversation and now feeling able enough to hold a cold water bottle to his swollen ankle himself. It was the best they could improvise and would have to return to camp for a proper cold compress. “I don't remember that. How can that be?”

“Because you are bruised and scratched, but not bloody. Had you fallen, you would have large lacerations and likely broken bones from landing on the rocks. See these scuff marks?” Methos said turning Tim's hard hat in his hands to show them. “They are all wrong for a fall like that, too. This hard hat protects you, so only a significant blow, the kind that rattles your brain inside your skull, would knock you unconscious. Someone slammed your hard hat into stone until you were knocked out. Then they hid you in a fissure you couldn't easily climb out of and likely nicked your radio as well, so you couldn't call for help.”

Methos looked around at the other Watchers as they digested his deductions before turning back to Tim and asking, “So, Wyatt, is there anyone else you've charmed with your opinions who might desire to smash you instead of your electronic toy?”

Joe swore under his breath before saying, “You're going be their main suspect.”

“Afraid so,” Methos admitted. “My main suspect would be someone in group who found Wyatt. Probably led them straight to him to prevent suspicion from falling on themselves.”

...o0o...

Getting back to camp was no fun for the Watchers, nor was explaining what they could to the people in charge after reassuring them that Wyatt was going to be fine after his ordeal.

“Someone knocked me out,” Tim explained to the pair of senior archeologists currently grilling him. “I know I shouldn't have been alone nor should I have climbed outside of the safe areas. I don't know what happened to my radio.” He didn't mention that his radio was turned off. They were angry enough at how he'd ignored the safety rules. “I apologize, those mistakes will not be repeated.”

“You are certain this was no accident?” asked the site director, a man by the name of Ivan Tomcic. He looked from Tim to Dr. Conrad standing next to him. “Did you see your attacker?”

“No.”

“Was this a continuation of your argument with Dr. Adams? Only ending more violently this time?”

“That is a very serious accusation,” Dr. Conrad retorted and looked ready to defend Methos if she could.

“It wasn't him,” said Tim bluntly.

“How can you be sure if you didn't see who it was?”

“Because the last thing I do remember is seeing is Dr. Adams on the street below speaking with Miss Thomas while several other people were nearby.”

...o0o...

The emergency was over, but the matter was far from settled. With Tim sent to his tent to rest, there was little more that could be done until morning. Tim's condition wasn't serious enough to risk climbing down a mountain in the dark.

Dinner was very late that evening and a tense affair. No one, except the Watchers, seemed to believe Tim's story about what happened. Some thought he'd made the whole event up to cover for his clumsiness while he wasn't following the safety rules. Others whispered that Tim's assertion that 'Dr. Adams' was innocent sounded too insistent. That perhaps he was was too afraid to accuse his real attacker. Never mind that Amy Thomas and a few others provided an alibi, they said. Tim could have lied about when he'd fallen, claiming it happened at a time when 'Dr. Adams' was with other people.

They all seemed to sense that Tim was lying to them about something. Though he was honest that Methos wasn't the culprit, Tim didn't actually remember being attacked at all. If he was in less pain from the blow to his head, perhaps he would sound more convincing. As it was, he'd only raised more suspicions.

Joe was relieved his colleague was going to be fine, but the unanswered questions plagued him. He'd spent the hours of the search feeling useless. His only contribution was to mark on a large map which areas of the cave had been searched as each team reported back and to hand out water to those who came back down to the courtyard for a rest from climbing and to use the facilities.

The only good thing was that he'd gotten a chance to talk to a particular archeologist Dr. Conrad had told him about and Joe was rather eager to share what he'd learned with Methos. He got his chance halfway through the meal when Methos settled himself down in a quiet spot to scribble in his ever present journal.

“Hey, Methos. There is something I want to ask you,” said Joe with a smug grin on his face. “Did you know you are 5,156 years old?”

Caught off guard and giving Joe a dirty look, Methos had enough composure to ask, “Where did you get that number? It isn't on the wall of the gallery.”

“But a year for your birth is.”

“In the Lukoros calendar. Even I don't know how to interpret it in today's calendar.”

“Guess what? A kid down here does. Has a degree in Archaeoastronomy and everything.”

“I'm impressed you know what that is. They'd need dated star charts though.”

“Turns out they found some weeks before you joined the team and yeah, they have dates. Apparently, they look a lot like the constellations on the Vučedol pottery, the star patterns of the ancient Egyptian charts and couple of other ancient civilizations that were great at astronomy. Pardon me for not following everything the kid said about it. I've mostly studied the four centuries covered by MacLeod's chronicle. There's lot to catch up on with you and I haven't looked at astronomy since high school science class.”

“I see what you are getting at. They used one of those fancy computer programs that can show you what the night sky looked like at any time in history and matched one to the night the chart was recorded, didn't they?”

“Yup. The archeologists picked out a beautiful star chart featuring an asteroid event and the program spat out the exact day, month and year. Well, the computer wasn't so quick as that, but you get what I mean. All the charts are labeled with the Lukoros date system. They already knew how read the numbers before they found the school and they think they've found the day of the earthquake written as the last 'current' date repeated on the classroom walls in chalk. The seventh of March in the year 2,809 BC.

“Didn't take the archaeoastronomer kid a minute to figure out the birth year on your biography. Turns out you were not quite a century old when you first came to this cavern and you were 347 years old when it collapsed.”

Methos closed his eyes and sighed, absorbing that information. “I didn't think I was so young when I lived here or that this cave was that old. I could have easily been as young as 280 when I left. No wonder all I remember is being treated like a child by the other Immortals.”

“Hey,” Joe said in mock offense. “I only just had my fifty-third birthday myself.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a sudden silence nearby. Everyone still eating at the dinner tables quieted as Tim re-emerged from his tent and then resumed talking as the man made his way slowly over to Joe and Methos.

“I wanted to thank you,” Tim addressed Methos. “For seeing to my ankle and head and everything,” he said, floundering.

“Delighted to help,” replied Methos diplomatically.

Tim then said, “Joe, could I speak with you a moment?”

Catching on, Methos left Joe and Tim to rejoin the others at the tables. Tim still looked miserable, but he was moving steadily so long as he was slow. The pain medication from the emergency kit obviously wasn't enough to relieve his headache.

“Joe, I've been robbed,” he said quietly even though they were far enough away not to be overheard. “My wallet is gone. Could it be a motive for the attack? What's more, why would anyone think they'd get away with stealing down here? There are so few of us and people don't leave often.”

Joe thought about that for a minute carefully before replying, “You're right. They'd have to know everyone's belongings can be searched, so they must have hidden it elsewhere in the cave until they can sneak out with it later.”

“It sounds crazy to think that two different people targeted me in the same day. It has to be the same person,” Tim said wincing. “I cannot think straight with my head hurting like this.”

“You have to tell the director and Dr. Zoll.”

“I know. I just want this situation to all to go away. At least they'll stop accusing Methos of attacking me once they've found my money,” he replied trying to sound on the bright side.

It was the work of minutes to inform the site director that Wyatt was robbed. Tomcic had a head of wild gray hair and an imposing manner even when there wasn't a crisis. His demeanor was even more grave as he returned to the dinner tables where everyone was still gathered to make an announcement.

“Mr. Wyatt has told me that he cannot locate the money he wore on his person earlier today. As this is a possible motive for an attack and a way to settle the wild speculations, the group leaders and I will conduct a search of the tents before the culprit has a chance to leave. Dr. Conrad, you'll be in charge of ensuring everyone else stays here while the three of us perform the search.”

Most people not at the table found somewhere else to sit while a few continued to stand or even pace nervously. Some were silent, others broke out in hurried whispers or gossiped furtively. Methos walked behind the chairs Amy and Wyatt were sitting, edging closer to the outskirts of the group as he did so. It set off all sorts of red flags for Joe and he approached Methos as quickly as he could.

“Please, don't try to leave,” Joe said quietly in Methos' ear when he reached him near the back of the room.

Methos turned to him looking puzzled. “And why would I do a runner, may I ask?”

“Because you flee like a rat on a sinking ship at the first sign of trouble. But going now, especially by sneaking away, will only make you look guilty. Only an idiot would hide the money in their tent, there are plenty of better places to stash it down here. Like under a rock. They'll have to ask all of us to turn out our pockets when they don't find it. When that comes up empty too, they can't accuse you or anyone else without proof. Especially when the victim is giving you an alibi for his attack. But disappearing suspiciously will change everything. Just wait it out, man. I don't want them accusing you of something you didn't do.”

Methos sat silently through Joe's hurried pleading. He didn't match Joe's worried look though, if anything Methos looked amused by it.

“And if they don't believe Wyatt, it would be better they render me guilty in my absence than to my face. Proving my innocence doesn't concern me.”

“What about justice?”

Methos was outright smiling now as he said, “You'll be wanting MacLeod for that.”

Joe swore under his breath before saying, “And if this attacker strikes again?”

“Unlikely. If they implicate me after I am gone, it will clear my name if they assault another and could potentially give themselves away when doing so.”

“Unless their goal is to drive people out of the cave.”

“All the more reason to get out now,” Methos pointed out cheerfully. “They'd have more success with a rock fall if they want a mass exodus. I suppose starting rumors that the place is cursed is too old fashioned for this day and age.”

“Don't be flippant. This is your way of protecting us, isn't it?” asked Joe. “If you leave, we have to follow and then we'll be out of danger.”

“Well, I wouldn't quite put it that way,” Methos said sounding almost touched that Joe believed so well of him that he thought he was trying to protect the Watchers. “I never said I was going to leave right this moment.”

But Joe wasn't really listening now. “Except Dr. Conrad. How can we get her out?”

“She's an archeologist that I've had little contact with and no one knows she's connected to your group. I'm sure she is safe.”

“The same could be said for you. Oh,” Joe paused figuring it out. “Your argument with Tim probably gave them the idea, if they already wanted to frame someone. And the way he went off alone so often made it even easier. But were you the target or was Tim?”

“I'm sure it wasn't personal. Are you hearing yourself, Joe?”

“Did you piss off someone else before we got here?”

“I don't recall doing so,” answered Methos, almost laughing now, “but I wouldn't rule it out.”

Methos complete lack of concern and thorough enjoyment of Joe's fevered speculation left the Watcher feeling unbalanced and confused. But before he could say anything more, everyone around them quieted as they saw the director returning with the others. The trio looked grim.

“First of all,” Dr. Tomcic said to them. “I'd like to apologize to Dr. Adams on behalf of everyone present for the unjust accusations. The money was found in Mr. Wyatt's own tent, hidden between the pages of a book. Given that Mr. Wyatt insisted Dr. Adams was not responsible for his attack nor for the theft, we're attributing his confusion over where he left his money to his injuries. I hope there are no hard feelings.”

People started congratulating Methos on being cleared of wrong doing.

“But what about my wallet itself?” asked Tim.

“How about you check your pockets again, Wyatt?” suggested Methos in a gentle voice.

Tim did so and his face transformed into astonishment to find the wallet, missing only the money, inside his own trousers' back pocket. He gazed at it as though he'd never seen anything like it in his entire life, thoroughly shocked to discover it there.

“Attention, everyone,” Dr. Tomcic called out. “We did find something else. Artifacts from the site were concealed in the tent of Dr. Zoll.”

Methos' face split into an enormous grin this time. “I did not see that coming. Did you see that coming, Joe?”

In that moment, Joe understood why Methos was so calm and cheery about the situation.

The old man had engineered it to get the Watchers kicked out.

...o0o...

Author's notes: Was that a good comeuppance for those of you who asked? Also, hope you caught the MacGyver moment that I then made useless. :)

Chapter Text

...o0o...

The accusations few fast and furious.

“What museum are you supposed to be representing again? The Louvre? None of you are French!”

“I don't believe you came from Paris at all.”

“That is a ploy, a distraction. You are from the British Museum or working for the Americans. To steal our find for them!”

“This whole mess is a set up to get rid of the four of us,” Amy Thomas yelled back in defense. “We can prove we work in Paris.”

The Watchers could protest all they liked, but nothing would convince the archeologists they were framed. Legal battles over art and historical artifacts long held by the largest museums in Europe to be returned to their countries of origin were bitter and fraught with controversy. Some argued that whether the art was purchased legally or not generations ago, it should be returned. Meanwhile, the museums insisted that the art was safer away from nations in turmoil. So many antiquities were already destroyed by warfare in the last century alone and Croatia had just emerged from a war. If any museum acquired objects from this cave, they were unlikely to ever give them up.

The archeologists had good reason to fear that their nation's heritage could slip out of their borders even in this day and age.

What defense did the Watchers have against such accusations? That they were a secret society looking for Immortals' artifacts? That though they were innocent of stealing directly from the cave now, they would take what they could later outside the cave the moment the opportunity presented itself? For all they knew, Methos had probably already smuggled some things out right under their noses. Never mind that any objects they obtained by posing as museum couriers or waylaid in transit wouldn't earn them revenue because they intended to deprive the world from viewing it. Only Watchers would see the Immortals' artifacts until the end of the Game. Who knew if Methos would ever share his property with anyone. Ever.

...o0o...

Until the authorities could come to arrest her in the morning, Dr. Zoll was banished to her tent while her team was confined to camp until they could all be taken away for questioning. Wyatt stayed in his tent recovering from his concussion. Feeling terribly ostracized by association, Amy was hiding in hers. Only Joe sought out Methos later when things had grown quiet.

All Joe could ask was, “Why?”

“Why did I nick some random stone tablets and hide them in her tent?”

“Yes! Why frame Dr. Zoll?”

“It works for Amanda,” said Methos with a shrug. “She's framed what... three of her Watchers for her heists?”

“Five and that's not what I meant. Why Zoll in particular? Revenge?”

“Partly, but mostly process of elimination. I like you and that makes your daughter, Amy, safe. I don't like Zoll nor Wyatt for that matter, but I think we can agree he's suffered enough. I only needed one guilty person to convince the archeologists to get rid of your entire group.”

“Oh, really? Why not get Dr. Conrad kicked out, too?”

“She hasn't hounded me and the Watchers will be so busy extraditing Zoll, I'm sure they will warn Dr. Conrad off.” Methos paused and asked, “Aren't you going to accuse me of sending Wyatt into an abyss?”

“No, I know you wouldn't do that,” Joe answered with conviction.

“Because you were watching me the entire day?” asked Methos in a tired voice.

“You knew?” The fact that Methos would guess that earlier in the day he was watched unawares never once crossed Joe's mind. Keeping that a secret was ridiculously unimportant now.

“Not at the time. Full marks for sneakiness, Joe.”

“Its what we do, Methos,” he replied quietly. “You know that.”

“Yes and that is why I do not like being watched. You are welcome to watch the others all you like.”

Joe only sighed. He couldn't defend the Watchers' voyeurism to an Immortal being watched. Even one amused by his own hypocrisy at encouraging them to watch all the other Immortals except himself. Changing the direction of the conversation seemed the only wise option.

“We need to find who attacked Tim.”

“Who says anyone thrashed the man at all?”

“You did,” Joe reminded him, annoyed.

“I was taking the piss out of him. Wyatt was clumsy and fell on his own.”

Joe was too stunned to speak. Methos didn't look smug or like he was lying this time.

“He didn't follow the most basic cave safety and only his hard hat saved him from serious injury,” Methos answered in disgust, instead of gloating. “He probably lost his footing and slid down a slope just slowly enough to scrape himself thoroughly while knocking himself out. If he'd had any sense, he'd have stayed put until someone came to find him. Not wander about, the fool.”

“I'll grant you that, he got himself lost,” Joe conceded reluctantly, but the need to defend his colleague won out. “You know the nature of his job. Following you is no picnic, Methos.”

“What do you think I've been doing down here but make it easier for you all? Wyatt never needed to put himself in danger.”

“And you blame Zoll for that too, I bet.”

“Like you said, I know what you Watchers do and what you are not supposed to do. It was amusing to see how long each of them held out before breaking their oath around me. No new records for speed, but quite satisfying all the same.”

Joe only rolled his eyes at that. Methos would find corrupting Watchers funny, especially when talking to a Watcher technically already corrupted. He didn't think the full details of how much the others had socialized with Methos would get about and if it did, at least he didn't need to worry about any of them being executed for it anymore. They would certainly be removed from Watching Methos, however, which may well be what the old man had in mind to happen. A new team might be easier for him to out maneuver. Or he could make it not worth trying to keep a Watcher on him at all. It was enough to make Joe's head hurt.

“By the way, I didn't think Wyatt would discover I took his wallet so quickly. It isn't as though there is anything to purchase down here. Though Wyatt's own tent would be the last place they'd look, I imagined they would do so to be thorough when the money didn't turn up in another person's possession. If they hadn't, well... I had back plans to give the archeologists a reason to search the tents.”

Now, Joe really did have a headache.

“But I do regret,” Methos continued, “that you were caught in the middle of all of this unpleasantness. So... ask a question about my past, Joe. Any question and I'll answer it.”

Joe just raised his eyebrows at Methos. “Offering me something to make up for it? Really?”

“Everything you've learned down here about my past isn't enough. It never is with Watchers. Ask something, Joe.”

“How do I know you won't make stuff up?”

“You don't,” admitted Methos with a sigh.

Methos made trades to regain the good will of others. Joe had even seen it when MacLeod would pressure the old man into doing something he didn't want to do. Besides, a worded apology would be insincere anyway. Regret for upsetting Joe he may feel, but Joe didn't think Methos felt sorry for the rest of it. Methos had to know that Joe would forgive him for this fiasco, the same as he had at other times anyway. There was no danger that Joe would stop being friends with him over this. Yet, he offered a trade anyway.

Very tribal, but also very Methos and Joe was feeling irritated enough to actually negotiate price.

“I want something I can put in the chronicles. It can't be just between you and me this time. My daughter may or may not be sitting in a prison cell tomorrow accused of helping her boss steal.”

Methos looked down as he scuffed his boots on the ground.“You might be in a cell too, Joe.”

“I've thought of that, trust me. But you are right, the Watchers will get us out of it.”

There was an awkward pause before Joe asked, “So, you were just in the Himalayas? You mentioned it day we arrived. Is that where you spent the summer?”

“You want to know what I did this summer? That is your question?”

“Ancient history is great, but I'd like to know what you're up to now, too. I haven't heard from you much in the last few years Methos. You used to come by my bar all the time,” said Joe wistfully, “even though you knew I was keeping a secret chronicle on you.”

“I was hoping to obtain that secret chronicle someday without other Watchers ever seeing it,” Methos confessed in annoyance, before his expression turned thoughtful. “However, it would be good to talk, it helps with the process of grieving...” Methos abruptly stopped, his voice catching. “I think you would understand, Joe. Better than most mortals could. Yet, at the same time it might hurt to hear it.”

“I scored the best grades in the school of bar tending. I can take it.”

“I spent the summer in Nepal because... oh, why can I not say it?” Methos whispered as grief suddenly strangled his voice and a single tear ran down his cheek. “I buried my boy.”

Joe sat stunned as the oldest living man in the world broke down and cried on his shoulder.

...o0o...

After some time, Methos regained his composure enough for Joe to feel brave enough to ask his next question.

“You lost a child? Recently?”

“Not a child by your reckoning. You have a grown daughter, Joe. Losing her would hurt you no matter what her age.”

Joe could only nod his head at that. Parents should not outlive their children and Immortals usually outlived everyone they knew if they kept their heads. It made the loss of a person they'd raised from childhood all the more tragic. Especially when the Immortal knew what kind of pain they were inviting, danger to the child from other Immortals and yet choosing to love the child anyway. That Methos continued to do so after 5,000 years was mind boggling.

Methos seemed to know what track Joe's thoughts were following and said, “Yes, it is dangerous. I know. Getting involved with mortals always is because of the Game. I give myself very good advice. I simply don't always follow it.”

“How old was he?”

“Eighty-nine, he almost made it to ninety. Very impressive for a mortal. He was thrilled to see the year 2000. I think he was hanging on for that.”

“He had a good long life then?”

“I like to think so.”

“How did you met his mother?”

Methos smiled sheepishly. “Well, you see I raised her, too.”

“What?!”

If Joe didn't still have a sleeve damp from Methos' sobbing, he wouldn't even consider believing that statement. Immortals' lives were so dangerous, most didn't stay with a lover long, much less stay in one place long enough to bring up a kid. Remaining to raise two generations was spectacularly idiotic for an Immortal. Granted, Methos had real skill at avoiding others. Still it would surely get the mortals killed in the Game.

Joe shook his head and said, “Maybe you should start at the beginning.”

Methos' lips twitched into almost a smile and said, “That would be the late 19th century and you specified something recent.”

“That counts as recent in regards to you.”

“Alright, about 1889 or so, I was back in the States and met an unwed mother named Catherine. What caught my attention first was her education, after all the average Philadelphia washerwoman didn't quote poetry. When she delivered my laundry, I shared my books. She read them to her daughter, who she'd named after herself, but called Kitty... the most adorable little girl with a dimple in one cheek and lovely chestnut curls.”

Joe watched as Methos' eyes glistened, threatening new tears before he blinked them back.

“So, you rescued them from poverty and shame?” Joe asked, jumping ahead to the most logical conclusion.

“Not quite. Catherine was too proud to accept charity. She did appreciate that I found her a better job so that Kitty could go to school instead of becoming a child laborer in a factory. I even looked after Kitty until Catherine's shift ended each day. Women in her circumstances would usually resort to marrying the first man who asked back then, but Catherine swore she'd only marry the father of her child. I spent seven years trying to convince her otherwise to no avail. Then Kitty's father returned.”

“Ouch. I take it they left with him.”

“Yeah and that would have been the end... if not for Kitty. She wrote to me from boarding school where they'd sent her to catch up on upper class social graces. Kitty said she respected her father for making her mother happy, however I would always be her beloved Papa. I never told Catherine about Immortals and wasn't welcome in their new life obviously. Posting letters to Kitty while on my journey west, then from Wyoming and Utah seemed harmless.”

That would be around 1896 or so thought Joe as he filed that little bit of information away in his brain. The American west wasn't called wild for nothing at that time. He knew of a rather infamous bunch of bank robbers led by Butch and Sundance operated across several states and territories.

“Every year or two,” continued Methos. “I returned to my post office box, the only return address I could give her, in Philadelphia. I knew that someday I'd find it empty, that inevitably she'd stop replying to the letters I sent to her while I traveled. Then it would truly be at an end.”

“How did you meet Kitty's son?”

“Because of the flu epidemic after the Great War. People between the ages of fifteen and fifty died in droves. Now its known that their own stronger immune systems worked against them which is why children and the elderly usually survived. Kitty's family was struck hard. She lost her father, mother and husband to that flu. Her last living grandparent recovered only to die of old age that same year. Kitty herself and her one living child never caught the illness. Widowed and alone, she wrote me in 1919 asking me to fetch her and little Patrick.”

“And you did, after not seeing her for twenty-three years? You would've looked her age or younger.”

“I wanted my daughter back, Joe,” Methos stated with a shrug.

Joe could only agree silently that he would have done the same. He'd worked hard these last few years to establish a relationship with Amy and would always regret that he'd missed watching her grow up.

“My intent was to visit once and help financially, but Kitty didn't need money. She wanted family again. I explained about Immortals, of the risk I'd put her mother and herself in those years I'd stayed near them. She didn't care. So, I took Kitty and Patrick with me all over the world.”

“How did you protect them?”

“Not easily and they didn't come out of it unscathed. I hurried them away from enough Immortals the first year that Kitty told Patrick everything. I posed as his uncle and Kitty's brother, but when he was really annoyed, he'd call me grandpa for the fun of it.”

“Wasn't he supposed to be in school?”

“I taught him myself mostly. We didn't stay in one place longer than a term and sometimes weren't near a school at all. We took turns throwing darts at a map to chose where to travel. I had to rip Antarctica off, Patrick kept aiming for it even though I told him it was uninhabited.

“I blinked and suddenly, he'd grown up and Kitty was settled down with a new husband. Patrick asked me to attend university with him in the 1930s and we had a rollicking time... then he married, too. After that, I saw them every few years, discretely so as not to provoke questions from their families, until Kitty's last letter in 1962. She was dying and Patrick was furious that I didn't arrive in time to say goodbye. Things were strained for a time, but I kept in contact nonetheless. He outlived his wife and I don't think his children understood why he chose Katmandu over a fancy retirement home to spend his last years. I visited as often as I could and this last time his health was... well, I know the signs. I stayed until the end.”

Methos paused, took a deep cleansing breath as he ended his tale and asked, “So, besides lecturing Watchers, what else did you do this summer, Joe?”

“Listen to my daughter complain about searching for you. She doesn't get why its dangerous for you to be watched. I'm sorry about all this, Methos,” he apologized, wanting to include everything that had happened in the cave, ancient past and present, but not having the words for it.

“Joe,” said Methos abruptly. “I'm leaving at dawn.”

Joe nodded, expecting that and couldn't help but feel both sad to know his friend was about to leave and pleased that Methos was telling him.

“I'll distract the others while you say your farewells to the director,” Joe offered and at Methos' surprised look explained, “The rest of us no longer have freedom down here as associates of Dr. Zoll and she'll likely go out in handcuffs. That just leaves Dr. Conrad, who isn't a field Watcher and can't be expected to follow. Even headquarters will buy that excuse when we lose you.”

“Thanks for trusting me, Joe.”

Joe smiled saying, “I wouldn't go that far, but its like you once said to me. I'd do it for MacLeod.” Joe shrugged and then asked, “So, where are you going?”

“Don't know.”

“When will you get there?”

“I'm not certain.”

“What will you do?”

“I am not equipped to say.”

Joe sighed, giving up and said, “Okay. Just... please don't be a stranger, Methos.”

Methos looked at Joe for a long moment, as though memorizing his face or perhaps he was noticing all the little changes to it in the years they'd known each other. Joe was well aware of how the white was steadily increasing in his already salt and pepper hair. Joe didn't want to point out to Methos that he was getting older, running out of time. Though he'd known MacLeod longer from watching him, Joe in fact was friends with Methos before he'd formally met Mac, if you counted the time he didn't know Methos' real name.

Joe deeply missed the days when his Immortal friends would stop by his bar to listen to him play music and while away the evening chatting about anything.

“How about Christmas in Paris?” suggested Methos. “And invite Mac and Amanda, as well?”

Joe's face lit up and agreed, “Yeah. I'll look forward to it. Keep your head, Methos.”

“I will. Nasty things, Quickenings. Make you late for dinner,” Methos said with a grin. “See you then, Joe.”

 

The end

Author notes:

Sorry for the little modified Hobbit line. Couldn't resist.

Congratulations if you stuck with me until the end of the story! Hope you enjoyed the ups and downs. This story was strangely enough inspired by the Highlander Reunion short where Methos gives an exact number for his age. It irritated me at the time, did he always know his exact age and was being vague for safety the day he met MacLeod? Or did the show writers decide that since the show was done they could just throw out an age for him?

So, I got an oddball idea to satisfy both and write a story where Methos discovers for himself his actual age. I also hope you liked my round about way of making the Watchers bad guys that don't know they are the bad guys. I love the Watchers, they made to interesting villains in the show, but I wanted to try it differently. It seemed fitting since Methos is hardly the hero type. I expect that is part of the reason the writers didn't try more to make a spinoff of Methos (that and the actor was totally unavailable off doing another show at the time). Writing an anti-hero and anti-villains is quite the challenge.

I may write more stories in future. :)