Chapter 1: Chapter 1
DISCLAIMER: Highlander and its canon characters are the property of Davis/Panzer Productions or a successor corporation; no copyright infringement is intended.
Introductory Note: Here, I'll say more than I could in a Summary. "Battle of the Ages" was the first Highlander fic I posted online, probably in 1999. Richie is an important character. But when I wrote it, "Archangel" had yet to air in my area, and I had no idea the show's writers had "killed" him! So this AU takes place in a universe in which the Immortals never encountered Ahriman. Nor does it include the special features of my "main" universe, in which some of them are related by blood.
In "reproducing" the original "Battle of the Ages," I did make a few minor changes, but only to improve the wording.
After it had been posted for some time - but still many years ago - I had this idea for a continuation. I wrote what appear here as Chapters 2 and 3. But I couldn't decide whether I really wanted to tamper with the fic as originally posted. So I didn't add them, and finally abandoned the project. I came back to it now partly - but only partly - because I realized I could leave the original as a standalone, while also incorporating it into a new, longer fic.
I'll leave the rest of the "story about the story" for my Afterword!
This is how it will be, Richie Ryan told himself. When the final conflict comes, if it ever does, you won't be alive to see it. But it will look very much like this. Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander, strong and proud and eternally thirty years old, dueling to the death with a Champion of Evil.
This is a preview, the closest you'll get to seeing the real thing. So watch, drink it in, burn the memory into your mind. Never forget Duncan MacLeod as he is this day...
Everyone, it appeared, felt much the same. Still holding his own bloodied sword, Richie became aware the whole bizarre battle had ground to a halt. All the combatants were watching MacLeod's epic struggle with the self-styled Prince of Darkness.
The Forces of Darkness presumably believed their leader would prevail. They might even believe he'd be the last survivor, in that unimaginably distant future.
But the others, the exuberant tartan-sashed crew who'd voted unanimously to call themselves Clan MacLeod...all of them, Richie suspected, sensed what he did. Mac - his friend, mentor, idol - was the supreme hero, the best and bravest their kind would ever produce.
As for the outcome of Mac's single combat with the Prince, Richie entertained not a moment's doubt.
His confidence was well-founded. After twenty minutes of all-out fighting, the Prince was beaten to his knees. A last clash tore his sword from his hands, sent it flying yards away.
He looked up, grimly accepting the Rules, asking no quarter.
MacLeod raised his own mighty weapon to the storm-ravaged sky. Head thrown back, black hair streaming in the wind, he bellowed, "There can be only one!"
The blade fell.
The pyrotechnics that followed lasted nearly as long as the duel. Veterans though they were, the Immortals in the field cowered in awe. Some of the Forces of Darkness slunk away.
But when nature returned to a semblance of normal, most of them - MacLeod and Richie included - hefted their weapons and resumed hacking at their opponents.
Richie beheaded several more black-clad warriors, barely noticing the power that flowed into him after each kill. Hours into the battle, he was numb. He fought like a zombie, sometimes wondering if a strength beyond his own was guiding his arm...
Don't think like that! Connor and his crazy ideas. Damn Connor. There were five hundred Immortals in this battle, at the beginning. Fewer than a third of those known to the Watchers. No one else is involved in any way.
The battle was unique, Richie knew, without precedent in Immortal history. The Battle of Battles, they were calling it, and the Battle of the Ages. Fueled by the insanity of the Millennium. It would live in memory as other millennia rolled by, immortalized in the Watcher Chronicles... There were probably a dozen Watchers in the trees somewhere. With camcorders.
But it wasn't the "Gathering"! Connor MacLeod had been obsessed with the Gathering for years. Had even deluded himself, once, into believing it had quietly taken place, and his defeat of old enemy Kurgan had left him the last surviving Immortal. He'd convinced himself that as a result, he'd been given the power to read minds - and had in other respects become a normal human, subject to aging and death. Notions he'd soon learned were wrong. How could anyone take the man seriously after that?
Connor had been proclaiming this the time of the Gathering for weeks, infecting the gullible with his fears. Incredibly, it seemed he'd even made a believer of Mac.
Richie and their Watcher friend Joe Dawson had argued till they were blue in the face. Pointing out, first, that nowhere near all the Immortals were assembling. Connor had insisted the others would be drawn in psychically, participate from afar.
But even Connor had no answer for their second argument. An argument that struck at the very concept of the Gathering. What were the odds that the last two Immortals would be enemies? Might they not just as easily be Mac and Connor, or Mac and Richie - friends who would never raise their swords against one another?
Perhaps, eons hence, a last Champion of Good - may it be Duncan MacLeod! - would indeed stand alone against a last Champion of Evil.
But not today. The Forces of Darkness had been routed. Thankfully, the hero would not have to stand alone today.
We have to get out of here, Richie told himself. The battle was over. The last time he'd seen Mac, the Highlander had assured him there were upwards of seventy known survivors. All on their side.
But however far they'd come from the city, it couldn't be far enough. It was doubtless fear alone that had kept anyone from arriving, up to now, to seek the source of the otherworldly light show. With the display ended, night falling, the media and local authorities - perhaps even the military - would be on their way. No Immortal could risk being found near this corpse-strewn battlefield.
The victors had spent too much time retrieving the telltale MacLeod-tartan sashes of their dead. By now Richie was exhausted. All his muscles ached; his legs threatened to buckle with every step.
Before dark, fog had closed in. He'd lost his sense of direction. Joe, the car... Had Mac and Connor gone back to the car, or were they looking for him, as he was for them? Were they all walking in circles?
Now and again he glimpsed other Immortals through the swirling mist. Two or three together, listing and tottering like so many drunks.
We have to get out of here!
"Richie." The voice out of the fog was so low that for a moment, he thought he'd imagined it. "I was starting to worry that you'd run into...problems."
He heaved a sigh of relief. Mac. Where...?
He finally spotted them. Mac and - yes, that was Connor - taking their ease under a tree. Connor's head was lolling forward on his chest; he didn't look up.
"You should have known I can take care of myself," Richie replied. "Why are you whispering?"
"Connor's nodded off, and I don't want to wake him. We're both beat."
"Yeah, me too. I think everyone is." Suddenly uneasy, he strained to make out Mac's features in the deepening gloom. The Highlander looked about as bad as he himself felt.
"Do me a favor?" Mac asked. "Have Joe bring the car here for us. He should be waiting near the bridge. Over that way." He pointed.
Richie's first reaction was relief that Mac knew the direction.
Still... "You want him to bring the car off the road?" His uneasiness grew. "C'mon, Mac, I'm just as worn out as you guys."
Mac chuckled. "Yes, but you're younger than we are."
Richie grinned in spite of himself. "And you'll still be able to say that when I'm a thousand years old, won't you?"
He took a step, hesitated. Something was nagging at him.
Then he realized what it was.
"Mac. Can you sense me?"
"Sense me. It just hit me that I'm standing right in front of two Immortals, and I can't sense either of you! Can you sense me?"
"Oh, that. No. I can't sense you either.
"It's affecting all of us, Richie. The battle was so intense - so much loss of Immortal life, so many Quickenings - we suffered a kind of overload. It's as though we're all temporarily shell-shocked.
"That's why I don't want to leave Connor. I'd hate to wake him. And there may be a few enemy survivors. With the radar not working, I can't risk leaving him alone, asleep."
"No. No, of course not." Fighting off his own malaise, Richie turned in the direction Mac had indicated.
"Richie!" A note of urgency. "Tell Joe...tell him it's turning out the way I expected."
"Huh?" All his qualms returned. "Why are you sending a message to Joe? With luck, you'll see him inside of a half hour."
"Just tell him," Mac said wearily. "Don't ask questions. Tell him exactly what I said. And get a move on!"
Richie grunted, took a deep breath, and trudged into the night.
Half asleep on his feet, he came to his senses when he staggered into a tree. Great. Straighten up, man. Just a little farther, a little farther.
Never, as presumed mortal or as Immortal, had he felt so totally wiped out.
He shivered. Something about this whole business was...wrong. Their inability to sense one another. That cryptic message for Joe.
It wasn't the first time today that he'd felt he was out of the loop. He and hundreds of others, but that hadn't made it any easier to accept.
With dozens of Immortals bunked in Joe's bar, they'd come to accept and ignore - as they always did in such situations - a background sensation of others of their kind being nearby. That acceptance could mask an individual's close approach. And that had enabled Richie, pausing in a stairwell that morning, to overhear snatches of conversation not meant for his ears...
Mac's voice. Harsh, insistent. "I need the answer to that question I asked last night, Joe. You've had time to check with all the Watchers."
"Yes," Joe had said heavily. "The answer is...one."
A long pause.
"One. That's what I...hoped." But Mac didn't sound pleased or relieved.
"It doesn't mean anything, Mac."
"It supports my theory."
"Theory be damned! It's just the way things happen to be right now..."
They'd moved away from the wall. But Richie, disturbed, had lingered till he heard them again five minutes later.
The second fragment was more disturbing.
Mac again, voice ragged with fatigue. "Joe, promise you'll stay where I leave you, away from the fighting. I have enough on my mind without worrying about you. When the battle's over, you have to be here. I can't face this unless I know I can count on you."
"You have my word, Mac." The normally feisty Watcher sounded more subdued than Richie had ever heard him. "Whatever happens, I won't let you down."
No sound for perhaps a minute. Were they shaking hands? Embracing?
Then Joe's voice, torn by some emotion beyond Richie's ken. "Mac. Believing as you do, you still intend to lead this army into battle? Without telling them?"
Another unnerving silence.
"Yes. God forgive me, yes. If I told them, I might not have an army to lead. And this battle must be fought."
Richie had been tempted to rush in. Beg Mac to share the burden of knowing - whatever it was. Assure him that whatever the secret, his loyalty would never waver.
But some instinct had held him back, warned that MacLeod couldn't handle one iota of extra pressure...
It was all Connor's foolishness, nothing more. Connor had convinced Mac this was the Gathering. And clearly, it wasn't. So everything would be all right.
"Tell him it's turning out the way I expected."
It didn't mean a thing. Mac was just dead tired, and sickened by the amount of blood they'd been forced to shed. Tomorrow they'd be relaxing, learning to laugh again, the Battle of the Ages receding into memory.
If he could just find Joe...
There! A familiar bulk loomed in the mist. Joe's car.
Near collapse, he stumbled toward it. Realizing the Watcher might still be in doubt about the outcome of the battle, he called hoarsely, "It's all right, Joe! It's me, Richie. Everything's okay."
Headlights switched on, and the engine roared to life.
A moment later Joe was peering up at him from the car window. "You look terrible, Richie."
"You should see the other guys -"
"Cut the crap. Where's Mac?"
"He's okay. Or will be. He and Connor were too exhausted to walk back here. Mac wants you to bring the car to them.
"And...I'm not sure what this means. But he said to tell you it's 'turning out the way he expected.' "
Joe's response was a string of oaths. He reached to open the passenger side door, then changed his mind and slid over. "You drive. You know where you left them - we'll get there faster if you drive. Get in, damn it! Hurry!"
Shocked back to full alertness, Richie obeyed without question. He was glad he'd driven this rig often enough that Joe's disabled-access controls didn't slow him down.
As the car bounced and lurched through a rutty meadow, he stole a glance at Joe. The Watcher's face was chalk-white. Jaw set, eyes haunted.
The eyes met his. "I'm sorry, Richie. There's no time to explain.
"But you should know Mac was trying to spare you. He didn't want you to...see anything bad. Alone."
Richie's blood ran cold. His hands spasmed on the wheel, and the car bucked violently.
Didn't want me to "see anything bad"?
I killed dozens of men and women today.
I chopped their heads off.
Are any of us sane?
For a moment he longed to be that seventeen-year-old punk who, only a few years ago, had never heard of Immortals...
He slammed on the brake. "There they are. Right where I left them, under that tree. Can't get any closer."
He hopped out of the car.
And knew at once, even from this distance, that something was hideously wrong. Something about Connor...
He was about to break into a run when Joe, struggling with his cane and prosthetic limbs, barked, "Wait for me! That's an order."
Not Joe's order, he knew. Mac's.
Nerves taut as a bowstring, he waited.
He expected Joe to have difficulty on the rough terrain. But once out of the car, the Watcher moved faster than he would have thought possible.
As they approached the tree, the moon broke through the clouds.
Nothing could have prepared Richie for the sight that met his eyes.
The thing propped against the tree, dressed in Connor MacLeod's clothes, was a crumbling skeleton.
He clapped his hands to his mouth, somehow stifling the scream that rose to his lips. Felt Joe grip his shoulder - and knew his friend was offering support, not seeking it.
Ignore the skeleton for now. Mac. Mac! He dropped to his knees, touched the crumpled form at the base of the tree.
"Joe - he's alive."
A gnarled hand clawed feebly at his sleeve. "Richie?...Joe?" Speech slurred but understandable.
"We're here, Mac," Joe said as he lowered himself to the ground. "Both of us."
"Yes, we're right here." Richie eased the broken body half into his lap, captured the groping hand in his own. Still fighting to deny the evidence of his senses.
The withered limbs, emaciated frame. The leathery, incredibly ancient face. Glazed eyes, undoubtedly sightless. Hair white and yellowing, falling out in clumps.
Joe took Mac's other hand, and he clung to both of them with surprising strength. "I think...Connor...is dead," he said calmly. "I've been...fighting to...hang on."
"You're right, Mac, Connor's gone." Joe kept his voice equally steady. They might have been discussing the weather. "Do you want us to get you to the car?"
"No! Don't...don't move me. Just...stay with me...please?" His voice finally cracked.
"We'll be right here, Mac. We're not going anywhere." Richie felt tears streaming down his cheeks. Don't you go! I can't bear it...
Aloud, he asked, "Are you in pain?"
"No. Not now. Before...when you were here. Pain was...bad then. Not in pain now. Just...slowly dying.
"Richie! Sorry I...wasn't honest with you..."
"That's all right," Richie mumbled. Then he blurted out, "But for God's sake, what happened?" I can't avenge you if I don't know what happened...
"Joe," Mac whispered. "Tell him."
"All right." Joe's eyes, too, glistened with tears. "To begin with, Richie, the battle was absolutely necessary. Don't ever doubt that. The Prince and many of his followers were close to mastering occult powers that would have enabled them to rule the world, and destroy rival Immortals by means other than the sword. It was now or never.
"This battle was the Gathering. Connor was right about that, and about the absent Immortals' being drawn in psychically.
"But no one had ever interpreted the Gathering prophecy correctly. Not till Mac figured it out within the last few days.
"It didn't mean the Immortals would fight until only one person was left standing. That always was an unrealistic idea, as you and I said.
"In reality - Mac predicted this before the battle - Immortal constitutions couldn't support a conflict on that scale. The enormous outlay of physical and psychic energy. The hundreds of Quickenings coming in rapid-fire succession. By the time the battle ended, you'd all been drained of...whatever it was that had made you Immortals."
Richie couldn't make sense of the words. "Whatever had made us Immortals?" Mac squeezed his hand.
He saw infinite compassion in Joe's eyes. "Yes, Richie. You too. You're a normal man now, have been for hours.
"You'll age, get sick and die, just like the rest of us. But on the plus side, you'll probably be able to father children. You won't have to feel like an outsider. And you won't always be looking over your shoulder, wondering who's coming for your head."
It's true. There are no more Immortals. That was the real reason we couldn't sense each other.
He felt a cold emptiness in his gut. Knew he would never really be a "normal man."
"Unfortunately, the older Immortals' true age caught up with them quickly. Mac anticipated that, too."
Four hundred years. Mac is over four hundred years old! He tightened his grip on the frail form in his arms. What superhuman effort of will was keeping the man alive even this long?
"Connor was...ready to go," Mac rasped. "I think he...welcomed it.
"I...hate to leave...best friends I've ever had..."
Joe choked back a sob.
"And Richie, beyond that...I know you thought of me...as an older brother. But to me, you were...the son I always wanted."
"Mac." Richie could barely get the words out. "Do I have your permission to take the name MacLeod?"
The dying man tried to smile. "I'd be honored."
He fell silent, and they sat quietly. Holding his hands, listening to his labored breathing.
Richie had another question. But now was not the time.
Mac gave a sudden, panicky gasp.
Richie's heart stopped. "What is it?"
He released the limp hand, lovingly stroked his friend's cheek. "Can you feel me touching you now?"
"Yes. Better. Thank you...Joe! You will...help him...adjust?"
"I'll always be here for him, Mac. You have my word." Joe would need plenty of help himself, Richie knew.
"Richie...don't grieve for me. Had a long life.
"And...it was all predestined. So much was foretold..."
The blind eyes seemed to gaze directly up into Richie's face. The voice rang out, strong and clear. "In the end, there can be only one!"
Then the light in the Highlander's eyes dimmed. A last shuddering sigh, and all was still.
Richie had no idea how many minutes passed before Joe touched him gently on the shoulder.
"Richie. This won't be easy. But...can you help me get their...remains into the car?"
"I'll do it." He heaved himself to his feet, grateful for a task to perform.
"I promised we'd bury them," Joe explained. "Where they wanted, if at all possible."
"I can guess their choices. Connor is to be returned to the Highlands. And Mac, buried beside Tessa."
Richie squared his shoulders. One more point to be clarified.
Though he thought he knew.
"Joe, tell me something. Mac asked you an important question last night. Something you had to check with the other Watchers. You eventually told him the answer was 'one.' What was the question?"
The pain in Joe's eyes mirrored his own. "The question was, how many living Immortals are under the age of one hundred?"
This is how it was. Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander, strong and proud and eternally thirty years old, dueling to the death with a Champion of Evil.
Burn the memory into your mind. Never forget Duncan MacLeod as he was this day.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
"It didn't happen."
The man who now thought of himself as Richie MacLeod came back from the faraway place he'd been. "What did you say?"
"It didn't happen," Joe Dawson repeated.
Richie sucked in a breath. "It did happen, Joe," he said gently. "We can't wish it away."
I should know. Richie, in the back seat of the car, was still cradling the dead body of Duncan MacLeod.
Joe gave an exasperated hiss. "You haven't been paying attention. I know the things we saw really happened. But I used my cell phone to alert - hell!"
He stopped the car on a dime and killed the lights.
"Police roadblock ahead," Joe said tersely.
"We should've expected it. We knew they couldn't ignore a sky lit up by hundreds of Quickenings."
Richie felt himself teetering on the edge of hysteria. At least we don't have drugs in the car. Or guns.
We'll only have to explain three swords with blood residue on them, a fully clothed skeleton, and the corpse of a four-hundred-year-old man.
Piece of cake.
He looked out at the dark, lonely road. "Would it help if I chucked the swords?"
"No." Joe craned his neck to peer into the back. "What condition is Mac's body in?"
"Not deteriorating any faster than a normal dead body. It must have something to do with the way he clung to life." Richie still gagged at the thought of Connor going from living man to skeleton in a half hour.
"Okay, listen. You have to get out here. Take Mac's body with you, and both your swords. But first, cover Connor's skeleton with the tarp. Hide his sword too.
"The cops don't know what they're looking for. I'm a respectable bar owner - plenty of ID, no rap sheet. I can probably bluff my way through the roadblock. You'll have to sneak around it on foot, meet me a safe distance down the road. Got it?"
"And don't 'chuck' those swords! Hang onto them."
He's right, Richie thought. When Immortals are only a memory, they'll be treasured relics. Mac would want them preserved by the Watchers. "Shouldn't I take Connor's?"
"No, leave it. You'll have too much to handle as it is, but it can't be helped. Go!"
Richie eased MacLeod's body out of the car and slung it over his shoulder, vowing to carry it gently and reverently. Clutching the two unwieldy swords, he staggered into the woods.
Joe fought to control his temper as a burly Washington State Trooper aimed a flashlight directly into his eyes.
"You do look like the picture on the license," the trooper said grudgingly. "What are you doing here?"
"The same thing you are, probably." Safest way to play it. "I saw those lights in the sky and drove up north to look around."
The trooper squinted at the address on his license. "You're fifty miles from home. Some case of curiosity. What did you see?"
A younger officer was leaning into the back seat, poking and prodding. Troopers from two other cars were drifting over. Joe started to sweat.
They probably knew about the battle. He hadn't passed a car headed north, but cops could have approached the site from the east. And he'd thought he heard a chopper a while back.
"Dead bodies, thirty miles up the road. Seemed like hundreds of them! I was scared shitless - took one look and split."
He'd guessed right. It was clear from the trooper's expression that he'd known about the bodies, and would have been more suspicious if a driver headed south pretended he hadn't seen them.
But just as Joe was congratulating himself, the younger cop pulled something out of the car and held it up. "Hey, Ben, look what we have here."
Connor MacLeod's katana.
Joe's heart sank. Bad call. I should've let Richie take it.
"There were swords all over the place," he mumbled. "Strangest thing I've ever seen. I couldn't resist taking a souvenir, you know?"
"No, I don't know," Ben said coldly. "You stumble on a mass murder, no telling what crazies may be around, and you're thinking 'souvenir'? Besides, this is evidence. You shouldn't have removed it from the crime scene."
Joe felt a wild urge to say, "You've caught me. The truth is, I lured hundreds of people I disliked up there, and killed them all. Your partner's holding the murder weapon."
Instead, he hung his head and tried to sound contrite. "I'm sorry, Officer. I wasn't thinking."
Say anything, do anything to get past this roadblock. I didn't have time to tell Richie -
Ben's partner had found the skeleton.
Joe closed his eyes and prayed.
Ben looked into the back seat. "What the hell -"
"The skeleton has nothing to do with the other stuff," Joe said desperately. "I can explain -"
"You'll do your frigging explaining at Headquarters!" Ben grabbed him and dragged him out of the car.
The younger trooper coughed. "Ben, he's disabled."
"You think I give a damn?" A speculative look came over what Joe was now thinking of as Ben's piggish face. "But that makes it even less likely that if he was scared, he'd take time to get out of his car and pick up a stray sword.
"Let's pull that skeleton out of there. I want a closer look."
Joe gasped. "Be careful! It's practically falling apart now."
But they paid him no heed. Before his horrified eyes, they hauled it out so roughly that the skull broke off and rolled under the car.
That was the last straw. Joe launched himself at Ben, and they both went sprawling.
He liked the sound made by the trooper's head when it hit the pavement.
He felt even better after he'd broken the guy's jaw.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Richie was sorry he'd decided to take a midday break. Sitting in one place forced him to think. To inch closer to the inevitable, ugly decision.
Yesterday's and last night's traumas had been more than enough. To top it off, he'd been forced to watch helplessly from a thicket as a half-dozen troopers beat Joe Dawson senseless.
He'd spent a sleepless night in the woods, in frigid temperatures. He was still cold, tired, and growing aware that he hadn't eaten in more than twenty-four hours. Walking in the road was out of the question. But if he didn't stay near it he'd lose his way, and the roadside brush was so thick that he had to use his sword as a machete. In a half day's walking, he doubted he'd covered more than five miles.
The cold had helped preserve Mac's body. The withered husk of the man he'd known was far from recognizable, but at least it wasn't decaying. How long, though, could he count on that? And even if he somehow neared home, how could he carry a corpse through city streets? Neither he nor Mac had brought a cell phone with them, so he had no way to call a friend - like the Watcher who was Joe's backup bartender - for help.
He moaned. Face it. The cops' seizing Joe's car killed any chance of carrying out the original plan.
I'll have to bury Mac. Temporarily. Here in the middle of nowhere.
And this glade is as good a place as any.
He got to his feet. Shivering, but not from cold.
It had to be done. He'd use his sword as a shovel, Mac's as a grave marker. And he'd be back, as soon as he got his hands on a car! He'd lay Mac to rest where he belonged - beside Tessa, in Paris - if it was the last thing he ever did.
He knew this was necessary. So why did it feel like a betrayal? He couldn't look at the body, the friend he was about to commit to the earth without a coffin...
Not for the first time, he wondered how the cops might be desecrating Connor's remains. I'm sorry, Connor. But I really couldn't have carried any more.
The best he dared hope for from the police fiasco was that they hadn't done serious damage to Joe. He had to keep reminding himself that despite having lost both legs in Vietnam, the Watcher was anything but fragile.
Gritting his teeth, he broke ground with his sword. I have no choice. Mac would understand.
Ten minutes later, standing in a depression too shallow to be called a hole, he was still quivering with revulsion.
I can't believe I'm doing this. Digging a grave. For Mac.
What was it Joe said? "It didn't happen." Maybe none of this is really happening.
I was killed in battle, and this is my personal hell.
Or else...I've lost my mind.
At that moment, a puzzled voice behind him asked, "What's the matter with him? Why can't he sense me?"
And suddenly, he was overwhelmed by a sensation he'd thought he would never experience again.
He felt the presence of another Immortal.
There are no Immortals!
He turned slowly, already in shock.
Duncan MacLeod was sitting up. Young, handsome, and apparently very much alive.
He wasn't looking at Richie - or, it seemed, at anything in particular. He was using both hands to explore the contours of his face.
Inexplicably, he said, "Thank you, Tessa."
For Richie, reality had shattered into a thousand fragments. Who's going to show up next, the Mad Hatter?
MacLeod brought his hands down from his face. "Richie?" There was a slight tremor in his voice. "I know you're there. S-say something." He reached out, but for some reason, he was gazing off into the distance. "Do I...look worse than I think? I'm sorry if I'm scaring you, Richie. Whatever I look like, it really is me, and I need you. Please don't run away."
The thousand fragments came together with an almost audible click.
Oh my God.
This is real.
This is very real.
And he's still blind!
Richie was at his friend's side in an instant, dropping to the grass. "I'm here, Mac! It's all right. I wasn't thinking of running away, I was just stunned. And you look great. A lot better than I do."
MacLeod clutched at him, then seemed ashamed of his weakness. "Sorry. I...can't see. And I...felt panicky for a second. I'll be okay."
"Of course you will. Just take it easy. You're doing fine." He may be doing fine, but I'm not. When I think how close I came to burying him and leaving...
MacLeod took a few deep breaths, and gradually relaxed. In a steadier voice, he asked, "The aging did reverse, didn't it?"
"And...my eyes. Do they at least look normal?"
"Perfectly. They're just sort of...unfocused. Mac, do you know what's going on? Are we really Immortal again?"
"We always were," MacLeod said slowly. "There's no other explanation. My theory about the Gathering made sense, but it was wrong.
"Remember the first story I told you, that our radar was out temporarily because of the stress of the battle?"
"Yes. I assumed later it was a lie."
"It was meant to be," MacLeod said with a wan smile. "I think when I was trying to lie, I hit on the truth."
"But..." Richie shook his head. "That couldn't cause Immortals to age and 'die.' And you didn't pop back the way we usually do. Mac, you were dead. For eighteen hours!"
"I know." MacLeod hesitated. "Richie, when you've 'died,' have you ever experienced anything on the other side?"
"Never. I just blacked out and came to again."
"Same here. More times than I can count.
"But this was different. I...fell asleep in your arms, and woke up in Tessa's."
"Tessa," Richie murmured. "I heard you talking to her. I figured that was private. I wasn't going to mention her if you didn't."
"She was here," MacLeod said firmly. "Even if you couldn't see or hear her. She was helping me.
"But before that, we were somewhere else. Tessa didn't think it was heaven. It was more like another plane of existence. We had physical bodies, young and healthy.
"And, uh...Richie, I wouldn't normally talk about this. But...the sex was great. Best I've ever known."
Richie almost choked. The whole time I was mourning your death, you were off somewhere having great sex?
He was tempted to say that, but he couldn't make a joke of it. MacLeod had been deeply in love with Tessa Noel. The pain of a fresh separation was achingly apparent in his face.
"Could you have stayed with her?" Richie ventured.
"Yes. And...I know this sounds crazy. But I was sure that if I stayed there and kept doing what I was doing, we could make a baby."
A baby. The one thing no Immortal could ever have.
Richie swallowed hard. Incredible as it seemed, MacLeod's belief was infectious. "You knew that, and you still decided to come back?"
"I decided to try." The faintly accented voice was tinged with regret. "We both sensed that what had happened wasn't natural. I wasn't supposed to be there. There was a crisis here, and I had a responsibility to people who'd trusted me to lead them.
"But getting back was hard. I struggled for hours. Tessa was coaching me - I couldn't have done it without her. She kept telling me to concentrate on breathing in and out. And on opening my eyes, even if I thought they were already open." He grimaced. "Of course, when I really did get my eyes open on this plane - that's when I stopped being able to see."
"I'm thankful it's only that," MacLeod said doggedly. "We weren't sure the aging would reverse. I could have been trapped in a useless body, with no way to pull out again."
Richie sat for a long minute, absorbing that. Trying to organize his thoughts. At last he said, "So...this was like a normal Immortal 'death' in one respect. We've had 'deaths' where half our bones were broken. Really broken - x-rays would have confirmed it. But when we 'died' and revived, our bodies came back to normal within a minute or two. Your aging seems to have reversed the same way.
"The differences... I've never heard of anything causing an Immortal to age. You had experiences on the other side, then had a hard time getting back. And your vision hasn't returned."
"Right." MacLeod shifted uneasily. "I think I understand some of it. But before we get into that, what's happened to Connor? And Joe - where's Joe?"
Grimly, Richie told him about the roadblock.
He wasn't sure whether he should be glad or sorry he didn't understand Gaelic. He had a hunch the Scot was spouting oaths more colorful than any he'd ever heard.
When MacLeod ran down and lapsed into silence, Richie remembered something else. "I should tell you - Connor was actually a skeleton."
"Yes. He was already a skeleton by the time Joe and I got back to you."
Richie thought for a moment. "You said he seemed ready to die. If he...let go, I guess everything just fell apart.
"And when the State Troopers dragged that skeleton out of Joe's car, the skull actually broke off! Given that...do you think there's any chance of his coming back?"
The color had drained from MacLeod's face. "It...doesn't seem likely. But after what happened to me, I wouldn't rule anything out."
"You said you have an idea about what caused this."
"Yes." MacLeod's tone was somber. "Remember what Joe told you about the Forces of Darkness? The reason they had to be stopped?"
The rush of events had driven that out of Richie's mind. "Of course...the Prince and some of his followers were close to mastering occult powers that could have enabled them to rule the world."
"And destroy us by means other than the sword," MacLeod reminded him. "I know now the Prince was a figurehead. There's someone else out there, still alive, who has acquired that secret knowledge. Someone more vicious than any foe I've ever encountered. Unspeakably evil. He used his powers last night."
Richie's blood curdled in his veins. He couldn't come up with a response.
"Richie! Joe and I didn't understand the situation, and we were making assumptions. Do you know for a fact whether anyone other than Connor and I aged and died?"
The implications of that question took Richie's breath away. But for Mac's sake, he pulled himself together and forced himself to come up with some sort of answer. Quickly.
"I - I'm not sure! Can't judge by me, I'm only twenty-five. Triggering my aging process wouldn't have changed me in any noticeable way. And we didn't see other survivors of the battle, except at a distance...
"But...wait! In the car, Joe was saying something 'didn't happen.' I thought he was in denial about your death. But he started telling me he'd used his cell phone to alert - someone. Then he saw the cops, and didn't have time to explain."
"The Watchers!" MacLeod's voice throbbed with excitement. "Joe was sworn to secrecy about what I expected, till we learned whether I was right. Then he was supposed to inform the Tribunal all the Immortals were dying. He'd promised the Watchers would give the ones they could find decent burial.
"Apparently, he was getting word back that they weren't dying! Even temporarily!"
Richie felt his own pulse quicken. "So it was only you and Connor. This enemy was targeting the leaders..." Mac was - is - the one true leader. But Connor was his friend, a well-known Immortal. And they were together.
"Joe almost certainly realized you were still Immortal," MacLeod pointed out. "He didn't have time to tell you. And he'd begun to hope there might be a chance for me, even for Connor. That's why he wanted to keep the swords with their owners. In case you and he were separated."
"Yes." His sword won't do him much good now. But any Immortal who wants his head will have to take mine first. "Mac. Why would this enemy cause you to die of old age, when you could come back?"
"I've been thinking about that. I'm guessing he'd already killed some Immortals using the power of his mind, and they stayed dead. When those victims didn't make it back, he assumed no one could.
"He probably hoped to intimidate and enslave the others, after you spread the word someone had the power to kill in that monstrous way."
Richie took a deep, shuddering breath. "Okay, I see that. Here's the real toughie. When everything else he did to you reversed, why are you still blind?"
MacLeod was sitting ramrod-straight. Jaw working convulsively, fists clenched. He'd dropped the polite fiction of turning his head toward Richie's voice, pretending to look at him. "Seems obvious. He specifically wanted me blind. It was important to him. He triggered my natural aging process. But in case that wouldn't involve my going blind, he used a separate, powerful spell. That's why it didn't reverse as easily as everything else."
Richie pondered that. "Why? When you'd be dead inside of an hour, and he didn't expect you to come back?"
"Try sadism." The voice was flint-hard, a stranger's voice. "Maybe he knows and hates me. Maybe he knew you and Joe would be with me when I died, and he wanted to deny me the comfort of being able to see you."
"I suppose that was it." Don't press.
It didn't strike Richie as much of a motive. Perhaps there was something in the two Immortals' shared past...?
This lack of eye contact is unnerving. Right now I feel like there's a wall between us.
Suddenly, MacLeod scrambled to his feet. "I've been sitting here assuming the only problem is my vision. I'd better make sure I can walk."
Richie rose quickly. "Let me help you, Mac. There isn't much space here."
"All right." The Highlander managed a thin smile. "I wouldn't enjoy falling into that grave you were digging."
Ten minutes later MacLeod said, "Okay, I'm not so wobbly now. How far are we from Seacouver?"
"About forty-five miles."
"Ouch. We are near the main road?"
"How bad are our clothes? Any bloodstains?"
Richie took a look, and winced. The bloodstains weren't visible, but only because of the caked-on dirt. Their jeans and boots were reasonably intact. But both flannel shirts were in tatters. Swordfights would do that. What the well-dressed warrior wears at the turn of the millennium. Yech.
He said ruefully, "We look like hunters who got gored by an elk."
"Hmm. Not a bad idea - as an explanation, that is. We'll have to ditch the swords."
"But Joe said -" Richie broke off, aware he was blushing to the roots of his hair. I'm arguing with Mac? Citing Joe Dawson as my authority?
"Joe was right, in principle," MacLeod said mildly. "We need swords, and I hate to leave these - my katana, and the one that belonged to Graham Ashe. Maybe if you memorize some landmarks, you'll be able to drive out here later and retrieve them.
"But I have others back at the dojo. Getting home has to be our top priority. I think we can make it, if the enemy still believes I'm dead. Unfortunately, we can't go out in the road carrying swords."
Richie brightened. "It hadn't occurred to me that we can walk in the road now."
"Walk in the road?" MacLeod sighed. "Richie. Suppose you were alone. Not fretting about a sword, or a blind companion. How would you get home from here?"
Richie gulped. In a small voice, he said, "I'd...I'd...hitchhike."
"That's exactly what we're going to do."
Richie was appalled. He couldn't picture Duncan MacLeod hitchhiking, blind or not.
MacLeod misinterpreted his silence. "Cheer up, Richie," he said. "It could be worse."
Richie bit. "How?"
"Preparing for battle - expecting to die, one way or another - I wasn't concerned about how I'd get home.
"And I thought seriously of wearing a kilt."
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Joe Dawson, sitting in a jail cell in Seacouver, was cursing himself. On a number of counts - but mostly because he hadn't thought to give Richie his cell phone. He'd hoped for a while that Richie had been carrying his own. He, unlike Mac, hadn't expected to die that day (though he had, of course, known it was possible). And cell phones were becoming less and less bulky; a young man like Richie would probably own the newest model.
But if Richie had a phone with him, he would surely - under the circumstances - have called Joe's bar. And when Joe had used his one allowed phone call to call Mike - the fellow Watcher who'd been tending it - he'd learned Mike hadn't heard from him. So he'd told Mike (who was understandably angry at having been kept in the dark about all this) to cruise up and down the main road in his own car, hoping he'd spot Richie somewhere.
But Richie would probably be hiding in the brush. And even if he happened to look out at the right time, he wouldn't recognize Mike's car...
Joe didn't know - or care, at this point - what was going to happen to him. His injuries from the beating were no more than cuts and bruises; a possible concussion had been ruled out. He'd done more damage to Trooper Ben.
But he had come up with a story to "explain" his jaunt to the battle site, and made sure Mike would "remember" it. He'd claimed that while he was tending bar, all his drunken patrons had been speculating about the "light show," and daring each other to drive up north and check it out. He'd finally declared that he - being sober and fit to drive - would do it!
He'd taken that sword as "proof" that he'd actually been there. And he "hadn't been lying" when he said the skeleton had a different origin - he had found it while he was up north, but at a little distance from the battle site. A clothed skeleton - with the skull originally attached - was very different from newly dead bodies, all beheaded! He hadn't even been sure it was real. He'd taken it because he'd thought it would be fun to display it in his bar on occasions like Halloween.
All he really cared about now was whether Duncan MacLeod had come back to life. He scarcely dared to let himself hope, after the horror he'd seen...and knowing no one other than Mac and Connor had aged at all, let alone died. But he wouldn't be able to accept that Mac was really, truly dead until he saw the body again. (He was sure Connor was gone, with his skull having become separated from the rest of the skeleton. But Connor was someone he barely knew; furious though he was with the troopers, he could accept that death more easily.)
But what if Mike can't find Richie? What in God's name will Richie do with the body? Bury it? Has he already buried it?
What if Mac came back to life after he'd been buried?
Damn. That would be a hell of a way to revive! Especially if he thought we'd chosen that kind of burial, meant it to be permanent.
But...I've studied enough Chronicles to know many Immortals have clawed their way out of shallow graves. Here, it might actually be the best-case scenario.
Why, damn it, were Mac and Connor the only ones who aged and died? Was it because they, and only they, had expected that to happen?
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts - and fears - that he jumped when the cell door opened with a clang.
"Guess you're lucky in your friends, Dawson," the guard drawled. "One o' them just posted your bail."
As he was led out to meet that unnamed "friend," he hoped - desperately - that it would be Duncan MacLeod.
Instead, he saw Richie waiting for him.
Richie? But he wouldn't have enough money to post bail. Not if he was using his own money...
Richie grabbed him, and whispered, "I hope you're okay - I was afraid those troopers had killed you! I saw it all, couldn't do a thing.
"I did have to post bail just now, but the charges against you are probably going to be dropped. Turns out a bunch of other people went up there and took swords as 'souvenirs,' too. They can't prosecute all of them. And you won't be charged for slugging that trooper because of the way the others beat you. They couldn't even prove who started it.
"Can't risk saying any more till we get out of here."
Once outside, Richie told him, "Okay - here's what I couldn't get into back in the station. There's good news and bad.
"The good news - Mac is alive! He remembers everything. And he's in a strong, Immortal thirty-year-old body again. Looks like he always did, even to the shoulder-length hair."
Joe had to stop walking. He felt tears welling up in his eyes - tears of joy. "That's wonderful! I can't believe any bad news could spoil that."
"Um...wait till you hear it. He's still blind!"
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Joe's car had been released, along with him. But after what he'd just heard, he had to admit he felt too shaky to drive.
"No problem," Richie assured him. "I'll drive. At least we're not in as bad a situation as the last time we were together in this car!"
"But, your bike...?" Meaning, of course, a motorcycle.
Richie managed a wan smile. "I thought you might not feel up to driving. So I came here on the bus.
"As to where we're going - is it okay with you if we go straight to the dojo? Mac's waiting for us - in his loft apartment, of course. He told me he'd like to discuss things with both of us, together..."
"Of course that's where I want to go!"
While Richie was driving, he filled Joe in on how he'd posted his bail.
"Mac said he didn't want to write a check for it, with today's date. I don't understand why, but that's what he said. He tried to write a check to me, dated day before yesterday, that I could cash in a bank. But however hard he tried, he couldn't write anything that looked like his normal handwriting, in the right size."
Joe winced. "God, that must have been so hard for him to accept..."
"Yes, it was. I had to forge the damn check. Easy for me, but that made it even more painful for him.
"He told me that if anyone asked where I'd gotten the money, I should tell them it was none of their business. But I decided to be a little more inventive - said I'd just won a motorcycle race."
Joe couldn't help smiling at that.
It was his last smile during the drive. He was awed by the story of Tessa's helping Mac return from the dead, saddened by the necessity of the lovers' being separated again. And he listened in outright horror as Richie passed on what Mac had concluded about the Forces of Darkness. That their real leader was undoubtedly still alive...had already learned to wield fearsome occult powers...and was responsible for Mac's being blind.
Richie had a final surprise for him. "By the way, you were responsible for getting us home! We were trying to hitchhike, but we were so dirty no drivers were willing to pick us up. And I couldn't blame them. They had no way of seeing Mac had any kind of disability. It was Mike who picked us up, because you'd sent him to look for us. He even retrieved our swords."
Joe's response was a bemused shake of his head. The last thing I would have expected was that they'd be walking in the road, for anyone to see. I thought I was "wasting" my one phone call!
When they stepped out of the elevator into the loft, MacLeod immediately called out, "Joe!"
An instant later, the two were embracing. And before Joe could say a word, MacLeod was telling him, "I'm sorry I misled you - and the Watcher brass in Paris - into thinking all the Immortals were going to die. But I'm glad I was wrong. And I'm glad I'm alive. I'll just have to cope with...the way things are now.
"I'm already working on making more use of my hearing. Even if I hadn't asked Richie to get you, I would've known you were there right away, from the sound of your cane. And I'd never noticed it before."
With a lump in his throat, Joe replied, "That's good."
MacLeod did look exactly like his old self - except for an obviously unnecessary pair of sunglasses. He hastened to explain. "I asked Richie how my eyes look - wanted the truth - so he told me they look sort of 'unfocused.' I'm thinking sunglasses may be less distracting for people I'm talking to. And, Joe" - forestalling a protest - "I really need you not to be distracted!"
He surprised Joe by quickly moving on to other topics. Very serious topics.
Joe had already learned Richie was going to stay with MacLeod, in the loft, to help him in every way he could. But he wasn't prepared for what he heard now.
"I need both of you to help me, in different ways," MacLeod said urgently.
"Right now, for people like neighbors and the postal service, the story has to be that I've gone away somewhere. And the dojo is closed temporarily, because I left on short notice.
"Richie - you can say you could have handled the business end of it, but I hadn't had time to hire a good martial arts instructor. So the dojo is closed, but you'll be living here to protect the property. That will explain things like grocery purchases. And you will be here, of course - most of the time. But I'll be here too, all the time.
"The word has to be spread among Immortals that I'm really dead. The Pretender has to hear that."
Two voices, in unison: "Who?'
"The enemy's underling called himself the Prince of Darkness," MacLeod reminded them. His voice was hard, angry. "I imagine he thinks of himself as the King. But he's no King! And I intend to prove it. So I'm going to call him the Pretender."
Joe looked at Richie, and knew they were both thinking What does he imagine he can do about it, now? What in God's name is he planning?
"Richie," MacLeod continued, "I'll need you to sort of 'let it slip' to some other Immortals that I'm dead. That's why I wasn't willing to write a check with today's date on it - I 'died' yesterday!
"You'll probably need to do some traveling, to have opportunities to talk to friendly Immortals. I'll be okay alone at times. Doesn't matter if I fall down the stairs or accidentally cut myself - Immortal healing will fix everything but my vision.
"And, Joe - we all know you aren't the only Watcher who has Immortal friends. Enlist some Watchers - ones you can trust - to put that lie in circulation, too. But Immortals who know about the Watchers should be told that you haven't reported either my death or Connor's, lest word leak out and hurt our followers' morale. It's important that the Pretender think I'm dead.
"I'm not sure how much time I'll need to get myself ready to fight him -"
"Fight him?" Two voices again.
"Of course." MacLeod sounded supremely confident. "The more time passes, the greater the danger will be for all humanity. So I'll do my best to get myself in fighting shape in less than a month.
"Then you'll have to spread the word that I'm really alive - but I'm holed up here because I'm blind, and completely helpless.
"He'll realize the only way he can kill me permanently is by taking my head. But I think he's egotistical enough to believe he really has made me 'completely helpless.' So in a sense, I'll be catching him off guard. And he's the one who'll end up without a head!"
This is personal with him now, Joe realized. He hates the guy. And he certainly has good reason.
Joe had doubts - to put it mildly - about whether a blind MacLeod could take anyone's head, let alone the Pretender's. But he'd never admit those doubts. What he said, firmly, was, "I'm on board, Mac. I'll do my best to spread any stories you want."
Richie chimed in, "Me too."
"Thank you. Both of you." MacLeod paused for a moment, seemed reluctant to go on. But then he said, "I'll...have to tell you who the Pretender is. Or have you figured it out for yourselves?"
"Who he is?" Joe echoed. "No! I assumed you didn't know!" Richie was saying much the same thing.
But then Richie continued, "Of course...you would've learned it from the Prince's Quickening! After you came back to life, when you had time to think about the contents of that Quickening. All I could get from the foot soldiers was that their leader identified himself to his followers by something special in his sense-signature, that he could activate at will. I assumed the person they meant was the Prince. If it was someone else, the Prince surely knew his name, and what he looks like."
MacLeod shook his head. "No. Either he really didn't know, or - what I think is more likely - the Pretender had guarded that knowledge with such a powerful spell that it couldn't be learned from anyone's Quickening.
"But even so...I know. And I wouldn't have been able to work it out if you, Richie, hadn't told me as much as you did about what happened around the time of my 'death'!
"So I'll tell you. It wasn't easy for me to face this. But...
"There was only one person who could have anticipated the two of you seeing me die in that horrible way...and would have wanted me not to see what had been going on around me in the last half-hour of my life.
"Specifically, not to see him dress the nearest decapitated body in his clothes, magically turn it into a skeleton, and add a head he'd turned into a skull.
"That person was Connor ."
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
MacLeod's revelation was met with stunned silence.
As he'd probably expected.
Afer a long minute, Joe found his voice. "Connor? B-but...he was your teacher! A lifelong friend..." Lifelong, in this case, meaning four hundred years. "W-wouldn't you have known, if he was...evil?"
"Not if he became evil only recently. Believe me," MacLeod insisted, "I didn't want to think he was capable of all this! But no other explanation fits the facts.
"Consider what actually happened. I'd thought all the Immortals were going to age and die. But I was wrong. It only happened to me - and as I thought at the time, one other person, Connor."
"I had the idea," Joe cut in, "that it might have happened to the two of you because you'd both expected it."
MacLeod shook his head. "No. I was the only one who'd expected any such thing. Connor had been saying it was the Gathering, and we actually would fight till only one Immortal was still alive. He said the Immortals in other parts of the world were being drawn in psychically, lending their strength to comrades in the fight - and whenever a fighter was beheaded, anyone psychically linked with him would die too, despite not having lost his own head. I don't know whether any of that was true. But Connor definitely wasn't saying he expected anyone to age.
"And no one saw him age! We just assumed it. Richie - remember when you saw us under that tree? I told you Connor was asleep, but I really thought he was unconscious. And I was already in such bad shape that I didn't want to make the pain worse by moving, so I never got a good look at him."
Richie mumbled, "Yeah. I remember." He sounded - understandably - as if he didn't want to remember. "I didn't look at him up close, either - just took your word for it that he was asleep."
"I thought he was nearer death than I was, because he was older," MacLeod continued. "But now I believe he was faking it. Was conscious the whole time.
"Think about it. The Pretender - whoever he was - would have thought the death I had was perfect for his purposes. A slow, agonizing death - witnessed by one Immortal and one Watcher, both sure to spread the word.
"Only Connor knew - before the Battle! - that assuming I hadn't been killed, Joe would be picking me up, along with whoever was with me. He might have overheard enough to know what I expected. But whether or not he'd learned that, he did know that for some reason, Joe was prepared to come for me as quickly as possible.
"All the other Immortals would be intimidated if they learned the leader of the Forces of Darkness could cause one of us - especially me, his opponents' leader - to die in such a horrible way. Could he have caused it from a distance? I don't know. But if he was Connor, he was only six feet away from me!
"Maybe the most significant clue is the fact that I'm still blind. The aging reversed when I came back to life, but the blindness didn't. The only explanation I can think of is that he triggered my natural aging process - but so wanted me blind that he used a separate, stronger spell to be sure of it.
"And why would he have wanted me blind? Like I said, to keep me from seeing what he was doing to produce that skeleton! He couldn't have been sure I'd be too feeble to move, at least slightly. Enough to see something he didn't want me to see. And I might have been able to tell you.
"A trivial point, about the skeleton - Richie, you told me you saw the skull break off when a trooper dragged it out of the car. I think it's possible the skull broke off easily because it had come from a different person than the rest of the skeleton - had just been 'magically' attached.
"And here's another point, that definitely isn't trivial. Like I told you before, I think the Pretender may have tested his powers by causing other Immortals to 'die of old age,' and they hadn't come back. If that happened, I have no way of knowing whether they experienced anything on the other side. But I'm guessing he tried to assure my not coming back by transporting me to a parallel universe where I'd be tempted to stay.
"I think it was a reality in which Tessa and I had been lovers. But in that universe it was Duncan MacLeod who'd died, with Tessa still being alive. I'm not sure whether I was Immortal - my believing I could father a child didn't prove anything, because the Rules for Immortals could have been different there.
"But the Pretender had been taking a chance, because he had to use a real parallel universe, with a real Tessa. And her conscience was, if anything, stronger than mine. Much as we loved each other, she realized I was needed in this world, and helped me get back.
"I think it's possible that I would have stayed dead if the Pretender hadn't sent me to that parallel universe. He made a mistake...and it's going to be a fatal one.
"But...who would have made that particular mistake? Only someone who knew about my history with Tessa. And that brings us right back to Connor."
It was Richie who spoke up first. "That...definitely convinces me. I didn't want to believe it of Connor. But it's like...all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fitting together."
Joe was still grappling with doubts, for reasons he couldn't quite explain. "I know it's...strong evidence. Hey, it's damning evidence.
"But...the Watchers have known Connor MacLeod for centuries! And he's always been considered one of the 'good' Immortals. Why would he suddenly turn so evil?"
"I've given that a lot of thought," MacLeod said quietly. "I hadn't noticed any change in him...but I can understand, thinking back, what may have happened.
"Remember that business in 1985, when he thought the Gathering had taken place, and he'd become the last survivor?"
Joe winced. "Yes."
"Many Immortals made fun of him after that. Mocked him. He never let on that it bothered him - but he must really have been furious! I think that induced him to begin studying those ancient sources of occult knowledge...plotting to make himself the most powerful Immortal who'd ever lived, and take revenge by killing or enslaving everyone who'd taunted him.
"That's part of the explanation - but there was something else as well. I think he came to resent me.
"You know that in recent years, I had to fight very powerful 'bad' Immortals. Grayson, Kalas, Kantos, Kronos. Maybe there was an element of luck in some of my wins. But every victory made me stronger - and added to my reputation. While Connor was being scorned and humiliated, I was being hailed as a new leader.
"What would have made it worse for him is that we were using the same surname - without, of course, having any reason to think we were kin. He must have hated it when Immortals and Watchers, hearing the name MacLeod, began taking for granted that it referred to me, his long-ago student, rather than him.
"But none of that was my fault! I'd never been anything but a friend to him. And what he did to me w-was -" His voice suddenly cracked. After a beat, he managed to finish the sentence with a whispered "unspeakably cruel."
"Yes, it was," Joe acknowledged. "And you're probably right about his reasons for doing the things he did."
But it still bothers me that no one had ever noticed a change in him. In its early stages, before he'd learned to hide it...
The practical-minded Richie was already moving on. "Uh, Mac - if you mean to fight Connor a month from now, I think you'll need another kind of help from me, besides helping you around the house and spreading lies. I don't know what you're planning. But if you hope - somehow - to take his head in a swordfight, you'll need to practice with an opponent."
Joe shuddered at the thought.
But MacLeod was nodding, fully in control again. "Yes. And since I don't want to accidentally lop your head off, your first assignment is to go somewhere you won't be recognized, buy us a couple foils - and for yourself, a helmet that will protect your neck."
"Okay. But just in case you won't be moving fast enough - at first! - to get out of the way of my foil, it's gonna be two helmets."
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
One Month Later.
Joe watched in near-disbelief - as he did every day - as Duncan MacLeod and Richie played out, in the dojo, as realistic a swordfight as he'd ever seen. Using their real swords now - with Richie apparently doing his best, and MacLeod having multiple opportunities to take his head. Richie was still wearing a protective helmet, at MacLeod's insistence; but it had never been necessary. MacLeod seemed to know exactly what he was doing. And he, refusing to wear a helmet, had never been in jeopardy.
MacLeod had explained, "I'm concentrating on making fuller use than ever before of both my hearing and my sense of the other Immortal. Learning to pinpoint exactly where he is - where specific parts of his body are!
"I'm not sure whether I've always had this latent ability, or I got it from the Prince's Quickening. But if it's a power Connor also has - even to a greater degree - he's never had a reason to use it. He won't have worked on improving it, and I'll have the advantage of surprise."
Richie had told Joe, "He has another power he definitely got from the Prince's Quickening, that he's shown me when we were alone. He wants to surprise even you with it when you're seeing the real fight!
"But I can tell you this much. It didn't do the Prince any good in battle because of where the Battle took place. And it's...brought back some bad memories for Mac. It will be sort of...ironic...if this particular power helps save his life."
MacLeod had long since stopped wearing those sunglasses - except during the practice swordfights. "For now," he'd explained, "I just want to get accustomed to fighting while I can feel something not natural on my face.
"But when the real fight comes - when I kill Connor - the spell will be broken. I'll have my eyesight back! And after being blind all this time, I'll want the sunglasses to give my eyes some protection from what's going to be a monster Quickening."
It's always "when I kill Connor," Joe mused. Never "if I kill Connor"! I wonder whether he really is that sure, or is bent on convincing himself?
He certainly does seem just as invincible as when he beheaded the Prince...
In aspects of his life other than swordfighting, MacLeod still was near-"helpless." He couldn't shower, shave, dress himself, or eat - much less prepare - any kind of meal without major assistance from Richie, Joe, or Mike.
Not really working on any of those mundane things - because in his case, none of them is a priority. He knows that after the fight with Connor, he'll either have his eyesight back or be dead.
The Watchers had determined, weeks ago, that Connor was indeed very much alive. In Rome, still living openly - or as "openly" as any Immortal could live - as Connor MacLeod.
The consensus opinion was that he assumed Joe and Richie had given "his" skeleton some kind of burial. (Actually, the skeleton was still rotting in a police Evidence Room.) And that they wouldn't be too surprised - after the way Mac had come back to life - by his having come back too. Even with his body having to re-form itself, and possibly break out of a coffin! He wouldn't know whether they'd told Mac - either before his death or after his return - about the skeleton; but it hardly mattered. Connor had no reason to suspect Mac knew what he really was.
The Watchers had been able to assure Mac that Connor had been told - and believed - that he was "completely helpless." A pathetic shadow of his old self! That he'd been anxious about Connor, overjoyed on learning he was alive...and pitifully eager for a reunion.
The trap had been set.
Then Mac had phoned Connor, put on the required "act," and gotten Connor to agree to come to Seacouver. (Connor had been very easily persuaded.) For some reason Joe didn't understand, Mac had insisted on buying Connor's airline tickets - with times that assured he'd arrive in Seacouver late in the evening. Richie would pick him up at the airport, and bring him straight to the dojo.
Today was the day.
So it's today, Joe thought, or rather, tonight, that I'll finally see "the real fight."
And in spite of my faith in Duncan MacLeod, I'm terrified.
MacLeod had told Joe the battle would take place in the dojo. He and Mike were welcome to sit inside, in a corner where Connor wouldn't immediately notice them. And yes, to use a camcorder!
"But this is important," he'd added. "The instant you realize there's been a beheading - even if you can't see it clearly - both of you have to get out of the building. You and Richie - he'll probably be there too.
"Don't try to record the Quickening - it will be too dangerous. Grab your camcorder, if you can. But above all, get out!"
The Watchers, at Mac's request, had arranged to have cars parked on the street outside the dojo. "Expendable" cars. It was a busy enough street that cars being parked there wouldn't strike Connor as unusual - even after dark, and with the dojo itself closed. Richie would "notice" them and drop Connor off, saying he was going to look for a parking space on the next block. But Connor should go right in - Mac would be waiting.
"Take a good look at him as he comes in," Mac had said grimly. "And be ready to use that camcorder. I'm sure what you see will prove he's the Pretender. With Richie out of sight, and no one expected to be inside but a blind man, this 'loyal friend' will have a sword already in his hands."
And yes, he did.
The Watchers knew Mac was standing behind a rack of exercise equipment, so Connor wouldn't see him at first. But he would sense him.
Connor advanced slowly into the dojo. Looking around, he called out in an oh-so-friendly voice, "Duncan?"
And then...both Watchers gasped as the room was suddenly thrust into total darkness.
A familiar voice rang out: "Come and get me!"
The next few minutes were maddening - for the Watchers and, they guessed, for Connor as well. The room didn't stay dark: the lights kept flashing on and off, with no discernible pattern in the timing.
At first, only the clashes of swords proved the Immortals had begun fighting. The Watchers never could see much; but when they did catch glimpses of the action, Mac appeared to be dominating it.
The outer door opened and quickly closed again; Richie joined the Watchers in their corner. A flash of light revealed a wicked grin on his face.
Speaking softly as they tried (without much success) to follow the action, he filled them in. "This is why Mac needed the fight to take place here, at night. It's the power he got from the Prince. It didn't do the Prince any good because the Battle was fought outdoors - no electric lights to be tampered with!
"The reason Mac isn't keeping it in total darkness is that he thought Connor might be capable of turning the lights on again, and he wouldn't know. This way, even if Connor is tampering, it won't do him any good - it will just be both of them changing things.
"But that's not likely. What Mac is doing is mentally toggling an actual light-switch. And Connor doesn't know where it is!"
By that point, Joe didn't need to be told what painful memories Mac had of a similar situation. He remembered it all too well.
A renegade Watcher had kidnapped Tessa, so he could use her as bait to lure Mac into a trap and murder him. Mac had found the Watcher and himself in a pitch-black room - both armed with swords, but only the Watcher having night-vision goggles. He'd remembered he had a matchbook in his pocket. So he'd tossed it up in front of him, struck it with his sword - and created a flare of light that enabled him to impale the Watcher on that sword, killing him.
But the outcome had still been tragic. While Mac was taking a look at the dead Watcher's computer, he'd let Tessa and a teenaged pre-Immortal Richie - who'd come along, uninvited, seeking to help - go out to his car. And while they were standing there, they were gunned down by a mugger, because Tessa didn't have her purse or money with her! Richie had become a full Immortal at a regrettably young age...and Tessa had simply died.
Joe hoped the horrendous end of that episode wasn't a bad omen.
This uneven - but under the circumstances, decidedly not unfair - fight lasted only ten minutes.
Joe and the others heard an exultant cry. Followed by the thud of a falling head. As Richie pulled the two Watchers toward the door, Joe had a clear look at an ecstatic Duncan MacLeod - throwing the sunglasses away, reveling in the brilliance of this mega-Quickening.
Then the men were outside - scrambling to a safe distance, then watching in awe as pillars of radiance rose to the sky, while others fanned out from the dojo to engulf most of the block. Residents fled in terror; cars stalled in the road, creating a massive traffic jam. Portions of the building's walls began tumbling down, crushing those "expendable" parked cars.
Finally, the entire building collapsed.
That would be hard to explain. Impossible to explain! But it hadn't caused any apparent injuries. Joe, Mike, and Richie began assuring each other that all had turned out well.
It was only then that they heard the screams. Agonized shrieks from within the ruins.
And knew all had not turned out well for Duncan MacLeod.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Police and firefighters - understandably terrified by the reports they'd heard - had yet to arrive on the scene. So Richie and Mike were able to run into what was left of the dojo, and drag a still-screaming MacLeod out of it. Richie had also managed to grab his sword.
Joe's car was nearby, still intact - but unusable, because it was hemmed in by cars stalled in the traffic jam. "I really did park Mac's on the next block," Richie told the others. Loudly, to be heard over the screams. "We'll be able to get away in that one, if we can just get him there!"
"Have you ever heard -?" That came from Mike.
"No. Never heard of an Immortal being affected this way by a Quickening!"
Joe was struck by a sudden thought. That he'd had before, and rejected. Oh no, no...
Fortunately, so many neighbors had fled that they were able to get MacLeod to, and into, his car without encountering anyone. And by then, the screams had at least trailed off into moans.
They quickly decided to head for Joe's bar, which hadn't opened at all that night. MacLeod spent so much time in the place that he'd surely be more at ease there than in Joe's home, or either of the other men's apartments.
Mike had been so alarmed that he'd actually asked Richie, in a whisper, whether MacLeod was still Immortal. "Can you still sense him?"
"Yes," Richie assured him. "And I'm sure his eyes are all right, too. But I can't imagine what did happen to him in there..."
They got him settled in a comfortable chair in the bar, still moaning and shuddering. Richie and Joe sat with him, holding his hands and murmuring words of encouragement, but not urging him to respond.
After fifteen minutes, he managed to say, "I'm...sorry. About acting like this...about everything. I...made a horrible mistake..."
"Mistake?" Richie was bewildered.
"I killed Connor. And Connor wasn't the Pretender!"
After a minute's stunned silence, Mike blurted out, "Th-that's impossible! We know you were right about the skeleton not being his. And tonight, it was just like you expected. He walked into the dojo holding a sword, obviously intending to kill you..."
MacLeod nodded. "Yes, he did mean to kill me. But he was possessed. Somehow, Connor had killed the Pretender. And then he'd become the victim of a Dark Quickening!"
It didn't help that Mike, perplexed, said, "A Dark Quickening? That's just a myth. Nothing like that has ever really happened."
At that point, Joe had to cut in. "Uh, no, Mike, it has happened. To Mac. So he does know what he's talking about."
"Yes," MacLeod said quickly. "When it happened to me, I was trapped in my own body - conscious and horrified, but I couldn't control what I was saying and doing. I would've murdered Richie if Joe hadn't arrived on the scene and shot me. I did murder another Immortal friend. But Methos found a way to get me through it -" Then he stopped, and stared at Joe. "You weren't surprised just now. You'd actually thought of that, hadn't you?"
Joe, with all eyes on him, wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere. But he had to respond. "Yes, I thought of it. But I decided it wasn't possible. I didn't think Connor could have killed the Pretender! When, how? And even if he had, the Pretender would have been controlling him - you would have had to kill him anyway!"
"Not necessarily! I might have...should have...tried to help him, the way Methos did me! I'm one of the few people who know how to deal with a Dark Quickening!"
Then MacLeod took a deep breath. And continued, more quietly. "But I'm not angry with you, Joe. Your having thought of it just made me realize...I should have thought of it, too. And subconsciously, I probably did. I didn't let myself consider that possibility because I wanted an excuse to kill him - to get my eyesight back!"
The others spent the next hour trying to convince him that he hadn't subconsciously known and rejected the truth. Hadn't wanted an "excuse" to kill Connor.
They couldn't do it.
Joe's last-ditch suggestion: "Suppose you did realize it was a Dark Quickening. You would have thought that if you could somehow bring Connor back to himself, he'd be able to access the Pretender's powers and restore your vision! So your having believed you needed to kill him proves you didn't 'subconsciously' know -"
But MacLeod was shaking his head. "No. For some reason, I was sure that spell was so powerful it could only be broken by my proving my superiority, in combat, to the Pretender. And that is what happened - I was really fighting him, despite his being in Connor's body."
Joe finally went back to another problem. "I still can't understand the 'when and how' of Connor's having killed him. Connor was here in the bar with us during the week leading up to the Battle, and he seemed his usual self. But how could he have done it in the Battle? Done it at all - and then, done it with no one's noticing, when we compare it with your killing the Prince?"
A new voice said, "I think I can explain that."
Joe belatedly remembered that he hadn't locked the door. But he was glad he hadn't...because the man standing in the doorway was Methos.
Their old friend quickly explained that he'd been in South Africa when he heard the "rumor" that MacLeod was blind. When a single attempt at a phone call had gone unanswered, he'd simply headed for Seacouver, wanting to help in any way he could. He'd been horrified when he saw the dojo in ruins. But he'd run into some Watchers (there were more than usual in town) who knew him as former Watcher "Adam Pierson." He'd played along, said he'd come to Seacouver for a get-together with Joe. So they'd told him all that had happened - ending with MacLeod's having regained his eyesight, but being distraught over his having killed Connor. Apparently because - they couldn't think of any other reason - he now believed Connor hadn't been the leader of the Forces of Darkness.
"I hadn't taken that 'Battle of the Ages' stuff seriously at all," Methos explained now. "But when it began, I - in South Africa - really did feel myself being pulled into it! I know now that it was happening to Immortals everywhere. We were feeling a pull - but we could choose to resist. And if we did get involved, we could back out whenever we chose.
"I'm sure no one who was at a distance died. When a head was taken, a psychic connection with either the victor or the person killed was broken immediately - before the Quickening.
"I knew you wouldn't need my help, MacLeod. So I was trying to help young Immortals. Uh, mostly Richie! Not because he isn't a good fighter - just because I know him so well, and think of him as a friend."
Richie gulped. "Oh!" If he was embarrassed at having been "helped," he clearly realized this wasn't the time to discuss it. "Thank you! Come to think of it, I was surprised that I had the stamina to fight as long and hard as I did."
And he was the only one under a hundred years old, Joe remembered. (He'd always known that wasn't because there'd been a significant decrease in the number of new Immortals being identified, but because in the modern world, most of them survived less than a year.) Methos had said "young Immortals," plural. But "young" has a different meaning for a 5000-year-old man than for the rest of us!
"And that's how I came to learn about Connor," Methos continued. "I'm guessing, MacLeod, that the leader of the Forces of Darkness had been watching the Battle from the sidelines - not taking part, probably because he thought it was 'beneath him.' But he was furious when you took his Prince's head. I think he resolved, then, to kill you.
"It was shortly after the fighting resumed that this happened. My connection with Richie had just been broken, because he'd taken a head. For a minute or so, the part of me that was there was seeing the battlefield as a whole - not through any one participant's eyes. I saw a tough-looking Immortal making his way through the fighters - most of whom seemed not to notice him - headed straight for you.
"You were looking the other way. But Connor spotted the guy, and made it clear he'd have to go through him if he wanted to get to you. So he began fighting with Connor. I saw Connor was losing, and I popped in to help him.
"I'm sure that Immortal was...the Pretender, I think you've been calling him. He could have taken Connor, or almost anyone else, easily. Maybe me, too, in a normal fight. But this wasn't normal. He was startled when a very old, very powerful Immortal butted in at the last minute...and that's how he lost his head to Connor.
"But then...he made the best, from his point of view, of a bad situation. I'm sure he would have preferred killing Connor, and surviving in his own body. No Immortal ever enjoys losing a fight, even if there isn't much at stake! But as it was, he immediately decided to possess Connor.
"With his strength, he had no trouble doing it. He was probably able to control the appearance of the Quickening, too, so it wouldn't be spectacular. And his followers recognized him by a special sense-signature - he was surely able to continue producing that when he was in Connor's body, because he was the one in control. In fact, he discovered his being accepted as Connor put him in a better position to harm you. And he had, of course, access to all Connor's knowledge and memories.
"At the time, I didn't realize what was happening. All I can say now is that I'm sorry, for my part in...causing you to kill a friend."
Joe cringed when MacLeod's response was, "So Connor suffered that Dark Quickening protecting me..."
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
But with everyone understanding what had happened, the mood of the group seemed gradually to change. Agitation and confusion gave way to recognition that the crisis was over, and sad acceptance of a less-than-perfect new reality.
Even MacLeod was no longer "distraught." Subdued, lost in his own thoughts...but that was true, to some extent, of all of them.
It occurred to Joe that they were, after all, in a bar. So they could use some drinks - on the house, of course! Not "drinking to" anything - it would just be another way of helping them feel normal.
And it seemed to work. Everyone did have at least one drink, and there were snatches of very ordinary conversation.
Then MacLeod said, "Hey, Joe. I know I've asked you for a lot of favors lately. But could I ask for another one?"
"Of course!" Now he probably needs the Watchers to spread the word that he isn't blind and helpless, and the Forces of Darkness have been defeated. What would Immortals do without us?
But that wasn't it. In as calm a voice as he would have used in asking for another drink, MacLeod said, "I need you to come out in the alley with me, at a safe distance from the other Immortals - and take my head."
"Take your head? No, never! Absolutely not!" Now it was Joe who was almost screaming. And he wasn't alone. After a moment of shocked silence, those other Immortals - and Mike - had leapt to their feet, protesting as vehemently as he was. The Immortals seemed prepared to restrain MacLeod, by any means necessary.
"Listen to me!" MacLeod bellowed.
With such force that everyone did stop and listen.
"Given...what I've done...I wish, in the personal sense, that I hadn't come back to life after the Battle.
"I realize that was necessary. And I have succeeded - in however horrible a way - in assuring no one else will have to fight either the Prince or the Pretender.
"But having both their Quickenings within me - the Pretender's, via Connor - is extremely dangerous. I can't guarantee that they won't take control of me at some point, just because they haven't done it yet.
"And even if there isn't an actual Dark Quickening...when we take another Immortal's power, and sometimes some of his knowledge, we're at risk of getting some of his character traits, too. I'd like to think the 'Prince' in me kept me from realizing Connor had taken a Dark Quickening...but that may just be another way of letting myself off the hook.
"The one sure way of keeping the Prince and the Pretender gone, forever, is to have a mortal take my head.
"I don't want to go on living...I don't deserve to go on living...and the world will be safer if I don't go on living. So please, Joe, help me put an end to it!"
Joe was decidedly not going to agree. But before he could speak up, Methos, at his elbow, had taken up the argument.
"The key word I heard, in everything you just said, was 'deserve.' You think you don't deserve to live because you didn't realize what had happened to Connor - didn't try to drag him off to that holy spring I took you to.
"But you were just possessed by a few, very ordinary, Immortal villains. Connor, possessed by the Pretender, was much worse off - and much more dangerous! It's next to impossible that you or any combination of friends could have taken him anywhere, much more likely that he would have killed you..."
It suddenly occurred to Joe that Methos was standing next to him, facing MacLeod. Mike, with the least invested in this, had understandably retreated into a corner. But where was Richie?
Then he saw him - and a gasp from Methos meant that he'd seen him too. Richie had quietly walked up behind MacLeod - wielding his sword. Undoubtedly meaning to strike a killing blow!
He swung with all his strength.
But MacLeod had seen Joe and Methos horrorstruck, realized what was happening - and flung himself out of the way.
Now he sat up - badly shaken - and asked in a quivering voice, "Wh-what were you t-trying to do? An Immortal as young as you couldn't possibly handle the Quickening..."
A white-faced Richie said, "I hoped you'd realize that - and do exactly what you did. Proving how good a man you are...how concerned you are for others, regardless of what you want for yourself. You are controlling those Quickenings! Both the Prince and the Pretender would have wanted me to take your head, because they could more easily control me. You didn't let them come to the fore.
"But if you hadn't ducked out of the way, I really would have killed you. Given you what you wanted. Because I still think of you as my father. I love you, damn it! And I can't bear to see you suffer!"
After embracing Richie, a chastened MacLeod promised that he'd "try" to go on with his life.
He clearly wasn't looking forward to it.
Methos told him, "The world needs you now, as much as it ever did. Some of the Pretender's loyalists are still out there - and you'll be able to identify and approach them. I'm not suggesting that you impersonate him. Or that you do any unnecessary killing. But knowing as much as you do, you may be able to 'convert' them."
Richie reminded him of the parallel universe. "With the Pretender's powers, you may be able to transport yourself back to it, after you've dealt with the remnants of the Forces of Darkness here. Maybe you'll be able to come and go at will, without having to 'die' in any sense. And if you go, you may find you've already made Tessa pregnant.
"If not, you'll have plenty of time to do it. You might choose to stay there - much as I'd hate to lose you, what I want most is for you to be happy. Or maybe you could bring Tessa and your real, biological child or children, back here."
But it was Joe who was able to say, "We need you, for a specific purpose, right now!"
Understandably, MacLeod asked, "What?"
Joe turned to Methos, and asked, "Am I right in thinking the Watchers were able to get Connor's remains out of the dojo?"
"Then we'll be able to bury him in the Highlands. Hopefully, with his beloved Heather. But only you, Mac, know how to find her grave." If you didn't know already, you've learned it from his Quickening.
"Th-that's true," MacLeod acknowledged. It obviously struck a chord with him that the other suggestions - at this particular time - had not.
"I went there with Connor several times, long ago. And I'll have to go now, with whoever else is going. It's such a remote place that I couldn't possibly give anyone adequate directions. That's probably why he didn't try to give you directions.
"But also..." After a long pause, he continued, "Connor and I had a little...superstition, I suppose you'd call it. When we parted, we never said 'Goodbye.' I think we both knew we wouldn't say that till one of us died.
"So when friends...bury him...I should be there, finally, to say 'Goodbye'..."
Then, suddenly, he was weeping. Letting it all out, shedding real tears...something he hadn't done in a long, long time.
Something he'd needed to do for a long, long time.
And while Richie pulled him into another embrace, Joe - observing the flood of tears - murmured to Methos, "I guess our eyes have an important function other than seeing."
Author's Afterword: So here's the rest of the "story about the story."
I never would have completed this if I hadn't purchased a new desktop computer several months ago. An agent from Best Buy's Geek Squad transferred everything that had been on my old computer to the new one. But then I had to go about finding things - and in some cases, it wasn't easy.
Thinking of things to hunt for, I recalled that I'd had some kind of followup - perhaps only fragmentary - to "Battle of the Ages." I remembered very little about it. But I found it hard to believe I would have deleted it.
I had no idea what I might have named the file, or what sort of folder it might have been in. So once I'd begun thinking about it, I had to hunt for days - opening and checking all sorts of files. And thinking, at times, that I should give up, because I probably had deleted it at some point.
But I finally found it. And I was surprised to discover that I'd written more than I'd remembered. What are now two chapters of this fic - and a synopsis of my plan for the rest of the story.
At that point - in light of all I'd gone through to find it - I knew I had to complete it!
(By the way, my original plan hadn't included Methos. I think it was conceived so long ago that I hadn't realized his importance in the Highlander universe.)