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Richie, of all people, introduced them.

Fortunately, the irrepressible youngster had remembered to call him by the name he was using for the event -- a rare outing for the reclusive, brilliant and very, very rich Matthew Talhaern-Strange. Methos had actually received his own invitation for this exclusive do as Matthew. Duncan had laughed, teased the details of who this 'Talhaern' was and why the creme of New York Society would have him on their 'A' list, and eventually persuaded him to come. Richie had unsuccessfully tried not to laugh upon seeing the man he still thought of as Adam Pierson fussily and formally dressed in white tie and tails, finicking his way into the lobby of the New York Grande Hotel as the rarely seen scholar and philanthropist. He'd stopped abruptly when he realized the elaborate amber-headed cane that Talhaern apparently needed to walk was in fact a sword-stick. He hadn't figured out how to carry a blade to the event.

But between them, Tessa and Duncan had obviously shown the boy how to go on in the company of the affluent and influential. Richie certainly seemed more comfortable in the opulent crowd than Methos was. And much more comfortable than Adam would have been. Duncan had been swept off almost instantly by one of the Grand Dames of the charitable society hosting the party, leaving Methos and Richie to fend for themselves.

Champagne was the beverage of the day. Unobtrusive wait-staff circulated with trays of glasses and delicate tidbits. Methos armed himself with a glass and wondered, not for the first time, why he'd allowed Duncan to persuade him to come. And come as Talhaern, a persona who was reclusive for a reason. Talhaern knew things, saw things in ways that Methos did not ordinarily allow himself to. The persona existed only because Methos knew that sometimes he needed to access that peculiar and a-rational information, if only for his own survival. And sometimes so that it wasn't only about surviving, but living as well. So. He had come as Talhaern, lame leg and all (and wouldn't Duncan not understand that the limp was real, for all that it was temporary), he would be Talhaern. He allowed the ache in his thigh to trigger the deeper levels of the persona, and armed himself with a careful breath before taking a deliberate sip of the champagne.

Dry-sweet fizzed on his tongue, sunlight and earth and rain a fleeting wash over his senses, and the room became both more and other. Richie burned like a torch at his side. Duncan, across the room, was a bonfire. With old skill he pushed the buzzing awareness of all the frenetic Life! to the back of his mind. The three of them, fortunately, were the only Immortals present so far, but were by no means the only extraordinary people. The space was a storm of color and shape and sound. For a moment his head spun and his grip on the cane was all that kept him upright.

The stripped-skin feeling will pass. Let it. Let the ache of metal-impaired healing ground you to self and earth. Let the airy wetness of the champagne tether sight and knowing to the here and now. Breathe, old man.

A breath, and Talhaern settled in and around Methos like a cloak, or a quickening.

"Are you OK? Ad -- I mean Matthew?" A hand touched his elbow and the familiar voice drew him out of the depths of white-gold light in the champagne glass and back to the here-and-now with a jolt.

Richie. Richard Ryan that was. Duncan's student and friend of Adam's. Methos was grateful for the support, and aware that the concern was quite genuine. "Yes, thank you." Matthew's voice was quieter than Adam's, and there was a depth and color to it that hearkened back to Wales rather than England.

"Wow." Richie kept his voice down as he scanned the people around them to see if anyone had noticed anything. "I've never seen Duncan do anything like that. You look ... a lot older now. If I hadn't been watching, I don't think I'd think you were the same person as Adam at all."

Methos smiled. "One good reason to do it, then." He was steady on his feet again, the ache mere presence, and the coruscating edges of things had folded back to bearability. He gently retrieved his elbow from Richie's hold, and began to move from the wide, full lobby toward one of the rooms set up for viewing the auction offerings. "It is useful to have more than one persona available in person as well as on paper."

"Yeah" Richie grinned, following. "I can see that. Do I want to know what the other reasons might be?" He paused, then laughed. "Nah. Knowing you, I don't want to know. Not now anyway. Let's go find the real food."

Talhaern could feel the mixture of curiosity, concern and relief starting to evaporate in the face of Richie's natural ebullience. Smart child. But he'd remember the concept.

The auction display rooms were a tasteful mix of art, objects and services on offer -- everything from a beautiful hand-wrought set of fireplace tools to a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner to cruises and hotel packages in exotic places -- interspersed with sumptuous things to eat and drink.

They wandered the tables for a bit, Methos looking at the displays and reading the cards, Richie darting back and forth as his eye was caught. The Carnegie Institute had a whole table of books ranging from the antique to the painfully modern, and someone affiliated with them was offering library cataloging, preservation and restoration services.


Methos looked up from perusing the archivist's credentials and considering how much to up the current bid to see Richie's incandescent grin at a man who fair shimmered with edges and depths to Talhaern's sight. Someone you need to know. Someone you need to See. Iron and Glass and Gold, Fire and Lightning, Air and Sand and Stone. He was a tall man, an inch or so taller than Duncan and displaying the same effortless comfort in his dress clothes. Dark hair, strong jaw, perceptive blue eyes, with a breadth of shoulder so nicely set off by the lines of the coat that was not achieved with padding. One of the movers and shakers. A face he'd seen in more than one section of more than one paper.

"Great race the other day." Richie pumped the man's hand enthusiastically. "Congratulations on the win. I don't know how you pull off that kind of tight maneuvering in a Formula 1, even one of yours. Beautiful finish!"

"Thank you, Richard. You didn't do so badly yourself in the bike trials." The man -- Tony -- clapped Richie on the shoulder. "Good to see you, though I wouldn't have thought this kind of do exactly your thing." There was a smile in his eyes and his laugh was commiserating without being in the least condescending. "Did you see the SI display yet? Pepper outdid herself."

"No, we've only just gotten here. Mac got ambushed by one of the committee, and who knows when he'll get loose." Richie deftly acquired two more glasses of champagne from a passing waiter. "Do you know Matthew, Matthew Talhaern?"

Tony took a glass of the sparkling cider, and raised his eyebrows in inquiry. "I've done business with the Talhaern Trust, of course, but no, I haven't met the man himself."

"Mac persuaded him to come tonight. Come on, I'll introduce you. You'll like him." He turned back toward Methos, glasses in hand, clearly enjoying himself.

Methos felt the man's presence grow as they crossed the small distance toward him. Not immortal, not otherkin or nightrunner, but without question one touched by fate and a Power in more than the mere socio-economic-political realms. He braced himself to See as, with a flourish, Richie proclaimed, "Tony, this is Dr. Matthew Talhaern-Strange."

It isn't a challenge, child, no need to be so formal, Methos thought, giving a little half-bow. Then his knuckles went white on the knob of the swordstick as a dazzle of red and gold washed over him, squeezed at his heart, stole his breath.

"A pleasure to meet you, Dr. Talhaern." Tony's voice was baritone, nicely modulated.
Under the polite words the clangor of iron on steel rang and echoed silently in his ears. I take it back. Oh, yes, this one is important.

Richie turned to Methos and continued blithly on, grinning. "Matthew, this is Anthony Edward Stark, of Stark Industries. You know, the guy with Iron Man as his bodyguard."

Not bodyguard, oh no. Methos found his voice, tipped his head again. "A pleasure indeed." Iron-brow, meet Iron-man, bronze-age blade meet space-age steel. Whatever could be coming that we needed to meet and join forces? "Please, call me Matthew. And where did you meet our young cub here?" With an effort, he forced the almost overwhelming perceptions back, down and away from the forefront of his mind, and led the conversation into light and social channels. He was very grateful to Richie for the glass of champagne he found in his hand. It wasn't nearly as strong as he would have liked against the shock, but it would do, it would do.