Duncan came out of sleep at the first jagged warning of a Quickening, his sword at the ready. He found a skinny girl standing just inside the elevator door, her head angled to one side. She had black hair and olive skin, and freckles dusted across her nose and cheeks.
He was sure he'd never seen her before, but she looked oddly familiar, as though he ought to know her well.
"Who are you?" he asked. "How did you get in?"
She jangled an elevator key at him and laughed, her teeth flashing in the darkness, and Duncan nearly dropped his sword.
He knew that laugh, if not the mouth it came from--but it couldn't be. He stood stock-still, feeling fear run up his spine. It simply couldn't be. Methos had been dead several months, beheaded in an alley by an unknown Immortal.
"Methos?" he asked, and the girl smiled Methos' sly smile at him.
"MacLeod." Her voice was alto and rough, as though she were a heavy smoker. But the intonation and the accent were Methos', as was the arrogant lift of her head.
"What the--" Duncan waved his hand at the body Methos was wearing. The body stood barely five foot five, a gamin-slim body that seemed barely able to contain the subliminal hum of energy that was Methos' Quickening.
Methos clicked his tongue against his teeth. "I lost," he said.
"To this--you--I need a drink." Duncan laid his sword on the bed and headed for the liquor cabinet.
"It's a bit early for that, MacLeod. Or a bit late. Even I would hesitate to start drinking at two a.m." Methos took off the jacket he--she--was wearing and Duncan saw that the girl's skin was albino-pale at the shoulders and the wrists, and scored with deep, angry stretchmarks that Immortal healing should've gotten rid of. "Have you got any coffee?"
Duncan changed direction and ended up at the coffeemaker, staring at it in confusion. "Isn't it a bit early for coffee?" he said.
"Ha ha, very funny, MacLeod," Methos said, and pushed him out of the way. He put beans in the grinder and flipped the switch. Duncan reached out and turned him, looking him full in the face. Methos spread his hands open and tilted his head up, one of his eyes the familiar honey-green and the other an alien brown.
"You're in her," Duncan said, and Methos' teeth flashed again. His left eyetooth was broken at a sharp angle.
"Ladies and gentlemen, he *can* be taught!" Methos rolled his shoulders and raised his eyebrows above his jarringly mismatched eyes. "I've been in her six months now," he said. "She's grown three inches. Lost one of her eyes to me." He smiled, and Duncan saw the sharp male angles of the old Methos riding just beneath the girl's skin, saw the heavy makeup that covered her cheekbones and jaw and neck.
"That's terrible," Duncan said, hearing the thickness in his voice. He wasn't sure *what* was terrible, precisely, but he felt it in his bones and stomach.
"She killed me," Methos said, as though he'd never said it aloud before. Perhaps he hadn't. "Without so much as a challenge." He smiled again, but the smile seemed uncertain. "I don't think she was more than sixteen when she died the first time," he said. He folded his arms over his chest, which made him look even smaller than he was.
Duncan put his hands on Methos' shoulders, jarred by their slimness. "Methos."
He swallowed and let his thumb rub across one of the stretch marks. "I thought you were dead," he said, softly.
"Oh, MacLeod," Methos said, and just like that the uncertainty was gone. He straightened and clasped Duncan's shoulder firmly, his expression kind. And Duncan did something he would never have dared to do to Methos had Methos been in his old body: he reached out and pulled him close, holding him tightly. "I thought you were *dead*," he said, feeling the soft slide of long hair against his cheek and the irregularities of unmatched skin under his hand. And then Methos' arms were around him, arms too strong for his body, and a touch too long--and not long enough, shoulders not broad enough, chest not solid enough.
"I'm here," Methos said, in his rough-edged girl's voice, and Duncan felt fingers tangling into his hair and the brush of lips on his neck. "I'm *here*, MacLeod."
Duncan drew back and looked at Methos. "I'm glad." He searched Methos' face, but Methos was still, giving nothing away. "I missed you," he said, and was rewarded with a smile.
"Coffee," Methos said, "and then back to bed. Yes?"
"Oh, right," Duncan said. "By all means, let's caffeinate ourselves and then try to sleep."
Methos pushed him away, laughing. "At least let me set the timer for the morning."
The high, keening sound woke Duncan. He rolled over and pressed his pillow over his ears, but it didn't stop. Christ. Twice in a night. He was getting too damn old for this.
He flipped onto his back and yelled "Methos! Methos, whatever you're doing, SHUT UP."
A surprised hiccup emanated from the kitchen, and then dead silence.
"God, you're annoying," Duncan said, and rolled back over.
The keening started again.
"FUCK!" He sat up and flipped on the light to see Methos pressed against the kitchen island, his eyes wide. "Methos?" Duncan said. "Methos, what's wrong?"
Methos did not answer, but scrabbled backwards, still making that horrible noise.
Duncan held out his hands, spreading them open to show he meant no harm. "Methos, it's Duncan."
"I'm not Methos!" Methos continued moving away, until his back met the wall. "Please don't take my head. Please. Just let me go." Duncan watched him, unsure what to do to calm him. He stumbled and fell, and Duncan ran forward to help him up.
Methos shook violently against him, and Duncan held him close. "Methos. Methos, come on!"
"I'm not Methos," he screamed. "Stop calling me that! Stop!" He scratched at Duncan's face, sobbing. "Tell me," he said. "Tell me what's going on or I'll kill you. I will fucking *kill* you."
Duncan gritted his teeth, pulled back, and slapped Methos hard across the face. "Methos! Snap out of it!"
"Don't hurt me," Methos said, holding up his hands. "Please. Please. Don't hurt me."
Duncan caught Methos' hands in his and looked into his mismatched eyes. "Methos," he said, "you'd better forgive me for this," and kissed him.
Methos twisted, trying to get away. "Don't," he said, against Duncan's mouth. "No. Please. Don't." And then, abruptly, "MacLeod."
Duncan let him go. "Methos."
"Yes." Methos shook himself and blotted blood from his mouth. "Nice abusive technique. Bet you get all the girls with that one."
Methos smiled at him. "MacLeod. Thank you. Truly."
"No problem. What the hell happened?"
"She does that sometimes," Methos said. "She comes out when I'm sleeping." He shuddered.
"That was her?"
"Well, it wasn't me." Methos' tone was acid.
"Methos, she's terrified," Duncan said.
Methos narrowed his eyes. "Of course she's terrified. I *keep* her terrified." He lifted his chin and glared at Duncan. "She's hard enough to fight as it is. I don't need her sensible of her circumstances."
"She doesn't *know*?"
Methos just looked at him.
"Methos! It's her body!"
"IT'S MY BODY!" Methos roared, his voice shifting deeper, and Duncan took a step back, raising his hands. He felt as if he could see through the girl's skin, as if Methos' ferocious will to live were burning her away, leaving nothing of her behind. "This body is *mine* now." Methos bared his teeth, a snarl twisting his face, his fists clenching as he advanced on Duncan. "And I want to live. I *always* want to live."
Duncan caught Methos' hands in his and swallowed around the sudden tightness in his throat. "I know," he said, and heard the raspiness of his own voice. "I know, Methos."
"Don't get moralistic on me, MacLeod," Methos said. His voice vibrated oddly, and its register dropped even further. He coughed, blood staining his lips and teeth, and Duncan touched his fingertips to a wet red spatter.
"Methos," he said. "You're killing her."
"I know," Methos said, blood and saliva painting his mouth. "Do you think I care?" The high blades of his cheekbones were harsh and white against the soft freckles of the girl's face. He raised his chin, and his jawline gleamed with the same paleness. "I want to live," he ground out, between clenched teeth, and Duncan swallowed and dropped his eyes.
"Get back to sleep," he said, hearing the harshness in his own voice. He pushed Methos away, feeling faintly sick at being so rough with a slender girl, even though he knew that the girl was nothing more than illusion.
Or sometimes illusion. The terrified child who had looked at him out of those mismatched eyes had been no illusion; she had been real.
Methos crouched next to the kitchen island, still coughing blood; he, too, was oddly, vitally real.
MacLeod closed his eyes, remembering the high screaming that had woken him. He shuddered and felt a small, warm hand on his. "It's all right, MacLeod," Methos said, softly.
Duncan looked at him. Methos' voice was baritone.
"No," he said. "I don't think it is."
"I was headhunting," Methos said, over an early breakfast. Neither of them had been able to sleep well after the girl had emerged, and Duncan had gotten sick of listening to Methos pace around five.
"You know, when you go out, hunt down innocent Immortals who never did you any harm, and cut their heads off?" Methos pushed his eggs around on his plate with his toast.
Duncan sipped his coffee. "Why?"
"Every now and then, the herd needs culling, MacLeod." It was odd to hear the old ruthlessness he'd come to expect from Methos coming from a girl's body, in Methos' unmistakable voice.
"I don't believe you," Duncan said, and Methos shrugged.
"You don't think I'd hunt?"
"No, I think you were challenged, and won, and this girl took your head afterwards."
Methos dropped his toast onto his plate and laced his fingers together. "What makes you think that?"
Duncan sighed. "Joe told me."
"Joe." Methos got up and went to the couch, curling his bare legs up onto cushions and staring off into the distance. "The damned *Watchers*. I didn't think they had one on this girl. I didn't think they knew."
Duncan looked at Methos' legs, at the white skin encroaching on olive-brown, at the angry purple striations at the knees and ankles and edging out from under the boxers and t-shirt Methos was wearing. "Well, they had one on your challenger. How else would I know you were dead?"
"True." Methos looked back at Duncan. "She's fairly young, MacLeod. I don't know how long she's been Immortal. But she--" He swallowed and flexed his left foot. The skin on it twisted and crawled, and Duncan's stomach twisted with it. "Yes. She took me when I was down after a Quickening, and I--" He jerked his head to the side. "Well. Here I am."
Duncan walked over and sat down next to Methos on the couch. "Do you know anything about her? Her name? Anything?"
"I haven't exactly asked."
Duncan studied Methos' face, which was peculiarly still and blank. "Are you all right in there?"
"No," said Methos. "No." He drew one knee up to his chest and looked at Duncan over it, his mismatched eyes intense. "This is not an easy way to live," he said. "I can feel her around me. Inside me. All the time."
Duncan looked away, unable to stomach the eerie underlay of his friend in another's body. He started as Methos wrapped a brown and white hand around his. "How long?" he whispered, staring down at the mottled skin, wondering about this child whose body Methos was wearing and stretching at the seams, remaking it in his own image.
"I don't know," Methos said. "I've never done this before. Another one or two years, maybe, to get my height back, and my face, if it keeps up at this rate." He hunched his shoulders forward, and Duncan thought he'd never seen Methos look so vulnerable, not even on his knees, in tears; not even when Alexa was dying.
Duncan eased a hand down Methos' arm. "It'll be OK," he said, trying to offer comfort, and Methos pulled away and snapped upright as if his spine were spring-loaded.
"Don't," he said. "I have no need of your pity." He raised his chin. "This little jackal," and he swept his hand over his body contemptuously, "shall not have me. I am older, and far stronger. She. Will. Not. Win."
Duncan closed his eyes. "I don't mean to pity you. I just--"
"You remember the Dark Quickening," said Methos. His fingers brushed against Duncan's cheek, and Duncan opened his eyes. "I know. I was there." He dropped his hand, and Duncan felt abruptly bereft, the air cold against his skin where Methos' hand had been. "But that, at least, I knew how to handle. This?" He gestured at his body again. "This, I've never seen. Forgive me if I'm a little on edge."
Duncan nodded. "We'll get through it, Methos."
"Don't we always?" Methos looked around. "You *still* have no decorating sense, MacLeod. This place looks like hell."
Duncan pushed him off the couch. Methos rolled over towards the coffee table and came up covered in dust bunnies. "And you need a maid."
"Asshole," Duncan said, squelching the urge to ruffle Methos' hair.
"But I'm *your* asshole," Methos said. He shook off a few dust bunnies and scowled. "Also your dustmop. God, don't you *clean*?"
"It's downright creepy, Joe!" Duncan swirled the last of his drink around in his glass. "He's inside her. She's inside him!"
Joe clapped his hand over Duncan's and held the glass still. He poured another two fingers of whisky and let go. "That's damned weird. You're sure it's Methos?"
"Sure as sure," Duncan said. "He's abrasive, homicidal--"
"Other people in this world are abrasive and homicidal. It's not something unique to Methos."
"Abrasive homicidal people with a key to my elevator?"
Joe shook his head. "Mac, most of your friends are homicidal." Duncan glared at him, and Joe frowned. "Look, Methos was killed six months ago. I told you when it happened. He's dead."
"Yeah, and now there's a dead man back at my place, drinking my beer and insulting the state of my floor." Duncan tossed back his drink. "I don't know what to do."
"Look. If it *is* Methos, why do anything? He's your friend. He's *my* friend. He's alive. Be happy about it."
"It *is* Methos, and it's also a scared young girl. How do you expect me to feel about that?"
"She is--was--Immortal, Mac. There's no telling how old she really was. And it's not exactly a risk-free lifestyle. She took his head. You *know* there are always consequences to a Quickening."
"She couldn't've expected this," Duncan said. "This is somewhere--it's not even like a Dark Quickening. I mean, I was still *me*, or an approximation of me. This is--I don't know. Something else." He stared morosely into his empty glass. "I don't suppose the Watchers have a picture of her? Any idea who she was? Methos doesn't know. Or won't tell me, anyway."
"Don't know. Let me check." Joe opened his laptop and tapped at the keyboard.
"Besides," Duncan said. "He's--not well." He shrugged. "He doesn't like being inside her. I can't even imagine what that must be like."
"Yeah," said Joe. "It's gotta be weird."
"Weird is not the word. Anything?" He leaned over the counter to see the screen.
"A couple possibilities, but nothing definite. He was killed in Philadelphia after beheading a guy named Edward Lytton. Three women matching the description we got from Lytton's Watcher disappeared from Philly later that week. That's about all we have--you know, if it is Methos, he's one cagey bastard. We had a hell of a time keeping a Watcher on him."
"I didn't know anyone but you knew he was Immortal," Duncan said.
Joe made a face. "They found out from Cassandra's Watcher." He closed the database.
"Damn," Duncan said, rubbing his hands through his hair. "Look, you want to see him?"
"Actually, yes. I've missed him. But not until you're sober."
"You could drive," Duncan said.
Joe was silent the entire ride over, for which Duncan was grateful. He didn't much feel like conversation, and he wished he'd had the foresight to nick a bottle of whisky from behind the bar.
He kept hearing Methos' voice coming from the girl's mouth, kept feeling Methos' hand on his, burning a brand into his skin.
Sobriety wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Methos greeted them with a sword at the elevator. Duncan jumped backwards as the bright steel blade came out of nowhere and stopped just shy of his throat. "MacLeod!"
"Methos," he answered, sourly. "Jumpy?"
"Not jumpy enough," Methos said, and lowered the sword. "Joe. How've you been?"
"My God. It's really you," Joe said.
"Yes," said Methos. He looked down, one hand loose at his side, as if helpless. The sword in his other hand seemed absurdly large for his slender frame. "I'm sorry, Joe."
"I thought you were *dead*," Joe said.
Methos raised his eyes and a smile touched one corner of his mouth. "Yeah. Seems to be a lot of that going around."
"I should've known you'd find a way out of dying."
Duncan thought Joe sounded more annoyed than anything. He wondered if there was enough alcohol in the place to restart his drunk.
There was plenty of alcohol, but Duncan had somehow ended up stone cold sober, which he was pretty sure was Methos' fault. Methos and Joe, on the other hand, were somewhere on the path to plastered, and were laughing like loons on the couch. He resisted the temptation to knock their heads together.
"So, what *else* was I going to do?" Methos said. "I went out and had sex. And--"
"You had *sex* as a *woman*?" Joe said.
"Well, how many opportunities does your average man get to be a woman? I had to try it." He leaned forward and nearly fell onto the floor. "All I have to say is, if that man is *any* indication, it's no wonder some women hate it."
Joe snorted. "Methos, you can't tell me you'd never had sex with a man before."
"Well, I have, but it's different." He poured Joe another glass of bourbon. "It's just--different."
"So. Anyway. Sex as a woman."
Methos blushed faintly. It made him look terribly young and coy. "Bad. Not fun. You know." He shrugged. "Like--being a virgin again, I suppose. Not that I remember the first time around."
Duncan waved his hands in the air. "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Methos, you didn't. She wasn't--tell me she was *not* a virgin when you did this to her."
"Oh, Christ, MacLeod. She was creeping around a dark alley. You do the math." He tossed back his drink. "Virgins who creep around dark alleys don't stay virgins long."
"The modern equivalent of the half-finished pyramid?"
"Oooh, very clever. For your information, alleys were very popular then, too." Methos narrowed his eyes. "Look, the big boys are playing here. Why don't you run along and help an old lady across the street?"
"Funny." Duncan rubbed his forehead. He was sure that if he stayed around, Methos was going to give a fairly detailed description of what it was like to be female, with ovaries and vaginas and things, and he was equally sure that he just didn't want to know. "I'm going shopping. You two--don't kill anyone."
"You have my word," Methos said, solemnly. "So, Joe, care to give a lady a ride? See if that guy was an abnormal specimen?"
Duncan grabbed his jacket and left before Joe could stop laughing, trying desperately to think of something he needed at the store. Pears. Pears were nice.
God, he hoped Joe wasn't drunk enough to take Methos up on that.
Duncan arrived home to the sound of Joe saying "--kept your assets away from the Watchers."
"You think I kept those under the Pierson name? I'm not a fool, Joe. Or not as much of one as the Watchers seem to take me for. I know how to keep my money and property out of sight."
"They tried to take the houses they knew about, you know."
"And got shot in the knees for their trouble, I hope. I hire the best."
"More like in the head."
"Tsk. I suppose I'll have to leave more explicit instructions next time. No head shots unless they come up to the door." Methos grinned over the mug he had in his hand.
"Not funny," Joe said, and Methos shrugged.
"My property, Joe. The Watchers have no right to it. Besides, I've got a reputation to maintain. Isn't that right, MacLeod?" He turned to Duncan, his eyes wide and innocent, and Duncan smiled thinly at him.
"I killed ten thousand, blah blah blah," he said. "Spare me the mass-murderer routine. Have a pear." He tossed one across the room.
"Bright boy," said Methos, snatching the pear out of midair.
"Joe?" Duncan held up another pear.
"None for me, thanks. I've got to get going--I'll leave you with Mister Homicide here."
"I don't think I like you two anymore," Methos said, and took a bite out of his pear. "And that's Ms. Homicide to you."
Joe got to his feet and headed for the elevator. Duncan made a face at Methos. "Why did you come here, if you dislike us so much?"
"I don't own any holy ground with running water."
"And you couldn't have it installed?"
Methos stuck out his tongue and hopped off the couch. "Have you got any watercress? I make a great salad with pears and watercress."
Duncan rolled his eyes. "Whatever. You stay here. Joe--hang on, I'll walk you out."
Once they were in the elevator and out of Methos' earshot, Duncan said, "So what do you think?"
"Well," said Joe, "he's Methos, all right."
"He's not all right," Duncan said. "He's unhappy in that body, and he's exhausted. You see the way he looks, and he's barely sleeping. And--dammit, Joe! He came to me for help and God knows I want to help him but--" Duncan broke off and shook his head. "I don't know how, and I feel like I'm watching him torture an innocent woman to death. I feel like I should *stop* him." He crossed his arms and looked at Joe, trying to get Joe to see how serious he was. "If I stop him, he'll die. And I don't want that. But I don't want him to go on hurting her, either."
Joe frowned and looked at the floor. "Mac, I've seen a lot of weird things since joining the Watchers. This is just one more."
"I thought I'd seen weird," Duncan said. "Methos just keeps getting weirder on me."
The elevator stopped on the first floor, and Joe got out, chuckling. "I'd be more worried if he wasn't weird," he said.
"Joe," Duncan said, "don't tell him how I feel. I haven't. I--how can I tell him?"
"I don't know," Joe answered. "Do you think you should?"
Duncan didn't answer, and after a minute, Joe waved goodbye.
"Bye," said Duncan and headed back up, the spine-tingling sense of Methos' presence increasing as the elevator rose.
Pears and watercress. He could live with pears and watercress.
Methos was in the kitchen, slicing pears and humming to himself. "MacLeod! You've got watercress. No blue cheese, but you *did* pick up some camembert, and I can work with that. Got any almond oil? Walnut won't do."
"No. Try a balsamic vinaigrette."
"Hmm," Methos said, and knelt down beside the island to dig around in the cupboards.
Duncan leaned over the counter and snagged some pear slices from the cutting board. "So," he said, between crunches. "Why *are* you here, really? Running water, my ass."
"Had the lab results sent here," Methos said, his voice muffled by whatever he was buried underneath.
"DNA tests. On my old skin. And my new skin. And my other new skin." There was an ominous rattle from the cupboard. "They arrived today. On the couch."
Duncan took a few more pear slices. "What do they say?"
"New new me matches old me. New me that's not me isn't me. No surprises."
"Lovely. The details of your current murder."
Methos uncoiled from behind the kitchen island. His uncoil was less impressive at five-five than it had been when he was taller. "I may have lost my dick, MacLeod, but I still have my sword." He waved a mildewed chopstick around. "Don't FUCK with me, I am in NO MOOD."
Duncan blinked in surprise. "OK, OK, I'm sorry. Christ! Touchy, touchy!"
"TOUCHY? TOUCHY? You call *this* touchy? I *died*, MacLeod! I've lost my edge." Methos sprang up onto the counter, balancing on the balls of his feet. Duncan had the uneasy feeling that he was about to pounce, and took a step backwards. "I'm not touchy *enough*," Methos continued. "Time was I could take three Quickenings and STILL remember not to turn my back on anyone. You haven't BEGUN to see me touchy."
"Will you settle down?"
"No, I bloody well will not settle down! I'm trying to make you a nice dinner, and what do I get? Insults." He snapped the chopstick with his fingers and jabbed at Duncan with one of the broken ends.
Duncan caught his hand. "Cut it out, Methos, or I'll dump you in the harbor. I need this like I need a hole in the head."
"That can be arranged," Methos said, and lashed out with one foot, catching Duncan on the shoulder and sending him staggering backwards. Duncan let himself fall over onto his back, and waited. Sure enough, Methos followed through and ended up on top of him, broken chopstick pressing up under his jaw.
"You could have had those results sent anywhere," Duncan said, wrapping one hand around Methos' wrist, feeling the slender bones beneath the stretched white skin. "Why the hell are you *here*?"
Methos looked at him for a long moment, and Duncan thought he wasn't going to answer. But then the chopstick moved away from his throat, and Methos sat back, his eyes distant. "I didn't want to do this alone," he said, finally. "I'm fucking *terrified*, MacLeod."
A terrified Methos, Duncan found, was actually a fairly nice Methos to have around. It cooked. It cleaned. It acted like an eager puppy in-between bouts of homicidal rage.
Not that normal, un-terrified Methos was a poor houseguest, but there was something charming about coming home to find the loft spotless and Methos meditating on the bed or up on the roof with his sword. "You could go downstairs," he said to Methos on the third night, as Methos oiled his blade. "You don't have to work out on the roof."
Methos shook his head. "I don't have much confidence that I can defend myself like this," he said, spreading his arms wide. His body had changed noticeably in only a few days--heavier musculature, broader in the shoulders, legs longer relative to the torso--but it was still a child's body, if more boyish now than otherwise.
Duncan couldn't blame Methos in the slightest for not wanting to fight in it. He touched Methos' shoulder gently and let him be.
Later that night, Duncan lay in bed with his fingers knotted in the sheets, listening to Methos and the girl fight for control. He tried not to imagine what it was like to wake and find your body obeying alien commands, your surroundings unfamiliar.
The girl landed on the bed, straddling him, and he let go of the covers and pushed her away almost by instinct. The knife in her hand sliced along his jaw, and he grabbed her wrist and kicked her off of him, feeling the bones snap under his fingers. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked, rolling on top of her and holding her down.
"Who are you? Why are you doing this to me? You son of a bitch!"
He stared down at her, blood dripping from his chin onto her throat. "I'm not doing anything," he said, finally, unwilling to betray Methos even in this. "You tried to kill me in my sleep."
She looked up at him with defiant eyes.
"What's your name?" he asked, and she pressed her lips close together. "I'm Duncan MacLeod," he said.
"I don't answer challenges," she said.
"I'm not challenging you. What's your name?"
She didn't answer, and he realized he didn't have the energy to deal with this right now. He wrapped one hand around both her wrists and used his weight to keep her pinned. He felt around on the bed with his other hand until he found her knife. "I'm sorry about this," he said, and stabbed her in the heart. She gasped once and died.
He pulled the knife out and waited, holding it above her breastbone. After a few minutes, she opened her eyes and said "Rather extreme, don't you think?"
"Methos," Duncan said, relaxing and shifting to take his weight off of Methos' hips. "You're a dangerous guest."
"Yeah," said Methos. "Sorry about that." He slid out from under Duncan and wiped the blood from his chest and neck. "Gah. I *hate* this."
"You're not the only one," Duncan said. "Do you think I like seeing you like this? Or seeing *her* like this?"
"No," Methos said. "Look, can I sleep with you tonight?"
Duncan got up and blinked at his bloody hand and at the knife still in it. "OK," he said. "Just--let me clean up, first."
He went into the bathroom and washed his hands and made a preliminary pass at cleaning the knife. By the time he came out, Methos was flat on his stomach in bed.
"Move over," Duncan said, getting in next to him and nudging Methos' leg out of the way.
"Mmf," said Methos, and moved closer. "You're warm."
Duncan could feel Methos' breath against his skin. He reached out and touched Methos' hair gently. "Methos?"
"Hm?" Methos sounded sleepy.
"At least do her the courtesy of learning her name. You would've if it had been a challenge."
"Fuck off," Methos said. "Let me sleep."
The next morning, Duncan woke up and found the loft empty and the other side of the bed cold. Methos' few belongings were still there, but Methos himself was not. He felt uneasy--Methos had been disinclined to leave the loft since he arrived.
A bag of bagels on the counter and the knife and plate in the sink said that Methos had gone out and bought breakfast without waking Duncan, and had made it back alive. Duncan let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding, relieved that Methos was--what? A competent adult, fully capable of buying bagels? Duncan laughed at himself.
He took a bagel and read the paper. Halfway through the Estate section, the elevator hummed at him, and a few seconds later, the Quickening crackled over his nerves.
Methos emerged, wearing soaked running clothes. "Morning, MacLeod."
"In the rain," Methos said. "I'm in terrible shape." He stretched one arm over his head. "If someone came after me, I'd have nothing but my sarcasm and my gun to defend me."
Duncan laughed. "You need to get yourself a boyfriend to protect you."
Methos cocked his head to the side. "You volunteering, o Knight in Shining Armor?" He sounded amused.
"No. But thank you for the bagels," Duncan said.
"You're welcome," Methos said, and headed for the bathroom.
"Don't use all the hot water," Duncan said, knowing that Methos would anyway. "You'll never get a boyfriend if you use all the hot water."
Methos flipped him the bird and slammed the bathroom door.
Duncan chuckled and went back to the paper.
Duncan came home late on the seventh evening to find the loft silent, with only the hum of a Quickening announcing Methos' presence. "Methos?"
"Kitchen," came the answer, and Duncan took two steps towards the voice and stopped short.
Methos stood at the kitchen sink, his hair pulled back, blood falling from his face into the basin. He had a small dagger in one hand.
"Methos?" Duncan said, and Methos turned his head, one hazel eye steady and calm, one open and half-empty socket, the lids taped open, leaking slowly down his other cheek.
Methos inclined his head as he had once in Paris, an elegant acknowledgement. "MacLeod." He blotted blood from his face with the back of his hand, and something pale within the socket moved. The white skin stretched over his cheeks and jaw made him look skeletal. The socket writhed as it healed.
"Methos," Duncan said. "What did you--"
"Enucleation," Methos said. "Well, semi-enucleation, technically." He reached into the sink and pulled out a small gelatinous blob. It dangled from his fingertips, streaked with blood and water. "Partial removal of the eye."
"Why?" said Duncan, staring at the blob.
"I heal as myself," Methos said. He gestured at his leg, where two long parallel slashes of white ran up his shin. "I'm hoping my eye comes back as my own, not as hers." He dropped the blob back into the sink. "I once lost my hand," he said. "I cut one from my opponent after I took his head and impaired the healing--you keep the bleeding going and you can sew things on--" His voice broke and he leaned on the sink, his arms trembling. "I took his hand, and made it mine."
Duncan moved so that he could look at Methos' face again. The socket was filled with something white and soft.
"What use is half an eye?" asked Methos. He pulled the tape off of his face and his eyelid fluttered shut. "The great evolutionary question--what use is half an eye." He laughed harshly and wiped his face with a towel. When he opened his eyes, Duncan could see that the new one was milky green. Its color intensified with each passing second.
"Why?" he asked, hearing the irritation in his voice but unable to temper it.
Methos blinked up at him. "I'm trying to get my body back faster," he said. "It's been a very long six months." And Methos wrapped his tan and white arms around himself and headed into the living room. He was slightly unsteady on his feet.
Rather than following him, Duncan walked over to the sink. The piece of eye lay sadly in the corner. He turned on the faucet and rinsed it down, then flipped the switch on the garbage disposal.
He tried not to feel like Norman Bates, calmly cleaning up after a murder. He'd cleaned up hundreds of bodies in his life. Hell, he'd cleaned up the bodies of people he'd killed himself.
And Methos was terrified.
Reminding himself of that didn't help.
The screaming was everywhere. Duncan tried to run towards it, but the echoes made it impossible to track. He spun around, searching through the fog for the source.
He stood still, waiting. And then, "Stop, please, please, please--"
And an answer, from behind him, clear as day. "Shut up, you little bitch."
Two shapes moved in the shadows: the clean strong line of Methos' bone-white body, and the small tanned body of the girl. She was fighting him, and he tangled long fingers in her hair and yanked her head back, forcing her legs apart with his knees. "No," she cried, and he slammed his fist into her face.
"Shut *up*," Methos said, "or I promise, you will regret it." He laughed and bit her shoulder. She pushed at his face and tried to twist out of his grasp.
"Methos!" Duncan called. "Methos--" and he ran to them, reached out for Methos--and his hand passed right through.
The girl screamed, and one of Methos' hands clamped on her throat, his fingers tightening until she gasped for air, unable to cry out. He slammed his hips into hers, and her eyes widened and she fought harder.
"Methos!" Duncan tried once again to grab him, and Methos once again was insubstantial, impossible to get a grip on.
The girl's struggles grew weaker, and Methos let go of her throat. "Don't fight," he said. "You're only making this harder on yourself." The girl sobbed and scratched at Methos' face, and Methos laughed.
Duncan moved so that he could grab the girl instead. His hand closed on her arm, and her skin shifted beneath his fingers, shading from olive-brown into olive-pale, her features altering until he held Cassandra by the arm, and it was Cassandra struggling against Methos--Methos who still laughed, who fucked her brutally and held her head back and met Duncan's eyes squarely.
"You're next," he hissed, his voice echoing all around them. "You're next, MacLeod." He snapped Cassandra's neck with a twist of his hand, and stood. His body rippled in the darkness, ivory shadowed in horn.
"This is insane," Duncan said. "This isn't real."
"What are you going to do, MacLeod?" Methos asked, a deaths-head smile splitting his face. "Take my head? I'll have you from the inside if you do." He leapt, knocking Duncan flat, digging his knees into Duncan's ribs and pinning his wrists over his head. "Or I could have you now," he said. "Like this. Would you like that, boy?"
His clothes were gone; he could feel Methos against him, skin damp with sweat. He could feel the slide and catch of bare flesh and the hard press of Methos' penis against his stomach, and then Methos was biting at his mouth, drawing blood, moving backwards, pushing his legs apart as he'd done to the girl--
Duncan woke up, shaking.
He could hear Methos' even, quiet breathing, and his own breathing, closer and harsher. He got out of bed, feeling like an old man, not quite sure his body was going to do what he told it, and walked to the kitchen for a glass of water.
From the kitchen island, he looked at Methos, sprawled out on the couch in only his boxer shorts. The girl had small, high breasts, brown against the white of Methos' encroaching flesh. Duncan wondered if they'd always been small, or if that, like so much of her body, was an artifact of what she was going through.
He realized he had no real idea what she'd looked like. He tried to imagine her smaller and slighter, the way she'd been in his dream, but she kept shifting as he tried to picture her, looking at him with Methos' eyes or covering her face with Methos' long fingers.
He walked to the couch and shook Methos by the shoulder. "Methos."
"Hm?" Methos blinked up at him. "MacLeod? You OK?"
"Bad dream," Duncan said, and Methos sat up, rubbing his hands through his hair.
Duncan sat down next to him on the couch. "You."
"Duncan, I'm fine." Methos brushed his fingers over Duncan's arm.
"I know," Duncan said, catching Methos' hand in his. "I meant--you were doing things."
"Ah." Methos looked away. "Well, I have done things. Which things was I doing?"
Duncan rubbed the back of Methos' hand with his fingers. "Does it matter? It was a dream."
"No," said Methos. "I suppose it doesn't." He looked pointedly at Duncan's caressing fingers. "And if you keep treating me like a brain-damaged starlet, I'm going to cut off your hand."
Duncan jerked his hand away, and Methos laughed and caught it, his small hands surprisingly strong.
Duncan pried Methos' fingers loose and pulled his hand away again. "Methos. Don't. She--it's still her body. You can't do this to her."
"Oh, yes I can," Methos said, his voice as even as if he were saying "It rained on Tuesday" or "Joe is a man."
"Not like this," Duncan said. "Methos, not like this." He touched Methos' breastbone with two fingers, feeling the heart within Methos' chest beat steadily. "She's still in here. And I can't help thinking that--that it's rape, what you're doing to her. At least let her know what's happening to her."
Methos straightened, his head tilted at a familiar arrogant angle, moonlight glinting from the skeletal edge of his cheekbones. "She took up her sword, MacLeod. She took her chances. I don't owe her anything. Least of all rights to this body." He leaned forward. "She stole my flesh from me, and I'll be damned if I'll take that from some little bitch."
Duncan swallowed, remembering the rich snarl of the dream-Methos calling the girl he was raping that, as though she were nothing. "It's her life, and you're taking it from her cruelly. Painfully. Don't torture her like this."
Methos closed his eyes. "'That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me,'" he said, "'and bend your force to break, blow, burn, and *make* *me* *new*.'" The last words were emphatic, and Duncan could see Methos trembling with the force of them.
"John Donne," Duncan said. "'I, like a usurped town, to another due--'" He broke off. "I--the Dark Quickening--"
"Yes," said Methos. "You know what I mean, then." He paused, his eyes still shut tight, his mouth slightly open as if he were unsure of what to say. "The first time I read that, I wept," he said, finally. "It--I knew that feeling, too, MacLeod. I didn't know that anyone knew that feeling. I had prayed for *years*. Perhaps centuries." He smiled, his eyes still closed. "I was Christian once, and I believed that God in His infinite mercy would remake me. They say to be careful what you pray for."
Duncan ran his hand down the side of Methos' face. "This is no act of God," he whispered.
Methos laughed. "No," he said. "And I have no faith anymore. There is nothing but what we make for ourselves." He opened his eyes and it seemed to Duncan that they were burning brightly in the darkness, twin gold flames flickering and reflecting from everything around. "I alone am making my future, Duncan MacLeod."
"How? By tearing your eyes from your face? By torturing someone to death?"
"It's better than sitting here and letting myself die, MacLeod." His voice was steady, but Duncan could feel him shaking, could almost see the minute tremors just under his skin.
"Yes," he said, gently. "Yes, I suppose it is."
Methos cocked his head to the side and smiled, bright as a blade. "Well, that's cleared up, then," he said, sounding rather too perky. "Think you can sleep now, Highlander?"
Duncan opened his mouth to continue the discussion, but the brittleness of Methos' smile stopped him. "Yeah," he said. "I can sleep."
"Good." Methos fell over backwards and closed his eyes, miming sleep through the smile. Duncan looked down at him, seeing his friend through the piebald skin and the unfamiliar body, seeing a bitter fragility he could not have explained to save his life. Methos' chest rose and fell evenly, and then he said "To bed, MacLeod, unless you're planning to keep me company." He looked up at Duncan with one eye.
Duncan grinned at him and went back to bed.
Duncan listened to the rasp of knives against a sharpening stone, and then the high sweet sound of them singing on steel. He put down his book and looked over at Methos. "What are you doing?"
"Sharpening your kitchen knives," Methos answered.
"I can see that. Why?"
Methos looked up at him, his expression guarded. "In case I need them," he said.
Duncan frowned. "I hope you're hiding them from yourself when you sleep. I don't feel like having that girl come after me again."
"I promise she won't use them on you, MacLeod."
He went back to sharpening, and Duncan studied his bowed head. "Can I ask you something?"
"You can ask."
"You told me why you came here," Duncan said. "I just--I was wondering why you didn't come sooner."
Methos drew his arms in, closing up around the butcher's knife in his right hand. "I wasn't sure--" He broke off, shaking his head.
"I wouldn't've turned you away," Duncan said.
"I know." He looked down at the knife. "I wasn't sure I could do this," he said. "I needed time to find out if I could even fight this battle, MacLeod. The first few months were--well. I wasn't myself."
Duncan nodded. "I think I know the feeling."
"No," said Methos. "No. You don't. I--" He ran his fingers over the edge of the blade, testing it against his skin. "The first two months, MacLeod, I gained no ground on this body. Two months of--I couldn't *think*. Not for an instant. Not about anything but keeping control from her, or I'd lose it." He put the knife carefully on the table. "And then I started keeping pieces of her. My skin. My thoughts. My eye." He bared his teeth. "And it got easier. Everything I gained, every bit of *me* that I could keep from her--it all made it easier. I came to you when I could keep control long enough to travel."
Duncan looked at the knife on the table, and at Methos' white-knuckled fists. "Look," he said, wanting to change the subject, "I've got some errands to run. Do you need anything? Want to come?"
Methos shook his head. "No, and no." He tilted his head back, and the bare-toothed grimace melted into a smile. "I'm fine, MacLeod."
The bathtub had *not* had bloodstains in the enamel that morning, and unless Duncan missed his guess, there were definitely bloodstains there now, some of them smudged with gray fingerprints. He frowned and rubbed at one of the smudges. Blood and ash--no other texture like that in the world.
He had the uneasy feeling that Methos had thought of a use for his sharpened knives.
He turned to wash his fingers, and found the sink contained a bloody metal comb and was dusted with scraps of hair. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
It didn't work.
He stalked out of the bathroom. "Methos!" Methos was nowhere in sight, but he was definitely around. "Methos!"
"Up here!" came the faint reply.
Right. The roof--he supposed he should have thought of that, given how much time Methos spent up there. He headed to the roof, where he found Methos, his hair cropped short, wearing only a terrycloth robe. He was watching a fire in a metal garbage can. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Methos shrugged. "Burning the bits I don't need," he said. Duncan stepped back and looked him over. The robe was stained with blood in the front and at the hem, and dried blood streaked Methos' bare chest.
Ash floated out of the can.
Methos' white skin was orange in the firelight, mottled only by flame. The small high breasts Duncan had seen every now and then since Methos arrived were gone, replaced by familiar angles and muscle.
"Do I even want to know?" he asked, looking at the knife-blade of Methos' face.
"Probably not," Methos said, softly. He rubbed his forehead. "You know, MacLeod, I understand what you mean about--about what I'm doing to this girl. It's just that we disagree. I think it's my body now." He tilted his head back and squinted up at Duncan. "And I'm going to remake it."
Duncan sat down beside him. "Please tell me you didn't perform sex-change surgery in my bathroom."
"All right, MacLeod. I won't tell you. Sorry about the mess, by the way."
"Methos, the loft has never *been* so damn clean. I think I can cope with a mess in the bathroom."
Methos laughed bitterly, his blood-stained hands hanging over his knees like dead flowers.
Duncan stared into the fire. "It's just--normally, you'd just've absorbed her. Not done this to her."
"Normally, MacLeod, she would have absorbed me. I don't think this is normal." He rested his head on one ashy forearm. "I've seen Dark Quickenings," he said. "I heard of Darius's change. I've seen and heard Connor in you. For over a year after he gave you his head, you would speak with his voice. Even now, I see his stillness in you."
Duncan studied him, seeing the slim male body Methos had built from the girl's bones and flesh, seeing Methos looking like his old self in miniature.
"Connor's will," Methos said. "Perhaps that is what made the difference. Connor wanted to give himself to you. I want only to live. At any cost."
"Connor wanted *me* to live," Duncan said.
Methos reached out and touched Duncan's cheek. "Connor was not long for this world, MacLeod. Perhaps his student will do better." He dropped his hand.
"Why?" said Duncan. "Why do you think Connor--" His voice broke, and he blinked through the sudden burn of tears in his eyes. The smoke stung his throat.
Methos stood up, stretching his arms out in front of him. "Tell me, Duncan. In the end, did he have anything left but hatred for his enemy and love for his student?"
Duncan did not answer.
After a few minutes, Methos said, "I'm going in. I'll cook you dinner."
He left, and Duncan crossed his legs and watched the fire burn into the night.
Duncan came down from the roof and found Methos, true to his word, making dinner. He got a beer out of the fridge and leaned on the counter, staring at the back of Methos' neck. "What are you doing?"
Methos was whisking something in the double-boiler. "Making zabaglione," he said, his words slightly slurred.
Duncan frowned. "Zabaglione."
Methos didn't turn around. "Eggs. Sugar. Marsala. For tiramisu."
Duncan blinked, then noticed the empty bottle of Marsala by his elbow. Unless he was much mistaken, that was the expensive bottle he'd had hidden away to surprise Amanda with next time she was in town. Which raised a whole host of questions, like what exactly Methos had been doing in the box of sex toys, and whether Duncan really wanted to find out. He picked up the bottle and then thunked it down on the counter. "You used *all* the Marsala."
"Well, I--messed up a few times."
"You messed up ZABAGLIONE?"
"Well, I drank half the bottle first. And it's been a long time. So I kind of curdled the eggs the first--no, the second--"
Duncan leaned over and smacked him in the back of the head. Methos turned around, looking offended. "What was that for?" He was a bit unsteady on his feet.
Duncan shook the bottle at him. "Look, I think I've been pretty reasonable about the whole thing--did I complain that you eviscerated yourself--"
"Flaying and minor surgery hardly counts as evisceration--"
"--in my tub and made a huge mess? No!"
"I *cleaned* it just now--you didn't even *look*--" Methos ducked away as Duncan waved the bottle at him.
"Did I whine when you got eyeballs in my sink?"
"ONE eyeball. HALF an eyeball."
"NO! I did not! But this--this is going too far."
"What? Making you dinner?"
"Zabaglione is not dinner--"
"You were up there for over an hour! There's a plate for you in the oven--"
"Dammit, Methos! No! Being an ass!"
"Oh, for pity's--" Methos rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'm an ass. As if you didn't know?"
"You didn't have to use *this* wine, Methos."
"It was there!"
"It was hidden!"
"If you didn't want me to find it, you wouldn't've hidden it."
Duncan stared at him, considering what curses were most appropriate for insane body-jumping Immortals. Insane drunk body-jumping Immortals. "I think I liked you better as a woman."
"Don't say that," Methos said. "If I grow tits again, I'll know who to hold responsible." He turned back to the counter. "Do you let Amanda use that strap-on, by the way?"
Duncan threw the bottle at his head. It impacted with a satisfying thunk in just the right spot.
"Wuh," said Methos, and collapsed on the floor.
Duncan stepped over him and stuck a finger in the zabaglione. "Not bad," he said, to Methos' unconscious body.
Dinner had gone well, although Methos had bitched about a headache until Duncan threatened to knock him out again, at which point he switched to impertinent questions about whether various of MacLeod's lovers had been any good in bed.
"You really are annoying," Duncan said, after Methos asked if Cory Raines gave good enough head to be worth digging up all those times.
"At least I don't get you arrested, unlike *some* of your friends."
"I *never* should have told you about Cory."
Methos grinned and yawned. "But you did. Anyway. I'm for bed."
Duncan glanced at the clock. "It's only nine-thirty."
"MacLeod, I had a very long day. Flaying oneself is terribly exhausting."
"That really is disgusting, you know."
"Hey! I could've made you help."
Duncan made a face at him. "Yeah, right. Good night."
"Night," said Methos.
Duncan stayed up reading while Methos snored on the couch. Shortly after eleven, he heard Methos' breath catch. He looked up, and Methos had his arms around his knees and his forehead pressed into his clasped hands.
"Are you all right?" he asked, putting his book down.
"No," Methos answered, and then, "This isn't me. This body isn't me. I can't--" He--she--looked up, and there were tears standing in her eyes. Methos' gold-and-green eyes, with another behind them. "You were here before. I remember you."
"Yes," Duncan said, softly. "Yes. You're in my home."
"What's happening to me?" she said. "This--this--" and she scratched desperately at her skin, leaving brown skin where it healed--brown skin that clouded with the white shroud of Methos' skin within seconds. "This isn't me."
Duncan drew his knees up, mimicking her position. "You took the head of someone much more powerful than you," he said. "His Quickening has taken over your body."
She dashed tears away with her hand. "Will you help me? Help me fight him?"
Duncan studied her, wondering who she had been when she was mortal, how she had died, who her teacher had been. He wanted to help her. He wanted to learn her name, to teach her to fight honorably.
But he could see Methos in every cell of her body. The girl was there in the nervous thinness and the bright fear that she could not hide, but she looked at him with Methos' eyes.
Methos had helped him through the Dark Quickening. Methos saw Connor in him.
Methos hid his fear--behind anger, behind laughter, behind the simple ferocity of his will. Methos, like the girl, was terrified.
"I cannot help you," he said, surprised by the strength in his voice. "You took him while he was down. You gave him no chance to fight for his life. He is fighting you now, taking the chance you tried to deny him."
"He's tearing me apart!" She was sobbing, still scrabbling at her skin.
Duncan knotted one hand in the blanket over his legs and swallowed around the thickness in his throat. The girl pulled her knees in closer to herself, shaking violently. Duncan closed his eyes, willing himself not to go to her, not to help her.
He hated not helping.
She cried out, suddenly and sharply, and he heard the sick sound of tearing flesh, the sound bones make as they rip through muscle. He threw himself out of bed and went to her, held her to him, felt her teeth grind in his shoulder and the inhuman shift and stretch of her skin under his hands.
"God," she whispered, "oh, God--"
And the sound again, of ripping flesh, and she swelled impossibly in his arms, her too-narrow shoulders widening, her legs pressing out against his. Her skin felt electric and her touch crawled over his nerves like a Quickening.
The heart beating against his stopped.
He held his breath and waited.
The girl who was Methos--or Methos, who was the girl--lay still against him, pale and cool as death.
And then he felt it--the stuttering beat of a starting heart, the surge of breath and blood within the body, the grating of a Quickening against his own.
"MacLeod," said Methos' familiar voice.
Methos rolled away from him, pulled back, stood up. Duncan looked up--and up, up the full length of the man, and stood to meet him eye-to-eye. Methos stretched a hand out in front of him and brushed shaking fingers over Duncan's face. "She's gone," he said. "I can't feel her."
"You've got your body back," Duncan said.
"Yes," Methos said, and his legs seemed to collapse under him. He slumped on the floor, one hand on the couch, his legs curled to the side.
"Do you know how?" Duncan asked.
"No," answered Methos. "I think I was dead at the time." He looked up at Duncan. "You asked me to--her name was Sarah," he said. "Just Sarah."
He looked impossibly young and even more impossibly ancient.
Duncan knelt and placed his hands on Methos' shoulders, feeling the familiar breadth of them.
And Methos, white as sun-bleached bone, old and pale as desert sand, dropped his head to the seat of the couch and slept.