One Common Wire, One Silver Thread by hafital
[Reviews - 0] Printer

- Text Size +
Author's Notes:
Sequel to Missed Connections. Written for the HL_Chronicles Timestamp Challenge (20 years). Duncan and Methos's lives after going to live on the de Valincourts' island in the Caribbean.

This story begins a year or so after the end of Missed Connections, which was written to be contemporaneous with our own time (i.e. 2009), and ends 20 years later. It uses the final part of Missed Connections as a lead in.

One common wire
One silver thread
All that you desire
Rolls on ahead

-- Grateful, Patti Smith

2011 : Rolls on ahead


A warm, fragrant breeze blew in from the open window, ruffling the curtains and the white linen drapery over the canopy bed. With one eye, MacLeod took note of the time. It was just before eight in the morning and already it was humid and hot as hell.

As he woke fully, he heard the tap-tapping of fingers on a computer keyboard. Turning over, he saw Methos sitting next to him in bed, skin bronzed, naked but covered with a white sheet over his lap, which was probably there more as a meager protection from the hot underside of the laptop perched across his legs than for decency's sake.

Before leaving, Gina had got her hands on Methos, forcing him into a chair. She cut and dyed his hair back to a more normal style and color, since he no longer needed the disguise. MacLeod was grateful.

He watched Methos for a moment, absorbed in whatever it was he was doing. It had only been a few weeks since Robert and Gina had left. Amanda was coming for a visit the following week. She had insisted, after yelling at them both over the phone, together and separately, for an agonizing period of time, and neither MacLeod nor Methos were strong or clever enough to say no to her.

But for the time being, they were alone. MacLeod reached out and grazed his fingers down Methos's exposed side, down to his flat stomach and hipbone. Methos flinched away, ticklish. MacLeod pushed at the laptop in annoyance. It wobbled on Methos's lap. "Stop that," said Methos, batting at MacLeod's hand.

MacLeod did it again, expertly avoiding Methos's attempts at trapping his hand.
"You're going to cook your private parts, you know that."

Methos smiled, lopsided. "Just a few minutes more."

"A few minutes more and you're going to have charred dangly bits." MacLeod kept trying to push the laptop away, but settled on tickling Methos instead. Methos defensively protected his stomach, laughing.

"Okay, okay, see, I'm closing it." He closed the laptop with a snip, setting it carefully on his bedside table.

Grunting happily with success, MacLeod pounced. He kissed Methos into submission. Methos spread his legs and MacLeod sat back, hands raking over Methos's skin from shoulders to chest, down to sensitive stomach that made Methos inhale sharply. "This calls for a close inspection," he said, taking great interest in making sure Methos hadn't actually damaged his cock and balls.

MacLeod took Methos's growing erection between his hands and licked it like a lollipop. Methos made a noise deep in his throat, arched his back, and thrust into MacLeod's mouth. He thrust again, reaching to grab hold of MacLeod's hair. He tugged and MacLeod opened his throat. Another thrust and Methos came with a grunt. MacLeod swallowed, climbing up over Methos body, kissed him with his semen still on his lips. "How many views is it up to?" he asked, reaching toward the bedside table.

Methos was still breathing hard. He reached up and touched MacLeod's face, brushing hair away. "Over half a million," said Methos. "Not bad."

MacLeod slid off Methos's body. He slicked his fingers and reached between Methos's legs, watching as he pushed in. He loved this part, before he was distracted with his own pleasure, when he could watch Methos and take note of his expressions, his concentration as he looked at MacLeod with lazy desire. MacLeod stretched his fingers. Methos breathed in, widened his legs.

Carefully withdrawing, MacLeod returned to his earlier position, hooking Methos's legs over his. He pushed in slowly. Methos arched, and bore down. MacLeod saw stars and remembered to breathe. He lowered his head and captured Methos's lips with his. Their fingers laced together. He pushed in all the way.

The breeze continued to blow over their heated, damp skin. MacLeod thrust quickly, and hard, fingers indenting flesh. Methos shuddered and came a second time, almost violently. MacLeod held on, pounding until he followed with a moan and a sudden collapse of all muscles.

They lay still as their hearts slowed back down to normal. Methos's arm came around MacLeod, even though it was really too warm for lingering contact. MacLeod badly needed to take a shower, but instead, he snuggled up next to Methos's heated body and dozed. After a moment, he heard the soft snip of the laptop opening followed by the tap-tapping of fingers typing.

"For your information," said Methos, a bit primly. "I'm ordering you a pair of Testoni shoes. I've asked Amanda to bring them."

MacLeod started laughing, and it was a long while before he could stop.



2012 : 30 minutes


They had thirty minutes warning to get off the island.

The call came after midnight, when the night breeze blew in through the open window, billowing the white curtains and bringing in the scent of sugar cane and warm sea air. The room was draped in shadows. MacLeod rolled over onto his side close enough to press his lips against Methos's neck.

*


They had been fighting all day. It was too hot even to shower, they were out of milk and cereal, it was MacLeod's fault that the septic tank backed up, and then it was Methos's fault when MacLeod tripped over a pair of his work shoes while carrying an armload of freshly laundered clothing. Any little reason to bicker was given full rein.

The house was too small. The grounds too confining. MacLeod had fixed every thing that needed fixing and was starting to consider breaking things just so he had something to do. He was even looking forward to fixing the septic tank, which just made Methos furious. MacLeod expected Methos's help, and when Methos didn't want to because a) it was a disgusting job, and b) he was tired of dealing with MacLeod's shit as it was -- he was damned if he'd willingly wade around in it.

"It's not just my shit. There are two of us living here." MacLeod stormed after Methos. He reached out and grabbed Methos's arm, yanking him back. "I'm talking to you."

Methos pushed, then punched MacLeod in the face. MacLeod staggered for a moment, then rammed Methos against the wall, pinning him with his weight.

Methos, wild-eyed, white faced and breathing hard said, "Maybe there should only be one."

MacLeod let go, stepped back. His heart was racing, and despite the constant sweat dripping down his back, he felt chilled. "You want to leave?"

"Maybe I do."

MacLeod turned, as if he couldn't stand to look at Methos anymore. "Fine. Go."

"I will," said Methos, through a clenched jaw. "I'll leave and get as far away from you as possible."

"I won't try to stop you."

Methos narrowed his eyes, and gave MacLeod a disgusted look, then went into their bedroom. MacLeod didn't follow but just stood in the center of the living area and watched Methos go. He heard the sounds of drawers banged open and Methos's muffled curses, then silence.

The constant song of the ocean waves chorused through the house. He heard seagulls squawking playfully: a common enough noise that he'd grown accustomed to and had learned to ignore. One bird said hello, the other bird cried out in answer.

He walked to the bedroom. Methos was sitting on his side of the bed, facing the wall.

Of course, Methos wouldn't leave. Not enough time had passed, despite the convincing "death" video they'd released onto the Internet. They knew hunters still searched for Methos. They searched for MacLeod as well.

If MacLeod could have had one wish right at that moment, it would have been a wish that Methos could go where he pleased, of his own free will, with his own face. He would have given that to Methos, willingly. MacLeod ached for his friend, for the man he loved.

They didn't speak. MacLeod left to turn the lights of the house off. By the time he returned to the bedroom, Methos was laying down on his side, still facing the wall. MacLeod lay down next to him. Back to back.

Then, MacLeod turned over, pressed his lips to Methos's neck and inhaled. He wrapped his arm around Methos, loosely, with his hand caressing lightly over the smooth skin of Methos's chest.

Methos turned to face MacLeod. He sighed, kissed where the bruise he'd given was already faded and gone, then pressed a wet cheek against MacLeod's chest.

*


The phone rang. Both men stiffened. Neither moved. The phone rang again, and again. It wasn't like their phone never rang. From time to time, Joe would call, or Amanda. Gina liked to call on holidays. Maybe it was instinct, something in the air causing MacLeod's blood to turn to ice.

Swiftly, MacLeod rose from the bed and picked up the phone.

"Mac." It was Robert. "Thank God you answered. You have to get out. I'm sorry, but they're coming for you."

MacLeod felt dread flood through his entire body. "Are you all right? Is Gina?"

"We're fine. They attacked the chateau but we managed to get out. Gina is furious. I don't think you have much time."

At that moment, their proximity alarm sounded. Methos was already moving into the office, checking the various video feeds from hidden cameras stationed all over the island. MacLeod followed with the phone.

"I've got them," said Methos, muttering as he tapped quickly over the keyboard. The screen showed footage streaming in from the surveillance cameras and satellite imagery. There was a ship about five kilometers off the island's northwestern coastline. MacLeod spotted the six shadowy figures unloading from a boat scuttled onto the beach. Methos was able to track them as they went off camera down the quay, and back on camera as the men fanned out and moved through the small tourist town of Le Robert. Camera after camera tracked their movements. "Get the handhelds, Mac, if you please," said Methos, with deathly calm.

"Thank you, Robert," said MacLeod as he did what Methos asked, docking two handheld devices and quickly tapping the sequence that would start syncing the data. "Stay safe."

"Good luck, my friend." Robert hung up.

"How long?" he asked Methos.

They met eyes briefly. "Thirty minutes. Probably less." Methos didn't stop to elaborate as he continued setting up the upload of all their important data before he wiped the computers.

MacLeod immediately dialed young Thierry who acted as the island's port authority.

"Monsieur," said Thierry in his lightly accented, excitable voice. "There's a ship! What do I do?"

"Nothing. You hear me. Stay hidden. Tell everyone not to interfere. Doors closed, lights out. In the morning, if these men are still here tell them whatever you need to keep them off your back and the island safe. It won't matter then."

"Yes, Monsieur," said the subdued voice.

The call ended. MacLeod crouched to access the lowest drawer of the side filing cabinet, pulling out a sack of small explosive devices. He wasted no time as he planted them one by one throughout the house. He took ten seconds to put on dark pants and shoes and a long-sleeved shirt.

They had rehearsed this, memorized down to the millisecond. He had never thought they'd need to use it. Methos would say he was naïve.

Methos came up beside him, wordlessly handing him one of the handheld devices, as well as a fat, plastic wrapped envelope full of cash, credit cards, papers, passports, various forms of identification, cell phones with fully charged batteries, and even a library card.

MacLeod checked his watch, and accessed the streaming on the handheld. The hunters were breaching the vegetation that led to the eastern part of the island, where the house stood. Because of the shoals on the western shore, it was the only approach. They had fifteen minutes.

"Everything is all set," said Methos, waiting for MacLeod to lift his arms so he could strap the envelope to MacLeod's body, as well as a shoulder harness with two guns. "Encoded messages sent to Joe and Amanda. And the data is uploading to the offsite server; it'll be done in two minutes. Are you ready?"

MacLeod didn't know what to say. He had been running on adrenaline and now that the moment had arrived he was scared out of his mind. They were leaving their haven, not by choice, not by free will, forced to separate once more for God only knew how long, their carefully laid out plans not withstanding. On the run, again, living on the edge and in constant fear. The future was uncertain, and terrifying.

"I didn't want this to happen," said MacLeod, horrified that he was so close to tears.

Methos stopped what he was doing and looked up. He took MacLeod's face between his two hands. "You listen to me. This isn't your fault. We were always running a risk staying here for even a few months. You know that. Now it's time to leave. Your job is to survive. I don't care how you do it, but you have no choice, do you understand me?"

MacLeod nodded, squeezing his eyes shut, taking a few precious seconds to kiss Methos, thoroughly, roughly. "I knew you'd get out of helping me with the tank," he said and Methos rolled his eyes and laughed. Then, more seriously, MacLeod whispered, his voice rough. "If you're not at Aunt Mary's in six months I will hunt you down. Nothing and no one will stop me, so you'd better be there. Promise me."

Both of their handhelds beeped in unison. Methos cursed and started to hoist his backpack and sword onto his back.

"Promise me," repeated MacLeod, gripping Methos's arm.

Their eyes met. "I promise. Now get the hell out of here."

They parted, Methos heading for the path that lead up to the little grotto of holy ground near the top of the mountain, and MacLeod down to the boathouse.

*


It had to be timed just right.

There were clouds over the moon, providing cover.

MacLeod set charges around the boathouse and the dock, then uncovered the remodeled rumrunner. She was a sleek creature, built for speed. He set the handheld into the built-in dock and started the engine. He had named her Camilla, much to Methos's disgust.

Beep one: Methos was in position at the grotto.

Beep two: the hunters had entered the house. MacLeod flipped screens on the handheld, saw the camouflaged men caught on their hidden cameras fan out through the house. They were all masked except for one. He felt the surge of Immortal presence and the unnamed Immortal's profile was caught by the camera. Ah, smirked MacLeod. Of course the Immortal would be unmasked, cocky son of a bitch.

"Gotcha," said MacLeod. He propped up the dummy Methos next to him. Gave the fake dummy Methos a pat on the head.

Beep three: his cue. With a silent prayer, MacLeod gunned the engine and shot out of the dock like an arrow. He ducked as bullets whizzed past. Wind -- and sea-spray -- blinded, he maneuvered the boat around the tide and waves. With one eye on the video stream, he pushed Camilla to her limits.

One breath. Two.

The first explosion lit up the night sky, and the force of it caused the ocean to surge. Then it all became noise and flame as the next explosion followed. Then, another, and another. His heart hurt, knowing that Robert and Gina's lovely home that had sheltered them for so many months was now nothing but rubble.

Beep four: All charges detonated. The Immortal was likely dead but not beheaded. They'd had an argument about this, way back when they had made their escape plans. If an Immortal came hunting, should they take the time to behead him? Ultimately, it came down to survival. Live, fight another day.

Two speedboats gave chase, coming from the ship that had carried the hunters to Ilet Regina.

MacLeod held his breath, shifting his weight as Camilla danced across the waves. The two speedboats didn't have a chance of catching him. The night was black, with very little light from the moon. In the pitch darkness, Camilla was invisible against the inky ocean. Still, they followed, and he had to be careful. They had probably guessed his destination. He was headed for Petit Regina where a small self-propelled submersible craft was waiting for him. It was the sort of submarine favored by drug cartels: virtually undetectable, invisible from radar, sonar, and infrared.

Beep five: Methos had arrived at the west end of the island where a second submersible craft waited.

This was it, no more contact for at least six months. The handheld beeped one more time. MacLeod grimaced, gunned the engine again and skimming around to the south side of Petit Regina, bouncing the boat onto the beach next to a short dock.

Without stopping, MacLeod grabbed his bag and sword and the handheld computer and hopped from the boat. He took out three more charges and set one of them on the Camilla, another one on the small three room cabin, the only man-made structure on the tiny island, and the last one on the dock. He set the timers for ten minutes.

Kneeling on the dock, he opened the hatch to the submersible. Feet first, he jumped down. With a shaky breath, he began flipping switches and checking gauges.

Another thirty seconds and he was on his way.

*


In mid-January, there was probably no colder place than the lakeside town of Oswego, New York. Nothing about the place was inviting: not the weather (gray and dismal and hovering just below freezing) nor the town itself (mostly abandoned for winter vacation). There seemed to be only one true pastime, which was mainly drinking as much as possible. Well, it was a college town.

MacLeod bounced on his feet to keep the blood flowing, waiting for the light to change so that he could cross the street. The sun, such as it was, was setting behind a solid wall of gray clouds, darkening the already gray skies down to a pitch, starless black. MacLeod hurried into the warmth of Aunt Mary's Café Bar. He sat at the only available table and ordered a large black coffee, no sugar. He sat with his back to the door on purpose. He didn't want to look up each time the door chimed, letting in a cold blast of air.

With a newspaper, and his coffee, he sat and let the minutes slowly pass on by. The café was partially filled with young people -- those few who did not have warmer place to go over the holidays -- their iPhones and laptops out. Some were talking quietly to each other. A few were a bit more animated, laughing and arguing. He placed his own cell phone face down on the table.

He wondered how long he would need to wait. Five minutes. Ten. Twenty.

When the buzz of Immortal presence flowed down his back, he carefully set his coffee down on the table. He put his hands over his eyes. The door opened, blast of cold air, then it banged shut.

He heard a deep, achingly familiar voice order a cafe mocha with whipped cream and sugar, plus a chocolate éclair. The noise of the café seemed suddenly too loud and his ears strained to pick out those few sounds that were coming from next to him. The chair pulled out, a drink set down on the table, and a plate. Then, a warm hand on his neck, on his shoulder. Blindly, MacLeod turned and let Methos take him into his arms. "Did you wait long?" asked Methos.

MacLeod sighed, then finally looked into the eyes of the man who held him. "Very long."

Methos smiled, and MacLeod kissed him.



2014 : Late on a Sunday Night


MacLeod wove his way through the night crowds of South Mumbai, careful to keep his head down, clutching the shopping bag he held. Even after ten in the evening, traffic congested each street as he made his way from the center toward the quieter back alleys.

At first he'd been uncertain about choosing Mumbai as a base, since he and Methos would not be able to blend in with the locals, they'd stick out like beacons. But Methos had been careful. There were enough white and European men in the city that two more would hardly be noticed. What's more, Methos had located a businessman working for the Bombay Stock Exchange who resembled Methos in height, in profile. Anyone looking for him in Mumbai would only find Harold Markasian, stockbroker and ladies man. Methos called it shadowing. As long as he didn't do anything to draw undue attention to himself, they could safely remain anonymous.

MacLeod stepped nimbly over a couple of children playing on the steps to his and Methos's building. He unlocked the door and stepped in. A corporation owned all the buildings on the entire block, as well as several other sites throughout the city. Anyone who started digging would just find a morass of shell companies leading in an endless circle that eventually, if one was patient, led back to Markasian.

"Honey, I'm home," he called, taking the stairs two at a time. His first stop was the kitchen. He opened the shopping bag and began putting away the groceries he'd bought.

"Did you get the ice cream?" asked Methos's disembodied voice from the third floor, where the bedroom and office were located.

"Yes, dear," said MacLeod with exaggerated sweetness, taking down two bowls from the cupboard, and two spoons from one of the drawers. He scooped a generous amount of date palm jaggery ice cream into each bowl. Since coming to live in Mumbai, they had both become addicted.

He licked his fingers and then put the rest of the ice cream away in the icebox. Picking up one of the spoons, he helped himself to a mouthful of ice cream just as Methos came down the stairs in bare feet.

"Hello," said Methos, padding over and picking up his own bowl of ice cream, quickly swallowing a big spoonful, closing his eyes in ecstasy. He leaned over and kissed MacLeod on the lips.

MacLeod tasted the sugary coolness of the ice cream. "Hello to you, too. You look happy."

"Hm," said Methos around more spoonfuls of ice cream. "Come. I'll show you."

MacLeod followed Methos up the stairs into the office where an impressive bank of computers and technology had been painstakingly assembled. It had only been since coming to Mumbai that they had truly begun their work. Previously, they had been in constant movement, from country to country and town to town. Methos sat on one of the two swivel chairs, setting his bowl of ice cream down. He called up several screens.

The first image was of the Immortal hunter taken from the surveillance cameras on Ilet Regina two years prior.

"This is our friend, Sasha Nazarenko, one hundred and twenty four years old. Also known as Alexi Nemov, Alex Newman, Neal Alexander. The list goes on. The information Joe gave us has him splitting his time between Moscow and New York City. Supposedly he works as a buyer for Christie's. See here, he showed his face six months ago in Paris, three months ago in Bogota where he spent a lot of time nosing around San Cristobal, and finally, two weeks ago back in New York City." Methos paged quickly through various images.

It was reassuring, since they were currently nowhere near New York, and there was nothing to find in Bogota. MacLeod knew this level of research had required Methos hacking in to an untold number of servers and networks all across the globe. He wasn't about to ask.

"Russian," said MacLeod.

"Ukrainian, actually." Methos swiveled his chair, swallowing another spoonful of ice cream. "I know what you're thinking. I thought the same thing."

"And?"

Methos met his eyes. The light in the room was dimmed down to low amber. The noise and bustle of children playing, of couples yelling and fighting, filtered in through the open windows. Methos held his breath, then let it out, swiveling back to face the computer screen. He tapped the keyboard, bringing up a picture file and a few other documents. "Just so you know, it was very difficult to find this. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say you should be very impressed."

MacLeod snorted as he leaned forward to take a look. The photograph seemed to be from the early 1920s or thereabouts. It featured a young couple on their wedding day. Without her makeup and fashionable modern clothing, MacLeod might not have recognized the Immortal Anastasia. The man next to her was Sasha Nazarenko.

MacLeod pursed his lips, not entirely sure what this could mean for their present situation. Clearly, the Immortal hunter had learned how to locate Methos and MacLeod through Anastasia. This was a pattern they had seen, starting with Kronos, to Camilla, to Almagro, Anastasia, and Keyumars. He read through the other documents Methos had called up and quickly began to see the immense scope of what Nazarenko represented.

Nazarenko wasn't only a buyer for Christies. He had multiple ties to the mafia, both in Russia and the U.S, and was involved in all sorts of unsavory activities from drug trafficking and money laundering to extortion and theft. MacLeod was seriously beginning to regret not beheading the man. He kept reading, and as he got further into Methos's research, he felt the blood drain from his face.

It wasn't just Nazarenko hunting them. Methos had cross-referenced the research he had amassed with files he'd very likely hacked into the Watcher database to retrieve. What emerged was a pattern, disturbing in its vastness, showing a shadowy cabal of Immortals who had met with Nazarenko. Some in Paris. Some in Bogota. Several in New York City. The coincidence was too great.

While he had been reading, Methos went down to the kitchen and refilled his bowl of ice cream. "I see you got to the good part."

MacLeod looked askance at Methos. "And this makes you happy?" He gestured at the computer.

Methos shrugged. "Knowledge is power, Duncan. Most of what was so impossible to bear about what happened in Paris four years ago came from our lack of knowledge."

MacLeod remembered the utter devastation, the pain deep down in his bones, wondering if Methos was still alive. Wondering if he would ever see him again. The constant challenges, the fear that he had lived with every day of his life until he had found Methos again. He nodded. "What next?"

"We need access to Nazarenko. Closer than I can do remotely from here. I know he's a despicable excuse for a human being, but it's actually a good thing we didn't kill him. I could never have gotten this far with him dead."

MacLeod took the bowl of ice cream from Methos's hands, picked up the spoon, scraped the rest of the ice cream up, and held it out. With an amused smirk, Methos opened his mouth, and swallowed.

"I'll contact Amanda in the morning," said MacLeod, setting the bowl down. Methos started to protest. MacLeod put his hand over Methos's mouth. "In the morning," repeated MacLeod.

Then, he stepped close, smiling at the gleam of humor and desire he caught in Methos's eyes. He licked Methos's neck, then again just below his left ear. His lips. MacLeod tasted the ice cream and with a near silent hum of pleasure, he sought the coolness of Methos's mouth.

It was probably a bad thing, how easily he accepted this. They were being hunted. They refused to part, thereby making life more dangerous. No place was safe. Not even in Mumbai where so many went to disappear. But they had been living like this for years now. At the moment, he couldn't be bothered.

As if perfectly choreographed, they moved to the bedroom.


2017 : 3 + 1 = 4


The sun disappeared behind the horizon, leaving a dusky pink glow to the darkening sky. In Turkey, the night came quickly.

Carefully, MacLeod crawled across the rough terrain of rocks and sand, settling behind a low bush. It was a good enough vantage point to observe the building 200 meters due south of him. He was on a rocky hill, on a level with the roof of the three storied building. There were a few other scattered buildings, but the area was mostly pock marked hills and rubble, with one access road leading from the heart of Istanbul. He picked up his infrared binoculars, focusing on the front of the building. They'd had to wait for an opportunity when Djokovic wasn't there. It was now or never.

"Okay, the satellite uplink is ready, I've got a live image," said Methos, speaking through their intra aural communication ear buds. MacLeod was still a little unnerved having Methos's voice coming from inside his head. "We've got eight men on the outside, two in the front, two in the back, two on the move, and two on the roof. Djokovic's drug stash is probably mostly on the first floor, but he also keeps a safe and his servers on the top floor, northeast corner, and that is what we are after, my friends."

"I can see the two guards in the front, and the two on the roof. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum look bored," said MacLeod. Tweedle Dum was smoking a cigarette. Tweedle Dee flipped through a magazine. Both carried semi automatic weapons across their back. MacLeod refocused the binoculars to a closer magnification. If he wanted to, he could read over Tweedle Dee's shoulder.

A second later Amanda crawled up next to MacLeod. She flashed MacLeod a smile. "You boys with your little toys. You're so cute."

MacLeod made a face at her. He thought he could hear Methos grinning through their ear buds. "This is serious," said MacLeod, fearing very much that any sternness he desired to affect was completely lost on his beautiful partner.

"Hush," said Amanda, consolingly. She rolled on to her back so that she could adjust the weapons in her boots without standing up. "I can't tell you how pleased I am the two of you keep inviting me to play threesome."

If possible, MacLeod felt his entire body flush.

"Stop teasing your back-up. You may need him," said Methos, and now MacLeod was certain the bastard was enjoying himself.

"I'm ready," she said to Methos as she smiled at MacLeod, leaning in to kiss his nose. She strapped her backpack on. MacLeod tried really hard to frown disapprovingly but ended up smiling back at her.

"Wait for my go ahead," said Methos. "On my mark."

Suddenly all business, Amanda put on a pair of gloves and adjusted the knit mask, readying it to roll over her face. MacLeod double-checked the tranquilizer darts in the long-range rifle. He nodded at Amanda.

"Go," said Methos, softly.

Amanda sprung from behind the bush, still crouching, moving from shadow to shadow. MacLeod aimed the rifle. He counted to ten. Just as Amanda reached the first rise, he shot Tweedle Dee in the neck with a fast acting tranq dart. Tweedle Dum, a little slow on the uptake, seemed bewildered for a moment before attempting to speak into his walkie-talkie. MacLeod shot him in the cheek.

"The two front guards are down," he said, calmly, searching through the sight of the rifle and aiming for where he knew a third guard should be coming from behind the building.

Amanda reached the front door and immediately began hacking into the security panel.

MacLeod spotted movement from the northwest corner of the building. He waited until the guard approached closer to the front of the building.

"Mac," said Methos. "The other one, from the north east."

"I got him," he said. He shot one guard then aimed east for the fourth guard just as the guard spotted Amanda and raised his gun. The guard dropped to the ground.

"Cutting it a little close, aren't we?" asked Amanda.

"Don't worry, I've got you." MacLeod started moving down the hill toward the building, switching from the long-range rifle to an automatic. It took him fifteen seconds to reach the panel box on the northwest side of the building. He set his weapon down, wrestled the panel door opened and started splicing wires.

"I'm in," said Amanda.

So far so good. They hadn't been detected.

"And I'm blind," said Methos, impatiently.

"Give me a second," muttered MacLeod. He adjusted the device that would allow Methos to hack into the closed circuit video. "There." He sat back and snapped the panel back on to the box. They were lucky Djokovic was an untrusting bastard and liked to keep track of his employees. He picked up his weapon, heading around to the back of the building. He paused to set an explosive charge on the western wall.

"Yes, I've got picture. Okay, there are four men in the main room on the ground floor, huddled together. One man on the second floor, two more on the third. Head down the right hallway. You'll find stairs at the end. The way is clear," Methos directed Amanda.

MacLeod peeked around the corner of the building, spotted the two rear guards. He counted to five, swiftly aimed and took the two guards down in as many shots. From his pack, he took out rope and a small crossbow with a grappling hook attached. First, he set another charge. Then, he took the crossbow and shot the hook over the roof. It caught. He started climbing up the side of the building.

As he climbed, he listened to Methos guiding Amanda through the building. Down to your right, left at the next hallway. Wait, there's someone there. Okay, clear. Should be four doors down.

As quietly as MacLeod could, he climbed over the railing and dropped silently down onto the roof. He moved from cover to cover until he spotted the first of the two guards. He took the first guard down. He moved around until he had a good view of the remaining guard.

He took aim.

"Shit," said Methos in his ear.

"What?" hissed MacLeod.

"A truck just pulled off the main road. They'll be here in twenty seconds. Both of you, get out of there."

"I'm almost done," said Amanda.

"No time."

But it was already too late. Distracted by what Methos was saying, MacLeod had forgotten the guard. The guard spotted him, calling out in Turkish and shooting at MacLeod.

MacLeod grunted as a bullet hit his shoulder, and another one burned through his left side. He knew Methos was saying something, cursing, but he couldn't answer. Instead, he dropped his weapon as he charged the guard, wrestling him to the ground.

It was a short, vicious struggle. MacLeod pinned the man to the ground, managed to get his arm around the man's neck, snapping it with a dull crack. He felt a brief jab of sorrow. He'd hoped not to have to kill anyone today.

New Immortal presence vibrated jarringly through the night air.

"I'm all right," he said, wincing slightly as he rolled his healing shoulder.

Methos was still cursing, but then he said, "It's Djokovic. Amanda's trapped on the third floor. They've got her pinned down. She's not answering, her comm must be down."

"I'm going after her. You just be there waiting for us. When I give you the signal, set off the explosives."

"What? You're insane."

"Just do it."

MacLeod grabbed his pack. Neither he nor Amanda had their swords. There had been no way of taking them. He took half a moment to set a couple of explosives on the roof, then quickly made his way to the stairway access. With his 9MM handgun aimed and ready, he took out two men before coming across several men shooting down one hallway. He could sense Immortal presence nearby but couldn't tell if it was Amanda or Djokovic. He started shooting, drawing fire to himself.

The noise of the fight was deafening. Through the haze, MacLeod saw two men go down, leaving a third and final gunman. MacLeod aimed, but then Amanda popped up swinging her backpack, and knocked the man unconscious as he hit his head on the wall.

He rushed to her. "Nice of you to join the party. Did you get it?"

She nodded, flushed with adrenaline, opening up her bag to reveal sacks of black velvet and about two hundred thousand in Euros. She had also grabbed two server hard drives.

He rolled his eyes. "Did you just use this as a weapon? Come on, let's get out of here."

They started to move, intending to return to the roof, but were blocked by more gunfire, until suddenly it all stopped.

"Not so fast," said Djokovic, merging from the haze of gunfire. "Well, well, well."

MacLeod smiled grimly, casually looking around as he guided Amanda to stand close to him. Djokovic was an ugly bastard, built like a wrestler, short and thick. MacLeod looked at Amanda. Amanda looked at MacLeod. Their choices were limited. He inched them toward the window. "Sorry, is this your place? Didn't realize."

"Where's Methos?' asked Djokovic. The way he said Methos's name made MacLeod's jaw clench. He said it slowly, relishing it as if Methos were a favorite meal. MacLeod held his bag by the strap loosely in his hand, feeling the weight of the remaining explosives. He judged the distance between himself and Djokovic.

"He's nearby," said MacLeod, with cold hardness. "Would you like to meet him?"

A gleam of excitement and real fear crossed over Djokovic's expression. "Yes." He hissed.

"Would you, really?" MacLeod held his breath, cocked his head to one side, a trick he'd learned from Methos. Then, between one breath and the next, he tossed the bag of explosives at Djokovic in such a way that it went around his neck. "Maybe next time. Now!"

With his eyes scrunched shut, he turned and sprinted for the window, grabbing Amanda. Glass shattered all around him. He felt the blast as the building rocked and exploded. He twisted in mid air, holding Amanda against his chest. He felt a familiar jab of Quickening fire, knowing even as he fell that Djokovic had just lost his head. The landing was hard, painful. He blacked out for a moment, then cried out as another lick of lightning stabbed down. There was noise and confusion, more gunshots. He thought he might have been shot again. Movement. Tires squealing. And then he died.

*


MacLeod came to with a gasp. A cool hand helped him to sit up, brushing his hair away from his face.

Sound was distorted, muffled. He looked up into Methos's beloved face. From behind Methos, MacLeod saw Amanda pacing. They were back in their base of operations on the outskirts of Istanbul.

Methos's lips moved, brow creased for a moment. Then, sound returned with a snap. "Hello," said Methos with a wry twist of his lips.

He exhaled loudly, then said with a smile, "Hello to you, too."

MacLeod realized quickly that Amanda wasn't just pacing up and down silently, but was actually talking very loudly and gesturing with her hands. 

"I'm sorry, but this has got to end. You two can't keep doing this. It's not working. Are you listening to me?" She stopped pacing and came up to stand in front of MacLeod and Methos.

Methos sighed, pushing MacLeod over so he could sit next to him on the couch. "Yes, we're listening. And I hear what you're saying, all right?" said Methos, tiredly. "It's not like we can just walk up to these people, issue a challenge and be done with it. They're like that damned mythological hydra or something. You cut off one head and ten more spring up in its place. We learned that the hard way with Nazarenko."

Amanda fell silent, lips thinned, her arms crossed, deep in thought as she eyed the two men in front of her.

*


Nazarenko had nearly been a complete disaster. After Methos had located him in New York, they called Amanda the next day and all three spent the week planning how to break into Nazarenko's home base in Moscow. What they hadn't anticipated was that Nazarenko would be waiting for them. The whole thing had been a trap. Ambushed, MacLeod had been cornered. Nazarenko captured him with the intent to hold him as bait for Methos.

He would have been better off if he had just taken MacLeod's head.

In a cold fury, Methos hunted Nazarenko down. Some remnant of his humanity, some lingering commitment to the man he loved, held him back from massacring the mortals in Nazarenko's employ, but it had been a close thing. Methos had taken Nazarenko's head, letting the quickening rip open the night sky.

After that, they went underground again, hiding out on the island of Biak off the coast of Papua. It had taken months for the terror to subside, for Methos to be able to lie still in MacLeod's arms while the monsoons raged and it rained endlessly for days.

Methos's research had remained, though. And despite how Moscow had ultimately gone down, they had succeeded in their primary objective of obtaining further information: Amanda had stolen all of Nazarenko's hard drives. In the following months, when he was better able to return to it, what Methos discovered was that Nazarenko's death meant nothing. It didn't lesson the threat against them. There was another Immortal tracking their movements, hunting them down, as part of this group of Immortals, these hunters. What's more, these Immortals had already gone to Mumbai, gone to MacLeod's and Methos's home. The building was empty of course, but the fact that the Immortals had known where they lived was beyond frightening. Methos learned that the man he'd been using as a shield, Harold Markasian, had been found stripped naked and beheaded, left in a gutter not one block away from where they're home had been.

The thing was Methos knew that he and MacLeod were more than capable of hunting each and every one of these bastards down. Methos had their names, even if he didn't know how to get to them yet: Nazarenko was dead. But there was still Maguilara, Djokovic, and Bennington. He had the Watcher files to assist, and his own not inconsiderable skill, not to mention MacLeod and Amanda. That wasn't the issue.

"If we did that," said MacLeod, softly as they lay next to each other in their tiny little room in Biak. "I don't think it would solve anything. It would never end."

And there it was. They could do it. Become hunters themselves. Hunt and kill until there was no one left. Until the Gathering.

Instead, they had chosen to dismantle as much of these Immortals' operations as possible. If they needed to behead and take a quickening, they would not hesitate. But it wasn't their primary purpose. It was a subtle difference.

*


Amanda continued to look at them with squinty-eyed disapproval.

MacLeod still felt disorientated from his death and Djokovic, but he sensed Methos needed a little reassurance. He took Methos's hand in his, leaned against him until Methos smiled again, squeezing MacLeod's hand.

"We need a straight man," said Amanda, with arms crossed and a contemplative look on her face.

MacLeod looked at her, and then down at his and Methos's clasped hands. He looked at Methos and was deeply amused to see the soft glow of a blush on Methos's cheeks. "Excuse me?" said MacLeod, amused.

"I mean," she said, with exaggerated patience. "We need a fourth. We're going about this the wrong way. Don't you see that? We need a different approach. And we need a fourth person. Three isn't enough for an effective crew, to do a real job. Any ideas?"

Methos started to protest as MacLeod knew he would. Old habits die hard, and trusting a new Immortal, especially in their current, completely precarious position must seem ludicrous. If Connor or Richie had been alive, but MacLeod shut that thought down quickly, closing his eyes. He didn't want to ask the de Valincourts, after all that they had done for him and Methos. He knew they wouldn't hesitate, but he still would rather not involve them. They had been forced into hiding as well.

"I think I know someone who might -- might -- be willing," he said.

"You can't be serious," said Methos, outraged.

"She's right," said MacLeod, but all that earned him was a white-lipped glare.

Still holding Methos's hand, he turned it over so that he could caress the palm. He brought it up to his face, placed it against his cheek. "Trust me," he said.

Methos scowled, and murmured murderous things under his breath, but he traced part of MacLeod's cheek with his thumb.

"You know, I never would have thought the two of you would be so nauseatingly sweet," said Amanda, dryly.

MacLeod beamed at her, dropped Methos's hand, and then sprung up from the couch to give chase. With a squeal and a laugh, she ran away. But he caught her, hoisting her into his arms with her limbs flailing, and then plopped her down next to Methos so that he could keep those precious to him close at hand.

*


MacLeod sat back against his chair in the outdoor café, folding the Wall Street Journal paper over to read the other side. His coffee was lukewarm but he sipped it anyway.

Midday on a Thursday in Washington D.C in the middle of August meant sticky humid heat and government types in suits haranguing unseen individuals over blue tooth.

Immortal presence buzzed like the wind blowing dead leaves across his feet. He tried not to stiffen as a gentleman in a shirt and tie sat across from him at his table. Matthew McCormick gave him an amused twinkle as he placed an order for an iced coffee with the server.

When the server left, they looked at each other silently before Matthew suddenly leaned across and put both of his hands on MacLeod's shoulders. He squeezed. "It's good to see you, MacLeod. One hears things, you know. I thought we'd lost you."

MacLeod nodded, taking one of Matthew's hands in a firm grip. "You nearly did." He paused and really looked at Matthew. He hadn't changed too much. Hair was a little different. He was thinner, but looked fit. A little aged, to go with the years he had put in with the FBI. They sat comfortably with each other.

"I have a friend nearby I'd like you to meet," said MacLeod. "If you're willing." He paused. Then, "This isn't entirely a social visit."

Matthew chuckled. "I guess not."

MacLeod smiled ruefully. "It's a long story."

A bus honked. Pedestrians strolled past. MacLeod didn't push while Matthew seemed to chew it over. He knew that Matthew would have seen the video that Camilla had sent around, the one of MacLeod fighting her, and then Methos taking her head. He might have also seen the other one that he and Methos and Joe had uploaded to the Internet, with Keyumars as a decoy Methos losing a challenge. Matthew was a smart man. He would put two and two together very quickly. But he was also an FBI agent, and as such had commitments, and loyalties, that could be troublesome to the more underground way he and Methos had, out of necessity, lived their lives in the years since Camilla.

Matthew inhaled slowly, then let it out in a big gust of air. "All right."



2019 : All that you desire


The house was really quite lovely. An old plantation manor home, freshly painted a clean marshmallow white. It had a long tree-lined driveway, set back from the main road. Three stories with a balcony on the top floor. Six bedrooms, an attic, and a basement. Twenty acres, with a pool and a tennis court. The entire manor gave off the impression of peace and harmony.

The balmy South Carolinian air was heavy with the scent of warmed honeysuckle and gardenias. Despite the heat, MacLeod lowered the window.

"Matthew is taking this one very hard, isn't he?" asked Methos from the passenger seat as he adjusted the site on his binoculars. MacLeod agreed. Not that any of them had the stomach for this kind of evil. It almost rose to the level of what Kronos had been capable of. "I see nothing, no movement. There isn't even a breeze. Amanda, what's your position?"

Methos moved the various video feeds and satellite imagery into a more organized pattern over the transparent screen in front of him. With his fingers, increased one in size till Amanda's slim figure became clear. The other feeds included the FBI SWAT team, the interior of the manor house, and the true location of Bennington fifty miles south of Spartanburg.

"I'm approaching the back entrance now. What's Matthew's ETA?"

The FBI swat team should be en route any minute now. MacLeod moved the screen with the FBI feed and added the GPS tracking. He accessed the audio for the FBI feed and listened through a pair of headphones, raising both his hands to show Methos. 'Ten minutes. Should be enough time."

They were parked some distance away from the front of the house, almost out of view. MacLeod picked up his own pair of binoculars, but instead of focusing on the house, he focused across the vast lawn to the road. "I think its because Bennington is from the south," he said. "Not only that, but he works out of the south, lives here. It makes it much more personal for Matthew. He loves this country. He's worked hard for the prejudices of the past to stay in the past. Things like this bring it all back."

Methos pursed his lips.

MacLeod respected Matthew very much. He wasn't about to judge him because he over identified with a place he considered his home. MacLeod was more than guilty of the same thing. He suspected Matthew had known Bennington when he was younger, possibly when Bennington was still mortal, but Matthew hadn't said. Bennington was almost two hundred years old, and he had died the first time as a young man of twenty-five. Blond and handsome and charming.

"He's going to get heat over this. He promised them Bennington. When they get here and there's no Bennington, it won't look good for him."

"He can take it," said MacLeod. Speaking of their target, MacLeod kept one eye on the Bennington feed to make sure they didn't get a nasty surprise like with Djokovic.

"I'm just saying," said Methos. "He's been very distracted."

The red dot representing Matthew and the FBI SWAT team started moving.

"Boys, boys," interrupted Amanda. "Can someone please tell me where to go? This place gives me the creeps."

"The safe is in the master bedroom, in the walk in closet."

"Naturally," said Amanda.

MacLeod leaned in closer so he could watch the video feed from inside the house with Methos. Methos tracked Amanda's movements through the house, from the first floor to the second, and finally the third.

"Okay, got it," said Amanda as she lifted the false panel in the closet to reveal the safe. "Easy peasy. I'll have this one open in a jiffy."

"Six minutes," said Methos.

The FBI turned off the highway. With the use of hybrid cars, their approach would be virtually silent. "Make that five minutes," said MacLeod.

"No problem. Just give me one second. There!" she said, gleefully. "Hardly worth my time."

Amanda opened the safe. For this one, they'd decided to leave the cash as further evidence against Bennington. Not that Bennington would ever strand trial, but they wanted no confusion from the law enforcement side. Instead, Amanda was planting evidence. From her backpack, she took out data disks and file folders with enough information to keep the FBI and CIA busy dismantling Bennington's empire, and those others he worked with. Some of the evidence led to his Immortal partners' operations. They would take down as much as they could.

"Okay, everything's set."

"Don't forget the cameras," said Methos.

"I'm on it," said Amanda, as one by one their video feed went down. "Wait. Did you hear that?" she said.

"What? Amanda, whatever it is, leave it for the Feds to find out. Just get out of there," said MacLeod.

"But I heard something. It'll just take a minute."

"You don't have a minute." Methos cursed.

"It's coming from the basement."

MacLeod looked at Methos, thinking hard. Methos's eyes widened a little. During their week long surveillance of Bennington, MacLeod couldn't recall anyone going in or out of the basement. Bennington used the house only for meetings on occasion. But then, they hadn't had time for a proper search when they'd planted the listening devices and the video cameras, needing to get out of there before Bennington sensed them.

With no video feed, they couldn't see what Amanda was seeing. Movement caught MacLeod's attention and he picked up his binoculars. He counted six FBI cars parking on the street, no lights, no sirens. They'd come in on foot, which bought Amanda a little bit more time, but not much. He adjusted the focus on the binoculars and spotted Matthew with his gun drawn coming in quick across the front lawn.

"Amanda, you have to get out of there. Now."

"I've got the door open. I'm heading down the steps. Light switch… Oh my God," she said, and then she fell silent, but their comm picked up other noises. Other voices, high pitched and scared. And then Amanda's voice came back, "It's okay, it's okay. Help is on the way. I swear it is. I have to go. But you'll all be all right. Oh God."

"Shit," said MacLeod, starting the engine. He had to get the van out of there before they were spotted. He looked at Methos who had gone silent, his face drained of all color. He stared with horror at the blank screen of the laptop.

He had to have faith that Amanda would get herself out of the house in time. With access to the main street blocked, she would have to either lay low in the grounds, which was risky, God only knows what else was hidden on the grounds, or make her way across the twenty acres to the other access road.

He drove to the pick up point, and waited for Amanda.

*


It was hours before Matthew was able to meet them at their motel. In all that time, no one spoke. MacLeod was a little worried about Methos, and Amanda returned from the manor house angry, horrified, and shaken. All she said was the basement had been home to about thirty young women and girls, some no older than eleven or twelve.

"They looked starved, Duncan. I… can't talk about."

When Matthew finally arrived, he found three very somber faces.

"Well?" asked MacLeod.

Matthew sighed. He looked tired. "I need a drink. Let's get out of here."

They all piled into the van and drove to a nearby sports bar, noisy and boisterous even on a Wednesday night. Quietly, Matthew filled them in on how the raid went.

The FBI had expected that Bennington would be home, along with at least one or two of his lieutenants, so they were greatly disappointed to find the house vacated. But their disappointment was tempered by the discovery of thirty-two women who had been kept in the basement with very little food and water. The FBI hadn't even begun to go through the evidence found in the upstairs safe.

"The girls are mostly from eastern European countries, but there are a few from this country as well as from Asia," said Matthew, with very little inflection to his voice.

"They were there all this time." Methos toyed with his beer. "And we didn't even know." He spoke quietly, and MacLeod did not like self-recrimination he heard.

That Bennington trafficked in the slave trade was not a surprise to any of them. They were well aware of the fact and it had been their primary reason for moving so quickly against him. But they hadn't suspected Bennington would use his own home. If MacLeod had known of the women in the basement, he would have insisted that they move in on Bennington without waiting. He knew, the others would have agreed.

Matthew turned to Methos. "They're out of there now."

"That doesn't make it better," said Methos, with some heat.

MacLeod put out a placating hand but Methos wasn't looking at him. Methos and Matthew mostly got along, but there was this strange undercurrent of not-quite-hostility that snapped back and forth between them.

"You're telling methis?" said Matthew, with intensity. "This isn't the first human trafficking ring I've had the pleasure of taking down. I can guarantee you there are more girls in basements out there right this minute. What are you going to do about it?"

Matthew grabbed part of Methos's shirt in his grasp, shook him for emphasis. Methos, eyes hard and his face like stone, brought his arm around to dislodge Matthew's hold. But Matthew only grabbed Methos's wrist, and gripped it hard enough for his fingers to turn white. "What are you going to do? What are we going to do?"

Methos and Matthew stared at each other with Matthew holding on to Methos's wrist, the tension building between them. MacLeod wasn't sure he should interfere, and Amanda was just as alert next to him. This wasn't a fight. This was something else, something more. He knew some of Methos's history with slavery, not only with the Horsemen, which was after all, only a portion of Methos's long life, but from other things Methos had let slip here and there. And he knew Matthew's history as well. This went far deeper than just Bennington.

"We take him," said Methos, with a rare hitch to his voice.

Matthew nodded, releasing Methos's wrist. MacLeod let out the breath he was holding. The tension eased and the four Immortals picked up their drinks. Slowly, conversation returned. They discussed the Feds reaction to the evidence they had planted, how Matthew planned on guiding the investigation, anything else that needed to be done.

They did not talk about how they would ultimately hunt and take down Bennington. That would come later.

MacLeod put his arm along the top of the booth they were sitting in, behind Methos. He turned his head, pressed his nose momentarily into the nape of Methos's neck, and inhaled. Methos pressed against him.

*


Through the umbrella of a legitimate non-profit called Safe Angels Harbor Project located out of Washington D.C., Methos funded the work to identify each of the thirty-two girls found in Bennington's manor house basement. Working with the United Nations and the Trafficking Protocol, the non-profit found temporary homes for the girls, clothed them, fed them, and where it was advantageous, they helped the girls return to their families. Methos created a persona so he could interact with the non-profit one on one. His knowledge and fluency in the Slavic languages was invaluable. He started as a case worker.

"Can I go with you?" asked Amanda. They were holed up in Matthew's house, biding time until they dealt with Bennington.

Methos looked at her, slowly smiling, and nodded.

Amanda was an instant favorite with the girls, becoming big sister and best friend. Much to the collective horror of MacLeod, Matthew, and Methos, Amanda loved to take the girls shopping. "What? It's just what they need," she said, innocently. But she also listened to them, shared their stories, helped them through the worst of their nightmares.

Late at night when Methos came home, he said to MacLeod, "Thank God for Amanda. I don't think I could do what she does with them." And then, more quietly. "I don't think I want to."

He closed his eyes and MacLeod took him to bed where they lay side by side and Methos told him about Marika Adamec from Slovakia, thirteen years old, who had the long gangly limbs of a ballet dancer, recently placed with foster parents Scott and Alice Humphries from Rockville, Maryland, and happily attending the eighth grade.

*


For this, they would take a page out of Methos's book of misdirection. Not even the Watchers could know. This was not to be recorded.



*


Bennington was never alone. He had a twenty-four/seven guard. He remembered Nazarenko. He wasn't a stupid man.

He moved from his safe house in Spartanburg to a mansion on the Cayman Islands, miles away from everyone, with cameras covering every inch of the property. He was jumpy. He took to locking himself in rooms so no one could get in or out. His lieutenants heard him yelling into his phone, "Take him out now! You got the men, do it now, for fuck's sake, he's going to come after me."

They all thought it was the stress of losing his entire empire. Millions of millions of dollars, gone. It was enough to make anyone insane.

Eventually, it didn't look like anything was going to happen. Bennington started to relax. So did his lieutenants. They started making plans, figuring out what could be saved, what was a total loss. It wasn't the end of the world. After all, the Feds hadn't found him, right?

But he still locked himself in his bedroom every night, with a guard stationed outside.

Until one bright morning when Mr. Bennington never left his room. They broke in and found the room empty with all the doors and windows locked from the inside. Mr. Bennington seemed to vanish into thin air. Like magic.

*

No one saw the four Immortals enter the warehouse located in an industrial neighborhood of Baltimore, nor did anyone see the heavy bundle that was carried between them.

MacLeod threw Bennington a pair of sweats, socks, a T-shirt and shoes. "Put them on," he said.

With murderous rage, Bennington charged at MacLeod, but Methos shot him dead.

They waited till he revived.

"Put the clothing on," said MacLeod.

Panting, sweating, Bennington growled like an animal. He yelled and cursed and threatened. This time he charged Amanda, and Matthew shot him dead.

Repeat.

By the third time, Bennington put the clothing on.

They fed him. And gave him water. And let him rest. Then, MacLeod gave him his sword.

Bennington faced the four Immortals. Jittery. Sweating. He eyed Methos. "They'll take your head one day, you know."

MacLeod surged forward, tired and angry and disgusted, but Methos gently took MacLeod's arm and shook his head. He smiled and MacLeod felt his throat tighten and his eyes sting. He turned away.

"So, who's it going to be? All four of you?" asked Bennington.

The four Immortals didn't move. The warehouse was vast and empty, with sunlight streaming in through the clerestory windows. After untold minutes, it was Matthew who stepped forward.

"I knew your family," said Matthew, in his soft southern accent. "They were good people. Decent, fair-minded."

Bennington cocked his head, narrowed his eyes. "Would you like me to say I'm sorry?"

In answer, Matthew swung his sword and the challenge began.

When it was over, Methos bend down and gave Matthew his hand, helping him to stand up.

No one saw the light show. Nor did anyone see the four Immortals when they exited the warehouse. In fact, no one was ever there.


2029 : Grateful


Somewhere along the way, it became less about staying one step ahead of the hunters, and more about living, about choosing your weapon and choosing your ground.

It was Matthew's suggestion that MacLeod and Methos relocate to Washington D.C. on a more permanent basis. Or as permanent as they could possibly be, considering what their lives were like. "I have to be here. This is where I live and where I work," said Matthew. "It would be easier if the two of you were here, as well. Then I could have my house back," he added with a smile.

It took some convincing. MacLeod was as uncertain about it as Methos. It seemed willfully risky. In any case, it couldn't be done right away. They had become planners. Everything had to be reviewed, discussed with contingencies listed, variables accounted for, and of course there had to be escape routes, back doors, emergency plans. Around and around and around, until MacLeod reached over and shut Methos's laptop, nearly snapping his fingers.

"Enough," said MacLeod, hoisting Methos up from the chair he had practically become one with. "Out."

He dragged Methos outside and into his car. He drove further into Virginia until they got to Leesburg near the historic Ball's Bluff. They walked around the town until MacLeod spotted a bike rental shop and rented two mountain bikes.

"You're joking, right?" said Methos, half amused, half indignant.

"Don't you know how to ride a bike?" MacLeod looked consolingly at Methos. "I'll teach you."

"Of course I know how to ride a bike! But we need helmets and water and proper gear. I'm not dressed properly."

They were both in shorts and T-shirts, it being a pleasant day in early summer. MacLeod silently handed Methos a helmet, a bottle of water, and a pair of gloves that he had rented along with the bikes. Methos sighed.

"Well. Let's go." MacLeod swung his leg over and kicked off, not waiting to see if Methos would follow. A moment later, Methos whooped as he surpassed MacLeod down a dirt hill. "Why you--"

They chased each other all over the mountain trails for hours until they returned hungry, sweaty, and thirsty. They stopped at a pizza place and ate until they could think again. Then, while Methos was gulping down his soda, MacLeod said, "I think we should do it. Dare them to come after us in the middle of the capital of the United States of America. See what happens."

Methos choked on his soda, then he wiped his mouth and sat back in his chair. After a moment, he picked up a piece of crust and chewed it very slowly. "Why not, he said. And MacLeod smiled.

It wasn't like they put up blinking neon signs with arrows pointing to their house or anything. Methos was still largely a non-person in the eyes of society, but as good as he was with misdirection twenty years prior, he was a master at it now. Immortal hunters were one thing, but Methos could probably stroll into any public or government building in Europe or the United States and no one would blink an eye. He had to be extra careful at borders and airports but his ability to fool cameras and misdirect (or direct, as the case may be) information rarely failed.

They bought a house, they had a garden. Amanda came in and out of their lives whenever she saw fit, but was always there when they needed her. Matthew sometimes came over for a drink or for dinner, to plan and talk and strategize. Best of all, they could be near Joe again. Joe was over seventy years old and they had already lost so much time.

They still had escape routes, and emergency plans. These things were second nature, as much a part of MacLeod's and Methos's lives as breathing. Their home housed a small arsenal, as well as more computer and surveillance technology than was probably healthy.

On a brisk spring morning in late 2029, MacLeod woke to the sound of Methos singing in the shower. Groggy because they hadn't gone to bed until past two in the morning planning a raid on Maguilara's base of operations in Juarez, Mexico, he rubbed his eyes and padded silently over to the bathroom in nothing but his boxer briefs. He stood transfixed in the doorway, listening to Methos try to sing what MacLeod thought must be a popular rap song, he wasn't sure. "I like the girls with the boom, I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom."

MacLeod wanted to laugh, but he was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling he wasn't entirely sure he could name. He stepped further into the room and, without really knowing what he wanted, opened the shower stall door. Steam billowed out, and he was splashed by warm water.

Abruptly, Methos stopped singing. "Well, either come in or stay out," he said, sputtering.

MacLeod didn't say anything. Instead, he reached across and turned the water off.

"Hey, I'm not done yet!" Methos was ridiculously cute with wet hair plastered and a perplexed expression on his face, water dripping off his nose. "Mac?"

"Come here," said MacLeod, leading Methos out of the shower. He grabbed a towel and rubbed Methos head dry and rubbed his arms and his chest, his ass and his legs. He stepped closer and tasted Methos's warmed, clean skin.

"What's all this?" asked Methos, quietly. MacLeod shook his head. He could not say. Methos cupped his face. "You want to get busy in the bathroom?"

And they both started laughing so hard, it was very difficult for MacLeod to kiss him, to touch and hold and taste every inch of Methos. It wasn't until Methos went down to his knees, stripped MacLeod of his shorts and took his erection into his mouth that MacLeod recognized the feeling that overwhelmed him as happiness.