The Quickening3 (Cubed) by macgeorge
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Author's Notes:
This was my very first Highlander story, and feels quite naive now, but I put it out there for whatever it's worth.

Duncan MacLeod felt the wash of awareness as the other Immortal approached, and watched closely as the man sauntered through the door. When Martinez had called the loft that morning to issue a challenge, MacLeod got the sense that he was relatively young for an Immortal, probably less than 100 years old, and no match for the power and experience of someone who had honed his talents and skills for over 400 years. But the challenge had been made, and MacLeod had reluctantly agreed to meet in the empty warehouse he owned and sometimes used as a practice space.

Martinez was of medium height, dark, stocky, strong, with the look of an athletic man in his late twenties. Dressed in a short, elaborately embroidered tan jacket and tight pants, he moved and looked like a matador as he held out his long machete-like weapon, with a broad, slightly curving blade, with a lethal notch at its tip.

MacLeod stood easily, quietly, his katana held as an extension of his arm. “I told you, Martinez, I have no quarrel with you. You can walk away.” Martinez circled slowly to Mac's left.

The boy's dark complexion in his round face reddened with emotion. “You think me a coward? I have trained for years to meet you, Duncan MacLeod! My teacher says I am the best she ever saw, and that I can take you.” He continued to circle, closing the distance between them slightly. He cocked his head, looking disdainfully at his opponent, who had discarded his long coat, revealing well-worn jeans, boots and a loose sweater. “You don't look so impressive to me, MacLeod. A man should have style, flair!” He gestured widely with his arms. “People like us, we will rule the world! You!” he waived disdainfully at the older Immortal, “you are like the other old ones, hiding among the mortals, pretending to be like them.”

“But we are like them, Martinez,” MacLeod said quietly. “We can die, just like them. Painfully and permanently.” MacLeod kept his stance loose, conscious of the slightest subtlety of his opponent's movment. “That's why life, especially for us, should be cherished, not thrown away or taken so easily.”

“Ah, MacLeod you've gotten soft in your old age. We are not like them at all. You should know that better than most.” Martinez eyes gleemed recklessly in the shadows. “But even you can be brought down Duncan MacLeod. Then I will have your power, and I, Enrique Martinez, will be the best, the strongest. And after all, There Can Be Only One!” With a shout, Martinez darted in, slashing with his broad blade toward MacLeod, who deflected the blow, sliding easily out of Martinez' reach. Martinez attacked again, and time slowed for MacLeod. He had learned over the centuries to expand his perceptions, seeing every nuance, aware of the tensing and coiling of each muscle of his opponent, anticipating, planning, countering. The boy was well trained and had a natural talent, but was clearly no match for MacLeod, and Mac was becoming increasingly suspicious that there was another agenda going on in this unlikely and unwanted battle.

Mac suddenly closed the distance between them, slamming the hilt of his blade into Martinez' jaw and throwing him on his back against a pile of discarded wooden pallets in the corner of the dilapidated building. “You're a fool, Martinez!” he growled, stepping back to let the boy know he could easily have taken him then and there. “Let this go. Leave now. Walk away.” The boy's lips pressed firmly together as he scrambled to his feet.

“No! You will not shame Enrique Martinez!” The boy came at him again furiously, slamming his blade fruitlessly against MacLeod's flashing katana until his breath came in gasps and sweat poured down his face and slicked his hands. Duncan retreated carefully, always aware of what was behind him, around him. Finally, he stepped sideways at the precise moment Martinez' blade stroke was at its zenith. The boy's momentum carried him past the Highlander, allowing MacLeod to grab Martinez' sword arm and swing him around hard into the steel beam directly behind him. The boy slipped to his knees, stunned by the force of the blow, his weapon slipping from his numbed hand. Mac brought the flat edge of the katana up under Martinez' chin, lifting his bloodied face so he could see into his eyes.

“Martinez, someone has lied to you.” The dark Spanish eyes flared with hate and humiliation. “This is sheer suicide. Walk away. Please! I don't want to have to kill you.”

An age old combination of fear and defiance played over Martinez' face. MacLeod had seen it too many times. A desire to live, but even more, a desperate need to preserve the fragile self-image of courage, of honor. He recognized it as a trait he himself might have displayed at this boy's age, but in these circumstances it was stupid, wasteful, tragic. “There can be only one!” the boy gasped, one last time. Reluctantly, slowly, allowing a few long seconds for the boy to change his mind, MacLeod raised the katana in a high arc above his shoulder. Enrique Martinez' last sight was the granite-hard face of Duncan MacLeod, finally understanding the awesome power he had so blithely expected to overcome. With no answer, no request for mercy, the blade flashed down, and the gruesome task was done.

MacLeod swallowed, always sickened at the sight of the headless body, the blood spilling and spreading over the floor. He stepped back, raising his arms as the Quickening invaded his every cell, for the moment overpowering thought, movement, perception, existence. It burned, a bizarre combination of sweet ecstasy and agony as the power of other lives, other knowledge, other experiences invaded his very being. He staggered as the last of the bolts of pure energy rippled through his body, leaving him limp and shuddering.

He stumbled to a nearby beam, leaning his head on his arms as he summoned the strength to deal with the problem of the headless body on the floor of his warehouse. Then he felt it. His eyes snapped open as again, the dizzying sensation filled his head, warning of the presence of another Immortal nearby. He held to the steel beam as he quickly turned, examining the shadows of the warehouse, lit only by the afternoon sun streaming through broken windows, looking for the Other.

“Richie?” he called quietly. He was breathless, his mind and nerves still vibrating unnaturally with the Quickening.

Richie raised the slatted elevator door to MacLeod's loft apartment above the dojo, depositing a grocery sack on the kitchen counter before inspecting the contents of the refrigerator. Evidently, Mac had left earlier out the back without telling him, which was odd since they had a training session scheduled that afternoon. Richie had long since stopped trying to predict MacLeod's actions or motivations. The man was far too complex to try to analyze. The only thing predictable about MacLeod was that he would resist being analyzed. Richie had emptied the sack of groceries and folded the bag, when he saw a note written on the pad Mac kept near the phone. It was in his large, ornate handwriting learned from monks centuries earlier. It said “Martinez. Warehouse. 2 pm.”

Richie's skin washed with a chill. The warehouse was where Mac, given a choice, went to do serious fighting. He went to the phone and quickly dialed a familiar number.

“Joe's” answered a gruff, friendly voice.

“Hey, Joe, it's Richie.”

“Yeah, Rich. What can I do for ya?”

“Do you know an Immortal named Martinez in the area?” Richie asked carefully. Joe Dawson, professional Watcher of Immortals and most recent keeper of the Chronicles of Duncan MacLeon, frequently walked a fine line between non- interference with Immortal affairs and stepping in when he felt circumstances dictated action. He also knew, or was supposed to know, of all the Immortals in and around the area. There was a significant pause at the other end of the line, and Richie knew Joe had information, but was uncertain about the ethics of revealing it.

“Why do you ask?” Joe responded evenly.

“I think he's challenged Mac. I found a note here at the loft about meeting Martinez at the warehouse.” Richie said.

“That doesn't make any sense, Richie. Martinez is a youngster and it would be really stupid for him to take Mac on. If he has, I certainly wouldn't worry about MacLeod,” Joe said as casually as though he were discussing the outcome of a card game. Then he paused. “But that's weird. Why would he even . . .?” His voice trailed off.

“What is it, Joe?” Richie demanded. Duncan MacLeod was his teacher, his mentor, his friend. Over the past few years, MacLeod had increasingly been pulled into the center of the storm of the Gathering, the impulse for Immortals to hunt and kill each other. His preternatural skill, his reputation, his ever-growing power had become a magnet for head hunters, and Mac's life had become an unending cycle of painful battles, each battle bringing more death, more power, and then more battles still.

“Felicia Martins,” Joe said, “Martinez is her student.”

Richie closed his eyes, swallowing to wet a suddenly dry mouth. Felicia had come after MacLeod once before, using Richie as a pawn even before he had become an Immortal. MacLeod had let her go, at least partly because Richie had been present, and Richie had been her lover. She was clearly, undeniably, insane and she hated MacLeod for humiliating her. She was also beautiful, smart, incredibly manipulative and completely without conscience. Now she was back, and if she came after MacLeod, using another pawn . . .

Richie hung up the phone without another word, snatched up his jacket and sword and took the stairs two at a time, straddling his motorcycle at a run, and fishtailing out of the alley behind the dojo.

MacLeod finally spotted the other Immortal moving hesitantly out of the shadows of the warehouse entrance. He had no idea who the guy was. He was tall, lanky, balding. Dressed in chinos, running shoes, a white shirt and baseball jacket, he looked like an accountant on his day off. He held his sword awkwardly, tightening and loosening his grip in a nervous rhythm.

“I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod,” Mac intoned, pushing himself away from the supporting pillar. His knees wobbled ominously, but he was careful to conceal the weakness.

The man walked into a pool of light defined by the outline of a high, broken window. “I am Fred Thayer,” he said softly. MacLeod heard fear in his voice.

“This is your first time, isn't it Fred?” MacLeod asked gently. “It doesn't need to be. Walk away. Take the offer Martinez refused.” Mac gestured to the headless body crumpled nearby. “I didn't want to kill him. I certainly have no reason to kill you.” He stepped forward, holding his katana at the ready, slightly away from his body, but trying to otherwise convey a non-threatening posture. It wasn't easy, since MacLeod's very essence was that of warrior -- his stance, his athlete's hard body, his classic sculpted face and intense dark eyes framed by shoulder length black hair neatly pulled back into a silver clasp.

“But you're weak, after the Quickening. She said I could take you now, if I move quickly,” Thayer said, suddenly running straight at MacLeod and bringing his sword down hard. Mac managed to parry, but his reactions were slow as his muscles refused to respond with their usual uncanny quickness. His legs almost gave out as he stepped back, but still he easily slashed underneath Thayer's stroke, cutting into the man's ribcage. Thayer cried out, looking down in astonishment at the blood soaking his shirt.

“Are you without honor?” MacLeod shouted roughly. “This isn't the way the Game is played! Besides, even now you are no match for me. Who told you you could take me? The same teacher who convinced Martinez? Do you still believe that lie?”

Mac staggered as another dredded wave of awareness of an Immortal washed over him.

“I told him, Duncan MacLeod, and it wasn't a lie,” a low, seductive voice called from the shadows. A small, slight figure emerged, dressed in tight black leather pants and jacket, carrying a long, thin, wicked looking blade. “Martinez was just a stalking horse, a strutting peacock.” She slowly came forward, inspecting MacLeod closely. “Just look at the great Highlander, Fred!” she laughed. “He can barely stand. If you take him now, we'll be strong enough together to withstand anyone. You'll be the greatest of the Immortals!” She circled towards Thayer, her dark, short cropped hair outlining the beauty of a flawless complexion and dark, quintessentially French eyes. Thayer's breath came fast and ragged as she egged him on.

“She's using you, you fool!” MacLeod growled. “She wants me to kill you because its the only way she can defeat me. Even if you took me, she would take your head just to get my Quickening. She is incapable of love, Thayer. She's a succubus,” MacLeod spat the words. “She's tried before, using people like you, like Martinez, young Immortals who don't understand the Game.” Mac circled away from Thayer, desperately gathering the frayed threads of his strength. It was still too soon after the Quickening.

“Oh, we understand about the Game, MacLeod, about how the Quickening saps your strength, leaves you weak and gasping. Do it now, Fred, before he gets his strength back,” Felicia purred, sliding her body up next to Thayer's. “We'll be together, forever.” Whatever hopes MacLeod had about talking some sense into Thayer faded as he watched him lean down and kiss Martins, running his hand intimately over her body as she pressed close to him. Then Thayer pulled away, swinging his sword threateningly at MacLeod.

“Now, Highlander, you'll pay for what you did to her.” A guttural cry escaped the man's throat as he charged, swinging wildly. Mac backed up and backed up again, deflecting the strong but unartful blows, desperately trying to think of a way of not killing this poor, deluded man.

Thayer hacked away, eyes wild with battle hysteria. Too wild, MacLeod realized, to be natural. The pupils were dilated, his skin was slick and pale. Finally, MacLeod saw an opening, and lashed out with a knockout kick. At least that's what it was intended to do. His anchor leg gave way and while he connected, he only slammed Thayer in the chest rather than his temple, and went down in a heap himself in the process. He rolled back to his feet, but Thayer was unfazed. Again, the man came at him, a wild animal in full charge. MacLeod's katana slid past Thayer's guard catching him full in the abdomen, feeling the steel slide upward past ribs and into lungs. Thayer's eyes widened in surprise as Mac stepped back, yanking his blade free. The wounded man looked down, one hand holding the gaping hole in his stomach, then looked back up at MacLeod. His blade was still raised, and uttering an incoherent cry, against all reason or probability, he swung down with all his remaining, drug-crazed strength. Without thought, with the speed and instincts of uncountable battles over uncountable years directing his movements MacLeod caught the man's arm with his left hand, forcing the blade down, simultaneously slashing horizontally with his own razor-sharp steel, and the man's head rolled unceremoniously from his shoulders, hitting the floor with a hideous noise.

MacLeod let Thayer's body collapse to the floor, feeling the warm, sticky blood spill onto his arms and chest. He stumbled back, realizing he had made a potentially fatal error, chilled at the thought of another Quickening, so soon, with Martins standing, waiting. He steeled himself as once again, the energy sliced through him. This time he went to his knees. His breath was squeezed out of him and his eyesight narrowed to a small, warped tunnel of vision. Then there was only the burning, the sensation of power, of an invading army of memories, emotions that weren't his own. Time ceased to exist, his awareness of his body, his surroundings, ceased to exist. Then it was over. He heard a low groan and realized it was his own voice. He was huddled in a fetal position on the floor, every muscle taut and thrumming with expended energy and buzzing with residual, unusable power.

“Well, well, MacLeod,” he heard a low voice near his ear. “What shall we do with you now?” He strained to turn his head, meeting Felicia's dark, insane eyes within inches of his own. He groped for his katana with hands that were numb and clumsy. As he wrapped his fingers around the familiar hilt, she stood and firmly planted her booted foot on his hand, deliberately grinding his fingers into the concrete. He heard bones crack and break, but his whole body was still so numb he could barely feel it.

Her blade appeared at his chin, and he tried to rise, but only managed to get halfway to his knees, his muscles trembling at the effort. “This is too easy, MacLeod.” Felicia said, backing off and circling him, taunting him. He followed her with his eyes, desperately willing the buzzing, snapping vibrations that filled his brain and sapped his strength to stop. She talked, spitting invective in both French and English, but he wasn't listening. He was concentrating, attempting to exercise control over his erratic heart rate and unresponsive body, to clear his mind. Felicia's expression grew wilder as she spoke, frustrated at MacLeod's lack of response. She stepped in with the speed and agility only seen in those who had practiced for centuries and ripped her blade across MacLeod's unprotected face, opening a bleeding gash from ear to chin.

“There! Not quite so pretty anymore, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod!” she danced gleefully around him. Again she moved in, this time with a booted foot, deliberately catching him in the diaphragm, forcing the air out of his lungs again.

The pain of the cut and the sharp, metallic taste of his own blood actually helped MacLeod regain his focus, but the kick made him gasp and strain for air as he doubled over. He turned his body, falling over his katana, grasping it with his left hand since his right had been crippled. Now he brought up his knees, forcing unwilling legs to function, using a nearby steel beam to leverage himself to his feet. The room wheeled drunkenly around him as he fought to regain his breath, and only centuries of discipline allowed him to simultaneously force his legs to hold him up, his diaphragm to work, and his mind, right now his only real asset, to function. She was talking again, circling, taunting. He closed his mind to her words and watched her body instead, knowing that eventually she would move in for the kill. As she spoke, he was aware of a rebalancing of her torso, an almost imperceptible tensing of her shoulders. An instant before she swung her blade, Duncan did the only thing his body would respond to, turning away, using the beam itself as protection. Instead of hitting his neck, the blade sliced into his back, across his shoulders. The cut was deep, into muscle, all the way to bone. He felt warm dampness flow down his back, soaking his sweater, his jeans. He rolled around to the opposite side of the pillar, hanging onto it, gasping with pain.

“Damn you, MacLeod!” Felicia called in her sexy, smoky voice, smiling, her small figure dancing around in front of him again, into an illuminating pool of afternoon sunshine. “It's no wonder you've managed to stay alive all these years. But not this time!” And indeed, this time, with no warning that MacLeod caught, she stabbed straight forward, the blade slicing deeply into Mac's ribs. The bright, hot agony stole his breath as the blade's tip punctured a lung, air leaking out, unable to inflate again. Then, one more time, so bizarre as to make Mac think he was hallucinating, he felt the presence of another Immortal. He was hunched over, mutilated right hand held close to his chest to stop the continuous red stream now splattering the concrete floor, left hand fiercly gripping his katana. Guided only by instinct, by a will to survive, he looked up and saw Felicia's face suddenly pale, her attention drawn to the warehouse entrance.

“Mac!” It was Richie's voice.

“You can't interfere!” Martins screamed in a voice full of madness at the young man she had once seduced.

It was his only opportunity, his only chance. Mac lifted the katana in his left hand. It felt like it weighed fifty pounds. He strained to get it over his head, staggering forward. He fell to his knees, using the fall as the only leverage available to do what was necessary. The blade bit, sliced, and Felicia Martins, her last expression one of utter surprise, died her last death.

Richie held his breath, awestruck at the carnage in the huge room, with three headless bodies strewn on the floor like broken dolls. MacLeod was awash in blood, and Richie couldn't tell whose blood it was, except that the multiple cuts in Mac's clothes and on his face meant that at least some of it was his own.

MacLeod's eyes filled with dread as the Quickening from Martins rose from her body, enveloping him in its nimbus. This was a powerful Quickening, born of hundreds of years of hunting, of taking heads. Then the explosive energy threw MacLeod backward into the steel beam, where it pinned him like an insect as bolts of living power slammed into him again and again. The building shook, and the few remaining panes of glass in the upper reaches of the building blew outward with the force of it. Powerful wind swirled dust and glass and Richie had to duck and cover his head to avoid the flying shards as he heard Mac's inhuman scream carry over the noise of the explosions of energy around him.

At the center of the maelstrom, MacLeod knew only overwhelming panic. It was too much, too soon! The power of it was consuming him, just like that one terrible Quickening from before, when his own identity had been lost, almost forever. In desperation, he simply closed his mind, shutting a door he didn't even know was there, blocking the flow of power and identities that weren't his own. The energy battered against that closed door until his head rang like a huge bell, blocking out all other sound, all other sensation. He was barely aware of when the power storm died, finishing with a few final crackles that traveled along his torso and face, because the pressure of that unwanted presence in his mind continued to press, waiting just outside that carefully protected mental door, pacing, like a huge stalking, wild animal.

Richie looked up as the last of the explosions died down, until finally, there was only the sound of Mac's body collapsing onto the concrete floor. Except that his head was still intact, MacLeod was just as lifeless a doll as the other three bodies.

Richie heard a small noise behind him and he turned, his own sword instantly appearing in his hand. It was Joe Dawson, who surveyed the area grimly as he leaned heavily on his cane, seeing only multiple bodies and all the blood.

“MacLeod . . .?” Dawson was afraid to ask.

“He's alive,” Richie breathed softly. His voice echoing in the cavernous room. “At least I think he is. Joe,” he said hesitantly, “I think he took three Quickenings.”

Joe's eyes widened in his already pale face. “Three? My God! Where is he?”

Richie stepped carefully through the battle scene, avoiding looking at the headless bodies, particularly that of Felicia Martins. MacLeod was motionless, face down in a pool of red liquid. He touched MacLeod's broad back, avoiding the deep gash where he could see underlying muscle and bone exposed. An odd surge of power tingled along Richie's arm, and Richie snatched his hand back.

“What is it?” Joe asked, unable to kneel with his artificial legs.

“His whole body feels . . . electric. I've never felt anything like it. He's . . . it's like he's charged with it.” Richie forced himself to grip Mac's arm and role him onto his back. There was a wound in his chest and a long gash across his face. It was hard to tell if there were other wounds, with blood everywhere. His eyes were half open, the pupils widely dilated, the smoky brown irises barely visible.

Joe pulled a cellular phone from his pocket and dialed. Giving terse instructions, he arranged to have Watchers come to clean up the mess and dispose of the bodies. It was a service they had performed before, when it was necessary to keep the secret of Immortals.

“Let's get him out of here,” Joe instructed.

Richie handed Joe the red stained katana, found Mac's coat, then tried to leverage Mac to his feet, ignoring the electric static that instinctively made him want to pull away. Mac was not fully conscious and it took both Joe and Richie to get him to the car, stumbling several times in the process. Fortunately, dusk was closing in and the area was deserted.

By the time they got him to the dojo, the cut on his face had closed, leaving a long red bloodstain. Eventually, the wounds on his chest and back also closed as the Immortal's healing power took hold. In the elevator, Richie and Joe leaned Mac up against the back wall. As each moment passed, Mac stood a little straighter, breath coming a little easier. Richie pulled the elevator door up, and Mac stepped into the loft under his own power, but shuddered and stumbled after a few steps and went hard down on one knee.

“Easy, Mac,” Richie said, helping Duncan to a chair. Joe got a bottle of water from the kitchen, and Mac gulped it down quickly, his hand shaking from the effort to hold the weight. His face was white underneath all the blood, where running sweat had made tracks through the red stains. Richie noticed then that the fingers of Mac's right hand were at odd angles, broken. After all this time, it still gave him the creeps as he watched the bones and muscles finally realign themselves, making a small cracking sound as they did.

They sat in silence as Mac worked to regain control over his body and mind. Richie belatedly offered to fix the sandwiches he had originally intended for lunch, but Mac showed no interest in eating, although he did not object when Joe poured him a large glass of single malt scotch.

Finally, Mac broke his silence. “Thank you, Richie. You saved my life this afternoon.”

“All I did was show up,” Richie said, a little embarrassed.

“It was enough,” Mac said.

“I've never heard of anyone taking three Quickenings in succession like that,” Joe said, sitting across from MacLeod on the big leather couch. He leaned forward, trying to read the expression on Mac's face. “I wasn't even sure an Immortal could survive it.”

“I almost didn't,” Mac said grimly, sipping his scotch.

“How do you feel?” Joe asked.

“You mean how did it feel, don't you, Joe?” Mac replied. He seemed tense, preoccupied. “You want to know, for your damn Chronicles.”

Joe sat back, stung and a little defensive. “You said you felt the story of the Immortals should be told, MacLeod.”

“Not everything we do and feel is part of the story, Joe.” Mac snapped. “What's important are the lessons to be learned. The lesson I learned today is never to take a second head when you know there's another Immortal nearby. I don't think that particular lesson is critical to the history of humankind.”

Mac took an uneven breath and distractedly rubbed his face with his hands, not realizing how ghoulish he looked as he smeared the blood streaks around. “Look, guys, I would like to take a shower and get some rest.”

“You look, Mac,” Joe said angrily. “Not everything I do is because I'm a Watcher, and you know it! Sometimes its just because I worry about your survival. What happened had to have some residual effect, MacLeod!”

Mac struggled to his feet, carefully holding the back of the chair to steady himself. “I'm sorry, Joe,” he replied softly. “We'll talk. Later. Right now I need to . . . be alone.”

Richie and Joe gathered their discarded coats. Joe kept the older Immortal's face in view at the corner of his vision, convinced it could not be that simple. It was hard to tell among the grime and blood streaks, but Mac's lips were pressed tightly together, and his grip on the back of the chair was not held lightly. As Joe turned toward the elevator, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He reached for Mac as the man gasped and doubled over, Quickening energy playing across his chest and face and Mac hung onto the chair as though his life depended on it. For the first time in all his years of Watching, Joe Dawson came into direct contact with the Quickening. It burned and skittered along his skin, but seemed to slide away from the mortal, turning back toward MacLeod like iron filings to a magnet. Richie was there in an instant, and they both held MacLeod until the painful spasm passed. Sweat ran in rivulets down Mac's temples and neck as he slid to the floor, folded up and wrapped his arms tightly around his knees.

“Okay, Mac,” Joe finally said. “Something's obviously wrong. What can we do?”

MacLeod's forehead rested against his knees, and his breath was fast and shallow, hair dripping red droplets of bloody sweat. His voice was muffled and horse. “I don't know. It's . . . too much. Too many. I can't hold it all. I feel like its going to burn me from the inside out.”

Joe moved quickly to the telephone and dialed a long, well-remembered series of numbers. After a few moments, while the international call cycled through whatever land lines and satellites it took to make the connection, a gruff, English-accented voice answered.

“This better be good, it's four o'clock in the morning.”

“Adam, its Joe.”

“What's wrong?” The voice was immediately attentive, concerned.

“It's Mac. He took three Quickenings tonight, in less than an hour, one of them a big one.”

Joe heard the hissing intake of breath a half a world away. “How is he?” came the inevitable question.

“Not good. He's a mess, in fact. He's having . . . I don't know . . . seizures or something. I don't know what to do, Adam.” There was a long pause. “Adam?”

“I'm thinking,” came the answer. Then another long pause. “Can I talk to him?”

“I don't know. Just a minute.” Joe stretched the phone cord, reaching out to MacLeod huddled next to the chair. “Mac? Mac. It's Adam Pierson.” He tried to hand MacLeod the phone, “Come on, Mac, it's Methos,” but MacLeod ignored Dawson, shivering slightly, his face bent to his knees and hidden under dark, tangled, blood-matted hair. “He's not talking,” Joe said into the phone, giving up the effort. When MacLeod didn't want to talk, it was pointless to try to force him. “Adam, have you ever heard of anything like this before? Have you ever done this?”

“Three?” came the incredulous question, followed by a harsh laugh. “No. Only MacLeod would ever manage that trick. Listen, I can probably catch a plane for the States in a couple of hours, but it will be at least 12 or 15 hours before I can get there. I'm frankly not sure what to do, but I know I can't help him from here.”

“Adam, that may be too late. Either he'll get over this or . . . I don't know. It just seems like he's gotten worse since we got him here.”

“Then sedate him, damn it! Knock him out! Tie him up! I don't know! I'll think of something on the plane, but for God's sake find a way to keep him safe until then.” The phone line went dead in Joe's hand. He looked at it as though it were the offending party, then slowly hung up.

“It's up to us, Richie, and I haven't a clue. Adam . . . Methos, says we should sedate him or knock him out until he gets here.” They both stood, watching Mac's back rise and fall in short, quick breaths. At the moment, MacLeod seemed unaware of their presence, lost in whatever struggle was going on internally.

“I don't think knocking him out is really an option,” observed Richie wryly. “But maybe . . .” Searching underneath the kitchen cabinet, he found the yellow pages and made a call to the hospital emergency room, asking for Dr. Anne Lindsey, saying it was personal, urgent and from Duncan MacLeod.

Richie waited for several minutes, listening to Musak, then he felt it. An odd buzzing along his skin, not unlike the sensation set off by the presence of another Immortal. It made the hairs on the back of his arms stand up. Then Mac's head snapped back. His mouth was in a rictus of a clenched grin as white energy erupted along his torso, arching his back, bringing him involuntarily to his feet. A cry escaped MacLeod's lungs, and he doubled over again as the bolts crackled along his arms and onto his chest. It had lasted a couple of seconds longer than the first time, and seemed more intense. Again, Mac was left gasping as Joe grabbed his shoulders and lowered him to a chair. Richie could only stand and watch, horrified at the worsening agony. Finally, Anne's voice came on the line.

“Duncan? Is something wrong?” She sounded worried.

“Anne, its Richie. Look, Anne, MacLeod needs you, can you get over here right away?” He asked.

“Duncan needs me?” Anne sounded confused. “What do you mean? What's happened? Why does he need me?”

“Look, Anne, its really hard to explain. Mac's . . . hurt. There's something wrong and Joe and I don't know how to help him, and the only guy who does is in France and it'll be half a day before he can get here and Mac . . . well we don't know what to do and the guy in France says maybe he could be sedated or something and . . . Anne, please! We're at the loft.” Richie ran out of breath.

“Well, that's really helpful,” Anne's voice was full of both concern and irony. He heard her call to someone nearby asking about the shift change. “I think I can get out of here in about a half hour provided no big emergencies come in.” She sounded dubious. “Are you sure about this?” She lowered her voice to a near whisper. “Duncan can't get sick or hurt, at least he doesn't stay that way very long.”

“Trust me, Anne, he needs you,” Richie said.

After second's pause, Anne said okay and rang off. It was almost an hour before they heard a knock on the door, and Mac had endured another, longer convulsive bout, leaving him writhing on the floor and his two friends standing helpless, frustrated and getting panicked with worry. Richie answered the door, waiving Anne into the room. She was wearing a raincoat over a short skirt and top, her dark, short-cropped hair framing a heart-shaped face and big, beautiful eyes dark with concern. She might have been termed cute, except anyone who did so would have to contend with the steely determination and intelligence behind those eyes.

She entered, finding Duncan MacLeod, the man she loved too much to live with, whose life was both mystical and terrifying, the man who had always seemed invulnerable, the epitome of strength and agility, curled up on the floor. With a small cry, Anne dropped her bag and knelt by his side. “Wait a minute, Anne. Don't touch him!” Joe called out in warning. She paused as she reached for Mac's shoulder, looking up curiously. “Richie?” Joe asked.

Richie closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. “Not yet.”

“Okay,” Joe said. “You can touch him, but if Richie says get back, he means it.”

Anne moved Duncan's hair away from his face, hissing at the blood that seemed to be everywhere. His color, where it could be seen among the streaks where sweat had washed blood away, was grey. His eyes were partially open and fully dilated, his breathing rapid and shallow. She felt his pulse at his neck and his heart rate was dangerously fast. She stood slowly, taking off her coat, rigid with concern and anger.

“What happened here?! He's not supposed to get hurt like this!” she cried.

“You saw him take a . . . a Quickening once?” Joe asked, uncertain about the extent of her knowledge of Immortals. Anne nodded, remembering the astonishing violence of that night, that moment, the crashing display of power that went on and on, passing into Duncan and throwing him to the ground.

“He took three this afternoon, within an hour. As far as I know, nobody's ever done that before. This,” he gestured to the shivering figure on the floor, “is what it did to him. It's been getting worse for the last few hours. It seems to build, then explode over him, passing back into him, each time leaving him a little weaker. Richie can feel them coming. When they do, trust me, you'll want to get out of the way.”

She knelt back down, stroking Mac's face, calling to him gently. For a moment she saw a flicker of recognition in the obsidian eyes as he focused on her face. Then she heard Richie call out, “Get back, Anne!” Her instincts told her to reach out to him, hold him, but Richie grabbed her and pulled her away just as blue-white energy crashed through and around Duncan's chest and head, danced along his arms and back as he writhed in its grip. It went on for what seemed like an eternity, but Anne's medical training told her it was a seizure of approximately 10 seconds duration. When it was over, she bent back down to him, and his heart rate was even higher, his breathing faster, shallower and now uneven. She looked up at the two men.

“I need to run blood tests, EKG, EEG. His blood chemistry or brain chemistry has to be totally out of sync, but I can't do anything here! You've got to help me get him to the hospital.” Her voice was one of command and desperation.

“No!” Richie said. “This has nothing to do with medical science, Anne. This is Immortal business. But we've got to try to keep him together until Adam gets here. He wanted us to try to sedate him. Can you do that?”

“Sedate him? What will keep an Immortal sedated? And who the hell is Adam?” she asked wonderingly.

“Anne, Immortals are human.” Joe explained. “Drugs still have an effect. And Adam is . . . well, he knows more about Immortals than most. He's on his way, but it'll be hours before he can get here from France and . . . ,” Joe gestured at MacLeod's prostrate figure. “I don't think he can wait that long like this.” Anne looked dubious, but went to the large briefcase type bag she had brought, and found a vial and syringe. She filled the syringe to the first line, looked down at Duncan, then pulled more of the clear fluid into the needle up to the second line.

“This should be enough to put a him completely out for 6 hours,” she said. She leaned over Mac's shivering form, pulling up the sleeve of his sweater and administered the shot in his bicep, rubbing the spot when she was done to disperse the medication. “I guess I won't worry about sterility,” she said wryly.

They watched, and after a moment, the trembling of Mac's muscles lessened, and the tension in his body eased somewhat, although he remained curled tightly on the floor. Anne sat on the floor near him, again stroking his stained face.

“Get me a wet towel,” she ordered. Richie complied, and Anne used it to wipe clear the sweat and blood from Mac's face. Under her gentle touch his eyes closed and his breathing evened out a little, relieving the almost unbearable tension in the room.

“Can we move him to the bed?” she asked. “His skin is hot and dry, and I suspect he's dehydrated.”

“It wouldn't surprise me,” Joe observed. “He initially lost a lot of blood.” His reference to the battles that caused the problem, and Anne's knowledge of the results of those battles made her shiver and her lips compress as she tried to banish the picture her imagination conjured. Richie bent over to try to get MacLeod to his feet, but as he did, Mac's hand shot out and grasped Anne's arm. His eyes were open, his gaze was focused only on Anne.

“Anne,” he gasped, his words slurred. “You shouldn't be here. Please. Go.”

“Duncan,” she said softly, cradling his pale face in her hands, “For once, you need me. You need my help. Don't try to send me away.”

“You don't understand,” he choked. “I'll hurt you. I can't control it!”

“Yes, you can, Duncan,” she said sternly. “And you will. Now help us get you to the bed.”

As Anne and Richie staggered under MacLeod's weight, Anne murmured, “He shouldn't even be conscious, much less talking.”

They lowered him onto his back. He was murmuring something in a language none of them understood, eyes half closed. Anne pulled surgical scissors out of her medical bag and cut away the tattered sweater, now stiff with dried blood, then wiped down MacLeod's face, neck and chest, cooling his skin and cleaning away the blood and sweat that had smeared and dried in the crevices of his skin. With the grim mess cleared away, the miracle of Immortal healing was made manifest, with not a mark or scar showing on MacLeod's smooth, muscular body and handsome face. Periodically a ripple would pass over him, as though something alive moved underneath his skin, and he would tense and again stir, murmuring to himself.

“What's he saying?” Richie asked, watching Anne wipe Duncan's face with a cool cloth.

“I have no idea,” Anne replied. “It doesn't even sound like a language I've ever heard. Sounds gutteral, vaguely . . . I don't know.”

“It must be Gaelic,” Joe responded. He had sat on a chair he had moved closer to the bed. “It may be what is in his deepest subconscious.”

Anne smiled sadly. “You know, I never think about how many different existences he has had, what it must have been like, moving from an isolated Scottish village, through Great Britain, through France, Italy, Spain, Africa, Russia, the Far East, then America. Trying to find an identity, a place for himself within each time, each culture. And all the time he was just a boy from the Highlands of Scotland.” She wet the cloth again, wiping Mac's neck and shoulders.

Within an hour, he was nearly conscious, murmuring, body moving restlessly. Richie was pacing the floor.

“It's there, in him, building. I can feel it.” Richie said, his look to Joe one of warning and concern. “It's making my skin itch. I can't even imagine how it makes him feel,” he added, nodding toward MacLeod's twisting body.

“Another dose this soon?” Anne sounded alarmed. “You said he was human, that the drugs would have the same effect. That much sedative this soon would kill him!”

“I said they'd have an effect.” Joe corrected her. “An Immortal's system readjusts itself automatically. It probably reacts to the drug like a poison, washing it out of his system pretty quickly.”

Then it happened so fast Richie didn't have time to sound a warning. With a scream of anguish, Mac arched back, the energy lifting him clear away from the bed. Anne caught some of it as it threw her against the wall, then the rush of power returned to sweep through MacLeod. Mac rolled off the bed away from Anne, desperately trying to distance himself, stumbling, falling, convulsing as the lightening struck again and again. When it was over, and they got Mac's shivering body back onto the bed, Anne determinedly pulled another syringe out, filling the vial with twice the previous dose. Richie and Joe held Mac still while she put it directly into a vein in his arm, bulging with the strain of his body's tension.

The next 12 hours were an unending nightmare. Anne made arrangements for the care of her baby girl, leaving for as little time as possible, then returning. And she got someone to cover for her at the hospital, pleading personal emergency. It took stronger and stronger doses of narcotic to keep MacLeod down. He was by now incoherent, sometimes shouting curses at them in multiple languages, but most frequently returning to English, French or the Gaelic of his youth. The three of them were exhausted, sleeping in brief fits on the couch. Richie was dozing when suddenly he sat up, looking toward the door, and Joe knew from the look on his face that Adam Pierson, who only a few knew as Methos, the oldest Immortal, had finally arrived. Anne answered the knock on the door, opening it to a tall, thin, cerebral looking young man in a long, dark coat, carrying a rucksack. His hair was short cropped, and he looked like the epitome of an underfed college graduate student.

“Hi,” he said, with a slight, sweet smile, putting out his hand. “I'm Adam Pierson. You must be the famous Dr. Lindsay.” Anne was too worried and exhausted to do anything other than respond automatically, shaking the young man's hand. He moved into the room, slinging his rucksack casually onto the floor by the kitchen sink, taking off his long coat and draping it over a chair.

He stood for a long moment, looking at MacLeod shifting restlessly on the bed, then pushed up the sleeves of his well worn sweater. “Well, let's see what we have here.” He moved to sit by MacLeod, raising the half closed lids. The touch made Mac try to twist away, but Pierson reached up to hold Mac's jaw firmly, painfully. Anne moved to intervene, but Joe held her elbow to stop her.

“Anne,” he said quietly, “Adam knows more about this than anyone. Let him do whatever he has to do.” More loudly he asked, “Did you think of something on the plane?”

Adam turned to face his Watcher compatriot, a sour smile twisting his mouth. “I did, but I don't like it and neither will Mac.” He turned and looked at MacLeod again for a long moment. “How long will the current shot last?” he asked.

“It lasts a little shorter each time. Best guess, a half an hour,” Anne responded in her most perfunctory professional manner.

“Doesn't leave us much time. Richie, Joe, I want you to tie him down to the bed, tight and firm. We're going to have to let him wake up.”

“Then what?” Joe asked, almost certain he didn't want to hear the answer.

“Then Duncan's going to have to do battle with the devil. He's done it before. This is quite different though. Maybe I can help him a little more directly,” Adam said quietly.

Richie and Joe found ropes in the dojo. Mac was beginning to regain consciousness as they finished binding his ankles and wrists to the four corners of the bed.

“Are you sure this is the right thing to do?” Joe asked quietly.

“No,” Adam whispered, “but its the best I can think of. Mostly this depends on MacLeod being MacLeod.”

Mac was muttering again, moving his head as though to escape an unwanted dream. His shoulders bunched and muscles rippled as he strained, drawing blood as he twisted against the retraints. Anne stood back, hand covering her mouth in concern, not knowing what to do, how to help him, reluctant to trust this stranger. Adam sat on the bed again and took Mac's face between his hands and held it firmly.

“Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod,” he called loudly. Mac continued to mutter, and Adam tried again. This time, the dark eyes opened, focusing on Adam's face.

“Methos!” Duncan muttered. He pulled his head out of Adam's tight grasp. “You are a bad dream.” Then he finished his thought in Gaelic.

“No, Mac. You're not in hell, yet,” Methos said. He again held Mac's face in his hands. “Mac! Duncan, listen to me!” The black eyes again found Adam's. “Concentrate! You're fighting the Quickening, not letting it take you. You've got to let go, just long enough for it to lose its power, to be subsumed into you, to become part of you.”

“NO!” Duncan shouted hoarsely. “They want to take over! I won't be me anymore! It'll be like the Dark Quickening!” His eyes were fully open now and focused intently on the old Immortal and Adam/Methos saw something he never thought he would see in Duncan MacLeod's face, pure fear and panic.

“Yes, you will, Duncan. You proved you could do that, you won that battle, you can win this one!” Adam said desperately. “Duncan, listen to me!” he again wrestled with the struggling Highlander. “This time I'll be with you.” Pierson's voice took on a strange, echoing quality. “Look at me, MacLeod. See yourself in me. Keep hold of yourself through me.” He repeated the phrase several times, like a mantra, his voice gradually tapering to an inaudible whisper.

Richie was tensing in anticipation, and Anne and Joe shared a look of fear as each recognized that the drug-delayed Quickening storm was coming. Mac fixed his black eyes on Pierson, who held tight to MacLeod's jaw as the storm broke in the room. Anne found herself on the floor, slammed against the kitchen island, but couldn't take her eyes off of Duncan and Adam Pierson. The energy twined around them and through them, Anne could see Duncan's chest stop its breath, as though all the air were squeezed out and nothing allowed back in. The veins in his neck engorged as his muscles rebelled and fought, but his expression was one of intense concentration, his eyes riveted to Pierson, who struggled to maintain his grip on his friend as the power surged around them.

The windows of the loft suddenly blew outward as the power again rolled over Duncan, into Pierson, then back into Duncan as he strained against his bonds. Finally, the rope holding MacLeod's right arm snapped under the tension of straining muscles, and Duncan instinctively reached out with his newly freed arm and gripped Pierson around the throat. The two figures appeared to have each other in a death grip as the lights in the room exploded and the power went out.

Duncan MacLeod, mesmerized by Methos' words, looked into the placid depths of the eyes of the oldest man on earth. He was aware of distant seering pain as the unwanted Quickening energy coursed through him once again, aware that his physical body had reached its limits, but that had happened so many times before it was relatively easy to ignore. What he could not ignore was the panic that welled up in him whenever the Quickening, the other identities, felt like they were going to consume his own. It was his greatest, deepest fear. He would rather die, permanently, than lose his soul again. But to look into Methos' eyes was like falling into a shimmering, reflecting, tranquil pool. What he saw there, suspended in time, was . . . Duncan MacLeod -- as Methos, the oldest Immortal, saw him. There was stubbornness, arrogance, vanity, pride, self-enforced loneliness, all of which he recognized and acknowledged. But there was also great courage, insight, wisdom, humanity, kindness -- qualities which Duncan was aware that Methos envied and admired in him. At the last, though, as MacLeod felt his body teeter on the edge between life and death, what he saw was . . . endurance . . . and . . . faith -- in far greater capacity than he had ever judged himself capable. It was those qualities that, over and over again, had made it possible for Duncan to keep going, to survive, to believe in the future. The realization brought a tiny, blossoming moment of surprise and self-revelation, a moment that loosened his iron grip on that closed door in his mind, which flew open with numbing violence under the pressure of the long-delayed Quickening. As the power rushed in, flooding his senses, he felt the vessels of his heart burst, then there was only darkness.

And silence. Moonlight cast the only shadows in the room, and an unpleasant electric smell filled the air. Anne could hear Richie and Joe stirring, asking her and each other if they were all right. Anne pulled herself to her feet. Her knees were unsteady from shock, but she was determined to find her way across the demolished room to Duncan. She stumbled several times in the dark over furniture, but finally found the bed. She tripped over Pierson who was on the floor nearby. Anne reached down to him, feeling for his pulse. Joe had found and lit a couple of candles, and in the flickering light she saw Pierson had been thrown by the force of the last explosion into the shelving near the bed, cutting a long gash across his forehead. His pulse was fast but steady, and gooseflesh rose on her arms as she watched the gash disappear, leaving only the blood behind.

She turned to Duncan as Joe held the candle high. His body was totally still for the first time in uncountable hours. His eyes were half shut, his expression chillingly blank. She felt for a pulse at this neck, then felt again as her own breath caught in her throat. She laid her ear against his chest, still warm and damp with sweat, and waited a long moment, but there was nothing, no breath, no heartbeat, nothing. She sat up, unable to say the words they all seemed to be waiting for, and watched as Richie gently reached down and closed MacLeod's eyes and began untying his bonds. She felt Joe's warm grip on her shoulder.

“It'll be okay, Anne,” he said quietly.

“Will it?” Anne asked, a sob choking her voice. “You said yourself this had never happened before. Look at him, Joe. He's . . .” She couldn't bring herself to say it.

She sat there, numb, feeling Duncan's body cool, barely aware of Joe and Richie as they lit more candles and began cleaning up the mess, remembering the nightmare of grief from the first time she saw Duncan MacLeod's body lying shattered, lifeless, dead. Cold pre-dawn air from the broken windows stirred her hair, drying the moisture her tears traced on her face. A few lights came on as Joe found a tripped circuit breaker, and more light filled the room as they replaced fragmented light bulbs. Then a groan escaped the lips of the reviving Adam Pierson as he sat up, putting a hand to his forehead, smearing the drying blood from the closed wound.

“Damn!” he said, as awareness of his surroundings increased. “What a mess!” He clumsily pulled himself to his feet, leaning against the wall, pale and trembling, rubbing his neck where MacLeod's grip had left a broad dark bruise. “How's MacLeod?” he asked quietly.

“Dead,” Anne finally stated flatly. She desperately wanted to blame someone, and Pierson seemed the most likely candidate.

“I was afraid of that,” Adam replied as though talking about car that wouldn't start. “At the end, there, I think his heart just . . . stopped.”

“Will he be all right?” Joe asked.

Adam sighed, stumbling to a chair. “I honestly don't know, Joe.” He passed his hand over his face wearily. “So much MacLeod does is . . . different . . . from anybody else. It's hard to predict. Will his heart start again? Probably. Will he emerged unscathed from this? I have no idea. But then, he overcame a Dark Quickening. That didn't leave him unscathed either, but he survived. He has a knack for survival does our Duncan MacLeod. Could somebody get me a beer?” he requested plaintively.

Richie retrieved a bottle for him from Mac's refrigerator, and Richie and Joe continued trying to put the room back in some kind of order, tacking blankets up over the gaping windows. It was almost a half an hour later when Anne gave a small, startled cry. She had kept her hand on Duncan's chest, willing his heart to start again, when she felt it. At first it was just the slightest vibration, then another, then another, then finally a heart beat. Then it stopped for several seconds, then beat again, unsteadily. Then, suddenly, Duncan's great heart slammed into action, increasing its rate wildly, pumping oxygen-starved blood to brain, organs and limbs. Mac gasped for air, closing his arms around his chest, doubling up in pain. Anne reached for him, enfolding his shivering form in her arms, pulling his head into her lap.

Gradually, he relaxed as his breathing and heart rate slowed. He reached for Anne's hand, kissing it gently, grateful for the comfort of her touch.

“Duncan?” She gently pushed his matted hair away from his face. “Duncan, are you okay?”

A soft chuckle rumbled in MacLeod's chest, causing him to cough convulsively. He sat up slowly, put his feet on the floor, firmly grasping the edge of the bed.

“Okay? Well, I'm alive,” he said hoarsely. He looked balefully around the room. “What a mess,” he observed. “MacLeod and I need to talk,” Adam called peremptorily from across the room.

Anne, Joe and Richie exchanged dubious glances. Anne rose, and her look at Pierson was enough to give even the 5,000 year old man pause.

“Look, Pierson, I don't give a rat's ass who you are. We've been trying to keep this man alive for what seems like an eternity. You waltz in here, and want to throw us out? I don't think so!” The tension of the past hours pushed Anne's temper right over the line as she stalked slowly toward the lounging Immortal, her entire body shaking with outrage.

Pierson stood, his strong hands gently grasping her trembling shoulders. His voice was soft, soothing, hypnotic. “Anne, what Duncan needs right now is time to sort out what has happened. He and I need to talk about how to do that, that's all. You're exhausted. We're all exhausted. Go home. Rest. Sleep. The worst is over. You saved him, Anne. You all did.”

The tension quickly leeched out of her at the sound of his gentle voice, leaving her limp and numb. She turned to Duncan, who nodded concurrence with Pierson's instructions. She and Joe and Richie slowly, painfully, wordlessly, gathered their things. She finally crossed to MacLeod and stood before him, reaching out to stroke his hard jaw line with her small, strong hand, then kissing him gently.

“Thank you,” he said softly, stroking her hair. “I wish . . .” She put her finger to his lips.

“Being needed is part of the reason I became a doctor,” she said softly. “I just never expected to be needed, for that reason, by you. I wish it changed things, Duncan, but it doesn't.”

“I know,” he said. His dark eyes were filled with sadness, regret and exhaustion.
She joined Richie in the elevator. Joe stopped next to Adam as they prepared to leave, giving him a hard look. “Call me, Watcher,” he instructed. Adam Pierson nodded, and he and Duncan watched their faces disappear through the slats on the elevator door as it descended.

Adam/Methos sat back down in the big leather chair, reaching for his unfinished beer. MacLeod rose on unsteady legs and disappeared into the bathroom. While Mac took a long shower, Methos opened a second beer, contemplating sleeping on Mac's couch for what remained of the night. MacLeod finally emerged wrapped in a terry cloth robe, working a comb through long, tangled, wet hair.

“Well, Highlander,” Methos/Adam said, tipping his beer in salute. “You've done it again.”

“Done what?” MacLeod asked, sitting heavily on the bed, arms too tired even to continue to comb his hair.

“Done something none of us has ever done before,” Methos replied.

“You don't know that for sure.” MacLeod shuddered involuntarily with exhaustion and . . . something else.

“How do you feel?” the old Immortal asked.

“Like hell, burned from the inside out. My chest feels like it's been trampled by a herd of wild elephants and my head is ringing so badly . . .” his voice trailed off. Mac turned to lock eyes with Methos. “There are still voices there, still . . . others.”

“Patience, my friend. You can take them all in, use them, learn from them. Don't you realize that now?” Methos asked.

“What I saw . . . what you showed me, Methos, was your view of my capacities. I don't necessarily live to fulfill your perceptions or expectations.” Mac carefully put the comb on the nightstand and lay back. “However, I am . . . grateful.”

“What you saw, my friend, was Duncan MacLeod, without the constraints of the doubt you impose on yourself about whether you're good enough, strong enough, wise enough, fast enough, to fight the battles of everyone you care about. In many ways, MacLeod, you do not lack in confidence, but there are a few, odd places in your psyche that are all too fragile, too . . . human.” Methos finished his beer. Soft snoring from the bed indicated that his last words had not been heard, and Methos quietly turned out the lights, stretched out on the couch, covered himself with his long coat, and quickly fell asleep.