"Refuge", chapter 20, "Sins of Omission" series by Leslie Fish
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Author's Notes:
Standard fanfic disclaimer: no harm, no foul, no money.

SINS OF OMISSION, PART 20:
REFUGE
by Leslie Fish


Duncan began, next morning, as he meant to continue: awake with the sun, then into loose clothes and out for an hour of exercises - calisthenics, then katas, then sword-practice (with a properly-carved wooden sword), then a brief run around the island, a half-hour spent cutting twigs and making a fish-trap - then home for a hot bath and a lavish brunch, thoughtfully cooked by Methos.

"Eggs Benedict!" Duncan marveled, in a pause between bites. "Mmm. I didn't know you could cook like this."

"I usually don't bother," Methos shrugged, cutting free another bite-sized chunk, "But as long as we're roughing it out here..."

"Some rough," Duncan mumbled around a mouthful.

"I'll definitely have to phone Joe for some more supplies," Methos noted, spearing an escaping piece of Canadian bacon. "At this rate, we'll be out of eggs in two days."

Duncan frowned, remembering that Methos had brought his cell-phone, and then shrugged. Better that than having Methos leave the safety of the island. "And doubtless you'll send for more beer," he chuckled.

"Of course." Methos raised an elegant eyebrow. "I intend to have a wider choice of drinks than just coffee and water."

Duncan laughed again, finished the last of his food, and stretched until his joints crackled. "Back to work," he announced, almost apologetically. "Sorry if I'm not much company right now..."

"I'm sure I can find something to keep myself amused." Methos rose and began gathering up the emptied plates. "If nothing else, I can raid your bookshelf while you're preoccupied."

"Mi casa est su casa," Duncan grinned, pulling away from the table. Probably the best place to meditate and call up the memories would be back upstairs, on the bed. There was plenty of room to sit or stretch out, as needed. He headed for the stairs, already falling into that meditative state of mind that made the memories come.

Methos watched him go, waited until Duncan was out of sight and hearing, then pulled his cell-phone out of his pocket and dialed Joe's number.

*****

Cassandra sipped her tea and carefully extended a psychic probe toward Cardinal Rincelli. The man resembled a gray-maned lion with that thick head of unruly hair, and the keen look he fixed upon her wasn't unlike that of a predator studying possible prey. He was trying to second-guess her, calculate just where she stood in this proposed war and figure out what she hoped to gain by it, but there was nothing hostile in his calculations. He was, if anything, intrigued by her.

He also had a serious personal interest in the war on Ahriman. He'd always believed the devil was real, and Cassandra's notes had confirmed his belief.

"We shall have to let the mortal psychics know about the Immortals," she said firmly, setting down her cup. "There's no way they won't notice our...peculiarities, not if they study and practice and train with us for a year."

"That will necessarily mean taking them all into the Watchers," the cardinal frowned.

"So be it," Cassandra shrugged. "How are Watchers usually recruited? By accidentally observing Immortals, no? That's a most...random method. At least this way you'll have some control over how they learn the secret, which will affect their attitude toward Immortals afterward." There was no need to mention certain Watchers who had proved actively hostile toward the Immortals; that was still a sore subject, she knew. "Also, have you considered the advantage of having more psychics among the Watchers?"

"I have," the cardinal smiled. "They might prove quite adept at discovering new Immortals, which is all to the good."

"Just so." Cassandra set down her teacup. "At what point will you need me to teach the class?"

"Not for some months yet. We must make sure the team is thoroughly integrated first." Rincelli interlaced his fingers. "I daresay, integrating mortals and Immortals shall be easier than getting some of the mortals to adjust to each other: a certain Chassidic Jew and a Moslem Dervish, for example."

"There's an easy method to reconcile those two," Cassandra smiled. "Play music they can both appreciate, and get them to dance. They're both from trance-dancing cults, and can understand that, at least, about each other."

"All we need do is choose the right music," the cardinal chuckled. "Perhaps we should set them to searching through the music library first."

"Not a bad idea," Cassandra agreed. "Now, what further information will you need from me at this stage? I have some other obligations, and I'll need to return to America soon."

"I can't think of any bases left untouched, as you Americans put it." Rincelli was honestly reluctant to see her go, but wouldn't stoop to inventing make-work just to keep her here. "Will your phone number remain valid?"

"Yes," Cassandra promised. "But please don't use it unnecessarily."

"I'll not." The cardinal's sincerity was clear. "Thank you again for coming, my child-- Ah, it's ridiculous for me to use that term with you, but I'm so used to it."

Cassandra raised a hand in the traditional gesture, and intoned: "You are forgiven."

They both laughed, and parted company in good cheer.

On the ride back to the airport Cassandra considered that the fledgling Army of the Blessed would be in good hands with Cardinal Rincelli. Now she could afford to relax, study, and concentrate on Duncan - and Joe.

It would, she reflected, be a lot of fun living and working with Joe for the next few months.

*****

Joe got out of his car at the end of the bridge, and saw Methos emerge from the greenery at the other end. He waved cheerfully, then hobbled around to the trunk and opened it. Methos reached him before he'd finished unloading.

"Ah, the beer! I'll carry that," Methos grinned. "Just pile the rest on the bridge, and I'll come get it in a couple of trips."

"Hmmm. I take it you don't want me on the island?" Joe guessed.

"Not just you: anybody." Methos sighed. "He's established a routine and doesn't want to break it. Besides, I think he wants to be generally alone for awhile. I'm the only exception."

"Because you're lovers, or because of the psychic link?" Joe had to ask.

"A little of both, I think." Methos shivered briefly, and picked up the case of beer. "Joe, I've been trying very hard to keep him from experimenting with any further psychic work. I really believe he's not up for it yet, and I'm worried enough about... bleed-over from Connor."

Joe chewed his lip briefly. "Is he actually communicating with Connor's Quickening?"

They looked at each other for a moment, the name "Sister Ignacia" hanging unspoken between them.

"I...think so," Methos admitted, "But the contact is brief and unpredictable, and he can't call it up voluntarily."

"Thank God," Joe muttered.

"And I've seen no sign of his personality altering - aside from the understandable effects of grief, anyway. He's not about to lose himself."

"You're sure?"

"Positive." Methos sounded totally sure of himself. "Oh, he's gotten past the point of Connor's return from China - as quite a rich man, by the by - and into the years when he did a lot of sailing."

"That should be safe." Joe noticed that Methos was shifting the burden of the beer from hand to hand. "Go on, haul the good stuff on back to the cabin. I can get the rest onto the bridge, anyway."

"Thanks." Methos hefted the load neatly onto his head, much like an African cargo-bearer. "Ah, I think it best if I call your cell-phone hereafter, rather than the bar's."

**He really doesn't want to chance talking with Cassandra,* Joe guessed. "Fine with me. You've got the number."

"And I'll let you know when we need supplies again - or if anything important comes up." Methos turned and started back down the bridge.

Joe watched him go until the forest swallowed up the sight of him, then sighed and began toting the groceries onto the bridge. One of the bags was full of batteries for Methos' cell-phone and laptop, so there would be no excuses for not keeping in touch - or letting any vital data go unrecorded. Given that, there was no need to push for more.

Let the two of them have their peace for awhile.

He could keep Cassandra away from them, if he needed to.

*****

**Back in London again, Connor went first to his bank to make certain the transactions had all been carried out properly. The sheer size of his account was beginning to worry him; it was the sort of thing that drew mortal attention. Best to start, as Ramirez had suggested so long ago, making "trusts" and "endowments" in the names of new personas. In fact, it would be wise to start creating more personas; there was no telling when he might have to abandon his current one. That would, he knew, require borrowing a baby from an orphanage to take to various churches for baptism before giving it back; later he could come ask for copies of the certificates of baptism, and from there start laying other tracks of non-existent persons.

The plan took three days to execute - one day of hauling the whining baby about, two days of collecting paperwork - and when the last of it was done he was eager to return to his inn for a long drink, a good meal, a hot bath and bed, in that order.

He'd just set foot over the threshold when he felt the tingle of another Immortal's presence.

Years of training kept him from reacting. Connor continued into the inn, casting his eyes about surreptitiously for some hint of the other Immortal. Seeing nothing significant in the immediate crowd, he tried using his Quickening as Nakano had taught him to search for the stranger's direction. Ah yes, there: by the corner of the stairs, where Connor would have to pass to get to his room. Was this planned? Connor quietly gripped the handle of his sword, then reminded himself that there could be no fighting where mortals might see. He followed the direction of the Quickening through the crowd until he reached the table, and saw that only one man sat there - and then flinched heavily as he saw who the Immortal was.*

The hollow-eyed cavalier. Mowbray.

**Connor never knew if he would have turned and run, because just then Mowbray looked up and saw him coming. The man's eyes widened in recognition and shock, and his set down his mug clumsily, splashing dark ale on the table.

No, there was no avoiding the meeting now. Connor stepped up to the table, drew out an empty chair and dropped into it. For a long moment the two men did nothing but stare at each other.

Finally Mowbray broke the silence. "I don't know," he said, very quietly, "If I should thank thee for my First Death or not."

Connor thought that over, and could draw only one conclusion. "I see ye found a teacher. Who is he?"

"...An Englishman, named Graham Ashe." Mowbray couldn't seem to pull his eyes away. "It took him a year to make me stop trying to die."

Connor remembered, and saw the pattern. "Had ye naught to live for, then?"

Mowbray spread his hands vaguely. "My family was gone. Ashe persuaded me to go to the main clan, and they took me in, but soon enough I'll have to leave them." He heaved a vast sigh. "What existence is this, without true home?"

Connor felt a slow vast anger rising up from his boots through his whole body. "I was cast out of my clan," he remembered, "Yet found another home in another town - and a good home it was, for a mortal lifetime."* Heather's lifetime. It was the emptiness after her that delivered me into your hands... **"What right have ye to whine and carp about God's gift, which thou'rt meant to put to good use? For that matter, I was but a servant of Cheape's; what right had ye to include me in thy damned vengeance?"

Mowbray drew a deep breath and stared at the lace-trimmed front of Connor's shirt, beneath which - he had to know - the little crucifix still hid. "Allied," he whispered. "Ye were allied with him, against thine own kind. Tell me, before God: didst thou aid him in the burning of Mowbray House?"

"No!" Connor snapped, appalled. "How could ye think that-" Then he remembered that night. "I saddled his horse and ope'd his gate, and no more. I knew naught of where he rode or what he planned. I was only the groom, for Christ's sake!"

Mowbray blinked rapidly, adjusting to that. "If thou wert truly innocent, if I wronged thee..." he said slowly, "I thought my death had paid for it."

"No," Connor whispered, feeling the steady rage pulse through him - and with it came the memory of what Mowbray had done to him, made him face and feel. "No, for ye did not stay dead."

Mowbray went still, an almost peaceful look spreading across his face. "If 'tis my head ye want, let us go to some safe and private place," he said. "Let it be properly done."

It was that look that spurred Connor's rage, reminding him of the last time they'd fought.* Oh no, you're too willing to die. You'd enjoy it too much! **"Tis not thy head that I want," he heard himself whispering.

"What, then?" Mowbray looked afraid again.

As if the man's fear had triggered it, a perfectly monstrous image bloomed in Connor's imagination: an absolutely perfect vengeance. "To give back what thou gavest me," he said, knowing the cavalier would understand.

Sure enough, Mowbray's expression shifted to one of fascinated horror, like a bird entranced by a serpent. Connor smiled bitterly, feeling an odd portion of his rage shift direction and trickle to his groin, where a hot itching sprouted and began to grow.

"Wh...where?" the cavalier managed, wide eyes fixed on Connor.

"I've a room upstairs." Connor was distantly amazed at his own implacable calm.

Mowbray shivered visibly, then squared his shoulders, reached for his mug and drained it. "'Tis just as well, then," he said, wiping his mouth, "That I visited the necessary before coming in." His voice sounded almost cheerful, but there was a wild and reckless look in his eyes.

Connor couldn't help adding: "And did ye make use o' the klyster, while ye were at it?"

Mowbray blushed furiously, betraying his answer. Connor laughed despite his fury, thinking of how useful that silly custom could be. He rose from his chair, reached across the table and took Mowbray firmly by the arm. "Upstairs," he repeated, holding the man's eyes with his own.

"Aye," Mowbray whispered, standing clumsily. He stumbled a bit as he took his first steps toward the staircase, and Connor could feel the man's fear, fascination, and something strangely close to relief: an eerie sense of rightness, as of a nagging debt being finally paid. He moved like a sleepwalker up the stairs, letting Connor tow him toward the right room and through the doorway, halting obediently while Connor locked and barred the door behind them.

Floating like a well-made ship on the calm sea of his determined fury, Connor lit a solitary candle and sank into the only chair in the room. He watched for a moment, savoring his power, as Mowbray stood staring at him with that same terrified/fascinated look. Finally he pointed an imperious finger at the cavalier. "Strip," he commanded.

Mowbray quivered, then obediently unbuckled his sword-belt and let it fall, clanging, to the floor. His hat followed. With trembling fingers he unfastened his doublet, pulled it off and likewise let it fall. He fumbled with his trews, then kicked his shoes off and pulled down his trews and hose together and dropped them into the growing pile on the floor. In a resolute rush he seized the hem of his shirt and pulled it up over his head, yanked his arms out of the sleeves and let the garment fall. He hesitated, hands shaking, at the string of his breechclout.

"Go on," Connor insisted, studying every nuance of the man's tangled emotions. He realized that he was actually feeling them, reading Mowbray's Quickening without conscious effort, and marveled at the power he held.

The cavalier slowly unfastened his breechclout and let it fall, briefly hid his groin with his hands, then sighed and pulled his hands away and let Connor see him utterly naked and without defense.

Connor studied the lean body before him, noting details. "Ye've put on flesh since I saw thee last," he commented.

"Ashe obliged me to eat well..." Mowbray half-whispered.

"As a duty," Connor guessed. "Have ye taken no pleasure in life, in all these years?"

"Very little," the cavalier admitted, not looking at him.

Connor felt a surge of nameless feeling as he remembered Mowbray's listlessness the last time they'd met: the man's fearless resignation as Connor's sword pierced his heart, and what Connor had guessed then. Going with the flow, he let himself say: "Dost thou still dream of burnt tiny finger-bones?"

Mowbray flinched in shock, turning wide eyes back to Connor, revealing how deeply the words had struck.

"Perhaps, then," Connor went on, "I'll give thee something else to dream of."

Mowbray said nothing, but clutched his arms and shivered heavily.

"Lie down," said Connor, pointing to the bed.

The cavalier obediently stumbled to the bed and collapsed on it, still staring at Connor.

"Something else indeed," Connor murmured, getting to his feet. He couldn't define the thoughts that were whirling through the back of his mind, only that they formed an elaborate pattern that felt utterly right.

Slowly, deliberately displaying himself, Connor stripped off his clothes. Mowbray watched, not moving, saying nothing - but the look of fascination in his eyes began to outweigh the fear.

As Connor tugged away his breechclout he remembered something else from that harrowing ordeal in the wine-cellar. Mowbray had used a brass rod, an implement, on Cheape - his chief enemy - but had used his own cock on Connor. It had been stiff enough for the task, and had come at the finish.*

He wanted me. He still does.

**The thought was more than sobering. His time in the East had given Connor a wide understanding of the body's needs and desires, how varied they could be and how readily wakened. In the House of Silver Lotus he'd given up the last of the schooled fears and shames he'd learned by rote as a child. He'd come to accept, with delight, the knowledge that women found him beautiful and desirable - but he'd never before realized that a man might feel the same.

Desire for more than revenge had stiffened Mowbray that night.*

Was that why he gave himself to me, in battle, the next morning?

**The complex and wordless patterns in Connor's mind shifted again, taking on another direction. Yes, he would indeed give Mowbray back what he'd given that night.

Connor glanced quickly around the room. There was no gingered oil here, but simple lamp-oil would serve his purpose. He reached for the unlighted lamp and poured some of its contents into his hand. "On thy belly," he ordered.

Shaking, Mowbray obeyed. Connor poured out the oil along the man's back, noting how the cavalier shivered at the touch. There, a little more: he remembered how Silver Lotus and her maids had done this, slowly and thoroughly, allowing no chance for resistance, as he would give Mowbray none. He put down the lamp and pressed his hands to the cavalier's oil-pooled back, then slid them upward to the shoulders, then down to the thighs. Mowbray trembled heavily under his hands, but made no sound. Slowly, cunningly, Connor pressed his fingers deeper. He combed into the muscles until the shivering died and the flesh softened, yielding, as the pleasure slowly took hold.

From the inn's main room below came the sound of fiddles and pipes tuning up, and an increase of laughing voices. Excellent. The music would cover the sound of any cries from this room.

Smiling cruelly, Connor drew his oil-slicked hands down, between Mowbray's buttocks, and circled deliberately at the tight bunghole. The cavalier whimpered, and the muscles clenched. Connor laughed softly and circled his fingers again. He knew he could press deeper, force the cringing iris of flesh to open to him, but no: that would be only simple pain and conquest, and he intended something more. Instead, Connor slid his hand further down, burrowed between Mowbray's thighs and took a gentle but firm hold of his bollocks. The cavalier gasped, flinched, then froze. Connor didn't release his hold, but moved his fingers - stroking gently, repeatedly, until Mowbray began to squirm and then abruptly arched his hips upward. Connor understood the reason: the man needed room for his cock to expand. Oh yes, there was no doubt now; Mowbray had done this before, certainly desired it before. The end was a foregone conclusion.

Remembering carefully the lessons Silver Lotus and her maids had taught him, Connor skimmed his other hand lightly, teasingly, across the man's thigh and up to his hip. Only a little stroking there was needed to make Mowbray arch his hips upward again, just enough space that Connor could dart his hand under the man's belly and grasp his - yes - swollen cock. Mowbray gasped and quivered again, and Connor vividly remembered that cock sinking him. For an instant dizziness swirled up, threatening to pull him down, but Connor fought it away and concentrated on his task. It was growing difficult to focus, with his own cock throbbing so insistently. For a moment Connor wondered if he was stiffened more by his rage for vengeance or by the stark memory of what the cavalier had made him feel.

Then Mowbray squirmed madly and spread his thighs wider apart, and Connor shifted his attention to the next task. He slid his knees between those spread thighs, released the man's bollocks and slid his hand deliberately back up the crease to the clenched bung. Now to rub softly, insistently - and yes, the muscles fluttered and relaxed even as the cavalier wriggled again. There, a few more minutes of that, then slide one finger inward. Mowbray jumped, then quivered and sobbed into the pillow. Connor pressed deeper, amazed at the heat of the surrounding flesh, and fought off another wave of dizziness as he imagined plunging his cock into that heat. Now the second finger, sliding carefully, and the cavalier squirmed helplessly. Yes, yes, and now spread the fingers wide and turn them - wouldn't Silver Lotus smile to see that her pupil had learned so well - and yes, the muscles relaxed further and Mowbray was groaning softly on every breath. Aye, a few more minutes of that, while the music echoed up through the floorboards, and now slip forward...

Connor drew a deep breath and slid his cock between the cavalier's spread buttocks until its tip rested against his palm. Then, with exquisite care, he pulled his fingers back and leaned forward into the waiting target. The heat clasped his cock like a welcoming hand.

Mowbray wailed like a lost soul under him, the sound blending with the music of the pipes and fiddle. Connor abruptly remembered feeling this himself, and pressed forward slowly, slowly, caught on the knife's edge between the stark memory and the immediate feeling, taken and taking, the pleasure so intense that he could scarcely breathe. Only when he was sunk to the hilt in the writhing flesh did he remember to work his hand as well; he pulled back, slowly, hand and cock together, until he could bear the loss of contact no longer - and then drove inward again, pulling his hand toward him, converging the strokes. The cavalier bucked frantically under him, and Connor could feel the helpless desire raging through both of them.

At that point all thought and calculation stopped. Connor pulled and thrust, slowly gaining speed as Mowbray's lean body surged to match him, his rage and vengeance melted away in the world-devouring sensation. They were almost a single consciousness now, pumping blindly, lost in the frantic heat and pressure and touch, time fading away, no awareness of anything else but the feverish strains of music that paced them through a sea of liquid fire. Wave by wave that sea rose in a vast swell, and Connor could feel the end coming for both of them, the power growing at the root of his cock - no stopping this, nothing could stop it - until it burst free in a single explosive flare, roaring silently through his cock, through the body beneath him, bursting out of Mowbray's cock in his hand, a single river of ecstatic heat flowing as if it would never end.

Eventually it did end, and the two of them sank down into a sweet blankness that was close to sleep but never quite reached it. More featureless time passed, until Connor eventually became aware of the fiddle music stopping, a distant clatter of voices, and the feel of his pulse beating heavily in his groin. He could feel the cavalier's slow heartbeat in the flesh surrounding him, deep breathing that matched his, and was dimly amazed.

Fragment by fragment, thought came back. Connor grew aware that his rage was gone, burned away like mist in the morning sun, leaving him to look back at what he'd just done. He saw clearly his own ruthlessness, and was equally appalled and astounded. Almost in apology, he stretched his Quickening and felt for Mowbray...

...And was amazed to find the man's mind filled with a vast peace. There was more to it than a sense of fitting completion, of a circle closed, of justice done; it was also an awareness that he wasn't alone - not in his immortality, or his more exotic desires, or his rage for vengeance, or anything else. There was nothing now to fear or feel guilt for, and no debt left unpaid.

There was no more need to dream of tiny, burnt finger-bones.*

My God, I gave him peace! **Connor marveled. Unbelievably, some good had come out of his rage and vengeance.* I gave him penance...

**And forgiveness must follow, he remembered. He knew from his own childhood the words that would complete the ritual. Very gently, he withdrew his hand from under the cavalier's body and patted his near thigh. "Go thy ways," he said formally, "And sin no more."

Mowbray shivered from end to end, gave a vast sigh, and otherwise didn't move.

No, there had to be more: some gesture, some action. Following his instincts, Connor slowly pulled out and away from the prone body beneath him, slid off the bed and went to the basin and pitcher waiting on the clothes-press. Yes, there was a washing-sponge there, and the water was still warm. Connor filled the basin and washed himself thoughtfully, then soaked the sponge again, returned to the bed and slowly, carefully, began washing Mowbray's back.

The cavalier twitched once, then began to weep softly - not in pain or shame, but in pure relief.

Connor continued to ply the sponge, thinking of something else that might help. "There's a wee Catholic church," he said, "Hidden away in the second courtyard of Greenbrier Street. Ye'll be safe there, as long as ye need to be."

Mowbray nodded faintly against the pillow, tears still flowing as if to wash his face clean.

It occurred to Connor that he'd finally given over his resentment against the church. He might not trust it for any moral guidance, but it provided safety and consolation, and that was enough.*

*****

Duncan wrenched himself away from the memory and flopped sideways on the bed, feeling tears on his own cheeks and a wet spot in his pants. "Good God, Connor..." he whispered, shaken by the depths he'd seen. "Good God!"

His hands reached, almost with a will of their own, for the book.

*****

Methos was ladling the stew out of the pot, wondering if he should go upstairs and forcibly remind Duncan to eat, when he heard the footsteps approaching. He glanced up, smiling, as Duncan padded into the kitchen - then wondered as he saw the intense look on his highlander's face.

**Gods, not another bad memory,* he silently cringed.

But Duncan came straight up to him, leaned against his back, and clasped his shoulders. Methos held perfectly still, wondering, as Duncan quietly kissed the back of his neck. There was no passion in the gesture, but a warmth as deep and vast as the sea. Methos basked in that feeling for a long moment, then realized his hands were still full.

"Is that for my cooking?" he quipped. "And you haven't even tasted it yet." It seemed somehow important to keep the mood gentle and light.

"I'm just thinking how lucky I am," Duncan whispered into his hair. "I'm humbled by my teachers."

**What the hell brought this on?* Methos set down the pot and ladle, turned around and took Duncan in his arms. For once he had nothing to say, but only hung on. Duncan returned the clasp, and they stood like that for a long moment. It was a strange sort of perfection, and Methos knew it couldn't last.

"Come eat before the stew gets cold," he said, gently pulling himself out of Duncan's grasp. "We can talk later."

"Yes," Duncan murmured, drifting toward his chair. "Oh, yes." His belly chose that moment to rumble, making both of them smile.

Methos finished doling out the food, and then made a brief trip to the refrigerator for two bottles of beer. He glanced gratefully at the well-stocked spice-rack, hoping he'd blended the spices just right to complement the taste of the drink, finally sat down and began eating as if nothing else were important. In a moment, Duncan copied him. At the first bite Duncan's eyebrows rose, and he plunged his fork quickly back into the stew. After that there was silence until the food was gone, and Methos took that as a compliment to his cooking.

When the dishes were emptied and carried off to the sink, Methos sat back down to finish his beer and asked, carefully casual: "So, where are you up to now?"

Duncan blinked slowly. "Early 1600s," he said. "Not long before he met me. He'd begun to reconcile with the church, and...he was using what he'd learned from Nakano."

Methos was careful not to react visibly. "Oh? How?"

Duncan took a long swallow of beer before continuing. "He used his Quickening, his psychic ability, to...feel out everyone he met. He'd grown skilled at it, used it easily, but he didn't explore it any further. I don't think he studied...magic again until after he took the Kurgan's Quickening."

**That gives us some time,* Methos smiled in relief. "Did anything else interesting happen?"

Duncan looked away, then let his gaze wander toward the ceiling, holding something back. "He learned to trust his instincts, let himself feel everything, appreciate life completely. He was ready to love again. Also, he studied with every sword-master he could find in Europe."

**Then why the secrecy?* Methos wondered. **No matter. I'll read it in The Book tonight.* "A good period, then."

"Yes." Duncan smiled. "And I expect I'll be showing up soon enough."

"It will be interesting," Methos ventured, "To see that time from both sides."

"Oh yes."

Duncan's gaze turned distracted and distant, which made Methos mentally kick himself. "Well, enough of memories for today," he insisted, rising. "For the rest of the evening, let's go sit by the fire and listen to some CDs I brought with me - that is, if something as modern as a CD player won't offend the determined primitivism of your rustic retreat."

"Not at all," Duncan laughed, getting to his feet. "Just, please, no rock and roll right now. All right?"

"Fine," Methos agreed. "But no opera, either."

What Methos put on was a disc of reconstructed Renaissance Italian music, which suited their relaxed half-drowsy mood very well. They sat on the couch, watching the flames dance in the fireplace, sitting close and touching casually, saying little, quietly content. By the time the album ended, Duncan was discreetly yawning. Methos saw that, and gently but firmly urged Duncan upstairs and into bed.

Methos wasn't surprised to find that whatever Duncan had been doing all day had left him too tired for sex but very willing to cuddle, a sweet and gentle lovemaking until he drifted into sleep. Methos lay wrapped in his arms for a good half hour until he was certain that Duncan was soundly asleep, then slowly and carefully slipped out of bed and went to The Book. Taking no chances, he stealthily carried book and computer back downstairs to the kitchen table before daring to open either.

The first new paragraphs were straightforward accounts of Connor's travels after returning from China, and Methos started typing before he realized where the account would lead. Only when he reached the point where Connor had conceived his revenge on Mowbray did Methos stop typing and stare fixedly at the handwritten pages.

When he finished the last entry, Methos found that his hands were shaking. He shivered, paused to build up the fire again, then turned back to where he'd stopped recording and began typing with an almost frantic haste. The popping of a wood-knot in the fire made him jump, and Methos realized how glad he was that he'd come downstairs. If Connor's Quickening-ghost appeared again it would take form in the bedroom where Duncan lay sleeping, not down here at the other end of the house.

He was, he knew, becoming seriously afraid of Connor - and not just for Duncan's sake.

*****

As soon as the bathroom door closed and the sound of running water started, Joe pulled out Methos' CD and clicked it into his laptop. So far, with all their planning for the Army of the Blessed, he'd managed to keep Cassandra's attention away from Duncan, Methos, and the problem of Connor's memories; with luck, he could keep on doing it. Such secrecy did, however, make for choppy reading.

There: the text came up on the screen. To one side, Joe noted, was a tab labeled "Personal Notes". Curious, he clicked on it.

The new text revealed paragraphs of Methos' own observations on Connor's memories, mostly bits of relevant historical information about what else had been happening while Connor studied in the Orient. Only down at the bottom was there a longer comment, and the very first sentence made Joe flinch and peer closer.

"Joe, Faith's alive," it said. "She approached Duncan near her old shop on New Year's Eve."

Joe understood, as he read avidly, that this part of the disc was not to be copied. There was a starkly simple report of Faith/Kate revealing herself to Duncan, kissing him briefly, then walking away - and Joe could feel and sympathize with Methos' conflicted feelings. Then came the account of the maudlin little drinking-party afterward, the blood-brotherhood ritual and its bizarre consequences. Then followed a paragraph with Methos' speculations on what that meant.

As understanding hit him, Joe gasped and clicked back to the main text. No, he couldn't let anyone see that until he'd thought it through himself. The implications were earth-shaking.

**The Game can end. Half the Immortals can live, at the expense of the other half.*

He wondered how in hell to phrase the right questions to ask Cassandra.

*****

Methos finished the last entry, shut off the computer, closed The Book and carried - tiptoeing up the stairs and into the bedroom - back to its original position on the nightstand. Duncan never moved nor made a sound. Gratefully, Methos slipped into bed beside him, rolled close to his sleeping highlander's warm body and wrapped his arms around him. Duncan sighed and nuzzled his shoulder, then lay still.

Methos sighed in turn, and deliberately calmed himself. There was always a chance that Duncan might perceive his emotions through the psychic link; any worry or image of Connor might arouse the Quickening-ghost, and Methos absolutely didn't want to meet that thing again, not now.

One corner of his mind itched with the question: **How could I not know? All those times I met him...*

But the answer to that was easy enough. Connor too was remarkably secretive; he'd never revealed that he was psychic, that he could read other people - and animals - through his Quickening. No doubt, after seeing his mother burnt as a witch, he'd been very careful not to reveal anything that could be considered 'witchcraft'. Besides, why give away an advantage to someone who might, someday, be an enemy - even if they were friends at the moment?

**He never told Duncan, either,* Methos puzzled, taking care to keep his emotions calm. **Who was that intended to protect?*

Duncan himself, was the obvious answer; the man had no psychic ability, and there was no point tormenting him with knowledge of what he could never have or do.

Or was there some other reason, something else that Connor had in mind?

Well, there was no point wondering about it now; Connor's own memories would reveal the truth soon enough - to Duncan, then to himself. There was no sense in worrying over it in advance. Live for the day, enjoy the moment.

Methos snuggled closer against Duncan, reveling in the feel of him, contented and determined to stay that way, until sleep crept up on him.

*****

In upper New York state, in the hospice of a monastery, in a plain and narrow bed, a man whom the monks knew as Roger MacCrimmon slept the sleep of the exhausted but healing, and dreamed of his wife.

In Glenlochlainn, Scotland, in a refurbished castle, in a sumptuous bedroom, a woman known as Alexandra Nash slept restlessly, and dreamed of her husband.

In Rome, Italy, in a small villa owned by the Vatican, Cardinal Rincelli woke and pulled himself out of bed, knelt before a crucifix on the wall and prayed earnestly for the strength and wisdom to carry out the task ahead of him. The translators and language-teachers would arrive this morning, and so would the translation equipment, and he must be ready for them. In a few days, the first of the recruits would arrive, and he must prepare for that also.

It would be a formidable task, destroying the Devil, and no part of it could be left to chance.


--END--