Author's Website: http://uk.geocities.com/andromeda_girl3/index.html
Disclaimer: Ray Kowalski, Methos, Duncan, and Joe are not ours. Damn it. Not for profit. Mainly just for fun, and a little useful pain.
The most annoying sound in the universe, Methos thought - a ringing phone on the wrong side of one's own locked front door. He hastily juggled the keys and tried to keep the unwieldy chest from slipping to the floor. He finally managed to insert the proper key and nudge the door open with his hip, practically falling inside under the combination of his own momentum and the heavy container in his arms. Once inside he closed the door and dropped the chest gratefully onto the Oriental runner in the short foyer.
Oh. Yes. The phone. It was still ringing insistently on the other side of the room, and there was only one person it could be. Rolling his eyes, he crossed the room in a couple of long strides and snatched up the instrument. "Joseph," managing to make it an acknowledgement, a question and a rebuke all in one. What could he say - it was a gift.
The correctly identified mortal picked up the vibes on cue."You sound like you woke up on the wrong side or something."
"Was there something in particular you wanted?" Methos well knew the answer to his own question, but he couldn't make things too easy for the man.
"Nah, just wanted to make sure you got everything okay."
So, Joe wanted to act nonchalant. That was fine, Methos could do nonchalant. "It went very smoothly, Joe. No problems at all. Appreciate the concern."
"Yeah, well, you know, just checking ...." the Watcher's voice trailed off. Methos decided he wasn't going to help, but Joe wasn't quite ready to give up yet. "So, Adam, you know that if you, uh, need to store any of that stuff temporarily ... you know, until you're ready to go through it ... well, you can always bring it here."
"Thanks for the offer, Joe. But it won't be necessary. There's plenty of space here and I'll be working on them right away." Methos decided to put his curious friend out of his misery. "Besides, it wouldn't do you any good. They're all in code."
"Damn! Well, I tried," Joe said ruefully. "I just wanted to get a look at 'em."
"Valiant effort, Joe."
"And totally wasted on you. You still coming down tonight?"
"Of course. Not sure exactly when though."
"Whenever's good. Just so long as I get another chance to convince you to cough up one of those journals."
Methos chuckled. "You can try all you want, just as long as I get beer while you're doing it."
"Yeah, sure, I'll just add it to the tab."
"You do that, Joe."
"See you later, Adam."
Methos replaced the cordless handset in its cradle and turned to survey the dark wooden chest awaiting him by the door. He shrugged out of his coat on the way over to it, carelessly tossing the wet garment over the coat rack, disregarding the muted clang it made. He hunkered down in front of the chest, unlocked the metal clasp and threw back the lid. Peering inside, he saw the stacks of leather bound journals, so old that the leather itself was paper thin on many of them. He'd pulled them out of his local secured storage site just this morning - he'd forgotten how many of them he'd kept here.
He sighed. Ah well, at least he'd be able to start translating and copying them in peace and quiet, thanks to MacLeod. His use of the Scot's loft in Seacouver would simplify his life a great deal. In return all he had to do was keep an eye on the dojo and spend some quality time with everyone's favourite Watcher. Methos grinned. It certainly didn't hurt that Joe stocked the good stuff for him at the bar.
Yes, all in all, getting out of Europe had been a good idea. Lately it'd been entirely too busy there for his peace of mind. He carefully grabbed a couple of the thin volumes and detoured to the refrigerator. He pulled out a beer and flicked the cap behind the appliance before settling himself comfortably on the sofa.
Methos' mind was still preoccupied with his chronicles when he pushed open the door to the club and slipped into the noisy, smoky warmth. Taking up an unobtrusive position at the end of the bar, he sprawled with his back to it so he could see the whole room. Joe nodded to him, acknowledging his arrival, as he attended to his customers a little way from his friend. Methos felt the welcome familiarity of the place sink into his soul. On an evening like this, when it wasn't actually snowing or raining, when the music was good and the people congenial, he could pretend that he was in Paris, and convince himself the third Christian millennium had been worth sticking around for. He surveyed the gathering, wondering, as he sometimes did, how an obscure and not very well appointed club attracted such a mixed and lively audience. Certainly Joe did little to advertise the attractions - word of mouth was obviously a potent force. For Methos the bar was one of the main attractions in Seacouver, a city he considered to have more unpleasant weather than Glasgow and less charm than Detroit. But it did have Joe and MacLeod from time to time, and when MacLeod was off dealing with his demons - again - it also had his comfortable loft and his extensive wine collection. The only drawback was Mac's limited choice of music, but the bar provided the solution for that.
Besides, while he was there, he could painlessly fulfil his promise to MacLeod, although he felt that if Mac was so concerned about Joe, he should stick around himself rather than wandering off looking for spiritual enlightenment. On the whole, Methos thought, the Highlander would probably be better off if he spent less time thinking.
Methos felt something brush his sleeve, interrupting his musings. He glanced up at the slim brunette who'd just squeezed into the space next to him. She met his eyes and smiled briefly. "Sorry, I just wanted to order some drinks. It's quicker than finding a waitress," she said apologetically. Another reason not to dismiss Seacouver, Methos noted idly. The city had as its residents some of the prettiest women in America. The Immortal sized her up as a typical American student, all bubble and no depth, but she was easy on the eye and the smile he won from her was not the most unpleasant thing to happen to him all day.
"No problem," he murmured with a small smile of his own. "Open-mike night's not quite so crowded, usually."
She seemed to relax a bit as he slid sideways on his stool, turning to face her while giving her more room. Joe had finally seen her signalling. "Be with you in just a sec," he called from his position at the far end of the bar.
She turned slightly to face Methos, "You must be a regular here?"
"I enjoy the music," Methos replied before he was interrupted by Joe's arrival.
The grizzled barman slung the towel he was wiping his hands with over his shoulder as he approached, "What can I do you for?"
She placed her order and Joe pulled two beers from beneath the counter, deftly twisting a lime wedge into the open neck of one bottle. She smiled at him as she passed over a bill. She turned from the bar with a bottle in each hand and stopped abruptly. "Damn," she exclaimed softly, trying unsuccessfully to free her sleeve from where it had snagged on the counter.
"Allow me." Methos leaned over and slipped his hand beneath hers to loosen the cloth. She glanced at him in thanks before her eyes widened and the smile left her face, quickly replaced with alarm.
Methos understood the reason a split second later as a bruising grip closed on his shoulder and another clutched his throat, yanking him roughly away. "You got a reason for putting your hands on my girlfriend?" The question was snarled at him. Methos stayed calm, infusing his expression with distilled Adam Pierson, mild mannered researcher - guaranteed to be no threat to anyone.
"Larry, please, he was just trying to help me. Let him go," the woman pleaded. Methos silently debated his options. 'Larry' was tall, broad shouldered - neck like a bull and probably a brain to match, he thought uncharitably. Young, fit and strong - and also quite thoroughly drunk. Methos was certain he could free himself without too much trouble, but not without hurting the girl, who'd come closer and was now tugging ineffectually at her boyfriend's arm.
"It's okay, I was just trying to assist," Methos attempted in his best pacifying tone, reserved for small children, skittish animals and, on rare occasions, maddened Scotsmen. It didn't work, perhaps partly because he sounded rather - hah! - strangled, and not quite as soothing as he hoped. Larry shook him like a rat. Methos was quickly running out of air and patience when another voice overlay Joe's protests from behind the bar. "Seacouver PD. You want to cool it and let the nice man go, buddy?" The oddly accented voice came from Methos' right. He looked in that direction to see a tall, blond man with hard eyes, hands braced casually on lean hips, staring intently at Larry. Larry glanced over as well, but didn't let go of Methos, as if debating whether to obey the order. The blond's lips twisted slightly, "What, you need proof? Here." He pulled aside the jacket he was wearing to reveal a shoulder holster complete with badge and gun. "Good enough for you, pal, or do I need to haul your ass downtown?"
Methos felt the big man's grip lessen fractionally, and he almost sighed with relief. Unfortunately, the girlfriend had more guts than brains. "Yeah, leave it, Larry. I'm tired of your caveman act," she said, putting her hand over her boyfriend's, and trying to pry them off Methos' coat. Larry growled, pushed her with one hand, and shoved Methos hard with the other. He stumbled and went down, catching his shoulder painfully on the corner of a stool. He saw the oaf bear down on him - only for said oaf to be dragged back and spun around. The cop had pulled his service weapon and was now pinning Larry to the bar with the gun pointed at his head. "You really want to do this, Larry? You wanna go at it? Come on, let's do it." The voice was low and tight and although it looked as if the aggressor was going to resist, he slumped, capitulating abruptly.
"Turn around, hands on the bar." Larry assumed the position without argument. The cop patted him down and cuffed him, then asked Joe, "You call 911?" He was on the phone doing just that. The policeman made Larry sit on the floor and only then did he turn to the woman who was looking daggers at her - presumed to be soon ex - boyfriend and rubbing her arm. He appeared satisfied with what he saw because he then knelt by Methos and extended a hand. "You okay, buddy? You went down kinda hard there."
Methos let him haul him up, rubbing his shoulder more for effect than for comfort, since the bruises were already healed. "I'm all right. Thanks."
"It's nothing. You sure you're okay?"
The solicitude might be annoying from a woman, but Methos was oddly touched, and a little amused to receive it from a tough guy like this. Oh, bugger, he realised. The buzz he'd been feeling wasn't from the beer - this guy was pre-Immortal. A pre- Immortal cop. Bugger it. Life in Seacouver suddenly became a lot less simple.
He resumed his seat by the bar, watching as uniformed police officers bore Larry away. He was mildly surprised that the girl - whose name he never did catch - didn't go with him, but instead pointedly stalked out as he was being arrested. Not a doormat, Methos thought approvingly. The blond cop finished briefing his colleagues, and then returned to the bar, apparently intent on resuming his evening's entertainment. "Thanks for not breaking anything," Joe said jokingly, but Methos knew his Watcher friend well enough to see the real gratitude for a potentially ugly situation handled so easily.
Methos saw the man glance at him, so he held out his hand to the blond. "Adam Pierson. Nice to meet you, and thanks."
"Ray Kowalski. Chic ... uh, Seacouver PD. Glad you're okay."
Joe spoke up. "Uh, Adam, I was gonna introduce you to Ray anyway. He was interested in lessons at the dojo, but I told him that it wasn't taking any more students until Mac was back in town." Joe was the contact for out of hours enquiries for the dojo, and his voice made it clear that he hoped that Methos would be able to contradict him, but the Immortal shook his head.
"No, that's right. Sorry - we're just holding things as they are until the boss gets back."
Kowalski shrugged. "Hey, no problem. Finding this place makes up for it."
"You're a blues man?" Methos asked, more out of politeness than interest.
"I'm an 'anything' man. Except country and western." Methos gave him a grin of shared disdain but Joe leapt in to defend the 'poor man's opera'. Methos felt obliged to point out the worst excesses Nashville had produced, while Ray shudderingly reminisced about something called 'Santa drives a pickup' that a friend of a friend had inflicted ad nauseum on him a while back. The conversation grew lively, and Joe flitted back and forth to it in between serving customers. Methos found his new acquaintance was surprisingly eclectic in his tastes, and knowledgeable. Before he knew it, it was midnight, Kowalski was looking at his watch and saying he had to work in the morning. He held out his hand and Methos shook it. "Guess I'll see you around."
Methos found himself smiling and agreeing, and Joe was enthusiastic in encouraging Kowalski to come back next week. Then he was gone, but not before Methos noticed a veil of melancholia come over the angular face.
"Nice guy," Joe said, setting Methos up with another beer without asking.
Methos shrugged. "He's a cop, Joe. Not someone I'd want to spend a lot of time with."
Joe put both hands on the bar and glared at his Immortal friend. "I'm beginning to see why you have so few people around you, Adam. What's wrong with Ray? He's smart, he's fast - he's good people. Reminds me of some of the guys I was with in 'Nam. And he saved your sorry ass tonight."
Methos snorted. "You are joking, I presume. Do you really think that overgrown side of testosterone fed beef was a serious threat to me?"
"No, what I think is that Ray saved you from having to take it outside and pop him one with your gun. Or reveal just how impressive your healing powers are."
"He's a cop - that's what he does. He didn't do it for me."
Joe moved away in disgust and Methos permitted himself a small grin. Joe was so transparent in his manipulations. It was like being mauled by a three-week old kitten.
Methos had plenty of opportunity to observe the incipient Immortal over the next couple of months. The guy became something of a fixture - he was almost always there for open-mike night, and if he wasn't, he made it at least once a week regardless. He had a strict routine - two beers, consumed very slowly over several hours and a last cup of coffee before heading home. Always on his own. Methos didn't seek him out, nor did Ray pester him, but there were several occasions when the bar was too full for Methos not to share a booth, and he would rather share with someone he knew. Ray would welcome his presence with a nod of the head and sometimes, when there was a set break, or when the jukebox played, the two men would talk.
Methos learned a little about Ray during these brief conversations. He'd grown up in Chicago, and had been a cop most of his adult life, worked in several different precincts, and most recently had been partnered with a Canadian Mountie. This odd partnership had led to a sojourn of several months exploring the Canadian wilderness the previous year, something that, Methos detected, had been a source of great pleasure, and considerable pain for the man. And then he had transferred to Seacouver 'for a change'. Methos was insufficiently interested to learn more of the reasons, and although he knew Joe knew the man better, he never asked.
Still, Ray was an undemanding companion. He knew his music, could really appreciate a fine performance, and shared Methos' disgust at a poor one. Methos suspected the relaxed man he saw most evenings was rather different from the employee of the Seacouver PD - he'd got a glimpse of the tough cop persona the night Larry made his introductions. He reminded Methos a little of MacLeod that way - at peace, the two men were rather feline in appearance and demeanour, but were tough as nails under pressure.
Tonight, Methos watched Ray tapping his finger gently on his beer glass, his face serene, his head bobbing barely noticeably in beat with the music. A sensualist, Methos had already decided. He felt a draught from the club door opening, then the faint prickle of Ray's pre-Immortality was suddenly overlain by the much more powerful awareness of a full Immortal close by. He turned and found a tall man apparently in his forties, standing above him and looking at him directly. He forced himself to smile disarmingly. Ray hadn't yet noticed the interplay, but Methos knew it was only a matter of time before the cop saw the way the new Immortal was looking at Methos - like a wolf scenting injured prey. Methos knew the man from the Watcher's database. Andrew Kerr. Three hundred years old, a compatriot of MacLeod's and mean as a snake.
"I was hoping to meet Duncan MacLeod, but you'll do. Care to take a walk?"
Methos shook his head. "Not right now, thanks. I hear the city gardens are pleasant, though, especially around midnight," he said quietly. Ray was now looking at him and the stranger, but as yet had not detected anything amiss. Nor, Methos supposed, could he hear the conversation over the band, for which he was thankful.
"Perhaps I'll see you there," Kerr said without a hint of pleasantry, and finally his expression triggered alarm in Methos' companion who shot him a look of enquiry. Methos continued to smile as if nothing untoward was happening and Kerr walked off, obviously confident the Challenge was understood and accepted. Well, chum, Methos thought, you're in for a disappointment. He turned back to Ray.
"Friend of yours?"
"An acquaintance. Looking for a mutual friend."
Ray grunted, happy with the explanation, his attention already back on the music. Methos schooled his face into relaxation while his mind busily considered how he was going to avoid the Challenge. He also wondered how anyone knew an Immortal would be in Joe's bar but ruefully reflected that MacLeod had done more than was really reasonable to make Seacouver the Grand Central Station of Immortals. Right now, the problem was surviving the next couple of hours. He waited twenty minutes until Joe's set was in full swing then casually stretched. "Time to pay a call," he said to Ray who acknowledged his words while keeping his eyes on the musicians on stage. Joe was more interested, seeing Methos' atypical departure towards the back and looking at the Ancient with enquiry. Methos smiled back to negate the concern and walked easily towards the bathrooms - and the rear exit.
He was relieved to find the road clear and walked down the lane so he could circle to the front of the club and then back to the loft. His relief was short lived - he felt the other's presence only a second before the man was upon him, and the battle was joined without a word being spoken. After the first few strokes, Methos realised Kerr was clearly reliant upon stamina and strength, rather than art, for his survival - Methos hadn't fought someone this strong, or big, since he'd taken Silas.
After several minutes and despite his best efforts, the man was slowly wearing him down. Damn, I'm getting soft, he cursed. The other man hadn't even broken a sweat, nor taken a cut, while Methos was running gore in three places, and his sweater was a dead loss. Still, better it than me, he thought. He managed to trap Kerr's sword against his and they pressed against each other, Methos struggling to hold his opponent and to force his back against the wall. So engrossed was he that he didn't notice the presence of another person in the alley until he heard the shouted "Seacouver PD! Drop your weapons!" He risked a quick head turn. Bloody hell - Ray. Kerr took advantage of the lapse and with his free hand, drew a dagger and buried it in Methos' chest. As Methos collapsed, dying, against the brick wall, he heard Ray yell again.
"Drop the sword or I'll shoot!" Methos saw Kerr hesitate, then charge at the smaller man, who shot him in the chest. Kerr dropped liked an axed tree. Methos' vision was fading and with his last strength he knew he had to get the knife out of his chest. But then a strong and unwelcome hand was over his, preventing him. "Hold it, Adam. You gotta leave it in." Ray was worried, and Methos would have been touched if he hadn't been so fucking annoyed at the interference. He struggled feebly against Ray's grip and his own gathering weakness.
"Let ... me" he croaked out, but Ray shook his head.
"Lie still, buddy. I'm gonna get an ambulance. Just hold on." Methos knew he didn't have that long. He heard the gasp before Ray did. They both looked towards the 'corpse' and Ray's shock was plain. He moved to Kerr immediately, leaving Methos free at last. With his last breath, Methos dragged the metal intruder from his ribs, and died.
Joe walked out of the back of the club, his sixth sense pinging like crazy. He didn't trust the look on Methos' face, and when Ray had followed five minutes later with an intent expression, he knew he'd been right to worry. The alley was not well lit but he could see movement. He came a little closer and realised that one of his friends was slumped motionless against a wall, the other was hunched over a body on the ground. Ray started to stand but before Joe could call out, there was a flash of steel, then he heard a scream - Ray's voice. The cop staggered, holding his stomach, as the Immortal rose, sword in hand. Joe thought he was going to see Ray decapitated but the Immortal almost carelessly struck Ray under the chin with his sword hilt. The force of the blow sent Ray flying back against the metal trash dumpster several feet behind him, breaking bone crunching audibly as his body hit the corner of the bin and landed in a crumpled heap. Kerr looked around and saw the Watcher, who realised there was just no way he could move fast enough to get away and that he had, foolishly, left his gun in the bar. He backed away from the advancing Immortal. But some instinct must have warned Kerr and he spun back to face his original prey, Methos, who was right there, ready for him. The man who had been Death rose and sliced the man's head from his shoulders in a single powerful swing that probably tore all the muscles in his arm. Kerr fell. Methos looked around - saw Ray's body, then Joe. He only had time for a single rueful glance before the Quickening took him.
Joe glanced around for somewhere to shelter as the first tendrils of mist rippled in the breeze. Damn, this alley was narrow - when the Quickening reached full strength, the wind would be funnelled straight along it and there was no way he could make it back to the club. Already his jacket was whipping against his body, and he was left with no choice but to brace himself against the wall and watch the show.
Methos stood frozen, an insignificant, hunched figure wreathed in the greyness that spiralled in towards him. And then the first sliver of lightning struck, his body arching painfully, arms flung outwards. Joe squeezed his eyes shut against the battering wind but still the crazy flashes registered on his retina, red through his eyelids. He could hear Methos screaming even over the howling in his ears. He really hated being this close - it was like being back in a war zone, under fire with the pick-up Huey coming in too slow, always too damn slow, time stretching... until finally the intensity started to ebb and he exhaled the breath he hadn't known he held.
As the wind and lightning slacked off and the mist dissipated, Methos staggered to Ray's side, still gasping from the Quickening. Joe came up beside him, looking like he wanted to vomit. Methos didn't need to look far for the reason - it was right there, the smell of the injured man's faeces and urine, released from shredded guts, his intestines showing obscenely through a long horizontal gash in his abdomen. Incredibly, Ray was still conscious, his breaths coming in short painful pants, his face stark white in the dim light. "I think his back's broken - I heard it snap," Joe said quietly. "I'll call an ambulance."
"No!" Methos said. "Bring your car around here."
"M ... Adam - the guy needs the hospital."
"Joe, don't argue with me. Do it." Joe glared at the Immortal who turned away and started gently checking Ray for other injuries, finally hearing his friend stump away to carry out his order. Methos saw Ray's hand move feebly and he took it in a firm grasp. If Joe was right and Ray had broken his back, then he could be doomed to a life in a wheel chair, not even able to walk as well as his legless friend. Even if he was wrong, Methos knew that the abdominal injuries would likely plague Ray for the rest of his mortal - and Immortal - life. The other man's eyes seemed to glow, large and pain ridden.
"Aa ...Adam ... can't feel...my feet."
"I know, Ray. Just hold on."
"Hurts ... help ...." Ray begged, the faint pressure of his hand trying to add weight to his plea. The broken voice touched Methos. There was really only one way to help Ray, and Methos was thankful that Joe had gone. He placed a gentle hand over Ray's eyes, feeling the cold damp of shock on his brow, brought up the other with the sharp little knife MacLeod never did find out about - and slid it between the ribs. He heard the slightest sigh and then the flicker of life died out. Methos left the knife in place, and then bowed his head, exhausted from the fight, the Quickening and from making a decision that he had not had to make in nearly two thousand years. It went against all his instincts, and he hoped he would not live to regret it. He found himself stroking the dead man's face and wondered if he'd lost his mind. He was sitting there like a necrophiliac Florence Nightingale when what he needed to do was get out of here.
Joe drove up in his car, and climbed out. "I've called the clean up crew. How's he doing?"
Methos stood tiredly. "He's dead."
Joe sagged. "Oh, Jesus, the poor bastard ...."
"Yeah. But cheer up, Joe. He'll be back."
The Watcher stared at him in shock, and a little anger. "He's Immortal? And you knew?"
"Pre-Immortal, and yes, of course, I knew." The Quickening and his own irritation lent more asperity than he'd intended to his voice, and Joe moved back a little. Then he saw the knife in Ray's chest.
"Where the hell did that come from? Who killed him?"
"I did," Methos answered bluntly. He didn't have time for explanations. "Come on. Unless we put all this," indicating the entrails, "back in place, he won't heal properly. It's going to take a while as it is. Help me get him back to the loft."
Thank the gods Joe kept a tarp in his car for just such emergencies. They put Ray in the back with the swords alongside. Joe started to pull the tarp across him, hesitating when he reached the knife. "I don't like leaving that thing in him - it doesn't feel respectful."
Methos grabbed the sheet from him and hauled it down over the rest of Ray's corpse. "Look, it's going to hurt like hell when he wakes up, and I don't want that to happen in the car, okay?" Joe knew better than to push, Methos could tell. He needed this like a hole in the head. New Immortals were a pain in the arse - or at least the ones he'd met lately were. Ray was older than many, but the problems were always the same - it seemed to take so long for people to accept the reality of their situation. And he couldn't even palm the guy off on MacLeod - not yet, any way.
Joe parked and Methos got him to open doors and keep watch as he manoeuvred Ray's dead weight out of the car. At least he had plenty of experience of *that,* he thought bitterly. He carried the corpse in his arms, Joe following with the swords and bloody coats. Once in the loft, he put the man on the floor. "Wouldn't he be more comfortable on the sofa?" Joe asked.
"In a minute. MacLeod's paranoid about stains on his furniture - I'll get some towels. Do you want to start some coffee?" He saw the wince at his callousness but there was no point in coddling Joe. He cursed the time this was all taking. He just wanted to shower and rest, and instead he was going to have to play midwife at the birthing of a new Immortal.
He lay two towels on the sofa, then placed Ray's corpse on them. He went back downstairs and retrieved the first aid kit from the dojo. MacLeod didn't have one in the loft for obvious reasons and Methos needed the surgical tape and butterfly dressings to pinch the ugly gash across Ray's belly together after he stuffed the innards back inside with no pretence at elegance. What next? He really needed to wash. He decided to leave the knife in - once it was removed, Ray would revive speedily, although the bulk of the healing of the other injuries would have to take place post-revival. Joe was aghast at the prospect of waiting with a corpse a second longer than he needed to, but Methos gave him his most quelling glare, which brooked no argument. He was going to have a shower and that was the end of it.
He felt more human afterward, and more disposed to consider other people's feelings, although he still felt the Quickening crawling inside his head. Joe was in a fighting mood. "Why did you do it, Methos? You know you shouldn't interfere with a normal life span like that."
Consideration flew out the window in the face of his irritation. "Oh, and what was I supposed to do, Joe? Condemn him to a life as an invalid - or a cripple?" He saw Joe's face and experienced a rare pang of guilt. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean that the way it sounded. You know he wouldn't have been able to walk like you. He'd have been in a wheelchair for a very long time indeed - or a very short time after he died, because the first Immortal who met him would have taken his head."
He could see Joe chewing over the hard truths, then swallowing them. His own reputation for non-interference would have helped to swing it, he well knew.
"How long will it take him to heal?" Joe asked.
"I don't know. The times it happened to me, they tended to take the bits away and burn them. That always made it harder." He couldn't help feeling a slight sense of satisfaction at the green cast that came over Joe's face. Another bit of reality for you, Joseph.
Methos slid the knife out of Ray's chest and then sat back in the armchair near Joe, drying his hair and waiting for the first gasps. They weren't long in coming. He moved swiftly to Ray's side and caught the hands that were convulsing with the pain of the healing. "Ray! Ray! Relax - you're okay. Don't fight the pain. Take big breaths."
It took a little while to break through the man's panic, but he eventually calmed, and the only sign that he was still in pain was the heaving breaths. Methos encouraged him - I really should study Lamaze, he thought sourly. It took a long time before the injuries to back and gut healed completely, and the relief from the pain took Ray by surprise. He blinked up at Methos as if seeing him for the first time.
"I was hurt."
"Yes, but you're fine now," Methos said soothingly.
"No! I was fucking cut open! I mean... I, I remember...I was...was holding my..." Ray's voice trailed off. He glanced down at his ruined clothing, frowned slightly at the bloody hole in his shirt pocket and looked lower. His face went as green as Joe's a few moments earlier. He desperately tore his eyes from the blood and gore painting his lap. His darting gaze stopped at the bloody knife on the coffee table. "What's that?" he asked slowly, transfixed, before his gaze shifted back to his own chest. "Where'd that come from?"
Methos resisted rolling his eyes. "That came from you," he indicated the blade. "It was mine first, though. One of my favourites, actually."
Ray's eyes widened as his mind reluctantly made the connection. He turned a disbelieving stare on Methos.
"You fucking stabbed me?" He started to surge up off the sofa. Methos held him with relative ease but the other man refused to calm down until Joe intervened.
"Ray! Stop it! You're okay. Just let Adam explain." Joe levered himself up and found Mac's Scotch. He poured out a glass and gave it to the confused new Immortal. Joe's presence seem to ground Ray in a way that Methos could not, and Methos found himself irrationally annoyed by that. "Thanks, Joe, I didn't really want one either," he said sarcastically.
"What? Sorry - do you want a Scotch?"
"Well, since you're up."
Joe poured out two glasses, handed one to Methos and then sat down. "Ray - what we're going to tell you will sound a little weird. Actually, a lot weird, but you have to understand it's the complete truth. Adam - you want to demonstrate?"
"Why is it always me?" Methos complained dramatically, even as he picked up the knife he'd removed from Ray's chest and sliced open his hand, prompting Ray to clutch at it in panic. He pushed the other man's hand away and made him watch as the bone deep gash healed up in seconds, leaving no trace of its passing. Methos wiped a finger through the blood to show the smooth skin underneath, and wiped it on Ray's ruined shirt.
"What the *fuck?</>"*
Methos put the knife to Ray's wrist and held him firmly. "Now you. Watch." He repeated the cut, ignoring the howl of pain, and then forced the hand up in front of Ray's incredulous eyes.
"That's ... this isn't happening."
"It is happening, Ray," Methos assured him
"What are you - some kind of vampire?"
"No. We're the same now. Immortal. Well, at least until someone cuts your head off."
"What do you mean - 'Immortal'?"
Methos heaved a great sigh. "I thought you had to have basic literacy to be a police officer in this state. 'Immortal' - as in, you can't die, you'll never grow old, and you'll never be sick again."
"So why have I got this headache and ringing in my ears, then?"
"That's your early warning system. It tells you when other Immortals are near, and that will help you keep your head on your shoulders."
Ray motioned for Methos to let him get up. He stood and looked disgustedly at his torn, bloody clothing. "Look, guys, I don't know if this is a dream, some funky acid flash, or...whatever... but I gotta go to work tomorrow. I'm hoping I'll wake up and none of this will have happened."
He started to walk out. Methos was perfectly content to let him go but Joe sent him a pleading look as he stepped in front of Ray. "Please - just bear with us, Ray. I know this is difficult to understand, but you aren't dreaming, and ignoring this won't make it go away. And there are some facts of life that you need to know about now."
"Such as?" That sounded more like the cop, Methos thought.
"Sit down, drink your whiskey and let us explain. Just promise me you'll hear us out." Joe put a fatherly hand on the younger man's shoulder, and Methos watched Ray reassess the impulse to leave.
"Okay," Ray said suspiciously, but he did at least sit while Joe and Methos patiently explained about the Game, Immortality, and the need to carry a sword, something he dismissed immediately.
"I'm a police officer, Adam. Carrying a sword is not something the department is gonna be real happy about. Besides, my job is saving lives, not killing people. "
"I hope you're a good shot."
"I am - when I remember my glasses."
"Then I suggest you remember them from now on. But you should really learn to use a sword for your own good."
"Nope - Errol Flynn is my Dad's generation, not mine."
"This isn't a joke!" Methos said sharply. "That man you saw tonight? He was trying to kill both of us - with a sword. You saw how much good your gun was."
"Where is he anyway?"
"He's ... gone. For good."
"We can't just let him run loose. I gotta catch him."
"No need, Ray. Besides, what would you do - charge him with your own murder? I told you - the normal rules don't apply when it comes to Immortals."
Methos watched Ray work it out. "You killed him?"
"Of course I did! If I hadn't he would have killed me. That's the way it is for me, for you now."
Ray stood again, and this time, Methos was going to let him go. "Look - I appreciate the advice and the information. It's a lot ... a helluva lot to take in. But I can take care of myself, thanks. Now, I really gotta get some sleep. This dying shit takes a lot out of you." He gave Methos a smile as if to say 'no harm done'. Methos didn't think he'd ever see the man again with an attitude like that.
Joe stood up. "Let me give you a ride home - I'm going your way." Methos knew what he was up to, and knew exactly what would happen. Joe would try and convince Ray, man to man, about getting training, and Ray would refuse. At least the man had more protection than Claudia Jardine had - but look what had happened to her. She'd been murdered in London after a concert - she'd been carrying neither a sword nor a gun and died within seconds of the Challenge. Silly girl, Methos thought. She'd loved her mortal life too much to take the precautions that would have allowed her to continue living it.
Methos locked the door and elevator, switched off the lights and moved silently to the platform bed. In the moonlit quiet of the loft he pondered the evening's events. He shed his sweats and climbed onto the bed, sighing, as he reached down to finally ease himself of the Quickening sexual urge. He spared one last thought for the provocative new Immortal before resolutely turning his mind elsewhere, to the memory of a slightly different blonde, one softer, slighter, and sweeter. One who'd been his for far too short a time.
Methos' current thoughts were much more mundane as he sprawled in his chair, head back, waiting for Joe to supply the beers. It certainly was nice to have a bar that was effectively open to him twenty-four hours. While alcohol may not be the best cure for jet lag, it was well after midnight and he didn't feel at all like sleeping.
Joe put a tray with four bottles on the table and grinned at him as he took the lid off the first. "You look like you could use more than one." The Watcher eased himself down into the chair opposite Methos and propped his elbows on the table.
The Immortal dragged himself into a slightly more upright position. "Sometimes, Joseph, I think you must be the best friend I have."
Joe was failing to keep a straight face. "Since that puts me top of a list of two, I won't let it go to my head. Maybe three, if you count Amanda."
Methos made a moue. "Oh, I try not to even think about Amanda." That got him a definite grin of sympathy.
"So how was Paris?"
"Noisy, wet, same old, same old," Methos said dismissively. The funny thing about Paris was how you became nostalgic about the city. When you'd only just been there its faults were all too clear. "The bookstore's ticking over nicely, not too many customers actually buying things. Of course the bar's gone to wrack and ruin while you've been gone," he added casually.
Joe gave him a dirty look. "I'll assume you're joking and take that as a compliment. Any sign of MacLeod?"
Methos shook his head. "The barge is still moth-balled and Maurice hasn't seen him."
"Would he tell you if he had?"
"For the bottles I gave him, he would have." Methos' tone made it clear what he thought of people who priced their loyalty in alcohol.
Joe looked more than a little worried. "I wish I knew what he was up to. The only time he vanished for this long was after Richie...."
The Immortal sighed impatiently. "Mac can take care of himself, Joe. And it was your choice not to follow him."
"I know, I know." He still looked unconvinced. "I just wish he'd keep in touch, that's all - it's not much of a favour to ask in return."
Methos shot Joe an inquiring glance. "How did you square it with the Council, anyway?"
"I lied, told them he gave me the slip."
Methos laughed in genuine amusement. "Oh, Joe, if you hadn't told me yourself I wouldn't have believed it. What happened to all that honour you're so fond of?"
The Watcher just shrugged. "They couldn't exactly complain. I've kept better Chronicles on my Immortal than anyone over the last seven years. Officially, I'm working my butt off trying to track him down."
Joe grimaced at his knowing tone. "I'm half-heartedly trying to track him down."
"He won't thank you if you do find him," Methos pointed out, starting on a second bottle.
"I know that too," Joe said with a small smile.
The two men chatted lightly for a while about nothing, drinking slowly, small talk drifting into a companionable silence. Sometimes Methos preferred the bar this way; empty but for a friend or two. Plenty of opportunity to talk if he wanted, but no obligation. This was the sort of thing he'd missed occasionally, living through the paranoid centuries - just being able to relax around someone and not have to watch every damn word he said. The beer was cold and he could feel himself unwinding, heading for a state where he might be able to sleep.
It was Joe who finally spoke, voice heavy with emphasis. "He hasn't been back here, you know."
That was hardly surprising. "Who hasn't?" he asked, wide-eyed.
The barman wasn't impressed. "Don't you pull that innocent crap with me, *Adam,* you know exactly who I mean."
Methos smiled to himself. "I can't say I'm in shock, Joe. The last time he came here he died, and I recall he wasn't all that pleased about it."
Joe was looking at him intently. "Aren't you the least bit interested in how he's getting on?"
"Not really." The Immortal crossed his legs and stared right back. "I offered my help, he refused. It's his life."
"Yes, it is! And you interfered with it - he died because he tried to help you. I thought you'd maybe feel some obligation," Joe said sarcastically.
"None whatsoever," Methos lied smoothly. "He doesn't want anything to do with either of us, end of story as far as I'm concerned."
"Even after all this time, you still manage to surprise me. Especially when I wish you wouldn't." The Watcher shook his head ruefully.
Methos raised his eyes to the ceiling and gave a theatrical, martyred sigh. "Go ahead, then, tell me - I imagine *you've* been keeping track of him."
"I put a Watcher on him, yeah."
"That, of course, will make him very happy," Methos commented acidly.
Joe showed only a hint of guilt. "He isn't going to know. I told her to keep a discreet distance, not shadow him the whole time. I felt I owed him that much." Every word of that last sentence might as well have been underlined. "Besides," Joe added, "I don't want to have to bail her out of jail for stalking a cop."
"He's still with the police?" Methos' astonishment dissolved into laughter. "That's priceless - an Immortal in law enforcement."
"There's been a few over the years," Joe reminded him. "Mac did a stint last century."
"Precisely - he had the sense to stick to a time when the law was rather more, shall we say, flexible in its interpretation." His smile was mocking. "So now we have a pair of Boy Scout do-gooders. At least he can investigate any killing he commits. Come to think of it - what a perfect cover!"
"He's a good cop, Methos." Joe was quick to defend Ray against his cynicism. "He got another citation for bravery last month - that's four in ten years."
Methos did feel a little impressed despite himself, but his face remained impassive. "That only proves he's a fool - just one who got away with it until last month."
The Watcher glared at him. "One of these days, I really will give up on you."
Methos grinned cheerfully. "I do wish you would, then maybe I could drink my beer in peace."
Joe grabbed a beer mat off the table and threw it at him. "Ah, get out of here, you old bastard, before I kick you out. I gotta finish clearing up anyway."
Methos rose to his feet gracefully and looked around the silent bar. He still wasn't feeling particularly tired. "I'll give you a hand. You can call it payment for the beer," he added, looking smug.
Joe cashed up the evening's takings while Methos cleared away their empties and wiped the beer rings from the table. They were done soon enough. Methos shrugged himself into his coat, checking his weaponry, and Joe followed him to the door, ready to lock up behind him.
On impulse, Methos turned back to look at his Watcher friend. "Look, Joe, why don't you let me know how he gets on? I don't want all the boring details, just...fill me in now and then."
The barman gave him a delighted smile. "Sure thing, Adam."
"Thanks, Joe." Methos strode out into the neon night, feeling good.
Methos was abruptly very awake, the Immortal buzz ripping away sleep. He rolled from the bed, grabbing for his sword as he twisted across the platform to the wall.
Someone banged loudly on the loft's private door. Who the hell would come calling at - glancing briefly at the clock - one thirty a.m.? Not likely to be good news. Duncan or Amanda would just have let themselves in. Not that a visit from Amanda was usually a good thing.
He could see most of the loft from where he stood, scanning for anything out of place. The stray neon creeping in the windows gave sufficient illumination; he didn't touch the lights. The room appeared to be empty, long shadows stretching across the yellow-tinged floor. There were one or two pieces of furniture large enough to hide someone, but crouching behind the sofa was hardly a practical ambush position.
That left the short length of corridor in the corner. People could knock on doors from the inside. He circled cautiously around the edge of the main living area, giving the furniture a wide berth anyway, listening for any noise over the quiet hum of the refrigerator. Damn, that corridor was black. He reached out towards the light switch.
The knocking started up again. Definitely outside.
Allowing himself to relax slightly, he returned to the bed to pull on his jeans. The person at the door was now banging non-stop, pissing him off distinctly. He padded across the loft towards the door, sword still held at the ready. He stopped a good six feet short of the door. "Who is it?"
"Ray Kowalski." The voice was missing the usual cocky confidence.
Oh hell. He really wanted to tell the cop to sod off, but then he thought about what Joe would say once Ray's Watcher reported it. He preferred his beer without a lecture so he opened the door slowly and stared straight past his visitor, checking out the stairs and the street below. There was no-one else obviously in sight. Methos regarded Ray neutrally - he looked like hell. "It's been a while." He didn't invite him in.
"I know. Look, I, uh, I'm sorry about this but, I, uh, I got no one else to talk to about this shit."
Definitely not the normal Ray. Methos' expression didn't change. "And after all this time you suddenly decide it can't wait till the morning?"
"I guess I made a mistake." Ray's face shuttered closed, but not before Methos saw the lost, hopeless look. He relented as Ray started to turn away, lightening his tone to a more casual level.
"Since you're here and I'm awake now, you may as well come in."
Inside in the loft, Ray seated himself on the sofa but didn't sprawl in his usual, relaxed manner. The guy was clearly strung up tight and exhausted. If Immortals weren't immune to the effects of addiction, Methos would have thought he was dealing with a junkie. He poured Ray a hefty Scotch without asking and handed it to him silently. He considered a coffee for himself, then grabbed a beer instead. He fully intended to be back in bed and asleep inside half an hour. He took a pull of his beer and sank into a chair, waiting for Ray to speak.
"Is there any way out of the Game?"
It was a slightly unexpected opener. Methos took another swig of beer before answering. "Sometimes. You can drop out of sight, live on some quiet island or take a job somewhere that doesn't involve people. With any luck, other Immortals think you must be dead. It works for a while." And two hundred years was a long time to be lonely. He hadn't been too put out when Mac discovered him the last time.
"And?" Ray seemed to be seriously looking for answers.
Methos shrugged. "Someone always finds you eventually. Then there are Immortals who say that we should all give up our swords and stop fighting. They don't tend to keep their heads too long. It's not an option I would recommend," he stated deadpan, thinking maybe his namesake would agree with him now. "A few of us over the years have retreated to Holy Ground, become monks or whatever. But the Hunters lure them away, one way or another." Or mortal attackers took them out where they were, but he felt Ray had enough worries for now.
Ray actually gave him a brief grin. "Celibacy isn't my thing anyway. There's no other way out?"
"There's always dying," Methos said dryly.
"Not the answer I was looking for." Ray was halfway down his whiskey glass by now and starting to look a bit less uptight. Methos wondered when he was actually going to get to the point and decided to prod things along a little.
"I take it you've had some trouble."
Ray nodded. "Twice now. The first time I ran faster than he did, the second I got myself trapped and had to shoot my way clear."
"It's going to happen a lot," Methos pointed out.
"So you said the last time I was here. And I've decided you were right - I want to learn to fight, Adam."
Methos glared at him, his emotions somewhere between disgust and exasperation. The idiot told him to get lost, then came back demanding help in the middle of the night? Ray didn't even sound sure that he meant it. "Sorry, that offer's expired."
Ray looked confused rather than angry. "So what am I supposed to do?"
Methos slowly drained the last of his beer. "There's a friend of mine who might take you on. He's a sucker for a sad story," he added disparagingly.
The cop was starting to bristle slightly now. "And where do I find him?"
"Right now I haven't the faintest idea," Methos replied, placing his feet purposefully on Duncan's coffee table. The annoying Scot was never around when he was needed. "He'll be back sometime, I expect."
"And what am I supposed to do till then? Die?"
Methos didn't even bother to look at him. "Lots of people do," he said casually.
But instead of the expected rise, Ray seemed to sag back into the sofa. "Yeah, I know," he said softly. "I spent most of today at the hospital." Methos flicked a glance at his companion - so they were finally getting to the reason for this nocturnal chat. "I nearly got my partner killed." Ray looked thoroughly defeated.
"Will he be all right?" the old Immortal asked cautiously. It helped to know where things stood before he pressed any further.
Ray made a slight face. "They think so. Won't know for sure for a couple of days, though. I stayed till he was off critical." He swallowed the last of his Scotch. Methos stayed silent to let him talk. "My fault, all of it. I've been taking more risks than I used to, getting a bit casual about bullets. Thought it made me a better cop, you know, not having to worry so much about getting hurt. Catch more bad guys, make the city safer. But Carter had to follow me in, back me up, and today he took the hit, not me." Ray stared down at the empty glass he was twisting in his fingers. "I feel like a jerk."
"That's because you bloody well are!" Ray looked up, shocked, as Methos exploded. "What the hell do you think this is, some kind of sport? Do you have any idea what they would do to us if they knew what we are? If you're going to demonstrate your amazing healing powers in front of half the Seacouver police department then I'll take your head myself, do you understand? You are not invulnerable, don't even think that you are!"
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Ray was yelling back at him now. "You just don't give a shit about anybody, do you? This is your mess just as much as mine, you stupid bastard - I didn't ask to be like this and I didn't ask you to stick a knife in my chest!"
Methos studied Ray with genuine interest. This was more promising - it hadn't only been the shock yelling the night he died, the kid had some real fire in him. It just had to be drawn out and redirected. Methos wasn't keen on lost causes, but there was material here he could work with - Ray would never be good enough to be a threat and it might be fun. He stretched in his chair. "Okay," he said calmly.
"Huh?" The cop was not only bewildered by the U-turn, he was totally transparent about it. That was something they'd have to work on for a start.
"I'll train you. You convinced me." Ray glared at Methos, suspicious. Well at least he got points for realising he'd missed something. He also seemed a lot more relaxed now that he'd spilled that story about his partner. "We can start tomorrow, I'll lend you a sword. There are some conditions, of course."
"Like what?" The tone wasn't exactly trusting.
"You take it seriously, you do as you're told and you ditch your job."
"No way! Being a cop's the only thing I got left from my life; I pissed off my Dad and my wife to do that job and I'm not giving it up for you."
"If you really want to learn to fight, Ray, you can't fit it in around lousy shifts. That's not exactly a nine to five job you have. We're talking hours of hard training every day; you think you can stick to that after an all-night stakeout?"
"I'll manage." Ray was showing a previously unsuspected streak of stubbornness and Methos was already wondering if he'd been wrong about the fun part.
He took his feet down from the coffee table and leaned forwards. "I don't think so. What are you going to do, carry a sword off-duty and hope nobody comes for you while you're working? I don't intend to waste my time training someone who's going to get killed in a month." Usually that scathing tone quashed opposition without too much trouble.
"It's either that, or you get to keep me while I train for what, months, years? I got no money to live on." Ray was giving him a victory grin - he switched moods faster than anyone Methos had met in a hell of a lot of years - but the Ancient had to concede that Ray had a point. He was taking him on as a student, he had no intention of taking on his bills.
"Fine. We'll try it your way. But I'm warning you now, if you start slacking off I'll cut you loose." He was really hoping that miffed feeling didn't show in his voice, but suspected he'd failed. He knew it when he saw Ray's grin widen.
"Cool. What time do you want me to start? I'm free all day."
Methos debated whether or not Ray was a morning person - it would be amusing to beat the stuffing out of him first thing, but not if it was a worse punishment for Methos than for Ray. All things considered, it seemed unlikely that Ray enjoyed early starts on dark mornings. "Be ready downstairs at eight."
"No problem." The look on Ray's face told him he'd guessed right, but the cop wasn't backing down. Good. Ray checked his watch. "I, uh, I guess I'd better be going then." He stood up to leave, but now that all the bravado was gone it was obvious the younger man was close to crashing. Maybe he should have been less generous with the Scotch. Methos was mildly surprised to find himself concerned about his new student.
"You don't need to go home - the sofa's fairly comfortable," he said truthfully. If it weren't he wouldn't have spent so much time at the loft while Mac was around.
"I, uh, I couldn't sleep here." Ray looked almost guilty as he spoke. "No offence, but you're making my head hurt. Feels like I got bugs crawling around in there. That does get better, right?" He peered hopefully across at Methos.
"The first few times it hits hard, then your brain gets used to it. If you spend more time around Immortals it winds down to a background buzz." At least that's what the Watchers thought about the Presence. For himself, Methos genuinely couldn't recall.
"I hope it happens fast or this training's gonna be hell." Ray's voice was more cheerful. "I'll see you tomorrow. And, uh, thanks Adam. For not kicking me out and everything."
"We'll see if you thank me tomorrow," Methos called after him with a grin. He was actually looking forward to it.
Ray arrived at the dojo on time. Methos couldn't see anyone behind him, but that didn't mean much. "Coffee first?" There were things he had to get clear with his student that couldn't wait.
"Sure, that'd be good." They took the open-cage freight elevator to the top floor.
"Did you come straight here?" Methos asked as he pulled the door closed.
"I'm low on gas so I passed on the scenic route," Ray answered, slightly defensively. The elevator shuddered and began to grind upwards.
"Were you followed?"
Ray began to protest that of course he hadn't been, but then seemed to realise that Methos was serious. "I, uh, I dunno."
Methos gave him an intense stare. "Did your police training include how to spot if you are? How to lose them?"
"Sure." Ray looked bewildered.
"Then use it. You *will *be followed, not all the time, but enough. They're mortals, you can't feel them, you have to look."
"Who's gonna be tailing me? Why? If they're mortal they're not dangerous, right?"
Methos didn't even bother to answer his questions, hauling the gate up as the elevator halted with a sudden jolt. "Don't come here in future unless you know you're alone."
Ray reached out and grabbed him by the elbow. "That's not good enough, dammit! You can't just lay that on me then clam up! I wanna know what the hell I'm tangled up in!" He released Methos' arm abruptly when he saw the look on his face. Methos watched the cop consciously calm down, perhaps aware that he was the supplicant here. "Look, I'm, uh, I'm sorry, Adam. All this shit's just still coming as a surprise."
Methos' expression softened immediately and he sighed. "You'll find out more sometime - for now, it's just important that you know and that you don't lead them here."
"Okay," Ray grinned, looking relieved. He followed his mentor towards the kitchen area and the smell of percolating coffee. Somehow Methos knew this wasn't the end of the conversation.
In the kitchen Methos poured coffee into two cups and offered one to Ray. Ray's long fingers wrapped around it gratefully and he brought it up to his nose, inhaling the rich scent. "Mmmmm. Thanks, Adam." Ray's eyes had closed in blissful appreciation. Methos sipped from his own cup and waited until Ray sampled the brew. Ray's eyes popped open and flashed to Methos.
Methos smiled knowingly, "Good, hmm? Imported Blue Mountain. I use MacLeod's sources. Lucky for us he likes the finer things in life." He paused. "At least, he used to," Methos murmured, thinking back to the time he'd arrived at the barge to find the place stripped to bare bones. He shuddered. Thankfully the loft had escaped similar treatment. He looked up as Ray spoke.
"This the same friend you mentioned last night, the one you said would teach me? He's Immortal, too, right?" Ray was proving too observant for Methos' comfort.
"The same, yes. Did I say he was one of us?" Methos asked lightly, cautioning himself against underestimating this young Immortal. It wasn't the first time Ray had surprised him with an intuitive leap of logic. When questioned, Ray always put it down to instinct. Hopefully, those instincts would continue to serve him well.
Ray shrugged. "No, but it makes sense. You seem pretty good friends with this guy and Joe's mentioned his name once or twice. You also told me you're staying in his place, watching his business for him while he's gone.... Plus he's got all that authentic looking heavy metal hanging around." Ray gestured vaguely to the corner where Mac had a doubled-headed axe and halberd displayed on the wall next to the tapestry. Methos raised his cup in salute to Ray's deductions. Keen eyes regarded him speculatively and Methos forced himself to stillness. "He spend all his time away from home?"
"This is just one of the places he considers home. He travels quite a bit," Methos replied. His deliberate vagueness was as much a protection of Mac as an automatic inhibition against sharing too much with Ray. He placed his empty cup on the counter and straightened. "Finish up and meet me downstairs. You'll need to change before we get started."
It was an order, not a request. Ray dumped the remainder of his coffee into the sink and turned to follow Methos. "I'm ready," he said simply.
They went downstairs and Methos directed Ray to the locker room to change into sweatpants and T-shirt. He re-emerged minutes later, walking over and halting directly in front of Methos, where he stood in the centre of the workout floor. Methos regarded him silently for several moments. He could see the slight apprehension in Ray's face and the tense set of his body. Methos looked straight into his student's eyes, his deep voice quiet in the large room, "We'll start with warm ups, then I'll show you some drills. We'll practice until you have them down. Then I'll show you the open handed techniques. If you do well, we'll move on with bokken." Methos paused as a line formed between Ray's brows at the unfamiliar word. "Wooden practice swords," Methos explained. "We'll use them first, or whenever I want you to learn new moves without accidentally hacking off any important bits." Ray's Adam's apple bobbed in his throat as he swallowed. Methos smothered his amusement and moved back a step. They got started.
They spent nearly twenty minutes warming up and stretching. He patiently showed Ray what was expected, from simple leg lifts and shoulder rotations to more advanced movements that were a weird mixture of yoga, ballet and isometrics, all designed to warm and loosen muscles, joints and tendons. Methos had no set curriculum for his student and no plans to teach him one specific form over another. He figured they'd begin here and tailor the training to Ray's abilities as they went. Methos anticipated Ray's strengths would lie with his instinctive quickness, agility and in his desire, his passion to survive, in a real fight. From the glimpses he'd seen, he knew the passion was there, but whether Ray would be able to summon it in a life or death situation was another matter entirely. Despite his tough veneer and chosen occupation, Methos suspected that beneath the surface there was a sensitive, and somewhat battered, soul.
The preliminary training would also allow him to identify Ray's weaknesses. They were similarly built, tall and long-limbed with lean, wiry strength instead of the overtly powerful bulk of men like MacLeod and Kerr. Ray's spare musculature was stretched tightly and wrapped close to his bones, giving an impression of misleading thinness. Methos knew from personal experience that such deception could be used to their advantage. He eyed his student critically and guessed Ray probably had a few pounds on him. Ray's shoulders were slightly broader than his own, Methos was perhaps a touch taller, but the two of them were more or less evenly matched. Ray's physique wasn't likely to be the problem. The biggest weakness, Methos predicted, would be Ray's mentality.
He knew Ray to be a sharp, practical man but he'd seen flashes of insecurity, and these troubled him. More worrisome was the fact that Ray had spent the latter half of his life as a police detective, protecting those in need and dealing with everyday mortal scum using the most humane methods possible. It wasn't the same thing as chivalry, precisely, but it was close enough. A hesitation at a critical moment in battle with another Immortal, one perhaps smaller and seemingly weaker than Ray, would cost him his life. Methos' mind flashed back to Immortals like Kenny and Kristen and he sighed. He could teach Ray to protect himself, to use his mind, body and sword effectively, but if Ray refused to recognise the inherent danger in a viper, there wasn't anything he could do.
Ray was properly warmed up by now and looking to him for further instruction. Methos again took a position slightly in front and to the side of Ray. He started slowly, demonstrating the movements of a routine of his own creation, not technically kata but including some of the common forms. He'd never bothered to give it a name. It simulated the basic motions, footwork and body positioning for both defensive and offensive manoeuvring, hits, kicks, blocks, lunges, cuts, and parries. Ray might not fully know why he was learning these things but, regardless of his brain's understanding, his body would be familiar with the motions when they finally did put a sword, wooden or otherwise, into his hand.
Ray caught on quickly. After running through the routine a few times, he seemed able to repeat it adequately enough on his own. Methos made him continue, occasionally changing the sequence of motions, and moved to shadow Ray from behind, correcting his stance or technique as they moved in tandem. Save for Methos' softly voiced commands, they worked in silence, the sound of their breaths and swish of clothing testament to their exertions. Methos' breathing was smooth and steady, Ray's was shallower, more erratic. Methos slowed Ray's movements as they hit a semi- stationary section of the routine. He adjusted the angle of Ray's right wrist, guiding the prominent bones lightly with his fingertips and heard Ray's breath stutter. His body mirrored the other man's, standing close against Ray's back, and he leaned his head to murmur calmly in his ear, "Breathe deeply, Ray. Inhale through your nose for three counts, and expand your entire torso when you do, stomach, diaphragm and chest." He reached around Ray's torso with his other hand and lightly touched each point on Ray's body as he spoke. "Hold it for one count and exhale easily from your mouth," he nodded approvingly as Ray obeyed, then added, "It'll also come in handy when I take you for your first run."
"You teaching me to run away, Adam?"
"Partly, yes," Methos stated calmly.
"Told you I already got that down." Ray's impatience was evident.
"You'll also find," Methos ignored the interruption, "it increases your stamina and your ability to control your fear. By regulating your breathing, you'll be able to sustain your body in an alpha state, which is where you want to be in a fight. The fear won't affect you and your body will be able to react more quickly to any threat. If you can't control your breathing and the fear, you move into beta state. Your actions and reflexes are less effective here, and even a fraction of a second could cost you your head."
Ray nodded in understanding and made a face. "Whatever you say, Master Yoda."
"You may regret that crack when I bring out the sticks." Ray subsided quickly, clearly unsure if Methos was joking or not, and they moved back up to speed with the routine.
Over the course of the next three hours Methos took Ray through increasingly difficult series of sword forms and bokken drills. The wooden swords were from MacLeod's weapons stash and were excellently balanced and weighted. Ray may have been unaware of the realism of them, but Methos knew and used it to Ray's advantage, teaching him the techniques and moves he would shortly be executing with a live blade. He eschewed the more delicate lessons of modern fencing. Those would serve little immediate purpose for Ray, since Immortals tended to favour heavier weapons and the brutal cut-and-thrust styles of the Renaissance. He didn't ignore them completely, however, making sure Ray knew how to avoid or deflect such pointed attacks. But when they were ready for Ray to hold a real sword, Methos would not be putting one of the slimmer, modern rapiers in his student's hand. Those light rapiers had been designed to penetrate armour or mail and, as most Immortals went unarmoured nowadays, such a blade would be folly. No, Methos would see Ray equipped with something a little more appropriate to the vicious slashing style of Immortal battle. A long-sword made the most sense, and would give him the advantage of two edges as opposed to the katana's one. Perhaps one of the bastardised versions so popular after the fifteenth century, versatile for one- or two-handed use. Methos put his musings aside for a later time. They still had much progress to make before that decision became a necessity.
Ray might be quick but he was still a true novice and by the time Methos decided to call a halt, his student was dripping sweat and trembling with exhaustion. Faint bruises showed on his pale skin where Methos had delivered them faster than even Immortal healing could mend. He eyed the younger Immortal, took in Ray's stance - arms and legs just slightly bent, body rotated to three-quarter profile, the way he'd maintained his guard, despite his obvious physical distress - and relented. "All right, Ray, let's take a little break. Go grab a shower and meet me upstairs. I'll get some lunch ready. We'll come back down after we eat and start on some more freeform styles and weight drills on the equipment. You'll never be big, but we can try to build up what you've got," Methos gestured with his bokken, "We'll go back to these later on." Ray nodded and handed his wooden blade to Methos. He turned with a barely suppressed groan and limped off to the locker room.
Methos went to the elevator and headed upstairs. In the loft he shed his clothes en route to his own shower. He cleaned himself quickly and emerged in a fresh pair of sweats minutes later. He prepared a quick meal of pasta and steamed vegetables, Ray would need the energy for their afternoon practice, and grabbed a beer from the fridge. He set the plates on the table and reached into the fridge for a second bottle for Ray. He'd just glanced at the clock when the elevator clanked back to life. It wasn't long before Ray lifted the gate and walked slowly into the loft.
"Come and sit, Ray. Eat." Methos pointed at the full plate then observed Ray as he gingerly took his seat and picked up his fork. "Are you still hurting?" Methos asked in some surprise.
Ray swallowed the food and sipped his beer before replying, "Not sure. I don't know if I'm really still sore or if I'm just expecting it to start hurting any minute again." He made a slight face at his pasta before lifting another forkful to his mouth.
"Ray, you're going to have to learn to fight through the pain. If you're not actually disabled, it's an obsolete warning system for an Immortal. There will be times in battle when your endurance might be the only thing that keeps you alive," Methos said mildly. He'd be pounding Ray into the floor soon enough, he could afford him a few moments of respite now.
"Yeah, I know. I guess." Ray sounded uncertain, but he wasn't arguing at least. Methos lips quirked. He probably didn't have the energy for it.
Methos became serious again, "Ray, listen to me. I'm only going to say this once so pay attention." Ray finished chewing and regarded him soberly. "You may not like me by the time we're done and you may not respect me, but you will be able to defend yourself. Understand?" He waited for Ray's nod before continuing, "Whatever it takes, Ray, always remember that. If it means I cut you till you bleed, if it means we keep a mop and bucket in the dojo for cleanup between bouts, if it means I kill you every time we spar, then that's what I'll do." He paused. "That's what I'll do, Ray, because you said you wanted to learn and you wanted to live." Ray's eyes were wide with a mix of fear and determination. "That's what we'll do, if that's what it takes to keep your head attached," Methos repeated more gently.
Ray looked away first and reached for his beer. He drained the contents and said deliberately, "I don't suppose you coulda just given me a free T-shirt or something to commemorate my first practice, could you?"
Methos looked into Ray's eyes and read the desperate need to lighten the atmosphere. He tossed a broccoli florette at Ray, "No, brat, but I could probably dig up a pin or brooch if it would make you feel better."
Ray's eyes sparkled again, "Nah, I have a feeling I'll be getting enough 'pointers' from you, thanks. But seriously, Adam, I'm probably gonna need the T-shirt more. I don't think I own enough clothes to keep up with your workouts."
"You could always borrow some of Mac's stuff. I'm sure he's got plenty of traditional outfits about hereabouts."
Ray squinted at his overly helpful tone of voice, "Uh, you don't mean those baggy pants and robes they wear in the movies, do you?"
Methos grinned. "Yes. The 'gi' is the 'robe' part and it's worn on top of the 'hakama'. The hakama is rather formal though, and I wouldn't put you in one anyway."
"How come?" Ray sounded slightly insulted. "You saying I'd look funny or something? I've worn funny pants before, you know."
Methos quirked an eyebrow in interest.
"Stop that. I meant the pumpkin pants that the Mounties wore."
"Ah. Your Mountie friend." Methos paused. "You wore his pants?"
Ray glared at him. "I said 'stop that'. It wasn't his pants. It was the other Mountie's...."
Methos raised both brows this time.
Ray gave up in disgust, "Forget it. You got a dirty mind, Adam."
"Better that than a small one, Ray." Methos grinned at the younger man. "Actually, I only meant that for your early training, I need to be able to see your leg work and foot positions clearly, and the hakama are too concealing. There is a better option, if you want to compromise." Ray had left the table to get a bottle of water. He offered one to Methos, who shook his head. Ray tilted his head back as he drank and waved a hand at him to continue. "You can have a few pairs of my dogi pants. They're much simpler than the hakama to wear and they're cut slimmer, but still loose enough to give you the room you need inside." Ray choked slightly on his water and shot him a faintly reproachful look.
Methos rolled his eyes, "Now who's got the dirty mind?" He clarified. "The dogi pants are loose enough to execute the moves properly in and they're trim enough to let me see if you're doing anything wrong."
"Oh, okay." Ray's skin now showed the faintest blush. "Thanks."
Methos just couldn't resist, "But, you know, they are drawstrings so if you do need to move something around in there ...." Ray didn't bother to reply this time, just pitched the empty plastic water bottle at him. Methos caught it and stood. "If you're done, I'll get you a pair and you can get changed. Downstairs in ten." Ray sighed and pushed away from the counter.
Methos spent the remainder of the afternoon teaching Ray the rudiments of what he'd need to practice. After an hour on the weights, they moved back onto the dojo floor. Methos imparted more of the basic sword concepts for fighting in-the-round, taught him about the Four Governors - perception, distance, timing, technique - and the four openings, or lines of attack. He showed Ray how to measure his opponent, to close and cross and gauge the pressure of an attack to exploit it. How to attack and counter, take the offensive and disengage effectively, to trap and disarm, to ward and change, to draw, pass and reprise. And when Ray's eyes started to glaze, Methos made them rest and instructed Ray on the differences between single- and double-edged weapons. Which was the leading edge and which the back, when to use the edges and when to use the flat. He talked about the different parts of real blades, from the pommel, hilt, and cross to the blade and tang, and how to apply that knowledge to his attacks, using the lower blade portion for strength and control and the upper blade for speed and dexterity. Ray soaked it up like a sponge so Methos went on, teaching the major cutting forms - over cut, under cut and cross cut - and how to use those cuts to best advantage. Against a bigger opponent a slice to the back of the knee or hamstring was most effective, while pressing the hands of a smaller adversary usually yielded good results. He also taught him the best ways to deliver a single, quick, smooth stroke to kill or decapitate. Methos had favourites among all of them, and demonstrated a little of everything.
Unfortunately for Ray, Methos was a realist and also a firm believer in the theory that 'what hurts, teaches', so Ray found himself recovering from more severe bruising and a couple of cracked bones at regular intervals. Finally Ray, overwrought, fatigued and injured again, stumbled to his knees. "Jesus, Adam! You want to torture me, why don't you just go ahead stick that knife in me again." Ray flopped over onto his back.
Methos looked down at the bedraggled, sweat-drenched man at his feet. "I warned you."
"Well, yeah, but ...." Ray broke off and gave a slight grunt as the bones in his ribcage shifted and healed. He continued after a few moments, "but how do I get past that last move you threw at me?"
"Technique and counter, Ray," Methos repeated patiently for the umpteenth time. "Every technique has a counter and every counter has a technique. And don't forget just-distance."
"Yeah, yeah, I remember. 'If your opponent's close enough to hit you, then you're close enough to hit them', right?" Ray peered up hopefully from the floor.
"Something like that," Methos said dryly. He glanced over at the wall. Almost 8 o'clock. "Come on, we're finished for today, I think." He extended his hand down to Ray who grasped it and pulled himself to his feet.
"Okay, but first I want you to tell me how to get out of that one." Ray planted himself stubbornly.
"All right," Methos gave a mental nod and continued slowly, "Well, you could use a bind or a cross-passage." He demonstrated the abbreviated moves for Ray's benefit. "Or...."
"What? What's the last one?"
Methos hid his grin. "Or, there's the ninth parry."
"The 'ninth parry'?" Ray frowned. "What's that? You didn't show me that one."
"Well, you told me you already knew it."
"It's also called 'Cobb's Traverse'," Methos supplied helpfully. Ray frowned harder. "Retreating indefinitely, Ray."
Ray looked at him suspiciously. "That mean what I think it means?"
Methos couldn't stop the grin this time. "Mmm-hmm. Running away. The old 'Monty Python manoeuvre'."
"Oh, great. They actually got fancy names for it. That's just wonderful...." Ray trailed off as he made his way to the showers.
"See you upstairs, Ray." There was no response to his cheerful words. Methos shrugged and made his own way upstairs, deciding to order pizza for dinner. It was quick, easy and Ray deserved a treat after providing so much amusement. Methos picked up the phone and thought about the effort the young Immortal had put in. He told them to rush it. There was no telling how long Ray would manage to stay awake.
Three weeks later Methos rousted Ray out of bed at five-thirty in the morning. "Adam! What the fuck! What're you doing? Hey, how'd you get in here?" Ray's mouth seemed to be operating entirely separate from his body or brain. His eyes were tightly closed against the light Methos had switched on and he'd burrowed back under the covers. Soon the only thing Methos could see was the wild blond hair sticking up every which way from beneath the blanket's edge.
He got a firm grip on the bedding near the bottom of the bed and replied, "We'll start your lock picking lessons as soon as you master the sword." One firm yank and Ray was revealed lying curled on his side in a snug pair of grey knit boxer-briefs. Methos glanced at his student's form appraisingly.
"Adam!" Ray curled up tighter and the next words were nearly lost as he pulled the pillow down over his head, "Come on, man. I worked a late shift last night and I gotta be in by nine. Cut me some slack."
"You know better, Ray." Methos reached down for his second line of attack. "You've got five seconds, brat." He picked up the jug of cold water he'd filled on his way in.
"Five seconds, whaddya mean...?" Ray pulled the pillow from his head and twisted to look at Methos. His eyes widened as he saw Methos draw back his arm, "No! Adam, don't..." The rest of Ray's plea was literally drowned out by the pitcher of water Methos hurled on him. Ray was left coughing and spluttering in a puddle in the middle of his bed. He shot Methos a baleful glare.
"Rise and shine, sleeping beauty, we've got a ten mile run ahead of us."
Ray crab-walked over to the edge of his bed, trying to avoid getting any wetter than he already was. "You suck, man."
"Well, not in some time," Methos responded glibly, glancing down at Ray's suddenly not-so-snug underwear, "and definitely not now."
"Great. I got a sadistic, sword-wielding lunatic-comedian for a teacher," Ray pulled clothes from his dresser, "and he's hot for my bod. Wonderful." Ray padded over into the bathroom without a backward glance and shut the door firmly behind him. Methos grinned and went to make coffee.
The two men exited Ray's apartment shortly thereafter and hit the pavement. Methos started them out at an easy jog to allow Ray time to regulate his breathing. After the second mile or so, Ray didn't seem to be doing too badly so he quickened the pace. By the fourth mile they'd settled into a comfortable ten-minute mile. Ray's breaths were coming a little harder now, but his Immortal healing would help him to compensate. And though he wasn't in top shape, Ray wasn't in bad shape, either. He should be able to handle a bit more. Methos extended his stride just a little further, until he judged they were loping along at about an eight-minute pace. Ray managed to hang in with him until after the sixth mile. Methos glanced over at him. Ray was trying to steady his breathing but he was favouring his right side and hitching every other breath. Probably a stitch, Methos guessed. He looked down to see Ray's feet not quite stumbling but not really pushing off either. "Legs burning, Ray?" Ray spared the concentration to look up at him but didn't attempt speech. "Want to slow down?" Methos asked congenially.
Ray's face took on that determined look Methos was fast becoming familiar with. "No." It was gasped out in one precious exhalation.
Methos grinned his approval and eased the pace a fraction in reward, "Just get your breath back and it'll be easier, Ray." His response was a look that said more clearly than words what Ray thought of Methos and his advice. "You've got a cramp in your side, don't you?" Mutinous look again. "I know. Try taking some shallower breaths, but keep them steady, and see if that helps." After a few minutes the pinched look on Ray's face eased and he was able to deepen his breathing again. Methos had been watching him closely. "Better?"
"Good. Let's go." Methos stretched them back out into the quicker pace. The last three miles were a true struggle for Ray but he didn't quit or slack off at all, somehow matching Methos stride for stride out of sheer obstinacy. By the end Ray's form was non-existent, his footfalls sounded like anvils and his breathing was like something out of a science fiction movie. Methos was grateful for his student's sake that they were running on the relatively level surface of the roadway, instead of the sidewalk with its myriad cracks and joints and curb breaks. He had no desire to have to pick Ray up and dust him off. Particularly since the look on Ray's face boded ill for any extremity Methos cared to extend him in the near future. After ten miles at a gruelling pace, the muscles in Ray's arms and legs probably felt like water so, though he didn't fear a traditional retaliatory strike from his student, he'd likely draw back a bloody stump, since there wasn't a thing wrong with Ray's teeth and jaws, as evidenced by the way he was currently gritting them together.
They arrived back in front of his apartment just as the sun was starting to rise over the edges of the horizon. They were both wet with sweat and Methos made them walk the burn off for another half-mile or so before going inside. Ray poured himself another cup of coffee from the warmer and dropped some brightly-coloured candies into the cup. He set the whole thing down on the counter while he upended a bottle of water down his throat. Methos drank more sparingly from his own bottle and waited until Ray had taken his first sip of coffee before speaking. "How do the legs feel?"
Ray shook each one experimentally before replying, "Better than they did ten minutes ago."
"See, it wasn't so bad now, was it?"
Ray gave him an are-you-crazy look but surprised him with his answer, "Nah, not all of it. Some of it was okay. Kinda real clear and relaxing for a while there."
"It's almost like a meditation for some," Methos told him. "When you get a little more comfortable with the drills and training katas, I'll teach you some that are designed as more purely meditative. You might like them, too."
"Oh, I'm sure." Ray's sarcasm was evident.
"Did you want to get breakfast before you go into the station?" Methos offered.
"No, thanks. I think I might just grab a shower and get in a little early. I have some paperwork to finish." Ray drained the last of his coffee and placed the mug in the sink.
"Will you be working another late shift?"
"Nah, got tonight off." Ray's voice was temporarily muffled when he tugged his wet shirt off unselfconsciously. Methos watched as he used the damp garment to swipe at the moisture on his chest and belly. "Gonna catch a movie with Joe. Hey, you wanna come?" Ray asked eyes lighting up like he'd just invented the concept of movie theatres.
Methos squashed the infectious enjoyment he felt as he watched that eager face, "No, thank you. I've got some journals I need to go through."
The brightness dimmed slightly but Ray responded with a smile, "Careful, Adam. You might hurt yourself if you have too much fun."
"Thank you for the warning, brat." Methos deposited his water bottle into the recycle bin. "Have a good time and say 'hi' to Joe for me. And don't forget to get some training in." He picked up his keys and coat from the chair where he'd left them earlier.
"I will, I will." Ray rolled his eyes. "I'll get some time in at the gym on the weights when my shift's done."
"Good. I'll talk to you tomorrow." Methos let himself out the door and heard Ray lock it behind him. A moment later he heard the second lock engage and the chain being set. He smiled. Ray was definitely learning.
Joe left the cinema with Ray by his side, chatting animatedly about the film. The cop had an enthusiasm for the small things in life that could be almost exhausting, but it made a refreshing change from Joe's more regular companions. This brash new Immortal made him feel young in a good way, unlike Mac and Methos who often left him thinking that he had seen and done nothing.
"You gotta love that bit where she took a dive through the window."
"And then she pulled that cute little move..."
"And ended up smacking the guy across the face!" Ray dissolved into laughter again at the image and Joe couldn't help but join in. They climbed into the Jeep, Joe reaching out to adjust the interior mirror for the third time that day.
"Yeah, Adam would've liked that one."
"Nah, I asked him. Said it wasn't his kinda thing," Ray said with a hint of bitterness. "Said that about the last two movies too."
"You having problems with him?" Joe asked casually as he pulled out of the parking lot. He had to admit his curiosity had been bugging him over how these two guys were getting along.
"Not really." Ray didn't look sure of his answer. "I just can't seem to get a handle on him, you know? Sometimes we get along just fine and everything's great, then the next thing he's acting like I'm something he stepped in."
Joe grinned, hoping to reassure. "We all get that from him sometimes. It's just his way, you just gotta get used to it. He doesn't mean anything by it.""
"Yeah?" Ray's voice was a bit more hopeful now. "I never met anyone like him, the guy's so...I dunno, there's something weird about him. And he's hiding stuff from me, all the time, I can feel it. Puts me on edge."
Joe had to laugh at that. "Ray, I've known Adam for years and I can tell you that he's still got a lot of secrets he's keeping from me. He's not the open book type."
"But it's serious stuff he isn't telling me, stuff I gotta know - it's my life at stake and he gives me half a story then shuts up and just tells me to fuck off if I push it."
The Watcher glanced across at the man slouched in the passenger seat. The guy was a competent and confident cop and an Immortal to boot, but in some ways, and especially in Immortal ways, he was still just a kid. "Okay," he said. "Fire away. Tell me what he's holding out on and I'll see if I can fill you in."
"Holy Ground for starters." Ray's relief at the offer was clear in his voice. "He tells me it's safe and I won't get whacked while I'm there. But there's more to it, right?"
Joe figured the cop could deal with the truth, and that's what he'd promised him. "I guess so. You're safe from Immortals on Holy Ground unless you meet a real psycho - it has happened, you understand, just not often enough to be a real problem. It's mortals who can be trouble; they don't need to stick to your rules. Most of the time they don't even know what Immortals are, just that they're different. There's been some pretty nasty witch-hunts over the years, Immortals killed over and over till they finally hit on the way that works. And what better place to slay the devil than a churchyard."
"Great." Ray looked discouraged. "So now I don't just gotta watch out for Immortals with swords, I gotta be looking over my shoulder for anybody who's freaked out."
"Sorry, kid, but that's the life." The words were blunt but Joe kept his voice sympathetic.
"And that's another thing he isn't telling me - mortals. He tells me I'm being followed, but won't say why."
Damn it. Damn Methos! He should've guessed this would come up, and he'd rather Ray heard it from him. Joe sighed. "That's because I'm the guy to explain that one to you. He must've known you'd ask sooner or later." He was only grateful Ray didn't live too far from the Multiplex; the car wasn't where he wanted to have this conversation. "We're almost at your place. How about we go inside and we can talk over coffee?"
"Sure, no problem." The cop cast him curious glances as they finished the short journey, but Joe wasn't picking up any signals of mistrust. That was going to last all of another ten minutes, he thought wryly.
Ray's apartment was small but practical, or it would have been if it was less cluttered. Every shelf was packed with an assortment of photos, knick-knacks and just plain junk, with more of it piling up on the floor in the corners. There were pictures of an elderly couple - presumably the 'parents' - several more of an attractive blonde woman and a couple of a poster-boy type in a Canadian Mountie's uniform. He could hear the neighbours arguing over the sound of the kettle whistling. "Hope you're OK with instant, it's all I've got," Ray called from the tiny kitchen.
"So long as you don't forget the sugar and cream," he replied, trying to keep the apprehension out of his voice.
"Those I can do." Ray came to join him on the sofa, bringing all the coffee requirements and a bag of M&Ms. Joe took the offered mug gratefully. "So what is it you gotta tell me?"
The Watcher took a deep breath. "D'you ever wonder about the night you died? Why it was that I knew what was going on, how all the mess got cleared up and the cops never found that guy's corpse?"
Ray shrugged. "I was dead a while. Figured you and Adam did some tidying before I woke up. I mean he's your friend, he told you all about that Immortal stuff ages ago, right?"
"Adam didn't tell me about it - I don't think he ever told anyone what he is if he didn't have to." He sipped at the too-hot coffee then put it aside. And he began to explain about the Watchers, who they were, what they did, trying not to be distracted by the weird thing Ray was doing to the other coffee. He didn't get very far through his explanation.
"So you've had someone spying on me the last three months?" Joe could see how much effort it was taking the cop to keep control.
"It isn't meant that way, Ray."
"I don't give a damn how it's meant! You told people stuff about me and had them fucking follow me all over the city!"
Joe shook his head sorrowfully. "Yeah, I guess I did at that."
His honesty seemed to impact on Ray, fury leaking away to leave betrayal on the angular features. "Why, Joe? How could you do that to me?"
"There are rules, Ray - some of them I can break and others I gotta stick to. I'm breaking half a dozen of them right now by sitting here telling you this. I swear to you, Ray, we were never gonna interfere with your life - no one was watching you at work, we didn't wanna risk your job."
"And what the hell is the point of all this? What d'you get out of creeping around watching me?"
"A lot of the time, not much," Joe acknowledged. "But you have to understand how it is - some of these guys have lived for centuries, Ray. A few of them have done things that altered history - if we didn't keep the records all that knowledge would be lost, all of it! And we have another purpose, Ray - we do our damnedest to make sure Immortals don't become public knowledge. We try to protect your kind from the witch-hunts."
"Sounds like you don't always manage it, huh?" Ray said bitterly.
"No, we don't. We still try."
Ray sat hunched at the end of the sofa, stirring absently at his coffee. Joe stayed quiet to let him think - it was a hell of a lot to take in. The kid had been hit by shock after shock the last couple of months, and every time he tried to pull his life back together something else happened to knock him sideways. Joe had no personal experience of this - at least Richie had known about the Immortal gig before his first death, didn't have so much to deal with. And the Chronicles were no help here; no Watcher had ever had this kind of relationship with Immortals, at least not that they'd said. Joe began to feel distinctly uncomfortable sitting there in the lengthening silence and was wondering whether to make his excuses and bail when Ray finally turned to look at him.
"So all the Immortals are watched by you guys?"
"All the ones we know about and we can keep track of. Sometimes we lose one for a while." Joe kept his voice neutral, treading carefully. He decided not to mention the Immortals who weren't watched because anyone who tried turned up dead.
"You got people watching Adam too?"
Damn, he'd been thinking this conversation couldn't get any trickier. He was loathe to lie to Ray when the guy was being amazingly reasonable under the circumstances - there was still a good chance he could mend some fences here. "No, Ray, I don't."
"Why not? What makes him a special case, 'cos he's your friend?" His voice was becoming slightly more aggressive again.
"No, that's not all of it. If it makes you feel any better, I have MacLeod watched and he's been a friend for years. Adam's just different, Ray, and I can't tell you why. That's one of the promises I can't break, you understand?"
"But if you can make an exception for Adam, you can make one for me, right?"
"Sorry, Ray, I just can't do that. If I tried, I'd get kicked out and you'd be watched anyway - too many people know about you."
Ray just nodded at that - he evidently hadn't really expected such an easy out. Joe decided to take a gamble at lightening things up a bit. "Course, if you know they're there, you don't have to make life easy on them," he said with the best attempt at a smile he could manage for now.
And Ray actually grinned back. "You think you got anybody I can't ditch?" There was a clear challenge in his voice.
"Oh, I got some people with a lot of talent. Guess we're gonna find out aren't we?"
"Betcha the next six movie tickets no one can stick with me longer than half an hour."
"You're on," Joe said laughing. Then, more soberly, "I just gotta ask you one favour, Ray." Ray gave him a you're-pushing-your-luck expression, but Joe could tell it wasn't serious. "Don't tell Adam I let you know he isn't watched, okay?"
Ray made a face. "If it'll piss him off, I won't tell him. He gets mad at me enough already."
"I always figured he'd be something of a slave-driver," Joe mused with a smile. "He pushes you too hard, you let me know."
The cop shook his head. "Nah, he only yells to make me better - I gotta learn fast, I know that. He makes a good teacher, Joe, it's just that sometimes I could really use a friend."
"He's been training you three weeks now, right?" Ray nodded. "And he hasn't threatened to kick you out?"
"Well he's threatened once or twice," Ray said, grinning again, "but he don't mean it."
"Then he must like you. Believe me, if he didn't, he'd have made darn sure you'd have quit by now."
"You mean I'm getting the polite version?"
"I can't imagine calling any version of Adam 'polite'." Joe went to finish his coffee, grimacing as he discovered it was cold. "Listen, kid. Adam's not the easiest guy to spend time with, but the bottom line is he'll be there when you really need him. If you can stick it out, he makes a good friend."
That seemed to cheer Ray considerably. "Let me guess," he said slyly. "That's another of those things you'd rather I didn't tell him, right?"
Joe raised his hands in mock surrender. "Free drinks at the bar if you keep it to yourself."
"Done deal. Want another coffee?"
"I'd never refuse, Ray." The cop rose from a slouch to standing in a single effortless movement and headed back to the kitchen. Joe relaxed for the first time since he'd got here. He hadn't known this young Immortal long, but he knew he was a friend he didn't want to lose.
Methos grinned to himself at the idea of dragging Ray out of bed for another run, fully aware of the irony that it was normally MacLeod who was pestering his old - in every way - friend to exert himself. Methos was not going to admit even to himself that he was worried that Ray's job would prevent him from acquiring the necessary survival skills before he faced his first Challenge. No, it was simply his way of paying Ray back for the added trouble he was giving him. At least he was going to offer to buy the man breakfast. He bounded up the stairs of Ray's building and knocked cheerfully and forcefully on the door, hoping he could actually hear the faint swearing he imagined would be coming from the other side. Fuck. He listened carefully - he definitely could feel two Immortal Presences on the other side, and now he could hear Ray trying to reason with someone.
"I don't know what you're talking about, lady," he could hear Ray saying, and then a screech of rage. A crash sounded. Could he just turn and leave? Could he live with himself if he did? He sighed. MacLeod was rubbing off on him. The occupants had ignored his knock, so he simply kicked the door and burst in, sword at the ready. Ray was there, gun, not a sword, in hand, trying to avoid a very pissed off female Immortal.
"Adam, get out of here!" Ray yelled, dodging.
The woman growled and turned towards Methos, moving so she could keep the wall behind her and maintain both men within her field of vision. Hmm, she might have brains after all, Methos thought as he danced backwards into the main area of the room. She feinted at him and he retreated again, scrambling nimbly over the sofa.
"What's the problem?" he shouted at Ray.
"She's looking for the killer of some guy named Kerr. I don't know who the hell she's talking about!"
I do, Methos thought grimly, and more than that - she knows I do. "You bastard," she hissed.
"Look ...." He realised he didn't know his Challenger's name.
"Anne Gableton," she said haughtily, as if he really should have known.
"Right. It was a fair Challenge. Ray had nothing to do with it, let him walk out and we can settle it."
"He can walk out *after *I take your worthless head, you piece of gangrenous dog flesh!"
How melodramatic. Kerr must have been this harridan's lover - or possibly her student. Probably wanted to die just to get away from her, Methos thought, drawing Anne closer with subtle, teasing parries. He saw Ray out of the corner of his eye and realised the man was still trying to be a cop. "Get the hell out, Ray, while you can." Anne sneered at him, probably misinterpreting his words. He was afraid, but it was fear for Ray's safety, not his own.
"No, dammit. Hey, you, Anne of Green Gables or whatever the fuck your name is. Drop the sword. You're under arrest!"
At Ray's shout, her eyes flicked away from Methos to track the cop's movements. "Ray, just shoot her!" He felt the man's indecision and damned him for it even as he understood the cause. Methos, however, had no such compunctions, and used Anne's momentary distraction to his advantage. He stepped in close and swung. The body fell.
Methos turned to look at his student, who was staring at the corpse, the bloody sword in Methos' hand and the head, which had considerately rolled to stop an inch from Ray's toes.
"Jesus Christ! Adam, you killed her."
Ray lifted stricken eyes to his mentor who answered him impatiently. "What the hell did you think I was going to do with her - play Mah Jong?" he spat out then the Quickening took hold and the two men were enveloped in a maelstrom of light, explosions and flying debris. The woman was older than Kerr, and had taken more heads. Her Quickening surged harshly, painfully, through his body. After several minutes at the heart of the maelstrom, the wind and noise finally ceased. It left Methos feeling drained and filthy. That otherness inside him still fought him stubbornly, refusing to settle as Kerr's had. Fighting to subdue the last stray impulses from his victim, Methos realised she had been both teacher and lover to Kerr. The compulsion was strong to slake his thirst in the ways she'd preferred. Methos took one look at Ray's wide eyes and resolved that his own student wouldn't serve the same uses Kerr often had. He felt utterly shattered, wanted nothing more than to get cleaned up, relieve the growing ache in his groin and crawl into bed, but he forced himself to remember where he was and who was with him. Ray had recovered from his peripheral involvement in the Quickening and was slumped on his sofa, his apartment in ruins, looking again in absolute horror at the corpse on the floor. He looked sick. "Ray? We need to move the body."
Glazed eyes met his, and he felt that the other man was not entirely there. He stood with difficulty and levered himself down stiffly next to Ray and put his hand on his shoulder. "We have to hide all this before your neighbours come. We've only got a couple of minutes. Where are your spare blankets?"
He felt the other man shudder under his hand, then shake himself into awareness. Ray rose silently and went to the other room, returning with an old blanket. They had only just moved the corpse out of sight when someone pounded on the door that Methos had kept closed with a chair, and Ray hastily moved a rug over the bloodstain before he opened the door, Methos standing to block as much of the intruder's view as possible. "Mr Kowalski, what on earth ...?" Ray's landlady, Methos presumed, standing there in a caricature of shock, her mouth hanging open as she looked at the wreckage.
"Uh," Ray began. "We, uh, had ..."
"Ball lightning," Methos supplied. Ray and the woman stared at him as if he'd gone mad. "Quite a common phenomenon in these parts, I assure you. Came right in through the window. Very exciting." Ray obviously decided his only strategy was to play along and gave the woman a sick grin, which turned her suspicions back to him.
"Not a bomb?" she asked, uncertainly.
"No bomb," Ray assured her.
Methos decided to help. "Mrs ....?"
"Mrs Lambeth, Ray and I will get it cleared up in no time."
Landlady mode reasserted itself. "You have to put everything back the way it was when I rented it."
"We will, we will," Methos said soothingly. "Now, if you would let us start ..."
With the practice of millennia, he eased the woman out and shut the door.
"Adam, I got a dead woman in my bedroom," Ray pointed out unnecessarily.
"And that's why you and I need to do a little tidying up."
Ray sat heavily on his sofa again, and Methos recognised the difficulty for the detective. "Look, Ray, the normal rules don't apply. She was born centuries ago. You can't report her as a 'murder' victim - she doesn't really exist. Just let me handle it, please? I promise you, if we kill a mortal, we'll do things your way."
The attempt at humour fell completely flat but Ray was sensible enough to let Methos have his way. Methos took responsibility for bundling the dead body up, and they left it aside as Ray tried to straighten the place. The electrical equipment was a dead loss, and there was glass everywhere. Ray looked despairingly at Methos. "Look - I know some people who can help. Why don't you pack up what you need for a few nights away, and come stay at the loft. You can be back in a week. Let things cool down."
Ray nodded dumbly and packed the things he needed. He had an oversize sports holdall just the right dimensions into which they could shove the two parts of the late, unlamented Anne, and the two of them carried it down to Adam's vehicle. Ray followed him back to the loft in his own car, parked, then they both drove to the docks where Anne's remains were surreptitiously consigned to the deep.
He had to shake Ray, who was watching the place where the body had sunk as if mesmerised. "Ray, the whole point of disposing of the body is to not be caught doing it. Come on."
He drove them back to the loft and got out, passing Ray as he crossed to the stairs. He rubbed his arms absentmindedly as he went, a vain attempt to dispel the lingering itch beneath his skin, and felt a firm grip on his elbow. He looked into concerned blue eyes. I must look bad if he's that worried, he thought, a little irritated before he remembered that this man didn't know his true age. Adam Pierson could allow solicitude that would be beneath Methos, the world's oldest Immortal. Once in the loft he wasted only as much time as was needed to tell Ray where to find coffee and where to dump his bags before he retreated to the shower and washed the blood and sweat from his body. If only the evil of the mind behind the Quickening could be sluiced away so easily, he thought resignedly, and not for the first time. He wondered how quickly he could dispose of Ray's inevitable questions before he could slip into the sleep he needed to finish assimilating the Quickening, but to his pleasant surprise, the man had made coffee and was disposed to be quiet as he drank. It was sugared and whitened to his taste, also a surprise - thank the gods for an observer's eye. "I suppose you want to talk about all that," Methos offered reluctantly, wanting to get it over and done with.
"Not yet - I figure you'd want some down time."
Despite his training, Methos allowed the surprise to show on his face. Ray grinned. "Post chase syndrome - cops get it too. You don't know whether to fight, fuck or freak out after a run-in like that - I mean, when you nearly ... you know." Lose your head, Methos thought, slightly amused at the other man's hesitation. "Anyway - I only had an hour's sleep before you turned up - what the hell did you want anyway?"
Now Methos almost - *almost *- felt guilty. "I was going to invite you to breakfast - after a run, of course."
"Gee - thanks for nothing," Ray said dryly. "Why don't you get some rest? I'm gonna go out, get some breakfast, have a nap. I gotta work tonight again."
"Ray - take your gun." There was no point in him taking his sword - not yet.
"Always do." Well, that would have to suffice, Methos thought.
Everlastingly thankful for a student with some common-sense, Methos climbed into the bed and was asleep in minutes, Ray's Immortal presence and gentle clanking not keeping him awake at all.
He woke with a start - a Presence. He quickly realised it was the same one to which he'd gone to sleep (peering at the clock) three hours ago. He looked over to the living area - Ray was out for the count, sprawled on the sofa, in his street clothes. He looked as if he'd lain down for a second and sleep had ambushed him. He made an oddly attractive picture in the bright room but Methos wasn't pleased at the fact that neither his sword nor his gun seemed to be in easy reach. The loft was secure - but not impenetrable.
Methos dressed quietly then found the muffins left over from Ray's quest for breakfast and ate them, conscious that he'd missed breakfast and it was now lunchtime. He made a cup of coffee and then thought about his next move. Right - he was fed, clean and rested. Time to talk to his student. Some rock music might be a suitable aubade, he thought evilly. Most of his CDs were still in Paris and he saw no point in duplicating his collection. But he always travelled with a few, and 'Queen's Greatest Hits' was his noisiest.
He went to the shelf where he kept his recordings. "Bloody hell!" he yelped, despite himself. What was that doing there?
"You okay, Adam?" a soft voice called from behind him.
"No, I am bloody well not okay! What is that reptile doing in my record collection?" Methos turned sharply to glare at his student who was now sitting up, scratching, and totally unfazed by the wildlife intrusion.
"That's my turtle, Shelly."
"Percy Bysshe or Hack?" Methos asked acidly and got the predictable 'huh?' in response. "Boy or girl?"
"Dunno. I respect its privacy. Couldn't leave it in the apartment on its own - they get lonely, you know."
"Lonely," Methos said severely.
"Oh yeah - they're pack animals really. You gotta give 'em structure. You know, alpha, beta, that sort of thing. And they pine if you leave 'em on their own."
Methos could hear an English voice squeaking 'Pining for the fjords' and it was all he could do to stifle his laugh. Stop it, he told himself sternly, biting his lip. You're five thousand years old. You don't giggle.
"Actually, I'm not particularly fond of turtles."
"No," he said emphatically. "I was in Hawaii once - washed up there after a shipwreck - and because I came back from the dead, the natives thought I was some sort of god. It was fun for a while, until that idiot James Cook turned up and upset everyone - took a bloody chief as hostage, if you can believe it. Got himself killed, and then the locals thought a pale skinned god wasn't such a great idea any more. They stabbed me, tied me up and dumped me at sea with weights around my feet. I kept reviving and drowning until the damn ropes finally rotted. By the time I reached land, every turtle, fish and shark in the Pacific had had a taste of me."
Ray stared at him in horrified fascination. "So, uh, what did you do?"
"I ate a lot of turtle, fish and shark soup. What did you think I'd do?" He took pity on the other man. "Just don't let it interfere with me, that's all I ask."
"Turtles aren't big on interference, Adam. They're kinda live and let live little guys. Rocks with legs," Ray said in defence of his pet. "Were you gonna put on some music?"
"Yes. Queen all right with you?"
"Cool." Ray stretched out on the sofa, irresistibly reminding Methos of a rangy yellow cat. He was taking the morning's events remarkably well, he thought - or perhaps he wasn't fully awake.
There was little point deafening Ray now, so Methos put the selected CD on more quietly than he planned, keeping a suspicious eye on the shelled one, who glared balefully back. "You know, you're going to be killed in your sleep one of these days, not keeping your weapons near you."
"Hasn't happened so far, Adam."
"You didn't have psychopaths with swords hunting you down just for who you are before!"
"No - I just had gun runners and drug dealers and crooked cops with guns and rocket launchers coming after me because I worked for the PD. I can take care of myself. Besides, you were asleep. Didn't see you cuddling up to your sword."
"No, but I knew where it was!" he hissed.
Ray reached behind him and suddenly there was a very big gun pointed right at Methos' chest. "And I knew where my weapon was too." He lowered it and put it back in the place behind the cushions where he'd hidden it.
Methos held up his hands in defeat. "Okay, okay - for now. Look - did you want to ask me anything about this morning? You haven't really seen a Quickening before - and that ... was a bad one." Despite the rest and the passage of a little time, the coils of hate from the other mind still made him feel queasy, not quite in control of himself.
"I got a million things, sure - you up to it yet? There's no hurry."
Methos took a seat in the comfortable armchair and sipped from his coffee. "Fire away."
He explained about what a Quickening actually was - how it added to the victorious Immortal's own power, and how it varied depending on the number of heads the victim had taken and their age. He also explained that the lightning and explosions were the reason why Challenges almost always took place outside - "at least, away from anything you hold dear."
"I saw you after - it hurts, doesn't it?"
"Like the devil - and it gets worse all the time." How much worse after five thousand years, Methos knew full well. "It's why I prefer to avoid them if I can. I hate the Game, and I hate taking heads. The Quickenings are just part of that."
"Can you ... what's it feel like?" Ray asked hesitantly. Methos hesitated too - how to explain to someone who's never been through it?
"It's like the biggest adrenaline rush you've ever had, ten times over, with your finger stuck in a light socket and red hot lead running down your spine. At the same time, the whole life and emotions of someone who's just tried to kill you - who may have spent their whole long life killing and hurting and hating - pours into your mind, and you have to feel them and yourself all at the same time. You feel like you're going to implode."
Ray looked thoughtful at that. "Sounds like it's easier to shoot the guy and run away."
"Believe me, I've done it. But they come back - and come after you. Or the ones you love. Sometimes, you have no choice - you have to kill."
"And when you do, the Watchers clean up the mess?"
"Sometimes - when it looks like a scandal might erupt. Other times you do as we did, dump the body in the river or the sea."
"I did a search on the PD computer - there were a few more reports of sword fights than normal, but no more dead headless bodies than you'd find in Chicago. Lots of 'ball lightning' though."
"You can thank Duncan MacLeod for a lot of that. The man just attracts trouble."
Ray laughed. "You know, I got a friend just like that. The nicest guy you'd ever meet, but I never knew anyone who could get himself or me into more danger just by walking down the damn street."
"Ah, he must be Duncan's cousin."
"Could be - he's got a Scottish name too."
After the two men had lunch, Ray drove them back to the apartment where the damage was assessed. It was far worse than they had thought. The living room rug was a complete loss, and worse, the blood had seeped through and stained the floor boards along with the scorching. Every light fitting was broken, sprays of dried blood and burn marks decorated the walls, and there were two broken windows. "Damn, I have to work all week. I'll have to resand the floor and repaint." He looked aggravated at the added burden on his time.
"You can stay at the loft, Ray. Then you can move the furniture into the bedroom while you get things sorted."
Ray gave him a grateful look, but it really made little difference to Methos. Ray was at the loft so much while he was being trained, that he slept and ate there would not add much burden. They spent an hour cleaning up some of the glass and putting plastic over the broken windows. Ray needed more sleep than he had had before his night shift started, so he went back to the loft, dropping Methos at the University library on the way. Several hours later, he was collected, and pleasantly surprised that Ray had made dinner. He wasn't aware the man could cook, but a comment to that effect made the cop surprisingly defensive. "What did you think I was? Some Neanderthal, needing the little woman to wait on me? Jesus, Adam - I've been divorced for nearly four years. Did you think I lived on takeout?"
"And what's wrong with that, Ray?" Methos asked calmly.
"Well, it sucks," Ray mumbled. "It's a cliche. Divorced cops living on pizza and Chinese. It's no way to live."
Methos didn't answer, unwilling to delve into the murky sea that was Ray's painful private live. The food was good, but by the time they finished, it was too late for a workout. Considering the day's events, Methos was inclined to be lenient but Ray was more concerned, insisting on at least going for a run. The weather was dry but turned bitterly cold - not at all the sort of thing Methos enjoyed but he could hardly ask his student to do what he refused to, so reluctantly he joined Ray for a five mile run. They ran silently, the cold air hurting them to breathe, but Ray was grimly satisfied with himself when they at last reached the loft again. "You have no idea how unfit I was before Canada. Fraser would be amazed if he saw me running like that - he used to take Dief running with him every morning and I thought he was nuts."
"He might have been, for all that."
"You dissing my best friend, Adam?" Methos couldn't tell if Ray was really annoyed
"Not at all. You were the one who expressed an opinion, I was merely agreeing with you."
"Hmmph." Ray disappeared into the shower. Prickly sod, Methos thought.
He began to regret his uncharacteristic altruism even more when Ray came in at seven a.m. and woke him up despite an obvious effort to be quiet. Methos groaned and pulled a robe on, insisting his student had to make coffee as a penalty for getting him out of bed so early. "Are you working nights all this week?"
"No, thank God. That's it for this week. I got today and tonight off. I'm gonna get some sleep and then ...."
"No, you're going to workout and then you can sleep while I'm out."
"Adam, I've been on stakeout all night," he said with obvious weariness. Methos sighed, walked casually over to the wall and suddenly drew one of the katanas displayed there, putting it at Ray's throat. The cop, startled, dropped his coffee mug and put his hands up.
"If I was a Hunter after your head, infant, do you think I would give a damn about that? We had a deal. Now clean that up, have breakfast, and then we go downstairs. Any more arguments and the training is over. Understood?" Ray backed away slowly, nodding in shocked acquiescence. Methos was not a morning person.
The tension between them lasted until the final sparring session, when Methos allowed Ray to exorcise his resentment in a no-holds barred sword fight which left him cut, and Ray dead - again. It had become something of a habit for Ray to wind up dead at least once during many of their workouts. Methos didn't revel in it but he wasn't particularly bothered by it either, especially if Ray took the lessons closer to heart. It seemed the more realistic the instruction, the more practical knowledge the child gained from it. He didn't always kill him, of course, sometimes he just delivered painful, non-fatal wounds to toughen him up and teach him that fighting through was possible. When his student revived, Methos relented and made them lunch, serving wine and restoring them both to a good temper before leaving Ray to catch up on his beauty sleep while Methos visited Joe and settled in for a bitch about life in general, and students in particular. Joe was totally unsympathetic. "You didn't have to kill that Immortal in his apartment, Methos, you know that. Cut the kid some slack, he's working hard."
"Not hard enough," Methos lied. He was in fact impressed at Ray's dedication, and his insistence on making a weary cop go through a strenuous training session after a tough night on the job was more than a little inspired by annoyance. In the end it had done no harm, but it had been unnecessary. He could make it up to him later, he thought. He told Joe about the damage in Ray's apartment, and Joe offered to help. He knew a guy who could do the floor and Methos took the details. "I don't know how he stands living in a shoebox like that."
"Not all of us are independently wealthy, Methos."
"Hey, do you know how long it took me to get that way, Joe? I lived for three thousand years before I could actually start to accumulate anything - everything I'd ever made or stolen up to then had been taken away over and over again."
"Fair enough. Just make sure you remember me in your will."
"Haven't got one. You make a will, that assumes you're going to die. I don't plan on doing that. Besides, if I leave you anything, it only gives you a motive to kill me, and I wouldn't want to ruin a beautiful friendship that way."
"With me killing you?" Joe actually looked like he might be considering the idea.
"No, with you dying in the attempt," Methos shot back.
"All I want from you are your journals, old man. And I'd rather I got those off you while you were still breathing."
"If you're very, very good and kind to me, you might be allowed a peek."
"Of course. In fifty years or so." Methos grinned at Joe's disappointment. "Cheer up, Joe. Modern technology, medicine - I expect you to still be around by then."
"Yeah, in what condition though?" Joe said in disgust and left Methos on his own for an hour or two. I'm really pissing everyone off today, he thought.
Ray was awake and in high spirits when Methos finally got home, offering to take Methos out for a meal, the contretemps of the morning as if it had never been. Methos had noticed that before - Ray didn't hold grudges, which made him unusual by Immortal standards. It was the only explanation he had for the man's enduring affection for his ex-wife and his peculiar Canadian friend, who seemed to have been rather careless of his American partner, to say the least. Over the excellent pasta, Methos probed gently to find out a little more about this Fraser character, but found Ray strangely reticent. He did learn one thing however - that Ray was endlessly grateful to the man for helping him rectify an almost fatal error which had left an innocent woman in jail for eight years, facing the death penalty. He wasn't surprised that Ray had never killed anyone on the job, but the fact that he was so bothered by the near miss, concerned Methos more than a little. Every Immortal, sooner or later, had to face the choice of kill or be killed. He wondered if, when it came right down to it, Ray could actually make the final cut. We'll only find out at the time, he thought. All he could do was make Ray ready for the day, if and when.
And to that end, he drove Ray mercilessly while he had him at the loft, using his accessibility as an opportunity to intensify the already arduous sessions. Ray rose to the challenge, even though it meant nearly every spare minute outside work and meals and sleeping were taken up with physical training of one kind or another. The only real breaks the man had were when he attended to the necessary repairs to his apartment, and those were delayed until Joe's contact was able to do the floor. Methos alternated between wanting his privacy back, and a sneaking desire for Ray to stay a little longer. He enjoyed the man's company, despite himself, and he had to admit that his own fitness and skills had sharpened considerably through training alongside Ray. When they weren't training, in the rare moments of relaxation, he found they had some surprising things in common. He was amused to find Ray played chess, and although the younger man never won a game - never even came close - Methos confirmed something he'd noted about his student before. Ray never gave up, even when it was hopeless, whether in a physical or a mental challenge. As the world's oldest living example of the value of the philosophy, "It ain't over till it's over," Methos heartily approved of Ray's attitude. Teaching him chess strategy was a harmless way of making the man think outside the box, as well.
They fell into a routine over the week. Ray did his katas on his own in the morning, then he and Methos would run for an hour or so before Ray had to leave for work. Methos cooked usually, since Ray could never guarantee when he would get back from his shift, and as he did so, Ray would unwind, listening to music, dancing slowly to it in a peculiar solitary way which made him look at once lonely and desirable. The man was unselfconscious about it, aware Methos was watching him but apparently lost in his head and in the music. Methos, enjoying the strangely beautiful sight, wouldn't have discouraged him for the world. After they ate, Methos allowed Ray an hour to watch television and digest his meal, then they would train for another two hours before heading to Joe's. It was a way of life that Methos thought he could easily get used to. But at the same time, Ray unsettled him, made him put himself out when he would rather hold back, made him aware of the other man's presence and feelings when he had got used to thinking only of himself. The man was also a flirt, albeit a harmless, perhaps even an unconscious one, and Methos found this flattering and disturbing at the same time.
Hmmm. Actually, he'd wondered just how unconscious the flirting was the evening when he decided to whip cream for chocolate mousse. Ray distracted him, fatally, and the electric mixer sprayed cream everywhere - all over a very pissed off Ancient, the kitchen, and the floor. Ray thought this was hysterical. Methos took a step towards the cackling cop, slipped on a dollop of cream and ended up on his arse, which rendered Ray almost paralysed with laughter. He scowled at Ray until the younger man collected himself, deftly avoided the slippery patches and hauled him to his feet. "Do you mind, Ray? This is all your fault," he said severely as Ray stood holding his stomach. Methos hoped the brat had at least pulled something, laughing so hard.
"Sorry," Ray gasped, stifling a giggle. He looked at Methos assessingly, and stepped up to the older man, and wiped his finger gently against his nose. He stuck the digit in his mouth, and looked thoughtful. "Adam a la creme. Mmmm, yummy."
Methos ignored the provocative tone, picked up a cloth from the counter and threw it at Ray. "For that, you can clean up."
Ray stuck his hand out again and swiped another fingerful off Methos' cheek before the older man could get away. "Can I lick the bowl if I do?" He sucked the finger in a way which made Methos very grateful he wasn't prone to blushing, and that his sweater was long fitting. But after a last, lingering look, Ray got on with clearing up without further comment. The child, Methos thought, really would be the death of him, one way or another.
Methos' sense of guilt over his bad-tempered display when Ray first came to the loft nagged at him, because Ray never reproached him for it. So, as Ray was ready to move back home, he decided to assuage it in the most obvious fashion - with a gift.
Ray was perched on the coffee table, legs crossed beneath him, cleaning his gun. The weapon's components were scattered around him on a cloth along with the gun oil and several smaller cloths. Intent on the casing, Ray seemed unaware of Methos' approach. Methos stopped at the table edge and waited silently until Ray finished and glanced at him. "Hey, Adam. Something up?" Ray's eyes sparkled and his mouth curled up as he added irresistibly, "Or did you just want to watch me clean my piece?"
Methos' mouth twitched. "I think I could find more interesting things to do, thank you. Actually, infant, I have something for you." Methos turned and walked to the wardrobe where he'd stored the box earlier. Behind him he heard Ray put the gun down and pad over beside him.
"It's not another weird weapon, is it?" Ray's voice betrayed suspicion and resignation all at once.
"No, not exactly. But it is just as necessary to your survival in some ways. Here." Methos pulled the large box from the shelf and handed it to Ray.
Ray took it gingerly as if, despite Methos' words, it did contain something that would jump out and bite him. The old Immortal grinned. It had become something of a challenge to keep coming up with different ways to keep Ray on his toes. He recalled the instance when he'd surprised Ray not with a knife, or special bullets, or some other arcane bit of weaponry, but with a simple water balloon.
He had had Ray working low-light sword drills with a practice katana. It was late at night, the gym officially closed, and all the interior lights were off. The only illumination was reflected dimly from the entrance hallway. He was trying to get Ray more comfortable manoeuvring with an unguarded blade. With Ray's natural agility and grace, the movement wasn't the problem. It was the movement with the *sword *that proved tricky. Methos wanted the younger Immortal to traverse the dojo floor in a prescribed pattern, part kata, part freeform, following Methos' low-voiced instructions while simultaneously evading a variety of items lobbed at him from all angles. As added incentive he told Ray he had to pay for anything damaged irreparably. The blond scowled at him and moved off, muttering darkly about 'obnoxious, big-beaked, slave-driving cheapskates.'
Once warmed up from a light kata and a couple of trips through the course, Ray had been ready to go, sweating just slightly. The first few obstacles were handled easily, with good form and speed and no damage to Ray or the props. His wiry student deftly navigated the next obstacle, leaving intact the heavy velvet cushions Methos hurled at him as he climbed over a tall chair. Methos immediately sent him into the second abbreviated movements of a familiar training kata. The next test was a bit more difficult. Before he'd even completed the last spinning kick, Methos had him duck and roll under the horse, narrowly avoiding two Chinese vases set close together on either side of his path. Ray hadn't cut himself but Methos was fairly certain that the underside of the pommel now boasted a small nick in the leather from the tip of the sword where Ray had stuck it out awkwardly.
Ray uncoiled from his roll to face another row of chairs. This time Methos had him leap over the chairs in a forward dive, forcing him to generate enough momentum to clear not only the chairs but also the glass shards and carpet tacks that lay glittering on the floor. Ray, again, had tucked and somersaulted out of the dive but hadn't quite cleared the spray of shrapnel. Methos heard a muffled curse as the glass crunched and several pieces dug into Ray's unprotected shoulders. Methos nodded approvingly as his pupil moved into the series of complicated lunges and spins of the fifth form with barely a pause.
The final obstacle was another upright leap over a low hurdle, directly onto the narrow beam raised a foot and a half off the floor. Methos had sprinkled uncooked pasta along the length of the wood beam just to add a little interest. Ray's balance held, however, in spite of the odd sensation of crackling macaroni underfoot. Methos, meanwhile, calmly chucked heavy water balloons at his student with unerring accuracy. Ray made it almost the whole length of the eight-foot beam when he shifted a fraction too slowly and one wobbling projectile caught him on the shoulder. Ray tried to regain his suddenly precarious balance and Methos let fly with the last balloon. Ray saw the dark, heavy globe coming at him and ducked into a crouch, lowering his centre of gravity and clutching at the beam between his legs with his free hand. Unfortunately, the sword was again cast out at a sharp angle above his head. The balloon caught the tip of the blade and burst with a satisfactory POP. Ray was showered with a combination of perfume, liquid dye, and powder fine glitter.
Methos managed not to laugh as Ray grimly hung onto his composure long enough to dismount the beam and bow to Methos. Methos bowed back and finally let the chuckle escape as Ray blinked and somehow managed to glare at him through the glimmering, gardenia-scented liquid dripping into his eyes. "Well?"
"Not too bad, actually," Methos told him approvingly, still grinning. "Your speed was quite good and your forms were adequate. You were doing all right until you forgot where your sword was at the end. You'll have to fix that cut in the horse, by the way. I believe there's a leather repair kit in the closet."
"Gee, so glad I passed." Ray sighed and wiped a hand through the mess still dripping down his face. He brought his hand up to his nose and sniffed. "What the hell did you put in there, anyway?"
"Oh, whatever I could find," Methos replied airily. "I think the perfume was an Amanda discard." Even through the darkness Methos saw Ray's eyes widen as he shot a dubious look at his instructor.
Ray absently rubbed the stuff between his fingers. "Feels oily."
"Madame Eva's Glittering Massage Potion. From Mac's bedside drawer."
"Adam?! That's...that's...." Ray looked at Methos' gleeful smirk. "Jeez, you're a bastard." Ray slumped a little and continued, "You stay up nights devising this stuff for me or what?"
"It usually doesn't keep me up that long, just a few moments before bedtime, really."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Great. You got anything else to make me feel like a dope or can I hit the shower?"
Methos grinned and moved to get the lights. "No, go ahead. I'll just start putting some of these things away."
"Nah, let me help you. I'm already all dirty and stinky, a little extra sweat won't matter." Ray moved to assist Methos.
"Fine. Just don't touch those cushions. I have a feeling that dye might not come out of red velvet easily and Mac would kill me...."
"Dye! What kind of dye?" Ray raised his hand again in alarm and looked more closely in the light.
"Daffodil Sunshine, according to the box. It's okay, Ray, it's nontoxic. It came from that Easter egg kit in the back of the cupboard. I'm certain it's not that far out of date," Methos assured him.
Ray swiped his hand across his torso, disheartened to find the bright yellow concoction rapidly soaking into the low waist of his sweatpants. His hand came up to brush the damp tips of his hair, already showing disconcertingly brighter in a few spots. "Man, you suck. I can't believe you messed with the hair. You know you're evil, right?" Ray glared at him again without any heat.
"It's been mentioned once or twice," Methos said smoothly.
They cleared the dojo floor and put the equipment in order before Ray headed for the showers. Methos removed some of the props to the loft and returned to the main floor. He detoured into the dojo office for the first aid kit and headed to the locker room. He met Ray as the younger Immortal exited the showers with a towel around his hips. Ray looked up in surprise as Methos gestured for him to sit on the wooden bench between the rows of lockers. Ray sat and pulled the towel he'd used to dry his hair down around his shoulders, quirking an eyebrow at his teacher.
Methos lifted the long tweezers he'd pulled from the kit and explained, "Let me take a look at your shoulder. I'd like to make sure you don't have any glass stuck in there."
"Thanks, I already pulled out a couple of those damn tacks, but it still feels kinda sore," Ray replied as he tugged the towel from his neck into his lap and dropped his head.
Methos sighed but decided not to take the young Immortal to task for presenting his greatest vulnerability with such alacrity. Ray had been working hard the past few weeks, dedicating himself to the rigorous training sessions Methos set, and it was starting to pay off. His reflexes, already sharp from his years as a cop, were quicker than ever. Their daily runs were increasing in both length and intensity as Ray's heart and muscles became used to the steady punishment. His shoulders, back and chest were starting to show more definition from the sword drills and weight lifting.
Running his hand gently over those muscles, Methos could feel a few small protrusions beneath the otherwise smooth skin. With the tweezers and a tiny knife from the kit, Methos removed three small shards from Ray's left shoulder and two more from between his shoulder blades and just below his neck. They'd been buried too deeply for Immortal healing to expel. Using the damp towel from Ray's lap, Methos wiped it once across the blond's shoulders, removing the last traces of blood.
"There. All set," Methos said quietly as he brushed his fingers in the faintest of touches across the back of Ray's neck, where the fine, soft hairs began.
Ray glanced up at him with luminous eyes. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Methos turned and quickly repacked the first aid kit. He caught one last glimpse of Ray standing motionless before the door closed and blocked him from view.
Methos brought himself back to the present to see those pale eyes focused on the long box in his hands. Ray held the box with one arm while his fingers slid across the top. His eyes came up to Methos'. "I think I'll wait until I know what's in it, before I say 'thanks'."
Methos just grinned. "Your wisdom astounds me, Grasshopper."
Ray groaned and moved to the sofa, dropping down with the box in his lap, "Oh, please, not Kung Fu! I'm trying to avoid the parallels bad enough as it is." Ray's nimble fingers slid beneath the string holding the cover on the plain bleached cardboard box. The twine drifted to the floor and Ray removed the lid, pushing the tissue paper aside. His eyes widened slightly.
"Whoa, Adam! Man, this is.... Wow." He removed the black coat and stood up with it. The box fell unnoticed. Ray held the supple leather up and shook it gently. The light seemed to dance and slide across the dark surface of the material. The rich scent of the soft, conditioned hide could be smelt as he continued to inspect it. "Adam, thanks. A lot. But... I don't think..."
"Shut up, Ray, and put it on," Methos' voice brooked no argument. Ray seemed to recognise the friend had gone and the teacher was firmly in control. He shrugged into the expensive coat and held his arms out for Methos' perusal. It was only a moment, though, before the sensual feel of the coat proved irresistible to his student. Ray briefly caressed the material and admired the perfect drape of the garment.
The leather duster fell to several inches above his ankles, the collar was partially up around his neck before flaring into the lapels, which lay flat against his chest, and the sleeves ended just below his wrists. The whole thing was perfectly proportioned. The lining was cashmere, a dark charcoal gray, and from the expression on the younger man's face, it had been a long time since he'd owned anything quite so lavish. Methos steeled himself for the next part and made his voice distant, implacable, "Where's your sword?"
Ray looked at him with his head tilted to the side and bent down, reaching beneath the coffee table. He pulled the weapon out and held it uncertainly, awaiting further instructions. Methos stepped in close and slipped his hand around the other man's, slowly removing the hilt from Ray's grasp. He reversed the deadly blade and made sure Ray watched as he held the left side of the coat slightly away from Ray's body. With the tip of the blade, he found the special woven sheath in the lining of the garment and slid it home soundlessly. He let the material drop from his fingers and saw Ray flinch minutely at the unaccustomed feel of the metal sword hitting his leg. Methos made his eyes hard and his voice harder, "Wear it. Learn to be comfortable with it and to move properly in it. It could help save your life."
Ray regarded him silently and for once Methos couldn't read what was in those transparent eyes. Not waiting for his student's assent, Methos turned and walked to the elevator, not glancing up again until the noisy gears had started clanking and the cage was slipping below the floor level of the loft. Only once he was out of Ray's sight, did he permit himself a self-satisfied smile.
Ray had insisted on buying dinner the night he moved back to his apartment as a thank you for the coat and for letting him stay at the loft, and Methos had been happy to accept. The meal had been good, but the conversation was even better. Finally, Methos thought, his student and he were beginning to synchronise, Ray not only listening carefully, but really understanding. He'd learned more about Ray - and Ray about his philosophy - in those few hours, than he had done in the previous two months. It had been interesting. More than interesting.
Methos exited the restaurant half a step behind Ray, watching the young Immortal closely. Ray shivered and shoved his hands deep inside the pockets of the new black duster. He might have resented that reason necessitated such a gift, and the sword concealed within its depths, but he'd appreciated the style of the thing nonetheless. Methos nearly chuckled as he remembered again the expression on Ray's face. It had been worth every cent of the not inconsiderable cost of the thing.
Ray continued down the steps and Methos caught up to him as he paused, then turned left and headed down the sidewalk. Ray seemed deep in thought, probably trying to imagine himself in some of those situations Methos had put to him during dinner. Methos simply lifted the collar of his own coat against the chill and silently matched his long stride to Ray's.
They'd gone almost a block when Ray glanced sidelong at Methos. "Thanks for coming to dinner. And for, you know... stuff."
"You're welcome. I suppose you deserved it after the progress you showed this morning."
Ray snorted, "Oh, sure. I finally managed to get through one of your ass-whippings without bleeding all over everything, for a change. Definitely progress."
"Well, it's less time you had to spend cleaning the equipment afterwards," Methos pointed out helpfully.
"Oh, yeah, greatness. I actually made it to the station on time, too" Ray replied acidly, "and the Lieu nearly stroked out he was so surprised."
Methos ignored the sarcasm, "Besides, I prefer to regard it as a moderately intensive cardiovascular and muscle-building sparring session, myself." Methos smirked to himself in the shadows cast by the tree they passed beneath, waiting for it....
"'Moderately intensive'? Hah!" Ray scoffed. "Who are you kidding? There's nothing moderate about those torture sessions you put me through," he proclaimed, incensed. "I used to box pretty regularly, and I was never the slowest guy on the squad, but this! I thought this Immortality gig was supposed to fix all my aches and pains, huh? Swear I spent most of the day wanting to just keel over and die," Ray muttered, shifting his shoulders under the coat as if the soreness could still be felt.
Methos took pity on him and gently bumped his shoulder against Ray's to emphasise his point. "It'll get better, Ray. Immortal healing causes you to heal faster than you normally would and from wounds that would be fatal to ordinary people, in many cases because the human body can't keep the necessary systems functioning while the healing occurs. What we're doing when we train? It's not just honing muscles and teaching your body new moves. It's remapping the instinctive muscular responses your body's been used to 'til now. You're retraining yourself from the most basic level so you'll be able to rely on those instincts to keep you alive."
"I know, I know. I guess," Ray sighed morosely, then stopped and looked up. During the conversation they'd gone several more blocks toward the spot where'd they'd left the car. Ray glanced at the street sign. "Hey, Adam, you mind if we make a quick detour?"
"Not at all," Methos replied as he cocked his head questioningly at Ray.
"I want to stop, see a guy I know who lives around here," Ray replied in answer to the silent inquiry. "His place is just down this way," Ray indicated the cross street at the intersection they'd come to, and without waiting, started off along the darkened avenue.
Methos again followed silently, wondering what business Ray could have with someone at this hour. It wasn't particularly late, but it was past what most people would consider polite visiting hours. The neighbourhood was a bit shabbier than on the main thoroughfare. Several street lamps were out, making the cracked sidewalk more of a danger to unwary pedestrians. Stray bits and pieces of trash fluttered uncertainly in the chill breeze, contributing to the air of general neglect in the area.
Methos had no real worries for himself or Ray, but he'd never believed in being careless if he could help it. He looked up, just as Ray glanced back, and Methos knew he'd been caught suspiciously eyeing the darkened entrances to either side. Methos shrugged unapologetically.
"Don't worry, Adam. I'll protect you," Ray offered.
"Yes, pup, but who'll protect you?" Methos shot back, grinning.
Ray rolled his eyes, his own grin visible in the dim light. He shook his head in surrender and indicated the brick building in front of them. "Here it is."
He took the stairs two at a time to the landing and depressed the buzzer at the door. Methos was right behind him. He huddled close beside Ray, seeking warmth as a particularly strong gust of cold air cut right through both of them while they waited for a response. "Hope he's home," Methos murmured.
Ray pressed the button several more times, "He's home. He's always home." At Methos' raised eyebrow, Ray responded, "Ex-cop. Got forced behind a desk when he caught it from some scumbag pusher with a semi-auto." The bitterness at such unfairness was clear in Ray's voice.
"He told 'em to stick their desk job and left," Ray continued. "He still knows plenty of the guys at the station, though. Keeps connected. Spends most of his time in his apartment picking up the chatter on the police band. Says he likes to know what's going on, even if he can't be out there with us."
Finally, there was a crackle of static from the speaker inset above the button Ray had been leaning on for the past several seconds. "Whaddya want," a gruff voice demanded.
"Hey, Chief. It's Ray. Let me in, it's freezing out here." The door to their right buzzed even before Ray finished speaking. They hurried inside the foyer and proceeded through a second door into a blessedly warm hallway. "This way," Ray directed with a wave of his hand, bypassing the stairs and heading straight to the end of the hall. He stopped at 8A and rapped on the door.
"Hang on a sec', Ray," the same voice called out, as Ray carelessly brushed a few flakes of paint from his knuckles.
The door opened to reveal a dark skinned man in a wheelchair. He looked to be about fifty or so, judging from the sparse, wiry grey hair covering his head, with the powerful chest and shoulders, common among paraplegics consigned to wheelchairs whose remaining mobility and independence were critical.
"Hey, Ray. Sorry to keep you waitin'," the gravelly voice was reminiscent of Joe's and went well with the rugged exterior.
"It's cool, Chief. This is my friend, Adam," Ray introduced him. "Adam, this is the Chief."
"Nice to meet you," Adam put on his most innocuous front and extended his hand down to the man.
"Yeah, you, too," the Chief replied. Methos found himself the subject of a quick but thorough appraisal while his hand was grasped in a strong, firm grip. The man released his hand even as Methos was sure he'd been dismissed from his mind, and turned back to Ray, "What brings you 'round, Ray?"
"Not much, Chief. Just passing by. Figured I'd stop and see if you needed anything. Also wanted to say thanks for the tip you gave us last week. Saved us a bunch of time rounding up those punks," Ray explained.
"Anytime, Ray, anytime. Glad to help get those little bastards off the street. Peddlin' that crap to their own ... makes me sick," while his face reflected his distaste, he waved Ray and Methos into the room toward two old velour armchairs flanking a low, scarred, wood table. Ray took one chair and Methos the other.
Despite the air of overall age and poverty, the place was clean and, though small, comfortable. There was a door off to one side, which Methos assumed led to a bedroom; a tiny kitchenette was situated at the opposite end of the central space. Beneath the single window was a sturdy desk on top of which sat an impressive display of short wave radio equipment.
"Well, I can't say there won't be more of 'em next week, but we got Ricco's gang solid," Ray continued after he'd taken his seat.
"Yeah. Well, a little at a time, it's all you can do sometimes. Hey, you doin' anything right now?" The Chief had rolled over to the desk and replaced the padded headphones on a hook jutting out the front of the set-up. He adjusted a large knob on the main box and the volume and frequency indicators in the electronic readout dropped into blackness. They'd obviously interrupted him at his self-appointed listening.
"Nah. Headed back to the Goat. Had to park over on Clement." Methos was content to let Ray hold up their end of the conversation. Ray eyed the radio briefly before turning his gaze to the Chief knowingly, "Why, what d'ya got?"
The man grinned, one silver incisor gleaming in his dark face, "Might be nothing, might be something. Heard a call from the 400 building. Up on the corner?" Both Ray and Methos nodded in recognition of the place. Chief continued, "Well, seems like there was somethin' going on in the alley out behind it. Some kind of disturbance, shoutin' and yellin'. Folks above the alley were kinda worried, afraid it might be a knifing or worse."
Methos looked askance at Ray and ventured, "Is that type of thing unusual around here?"
Chief glared at him, "Hey, just because it looks cheap and run down doesn't mean we don't deserve the same consideration as every other taxpayer." Methos held his hands up and nodded his head in acquiescence as the man continued to Ray, "Idiot dispatcher who took the call said for them to sit tight and call back if they heard anything else from the alley. I know some real decent folks in that building. They don't deserve the brush off if someone's getting hurt, just because they can't afford an expensive place in the fancy part of town. You mind takin' a look?"
Ray got up quickly, "No problem, Chief. We gotta head past there on the way back anyway. If we find anything, I'll call it in. Okay?" Methos groaned inwardly. Ray was worse than the Boy Scout, much worse.
"Thanks, Ray, but what about...?" Chief indicated Methos obliquely.
Ray grinned slightly, "Don't let the sissy-boy look fool you. He's okay, and he can handle himself. I know." Methos gave him a sharp look, at which Ray merely smiled innocently, and Methos promptly started thinking of ways to make Ray suffer for the 'sissy-boy' crack in their next 'sparring' session.
"Whatever you say, Ray," Chief gave in doubtfully as he followed them to the door. "Thanks again."
The door shut behind them. "Come on, Adam, let's go," Ray urged as he put that ground-eating stride to good use, exiting the building and quickly heading back in their original direction.
"Ray," Methos cautioned, "is this really a good idea? Couldn't you just call it in yourself? After all, you've got an innocent civilian with you. What if I got hurt?"
Ray let out a short, sharp bark of laughter and looked at Methos incredulously, "Uh huh. Right. I should probably be more worried about protecting those poor saps in the alley, if they have to face you."
"I'm not that bad," Methos protested, stoutly ignoring the snickering little voice inside his head. *Shut up,* he told it firmly.
"It's just up ahead," Ray ignored him, paused, and reached into his coat for his gun. Just then, they felt it. Presence. They glanced at each other before Ray pulled his gun and started forward again.
Methos adjusted his coat slightly, loosened his sword, and followed. "Bugger," he muttered quietly.
He reached the edge of the building and paused behind Ray, where he'd stopped at the corner, trying to peer into the alley without being seen. Methos whispered into his ear, "If we can feel him, he can feel us, Ray."
"Yeah, but as you've pointed out, that doesn't mean I want to get shot or have any pointy objects thrown at me, Adam," Ray whispered tersely. He suddenly dropped into a crouch at Methos' feet, risking a better look from there, as Methos leaned over him to try to get a glimpse of his own.
Methos and Ray were at the open mouth of the alley. The far end was blocked by a tall, chain-link fence. They leaned against another fence, a flimsy wooden affair, that ran around the apartment building in a narrow perimeter. The alley itself seemed empty but for a tall stack of wooden crates and cardboard boxes midway down which blocked their view. Methos was about to pull back when a woman's voice cried out brokenly, in fear and pain, "No-o!" There was a sharp crack, then silence. It sounded like it came from the far side of those boxes.
"Fuck!" Ray whispered. He moved from his crouch and stepped into the alley in one smooth motion, his gun pointed in the direction of the boxes, "Seacouver PD! Come on out. Now!"
Methos thought quickly, scanning the area for other alternatives, then grasped the top of the fence in both hands and hoisted himself silently over the top. He dropped into the dilapidated side yard of the building, moved carefully along the narrow strip of grass, and dodged darker shadows on the ground that could have been anything from garbage to abandoned toys. He paralleled Ray's progress for a few feet and heard Ray call out from almost beside him, "I said 'Come on out' and I want to see hands in the air!"
He moved ahead as Ray slowed and Methos prayed that the latticed fencing would provide enough cover for him to slip unnoticed to the far end of the yard. Methos reached his goal and leaned forward to peer into the alley from between two loose planks. His gaze sharpened and he nearly cursed out loud as Ray ducked under the swing of a short baseball bat, then brutally drove his elbow into the side of his assailant's head as the man's wild swing carried him past. In the same movement, Ray pivoted to take on the second man, who'd been trying to approach from Ray's other side unnoticed. The man was already swinging, though, with a thick length of expertly wielded chain. It caught Ray around the wrist with an audible thwap. He heard a grunt and watched as the gun fell from Ray's fingers.
Methos' attention was caught by a muffled whimper and movement in the shadows by the boxes. This time, though, he was viewing it from the other end of the alley, so he could now make out two forms in the darkness. A man's cloaked form stood above a slighter shape slumped against the wall. The weak noises were coming from the woman on the ground. As he watched, the man reached into his coat and removed something. Methos didn't need the flash of silver to tell him what it was.
Methos once again cursed his propensity for aligning himself with do-gooder Immortals who would never forgive him if he let some poor, stupid mortal die unnecessarily. He grasped the fence and was over in seconds. He'd drawn his sword as his feet hit the ground and called out quietly, "She doesn't seem to welcome your attentions. Why don't you leave her?"
The Immortal whirled away from the woman. The face that turned to Methos was narrow and sharp, short hair impossible to catalogue in the dimness, but as he moved sideways, the man passed through a reflected shaft of light, and Methos could clearly see his odd colourless eyes. The Immortal smiled unpleasantly, with all of a rat's avarice at a free meal, and asked in a low, silky tenor, "Perhaps you would welcome them, then?"
Methos bared his teeth in his own death's head grin, "I'm certainly better equipped." He gestured with his Ivanhoe. They both glanced over at the sharp cry from the opening of the alley and saw Ray go down beneath one of the mortals as the second thug struggled to straighten away from the wall. Methos' smile disappeared and he refocused his attention to meet the pale-eyed Immortal's first charge.
Metal clashed and sparks flew as they tested each other. Methos remained on the defensive, unwilling to reveal too much prematurely. The man taunted him. "You've saved me some time - I've been looking for you." Methos didn't waste his breath asking what he meant but his mind immediately started cataloguing his memories to recall if they'd met before. "I thought I'd felt two of you. I was a bit worried at first, but it looks as if the whelp will be no trouble for my associates. I'm sure they'll be able to keep him occupied until I'm ready for him." He feinted quickly to one side then reversed his thrust, trying to catch Methos off guard. Methos deftly evaded him, sliding to his left in counterpoint to the other man's circling movements. "That's after I'm done with you, of course."
He came in again, this time in a committed attack on Methos' right. Methos was ready for him, though, and quickly launched a counterattack of his own, the Ivanhoe flashing across, then up at an angle. The other Immortal was forced to jump back to avoid being laid open from hip to shoulder. As it was, Methos scored a shallow gash across the man's chest. Still back pedalling, the man nearly stumbled over the woman, who'd mustered enough strength and wits to try to remove herself from the vicinity. She'd barely made it to her knees, however, when the Immortal practically landed on top of her in his hasty retreat from Methos' blade.
Quickly spotting a possible advantage, the bastard reached down and wrapped one hand around her thin arm. He yanked her upright and literally tossed her at Methos. Methos tried to dodge but the woman, in her disorientation and fright, collapsed against him, her hands clutched tightly to his chest. Methos saw the advancing Immortal, sword already raised to strike, and tried to shove her away, to free his sword, anything. She just clung tighter.
Methos knew he didn't have enough time to completely evade the descending blade. He tried to save the woman from the worst of it, deliberately stumbling backwards and twisting his body sharply to the side, shoving her partially beneath him. He felt the cold burn of steel as the sword bit into his side beneath the shoulder, cleaved through muscle, rib and lung and tore free just above his hip. Methos hit the ground beside the woman and the Ivanhoe jarred from his hand at the impact. The ice quickly turned to fiery pain as blood flowed from the wound and the massive injury registered on his nerves. *Damn,* not enough time to heal before the bastard finished the job.
This realisation sank in as Methos watched the sword rise again, and the Immortal couldn't resist gloating, "Farewell, Methos. I'm going to enjoy your Quickening." Methos' eyes widened in shock and his killer chuckled delightedly, "Oh, I know who you are, Old One. Cassandra was most forthcoming about you - but don't worry. I made sure she won't tell anyone else. "
Methos struggled desperately to reach his second blade. Before he could even get his arm to move, there was an incomprehensible shout and a hurtling form plowed into the other Immortal, knocking the man off his feet. The two forms sprawled onto the dirty concrete a few feet away and there was the sound of flesh and bone impacting against stone. Both were quickly upright again, though, and faced off against one another.
Methos gave the unknown Immortal points for somehow managing to hold onto his sword through Ray's tackle, but the man appeared badly shaken nonetheless. He swayed as he brought his sword up to parry Ray's first strike and barely managed to block Ray's second swing. As they circled into a pool of light, Methos could see blood running into one of those odd eyes from a wound on the side of his head. Methos gritted his teeth as he felt the damage being repaired in his side. He fought to stay conscious through the process and watched through narrowed eyes as the older Immortal's guard slipped at a critical moment. Ray's sword swatted the other's blade aside and his foot lashed out in a vicious kick that knocked the other Immortal back onto one knee. The man looked up just as Ray's blade flashed down.
"No!" Methos yelled as Ray's sword connected with the Immortal's neck. You bloody fool, he thought despairingly, as much at himself as his pupil. Ray stood, shocked at what he had just done, but clearly completely unaware of what was about to happen. He watched the gathering mist with a puzzled look on his face, then began to moan as the pain grew. He screamed as the first lightning bolt hit him, his sword sent flying, and he dropped to his knees. Methos watched, sick with worry, as the Quickening went on and on, wrenching the other man about, his face a rictus of agony. It was too much for him. It was only the barest fluke that a new Immortal had taken such a powerful Quickening, and Methos had no desire to see his student driven insane by the roiling energies. He struggled against the ambient power surges and reached Ray, gritting his teeth and putting his arms around him, fighting the urge to flee from the pain and the images in his mind. He didn't do this often - this was only the third time in five millennia, and now he remembered why. I hope this works, Ray, he thought grimly, as he hung on to the convulsing body. The twisting strands of light now pierced both of them and the wind reached a howling crescendo. Methos caught flashes from his student, terrifying confusion, unimaginable power, biting agony and intense need. Gods, this hurt. He knew how much worse it must be for Ray, and prayed the younger man might pass out from the pain. Unfortunately he didn't. As the last flickers of the Quickening died away, Methos let Ray go. The cop crawled away and promptly threw up.
Methos swore, and kept on swearing as Ray heaved his guts up. Why couldn't it have been a simple one, Methos thought moodily. He spared only a glance for Ray as he picked himself up and went to check on the mortals. They'd gone.
The woman would have fled at the sight of the Quickening if nothing else, and the two confederates of the dead Immortal had deserted him. Shrugging slightly, Methos quickly scanned the ground nearby and found what he was seeking. He leaned down and scooped Ray's gun from the pile of refuse it had landed in then returned to Ray's side. Okay, Methos glanced around, they'd been long enough that Chief had probably called the police, if one of the tenants above hadn't already beaten him to it. Luckily there'd been no shots fired, but if those above had good hearing, they might have wondered about the nuts going at it with swords in their side yard. Methos paused and listened intently. Good, no sirens. Yet. That wouldn't last long.
He reached Ray, pulled the other man upright, and staggered under Ray's weight, manhandling him to the back end of the alley. He leaned his disoriented friend against the corner where the chain link and wood fences met and spoke hurriedly, "Ray, I want you to wait here for just a moment. All right? I need to get the car." Glassy eyes regarded him with no recognition whatsoever. Methos cursed in frustration and tried again, "Ray! I need to get the car and get us out of here. I need you to stay put. Do you understand?" Methos punctuated his words with a bone-rattling shake. His tactics were rewarded with a startled blink, and then Ray nodded his head slowly, once, to show his understanding. Methos sighed in relief.
Keys. He needed the keys. He fumbled in Ray's jeans pockets, his fingers brushing accidentally against the post-Quickening erection but Ray was too insensate to notice. His face was grey and he shivered continually, unaware of anything but the nightmare screenplay in his head. At last - Methos had the keys. Stuffing the keychain into his own pocket, he shifted Ray over slightly and then kicked at a loose board until it gave. Pushing it out of his way, he slid through the narrow opening he'd created, out the back of the alley. Just as he'd hoped, he found himself on Clement, about a hundred yards away from where Ray had parked the GTO. Sparing one last glance for Ray, now huddled against the ground, Methos set off at a quick run.
It took Methos less than a minute to reach the car, swing it around and park it next to the alley's back fence. Leaving it running, Methos retrieved Ray and helped him squeeze through the slot in the fence, dragged him to the GTO and stuffed him without grace or ceremony into the passenger seat. Shit - the swords. Cursing again, he ran back to the corpses and collected the weapons then threw them into the back seat. He fought against the urge to speed back to the loft - he couldn't afford to be stopped, not with Ray in this condition, both of them covered in blood and with four swords and one unregistered gun in his possession.
The ride back seemed interminable. Ray hadn't moved apart from the tremors rippling through him, and hadn't made a sound. Methos was thankful Duncan had thought of this problem - his parking place was secure and discreet. He decided to risk leaving the swords in the boot - he couldn't manoeuvre Ray and them at the same time, and there were at least two katanas on the wall in the loft. He opened the passenger door, and Ray nearly fell out. He gripped the other man's shoulders and shook him. "Ray! Wake up, time to go in." No response, and he was in no mood for gentleness, so he slapped the cop hard. A hand whipped up and grabbed his.
"Don't do that."
"Then get your arse upstairs."
Ray climbed out - well, fell out - and Methos had to help him up from his knees. The blind leading the bloody blind, he thought, as they walked like old - elderly - men, clutching each other and leaning against the elevator wall as it climbed. Ray had his eyes closed, still shaking. Nothing prepares you for this, Methos thought. Not even when killing was a lot more common than it is now. And for a man who couldn't even let the State kill without agonising over it - the gods only knew what was going through his head now. He tugged his student's arm with one hand as he threw the gate up with the other. Ray came docilely which didn't particularly please Methos - he knew he had to help him recover his sense of self. It shouldn't have happened, he thought. Ray shouldn't have had to suffer such a Quickening, not first time.
He could feel how cold Ray's skin had become. Shower. A hot one for both of us, and screw modesty. He pulled Ray into the bathroom and the man finally seemed to be aware of what was going on. He batted Methos' hands away as the older man tried to help him undress. "I got it," he muttered, stripping himself with clumsy fingers. Methos got the water running hot and shoved the cop under the stream, then stripped himself, kicking the ruined clothing outside the room. Ray stood with his eyes closed, the hot water running directly onto his face, not even attempting to wash himself. Methos adjusted the showerhead to a more gentle spray and so it fell over both of them.
"Come on, Ray, clean the blood off," he said gently, pushing the soap into lax hands. It was immediately dropped, and Ray dropped his head and pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes.
"I can't. I can't - keep seeing ... the head... the blood ...." His shaking grew worse and he slowly folded up into a tight crouch at the bottom of the tub. Methos could hear his sobs coming out behind fists jammed into his face and his mouth. He knelt and took Ray into his arms.
"It'll get better, Ray. All of it. Come on. Finish up and we can get warm." His only answer was a jerky shake of the head. He picked up the soap and rubbed it over the skin he could see, and into the blood spattered hair. He used his touch, his fingers, to deliberately ease the tension in the long body, and found to his surprise that doing so eased the tremors he was feeling himself. Ray started to uncurl, and then took the soap from Methos. Methos sat quietly, waiting, then Ray's hand reached for him tentatively, starting to repay the favour, carefully cleaning him, washing his hair. Once he was done, Ray seemed to lose momentum. Methos took the soap and put it aside, then put his arms around Ray again. "Come on, we're done." Ray rested his head on Methos' shoulder briefly then somehow found the strength to push himself upright, pulling his teacher with him. The two clung together until Methos turned the water off, then the cold air propelled them towards towels and dryness. Now they both were shivering - Methos knew Ray was close to collapse. He threw a ratty robe of Duncan's at Ray and put his own on. Some of that blessed Scotch the Highlander kept in quantity would go down well now, he thought, wondering if Ray had to work the following day, and if he could make it in.
Ray was still unnaturally compliant and let Methos push him over to the sofa and down. As Methos covered him with a blanket, he looked up. "You said it would be bad," he got out through chattering teeth, "but not like this."
Methos looked at him with sympathy. "You're unlucky - that was a particularly nasty one. No one ever died from a Quickening, you'll be glad to know."
"I was kinda hoping I would," he managed to joke back, but then his lips were pressed tight against the tremors. Methos found the Scotch and poured two large shots out and gave one to the cop. Ray's hand was shaking so hard that Methos was forced to abandon his own drink and help the other man bring the whiskey to his lips.
"Drink - it'll help."
Ray did as he was told to, wincing at the burn. Methos decided that he could manage on his own, and fuck it, he needed a drink too. It had been too close that time. He took a big slug, wishing beer had the impact he needed. He really didn't like Scotch that much, although years of friendship with the Scot had inured him to it - and it had to be said that at least the Highlander kept only the best in stock. He looked at Ray who was staring at him. "Feeling any better?"
"Can't tell yet." He sipped again from his glass and shuddered. "I feel like my brain is being scoured from the inside, and like there's ants crawling all over me."
"And I bet you could hump a hole in a brick wall too," Methos said lightly, but the other man blushed. Ooops - modern sensibilities, such a pain in the bum. "There's nothing to be ashamed of, Ray - it happens to all of us. You just jerk off, or if you're lucky, someone helps, and you feel better."
"If I touched myself now, I'd explode," Ray gritted out.
"Unlikely," Methos said dryly. What the hell - he'd already showered with the guy, this was a lot less than he'd done for other people. He took the empty glass from Ray who looked at him in confusion. "Come on - I can do something about ... you know," waving his hands in the general direction. Ray immediately wrapped the robe more tightly around himself and drew away. "Oh for gods sake, Ray - you're not going to tell me no guy's ever done this to you before?"
"Nuh ... not ...." The cop's embarassment manifested itself in an even deeper blush.
"Not since you were a kid?" Ray nodded. "Look - you could live for centuries. You have to learn to expand your horizons. Let me try. You won't have to buy me an engagement ring afterwards, I promise."
That provoked a snort of laughter and Methos used the opportunity to gently peel the arms away. "It will help, honest," he said softly, looking into the lucent blue eyes and Ray nodded slowly, relaxing and pushing the blanket aside. His erection jutted out angrily from the robe - Methos knew it was likely to be painful, more like having taken Spanish Fly than a true response to arousal. He wrapped a hand around it, and Ray jumped. He put his other hand flat on Ray's chest. "Settle down - let me." Ray relaxed and Methos began to pump lazily. It was no hardship - and certainly Ray had nothing to be ashamed of, his penis was as well shaped as the rest of him. He was startled by a hand on his cheek, and was surprised to find he was being caressed. Ah, romantics, he thought. The boy couldn't cope with a zipless fuck after all. He didn't mind - it was rather nice, and he let himself nuzzle into the warm hand. It seemed no time at all before Ray's cock was spitting, the man coming with a little gasp of relief, sagging bonelessly back with his eyes shut. There, was that so difficult? Methos asked himself, wiping his hand on a tissue from the box on the coffee table, and made to get up.
"Adam?" Ray's hand tugged on Methos' robe. Puzzled, Methos let himself be pulled down again, then Ray's hand was back on his face, stroking, and the other arm wrapped around him. "Can I?" Ray whispered.
"Yes, of course." He thought the other man was merely going to reciprocate with a hand job, but instead warm lips touched his own, and he was being kissed gently, and with surprising skill, making his already fierce erection throb even more. Well, this is nice, he thought. Beats beating off in the bathroom. Ray's hand moved from his face to inside his robe, stroking his nipple to hardness before roving down his flank and cupping his buttock. All the while Ray caressed Methos with lips and tongue, not protesting at all when Methos slipped his own tongue into Ray's mouth. Well, infant, if you haven't done the other before, you've done this, he thought with a mental grin. It had been a while, for sure.
Ray seemed aware that it was unkind to keep Methos waiting but his movements were careful and unhurried. Methos relaxed into the embrace, closing his eyes and allowing himself to drift, consciously letting go of the rush from the fight - only to jump when it was warm lips, not a hand, which finally surrounded his engorged penis. He thought he was too old for surprises any more - but he would never have predicted this. Fascinated, he watched the blond head move as Ray's tongue curled around his cock, one hand gently rolling his balls. The rhythm was just this side of maddeningly slow - but deliciously so - and Methos could tell that this also was something Ray had done before. Either that, or he had access to some really superior educational videos. He had a lot more control than Ray, and hadn't had quite the same charge from the Quickening, so things took a little longer. He wondered if he should warn Ray he was coming but the other man showed no sign of wanting to free him so he just let him do as he wanted. Oh gods - he felt like he came from his toes and what was that thing the man was doing with his tongue? He was shivering again from the orgasm, but he no longer felt cold. Not even slightly. Ray slid back up his body and kissed him again. "You okay?"
"I'm just fine."
"Good." Ray rested his head on Methos' chest and looked set to fall asleep there. Methos shook him.
"Ray? I need to get up and go to bed."
The other man sat up and let him move. He looked at Methos, almost seeming to want approval or a blessing - he's probably worried things will change, Methos thought. He pulled the blanket back over Ray, gently stroked his fingers though unruly damp hair and put his hand under his chin. "Thank you, Ray. I hope you sleep well." That got him a relieved smile as he padded off to his more comfortable bed.
That, Methos thought, staring at the ceiling an hour later, unable to sleep, probably had been a big mistake.
Eventually sleep did come, although it was troubled by Quickening-fuelled dreams. He jerked awake. What the hell was that noise? He flipped over and sat up. Street light and moonlight made the loft easily visible. "Ray?" He got up, sword in hand. The sofa was empty but next to it, huddled in a crouch was his student, rocking back and forth, moaning. Methos couldn't tell from this distance if the man was still asleep, but he was in pain, no doubt. Methos put his sword down and approached Ray quietly, calling his name and getting no response. He knelt down in front of him, and now he could see that Ray's eyes were clamped tightly shut. He put a hand on the other's shoulder but Ray was totally unaware of his presence. He shook him a little but with no effect. There really was nothing for it - he went behind Ray and knelt again, wrapping his arms around him, and spoke softly into his ear, soothing and stroking. The manic rocking stopped but the sounds didn't. He stood up and pulled the other man's hands until he managed to haul him upright. Then he half walked, half carried him up to the bed and lay him down, covering him in the warm duvet and holding him close, letting the heat of his body and his presence comfort where words had had no effect. Soon the painful noises stopped, and the rigidity left Ray's body as he settled into a deep sleep. Methos considered waking him and sending him back to the sofa, and then thought it was altogether too much effort. He stayed wrapped around the other man, and fell asleep himself.
Instinct woke him early. Ray had migrated to the other side of the bed and was rolled into a ball, barely visible and still sound asleep. Hell, Methos thought. This had been such a bad idea, sprung from the best of motives. What if the guy woke up and wanted to talk? Groaning quietly he got up and pulled on some clothes. Best to be not naked when Ray woke up. Coffee. The real aqua vitae, not that fermented wheat grain muck. The smell and the sound of the percolating filled the loft and a tousled head was seen lifting up. "Is it morning already?"
"'Fraid so. If you want coffee, come and get it. I don't do room service."
Ray sat up. "How did I get into your bed?" He looked pale, but a hell of a lot better than he had the night before.
"You were sleep walking. I thought it was better to have you where I could keep an eye on you."
"Oh, jeez - sorry. You want to throw me that robe?"
Secretly relieved at the matter of fact way Ray was handling things so far, Methos did just that and Ray made a beeline to the nectar. Methos shoved a cup into his hands and waited.
"Adam ... last night ...." Methos tensed. "Thanks."
Methos blinked. That was it? "Uh - no problem. Anything to help out, you know."
Ray grimaced. "Good thing I've got this morning off. Those Quickening things really, really suck."
"They do at that," Methos agreed feelingly. "Look - there's nothing here for breakfast, and I want the newspaper so I think I'll dash down and get something while you get dressed."
"Okay." Ray was already distractedly looking for his clothes.
"Ray - your stuff is pretty much trashed. There's some clean clothes you can borrow in the chest of drawers."
"Right." Ray didn't even look at him as Methos slipped out, feeling like he'd just had a reprieve.
MacLeod grinned to himself. He was going to surprise the old man out of bed and looked forward to soothing the ruffled feathers with croissants and coffee. He'd missed him - he'd missed Joe, and Seacouver, and the dojo. He whistled softly as he came up in the elevator, feeling the buzz of the Presence, so he knew Methos was at home. He slid the gate up, then dropped the bag of pastries in shock and drew his katana as he saw a blond stranger struggling into jeans and grabbing for a revolver behind the sofa cushions. The gun was pointed at his chest as the stranger backed away.
"Who the hell are you?" the man yelled.
Duncan advanced. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
The stranger suddenly smiled and lowered his gun. "Oh. Hi. I'm Ray Kowalski of the Seacouver PD. Nice to meet you."
Duncan didn't relax his stance. "Where's Me... Adam?"
"Gone for breakfast. He should be back any minute. Hey, I hope you don't mind - we ran into some trouble last night and Adam brought me back here to clean up. I passed out on the sofa."
Duncan at last believed this was friend, not foe, although he didn't drop his guard. He put his katana away. "You're a police officer?"
"Yeah - damn it, where's my stuff? Sorry - everything got covered in blood last night, you know how it is. Look, there's coffee brewed. I just want to finish getting dressed, if that's all right with you?"
"Sure." He watched the man search for clothes, wondering how on earth Methos had hooked up with him. "How long have you ...?"
"Been like you guys? About four months. Adam stuck a knife in me - claimed it was for my own good."
"Oh, did he now?" Duncan would have words with his ancient friend about that. For now, he retrieved the fallen croissants and poured himself some coffee. Ray joined him in the kitchen, and from the ease with which he moved around, Duncan could tell he'd been here before. More than once.
Duncan felt the prickle of an approaching Immortal and saw Ray stiffen just before, "MacLeod! You should have called!" Methos gave him a warm smile, and despite his irritation at his home being invaded and what he'd just learned, Duncan couldn't help but smile back. The old man looked good. "I see you've met Ray."
"Yeah - he pointed a gun at me. Don't you have a sword?" he asked Ray.
"Somewheres about. Adam?"
Methos looked shifty. "It's safe, Ray. I'll fetch it later." Duncan was getting suspicious. The old man was hiding something.
"So Adam - I gather Ray's your student. At least, I assume you've taken responsibility for him." From the guilty look, Duncan knew that Methos knew that he knew. Oh, old man, what the hell have you been up to while I've been out of town?
"I was just keeping your seat warm, MacLeod. Now you're back, you can take over properly. You know I'm a lousy teacher." Ray looked at his erstwhile mentor in surprise. Duncan was annoyed but kept his temper.
"Perhaps we can talk about that later, Adam. So, Ray, have you learned how to use a sword?"
"Yeah." Ray looked at Duncan defiantly.
"He can look after himself, MacLeod," Methos said quellingly.
"So where's his sword, Adam? Why is he trying to defend himself against Immortals with a gun?"
"Hey, bud - don't talk about me like I'm not here, OK? We had a pretty rough time last night."
"And I could have been anyone coming up here and if it had been, you'd be in two pieces now."
Ray put his cup down and faced off against the Scot. "You telling me I can't look after myself, pal?"
Duncan tried to back pedal. "I'm just saying that if you're going to defend yourself, you have to be ready at all times. Other Immortals don't care that you're tired, or had a rough night. In fact that's when they're most likely to attack."
Methos stepped in. "MacLeod - he took a head last night. He must be ready."
"How?" Methos asked irritatedly.
"Let me fight him."
"You're Challenging him?"
"Och, don't be daft, man. A spar, that's all. You can second him."
"Do I get a say in all this?" Ray asked sharply.
"No!" the other two men said in response. Methos and Duncan stared at each other, neither willing to give way until Ray stepped between them. "Hey, I'll fight you, buddy. You don't bother me."
"He should, Ray," Methos said dryly. "Maybe it's about time you learned what you're really up against. OK, take him," he said carelessly to Duncan. "I'll get the swords and meet you in the dojo. MacLeod, lend him something to wear - I don't want my clothes ripped."
Ray glared at his teacher as Methos retreated, but Duncan laughed. "Don't worry, Ray. I'm not doing this to get at you. I want to make a point with him."
"You two got history or what?"
"'What', I think."
Fifteen minutes later Duncan sighed mentally at Ray's uninspiring performance. OK, the lad had only a couple of months training, but Hunters were no respecters of inexperienced Immortals. He thought sadly of Claudia, dead just a few months before. He had no wish to see another new Immortal go that way. He tried a faintly sneaky approach against the younger man and was surprised with an equally devious counter. Well. Okay. Mac revised his opinion slightly. The kid obviously had some moves he was glad to see, and stamina. He was impressed by the musculature, and Methos himself was walking proof that brawn didn't equal strength when it came to swordplay. The man made a good defence - oh and that was a dirty little move the old man must have taught him. He hoped for the sake of honour that Ray wasn't planning on carrying two swords - and for the sake of his head, that he planned on carrying his gun. It was over all too soon - Ray was on the ground, bloodied and heaving like a steam engine. Duncan looked disgustedly at Methos.
"He's not ready, Adam. It'd be like throwing a kitten to the wolves."
"Hey!" The protest came from floor level.
"I grant you he's a little raw ..."
"A little! Adam, what on earth have you been doing? If he comes up against anyone even remotely good, he'll be dead!"
Ray stood up slowly and faced Duncan. "Look - guys, time out. I gotta be at work in an hour, and I've got better things to do than listen to you two telling each other I suck, OK?"
Duncan regretted the offence, but not the judgement. "I'm sorry, Ray. We're being rude, you're right. Adam and I will discuss it between ourselves."
"Don't worry about it, Ray," Methos said smoothly. "I'll see you later."
"Right." The two friends watched the youngest stalk out with the tatters of his dignity around him.
Duncan turned back to Methos. "Now, old man, you are going to tell me just what the hell you've been doing to him."
"Stop acting like your father with your virgin sister, MacLeod, it doesn't suit you."
The older man sat on a pile of mats and stared in the most aggravating manner at his friend.
"What's wrong, MacLeod? I never pretended to be a teacher. You can take over, I give him to you gladly."
"Oh, no, Methos. You created him, you get to keep him. That'll teach you to interfere."
"Oh, come on, MacLeod. You want to see him killed because you're angry with me? I thought you were better than that."
"And I thought you had more damn sense! Look - I've seen you fight. Why is he so bad?"
"He's not that naturally talented. And his heart isn't in it. He hates to kill. Mac, last night was really hard on him, he wasn't exaggerating. It was a pretty bad Quickening."
"Well, it's better than being dead. And how come he had to kill someone if you were there?"
"Long story. Can we at least have breakfast while we talk?"
Duncan calmed down as Methos explained about the previous evening, and how he came to be the one to 'kill' Ray originally. Duncan even conceded that given the circumstances, he'd probably have done the same thing, but he was adamant that Methos had to be the one to continue Ray's training. "Methos - I don't mind giving him a couple of lessons. But I'm back to Paris in a fortnight and besides, he's bonded to you. It's sweet," he teased in a syrupy voice.
Methos threw half a croissant at his grinning friend. "You're such an arsehole, MacLeod. All right - I'll keep him on. But I can't change his temperament, and I'm not sure I want to. He won't make old bones no matter what I do - he hasn't the fire. He's just a cop and to him, being Immortal is about the worst thing in the world."
"I know. He's not the first to feel like that. I just wish there was some way to make the good ones want to stay. Sometimes I think the only ones left are the meanest, ugliest, most vicious of our race."
Methos raised one eyebrow. "Referring to anyone specifically, MacLeod?"
Duncan realised his gaffe. "Methos ... I'm sorry. I was thinking of Kalas, and some of the other ones. Not you, I swear."
Methos relaxed, mollified. "I suppose you'd like me to move out while you're here?"
"Only if you want to. You could stay with Ray, perhaps?"
"Not on your life. The man has a turtle."
Methos walked into Joe's Bar wondering if Ray would be there. He had a late shift, and couldn't ever predict if he would finish even close to the official clocking off time. But there he was, in the usual booth and he waved to the Ancient. Joe poured Methos a beer, and Methos wandered over to his student. "You OK?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. The Chief called in the disturbance. I called him and told him it was over by the time we got there. Nobody reported finding any dead, headless bodies, and the woman hasn't made a complaint." Methos wondered if it had been Watchers or the dead Immortal's cohorts who cleared up, and then wasted no more mental effort on it.
"MacLeod is pissed, huh," Ray said.
"You could say that. You didn't exactly do us proud this morning." That was unfair, he knew, and Ray bristled.
"Hey, I did my best. Swords aren't my thing, you know that."
"Well, they'd better become your 'thing', Ray. You got lucky last night - you came very close to being dead permanently, and while that doesn't bother me at all, if you're going to hang around me, you have to learn to defend yourself properly so you don't put me at risk."
"So you're only worried about your own skin?" Ray looked at him with the slightest hint of amusement.
"Of course. There can be only one. And I'm sorry to say, that won't be you." He kept a straight face, but the other man's mouth twitched.
"We'll see about that, Adam," Ray said without animosity.
"MacLeod says he'll give you some lessons, but he's going back to Paris at the end of next week."
"So you're stuck with me?"
"So it would seem. You really would be better off with him, you know - he's a master swordsman. I'm just a guy."
"Yeah - right," Ray said, the tone heavy with disbelief. "I'm doing okay with you, Adam." Methos was oddly touched by Ray's loyalty - he knew Ray wasn't fool enough to think MacLeod wouldn't teach him well, and he resolved to do better by this strange young Immortal. He felt a presence and saw the Scot himself walk in. He signalled to MacLeod, and he joined them after diverting to the bar to say hello to Joe and collect a whisky.
"So, Ray - has Adam told you about me giving you a tutorial? Do you mind?"
"Nah. I'm not proud. I'd appreciate it."
Duncan nodded then excused himself to sit with Joe and catch up on the gossip. Ray looked reflective. "Something bothering you, Ray?" Methos asked.
"It's just ... I broke the law last night. I murdered someone. Never done that before, even legally ... and it's like ... it's nothing. No one cares. Is that what it's like for you guys? Killing all the time, no consequences, no conscience. I keep seeing it ... over and over ...." He fell silent.
"It's not *nothing, *Ray. But it's just how things have to be. We have to operate outside normal laws, because normal laws weren't written with us in mind. If they 'execute' us, we come back to life. If they lock us up for 'life', it would be unreasonably cruel. You know what sort of person that guy was - you saw his mind. Killing him was a good thing. It's not like he was an innocent - not like that woman ..."
"No. You don't have to worry about injustice. It's all about survival. Kill or be killed. He was Hunting - he would have found one of us anyway, and you might have been killed just for being around me. Would that be right? Or fair?"
"No. I guess you've got a point." Ray stared at his beer for a long time. Methos let him have the space to think. Gods spare us from men of conscience, he thought. Life was easier before Christianity.
"Adam - about last night ...."
Methos jumped in to forestall any messy declarations. "Ray - I know what you're going to say, and look, it wasn't ..."
"Shut up, will ya?" Ray said impatiently. "What, you think I want to start dating you? I wasn't talking about that. I was just gonna thank you for helping me out. You coulda just dumped me back at my apartment and left me to get on with it. You didn't. It meant a lot to me."
Methos was surprised, and a little touched but he covered it up with sarcasm. "Don't get sentimental on me, Ray. I just didn't want MacLeod to give me a harder time about you than he is already. I have enough problems."
"Yeah. Gotcha." The long mouth quirked, but Ray didn't say any more about it. Methos had the uncomfortable feeling he was something of an open book to this man, and he didn't like it at all. The feeling intensified with Ray's next question,
"Who's Methos? That guy called you that - and who's this Cassandra chick?"
Methos cursed internally - he'd hoped Ray hadn't heard all that - but schooled his face into indifference. "Methos is a myth, a legend. He's supposed to be five thousand years old, and so every Immortal would love to take his head. Except he doesn't exist - I know, I was writing the Methos Chronicles while I was a Watcher, and trust me, I know everything there is to know about this imaginary Immortal. Cassandra's an old ... girlfriend. I ditched her when she got too possessive. She obviously thought it would be fun to tell people I'm Methos so they'd come after me."
"Didn't do her any good in the end."
"No - but it nearly worked." Methos was relieved that Ray appeared to buy the story, which wasn't *that *far from the truth. Poor Cassandra, he allowed himself to think. If only you could have got past your hatred of me, you'd still be alive.
MacLeod returned with Joe, who filled them in. "I got the Watcher's report on your Immortal, Ray. Someone called James Creighton, AKA Arcraetos II. Old and nasty. Good riddance, I'd say."
"Figured that much out on my own, Joe," Ray said without a trace of cockiness. The fact of killing clearly still weighed on the younger man's mind.
Duncan spoke to Ray. "There's something I want to ask you about - police business." Methos noticed the subtle change in Ray's posture as he entered cop mode. "Joe says there's an Immortal - maybe more than one - who's got himself involved in a crime syndicate operating out of Chicago, but basing themselves here now. The name we have is Kulversson."
Ray looked thoughtful. "Organised crime's not my department, but I can check it out for you. Is that the normal MO - Immortals lining themselves up with mortals like that?"
"I wouldn't say 'normal', but it's happened more than once, and it's always bad news." Methos looked at MacLeod, knowing they both remembered all too many cases of Immortal criminals. Methos also knew it offended the Scot to the core that a gift like Immortality should be used for such purposes, and that he would pursue this with or without Ray's help. Then he saw Ray's face - MacLeod would have that help.
Duncan clapped Methos on the shoulder. "I'm heading back to the loft - you coming?"
Methos stood. "Ray," MacLeod said, "come by the dojo on Friday. We can work out, have some supper. Are you free, Adam? You can help."
"Anything to oblige, MacLeod." He knew the Highlander would not let him escape the smallest part of his responsibilities but Mac could cook and Methos would never turn down a free meal.
They parted, to meet again at the end of the week.
Methos pulled his truck into the space behind Ray's GTO. The drive had been miserable. Halfway back from the University, the sky had opened up and dumped about two weeks' worth of rain in fifteen minutes. It was still coming down hard and the wind was whipping it in all directions. Methos sighed and pulled open the door. He hurried to the outer staircase and headed up the slick steps. By the time he reached the top, every exposed part of his body was soaking wet. The overhang did little good as he pushed his key into the lock and opened the door. He felt the buzz of two Immortals and quickly stepped over the threshold before any more water could be blown inside by the gusting winds.
Methos busied himself removing his coat and shaking the excess water from his body. He knew Duncan was probably looking at the condition of his foyer rug and floor after this treatment. He glanced over to see Ray sneaking a chunk of bread from a plate on the table. His first words were to the Scot. "Mac, you need covered parking."
Mac gave him a tolerant smile, tossed him a kitchen towel and ignored his statement, "Just in time, Adam. Did you drop those books off with Professor Lindt?"
"Yes, MacLeod, they are safely back in his liver-spotted old arms. Thanks for arranging their loan, by the way." Methos used the towel to vigorously dry the remaining water from his hair, a good amount of which had already trickled inside the neck of his thin knit sweater.
"No trouble. He's an old friend and was glad to help." Mac set a bottle of beer on the table for him and poured a glass of wine for himself. Ray had settled into another seat with a bottle of water.
"Evening, Ray," Methos spoke as he reached down to remove his soaked footgear. "I see you managed to beat the rain." He'd noted Ray's hair was in its usual fully upright position and the sea blue V-neck he wore was completely dry.
"Just barely. It looked ugly on the way over." Ray was cutting a few more chunks of bread from a small dark loaf to add to the platter. Methos moved to the sink to wash his hands and then took his seat at the table across from Ray. Mac arrived at the table with one last dish and sat between them.
"You want to borrow a shirt, Adam?" Mac offered.
Methos took in the Scot's elegant silk shirt and dark trousers and shook his head. "I'm fine, Mac. It'll dry shortly. What's all this?"
"I thought you guys would like something light to tide us over until dinner." Light? Methos thought there was enough there for six people, not three, but he well knew how a workout would burn the calories. Ray was already helping himself to the food. They each had a small plate before them to be used primarily for catching dribbles and resting their 'utensils' between bites. Methos accepted the platter of bread from Ray and placed a couple of chunks onto his plate. He handed it off to Mac who did the same. Ray was busy using a slice of bread to scoop some lamb from a small bowl so Methos loaded one of his own slices with tabouli from another dish. The dark, rich olive bread blended excellently with the sharp, bright flavour of the green, vegetable and grain mixture. Mac was placing pieces of grilled vegetables onto his own plate. Methos spoke after swallowing, "So what's the plan? We head downstairs after this?"
Mac nodded around a mouthful of eggplant and swallowed. "Yes. I'd like to do some easy sparring with Ray, the woods first, then steel."
Methos saw Ray wince and clearly heard his mumbled, "Yeah, easy for you maybe..."
Mac grinned at Ray, "Don't worry, you won't have to clean blood from the floor, I promise. And afterwards, I'll take on your teacher, here." Mac looked at him pointedly and gestured for the tabouli.
Ray perked up noticeably at that last. Methos turned a quelling look on Ray and passed the bowl to Mac. "Now, Mac, I only wanted to impart the necessary realism in the brat's training. And you should thank me. The dojo's walls and floor have never looked better." Methos wondered what else Mac had wheedled from Ray. "Besides he seemed to respond well to hard training, and we're pressed for time to get the basics in place."
"Hate to admit you're right there, Adam." Ray shrugged. "Always did learn stuff best when it was from my own mistakes. Drove my mom nuts."
Methos grinned and spread his hands at MacLeod in a 'you see?' gesture. Mac shook his head. "You're a pair of lunatics. Adam, this is his life we're talking about," Mac spoke softly as if unwilling to point out such morbid reality.
"MacLeod, we're well aware of that. And Ray is usually better than he showed the other night," Methos saw Ray drop his head slightly at his words. "You caught him on the tail end of his first Quickening, Mac, a strong one. Think back and tell me you were good for anything for a few days after your first kill." Mac couldn't so he conceded with a nod and they finished eating.
After a brief cleanup of the loft and a change of clothes, they went downstairs and commenced the spar. MacLeod spent an hour with Ray, first with bokken, then with real blades. As Mac had promised, there was no blood shed since the Scot was too skilled for Ray to truly press him and Mac was careful to pull the worst of his hits before they did severe damage to the younger Immortal. Plus, Mac had insisted they work with blunts to further minimise injury.
Methos watched quietly from his place off to the side. Ray was doing better tonight, his movements smoother and much more in line with his natural, energetic grace than the choppy, staccato attempts of the other day. MacLeod was taking time to demonstrate various standard responses and fencing moves in between the more violent exchanges and he could see Ray processing and attempting to emulate them. As with the previous spar, he could also see moments when the Scot was slightly startled by an ingenious twist or flick on Ray's part. Methos smiled. Ray had rapidly picked up many of his more devious manoeuvres and strategies.
Soon enough Mac called a halt and bowed to his opponent. Ray reciprocated and Methos wondered if, aside from the blond hair, that was what he and Mac looked like when they sparred. Both forms tall and straight but, where one was darker and more powerful, the other was pale-skinned and lithe. Ray's breathing was elevated but not rasping so he decided that his student's previous poor showing had indeed been as much post-Quickening reaction as lack of ability. He pushed away from the wall and handed Ray a towel as he passed to take his place in front of MacLeod.
Mac put aside the blunted blades and pulled out the katana. Methos already had his Ivanhoe in hand. From the corner of his eye, he saw Ray take a safe position against the wall as he and Mac commenced the spar. Methos let himself sink into the sensation of moving with strength, skill and purpose, pitting his abilities against one equally matched. He let his surroundings fade into the back of his mind and focused on the Scot as the man attacked and withdrew, feinted, parried and countered. Time was irrelevant as they twisted around each other in mock battle. He saw sweat go flying from a jerk of Mac's head as the Scot evaded a close pass of his blade, felt similar wetness slide down his own back beneath the light shirt he wore.
Methos moved forward into a skilled draw of MacLeod's, anticipated the next move and successfully deflected. Mac was quick though and stepped inside his guard to cross blades with him. Methos wrapped his second hand around the Ivanhoe for more control and they grinned at each other from close range. They disengaged as Mac shoved him away with a mighty heave and he hopped lightly back a few extra steps before readying his blade again. They continued for uncounted minutes more, the sounds of clashing blades increasing in number and intensity, as the two fighters spun and kicked and whirled and lunged. Finally, MacLeod managed to snag the back edge of the katana around his blade after an ill-timed reverse cut and wrenched the sword away. His fingers went numb and, as Mac had been moving forward through the manoeuvre, Methos fell backwards and found himself on the floor with a jubilant Highlander crouched above him. Mac was bringing his blade back toward Methos' neck when he reached out with one hand and blocked Mac's swing, wrapping his fingers tightly around the corded muscle of Mac's forearm. He tangled his legs between Mac's feet, effectively trapping the Scot, and twisted sharply on his hip while simultaneously yanking with his arms.
Mac went down hard with his sword arm extended and immobilised between their bodies. Methos' free hand came from around his back in an open stance, as if he was holding a knife, and he finished with it resting against Mac's neck. Mac blinked at him for a moment and said softly, for his ears only, "Trying to impress the youngster, Adam?"
Methos grinned and easily untangled himself from the smiling Scot. He said nothing in reply, merely held his hand out to haul Mac to his feet. They bowed to each other and turned at Ray's softly explosive breath. "Whoa! That was fucking awesome!" The younger Immortal's eyes were shining as he came over to them with a towel and water. Methos also noticed that Ray's sweatpants were just slightly snug across his groin. Violence could be a real turn on, and Ray was no more immune to that than Methos was.
Methos wiped the sweat from his face and then gave the cloth to Mac as the Scot passed him the water bottle he'd just drunk from. Methos took a drink of his own and handed it back to Ray. MacLeod promptly plucked it from Ray's hand and stepped back. "Now let me see the two of you in action," he commanded.
Ray's eyes flicked to him and his thoughts turned wicked at the bright, questioning eyes. He said only, "Okay, brat. You heard 'Sensei'." Methos moved toward the swords, only to be brought up short by Mac's voice.
"Barehanded," Mac directed, "because Adam might accuse me of being a Boy Scout, and though he carries more weaponry than any two Immortals, I know there are going to be times when you lose your blade or your gun jams." Methos barely suppressed his twitching lips as he and Ray squared off under Mac's watchful eyes.
They began with a quick series of moves well known to each of them from Methos' original kata, in opposition this time rather than tandem. They both quickly escalated the violence of the movements however, throwing punches, kicks and blocks faster and harder, as they were accustomed in their private sessions. Methos found himself exhilarated as he'd never been before in their workouts and he saw Ray enjoying the same rush. The shifting chameleon eyes sparkled like a child's, features flushed and breath uneven. It was even easier this time to relegate the Highlander and the rest of the dojo to the background.
His own breathing picked up and he felt his body react as Ray closed with him, grappling for control, their hands sliding over sweat-slick skin and hard muscle. Ray managed to trip him and he found himself on the floor once more. They twisted and rolled together twice before Methos managed to shove Ray back with one wedged knee. They rolled to their feet and went at it again. Ray tried a more direct series of hits to his upper body and head, which Methos evaded and abruptly stopped with a tight grip on one of Ray's wrists. But, in a quick movement as supple as Methos' own just a few minutes earlier, Ray twisted and spun, wrapping his other hand around Methos' clasp. He found himself almost draped over Ray from behind and knew his student could feel his arousal. Just as Methos had begun to really enjoy the position, Ray suddenly dropped, pulled and he landed on his back almost underneath his triumphantly grinning student.
He vaguely heard MacLeod give a muffled cough somewhere behind them and felt Ray startle. He whispered, "Not quite yet, brat," and turned the tables on Ray. He trapped Ray's hand beneath his shoulder, wrapped his other against his neck and pushed off with his legs, tilting Ray up and over onto his side. Methos kept rolling, until he came up on his hands and knees, over Ray's body, pressing both bony wrists against the floor and twining their legs to immobilise the younger man. They paused, panting, staring at each other. A drop of sweat dripped from Methos' chin onto Ray's chest. Ray trembled minutely beneath him. Methos didn't want to break away, so he just turned his head to shoot a quelling glare at Mac. He needn't have bothered. The Highlander was already shaking his head. "When you two stop playing, shower off. I'll see your upstairs." MacLeod walked out of the dojo without a backward glance.
Methos' attention moved back to Ray. Those impossibly large eyes had darkened. Methos still couldn't identify the shifting colours - at the moment they were an odd shade of greenish-gray. He dropped his head suddenly, going for Ray's neck while resting his body more heavily against the other man's. He pressed his face to the strong throat, rubbing slightly to mix the sweat from both their bodies, and then licked up in a long line to just beneath one delicately shaped ear. He bit gently at the sensitive spot, heard Ray moan quietly and tilt his head for more. Methos smiled into the smooth skin and sucked lightly. Ray moaned again and bucked a little. He pulled his mouth away and pressed his hips downward to feel that hardness against his own again.
Ray's eyes had closed but now they opened slowly. Their grips had reversed while they played, Methos' hands were now splayed out beside Ray's head and Ray's fingers had wrapped around his wrists, holding him in place. One of Ray's hands moved now, sliding upwards, stroking over his forearm, the inside of his elbow, biceps and around, cupping his triceps before continuing across his shoulder blade and coming to rest behind his neck. Ray exerted a little pressure with the hand and he allowed himself to be pulled down into a deep, hungry kiss.
He moaned as Ray's tongue tangled with his for several long moments before retreating. Methos' followed and he angled his head to slip deeper into Ray's mouth while the younger man eagerly sucked and bit at him. The only sounds were those of moist suction and panting breaths. They both eventually needed to come up for air and Methos pulled back slightly from Ray at the opportunity. Methos sat back a bit more and Ray's hand now rested against his chest, lightly stroking over the damp cotton covering it. He pulled the hand up and bit the tip of one long finger before covering it with his lips, licking and sucking the digit. Ray's lashes dipped as he grated out, "Adam...."
Methos let go of the finger and he simply held the hand, massaging the palm, "Come on, Ray, let's go get a shower." His own voice was startlingly husky as he continued, "Otherwise we'll end up cleaning the floor."
Ray choked on a laugh and opened his eyes. They pulled themselves up and Methos couldn't quite resist tugging the younger Immortal in for another voracious kiss before they turned and headed to the locker room. As soon as they were through the door to the tiled area, Methos pulled his shirt off and undid the string at his waistband. He saw Ray watching avidly and stopped, leaving the white ties dangling and his fingers curled into the sagging waist of the loose pants. "Ray." The blond lifted blue-green eyes to his this time. "Ray, strip. Now. I'm going to adjust the water." He knew that this late at night, the plumbing in the dojo showers would need some coaxing and he didn't think Ray would have much patience. He turned the handles in the nearest oversized stall and stepped back quickly as the water jetted out forcefully. The ice- cold spray hit his feet and he shivered. He finished pulling off his pants and dumped them to the floor.
Methos strode back over the low step that separated the showers from the lockers. The lights had been dimmed to maintenance status since the gym's closure earlier in the day, so only a single bulb was now lit. He stopped abruptly as he saw what that bulb illuminated. Ray had obeyed his last instructions with his usual unique flair. The younger man had stripped naked and was lying on the narrow flat benches pushed together in the central area between the metal lockers. The bench's dark, aged wood only served to highlight the fairness of Ray's golden skin and hair. The maddening brat had splayed himself out like some kind of sultry sacrifice with spread legs and feet planted flat on the floor. Ray rested back on one elbow while the other hand lightly stroked the heavy erection between his thighs. Methos knew he was being watched from beneath those dark lashes and smiled in appreciation.
He stepped forward until he could nudge one of Ray's knees aside and knelt. He slid his hands up Ray's thighs and dipped his head to nuzzle soft skin on the inside of one leg, moving upward until he could push Ray's hand out of the way and bury his face in the hot centre of Ray's body. He inhaled, drawing the heady smell of Ray's arousal deep into his lungs. He rubbed his nose back and forth in the space between Ray's cock and balls and heard Ray gasp, "Adam ... shower ...?"
"Water's a bit cold yet, brat," he spoke directly against the wrinkled skin of Ray's scrotum.
"Oh. 'Kay." Ray squirmed. "No shower. That's good ... fine ... mmm ...."
Methos had begun to lick his way up the underside of Ray's shaft. He smiled as Ray's voice trailed off and his head dropped back. He paused to brush his teeth carefully against the spot just beneath the head. The muscles in Ray's belly clenched and Ray's hand tightened painfully on his shoulder. The heavy shaft twitched and Methos quickly dropped his mouth over the crown, sucking strongly. Ray cried out and his hips flexed, pushing the swollen flesh deep into Methos' throat. Ray's hand skittered across the back of his neck, trying to hold him close and stroke all at the same time. The younger man somehow managed to cling to his self-control. Methos smiled around his mouthful of Ray and 'hmmm'd' just to see the reaction. "Oh, God ....!" was the choked response from somewhere above him.
He backed off enough to lick at the head and steal one last taste of Ray's bitter pre- ejaculate before pulling away completely. His elbows had flanked Ray's trim waist and his hands had been roaming over the younger man's chest. Now he slipped his hands around Ray's sides and urged him forward. Ray came upright immediately and Methos stayed on his knees but straightened from his crouch. His own arousal was becoming painful as Ray bent over to catch his mouth in a blistering kiss. Ray was nothing if not thorough and explored every corner with his tongue, licking and moaning at the taste of himself in Methos' mouth. Ray's fingers were restlessly curling and uncurling into his shoulders.
Methos put his hands around Ray's waist and pressed him back without breaking the contact of their mouths. Speaking incoherently around Ray's tongue, he tried to get Ray to understand, "Mmm ... slide back ..." Ray obeyed, letting go of his shoulders to scoot backwards onto the benches, tilting forward from the waist to continue his newest quest to swallow Methos' tongue. Methos' control was fast eroding at the single-minded intensity of his partner. He unfolded from his knees and climbed onto the benches on top of Ray, crawling up until he straddled the younger man's hips. Ray's hands were already roving over his body, finally focusing in on his long neglected erection. Methos gritted his teeth and forcibly pushed Ray's hands away, "Ray, easy. Just give me a minute ...." He didn't know if the words actually registered behind the glazed eyes, but Ray managed to lock his hands onto Methos' thighs and started that curiously cat-like kneading again. Meanwhile Methos' hands were busy on his own cock, gathering the fluid from the tip and reaching behind to slick it inside himself in rough, quick preparation. His actions seemed to sink in on the man beneath him.
Ray's opaque eyes cleared suddenly and flashed at him, "Adam ...?"
"Shhh, Ray. I want this, okay?" Methos offered the words though he was quite certain they were moot at this late stage. He slipped his fingers out and used the same hand to spread the pearly liquid that had collected again on Ray's cock as far as it would go. Methos moved at Ray's nod and breathed in as he held Ray's erection in place and sank down until he felt the head penetrate. He stilled for a few moments, adjusting, and looked Ray, whose teeth bit viciously into his bottom lip. Placing his free hand behind Ray's head, Methos drew in another deep breath, grinned almost evilly and sank down in one long, smooth glide. He didn't stop until his buttocks met Ray's hips and he could feel the hair at Ray's groin tickling him. Ray slammed his head back onto the bench as he cried out at the sensation. Methos smirked. If not for his hand tangled in the unruly blond locks, Ray would likely have knocked himself unconscious.
Luckily for both of them Ray was still very much aware, hands once again seeking his swollen cock. Ray wrapped both hands around him and squeezed lightly, stroking his thumb over the little bundle of nerves on the underside. Methos growled at the feeling and clenched his body around the hot, hard shaft buried in his guts. Ray groaned and, even though he was in as deep as was possible, he still tried to burrow further into Methos. Methos felt the slight motions brush his prostate and his hips jerked uncontrollably. This wasn't going to last long at all.
Still clutching Ray's hair, he moved on the younger man. After only a few moments the sweat once again dripped from his body onto Ray's but neither noticed. They were both panting raggedly. He could feel the tendons in his neck standing out as Ray bucked into him rhythmically, the man's cock head making sweet, perfect contact with his prostate as Methos met him on the down stroke. Ray's hands never stilled on his shaft, pulling and squeezing in time to their bodies. He felt the pressure build behind his eyes, felt his body tighten in anticipation and felt Ray buck and hit that tiny gland one last time. He rode a massive wave, reached the peak and was flung wildly off the top. He couldn't even draw breath for endless moments while his body spasmed and surged, thick creamy fluid coating Ray's hands, hitting both their bellies. By the time Methos sagged forward Ray was convulsing beneath him in his own orgasm, the strong, wiry body twisting and jerking, eyes clenched shut and a low, keening cry coming from his throat. Finally the shudders eased and they both relaxed, Methos still resting atop the other man, the slippery feel of Ray's semi-hard shaft inside him oddly erotic, even now.
Ray cracked one eye open and spoke, "Think there's any hot water left?"
Methos groaned, "I hope so. If we go upstairs like this, Mac will never let us hear the end of it." He stood up and pulled the other man up. "Ray - we can't let this become a habit. It's really not a good idea."
Ray wiped a trickle of sweat from the tip of Methos' nose and gave him a slow, sultry smile. "Whatever you say, Obi-Wan." Watching that beautiful backside hit the showers, Methos groaned again. I am so dead, he thought.
Ray and Methos emerged from the elevator, damp and glowing from the shower. Duncan thought the younger man looked surprisingly cheerful, considering the intensive session they'd just given him. "Hey, Joe. Didn't know you were coming," Ray said, accepting an opened beer from Duncan gratefully.
"I asked him to come, Ray. There's some things he can tell you about this Kulversson."
Ray sat next to Methos on the sofa. "I checked him out - he's a bad ass all right. He took over the Manetti gang when he offed Tony Manetti - or so the word goes. No one knows anything about him, except his name - no one's got a picture of him, even a decent description. He's an Immortal?"
"Yes, he is," Joe answered for Duncan. "We only found out about him a year ago. The thing is, we think he killed his Watcher - they found his body this morning. His previous Watcher turned up dead too - we thought that was an accident, but now I'm not so sure. I told MacLeod about it last night because the guy was missing. Kulversson's into everything, according to his Watcher's reports - drugs, gun running, extortion."
"Do you have a photo of him?"
Joe shook his head. "No, unfortunately - nothing clear. He seems to be adept at avoiding being photographed. It's practically supernatural. I'll tell you what we do know - he's one ruthless son of a bitch. Kills anyone who even smells like he's going to be a problem."
Ray nodded. "I heard - the Manetti gang wasn't much but since Kulversson took over, there's been rumours of a big expansion. We think he's behind a lot of activity recently, but we can't prove it. If we can just get our paws on him even once, get photos, descriptions, make it clear we're watching him, it'll help."
"You see, MacLeod? I told you, the police can handle it. You don't need to involve yourself," Methos chipped in dismissively.
"Methos, do you remember the last time an Immortal killed a Watcher?" Duncan saw Methos' face shut down - Jakob Galati was a raw and never healed wound. "We can't let this guy get away with it. He's killing mortals, and he's killing Watchers. The Watchers expect us to police our own - we can't afford to let them do it for us. Not again. And this guy is a murderer several times over. He has to be stopped."
"I agree. But it doesn't have to be you. Not this time."
"We can deal with it, Duncan," Ray agreed.
Joe shook his head. "But you haven't - all you have is rumours and suspicions. Ray - I'll give you the Watcher reports on Kulversson."
"Okay - thanks. Any help you can give, that's great."
Methos had clearly had enough. "Well, that's terrific, children. But can we talk about something really important, like my empty stomach? I'd like to eat before I die of hunger - trust me, it's not something I want to repeat." Duncan rolled his eyes at the graceless change of subject by the old man, which indicated his deep discomfort with the conversation. He knew what was bothering him - they been arguing about it most of the day since Joe had given them more information. Methos was of the opinion that someone that dangerous and wily should be left to the police. Duncan was inclined to ignore him. The Highlander may not be five thousand years old, but he had learned a thing or two.
Methos saw somewhat less of Ray over the next week or so, as the cop and MacLeod worked together to expose the Manetti gang and its Immortal leader. The Watcher reports were invaluable, and with the information they contained, Ray was able to bust the previously extremely well-hidden Manetti stronghold. They came very close to collecting Kulversson himself - MacLeod had chased him through the building and onto the roof tops, but the man escaped. Ray wasn't too disheartened - the gang members were arrested and their activities curtailed. Mac described Kulversson as best he could to Ray's colleagues, which was appreciated. Duncan himself took himself back off to Paris, Ray promising to keep the matter uppermost in his mind. Joe wasn't entirely happy, but he realised that Kulversson's powerbase had been broken up, which was something. At least.
Methos kept out of the whole business, disapproving of it loudly and often to Ray and Mac and Joe whenever they gave him an opening. Instead he concentrated on the task he was best suited for - educating Ray. Duncan's criticisms had stung, for all his own disclaimers, and Ray found that when he did show up for training, he was driven harder than ever before. But to his obvious surprise, Methos was more willing to spend leisure time with him, although Methos didn't explain the change of heart straight out. He reiterated his warning that further sexual encounters were not going to happen, which Ray accepted without demur, but he found Ray a willing partner in Methos' attempts to cultivate his mind. The younger man eagerly accepted suggestions of books he should read, and films he should try. However, Methos was beginning to despair of getting Ray to understand art. The Seacouver Gallery had a prestigious collection of paintings covering every major style of the last six centuries, none of which were having the hoped-for impression on the cop.
"So why's that guy standing in front of a Greek temple?" Ray asked, peering at a formal full-length portrait of a rather overweight middle-aged man.
"It's not really Greek, it's Neo-classical architecture - the Europeans were fond of it at the time. Everything comes back in vogue if you wait long enough," Methos pointed out dryly.
"That was his house? Looks a bit draughty."
"Oh, I doubt he lived there. It's a British Grand Manner portrait - people had themselves painted in impressive settings so they would seem more important than they were. A sort of social climbing."
"You mean they lied," Ray interrupted.
"Well of course they lied. Have you ever seen anybody who actually looks like the people in most of these paintings? If the artist wanted to be paid then they did as they were told and painted what was fashionable at the time."
"So if this was done by some poor guy trying to earn money instead of painting what he liked, why am I supposed to be so impressed by it now?"
Methos decided he'd had enough of giving art lectures for now. "Why don't we go for coffee?"
That proved to be his most popular suggestion yet, so they back-tracked to the ground floor of the gallery and found a corner table in the half-empty coffee shop. It was late afternoon on a weekday, the gallery quiet now the school trips had gone home. Methos sipped at his coffee, feeling irrationally irritated at what was fast becoming a wasted day. "So if you don't like art, why did you bother coming?"
Fortunately Methos' sniping tone no longer seemed to bother Ray. "I do kinda like art, I just don't get right into it like you do. And hundreds of paintings of religious stuff and Greek myths aren't really my thing. Those early guys always painted so dark."
"You don't seem to like the Impressionists either."
Ray shrugged. "I do like 'em, mostly, except the real sappy stuff. I like the Dutch guys too - Van Gogh and all that, the colours are nice and they're so real, you know? But they're just paintings and you look at them and you either like them or you don't. I don't wanna know the whole life story of the artist and whose style he was copying and who stole stuff off him. It don't make any difference to the picture and whether I like it."
"No, I guess it doesn't," Methos admitted with a sigh. "So why did you come?"
"You wanted to come." Ray gave the impression he thought that was a good enough reason. "Why were you so keen to drag me along?" he added with a grin.
The old Immortal shifted in his seat and looked straight into Ray's glittering eyes, asking intently, "Do you have any hobbies? Something that really hooks you, something you want to do with your time outside work?"
The cop was surprised by the non-sequitur and the sudden shift in his attitude. "I, uh, I dunno, I mean....uh, there's the GTO, I guess, fixing up cars. Boxing, or I used to, anyway. Why?"
Methos leaned forward, elbows on the table, voice low. "Because unless you plan on being a short-lived Immortal, you are going to need a way to fill the time. In something like fifteen years you will have to forget this life, your job, your friends, move away and start again. You could live for centuries, Ray - oh, you can travel and that keeps you happy for a while, but eventually it loses its edge. And for the first couple of centuries you're going to have to earn a living and it's better if you can make money doing something you enjoy."
"I enjoy being a cop," Ray stated flatly, that stubborn streak back in full evidence.
"For now - how about for the next century? How many times are you willing to start over, work your way up from traffic duty? You can maybe pass for someone in their late twenties at a push, what's the upper age limit on new police recruits?"
Ray paled slightly now, finally taking him seriously. "I hadn't thought about it that way, I mean, I hadn't looked that far ahead."
"You need to. A lot of Immortals die after about a century, Ray. They lose the fire to keep going, they let their training lapse and someone takes their head. It's not exactly suicide, but it's too close for my liking. I suggest you find yourself a serious interest."
Ray nodded. "So that's why you're putting me through the culture bit. Reminds me of Stella." The cop made a visible effort to shake himself out of his melancholia and smiled at Methos. "I don't think art's gonna be my thing," he pointed out.
"Probably not," Methos admitted. "Well at least I tried."
"If you'd let me know what you were planning, I'd have told you not to bother," Ray said with humour. "Stella used to drag me all kinds of places - museums, art galleries, opera. It wasn't a success."
Methos made a face. "I can sympathise on the opera."
"The only thing we really liked to do together was dance," Ray mused. "Well, uh, you know, as far as that sort of thing goes. Guess we weren't all that well suited, huh?" he added with a wry smile. "Her friends sure never thought I fitted in. Though there was this one guy - he did pictures; photos, you know, not paintings. He was Gold Coast, like her, but he didn't treat me like scum - maybe 'cos I told him I liked his stuff. He had this one photo - it was black and white of an animal, like a buffalo or something, not sure, and it was staring right out of the picture at you with this big white bird sitting on its head. And there was this mountain right behind it, just a perfect-shaped mountain like you imagine when you're a kid, and the sky just kinda seemed to glow. And it's so cool that he could just catch that one moment when it was like that - a second later or a second earlier and it just wouldn't have been the same, you know?" Ray suddenly trailed off, appearing slightly embarrassed. "And now I sound like a jerk, huh?"
"No more so than you normally do." Methos smiled at him and made a mental note to check on upcoming photography exhibitions. He idly wondered what it would be like to dance with Ray.
Joe was wiping down the bar, ready for the club's opening when Ray came in. "Joe, have you seen Adam?" The abrupt question and the unsmiling face told Joe this wasn't a casual enquiry.
"Not since yesterday morning. Why?"
"He didn't show for training before work yesterday, and he's missing again today. He didn't say anything about going to Paris, did he?"
"No." Joe stared at Ray. "He does do this from time to time."
"For no reason?"
"Well, no. But he might have a reason we just don't know about."
Ray shook his head. "I got a bad feeling, Joe. I know it sounds dumb but I had the worst dream about him last night - he was in pain, and screaming, and I couldn't help. And I felt weird all day yesterday. You got a key to the loft, right?"
"Yeah." MacLeod was in Paris again. "You want to take a look?"
"I think so. The worst that can happen is that Adam's on a bender and gets mad, but my radar's blipping on this one."
Joe had been a Watcher and a soldier before that too long to dismiss those kinds of instincts. "Let me leave a note for my barman." He scribbled a message to say he'd be in later, then Ray drove them both to the loft.
The condition of the apartment left no doubt that Ray's suspicions were fully justified. Blood - too much blood - and three bullet holes were enough of a clue, but the letter addressed to MacLeod clinched it. "Kulversson," Ray said quietly.
"I'll call MacLeod. Do the police have any idea where this guy might be?"
"Nope - we tracked down every lead after we cleaned out the nest. Joe - do you think Adam's ...?" The concern in Ray's eyes was far more than that of just a cop for a citizen.
"No, I don't," Joe said firmly. "Look - there's no sign of a Quickening, and you know what the place would look like if there was. If Kulversson wanted to kill Adam, he'd have done it here. He's using Adam as bait. Trouble is, MacLeod will come. No way will he leave Adam hanging."
"Neither will I. Get MacLeod on the phone, will ya?"
A tense phone call later, the two men looked at each other. "Now what?" Joe asked.
"We wait. And we watch."
Duncan flew in the next morning, and went straight to Joe's bar. Ray was waiting for him. They told him the little they knew. "You'll have to wait at the loft, Duncan - wait for Kulversson to contact you. Then we send in a team to back you up."
"No, Ray - you can't. He'll undoubtedly ask for me to go alone, and if he sees anyone, he'll kill Adam."
Ray looked at the stubborn Scot in exasperation. "Duncan - that's what kidnappers always say. You aren't going in alone, get it?"
Duncan set his jaw. "This is my fight, we do it my way. "
Ray slammed his fist down on the bar in frustration. "Joe, tell him he's being a moron."
Joe held his hands up. "Hey, don't look at me. I was on the wrong end of this scenario last time, and he said exactly the same thing."
Ray snapped, "Oh yeah - and then what happened?"
Despite the situation, Joe grinned.
"Show yourself, MacLeod!"
Duncan stepped out from his hiding place, katana in hand. "Let him go, Kulversson. I'm the one you want."
Even from where he was standing, he could see the anger in Methos' face. "What the hell are you doing, MacLeod? We went through this before, remember? Get your arse out of here."
"Sorry, old man - I told you, no more of my friends die because of me. Now," addressing Kulversson, "let him up."
Kulversson hauled Methos up by his bound arms, causing him to gasp in pain. Now Duncan could see that Methos' clothing was heavily blood stained and cut to shreds - whatever this guy had done to him hadn't been pleasant. Methos' white face showed the strain of his captivity and his worry for his friend - Duncan hated that look of desperation. This Kulversson deserved to die just for putting it there. "Send him this way, Kulversson."
"You think I'm a fool, MacLeod? There's someone else here!" He put the edge of his sword against Methos' long neck. "Come out or he dies!"
Ray strolled out into the open, wearing a pair of blue glasses Duncan hadn't seen before. "You looking for me?" he said casually, then recognized the man before him. "Holloway Muldoon?" he said, astonished.
"Kowalski?" Muldoon's surprise turned to shock as Ray whipped out his gun and shot him three times in the chest without warning. The big man sank to his knees - Methos staggered out of cutting range, then also fell to the ground. Duncan and Ray reached them at the same time. Ray pushed Muldoon flat on his face and cuffed him.
"Finish him," Methos said urgently. Duncan lifted his sword to do just that but his arm was grabbed.
"No!" Ray shouted. "This guy is on my turf, and he's breaking my rules. I'm taking him in."
"Ray, he's a killer."
"I know that, but he's also a drug dealer and a gun runner. Look - I let you guys get away with a lot, but this one is mine. This is personal. I know him - we thought he was dead, died in prison. He killed the mom of a friend of mine."
The silent battle of wills continued until Duncan gave way reluctantly. He looked at Methos, still bound and kneeling and to his surprise the old man nodded. "All right. This time, we do it your way. I hope we all don't live to regret it."
"Thank you," Ray said with only a trace of sarcasm.
Duncan stepped behind Methos and cut the ropes binding his arms and tried to help him stand but the Ancient waved him off. He clearly was still recovering his strength. "Go and see to Joe, Mac - I presume he is waiting for you?"
Duncan nodded. "What about Kulversson, Ray?"
"I'll call for a blue and white." Ray took out his mobile to make the call. "You okay?" He asked Methos who was staring at Muldoon's body.
"I'm not going anywhere until he's locked up."
"Suit yourself." Ray dialled the controller, turning his back briefly with his finger in his ear trying to hear what was clearly a poor signal. the Duncan started to walk towards the entrance but stopped at the sound of metal. They both turned to see Methos standing over a revived Muldoon, sword in hand, raised to strike.
"Adam! No!" "Methos!"
Methos didn't even hesitate and swung, separating the man's head from his body in a single blow. He stood and glared at his two friends defiantly, waiting for the Quickening to take him. Duncan pushed Ray back into shelter as they watched the lightening twist the apparently frail form of their ancient friend, listened to his moans of pain over the explosions and breaking glass. When the storm was over, Methos was huddled on the ground. Duncan reached him first. "Och, ye daft old fool," he said softly. He looked up at Ray who was clearly furious. "Help me get him out of here."
"He killed an unarmed man, Duncan. An unarmed man who was in my custody!"
"Ray," Duncan said in warning, "it'll keep. We have to get out of here now."
Ray pressed his lips tightly together but made no other protest. Methos was in a bad way, from the Quickening and whatever the late Muldoon had done to him. Joe was relieved to see them all alive, and there was no need to ask the fate of the other man - he'd seen the light show. By silent agreement, they went back to the loft. Duncan took charge of Methos, shoving him into the bathroom and finding clean clothes for him. Joe and Ray sat in silence on the sofa, drinking scotch and lost in their own reflections. Methos didn't even glance at them as he crawled into Duncan's bed. Once he was certain the old man was settled and sound asleep, Duncan joined the two men in the living room, pouring himself a large glass of whisky and sighing, whether from relief or the impending questioning, it wasn't clear. They sat silently for a while but finally Duncan spoke.
"Ray - I know you're angry, but he did what he thought he had to do."
Ray started to protest, but Joe jumped in. "Yeah. Look, Ray - you said yourself, the guy was dead already once. If you arrested him, his prints would be in the system under a dead man's name. It'd blow the secret of Immortals wide open."
"Maybe you're right - but he killed an unarmed man. How could he do that? And you called him Methos - are you saying he's this five thousand year old legend?"
Duncan made 'keep your voice down' signals while Joe shot him a dirty look. "You know about Methos?"
"Yeah. Is he or isn't he?"
Duncan answered. "He is. But Ray, you can't tell anyone about him- while people think he's a myth, they won't come looking for his Quickening. Can you imagine what a draw five thousand years of power is to an Immortal?"
"But you don't want it," Ray said flatly.
"Are you sure about that, Kowalski?" They all looked at the swaying pale figure with the burning eyes standing by the bed platform. "How do you know what does or doesn't go through MacLeod's head? Or mine? That's the problem with you - you have such a narrow outlook on things. Do you know what Kulversson was? The things he'd done - the things he did to me?"
"I know that he killed my best friend's mother, and that my best friend could've killed him, but didn't."
"Then your friend is a fool."
Ray stood and faced Methos angrily. "What the fuck gives you the right to say that? You don't know anything about him."
"What gives you the right to judge me, Kowalski? You with your puny thirty eight years of existence, you think you know better than someone more than a hundred times your age?"
Duncan intervened. "Methos, that argument is ...."
Methos rounded on him. "Shut up, MacLeod - you're just as much at fault as he is. What did you think you were doing charging in there offering yourself up for me? Don't you think as a tactic it's getting pretty old?"
"We were backing him up," Joe said mildly. "We had a plan."
"Oh yes - a cripple and an infant were going to save the world's oldest Boy scout. And then when you had the guy, what do you do? You cuff him, read him his rights like he's a human being? He wasn't - he was an animal. He was a rabid dog and I put him down."
Duncan winced at the bitter tones. Ray had gone white - clearly this was a side of his mentor he hadn't seen before. Duncan saw Methos was putting on his shoes. "Where are you going?" he asked.
"To a hotel. I can't sleep while you lot sit and pontificate about evil little Methos and if you don't mind, I can live without thinking about the last week any more." He jammed his feet into his shoes, then grabbed a backpack and packed up some clothes and his precious laptop.
"Where's my sword?" he demanded.
"I'll have to recover it. You can take one of my spares." Duncan found a katana that would do and Methos took it without thanking him. He pulled on his bloodied coat, pulling a face at the state it was in.
"Wait - I'll give you a lift," Ray offered, standing in his path.
"No, I'll get a cab."
"Not in that coat you won't."
Methos glared at him. "More life lessons from the cop, Ray? Any other pearls of wisdom you'd care to impart? Should I rug up warmly in cold weather? Ask a policeman if I get lost? Do you," he said, advancing on Ray and forcing him backwards, "have any idea who you are talking to? Or did Duncan forget to mention who I really am? I'm Death, Kowalski - Death on a pale horse. Cassandra wasn't a girlfriend - she was my *whore,* my slave. That was the reason she hated me so much. Once I ruled like a god, Ray. I could rule again except I can't bloody well be bothered. So I think, if you'll pardon the arrogance, that I know how to catch a cab, coat or no sodding coat. Stick to running mortal lives, Ray - I don't need a nanny."
He pushed Ray out of his way and strode out, leaving three friends in shock.
Anger got him as far as the street before he began to shake. Damn them - damn them all. He refused to go through this again. Not this being judged, rejected - condemned as unfit for human company. Not now, not ever. He could have lain on the pavement and slept, he was so exhausted. Kulversson was inventive, he had to give him that, but had finally decided the old ways were the best. He'd spent worse times under capture, but not recently, and he must be getting soft to let it get to him the way he had. The man needed to die, but if he'd been less angry, he'd have made an effort to talk MacLeod into it, or talk Ray out of arresting him. The Quickening had been bad - the man was not old, but he was evil, and Methos was so sick of absorbing more of the shit that filled men's souls. Especially when a lot of that shit had been so personal, this time. Gods, he was tired. And Kowalski, damn him, was right - he couldn't get far looking like this. He took off the coat and wrapped the katana in it, and then walked to the corner, shivering in the cold but at least looking a little less like Death warmed over. He smiled thinly at his own joke. A taxi pulled up. "Hilton, please."
The next day, he would fly to Paris. Seacouver had lost its charm.
Duncan took his place at the bar. It was still early evening and the place was quiet. "Hey, Mac. What's happening?"
"Nothing, Joe. Everything's calm, for a change." Joe poured him a beer. "Have you seen Ray around?"
"Not for a couple of weeks. Hasn't he been at the dojo?"
"Not for a while." Not since Methos left, they both thought.
"That poor bastard. He thinks Adam's a friend and then, boom, he does that to him. I could really wring our elderly friend's neck sometimes."
"I was thinking more along the lines of kicking his skinny arse. So you don't know how Ray's holding up?"
"No, but I think you and I can both guess. He was close to Methos, Mac. He really liked him - more than liked, I think. Now I suppose he doesn't know what to think or what to believe."
"I know the feeling. I don't know that I can help - I don't really know Adam, well, from Adam, when you get right down to it. Just when I think I'm beginning to get a handle on him, he does something like this."
"What happened while Kulversson had him, did he tell you?"
"No. I could guess - some torture, probably killed a few times. I could tell he'd had to do a lot of healing by the weight he'd lost."
Joe shook his head. "Somehow I think it was more than being knocked around. Methos was shook up pretty bad - more than just from the Quickening. It's not like him to lose it like that. We shouldn't have let him go back to Paris on his own."
"And you last had any success in changing his mind when?"
Joe laughed sardonically. "Yeah, good point. Look, one of us should talk to Ray, see how he's doing."
Duncan finished his beer. "That'll be me, I suppose. Wish me luck." <CENTER>
<IMG border=0 height=60 src="headbar.jpg" width=189 NOSAVE> </CENTER> Duncan got a cab to Ray's apartment building and could see the light on. He wondered what he was going to say to the man - he knew some of what he was going through, but he didn't know him very well. He'd liked what he'd seen, very much, but he knew nothing of his background or his inner thoughts. Methos had known, he thought bitterly, and as usual had known exactly what buttons to push to drive Ray away from him. Is that all you've learned to do in five thousand years? he asked Methos in his mind. He climbed the stairs and knocked on Ray's door. He was greeted by a gun toting cop, as he expected. "Relax, Ray. I'm just visiting."
Ray lowered the gun and motioned him inside. Duncan looked around in distaste. A cop's salary didn't allow the space that Methos or Duncan were used to and Ray hadn't had enough time to accumulate the treasures that most Immortals could display casually. "You want coffee? Or a beer? I got some Scotch but I don't think it's up to your standards."
"Coffee's fine, thank you." Duncan was impressed that apart from the initial precaution, Ray was relaxed around him. He didn't think it stemmed from stupidity - more an easy grace and knowledge of his own ability. Duncan bet that Ray could draw his gun almost as fast as Duncan could draw his katana.
"You're here about Adam, aren't you? Something happen to him?" Ray handed him a cup of instant coffee.
"Not that I know of. I'm here about you, actually. Haven't seen you training recently."
"Yeah, well, I've been busy. Off playing cops and robbers with the other infants." Oh, Methos had stung hard with that, Duncan could tell.
"No one holds your age against you, Ray. We were all young once. Even Methos."
"'Cept he was probably playing on Moses' knee or building a pyramid or something, huh."
"I think he likes to pretend he designed the pyramids, but yes, something like that."
"What do you think it's like, Duncan? To be that old? I mean, my grandmother lived to be ninety-five and I had enough trouble getting my head around that - but five thousand years ... shit."
"It's difficult even for me to understand, Ray. And trust me, I get my share of insults about my comparative youth from him too."
"Why does he do that? Why does he want to hurt you - or me?"
Duncan spoke thoughtfully, knowing that Methos was an enigma he only barely understood. "I'm only guessing here but I think he's afraid. I know ... sometimes ... I've run away, pushed people away rather than be hurt or allow people close to me to be hurt. Methos - he likes to be in control, to get in first. I think he might be trying to hurt you before you can hurt him. He's done it before, to me. I know he'd rather let me take his head with permission than risk me doing it in anger."
"He offered you his head?"
"Yes - I'm not entirely sure what he'd have done if it looked like I'd take him up on it, but yes. I never wanted to hurt him either, Ray - but I have done, over and over. It's only people he lets close to him who can, and I guess he just doesn't want to let another person get near him who can do what I did."
"Tell me about it?"
They sat on the sofa while Duncan told him about Kronos, and Cassandra. About the Dark Quickening. About how he'd actually thought that Methos could kill Amanda for the Methuselah Stone, and the pain of betrayal and loss he'd seen in the old man's eyes that freezing morning. He even told Ray about Kristen, Jakob Galati, Stephen Keane - and Richie. "He's never let me down, Ray. But I have. I've hurt him, I know that. And he thinks that it is I who wants to forgive him. I've wanted him to say he forgives me for years, but I haven't the courage to ask him. I don't blame him for what he was - he's changed, I know that now. What he was and what he is are two different things"
Ray listened in silence to the painful narrative. "I wasn't sorry that he killed Muldoon," he said slowly. "I was just ... angry that you Immortals seem to have a different set of rules. And I felt like I'd betrayed Fraser. You don't know how much it cost him to bring Muldoon in alive. We talked about it a couple of times."
"You didn't betray your friend. Methos didn't betray you. Muldoon was a danger to both of us if he was left alive. He was coming after me, and once he knew you were around, you would have been a target. Methos did what neither of us had the courage to do. And it cost him. You saw. He hardly ever takes a head now if he can help it - it hurts him too much."
"Yeah, I know. Look, I'm not mad at him. He didn't give me a chance to tell him that. But I don't know where he is, or if he'll talk to me if I see him."
"He's in Paris. As to whether he'll talk to you - well, that rather depends on you, and what you say to him. What you have to offer him."
"Everything. I want to give him everything."
The naked emotion made Duncan suck in a breath. This was worse than he feared. "Ray," he said gently, "Methos doesn't fall in love easily. And he's had Immortal lovers, but he's never taken one as a wife or a partner that I know of. You'll only end up being hurt."
"I can handle that - wouldn't be like it was the first time. Look, he's a friend. The rest - I can deal with that. I nearly lost my best friend once before over a stupid argument and I swore that wasn't gonna happen again. So if I can fix this, I'm going to."
You're a brave man, Ray Kowalski, Duncan thought to himself. He gave Ray the contact details, and told him he could stay at the barge if he liked. Ray looked at him, surprised and grateful. "Why are you doing this, Duncan? I barely know you?"
"Because you're a good friend to my good friend. Because I can trust you - and because if you let me down, I know where you live." That got him a surprised laugh. "Come by the loft before you leave - I have Adam's sword."
"Now that's going to cause Customs a few headaches."
Duncan rose to go. "Ray - there's only one piece of advice I can give you. When he's cornered, he fights - and he fights to win. Make sure he's got an escape route, or he'll only hurt you both."
"Gotcha. I'll see you soon."
As Duncan made his way outside, he hoped his oldest friend and his newest could come to an accommodation. Methos might not need Ray - but he sure as hell needed someone.
Methos stared into his glass morosely. The new barman at Le Blues Bar couldn't pull a decent pint to save his life, and he'd reverted to spirits rather than switch to bottled French beer which was nothing more than fizzy piss in his opinion. The problem was that spirits reminded him of MacLeod, and thinking of MacLeod reminded him of Seacouver and the mess he'd left behind there. He hated Paris without Joe or MacLeod. Come to think of it - just what was so fucking amazing about this city? It was full of bloody Parisians for a start, and he really was sick of stepping through dog turds. He'd been to every art gallery in the place, museums had no interest for him. Face it, Methos, he told himself, you're spending your sixth millennium as a masochist. Time to go somewhere warm, clean and free of associations. Sydney. That sounded good and Amanda had been glowing about the place when she'd come back. Or the Barrier Reef? No, sunburn hurt. The only thing he'd heard against the place was the attitude to gun control, but at least people didn't keep as many guns as the Americans did. He spent a pleasant hour daydreaming about a tour down under when he was brought out of his reverie by sensing a Presence. He looked around and groaned internally. Bloody Kowalski. What the hell had got the man off the American continent for the first time in thirty eight years?
"If you're going to say you were just passing, I'll arrange for my sword to go through your foot."
Ray hopped on the stool next to him. "And hello to you, Adam. I was looking for you."
"Well, you've found me. Now bugger off."
Ray just grinned at him and ordered a beer. Methos thought about warning him off but charity was an impulse he'd given up around the time the Victorians had started lauding it as a virtue. Ray grimaced at the frothy mess he was served. "Hey, bud - you want to try that again?"
The bar man gave his best Gallic shrug and lost his hitherto excellent ability to speak English. Ray pushed the glass away in disgust. "This place sucks."
"So what are you doing here, Kowalski? Don't tell me after all this time, you've decided you've got wanderlust."
"Pay attention, Adam. I said I was looking for you."
"Why? So you can give me more grief about Muldoon? Or do you want to reach further back in my history and lay all my other monstrous sins at my feet? You're too late. Experts have tried and failed." He gulped back his brandy and stood, but Ray put a restraining hand on his arm.
"Whoa, man. You always get ahead of yourself like that? First of all, I never said thing one about your past, and I don't give a damn about it. It's not any of my business. We all got stuff we're not proud of. And two, I'm not mad about Muldoon neither."
"You're not?" Despite himself, Methos was surprised, and let himself be urged to sit again.
"No, I'm not. You did a lot of yelling the other day and a fuck load of not listening. You want to give it another shot?"
"Why not? You got something else to do?"
Methos held his hands up in surrender and slouched on his stool. "I'm listening."
"That'd make a change. Look - I was pissed that you killed Muldoon, sure, but I got over it. You guys were right, I haven't got a handle on this Immortal thing yet. But you gotta cut me some slack - I'm just the baby around here. I just think maybe you shoulda let me or Duncan handle him - you got enough to put up with, without taking a Quickening like that."
Methos found the rage he'd been pushing away since he left Seacouver. "Oh, and what makes you think that you or MacLeod could handle him, Kowalski? You are such a fucking idiot, I don't know why I'm wasting oxygen speaking to you." He jumped down and stalked out. He knew Ray was behind him, but if the man laid a hand on him, he swore he was going to take his head. He walked up the street. "Adam ... Methos ...."
He whirled. "Shut up! Do you want the whole world to know who I am? Or is that your plan, Kowalski? Like Cassandra? Get people to come after me, instead of doing me yourself? You think you could take me? Come on!" He drew his sword - Mac's katana - and held it at Ray's throat. The other man didn't flinch - he just shrugged his coat off where it fell to the ground with a clang.
"Your own sword's in there. Duncan sent it over with me."
Methos kept his eyes on his former pupil as he hooked up the fallen coat. He extracted the two weapons it held, tossed the katana aside and held his broadsword out. He kicked Ray's sword towards him. "Pick it up, Ray. Let's finish this." Ray made no move. "You've been Challenged, Kowalski. Pick it up."
"No, Adam. You can take me, I know that, you know that. If you're gonna kill me, go ahead. If it makes you feel better, it'll do some good. Just cut clean." Ray knelt and closed his eyes.
Methos drew his arm back to swing. It would be a kindness, he thought. At least I'll make it quick. But the sight of the bared throat, the emotionless face, undid him completely and he sheathed his sword with a growl. He hauled the cop to his feet. "What game are you playing, Ray? You think I won't kill you because you're a friend? I've killed friends - I've killed lovers. I'd kill MacLeod if I had to."
"I know you'd kill me. Like I said, if you're gonna, you're gonna. Tell me what you didn't want MacLeod or me to find out about Muldoon."
Methos roared his frustration and stalked away before he did kill this infuriating man. "Why? What difference does it make? He's dead and the world's a better place for it. That's all that matters."
"No, it isn't. You got hurt - you got hurt before he died, and you got hurt when you killed him. What did he do to you, Adam?"
"It's none of your concern, Kowalski. Now, I'm telling you for the last time. Pick up your weapon, and walk away. If you don't, I will take your head just to be free of your babbling." Ray still didn't move. "Are you deaf?"
"No, I hear you good, Adam. What did he do to you?"
"He raped me, okay? That's what you wanted to hear? He raped me half a dozen times, then he killed me each time. He cut me, he stabbed me, just to hear me scream, just for amusement - just to pass the bloody time. This was the man you wanted to arrest - the man you didn't want me to kill, remember? And if you had killed him, then you would feel what it was like to have me that way, to feel me helpless, pinned by knives to the ground through my hands and my knees while you took me over and over. Could you handle that, Ray? Do you really wish you had those memories in your head? I've got them. I know what it's like to be raped and to rape. It's not the first time you know. You want those feelings - here, have them!"
He picked up Ray's sword and pushed it into the unwilling hands, then forced the sword against his own neck. "Take my head, Ray. Feel the evil inside me - the power," he said seductively. "You kill me, and you'll become the most powerful Immortal on earth. Five thousand years of killing, and power, and anger, and pain ...." He couldn't continue with this charade. If Ray took his head now, it would be a blessing. He wouldn't raise a hand to stop him. He closed his eyes. Do it, you fool. See if you can handle my Quickening. He felt the other move, but it wasn't a sharp edge against his neck but a hand on his cheek, and then strong arms around him as he shuddered. He couldn't, couldn't do this any more. He was so tired of it.
Ray held him, warm cheek against his, not talking, not moving - not judging. Methos let himself enjoy the feeling for long enough to gain his composure, then he pushed the other man away. "Enough, Ray. You got what you came for, you delivered my sword. Now go home."
"Why, Adam? Why should I leave you like this?"
"Because sooner or later, everybody does," he said sardonically. "MacLeod does, Alexa did - you will. If you haven't learned that about life, then you haven't learned a bloody thing."
"I don't want to leave."
"Not now - but you will. When you realise just how rotten the foundations are. How sick the mind is behind the cheerful mask. I don't want to be there when you work it out, Kowalski. Better that you go now."
"No. Adam, come back to the barge and we can have a drink, talk. You're upset, you look tired. I promise not to kill you if you don't try to kill me."
Methos was so very tempted. Why did he attract such gentle fools to him? Couldn't they see what he really was? Even MacLeod kept coming back - or rather, let him come back to MacLeod. But then he kept rejecting him too. He shook his head. "No."
"I brought your Queen CD back - and some British beer from duty free," Ray wheedled.
Methos let himself be played. "British?"
"Old Peculiar - the guy in the shop said it was the business but I wasn't sure he wasn't pulling my leg. Maybe you can tell me?"
Gods damn the man - he was trying so hard. Oh, bugger it - what could it hurt? The worst that could happen is that he would walk out if Ray got too annoying. "Okay - but only if you promise not to kill me."
Ray's smile was blinding in the gloom. "I promise. So long as the beer doesn't."
Methos had to admit there was something strangely comforting about being back at the barge after so long, even without MacLeod's familiar presence. He saw Ray had barely unpacked. "When did you get into Paris?"
"This morning. I had a nap and something to eat, then went looking for you."
"You ever suffered from jet lag before?"
"No, and I think I'll pass next time. But I'm good. Wide awake and ready to rock and roll." He gave a little shimmy that showed off his butt and Methos had to smile. "Let me get you that beer. You want a glass?"
"Please - a beer this good deserves it."
Ray watched in obvious fascination as Methos carefully decanted the dark liquid, then looked askance when Methos offered to let him taste it. "You sure that stuff's drinkable? Looks like soup."
"It's never killed me before. Try it."
Still looking at Methos suspiciously, Ray sipped then pulled a face. "You call that beer? It's sweet!"
Methos took a slurp and gave a contented sigh at the familiar taste of toasted molasses. "Yes, it is rather. It's got a high alcohol content because of the sugar. It's not much like what you Americans call beer, but I assure you, this is considered an exceptionally good pint." He took another pull with satisfaction. This really was beer. "You don't have to have any, Ray. All the more for me."
Ray poured himself the safer option of some of Duncan's Scotch, then settled himself on the sofa. "So whatcha been doing?"
"Bit of this, bit of that. Looking over my investments. Wondering whether to buy an apartment, or rent, or just leave Paris altogether."
"Where would you go?"
"I was thinking of Australia, although now you've reminded me, the beer's not great from what I hear. Or perhaps England again."
"For the beer?"
"What else? I wouldn't go there for the weather."
"I'd like to go to Poland, look up my ancestors." Ah, Methos thought - he doesn't know then. He was no more Polish than Methos himself was a Brit. "You ever been to Poland?"
"Once or twice. A very long time ago," Methos said carefully.
"While you were with the Horsemen?"
"No, after." The memory brought him no pleasure - they weren't called the Dark Ages for nothing.
He could tell Ray didn't pursue the subject in deference to his sudden gloom and resolved to cheer him up, the beer working its familiar magic on him, and warming his belly, relaxing his tired body.
"You want to know the secret of true happiness, Ray?" and almost laughed out loud at the sudden intent interest on the younger man's face. Who the hell did people think he was? Buddha?
"The secret of true happiness is good beer, a warm dry bed and a lock on the door," and then he did laugh at Ray's disappointed expression.
"No people in this scenario, Adam? No one to give you a neck rub?" His hand slipped without artifice behind the Ancient's back and started to massage. Methos couldn't withhold a soft groan at the feel of the strong callused hands, the warm dry skin on his own.
"People just complicate things, Ray. If you want true happiness, get used to being alone."
The hand stilled and then Ray's face was close to his own. "Being alone is my idea of hell."
"And that, my lad, is where you and I are fundamentally different."
Ray smiled - a full face, lazy grin that made Methos' old, old heart twitch. "I don't think you and me are that different. Not really." Methos realised he was about to be kissed. This is a mistake, this is a mistake, he thought, but he couldn't make his limbs move to push the other man away. Was there a drug in the beer, or was he really so pathetic that he would fall for the first show of affection from whatever quarter?
"Stop, Ray. What do you want from me?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." He could smell the Scotch on the other man's breath - a manly, homey smell mixed with his normal clean scent.
"And what do you think I want from you?"
"I don't know. Take everything, whatever you want - it's all yours." Oh gods - did he know what he was saying? Now he did push but Ray wouldn't move. "Let me up, Ray."
The cop moved back. "What did I say?"
"Everything, Ray? Do you really know what that means? 'Everything' means I could take your heart, right here, right now - reach inside your chest and rip it out. I could take your mind and leave you a screaming, babbling, drooling idiot. I could take your sanity, your health, your happiness and leave you nothing but an animated corpse for a thousand years. I could take your head and you would have *nothing *at all. Don't go offering anyone - least of all me - 'everything'. It's insane. " He rubbed his face. "I'm sorry, I'm being ridiculous. I should go."
Ray put his hand flat on Methos' chest. Time was, the old man thought, I'd have killed a man where he stood for such a liberty. "Would any of that make you happy, Adam? Then do it."
"Don't be so fucking melodramatic, Ray."
"You want to know what makes me happy, Adam? It's loving someone completely, being with them, giving to them. Who do you give to now? Who are you saving yourself for?"
"No one. Let me go."
"To go where? I'm no threat to you. You could swat me like a fly - you can break my heart or take my head just like that. I know that. You wouldn't be the first to try, you're not even the first person I've been in love with who could kill me - or wanted to. I should introduce you to Stella sometime." Ray grinned and the emptiness in Methos eased a little. This man was good for puncturing his self importance if nothing else.
"I really should go, Ray," he said more gently than before. "It's late, I'm tired ...."
"Would you stay if I asked nicely? If I said please?" The needy words were belied by the smiling mouth. "No strings."
"Not a one. Look." Ray held his arms up and shook them in a parody of a puppet. "Stay?"
"Okay." Gods, I hope I don't regret this, Methos thought, even as Ray was slipping the coat from his shoulders and tugging him to sit down. Just to let someone else take charge, he thought. Can I let someone do that? Oh, lighten up, old man, he thought. This is sex, not rocket science. He relaxed into the comfortable sofa. He hadn't lied, he was tired - bone tired, exhausted. He closed his eyes and felt Ray trace his fingers over his face.
"Can I kiss you?' Ray asked softly. Methos nodded, eyes still closed and then soft lips covered his. Ray was so gentle, it surprised him again how gentle his touch was. Methos had had aggressive lovers, male and female, and he had loved aggressively, roughly in turn. But what he craved was the soft touches, the tenderness, even if he could never admit it. A hand caressed his cheek, trailed down his neck to his chest where it rested over his heart. He waited quietly, reluctant to take a more active part in his own seduction. The hand stayed where it was, and the lips were undemanding, pleasant, sweet. He felt an arm go behind him and pull him a little closer and he relished the feel of a strong hard chest against his. Ray made no move to move lower but he felt his own arousal pressing against his jeans. He hadn't had sex - well, not voluntarily - since the last time this man had made love to him, and before that, not since Alexa. It wasn't the longest time he'd gone without sex - 157 years was the longest - but abstinence was a much overrated virtue.
He rubbed the back of his own hand against the lean stomach pressing near him, feeling the little tremors of response as he glided lower. Then a hissed breath as he rested lightly over the other man's zipper, feeling the hardness underneath. But Ray still made no move, and Methos suddenly realised what he was doing - he was letting Methos take the lead, the experience with Muldoon too recent for the cop to ignore. If Methos had more energy, he would have been pissed off at being treated like a fragile flower, but he was tired enough to appreciate the space he was being given.
"Shall we go to bed?"
"Hmmm." Ray didn't set his mouth free as he pulled him upright. Still the firm embrace was strangely non-sexual, comforting, and Methos was becoming a little impatient. He grabbed a handful of firm ass and squeezed, and Ray yelped.
"I won't break, Ray."
"Didn't think you would, old man." Methos growled and bit Ray's lip. "Ouch, you fucker!"
"Get a move on, child." Ray grinned and took his hand and tugged him over to the bed. Methos collapsed on the bed and lay sprawled on the covers. Ray looked hesitantly at him. "Are you going to make love to me fully clothed?"
Ray didn't need further urging. What he lacked in skill he made up for in enthusiasm, clothing flying every which way, and shoes being tugged off so hard Methos was sure laces must have been snapped. In the low light, Methos could appreciate the long lines, the golden skin of his lover for a night. The man was nearly as whip thin as he was, a little more fleshy in the butt and in the shoulders, but the belly was taut, the chest as sharply defined as his own. Ray was aware he was on display, and was not even slightly self-conscious. "Oh Ray, what I could have done with you in Greece. You'd have made me a fortune."
Ray quirked an eyebrow but didn't ask. He knelt on the bed next to Methos but didn't touch him. "What do you want?"
"Nothing." The emptiness in his own voice annoyed him - he wasn't usually so transparent. Ray didn't rise to the bait.
"Well, what would you like?" His face was so open, so ... young. Some dark impulse nearly made Methos want to say something cutting, to drive this infant away, but he resisted. He had done enough damage for one evening.
"What I'd really like is for you to suck my cock until I scream, then to nail you to the mattress."
A single startled glance, then Ray rose to the task. "Okay," then he swooped, his hands busy at Methos' waist, opening belt buckles, buttons, zippers. Then he stopped and waited. Methos was puzzled briefly, then understood. He sat up and slowly undid his boots and kicked them off, then slid the jeans and his boxers off together in a tangle to the floor. Ray took the hem of his shirt and his sweater and looked for permission, which he got. He lifted the clothes carefully off over Methos' head and then cast them aside as he had done with his own clothes. Now Methos was the object of scrutiny. Well, it wasn't the first time. Nothing was for the first time after five thousand years. And at least Ray wasn't trying to work out if Methos was worth the price he paid for him.
"Well?" he asked. Ray took him in his arms and lay him down on the bed again and kissed him gently. Methos felt obliged to warn him. "You know I'll probably end up hurting you, Ray. You should get out while you still can."
Ray never stopped his soft touches. "I'll take it under advisement, Adam. Now - until you scream, was that what you wanted?"
"Uh huh. You think you're up to it?"
"I always like a challenge." Cheeky brat, Methos thought. Ray started to rub his stomach in warm circles, just enough pressure to ease tension, just low enough down to be erotic, but still going nowhere near his erection. Methos caught his hand and brought it up to his mouth to brush his lips against.
"Ray - come here." Puzzled, he obeyed. Methos kissed him. "I've been raped before, you know. Many, many times. You don't need to be so careful, or to pity me."
"I don't pity you, Adam. You scare me too much. But how do you stand it?"
"I don't know," he said softly. "I just do. I suppose it's because if I didn't, I couldn't go on. And going on, being alive is important to me." Ray nuzzled his neck then lay his head on Methos' chest. Methos stroked the golden hair. "You don't really love me, you know. You don't know me well enough to. It's just hero worship. The two are easily confused."
Ray's head snapped up, then he pushed himself upright and glared at Methos. "You want to run that by me again, Adam? One minute you're accusing me of being disgusted by your past, and then I'm supposed to be in love with you because of it?"
"You're not the first person by any means to be impressed more by the weight of years than the man himself." Something told Methos he was in a lot more danger now than he had been with Ray's sword at his neck.
"Boy, you take the cake, you really do. Look - I was halfways to falling in love with you before I knew anything about Immortals. You sticking a knife in me wasn't exactly foreplay neither. I know you think I'm just a kid, but I've been married, been in love. I'm old enough to know the difference between a crush and the real thing." Ray's eyes blazed with anger, and Methos thought he'd never looked so desirable.
He held out an olive branch. "Then I pity *you,* my young friend. Love is a very painful thing. And I am a lousy person to give it to."
"That's my business. I've been in love before with people who don't love me back. I'm not a baby, Methos," and Methos knew the use of his real name was deliberate. "I didn't tell you that to make you sorry for me. I told you because I think you need to know someone does care about you that much - whatever you feel. I just want you to be happy, that's all."
Methos didn't know whether to laugh or scream or weep. He didn't want this. He didn't want anyone offering themselves to him - he'd been a god before, and it had nothing to give him any more. But at the same time, the affection, the love that this honest innocent was casting after him rang something inside him like a giant bell, resonating deep within him, cracking the frozen walls around him. His protection. His prison. His instincts told him to run.
"Are you afraid of me?"
"Yes. You terrify me. Now, let me go."
"I thought you wanted a blow job." Ray placed his hands on Methos' shoulders and Methos looked at them scornfully.
"What's this, Ray? You've become so inured to the idea of me being raped, you wanted to have a go yourself?" Ray moved his hands as if he'd been burned. Methos took the opportunity to leap off the bed and scoop his clothes up. He moved into the living area and dressed quickly, keeping a wary eye on Ray, who hadn't moved.
"Why, Adam? Why does me wanting to make you happy scare you so much?"
"Oh, you simple fool. Do you honestly think you can keep me amused? I've slept with the most beautiful women to ever walk the earth - and some of the most fascinating men. Do you think you could do a better job than Byron, Ray? Do you think you're more bewitching than him? Or MacLeod? Do you think I'd have you to bed as a playmate and turn him down? Get over yourself, Kowalski."
Ray erupted off the bed, sweeping towards Methos in long angry strides and seizing him again by his shoulders. "No, you get over *yourself,* Adam Pierson or whatever the hell you want to call yourself. I'm not asking you to say I'm the best fuck you've ever had. I don't want to know about your past, or all the people you've had underneath you. All I'm offering is to make love to you tonight, right here, right now. You got a better offer lined up? You think going back to a hotel room on your own will make you feel good? Is it worth it, to wake up and not have to look me in the eye and know someone cares about you?"
"What do you want from me?"
"Just what I said. To love you, to make love to you. You don't have to love me back - I know you don't, maybe you can't - and you don't even have to do anything. Just let someone give you something for a change, Adam. You don't have to take it by force, or buy it, or manipulate me. It's free for the taking." He backed away. "I'm going back to bed. You do what you like, I won't stop you. I haven't raped anyone for years."
He walked slowly back to the stairs leading to the bed platform and turned to look at the Ancient, who was still poised to flee. He held his hand out. "Come with me, Adam?" The gentle words, said so softly, did more than any command could to change the old man's mind. He knelt and undid his laces, removed his shoes. He shucked his shoes, jeans and shirts in swift fluid movements, then walked towards the young man, quite naked. "You are so beautiful, Adam," Ray said prayerfully, giving Methos his hand and leading him back to the bed. "You know, I haven't had this much trouble getting into someone's pants since I was thirteen."
"Started your wicked career early, Ray?"
"What can I say? I'm a lucky guy."
"Do you feel lucky tonight?" Methos asked as he was enfolded in Ray's arms.
"Damn straight." And then there was no more talking.
Methos opened an eye sticky with sleep and was momentarily confused as to where he was and what was generating the pleasant warmth behind him. The barge - he knew it well enough. A Presence - MacLeod? He rolled over a little, remembered suddenly and smiled. Ah, the enthusiasm of youth. Not to mention the eagerness. He rolled all the way towards his companion, provoking a sleepy mutter of protest and long arms wrapping themselves around him in a movement which made him feel like a teddy bear. He should feel like escaping - but he didn't. The Quickening he had taken weeks before had finally settled completely, and the lassitude of good sex made him lie there and take it like a man - or a stuffed toy, whatever. The child had indeed made him scream, and even whimper, but he'd repaid it in full. He smugly thought that Ray's brain had probably fried a few circuits last night. That would teach him to pull the tail on the tiger. He petted the spiky hair, messier than his own, and traced the long spine. His companion was a considerate lover, gentle and tender as Methos thought he would be. Not an expert in love, but then, Methos had been pleasured by the best. He couldn't have everything. He nudged Ray and got a garbled burble of complaint. He did it again, harder.
"What?" Ray was fully awake and glaring at him.
"I need coffee."
"You know where Duncan keeps everything." The blue eyes shut. Methos nudged him again. "Go 'way."
"Oh, no, my friend - the price for you having wasted my hotel reservation last night is breakfast. And then you and I are going to collect my bags, bring them back here and then I am going to educate you about Paris." Ray's eyes opened and looked at Methos suspiciously.
"You want to stay here?"
"Why not? I assume Mac won't mind, I assume you won't and I can't see why I should waste two weeks' hotel bills when I could spend the money on other things. You did say you've never been abroad before."
"Why the change of heart, Adam? Last night I practically had to hog tie you to make you stay, and now you're inviting yourself?"
"It's what I do best, Ray. Of course, if you prefer I leave ...." He started to get up when a hand whipped out and grabbed his arm.
"Don't you move," Ray said in his best 'put 'em where I can see 'em' voice. He hauled himself up by dint of Methos' arm. "You really gonna show me Paris?" He looked like a little boy and Methos chucked him under the chin, earning a disgusted look.
"Yes, infant, I surely am. And part of the Paris experience is breakfast on the boulevard so you can watch the pretty girls and the charming boys."
"Is a shower with your lover part of the agenda?"
"Mac's shower is too small. And I've got dibs on the hot water." He raced Ray to the bathroom, locking it just in time.
He emerged to find Ray in his bathrobe drinking a cup of instant coffee. "Couldn't wait?"
"Too cold not to. You leave me any hot water, you old bastard?"
"A minute, so I'd be quick if I were you, child."
"You're really full of it this morning, aren't you?"
"So were you last night," which got him a sly grin. "Besides, I've decided since you're on holiday, so am I. A two week long conge. No strings, no cares - no deep thoughts."
"Sounds OK to me." Ray looked at him thoughtfully, then downed his coffee and headed for the bathroom. The yelp shortly after confirmed that he'd found out that Methos had lied about the minute's worth of hot water. Methos got a towel flick on the ass for that when Ray came out.
The morning was indeed cold, but clear. Frost lay on the stone pavements and once Methos had checked out and the baggage was stowed, he took pity on Ray's dislike of the cold and forewent a sidewalk table for one inside the bar. He ordered hot chocolate for Ray and coffee for himself, croissants for both of them. "How on earth did you survive in Canada if you don't like these sorts of temperatures?" he asked.
"We were dressed for it, and we were working our tails off. Fraser doesn't believe in sitting around." Methos noticed the wistful expression.
"You really miss him, don't you?"
"Like my right arm. Nothing was the same in Chicago when I came back."
"You never thought to stay up there?"
Ray gave a snort. "Oh yeah, I thought about it - a lot. But I'm not into mooning after straight guys - not after they tell me they're not interested, anyway."
"You make a habit of falling in love with your heroes, Ray?"
"Just the once, Adam. Can't quite see you in a cape and wearing your underpants over your trousers. Besides - there's no one quite like Fraser. He's good, and honest, and honourable and brave and good looking. You either want to hit him or kiss him. I tried punching him, and he didn't want me to kiss him. End of story."
"He sounds like MacLeod."
"You said that before. They're similar. Fraser's more of a smart ass, if you know what I mean. More like you." Ray grinned at Methos cheekily. "But he's a damn good friend. If I ever need someone, he'll be there."
"I'm glad, Ray. Everyone should have someone like that for them."
"Like Duncan for you?"
"Sometimes." He didn't want to go into the times Duncan *hadn't* been there for him.
"Do you really want him? Are you in love with him?"
"MacLeod? Good grief, no. Our relationship is complicated enough as it is. I know he fancies me in an abstract sort of way, and as for him, well, what's to dislike? But I don't like the idea of being in a queue and I think I could well be dead of old age before he ran out of women to bed."
"You know the funny thing is, Fraser gets just as many offers, but he never takes them up."
"Silly boy. Life's too short for such scruples." For some reason, that made Ray sombre. "What's wrong now, Ray?"
"Oh, nothing. Just thinking about living past your friends. I never really thought about it before, not about Fraser. It's tough - how do you do it?"
"Like I said. You just do. The alternative is unthinkable, at least to me. You do whatever - and whoever - you need to survive."
"And what am I to you? Do I help you survive?"
"Right here and now, yes. You made me happy last night, Ray and I thank you for it. But don't go picking out china patterns on the basis of it."
Ray put his hand on Methos' knee under the table. "No strings, remember? I meant it. But I want us to be friends, whatever happens."
"We are, child, we are. Now, do you want indoor education or outdoor scenery?"
Ray really knew very little about Paris, so Methos started with the predictable things - the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysees. He'd rarely been with such a sponge for information before - Ray reminded him of Alexa, almost painfully so, in his childlike enthusiasm, the fact that it was all new to Ray, and wonderful - Methos found his eyes misting up several times, and had to cover up with a cutting remark which drove Ray from him for a few minutes while he recovered, But he always did, and Ray always came back, seeming to be willing to accept the rough with the smooth. Dear Ray, he thought, your heart is too soft for someone like me. As his teacher, Methos knew the kindest thing he could do would be to try and toughen the man up, but he was weary of being the one who branded 'Life is pain' on the souls of innocents. He'd spent a thousand years doing that, and had nothing but regrets and enemies and self-loathing to show for it. Besides - the man hadn't had the easiest of mortal lives, with a divorce and a thankless occupation. Let someone else break his heart for him, Methos thought. There were more than enough who would, given half a chance.
They ended up at Maurice's place, which was conveniently close to the barge. Methos ordered for them in French and Ray looked at him suspiciously. "You didn't just ask for snails, did ya?"
"No, Ray. They're overrated in my opinion. And in deference to Shelly I also eschewed the turtle soup, even though it is excellent here. No frog's legs either, before you ask. I dislike people vomiting over me at dinner."
"You sound like it used to happen a lot."
"You have no idea. The things rich people eat to impress other rich people would amaze you."
"What's the worst thing you ever ate?"
"I really don't think you want me to answer that. But I'll tell you the period of time I most disliked gastronomically was the Tudor - honestly, those people had no idea what to do with spices, and they put sugar in everything. Everyone had bad teeth and halitosis. Disgusting."
"What did you do back then?" Ray asked. Their food arrived and Ray picked approvingly at the lamb. "Were you a doctor?"
"No, a pirate. Well, I worked with pirates. I was more a pirate groupie, you might say."
"Seriously? You know we arrested some pirates once." Methos listened with real fascination as Ray described the macabre events surrounding the fake Robert Mackenzie and the ingenious ways his best friend managed to endanger his life.
Ray sighed. "Sure would have been a lot more fun if I'd known I was Immortal back then. I spent the whole time certain I was gonna die. I always thought Fraser would get me killed one day."
"Would you ever tell him about your Immortality?"
Ray shrugged. "Might do, if it came up. He'd take it in his stride, I know that. But it just ... I dunno, it's a bit like rubbing it in, don't you think?"
"Yes, I know. I never told Alexa about me - it would have been too cruel by half."
"Adam, Duncan said you'd never had a partner who was Immortal. You've had Immortal lovers - you don't want a relationship to last too long?"
"Never had it offered, to be honest. Never met anyone I could imagine spending the rest of time with. Kronos was the longest relationship I've ever had, you could say, although he was hardly a partner," he said with a grimace, thinking of the terror and pain the Horseman had used to keep Methos bound to him for a thousand years, until Methos was no longer completely sane. "You might say that experience made me somewhat allergic to long term relationships. But now, so late in the Game, how long can it be? The Gathering is coming one day, possibly soon."
"You'd take my head."
"If I had to. If it was a choice between MacLeod and you, you would lose." Ray's face was stony, the man trying to keep his emotions in check. "I'm sorry, Ray. That's just the truth. But I don't want to kill either of you - or anyone, if I can help it. This bloody Game is a nightmare I wish could end."
"If it comes to it, Adam, I want it to be you. I really mean that. I want to be inside you, and not some punk. Will you promise?"
"Gods, Ray, please don't ask that sort of thing of people. But I promise you this much - if someone takes your head, I will do my damnedest to take their Quickening. I'll have you one way or the other. Now, eat your food. This is a rotten subject for a dinner conversation. I hope it never happens." And denial is a river in Egypt, Methos thought bitterly. He'd meant it though. He would make sure Ray's Quickening didn't stay inside some vicious creep like a Muldoon. But he didn't think he could take his head.
As they walked back to the barge, Ray kept a companionable hand on Methos' shoulder. The ease Ray felt around him surprised Methos. Even MacLeod wasn't quite this relaxed - not any more - and he was probably the closest person to Methos. But Ray seemed to be totally lacking in awe, for all he'd declared he was scared of Methos. Another thing that reminded him of Alexa - but she hadn't known he was Immortal, let alone one of the Four Horsemen. Ray knew all of that, and yet he found not a trace of fear, or apprehension in the younger man's gaze. He hadn't seen it even last night, with Methos' sword to his throat. It would get him killed, he thought. Fear was an early warning system as much as being able to detect other Immortals. But he had to admit, it made friendship with Ray an easy thing to tolerate. More than tolerate.
Methos made the coffee while Ray stoked up the fireplace. It took a long time for the fire to heat the large living space so they naturally gravitated to the sofa closest to the warmth. Ray sat next to Methos, their thighs touching. He could feel the heat of the other man's body - he knew from the night before he was a furnace. Ray's hand moved to his neck, as it had the night before, and began a gentle insistent massage. "You're tense."
"Perhaps a little," Methos admitted.
"Scared of me? Scared of this?"
"Just ... being close to someone. It's been a long time since I was so close to an Immortal."
"My sword's over there, Adam."
"Still got a weapon, though," and Methos dropped a proprietorial hand on Ray's crotch. Ray shoved it off him, grinning.
"Don't handle the fruit." He stood up and went over to the CD player, put on something that Methos recognised and had previously privately dubbed "knicker remover music." Ray held out a hand. "Care to dance?" Surprised, Methos just stared at him. "Don't know how? I'll show you."
"Don't kid yourself, Ray. I may not be Nijinsky, but he gave me a blow job once."
Methos sighed with resignation and let Ray pull him up. The music was sultry, slow and perfect for gentle swaying where neither man had to lead or make much effort. Ray put his head on Methos' shoulder and placed a hand firmly on his butt. "You feel good, Adam. Wanted to do this from the night I met you."
"I have to say I was spending far too much time avoiding being beaten to a pulp to really pay you much attention, Ray." Perhaps I should have, he thought. This really was pleasant.
"That would have been a problem for sure - a whole bar full of people watching the magical disappearing bruises."
"A tad awkward, I agree."
They danced together, Ray humming softly in Methos' ear, the firelight adding a romantic cast to the barge. It was dangerous, a small voice told Methos, to feel so happy, so calm. Surely this presaged disaster - a tidal wave, or an attack by ten Immortals, or.... Oh shut *up,* Methos told the small voice. Take the night off. Get a life. He let the music and the sound Ray was making drown out the annoying voice of doom and gloom, and felt all the better for it.
Soothing as the slow dancing was, there was no doubt that Ray's groin bumping and sliding over Methos' own was having an entirely different effect, as was the scent of Ray's warm clean skin, and the feel of his firm ass under Methos hand. There wasn't a feminine thing about the man, even though he could look curiously androgynous when his eyes were shuttered and his lips pursed just so. His maleness was making itself more and more evident. Methos pressed against him and ground himself a little. Ray didn't move his head from Methos' shoulder but his breathing changed, making Methos' skin damp where his lips were not quite ... ah, now they were. Ray nibbled gently at Methos' neck but Methos' mood was suddenly at odds with the sensuous slow music. He held Ray's head and took his mouth, tongue thrusting in time with his hips. Ray met him, grind for grind, thrust for thrust, not giving nor asking for quarter. Still holding him close with a hand at Ray's nape, Methos moved his other hand between them and massaged the hardness below Ray's belt. The younger man's breathing grew harsh.
"Turn around," Methos ordered quietly in a voice gone deep with lust. He allowed Ray just enough freedom to turn to face the wall in his arms, and then he tugged the belt open single handed, holding Ray's wrists behind him. Damn these button flies ... but he got them open and he found the hot, silky skin of Ray's cock unimpeded by underwear. It throbbed under his hand, and its owner squirmed and thrust blindly into Methos' hand. "Be still," he said gruffly, but bit tenderly into the corner of Ray's shoulder to gentle his words, licking the bite mark as the slight bruise healed. He stroked the shaft, knowing his dry callused hand could hurt a little, but taking care, easing his movements even as he gripped Ray's wrists tighter. He could feel fine tremors running through the lithe body. "Are you scared of me, Ray?"
"Do you trust me?"
He nibbled Ray's earlobe and thrust teasingly into the ear with his tongue. The other man couldn't keep his hips still and Methos matched his strokes on his cock to the helpless thrusts, feeling Ray's orgasm build before it spilled over his hand. He took care to catch it all. "Hands on the wall," he whispered into Ray's ear, releasing the wrists so he could be obeyed. Ray put his hands flat on the metal walls, and waited. Methos tugged his jeans down and Ray kicked them off. Then he quickly removed his own slacks. He nudged Ray's thighs with his knee, and the other man spread his legs eagerly.
"You want this? Want me?"
"Yeah," Ray said, almost like a sigh.
"You want it hard, or do you want it slow?"
"Hard, Adam. Do it. I want you now."
"Good, Ray, very good," he murmured then he brought the semen he had saved on his hand, stroking his own cock once before pushing his fingers in Ray's cleft. He only took the time to ease a finger in with the juices before he nudged his cock in. Ray cried out, undoubtedly from pain as well as pleasure, but barely let Methos adjust before pushing back. Methos thrust forcefully but still carefully. Ray cried out again, but he had hit the spot and found the angle. Ray spread himself wider and now Methos could take him as hard as they both wanted.
He held Ray's softened cock in his hand, stroking it back to life with Ray's own seed easing the way, and bit hard on Ray's neck. "Adam!" Ray yelled. He was pushing back in rhythm, seating Methos deeper and deeper. The grunts and soft moans filled the barge with sound. Ray screamed his name again and came, pulling Methos' orgasm from him, deep inside this man who matched him so well. He felt Ray going weak at the knees, and he caught them both, pulling out of Ray then easing them to the floor to kneel chest to back. Ray leaned back on him, panting. Methos bit his ear ungently, making him yelp.
"Ouch! Bastard, don't do that!"
"Why not, Ray?" Methos asked before nibbling again. "You make a tasty morsel. And an accessible one - why aren't you wearing underwear?"
"Thought I might get lucky again." He twisted and caught Methos' lips with his own. "I was right."
"You're not sore?"
"It's a good hurt, don't worry. You should be a pro."
"Been there, done that, got the nipple ring," Methos said lightly, then regretted it as Ray pulled away from his caressing hands, and faced him.
"Why so surprised, Ray? Over five thousand years, there is very little I haven't tried, haven't had to do to survive. I've been a prostitute, I've used them. Been a slave, owned them, freed them, cared for them. Killed, been killed. But I'm still *me, *Ray. Just a guy."
Ray reached over and touched his face in apology. "Sorry - I guess I was thinking like a mortal. It's hard ... I mean, I keep forgetting ...."
"Do that - don't think about it. My past is just that. Good for giving guided tours around Paris, and not a lot else."
"Oh, I dunno, Adam. Maybe you learned a thing or two about, um ... the horizontal mambo."
"Good grief - I could write a manual."
Ray grinned slowly. "Want to go for an appendix to that?"
The fortnight passed in a heady haze of cultural education, athleticism and sex. Methos quickly learned that architecture, other than churches, held absolutely no interest for Ray. He liked paintings, but not sculpture - forests, but not formal gardens. Versailles bored him rigid, the Eiffel tower suffered in comparison with American skyscrapers, but he loved the food, the atmosphere, the scenic people and the exotic sounds and smells of the migrant quarters, which compared with the ethnicity of his native Chicago. When Methos wasn't dragging Ray around the Louvre for his own good, or enjoying the Monets for his own sake, they sparred in the cleared living space on the barge, Methos insisting that Paris was a dangerous city for Immortals and that Ray could not afford to let his training lapse.
The evenings were for conversation, for kissing and laughter, and most of all, lovemaking. Tender, rough, hard, slow. Ray liked it every way - Methos understood that it was his own presence which made the difference for the other man. For his own part, he kept his distance, playing the effete, world weary educator by day, and eager participant in the bedroom by night. He found his emotions see-sawing, still off- balance from the effect of Muldoon's Quickening and his tortures, and from the sheer proximity of another Immortal twenty four hours a day. It made him bad-tempered at times, which he regretted, but Ray didn't mind the barbs, the insults - or rather, he didn't mind them for long. Methos tried hard not to shatter the romantic mood, recognising that it was good for both of them, even if he made himself stay detached as much as he could. It was just a holiday romance, he told himself, and to be treated as lightly as such. Ray, he was grateful to note, didn't press him. There was no talk of the future, of Methos' plans - not until ten minutes before Ray was to get a taxi to the airport. And even then, it was just a casual "Coming back to Seacouver soon?"
"Not for a while. I thought of going to Australia."
"Australia, huh? Got a cousin or three out there - third cousins I think. Send me a postcard?"
"Maybe. You'd better go."
Ray put his bags down, and took Methos' face in his hands. "Thank you, Adam. I'm glad I came."
"Thank *you,* child. It was fun." He touched Ray's face. "I'll see you in Seacouver sometime - but not soon. Understand?"
"Yep. No strings, Adam. Remember." He kissed Methos gently on the lips, and then was gone.
It was really much quieter after that.
Duncan knew *someone *was at home on the barge and was relieved to find it was Methos. "MacLeod! Have a beer - you're early."
Duncan took the opened bottle gratefully and took a long swig. "I was able to get away sooner than I thought. You're looking well, Methos." Certainly better than the pale thin man who had stormed out of the loft. This Methos had put back the weight he'd lost, and the tight lines of stress and pain around his mouth were gone. "I take it things went well with Ray?" He sat on the sofa.
"Come on, MacLeod. Don't pretend you didn't scoop the infant up at the airport and get every last detail of his visit out of him."
"Actually, no. I haven't seen him - I came via London. I'm just going on how you look. You seem happier, my friend."
"I'm always happy, Mac. Life's a bowl of cherries, haven't you heard?" Duncan was annoyed at himself - he'd been on the barge less than five minutes, and already Methos was retreating behind sarcasm. That wasn't what he'd come here for. He stood up and put his hand over the Ancient's wrist.
"Don't, Methos," he said quietly.
"Don't what, Highlander?" Methos pulled away in irritation.
"Don't push me away. Don't pretend you don't care, or that you didn't enjoy Ray's being here. No one will think less of you."
Methos drank from his own bottle, crossed his legs at his ankles and gave his friend a cool look. "I certainly don't think you would think less of me." Duncan frowned when he realised the subtext - 'you *couldn't* think less of me' was what the old man was really saying - but he decided to take him at his word.
"That's right. I wouldn't. I don't."
"That's all right then. Look - I can be out of your hair in ten minutes, okay?" He started bustling about, picking up things and shoving them into the battered backpack.
"Methos! Could you possibly just shut up and sit down with me for five minutes?" Methos stared at him, obviously startled by the vehemence.
"What do you want, MacLeod? I'm sorry I left Seacouver the way I did. I'm sorry I killed Muldoon. What else? Um, I'm sorry I used up all the shampoo? Did I forget anything? Oh yes - I keep forgetting I'm supposed to apologise for my wicked, wicked ways. Sorry."
"For God's sake, man, did you think I came here to ask that of you?"
"No, I think you came here because this is your home. Which I am occupying past my display date."
Duncan growled and pushed Methos against the wall and pinned him there. "Will you shut up? God, I never knew anyone who could talk so much drivel for so long!"
"So glad ...."
"Methos," Duncan said warningly. The older man shrugged in a gesture of surrender under Mac's hands, but he didn't let him go. "I came back to France to see you. Talking to Ray before he came here, I realised that there was something very important I had to say to you, and I couldn't wait any longer."
"Oh, Mac - it's like a dweam come twue. Have you spoken to my father yet?" Methos fluttered his eyelashes. Duncan shook him.
"Stop it, you daft sod. Methos, I'm sorry. I should have said that a long time ago. In Bordeaux, after Stephen Keane - after the Dark Quickening. After a lot of things. I've behaved like a bastard to you, and you're been a good friend despite it. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I'm just glad you choose to hang around."
Methos looked at him in shock, mouth a little open. But then his eyes narrowed. "Why now, MacLeod? What's pricked your conscience all of a sudden? Telling Ray about who I was?"
"I didn't - not intentionally. He worked it out. Methos, he's a cop. You're the one who gave him all the details. I'm telling you this now because I ... well, because when I saw how Ray understood, how he accepted who you were and what you are now, I was ashamed of myself. The man doesn't know you half as well as I do - it should have been me accepting you that way."
He could see the agile mind behind the hazel eyes looking for a sarcastic remark but all that came out was "Thank you, Duncan." For the merest second, the Scot saw the naked soul of his friend. And was glad.
"You're welcome, Methos. Most welcome. Now, do you want to tell me what happened with Ray? And is there any more beer?"
Methos gave him a real, truly warm smile and once Duncan had set him free, fetched them two more bottles. He sat on the sofa, sprawling out while Duncan lay on the rug to listen to him. "There's not much to tell. We had a good time together. He's not demanding company - not like my usual friends at all," and Duncan saluted him ironically with the beer bottle. "He's got a serious crush on me, which I suppose he told you about in your little tete-a-tete but he knows where he stands. I told him straight out that if it came to a choice between my life or his, or your life and his, he'd lose. He accepts that."
Duncan was horrified. "Bloody hell, Methos - why did you say something like that?"
Methos shrugged. "Because it's true. Mac, the man probably won't live as long as Alexa did after I met her."
Duncan saw the shadow of pain on the other's face, but wasn't sure if it was for the memory or in anticipation.
"And how will you feel if he loses his head?"
"That he won't be the first." Duncan studied his annoying friend closely. He was a picture of relaxation, but there was something not quite right about it. The picture was art, not nature.
"Don't you feel anything for him? You won't regret it at all if he dies?"
"Of course I'll regret it, MacLeod? What do you think I am, a monster? Wait - oh, damn, I forgot, that's what I am."
"I thought I'd settled that," Duncan said tightly.
"What you said doesn't change who I am fundamentally. If Ray dies, he dies. The guy's pleasant company and a nice lay and maybe I'll send flowers to the funeral. But there's no future with him."
"That didn't stop you loving Alexa."
"And look what happened, MacLeod!" The shout was torn from a grief-tightened throat. "She died and there was nothing I could do to save her. And it still fucking hurts, after all this time!" Methos sat up and covered his face briefly with his hands. "Don't do this to me, Mac. You're trying to play yenta and I won't put up with it. Not from you, not from Joe - not from anyone. Ray has no expectations of me, and he knows exactly how I feel about him."
"Does he?" Duncan said softly. "I don't think he can, when you don't seem to be sure. Methos - you loved Alexa even though it was certain she would die all too soon. If that's the only thing that's stopping you having a proper relationship with Ray, then maybe you should just devote more time to training him."
"You don't understand. Look- the guy's a Philistine. He reads sports magazines and likes boxing. Can't even speak his own language easily. He's, he's ...."
"Smart, good looking, brave, funny, accepting, hot in bed - gee, I can see why you wouldn't give him the time of day."
"Shut up, Mac." Methos wouldn't meet his eyes and drank from his bottle fiercely. Duncan just waited. It was Methos' move. He expected more arguments against Kowalski. Instead, Methos' face turned wistful. "He's surprisingly sweet, for a cop, I mean. And he really doesn't give a damn about the past. To him, scrumping apples when he was a kid thirty years ago is as bad as me killing and torturing two thousand years ago."
"Maybe in the scheme of things, it is. He's a cop - he's part of a system built on the idea of reform. Maybe he thinks you've paid for whatever you did."
"Maybe," Methos said thoughtfully. "You know, I took him to see the Mona Lisa and all he said was, 'she's got funny ears'. You know something, Mac? She has got funny ears." Duncan smiled, and Methos grinned. "In fact, she's one of the ugliest women I've ever laid eyes on."
"You mean the emperor's got no clothes on?"
"Exactly. Ray's the original nude royal spotter." Duncan could see the affection in Methos' face, and wondered how the old man could deny its existence.
"Methos? Do you have to go to a hotel? I mean - you're welcome here for a while. I have to go back to Seacouver in a few days, and if you don't know how long you'll be in Paris ...?"
Methos looked surprised, and then pleased. Did it take so little to bring a smile to his face - was that the secret Ray Kowalski had discovered? "Thanks Mac, I'd like to do that."
"And in gratitude for your accepting, I'm going to allow you to buy me dinner."
Methos groaned dramatically. "I take it that pizza is out?"
"You got it in one, pal."
Duncan woke, alerted by the absence of the buzz. The barge was dark and the sofa was in shadow but he could just about tell that there was no one there. Now he concentrated, he realised that Methos' presence wasn't gone - just muted. The old man had gone up top. He dressed quickly and climbed out. Methos was sitting on the deck, looking across the Seine to Notre Dame. He turned his head at Duncan's arrival, but then resumed his vigil. Duncan retreated, found his best cognac and two glasses then returned. Methos looked around at the sound of the bottle being opened. "It's a little late for drinking, isn't it, Mac?"
Duncan handed him a brandy balloon. "No such thing, Methos." He sat in the deck chair next to his old friend. "Couldn't sleep?"
Methos didn't answer him directly, but took a long sniff from the glass before sipping it. "Nights like these, Duncan - don't you wish you'd never heard of the bloody Game?"
The night was indeed lovely - one or two pleasure craft floating home on laughter and music, the lights of the old city making it appear the true place for lovers and artists. "Not just nights like these. Every night."
"'There can be only one'," Methos said softly. "What a load of crap. We're the only species in the universe that operates on that principle."
"So what's the alternative? We all lay down our swords and make love, not war?"
"Something like that."
"Fine. That's settled then."
They sat in silence. "It's not that simple," Duncan finally said.
"I know. You know, Ray asked me something that I couldn't answer. He wanted to know what I was saving myself for. I've spent so long just trying to survive, and I never asked myself why. I don't want the Prize, Mac. I don't want to die either but I don't want to be the last one standing if it means I have to kill you, or Ray, or Amanda to get there."
"None of us do, Methos. It's like some horrible joke - to win by killing those you hold dearest to you. I couldn't take your head - or Amanda's. I would rather die."
"You would take my head if it meant my Quickening went to you and not someone like Muldoon, or Kalas. Promise me that much, MacLeod."
"Don't, Methos. I can't even think about it like that."
Methos looked at him in apology. "Sorry, Mac. You know, Ray asked the same thing of me a few days ago, and I gave him the same answer. But it's different with you and me - you know that. It's beginning to look as if I survived five thousand years just so you could be the one to kill me, and not anyone else."
"I know, I know. But is it fair, for you to have to have the accumulated evil and misery of my life, all the lives of the people I've killed? I can't stand it sometimes - knowing who's in my head. I even thought about taking Ray's Quickening when he offered it to me, just to have someone good and clean and new inside me to sustain me."
Ray offered Methos his head? Boy, he had it bad. "But you didn't take it."
"Well, obviously not. I thought about it, I really did."
"For about a second, right?"
"Fair enough. So what's the answer to his question? What are you saving yourself for?"
"I really don't know, Mac. I just don't know any more."
Methos' voice was soft, melancholic and Duncan's heart twisted. He put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I would miss you. That's one reason to stay."
Methos looked at him, startled. "But MacLeod, this is so sudden."
"Ass." But he left his hand where it was, and massaged the tight muscles a little. "Ray would miss you too. Joe, Amanda - Robert and Gina. You are loved and wanted, Methos."
"Is that enough, Mac? Is that enough for you?"
"It's the best reason there is. Being with people you love, giving to them, letting them give to you. It's when you feel most alive, whether you're a mortal or Immortal."
He let his hand move to the base of Methos' skull, and he rubbed the neck. Then daringly he stroked the sharp cheek bones. Methos didn't move. "Are you trying to seduce me, Highlander?"
"Would that make you happy, Methos?"
Methos laughed. "It *must *be my new aftershave. I haven't had this many offers since Johnson's day." Duncan put his hand back on Methos' shoulder and squeezed. Methos covered it with his own. "It's okay, Mac. I appreciate the thought, and gods know, you make a very tasty package. Let's not make things messier than they are."
"I understand. But if you need me, I'm here."
Methos twisted and looked deep into Duncan's eyes. "And I for you, MacLeod."
He stood and stretched. Duncan rose too, and wrapped his arms around Methos, chest to back. "It's okay to let people give to you, Methos. It's okay to give back, too. You don't have to lose your head to lose your heart."
"We're not talking about you and me, are we?"
"Not exactly. Come inside, old man. It's cold, and it's late."
"You young things have no stamina."
"That's not what Amanda says." Methos elbowed him sharply in the ribs and fled downstairs while Duncan was getting his breath back, cursing the Ancient in Gaelic.
When he recovered, he found Methos on the sofa, covered in blankets, only the hazel eyes and the dark hair poking out above them. "That's the last time I offer to share my bed with you, you old bastard." He could tell Methos was smiling, from the crinkle of his eyes. "Will you sleep? If you want anything ...."
"I'm fine, MacLeod. Go to bed." Duncan turned. "Mac?"
"Anytime, Methos. Anytime."
Methos left before Duncan did, determined to seek a complete change from Europe and the States. He'd been there too long, become too familiar to hunters and his friends. He needed to taste solitude again. And after Muldoon, he wanted to feel at liberty, anonymous, careless and irresponsible. Australia gave him all that and more. He hired a four wheel drive car and decided to do a circuit of the continent, nothing original in that as he found, but Australia was that rare thing for him - a new experience. He climbed among the rugged Blue Mountains, explored caves and found marks of humanity even older than him. He made a study of the Aboriginal culture to while away the nights in motels and B&B's, and it gave him some solace to know that at least one way of life that predated him still survived - that he wasn't the sole repository of the past's memory. He found other solace too - in the warm, almost hedonistic climate, the kiss of surf on sand, the deafening hum of locusts and cicadas in the summer heat of the bush. The clean, open friendly cities - the clean, open, friendly people. His accent and his pale skin picked him out wherever he went, and he found he could have a bed partner for the asking, male or female. Honest, generous and totally without inhibitions, the men and women he took night after night, asked for nothing beyond his own enjoyment and a cuddle in the morning before leaving, never to see him again.
He was like a butterfly, taking his pleasure and moving on, leaving no mark and taking none with him. But one morning, as he watched the rising of the birds at dawn in Kakadu, a sight that had gone unwitnessed for millennia by any but the native people, and which would continue long after memories of Methos had faded away, he knew there was something missing. An emptiness that all the sun, sex and frivolity could not begin to touch. Something that sweet Alexa had filled for a time, which Ray Kowalski offered to fill, an offer he had only accepted for the briefest time. He missed the sense of not being alone. Someone to turn to just to say, "There. That was wonderful." Someone to share this bounty with him. He knew what was wrong. It was only loneliness, and it wouldn't kill him. But to have that empty place filled for a little while, and then to lose himself in the dark again would be nearly as bad as dying. He had endured after Alexa only because he had been warned - and because enduring was what he did best. Could he - did he dare - take what Ray offered, knowing that he would not live?
No. He could not. But yet he knew he needed it, needed it because it was there now, and would remain. For as long as Ray Kowalski lived, that nagging ache, knowing that another loved him unconditionally and was there for the taking, would pinch his soul until he could not bear it.
He had to do something about it. So after nearly a year away, he flew back to Seacouver.
Methos opened the door to the dojo studio and watched for a moment. Ray was going through a kata, dressed only in a pair of sweat pants. The pants, his chest, his hair, were all drenched, and Methos noted the marked improvement in the younger man's tone. Even the bare hint of fleshiness he'd seen in Paris eight months earlier had gone entirely, replaced by honed muscle. So intent in the exercise was Ray, that Methos' presence didn't alert him for a good thirty seconds - twenty nine seconds more than was needed to kill him, Methos thought with annoyance. But finally Ray did stop and looked around. "Adam!" he said with delight, but he stopped in confusion as his former teacher advanced on him, sword in hand.
"Ray, pick up your weapon."
"Adam - what the hell? Stop it." He backed away slowly, eyes darting to the pile of clothes in the corner where his sword undoubtedly lay. Methos reached him and put the tip of his broadsword in the hollow of the cop's neck. Ray went completely still, except for the nervous swallow of his throat. "Why, Adam? I told you before - if you want my head, just take it."
Methos pushed a little, the tip of his sword breaking the skin. Ray didn't react. "So ready to die, my young friend? You offer me your heart, and yet you won't lift a finger to make sure it keeps on beating." He pushed again, and prodded Ray in the chest with a finger, forcing him backward towards the walls. Ray jumped as his bare back touched the plaster, but his eyes never left Methos' face for a second. "There's a katana on the wall by your right side. Take it." Fumbling, Ray's hand found it, and he picked it up, holding it slack by his side.
"Now, fight me. You've been Challenged."
"No, dammit, Adam. I won't."
Methos flicked the sword, slashed his cheek, and Ray's hand came up involuntarily to the cut, Methos slashed again at his chest, then his arm, and then a leg. Ray looked at him with confusion, pain and dawning fear in his eyes. "Now, you understand. You fight me, or I'll make you beg for death. I'll cut your balls off and make you eat them. And even then, I won't kill you - not immediately. I can do this for a very, very long time indeed. So fight!" His shout jolted Ray into action as he intended, and the katana sliced up in an easily parried blow. Ray forced him back so he could get away from the confining wall. He had the reach on Methos, but Methos was faster. He toyed with the boy, cutting him painfully, wearing him down. It wasn't long before Ray was covering in healing cuts and blood and panting.
"Why, Methos?" he yelled, backing away.
Methos let Death's grin take over his face. "You know the reason, Kowalski. There can be only one. And, lad, you're looking at him."
And then the fight rejoined.
Duncan bolted to the elevator at the first sound of swords clashing. He knew that he and Ray were the only people in the building. Shit - a Challenge. Here. He hurled the gate open and then halted in shock at the sight before him - Methos, a feral grin on his face, fighting a desperate, bloodied and tired Ray Kowalski, advancing on the younger man with murder in his eyes. Even as he watched, Ray took a bad slice to his arm, although to his credit, his stance never wavered. "Methos! Stop this - what are you doing?"
"Keep out of this, MacLeod. It's a fair Challenge, you can't interfere."
"Why not? He offered me his head. He wants to die. I'm just making sure there's a little sport in it for me." He rushed Ray who managed to guard himself with his sword. Now Ray and Methos were pressed face to face. "You want to do something to help, Highlander? If by some miracle, this child manages to win, you take my Quickening, not him. I want a real fighter to have it, not this mewling infant. Do you agree?"
"Yes," Duncan said, not for Methos' sake but for Ray's. Methos' Quickening would overwhelm the younger man. It might overwhelm Duncan, but at least he had more experience. He watched in despair as Methos played with Ray, not using his usual defensive strategy, but deliberately working to exhaust and demoralise the cop, cutting him for maximum pain, taunting him, making him run and swing until Duncan could see the arms trembling with fatigue. He prayed for it to be over, and wanted it never to end - for once Methos took Ray's head, Duncan knew he would have to challenge the Ancient. Methos was too dangerous to let loose on the world in this mood. Was it a Dark Quickening? Perhaps he would have to take the old man captive before he killed him - if it was a dark Quickening, he would have to find a mortal willing to take the old head.
Ray was weakening rapidly, from blood loss, from tiredness, perhaps even from despair, as the man he loved worked relentlessly to kill him. At last, his sword flew from his hands, and Methos drove him to his knees.
"Methos, don't!" Duncan yelled.
Methos' smile could have curdled milk. "Fair fight, Mac. You saw for yourself. Well, Ray - now, any last words?" Ray just stared up at his tormentor, preparing himself for the final blow. "No final declarations of love for me?"
Ray's face contorted in a snarl. "Go fuck yourself."
Methos grabbed the short hair and yanked the man's head back, exposing the long throat. "That is exactly what I'm doing." He swung back and then howled in agony as a fist drove straight up into his balls. Ray scrambled away and found his sword. He pushed himself to his feet and leaped at Methos. Taken by surprise, the Ancient found himself on the back foot, and in retreating, stumbled. Ray kicked the broadsword from his hands and held the katana at his throat.
"What about you, Adam? Got any sweet nothings you want to say to me?"
"Just cut clean." Methos rolled up, knelt and bowed his head. Ray lifted his sword, but lowered it as Duncan approached.
"No, Ray - let me. Where's your gun?"
"In the locker."
"Go get it." He guarded Methos, but the old man didn't move or twitch at all. It was as if he was already dead. Ray was back in a minute. "Ray - I don't know what this is. If it's a Dark Quickening, you're in a lot of danger, and so is everyone else. If you see me acting out of character when I take his head ... shoot me, and tie me up while I'm down. Do you understand? Don't hesitate for a second. Then get Joe - he'll know what to do."
Ray nodded slowly, then stepped back to let Duncan take a clear swing.
"Methos - I don't want to do this."
"You have to, MacLeod. It's the only way."
"Why?" Duncan asked softly. Methos lifted his head and there was sardonic laughter in the shadowed eyes.
"The Game, Mac. Always the bloody stupid Game."
"So am I, Highlander. Make it quick." Methos bent his head. Duncan swung back but his wrist was restrained.
"No." The word was softly spoken but there was no room for argument. Ray stepped in front of Duncan. "No. We can sort this out some other way."
"Ray - he'll try to kill me, and believe me, he can, and then kill you."
"Then you'll have to go through me. I'm not letting you do it." Duncan saw the cop had discarded his gun, but was still holding the katana. "Now back away from him."
"No, Ray. I can't let this happen. Step aside."
"Like hell," and then Ray swung with more energy than grace. The surprise of it made Mac retreat. Damn the man! What did he think he was doing, protecting the guy who just tried to murder him? He risked a glance - Methos hadn't moved at all. What the hell ...? Something was going on here that he didn't understand. He had to finish this fast, but Ray wasn't going down easily. Duncan had to finish what Methos had started, wear the man down, beat him into submission. It wasn't easy - Ray was fighting for two lives, and desperation and adrenaline made him oblivious to the pain and the weariness until Duncan forced him down, actually knocked him down flat. Ray struggled to his feet, but Duncan kicked the sword away, and pummelled the cop down. He put his own katana aside and knelt beside the blond, Methos forgotten for the moment. "Ray, please. Stop it. I'm not going to kill you." Ray was shaking with exhaustion and had no breath to speak, his arms wrapped around his middle where Duncan had managed to inflict a long, painful cut. Duncan heard a step and turned, trying to rise and grab his sword at the same time. Methos held it out to him, hilt first. Duncan took it, and held the man at sword point. Methos held his hands up and out in a gesture which told the Scot he was unarmed and not fighting.
"It's not a Dark Quickening, Mac."
"I don't care what the hell it is. Either you leave or you go upstairs, but right now, I want you out of my sight." Methos turned on his heel and walked away. Duncan didn't even bother to look in which direction he went as he turned back to the shivering man on his knees in front of him. What have you done this time, old man? he asked bitterly.
Methos rubbed the cold beer bottle between his hands. Presumptuous of him to steal MacLeod's beer, but he was too wired for coffee, and he needed something to hold while he wondered what the two men were talking about below. If they're cataloguing my failings, he thought humourlessly, they'll be there all night. He'd finished the beer and was contemplating leaving or getting another when the elevator groaned and reached the loft level. Ray emerged, dressed and showered, his holster in position, and his sword in his hand. Duncan followed him. "Scotch, Ray?" Ray nodded. Both men ignored Methos until they had their drinks. Mac stayed on his feet at the other end of the loft while Ray sat on the armchair opposite Methos. He didn't speak, or look at him, sipping his Scotch with a determined look on his face.
"You saved my life, Ray. Thank you."
"Don't get too worked up, Adam. I just prevented a crime taking place. That's all. I wouldn't count on it again." Then the penetrating eyes looked straight at Methos, and there was a demand for an explanation that Methos couldn't ignore.
"I wanted to see if you would fight, Ray. Me - Duncan, anyone. That you wouldn't just offer your neck to the first person who Challenged you."
"Did I pass?"
Methos laughed, an ugly sound. "Yes. Oh yes, you passed. In spades."
"And if I hadn't fought you?"
"I would have cut your head off. You asked me to, remember? Better me than some punk?"
"Yeah, well, maybe I changed my mind about that, Adam. Maybe some punk would be better than you." He tossed back the rest of the Scotch and stood up. "Thanks for the drink, Duncan. And for the rest of it. See you around." He left, not saying a word to Methos or looking at him again.
I need a drink, Methos thought. Something landed on the sofa next to him - a beer can. He looked up - Duncan was settling into the chair Ray had just vacated. "Thanks."
"For what? Nearly taking your head?"
"For the beer."
He opened the can without it spurting, a skill learned years ago. That could go on my tombstone, he thought. Could open a fizzy drink anywhere, anytime. Friends betrayed free. "Mac, I had to know. If he didn't want to live, then there was no point in thinking of a future with him. And as you said in Bordeaux so eloquently, I want him to live."
"Would you have killed him, after he lost the fight?"
"Of course not. I was just going to put the fear of God and Methos into him."
"But you were going to let me kill you. Or did you count on Ray stepping in?" Duncan's world weary tone annoyed Methos but he knew what he'd done to evoke it.
"Well, I hoped he might. I didn't plan on things going that far, if I'm honest ..."
"Which you aren't always."
"True enough - but I'm not lying. I would have let you take me, Mac - you and me both know it's going to come to that eventually, although I think you could have thought about it harder. If it was a Dark Quickening, you shouldn't have even contemplated doing what you were doing. But in the end, Ray saved both of us."
"And now you've made sure he'll never speak to you again. Good going."
"At least he's alive." Methos closed his eyes and drank, but beer shot up his nose as Mac shouted, startling him.
"Goddamn you, Methos! You don't have to hurt and drive away everyone who gets close to you, just to protect them - or yourself. What was Ray supposed to think? You were going to kill him - you came near as dammit to having him watch you die tonight. The man's a cop - he respects life, the law, and you behaved like the worst scum he's probably ever seen."
Methos wiped his face with his handkerchief. "He'll get over it, MacLeod. In about thirty years, if he lives that long."
"Well, somehow I doubt he will, old man. You've broken him well and truly. He hates your guts and he hates himself for feeling that way. Are you proud of that?"
Methos put the can down on the coffee table. "No, of course I'm not proud of it. But I *had to know, *Duncan - I don't want another Alexa. And I don't want any more sacrificial victims, or slaves like Cassandra. I don't want to grieve for someone I barely get to know before they're snatched from me."
"You were going to kill him!"
"Yes. To save him dying in some dirty bloody alley, at the hands of some vicious mindless thug. I wanted him to be inside someone who ... someone ..."
"Who loves him?"
"Who cares about him, at least. Mac - don't you see? We've lost too many. Too many have got tired of this game and lost out too soon. I know Ray won't be the one to take the Prize, but gods willing, it might be a hundred, a thousand - maybe even ten thousand years before it comes to that. He could have all that time to live, and to love, to enjoy being who he is, what he is. I don't want him offering his beautiful neck to me, or to anyone. No one's worth it."
"He thinks you are. He used to, at any rate."
"Well, he was wrong. And if nothing else, at least he realises that now."
"You're such an old fool, Methos."
Methos lay his head back on the sofa and held his beer up in salute. "To old fools everywhere."
"He'll never forgive you for this."
"I know. Will you?"
"I don't know that I have any choice. I have too few friends to lose any more. Even when they're single-minded, misguided, bloody-minded and stubborn as Moses' ass."
"I love you too, MacLeod."
Methos felt the Immortal presence as soon as he opened the doors of Joe's bar, and that it was Ray was confirmed as soon as he sat down - Joe Dawson's glare ensured that. "Adam - what are you doing here?"
"Hello, Joseph. I thought I'd try this newfangled drinking and listening to music idea that everyone's been talking about. Some people say it might catch on."
"Don't be smart with me, you old bastard. Ray's here, and frankly, I think you've done him enough harm for a lifetime."
"His or mine? Look, Joe. I haven't come here to hurt him. I came here to apologise to him."
"Yeah, right. Like that's gonna do any good. He's a mess - and it's all your fault."
"I know it is, Joe," Methos said evenly, keeping his temper. "That's why I want to talk to him. Now may I please have a beer and permission to go courting?"
"You start a fight with him, or if I even smell that you're being rude to him, I'll kick you out myself, do you hear?"
Methos bit back on the numerous sarcastic comments that immediately sprang to mind, and simply nodded. He deserved this, he well knew. It didn't make it any less pleasant. Joe slapped the beer down and insisted Methos pay for it, before pointing to where Kowalski sat. It wasn't his usual booth - that was full of bright young things. He was jammed at the back of the bar at a table on his own. There wasn't a spare chair. Methos hooked a stool up as he made his way to the table, but he needn't have bothered. As soon as Ray saw him coming, he stood up, put on his jacket and walked towards the exit.
"Ray ..." Methos said.
"Fuck off," Ray growled, and stalked out. Methos dumped his beer and the stool and ran after him, ignoring the dirty look he got from Joe who'd seen the interplay. He caught up with Ray on the street. "You want to piss off, Adam? Stalking's against the law."
"Ray - come on, let me talk to you. Let me explain, at least."
"You did that. I understand. You wanted to know if I could fight. Well, I can - and if you don't let go of my arm, you're gonna find out all over again."
Methos dropped his hand and Ray walked away. Shit, bugger, piss. Methos cursed in languages older than the Bible. He watched the angry cop head towards his car and decided to give it one last try. He caught him by his arm just as Ray got to his vehicle. "Ray ... ow!" He clutched his jaw in pain. He was sure it was broken.
"Get the hell away from me, you fucker!" Methos swung but his arm was blocked easily, then he was holding his stomach in pain. "You want to get this on, Adam?" Enraged, Methos lunged at Ray, determined to take him down, but Ray simply stepped aside and let Methos collide with the car, then held him by his shoulders and knocked him flat with a tidy uppercross. "You. Keep out of my sight, or next time, I'm gonna shoot you. Or worse." As he passed out, he heard Ray's car start up and screech away.
He came to, groaning. "That went well," he heard a male voice say in amusement.
"Sod off, MacLeod." He sat up, holding his head.
"Don't like being on the receiving end of your own medicine?" He let the Highlander pull him up. "He's got a mean punch, I'll give him that. I take it he didn't accept your apology."
"He didn't even let me make it."
"Aw, poor widdle Methos, what's the matter? Baby don't want to play no more wid you?"
Methos scowled. "You're as funny as a leeching cup, MacLeod."
"I told you this was a bad idea."
"You did not! You said I should apologise to him!"
"I also said he was never going to forgive you. You could have written, sent him flowers or something. Methos - you broke his heart. You destroyed an ideal, made him want you dead. You can't just say sorry and think he'll get over it."
"Well, what the hell do I do?"
The Highlander's brown eyes were sorrowful. "I don't know, old man. I don't know that there's much you can do."
"I don't suppose we could do a Robert and Gina?"
"Methos, the way he feels right now, I think he'd hold you down so someone could take that fool head of yours right off your shoulders."
"Can't really blame him, I suppose."
"There has to be something ...."
"Why? Why does it matter so much?"
Methos set his jaw. "It doesn't. Not really. I'll get over it."
"Meth-os," Duncan said half pleading, half warning.
"Well, he's good in bed, and I fancied a fuck."
"Oh, well, if that's all..." Duncan started to walk away.
"And ...." Duncan turned to look at him.
"And ... I miss him."
Duncan sighed. "That's a start, I suppose. OK. I'll talk to him. Uh uh," he warned as Methos started to speak, "I'll decide what I'm going to say. I'm not absolutely sure you're not a very bad thing as far as he's concerned. I'm going to listen, and then I'll say what I really think. If that's not good enough for you, then you can find someone else. I'm sure Joe would just lurve to have another heart to heart with Ray about you."
Methos winced at the idea of the acid tongued bluesman and his former student lacerating his reputation. "No, no," he said hastily. "I trust you."
"Don't push your luck, MacLeod."
Duncan laid his plans carefully. He invited Ray to a meal in a restaurant just slightly fancier than he imagined the cop could afford on his salary, but not so fancy as to intimidate him. The place he had in mind offered privacy, but was open enough that Ray would know he was safe, could see anyone coming in and more importantly would prevent any loud scenes. He hoped, anyway. Ray accepted with little hesitation, even though Duncan made it clear that Methos was on the agenda. He also made it clear he wasn't taking sides, except that he felt angry about what Methos had done. Ray was no coward, Duncan gave him that. He saw the man come in, dressed in a suit for the first time since Duncan had met him, and he was impressed at how well the younger man scrubbed up. He even felt the tiniest pang of lust, imagining stripping the guy of the suit and watching the long body over him. He shook his head. Enough. He wasn't exactly playing Cyrano - he was here to patch things up between Ray and Methos.
Ray shook his hand, and was friendly enough. He looked a little worried at the prices and Duncan made it clear at the outset that Ray was his guest. "Call it an apology, Ray. Besides, my wallet can handle it."
Ray grinned. "Seeing how you live, I guess you can. Good investments?"
"That and being in the antiques business before things become antique, if you get my drift."
"I suppose I need to lay something down for my old age - if I get to have one."
"I can advise you about that, and about setting up a new identity in a few years. When can you retire?"
"When I'm fifty." Duncan regarded the man. He could pass for thirty - but with some artful hairdressing, he could also fool someone into thinking he was a youthful fifty.
"That's probably about the limit for your present identity. You need to start laying plans for the next 'life'."
"Well, not as such. My name's not that uncommon, and I did move around a lot. That's the other option."
"I was thinking of leaving Seacouver anyway."
"Oh?" Duncan wasn't that surprised, nor was he pleased. "Because of our elderly friend?"
"Not my friend any more, Duncan. Yeah, mainly. I was thinking of Canada. Or back to Chicago, if all else fails."
Duncan reached out a hand. "Ray, don't let this drive you into decisions you might regret. Surely your life doesn't entirely revolve around him?"
"No it doesn't," Ray admitted. "But it kinda sours you on a place, stuff like that. That's why I left Chicago in the first place, trying to get away from bad memories."
"But you'd rather go back than stay here?"
Ray nodded and picked at his food. "This is good."
"Yes, the restaurant has something of a reputation for it. Ray - Methos really is sorry for what he did."
"Good for him."
"He was trying to say that the other night, but you wouldn't listen."
"You saying it's my fault?"
"Not at all. I'm surprised you didn't take your sword to him."
Ray laughed bitterly. "Had my chance the other night in the dojo. Wasn't gonna whack him out in the street."
"Well, I suppose we should all be grateful for that."
"I'm sorry, Duncan. I know he's your buddy and all that, and I don't want you to fight with him over me - but what he did ... I ... I wish I understood, that's all. He goes psycho on me, and then what - it's supposed be nothing? Like a game or something?"
Ray sipped his wine, and Duncan's heart ached for the misery etched into his face. He'd seen a very similar picture just two days before - on Methos. "It wasn't a game at all, Ray. He was deadly serious. He would have taken you if you hadn't fought - he would have let me take him because he's convinced that's how things have to be. I think he'd got to the point where what he did seemed the reasonable thing to do. He told me things got a little out of hand, and he's sorry for that."
"He couldn't just ask?" Ray hissed, keeping his voice low. "Something like, 'Oh Ray, you think when it comes right down to it, you want to live?'"
"Perhaps he thought actions were more honest. Ray - I told you he didn't take Immortal partners. But he also doesn't have that many partners full stop. He's been married sixty eight times, sure, but not like you and Stella were married. Most of them were marriages of convenience, during times when an unmarried man was a figure of suspicion. I saw him with Alexa - I realised that when it comes to love, he's as naive and inexperienced as you or I. More, probably. All I know is that he's scared. Remember what I said about what he does when he's cornered? He felt - he feels - cornered. Trapped by the realities of the Game, by his own nature - by what he feels for you."
"He thinks I'm an idiot."
"No, he doesn't. Look, we went to dinner the first night I was in Paris, and all he talked about was you. I don't know if he loves you - not in the way you loved him - but I do know this. You're very important to him."
"So important that he wants me to die."
"No - so important that he wants you to live. Even at the cost of his own life. Do you have the slightest idea what that means?"
Ray swallowed, and Duncan saw his eyes were bright. "He wouldn't have died. Not at my hands."
"He nearly did at mine, only you stopped me. I was completely serious, Ray, never think I wasn't. I was sure he'd gone mad, or taken a Dark Quickening. I've ... killed good friends before."
Now Ray reached a hand to Duncan's wrist and patted it briefly. "Don't, Duncan. Why don't we finish our meal? Talk about this later at my place, or the loft? This is getting kinda heavy for dinner."
Duncan was grateful for the time-out, and by the end of the meal, both men were calmer, even relaxed. Ray had entertained Duncan hugely, talking about his time in Chicago, and in Canada, and secretly Duncan was glad that this Fraser person wasn't an Immortal - at least, he hoped he wasn't. The havoc that man could cause in a longer than normal lifespan didn't bear thinking about. He was only sorry for Ray's sake that his friend would not be with him on his journey.
Mac drove them back to the loft for coffee and Cognac. "That was a terrific meal, Duncan. Thanks," Ray said with a sigh, pulling his tie off.
"You're welcome. This isn't keeping you up too late, I hope."
"Nah. I've got the weekend off, for a change."
Duncan brought their drinks over to the sofa. "Are you still working out? You know you can come to the dojo any time."
"I know. I just ... wanted a break. I still do the katas and stuff at home. I cleared a lot of junk out to give myself the room."
"You should stop by tomorrow. I can give you some sword work lessons."
"You think it's worth the effort?"
"Why - because there are better men than you out there? There are a lot worse too, and not every Immortal is in the Game."
"I sure don't want to be."
"Well, then that cuts down the risks. If you aren't Hunting, and you avoid conflict, then you just have to avoid the young punks who don't give a damn about anything."
" That's what Adam does, right? Not that different from being a police officer."
"More or less."
Duncan stiffened. "What?" Ray asked. "Oh shit." He drew his gun.
"Where's your sword?"
"Left it in my other pants."
"Ray," Duncan said chidingly. Ray shrugged. "It's someone with the code. Either Amanda or ..."
Methos lifted the gate. He covered his obvious surprise at Ray being there. "Don't shoot. I'm sorry, MacLeod - I didn't realise you had a guest. I'll come back."
He turned to go and Duncan looked at Ray, who shrugged again. "Methos - no, stay, why don't you? We're just having coffee."
Methos looked at the two suspiciously. Ray ostentatiously put his gun away, and Mac sheathed his katana. "At least you don't want to kill me. Or are you just worried about the blood stains?"
"Too much paper work. Go and sit, will you?" He left the two former friends sitting across from each other in the living room, and tried not to listen.
Methos sat stiffly. "You look good, Ray," he ventured, hoping this wouldn't provoke an attack.
"Thanks. Duncan took me to this swanky restaurant. Couldn't turn up in jeans, could I?"
"No, I suppose not."
Duncan returned with another cup and glass for Methos, and poured him a coffee and brandy. "Ray's talking about transferring out of Seacouver, Methos."
Methos looked at Ray in shock. "Why? Because of me? That's insane, Ray - I don't live here very often. Not at all, if that's what you want."
"I haven't decided. Anyway, people move on, you move on. You know that."
"Yes, but to ... don't, Ray. I know you're just starting to settle in and another move won't help your career."
"What do you care?" Ray said with just the barest trace of a snarl. He seemed to realise he was being rude and gave an apologetic glance at Duncan before sipping his brandy. "This is good stuff, Duncan."
"I prefer Scotch, but this goes better with coffee. Methos - why don't you answer the question?"
Methos scowled at his friend. "I care ... because I don't want you to be unhappy."
Ray laughed. "You're kidding me, right? Two weeks ago you were trying to kill me!"
"Yes, but I didn't want you to be unhappy about it."
Ray stared at him. "You are a complete and total freak, you know that?"
"I suppose I am, now you come to mention it."
The three men drank their coffees and Cognacs in silence. Finally Duncan stretched and yawned theatrically. "Gee, guys, is that the time?"
"MacLeod, it's not even midnight. Early."
"I know, but we old people need our rest. Besides, I've got workmen coming in the morning."
"On a Saturday? I know you're made of money, Mac, but that's ridiculous!"
"You look after your affairs, Methos, and I'll look after mine," Duncan said meaningfully. "Perhaps Ray might be persuaded to give you a lift home, if you promise to behave yourself."
Methos started to protest, and Ray glared at the Scot who grinned benignly back at them. Ray stood up. "Get your coat, Adam. I can take care of myself if I have to."
"I never said you couldn't. Goodnight, Highlander. Dream of sheep."
"Good night, Adam."
Methos really hated it when Duncan did that.
The two men walked to Ray's car in silence and got in. "Where are you staying?" Ray asked, looking straight ahead of him.
"I wonder ... if we could perhaps go to your place and talk, since it's so early."
"Getting ahead of yourself there, aren't you, buddy?"
"Yes. Please, Ray. Give me a chance to explain, to try and make things right. I've hurt you. I'm sorry."
"You should be." He started the engine. "All right - you can come back, but you're taking a taxi home. I'm not going out again. And you leave your sword by the door."
Methos raised his hands. "Whatever you want. Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet."
Ray's apartment was only five minutes from the dojo. Methos noticed that Ray kept the older man in front of him at all times. I suppose I deserve that too, he thought ruefully. Once they were inside, Ray motioned Methos to where he could drop the broadsword, but didn't take his holster off. "You have to carry that all the time?"
"Every officer has to. You never know when something might get sprung on you." No. Indeed, Methos thought.
"You want beer? Wine?"
"Beer. Or coffee. I see you've been moving things around."
"For the exercises."
"Not for dancing then?"
"I don't dance on my own any more, Methos."
Methos regarded his former lover and felt wretched. He now knew why Duncan was so disgusted, why Joe would barely speak to him. Ray was struggling against pain, hopelessness - all because of little ole me, he thought. Welcome to the old days.
"You wanted to talk? Floor's all yours."
Ray crossed his arms and Methos knew exactly what the body language was conveying. Well, he'd worked tough audiences before. "Why do you think I did what I did the other night? What do you really think was the reason?"
"You were worried about your own skin. If I wouldn't fight, then I might get you hurt."
"No, Kowalski, that wasn't the reason. That isn't even close. What did you do when I challenged you?"
"I fought you."
"No, before you fought me."
"I ... said I wouldn't fight you. Then you made me."
"You offered me your *head, *Ray. For the second time in the very short time I've known you, you were offering to commit suicide. It seemed to me that you had a death wish the size of Arizona, and there was no way ... no way in hell ... I was going to let myself ... care ... about someone who was going to die in short order. Not again. I've ... I've lost too many." Great, old man, he thought - pathetic much?
Ray looked genuinely confused. "You think I'm suicidal?"
"On the evidence I had before me, yes, I did. And I didn't want to lose you ... or be there and watch some arsehole swipe your head from your shoulders just because you thought it was the noble thing to do."
Methos stood and hugged himself. Ray stared at him. "You care about me?"
"Yes, Kowalski, I care about you. The realisation seems to have come too late, but that's the story of my life. Sorry to have wasted your time."
Fuck it, Methos thought. I'm making a spectacle of myself. He fumbled blindly for his coat and sword, only for his shoulder to be gripped firmly. "Adam? Turn around?"
He turned slowly. Ray was right behind him, and Methos could see his eyes were wet. Oh, bugger, he thought. "I'm sorry, Ray. I really, truly didn't want to hurt you. Yes, I would have killed you - but for the best motives. I don't think you can understand those without being me."
"Probably not," Ray said softly, tracing a line down Methos' cheek. "But you could come to bed and explain it to me some more, if you like?"
"Um ... if you want to, that is."
"There are some conditions, of course."
"Conditions," Ray said disgustedly, but with a grin starting. He put his hands back on Methos' shoulders. "Let's hear 'em."
"If you ever offer your head to me again, I will take it. No warning, no discussion. Understood?"
"I don't do full time, and I can't promise forever. All I can ever promise is right here, right now. No strings."
"Okay. Anything else?"
"You have to teach me that right cross of yours, it's a doozy."
Ray smiled. "Geez, Adam, you want me to show you all my tricks?"
"Every one of them. And the last condition is deadly serious - you will continue to work your skinny arse off becoming as good a swordsman as Mac and I can make you. And you will do everything that you can to avoid being killed. Do you get that?"
"I get that. Do I get the same promise from you?"
"You don't need to. That's my whole way of life."
"Not according to Duncan, it's not."
"What's he ... No, fuck it, I don't want to talk about MacLeod. What were you saying about bed?"
"I was asking if you wanted to come until you scream and then nail me to the mattress."
"That's what I thought you said." He leaned forward and kissed Ray on the lips gently, then rested his forehead on the other man's. "I missed you, Ray. You brightened my life, and I didn't realise it until you were gone. Don't let me drive you away."
Ray patted his cheek. "I don't think 'let' comes into it, pal. I missed you too. Come on, there's a bottle of oil in there with your name on it."
Methos slid up Ray's body and caressed his face. "Are you all right, Ray?"
His eyes opened. "Jesus, Adam."
"No. Didn't even meet him."
Ray was still coming down from his orgasm. "That .... oh my God ...."
"Ah, now that's more accurate. You Ray, me God."
Ray made himself comfortable, obviously not caring about the mess, and Methos couldn't make himself give a damn about it either. He ran his hand down Ray's back. "Working out suits you."
"Hmmm. Like this exercise program more."
Methos thought how *fine *Ray had looked in the loft, in that suit - the green picking out the blue of his eyes, even full of challenge and distrust as they were then, not languid and loving as they gazed at him now. "You wore motorcycle boots to the restaurant?"
Ray seemed momentarily confused, then smiled. "Can't kick people in the head without 'em, Adam."
"Feisty, aren't you?"
"You should know. You gonna talk all night?"
"No." He kissed Ray's brow, and the other man gave a contented sigh and nuzzled into Methos' neck sleepily. "Love you, Adam," he said, his voice muffled and drowsy. Methos didn't reply, feeling Ray's body grow heavy in sleep. He waited until he was sure Ray was off, then he whispered into the golden hair. "Love you too, Ray."