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Highlander Fanfic: Refuge (Part 1)

Highlander Fanfic: Refuge (Part 1)
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Summary: Following Darius's death, Methos comes face to face with one of his darkest memories -- and an enemy who won't forgive, and can't forget.
Disclaimer: I love Highlander, especially Methos, but I don't own them. I'm borrowing.
Warnings: Violence and angsty angst.

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Methos sat cross-legged on the grass, face uptilted to the spring sun. The garden of St. Joseph’s had been his favorite place to meditate for decades, since he’d helped Father Darius till the ground and plant the first rose bushes. He still had the eerie feeling that the priest would be walking out of the sacristy door any moment; from time to time the memory of Darius’ laughter stabbed him to the heart and built tears in his eyes. It was hard to let go, after so many thousands of years.

He did not have so many friends he could afford to lose them.

The disorienting sensation of an approaching Immortal reached him a second or two before the sound of the sacristy door opening. In his younger days, Methos would have leaped to his feet, reaching for a weapon – even on holy ground. He’d conquered that paranoia to some small extent, after five thousand years, and so was able to sit quietly, face still lifted to the sun, as footsteps grated on the gravel path and stopped behind him.

He expected it would be his friend Duncan MacLeod, or possibly MacLeod’s student Richie Ryan; they both visited Darius’ old church like a martyr’s shrine, and so he expected to hear one of them greet him in that offhand way friends have.

But he was wrong.

Dead wrong.

A sword kissed cold on the side of his neck, and he opened his eyes and froze. Nothing in front of him had changed; flowers still waved gently in the wind, bees blundered into pollen, the sun still smiled. But something had certainly altered for him.

"I’ve been looking for you," said a woman’s voice, whispery, almost inaudible. He understood the language, but couldn’t readily identify it; it was so old he’d lost even its origins. "Methos."

He swallowed and relaxed the tensed muscles of his back. He was still on holy ground, no Immortal would violate that. He hedged his bets by not replying.

The cold metal at his throat glided over the veins beneath his ear and nicked, a sudden hot bite. Methos drew in a startled breath.

"You know better than this," he said in the same tongue – Babylonian? No, but a contemporary. "If you want a fight, pick a time and place."

"I don’t want a fight," the whispery voice said, still light as gauze. "I want an execution."

He rolled instinctively, reacting to some small shiver in the blade, and for an instant he froze when he saw who was attacking him.

A child. She looked no more than fifteen mortal years old, fresh-faced and innocent, her hair long and black, her skin the color of dark amber. A beautiful girl.

She sliced at him with the fury of a madwoman as he scrambled back on hands and knees, dizzy with the smell of crushed herbs. He dodged a precise swing at his head and rolled into the thorny, greedy embrace of a rose bush.

"No!" he shouted as she raised her sword high overhead. "No, it’s holy -- "

She stabbed him in the stomach.

He felt it as a burst of heat, quickly followed by numbing cold; he stared dumbly down at the bloom on his white sweater where her blade pierced him. Her eyes were as dark as her raven’s wing hair. Wide and dark and colder than his shock.

She put a foot on him and tugged her sword free. He didn’t care for that sensation at all, coughed and spasmed and could not reconcile himself to the incredible fact that he was about to die on holy ground, defeated by a tiny little girl who couldn’t have weighed more than ninety pounds, complete with sword.

The sword.

His eyes flew to it, recognizing something familiar in its long, light lines, the gold gleam of its hilt. The crest there was the symbol of –

-- of Babylon --

It was his sword. An old sword. The irony of that failed to amuse him as she lifted it to catch the rays of the warm spring sun.

"There can be only one," she said.

He flung up a hand in futile protest and screamed, "Wait!", and was surprised that she hesitated. There was real passion there, for her to enjoy his confusion so much. "Who are you?" he asked hoarsely. His wound was healing, but not fast enough. She’d nicked his spinal column. He had no strength in his legs. Her eyes widened and he saw he’d surprised her, maybe touched her pride.

"You do not know?"

"Would I ask if I did?"

She lowered the sword, a quick snap of her wrists, deceptively graceful. No matter how young she appeared, this woman had trained hard. The tip of the sword tickled him like a cold finger under the chin.

"My name is Eilas," she said. "Do you remember now?"

So many names, so many centuries. He fought for breath as a spasm of healing tore through him; it left pins-and-needles down his legs in its wake.

"I was your sacrifice for freedom," she said.

"Look, I sincerely apologize for whatever – " He cut off as she jerked the blade sharply up, the fine edge slicing into his skin, forcing his head up at an uncomfortable angle. At least I still have a head. So far.

"Do not mock me, Methos." Her voice trembled a bit. Since he was hardly striking fear into her heart, he suspected she was fighting her own rage.

"I don’t mean to mock you, I don’t know you!" He gasped a little, his heart pounding, as the blade sliced deeper. Blood sheeted warm over his neck and he smelled the coppery richness of it, familiar as the hot stroke of the Quickening. How much blood had he shed, over the years? Rivers of it. A small ocean.

Why didn’t he remember?

"Then I shall remind you," Eilas said. The pressure at his neck suddenly relaxed, and she stepped back, blade at a deceptively casual angle. "Here is your first reminder."

If he could just get to his feet and lunge at her, he could get inside her guard, take the sword and his greater height and weight would finish the contest –

Except that he couldn’t get to his feet. The pins-and-needles feeling had been replaced by an agonizing torrent of pain. He couldn’t so much as crawl.

"I am Eilas of Egypt," she said, in that curiously formal way Immortals sometimes had of introducing themselves. It was a distant echo of MacLeod’s little mantra, I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Methos had never bothered introducing himself. It had always seemed superfluous and dangerous. "Heal, old man. Wait for me. Wait in fear."

And then she stepped in, his lost sword a blur, and sliced him across the stomach, spilling his bowels out to the damp earth. He felt a rumble of power in the ground rising to defend him, but she did not take his head, only watched as he toppled forward, striving to scream and finding no breath to do it with.

He lay there with his face in the dirt, his fingers clutching vainly at salvation, and thought with his last clear moment, what the hell did I do to you? before his labored heart stopped, and he died.

###

Dying again.

Rain on his face, burning cold down his neck and through the thin linen of his tunic. Dying demanded his attention but he didn’t have it to spare, his panicked horse required all of his strength to hold it back from a gallop.

He hardly felt the blood flowing out of him, but he knew there was a lot of it, very red, most of it coming from a hole the size of a Mittani spearhead in his thigh and a gaping raw wound in his side.

He’d almost forgotten the girl. She lay draped over the horse’s neck in front of him, her skin ribboned with blood, her torn tunic soaked with it. Lightning revealed her in a flash of startling white – she was dead already, or would be soon. Her wounds were worse than his.

His horse groaned, deep in its chest, and he felt its muscles quiver. It danced sideways, eyes rolling. Don’t, he thought, but the horse was far past caring what he thought. It reared wildly as another lightning bolt slashed, its hooves climbing the sky.

He lost his hold.

Impact with the ground slapped a cry out of him, and he rolled weakly from under the horse’s hooves as it thundered away, spraying him with flecks of mud. He groped for the girl and found her tumbled limply nearby. White fire sheeted the sky and lit staring open eyes, pale lips parted on secrets.

"I’m sorry," he said hoarsely. The girl was Egyptian, he was almost sure of it; he had a flash of memory, scented luxury and beautiful women, and warmth from the sun like a close embrace. He blinked and the world took on a chill, and he shook from the force of it.

He looked back the way they’d come, across a long, flat plain, broken by hills to the west, a stand of scrub trees to the south. Riders behind them, six or more. He knew at least one of them was Immortal, though he’d managed to stay away from the brutal-looking bastard during the melee.

He’d thought they would have given up by now. He’d hoped. Despair had a bitter, strangely cold taste to it. No cover on this plain, no shelter --

As he glanced east, he thought for a second or two that pain had disordered his mind. He hadn’t noticed a temple before, but it looked undeniably solid now, the gray of old bone in wild lightning. He couldn’t see anything of it but solid, square columns and a dark face. What god was it devoted to?

What matter?

Holy ground. If he could reach it before the riders neared – and if the Immortal didn’t use the mortals to take his head --

He groaned and pushed himself to an unsteady crawl, dragging the girl’s body with him. Holy ground. They would be safe there.

After an eternity of effort, he achieved the coolness of stone beneath his bleeding palms and sank down into the low, whispering hum, pulling the girl’s body with him. He wrapped his arms around her less from any desire to protect her than from a need to find something, anything to hold on to as the world faded around him.

Dying.

In the gloom of approaching oblivion, he saw the riders draw rein while still a distance from the temple steps. The one he recognized as Immortal glared at him with unwavering eyes from beneath a skull-shaped helmet.

"I am the Kurgan," the man said in guttural Egyptian. "Give me the girl and I might let you keep your head."

Methos saved his breath. He had little of it left. The Kurgan bared strong white teeth at him, a savage grimace of a smile.

"You know where you are?" The Kurgan jerked his chin at the temple looming above them. "The House of Death. You came to the right place to lose your life."

"Holy ground," Methos managed. "Unless you want to lose more than your head."

The Kurgan considered him for a span of endless seconds. He flicked his eyes toward his men, but his men – Mittani all – were clustered together in an anxious knot, clearly unhappy with the nearness of the temple.

"Don’t bother," Methos said. He tried to make his search for breath seem a dramatic, threatening pause. "You may order them to come get us, but I don’t think they’ll do it. Why look weak?"

Lightning flashed, and thunder boomed so close it rattled in his bones. The Kurgan hardly flinched. He looked anything but weak.

"Stay there, then," the Kurgan said, and sat back easily in his saddle. "I can wait. We have food, water, a fire – and what do you have? A dying girl and a painful wound. You’ll come out."

Methos chose not to answer because the Kurgan was entirely correct – and because he had no more breath to spare.

He died.

The last thing he heard was the harsh rumble of the Kurgan’s laughter.

###

Pain.

Methos came back to life with a jolt of agony that tore down his spine and up through his bowels; he took in a great, whooping breath that tasted of sun and spring and crushed mint, opened his eyes and looked up at bright blue sky, a fluffy scatter of clouds, and the pale, strained face of a young man.

He wanted to ask the boy who he was, but and while he was searching for the right language, the right century, the right millenia, he remembered.

Richie Ryan. Duncan MacLeod’s protege. Not the person Methos wanted most to see in the world, but he could have done worse.

He wordlessly lifted a bloody hand, and Richie helped him up and steadied him as he staggered. Methos was afraid to look down, but when he did he found his insides safely back inside, only the tattered bloody ruin of his shirt betraying the mess. He took an experimental breath, tasted blood and felt a rib creak under the pressure. It would do.

"So, let me guess, your sword went off while you were cleaning it," Richie said; there was a little tension in his voice, but he covered it well. "You okay?"

"Yeah, fabulous." He doubled over, coughing, and brought up a mouthful of blood. The ground was a steaming, gory splatter. No sense in trying to pretend it had been a flesh wound. "I try to have my guts scattered on Holy Ground at least once every year. Good for the digestion. I suppose you just happened along."

"No," Richie said. When Methos looked up, the boy was looking at him with a sober, guarded expression. "I was following her. The girl, I mean. I saw her come in here but I didn’t see her leave, it was Holy Ground, I thought I’d come have a look. That’s when I found you."

"You missed all the interesting bits. Why were you following her?" Richie looked away and shrugged for answer. "Let me rephrase. Were you looking for a head or was it some other body part that interested you in particular?"

"She was – she was really young, okay? I was kind of worried about her. I thought maybe she needed help – " Richie’s indignant flush continued long after he’d run out of words.

"You and MacLeod," Methos said with a fair amount of disgust. "Tell me, does he actually teach you to be this naive or is it something in the water? That girl gutted me like a sheep. I doubt she needs your help, unless she wants a strong back to carry the corpses."

Richie stepped away from him, removing support that Methos actually rather missed. "So I guess you’re doing just fine by yourself. Good luck, man. Looks like you’re gonna need it."

Methos let the boy get as far as the sacristry door before he said, quietly, "Wait." He paused, drew in a deep breath, and said, "My sword’s in the car. I’m unarmed."

Richie raised an eyebrow. "You mean the car the police towed fifteen minutes ago? That car?"

Methos lifted his eyes to heaven. The sun regarded him impartially. "Christ." He was working up the necessary humility to ask when Richie took pity on him and said, "Okay, beer’s on you. Only thing is, I’ve got Mac’s new Porsche, so don’t drip on the upholstery or anything."

Methos sighed deeply and looked down at the bloody shirt, the gore-smeared pants, and said, "You’d think he’d learn to Scotchgard."

He told Richie to drive him home – home being, for the moment, the basement of a bookshop called Shakespeare & Company, property he’d held for centuries, under various names. The basement held archives – not his full set, of course, he’d long since learned the value of remote storage – but books that he valued like old and cherished friends. He thought that some of them might prove useful.

First things first. He led the way through the false wall and down the basement steps, left Richie standing in the middle of the room and opened a small panel in the nearest bookcase. His sword slid free with a sharp hiss. Richie took a quick step backward. Methos pretended not to notice; he’d have done the same.

"Much better," he said in satisfaction. "A shower and a change of clothes, and I’m back to the living."

"Okay, I guess this is where I get off, then." Richie shrugged and raised a hand in casual farewell. "See ya."

"Where’s MacLeod?"

"Switzerland. He’s checking on some investments in Zurich. Also some girl he used to date, what a surprise."

"Wait." Methos reached in the refrigerator and took out a bottle of cold beer. He tossed it across the room and was happy to see that Richie’s reflexes were improving. "Thanks for the ride."

"De nada." Richie opened the beer and sipped cautiously. "So, you remember this girl yet?"

"No. Not – " He paused. Something tantalizing hung at the back of his mind, but that was all. The older he got, the more frustratingly evident it was that memory was not infinite. "There was something she said – about sacrificing her for my freedom."

"Maybe she was talking in metaphors – like a myth. Maybe you killed her in battle, something like that."

"Women didn’t battle," Methos said absently. The dark taste of beer left shadows on his tongue. "Most ages, women could be put to death for carrying a sword, much less using one. It’s rare to find a female Immortal older than a few hundred years, even these days."

"Amanda’s pretty old."

"I wouldn’t say it to her face."

"I mean – hell, you know what I mean. She’s been around. How come she didn’t have problems carrying a sword?"

"Who says she didn’t?" Methos looked at him until the boy broke the stare. "Don’t ever assume she hasn’t suffered for what she is. For a female Immortal to get this far, they’ve had to be ruthless and very, very good. You scratch any of us deep enough, you’ll find things you don’t want to know."

That was an understatement, at least in his case. His past was littered with corpses, most of them unarmed and all too mortal. Like the girl?

"I think we’re getting a little away from the point, here," Richie said. "Why’s she coming after you? You, Methos, not you, Adam Pierson?"

"It’s possible somebody told her where to find me." Methos said it flatly, and took another drink to extend the silence as Richie thought about it. He watched offense dawn in the boy’s eyes.

"Hey, wait a minute – Mac wouldn’t tell anybody he didn’t – "

"Trust, yes, I’m sure of that. But we both know MacLeod’s not always right. Besides, Amanda knows. How many people has she told, do you think? Or Dawson? It’s not that I’m paranoid, Richie, it’s just that people really are out to get me."

"You left me out. I could’ve said something."

"I was being polite."

Richie looked up at the ceiling and sighed. "I don’t know why I’m standing here drinking this shitty beer with you. Okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that somebody told her. Now what?"

Methos shifted slightly. His sword tapped his leg like death’s friendly reminder. "Now," he said, "I find Eilas and we settle things. The old-fashioned way."

"I think that’s my cue to drive away into the sunset. Thanks for the beer." Richie settled his jacket more comfortably around him – not quite used to the drag of the sword, Methos noticed – and avoided his gaze. "Uh, good luck. You know."

"Yeah." Methos pulled a book from the shelves and began leafing through it absently. "Try to keep your head. Shut the door behind you."

He half heard the boy mutter screw you too as he left, and smiled.

A hot shower and clean clothes improved Methos’ mood considerably. He retrieved an old volume of his Chronicle and sank into a convenient armchair to read, careful of the brittle pages. He’d recopied these early books many times, from wax tablets to papyrus to parchment scrolls, then to bound volumes when that had become available. Nothing lasted.

Not even apparently his memory, because he didn’t remember this volume at all. A thick feeling crept into his chest as he flipped pages, looking for something familiar. Egypt, 870 B.C. Yes. He remembered that foolish long-winded drinking binge. He’d gotten married at the end of it, hadn’t he? To --

He had to look her up. Amnet. The baffling taste of fear turned dark in his mouth. How could he forget? What else had he forgotten? He went back a hundred years in the journal. Court business, very boring – religious observances – a very interesting anecdote about three limber young temple dancers – had he really been that insatiable?

He was actually recalling, or at least imagining, the pleasures of those lithe girls when quite suddenly a face came clear in his memory. A woman’s face.

Something happened to his hands, some tremor that took him utterly by surprise, and the book leaped away from him to land crookedly on the hand-knotted rug. He couldn’t remember what it was he’d seen, only that the edges of what he’d glimpsed were –

-- so black –

He became aware distantly that he had put his hands over his face and was rocking back and forth, shaking. It was a very quiet kind of distress, but he felt it to his roots.

The girl.

It was her.

No sense of time passing. He remembered the Kurgan, an instant of oblivion, and then he opened his eyes again on –

###

-- on darkness. He realized he was cold as a corpse, and groaned aloud as his body responded with twinges of pain and shivering. He was still on the steps of the temple, the pressure of holy ground like a warning hand on his chest. He blinked futilely, trying to wash the darkness out of his eyes, and as he sat up he heard his skin scrape against rock, and from somewhere to his left, a sharp intake of breath.

The girl sat huddled against one of the square stone columns. She looked terrified enough to bolt at a sudden move, so he located what felt like a wall and put his back against it. He found himself shivering convulsively and forced himself to take deep and even breaths.

"You were dead." A whisper from her. He was right, she was Egyptian, the accent too cultured to be anything but well-educated. He turned his head slightly toward her. "You heart was still. You didn’t breathe."

He considered that for a moment. She remembered nothing of her own death, then. This was going to be an interesting conversation.

"What’s your name?" he asked. She stayed silent. "I’m Methos. There’s nothing to be afraid of."

He couldn’t help but recall all of the other women he’d introduced himself to in ages past. I am Methos. Please me, and live. Or some variation. The memory shamed him, and what was worse was that there was some piece of him left inside that still craved that power.

"Were you – the man on the horse?" The irony of the question almost made him laugh, but it would have frightened her. I am the rider called Death. Oh, yes, I am the horseman.

"Yes," he merely said. "You’re the girl in the fields."

He didn’t say, the girl being raped. The girl being gutted. He’d noticed that others who died cruel deaths sometimes forgot what had happened, as if their souls rejected the pain. He hoped she could forget hers, because it had been extreme.

"I – " Her voice faltered, grew thick with tears. "I don’t know who I am." She began to weep in earnest, almost silently.

Methos sat for some while before he slowly, carefully reached out to her. He sensed the meager warmth of her skin like a breath of summer.

"I’m here," he said. "Don’t be afraid."

She flinched when his fingers grazed her shoulder, a bone-deep rejection of his touch. He remembered that flinch well. He’d felt it in a hundred women, a thousand, and he’d taken a certain cruel pride in it in the not-so-distant past. He let his fingertips rest on her warm skin until she turned toward him and huddled into his embrace. Just a child. He was angry at the Kurgan, but he was equally angry at himself. There had been a time when he’d been no better and very probably worse.

"You looked like a god," she said, her voice muffled in the damp folds of his tunic. "An avenging god."

Flattering, but inaccurate. He’d ridden down on them using tactics of blood and terror; he’d used the weight of his horse and confusion to kill two men and wound a third before throwing the girl’s body over his saddle. She’d still been alive, then. He was vaguely surprised.

"I’m not a god," he told her. "Just flesh and blood. Like you."

"But you died."

He sighed. "We have a lot to talk about. You might at least tell me your name."

She pulled back from him to look up into his face. Even bloodied and terrified, she was an exceptional beauty. He could see why the Kurgan was so intent on her.

"Eilas," she said. "Of Egypt."

###

Methos came awake with a start, threw the blankets away from him as if they were on fire, fumbled for the light switch beside the bed.

He sat on the edge of the bed, head down, forcing his breath to something like a normal rhythm. The girl. The Egyptian girl. Why didn’t I remember her? He reached for the memory but it was already slipping away, leaving a dark taste of disquiet behind. He’d thought time had armored him against this kind of fear, but --

His sword was in his right hand. He didn’t remember picking it up. An Immortal’s pacifier. He remembered an old teacher telling him that, once, but the memory, like all his memories, turned in on itself and he was no longer sure if it was his at all, or only something left over from a Quickening.

He sat on the edge of the bed, sword blade propped conveniently close to hand, and closed his eyes. A little more rest, that was what he needed – a decent night’s sleep, somewhere safe and warm, like South America … maybe Brazil …

The hot skin-tingling hiss of an approaching Immortal brought his thoughts to an astonished, screaming halt. He sat frozen for a second before his instincts gave him a jolt of adrenaline strong enough to hurt. Two exits from the basement, through the store and out the back to the tunnel. He was in absolutely no danger. He’d planned for this contingency --

Not well enough. He hadn’t counted on anyone being so good with locks and alarms. As he stood up, he heard the creak of the false wall turning.

They were already inside the shop.

Okay, tunnel it was, and a little more haste than dignity. He turned that direction and heard something metallic hit the floor behind him, something that bounced with a sound his body remembered and his mind identified only as get the hell out.

Good advice. Unfortunately, he was out of time. The grenade exploded with a muted pop and a hiss of yellow smoke.

Nerve gas. He held his breath but knew it wouldn’t matter, he had too far to go and even as he reached for the tunnel door he felt his knees give way, saw the floor rushing up to meet him like a long-lost friend.

It was only then, with a flash of frustration, that he realized he hadn’t stopped to dress.

He hated dying naked.

###

The girl adapted to the thought of immortality surprisingly well. Egyptians always did, in Methos’ experience; it was probably the Isis-Osiris influence. She had a harder time of it with the harsh reality of the situation before them.

"Better if I was dead," she said. It wasn’t a childish wail of fear; it was the considered, cool opinion of a woman who’d suffered more than he cared to imagine. "What matter being immortal if I end up in the hands of such as him?"

"I won’t let that happen," Methos said, and immediately wished he hadn’t. His thigh was healing, but in his experience it wouldn’t be ready for combat for some time – not with any certainty, and he never fought uncertain.

And even when he healed, there was the problem of food and water. It had been two days since he’d eaten the last of his rations; not a problem, if he’d ridden on to Babylon without incident. Problem now. Starving, he had no chance against the Kurgan. Assuming the mortal jackals with the Kurgan didn’t finish him, rules or no rules.

"How will you prevent it? There are many of them – " Eilas’ eyes clouded with tears. "I cannot bear it. Not again."

He had no answer for her. No good one, at least. The Kurgan and his men were camped around a low, banked fire within bowshot, and with their horses fresh they’d easily ride down any escape attempt. There was nothing in or around the ruined temple to help them; a few sun-baked human bones, no weapons. Certainly no secret cellars or escape tunnels.

Methos found he was thirsty, but the rain had inconveniently ceased. Healing always made him thirsty. Another problem.

"Do you have any supplies? Water? Anything?" It was a useless question, but all he could think to ask. Eilas shook her head. She wrapped her arms around her knees and sat huddled beside him, looking more like a child than ever.

What chance did she have, even if by some miracle they escaped the Kurgan? She’d never live out the year, or certainly the decade. Too young, too fragile – and women never lasted long in the Game. He couldn’t afford to become attached to her.

"Who is he?" she asked. She was staring at the distant, mocking flicker of the fire. "I don’t know. He calls himself the Kurgan. I’ve never met him before."

"But he’s like you."

"Us."

"Us," she amended. "And I am expected to fight men like that for my life?"

What was he supposed to tell her? Life is unfair. Get used to it or give up. Not the most comforting things to say to a fifteen-year-old child who’d been raped and murdered, and faced the same grim prospect twice in two days.

"You can learn," he said. "It won’t be easy. But you can survive if you use your skills."

"I have no skills."

Methos turned his head to look at her. She was crying, the tears rolling silently down her cheeks as if dropped there by the clouds. No emotion showed on her face. He knew the look, had seen it on a thousand of his own victims. There was no fight left in her.

"You have a mind," he said, more sharply than he meant. "You have speed, and your size can be an advantage. You’ll never overpower them, so you must outthink them. When you see an opportunity, seize it. Do what you have to and don’t ever look back."

Advice for her, or you? He didn’t know whose mocking voice that was -- one left from a thousand Quickenings. Those voices had the annoying habit of finding the right things to say to make him squirm. You saved her life, Methos. You assumed a certain responsibility. Or have you forgotten?

He heard footsteps just beyond the perimeter of holy ground, and made sure his turn in that direction appeared casual. The Kurgan was almost invisible in the darkness, only the ghostly pallor of his face and hands betraying where he stood.

"I grow tired of waiting," he said. A powerful voice, Methos noted. Designed to strike fear into the hearts of wretched, trapped opponents. It was doing a damn fine job.

"Don’t let me keep you."

"I made you a bargain. Send her out and you live. A fair trade. Life for life."

"I’ll take yours, if you’re trading." The Kurgan laughed, a humorless sound that raised short-shaved hairs on Methos’ neck. Times like these, he missed the comfort of the long mane he’d been famous for, but it had been necessary to leave that, and the rest of his past, behind. He was done being a barbarian.

The Kurgan reminded him very strongly of that past. It was like looking at a younger, cruder version of himself.

"Methos," the Kurgan said, tasting the name. "I admired all the Horsemen, but especially you, you were the one to fear. I heard you were long dead, but I’m glad you lived long enough for me to take your head. It’s going to be a pleasure."

"Glad I could make you happy."

The Kurgan stood there for another few hammered heartbeats, then moved away again toward the campire. Methos stared after him, feeling sick and almost feverish with rage. It was a fool’s situation. He’d been on the other side before, he knew how this was going to end. Sooner or later, his Quickening was going to light up the sky. And for what? For a girl who’d never survive the ages no matter how much protection he offered. Worse still, his Quickening was going to someone like the Kurgan. Someone like himself. He hadn’t even been able to do that right. He might as well have laid down his head to dear brother Kronos.

"Thank you," Eilas whispered. She was not looking at him. She was staring down at the blood on her shift, and her hands were trembling as she clenched them together.

Methos looked away.

"Listen to me," he said. "Think. It’s the most valuable weapon you have, and if you train your mind you will never be unarmed. Use what gifts you have, but especially use yourself. You are beautiful and men will think twice about killing you – and a man is never so vulnerable as when he’s naked and in the hands of a woman. Do whatever you must, but survive. Every day you live, every head you take, gives you strength."

"Lord Methos – "

"I said listen. I can’t train you in combat, there isn’t time. Strike to wound first, kill second; pain slows us down, makes us vulnerable. Get in enough shallow cuts and you’ll wear an opponent down. You’re too small to fight fair, so fight any way you can. Learn to wait, but don’t hesitate to strike. Remember that."

She said nothing this time. There were tears in her eyes. He reached over and took her hand in his; her fingers were so small, so cold, and they trembled at his touch. He held her hand for a long moment, and then moved his grip to her wrist.

He looked straight into her face as he stood, pulling her with him; he wanted to tell her he was sorry but it was a meaningless gesture and he couldn’t bring himself to insult her.

"Please," she said. Just the one word, but so much anguish in it. Her dark hair blew across her face like a veil of clouds and her tears jeweled it like stars. She was so beautiful. So fragile.

He turned toward the darkness and the flickering fire beyond, raised his voice and shouted, "Kurgan! We’re coming out!"



... continued in Part 2! ...