Disclaimers:  Joe Dawson, Duncan MacLeod, Connor MacLeod, Adam Pierson/Methos, and any other character or concept from Highlander: the Movie or The Series are the sole property of Rysher: Davis/Panzer Productions.  They are used without permission and, Lady knows, certainly without any expectation of profit to myself other than the pleasure of writing.  Any characters which do not look familiar from the Highlander universe (Aidan Logan and Dani St. Vir specifically but there are others) are mine.  All music listed is by the artist listed, and is also used without permission or accrual of profit to myself.
Rated:  NC-17 for explicit m/f sex and for graphic depiction of violence.


Quarrels of All Kinds


Joe Dawson woke abruptly, disoriented and trying to figure out what had roused him.  He'd only been asleep for -- he rolled over, looked at the clock and groaned at seeing 6:42 blink at him in digital red -- three-plus hours, what the hell?  Maybe his temporary housemate, Aidan, had gone out?  She frequently went running in the early hours before work, but she was always careful not to disturb him.  She knew perfectly well what time he usually got home from closing the bar.  As he ran his hands through greying hair, trying to bring his thoughts back into order, he heard something thud onto the floor.

Someone was definitely moving in his den.  Joe reached for the rings over the bed, pulled himself up to a sitting position and strapped on his artificial legs, trying to be quiet.  Fortunately the nightstand with the gun stood between the door and the bed.  The Browning 9 mm held a full clip and one in the chamber ever since the trouble with Horton and his rogue Watchers a few years ago.

Associating with immortals could give anyone a complex but a Watcher, especially one who was friend to Duncan MacLeod, took his precautions seriously.  He stayed in practice with that gun and kept it cleaned and oiled.  The cane was solid walnut, well-seasoned, and nothing anyone wanted to have hitting them.  Joe felt like a fool going into his own living room in a bathrobe with his cane and gun, but better a live fool....

Then he saw Aidan and the penny dropped.  A duffel bag she normally kept in her truck sat on the floor just inside the den, and she had two bags of food on the kitchen counter.  As he came in through the entryway, Joe appraised her clothes and came to an immediate conclusion:  she had fought a Challenge this morning or would be fighting one very soon.  Since he couldn't believe any immortal would grocery shop just before a duel, and they usually favored dawn or dusk to minimize the visibility of the quickenings...

She wore a pair of white hightops he hadn't seen before, jeans of a type he'd heard called 'relaxed-fit', and a forest green suede hunter's shirt with the leather patches at the elbows and the front of the shoulder.  Her trenchcoat hung over the back of one of the chairs and he could just see the hilt of a saber or epee from where he stood.  Dark brown hair hung down her back in one thick, slightly damp braid tied off at the waist with a bright gold ponytail holder.

As Aidan turned around to put the box of raisins in the pantry, she saw him and froze.

"What have you--"

"I didn't mean to--"

Both of them spoke at once after that slight hesitation, then they looked at each other and started to chuckle.  Joe sagged into a chair, carefully put his gun on the table, and laughed until he nearly cried.  When he could finally look up, the sight of Aidan pointing at his gun with a loaf of French bread, sputtering, set them both off again.  Finally, though, the adrenaline washed out of both their systems, Joe pushed himself up and headed for the coffee pot.  No way was he going back to sleep for a while now.

He reached for the coffee filters, pulled out the coffee can, and blinked to be sure he'd read it right.  "Viennese Cinnamon?  Aidan, where'd this come from?"

"I bought it this morning.  I was hungry.  Since I've been eating your food, I thought it was time I restocked the pantry."  She stepped past him and put the raisins away, as well as some small bags of various types of nuts.  Joe saw almonds, walnuts, and chestnuts sitting next to a box of currants that hadn't been there the last time he looked.

"You got up and went grocery shopping at 5:30 in the morning?"  His skeptical tone brought her around quickly from the open refrigerator.  She looked directly at him, no pretense in her manner, although that serious expression sat oddly on someone holding a pair of kiwis in one hand.

For a long time Aidan studied him, completely focused on him in a way that made Joe uneasy.  Her whimsical side seemed as remote as Tibet, and he'd have bartered lease-share on his soul for that easy, amused chuckle of hers.  At long last, just as the weight of the coffee can began to make itself known to his arm, she spoke.

"How much do you know about us, Joe?"

His mind raced, as he debated how to answer that.  In a  comment accidentally made the day before, Joe had admitted that he knew about immortal lifespans; should he admit to knowing about the challenges, the Gathering?  Certainly he couldn't tell her about the Watchers.  Even as he grabbed and discarded alternatives, his mouth opened.  What came out surprised even him.

"I know you and Duncan both carry swords anywhere you go.  And he once said he had tried to stay out of the Game, but it always seemed to find him again."  Joe set the coffee back on the counter and pointed to her sword with his chin.  "So what's going on that you were awake to hit a grocery store in the wee hours?  Are you in trouble?  And is it anything I can help with?"

She tilted her head, studying him, weighing facial and body language against inflections and tone.  She turned back to the refrigerator, and continued filling it as she replied.

"No, if I were being stalked you'd have found a note thanking you for the hospitality with an assurance that I'd see you for setup.  I loathe taking chances with other people's lives, but I try not to run out on obligations."  She turned back, closing the refrigerator door.  "However, are you truly telling me that you know nothing of the Gathering?"

Dawson was in the middle of filling the coffee maker with water, fortunately.  By the time he turned around, he had decided he would not lie.  He might not volunteer much, but he wasn't going to lie.  "Aidan, I've had three hours of sleep, plus a little, and I'm not as youthful as some of my friends."  He looked down his nose meaningfully.  "I'm not dodging you, but I get some coffee and food first, woman, please!"

Finally, he heard that chuckle, and started to relax.  "Fair enough.  Sit down and I'll even make breakfast.  Or had you figured out that I could cook?"  She put a pitcher of cream on the table, and the sugar bowl.  The two of them companionably discussed the band, business at his bar, and recent trends in music and literature while Aidan fixed breakfast.  Before she was done, there was coffee, cantaloupe, almond-nutmeg muffins, and scrambled eggs with chives on the table.

Joe pushed back his plate, grinning, and refused another muffin with an outstretched hand.  "Yeah, you can cook.  How many times you been married?"

Aidan added some cream to her second mug of coffee and smiled.  "What does the one have to do with the other?  Or was that a polite inquiry into my age?"

"You just seem used to company in a kitchen, and I've always heard the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."  He poured the last of the coffee into his cup, and settled back into his chair.

She replied automatically, "And up under the rib cage."  Joe spluttered into his mug, only to realize she was joking.  Come to think of it, he had seen that on a bumper sticker somewhere....  He set his fork down on his plate, pushed it out of the way, and resumed the earlier, postponed, discussion.

"Yeah, I know a bit about the Gathering.  Mac mentioned it once or twice.  You all fight each other, right?  That's why you asked about dojos when you first hit town, isn't it?"

"Yes, we duel when necessary.  Sometimes it's personal, sometimes it's just a youngster wanting fame and glory, much like the Old West gunslingers or the Old World duelists."  Remote sorrows etched her voice as she said, "But you can't always tell with us how old someone is.  If you aren't careful, you can get in well over your head without knowing it -- or slay an innocent."

"And which did you do?"  Joe kept his voice gentle as he asked it.

"Oh, both at different times."  She smiled sadly, grey eyes watching old phantasms.  "You learn to forgive yourself eventually.  Had I been more skilled, I'd have let a couple live who died -- but their teachers set them on me, thinking I was an easy mark."  She shrugged.  "When I realized what had happened, I killed the teachers as well for misusing their power over their students."

Joe paused, then nodded, remembering guilts and regrets of his own.  "Yeah, in 'Nam we torched this village.  They had sent their kids into our camps with bayonets.  We killed eight and ten year olds.  Couldn't help it, we'd been in combat zones for months, and they came at us with guns... The kids haunted my sleep for months when I got home.  I'm kinda sorry about the parents, but not nearly as much."

Aidan traded a rueful smile with him.  "Yes, you do know what I mean, then.  Why did you ask me if I was in trouble this morning?"

Joe looked scornfully at her.  "I'm tired and I'm gettin' old, but I'm not stupid, Aidan.  You show up in my kitchen, quarter of seven in the morning, too tired or upset to catfoot around the house like normal, wearin' clothes you can fight in, and I shouldn't wonder if you're in trouble?  C'mon, lady, you're not usually slow."

"No, indeed.  These were the only clean clothes I had available this morning.  I had intended to go change before you woke up, but..."  Aidan waved a hand toward his gun, and laughed.  "Best laid plans and all that."

"Clean clothes?  Did you have a fight this morning?"  He probed carefully, trying to sound like a curious friend.  He could always fall back on his bartender background and claim that he had long habits of asking personal questions.

"Not exactly.  It was more of an object lesson."  She sighed and stretched her arms up over her head, pulling until Joe could hear vertebrae popping.  "But if it doesn't sink in, I'll have to kill her."

"You don't strike me as the type to play judge, jury, and executioner.  What's this woman done?"  Joe quickly ran through female immortals in his mind; hell, the only immortals in town that he knew of were Aidan, Duncan, and... Cassandra?  "You didn't kill her then?"

"No, I didn't.  And she has...."  Aidan paused, visibly searching for the right words.  "Joe, if she had simply abused what we are, threatened to expose us, been fool enough to do things like heal herself in public -- then any of us would hunt her down.  But it's more and less than that.  She has... certain abilities --  powers, for lack of a better term -- which are unusual even for us.  And she's misused them to coerce people.  Raping souls is not too extreme an analogy."

"What?!  What the hell has Cassandra done now?!"  Joe stormed up out of the chair, pacing and swearing in the kitchen.  "Trouble-making woman, not worth half of Adam, hell not worth a thousandth of him....  God damn it, what has she gotten Mac into this time?  I'm gonna beat her within an inch of her immortal life and then start over!  I'll cut her hair off, hide her sword, make sure every immortal in the world thinks she's some half-century old baby....  Maybe I'll put out word that she's Methos!!"

Aidan moved back in her chair, wide-eyed and startled at Joe's unexpected temper.  When he began to calm down, she used her mildest tones to say, "Most people resort to profanity, badly.  You come up with some truly innovative threats.  I don't suppose you're Irish?"

He came stiffly to a halt, cane in midair, then lowered it.  "Is there more coffee?"

"I don't think you need it, but I'll make some anyway.  Best invention in the last fifteen hundred years.  Cream and sugar this time?"  She picked up the pot and moved to the sink.

"Yeah, please.  What did she do, damn it?"  He began to tidy the dishes, absently rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher.  He continued to mutter the occasional sotto voce threat, and Aidan chuckled at one of them.

"No, Joe, we couldn't be so lucky as to have her get a tattoo such as that...."  Although the thought of putting a dotted line on Cassandra's throat with half a pair of scissors showing appealed immensely.  As the coffee brewed, Aidan looked around for a bowl to put the leftover muffins in.  "And she was trying to beguile Duncan into fighting Methos.  I took exception, both to her actions and her goal."

"SHE WHAT?!?  God damn her, except He wouldn't touch her, she might be contagious."

"Joe."

He turned around, and put a hand out in time to catch the mug.

"Would I have taken time to make you breakfast were that a problem?"  Aidan tilted her head and looked at him with those unruffled grey eyes and Joe sat down, holding his coffee.

"No, you wouldn't have."  He sat down and deliberately took a couple swallows of the coffee.  Both of them were silent for a long minute while he calmed himself.

"Aidan.  Breakfast was wonderful, thank you for cooking.  But can I ask you a question before I go call Mike about switching shifts today?"  He sounded abnormally calm, as if he had just moved right over the precipice of a major decision without shifting gears down.  Aidan remembered, queasily, the way rock hummed and sang right before the avalanche tore away from the mountainside that one time....  She had ended up with a broken back, paralyzed and in agony for two days, wondering if immortals healed from this.  His tone of voice was affecting her the same way, somehow.  Ominous from something as ephemeral as a mortal blues player.

"Ask away."

"Who are you protecting, Mac or Methos?"  His eyes met hers, implacably steady.  The idea of lying to him or evading the question terrified her at that moment.

"Both of them.  I don't know who would win, but the loser would be better off.  The survivor would hate himself and go find some way to lose his head."  She knew this the way she knew her own name and true nature, just from watching Duncan's reactions and what he didn't quite say.  Aidan met Joe's eyes and let him read the truth there.

"I know you and Mac have become friends, but why are you protecting Methos like this?"  Still that precariously quiet voice.

"Do you know him?  I have to be sure, Joe, before I can answer that."

"Yes, I know Methos.  He's a good friend, as good as he can afford to be with a mortal who's going to die and leave him.  And no, I don't blame you all for that."  Joe waited for her answer, with a surface stillness that hinted of forces in motion far below, deceptive as California countryside ten minutes before a tremor.  He watched Aidan's face, those clear-seeing grey eyes closed for the moment, the skin paler than ever, making her hair look almost black.

She swallowed a couple times from what he'd swear was sheer nerves.  When she looked back up, though, her decision was made.  "I protect Methos because he protected me.  He was my first teacher, and my traveling companion for decades after that.  He is the best friend I have."

The phone rang into the silence after her statement.  Joe stared at the kitchen clock; someone was calling him at 7:30 in the morning?  He did not need this right now....  On the second ring, Aidan passed it to him.

"Dawson."

From the other end of the line he heard Justine, Cassandra's Watcher, asking, "Why weren't you answering your cellular?"

"Because it's upstairs next to the bed.  Why?"

"You mean you weren't watching MacLeod this morning?  Damn, both of us missed this!  Unless you had Mike on him?"  Joe could tell she very badly wanted that last statement to be true.

"No, I was just about to call him.  What happened?"  He managed to ask the question in a calm, reasonable tone of voice, although he already knew the answer.  Joe had already decided to protect Aidan from the other Watchers, for more reasons than he wanted to consider.  He'd continue keeping his own records of her and the other Watchers could find out about her from his journals after he died -- maybe.

"Cassandra just came back into the hotel, I don't know when she left.  She never gets up this early, Dawson!  From the look on her face, someone challenged her and I'd say she lost, but she still has her head.  MacLeod dropped her off at the door, so I was really hoping you knew what had happened."  The other Watcher sounded really agitated; no surprise, this was one of their worst nightmares.  Losing your subject entirely, and never finding out if he/she had vanished or died led the list, but missing something this important came in a close second.

"No such luck, damn it.  And it's exactly the sort of thing we don't talk about, not after Horton and Shapiro.  Look, if I find out anything, I'll call you back.  Good luck on your end."  Joe hoped she would take his brusque, oblique answers as a hint that he wasn't alone.

"Dawson, what....  Is there someone with you?" At first her voice held annoyance at his answer, then he could hear her embarrassment as she realized that he did have a personal life, and she might have interrupted something important.

"Yes, we were just getting breakfast."

Aidan grinned at the social lie.  She could only hear Joe's side of the conversation, but it had been amusing, and just the distraction she had needed from her concerns about Methos and Duncan.

"Later."  Joe hung up the phone and looked over at his temporary housemate.  "Sorry about that."

"De nada, Joe. Everything all right?"

Joe's mind ran furiously through times, time zones, and plane schedules.  He immediately replied, "Yeah, mostly. Can I ask a favor?"

Aidan rolled her eyes, fond exasperation in her voice as she replied, "How many do I owe you now?  What is it?"

"Can you help out tomorrow afternoon?  I know you're trying to get your new place in order, but I'm going to be shorthanded until five or so."

"Certainly.  It's little enough compared to what you've done for me.  But will you forgive me if I go get a real shower and some sleep before setup?"

Joe noticed with some surprise how tired she looked.  Damn, had she even slept last night?

"Not a problem.  I'm going to finish up in here, then make a couple phone calls and get a little more rest myself.  Sleep well, Aidan."  He was already putting the last dishes in the dishwasher, his mind racing over the fax he needed to write.

Joe watched as Aidan picked up the bag still on the counter, slung her duffel bag over her shoulder, and headed to the back of the house.  Why a small container of baby wipes and a quart of bottled water?  Then he remembered clean clothes and damp hair braided back.  One of these days he had to find a way to inventory her duffel bag.  It ought to be very revealing indeed!  And Methos called Mac a Boy Scout?

Joe piddled about in the kitchen until he heard the shower running, then headed for his study.  Working quickly, he typed up a fax cover letter; his handwriting wasn't always the best and this needed to be clear.  While it was printing out, Joe dug around in some of his most recent pictures of Mac.  Now where was that one?  Grinning with satisfaction, he looked down at the photo and nodded cheerfully.  This should draw exactly the reaction he wanted.

His Watcher oath very clearly said he shouldn't interfere with his immortal subject.  Joe had once again not so much decided to ignore that rule as lock it away in a safe deposit box -- and throw the key out the window.  This fight between Methos and Duncan was about to end, one way or another.  He had great faith that Aidan wouldn't allow it go on, all Joe had to do was put all three of them in one place and lock the doors....

Joe looked at his watch.  7:40 AM in Seacouver, three more hours to get New York time, then six for Paris, less an hour back for daylight savings time -- 3:40 PM, Methos should still be in the bookstore, no problem.  Dawson picked up his phone and hit the speed dial.

A female voice answered the phone on the third ring.  "Bonjour.  Shakespeare et Compagnie."

"Adam Pierson, s'il vous plait."

"Une minute."  The phone was set down and Joe heard footsteps retreating.  After a minute or so, the phone was picked up again.

"Bonjour."  This time Joe knew the voice, that light, mocking baritone he'd heard at all hours of the night in his living room or in jazz clubs on two continents.

"Adam, it's Joe.  Since when do women answer your work phone, old friend?"

"Joe, how are you?  And I was up on a ladder fetching down a folio for her; she's a customer.  What are you doing up so early?  It's got to be well before ten there, and you loath mornings as much as I do."  There was a short pause, then Methos went on, "Or is MacLeod in trouble again?  If he is, you might do better to try to get Amanda.  Maybe Connor.  He's barely speaking to me, at the moment."

"I need you for this, Adam.  It may not be trouble, but I want your opinion. I can't get in touch with those two at the moment."  Very true, I'm on the phone with you.  "Look, can you switch the line over to the fax?  I've got to be out running errands all day," Hell, yes, time to catch up on anything that keeps me away from a phone, "but I want you to look at this and start turning it over in your mind.  I'll call back around midnight your time if that's okay, see what you think."

Again the pause on the other end of the line, longer than even trans-Atlantic service could account for.  Methos finally sighed and said, "As soon as I hang up, I'll switch over.  Give it a minute for the fax to warm up, though.  How bad is this?  Can you give me any details?"

"I'd rather not, I want to get your first reaction.  Like I said, I don't know that it's bad, but the whole situation....  I'm willing to pay the costs for faxing it over, okay?"  Joe mentally prayed for his luck to hold.  So far, he had not uttered a single lie, which had taken some careful work.  Funny part was that Methos would undoubtedly be amused by all of this later on, master manipulator that he was.

"All right, send it over, I'll expect your call at home by midnight.  That's what, 3 PM your time?"

Joe let out his sigh of relief, and said, "No, 4 PM, we're already on Daylight Savings Time over here.  Thanks, buddy.  I'll talk to you this afternoon.  Oh, I stocked in a few cases of your favorite beer last week, when are you coming over again?  That jazz combo you wanted to hear is coming in next weekend."

"Oh, sometime again.  Business has been good, so we'll see.  Speaking of which, I need to ring this lady up, Joe.  I'm putting it over to fax now.  Talk to you tonight."  Methos hung up without waiting for a goodbye.

That suited Joe just fine.  I may see you sooner than you think, Methos.

He looked down at the fax cover letter, and resolved to be unavailable to his phone for eight or ten hours.  That was more than enough time to get Methos moving....  Joe started the fax and moved around the house turning off the ringers on the other phones.  He turned off the answering machine, leaving a phone bill where it would obscure the power light.  After he had turned it off, the cellular phone went in the nightstand drawer next to the gun.

Joe grabbed a shower and pulled on clothes, then glanced in on Aidan. He opened the door very carefully, not wanting to disturb her, and realized she'd been exhausted indeed.  She had fallen soundly asleep on top of the bed, still wearing her bathrobe, hair wrapped in a towel.  But he could see that the alarm was on, her sword lying next to the bed.  Saber?  Damn, and a main-gauche next to it!  I can't wait until she spars with Mac, I gotta see this!  The duffel bag, full again, lay next to the door -- presumably to go back in the truck.

On his way to the back door, Joe remembered one more call he needed to make:  Mike, his second bartender who was also a Watcher.

"Mike?  Joe.  Sorry to call so early, but can you cover the bar for me until around 5 or so?  I'll take the late shift again tonight.  Uh-huh, thanks, I appreciate it.  Oh, Pierson may be trying to get in touch with me.  If he does, you don't know when I'll be in, but you're not expecting me until at least 5.  Got it?  No, it's nothing you want to know about.  Just repaying a practical joke.  Yeah, thanks again, I'll see you this evening."

As he headed out, Joe laughed when he realized he was whistling 'Only the Good Die Young'.  Determined not to see anyone he knew until at least 5 PM, he drove off to do some overdue shopping, errand-running, and goofing off.  Stationery, new journals, some wine and beer for the house, probably time to stock in plenty of food....  What could he get Aidan as a house-warming gift?  Might be a good day to catch a movie, too, there were a couple he'd been wanting to see.

* * * *

7:52 AM Seacouver/3:52 PM Paris - Wednesday

The fax went out over the wires, the first page printing out on the other fax machine quite quickly since it was only text.  The second page, Methos noted absently, was printing incredibly slowly... ah, a black and white photo.  Damn, that would take forever; hell of a thing for Joe to do to his phone bill.  And it was going to make it difficult for any other customers to call in.  Well, he'd look at it in half an hour or so, might as well wait until he had the entire message.

* * * *

10:40 AM Seacouver/6:40 PM Paris - Wednesday

Now that she had a door key, Aidan came in any time she liked to set up the bar.  Something had woken her from her brief nap, possibly Joe's car leaving, and she had given up and gone in to work.  Setup had taken just under an hour, in large part because she had postponed some of the cleaning projects she'd originally had in mind for today.  No one else had any idea that the baseboards were on her 'must clean' list, therefore they could wait until a day when she'd had more than 3 hours of sleep spread over two naps.

Aidan smiled and waved at Mike as she headed to the door; in the background, Led Zeppelin was playing some down and dirty delta blues.  "I've programmed another couple hours worth of music for you, Mike, enjoy!"

"What's on today's play list, Aidan?"  Mike grinned at the fast-moving young woman.  He didn't have much say in who Joe hired, but he liked this new one.  Watching her terrorize the band yesterday had been a memorable experience, and he'd found himself making notes on some of the turns of phrase and tone of voice.  His Marine DI could have taken lessons.  Besides, these days the bar was always restocked when he came in, or had a warning list of bottles running low written in the same order as the inventory sheet.  Whatever Joe was paying her, she was worth it.

"Let me see:  Fleetwood Mac, Adam Ant, Paul Simon, Queen, more Zeppelin, some of Plant's solo works, Prince, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eagles, Styx, and Eurythmics.  That's what I can remember anyway.  I was in an '80s mood this morning, but I threw in some classic rock to even it out for you."  She slung her coat on, and rolled her head to release some of the tension, then gave up.  "Oh, here's the jukebox key.  Will you have Joe mark down an hour this morning, rather than my usual two?  I fear that I'm in something of a hurry today."

Mike caught the key out of the air, and hung it on the usual hook under the bar.  "No problem, Aidan, everything looks as good as ever.  Thanks for setting up the music.  I liked the '80s, although I hear that's heresy to admit."  The only reply he heard was laughter as she vanished out the door and the jukebox clicking over to Fleetwood Mac.

* * * *

11:12 AM Seacouver/7:12 PM Paris - Wednesday

Methos resurfaced from the rare edition copy of Roman de la Rose and realized that it was more than time to shut down the shop for the day.  He hadn't had so much as a browsing passerby in at least....  Glancing at his watch he realized it had been peaceful for an hour and he was later than usual in closing up.  A good night to catch dinner and some wine at one of the sidewalk cafes, admire the passers-by, maybe log on to the 'Net.  Then he remembered his conversation with Joe Dawson earlier and the promise.

"Good Lord, no wonder it's been quiet.  Anyone who called got the fax tone."  The words echoed back from the windows in the empty bookstore, and the last light of sunset streamed in with the glow of the newly lit streetlamps.  Methos shrugged to himself and went to lock the front door.  Oh, well, they'd call again if it he was their last chance.  Given the nature of the rare book business, he wasn't terribly worried.

Automatically he switched the phone jack from the fax to the phone as he put aside his hopes for a peaceful evening.  The call had been relatively innocuous, Joe had said he didn't think this was trouble, and it couldn't be that bad if the Watcher had gone off to run errands before calling back.  On the other hand, Joe's instincts were worth heeding.  And that was an expensive fax, what with overseas rates.

Over the centuries, Methos had learned not to worry about things any more than he had to.  He'd take the fax home with him, and see what Joe had sent him after dinner.  It could wait until then.  If he had to go looking through his own journals for an answer, he might as well wait until he could get to them.  Folding the fax pages in half, he dropped them into his trenchcoat pocket.  Reflexively Methos touched the hilt of his sword, verifying that it was where it should be, then stuck his hands in his pockets and walked out into the streets already debating what to have for dinner.

* * * *

12:18 PM Seacouver/8:18 PM Paris - Wednesday

Aidan parked in front of her new home, unlocked the back of the truck, and hefted out the industrial sander she had rented for the next few days.  Flipping the back of the truck into place again, she took the machinery in and put it on the floor of the freight elevator.  Over successive trips she also unloaded extension cords, sandpaper belts, plastic safety goggles, a package of breathing masks, a set of bandanas, sturdy work gloves, a broom, a whiskbroom and dustpan set, trashbags, a corrugated steel trashcan, toilet paper, a plastic cup with a lid, a five gallon cooler filled with ice water, and her tool box.  She locked the truck up and took all the gear up to fourth floor.  Might as well start at the top and work her way down.

Aidan appraised the floor with an experienced eye.  Four holes would have to be cut on each of the top three floors for the heating vents she wanted to install.  All the small debris and detritus on the floor had to come up before she could use the sander, which meant sweeping and probably vice grips.  But she might still get the top floor sanded and swept today if she got to work immediately.  Hunger would remind her to quit and meet Duncan at Joe's later on.

Hands on her hips, she looked around.  The windows were filthy, the floors barely better.  Smoke had stained the walls and darkened the beams on the ceiling.  But with the transoms opened for the breeze, the air was fresh and the gleam of sunlight threw a glow over the room.  Aidan had restored worse and this had a great deal of promise.  With a proper refinishing and some cleaning, no one would recognize the place.  Content at the prospect, she rolled up her sleeves, tied the bandana over her hair and began.

* * * *

12:30 PM Seacouver/8:30 PM Paris - Wednesday

Replete with bouillabaisse and wine, Methos unlocked his apartment door and headed to the kitchen to make some coffee.  Slinging his overcoat on the peg by the door, he settled his sword next to the bed, kicked off his shoes, and made it back into the kitchen just as the percolator finished.  Once he had properly doctored a mug of the hot caffeine, he settled into a chair at the table with the fax.  Now, what had Joe sent him this time?

The top page was simple enough.  In nice large letters the message read, 'Adam, new resident of Seacouver.  Arrived last week from the East Coast. Don't suppose she's an old acquaintance of yours?  Call you later.'  That much had been typed, and the scrawl Joe used in place of a signature took up a good bit of the remaining space on the page.

"Old acquaintance, hmm?  And 'she'.  Why don't you just ask MacLeod if she's immortal or not, Joe?  Or is his chivalry in full gear again?  Couldn't give me a name, could you.  Makes sense if she's one of us, I suppose.  Gods only know what names I might know her by and you've been so careful not to 'bias' me on this....  Well, let's see what this plague-carrier looks like."

Still muttering quietly to himself, Methos turned to the next page and dropped his coffee on the floor.  He never noticed as the scalding liquid splashed his leg and the pieces of pottery scattered across the floor.

"Sweet Goddess, this can't be right."

Even across the fax, it was a good picture.  MacLeod stood outside his gymnasium wearing a t-shirt and jeans, hair pulled back into a ponytail as usual.  He was studying a newspaper spread open across the hood of the T-bird, still smiling from something his companion had said.  The convertible top of the car was down, must have been one of those rare, nice days in Seacouver.

Standing next to him, though, was a ghost.  The woman pointing to something in the paper, caught in the middle of a word, had died in the early 1600s in Budapest.  The Kurgan had taken her head...  hadn't he?

Methos studied the picture intently, wanting to be right about who she was as badly as he had wanted to be wrong three centuries ago about whose quickening had been taken.  As he continued to look, incandescent joy rose up in him. The face was the same, the familiar quirk to the eyebrows and tilt of the head.  He recognized the set of her shoulders, knew from the positioning of their bodies that she was already fond of Duncan. And there was the oak leaf pendant he had made for her centuries ago.  Had her hair been that short in the 1500s?  He spoke out loud without realizing it.  "Edana."

Methos reached without looking for the phone, not caring what time it was in the States.  Joe could bloody well answer the phone.  No one answered, though, not at the house or on the cellular line.

"Damn it, this is not funny, Dawson.  Of all the days to forget your portable...."  Still cursing to himself, he called the bar.  Maybe Joe had already gone in.

"Joe's, this is Mike, can I help you?"  The tone of voice was cheerful if harried.  Apparently the bar was hopping.  Methos couldn't have cared less.

"Mike, this is Adam Pierson.  Is Joe in?"

"Hey, Adam, no, he isn't.  He won't be in until 5 or so.  Want me to give him a message or have him call you back?"  In the background, Methos heard a familiar song:  the Eurythmics playing 'Who's That Girl?'  Astonishingly appropriate, that.

"That depends, Mike, what time is it there?  I can't keep track with Daylight conversions thrown into the mix."  Somehow he kept his voice calm.  There could be plenty of reasons he hadn't gotten either Joe's answering machine or the cellular.

"12:40, give or take a few minutes, Adam.  Oh, hell, you're in Paris, aren't you?  It's just after noon, how's that?"

"In that case, Mike, just give him a message for me, thanks.  Tell him I'll be in town tomorrow, and not to worry."  Already, Adam had started planning what to pack, what route to take, and who would be able to get him a ticket at such late notice.  Orly to Heathrow to La Guardia to Seacouver might be simplest....  Maybe route through Boston instead?

"Will do, Adam.  Does he know what he isn't supposed to worry about?  Just a sec, Carla, on that order...."

"Yes, he does.  Oh, and Mike?  The answering machine at his place didn't pick up, and he's not answering his cell phone.  Thought you might want to know.  I'll see you tomorrow."

Just as he was about to hang up, he heard Mike say, "Adam?  You there?"

"Yes, I'm here, for a little while."

"We'll find him if he doesn't show.  See you tomorrow."

Methos promptly called one of the few all-night travel agencies, and booked flights out to the US, wincing at when he'd have to leave in the morning.  But he smiled the entire time he cleaned up the coffee and packed.  He was still smiling as he fell asleep.

* * * *

4:48 PM Seacouver/12:48 AM Paris - Wednesday/Thursday

"Joe?  Pierson called, said to tell you he'll see you tomorrow."  Mike considered the grin on Joe's face proof that he never wanted to get on his boss's bad side.  Senior Watchers, the good ones at least, always seemed to combine a high skill at understanding people with a broad and specific knowledge of history.  In other words, not only did they know a lot of truly horrific practical jokes, they could guess exactly which one you were most likely to fall for.

"Good, good, means I don't need to call him tonight.  Great.  Mike, how would you like to take tomorrow off?"

Mike shrugged.  "Hadn't planned on being in today, it would even out.  Who's going to cover the afternoon shift?"

"Aidan said she'd help out until five or so.  We can manage it, no problem."  Joe moved behind the bar, automatically greeting familiar customers and glancing at the band equipment to make sure nothing had been disturbed.

"She tends bar?  Why am I not surprised.  Joe, keep this one, hmm?  She does good  work."  Mike waved to acknowledge an order; the after-work crowd kept the two of them busy for the next few hours.  He did not want to know what Joe was up to; he wanted to be able to swear to it when Pierson or MacLeod asked....

* * * *

12:40 AM Seacouver/7:40 AM London - Thursday

Methos settled more comfortably into his chair, enjoying the luxury of having room to stretch out his legs for once.  At such short notice, he'd had to buy first class tickets; on the other hand, he didn't mind the extra cost on an eight hour flight.  Getting up at 4:30 in Paris to make the 6:00 flight to London had been rough, as he considered mornings something to sleep through.  Ah, well, he'd long ago perfected sleeping on airplanes.  Rest was essential to survival, therefore he could doze anywhere.

Besides, he had better sleep now; American tourists had an irritating tendency to assume one wanted conversation, or, worse yet, that one earnestly desired to see grandchild pictures, ad nauseam. But the flight from London to New York should be manageable enough; British reserve could be useful on occasion.  Soon enough he'd see Edana, and MacLeod too, probably.  Hell, maybe the Highlander was talking to him by now....  His imagination conjured her dryly amused voice asking him where he saw the pigs migrating north for the summer, and he realized he was looking out the window to check.  Chuckling softly, Methos adjusted his legs, leaned sideways into his chair, and was asleep before the flight had been half an hour in the air.

* * * *

1:00 AM Seacouver/9:00 AM Munich - Thursday

Aidan hung up the phone and made a notation in her new checkbook.  "There.  That covers expenses, renovation, and Cheop's Corollary for the next few months.  Well, it will as soon as the transfer goes through in the morning."

Joe turned around from ringing out the register.  "What language was that, anyway?  German?  Is my phone bill shot?"

"Of course not, Joe, that's why I have calling cards.  And yes, it was German, I pulled some money from one of my old accounts in Munich.  The mortgage company needs my cash from New York to stay constant for another week or so to clear the house, but I have purchases to make at the hardware companies."  She shrugged and threw Duncan another rag.  "You get the booths, Duncan, and I'll get the tables."

MacLeod grinned at Joe.  "Bad enough that you keep talking me into things like this, now she's helping!  Oh, well.  Is Cheop's Corollary the one that says if the government built a mousetrap it would get a lobster trap big enough for an elephant?"  He moved away and started clearing off the booths.

"Cheop's Corollary to Murphy's Law, Duncan -- it says nothing is ever built on time or within budget.  I have this vague hope that blowing the budget will evade the time problem."  Aidan cleaned her way across the tables quickly and efficiently.  She ignored crumbs that hit the floor, knowing she'd simply sweep them up in the morning, which she pointed out to the Scot.

"You in a hurry to move out, Aidan?"  Joe growled in mock indignation.

Aidan stiffened slightly then immediately relaxed, rubbing her back and glaring at Duncan.  "Had to dance me into the ground tonight, didn't you?"

Finished with the tables, Aidan looked over at her boss and temporary landlord.  "I just want my music back, Joe, which won't happen until I move, more's the pity.  As may be, I need to do a few hours of prep work at my house before I come in for the afternoon.  I'll see you back at the house; or more accurately, hear you.

"Duncan, thank you for everything today, but has anyone ever told you that a tango like that one tonight can get a man married at gun point?  Or do they still do that these days?"

Duncan swatted her on the rump.  "I saw that when Joe played 'You Can Leave Your Hat On.'  Do you know how many guys bought beers to cool off when you were through?"

Aidan threw him a wicked smile.  "If the answer isn't 'all of them', I did something wrong.  I shall have to practice.  However, good morning, you two, I'm going to get some sleep."

Duncan waited until the door closed then looked at Joe.  "Is it just me, or did that question about moving hit a sensitive spot?"

Joe's gaze focused on nothing, his eyes disturbed.  "I don't remember her back hurting any other time tonight.  So what happened with Cassandra this morning?"

Duncan turned to look at his friend.  "I didn't see any Watchers and I looked.  How did you find out about that?"

"Aidan made a little too much noise coming in this morning.  And before you ask, I'm keeping some information about her in my private journals, but the Watchers don't know about her yet.  Been thinking about making you or Adam my executor, just to make sure the Watchers don't get everything.  I'm considering some long-range plans to make sure nothing like Jakob and Irene Galati ever happens again."  Joe's grim expression told Duncan not to ask just yet.

"About Cassandra, though?  Her Watcher missed the fight, by the way.  We don't officially have any idea who did what this morning, or why."

"Cassandra headed out of town this afternoon.  She won't be back any time soon.  She's terrified of Aidan now."  Duncan shook his head slowly.  "I've never seen anything quite like that. Not even a cat and mouse game, really; Aidan never played with her.  She took Cassandra down before either of us could get any feel for her style, then laid out terms.  Joe, she unnerved me, and I wasn't the one with my throat under her blades."

"She had her sword at Cassandra's throat?"  Joe's eyes widened, trying to picture this.

"Cassandra was flat on her back, sword arm broken, left knee dislocated, with Aidan's dagger and saber crossed over her throat.  Aidan had a knee in her gut, holding her down."  Duncan shook his head as he remembered the scene.  "Methos and I are out of Cassandra's debt; we're the only reason Aidan let her live.  But, Joe -- Aidan did this fighting left-handed.  The entire thing, including compelling Cassandra's oath, took maybe fifteen minutes.  Left-handed."

Joe shook his head slowly.  "Meaning Cassandra has no idea that Aidan is actually right-handed?  Mac, how old is she?  She said this morning that Methos taught her.  I didn't think he'd trained a student in centuries.  What you're telling me does not sound like any new immortal.  You're talking about guile, planning, and ruthlessness that only the older immortals generally pull off."

"Joe, she was one of his first students after he left the Horsemen.  She's not less than a thousand.  Get a drink before you ask her for the precise number.  It's... surprising.

"Speaking of Methos, any idea when he's coming to town?"  Duncan deliberately threw off the images from the morning and changed the subject slightly.

"Sometime again, he said.  You know him.  Why?  You speaking to him again?"  Joe's mild sarcasm brought a flush to Duncan's face.

"Actually, I was planning a fairly lengthy apology."

"'Bout damn time.  Good for you!  What brought this on?"

"I'll tell you if he accepts it.  If he doesn't accept it, I'll still come tell you and we'll hash out a new plan to put things back together.  Deal?"  MacLeod held out a hand.

Joe shook with him, feeling only mildly guilty at deceiving Mac about when Adam would be in.  "Deal.  I'll even buy the drinks for this.  You've been a bastard to deal with ever since you two had that fight.  I'm glad you're going to patch things up."  He looked around, appraising the bar.  Everything that had to be done was finished, and Aidan would get the rest when she opened up tomorrow morning.

"Let's lock up; don't you have finals tomorrow?"

"No, I had finals today.  I have to get the grades in by noon Friday, though, and I've promised to help with Aidan's renovations for the next few weeks.  I think she's hoping to celebrate the Solstice in her new house.  That's four weeks, I think she's being optimistic -- but we'll see."  Duncan pulled the door closed, then stepped back to let Joe lock up.  The two walked to their cars and parted for the night in a companionable silence.

* * * *

8:00 AM Seacouver/4:00 PM Munich - Thursday

The account transfer from Munich to Seacouver went through without a hitch.  As deutsche marks worth $25,000 US changed electronic hands, a sub-program within the bank's computer activated.  It noted the transfer from a marked account and batched all the transaction details.  The sub-program then transmitted those details to a email account and erased all signs of the transmission.  Finished, it subsided and waited for another trigger to activate it again.

* * * *

12:30 PM Seacouver/2:30 PM Chicago - Thursday

Aidan laughed at Joe's chagrin.  "What's the matter, Joe?  Got something against Prince?"

"Here, Sally, Rickert's Red as usual." Beer handed over, Joe turned to his helper, trying to frown but unable to quite make it.  "No, I like it or I wouldn't have it on the jukebox.  But don't you think going from 'Food and Creative Love' to 'Little Red Corvette' is a bit much?"

She pulled a pitcher of Killian's Red off the tap, waited for the foam to settle, and handed it to Kim.  "Have you listened to the lyrics?  If you'll get the strawberry margaritas, I'll get the Bloody Mary's.  What is this?  It's a Thursday lunch, don't they have to go back to work?"

"It's Memorial Day weekend.  A lot of them are taking off early, that's all." Joe nodded at the money in the tip jar, which was piling up nicely for so early in the day.  "Remind me to split that with you when you leave."

Aidan nodded absently, and spent the next few hours being grateful that Joe had handed her his Bartender's Guide last night.  What she didn't realize was that the tips were much better than usual, largely due to her looks and manner.  The waitresses and Joe watched over her until they were sure she wouldn't make any glaring errors, then they all settled down to work a very hectic Thursday lunch crowd.

* * * *

3:00 PM Seacouver/2:00 PM Alaska - Thursday

The quarrel hissed through the air before it struck the bear just under the shoulder.  A minute later the blond man wearing hunter's camouflage followed the same path more slowly to confirm his kill, crossbow reloaded and ready.  The crossbow had no sight, no sniper scope.  The man had no gun, neither rifle nor pistol, only a dagger and a bastard sword.  He strode directly to the bear, showing no worry that the creature might not be dead yet, that those claws or teeth might yet be put to deadly purpose.

Sure enough, his shot had been perfect.  Alone, without modern weapons, the bear had still come in second best to a predator a tenth its weight.  How disappointing and dull.  He really would have to find better game to hunt soon.

* * * *

4:45 PM Seacouver - Thursday

"Joe, Renee is here, you said yourself the real rush will start around six, and I've seen you trying not to flinch.  Go sit your butt on that stool and I'll bring you your guitar.  It's that or be carried."  Aidan glared at him, and Renee, Joe's other bartender, laughed.

"I'd love to see you do it."  Renee and Joe said it simultaneously, but in two very different tones.  A wicked smile spread across Aidan's face and she began to roll up her sleeves.  The mingled disbelief and challenging threat had just stirred her competitive blood.

"Now wait a second, Aidan...."  Joe tried to back up but there was no room in that narrow aisle behind the bar and Renee blocked his way, giggling.

"Renee, do you suppose you could hold down the bar by yourself for a minute?"

"Sure, Aidan, no problem.  No one's going to be ordering drinks during this anyway!  Don't hurt your back, though."  Renee had heard about Aidan from Mike, and seen her in dancing once or twice.  Working with her promised to be every bit as entertaining as Mike had said.

"Ten dollars says she can't do it," came the comment from one of the patrons.

Without ever looking over, Aidan reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of bills.  She counted off five twenties and handed them to Renee.  "I shall match up to a hundred.  From here to the stage, including up the stairs, without putting Joe down once.  You hold, Renee."  Then she looked at the gentleman who had started it and smiled sweetly.  "You, however, sir, may pay me off personally when I do so -- you may owe me a dance, later, in addition to the ten-spot."

The bets rolled in fast and furious and Joe hovered between embarrassment, anger, and laughter.  True to form, laughter won.  "I'll cover another fifty of it, what the hell, gotta support my own people,"  Joe chuckled.  "Aidan, you sure you're up to this?"

"So long as you don't squirm, Joe, certainly.  Any last words?"  Aidan had hastily coiled waist-length hair up in an intricate twist and skewered it with pencils to keep it out of the way of Joe's arms.  Now she whistled once, piercingly.  "All right, everyone, clear me a path from the bar to the stage -- of people, mind; leave the furniture be, please."

The patrons moved to one side or the other, making their own side bets now that Joe and Aidan's money had been matched.  Aidan looked over the passage behind the bar and shook her head in dismay.  Of all the damn fool places to be when making a wager like this....

"Wait, what do you mean last words?"  Joe continued to protest as Aidan bent slightly and scooped him up with one arm under his thighs and the other around his back.  He immediately threw his arm around her shoulders, feeling the muscles bunch and ripple as she crabbed sideways along the alley behind the bar.  His legs were too long for her to do it any other way, and she cursed roundly in Gaelic as they went.  Joe understood very little of it except the amused, exasperated tone.  One of these days, the Watcher swore, he had to learn Gaelic!  Hell, he'd managed German and French, after all....

It made a thoroughly ridiculous sight; Joe was a good two inches taller than Aidan, and broader through the chest.  Once they hit the relatively clear area in front of the bar, she had less trouble.  She maneuvered him smoothly through the tables, pivoting one way or another to go around chairs without bruising him.  Cheering and clapping sprang up as she negotiated one particularly tricky section.

"Thank the Gods for fire marshals and their regulations, and ne'er did I think I'd say that!"

Joe laughed despite feeling ridiculous.  When she got to the stairs up to the stage, she paused, looking at them in great disgust.  "Lovely.  The things I go through to get you to take a break, Dawson!  You realize I'm going to insist on having at least one song request tonight."

One heckler in the crowd called, "You going or not?"

Aidan's laughter rang across the room.  "I said I wouldn't put him down.  I never said I couldn't stop to figure out how to do this, now did I?"  But she started up.

"ONE!" The crowd called out the number as she moved up the stair, only to pause before taking the next one.

Joe muttered quietly, "It's not worth hurting yourself, I don't care how fast you heal."

Just as softly, she replied, "Actually I'm just playing to the audience, so they'll have lost their money's worth.  I carried Ramirez off a mountain, once; you're not bad at all."

"TWO!"  Again she paused.

"If you say so." Joe sounded amused at the comparison, but he could feel her shift his weight slightly as they rested.  "Were you ever in theater?"

"THREE!"  This time she didn't pause, only murmured, "Dana, what was I thinking?"

"FOUR!!!"

"Wait, you were carrying him downhill...."

"So I was."  Aidan carried Joe over to his stool and set him down carefully, keeping her arm around his back until he had his balance.  She handed him his guitar, turned to the bar, and swept the crowd a flourishing bow, dropping straight from the waist.  They hooted and clapped, laughed and cheered and made complete fools of themselves.  The holiday weekend was obviously off to a good start.

It took her five full minutes to get back to Renee and her winnings, as people patted her on the back, checked her biceps, and wanted to know what she did to be that strong.  Some of her answers left hysterically laughing people behind her.

"I'm second alternate for Santa's sleigh team."

"Years of clean living -- pumping that much water does wonders for your arms."

"Too much spinach.  I yam what I yam."  When the lady in question looked puzzled, Aidan shook her head sadly and said, "Have you never seen any Popeye cartoons?"

Notes spun out over the crowd noise as Joe started up a raucous guitar riff, spinning it into the sliding opening notes of 'Traveling Riverside Blues'.  Aidan escaped behind the bar as the crowd settled back into their seats to listen to the bluesman.

"Damn, that was something!  Here's your money and your winnings.  Remind me to tell Joe his is behind the Cointreau, where no one will get it.  Oh, loudmouth slunk off into the night, by the way!"  Renee laughed, face flushed, short blond hair and long tanned hands flying to fill the orders the waitresses were bringing in.

Aidan had just turned to thank her for the help, when she felt immortal presence wash over her.  The sheer strength of it forced her head down and she grabbed desperately for the edge of the counter.  Who in the hell was that?  She turned her head, knowing it was definitely male, desperately looking for him with grey eyes huge in a face gone white.

Outside the door, Methos paused, startled; he felt as though he had just stepped into a pool of friendly electricity.  Presence from another immortal rippled and pulsed around him, swirling like a tide.  Then he smiled, remembering other reunions with Edana.  She was the only one who felt like this, with a field which matched her emotions and swirled out into areas she considered her own.  Currently she was in a good mood.  Time to go in, though, before she looked for her sword.

Renee had just turned to hand Aidan her cash when the brunette nearly fainted.  "Aidan, you all right?  Shit, was Joe too heavy?  Sit down while I get you some water...."

"Renee, I'm fine, I assure you.  I forgot to eat lunch, that's all."  Aidan scanned the crowd and the doors, searching for recognition, challenge posture, anything at all to identify the other.  The front door opened and late afternoon sunlight silhouetted a familiar form.  Tall, slender, overcoat ending somewhere around the tops of the hiking boots, she knew his shadow better than her own.

"Excuse me," Aidan said, or thought she said.  Later she never knew if the words made it out.  Nor did she care.  She moved through the other patrons without seeing them, dodging them without thought or word.

When she could think again, she had her arms in his trenchcoat, wrapped firmly around his waist.  The cording in his sweater rasped against her face.  Methos' cheek rested against the top of her head, his left arm enfolded her waist, and his free hand was stroking down her hair again and again.  Somehow he had moved them away from the doorway.  Neither one had said a word.

When Methos felt her muscles easing under his arm, he gently tilted her head up and kissed her on the forehead.  Still silent, he handed back the pencils he had taken out of her hair, surprising her into that laughter he loved so well.  His face held that half-smile she had seen a thousand, thousand times down the years, and he pushed her gently toward Renee.

"They're looking for you at the bar, I think.  Shall I sit and talk to you as you can spare the time?  Leave it to Joe to neglect mentioning hiring you."

Aidan looked over at Joe who grinned at her from the stage, and then she recognized what he was playing:  'You Never Really Know', from Red Shoe Diaries if she remembered correctly.  "Are we going to repay him for this?"

"Oh, yes, I think we'll manage something.  My word on it."  Methos settled into a stool at the bar, boneless as ever to look at him.  Now that she was studying him, though, Aidan saw lines of strain around his eyes, and bones too sharp under the skin.  He smelled faintly of cigarettes, sour baby milk, and stale air.  Without a word, she handed him a beer and some coffee, ringing both onto her own tab.

Renee raised an eyebrow at Aidan and handed over her winnings.  This story would have to wait.

* * * *

Aidan sighed, wrapping the blissful silence around herself.  Much as she loved Joe's bar, she was enjoying the quiet of the evening more.  She had been amazed at the tip money she had accumulated in six hours; her share came to just under one hundred, plus the hundred she had made off that insane bet.  But the crowd had overwhelmed her at last and at 6:30 she had fled gratefully, taking Methos with her.

She laughed softly, thinking of Joe's face when neither of the immortals had said a word to him about his meddling.  She had no doubts he had brought Methos haring in from wherever in the world he had been; she just didn't know how yet.

Without opening his eyes, Methos commented, "What is it?"

"What's what?  We're almost there, by the way.  Are you hungry?"  She concentrated on her driving, part of her mind turning to what to cook for dinner.

"Why the sigh?  And then the chuckle?  And the word is 'ravenous', not 'hungry.'  I plan to eat you out of house and home."  He folded his hands over the seatbelt, listening to the road under the wheels.  Aidan hadn't turned on the radio; the only sounds in the cab of her truck were breathing and heartbeats, with the occasional soft imprecation in one language or another at the drivers out tonight.

"Sheer pleasure in silence, actually.  But the look on Joe's face, waiting for the other shoe to drop...."  Aidan chuckled.  As the truck stopped at a light, she reached over and touched his face with the tips of her fingers.  Methos was still almost unreal to her, too well known to be a phantasm, too long apart to be believed quite yet.

Long, warm fingers entwined her own.  Holding her hand in place, he turned his face just enough to kiss her palm, then released her.  "Shall we let him wait and worry?  Where are we going, anyway?  Hopefully it involves food and eventually a shower."

"At the moment, I'm staying with Joe.  All my belongings are in New York if that tells you anything.  And of course I'm going to feed you.  You know me better than that, old friend."  Aidan reclaimed her hand as they turned off the thoroughfare and began to wind their way back to the house.

"You're staying with Joe?  Damn, that means the back bedroom is occupied.  Or is it?"

"He's not quite my type, more's the pity.  Wonderful hands on him."  She fell silent for a moment, while she dodged children playing ball in the street.  "And we've slept together in one bed across two continents.  Unless you just like the hide-a-bed, I see no reason to change habits now."

"Do you care what he'll think?  Or MacLeod?"

She raised an eyebrow, but never took her eyes off the road.  "How did you know I've met Duncan?  And Joe already knows we're friends.  I have no idea how he chose to interpret the word."

"You don't know about the fax, then.  That explains quite a bit."  Methos smiled at a secret only he knew.  "He set it up beautifully.  And I'm more worried about your good name than mine, Flame.  By the by, what name are you using?  I heard Renee call you Aidan."

"Aidan Logan.  Honi soit qui mal y pense, Methos.  Joe has better things to worry about than what we are or aren't doing in a bed."  She parked in front of Joe's house and then twisted in her seat to face him.  Very seriously she asked, "What do you want, Methos?  I'm maneuvering blind here."

"I hadn't meant to prick at you, Edana.  Aidan.  I'm tired and quarrelsome, it was a long trip from Paris.  Apologies."  He got out of the truck and reached into the back for his bags.

Aidan watched him, concerned but willing to let him dodge the question for now.  She had long practice at getting straight answers out of him.  It could wait... for a while.  Taking one bag, she walked into the house.  Before she could even ask if he knew where everything was, Methos moved past her toward the back bedroom.  Aidan called after him, "Go get a hot shower.  If you take less than thirty minutes I throw you back in, be warned!"

When she got into the kitchen to make dinner, the note on the kitchen counter got her attention.  The envelope read, "Aidan or Adam, whichever."  Aidan gave in to her curiosity and opened it.

Joe had left a note that said only, "Plenty of food in the 'fridge, Adam's favorite beer is in there too.  Leave me a plate if you cook, please, I'll be in sometime late.  Joe.  PS  --  Am I forgiven yet?"

She burst into laughter and foraged for dinner makings.  Forty minutes later, when Methos finally reappeared in clean jeans and a slightly oversized 'Joe's' t-shirt, the kitchen smelled wonderful.

"What's for dinner?"  He started to browse through the pots and pans, lifting lids, and dodging the spoon she swung at his knuckles.  "Behave, woman, who taught you to use weapons anyway?  Hmm, broccoli and pearl onions, angel hair pasta, sautéed mushrooms with..." he sniffed the skillet, "... fresh garlic and red wine, and what else do I smell?"  He turned on the oven light and a beatific look spread over his face.  "Salmon and butternut squash?  Ah, wonderful!"

Aidan handed him a beer and replied, deadpan, "You missed the ginger and lemon grass on the salmon, and the rolls already out of the oven and in the basket on the table."

"Cooking for an army?  Or just us?" Methos drained off half the beer, already looking much better just from the application of hot water over his head.  A half-smile quirked his mouth as he read Joe's note on the table.  "Are we leaving food for Joe?"

"Of course.  He bought a very nice piece of salmon for us.  Shame not to let him have any."

"Anything I can do?"  He stirred the mushrooms and replaced the spoon.  Aidan glanced up from the cutting board, cheese slicer in hand, and looked around to see where dinner stood.

"Yes, please.  Will you load some classical music in the stereo?  I've been listening to jazz and rock all day.  The salmon will be ready in about ten, I put it in when you cut the water off.  Oh, and if you'd open the bottle I left in the freezer.  It would be a shame not to have some good wine when I've cooked this much."  She loaded the cheese onto a platter with pears, apples and ginger snaps for after the meal and put it on the table.

Both of them were busy for the next little while as food moved from the kitchen to the table.  After they had made serious inroads on dinner, Methos finally looked up.  "This is wonderful, Edana.  I'd forgotten how thoroughly you like to spoil your friends."

Aidan smiled across the table at him.  "Well, wait 'til I make you work it off when you wake up tomorrow.  How long are you in town for?"

 "As long as it takes to catch up on three centuries of news."

Aidan studied his face, his hands, and the way he was holding his head.  "What's bothering you, mo cridhe?  And don't tell me 'nothing'."

"I suppose you'd hit me if I said it was nothing to worry about?"  He did his best imitation of MacLeod's wistful look and smiled as he realized she wasn't going to fall for it.  "Partly it's shock that you're truly alive.  The rest of it... I haven't decided how to solve a problem, yet, that's all."

She thought about that for a long while, and finally replied, "Finish dinner.  We'll talk afterwards.  You said you came in from Paris?  Do I need to rub out your back after that many plane trips?"

Methos quite cheerfully replied, "When have I turned down that offer?  Learned any new techniques since I last saw you?  I know you studied it for awhile in Helsinki in, what, the 1400s?"

And they turned the topic to other things:  places visited, old friends, recent studies.

* * * *

Joe quietly called in, "Hello?  Anyone awake?"

From the direction of the den floor, he heard a cheerful female voice reply, "Of course I am.  It's only eleven.  How'd the night go?" Aidan had been lying on her stomach, bare feet up in the air, legs crossed at the ankles.  She rolled to the side and came quickly to her feet.  "Sit, I'll get your dinner for you.  I've had it in the oven on warm."

Dawson sagged into a chair gratefully.  "Long night.  Folks were in a good mood though.  You're rapidly becoming a legend in my bar, by the way."

Aidan set the warm plate in front of him and produced ice water and wine.  "Eat."

Joe took an appreciative bite of the salmon and sighed.  "I'm really going to miss you when you move.  You just don't know."

She laughed softly and replied, "No, you shall simply have to come over for dinner on a regular basis.  I hate cooking for one, did I never tell you?"

Aidan brought her papers in from the den to work at the table and keep him company.  For a while, companionable silence reigned, broken only by the orchestral score playing quietly in the background and the rapid movements of a calligrapher's pen over paper.  She alternated back and forth between a set of diagrams on graph paper and a handwritten list on a legal pad.

"Where's Methos?  Am I forgiven yet?"  Joe set his fork down and settled back in his chair, glancing over to see what she was working on.  It looked like a set of floor plans, so he assumed it was renovation plans for her new place.

"Oh, he's been asleep for a couple of hours now.  I fed him, gave him a rub down, and sent him off to bed."  Aidan glanced over at him, amused.  "And forgiven for what?  Stocking the refrigerator? Don't be ridiculous, Joe, the salmon was a wonderful surprise."

Dawson grinned at her, seeing the mischief in her eyes.  "Okay, I'll drop that.  Sent him off to bed?  You taking the couch?"

She raised an amused eyebrow and put down her pen.  On a second thought, she capped it and set her papers off to one side.  "All right, Joseph, out with it.  Where did you come up with the odd notion that I was taking the couch?"

Joe took a sip of the wine and debated how to phrase this.  "From the body language, I'd have to say you're in love with Methos."  Yeah, the way the face fades to that unconcerned, amused look.  I should have known Methos trained her.  "But you two don't act like lovers.  Are you going to be all right sharing a bed with him and not doing anything?"

Aidan blinked, startled, then shook her head slowly, mouth twisting into a lopsided smile.  "Damn, Joe, if you were one of us you'd be really dangerous.  Did you ever meet Darius?"

"Aidan, you are not changing the subject that easily.  Is this going to hurt you?" His exasperation made the words come out more harshly than he had intended and she smiled despite herself.

"Gods.  You're a good friend, Joe Dawson.  Some of my husbands haven't worried this much about me.  Does this stay between us?"  She held his eyes with her own until he nodded.

"Yeah.  It does."

"I've been in love with Methos most of my life.  And it takes more willpower than you want to know not to drag him into a bed and keep him there for a century or so.  But,"  and she took a deep breath, face still composed, "I slept in the same bed with him through Europe, across Greece to Asia Minor, and through half of Asia and India.  We traveled as brother and sister most of the time, it was simplest and most believable.  I'll be fine; I have a great deal of practice at it."

Joe shook his head slowly.  "Why aren't you two lovers?  You said you've had husbands, I take it you don't object to men."

She laughed, that merry noise he was going to miss in his house when she moved.  "No, I definitely do not object to men.  Or women for that matter.  After the first few centuries, especially after some of the cultures I've lived in, you quit caring so much about what gender they are.  What matters is whether you love them.  Did I ever tell you I had three husbands, once?"

"Who said you could change the subject?  Although I'm gonna have to hear that story later."  Joe waggled a finger at her, scolding.  "What's the deal, woman?  Even I can tell he loves you."

She sighed, resigned to incomprehension.  "I don't bed immortals, Joe.  Ever.  I won't face a lover at the Gathering, it would kill me."

Joe stared at her for a long minute, then said, "Tell me I didn't hear that right.  You don't what?!"

Aidan moved her papers off the table, then turned back to Joe and replied, "You heard it correctly.  What did you misunderstand?"

"Aidan, I'm mortal, and I'm tired, and my stumps hurt too much for this.  Explain this to me, and stick to simple terms.  Why not."  His voice held a dangerous flatness that told Aidan he was on his way to being well and truly angry.  She simply did not understand why.

"Joe.  When the Gathering comes, we will have to fight.  The Fates, or the Gods, or whatever you want to call them, will ensure that.  I can't take someone into my bed without becoming... vulnerable to them.  Call it a flaw in my character if you must.  I cannot bear the idea of having to kill someone I've bedded, so I don't bed immortals.  It was bad enough the few times I've had to kill mortal lovers.  Crossing swords with someone I've loved down the centuries...."  She shuddered at the thought without ever noticing.  "I could not do it, Joe.  Even if I won, I'd be easy prey for the next immortal who came along.  More likely I'd put my sword down and give them my head."

She looked back at him, anguish in her face and her voice.  "Why does no one understand, Joe?  Am I so wrong?"

Joe shook his head, watching her, and finally replied with an apparent non sequitur.  "Aidan, did you ever read anything by Robert Heinlein?  Science fiction writer, died back in the late '80s.  One of the grand old men of the field, won three or four Nebulas."

"Yes, one or two books of his.  I enjoyed The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, I think it was called.  And I believe he also wrote Double Star?"  Somehow, Aidan doubted that she had been lucky enough that he had changed the subject.

"Yeah, that was him.  He formulated Cheop's Law that you mentioned the other night, too.  But what I was thinking of was a book of his about Lazarus Long.  Man was over two thousand years old, through a combination of good genes and rejuvenation techniques.  And sheer good sense.  One of the few times he married a lady who didn't have the genes for long life, his wife told him something important that you need to think about.

"She said, and I'm paraphrasing, he wasn't going to live any longer than she was.  That everyone had the past, the present, and the future.  She couldn't remember a time when she wasn't, and neither could he.  So though his past might be richer, deeper, it wasn't longer.  As for the future, who knew?  He might outlive her, she might outlive him, they might die together in an accident.  So why not enjoy now?"

Joe watched her for a moment, saw from her face she was still listening.  "I think you're so scared of a possible future that you're denying yourself any joy now.  And without that joy to draw on, I'm not sure how well you'll do in the future.  All I'm asking is that you think about it."

He pushed himself to his feet.  "I'm gone to bed, Aidan.  I'll get the rest of the dishes in the morning.  Sleep well -- or better yet, don't sleep."  Joe got out of the room before she could manage to say anything.

Aidan sat there for a long time, plans forgotten.  The CD finished and clicked off.  Her hands, usually so busy, lay still in her lap as Joe's words crashed through her head again and again.  'I think you're so scared... why not enjoy now?'  Sometimes it was Duncan's voice instead, from the first night they met.  'You're refusing to take lovers from the ones who can understand you best.'  At last, battered and confused, she sought the only refuge she could find:  sleep.

Almost absently she turned off the lights and the stereo and headed toward the back bedroom.  Aidan paused in the doorway, turning arguments around in her mind.  She watched Methos sleep, sprawled out across the entire bed as usual, one pale arm showing against the dark pillowcase.  If she slept on the couch in the living room, he would think she was angry about something.  If she slept next to him, she would have to lock her controls tighter than ever, and pray to her Goddess to get her through this.  His pain or hers?

The answer became inevitable once she had reduced it to that question.  Setting the alarm for six, she swiftly stripped down to an old cut-off t-shirt and panties and pulled back the sheet.

Methos opened his eyes, startled, as cool air hit his skin.  He started to reach for his sword, then remembered where he was and realized who was in the room with him.  "Edana?  How late is it?"

"Midnight or so, but that's what, eight in Paris?  Go back to sleep, my own, it's too soon for you to be awake.  I just wanted part of the bed."  She kept her voice casual as she sat down on the edge of the bed.  With one hand she checked the placement of her sword, then reached back and checked for the dagger in the headboard.  Satisfied, she tucked her feet under the sheet and settled onto her side, pulling the sheet up over her shoulder.

Without a word, Methos turned over and curled himself around her, reverting to their usual sleeping arrangement.  He made no comment on her clothes, although he knew full well her preference had always been for sleeping nude.  Her muscles lay in cords under his arm and against his legs; by her breathing she was wide awake.  "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Biting her lip, Aidan shook her head silently, knowing he would see it in the light coming through the curtains.

"All right.  I'll ask you again another day."  He pulled his arm back from where it was wrapped around her waist and began to work on the muscles of her neck.  By the time he had reached her shoulderblades, the tension had eased and she lay half-asleep against him.  He pushed gently and Edana rolled onto her stomach, head pillowed on one arm.  He sat up and went to work with both hands, relaxing her muscles, feeling whatever it was drain out of her as she finally slept.

Odd feeling, though; usually she was the one who ended up doing this for him.  Sometime in the next few days, Methos resolved, after he settled things with MacLeod, he'd have to probe into this.  Sure that Edana was sleeping at last, he curled himself against her.  This time he fell asleep breathing in the familiar scent of roses from her body, the faint traces of rosemary and orange from her hair.

* * * *

"Did you really have to set the alarm for such a dreadful, worm-chasing hour of the morning?"

Aidan looked up from where she was prying apart the remnants of some drywall and grinned at the sight Methos made.  He wore old jeans, a battered t-shirt, tennis shoes, and a layer of sweat and sawdust.  The sword strapped on over all of it gave him an air so gloriously incongruous she could only laugh.

"Good morning.  I take it the coffee finally kicked in?  That's been your first coherent sentence this morning, you do realize."

"No, I did manage 'Where's the coffee?'  And speaking of coffee, I may be labor, but I am not slave labor.  At the very least you have to feed me."

Aidan pointed with her chin to one wall.  "The sink does work.  Wash your hands off, at least, and I'll tell you where the thermos and basket are."

"You're not eating?"  He masked his concern carefully.  Edana could be a bit skittish when she wanted to avoid subjects.  She hadn't mentioned anything this morning, but he clearly remembered her coming to bed upset.  When the alarm went off this morning, she had been draped across him, instead of curled inside the curve of his body as they usually slept.  As usual, she had shed the clothes sometime in the night.  It had been a pleasant, if surprising, way to wake up.

"I'll eat when I get back.  We got up so early to have a few hours over here before I have to go set up the bar for Joe.  Go on, clean up."

Methos sighed dramatically.  "You woke me up at six in the morning to work on your new place -- which I think I'm going to like by the way -- and you're going to leave me here by myself while you go tend bar at Joe's?  Who taught you such chicanery, woman, you didn't learn it from me."

Aidan blinked, then shook her head.  "If I were going to leave you here for six or eight hours while I tend bar, I'd agree with you.  However, I usually just set up the place.  Yesterday was an exception -- designed, I think, to make sure we ran into each other.  I take it you usually stop by the bar when you hit town?"

"Yes, and Joe knew I planned on staying with him the next time I hit town.  Tricky man.  Oh, if you check my overcoat, you'll find the fax I mentioned last night."  Instead of just washing his hands, Methos sluiced water over his head.  He reached for the paper towels next to the sink and dried his face.

"Much better.  Did you find them?"  He turned around and found her sitting on the floor, giggling, covered with plaster from the drywall and sawdust that had drifted down from the ventilation holes above.

"Oh, sweet Mother, is this what he did?" Aidan chortled, waving a finger at the fax in admiration.  "Oh, beautiful, that would have yanked me halfway around the world, too -- but don't tell him that!"

Methos brought over the food and a couple cups.  "Here, have some water."  He started rummaging through the basket, then pulled out bread, cheese, and a pear.  Deliberately, he left some of the cheese out, and a roll.

Aidan drained her water in a single long swallow.  "But where did he get this photo?  That's from last weekend when Duncan and I were checking some riverfront property.  I remember, we had the top down and had to put it back up that afternoon..  Joe wasn't there that I know of...."  Absently she picked up some of the cheese and nibbled it as she started running that morning back through her mind.

"I wouldn't worry about it.  There's probably a perfectly good reason.  Joe is devious, after all."

"The pot calling the kettle black!  Anyway, I need to go do setup.  I should be back in a bit over two hours.  Do you mind?"  She pushed herself to her feet and looked around.

"No, I think I can amuse myself adequately.  I may even get the third floor sanded.  What's next from there?"  Methos handed her the roll and looked around the second floor to see what it needed.

"The drywall has to come down, and the studs.  The rest of the floor is already cleared for the sander, but I haven't cut the holes for the heat vents yet."  She pulled the clipboard out from behind her without looking.  "Here's the list."

Methos looked it over and sighed ostentatiously.  "You were going to do this by yourself?"

"No, I drafted help, but he probably can't start before tomorrow."  She leaned over, kissed him on the cheek, and stood up.  "I'll be back soon.  Did you want the radio from the truck?"

"Over the sander?  My ears aren't that good.  Don't worry about it."

* * * *

Aidan glanced up at the doors, polishing rag in hand.  Two immortals in twenty-four hours?  Male, not as powerful as Methos, it was probably Duncan.  She moved over towards her coat anyway.  Why take chances now?

Duncan walked in, looking around almost casually, but she noticed where his hands were and smiled.  Extreme caution, the mark of surviving immortals.  "Hello, what are you doing here?  Don't you have grades to do?"

He strolled over to the bar.  "Actually, fair lady, I'm here to deliver m'self into y'r hands.  Do wi' me as ye will."  Then he grinned and said, "Actually, I just turned in the grades and my office keys and did all the other necessary nonsense.  My summer intern has things under control at the dojo, my toolbox is in the car, and I'm all yours.  I did give my poor intern your cell phone number, by the way."

Aidan gave the bar one final swipe, decided she hadn't missed anything, and called,  "Mike, do you need me for anything else?"

The disembodied voice from behind the bar replied, "Send my insurance to my wife when this beer keg kills me, but other than that, nah."

"Mike?  You're not married."  Aidan valiantly controlled her voice to keep it calm and reasonable, but her lips twitched as she tried not to smile.  Duncan listened to the by-play, immensely amused.  Few people realized Mike had a sense of humor, until it erupted.

"Really?  I forgot.  Damn, who was that woman who emptied my wallet this morning, then?"  He popped up from behind the bar.  "Hey, MacLeod, how's it going?  Seriously, Aidan, unless there's something you know about that I don't, I figured you were nearly done.  Go work on your house."

Aidan debated telling Duncan who was already at her place, then decided not to.  "All right, Duncan, I'll meet you over there.  Thanks, Mike, see you tomorrow."

* * * *

Duncan didn't have a key yet so he waited for Aidan in the small parking lot behind her new place.  What in the world was she going to do with this much space?  She seemed convinced she could put all of it to use eventually.  He kept meaning to call Connor and find out how much his clansman was storing for her, but he never got around to it, somehow.  Already, four large bags of trash were neatly piled by the dumpster, and a large stack of drywall, plaster, and 2x4 remnants, nails bent down, completed the trash heap.

Aidan parked next to the T-bird and hauled out a sand-blaster.  "Sorry to take so long, Duncan, needed to go rent this.  I have a feeling we'll be working on the walls before sundown."

The Scot raised an eyebrow, complete disbelief on his face.  "Aidan, I heard about that bet yesterday.  If you worked at Joe's until 6:00 or 7:00, when have you had time to get that much done?"

"Everyone has to believe in something, Duncan.  I believe that more than six hours of sleep is wasteful.  It's not like I can get mono or anything else interesting, and I usually stay busy."

Duncan just raised an eyebrow.  "I am going to have to talk you into bending that rule of yours.  I bet an immortal could induce you to sleep more than six hours."

Aidan rolled her eyes, mildly exasperated and amused.  "Duncan, I hate to tell you this, but with the possible exception of Hugh FitzCairn, Dana send him back to us soon, any woman can wear out any man and still be revved up and ready to go.  I used to wear out three men a night on a regular basis." All right, so they usually helped wear each other out, I don't think I want to startle him that much...

"Three men?"  Duncan blinked in surprise.  "You and three--"  He found the idea a little too arousing to consider right now.  Having shared a woman himself more than once in his checkered past, usually with Fitz, too (and he hoped that wasn't in Joe's records!), he could imagine some of what three men could do to try to exhaust one woman.  No, that was not the direction his thoughts needed to be going.  Let's see, snowfall, glaciers, the iceberg that sank the Titanic....

Aidan watched the emotions playing across his face with great interest.  First startlement, then curiosity, then arousal that heated her own blood, then swift mastery to control.  For a long moment Duncan seemed very far away, then he met her eyes again.  "Do I want to know, or should I just assume you were a scandal to the jaybirds and leave it be?"

"Well, actually, the scandal was probably more in the fact that I was married to all of them at once, Duncan...."  She distracted him with that immediately as she moved to phase two of her plan:  stealing his car keys.  "However, as you've heard about the bet, you can see why I want you to carry the sand-blaster.  My back still hurts, immortal healing or no.  Who knew prostheses were so bloody heavy?  Pass me your keys, and I'll bring your tool box along.  Did you remember the saws?"

Duncan threw her the keys.  "Of course I did, I'm the one who told you that we'd need them, remember?"  Valiant effort for naught, he sighed and said, "And what were you doing with three husbands?"

Aidan slung his keys into her pocket, then balanced his tool box in one hand, the two saws in the other, and reached up with one foot to pull down the trunk.  "Ah, ah, I promised to tell Joe that one.  Now if you want to buy me a drink late tonight, I'll tell everyone at once.  Come on."

Now for phase three.  Deliberately, Aidan wrapped her presence around Duncan.  She pushed down her surge of conscience; she would find a way to make this up to him later.  For now she meant to see his relationship with Methos mended by the end of the day.  Doing this, Methos wouldn't know who was coming -- and Duncan wouldn't know who was waiting.

On the second floor, Methos turned off the sander as he felt another immortal coming.  It felt like Edana, and it didn't.  What was that undercurrent?  He drew his sword, not worried about who might notice.  On the second floor it didn't matter, the windows were still filthy, and he'd have to be alive to care anyway.  The last thing he had expected was to see MacLeod stepping out of the freight elevator carrying some piece of machinery, followed by an unexpectedly serious-looking Edana.

As soon as Duncan saw Methos, he turned around and stared at Aidan.  "I never felt him.  Was that why you did that?"

Aidan had set down the tool box and saws in the freight elevator.  Now her sword sliced air as it emerged from her coat.  "This is ridiculous.  You love him dearly.  He loves you dearly.  Neither of you is talking to the other.  We live a long time, but I don't seem to have acquired patience along the way.  Settle this now.  Without killing each other, by the way, teacher mine.  Put down the sword."

She caught Methos' eyes and smiled a bit more grimly than he liked.  "And to give you both an incentive?  I have my weapons, the spare keys to Joe's, and Duncan's keys as well.  I'll be down on the first floor.  You can't leave without my seeing you, and where would you go?  I'm going to go take out some aggressions on the drywall downstairs."

Both men watched as she left, still too surprised to say much yet.  Methos sighed and put his sword back into its scabbard and set it off to one side in the clean area with the food and the coolers.  After Aidan had taken the freight elevator downstairs, he spoke, apparently to himself.  "She always was pigheaded when she got an idea in her mind."

Duncan winced slightly then said, "Actually, she isn't the only one.  Maybe it's the Celtic upbringing."

Methos narrowed his eyes in speculation as the Highlander carefully drew his katana and set it down next to the longsword, then moved away from both blades.

"What, stubborn as a Celt, you mean?"

Duncan looked up, dark brown eyes very serious, and something in the set of his mouth told Methos this was important to him.  "No, I mean, she isn't the only pigheaded one."  MacLeod looked away, obviously hunting for the right words.

"I owe you an apology.  I've known you for two years, off and on.  I met Cassandra once for twelve hours or so when I was still a boy, and again for a few days a year or so ago.  I should never have taken her story over yours without asking you for your side, even..." and here Duncan's face grew even more flushed, "... if I had slept with her."

Finally he looked back at Methos. "And I shouldn't have tried to browbeat an answer out of you, much less one I didn't want to listen to.  God knows I've got things in my own past I have trouble forgiving myself and I'm a tenth your age.  I had no right to judge you, and I'm sorry."

The silence from Methos dragged at Duncan's nerves, until finally he said plaintively, "And I've missed you.  I've missed finding your beer in the fridge, your shoes on the counter, coming in and finding you've taken up residence on the couch.  I've even missed arguing with you over my tastes in music."

Methos finally shook his head, face still remote, not giving anything away.  "MacLeod, you continue to amaze me."  Turning, he walked to the wall.  Duncan tensed as the oldest immortal reached the swords and stood there for a minute, back to Duncan.  Methos knelt down for a long moment, then he turned around.

Duncan had been afraid Methos would come around with his sword.  Instead, he threw a can with a lazy underhand pitch.  "Have a beer.  Mi casa es su casa, MacLeod."

The younger man stood there, holding the drink he'd automatically caught, as startled as he'd been since waking that first day in his father's house as the clansmen used his name for a war cry, thinking him dead.  Only then did he register the open cooler behind Methos, next to the swords.

"I should have known you do nothing in half-measure."  The older immortal walked over to him and ruffled his hair.  "I missed you, too, more than you know.  This has been miserable.  Thank you; I accept your apology."  Then hazel eyes gleamed with mischief.  "However, would you like to get even with some people?"

Duncan laughed in sheer relief as it finally sank in that he was forgiven, too.  Without thinking about it, he grabbed Methos and hugged him, hard.  Methos hugged him back, and Duncan gasped at the cold beer can against his skin.

"What did you have in mind?  Damn, that's freezing, Methos -- and dripping!"

"Don't be such a wuss, Highlander, you're the one who used to run around in kilts.  What do you think about repaying Edana and Joe for setting us up?  Separately, of course."  The beer can came away from Duncan's arm, much to his relief, and he grinned, thinking about it.

"I take it Edana is Aidan?"  Duncan looked at the swords, the elevator shaft, and Methos.

"Yes, she is," and Methos followed his gaze, smiled and inclined his head, "and yes, that was what I was thinking.  Be ready to duck.  She has a tendency to keep throwing daggers around and if we get blood on her floors over a prank, she'll come after our hides in earnest."

Downstairs, Aidan had gone to work with a pry bar, destroying the offending wall of the downstairs bathroom with unnecessary force.  I can force them to talk to each other, but who's going to force me to decide what to do?  I know I love Methos.  I'm falling all too quickly for Duncan.  Lady bless, I swore I would never bed an immortal; now I'm considering how to get two at once if I change my mind.  And MacLeod is a youngster.  He hasn't even made it to his sixth century yet.  With women, it's usually the first century that determines their survival.  With men, it's the first five, and he's just now starting his fifth.  I must be out of my mind.

She burned her tension off with sheer physical exertion, setting her strength against aged wood and large nails.  She had just reached for the hand saw, not wanting the convenience of one of the powered ones, when the clash of steel on steel brought her head up.  That ringing cadence of blows sent Aidan running up the stairs; she never thought to grab her coat, only to stop the fight.

The sight appalled and fascinated her.  Methos had just slashed at Duncan's shoulder, only to be met with a block that sliced back toward the oldest immortal's head.  He ducked hastily, thrusting at Duncan's stomach.  The Scot danced back away from him, katana deflecting the other blade just far enough for safety.  Even as Duncan moved, Methos straightened, longsword sweeping out in that deadly backhand of his.  Now the Scot twisted away from an attack, bringing his sword up to block Methos' blow a foot from his body.

Aidan ran toward them, yelling, "You idiots, quit this or I swear--"  She cut her words off abruptly as they broke off their fight and leveled their swords at her.  Only then did she realize her coat and sword were downstairs; all she had was a small belt knife and an Arkansas toothpick down the back of her shirt.  She stopped sharply, arms going out for balance.  Methos' longsword held steady four inches from her chest, just to the left of her sternum.  Duncan's blade was poised in the air, maybe eight inches from her throat.  One movement of his shoulders and wrists and her head left her shoulders.

Aidan raised her chin slightly, deliberately giving a better target and looked at both of them, arms still out and hands empty.  "Nice to see you can agree on something."  Her eyes were steady but the color was draining rapidly out of her face.  Methos knew her too well; she'd never finish calling the winds, even if she could bring herself to start.

Methos regarded her with that maddening poker face he had trained into her.  His voice sounded as harsh as it had during some of those first years he trained her.  "Don't you ever, ever--"

Duncan cut in, "--quit meddling in your friends' lives for their own good."  He dropped the tip of the katana to point at the ground and hugged her with his free arm.  Methos closed in on her from the other side and wrapped his arm around her as she sagged against them both in relief.

"Idiot woman, did you actually leave your sword downstairs?"  Methos growled the words into her ear as she started breathing normally again.  Her legs began trembling as adrenaline overload hit already low blood sugar.

"You two scared me.  I didn't think.  Ramirez was right," she muttered, reverting to a bastard mix of Arabic and Middle Spanish, "love rots the brain."

Duncan grinned at her, after this morning he felt no sympathy for her shock.  "You deserved that for setting us up like this.  Admit it."

Aidan drew a deep breath as the terror finally receded and, thinking about it from their point of view, she had to agree; they were entitled to their pound of flesh.  "You're right, I did."  At last she started chuckling.  "Gods, I haven't done anything this stupid in hundreds of years.  Duncan, you are a terrible influence on me!"

"Me?!"  Duncan let go of her and stepped back, indignant.  "What did I do?"

"You're the most recent immortal I've met, therefore it's your fault."  She chortled at the look on his face, and wrapped an arm around Methos' waist.

"Now wait, I did not teach you to plan and sneak to get people to do what you want.  You set this whole thing up; it's not something I would've done!"

"Hmm, good point.  I think that's your training, Methos."  She tilted her head back against him, a fond look on her face.

"I know it's my training, and it's nice to see one of my students has taken it to heart.  Work on Duncan, now, would you?"  Methos took no offense whatsoever to being called a sneak.  Death was not on his list of things to do, and he did what he had to do to keep it off the list.

Aidan disentangled herself from him and headed for the food.  "I already abused him with history and logic until he apologized.  What more do you want?  I have a house to put in order and a book to translate; when am I supposed to take on graduate immortal training?"

"When did you last take a student?"  Methos followed her over and grabbed an orange for himself, and threw a banana to her.  Duncan came over to see what food there was and raided for cheese, sausage, radishes and wheat rolls.

"Aidan, could you update your food from the Middle Ages?"

"I'll get a refrigerator in here after we get the floors finished, Duncan, and not before.  Blessed Lady, as if I'd let you starve!  And I took one student in the 1800s and one before her in the mid-1700s, I think, Methos.  In fact, I'm sure of it.  Gorgeous boy, intelligent, too -- an Osage I found west of the Mississippi, called Running Wolf."  A pained look crossed her face and Aidan turned away to investigate the basket.

Duncan and Methos traded glances, Duncan raised an eyebrow and Methos shook his head, mouthing, 'I'll ask.'  "So what happened, Edana?"

She shrugged.  "The usual, I'm afraid.  He lost his head, then he lost his head.  I had told him to stay on Holy Ground while I went trading.  I couldn't take him with me due to some skin color prejudice of the time.  It was safer that I go trade as a white woman by myself than with an Indian the right age and gender to be my lover.

"Running Wolf was very good with a knife, but I was training him on spear so that he'd have a semblance of reach.  An immortal found him outside the sacred grove.  I don't know why Wolf left Holy Ground -- from what I could find, I suspect he was lured out.  From what I could find of Wolf's body, it was a long, nasty death.  The killer left a note for whoever had been training such a 'tender morsel.'"

Aidan popped the lid on her soft drink and drained it.  "He left the head propped on the spear under the cabin overhang, with the note in Wolf's mouth.  Bastard had said he'd wait for me to get back, but I was delayed.  He apparently grew bored and left.  I never could find him, although I tracked him two hundred miles down toward Mexico before I lost the trail in the Apache territories."

She shrugged and used her belt knife to make a cheese sandwich.  "The signature was some immortal I'd never heard of before named Melvin Koren.  I understand he made a hell of a noise down Arkansas/Texas way about a century later.  At least, I found an empty grave he'd been in, but I never found him."  She looked up and only then saw the surprised recognition on their faces.

"You know him."  The implacable rage that surfaced startled Duncan; Methos, however, had seen it before. "Who is he?  Where was he last seen?"

"He's dead, Aidan, I killed him about a month ago."

At the same time Duncan tried to calm her, Methos replied, "He would most likely have taken your head, Edana.  His name was actually Kronos; he was one of the Horsemen."

"One of the...."  She reigned in her temper with a visible effort.  After a slow, deep breath she nodded once.  "Thank you, Duncan.  Call in the favor when and as you like."

"You don't owe me."  MacLeod protested immediately.

Aidan looked up at him, eyes ancient in that youthful face.  "Understand me, Duncan MacLeod.  Voluntary obligations are always heavier than those coerced.  You don't think I owe you.  I'm not sure I can repay you.  Say 'Yes, Aidan,' file it away in your capacious memory, and use it when you're in need."

She sat and ate her sandwich, silent as a stone in the shadows.  Methos reached over and pulled her back until she sat squarely in a pool of sunlight coming in through the window.  Catching Duncan's eye, he put a finger to his lips, then pointed to his watch and held up three fingers.

Sure enough, Aidan began to relax.  After a couple minutes, she tilted her head back to catch the sunshine full on her face.  By the end of the three minutes, she had finished the sandwich and her usual cheer had returned in full force.  Leaning over, she kissed Methos swiftly on the lips, then did the same to Duncan.  "Thank you both.  I'm headed up to the fourth floor to work on the walls.  Yell if you need me."

She went down the stairs to the first floor, presumably to get her sword.  Duncan watched her go and commented ruefully, "Well, we won't get bored at least.  Flip you for who finishes sanding?  Loser has to demolish the room downstairs."

Methos shrugged.  "No need to flip, MacLeod, I've been working on floors all morning and I'm tired of the noise.  You sand; I'll destroy.  I do have practice." When Duncan flinched, the older immortal sighed and said, "Duncan.  I know what I was; so do you.  Let's not deny it, that's what got us into that argument.  Just because I've changed doesn't mean I can't find a few good uses for the knowledge."

After a long moment, Duncan nodded.  "Agreed.  Now, if you can find a good use for pickled turnips, then I'll be impressed...."


Go on to Quarrels, Part 2
Back to Absent Companions



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