He turned around, searching out the voice. It was soft and rich, vibrating with the subtle tones of a violin, shaded with the sweet lilt of a flute. Mildly amused at himself for the poetic analogy that had so quickly materialized, he shrugged and walked on, his shoulders braced against the cold, his hands deep in the pockets of his trench coat. The mist rolled in off the water, an unusual phenomenon. The lights of the city always burned away the clinging fog.
He trudged on. He knew where he was going; there were only three places he frequented often: Mac's loft, Joe's bar, and his own apartment.
But he couldn't remember why he needed to see MacLeod, and so desperately at that. The situation was wrong, all wrong; the air was heavy and thick in his nostrils, the ground was hard under his plodding feet. All around him, there was urgency, and yet his feet dragged.
And then she was there. Standing in front of him, where nothing had been before. She, and it was unmistakably female, was little more than a vague, black shadow. "Methos, don't."
"Don't what?" He watched, unmoving, as her hand lifted. He waited, breathless, for her to touch him.
\She did. The caress of her fingers was light and disappointingly brief, nothing more than an abstract slide of her fingertips across one angular cheekbone. But it felt as though he'd been branded, burned like one of the villages he'd plundered so long ago. A sharp, stinging awareness went through him, his skin tightened in protest. This was not the Buzz of another immortal. This was pure emotion, undefinable in its complexity.
It was making him sick. She understood, backing a step away. "Don't go. Don't bother. Don't do it. You know it won't make any difference."
"Why-why not?" She was gone, as vague as a shadow and as powerful, in her absence, as a suggestion.
And he was left feeling irritated and talking to himself in the middle of a deserted street. Resolutely, he squared his shoulders and continued on. It was important, damn it--
"Methos! Don't!" And it was as if the sun exploded before his eyes, a shower of white-hot sparks and shattered intentions.
Methos hit the ground running and made it halfway across his apartment, sword in hand, before he realized exactly where he was...and where he wasn't. Ruefully glancing around, even down at himself, he was pleased to note that everything was as it should be. He was finally going insane, but everything was fine.
He looked up and caught a glance of himself in the hall mirror. Sweaty, disheveled, his hair standing on end and clad in wrinkled blue boxers, he looked like a college student on a bender.
Squinting at himself in the glass, he absently fingered his five o'clock shadow and muttered, "Methos, old boy, no more beer before bedtime."
"What happened to you?" Duncan asked politely, eyeing Methos' rattier-than-usual appearance. His hair hadn't gotten more than his fingers run through it, his omnipresent gray sweatshirt looked like it had been rescued from a dryer accident, and his face was still lined with sleep.
Methos, known in wider circles as Adam Pierson, raised his head from his hands and took a fortifying swig from the beer mug as Duncan slid into the chair opposite him. "Didn't get much sleep last night."
"Oh, anything keeping you up? Or anyone?" He slid that in last with a suggestive grin on his face.
"Yes. Oh, yes, it's a woman. It's always a woman." Half-concious or not, the sardonic amusment could not be repressed.
"Oh?" Women were few and far between with his friend. "Anyone I know?"
"Amanda." His face was unreadable, as always, and he hastened to take it back before MacLeod forgot how to breathe altogether. "No one you know. No one *I* know, either."
Duncan's eyebrow shot to new heights as he stared at Methos' sprawled posture. One night stands weren't in the man's repertoire...
Methos looked up and caught his scruitny. "Oh, for God's sake, MacLeod! It's-" the sentence was interrupted by a huge yawn, "-not what you think. I had a bad dream is all."
"A bad dream?" Duncan's incredulous expression was comical. "A bad dream was enough to keep *you* awake?" This from a man who claimed he had no conscience. "You aren't tussling with some kind of *moral*delimma, are you?" Methos had once said much the same thing while laughing at Duncan.
His humor was not appreciated. Methos glared blearily at him from underneath a fringe of unruly hair. He stood up, and, with mocking dignity, announced, "I'm going for a walk. Later." He nodded and ambled out the door.
In truth, he only walked further than his bed, and threw himself down on it. He rolled around some and buried his head in the pillow, settling in for a decent nap.
Light was reflecting off of something in his apartment, and it shone through his eyelids. He opened his eyes to the sight of his Ivanhoe, laid out on the bookshelf against the wall across from the bed.
It was wrong. He kept his sword within easy reach when he slept, tucked between the bed and the nightstand.
He hadn't moved it.
Or had he? The odd, cryptic dream had unnerved him, he might have tossed the sword aside in his haste to get back to sleep. But that was unlikely. At five thousand years old, he had good reason to treat his sword like it was his baby.
"Like I'm going to be able to sleep now," he growled, tossing the covers back. Wrapping his arms around his upraised knees, he rested his chin on his arms and stared moodily across the room. Methos had a very long heart-to-heart with his Ivanhoe.
It didn't have much to say.
"Hey, Adam! Want a beer?" Joe Dawson, mild-mannered Watcher, grinned as he strode toward the table. "Oh, yeah. Look who I'm askin'." He slid into the seat across from the Immortals. Duncan MacLeod had already taken the chair next to Methos. "What's wrong with you?" He looked more awake than he had that morning, but no less tired.
"Nothing's *wrong* with me. I'm just tired, okay?" He snapped, covering his waspishness by talking a long swig from his beer.
"You expecting somebody?" Joe asked. What he meant was, Are you expecting to have to behead somebody before the night is over? It was their way. It was called The Game, but Methos had never come across such a misnomer in his life. It wasn't a game. Monopoly was a game. This was a way of life.
"I don't know." But he was prepared; his trench coat folded around him like a dark embrace, the Ivanhoe hanging from the loop sewn into the lining.
"So I guess dinner is out, huh?" They had planned to go hang out together all evening, but if Methos was going hunting. . . .
"No. I'm the last guy to go looking for it, Joe. You said so yourself."
Late afternoon slid into twighlight, the hazy golden sunlight bleeding red-orange into the night. When the first stars began to emerge from beneath an violet sky, trouble made its appearance.
In the form of a woman, naturally. Joe and Mac were arguing affably about boxing or some other sport that held no interest for Methos whatsoever. He passed the time by listening with half an ear and making witty comments when he could. He had just returned from his fourth-sixth?-trek to the bar for a refill when the door swung open.
It was like a scene in an old Western movie. The stranger stood silhouetted in the doorway, a shadow outlined by the vivid purple sky behind her. Slowly, she atepped into the room, the warm yellow lights of the bar drawing her out of the darkness. Brown leather ankle boots with three inch heels disappeared beneath the cuffs of a pair of jeans so old they were almost white, soft enough to mold to a pair of shapely, strong legs. Her ensemble was completed by a thick corded wool sweater, forest green and graced with a turtleneck that drew attention to the elegant line of her jaw.
That was all he had time to notice, because the feeling of being frozen in time shattered then, and he realized that he'd been staring. The woman glided through the door and into the ladies' room without pausing, and Methos was cleared his throat and went back to his table.
"So...what took you so long?" Apparently, he hadn't missed the exchange. A sly grin accompanied the question.
"Nothing," he muttered defensively. Joe shot Duncan a what-did-I-miss look; his back was to the door and so he hadn't seen the woman. MacLeod let Methos off the hook and went back to talking about football. Methos stared at the tabletop through the bottom of his beer mug. This was not the time to get a randy itch for some woman. Just look at what had happened with Charlotte!
One of the waitresses came over then, asking Joe to sign the receipt for more napkins or something which was obviously vital to the bar's prosperity. "Sure, Maxine. Got a pen?" Maxine sent her hands into her pockets and finally shook her head. When she turned to go fetch one, she ran into the woman standing behind her.
The woman in green stood holding out a pen, one laquered and gold-plated, not your average Bic. She stood poised to give it to Maxine, but she was looking at Methos.
Her eyes narrowed, masking their color, as her mouth opened into a wide grin. Her hair, though, gleamed with faint coppery tones amidst the darkness. Maxine, awed by her presence if not her looks, tentatively reached out to take the pen. He had time to notice that her palms were encased in thin black velvet gloves, the fingers cut off and the wrists embroidered with an ivy leaf design in silver thread.
"Thanks," the waitress said, turning to hand Joe the receipt. By the time Joe was done and Maxine turned again, she was gone.
But not before she gave Methos a sly wink and he felt his insides go all to jelly.
It was three days before he saw her again, his mystery woman. Once again, they had all convened at the bar, because Methos refused to go anyplace any more up-scale and Duncan refused to go to the former's first choice of establishment. It was probably, as he said, Salmonella central, and the place probably got more rats than customers. Methos' only reply was, "But, MacLeod, they have great beer!"
It was "Open Mike Nite" at Joe's, or so the huge red banner flapping above the stage declared. Duncan was last to arrive, and he grimaced at the patriculary nasal rendition of Eric Clapton's "Leila" going on at the time.
Something was wrong. He looked worried, his clothing and hair rumpled. "What's up?" Methos asked casually.
"Not sure. Somebody sent me a love letter." His tone implied something else altogether. He pulled a folded sheet of paper out of his pocket and handed it over silently.
It was six words, simple and to the point: I'm coming to take your head.
"Oh, please," Methos sneered. "This has got to be something only a newbie would do. It's so damn melodramatic." He tossed the paper away as if it personally offended him.
"Not necessarily. Newbies don't have the patent on theatrics. 'I am the end of time!', remember?" He imitated Kronos' parting scream and winced for effect.
"It's not like he was the only one. 'You're history'...thwack!"
"You guys..." Joe appeared in time to roll his eyes, taking the chair beside MacLeod. "What's going on?"
Duncan filled him in. "So you don't have any idea wh--Who is *that*?"
Methos turned in the direction of Joe's wide-eyed, slack-jawed stare and watched the mystery woman sidling up to the stage. "With a body like that, what do you wanna bet she's got a voice like rusty nails?" he muttered to himself.
She was still wearing gloves, fingerless and made of black velvet. These had crimson roses stitched onto the backs of the hands. She hopped on stage and nodded politely to the young man who had just made it through a decent instrumental of some nameless jazz piece. The lights gleamed on her auburn hair and cast her face in harsh relief, bringing attention to the high cheekbones, and a creamy, pale complexion. "Rusty nails," he reminded himself. Like he could afford to get crazy over this woman. He didn't even know her name!
The sweater she wore, a deep, velvety amethyst color, and its wide vee-neck guaranteed that it would slide from her shoulder at the earliest opportunity. Which it did. Her hair was pulled back haphazardly, and a long skein of straight dark hair fell forward to caress her cheek. She looked every inch the tortured songbird, ready to pour out her soul to a bar full of strangers. Turning, she sweet-talked the guistarist into surrendering his instrument and turned back to her already captive audience, pulling the guitar strap over her head. She nodded to give the backup band their cue and launched into a mesmerizing rendition of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page".
"On a long and lonesome highway east of Omaha/ You can listen to the engine moanin' out its one-note song. . ."
She had the voice of an unrepentant sinner, deep and rich and ready to lead you to Hell. The guitar practically purred beneath her touch, she played the harmony of the song effortlessly. Behind her, the band played the backbeat softly, in utter reverence to her skill.
". . .But your thoughts will soon be wanderin' the way they always do/ When you're ridin' sixteen hours and there's nothin' much to do. . ."
usty nails, hell. He was going to find out who this woman was or lose his head trying.
". . .Here I am/ On the road again/ There I am/ Up on the stage/ Here I go/ Playin' star again/ There I go/ Turn the page. . ."
Methos was staring resolvedly into his beer when he felt his skin tighten against his body. His head came up, and he saw MacLeod turn out of the corner of his eye. He must have made some kind of sound, but at the moment he was too far gone to care.
She was staring at him, across the crowded room. Her eyes were silver, the color of the thirty coins paid to Judas. The color of a monlit winter, the color of ice and cold fury.
By the time she played the final notes, the room was hushed and subdued in the face of her talent. The lyrics vibrated in her throat, falling into a chasm of stunned silence. Heartbeats thudded loudly before anyone reacted. And then the room exploded with applause, whistling and calls for an encore.
She waited until after it died down before smiling shyly. "Do you really want another one?" she asked, her voice higher now. When they answered with a resounding yes, she began the notes of an unknown song, perhaps one of her very own. The rhythm was decidedly alternative beat, simple but for her voice and the fast plucking of the guitar strings. Her voice metamorphasized into that of a vetran lounge singer, husky and uncomplicated, coming straight from the throat. It was the lyrics that had Joe, Duncan and Methos glancing at each other in confusion. They were haunting...and suggestive:
Let's take the time to find out what's inside
Away from all this wind and rain
The six arrive
The fire lights their eyes
Invited here to learn to play
The Game. . .
We travel blind
And feel along the walls
And barely know from where we came
The paths divide the players from the rules
But we're the ones who chose to play
The Game. . .
There was a long instrumental bridge here that the woman played without looking, gazing instead into the narrowed hazel eyes of the man she'd come for. With a quick wink, she launched into the rest of the song:
Let's take the time to find ourselves again
Away from daily stress and pain
Though we may find
We'll not come back the same
That happens sometimes when we play
She hardly paused as she took her bows, returned the guitar and jumped off the stage. Methos glanced at Mac, who nodded at the unspoken question. So when the woman disappeared out the door, Mthos got up and discreetly followed her. Who knew what she meant with that song of hers? Maybe she was some Immortal's ex-girlfriend, and she had a vendetta against them now. Maybe she was a left-over from Horton's little band of merry men. Maybe this was all just an innocent coincidence.
Or not. He'd have to be the world's oldest idiot not to find out which.
The cool night air slapped his face as he pushed through the door. The street outside was empty and dim, the dakrness spread over the land like a warm blanket. He followed the echo of her retreating footsteps across the downtown area, through the business district, and into the older section of the city.
Here, the buildings were stately and elegant, but run-down and negelcted. Old oaks stood as silent guardians of austere Tudor houses, no less impressive with peeling paint and missing boards. Her heels clicked on the cracked sidewalks and then went silent.
Methos stopped, straining to hear in which direction she had gone. Her laughter reached him, startling him with its proximity. It was light and high, but it would have been silly to say something to compare it to bells or music. It was too real, too human, too...childish. Methos smiled as she snorted and then giggled.
Turning, he walked straight into the embrace waiting for him.
After he hit his head on one of the marble angels flanking the entrance of the cemetary, he backed out of the statue's arms, outstretched in welcome. Shaking his head, he padded across the overgrown grounds, picking his way around tombstones and monuments built in loving memory to the deceased.
The laughter had come from the back of the cemetary, but there was nothing there except a single monument. Built on a high pedestal, the moonlight glowed on the smooth perfection of Italian marble. Two words gleamed with gilt on the side of the rectangular slab: For Richard. The statuary on top of the slab was an angel; bent forward on her knees, her arms outspread, her wings stretched protectively over her body and head.
"She's beautiful, isn't she?"
She was standing next to him, her hands in her back pockets. "So are you." he couldn't help it, although he cursed himself for using an incredible cliché.
She laughed. Her eyes flashed, and he could see they were even more beautiful in the dim light. They were pearl gray; the irises bordered by a rim of smoky charcoal, Her eyes narrowed, the thick sable lashed veiling her secrets. "Is that why you were following me?"
"Yes." Lie, lie, a word to live by. "What's your name?"
"Lilith." God, he could at least come up with a convincing lie.
"What were you laughing at, Lilith?"
"Call me Lily. Look." She nodded at the statue. Methos blinked at it, seeing nothing. And then he caught the dark shape oozing out from under one of the angel's wings. It dropped to the grass with a small yelp and rolled over, mewling pitifully.
Methos made a face as the puppy crept over and licked his shoe. Lily chuckled. "C'mere, you little boot-licker." She reached down to pick up the cuddly little bundle of fur and cradled it under her chin. "Isn't he cute?"
"No," Methos gazed dubiously at the wiggling creature and shuddered. "Its paws are the size of dinner plates. It'll probably grow bigger than you will. Are you going to keep it?"
"Yes, I think I will." She lifted the pup to look into its big brown eyes and said, "I dub thee Sneakers." The animal yapped and licked her nose.
"I try." She smiled, and gestured with her free hand, tucking the puppy into her shirt with the other. "Shall we go, Mr. . . .?"
"Pierson. Adam Pierson."
"Shall we go, Adam?" And, as they were leaving consecrated gound she said conversationally, "Did you know that Lilith was Adam's first wife?"
"Yes. She became a demon queen and a creature of the night after she left Eden."
"Because Adam wouldn't let her be on top." Her lips widened in a feline grin. "I don't suppose you have that problem?"
Methos' smile was swallowed up by the shadows.
He was halfway back to Joe's with her before he realized that he'd sompletely abandoned his suspicion. "What were you doing at the cemetary?"
Lily smiled. "Paying my respects," she said softly. He flinched.
"I'm sorry," he said automatically, meaninglessly. "Can I take you home?"
"If you wish."
He waited a few moments in silence. "It might help if I knew where you lived."
"Oh," she smiled wickedly. "I thought you'd just follow me there.
"So," MacLeod pounced as soon as Methos reappeared. Technically, it was after closing time, but Dawson and Mac were still sitting at the bar. "What took you so long?"
"I'm in love," Methos drawled, "We spent hours fu-"
"Sorry, Joe." His grin indicated that he didn't mean it. "She's just a woman. She's not hunting us or out to get anybody, it was just a song she wrote."
"That's it? What makes you so sure?"
"Nothing. I just am."
"Great. Some woman shows up out of nowhere and you're so hard-up you'll believe anything."
Methos pulled his chin back, his eyebrows rising. "Jesus, Dawson. What's your problem?"
"Hasn't it occured to you that she has something to do with that letter Mac got?"
Methos laughed. "Oooh," he moaned, "They're out to get you, Dawson. Big Brother is watching. . ."
"Smart ass. I'm serious. This woman-"
"Her name is Lily. And she's not even one of us."
"Whatever. Since when has that stopped anybody? Remember Horton? Rita?"
"I've heard. But there's no reason to believe she has anything to do with this."
"There's no reason to believe she *doesn't* have anything to do with this."
Methos whistled. "Oooh, that's a good one, Joe. You always been this quick? Medication can take care of that paranoia problem you're having."
"Me? Hah!" Joe snorted, jabbing a finger in Methos' direction, "What makes you so trusting all of a sudden? What happened to 'I didn't get to be 5,000 years old by worrying about abybody but myself'?"
"Okay, fine," Methos reached over the bar to refill his glass from the tap. "You're so sure she's hiding something, why don't we all go over to her place tomorrow morning and you can interogate her? I'll be the good cop."
"Fine. Let's go, then." Joe nodded and crossed his arms over his chest, satisfied.
MacLeod looked back and forth between the two of them, trying very hard not to glare at each other, and grinned. "Aw, you guys. . .I never knew you cared!"
Joe and Methos pinned him with a pair of mean-eyed squints and answered in unison. "Shut up, MacLeod!"
She was lying in bed again, waiting for him come to her. He always came to her precisely at midnight. He was not the man he had once been; the wars had changed him. He had been one of the few to return, but for the grace of God. . . .
And her. He knew nothing of the part she played in his release. Prison had made an animal of him, the man she had once loved with everything in her. But no more. He was inhuman, a fragile husk of a man bent on self-destruction, a man whose soul was feasted upon by guilt. He had returned, hale and hearty, and yet so many of his countrymen were rotting in the hot sun of the Promised Land.
Sometimes she wished she had never interferred; she should have left him to his fate. Now, he disappeared into the forests all day, hunting and sparring against nature to purge the beast within, but at night, he always came to her. He expcted to be able to lose hinmself in her body, to sink into her depths as though she offered the cool savior of loving passion and had nothing else to offer.
She had made the mistake thousands of women had made before, and would make again: she had fallen in love with a man, and then decided that she could change him.
But it was not too late. He could still be saved, couldn't he?
She tensed, hearing footsteps in the hall. Sitting up, she brushed at her tears and aranged her chaste batiste nightrail, her eyes locked on the door.
And then he was there, a looming figure with shadows in his eyes and lines of strain on a face that had been young and unmarked only a few short years ago. Wordlessly, he reached for her, one hand lifting to capture her throat as though to force her to his will.
Lily tumbled from the bed, spilling onto the hardwood floor in a heap of blankets and flesh. The name that fell from her lips came from the depths of her subconcious, but it was not the name of the man she had been dreaming about.
Methos' eyes opened almost of their own volition, and he lay in the darkness staring up at the ceiling for several minutes. Now, why the hell was he awake? God only knew. He glanced at the clock, but the numbers didn't register.
A sweatshirt, he didn't stop to find out which one, was lying on the floor. It went over his head. The jeans lying in a corner followed, although it took two tries to get them on properly. And he zipped his fly just a wee bit too fast for his liking: "Oh, Jesus!. . .Owww. . ." His shoes went on his bare feet and he jabbed himself in the ribs with the hilt of his sword by throwing on his coat too quickly.
It was a beautiful night, the sky clear and showcasing a Tiffany display of glittering stars. The wind had dulled to a soft breeze. He staggered across town and was banging on a familiar door in no time.
Duncan threw open the door with a frosty glower and thrust the tip of his katana into the shadows. It encountered the hard edge of an Ivanhoe broadsword. "It's me, Mac!"
MacLeod grunted and moved away to let Methos in, but still jabbed the sword at him threateningly. "Do you have any idea what time it is? Is somebody on fire, or something?!"
"No. I just had something to ask you."
"What?!" Duncan herded Methos upstairs into his apartment and set the katana aside and poured a brandy, idly scratching his bare chest with the other hand.
"You know, Mac, you should really lay off the wine. People are beginning to talk."
Mac narrowed his eyes, pointing to the laquered tea kettle on top of the stove. "What color is that?"
"Black," He answered automatically. "Oh."
"Exactly. Now, did you want something, other than to make me into a raving insomniac?"
"I've been having these dreams and I wanted to know what you thought."
The eyebrow shot dangerously high. "Do I look like Freud this early in the morning?"
"Oh, all right. What is it?"
Methos told him all of it; the strange woman, the desperation, the explosion at the end.
The first thing out of his friend's mouth was, "How long has it been since you've been with a woman?"
Methos rolled his eyes. "MacLeod, that has nothing to do with--"
"Not since Alexa." Duncan's expression became very pointed. "Oh, knock it off, Mac! I did some time in prison, you know. I didn't get laid for three years. It's not like I don't know self-control."
"No, but it has been awhile, and now, a woman walks into your life, very beautiful and very, very, VERY--"
"See? Already being possessive."
"I am not!" MacLeod levelled another knowing look at him. "Would you quit doing that? You're really annoying, you know that?"
"Well, I'm sorry I'm not my usual entertaining self at four in the morning." He stood up and stretched, doing the usual routine of scratching and yawning before he turned back toward the bedroom. "I don't suppose this means you're going to go back to your own apartment?"
"But, Mac, it's so early. . ."
"All right, whatever. Just leave me alone for a few hours, huh?" Methos shrugged out of his coat and threw it over the oppositecouch before sprawling across his own. He was almost comfortable when he heard Duncan say his name.
"Your shirt's inside out."
It was the only thing that felt right, at the moment.
- Sorcha Dee
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