DISCLAIMER - None of these characters belongs to me - a cause of much regret, I assure you - I'm just playing with them for a while. I'll put them back where I found them, I promise. The story, on the other hand, such as it is, is mine, copyright May 2001

Colonel Luis Montoya strode purposefully across the main square of Santa Elena. By all accounts, the new doctor was expected today and he wanted to see the man as soon as possible. It wasn't so much a courtesy call, more that it was never too early to make new arrivals aware who held the real power in this pueblo. He would hate for the doctor to be under the misapprehension that he owed any loyalty to the dons. After all, good doctors were hard to find, and this one had come highly recommended.

All at once a strange, but unmistakable, sensation washed over him and he paused mid-stride, stiffening as if he had been stung. Montoya - the name he had chosen for his latest incarnation - knew it at once as the song of another Immortal's presence. Sharp, pale eyes darted over the occupants of the square guardedly, seeking out the threat. He hadn't been challenged since he left Spain, but he would have been a fool to expect his luck to hold forever.

His survey eventually brought his gaze to rest on an unknown figure - tall, dressed in dusty travelling clothes. A wide-brimmed hat hid the man's features from him, but Montoya had no doubt this was the one. It seemed that he had been talking to Senorita Alvarado before his approach and she, by all appearances, was unimpressed by the stranger. Now, though, the man's head was up; no doubt his eyes were also scanning the people nearby, looking for the potential source of danger. It made him look as if he were scenting the air like a skittish colt.

Montoya continued to approach slowly. It was probably too public for real danger, but it never paid to underestimate any possible threat. The man turned as he came closer and, in that instant, both of them froze for just a fraction of a second in startled recognition. They were both too old, too skilled not to be able to cover that moment of shock almost at once and, but for a certain wariness in both sets of eyes, nothing would have appeared to be amiss to the casual observer. A sudden, delicious possibility occurred to Montoya and he acted on that impulse.

"Ah, Doctor Helm, you've arrived." He greeted the other man pleasantly, but his smile would have been the envy of any predator.

"You're a doctor?" Tessa Alvarado was oblivious to the tension in the air. She only seemed to be concerned at the identity of the man who had just deprived her of the last piece of fruit to be found in Santa Elena.

"I rode all the way from Texas just to steal your apple," Helm replied easily, glancing over his shoulder at her. If he was at all disquieted by the thought of turning his back on the other Immortal he wasn't showing it.

"We have been awaiting your arrival with great impatience," Montoya informed him. Two pairs of eyes met and held, assessing. Deciding there was no immediate danger, Montoya continued, "I see you've already met Senorita Alvarado."

With ironic courtesy the doctor touched his hat to her in greeting.

"And now, doctor, allow me to show you around our humble pueblo."

Montoya's voice seemed soft enough - to the uninitiated - but the steel beneath the politeness was clear to the man currently calling himself Robert Helm.

"Senorita." Montoya nodded to her, dismissing her from his mind at once as he walked away with the doctor at his side.

When they were safely away from prying ears and eyes, Montoya turned to look at the man beside him. "We need to talk - and soon," he said sharply. There was absolutely no mistaking the peremptory tone - it was a command, not a request.

The Immortal he had known for a thousand years as Methos inclined his head, veiling the unease in his green/gold eyes. "Yes, you're right," he agreed, noncommittally. Then his gaze flicked up to watch as Colonel Luis Montoya - much better known to him simply as Kronos - strode away.

He groaned inwardly. Since when had his luck got this bad? And this position had seemed so ideal when it came up. But of all the people he could have run into... Shaking his head in weary resignation, Doctor Helm, aka Methos, sighed as he went in search of his office. He refused to speculate on just how short his tenure as Santa Elena's doctor might prove to be.

*******************

The conversation Methos would much rather have avoided came about sooner than he had expected. He had barely had time to begin unpacking his bags before the tell-tale signature of another Immortal intruded on his senses. He heard the outer door to his office open and then close, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching his living quarters.

"It's good to see you again, brother." The voice from behind him was deceptively soft, and now totally free of the accent which had coloured its tones earlier.

Methos turned to find Kronos lounging easily against the doorframe, watching him with a hawk-like stare. It was strange to see him looking so - civilised. Hazel eyes slowly took in the smartly tailored uniform and the neatly trimmed hair caught back in an eminently practical ponytail. Strange indeed... Methos couldn't help but wonder if his own appearance was as much of a surprise to Kronos. Then again, dressed as he was in a pale shirt and trousers, covered with dust and grime from his long journey... had anything but the fine details really changed at all? It was a disquieting thought and he pushed it away brusquely.

He supposed Kronos' comment required some kind of response, but Methos was, unsurprisingly, ill at ease. Uncertain as he was of the other's mood, how should he respond? How best to ensure his head remained safely attached to his neck for the foreseeable future? After all, they had hardly parted on the best of terms... and yet, it was all such a very long time ago. On the other hand, Methos knew just how long Kronos was capable of holding a grudge.

In the end he fell back on his old standby - sarcasm.

"Really? I wish I could say the same, Kronos - I'm sorry, or should that be Colonel Montoya?" Methos smiled tightly. "What happened to the accent, by the way? I rather liked it; it suited you, like that uniform. And I see you've taken to covering your scars these days. Don't they go down well in polite Spanish society?"

As Methos' recitation came to a halt, Kronos pushed away from the doorpost and stalked towards him. He was frowning, clearly displeased.

"I should caution you to watch your tongue, Methos. This pueblo of mine may have need of a doctor - if indeed that's what you are these days - but no one is indispensable. If you try my patience too far..." The threat was perfectly clear.

"I'm no danger to you, Kronos." Methos was careful to present his most open and unthreatening expression. "No one here will learn from me who and what you are. You have my word on it. And if it's your head you're concerned about, don't be. I'm a healer now; I no longer deal in death..."

"So I see." Kronos had been idly flipping through the other man's meagre possessions as he listened to him speak. The lack of any obvious weapons - most especially a sword - did not escape his notice. "An Immortal without a sword... it seems to me you're taking a considerable risk. Strange, for the ultimate survivor..."

"I've been walking away from challenges for a long time now," said Methos steadily. "I have no interest in the Game. I'm content with my life as a doctor." A faint expression of disgust passed over his sharp features. "I'm sick of killing."

"What is this talk? Have the passing centuries turned you into a coward? The Methos I knew could never have been content ministering to these pitiful mortals and their ills," scoffed Kronos.

"Exactly - which should be enough to tell you that I'm no longer the man you once knew." Methos smiled, the barest curving of his lips. "Whatever you may think, I'm no coward, nor am I looking for death. I simply do not want to fight you. But if you force me to it..."

"You'd challenge me with your bare hands?" Kronos laughed dismissively. "I think not."

"I have my resources," Methos assured him, and all at once his eyes were hard, like green ice. It was not the expression of a man who was afraid for his life.

Kronos laughed again, this time more heartily. "Ah, then some things have not changed. The Methos of old was never without a plan to ensure his own survival."

"I'm not looking for death," Methos repeated patiently, "mine or yours. I give you my word."

Kronos seemed to consider this for a long moment, but finally he nodded his acceptance. "Very well, I won't challenge you - unless you try my patience too sorely. Or, of course, unless you break your word. I find myself content here - for the time being - killing you would only endanger my position. But do not make the mistake of assuming that everything between us is forgiven."

"Of course not," Methos murmured in reply. He had learned, long ago, never to assume anything where Kronos was concerned. All the same, his eyes closed and he drew in a deep, relieved breath. Gods, but he needed a drink!

"In the meantime," Kronos continued, irritation plain in his voice, "I have other, more pressing problems to attend to. This damned woman... She appears from nowhere to cause me nothing but trouble... I tell you, Methos, I will not tolerate it."

Methos looked up, the shadow of a smile playing about his narrow lips. Kronos representing the side of the law... It really didn't bear thinking about. The universe was definitely having a joke at someone's expense. Then again, the more Methos thought about it, the more he could appreciate the supreme irony of the situation. Kronos really was the ultimate poacher turned gamekeeper, after all. Methos hoped he enjoyed the paperwork that went with it.

In the end he couldn't resist the temptation to enquire - casually, of course, "Ah yes, this champion of the people I've heard whispers about. What is it she calls herself? The Queen of Swords?"

"I don't care what she calls herself," Kronos snapped, his eyes narrowing dangerously. "She is a thorn in my side - and I will be rid of her. You need have no fear of that."

During this exchange, Methos had been moving slowly towards the door and Kronos had followed him automatically. Now they stood just inside the doorway of the doctor's office. Methos paused with his hand on the latch and turned to his erstwhile brother.

"You know, Kronos," he observed thoughtfully, "you were right. Some things don't change. You never could stand competition - especially from a woman. I wish you luck in trapping your Queen. Good day, Colonel Montoya."

With that, Methos smiled broadly and inclined his head in farewell. Pushing open the door, he strode out into the heat of the Californian sun. He was definitely heading to the cantina now for that much-needed drink. From behind him he heard a low growl.

"Methos!" Kronos hissed furiously.

Pausing mid-stride, Methos turned back to him, smile still firmly in place. "That would be Doctor Helm to you," he said calmly, unperturbed by the angry glare that was being bestowed upon him. They were both in plain sight, after all - he was as safe as he could be, for now.

Kronos knew it too. He schooled his expression, but his eyes narrowed with displeasure as he watched Methos casually strolling away from him. First the Queen of Swords, now Methos... life in Santa Elena certainly wasn't going to be dull for the foreseeable future.

A calculating smile slowly spread across Kronos' face. So, maybe things weren't so bad after all.

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