DISCLAIMER - Highlander and its characters is the copyright of Rysher and Panzer/Davis Productions and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan May 1999

With thanks to Margaret for reading and commenting on this - even if we don't entirely agree about the old guy's motives! :-)

OVERTURES

by Karen Colohan

As he stood with his sword at Methos' throat Duncan MacLeod felt a sudden heady sense of power sweep through him. Here he was with the Quickening of the oldest, most powerful Immortal alive his for the taking - he wasn't even being asked to fight for it. Oh, Methos had put up a token resistance to begin with, just enough to fool Duncan for a moment. Mac was a consummate swordsman, though, he knew when an opponent was making mistakes deliberately. And with his scheme uncovered Methos had done something more surprising still - he'd set the katana's blade to his own throat.

Even as Duncan contemplated what having such a powerful Quickening inside him could mean, he knew that he didn't want it. It wasn't in him to kill lightly. Duncan MacLeod only killed those he believed deserved that fate, those who were evil - like Kalas. Methos had done nothing to show Mac that he merited death.

There was also the matter of Methos' motives. Duncan still didn't really understand why Methos had offered him his head. Nor was he entirely convinced by the the old Immortal's apparent willingness to die after 5000 years of life. Oh, Duncan had heard the reasons Methos had given for surrendering his Quickening, and they seemed plausible enough, but as to whether he believed them... Methos had hidden himself away from other Immortals for centuries, avoided challenges so that he might survive. It seemed unlikely in the extreme that he would serenely give up his life now to a man he barely knew. It didn't make sense to Duncan, for all that Methos appeared to be sincere.

As he concentrated on the tense form before him Duncan noted all the telltale signs which spoke of Methos' fear. Irrespective of whether or not his offer was genuine, the oldest Immortal did not want to die. Maybe Methos was gambling on Duncan's honour to keep him safe. If he'd read the Highlander's Chronicles he might have concluded it was a risk he could afford to take. Duncan was by no means sure he would have found the courage to do the same in similar circumstances - after all, even he had been tempted by the power of Methos' Quickening, if only for a moment. But if that was the case, it still begged the question - why? What did Methos want from Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod that he was prepared to take such a risk to obtain?

Duncan had no idea, but he was more certain than ever that he did not want to kill Methos. No, he wanted Methos to stay alive - and he wanted to learn more about this 5000 year old enigma clothed in the body of an unassuming young man.

That the outward appearance was all a part of Methos' survival strategy, Duncan had no doubt. Adam Pierson could fade into the background with ease, it was clear. Wearing that persona Methos had been right under the Watchers' collective noses for years and not one of them had ever guessed his duplicity! Duncan wasn't fooled by the facade, though. He'd looked long and deep into Methos' hazel eyes at the moment of their first meeting, and what he had seen there had taken his breath away. There were depths to this 5000 year old Immortal Duncan could only dream of plumbing - and he wanted to. He had felt an instinctive pull to this young/old man.

In a way Duncan felt as if he had known Methos all his life - at least, it was as if his soul had, even if his conscious mind had not. That first, blazing instant in which Duncan had realised exactly who it was sitting on the floor of Adam Pierson's apartment had shaken him and left him in awe. And the way Methos had said his name... as if he too had been measuring the man against his reputation. Had Methos expected their paths to cross?

'Mi casa es su casa'. What a strange greeting that had been, but Duncan felt sure they hadn't been randomly chosen words. He was more certain of that than ever now. Something told Duncan that he and the oldest Immortal were going to become much better acquainted with one another - if they both managed to survive Kalas' machinations, at any rate.
Methos still stood silently, his head back to reveal the long, pale column of his vulnerable neck. If he wondered why it was taking Duncan so long to finish things he gave no sign. Nor did Methos seem to be having any second thoughts about his decision. He'd had ample time to move away from the naked threat of the katana, but he still made no attempt to do so.

Duncan looked again at the blade of his sword where it rested against the oldest Immortal's damp skin and knew he would never go through with the stroke. Quite simply, he couldn't take this man's head. Methos still didn't know that, though, and his eyes were squeezed tightly shut in anticipation of the fatal blow. Duncan watched Methos swallow nervously, fascinated by the play of shadows over the young seeming face.

The mixture of fear and vulnerability in Methos' expression stirred Duncan's protective instincts, not that they were ever that far from the surface. Suddenly, all Duncan wanted to do was to wipe away that fear, to reassure Methos that revenge could be served in other ways. Kalas would be defeated, Duncan would see to that. The old Immortal had said he wouldn't let Duncan fight his battles for him, but, in truth, this wasn't about Methos. It was Duncan that Kalas really wanted and so he would fight him, but without the aid of Methos' Quickening. Duncan wanted that to remain exactly where it was now - inside the slender frame of the oldest Immortal.

His choice made, Duncan let the blade of the katana drop away from Methos' throat. He stepped back, watching Methos' reaction to this turn of events. Duncan was still curious about the old man's motives and wondered if this might give him some insight. However, if he had expected gratitude for the reprieve, it wasn't forthcoming. The old Immortal's eyes flew open and he stared at Duncan in stunned disbelief.

"MacLeod! What do you think you're doing? I offered you my head." Methos' gaze, suddenly intent, pinned Duncan. "Don't you want to beat Kalas?"

"Yes, of course I do," Duncan shot back, "but I won't have your life be the price I have to pay to make it easier. Kalas isn't worth that."

"You're a fool, MacLeod." The hazel eyes narrowed as Methos took two steps towards Duncan, reaching again for the hand holding the katana.

"Maybe," Duncan shrugged his shoulders dismissively, "but I still won't kill you."

"You don't know me. Why should it matter to you if I live or die?" Methos seemed genuinely curious.

"I could ask you the same question, Methos," Duncan countered. "Why are you doing this? After 5000 years I would have thought you'd be rather attached to your head." Duncan raised his dark brows, daring the other Immortal to disagree with him.

Methos was visibly controlling his temper. "I told you, MacLeod. You're too important to lose."

The old Immortal's long fingers closed about Duncan's wrist and Mac looked down at them, pale against his own tanned skin. When Methos tried to raise the blade of the katana again, Duncan resisted. Methos tugged harder, his expression set and stubborn. With another shrug Duncan simply opened his fingers and let the sword fall from his grasp. It clattered to the pavement in a shower of sparks as the tempered blade struck stone.

"Why?" Methos' voice was harsh. He looked from Duncan's face to the fallen katana and back again.

There was confusion on his face, but Duncan saw the spark of anger deep in Methos' eyes too. There was so much more to this man than was apparent on the surface. Methos might seem mild-mannered and unassuming, but Duncan had glimpsed the steel at his core. Methos would be a dangerous enemy.

Duncan didn't want his enmity, though. With a sudden clarity he knew he wanted Methos to be his friend. When they had first met Duncan had felt the instant connection between them. It demanded to be explored further. Something told him that Methos had some significant role to play in his life. Duncan wanted to find out what that might be. He had the feeling Methos already knew it. And if that was true, then Methos had never seriously expected Duncan to take his head. His fear had been real enough, though, so Methos must have known at least a moment of doubt.

It struck Duncan that Methos didn't expect him to see through his machinations. He'd been pushing all Mac's buttons effortlessly, though to what end Duncan was still unclear. Perhaps the time had come to call the old Immortal's bluff.

"You know, you have a lot to learn about me, Methos," said Duncan thoughtfully. "If I kill you now you'll never have the chance to do so, will you?"

"And that's your reason for passing up the best opportunity you're likely to get to beat Kalas?" Methos' brow wrinkled in a frown.

"No." Duncan bent and retrieved his sword, tucking it back inside his coat. "You were right. I don't know you - yet, but I'd like to. 5000 years of history, that's a pretty compelling reason, Methos. Personally, I'd rather find out about it by getting to know a living person, not second-hand from your Quickening."

"So, just because you've let me live, you think I'll give you the chance to get to know me. Is that it? In case you've forgotten, I avoid entanglements with our kind. Why should you be any different?" Methos' posture was casual, but his hazel eyes betrayed his interest in Duncan's answer.

Duncan smiled, his dark gaze sweeping the damp, bedraggled form of the 5000 year old Immortal. "'Mi casa es su casa'. It wasn't me who offered that."

"You read too much into things, Highlander. It was just the first thing that came into my head." Methos shrugged, dismissing the words.

"Yeah, it was, wasn't it," agreed Duncan equably. He tilted his head, taking the measure of the other Immortal. "You know, you could have denied that you were Methos, too. I'm sure you could have found a way to explain Adam Pierson being an Immortal. After all, you seem to have a way with words. You didn't, though, so I have to assume you wanted me to know who you really were. You must have had a reason."

"Maybe I wanted to give you the best chance of defeating Kalas," said Methos dryly. "Just like I told you, right about the time I was putting your sword to my neck!"

"Have it your way, then, Methos - for now." Duncan leaned closer to the other Immortal, speaking his final words directly into Methos' ear. "But I know that I'm right - and so do you. You're a survivor - you don't last 5000 years on luck alone. You do nothing without a good reason, of that I'm sure. Now, I'm betting that you'd done your homework. You have the Watchers' records at your disposal. You were sure enough I wouldn't take your head, Methos. You wouldn't have offered it otherwise. But don't worry, your secret's safe with me. Oh, and I will figure out just what you hoped to gain from this little charade."

With that Duncan drew back. The oldest Immortal merely gaped at him, speechless. It was clear enough that Methos hadn't expected this outcome! Duncan smiled again and a pleasant warmth settled inside him. Victory felt good, no matter what form it took. Duncan turned and strode away into the tunnels without another word. He didn't need to turn around to know that Methos' clever eyes were following his retreat.

Methos watched Duncan leave and shook his head admiringly. He might be 5000 years old, but he was by no means immune to the pull of this Highland child. And it seemed MacLeod had more talents to call upon than just his skill with a sword. Methos hadn't expected him to realise that he was being manipulated. Methos sheathed his sword and pulled his damp coat tighter around his thin frame.

Oh yes, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod was definitely too important to lose and whether he realised it or not he had just found himself a new teacher. 400 years was a respectable enough age for an Immortal, but if Duncan was to continue to survive there were other lessons he needed to learn. And Methos was uniquely qualified to teach Duncan the skills he needed, but would doubtless never learn on his own. Honour and playing fair were all well and good, in theory, but in the end they only got you killed - Methos would rather MacLeod didn't learn that lesson the hard way!

Methos allowed himself to set aside MacLeod's significance in the Game for a moment. If he was honest he had his own reasons for wanting to preserve the Highlander's head. For the first time in centuries Methos felt as if he were alive. He had forgotten just how good that could feel - to live rather than merely exist.

Involvement, passion, fire - they were concepts Methos had long disavowed, but no more. It was time for Adam Pierson to take a back seat for a while and let Methos be this body's driving force. It was a risk, of course, but something told Methos the potential rewards were worth it.

He stood for a long while, staring after Duncan MacLeod and planning his next move. So, the Highlander didn't want his Quickening. That was probably just as well as Methos rather liked it where it was, too. There were other ways to even the odds, though. Duncan would not fall to Kalas.

Methos turned and strode away, intent on making certain of that fact, by whatever means were at his disposal.

THE END

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