Outside, under one of the bridges over the Seine, Rhiannon stopped.
"I'm being presumptuous," she said. "I should have asked. Do I have somewhere to go?"
Methos's face lit up, filled suddenly with almost comical relief, as if until that moment he hadn't been sure what she intended.
"Mi casa es su casa," he said, and raised her hand to his
Some time towards the morning, Rhiannon awoke to find Methos propped up on one elbow looking down at her, a faint smile on his face. A soon as he realised she was awake, he kissed her, and she purred sleepily.
"Do you think it's possible to remember how someone tastes for two thousand years?"
"I hope so."
Something in the tone of his voice brought her fully awake, her eyes sharply focused. Methos made a face.
"Get out of my head, witch," he said.
"I'm only there because you let me in," she said softly.
She touched his face and he turned towards her hand, rubbing his cheek against her palm.
"What is it, Methos?"
He hesitated for a moment, then he said simply, "The last time I shared my bed with anyone, it was with mortal woman who had been given six months to live."
His voice was calm, but the sadness in his eyes was so palpable she felt it hit her like a wave of cold water.
"You must have loved her very much "
Methos said nothing.
"Were you with her when she died?" she asked gently.
He nodded. "In a hospital in Switzerland." He closed his eyes. "I can understand your friend Kenilworth," he said. "Sometimes that thought that I could live another five thousand years and never see her again is intolerable."
"Yet it didn't drive you mad?"
Some of the wicked grin came back to his face.
"How do you know?" he demanded without opening his eyes.
"Because I know you." She rolled over so that now it was she who was looking down at him. "I can feel that you're still the same man I fell in love with two thousand years ago."
"Haven't grown up at all, eh?"
She kissed him to shut him up, and he lay back on the pillows, allowing himself to be pandered to.
After a moment, a thought occurred to her, and she half sat up.
"Methos, if you knew where I was ten years ago, why did you never come looking for me?"
Methos drew a deep breath. "It's a long story. I thought about it"
"I did," he retorted in an injured tone. "For about two minutes "
They grinned at each other.
"But I'd managed to disappear into my own mythology. No one know who I was. I was just this guy, Adam Pierson. The younger immortals thought Methos was a myth, and the older ones thought I was dead. The last thing I needed was another immortal who could blow my cover."
"But you told Duncan?"
"MacLeod found me. And I trusted him."
Rhiannon raised her eyebrows. "Does he know about--?"
"No," said Methos quickly. "I never trusted anyone that much."
"You trusted me?"
"I didn't tell you anything: You just climbed inside my head and helped yourself."
"But you let me keep my head on my shoulders afterwards."
"Oversight," he retorted. "Never got around to doing anything about it."
"I'll remember to sleep close to my sword then," she smiled.
"You do that."
Something in the tone of his voice when he spoke of Duncan had intrigued her and she was not ready to let it go just yet. After a moment, she persisted. "It's hard for me to judge. Duncan was so young when I knew him, barely seventy. And so idealistic. But you think he's really special, don't you?"
"MacLeod's a boy scout," observed Methos dryly. "He's naïve as hell. And just as idealistic as he ever was. Which is precisely why I wouldn't dream of trusting him with my dirty past. But yeah, he's special."
"You want him to be the One, don't you?"
"If I'm unlucky enough to lose my head before him, you mean?" He made a wry face. "In two thousand years, how many immortals have you met that you would trust with that much power?"
"One or two "
"Yeah, well MacLeod's one of them. Or he should be."
"I know he's a good man."
"He's more than that."
Methos frowned, and in a moment had tipped her onto her back again.
"Why are we talking about MacLeod?" he demanded.
"You started it."
"No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did."
"Well, I'm finishing it," he concluded - and did.
A while later, Rhiannon stooped over a sleeping Methos and kissed him.
"Got to go," she whispered.
"Mm-mm," he mumbled protestingly.
"It's okay." She pointed to her bag still lying by the bed, half open. "I'll be back. Got to follow some leads. And I could do with some sword practice: I wouldn't want to blow your cover by asking you," she grinned.
He smiled back, but when she got up to go, he caught her hand and held her back.
"I'm a good researcher," he told her. "Let me see what I can dig up for you."
"Thanks. I appreciate it." She kissed him again, feeling for a
moment as if two thousand years had been telescoped in on itself. "I'll
see you later."
It was still early, and Duncan had not yet left the barge. She had stopped on the way and acquired some pain au chocolat - thank heaven for French bakers that opened before breakfast - and she entered the barge carrying a bag exuding the odours of warm bread and bitter chocolate. Duncan seemed surprised to see her.
"Sorry. Am I too early?" She gave him a conciliatory smile. "I brought breakfast "
"No, no that's fine."
He made coffee, and set Rhiannon's croissants out on the table.
"Have you made up your mind what you want to do yet?" he asked hesitantly.
"Not entirely. I've got some contacts I can use who might know where Robert would have gone. He shouldn't be that hard to find. He doesn't know Paris at all. He doesn't even speak French. He ought to stand out like a sore thumb."
"That may not be such a good thing. Depends if anyone else if looking for him," Duncan cautioned.
"True," agreed Rhiannon. "I can't imagine him being on anyone's top ten most wanted quickenings list, but he could be a random target. I don't suppose he's in much of a case to defend himself."
"Is there anything you want me to do?"
"Keep your eyes opened. Your ears pealed," she suggested. "Oh, and there is one other thing."
"Do you have somewhere you go to practise? My sword arm could do with the exercise "
"Of course." There was an odd look in his eye, but she couldn't read Duncan as she could Methos and she let it pass. "Do you want a partner?" he offered.
"I wouldn't say no. I'd ask Methos, but--"
"Methos is a fool," Duncan retorted bluntly. "He lets himself get rusty."
Rhiannon smiled to herself. I don't believe Methos has ever let himself
get rusty in anything, she thought. But if he wants you to think he
has, I'm not going to disillusion you.
The place where Duncan took her was an abandoned warehouse. It was the sort of place they both knew well, these empty shells of urban buildings where they could fight or practice undisturbed and unobserved. They left their coats lying over a pair of old oil drums and drew their swords, taking each other's measure for the first time in three hundred years.
He looked today much more like Rhiannon remembered him. His hair was loose, falling in soft curls to his shoulders instead of soberly tied back as it had been the day before. And fighting, he relaxed at last, the slight constraint she had sensed between them gone in the pleasure of the game.
He was a formidable opponent. Distracted or not, she would not be able to disarm him with the casual ease she had once. He could match her stroke for stroke, and teach her a few things into the bargain. She had forgotten how, when things were going well, he would smile, a smile that lit up his whole face, as if he couldn't hold back the joy he felt at this own skill. He was smiling at her now. And she was straining every sinew not to let him get the better of her, almost certain she was losing.
The force of the impact drove her hand hard back, momentarily numbing her fingers. That was enough. Her sword flew out of her grasp, clattering against the concrete floor. Duncan made a feint towards her neck, held the steel against her throat for a fraction of a second, then stood down.
"Shit," she said, breathing again. She threw herself down on the ground, leaning back against their coats. "Shit, that was hard work." She looked across at Duncan, saw he was breathing as heavily as she, and laughed out loud. "I hope I never make an enemy of you, Duncan MacLeod."
"So do I," answered Duncan gravely.
He sat down beside her and handed her a bottle of water.
"Rhiannon," he said slowly. "There's something I have to ask. Last night, when you wouldn't stay at the barge - was it because of Sean?"
"No, not at all." It hadn't occurred to her that he would think so, and she was momentarily taken aback. But looking at him she could see that he was asking in all seriousness. She opened her mouth to explain about Methos, but something impish in her held her back. Let him find out for himself, she thought. Then, smirking inwardly, I've been spending too much time with Methos already.
"I wish Sean wasn't dead," she said instead. "but given that he is, and however it happened, I'm glad you hold his quickening."
"It did occur to me that you might be trying to take it yourself."
Rhiannon smiled at him fondly. "I may have my devious side," she said, "but if I was going to challenge you, I'd challenge you. I wouldn't dress it up as a practice session." She took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "No, Sean's quickening will do very well where it is. Who knows? Maybe it will help you to help Robert."
Duncan frowned. "You don't believe that, do you? That we get another immortal's skills when we take his quickening?"
Rhiannon shrugged. "Maybe, sometimes. Especially when there is a link between us already, like there was between you and Sean. I've seen some things, in two thousand years "
Duncan looked sceptical, and Rhiannon only smiled and looked at her watch.
"Listen, I need to get on. I'll see you later, will I?"
"Is there anything I can do?"
She hesitated, feeling roguish again. "Methos said he'd check out a couple of leads for me," she suggested innocently. "You could go over and see if he's got anywhere."
Duncan smiled wryly. "The old guy likes to have his nose in a
computer," he told her. "If there's anything to be found, he'll find
There was no one in the ground floor shop of Shakespeare and Co. when Duncan got there. But he could feel that Methos was there, and from up above he could hear the rattle of a keyboard. He called out, and Methos immediately shouted to him to come up.
He hadn't often been to Methos's flat above the shop. Methos was more likely to turn up unexpectedly wherever Duncan happened to be, than he was to invite him round. As he climbed the stairs to the loft space he could see a disordered bed filling most of the room. And then, as he got to the top of the stairs, he saw the brown leather shoulder bag that Rhiannon had been carrying when she left the barge yesterday, and a large penny dropped into place.
Methos caught the direction of his glance and produced an irritatingly smug grin.
"So the Highlander doesn't get all the best women after all," he goaded.
Duncan glowered at him.
"I take it it was a bit more than a passing acquaintance you two had, then?" he drawled.
Methos shrugged. "The odd half century or so," he admitted.
"And I though you said you'd never loved an immortal?"
"I said I'd never married an immortal," he amended. He surveyed Duncan shrewdly. "You're not jealous, are you, MacLeod?"
"Me? No. Certainly not."
"Good. Because I'd hate to lose my head over her."
"And I thought you already had?"
"Not so as you'd notice." Methos turned back to his computer. "Was this just a social call, or did you come to hear what I've found out?"
"Have you found anything?"
"A couple of things. The boyfriend is still alive - just barely - and at the hospice where Rhiannon thought he was. If Kenilworth is planning on killing him, he'd better hurry up, or all he'll have is a corpse so dismember."
"And the second thing?"
"Frankly, that's a bit more worrying. One of our friends has seen Kenilworth buying electronic components from some sort of specialist retailer."
"Components? What sort of components?"
"Unfortunately, the man in question knows about as much about electronics as Isaac Newton. But taken together with what you two told me last night, it's left me with an uneasy feeling in my gut."
Methos shook his head. "Let me follow this up. Rhiannon's looking for Kenilworth. You can go down to the hospice and play the grieving friend - by the sound of it he's too ill the know any different, poor sod. See if you can find out how vulnerable he is, whether he's had any other unexpected visitors in the last few days. Rhiannon will be back this evening. You can meet us here."
Duncan shrugged. It was difficult to argue with Methos in this mood - and
anyway, what else could he do?
It was about seven when he got back to the shop again. The visit to the hospice had been harrowing. The ward where the young student lay dying was full of desperately ill people with little or no hope of even temporary recovery. He could understand why Methos, with memories of Alexa's death still fresh, had been glad to hand over that task to someone else.
It didn't appear that anyone else had visited Phillipe in the last week or so. He was a long way from home, and he hadn't been in Paris long enough to make many friends. Duncan could hardly issue a description of Robert without sounding like a policeman, but as near as he could make out, Kenilworth had been nowhere near the place.
Rhiannon had found someone, an old friend, who thought he knew where Robert might be staying. And after a couple of false trails, she had found, and talked to, his concièrge. But Robert was not at home, and she had decided against waiting for him.
Methos kept his news till last. He was very quiet, and when he spoke, there was a false edge of flippancy in his voice.
"I managed to use all my native charm to persuade the shop keeper to let me see what Kenilworth had bought. It's not exactly conclusive," he told them, "but I'd say he's planning on making an incendiary bomb."
"A what?" Duncan roared.
Rhiannon paled as the understanding hit her. "You mean he's planning to burn out the plague, just like he did before?"
"But Aids isn't spread by rats. He can't cure it by fire," exploded Duncan.
"Well, let's hope he's still scientist enough to realise that," Methos remarked.
Rhiannon got up. "I'm going to go and see him," she declared.
Duncan shook his head. "Rhiannon, no. If he's really crazy, if he's got a bomb "
"I'm not a plague carrier. He won't hurt me. And if anyone can talk to him now, I can."
"You've tried talking to him once already," he protested.
"Then I'll try again. Methos could be wrong "
"It has been known," Methos muttered, apparently to himself.
"And I'm better prepared this time. I know what to expect." She picked up her coat.
"I'll be okay."
As Rhiannon clattered down the stairs, Duncan glared at Methos.
"Well? Aren't you going to go after her?"
Methos didn't answer, and Duncan started to make for the stairs himself.
"Okay, then I'll go," he said. But Methos stood in his way.
"No, you won't. Not if you know what's good for you."
"What is this?" Duncan demanded. "Don't you care about what happens to her?"
Methos stared back at him. "More than you can possibly imagine," he answered fervently. "But Rhiannon's not a mortal, she's one of us. She's two thousand years old and she looks after herself." He turned away. "If she wants my help, or my company, or my protection, then she'll ask for it."
"Maybe she doesn't want to beg," Duncan persisted.
Methos rounded on him angrily. "You don't get it, do you? When I had just begun to know Rhiannon, I had to stand by and watch some Pictish thug nearly take her head and there was nothing I could do about it. However much it hurt me - as I've heard you say, it's what we do. Rhiannon's never hidden from that behind me or anyone else. And if you think you know better, then you'd better look out, because you could be the one losing your head."
Duncan shook his head. "I'll never understand you, Methos."
Methos put his head on his hand, as if he was very tired.
"Go home, Duncan. We'll see you in the morning. If the balloon goes
up tonight, we'll call you. But go home."
It was nearly eleven when Rhiannon got back. When Methos sensed her come into the shop, he felt as if he was breathing again for the first time in hours. He saw how white she looked as she came up the stairs and wrapped himself round her and held on tight as if he could keep her from falling apart by main force.
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine." She buried her face in his jumper, then said in a muffled voice. "No, I'm not. I'm lying. I'm scared, Methos."
"Scared?" He couldn't remember her ever having admitted that before. "Shit, if you're scared I'm terrified."
She laughed despite herself, and he drew her down to sit beside him on the bed. "You'd better tell me what happened. Did you find Kenilworth?"
"Yes, he was there."
"And did he know who you were?"
"Yes. Oh, yes. He's perfectly calm, perfectly lucid. That's what so scary, really. He has such quiet determination."
"Do you think you could begin at the beginning?" he said, rubbing her back. "I have trouble with stories that start in the middle and work outwards."
She made a face at him then leaned against him, her body heavy and limp against his. For a minute she was quiet, putting together the threads of what had happened. Then she began to talk.
"I told him I'd heard he was in Paris and thought I'd look him up. Did he know Duncan was here? That sort of thing. And he said he was very busy with his work just now, hadn't much time for socialising, very pleased to see me and all that
"So of course I asked him what he was working on, and at first he was very evasive. He started going on about old cures - hadn't I noticed how doctors were suddenly realising that a lot of the old wives' tales about the uses of herbs and mosses and fungi were turning out to be true after all. So I asked him if that was what he was working on - refining some of the old cures. And he said, no, not exactly, he's switched fields. As a matter of fact he was interested in electronics these days.
"We went all round the houses like that for hours, it seemed like. Methos, you wouldn't believe how calm and rational and scientific he made it all sound - just like he would in the old days But something kept me going. Something didn't feel right.
"Then suddenly, just when I'd begun to think I was imagining it all, that we'd all been putting a perfectly innocent two and two together and making about fourteen - he came out with it:
" 'Aids, Rhiannon. The twentieth century plague. And I can stop it, just like I did before. I can make everything clean again. I just need a little more time, and then you'll see. The old cure will work again. Cleansing Fire, Rhiannon, Cleansing Fire.'"
Methos could feel the tension in coming through Rhiannon, making her hands shake.
"So I was right?" he said gently. "He is building some sort of incendiary?"
She nodded. "I think so. But he wouldn't talk any more after that. He threw me out. The only hope I've got left is that he said he wasn't ready yet. And even that I wasn't sure about." She gave him a wobbly grin. "I didn't fancy spending the night on a street corner, so I gave the concièrge a bribe and told her to call me here if he left the building before morning."
Methos chuckled. "Do you think she will?"
"Well, her head popped out of her door the moment she heard my feet on the stairs. And it was a large bribe. I think she thought I was a wronged lover trying to keep an eye on my errant man."
"She'll get a shock if I answer the phone then." He pulled her close. "Come on. There's nothing more you can do tonight. We should get some sleep."
"Are you sure it's sleep you had in mind?"
They were just going off to sleep, curled together like a pair of spoons, when he asked her suddenly:
"What would you have said if I'd offered to go with you tonight?"
"I'd have said that the last thing that Kenilworth needed right now was a strange immortal turning up on his doorstep."
She wriggled round and squinnied at his face. "Have you been talking to Duncan?" she asked accusingly.
"Me? Now why would I want to do that?"
"Don't you start to worry about me, old friend. I don't think I could handle the responsibility."
Methos brushed a lock of hair away from her face. "I've always worried
about you," he said tenderly. "I just didn't always tell you about
He woke early, his mind churning over restlessly, and got up and dressed almost immediately. By the time Rhiannon woke up, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, cup of coffee already in hand.
"You're up bright and early," she said fuggily.
He handed her the coffee.
"Rhiannon, I want you to take me to see Kenilworth."
"Or you could bring him here. That might be better. He might feel less threatened if I'm not invading his territory."
Rhiannon wasn't properly awake yet. "Why do you want to see Robert?" she mumbled sleepily.
"I've been thinking about this," he said seriously. "I'm the only one of who has actually been through what he's been through. I mean, you and Duncan have both lost people, I know. But I'm the one who's sat there in hospital, watching Alexa breathing through a tube, watching death coming a little closer every minute. Maybe I can get through to him where you failed "
"I don't know. I don't know if he'd come."
"You can try."
"Why would you put yourself through that? For an immortal you don't even know?"
"I guess because I listen to you and Duncan, and I can hear that you care about him. He's a friend whose lost two people, and it's sent him a bit screwy. You sympathise, both of you. But you don't understand. The weird thing is, I do. I know how close I came when Alexa died "
"There but for the grace of God?" Rhiannon suggested gently.
"Something like that."
She put a hand on his arm.
"Okay, I'll try."
"Bring him here if you can," he'd told her. "And then you'd better go and find Duncan before he worries himself into a fever about you."
He sensed the two of them coming when they were still a little way down the street. Seems like someone's turned up the gain on the antennae, he muttered to himself. Comes of caring too much, I suppose.
He reached behind him, felt the comforting touch of his sword in his hand, then left it where it was. There was one set of footsteps on the stairs - not Rhiannon's. Then Kenilworth's head appeared.
He wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but it wasn't this. A man who appeared to be around forty, tall, imposing looking, with a drooping moustache that gave him a faintly Hispanic look, and grave, intelligent looking eyes. Not a madman, surely not a madman.
The man nodded curtly.
"I'm Adam Pierson."
The man did not offer his hand.
"I came because Rhiannon asked it," he said bluntly. "But I see no point in this. What is it you want to say to me?"
What did he want to say? That he knew what is was like to sit there day after day - watching someone you loved breathing through a tube, being nourished through a tube, urinating through a tube. Watching their life signs bleeding away on a monitor. Watching death come a little closer every day. Knowing that, however hard they fought, however brave they were, this was one battle they were not going to win
That when that moment had come, he had not been able to face it with her. That he too had looked for a miracle sure that wasn't there. That he had wasted a week or more of time he should have spent with Alexa chasing a fantasy, until at last he had found the courage to go back and be with her
He tried. He tried to talk to Kenilworth, at first believing that he only had to make him understand that someone else had been through what he had been through for the barriers to come down, for communications to be possible.
But the harder he tried, the more he spoke of the hospital, the more distressed Kenilworth became. Until, as he had with Rhiannon the night before, he began to talk of Cleansing Fire.
"Don't you see? We have to stop the disease. I spent centuries studying medicines and herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture - medicine from the East, from the New World But it makes no difference. They still die.
"I was wrong all along, Pierson. I was studying the wrong things. It isn't medicine that is going to stop it. It's fire. I have to find ways of making fire. Of bringing it to the source of the illness. Then it will stop. At last it will stop."
"Fire kills too, Kenilworth."
"Only the diseased ones"
""Like your granddaughter? Like Margaret? Like Alexa?" Methos pressed him.
Kenilworth shook his head, dismissing them. "It was too late for them. We have to save those that can still be saved."
"Even if you can wipe out all the illness on the face of the earth, they will still die. We can all die. Mortals, immortals, it makes no difference. No one is invulnerable. No one can be protected forever."
"No, listen, you don't understand. I'm nearly there. I have a laboratory. A little place "
His speech was getting more and more incoherent. Methos struggled to follow what he was saying, trying to find something he could latch on to him, but seeing him move further and further away from rationality with every word.
Eventually he began to stride towards the stairs, knocking Methos aside as if he didn't even see him. "I have work to do. I haven't got time for this. I have to finish my work."
Methos had his sword in his hand before Kenilworth got to the stairs, but he did not use it. There's still time, he told himself. He still had work to do.
Talking about Alexa had taken more out of him than he had realised. He leaned back against the banister and closed his eyes, the image of Alexa as she had been in the hospital imprinting itself on his eyelids. He was still there, his sword in his hand, when MacLeod and Rhiannon returned.
"Bit jumpy, aren't we?" said MacLeod, when he was greeted with the point of a sword. "Where is he?"
"Gone," said Methos grimly. "Off to finish making his bomb, I should think."
"What?" roared MacLeod. "Couldn't you have stopped him?"
"Not without taking his head, no. And I didn't think you'd want me to resort to that just yet."
"Methos, what happened?" Rhiannon asked gently.
"I found out I wasn't as good a psychiatrist as Sean Burns," he answered curtly. "Shouldn't have been a surprise, I suppose. Psychiatry wasn't very high on the syllabus when I did my medical degree."
"No. When you did your medical degree, blood letting was state of the art," MacLeod retorted sourly. "So what are we supposed to do now? Wait for him to set the city on fire?"
"It's all right," Methos said heavily. "I know where he's gone. At least, I know where he's been making the bomb. He'll either have gone there or back to his apartment."
"Right," said Rhiannon, taking charge. "That's it. Duncan,
you go wherever this bomb factory is. Methos, you come with me and we'll see if
we can head him off at home. If all else fails, head for the hospice. That's
got to be the most likely place he'll try to bomb." She picked up Methos'
car keys and threw them to him. "At least we should be faster than he is.
As far as I know, he hasn't got a car."
Rhiannon, aided by the memory of last night's large bribe, sweet-talked her way past Robert's concièrge, and Methos picked the lock on the door with supercilious ease.
To her relief, Robert had not yet packed to go. Somewhere in her mind, she was certain that when the bomb was ready, he would leave these digs, probably leave Paris. They went quickly through the meagre rooms, the sparse furnishing and handful of belongings not imposing much of a problem to search. But there was no sign of a bomb or of bomb-making equipment. If indeed it existed, it must be at the makeshift laboratory Robert had told Methos about.
Duncan reported that the laboratory too was empty.
"At first I thought Methos had got the place wrong. Or he'd been spun a line. But then I found some stuff. He's been here all right. And cleared it out - recently."
"Jesus." Rhiannon thought for a moment. "You'd better go to the hospice. We'll join you there"
"Rhiannon, wait." Methos' voice came from by the window. "He's here. He's back."
She glanced across at him swiftly. "Duncan - Robert's here," she said into the phone. "Wait. We'll call you."
She put the phone down, and went and joined Methos at the window. They heard the concièrge come out onto the stairs and try and warn Robert that they were there. "So much for your bribe," Methos murmured in her ear. But Robert must have swept the concièrge aside. His footsteps continued up the stairs without a break. Rhiannon put her hand on the hilt of her sword, and beside her she felt Methos do the same.
"How did I get involved in this?" he muttered protestingly.
"You woke up in an philanthropic mood," she answered indulgently.
"Impossible. I don't do philanthropy."
Before Rhiannon could answer, Robert came crashing through the door, a heavy black bag in one hand. He paused for a moment and glared at them, then he headed for the bedroom as if they didn't exist, grabbing belongings and stuffing them into another, smaller bag.
"Robert?" Rhiannon stood squarely in the doorway of the bedroom. "Robert, what's in the bag?"
He glanced at her contemptuously. "Fire," he answered, as if explaining to a small child. "There's fire in the bag."
Rhiannon took a deep breath, steadying herself. "You mean a bomb, don't you, Robert? An incendiary bomb?"
He shrugged. "If you like."
"What are you going to do with it, Robert?"
"You haven't been listening to anything I've told you, have you?" he said disgustedly. He stood up straight. "Get out of my way, Rhiannon. I've got no fight with you."
With cold deliberation, Rhiannon forced herself to draw her sword. "No," she said, a good deal more calmly than she felt. "This has gone far enough. I can't let you do this, Robert."
Robert took a step towards her, and Rhiannon stepped back into the sitting room to give her sword arm some space. Robert came after her, his sword not yet drawn. Hell, she thought, I don't want to have to do this, Robert. I've known you too long.
She stood squarely between him and the door, braced. She saw his eyes go over her shoulder to the door, then flick sideways towards the window where Methos was. Then suddenly he dropped the small bag he was carrying, lunged for the larger one, grabbed it and ran towards the window. Taken by surprise, Methos drew his sword and almost staggered back to avoid the force of the charge. But Robert did not stop.
Rhiannon saw him leap like a Hollywood stunt man, arcing through the air. There was an explosion of glass, Robert's legs and arms seemed to claw at the air, and then he dropped.
Rhiannon ran to the window and looked out, and saw Robert crumpled on the pavement below, blood on his face and hands.
"I'm not following him that way," Methos said crisply. "Come on - it'll take him a minute to recover from that."
He grabbed Rhiannon's hand and ran. Together the hurtled down the stairs, past the now voluble concièrge and out into the street. But Robert must have fallen better than it had appeared. Twenty yards down the road, he was taking a spanner to the window of Methos's car. A moment later he was in the driver's seat, and as they ran, it sputtered into life and moved off down the street.
A stream of invective poured from Rhiannon's mouth. Behind her, Methos grabbed her arm and pulled her back into an alley, just as the concièrge emerged onto the street, shrieking over her broken window.
Methos leaned back heavily against the wall.
"I'm too old for this," he muttered to himself.
He reached into Rhiannon's pocket, lifted her phone, and dialled Duncan's number.
"This is what you get for driving a car like a bloody tin can," Rhiannon snapped impatiently.
"What do you expect Adam Pierson to drive?" Methos retorted. "A Jaguar?"
The phone stopped ringing, and he spoke into it urgently.
"MacLeod? You'd better head for the hospice. Kenilworth's gone, and he's got my car." His face tightened angrily. "No, I did not leave the keys in it. Your boy hot-wired it, thank you. And I don't know that's where he's gone. But it's got to be the best bet." He held the phone away from his ear for a second, and then flipped it shut impatiently.
"What did he say?" Rhiannon asked.
"Unrepeatable, mostly," he answered. "But he's going."
He took her hand again "Come on. We'd better find our own way to the
hospice. Unless you've got any better ideas."
Duncan drove round the outside of the hospice, looking for a discrete way in. It was a relief - a bitter-sweet relief - to see Methos's car parked haphazardly against the curb, the window of its driver's door broken and jagged edged.
He was angry, and for the moment his anger focused on Methos. He was angry with him for messing up both of his encounters with Robert. He was angry with him for getting Rhiannon into dangerous situations and then refusing to protect her or let anyone else protect her. And he was angry with him for not being there to help when he was needed.
But most of all he was angry with himself. If Sean Burns had still been alive, maybe all this could have been prevented. Maybe Sean could have done what he had done once before, a hundred years earlier, and healed a mind troubled beyond enduring. But Sean was dead, and he had killed him, and he could not forgive himself for that.
It was too late now to try and evacuate the hospice. If the others had been there, maybe between them they could have managed it, but on his own it was pointless. By the time he had convinced them he was not a crank, Kenilworth could have set his bomb, and it would be too late. The only thing he could do now was to find Kenilworth and stop him setting the bomb - by whatever means necessary.
He skirted the hospice carefully, sword in hand, banking on Kenilworth working from the outside, not trying to get in through the front door. And after a few minutes, his intuition paid off. He felt the first tingling awareness of another immortal, the hairs on his arms lifting as if in response to a static field of electricity. And then he saw him, crouched down by an air vent, hands busy with tools.
Kenilworth swung round. He stared at him, self-absorbed, not recognising. "Who the devil--?"
"I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Duncan answered. "And you can put that down."
Kenilworth turned away, his hands returning to his tools. "I've no quarrel with you, MacLeod. Just leave me to get on with my work."
"I can't do that, Robert. Not so long as you're threatening the lives of the people here."
"Can't you see, I'm trying to save lives here?" He turned back to MacLeod. "You remember. You were there. How many people died in the plague that year? Thousands upon thousands. Eight people died in the fire. But the plague never came back."
"This isn't the same plague, Robert. Aids isn't spread by rats. You can't stop it by fire."
Robert shook his head, smiling as if it was all so simple if only MacLeod could see. "The rats are still there. They just look a little different."
"Is you're stepdaughter a rat?" Duncan demanded.
Robert's head jerked angrily. "Leave my stepdaughter out of this!" he snapped.
"Is this how you would like her to die?" MacLeod pressed. "Fighting for breath in a burning building? That's where she is, isn't it? In another place just like this? Is that where you're going next? To burn down her hospice?"
"How dare you?" Kenilworth had drawn his sword now, and was coming after him.
"This isn't about a cure, Kenilworth," MacLeod accused. "It's about revenge. Revenge on the man who infected your step-daughter." Kenilworth lunged blindly towards him. "Your mind invented the rest to justify murder, Robert." Duncan swung his sword, meeting Kenilworth's attack. "Let it go, Robert. Let it go. Nothing justifies this."
"You don't understand," Kenilworth screamed. "I can stop it. I can stop the dying."
"No. No, you can't. Not like this. All you're going to do here is kill a man whose only got a few days to live anyway. And kill a lot of other innocent people with him. It doesn't have to be like this."
Kenilworth swung his blade wildly. The craziness of the blow made it difficult to parry, and the blade grazed Duncan's arm. Duncan slashed with his own blade, making the blow tell, and Robert fell to his knees.
"Is it worth your dying for?" Duncan asked quietly.
Robert looked up at him. "Take my head," he mouthed silently.
Methos and Rhiannon saw lights of the quickening from the distance and began to run. They rounded the side of the hospice together and saw Duncan standing over Robert's body. From just behind her, Rhiannon heard the involuntary groan of relief that came from Methos as he took in the scene. Then she knelt beside her friend.
"I'm sorry," she heard Duncan say. "There was nothing else I could do."
She nodded silently. She took one of Robert's hands in hers and held it for a minute. "Goodbye old friend," she whispered. "I think you've been waiting for this for three hundred years. If I'm right, I hope wherever you are, you've found Margaret."
Behind her, she heard Methos removing the bomb from where Robert had placed it in the air vent.
"Not armed," he told Duncan. "Something to be thankful for, anyway."
But for a long time, she remained kneeling beside the body.
She found Duncan alone in the barge. She had her bag with her again, packed and ready to go.
"You leaving then?" he asked, unsurprised.
She inclined her head a little. "Methos and I wanted to spend a little time together."
"Another fifty years or so?" he asked wryly.
Rhiannon grinned. "That really would blow his cover, wouldn't it? No, I don't think we'll manage that. A few weeks, maybe."
Duncan took her two hands in his.
"Rhiannon, I'm sorry. I've been meaning to say this, but I don't really know how In the last year, I've killed two of your oldest friends--"
Rhiannon shook her head. "No. Don't think like that. Sean's death wasn't your fault. And with Robert, you had no choice. I'd have taken his head myself, in his apartment, if I could have done." She leaned forward and kissed him gently on the cheek. "I don't blame you, and you mustn't blame yourself," she said tenderly
Duncan squeezed her hands, restraining her for a moment.
"We were good together once," he commented.
"Yes, we were," Rhiannon said seriously. "But we were never in love."
"And you and Methos were?"
"Yes. Very much so."
"Then I'm happy for you," he said.
"Are you?" Rhiannon probed.
Duncan smiled. "I won't say I don't have the odd regret," he admitted.
"There'll be another time." She gave him a wry look. "That's one thing we immortals always have on our side, time."
Duncan gently brushed her hair away from her neck. "So long as you can keep your head on your shoulders," he said fondly.
"Oh, I plan to do that." She leaned forward again and kissed him, this time on the lips. "Just keep your hands off Methos," she warned, the corners of her mouth twitching. "Or you'll have me to answer to."
"I'll do my best," he agreed solemnly. "If he can manage not to be too annoying."
He hugged her tightly, and as he did so, they both felt another immortal near. A moment later, Methos appeared in the doorway of the barge, carrying a rucksack over his shoulder, and wearing an irrepressibly cocky smile.
"You ready?" he asked Rhiannon cheerfully.
"Yes," she said, smiling. "I'm ready."
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Last updated 12/04/1997