Notes on The Centre Cannot Hold

Disclaimer: Highlander the Series is property of Rysher Entertainment. The characters Duncan MacLeod, Methos/Petey, Joe Dawson, and Richie are used without permission, but with great reverence. Sarah MacGreggor belongs to Lisa Krakowka, and the other characters belong to Jen Allen. The story itself belongs to Jen, copyright 2000. Please send all comments to Jen at jen@jendaveallen.com. If you distribute or save this story, please leave the header intact.

Timeline: This story takes place in Jenís universe using the version of Sarah that was introduced in Jenís story Perfect Timing. In the Highlander world, it occurs simultaneously with, and subtly alters, the events in Comes a Horseman and Revelation 6:8. It also follows Perfect Timing by three months, which is why the calendar year is 1999 instead of 1997. You donít need to read Jenís previous stories to understand this one, but JL is introduced there, and the relationships will make more sense if you do. All of my fanfic can be found at http://www.jendaveallen.com/Fanfic/ficidx.htm, or you can email me and I'll send you a copy.

Whatís Missing: At the end of Perfect Timing, JL and Methos were reconciled and planning to give their relationship another try. They broke up after a few months, however, and JL has just returned from a short sojourn to L.A. where she was reminded about what really counts in an immortalís life. Her adventures in L.A. are featured in my story Fledgling, which appears in A Zine of Their Own published by Maria and Christine. Or you can read it on my website one year after the fanzine is published.

Sarah has moved into an apartment, taken a teaching job with Duncan at the University, and is still willing to be JLís teacher.

Acknowledgments: This story started out as a collaboration between myself and Lisa Krakowka. Lisaís life took over and she was forced to bow out before the final edit, but she wrote many portions of this story and heavily influenced the rest. Iím extremely grateful that Lisa let me edit and post the stories under my own name when in truth she deserves so much of the credit. Thanks, Lisa!

Tremendous thanks also goes to my beta readers: Dave Allen, Glo. Phillips, Cynthia Hoffman, comet, Ron and Sue Koci, and Kay Brenner.

Warning: This story contains scenes that are violent, sexually graphic, and involve m/m and m/f rape. If youíre under 18 or donít like to read about such things, please select another story.


Seacouver, December 1999. Sarah parked next to the dojo and yawned contentedly. The night before, she and Methos had spent their fourth real "date" playing darts and telling stories in their favorite bar, and theyíd ended up staying until closing time. They were still in that awkward phase--it would take more than four dates to overcome centuries of viewing each other platonically--but each outing left them a little more comfortable with each other.

She chuckled as she remembered the look of uncertainty on Peteyís face when theyíd walked hand in hand back to her car. She could tell he wanted to invite her to spend the night, but he was too nervous to go through with it. Sheíd almost let him off the hook and invited herself up, but she was too amused by his consternation. Seeing Petey this unsure of himself was almost worth the hell Bryanís plan had put them through. Almost.

With a smile, she turned off the car and picked up her rapier. Daydreaming of future romance was fine, but she had a different date to keep. Since JL had returned from L.A. a month ago, sheíd shown every sign of accepting the fact that her breakup with Methos wasnít Sarahís fault, so the two of them had gone back to sparring in the afternoons. That was good for Sarahís stamina, but it wasnít enough of a challenge to keep her sharp. So this morning she and Petey were going to spar. Somehow she didnít think a budding romance was going to be enough to make him go easy on her--that just wasnít Peteyís style.

She was humming softly when she entered the dojo, but she stopped mid-stride as soon as she walked through the door. By the punching bag stood a slender brunette, sword drawn, dodging her way around Duncan in an effort to get to Methos, who was backed against the wall and not looking very confident that he was going to walk away with his head.

She stood and listened to the woman relate a horrific tale about her best friend and wouldnít have believed a word of it until she heard her call Methos by name.

"This is insane," Methos interjected, dancing around to keep Duncan between himself and the irate woman.

He was right. This was insane.

"Cassandra..." Duncan attempted, obviously as confused by all this as Sarah was, but seemingly willing to let Methos use him as a shield.

"This is between you and me, Methos..." Cassandra lunged, but came up short as steel bit into her neck.

"Drop it," Sarah said evenly, looking down the length of her blade at the other woman.

Cassandra ignored her and was rewarded with a stinging cut and a warm trickle of blood.

"Drop it, or Iíll take your head," Sarah repeated rather matter-of-factly.

Behind Duncan, Methos heaved a visible sigh of relief.

"You donít know what youíre doing," Cassandra said with an angry sigh, lowering her sword.

Duncan took advantage of the moment to grab her in a tight hug of restraint. He flung an urgent look over his shoulder at Methos as Cassandra struggled against him. "Get out of here! Go!"

Methos took a moment to glance at Sarah before hightailing it out the door.

The instant Duncan released her, Cassandra raced after Methos. She returned moments later, scowling fiercely.

"Do you have any idea what youíve just done? Do you know who he is?"

"Heís my friend," Duncan said.

"He was one of the four Horsemen."

Duncan shook his head in disbelief and Sarah barked out a sharp laugh, despite the gravity of the situation.

"And you," Cassandra snarled, raising her sword slightly.

It met with Sarahís own sword on a downward stroke that knocked the weapon out of Cassandraís hands.

"Donít come between us again," the witch snarled.

"Donít force me to," Sarah responded, sheathing her rapier.

She spared Duncan a quick glance then headed for the door, hoping to catch Methos somewhere nearby but knowing instinctively that he would be long gone.

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

Three hours later she was waiting for him in the lobby of his building and, without a word, followed him up to his apartment.

"Are you just going to sit there looking at me like that all night?" he asked after twenty minutes of uneasy silence had passed.

She raised both eyebrows in an expression of genuine ambiguity. "Maybe."

Methos sighed and flopped onto the couch, staring up at the ceiling. "What is it that Iím supposed to tell you here?"

"The truth."

"You wonít like it," he answered, glancing over at her.

Sarah shrugged. "Tell me anyway."

So he did. He told her the whole sordid story. He told her about what it felt like to pillage and rape his way across two continents. He told her he enjoyed the power. He told her that mortals had meant nothing to him, that bloodlust had driven him. He told her that the world had been different, that he had been different. And then he sat back, wondering what she thought of her best friend now.

"And Cassandra?" She asked.

Methos nodded and watched her face twist in what could only be described as revulsion. That, more than any dagger or sword, cut him to his soul.

The clock ticked loudly for ninety seconds before Sarah spoke.

"You have no concept of what itís like to be raped. None," she said.

"Thatís not true, actually."

She squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fists repeatedly on the arms of the chair and he watched the muscles in her neck and shoulders flex with the stress of the moment.

"And thatís your excuse?" She asked.

He shook his head. "There is no excuse. And I wonít make any."

She opened her eyes for a moment, long enough to see the pain on his face, then screwed them shut once more. It was far easier to wage this inner battle without having to look at him. How...how could he be capable of such things? And did it really matter what he had or hadnít done three thousand years ago? He had never been anything but kind to her. But did that erase Cassandraís humiliation?

Just hearing the other womanís story had brought back that knot of fear and shame from her own experiences at the hands of men who held no regard for life. And she had been lucky; her humiliation had only lasted for a few hours before they killed her. Cassandra...Cassandra had endured far worse for a length of time that Sarah had absolutely no desire to know about.

"I trusted you," she said, making an attempt to control the emotion in her voice. I trusted you, she repeated silently. I trusted you to be a decent human being. I trusted you to be the good person you seemed to be.

"And I never violated your trust," he answered quietly.

Sarah stood abruptly; needing to get out of there. "No?"

"No, Sarie, I didnít."

Sarah swallowed hard and forced herself to meet his gaze. It was a bizarre moment...the twisting sensation in her gut nearly overwhelmed her. This man, those eyes...they were eminently familiar. They were part of who she was. Yet they also belonged to a total stranger, a monster.

Methos caught her by the wrist and tugged gently. "I canít apologize for what I did, Sarie...it wonít help. I canít make it go away, no matter how hard I try. All I can say is Iím not the same person I was then. And you know that. You of all people should know that."

"All I know is that you did unspeakable things to her..." Sarah trailed off, swallowing again to control her voice. "Things that no one should have to live through."

His foundation was crumbling slowly from under his feet and had been since Kronosí arrival. But this bit of it, this cornerstone, could not fall out. Methos tightened his grip on her wrist as she tried to pull away.

It was a mistake, though. Had he been thinking clearly instead of rattled to his core, Methos would have known that Sarah would interpret the motion as a show of force and react badly to it.

Her face went completely blank for half a second. Then, for the first time in more years than he could count, he watched a wave of fear wash over it. That alone would have been enough to make him let go, but there wasnít time. In an instant, the fear was replaced with cold anger and her other hand came crashing down against the pressure point at the base of his thumb.

He let out a clipped howl of pain and cradled his hand against his chest as she strode for the door. "Sarie... Wait..."

Sarah stopped in the doorway, her back to him. "I kept her from killing you today... but donít expect me to ever do it again."

Methos swallowed hard as the door slammed shut.

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

For some reason, Sarah was drawn back to the dojo the next day to face the woman who hated Petey the way she hated the Norman who had ended her mortal life. She was met at the lift by Cassandra and, more importantly, by Cassandraís drawn sword. She offered her empty hands to show she had no intention of fighting and held her breath, doubting that there would be a chance to draw her rapier if the other woman chose to strike.

"MacLeod isnít here," Cassandra said warily.

Sarah nodded. "I came to see you, actually. May I come in?"

The Witch of Donan Woods nodded and stepped aside to let Sarah pass, laying her sword in a very obvious place across the counter. There was an awkward moment while Sarah stripped off her coat and they assessed one another. The tension eased a fraction as Sarah set her rapier on the back of the chair and took a seat on the couch.

"Youíve come to talk me out of killing Methos," Cassandra said flatly.

The younger woman shook her head, but the gesture ended in a barely perceptible nod. "No...maybe...I donít know."

"Itís not going to work. You donít know him like I do," Cassandra said, sinking down on the far end of the couch with a weary sigh.

"And you donít know him like I do," Sarah answered.

"Everything you think you know about him is a lie."

It was Sarahís turn to sigh. Sheíd spent hours wrestling with that very thought and still hadnít come up with an answer. "Did Mac tell you how I met Methos? What he is to me?"

Cassandra shook her head without making eye contact. "Heís your lover. Of course you donít want to see the evil in him."

"He was my teacher," Sarah responded, unwilling to try and explain how theyíd only become romantically entangled recently. "And he is my best friend. My mortal death was a lot like yours, believe it or not. Bandits, under the guise of Norman raiders and under the leadership of one of us, burned my village and slaughtered my clan. I was beaten and raped by three of them for hours before they killed me."

Cassandra looked up sharply and a pang of unwanted sympathy ran through her. This woman sitting on MacLeodís couch might prove to be an enemy, but they were bound together by experiences so horrific that she could not help but empathize.

"When I woke up, he was there," Sarah continued. "He gave me clean clothes and food. He told me what I was and he taught me to fight. He also taught me self-worth and trust."

Cassandra snorted inelegantly. "He never taught me anything but shame and I wonít forgive him because he tried to make penance with you."

Sarah watched her for a moment and took note of the absolute stillness Cassandra must be fighting to maintain. She had done the same thing many times--to shake would show weakness. To shake would admit weakness, and even the smallest crack can bring down a wall.

"Do you dream about it?" she asked, rising and pacing to the window.

Cassandra nodded hesitantly, but Sarahís attention was focused out the window to the street corner where a young woman was buttoning her coat against the wind.

"I do," she said. "Itís been nine hundred years and I still have the dreams. Vivid, horrible dreams. I used to wake up screaming. And do you know who was there to comfort me? Do you know who came running and spoke to me in my native tongue and let me sob all over his shoulder?"

"Methos," Cassandra answered, a mixture of venom and emotion in her voice.

"Methos," Sarah echoed softly.

Cassandra flung herself to her feet and stalked into the kitchen, clutching her arms to her chest. At the sink, she spun around and flung an angry glare across the room at Sarah. "Methos killed my people and enslaved me. Nothing will ever erase that."

To the witchís surprise, Sarah merely nodded. "Youíre right. Nothing will ever erase that....not even taking his head. Trust me on that one."

Cassandra caught the meaning of the phrase and latched onto it. "You killed the immortal who burned your village."

Again, Sarah nodded.

"Then, youíre no better than I am," she said triumphantly.

The younger woman shook her head. "I never claimed to be. And revenge is a dish best served cold, Cassandra. It wonít make you feel better. It wonít bring closure. A Quickening doesnít have the power to change history, no matter how much we wish it. The shame and the fear will still be there...you have to look to yourself to get rid of them."

"Donít lecture me about shame and fear," Cassandra spat. "Iíve lived with them for three thousand years."

"And Iíve carried mine around for nearly a thousand. Tell me, Cassandra, what has it accomplished? Has it made you stronger, all this hate?"

Cassandra found herself at the counter, her hand poised near the hilt of her sword, but she placed both palms flat on the surface and met Sarahís gaze. "This will not be over until they are dead. All four of them. Donít get in my way."

Sarah responded by gathering her coat and sword and heading for the lift. She paused just before dropping the gate and leaned out to look at the other woman. "Heíll kill you if he has to, Cassandra, make no mistake about that. He regrets what heís done, but not enough to offer his head."

"Stay out of this," Cassandra hissed, fighting for emotional control.

"I promise you that I am going to try very hard to do just that."

By the time Sarah reached her car, she was more confused than before. Her heart told her that Methos had really changed, but she couldnít bring herself to discount Cassandraís experiences. Time, she decided, would tell. Time and Methosí actions from this point on. In the end, heíd prove one of them right.

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

JL paced around her apartment, trying to sort things out. Methosí cats, Rumpleteaser and Mungojerry, regarded her from their perches on the bookcase--sheíd known Methos had truly skipped town when sheíd come home to find them in her living room. Filling their food bowls, she heard Rump leap to the floor and race over, always ready to eat. Giving him a brief scratch behind the ears, she returned to her pacing.

Last week everything had been fine. Today, Methos was one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Mac was willing to take his head, Joe wanted to let ancient bygones be bygones, and, most distressingly, she had just won three out of three spars with Sarah and watched Colin break Sarahís arm with his fourth blow. Sarah had stopped then and set JL to sparring with Colin, but she hadnít made more than three comments during the entire match.

Scooping up Rump, JL stroked the cat as she settled into her couch. The past few months had shown her several sides of Sarah, from unyielding taskmistress to the first female confidante JL had had since sheíd spent a few months with Amanda, but this was different. This was serious. Picking up the phone, JL called the one person who might know what was going on. Or who would, at least, be happy to make something up. Bryan always hated being at a loss for words.

Half an hour later, JL was left staring at the receiver, wondering if she should open that parka concession in hell. Bryan had listened to her summary of events, asked a few questions, then admitted he didnít know what was going on. Hanging up the phone, JL sighed. "I should have taped that, Rump," she muttered. "Bryan saying ĎI donít know.í People might pay for that." JL sighed. "Of course," she amended, "he was lying, so I guess it doesnít count."

Setting Rump back on the floor, JL wandered over to the window, staring out at the leaden sky. Sheíd never caught Bryan in a direct lie, but sheíd be willing to bet that he could guess what was wrong. He had promised to get Jim and fly to Seacouver in a few hours--JL hoped heíd be more forthcoming in person, but she doubted it. "This whole situation is completely unreal," she groused to the cats. "The only people who can explain it--Sarah, Mac, Jim, and Bryan--are all clamming up on me. Damn fine time for it. Usually I canít shut them up. Shit." Grabbing her car keys, JL strode purposefully to the door. "One good thing, guys," she told the cats as she tossed Jerry a catnip mouse, "is that, for once, itís not my fault. Iíve just got a sound system to help fix."

With a sigh, JL headed for Joeís bar. Bryan was supposed to meet her there, but she had a feeling heíd be late. First heíd go talk to Sarah, which could take minutes or days depending on her mood, then he might wander by the bar. Might. Unless he went searching the city for Methos.

Turning on her carís stereo, JL stepped up the volume and tried to concentrate on the wailing guitars instead of the pounding of her thoughts. She had barely come to terms with the shy Watcher sheíd known as Adam Pierson being Methos--now they expected her to accept that Methos was Death on a Horse? Deathly Afraid on a Horse, maybe. If only it werenít Mac saying it. Mac couldnít lie--it wasnít in his nature. But Methos a mass murdering rapist? Even Colin had a slightly higher opinion of him than that. And while JL didnít have the best track record spotting liars, she was usually good at identifying the real bastards of the world. Methos had never once done anything purposely cruel to her--heíd even broken up with her relatively compassionately, and had moved out of town so he wouldnít run into her on the street and inadvertently reopen old wounds.

Sighing wearily, JL pulled into the parking lot and forced herself to refocus. There was nothing she could do except see how it played out--Mac would either heed Joeís pleas to forgive Methos or follow Cassandraís lead and try to kill him. Either way, she resolved to stay well clear of it and let her elders sort it out, because she simply didnít have a clue. Admitting that was something sheíd always hated, but it sounded incredibly reasonable in this case. With a resolute slam of her car door, she headed in to help Joe with the problem that had forced him to close the bar for the evening.

Joe already had the equipment down and partially disassembled, so JL settled in next to him. They worked in companionable silence, neither needing words anymore. They were completely surrounded by wires and electrical components when JL felt someone approach the door. Freezing, she gauged the distance to her scimitar, figuring the fastest way through the tangle. They both relaxed as a familiar voice spoke from the doorway.

"Joe? JL?" Duncan called. "Itís me."

"Come in," Joe called back. "Itís just us."

Mac walked in and grinned at their predicament. "Now I see why itís so quiet in here tonight."

Joe grunted. "Hasnít been a sound system made I canít fix. What do you need?"

"Have you found out anything more about Kronos?"

Joe looked at the dark circles under his friendís eyes and sighed. "No, but everyoneís looking."

Duncanís jaw clenched. "Have you tried following Methos?"

Joe shrugged and worked his way to his feet, carefully dislodging the wires from his clothing. "Heís vanished too. Not surprising; he knows every Watcher in Seacouver." Walking over to the bar, he smiled thinly at Mac. "Couldnít you have picked someone with less knowledge of our techniques?"

Mac smiled briefly. "That would have been too easy."

Joe squeezed Macís shoulder with a dry chuckle. "Beer?"

"Please." Sinking down on a barstool, Mac glanced over at JL, who was still fighting with a tangle of wires. "Have you heard from him?"

"Sort of," JL replied distractedly. "I came home to find his cats in my living room, but his note just said ĎSorry.í I have no idea where he might have gone." Shaking her head in frustration, she tossed the wire cutters back in the toolbox with a scowl. "Are you sure you need music in here?"

Joe chuckled again and poured three beers before settling on a stool next to Mac. "It will all work out, Mac," he assured his friend. "Methos will find a way to explain it, Iím sure."

Mac snorted but sipped his beer instead of disagreeing.

"If he canít, Bryan might," JL added, coming up to claim her beer. "I called him a few hours ago, and heís on his way."

"Did he recognize the name?" Mac asked eagerly.

"Kronos? I know he did. In 316, Bryan was kidnapped by Kronos and Caspian when they raided his village in Italy. Jim eventually got him out, but it took almost a year."

"What?!" Joe and Mac exclaimed simultaneously.

"Thatís not in the Chronicles!" Joe added.

"Well, no," JL admitted, slightly startled by their vehement reaction. "He told me in confidence one day when he was trying to explain why he knew how I felt being held captive by my foster-father. And later he described both of them to me in detail so if I ever saw them, Iíd know to shoot them and run like hell. I couldnít put it in the Chronicles without betraying that confidence."

"What about Methos?" Mac asked, overriding Joeís complaint. "Did he know Methos was one of them?"

"I doubt it," JL replied. "He didnít talk about the other one either. Silas, is it? Just Kronos and Caspian."

"They first met Methos in 150," Joe mused, "so the Horsemen must have broken up before that."

"Whereís Bryan staying?" Mac asked eagerly. "We could join forces like we did in Peru."

"Probably at the Plaza, but he said heíd drop by here first. My guess is heís talking to Sarah--this hit her pretty hard and thatís why I called him."

Mac nodded to himself, then sipped his beer. "Iíll wait," he announced. "They could be a big help."

"You donít think Jim and Bryan will attack Methos, do you?" Joe asked. "He was their teacher."

Mac shrugged as the buzz descended on the bar once more. "I guess they didnít go to Sarahís," he commented softly as Jim and Bryan glided in and looked at the three people staring expectantly at them.

"I feel set up somehow," Bryan said conversationally to Jim.

His partner shrugged and turned so he could walk backwards and playfully punctuate each pronoun with a jab of his finger into Bryanís chest. "They probably know why weíre here. Which puts them one up on me."

"I told you," Bryan said patiently, catching his hand, "weíre here to help Sarie. Sheís upset about things in Methosí past."

"Which things this time? The small army of former wives? His fear of water? His inability to speak in clear, unambiguous sentences?"

Bryan chuckled and glanced at JL, who stared back at him. "You didnít tell him?" she asked.

"Didnít tell me what?" Jim queried, turning to look at JL.

Bryan took a deep breath. "It appears that Methos was one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."

Jim blinked. "Right."

"Heís serious," Mac supplied. "Methos, Kronos, Caspian, and Silas. They were the..."

"Kronos?" Jim paled and swayed slightly on his feet, one hand unconsciously tracing the scar on his neck. "He rode with Kronos?"

"So it appears," Joe said soothingly, "but it was more than two millennia ago."

Bryan gently grasped Jimís hand, guiding it away from his neck. "Itís all right, Jim," he said softly. "Iím sure itís some kind of mistake."

"Itís not," Duncan insisted. "Iím sure Kronos would be glad to tell you that--he loves to brag."

Bryan groaned inwardly at the Highlanderís words, but the panic in Jimís eyes claimed his full attention and he reached out to stroke Jimís cheek. "Whatís wrong, Julius? You look like youíre going to faint."

"Heís here?" Jim said in a strangled voice. "Kronos?"

"No, of course not," Bryan snorted. "You know I wouldnít be here if he were."

"Well, actually," Duncan said slowly, "he is."

Bryan froze, his gaze locked with Jimís. For a moment, both men seemed to tremble, then Bryan squared his shoulders and looked over at Mac. "Heís here? In Seacouver?"

Mac nodded. "Yes. I saw him a few days ago, but he got away."

"You didnít tell me that," JL hissed to Joe.

"I told you Melvin Koren was here," Joe whispered back uneasily. "I didnít know the name Kronos would mean anything to you. Or to them."

Bryan released Jimís hand and went to sink onto a barstool, but Jim grabbed his arm. "Come on," Jim urged. "Letís go. We can be in Tuscany in a few hours."

"Tuscany?" Bryan looked up in confusion. "We canít go to Tuscany. Sarie needs me."

"Fuck Sarie," Jim snarled. "For once in your miserable life, will you do as I ask and forget her?"

JL gasped softly and took Joeís hand--this was not working as planned. They were supposed to fix things, not fall apart too.

Joe put a comforting arm around her, as much for his benefit as hers. He couldnít make any more sense out of all this than she could, and now he deeply regretted not telling JL about Koren being Kronos. Heíd been afraid that JL would consider Kronosí unwatchable reputation a challenge, but apparently JL wasnít the one in need of protection.

Bryan blinked at this stranger who stood in his loverís stead and finally shook his head numbly. "Itís all right, Julius," he murmured in Italian, trying to reclaim Jimís hand. "He canít take both of us, not anymore."

Jim shook his head and snatched his hand back. "There is no both," he stated flatly in English, his fists clenched on his hips. "Thereís no way in hell Iím going anywhere near Kronos. You do as you like, but count me out."

Bewildered, Bryan shrugged slightly as he tried to regroup. "Weíll talk about it at the hotel," he promised lamely. "But thereís something I have to know first." Turning back to Duncan, he gazed intently at the Highlander. "Is he alone or is Caspian with him?"

Mac recognized the look in Bryanís eyes as the same one heíd had going after Kern when heíd sought vengeance for Little Deer and Kahani, and he realized that Bryan might well have had as bad a time at Caspianís hands as Cassandra had had at Methosí. "I donít know," he replied quietly. "I only saw Koren--Kronos--for a moment."

"And now we canít find him at all," Joe added as Bryan looked towards him.

"Thatís it," Jim said. "Iím leaving."

"Jim, wait," Bryan pleaded. "Let me get this sorted out, then weíll both go, all right? I just need to talk to Mac for a few minutes."

Jim glanced from one to the other, then sighed and walked past JL and Joe to pour himself a shot of whiskey.

Bryan stared after him for a moment, then gestured Mac over to a table. "Just when you thought youíd scratched the surface of the elusive Methos," he reflected sadly. "So, you talked to him?"

Mac nodded. "He said he killed because he was good at it. And because he liked it."

"I expect he would be good," Bryan mused. "He was certainly a hell of a general." Looking up at Duncanís disapproving expression, he shrugged. "Sorry. Iím sure you think I should be horrified, but right now Iím just...numb."

Duncanís frown softened a little and he nodded. "I know what you mean." Leaning back, he sipped his beer wearily. "I didnít believe him until he admitted it. Iím not sure I even believed him then. But now I do, and they have to be stopped, especially if Cassandra is right and Kronos is putting the Horsemen back together. Will you help us?"

Bryan took a deep breath and then glanced at Jim. "Help you what? Are you prepared to kill all four of them?"

Duncanís jaw clenched reflexively. "If I have to, yes."

Regarding Duncan thoughtfully, Bryan noted the familiar stubborn set to his jaw and the proud Scottish gleam in his eye. He couldnít imagine facing Methos with a sword, but he was fairly sure Mac could--and would. When it came to matters of honor, Scotsmen didnít believe in excuses. Mac, however, hadnít had Methos as his first immortal teacher. With a sigh, Bryan shook his head at Mac. "My quarrel is only with Caspian. Iíd gladly kill Kronos while I was about it, but I canít go against Methos. Not until Iíve talked to him at least."

"He destroyed a lot of lives, Bryan."

"So did the Roman army. Look, Mac, you do what you need to, but donít ask me to face my teacher, all right? Iíve known that man since I was 24 years old, and I canít just throw that all away. Iím certain he had his reasons."

"I told you his reasons," Duncan replied tightly, remembering the confrontation in front of Methosí apartment building. "He liked it."

Bryan studied him quietly for a moment. "Well, he stopped liking it somewhere along the line too," he pointed out. At Duncanís scowl, he shrugged and threw up his hands. "All right, all right. Look, I need to talk to Jim, but I really doubt either of us will be able to help you, Mac. Whatever he did before he met us, we owe him our lives, and thatís a substantial debt. All I can say is if you have to kill him, well, thatís between the two of you. I wonít seek revenge for it, but I wonít help either."

Mac nodded a grudging acceptance of Bryanís position. "What about Caspian?"

"When you find Caspian, call me." Bryan stated firmly. "He wonít trouble you for long." Digging in his pocket, he handed Mac a card with his cellular phone number. Glancing up, he noticed that Jim was talking quietly to JL and Joe. JLís eyes were wide and she shivered occasionally, her hand entwined with Joeís. "Donít underestimate either of them, Mac," he warned as he got up. "They both fight dirty. Very dirty." Not waiting for Mac to acknowledge his comment, Bryan moved over to Jim and laid a hand on his shoulder.

Jim touched it with his own for a moment, then the two turned and walked out of the bar.

In the silence, Joe looked up at Duncan. As much as he liked Methos, Duncan was, well, Duncan. "Iíll help you all I can, Mac," he promised softly. "Whatever their world was like, however long itís been since theyíve been together, they have to be stopped now."

Nodding, Mac tried not to consider the kind of man it would take to put such fear into two fighters as skilled as Jim and Bryan. Well, heíd faced skilled fighters before. Not four together, perhaps, but still. They were only immortals, and they could be killed like immortals. But damn, it would be easier if he could convince Bryan to at least work with him. He knew Sarah could convince him, but she flatly refused to discuss the issue, and he didnít think either of them knew Cassandra. With a small shake, Mac picked up his duster and followed Jim and Bryan into the night, leaving JL and Joe to sort though the rubble and decide that neither the situation nor the sound system was going to be easily repaired.

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

Bryan sat huddled on the hotel balcony, watching the rain and working on a half bottle of Scotch. Pulling his leather jacket closer in a vain attempt to keep the rain off the back of his neck, he considered his options. Inside was his soulmate of more than 1800 years, begging him to go to Tuscany because he was terrified of meeting Kronos again. When JL had told them that Mac had gone to the power station to fight Kronos, theyíd held each other and dredged up long forgotten prayers. But that fight had been interrupted by a sudden fire and Kronos was gone again, leaving them back at square one. Jim wasnít sleeping or eating, and his blood-shot eyes made Bryan squirm with guilt. He knew he shouldnít even hesitate--he should get his butt on the plane and fly Jim wherever he would feel safe.

But.

For the first time in Bryanís life, there was a "but" before his desire to see Jim happy again. Getting up suddenly, he took a fortifying swallow of Scotch and strode to the railing, letting the rain fall where it would. Holding out his right hand, he made himself remember Caspian. The mocking voice echoed all too quickly from the depths of his subconscious and his hand began to shake violently while his stomach twisted itself in knots. The urge to kneel was almost overwhelming, and Bryan slammed his fist into the steel rail as hard as he could, hoping the pain would stop the memories. The sound of his bones breaking, though, just flashed him back to Caspian standing over him, his heavy boot crushing his bound wrists. "You call this balanced, worm?" heíd snarled before heíd slammed the rejected sword through Bryanís hands and deep into the ground. It had taken Bryan hours to find the courage to run his impaled hands up the blade and pull hard enough to free himself--hours that had cost him the last of his willpower and let his fear take complete control.

Sinking to the floor, Bryan cradled his hand and sobbed. Weakness had never been in his vocabulary until Caspian had broken him--until then he had been an invincible Roman warrior of noble blood with the world at his beck and call. He had had everything an immortal could want--a devoted lover, a student, and a home. Then, in one afternoon, everything had fallen apart and buried him in the debris. He had become Caspianís slave and whipping boy, and only the fact that Caspian and Kronos wanted him to forge blades for their entire band had kept him alive. He knew damn well the blades were going to be used to kill his countrymen, but he had gladly traded their lives for a bit of food and a brief respite from the pain.

Blessedly, most of the memories were blocked now, lurking somewhere deep in his mind where he had no wish to go. He could remember scattered images, but the chronology was lost. Caspianís would always be the face he saw in his nightmares though, even if he were only there egging Bryan on when heíd done something he was ashamed of. Caspian. Jim had promised him that Caspian was dead, and heíd rebuilt his world on that illusion of security. But Jim had also said Kronos was dead, and if heíd been mistaken about the one, the other was probably alive too.

Crawling over to his bottle, Bryan gulped the rest of the whiskey. Heíd been having nightmares too, no doubt leakage from those repressed memories. If he had a patient with these symptoms, heíd prescribe hypnotherapy and convince them to face their demons instead of hiding, but suddenly objective treatments didnít seem so rational to him. There had to be another way, another path.

Rising slowly, he forced his healing hand into a fist, letting the pain anchor him in the here and now. He looked at the way the muscles in his arm swelled and rippled, how the veins stood out clearly against the bronzed flesh. Searching for the remnants of that proud centurion, Bryan drew his sword and ran through a series of thrusts and parries, making himself pay attention to the easy way he wielded the heavy German weapon. Over 3 pounds, with a 37 inch blade, the sword still moved like a feather in his grasp. It had taken almost a year at the forge, but heíd ended up with a blade that suited him perfectly.

Thoughts of the forge brought back Bryanís first meeting with Caspian. Heíd been working there, teaching his student, Dominic, the fine art of tempering a blade when theyíd heard the hoofbeats. The marauders had swept through the village with careless abandon, cutting down everyone in their path. Bryan had killed several with the white-hot blade, but there had been far too many to hold off for long. Once the leaders had felt his immortality, they had joined forces against him until Kronos drove his massive sword through Bryanís gut and into the wall behind him. Pinned like a frog for dissection, Bryan had been summarily disarmed by Caspian and forced to watch while Kronos picked up Bryanís sword and gleefully beheaded Dominic. The Quickening had been as short as Dominicís life, and Bryan had desperately begun hurling insults in an attempt to get Kronos mad enough to challenge him one on one. But Kronos had other plans, and the insults just encouraged him to turn Bryanís care over to Caspian.

Feeling the old fury begin to build, Bryan nurtured it carefully. Rage was better than fear--rage he could channel into action, and, he hoped, into Caspianís death. Fear would only drag him into the same abyss heíd dropped into the first time, the mindless void that heíd only survived thanks to months of Jimís patient coddling. Facing Caspian one-on-one was the only way to regain his pride and confidence. To run now, or to sit and do nothing while Mac did his killing for him, was unacceptable. The one thing Bryan had never questioned was his own ability to fight whenever and whomever--enemies of long standing, friends who suddenly turned into foes, strangers who thought him an easy mark, even former students. Heíd regretted some of them afterwards, and some heíd mourn forever, but he had always been able to fight them when the time came. Caspian canít be any different, he tried to reassure himself. He just canít be.

Squaring his shoulders, Bryan slipped back into the room. Jim glanced at him curiously as he grabbed his cleaning rag and dried the rain off his sword, but Jim was in one of his silent moods and Bryan knew he wouldnít ask. Bryan polished the blade meticulously, using the familiar task to give himself time to think. He hoped he could find a way to make Jim understand what he had to do, but the words werenít coming.

With a sigh, Bryan laid the sword on the bed and dropped into the chair across from Jim. "Iím starving," he announced. "Room service?"

Jim shrugged. "Not hungry."

Bryan suppressed a growl and picked up the phone, deliberately ordering all of Jimís favorite foods and a bag of Doritos to go with them. "Oh," he added casually, "and another bottle of Blue Label."

"You finished the last one already?"

Hanging up, Bryan shrugged. "It was already half gone. Besides, the rain was getting into it, so I protected it as best I could."

"By drinking it?"

"Exactly." Jim frowned and started to get up, but Bryan caught his hand. "Julius," he said softly, "please. Sit with me for a little while and talk, okay? We, well I, need to talk."

Jim stared down at Bryanís hand for a long moment, then he nodded once and sat back down. Maybe, just maybe, he could hold onto his own fear long enough to get through to his lover. "All I want to talk about is when weíre leaving, Bry."

"I canít leave. Not until I know whether Caspian is alive."

"What difference does it make?" Jim clutched at Bryanís hand. "Itís over. Weíre free."

Bryan shook his head and squeezed back. "Iím not free, Jim. I still remember how he made me feel, and I donít ever want to feel like that again. But I will, unless I prove to myself that I can fight him."

"Why?"

"Because Iíll always doubt myself if I donít face him."

"And youíll die if you do!" Jim wailed, blinking back tears. He knew Bryan wasnít listening, knew he was just hitting his head against the rocks, but he had to try. "Please listen to me. Please. We can walk away from this if we try."

"Like you did?" Bryan shot back, terrified Jimís words would make him lose his courage and draw him into the same trap that Jim was in. "Youíre so goddamn free that you go into uncontrollable rages every century and leave me for decades wondering where the hell you are and whether youíre all right. You really expect me to believe those rages just materialized out of the fucking air and itís pure coincidence they started soon after you got me away from Kronos and Caspian? With a scar on your neck that you still havenít explained?"

Jim paled and tried to pull his hand back, but Bryan wouldnít let him go. His green eyes seemed to bore into Jimís soul, but Jim was an expert at deflecting such attacks. Closing his eyes for a second, Jim took a deep breath and regained his composure through sheer force of will. He didnít dare show Bryan any weakness now, or his lover would find out all of his sins--and that wasnít something Jim could allow.

"Benito," he cajoled, falling back to his favorite nickname, "I know how you feel, I really do. But youíve proven yourself hundreds of times since Caspian broke you, under all sorts of horrible conditions. You didnít fold at Culloden, or in the nightmare that followed. You didnít yield to the Nazis, or the Vietnamese, or any of the other enemies weíve fought. You didnít let Alaricís Black Adders slow you down at all. Yes, Caspian broke you, and yes, it was horrible. But youíre healed now, and you donít need to fight Caspian to prove it."

Bryan studied him intently, trying to figure out what lay behind his words. Something, definitely, and more than simple fear. For the thousandth time, Bryan wished he knew where Jim had been for the year heíd been with Caspian, and if the disjointed memories he had of Jimís voice encouraging him and his gentle touch soothing him had been a dream or reality. But every time heíd asked, Jim had refused to answer. Wetting his lips, Bryan sighed and decided to stick with his own feelings for the moment. "I donít feel healed, Julius. I feel like Iím going to be consumed by my terror unless I prove to myself I can fight him. I..." Bryan stopped as a knock on the door heralded the arrival of dinner. "Damn," he growled as he got up to answer it. "Hold that thought."

He had just finished signing the bill when the buzz filled the room, and both he and Jim straightened instantly. Bryan grabbed his sword, and the waitress gave a startled shriek and fled as he brandished it. They heard her mumbled apology to someone in the hall, then her footsteps retreated rapidly.

"Itís just me, guys," JLís voice called from the hallway. "Donít kill me, okay?" Stepping slowly into the doorway, JL showed them her empty hands. "Can I come in?"

Bryan nodded and tossed his sword back on the bed. "Sorry about that," he said. "Itís been a long week."

JL smiled grimly. "Tell me about it. With Sarah off-stride, Iím sparring with Colin, and that SOB hits hard." Winking at Bryan, she came in, opened the Scotch, and poured three glasses.

"So did you come to watch me terrify the waitress or just drink my Scotch?" Bryan queried, dropping back into his chair and accepting the glass JL handed him.

"Neither," she replied, giving one to Jim. "I came to tell you itís safe to go outside. Methos and Kronos have left Seacouver--in fact, they left a few days ago."

Jim closed his eyes in silent prayer, then looked back at JL. "Youíre sure?"

Nodding, JL crossed over to the chest of drawers and perched on its top with her arms resting on one uplifted knee and the other foot dangling. "Rule number one of modern day watching--infiltrate the airline reservation system, whatever it takes." Sipping the Scotch, JL tried to gauge how her next piece of news would be received. "Once you have a destination, itís easier to find the whole itinerary. And Colin and I think we found just that. A man named Miles Korden bought two tickets from Seacouver to some unpronounceable city in the Ukraine, then three to Bucharest, and finally four to Bordeaux. All first class, paid for in cash. Personally, I think that sounds a lot like an immortal gathering up his friends for something--and Iíll wager itís not just a tea party."

Bryan drummed his fingers on the table thoughtfully. "Well, it does sound suspicious, doesnít it? When did Korden and his friend leave town?"

"Two days ago," JL replied. "Right after the fight at the power station. They arrive in the Ukraine today and fly out again five days from now. Itís a much shorter stay in Romania though--theyíre only there for two days."

Jim looked at the stubborn set of Bryanís shoulders and knew the Lear wouldnít be flying to Tuscany any time soon unless he could find some argument that even Bryan couldnít refute. Frowning, he studied the depths of his glass, ignoring the curious look JL gave him. At the moment, his world felt as fragile as the ice that was melting in his Scotch.

Bryan, however, was completely oblivious to Jimís distress. "They end up in Bordeaux?"

Wrenching her gaze from Jim, JL shrugged. "Maybe they want good champagne to celebrate their reunion?"

"Bordeaux," Bryan muttered, glancing at his watch. "Theyíre nine hours ahead of us. I can be there by tomorrow night if I hustle."

Jim swallowed, completely out of arguments except for the one hole card he never, ever, thought heíd need to play--the "itís me or them" card. He shuddered, hoping he could convince Bryan how serious he was without going that far. "No," he said flatly, rising to his feet and facing Bryan squarely. "Youíre not going."

Bryan blinked at him. "Look, I already told you I have to go, Jim. Iím sorry you donít understand."

"I understand all too well," Jim snorted. "Itís a mistake, and one I wonít help you fix this time."

"Itís my life, Julius," Bryan replied angrily, "and Iíll do with it as I please. I never asked you to rescue me."

No longer concerned with how far it went, Jim began to fume. "What was I supposed to do? Leave you with them?"

JL watched them uneasily. Sheíd never seen them this mad at one another, and it felt like being in the path of a tornado waiting to get swept up in the destruction. She cleared her throat nervously, but both men ignored her.

"Look, Iím damn glad you rescued me, Julius," Bryan finally acknowledged, "and Iíve told you that a hundred times. But now I have to do this, and you canít stop me. Itís personal, damn it."

"And this petty revenge means more to you than I do?"

"How dare you call it Ďpettyí!" Bryan flared. "You know what he did to me! I have every right to kill him for it."

Jim fought the rage that made him want to end this conversation with a sword. This is Benito, he reminded himself frantically. My soul. My heart. My life. Taking a deep breath, he pulled himself together by sheer will. "Youíre not the only one in this equation, Benito," he pointed out tightly. "This affects me too, you know." Glancing at JL, he added, "Not to mention all your other friends like JL and Sarah."

Struggling with the fear that came with talking about facing Caspian and the guilt at dismissing Jimís well-being, Bryan searched desperately for the confidence heíd found on the balcony. To his relief, the anger answered his call and his voice hardened. "You werenít the one he hurt. And rescuing me was still your choice, not mine."

Jim stared, trying to come to terms with what his lover had said. He knew Bryan could be egotistical, but this, this was pure malice. Bryan had to know that Jim had had a horrible experience or he wouldnít have held it inside so long. Bryan was baiting him into explaining how badly heíd been hurt. Fury overcame shame and Jimís code of silence finally shattered. If Bryan wanted the truth that badly, he could have it. Then he could try sleeping at night.

Drawing himself up to his full height, Jim masked his anger behind a soft, deceptively-controlled voice. "Donít you ever imply that you were the only one who was hurt by this, you selfish bastard. All you had to do was lie on the ground and whimper. I was the one who had to face Kronos, day after day, night after night, and tell the man I admired him. I had to ride beside him and slaughter innocent people just so heíd trust me. And I had to go into the miserable bastardís bed with only my own will to keep me pretending I liked the way he was hurting me. You, he chained. Me, he just raped.

"I could have ridden away, and probably gone fast enough to escape them if Iíd been willing to abandon you. But I didnít. I lied, killed, and allowed myself to be brutalized so I could get you out of there in one piece.

"And if you ever try to tell me again that you were the only one who suffered at their hands, or make one more comment implying that I wanted to do what I did, I swear Iíll kill you where you stand." Spinning on his heel, Jim strode out the door without waiting for Bryanís reply.

Bryan flinched as the door slammed, his rage forgotten. He started after Jim, shock rendering him completely immobile even though he knew he should be racing after his lover. He began to tremble and buried his head in his hands.

JL finally shook off her own surprise and knelt by Bryan, gently stroking his shoulder. "Bryan?" she soothed. "Are you okay?"

"It was real," he sobbed. "Real."

"What was?" she prompted, handing him a Kleenex.

With a strangled sob, he finally looked at her. "Remember I told you I was kidnapped by Caspian? Well, I donít remember all of it, but I do remember Jimís voice urging me to hold on--to live. I thought...thought it was a dream." Choking slightly, Bryan blew his nose and took another gulp of whiskey. "He wouldnít ever tell me what happened, or how he rescued me. He just had this scar on his neck that he wouldnít talk about. I knew it had to be bad, but I couldnít imagine anything so bad we couldnít talk about it." Getting up suddenly, he looked for his keys. "I need to find him."

JL shook her head. "I may not be a certified shrink," she said quietly, " but he looks like he needs time to cool off."

Bryan trembled, torn between helping Jim and going after Caspian. He knew JL was right, though--Jim would probably try to kill him before heíd talk to him at this point, so going after him was useless. Which meant he had time to kill Caspian and close that chapter in his life so heíd be able to give Jim his undivided attention. Assuming he could ever get near him again. Suppressing his doubts, he went to get his suitcase.

"Youíre going to Bordeaux," JL stated quietly.

Nodding, Bryan tossed his underwear in the suitcase, then began sorting through his shirts. "Iíll be back as soon as I can," he promised. "Keep an eye on him, wonít you?"

"Canít," JL replied. "Iíll be in Bordeaux with you."

Finally really looking at her, Bryan shook his head. "Itís too dangerous."

"Youíll need help, Bryan," she coaxed, "even if itís just to run errands or dig through dusty old records. We donít know where theyíre going in Bordeaux, and I can help you look. Plus, Colin will have all his Watcher contacts."

"Colin?"

JL sighed. "Where I go, he goes. Ask him; heíll tell you." Walking up to Bryan, JL laid a hand on his arm. "Please, Bryan?" she asked earnestly. "I know I can help--Iím good at research, and you know it. I promise Iíll stay the hell out of the way of any sword fighting, but I want to go. I want to give back a little of what youíve given me. Please."

Bryan studied her, knowing that her help, and Colinís, could well make the difference, but unwilling to expose them to that much danger. Not knowing whose side Methos was really on--if any other than just his own--made the entire operation extremely dicey.

"How many times have you told me I need to make my own decisions, Bryan?" JL finally asked. "Well, Iím making one, and itís to go with you. Now I can go in your jet and help you right from the start, or I can tag after you on a commercial flight and waste time tracking you down. Your call."

Looking at the set of her shoulders, Bryan smiled. "You," he observed, "have spent entirely too much time with me." Ruffling her hair fondly, he kissed her forehead and nudged her to the door. "Go think long and hard about whether you really want to do this." Glancing at the half-packed suitcase, he sighed. Even if he couldnít talk to Jim himself just then, he could still do something for his lover. Bordeaux could wait until tomorrow. "I need to call some friends in France and talk to Sarie--Iíll call you when Iím ready to leave. Oh, and JL? Donít tell anyone about this right now, OK? I donít want to drag Mac and Cassandra along with us. I doubt that heíd, well, approve of the methods I plan to employ."

JL glanced at him curiously, but sheíd seen that determined look before. Instead of fighting him, she grinned, her pride at being deemed both trustworthy and useful overshadowing her fears about getting involved with the Horsemen. "All right," she agreed. "That will give me time to find someone to look after the cats." Giving Bryan a quick hug, she headed out, hoping she had picked the right time to assert her independence.

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

The dream began precisely the way that it always did; with a curiously twisting view of the sky on a crisp autumn day and the sound of hooves on turf. Sarah twitched in her sleep, but this was familiar enough for her conscious mind to let it play through. For dozens of years this dream had brought her back to consciousness screaming wildly, but now, over nine hundred years after the first time it had occurred, it was merely a nightmare that could be erased with a trip to the kitchen and a shower. Always a shower.

Alan MacGreggor, her long dead husband, was speaking to her. "Weíll have to get Rob to help us bring them down for the winter," he said, his lilting tone still a comfort even centuries after his passing.

"Aye," she heard her own voice say. And she saw him through her own eyes, a wiry man with kind eyes and a rakish smile. He kept his brown hair shorter than the other men did and his beard was neatly trimmed, but both were slightly disheveled from the ride and herding the flocks. Handsome. Oh, but her Alan had been handsome.

Smoke. She smelled smoke. And the dream tilted, as always. They rode over the hill to see the village on fire and hear the screams of their clansmen. Sarah sat horrified on her mare, unable to turn her eyes from the sight of her youngest brother being put to the sword in a most gruesome manner. But something was not right. This dream was new. Those were not Norman soldiers slaughtering her people.

In her bed in Seacouver, nine hundred years and several thousand miles away from the original trauma, Sarah MacGreggor began to sweat in earnest.

Strong hands pulled her from her horse and she found herself staring into a mask of pure evil. Alan was gone. The village was gone. There was only this iron grip on her shoulders and that horrific mask.

"Do what you want with the girl," came the accented voice of Jean Paul Martin, the immortal responsible for slaughtering her people. And there was some cold comfort in it. The dream--the old dream--always ended the same way and she knew she survived. It was familiar and she could watch it play out with some degree of detachment.

"I intend to," was the reply from the masked figure.

Fear came rushing back. All the power she had reclaimed over the centuries, all the self worth that she had worked so very hard to re-establish...it was in the hands of this stranger...this total and complete stranger who was not supposed to be there.

A knife pricked her throat, just under her right ear, and traced a line of agony down to her left collar bone. Then the man was on her and in her, as the three Normans had been, and there was only pain and the slow dragging sensation as her life drained from the wound.

It should have ended there. Usually, the dream ended with the leer of the third manís grin. But, this time, Sarah found herself standing next to her own body as this man stood and straightened his clothing. There were crimson stains on his cloak and his hands were covered in blood; her blood. She was rooted in place by the sight and let him cross to within three feet of her before finding the courage to back away.

Still mesmerized by the blood on his hands, her eyes followed them up as they drew back the hood and threw off the mask to reveal the face of the one man she thought she could trust absolutely.

Sarah MacGreggorís world tilted on its ear yet again as she woke up screaming.

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

Sarah flung down the spatula and turned off the heat under the pan of eggs she was frying as a buzz rang through her head. A glance at the clock told her it was only 7:45 in the morning...not that a little thing like manners would keep an immortal from picking a fight. Not that sheíd been sleeping much since her discussion with Methos.

She half expected to see Methosí new Blazer parked on the street--it would be like him to give her some time to cool off and then try to talk--but instead, her trip to the window found a sleek BMW dwarfing her Toyota in the driveway.

It must be Bryan. No one else would dare show up this early, for one thing. By the time she crossed back through the small living room, he had already knocked softly on the door. She pulled it open without ceremony and turned on her heel, heading for the kitchen once more.

Bryan followed her silently, watching as she grabbed the pepper and sprinkled it liberally over her eggs. He automatically noted her tousled hair and rumpled pajamas, and frowned slightly at the dark circles under her eyes. "You look like you havenít slept in days."

Sarah cocked a hip and stared blankly at the ceiling for a moment, obviously calculating in her head. "Yeah, thatís about right. Four, I think."

"You should have called. We could have not slept together." He bumped her out of the way gently and took over on the eggs, turning down the heat so he could root in the refrigerator for some cheese and tomato. "Do you have any bacon?"

Sarah ran both hands through her hair to get it out of her face and furrowed her brow in a moment of confusion. "Um...I think so. Look in the deli drawer."

"Ah," he straightened up and displayed the package triumphantly.

Content to turn the stove over to someone who was less likely to set the place on fire, Sarah hopped up onto the counter near the sink. "Why havenít you been sleeping?"

Bryan snorted and shot her an amused look over his shoulder. "Oh...you know, the usual."

She grunted in agreement. "The bastard."

"Which one?"

"Huh? Thereís more than one?"

Bryan nodded, busily chopping tomato. "Five, by my count."

Sarah ticked off the names with her fingers. Methos. Kronos. And the other two, assuming they were alive as well. Four. "Whoís the fifth?"

"Well, that depends on who you ask, I suppose," he answered, dumping the rest of the ingredients into the pan with her eggs. "Me, if you ask Julian. Julian, if you ask me."

Sarah clutched her head again, willing it to stop spinning in confusion. "What? Make some sense, will you?"

Bryan sighed and pulled another frying pan down from the rack over his head, laying the strips of bacon in very carefully before answering. "Jim...well...itís over. I think. Maybe...possibly."

"Over?! What? Why?"

He squared his shoulders, suddenly wishing heíd given in to the urge to turn and run from her doorstep. Somehow, saying it aloud made it worse. Maybe if he didnít tell her what had happened, it wouldnít be real. "Nothing. Never mind. Go wash up and get back into bed, Iíll bring you breakfast."

"Bry, Iíve had enough bombs dropped in my lap lately. Donít even think youíre getting away with this."

He didnít need to turn around and look to know that her jaw was set stubbornly. Bryan sighed and focused on flipping bacon strips for a moment before answering. "Iíll tell you all about it. After youíve eaten something."

She shook her head, still confused and working toward annoyed. "Iím..."

"Looking like you need someone to make you eat something," he cut in, turning to face her. "Go on. Go."

Sarah let him propel her toward the bedroom with a gentle push and used the momentum to carry herself through the door and into the bathroom. She brushed her teeth and scrubbed her face, then spent a moment looking at her reflection in the mirror before deciding that she looked like death warmed over. This had been one hell of a week. It felt more like fifty years had passed since she and Methos had spent Sunday afternoon on the couch with a crossword puzzle and NPR. Fifty long, hard years.

Mere seconds after she crawled into her bed, Bryan appeared with a tray of delicious-smelling eggs and a big glass of milk. He set it on the steamer trunk at the foot of the bed and unfolded the dishtowel draped across his forearm with a crisp snap. Kicking off his shoes, he crawled in next to her, tucked the down comforter in neatly between them, and covered it protectively with the towel before retrieving her breakfast.

"So," he said after nearly two minutes of silence broken only by the sound of her eating, "why has Methosí revelation kept you from sleeping?"

She spared him a glance over the brim of her milk. "You first. You can psychoanalyze me later."

Bryan sighed inwardly. Sometimes he hated how utterly direct she could be. Especially when she saw right through him like this. He sighed again, this time aloud, and picked at a loose thread on the quilt. "Jimís gone."

Sarah shrugged and drained the glass. "So? You two do this about once a century, as I recall."

"No," he shook his head. "Itís different this time."

She set the glass on the tray, then moved both to the floor before rolling over onto her side to look at him. "Look, Benito, I love you, you know that. And you know that Iíll always listen to you when you need to talk. But I swear, Iím at the end of my rope here and if you donít spill, Iím going to lose it. Either tell me whatís going on, or leave me alone, please."

In response, he scrubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, ran his fingers through his hair, drew in a deep breath, and told her everything; his need to face Caspian, Jimís reaction, his plans to go to Bordeaux. For once, he laid it out honestly, without exaggeration or judicious editing. Then he waited, holding his breath and hoping she took the right side. She had to take the right side. She just had to.

"Well," Sarah said at length, "I suppose he has a bit of a point about how dangerous it is."

Another piece of his heart cracked open, dangling by a small thread in his chest. "But?" Oh, God, let there be a Ďbutí.

She nodded, then shrugged. "But...well...I donít know. Thereís a but, Bry. Iím just not sure what it is."

"I have to do it, Sarie."

Sarah nodded again. She knew all about the need to face an old enemy. "I know. I just wish you werenít taking such a tremendous chance to do it."

Bryanís head drooped and he screwed his eyes shut in an effort of self control. "You donít think I can do it either."

"Of course I think you can beat him," she answered, finding his thigh under the blanket and squeezing. "I think you can do just about anything you put your mind to. But you wouldnít be facing just one of them, Bryan. They come as a set, you know. Him, yes. Them...I donít know."

"Well," he rationalized, feeding her the same line heíd been trying to swallow himself, "MacLeod will be there too. He really wants to kill Kronos."

"That leaves three," she said flatly.

"Methos wonít..."

Sarahís face went suddenly hard. "Donít kid yourself. You have no idea what heíll do."

He had to admit, she did have a point. None of them had seen this coming with Methos, and he guessed that Sarah was struggling with it just as much as, if not more, than he was. Still. There wasnít time to deal with that particular wound just now. He felt horribly guilty for stamping down the urge to comfort her, but it was now or never with Caspian. If he didnít go soon, he was likely to lose his nerve. It was wavering dangerously at present, in fact.

Bryan drew in a deep breath and held it, scanning the room for something--anything--to focus on as a distraction. His eyes finally settled on the silver thistle pendant he had made for her several years ago that was presently hanging out of her jewelry box on the dresser. She loved the necklace and wore it with everything from jeans to ball gowns and he loved the way the silver warmed when nestled against her body. If he thought about it for a moment, he could probably conjure the feeling of its weight in his hand.

A sudden, wild inspiration struck. Without Jim--without Methos--they could find a place and settle into a relationship. Together. Theyíd certainly flirted with the concept often enough. And, damn, was it tempting, especially at this particular moment.

"Come with me," he said.

Sarah blinked at him twice, then snorted out a thoroughly Scottish noise of disgust. "To fight? No way."

Bryan looked down, studying the fingers of her right hand and trying to figure out if he had meant Ďcome with me to Bordeauxí or Ďrun away with meí. A little of both, maybe. But the Bordeaux route was easier to travel, at the moment. "Why not? Between us and Mac, we could take them all out."

Sarahís face twisted in obvious emotional distress and she flopped onto her back, staring at the ceiling. Why not indeed? Every muscle in her body had been twitching with a practically uncontrollable urge to rip Peteyís head off with her bare hands. It would feel good to have an outlet for all the anger and pain. And this, like most of Duncanís battles, was for a noble cause. To rid the world of a great evil. It couldnít be more heroic if she set out to create a legend. But, God, she wanted to rip Peteyís head off with her bare hands. The bastard. The sweet, funny, lovable, deceiving bastard.

"I canít," she said.

Bryan nodded. It was just as well--in his heart he knew there was no way in hell he was going to bring her within a hundred miles of Kronos. Nor could he run away, not even with his beloved Sarie. No, all he could do was commit to fighting Caspian and make sure his loved ones were protected. "Good," he said. "I need you here, anyway."

"Oh Bry," she sighed heavily and rolled onto her back. "I donít think I have it in me to play through one of your plans right now. Iím lucky I can find my way to the bathroom, let alone execute whatever elaborate scheme youíve cooked up."

"No scheme."

Sarah rolled her head to the left and cocked an eyebrow in a clearly disbelieving expression that made him chuckle, despite his mood.

"I swear," he held up his right hand solemnly.

"What, then? What could you possibly need me for?"

Bryan twisted the covers into a tight knot between his fingers and ran his right thumb over the smooth metal of his ring. "To take care of Julian for me. I know him, Sarie, and he wonít leave Seacouver until he finds out how this turns out. Heíll be miserable, but heíll stay near the best information source he knows--Joe. Iím just afraid if he gets too depressed, someone will find him when his defenses are down. I just need you to talk to him sometimes and remind him that heís not alone."

Sarah heaved herself into a sitting position and tucked both knees against her chest. "Okay," she said finally. "But if you donít come back, I swear Iíll kill you myself."

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

Sarah parked in front of Joeís and drummed her fingers on the wheel for a moment, thinking about her options. Jim was notoriously touchy--if she played this wrong, he might leave Seacouver altogether, and she didnít have the energy to chase him. Of course, if he were acting the way anyone expected him to act, he wouldnít have left Bryan and taken to spending every evening in Joeís bar.

With a weary sigh she rummaged through her grocery bag for Jimís favorite snack, Cool Ranch Doritos, and got out of the car, closing the door with a decisive thump. She could understand Jimís desire to sit and stare--she hadnít had more than a few hours sleep herself since the confrontation with Petey, and it was beginning to show. A desperate corner of her mind hoped that helping Jim would be the key to helping herself, or at least distracting her for a little while.

Walking into the bar, she paused to let her eyes adjust to the lights and find Jim. Joe smiled at her and gave a slight nod of his head toward a back corner where Jim sat mostly in shadows, sipping a glass of beer. Jim nodded to her absently, then went back to watching the band. Smiling at Joe, Sarah crossed the room and displayed the Doritos bag enticingly. "We have a date," she announced.

Jim cocked his head and studied her quizzically. "A date?"

"Well, a rain check," she amended, noting that he didnít seem drunk. "To watch hockey, drink beer, and eat nothing but junk food. Donít you remember? We never got to it when I visited you guys last month."

Jim gazed at the Doritos with a rueful smile. "Sorry. I forgot. Can we do it some other time?"

"Why?" Sarah made a show of looking around in search of whatever it was Jim might be doing, making it clear she didnít find anything. "Come on, I want to watch hockey, and itís no fun alone."

"Well..."

"Itís the Islanders and the Oilers. I know the Oilers will kill them, but it might be vaguely interesting."

Jim narrowed his eyes at her. "New York by two."

"Bet," Sarah said quickly, offering her hand and pulling him up when he went to shake it. "Letís go."

Looking slightly surprised at being uprooted, Jim shrugged. "Where?"

"My place. Iím more comfortable there than in JLís apartment." And itís not as reminiscent of Bryan because I put all my pictures away, she added silently. Taking Jim by the arm, she escorted him out to her car and glanced around for their rented BMW.

"I took a cab," Jim said quietly as he walked around her Toyota.

With a nod, Sarah unlocked the car, moved the grocery bag so Jim could sit down, and drove back to her place. She glanced at Jimís profile a couple of times as he stared out at the passing traffic. There were dark circles under his eyes, but he seemed relatively alert. Joe was right, she decided. He might have become a permanent barfly, but he wasnít doing it to crawl into a bottle.

Pulling into her driveway, Sarah led the way to her apartment trying to decide what to do next. The circles under her eyes matched his, Jim wasnít interested in anything except sitting around, and Bryan showed no signs of returning any time soon. They both knew all that, though, and saying it didnít seem particularly useful. Well, sheíd turn on the game and go with the flow. If Jim really didnít want to talk to anyone, he would have used his job as JLís cat sitter as an excuse to lock himself away from the world. For Jim, hanging out in a bar was practically a cry for help. Maybe. Hopefully.

As Jim trailed up the stairs after her, he eyed the tension in Sarahís shoulders and considered the furtive glances heíd noticed in the car. After theyíd gotten inside, Jim set down the grocery bag and studied her. "Are you all right, Sarah?"

Sarah couldnít help laughing a little. "I was wondering the same about you, Julian."

"Iím fine," Jim replied easily, pulling the chips out of the bag. "Um, whereís your TV?"

"In the bedroom. I only watch it when I canít sleep."

Jim stared at her in mock horror. "Why, Miss MacGreggor, are you asking me to go to bed with you?"

Sarah paused on her way to the kitchen to consider his question. "Yes. Want a beer?"

"Sure."

By the time Sarah had located her bottle opener and grabbed two beers, Jim had found a large bath towel and was spreading it over the bed. "It cuts down on crumbs," he told her as she joined him.

"Youíve eaten in bed before."

Jim nodded and turned away quickly. He could almost see Bryan fastidiously laying out a towel to protect their silk sheets; Bryan hated crumbs. Feeling his throat tighten, Jim gave himself a stern mental swat. Bryan was gone and that was that. Grabbing a couple of pillows, Jim tossed them at Sarah with a forced smile.

Pretending she hadnít seen the pain reflected in Jimís eyes, Sarah chuckled and batted the pillows away, then put down the beers and removed her shoes. Climbing into bed, she grabbed a Dorito and waved it teasingly just out of Jimís reach. "Come to me, Julian. Donít be afraid. I wonít bite you. Much."

Jim affected a wary look, edging closer and closer to the Dorito like a squirrel approaching a peanut being held by a fascinated tourist. Suddenly he pounced on the bed, snatched the Dorito, and sat back nibbling it while trying to look everywhere at once. Sarah laughed in what seemed like the first time in centuries, then smacked him firmly with a pillow. With a grin, Jim took off his shoes and settled in next to her, content to pretend that everything was back to normal and they were just waiting for Bryan to come home from some business trip. If there was one thing Jim was good at, it was ignoring little voices telling him he was lying to himself.

The game quickly ignited old rivalries. Sarah still rooted for the Edmonton Oilers even though Gretsky had moved on, while Jim stood by the New York Islanders. It went into overtime, but, despite Jimís best cheering, the Oilers squeaked by 4-3. With a moan, Jim flopped back against the pillow. "Bums," he muttered.

"What was that?" Sarah demanded, eager to hear Jim admit his team was inferior.

"Butts. Nice butts," Jim replied quickly.

"Right. Butts my...butt," Sarah snickered, ruffling his hair. "They blew it. Big time."

"Just because your guys made a power play doesnít mean a damn thing. The ref was blind! He should have nailed Marchant for high-sticking and pulled him."

"In your dreams, OíLeary. Todd didnít do anything wrong. It was the Islandersí goalkeeper who couldnít keep the puck out of the net." Jim glared at her, but Sarah just stuck her tongue out at him. "Pay up."

Jim sighed and dug in his wallet for the ritual twenty. Sarah lifted it eagerly out of his hand and kissed the bill. "Ahh...I love the smell of easy money," she crowed.

"Oh, shut up," Jim groused as he cleared the bottles and crumpled bags of junk food. Heíd been hungrier than heíd realized once he started eating.

Sarah got up and they headed into the kitchen. She opened the trash can for him, then dug in the refrigerator for a minute. "Omelets?"

"I should probably go. Itís getting late."

"So? I have My Dinner with Andre. We can eat with them." Sarah held her breath, hoping Jim liked the movie as much as she did. She relaxed as the tempted look in Jimís face told her sheíd guessed right. "I have cheddar, bacon, and mushrooms. I donít know about you, but all that junk food just made me hungry."

Jim shifted, torn between not wanting to be a bother and remembering how empty JLís apartment was.

"Please, Jim?" Sarah asked softly. "I havenít laughed like this in weeks. Iíd really like you to stay."

Jim smiled. He wasnít entirely sure she meant it, but it sounded wonderful. "All right. Iíll grate the cheese and chop the mushrooms while you do the bacon."

While they worked, Sarah told Jim stories about how little her students at the university understood Yeats, and Jim let her talk without mentioning that he pretty much sided with the students. Heíd never really understood Sarahís fascination with the poet, but he was well acquainted with less-than-attentive students.

Sliding the omelet neatly onto a single plate, Sarah grabbed two forks from the drawer. Jim poured them some milk, and they retreated back to the bed to share the omelet and watch the movie.

Sarah balanced the plate carefully on her knees, forcing Jim to snuggle close so he could reach it without knocking it over. She ate a forkful whenever he glanced at her, but managed to let Jim take most of it. When they were finished, he seemed as reluctant to move as she felt, and Sarah decided it was time for some serious cuddling. Putting the plate on the nightstand, she moved down a little further in the bed and encouraged Jim to lay his head on her shoulder. He hesitated for a moment, then sighed softly and slid one arm around her back so he could nestle properly. She kissed the top of his head, savoring his warmth. It never ceased to amaze her how well they got along when Bryan wasnít there to stir up old jealousies. Jim had held her through some of the worst nights after Culloden when Bryan had been off scouting with Warren Cochrane, sharing his strength when by rights he should have been as exhausted as she. It worried her to see him looking this tired.

By the time the movie ended, they were both half asleep. Sarah forced her eyes open when the tape started rewinding and turned the set off. Untangling herself gently, she got up to rummage through her dresser. "Here," she said as she tossed Jim some flannel pajamas. "These should fit well enough--they have a tie at the waist."

"But..."

"But nothing," Sarah interrupted smoothly. "Itís late, and itís not like we havenít slept together before. I promise I wonít take advantage of you. And thereís even a new toothbrush in the second drawer of the sink."

Jim hesitated, but Sarah was already pulling off her clothes and getting into her own pajamas. Itís easier, he told himself, just to stay. I donít need to stay, itís just easier. Stripping off his own clothes, Jim automatically tuned out the small voice crying "liar, liar." Slipping off to the bathroom, he opened the toothbrush and brushed his teeth, then came back to bed.

Sarah gave him a friendly hug as she passed on her way into the bathroom, and Jim returned the squeeze. He had settled in under the covers when Sarah came back out and joined him. He snuggled up behind her immediately, wrapping one arm around her waist. She patted his hand and settled back against his chest. Sheíd never known him to be this clingy, but she had to admit that it felt good to hold someone again--someone she didnít have to talk to about her real problems because he already understood. She prayed having Jim there would stave off her nightmares at least for one night and they could both get some sleep. Closing her eyes, she quickly drifted off.

Suddenly she was standing next to Alan MacGreggor again, on that deceptively beautiful autumn day. She trembled, turning in her sleep as she smelled the smoke and began to search for its source. Only this time, her movement brought a grumbled complaint from her companion and a tug on the blankets as he rolled over. Sarah sat up, blinking in the darkness as she tried to reconcile reality with the dream. The glow of her digital clock and Jimís curled body on the other side of the bed reminded her she was in Seacouver in 1999, not in Glenstrae in 1068. The knowledge cheered her even as she realized she wouldnít be getting any more sleep that night. Slipping quietly out of bed, she picked up her robe and slippers and leaned over to kiss Jimís temple before she went into the living room, hoping that Jimís dreams were more pleasant than her own had been.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=

Julius Octavius sat up suddenly, trying to identify what had awakened him. He reached for his sword, but it wasnít in its usual place next to the bed. More confused than concerned, he turned and reached out a hand to shake Benedictusí shoulder. His hand froze as he realized that the man next to him wasnít his lover but his master. Kronos, he thought in horror, getting silently out of bed and walking over to the tent flap so he could breathe the fresh air outside.

He surveyed the camp, wondering why it still seemed so strange to him after all these months. A sentry glanced at him and nodded--Julius standing naked and confused in the doorway of Kronosí tent was nothing new anymore. As far as the sentry was concerned, it was a blessing he could move at all--one less body the guards would have to haul out of Kronosí tent and bury.

Julius lowered his head wearily, his fingers unconsciously tracing the outlines of the heavy iron collar he wore. Kronos had told him heíd only have to wear the thing until his loyalty was assured, but Julius had lived there for almost eight months, planned and executed two successful raids, and become so desperate heíd somehow overcome every moral instinct heíd ever had and raped a young man for Kronosí and Caspianís amusement. That night theyíd clasped him on the back, called him Ďbrother,í and laughed when heíd asked about the collar. Then Kronos had hurt him so badly he still ached deep within his body, an ache that even his immortal genes couldnít seem to heal.

Shifting a little in the cold breeze, Julius felt the edge of his cloak beneath his foot. Moving like one in a dream, he reached down, picked up the cloak, and put it on. Walking slowly across the camp toward the horses, he knew he could take one and be gone in a matter of moments. He knew which horse was the fastest in the herd--he could disappear into the darkness, lay a false trail, and be free. Kronos and Caspian were good trackers, but Tuscany was his home. Heíd spent 150 years riding its hills, learning its secret caves and passages. None of them could keep up with him if he rode hard and didnít look back.

I have to, he told himself, touching the cold metal around his neck. I canít take any more of this. I despise myself almost as much as Kronos. I have to leave, before thereís nothing left worth saving.

As he approached the picket lines, a low moan sounded off to his right. Julius cringed but kept walking. The moan sounded again, followed by a choked-off sob. Against his will, Juliusí feet carried him toward the slave pen and away from the horses. A solitary figure was tied to an X-shaped structure in the center of the enclosure. A bloody bull whip lay carelessly at his feet and the ropes that bound him cut deeply into his wrists and ankles.

Julius leaned on the gate, staring in horror at the dead eyes and the slack features that showed no trace of the proud warrior he loved. Benedictus stared at him blankly, flinching as much as the ropes would allow when Julius stumbled forward and put his hand up to caress his cheek. "Benito," he whispered, as he had many times before, "hold on, my love. Soon we will both be free. I swear to you. I will find a way for both of us to get out of here alive."

Loosening the ropes, Julius eased Benedictus to the ground, trying not to think about how light his loverís body had grown or how he kept trying to avoid his touch. Julius dipped the edge of his cloak in a water bucket and began wiping the blood from Benedictusí wrists and ankles, praying that the immortal would be strong enough to heal without permanent damage. He cried silently as he worked, afraid to make any noise lest Kronos hear him.

Despite his caution, he heard Kronosí footsteps crossing the camp and heading for the slave pens. Wiping his eyes quickly, he fought to regain control before the other man reached the gate.

"What are you doing?" Kronos asked, his voice deceptively gentle.

"I heard a noise, master," Julius replied, his eyes lowered as befitted a slave. "I thought it was out near the horses, but it was the prisoner."

"Why did you take him down?" Kronos asked, stroking Juliusí cheek with the back of one hand.

"I was afraid he would suffer permanent damage and not be of use to you as a swordsmith anymore, master."

Kronos caressed his cheek again, then suddenly drew back and hit Julius across the face hard enough to throw the smaller man to the ground. Julius wanted to just cower where he fell, but he knew it would only result in his being kicked until his ribs shattered. Scrambling up to his knees, he tried to ignore the pain in his broken jaw as he leaned down to kiss Kronosí boot. "Iím sorry," he whispered.

Kronos let him grovel for a time, then he grabbed Juliusí golden hair and yanked him upwards. "That is not your concern, slave," he growled into Juliusí ear. "Do you understand me? You have no status here until I grant it to you. I thought you understood that."

"I do, master," Julius gasped.

"Then act like it," Kronos snapped.

"What is the problem, brother?" a second voice asked.

Julius closed his eyes and trembled as Caspian joined them, but he didnít try to pull away or protest as Caspian roughly grabbed his jaw. Julius couldnít keep from crying out as the pieces of bone grated together, and Caspian laughed heartily.

"This cur saved your hide, brother," Kronos replied, shaking Julius by the hair. "How many times have I told you not to leave the smith tied up after you beat him? If you ruin his hands, he canít finish my sword."

Caspian glared at Julius and moved to hit him in the jaw, but Kronos knocked his hand away with a cruel laugh. "Not tonight, brother," he told Caspian. "I have uses for that mouth tonight. You may discuss it with him tomorrow."

"Until tomorrow, then," Caspian replied with an anticipatory smile that almost made Julius whimper again.

Dragging Julius back to the tent, Kronos finally released his grip on Juliusí hair and flung him to the ground. Julius worked his way unsteadily onto his knees and swayed slightly until Kronos came near enough for him to lean on. Kronos growled low in his throat and Julius obediently began to work his masterís clothes off so he could give him the pleasure he demanded.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=

Lost in the same nightmare that had plagued him ever since Bryan had gone charging off after Caspian, Jim suddenly stiffened in his sleep. In his dream, Kronos plunged himself deep in Juliusí body, and Julius remained perfectly silent and accepted his abuse without protest. In Sarahís Seacouver apartment, though, Jimís body began writhing until he slammed his head into the nightstand hard enough to shock him back into the present.

Looking around, Jim frantically tried to remember where and when he was. He felt his throat, but the cold iron was long since gone and even the scars it had left were barely discernible to his questing fingers. He could feel someone else in the apartment, and he shook silently for a moment until he could find his voice. "Benito? Come to bed, my love," he called out finally in Italian, hoping Bryan wouldnít make him admit how much he needed to be held.

Footsteps approached the door, and he looked up eagerly only to see Sarah regarding him sadly. He looked at her uncomprehendingly for a moment until the reality of the past week rushed in on him--he was hiding in Sarahís apartment and his precious Benito was throwing his life back into Caspianís hands. He tried to laugh it off, but his body started trembling uncontrollably as his final reserves shattered under the weight of his dream. Curling helplessly into a ball, he began sobbing as the fear, pain, and anger heíd tried to repress burst through every wall he had.

Sarah stared in shock for a moment then moved forward automatically to stroke Jimís back and whisper to him soothingly. Her mind raced as she tried to reconcile this with her image of Jim--heíd always been the rock of the group, never letting anything get to him, never overreacting, never yelling or screaming unless he thought it would accomplish his goals. Bryan sheíd seen cry before, but Jim? Never. Not even at Culloden when theyíd walked through the bodies searching for survivors. Oh, heíd looked drawn, pale, and sickened, but he never cried in public. She knew he was worried about Bryan--so was she. But this had to be far more than that.

Taking a deep breath, Sarah kept stroking Jimís back and decided to try levity. "Aw, címon Jim, the Islanders arenít that bad."

Jim burrowed deeper into the pillow, trying without success to stop crying. He shook so badly that Sarah quickly wrapped both arms around him and spoke softly into his ear. "Okay. Bad joke. Sorry. Do you want to talk?"

Shaking his head, Jim sniffled and wiped his face on the sleeve of his pajamas. "It was just, just, a dream."

Sarah smiled grimly and shifted so he could sit up. "You too, hmm? I understand."

"I donít think you do," he whispered with a slight cough and another sniffle.

Reaching across the bed, Sarah grabbed a tissue and handed it to him. "Youíd be surprised. Iíve been having nightmares about Methos for close to a week now. He seems to be the hot topic in the dream world."

"Methos?" Jim shook his head sadly as he sat up and blew his nose. "I wish it had been about Methos."

Sarah blinked thoughtfully as she snagged him another tissue. "Who, then?"

Jim sighed wearily. "Kr...Kronos. Methos is nothing compared to him."

"Depends on who you ask, I bet," Sarah observed dryly. "Cassandra would probably beg to differ."

Jimís eyes blazed for a second as he shoved his hair out of his eyes. "Cassandra had it easy."

Sarah stiffened. "Excuse me?"

Realizing heíd spoken aloud, Jim paled and scrambled out of bed, retreating into the bathroom where he could lay his head against the wall and just shake. Somewhere, he knew, there had to be some reserves he could call on to get himself back to JLís where he wouldnít say anything else, but right now her apartment seemed impossibly far away.

Before he found any appreciable strength, Sarah slipped into the bathroom and ran some cold water over a washcloth, which she silently handed to him.

"Thank you," he murmured as he slowly washed his face and then dried it with the towel Sarah offered him. He stared into the mirror for a second, running his fingers along the faint scars on his neck before he meticulously hung up the towel and washcloth so he wouldnít have to meet Sarahís eyes. "Iím sorry," he said softly. "That was a horrible thing to say."

"It obviously came from somewhere."

"Bitterness and self-pity. No one should have to endure what Cassandra endured."

Sarah reached out a tentative hand and squeezed his shoulder "Least of all you?" she asked gently, hoping against hope she was wrong.

Flinching a little at her touch, Jim sighed. "It was different. Like the man said, the whole bloody world was different." Suddenly turning around, he grabbed the edge of the sink and fought for balance. "I need...air," he gasped.

Sarah easily recognized the signs of claustrophobia, although sheíd never seen that in Jim either. "Balcony?" she offered.

"Too cold. Letís go into the living room--we can turn on the stereo or read or something."

With a knowing smile, Sarah shook her head. "Trust me, thereís not enough air in the living room." Walking out of the bathroom, Sarah glanced back over her shoulder. "Iíll get the quilt. You can get the Scotch."

Jim followed her reluctantly, his attention drawn to the front door and its silent promise of freedom.

Glancing at him over her shoulder, she said firmly, "Youíre in my pajamas, Julian. Theyíd laugh at you if you bolted, and your keys are on my dresser. Behind me."

Studying her, Jim realized she was serious about talking to him and nodded slowly. "What, flannel birdies donít look good on me?"

Squeezing through the balcony door with the quilt and the down comforter, Sarah grinned. "Truth? You look like a kid in his fatherís clothes. And the Scotch is in the cabinet under the Adams over there."

Letting his hands slip back into the sleeves, he flopped them at her. "Youíre too damn tall." Pulling one sleeve back, he walked over to the cabinet and got a bottle and two glasses.

Still grinning at him, Sarah settled in on the glider. "Quilt? Down? Or do you want to share?"

Coming over, Jim gazed at her through his bangs, his expression suddenly shy. "Could we please share?"

"Sure." Shifting the blankets, she extended a welcoming hand. "Donít be shy with that booze, Jimmy."

Curling up with her, Jim poured two large drinks. "What were you doing up, anyway?"

Tucking the blankets around them, she sighed. "Nightmare."

"About Methos, I take it."

Sarah gulped her drink and nodded.

Snuggling closer, Jim refilled her glass. "Iím sorry. I couldnít believe it either. Iím usually better at spotting bastards than that."

Suddenly aware that Jim was trying to shift the topic, Sarah shrugged and regarded him levelly. "Heís nothing compared to Kronos. Or so they tell me."

Dropping his eyes, Jim almost succeeded in suppressing his shiver. "Yeah, well, I didnít know him in his prime," he replied weakly.

"Looks like I didnít know him at all. But thatís not why you woke up calling for Bryan in Italian."

"Habit." Draining his own drink, Jim winced as he poured another. "One I have to get over, and soon."

Sarah looked at him, but his expression had returned to the unreadable mask she knew so well. "So...what...you really meant it this time?"

"Bryanís dead," he stated flatly.

Her knuckles white on the glass, Sarah stared at him. "What?" she demanded.

"Heís dead," Jim repeated doggedly. "Itís a no-win scenario, Sarah." Shaking his head, Jim gazed out into the night. "Actually, death is the best outcome he can hope for. I tried to tell him that, but he wouldnít listen. He never listens when itís important."

Sarah reached out and gently wiped away the tear that was running down Jimís cheek. "Why do you say that?"

"Because," he whispered back, clutching her hand. "Because by the time they finished with him in 316, there was almost nothing left. He would do anything to avoid the pain, no matter how humiliating. They took his pride, his sense of decency, everything. They warped him into some automaton who shod their horses and recast their swords, all without a word of complaint. Toward the end they didnít even have to chain him--he just lay where they left him like a corpse." Shivering violently, Jim tried to pull away from Sarah, but she just held him tighter. "Not again," he almost whimpered. "I canít do it again."

"Canít do what, Julian?"

"Canít face it all again, Sarie." Swallowing noisily, Jim swiveled around so he could look into Sarahís eyes. "Sarah, you have to do me a favor. If Bryan comes back and Kronos isnít dead, you have to kill me. And quickly. Because I know Kronos will be right behind him."

"No! Why would I want to do a thing like that? If, I mean, when, Bryan comes back, Kronos canít take all of us." Sarah could see the turmoil in Jimís eyes as he tried to sort out what he wanted to say through his fear and self-destructive determination. She prayed he would back down from his request, but the most predominant emotion seemed to be pure desperation.

Finally nodding to himself, Jim looked back at her. "All right," he finally acceded. "Let me tell you about my nightmare." Looking anywhere but at Sarah, he slowly took her through the dream, fighting to keep his voice steady as he recounted Bryanís condition, the pain of his shattered jaw, and the humiliation of having to sexually satisfy the man who had broken it. When he was done, he caught her hands and forced himself to look into her eyes. "So you see," he concluded, "if Kronos walked in here and told me to kill you, or Bryan, or anyone, I might just do it because Iíd be too goddamned scared not to. He owns me, Sarah. It took every nerve I had to betray him, and Iím not sure I could do it twice. Thatís why you have to kill me. Because I canít say no to him."

Sarah squeezed his hands and shook her head. "Youíre not the one who needs to die, then."

"Some would disagree with that."

"Not me."

Jim gazed into her eyes, trying to make himself believe her words. But this time, the voice inside shouting "liar, liar" was too loud even for him to drown out. His shoulders slumped as he admitted, "You donít know what I did back then. Even Bryan would hate me if he knew."

Folding herself around him, Sarah gently stroked his hair. "I doubt that very highly, Julian."

"I hate me," he whispered into her neck. "Why shouldnít he?"

"I doubt there is anything you could do that would make him hate you."

"I...rode with him, Sarie. Willingly."

Sarah shook her head and began rubbing small circles on his back, trying to loosen some of the knots in his shoulders. "Itís not the same, love. You were only doing it to rescue Bryan, and now itís in the past."

"Not when I close my eyes at night. Not if he walked in the door because he realized I was alive."

"He wonít," she promised with far more assurance than she felt.

Jim looked up at her, then sobbed again. "Oh, Sarie, what if he captures my Benito?"

"Then weíll get him out."

"No." Filled with a sudden panic, Jim tried to tear himself loose from the blankets. Sarah let him go, and he leaned up against the balcony railing, panting like heíd run a marathon. "No," he repeated. "You donít know what youíre saying."

Sarah looked at him, suddenly aware of the true depth of Jimís fear. No, she decided, he couldnít fight Kronos. But she could, precisely because she didnít know any better. To her, he was a legend, a myth. And myths had no power over those who didnít believe in them. But none of that was likely to reassure Jim. "Well," she hedged, "Bryís not in trouble yet--JL would have called if something happened. Mac is hot on the trail--this may all work out. Mac is damn good with that katana, and heís used to taking down immortals he shouldnít be able to beat."

Jim nodded slowly, a little color returning to his face. "I just wish Bryan had decided to work with him--then they could have teamed up on Kronos. But Bryan really thinks he can face Caspian and only Caspian. Shit, if I believed that, Iíd go kill Caspian for what he did to Bryan. But now where thereís Caspian, thereís Kronos."

Sarah nodded and got up, holding out her hand. "Come on, Julian. Letís go inside where itís warm."

Taking her hand slowly, Jim nodded. As they crossed the threshold, he sighed. "I love him so much."

"I know you do," she soothed, leading him back toward the bedroom.

"A year. I took Kronosí crap for a year. And what does he do? Hands himself back over to them. That ungrateful son of a bitch."

Sarah managed a small laugh as she maneuvered them both back under the covers, managing to endure Jimís cold feet with only a slight flinch. "Benito has always had a rather...egocentric view of the world."

Nestling his head on her shoulder, Jim sighed. "What are we going to do now? Our teacher and our lovers, gone in the space of a heartbeat."

"We wait and see, Julian," she replied. "And then when Bryan gets back, we chew him up, spit him out, and do it again and again until we feel better."

With a soft chuckle, Jim finally let himself relax into her warmth. "Sounds like a plan," he murmured, even though he knew that if Bryan did return, heíd never be able to face him. Not after Bryan heard about the nightmares and realized heíd found the key to unlocking the secrets Jim had kept buried for so long. No, Sarah could pound on Bryan, but Jim would have to run. The pain of separation would be nothing compared to how heíd feel seeing the disgust in Bryanís eyes once his lover realized how far heíd gone in an effort to please Kronos. Heíd have to work on finding the strength to run, and to run fast. "Sounds like a damn fine plan," he whispered again before he drifted off into another uneasy sleep.

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

It was late morning when Sarah finally stirred. Jim was still curled up on the other side of the bed, so exhausted he didnít move when she got up and tucked the blankets back around him. With a gentle smile, she dug into a trunk until she found a rather battered stuffed lamb that Bryan had given her as a joke years ago. Sliding it into Jimís arms, she stood back and watched him nestle the lamb against his chest with a soft sigh.

When she was sure he was going to stay asleep, she went to take her morning shower and get ready for class. Mentally reviewing her lesson plan as she shampooed her hair, she chuckled softly. Mac had asked her if she could teach Yeats in her sleep yet, and thatís pretty much what sheíd been doing since Cassandra had hit town. At the time sheíd denied having the ability, but her students didnít seem to notice the difference. None of them could wait for the release of winter break.

"Letís see," she murmured into the steam rising around her. "Today itís ĎThe Second Comingí." With a fond smile, she began quoting the poem.

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned..."

The words echoed back at her from the tiles, undiminished by the sound of the water. The ceremony of innocence is indeed drowned, she thought weakly, wondering how sheíd be able to deal with a discussion of that poem today. Maybe it was time to change her lesson plan. Quickly.

Reluctantly she turned off the water and stepped out of the shower, hoping inspiration would strike on her way to class. By the time she got dressed, Jim had made it as far as rolling over, with the lamb still cuddled against him. She ruffled his hair and went into the kitchen to get breakfast. She thought about letting him sleep--he didnít have a car but she could leave him the number for the cab company and he could get a ride back to JLís. Then she could use the cats as an excuse to stop by after school and...

"The cats!" she exclaimed, scribbling a quick note for Jim, grabbing the spare keys JL had given her, and gathering up the remains of her breakfast so she could finish it in the car. She knew Methosí cats--they didnít like to wait for their food, and JL had all that new furniture that Jim had gotten her after her breakup. She wouldnít be happy if she came home to find it ruined because Jim had passed out with a stuffed sheep.

Luckily traffic was fairly light, and she made good time to JLís. Hurrying up the stairs, she winced as she opened the door and heard the sound of scratching. She glanced around worriedly, but Rump was still lounging on a sunny windowsill and Jerry was using the scratching post instead of the couch.

Rump began purring instantly as he rose with a luxurious stretch, and he twined himself demandingly around Sarahís ankles as she got their food. Once it was on the ground, though, he ignored her completely.

"Men," she muttered as she dropped onto the couch to rest for a moment before heading to the university. She was half asleep when the phone rang. Feeling like an intruder, she listened guiltily as the answering machine came on, but she moved quickly to the phone as JLís clearly-strained voice filled the apartment.

"Jim?" JL called out. "Are you there? Itís important. Jim, please pick up. Please."

"JL, itís Sarah. Whatís wrong?"

Sarah had to make JL stop and slow down several times, unwilling to believe what her student was saying. But JL kept repeating it, and eventually Colin took the phone and added his own comments. It was true then. History had repeated itself and Bryan was Caspianís prisoner once more.

Placing the receiver back in its cradle with a shaking hand, Sarah stared blankly at it before Rump started purring again and bumping her leg in the hopes of being petted. Scooping him up, she let his soft vibrations soothe her for a moment until she could think again. Then she took a deep breath and gathered her courage so that her voice barely trembled when she called British Airways to book the first available flight to Bordeaux.

+=+=+=+=+=+=+ Continued in For the Reckoning Comes +=+=+=+=+=+=+