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Absolutely Not {part1}


   *This story begins a few minutes after the end of the episode "Indiscretions."*


"Joe? Who filed the close-out report?"

Joe Dawson blinked. "What?" With a pang of guilt, he realized he'd been so lost in thoughts of his newly
acknowledged daughter, Amy, that he hadn't heard a word Methos was saying. Probably for the last five

"The close-out on Morgan Walker," Methos repeated patiently. "Who filed it, you or Amy?"

"Oh, that." Joe flashed what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Amy. She's still a Watcher. It's only me she's
walking away from.

"But you don't have to worry. To her you're just Dr. Benjamin Adams, an Immortal previously unknown to
the Watchers. There's no link to your real name or your current alias. And her description of you would fit half
the men in the club most nights."

"That's a relief." Methos took a long swig of Scotch, a change from his usual beer. He'd brought the bottle to
their table, apparently feeling Joe needed strong liquor after his talk with Amy. "How did you explain our
knowing each other?"

Joe grimaced. "Said you were a new acquaintance, a bar patron who digs the blues. I told her I had no idea
you were an Immortal till you got shot and came back to life. And I'll pretend I never see you again. Amy will
avoid this place now, so you can come by with no risk of running into her."

//If you want to//, he added mentally. //Of course, I hadn't seen or heard from you for a year and a half, till
you needed info on Walker.// That still bothered him. "Thanks, Joe." Methos swished the drink in his glass,
gazing moodily into its depths. "I'm sure it was hard to lie to your own child."


The silence lengthened, threatening to become awkward. Joe covertly studied the man sitting across
from him, at the small table in the otherwise deserted bar.

Until a year and a half ago, he had thought he knew this ancient Immortal, considered him a close friend.

A year and a half ago.

That hellish night, forever etched in memory, when he and Methos had arrived on the scene minutes after
Duncan MacLeod killed Richie Ryan. The tortured MacLeod had thought he was battling a demon. Joe and
Methos believed he was having a breakdown; a year would pass before Joe learned the demon Ahriman was
hideously, monstrously real.

Details of that night flooded into his mind, as they often did, unbidden. The first frightening glimpses of a
distant Quickening in the abandoned building. Then, as he and Methos approached, the stench of blood. Blood
everywhere, rivers of it, soaking into their shoes. While overhead, garlands hung for some long-past festive
occasion fluttered in mute mockery of their grief.

The ghastly sight of a familiar body, headless, limbs twisted in agony. Half under it, the legendary sword of
Graham Ashe. //How Mac must have loved Richie, to give him that sword...// And nearby, the severed head,
young features frozen in an expression of disbelief. Finally, the ravaged Duncan MacLeod, jolted back to
his senses by the reality of the Quickening. Shattered, devastated. As if it were yesterday, Joe saw MacLeod,
kneeling, bow his head and hold out his sword to Methos. His intent was chillingly clear. Methos hung
back, and Mac choked out the words, "Take it!" But Methos turned away, saying in a strangled voice,
*"Absolutely not."*

Joe heard again the clatter of the sword as Mac dropped it. Heard the inarticulate sounds that issued from his
friend's throat as he took one of Richie's gloves as a memento, got shakily to his feet, spurned Joe's attempt
at comfort, and strode off into the night. Leaving behind the cherished katana that had been an extension of his
arm for over two hundred years.

He knew now that MacLeod had fled--mindlessly, and mostly on foot--until he wound up in Malaysia, at the
end of the continental land mass. There he took refuge in a Buddhist monastery, where he gradually found
himself and regained his focus.

That was understandable.

What Joe found harder to comprehend was Methos's behavior. He had disappeared before Richie was buried,
leaving Joe to handle everything. Joe had tried to tell himself Methos was searching for Mac. But if that were
the case, why didn't he keep in touch with Mac's Watcher?

Mac had returned to Paris six months ago, defeated Ahriman, and saved the world from a fate beyond
imagining. He would probably never be his old self, but he was functioning. Visiting London now, for a concert
by Claudia Jardine--a good sign. The bond between him and Joe was stronger than ever.

But Methos? Joe hadn't had a clue to his whereabouts until the other night, when he found The Elusive One
in his office, hacking into his computer. Joe had demanded, "Where the hell have you been?" And
received the breezy reply, "Here and there. There, mostly."

The last Joe knew, Methos had believed Duncan MacLeod was missing. Deranged, and probably
dangerous. The only alternative was even more alarming: Ahriman was real.

But in Joe's office that night, Methos had said casually, "I stopped by the barge. Where's MacLeod?"

//Don't be an idiot//, Joe told himself. The explanation was simple. After the crisis was over, he'd taken a trip to the States to check on his and Mac's businesses. He'd had to hire new people to run both his original bar and the
dojo; then he'd become embroiled in tax problems. Weeks had stretched into months before he got back to
Paris. Obviously, while he was away, Mac and Methos had been in touch, at least by phone or e-mail.

But it seemed odd that Mac hadn't thought to mention it. And that Methos, whatever he might have discussed
with Mac, had said nothing to him about Richie's death or Mac's battle with Ahriman.

He was about to broach the subject when Methos tensed, suddenly wary. A casual observer would have seen
nothing, but Joe knew that look. Methos sensed the approach of another Immortal.


Then the door opened, and Duncan MacLeod--in the too-cheery tone he'd been using of late, to keep his
friends from worrying--called out, "Joe, I'm back!"

He had, of course, recognized Methos's car outside, so he'd known the Immortal in the bar posed no threat.
Still, he seemed slightly uneasy as he added, "Hello, Methos."

"Good to see you, MacLeod," Methos said with unfeigned enthusiasm. "Come in, have a drink. We're celebrating.
I just rid the world of a particularly nasty white slaver." 

"Whom you could have dispatched almost two hundred years ago," Joe grumbled.

"Joe, I was a doctor at the time. It's hard to reconcile the Hippocratic Oath with killing people. That's why, now,
I limit my practice to extracting bullets from careless Watchers.

"MacLeod, what's keeping you? Good Scotch whiskey!" He waved the bottle in invitation.

MacLeod still looked uncomfortable. But he went behind the bar to get himself a glass, then let Methos fill it to
the brim. He stood near them, leaning against the bar. A smile spread slowly across his face as Methos first made clear
no harm had come to Amy, then proceeded with an exuberant account of her kidnapping and the demise
of Morgan Walker. Joe noted with amusement that Methos was being careful not to mention the young
Watcher's relationship to him, while Mac, who already knew that secret, was keeping mum in case Methos
didn't know.

Before he could mention it himself, Methos changed the subject. "Joe told me you were over in London for a
Claudia Jardine concert. Wish I'd known about it. How's Claudia doing--and how's she playing?"

Now completely at ease, Mac launched into a description of Claudia's reckless but rewarding life.
Rummaged in his pockets, and pulled out several rave reviews of her concert tour.

With the conversational ball rolling merrily along, Joe brought them another bottle. They all drank toasts to
Claudia Jardine. *Several* toasts to Claudia Jardine. Then Methos said, "Thinking of young Immortals,
where's Richie? What's he up to these days?" *


A battering ram in the chest couldn't have packed more of a wallop. Joe found himself unable to move
or breathe, let alone speak. But it hardly mattered, because time had come to a stop...

//Get a grip.// He sucked in a breath and forced himself to think.

Was this some Immortal equivalent of Alzheimer's? Methos was very old, and he admittedly remembered
nothing of his youth. Was that an early symptom of a condition that was now worsening?

Ridiculous. It would be one hell of a coincidence if the very next symptom involved something as traumatic
as Richie Ryanıs death.

No, this was a highly selective form of hysterical amnesia. It had to be. Hard to believe it could strike
an Immortal who'd coped successfully for five thousand years--especially one who'd spent a thousand of those
years as a ruthless killer. But no other explanation made sense.

Joe's main concern at the moment was for Mac. He swore under his breath. Why hadn't he questioned
Methos's behavior, detected the problem before he could blurt something out and tear Mac's wounds open again?

He looked at the Highlander. MacLeod had gone deathly pale, and was clutching the bar for support. Joe didn't
know if Immortals could faint, but he had a hunch he'd find out any minute.

And Methos was opening his mouth to say something else. Joe barked at him, "Shut up!"

Methos lapsed into stunned, uncomprehending silence.

Joe went to Mac and put a steadying hand on his shoulder. "It's going to be all right," he murmured.

The eyes that met his were those of a hurt, frightened child. "There's something wrong with Methos. Or with
me. Or--"

"My memories are the same as yours," Joe told him gently. "The problem is with Methos. Go, get out of
here. I'll take care of it."

"No." Mac's knees still threatened to buckle, but his iron will was beginning to reassert itself. "This...whole mess
...is my responsibility."

"What the devil is going on?" Methos asked testily. "Are you guys nuts?"

Joe decided he'd have to deal with them one at a time. He gave his attention briefly to Methos. "I need to talk
to you in private. Hold your horses for a few minutes, okay?"

He expected an angry outburst, but Methos surprised him with a suddenly docile, "Sure." Joe heard the first
hint of self-doubt in his voice.

He turned back to MacLeod. Belatedly, he realized Mac had somehow managed to set his glass down on the bar
rather than drop it. //Four hundred years' experience covering in hairy situations//, Joe thought wryly. Now
he'd reclaimed it, and some color had returned to his cheeks.

"Don't worry about me, Joe. He just took me by surprise. I can handle it."

Joe followed his friend's lead. "Yes, I'm sure you can." He lowered his voice. "But I should be the one to talk to him
about this. When he remembers, he's bound to be upset over the pain he caused you. If you're still here, it will
hit him that much harder." 

For a moment, MacLeod's features hardened into the mask of stubborn determination Joe knew all too well.

Then they relaxed, and he let himself sag against the bar. "I hate to admit it, but you're right. I want to stay
to prove I can cope. But it really will be better for Methos if I leave."

Joe knew only an instant of relief. He didn't think he needed to worry about the amount of alcohol Mac had
consumed; they'd been shocked back to sobriety. But the shock itself... "Sit in your car for a while, unwind and
get your bearings before you drive. Promise?" He gripped MacLeod's hand, suddenly reluctant to let him

"I promise, Joe." After a brief squeeze, the hand slipped away. "Thanks for your concern. For all of us."

All, not both. That "all" included Richie.


When they were alone, Methos met Joe's gaze squarely. "Open mouth, insert foot. Is that what I did?"

"Yeah, that about covers it."

Methos nodded. "Only problem is, I have no idea what I said that was out of line." His voice and expression were
tightly controlled.

Dropping into his chair again, Joe poured himself another drink. But when he tried to give Methos a refill,
the Immortal's hand shot out to cover the glass. "No."

"Okay." //Guess the direct approach is best.// "Methos ...Richie Ryan is *dead*."

For what seemed an eternity, Methos merely stared at him.

Then he *growled*. His hands spasmed violently on the table, knocking over his empty glass.

Joe reached out to comfort him. "Take it easy."

*"Take it easy?"* Methos half-rose, and Joe was stunned to recognize his emotion as fury. "How could you forget
to tell me a thing like that? Let me make such a colossal blunder?" In an eyeblink he had Joe by the throat.

"No, Methos!"

"Oh, *hell*." The angry Immortal loosened his grip, and Joe had the impression he was counting to ten. Then he
took a deep breath. And drew his hands back to right settled in his chair and resumed the conversation,
firmly in control again. "You damned Watchers are always losing track of Immortals and writing them off as dead. Amanda told me how quick you were to give up on MacLeod, when Simon Killian had him locked in a cell somewhere."

"Methos, this isn't like that--"

"But you had a hell of a nerve telling MacLeod Richie was dead. It makes no sense! Richie's too good--had the
best possible teacher. There's no one out there who could take him.

"Who reported it? What part of the world? Probably some wet-behind-the-ears Watcher like Amy, who lost
him in a bazaar in Morocco. Tell me where he was last seen, and *I'll* find him for you."

*"Methos!"* Joe couldn't take any more. "Richie has been dead for a year and a half. You and I saw the body. *We
saw his severed head!*"


The moment the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to call them back.

Methos sat motionless as a statue. But Joe sensed he was seeing a shell, and the man inside was crumbling
to dust.

He captured the ice-cold hands and massaged them gently.

Methos moaned.

Joe interpreted even that response as a hopeful sign.

When at last he made eye contact, he asked, "Do you remember it now?"

Methos's voice came out as a squawk. He gulped and tried again. "There's...there's something. It's as
if...there's something so horrible I can't make myself look directly at it.

"Joe, who...who killed him?"

"*Mac* killed him."

Methos gave a long, convulsive shudder.

But he didn't dispute it.

Instead, he began rocking in his chair, keening softly.

Finally, he looked at Joe. "He...he was insane. I don't know why, but he'd just *snapped*. Had some delusion
about saving the world from a demon.

"And then, he...he realized he had killed Richie. He wanted me--*me!*--to take his head. And I couldn't do it.
Maybe I should have. The merciful thing. But I couldn't.

"The agony I saw in his eyes...couldn't bear to see him suffer like that, couldn't end his life, either. Me, of all
people... And I knew you wouldn't do it, because you'd be forcing an unwanted Quickening on me. Still my fault,
leaving him to be eaten alive by the demons in his own mind.

"So I blocked the memory. Damn coward, worst thing I could have done."

He struggled to his feet. "No. Worst thing...what I did just now! Oh, by all the gods--" He lurched toward the

Somehow, Joe caught up with him. "Where are you going?"

"I have to go to MacLeod. What have I done, Joe? *What have I done?*"

"He'll be all right, Methos. I'm more worried about you." 

"How can you say that?" Methos was on the verge of hysteria. "He was mentally unstable to begin with.
I may have pushed him over the edge!" 

"Calm down. Think. Did he seem mentally unstable today?"


"Come back to the table. I have a long story to tell you. But the bottom line is, Ahriman was real."


A half hour later, scowling into the dregs of a cup of black coffee, Methos said bitterly, "It's not fair. I can
believe MacLeod saved the world...that makes sense of certain things. But some merciful god should have
restored Richie. Or at the very least, erased MacLeod's memory of Richie's having died by his hand."

"I agree with you a hundred percent. But it seems the universe doesn't work that way."

Joe studied Methos's face, still pinched and pasty white. "What I can't understand is why you took it so hard,
blocked the memory. Hell, in five thousand years, you must have seen just about everything! And you
couldn't have been expected to kill Mac. To open yourself to the Quickening of someone who'd apparently
gone mad--"

*"It wasn't that!"* The words erupted with a vehemence that made Joe flinch.

"Uh, sorry." Watcher to the core, he was overcome by curiosity. "So what was it?"

Slowly, slowly, Methos looked up. Into Joe's eyes.

Joe found himself mesmerized by the clear hazel orbs that met his, for once, without evasion. Lustrous,
bottomless pools that held the memories of millennia.

Or perhaps, at the moment, only four hundred years.

"Funny," Methos murmured, as if to himself. "There have been times when I thought you knew..."

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