A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend: The Buffy characters don't belong to me (in this one, it's just Willow, but the others are mentioned); the Highlander characters don't belong to me; and having no superfluous illusions of grandeur, I don't pretend they do. (My illusions are perfectly fluous.) Also, Richie's not dead, as you'll soon figure out. How and why isn't important to the story.

This story and the next two are dedicated to Pyrena, who knows that while you can't keep running, you can always move on.

by Maya Tawi

revised 2003

"Things are gonna change so fast
All the white horses have gone ahead
I tell you that I'll always want you near
You say that things change, my dear"
~Tori Amos, "Winter"

Fate's definitely got a few tricks up her sleeve. You can't be alive for any amount of time and not figure that one out.

I mean, take me, for instance. Of all the things I may have intended to do with my life, this wasn't one of them. I never planned on being a, an accountant- at admittedly one of the best antique shops in New York- but boy, I sure didn't see that one in the crystal ball, you know? Literally. I looked in a crystal ball once, and I didn't see it. And the other, the rest of it....

But of course, ten years ago I didn't foresee my world gaping suddenly open to include vampires, demons, and all sorts of creepy-crawly things in the night.

So you learn to keep an open mind.

But even still. I mean, I was valedictorian in high school. Top of my class. I'd been courted by various computer companies since the beginning of junior year. Everyone thought, you know, I'd be like the next Bill Gates. Only, well, less evil.

Well, they said that, anyway.

I was Willow Rosenberg. That used to be me. Then just a few weeks ago I was homeless, living on the streets of big bad New York City.

Now, of course, I'm a live-in accountant.

And then there's, yeah, there's that whole other thing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Like, eight years ahead.

Eight years ago, Buffy ran away....

Now, all this time later, I can't really hate her for it, not anymore. We were all so much younger, and much too old, and way too confused about everything. That's the price of growing up on the Hellmouth, I suppose.

But, of course, at the time.

She'd gone off to fight Angel. Angel, her boyfriend, who'd turned on her. Because he was a vampire who had a soul, and then he lost it.

It's a long story.

I was in the hospital, or I would've been there helping. I could've helped. I could've done the spell, to give him back his soul and end everything. I did do the spell. I think.

I didn't know if it had worked or not. Since then I've come to believe not.

Anyway, I was in the hospital, and Giles was... well, he was hurt. And by the time we got back up to the mansion where they'd fought, there was nothing there... except the statue, and the sword.

The sword and the stone.

Exeunt Buffy Summers, stage left. In retrospect I imagine she felt it was the only thing she could do. Angel was gone, her mother had kicked her out- in the heat of the moment, and of course Mrs. Summers didn't really mean it, but when you're a teenager words mean so very much- she'd been expelled from school, and she was wanted for Kendra's murder. It must've seemed so much easier just to get on a bus and go.

Which she did.

Still... she could've come back.

And at the time, I hated her so much for it.

And I wanted nothing more than to just have her back again.

"She's been everybody else's girl
Maybe one day she'll be her own"
~Tori Amos, "Girl"

But time passed, and school started again, and life went on without Buffy. The Hellmouth settled down, more or less, with only the occasional vampire or the odd demon to show up. And eventually we all actually got good at the tag-team slaying.

Nothing was the same, though, and in time we drifted apart. That is, there was me and Oz, and there was Xander and Cordelia, but somehow Xander and I weren't quite as good friends anymore. And then we weren't friends at all.

It was like we'd already outgrown each other, and Buffy had just been the glue holding us together. And with her gone, we had no reason to stick together.

I blamed her for that too.

It was better, though, I'm sure. I mean, I no longer needed a life raft to cling to in order to make it through the rushing rapids that was high school, and he no longer needed a girl friend (not to be confused with girlfriend) to worship him and make him feel important. Of course, our friendship was so much more than that, but with Buffy gone it sort of devolved into it. And then it dissolved. And I guess it was best for everyone all around.

I did hang out with Amy a lot. Amy Madison, daughter of Catherine the Great, who'd turned to witchcraft herself over the past year. And that was fun and for a while she and her friend Michael and I formed this coven, but eventually I lost interest. I guess I was just growing more and more distant, from everything that wasn't... well, normal's as good a word as any for it. Anything that hadn't been a part of my life before Buffy came, anything that wasn't fully explainable by the laws of nature I'd subscribed to so wholeheartedly before the Vampire Slayer desceneded onto our town.

Including Oz.

And I loved him. I still do.

But the real blow came when Giles left as well.

"Well, I'm not seventeen but I've cuts on my knees
Falling down as the winter takes one more cherry tree"
~Tori Amos, "Girl"

November 2006

It was freezing that day, a miserable, damp, clammy chill that cut straight through my Salvation Army jacket and into my bones. I could smell snow- not a bad achievement for a girl who'd grown up in Southern California without ever seeing a flake of the stuff. But I wasn't looking forward to it.

Snow is a luxury to be enjoyed only by those people who can afford to get out of it.

Then I turned a corner into a promising-looking alley, and stopped in my tracks.

It was like finding a pot of gold with no rainbow in sight. A completely unexpected treasure trove, a haven at the end of one more long day in an interminable stretch of long days.

It was a bookstore.

A second-hand bookstore, to be exact, that boasted more than a few rare first editions, according to the handwritten card in the window. A small sign over the door declared its name to be, quite simply, Rare Books, or maybe it was just an advertisement without a name, and at the end of this dirty, dingy, trash-filled alley, it looked completely out of place.

I could hardly believe my luck. I just stared up at the sign, shifting the weight of the backpack on my shoulders, imagining the two large volumes nestled at the bottom of it, under the few changes of clothing I still had. If all went well, this store represented more than a pleasant way to pass the time. Inside was the key to a hotel room for the night, maybe even one or two full meals.

I wasn't proud of what I was planning to do. But I'd sold almost everything else already- the meager furniture I'd had (couldn't very well lug that around New York), my laptop (a 17th birthday present from my parents, obsolete by now anyway, but it would make a good toy for some little kid with an electronic bent), and most of the jewelry I'd owned, which wasn't much even before Jeffrey did his disappearing act with all the rest of my possessions. The only other things of value I had left were a necklace that had belonged to Ms. Calendar, and a ring from Oz, and I wasn't about to part with either one of them. Not yet. I wasn't that desperate yet.

Maybe in another month.

And then there were the books, which I'd just rescued from a subway locker earlier that day. They were valuable in themselves, but then, most people were more interested in, say, first-edition Jack Londons than some book on demons from the Dark Ages. Or even the Pergamum Codex.

Not that I'd want to sell the Codex, anyway. The complete set of prophecies on the Slayer (and I wonder if it prophesized her sudden disappearance, too?)- it could be dangerous if the wrong person- or not-person- got hold of it. And Giles had just left it behind when he'd gone....

I felt that old familiar flash of anger that turned quickly to resignation, and shook my head, abruptly dismissing that particular train of thought. The snow had started, and I really needed that money, now, or else it wouldn't be a pleasant night at all. The promise of central heating beckoned, and I wasn't about to let it leave without a fight.

So I braced myself to do business, then pushed open the door of the bookstore and stepped inside.

And then, I'm ashamed to admit- probably due to some combination of hunger, fatigue, and the sudden rush of heat after being outside for so long- I tripped in the doorway and passed out.

The thing about Rupert Giles, Watcher extraordinaire, is, I always thought we meant more to him, you know? I always thought it was more than just him and Buffy and the rest of us just along for the ride.

Maybe he didn't see it that way. Or maybe just Ms. Calendar's death and then Buffy's disappearance hit him harder than we all thought.

All I know is, he spent the summer and half of senior year searching for her, and then the Watcher's Council recalled him or something (faulty merchandise; send back) and he just packed up and left.

I saw him that day, and he looked utterly broken. He wouldn't even talk to me as he brushed past Oz and me, out the library doors and out of our lives forever.

And that was that.

I finished up the school year determined to escape from Sunnydale, to put the last three years safely behind me so I wouldn't have to think about them anymore. Three days after I graduated, I left home for an internship at a computer company in New York, and a concurrent computer engineering degree at NYU.

I didn't tell anyone where I was going, and I asked my parents not to either. Not even Oz. In my mind he was linked, irrevocably, to Buffy, and to the past.

It was easier just to leave.

I guess that's what Buffy thought too. And Giles. And me.... She certainly left her mark on us, didn't she?

My parents were great about the whole thing. Well. In their own unique, hands-off way. My mother, I think, on the few occasions she actually looked, saw me as a fragile little thing, needing to be protected from the big bad world. Little breakable Willow Rosenberg. She knew how hard Buffy's disappearance hit me, even if she didn't like Buffy to begin with, and she was determined to do anything possible to help- to help me make a clean break with the past, if that was what I needed. And it was. Then, anyway. Or so I thought.

And, of course, Dad just went along with her, as he usually did.

So off I went to New York City, to make myself a brand-new life.

See how great that one turned out.

There was only one other occupant of the bookstore at the time, and he was older than he looked.

Which was pretty much the story of his life, however long he claimed it to be. He'd seen civilizations rise and fall and entire races exterminated, but when he wore the right clothes and left his hair unbrushed he still got carded at most reputable bars.

Good thing he tended not to visit most reputable bars.

All things considered, he usually figured his apparent youth to be an asset. When it came down to it, anyone looking for the head of the oldest living Immortal in the world was not likely to expect to find it attached to the shoulders of a sharp-featured, smart-assed NYU grad student with a fondness for alcohol and an inexplicable British accent.

Determinedly not being the wise old sage people expected Methos to be was one of the main reasons he'd survived as long as he had.

Still, there were certain... resourceful... Immortals who would figure out who he was and, from time to time, start hunting for his head. Then there were the other types to whom anything Immortal was fair game, be it five thousand years old or fifty. And then there was the wonderfully dim organization that was the Watchers, whose world-class security wasn't nearly as impenetrable as they'd like to think.

Invariably, all these types tended to flock to the side of one Duncan MacLeod like... well, like Amanda to a fairly attractive man with no shortage of valuables for the picking.

Part of why, after a couple of years of hanging around the Highlander and dodging swords, bullets, and Watchers- occasionally all three at the same time- he'd arranged to discreetly "die" and then get the hell out of Paris as fast as a 757, first class, could fly him. He hadn't been to the Insomniatic City for a few decades; it seemed like a good enough place to pass the time as any. Of course, New York had its own share of head-hungry Immortals, but no one had shot at him for at least two years, which he considered to be a vast improvement.

Well, no one interested in his head, anyway.

Over five thousand years, Methos had seen plenty of excitement. All he really wanted now was a nice, boring, uncomplicated life. Somebody's nice, boring, uncomplicated life. Somebody who was a graduate student in history and worked at a bookstore and had never died before in his life.

Unfortunately, things were promising to get a lot less boring very soon, if the faint buzzing in the back of his head was anything to go by.

Methos snatched up his sword from its case in the stockroom (he'd told Fisher it was a family heirloom, that it made him feel better to have it around, and Fisher had just accepted it, as he did most inexplicable things) and edged cautiously out onto the sales floor.

Nobody else seemed to be there. But the buzzing wouldn't go away.

Slowly, his sword held out defensively in front of him, he made his way to the front of the store. Then he stopped, eyeing the body sprawled over the doorstep with a consummate weariness that took centuries to perfect.

He didn't lower the weapon. If it was a trap, it wasn't a very good one. Idly, he wondered if she was dead.

A moment later he realized that she wasn't, and that, far more tellingly, she never had been.

"Great," he sighed. "Just what I need."

Methos laid the sword down behind the counter as quietly as he could and then stood over the body, studying it with detached curiosity. The girl was fairly young, dressed in several ripped, faded sweaters and a torn pair of jeans; limp, unwashed red hair, darker brown at the roots, straggled over her face. She wore an old, stained cloth backpack over her shoulders.

A street rat. Fantastic.

Then a sudden, chilling thought struck him, and his eyes went automatically to the window and the alley beyond. If they'd pegged her already- if they were out there at that very moment, doing what they did best, watching....

Deliberately, he stepped back, out of any line of sight through the window. He squatted down next to the girl, thinking furiously. One thing was very clear- he had to get her out of there quickly, mortally wounded or no. He did hope no; bloodstains were such a pain in the arse to get out of carpeting.

It occurred to him that MacLeod probably would have taken the girl in, cleaned her up, and waited patiently for her to die so he could then take her under his ever-maternal wing. It also occurred to him that that was why MacLeod probably wouldn't survive past his five hundredth birthday.

Too bad, too. He really did like the guy....

So he'd turn on the anti-charm and hopefully have the kid running for the door with her proverbial tail between her legs before too long. All without having to step outside himself, under the watchful eyes of... whoever might be out there. If he did it right.

As soon as the kid woke up.

Methos sighed, glanced at his watch, and sat back to wait.

I couldn't have been unconscious for more than I few minutes. I'm sure I wasn't. When I woke up and looked outside, the snow was still drifting lazily past the windows, with no hint of the coming storm.

But I knew there would be one. Some things you just feel in your blood.

When I woke up... before I could get to the windows, I was staring into someone's face.

I squeaked. I'm pretty sure I squeaked. That's what happens when you pass out and then see someone looming over you like some sort of flesh-starved cannibal. Undignified a reaction as it is, it's a perfectly natural one.

The face blinked. It was a perfectly pleasant one, I suppose, once I determined that the owner was not, in fact, trying to kill me. It had these sort of gold-hazel eyes, and a nose (boy did it have a nose), and good cheekbones, and when I did my squeaking thing, it said, in a very acidly British voice, "All better, then?"

It. He. Whatever. The owner of the face was most definitely male.

I scooted away as quickly as I could and scrambled to my feet, taking a moment to gather my dignity and study my new adversary- and anyone with as fine a command of sarcasm as that couldn't be anything but an adversary. His voice was practically soaking in it.

He looked about twenty, and he was tall and slender, almost angular, with that peculiar British slouch I'd always read about but had chalked up to unfounded generalizations. Giles didn't slump, he walked like he had a steel rod jammed up his... er, spine, and Spike... well, he was hardly a textbook example of the walking British. Or the walking dead, for that matter.

But this guy most definitely slouched. Like he was made for it, in fact. And the face I'd gotten such a good close-up of was topped off with short, somewhat spiky dark hair, and as I sized him up I knew he was doing the same to me.

He looked, I concluded finally, like a cross between a librarian and the spirit of Oscar Wilde. The kind of person who, if you just met him casually on the street, you'd assume he was checking you out in that way most young guys tended to do if you were washed and brushed and not terribly hideous, until you got closer and realized that all the time he was staring down his nose at you (and this guy certainly had the equipment for it, let me tell you). The kind of person who spends most of his time feeling superior to the rest of the human race- so secure in his superiority, in fact, that he hardly needed to demonstrate it or anything, just revel comfortably in the fact. He probably, I thought at the time, had really rich parents or something.

No, I didn't particularly like him. Why do you ask?

Frankly, I don't like him much better now. But that's beside the point.

And the way he looked at me- like, what right did I have to be in there? That kind of look. I got indignant, I couldn't help it. Just because I was wearing torn clothes and carrying all my possessions on my back and just because my hair was all tangled and split-ended, and my shoes had holes in them, and I'd just, admittedly, passed out on his doorstep, didn't mean I couldn't afford the...

...extremely expensive books displayed on the shelves....

So maybe he was justified. A little. Still, the way he looked at me, it made me feel fifteen and spineless again, and that pissed me off. Unfortunately, when I get indignant, I always come off as flustered.

It's a flaw.

Having finally composed myself, I announced, "I- I want to sell you a book."

Maybe a little too loudly. Maybe a little too grandly. Quite possibly in a condescending tone of voice. It happens. He rubbed me the wrong way.

No, not literally.

"Oh, well," the guy said, giving me another one of those disdainful head-to-toe looks, "Splendid. A lovely idea. Unfortunately, I don't actually buy the books, so if you'll excuse me now-"

"Well, who does?" I interrupted, starting to panic. "I mean, I have this book, and I want to sell it, and I assume this store buys books, so I don't see the problem!"

The snow was starting to fall harder now. A soft bed and central heating were slipping away before my very eyes.

The guy scowled at me. "The owner won't be back till Friday. I suggest you come back then."

I was getting desperate. "Look, can't you just- can't you just, like, keep the book, and give me some money, and then I'll come back on Friday and see your book buying guy and-"

"Oh, right." He rolled his eyes- very expressively, I thought. "I'll just give you the register, then, shall I? You can keep it for me while I hold on to your marvelous book."

Well, okay, so maybe it was a stupid idea. But still.

He gave me a third once-over. The next time he did that, I was seriously gonna throw something at him. "We don't buy stolen merchandise. I suggest you go elsewhere."

"Stolen?" My eyebrows shot up. "Listen, buster, I don't steal stuff, okay? Who do you think you are anyway, Miss Marple?"

The guy blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Can you just look at it? I mean, I'm sure you can tell if it's worth anything, right? And if it is, and you give me money for it now, I'll want to come back later for more, won't I?" Without waiting for an answer to this barrage of questions, I plopped back down on the floor and shrugged the backpack off my shoulders, starting to rummage through the contents. By now it was a matter of principle. "It's really old, is what I'm saying. And- and definitely one of a kind, and good condition, so I'm sure your owner here would be kinda mad if you didn't buy it, right? Here- here it is, see for yourself...."

I brandished the leather-bound book at him triumphantly. The title was in medieval Latin; it translated, roughly, to Book of Demons. I guess creativity wasn't really big with those monks and all back then. Not that I could do better. But then, I don't try.

I had the great satisfaction of seeing the snotty book guy's eyes widen, as he hurried over to me and snatched the book from my hands- although, granted, he managed to do it in a reverent way. "You've just been carrying this around?" he asked sharply, inspecting the binding. He sounded vaguely offended on the book's behalf.

"It was a friend of mine's," I said. "I mean, it used to be his. He gave it to me." Well, Giles had just left it lying around, anyway, and I can't imagine he'd object to me having it. Selling it, now, on the other hand.... "So can I get some money or what?" I didn't bother to stand up again. I'd already fainted on the guy, after all; whether or not I sat down on the floor, his opinion of me probably couldn't go any lower, and wasn't likely to rise any either. And I was tired of standing. And walking. And of not sitting down.

The guy opened his mouth to say something, but before anything could come out, his eyes took on a sort of distant, rather apprehensive look. A few moments later, the doors to the shop burst open again.

I jumped up, spun, and gaped.

Standing in the doorway was another man, tall and built, with short dark hair and a long dark coat, and cautious dark eyes, and generally just overall dark. He was also carrying a slightly curved, sharp, very deadly-looking sword that, not surprisingly, didn't make him look any less threatening.

I stepped backwards involuntarily. Behind me, the book guy said dryly, "I didn't do it."

The newcomer stepped cautiously into the bookstore, his wary gaze taking everything in- me, looking bewildered and probably a little terrified, with my backpack open at my feet, and the bookstore guy still holding the book. "Do what?" he inquired, in a deep voice with a vaguely foreign lilt to it.

"Whatever it is you've tracked me down for. Please desist."

"What, I can't just drop in on an old friend?" The new guy- MacLeod- did put his sword away, at least, tucking it into what was apparently a pocket on the inside of his coat. He grinned.

"With blade unsheathed? Has our relationship fallen so low? And how did you find me, anyway?" The you came out in a slightly more insulting tone of voice. The entire sentence was insulting in its own right.

"Had some free time. Thought I'd drop by." He crossed his arms, pointedly casual.

"You cornered Joe."

"He's really just a big softie, once you get to know him."

"Excuse me," I said. They both turned to stare at me, like they couldn't imagine what I was doing there. Like I hadn't been there to start with. "Um. Hi. I don't know either of you guys, and I don't particularly want to, so can I just get some money so I can leave and you can catch up on whatever it is you do that involves swords? And, uh, if either of you are gonna kill the other, can you try not to bleed on that book there?"

The book guy glared at me, then swiftly crossed the room and started talking in a low, urgent voice. I probably should've stayed where I was, probably shouldn't've eavesdropped, but hey, sue me, I was getting interested.

"-trying to avoid that bunch of bloodthirsty voyeurs that follows you around like a lost puppy," the British guy hissed.


"Seems to me that not long ago you were one of those voyeurs yourself."

Even more bizarre.

"Yes, well, things change. And somehow I don't think that hanging around-" He shot me another scowl, and I looked away, as innocently as I could. He dropped his voice even more. I have good hearing, though. It's a gift, to make up for my many flaws. "-Duncan MacLeod, Immortal Class President, is a good way to maintan a low profile with the damned Watchers, now, do you?"



They weren't vampires, were they? No, they couldn't be. After all, MacLeod had just been outside, and it wasn't dark yet....

Was it?

Well, it was cloudy, but still....

The class president- the hell?- didn't seem especially concerned by the information. "It's just, you know, since we're apparently going to be neighbors, I thought it would be only polite to stop by."

The bookstore guy blinked. Then blinked again. Then he said quietly, "Neighbors?"

I started to edge away.

MacLeod glanced at me, and I froze. His brow furrowed. "She's-"

"Armed," I blurted out. "I- I'm armed! Stay away from me!"

Overreact? Me? No such thing.

He wasn't listening. He said something else, too low for me to catch, and then my friend the book guy said, shortly, "Exactly. Could you possibly make yourself useful and get rid of her? For all I know, the Watchers already have her pegged and are outside socializing with your kept boy."

"Hey!" I cut in. "I'm still here, you know!" Then, as two pairs of eyes turned on me again, I added hastily, "I mean... I'm not here. I won't be here. I just... I just want some money!"

"Where'd she come from?" MacLeod asked.

I rolled my eyes.

"A stray," the bookstore guy said. "Wonderful, isn't it, the way they keep popping up like this? Can you please get her out of here?"


"Look," I said, backing away behind the counter, "forget the money. Just give me my book and I'll, I'll leave, okay? Just don't-"

I tripped.

Over a sword.

I landed hard on my ass, staring at the offending weapon that had apparently just been lying on the floor, for God's sake; it wasn't MacLeod's sword, his was still safely in his coat, and besides, this one was significantly longer, bigger, and more threatening-looking. Just, you know. Lying around.

These guys were seriously armed.

And, it began to dawn on me, I was trapped in the store with them. And they were looking at me with highly suspicious expressions. And one of them was talking about getting rid of me. And they were armed.

Confusion, verging on the point of lunacy, ensued.

Most of the lunacy was, I admit, my fault. I think I just sort of- well, snapped. I leaped up and grabbed the sword and started to wave it around threateningly, screaming at them. The bookstore guy took a few steps back. MacLeod, the genius tactician, lunged for me.

I was waving and yelling and threatening, and MacLeod was dancing around me uneasily, and I might've been saying something about salamanders- I tend to revert to my witch days in times of stress- and we kept this up for a few seconds, and then I tripped again, over my backpack this time, and stumbled, and as I pitched forward MacLeod automatically opened his arms to catch me, and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw the book guy cover his eyes wearily, like he just knew what was coming.

I shrieked.

Not entirely without provocation this time, either, because by this time MacLeod was splayed out on the floor, with the large, sharp, wetly glistening blade of the sword protruding from his back.

The book guy said sourly, "Fine work, MacLeod."

I turned to stare at him, feeling all the blood drain out of my face, opening my mouth and then closing it a couple times. He's dead, he can't hear you, I felt like saying, but somehow I couldn't form the words; it was like my tongue was Krazy-glued to the roof of my mouth, worse than peanut butter even. I took a step back.

"And I don't suppose you're going to clean the bloody carpet, now are you?" he snapped.

That did it.

For the second time in ten minutes, I collapsed in a dead faint.

This is the farce that is my life.

Jeffrey Parsons worked at the computer company where I interned. I didn't intern for him, thank God, but that didn't make the rest of it any easier. So I don't suppose it made any difference at all.

Because a few weeks after I started my freshman year, he asked me out for dinner, and I accepted. I'm not sure why. I certainly didn't go to New York to meet guys; in fact, at the time, I was still doing my best not to pine after Oz, and failing miserably. But something about him.... Well, I guess he reminded me of Xander, in a way. Dark hair, self-deprecating, good sense of humor- it was my childhood crush come true, and this guy actually found me attractive.

Really, I just couldn't think of a reason not to go. And by the end of the evening, he had won me over completely.

I had just finished my junior year when we got married, and it was good. For a while. Until I graduated.

I went straight from graduation to work at the same company where I'd been interning- they knew me, and they knew what I could do, and they were rapidly rising to the top. My job was several steps above entry-level, with a matching salary. It was everything I'd ever dreamed of, and I had Jeffrey to share it with. Or so I thought.

But as soon as I started working for real, he got kind of... funny about it. I'm not sure what. Like he didn't want to listen to anything that happened to me at work, and he wanted me to take days off, like just out of the blue, so we could go places. Of course, it was terribly romantic, so whenever he asked, I did. And then he started talking about having kids.

Now, I like kids... in the sort of abstract way that everyone does, because they're cute and little and cuddly at first, and by the time they grow up you're used to having them around, although I guess there are a few people who wish they came with a receipt so you could take 'em back to the store when they get too big, kinda like with all those puppies that end up back at the pound once someone realized, hey, this little fluffy thing's gonna be a great big dog someday? Anyway, I used to baby-sit for my next-door neighbors, and their little boy was about the cutest little thing in the world. But that didn't mean I wasn't relieved when the parents came home and I could scurry back to my house, or to the Bronze, or to meet Xander at the Baskin-Robbins or the Espresso Pump and laughingly relate how little Dylan had been such a terror and....

Basically, I like kids, but I don't really want one for my very own. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I will later. Maybe I'll be thirty and suddenly overcome with a burst of maternal longing. But I have other things I want to do with my life before I'm just someone's mother.

And I told Jeffrey all that, and he reluctantly agreed, and the issue was closed. And then, right after my twenty-fourth birthday, I got promoted, and all of a sudden I was earning just as much as Jeffrey was.

And then we went home that night, and I was all ready to go out and celebrate; but he picked a fight, a major one, and accused me of having an affair. Of all things, an affair. Like he wasn't just reaching at that point.

Anyway, Jeffrey filed for divorce, and I didn't contest- after all, I was married to someone who couldn't deal with me being the success in life I'd always envisioned myself becoming. It was doomed for failure from the start; I just didn't know it then.

The problem is, he killed me in court. I think he wanted me to argue, to beg him to stay; unfortunately for him, after sixteen years of longing after a boy who never even thought of me as a girl, and after abandoning the man I loved for admittedly selfish reasons, I was beyond begging someone who, I realized then with some surprise, never meant all that much to me after all. I denied the affair, of course, but he planted evidence and got all these supposed eyewitnesses and paid some guy to say that he was in fact the Other Man, and at the end Jeffrey got everything- the apartment, the furniture, the possessions, and most of the money in the joint account. I had my own, of course, but I wasn't getting any alimony, either. The trial was over a month before my twenty-fifth birthday, and he left me with next to nothing.

At least I still had my high-paying job. Until he went and got me fired, too. Accused me of embezzling, planted more evidence, and spread the word around, so no reputable company would hire me ever again.

Beware the fury of the man with the scorned ego.

No money, no job, no job prospects, and no place to live; two months later, two months of staying in motels and friends' apartments and eating at MacDonald's, I was on the streets.

And then, two months after that, I walked into a bookstore in the middle of Manhattan and passed out.

The voices sounded hazy, and very far away.

"Methos, she saw me die," one was saying, in the tone of someone who'd said the same thing at least ten times now and was quite afraid that that wasn't going to be the end of it. "She thinks she killed me, for God's sake! Not to mention that she's going to be-"

"Oh, fine then. Go ahead," another voice cut in. Now that I thought about it, they sounded strangely familiar. "What do I care who you tell? It's not like it makes a difference to my life-"

"So go get yourself lost again. You're good at that."

"I like my life here, MacLeod. Apart from the imminent prospect of having to explain that huge bloodstain in the middle of the front room."

"Oh, you're an actual employee there? How... very unlike you."

"You barely even know me!"

I decided to risk opening my eyes at that point. It was bound to happen eventually.

The world came slowly back into focus. I stared, bewildered, up at the two men glaring at each other for a moment- tall, dark, and solid, and tall, not-so-dark, and slender- before recognition dawned.

Then, and I must say, it seemed like my day for making embarassing noises, I made a sound very much like "eep" and sat up abruptly. The room tilted and dimmed as the blood rushed away from my head, and when my vision cleared, the dark guy- MacLeod, I recalled- was kneeling beside me, looking concerned. The other one, the guy from the bookstore, I still didn't know his name, just threw me an irritated look and wandered off somewhere. A moment later I heard a refrigerator open.

"Are you okay?" MacLeod asked.

I just blinked, remembering that he had a very good reason to be concerned, and it involved about three feet of steel sticking out of his gut, and-

"Ooh," I said weakly, "I think I need to lie down again."

"If you need to-" he began.

I cut him off. "I didn't mean to kill you, you know. You just jumped." It seemed important to clear that one up right from the start.

MacLeod looked bewildered, as well he should. "Um, that's quite all-"

"Which isn't to say that I don't feel incredibly guilty about it. I'm, I'm guilt-filled, believe me." Oh, hell. I was starting to talk like I was fifteen again. Fifteen and tanked up on caffeine, no less. My day for regressions, too. Regressions and funny noises.

I don't usually babble now as much as I used to. Honestly. It's just, well, sometimes I get rattled, and I can't seem to hold on to whatever supposed maturity enables a person to keep her damn mouth shut.

"Great," came the book guy's voice, from somewhere across the room, and I really needed a name for him before he became the Book Guy to me forever and after. "Like we need another one of those around here."

There was a brief, dumbfounded lull in the conversation, and I took advantage of it to inspect my surroundings. I was currently seated on a very old and expensive-looking loveseat; matching armchairs were arranged around a stone fireplace, and the soft light from the flickering flames glinted off glass cases filled with jewelry, sculptures, and various weapons. Flames? Well, no wonder it was warm in there.

It was nice to feel warm for once.

I looked down, suddenly overcome by an attack of shy (and damn it, I was 25 years old, not a kid anymore, and when would I start acting like it?) and blurted out the first thing that popped into my head. "I'm getting your upholstery all dirty."

MacLeod had apparently found his voice, and it was still a nice one, still obscurely foreign in a way I couldn't quite place. Nice to know some things hadn't changed. "Uh, don't worry about it."

I stood up anyway, because that's the kind of nice, considerate person I am, and he paused and stood too, sitting back down in one of the armchairs before continuing, "This is my, uh, antiques shop. We're just a couple streets over from the bookstore." Another pause. After a moment he gave up and added, "In case you were wondering why I'm not dead-"

I shrugged. I'm used to this kind of thing. This, at least, was more familiar footing.

He'd changed his shirt, too. That helped.

"You came in from the daylight," I said, cutting him off. "So you can't be a vampire. I don't think you're a ghost, 'cause, well, you're not transparent and insubstantial, and you're not trying to, well, haunt me, I guess, the way ghosts do. You're some kind of demon, right? A good kind?" Then I bit my lip apprehensively, as another thought struck me. "You are good, right?"

MacLeod just gaped.

Oops. Slight miscalculation.

The book guy walked back in from some doorway off to the side of the room, holding an open bottle of beer in one hand. "Completely certifiable," he announced. "You certainly can pick them, MacLeod."

I glared at him. "I'm not crazy."

"Right. You've known quite a few vampires in your time, then, yes?"

"As a matter of fact I-" And then I bit my tongue, hard, and glared. "Hey! What do you care, anyway?"

Poor confused MacLeod finally managed to close his mouth. "How about we introduce ourselves?" he said, weakly, with the forced joviality of a man who's doing his best to make small talk with someone wearing a tinfoil hat. I cringed inwardly. The conversation didn't seem to be getting any more intelligent, and I suspected I was at least partly to blame.

I looked out the window, trying to collect myself. Snow was falling so hard now that it looked like a solid white wall.

Hey, maybe they'd pay me to go away.

I guess I waited a little too long, because he plowed ahead on his own. "I'm Duncan MacLeod," he said, and he didn't quite sound like he was talking to a small child, so I figured it could have been worse.

The as-yet-nameless book guy muttered something under his breath. MacLeod shot him a dirty look.

"I'm Willow," I said shyly. "Willow Rosenberg."

"Nice to meet you, Willow Rosenberg." MacLeod- Duncan- extended his hand, and I took it with a certain amount of extreme self-consciousness. Incredibly enough, he almost sounded like he'd meant it. That took talent.

He turned and looked pointedly at the other occupant of the room.

The book guy seemed to be sulking, bizarrely enough. I held my breath. Would he finally get a name? Would wonders never cease?

"Noah Demarten," he said grudgingly.

Well, hallelujiah.

Duncan made an odd little snorting noise. If he'd been drinking anything, it would have shot straight out his nose, and probably made a very impressive trajectory all the way to the opposite wall. "Noah," he echoed, sounding incredulous.

The self-proclaimed Noah just smiled enigmatically. And as enigmatic smiles went, it was definitely verging on a smirk.

I entertained myself briefly by spinning stories for obviously-not-Noah. A falsely accused murderer, maybe, running from the police and hiding out in a New York City bookstore. Or maybe he wasn't falsely accused, in which case I'd probably cheerfully turn him in myself. An educated murderer, at least. Or a vampire, a nice one like Ang- like if he had a soul, maybe- or maybe not, in which case I'd get to stake him, and that would be fun.

Or maybe he was with the Watchers and they were keeping an eye on me for some obscurely sinister British reason. I'd heard one of them mention that illustrious organization, hadn't I? That part was a little fuzzy....

Maybe I could get him deported.

"So," I said after a moment, making an abrupt U-turn in the conversation, "if you're not some kind of demon-" don't blush, don't blush, please don't- "then what are you?"

Duncan looked blank. Again. He was good at that.

"Why you didn't die," I clarified.

"Oh." He took a deep breath. "Well, actually, that's-"

The door slammed open, and a pile of snow barrelled in.

Duncan jumped up, looking mildly chagrined. Noah (for lack of a more accurate name) just rolled his eyes.

I watched with some interest as the snow pile shook itself vigorously, like a golden retriever just come in from the rain... or the snow, which would probably be a more accurate analogy. White clumps flew everywhere, revealing underneath a pleasant-looking young man of about 20, with short, curly red-blond hair and a flushed face. His was the friendliest face I'd seen all day, in fact, and some part of me desperately wanted to make a good impression on him.

I was starting to hate that part of me.

Duncan grinned at the newcomer, a real grin this time. "Rich," he said. "What kept you?"

"Are you kidding? It's hell out there, Mac. Assuming Hell ever froze over, although in that case that girl at that party last week would've-" Bright blue eyes lit on me, and I did my best to shrink into the carpet. "Hello, who's this?"

"You know what?" I said, abruptly, unreasonably angry. "Just forget I asked. It really doesn't matter. I'll just take my damn book back, and now if you'll excuse me-"

A hand grabbed at me as I started for the door, and I spun around to look (up, and up) into Duncan's worried face. "Do you have somewhere to go?"

Angry and impatient, and even a little contemptuous- could he really not tell?- I yanked my arm out of his grasp and spat, "What do you think?"

He didn't budge. "There's no way you're going to spend the night out in this. I won't allow it."

I glared up at him. "Oh yeah? Try and stop me." Then I hesitated, thinking about that one. "Um, well, actually, I wish you wouldn't-"

"Excuse me," the newcomer interjected- Rich, Duncan had called him- "what exactly is going on? And-" He jerked a thumb towards Noah, leaning casually against the fireplace. "What's he doing here?"

The man in question levelled him with a cool, distinctly unfriendly stare.

"Noah," Duncan said quickly, with just a little too much emphasis on the name, "and I ran into each other today. We were just catching up."

"What about her?" This was said in an undertone, with a furtive glance in "her" direction, as though he felt guilty for talking about me like I wasn't in the room- though not, I noticed, guilty enough to keep from doing it. Maybe it was something in the water.

When Duncan hesitated, he decided, apparently, to take matters into his own hands. "Hi," he said to me, with a friendly grin. "I'm Richard Ryan. Richard or Richie or Rick, whichever you want."

"Oh," I said intelligently. "Um. Willow. Nice to meet you," I added, echoing Duncan's earlier insincere tone and matching smile. MacLeod did, at least, have the good grace to look abashed. "Look, I gotta go. Maybe I'll see you sometime." No more sincere than the last, and I silently congratulated myself. If I had to go out, at least I could go out in Cordelia-worthy style.

Richard/Richie/Rick's face took on a careful neutrality that suggested that he, at least, knew exactly what I was talking about. "Bad night for it," he said, doing a bad job at sounding nonchalant; then he added, "If I know Mac, he was just about to offer you a place to stay for the night. I'd take him up on it, if I were you."

"A place to stay," I echoed, surprised at the bitterness I heard in my own voice. "A bed, you mean?"

He spoke up then, and his voice sounded slightly cool. "If you want one, I can sleep on the sofa. Or you can have the sofa. There may be a cot in a closet somewhere. Rest assured I will not ask for payment."

I looked away, feeling obscurely ashamed. Stop that, I told myself sternly. You're entitled to be suspicious of people. Now stop feeling guilty about it.

When I looked back at him, his expression had softened slightly. Richard was looking back and forth between us like a spectator at a ping-pong game. Noah, not surprisingly, looked thoroughly disinterested.

"Sit down," MacLeod said, not unkindly, and I automatically did. "Think about it. Rich, if I could talk to you for a moment...." His hand settled gently but firmly on the young man's shoulder. Richard shrugged amiably as he was propelled towards the doorway- probably the kitchen, I assumed, seeing that there was a refrigerator in there and everything. Unless it was the cold storage room where Duncan MacLeod kept all the dead bodies....

Don't be silly, I scolded myself. That would be in the basement somewhere. Not on the main floor.

Duncan threw Noah a significant look on his way out of the room. The other man exhaled loudly, a long-suffering sound, drained the last of his beer and slumped down into the chair across from where I was sitting.

"You're supposed to keep me from running away, aren't you," I said. And the general IQ level of the conversation rose a few significant degrees.

Noah shrugged irritably. "Hey, do what you want. Obviously no one's listening to me."

That decided it. I attempted to look as firmly planted on the loveseat as possible and stared at him defiantly. He glared back.

And I waited.

"You gotta be kidding me."

Duncan watched as his former student paced back and forth. "No joke. If you were alone in a room with her, you'd probably feel it too."

Richard stopped and ran his hands over his hair, absently noting his need for a haircut. "So she's gonna be like us," he said aloud. "An Immortal."

"Yep." He hesitated. "Hey, Rich, what do you think of her?"

"Huh?" Richard just looked at him, momentarily drawing a blank.

"I mean-" Duncan paused, obviously fumbling for words. "Well, she just seems a little- odd, don't you think?"

"Mac, I talked to her for all of ten seconds. I don't think I'm exactly qualified to pass judgement on her mental state."

"Point taken."

"One thing's for sure, though; we can't let her just walk out and disappear. She doesn't even have anywhere to go. I've been there, Mac, that's no life for anyone."

"Maybe." Duncan stared out into the main room of the antiques shop. "I just don't know how to convince her to stay."

Richard gave him a sideways grin. "Hey, you convinced me, remember?"

"I remember," he said sourly. "I remember that was one bloody battle."

"I was a hard-headed kid, huh?"

"What do you mean 'was'?"

Richard stuck his tongue out. "Oh, that's funny."

"Yeah, and that's very mature." Then Duncan's smile faded into a thoughtful look. "You know, Rich," he said eventually, "I'm thinking...."

"Don't strain yourself."

"Ha ha. I'm thinking you should take care of her."

Richard stared at him, eyes going wide. "Take care of- like, Godfather take care of her? Help me out here, man."

"Like look after her, take care of her," Duncan said repressively. "Train her, when she becomes one of us." Then he grinned. "Convince her to stay."

"Gee, thanks." But Richard's thoughts were drifting someplace other than the exchange of repartee. "A student? Me?" Ignoring the undignified way his voice squeaked on the last word, he added, "I don't know, Mac, that's a pretty big deal."

Duncan shrugged offhandedly "Well, if you don't think you can handle it-"

"Handle it? Of course I can handle it!"

"Glad to hear it." Duncan clapped him on the shoulder and sauntered out of the kitchen, whistling to himself.

"I mean I could, if I wanted-" Richard broke off and stared after him, dumbfounded. "I can not believe I just fell for that. That's the oldest trick in the- oh, fuck it."

Grumbling to himself, he followed his ex-teacher (and possibly, he thought in annoyance, ex-friend) back into the main room, then stopped and stared at Willow Rosenberg.

She looked like a little girl and an old woman all at the same time, waif-thin with big eyes that looked like they'd seen the weight of the world. It was a look he was all too familiar with, and one that never got easier to see. It was the look of a girl who'd had to grow up much too fast.

She was sitting straight up in an armchair, staring off into the distance, giving Methos- Adam- whatever the hell he was calling himself nowadays- the occasional dirty look out of the corner of her eye. Good taste, anyway, he thought with a faint grin.

Willow felt his gaze on her and turned to look at him, her face belligerent and apprehensive all at the same time. She looked like a pixie, really, with those eyes and that small pointed nose and the oddly curved mouth, and the ragged red hair falling down over her shoulders. Although she didn't look in the least happy or spritely. She looked like the kind of person who'd slug anyone offering her a helping hand, out of sheer bull-headed stubbornness.

Another thing Richard was not unfamiliar with.

Student. He tried out the idea in his head, and then felt a small, self-mocking grimace settle on his face. It made him feel old.

The grimace became a grin; then, as Willow's face shuttered again and she turned away, it faded, and he took a deep breath.

Time to do some major convincing.

"I've been looking for a savior
In these dirty streets"
~Tori Amos, "Crucify"

It was maybe ten minutes before they came back in, and right away he was looking at me funny. Like I was Mount Everest or something, and he was standing at the bottom with a pickaxe in hand, ready to climb....

I winced at the resulting mental image. Bad thought. Totally not what I meant.

I looked away, then risked another glance out the corner of my eye. Richard/Richie/Rick looked first worried, then thoughtful, and then resolved, and I was concerned about that resolve. I had the sneaking suspicion he was about to try and climb me.

Damn mental images.

"Well, I'm off," Noah announced abruptly, thankfully distracting me. I stared down at my feet, refusing to risk meeting anyone's eye. "Not that this has been fun-"

"You're not going anywhere tonight," Duncan interrupted. "Have you looked outside recently?"

"What, me? No, I was busy playing watchdog to your new stray." There was a pause, during which I envisioned Noah staring out the white-walled window; then he exclaimed, "Bloody hell, MacLeod, are you trying to make my life miserable?"

I started to smile, involuntarily, then abruptly stopped and glanced up. Richard was smiling back at me.

Fu- I mean, damn it.

"Worst snowstorm of the century so far, they're saying," MacLeod said mildly. "Last century too, even. And flattered though I am, even I can't make it snow just to inconvenience you."

"I certainly wouldn't put it past you."

"Whine, whine, whine," Richard cut in, plopping down in the chair Noah had recently vacated. "Is that all you ever do? Hi," he added, giving me another friendly smile.

I nodded politely, for lack of any better ideas.

Noah ignored him. "What am I supposed to do now?" he demanded. "How many beds do you have in this place?"

Duncan shrugged. "Just the one. I think there's a cot somewhere, but Willow has dibs on that."

"And I get the couch," Richard added quickly.

Noah glared at him. "Wonderful. What do I get, the bathtub?"

Duncan grinned again. "Are you kidding? You're hardly someone I'd want to find in my shower first thing in the morning."

"Wait, wait, wait a minute," I cut in, in a desperate effort to stop feeling like a piece of furniture. "I never agreed to stay."

"You can hardly go anywhere," MacLeod pointed out logically. "Not in this weather."

"Come on," Richard jumped in, leaning forward. There was a strange light in his eyes, one I wasn't entirely comfortable with. "Just stay. What could it hurt?"

I scowled at him. They had a point, in that I really couldn't leave. But I didn't have to like it, and I didn't intend to.

Even if it did mean actual central heating and actual blankets and an actual real meal in the morning....

"Just for the night," I conceded. "I'll leave first thing in the morning." The finality in my voice dared anyone to argue with me. At least, that was the idea.

Richard shot Duncan an anguished look, and MacLeod said, "Actually, I have a proposal for you. Perfectly respectable," he added quickly, as I started to open my mouth. "How are you with numbers?"

"Okay," I said slowly. "I mean, I always got A's in math. Well, A-pluses, really." And in everything else, but that would just be bragging.

"How about computers?"

"Oh, great!" I exclaimed, feeling my lips widen into this huge, dumb grin. I couldn't help it, I really couldn't. "I love computers, I actually taught a computer class once-" And I used to work at a computer company before I was fired for embezzling, but I didn't really do it, so that doesn't really matter, is what I didn't say. I caught myself, then, and managed to quell my eagerness. Somewhat. "Why?" I asked warily.

Duncan grinned at me. "Great! I'm terrible at both. If you'd be interested in doing the shop's accounts, I'll give you room and board for as long as you need."

Now that one came out of left field, smacked me upside the head, and spiralled off into outer space all in the time it took me to close my mouth.

Finally I managed to say, "What?"

Because let's be honest- I hadn't exactly made the best impression ever that night. I mean, I started out killing the guy, and it went downhill from there.

But offering me an actual job? And a place to stay...?

"And a small salary, of course," he was saying. "You'd be doing me a huge favor."

"You would," Richard concurred. "I've seen this man doing taxes. It's not a pretty sight."

"Thanks for the support, Rich."

"Any time, Mac."

I jumped up and started pacing back and forth. "I don't get it. This is- this is stupid. I mean, I just walked in off the street and you're offering to, what, adopt me? I could be a- a psycho killer axe murderer, for all you know!" I glared at them collectively. Noah returned the look with interest. "Whaddya think of that, huh?"

"Are you?" Duncan asked reasonably.

"Am I what?"

"A psycho killer axe murderer."

I deflated. "Well, no, but-"

"I don't see the problem," Richard offered.

I frowned at him. "You wouldn't."

He grinned. "Hey, c'mon, Will. He did the same thing for me once. He can't help himself. It's like a disease."

It was the nickname, more than anything else, that brought me up short. Xander used to call me that. And Jesse. And Oz. And Buffy....

I guess it kinds of lends itself. But even so.

I turned to MacLeod for confirmation, and he-

-and I nearly passed out again-

-he actually batted his eyelashes at me.

I snickered in spite of myself, and didn't even bother to hide it. "Supposing I accept," I began. "Just supposing. It'd only be for as long as I need, right? Till I can pull everything together."

"Exactly," Duncan said.

Richard exhaled loudly, obviously getting ready to say something important. I tensed, waiting.

"The thing is," the young man began, "if you're gonna spend any amount of time around us, there's some things you gotta know...."

"I think I was afraid but I didn't take note
Winters make me feel safe to cry
Never look away, just look 'em in the eye"
~Snapdragon, "Miss Moss"

And, of course, they told me all about it- immortality with a lowercase "i", and being Immortals, with an uppercase "I"- how no one knows where they came from, they're always foundlings, and the first time they die a violent death, that's as old as they'll be for the rest of their unnaturally long lives.

And then the Game, a habit certain Immortals had of running around cutting each other's heads off to get some sort of energy thing, or life force, or whatever that gets released. Because decapitation is the only way they can die, and there's supposed to be some sort of Prize for being the last Immortal alive, only no one knows what it is. And these certain Immortals are always looking for ways to turn an unnaturally long life into an unnaturally short one, in order to claim said anonymous Prize.

It all sounded very half-assed and vague, kind of like one of Giles' prophecies that we never really figured out till after they'd happened, but I tactfully refrained from saying so. After all, my supernatural benefactors didn't choose the rules; they just had to play by them. They didn't mention any Watchers, and after a while I started to think maybe I'd imagined that part. After all, I certainly hadn't been at my best.

I think I surprised them by how well I took the news. I didn't feel like getting into the whole Hellmouth thing right then. Maybe I will someday... but I doubt it.

I never did sell the book. M- Noah was pretty peeved about that, really, but there was nothing he could do about it. And I was very pleased at that.

Richard was sleeping on the sofa for the time being. He lived in Boston, he told me once, and he ran this motorcycle repair shop, but his schedule wasn't exactly crammed full so he was taking some time off. And we talked a lot, him being the closest one to my age and all, and he told her about his own life on the streets, how he had met Duncan for the first time.

I was more than a little stunned when I learned that teenage-looking Richard was actually older than me, was in fact 32 years old, frozen forever at 19.

Even more bizarre was the fact that Duncan was 414.

And as for Noah- or, should I say, Methos....

They tried to keep it a secret at first, I'll give 'em that. But you know that old saying, "Three can keep a secret if two are dead"? Or some crap like that. I mean, I suck at keeping secrets, but I still never let the whole Hellmouth thing slip. But Richard, well.

I've only known him for a month now, but I think he's the best friend I've had since I left Sunnydale. He really wants me to like him, for whatever reason, and he's just so incredibly good-natured that I can't help doing just that.

Just. I may suck at keeping secrets, but he really sucks. He can't keep a secret to save his life. Well, no, actually he can, because he does- the whole Immortal thing- but I have the feeling that if a particular secret doesn't directly endanger him or anyone he really cares about, it'll end up slipping out eventually. Not for any malicious reason; he just doesn't pay too much attention to it till it's too late.

The first time he slipped and called Noah "Methos", I pounced (no, not literally), and eventually I managed to wrangle the truth out of him. And boy, is it a big chunk of "swallow-this-whole-I-dare-you".

Because Methos is, in fact, 5000 years old and the oldest Immortal alive.

I suppose that, if I were an Immortal, or had been involved with them in any way to begin with, then the fact of his "secret identity" would mean a lot more to me than it actually does. As it was, I was originally staggered by the sheer weight of such age; and then I couldn't believe that a man five millennia old could be so, well, childish.

Richard agreed wholeheartedly, and it was another one of those shared moments. But then he said, in all seriousness, that a lot of other Immortals wanted to be the one to kill Methos, just for the glory of it, or maybe because there'd be something really special in his life force thing, and the old man wasn't fond of fighting off attackers at every turn, so he did his best to stay as hidden as possible. Duncan, meanwhile, is the kind of guy other Immortals come for by the dozens, which was, Richard explained, why Methos was so leery of being seen with him and therefore attracting unwanted homicidal attentions.

So given that, you'd expect the guy would just leave after that night and never come back, right?

Well, it didn't work that way.

One evening a few days after I'd settled into my new cot-I-called-home, Methos turned up- scowling at the world, slouching through the front room of the shop into the kitchen like the beast on his way to Bethlehem, wordlessly opening the refrigerator and grabbing a beer, slinking back into the sitting room (where I was currently kicking everyone's collective asses at a game of poker), and flopping down into an unoccupied armchair with a furious black look that just dared anyone to say anything about it.

So we didn't. Or at least, I didn't, and I never heard anyone else do so either. Although I'm sure MacLeod probably did, because the two of them spent a lot of time together after that, going out to shows or museums or whatever other strange places a 5000 year old Immortal would want to go, or just sitting downstairs and talking a lot. Methos still spent a lot of time insulting Richard and disliking me, and I returned the sentiment as best I could, but we certainly weren't the main attractions, and after a few days of this I gave up trying to figure the two of them out and left them to it, whatever "it" was anyway.

And before long, Mr. Oldest Immortal was just one more fixture in my life.

I'll tell you something, though- very few things in my life rivalled the sheer entertainment factor of watching his reaction the first time I called him "Methos".

After a couple weeks, I gave up looking for other jobs and started counting on being Duncan MacLeod's accountant for the foreseeable future. I rented out a post office box, though, not wanting to put the shop down as my permanent address (sure, it's a nice place, but it's cramped as hell, and I'd hoped to move into a more personal space soon), and I wrote to my parents from there, telling them all about my divorce and judiciously leaving out the parts about me living on the streets. Mother mother, I was freezing, I was starving, I love you, everything's fine now. That one'd go over like a lead balloon filled with cement bricks.

So all in all, life was definitely on the upswing. I had a job and a roof over my head, and for the first time since Buffy had left I felt like I was part of something important. There was just something about knowing something no one else did that made me feel alive again, which may be pathological in some way, but I'm comfortable with that. And Richard's and Duncan's friendships began to slowly fill in the holes in my life.

Just as I was getting used to it, though, Fate came along and turned everything upside down again. As Fate often does.

It's been a month now since I moved in. Today, the telephone rang. And in that one instant, everything changed.

But that's another story altogether.

Email: mayatawi@populli.net

More fic?