Changing of the Guard 2

Chapter 29

Bird calls and the scent of green growing things sprinkled with dew 
woke the weary travelers at dawn. Methos stretched contentedly in his 
bed. The ticking had just the right amount of feathers, the pillows 
were lumpy exactly where they should be covered with linens woven so 
fine they felt like silk against his skin and smelling of just the 
right mix of perfumes to titillate his senses.

God, what a shameless, self-indulgent hedonist you were, Methos thought 
bemused. With a sigh of regret for both his former self and the need to 
leave this comfortable nest he arose, indulging himself just a little 
more after dressing by sneaking down the back stairs to the stables. He 
quickly checked the animals then saddled the white stallion. With his 
bow and quiver at his back, Methos mounted and rode out. Back down to 
the valley below where he let the stallion have his head for a time, 
racing with the wind in his hair, the hot scent of horse in his 
nostrils and the rising sun warm against his skin.

The morning sun was high when he returned hours later to find O'Neill 
in the middle of the stable yard neatly dressed in his uniform as he 
stood with arms folded, obviously waiting and annoyed. 

"You wanna let someone know when you plan to disappear for a while," 
the colonel told him coldly.

"Takes all the fun out of the sneaking part," Methos confided, grinning 
as he cut the ties on the bag of game he had strapped to the saddle and 
letting it drop to the ground. "Besides," he added, easily dismounting. 
"You can see the entire valley from Zekna's room. You knew where I 

"That's not the point, Captain."

"Reestablishing the pecking order are we, Colonel?" Methos smirked as 
he picked up the bag, slung it over his shoulder and took the reins. 

O'Neill frowned. "There is no pecking order. There's me and then there 
are rules for you to follow."

Methos sighed tiredly as he led the way to the stable. He'd had such a 
lovely ride and now this! "Yes, I know," he sneered. "The chain of 

"Then there's no reason for you not to follow it, is there?"

Methos stopped abruptly and turned to face Jack, his eyes narrowing 
dangerously. "This conversation grows tiresome, O'Neill. Much as I find 
it amusing, I am not your minion."

"Oh, but you are, Captain Pierson. You became mine the minute you 
signed on the dotted line," O'Neill said mildly as he slowly backed 
Methos against the horse "I think you've forgotten who you are and 
where you come from, Pierson. We aren't your pets -- and this isn't 
your home. Like the rest of us, you're just a visitor here. Perhaps you 
ought to consider rethinking your position -- Captain." At that he 
turned and walked away without looking back.

Methos stared after the man, utterly shocked. Not by the colonel's 
words, but that O'Neill had noticed what he hadn't. He was adapting, 
Methos realized, appalled by his behavior.He winced with embarrassment. 
There'd been no call to treat the man so rudely. As though he were an 
inferior sent only to entertain him -- and doing a piss poor job of it 
at that! He could only imagine what the colonel must have really 
thought from what little he'd said, but the general idea disgusted him. 

But why here? Why now? he wondered, distractedly moving toward the 
stable. It wasn't like he'd ever been truly happy as a Horseman. He'd 
never have left it behind if that were the case. Might have ended up 
like Kronos, filled with anger and bitterness. Or Silas, dreaming of 
the good old days and how nice it would be to ride the plains again 
killing everything in sight. But in those days he hadn't known how to 
be anything else. And, god help him, he'd loved it. The power and the 
freedom from constraint. But happy? He didn't think so.

That was it, wasn't it? Methos cocked his head, pausing at the stable 
doors. The freedom to be who he was now. With these people he suddenly 
had something he'd never experienced with the Horsemen. Camaraderie 
without fear or coercion. And in this place and time he could have the 
power too. With all his knowledge he could find a place and make it 
his. It tempted him and Methos knew it. Called to a part of him he'd 
thought long since buried. He could have everything he'd never had. He 
could live his life -- without want or need or even the anger that had 
kept him constantly moving -- until, of course, he ended up right back 
where he had started.

He glanced at the house, finally seeing it clearly. Not his home -- not 
even when he'd rightfully lived here. It was built on a foundation of 
blood. The stones carved from stolen lives -- the property of all those 
who'd died to make the Horsemen rich. His things had never been his, 
but the remains of others. Used goods, bought with their suffering. And 
yet, it had called to him as well.

How thin the veneer of civilization, he thought ironically, beginning 
to unsaddle the horse. He'd come so far and worked so hard to move 
beyond the Horseman, only to find the savage still pacing him just 
beneath the surface. But O'Neill had seen it, because it called to him 
too. The predator that lurked within, waiting for that moment when the 
keeper of the cage forgot to check the lock. And Methos had almost let 
him slip the leash.

He spent a long time cleaning the stable then currying the horses, 
letting them out into the paddock with Amelia to graze. Then he went to 
the slaughter room and dressed the rabbits he'd caught that morning, 
putting up the meat in a jar of salted water and spiced wine to 
preserve it. He avoided the others, slipping up the back stairs through 
the servants passages and into his quarters. 

With a sigh he shut the door and stared at the room's contents. 
Pathetic, he thought disgustedly, finally confronting the obvious. He 
hadn't deserved any of this. Methos sneered at the little toys his 
former self had collected which littered the room like so much junk. 
Pretty trinkets of faience, ivory, amber and gold. Miniature horses and 
statues of gods he couldn't have put a name to when he'd taken them, 
though he knew them now. He'd always thought he'd seen himself for what 
he was, but maybe he never really had. Which led him to wonder what the 
others thought of him.

Teal'c was obvious. The man wouldn't judge him. Couldn't really, if he 
even thought about it at all. Like the warrior he was, he would accept 
or deny Methos based on his deeds, and thus far he'd done nothing to 
warrant rejection by the Jaffa. Not yet, he amended thoughtfully. 

Daniel, of course, knew Adam, and those parts of Methos he'd recently 
begun to see. But the young man could not possibly comprehend the scope 
of what he was, or what he'd been except in the vaguest terms. And he 
was likely not to judge him too harshly even if he thought about the 
things Methos had done. Telling himself that it was a different time 
and a different world, which was the truth, but not the only truth 
there was.

He considered Samantha then. Major Carter probably had the most 
balanced opinion. She'd taken him as he'd presented himself from the 
day he'd walked into the SGC. A brilliant, dangerous, amusing and 
occasionally charming scientific puzzle. She would see the modern 
Methos, though without immediately disregarding the man he'd been. The 
scientist in her would not allow that, though like Teal'c she was 
unlikely to judge him for it.

And O'Neill? Of them all, O'Neill was probably the only one who could 
see Methos for what he truly was. Had to, because he'd pointed out his 
failings so well. He'd seen the temptation which faced the Immortal. 
Seen Methos drifting towards it. And with a wisdom far beyond his 
years, had ever so gently had slapped him back into the present. More 
to the point, O'Neill would have no trouble guessing from whence 
everything in this place came. He wouldn't hide from that knowledge. 

In truth, Methos knew, if he'd met O'Neill as the man he'd been three 
thousand years ago, Jack would have cheerfully killed him without a 
moment's hesitation. Taken his head and wandered off to dinner 
whistling a happy tune. And rightfully so, Methos admitted sadly. Yet, 
O'Neill accepted Methos as he was now. Cared enough to keep him 
grounded -- though he must have long since guessed just how difficult 
this journey was for the Immortal. And in the end, as long as he 
stepped back from the precipice that yawned, all would be forgiven.

Methos shook his head, looking down at his clothes. No, he told himself 
firmly. Not his clothes. Not anymore. 

He found his uniform and headed for the bath at the end of the hall. An 
hour later, freshly shaved, hair trimmed short and dressed in fatigues. 
Methos presented himself for orders. Not a word was said, not even a 
smile, but they both knew just how close to disaster he'd come. 

And later that night, Methos happily cleared out of the Horseman's room 
and found himself another.

Chapter 30

"God, I'm tired!" Methos sighed, sitting down and collapsing back on 
his bed. 

O'Neill stuck his head in the door, smiling. "But it's a good kind of 
tired. Isn't it, soldier?"

Methos groaned. Jack would have to pick the room next door! Not 
satisfied with just ditching his Horseman image, Methos had moved into 
the concubines' quarters. They were small, but nice. Homey, without 
being ostentatious. Everyone else had seemed to agree -- moving in 
right alongside him. Now, he lived in a dormitory.

"But two hundred pounds of lead!" Methos complained. "Where the hell 
are we going to get two hundred pounds?! And mercury? That stuff 
doesn't grow on trees out here. We can't just pop down to the local 
apothecary and put in an order!" Carter was out of her mind, he 
thought. They'd traipsed across the entire area for most of the day, 
lugging back bushels of rock and baskets of sand for her to examine. 
Now, she wanted them to start digging.

Daniel chose just that moment to walk by on his way to the bath down 
the hall. "Why can't we go to the local apothecary?"

Methos raised his head to stare for a moment then let it fall back with 
a sigh. "Do you really think an apothecary in this day and age would be 
in possession of ten pounds of mercury?"

"Maybe not one apothecary," Daniel agreed. "But several together might 
have enough. It was used in tinctures and--"

"I know what it's used for," Methos rolled his eyes and sat up on his 
elbows. "And yes, we could give it a try," he acknowledged. "Even if we 
don't succeed in getting all of it, we can probably get enough to make 
a couple of good thermometers. And once we build a proper kiln we can 
smelt the stuff out of the rock as we smelt for lead."

"That's the spirit, kids," O'Neill smiled proudly. "See what you can 
accomplish when you work together?"

Methos grimaced. He really didn't want to go into town at the moment. 
Too many uncomfortable memories there. On the other hand, this might be 
his opportunity to get out of the clay and sand hauling project O'Neill 
had planned for the morning. It was to be a real kiln this time, made 
of fired concrete bricks and mortar. "All right," Methos sighed 
tiredly. "With your permission, Colonel, Daniel and I will go into 
Zakoros in the morning."

"When we're done with the kiln," O'Neill told him, grinning. "Good try, 
though, Pierson. Nice. Polite. Said all the right words with just the 
right amount of reluctance. But you're making bricks with the rest of 
us and there's no getting out of it."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Methos told him airily, 
though he could see Daniel trying not to laugh. 

Was he becoming that transparent?! Methos fell back, staring at the 
ceiling in dismay. And when he got back, would the Highlander now see 
through his every machination? Good god! Now there was a frightening 


The day was too warm for the fall, Daniel thought as unrelieved 
shimmering waves of heat beat off the hard packed dirt of the road 
ahead. He glanced at the man walking beside him, his old friend, 
college buddy, sometimes study partner and now team mate. Methos, the 
ten thousand year old Immortal. Who strolled along humming under his 
breath. An old tune by The Police, of all things. 'Every little thing 
you do is magic...'

Wow, he thought for the thousandth time. Or, big fucking wow as Jack 
would say. Daniel looked back at the road, listening to the creak of 
the cart and the soft fall of the donkey's hooves plodding behind them. 
Now, here he was, off on a shopping expedition three thousand years in 
the past with a man who'd lived it

And what an anomaly that man was. So much of Adam in there -- probably 
a lot more than Methos would ever admit to. The same dry wit, piercing 
intelligence and a quiet, almost humble perspective on life. Someone 
who saw the big picture and his own small place within the whole. 
Acceptance on a grand scale with a vision to match. But not too grand 
to keep him from seeing all the little pictures. The snapshots that 
made up the lives of the mortals who surrounded him.

The idea was almost mind boggling, Daniel thought. And if Methos ever 
wondered why he'd never sat down with his notebook and tried to plumb 
every scrap of knowledge he could from his old friend the answer was 
simple. He didn't even know where to start. Still, there was one thing 
which had been bothering him. A question he'd been meaning to ask since 
he'd first selfishly roped shy, retiring Adam Pierson into the 
magnificent nightmare that was the SGC.

"Uh, Adam," he started, swallowing against the dust that clung to his 
lips. "I've been meaning to talk to you about something." The Immortal 
looked up, seemingly startled out of whatever pleasant reverie he'd 
been having. "Are you okay with all of this? Not," he gave a lopsided 
grin, shrugging at their surroundings, "just this. But the whole SGC 

Methos' eyes narrowed in confusion then he smiled wryly and gave a 
little half nod, half shrug before he spoke. "I admit I was pretty 
pissed at first. At the time my life was..." he sighed ruefully. 
"Evenly balanced, I suppose you could say. Just enough danger to keep 
me on my toes, a few good friends to hang out with -- the boredom 
mostly kept at bay while I just sort of cruised along. Getting dumped 
on your ass into the middle of a war zone is always a shocker, but," he 
smiled. "All in all, I guess I'm okay with it. If I weren't, I would 
have been long since gone."

Daniel nodded thoughtfully. "Okay. 'Cause I was worried, you know? 
Just... Well... Because it's my fault you're in this mess. And I'm 

"Don't be," Methos told him gently. "We're all in this mess, Danny. And 
not just us, but the whole world -- even if they don't know it yet. You 
know," he went on, returning admission with admission and kindness for 
kindness. "For most of my life I've run from things -- especially 
involvement in anything that smacked of The Greater Good. Even when I 
was involved, it wasn't really me. Just whoever I happened to be as the 
moment required it. If David Benjamin was a clerk at a law office in 
London working toward the bar and everyone around him was mobilizing to 
fight the Hun, he enlisted and became a clerk in the war office working 
toward the same goal as they were."

"And now?" Daniel asked quietly.

Methos gave a self-deprecating snort of laughter. "Now, I'm walking 
down a road I've walked a thousand times before, except this time it's 
me on the journey. Not the Horseman, or the nameless traveler, or even 
Adam Pierson playing Methos, ancient Immortal on a mission to thwart 
the Goa'uld from destroying his planet. It's just... Me."

"And you have no defense against that," Daniel observed.

"None," Methos whispered softly, looking slightly shocked by the 
perceptiveness of Daniel's comment.

"Well, you're not alone," he told him gently. "That's how it is for 
most of us. No masks. Just us."

"True," Methos smiled sadly. "But that doesn't make the experience any 
less unnerving for us novices."

The road ahead curved around a large stand of trees and on the other 
side, laid out below, was the city of Zakoros. Not a village this time, 
but a real city. Even now on Crete the standard of living was fairly 
high, though on the mainland, rich and poor alike might live in one or 
two room houses. Here, at least within the cities, even the poor often 
had five or six rooms subdivided by pier and door partitions and split 
between two floors. And while Zakoros was not the largest port on the 
island, it was still the most strategically located at the southeastern 
edge of the island and home to many traders and merchants interested in 
goods from Egypt, Africa and Arabia. 

Dirt paths changed to wide cobblestone streets lined with two and three 
story buildings painted in bright shades of red, blue or yellow and 
every shade in between as they made their way into the city. It was 
mid-morning and the shops were open, men and women going about their 
business as children ran and played in the streets.

As they reached the merchant quarter Methos nodded toward the west. 
"The apothecary shops are just off Divination Street to the left of 
Whistling Alley. You can't miss it. There's a big bronze statue of the 
Goddess at the corner."

"You're not coming with me?" Daniel asked surprised.

"This was your idea," Methos told him. "Besides, I've got to get some 

"Like what?"

Methos gave him an assessing stare then suddenly smiled. "Are you 
hungry?" he asked abruptly. 

Daniel shrugged. "There's food in the pack if--"

"Oh, not for that," Methos interrupted. "See the blue door over 
there," he whispered, discreetly pointing to their right. "Behind that 
door are the most glorious sausages ever made. And beer. Good enough to 
stand a spoon in."

"You know I don't really like beer," Daniel reminded him.

"Yes, and I've always thought less of you for it," Methos commented. 
"But failings aside, you're my friend, so I thought I'd invite you 
along. Anyway, they do have wine -- for those poor souls among us who 
can't stand up to the beer."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Daniel grimaced. "Besides, Jack will kill us 
if we come back drunk."

Methos rolled his eyes. "Okay. One beer, or cup of wine," he allowed. 
"But as many sausages as we can stomach. And we'll bring back plenty 
for the others."

Daniel considered for a moment. "If you forget the beer and get the 
sausages to go, I'm in."

"But it comes with!" Methos complained. "It'd be an insult not to have 

"Then get it to go, too," Daniel said, annoyed. "Look, you might enjoy 
being Jack's minion now, but you'll hate it when he demotes you to 
worthless lackey if he finds out you were drinking on duty."

"It's just beer," Methos muttered angrily.

Daniel sighed and shook his head. "Trust me on this, Adam. You don't 
know Jack as well as I do. If you don't have any now, but bring it back 
for everyone to share later, he'll look the other way when you want a 
pint with lunch every day. Break the regs first and he'll ride you to 
hell and back for doing it."

Yeah. That sounded about right, Methos thought, frowning in disgust. 
O'Neill was quirky that way. In Jack's book, trust was a two way 
street. If he trusted the colonel to be fair, he'd be trusted to drink 
appropriately later. O'Neill wouldn't feel as if he'd done something 
behind his back. Strange how in the last two modern wars he'd served in 
the exact opposite had been true. A man was trusted to know when to 
drink and that he would do so in moderation. A sort of gentleman's 
agreement that was the rule of the day. Now, one had to earn the right 
to be trusted.

"Okay, we'll get it all to go, but you're still on your own for the 
mercury," he said as Daniel smiled gratefully. "While I," Methos 
grimaced. "Will very soberly be buying livestock and poultry. God, I 
hate this job!"


"What's that?" Methos asked as a pair of slaves loaded several large 
amphorae into the back of the wagon.

"A surprise," Daniel grinned, turning back to bow deeply to the ancient 
apothecary, who handed him a small glass jar along with a bundle of 
wrapped leather. "And enough mercury to get us started."

Methos raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. The old man, who looked to 
be of Egyptian descent, seemed happy enough with his customer and 
whatever purchases he'd made. He nodded to Methos and went back inside 
followed by his slaves.

"Looks like you did okay, too," Daniel commented, noting the cages of 
chickens, geese, doves and turtles already in the cart, while behind, 
four goats, a ram, three pigs and a milk cow were tied to the back.

"Yeah. And if anybody gives me any lip about the big steak dinner I'm 
planning for the night before we leave, there'll be no joy in Mudville 
for anyone. At least until we get back and I take Teal'c to dinner at 

"No lip from me," Daniel grinned as he tucked the smaller purchases 
into his pack. "But you might want to rethink O'Malley's. Stetson's off 
the parkway serves Black Angus on free beer night."

Methos gave him a sour smile. "Yes, but then you three would show up 
and stick me with the check."

"What else are friends for?" Daniel joked as they led the cart toward 
the northwest road.

"That's what I said to MacLeod," Methos grinned amiably. "Then I very 
kindly explained the ancient tradition of the household leech and what 
an honor it was to have me as his."

Daniel laughed. In Greek and Roman times anyone who showed up right 
before a meal was always invited to partake with the family. And the 
wealthier one was the more friends one had conveniently dropping in 
with a bit of news or gossip to ease their way. And it was indeed 
considered an honor. 

"I'll bet that went over well," he grinned, having met the thrifty 

"Like a lead balloon given MacLeod's disdain for anything that came 
before Columbus discovered America."

"I never got that," Daniel admitted. "People who don't want to know 
anything about history. If you don't know where you've been..."

"How can you possibly know where you're going," Methos finished with a 
wry smile as they shared the old joke.

They went on chatting about everything and nothing as they left 
Zakoros, reaching the villa a few hours later just as the sun was 
beginning to set. O'Neill and the others met them as they came up the 

"I thought you were going to get supplies to replace the stuff we'll be 
using?" O'Neill asked tersely, staring in dismay at the animals.

"Why bother?" Methos asked with a shrug. "I handled all the household 
accounts. I'll just tickle the books a bit before we go and I'll never 
know I was here."

"That makes some kind of sense," O'Neill's brow creased with confusion. 
"Just don't ask me what."

Methos grinned as they joined the others in unloading the supplies. 
Carter was pleased with the amount of mercury Daniel had purchased as 
well as the few medicinal herbs he'd managed to find.

"So, what's in the jars?" she asked as O'Neill swung the first one down 
and handed it off to Teal'c.

"Just some coffee beans," Daniel said casually. "I sort of ran into the 
local Juan Valdez."

The others went stock still as he rambled on. 

"You know, coffee originally came from Arabia," he went on, ignoring 
their expressions. "Neftu, the apothecary, he says his father bought a 
cart load from some Phoenician traders who kept it for ballast. His dad 
used it to make poultices and he still uses it in most of his medicinal 
teas. I guess as a source of caffeine -- which does have some well 
known therapeutic qualities, but--"

"Coffee!" O'Neill finally blurted, not having heard another word Daniel 
had said after the magic one. "You got us COFFEE!"

"That's what the man said," Methos whispered. "And I went and bought a 
bloody milk cow. We can actually have cream in our coffee."

"And butter," Carter sighed. "With real homemade bread."

"Teal'c," Jack ordered. "You handle that funny looking jug with care."

"Yes, Colonel O'Neill. I too have developed a certain fondness for this 
particular beverage."

Methos suddenly frowned. "Makes what I got seem small by comparison." 
The others looked to him with questioning glances. "Just the world's 
best sausages and beer. I also stopped by my favorite sweet shop. They 
make the most marvelous little pastries."

"Beer and sausages for dinner, followed by coffee and cake." O'Neill 
sighed expansively, putting an arm around each man's shoulders. 
"Sometimes, campers, it's good to be alive!"

"Even if it's in the wrong century?" Daniel asked, grinning widely.

"Well," O'Neill responded as he released them and gently lifted out 
another coffee filled amphorae. "As my old man used to say. 'Sometimes, 
son, y' can't have everything -- but it sure as hell beats havin' 

Chapter 31

Methos woke at the rooster's crow, sighing as he roused himself from 
his bed. O'Neill might have given everyone a day off because the 
foundation and bricks for the kiln were still drying, but they all 
still had their daily duties. In addition to being supply officer, he 
was nominally in charge of caring for the horses and donkey, though the 
others always volunteered to help. Now though, since he'd gone and made 
this place a working farm, he assumed they would have their own animals 
to take care of. And he was right.  Methos smiled briefly as he came 
down the stairs and found coffee already brewing in the kitchen -- 
along with O'Neill divvying up the chores as he prepared the duty 
roster which generally hung on his door.

"You've lived on a farm before," Methos commented as he poured himself 
a cup, taking the opportunity to peer over the colonel's shoulder.

Jack nodded absently, accepting a refill. "Spent a couple of summers 
with my insane Uncle Frank and his wacky cousin, Chuck."

"Why insane?" Methos asked curiously, leaning against the large stone 
worktable where O'Neill sat.

"Uncle Frank was an honest to god loony with the papers to prove it. 
Got a Section 8 out of 'Nam in '67. Escaped the bin to go to Woodstock. 
Then, for reasons known only to him, bought a farm in Upstate New York 
and started raising poultry. We called it the Chicken Hilton 'cause the 
hen house was heated but the main house wasn't." 

"That makes him cheap, not crazy," Methos offered.

"Using the outhouse at night was a real trip," Jack went on. "He and 
Chuck would lay in wait and shout 'Incoming!' before firing buckshot at 
me and the cousins. Believe me," he grinned. "We learned how to duck 
and roll real fast."

"That makes him crazy," Methos finally nodded.

"Nah!" O'Neill shook his head, stretching languorously in his chair. 
"He just wanted to prepare us for the war ahead -- because in his mind 
there was always going to be one. What made him crazy was his choice of 
decor. Every time one of the animals died he'd cut off its head and 
nail it to a tree as a keepsake of the dear departed."

"A deeply disturbed man," Methos murmured, sipping his coffee.

"Yeah," O'Neill agreed. "But he's still my favorite uncle. Frank never 
lied, never bullshitted anyone, and never made any excuses for what he 
was. He knew he was crazy and he liked himself just fine."

"And you call me warped," Methos twisted his lips in a wry smile.

"True. But I like y' just fine."

Methos chuckled. Jack's uncle might be a lunatic, but he also sounded 
like a fairly straightforward guy. At the very least, he'd passed that 
on to his nephew. "Someday I'd like to meet your Uncle Frank."

"Sure," O'Neill nodded. "If you can make it past the dogs without 
losing any body parts he'll talk to you. Otherwise, you'll be picking 
buckshot out of your torn up behind."

They were both laughing when the others joined them, though neither 
would reveal what the joke was. O'Neill handed off the duty roster and 
everyone had a look with their coffee. Chores would be done in rotation 
with no one stuck doing anything they detested for very long. It was a 
fair system and with some brief instruction from O'Neill, Carter and 
Teal'c went off to take care of the poultry, while Daniel had the 
stables and Methos went with Jack to the barn.

By the time the sun was fully up everything that needed doing was done 
and Methos went back to his room to change and retrieve his sword. He 
went down to the practice hall where there was plenty of space and a 
good gypsum floor. For the past several months, except during the sea 
voyage, he'd been pretty faithful in doing an abbreviated version of 
his kata every day. It took only forty-five minutes as compared to 
three or four hours, but he still felt as though he'd been slacking 

"What brought this on?" O'Neill asked when Methos finally finished the 
last movement and went to get some water. He and Teal'c had shown up 
for their own workout about half way through then sparred for a while 
with the practice swords. Methos hadn't been the least bit surprised 
that O'Neill really did know how to use a sword. Given some of the 
areas of the world in which he'd probably done covert ops, it was a 
good skill to have. He looked around for Teal'c before responding, 
assuming when he didn't see the big Jaffa that he'd gone off to do his 
meditation, or maybe find another wooden conversational partner.

"Seemed like a good idea," Methos told him. "I felt another Immortal 
brush past me in Zakoros. Kind of reminded me we were moving back into 
civilized territory."

"He didn't challenge you, did he?" O'Neill asked worriedly.

Methos shook his head and hefted his sword. "Probably a young one still 
wet behind the ears. Felt me and ran, I suppose. Smart teachers tell 
their students to wait a century or more before accepting a challenge. 
If they can avoid it, that is. Gives them a better emotional balance 
when they understand what it truly means to be Immortal. And the young 
are easy targets," he added. He should know, he thought sadly. He'd 
taken enough immature Quickenings as a Horseman to have become 
disgusted with the concept early on. "But as we move into the cities," 
Methos went on. "There will very likely be more seasoned Immortals 
wanting to fight. I'd rather not if I have a choice, but it's best to 
be prepared."

"Then you've got a choice," O'Neill told him. "From now on one of us 
will go with you whenever you go into town."

"You can't interfere in the Game," Methos responded tersely.

"No, but we can give you a choice. If you don't feel like playing one 
of us can shoot him and you can walk away. No harm, no foul. Besides, 
you aren't supposed to be here with your game face on anyway."

"I hadn't thought of that," Methos admitted. "And since that really is 
the case you won't need to accompany me. I've no problem with cheating 
the rules on occasion. And I can shoot just as well as any of you can."

"Oooh. A challenge."

Methos only smiled, resting his sword against his shoulder. "Got 
anything left for me, old man?" he asked, moving back out onto the 

O'Neill nodded slowly and picked up his sword. "I think I can still 
manage a few rounds -- Grandpa."

Chapter 32

Gray clouds hovered over the island while rain drummed on rooftops and 
cobblestone streets, running in endless channels down the hillsides to 
pool in muddy rivers and fill ravines. It thrummed incessantly. At 
first, pleasantly distracting then annoyingly so, until at last it 
simply became a constant state of being -- damp and chilly, or wet and 
miserable. It didn't matter which to the members of SG-1, they were 
sick of it and going stir crazy.

It pattered on the slate roof above the warm, dry kitchen where most of 
the team took refuge when they weren't busy in one of the workrooms 
that lined the west wing of the mansion. There was a potter's shop, a 
weaving room, a cutting and dying room for leather, cloth and other 
items, even rooms for wood working and stone cutting. All the things 
any large home, Minoan or otherwise required to be self-sufficient.

After four months on Kronos' little mountain top, they'd mined and dug, 
hauled and shoveled, then carried and smelted enough rock to extract 
all the minerals they needed. In addition, the finest, most tightly 
woven linen in villa's stores had been cut to size for each member of 
the team and painted with a mixture of lead, mercury and charcoal. 
Quilted together with the thin Mylar emergency blankets they'd carried 
in their packs and in the med kit, Methos and Carter had created the 
radiation suits they'd require. They were hot, stiff and uncomfortable, 
but they were what they had.

That done, their current project was to create a containment unit for 
whatever they found inside the Ark. They'd kicked the idea around for 
several days before finally deciding that a blanket of lead, foldable 
and easily carried even at seventy pounds, was probably the best 
solution to the problem. Not knowing what size the object would be had 
been an important concern. Therefore, they needed to prepare for any 
eventuality. Which meant having the ability to wrap the contents -- of 
whatever size or shape it turned out to be -- enough times to create a 
proper seal in the precise thickness required.

Methos rubbed tired eyes as he stared at the numbers again, trying to 
make sense out of the fact that his formulae to synthesize appropriate 
anti-radiation medications were simply not adding up. He had all the 
materials he needed -- had in fact distilled and mixed the correct 
chemicals in the correct amounts according to the breakdown of 
components in the related drugs he'd found in the med kit. Still, 
something was missing. The delicate balance between what constituted a 
poison to the body -- and truthfully, all medication was essentially 
poison if administered incorrectly -- and what promoted healing. At 
this rate, he thought, tossing down his pen in disgust, he was never 
going to finish in time!

He picked up the vial of Rituxan, just one of several drugs he'd been 
working with, some of which he hadn't even known existed and that he 
suspected were probably classified. He tried not to think about what 
they might have meant for Alexa, dying painfully and slowly in that 
hospital in Switzerland where he'd taken her in a last ditch effort to 
prevent her death. Then again, the military didn't need government 
approval to try new medications. From his experience, they went by a 
different policy. Cure it now and worry about the side effects later.

The Rituxan, though still experimental for the general public, wasn't 
exactly new. A monoclonal antibody without a radioisotope which worked 
by targeting cancer cells before they could grow by delivering small 
doses of radiation directly to the cancer. And like all the anti-
radiation drugs in the kit its purpose was to prevent the immediate and 
widespread rapid growth of cancers and lymphomas which sudden exposure 
to large doses of radiation caused, and which were among the primary 
causes of death associated with radiation sickness. Still, whatever was 
in these vials, including the Rituxan, was definitely cutting edge 

Maybe it's in the synthesizing process, he thought tiredly, getting up 
to go find Carter. The last time he'd seen her she was with O'Neill, 
who was taking his turn at playing blacksmith and hammering out the 
lead ingots they needed to make into sheets to build the containment 

He found her in the hall talking quietly with Teal'c and waited a 
discreet distance away. A moment later, she paused in her conversation 
just long enough to look his way.

"A quick question, Major," Methos said, holding up the vial of Rituxan. 
"Do you know where these drugs were manufactured?"

"The space shuttle or Mir," she answered succinctly, turning back to 
Teal'c as Methos quickly blanked his expression.

No wonder, he thought, sitting heavily as he found a seat on a bench in 
another corridor. With a slow shake of his head he stared at the vial 
in his hands. He might have guessed, he thought ruefully. Plants grown 
in a weightless, hydroponics environment had properties unlike any 
others. No parasitic impurities from the soil and no loss of key 
nutrients expended in the struggle to rise above the planet's gravity. 
This in turn created greater concentrations of whatever chemicals might 
be extracted from the plants -- and in purer forms than could ever 
occur in nature, because they were essentially mutations of the plants 
themselves. Meaning, he realized with a sickening twist in his gut, 
that the very process used to manufacture the drugs made them 
impossible to duplicate without the exact same facilities.

Methos' hand tightened around the vial. Gods above and below, he wasn't 
going to have enough! Not to treat everybody at once. And that was the 
plan. For everyone to go in together, retrieve the Ark, bury the 
package and get through the Stargate fast enough to be treated properly 
at the SGC.

Of course, he thought, quickly calming himself, the others did have 
their anti-toxin kits which contained pre-measured single doses of 
everything from the antidote to Anthrax to morphine. Carter had told 
him as much when she'd handed over the drugs in the kit for him to work 
with. If that was the case, maybe it wasn't as hopeless as he imagined. 
It all depended on just how much exposure they'd be risking even with 
the suits.

Methos stood and headed for the empty workroom Carter had claimed for 
her office. He needed to look at her original figures from the Egypt 

Not surprisingly, Methos knew a little something about radiation. After 
the Americans had dropped the first atomic bomb, he'd made it his 
business to know. An Immortal standing at ground zero had no better 
chance of surviving the unleashed power of the sun than any mortal. And 
who knew what could affect Immortal physiology, since even they didn't 
know what made them so. Over the years, given the advances in both 
medicine and weaponry, he'd kept up with his studies. Especially when 
it had come up as a treatment option for Alexa.

He found Carter's laptop open on the table and booted it up. He knew 
she wouldn't mind his using it. After all, she'd given him the password 
so he could work on synthesizing the drugs. And of course, any 
classified material he wasn't supposed to see were locked and encrypted 
in separate files. But her findings on the radioactivity at the site 
weren't off limits. 

He found the file easily, quickly skimming through the document until 
he found what he wanted. Then sat staring numbly at the screen as he 
added it all up.

According to her report, normal background radiation was approximately 
1 to 2 millisieverts, or mSv, per year, while 5 mSv in a sudden single 
exposure was a definite cancer risk -- and 20 mSv annually was 
considered acceptable for radiation workers -- though he'd read 
evidence from Nagasaki and Hiroshima to suggest that one could survive 
a sudden exposure of 200 mSv with cancers and other treatable health 
problems. The estimated leakage from the false Ark before opening, 
Carter had surmised, was approximately 500 mSv. Adding that 5,000 mSv 
was a probable figure for the true Ark given the amount of damage it 
had caused to the Horsemen -- a dose which had been almost instantly 
lethal on opening.

And the fake? Methos shook his head, closing his eyes to the horror on 
the screen. From the isotopes found in the desert Carter had 
extrapolated a sudden exposure to 20,000 mSv. A figure not survivable 
by any means. At least not in the primitive gear they'd be wearing. 
Even with pre-treatment the others might last only long enough to get 
the Ark out and buried. There'd be no chance whatsoever that they'd 
make it to the ship. And Carter had to know that.

Methos hurriedly erased any evidence of his presence on the computer, 
shutting it down and leaving just as quickly. 

Good god! he thought angrily as he made his way to his quarters. What 
kind of game was the woman playing?! Did Jack know about this?

Methos stopped in his tracks in the hall outside his room. "He has to 
know," he whispered softly. O'Neill commanded troops in a nuclear age 
army. Whether air, sea or ground forces, it wouldn't matter. A working 
knowledge of what posed an acceptable risk to personnel and what 
constituted a lethal exposure would be required reading. For all that 
he pretended to be less than sharp when it came to cracking the books, 
O'Neill was no one's fool. And if that was so, then what was going on?

He glanced at the door to O'Neill's room, knowing there was only one 
way to find out for sure. Without hesitation, Methos slipped inside the 
colonel's room going right to the shelf where he'd seen what he needed 
before. O'Neill's mission diary. The notes he made on every foray 
through the Stargate to be later used in his reports. He went to the 
window where the light was better and started reading, his heart 
sinking deeper with every word.

Not only did O'Neill know this was a suicide mission, but Carter and 
Teal'c knew as well. Of course, the Jaffa would have guessed, Methos 
realized sickly. He would have seen the evidence of his fate in the 
dead Jaffa bodies aboard the ship. If they hadn't survived, he wouldn't 
either. And he'd been the one to come up with this insane plan in the 
first place. Together, they were shielding he and Daniel.

Well, Daniel he could understand, Methos thought sadly. The boy didn't 
need to know the truth. That would be too cruel. Giving him the 
knowledge that they would succeed in saving the world, but die 
painfully and horribly in the process wasn't something you told a non-
combatant volunteer. But him?! Methos wondered with a sense of shock. 
Why shield the Immortal? The radiation wasn't going to kill him!

Morale, Methos realized as he read further. This whole elaborate plan 
had been hatched not simply to protect Daniel, but to keep Methos from 
feeling badly when they all died. 

"Shit!" he muttered, sliding down against the wall to sit on the floor. 
O'Neill was worried he'd feel guilty because of their sacrifice. The 
colonel's reasoning was plain, even between the lines. He would never 
have asked Methos to go in alone to remove the Ark. Not when it meant 
the very definite possibility that he wouldn't make it back to the 
gate. And as much as they'd planned for stealth, the reality was they'd 
likely have to fight their way through. That had been the reason for 
everyone sticking together in the first place. They couldn't take the 
chance that anyone would be left behind.

Especially him, Methos thought as he read the last entry in the diary, 
his chest going tight with emotion. It was a letter from O'Neill. A 
letter addressed to him. A letter he knew Methos would eventually find. 

"My friend," it started.

"I know this is hard. We didn't want to leave you like this -- alone 
and out of place in this time. But I figured that somehow this was 
going to happen no matter what. Don't kid yourself, Pierson, we knew 
the choices. Go out as a team or sit back, live comfortably and wait to 
die -- hoping like hell you managed to make it another 3,000 years to 
pull our collective asses out of the fire. Not fair! That wasn't what 
you signed on for. Then there was that other choice. The one I nipped 
in the bud before you even thought about making the offer. No way was I 
sending you in alone. You'd be totally defenseless! Dead, half dead, or 
too sick to protect yourself without back up -- and all these guys have 
swords! Besides, I had my orders..."

Orders? Methos thought, confused. What orders?

"'re not allowed to die."

Oh, Methos thought, chagrined. Those orders.

"Be that as it may," O'Neill went on. "I figured this was the best 
solution. We didn't belong here anyway and the longer we stayed the 
greater the risk we'd change history and screw it all up. So don't kick 
yourself for not figuring it out in time. I know you're a smart guy. 
Way smarter than me, especially when it comes to the science stuff! But 
I think you kind of liked us, so I know this has got to hurt. And I 
suppose once you realized what we'd done you gave us the coup de grace. 
There had to be more than enough morphine in the kit to make it easy on 
us. So, thanks for that!"

Methos inhaled deeply and briefly shut his eyes. God, how much courage 
had this taken to write? Thank you for helping us die? And yes, he 
admitted silently. That's exactly what he'd have done given just that 
happenstance. He looked back at the page, swallowing hard.

"And on the subject of the med kit, Pierson. If you're still hanging 
around the area feeling sorry for yourself, I want you to use the drugs 
Carter gave you to keep yourself fit and get the hell out. I mean it! 
You're still our one chance at immortality, selfish as that sounds. In 
any case, right now you have a choice. In 3,000 years you can try and 
stop us from going to the ship and change the outcome -- or not. 
Without the radiation factor we'll just fly her out. We'll live, your 
counterpart will live and so will you. And I don't think it's such a 
bad thing having two of you around.

"So, I guess that's it, except for my final orders. I had Daniel make 
up a list of places you can hide. Just in case, I told him, because he 
didn't know about all this. I couldn't do that to him. I was supposed 
to protect him, damn it! That was my job! And yeah, I know, you've 
lived here before -- but not like you are now. Which sort of makes it a 
To Do list. Or maybe a Not To Do list! They're mostly locations on holy 
ground that won't get overrun during the next three thousand years. 
Gives you pretty good odds, even if you'll probably be bored out of 
your mind! And you've got money now. If you've found this book then 
you've checked the packs and found the stones Carter and I set aside 
for you. Which makes my orders simple: Take your own good advice. Live. 
Grow stronger. Fight another day!"

It was signed, "Warmest regards, Col. J. O'Neill, USAF."

Unable to breathe, Methos glanced at the post script. "Be a good minion 
and remember Mr. Tums. He's in my pack with all the other friends I 
introduced you to. Take care. GS."

Laughing softly Methos wiped at his eyes, ignoring the list and putting 
the diary back exactly where he'd found it. He checked the corridor and 
slipped out, going down the back stairs to the stables. Passing the 
kitchen he caught sight of Daniel and called out that he was going for 
a ride.

"In the rain?!" the archaeologist shouted, but Methos pretended not to 
hear as he hurried past.

He couldn't recall having ever read a more painful letter, he realized 
as he saddled one of the mares. We love you, remember us, live for us, 
goodbye. Oh god! he thought, resting his forehead against the saddle as 
grief and guilt nearly overwhelmed his heart. What had he ever done to 
deserve all that?

With an effort of will he stilled his emotions just long enough to 
swing onto the saddle and ride out. His tears flowed in silence like 
the rain, washing his cheeks with dripping warmth. And it was not 
enough to say he hurt, but that he ached with such profound sorrow the 
agony was indescribable. They were here and then they were gone. That's 
how it was with mortals. It was like Alexa all over again, but worse.

She'd known she was dying. Helpless in the face of an unrelenting 
illness she'd never imagined having to face. He'd stood by her, 
watching her live for those precious months they'd shared. And oh, how 
she'd lived, just for the sake of saying she was alive.

But this? he thought, feeling sick to his stomach. O'Neill was living 
to die. Inexorably working toward that goal just as surely as the 
cancer had worked it's way through Alexa. Teal'c and Carter as well. 
All doing their best to make sure he and Daniel didn't suffer, while 
they'd lived since the beginning with this charade. Never in all his 
days had he met such courage. And Immortals thought they were tough! 

"This is so not happening!" Methos muttered as he pulled the mare up 
short. They were not going to die like that. Not if he had anything to 
say about it! And certainly not in the joyless pursuit of death. 
O'Neill was right. He had a choice. In fact, he had all the choices 
Time had to offer.

But how to stop it? he wondered. Simply speaking with O'Neill wouldn't 
do it. The only thing that could come of that would be the other man's 
sense of failure. He'd feel sad that Methos knew the truth, having 
wanted to spare him. But it wouldn't make a difference in what he truly 
believed he had to do. And then of course, he'd watch Methos like a 
hawk to make sure he couldn't interfere.

No, Methos sighed, steeling his heart to the task ahead. He'd have to 
be far subtler than that. He couldn't possibly let on that he knew. And 
he couldn't let anyone sense something wrong. He'd have to pretend he'd 
never seen those numbers, never read that letter -- and in the 
meantime, he would have to plot.

Chapter 33

The children were playing in the courtyard and Methos was enjoying the 
sight. All right, he admitted, not just the sight, but the game as 
well. After all, he'd thought this one up. All part of his master plan 
to distract and disarm his clever opponents. Four could play at that 
game, he thought slyly.

Of course, they still had all their little projects -- make work 
essentially. In the two months which had passed since he'd discovered 
O'Neill's secret they'd completed the blanket while he'd prepared a 
host of anti-nausea drugs and pain medications. The drugs were more of 
a ruse than a precaution, since he had no intention of letting the 
others get anywhere near the site before they had to leave. And leave 
they would, he thought, applauding as Carter finished the obstacle 
course in record time.

"If the Horsemen could see this place now," Daniel commented, looking 
around the ornate front courtyard as he hopped down from the 
lightweight wicker chariot he'd been driving to pet the goat which had 
carried him to a second place finish.

"They'd have enjoyed it," Methos grinned. "We were simple fellows 
really. Easily amused. Especially Silas. He could watch jugglers for 
hours and never get bored. Kronos liked sporting events. While Caspian 
adored puppet shows. Add in books and music and that was pretty much 
all we had -- other than sex and violence. Which gets to be really 
boring if that's all you do all the time."

"Okay, campers," O'Neill said as he unhitch his goat from its chariot. 
"Playtime's over. Let's get this place cleared and get back to work."

No one complained. The few hours of fun had alleviated the tension and 
stress which had sprung up in their unconventional household over the 
past two weeks. The grunt work done, they'd moved on to studying 
Teal'c's model of the Goa'uld ship and outlining a plan to infiltrate 
the ship's systems. 

Of course, the plan was nearly flawless. O'Neill, Carter and Teal'c had 
taken great pains to make it realistic. It was the one glaring error 
which Methos caught -- but didn't mention -- that would have rung alarm 
bells even if he hadn't uncovered their counterfeit planning. At no 
point had O'Neill or Carter even suggested building in time for 
radiation decontamination. And the suits would be hot. Nearly as 
radioactive as whatever material they'd be burying. Stepping out of 
them without proper cleansing of their gear and themselves would be 
just as suicidal as not wearing them. But Methos said nothing. Merely 
drilled along with the others until he was certain that they knew the 
plan inside and out -- even if they didn't believe they'd ever make use 
of it.

After dinner that night they finally talked about Egypt. What they 
might find, how long it would take to get there and how they would live 
once they arrived. After more than a year on the road, no one was 
really looking forward to the next phase of their journey. Not even 
Daniel, who'd spent many days in Zakoros talking to his friend Neftu, 
the apothecary, who'd promised to arrange transportation for them to 
Sais with the son of a trader he knew well. The man always went in the 
spring, Daniel had been told. Arriving at the northernmost Egyptian 
port city at the beginning of June, just as the Nile began to rise in 
her yearly flood.

"So, when do we leave?" Carter asked.

"If all goes according to plan," Methos responded. "Another month."

"That puts us well into May," O'Neill remarked in disgust. "Eighteen 
months to go eight hundred miles. I'll never complain about commercial 
transportation again."

Methos grinned. "Won't help. I still bitch and moan about flight delays 
and cancellations. And all things considered," he added. "We've moved 
pretty quickly for the times. Normally, a journey like this would have 
taken three, maybe four years."

O'Neill grimaced. "Remind me to pay a visit to Kitty Hawk and bow down 
before the graven images of Wilbur and Orville Wright."

"And how long will it take to get to the site once we reach Egypt?" 
Daniel wanted to know.

Methos shrugged. "Two or three weeks on the river down to Athribis, 
then another hundred or so miles. A month. More if we run into trouble 
and have to detour."

"What kind of trouble?" Carter asked.

"By the time we get there, news of Shishak's illness will have gotten 
around. The Nile Delta's his home turf, so I don't expect any real 
unrest. But there's certain to be troops headed for Thebes in 
anticipation of problems. There's always someone wanting to take 
advantage of a perceived weakness. Strangers are likely to be 
questioned at the ports and doubtless won't be welcome in much of the 

"Suits me fine," O'Neill muttered. "We're not here to make friends and 
influence people."

Despite Daniel's look of disappointment Methos had to agree. "Have you 
managed to pin down a date yet for the arrival of the Goa'uld ship?" he 
asked Carter.

She shook her head. "The radiation made it nearly impossible to get 
accurate readings. But I'd guess within three to six months. We should 
make it there well within the time frame."

If that was the best they could do, then so be it, Methos thought. As 
long as O'Neill's intelligence maps were correct, and the underground 
caves they had markings for were still there, they'd have safe drinking 
water -- no matter how long they had to wait. And he could always hunt 
for game. Antelope and gazelle abounded in that area, though they'd 
need to be checked for radiation.

"Well," O'Neill yawned which set everyone but Teal'c to doing the same. 
"I'm off to bed," the colonel told them as he stood up. "Remember, 
tomorrow morning we start drilling in the suits. G' night, campers."

Methos stared thoughtfully after the others as they left the kitchen.

"Don't worry, Adam," Daniel paused at the door. "If Sam says it's safe 
and Jack thinks we can make it, then we can. It'll be all right."

Methos gave him a kindly smile. "Yes, I'm sure it will be."


The winter rains had ended weeks ago. The sun, an occasional visitor 
until then, now seemed a perpetual resident. bathing the lush island in 
tropical warmth. In centuries to come, Methos knew, millennia actually, 
much of Crete's beauty, like so much of the world, would be destroyed 
by deforestation. He sighed, staring out at the sweet green land and 
the rich blue of the sea beyond. Which meant that even if SG-1 didn't 
succeed in making it back through the Stargate, they would still have 
this. Either way, they would live. For he had no doubt that O'Neill 
would be able to overcome any Goa'uld opposition. As for himself, he 
suspected it would not be easy, but honor demanded he try.

Honor, he thought with a smirk as he packed the last of his gear. How 
MacLeod would have laughed if he'd heard the selfish, self-serving 
Methos speaking of such things. Of course, the Highlander would never 
understand. Chivalric honor had nothing to do with the real thing. True 
honor was the pursuit of Justice in the name of Family or Friendship. 
Not for piddling slights or perceived insults, but to protect and 
defend against danger or instability. In ancient days, an insult to 
one's mother or sister might result in a loss of social status creating 
a loss of economic stability threatening the whole family and must 
therefore be answered accordingly. The same was true with friendship. 
Failure to aid and protect those who freely offered such a gift would 
likely result in the gift never being offered again -- by anybody. Once 
a man ignored the honest needs of a friend he was surely headed down 
the path of life completely friendless. 

To his mind, MacLeod seemed to think friendship meant wheedling favors 
for foolish endeavors, like saving other people's marriages. But honor 
wasn't about correcting the vagaries and happenstance of life, it was 
about survival. Living with one's self day in and day out -- by making 
sure those around you who cared enough to take the time to offer you a 
place in their lives without asking anything in return except a place 
in yours remained safe from real harm. No, MacLeod would never 
understand the choices he made. Especially not the one he was making 

Methos closed his pack and placed it by the door. Tonight would be his 
final one here. In the morning they would be gone and his past at last 

Definitely calls for a steak dinner, he thought, smiling. And beer. Now 
if only he could get past the police cordon around the cow O'Neill and 
Carter had been threatening.

Chapter 34

Limbs brown as nuts, hair dark as coal, the members of SG-1 blended 
easily into the crowd on the quay at Sais. Unlike their last voyage 
this one had been relatively smooth. The big trading ship, seventy feet 
long and designed to carry passengers as well as cargo of all kinds, 
made the three hundred mile trip to the mouth of the Delta in only a 
week. Good winds and fresh oarsmen eager to make port made the journey 
swift. And unlike their Greek counterparts, the Minoans had no fear of 
open water, or night sailing. Their only delay had been waiting three 
days for the Nile to rise sufficiently to allow them passage past the 
great sand bars that blocked the bigger ships from entering the 
channel. They'd spent most of that time relaxing. O'Neill napped, 
Teal'c carved, Daniel talked to everybody and Methos braided Samantha's 
hair, so that at first glance she looked typically Egyptian. 

As they disembarked Teal'c led the way to the customs official, 
declaring himself the head of his household. The officer, a mid-level 
scribe working for the government barely glanced up from his papyrus as 
he asked a few questions. Why were they here, where were they going and 
did they plan to remain. To each inquiry Teal'c responded simply. They 
were in Egypt to visit his elderly parents in Athribis and did not plan 
to stay longer than a year. 

The official nodded, writing it all down. He asked for a list of goods 
they wished to declare and Teal'c handed it over. Three horses, one 
donkey, a cart and some foodstuffs for personal use. Again the man 
wrote in his scroll then reached into the basket beside him taking out 
a small wooden plaque. He scratched their names on it, listing their 
destination and a description of their property, then scratched his own 
name at the bottom. He named a fee, rather high given that they had so 
little to declare, but Teal'c paid it stoically and the scribe handed 
over the pass.

"That was easy," O'Neill said to Methos, who led the donkey and cart as 
Teal'c, Carter and Daniel took charge of the horses.

The Immortal grimaced. "Son of a bitch robbed us."

"How's that?"

"I guess he figured the horses were really meant for breeding so he 
taxed us at the higher rate. Put it down in his book as 'nags for 
personal usage' and pocketed the rest."

"It's only money," O'Neill responded, amused.

"Sure," Methos nodded. "It's only money now, but just wait until we get 
to the inn. They're all sponsored by the local temples and run by the 
priests. We'll have to pay the god's portion, plus the cost of living, 
stable space, feed and whatever else they decided to tack on because 
we're not from around here."

"Relax," O'Neill told him quietly. "As long as we get where we're going 
who cares if we're broke when we get there?"

Methos gave him a slight smile, but said nothing. He understood what 
O'Neill meant. The dead didn't need money and as long as they were 
here, Jack figured they should live well and without worry. And in a 
way, if Methos hadn't discovered their plans, it would have comforted 
him to know they'd had some pleasure, however brief, after their long 
and arduous journey. 

He looked around, seeing they were clear of the crowded dockside and 
pulled the cart to, then helped Carter into the buckboard. It wouldn't 
do to have women or senior members of the family walking. Not when 
there was a comfortable place to ride. The Egyptians, a family oriented 
people, would consider it disrespectful.

"You'd better get in, too," he told O'Neill, who raised an eyebrow and 
shrugged, climbing up and sitting opposite Carter on their gear. 

"Daniel?" Methos called, glancing around until he found the 
archaeologist several yards away staring wide eyed at a pair of stelae. 
The tall flat obelisks, erected to either side of the road leading to 
the city above listed the laws and customs of Sais. A clever way to 
make sure visitors had no excuse for disobedience. The Egyptians were 
highly literate and expected even distant travelers to be the same, or 
to at least inquire into the local rules and regulations, of which 
there were many.

Methos heaved an internal sigh, though he couldn't find it in his heart 
to chastise the boy. 

"There's more," Methos said quietly as he came up beside him.

Daniel shook his head and gave him a wistful smile. "It's like a dream 
within a nightmare. I know I should wake up, but I'm not sure I really 
want to."

"Then sleep a little longer and ride in the cart," Methos told him 
gently. "I don't want you getting lost in the crowd."

Daniel nodded and followed him back, obviously seeing the wisdom in 
that. Besides, from that vantage point he could see everything, take 
notes and even sneak his camcorder out.

Suddenly, there was a ruckus in the crowd further down the quay, then, 
"You! Moabite!"

Methos heard the shouted epithet almost before he felt the presence of 
another Immortal. Startled, he looked nervously around the square as 
the crowd parted to let a personage of some importance and his 
entourage ride easily into the square. He felt his jaw dropping as he 
recognized the familiar face, nervously stepping back a pace and coming 
up hard against the cart.

"What's happening?" he distantly heard O'Neill demanding while Daniel 
whispered a hurried response. "So what's a Moabite?" 

Methos didn't need to hear the answer to that one. He knew the word as 
well as anyone in this age -- though no one but this man had ever dared 
use that awful slur. One of the worst the ancient world had to offer. 
Baby killer -- for the Moabites believed in child sacrifice to satisfy 
their bloodthirsty god.

The Immortal rode closer until he towered over Methos, who sensed the 
others reaching for weapons hidden within their voluminous robes.

"Ramesses," he greeted the other man quietly, receiving nothing but a 
grimace of distaste in response.

The Egyptian quickly examined Methos' companions, noting their foreign 
clothes and easily identifying Jack as the man in charge.

"I know this man," he said in perfect Greek, directing his words to 
O'Neill. "He is trash. Come, friend. Leave this one to me and I will 
find you a better guide."

O'Neill smiled coldly. "Yeah, but he's our trash, and we love him."

Methos felt his heart swell as Carter reached a hand out and laid it on 
his shoulder while Teal'c stepped to his side. Ramesses' eyes widened 
and his brows rose in consternation. He looked first at O'Neill, then 
at Carter, Teal'c and Daniel, clearly noting that each of them seemed 
ready to do battle. He nodded slowly, taking it all in as the warrior 
he was then looked at Methos, this time giving him serious study.

Their gazes met and Methos could not help but remember better times. 
The laughter of shared meals, pleasant conversation and their final 
parting as friends after such a rocky start.

"You have his face," Ramesses said thoughtfully. "But not his eyes. And 
yet, still I see him in there. I have heard of such things," he went 
on. "Tell me, were you suddenly touched by the light?"

"Not quite," Methos heard himself responding. "But I assure you, though 
you have no cause to trust my word, that on my honor, such as it is, no 
harm will come to these people. Not by my hand, or any other."

"Curious words from your lips, Moabite," Ramesses grinned dangerously, 
leaning down in his saddle until they were eye to eye. "And I will hold 
you to them. If any harm should come to these good folk, I will have 
your head and mount it with my other trophies."

"And so you should," Methos agreed. "If any harm should indeed befall 

Ramesses leaned back in surprise, shaking his head. "Perhaps there is 
hope for you yet," he sighed.

"And perhaps you'll remember that when next we meet."

Ramesses nodded, reining his horse away. "Perhaps."

Methos watched as the Egyptian rode slowly down the street. He bit his 
lip, wanting to shout a warning to his old friend even though he knew 
the rules. Damn them! he suddenly thought and to hell with 
consequences. He wanted this and he would have it! Without a word he 
raced after Ramesses, grabbing the reins of the other man's horse as it 
tried to rear and speaking quickly as the Egyptian raised his whip to 

"Beware the Kurgan who comes for the Highlander, Ramirez! There is no 
honor in a senseless death."

"What foolishness is this?!" Ramesses shouted, though his tone sound 
curious. "Become a soothsayer, have you, Moabite?"

Methos only smiled. "Call me what you wish, old friend, but heed my 
warning. And one day, if you live, perhaps I will tell you the story."

His words gave Ramesses pause, and the Egyptian nodded warily. 

"You call me friend and that I am not -- yet you seem to mean it. You 
offer me augury of danger to come -- yet will not say how you know this 
thing. But if I heed this advice, this caution to survive, I will know 

Methos nodded, hoping against hope that he had succeeded. He hurriedly 
knelt in the sand, writing out numbers that he knew meant nothing to 
Ramesses. "On this date," he pointed to the ground as he rose. "I will 
meet you at a tavern called Bellinni's in a city called Colorado 
Springs. But with one condition." Ramesses stared at the sand until 
Methos knew he'd memorized the symbols then nodded. "You must never 
speak of this meeting to me, or to anyone until that time." 

Again Ramesses nodded. "Those symbols, Bell-in-ni's, Ko-lo-ra-do Spur-
ings. But how will I know this place?"

"Look it up on the Internet," Methos grinned and backed away, wiping 
the sand clean with his feet. "See you in three thousand years!"

The Egyptian laughed at that and urged his horse to move, singing 
loudly as he rode down the street. "I-N-S-A-N-I-T-Y! Insanity!"

Hiding a smile, Methos made his way slowly back to the others, watching 
as Ramirez disappeared into the crowd on the quay.

"What the hell was that all about?!" O'Neill demanded, jumping down 
from the cart.

Methos shrugged. They hadn't heard him warn Ramirez and Methos wasn't 
about to clue them in. "Just settling an old debt," he explained 
enigmatically. "Despite the way he just treated me, Ramesses and I will 
one day be friends. Good friends," he added softly. "I owe him a lot. 
In many ways, my very existence."

"Oh. Well, that's okay then," O'Neill nodded.

Methos smiled gratefully. Maybe Ramirez would be there -- maybe he 
wouldn't, Methos considered thoughtfully as he tied the horses to the 
cart then climbed into the high seat beside Teal'c. But at least he'd 
tried. And it had been good to see the old peacock again, even if their 
strange meeting had brought a touch of past sadness with it. Like Jack, 
Ramirez had given him a chance when no one else would have. Who knew, 
but maybe this was the reason why. 

"Come on," he said, waving O'Neill and Daniel back into the wagon. 
"Let's go see if there's any room at the inn."

Chapter 35

The setting sun painted the sky a golden orange and as soon as Methos 
finished settling the account for their stay with the young acolyte he 
wandered out into the gardens. Night was coming and with it the cool 
that made sleep possible. The scent of jasmine, rose, lily and lotus 
hung in the air around the small pool at the center of the garden, 
fruit trees, flowering bushes and vines adding to the sweetness of the 
evening. Methos found a seat beside the pool, absently trailing a hand 
in the water until he plucked a lotus blossom, shaking it dry. He 
stared at it for a moment, then smiled wistfully as he inhaled its 
redolent fragrance. He would press it for Daniel and leave it in the 
boy's journal as he often did with his own. Pleasant memories amidst 
all the turmoil he'd known.

A flock of cranes wheeled overhead, the sound of their raucous cries 
seeming to punctuate the day while miles away along the river a herd of 
hippos answered the call. Methos glanced up, watching the birds, for no 
particular reason suddenly reminded of his last night in Cairo when the 
sound of car horns and truck engines had filled the air. 

He heard a step on the gravel path behind him and turned to see O'Neill 
purposefully making his way toward him. Methos looked away, not the 
least bit surprised the colonel wanted a word with him. Obviously, 
Jack's easy acceptance of his dissembling about Ramirez had been for 
public consumption only.

"The others settling in?" Methos asked as O'Neill took a seat on the 
bench beside him. Like all guests they had a small room to stow their 
gear and a ladder which led to the roof where, like the rest of the 
population, they could sleep to avoid the heat.

"They're fine. Carter's having a bath, Teal'c's on the roof meditating 
and Daniel's drooling over his camcorder."

Methos laughed softly. "I wish I could take him back to Giza or Karnak, 
but there'll be other temples to see along the river even this far 
north. Either way," Methos sighed. "He'll still have some fond 

"Yeah," O'Neill said uncomfortably, though Methos didn't comment on his 
unspoken thought. "So what's the deal with your friend? What's his 
name? Ram-something?"

Methos took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. "Ramirez is fine. 
Ramesses never cared for his old names once he took a new one. He used 
to say that a new name was like a new lease on life. It forced us to 
leave the old ways and the old days behind."

"Used to?" O'Neill asked quietly.

"He died, or dies, in 15th century Scotland. Another victim of the damn 

"What's a Kurgan?"

Methos shrugged. "The Kurgans were one of the nomadic tribes living on 
the Russian Steppe, but the Kurgan was an Immortal. A big, vicious 
brute, who hunted heads for power and laughs. Didn't care how he got 
them, either. Older Immortals quickly learned to avoid him. That's when 
he started looking for pre-Immortals, killing them and taking their 
heads the instant they came into their power. Got a real kick going 
after the weak and defenseless. Immortal or otherwise. Connor MacLeod, 
our MacLeod's cousin and Ramirez' last student, finally took him out a 
few years back."

O'Neill nodded thoughtfully. "So, what did you say to Ramirez when you 
ran off?"

Methos bowed his head, knowing Jack would have the truth out of him no 
matter what. And in a way, he realized with a sense of surprise, he 
wanted him to know. "I told him the name of the Immortal who would kill 

There was a long pause as O'Neill digested this obvious attempt to 
alter history. Finally, he asked the one question Methos had been 


"It's a long story," Methos sighed. "But you're not leaving until 
you've got it. Right?" 

"Not a chance," O'Neill grinned. "You're better than television."

That wasn't saying much, Methos thought wryly.

"As you must have guessed, Ramirez knows I was one of the Horsemen." 

O'Neill nodded and Methos slowly went on. "That came about, oh, maybe a 
century ago when Egypt was in a power vacuum and the army was virtually 
leaderless. We saw it as an opportunity and were raiding in the south 
around Kom Ombo when Ramesses showed up with a handful of armed troops 
and a couple of hundred angry villagers at his back. He knew what we 
were and he wasn't having any of it. Of course, we ran. But he and his 
men tracked us. When we couldn't shake him we separated, thinking he'd 
pick one trail and we'd surprise him at the end by joining up and 
taking them in an ambush. It didn't quite work out that way," Methos 
added sardonically.

"He picked your trail," O'Neill surmised and Methos nodded ruefully.

"Rode through the desert in the heat of the day to catch up and caught 
me when my horse went lame. I got lucky. Kronos had waited to see who 
he'd follow and doubled back to find me. He never liked giving up 
anything he considered his."

"So, you got away."

Methos nodded, shivering a little as the temperature suddenly dropped. 
"Yeah, we escaped and went down to Ethiopia. You know what happened 
there," he sighed. "Anyway, I didn't run into Ramirez again until after 
I'd left the Horsemen."

"How did that happen?" O'Neill asked curiously. "You leaving, I mean."

"Another long story, for another time," Methos smiled sadly. "Suffice 
it to say Kronos thought me dead and I was content to leave it that 
way." O'Neill said nothing and Methos shrugged. "I was pretty much at 
loose ends at the time. Coming down from the Horseman high wasn't easy. 
I mean, you're this all powerful being to everyone around and suddenly 
you're on the street looking for a job."

"Heard that," O'Neill nodded. "I tried retiring. Private sector sucks."

"Yeah, well, I wasn't any good at it either," Methos smiled briefly. 
"I'd learned to take what I wanted when I wanted it and working for a 
living seemed demeaning. I'd done it before, of course. A long time 
before. As a scribe in one of the Mesopotamian cities. The experience 
led to my being sent into slavery with the rest of the non-combatants 
when Akkad fell to Sumer. Though I did meet my first teacher shortly 
thereafter. The same one as the Kurgan, by the way."

O'Neill gave him a look and the Immortal nodded tiredly. "He was pretty 
bad," Methos admitted. "Had a taste for the 'well-seasoned' Quickening 
-- especially if he'd salted the meat himself. I have only one reason 
to be grateful to the Kurgan. He was meaner and more depraved than the 
bastard who trained me. And with Ku'haktar gone that was one less 
Immortal who wanted my head."

"Explains a lot," O'Neill said quietly.

"After my training," Methos shrugged, quickly changing the subject. 
"Like every other useless Immortal, I became a mercenary. Then I met 
the others and the rest, as they say, is history." He sighed and looked 
up at the stars, pulling his himation closer as a chill wind touched 

"Of course, it didn't take long for the money to run short after I left 
the Horsemen," he continued, returning to his story. "My business 
acumen at the time was fairly limited. Counting loot and dividing 
shares wasn't much of an investment strategy. And we'd lived large. 
Eventually, I ended up back in Egypt -- with no funds and no real 
desire to get them honestly. I wasn't about to become part of the 
common herd and end up defenseless again. And I sure as hell didn't 
want to be a mercenary, because that's where the others likely were and 
I was avoiding them. So, I stole. Purses, trinkets, anything I could 
lay hands on easily. I lived from hand to mouth and was fairly angry 
about it, but what else could I do? Even if I'd wanted to become a 
scribe again I'd have to go to one of the temple schools and for that I 
needed money and sponsorship. I couldn't just sit down in a public 
place with a few sheets of papyrus and ink. Scribes had to be approved 
and licensed. After a while," he sighed. "I found myself in Alexandria. 
And that's when I saw it."

"Saw what?" O'Neill asked as Methos paused, remembering.

"The Great Library," he smiled wistfully. "Thousands of books all in 
one place -- and available to anyone who wanted to read. Within reason, 
of course," he added ruefully. "Scholars only, please. Disreputable 
looking foreigners need not apply."

"That must've hurt," O'Neill said gently.

"Pissed me off, actually. So I robbed the place." Methos laughed 
bitterly. "Well, not really robbed. I was so enamored of the books and 
the whole concept of them being available to me whenever I wanted that 
I'd steal a few scrolls, read them through and sneak them back on the 
shelves the next time I went. It never even occurred to me that I 
should sell them for money. And books were really worth something 

"Now, that's my minion." O'Neill nodded approvingly. "Book thief 
extraordinaire-- and inventor of the original lending library."

Methos raised an eyebrow, but smiled amiably. "Well, it was a foolish 
thing to do," he went on. "The librarians were pretty sharp and they 
caught on real fast to what was happening. Still, I didn't think they'd 
tell the Guard. I mean, the books were back on the shelves within days. 
Where was the harm?"

"In not being able to find what you wanted when you wanted?" O'Neill 

"Probably," Methos agreed. "Little did I know Ramirez was currently in 
charge of the Pharaoh's Guard."

"Oh, man," O'Neill whispered, shaking his head.

"Yup," Methos nodded. "I think he was just as surprised to see me as I 
was to see him. I couldn't afford a room and I didn't mind sleeping 
outside, so I'd found a nice sheltered spot with all the other 
indigents not far from the quay. It was a pretty easy life. I'd fish to 
eat and read to stay sane. I thought I was being discreet, but someone 
must have seen me and the gossip, as it always did, got around."

Methos shifted uncomfortably as he remembered the awful moment when 
Ramirez and his soldiers cornered him with his back to the sea. 
"Anyway," he swallowed hard. "Ramesses arrested me, but instead of 
throwing me into prison or challenging me, he brought me to his house 
and locked me in one of the guest suites."

"He what?!" O'Neill asked in astonishment.

Methos nodded. "You think you're surprised?" he asked. "You should have 
seen my face. Worse, I looked like an overgrown street urchin and had 
all the emotional restraint of an adolescent."

O'Neill looked even more surprised by that comment, but Methos merely 
raised a brow at the irony. "Surely you've guessed by now that 
Immortals tend to stay the same age psychologically as they are 
physically at first death?" O'Neill gave a half shrug and nodded. 

"Well, I was no better and frankly, much worse. I might not have 
remembered being raised by Tok'ra and Inanna, but I was. And it was a 
pretty sheltered upbringing in spite of being in the midst of a war. 
Look at your own twenty-somethings. The knowledge of the world at their 
fingertips, but real worldly knowledge completely outside their grasp 
unless they deliberately seek it. Life's too easy, too safe and desires 
too instantly gratified. I was the same. I didn't expand my horizons 
with the Horsemen, I just became dangerous, sly and wary. Immortals 
only grow emotionally when they have great trauma in their lives, or a 
sudden revelation of spirit. Otherwise, there's no reason to change. 
And I hadn't really had either." 

"So, what happened? What did Ramirez want?"

"I wasn't sure at first," Methos admitted. "Then he sent slaves to 
bathe and dress me, just like you would any guest. I was certain he'd 
taken a fancy to me and thought it would be fitting revenge to make me 
his catamite until he decided to take my head." O'Neill looked shocked, 
but Methos only shrugged. "Happened a lot in those days. Anyway, he 
came that night and offered me a choice. The book of poetry I'd been 
reading when he found me, or my sword."

"Interesting option," O'Neill remarked dryly.

"Just what I thought," Methos agreed. "It was a fool's choice. 
Especially when I knew damn well that Ramirez was better with a sword 
than almost anybody, including me. Remember, I'd almost lost to him the 
first time we fought."

"So you took the book."

"Sure did," Methos grinned. "I wasn't a complete idiot. Then Ramirez 
ordered me to kneel by his feet and read to him."

"Jesus," O'Neill whispered, appalled.

"Yeah," Methos nodded. "I figured I was right and threw the book at 
him. Told him to bring back my sword and just finish it, because I 
wasn't going to be his pet anything." 

Methos stared ahead, still vaguely surprised as he recalled that night. 
"He didn't get angry, just refused. Saying I'd made my choice and now I 
would have to live with it. Of course, I was furious," he shook his 
head. "I attacked him barehanded and he knocked me senseless. When I 
woke up the room was stripped of everything and so was I. All he'd left 
me was my loincloth and the book I'd been reading."

"Okay, this is getting weird," O'Neill said uncomfortably.

"It's not what you think," Methos grinned. "Wasn't what I thought 
either. He wasn't interested in my body, but my mind -- only I was too 
blind to see it immediately. I spent the night shivering and the day 
reading, since there wasn't anything else to do. Then Ramirez came back 
and again asked me to read to him. And again I refused. For three days 
this went on, until he finally asked me where the logic was in starving 
myself to death when all he was asking was that I read one little poem 
and discuss it with him."


Methos laughed ruefully. "Yup. That was it. Read a poem and hold an 
intelligent conversation with someone who was interested in the same 

"And you refused?" O'Neill looked astonished.

Methos shrugged. "I was ashamed. He'd found my weakness and I thought 
he meant to use it against me. Or maybe I was just being stubborn. But 
that last time... Well, what he said made sense. There was no logic in 
refusing to read when it was something I enjoyed doing. And I could 
smell the food he'd brought out in the hallway. I done pretty much the 
same thing to hundreds of slaves and knew it was pointless to fight. In 
the end, he'd win. Just as I always did. So, I gave in. Picked a 
ridiculously sweet love poem and read it to him just to see what he'd 
do. I thought that's what he wanted. A prelude to putting the moves on 
me. Instead, he brought in the tray and asked me what I thought of what 
I'd read. I told him it was silly and foolish because love didn't 
really exist. We debated the point until he was satisfied with my 
arguments, even if he didn't agree, then had the slaves bring me some 
comfortable bedding. A week or so later when we'd finished discussing 
every poem in that little manuscript, he brought me another book and 
another piece of furniture after I'd done reading it."

"He kept you prisoner and rewarded you for reading?" O'Neill asked, 

"Food for conversing, furniture for reading," Methos nodded. "Took 
about a year, but eventually I earned back the entire contents of the 
guest suite. More importantly, he taught me how to think about what I 
read and how to be a discerning reader. To question not just the 
author's motives, but my own as well. And to express myself clearly and 
concisely in debate."

"That is just too weird," O'Neill murmured, shaking his head.

"But it worked." Methos inhaled deeply and sighed. "It took me a while 
to realize it, but Ramirez did what no one else had ever done. Managed 
to civilize me back into a semblance of the man I'd been before I'd met 
Ku'ahktar. When the rooms were back in order I figured he was done 
amusing himself with me. And by that point, I'd have been just as 
grateful if he'd shown me the door and taken the experience as a 
somewhat odd, but rather interesting interlude. The last book he gave 
me was a copy of Plato's Socratic dialogue, On Excellence. It asks the 
question, what makes a man more than just a man, but an excellent man? 
We never discussed the book, but my reward for reading it was the key 
to my room and another choice. I could leave or stay on as his guest."

"My guess is you stayed."

Methos nodded. "Got to thinking about what I'd be going back to," he 
grinned wryly. "And being his house guest was a damn sight better than 
living off my wits on the street. At any rate, he seemed pleased when I 
agreed. The slaves came and dressed me nicely in all the same gift 
clothes he'd given me before then he led me to the dining hall to join 
his other dinner guests. Really brilliant men and women. Philosophers, 
poets, mathematicians. All the great thinkers of the age. And I sat at 
the foot of his couch in the son's place -- which is what he'd first 
offered me when he'd wanted me to sit by his feet and read, though I 
didn't realize it until then. I might have been the elder, but he was 
certainly the wiser and I was grateful for it."

Methos smiled wistfully. "Pretty soon I was going to school at the 
university and studying with those same men and women. And when it was 
time for Ramirez to leave as he always did every twenty or thirty 
years, he got me a position as a librarian in the Great Library and 
told me to keep his house safe for him."

"He raised you," O'Neill said, a hint of wonder in his voice.

"He gave me back my life," Methos agreed. "And while I may have 
occasionally back slid for the sake of expedience, I never forgot what 
he taught me. When I ran into him in Spain just before he left for 
Scotland, I thought he'd bust with pride when he found out I'd been 
appointed a Court Physician."

"My son the doctor," O'Neill teased.

Methos laughed softly then shook his head. "If I'd known then he 
wouldn't make it back I'd have stopped him, even if I had to lock him 
up for a century."

"You owed him," O'Neill nodded.

"Everything," Methos agreed quietly.

"Okay," Jack nodded, satisfied with his explanation. "I understand why 
you did it. I'd probably have done the same. But that doesn't change 
things in the here and now. Ramirez could still change his mind and 
come after you. So, first thing in the morning, Daniel and Teal'c are 
going to get us a ride out of here. You stick close to me until we 

Methos nodded. O'Neill was right. At this point in time he really 
couldn't say he knew Ramirez well. In seven hundred years the man might 
have changed dramatically, though he doubted it.

"By the way," O'Neill asked as he stood to leave. "Ramirez ever give 
you a reason why he locked you in the Book of the Month Club?"

Startled by the question, Methos laughed softly and nodded. "As a 
matter of fact, he did. But I'd forgotten, because it never made sense 
to me."

"Well?" O'Neill asked when Methos didn't elaborate. "Why?"

The Immortal hid a smile. "He said one day he was going to ask me a 
very important question and he was just making sure I could answer it 

Chapter 36

The day was hot and stiflingly humid even on the river. Methos cracked 
an eyelid as he lay half asleep beneath the shelter of their little 
awning. Nearby, Jack and Teal'c took advantage of the shade as well, 
while Carter seemed to be enjoying the simple luxury of traveling 
through Egypt dressed in nothing more than a thin muslin sheath dress 
held up by two wide straps. Daniel, of course, was at the head of the 
boat annoying the men poling them up river with his endless questions.

Methos grimaced inwardly. The young archaeologist had assumed Methos 
was just as interested in knowing every little detail about every 
temple in Egypt as he was. Of course, he didn't bother to point out 
that Adam Pierson only studied dead languages and history so that 
Methos could legitimately pass as a scholar in that field -- and not 
because he per se had needed to learn these things. Daniel would have 
been terribly disappointed. It had simply been easier to just point the 
boy in the direction of the boatmen, who knew all there was to know 
about the Nile anyway and would be happy to tell him anything, leaving 
Methos to sleep in peace.

He closed his eyes ignoring the horrendous cries of hippo calf as it 
strayed too far from its mother and was caught by a pair of crocodiles 
and dragged to its death beneath the calm waters of the Nile. On the 
opposite bank, a herd of gazelles drank daintily, thundering swiftly 
away when a pack of hyenas charged them.

"It's like being inside an episode of Wild Kingdom," he overheard 
O'Neill tell Teal'c. "I keep waiting for the commercial break so I can 
get a bowl of Fruit Loops."

Methos snorted softly. "Just think," he interjected snidely. "You'll 
never have to take that senior citizens tour package to Kenya."

"If it's anything like Rawanda, I think I'll pass," O'Neill muttered, 
frowning. "So, tell me, Teal'c. Ballpark figure. Just how much would 
you offer to have your very own personal minion?"

"I would not purchase such a minion," the Jaffa intoned disapprovingly.

Methos snickered. "Can't live with me, can't sell me for trying. 
Sometimes, life is sweet."

"Bet the crocodiles wouldn't eat him, either," O'Neill mumbled under 
his breath to Teal'c. To Methos he said, "Just put a sock in it, 
Pierson. It's too hot for this shit."

"Sir, yes, sir, O Great Satan, sir," Methos retorted, touching his 
forehead in a one finger salute.

Whatever Jack was about to say in response, it was cut off by the 
boatman's call advising his passengers that Athribis lay just ahead. 
They gathered their things, saddling the horses and hitching up the 
wagon to the donkey. There were more customs officers waiting on the 
dock and Teal'c showed them the chit he'd received in Sais. They 
claimed it wasn't good in Athribis and named another fee they'd need to 
pay. Teal'c looked to Methos, who shrugged in disgust. The pharaoh was 
ill and who knew how things would go with the next one? Graft, even in 
the temples was currently running high. Teal'c paid the bribe and no 
one bothered to hand him another pass.

There were more soldiers on the quay here, armed to the teeth and 
preparing to board a military barge. Daniel had heard the gossip and 
reported that the priesthood in Thebes was once again planning a 
revolt. Shishak's son, Orsokon, was going to have a difficult time 
placating that mob, Methos thought dryly. Though it pleased him to 
think that somewhere south of here Ptahsennes was still alive and 
probably in the thick of things plotting the re-ascendance of the bull 
god. And if things worked out the way he planned, the cagey old 
Egyptian would still be alive when they got back. No radiation in the 
ship, no reason to go see the old priest and no way for him to find out 
Methos' terrible secret.

They rode into the city. O'Neill, Teal'c and Methos on horseback while 
the others stayed in the cart. Athribis was another typical Egyptian 
city. Small, cramped adobe houses running along narrow streets, white 
washed or painted in pale colors with the occasional stone temple or 
monumental statue to mark whatever history the town had. Like the rest 
of Egypt, it lay along the Nile, set a few miles back from the water to 
avoid being inundated by the yearly floods. Below and beyond the town 
were fields, lying fallow now as everyone waited for the Nile to finish 
rising for the spring then return to her winter course for planting 
season in the fall. For now, there was work to be had for everyone. 
Public building projects abounded, sponsored by the temples who 
received their funds from the pharaoh's coffers and were nominally in 
charge of everything. 

It was a system that worked, Methos knew. The pharaoh's officials, and 
by extension the pharaoh himself, acted as middle man for everyone. 
Setting prices, paying farmers for food and artisans for their 
products, then selling the surplus to other countries and 
redistributing the wealth to the temples and from there through public 
works to the populace. In addition, foreign traders did not deal 
directly with local business men, but with the state. Egypt was, for 
all intents and purposes, a controlled economy and the antithesis of 
the modern free market. Nevertheless, it worked because the pharaohs 
were devout in their religious beliefs which required great generosity, 
continuously charging the economy with the wealth that flowed in from 
above. The standard of living was fairly high and though the system 
sometimes failed through famine or natural disaster and the state 
occasionally went bankrupt, Egypt was a land rich in wheat, a resource 
needed by the less well watered countries. The bad times passed, the 
system reset itself and Egypt the Eternal went on.

They rode into town with scant attention being paid to their arrival. 
The local temple to Bast, the cat headed god, had rooms to let for 
worshippers. Daniel started sneezing almost as soon as they entered and 
O'Neill, a dog lover, just shook his head in dismay as they were led 
through corridors filled with lounging cats, who paid even less 
attention to their arrival than the town folk had. The room they were 
given also had its fair share of feline inhabitants and Methos gave 
everyone a stern warning not to interfere with the animals once the 
acolyte had gone. 

"Pet them, feed them, ignore them if you like," he said adamantly. "But 
shoo them away at your own peril. They're gods here and they have 

Daniel sneezed again and headed for the ladder. "I'll be on the roof if 
anyone wants me," he said and hurriedly disappeared.

"Pierson ," O'Neill dropped his pack and sat down on a low stool near 
the door. "Take Teal'c," he ordered, "and do what you do best. Go forth 
and shop. I want to get out of here before morning."

"Yes, Master Satan," Methos rolled his eyes as Teal'c nodded in 
acknowledgment. A short while later they were out on the street again, 
walking determinedly toward the market. 

It took only a few hours to accomplish their task. They needed grain 
and feed for the animals, several bushels of dried fruits, nuts and 
fish, and a few small items to make the journey less uncomfortable. If 
they needed more they could restock when they reached the edge of the 

Methos counted out the money, not happy with the exchange rate, but 
unwilling to argue. Things were getting tight, but if need be he could 
sell off the jewelry he'd bought in Greece so many months before. He'd 
been holding that back, not only because it was an untapped resource, 
but because it was such a fine example of the goldsmith's art. It 
really belonged in a museum and he'd been hoping to donate the stuff 
along with a handful of other pieces he'd secretly bought. Ah well, he 
thought estimating any future expenditures in his head. They'd be 
cutting it close, but it should be enough to make it to the desert. It 
wouldn't matter after that. What food they had would have to last until 
the Goa'uld appeared. There'd be no other safe resources nearby.

Mission accomplished, they returned to the temple just after sunset. 
They found the others on the roof, having already eaten and preparing 
for bed, but Methos was feeling particularly grimy and left to use the 
baths. He found a slave and sent him to fetch water enough for Teal'c 
to use. His Jaffa status and the womb opening in his belly necessitated 
privacy when he washed -- though his shaved head and the mark of 
Apophis he wore often won them a certain amount of respect they would 
never have had. 

The place was empty when Methos arrived and he sighed in gratitude as 
he stripped off his clothes and sank into the cool water of the bathing 
pool. Like most Egyptian priests, the worshippers of Bast were as 
fanatical about bathing as they were about the awesome powers of their 
god. He didn't know what one had to do with the other, but he was just 
as happy to take advantage of that fact. He'd loathed the Middle Ages 
in Europe. Filthy, stinking people living in cesspools for cities.

He stretched and slid a little further into the water, resting with his 
neck against the edge of the stone. God, it felt good just to have a 
few minutes alone. The stress of having to hide what he knew every 
minute of every day was beginning to wear on him. Not that he didn't 
know very well how to keep a secret, but he could sense the rising 
tension in the others and it was affecting his own composure. Jack's 
ordering him to the market so late in the day was just another example 
that the colonel wanted it over with already.

Methos reached for the large soap jar at the edge of the pool and sat 
up to wash. He knew exactly how Jack was feeling. Knew it all too well 
in fact. The awful wait before the battle was always far worse than the 
actual fight. Then one had an enemy to face, a thing to do, a purpose 
and function that, even briefly, defined the whole of one's life. The 
anticipation, on the other hand, the sense of impending doom, was all 
the more horrible when one knew one was certain to die.

Well, that part he didn't know quite so intimately, he admitted 
silently as he smoothed the soap across his arms. But he'd seen it in 
mortals often enough. The London Blitz had been the worst, he thought. 
And so completely unexpected, even for him. He'd gotten a good post 
well behind the lines as a cryptographer. Not even close to the front. 
Then the bombs started falling. Only a few at first, targeting key 
installations and factories. Then on the city in general, for no other 
cause it had seemed than to terrorize. In the beginning, he'd gone down 
into the shelters with the rest of the populace. Then, little by 
little, like everyone else, he'd become inured to the horror and stayed 
in his apartment with the black out curtains up or gone out to one of 
the clubs.

Methos shook his head as he remembered his fatalistic attitude. Either 
a bomb was going to blow his head off, or it was not. Why not be 
comfortable when it dropped? An attitude, he recalled, echoed by most 
of the population. Of course, his fear had been more of an abstract 
worry. He'd been more likely to survive a direct hit -- and had when 
the building he'd been working in had been struck. The mortals had 
suffered far worse emotionally -- anticipating the pain of certain 
death. Which, unless someone took a dull hand saw to his neck was 
likely to be fairly quick and relatively painless in his case. But the 
mortals had understood the bombs for the rain of death they were and 
the questions they had raised. Will it hurt? Will I suffer? Will I lay 
broken and in agony waiting to die, or smother under the rubble of my 
home? Worse, will I be maimed or burned beyond my ability to cope?

And now he watched as O'Neill faced those same kinds of questions. Not 
just for himself, but for the others. Carter seemed to be in denial, 
knowing death was imminent, but refusing to worry before she had to. 
And Teal'c was as stoic as ever, having accepted his fate long ago. But 
O'Neill was suffering and it showed.

Methos finished his bath, wishing he could somehow ease the other man's 
burden. But he couldn't. Not even for an instant could he let his true 
intentions show.

With a deep, heartfelt sigh he rose from the water, pulling a towel out 
from under a pile while leaving the cat sleeping atop it alone. He'd 
tough it out as he always did, keeping his secrets and acting as his 
own conscience dictated. It would be hard and, he admitted, painful. 
But he would live -- and that was what counted, wasn't it?

Chapter 37

"I feel pretty... Oh so pretty..."

Methos grinned as Jack, once again dressed in full combat gear, waltzed 
his weapon around their little camp on the edge of the desert.

"...I'm as pretty as pretty can be..."

O'Neill stopped suddenly and put on his sunglasses. "Ah," he sighed. 
"Now that's how a desert should look in the morning. Just perfect." He 
glanced at the others, ignoring Daniel's raised brows, Carter's hidden 
smile and Teal'c's carefully blank expression. "What are you smiling 
at, Pierson?" 

"You're right," he winked. "You've never looked lovelier."

"I must agree, O'Neill," the Jaffa added in all seriousness. "You are 
indeed looking quite lovely this morning."

Nonplused, O'Neill cleared his throat and straightened his jacket. 
"That's enough of that. Okay, campers, time to go on the camel ride."

Methos sighed and like the others grabbed his pack. A week before 
they'd finally parted company with the last of the animals -- trading 
the horses, the donkey and cart to a band of nomadic tribesmen from 
Libya for five dromedaries. No one was happy about the exchange, but it 
had been necessary for a number of reasons. Most importantly, because 
until they reached the underground water source of the caves the only 
water they'd have would be what they could carry with them -- and the 
camels could easily make the journey without water.

Of them all, Methos was most familiar with the beasts, though both 
Daniel and O'Neill had some experience. None of it good for any of 
them. Camels were not the most friendly of animals and frankly, Methos 
had always thought they had it in for him. He growled low in his 
throat, approaching his mount -- the most intractable of the animals 
and his by virtue of experience. The bastard liked to kick and spit too 
much for his liking and the previous night had tried to bite him. But 
this morning the Immortal was ready for it, balling his fist as he saw 
the beast's lips curl and his neck start to arch. An instant later 
Methos hit hard and fast, knocking the animal back a few paces as its 
head shook in pain and surprise.

"Pierson!" Carter shouted in shocked dismay.

"He was preparing to bite!" Methos retorted, snatching the reins and 
quickly getting the confused animal to kneel for him. "It's the only 
way to let them know whose dominant," he explained testily, climbing on 
then leading the camel to rise.

"Uh... He's right, Sam," Daniel nodded. "They can get pretty vicious."

O'Neill grimaced in agreement. "Well, now that we've had our boxing 
lesson for today, kids, shall we?"

The desert began abruptly half a mile away. There was grass and then no 
grass. The sand stretching far out onto the horizon. They traveled with 
the sun at their backs, stopping at midmorning to make camp until the 
heat of the day passed, sleeping until the sun was low in the sky. They 
rode through the night keeping clear of any watch fires they saw in the 
distance, halting only when the sun rose too high to make travel safe. 
It was a dull and seemingly interminable journey, but a little more 
than two weeks later they came within sight of their objective. Not 
Shishak's treasure city, to which they'd stayed far south as they 
traveled, but the low ridge of mountain where the caves were hidden.

O'Neill looked back over his shoulder at the sun then at Methos. "How 
much longer you figure? Couple of hours?" he asked taking a drink from 
his canteen.

"About that," the Immortal agreed. It had been slow going and all any 
of them wanted to do now was find some real shade, cool clean water and 
settle down.

"Let's push it," O'Neill decided and the others nodded tiredly.

In three thousand years little had changed. Scrub grass, cactus and a 
few hardy desert plants dotted the area. The hours passed as the ridge 
drew closer until finally they tread on rock. The search for the caves 
took another half hour but they found them at last, clustered just as 
the map had indicated at the base of the north face.

The largest of the caves, hidden by a rock crevice, was large enough 
for the camels to shelter in as well. The outer chamber was blessedly 
cool and Methos ground tethered the animals with a sigh of relief. 
Further inside it narrowed and curved then widened until it was twice 
the size of the front. And at the back lay a spring the size of a small 
swimming pool.

O'Neill knelt to drink first.

"Wait, sir," Carter said as she pulled out her scanner. "Let me test it 

The colonel tiredly closed his eyes and nodded. A few minutes later she 
smiled. "It's safe. No trace of radiation or any other harmful 

"Hoorah," O'Neill muttered, cupping his hands to drink. The rest did 
likewise, dousing themselves with water until they were cool and 
refreshed, if not exactly clean. "Okay, folks, let's get the gear 
inside and make camp. Two hours rest then we set up the radar. In the 
morning," he glanced at Methos. "Pierson's going to run reconnaissance 
for us."


The day was clear and cloudless. What else was new? Methos thought 
sardonically as he approached the five mile limit Carter had decreed 
was a safe distance for the camel. If he'd ever imagined he'd willingly 
walk into a city saturated with radiation he'd have insisted that 
MacLeod take his head just to save him from his own stupidity. He 
really must have been temporarily insane the day he'd signed those 
papers back at the SGC. Then again, he'd been as eager as Daniel must 
have been to see what lay beyond the Stargate, so he really had no one 
but himself to blame if things went badly. Of course, badly for him 
wasn't quite as bad as it would be for the others.

Methos tethered the beast, one of the gentler mounts this time, to some 
scrub grass and changed clothes. This close to the oasis, which was, as 
he recalled, one of the larger ones, there was plant growth and the 
occasional patch of grass. He climbed to the top of a tall dune and 
hunkered down, pulling out his field glasses. It certainly wouldn't do 
to walk into town and find the Goa'uld were already present and 
accounted for.

He scanned the area, nodding to himself when he saw no signs of 
anything untoward. The town seemed quiet, not many people moving about 
in the streets, but there was no panic or anything else which might 
indicate a problem other than the invisible miasma of radiation 
sickness. That would certainly account for the lack of movement, he 
told himself silently.

With an internal shrug Methos tucked the glasses into the pouch at his 
hip and headed in. His story, if anyone asked, was that he was visiting 
family in a nearby village -- there were several in the area, all 
linked via small springs to the main oasis which covered a twenty or 
thirty mile area. Eventually, it too would disappear. The desert always 
reclaimed its own, especially if there was no one left to clean the 
silted sand from the water.

An hour later he ambled into the city via the western gate. No guards 
were posted and no one asked his business which surprised him greatly. 
This was, after all, a trade city on the main route to Damascus. 

Strolling nonchalantly, Methos wandered down the narrow main street, 
past mud brick homes where incense burned and open shops did little 
business even in the cool of the day. He smelled a spicy goat stew and 
licked his lips, then thought better of it when he saw the counterman 
wiping his face from a nosebleed. His stomached turned and he moved on, 
passing a woman with a large tumor on the side of her face. She carried 
a baby in her arms whose fingers had been fused together in a birth 

He swallowed hard and turned away. There was nothing he could do for 
any of them, he told himself. They were dead already. Walking corpses. 
They just didn't realize it.

The new temple, a grandiose affair of great stone blocks and half 
finished statuary, lay at the center of the small city. He approached 
it warily, searching the area for guards, but again he found none in 
the vicinity. Surely the pharaoh would have assigned several cohorts? 
he thought in amazement. Soldiers, he suddenly realized as he entered 
the temple precinct, which would have come from the ranks of those 
who'd delivered the treasure. That was how most new cities were 
populated. They would have been older, stable veterans with families. 
Men who would have been happy to accept a grant of land, or a 
commission for trade and a home in addition to their honorable 

They must be dead or dying, Methos thought, somewhat relieved to have 
solved the puzzle. And with Shishak on his own death bed there had been 
no one to send replacements.

He passed under the sheltered colonnade, barely glancing at the 
monumental columns that should have recorded Shishak's great victory. 
But they were empty of writing and would forever remain that way.

The great double doors to the temple were open and he stepped inside, 
waiting as his eyes adjusted to the dimmer lighting. Somewhere, incense 
burned and he could hear the sound of chanting. Myrrh, he thought, 
finally understanding. And they were singing out the soul of the dead.

"Welcome, pilgrim," a young acolyte came forward from the shadows of a 
doorway. "Have you a need to which I may attend?"

Methos moved deeper into main hall, having no trouble at all seeing the 
contents of the room. Like all large Egyptian buildings the roof was 
set a good two feet above, the top of the walls allowing for light and 

"I came to buy grain in the market," he lied easily. "And heard the 
tale of the Great Pharaoh's conquest over the Judeans. I only wished to 
see this," he gestured widely, for on tables and stands set about the 
room were the treasures of Solomon's temple. There were shields and 
swords of gold set with jewels, mounds of cloth woven of costly 
materials and in the center, on an alter all its own, stood his 
objective. It was larger than the one he'd seen in Ethiopia, and far 
more ornate -- a golden ark with winged creatures guarding the 
contents. No wonder Shishak had thought it the real deal.

"It is a most powerful display," the acolyte said in a hushed tone 
which hinted at sadness mixed with trepidation.

"Indeed it is," Methos agreed, reaching into the bag around his neck. 
"The power of Amun-Ra is without equal," he added, pulling a gold coin 
out and handing it to the young man, who took it, bowing. "For 
incense," he explained. "To burn for the Golden God of the Sun whose 
beneficence shines upon the Nile."

Again the acolyte bowed. "It will be done," he murmured then waited 
patiently as Methos wandered around, pretending to stare like a tourist 
at the displays. Instead, he counted the exits. Four, not including the 
main entrance. Doubtless meant to be manned by guards. They would lead 
to various parts of the temple; store rooms, guest rooms, meditation 
chambers and the priests quarters. It was the guest wing in which he 
was most interested. There would be outside exits there.

He stalled for time in front of the ark, examining it carefully as he 
listened to the rise and fall of the chanting. When the cadence changed 
he knew the priest, no doubt revered and respected by the acolytes, was 
dead. The young man escorting him looked pained and desperate to leave 
so he might join his fellows and Methos took the opportunity for which 
he had been waiting. He bowed low and thanked the acolyte for his 
patience then beat a hasty retreat out the doors. They closed behind 
him and he smiled when the sound of the locking bar didn't immediately 
slam into place behind him.

He waited a moment in the shadows then quickly pushed the door ajar, 
slipping inside without notice. Everyone would be with the corpse, 
preparing it for burial and making the proper prayers so that the 
priest's spirit would descend easily to the realm of the dead.

Taking the opposite direction from where he'd seen the acolyte appear, 
Methos headed down a corridor then back up to the main hall when he 
found it was the storage wing. The sound of the bare feet slapping on 
stone alerted him and Methos ducked into a corner as a pair of slaves 
rushed past carrying jars of oil, lamps and more incense. His next 
attempt was luckier. There were no slaves here and the doors to the 
guest rooms stood open, showing there was no one in residence.

Not surprising, Methos thought. I wouldn't stay here either if I 
smelled that much myrrh burning in the streets. The whole city was a 
giant tomb and anyone passing through here doubtless left just as 

At the end of the corridor he found what he wanted, the door to the 
rear gardens. He lifted the bar and laid it aside, opening the door and 
moving out into the shade of a fruit tree. He scanned the area, smiling 
to himself as he saw the low wall broken only by a small private 
gateway. The garden was overgrown and in need of tending -- which meant 
the slaves were as sick as their masters and no one was much interested 
in performing unnecessary work.

Too easy, he thought, ducking back inside. He considered leaving the 
door unbarred, but it might be weeks before he returned and that might 
be discovered. Instead, he took the thin leather strap from the money 
pouch around his neck, tying it around the wood and left an end 
dangling on the other side of the door then quickly reset the bar. 

Tucking the almost empty pouch in the one at his hip, Methos checked to 
see if the dark leather could be seen from the last room on the hall. 
It could not, and the thin layer of dust on the floor inside the room 
told him that anyone coming this far down was unlikely. With a quick 
nod to himself he made his way back to the main entrance, seeing no 
sign of anyone, not even a slave on the way out. He'd need to do some 
more reconnoitering around the outskirts of the city, looking for a 
good place the bury the Ark's contents, but that shouldn't take too 
long. He'd noticed quite a few empty properties on the way into town 
whose owners weren't likely to be returning soon, if at all.

Chapter 38

Eight hours in the saddle was bad, Methos thought. Those same hours 
spent on a camel were spine jarring. He reached down to ease a cramp in 
his thigh. Probably the last of the radiation sickness clearing his 
system, he thought exhaustedly. Or maybe he was just overtired. Then 
again, it could be both.

After leaving the temple, he'd scouted the surrounding areas until he'd 
found a ramshackle farmhouse that looked to have been abandoned. 
Probably part of the original settlement which had existed before 
Shishak came and built his new city hereabouts. The natives would have 
been moved into better housing and required to work on the building 
project as part of their customary service. Not that they would have 
minded, Methos knew. Egyptian builders paid good wages. Generous weekly 
amounts of corn, barley and oil were the standard fare. More skilled 
workers might also receive coin.

Methos shuddered and held his stomach as a last bout of nausea attacked 
him. He'd been far too close to the Ark for far too long and this was 
to be expected, he reminded himself tiredly. Of course, it had been 
much worse several hours earlier, despite the fact that he'd followed 
Major Carter's instructions to bury his clothes then scrub his skin 
with sand to remove the top layer of cells. He'd done it, then run the 
radiation counter over himself to make sure he was within acceptable 
limits before he dressed again and approached the camel. Still, as with 
all things, there was a price to be paid and he was feeling it 

The sky lightened and the sun rose at his back, warming Methos and 
sending the last of the chills away. He rode on wearily, trying to stay 
alert, though he'd had little sleep in the last two days. He kept his 
eyes moving, looking around though there was nothing to see, but it 
kept him vigilant at least. Another hour passed and the heat increased 
exponentially until in the distance he saw a thin sliver of gray. More 
time passed until the sliver became a slice then a wedge and then very 
clearly a mound of rock.

He was a few miles out when the texture of the light around him 
suddenly changed, turning from bright sunny white to a deadly golden 
orange in the space of an instant. Methos didn't really have to glance 
back to know what caused it, but he did, gauging the size and distance 
of the sandstorm behind him.

"Oh, fuck!" he cursed, spurring the camel into a gallop as he tried to 
get to his radio. The crackle of static from his pocket relieved him of 
one worry. If O'Neill was trying to contact him it meant the radar was 
up and running and the others were aware of the danger.

Methos managed to hit the send button and shouted an acknowledgment.

"Where the hell are you, Pierson?!" Jack's voice sounded worried.

"A few miles out!" he shouted back. "Storm's coming up behind me!"

"You've seen it?"

"I can taste it!" he responded.

"It's a big one," Jack told him. "So get a move on, soldier! We'll meet 
you on the north face."

"No!" Methos called. "Stay inside! I'm almost there! Pierson out."

He broke off communication before O'Neill could argue with him. 
Sandstorms were not uncommon at any time of year and could spring from 
a dust devil into a raging tempest in a matter of minutes. It might 
last an hour or as much as a month and bury whole towns alive. The 
problem was you could never tell which. He alone stood the best chance 
of surviving it, even if he smothered sheltering against the rock. With 
RDF tracking they should be able to find him and dig him out, Methos 
knew, but he was hoping to make it back in time. He'd suffered that 
fate once and while it wasn't the most unpleasant way to die, there was 
something atavistically wrong with the whole process of drowning in 
open air.

The first tiny grains of sand struck him as he reached the rock. Tiny, 
painful, wind driven prickles that flayed the skin even through his 
clothes. He dismounted and made it the several yards to the wall, 
putting the camel between him and the storm. It helped to block some of 
the wind, but the powder fine sand of the desert filled the air and he 
was forced to breathe it in, coughing as he took a moment to cover his 
head and face with the edge of his robe. Then blind, with one hand to 
the wall and the other holding tight to the reins, Methos pulled 
himself along the rock face.

It might have been ten minutes, it might have been an hour, but it felt 
like forever before his fingers curled around the edge of the crevice 
that led to the cave entrance. A hand gripped his wrist and he felt 
himself pulled into the lee of the wind as he staggered inside, 
coughing hard as he fell to his knees. Someone wiped his face with a 
wet rag then gave him water to drink and he rinsed his mouth then drank 
the rest, opening his eyes to find the others staring at him, relief 
evident on their faces. Most especially Carter's, who stood over him 
double checking her scanner readings before announcing Methos was 
radiation free.

"Is it them?" he asked, having heard that Goa'uld ships often caused 
storms as they landed.

"Unknown," Carter responded. "We've got limited range as it is and the 
weather's playing havoc with the system."

Methos nodded. The small satellite dish they'd originally carried with 
them to Egypt was a multi-purpose unit, but meant to work in 
conjunction with a larger system. In its present state, it could track 
an object within a hundred mile radius but at a distance of only fifty 

"We should know soon anyway," Daniel added. "The storm on Abydos only 
lasted a few hours."

"Yes," Teal'c agreed. "If it is indeed the Goa'uld, they will send out 
gliders to secure the area and begin the process of enslavement."

"How fast does that generally happen?" Methos asked as he slowly 
removed his sand encrusted outer robe.

"That depends," Teal'c replied. "If the new world is uninhabited at 
present the people will require livestock and food to sustain 
themselves until such time as they can grow more. That is likely the 
case here," he added. "Given the large numbers they appear to have 

The tension now was palpable. Not knowing exactly when the Goa'uld ship 
arrived placed them at a distinct disadvantage. Not one they couldn't 
overcome, but it made the situation nerve-wracking.

"Okay, let's take things in order. Pierson," O'Neill finally ordered. 
"Get cleaned up," he pointed towards the water. "You can sleep after 
you've debriefed us."

"Oh joy," Methos muttered as he made his way to the back. Someone had 
set up one of the tent halves as a modesty screen and he moved in 
behind it. With a sigh, he stripped off the rest of his garments then 
slid into the water. He'd tell them everything, of course. No point in 
not doing so. At least it would keep them occupied while he plotted his 
next course of action.


The hours passed drawing into days making the sandstorm a natural  . It 
both frustrated the cave dwellers and relieved their tension. According 
to Teal'c, the Goa'uld might land in such weather, but they would 
remain aboard their ship until it cleared sufficiently to allow their 
scout ships to go out and scan the area without impediment -- another 
worry to contend with.

Food was also a problem. Methos had intended to hunt for meat to 
supplement their stores, but that was impossible now. Outside, the 
storm raged and howled endlessly, while inside they cut back to half 
rations. Water was plentiful, but as one week dragged into the next and 
they all lost weight they began adding in recuperative time to the 
plan. They'd all need time to rebuild their strength, especially 
Methos, who secretly cut his own rations even further. He could die of 
starvation, and had in the past, though he knew what Jack would say to 
that. The colonel would be furious. But then, what O'Neill didn't know 
would only hurt Methos -- and what was all his planning for if he 
couldn't be certain they'd be able to get themselves safely past the 
Goa'uld and back through the gate?

Again and again O'Neill made them go over the plan to steal the Ark. 
And again and again Methos insisted they follow through with their 
plans to take the ship, until the strain of the charade began to show. 
They were short-tempered and snappish. All of them. Even Daniel grew 
weary of the drills. But they had to be done and they all knew it.

Near the end of the second week they awoke to silence. As a group, they 
headed for the exit, sighing with relief when they saw the sun rising 
in a clear sky. Methos turned and ran to get his weapons.

"Going somewhere?" O'Neill asked, following him.

"To hunt," he nodded. "The wildlife's going to be hungry. Out and about 
looking for food the same as we are."

"Good point," the colonel nodded, grabbing one of the saddle blankets 
for the camels. "I'll go too."

"No," Methos said, taking only his quiver of arrows. A gun shot in the 
desert might be heard for miles. "Get some feed and spread it over the 
rocks. The birds will be hungry as well. Get snakes and sand crabs too, 
if you spot them. Storms like that one usually come in sets. Where 
there's one there's several. We'll need all the food we can get."

"I hear that," O'Neill nodded. "Carter keep an eye on the radar," he 
ordered as the others joined them. 

"Yes, sir."

"Radio if anything shows up. Teal'c, Daniel, you're with me."

A little while later Methos was gone, bringing an extra camel to carry 
what he expected would be a heavy load. And every time he saw a flock 
of birds overhead he smiled, knowing O'Neill was having a bit of fun.

Chapter 39

The days passed with excruciating regularity in a tedium punctuated 
only by a daily turn at the radar and the occasional fight with a 
camel. And then it happened. Just tiny blip on the screen, but it was 
enough to set things in motion. Methos didn't know whether to be 
relieved or angry. The end was almost in sight, he realized, but the 
worst was coming. Oh, for sure it was coming...


"One doesn't have to be prescient to see what's happening here, 

They'd been fighting on and off for days now. As soon as the Goa'uld 
had landed already frayed nerves had snapped and tempers had flared to 
monumental proportions. And after three weeks of reconnaissance 
missions to the outlying villages which proved their original theory 
correct, depression and despair had become constant companions.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" the colonel demanded.

"I don't know, you tell me?" Methos retorted, being deliberately 
obtuse. "Something's not right here. I don't know what it is, but my 
gut is telling me you're holding out on us. I've seen the way you and 
Teal'c or Carter go off," he gestured towards the others, who carefully 
pretended not to watch. "Those little heart to hearts," he sneered at 
O'Neill. "What it is you're not saying?"

"What is it?" Jack taunted sarcastically, being deliberately offensive. 
"The five thousand-- No, excuse me, ten thousand year old man is 
befuddled by a mere mortal?"

Silently, Methos applauded the snide remark. Just as he was pushing 
O'Neill's buttons, the colonel was very shrewdly pushing back. If 
they'd been alone he would have laughed and let it slide. But he was 
playing to an audience -- as was O'Neill. 

They both needed this fight. He, in order to distract everyone and make 
his move, while the colonel needed him upset and angry to obstruct his 
supposed search for the truth. Or, more importantly from Methos' point 
of view, to keep him from saying anything which might alert Daniel to 
their macabre charade. What they both needed now was a direct attack. 
One that would force O'Neill's hand.

With a nasty smirk Methos fired off the final sally. "No. Not 
befuddled. I just want to know why you're lying to us. What is it you 
don't want us to know?"

"Captain Pierson!" O'Neill barked coldly, taking the bait. "It's time 
you remembered that I'm in charge here! It's also time you remembered 
it's not your job to question your orders. It's your job to obey them! 
I suggest you do so!"

Methos opened his mouth as if to reply.

"This discussion is over, Captain!" O'Neill shouted.

Methos stiffened to attention. "Yes, sir!" he snarled and stalked 
toward the exit, glancing back over his shoulder as Jack turned away. 

Hiding his sorrow for what he'd done, Methos turned his eyes forward 
and walked out. O'Neill's posture hadn't relaxed even after he'd won 
the argument -- which meant his angry demeanor had been merely a 
facade. A bit of necessary playacting to keep the Immortal off balance. 
O'Neill no doubt supposed that if Methos were truly angry he wouldn't 
be likely to ask questions, or talk to the others about any suspicions 
he might have. He was right. But in this case, misdirection was a two 
way street.

Methos hurriedly left the cave, looking for all intents and purposes as 
though he were off to sulk over that very public dressing down. 
Instead, he went to another cave they'd been using as a stable and 
quickly saddled one of the camels. His preparation long since made, now 
was the time to act. With five of six villages already depopulated, it 
wouldn't take long for the Goa'uld to strip the last and move onto the 
city. That would take longer, but Methos had no idea how far the 
Goa'uld had gotten in their original plan before the priests brought 
them the Ark. 

The general consensus was that it must have been done near the end. 
When the priests in the city finally realized they were in some kind of 
danger. But that was a modern viewpoint, which presupposed that danger 
had to be obvious for fatal action to be taken. Not so in the ancient 
world. It could have been served up first, just as the Judeans had done 
to Shishak. Either as tribute or weapon, it didn't matter. But it made 
Methos nervous whenever he thought about it. And somewhere in the back 
of his mind he had a sneaking suspicion they were running out of time.


"Uh, Jack," Daniel asked as he found O'Neill sitting on a rock in the 
cool evening air cleaning his gun. "Have you seen Adam?"

The colonel didn't bother to look up. "Not since this morning," he 
answered, carefully avoiding any mention of the fight. It was 
unfortunate, but done was done. "Probably off sulking in one of the 
other caves."

"That's what I thought," Daniel responded worriedly. "But I can't find 
him anywhere. And one of the camels is missing."

O'Neill shrugged. "Maybe he went hunting. He'll be back. Sooner or 

Daniel nodded slowly and moved to sit nearby. "His bow's still here," 
he said quietly. "You don't think he knows, do you?"

"Knows what?" O'Neill asked flatly as he stood to check the stores. If 
he knew what Methos had taken, he'd be able to guess where the Immortal 
might have gone and how long he planned to absent himself from their 
little community.

"Come on, Jack," Daniel said as he followed. "This is me. You don't 
have to pretend. I know we're not getting out this time. I was just 
hoping Adam hadn't guessed."

For a moment O'Neill looked crestfallen. "You knew? All this time? Why 
didn't you say anything?"

Daniel shrugged. "I didn't think you wanted me to know, so I kept 

"What? And not help us plan this last group activity," O'Neill grimaced 

"Dying in horrible agony?" Daniel retorted with equal sarcasm.

"But we'll all be together. Writhing and screaming as one."

"Proper military protocol," Daniel agreed sadly.

O'Neill nodded absently, hiding a look of alarm as he checked Methos' 
pack. Sure enough his bow and sword were there, but his canteen and a 
zat gun were missing. 

"God damn it!" O'Neill cursed his own shortsightedness. If Daniel knew 
then Methos must have figured it out. "Christ!" he sighed, rubbing his 
face then went to check the mission gear, shaking his head as he found 
the containment blanket missing and counted only four radiation suits.

"Damn him to hell!" O'Neill hissed. "Arrogant son of a..."

"What's wrong?" Daniel asked nervously from behind.

"He's gone. Alone. To steal the Ark." Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! he 
shouted silently. Why couldn't the man just follow orders?!

"We have to go after him!" Daniel insisted.

"We can't!" O'Neill turned and held up one of the now useless suits. 
They'd been shredded beyond repair. "He's made sure we couldn't. And by 
now it's too late. In a little while," Jack glanced up at the moon 
slowly rising above them. "God help him, he'll have his hands on the 

"What's that?" Daniel suddenly asked, reaching for a piece of papyrus 
stuck to one of the suits. He handed it to Jack, who opened the note 
and shook his head in dismay.

"He says if he's not back by tomorrow night," O'Neill read aloud. "We 
should leave for the ship without him, he'll meet us there."

"Okay," Daniel nodded. "So he's got a plan. That's great."

"No. It's not." O'Neill briefly closed his eyes and sighed. "Because 
he'll never make it."

"He's Immortal, Jack. If Adam says he can do it then he probably can."

"He can't!" O'Neill snapped in frustration and turned away. "Because 
his plan is our plan -- a mission meant for five."

Chapter 40

Night had fallen by the time Methos reached the old mud brick farmhouse 
with its deep, dry well that he had chosen as his base of operations. 
He set the camel free, giving the mean bastard a good solid slap on the 
rump to get him started. No point in the beast dying as well, he 
thought, knowing it could survive just fine on its own out in the deep 
desert. Probably happier too, Methos thought as he went into the house 
and dug his gear out of storage.

Using his flashlight he quickly sorted through the bundles, laying 
aside the suit and blanket for now as he focused on setting the 
explosive charges inside the well. It was almost certain he wouldn't 
have enough strength to fill it in with sand, so he'd decided on the 
more expedient route of simply blowing in the stone walls of the old 
well. Enough sand and rock should cover the package, giving him time to 
recover and decontaminate himself once he got away. O'Neill was going 
to be furious at being out maneuvered, but hell, what were friends for?

Methos secured the rope ladder he'd made and carefully lowered himself 
down. The pre-measured charges he'd stolen from Jack's pack were simple 
to use and came with a radio detonator. A few strategically placed at 
varying intervals would easily do the job.

A short time later, feeling satisfied that the well would implode and 
smother its dangerous contents rather than explode the package outward, 
Methos climbed up and stowed the ladder to the side.

Not that he feared discovery, he thought bemused. When he'd scouted the 
city earlier he'd seen minimal Goa'uld presence in the streets -- just 
a pair of Jaffa forcing a few hundred workers to empty the temple 
granaries. No doubt they thought it wise to send as much food as 
possible through the gate to support the populace. Little did they know 
it was poisoned. 

And the people were docile. Lethargic, though they moved well enough to 
suit their new masters. Of course, the gods were always entitled to 
their grain, so maybe it was okay with everyone. Or maybe they were 
just too sick to care.

Methos put aside the thought as he changed clothes. Uniform on first, 
then the suit was how O'Neill had planned it. No doubt the colonel was 
right in this case. The uniforms were made with a certain amount of 
charcoal to offer some protection from radiation.

With a frown, he looked at the suit. The cumbersome thing would impede 
his movement and he needed to be quick getting through the streets. 
Granted, the civilians were already in a state of shock and would 
likely run from the sight of him, but the Goa'uld wouldn't. He'd carry 
it in the pack that held the blanket and put it on at the temple, he 
decided swiftly, shoving it inside and leaving the house.

He checked his weapons, a zat gun and the pair of daggers he always 
wore, then strapped on the heavy pack. It weighed nearly a hundred 
pounds all told, but he could manage. 

With a sigh, he steeled himself for the five mile hike to Tanlit. At 
the very least it would give him time to achieve an appropriate mental 
state. One of the Tibetan forms of meditation, he decided. One in which 
he would be hyper alert while at the same time able to control some of 
the nausea and pain. It would not be enough, he knew -- for that he had 
the drugs -- but it would suffice until they kicked in and made it 

With an amused smile Methos started walking. Would he have even 
considered trying this alone had the colonel not already primed him 
with medications? Convinced him that Immortals and drugs did mix well? 
He doubted it. Without them, he couldn't even begin to hope for 
success, no matter how rapidly he healed.

Whatever the case, it didn't matter now. His course was set. And with 
that in mind Methos put all questions of how or why he came to be here 
aside. With a slow deep breath he began his mental preparations, 
walking swiftly and surely toward the city -- and whatever fate awaited 
him there.


As Methos reached the city limits he was more than a little surprised 
to find absolutely no movement on the streets. Not even the Jaffa 
guards were present. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he took 
the back alleys, making his way stealthily to the visitors' garden 
behind the temple. In the distance, several miles away, he could see 
the modern lights of the Goa'uld ship. Eerily familiar, yet unsettling 
in this time of shadowy lamp light and rush torches.

The gate was unlatched and Methos entered, dropping the weighty pack by 
the entrance to the guest quarters. He found his string undiscovered, 
quietly lifting the bar and catching it before it could fall as he 
silently opened the door.

Too easy, he thought as he had the first time he'd been here, refusing 
to acknowledge the reason why. Instead, he grabbed the pack and slipped 
into the last guest room. Good enough, he thought as he closed the door 
and lit the small night lamp on the low bed table. He removed the suit 
and the rest of his equipment. The gas mask, gloves and boot covers 
were standard gear, carried in their packs on every mission and like 
the uniforms, designed to offer some protection from radiation as well.

He laid them out beside the suit on the bed, then got out the drugs 
from the med kit. The same ones Carter had given him so many months 
before. Methos frowned as he loaded several syringes. Reminded that 
O'Neill had meant for him to have these all along. Not for this, but to 
get himself safely away from his friends' contaminated corpses.

Well, he'd show them how it was done. As an Immortal willingly serving 
the military, Methos viewed himself not just as a man with unique 
abilities, but as a weapon. More fool Jack if he didn't consider using 
him as one. His life was not expendable by any stretch of the 
imagination, but this mission wouldn't kill him. It would simply be 
another hideous experience he'd have to endure, like so many others in 
his long and varied life. And while he greatly appreciated the 
consideration O'Neill offered, being ordered to do this alone would not 
have offended him. Annoyed him at first, certainly, but he'd have 
understood the mission commander's choice. Pick the best possible 
candidate to complete the mission with the least loss of life. Methos. 
The simple, expedient choice.

The vials were empty now and one by one he injected himself with the 
drugs -- pretreatment being the only course of action he would be able 
to take. It would stave off the more serious side effects for a time, 
working in conjunction with his Quickening. But eventually, he knew, 
his system would be overwhelmed. To that end, he carefully secured a 
half dozen pre-measured doses of morphine to one wrist with thin strips 
of adhesive tape. The extra anti-nausea drugs he'd manufactured would 
have to hang from a lead lined pouch at his hip beside the detonator 
and his zat gun.

Methos dressed quickly, wasting no more time as the drugs coursed 
through his system making him a little lightheaded by the time he was 
finished. He strapped on the pack, empty now but for the blanket, 
slipped on his gloves and tucked the mask under his arm. He blew out 
the lamp then left the room, easily making his way down the corridor by 

A few yards further down the hall, Methos smelled the familiar stench 
of death. Startled, he glanced to the side and saw what looked like a 
body on the floor in one of the rooms.

Of course, he thought, hurriedly moving on. When the Goa'uld arrived 
proclaiming themselves gods the priests of Amun-Ra would have sent 
slaves to prepare the rooms. Not for the gods, obviously, but for all 
those who would surely come to worship.

But there was another side to that coin. The death of the slave would 
have been seen as ill-omened -- and auguries taken from the diseased 
riddled entrails of any local animals would have further upset the 
priests. No wonder they were considering destroying these so-called 
gods! Everything the Goa'uld might have said was being countermanded by 
the spiritual signs. The great god, Amun-Ra himself was telling them 
that these were demons only pretending to be his servant gods!

How ironic, Methos thought, quickly dismissing the priests and their 
doomed religion. Near the end of the corridor he suddenly paused, 
stunned as the sound of muffled chanting reached his ears through the 
door to the Great Hall. It couldn't be!

"Shit!" he exclaimed, rushing forward as he shoved his mask on, pulled 
out his weapon and flung open the door in the space of a moment.

The hall was full of priests surrounding the Ark. All dressed in their 
finest priestly robes they'd obviously been preparing to carry it off. 
The chanting stopped at the sight of him, replaced by screams as he 
started indiscriminately firing.

A half dozen or so went down easily, the others running to hide -- no 
doubt thinking the Hebrew god himself had come to make them stop. 
Methos didn't care as he strode forward, stepping over bodies, past 
spilled incense burners and magical artifacts until he reached the Ark.

He dropped the pack and pulled out the blanket, spreading it across the 
ground. Putting his back into it, he shoved aside the heavy lid of the 
Ark, reaching around inside until he felt another box.

Damn! he cursed silently as he felt a smaller stone sarcophagus. The 
thing weighed almost as much as the blanket and Methos lifted it out 
carefully, hurriedly lowering it to the floor. No way could he carry 
this thing alone and reach the well in time. But then it wasn't the box 
he was after, or so he hoped. Holding his breath, Methos opened the top 
and tipped it over, smiling as the contents, a small misshapen rock, 
fell into the center of the blanket. 

"There you are," he murmured, feeling nothing but the slightest warmth 
as he slowly wrapped and rolled the cover until the stone was securely 
inside. That done, he slid the whole thing back into the pack and 
strapped it on, taking a moment to close the box and lift it back 
inside the Ark. It wouldn't really matter in the end. But O'Neill would 
have a fit if he found out Methos hadn't followed any of their agreed 
upon safety protocols. 

Such a tiny thing to cause so much devastation, Methos thought absently 
as he again stepped across the priests to leave. They were surely dead 
now, most never having recovered from being shot. He ignored their 
blood, grateful for the mask which also filtered out the stink of their 

Moving quickly, but cautiously, Methos went through the guest quarters, 
taking extra care as he reached the garden gate. He paused, searching 
the streets for any Jaffa who might have been alerted by the screams.

Nothing, he snorted derisively. Probably safely tucked up in their 
ship, he mused disgustedly as he backtracked along the alleyways. How 
secure they must feel among the primitives!

"Arrogant bastards," he muttered, giving one final glance toward the 
distant ship. Well, they'd certainly get a nasty shock when SG-1 showed 
up firing.

A few minutes later Methos found himself at the edge of town. He kept a 
steady pace as he walked, a little startled when he felt something warm 
and wet strike his upper lip. A nosebleed, he realized, as the first 
droplets ran in twin trickles across his mouth and down his chin to 
pool where the suit collar and mask joined. 

What an odd sensation, he thought absently.

Of course, he'd bled from the nose before, but never like this. A blow 
to the face tended to obscure the simple discomfort of fluid gushing 
down one's face. Trying to ignore it as he hurried on, Methos breathed 
through his mouth, tasting blood as he longed to lift the mask and wipe 
the mess away. Impossible, he knew, but an instinctive reaction 
nonetheless. And this was only the first sign of radiation poisoning.

The next symptom was just as irritating and not long after in coming. 
Dizziness. Again he tried to ignore it, setting his eyes on the ground 
ahead as he often did when he was slightly drunk. That thought reminded 
him that he was also slightly queasy. Another sensation he'd 
experienced on occasion, but nothing much to trouble over. At least not 

He walked on, breathing heavily while the sand seemed to drag at his 
feet. As he topped the first rising dune, a sudden, unexpected wave of 
nausea hit, forcing Methos to his knees as his vision blurred and he 
choked on blood, swallowing back the urge to vomit. Blinking hard, he 
focused forward, getting slowly to his feet to stagger on.

More time passed and Methos soon began to worry about becoming lost. As 
the nausea came in wave after brain fogging wave his vision blurred 
then cleared then blurred again, the process repeating far too often. 
Still, he forced himself to move on, focusing on a single bright star 
as he set a course in his mind. 

It seemed to clear his thoughts a little, to center himself and 
meditate on a single goal. Yet, that clarity of purpose without thought 
left him open to other things. To that quiet, but oddly familiar voice 
echoing in the stillness of his mind. 

You really ought to ask for help, it whispered gently.

Help?! Methos thought confused. Only vaguely amused by the absurdity as 
the weird notion seemed to sing in his head. An aural hallucination, 
surely. Just something his obviously delusional subconscious had cooked 
up to torment him. Another part of the all-in-one radiation poisoning 

But there is always help, if you want it... 

Methos bit his lip, trying to ignore the words resounding through his 
brain along with the pounding headache that had suddenly started up to 
add to his woes.

I don't have time for this! he shouted silently at the voice. Now, be a 
good hallucination and fuck off!

Oddly enough, that brought silence to his mind, but did nothing for the 
headache which thrummed painfully with each dogged step Methos took.

He was a little more than halfway to his goal when a sudden violent 
cramp brutally twisted his stomach. Methos fell to the ground, writhing 
for a moment as he ripped off his gloves trying to get at the morphine. 
He managed to extract a single dose, but his hands shook so badly he 
dropped the syringe in the sand.

"Damn it!" he hissed, forcing himself to his knees. He swept the sand 
with his hands, finding the needle near his foot.

Several frantic tries later he finally got the wrappings off. Normally, 
he would have thought to inject it in his thigh, but the lead suit was 
far too thick for that trick. Still, he'd considered this problem 
earlier and planned ahead. Pressing his left wrist beneath his knee to 
hold his hand steady and enlarge the veins in the back of his hand, 
Methos gritted his teeth, whining under his breath as the pain suddenly 
increased and he stuck himself. Not caring if he popped the vein as 
long as something got into his bloodstream. He must have managed it 
somehow, because a few moments later the pain started to ease.

"Good god," Methos sighed, letting his head drop forward while he 
caught his breath. The morphine helped, but it also cleared his mind 
enough to let him feel the other symptoms he'd been ignoring. The suit 
was no longer simply cumbersome, but uncomfortably tight, he noticed, 
when he tried to replace the gloves. An impossible task as he quickly 
discovered that his hands had swollen more than twice normal size. And 
he was wet, he realized. There was blood running not only from his nose 
and ears down his neck, but from other orifices down his thighs. 
Internal hemorrhaging? he thought, startled by the swift progression of 
the illness. Worse yet, his back where the pack rested against the suit 
was growing warmer.

A sense of desperation finally taking hold, Methos stumbled to his 
feet. He slid another morphine dose out and injected himself against 
the pain already rising. Then, reorienting himself on the location of 
the house, he began to run. It might hasten his death, but he had to 
get there before he died. Had to dump the blanket and set off the 
explosives or he would never make it back in time.

Twice more he had to stop. Once to clear his mask of bloody vomit and 
again to kill the pain. He lurched forward at the end, moving on will 
alone as he blearily saw the house then blundered over a stone a mere 
ten feet from his objective. Not now! he thought as he hit the ground 
hard and blood filled his lungs. 

Methos didn't even have the strength to struggle against the loss of 
air. And as asphyxia set in he heard the voice of his conscience 
chiding him again.

All you needed to do was ask...

Even as he died, Methos really wished it would just shut up.


Methos revived to a single moment of clarity. The only thought in his 
mind as he felt the awful heat of the pack searing his back was that 
O'Neill had been right. Five would have made it in time. Five could 
have carried the mission pack by the handles Carter had devised. 
Handles Methos had discarded in favor of the pack. Five would never 
have needed to touch the actual pack after retrieval, avoiding the 
immediate radiation saturation of their suits. Saturation levels which 
Methos had achieved far too soon by wearing the pack on his person. 
Yes, they would have died. But together, five would have gotten the job 
done right. Only he'd been too arrogant to see it.

The all too brief moment of painless reflection passed quickly as his 
body was suddenly racked with cramps. Amazing, he thought, distantly 
aware of the nausea returning. Never in all his centuries had he 
revived feeling worse than when he'd died. Apparently, he was healing 
just enough to revive, the radiation being too powerful to heal all the 
rest. Another thing he hadn't taken into consideration. He had to get 
the pack off, he realized. And fast.

Methos struggled onto his side, fumbling for the straps. Horrified, he 
saw his fingers as if they were foreign objects -- numb and swollen so 
badly he couldn't seem to make them work. Long minutes passed as the 
pain escalated then his vision suddenly blurred, shifting to gray as he 
collapsed back onto the sand.


Methos revived, not gasping for air, but vomiting blood clots which 
felt like lumps of flesh as they passed through his esophagus. The sun 
was just coming up and he knew he'd been dead a long time. With what 
little strength he had, Methos fought to release the straps. He managed 
to loosen one then the world went dark and he awoke again only to find 
the sun even higher in the sky.

Again and again he repeated the process, not knowing how many times he 
died that day, but each one seemed worse than the last. Pain was his 
life and his burned and bloody fingers, working in fits and starts, 
finally managed to unleash him from the fire at his back.

And still it wasn't over. He revived again in the early evening feeling 
a little better than before and gave the pack a nudge. It moved a few 
inches toward the well, but ten feet in his condition seemed an 
enormous chore. Then he remembered the morphine. He had three shots 
left and would likely need them all. Still, with the pack away from his 
body, his Quickening seemed able to keep him alive just a bit longer. 
It took two more deaths before he was able to get the syringe out and 
finally inject himself. With the pain at a manageable level again he 
could now think about getting the contaminated suit off. The cumbersome 
thing was doubtless adding to his misery, he thought blearily as he 
fought to remove the helmet.

It eased his nausea somewhat as the cool evening air finally touched 
his face, then Methos saw his blood matted hair stuck in the well of 
the helmet. Forgot about the being bald part, he thought dizzily as he 
suddenly vomited again.

For hours he struggled to remove the rest of the suit. His bloated 
limbs making it nearly impossible. It took several tries and another 
shot of morphine, but Methos finally managed it. Then came his uniform 
-- and with it much of his skin. 

Still, the next time Methos revived his body seemed less bloated and to 
his relief most of the burns were gone. Using his final shot of 
morphine and a large dose of the anti-nausea medication to steel him 
against the raging discomfort, he finally managed to get everything 
into a pile with the pack, shoving it forward a whole two feet before 
he finally collapsed.

It seemed to take forever. Living for the one purpose and dying before 
he'd achieved it far too many times. The moon was setting by the time 
Methos finally got the pack and the pile of his gear to edge of the 
well and over the side. For a long moment he lay on his back, sobbing 
in relief as he stared up at the stars.

Too late, he suddenly realized as the first light of dawn began to 
color the sky. The others would have long since left for the ship. 
Though he was dying less often and for briefer times, his body was 
still saturated with radiation. He didn't need to be a rocket scientist 
to know he would never make it back in time. The others would have to 
leave, knowing he was alive, but that they could not reach him. 

So be it, Methos thought, and began the difficult job of maneuvering 
himself away from the well. Exhausted, sick and in excruciating pain he 
managed to crawl thirty yards away from the blast area in just under 
four hours dying only seven times. A record, he mused as he fumbled 
with the detonator. The well must be shielding him, Methos surmised, 
but not by much.

Death came no easier this time as the pain surged and he contorted, 
gasping in agony -- feeling only gratitude this time as he faded into 
darkness yet again.


Methos woke with his face resting in the cool sand. After a moment's 
disorientation he remembered to push the detonator button and set off 
the charges, ignoring the blast as he choked up even more blood to his 

I should just lay here, he thought as the last echoes died away. In a 
few weeks, maybe even days, another sandstorm would come by and remove 
the contaminated sand he lay on. It would probably bury him as well, 
but right about now he didn't care. A thousand years or so of oblivion 
waiting for another storm to uncover him seemed like a good idea.

"No. It's not. You're friends are waiting."

Oh, god, Methos thought wearily. The hallucinations were back. 

"Obstinate child. I never left," came the bemused response, along with 
a warm static discharge tickling his side.

He twitched away, too exhausted by the sudden movement to even open his 
eyes. Still, there was something familiar here. Something about the 
voice. Something about the touch...

"It's the only place you're really ticklish," the voice commented 

It couldn't be! Methos thought, horrified. He was gone!

But that was then. And this was...

"Tok'ra?!" Methos whispered as the familiar presence surrounded him and 
he nearly wept with relief.

"Well, it's about time!" 

Chapter 41

"Change of plans," O'Neill told what was left of his team as they 
hunkered down out of sight of the Goa'uld ship sitting just over the 
next rise. 

"Sir?" Carter asked.

"We take the ship, figure out how to get Pierson aboard, then fly that 
sucker somewhere safe until he can recover."

"But, sir," Carter pointed out. "He'll be nearly as radioactive as 
whatever's in the Ark."

"Teal'c?" O'Neill asked simply.

"This ship should have equipment similar to the radiation suits we 
created," the Jaffa stated plainly. "They may even have a sarcophagus. 
At the minimum, we can utilize a tractor beam to retrieve his body then 
place him in one of the holds."

"It might work," Carter nodded. "If we flush the hold often enough it 
should clear out most of the radiation. What's left will be nominal. 
Once we get Pierson decontaminated we should be safe enough with him on 

"My thought exactly," O'Neill muttered.

"So, what's the plan?" Daniel asked.

"Same as always," O'Neill responded. "Shoot anything that moves and 
make sure it doesn't get up."


"That's the last one," Daniel said as O'Neill and Teal'c heaved another 
body out the airlock.

"Did ya see their faces?!" Jack crowed to Teal'c.

"They were indeed quite startled, Colonel O'Neill."

"That's one word for it," Daniel muttered.

"Scared shitless is two," O'Neill responded cheerfully. "Wanna try for 

"Not really," Daniel commented, hiding a smile.

"Sir!" Carter called over the radio. "You'd better get up here!"

"We're on our way!" he called back, heading on the double for the 
command center.

"Sir," Carter said as they arrived. "I'm not sure what it is, but I'm 
getting some odd readings here."

Teal'c stepped up to the controls where she stood. Then glanced out the 
large viewing window. "Major Carter is correct. There are several 
gliders returning." He fired on the ships, taking them by surprise, 
until not one was left intact. "There may be others. It would perhaps 
be best if we moved."

"Go for it," O'Neill told them, hopping into the command chair. "We 
need to pick up Pierson anyway."

A minute or two later they were airborne and the fifteen or so miles to 
reach Methos' location took only a few moments longer.

"Uh, sir?" Carter said querulously. "Isn't that..."

"Adam," Daniel nodded, staring in wonder as Methos hung suspended in 
midair, surrounded by a semi-transparent ball of golden light.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Jack muttered, heading for the window. "That's 
Tok'ra. Gotta be."

"It's moving, sir," Carter told him. "Look's like he's leading us away 
from here."

"A wise precaution," Teal'c nodded. "The contamination in this area is 
extremely high. We will need to be well away from here before a 
transfer can safely be made."

They headed south, towards Aswan, landing the ship not far from where 
Tok'ra's modified carapace paused in the midst of the desert.

"We okay to open the front door?" O'Neill asked. Carter gave a half 
shrug and nodded. "Tok'ra must somehow be containing the radiation. I'm 
not getting any readings. I'd say it's safe as long as Pierson's kept 

"Do it," O'Neill ordered and headed for the hatchway, quickly followed 
by the others.

They reached the main corridor just as Methos' body was brought aboard, 
trailing after Tok'ra as the Ancient led the way to the Goa'uld 
sarcophagus. The Quickening settled over the device, the lid sliding 
back allowing Methos to be gently lowered inside. The coffin closed and 
the golden ball slowly metamorphosed into a more fluid cloud of glowing 
light which surrounded them all.

"It is safe now," a deep bass voice rumbled through their minds. "The 
sarcophagus will transmute the radiation into less dangerous forms of 
energy. It will take time, but Methos will revive."

"Uh, thanks," O'Neill said, somewhat taken aback as he reached out to 
touch the wall of light that was the Ancient's life force and felt a 
mild electrical shock.

"You are all most welcome," Tok'ra's voice sounded amused.

"Hey, uh, can I ask you something?" Jack wondered.

"Certainly, Colonel O'Neill," the Ancient allowed.

"Was he, you know, Methos, always this bullheaded?"

There was laughter in all their minds at that. "A stubborn child," 
Tok'ra confided. "But always with good intent."

"Not always," Daniel pointed out.

"True," Tok'ra agreed, quietly. "At this moment in time he is not 
himself. And some of that is my fault. Had I not raised him so gently 
the trauma of his life might not have been so great. But these are 
things no parent can know. Still, I am pleased with the way he turned 
out. The choice to sacrifice his own comfort and safety for that of his 
friends was a thing I never again expected of him."

"Yeah, well, thanks for the insight," O'Neill grimaced. "I thought it 
was just me."

They could somehow feel that Tok'ra was smiling. "Now, may I ask you a 

Jack squinted at the light, frowning. "I don't care if he's the Son of 
God. Ten thousand push ups and not one hump less," he declared firmly.

"I will leave the military discipline in your obviously capable 
hands," the Ancient chuckled. "But the favor is one of great import to 
me -- much more so than the chance to see his face when you tell him 
that -- O Great Satan!"

Now it was O'Neill's turn to laugh. "Sure," he said, relaxing. "Shoot!"

"Would you do me the honor of looking after my son when I cannot?"

Jack looked nonplused. "He's a little old for a baby sitter, don't y' 

"Only by your standards," Tok'ra pointed out and O'Neill nodded 

"Sure," he shrugged. "Why not. I can keep an eye on him for you. That 

"That is all I ask," Tok'ra acknowledged, "and to offer you my deepest 

At that, the light that was Tok'ra suddenly focused on O'Neill, passing 
through him like the wind only to be gone an instant later as if he'd 
never been.

Jack shuddered and glanced around the now empty room, looking horrified 
as he grabbed his chest and felt down his torso. "Did I just get 

Daniel shook his head as he walked away, while Teal'c merely raised an 
eyebrow and Carter smiled.

"Hey! It's not funny! That was weird!"

"Consider it an intergalactic hug," Daniel called over his shoulder.

"Nice! Kid's a brat, dad's a hugger," O'Neill sighed, finally giving up 
on getting any sympathy out of his companions. "Okay, campers, let's 
get a move on. I want the gear sorted and repacked. Daniel!" he called 
after the archaeologist. "You stay here. Keep an eye on Pierson," he 
ordered as the other man paused. "You're good at watching dead things."


The sound of sliding metal roused Daniel from his reading and he 
hurriedly stuffed Methos' journal back into the other man's pack. 
Fascinating stuff his reflections on the past through modern eyes. The 
sarcophagus opened and he heard a soft groan then moved to its side.

"How are you?" he asked softly. Methos looked around and tried to sit 
up just as Daniel noticed how emaciated he was.

"I thought this thing was supposed to heal you?" Methos asked tiredly 
when he was finally upright and could see where he was.

"It does," Daniel explained. "But I'm not sure it can do anything about 
weight loss," he nodded at the Immortal's physique. "Or hair loss."

"Mmmm," Methos grunted noncommittally, rubbing his smooth head as he 
accepted Daniel's assistance and climbed out. "I feel awful," he 
finally muttered, swaying on his feet.

"Sounds about right," Daniel agreed. "You look like dea-- Uhm, crap," 
he finally decided.

"No doubt I have Tok'ra to thank for that as well," he sighed, allowing 
himself to be propped against the side of the sarcophagus as Daniel 
went to fetch something for him to wear. 

"You don't sound too happy," Daniel commented as he dug into the pack.

"The old man and I had a little talk while I was hanging around waiting 
to get dumped. Bastard wouldn't share his power with me. Could have 
gotten me out and healed in an eye blink. But no," Methos grimaced. 
"I'm supposed to learn a lesson from all this. Something about self-
centered arrogance, I believe," he snorted in disgust.

Daniel suppressed a smile. "Parents are like that," he commiserated, 
offering Methos the robe and slippers he'd hidden in his pack back on 

With a sigh Methos put them on. Good choice, he thought approvingly. 
Comfortable comforting clothes. Always nice after a rotten day at work. 
He didn't even want to think about the argument he'd had with Tok'ra. 
Though, he admitted wryly, the Ancient had gotten him to safety -- and 
healed -- even if it hadn't been all he'd hoped for.

"I take it he's gone again?" Methos asked as Daniel put an arm around 
his shoulders and helped him walk.

"Yeah," Daniel nodded, grabbing the Immortal's pack. "But he liked the 
way you turned out."

Taken aback by the compliment, Methos thought about it a moment then 
nodded. "Compared to what he has to work with now, I'm not surprised."

They made it to the corridor and from there down to the Stargate in 
slow, easy steps which still left Methos tired.

"Welcome back from the dead!" O'Neill called as he saw them enter. 
"Ready to go home, Captain?"

"More than ready," Methos acknowledged. "But can we?"

That, of course, had always been the question from the beginning. Just 
knowing the right sequence and having enough power might not do it. 
There had always been some doubt as to just how they'd ended up in the 
exact time and place they'd needed to be to set things right. Was it 
simply the extra energy caused by Ptahsennes' Quickening coupled with 
the DHD being struck by debris which inadvertently added two more 
addresses to the code? Or had there been something more involved?

Carter grinned. "I think we'll make it. Apparently, before he left, 
Tok'ra did something to the controls. There's more energy in the gate 
than I've ever seen and I can't tell where it's coming from."

Methos quirked one hairless brow at the Stargate. "Thanks, Dad!" he 
called as everyone simply stared.

"My pleasure, son," the voice of Tok'ra sounded as the glyphs glowed 
with each vibration. "After all, it was I who sent you here in the 
first place."

"You did this to us?!" O'Neill asked, startled at the revelation.

"My apologies, Colonel," the Ancient intoned. "Though I as yet have 
nothing to apologize for. But it seems to me, that knowing what was to 
be, I would have made it my business to assure your world's survival."

"But you evolved," Daniel said softly. "Became part of the cosmos. Free 
of all worldly concerns."

"Did I?" Tok'ra's voice held a smile. "Still, I am and always will be 
Tok'ra. He who is against Ra. Perhaps I set myself one final task," he 
admitted. "There is no other way you could have arrived here so 
precipitously. The ninth chevron can be activated by anyone, but it 
takes the will of an Ancient to bend the wormhole to its final 
destination. And neither Methos, nor Ptahsennes could have managed it. 
Of course," he added wryly. "There are a few bugs in the system, as 
you've discovered in your travels. But these are minor glitches I did 
not have time to correct. And no one but I, and now you, knows the true 
secret of the ninth chevron."

"You built the Stargates?" Samantha asked, astonished.

"No, Major," he responded gently. "I merely developed the later models 
for intergalactic travel. The final chevron was simply a foolish whim 
of mine."

"Some whim," O'Neill muttered disgustedly.

"It has served its purpose," Tok'ra merely commented.

"Look, everyone," Methos finally interjected. "This is all very 
interesting, but can we please just get back to the future?"

"Impatient as always," Tok'ra sighed.

"Oh, don't give me that!" Methos sneered. "The least you could have 
done was grow my hair back!"

"It is a most distinguished visage," Teal'c nodded approvingly as 
Methos rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, when I was hiding out as a Buddhist monk!"

"Hare, hare! Hare Krishna!" O'Neill sang under his breath, eliciting 
giggles and snickers from Carter and Daniel while Methos sullenly 
crossed his arms and frowned.

Tok'ra chuckled and the gate suddenly opened without warning. "Take the 
boy home, Colonel. And remember your promise."

"Will do." O'Neill started to wave at the gate, then stopped abruptly 
looking embarrassed.

"Uh, Jack," Daniel said as the others collected their things. "I think 
there's something you should know."

O'Neill frowned. "Not now, Daniel."

"But, Jack!"

"I said not now!" he snapped, heading for the gate.


"It can wait!" O'Neill insisted. "Now let's move!"

Daniel glanced back at the ship and sighed, following the others as one 
by one they passed into the light until he stood alone before the gate. 

"He's going to be pissed, you know."

In the back of his mind he could hear Tok'ra laughing.

The gate glowed brightly as the Ancient seemed to smile. "I was 
counting on it."

Chapter 42

"Receiving SG-1's transmission signal," the technician reported.

"Open the iris," General Hammond ordered and headed down to the gate 

The event horizon rippled slightly as first Major Carter and Teal'c 
then O'Neill and Methos passed through. A moment later, Daniel stepped 
onto the ramp and stared like the rest of them at the familiar gate 

Below, Hammond stood open mouthed, taking in the sight of his team. 
"What the hell happened to you?!" he asked, dumbfounded.

The five looked at each other as if seeing themselves for the first 
time in months. Carter, Daniel and O'Neill were a dusky shade of bronze 
with hair and brows dyed black as coal. Hair which was far too long to 
be remotely considered regulation. Beside them, Methos was pale, thin 
and very hairless, dressed in a blue caftan robe with matching 
slippers. Only Teal'c looked relatively normal. Though like the others, 
his uniform appeared worn and a bit frayed at the edges.

"I certainly hope you have a good explanation for this, Colonel." the 
general said, shaking his head slowly as they made their way down the 

"First," O'Neill said. "What day is it, sir?"

"What day?" Hammond looked stunned. "It's Friday."

"No, the date, sir." The general told him and O'Neill looked equally 
baffled. "That means we haven't left yet," he said to Carter.

"Actually, sir, it means we just got back," she responded.

"Well, duh!"

"No, sir. I mean we just got back from our last mission. The one before 
the concert. Before Egypt."

"What concert? What about Egypt?" the general wanted to know.

"Springsteen," Jack supplied. "Great show. We were on our way to 
dinner, then you ordered us back to the base. There's a Goa'uld ship 
out in the desert. We were sent to check it out. Or," he amended. "We 
will be sent to check it out."

"No, we won't," Daniel interjected and everyone turned to him.

"What do you mean we won't?" O'Neill asked.

"What I kept trying to tell you back there," Daniel said. "We parked in 
a construction zone."


"We landed near Aswan."

"Of no!" Methos groaned. "The dam!"

"What dam?" O'Neill demanded. "There was no dam there."

"But there is now," Methos pointed out.

Daniel nodded. "Since the sixties that whole area's been underwater. 
The Aswan dam is what keeps the Nile from flooding every year. So, 
there's no ship for the satellites to spot and no mission to go on. The 
end result. We're right back where we started."

O'Neill looked furious. "God damn it! Tok'ra!"

General Hammond cleared his throat. He wasn't sure what was going on. 
This was supposed to have been a simple recon mission to a primitive 
planet. Now they were back, looking as if they'd been gone for years 
and babbling about Egypt, Goa'uld ships and the Tok'ra? 

"All right, people, settle down. You," he pointed to Methos, who looked 
ready to collapse, "obviously belong in the infirmary."

"Nah," O'Neill shook his head. "He's not radioactive anymore. A nice 
nap, a few good meals and he'll be fine."

"Radioactive?!" The general exclaimed. "All right, that's it," he 
ordered. "I want all of you checked out. Now!"

With grimaces and grumbles they headed for Dr. Fraiser's domain as 
Hammond took a deep breath and sighed.

"Aspirin first," he muttered with a shake of his head. "I can already 
tell this debriefing's going to be a doozy!"


One Month Later...

The locker room was empty, but for the members of SG-1. They'd taken 
the leave they'd been given, which had been done separately -- agreed 
upon by all in silent consensus. Two years living in too close quarters 
might have made them friends, but even good friends needed a break from 
each other. And now they were back. Together again and, after their 
mandatory physical, ready to go back to work in the morning.

Methos hid a smile as he watched the others dressing, once again at 
ease in their surroundings. Those first few days back had been 
difficult even for him. Reacquainting himself with all the modern 
conveniences he'd missed had been an almost reverential experience. He 
could only imagine what it must have been like for the rest of the 

From what he knew, Carter, who like the others had stripped her hair 
back to its natural color and cut short again, had spent some time 
visiting with her father then returned to the SGC to work on her 
beloved science projects. Teal'c had also gone to visit family. He'd 
never said anything during the mission, but he must have missed his son 
terribly. Daniel didn't have much family, but he'd made the rounds of 
those he did have, spending the rest of his time writing up the notes 
he'd made in Egypt and publishing what was considered a new and 
groundbreaking monograph on the lost treasures of King Solomon.

He glanced at Jack and had to grin. By all accounts, the good colonel 
had spent his month traveling. New York, LA, Chicago, even Las Vegas 
had been on his itinerary. The most modern cities with the most modern 
conveniences -- bright lights, hotels with 24 hour room service, 
satellite TV and fast food deliveries. He'd finished off his grand tour 
by spending almost every penny of the two years back pay they'd all 
received on gadgets and high end electronics. A truly admirable revel 
in Methos' opinion.

For himself, he'd gone first to London, recuperating alone in his house 
while his hair grew back. Once he'd deemed it long enough, he'd had it 
cut high and tight. A little too short for his liking, but it seemed to 
amuse Jack. More importantly, it had horrified MacLeod once he'd made 
his way to Paris. The poor Highlander seemed to think he'd be sent to 
Basic Training -- as he assumed Methos had been -- once he came up with 
enough names for that strike force he was still working on. Of course, 
Methos had done nothing to disabuse him of this notion. It was just too 
funny watching MacLeod watch him -- all the while nervously fingering 
the silver clasp that held his long hair back.

Methos looked at his watch and sighed softly, recalling the other thing 
he'd done while in Paris. According to the Watchers, Ramirez had died 
in Scotland by the hand of the Kurgan. Connor MacLeod had possession of 
his teacher's sword and the world went on the same as it had before.

A great loss, Methos thought sadly as he put on his long coat. Tonight 
should have been the night he was to meet his old friend. He would 
still go to Bellinni's to celebrate the life of a good man, but it 
would not be the same. Of course, if he had company...

"You guys hungry?" he suddenly asked as the others rose to leave.

"I could eat," O'Neill shrugged.

"What do say we all go to Bellinni's? Have that dinner we never got. My 

"Sounds great," Carter grinned along with the others.

"Good," Methos smiled, feeling relieved.

"Why don't you guys go find Teal'c," O'Neill suggested. "We'll meet you 
up top."

An hour later, they were being seated in the romantically lit if 
slightly overdone art deco confines of the restaurant. A discreet 
exchange of gratuities had gotten them a table on the balcony above the 
main dining room -- usually reserved for couples, but the maitre d' was 
willing to overlook that along with their lack of a reservation.

"Nice," O'Neill nodded, opening his menu.

"Hey, guys," Daniel grinned. "They've got a pesto pasta with goat 
cheese topping. Yum!"

Methos grimaced. "Did I ever mention that I loathe goat cheese?"

"More to the point," O'Neill commented sardonically. "It loathes you."

Methos cocked his head, looking confused. "What does that mean?"

Samantha looked uncomfortable, while O'Neill grinned and pulled a small 
package from his jacket pocket. "I keep these handy for emergencies," 
he said, tossing the item to Methos. "I think your inability to get 
along with anything remotely resembling milk fat qualifies."

He looked at the box and discovered it's contents, startled as he 
realized O'Neill was correct. Great gods, Methos thought, flushing with 
embarrassment. No wonder yak butter does me in every time. I'm lactose 

"Thank you," he murmured, squinting to read the directions on the back 
of the box in the dim light. He was just tearing open the package when 
the sudden sense of a strong Immortal presence intruded on his 
thoughts. His face went blank as he glanced down at the dining room 
below and focused on the door. Then a second presence announced itself 
and he leaned back, allowing the shadows to hide his pale reflection.

"What is it?" Jack asked tersely, seeing the tension in Methos' body.

The ancient Immortal suddenly leaned forward, hardly daring to believe 
his eyes. "Ramirez!" he shouted, startling the other diners. And...

"Isn't that Ptahsennes?" Daniel asked excitedly.

Methos glanced at the boy and nodded then turned back to stare in 
wonder at his old friends. "How in the world...?" he whispered, shaking 
his head as the two Immortals waved, ignoring the Maitre d' to make 
their own way to the upper level.

Methos rose as they reached their table, eagerly shaking hands with 
Ramirez, who pulled him into a gentle hug. It was the same with 
Ptahsennes, who augmented his greeting with a fine insult and a light 
slap to the eldest Immortal's cheek.

"Why so surprised?" Ramirez asked quietly as a waitress fetched an 
extra pair of chairs. "Did you not invite me?"

Behind them, O'Neill cleared his throat and Methos turned to see the 
colonel's eyes staring daggers at him. Shit! he realized. I never did 
mention that part of our conversation to Jack. Still, when in doubt, he 
thought, play the gentleman and be a good host -- then hope like hell 
for the best, Methos decided.

He turned to Ramirez to begin the introductions. "I'd like you to 

"I know these people," Ramirez murmured in amazement. "You," he pointed 
to O'Neill. "You're the man who wouldn't let me take out the trash."

"I'm beginning to rethink that issue," Jack's voice was icy with fury.

The Immortal smiled. "Juan Ramirez," he said, offering his hand, which 
O'Neill briefly shook. "My companion," he gestured to the other 
Egyptian, "is Peter Sennes." O'Neill nodded and, remembering his 
manners, since only one Immortal was at fault here, introduced himself 
and the rest of the team.

"I am truly astonished," Ramirez admitted, looking at their faces as he 
and Ptahsennes joined Methos in taking their seats. "And most 
interested to finally hear this explanation."

"First," Methos insisted as the rest of SG-1 stared at him coldly. "I 
want to know how you survived the Kurgan. You're supposed to be dead, 
you know!"

Ramirez and Ptahsennes looked at the mortals then at each other and 
shrugged. "He seems to be safe enough with them," Ramirez commented, 
nodding to Methos. "I see no harm in their knowing."

"Agreed," Ptahsennes sighed.

"The Kurgan," Methos insisted.

"Yes, the Kurgan." Ramirez waved to the waitress and ordered wine. "We 
fought as Heather MacLeod surely told her husband. And yes, I 
remembered your warning, my friend. But I could not run and leave the 
girl to that one's tender mercies. Not by choice, at any rate," he 
amended sadly. "It was just as the beast swung to take my head that we 
were both suddenly engulfed in the most amazing Quickening. It came 
from neither of us, but was there all the same."

"Tok'ra!" Daniel interrupted and Ramirez nodded affably.

"Indeed, that is what this great being called itself. To the Kurgan, 
and anyone watching I expect, it appeared to be a normal Quickening. 
But of course, all things are in the eye of the beholder and we see and 
believe what we wish. I lost my sword, but not my head as this great 
mass of energy carried me off to Ptahsennes' home in Egypt. And there I 
have remained until now at Tok'ra's request."

"He spoke to you?" Methos looked startled.

"I had a word with your father, yes," Ramirez smiled wickedly.

"Explained a few things, did he?" Methos grimaced wryly.

"A few," the Egyptian admitted. "By way of thanks for taking you in 

Methos rolled his eyes disgustedly. "I do not need a baby sitter," he 
muttered in annoyance.

"Which reminds me," O'Neill smiled with feigned pleasantness. "I think 
it's time Captain Pierson and I had a little talk. Would you excuse us? 
Gentlemen," he nodded to the Immortals as he rose, laying one heavy 
hand on Methos shoulder as he led them toward the exit.

"Before you get all hot under the collar," Methos said hurriedly once 
they were alone in one of the empty banquet halls attached to the 
restaurant. "Just let me explain."

O'Neill crossed his arms as he found an empty barstool and took a seat. 
"I'm already hot under the collar," he said flatly. "And I can pretty 
much figure it out for myself, Pierson. You didn't think he'd believe 
you without offering to someday explain."

"Well, yes," Methos answered reasonably. "He wouldn't have."

"Of course," Jack went on, deceptively mild. "That doesn't explain why 
you didn't tell me the truth. All of it."

No, it didn't, but then Methos never was one for sharing information he 
didn't think he had to. "I didn't see that it concerned you. I mean, 
you wouldn't have even been here tonight if I'd thought Ramirez was 

"I see," O'Neill nodded slowly. "So, you weren't thinking about what 
you could do for the team by inviting us to dinner, but what you could 
do to ease your conscience."

Methos winced a little, not liking the way O'Neill made that sound. 
Still, brazen was always better, wasn't it? 

"I don't have a conscience," he responded airily. "Gave it up for Lent 
about a thousand years ago and haven't missed it since."

Jack smiled grimly. "You know, Pierson. I was gonna let you slide on 
that last fuck up. I figured, 'Hey, he's been through enough. He's 
learned his lesson.' Hell, you even apologized and told me I was right. 
It needed five. But no, you would rather have suffered alone than watch 
us die in agony. A deeply considerate gesture," O'Neill nodded slowly. 
"Got me right," he touched his fist to his chest, "here. And it almost 

"Look, Jack--"

"No, no, no," O'Neill waved a finger. "Don't interrupt, Captain. This 
isn't a democracy, remember?"

Methos frowned, but held his silence.

"As I was saying, Captain," he went on, stressing the title. "You seem 
to think you're a law unto yourself. That as long as it doesn't involve 
us mortals, we don't have a right to know about it. And that's all well 
and good. Keep your damn secrets," O'Neill said coolly. "But this does 
involve us. More importantly, it involves matters of national security 
which, if we hadn't been here, you would have, by your own admission, 
had no qualms in discussing. Isn't that right?"

"They won't say anything," Methos insisted. "And as you've pointed out, 
Immortals are good at keeping secrets. Besides, who would believe them 

O'Neill shook his head and sighed. "That's not the point -- and you 
know it. Now, drop and give me fifty," he ordered coldly.

"What?!" Methos' eyes went wide.

"Your first fifty push ups," O'Neill explained as he stood, slowly 
backing Methos against the bar.

"First fifty?" Methos asked, stalling for time since he had no 
intention of doing any. "How many do you want?"

"Ten thousand seems about right."

"Ten thousand?!" Methos laughed. "Are you out of your mind?!"

O'Neill sighed and stepped away, nodding slowly. "Figured you'd say 
that. Okay, Methos. You can go."

"Go?" Methos asked, confused.

"Yeah," O'Neill responded. "Go on. Go home. Go back to Nepal. Wherever. 
In a couple of weeks Adam Pierson will get his release papers."

Methos stared at O'Neill, not quite sure what was happening here, 
except... "You're kicking me out?" he asked, quietly stunned. "Over 
this? After all I've done?"

"You want more medals?" Jack inquired archly.

"No!" Methos shook his head angrily. "I want to know why!"

"You want to know why?" Jack asked, laughing softly. "Look, Methos. 
I've tried everything with you. Protocol. Shouting. Little personal 
chats -- which I hate, by the way. Nothing works. You still seem to 
think that the world revolves around you and your Immortal buddies. 
Well, here's a wake up call for y' pal. It doesn't! The only difference 
between us is that you get lots older and you're tougher to kill. I 
separate your head from your neck and you are just as dead as I am."

"But I thought that's why you wanted me on the team," Methos said. 
"Because I am Immortal."

"No," O'Neill shook his head. "I wanted you there because what I saw 
were the makings of a damn fine soldier. A tough, brilliant, capable 
man who knew how to fight. Knew how to kill and walk away without 
needing anyone to hold his hand before or after. And yeah, a man who 
knew how to keep a secret. I liked that. I needed that. But somewhere 
between that temple and Delphi that man took a hike. Now, don't get me 
wrong," O'Neill went on. "I like you, Methos. You're a good man. But 
Adam Pierson knew how to follow orders -- mostly. Sure, he was 
insubordinate. But he never once made me have to worry about the 
consequences of his actions. You do. And I'm sorry, Methos, but I have 
to draw the line somewhere. And I draw it at treason."

Methos' eyes widened in shock as the word reverberated in his mind. He 
swallowed hard, realizing O'Neill was right. He hadn't even thought of 
it that way. Telling Ramirez about the gate, about how they'd traveled 
back in time was just... What? A little friendly explanation between 
friends? Some amusing bit of anecdotal apocrypha to be brought up over 
a glass of beer a few centuries later? 

Methos bowed his head, sighing softly. "I'm sorry, Jack. I do 
understand though," he nodded. "This isn't just about Immortals or 
mortals. It's about both. It's about everything. And that makes it more 
important than either."

"Yes, it does."

"And you're right about me," Methos agreed sadly. "I don't fit in. I'm 
not sure I ever can. I'm an arrogant, self-centered bastard, who's seen 
too much and done too little that would ever be considered good. It 
makes me a poor candidate for Soldier of the Year if that's what you're 
after. So," he sighed. "I'll go quietly. And I'll keep your secrets. 
You tell Ramirez and Ptahsennes whatever you want. I can disappear for 
a couple of centuries. Hopefully, by then, it won't matter anymore."

"So that's it?" O'Neill asked. "You think you can just saunter out of 
here and leave me to clean up your mess?"

Methos looked baffled. "But you want me to leave. You just kicked me 

"No!" he insisted. "What I want is for you to start taking 
responsibility for yourself. To start thinking of yourself as a human 
being instead of just an Immortal. To join the rest of us in picking up 
after ourselves. We make a mistake, we have to clean it up. Immortals 
cause havoc for mortals and they run away. Sit it out for a couple of 
centuries until it all blows over. Well, you can't. Because whether you 
think you fit in, or whether you want to or not, you need to start 
learning how. And I want you learn how to trust. Because even if you 
don't trust me, at least trust that I have your best interests in mind. 
More importantly, I want you to DROP AND GIVE ME FIFTY!"

Somewhere during O'Neill's lecture Methos felt his mouth fall open. 
Maybe it was the accusation of cowardice, or maybe it was the bit about 
trust. He didn't know and right now, as he stared in shock at the 
carpet, he didn't think he'd ever figure it out.

Damn he's good! Methos thought, not quite remembering just how he'd 
gotten from a standing position to one of lying prone on the floor. And 
he sure as hell didn't want to know why some part of him started doing 
push ups as soon O'Neill started counting. Thoughtless obedience? From 
him? The master manipulator following orders? What had O'Neill done to 
him?! The thought left him feeling vaguely frightened, because this 
wasn't ever the way Methos behaved. And yet, it was also oddly 
comforting, because it seemed that after all this time some part of him 
was still capable of trusting.

As the count came to a finish Methos heard the order to recover and he 
rose, staring hard at O'Neill. This one bore watching, he thought 
soberly. If one so young could manage to teach him this many lessons in 
so brief a time then it was obvious he'd become too complacent in his 
life. And he hadn't survived this long without paying attention. 
O'Neill had demanded his trust and his loyalty. Not because he felt 
superior to Immortals, but because he accepted them as equals with an 
equal stake in the fate of humanity. Just as he offered his trust and 
his loyalty to everyone he chose to work with and expected the same in 
return. An offer sincerely made. No strings attached. The only question 
left was whether Methos was capable of accepting it.

O'Neill nodded slowly. "You're a good man, Pierson. I don't want to 
lose you. And certainly not because you never learned have faith in 
anyone but yourself. I've cut you more slack than I've ever cut anyone 
in my life. But there are some things I won't tolerate. Those two men 
out there can screw the whole ball of wax. Whether they do or not is 
immaterial. The fact that they could is what's important here."

Methos swallowed hard. What a tangled mess he'd gone and made here! Say 
one word and he'd have to tell it all. Say nothing and they still knew 
too much. And knowing Ramirez, the Egyptian would keep digging for 
answers until he found them. 

"Well, sir," he finally responded. "Perhaps we'll just have to recruit 
them to the cause."

Jack's brows rose at the suggestion. 

"Now, that's my minion!" O'Neill sighed with pleasure and a hint of 
relief, throwing an arm around Methos' shoulder as he led the way back 
into the crowded restaurant. "Always has a plan I can count on!"