Changing of the Guard 3: Be All That You Can Be

Chapter 14

"Are you sure this is the right address?" Jacob turned to his
daughter as they stood outside a neat little turn of the century
building in a suburb just outside of London. "It looks like a doctor's

"This is the place," Ramirez said cheerfully, grinning widely as he
looked up into a third floor window and waved to someone.

"That buzz thing, right?" Jacob whispered to Samantha who merely

The window was shoved open and a pair of dark, feminine heads leaned
out, long hair blowing in the stiff breeze of late summer. 



"Beloved and Beloved!" the gregarious Egyptian called out, spreading
his arms wide as if to embrace them both. "May weary travelers ask
succor and hospitality of thy welcome abode?"

"Heavens! It really is the old Casanova!" one of the women laughed. 

"Get up here you old reprobate!" the other called and the women
disappeared as their guests entered the first floor hall.

The stairs were narrow and steep, but Ramirez took them two at a time
reaching the top just as the door nearest the landing was flung open.
Cries of joy and exclamations of happiness echoed from above as Jacob
and Samantha followed more slowly. They were dressed casually as
Methos had suggested and the two women merely nodded politely as they
ushered everyone inside.

"There is no more fortunate man," Ramirez said as he held the hand of
each woman in one of his own. "Excepting my friend Jacob," he winked
at Carter. "Who finds himself in the company of the two most
beautiful," he placed a kiss on one delicate hand, "splendid," another
kiss on another hand, "women in the world."

"Speak for yourself," Jacob grinned. "I think my daughter's a

"Dad!" Samantha hissed, looking embarrassed.

"Of course," Ramirez bowed elegantly to her. "And I should have said
as much, but doing pushups for being impertinent to a superior officer
wasn't something I'd planned on."

Ignoring the looks of confusion this comment received from the two
ladies Ramirez went on to make their introductions. "My sweet
Cassandra," he gave a little half bow to her. "And my darling
Cierdwyn." He offered her the same courtesy holding out one arm toward
his companions. "I should like you both to make the acquaintance of
this very fine gentleman and his brilliant daughter. General Jacob
Carter and Major Samantha Carter. Both of the United States Air Force,
my new employer."

Shock colored both Cassandra's and Cierdwyn's expressions.

"First you're not dead and then you come here with the Air Force?!"
Cierdwyn shouted, shoving Ramirez' hard enough to make him stagger
back a pace. "Have you lost your mind?!"

"Cierdwyn," Cassandra chided gently. "We must stay calm. I'm sure he
has good reasons for this," her voice rose in a question.

"I do indeed," Ramirez murmured. "But perhaps we should find a more
commodious place to talk than this empty, albeit charming hallway."

A few minutes later they were making themselves comfortable in
Cierdwyn's sitting room. Her secretary brought in tea then Cierdwyn
asked her to cancel the rest of her appointments for the day and take
the afternoon off.

"So," Samantha asked just to break the ice once the assistant was
gone. "How long have you been a therapist?" Cierdwyn looked curiously
at her, obviously confused. "I mean," the major gestured at the
shelves lining the walls. "Some of these books are really old. Did you
study with Freud?"

Cierdwyn hid her surprise though Cassandra stiffened uncomfortably as
they both realized that her question not only implied these mortals
knew what they were, but confirmed it utterly.

"No," Cierdwyn responded calmly. "I only recently took up the
profession. Circa 1955. Those books were bequeathed to me by my old
friend and mentor, Sean Burns." She looked to Ramirez, mentally
dismissing the mortals. "You have a lot of explaining to do, Juan.
Start with why you aren't dead, then tell me why I shouldn't challenge
you on the spot?"

Ramirez waved a hand. "The first is a long story, for which there is
plenty of time. The second..." he shrugged. "Times change and we must
embrace them. Sometimes it is better to know and be known by those who
can be trusted then to remain ignorant and miss the greater fight."

"What fight?" Cassandra demanded. "And how does this concern us?"

"Actually," Jacob interjected. "It concerns you more than your
friend," he nodded to Cierdwyn. "Though from what I can see," he
gestured toward the shelves littered with Celtic bric-a-brac. "If you
are what I think you are, then I know a few people who'll be glad if
you listen in."

"And what do you think I am?" Cierdwyn asked curiously, sipping her

"That's Boadicea's symbol, isn't it?" Carter asked, nodding toward a
rather large, circular stone ornament bolted to the wall. Cierdwyn
raised an eyebrow, inclining her head fractionally. "And from the
looks of things I'd guess you're too damn old not to know what that
stands for. You fought with her against the Romans, didn't you?"

"Fought and died," Cierdwyn acknowledged, rather liking the
forthright man.

He looked at Ramirez then glanced at his daughter. "It's your call,
but I'd say your man knew she'd be here."

Samantha nodded, smiling just a bit. "Agreed. Go for it."

"Airman Ramirez," Carter grinned. "Why don't you introduce your
friends to the other member of our party?"

The Egyptian's brows went up and he nodded. "A wise idea, General. My
dearest ladies, I should like you to meet Selmak, Representative of
the High Council of the Tok'ra..."


Cassandra patted her neck with a cool washcloth, carefully checking
her face and hair in the ladies room mirror to make sure everything
was in order. She felt more hysterical laughter coming on and covered
her mouth, sitting abruptly on the covered toilet seat to calm her
nerves. Deep breaths, she told herself. Steady... The urge passed and
she sighed, standing slowly before stepping outside to find Ramirez
waiting for her, a concerned expression on his handsome face.

"Are you well enough to talk?" he asked gently.

Cassandra nodded. "I was only startled," she explained. "The
creature," she swallowed and looked away. "Selmak. The way it
described itself and these Goa'uld... I may have already killed one,
you see." Ramirez' eyes widened and he waited for her to continue. "I
cast out a demon once," she explained. "In Antioch. It spoke as this
one did -- the voice and glowing eyes, but making claims of divinity.
I called it forth from the young man it had inhabited and a serpent of
some sort tore through the poor boy's throat, entering my body. When I
awoke the thing was gone and I could not sense it anywhere within me.
My Quickening must have destroyed it," she added thoughtfully.

Ramirez nodded slowly, agreeing with her assessment. "The mortals
said we could not be possessed, but it is good to have you confirm

"And you truly believe them?" she asked curiously.

"I have been to another world, Cassandra. Passed through this gate of
which they speak. How could I not?"

"Of course," Cassandra smiled. "You are no one's fool, Ramesses.
Forgive me for doubting."

"Always, beloved. Now come," he held the door to Cierdwyn's office
open, leading her inside where they could talk in private. "There is
much to discuss," Ramirez said once they were seated. "But I will not
try your patience with flowery words and oblique declarations. It was
Methos who sent us on this errand. And he who requested that I warn
you of his presence."

She paled and her breathing sped up, but Cassandra got control of
herself, pressing her palms together as she took a deep breath. "That
one is also involved?"

"He was the first -- as usual," Ramirez shrugged.

"And you trust him? As you do the mortals?"

The crease between Ramirez' eyes deepened. "He has been a bit of
tyrant these past few weeks, but yes, I trust Methos. He has never
played me false."

Cassandra sighed. "He and I," she shook her head. "There is much bad
blood between us. They tell me he has changed, but..." she shuddered

Ramirez reached out and gently took her hand. "He has changed. And to
tell you a secret, he was not like that to start. He was not raised to
be a brigand and thief, but an honorable warrior and scholar."

Cassandra laughed bitterly. "So he claims!"

Ramirez shook his head. "I had the opportunity to converse with his
father." Now she looked truly surprised. "Methos may have been born on
this world, but he was not raised here among mortals. His father, who
called himself Tok'ra, was of an alien race called the Ancients --
beings of such power that they no longer required human forms to
survive. It was this Tok'ra, the man who was honored with the taking
of his name by those for whom Selmak speaks, who saved my life when I
fought the Kurgan."

Cassandra thought hard. Methos had been a monster in her eyes for so
long... And though she had dealt with her feelings of anger and guilt -
- these past three years with Cierdwyn had been a blessing to her --
she still had difficulty seeing him as anything other than the
Horseman. Finally, she nodded.

"Tell me why you believe he has changed," she requested quietly.

He patted her hand and smiled. "Because I was there. Not at the
beginning," he amended. "That was Methos' doing. He broke his oath,
betrayed the others and left to seek his way among mortals." Cassandra
raised an eyebrow at that. "It is true," Ramirez insisted. "He went to
buy new armor in Athens and was accosted in the market by Socrates."

Cassandra laughed hard at this, picturing what that confrontation
must have been like. The wily philosopher and the clever Horseman
sparring with words not swords. She could indeed see Methos being
subtly conquered by the Socratic method of teaching. A process which
forced the student to examine every reason they had for believing as
they did. It was why Socrates had been condemned to death. He taught
his students not only how to question their own motives, but the long
held traditions and beliefs of the city. Still...

"I do not need to remind you, Ramesses, that the Socratic method does
not require one to give up one's misconduct, merely to understand why
one does it," she pointed out.

"Exactly," Ramirez nodded. "Methos' reasons for doing what he did
were... What do the children say today? Lame. And the more he tried to
justify his behavior the more he had to admit that his reasoning was
flawed. That angered him and so he sought more knowledge in order to
bolster his position. But in the seeking Methos was forced to conclude
that he was in error. It shattered his perceptions of who he was and
what he should be."

"He told you this?"

"Not in so many words," Ramirez sighed. "But I saw the effects myself
centuries later once he'd left the Horsemen. A lost soul desperately
seeking knowledge and a means to exist."

"You took pity on him?" she asked in astonishment.

"Indeed I did," he nodded. "For many reasons. But mostly because I
found the situation amusing. The Horseman reduced to stealing library
books -- and putting them back on the shelves after, if you can
believe it!"

"Methos," she stated with a hint of amazement. "Putting stolen goods
back where he found them." Cassandra shook her head. "Why am I
surprised?" she asked rhetorically. "He was always the odd one."

"And there you have hit the nail on the head, my dear," Ramirez
smiled proudly. "He was a Horseman, but not of the Horsemen. Not cut
from the same cloth as the others. It was circumstance that placed him
there. And fear."

"Fear?" she demanded. "He led the Horseman!"

Ramirez shook his head slowly. "You are seeing him from the point of
view of his slave, Cassandra. He may have seemed all powerful to you
and an equal to the others, but he wasn't. If you were his prisoner,
he was Kronos' trustee. More freedom of movement, but just as
constrained by fear."

"Of what?"

"His teacher. Ku'ahktar."

Cassandra inhaled sharply, absently making the sign to ward off the
evil eye.

"I see you have heard the name," Ramirez nodded. "Good. Because when
you think on what he did to you, you must also consider what was done
to him. He trained you as he was trained, but with more kindness than
was ever shown to him. If you can feel no pity for the Horseman then
take pity on the gentle scribe who came into the hands of that beast."

"I'd no idea," Cassandra breathed, closing her eyes to push away the
images his words had called forth. Terrible rumors she'd heard of
deeds so unspeakable they could only be whispered. Methos was
doubtless mad by the time he was released. And brilliant madmen could
be most dangerous indeed. 

And oddly enough, she did feel pity. And a sense of sorrow for him.
The emotions shocked her and Cassandra opened her eyes, deciding not
to look too closely at them for the time being. She would have to wait
and see. 

"All right," she sighed. "You have warned me. And I have had a few
years to accept the idea that Methos is still among the living. I will
not challenge him immediately."

Ramirez nodded thoughtfully. "I know he will be relieved. He does not
wish you ill, Cassandra. I don't believe he ever truly did. Just as
you have known he lives, so too Methos has known of you. And we both
know him well enough to say that if he wished you dead you would be."

"Then we have a truce," Cassandra agreed, silently amazed at how
little anger she felt at the idea. Then again, she thought as they
rose to rejoin the others, Cierdwyn had worked long and hard to help
her past the memories. Of course there was fear and a lingering doubt
about the eldest Immortal's involvement in all this. But she would
deal with it when she saw him. Make her decisions based on who he was
and not who he had been. 

That was a fool's game, she reminded herself as she listened to Major
Carter explain the travel plans which would bring them to the United
States. As Cierdwyn had reminded her time and again, her captors might
have been longer lived, but they were no different than thousands of
other men of that era. What had made Kronos, Silas and Caspian worse
was that they had carried those same beliefs into the modern age.
Could Methos have done the same despite what those who knew him now
seemed to believe? she wondered nervously. Perhaps. But again, she
vowed silently, the anger would not have her. This was something she
herself would need to see.

Chapter 15

 "A Celtic warrior-woman/shrink," Jack said quietly.

O'Neill was waiting for him when Methos stepped off the gate ramp
into the SGC.

"Boggles the mind, doesn't it?" Methos grinned.

The colonel shook his head disgustedly as he led the way to the
conference room. "You know I hate surprises, Pierson."

"Oh, come on, Jack," Methos chided. "You loved it!"

"Yeah, I did," O'Neill agreed. "And you're just gonna love this. She
and Cassandra are here."

"Figured they would be," Methos nodded as he and O'Neill took their
seats at the empty conference table. "Ramirez looked pretty smug when
he reported for duty." 

"Well, now I have a surprise for you," Jack smiled thinly. "You're
out of Basic and back on the team. You'll be joining us on this

Methos' eyes went wide. "Me and Cassandra? On the same team? Are you
out of your mind?!"

O'Neill rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Look, Pierson, I've already run
this past Hammond and he agrees. You're a valuable member of my team
and you are going to be judged on your current actions, not on some
shit you pulled three thousand years ago. As far as we're concerned
the slate's wiped clean."

Methos suddenly felt as though a great weight had been lifted from
his shoulders. "And the others? What did Danny have to say?"

"He doesn't know specifics. Nobody does. As far as they're concerned
you two knew each other a long time ago and parted company under less
than pleasant circumstances. They'll understand if your relationship
seems strained."

"And Cassandra has agreed to this?" Methos asked wonderingly.

"She has," O'Neill nodded. "But only on the conditions I've laid out.
You two don't speak directly to each other. You have something to say
to her, you tell me and I'll do the talking. Same thing goes for
Cassandra. I won't tolerate even verbal sparring. So if you have a
problem being around her, Pierson, tell me now."

Methos held up his hands in surrender. "I've got no problem with it,"
he responded. "What about Cierdwyn?"

O'Neill shrugged. "She's agreed to join the others in training after
we leave. Wants to make sure her patient can handle the initial

Methos nodded appreciatively. Cierdwyn was a good woman. She would
never risk a patient's well being. "And Cassandra really is okay with

O'Neill smiled warmly. "You did good, Pierson. Cierdwyn and I had a
long talk after they flew in."

The door opened and any further conversation ended as the rest of SG-
1 accompanied by a rather apprehensive looking Cassandra walked in.
They took their seats as Methos studiously avoided looking in
Cassandra's direction. Even dressed in BDUs the woman was stunning. He
savagely cut off that line of thought, gratefully looking toward the
connecting door to the general's office as he and Jacob entered.

"Good afternoon, people," Hammond began. "If you'd all please take
your seats."

Daniel slid into his chair, placing two glasses of water on the
table. One for himself and one for Cassandra who sat next to him.

"Thank you," the general nodded. "Selmak?"

Jacob's eyes glowed briefly as his symbiote took control of the
meeting. "I have spoken with the Council. They have agreed that the
members of SG-1 and their guest should accompany me to the Tok'ra
base. Once there, Cassandra will be allowed to interrogate the Goa'uld
prisoner. Any information extracted will be shared and a joint effort
to recover the weapons stolen by Lord Zipak'na will be made. Are we in

"We are," Hammond nodded.

"Excellent," Selmak smiled. "There is, unfortunately, one small
obstacle remaining."

"And that would be?" Jack leaned forward.

Selmak looked to Methos. "Freya is the Tok'ra expert in Goa'uld
interrogation. She has expressed concern over Methos' presence on the

"I don't know anybody name Freya," Methos looked insulted. "Why me?"

Daniel cleared his throat. "Freya is Anise's host, Adam. It was her
jaw you broke when her symbiote... You know... Stabbed you to death
when you first got here.

"Ah yes, Anise..." Methos nodded, recalling that he'd threatened to
kill the woman after she'd deliberately exposed his Immortality. "Tell
you what," he offered. "As long as no sharp objects go from her hands
into my anatomy I'll be on my best behavior. But no visits from
Anise," he added firmly. 

Selmak nodded in acquiescence. "Anise will be somewhat disappointed.
She had hoped you would relent and give her the opportunity to make
amends. But it is a generous compromise nonetheless, most wise son of

"Oh, please," Methos muttered disgustedly. "And don't say you have a
parade all lined up for me. I don't do the returning hero shtick."

"As you wish," Selmak sighed in frustration. "I shall inform the
Council that you would like to remain anonymous for this visit."

O'Neill and the rest of SG-1 laughed as Methos covered his eyes,
groaning miserably. Even General Hammond was hard put not to smile.
While at the end of the table Cassandra was staring. From one
countenance to another and then at Methos, his face now uncovered and
as amused as the others. As the meeting broke up a short while later
she sidled up to Daniel, allowing him to escort her down to collect
their gear.

"Methos," Cassandra said quietly. "Is he always so... So..."

"Reticent about receiving accolades?" Daniel asked.

She'd been thinking relaxed and open, but... "I suppose," she nodded.

"Just the obsequious hero worship stuff," Daniel told her honestly.
"Adam really hates it when they do that."

How very odd, Cassandra thought as Daniel showed her where to find
her pack. She'd have thought Methos would be glad to have a powerful
group of aliens in his thrall. Especially ones that seemed willing to
do almost anything to please him for the sake of his father's memory.

"Okay, campers!" O'Neill called as he joined them in the gate room.
"Let's get this show on the road!"

Another strange one, she thought as she caught sight of Cierdwyn in
the company of several junior officers, dressed and waiting to go
through the gate. She waved to her and Cierdwyn smiled back. Then the
gate was open and it was time to go.

Daniel offered her his arm and she took it -- along with another leap
of faith.


"Nice rock," O'Neill complimented sarcastically, grimacing at the
hard baked dirt of the plain. "Could use a little scrub brush though.
Maybe a lake."

"I don't know," Methos said, looking around as Jacob quickly led
everyone away from the Stargate. "Sorta reminds me of Mesopotamia
after the collapse of the great city-states." He paused and whipped
his head around, staring up at the darkening sky. "Twelve moons is a
bit much though."

"Too bright for skulking," O'Neill nodded as the Tok'ra stopped
abruptly, waiting for everyone to gather into a tight group.

"Actually, I was thinking more about the poetry involved. Is one
moon's face better than another for comparing a woman's features to,
and would she get really angry if she didn't like that particular

O'Neill stared at him sideways. "Sometimes I wonder about you,

"Really? What?"

"Just get over here and join the circle of love!" 

He snagged Methos by the collar and yanked him close.

"Why, Jack, I didn't know you--" The transport rings shot up from the
ground and an instant later they were standing in a brightly lit cave.

A strong arm suddenly wrapped around Methos' neck, pulling his head
down. "Be a good minion," O'Neill murmured quietly. "And stop
performing for the crowd. The focus of this mission isn't your
personal life."

Methos flushed as he realized he'd been doing just that. Did some
part of him really believe he could eventually get Cassandra to like
him? He nodded a silent apology and Jack released him. The most he
could conceivably hope for would be tolerance on her part. And yet, he
hadn't really been any more sarcastic than he usually was when they
were in the field. He had in fact been less. Playful cute, Alexa had
once called it. No wonder O'Neill had called him on it.

Methos straightened, tugging at his jacket and sneaked a glance at
Cassandra. This time she wasn't looking at him, but at the stone walls
of the underground base and occasionally glancing upward to where the
transport rings had disappeared. She must be terrified, Methos
thought, watching her fingers plucking at a pocket. A nervous gesture
he recalled from her early days in his tent. She'd plucked almost
continuously at the ragged edges of the slashes in her robe. Rents
made when first Kronos, then he had killed her repeatedly. Eventually
they'd frayed so badly he'd searched his stores for some good cloth
and had another slave make her a new dress. Once the visible signs of
her previous deaths had been removed she'd calmed a bit, though every
now and again, usually when she felt stressed, it would reappear.

He looked away trying not to feel sorry for her as they followed
Jacob down a corridor. Cassandra was a big girl. She could look after
herself. Had looked after herself, Methos thought, for more than three
thousand years. And that was certainly nothing to laugh at, especially
when it came to female Immortals. She was intelligent and cunning with
a will to live almost as strong as his own. A good fright would
probably serve her well, he decided. At the very least it would keep
her adrenaline pumping and her wits sharp when she confronted the

Freya's workroom as Jacob called it was on the other side of the
complex. As they made their way toward it the inhabitants of the
Tok'ra base paid them little attention, though every so often someone
would look up from what they were doing, take one look at Methos and

"Racial memory," Jacob explained at Methos' narrowed glance the first
time it happened. 

"From Inanna's symbiote," the Immortal nodded. Of course they would
recognize him just as Selmak originally had.

Behind him, Methos heard Cassandra whispering a question to Daniel,
but the boy's response was muffled by the stomp of their heavy boots
as they made their way along the twisting corridors. He didn't need to
wonder what she was asking, nor about Daniel's response. He wasn't
sure he liked the notion of Cassandra knowing so much about his past,
not even the distant history of his mortal years, but there was little
choice. After all, he'd suggested she join this little excursion in
the first place. It was a bit late to worry about the consequences now.

They turned a final corner and entered the workroom, a large,
spacious cavern filled with a variety of odd looking machines and very
little in the way of furnishings.

"Hello, Colonel O'Neill. Dr. Jackson," Freya nodded, greeting the
others in turn. Methos merely raised an eyebrow in her direction and
she took a step back, putting a rather wide work surface between them.

Jacob frowned in disapproval at him but got on with the business at
hand. "Freya, this is Cassandra. She believes she may be able to help
us with Kabra'kan."

The two women seemed to take the measure of each other then Freya
smiled. "Welcome, Cassandra," her soft measured tones were warm and
friendly. "The Tok'ra are grateful for any assistance you can provide.
I was told," she went on. "That you have some ability to both project
thought and modulate your voice to obtain cooperation from your
subjects. I will, of course, monitor you during the procedure."

"No way!" O'Neill interrupted furiously. "That was not part of the
deal, Jacob."

"But, Jack," Carter began to respond.

"Don't even bother," O'Neill cut him off. "It ain't happening, Jacob."

"But to keep such an ability to yourselves," Freya complained, "would
give you a tactical advantage."

"Which you've always had over us," O'Neill angrily retorted. "Live
with it!"

"If I might speak," Cassandra coolly interposed herself into the
growing argument and the heated discussion paused. "Whatever power I
have is mine to do with as I please. And I do not please to share it
with just anyone. It is dangerous and easily abused. It remains with

Jack grinned widely at her. "Good choice. Hear that, Jacob?"

"But if something should happen to you it would be lost," Freya
pleaded and Cassandra gave her a pitying look.

"I've lived for three thousand years in a world more dangerous than
you can possibly imagine. Nothing will happen. There will be no
monitoring. Is that clear?"

Freya pressed her lips together and nodded. "The holding cell is this
way," she said, moving toward the far side of the room where a pair of
guards stood outside what was little more than a deep indentation in
the rock. 

Inside, a blond, blue-eyed Goa'uld was pacing angrily, dressed in the
clothes of a Maya warrior -- a simple pleated thigh length tunic
heavily embroidered at the collar. At their approach he paused,
sneering at them until his eyes came to rest on a familiar face.

"The shol'va Teal'c," Kabra'kan rumbled, his eyes glowing bright.
"Come to gloat, traitor?"

"Gloating is for children," the Jaffa smiled back. "The infliction of
pain and suffering on one's enemies a more appropriate pastime for

"Torture will gain you nothing," Kabra'kan promised.

"It shall gain me your distress. That will be enough."

The Goa'uld's face became a mask of fury. "We are gods! You cannot
destroy us! We shall have you, shol'va. Then we shall destroy the
Tau'ri world."

"Who writes his dialogue?" Methos' squinted at the seemingly deranged
Goa'uld. "Are they always this delusional?" 

"Pretty much," Daniel responded. "No sense of proportion."

Kabra'kan quieted to stare thoughtfully at Methos. "You are not
afraid, little man?"

"Of course I'm afraid," Methos told him, mockingly gentle as he let
his eyes go dead and expressionless. "I'm terrified the Tok'ra will
dispose of your worthless corpse before I can skin you alive. I really
do want a matching belt to go with my Goa'uld hide boots. And if
you've any friends at home," he smiled affably as Kabra'kan stepped
back. "I should very much like to meet them. Another bill fold and
wallet set would be nice, too."

Cassandra gave him a horrified stare. Beside her, O'Neill whispered
quietly in her ear. "Remember the tape I showed you, Cassandra. He's
softening up the parasite for you, not the man."

"I do not need his help!" she hissed then turned to Freya. "I will
speak with the prisoner now," Cassandra ordered.

"Lower the shield," Freya nodded and they slowly moved inside.

"Hello, Kabra'kan," Cassandra began, her voice soft and soothing.
"You are feeling very tired. Sit, Kabra'kan. And relax."

The Goa'uld faltered and reached for the chair behind him.

"That's right," she went on as Kabra'kan sank heavily down. "Make
yourself comfortable and we'll have a nice little chat."

Beside her, Jack nodded slowly. "Cool."

Chapter 16

"That went well," Daniel said to no one in particular as SG-1 was
left to themselves in a waiting room after the interrogation.

"Up until the point we found out we need to bring the snakehead with
us," Jack muttered, visibly repelled by the notion. Still, he turned
to Cassandra and offered his thanks. "You did a great job, ma'am. We
really appreciate it."

Daniel frowned. "He never thanks me like that," he whispered to
Methos, taking a seat beside the Immortal, who shrugged.

"She's a lot prettier than you are, Danny. A man's got to have his
priorities in order."

Jackson only stared at him then shook his head as if divesting
himself of a particularly irritating thought. "You weren't serious,
were you?" he suddenly asked.

"About what?" Methos queried, leaning back against the comfortable
warmth of the stone wall.

Daniel grimaced. "About taking only Kabra'kan's head with us."

Methos gave him an amused glance as Samantha joined them. "I was only
offering our fearless leader another option. We need Kabra'kan's
brainwave pattern to get past Zipak'na's security, not the rest of his
body. And it is medically possible to remove the head and keep it
alive just long enough to suit our purposes. Safer too. I'm not
looking forward to traveling anywhere with a dangerous enemy for

"None of us are," the major commented. "But we might need him alive
at some point."

"True," Methos agreed with a heartfelt sigh. "Too bad an
interrogation is only as good as the interrogator."

"And we can't be certain we asked all the right questions," Carter

They were interrupted when Jacob entered looking fairly annoyed as he
delivered the news. "We have a go," he told them. "Unfortunately,
Zipak'na's gate is too heavily guarded to just walk through. And the
closest gate with a Tok'ra ship in the vicinity is three days out from
our destination."

"If that's the best you can do," Jack sighed resignedly.

"One more thing," Jacob said as Selmak came to the fore. "The Tok'ra
only agree to this mission on condition that we share any technical
advantages gained. Any weapons retrieved will be considered common

"That was the deal," the colonel easily agreed.

"Excellent," Selmak nodded. "We leave immediately."

O'Neill turned to the others as he grabbed his pack. "Come on boys
and girls, the school bus is waiting."

They headed for the gate, Methos giving Jack a small knowing smile.
The colonel nodded shortly in response. It was well they understood
each other, the Immortal thought. The Tok'ra wouldn't be pleased, but
he was.


"What the hell is that?" O'Neill asked, staring at the narrow
metallic coffin shaped thing sitting on the ground when they reached
the other side of the gate.

"It is a stasis canister," Teal'c explained. "Many dangerous
prisoners are transported inside such devices, O'Neill. A most useful
method, do you not think?"

"Well, yeah," he nodded. "Just... Keep an eye on it, Teal'c. Damn
thing gives me the creeps."

"As you wish," the Jaffa nodded, moving to stand guard.

Jacob gave him an easygoing grin. "Relax, Jack. It's perfectly safe.
And it'll keep Kabra'kan out of our hair until we arrive."

"Whatever," O'Neill muttered, looking around to get his bearings. The
place was eerily silent but for the wind whistling through the
monumental ruins of the ancient city surrounding them. "So when does
the train get in?"

"It'll be a while yet," Jacob responded. "You folks might as well get
comfortable. Our connecting flight is a refitted cargo ship engaged in
passive intercept of Goa'uld communications. Not one of the fastest
ships we have, but it'll do the trick."

"What is this place anyway?" O'Neill asked, frowning as he held his
weapon ready. "Is it safe?"

"Safe enough," Jacob nodded, moving to sit on one the dozen or so
shattered stone blocks which littered the area. "The Tok'ra excavated
this site a few centuries ago," he went on as Samantha and Cassandra
joined him. "The planet's pretty much dead, except for some lower life
forms. Animals and insects mostly."

"Goa'uld?" O'Neill asked.

"Nah," Jacob shook his head. "According to our experts this place is
nearly a quarter of a million years old."

"Pretty well preserved," Methos said, impressed.

"Who were they?" Daniel asked as he found some carvings not yet
erased by time on a nearby wall.

"We think it was a colony founded by the Ancients," Jacob shrugged.
"We're not sure, but the Tok'ra have come across similar ruins before.
Same age, same kind of destruction. Near as we can figure it was
probably some kind of intra-galactic war."

"It was," Methos said, squinting into the distance wearing a
distracted look. "I seem to remember reading...something," he shook
his head. "It's gone now."

Jacob gave him an assessing stare. "If you don't mind my asking,
Methos, just how much of your time with Tok'ra do you remember?"

"Not much," he admitted. "Bits and pieces, this and that. It was all
so long ago," he sighed and found a seat on one of the stones across
from where Jacob sat. "I remember the nursery mostly."

"The nursery?" Samantha asked surprised.

"I spent a lot of years there," he grinned, amused by her shock. "Why
shouldn't I remember it?"

"No reason," she gave a half shrug. "It just seems...odd."

"To you," Methos agreed. "But not to someone born say, even a hundred
years ago in a fairly wealthy household. Children stayed in the
nursery until they were young adults. Often until they were sixteen or
seventeen before they were sent away to school."

"So what do you remember about it?" she asked with a smile.

Methos narrowed his eyes trying to picture the place. "I remember a
garden. A rock garden, actually. At least, that's how I thought of it.
But I think it was more of a playground." He absently held out his
arms as if to encompass something. "There were these huge stone
carvings. Representations of animals and such. And they rocked. That's
what I remember most -- the swaying motion as I rode them and how they
never fell down no matter how far I tipped them over."

"Weebles," Jack stated succinctly, startling Methos from his reverie.

"Weevils?" Methos gave him an odd look. "What do they have to do with

"Not weevils. Weebles. 'Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down.'"

Samantha's eyes lit up. "I remember Weebles. I had a whole set."

"Everyone had a set," Daniel interjected before turning back to his

"They were pervasive," O'Neill added with a grimace. "If they'd been
aliens they'd have conquered the planet."

Methos looked from one to the other. "What the hell are Weebles?!"

"Weren't they a popular children's toy?" Cassandra suddenly asked
Jacob, drawing a look of surprise from Methos.

"Very popular," Jacob nodded. "Although Sam preferred Punchy the
Clown. He didn't fall over either. She was an aggressive little
thing," he added proudly.


Methos laughed. "Thanks, Jacob! Humiliation shared is humiliation

The other man chuckled oddly and nodded to himself. "Selmak insists I
apologize immediately, Methos. Humiliating the son of Tok'ra is
unacceptable behavior even for me."

"Someone should have told that to Tok'ra," Methos grinned ruefully.
"Might have saved me a lot of grief."

"You looked most distinguished," Teal'c insisted. "As I said at the
time, baldness denotes a noble visage. I was most impressed."

Cassandra's eyes widened and she suddenly turned her face away though
her shoulders shook helplessly. 

"Well I'm glad you all find me so entertaining," Methos said
petulantly, glaring at her back.

"Pierson," Jack said quietly, the warning in his tone obvious.

Methos scowled then rolled his eyes in disgust, getting up to join
Daniel for another look at the ruins and ignoring the rest of the

Surprised by his easy acquiescence Cassandra watched him go. Twice
now she'd seen O'Neill reprimand Methos -- and in such a way that it
established the colonel's absolute right to offer such correction. And
by his actions, or inaction in this case, Methos had openly
acknowledged that O'Neill had the right to do so. This was not what
she had ever expected. Not even Kronos had dared to openly chastise
this particular Horseman. 

She stared thoughtfully at O'Neill, considering the colonel
carefully. He did not strike her as the least bit foolish and bore
himself as though he carried wisdom gained of hard won knowledge both
tested and tempered like fine steel. He appeared to be honest, affable
and generally courteous to those under his protection. Strong-willed
and focused on his goals such a man would allow nothing to interfere
with his ultimate objectives. Good qualities for a man given command
over the fate of many nations, Cassandra decided. Certainly not a man
to be taken in, even by the likes of Methos. Unless, of course, Methos
had changed.

Again the idea startled her, just as it had the first time she'd
discussed the subject with Cierdwyn. Then again, perhaps what Ramirez
had said was true. That Methos had not so much changed into his
current persona as changed back. Had the Horseman in all his terrible
splendor been the aberration and not the sum total of this man's many

Cassandra shied away from the idea, too fearful of what this might do
to her perceptions. Of herself. Of Methos. Of a three thousand year
old system of belief. Confronting her anger, guilt and shame was one
thing. Confronting Methos was quite another. 

With a silent shake of her head she put the matter aside, hearing the
voice of reason gently chide her. It would have to be done sometime,
she heard Cierdwyn's soft admonition in her head. Perhaps, she
responded, trying to quell her fear at the notion. But not now. Now I
am alone with my most feared enemy, dependent upon mortal soldiers who
know what I am, waiting on a strange planet for an alien space ship to
take me to another world. I think that is enough for one day.

Part Three
Chapter 17

The days passed slowly as the interminable flight towards Zipak'na's
stronghold took its toll on Cassandra though none of the others seemed
to be overly affected by the journey. To be sure they were sometimes
bored, but once they'd all gotten settled in, packs had been opened
and pastimes brought out for the amusement of everybody. She'd come
back from making her final ablutions for the night to find a pile of
books, tapes, CDs, bits of wood and tools for whittling, some quick
dry casting clay and a small chess set neatly stacked on one of the
extra sleeping shelves. There was even a small mound of candy and
snacks -- enough to give six children bellyaches if eaten at once. And
everyone was expected to simply avail themselves of what they wanted
when they wanted it. The sight had made Cassandra smile as she
recalled the shared generosity of village life in places that were
often no more than rather large extended families. That is until she
realized Methos was a part of it.

Now, toward the end of their journey Cassandra was feeling more lost
and confused than she had since the deaths of the other Horsemen. It
was...unnerving to see Methos interact so easily and with such obvious
pleasure with the members of SG-1. With an internal sigh of revulsion
at her own inability to make a decision regarding her nemesis and his
possible motives she went to the pile and snatched up a new book,
tossing the old one down. She'd been eager at first to read one of Dr.
Jackson's tomes on Maya social structure, now it was simply annoying.

She glanced at the title, discovering it was an obscure collection of
philosophical essays as she found a place to read not far from where
O'Neill was hand molding little clay figurines. More Weebles,
Cassandra thought with a tiny shake of her head. Nearby, Teal'c was
doing them in wood. The previous night they'd each presented a set to
Methos, who'd seemed delighted though he'd tossed off a few snide
remarks about finding them more adult games to play. To which they'd
responded with equal vigor and in mockingly parental tones. Most
unnerving, she thought again as O'Neill suddenly reached into a
pocket, pulled out a lollipop and offered it to her.

With a murmur of thanks Cassandra took it wondering why she felt
surprised a moment later when the usually acerbic colonel silently
tossed one to each member of his command. His aim was excellent and he
caught Methos, sprawled on the floor playing chess with Samantha,
square in the face. Hiding a smile, Cassandra was again surprised by
the old one's look of mild irritation mixed with genuine fondness as
he retrieved the candy and popped it in his mouth.

Stranger and stranger, she thought, returning to her book after
unwrapping her own lollipop and putting it in her mouth. Could it be
possible that Methos truly enjoyed the company of O'Neill and the
others? Were they indeed as friendly as they appeared to be? It seemed
so, but Cassandra had long ago learned to distrust outward
appearances. Especially when it came to Methos.

With an inward sigh, she put such thoughts aside as unproductive. The
wisest course of action would be to wait until she had time for
another session with Cierdwyn. But she had often been more passionate
than wise, she admitted ruefully. Why should now be any different?

She turned to the first essay and settled back to enjoy the mental
stimulus. Then, about halfway through the first dialectic, Cassandra
turned the page and nearly gasped aloud in shock. Near the top,
someone had jotted a comment in the neat hand of a court scribe -- a
hand she instantly recognized.

Cassandra glanced up hurriedly casting her eyes downward as Methos
shifted positions and gazed her way. She took a deep breath, returning
to the book and silently refused to be afraid. So what if it was one
of his things? He was not her master to complain, especially since
he'd put it out with the rest. And she was curious about what he might
have to say when he thought no one else could read his ramblings. Of
course she might miss a word here or there given the gap in their
ages, since Methos seemed to be in the same habit as she oftentimes
was, using words and phrases from dozens of different languages to
express himself with exacting clarity.

'An interesting idea,' the first note said. 'Though not terribly
sound in practice.'

Cassandra read the passage to which it referred and oddly enough was
forced to agree with Methos' assessment. She went on, skimming through
the text itself and pausing to read the notes as they appeared.
Comments like 'Exactly so!' or 'Ramirez would have agreed,' were
interspersed with observations such as, 'Too simplistic. More worldly
experience required,' and 'Easy to pontificate when you have a choice.
Try it sometime when Damocles stands above your neck!'

She raised an eyebrow at that last notation and reread the section on
which it was based. It was an argument on why the morally lazy man
chose to do evil when the choice for good offered no greater hardship
than a little effort. Was Methos saying he'd been without choice? Or
was he simply justifying past moral failings?

Cassandra mentally reviewed what she'd learned of his past in recent
days. Not only what she'd been told by Ramirez, but her several
conversations with Daniel, who of the group had spent more time with
the cagey ancient in recent years than anyone here. It had shocked her
to discover that Methos' past with the Horsemen was not only known,
but accepted by his teammates. Not, she'd been grateful to learn as
something in which they could all take pride, but as a deviation
caused by terrible circumstances and emotional trauma. A time of anger
and desperation by a man without the will to run and no belief in any
sanctuary he might find when he got there. It sounded all too familiar
to Cassandra. Her own life since escaping the Horsemen had been
fraught with danger and despair almost as often as it had been filled
with joy. But what life wasn't when you were Immortal?

She looked back at the page thinking on something Cierdwyn had once
said. That the Horsemen had been no different in their warring than
the Romans, the Vikings, or any other group which might have fancied
themselves conquerors. The only difference being that while the
mortals had raided and died leaving their offspring to continue the
process, the Horsemen had been individuals moving across the
generations. And if Cassandra could find it in her heart to forgive
the descendants of these nations, who were as different from their
ancestors as night and day, then it behooved her to examine the
possibility that an Immortal might also change given enough time. 

Having accepted that premise Cassandra now had to wonder just how it
applied to Methos. Again she had Cierdwyn's experience and wisdom to
draw on. Methos had treated her no differently than any man of that
age would treat a woman taken in battle, and a damn sight better than
many Immortals would have. She did still have her head after all.
True, he had repeatedly killed her to make her obedient, but she had
very swiftly learned to obey. And if Ramirez was correct about Methos'
first teacher then he'd done no more than train her in the same way
he'd been trained. She did not have to like it. She merely had to
accept the fact that it had happened and that Methos had done it -- he
being a man of his times. 

Which brought to mind another question Cassandra had not wanted to
consider. That while he, and she for that matter, had both been of
those times what right had she to judge him using the morality of this
age? Was Methos to have come up with the novel idea that slavery was
evil when no one else at that time had ever thought it anything more
than a simple fact of life? No doubt he had ascribed to the very same
tenet everyone else had. That it was always better to be the master
than the slave. And having had slaves of her own at various points in
her life she really had no cause to despise him for that.

What bothered Cassandra and she knew it were her own perceptions of
the man. Yes, he had been hard on her at first. And yes, he had taken
her against her will and taught her to enjoy it. But, damn it! he
should have been better than that. His acts of cruelty in battle had
not carried over into his tent once she had stopped fighting him. In
fact, he had sometimes been inordinately kind. 

She suddenly recalled a time when she had tripped over one of the
more friendly camp cats that had wandered into Methos' tent. Unable to
catch her balance, she'd struck the table which had made the dinner
tray fly up, the contents of which had landed all over both of them.
And Methos had laughed. Laughed until he couldn't breath and tears ran
from his eyes. At the time she'd thought him mad. But he hadn't beaten
her, hadn't even chastised her for not looking where she was going.
Instead, he'd laughed even more when the rest of the camp cats had
suddenly appeared by the dozens to lick the food off everything in
sight. Cassandra pressed her lips together trying not to smile as she
pushed away the image of Methos in near feline repose content to be
bathed within an inch of his life by the scruffy, flea bitten things.

So, it was clearly the dichotomy of the man which disturbed her
thoughts -- what Methos should have been as opposed to what he was.

All right, she thought sighing softly as she closed the book and laid
it aside. So there had been something there for him to work with. Some
core of the man which she had seen beneath the barbaric exterior that
had once been decent and kind. But did Methos recognize what he had
done to her? To his victims and their families over the centuries? Did
he feel sorrow or regret? Or had he simply moved on, supposing that as
long as he kept to his books and his studies harming no one else, that
done was done and he really ought to forgive and forget even if they
could not?

Cassandra couldn't answer these questions. Only Methos could. And she
knew she wasn't yet ready for that. She needed to talk with Cierdwyn
first. To perhaps arrange a meeting at some future time. Not to rail
at the man over past injustices -- she had no desire left to do that.
She could see now that such pursuits would be pointless and
counterproductive to her own recovery. But to find closure at last. To
seek out that last bit of knowledge that would allow her to sleep
without the nightmare that he might come back. Or that some other
woman was suffering at Methos' hands and she was powerless to stop her
anguish. If she could feel safe in the knowledge that the last of the
Horsemen no longer walked the earth stalking his prey then perhaps she
could find rest at last.

But that would have to wait, Cassandra thought as Jacob entered the
crew quarters to announce they were within sight of their goal. Now
was not the time to worry about personal growth.

Chapter 18

"Looks like Zippy's been playing with his new toys," O'Neill
commented, dryly, as they flew over the ghostly silent buildings of
what had once been a Maya city. They'd come around the far side of the
planet, flying low and hoping to avoid the sensor grid of Zipak'na's
ship which sat parked above the remains of a step pyramid. Below,
corpses lay bloated in the streets and swarms of insects blanketed
everything like a dark, seething carpet which pulsed and writhed

"Doesn't make any sense," Samantha shook her head, staring out at the
devastation. "Why destroy your own world?"

"Arrogance," Methos said quietly. "Zipak'na had no idea what those
weapons could do, so he tested them on the nearest inhabited planet.
The one right beneath him must have looked pretty good."

"Sounds about right for a Goa'uld," Daniel nodded, turning away from
the sight.

"Probably salivating over the possibilities right now," O'Neill
added. "Anybody wonder who's at the top of his Christmas list?"

"The Tau'ri would be the most likely choice," Teal'c rumbled softly.
"He will see them as the cause of his disgrace among the System Lords.

"More than that," Methos lips thinned in response. "If he succeeds
he'll gain prestige and allies. Entry back into the hallowed halls and
highest ranks of the gods. It's a threat they can't ignore."

Cassandra tapped O'Neill on the shoulder and he turned to face her.
"I thought you said Earth was a protected planet? Won't an attack by
Zipak'na constitute a violation of the treaty?"

"It is," the colonel nodded. "And normally it would. But Zippy's
outside the chain of command now. An exile with a death sentence on

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "The Asgard would not view the System Lords
as culpable. And Zipak'na may now feel that he is strong enough to
defend even against the Asgard."

"Even if he doesn't launch an attack on Earth," Jacob interjected
from the pilot's chair. "Like Methos said, the System Lords can't help
but pay attention. The power balance will have shifted."

"We screw up your plans again?" O'Neill asked, sounding a little too

The Tok'ra frowned. "Not yet, but you're getting there. We've worked
very hard to stabilize things so we can infiltrate the major players.
But you guys just keep shaking things up and that makes it difficult
to plan ahead."

"Sorry," O'Neill responded, not the least bit recalcitrant. "Love to
help you out, but as I recall the Tok'ra haven't told us what their
plan is."

"It's fluid," Methos said with contempt. "Or was that Inanna's plan?
The one where you infiltrate here, collect information there, and
passively destabilize while sabotaging any major alliances." Jacob's
head shot around and he stared in amazement. "Don't be a fool, Jacob.
Selmak," Methos went on scornfully. "The Tok'ra were Inanna's tool
from the beginning. You were never meant to overthrow the Goa'uld.
Just keep them busy and out of her hair. And if you had succeeded
while she lived she'd have destroyed you as well, once you'd served
your purpose. Mother was a clever woman. Don't forget she murdered
Tok'ra and in one fell swoop annihilated his forces. And Father was no
slouch when it came to planning," he added bitterly.

The Tok'ra's eyes glowed for an instant and Selmak nodded. "I will
remember that, Methos. May we hope to have your unique insight in
further discussions? I am certain the Council would be pleased to
consider whatever strategies you have in mind."

"No," he said bluntly and looked to Jack. "Someone else owns the
exclusive rights."

"We are nearing the landing site," Teal'c informed them.

"Gear up, people," O'Neill clapped his hands. "Oh, and somebody get
that Goa'uld out of storage."


They approached from the south, carefully making their way through
the rain forest. It was eerily silent, as if waiting breathlessly for
another attack.


Jack frowned and reached for his radio. "What are you still doing
here, Jacob?" The older man was supposed to be pulling back to wait
for them out of range.

"Just taking off now. Everything all right?"

He looked at Cassandra and the compliant Kabra'kan marching blithely
along beside her. "Just fine. I'll give you a call when the rates go
down. O'Neill out." He cradled his gun and moved up the line to
Methos' position. "I take it she hasn't always been able to do that.
Cassandra," he added at the Immortal's vaguely confused stare.

"No," Methos shook his head, glancing back. "If she had I wouldn't be
here." O'Neill nodded thoughtfully and Methos smiled in amusement.
"Don't worry, Jack. Cassandra's no danger to us. If she wanted power
she'd have long since had it by now."

"I guess," the colonel nodded, roughly wiping his brow. "She seems to
be handling all this pretty well, though."

"Yeah," Methos agreed, ducking under some branches. "I shouldn't be
surprised, but I am. The last time I saw Cassandra she threatened to
tear my head off with her bare hands. And she meant it. Cierdwyn must
be really good. Maybe I should make an appointment."

"Too late," O'Neill smirked. "The time for that was before you signed

"Don't remind me," Methos commented snidely. "I'm already ruing the

The terrain changed suddenly as they reached the outskirts of the
ziggurat and Methos, who'd taken point, signaled to the others to wait
as he hunkered down, pulled out his field glasses and surveyed the

"Seems quiet," he murmured to O'Neill as the colonel silently eased
in beside him. "They must all be inside the ship." He shook his head
and put away his binoculars. "Lousy security."

"What's to secure?" O'Neill asked rhetorically. "Everybody's dead."

"It's sheer arrogance," Methos snorted. "They obviously don't
consider anyone but their own kind to be a threat. I think I'm

"You would be," O'Neill muttered then quietly gathered everyone
together to discuss the situation. "Daniel," he looked to the
archaeologist. "There any way in other than the front door?"

Jackson could only shrug. "The temple appears to be a facsimile of
the Castillo at Chichen Itza, or vice versa, anyway," he added looking
slightly befuddled. "But there are variations. This Castillo is more
massive. The width of the base, the height of the superstructure and
the decorative--"

"Shut up, Daniel," O'Neill ordered, gritting his teeth. "Just answer
the question. Is there another way in?"


O'Neill stared at him. "No? That's it? Just, no?"

"No," Daniel reiterated. "Not if it follows the typical Maya pattern.
Their temples were built for specific religious functions, not
everyday use. But as I was trying to tell you, this one appears to be
slightly different from the Maya temples we do know of and that may be
directly related to the fact that a Goa'uld actively uses this one."

"And that would mean?" O'Neill asked tiredly, looking as though he'd
rather be anywhere else.

"A back door maybe?"

"Thank you." Jack turned to Cassandra. "Ask Zippy's little brother if
there's a back door, please."

Smiling, she did as he requested though the answer was sufficiently
vague to be annoying. Maybe. He didn't know. More importantly, he
didn't care. Gods had better things to do with their time then check
the exits apparently.

O'Neill sighed in complete disgust. "Anybody else got an idea."

"There might be some caves around here," Methos suggested. "The
terrain is similar to that of Guatemala."

"Thanks, Pierson," O'Neill deadpanned. "I was trying not to think
about that. Wanna help me build another road?"

Methos squinted, frowning confusedly then shook his head and went on.
"What I mean is that when I was there, way back when, a local guide
took me into one of the temples through an underground passage. The
temple itself was immense and buried under the jungle, but the way in
was clear. He also claimed the god had, in days gone by, often set up
housekeeping there. Not to interfere with the sanctity of the temple
precinct, the locals would bring food and gifts to the threshold of
his lair whence the servants of the god would appear to collect their
offerings -- seemingly out of thin air. I can't be certain because all
I had was an oil lamp, but there was a circular design of some sort
laid into the ceiling. It could have housed a set of transport rings."

"That would make sense," Daniel nodded. "Only the god's house would
need a delivery entrance. The other temples would just be copies of
the exterior."

"It seems we have a plan," O'Neill nodded appreciatively. "Teal'c,
take Daniel and see if you can find that back door. Once we're inside
we'll let drool boy here use his head. After that, we'll play it by
ear. Anyone else? Questions? Words of caution? Good advice? Stock

Cassandra raised a hand. "What if Kabra'kan's brain wave pattern
won't get us past their security field?"

"Good question," O'Neill grinned. "Hear that, campers? Somebody's
paying attention." The others said nothing, since his response had
been solely for Cassandra's benefit. They already knew the drill. "We
retreat, Cassandra. Meet up with Jacob and try to approach this from a
different angle, hopefully. We're here for reconnaissance. If we have
the opportunity to get in and complete the mission we'll do it. If
not," he shrugged. "No hard feelings, we just back out."

She nodded her understanding, looking somewhat relieved, then settled
back with Major Carter to keep an eye on the Goa'uld. Nearby, O'Neill
and Methos settled in to watch and wait while Daniel and Teal'c were
out searching.

"Do me a favor," Jack leaned close and spoke quietly to Methos.
"Stick to Zippy's brother like glue. No matter what happens I want him
dead before we leave here."

Methos considered the request for a moment. "You don't want to try
and save the host?"

"Trust me on this one," O'Neill whispered sadly. "Whoever that poor
guy was, he wants us to kill him."

Methos swallowed hard. For thousands of years Kabra'kan's host had
lived in psychological isolation watching crime after crime committed
by his hands, seeing others reacting with fear and horror to his face.
Methos could do more than imagine it. He'd lived it -- and without the
excuse Kabra'kan's host had. He nodded once, accepting the charge.

"He dies today, O'Neill. You have my word on it."


They made their way, carefully, down the tunnel. O'Neill and Methos
in the lead, Teal'c and Carter bringing up the rear. The passage
itself seemed primitive, but eventually they reached the section
directly beneath the temple and the floor turned to well worn stone
lit by torches. A few minutes later they saw it. A sparkling blue-
green energy veil offering death to any who tried to pass through it.
Unlike other Goa'uld security barriers SG-1 had encountered this one
didn't prevent entry. Quite the opposite. Anyone could pass through
it. Getting to the other side alive was the problem. It was designed
to scan for brainwaves. Those it recognized left its grip unharmed,
those it didn't might be left dead or worse.

Methos peered through the veil. "Looks like the rings are just beyond
there," he twitched his chin in the general direction.

"Good," O'Neill nodded, turning to Cassandra. "You're up."

"Come, Kabra'kan," she said, leading the Goa'uld past the others.
"You have important prisoners. You must see Lord Zipak'na. We have
information he needs. You want to lower the security shield."

"Yes," the Goa'uld murmured, moving forward.

He slid easily through the barrier pausing on the other side.

"Lower the shield," Cassandra repeated and Kabra'kan turned with a

He barked an order and the shield dissolved. Then all hell broke
loose as he grabbed Cassandra's arm.

"Shield up! Jaffa, kree!" he shouted, dragging her toward the rings.

Almost instantly O'Neill started firing and the others, with one
exception, dropped back to cover him as guards suddenly appeared
through the rings rushing the corridor. 

Gritting his teeth Methos judged their chances. Not good, he thought
and flung himself into the barrier, unwilling to let the Goa'uld have
Cassandra. Fire seared his mind as Methos hung suspended in the veil
for what felt like an eternity. Blind, deaf and mercifully unconscious
he fell to the floor a moment later, dying quickly as his brain forgot
to tell his lungs to breath.

Several yards away, Jack cursed silently as more Jaffa appeared,
firing easily through the shield. No way were they going to make it if
they didn't leave now, he decided. "Let's get the hell out!" he
shouted, offering cover fire as one by one they pulled back.

The corridor grew silent as the fighting moved well beyond the
barrier and out into the rain forest. 

"This one is dead, my lord," a guard informed him after checking the
nearby corpse.

"Of course he is," Kabra'kan grinned widely at Cassandra, shoving her
toward the remaining Jaffa.

"Gag her," he ordered. "And bring her to my laboratory."

"Yes, my lord!"

The Goa'uld turned to leave, caught in mid-step as the corpse which
lay sprawled on the floor suddenly rose up, drawing a wicked looking
sword as it raced toward him. Kabra'kan whirled in alarm as the Jaffa
brought up their weapons, firing simultaneously until once again the
so-called corpse fell to the floor.

Kabra'kan came forward only after his guards had thoroughly disarmed
the body. He stood over it, waiting patiently for any new sign of
life. And there it was, he thought a moment later, brows rising in
wonder and avarice as the lips parted, the lungs inhaled and the eyes
suddenly opened wide.

"Damn," Methos muttered, staring coolly up at Kabra'kan. "Jack's
going to be so disappointed."

Chapter 19

"What the hell happened back there?!" O'Neill demanded, crouching
beside Carter beneath the leafy canopy of a tree. They'd avoided
several search parties already thanks to a sudden downpour which had
washed away any trace of their passing. Now it was getting dark and he
needed to make some decisions -- quickly.

"I don't know, sir," she responded, wiping the rain dripping from her
hair out of her eyes. "Cassandra must have lost control of Kabra'kan
at some point. But when exactly it happened and whether it was voice
control or telepathic control I can't be certain."

Jack grimaced, but didn't comment on the fact that what she'd just
told him was rather obvious. Then again, as Methos would have said, if
he already knew the answer to his question why bother asking?

Damn it! he complained in silence. What had Methos been thinking
going after Cassandra like that? It was going to take more than just a
lucky break to get her out. And Kabra'kan knew what she was capable
of. Knew by now what Methos was capable of if Jack was right and
leaping through the shield had in fact killed the Immortal. The
Goa'uld would want them both now. He was absolutely certain of that.

All right, he decided, I'll worry about that later. He signaled for
Teal'c and Daniel to join them. "We need to get some back up which
means we need to get to the gate," he started.

"What about Jacob?" Daniel asked.

O'Neill frowned. "Kabra'kan knows about Jacob. Our best bet is for
you and Carter to go back and bring some help. Lots of it. And fast."

"Sir?" Carter asked.

"He'll be taking them apart, Major," O'Neill looked her in the eye.
"Piece by piece if he has to."

She drew a deep breath and nodded. "What did you have in mind,


Methos paced the confines of the tiny holding cell occasionally
pausing to peer anxiously down the long empty corridor outside the
shielded door. The view wasn't much, just a portion of Kabra'kan's
sarcophagus and the edge of the bed chamber beyond, but it was enough
to draw him back time after time. 

Once Cassandra had been gagged they'd been taken via the rings to the
Goa'uld's laboratory only a short distance away from where Methos
found himself imprisoned now. Her look had been one of desperate fear
as he was dragged off. It tore at Methos, reminding him of the look on
her face when Kronos had demanded possession of her. But he was even
more helpless now than he had been then to do anything for her. And
unlike Kronos, he didn't think Kabra'kan was interested in hurting
her. Cassandra was far too valuable alive. He'd want to study her gift
as the Tok'ra had and make use of her talents if he couldn't find a
way to duplicate the process. More to the point, he didn't know she
was Immortal and that might keep him from harming her at all.

The heavy sound of boots marching up the corridor alerted him to
company. A pity, he thought absently, that the holding cell was wide
open, providing absolutely no cover. But you worked with what you had.
Patience, Methos told himself as Kabra'kan appeared with a shell-
shocked Cassandra and a pair of guards. They ordered him back,
threatening him with their staffs as they quickly lowered the shield
and shoved her inside. 

Methos caught her before she fell as the shield went up again,
staring back at the smug Goa'uld, who merely smiled before turning to
march back down the corridor with his guards. He hurriedly released
Cassandra and went to the door, nodding to himself as he watched
Kabra'kan stop at the sarcophagus and the Jaffa depart. The creature
had been without its healing device for several days now. It would
need to rest. He didn't know for how long, but it would give them time
to talk before the real fun started.

He turned to Cassandra, who sat with her legs drawn up and her back
against the far wall. She'd lost her jacket and as he looked her over
finally noticed the thin gold collar she now wore. He opened his mouth
to ask if she was all right then felt his throat close up tight. Good
god, he suddenly realized, in the three days they'd been together he
hadn't spoken a single word to her. Jack's admonition not to interact
with Cassandra at all must have been stronger than he thought.

Methos swallowed hard and tried to think of something to say,
anything to break the ice as she stared back at him. Quickly coming to
the very same conclusion he had. Her eyes widened as she realized
their predicament, absently rubbing the almost decorative plate at the
center of her throat. And there he had it, Methos thought with relief,
pulling his best physician's manner out and dusting it off.

"Kabra'kan's gone for a little nap," he told her gently. "Let's see
if we can get that collar off."


The diversion had worked. A few small explosions along the ridgeline
above the Stargate had offered confusion and drawn away nearly half
the Jaffa, while Teal'c and O'Neill firing simultaneously from the
forest offered cover and picked several more off.

Carter and Daniel had clung to the shadows as much as possible as
they made their way to the Stargate. Fortunately, Jaffa rarely
considered the area to the rear of the gate to be of any strategic
value in a fire fight. And the jungle, as jungles will, had crept
fairly close to the wide stone platform on which the Stargate stood.
That meant a run of perhaps fifty feet in the open to get to the DHD
and another few yards to the gate itself.  

As Carter laid down more cover fire Daniel hurriedly slapped at the
dialing panels, willing the gate glyphs to light more quickly than
normal. The wormhole opened and they bounded up the steps leading to
it, disappearing ahead of several blasts of staff fire. Behind them,
O'Neill and Teal'c beat a hasty retreat into the forest, meeting up at
a prearranged location only after they'd each lost their pursuers.
Filthy, exhausted and very wet they made their way back to the ridge,
hoping like hell to see Daniel and Carter back with reinforcements by

Chapter 20

The gate opened to a beautiful sunset vista and Carter pulled up
short, staring at the familiar landscape of P3W184.

"Daniel! You were supposed to take us to the SGC!"

"Uh, technically, no I wasn't," he responded, waving to the Marines
guarding the gate as he headed for a jeep. "Jack said to get help and
get it fast. The only ones who can make it through that energy field
and survive are right here. Not back at the SGC. You coming?" he
called as he climbed in and started the engine.

"No!" Carter insisted. "The general has to be informed. Now, Daniel!"

"Good idea," he nodded, completely oblivious to her ire as he put the
jeep in gear. "We split up and get twice as much done in half the
time. You tell Hammond and I'll get the ball rolling here. See ya!"

Samantha stood openmouthed shaking her head as Jackson drove off.
With a sigh of disgust she went to the DHD and started the dialing
process again. General Hammond was definitely not going to like this.


"What do you mean you lost Methos!" Joe Dawson shouted.

Daniel backed up a pace. "He was trying to help Cassandra. But that's
not important right now."

"What do you mean it's not important?!" the irate bartender demanded.
"You let the world's oldest Immortal be captured by aliens and you're
telling me that's not important? What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"What indeed?" a soft voice questioned and the two men turned towards
the door. A half dozen Immortals stood there staring at them with the
rest filing quickly in behind. Alexander stared questioningly at
Dawson. "Are you claiming Adam Pierson is Methos?"

"Not claiming," MacLeod answered quietly from somewhere to the rear
of the group. "He is Methos."

Alexander turned on the Highlander. "You knew?!"

"Relax, Alex," Amanda breezed passed him into the canteen. "That's
just Methos' way. Trust no one. It's how he survives. What's in a name
anyway? I've had dozens of them."

"Easy for you to say, but he was my teacher."

"And he was very nearly my best man," Robert sounded offended then
suddenly looked shocked. "Good lord, I passed over Methos for a major
stockholder, I must have been out of my mind!"

"What does it matter who he is?" Gina insisted. "He's our friend and
he's in trouble."

"It's about time," Daniel muttered. "Could we all just focus on the

"Dr. Jackson is correct," Ramirez added, moving deeper into the room
to join Amanda. "Methos may be the world's oldest pain in the arse,
but he is our pain in the arse. More to the point," he added as the
others gathered around to find seats and push together tables. "He is
with Cassandra. Those two imprisoned together," he shuddered
dramatically. "One or both might already be dead."


Methos sat with his back to the wall, keeping well away from
Cassandra. He'd tried, he really had -- and so had she for that
matter, but the reality... 

Cassandra had nodded permission for him to examine the collar then
flinched so hard the instant he'd touched her that he'd quickly backed
off. And it wasn't her fault, he knew that. He'd been a doctor long
enough to recognize the reaction for what it was. Normally, he'd have
spoken calmly and comfortingly to the traumatized patient, waiting for
them to find the place within themselves where they would allow his
touch, or at least suffer it long enough in order to be treated. But
that presupposed he hadn't caused the problem to start.

Methos heard her take a long shuddering breath and glanced up. She
was still wrapped in on herself, head bowed, long dark hair falling
forward to hide her face, but she seemed to be getting her emotions
back under control. Ridiculously enough, he felt inordinately proud of
Cassandra. She'd obviously worked very hard these past few years to
undo the damage he'd done. Of course that wasn't the whole story, he
reminded himself. Sometime after she'd runaway, probably within weeks,
something in her life had forced her to repress her anger and emotions
in order to survive. A defense mechanism he knew far too much about.
That would have exacerbated the problem. Given her an unnamed and
unrelieved albatross to carry around, much the way he'd carried
Ku'ahktar's training until blood, violence and finally Ramirez had
helped to purge the last of the anger out.

She took another more relaxed breath and Methos lowered his eyes.
Cassandra didn't need to be stared at, least of all by him. And Methos
refused to delude himself that kind words and a gentle demeanor would
somehow help either of them past this. He didn't need another bout of
mental anguish courtesy of the Horsemen. But until he and Cassandra
were somehow quit of each other neither of them could ever completely
put the past behind them. Something Methos wanted more than anything.

It was sometime later when he heard Cassandra stirring and looked up,
seeing the calm but cautious expression she'd worn for most of this

"Try again," she said quietly and Methos nodded, moving slowly back
to her side. He waited patiently until she took his hand, moved her
heavy hair aside and laid his fingertips along the collar.

He was careful not to move too quickly, but after a moment Cassandra
seemed to relax and he took that as a signal to start working.

"What do you think happened?" Cassandra suddenly asked, surprising

"To your gift?" He saw her head nod abruptly and shrugged. "Sub-
harmonics," he answered succinctly, trying for normalcy. "That
security shield must vibrate on a level outside of normal hearing. As
soon as we got close enough it interfered and broke the connection.
Sort of like our Quickenings. I'm sure you've noticed that older
Immortals tend to be immune to your voice. We vibrate too, so to
speak, but not so's anyone would notice."

 She seemed to consider his words and he got back to work. "I've only
had that happen a few times," Cassandra finally admitted. "But I
hadn't considered that age was a factor. The strength of the

"Is solely dependent upon age," he interrupted. She looked back,
obviously surprised by the certainty in his voice and Methos took the
opportunity to shift his examination to the front of the collar. "I'm
sure there are other reasons for it to fail since I'm guessing that
part of it is telepathic projection. But the Goa'uld have that
ability, at least to some degree, which probably allows them to
counteract that aspect of the technique. So in this case I think we
need to assume an aural causality. Hence, the collar."

He tapped the center plate lightly and sighed. "I can't do anything
with this," he finally admitted with a shake of his head. "Maybe if
I'd seen it being put on," he shrugged. "Sorry, Cassandra, but for now
we're just going to have to rely on our wits."

"You don't think O'Neill will come?" she asked nervously as Methos
shifted to make himself more comfortable on the floor.

"Oh, he'll come," Methos smiled reassuringly. "It'll just take some
time for him to gather his forces and mount a rescue mission."

"Unless he and his people are dead or captured."

Methos glared at her. "Don't even think that!" he hissed. "Jack isn't
dead. And neither is the rest of the team. They'll come for us when
they're able, so just leave it be."

The force of his anger surprised Cassandra and she drew back a
little, stunned by Methos' vehemence. He crossed his arms and leaned
back against the wall stretching his legs out in front of him.

"You really care about these mortals, don't you?" she asked quietly.

"People, Cassandra. I care about these people. They're my friends,"
he added more gently. "And I'd like them to be around for more than
just a handful of years."

They lapsed into silence as Cassandra considered his words. This was
not the carefully controlled therapist mediated session she'd
originally had in mind, but Fate was often capricious. There was
nothing else to do at the moment so why not utilize the time wisely?

"What do you think they'll do to us?" she finally asked, breaking the
uncomfortable silence.

"They?" Methos huffed a laugh as he glanced toward the door. "You
mean Kabra'kan. I doubt he's told Zipak'na any of this. The Goa'uld
don't share technology or give up personal advantages if they can
avoid it. Zipak'na was pretty highly ranked in Heru-ur's service which
probably means he had markers from other Goa'uld he could call in.
Reason enough for Kabra'kan, a mere scientist, to find it in his heart
to rescue him. But I doubt there's any love lost between them. As for
what he'll do," Methos shrugged. "He's done what he needs with you for
the moment, though I'm sure he'll want to try and find a way to use
the Voice on his own. Failing that, he'll want to keep you close. In
his mind, you're a veritable fount of power. Think of all System Lords
you can bend to his will. As for me," Methos spread his arms and gave
her a little bow. "I am the perfect host."

Cassandra couldn't help laughing just a little at the irony of that.

"Of course," Methos went on, trying his best to maintain the sociable
balance they had somehow achieved. "He might want to run a few
experiments first. Make sure he's getting a good deal before he trades
in the old clunker. It won't be pleasant, but at least I know he can
never hope to win."

"Is that how you survived?"

"Survived what?" he asked curiously.


Methos froze, a look of absolute horror on his face. He forced
himself to stay calm, though the idea that Cassandra knew about
Ku'ahktar frightened the hell out of him. There was ammunition there
if she only knew how to use it. Still, he thought, swallowing hard as
he strove to breathe normally, she did not sound as though she was
searching for ways to hurt him. She only sounded curious. He opened
his mouth to ask how she knew, then closed it as he realized the
information could only have come from one source. O'Neill would never
tell, of that he was certain. Which meant Ramirez had spoken of it. 

Methos felt the tension slowly drain from his body at the thought.
Ramirez wouldn't have said anything had it not been required. And
Methos himself had, in effect, given him permission to do whatever was
necessary -- short of using force to bring Cassandra to the SGC.

"No," he finally whispered. "With...him...I learned that the only
hope was in absolute obedience. Ku'ahktar would always win."

"I'm sorry," she said, her eyes filled with of all things pity. "This
is painful for you."

"Don't be," he told her as he suddenly understood what Cassandra was
doing. "If answering a few difficult questions is the price of your
forbearance then I will pay it." And he would, Methos realized.
Because Cassandra, more than anyone, was entitled to ask him anything.
She, alone, had the right to know his reasons. Not to hear excuses or
useless apologies, but to comprehend the simple fact of his existence.
And when all was said and done, he owed her this.

Cassandra nodded thoughtfully. "When--" she suddenly paused,
appearing to search for the right words. Finally Cassandra took a deep
breath and started again. "How did you come to leave the Horsemen?
Ramesses mentioned Socrates."

"He would," Methos smiled fondly. "But that would be too facile an
explanation even for me. Vicious killer meets wise philosopher and is
led to embrace peace. Nice work, if you can get it, but it wasn't me.
The truth is a lot more anticlimactic," he grinned ruefully. "I found
out Ku'ahktar was dead and the very fact that I wasn't being hunted by
him made me start to think. Or think again, I should say. I'd stopped
doing a lot of that -- except for plotting strategies."

"But you read. Constantly," Cassandra objected. "I remember you
coming back from raids with scrolls hidden in your tunic. Then you'd
hide them under your bed when you thought I wasn't watching."

"Oh, that," Methos waved a hand. "I had to hide them or Kronos would
have burned the lot. In those days he found literacy amusing. He
generally liked to indulge me, but for some reason decided reading in
the field was too much of a distraction. I kept a few treatises on war
around just for show, but the good stuff was well hidden."

"He burned your books?" she asked, not sure why she felt sorry for
him, but she did.

"Sometimes," Methos nodded. "Other times he let Silas feed them to
the goats. Kronos wasn't interested in learning. He knew everything he
needed -- or thought he did. Not a lot of study necessary to murder
innocent civilians, at least in those days. And contrary to popular
opinion figuring out that the sun really ought to be at your back when
you charge headlong into a defenseless village doesn't require a whole
lot of planning. As long as I made it sound incredibly dangerous and
exciting," he shrugged, "Kronos was happy."

Cassandra shook her head in amazement. Methos' self-deprecating tone
as he belittled his so-called leadership abilities surprised her. She
only remembered him as sure and strong, sitting at the fire with the
other Horsemen plotting the next raid. It had all seemed so terribly
complex in those days. Had he really been making it seem difficult
just to keep Kronos entertained? She asked as much and Methos
responded thoughtfully.

"If Ku'ahktar taught me Immortals were to be viewed only as
adversaries and mortals as objects needing to be removed from my path
before eating or sleeping, then Kronos showed me how a glib tongue and
fast thinking were the safest ways to keeping my head. But," he added
seriously. "Make no mistake. I may have been running from Ku'ahktar
when I met up with the others, but I chose to do what I did,
Cassandra. I manipulated the Horsemen into existence for my own
reasons and no matter how screwed up I was, I still bear that

"And, God help me," he sighed. "I liked it. Liked having the power
and the freedom. Never having to run, never having to hide, always
knowing the others were there to hack that bastard down if he found
me. And the violence was soothing," he shuddered. "I had hurt for so
long and without really understanding why that I wanted the whole
world to hurt with me. You know that painting? The one by Edvard
Munch. The Scream?" Cassandra nodded almost imperceptibly. "Well,
inside, that was me. I screamed. You screamed. The world screamed
because I screamed. Not fair," he whispered sadly. "But that's the
truth of it."

Cassandra stared at him for several long moments then, "You never did
finish saying how you left the Horsemen."

Methos nodded, pulling up his knees to keep warm as he realized the
room was growing chilly. "I changed," he murmured wearily. "Not all at
once and not just because of Socrates, but because I finally started
seeing mortals as people. It took longer with Immortals, but the
people," he smiled a little wistfully. "How could I admit that they
had anything to teach me if I didn't admit first that they were
people? Beings who deserved to live just as I wanted to live. And I
finally started to see myself as they saw me. Or would have seen me if
they'd known who I was. And my scream stared back at me. Looked me in
the eye and went on shrieking until I ripped off the bandage of the
Horsemen and let the canker heal properly. I left Kronos imprisoned on
holy ground and tried to forget about him."

"You deny the Horseman?"

"No," he whispered sorrowfully. "He's here, because he's part of me.
But he's been unseated and he'll never ride again, because I won't be
ridden. He's just a shadow now, though sometimes he comes back to
haunt me."

Cassandra shivered and Methos stared at her. "You're cold," he stated
simply, seeing the gooseflesh on her bare arms and started to remove
his jacket.

"Wait," Cassandra told him, scooting closer until she'd tucked
herself into his side. "It's better if we stick together in this."

Surprised, but strangely comforted, Methos wrapped the edge of his
jacket around Cassandra's shoulders holding her carefully -- ready to
release her immediately if she should seem displeased. She snuggled a
little closer and rested her head against his chest.

"We should try and sleep," she told him gently.

"Not a chance," Methos said dryly. "I make it a point never to nap
before a torture session. Makes the passing out bit easier."

She glanced up at him, frowning just a little. "You always did have
the oddest sense of humor."

Methos gave her a wry smile. "Makes the living forever bit easier."

Chapter 21


The order rang out, silencing the arguing Immortals as Sergeant Bear
strode into the room followed by Major Carter and their high ranking

"At ease," General Hammond said quietly, staring hard at the
assembled Immortals. He looked them over one by one carefully noting
the barely leashed tension in their bodies. They wanted to fight, were
ready to leap into the fray and defend the world's best interests.
Unfortunately, they were also completely out of control.

Of course, that was not entirely their fault, he thought sourly as he
came face to face with Daniel. "It's nice to see you again, Dr.
Jackson. We missed you back at Stargate Command."

His sarcasm was not completely lost on the younger man. "General?"

"First, let me thank you for doing my job for me, Dr. Jackson. But
may I remind you, son, that it is not the job of a civilian to muster
military resources." 

The archaeologist flushed, but defended himself reasonably. "I was
only following Jack's orders, General Hammond. He said to get help.
They can help."

"I know Colonel O'Neill will be pleased to learn just how much to
heart you take his commands. But I'll be sure to remind him to be a
little bit more specific in giving directions next time."

Without waiting for Daniel to respond he turned to the group,
frowning. "And you people should know better by now," he accused.

"Begging the General's pardon," MacLeod said evenly. "But this is
Immortal business, sir."

"Not," Hammond replied dangerously, stepping close to MacLeod. "When
it is going through my Stargate and utilizing my resources, Airman."
He moved back, glaring at the others. "Captain Pierson is under my
command. Just as his and Cassandra's safety and well being are my
concern, so is yours. I cannot and will not tolerate rogue missions
for any reason. By you or anyone else under my command. Is that

They responded affirmatively, looking a bit more subdued.

"That said," he went on, toning down his anger. "Dr. Jackson was
absolutely correct in his assumption that you are the best team to
handle this particular problem. But there is more at stake here than
the lives of two of our own. There's the mission they were sent on
that must be completed or we all might be facing a more serious issue
than the capture of two Immortals. Now," he went on calmly. "I am
willing to admit that I don't know much about what you are all truly
capable of. But that's also why I'm here. To get the benefit of your
combined experience."

"Well, it's about time," Alexander said approvingly. "I was wondering
when someone would show up to knock some sense into their heads."

The general overlooked his inadvertent insubordination, nodding to
the Macedonian in appreciation. "Thank you, Airman Philipson. And I'm
going to take a moment of our time here to inform you that Sergeant
Bear has recommended you for the position of Squad Leader and I've
approved. Which means, ladies and gentlemen, that the next time you
decide to take matters into your own hands Squad Leader Philipson is
entitled to take you folks to task with my and Sergeant Bear's

"Thank you, sir," Alexander acknowledged, smiling widely at the
shocked Immortals. "And as to your earlier request, I'd just love to
talk strategy."


"Interesting strategy, sir," Major Carter commented as she watched
the Immortal squad assemble. Not at the SGC back on Earth, but here on
P3W184 where there was more room for their equipment.

"It certainly has the benefit of being unique," Hammond admitted,
straight faced.

"Most unique," Martouf commented, his tone offering a hint of the
mild amazement he clearly felt. Like the rest of the mortals he would
not be accompanying the team for the first assault on the Goa'uld
stronghold, but would be part of the next group sent in to secure the
gate in his capacity as a Tok'ra observer.

A few moments later engines revved, safeties went off and Sergeant
Bear signaled the general that they were ready. With a nod, Hammond
gave the order and the gate was engaged. Then they waited as the first
unmanned element of the assault proceeded through the gate.


"Heads up," O'Neill called softly to Teal'c as he centered his field
glasses on the Stargate which had opened again -- the third time in as
many hours. "This could be it," he said as another pair of low flying
reconnaissance drones suddenly exited the wormhole.

The response from the Jaffa below the ridge was desultory at best.
The sun was just coming up and they had spent most of their excitement
over the small intrusions earlier on. Laughing at the seemingly weak
opposition, they took a few pot shots at the drones, knocking them out
of the sky and taking little interest as a second pair then a third
and fourth came buzzing through. But this time the drones were larger.
More to the point, O'Neill smiled as he put away his glasses -- they
were carrying a payload.

Percussive grenades boomed and smoke bombs exploded obscuring the
gate. And in their wake came a sound O'Neill knew well as a familiar
golden head suddenly burst through the wormhole, Alexander's
motorcycle leaping past the first guards as he let out an unearthly
howl, firing at everything. O'Neill almost shouted with glee as two
more bikes shot from the gate, barreling down on the stunned Jaffa,
while behind them came the rest of the Immortals on foot, pounding
away with M80s, P90s and Laws rockets.

O'Neill and Teal'c started shooting, not giving the Jaffa a chance to
regroup, though they certainly put up a fierce resistance. But it
wouldn't do them a bit of good O'Neill realized as he watched with
pride and a touch of wonder.

The Immortals ignored almost every opportunity to take cover. When
one went down the others kept the pressure up and then the downed
Immortal would rise and keep on fighting. It was glorious to see the
confused Jaffa unable to cope as the Immortals became their own
second, third and fourth wave invasionary force.

Three death gliders appeared and the rockets took them out -- then a
handful of Jaffa broke ranks and the route was on. Their own troops
turned and fired on the deserters giving the Immortals an even greater
opportunity as Alexander offered quarter to any who surrendered. Few
did, but it was demoralizing nonetheless and distracted the others who
sought to kill their former comrades. When the fighting became hand to
hand combat the Immortals wasted no time in drawing their swords and
cutting down the opposition in the way they knew best. It was surreal
and horrifying all at once. But that was war, Jack knew and at the end
he and Teal'c scrambled down to join the strike force once the
fighting was over.

"Very, very impressive!" O'Neill exclaimed as he reached Alexander

Teal'c on the other hand, strode over to the tiny Macedonian, picked
him up, looked him in the eye and stated emphatically, "Yee. Ha."

"Yee. Ha?" Jack repeated, looking askance as Teal'c put Alexander
down. "O-kay. Yeehah!"

Back on his feet the stunned Immortal came to attention and saluted.
"Squad Leader Philipson reporting as ordered, sir!"

Bemused, O'Neill returned the salute and looked to Sergeant Bear, who
was smiling with delight. And nearby, MacLeod was grinning as he and
Robert moved to retrieve their bikes. 

"That was fun," the Highlander commented, pausing to salute O'Neill
and nod to the sergeant.

"Most I've had in years!" Robert agreed, saluting casually. "I think
I'm going to like this job."

"A delightfully bloodthirsty romp," Ramirez' remarked
enthusiastically as he and the others joined the group. 

"Truly exhilarating," Ptahsennes sighed with pleasure. "I can't
remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much. Perhaps when I joined
the pharaoh's army and we chased those pesky Hebrew slaves into the
sea that one time. Of course we lost them, but it was still great fun."

O'Neill smiled weakly and nodded. "Yeah, well, I've only saved the
world a couple of times. Nothing of biblical proportions though." 

Still, he thought as he watched them congratulating each other, they
were entitled to enjoy their battle high -- along with their
justifiable pride. For the first time in any of their histories
Immortals had fought a pitched battle in the face of overwhelming odds
without having to hide what they were. And if you were going to have
Immortals in your armed forces, what else did you do with them but let
them be the Immortals they were?

Chapter 22

The hours passed in silence, punctuated only occasionally by the
passing of a guard and hushed conversation. They talked about the
Goa'uld and the Tok'ra. About the Nox, the Asgard and the Tollan,
advanced races of beings Methos had never met, but whom he'd read
about and found fascinating. They talked about anything and everything
that didn't touch on either one of them by silent, but mutual consent.
Until at last Cassandra asked about something closer to home.

"What do you know about the Game, Methos? Ramirez claims it is a
fabrication. That a very old, very dangerous Immortal invented it."

"Ku'ahktar," Methos nodded and smiled indulgently when Cassandra
looked up. "It's okay, you can say his name. I don't mind. But no," he
sighed. "I don't believe he did. The man I knew was a monster all
right, but not that clever. His brightest idea in six thousand years
was to take a holiday from training vicious brutes, find some
scholarly type and turn him into one hoping to get a more interesting
chase out of the hunt."

Cassandra shuddered and Methos absently patted her arm. 

"If that's the case," she finally asked. "Then how did the Game come

"Well, I do have this theory," Methos responded slowly. "Some
Immortal with a cushy job as a local god meets another Immortal for
the first time and doesn't want to lose his post. Immortal A draws his
sword and shouts to Immortal B, 'There can be only one!' In self
defense Immortal B kills Immortal A, who was older and presumably
wiser, then wanders off only to run into Immortal C. This time
Immortal B draws his sword and shouts, 'There can be only one!'
Somewhat bewildered, Immortal C asks, 'What do you mean there can be
only one? There are twenty of us gathered over the next hillside.'
Immortal B says, 'Really? A gathering? But there can be only one!' And
that's when the fighting starts. A few gullible idiots get away and
warn everyone they meet about the dangers of gathering in large
numbers. So now we all get to shout, 'There can be only one!' and have
at each other. Moronic, but likely."

Beside him, Methos could see that Cassandra didn't know whether to
laugh or be shocked. She settled for amused disapproval which only
served to make him smile. "It's just a theory," he shrugged. "Anyway,
who knows how these things begin? Up until a few centuries ago we all
laughed at people like Columbus. We thought the world was flat and
rode on the back of a giant sea turtle endlessly walking in circles.
Or balanced precariously on the shoulders of a god. I know I was as
eager as anyone to hear stories of the New World, taste potatoes for
the first time, and believed at least some of the tales I heard.
Enough to take ship and visit the Americas to see for myself."

"Are you saying the reality is never as interesting as the fantasy?"
she asked, surprised.

"On the contrary," he corrected. "I'm saying it's more interesting,
but a lot less filled with supposed machinations and convoluted
reasoning. Did you know that the entire American Revolution and
subsequent demise of the British Empire were plotted by a spiteful
little man in the backroom of a Boston tavern?"

"You're not serious," Cassandra scoffed.

"But I am," Methos insisted. "Samuel Adams. I even met him once. A
bitter man if ever there was one and all because his father lost his
fortune when Parliament declared that land grant deeds gained through
speculation in the Colonies were null and void. Being reduced to
abject poverty overnight had a chilling effect on the lad. Blamed the
Crown for it all and spent the rest of his life agitating against
anything British. It was his early writings that brought anti-British
sentiment in the Colonies to a fever pitch. Not that the people
weren't pissed off over their taxes, but you know and I know that no
one's ever fomented an entire rebellion over them. You just suck it up
and pay the damn things. It's annoying, but nothing to declare war
over. Unless of course there's a deeper schism being created for other
reasons. Like one man's grudge against an entire government. Samuel
Adams didn't do it alone, but he sure as hell got a lot of people to
start thinking like him."

"All right," Cassandra sighed. "I'll concede the point. But really,
Methos, a man dead for nearly two hundred years did not manage to
bring about the downfall of the British Empire. For one thing, it
still exists."

"But it's a Commonwealth now."


"Question. After the Second World War which economic and military
superpower made it a condition of joining the United Nations that the
British Empire would divest itself of all its imperial holdings, ipso
facto giving almost complete control of the air and seas to that
particular country?"

"The United States, but-- Oh, my!" Cassandra sat up and stared at
him. "He won."

"I rest my case," Methos grinned. "Reality is far more interesting in
its simplicity than the supposed machinations and convoluted reasoning
of fantasy."

A sudden thought crossed Cassandra's mind and she narrowed her eyes.
"Just how many degrees do you have, Methos?"

"In modern terms?" he shrugged. "Eighty-three Bachelor of Arts, one
hundred sixteen Masters, forty-seven Doctorates and twenty-two Post
Doctoral degrees. Why? Need a recommendation to a good college?"

Whatever comment Cassandra might have made was forestalled by the
sound of heavy boots coming up the hall. Not the lone guard they were
familiar with, but at least three or four.

"Party time," Methos muttered as they both hurriedly rose off the


O'Neill and Teal'c swiftly led the way through the jungle toward the
rear entrance of the temple they'd used before. Pierson was right, the
colonel thought, in their arrogance the Goa'uld felt completely secure
and that attitude filtered down the pipe to their security forces. He
didn't doubt that Jaffa troops going up against their similarly
trained counterparts in a standup fight performed extremely well. But
they had no experience with the tactics of deception and misdirection.
Something at which the Earth forces excelled. Their decision to use
the same back door, and without the advantage of having Kabra'kan
under their control, would be an unimaginable choice to the mind of a
Goa'uld or Jaffa. Like Alexander's advice to hit hard and fast at the
most heavily defended point. It was the kind of strategy that implied
to the enemy that the invader knew something they didn't. Had found a
weakness to exploit and was using it, regardless of whether it was
true or not. It had shaken the defensive line at the Stargate and now
that same cocksure attitude could be exploited again.

"This is the place," O'Neill informed Sergeant Bear, who quietly
ordered his troops into position. He broke down the squad into two
teams, ordering MacLeod, Cierdwyn and Robert ahead with Alexander
taking point.

O'Neill watched with gratification as the Immortals made their way so
carefully through the undergrowth that barely a leaf stirred to mark
their passing. So much experience, so little need to explain the
necessities... It was a heady feeling being in command of such forces
again. He could count on them, like he could count on Pierson or
Teal'c. Warriors to the core who understood the exigencies and
obstacles of combat. More importantly, it was gratifying to know that
even if they went down, they'd be getting up again and that was one
less burden on his soul.

They reached the cave entrance and Bear ordered the second squad up.
A few minutes later Alexander called in that the way was clear and the
colonel signaled for Teal'c and the sergeant to move up while he took
the rear.

It was pathetically easy to reach the security field, but that didn't
necessarily mean their troubles were over. Someone would have to go
through it and that meant they'd be defenseless for as long as it took
them to revive.

"Darieux . Philipson." Bear pointed to the shield. "Watch her back."

Alexander nodded sharing a look with Amanda.

"I hate this part," she muttered then joined him at the shield and
together they stepped into its embrace.

O'Neill ground his teeth almost glad he couldn't see their faces.
Their bodies twitched and convulsed making garbled noises as their
brains were scrambled. A moment later they fell, landing safely on the
other side of the shield. The colonel reflexively swallowed his fear
when they finally stopped breathing, along with the urge to rush
forward and help. Long minutes passed, giving him enough time to
wonder again what had happened to Pierson after SG-1 had been driven
from the tunnel.

"Don't worry, Colonel," MacLeod told him quietly. "Injuries to the
brain take a little longer to heal."

"Does it hurt?" he asked curiously, never having thought to question
Pierson. "I mean after."

"A bit," MacLeod nodded. "Sometimes the healing continues after
you're awake, or you feel a phantom pain from the injury, but that

"And the other? The dead thing." O'Neill repressed a shudder. "What's
that like?"

"It's not like anything. One minute you feel yourself fading and then
you're awake. No light, no tunnel, no visions of heaven, just nothing.
That's why most Immortals hate it. If you don't know what you are it
can be terrifying. Believe me, I know."

O'Neill said nothing, heaving an internal sigh of relief as first
Alexander then Amanda suddenly started breathing. The Macedonian
brought up his weapon even before he rolled to his feet while Amanda
staggered slightly, righting herself almost instantly. Hiding a smile,
O'Neill watched approvingly as they immediately focused on the
mission. Alexander guarding Amanda's back while she worked at the
panel that controlled the security screen.

She'd been a good call, O'Neill admitted silently. Amanda's skills at
high tech thieving had made her a quick study. She'd spent real
quality time with Martouf and Teal'c learning as much as she could
absorb about Goa'uld security systems. How they functioned and why.
Which meant she had little trouble deactivating this piece of

"Voila!" she grinned as the shield came down, stepping back to let
the others move past her as Sergeant Bear brought them forward to
secure the corridor.

"Good," O'Neill said. "Now put it back. I don't want a stray guard
sounding the alarm."

She grimaced distastefully. "Goes against the grain, sir, but give me
a second."

"You've already had it," O'Neill growled. "Next time, cut the back

"Grumpy, grumpy," he heard her mumbling and, "No appreciation for
artistry," under her breath as she hurriedly went to work.

Incredibly skilled they might be, O'Neill thought disgustedly, but
temperamental and insubordinate. He wondered if that were a side
effect of having lived such a long life then thought better of it.
Alexander and Cierdwyn seemed all right. But maybe that was because
they'd both grown up inside large, well organized armies. Which meant
Tok'ra's son had no excuse. Methos was annoying because he liked it.

Again O'Neill followed at the rear, admiring Sergeant Bear's skills
in getting the Immortals to quickly do what he wanted. Then again,
he'd had more practice with this testy bunch. A few moments after the
first team disappeared with Teal'c via the rings they sent back a
candy bar to signal that the area above was secured and clear.

O'Neill rolled his eyes wondering who the irreverent joker in the
group was, but didn't take issue with it. They were after all, still
in training. And the idea wasn't to pound the individuality out of
them, but to mold them into a team.

Once within the ship, O'Neill watched as Teal'c led the way to where
they believed the stolen weapons had been stored. That of course, was
the main thrust of the mission. The rescue of the two Immortals was to
follow once they'd planted the timed charges.

The colonel slipped away, feeling no compunction about leaving Teal'c
and Bear in charge. They were good men and would see the mission
through, making sure it was done to his specifications. A few minutes
later his radio crackled and O'Neill slipped into a shadowy niche to
answer Teal'c.

"You are seeking Cassandra and Methos." The words were a statement
and O'Neill grinned. 

"You know it, big guy. Pierson still owes me six thousand pushups.
He's not getting out of  'em that easy."

Chapter 23

The prisoners didn't have far to go once they were released from
their holding cell. Just down the hall to Kabra'kan's sarcophagus
where they were forced to kneel and wait for the god to arise.

Unimpressed, Methos and Cassandra shared a glance. One bemused, but
cautious, the other nervous, but wary. Having done their fair share of
kneeling, both to gods and individuals at one time or another, they
made themselves comfortable and waited patiently for the sarcophagus
to open.

Eventually, when it was deemed they'd been subservient for long
enough, a guard ordered one of the servants forwards. The woman, one
of the Maya descendants from the look of her, scurried to the
sarcophagus and tapped a small panel on the side before rushing back
to her place against the wall. It opened with a scraping noise as the
top slid apart like insect wings. Then, looking ever so pleased with
himself, Kabra'kan sat up and climbed out of the interior, ignoring
Methos and Cassandra but for a negligible wave of a hand to a guard
and quiet command.

"Bring them," Methos heard and they got to their feet.

The laboratory was just beyond the central living area and Methos had
his first good look at the place, noting with little surprise that
their packs had been opened and the contents laid out on one of the
tables. The only weapon visible though was his sword. No doubt
Kabra'kan thought it a quaint affectation.

The Goa'uld went to a cabinet and removed a pair of hand devices
which looked suspiciously like high tech jewelry, but according to
O'Neill and the others were weapons which packed quite a wallop.

"Do you have a name?" Kabra'kan asked, returning to stand before

Don't sweat the small stuff, he reminded himself silently. "Pierson.
Captain Adam Pierson."

"That is a Tau'ri name," Kabra'kan said quietly. "You are not of the

The Goa'uld swiped a hand through the air painting a glowing line of
agony across Methos' chest. He shouted and fell to his knees gasping
for breath as he clutched himself. At a word from Kabra'kan the guards
pulled his arms back and bared his torso allowing the Goa'uld to view
the healing process.

"Interesting," the Goa'uld commented when the burn slash was gone.
"How do you do heal so quickly?"

"You mean without tricks?"

Kabra'kan nodded to the guard behind Methos and before he could even
guess at what might happen his entire body was suffused with pain --
unending and unchanging in its intensity, ceasing only when the
Goa'uld decreed release. Methos would have collapsed had the guards
not righted him.

Suddenly, a Jaffa was lifting his chin with tip of a long, thin
cylindrical object and Methos recognized it from Daniel's
descriptions. A pain stick. Sort of a human cattle prod only far more
excruciating in effect. Still, nasty as it was, it was about as
terrifying as being hit in the back of the head with a hammer. No
finesse, Methos thought sourly as he tried to catch his breath. Bloody

"Now tell me," Kabra'kan smiled venomously. "How do you heal so

Methos didn't need to hear the threat implicit in Kabra'kan's tone to
understand the penalty. And since he'd planned on answering eventually
he might just as well get on with it.

"I was born with the ability," he said, trying his best to look

"How lucky for you," Kabra'kan grinned. "And are there others like
you?" the Goa'uld asked. Wondering, Methos supposed, just how many of
his fellows he might offer such a gift in exchange for their

Methos lowered his eyes. "No," he whispered.

The pain stick was applied again and the question repeated.

"Tell me the truth!" Kabra'kan demanded.

"It is the truth!" Methos growled, not bothering to hide his agony.
"There are no others like me!" 

The pain stick was threatened and he flinched away, but Kabra'kan
held up a hand to stop it. 

"It does not matter," the Goa'uld sneered. "I will know it all soon

Methos let his eyes go wide and increased his breathing slightly as
Kabra'kan grabbed his chin, turning Methos' face from side to side as
if examining the merchandise. He caught Cassandra staring in horrified
fascination and winked at her. If she was the least bit startled he
didn't see it, too preoccupied with flinching visibly while
Kabra'kan's hands roamed possessively through his hair and down his
shoulders as the guards pulled him up and held him for inspection.

"This will make an excellent host body," Kabra'kan murmured

"No! Please! No!" Cassandra suddenly shouted. "Adam! Please! You must
fight them!"

He struggled a little as she went on ranting, though Methos thought
the whole, "What will I do without you?" bit was way over the top.
Still, no one seemed to notice and it made Kabra'kan's eyes gleam
avariciously. Perhaps thinking the body itself could be used to make
Cassandra a willing tool.

Dream on, pal, Methos thought faintly amused. Then a guard cuffed him
and he fell to his knees again while another yanked his head down and
forward. He heard a noise from behind as if something large and nasty
were being regurgitated and steeled himself for the attack.

"Oh, no you don't!" Jack's voice called from the door and weapons
fire erupted across the room.

As the Jaffa released him to defend their god, the Goa'uld activated
his personal shield while Methos got his feet under him and made for
his sword. Cassandra got there first and tossed it to him, taking a
blast of staff fire for her trouble. She went down and Methos went for
the Jaffa, moving into his fighting space so quickly the man had no
idea what was happening until he looked down to find himself impaled
on Methos' sword.

He turned to find Kabra'kan as the last rounds of gunfire died, but
the Goa'uld was gone. "Damn it, Jack! I almost had him!" Methos
complained. He stomped over to Cassandra, who was struggling to sit
up. "You couldn't wait two minutes?"

O'Neill glowered at him. "You mean he almost had you!"

"Yeah," Methos nodded. "In another minute he was toast."

Jack looked disgusted. "Do you know what it feels like to have one of
those things slithering into you? Well, I do. Trust me, Pierson, it's
not a memory you want."

"Well, it was my choice," Methos retorted as he helped a very shaken
Cassandra to her feet. "Next time, trust me to have a little more
common sense than you give me credit for."

"Why you ungrateful bastard!" O'Neill glared, turning toward the door
as the Immortals followed. "I ought to--"

The burst of staff fire seemed to come out of nowhere. It struck Jack
square in the chest and knocked him several feet back.

"No!" Methos shouted, shoving Cassandra down as he hurriedly scanned
the room for the culprit. But the guards were dead and he turned his
eyes towards Kabra'kan's living quarters. Fury filled him as he
spotted a boy, no more than a teenager, grinning wildly as he pointed
a fallen staff weapon in Methos' direction. What the boy saw Methos
didn't want to imagine. Shades of the Horseman he later supposed,
stalking coldly toward him. The boy's shot went nearly as wide as his
eyes, but Methos' aim was true. He slipped the tip of his blade in
just below the sternum and shoved upward, his face expressionless as
he watched the boy die.

The rest of the servants started screaming and running, but Methos
paid them scant attention. All he could think of was helping Jack. He
turned back to see Cassandra kneeling over the colonel's prostrate
form, shaking her head when he looked at her.

"He's gone."


"I'm sorry, Methos."

"No!" he growled. "I will not have it!"

"Methos," Cassandra said gently, reaching out a hand to comfort.

He brushed it away as he knelt beside the body, lifting it by the arms.

"Methos! What are you doing?!"

"Either help me, woman, or keep out of my way!" he snarled, hefting
the corpse over his shoulder. She stared at him, clearly appalled. No
doubt thinking he was engaged in some form of abomination, but Methos
didn't care. He turned and headed for Kabra'kan's sleeping chamber and
went to the sarcophagus.

"Are you sure this is wise?" Cassandra said from behind when Methos
tapped the control panel as he'd seen the servant do. "I was told
these things are dangerous to mortals. They cause madness and--"

"Only with long term use," Methos said tightly. "Just once isn't

The sarcophagus opened and Methos laid the body inside.

"Would Colonel O'Neill want this?" Cassandra asked gently, moving to
block him.

"I want this," Methos turned, glowering at her. "That's all that
matters. Now get out of my way, Cassandra."

She nodded once and made to move but a gasp from the sarcophagus
startled her.

"What the hell?" they heard O'Neill croak. "Jesus!" He sat up,
running shaky hands over his chest and the Immortals drew back,
shocked into silence. The move caught Jack's attention and he glared
at them. "Who the hell had the bright idea to put me into this
thing?!" he demanded.

"I..." Methos started, then slowly shook his head. He looked to
Cassandra, who was staring in openmouthed wonder. It was the same for
her, Methos realized. O'Neill hadn't been pre-Immortal and neither of
them could feel a buzz!

"I shoulda known you'd pull something like this, Pierson," the
colonel frowned. "You know my standing orders. You never, ever put me
into one of these godforsaken things!"

"I..." Methos swallowed hard. "I'm sorry," he whispered, not knowing
what else to say. "I just... I couldn't let you die, Jack."

O'Neill's expression softened. "Oh, all right," he heaved a disgusted
sigh. "I'll let it slide. But just this once, you hear me?" 

Methos nodded, wondering how the hell he was going to tell Jack that
he appeared to be Immortal -- but wasn't. 

"Thank you," O'Neill said sarcastically. "Now, be a good minion and
help me out of this contraption."

Methos somehow found the wit to smile and saluted his Commanding
Officer. "Sir, yes, sir, O Great Satan, sir."

Jack grimaced disgustedly. "God damn it, Pierson!" he complained as
Methos offered his arm. "How many times do I have to say it? You don't
ever salute indoors!"

Chapter 24

"Sergeant Bear?" Gina came forward holding a palm sized computer,
looking worried.

"Yes, Airman?"

"The manifest, Sergeant. It doesn't add up. Some of the weapons are

"Zipak'na," Teal'c frowned as the others finished laying the last of
the charges.

"We go after him?" Bear asked Teal'c. Apophis' former First Prime
might technically hold no rank, but the man had been a general and was
nominally O'Neill's second in command as far as he was concerned.

It was half suggestion, half question and Teal'c considered it
thoughtfully. "We must complete our mission," the Jaffa decided. "And
await further orders."

"All done, Sergeant," Robert reported a little breathlessly as he and
Ptahsennes came up.

"It will make a lovely boom," the priest added as they waited for the
others. "Do you not think so, Robert?"

"Sort of reminds me of when I got my first cannon," the pirate mused.
"Hours of fun. God, I really do miss the old days."

Ptahsennes nodded sadly. "We really knew what fun was then."

The other Immortals soon joined them and Sergeant Bear did a quick
head count. "All right, people, let's move out. We've still got a job
to do. Any idea where to find Colonel O'Neill?" he asked Teal'c as
they fell in.

The crackle of the radio answered the question for him.

"You there, big guy?" O'Neill's voice came through loud and clear.

"I am, O'Neill. We have completed our task."

"Copy. Any trouble?"

"A few minor problems," the Jaffa grinned as he moved past a corpse.
"But they will trouble us no further. Unfortunately, the greater
difficulty is Lord Zipak'na. It appears he may still be in possession
of some of the weapons and may have already left this world."

"Damn! Okay. I've got Pierson and Cassandra. We're headed for the
exit. Meets us there. O'Neill out."

"Things appear to be getting interesting," Ramirez said quietly to
Amanda as the first squad moved up and they waited for Sergeant Bear's
order to join them.

"Interesting? You said it, brother!"


O'Neill, Methos and Cassandra met up with the others at the rings.
Oddly enough they'd encountered little resistance and it confirmed the
colonel's fears that Zipak'na and Kabra'kan either had, or were, in
the process of leaving. As soon as they were down in the tunnels he
radioed the team at the gate only to discover they were under fire.

"We're pinned down," Carter reported. "It's a large force. Looks like
they don't want us bringing in any more support, sir."

So that's where the troops are, O'Neill nodded as he felt the ground
start to rumble. Not from their explosives he was sure, but from the
sound of it the Goa'uld were planning to take off. "Okay, Carter. Have
Martouf get hold of Jacob. He should still be in the area. Have him
meet us at the spot we picked out. Then get our people back through
the gate."

She confirmed the order and O'Neill switched off, moving up to join
Bear, Teal'c and Methos. Someone -- O'Neill looked around and spotted
MacLeod out of uniform -- had given Methos their jacket.

"We're leaving. Have Amanda open the door," he ordered and Sergeant
Bear made it happen.

A few minutes later they were cautiously moving into the jungle when
an explosion rocked the ship behind them.

"Touchdown!" O'Neill muttered as they all looked back. With a frown,
he saw a smaller ship accompanied by several death gliders escaping
into the atmosphere. "Damn it!" he shouted even as Teal'c started
firing and those with Laws rockets pulled them out. They would never
make it he realized and looked to Methos. 

"We can't let any of those weapons get off this planet," he told the

Wearing a faintly stunned expression Methos nodded and stood up. Good
man, O'Neill thought, taking cover with Teal'c as he ordered everybody
down and to cease fire.

There was silence and surprise among the others, then they watched as
Methos raised his arm. The skies suddenly darkened and thunder slammed
through the forest as the Quickening came down touching them all. They
writhed, caught in the grip of its power. A few cried out questions,
but Methos merely held his stance, a look of intense concentration on
his normally placid face. All at once he pointed and a bolt of
lightening shot from his other hand and into the sky. It snapped
upward, seeming to search for its target and an instant later a series
of explosions could be heard in the distance. Without a word, Methos
lowered his arms and the phenomenon stopped.

"Bloody hell," Robert muttered, staring wide eyed. "He really is

The ancient Immortal only smiled. "I'm hoping that was Kabra'kan," he
casually told Jack. "I do sometimes like to keep my promises."


"Where are the weapons?" Jacob asked an hour later as O'Neill and the
others trooped aboard.

"Hello. How are you? Good to see you. Glad you're alive," O'Neill
muttered. "Not a word and then all he asks for is presents."

"Kids," Methos nodded sagely.

"This isn't funny, Jack," the Tok'ra frowned. "You promised to get
those weapons and--"

"As I recall," O'Neill corrected. "The deal was: Whatever weapons we
retrieve, we share. Well, we didn't retrieve any, so there's nothing
to share."

"You tricked us!" Selmak snarled.

"What goes around comes around," O'Neill shrugged. 

"I can't believe George would lie to us like this!" Carter spoke this
time, just as furious as his symbiote.

"He didn't," O'Neill responded honestly. "The orders came directly
from above. All the way above. Ah, come on, Jacob," O'Neill argued as
the other man sputtered in outrage. "What's the point of obtaining
weapons so advanced you know you can't use 'em because you can't
figure 'em out? And the folks you plan to share them with won't give
you a hint about how? Did you think we suddenly got stupid once you
left? That we believe all that crap about the Tok'ra helping us out
the next time the Goa'uld show up? Have the Tok'ra ever even offered
us a run down cargo ship like this one so we wouldn't have to beg for
a ride?" O'Neill shook his head. "It's just a one way street with you
guys. You don't trust us? Well, right back at ya, Selmak. We blew the
damn weapons up because we found 'em first and if we can't use 'em no
one else will!"

Furious, Jacob stalked from the room and headed for the control
center. O'Neill turned to find the Immortals staring at him, serious
expressions all around.

"Is this typical of this alliance?" Ramirez quietly asked Teal'c.

"Don't answer that," O'Neill curtly interrupted. "You folks wanna
know the truth? Fine. We give, they take. They ask, we give. Am I
suspicious? You bet I am. But when it comes right down to it the
Tok'ra are all we've got. So for now we put up with it. Understood?"

"Clearly," Alexander nodded as did the others. "Anything else we
should know about them?"

O'Neill looked over his shoulder to make sure Jacob wasn't within
hearing distance. "It's not PC, but when you get past the fact that
they call it blending and let their hosts speak for themselves,
they're all just snakeheads deep down inside. As far as I'm concerned
this so-called alliance has way too parasitic a feel for us to trust
'em. Now, everybody inside," he pointed to the crew quarters. "There's
not a whole lot of room and it'll take us three days to get where
we're going. Let's try and keep it civil, campers."

Chapter 25

Close to thirty thousand years of martial expertise in one small room
and what does it come down to, O'Neill thought. "If I have to listen
to one more Egyptian-Macedonian-Celtic-Jaffa drinking song so help
me..." he muttered to the Immortal sitting beside him. "It wouldn't be
so bad," he added, staring dismally at his cup. "If we had something
to drink besides Tang."

"You're telling me," Methos grimaced, knocking back his juice in one
shot. "Alex is composing an epic poem about yours truly -- to be
declaimed in proper Greek style. And the de Valicourts are having a
Come As You Were party -- we're all invited."

"That sounds...weird," O'Neill shook his head, not wanting to imagine
anything so bizarre.

"The problem is I don't want to go as I was," Methos complained.
"Either I'll be the only one dressed in rancid rhinoceros skins, or
worse -- bright yellow spandex. Neither is very flattering."

"Spandex?" O'Neill's brows nearly reached his hairline.

"Inanna designed the uniforms," Methos shrugged. "Looked great on her."

O'Neill suddenly wore the oddest expression. "Excuse me, but...
I'm... Just gonna get some more Tang," he finished brightly. "I really
love this stuff!"

"Yeah, later," Methos gave him a halfhearted wave as the colonel

Across the room he watched the other Immortals, all seemingly
relaxed. Even Cassandra, who'd had that damned collar of Kabra'kan's
removed by Jacob shortly after they'd come aboard. It had disappeared
into her pocket and, according to Teal'c had subsequently been blasted
out an airlock on O'Neill's orders. She caught him staring and
wandered over, ignoring MacLeod's frown.

"You look depressed. Still going on about the party?" she asked,
sounding faintly amused as she settled down beside him.

"Come on, Cassandra, we'll be the only ones dressed in rags -- and at
least you had cloth!" Methos fumed. "Maybe I should find some
authentic lice and bring them along. I can teach you kids how to pick
them off each other. Makes a wonderful after dinner snack, you know."

"Personally, I preferred giant roasted spiders and stewed tree
slugs," Cassandra confided. "Want to make it a Dine Like The Ancient
Ones party, too?"

They shared a laugh, gaining more MacLeod scrutiny and Methos looked
away, not wanting the overprotective Highlander to spoil the moment.
Cassandra had spent most of the last three days closeted with Cierdwyn
in one of the smaller cargo rooms, probably venting whatever residual
anger she felt. And Methos was glad for her.

"You haven't spoken to O'Neill, have you?" Cassandra suddenly asked.

Methos shook his head. "No, I haven't. I--"

The sound of Jack's voice immediately overrode every conversation in
the room. "Okay, campers, let's pack it up. We'll be home, sweet home
in just a few."

With a cheer everyone rose to gather their personal belongings. They
debarked a short while later without incident, though the atmosphere
between O'Neill and Jacob as they parted had been decidedly cool. They
headed for the gate, pulling up short as they came face to face with a
delegation from the Tok'ra.

"Grand Counsel Garshaw," O'Neill nodded politely though his address
was wary. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Colonel O'Neill," she nodded, equally polite. "I apologize for our
abrupt appearance, but the Council wished to take this opportunity to
speak directly with your companions."

"Recruits," O'Neill corrected her. "They're still in training,

"So we have been informed," she gestured vaguely toward Martouf.
"Though such training seems redundant when warriors of such stature
and experience are involved." She gave a little half bow to the
assembled Immortals. "But if they wish to indulge you, that of course
is their choice."

Methos raised an eyebrow at that. "Steady," he murmured to O'Neill,
who looked ready to explode.

"Be that as it may," Garshaw went on, ignoring the colonel. "The
Tok'ra wish to thank all of you for your noble efforts on behalf of
our cause. We would be remiss however, given your most unique
histories and outstanding brilliance, if we did not offer you the
strength, support and loyalty of all the Tok'ra to aid you in our
mutual struggle against the System Lords. We offer you a home. A base
from which to continue your efforts free from the Game. An obscenity,"
she added, glaring pointedly at Jack, "which should not be allowed to
threaten your precious lives."

There was a stir among the Immortals, but Garshaw, seemingly
oblivious, went on. "You will find us most eager to learn from you.
Such wisdom and battle strategies are rare in this galaxy and would be
better served by allowing you to engage those skills, rather than
preventing you from utilizing them on a constant basis -- and in tasks
better suited to others. Together, we can bring freedom and justice to
this galaxy." She bowed deeply. "I await your decision, Most Revered

Methos took one look at Jack and laid a firm hand on his shoulder.
"Steady, O'Neill," he murmured. "Give easily what the Tok'ra do not."

The colonel stared at him and slowly nodded. "Trust," he breathed,
exhaling the word as if expelling a poison from his lungs.

They both glanced at the Immortals, who stood huddled in a tight
group whispering furiously. One by one they went silent as if debating
something. Methos watched as MacLeod shook his head and Cassandra
caressed his cheek speaking very softly. Finally he nodded and the
group broke apart, Sergeant Bear ordering them to fall in. He nodded
to Alexander, who stepped forward to speak for the group.

"Methos is the eldest of us. We choose him to answer for all."

"Well knock me over with a two by four," Methos muttered, clearly
stunned. He looked to Jack, who was now smiling broadly.

"Have at 'em, Pierson."

Methos sighed resignedly and moved forward, past the Immortals
standing at parade rest to stop before Garshaw, who now appeared
deeply concerned, though it was she who'd asked for this confrontation.

"You know who I am, Grand Counsel Garshaw?" Methos asked quietly.

"Of course," she breathed. "You are Methos, son of Tok'ra, hero of
the Battle of--"

He held up a hand to stop her, not bothering to hide his irritation.
"Let's keep it simple, shall we? Are you willing to accept my
judgement in this matter?"

"Your people are wise to choose you," Garshaw nodded. "We will abide
by your decision, Revered One."

"Wonderful," he smiled thinly. "But first I have a few questions to
ask you -- rhetorical though they might be. First. Why, oh why, Grand
Counsel Garshaw, did you think to suborn these good people?"

"We did not--!"

"Silence!" Methos called until the word echoed loudly through the
empty ruins. "You have had your say, now I shall have mine!"

She swallowed hard, looking visibly shaken by whatever she saw in his
eyes. Methos frowned deeply and began to pace before her and the other
Tok'ra, taking the measure of them slowly.

"You did attempt to suborn them, Garshaw," he continued almost
pleasantly a few moments later. "What else would you call it? They are
under the command of the Tau'ri military. I'd call that subornation.
So would anyone. And why is it," he paused briefly to gaze at her.
"That you chose this moment to make such an interesting offer?"

Having learned her lesson earlier Garshaw said nothing. 

"I'll tell you why," Methos smiled coldly. "Because the Tau'ri had
already done your job. Found themselves a unique and exceptional
weapon with which to fight the Goa'uld. And one they did not have to
beg, steal, or borrow -- a home grown weapon, if you will. And once
they'd honed that blade you wanted it for yourselves," he sneered.
"It's not enough to deny the Tau'ri your technology, but you must
strip them of any defense they might have for your own desires."

"This is not true!" Garshaw gasped. "We only seek to better use this
tool. In their defense and ours."

"We are people, Garshaw, not tools," Methos said his tone belying his
affable expression. "And you seek nothing of the sort. Tell me," he
asked casually. "Have you a plan for what the Tok'ra will do should
they ever manage to overthrow the Goa'uld?" Her expression grew
watchful and Methos rolled his eyes. "Oh, relax," he sighed
disgustedly. "I don't care about how you intend to get there. I
already know that. A fool could see it a mile off! I just want to know
what you plan to do when you have."

"We would seek to instill a desire for freedom and justice among all
the peoples of the Goa'uld controlled worlds," she responded

Methos openly laughed at her. "Does anyone actually buy that line? I
mean really, Garshaw. I've never heard such lame propaganda. Give me
specifics. Better yet," he smiled. "Admit that you have none."

The Grand Counsel frowned. "If you are not pleased, Methos, then tell
us what you would do."

"Me? I'd do nothing. I don't care about freedom and justice. I care
about paying my telephone bill and making sure I get the video rentals
back on time. Going to the library when I want, or taking a walk in
the park. Of course, I can't do any of those things if the Goa'uld
destroy my planet. So you could say I'm in this just to maintain my
quality of life. As for what you will do," he pursed his lips and
nodded thoughtfully. "That I can tell you."

Garshaw remained silent and Methos went on. "To begin with, even
before you ever get control of anything, you'll start justifying your
actions with the two most wonderful words in the rebels' dictionary.
The Cause." He watched her flinch and nodded. "Anything can be done in
the name of The Cause because it is The Cause. The common goal to
which all good rebels and revolutionaries aspire. Of course, once
you've said those words you've reached a turning point where the means
begin to justify the ends. In this case," Methos sighed with mocking
sorrow. "The Tok'ra have very nearly reached that point already." He
paused before Martouf. "Haven't they?" he asked the silent man. 

Methos turned like a showman to the assembled Immortals. "Ladies and
Gentlemen, I give you the Tok'ra Jolinar."

He applauded slowly then stopped with a contemptuous glance over his
shoulder at Garshaw.

"For those of you never having heard of Jolinar," he went on smiling.
"She was Martouf's lady love. Being hunted by Goa'uld assassins and
nearly dead, her mission was far too important to let a small thing
like an uninformed and unwilling host get in her way. She allowed her
symbiote to forcibly blend with Major Carter." He turned back to
Martouf. "Jolinar did the one thing the Tok'ra pride themselves on
never doing. And she did it for The Cause." He cocked his head as he
watched Martouf's eyes flare with anger. "Or maybe she did it for
love. Who knows? Who cares? She did it," his voice grew hard. "She
made that choice and crossed the line. Which one of you," he asked the
Tok'ra, "can say for certain that you would not make the same choice
given similar circumstances?"

There was silence and Methos nodded. "So the needs of the Tok'ra have
become one with the needs of The Cause. How typical," he added
sardonically. "There are some drug dealing rebels and religious
fanatics back home I could introduce you to. I'm sure you'd all get

"And now we come to the future," Methos sighed, crossing his arms.
"Oh, what will you do when the Goa'uld are gone? And with only five
hundred of you to help instill all that freedom and justice the galaxy
so obviously requires. Pretty big job, huh? Shame all the Goa'uld
dominated worlds are incapable of helping you out. They've been
deliberately kept primitive after all. Believing, unreasonable though
it sounds to us, that anyone with glowing eyes and too much vibrato in
their voice might just be a god. It'll take a long time to educate
them away from that nonsense. And trust me on this one, Garshaw,
they'll butcher the lot of you before they allow you to strip them of
their gods. More importantly, they'll hate you for it if you even try. 

"But you know that, don't you?" Methos cocked his head, smiling as if
he were about to share a secret. "Deep down inside you know you can't
control it all. So as a stop gap you'll masquerade as benevolent gods.
Nice gods who've overcome the evil System Lords. And you'll think
you're still good, because instead of just taking what you want,
you'll ask the people for willing hosts this time. And naquada. Don't
forget you need it just as much as the Goa'uld. So you'll have to keep
a watchful eye on all the worlds with mines. And other resources. Five
hundred Tok'ra can hardly be expected to bring freedom and justice to
an entire galaxy without supplies. And--"

"Enough, Methos, please!" the Grand Counsel whispered, looking
distraught. "That is not the path we wish to take."

"But, Garshaw, it is the path you are on."

"Then tell us what to do!" she pleaded. "We have asked you to come to
us. To lead us. We would welcome you with open arms. Why do you deny
us your wisdom?"

"Because you want a god. And I've been there and done that, Garshaw."
Methos smiled slyly. "And while the Goa'uld only pretend to be gods,
by their standards we," he gestured toward himself and the others,
"truly are. And that is not the path we are on."

"Then you would serve the Tau'ri," the Grand Counsel nodded resignedly.

"No," he told her forcefully. "We are the Tau'ri. They are our people
and Earth is our world. Their fight is our fight. Understand that and
you may just find the right path to walk on."

She stared at him for a long moment and finally nodded. "I will think
on what you have said. Speak with the Council. Perhaps you would be
kind enough, on rare occasions, to offer us advice?"

"Perhaps," he agreed distantly. "You'll need to get the permission of
my CO of course, but Colonel O'Neill has great insight. You never
know, he might be able to solve your problems for you -- from time to

Methos watched her face, knowing he'd just upped the ante. Finally,
Garshaw sighed. "You are a most difficult man to understand. And I
apologize if we have in any way offended you and your...recruits."

She still didn't get it, Methos thought with an inward shrug, but he
could always hope. "Farewell, Garshaw." 

He nodded once and turned back to face the others. As a unit they
saluted him then one by one paused to salute O'Neill as they headed
for the gate.

"Nice," Jack commented as Methos fell in beside him.

"Well spoken indeed," Teal'c added.

"Not too long winded?" the Immortal asked.

"Maybe just a little," Jack replied. "You could have taken a breath
once or twice. But other than that..." Methos rolled his eyes. "I
think you've earned the right to ditch the skins -- and the spandex.
You were a lot of things, Methos. So... Just be who you are."

Chapter 26

The party hadn't turned out quite as the de Valicourts had planned,
Methos noted ironically. He hadn't been the only one concerned about
showing up in their "native" costume obviously. He supposed not many
Immortals wanted to admit that they'd been pretty low down on the
social register at the time of their first death. And in those days
the clothing really did make the woman or the man. Amanda, for one,
had worn a noblewoman's dress, rather than, as she'd put it, "the
usual dusty rags." And Ptahsennes, who could be consistently counted
on to champion the old ways, was in full priestly regalia, as opposed
to the simple loin wrap that had been the uniform of his youth --
though his excuse had been the chilly Colorado weather. Only the de
Valicourts, MacLeod, and Alexander had chosen to be as accurate as
possible. Then again, Methos mused, they'd been at the top of the heap
when they had lived and died.

For himself, Methos had chosen a comfortable pair of slacks and a
double-knit pullover, pleading a dearth of accurate materials. After
all, rhinos were on the endangered species list -- so was spandex for
that matter, now that the disco years were over and done with.

He sauntered past the drinks table, grabbing a bottle of some
domestic brew still silently amazed over who seemed to be becoming
fast friends with whom. Robert and Ptahsennes, perpetually nostalgic
types, had hit it off, which wasn't too surprising now that he thought
about it. But Bra'tac and Amanda? Cierdwyn and Teal'c? It boggled the
mind, Methos thought, or maybe they had other reasons than those he

He nodded to Hammond as he moved across the room, smiling as he
overheard Alex asking the general, "When all this is over, sir, you
think you could get me into the space program?" And the general's
reply, "I'll look into it -- son."

MacLeod caught his eye and Methos sighed in despair as the Highlander
made his way deliberately toward him.

"You want to tell me what happened between you two?" MacLeod asked
quietly after cornering him near the hall closet. The de Valicourts
had leased a rambling old house done in some bucolic style on a fairly
large piece of property with a man made lake just outside the city
proper. A little "getaway place" Gina had called it when she'd given
Methos directions to the party.

Methos frowned, not wanting to discuss his odd relationship with
Cassandra just now. "It's a party, MacLeod. Why not celebrate the fact
that we aren't actively trying to kill each other?"

"I would," MacLeod agreed. "Except Cassandra's very vulnerable right
now. So if you're playing some kind of game here..."

Methos grimaced disgustedly. "Sometimes, MacLeod, you can be such a
fool! I know she's vulnerable. Why do think I arranged for her to meet
Cierdwyn? And foot the bill!"

"I know." MacLeod's smile was beatific. "Cierdwyn called me when I
didn't show at the church. I just wanted to hear you admit to having
an altruistic moment."

Methos pushed away from the wall. "Oh, grow up," he muttered and
stalked down the hall to Robert's study.

Without bothering to turn on the lights, Methos flung himself down on
a big leather couch and stared out the large bay window that
overlooked the lake. It was quiet in here, and peaceful. Maybe he
should take Jack up on that offer to go fishing after all. He wasn't
much for fishing, but a little reading retreat might be nice. Things
had definitely been uncomfortable with the others since they'd all got
back. This latest run in with MacLeod only one of many painful
examples. His friends might know intellectually what Captain Pierson
had been about, but that didn't stop them from despising him for
playing the tyrant -- and reminding Methos, however obliquely of that
fact. At least Jack wouldn't pick at the scab covering his too raw

And there was that other little problem he had now. O'Neill's
immortality. God, the idea made him shake every time he thought about

A soft knock at the door distracted him and Methos tiredly sighed.
"Yes?" he called out.

"I was looking for you," Cassandra said quietly as she came in and
gently closed the door. She leaned back against it for a long moment
then moved to stand by the window -- a study in shadow and moonlight.

The sight of her was disturbing and Methos looked away. She'd chosen
to wear a simple, floor length white dress, cinched at the waist and
heavily embroidered in gold thread at the wrists and neck. It was too
evocative of the dress he'd had made for her and the golden baubles
he'd tossed her way after one particularly vicious raid. He wondered
vaguely if she was even aware of it, but the thought faded as he
realized it wasn't his place to say.

"You have not told Colonel O'Neill what he is," she stated simply.

Methos shook his head. "I'm thinking it's a bad idea, actually."

She turned her gaze on him and smiled. "I agree."

"You do?" Methos' eyes went wide.

Cassandra nodded. "He isn't part of the Game. He's... I don't know
what he is, but if he doesn't need to prepare for Challenge then he
should be left to find his own way."

Methos smiled wryly. "He's an Ancient. Or will be, one day." She gave
him an incredulous stare. "One of Father's little jokes on me, I
suppose you could call it," he explained. "I can't really tell you
about it, but I went back and checked the mission reports. Apparently,
Tok'ra 'slimed' Jack on his way out. At least, that's how O'Neill
described it. Carter reported the Quickening passed right through him.
I'm guessing Tok'ra altered O'Neill's genetic code in the same way the
Ancients originally altered theirs -- back when they were just plain
old human."

"But why?" Cassandra asked, horrified. "To give him such pain... The
burden of eternity."

Methos shook his head. "Tok'ra wouldn't have seen it that way. He
asked O'Neill to look after me and Jack agreed."

Her brows rose in consternation. "You are the last man who needs
looking after. Why would Tok'ra think you did?"

Methos shifted uncomfortably. "He was nearly half a million years old
when he died, Cassandra. In his mind, I'm still just a kid." She burst
out laughing and Methos grimaced. "Told you so. It was his little
joke. O'Neill looks after me while I get to look after him -- for

"And neither of you ever needs to be lonely," she added softly.
"Eternal friendship, Methos. There's a great deal to be said for it."

"Whatever," he muttered. "But I don't want to tell him. Not just yet,
anyway. Like you said, he doesn't need to know in order to live. And
knowing will change him profoundly. I know Jack. He'd start taking
risks he normally wouldn't in order to protect his people. Risks that
might get others inadvertently killed or injured because he stopped
thinking conservatively. He'd never forgive himself if that happened."

"My thoughts exactly," Cassandra nodded. "He's a good and caring man,
Colonel O'Neill. The knowledge would be...distracting."

They lapsed into a comfortable silence, neither wanting to break the
almost magical peace they'd found between them. Finally, Cassandra
sighed. They both knew there had to be an end to this.

"Why were you kind to me, Methos? Do you know how much damage that

Methos closed his eyes and bit his lip. He'd been wondering how long
it would take for her to get to this. "I know now," he answered
softly. "But then..." he shook his head. "It was because you were kind
to me."

"When?" she demanded.

Methos smiled to remember it. "You made me ink when I was running
out. And not the cheap runny stuff I'd bought from some Assyrian
traders. But good ink. A thousand years later when I recopied that
journal it still hadn't faded. You didn't need to do that. And I would
never have known to ask it of you."

Cassandra shook her head, laughing softly at the irony. "I spilled
the last of your ink and knew you'd kill me. That's why I made it. And
better than what you'd had so you wouldn't even think to look for the

"Oh." Methos felt a pain in his chest where that hadn't been one
before and wondered at the many ways a man could delude himself. "But
you did take that pile of loot I'd collected and made a barren field
tent into a home. It was lovely and restful. Even Caspian was envious
of me."

"I had to sleep on that pile, remember?" Cassandra snorted. "What a
load of junk you had in there. I got tired of having pot handles and
lamp stands poking me. Spread out, I could sleep on the carpets."

The knife went in just a little further, but Methos took a deep
breath, leaned forward and tried again. "No matter what I said to
Kronos, you did bring me the best food in camp." Then he smiled
ruefully and shook his head. "Because you had to eat it too, didn't

A small, sad smile played at Cassandra's lips. "Had it been so long
since anyone at all had been kind to you that you mistook simple
slaves' tricks for genuine feelings?"

"Apparently," Methos whispered, his throat closing painfully. 

Cassandra took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Moving from her
place at the window she went to stand before him. 

"I know now that you never meant to confuse me," she nodded. "And I
can see for myself that you have changed. You are not the man you
were. Yet, I can never forget what you did, Methos. Nor," she added
with finality, "can we ever be friends. But," she went on, laying a
hand atop Methos' head in an age old gesture as he bowed his neck. "I
do forgive you," she whispered softly. "Go in peace and know
prosperity, old one."

The floodgates opened and it seemed as if five thousand years of
unshed tears suddenly decided to flow out of him. He barely knew she'd
gone by the time he knelt on the floor exhausted from his weeping. So
much grief, so much happiness. Methos didn't know which emotion he
should be feeling only that he felt them keenly. He ached where one
hope had been abandoned and where another one might one day take its
place. A weight had been lifted and yet he was loath to part company
with it, for it had been with him so long he could not remember living
without it.

Yet still, Methos felt a shifting inside him. As if those anguished
souls which had ridden him for ages had suddenly departed. He'd
accepted his past and put it behind him, true. But he'd never found it
within himself to forgive his actions. But Cassandra had, and he was
somehow the better for it now.

With a sigh, Methos wiped his face dry and got to his feet, opening
the window to get some air. He breathed deeply, trying to calm his
wildly beating heart, until at last the sounds of the night and the
stillness of the lake beyond soothed away the last of his sobs.


O'Neill waited nearly an hour by the study door, giving Methos time
to pull himself together and making certain no one accidentally walked
in. He wasn't quite sure what had happened, but he'd seen Cassandra's
expression as she'd left the room and O'Neill didn't think she'd
deliberately hurt him. And while he might not be able to shed his own
tears, O'Neill had known the sound of grieving long enough in his
career to recognize and respect that ability in others.

He gave it a little while after the sobbing had died down and went to
grab a couple of beers. The hour was late and the party was breaking
up, though most of the Immortals didn't seem eager to leave. O'Neill
wasn't surprised, good teams were like that. It was the attrition rate
that ruined everything.

He went back to the study and quietly opened the door,
surreptitiously checking on Methos. O'Neill nodded to himself. The man
looked calm and was thoughtfully gazing out the window.

"The party's over," O'Neill commented as he stepped inside and
casually handed the other man a beer.

"There's a song in there somewhere," Methos murmured, raising his
bottle to Jack and then to his lips.

O'Neill said nothing, leaning against the other edge of the window
waiting patiently for Methos to speak.

"I keep thinking about fishing," Methos finally said, absently
running a finger along the edge of one pane.

"Well, if a man's gotta think about something..." O'Neill nodded
appreciatively. "The offer's still open if you're interested."

"Not that kind of fishing," Methos grinned. "But I'll keep it in mind."

He sighed as the breeze picked up and the scent of freshwater and
green things wafted toward him. "I was thinking about that story in
the bible. You know, the one where Christ tells Peter and some of the
other disciples to leave everything and come be fishers of men. I've
always looked at it in terms of what they'd left behind.
Respectability, family, friends..."

"A steady income," O'Neill muttered, his brow creasing as he wondered
where this conversation was going.

"Yeah, stuff like that," Methos agreed. "I always knew it meant more,
of course. Not so much leaving it all behind, but unburdening oneself
to move forward, but I never felt it, you know? It just
seemed...incomprehensible. I always identified with the other guys.
The ones who wanted to say goodbye to their fathers or get their
affairs in order before leaving -- the ones Jesus said weren't yet
ready to follow him."

"You wanna go to a revival meeting?"

Methos laughed softly. "No," he said decisively. "I was just thinking
about what Peter and the others must have felt when they went off. One
minute they had homes, families and possessions; real weighty
responsibilities in those days. Very heavy on the obligation. And the
next they didn't. I didn't understand how they could just leave. I
mean, it's what I did -- fairly frequently. But not because I wanted
to. I wanted to be the man who got to stay and keep everything. Put
down roots and never leave. But religious questions aside," he
shrugged. "Maybe all that weighty responsibility was just holding them
back. Maybe it was a weight they hated, but couldn't see a way to
escape. Maybe they were just waiting for an excuse to leave."

"Maybe," O'Neill repeated. "Too bad we'll never know."

"Yeah," Methos frowned. "I really should've asked Peter when he
baptized me."

Jack choked on his beer and stood there coughing. "Yeah," he wheezed
when he could finally speak. "Maybe."

"Anyway," Methos shrugged. "I keep thinking about what it's like not
to have to any of the emotional baggage we carry around with us. To
just lay it aside and know you can forgive yourself for doing it. Not
just to forget about it -- you can avoid thinking about anything if
you really want to. But to actually feel no responsibility for it
whatsoever. How does one achieve that blessed state without someone
like Christ around to say it's okay?"

"Who said they didn't feel it?" Jack asked soberly. "Maybe they felt
it, but it just didn't matter anymore because they knew their families
forgave them."

Methos cocked his head, staring out the window as if he'd just had a
sudden revelation. He closed his eyes, smiling wryly. "I should have
thought of that," he admitted, glancing at Jack. "When the one you've
wronged forgives you, you can forgive yourself anything."

"Almost anything," O'Neill told him. "No one's forgiven you those six
thousand pushups, Pierson, and you'd better not forget it."

Methos laughed delightedly. He was fairly certain Jack knew what he
was saying, but had used the opportunity to remind him that no matter
what happened he still had a place -- one that carried its own duties
and responsibilities. More importantly, they were obligations which
somehow helped to fill the empty space inside him that Cassandra's
forgiveness had left in its wake.

"I won't forget," Methos responded gravely. "In fact," he added
brightly. "I'll give you fifty every morning even while we're fishing."

"Fishing. Now there's a thought," O'Neill smiled cheerfully, laying a
hand on Methos' shoulder and steering him toward the door. "So, what
kind of fish are you interested in? Bass, lake trout... You name it
and I'll show you where to catch it."

"Oh, don't worry about me," Methos demurred. "I'm just going for the
view and the reading. You'll be doing all the real fishing."

"Already did that," O'Neill drawled laconically, opening the door and
grinning widely at him. "I seem to have caught me a big ole minion!"