Changing of The Guard 4: The Road To Hammelcar

Author: Ecolea 
Title: Changing of The Guard 4: The Road To Hammelcar
Rating: PG13 for adult themes and language.
Status: Complete
Spoilers: Nothing is sacred.
Keywords: Highlander: The Series, Stargate SG-1, Crossover, AU
Characters: HL: M DM A SG-1: JO SC DJ T GH. Various and sundry original
Sequel: Fourth in series.

Feedback: Comments, flames, superfluous remarks and vicious character
assassination may be cheerfully sent to:

Archive: Heliopolis ( and Seventh
Dimension ( All others: Please feel free to

Disclaimer: I am nothing. I own nothing. I am one with the gestalt. Sue

Summary: A simple reconnaissance mission turns deadly when the specter
of Methos' past arises. Will he survive this dangerous confrontation,
or will O'Neill's sanity become a casualty?

Author's Note: This is the fourth volume in an ongoing series. For
those of you who'd like to read the first three books (highly
recommended), they can be found at my web site, The Eclectic Reading
Room as well as
in the Highlander archive, Seventh Dimension http://www.seventh- and the Stargate: SG-1 archive, Heliopolis
( or in the Files section of
my update list (

Personal note: Many thanks to Arameth, for diabolical and fiendish
torment of the author, guidance and without whom none of this would be
possible. His Gracefulness Charles, for being so easy to please. My
thanks to Captain Average, for always flying to my rescue and doing a
superb job of beta-ing this story. Athers, for countless supportive
comments, lots and lots of nudging, nitpicking extraordinaire and for
just being there. And to Karoshi, always an inspiration.
Note to canon junkies: This is a crossover and an alternative universe
tale of derring do. It's a good bet you'll find something to get
annoyed over.

Dedicated to all those "Special" guys and "Forceful" gals. Merry
Christmas to all of you!

Changing of the Guard 4:
The Road To Hammelcar

By Ecolea


The golf course was lush and teeming with life as Secret Service agents
prowled the green and filtered through the wooded areas doing their
jobs. Jack O'Neill nodded in appreciation as his golfing partner for
the morning let fly with beautiful a back swing and they watched the
tiny white ball drive through the air and land within a few yards of
the ninth hole.

"Very nice, Mr. President," O'Neill complimented the other man.

"Why thank you, Colonel," the President grinned as he handed off his
iron to the agent assigned to caddy and stepped back.

O'Neill moved to set his ball on the tee. "I've been thinking about
what you said," he commented as he settled into his stance. 

"And?" the President asked.

"I'd rather not, if you don't mind. I think he's been through enough."

"I agree," the President sighed and O'Neill shot him a surprised
glance. "I can read between the lines, Jack. For all intents and
purposes, Inanna was Methos' mother. And he was forced to kill her
because we discovered her existence. Something she'd gone to great
lengths to hide. I'm not unmindful of that," he added quietly. "But you
know as well as I do," he went on, "he's the only man on the planet who
knows anything about the culture in-depth. Even if it is ten thousand
years out of date, we need his expertise." 

"It's not fair," O'Neill muttered.

"No, but it's his job."

Jack nodded slowly, sighing tiredly. "And with Inanna's people looking
to cut a deal there's no other choice."

"Maybe Pierson will eventually be helpful in dealing with the Ishri,"
the President said. "And maybe not. But as far as we know they still
have the ability to challenge us. Just as Inanna did. I'm sorry if it
causes the man pain, but we simply cannot afford to waste him as a
resource. "

O'Neill gave his Commander in Chief a curious stare. "Maybe you're
right," O'Neill finally replied.

"So, you'll do it?" the President asked.

O'Neill sighed again and nodded. "We've gotta come up with a plan
though. He doesn't have a background in the diplomatic corp, and you
can't just order him to negotiate on behalf of Earth."

"No, he doesn't," the President agreed. 

"Pierson hates being in the spotlight even more than I do. And he does
have the right to refuse a mission he's not qualified to perform. Even
a diplomatic one. And he'll do it, too."

"Well, we've got a week before his leave is over to come up with
something that will pique his interest and make him want to get
involved. I can probably stall the Ishri a bit longer."

Jack nodded distantly and finally made his shot, sinking it easily and
smiling as the President swore under his breath.

"You know," O'Neill offered as he knelt to remove his ball from the
cup. "We could use some serious recon on the Ishri."

The President smiled. "Yes, we could. You have something in mind,

"A little something," Jack grinned. "Dangerous, but not dicey. Needs a
man like Pierson to make it work. Of course," he added, stepping back
to allow the President to sink his putt. "It won't sound quite as
interesting coming from me."

The President raised his brows, understanding perfectly what O'Neill
was suggesting. "Well now, if the Joint Chiefs approve and you think it
will make a difference, I think we can find someone important enough to
pitch it to our Immortal Captain."

"All the difference in the world," Jack replied as the little white
ball rolled easily along the grass and gently dropped into the hole. 

Chapter 1

"Where are we going now?" Methos asked in annoyance. They'd been flying
for nearly six hours and instead of heading straight to the base at
Cheyenne Mountain from Paris, where O'Neill had kindly picked him up,
once in the air, they had detoured first to Frankfurt then to Milan. It
seemed O'Neill had agreed to do some courier missions as a favor to an
old friend, or so he claimed. Now they were in Washington DC. At the
hangar, O'Neill had ordered him to change into his dress uniform, which
he had done as well, then hustled Methos into an unmarked car and
headed into the city.

"Don't tell me you've never wanted to see the Pentagon?" Jack grinned
as he turned off Hayes Street and onto Army-Navy Drive. 

"Big building? Five sides? Oh look, there it is," Methos pointed
excitedly. "Wow! That was really thrilling. Thanks, Jack."

"Anytime," O'Neill chuckled. "Look, I just need to pick up another set
of orders. Then we're out of here. Okay?"

Methos sighed and nodded as they pulled into the building's underground
garage. O'Neill showed more orders to a waiting soldier and they headed
inside to park. A few minutes later they walked back out and across the
street into a Macy's Department Store.

"Oh, I get it," Methos sniped. "We're shopping for orders."

Jack snickered. "Of course, who do you think built this place?"

A bored looking rent-a-cop sat at an information desk, where, much to
Methos' surprise, O'Neill showed him his ID and the man waved them to
an elevator. Once inside they headed down for several minutes. When the
lift came to a halt they exited into another small room lined with
mirrors, or what appeared to be a small room, which suddenly began
moving sideways.

"Jesus!" Methos gasped as he tried to get his footing back.

Jack laughed from where he leaned against a wall. "Gotcha!"

Methos stepped back to park himself securely against the mirrors. 

"What the hell is this place?" he asked looking around curiously,
though there was really nothing to see.

"The fun house," O'Neill shrugged, grinning just a little.

"Ah," Methos sighed and crossed his arms, trying to look nonchalant
about it. "It's a secret."

"Places which don't exist," O'Neill pointed out, "technically aren't

This was true, Methos silently agreed. "So, we were never here?

"Never where?"

Methos gave a disgusted sigh at Jack's feigned confusion, but said
nothing. If O'Neill wanted to play games, who was he to complain? And
knowledge, especially well kept secrets, were always a good thing to

A quarter of an hour later the "elevator" finally stopped and they got
out in front of another elevator. "This one go perpendicular?" Methos
asked snidely.

"No," the colonel answered quite seriously. "We don't have any reason
to go to the House of Representatives, do we?"

Methos rubbed his eyes. No matter what he did this was a game O'Neill
was going to win. So, he might well just shut up and concede defeat.

This time the elevator did go up in a perfectly normal fashion, except
for the fact that it was slower than molasses dripping. And as it rose,
droning elevator music played an excruciatingly saccharine version of
"Feelings" in a medley with "You Light Up My Life" followed by a
hideously sweet rendition of "It's a Small World, After All." Towards
the end of the second pass O'Neill started humming and Methos glared in

"Don't look at me like that." Jack grinned painfully as Methos
distracted him from his distraction. "One more verse and I'll rip your
head off with my teeth!"

"Not if I don't do it first," Methos gritted. "What did you do wrong
and why am I being punished for it?!"

"It's your turn!" Jack grimaced.

By the time the elevator came to a stop and they gratefully escaped the
government sponsored torture, Methos was ready to scream when he found
himself staring dumbly at another pair of sliding doors.

"I don't care what you say," Methos insisted. "I am not getting in

"But we're here," Jack told him, looking hurt. "And the only way to
leave from this point is to go back the way we came!"

Methos groaned. "God, man! Just get those fucking orders and let's get
out of here!"

Jack grinned happily. "I have to go in here," he pointed to a door on
his right. "You go through there and I'll meet you on the other side in
a bit."

"So what's in there?" Methos asked suspiciously. "Racks? Hot irons?
Debbie Boone?"

"It's just an office," Jack told him with a hint of exasperation,
waving at the sliding doors.

"Fine," Methos muttered, striding forward and ignoring the pneumatic
doors as he glanced back to see Jack entering what looked like another
office. "It's just an office," he told himself as he stepped inside and
saw the paneled walls. Then the doors slid shut behind him seamlessly.
"It's just-" Methos' chin dropped. "The Oval Office. Shit!"

"That just what I said!"

Methos turned to stare at the smiling man sitting comfortably at the
big desk in front of the windows. I will get you for this, O Great
Satan! Methos thought angrily, finally closing his mouth.

"You look younger than I thought," the President commented as he rose.

"Well you're taller!" Methos retorted, suddenly shocked by his own
response. "Uh, sir," he added, saluting sharply as he hurriedly came to

"At ease," the President laughed. "It's the tube. We're all just a
bunch of talking heads on the box."

Methos relaxed his stance, nodding distractedly.

"Well, come on in," the President waved him to the sitting area as he
strode over. "Can I you get you something? Coffee? Bourbon?

Methos grinned at the last offer and moved to take a seat on the couch.
"My heart's fine. So's coffee, thank you."

"Sorry about all the skullduggery," the President offered kindly as he
poured coffee from a silver carafe into a pair of bone china cups
bearing the Presidential seal. "But we thought you'd prefer it to
having your picture taken with the rest of the masses who come in

"I appreciate that," he murmured, feeling a little more kindly towards
O'Neill for that courtesy.

"It's good to finally meet you, Methos," the President smiled and held
out his hand.

Surreal, Methos thought as he shook it. Oh, he'd met American
Presidents before. Washington, Jackson, and Lincoln to name a few. But
none had ever called him by name or known exactly what he was.

"I have to admit, I've been looking forward to this," the President
confided. "Just knowing there's someone out there who's lived through
everything you have... Well, it's damn near unbelievable. Especially in
light of how you folks live."

Methos carefully blanked his expression and the other man, no fool in
this or anything, nodded briefly.

"I see you understand me. Good. Because that's one of the things I
wanted to discuss at this meeting. Is there any possibility of ending
this Game?"

Methos glanced at his coffee and took a sip. "I doubt it," he shook his
head sadly. "Even if I could get some to believe there are too many
others who would not, or would continue fighting for the sheer thrill
of it. Quickenings can be addictive for some. Though others, like any
individuals, just do it for the sport. And imagine the horror of those
who've killed just to survive, only to discover that those deaths had
no point. It would drive good men and women mad."

"A shame," the President murmured. "Such a waste."

There was nothing to say to that so Methos merely nodded.

"Which brings me to the reason I asked O'Neill to bring you here." The
President reached into his jacket, pulling out an envelope which he
handed to Methos.

"An identification card and passport?" he asked curiously as he
examined the contents.

"Not just any passport, Methos, but one that will never expire. From
this day forward Adam Pierson can go into any American embassy anywhere
in the world and have it renewed. Even have the name changed. No
questions asked. For as long as the United States exists."

Methos simply stared at the man in silent shock.

"And the other," the President pointed out, "is a blanket visa issued
by the United Nations. One of a kind -- like yourself. The bar coding
on the back will allow you diplomatic entry into any nation on this

"Diplomatic?!" Methos gasped. He could take his sword on any plane and
into any airport and no one would ever question its presence!

The President grinned. "Thought you'd like that. It's just our little
way of saying thanks for all you've done."

"Some thanks," Methos murmured, the cynical side of him wondering just
what he was going to have to do to keep these precious documents

The President waved a hand in dismissal. "You've more than earned it.
Though there is something else I'd like to discuss with you."

Ah, yes. Here it comes, Methos thought. 

"We need another favor from you, and it isn't something anyone can


"I can't believe I let that...that politician talk me into this!"
Methos complained as he followed O'Neill into the hanger bay.

"You're a good soldier, and a loyal American," Jack commented sagely.

Methos rolled his eyes and snorted in disgust. "Not for a bloody

O'Neill grinned widely. "Relax, Captain. It's gonna be fun. And we get
to play with a brand new toy. Well, not exactly new," he added as he
switched on the overhead spotlights. "More of a Goa'uld classic in mint
condition, according to Teal'c."

"So why can't Teal'c go with you?" Methos asked, eyeing the small, two-
man fighter with apprehension.

Jack sighed as he climbed into the pilot's seat. "Because he and
Bra'tac are still working out the kinks with your Immortal buddies."

"So take Daniel. He's your official linguist."

O'Neill sighed dramatically. "I really wish I could, Pierson. But he's
on loan to SG-4. And Carter... Well, she's working on a special project
involving her design for a naquada generator that's at a critical point
in the developmental stage. And this is just a simple recon mission. A
little more complicated than some, but nothing for you to complain
about -- especially after you agreed to the assignment. Are you, by any
chance," he asked dryly, "bucking for a few more pushups this fine

Methos grimaced. "No," he muttered. "I just don't see why the President
himself asked me to do this 'simple recon mission' if it's all that's

The colonel shrugged. "You know politicians. Give with the one hand,
take with the other. And it was a good excuse to meet you."

"Not that good an excuse," Methos grumbled, staring oddly at the ship.

"Maybe he thinks you're special," O'Neill grinned. "I know I do. And
you have the advantage of having Daddy's memories."

Methos shook his head. "I don't have all of Tok'ra's memories to draw
on anymore," he confided, finally taking the gunner's place behind
O'Neill with a disgusted sigh. "I have mine. And from what I can
recall, which isn't much more than bits and pieces, this isn't Goa'uld
technology. It's one of Tok'ra's inventions."

O'Neill turned to stare at him. "You've seen this kind of ship before?"

"Seen it?" Methos smiled. "I learned how to fly one right after I
learned how to walk. Tok'ra was very big on knowledge."

"Fancy that," Jack murmured thoughtfully. Teal'c had told them this
particular Goa'uld fighter was something of a proto-type model. A ship
that was itself a Stargate which could be launched from a stationary
location, navigate the wormhole it created and exit at any other
Stargate point. Obviously, it was not. Like most of their technology,
the Goa'uld had stolen it from another source. "SG-7 found this baby a
couple of years back on another one of those deserted dirt balls. Since
then, our guys in R&D have been trying to reverse engineer this thing
for us."

"Can't see why they'd bother," Methos commented, putting on his helmet.
"If you want more fighters, I can show you where the parts were

"And you're just sharing this with me now?!" O'Neill asked, very much

Methos frowned. "It's not like I've had to think about any of this
stuff for ten millennia, Jack. I only just remembered when I saw her.
Like I said, it's learn as we go with my memories of Tok'ra."

"Sorry," O'Neill nodded apologetically. "I hadn't thought of that.
Okay," he decided, powering up the ship Teal'c had taught him to fly.
"After we're done, we'll go check it out."

Methos sighed. "Fine. Now, tell me again why we're doing this. I'm sure
I was brain dead when the President explained the problem."

The colonel chuckled. He sincerely doubted it, but if Methos needed
reassurance he didn't mind providing that.

"After you left for Nepal, way back when, Inanna's people contacted us.
Seems they wanted an alliance against the Goa'uld when they realized
their goddess was gone. Since then, contact's been intermittent. No
real negotiations. Just feeling us out from time to time. Until
recently, when they suddenly started burning up the wire with friendly
offers. The thing of it is, the only coordinates we've ever had on them
are somewhere in deep space. They've never been forthcoming with any

"That's definitely suspicious," Methos agreed.

"We did find a gate not far from there, but it isn't attached to a
planet. Not the first time we've come across that kind of thing, but
it's unnerving."

"That would be Tok'ra's combat system," Methos supplied. Again O'Neill
turned to stare at him. "What?! It's not like I can help it."

"Anyway," O'Neill growled. "We need more to go on before we can make
any kind of decision about sending a delegation. And this seems like
the best way to get it."

"So, this is just a recon mission," Methos sighed. "We're not going to
infiltrate and dispose of Inanna's people."

"If need be," Jack acknowledged stoically. "Our job is to get enough
information to negotiate from an advantageous position, or put a stop
to things. I'm for stopping it entirely."

Methos raised both brows in surprise. "Your reason being?"

O'Neill turned in his seat and smiled sourly. "Yesterday, we received a
new request from the Ishri. They asked to speak with Methos-Inanna's
beloved offspring."

Chapter 2

"Did the woman never have an original thought?" Methos wondered aloud
as they floated within visual sensor range of the Ishri ships. "I'd
swear those were the same rust buckets Tok'ra used to complain about."

"They look pretty new to me."

"Probably are," Methos agreed. "It's just the design that's old."

"Same thing with the Goa'uld," Jack commented. "So what's that about?
The longer you live, the less you like change?"

"Not in my case," Methos yawned. "In theirs," he shrugged, "it's about
absolute power. The only way to maintain it is to stifle free thought.
Not a lot of creativity going on there."

"Sounds boring."

"Yup. But not," Methos grumbled, readjusting his ear piece, "as boring
as the Ishri's lack of conversational prowess. If I hear one more word
about 'Misty Eyes' and her celestial harp..." he complained.

"Down, minion," O'Neill chuckled. "Another day and we'll be able to
pull out."

"Easy for you to say," Methos sneered. "You haven't had to listen the
intergalactic equivalent of the Spice Girls for three days. Not to
mention the inane back chatter of-" Methos paused and cocked his head.
"Oh, now that's interesting..."

O'Neill sat up a little and turned to watch his friend. A few days
earlier they'd exited on the far side of the galaxy through a space-
based Stargate within audio range of the Ishri fleet and cut their
engines; cruising gently into visual range on minimal power, while
pretending to be just so much space debris. Thus far, their passive
observation had yielded little, except to slowly drive his Immortal
companion stir crazy.

"Uh oh," Methos grimaced. "Damn it, Jack, we've been made. No, wait!"
Methos cautioned before O'Neill could power up. "They think we're
salvage -- the idiots. Looks like they're sending out a drone ship."

"That's a good thing," Jack grinned.

"Only if you've got a death wish," Methos responded wryly.

"I've got you, babe!"

Methos curled a lip. "Don't quote pop music lyrics at me, or I'll have
to hurt you, O'Neill. And why is it a good thing?"

"Because we're gypsies, tramps and thieves?"

"Speak for yourself, half-breed."

"No, seriously," Jack insisted, grinning. "We're salvage, right? What
better way to sneak on board? You can access their computers from
there, right?"

"And do what? Order room service?"

O'Neill paused and looked thoughtfully at the Immortal. Methos was
never this dense, so... "What's your problem with this, Pierson? I'd
thought you'd appreciate the chance to cut this mission short."

Methos sighed silently. This man is just far too perceptive for someone
his age! "All right. I'm not thrilled about the fact that the Ishri
are, for all intents and purposes, hunting me. That's enough to make me
wonder about their motives. I was never much involved with Inanna after
my formative years. And... Well, I can't know for certain, but there
may have been other Immortals among her entourage."

"So, naturally, you're worried," Jack nodded. "That's fair. But not
enough to stop the negotiations."

"I know that," Methos sighed in dismay. "God, I hate politics," he
muttered angrily. 

"I've wondered about that," O'Neill said curiously. "I'd think living
as long as you folks do you'd want to get involved. Make the world a
better place for yourselves."

"Tried that." Methos shrugged. "Got crucified for my trouble." Before
Jack could question him further, Methos nodded toward the ships in the
distance. "Oh look, here comes our ride."


"Oh, this was a good idea," O'Neill commented, wrinkling his nose in
disgust as he opened the hatch. It hadn't taken long before the salvage
drone had locked onto their ship, hauling its prize inside and
thoughtlessly dropping it on a pile of space rubbish.

"Don't knock it," Methos responded. "We have two advantages they

"Which are?" Jack asked caustically.

"Our ship can move through space from a stationary point -- and we've
both smelled Venice."

"Venice? What the hell does Venice have to do with anything?"

"Do you think anyone in their right mind is masochistic enough to come
down here?"

"Good point," Jack nodded as he climbed out. "And if they're anything
like ships at sea, they'll only dump their trash at the end of the
mission. So we're pretty much safe leaving the ship here."

"My thoughts exactly," Methos grinned, then frowned as he shook
something nasty off his boot heel. "Let's get out of here. This place
gives me the creeps."

"I hear that," Jack agreed, grabbing their packs and tossing Methos his
own. "Ever see Star Wars?"

"Eight times I saw that wretched movie," Methos grimaced as he led the
way, cautiously navigating the cavernous interior toward what looked
like an exit.

O'Neill shook his head. "If you hated it..."

"I didn't hate it," Methos explained. "At least not the first time. Or
the second, when I brought a date. The last six," he shuddered
melodramatically. "I was stuck on a charter flight from Australia to
LA. Little did I know the rest of the passengers were rabid fans on
their way to a convention. It ran continuously. No breaks."

When Jack's laughter had quieted down to the occasional snicker Methos
pointed to the door. "Shall we?"

"Yes, young Skywalker, let's."

Methos rolled his eyes and punched in a code that had been ancient when
he was young. Sure enough it worked. "Little minds," he murmured
absently as Jack peeked around the door jam and into the barely lit

"All clear," the colonel nodded. "Which way do you suggest?"

"That way," Methos pointed to a set of ladder rungs which disappeared
into the ceiling. "There should be a secondary bridge station a few
levels up, if I remember correctly. Inanna's people were very big on
redundant systems. They used it for officers' training, or so she
claimed. I remember Tok'ra saying it was a weak link in their security.
Right about now," Methos grinned wickedly, "I'd have to agree."

O'Neill nodded slowly, moving to the ladder. "Sounds good. Anything we
need to worry about between here and there?"

Methos shook his head. "Haven't a clue," he answered as Jack started to
pull himself up. "I was never actually on one of Inanna's battleships.
I only heard the arguments a year or two before the final battle when
Tok'ra was insisting she redesign. And frankly, I probably had other
things on my mind," he grinned at Jack, who looked surprised. "Female

Jack smiled and continued climbing as Methos followed. "Hey, if you
don't mind my asking, just how old were you when..."

"When I first died?" Methos chuckled at O'Neill's discomfort. The man
really hated asking personal questions. But he liked Jack. And if they
were going to spend eternity looking out for one another, he might as
well be honest. "Twenty-three."

"Jesus!" Jack whispered. "You were just a kid."

"Just a kid now," Methos corrected. "In those days I was practically
middle aged. At least among mortals. It's only been the last fifty
years or so that I've been treated as something less than fully

Thinking back on his own reaction to "young" Adam Pierson, O'Neill
winced. "That must be really annoying."

"Not as much as you'd think," Methos responded quietly as they passed
another level. "Or it was," he amended thoughtfully. "Until I realized
what an advantage it gave me. The young are forgiven much, and instead
of having to plan identities and their usefulness in decades, with the
judicious use of hair dyes I could plan in generations. And it made me
feel younger, too," he admitted. "Something I thought I'd lost
somewhere along the way."

O'Neill smiled as they paused in their climb to check another corridor.
"We almost there?"

"One more level."

"You sure? They all look alike to me."

"Well, that's what the sign says," Methos pointed his chin at the wall.
"It's not the Enterprise, but I'd say their directory is accurate

O'Neill shrugged and went on climbing. "I never did get that. Why
didn't Starfleet just put it in neon with flashing lights? 'Saboteurs
welcome, please kill our security guards'."

Methos shoved his face against his forearm to stifle his laughter.
Thankfully, a sudden noise distracted him as O'Neill froze on the
ladder above. He held up a hand and Methos nodded. A moment later
O'Neill signaled clear and he followed the colonel up into the narrow
niche that offset the ladder.

"They must have been headed for Engineering," Methos explained quietly.
"According to that directory, it's on the opposite side of the ship,
but it's the only other department on this level."

"That might make for a fair amount of traffic," O'Neill considered

"Means we'll need camouflage," Methos nodded. "Laundry's one level
down. You wait here."

In a flash Methos was gone and back in twenty minutes with a pair of

"Burnt orange?!" Jack hissed when he saw them. "You couldn't get that
nice blue those other guys were wearing?"

Methos grimaced at his tone. "That nice blue is for the rank and file,"
he explained. "They'd have no business where we're going."

O'Neill conceded the point gracefully and they hurriedly changed
clothes, Methos checking their appearance against what he remembered of
Inanna's officers. It wasn't much, he admitted silently. She hadn't had
much use for him once he'd reached his teens and been sent to study
with Tok'ra. 

Another quick check of the corridor and they were sauntering down the
hall as if they belonged there.

"Oh, this is nice," Methos murmured as they reached the entrance to the
emergency bridge and he saw the security locks.

"How nice?" Jack asked, keeping an eye on the corridor behind them.

"Nice enough that I can probably use Tok'ra's personal code to get us
in." Methos tapped a half a dozen of the small lit panels and smiled.
"Open sesame!" And the door slid open with a quiet hiss.

"Well, now that's really stupid," O'Neill commented as they stepped
inside and the automatic lighting flickered on.

"Figures though," Methos sighed with relief as the doors shut behind
them. "If you're not going to update your ship design, why update your
computers? They must be uploading the basics from a central location
for the sake of uniformity. Unfortunately, for them," he grinned
wickedly, "Tok'ra helped design those basic programs to interface with
his fleet. As I recall, Inanna wasn't too mechanically inclined. And
once he was dead, why bother to delete the codes? I doubt she even
thought about it."

"Lousy security," was all O'Neill had to say as he followed Methos
toward one of the computer relays. "This get the job done?" he asked,
taking a seat beside the Immortal, who was pulling out his laptop.

"Yeah," Methos nodded distractedly. "Once I'm in the relay the
mainframe will see me as internal. With the right code and a little
coaxing, she'll give it up." 

O'Neill chuckled softly. 

"What's so funny?" Methos glanced at Jack, a slight frown creasing his

"You," O'Neill shook his head with amused disbelief. "Five thousand
years in a technology free world and you come up a computer geek."

"Once a geek always a geek," Methos shrugged, silently enjoying Jack's
delight. For a brief moment he recalled how it had confounded MacLeod
no end when he'd discovered his legend was as comfortable with a
keyboard and mouse as he was with a sword. But that had always been his
key to survival. Unlike most Immortals who found a niche and stuck with
it as the ages passed, adapting only outwardly to whatever time and
place in which they found themselves, he had become the chameleon.
Changing with the times, accepting new moralities, becoming who and
what he needed to be in order to move forward with the world and
survive within it, rather than simply passing through as a spectator of

Three hours later he'd burned at least a few dozen CDs and Jack was
getting antsy. "How much longer?" O'Neill asked nervously.

Methos frowned. "Not long. Why?"

"I don't know," he shook his head, perplexed. "Bad vibes."

Methos nodded sharply. He'd learned never to distrust this particular
soldier's instincts. "Let's start packing it up," he responded.
"This'll only take another minute and I think we've got more than-" His
head shot up as he sensed the sudden approach of another Immortal. Even
shocked as he was Methos had enough presence of mind to hurriedly
disconnect the laptop and shove it into his pack. Just as he was
reaching for his sword, the doors whooshed open and a man in the dark
red uniform, denoting a senior officer, walked in.

"Why aren't you two with the others?!" the officer demanded.

That was the last thing Methos had expected to hear and he gave Jack a
minute shake of his head to tell the other man to relax. The colonel
eased his hand away from his weapon, and though he didn't understand
the language, he accepted Methos' assessment without a word.

"You heard me, boy! Why aren't you with the others?"

"Uh, sir," Methos began, confused, but other Immortal held up a hand
and cut him off.

"Never mind," the man shook his head in disgust. "You know you're not
supposed to be playing down here."

Methos did his best to look chagrined and nodded, but the officer
frowned when Jack didn't respond.

"You know, boy, I can understand you wanting to get your hands on some
real equipment after the mock ups, but interfering with your mortal's
training..." he shook his head. "Language induction for new recruits
begins after lunch. You will both attend. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," Methos nodded.

"Well, come on," the officer said, obviously annoyed and pointed to
their packs. "Get your stuff and come along."

Methos grabbed his pack and signaled Jack to do the same. 

"What's going on?" O'Neill whispered.

"He's thinks we're newbies who got lost on the way to training."

"For real?" Jack looked as though he might burst out laughing.

Methos rolled his eyes. "Just play along."

"You gotta be kidding, right?"

"No, I'm not!" Methos hissed angrily. "He's Immortal! And he doesn't
seem the least bit surprised by the fact that I am too." At that Jack
looked shocked. "In fact, it seems to be expected."

Now Jack frowned. "Think there could be more?" 

Methos nodded curtly as the officer shouted for them to hurry it up.
"And Inanna wouldn't do that. She might have one or two around, but she
wouldn't have whole bunches of Immortals anywhere near her. That would
have threatened her position. But who might have gathered them, or why,
I don't know. And it would probably be wise to find out."

"Maybe someone had a free thought," Jack surmised as they followed the
strange Immortal into the corridor. "You're right, we stick around."

Chapter 3

"Are you all right?" Methos asked softly as O'Neill scrubbed his eyes,
weaving a little as he walked.

"Do I look all right?!"

"Well, now that you mention it..."

Jack grimaced and didn't bother to respond. The answer was obvious.
Obvious, too, was that he was not alone in his discomfort. Around them
at least a dozen mortals were being supported by their Immortal
companions, who'd fared somewhat better with the alien device. 

When they'd first been unceremoniously added to the group, only a
handful had spoken the same language. And it was clear they'd all been
brought together for a reason more important than improving their
ability to communicate. What that reason was, or what purpose it might
serve, would, they hoped, soon be revealed.

"Now we know where the Goa'uld and the Tokra got their brain suck
thingies," O'Neill finally muttered as he gratefully accepted the cup
of water Methos offered him.

"I'd say you're probably right," Methos agreed. "Most weapons, even
gunpowder, began as benign inventions, but were perverted to other
uses. And that machine is definitely one step away from the easily
perverted category, if it isn't already. I highly doubt the original
creator intended for a year's worth of language instruction to be
downloaded directly into the brain in less than an hour." O'Neill gave
him a pained smile and gingerly nodded. "By the way, Colonel," Methos
asked quietly. "Are you at all aware that you've been speaking fluent
Ishrini?" O'Neill looked horrified. "I thought not," Methos sighed. "It
may just be a short term side effect of the device, but we'll try out
your language skills when we're in private." 

"God damn it!" O'Neill spat.

"Heads up," Methos hissed. "Here comes the man in charge."

They hurriedly lined up with the rest of the "recruits" and waited.

"Well now," the officer who'd caught Methos and Jack addressed them.
"Now that you can all speak a civilized tongue, we'll begin with
getting your names and backgrounds. I am Third Leader Naxsos. My men
here," he pointed to a pair of junior officers, "will take your
information and assign you quarters. In the morning, we'll begin your
training. I'm sure," Naxsos smiled grimly, "that you are all eager to
begin learning how to kill Goa'uld. Don't worry. You'll get your
chance. Pay attention. Follow orders. And faithfully read your Primer.
Remember, the words of the Supreme Leader are all the words you need to
live by." He nodded once and left the room.

"Their Supreme Leader wrote a moral guidebook?" Methos muttered
nervously as they were sorted into groups. "I don't like the sound of

"He can't be all bad," Jack responded. "I'm for anyone who wants to
kill Goa'uld."

Methos favored him with a wry smile. "That's what the Germans said
about the Communists and look where it got them."

O'Neill frowned. "We'll read it tonight."

"Words to live by," Methos agreed, and they shuffled forward in line.


"I don't know whether to be disgusted or amused," O'Neill commented as
the door to their quarters shut behind them. "I haven't seen security
that bad since..." he shook his head unable to find an Earth
equivalent. "Hell," he finally threw up his hands. "The Swiss have
better security and they're neutral!"

Methos chuckled. Their names had not, of course, been on the roster of
new trainees. But then, neither had half a dozen others. Apparently,
the Ishri bureaucracy was still in chaos after the death of Inanna. The
officers had simply shrugged, taken the false information they had
provided, and entered it all into the computer without a second

"I'm sure the Imperious Leader," Methos waved the small volume they'd
been given under Jack's nose, "will have a few choice words to say
about all that."

"The Imperious Leader," Jack grimaced and grabbed the book as he tossed
his pack on the bed, "can kiss my ass!"

"Shhh!" Methos held a finger to his lips, gesturing at the room. "We
might be monitored...Apollo."

Jack rolled his eyes. "I highly doubt that...Starbuck!"

Methos grinned. "Sorry, but would you rather have been Adama? Or maybe

"I'd rather have been Jack, or better yet, Colonel, but noooo... You
have to have a yen for sci-fi. And bad sci-fi at that! Battlestar
Galactica?! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"Hey, I was under pressure there. I kept seeing that flashing red light
on his terminal and....I sorta zoned on it, you know."

"No," O'Neill insisted. "I don't know. We're on the clock here,
Pierson. Try and remember what your priorities are!"

"What's in a name anyway?" Methos huffed as he sprawled on one of the
beds. "I've had hundreds of them. And it's not like you've got to live
with it for any length of time."

Jack rolled his eyes. "Well, I'm not going to be Apollo when I write my
report," he muttered petulantly. "You are!"

"Fine," Methos snapped. "You be Starbuck, I'll be Apollo. I doubt they
paid attention to which face went with what name anyway!"




"Enough!" Methos shook his head and sighed tiredly. "Now that's
settled, you want to read the bloody book or should I?"


Methos laid the little book aside, staring at the innocuous cover for a
long moment, then shook his head, sighing. It didn't matter, he thought
sadly, if the cover were red and written in Chinese or inscribed with
German lettering and espousing genocide. That kind of manifesto, in any
language, was still a declaration of justified violence against the
minority. Or in this case, the majority.

Oh, that wasn't what the Imperious Leader of the Ishri quite said in
his text. That was all between the lines. But the idea of Immortals as
the Great Benefactors of Universal Harmony was absurd. True, Immortals
were long lived and gained much experience during the course of their
lives, but that was true of all individuals. The ability to become wise
and give good counsel to others was a gift few individuals, whatever
their longevity, were born with. And it was certainly not a birthright
of Immortality! How could the Imperious Leader and his followers expect
anyone to willingly give up their own governance, especially those
suffering under the Goa'uld, to another, albeit more attractive
sounding group of tin gods?

The answer, of course, was that he didn't. Neither had the Fascists,
the Communists, and the Nazis. They'd won the hearts and minds of those
who needed to be led and silenced any dissent. Universal conformity had
been the rule of the day. Or a universe of conformity, if the Imperious
Leader were allowed to follow through with his plans. Either way, it
left Methos with a sense of disgust at the presumption of superiority.
He'd met more Immortals than he could recall that he wouldn't trust to
clean his boots properly, let alone dictate laws.

He looked over to where Jack lay sleeping on the bunk across from his
and shut the overhead light. Poor man, he thought as he settled himself
back against the pillow. That machine had left him too exhausted to
even eat the dinner the Ishri had provided. At least he'd begun
muttering in English again before he'd succumbed to his fatigue.


"So what's the Immortal angle in all of this?" Jack finally asked when
Methos finished his report on the contents of the Imperious Leader's
handbook to happiness. "I mean, why would they want to get involved?" 

"Take any disenfranchised group," Methos responded as he combed his
hair, "and Immortals, no matter where we live, are disenfranchised by
the very nature of our immortality, and tell them they were born to
serve a higher purpose. Then tell them that they are also, by virtue of
that nature, not only superior to the majority, which has resented and
oppressed them, but destined to rule over them, and you have the
perfect setup. More importantly, from what I could gather from their
conversations over dinner, the others were all identified and
indoctrinated pretty early -- most while they were still pre-Immortal."

"Makes sense," Jack agreed. "By why would Inanna-?"

"Not Inanna," Methos interrupted, moving to sit on the bed. "You know
as well as I do she wasn't interested in universal domination. Too much
work. She'd carved out a niche for herself and kept it safe and warm.
She was utterly self-absorbed. And more guests at the party wouldn't
have been tolerated. No, this is something else entirely."

"Protege?" O'Neill suggested thoughtfully.

"Maybe," Methos shrugged. "At the very least the Ishri Imperious Leader
is someone who's been planning this for a very long time."

Jack raised an eyebrow and gestured for him to go on.

"Some of those Immortals out there are older than MacLeod. If I were
planning a coup d'etat, I'd definitely keep a low profile. Play the
loyal servant and very quietly gather together those who would be loyal
only to me or my cause. Then, I'd scatter them like so many useful
chess pieces on a board, never putting all my men in one place, but
training them separately so they couldn't unite until I was firmly in
charge. Then I'd bide my time and wait for my chance to seize power."

"Sweet," O'Neill nodded. "And Immortals have lots of time."

"Exactly," Methos agreed. "You could never hope to hold a mortal army
together for as long as the Supreme Leader has. You'd need to cultivate
the Immortals within your sphere of influence and find a way to
convince them to remain."

"Well, yeah. But how?" Jack shook his head. "What could the Supreme
Leader possibly offer? They've got enough time to gain their own wealth
and power if they wanted it."

"The lives of their mortal companions," Methos bluntly suggested.

For a long moment Jack sat in stunned silence. "You think they're

"I don't think so," he shook his head. "But... Have you noticed all the
mortals appear to be slightly older than their Immortals?"

"Yeah, I did," Jack nodded. "So...? What? The Supreme Leader finds
these pre-Immortal kids and sets them up with...a buddy? Someone they'd
feel comfortable with? Someone they wouldn't ever want to lose? And
when the Immortal discovers he's gonna live forever and his friend
isn't he offers them a choice?"

Methos nodded slowly. "Not a choice, but a chance. And if he's got a
sarcophagus or two laid up somewhere he's probably made a big
production number out of it. Mystery religions are always very popular
with the masses. And it's got to be a friend. Wouldn't work with a
spouse or lover."

"Why not?" Jack asked, obviously thinking of his own mindset.

"Romance is a relatively new concept," Methos sighed. "The truth is,
you can lose your lover and still hope to find another, but
friendship..." He shook his head. "True friendship is so rare that it
often comes only once in a lifetime -- even for an Immortal. It's more
than love, more than sex, more than comfort and companionship. It's
about understanding and being understood. The ultimate acceptance of
your soul by another soul. There are no irreconcilable differences
between true friends."

Jack stared at his companion thoughtfully. "You don't believe in true
love, do you?"

"That one true perfect love? I've been married sixty-eight times and
I'll tell you the truth," Methos grinned. "Sex always gets in the way
of friendship. You can be friends with your wife, but to be best
friends and lovers with your spouse is very difficult. I've only met a
few, mortal and Immortal alike, capable of that."

"The reason being?"

"Because the reasons for marriage and the reasons for friendship are
based on totally different needs. It's a modern concept for men and
women to marry and become friends, forsaking all others. Marriage was
always about the biological need to reproduce safely, prettied up with
social ties and relationships. In the old days, friends were your
support system within, and without, the marital relationship. Even as
little as a century ago, no man or woman would ever have insisted their
spouse give up a friend in their favor. Or vice versa. The subject just
never came up."

"So what changed?"

"Sexual equality," Methos smiled. "If a society believes that the man
must be strong in order to protect his weaker wife, his possession,
then he has all the rights. Women no longer believe that-if they ever
did. But now they have the right to speak their minds -- and they do.
Divorce is prevalent again, just like it was in Rome, because women
have become people again, not just sexual objects and adjuncts to their
male relatives. You can no longer barter and trade your women like

Jack rubbed his eyes, shaking his head. What Methos said made sense
but, "You're a marrying man, Pierson. The kind of guy who likes being
in a marriage. And you've been married often enough to prove the point.
So, how can you not believe in love?"

"Oh, I believe in love," Methos laughed softly. "I just didn't marry
for 'love' sixty-eight times. A lot of times it was marry the girl or
die -- and beheading was always a popular method of execution. Or,
here's a lovely gift -- have a nice life. Sometimes I just got married
because it was expected, and I wanted to stick around and have all the
social benefits of living where I was. So marrying was a small price to
pay to have the esteem of my neighbors. The times I've married for
love," he shook his head, "I can count on one hand. And each time it's
always ended in tragedy. They died. I didn't."

"So why not an Immortal wife? You and Amanda..." he grinned widely.

Methos simply stared at him in shock. "In a world where there can be
only one? Charming. What happens when there's just the two of us left?
There's nothing romantic about killing the one you love then having to
live with their memories forever. Bad enough to watch them die slowly
over the years, rather than live in dread of that awful moment when you
either have to kill them or die."

Jack shrugged. "Well, now you know that's all a lie..."

"Changes nothing," Methos shook his head. "The Game hasn't ended. Any
Immortal woman would still have to fight and I couldn't interfere. And
much as I like Amanda-"

Before he could finish the warning klaxon sounded, calling them to
assemble with the others.

"So when do we leave?" Methos asked, stopping Jack at the door.

"We've got all we need on the Ishri," O'Neill shrugged. "First chance
we get. Probably when they move us to wherever they're doing the
training. We just hang back, slip away, get our stuff and head down to
the garbage dump."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Methos nodded and they both filed out to
join the others.

Chapter 4

Breakfast was the Ishri equivalent of porridge or oatmeal, neither of
which appealed to the two men from Earth, who were used to more
substantive fare as well as a real choice in the matter. Jack grumbled,
Methos looked resigned, and they both felt relieved when they lined up
with the others to await their orders.

Third Leader Naxsos entered as they all came to attention.
"Congratulations!" he began. "Today is a great day for you all! Our
beloved Supreme Leader has arrived in this sector and we have docked
with the flagship. It has been requested that you be transported there
for a personal greeting." Jack and Methos glanced nervously at each
other while the Immortal recruits cheered loudly. 

"Damn!" Jack muttered as Naxsos began leading them to the promenade
outside their quarters for transport.

"Relax," Methos told him quietly. "It's just a minor glitch. A little
pep rallying with the Imperious Leader and it's off to the training.
I'll bet he does it with all the new arrivals. Makes 'em think they're

"Yeah, Hitler used to do it all the time," O'Neill nodded. "Get 'em by
the balls and their hearts and minds naturally follow."

"About the size of it," Methos agreed.

A few minutes later they found themselves standing on the deck of
another ship. Like the Goa'uld's transport rings, the Ishri had access
to matter transfer technology and Methos still marveled at the process.
His surface memories of his time with Tok'ra were relatively few,
although familiar objects and situations were bringing up new ones all
the time. Still, this wasn't something he recalled from his service
with Tok'ra. Or maybe Tok'ra just hadn't liked using the technology. As
Methos recalled, he'd always been a sort of back to basics, do it
yourself, kind of guy. No wonder he liked Jack so much!

"Greetings." The dulcet tones of a familiar female voice echoed through
the moderately sized hall and Methos slowly turned with the others to
see the Supreme Leader. Jack put a cautious hand on his arm as he
flinched visibly and the memories came rushing back...

"That wasn't very bright, little boy. You'll be punished for that." "I
can't see why he bothers with you at all. You're as dull as that nasty
tribe of savages where he found you." "Get out of my way, boy, or I'll
hurt you." "See my new rank? You'll never have it. I know something you

"Quinta," Methos breathed as the others moved forward and he ducked his
head to shield his face from her view. "We've got to get out of here
now, Jack!"

O'Neill didn't question his reaction. And Methos supposed his face was
pale enough at the moment to make the colonel a believer.

"Okay," Jack nodded once, his eyes scanning the room for exits. "She's
making it a personal meet and greet. Stay behind me. We'll move with
the others until there are enough on the other side to mix with. Got

Methos nodded, keeping his head down and his shoulders slumped. How
could I have forgotten her?! he wondered, feeling sick as they moved
slowly forward in the reception line. For twelve years, until he'd left
Inanna's house to serve with Tok'ra, Quinta had been the bane of his

While Inanna had been a doting mother, utterly ignoring him once he'd
gone to her husband, Quinta had always made her feelings known. She'd
despised him, or so he'd believed as a child. Now, looking back as an
adult, he could now see her jealousy for what it was. Until his arrival
she'd been the apple of her father's eye. And she'd been old when he
came. Immortal already and long since involved in the affairs of her
elders. No patience and no compassion for a small boy. Certainly not
one whom she must have felt usurped her rightful place in the hearts of
her parents. 

Of course, Inanna's heart had never really had any room in it for
anyone other than herself. But she'd liked her entertainment -- and
he'd been precocious enough to keep her amused. At least for a while.
And Tok'ra, loving father though he'd been, was often gone for long
periods of time, leading the war effort to destroy the Goa'uld.

Methos shuffled forward at the back of the line, trying to calm his
wildly beating heart. He didn't wonder how she had survived. Inanna
would have kept her as close as Tok'ra had kept him. Did she know her
mother had murdered the father she'd so adored? Or did she even care at
that point? Maybe she'd hated Tok'ra as much as she'd hated his son.
Just how long had she served Inanna before deciding to overthrow her?

None of these questions really mattered in the end, Methos realized as
Jack silently nudged him and they casually moved among the milling
soldiers over to the area where food and drink were being offered.
Around them, men and women with brightly glowing faces exuded the kind
of manic happiness that belonged only to the true disciple. 

"I take it you knew her?" O'Neill murmured as they sidled through the

Methos grimaced. "The elder sister from hell!" he hissed from between
clenched teeth.

The colonel tried, and failed, to stifle his laughter. "So, I take it
you're not interested in a reunion?"

Methos' grimaced then his face grew taught as he glanced over his
shoulder at the proceedings. "Looks like she's going to make a speech.
Jack, there isn't enough of a crowd! If I turn around she's likely to
notice me."

"It's the nose," Jack observed. "You've got a real stand out there,

Methos glared in frustration. "Would you be serious," he gritted.
"We're in danger here! We need to get the hell out!"

"We're moving aren't we?" O'Neill responded calmly. "Just relax,
Captain. There's an exit at the end of the food line. Grab a plate and
we'll go."

"I'm not hungry!" he hissed. "Can't we just make a run for it?"

Jack stared at him curiously then nodded. "Okay. It's your call."

Much to Methos' relief they were soon at the exit. His only mistake,
for which Methos would later curse himself thoroughly and soundly, was
in glancing back. Taking one last look at his past. One moment in time
when he lost all his wisdom, perspective and ancient cunning -- to look
back with the longing of a child. And in that moment, that single loss
of self-control, Quinta noticed the unexpected movement.

Their eyes met across the room and Methos felt a chill run through him
as she smiled in recognition then leaned over to speak with her aide,
discreetly pointing in their direction.

Of course she'd want this done quietly! Methos realized with a some
relief as he and Jack shared a glance before bolting from the room.
Wouldn't do to have the troops get an inkling of their lousy security.

"Shit!" Methos spat as they raced down the hall.

"Later," Jack told him as they ducked into a niche to wait for a small
knot of soldiers to pass. "Let's find their gate and get back to the
SGC. Worry about big sister later."

Methos stared at him, suddenly realizing his second big mistake. "This
is an exact replica of Inanna's original flagship. Tok'ra never
installed a gate."


"She never liked unexpected visitors," Methos explained. "And her
security sucked! So he never put one in. If he wanted to see her, he
took a jump ship like the one we found and used the nearest combat

"But she had one before," Jack insisted.

"Probably already there," Methos supplied quietly. "She'd have just
built around it. And it would have suited her purposes in controlling
and undermining the Tok'ra to travel that way."

"Great!" Jack sighed. "Any suggestions?"

"Head down," Methos shrugged. "We should be able to find the hanger
bays from here. We are dressed as officers. And it didn't look to me
like she wanted our presence advertised widely. Quinta probably thinks
I'm here to spy on her."

"She'd be right," Jack grinned.

"And since that meeting was totally unexpected," he went on, ignoring
the comment. "She'll also probably expect me to have a way out aboard
the other ship."

"Again she'd be right. Bet you said that a lot when you were a kid,

"Yes!" Methos hissed. "She was always right! Okay? It was very
annoying. Now, could we please just escape? I'm really looking forward
to this!"

"You're the guy with the plan. Lead the way, little brother."

Methos gave a heartfelt sigh and started looking for a maintenance
hatch. There was one down a side corridor and they made it inside just
as another group of guards rounded the corner.

"So, you think she's going to be looking elsewhere?" Jack asked from
behind as they crawled along the narrow conduit.

Methos grunted in affirmation. "Quinta always had a plan. And come hell
or high water she'd bloody well stick to it if it killed you."

Jack chuckled. "Not big on spontaneity, huh?"

"Hardly. I seem to remember one time when my tutor was ill and she
happened to be home. Inanna made her take charge of me for the day. She
followed his schedule to the letter. 'Two hours out of doors.' He
didn't bother to mark it that small children generally tend to play,
and that one had to be flexible on account of the weather. Seemed
rather obvious, I expect. Two hours standing at attention in the
freezing rain. Had a mild case of frostbite when she finally let me
back in."

"Ouch," Jack grimaced, trying not to laugh at the unbidden image which
suddenly popped into his head. The one of little Methos running to
mommy to complain that his big sister was being mean.

"Laugh all you want," Methos muttered as he finally found the access
ladder. "But if she catches us she's going to kill me -- and you into
the bargain."

"Why would she want you dead?" Jack asked as he followed Methos down.
"You practically handed her Inanna's power base. I'd think she'd want
to thank you for that."

"She's always considered me her rival, Jack. Now I've gone and killed
Inanna, something she obviously wanted, whatever her reasons, and like
all megalomaniacs she'll be thinking I want her dead, too."

"Okay, I get it. No love lost between you."

"None whatsoever," Methos agreed tersely. "And...she's tried it

"When?" Jack looked down and caught Methos' eyes as he paused.

"It wasn't obvious," he responded softly. "They were meant to be
accidents. A violent death so I would become Immortal too early and
Tok'ra would have to..."

"Have to what?" Jack asked as Methos trailed off.

The Immortal sighed. "So Tok'ra would have to take my head out of


Methos glanced away, not wanting to talk about this particular aspect
of Immortality. "Imagine an Immortal child, Jack. They can't grow up.
Can't fend for themselves. Can never be independent. I've seen such
children. Eventually, they all go mad. Tok'ra would never have allowed
me to suffer like that."


"It happens," Methos admitted sadly as he began moving again. "More
often than you might imagine.

O'Neill gasped softly as he realized what that meant. What kind of
choices Methos had been forced to make. "You did what you had to," he
finally offered as they continued down.

Methos bit his lip, silently acknowledging this gift of acceptance
which O'Neill had once again extended.

A long time later, Methos halted them at the hanger bay level, waiting
as they both caught their breath. 

"We can probably steal a ship easily enough," Jack finally said as they
observed the relatively empty bay. "The problem will be getting the
outer doors open and then far enough away to avoid being blown to

"Doors won't be a problem," Methos shook his head. "The floor of the
bay is designed for explosive drops in an emergency. And," he added
thoughtfully. "I should be able to shut the entire ship down from that
access panel." He pointed to the wall behind them. "Tok'ra's override
worked before, can't see why this ship would be any different."

O'Neill nodded, then, "You can fly one of these things, right?"

"I thought you could?" Methos asked innocently.

"Jes-!" Jack frowned at the Immortal's expression. "Not funny,

"Yes, it was," Methos grinned. "Just as funny as an eight year old
slowly freezing to death, helplessly bawling out his eyes."

"Point taken," Jack muttered sullenly. "Now, can we do this thing? Or
are we waiting for an engraved invitation?"

"I am at your beck and call, O Great Satan." Methos gave a half bow and
moved back into the crawl space.

"Insubordinate minion," O'Neill accused softly.

"Come on, Jack, admit it," Methos commented as he pried open the panel
he needed. "You'd never have gotten this far without me. And in a few
short weeks the Ishri would have been nice and cozy with the

"Maybe you're right," Jack nodded slowly. "Certainly makes the case for
hiring the elderly."

Methos frowned disgustedly. "I'm so glad you're having a good time with
this, Jack."

"Thanks, Gramps! Can we have a catch later?"

"Catch this!" Methos flipped him the bird then shook his head as he
continued his work, programming what he hoped was the proper sequence
for an emergency shut down with explosive drop. This way, every fighter
aboard would blow their locks and make it virtually impossible for
Quinta's personal forces to immediately follow. And with communications
out, hopefully she wouldn't be able to contact the rest of the fleet.

For a moment, Methos thought about going a step further and setting the
self-destruct. But then he reconsidered, remembering that there were
innocent men and women aboard. Some of whom probably deserved a chance
to live -- even if they were deluded. More to the point, once he was
back on Earth none of this would matter. Quinta would be far, far away,
and nothing she could do or say would ever make the SGC give him up.

"Done," he finally nodded. "Communications are set to disengage with a
full emergency drop. That should give us a good ten minutes to get
clear before the system realizes it's been sabotaged and automatically

"What'd you tell it?" Jack asked curiously.

"That the Vogons were coming to put in an interstellar by-pass and read
us bilious poetry before shoving everyone out an airlock." Methos
rolled his eyes. "What do you think I told it?"

"Dead swans. Dead swans lying in a brackish pool-"

Methos smacked him on the head. "Enough with the dead swans. I knew
that psychotic poetess. She was Immortal."

"You're joking?"

"Nope. So was Lord Byron. In fact, he called her out over it. Took her
head, too."

Jack looked stunned. "He killed her over bad poetry?"

"Yeah. He did," Methos nodded sadly as he shut the panel. "That's what
finally made me say farewell to his little clique of laudanum junkies -
- and stop challenging folks just for the hell of it. A point of honor
is not a reason to commit murder. And certainly not because someone's a
lousy poet."

"Actually, I always thought she was ahead of her time."

"You would," Methos muttered. "Shall we?" he gestured to the hatchway.

"Oh, by all means, let's blow this joint."

"Believe me," Methos nodded, crouching at the exit. "It was tempting."

"But you're a good minion," Jack crooned, patting his shoulder.

Methos didn't bother to respond. "I say we take the blue fighter by the
support strut over there," he pointed with his chin.

Jack glanced around the bay and gestured that it was clear, leading the
way. "Why this one specifically?" he whispered as they reached the
little ship.

"I like blue."

Jack wagged a finger at him. "Now is not the time, Pierson." 

O'Neill lifted the canopy and they climbed in, Methos grinning back at
the colonel. "Nonsense," he insisted airily, strapping himself into the
pilot's seat. "There's always time to laugh in the face of death."

"Good! Because I'm laughing behind his back."

Methos curled a lip, quickly starting a systems check. "No respect," he
muttered. "Older than dirt and I still get no respect."

"None whatsoever. Now let's move!" O'Neill said urgently. "I mean it,
Pierson! Look!"

"Damn!" Methos exclaimed as he saw a dozen soldiers, weapons drawn,
racing across the hanger toward them. "Hold tight!" he shouted and hit
the emergency release.

As the fighter dropped out into space he sent the signal to the
flagship's computer and a moment later a thousand similar ships
surrounded them, automatically heading in different directions. Above
them, Quinta's ship suddenly went dark and began listing to the side.
Methos hit the turbo jets, hoping that he hadn't forgotten how to fly
the damn thing. Not only would Jack be laughing behind his back, but in
his face and for the rest of his life. He'd probably even show up in a
thousand years to laugh some more.

Methos sighed as his automatic responses finally kicked in and he found
the frequency that would guide them toward one of the combat gates.

"So, where we goin'?" Jack asked nervously, looking back at Quinta's

"Following a signal to one of Tok'ra's space-based gates."

"Good idea. We can land on P3X1138 where the strike force is training
and get home from there."

"Well, that would be convenient -- if we could actually use the gate on

"Beg pardon?" Jack responded.

"Just what I said," Methos informed him matter-of-factly. "None of the
fighters in this line are equipped with Dial Home Devices. They were
never meant to go into combat without support. Only the jump ships have
them, because they are, themselves, gates."

"Oh, that's just beautiful!" Jack snarled. "So what the hell do we need
a gate for if we're trapped out here? Can't we just find a planet with
a gate? Like, maybe before the air runs out?"

"We could," Methos agreed with a sigh. "But we'd be taking an awful
chance. This is Inanna's domain. If I were her and I wanted to keep it
all to myself, I'd have removed or disabled them."

"Damn," Jack muttered in disgust. "You're probably right. We tried to
find a live gate in the area, but there was only that one hanging in
the middle of space." O'Neill sighed tiredly. "So, if we can't use this
ship to open the gate, I take it you have an alternate plan?"

"As always," Methos grinned. "But... You really won't like it."

"Probably not," Jack agreed, chuckling. "Lay it on me anyway, soldier."

"Well," Methos began, resetting the last of the defaults. "Tok'ra built
the gate system with one thing in mind. Moving large numbers of ships
safely through enemy territory. To do that, he had to build launch
platforms for those ships. Secret, space-based locations where they
could be hidden, repaired and refueled as needed. By my reckoning, and
according to our friend the computer, the nearest gate is three days
away. Which puts us six days out from the nearest platform to that
gate. And..." he sighed. "Three days beyond our re-breathing capacity."

"You're right. I'm not liking this." O'Neill shook his head. "Why not
just head directly for the platform?" he asked reasonably.

"Because I don't know exactly where it is. We have to be within range
of the gate to get any kind of signal from the platform. There's no way
to find it otherwise. Right now, I'm programming the ship to
automatically home in on it and bring us there safely."

"You mean our corpses," O'Neill mumbled resignedly. 

"No," Methos shook his head as he pulled a dagger from his boot and
handed it off to Jack. "My corpse and your very live body."

"You've gotta be kidding!" O'Neill shouted angrily, refusing the blade.
"There's gotta be another way."

"I'm afraid there isn't," Methos told him bluntly. "This is a short
range fighter. Food, water and air for three days max. That's it."
Behind him, O'Neill's head was still shaking. " Come on, Jack, you know
I'm right! That's why you wanted me on your team in the first place,
isn't it? Someone like you that you could trust to make those difficult
life and death decisions? Well, this is one of them."

"Yeah," O'Neill frowned then slowly nodded. "It is."

"Look. This is no picnic for me either. I don't relish the thought of
laying here for a week with a knife stuck between my ribs. But if it
gets the job done, I won't complain. The only other choice is that we
both die -- and cruise through space for the rest of eternity. I'm not
up for that today. This way, we both come out alive, okay?"

O'Neill squeezed his eyes shut and finally agreed. "All right. But what
about Quinta? She'll be looking for us."

"I've disabled the homing beacon, so she can't find us the easy way.
And, while she probably knows about the gates in this sector, I doubt
she knows about the platforms. Inanna wasn't likely to have given that
secret to anyone."

"Okay," Jack sighed, hefting the blade as he steeled himself to act as
he knew he must. "Any last requests?"

Methos smiled grimly. "Food and water are in the panel behind you. One
of the pilots might have left something to read as well. I hope so, for
your sake. If not, try and sleep. There's a medical kit back there,
too. It should have something to help you rest if you need it. Other
than that," Methos shrugged. "Make sure the knife stays in deep. My
body will try to heal itself by expelling the dagger. Happens with
bullets, though I've never seen it with a blade, so I don't know how
long it might take. I'd check every few hours just to be safe. Better
yet, use one of the seat belts to secure the hilt. Wouldn't do for me
to wake up every so often and use up your air. It's too precious a

"Not to mention I'd have to kill you again," Jack swallowed, nauseated,
and wiped his sweating palms against his pants.

Methos smiled gently. "Thank you."

"For what?" Jack asked dully.

The ancient Immortal laughed softly. "For giving a damn." He sighed and
shook his head ruefully. "The Watchers were very cavalier about this
sort of thing. No matter how many times, or how badly an Immortal died
on their watch, if it wasn't a true death they didn't really care. They
liked to think it didn't really hurt us. That no Immortal was ever
afraid of a little death. Truth is, we hate it. No one wants to be
vulnerable, Jack. Me as much as anybody. Now, stop talking," he ordered
gently, settling himself back against the seat cushions. "And get this
thing done."

O'Neill grimaced as he tightened his grip on the weapon, moving slowly
forward to bring his arms around Methos' shoulders.

"You ready?" Jack asked softly, looking into Methos' eyes as he used
his free hand to clasp the Immortal's chin, deliberately turning his
face away.

Methos nodded, only briefly surprised a second later as the hand on his
chin suddenly shifted to his cheek and he felt, then heard, the loud
crack-pop as O'Neill deftly snapped his neck.

The knife slipping sharply into Methos' chest was a far away burn and
he silently blessed O'Neill's name. Good man, he thought distantly as
he died peacefully. Knows how to kill a fellow properly.

Chapter 5

Jack let out the breath he'd been holding and eased his hand away from
the hilt. God, that was awful, he thought bitterly. Not that he hadn't
killed men in the same way at least a hundred times, but never a friend
-- even if he couldn't die permanently. 

Pierson's head lolled against his arm as he shifted and he straightened
it, making sure it lay comfortably against the head rest. Not that
Pierson would feel it, but because it was more dignified.

He sat back a little and checked the other man's posture. Legs
stretched out, not splayed. Arms resting neatly by his side. Except for
the knife in his chest, Pierson looked liked he was napping. O'Neill
nodded. Okay, he could live with that.

He looked around the interior of the little ship then shook his head.
Just keep moving, he told himself harshly. Get it done now. Get it done
right. And move on.

He pulled his own knife from his boot and easily cut the seat belts
from his chair then carefully sliced a small slit in the center of
each. Leaning forward again, he worked one strap over the hilt of
Pierson's dagger then the other. Pierson's head fell forward flaccidly,
but he ignored it as he crisscrossed the belts around the breathless
chest. Blood spurted up and out of the wound at the movement, globules
of it floating into the weightless environment, and bobbing sickeningly
above his head. O'Neill batted them aside as he worked. At least there
hadn't been much blood as the knife went in, he thought with relief.
And no thrashing or gasping for air. A nice, easy death--to keep both
of them from feeling the horror of it.

Finally, he secured the straps to the struts of Pierson's chair,
anchoring them with hard tugs so they wouldn't work loose. Without
thinking too hard about what he was doing, O'Neill ran his hands over
his handiwork. It would do for now, he thought practically, then he
righted Pierson's head and sat back, absently flicking a large blood
bubble away from his nose and onto the window.

It spattered soundlessly. Some of it adhering to the canopy, most of it
foaming into a mist which drifted slowly outward. Nice, O'Neill thought
disgustedly as he wiped his hands on his pants. 

He took a moment to settle his emotions then shifted around to find
that panel and sort through his supplies. Six canisters of water,
twenty-four dry bars, a copy of Quinta's manifesto, along with the
medical kit Pierson had mentioned, and two small holographic
projectors. One of which contained some truly obscene Ishri porn stars
doing things he didn't even want to dream about, the other... 

O'Neill chuckled. The complete works of Misty Eyes and her Celestial
Harps. Good thing Pierson's dead, he thought wryly. He'd have killed
himself if he'd had to sit and listen to this stuff for six days! On
the other hand, Jack grinned, he'd always kind of liked the Spice Girls
-- especially that Sporty Spice. Maybe Misty and her celestial harp
would be easy on the ears and eyes.

He glanced over at Pierson and his smile faded. This whole scenario was
somehow wrong. Surreal, he thought with a shake of his head as he
watched a thin trail of blood working its way toward the ceiling to
pool in the well of the canopy. In a few days it would probably be
raining in here.

Wonderful! he thought disgustedly, putting aside the rations for which
he now had no appetite and settling back in his chair to watch Misty.
He'd sleep later. Right now, what he most definitely needed was
something to distract his mind.


Day two, O'Neill recorded in the journal of his mind. Misty is totally
cool. Too bad Pierson isn't awake to make snide remarks. I miss being
able to snark on the guy. Read Quinta's little book last night. Girl
definitely has a few screws loose. Wish Pierson were here to talk about
this stuff. God, he looks like he's sleeping. Wonder what it's like.
Being dead and still alive. Not sure I believe MacLeod on that score.
Have to ask Pierson about that when he wakes up.

If he wakes up, O'Neill thought, then hurriedly brushed the thought
aside. He'll wake up, Jack told himself firmly. He'd seen him do it
before. Though just that once, and maybe Anise had... Stop it! he told
himself angrily. He'll wake up!

Jack leaned forward and checked the straps again, trying not to look at
Pierson's face as he did so. Blood from the chest wound had been
steadily welling up, soaking the straps and Pierson's clothes along
with them. Dead and yet not dead, he thought. Blood still flowed,
albeit sluggishly, and the body was just slightly cooler than normal
temperature. Rigor hadn't even set in. And not long after he'd broken
the bones, the neck had reset itself with a sharp crackling, making
Jack start at the sound.

Just a little while longer, he thought leaning back. Get some sleep, he
silently ordered himself, before you start hallucinating. 

Jack sighed and sipped some water, then wiped the thin film of bloody
sweat from his face and closed his eyes. He'd eat something tomorrow he
promised himself. Right now, he just didn't have the appetite.


Day three. 

Jack pressed the knife deeper, cursing the blood soaked material which
had stretched taught then ripped while he was sleeping. Damn! he cursed
silently as more blood spurted from the wound onto his face. Gotta do
something about that. His eyes searched the little cabin, finally
focusing on his seat cushions. Some of that padding might do...

He cut a few swaths from the back rest and wadded them around the base
of the blade. It seemed to help, but there was nothing to be done about
the rest of the fluid, which hung in the air sliming the canopy above. 

A moment later he nearly jumped out of his skin as a light on the panel
in front of Pierson flickered on and started beeping. The ship suddenly
lurched to his left as the engines kicked in, throwing him sideways
with a hard thump.

"Shit!" he spat, coughing as blood from the ceiling splashed across
him. He wiped his face with his sleeve, then checked the knife as the
ship finally righted itself. Must have found that gate, he nodded
silently, keeping his lips pressed tight. Good work, Pierson.

He shifted the body back into place, righting the head then glanced
down at Pierson's blood covered face. With the edge of his other sleeve
he tried to clean it up, messily smearing it instead. His stomach
churned and Jack felt bile rise up in his throat as he turned away.

Just a stupid gut reaction, he thought. Especially since he hadn't
eaten all day and had nothing to bring up.

Only a little while longer, Jack reminded himself faithfully as he set
his watch to alert him every four hours. He'd need to keep checking now
that the straps weren't holding too well.

Grabbing one of the water bottles, O'Neill swished some in his mouth,
gagging as he tasted blood and spat it out. Forget that, he thought,
nauseated, tossing the water back inside the storage compartment.

He sat back in his seat, trying to find a comfortable position now that
some of the padding was gone then decided he needed another
distraction. Misty was usually helpful, but the light of the images
picked up the glistening particles hanging wetly in the air, and the
red haze which now surrounded her was singularly horrific.

Sleep, he thought. That's what he needed, sleep. Had he set his watch?
Yes. Right. Did that already. He yawned tiredly, or maybe the air was
thinning. All this moisture couldn't be good for the filters. Too late.
Too bad. It was what it was. Now all he needed was to go to sleep. He
closed his eyes against the red, red of the canopy above and passed out
-- weak, tired and possibly dying. Right now though, he just didn't
have the energy to care.


Day four. 

Blood. Blood. And more blood. Jack was dreaming of it. Bathing in it.
Swimming in it. Drowning in the stuff as he killed his friend over and
over and over. 

Why do I have to kill him? He couldn't quite remember. But he liked the

Doesn't matter. Tough luck. Have to do it. No choice. Do it again.

Jack shoved the knife in deep as Methos sat there smiling. His chest
split open and a white light began to pour out. Terrified, O'Neill
tried to staunch the bright flow of energy. This was bad. This was
wrong. He had to catch the light. Shove it back in before Methos really

But he was already dead, wasn't he? Still, if he was dead, where did
all the blood come from? Corpses don't bleed -- experience had taught
him that. 

But... If he wasn't dead...did that mean he should kill him some more?

The beeping of his watch alarm woke Jack from his nightmare. Or had it?
Without thinking he reached forward and pushed the knife hilt until it
felt secure. Nightmare asleep or awake, what did it matter?

He reached out and tried to wipe the red mist from the window, but it
was foggy outside and he couldn't see the stars. No more sleeping, he
thought dully, but he should drink some blood.

With a start, O'Neill realized he was losing it. He wasn't eating,
hadn't really been sleeping and he hadn't been able to get down a
single drop of water since the last time he'd tried.

How long ago had it been? He checked the date on his watch. Two more
days to go he nodded. Just a little while longer. He could hold it
together for that long, couldn't he? 

Come on, Pierson, say something! Oh right, Pierson's dead. Never mind.


Day five.

Red alert. Have to kill him. Red alert. Have to kill him. Red alert.
Have to kill him. Red...


Day six. 

One hard red pull and...


Chapter 6

"Proximity warning! Proximity warning! Proximity..."

Methos dragged moist foul air into his lungs, choking as the metallic
taste of blood filled his throat. He coughed hard, holding his chest,
which felt like someone had taken a jagged saw to his heart.

"Proximity warning! Proximity warning!"

Squinting, Methos peered through the red mist clouding his eyes. What?

"Oh my god!"

Methos looked wildly around the cockpit then down at himself, foolishly
flinching away from the horror. There was blood everywhere. On every
surface, covering the floor, even the air was filled with the sticky
fluid. It looked like a slaughter house!

"Jack?" he whispered, turning in his seat which squished as he moved.

Oh, fuck.

He reached out a hand and took the dagger away from the unconscious
man. O'Neill was soaked in blood and Methos didn't doubt he looked just
as bad. Reaching out tentatively, he checked the colonel's pulse and
what he found shocked him thoroughly. The man's wrist was far too thin,
the skin too cool, and with all the blood he couldn't tell whether or
not he was clammy. But O'Neill's pulse was weak and thready which was a
good enough indicator that he was very close to dying.

"Proximity warning! Proximity warning!"

Methos growled and kicked the panel until it stopped beeping at him. 

"Jack?" he called. "Come on, Jack!" He shook the other man gently, then
harder when he didn't respond, finally slapping his face. "Wake up!"

O'Neill's eyes fluttered open as they tried to focus on him. 

"Hey!" Jack croaked. "Did I wake you? Or do I have to kill you?" His
hand swung weakly toward Methos. "Sorry. Too tired," he whispered as he
started to pass out again. "Can't..."

"God," Methos whispered, appalled. He'd driven the man half mad. But I
never thought... 

He swung around in his seat, hurriedly checking the instrument panel.
There was no time to worry about that now, he realized. He had to get
Jack to the medical facility inside.

Inside where? Methos thought wryly. He couldn't see a damn thing
through all this blood. He reached forward, trying to clear the window
and succeeded only in smudging it further. He looked around for
something even slightly clean and found the blood soaked chair padding
Jack had used on the floor. It gave him a moment's pause as he realized
O'Neill had cut up his own seat instead of the dead man's. 

He shook his head. Well, now was as good a time as any to use his own.
The seat was soaked, but the back rest around his shoulders was fairly
dry. Methos cut out the padding, using it to wipe down the instrument
panel and the window in front of him.

A few hundred kilometers ahead he saw what looked like an asteroid.
Frowning slightly, he shrugged. Guess Tok'ra was in one of his creative
moods, he thought as he sent the proper signal to open the landing bay
doors and turn on the station's environmental systems.

Several agonizing minutes later Methos finally landed the craft,
shaking with relief after only two of the fighter's landing systems
failed. Still, he thought, looking around as the asteroid's gravity
caused the blood to rain down on both of them, the little ship would
never fly again. Not if he could help it anyway. First chance he got
he'd blow the damn thing out into space.

"Come on, Jack," he murmured as he opened the canopy and wiped the
falling blood from his eyes. "Let's get you inside and cleaned up."

Methos climbed out, slipping on the blood slicked floor and cursing his
own lack of foresight. Sticking a knife in his chest had seemed like a
reasonable, logical solution to the problem at the time. He'd never
even considered how it would affect Jack.

No, that wasn't entirely true, he admitted as he finally lifted his
companion from the hideous cockpit. What he hadn't considered was how
his blood would react in a weightless environment. Nor, he realized,
had he considered just how much of it his body would produce in six
days. Good God, he thought as he hefted O'Neill onto his shoulder and
had a last look at the horrific interior, there has to be at least a
couple of gallons. It looks like something Caspian might have dreamed

The nauseating stench of the stuff clung to them as he carried O'Neill
toward the lift. Squishing boots and itching body aside, Methos could
barely imagine the nightmare Jack had lived in. Guilt assailed him. Not
regret, or remorse, but guilt--plain and simple. He should have thought
of something else. He should have found another way. Even telling Jack
about Tok'ra's gift of Immortality would have been better than this. 

Selfish bastard, you can feel rotten about it later, he chided himself
angrily as he slapped the call button. You knew he'd hate it. Why moan
about how badly you feel now? Especially now!

Methos grunted as he hefted Jack higher, getting them into the elevator
and hitting the panel when he recognized the symbol that would take
them to the medical bay. These stations, as he recalled, were generally
unmanned, though they held everything one might need in an emergency.
Occasionally, Tok'ra had launched an attack from one or two. But until
the final battle, when he'd used them to launch all his forces against
the Goa'uld, they'd acted as way stations and repair platforms for
ships in trouble. Of course, that meant they weren't very big. And
doubtless, since all his forces were destroyed, had never been
restocked. Still, this was their best hope for getting home, even if
Jack wouldn't like hearing the rest of his ill advised plan.

The doors opened on a clean, neat interior. It was slightly musty and a
bit chilly inside, but Methos didn't care as he found what seemed to be
a bathing area and lowered Jack into a wide basin, large enough for
both of them to lay down in if need be.

He found his dagger and cut away Jack's clothes first, then stripped
off his own. Above the basin several kinds of shower heads could be
seen jutting from a rack overhead. He found one with a retractable hose
and pulled it down. Removing it from its alcove turned the water on and
simply moving his thumb along the side made it hotter or colder as need
be. Cool, he thought, smiling as he gently sluiced the water over his
friend, watching the blood drain away through tiny holes in floor of
the basin.

When Jack was clean, Methos hurriedly washed himself. The man was far
too pale for his liking. Definitely in need of fluids and nourishment.
Probably a good psychiatrist as well, but you worked with what you had
was Methos' motto. And as far as O'Neill's sanity went, it certainly
wouldn't do to have him wake up and see a speck of blood on either of

Which reminded Methos. He'd have to clean the floors and the lift, too.
Ah well, he thought, looking around for the soft, velvet-like towels he
vaguely remembered from his very brief youth, Adam Pierson couldn't
afford a maid anyway.

He found what he wanted on a nearby shelf and quickly got them both
dried, rousing Jack just a little to get him to the other room and into
a bed. The place had warmed up nicely and he located a robe for himself
before beginning his search for medical supplies. 

A short while later Methos rubbed his damp hair, frustrated when he
couldn't find anything that resembled an IV drip. Finally, he started
translating the labels on some of the packaging he'd found. One was
marked, For Pain. Another, For Burns. And yet another, For Dehydration.
"One-stop shopping, I guess," he muttered. 

He ripped open the last packet with his teeth and found a pair of
tablets inside. "Now for some water," he murmured, looking around.
After opening several sliding panels he finally found a small container
that looked enough like a cup to be useful. Across the room was another
basin like the other, but much smaller; set into a wall and enclosed by
some translucent material. Just above it jutted a pair of miniature
nozzles and Methos ran his hands beneath them until he found the one
that held only water.

Returning to Jack, Methos made him wake up a little to take the pills
and drink the water, but the colonel became agitated, insisting he was
trying to give him blood.

"When I want you to drink my blood," Methos told him snippily. "I'll
make sure it's in a crystal goblet, fine vintage that it is."

Jack's eyes seemed to focus more clearly at the comment and he muttered
the words, "Smart ass," before finally accepting what Methos had to

The Immortal grinned as Jack took the pills and slowly sipped the
water. Apparently, insults were the ticket to better mental health in
this case. Though he wouldn't normally recommend it for patients
recovering from traumatic shock. Of course, O'Neill thrived on
insubordination, so why should this situation be any different?

"More," Jack whispered when he'd finished all there was.

"Later," Methos told him gently, easing him back down. "I've given you
something that should help replace your fluids, but too much now would
make you sick."

Jack nodded, closing his eyes for a moment and Methos thought he'd
drifted back to sleep. He stood and began to move away when O'Neill
suddenly clasped his wrist.

"You're okay?" the colonel asked nervously.

"I'm fine, Jack. All better."

"Not dead?"

"Am I wearing my head?"

Jack grinned tiredly. "I was worried."

"Thank you," Methos smiled, honestly touched by the other man's
concern. "And now I get to worry about you. So, relax and rest. I'll
stay nearby."

"Okay, Pierson. You're the doc."

Methos laughed softly. "Yes, I am," he murmured as Jack finally drifted
into real sleep, probably for the first time in days.

With a great sense of relief Methos found a chair, pulling it closer to
the bed and sat down. He too was exhausted, but pleased that Jack was
still Jack and not a raving lunatic. Or worse, totally withdrawn thanks
to what he'd put him through. Still, he could berate himself later.
Jack needed him and he, to a lesser degree, needed the same things as
Jack. Food, water and rest. Methos looked over at the bed across from
where he sat and thought briefly about climbing into it.

Maybe later, he thought as he leaned back to rest a bit. He'd wait and
see how O'Neill was doing first before availing himself of the comfort.


Jack woke with an anxious start, relieved to find Methos sitting in a
chair beside his bed, obviously asleep. Or was he? Nervously, he
watched the Immortal's chest rise and fall as he gently breathed.
Slowly, one shaky hand reached out, moving aside the thin cloth of the
other man's robe.

"All healed," he heard the light, teasing tenor of Methos' voice.

"Sorry," Jack murmured, drawing back his hand.

"It's okay," Methos smiled, understanding that O'Neill would probably
be checking on him for a while. He'd need to reassure himself from time
to time that he wasn't hallucinating or dreaming. And making an issue
of it would only make Jack even more uncomfortable.

"More water?" Methos asked as he checked O'Neill's pulse, noting with
relief that it was strong and steady.

"Please," he nodded.

Methos rose stiffly and refilled the makeshift cup. "You're looking a
lot better," he remarked as Jack carefully tasted then slowly drank the

"Just tired," O'Neill muttered between sips.

"Think you could try a little soup in a bit?" If I can find any, Methos
thought worriedly. There must be something resembling a kitchen around

Jack gave him a thumbs up. "As long as it's not tomato anything, I'll
give it a shot."

Methos chuckled. "I don't think we ever had tomato. I seem to recall
something that tasted a little like beef and barley. That do?" O'Neill
nodded and Methos bit his lip worriedly. "I may have to leave this
level for a bit. That okay with you?"

"Sure," he murmured sleepily as Methos took the empty container from
his hand the helped the colonel settle against the pillows. "Just be
back soon. I'm starving."

"I'll be quick," Methos reassured him. "Rest now."

A minute later O'Neill was out and Methos hurriedly went to find some
clothes. There'd been more sliding storage cabinets between here and
the bathing room, he recalled. Hopefully, they'd hold something more
substantial than a thin velvety robe. He found them easily enough,
suddenly looking with stunned amazement at the floor of the bathing
room across the hall.

"I'll be damned," he grinned. The place was spotless. "Self-cleaning
floors and walls!" 

Methos suddenly caught sight of his dagger lying near the basin, though
their blood stained clothes were missing. Perfectly sanitized, he
nodded thoughtfully as he fetched it. Too bad whatever cleaned the
floors took the finish off. At the thought, he realized their uniforms
must have dissolved. Oh, well, he shrugged. Pity about the dagger
though, he sighed softly. He'd have to dispose of it or Jack might
pitch a fit when he saw the thing. No great loss really. He had dozens
more back home.

With a shrug, Methos went back to the storage closet and dressed
himself in a pair of gray coveralls that seemed to fit. He checked on
Jack and found him resting easily, then headed for the lift. He sighed
with relief as he stepped inside. It too was shipshape and tidy, though
he'd go down to the hanger bay later just make certain that area had
also cleansed itself.

Methos sighed as he examined the symbols on the panel again. There were
six levels and none of the glyphs showed anything that looked remotely
edible. His stomach rumbled noisily. To hell with it, he thought. Just
go to the top and work your way down! 

When the doors opened on the uppermost level he found what appeared to
be an operations center. No food, but he'd definitely be back to
explore later. Next down was an open area, which seemed to be for
recreation, exercise and storage. The third level held the officers
quarters and mess. Eureka! he thought, grinning cheerily as he strode
into a large central room filled with couches, tables and chairs. To
one side of the hall, a series of rooms lined the wall. At the far end
of the central corridor, behind a pair of tall doors, was a more
private lounging area with a fairly large dining room. And beyond that
was the kitchen. Or what Methos supposed was the kitchen.

"Damn it!" he muttered. "What I wouldn't give for just one
knowledgeable servant!"

"May I take your order?" a voice asked in a language familiar from his

Startled, Methos looked around, smiling as he realized what Tok'ra must
have done. The place was fully automated. With thousands of soldiers
coming from hundreds of different worlds it would have to be. Of
course, the computer wouldn't understand English. It had merely
responded to a voice command with a language default.

"One beef steak, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and a bowl of beef
with barley soup," he responded in Ishri.

"Define beef. Define potato. Define barley," the computer requested in
a dialect of the same language.

Methos sighed. "Beef. Meat from a domesticated bovine. Potato. Tuber-
like fruit. Barley. Grain related to wheat."

"Our apologies, ally. We do not have the requested comestibles at this
time. May we offer an appropriate substitute?"

"Certainly," he smiled. He hadn't thought they'd have anything he
really wanted, but one worked with what one had. It would probably be
close enough to suit.

"May we offer you a beverage with your order?" the computer asked as a
covered tray slid out of the wall.

"Beer?" he asked hopefully.

"Define beer."

"An alcoholic beverage made from barley, water and hops, another member
of the wheat family."

"Our apologies, ally. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted at this
time. May we offer you an appropriate substitute?"

"Damn you, Tok'ra!" Methos hissed. "No wonder you lost the fucking

"Define fucking."

Methos laughed and shook his head. "Never mind, darling. A carafe of
fruit juice will do just fine."

A moment later it appeared beside his tray and he left the room
chuckling softly, heading back toward the elevator. As soon as he was
able he was definitely moving Jack up here. He'd have a blast defining
things like pizza and tacos then bitching about whatever bizarre
substitutes the computers were providing. 

Sanity through sadism, he grinned widely. What a life!

Chapter 7

"We can leave now," O'Neill insisted as he sat up. "I don't need to be
the picture of health to make it to the gate." Two days later O'Neill
was awake and talking -- though he tired easily and was still too gaunt
for Methos liking. "And don't you worry," he added with a wry smile.
"Doc Fraser will make sure I eat as soon as we get back."

"I'm sure she will," Methos told him. "But we can't leave just yet."

O'Neill frowned. "There a problem with the gate?"

"No. No problem with the gate," Methos sighed as he sprawled, well out
of reach on the bed across from Jack's. "There just isn't one with
which to have a problem."

"There's no Stargate?" Jack looked horrified. "You mean we're stuck
here?! Oh, that's just beautiful, Pierson!"

Methos rolled his eyes. "We are not stuck here. If you'd just listen
for a minute! No, there isn't a gate on this rock. This is a combat
platform and, as near as I can tell, a listening post from when the
Goa'uld used to control this sector before Inanna got her claws into
it. So no, Tok'ra didn't install a Stargate. That would kind of kill
the whole secret base thing, now wouldn't it?"

"I'm not getting into that fighter again," Jack insisted quietly.

Methos shook his head and sighed. "You won't have to and I'd never ask
it. I'm truly sorry about that, Jack. I wish... I didn't think," he
apologized. "I should have found another way. I didn't realize that
would happen."

"You couldn't have," O'Neill told him. "I thought about that a lot the
first couple of days. And unless I wanted to keep strangling you over
and over again--which really seems like a good idea now," he growled.
"I don't think we had any choice."

Methos smiled ruefully. "It's not as bad as it sounds," he told the
colonel, silently acknowledging that apologies had been offered and
gratefully, if obliquely, accepted. "It may not have a traditional
Stargate, but this is one of those places I mentioned where they stored
parts for the jump ships." O'Neill's face brightened at the mention.
"I'm pretty sure I saw a couple down in the hanger bay when I was
bringing you up. I don't know what condition they're in, but if they
were left here they're probably in need of repair."

"Okay," Jack nodded. "That's good. That's a plan. We've got the parts,

"Absolutely. Only one tiny problem," Methos added nervously.

"Which is?"

"I've never actually repaired one," he admitted cautiously.

O'Neill smirked. "Have you ever worked on your car?" he asked in the
same tone he often used with Daniel.

Methos curled a lip in disgust. "Of course I've fixed my car. I'm not a
complete moron!"

Jack looked at him thoughtfully. "What make and model?"

"It was a Ford." Methos crossed his arms belligerently. "And the model
was T."

O'Neill stared at him in total disbelief for a long moment, then
laughed until tears ran from his eyes and he coughed so hard Methos was
afraid he'd choke.

"God, I missed that," Jack finally gasped. "What happened? The hand
crank fall off?"

"Happy to be of service," Methos grumbled sullenly. "And no," he
sneered. "I popped a wheelie on a loose cobble stone taking a corner
too fast and bent the tire rim. Had a hell of a time pounding it out."

"Don't sweat it, my little speed demon," O'Neill offered expansively as
soon as he stopped laughing again. "You work that listening post and
keep an eye out for Quinta. I'll handle the backbreaking labor."

"Sir, yes, sir. Colonel Satan, sir," Methos saluted.

"And don't you forget it," Jack nodded, yawning widely. "You're my
minion and nobody else's. Not even your twisted sister's."

Methos smiled with intense satisfaction as O'Neill drifted back to
sleep. Now that was the O'Neill he remembered. So what if he thought
Methos was a hopeless geek when it came to automotive expertise. It
made Jack feel like he had a purpose again -- and that was the
important thing. 


The gentle touch of fingertips lightly laid against his sternum wasn't
what awakened Methos. That was just the little game they played. He
pretended to sleep while Jack obtained the reassurance he needed. They
both knew, but neither would ever say a thing.

Nor had it been the sound of O'Neill quietly leaving his bed and
padding into the bathing room. When he wanted to, the man could move as
soundlessly as a cat. Even Methos was hard put not to comment on the
excellence of his stealth. But O'Neill had not been attempting stealth
tonight, because they both knew that Methos had been awake long before

"Another nightmare?" Methos asked softly as Jack returned.

That was what had awakened him. The pitiful moans and half-strangled
scream that had driven O'Neill from his sweat soaked bed.

"It'll pass," the colonel replied in a tone that ended the discussion.
Still, it told Methos enough. The dreams were no better, even if they
weren't getting any worse.

"Good," Methos responded. "Then you won't mind if we move upstairs this
morning. The beds look a damn sight more comfortable in the officers
quarters than they are in here."

"More comfortable?" Jack asked eagerly. "Hell, Pierson, you can move in
the morning," he said, tightening the belt on his robe. "I'm heading up

Methos suppressed a smile as he grabbed his own robe and followed him

"They got any real clothes up there?" O'Neill asked, panting a little
as they reached the elevator. Before Methos could respond, a gentle
series of tones sounded throughout the corridor and probably the entire
station. "What's that?" he asked worriedly as the lift doors opened.

"No idea," Methos admitted with a shake of his head.

"Unidentified craft approaching. Unidentified craft approaching," the
voice of the computer warned in several different languages.

"The operations center," O'Neill said tersely and Methos nodded as they
got on the elevator. "Any weapons aboard?" he asked as they arrived and
Methos helped him over to the command chair.

"Probably," the Immortal nodded. "But maybe we should have a look at
what's out there first," he added, taking a seat at one of several
banks of control panels. "We're pretty well camouflaged in here. No
need to kick up a fuss if they're only passing through, right?"

"We'll see," was all O'Neill would say as Methos switched on the view

"Damn!" Methos cursed softly as he finally identified the craft.
"That's one of Quinta's ships. Running a search pattern would be my

"So, they don't know we're in here," O'Neill commented thoughtfully.

"I doubt she even knows about the platforms," Methos responded with a
shake of his head. "Quinta was a line officer and didn't have much to
do with security per se. And it wasn't the sort of information Inanna
would have given her after Tok'ra was dead. As paranoid as she probably
became, she'd never want even a loyal follower to have that kind of

"So what's that ship doing out there?"

Methos shrugged. "Well, if I were Quinta, I'd have followed my first
plan -- which would have been to search the immediate area after our
escape. She probably does know about the combat gates in this sector --
no way to really hide something like that," he sighed. "Some of them
could easily handle a ship ten times the size of her flagship. And
they'd be useful for local commuting between systems, especially after
Inanna stripped the other stargates from their planets."

"Makes sense," O'Neill nodded. "Go on."

"Knowing about the gate herself, Quinta might have figured we'd head

"We're three days away from the gate," O'Neill reminded him
unnecessarily. "So why look here?"

"Just Quinta being her usual charming methodical self," Methos grinned.
"Perhaps Inanna had some sort of warning system on the gates to let her
know when they were being used without authorization," Methos suggested
as the ship on the screen continued its wide, slow circle of the area.
"It could mean that Quinta knows we haven't left the sector. She also
knows there's only two of us. And she's not stupid, Jack, merely
arrogant. She knows just how much extra oxygen those fighters carry."

"She's estimated our distance and flight time," he nodded slowly.
"Probably has people checking the nearest habitable planets too."

"I'd say you're partly right," Methos agreed quietly. "But she's
estimating my location, not ours." O'Neill's eyes narrowed
questioningly and Methos sighed. "She'll expect me to have killed you
and not the other way around," he said bluntly. "Neither she, or
Inanna, would ever have put themselves in that vulnerable a position."

Jack nodded slowly, fully understanding the trust that had been placed
in him. "It looks like they're leaving," O'Neill jutted his chin toward
the screen. "And good riddance."

Methos smiled wanly. "They'll be back. Quinta's like a pit bull when
she wants something. Never lets it out of her teeth."

"But she doesn't know about the platforms," O'Neill stated succinctly.

"She'd have been here already," Methos agreed.

"Unless..." Jack murmured thoughtfully. "She could have stumbled across
something that gave her a reason to think we might be hiding out
somewhere safe and cozy."

"I hope not," Methos said worriedly. "But if she did, she would never
have been able to make use of the information."

"How's that?" O'Neill asked as Methos did another quick scan of the
area, turning off the viewer when he found nothing.

"Well, from what I can recall, at least in general the platforms
themselves aren't very sophisticated," Methos explained as he helped
Jack back to the elevator. "Essentially, they're very big boxes
drifting in space. Derelict barges that from the outside look barely
spaceworthy, let alone like they could hold anything worth salvaging.
But they've got very sophisticated security. Attach an unidentified
craft to the hull and all the equipment inside fries itself
automatically. Send the wrong signal to the sensors and it does the
same. By the time anyone got aboard they'd have found only a useless
shell. Maybe they'd get something for the salvage, but they really
aren't worth towing. I mean, they really are just big ugly barges."

"I like the way Tok'ra thinks -- or thought. No. Thinks," he amended a
little confused because the being that had been the Ancient Tok'ra
still existed, even if he was just a big bundle of energy.

"Anyway," Methos grinned as he pressed the glyph to take them down to
the officers quarters. "Like I said, if she knew about the

Jack shook his head, interrupting his friend. "She doesn't have to be
Sherlock Holmes to figure it out, Pierson."

"Figure what out?"

"That if we're not anywhere she expects us to be, then we are somewhere
we wouldn't expect her to think we'd be." 

Methos felt the color drain from his face, but they did have to
consider every possibility. If Quinta realized he knew how to access
the platforms, she might imagine he had lots of other useful
information that could be just as interesting.

"Wonderful," the Immortal muttered as the doors opened on their new
digs. "Now I have to worry about how long she'll torture me before she
kills me. Thanks, Jack! You're a good buddy." 

Chapter 8

After nearly a week of bed rest and puttering around the officers
quarters tormenting the station's computer, Jack finally felt ready to
make his first excursion down to the hanger bay. That is, he decided he
must be ready to confront the awful reality of the other ship. It
wasn't that the nightmares had stopped, or that he didn't check on
Pierson several times a day-- albeit as covertly as he could manage. It
was the simple fact that time was passing all too quickly and he
couldn't afford to put it off any longer.

As near as he could estimate they'd been gone eighteen days on a
mission that had been scheduled for three or four, even a week at most,
and by now the SGC would certainly know there was trouble. What kind of
trouble wasn't important. Their disappearance alone would be enough to
stall the talks with the Ishri. But the folks back home would be
worried, especially since they didn't have another jump ship and the
chances of a rescue were dismally apparent as slim to none. 

He'd understood that from the get go, Jack mused as the elevator doors
opened and he stepped inside. That had been one of the reasons he'd
wanted Pierson along as opposed to Teal'c. Pierson didn't have a kid
and wasn't chock full of current knowledge about the Goa'uld. And, he
was virtually indestructible as he'd so ably proven during...

With a silent sigh O'Neill pressed the glyph which would take him down
to the hanger. He really didn't want to do this, he thought nervously.
What he'd really like was to see someone in Psychiatric Services, dump
the whole mess into their head and move on. And if he were back home
that's just what the Air Force would require that he do -- no if, ands,
or buts -- before they re-certified him for active duty. Well, you
don't have that option, Jack thought pragmatically as the doors opened.
And it ain't like this is the first time. So just suck it up and move

He stepped out into the cavernous bay that could probably have dry
docked a thousand ships and still had room for more. 

"Just a little way station," he murmured, shaking his head in wonder as
he looked around. More like a staging area for launching a war, he
thought, impressed with Tok'ra's foresight. God, he liked Pierson's dad
-- even if he was a hugger! And especially since Tok'ra had made the
station easily accessible to all his forces, some of whom were as
technologically challenged as Earth currently was. None of that super
high tech gadgetry that stymied him every time he looked sideways at
the stuff.

O'Neill set his jaw as he looked for a blood trail, quickly surmising
that the self-cleaning process Pierson had mentioned seemed to have
done its work. 

Good, he thought as a sense of relief washed over him. Out of sight was
out of mind in his book. If the past wasn't staring him in the face, he
could just get on with the job and ignore the rest of the hangar bay.

Now, let's get to it, he thought, settling himself into a more
professional demeanor for the work ahead. He headed left -- the
direction Pierson had told him to look -- and found the two jump ships
sitting catty corner near what looked liked a diagnostic station.
"Bingo!" he grinned, taking a slow turn around the ships, nodding or
shaking his head occasionally as he looked them over.

There was quite a bit of scoring damage from energy weapons along their
hulls, but that made sense given what Pierson had discovered in the
station's log. According to the commanding officer in charge of the
listening post at the time of Tok'ra's last battle, at least a hundred
ships had come to this location seeking to escape what they had
believed was Goa'uld treachery. The frantic, sometimes near hysterical
recording, showed a station in chaos. Tok'ra was dead, along with every
Ancient in the fleet. Even Inanna, or so it was believed. Yet, while
major Goa'uld strongholds lay in ruins, Tok'ra's forces were fleeing to
their home worlds, terrified that they and their loved ones would be
next on the snake-heads' list. 

At least, O'Neill thought with a great deal of respect as he took the
tech's seat at the terminal, the commander had had the good sense to
keep the panicked troops from raiding the station's stores before
bugging out. Apparently, she and her small staff had waited another
month, no doubt hoping for new orders, or some indication that the
alliance still survived, before finally abandoning their posts and
heading home in the last transport they had.

These two ships, he contemplated thoughtfully, tapping the panel top to
bring up the monitors, hadn't even been considered for use. Now why was
that? he wondered as he keyed in the code Pierson had designed which
would allow him to work the computers in Ishri. 

"Damn it!" Jack muttered a long time later after he'd read through the
original technician's hurried notes.

While both ships had intact DHDs and internal Stargates, jump ship A's
main engine was shot to hell and needed a complete refit along with
repairs to a dozen onboard systems. That would take several months,
maybe even a year, given the amount of work involved.

Jump ship B was in somewhat better condition. Thrusters and stabilizers
were in need of heavy repair, communications were busted and several
internal mechanisms controlling the fuel distribution and environmental
functions needed to be replaced. Eight, maybe ten weeks to make sure
everything worked. 

Not as good as he'd hoped for, but better than nothing, O'Neill decided
with a tired sigh as he shut down the terminal and went to inform one
very annoying Immortal.


The bad news didn't seem to faze Methos at all.

"Pity we can't just use one of the gates to get home," he sighed and
O'Neill nodded, commiserating.

The jump ships worked on the same basic principle as traditional
Stargates, but with different results. Originally designed to launch
from a stationary base, the ships created their own wormhole, but
required an exit gate the same as any other. They had been meant for
guerrilla runs using the space-based combat gates as an exit point.
They were not designed for pulling dangerous, flashy maneuvers in
confined or limited areas immediately upon egress. And without thruster
controls or stabilizers, the ships would be just so much junk hurtling
through the wormhole at phenomenal speeds to crash and burn on the far
side. Which meant they couldn't even consider the option Methos had
mentioned -- not and both hope to survive.

"So, how's it coming in here?" O'Neill finally asked, looking around
the operations center. After pulling up as much of the station's
specifications as he could locate, along with the command logs, Methos
had done an excellent job of learning the systems and making them his
own. "Any sign of Quinta?"

The ancient Immortal grinned. "I was hoping you'd ask. This is an
amazing set up, Jack," he gestured toward the computer bank where he
was seated. "Tok'ra may have designed the station to the lowest common
denominator, but the listening devices he planted are incredibly
sophisticated. I can hear voice traffic from all over the sector and
focus on a single conversation anywhere, as needed, instantaneously. No
wonder he was able to strike so quickly. The Goa'uld had no secrets
from him."

"Quickly?" Jack asked. "Just how quickly are we talking?"

"Well," Methos shrugged. "From what I know, from the time Tok'ra and
Morgot became blended it only took about a hundred years to launch the
final battle. And most of that was spent building the necessary war
materials and bringing all the allies up to speed. That's a fantastic
accomplishment if you think about it."

"Damn straight," O'Neill nodded. "So, you can hear Quinta?"

"Not her," Methos explained. "But her forces. The relays out there," he
waved at the screen, "unscramble all transmissions, search for key
words -- which I've reprogrammed," he grinned smugly, "to suit our
needs -- then send everything back in priority order to the central
listening post here. The amount of detail is incredible, especially at
these distances."

"Interesting," O'Neill murmured thoughtfully, imagining the benefits
such a system could provide his own world. "Can it send messages?" he
asked suddenly.

Methos stared at him for a long moment. "That's a brilliant idea!" he
exclaimed as he fell back against his seat. "I hadn't even considered
the possibility. There had to be a way of relaying the information
retrieved here to Tok'ra's main receiver," he added with excitement as
he turned back to the computer, hurriedly tapping the panel in front of
him. "I'll have to reroute the defaults, of course, then locate the
nearest transmitter to Earth. Then I need to figure out how to get a
signal to one of our satellites and from there bounce it to the SGC on
one of their frequencies, but I think," he looked over his shoulder and
grinned. "I think we can do it."

"Well, get on it," Jack ordered, smiling at Methos' enthusiasm as he

"You do realize, of course," Methos called softly, making Jack pause as
he entered the elevator to return to his own task with renewed vigor.
"They still won't be able to help us."

"Maybe not," O'Neill agreed. "But they'll know we're alive, where we
are and what the Ishri are really up to. And that," he reminded Methos,
"was the whole point of this little excursion."

Chapter 9

"Sir, it's them," Samantha Carter announced as General Hammond came
striding into Stargate Command's control center.

"Where are they?"

"Still in Ishri space, sir. But we can talk to them."

"In real time?" the general asked, quietly amazed.

"Pierson sent us the specs in the first transmission we received. We're
linking with the Mars satellite now and reconfiguring it to interface
with Tok'ra's relay system on the planet. Apparently, he had a major
base stationed there -- right under the Goa'uld's collective noses."

"Well, I'll be," Hammond murmured as a technician informed Carter that
the communications system was ready.

"Colonel O'Neill, this is General Hammond," he said, leaning over to
speak into the microphone.

"Well howdy doody!" that familiar, sarcastic voice called back. "Good
to hear you, sir."

"What's your status, Colonel?"

"Alive and well, but stuck here for the time being," the voice

"And where is here?" Hammond asked.

"One of Tok'ra's hidden bases," O'Neill answered, careful not to give
specifics which might be overheard. "We've got a way to get home, but
it's going to take a while to work out a few problems."

"Approximately how long?"

"Three, maybe four months," O'Neill replied. "We need to make repairs."

Hammond looked at Carter, who shrugged. Neither knew if either Jack or
Methos were up to the task, but were willing to accept that they at
least believed they were. "Is there any assistance we can render?"

"Nah," O'Neill responded. "We've got it under control. It'll just take
a little time."

"Very good, Colonel. I'll expect regular reports. Pierson can work out
the scheduling details with Major Carter."

"Yes, sir."

"Hammond out." The general turned the microphone back over to Carter. 

"Colonel O'Neill?"

"Hey, Carter! How the hell are you kids?"

Samantha smiled briefly. "We're all fine. Teal'c and Daniel are here,"
she looked to her companions. "We're all very glad to hear you're both

"The food could be better and the cable sucks, but other than that, no

"Can you tell us anything about our new acquaintances?" she asked.

This time, Methos responded. "Pierson here. I'm sending all that out in
a burst transmission as soon as we're done with the housekeeping."

"Adam?" Daniel Jackson leaned forward and spoke tensely into the mike.

"Hey, Danny!" came the cheerful response. "Aren't you supposed to be
with MacLeod and Company or something? The real reason I'm stuck on
this rock and you're not."

Daniel grinned. "We heard you guys were missing in action, so we came
back to see if we could help."

They could almost see Methos smiling. "The only action we're missing is
some decent music. You taking requests?"

"I'll see what I can do," Daniel laughed. "I hear Aerosmith's doing a
remake of the Hymn to Ninkasi."

There was a bark of laughter, but before Methos could say anything more
Carter interrupted.

"Loss of signal in three minutes," she reminded everyone. "We'll pick
you up again in thirteen hours, twenty-seven minutes, when Mars reaches
it zenith again."

"That's a go," O'Neill responded. 

"Commencing transmission, now," Methos reported. "Catch you on the flip

A few minutes later the download ceased and the signal went dead.

"Did we get it all?" Samantha asked the technician at the controls.

He nodded. "Looks like it. And Major," he added quietly. "Whatever it
is, it's big."

Carter looked thoughtful, while across the galaxy two men were quietly


"Good work, Pierson," O'Neill complimented as Methos reset the system
and sat back with a sense of relief. After a week spent re-calibrating
Tok'ra's incredibly sensitive arrays to carry voice transmissions as
well as data, and another spent translating everything into secure
code, the Immortal was glad just to have it over.

"Thanks," he sighed, stretching his long limbs.

"Hungry?" Jack asked and Methos grunted an affirmative. "Come on, I'm

Methos followed him to the elevator.

"Hymn to a Ninja Queen?" O'Neill asked curiously as the doors slid shut
behind them.

"Ninkasi," Methos corrected with a grin. "And she wasn't a queen, but
an ancient Sumerian goddess," he explained

"A snake-head?!"

Methos shrugged as the elevator stopped and they headed for the dining
hall. "Who knows? But she was certainly important, culturally speaking.
I know I spent many happy hours singing her praises."

"You? Singing about a Goa'uld?" O'Neill grimaced.


"O-kay," Jack drawled, considering the source of this bizarre
statement. "And what was so important about her? Culturally speaking,
of course."

"Well, not her per se," Methos admitted. "More what she invented."

O'Neill waited for him to continue, but the irritating Immortal
remained silent. "Well?!" he finally demanded. "What was it?!"

"Oh," Methos shrugged. "Beer. Ninkasi invented beer." Jack's eyes
popped. "And it wasn't so much a hymn," he added ruefully, "as it was a
drinking song. An ode to making beer."

"This I've got to hear," O'Neill chuckled. 

"Not from me," Methos insisted, striding into the kitchen.

"Aw, come on, Pierson. You're the only entertainment around here."

"May I take your order?" the computer automatically responded to the
sound of their voices.

"Tell you what," Methos smiled slyly. "You make this thing," he
gestured with his chin at the panel which represented the computer's
food terminal, "give me a decent brew to drink and I'll sing it. In the
original Sumerian."

"Make it English, and it's a deal," O'Neill replied, entirely too
quickly for Methos liking.

Methos frowned. The translation would be horrendous. Ah well, if it
made O'Neill happy...

"English," he nodded in agreement. "But it had better be decent."

O'Neill grinned. "Well, I was saving this for a special occasion,
but... Mabel?"

"Mabel?" Methos muttered, rolling his eyes. "You named the computer

"Shhh!" Jack hissed. "And learn from the master."

"How may I serve you, Colonel O'Neill?" the computer asked promptly.

"Two of those giant burritos, a large nachos and a pitcher of the
fermented barley, hops, malt, water and honey we discussed the other
day. And two glasses." The panel opened and the requested items slid
out. "Thanks, Mabel.

"Always a pleasure to serve you, Colonel O'Neill."

"Well?" Jack waved at the pitcher and Methos went over, pouring a small
amount of the amber fluid into a glass. Sniffing it curiously, Methos
raised both brows. The aroma seemed about right, now... He sipped
carefully at first then finished it off in one quick swallow.

"How the hell...?" the Immortal began, setting down the glass as he
grabbed the tray and O'Neill grinned smugly.

"It's all in the asking, minion," the colonel grinned and swiped a
couple of nachos from the plate as they headed back to the dining room.

"I asked!" Methos insisted. "It told me alcohol wasn't permitted."

"Yeah, but Mabel doesn't have any orders against supplying the contents
of recipes and fixing them the way you like 'em. Took a while, but I
finally convinced the old girl that fermentation is done for health

"You win," Methos laughed delightedly. "I'll sing."

They took their familiar places at one of the smaller tables in the
large empty hall.

"Okay," O'Neill gestured for him to continue. "Sing."

"You didn't specify when," Methos retorted smugly.


"First we drink." He poured two full glasses of beer. "Then we eat."
Methos handed Jack his plate. "Then we drink a lot more."

"And then you sing," O'Neill nodded in understanding.

"No, then we tell tall tales of conquest, rapine and pillage --
saluting our manly prowess with even more drinking. Then, when we're
incredibly full of ourselves, not to mention enough beer to float a
battle ship -- only then do we sing."

"We?" Jack asked dubiously.

"Don't worry," Methos patted his shoulder consolingly. "You'll like it.
Especially the bits about the big shovel, the noble dogs and the holy

Chapter 10

"Blessed Ninkasi handles the dough, and with a big shovel mixes it up. 
"Blessed Ninkasi, fair of form, adds the date honey to the big pit
filled with the holy bappir. 
"Sweet bappir, baked and..."

"Oh, shut up!" O'Neill whispered, bleary eyed as he held his head in a
vain attempt to keep his brain from exploding at the sound of Methos'

His nemesis chuckled unsympathetically. "Feeling a little under the
weather are we, Colonel?"

"Just a little," O'Neill muttered, groaning miserably as the warning
klaxon sounded making his eyeballs swell. "Great," he gasped as the
computer reported another unidentified ship in the area and he followed
Methos to the lift.

The other man sighed and pulled a couple of small packets from his
pocket and opened them. "I was going to let you suffer just a bit
longer," he explained as he handed them to Jack. "That was a stupid
stunt, letting me get you drunk."

O'Neill shrugged as he chewed and swallowed the bland tasting tablets

"The mission's complete and we needed to blow off some steam," he
offered, grimacing as the doors opened on the operations center with a
loud hiss, though he could already feel the vise around his forehead
slowly being lifted.

Methos simply nodded as he took his station. He understood the
principle all too well, and O'Neill was certainly entitled to a little
down time after all he'd been through.

"Looks like the search is still on," Methos commented as he checked the

"That's the second ship this week," O'Neill complained. "Does the woman
never give up?"

"Quinta? Not to my recollection," Methos admitted.

Suddenly, laser fire erupted from the ship, scoring several asteroids
in the field.

"Whoa!" Jack shouted. "That's new."

Methos nodded, nervously checking his readouts. "The computer says they
weren't at full power," he sighed with relief.

"Testing the waters, are they?"

"Looking for a reaction would be my guess," Methos responded.

"Shaking the apple tree," Jack agreed. "Just to see what falls out. But
why this tree? There must be a million asteroids in this field."

"Something must have-- Oh, shit!" Methos uttered, his back stiffening
with shock.


"The fighter. The one we came in." Methos closed his eyes, feeling like
an utter fool. "I got rid of it the day after we arrived."

"Got rid of it?" O'Neill asked, confused. He hadn't seen it in the
hanger bay, but he'd assumed Methos had simply moved it into storage.

"I blew it out into space, okay? I wanted the damn thing gone!"

"Jesus!" Jack squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, trying not to
let the sudden surge of anger he felt get the best of him. 

"Okay. All right. I understand," he finally nodded. And he honestly did
appreciate what Methos had tried to do, but, "It looks like her people
found it and backtracked its trajectory. Space is big. Really big. But
not big enough, apparently."

"I'm sorry, Jack," Methos sighed. "It was a fool thing to do."

"Don't sweat it, Pierson. I'd probably have done the same if things
were reversed. And it changes nothing. So, they've got a general
direction. They still can't pinpoint our location, right?" Methos said
nothing. "Right?"

"If they hit us they'll kick up a debris field," he said quietly. "The
outer shell of this rock is suffused with several thousand tons of
equipment. The least that could happen is that we'll be blinded for a
while, the worst..." Methos sighed. "Naquada is the basis of all the
Ancients' technology, and my guess is, it doesn't occur naturally very
often. A scan of the area might pick it up in the rubble. We wouldn't
miss a clue like that. It's a good bet Quinta wouldn't either."

O'Neill sighed disgustedly. "Let's hope she does, if not..."

"Hope for the best and plan for the worst," Methos supplied and Jack

Methos suddenly cocked his head. "You know, we don't dare contact the
SGC again. If they pick up the transmission, we're dead."

O'Neill nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. But they'll figure it out. Maybe
come up with something to keep the dogs at bay."

"Like what?"

"The Tok'ra," Jack smiled. "They may not give a rat's ass about me, but
they sure do like you, O Son of Tok'ra. And I doubt they'll be thrilled
when they find out what Quinta's planning for them and the Goa'uld."

"They might not give a rat's ass about me either anymore. I was pretty
obnoxious when last we met," Methos admitted ruefully.

"Part of your charm," Jack teased. "You just keep an eye on that ship.
I'll be down in the hanger. Maybe I can speed things up a bit."


"There's been another incursion along the border with the Goa'uld,"
Methos reported cheerfully.

"Hoorah!" Jack called, raising a blue gel covered fist from within the
panel of the jump ship where he was working.

Three weeks had passed since they'd first lost contact with the SGC.
Within a few days of that there had been Goa'uld ships attacking
Quinta's buffer zone. As near as they could figure, the Tok'ra had
transmitted all, or part, of Quinta's manifesto to the System Lords.
They had immediately begun launching preemptive strikes against the
Ishri, though Quinta's fleet seemed to be holding its own. Still, she
was far too busy at the moment to continue the search for her errant
baby brother, and that had given them both a great deal of hope.

Methos leaned against the jump ship as Jack finally stood and wiped his
hands on his coveralls. "How far along are you?" he asked, peering
curiously into the inner workings.

"Three weeks, maybe four to go. Thrusters and stabilizers are pretty
much done. Already tested them. Just some tinkering left there. I'm
working on the fuel distribution now. I'll do communications and
environmentals last."

"Fantastic," Methos complimented. "At this rate we'll be home in time
for Christmas."

"Christmas?" Jack looked startled.

Methos smiled. "Yes, Christmas. In fact, I believe today is your
Thanksgiving holiday."

"Not my holiday," Jack mumbled as he turned to get back to work.

Now it was Methos' turn to look startled. "Come on, Jack. You've been
at this 18 hours a day for the past three weeks. I got Mabel to make us
a little celebration feast. Thought you could use the break."

"Forget it. I hate the holidays."

"Really? Why?" Methos asked curiously. He liked holidays. Anyone's
holidays. Especially the upbeat, happy ones, where people laughed and
had a good time just because they were supposed to. The depressing
ones, where folks were required to evaluate their lives and pray a lot
served their purpose as well, and he was just introspective enough to
appreciate them too.

"If you must know, I don't believe in all that religion crap."

"Why not?" Methos asked, very much surprised. In his experience, a man
as deeply feeling as O'Neill, had to have some core belief that the
world was a good and righteous place which ought to be protected.
Otherwise, why bother? 

Jack closed his eyes and sighed. "Look, I did my bit when I had a kid.
I loved the look on his face Christmas morning when he opened his
presents. I tried to give him everything I never had growing up, but
now... I just don't want to go back there. If that's okay with you?" he
asked sardonically.

"Fine with me," Methos agreed. "And I do understand your grief. But..."
he shook his head not knowing how to ask, or if he should. 

"But you want to understand me?" Jack asked, a hint of tired anger in
his voice.

"That's what friends do, isn't it?" Methos offered tentatively.

"Okay," O'Neill said tightly. "I'll give you the Cliff Notes version. I
thanked God for giving me Charlie. Then I turned my back on the son of
a bitch for taking my kid away. And doing it with my gun," he choked
softly. "Anyway," he added, angrily brushing at his eyes. "It's all a
lie, right? Christ was one of you guys with a god complex!"

"Hey!" Methos interrupted his diatribe. "I never said that."

"You didn't have to," Jack retorted sharply. 

"That's because he wasn't," Methos insisted. "At least not according to
Peter--who was."

Jack paused, taking a deep breath as Methos' words sank in. "Saint
Peter was an Immortal?"

"He carried a sword, didn't he?" Methos replied quietly. "And used it
well, I might add," obliquely referring to an incident recorded in the
Christian bible.

"Cut off the ear of a soldier when they arrested Jesus," O'Neill
nodded. "Okay, so Peter was Immortal. But how do you know Christ

"I did tell you he baptized me," Methos grinned. "I may not have asked
him all the questions I should have, but I did ask the obvious one. Was
Christ one of us? And he said no. Peter didn't know what he was, but he
was damned certain he didn't get any sense of Immortal presence when he
came back. And the wounds were still bleeding, he said. So, whatever he
was, Christ couldn't have been Immortal. Not in the sense that I am, at
any rate."

"And you believed him?"

Methos rolled his eyes and sighed. "It's not the sort of thing we lie
about, because it's not anything we can hide. And while he might have
been deluded about some things, Peter was nobody's fool. You didn't
mess with The Rock. Why the hell do you think I let him baptize me?"

For a long moment Jack was quiet. "Do you believe Christ really was the
Son of God, or God in human form?"

Methos shrugged. "Like the miracles Peter insisted were real, it's
still a mystery to me. Just as it is to the rest of the world."

Jack nodded thoughtfully. "Why do you care about Christmas anyway?" he
finally asked with a tired sigh. "You aren't really Christian. You just
went along for the ride."

"True, I'm not Christian in the strictest sense. Not the way you were
raised to believe. But back then, you joined every cult there was.
Covered all the bases, so to speak. If one god didn't do you right, you
asked another. And, like I said, Peter was a very difficult man to say
no to when he wanted you to do something. I didn't mind getting a
little wet -- just to be on the safe side of anyone's Lord."

"But why the interest in Christmas?" O'Neill repeated.

Methos sighed, leaning back against the ship and crossed his arms. "I
suppose because, at its root, Christmas is about family." He lowered
his eyes, looking away from O'Neill as he pressed forward, dipping into
what were likely to be difficult waters. "The birth of a child is a
precious thing. The death of one more painful than we can often bear. I
will never have a son of my body, Jack, so I can never truly know how
you feel. But I can remember how jealous I was of mortals way back
when. I was bitter and angry, and I cursed the gods for making our kind
barren. But once I left the Horsemen, once I truly became civilized
again, I began to see just how much of an opening that anger and
bitterness had given Ku'ahktar and later, Kronos. Three hundred years
as a mercenary and another thirteen hundred reveling in even worse

He shook his head in disgust. "The first few centuries should have been
enough to purge the madness. The rest... I lost my humanity because I
no longer believed in humanity. Hadn't believed in it even before
Ku'ahktar. And then I met Peter, who swore up and down that a Jew from
Galilee had risen from the dead and wasn't an Immortal. That this rabbi
had preached a creed that went beyond anything I, or anyone for that
matter, had ever heard. Goodness for the sake of goodness. To do the
right thing simply because it is the right thing, and not because some
god will get angry and punish you if you don't follow the rules. And in
those days there were lots of rules when it came to religion."

"There still are," Jack commented softly.

"Yes, but back then you could bribe the gods to let you off the hook.
This was a god who couldn't be bribed -- and didn't need to be, either.
He loved you whether you were good or bad, rich or poor, and would
still love you even if you never repented. The whole idea was
ludicrous! I couldn't for the life of me figure out why He would. I
mean, what did He have to gain from loving everyone in spite of

Jack stared at him thoughtfully. "So, what did you finally figure out?"

"That He loved us because we were His children. Like all good fathers
and mothers love their children. And because of that He gave us free
will to do good or bad, righteousness or evil, and yes, even to save
lives or commit murder. That doesn't mean He approves, just that He
expects us to take responsibility for our actions because that's what
all growing children must learn to do. And the birth of Christ is, for
me, the symbolic celebration of that message. The one that told
Humanity it was time to grow up and stop following all those rules just
because they were afraid to make a mistake. Follow them because it's
the right thing to do."

O'Neill raised an eyebrow at that. "Okay, who are you? And what have
you done with my selfish, cynical minion?"

Methos' shoulders shook with mirth. "I didn't say I believed Christ was
the Son of God, I said I celebrated His message. It's a good message,
whether you believe in Him or not. And it clued me into the whole idea
of family. Gave me that missing link I just couldn't quite seem to
grasp. A father's love for his children, a mother's love for her son.
For three thousand years that defining emotion had eluded me. And in
all that time I had never married a woman with children. Never had a
wife who carried a child that I knew wasn't mine that I didn't
immediately divorce. Fatherhood was an experience I'd assiduously


"Because it wasn't fair that it wasn't mine!"

"But you have been a father," O'Neill finally surmised.

"Many times," Methos nodded. "And while I've never had a son of my
body, I've had a hundred sons and daughters of my heart. Each and every
one of them mortal and gone."

Jack sighed, shaking his head in pain and wonder. "How do you cope? How
do you raise a kid, knowing you're going to outlive him?"

"You don't. You treasure each and every moment they're alive and you
miss them when they're gone, because that is the way of things. Nothing
is set in stone, Jack. Your son did not die by your hand, but by his.
He chose to search for your weapon, knowing it wasn't a toy. Knowing
you had forbidden it. Harsh as this may sound, he exercised the free
will God gave him and made a terrible mistake."

"He was only ten years old!" O'Neill shouted angrily. "What the hell
was I to expect?"

"Did he follow all the other rules of your household?" Methos demanded.
"Did he obey, however reluctantly, his parents' orders?"

O'Neill shrugged, nodding shortly. "Most of the time."

"Then he knew the difference between right and wrong. He knew there was
a reason for the rule, even if he didn't understand it."

"He was just a little boy!"

"And Marta was just a little girl," Methos retorted. "A little girl I
told not to go to the river because the ice was too thin for skating.
She knew it was dangerous, but she would have her way. And it cost her
the life she might have had. But it was not my fault, anymore than
Charlie's death was yours."

It was cold comfort to O'Neill, but it was true, and Methos waited
patiently for Jack to mull it over. Finally, the other man nodded.

"I understand what you're saying, and part of me knows it's right,

"You don't want to blame the victim," Methos finished. "It feels

O'Neill swallowed hard and glanced away. "I always think, 'If I had
done something different.' Not, 'If Charlie had just listened to

"I can't tell you what to think, Jack. But I can offer one bit of
advice." O'Neill looked back at him and Methos smiled kindly. "Be
thankful that you had a son. Be thankful for what time you had
together. Be thankful for all the joy he brought to your life. I can't
promise you that the pain of his loss will fade, but in time, those
good memories will overtake the bad. And they should be his memorial,
not your bitterness and pain."

O'Neill nodded slowly, a small, tentative smile beginning to form on
his lips.

"You hungry?" Methos suddenly asked, deliberately changing the subject.

"Yeah, starving," O'Neill nodded, the smile growing wider as he headed
for the elevator. "Come on, Son of Tok'ra. Let's go have that turkey

"Pseudo turkey dinner," Methos grinned, silently relieved as he

"Whatever. I'm so hungry I could eat a pseudo horse."

"Did I ever tell you I once ate my own horse?" Methos asked brightly.
"And a mule. Two mules, in fact. Not at the same sitting, of course." 

"Did I ever tell you I once lived on tree rats and rain water?"

"Me too!"

"Imagine that."

A short while later they were sharing a meal, some friendly
companionship and a little bit of holiday cheer. Not much of a holiday,
Methos thought, but O'Neill seemed pleased. And that was the important
thing, wasn't it? Giving more than you got? The ultimate civility.

Chapter 11

"Estimating thirty-six hours to departure," O'Neill stated as Methos
sat at the operations console recording his words. "Will attempt gate
egress in sector Fourteen A. Closest planetary mass known to have a
live gate is seven hours transit time. We have no GDO. Repeat. Garage
Door Opener is missing. Will signal by other means. O'Neill out."

"That should do it," Methos said a moment later as he sent the short
burst transmission to the SGC.

After observing communications silence for nearly six weeks and having
seen no sign of Quinta's ships for almost the same amount of time, they
were taking a calculated risk. But a necessary one, they both agreed.
They were two weeks ahead of schedule, and if they didn't let anyone
know they were coming, Hammond had no reason to open the iris. And
disintegrating on arrival was not something either of them fancied,
especially not after everything they'd been through already.

"Anything on the radar?" O'Neill asked after a tense half-hour watching
and waiting.

Methos shook his head. "Nope. If Quinta's still looking for us I'd be
damned surprised. She's got a war to fight. I'm sure she knows what her
priorities are. She is, after all, Tok'ra's daughter."

"Good," O'Neill nodded and headed for the lift. "Then let's get this
place packed up, O Son of Tok'ra. I want you to download anything and
everything that might be useful."

Methos rolled his eyes and saluted. "Sir, yes, sir. O Colonel Satan,

Jack turned slowly. "Do I detect a hint of sarcasm in that tone?"

"Oh, much more than a hint. It practically reeked."

"And is there a reason for reeking at me, O Son of Tok'ra?"

"Yeah," Methos turned in his chair. "The whole 'Son of Tok'ra' thing.
It's old, Jack. And tired. I was no more his biological son than I am
your minion," he added testily. Nor, he thought sadly, did he want to
be reminded of just how miserably he'd failed to be "the good son"
following in his father's footsteps.

O'Neill frowned thoughtfully and nodded. "Okay. The whole Son of Tok'ra
thing has been formally retired. But you are my minion and you will
NEVER escape me!" Jack paused to laugh long and malevolently. "Now, get
back to work. The Great Satan has spoken!" 

Methos grinned widely as the doors slid shut behind the colonel and he
turned back to his console. Minion he could live with. It pleased
O'Neill and it was certainly amusing. And he'd been lots of things, but
never that. Then again, he realized with a small laugh, he wouldn't
ever have tolerated it from anyone but Jack.


For the first time in months O'Neill felt completely satisfied with a
job well done. More than a day had passed since they'd sent their
abrupt message to their friends on Earth and within a few hours he and
Methos would be well on their way home. And not a moment too soon by
his reckoning, O'Neill thought as he did a final check of all the
systems aboard the jump ship.

"Gotta hand it to you, Tok'ra, wherever you are," he murmured. "Not
only did you raise a good kid, but you wrote that phenomenal best
seller 'How To Fix Your Very Own Space Ship -- For Morons'. Well, one
good kid, at any rate," he added with a shake of his head. "Not bad for
an old fart."

"I heard that, Jack," Methos' voice came through loud and clear from
the communications console he'd been adjusting.

O'Neill grinned. "Just checking the sound quality," he temporized. "Got
your attention, didn't I?"

"Right. The sound quality. Whatever."

"How you doin' up there? Almost finished?"

There was a soft sigh. "Just about. I tried to reset the station
defaults, but Mabel is insisting on running a full diagnostic before
she lets me have my wicked way with her."

"My kinda gal," O'Neill chuckled. "Time estimate?"

"Maybe an hour." He could almost see Methos shrug. "More if--"

The warning klaxon chimed and Mabel's soft voice resounded. "Incoming
weapons fire. Incoming--"

"Jack!" Methos shouted over the voice of the computer. "We're under 

The station rocked as something, lots of somethings, pounded the
asteroid. Explosions all around the hanger bay shattered the quiet as
the station's security systems fried the main computers.

"Pierson!" O'Neill called. "Pierson! We're leaving! Get down here now!"
There was no response. "Shit!" Jack cursed angrily as he hurriedly
climbed out of the jump ship.

There was a loud thud followed by a metallic clanging and O'Neill
glanced at the hanger bay doors. "Son of a bitch!" he muttered, looking
toward the elevator and quickly deciding against the risk of getting
trapped between levels, or blocked by wreckage as he raced for the
emergency access tunnels.

A few minutes later he was standing in the ruins of what had once been
the station's operations center. Shielding his face with his forearm
from the thick, noxious fumes produced by the cooked equipment, Jack
hurriedly scanned the room. One side of the ceiling had caved in,
bringing down enough rock to half bury Methos beneath the debris.

Cursing fate, Jack desperately started shifting the pile of stone. It
wasn't long before he uncovered enough of the Immortal to see that the
cave-in had killed him. Not again! he though, frantically shoving rocks
and bits of junk off the body until it was in the clear.

"Come on! Come on, Pierson! Wake up!"

Bones crunched and snapped as they reset themselves, while energy
danced along the various cuts and gashes as they healed, until at last
Methos lungs loudly sucked in air and he coughed up the blood trapped
in his esophagus.

"How ya feeling?" O'Neill asked with suppressed emotion, trying hard
not think about the blood.

"Damned surprised!" Methos spat and wiped his mouth with the back of
his hand. "Quinta knows better than to settle personal debts in the
middle of a war" he snarled angrily. "Tok'ra would have had her hide
for a stunt like this!"

"Sure she does," Jack nodded dubiously. He'd seen too many personal
grudges settled during wars to believe that impracticality was much of
a deterrent to most individuals. "Come on," he nodded toward the access
tunnels as he helped Methos to his feet. "We can debate Her
Naughtiness' punishment later. They're coming in through the hangar bay
and we've got to--"

Methos held up a hand, looking first toward the tunnel then toward the
elevator. "They're here," he said resignedly as he sensed Immortal
presence. A few seconds later the room was filled with Ishri soldiers.
One in particular was familiar to them both.

"Warm greetings from the Supreme Leader, Lord Methos, Beloved Son of
Inanna," Third Leader Naxsos bowed deeply. He suddenly noticed Jack,
surprise clearly written in his features. "And to his companion,
Apollo," he nodded politely.

"That's O'Neill," he frowned. "Colonel Jack O'Neill," he added, using
the Ishri equivalent which ranked him above the equivalent Lt. Colonel
of a Third Leader. 

"My apologies, Second Leader," Naxsos nodded again. "I know the Supreme
Leader will be most pleased you are both well." 

Methos stiffened imperceptibly and Jack moved a little closer until
their shoulders were brushing. He glanced at Jack, who shrugged.
Neither believed a word of it, but then they'd both known Naxsos was

"He doesn't seem to know about you and... Inanna," Jack said quietly in
English as they were summarily led from the room and into the elevator.
"Maybe twisted sister doesn't either."

Methos favored him with a bitter smile. "Doubtful. She was planning a
coup, remember? I'd have had my own eyes and ears on the target--at all
times, if possible. She wouldn't, of course, have told the troops the
real who or why of how Inanna died. Blamed it on the Goa'uld more like.
A good solid enemy they can fight under her auspices."

"Good point," O'Neill nodded as they reached the hangar bay. Both men
gritted their teeth as they passed their jump ship, now under Ishri
guard as they were marched through the mangled blast doors, through a
double set of air locks and into Naxsos' ship.

"I shall be made Second Leader for this," the man told them proudly as
a short while later he showed them to their quarters. Not the holding
cell they expected, but a well-appointed suite of rooms.

Methos glared at him. "You did this on your own? Quinta doesn't know?"

Naxsos' face fell. "The Supreme Leader was most unhappy with my
performance, Beloved Son of Inanna. It was understood that by your age
and the brilliance of your mind that no man could have possibly
foreseen how you would come to observe us as you did. All the same, I
was not given a forward command, but ordered to the rear guard when the
search was discontinued." He smiled suddenly. "But I will be rewarded
for my initiative in scattering the probes which led to your discovery,
Beloved Son of--"

A brutal slap to his face ended Naxsos' joyous declaration and the man
stumbled back against the bulkhead, looking stunned as Methos growled
low in his throat. Jack went still, equally startled by the change, but
refusing to interfere. No doubt the reminder was just as painful as the
knowledge that he had never been beloved.

"Don't ever call me that again!" Methos ordered, stalking toward
Naxsos. "Don't even mention that woman's name in my presence or I'll
have your head!"

"Y-- Yes, Great Ancient," the Third Leader stuttered obsequiously. "My
apologies, Great Ancient."

Again Methos struck him. And then again, for good measure. Jack
swallowed his shock.

"Just so we understand each other," Methos sneered as he finally
stepped back. "Now, bring me my things and get out."

"They are here, Great Ancient," the man pointed toward a large, ornate
cabinet set into one of the walls. "And there are clothes, such as
befit your station. And I shall have food sent. Whatever may be
pleasing to you, Great Ancient."

Methos snorted. "Rags and swill," he muttered angrily, then seemed to
wilt around the edges. "Leave me," he ordered, waiting until the door
slid shut behind Naxsos and he caught sight of the guards in the
corridor. Disgusted with himself, Methos turned his back and took a
seat on the edge of a cushioned bench.

Behind him Jack slowly applauded, watching as Methos started at the
sound. In his attempt to take control of the situation the Immortal had
obviously forgotten his presence. 

"Nice performance. Makes Apophis seem almost pleasant by comparison."
Immortal shoulders sagged in defeat and O'Neill relented. "Nah!" he
grinned, moving to lay a hand on the back of Methos' neck, giving it a
light squeeze. "He's a real prick. You're just the occasional bastard."

"Sorry," Methos glanced up as the hand fell away. "I was angry. Bested
by that...fool!"

"Embarrassing, huh?"

"Killing me," Methos grimaced wryly.

Jack sighed and sat down beside him. "Look, we'll come up with
something. There's gotta be a way out of here. Maybe the jump ship is
still in the trash bin down below."

"Not likely," Methos responded. "And how would we get there anyway? I
could ask for a tour of the ship, but I doubt they'd believe I want to
inspect their garbage."

Jack chuckled. "Yeah, they'd probably dump it just to clean the joint
up and we'd still be screwed."

Methos nodded silently. "It's Quinta then, or nothing," he said sourly.

O'Neill watched him for a long moment. "Thinking of selling us out, are

Methos flushed deeply and lowered his eyes. "I considered it," he
whispered, feeling like a heel. "But it wouldn't do me any good."

"You're right, but you had to consider the options."

Surprised at O'Neill's calm acceptance of his admission, Methos raised
his eyes to stare at the other man.

"Make no mistake, Jack," Methos told him honestly. "If I thought it
would serve a purpose, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

"No, you wouldn't," Jack said with equal honesty. "You'd think about
it, and you'd wish like hell that you still had it in you, but you
wouldn't do it."

Methos snorted in disgust. "Oh, you know me so well," he drawled.

"Yeah, I do," Jack nodded. "Look, Pierson. You wouldn't be you if you
didn't consider every possible angle on survival. Hell, I'd be ashamed
of you if you didn't. But you won't give it up to Quinta. Of that I'm

"How can you be so sure," he asked softly, then added even more
quietly, "when I'm not?"

"Because she's your big sister and you're in competition with her.
Ergo, no double dealing on the side."

Methos stared at the colonel in disbelief then suddenly started
laughing. "For a man your age," he finally grinned. "You are far too

"And for a man your age, you're way too slow on the uptake. Now, let's
check out our stuff. Maybe Naxsos is so dumb he left us the guns."

Chapter 12

"No guns, no sword," Jack sighed, "but hey, your CD collection's

"Cool!" Methos quipped. "Now I can beat Quinta to death with pulsating
atonal guitar riffs and pounding rhythms."

"Has merit," Jack nodded. "Both innovative and nasty. And it is the
devil's own music as my granddad used to say. I am deeply impressed, my

"Give it up, Jack," Methos sighed despondently. "Admit it. We're

"I admit to nothing and yet take credit for everything."

"Then it's your fault we're here, O Great Satan."

"Actually, that was my brother, God, who stuck his big toe in the
primordial swamp," Jack retorted, smilingly widely at Methos' wry

"Okay," O'Neill said briskly, changing the subject as he found a place
on one of the overly ornate couches decorating the room. "Pity party's
over, Pierson. I'll take the first watch, you get some rest."

"Right," Methos nodded. When in doubt play soldier -- as if it would do
any good, he thought despairingly. Then again, who knew what chance
might present itself? He might need that rest soon enough. "Wake me in
four hours," he murmured as he lay down. O'Neill nodded and he closed
his eyes.

Instead, it was less than an hour though when the presence of another
Immortal woke Methos and he quickly sat up.

"God, I hate this," he muttered at Jack's questioning glance. "A
universe filled with Immortals and me without a sword."

The doors slid open and Naxsos bowed, asking permission to enter.
Methos stood and nodded imperiously. The Third Leader came in, followed
by several soldiers bearing trays laden with food which were quickly
placed on a side table. He bowed again as the rest saluted in the Ishri
way then all of them hurriedly departed.

"Apparently, the Great Ancient doesn't need a sword to make them fear
for their heads." Jack snorted in amusement. He sniffed the air as
Methos went over to the food and lifted a tray cover. "A few choice
words and they think you can bite their heads off."

"Won't stop Quinta, though," Methos shrugged as he went on lifting

"So, what do have here?" Jack asked as he came over. "Anything
particularly yummy?"

"How should I know?" Methos grumbled. "Take your pick. Blue slimy fishy
thing, purple berry stuff, or cheesy yellow and smells like old socks."

O'Neill shook his head, curling his lip in disgust. "Got a couple of
MRE's left in the packs," he offered.

Methos covered the trays. "Works for me." He grabbed one of the silver
dishes and went to the door. As it opened, he flung it and its contents
across the corridor almost striking one of the guards.

"You call this food?" he shouted as the man cringed. "I wouldn't feed
it to swine!"

Methos stepped back, grinning as the door slid shut. "Gotta keep up the
act," he said in response to Jack's look of surprise.

"There's a good idea in there somewhere," Jack murmured thoughtfully
and Methos paused on his way to retrieve the food packs.

"Yeah, a bit of fun before we die."

"No," Jack shook his head. "But give me time, something'll come."


They spent the next few days as guests of the Ishri traveling toward
Quinta's flagship. While they waited for a chance to escape they amused
themselves as best they could by listening to Methos' CDs or harassing
Naxsos and his staff. They complained about the food and they
complained about the clothes. If the room was too hot for Methos an
hour later it was too cold for Jack. Methos hated the décor, then Jack
complained they'd removed his favorite couch. They tried giving the men
separate quarters, but Methos complained he was bored and they brought
his companion back. By the time they arrived, Methos predicted after
complaining about the computer regulated temperature of the bath water,
Naxsos would either have a nervous breakdown or shove the pair of them
out an airlock and risk Quinta's wrath.

They were not so blessed, and Methos silently sighed when the hour
finally came when Naxsos arrived with a gift from Quinta and a message
to prepare themselves to board the flagship.

"A gift?" Jack asked after the Third Leader had gone, leaving Methos
with a large parcel. The Immortal opened it carefully and suddenly
groaned in dismay. "What?!"

Methos winced as he held up a shirt made of some shiny yellow, spandex
type material trimmed in black. "It's a uniform. Mine, in fact."

Jack reached for the trousers, grinning widely. "Sharp!"

"Sharp as the blade that's going to separate me from my neck."

"What, no torture first?"

Methos shook his head. "She wouldn't have me dress for that," he sighed
almost regretfully. "I'd guess a summary execution is in order."

Jack stood quietly as they both accepted the inevitable. "How do you
want to play this?" he finally asked.

Methos grimaced. "I'm not wearing this ugly thing, that's for certain!"
he sneered, tossing the shirt aside. "Whatever show Quinta wants to put
on for the masses isn't going to have me as its star."

"Then we go in walking tall and take our shot."

"Go out with a bang?" Methos smiled bleakly. "No, Jack. She's going to
kill me anyway, but I can maybe bargain for your life. That won't be
possible if we fight."

O'Neill shook his head. "All I'm saying is that if we see our chance,
we take it. To hell with the consequences."

Methos nodded slowly. If Jack had accepted the fact that he would die,
and given a choice between dying alone or dying beside a comrade in
arms, who was he to argue this point of honor? The fact that neither
Quinta, nor Jack himself, for that matter, knew O'Neill was an Ancient,
rather than a mere mortal, might just give the colonel a chance to
escape once the shooting was done.

For a moment, Methos considered telling Jack what Tok'ra had done. But
the chance that Quinta would have them both beheaded seemed very
likely. And beheading would kill an Ancient, just as it would end the
life of an Immortal. Which meant there was no point in telling O'Neill
anything. Methos would just have to hope the colonel would get the
chance to discover Tok'ra's little gift all on his own.

With a sigh, Methos smiled broadly. "Now, what shall we wear to our
execution? Quinta's right about one thing. If we're going to go out, we
might as well do it in style."

O'Neill pursed his lips thoughtfully then went to his pack and found
his notepad and pen. He made a quick, but accurate sketch of what he
wanted, added a few notes on materials and sizes then headed for the
door. Methos glanced at the paper as he passed, nodding briefly as he
accepted Jack's choice. The door opened on Naxsos, who was still
waiting in the corridor. Before the man could say a word Jack tore the
page from the pad and handed it to him.

"You will make us that," he pointed to the paper. "In that color, that
material and with those decorations. Nothing more, nothing less," he
told Naxsos. "And don't forget the gloves. We aren't going anywhere
until we're appropriately attired. Got it?"

The Third Leader looked at the paper and nodded. "As you wish,

Methos nodded approvingly as Jack sat back on the couch. It would take
the Ishri a while, but in the end they would get it done right,
notwithstanding Quinta's own plans. A very public execution. All very
properly done. To rid the universe of her brother -- the matricide.


"You never did say," Jack began quietly as he adjusted his hat. "But...
Do you personally believe in God?"

Methos cocked his head. A fair question, he thought, after a wait of
several hours where they'd alternately paced and re-enacted one last
Headbanger's Ball with Methos' CD collection. One could only deny the
inevitable for so long.

"I believe that when mortals die they go to a different plain of
existence. If that's a belief in God, then I suppose the answer is
yes," he responded. 

"And Immortals?"

"It's not quite the same thing for us."

"How's that?" Jack asked curiously.

Methos inhaled deeply, trying to find the right words. "When I was with
Tok'ra.... You know, fighting against Inanna's symbiot? I somehow felt
the souls of all the Ishri I killed. Their thoughts, their lives, their
very essences. But it didn't fill me like a Quickening. And, I suppose,
all that energy had to go somewhere. I didn't feel it dissipate around
me. It just sort of...moved beyond me, to somewhere else, if that makes
any sense."

"So, you think I'll go to heaven?" Jack asked with a wry smile.

"Heaven is a modern concept," Methos shrugged. "Because until the
Middle Ages there was no Hell -- unless you consider Tartarus to be the
ancient equivalent -- a place where one pays for the error of their
ways for all eternity. And the Hebrews never believed in an afterlife
at all. The Christian idea, of course, is that one's soul goes to God.
Which doesn't negate the Hindu concept of reincarnation. I mean, the
belief that God passes judgment on the state of your soul at death is
widely accepted by most religions. So, even if every soul goes to God,
by whatever name you call that higher power, who says God wants
everyone to stay? If mortals are all here to learn some greater lesson,
who says that when you die God can't turn around and say, 'Close, but
no match, kid. Gotta go back and try again.'"

"Interesting idea," O'Neill grinned. "We go to God, but He decides we
need more training."

"Basically, yeah."

Jack sighed and fidgeted with his gloves. "My granddad believed we
joined with God. Became one with the Spirit, completely losing our
individuality as we joined the greater whole. Kind of scary, y' know.
Becoming something bigger, but less at the same time, and never again
to be me."

Methos nodded. "Very scary. But somewhere in there has to be the idea
of free will. Otherwise, why make your pitch with prophets and priests?
Me, I think God is bigger than that. I think He wants you, but only
when you truly want to be with Him. You can come back if you want to,
as often as you like, until you're ready to be everything and nothing."

"But you're not going to God," Jack stated quietly.

"Not as far as I know," Methos sighed. "And I won't be evolving anytime
soon either."

"You won't?" Jack asked, deeply concerned. Not for himself, but for
Methos' sake. "What will happen? Will Quinta...?"

"Take my Quickening?" Methos finished nervously. "Not if I can help it.
I'm not powerful enough by Tok'ra's standards to evolve, but from some
of the things he said when he rescued me back in Egypt, I gather I can
remain in a non-corporeal state for as long as it takes. Or until I
find a suitable body," he shrugged. "Tok'ra implied that only a dead
infant can take the whole of my life force and be changed by my
Quickening. But I think that's just for conformity's sake. Taking an
adult body would certainly create a whole slew of difficulties, not
least of which is the deceased's former life. Problem is, there's no
way an infant's brain can retain all that I am. The synapses just
aren't viable. I'd be a child and have to learn everything all over

"But you'll be Immortal."

"Not necessarily," Methos shook his head. "The energy which makes us
Immortal seems to react on the body only when violent death occurs.
It's a sort of fear reaction, I'd guess. Coming blindly into play at
the time because we have no access to our true selves once we are
corporeal. As I understand it, I could live and die and go through the
process a thousand times as a mortal before that happens again."

"But you do have a choice," Jack pointed out.

"Some choice," Methos grimaced. "Float around the universe for a
hundred thousand years without any kind of human contact -- although I
do like to travel," he grinned ironically. "The other? Give up who and
what I am to become someone else. Of course," he pointed out. "That
does hold some appeal. No past mistakes, no regrets. A clean slate at
the start."

"Whatever you choose," Jack said thoughtfully. "I'm sure it'll be the
right choice for you."

"Even if isn't," Methos shrugged lightly. "It's not like I'll have to
live with it forever. Right?"

"That's the spirit," Jack agreed. "Be decisively indecisive."

Methos nodded. "A wise course of action, perfected over many

The door chimed once and they both turned to stare at the entrance.

"You ready?" Jack asked as if they were simply headed out on another
mission. Which in a way, Methos supposed, they were.

He nodded briefly and carefully put on his hat. "Ready, Colonel."

Together they walked to the door and exited to face Naxsos and his
guards. The Third Leader seemed taken aback for a moment. The pure,
dazzling white of their formal uniforms was the symbol of death in
Ishri society. But the gold of the braided trim at collar, cuffs and
epaulets in contrast, symbolized the sun, and therefore, signified
life. A mixed message to the Ishri, though not one Methos cared to
explain at the moment. 

For O'Neill, the uniform simply meant honor, dignity and a way of
living one's life with true camaraderie. And though Methos subscribed
to neither way of thinking, he was simply pleased to do this one last
favor for Jack, who'd done his best to offer him those same things in
which he honestly believed.

Finally, Naxsos bowed and turned to lead them up the corridor
surrounded by a contingent of guards. A few minutes later they found
themselves back on Quinta's flagship, standing in a large antechamber
lined with even more guards. Methos took a deep cleansing breath as
they moved toward the large double doors, which doubtless led to the
throne room where Inanna had once held court. He glanced at Jack, whose
face was set in a cold mask of determination and set his own. They
paused at the doors, waiting.

"It's been a pleasure serving with you, Methos," O'Neill said gravely
and offered his hand.

With equal gravity the ancient Immortal accepted it. "We had a good
run, Colonel. May your welcome be as warm as mine has been on the other

Jack laughed softly. "Thanks, minion, but I'm hoping for better

"Ouch!" Methos muttered. "Sorry."

O'Neill grinned. "It's definitely been interesting."

"It has indeed," he agreed and took another deep breath. "Now, shall we
do this thing?"

O'Neill nodded once.

"Right," Methos sighed then cleared his mind to face the moment as he
signaled Naxsos with a nod.

The huge, heavy, old-fashioned doors opened slowly, and Methos vaguely
wondered at the anachronism. With even less thought, he wrote it off to
Inanna's vanity, refusing to allow himself to be intimidated by such
infantile gestures. Quinta might be the elder, but neither she, nor
their mother, had ever been as well schooled in the arts of
intimidation and terror.

It was not mad Death, but the self-assured Horseman who strode into
that room. The colonel at his side as they passed the long silent
gauntlet of Quinta's courtiers. Immortal presence filled the great
hall, though mortals seemed to be equally represented among the Ishri
nobility. And in the background, Methos noticed the guards standing
behind the great seat of power -- dressed the same as the others, but
all bearing the tall, double edged, black painted axe that had once
been Tok'ra's insignia. For the moment, neither blade was facing
outward, though that would change as Quinta pronounced their sentence.
The gold edge for life -- silver white for death.

But this was too surreal, Methos thought as they approached the dais.
There was Quinta, ruler now to more than a dozen systems, seated alone
on the wide double throne that had once held their parents on the rare
occasions they held court. Her long golden tresses were done in the old
style Tok'ra had favored on his daughter -- braided and bound above her
head, the ends hanging loose in wild ringlets that cascaded over her
shoulders. Her dress was a simple sheath of spun gold. And, like the
brilliance of her bracelets and hair ornaments, she was simply
exquisite. Everything about her said that Quinta was life to these
people. A telling counterpoint to his own appearance.

As they reached the foot of the dais Methos raised his chin and looked
Quinta in the eye, silently daring her to do more than pronounce
sentence upon them and be done with the matter. His whole demeanor
stating clearly that he was superior to her -- no longer a child to be
mocked. For an instant, her eyes went blank and a shiver of dread
passed through him as he distantly realized what he might just have
done. Then it passed and she rose, lifting a hand to her royal guard.

The heavy axe poles thudded as they were lifted and the blades turned,
then the entire court sank to its knees as Quinta bowed her head in his

"Welcome, My Lord Methos. Come and take your rightful place at my

Chapter 13

"Did she just say...?"

Methos glanced at O'Neill, not quite through indulging his shock. "Uh
huh," he nodded.

"She just gave you rank?"

"Uh huh."

"And you're just standing here?"

"Uh huh."

O'Neill's face was unreadable, but his eyes flashed with anger. "Well,
get your ass up there before she changes her mind!"

"Uh uh."

"Are you insane?!" he whispered. "That's an order, Pierson!"

Methos shook his head fiercely and looked back at Quinta, who was
waiting patiently for some response. Not at all like her, he thought,
confused. But then, he really didn't know her, did he?

"Greetings, Quinta," he finally said, giving her a half nod in lieu of
bowing. "I thank you for your generous offer, but I have other
obligations which at this time do not allow me to accept the honor so
graciously accorded."

"Of course you do," she gushed, a little flustered, gesturing
discreetly as she allowed the court to rise. "My apologies, Mr.

Jack's loud snort of laughter quickly turned into a hacking cough. But
Methos was too stunned to do more than stare wildly at the other man as
he pounded his back. Mr. President?! How the hell had she come up with

"Forgive him, Quinta," Methos temporized. "Colonel O'Neill hasn't been
well since we last parted company."

"I see," she nodded. "Your most trusted advisor is, of course, given
leave to excuse himself," she offered.

"Thank you," Methos sighed. "Get out now!" he muttered just as Jack was
getting himself back under control.

"Not necessary," he smiled at Quinta, ignoring Methos' icy glare. "I'm
perfectly fine. Wouldn't miss this for the world."

Quinta nodded graciously, returning to her seat. "Now, may we discuss
the terms of our alliance?"

Methos heaved a silent sigh of despair as Jack cleared his throat,
obviously suppressing another bout of hysterical laughter. The whole
situation was ludicrous, he thought. He wasn't about to negotiate
anything with Quinta -- not if he could help it. But maybe he could
disabuse her of this bizarre notion. She seemed reasonable enough.

"First," he began. "I'd like to know how you came to the conclusion
that I am the President?"

Quinta leaned back against the throne and smiled. "You are very clever,
Methos. Having your people tell mine that you did not negotiate such
important matters face to face. That the details must be worked out by
underlings. Then, coming yourself to observe my fleet. To see with your
own eyes whether I was worthy to be your ally. Still, you are our
father's son. And yet..." she added slyly, obliquely referring to his
assassination of Inanna. "A man who would do as you and I know you have
done... Such a man would have to be true to his Immortal nature. To
rule over his mortal flocks, as I do mine. Only that man would have the
right to ascend the throne of Tok'ra and rule beside me."

"Fascinating," Methos responded with a tight smile, hearing the
undercurrent of threat couched in her words. 

"Just play along," O'Neill advised quietly and Methos nodded. 

"So," he smirked cruelly. "What did you have in mind?"


"Marriage," Methos croaked in horror as the door closed and he fell
limply into the nearest chair.

When he had lost the ability to speak he couldn't recall. Probably
after Quinta's strategic "proposal" had been announced. Luckily,
O'Neill had immediately asked for a private room to discuss matter. And
now, Jack was snickering. 

"I see what you mean about 'marry the girl or die.'"

Methos glared furiously at the other man. "It's not funny, O'Neill!
She's mad!"

"About you!" Jack smirked.

"You don't get it, do you?" Methos hissed angrily. "She doesn't just
want a partner. She wants a partner in crime!"

"Oh, come on, Mr. President," O'Neill grinned. "She seems okay. A
little nutty, yeah. Way off on her facts. But--"

"Will you listen to me!" Methos growled in frustration. "She a
sociopath looking for a leader. Ever hear of tandem serial killers,
Jack?" He watched as the other man's face grew still. "I don't know
when she discovered Inanna murdered Tok'ra, or when she first came up
with the idea of getting rid of her. But she didn't kill Inanna, Jack.
And not because she didn't have the means at her disposal, but because
she was incapable of striking down her control. Can't you see? Quinta
needs to be led! And now that she views me as more powerful than
Inanna..." He shook his head and turned away. "That's why she was
looking for me."

O'Neill watched him thoughtfully for a long moment. "I do get it,
Pierson," he said soberly. "The question is, can you control her?"

Methos pursed his lips. "Probably. She's a dog looking for a master and
she already believes I'm it. But she's also a gun waiting to go off,
Jack. Eventually, I'd have to point her at something."

"We'll worry about aiming her later. For now," he smiled wryly. "You
two kids get married."

"What?!" Methos stood up so fast he nearly fell out of the chair. It
was obvious now that Quinta had never felt any real familial affection
for him. And why should she have? But still he had to admit, "She's my
sister! And I've never even liked her much!"

"So," Jack held up his hands, "we make it a sham marriage. You know,
affairs of state, but you never do the wild thing. Just don't tell her
that. I think she's kinda got the hots for you, Pierson."

Methos grimaced in disgust. Quinta's need for him aside, in one sense
there was no moral injunction among Immortals against siblings marrying
-- although he'd never heard of such a thing, even if the sibling was
mortal. There was, after all, no actual biological connection, nor the
problem of incestuous offspring. Still, the psychological taboos were
just as pertinent as those of mortals raised in the same cultural
environment. It was unhealthy to say the least. At worst it was
perverse. And yet, he'd seen plenty of royal siblings marry over the
centuries and that had never bothered him. But this... For him? Methos'
skin crawled just thinking about it.

"I can't," he shook his head, shocked that O'Neill would even suggest
such a thing. The social stigma against incest in the modern era was
just as powerful as it had ever been.

"You can," Jack insisted. "Because we also tell her it needs witnesses.
All the formal stuff. That way, she's got to contact Hammond. We get a
team in and a way out at the same time. And she thinks you're the
President, right?"

Witnesses? Hammond? "This is a nightmare!" Methos groaned, slumping
back in his chair and covering his eyes. "And what the hell does her
thinking I'm the President have to do with anything?"

"He's got a job on Earth, right? A very important job."

Methos lowered his hands and slowly nodded. "She does think I'm in
charge. And she probably wouldn't interfere with that. But... Jack,
she'd expect me to come back from time to time," he added nervously.

"Screw that!" O'Neill told him. "We tell her there's an emergency, get
you home and Quinta can kiss your skinny ass goodbye!"

Methos hurriedly considered the idea. If he worked it right, made her
think she'd insulted his honor or something, she might not even
consider chasing him down once he was gone. 

"All right," he finally nodded. "I'll play Caesar to her Cleopatra.
Let's just hope," he added at Jack's questioning glance, "there's no
Mark Anthony around."


"Another incoming signal from the Ishri, General. Do we respond?"

Hammond frowned at the console. "We said there'd be no alliance, what
more do these people want?" he muttered.

"Uh, sir," the technician interrupted. "There's something odd coming
through with it. Sounds like Morse Code."

"Let's here it."

The repetitive tapping sounded over the loudspeakers drawing the
attention of everyone in operations. Behind them, one of younger
technicians finally muttered, "What the hell is 'the good ship

Hammond suddenly laughed. "Son, it's the answer to a prayer! Sergeant,"
he ordered the technician. "Establish visual contact with the Ishri

"But, sir, our orders..."

"Our orders state that we are not to contact the Ishri. I don't believe
there was anything in there about them contacting us. Remember, we have
two people missing in their space and at least one of them is trying to
reach us. And I guarantee you, it isn't Shirley Temple. You there," he
turned to another tech as the first worked the controls. "Get Dr.
Jackson and Major Carter down here now."

A few moments later, just as Daniel and Carter were entering the
operations center, the signal clarified into something more than
static, as a hoped for, but despaired of image, at last revealed
itself. Seated on what looked like a giant marble love seat were Methos
and an unidentified woman, while standing beside them was the colonel.

"It's them," Daniel whispered. "They're all right."

Carter nodded as a palpable amount of tension drained from the room. In
the days since that last transmission from O'Neill, too many questions
had remained unanswered as their estimated time of arrival had come and
gone. Had they been captured? Killed? Or were they simply unable to
make contact?

"Greetings from Ishri central!" the colonel announced, surprising every
one as he broke protocol by not allowing the general to speak first.
"General Hammond," he went on. "I have the great pleasure to announce
to the world the impending nuptial bliss of our beloved President
Methos and Supreme Leader Quinta of the Ishri Empire."

"President? Methos?" Hammond uttered. This couldn't be a joke, he
thought. Even O'Neill had his limits.

"And here's the great man himself to say a few words on the subject."
The Immortal in question sank deep into his chair, pressing the bridge
of his nose with one hand as he shook his head. "Or, maybe not,"
O'Neill shrugged. "Anyway, wedding's set for.. Well, as soon as you
guys arrive. Right here on the good ship Lollipop. And as you know,
according to our ancient custom -- begun by the High Priests of the
Mukluks in Emerald City when the moon was in the seventh house and
Venus aligned with Mars -- all Presidential weddings must be witnessed
by the finest contingent of our glorious President's very own Imperial
Immortal Guard."

Eyes bulging with the effort not to laugh, Hammond nodded in
understanding. "Of course it must, Colonel. And may I tender my
sincerest congratulations on your upcoming nuptials, Mr. President."

No one did sullen better than Methos, he thought, silently laughing as
the Immortal waved a hand in disgust. "Just make the arrangements,"
Methos sneered. "And be quick about it, or I'll have your stars! And
don't forget to send my ruby slippers!" he added with a growl.

"Certainly, Your Presidentialness!" At that, Hammond mentally added a
sword to the list of ordinance he'd be including -- along with a pair
of oversized ruby slippers from the costume shop he'd taken his
granddaughter to the previous Halloween. 

Suddenly, Quinta began to speak and Daniel stepped forward to
translate. "She's says she's sending a single transport ship through
the combat gate outside our system to pick up the witnesses, who are
most welcome. And she looks forward to sharing a mutually beneficial
relationship with the subjects of Earth as we fight the Goa'uld

Hammond cleared his throat. "Tell her we'll get back to her on that.
Once we've made suitable arrangements of course." No way was he putting
his people on one of her ships. Maybe the Tok'ra would be willing to
loan them one of their transports which Teal'c could fly.

Daniel translated the general's message and Quinta nodded at her
husband to be. "Again I congratulate you on the cleverness of your
subordinates, my bro--" 

Daniel stumbled over the last word as he saw Methos cringe and
swallowed his shock. "Sorry, General, didn't get that last word.
Probably a colloquial endearment." Thankfully, Hammond looked

A moment later, after being given leave to break off the contact,
General Hammond stood back and sighed. "Major Carter. Dr. Jackson.
Conference room. Now! And have someone contact Teal'c and Sergeant

Chapter 14

"A truly fascinating plan," Methos complimented Quinta as she finished
her nearly hour-long rambling diatribe on how they were going to
conquer the Goa'uld and make the universe a safe place for the unhappy
multitudes. His heart seemed to sink a little deeper into his stomach
when she smiled in triumph. "And how, may I ask, did you come up with
this bit of brilliance?"

"Oh, it wasn't only me. You remember Nanny Hov'ah. Her husband, Devak,
was your first tutor. We used to spend hours discussing the future and
what would happen once Father's war against the Goa'uld was won. Some
of my best centuries were spent in their care."

Methos hurriedly turned his face toward the door as another servant
entered so that she didn't see him blanch. Memories assailed him.
Unpleasant and confusing until it all fell neatly into place. Tok'ra
shouting, soldiers coming, black painted ax blades turning to silver,
then two familiar faces suddenly gone and him left completely in
Inanna's care until another tutor had been found.

Then something else fell into place. Quinta always had a plan. Or so
Methos the child had thought. But the man knew better. Like Kronos,
Quinta was brilliant enough to devise a scheme and gather the necessary
tools. But the execution of the plan -- the logistics, tactics, the
chess game of the enemy's moves to their moves -- that was beyond them.
And like Kronos, Quinta's plans were those of others. Greater minds
than hers had come up with these ideas. Only she had been left
unchecked to carry them out. No wonder Tok'ra had all but banished
Quinta to the rear guard. He wouldn't have blamed her, not Tok'ra. But
he would have very carefully isolated his daughter.

"Is something wrong?" Quinta asked, real concern coloring her voice.

Methos turned back to her distractedly. "I'm fine, Ninta. Just tired.
It's been a long day and tomorrow will be even longer."

His sister suddenly laughed. "Ninta! How sweet of you," she pressed a
hand to his cheek. "Father used to call me that!" Then her face grew
ugly with unmasked fury. "Until that monster killed him! I'm glad you
destroyed her," Quinta leaned forward and kissed him lightly. "She said
you were both dead. That the Goa'uld had surprised Father. I tried not
to believe her, I swear it!"

"It doesn't matter now," Methos choked, desperate to get away from her
and from the memories. "Inanna's gone and--"

"And we're together," she sighed, leaning closer. Too close, until
Methos couldn't breath and he gently pushed her away, careful not to
arouse her suspicions.

"I'm tired, Ninta. And you must be, too. It can't have been easy
carrying the burden alone."

"The burden of greatness is never easy, but we will bear it together

"Right," Methos nodded, hurriedly standing as she reached for him
again. "Now, get some rest. I'll see you in the morning."

"You are so like Father," she sighed happily.

Methos frowned, unsure of what she meant.

"And to think I begrudged you the little time you had together."

If she only knew, Methos thought sardonically.

"But I was so very young," she went on, completely ignorant of the pain
she was causing. "And I have never had a use for children. Strange

"We've all made mistakes," he told her gently and Quinta smiled at his
small words of forgiveness. She really could not help being the way she
was. Not really, he thought sadly. A predisposition towards dependence
and sociopathic tendencies Sean Burns might have said. But to Methos it
did matter. He hadn't really known her then and he'd likely never know
her now.

"Tomorrow," she told him quietly as she followed him to the door.
"Tomorrow we will begin again. And there will be no more secrets
between us."

Her words lay heavy in his belly as the door slid shut behind him. What
did she mean 'no more secrets'? Did she really believe he would marry
her and give up his advantageous knowledge of Tok'ra's combat tactics?
He wouldn't be the man she believed him to be if he did that! No, he
thought, silently shaking his head as he wandered back toward his
quarters, a handful of guards discreetly trailing behind. That couldn't
be it. And yet... She had sounded so absolutely certain. 

'No more secrets between... Us.'

Something about the phrasing bothered him. Something he should
remember, but couldn't.

Sod it! he thought with a mental shrug of disgust. He'd be gone before
she had a chance to wheedle anything out of him. As if she could! The
cavalry was on its way and he didn't really have a problem with turning
his back on Quinta and her mad mob of Immortal followers. They weren't
any concern of his now, were they? On the other side of the universe
from his little comfy corner, where she and they could kill Goa'uld and
fight amongst themselves for the best pickings to their hearts'

Mortals would die, sure, but they died every minute of every day and
he'd lived with that fact for more years than he could remember.
Eventually, though, they would take Quinta down. After all, the Ishri
had been used to Inanna, who'd ruled in absentia and never bothered
anyone as long as Inanna got what Inanna wanted. Quinta was definitely
a hands-on kind of girl. Things on the home front might be chaotic now,
but they'd settle down. And then they'd start to notice all the little
things Quinta interfered with that Inanna never had. Like government
and economic policy and sending their children off to make war against
those nasty symbiots who'd never annoyed them before.

Methos laughed aloud, ignoring his guards. If Quinta's reign lasted a
decade, much less a thousand years, he'd be bloody well surprised.


The shuttle doors opened and O'Neill watched as his people quickly




The man being greeted laughed as Carter, Daniel and Teal'c came
forward. "Hey kids! What's shakin'?"

"Where's Adam?" Daniel immediately wanted to know.

"Nice to see you too," O'Neill muttered. "Pierson's fine. Had a little
personal business he had to take care of."

"He's with the she-demon?!"

Jack turned at the sound of Amanda's voice. "That's enough of that,

She frowned, gritting out a, "Yes, sir," before joining the others
filing down the ramp.

"Well?" Daniel asked quietly.

The colonel sighed. "Right now, Pierson's being dressed for his
wedding. A somewhat reluctant bridegroom, but we work with what we

Bear and the strike team lined up, all dressed in the same formal
whites O'Neill had chosen when he'd thought he was going to die.

"Thanks for coming to the party," O'Neill greeted them, nodding his
thanks to Alexander, who handed him two heavy suit bags and a large,
equally heavy carry case.

"Wouldn't miss it," the Immortal grinned happily. "So, what's the
plan?" he asked quietly as O'Neill shooed away an Ishri who wanted to
carry his bags and led the strike force over to a sheltered niche in
the hangar bay.

"Plan?" O'Neill feigned shock. "I was supposed to have a plan?"

Alexander grimaced. "That bad, huh?"

The colonel shrugged. "Not as bad as it sounds," he answered honestly.
"Pierson swears he can do some fancy footwork to get the old girl to
let us leave after the wedding. Important Presidential stuff needs
doing. Gotta have that personal touch back home."

A few of the others rolled their eyes, but no one asked how or why
things had gotten so out of hand.

"But you don't think it'll be that easy," MacLeod stated simply.

O'Neill shook his head. "I'm hoping he's right, but let's keep our
options open."

"A wise decision," Ramirez agreed as the others nodded.

"Glad you like it," O'Neill responded. "At the moment, there's a
reception going on. Anyone who's anybody in the Ishri hierarchy. You
guys are expected. Teal'c?" The big man gave the colonel his complete
attention. "I want you to stay with the ship. I need you to make sure
we can leave at a moment's notice."

"My thoughts exactly, O'Neill," the Jaffa nodded.

"What about the rest of us?" Carter asked.

"Mix. Mingle. Play it by ear," O'Neill shrugged.

"And us?" MacLeod asked.

"Follow my lead and arch with the rest of the team when the time comes.
You do know how to do that, right?"

MacLeod grimaced as Sergeant Bear grinned. "Had 'em all practicing on
the way in," he advised Jack. "You wouldn't believe how many of them
have never attended a military wedding."

O'Neill grimaced wryly, but seemed to relax. "Okay. It's show time
people. Make me proud."

"And where will you be, Colonel?" Carter asked as he turned to leave.

"Where else?" O'Neill asked sarcastically. "Trying to keep the groom
from climbing out an airlock!"


"It's definitely... You," O'Neill finally announced as he took in the
strange sight of Methos dressed in Quinta's choice of wedding garb.

"Oh, shut up!" Methos retorted, wishing he could sit down in the heavy
pleated skirt and have a decent sprawl topped by a really good sulk.
But one didn't just sprawl in Sumerian formal wear. One didn't even
stride. One...paced -- with dignity -- lots and lots of manly dignity.
Because if one didn't, the more private bits of manly nature tended to
peek out at the most inopportune of times.

"Like the hat," O'Neill added another grating comment.

The Immortal shot him an angry glare. "It's a head dress, not a hat,"
Methos gritted. "And it's meant to symbolize... Well, I don't remember
what it symbolizes, but it was something really macho."

"It's a king thing. I knew that."

"Of course you did," Methos nodded -- carefully. "Just like you knew
the Babylonians ripped off Sumerian culture."

"Hey, I've met Babylonians," O'Neill said defensively. "And they all
ran around in the same kind of skimpy little outfits."

"This isn't skimpy!" Methos denied. "It's... It's light. Airy. Made for
desert climes."

"I wouldn't climb around any desert in that get up if my life depended
on it! As for it being airy," he leaned sideways and Methos nervously
readjusted the cloth that hung loosely at his bare hips. "Well, I'll
give you that. But light? Those decals look like solid gold."

"They are gold," Methos retorted in frustration. "And they're meant to
hold everything in place."

"Good luck!"

"That's it!" Methos shouted, wrapping his arms around his mostly bare
chest. "You know, five thousand years ago, when your ancestors were
still wearing rancid animal furs and rooting around in peat bogs, this
was considered the height of fashion. Men killed each other to get the
chance to dress like this!"

"Chicks used to dig this look, huh?"

"Big time," Methos sullenly agreed.

"Actually, it's not that bad," Jack said in a calming tone.

"You really think so?" Methos asked hopefully.

"Heck, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I know General
Hammond will never, and I mean never, let anyone see the tape from the
SGC's video feed."

Methos bit his lip, stifling a miserable groan. Did he have to be
reminded of that now?! Quinta had insisted that her worlds and his be
allowed to view the "sacred" festivities.

Dignity. Courage, he told himself as the door opened and Naxsos
announced that all was in place for the proceedings. Just imagine
you're back in Sumer. It's a hot summer day and hordes of people will
be shouting your name and throwing lotus blossoms in your path.

Instead, he realized as reality smacked him in the face when they
reached the Great Hall and he saw all the familiar faces, Sumer seemed
a very long way away as he slowly moved past the line of dignitaries
where his bride awaited.

"Nice outfit, Mr. Prez," MacLeod snickered as he passed.

"Now this is what I meant by a come as you were party!" Gina de
Valicourt teased warmly. 

"And he certainly was!" Amanda grinned. 

He met Daniel's eyes and saw sympathy and understanding there. The rest
of his friends wore their military masks, and if they were laughing at
least it was silently and without comment. Normally, Methos suddenly
realized as he approached the throne and bowed to Quinta, he wouldn't
have cared what anyone thought of his attire. And certainly not at a
time like this! But Jack's comments... 

Inwardly, Methos started laughing as Quinta made a great show of rising
and rearranging herself so that he could be seated. Jack's comments, he
sighed silently as he moved to stand beside her, had been designed to
distract him. A distraction he hadn't really needed, because he wasn't
really worried. Long before the wedding supper was over and the newly
married couple could be installed in the bridal suite O'Neill had
assured him, he'd be whisked away on the pretext of pressing
Presidential matters. So, sorry. Be right back, darling. Have to take a
rain check on that bit of nooky until things calm down. He had, after
all, been gone from his seat of power for quite some time. She'd
certainly have to understand that.

As Methos took his place on the throne beside Quinta, O'Neill and the
others formed a row at the base of the dais, every second man or woman
facing outward to watch the audience as SG-1 and the Immortals kept an
eye on the official proceedings. Not surprisingly, no one interfered.
Their choice of clothes alone had shocked the nobility, he imagined.
White, Methos supposed, just wasn't done at Ishri weddings. And their
demeanor -- the whole military bearing and 'don't fuck with me' blank
expressions -- probably left the Ishri guards wondering where they
could take lessons in bad ass.

And now came the tedious ceremonies. To which Methos paid scant, but
polite attention as the priests of the Ishri droned on, invoking
whatever deities they worshipped, burning incense that smelled like
fossil fuels and generally making a lot of noise about the sanctity of
Inanna's offspring. If they only knew, he thought, amused. Unless
Immortals in this neck of the galaxy had figured out how to make
babies, he was no more Inanna's natural child than he'd been Tok'ra's.
Then again, many cultures didn't need proof positive of a blood
relationship to consider one a member of the family. Maybe the Ishri
just didn't care about things like that.

The interminable chants were followed by a series of ancient hymns. All
sung with cloying sweetness by the redoubtable Misty Eyes, of whom
Quinta apparently approved. Methos heaved a silent sigh of relief as a
pair of acolytes finally came forward with the marriage tokens. A
simple exchange of bracelets, he'd been advised, as the priests dressed
him and explained the order of service.

In actuality, the binding ceremony was the whole of the Ishri marriage
rite. The rest had been all the nonsense that went along with being
personages of importance. If they'd simply appeared one day wearing the
things, the deed would have been accepted as done, except for maybe a
nice party thrown afterwards in their honor. 

Without much thought Methos took the offered bracelet from its box. It
was old, thin and extremely heavy, covered with intertwining glyphs and
probably made of naquada. It fit easily around Quinta's wrist, as did
its twin on his. Then Methos glanced down, only mildly curious, and
nearly gaped in shock.

"Yes," Quinta whispered at his stare. "That was Father's."

"And that would be?" he twitched his chin at her wrist.

"Hers," Quinta shrugged slightly. "But so it must be. This is the only
original set made by the Ancients still in existence. At least as far
as I know," she qualified.

"I see," he murmured as the High Priest came to stand behind them and
lifted Methos' left wrist to Quinta's right. Inanna must have taken
Tok'ra's from the wreckage of his carapace, he thought sadly. Although,
why she would bother with such a sentimental gesture eluded him.

"Bound and yet unbound in completion," the priest intoned in a language
older than Ishri. A language Methos barely remembered. Yet, the play of
those words made the skin on the back of his neck prickle in warning.
Not Inanna's native tongue which he'd grown up speaking, but Tok'ra's.
"One and the same until done." 


As the words were repeated in Ishri the High Priest smacked the
bracelets together.


Methos felt more than heard the word with a profound sense of horror
and tried to pull away even as the bracelets' locking mechanism
activated and he felt a small jolt of Quinta's Quickening energies,
enhanced by the naquada, traveling up and through his arm. He tried to
blank his thoughts as he felt something of who she truly was filter
into his conscious mind, but at her curious glance he knew he'd hidden

He hurriedly evaluated what he'd felt from her. Not much. Just a mild
sense of gnawing hunger for...something more. More than what? he
wondered curiously. More than this? Hers was a desire that was not
sexual, but a craving for... Perhaps something suspected, but as yet

"So alone," Quinta murmured softly as she lowered their arms. "And yet,
so filled with... Living?"

He confused her, Methos thought with relief as he sat back, pretending
to watch the priests give their final blessing. And that was probably a
very good thing.

Her fingers entwined with his, but Methos didn't dare pull away.
Nervously, he caught Daniel's eye and knew the younger man had
completely understood the priest's meaning as he hurriedly glanced
away. He looked to Jack, who stood grim and white faced, lips pressed
tight together, but the colonel wouldn't meet his eyes either.

As the priests filed out and the couple rose, O'Neill barked an order.
The Ishri quickly stepped back, parting as Terrans moved in formation
to the center of the room. Another order was given, and swords drawn in
unison from matching scabbards flashed above heads, snapping up into a
gleaming arch.

The Ishri shrieked, scurrying away from the exposed steel and Quinta
flinched, but the guards waited on her orders.

"Easy," Methos told her quietly. "It's meant as an honor. Their
strength joined to protect, not harm."

Quinta slowly nodded, then gave a tiny shake of her head to the Captain
of her Guard. "A charming custom, my love, and a wonderful measure of
your strength," she complimented as he led her down. "How well you have
trained both mortal and Immortal to serve you alike."

O'Neill's expressionless face didn't change, but Methos knew he'd heard
the words by the glint of anger in the other man's eyes. It wasn't
funny anymore. Not to either of them. Methos wrapped his free arm
around Quinta's shoulder and pulled her close as they entered the arch.
He didn't think they were in any danger, but the opportunity was there
and his instincts couldn't ignore it. No matter what he thought of his
sister and her mad ideas, he didn't want her dead -- hadn't even
considered that option. 

Not once, despite his earlier suspicions, had Quinta offered him death.
Killing Inanna had been an awful necessity. One he'd finally accepted
as having to be done. But Quinta? No. Methos simply couldn't justify

And the other thing? Methos asked himself as he passed the stone cold
faces of his friends. Could he actually bed Quinta? 

He'd done a thousand things in the dark of which he wasn't proud. Even
more in the broad light of day of which he really ought to be ashamed.

He'd manage it...somehow. And then he'd leave. Just walk away and allow
the awful memory to fade.

Chapter 15

As the rest of the strike force strategically arrayed themselves around
the room, Amanda turned to Carter. 

"So, what's with the handcuffs?" she asked as the bride and groom made
a circuit of the Great Hall, viewing the wedding gifts and accepting
good wishes.

"I'm not sure, but they can't be locked together permanently."

"It's some sort of device that seems to require them to join their
Quickenings," Daniel murmured from behind and the women turned to stare
at him.

"That's impossible," Amanda insisted.

"Not according to Methos," MacLeod told her quietly as he joined them.

Amanda raised an eyebrow. "I want to hear the whole thing, but later.
How do we get it off him?"

Carter looked at Daniel, who blushed, fidgeting uncomfortably with his
collar. "We don't. They do."


"They have to... You know..." he shrugged. "Join their energies as

MacLeod laughed as Amanda turned to stare after the couple. "He doesn't
look very happy about it," she commented softly. But then who would at
this space age equivalent of a shotgun wedding? Amanda thought wryly.
"He looks like a warrior going to a fate worse than death. Quinta isn't
that bad to look at." The dichotomy confused her. After all, the
ancient Immortal had undoubtedly tumbled his fair share of women,
reluctant or not. Bedding Quinta shouldn't be that onerous a duty.

"Seems fitting," MacLeod chuckled.

"You really want to be quiet now, bog boy," O'Neill warned dangerously
as he came over. Wisely, MacLeod said nothing.

"Daniel," Amanda asked, very deliberately taking his arm and leading
him toward one of the gift displays. "What's really going on?"

"Really going on?" he asked innocently.

She gave him a cool, assessing stare. "I make my living estimating the
odds, kid. I scope out the situation, figure out who the players are,
what they have to gain and what I need to do in order to get it away
from them."

"Sounds like that would be helpful given your...uh...profession."

"Something like that," she grinned. "And right now, Methos isn't
behaving naturally."

"How should he be behaving?" Daniel asked warily.

Amanda smiled. "You tell me, kid. He looks relaxed, but his body
language screams 'help me'."

Daniel glanced at his friend and silently had to agree.

"He isn't physically revolted by her," Amanda went on. "See how she
just leaned against him? Methos didn't lean away. In fact, he moved his
arm against her back. Tentative, but familiar. Part of him wants to be
where he is. The other... Ah, there it is," she frowned, looking
puzzled. "She kissed him, and for just an instant he looked...sickened.
But not by Quinta," she added thoughtfully, still watching the pair.
"And I think I know Methos well enough to say that he would never be
revolted by kissing any girl that pretty, or so obviously willing. Now,
what gives, Danny? Who is Quinta and what does she mean to him?"

Daniel stared at the floor for a long moment, then glanced around the
room nervously. Finally, he looked at Amanda and shrugged. "Apparently,
she's his sister."


"Colonel, a moment of your time. Please," Amanda smiled sweetly,
accepting a glass of something from a passing servant.

"Now's not a good time, Airman," he told her sharply, trying to keep an
eye on both Methos, Bear's team and Quinta's guards.

"Look happy," Amanda said, linking arms with him as she nodded at
Methos, who flashed her a small grin. "Didn't your mother ever tell you
frowning like that would give you wrinkles?"

"Meaning...?" he asked with sarcastic annoyance.

Amanda pursed her lips. "Meaning smile while you plot those dastardly
deeds, darling!" She laughed airily as if he'd just told her something
funny, then led him along for a turn around the hall.

He glanced back at Methos then turned his attention to Amanda. "So
exactly how long have you known Pierson?" Jack finally asked as he
strolled beside her.

"Long enough to know we have to get him the hell out of here -- before
he does something he'll regret for far too many years. And you know
what I mean."

O'Neill fixed his gaze on her, frowning deeply. "Daniel's got a big

She waved a hand in dismissal. "I'd have figured it out in another few
minutes. He only saved me the effort of adding and subtracting all the

Couldn't bring himself to tell Hammond, O'Neill thought disgustedly.
Didn't want to risk embarrassing his friend with the taint of incest --
especially when it might have given the general the needed impetus to
come up with a better plan than this. But he'd blab it to Amanda on the
off chance she just might have guessed it! Sometimes, he could just
strangle Jackson!

"Okay," O'Neill cocked his head. "I agree. We have to get him out of
here--and quickly. So what's your plan?"

"I say we kill the crazy bitch and run for it."

"Well, duh!" O'Neill rolled his eyes. "I already came up with that
part. Twelve centuries of fighting experience and you can't do better
than me?"

"I'm a thief, not a tactician!" Amanda retorted sharply. "You want a
better plan, go talk to Alex, who, by the way, came up with this
charming little scheme!

O'Neill sighed despairingly. "And what's MacLeod's take on all this?"
he asked, having seen the pair of them with Daniel.

"He doesn't know. Neither do the others," she admitted. "Most of them
wouldn't understand about Methos' past. They grew up in nice homes,
with nice parents. I didn't. I'm afraid of what they might think of
Methos for taking it this far. Let alone how indignant they're going to
become if they realize what Methos thinks he's willing to do to get out
of it."

"Yeah," Jack nodded, liking Amanda a little more for her insightful
evaluation of the problem. "Pierson thinks he can do this and leave,
but... It'll seriously screw with his head."

"Badly," Amanda agreed. "And that's the last thing he needs after..."


Amanda nodded. "And don't blame Daniel. I figured that out on my own
from something Mac told me a while ago."

"Okay, so you're one smart lady," O'Neill remarked dryly. "But that
doesn't help us get him out of here."

"No, it doesn't," she admitted. "But it does make one thing clear."

"Which is?"

"In order to save Methos from himself, we're both prepared to go to the
same extreme."

Chapter 16

The plate of food in front of Methos was just as full as it had been
when he'd first been served. Only now, the neatly arranged, prettily
garnished cuisine was a morass of meat and vegetables swimming messily
in a pool of colored sauces. The sight of the food he'd been pushing
around for the past quarter of an hour finally disgusted him and Methos
gestured to a servant to take it away.

"You are not hungry?" Quinta asked politely.

"I prefer to eat light in the evening," he lied as his stomach twisted
a notch tighter in his belly.

"Father was like that," she smiled happily and went on eating. 

God! he thought, suddenly desperate to leave. Did she have to keep
saying things like that? Denial was a wonderful thing, he told himself
sardonically. And with each little reminder, Methos came closer and
closer to fleeing the table screaming. Her right hand shifted as she
absently adjusted something and the tug against his wrist became an
even more poignant reminder of why he couldn't. Worse was the knowledge
of what he needed to do in order to be released.

If only he were stronger, he thought, or if Quinta was willing to try
it, maybe they could somehow combine their Quickenings as Tok'ra had
shown him. But that was no good either, because he didn't really want
her in his head knowing everything about him, now did he? 

Ah, just kill her and be done with it, the part of him that was Death
quietly whispered. With an angry grimace he silenced the beast. There
was no need for that when he had a perfectly good plan in place, if he
could only find it within himself to do the deed.

"Is something wrong, husband?" Quinta asked nervously. "We can leave
now if you desire it."

She was so eager to please it was heart wrenching. 

To hell with it! he thought despairingly. Let's get this over with.

"Yes," he smiled, lifting their bound wrists and gently placing a kiss
on her hand. "Let's retire and leave them to their revelry."

With a breathless laugh she hurriedly signaled her women. As they rose,
the entire hall grew silent. Quinta looked at him expectantly and from
somewhere within his memories Methos pulled up the appropriate
phrasing. "My wife and I bid you good evening and joyous merry making."

There was deafening applause, but none of the ribald, familiar comments
about the merry they'd be making. That, he recalled, was usually done
by the groom's friends and family. He glanced at O'Neill, who'd risen
as well, along with the rest of the team. And as they stepped from the
dais, the strike force moved to flank the pair, matching Quinta's
guards stride for stride as they departed through the rear of the Great

Behind it lay a series of corridors leading to the royal chambers, and
Jack fell into step beside Methos as they reached Quinta's suite.

"Don't," Methos told him quietly. "You don't need to do this."

"Neither do you," O'Neill responded calmly.

"Husband?" Quinta interrupted, not understanding their speech. "Your
friends are, of course, welcome to accompany you, as my women do me."

Methos silently groaned as she invoked the ancient ritual of putting
the bride and groom to bed.

"Only one attendant will be necessary," he muttered, trying not to see
the laughter in the other Immortals' eyes.

"Gotta make sure everything's done properly, right?" O'Neill grinned
tightly. But first," he added hurriedly. "My people need to
do...something over the bracelets. That okay?"

Quinta looked a little surprised but nodded.

O'Neill turned to Carter and Amanda, whispering quietly. "You two have
a look at those things. See if you can figure out how to get 'em off
without... You know... Consummating!"

"We'll need more than a minute for that," Amanda complained.

"Well, I don't know. Think of something. Maybe Daniel can pretend to
pray over the damn things!"

The two women stepped forward, and though Carter seemed a bit
flustered, she also looked fascinated as she touched the bracelets
while Amanda examined the locking mechanism.

"We just need to make sure these are safe," she explained to Quinta,
who smiled her permission sweetly as Daniel translated.

"A little late for that," Methos snorted.

Both Carter and Amanda ignored him while Methos did his best to divorce
himself from the whole insane situation. Then Daniel began to chant the
Hymn to Ninkasi -- in Yiddish of all things!

After several minutes of this nonsense Methos finally put an end to it,
pulling their hands away. 

"Yes. Thanks. All of you. And I am the walrus, ku ku ku ju! Now, may I
please have my humiliation in peace?!"

"Geez," O'Neill muttered as he followed Methos inside, leaving the
others to stand guard with Quinta's people. "Try and do a guy a favor!"

"Don't you get it, Jack? Short of electrocuting us with a massive
charge, the only way this thing is coming off is the old fashion way.
We have to earn it."

"How massive?"

"Enough to black out half of New York City," Methos explained tersely
as Quinta politely ignored their hushed conversation and stepped behind
a heavy screen with her women. Methos rested their wrists on a ledge
that looked as though it had been recently cut for the purpose and
stripped off the head dress, tossing it into a corner. 

"Listen," he went on a little more calmly. "Quickening energy is
similar enough to electrical energy to be mistaken for an electrical
storm. But even then it might not work, because if I recall correctly
the bracelets are keyed to the individuals wearing them. It searches
for the energy signature of its particular bearer and fixes on it,
permanently. The locks only open when the bracelets are fed two
signatures and enough power to make them minimally sentient. Meaning,
they unlock, but don't come off until one of us is dead and the energy
stops coming."

O'Neill paled as he realized what that meant. "So... You won't... What?
Be able to get a divorce?"

"No," Methos sighed, stretching his neck uncomfortably as he tried to
remove one of the heavy pendants.

"Here," O'Neill offered softly. "Let me help."

"Look, when we get back to the SGC Carter and her friends can take all
the time they like to examine this thing and find a way to get it off
me. But first, we've got to get out of here. And there's only one way I
can see that happening."

Two ways, Jack thought as he helped Methos remove the rest of the heavy
ensemble, but he wasn't saying anything. He found a thin cloak, which
had to be a robe, laid out neatly on the bedding and helped him into

"Okay," he finally agreed when Methos didn't suggest an alternative --
but then, considering the circumstances, O'Neill hadn't really expected
it. Even warped as she was, Quinta was still Methos' only family and
something inside the ancient Immortal obviously couldn't bear to lose
that last link. "She's all yours," O'Neill told him quietly.

Methos swallowed hard and looked away. "I can do this, Jack. I

That's what I'm afraid of, O'Neill despaired silently as he turned and
walked away.


Sergeant Bear raised a brow as O'Neill followed the women out of the
room to stand at parade rest, blocking the door. Jack gave a tiny head
shake to indicate he wasn't yet ready to storm the room then nodded
politely to the Ishri captain in command of Quinta's guards. He noted
almost absently that Bear had everything under control out here. Both
their teams conveniently positioned to take the guards down quickly and
silently if necessary.

"Colonel," Major Carter began quietly as she left her place. "I think
I've figured out how to unlock those bracelets."

"Yeah?" Jack asked eagerly.

"With a large enough electrical charge we might be able to confuse the
locking mechanism enough to get it to open."

"How large, Major?" O'Neill asked with a sigh.

"Well, I'm not sure, sir, but..."

O'Neill shook his head. "Massive," he supplied. "Enough to black out a
small city according to Pierson."

Carter looked stunned then nodded. "He's right. The charge would have
to be at least equivalent to, if not greater than, their combined

"Yeah," Jack agreed.

"But, sir," she argued. "It wouldn't necessarily kill him."

Bear cleared his throat as he watched O'Neill's cool expression
suddenly change dramatically. "I thought you wanted to save Methos, not
turn him into crispy critter meat? Or am I missing something, Major?"

"No, Sergeant," Carter told him, faintly embarrassed, and took that as
her cue to move back into place.

The sergeant nodded slowly as O'Neill looked relieved.

"You don't think your man can do what he needs?" Bear asked softly.

O'Neill chose his words carefully. "He thinks he can, but... It's a
moral thing." The sergeant nodded, understanding the concept if not the

"So, we go in?"

"Let's give him a minute," Jack told him quietly. "He needs time to
figure out a few things."

Chapter 17

The bed was soft and inviting, the woman equally so. But even so, it
wasn't working. 

Methos had raped and pillaged with the best of them. Yet now, suddenly
-- inexplicably -- he found himself impotent. Well, maybe not as
inexplicable as all that, he thought as he gave up, rolling onto his
side with a soft growl of frustration. 

His plan, such as it was, had been to use his Quickening as a weapon.
When the moment came, just as the bracelets began to channel and merge
their energies, unlocking them from each other, he'd intended to blast
Quinta with the entire force of his focused Quickening. His one hope
had been to inundate her synapses and overload the neural pathways. No
real damage, she just wouldn't remember much of anything she received
from his memories. She might even forget he existed entirely. At this
point though, none of that seemed likely.


Methos closed his eyes and finally let the anger take him. One hard
right to the jaw and his not so blushing bride was unconscious. He
glanced at Quinta briefly and sighed. He had but one option left, he
knew. The head or the hand. Neither appealed to him remotely. First, on
the grounds that maiming any Immortal like that went against the grain.
And second, because she'd come after him -- even if it took her
centuries to do it.

Which means, you sentimental fool, you've only one choice.

Grimly, Methos reached beneath the bed to where Jack had hidden his

With a soft, sad sigh Methos raised the blade. "Sorry, Ninta. But when
it comes down to a choice between you or me, it's always going to



O'Neill heard the muffled shout through the door and gave the order. 


In less than a minute a dozen Ishri guards were down and the strike
force was hauling bodies into a room off the corridor.

"We'll keep an eye on things here," Bear nodded. "Darieux, Philipson,"
he ordered as Jack paused near the door. "Go with him."

O'Neill's lips thinned for a moment, but he finally nodded. Methos
would need good stalwart friends beside him in the next few minutes.

The room was romantically dim as they entered to find Methos kneeling
on the bed, a sheet tucked around his hips, sword laid lightly across
Quinta's neck. She stared up at him silently, seemingly frozen at the
shock of his betrayal.

"I can't," Methos whispered softly, a stunned expression on his face.
"I can't do... Anything!"

O'Neill went over and gently laid his hand over Methos'. "I never
thought you could," he said quietly as he took away the blade and
handed it to Amanda for safekeeping. "Airman Philipson," he ordered
tersely. "Hold her for me."

"Jack!" Methos hissed.

Alexander came forward, easing his blade from its sheath. "I'll do it,"
he said, eyes grimly focused on the woman in bed.

"It's not your job, Airman," O'Neill said bluntly.

"Jack!" Methos called again. "I don't want her dead! Please, there's
got to be another way. We could take her back with us. Let Carter try--

"And the entire Ishri fleet comes charging through hyper-space to
rescue their Supreme Leader?" O'Neill shook his head slowly. "I'm
sorry, but this is the way it has to be."

"Jack..." Methos pleaded.

"You're forgetting something, Captain Pierson." O'Neill breathed deeply
through his nose and looked away. "It never was your decision to make."

There it was, Methos thought with a vague sense of relief. All of the
moral questions, all the agonizing choices, all the responsibility
taken neatly away.

"Methos!" Quinta squeaked nervously as Alexander coldly moved to hold
her steady. "What are you doing? You would let this mortal kill me?"

He shook his head sadly. "I'm not in charge here, Ninta. Never have
been. Sorry."

"But you are..."

"Nobody and nothing!" he told her harshly. "I'm just a man, Ninta! I'm


"Enough!" Jack ordered tightly as he drew his dress sword and pressed
it to her throat.

"Wait!" Amanda called and O'Neill looked ready to burst with fury. "Let
me see that edge."

A little surprised, O'Neill offered her the hilt. 

"What I thought," she muttered after a cursory glance. "Serviceable,
but..." With a sigh, Amanda gave him her blade. "Use mine instead --
and make it clean."

"Yes," Methos agreed softly. "One stroke, Jack. Please."

"One stroke," O'Neill told him gently, then pressed his shoulder,
forcing Methos to turn away. The Immortal nodded, shifting so that he
knelt as far from Quinta as he could manage with his arm stretched out
behind him. 

"Carter. Daniel," O'Neill ordered quietly. "Now would be a really good
time to go away."

Without a word they left and Amanda went to kneel beside Methos, laying
a strong arm around his bowed back as she pressed his head against her
cheek. "Courage, old friend," she whispered as she felt his silent
sobbing. "Be brave."

"This probably isn't a good time," Alexander suddenly interjected as he
held Quinta's shoulders to the bed. "But who gets her...? You know," he

"As soon as it's...done," came Methos' choked response. "You all move
away. I want to try something...different."

There was silence then as Jack steeled his thoughts, reminding himself
of all the reasons he needed to do this thing. Finally, he looked at
Alexander and nodded.

Quinta surged up on the bed, screaming as she tried to reach Methos,
but the blade rose and fell, so swift and nearly silent that she hardly
had time to move, let alone do any damage. Her body fell hard against
his back and as her head hit the floor he shuddered, pushing Amanda
away. Then Methos sensed her Quickening, as powerful as his, coiling
behind him and he turned to face Quinta's rage.

Empty... Empty... 

Her mind pummeled against his even as Methos felt his wrist come free. 

Nothing but emptiness and an all-consuming need -- even blurred as it
was by her overpowering rage. Then the images started flowing and he
refused to accept only this as his penalty, answering her with his own
life instead and the sense of sorrow he felt for her death.

Wave after wave of images pounded into her as their Quickenings joined
and warred. Blood, death, hate, fury and despair rocked the room, until
Quinta's mind finally reeled with the shock of it.

It was too much, and yet more kept coming. There was madness and pain,
slavery and worse, the whole gamut of a life lived on the edge of a
blade. She killed and fought and died as Methos -- and alongside him as
with every fleeting image she sensed the agony of his being. She
struggled for release. Tried to unwind her energies from his, but
Methos held fast, suddenly filling her with better things.

Love, laughter, friendship and the joy of simply existing. Lifetime
after lifetime of myriad experiences, including this one, and the pain
he felt at losing his only link to his distantly remembered family.
Until at last Quinta's mind quieted, and he felt her puzzlement, her
shock and of all things, her interest in living. 

You are not nothing, Quinta's mind whispered reverently.

Methos bowed his head. "I have lived," he answered sadly. "Not always
well, but a life all the same."

And I have done so little that I am... 


The pain of her silent cry nearly undid Methos. "You can change that,"
he insisted.


The word was a question that Methos tried to answer. "Change. Begin
again. A new life. A new place." 

Yes... Again...

Methos sighed and raised his head, reaching up to gently touch his
fingers to the light that was Quinta's Quickening. "I'm sorry," he
whispered. "I wish..."

Thank you, brother. And I will change. I promise. I shall follow your
example closely...

Methos' eyes went wide as he felt Quinta's Quickening begin to

"My example?" he muttered. "Which example? Ninta?!" But it was too

"What the hell are you babbling about?" Jack queried.

"She said she was going to follow my example," he explained, hurriedly
getting off the bed. "I showed her my life. My entire life!" he
stressed as he searched for something to wear. "There must be thousands
of examples there. Not all of them good."

"She didn't say which, did she?" Jack grimaced.

"No. And Jack," he added, glancing nervously toward Alexander and
Amanda. "Quinta might have been older than me, but she was younger
mentally. No life experience worth counting. MacLeod's her elder

"Oh, man!" He went to the door. "Hurry up, people. We are leaving!"

Methos quickly scrounged a loose pair of trousers and a shirt from one
of the cabinets. They looked like night wear, but he didn't much care.
Quinta was a child. Possibly a very angry, very powerful child. A child
into whom he'd hoped to knock some sense. That strategy, Methos thought
ruefully, might just have backfired on him. In any case, he didn't plan
on sticking around to see.

"Wait!" he said, realizing there was one last thing he needed to do
before they left. He turned and went to Quinta's personal
communications station.

"Are you out of your mind?" O'Neill asked angrily. "I said we're
leaving. Now, Pierson!"

"Then leave!" Methos hissed. "I've got Quinta's codes now, and I'm damn
well going to use them! The Ishri are likely to be very cross with us,
but I should be able to link with every ship in the fleet from here and
make it so that anyone who tries to follow us will self-destruct. By
the time they figure it out, if they do, we'll be long gone. Hopefully,
they'll be too busy with the Goa'uld to want to risk losing the rest of
the fleet."

"Sweet," Jack nodded. "I think we can take a minute for that. Several
in fact."

It took exactly three. By the time he was done, O'Neill had contacted
Teal'c, briefed the strike force, and laid out an escape route similar
to the one he and Methos had taken on their first visit here. There was
no opportunity for chatter this time. And even if there had been,
neither Methos nor Jack was in the mood for diverting conversation. 

They made it down to the hanger bay without incident, where the Ishri
guards on duty didn't question Methos when he told them they were
leaving. There had been no alarm and no orders countermanding his, so
they weren't particularly concerned. Especially since, to their minds,
he was their co-Supreme Leader. Or something to that effect, Methos
vaguely acknowledged.

It was good to see Teal'c again, patiently waiting and alert, so that
only moments after they boarded the shuttle, they were free of Quinta's
flagship. Still, it wasn't until they finally entered hyper-space that
Methos sat back in his seat and heaved a sigh of relief.

"I need to change," he muttered to no one in particular as he stood.

O'Neill ignored him and he turned away, hurt, yet understanding the
man's reticence. It could not have been easy to make the decision to
kill Quinta. Or, maybe it had been, but knowing she was Methos' only
family must have been hard on Jack. And yes, he admitted silently as
Sergeant Bear took charge and directed him below decks to where their
gear had been stowed, he was broken hearted to have lost her. He would
have liked to have had a sister, even for just a little while.

Methos was just finishing his shower -- and heaven bless the Tok'ra for
thinking of such mundane things -- when MacLeod came in. Methos heaved
a quiet sigh of despair at the Highlander's expression. The, "I am
suffering with deep, soulful and profoundly spiritual questions, and
you, O Great Fount of Wisdom, must help me find the true path to
everlasting enlightenment -- or else!" expression. On the other hand,
Methos thought as MacLeod gazed at him in silence, it might be one of
those, "I feel your pain, let me share your anguish -- and I mean now!"
expressions. Methos had the sudden urge to flee. Rabid pit bulls let
you loose sooner than the Highlander on a mission of mercy.

"Something on your mind, MacLeod?" Methos drawled as he started to

"Yeah," the Scot nodded. "What the hell just happened back there?"

Methos feigned confusion. "Well, son, we left a really big ship in a
very little ship and now we're going home. Be a good boy and there'll
be tea and biscuits when we get there."

"Ha, ha, ha. Come on, Methos. You know... You didn't take her
Quickening. Amanda said she saw it begin, but then...nothing happened.
It just sort of faded away."

"Oh. That."

"Yeah, that," MacLeod nodded, faintly annoyed.

A good solid question with a good solid answer and he didn't even have
to think. 

"Quinta knew what she was," Methos explained, zipping up his pants.
"There's no Game out here. Never was. She wasn't trying to enter me,
she was lashing out in anger. We chatted. She left. End of story."
MacLeod looked stunned. "I told you the truth, Mac. We're not Immortal
because we're meant to be and there's some great purpose to our
fighting for our lives, but by virtue of how we came into being."

"And how is that?"

Methos took a deep breath and sighed. He'd thought Ramirez had covered
this during their training, but perhaps not. Or perhaps MacLeod just
wouldn't believe it unless it came from Methos, fount of all ancient

"You know the human brain forms thought as electrical energy, then
sends that energy into various areas of the brain through the synapses
and from there the signal goes to the parts of the body to create
action, right?" MacLeod rolled his eyes and nodded. "Now imagine that
all you are is energy. Pure energy. Energy that no longer requires a
physical form to keep its thoughts cohesive. With me so far?" There was
a small nod and Methos went on. "You have a passing thought or an idea.
The basis of its creation is still energy. The same energy that makes
you what you are. And you give that idea form and substance in order to
see how it will play out. Sort of like performance art. That's how
Immortals come into being."

MacLeod's eyes grew distant. "'In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was God and with God...'" he quoted softly. "It was in front of us
the whole time."

"The Ancients weren't gods, MacLeod. But they did outgrow the need for
bodies. And in the aftermath of becoming...something different, they
went a little wild. Like a kid with a new toy. Except the side effects
of its use were completely unexpected. Hence, Immortals. According to
Tok'ra, like the Ancients our power is cumulative, not chargeable, and,
one day, we too will be able to evolve past the need for bodies. But,
we are no less or greater without one, even young as we are. Quinta
knew this," he explained. "Always had. But like any creature she liked
the body she was in. It was familiar and safe. Still, she didn't need
to be in that particular body, or any body for that matter, to

MacLeod shook his head and sighed. 

Methos grabbed his tee shirt and shrugged. "Anymore questions? Or do I
really need to ask?"

"What about Quinta? What happens now?"

Methos was glad his face was hidden behind the material of his shirt as
MacLeod spoke. "I don't know," he responded tightly, smoothing his
shirt then reaching for his uniform jacket. "That's why we're running
away. She was older than me and twice as mad." 

Methos grabbed his boots and started to leave.

"You aren't insane," MacLeod insisted, laying a hand on Methos' forearm
as he moved past. "In fact, you really impressed me back there. You
could have taken advantage of that woman. But you didn't."

"Proud of me are you?" Methos asked, his voice filled with disdain.

"Yeah," MacLeod told him sincerely. "I am."

"Well, bully for you, because I'm not!" He shrugged away and headed for
the door.

"You should be!" MacLeod called after him.

"Yeah, well, the way I see it," Methos sneered, pausing at the door to
look back. "I just wasn't man enough to do my own sister. She'd be
alive now if I had!"

He left the dressing room furious with himself and with MacLeod. And he
didn't much care at the moment what MacLeod thought of his morals now.
It hurt. It had really hurt to lose that part of himself. That one last
connection to his past. And he didn't need a young whelp like MacLeod
telling him it was better than okay. So, maybe he didn't believe in the
glory of personal sacrifice, but just now he'd had his chance. One last
chance to give enough of himself to mend the fence and finally set
things right.

He turned a corner and felt someone coming. Amanda. Without thinking,
he ducked into a corner and silently willed her to pass. She paused
briefly, then seemed to think better of it and moved on. With a quiet
sob Methos sank to the floor. He wanted comfort and yet... The idea of
being with anyone right now disturbed him.

"God help me!" he whispered, covering his face with his hands. He'd
wanted to save Quinta, but in doing so he also knew that a part of
himself would have died.

"I don't know what He's doing now," he heard Amanda say softly and
looked up. "But I'm here."

And once again she held him gently, letting him pour out his grief on
her shoulder. Ashamed to have been so weak, and yet, infinitely glad he
had been so.

Chapter 18

O'Neill was resting on one of the small pallets in the tiny crew
quarters of the shuttle. He was tired. Trying to sleep, but unable. In
the little galley outside he could hear Sergeant Bear and the Immortals
quietly chatting as they put together their reports. In a few hours
they'd be at the drop off point where they'd return the borrowed ship
back to its pilot then gate themselves home.

All done, he thought wearily, except for the second-guessing. What
could he have done differently? Would it have made the outcome any
different? More importantly, how would what he'd had to do affect

The last he could already imagine. He knew how he'd be feeling if their
positions were reversed. Pierson might not hate him for what he'd done,
but O'Neill didn't doubt that he was the last person with whom Methos
would ever again want to spend time. Whatever feeling the other man
might have once had toward him would now be colored by the fact that he
had killed his sister. No way around that. A fact that Jack had known
from the moment he'd come to the conclusion that Quinta's death was

And if all that was true, which Jack knew it was, then what about
Pierson? A transfer maybe, to another unit where his skills wouldn't be
lost was a good possibility. Perhaps even a permanent reassignment to
the strike force. Still, he doubted the ancient Immortal would go for
that. A better choice would probably be to let Methos quietly retire.
An honorable discharge where he could simply slip back into his old
life without anyone being the wiser. A good idea and probably for the
best, he thought. General Hammond would likely agree with his
recommendation. Especially once he knew the facts. No one had the right
to ask of anyone what had been asked of Methos. Didn't matter if he'd
agreed Inanna and Quinta needed killing, it just wasn't fair.

So this is it, he thought sadly as he rolled over onto his side. Still,
it had been fun while it lasted. And maybe it would be again, came the
wry notion, in another life.


The gate room was quiet when they arrived with only General Hammond
waiting patiently at the foot of the ramp.

"Welcome back, Colonel O'Neill," he greeted Jack, then smiled broadly
at Methos. "Captain Pierson," he said, though his eyes gleamed with

"Go on, General," Methos sighed. "Get it out of your system."

"Your Supreme Presidential Highness," Hammond intoned, savoring every

"And don't you forget it!" Methos grinned. "I could have ruled the
universe, but I chose to be a lowly Captain of the Guard."

"And we are all extremely gratified to hear it, son," Hammond approved,
then glanced at his watch. "It's late. Why don't you both get some
rest. I'll see you for debriefing at 0700 hours."

O'Neill cleared his throat and Methos took that as his cue to leave.
While the colonel had been necessarily distant, treating him as a
subordinate in front of Bear and the other Immortals, Methos also
hadn't a chance to speak with him alone. Jack had spent most of his
time either resting or catching up with Teal'c, Daniel and Samantha.
Not surprising, of course, nor unexpected, he reasoned as he headed for
his quarters. And it had been a difficult time for both of them. No
doubt O'Neill needed some space to recoup and regain his equilibrium.
The past few months could not have been easy on him.

Being back at the SGC was the best thing for O'Neill, Methos thought as
made his way to the elevator, nodding at familiar faces who smiled in
return. Work. That was what Jack needed. The complete distraction of
the mission surrounded by the simple everyday pleasures of life. He'd
find the balance he needed once he felt secure in those things again.

The elevator opened and he stepped in, followed by a group of
technicians, who started humming "Hail to the Chief" as soon as the
doors closed behind them. Methos smiled thinly and nodded, enjoying the
humor of it, though not really in the mood to appreciate it fully. They
couldn't know, of course, and he didn't begrudge them their bit of fun,
just as he'd tolerated it from Hammond. In a few years they'd stop and
the whole story would probably fall victim to the realm of anecdote --
delightfully embroidered of course. A few minutes later he stepped out,
absently wondering if Jack's new theme song would be "On the Good Ship
Lollipop." If it wasn't, he'd send him a case of the things just for
the fun of it.


"Morning, Colonel," Carter called as Jack passed her on the way to
their debriefing.

"The conference room's that way, Major," he pointed toward the door.

"Yeah, I know," she grinned. "But the elevator's that way." Carter
pointed in the opposite direction. "And that's where I'm going."

O'Neill put on his best stern-and-concern face. "And might I inquire as
to why you are going the wrong way in such a hurry?"

"I've had my debriefing, sir. I've got ten days leave starting now."

"Ten days?!" he exclaimed.

Samantha nodded. "I'm going to visit my brother and his kids. You're
more than welcome to join us, sir." 

"On a visit to your brother? And his kids?" O'Neill looked at her as if
she'd lost her mind. "What the hell would I do there?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "Maybe... Celebrate."

"Right," O'Neill nodded, giving up. "Good choice, Carter. Go visit the
family. Have fun."

"And what will you be doing, sir?" she asked gently.

"Whatever it is I usually do?" he asked, not quite knowing why Carter
would pick this of all times to get nosy. 

"Sorry," she grinned, obviously feeling foolish. "Of course you have
plans. Well, see you in ten days."

He gave her a little wave then shrugged, wincing in surprised when
Daniel nearly dropped him as he came rushing by, headed for the gate

"Sorry, Jack!" he called over his shoulder. "Gotta go!"

"Where to?!"

"With SG-11," he paused, a little breathless, at the door to the gate
room stairs. "Sam and Teal'c are taking some time off, so I volunteered
for a dig they just started on P7Z9811. Incredible stuff, Jack. I'll
give you a report when I get back."

"Please don't!" Jack called after the archaeologist as Daniel raced
down the stairs. "Teal'c's off too?" he asked as he stepped inside the
conference room to find General Hammond and Methos waiting on him.

The general nodded. "For a nice, long visit with his son."

"Good for him," O'Neill said as he took his seat.

Hammond cleared his throat. "Now, gentlemen, we have a couple of items
to discuss and then I'm off as well, so I'll make this brief."

O'Neill looked surprised, but shrugged. "Suits me."

"Captain Pierson," Hammond began. "Colonel O'Neill has suggested that
due to the nature of your last mission you might want to consider
accepting an offer of early retirement."

"What?!" Methos gasped.

"We do offer, in such cases, where the nature of the mission has cost
more than any one individual should be asked to bear, an early
retirement option with honorable discharge. If you so choose," the
general explained.

Methos sat back, looking a little shocked. "Do you want me to leave?"
he asked O'Neill quietly.

"It's not about what I want," he told the Immortal. "It's about what's
fair to you. It can't have been easy to watch me kill Quinta. And I
would never ask you to stay on after that. Especially with..." Jack
gestured toward himself.

Methos nodded slowly as he finally understood. "Don't tear yourself up,
Jack. I knew what had to be done. And I'm glad it was you. It was an
honorable thing you did when you accepted that burden. I'm only sorry I
couldn't do it myself and save you from having to make that choice. And
I'm still not sure," he added more slowly, "why that was."

Hammond leaned forward. "I'll tell you why. Because no matter how old
you get when it comes to your big sister, believe me," he nodded
knowingly, "you are always the younger. Wanting approval. Needing that
approval, no matter how far you've grown apart. Just comes with the
territory, son."

Methos looked at him oddly then shrugged. "Whatever. And I don't want
to retire. I want to get back to work."

Surprised, but obviously pleased, O'Neill agreed, smiling happily. "I
second that devotion!"

"Be that as it may, gentlemen, I'm granting you both ten days leave.
Now," he went on, "is there anything earth shattering in your reports
that can't wait until I get back?"

Methos and Jack looked at each other, very much surprised, then shook
their heads. "No, nothing earth shattering," Jack admitted.

"Good," Hammond smiled as he stood to go. "I just need a quick word
with Captain Pierson and then I'm off. Oh, and Colonel," he called just
as Jack reached the door. "Merry Christmas."

O'Neill closed the door behind him, realizing the other shoe had
finally dropped. No wonder Carter had been in such a hurry to leave and
had taken the time to invite him along. In their rush to get back home,
and with the exception of that one dinner he and Pierson had shared,
he'd completely forgotten that the dreaded holiday season was upon


Christmas, Methos thought with a touch of surprise. No wonder everyone
was in such a hurry to get away this morning. He glanced back at the
door through which Jack had just departed as he followed the general
into his office. Much as the man needed his space this was probably not
the best time for him to be alone.

Hammond went over to his desk and picked up the phone. "Yes, sir. He's
right here." Methos raised an eyebrow as Hammond offered him the
handset. "The President would like a word with you."

"My circle of friends just keeps on growing," Methos gritted as he took
the phone. General Hammond grinned as Methos said the expected words.
"Good morning, Mr. President, sir."

"And you, Mr. President, sire."

Methos chuckled even as he knew he'd never hear the end of it. "And
what can I do for you this fine morning?"

"Tell me what you know about Israel and Palestine."

"Nice people. Pretty scenery. Lovely place to winter if you like it
just a touch cool in the evenings. I know a great little tavern just
outside of--" The President cleared his throat and Methos sighed.
"You're interested in an objective viewpoint on the historic
disagreements which are causing problems in the region," he surmised.

"I've got a peace conference coming up and I'd like to make a
difference. In order to do that, I need information."

"You have people for that."

"I have people for everything," the President commented dryly. "What I
don't have is a real understanding of the problem, which no one seems
to be able to give me."

Methos nodded. The feuding sides would tell their stories, each
demonizing the other and no doubt believing every word. Hard for an
outsider to wade through it all, even with expert advice. Modern
advice. In a place where hatred was counted in millennia and arguments
lasted centuries, if not longer.

"All right," he quickly agreed, suddenly realizing he had the ear of
the one man who could make what he needed to happen actually happen. "I
can try. But I need a favor first. And we'll have to talk after

There was a long moment of silence and Methos wondered if he'd
overstepped his bounds. He'd just told the most powerful man on the
planet he didn't have time for him and that his assistance came with a
price. He held his breath as he waited for a response.

"Is it legal?" the President finally asked.

Methos relaxed as he realized that times had indeed changed. "Quite,"
he responded. "But it requires the kind of expertise only someone in
your position can command."

Another long pause and finally, "This isn't a yes," the President said.
"Just... Tell me what you want."

A few minutes later Methos was smiling as he handed the phone back to

"Yes, sir," the general nodded as Methos waited to be dismissed. "I
agree, sir. A most unique request. I'll see that he does, sir. And a
Merry Christmas to you, Mr. President." Hammond hung up the phone and
shook his head. "Is that any way to talk to your Commander-in-Chief?"
the general demanded.

"Apparently, it is," Methos grinned.

He'd gotten what he wanted, and nothing anyone could say would make him
stop enjoying the pleasure of the moment.

"If I didn't know how old you were, Pierson, I'd turn you over my knee
for pulling a stunt like that!" Hammond fumed. "And in spite of that,"
he wagged a finger, "I am sorely tempted." 

Hammond made a sudden move forward and Methos, startled, but still
laughing, backed away.

Hammond threw up his hands in disgust. "Get out!" the general ordered.
"And after all that," he shouted as Methos turned to leave, "you'd
better have a merry Christmas!"

As the door closed behind him, Methos could hear the general chortling.
Well, at least someone was having fun, he thought, making his way
through the nearly empty corridors and up to the changing rooms, where
he imagined O'Neill might have gone. Jack certainly wasn't. Not if
Methos had judged his reaction correctly. The man had been stunned by
the knowledge that his least favorite holiday was at hand. And not just
at hand, but upon him so swiftly he hadn't had a chance to build up the
wall of unconcern that probably served him well this time of year.

It was a wall Methos knew well. He'd built it himself on many
occasions. Every culture had its family celebrations. Honoring the
dead, celebrating the living, gathering for weddings and what not. And
much as he loved celebrating holidays, try as he might, he'd never
quite found a way not to feel alone at those times. Not lonely exactly,
but lonesome, for something he couldn't quite grasp. Oh, yes. He knew
exactly how Jack was feeling now. 

Methos quietly entered the locker room. O'Neill was sitting on a bench,
still dressed in military issue while staring at something in his
hands. He made a tiny noise and Jack started, allowing Methos to get a
clear glimpse of the picture he'd been staring at. A small boy dressed
in a little league uniform wearing a sunbeam for a smile. 

"Hey," O'Neill said, hurriedly putting away the picture. "So, what did
Hammond want?"

"Not Hammond," Methos told him. "The President."

"Do tell, Mr. President?" O'Neill forced a grin. 

Methos shook his head and smiled. There were worse nicknames to be

"Yeah," he shrugged. "It must have suddenly occurred to him that I
could be a useful resource. I promised I'd give him the skinny on the
origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but after Christmas."

"Cool," Jack nodded. "So, uh, you got plans?"

"Nope," Methos shook his head. "Thought I'd just wing it. Maybe catch a
flight to Paris and crash at MacLeod's. You?"

"No plans," he sighed. "I usually go ice-fishing. Don't think I can get
a reservation this late though," O'Neill shrugged.

"Well, if you're not doing anything," Methos offered. "Why not come
with me?"

"To MacLeod's?" O'Neill grimaced. "I don't think bog boy likes me. I
keep threatening to blow his head off."

Methos laughed. "That's definitely not a way to endear yourself to one
of us."

"So, I guess I'll see you in a couple of weeks," O'Neill stood up.

"There's always the house in London," Methos suggested. "And after the
holiday, I know a guy who's got a lodge in Scotland. He'd probably let
us use it. Great winter fishing on the loch."

O'Neill studied him carefully. "You sure?"

Methos nodded, then made it even easier for Jack. "I really don't want
to be alone right now," he added softly.

O'Neill finally smiled. "Then you won't be alone. London it is. Then
Scotland. Right this way, Mr. President," Jack ushered him toward the
exit. "O'Neill Airlines gets you where you want to go -- and in record

"But there's no food or beverage cart," Methos cheerfully complained as
he followed him out. "No in-flight movie or soft pillows and comfy
blankets, all brought by lovely, helpful women. Who may or may not be
interested in a tawdry one night stand -- but where's the harm in
trying? I tell you, it's barbaric!"

"It's also free and leaving now," O'Neill smiled thinly as they got on
the elevator.

"Two excellent points," Methos eagerly agreed. "Couldn't have made a
better case for it myself. O'Neill's it is."

"Figured you see it my way, minion."


Methos hid a smile. Definitely a good idea, he thought. Jack was
feeling better already.

Chapter 19

It was early evening when they landed in London. They hadn't done much
talking, except about inconsequential things. Methos had deliberately
steered the conversation away from anything remotely sensitive, trying
to ease Jack back into a more relaxed frame of mind. 

He'd thought he'd succeeded until the omnipresent Christmas cheer of
the city's streets seemed to leach the joy out of O'Neill. Methos
wondered nervously if this had really been such a good idea.

The house was dark as he pulled into the drive, and O'Neill far too
quiet. But it was too late to change their plans, unless he claimed a
sudden urge to visit the tropics. Methos led the way up the front
stairs, ushering his guest in first as he held his breath. There was no
telling what kind of mischief his "special favor" might have wrought.

"Wow!" he heard O'Neill gasp as he gazed down the length of the hall
and to the side, where the doors to the great room stood open. Beside
him, Methos could only nod in astonishment. He'd asked for a little
Christmas cheer, but this?! 

A long carpet of red, green and gold had been laid down the marble
entryway. And not in the loud, artificial Christmas colors he so
despised. But in rich muted tones that offered comfort and warmth. On
the curving stair rail the theme had been continued, but with silk
damask bunting that ran the length of the stairs, offset by silver
frosted wreaths interspersed with heavy ribbons set with mistletoe and
fresh holly. Winter blooms and scented candles of every shape and size
burned on decorative stands or in wall niches. And everything had been
trimmed in colored lace and crystal hangings. To their right, the great
room glowed with the warmth of a fire that looked to have just been
laid and the light of an eleven-foot spruce topped by a pair of silver
filigree doves.

It was all so beautifully decorated, Methos had to wonder with a touch
of chagrin, if they'd raided Martha Stewart's new place.

Finally, he reached out and turned on the lights. They were softer then
he remembered, because he generally liked it very bright, but the
dimmer effect made the rooms seem cozy and warm.

"Incredible," Methos murmured as they paused at the great room doors
just to stare.

The room was just as richly festooned as the corridor, but the
furniture had been changed to include big, solid pieces covered with
cushions that beckoned one to sit comfortably. And the plain sideboard
where he'd kept a few pieces of decorative pottery was now draped in a
tapestry that held a feast large enough to feed twenty. Roasts and
birds and all the trimmings -- which in somebody's world apparently
included truffles in cognac, if his nose wasn't lying.

"Whatever you're paying the maid," O'Neill finally commented, "it ain't

Methos nodded absently and wandered in, surprised at just how much care
had been taken. What had they been told? Go forth and decorate? Surely
soldiers had better things to do than go through magazines looking for
decorating tips? Asking for a team to come by and get a few things
ready shouldn't have evoked a response like this! Yet, here it was. And
he was just as bowled over by it as Jack appeared to be.

O'Neill shook his head and glanced down at his clothes. "You, uh, got
something I can change into?" he asked casually.

"Oh! Yeah," Methos nodded, remembering his manners. "I'll show you
where your room is. Plenty of clothes there. Use anything you like."

There was a little less decoration upstairs, but all the rooms had been
aired out and the bedding changed to something more festive. Methos
couldn't help grinning when he went into his own bath and found towels
laid out on the warmer, along with a tray of frankincense and myrrh
scented bath oils and soaps ready and waiting. How utterly charming, he
thought dazedly. Whoever these people were he'd have to find some way
to thank them.

A while later he came downstairs, feeling relaxed and rejuvenated after
his hedonistic self-indulgence in the bath. He found O'Neill already
waiting in the great room, dressed similarly in jeans and a sweater,
examining the Christmas tree.

"Don't forget to thank the big man for me," the colonel smiled.

"Santa?" Methos asked as he noticed dozens of nicely wrapped presents
under the tree. He'd made a list, but someone had obviously checked it
more than twice. There were at least three times as many items as he'd
requested--all ready and waiting to be unwrapped.

"You know who," O'Neill grinned. "Unless your maid is in the habit of
hanging the occasional silver bullet on your Christmas tree." He held
up the incongruous, but nevertheless rather pretty cartridge for Methos
to see.

The Immortal chuckled. "Seemed fair," he finally admitted. "Though how
we're going to eat all this..." he glanced at the table and shook his

"Leftovers, minion," O'Neill slapped him on the shoulder cheerfully,
going over to grab a plate. "Who says we have to eat fish for two

"So you really don't mind?" he asked quietly.

Jack shook his head. "Nah. It's a pretty neat way of saying all is

"There was never anything to forgive," Methos told him honestly. "You
did what was needed. And I'd be a poorer man today if I discarded a
friendship over it."

O'Neill stared at him thoughtfully and finally nodded.


A wonderful evening, Methos thought as he climbed into bed. Their meal
had ended with a visit from a well-dressed, suspiciously fit group of
carolers, who sang all the old tunes punctuated by a few uniquely
American ones. And in one of those 'I know that you know that we know,
but no one is telling anybody' moments, Jack had joined in, giving
Methos a chance to run down to the wine cellars and pick out a few of
his better vintages to give as gifts. It was the thought that counted,
he supposed, shaking his head as he ruefully recalled bringing the
plates into the kitchen only to find that someone had been there ahead
of him -- to leave hot cocoa and a tray of warm pastries on the

O'Neill had laughed at Methos' shock. What had he expected after all?
This wasn't just light duty they'd been assigned, but a chance to have
some fun. Did Methos think everyone who specialized in Black Ops was
gung-ho, grim, and determined to make the world a better place whether
the world liked it or not?

He hadn't actually thought about it, Methos silently admitted as he
punched up his pillow. But the world had changed and its inhabitants
with it. He could just imagine what Caesar or Napoleon might have said
if he'd advised them to train some of their most gifted fighters as
interior design specialists. 

With a sigh, Methos sank back against the pillows, finally able to
sleep in a bed that felt the way a bed should and with a belly full of
food that was both familiar and hearty. True, he liked to travel, but
what he liked more was coming home to safety and comfort. And yes, he'd
grown soft in the two millennia since he'd rode with the Horsemen --
but at the moment, he was damn proud of it.

Sleep came easily once he closed his eyes, and with it pleasant dreams.
What woke him might have been a small sound, or maybe it was the
stench. If it wasn't that, it was certainly the swish of the heavy fire
axe that swung past his head to land with a thud in the thick wood of
the headboard above him. 

Methos eyes snapped open to darkness as he rolled off the bed,
hurriedly reaching for his sword. There was a hint of a buzz -- more
than pre-Immortal, but not Immortal -- and it tickled his senses, both
familiar and disconcerting. Still, whatever it was, the thing making it
was huge. Standing in the shadows of the moonlit windows a gigantic
figure loomed, axe in hand, waiting. 

Waiting? Methos wondered as he leapt to his feet, sword at the ready.
And with as easy a target as he'd just been, why was he still alive?

"What do you want?" he growled.

No answer was forthcoming as the giant finally lifted his weapon and
Methos suddenly charged.

The fight was mercifully brief. The axe, wielded without skill, glanced
off his blade in the first parry leaving his attacker wide open. He
went low for the soft flesh of the bowels, stabbing deep and slicing
high as the giant howled and fell to his knees. Keeping his eyes on the
man before him, Methos darted in, easily making the final swing for the
beheading. It wasn't clean or pretty, but it got the job done and he
turned away, finally feeling the shock of the moment as he turned on
the light. Behind him, the Quickening rose and with it the familiar
sense of presence which had previously been lacking. 

Thank you, brother.

"Quinta?!" Methos stared suspiciously at the corpse on the floor. The
man had been big and powerful, and from the foul smell of it, the body
hadn't been functioning properly at all.

Still, the voice in his head was tiny and held more than a hint of

I made a mistake. I thought...

Methos suddenly started laughing. "You thought you'd take a shortcut."

He felt her mentally flushing. A warm, tingling sensation in the back
of his mind.

It seemed to first. But I couldn't complete the regeneration

"The higher brain functions consume most of our energy," he nodded
slowly. "We can't have it both ways, Ninta. We can't retain the
memories in an adult body. Our Quickenings just aren't powerful

There was more than a hint of irritation in her response.

I know that now! But once the process started, I couldn't stop it. I
was stuck in there.

"But why come at me like this?" he asked, confused and angry.

Well somebody had to kill that body! It was disgusting!

Methos grimaced wryly. "And because I couldn't do it before, you
thought I'd be unable to take this thing's head." Quinta was silent as
he felt the pang of her shame.

"Foolish girl," he finally sighed. "Would you like to try again?
Properly this time?"


Her thoughts became a sad, disjointed and somewhat hopeless whisper
against his mind.


"Of what?"

Babies... Weak... Tired now... Don't know how to choose..."

Methos nodded slowly as he finally understood. "A family," he smiled
sadly. "Well, of course you don't, Ninta. You haven't had any good
examples for that, have you? But why here?" he suddenly wondered. "Why
not among the Ishri? Surely you could have found a safe haven there?"

There was silence for a moment then the whispering came again. 

Wanted to be near you... Feared the Game... Needed to be strong... Like
Silas. You liked Silas... Like me, too?

Methos rubbed his eyes. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to laugh or

"Poor, Ninta. You really don't have a clue, do you?" He felt her
dejection and sighed. "All right, little girl," he told her gently.
"Let's see if we can fix this, shall we?"

He took a moment to pull on his clothes and wipe clean his sword,
laying out a plan of action in his mind. The brightness of her
Quickening followed him out into the hall and Methos paused to consider
this as well. With a sigh, he opened his arms.

"You'd better come inside, darling. It won't do to have you in that
form where we're going."

Why not?

Methos rolled his eyes. "You'll scare the natives for one."

Ah! she laughed, reaching out to twine her Quickening with his. I had
wondered about that...

It was easier to hear her now, and Methos chuckled as he closed his
eyes, feeling her gently become a part of him. This was what taking a
Quickening should be, he thought. Get past the fear and the anger of a
sudden violent death, and you had nothing more than two beings
congenially sharing the same space for a brief time.

He felt a soft sigh from Quinta as she wrapped her thoughts around his.
There was still the terrible emptiness and longing, but it was offset
now by a new and bright sense of curiosity. 

Is seeing an angel such a terrible thing? she wondered as he quietly
opened the door to Jack's room.

Methos smiled. If she'd been roaming around in that form at this time
of year, no wonder she had evoked such a tame response.

"Depends on the culture," he told her mind to mind, surprised when he
found the room empty. "Where's O'Neill?" he asked tersely. Quinta
sounded reasonably sane, but Jack had killed her and there was no
telling what she might have done.

He felt her frown internally. 

That one... Asleep in the pretty room downstairs. She sent him a mental
image of Jack sacked out on the couch in front of the fireplace. 

I was angry at first, Quinta admitted. But... He was crying, and then I
wasn't angry anymore. Why not?

Methos sighed. "I'm afraid that's something you'll have to figure out
for yourself, my dear. Emotions are complicated things. Even I don't
have all the answers there."

He found O'Neill just where Quinta had shown him and Methos had to
smile. If he were going to give Jack a gift, this one simple thing
probably outranked all the others.

"Jack," he whispered softly, gently touching the other man's shoulder.
He came awake quickly and sat up.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Fine," Methos nodded. "But I really need your help with something." 

"Panty raid on Santa's while he's out?" O'Neill asked brightly.

Methos grinned. "I can't explain it right now. But... Will you trust

"Don't I always?"

"Yes," Methos nodded as O'Neill stood up. "And I've been meaning to
warn you about that."

"Won't help," Jack said, following Methos to a side hall where the
Immortal found them each a coat. "Hasn't anyone told you? I'm not too

"Right," Methos grinned, shrugging into his long coat and sheathing his
sword. "They mentioned that. But then I'm not too bright either, so I
never listened."

Somewhere inside him, Methos could feel Quinta laughing.



Methos flinched at the volume of his shout, glaring at O'Neill as he
shoved the small, heavily wrapped bundle into the colonel's arms before
hurriedly climbing into the car.

"No. I stole the corpse of a baby."

"Oh. Well that makes all the difference!" 

O'Neill leaned away from the package on his lap in horror. There was a
crèche joke in here somewhere, he thought absently, but damned if he
could find it now.

"It's not what you're thinking," Methos explained, carefully pulling
out of the hospital parking lot.

"Really?" O'Neill asked dryly. "And what am I thinking? Other than that
you obviously have some really serious issues to work out."

"It's not for me, it's for Quinta," he responded testily, quickly
reporting what had happened earlier.

"Sweet," O'Neill muttered as he shifted uncomfortably, though he could
understand why Methos hadn't told him immediately. Not many friends
were willing to help their buddies bury the bodies. Or steal them, in
this case.

"Okay, so she messed up. Why not do it on her own?"

Methos didn't take his eyes off the road. "Because she's expended too
much of her life force to both animate the child and move it to a safe
location," he explained quietly. "Same reason Tok'ra couldn't evolve
once he became host to Morgot. Besides keeping his friend alive, he had
to use the energy contained in his Quickening to shield the symbiot
from those same energies. Takes more than a couple of D cells worth of
power to do that apparently."

O'Neill rubbed his face and sighed. "So, she needs you to do the foot
work for her," he finally nodded and Methos smiled wryly.

"About the size of it," he commented ruefully.

"What about the family?" O'Neill asked sadly, no doubt remembering a
small coffin of his own.

"The baby was still born due to the mother's drug addiction," Methos
told him softly. "She gave a false name and disappeared from the
maternity ward before she could be arrested. With the body unclaimed,
it was scheduled for cremation in another week. I only had to tweak the
computer records to make it look like it went out earlier than legally
allowed due to a clerical error."

"Which means no one is going to say anything unless mom gets her act
together and comes looking," O'Neill nodded thoughtfully.

"Highly unlikely," Methos pointed out. "Especially given how much the
courts frown on prenatal abuse these days."

"So, what now?" Jack finally sighed, staring down at the lifeless
bundle in his lap.

"Now?" Methos shrugged as it started to snow and he turned on the
windshield wipers. "Now we find a safe location for Quinta to do her
thing and drop her off at a good home. I know just the couple," he
smiled wistfully. "Nice folks," he added. "A little too old for the
state to consider them capable of parenting, and not quite wealthy
enough to go through a baby broker. But they've got more than enough
love between them to take a baby into their house and hearts. More
importantly, they both desperately want a child."

"Sounds wonderful," O'Neill nodded. "Think she deserves such good

Methos frowned. "Everyone deserves a second chance, Jack. Maybe with
the right start Quinta wouldn't have turned out so bad. Maybe I
wouldn't have either."

"You didn't--" Jack started to say then stopped.

The ancient Immortal could only smile wistfully. The good colonel might
have forgotten just whom he was sitting next to, but Methos hadn't.

"Yeah," O'Neill finally sighed. "A second chance it is."

They were silent then as they drove far into the night, stopping only
once at a convenience store that happened to be open, where they found
some much needed baby supplies. A couple of hours before dawn Methos
pulled into an abandoned factory. He took the body from O'Neill and
they headed inside.

"So, uh, where's Quinta?" Jack asked nervously, looking around.

"She'll be here," Methos shrugged as he set the bundle down. He stepped
back, opening his arms wide. "Ready?" he silently queried his sister.

But it's so small, Quinta answered softly.

"You'll be fine," Methos told her gently. "I won't let any harm come to

But can't you...?

"No," he said with finality. "I cannot keep a child. You need more. You
need...better. And," he added more kindly. "You would not be safe with
me. I have enemies, Ninta. Too many to protect you."

Will I see you again?

"No, dear. But I'll be watching. I promise."

With a soft mental hug she gave her silent assent and he felt her
Quickening disengage and swiftly exit his body.

"Jesus!" Jack gasped, taking a couple of steps back.

The cloud of light that was Quinta hung above the room for a long
moment before it settled over the still figure of the baby. A minute
passed, then another, and suddenly the little bundle jerked to life. 

"We did it!" Methos grinned as he hurriedly unwrapped the newborn,
laughing in wonderment when it let out a loud, healthy cry.

"Merry Christmas, minion!" O'Neill chuckled, patting Methos' shoulder
as he leaned down to have a good look. "It's a girl!"