Methos crept through the dark. While he didn't plan to challenge for Aneirin's head, he wasn't about to let that crow of a man steal his books. Aneirin could just go steal someone else's valuables; the man was as bad as Amanda.
The faint tingle like ants walking over Methos' skin warned him that someone was here, but the feeling too weak for Aneirin. It wasn't even strong enough to be a pre-Immortal before their first death. Methos narrowed his eyes and pulled his sword out of its hiding place. Memories slid though his mind, silver fish that moved too quickly for him to truly grasp, but Methos knew this feeling. The face of a strong man with a bow slung over his shoulder flitted through Methos' brain. Ah yes, a Guardian, that's what it felt like.
But surely there wasn't a Guardian here. Methos hadn't even heard a rumor of one for a hundred years, not since that idiotic archeologist Burton had rambled on and on about finding one in South America. That fool hadn't known a Guardian from an Immortal though, so who knows what that libidinous old fool had really found.
Methos approached the heavy oak door set into the stone wall of this American monstrosity of a castle. The Guardian was there, if it was a Guardian. Perhaps a pre-Immortal was dying behind the door. Perhaps Methos was sensing something else altogether. He was not so much a fool as to think that he had seen everything in his five thousand years of life. He couldn't even claim to remember all five thousand years, so he couldn't say for a fact that he'd never felt his senses register someone who was not either Immortal or a Guardian.
Methos cautiously pushed the door with his foot. The latch was undone, and it slowly creaked open, the light from the window inside spilling out onto the long carpet runner that lined the hall.
A man jumped out, gun held high. "Cascade PD, drop your weapon!"
Instead of freezing, Methos swung. The gun fired, echoing down the stone corridors, and if anyone was left in this place, they would surely come running now. Methos' cursed the man, but he finished his swing, slamming the flat of his sword into the side of the Guardian's head. The man crashed into the wall and then fell, unconscious, to the floor. Only then did Methos let himself feel the burn and pain from his chest. The Guardian's aim had been good; Methos could feel the air whistling through the hole in his lungs. Damn.
After confiscating the man's weapon, Methos sank down with his back against the wall to allow his powers to heal the wound. The Guardian would recover as well. Short of death, no injury could permanently disable a Guardian as they had their own healing factor.
No guards appeared as Methos' wound closed and then healed, leaving only his blood-stained shirt as evidence of his near death. Not too long after that, the Guardian began to stir. He brought his hand up to his head and groaned in pain. Methos watched, waiting. Legs slowly moved, hands curled and uncurled, and then blue eyes opened a slit. Methos knew the moment that the Guardian had seen him.
For a second, the man was perfectly still, watching Methos with suspicion and fear. Slowly he pulled himself up and scooted back so that his back was to the other wall. "Where's Sandburg?" he asked, his body tense and ready for a fight. However, since Methos has both the gun and the sword, he didn't think it was likely that the Guardian would start that fight.
"Who's Sandburg?" Methos asked mildly. If this man were a Guardian, he wasn't likely to be in a good mood, and they could be dangerous.
"Don't play games," the man snarled as he pushed himself forward, but Methos brought the gun up, and the man settled back against the wall. "All I want is Sandburg back. Whatever stolen property you have here, you can keep."
"I don't have anything here. I came to retrieve something that was stolen from me," Methos answered. The statement stopped the other man. He frowned and looked at Methos more carefully.
Oh yes, this one was definitely one of Marduk's Guardians. His nose flared and he stared at Methos' chest. Moving the gun to one side, Methos allowed him to get a good look at the torn and bloody shirt and the healed skin within. For a long moment, the other man didn't react. He stared at Methos, and Methos could respect the silence. Here was a man who carefully considered his actions before making a move. However, they didn't have time for excess caution.
"You have just realized that your shot went through my chest and that I have healed in a matter of minutes. If your shot had killed me, I still would have healed in minutes. You can probably also feel something like static electricity down your arms, which is a normal reaction to my presence. I can feel something similar since you are a Guardian." Methos waited for a reaction, but he received only a frown of confusion.
"You are a Guardian, a Watchman, a Sentinel..." Methos went on. The man's back stiffened at the word "Sentinel." Great, the idiot had read Burton's drivel, which had, no doubt, proved far more a hindrance than a help. No help for that now. "I am an Immortal, as is Aneirin, whose house this is, and who has a proclivity for taking that which is not his." The Sentinel was still watching him warily.
Methos continued, "I am here to search for my missing books. You may search wherever you like as long as you do not get in my way."
"You aren't the one who took Blair?"
Methos studied the man. "So you search for a person? Blair Sandburg?"
"I haven't seen any prisoners, although there was evidence Aneirin had held one in the rooms at the end of his hall and to the right." Methos pointed with the gun before he stood up. For a moment, he considered following the Guardian; memories nagged him, reminding him of feelings that came dangerously close to ridiculous concepts like duty or honor. However, a Guardian alone and on the hunt was a creature far too dangerous, even for Methos. Turning away, he started toward the rooms where he hoped to find Aneirin's library.
Behind him, the Sentinel paused. However the need to find Blair Sandburg overrode his curiosity or his fear, and he hurried down the corridor.
Curiouser and curiouser. If this man were one of Marduk's Guardians, a Sentinel of the Tribe, he would have a Familiar who walked at his side. But if this Blair Sandburg was the Sentinel's chosen Familiar, he should already know where to find her. Dismissing that mystery from his mind, Methos focused on finding the library.
Eventually, Methos did find the library, but finding his books was more difficult. A few volumes he recovered from the shelves, but there were large holes in the collection, the books that should have been there were missing. Most of Methos’ books were among the missing ones. Collecting the few volumes he could find, Methos prepared to end his search. He could wait decades or even centuries, but Aneirin would eventually surface, and Methos would recover his stolen property. MacLeod would never challenge another Immortal over books, especially since their recent conflicts, but for enough money, Amanda might be willing to chase down the packrat and retrieve the stolen items through less direct methods. Methos smiled, amused at the thought of pitting Amanda against Aneirin.
"Where do we look next?" The Sentinel asked from the door. Methos had heard him come in, but the man wasn't moving with any stealth and if it were his Familiar who had gone missing, he would be a danger only to the idiot who took her--in this case Aneirin.
"We don't," Methos shrugged. "He's gone, and he won't resurface for years."
"Years?" The man paled. "He has Sandburg."
"Then I hope Miss Sandburg is talented at keeping someone's interest," Methos answered. His conscience pricked him, reminding him of how Cassandra had charmed him, keeping herself alive long after he would have killed most captives. But that wasn't him now. He wasn't sure MacLeod believed that, and he knew Cassandra would never believe him capable of change, but he couldn't control the thoughts of others.
"Mr. Sandburg," the Sentinel corrected him. Methos raised his eyebrows. Now that was a surprise. The Sentinel had struck him as being almost stereotypical heterosexual. He had the Nordic features of a warrior, the blue eyes that suggested Viking or Germanic blood and a well-developed body that Amanda would have tried to claim, even at the cost of looking like a fool. Yet, he had chosen a male Familiar. Or not. After all, if Mr. Blair Sandburg were a true Familiar, this one would know where to find him.
"Not my concern." Methos put his hand on the gun he had taken from the other man in warning.
"So, you don't care that my partner has been kidnapped, that this asshole could be doing anything to him?" Despite Methos' warning, the man stepped closer.
Methos smiled. "I am a good deal older than I appear. I was born in a time when the buying and selling and taking of human freedom was not all that unusual. So no, I don't particularly care. Millions have survived slavery in the past, and your... partner will either survive or not. Not my concern." Methos turned to leave.
The question surprised Methos enough that he turned to consider the Sentinel.
"How much do you want to help me find Blair? You're a mercenary, right? You're in this for yourself, so name a price." The Sentinel was nearly trembling, and Methos wondered how much the man would pay. He wondered how long it was before his instincts would drive him mad. Clearly the man felt the need to reunite with his Familiar even if he didn't feel the pull of that connection telling him where to look.
"You couldn't afford me," Methos said honestly.
The man's jaw bunched and bulged under the skin. Then he forced himself to relax. "I'll find a way to pay whatever price you ask."
Now this was interesting. If Methos could claim to be searching for Blair Sandburg, he could definitely get MacLeod to help, and MacLeod had an in with the Watchers. His books might not be as lost as he thought. However, if the Sentinel could not control himself or would not allow himself to be controlled, Methos did not need to be at ground zero of that explosion. His faulty memory supplied a new image. He truly did not need to be around if this man lost all control.
Yet this was the first of Marduk's Guardians that Methos had seen in centuries, and he could feel the pull of this man's need. Methos remembered very little of his early life, but he remembered the grand ceremonies, the consecration of the Guardian to the service of the great god Marduk. He remembered a man standing in front of an altar, his head tilted back to expose his throat as he listened to something inaudible to the rest. Crossing his arms, Methos considered the man. "Six years."
"What?" The man took a step back.
"I don't work for money. The old laws are clear. You can purchase another's life in return for six years of service."
The man paled. "Slavery? That's not...."
"Please do not say legal," Methos sighed. "Immortal, Sentinel, we live outside the rules of society already. You certainly didn't come here with a search warrant and patrol officers."
The Sentinel swallowed. "Six years, and you let Blair go the second we find him. And once we find Blair, you give me one week to close up my business."
This time, Methos didn't even try and hide the smile. Either Sandburg was not the Familiar or this man did not understand his friend. "If you make this deal and then try to escape, you will not like what I am likely to do," Methos warned. "You might be better off using your own resources to find Aneirin."
"This was a long shot, and I don't have any more leads after this. If you get Blair back alive, I'll do the six years."
"Whatever I ask?"
The man's body stiffened, but Methos could practically feel him capitulate. "Yes."
"Your name," Methos demanded imperiously.
"James Ellison," the Guardian answered. Oh yes, it did feel good to get a little power back. Methos walked closer, watching as James twitched in response. He was clearly on the verge of losing control, and Methos would be wise to walk away from this fool's bargain. He could get his books some other way.
"Kneel," Methos ordered instead, watching to see if the Sentinel had enough control to force his own body into submission. James' eyes snapped to him, anger and fear clear in the blue gaze, but slowly, with fists clenched, he sank to the floor.
Methos nodded, accepting the surrender and the deal. "James, we're going to Seattle to visit a friend. He's a bit of a do-gooder, and he owes me many favors. If you can convince him Blair Sandburg is worth saving, and I trade in a few favors, we may be able to trace Aneirin. However, the men we're going to see are Immortals and Watchers. This is a world of secrets and secretive men, and if you ask too many questions... well, I would just suggest you let me do most of the talking," Methos said.
James' pressed his fists to his thighs, but he didn't argue. Methos took out the gun and offered it to his new slave, butt first. James looked at him for a second before he stood up, stepped forward and took it, putting it away in the holster and watching Methos warily.
Taking the stack of recovered books from the table, Methos held it out, and James took them. As Methos walked out of the library and out of Aneirin's pretentious estate, he was followed by his newest slave carrying his few recovered treasures.
~ ~ ~
Methos walked into the bar and scanned the faces. Most were strangers, likely brought in by the music and the booze. A few people he knew were here. MacLeod sat at the bar with a beer. Dawson was behind the bar, wiping the counter. A waitress smiled at him, offering a nod of recognition. Methos walked to Duncan and sat on the stool next to him. Jim slipped into the next stool, silently waiting. Methos wondered if the man would be as amiable to slavery after his friend was free. If not, Methos could always free him later. He would still have his books back from Aneirin. Duncan frowned at Jim, clearly not understanding what he was feeling, but then at 400 years old, Methos doubted he'd ever met a Guardian before.
"Adam," Duncan offered, using the name Methos usually offered strangers. Duncan looked toward Jim again, clearly wanting some sort of explanation. Joe wandered toward their end of the bar.
"Think we can talk in back?" Methos asked. Duncan was listening to him, but he was studying Jim, struggling to understand what his senses were telling him. Methos figured that he'd probably settle on pre-Immortal.
"Hey, Adam, how have you been?" Joe asked with a sort of enforced cheerfulness. He was picking up on Duncan's wariness, and Methos sighed. As a Watcher, Joe kept track of Immortals, recording their fights and their lives and trying to understand the rules of the game that made Immortals challenge each other for their heads and the power that transferred at the point of decapitation. He wished them luck, but at five thousand years old, Methos still didn't understand the game, and he doubted any mortal could ever make sense of it. As long as he kept his own head, he really didn't care, either.
"I lost something. I was hoping MacLeod could get it back for me," Methos said with a shrug. "Jim, this is Joe Dawson and Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. He always introduces himself like that, which is a bit of a giveaway that he's Immortal. This is Jim Ellison of Cascade. He's a Guardian."
Jim flinched at having his abilities announced, but he didn't comment.
"A what?" Joe leaned forward on the counter and offered his hand to the new man.
"A Guardian or a Sentinel." Jim took the man's hand and shook it.
"A Sentinel? Five enhanced senses?" Joe stared in shock, and Jim's jaw tightened. However, he was following the rules Methos had set and behaving. He nodded with almost enough grace to be called polite.
"Aneirin has been busy," Methos explained. "We've both lost something, and we were hoping you'd help us with a little recovery." Methos looked at Duncan, and for a second, he could see the doubt and hesitation in the eyes of a friend who used to trust him. But then, Duncan had been a fool to trust any Immortal, and he'd been doubly a fool for trusting someone as old as Methos. Time changed people, changed the world, changed the rules about what was called moral. Five thousand years from now, some young man would be passing judgment on Duncan MacLeod, calling him a savage, so Methos felt no need to apologize for who he had been back then.
"Is this something worth going after?" Duncan asked, and Methos smiled.
"My books, you would probably say 'no'," Methos admitted. "However, Aneirin has also kidnapped Jim's friend, a young archeologist with a sharp tongue and pretty face. Is that worth challenging Aneirin?"
Duncan leaned forward, his face suspicious. "So, you're helping him out of the goodness of your heart?" Duncan stared at Jim with an emotion that approached hatred.
With a laugh, Methos shook his head. "I want my books back. And Jim has paid me quite well to care about young Blair Sandburg's life, even if we probably are too late for his honor." He didn't miss the way Jim flinched away from that thought, and he knew that Duncan wouldn't either.
"Are you sure Aneirin has your friend?" Duncan asked quietly, leaning in toward Jim.
Jim nodded. "I've seen his picture. He was working with Blair on a new exhibition of South American artifacts. Blair really liked this guy; he was smart and knew a lot about tribal history. But now Blair and a half dozen priceless artifacts are gone. I work for the Cascade police department, and I traced him as far as I could, which led me to Methos."
Duncan's eyes jumped to Methos, and the need to demand information practically rolled from him like a fog.
"Let's talk," Methos suggested as he stood up.
"You can use the back room," Joe offered, grabbing a key from under the counter and sliding it over to them.
"Stay here," Methos ordered, and Jim settled back into his seat looking frustrated but also obeying. "Joe, can you find him something to eat?"
"Yeah, sure," Joe agreed, and now he looked as confused as Duncan. Methos did have to admit that he generally didn't show that much interest in mortals, not even Sentinels, and he cared about their needs even less; however, Jim didn't always care for himself, and Methos planned to get a full six years of service out of him.
"What's going on?" Duncan demanded the second the door closed and they were in the privacy of the back room, surrounded by shelves of liquor and boxes of napkins. "Why did you give him your real name?"
Methos leaned against the door. "We're working together."
"Don't give me that." Duncan looked ready to start a fight, but then he'd been looking for a reason to start a fight ever since he'd learned about Methos' past. "What do you really want?"
"Surprisingly, I do want to help Jim find his friend. Even more than that, I want my books back."
"So you team up with a mortal?"
"I team up with a Sentinel," Methos disagreed. "You can feel that he's not totally mortal. He'll heal faster than a mortal, although not as fast as us. Anything that doesn't outright kill him will eventually heal, and he has senses are powerful enough that you'd have to have thousands of dollars worth of surveillance equipment to do what he can do with the naked eye. You have to see the advantage of that. They used to be called Marduk's Guardians or Marduk's Warriors--men and women dedicated to the god who carried a piece of the god in their blood."
"They're related to Immortals," Duncan said uneasily.
"Maybe. We can feel them, but they're not part of the game. They can't take a quickening."
Duncan was definitely not happy with this turn. "That doesn't explain why you gave him your real name. You don't want anyone to know who you are."
"You know," Methos pointed out.
"Not because you ever trusted me enough to tell me." Duncan's voice was sharp, and Methos retreated from this anger, looking away. He could hear Duncan take a deep breath and when he spoke again, he'd regained some of his lost calm. "You keep a lot of secrets, so I'm wondering why you're breaking your own rules for this man."
Methos didn't answer right away, perhaps because he didn't have an answer. He just knew that he needed something. For years, his library had been his connection to the world; his carefully kept diaries had been his sanity. And then Duncan MacLeod had pushed into his life, and Methos had started to live again. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered because when Duncan had finally seen the real person he was, the man who had been one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, when he had learned that Methos had rained death down on villages from horseback, he'd taken back that offer of friendship.
Instead of taking his normal path, Methos found himself telling the truth. "He's traded six years of service for my help."
For a half second, Duncan couldn't even answer. His eyes went wide and he froze, his hand half-raised. "You canna make a man your slave," he finally said, his voice barely louder than a whisper and heavy with accent and anger.
"I already did," Methos pointed out. "Which is a good thing. Marduk's Guardians always come with Marduk's Familiars. The Sentinel needs a friend that he can focus his senses on or he'll.... Well, the last time I saw a Guardian lose control after the death of his friend, the entire village fled the scene, at least five or six dozen guards died, and two Immortals lost their heads. When they lose touch with this world, they are dangerous and powerful creatures, and they will target anyone in their path. I'm working to keep him grounded while he's separated from his friend, but if you want, you go out there and tell him that you don't believe in slavery. When he finally loses control because he doesn't understand himself well enough to control his own instincts, you can deal with the guilt of a few dozen or few hundred casualties. That is, unless he takes your head. Personally, if I don't have control over him, I plan to be far, far away."
Duncan frowned, his eyes going to the door behind Methos.
"He made the trade," Methos pointed out.
"Not willingly. No man willingly gives himself up to captivity," Duncan mulishly insisted, but then his warrior's code had so little room for compromise.
"A Sentinel will. To get to his Familiar, a Sentinel will do many things." Methos was not sure how to get Duncan past this stupid chivalry he seemed to hold so dear. He opened the door, "Jim, come here a second," Methos called. Jim looked up, and put his sandwich back on the plate before brushing off the crumbs and coming as ordered. Methos waited for him, closing the door after him.
"How much control do you have over eyesight, right now?" Methos demanded. Jim stiffened. He resisted sharing information on his gifts more than any other part of his slavery, more than sleeping on the floor or obeying orders, both of which he took in stride.
"Full control," he finally said.
During the pause, Methos watched Duncan's growing discomfort. Here was a warrior who had chosen a path Duncan could not have. The man's moral code didn't have an explanation for that.
"I can't control hearing at all. I have about it up about a third, and it's stuck there," Jim finally admitted.
"Anger?" Methos asked.
There was a longer pause. The pause alone told Methos that Jim was dangerously close to losing control of his emotion. Reaching out, he caught Jim by the shoulder and pressed down, silently ordering him to his knees. Jim resisted for half a second and then lowered himself at Methos' feet. Duncan stiffened, clearly about to put an end to this whole experiment.
But then Jim spoke. "I want to rip every shelf off the wall. I want to break every bottle. I want to start breaking necks until someone tells me where to find Blair," Jim admitted, his voice tight with the sort of contained fury that threatened to explode at any time.
Methos rested his hand on Jim's shoulder. "We will find Aneirin. Duncan and Joe are going to help us find him, and then the two of us are going to go in and recover what we've lost. Duncan will probably want to challenge Aneirin-- kidnapping and rape offends Duncan's sense of justice. But he might let you hurt Aneirin first. You could kill him over and over and never do any permanent damage to him."
Methos ran a soothing hand over Jim's shoulder, looking at Duncan and daring him to deny his help. Jim would attack, and with a Sentinel's healing ability, Jim just might win. Unfortunately, if Jim lost control, the attack probably would not end with Duncan, and Methos hoped that he was correct in assuming that Duncan would see that danger.
"We'll find Aneirin, and then we'll talk about the rest," Duncan compromised. Methos smiled and moved to the side to allow Duncan to leave.
Alone in the storeroom, Jim sagged, his hands resting on his thighs. "Will they help?"
Methos left his hand on Jim's shoulder. How much control did it take for the Sentinel to maintain this calm? "They will, unless you do something to anger them. If you lose control, I will cut your head off, and then you will not be able to pay the price of freeing your friend," he warned. If Jim needed something to shore up his control, Methos planned to provide it. An out-of-control Sentinel was not in his plans.
Jim nodded, and took a deep breath, some of the tension leaving his body. "Come on, let's get some food," Methos said as he moved his hand. Jim got up and brushed his pants off, following silently when Methos led him back out front and to the sandwich he had just abandoned.
~ ~ ~
"Chief? Okay, just breathe for me. It's okay." Jim crooned the words, rocking Blair in his arms, and even Methos felt a little ill at Aneirin's excesses. The boy was starved and bleeding. Duncan's body was so tight with anger that if it were possible, Methos thought he might be willing to give up Aneirin's quickening just so that he could kill the man again, and this time make it last longer.
"Jim?" Blue eyes slowly opened.
"Hey, Chief, I can't let you go anywhere, can I?"
"Knew you'd come," Blair said sleepily, reaching out and grabbing Jim's shirt as though afraid he'd vanish.
"Please, just stay with me. We'll get you to a hospital," Jim promised, and then he looked back at Methos.
"He doesn't need one," Methos offered. "If he's not dead, he'll recover, just like you." Methos had no doubt now that Blair was a Familiar; the tingling down his fingers when he'd touched the injured man had confirmed that.
"He's injured," Jim argued, and he started to get up.
"He will recover. You will not take him to a hospital where his recovery will make him a target for even more people. Understand?" Methos demanded. For a second, Jim froze, and then he sank back down next to Blair, his hands brushing long curls back from the tear-stained face. Jim nodded, not happy, but trapped by his own agreements. Methos liked to think that perhaps the man had also learned to trust Methos' judgment. He'd certainly been shocked at the idea that Methos had known so many Sentinels over so very many years.
Methos looked at the severity of the injuries. "We will give him a few hours to recover. Water is the main priority, so get him to drink something," Methos ordered, and then he turned and headed out of the room, leaving Jim alone to tend to his Familiar.
Duncan followed him. "You can't keep him as a slave."
Methos walked to the rail that overlooked the main ballroom. Glass from the chandelier covered the floor like crystal snow--casualties of the quickening Duncan had taken.
"He doesn't know how to be a Sentinel."
"He's a free man," Duncan argued.
"No, he's my slave. He's only free if I free him."
"Or if I do," Duncan said, his hand threateningly close to his sword. Duncan was always like this after a quickening. As soon as the fatigue passed, he would get aggressive. Methos wondered if it was because Duncan took the heads of aggressive men or if his own warrior's nature was coming to the forefront.
"You would free him into ignorance," Methos pointed out. "No doubt Aneirin found the young one because he had been in the hospital recovering from a short-term case of death."
"He's Immortal?" Duncan asked, turning to face the room again.
"No. Clearly he had some spark of life remaining that he could recover, but a mortal would not have survived the drowning he suffered. If Jim took him to another hospital, he would risk the same thing happening again. He has thought nothing of returning to work days after being shot. He has no idea how to use the connection between himself and his Familiar, and so he wasn't able to just come straight here as he should have been able to do. He has sided with criminals because he couldn't control his own instincts, and he has then suffered guilt because he doesn't understand himself." Methos laughed darkly.
From the stories he had wrested out of an unwilling Jim, the man had made more mistakes in thirty five years than Methos had made in a thousand. "Even now he believes that Blair will go back to Cascade, leaving Jim to suffer alone. And because he believes that Blair will do such a thing, he feels an anger and fear and hatred that should not exist between a Guardian and a Familiar."
Shaking his head sadly, Methos considered Duncan. Some days he wished he was still so young and idealistic, and others he wondered how those with such inflexible moral codes could survive the world. In Jim's case, his code had nearly killed him as he tried—and failed—to take care of his own needs and instincts. "Yes, Duncan. Set him free and destroy them both," Methos said sarcastically before he turned his back and leaned over the railing.
Maybe this is what he needed, something of his old life, something of the man he had been before Duncan and the diaries and even before the Horsemen had commanded his loyalty. He remembered the great ziggurat, the processional way and the smaller temple to Ea standing at the far end. The warriors who had passed the test walked up the great Etemenanki to ask Marduk to bless them. Methos frowned at the memories, so old that they existed only in fragments and images, and he couldn't even identify the time or place. But Guardians and Familiars walked, side by side, the priests escorting them. Methos remembered feeling... awe.
"Methos," Duncan said with a resigned sigh, and from the tone, he had already decided to not fight Methos over this. But then Methos hadn't expected any other outcome. Duncan had great sympathy for women and children who were too weak to defend themselves, but he was a warrior born of his age, and he couldn't escape that. A man like Jim Ellison who could defend himself and chose not to was going to rank fairly low on Duncan's to-save list.
"I don't plan to rape and pillage." Methos turned around and leaned his back against the railing.
"I never said you did."
"Go home, Duncan." Methos pushed away from the railing and returned to his slave. If he guessed right, his two slaves because Blair would not leave Jim anymore than Jim would abandon Blair. Perhaps it would do Jim some good to see that.
~ ~ ~
Methos propped his book up on his knee, and Jim shifted, moving his weight so that he leaned into Methos' other leg. Reaching down, Methos rested his hand against Jim's shoulder, further anchoring him to this world. If he needed more focus than that, he would have to drag his guide away from Methos' library long enough to ask for help.
Methos stroked Jim's neck, feeling the strong muscles bunch there.
"They have a weakness at this point," Jim said, pointing to the compound before picking up another of the high-resolution photographs. "We could insert a team here and secure the living areas before the ringleaders had a chance to take hostages." Jim tapped the map. Methos stroked the back of Jim's neck as he leaned over to consider the plan.
"You and Blair can insert a team, I'll be here reading," Methos insisted, even though he knew he would be watching.
"Blair is not going in there," Jim immediately answered.
"Then neither are you," Methos insisted. He gave Jim's ear a hard pull to remind him to watch his manners. Sometimes Jim still lost the balance between being a soldier and being a Sentinel, between being a slave and being the owner, on paper, of a private security consulting firm with major contracts with the federal government. And Blair was still far too slow to remind him. Well, he still had four years in which to get them both straightened out. "So, are both of you going in, or are you advising from the safety of the command center?"
Jim's back was tense, and Methos knew that it was only his slavery that kept him from making one more disastrous choice. Four years might not be long enough. Methos gave the ear a sharp tug, warning that he was willing to take this punishment farther if Jim pushed him.
"We'll supervise from the command center. I should be able to tell if they do something unexpected."
"And if you see the spirits?" Methos asked with another hard pull on Jim's ear.
"I'll tell Blair," Jim agreed with a sigh, pulling his legs under him. Sitting at Methos' feet, that was easy for him to say, but Methos knew that Jim's training and his fear still made him hide his more mystical gifts.
"Understand this," Methos said firmly. "If you hide a vision or even a hunch from Blair, I will have you bound and kneeling at my feet for a week, understand?" Methos held Jim's ear.
"Understood," Jim agreed. Methos released the ear and stroked Jim's shoulder.
"Short of Duncan MacLeod, I don't believe I have ever met anyone as stubborn as you," Methos said with a sigh.
Jim shrugged. "I am trying to change. I do know how much easier it is... how much better the senses work now." Jim looked up, and Methos paused in his petting. Jim certainly had seemed to accept that he needed almost constant physical touch, either from his guide or from someone he trusted, so if he could learn that, he could learn the rest.
"It isn't your fault so much of the lore has been lost," Methos admitted. "You just need to stop trying to work alone. A Sentinel is never alone."
"Oh man," Blair said as he practically bounced into the room. Methos flinched at the sight of a eight hundred year old book in his hands. At least Blair was wearing the white gloves, but if he dropped that book.... Blair collapsed onto the floor next to Jim, and Methos took one of those soft curls in his fingers. "I found a whole new section in here on Guardians in the days of the Sumerian empire. So, how are you doing on tonight's plans?" Blair put the book on the edge of the low table the two slaves often used when working at Methos' feet.
"I think I have an in," Jim said, pointing to a spot on the map. Blair leaned in, his hands finding Jim's arm and his leg and establishing that tactile connection instinctively.
"Very cool. Time to kick bad guy ass?"
"You got it, Chief. We should leave in about an hour."
"Very, very cool because these guys are majorly pissing me off. Man, hiding gun running behind a commune is just... so not cool, especially with the kids there." Blair shook his head and leaned his whole body into Jim, their bodies pressed close together. Jim stopped moving, and Methos could feel the tingling on his arms increase as Jim and Blair exchanged energies--a pale imitation of a quickening that happened between just the two of them. The power sent tingles up Methos' spine. For a second, he remembered a hot day on the steps of the temple, a body pressing into his. The flash of memory was there and then vanished.
"Just make sure I get my two favorite slaves back unharmed," Methos warned them.
Blair laughed. "Man, Jim would never renege on a deal. If he had to come back from the dead, he'd finish the six years."
"Like you're any better. At least I traded six years for a life. You traded it for a look at a library."
"Man, not just any library. By the time I'm done playing house slave, I'm going to have enough for a dozen dissertations. So totally worth it." The idea that Blair's love of books had led to his willingness to enslave himself might have been more believable had he not laid his head down on Jim's shoulder. Jim's fingers curled around Blair's knee.
"Yes, well I don't care why either of you made your deals, I am still owed four years. So go, get your job done and come back here with that fee," Methos ordered, pushing at Jim with his foot.
"Yes, master," Jim agreed facetiously as he got to his feet and gathered up all the ATF surveillance material and put it in his briefcase. "You heard the master, Chief, get the lead out."
"Should I?" Blair gestured toward the book. He knew better than to leave one of them out.
"Go get your Sentinel ready. I'll return the book," Methos said with a greatly put-upon sigh. Blair smiled and stripped off the white gloves, offering them to Methos.
"Thanks." Blair caught Jim's arm in his own, the connection established, they headed off for the room to change. Methos shook his head, wondering how his boys had ever managed before he had come along to get them back on the right path. Even more than that, he wondered how he had managed before they came along to share that enthusiasm and trust with him.