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Earth Laughs In Flowers

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Downtown Seacouver buzzed with energy. Not quite like Immortal presence, but it pulsed along his spine in much the same way.

Duncan pressed his phone to his ear as he walked down the busy street. “What’s his address again?” he asked Joe.

“1643 Maple Lane. Are you even listening to anything I’ve been saying?”

Damn it, thought Duncan, looking at the street sign and building numbers. This wasn’t right. He paused to side step around the tide of pedestrians crowding the sidewalk. It seemed everyone was outside today, enjoying the spring-like change in weather. All the shops and restaurants were open and droves of tourists poured into the city from one of the cruise ships docked in the bay. Part of downtown was closed to cars and had been made into a permanent outside mall. It seemed odd that Methos would choose to live around here.

“Maple?” Duncan squinted at the next street sign over.

“It’s one of those newly renovated buildings by the waterfront,” said Joe.

Duncan stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Waterfront? That was in the opposite direction. He turned abruptly, causing several pedestrians to give him side-eye. He muttered into his phone, annoyed.

“You’d think after how many years living here you’d know your way around a little better,” teased Joe.

“Hey,” said Duncan. “I know my own damn city, thank you very much.”

But did he? He left for twenty years and then came back, and the city had changed. The people changed. It grew in size. Some neighborhoods rose in prominence, while others became less fashionable. Twenty years ago the waterfront was derelict, nothing but abandoned warehouses. A developer had come in and changed all that, bringing manicured parks, gleaming buildings, and fashionable hipster coffee joints on every corner.

The area around the dojo hadn’t faired as well. Methos told him that they’d torn down the old dojo building, intending to build luxury condos, but the money had dried up during the recession and the project lay abandoned. Duncan hadn’t had the heart to go back yet.

“Okay, okay,” said Joe. “But did you hear what I said before? About Costigan? He’s coming here. He’ll be here within the next few days.”

“Yeah, I heard you the first time.” He’d finally made it to the waterfront, walking alongside the grassy esplanade near the wharfs. It was much quieter here, away from the shops and restaurants. Families were having picnics. Someone was having a birthday party, with balloons and streamers waving in the breeze.

“Well?” demanded Joe.

“What do you want me to do about it?” asked Duncan.

“He’s a hunter, Mac. There’s only one reason why he’s coming to your town. Maybe it’s time you visited the island. Take a road trip to Portland. Or a boat ride down the coast. I don’t know, get out of the city.”

Duncan frowned. A couple of kids scurried out of his way. “You know I won’t do that. I just got back, I’m not leaving now. What makes this guy different than any of the others?”

Silence on the other end. He and Joe had known each other for almost thirty years now, but Duncan still didn’t always know if he was speaking to Joe Dawson the Watcher, or Joe Dawson, his friend. Sometimes Joe broke his Watcher oath, and sometimes he just stretched it as far as it would go. “It’s a gut feeling,” answered Joe. “He’s been making his way across the country, and doesn’t leave a place without someone losing their head. He’s older. He picks his targets carefully.”

A water taxi chugged up to a small boathouse, dropping off then picking up boatloads of passengers before chugging back out again. It was a lovely spring day, sunny and bright, with a soft breeze that carried the scent of flowers. At some point over the years, the bay had been cleaned so it didn’t smell like moldy old socks anymore. He stopped to stare across the bay to the marina on the other side.

“Look, Joe, I’m outside Adam’s place,” he lied. He actually had no idea where Maple Lane was, but if he got off the phone he could GPS the address. “I gotta go.”

“Wait, no,” protested Joe. “Mac—”

“Maybe we’ll swing by the bar later.”

“Just hear me out. Don’t—”

“Bye,” insisted Duncan, ending the call with relief.

He continued walking, not paying particular attention to where he was going as he opened the map on his phone and figured out where 1643 Maple Lane was. Thankfully, he’d been walking in the right direction. See, he did know his own town, he thought with a jab of annoyance at Joe. Maple Lane was a few blocks further south.

Not in any particular hurry, Duncan meandered toward the end of the esplanade, enjoying the walk. Another water taxi sloshed past.

Without warning, a bright light lit up the sky. It came from everywhere, like someone had turned up the volume on the sun. Everyone on the esplanade stopped, shading their eyes, squinting upwards. An accompanying high-pitched noise filled Duncan’s ears, painful and insistent. He winced, clutching his head, trying to stop the noise from spearing his brain. It grew and grew and then—

Duncan opened his eyes and found several strangers peering down at him. He lay flat on his back in the middle of the lane.

“Are you okay?” asked a concerned woman in her thirties, dressed in running clothes. She offered him a sip from her hydra flask.

Waking up like that, seeing nothing but strangers around him, was disconcerting. His head ached, but the pain receded quickly as he stood up, a little woozy. “I think so. What happened?”

“You passed out,” said the woman.

Passed out? That wasn’t like him. “Did anyone else see that light, or hear that noise? Like feedback?”

“Yeah. We all did,” she answered. “Don’t suppose you have any idea what it was?”

She was tall, with lovely long brown hair and a sweet smile. On any other day, Duncan would have smiled back and maybe asked for her number, but the experience had unsettled him.

He shook his head. Around him he saw confused, worried strangers, many pulling out their phones. “Thanks for, well… thanks,” he said to the jogger.

“Sure,” she answered, still concerned. “Is there someone you could call?”

But he tuned her out because his head began to ache again. This time, however, he knew what it meant.

It started with a tickle of Immortal presence. Duncan knew that buzz, knew it like the back of his hand. He searched the pedestrians with their dogs, looking around at the mothers pushing strollers. A quick glance toward Maple Lane didn’t show anything. The presence wasn't coming from the street. It came from the stairs leading to the lower wharf.

Someone who could be Methos, except that he had wild unkempt hair and a scraggly beard and was dressed in clothes that looked like a cross between a tracksuit and a doublet, stepped onto the esplanade. His familiar presence went from a tickle to a full-blown rush of sensation. It rankled, like it was off key. It juttered instead of slid. And yet, it felt like Methos – hot and strong in his mind.

But it couldn’t be Methos. Duncan had seen Methos the day before and he definitely had shorter hair then. Whatever else Methos might claim to be good at, Duncan didn’t think he could grow shoulder-length hair in less than twenty-four hours, or grow a beard in that time. It wasn’t much of a beard, to be sure, but it was still several days of growth.

“Duncan,” cried the man that looked like Methos. He spoke as if he had searched for Duncan for centuries instead of merely from yesterday. There was a mad light in his eyes.

“Me—Adam? Is that you? What have you done to yourself?” asked Duncan. He made a noise of surprise when Methos practically threw himself into Duncan’s arms. “What the hell?”

Methos grasped him like he needed Duncan to hold him up. “You’re here,” he said, staring at Duncan in wonder. “I didn’t believe.”

“Yeah. I’m here,” said Duncan, officially deciding this day had taken a hard turn into crazy. “We said we’d meet today, didn’t we? What was that light? Is that a wig? Is something going on I don’t know about?”

Duncan tried to touch Methos’s hair because…well, because there was a lot of it. It looked like Methos was trying out for a part in a movie and thought this was what hipsters wore these days. All he needed was a man bun and a scarf worn with a fashionably torn short-sleeved T-shirt.

Methos grabbed Duncan’s phone, looking at the time. Relief visibly washed over him. Then, he touched Duncan’s face. He touched his chest, his shoulders, he touched Duncan all over. He took Duncan apart bit by bit, memorizing him, swallowing him up.

“Adam,” he said, mindful they were in public. In Methos’s eyes, Duncan saw loss. Centuries of it. “You’re scaring the tourists.”

Methos balled his fists into Duncan’s shirt, pulling hard. “Promise me.”

“Ow,” said Duncan, trying to ease Methos’s grip. “What’s going on? Why are you like this?”

“Promise me, Duncan. I need to hear it.”

“Promise you what?” Alarm bells rang in his mind. Methos’s eyes were perfectly hazel, mossy green. Duncan shook his head. “I don’t know what this is about.”

The journey Methos’s face took, from desperate hope to annoyance to a flash of amusement and then finally settling on acceptance. Like he hadn’t really expected a different answer. “In three days,” he said. “Whatever you do, don’t follow me home.”

Before Duncan could form a proper response – Home? Where was home for the both of them? What happened in three days? – Methos pulled him in and kissed him. It stunned Duncan into stillness. Immobilized. He’d never been kissed by someone quite so whiskery before. It wasn’t a particularly romantic kiss. It was hard. It ached. It was desperate and lonely.

Duncan closed his eyes and leaned into the kiss until they broke apart. Methos let go of his shirt, then pressed his cheek against Duncan’s. When Duncan opened his eyes again, the Methos with the wild hair and the sad eyes was gone.

~*~

Stunned, Duncan stood with what he imagined must have been the dumbest expression. A few strangers gave him curious looks, but most of the people had moved on. The jogger with the hydro flask was nowhere to be seen. Methos was nowhere to be seen.

But had it been Methos? He tried to make heads or tails of what just happened. From a deep certainty, he knew the man who’d just kissed him had been Methos. But he also hadn’t been.

Duncan set off for Maple Lane, almost at a run. He found Methos’s building, an older structure with an ornate façade overlooking the bay. He impatiently waited for the elevator, then gave up on it and sprinted up the stairs, all the way to the sixth floor. A little out of breath, he sighed when he felt Methos’s presence. It felt completely and totally exactly like Methos should.

“Adam,” he called, pounding on the door with his fists. “Open up.”

He paused to listen, didn’t hear anything, then began pounding again. The door suddenly swung open and he stumbled in as Methos stepped aside, holding a cell phone to his ear.

“Oh. No, here he is,” said Methos into his phone. “Call off the dogs. He’s alive. Yes,” said Methos. “Yes, I’ll tell him. All right. I said I’d tell him.” He ended the call, then said to Duncan, “Joe says to tell you that you’re an ass.”

“What is going on?” demanded Duncan. He stared at Methos, who looked exactly as he should, as he always did – the same short hair, the same whisker-free face. He was wearing a dark pair of jeans and a plain sweatshirt.

“You tell me,” said Methos, closing the door.

Duncan opened his mouth, ready to ask a million questions, but he got distracted as he looked around Methos’s apartment. It was modern and sleek, tastefully furnished, with floor-to-ceiling windows commanding a stunning view of the bay. “This is nice,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Methos, waving his hand to indicate his home. “Mi casa es su casa.”

Duncan grinned, remembering that long ago day. And here they were again, over twenty years later. Methos moved with languid strength, leading Duncan further into the apartment. There was very little that resembled the Methos Duncan had met on the esplanade.

“Seriously, what’s going on?” He began inspecting Methos’s hair.

“What’s going on is you’re over half an hour late.” Methos let Duncan turn his head this way and that. “What are you doing?”

“Was it a fake beard?” he asked, looking for signs of spirit gum or adhesives.

“A fake what?” asked Methos, laughing a little as Duncan crawled his fingers through his hair.

“I saw you. Out on the street. You ran up to me, in strange clothes. You had long hair and a beard. And you seemed…you were… Upset,” he said, finally.

“Mac, I haven’t left this apartment all morning,” said Methos.

“Then who was that?” demanded Duncan.

Methos shrugged, giving Duncan a concerned, worried frown. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. I mean no. I don’t know,” said Duncan. Perhaps he needed to start at the beginning. “Did you see that bright light?”

“Yes I did,” said Methos, with interest. “I thought it was the end times. You know, they finally let the bombs fly. Obviously it wasn’t that, thank God. Do you know what it was?”

“No, I was hoping you did,” he said. He didn’t want to admit this next part, but then he realized there was no one else he trusted more than Methos. “I passed out.”

“What?” asked Methos, with real concern, no longer mildly amused at Duncan’s ramblings. “You passed out?”

Duncan nodded. “Flat on my back.”

“For how long?” asked Methos, making Duncan walk to the couch to sit down, placing a hand on his forehead. He took Duncan’s pulse.

“Seemed only a few seconds. As long as that light lasted.”

“Stick your tongue out,” said Methos. “Go like this.” He made a funny face that at any other time would have had Duncan rolling his eyes. Methos peered down his throat, then he shone a pen light into his eyes.

“What do you think caused it?” asked Duncan, blinking as his eyes readjusted.

“I don’t know,” said Methos, who began searching through a closet, pulling out a diaper bag. For some reason, Methos had an entire box of baby supplies. He found what he was looking for and returned to Duncan on the couch. “Could be sudden metabolic drop. Seizure. Spike in blood pressure. Did you eat today?”

“No, I mean about the light,” frowned Duncan, eying the thermometer and jar of Vaseline in Methos’s hands. “What do you think caused it? What are you planning to do with that?” He pointed at the thermometer.

“I want to take your temperature. Drop your trousers.”

“Excuse me,” said Duncan, shrinking back against the couch. “Methos, why do you have a diaper bag?” He looked around for a baby.

“Alice in 5B. She has twin babies. I babysit for her on Wednesdays.” At Duncan’s blank stare, Methos explained. “When you have babies in the house, it’s best to be prepared. I bought a few things, to be on the safe side. But they only had the kind of thermometer that goes up the bum. So, drop your trousers. Bend over.”

Inexplicably, Duncan found himself unbuckling his belt. But then he came to his senses. “No, Methos. I’m not sick.”

“Mac, you passed out.”

“I know, but that wasn’t the weird part.” He explained about the other Methos, what he had looked like, what he had said. Methos listened with a deepening crease between his brows, his eyes traveling over Duncan’s face. “I wouldn’t mistake your quickening for anyone else’s. He felt like you. Almost exactly.”

“Almost exactly?” asked Methos.

It was an uncommon ability among Immortals, the way they knew each other’s quickening. They never talked about. Duncan assumed it had to do with the way their quickenings comingled that one time, a bit of one mixing with the other.

“I know when it’s you,” said Duncan. “Don’t you? Know when it’s me?”

Methos looked like he wanted to deny it, but there was a smidge of color on his cheeks. It was always so charming whenever Methos blushed. “Yes,” he admitted, with a twist of his lips. “What happened next?”

“Oh, uh,” said Duncan, and now it was his turn to blush. He felt his cheeks grow warm. “Then, he kissed me.”

Methos’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “He did what?”

“Yeah,” said Duncan, agreeing with Methos’s shock and surprise. “I know. But he kissed me, no explanation. It wasn’t…good.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Methos, shifting from shock to offense. “I’m a very good kisser.”

“No,” laughed Duncan, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean that. I mean...it was sad. Heartbroken.” He looked out to the view of the bay, remembering the other Methos’s lingering horror, the loneliness he saw in his eyes. “A last kiss, or, I don’t know, a last chance.”

When he turned back, he couldn’t for the life of him read what Methos was thinking. Methos was still, as if carved from stone, with a fixed, masked expression. It worried Duncan, when Methos became unreadable like this.

“Do you know something I don’t know?” he asked, relieved when he saw that faint blush again, delicate along Methos’s cheekbones, a small sign of life.

“Leave it to you to have some kind of doppelganger crisis less than a week after returning to Seacouver,” said Methos, with a shake of his head.

“Me? Methos, it wasn’t me. It was you.”

Methos waved a hand in dismissal. “Well. Three days from now don’t follow me home. Problem solved.”

“You think it’s going to be that easy?” asked Duncan.

They fell silent. Outside, a single pink flower caught in a breeze flew past the window, dipping and swaying until it fell from view.

~*~

They decided to continue with their plans for the day, taking Methos’s SUV and driving first to the furniture store, then to the granite show room, the kitchen cabinet store, then finally to Home Depot.

After twenty years away, he had returned to Seacouver and bought a large five-bedroom rambling ranch-style house that he planned to gut and renovate. Before the end of his second day back in town, he had felt the familiar flood of Immortal presence washing over him, followed closely by the doorbell ringing.

He knew who it was before he answered the door. He would know this man in his sleep. “Oh it’s you,” he said, when he saw Methos on the porch.

Methos’s smile spread slowly across his lips. “Hello, Mac.”

There was a moment of resistance, staring uncertainly at each other, then the awkwardness disappeared. Duncan smiled in answer, pulling Methos in for a hug. “It’s good to see you,” he said, a hand cupping that missed crinkly-eyed grin.

Connor’s death had unmoored him. Duncan had already sold the dojo and the barge, but after Connor, he sold his properties in London and New York as well, and became adrift in the world. Except for Joe, he pulled away from everyone and cut ties with most of his friends. Emails from Amanda went unanswered. He didn’t respond to texts from Robert or Gina. He’d killed too many of his friends. He didn’t want to kill any more. The Game could go on without him for a while.

But he couldn’t seem to cut ties with Methos, try as he might. The connection went too deep. Late at night, when it grew quiet and he lay awake in bed, he sensed Methos, no matter how far away they were from each other, as if they were on opposite ends of a very long string. Sometimes when he meditated, it was like he and Methos sat quietly together, the way they used to on their best days, those long-ago evenings spent at the barge or the loft.

A year or so after he began traveling, he picked up his phone and dialed a number he didn’t know would work anymore. The call rang and rang until Methos answered.

“Mac?”

“Hi. Yeah, it’s me. I couldn’t sleep.”

A long pause. “I see,” said Methos. It sounded like Methos was somewhere loud and noisy, but then he went into a quieter room, and it was just the two of them speaking over a long distance. Times like these still left Duncan marveling at modern technology. “Where are you?”

Duncan didn’t want to say. But then he realized Methos wouldn’t come to him. Not this time. If he wanted to see Methos, Duncan would have to go to him. “A town called Dildo. In Newfoundland.”

“Where?” laughed Methos. “That’s not a real place.”

“It is,” said Duncan, also laughing, and he told Methos all about the wonderful people of Newfoundland. They spoke for hours.

That’s how it went, for years. A few months would go by, and then he’d call Methos and they’d talk on the phone. The only other person he spoke to regularly was Joe. Then, as the years went by, it became obvious that Joe was getting older. It was time Duncan came home. On his last call to Methos, with his heart hammering in his chest, he said, “I’m thinking of returning to Seacouver.”

“Oh yeah?” said Methos with mild interest, as if Duncan had said, “I’m thinking of buying a new toaster oven.” “Well, it’s still your town,” he said.

“If I do, will you be there?”

“Mac, I never left,” said Methos. Duncan knew this – that Methos kept a place in Seacouver, along with his homes in Europe – but he’d needed to be sure.

A month later, he bought a house and moved in, and the next day Methos showed up on his doorstep.

After they finished at Home Depot, Methos drove to the new house and they began unloading the car. Duncan wanted to finish the access ramp for Joe first, then he would spend the next couple days taking down walls to open up the floor plan.

They stacked up newly bought wood. Methos went inside to drop off tools while Duncan returned to the car to grab whatever was left. With his back to the driveway, he leaned into the boot of the car, gathering the rest of the supplies into a bin. The wind picked up, rushing through the trees, causing branches to scrape against each other. The noise made him shiver. He didn’t know what told him to turn around, but he did and there in the center of the driveway sat a tiny gray kitten. The kitten squeaked.

Duncan tilted his head. “Hello there,” he said, setting the bin down on the porch before walking slowly up to the kitten. The kitten squeaked a second time, looking up at Duncan with large dark blue eyes. It didn’t run away, and he picked it up. It fit perfectly in the palm of his hand. “What are you doing here,” he peeked between its back legs, “little miss?” he asked.

The kitten squeaked in answer.

Methos came down the porch steps. “Where did that come from?”

“It’s a kitten,” said Duncan, holding up the kitten. The kitten splayed her legs, then stretched out her tiny toes. She squeaked at Methos.

“I can see that.”

“She just appeared, right in the center of the driveway,” he answered, looking back at the driveway for answers.

“What are you going to do with it?” asked Methos, grabbing a paw as if he shook its hand.

Duncan looked directly into the kitten’s eyes. She squeaked at him and then at Methos. “Not sure. Suppose I’ll make sure she’s not lost, and if she’s a stray, I’ll find a home for her.” He rubbed the kitten’s head. “For now, I guess…put her in a box.”

Before he could take one step, he heard more squeaky meows. He and Methos turned their heads in unison. Two more kittens – a black and white kitten and a calico kitten – sat by the edge of the driveway near the bushes, looking up at them.

“Uh oh,” said Methos.

“There must be a mother nearby who just had a litter,” said Duncan. “I’ll take a look under the house. Let’s get these guys inside first. Can you grab those two?”

Methos went to pick up the two new kittens but then he stopped because the kittens had multiplied. Where there used to be two, now there were four kittens sitting by the side of the house, meowing. “Mac?” he said.

They looked at each other. “That’s got to be all of them, right?” said Duncan. With one hand, he dumped the contents of the bin onto the porch floor, placing his kitten inside, and then helping Methos grab the other four.

Duncan carried the bin full of meowing kittens, following Methos up the porch, but they both stopped, staring down at the floor in front of the door.

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?” asked Duncan, beginning to feel unnerved. Three new kittens – a brown tabby, a ginger, and a white kitten – sat in a perfect row, looking up at them. They meowed in unison. He looked around to the houses on either side, then out to the street, searching his senses for anything that could tell him what was going on. He turned back to the kittens. “Or am I hallucinating?”

“Do you mean how we seemed to have wandered into the strangest Twilight Zone episode?” asked Methos, bending down to pick up the three new kittens, holding all of them in his arms.

They entered the house and then he almost yelped in surprise. Methos cursed. The living room had about ten to fifteen kittens gamboling up and down the temporary furniture, sliding around on the wooden floors, jumping from box to box.

“What in the hell?” said Duncan, looking around in astonishment. Kittens of every color meowed expectantly.

“I swear they weren’t here when I came inside five minutes ago,” said Methos, dumping his three kittens into Duncan’s bin, beginning to try and catch the others.

There was little time to discuss theories. They spent several minutes running around trying to gather all the kittens. The bin overflowed. Duncan emptied two other boxes and began filling those with kittens, too. He didn’t know if it was his imagination or the result of the kittens continually escaping from the boxes, but it seemed like they kept multiplying. Two kittens suddenly became four, and then eight. There was a swarm of multi-colored kittens all around them.

Duncan had tiny puncture wounds from several tiny claws. He looked over at Methos, trying not to laugh as Methos kept pulling off kittens climbing up his legs. He began to envision their death by kitten.

“That’s it,” said Methos, holding four kittens in one arm and freeing his cell phone from his pocket with the other. “We need reinforcements,” said Methos.

“No, Methos,” said Duncan, trying to hop over to Methos without stepping on any of the kittens. “He doesn’t know about the house yet.”

“Mac. We need help. We are literally in over our heads,” said Methos, handing Duncan his four kittens. He made a call. Joe’s face appeared on his phone screen. “Joe! Thank God you answered. Look what’s happening?” he said. Methos turned the phone around to film Duncan struggling with three of the kittens crawling up onto his shoulders. “Are you seeing this?” he yelled at his phone.

The chorus of squeaky meows reached top volume. Duncan felt a kitten get tangled in his hair. “Ahhh. Methos? A little help,” he squealed.

Joe’s tinny voice came through the phone, but Duncan couldn’t make out what he was saying. Methos waded over to Duncan.

“We are having a very serious kitten emergency, Joseph,” said Methos, trying to untangle a kitten from Duncan while holding both his phone and two more kittens. Joe answered, but Duncan didn’t hear anything he said, squirming as a kitten slipped under his collar. “Don’t argue with us, just get your Watcher friends and get over here. 503 Athens Street.”

After ten more minutes of kitten chaos, two unmarked black vans pulled up to the house and a team of Watchers in black tactical gear swarmed over the property carrying several animal crates. Duncan didn’t know what was stranger, the fact that Methos used the phrase, “very serious kitten emergency,” or that the Watchers had a unit ready to go just for kitten emergencies in general. In less time than it took for them to arrive, the Watchers wrangled all the kittens into crates, sweeping through the property for any leftovers.

Two of the Watchers lifted Joe’s wheelchair onto the porch, helping him sit back down and wheeling him inside. “Hey guys,” said Joe, cheerfully. “What’s happening?”

Duncan looked over at Methos and then down at himself. He felt battle-worn, and Methos looked like he’d just come out of a particularly violent mosh pit. Before either of them could reply, one of the Watchers came over to Joe, reporting that they’d collected all of the kittens and checked the surrounding properties. They didn’t find any abandoned homes or feral cat colonies, nor any indication where the kittens had come from. “It’s like the other events, sir. Exactly the same. The kittens just appear out of nowhere.”

“What other events?” Methos demanded, nursing several scratches on his hands.

“You’re not the only ones with a kitten problem,” said Joe, grinning from ear to ear. “Haven’t you seen the news? It’s a legitimate phenomenon. Several areas across the city have reported a sudden influx of kittens. A few shelters are opening their doors to take them in. We’ll take this lot over to Sunnyside Animal Shelter.”

“Unexplained bright lights, a kitten invasion, what else? What is going on? Do you know?” Duncan asked Joe.

“Not a clue,” answered Joe, just as cheerfully as before.

The last of the kitten crates were carried out to the unmarked vans and the meowing ceased, until they heard another small squeak. Duncan nearly leapt five feet in the air, jumping to the side. The Watcher from before bent down and caught a gray kitten that had been hiding by Duncan’s feet. Duncan recognized the kitten, pretty sure it was the first one he’d found on the driveway when this whole thing started.

“This’ll be the last of them,” the Watcher said to Joe, ready to add the kitten to one of the other crates.

“Wait,” said Duncan, reaching for the kitten. “I’ll keep that one.”

The Watcher hesitated, but then handed the gray kitten to Duncan. Methos gave him an odd look, and Duncan shrugged in answer. He was just as surprised at himself as Methos was, lifting the kitten to look at her. She squeaked. “How do I know these kittens are going to be taken care of?” he asked, turning on Joe. He didn’t exactly trust the Watchers not to dump them on the side of the road. “Where are they taking them? How far away? It’s not one of those kill shelters, is it?”

The same Watcher returned from one of the vans outside and handed Duncan a package that had the words, “Kitten Starter Kit,” written on it.

“Oh. Thanks,” said Duncan, frowning, not wanting to feel beholden to the Watchers at all.

“You were saying?” said Joe, a tad smugly. But Methos gave Joe a look, conveying something silently that Duncan didn’t catch. Joe sighed. “Hey, Brad,” he said to the Watcher. “One thing before you go. Send me an update when you drop off the kittens. Take pictures and text them. We’ve got a nervous cat dad here.”

“Yes, sir,” said the Watcher, stopping just short of saluting. He went back outside and a moment later Duncan heard the vans drive away.

“I guess it’s good to be the boss,” said Methos, eyeing the street, making sure the Watchers were gone.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” said Joe, with his trademark rascally grin. “Hey, is this your house?” Joe looked around. “Did you buy it?” he asked Duncan. “Are you going to live here?”

Methos turned to Duncan. “Do you want to tell him or shall I?” asked Methos.

Duncan almost put his hands on his hips, but then he remembered he was holding a kitten. “Are we really not going to talk about what just happened?”

He got blank stares from both of them. Meanwhile, the kitten was trying to suckle on his thumb. Duncan went to the kitchen and opened the top drawer by the sink. He’d made three keys for the house: one for himself, one for Methos, and one for Joe. The key ring had a leather fob, woven into a Celtic knot.

“Catch,” he said, returning to the living room and tossing Joe the key. “This isn’t my house,” he said. “It’s yours. I bought it for you.”

Joe stared at him then at the key in his hand, then he wrinkled his brow. “What?” he asked, completely bewildered. “Mac,” he said, trying to speak but couldn’t seem to find the words. “A house?”

“If you want it. It’s not ready yet,” said Duncan. “It’ll take a few months to finish the renovation. You weren’t supposed to know until it was done, but now you can tell me what you want. It’s got enough space, you should be okay getting around in your chair. Plenty of bedrooms for Amy and the kids, when they visit, and your niece and nephews.”

Joe still owned both bars, though he didn’t work anymore, and made a decent living from them, on top of whatever salary he received from the Watchers. But he’d spent most of his money paying for his niece and nephews’ college tuitions, and gave the rest of it to Amy. He didn’t keep much for himself.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Joe, deep creases in his face. He looked embarrassed and surprised and like a bushel of kittens had just fallen into his lap. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“Oh, I know,” said Duncan. “But I wanted to. You know I love this sort of thing. It keeps me busy. Besides, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what’s important in the last twenty years.” He squeezed Joe’s shoulder, then gave his face a gentle slap.

Joe shook his head. “You’re such an ass,” he said, blue eyes watery.

Duncan smiled. “That’s what Methos says.”

“Frequently,” added Methos.

They gave a stuttering, protesting Joe a tour of the house, going over the renovations Duncan planned to make. Afterwards, they ordered take out and sat around in the sparsely furnished kitchen, like old times. Duncan put the kitten in a box, placing a towel in there for her and a saucer of water, and some of the kitten food that came with the starter kit. She was big enough to be weaned, but he anxiously watched her eat.

“Any more thought on what you’re going to do about Costigan?” asked Joe.

In the insanity of the day, Duncan had completely forgotten his earlier conversation with Joe. Beside him, Methos froze.

“Costigan?” asked Methos, and if Duncan hadn’t been looking at him, he still would have sensed Methos’s spike of alarm. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“Do you know him?” asked Duncan.

Methos returned to that stone-like expression that Duncan hated, the one that he couldn’t read, that didn’t give anything away. “Our paths have crossed,” he said, mildly. “What about Costigan?” he asked Joe, his tone careful and even.

Joe reported on Costigan’s activities, how after decades in seclusion he’d started hunting again, working his way across the country. He went into a little more detail than he had with Duncan. Costigan wasn’t on a mass killing spree, but seemed methodical about it. It was the kind of activity that raised red flags with the Watchers. Hunters were common enough, but everyone grew concerned when an old one picked up the habit, always on the look out for signs of the Gathering.

As Joe spoke, Duncan tapped his foot against Methos’s to get his attention. Their eyes met. The news had scared Methos, but he was hiding it. Their connection tightened, pulling Duncan in. It was like a pulse, a heartbeat.

“Did you say Costigan would get here in three days?” Duncan asked Joe, but he didn’t take his eyes off Methos.

“That’s right,” said Joe. “Well. Closer to two now.” He looked between them, back and forth. “What is it? What happens in three days?”

Whatever you do, don’t follow me home.

There was absolute silence in the kitchen, until the kitten scrambled around in her box, and they heard a tiny meow. Duncan grinned at Joe. “Nothing happens,” he said.

Joe didn’t look convinced, but Methos raised his beer bottle. “A toast,” he said, and once again his eyes latched onto Duncan’s before sliding over to Joe. “To the three of us, together again.”

They clinked bottles, and with Methos’s help, Duncan steered the conversation back to the renovations, soliciting Joe’s opinion, until it was time for Methos to take Joe home.

~*~

Duncan woke before dawn the next morning certain there were kittens trapped in the crawl space beneath the house.

He spent an hour down there with a flash light, covered in spider-webs and dirt, checking every corner, listening for any sound, but he didn’t find any more kittens. Then he spent another hour checking the rest of the house, inside and outside – every room, every closet, walking the exterior of the house, poking around the backyard, until he was in danger of being late to meet the kitchen cabinet guys.

It happened as he walked from the master bedroom into the en suite bathroom. One second he was in Seacouver where it was morning, and the sun shone brightly. And then, in the next second, he opened the door into darkness, and into the sudden, harsh presence of another Immortal.

Duncan kept his grip on the door handle. Falling into the presence of another Immortal so quickly was like being doused in ice water without warning. But he knew this presence, as he had known it before on the esplanade – different yet so familiar.

He didn’t recognize the room – large with high ceilings, rugs and wall hangings and plush furniture. It smelled unfamiliar – like incense and woodsmoke. On the far side of the room, a man stood by an open balcony. It was nighttime and there was a view of mountains, and maybe a lake, maybe a city. The man turned, and they looked at each other.

“Methos?” asked Duncan. He knew that profile as well as he knew Methos’s presence.

But it was a different Methos. The other Methos. Who looked at him with intensity, with widening eyes. The other Methos stalked across the large space toward Duncan, step by step, his eyes burning brightly.

Duncan panicked and shut the door. He was back in the sunlit master bedroom, his heart hammering in his chest, with the kitten squeaking from the closet. After a moment, he reopened the bathroom door – but the bathroom was just the bathroom again. The morning light spilled in through the open window as a breeze blew, sending in a single pink flower that fluttered to the floor.

He didn’t have time for this, he thought with irritation, stripping quickly and stepping into the shower. Luckily the cabinetmakers were also late, and he was just putting on his shoes when the doorbell rang. Most of his day was spent speaking with vendors, making sure they understood what was needed to accommodate someone in a wheelchair. Then he began swinging a mallet, tearing down walls. He almost forgot what happened that morning, until he needed something from the utility closet.

Instead of a cluttered closet, he found himself in the same large room as before, cast in darkness. Immortal presence burst into awareness, sharp and cutting. The other Methos was in mid-step, as if no time had passed at all, coming closer. The closer he came, the more Duncan could see his face – the look in his eyes, a look that spoke of a burning need, a hunger. Firelight danced against the walls. The other Methos sped up, moving toward him faster.

Duncan stepped back and closed the door. His hands and feet tingled. He didn’t know how long he stood staring at the closet door without moving, until the local kid he’d hired to help him clear out the debris tentatively asked if Duncan was okay.

“Sir? Is the other ladder in there?” asked the kid. His name was Scott.

“What?” asked Duncan. “Oh, yeah. It’s in there.”

His heart was in his throat as Scott opened the closet door like another world didn’t exist on the other side. But it was just a closet again. Scott gave him an odd look as he retrieved the ladder. From then on, each time he had to go through a doorway, Duncan braced himself to find another world on the other side.

Later, after Duncan paid Scott cash for his help and most of the debris had been carted out to the trash bin, Duncan sat with the kitten, letting her romp over him. The kitten seemed okay with the noise from earlier, happily attacking his shoelaces, but he knew he couldn’t keep her in the house while the renovations were ongoing.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asked her, placing her on her back, rubbing her belly. “Do you know what’s going on? Huh?”

She squeaked.

It wasn’t until it was almost time for bed, and he stepped into the bedroom across the hall looking for his suitcase, that it happened again.

He opened the bedroom door and on the other side was Methos – the distant, different, terrifying Methos – taking step after step toward him. The other Methos had longer hair, and he wore strange clothes, and his eyes were screaming at Duncan. Begging him.

Duncan felt paralyzed, though he could hear his blood pounding in his ears. He gripped the door handle, waiting until the other Methos crossed nearly the entire length of the room, so close that Duncan could see the hope in his eyes. Methos reached out, but Duncan stepped back and closed the door.

His hands shook. Almost blindly, he stumbled toward the kitchen, searching until he found a bottle of whiskey he’d stashed in the pantry. Whiskey spilled as he poured a healthy amount into a paper cup.

Sitting with the bottle of whiskey and the paper cup close by, he took out his cell phone and called Methos.

“It’s me,” he said, though Methos would already know that.

“How goes the walls of Jericho?” asked Methos, then without Duncan having to say another word, he asked, “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Duncan took a swallow of whiskey, hoping it would steady his voice. He told Methos everything.

“I feel like I’m losing my mind,” he said. “But this isn’t the first time I’ve felt like this. It isn’t the first time I’m seeing things no one else can see. Visions. Hallucinations. And look what happened then?” His voice rose. “Look what that cost me? Ahriman practically took my soul. I can’t go through that again. I can’t. What if I—”

“Duncan,” Methos interrupted. “Are you breathing? Take a breath, please.”

“Methos—I…” He couldn’t stop shaking.

“Breathe. Listen to me. In, and then out. Come on.”

He did as Methos asked, following his instructions, counting to five with each inhale. Slowly, his heart rate returned to normal. He stopped shaking quite so hard. They fell silent, but even that was comforting, a familiar sort of silence born out of twenty years of phone calls. “Sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be,” said Methos. “You know, I sometimes feel it’s me who should apologize.”

“What for?” he asked.

“For not believing you, that time. With Ahriman. I’m too much the cynic. If I’d believed you, maybe things would have been different.”

“No,” said Duncan, shaking his head. He was tired now. “You didn’t do anything wrong then. If you’d have tried to help, I might have killed you as well. If I'd lost you and Richie? I never would have recovered from that.”

“Maybe,” said Methos. “But this isn’t the same. It’s not the same as it was then. This time, I do believe you. I saw all those kittens. I saw that strange light take over the sky. You’re not the only one experiencing these things. Did you see the news today? About the man who was out walking his dog around the block, but then suddenly found himself fifty miles away, in another county? Weird things are happening all over.”

Duncan sighed. “What if it’s happening because of me?”

Methos snorted. “I love your healthy sense of self importance.”

It made Duncan laugh, and he instantly felt better. “Thanks. I’m serious.”

“I know you are. That’s what makes it even funnier.”

“Joe says I should get out of town.”

“Normally I’d second and third that suggestion,” said Methos. “And be right on your heels.”

“Not this time?”

Methos paused. “Do you think it would help?”

Duncan looked around at the house he’d just bought, half of its walls torn down. In the other room, he had a tiny kitten he’d apparently adopted. He’d only just got back in town after two decades away. He had two of his best friends back. “Probably not,” he said.

“I think you have your answer,” said Methos.

“And you’re not leaving?” he asked, feeling his hands sweat. “Even with this Costigan waiting in the wings.”

Methos took a long time answering. That string that connected them tightened, yanking on Duncan’s heart. “No,” said Methos, simply, and Duncan let out the breath he was holding.

They talked a little longer, making plans to have lunch together the next day. Duncan wanted to ask Methos to come over, or ask if he could go over to Maple Lane – he didn’t want to be alone. But something held him back. Despite the fact that Methos was his best friend, they weren’t quite there yet after all that had happened, though Duncan didn’t know what they were waiting for.

“Hey,” he said, before they hung up. “This might be a lot to ask, but can you take the kitten for a little while? With the renovation going on, it’s not safe for her here.”

Methos made a noise of derision. “I knew this would happen.”

“It would just be temporary,” he said.

“As soon as you took her, I knew it.”

“She’s a very good kitten.” Methos made another noise, followed by stubborn silence. Duncan winced as he played his last card. “Please?”

“Oh all right. Bring her tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

“Good night, Mac.”

They ended the call. Duncan finished his paper cup of whiskey before heading back to the bedroom. He decided to sit with the kitten for a little longer before going to bed. It felt safest with her around.

~*~

Methos’s presence swelled like an orchestral song as Duncan crossed the street toward the restaurant, carrying the kitten’s carrier and a few bags of supplies he bought at a pet store.

The restaurant had patio seating overlooking the esplanade and the bay, with the snow capped Cascade Mountains sparkling in the background. Seagulls dipped and swayed while pedestrians walked past. Two pale pink flowers fell from the sky, drifting across his path. Several more of the same pink flowers were strewn across the patio, like sugar coating. Methos waved to him from a far table, and Duncan bypassed the host to make his way over to him.

“Hullo,” said Methos, taking the carrier from Duncan as he set his bags down. Duncan realized Methos wasn’t saying hello to him, but to the kitten, wrinkling his nose at her, sticking his fingers through the door. “How’s the little girl?”

“She’s fine,” answered Duncan, amused at the faces Methos was making. Methos opened the carrier and took the kitten out, cupping her against his chest. “I’m not sure the wait staff here will look too kindly on having her out like that.”

Methos shrugged, clearly unconcerned. The kitten squeaked then promptly curled up and fell asleep. Traitor, thought Duncan, but more with fondness than anything else, for both of them. Methos always did well with animals and babies.

“How was your morning?” asked Methos, sitting back against his chair, one hand holding the kitten in place. “Any sudden transportations? Did gravity reverse itself? Are we having an invasion of puppies next?”

Duncan scowled. “So far we are having a normal day,” he said. The waiter came by to hand them menus, doing a double take when he saw the kitten. He seemed about to say something but then shook his head in a kind of “whatever” statement, moving on to the next table.

Several more of the same pink flowers fell, enough that a few of the restaurant patrons complained. Out on the esplanade, flowers fell onto pedestrians. Where were they coming from? Duncan searched for a flowering tree somewhere, but it was like the flowers fell from the sky.

“Are you seeing all these flowers?” he asked Methos.

Methos looked around. Instead of lessening, the flow of flowers increased. It rained flowers – white, pink, and cherry red colors, with all the shades in between. “Something’s not right,” said Methos.

“So much for normal,” said Duncan. The rain of flowers grew thicker. It got so he could barely see across the esplanade.

Three things happened at once. The waiter returned, ready to take their order just as Methos’s cell phone vibrated with a new call. At the same time, they all heard a loud screeching noise as a truck swerved into view, barreling down the street, crashing into the sidewalk and onto the esplanade in a cloud of pink flowers. Pedestrians scattered out of the way with shouts and cries of fear. Restaurant patrons gasped, standing up and craning their necks.

Duncan and the waiter both rushed down to the truck. It was obvious the driver had crashed because he couldn’t see the road through all the flowers. They pulled him out of the cab, bleeding from a head injury. He seemed unconscious at first, but slowly came around. Luckily, he’d been able to steer the truck to avoid hitting pedestrians.

Someone yelled, “Call 911. Is anyone a doctor?”

Methos was a doctor, thought Duncan.

He and the waiter helped the driver over to a bench. The head wound bled freely, the same bright red color as half the flowers that continued falling. Snow drifts of flowers piled up quickly. Despite the accident, teenagers were taking selfies and videoing themselves to post to social media.

Duncan felt a tug on his sternum, and looked back at the restaurant. Methos stood near the edge of the patio, his phone pressed to his ear. Their eyes met, and Duncan could see that hard look on Methos’s face, the one he used when he didn’t want Duncan to know what he was thinking or feeling. Who was the call from? Duncan asked silently. But he received no answer.

Without either of them breaking eye contact, Methos walked down to meet him, ending his call just as he got to the overturned truck.

“How’s the driver?” he asked, putting his cell phone back into his pocket. There were flowers in his hair.

Duncan blinked, then they both turned to look at the injured man. “Concussed, I think. He lost consciousness,” he added. “The kitten?”

“A waitress is keeping an eye on her,” said Methos. Duncan stepped back to give Methos space. He rolled up his sleeves and carefully examined the driver’s head, taking a handkerchief and pressing it against the wound. He took the same penlight he’d used on Duncan and shone it into the man’s eyes, asking simple questions, making him squeeze his hand. The driver winced.

“Are you a doctor?” asked the driver, slurring his words.

“I used to be,” answered Methos.

“Lost control, and then I couldn’t see the road.”

“And yet, you managed not to hit anyone. That makes you a hero,” said Methos, kindly.

A moment later both the paramedics and the police showed up, driving slowly down the street through the thicket of flowers that kept falling. Methos told the paramedics the man had a fractured wrist and showed signs of an intracranial hematoma. It took another few minutes to give their statements to the police. This wasn’t the only accident in the city that day.

In silence, they walked back to the restaurant. The waitress was playing with the kitten, smiling when they returned. This kitten was having far too many adventures, thought Duncan.

“Sorry about lunch,” said Methos, gathering the shopping bags. “I have to go.”

“You’re not going to tell me who called, are you?” asked Duncan, watching him.

Methos shrugged dismissively. “It wasn’t anyone. Just a telemarketer…” But then he stopped mid-lie, his shoulders sinking as he closed his eyes. He shook his head in irritation. “I used to be able to lie to you,” he said.

“Nah,” said Duncan, with a smile. “You never could. Not well anyway. Who called?” Methos didn’t answer, turning to the waitress to thank her, chivvying the kitten back in her carrier. Duncan grabbed Methos’s arm. “Tell me.”

All around flowers kept falling. “Do you trust me?” Methos asked. He could have pulled away, but he didn’t.

There was no point in ever denying it. Duncan’s throat squeezed shut. “You know I do.”

A corner of Methos’s mouth lifted in a smile. “Then trust me,” he said.

Whatever you do, don’t follow me home.

Methos picked up the kitten carrier and the bags of supplies and turned to leave. Duncan watched him walk back to his car, then drive down the road through the storm of flowers.

~*~

It seemed absurd that one small kitten would make such a huge difference, but the house felt lonely without her. Duncan slept fitfully, and woke the next morning out of sorts. The storm of flowers ended, at first reduced to a sprinkle, and then to a single flower falling now and again.

One thought overrode all others: Today was the day. Today was the third day.

He restrained himself from calling Methos, but then felt distracted all morning, like his skin wasn’t his skin, like his body wasn’t his body. He tried to ignore the sensation, and went about completing his long list of chores, taking out the old cabinets in the kitchen, pulling up carpet from the bedrooms. At the paint store, he went up and down the aisles, gathering a shopping cart full of supplies. He stared for a long time at paint chips, until his phone rang.

“Joseph,” he said. “Good timing. Do you want your bedroom painted ‘Stormy Monday’ gray or ‘Silver Satin’ gray? I refuse on principal to pick ‘Coventry Gray.’”

“We were wrong about Costigan,” said Joe, with urgency.

Duncan froze. The paint chips blurred together. “Wrong? How were you wrong?”

“We assumed he was after you. That you were his target. It made the most sense. You’re always the target. But he’s after…”

“Methos,” said Duncan. Every drop of blood in his body drained away, leaving him cold, and vacant. The string that connected him to Methos pulled tight, nearly to its breaking point. Duncan left the shopping cart in the middle of the aisle. “Where is he?” he asked, already exiting the store.

“Mac, he isn’t answering his phone,” said Joe. “But listen. Costigan’s behavior the last few months—it fits a pattern we’re just now—”

“You have a Watcher on Costigan,” cut in Duncan. “Tell me where they are?”

“The Watcher lost him about two hours ago.”

Duncan reached his car but stopped with his hand on the driver-side door. There were pink flowers stuck to the windshield wipers. He recalled Methos’s expression from the day before, speaking to whoever had called him – he had looked like someone walked over his grave. It must have been Costigan who’d called.

Whatever you do, don’t follow me home.

Home could be the house on Athens Street. It could be Maple Lane. It could mean all of Seacouver. Or… “I know where they are,” he said to Joe before ending the call.

He peeled out of the parking lot. He didn’t have to think or try to remember how to get to the dojo – the way was tattooed onto the inside of his eyelids. But it was disorienting when he got there to find the familiar building gone. In its place was a half-built structure several stories high. It lacked exterior walls, with torn tarps and scaffolding wrapped around the outside.

The discordant, thunderous Immortal presence nearly knocked him over. He rushed into the building. Despite its half-finished state, the lobby was a rather large space, with high ceilings and light pouring in from the back where it opened up to the outside. Three men were fighting close together. Duncan recognized two of them right away, but they each turned when they felt him enter.

Even though he had met the other Methos on the esplanade, he hadn’t fully grasped what that meant until he was facing two Methoses side-by-side. They looked so different from each other, but the twin force of that too familiar presence nearly stripped Duncan of all reason.

He locked eyes with one Methos and then the other, and felt gut punched by both. “Duncan, get out,” said the Methos he knew best, his face white with fear.

“You shouldn’t have come,” yelled the other Methos, the stranger. His hair was just as wild as before, his eyes just as desperate. His voice was heartbreaking.

The strange Methos held out a hand, palm facing out, and a ball of quickening fire burst out of him. It hit Duncan square in the chest. He went flying backward, hard enough that he punched through drywall, landing in a cloud of chalk in the next room. Dizzy, it took him a moment to shake it off, and he stumbled to his feet. He heard the metal on metal sound of sword fighting as he pulled himself back into the lobby through the hole in the wall.

Who was fighting who was hard to tell as they moved around. Duncan got his first look at Costigan – a tall, thick-set man. He was a good fighter. It showed in his speed, and in how easily he defended his position on both sides.

But no one was a match for the other Methos. He glowed with what Duncan could only assume was the full power of thousands of quickenings. With a quick flick of his sword, he disarmed Costigan, then used ribbons of quickening like chains to bind him down on his knees. Costigan looked very much like he regretted all his life choices, crying out in pain as the quickening held him.

Then Methos faced Methos. Duncan panicked, terrified of what would happen next. He tried to run forward, but the other Methos turned and raised his hand again. Another ball of energy sent Duncan flying backward, though the wall, into the other room. By the time he made it out again, Methos was disarmed and standing with a sword to his neck. It was the same silhouette: two Immortals under the Pont de Tournelle versus two Immortals – but the same man – in an abandoned building.

The other Methos lowered his sword, then tossed it aside. The light within him dimmed.

“Why are you here?” asked his Methos, catching his breath.

The other Methos didn’t speak right away, almost like he wanted to spare himself the answer. “To stop you from taking his head,” he said, and each word cost him.

At first, Duncan assumed he meant Costigan – Costigan was critical in some way. But then he saw that Methos – his Methos – slowly shook his head in denial. His eyes brightened with unshed tears, with utter refusal, his face twisting in agony. He didn’t stop shaking his head, his skin flushed as he asked a question with nothing but the pain in his eyes.

In contrast, the other Methos’s expression was stone-like, though his eyes were just as bright. He nodded in answer to Methos’s unvoiced question.

“I wouldn’t,” said his Methos through his tears. “I would never.”

“You did,” answered the other Methos, with a voice like crushed ice. “But you won’t now.”

He took out a gun and shot Methos in the chest. Methos’s eyes widened briefly before he died, his body falling to the ground. With a wave of his arm, the other Methos sent the body through the air, clear across the lobby. Duncan only had a moment, seeing Methos’s body flying toward him, to try and catch it. They both went crashing through the wall again. Stunned and winded, Duncan pushed Methos’s dead body off him, but then lifted him up, carrying him through the hole in the wall and back into the lobby.

The other Methos returned to Costigan who struggled in his quickening cage, a grimace etched into his face and the whites of his eyes showing fear. But there was no hope for him. The ground shook, the half-finished walls rattled. Methos raised both arms and two swords, his own and Costigan’s, flew into each hand. With a downward strike, Methos struck with both swords, and Costigan’s head was sliced clean off, tumbling to the floor.

Duncan shaded his eyes, the brightness filling the entire lobby. Costigan’s quickening raised into the air like a tower, then poured straight down onto Methos, pure molten energy. It lit him up from the inside – veins, muscles, bones, blood. But he remained upright until the end. The light grew and grew. A high-pitched noise filled Duncan’s ears, and he winced as everything went white.

He must have passed out again, like the oxygen was sucked out of his lungs. When he came to, the other Methos was nowhere to be seen. Costigan’s body lay in pieces. A breeze blew in from the outside, with several pink flowers flying in a small vortex, swirling around. A few flowers flew outside again, then back inside, then outside one more time, as if to say, “This way. Come this way.”

Duncan didn’t know why he followed the flowers. Perhaps it was some last whisper of energy calling to him. He carefully laid Methos’s body on the ground, arranging his limbs more comfortably. Unsteady on his feet, he followed the flowers. What he saw there surprised him. Though the building lay abandoned, someone had started a community garden in the wasteland of the construction. In his rush, he hadn't noticed it when he first arrived. He saw fruit trees and several flowering bushes, a vegetable garden. There was a row of sweet peas, and another of sunflowers. A trellis had been built for climbing vines. Everywhere, the pink flowers fluttered, carried by a breeze. It was lovely, actually, this little bit of peace amidst the tatters of failed capitalism.

The other Methos was sitting on a bench placed approximately in the same spot that used to be the front of the building. He was staring out at the garden. Carefully, not certain what to expect, Duncan sat beside him.

“I’m sorry if I hurt you. I had to get you out of the way,” said Methos. Their eyes met briefly, but it was like being on the receiving end of a live wire. There was too much sadness in Methos’s eyes. “I didn’t want you anywhere near Costigan’s quickening.”

Duncan breathed slowly. The breeze picked up several of those pink flowers that seemed to fly around Methos. “You’re from the future,” he said. He intended it to be a question, but it came out like it was the truth. “You took the prize, didn’t you?”

Methos gave him a small crease of a smile, and it became easier to look at each other. He shifted in his seat and inclined his head. “Bright boy,” he said.

“Tell me what happened,” asked Duncan.

Suddenly, Methos looked ancient, though nothing obvious about him had changed. His eyes took on a far away look. “Costigan came to Seacouver intending to take my head. We had met before,” Methos narrowed his eyes, as if searching his memory. “So long ago, I don’t remember all of it now. But he knew who I was. And he wanted the quickening of the oldest Immortal. I won the fight, and took his quickening instead.”

Then, as if the answer had been staring at him all along, the last piece of the puzzle slotted into place. Duncan knew what happened to this Methos, and what would have happened to his Methos if things had not been changed. “It was a Dark Quickening.”

Methos closed his eyes. “No one realized, until it was too late. Costigan didn’t show the typical signs.”

“But you could have fought it,” said Duncan, desperately. “Like I did. You could have gotten over it.”

The expression Methos gave him was like that of cracked glass, ever widening. “There are different kinds of Dark Quickenings,” he said, his voice painful to listen to, tied up with so much emotion. “The one you took was almost pure violence. That was its defining nature. It revealed itself openly. The one I took buried itself deep inside. It was cold, calculating, it stripped away all emotion. It didn’t even leave anger behind. But worse than that,” he said, and his voice broke apart completely. “It severed the connection between us.”

Oh no. Duncan felt like he fell into a well of sadness. He wanted to reach for Methos but was afraid to. His mind spun, thinking of what it must have been like, for Methos, for himself. To lose each other in that way.

“A Dark Quickening has a survival instinct of its own. It’s like a virus, and we’re its host.”

“I remember,” he said, recalling all too well what it was like having a living darkness inside him.

“The first thing I did was destroy the holy spring.” More flowers fell around them, softly, gently. “After that, there was only one thing that could stop me.” Methos shifted his eyes to Duncan. “You.”

Emotion made Duncan’s face hurt. “Did I try?” he asked.

“Oh yes,” he said, and there was something of a smile there. “Relentlessly, for all the remaining years of your life. But I was too good at hiding from you. I hunted quickening after quickening. It took less time than you’d think, until there was just you and me.”

Duncan didn’t have to be told what happened next. There were only two choices. Either he fought Methos and won, and took that same darkness inside him, or he refused to fight, and he gave Methos his quickening instead. He knew without being told which choice he made.

Methos’s face remained ivory-pale, but tears spilled down his face. He took a staggered breath in. “You said you wouldn’t kill another friend.”

“Never again,” said Duncan. His voice was whisper thin.

They sat in silence, until Methos continued. “So the Champion laid down his sword, and I took his head. I was the last, there can be only one, and I took the prize, but…Do you know what the real prize was?” he asked. He raised a hand, palm side up, cupping several flowers. They seemed to shed from him. “It was you. Your quickening, when I took you back inside, the connection restored. Your soul freed me from the Dark Quickening. And in that way, the Champion won, and I lost everything.”

“You were alone,” said Duncan, aching inside.

Methos stared at the trees and the flowers. There was a small wading pool that someone had left half filled with dirty, mossy green water. Several pink flowers floated in the pool. “I had you again,” he reasoned. “And I had a long time to think. Though I missed you.”

It was almost more than Duncan could bear. “And you came back.”

“With all the power of all the Immortals of the entire world, from the beginning to the end. It gave me the ability to teleport. I could fly. I could use energy to take life, or give life. Raise civilizations, or destroy them. And then, I could bend reality.” He paused, and it became obvious now that the flowers were coming from him. Flowers spilled freely, like they were a reflection of his pain and sorrow. “Once. I could go back in time…once.”

“Costigan,” said Duncan, with a sigh.

“Costigan,” nodded Methos. “His quickening couldn’t effect me a second time. So I came back and stepped into the place of my younger self, and changed what happened.”

He was speaking slower, like every word was a great burden, costing all his energy, all of his strength.

Duncan frowned. “And the kittens? The strange occurrences? What do these flowers mean?”

Methos’s eyes crinkled slightly in a ghost of a smile. He held a flower in his hand. “Earth laughs in flowers, like the poem says. Jumping back in time created fractures in reality. They’re side effects, until the loop closed. The kittens probably came from an alternate dimension. The fractures won’t last. Everything returned to normal.”

It took a moment for Duncan to understand what Methos wasn’t saying. Panic rose in his chest. “Wait, Methos. What do you mean?”

The flowers had turned almost all white. Methos’s eyes traced every inch of Duncan’s face. “My timeline doesn’t exist anymore. It won’t be long now.”

“No,” cried Duncan, reaching for him, to hold him together. He was still solid. He still had form. “What can I do?”

Methos’s brow wrinkled in concentration. “He loves you,” he said. “Though he’s unwilling to admit it. He loves you far more than he realizes, until it’s too late.”

“There has to be something we can do,” said Duncan, holding Methos’s arms, grasping him. “Tell me what I can do. Tell me, damn it. Methos, no. Don’t. Please.”

Methos smiled that same beloved smile Duncan knew by heart, kind and gentle. He raised both his hands, flowers spilling from his fingertips, cupping Duncan’s face. A thumb across his cheek.

“Perhaps this is the prize,” he said. “That I got to see you again. Duncan.” His gaze lingered over Duncan. Then his skin grayed, and he became very still. Methos broke apart into flowers.

“No, no.” Duncan tried to hold on. Flowers fell silently to the bench, to the grass, flying away in the breeze. There was nothing to hold onto anymore. A cry was trapped inside Duncan’s throat, but he made no sound. He couldn’t breath, he couldn’t see. It felt like his heart had also collapsed into flowers.

Then, he felt a hand on his back, gently turning him. It was Methos. Alive, revived again. His Methos, who looked at him with tears in his eyes. “Duncan,” he said.

Duncan managed to inhale, gasping. “Oh God, Methos,” he said, pulling him in tightly. He was solid, and whole. He was everything Methos. Everything Methos should be, entirely himself. The connection was there, that same tug on his heart, that string that bound them together. They weren’t lost to each other.

Profound relief exhaled out of him. “How much did you hear?” asked Duncan, wiping his eyes.

“Enough,” said Methos. He took his shirtsleeve and helped Duncan dry his face and wipe his nose, but he had his own tears to wipe. “Enough to know he saved me from my worst nightmare.”

They shouldn’t have bothered wiping tears, because Duncan couldn’t stop. He laid his head down on Methos’s shoulder, a hand pressed against his chest where the gunshot had left a hole in his sweater. Methos was warm, and he smelled good even after the sword fight.

“Is it over?” asked Duncan.

“Yes, I think so,” said Methos. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Duncan looked around once more at the small patch of garden. It felt right that the garden existed where the dojo had once been. He hoped the community got to keep it. Maybe he’d buy the property again. He wouldn’t live there a second time, but he could build something, in memory. “All right,” he agreed. “What about Costigan?”

“We’re going to leave him to Joe, and the Watchers,” said Methos, decidedly.

They rose from the bench. Before leaving, Duncan took a few of the pink flowers, and put them in his pocket. He looked back at the bench once, then followed Methos out of the building.

~*~

Duncan worried the kitten might disappear as well. That he would find only a small pile of flowers in her place, but when they returned to Methos’s apartment on Maple Lane, she greeted them with a string of meows, vocally relaying her displeasure. He let her climb up his chest, her warm little body tickling his neck.

“Do you plan on giving her a name? We can’t keep calling her ‘the kitten’,” asked Methos.

“Why don’t you name her,” said Duncan.

“Me?” said Methos, but he frowned in thought. They sat on either end of Methos’s couch. The kitten skipped back and forth between them. “Do you know what I can’t stop thinking about?” asked Methos. “That there’s an alternate dimension out there that is nothing but kittens.”

Duncan shook his head. “That’s your take away from all this?”

Methos gave him a crinkly-eyed grin, but it slowly slipped away as he grew more pensive. “Antha,” he said. “Her name should be Antha. It means—”

“Flower,” finished Duncan. He flipped Antha on her back, rubbed her belly. She tried to bite all his fingers at once. “Hello, Antha,” he said. She tilted her head and looked at him, then squeaked. “So, what do we do now?”

Was he asking the kitten? Or Methos? There were many things Duncan wanted to say, and many things he thought they should say, but there didn’t seem an easy place to start.

“Good question,” said Methos. They fell silent. “Perhaps a nap?” he asked. “I’m tired.”

Duncan grinned, and then at the suggestion of sleep every muscle in his body became heavy, followed quickly by emotion welling up in his throat. “That sounds great,” he said with a sigh.

But they didn’t move quickly. From across the couch, Methos held out his hand. They looked at each other, with that open question between them. Duncan slipped his hand over Methos’s. He didn’t know who pulled whom. The kiss was immediately electric, sending shivers down Duncan’s spine. Was it a first kiss, second time around?

Duncan made a noise, inching closer as the kiss took on a life of its own. When they pulled apart, Methos’s smile was slow and tender. “Not bad,” he said.

“I guess you are a good kisser,” said Duncan, answering that smile, his heart still eager and hungry. They came together again.

There wasn’t a question of where he would sleep. Methos offered him the use of his shower, and gave him clothes to change into. He lay down beside Methos in his large bed. It was dusk outside, but night descended rapidly. He could hear Antha moving around in Methos’s second bathroom, where he kept her to keep her out of mischief. He lay on his side in the dying light, looking at Methos, tracing his features. Nose to nose, chest to chest, their legs tangled together, Methos brought his arms around Duncan, and they held each other tight.

“How many years do we have?” he asked Methos.

“Hm,” answered Methos. “At least as many as we want.” Then he said, "Next time we listen to Joe and go out of town."

"Deal," said Duncan.

When Duncan woke the next morning, long after the sun had risen, Methos was gone, but there was a note that said he needed to run a few errands and he would text Duncan later. Duncan left a second note, letting Methos know he had to head back to Athens Street to meet with a contractor.

It seemed odd to think that only yesterday his whole life had nearly been ripped apart, while today he had to put gas in his car and remember to pay the electric bill. But that’s how things went, the mundane mixed with the sublime.

He needed a book, but most of his things were in storage. After his meeting with the contractor, he drove to his warehouse where he stored his things from Seacouver twenty years ago. It took several minutes hunting around in boxes before he found it – an old volume of Ralph Waldo Emerson poems. He turned to the page titled “Hamatreya.”

Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys

Carefully, he placed the pink flowers he’d saved on the page with the poem, then closed the book shut. Almost at the same time, he received a text from Methos.

“Where are you?” read the text. He felt a tug on his chest, a gentle pull, calling him. Come home.

Home. He sent Methos a reply: “On my way.”

Quickly, he returned to Athens Street to pack a bag, putting the volume of Emerson poems inside it, then drove back to the waterfront. The walk down to Maple Lane was a repeat of last time, full of pedestrians with their dogs, joggers zipping past, children playing. Everything added to the sensation that he’d dreamed the last three days. It was disorienting.

He paused at the same spot on the esplanade where he had stood when the bright light took over the sky. Nearby, a bunch of young people – perhaps in their mid twenties – were having a picnic, playing Frisbee. A woman held twin babies, one on each hip, laughing as she talked with her friends. With a start, he realized she must be Alice from 5B. Alice was attractive, with lots of curly hair and warm brown skin. She handed a baby over to her partner, and they sat down on folding chairs to watch the Frisbee game.

With relief, he felt a familiar Immortal presence slide across his senses, like a hand down his back. When he turned, Methos was striding toward him across the esplanade. Everything he had been feeling since waking up that morning – the sense of unfinished business, the restless uncertainty, the way the past three days felt like a dream – vanished when he saw Methos.

Whatever you do, don’t follow me home.

Well, he’d failed at that, hadn’t he? And what did that mean for them?

“Hi,” he said to Methos, realizing that in the few short hours they’d been apart he’d missed him, terribly. Awkwardly, he turned to the picnic. “Are these your friends?”

Methos’s grin spread slowly. “Come,” he said, his warm hazel eyes lingering over Duncan. “I’ll introduce you.”

Alice handed Methos a baby so she could shake Duncan’s hand, then with easy friendliness, made the rest of the introductions to the group. They were a cheerful lot, but Duncan couldn’t stop looking at Methos, restless until he worked his way back to Methos’s side. The baby, who was named Miles, kept trying to grab Methos’s nose.

“Everything all right?” asked Methos, handing the baby back to his mother. He gave Duncan a worried look.

“Yes,” said Duncan. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. “I’m really happy to see you.”

Methos stared at him, a flicker of delight in his eyes, and the connection between them flared to life. The noise and energy of the picnic faded into the background. Duncan couldn’t take his eyes of Methos. Right here, he thought, right here the other Methos had found him. Had kissed him.

Methos gently pulled Duncan toward him. Their lips met. Everything in Duncan rose up, bright and glorious. He tilted his head, asking for more. His blood zinged, lightheaded and heavy at the same time.

When they parted, Duncan glanced at all the friends he’d just met, but no one was paying them much attention besides Alice who raised an eyebrow at Methos, then gave him two thumbs up. Methos blushed. Duncan laughed and felt amusedly uncomfortable.

“What do you say we make our excuses?” asked Methos.

“Okay,” said Duncan, who wanted nothing more.

Methos said his goodbyes, then offered his hand to Duncan. How many times had they held each other’s hands through the years, usually to pull one or the other up? Duncan slipped his hand into Methos’s, and they walked together toward Maple Lane.

“What’s in the bag?” asked Methos, pointing to Duncan’s overnight bag slung over his shoulder.

“Oh,” said Duncan, feeling his ears burn. “I was hoping I could stay with you? For a while. I miss my cat.”

Methos grinned, squeezing Duncan’s hand. He inclined his head. “Mi casa es su casa.”

Duncan stopped in the middle of the street. Methos turned to look back at him, connected through their joined hands. The full circle of their friendship pulsed from one to the other, back and forth, taking on a shape that was dimensional. The bond was there, subtle but strong. Briefly, as they stood holding hands, Duncan saw the different paths that emanated out from this moment. This was what saved them, he realized. This was the prize.

With a smile, he pulled Methos in for a kiss. A pink flower fell unseen by either of them, drifting idly in the breeze, falling out of sight.