A LITTLE UNSCHEDULED DETOUR

The tall young man wandered across the street, eyes watchful from beneath the brim of his battered black hat. He headed for the plain wooden veranda surrounding the Sheriff's office, his manner easy and yet his body tense. He didn't like trouble - hated it in fact - but one always had to be ready, just in case.

The usual array of Wanted posters hung from the walls of the office, and the man studied them carefully, much as numerous citizens and bounty hunters did from time to time. Nobody gave a second's glance to the silent figure, seeing nothing unusual in his interest. He could be a bounty hunter, or a Marshall, or any number of things, but no-one cared to find out. It wasn't as though it concerned them.

The posters were the same ones that he had seen on a hundred other walls, in a hundred other towns. Usual faces, usual half-accurate descriptions, usual lists of crimes. One face caught his eye, and he glanced at it in amusement, reading the familiar name beneath it; John Keene. The badly drawn likeness was of a young man with dark hair, a suggestion of amusement playing about on his face. The man allowed himself a brief smile. Even his own mother wouldn't recognise him from that picture; if he had had a mother. Only the glimmer of mocking laughter around the eyes might have suggested to a particularly eagle-eyed observer that the man currently studying the pictures, and the man whose picture he was looking at, were the same.

"Wanted for robbery," Keene read aloud, his voice soft and yet still loud enough to carry to the ears of the occasional passers-by. "Six train robberies, three stage coach hold-ups..." He frowned. "Three? What about Santa Fey last weekend? Maybe they haven't heard about that yet." He read on. "Reward of five hundred dollars; isn't bad I suppose." He glanced at some of the other posters, looking for faces that he might recognise. It always amused him, to see what the witnesses had managed to come up with in the way of descriptions. The accuracy varied tremendously, and it was quite possible for an intelligent outlaw to remain virtually unknown to the authorities for years.

Whistling cheerfully, the outlaw wandered away from the display of posters, and headed for the nearby saloon. The bartender gave him a somewhat disbelieving look when he ordered a glass of beer; no doubt this was one of those establishments where a man's masculinity was measured in terms of how much of the local rot gut he could knock back in one go. Keene was not bothered by such foolish displays of manhood. He had drunk more powerful brews than any of his fellow patrons could begin to imagine; and had done much of his more serious drinking several millennia before any of this unruly lot had been born. He heard the amused mutterings further down the bar, and turned away from them. His British accent had obviously marked him out, but he didn't care. None of them looked liked bounty hunters, and none wore any sort of badge.

Draining the glass dry, John Keene - known in certain quarters as Methos - rubbed the dust and grime from his forehead with a weary hand and wandered back outside. He would have liked to have taken a room at the saloon, and maybe found somewhere where he could have a bath, and get a change of clothing. Right now though, he had about enough money on him for another glass of beer, and then probably only if it was a small one. He grinned ruefully, remembering the pleasing amount of cash he had stolen on his last raid. He didn't usually even play poker, but the girl in the gambling joint had been so very insistent, and so very pretty. Still, it wasn't as though it was unrecoverable. In his line of business, fortunes came and went in relatively quick succession. All that he needed was the details of another stage coach full of rich travellers, and in no time he would be booking into the best room in the best hotel that he could find.

"Hey, mister. Want me to take your horse to the stables?" Methos turned, startled by the loud voice, and relaxed when he saw a small boy, no more than six years old, standing in the shade of a nearby veranda. He shook his head.

"No thanks. I'm not staying."

The boy frowned, his mind obviously working on something.

"Your name Keene?" he asked. Methos blinked in surprise, looking warily about for any signs of an ambush. The boy's frown grew deeper.

"You must be. Nobody else round here talks like you. I got a message for you. You're to meet Cable outside of town at three o'clock." He grinned. "There going to be a fight?"

"Certainly not. I never fight." Methos straightened his battered jacket with an air of true refinement. The boy looked confused.

"There going to be shooting?" he asked instead, his voice sounding hopeful. Methos shook his head. What kind of a town was this?

"No. I'm not even armed, see?" He held his hands out, and the boy saw the empty belt, with no sign of a holster. He shrugged his small shoulders, an expression of childish distaste on his face. Evidently, in this town, a man was expected to walk around armed to the teeth, as well as having a stomach full of strong whisky. Methos made a mental note not to stay long.

He watched the boy depart, then allowed himself a small smile. It never hurt to project an image for others to see. John Keene may be a wanted man, but to these townsfolk at least he was a quiet, unassuming man with a distaste for violence. At the worst it might gain him a few insults and disapproving stares, but those he could live with. It had to be better than having some glory-crazed kid challenging him to a duel. Methos disliked attracting attention, particularly the unpleasant kind. The times had long passed since he had enjoyed the feel of blood on his hands, or had taken pleasure in inflicting pain; or in experiencing it. He pulled the jacket closer around his shoulders, feeling the familiar weight of the gun nestling in his shoulder holster. Nobody saw it there, or even suspected that he had it; but it was easily within reach should it be required. Never let it be said that Methos was unprepared to fight if the situation demanded it.

The clock above the saloon door read half past two, and the old man mounted his horse, swinging into the saddle with the ease of long practice. Methos could not recall the first time he had ridden a horse. He had been barely old enough to walk, that much he remembered; but when it had been was a mystery. The ancient days of his distant past were so shrouded in the mists of a decidedly foggy memory that he had long ago given up trying to recall them. None of it mattered now anyway, for who except him remembered that ancient world, and its peoples and language? Even the archaeology professors he had heard talking in the universities back east had barely begun to scratch at the surface. The things that he could tell them... The tales that he could tell... If only he could be sure of remembering it all. And even if he could, who would believe him?

Methos headed the horse out of town, riding slowly in order to get a good look around. He knew Cable, the man who had asked to speak to him, and the old man would not have trusted him with a brass farthing. He was a well-known crook and small-time gambler, who fancied himself as the next great criminal mind. So far he had succeeded only in robbing a few unimportant trains, and getting numerous innocent civilians killed. He was the sort of man who could give outlawry a bad name, and might even have inspired Methos to turn his hand to being a bounty hunter; if he had had the stomach for such work. In his view it was unnecessarily dangerous, and attracted far too much of the wrong kind of attention. Bullets could not harm Methos, but too much concentrated observation could. All that it needed was one person to see him getting shot, and he would have to leave the territory; maybe even the country. Things were going well for him there at the moment, and the last thing that he wanted was to be forced to make a run for other, less profitable parts.

He attracted few glances as he rode out of town, his horse and bearing no different from the various others who drifted in and out of the area from time to time. Only the sword hanging on his saddle marked him out as different, and it was currently hidden beneath a blanket. The sword was the one thing guaranteed to attract attention, and alert the locals as to who he was. John Keene was known to be a swordsman, and Methos was not going to spend the next twenty years in jail simply because somebody had been alerted to the distinctive piece of weaponry he had no choice but to carry. He let his hand rest on its familiar shape beneath the blanket as he rode. It was reassuring; almost like the welcome presence of an old friend. He rarely used it these days, at least not in the way that others of his kind did. It was still his preferred weapon should combat become necessary, but he had avoided other Immortals for so long now that his sword fights were usually restricted to the occasional gentleman's wager when passing through the more fashionable towns. Guns had become the weapons of choice for the rest of the population. They lacked style, in his opinion at least, but he had made adjustments before. There had been a time when he had thought that they wouldn't last; but that had been four hundred years ago when he had nearly blown his own head off with an unreliable flintlock. Times had changed.

"Mark!" The voice was filled with so much delight that Methos jumped, and looked around. A young woman had run from a nearby store, and was hurrying towards him. He frowned, trying to remember if Mark was an alias that he had used at all recently, and had to decide, with regret, that it wasn't. Whoever this woman was, she had undoubtedly mistaken him for someone else. This fact had apparently dawned on her too, for she slowed down and regarded him in confusion.

"Afternoon, ma'am." Sliding down from the saddle, Methos offered her a pleasant smile, and raised his hat politely. She smiled back, more out of courtesy than anything else.

"I'm sorry." The words came out as an uncertain stammer. "I thought you were someone else."

"I kind of hoped I was there, for a moment. Is Mark a friend of yours?"

"No, not exactly. He's just someone I used to know. Now that I get closer I can see that you're not him. From a distance though..."

"Sorry to disappoint you."

"It's all right." She was still frowning at him. "I was so sure that I knew you."

"Maybe you do." He grinned. "Everybody has met everybody else at some time. In a previous life perhaps?"

She laughed. "I don't know. What where you doing a thousand years ago?"

The Immortal smiled. What had he been doing at the close of the ninth century? Damned if he could remember. He leant back against his horse slightly, all the better to ensure that the sword was hidden from view.

"Name's John, by the way."

She nodded in greeting. "I think I prefer that to Mark. So, are you leaving town, John?" The old man imagined that he heard a touch of regret in her tone, although it might just have been wishful thinking. He nodded.

"Sort of. I have to meet someone in a little while, but then I'm sure to be leaving. There isn't really a whole lot here to capture the imagination."

"Don't I know it." She smiled. "I came out here three years ago with my fiancÚ to open a gold mine, but when it turned out that there wasn't so much as an ounce of gold in the entire state, our plans fell apart somewhat. Now I've discovered that not only is there no gold, but there's nothing else either."

"Bad luck." He frowned slightly. "Your fiancÚ? Wouldn't be Mark, by any chance?"

"Yes, although that's all in the past. He left to go back east when we found out we'd been tricked about the gold. I didn't want to go." She shrugged. "This place may be depressing, boring and generally rather unsavoury, but at least I don't have to wear lace gloves and petticoats, and raise children ad infinitum." She grinned suddenly. "Sorry. Am I keeping you?"

"Not at all, no." Methos smiled at her, rather amused. She had obviously been alone for rather too long, if she had chosen him to be a confidante. Speaking from experience, he wouldn't have trusted himself much, if he'd been her.

"Well I'm sorry if I am. I couldn't believe it when I heard your accent. I don't suppose you've been to London recently?"

"Not that recently, no." Not in the last fifty years, anyway. "Sorry."

"It doesn't matter. Nobody around here would even know where it is. I miss a little intelligent conversation every now and then, you know?"

"Sure, I know." He glanced back towards the town. "So, can I walk you anywhere?"

"No. Thankyou, but I was just heading back to work." She looked oddly sad. "I don't suppose there's any chance that you might change your mind about leaving town?"

"I doubt it." A sudden grin found its way onto his face. "But of course there's always a chance."

She grinned too. "Then I'll keep my fingers crossed." She held something out to him. "Here."

He took it. It was a red flower, bright and in full bloom. She smiled at his confusion, and arranged it in his buttonhole. "There. You speak like a gentleman, so you might as well look like one."

"Thanks." He glanced down at the flower. "Rest of me doesn't exactly fit the image."

She laughed, a pleasant laugh which suggested to him that he would be a fool of he left town in too much of a hurry. "There's more to being a gentleman than wearing a silk waistcoat."

"Yeah. Like having lots of money, and owning lots of land."

"And usually being extremely boring." She stepped back to allow him to mount his horse once again. "Who are you meeting?"

"A colleague." His voice betrayed a little of his dislike for the man, but she did not seem to notice. "What's your name, by the way?"

"Is there any chance you'll come looking for me later?"

"Might be." She laughed again.

"Then it's Anna."

"I'll remember that." He raised his hat slightly in salute, then rode away, leaving the woman watching after him. It was a pleasant thought that, even in a town as inhospitable as this one, there was an attractive young woman who was willing to be so friendly. The thought raised a smile. Maybe he would stay on for a day or so. Just long enough to regale an attentive pair of ears with tails of his jaunts across Europe. Fictional jaunts, naturally; but he knew more than enough about the place to make his tales sound convincing. Just so long as conversation was all that Anna wanted. He had made more than one night time escape from a bedroom window recently, when his smooth tongue and naturally courteous manner had caused several women to become rather more serious than he would have liked. He had had enough of having to hide from angry fathers and brothers, too.

The ride out of town took him along a dusty trail, which looked as though wagons passed along it quite regularly. He wondered where exactly Cable planned to meet him, but could see no sign of his fellow outlaw. Maybe he should just give up and leave. It was hardly as though he wanted to speak to the other man. Curiosity compelled him to ride onwards, however; as did the knowledge that if Cable really wanted to talk to him, he would, no matter what Methos tried to do to prevent him; short of killing him, of course. For a second he considered even that possibility, then cast it aside. It was a long time since he had killed a mortal. After centuries of ignoring his conscience, and then further centuries struggling to live with it, he had finally reached some kind of balance. He had no wish to reopen the old battle with his overactive sense of guilt.

The faint trail ended abruptly with a small white gate. Methos dismounted, and left his horse tied to the fence. A graveyard. Wonderful. Just the place for a quiet afternoon conversation with a dangerous killer. He wandered through the ranks of gravestones, glancing about at the ones he could read. Some were new, some were old; some dated back a lot further than he would have expected in a town this small. He ran his fingers along the top of one of the stones, feeling the rough touch of the weather worn granite. Moss clung to his fingertips, and a faint shudder ran down his back. There was a feeling of decay about the place; a feeling of unease and dreadful finality. He had heard many mortals speaking of the peaceful atmosphere surrounding these places, but the old man had never felt it. All he felt was the earth packed in around him, the claustrophobic sensation of being beneath the earth, and the fear that one day he might be down there for good. The day might come when he would be unable to continue avoiding the rest of his kind, and he might be outclassed by a better swordsman. He smiled ruefully to himself. There had been a time when he and his friends had not cared what lay around the corner, and he had never given a second's thought to whether he lived or died. He had viewed death as simply another challenge. Now, thousands of years later, death was the one thing that he was afraid of, and even being in this graveyard was making him restless.

He glanced around, looking for Cable, but the mortal was not visible. Methos wondered if he had come to the right place, then smiled. Of course he had. What other place was Cable likely to have chosen for a meeting? The old man wandered along another row of gravestones while he waited, wondering who lay beneath them. Some were well tended, others abandoned. He smiled sadly at the sight of them. That would no doubt be his fate too, one day; a forgotten stone over an untended grave. The only people who were likely to be sad at his passing were long dead, or so he presumed. He wondered what name would be written on his stone, when the time came, then told himself off for being so morbid. If this was what a walk through a graveyard did to him, it was definitely time to start avoiding such places. He smiled, thinking of the people buried here. They probably felt the same way. He read a few of the names, trying to keep himself occupied whilst he awaited Cable's arrival. There were a lot of similar names. Obviously a lot of these people were related. Numerous Smiths, a fair collection of Joneses. All the usual. Only a few names stood out from the rest; Morgan Jangstrom for one, and Niels Szabjen for another. That name rang a bell, but it could hardly be the same one that Methos had once known. Not unless Szabjen had broken all the records for long life. He wandered on. The forgotten stones attracted his attention most readily, for they were the ones that no longer had anyone to care for them. He wondered who they all were, and stopped by the next one that he reached. Who had Melvin Koren been? Where had he come from, and what had led him to be buried here, with such an uncommon inscription on his stone? And how had it come to be standing at such an odd angle, almost as if the man's resting place had been disturbed at some time? Methos felt a burst of comradeship for the man in the grave, and in an act of sudden impulse, he took Anna's flower from his buttonhole and dropped it onto the grass mound. It made him feel better, in an odd sort of way.

"Getting sentimental, Keene?" The voice startled Methos, and he swung sharply around. He hated the ability that mortals had to sneak up on him unannounced. It gave him a vulnerability that did not apply in his dealings with immortalkind. Cable, a self-satisfied smirk on his face, stood nearby, gun in hand.

"Sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not the sentimental type." Moving away from the gravestones, Methos kept his eyes firmly on Cable. He trusted the man about as far as he could throw him, which wouldn't be far even with the most impressive judo manoeuvre. Cable was a big man, and well-built.

"I'm glad to hear it. I can't do business with a man whose head is in the clouds." Approaching Methos slowly, Cable gave him an appraising glance, then smiled. "Unarmed? I'm disappointed in you, Keene. I thought you were always ready for anything?"

"I am." Methos shrugged. "You got lucky."

"I'll remember that." The big outlaw looked about. "Where's the sword?"

"With my horse. Don't worry, Cable, I'm not about to slit your throat. Now how about telling me what you want?"

"Do I have to want something? Maybe I'm just in the mood for picking up an easy bounty. Five hundred dollars is more than I've seen in a long time."

"Not my fault you're a lousy thief."

The other man's expression darkened. "And you're not, I suppose?"

"I do okay. And I don't have to kill innocent passers-by in the process."

"Neither do I."

"Enjoy it then do you?"

Cable seemed about to respond to that comment, but the expression of mild disgust on the other outlaw's face stopped him. He scowled.

"You always did have a big mouth, Keene. One of these days I'll shut it for you."

"Not today, Dave. Now you wanted something. Going to tell me what?"

Cable smiled. "I've got a proposition for you. Something you might be interested in."

"Such as?"

"A train. Filled with everything you could want; gold dust, jewels, money. The works, man."

"Oh yeah?" Amusement showed on Methos' face. "And just what is all that little lot doing winding its way through these parts?"

"That's not important. All you have to care about is that it's coming, and it's just asking us to take it. Word is that there'll be minimum security, so as not to attract too much attention."

"So what do you want me for?" Methos was intrigued by Cable's words, but far from excited at the prospect of working with him. He had little faith in any plan thought up by this unpleasant waste of space. He certainly had no intention of assisting in any way.

"I've got a fool proof plan, Keene. All I need is one more man. Plan calls for at least six people, and I've only got five in my gang."

"So you came to me?" Methos was incredulous. "I work alone, Cable, you know that."

"You've ridden with gangs before."

"That was different, and you know it. They were friends, we had good times. That's all over now, and I work strictly on my own. It's safer."

"You don't know what you're missing, Keene. I'll can make you a rich man."

"You can, huh?" Methos allowed himself a smile. "Why me?"

"Because you're a friend, because I figure you're available."

"A friend?" This time there was anger mingled with the disbelief. "I'm not your friend, Cable, and I've got no wish to be. You're trouble. You hurt people for fun, and you don't give a damn. I don't want any part of that."

Cable's eyes had narrowed whilst Methos was talking, but now he smiled.

"You'll help me, Keene," he said, speaking with confidence, "or I'll tell the Sheriff who you are. You'll be in jail before you know what's hit you."

"If I'm in jail it'll be for your murder." Lightning fast, Methos drew his gun from its shoulder holster, a grin playing about on his face. Cable looked furious. "Even you're not stupid enough to try turning me in, Cable. You'd be in the next cell, and you know it. But just in case, I plan on taking your gun along with me. So throw it over here."

"You're making a big mistake, Keene."

"Why? Because I don't want to get dragged into some stupid plan to rob a train? If you want to get shot up in some trap, you can; but I won't be there to watch."

"Don't be so sure of that." There was an unpleasant smile on Cable's face, and for a second Methos' sixth sense burned. He longed to turn around and check that the coast was clear, but did not dare take his eyes off the man before him. Cable's grin was getting bigger, and the old man could only hope that he was bluffing. He took a step back - and felt the unmistakable touch of a gun in the small of his back. Cable laughed.

"Told you not to be so sure of yourself, son." Picking his gun up again, Cable nodded to his partner. "Nice work Anna."

"Anna?" Methos began to turn around, but a swift jab with the pistol warned him to remain still. He heard a slight sigh from behind him. Was that remorse, he wondered, or was it just his wishful thinking?

"Sorry, John." He knew the voice immediately, and felt a burst of sorrow at the sound of it. Cable laughed, as if well aware that the pair had met in town.

"Going to change your mind, Keene?" he asked jauntily. Methos glared at him, his hatred for the man rising up unchecked.

"Go to hell, Cable," he muttered, and raised his gun. In the same instant something smashed against his skull, and he blacked out.

Cable stared down at the unmoving figure on the ground, a faint smile on his face. Anna, he noticed, was looking concerned. He wondered if she was going soft, although now was hardly the time to deal with it, if she were.

"Are you sure he'll help us?" she asked. Cable nodded.

"He'll help," he said offhandedly. "He'd do just about anything rather than wind up six feet under. Wouldn't you?"

"I guess so." She turned away, seeming oddly sad. "What now?"

"Go get some rope." Picking up the unconscious Immortal's fallen gun, Cable grinned merrily, pleased that everything was going so well. "He's coming with us; and I know just the way to be sure that he does what he's told."

**********

Methos crouched in the undergrowth, keeping his eyes firmly on the train winding its way through the valley beneath him. It was of an impressive size, and his practised gaze swept along its entire length, checking for weak points and identifying the more well guarded areas. His active imagination conjured up pleasing suggestions about what riches might be waiting for him down there, and a smile grew across his face. He brushed a long strand of hair away from his eyes, careful not to smudge the war paint which decorated his features. The broad stroke of blue was his signature, as much as was the chaos and destruction that he was about to cause.

A slight pressure on his arm made the Immortal glance round, although he already knew who he would see. He grinned a silent greeting at his confederate, then nodded down at the train.

"Nearly time," he said softly. His companion nodded.

"Sure, brother. Everything's in place."

"How long?"

There was a moment's hesitation, then the other man grinned. "Any moment now. The first pit is just a stone's throw away from the head of the train. You ready to ride?"

"Of course." They slipped away from their vantage point, and ran towards the horses waiting patiently nearby. Two other men were already mounted, obviously eager to be off. Their horses tossed their heads, eyes wild, well aware that they were about to charge down into the valley. Their excitement was as clearly evident as that of the four men.

"Ready, brother?"

Methos smiled at his companion. "Aren't I always?"

"Naturally." Springing up onto his horse, Kronos whirled the creature around, galloping away before the others were able to move. Methos leapt up onto his own mount, a broad grin on his face. He charged away after his companion, caution thrown to the winds. Behind him, Caspian and Silas blinked the resulting dust out of their eyes, and started after their leaders. The air was filled with the sound of hoof beats, and the sun beat down from on high. It would blind the people of the train, and prevent them from seeing the four men who were about to descend upon them.

With a sound like thunder, the leading wagons of the train hit the first of Kronos' pits, and vanished from sight in a plume of earth and rising dust. Screams sounded through the air, mingled with the terrified whinnying of horses. The rest of the train tried to halt, but nothing could prevent numerous other animals from falling on top of the first casualties. People began to scatter, most falling victim to the other, smaller pits that were scattered around. The Four Horsemen took no chances, and had spent a long time preparing for this strike. They had even taken prisoners during their last raid, to ensure that they would not have to do all of the digging themselves. Caspian had personally taken care of the workforce that morning, before breakfast. One particularly shapely young woman had been his breakfast, and he was already eager for more, the bloodlust contorting his features as he rode towards the train. Beside him, Silas whooped in joy as three men rode within reach of his mighty battle-axe. He swung it in a huge arc, beheading two with one stroke. The third veered sharply away, trying to get to safety, only to ride straight onto the point of Caspian's sword. He fell slowly from his horse, his own weight tearing a great hole in his chest. Caspian wiped the gore from his sword onto his own shirt, revelling in the simple brutality. Life was a joy, especially when there was so much death involved.

Up ahead, Methos and Kronos rode along the length of the train, killing all that they encountered. The nomads had recognised them, that much was clear, and the screams of fear which echoed through the air were music to the Immortals' ears. A few hardier men tried to fight back, clumsily striking out at the spectres of doom which approached them. Streaked with the blood of their victims, the two men rode on, unimpressed by the pleas for mercy, unshaken by the cries of anguish. It was all like some glorious game, where nothing and nobody could challenge their supremacy.

The sun charged onwards through the sky, describing its eternal arc in cold disregard for all that went on beneath it. Gradually the massacre came to its inevitable conclusion, and the Four Horsemen gathered together to gaze upon their latest triumph. All four were covered in blood, their clothing torn. Silas and Kronos laughed aloud as they compared the injuries they had received. The ugly gash on the blond Immortal's leg healed first, and he looked oddly crestfallen. The honour of greatest battle-wound belonged to Kronos this time.

"What do you think we've got?" Methos asked his brother, as they rode through the ruins of the train later that day.

"Don't know." Swinging down from his horse, Kronos bent to pick something up. "Looks like they were more than just the usual nomads, though. Look." He held out a gold necklace. Methos nodded his approval.

"We were right then."

"As always." The smaller Immortal shook his head when Methos offered him back the necklace. "Keep it, brother. It's not my style."

Methos laughed. "It'll buy something to eat then," he decided. "Anything rather than eat another of Caspian's bizarre stews."

"Why do we need to buy food? We can just take it." Kronos spiked something on his sword point, and held it up. "Like this." The item in question was a severed arm, fingers still gripping a small knife. The horseman offered it to his companion, and Methos laughed.

"Don't wave that around too much, or Caspian will be offering to cook it tonight."

"Good point." Throwing the dead limb back into the wreckage of the train, Kronos vaulted back up onto his horse and turned it about. "Race you back to the others."

They took off, hurtling across the rocky, uneven ground, their horses crushing who knew what beneath their hooves. Methos felt the wind in his hair, and the cool breeze on his face, and let his elation escape in a mighty shout. It was all so much fun, all so wild and vital. He reached out his hand for his brother, and Kronos took it, as together they raced onward. It felt good to be the best, and to know that they could challenge any target and win. No-one, but no-one, could stand in their way.

**********

"Hey, are you okay?" There was a soft touch on his shoulder, and Methos opened his eyes, wincing at the sudden brightness of the sunlight. He squinted up at the source of the voice, and recognised Anna immediately. A dark look crossed his face, and she flinched away.

"I'm sorry. I never meant to hit you so hard. You've really had me worried, muttering away to yourself. I thought you must be delirious."

"I must have been, to have trusted you." He tried to sit up, and discovered that he could not move. Ropes bound him to the side of a cart. They appeared to be moving, and he glanced about in surprise. "Where are we?"

"Heading for town."

"The one we just left?"

"No. Another one." She sat back, regarding him thoughtfully, as if trying to decide what she should tell him. "Cable wants to make sure that you join us."

"He's not going to find that easy."

"Maybe." There was a hurt expression on her face, as if the hard and uncaring tone he used to speak to her was upsetting her slightly. Methos didn't give a damn. He turned away from her, listening to the sound of the wagon wheels bouncing over the ground, trying to remember his dream. It all felt so familiar, and yet it was so far away. Anna's eyes were still on him, and he glanced towards her, favouring her with an unpleasant scowl.

"Don't be like that." She actually sounded upset, and Methos rolled his eyes. What exactly did she expect?

"Like what?" he asked, his tone suggesting impatience. "Listen lady, we're on different sides here, just in case you hadn't noticed."

"No we're not. Not really."

"You work for Cable."

"And you do the same things he does. You rob trains and hold up stagecoaches. What makes you so different?"

"I don't kill." Not any more, anyway. He shifted position as much as he could. "You don't get it, do you. Cable is mad. He doesn't care who he hurts, or what he does, just as long as he gets his way. If you're with him, that makes you just as bad."

"Thanks." She sat back. "I was telling the truth in town, you know. That really was my life story that I gave you."

"Big deal.

"And I didn't know who you were. I was trying to be friendly. I really did think you were Mark."

"Lucky me." He saw the hurt look pass across her face again. "Listen, lady, you pulled a gun on me and bashed me over the head. What do you want? Gratitude?"

"No." She sat back, regarding him with sad eyes. "You don't like me much, do you."

"You guessed." He felt a pang of regret when she turned away, but he crushed the feeling quickly. Why should he feel sorry for one of Cable's people? They were all as bad as each other. He wondered where the man himself was, and as if on cue the wagon began to slow down. A man he didn't recognise rode up, and used a long knife to cut the Immortal free.

"Stay in the cart," he ordered, riding away again before Methos could think about talking to him. He stood up, stretching his stiff legs, and glanced down at Anna. She was holding a gun on him again.

"Don't think about going anywhere," she told him. He ignored her, looking for Cable. The other outlaw had to be around somewhere. There were three men nearby, two of which had the right build to be Cable, but he could not see their faces. All were wearing masks. The man who had freed Methos joined them, lowering his own mask over his face. A sinister suspicion crept up in the old man's mind, as he cast a quick glance down at Anna. She wore a mask now, too, and he saw only her eyes above it. There was a hint of sorrow in them.

With the abrupt crack of a whip, the cart jerked forward, and Methos was knocked off his feet by the suddenness of the movement. He crashed to the floor, winded, and lay still for a moment. The cart careered crazily down an uneven track, eventually jolting to a standstill, and the dazed Immortal raised his head in confusion. They were in a town. It was small, but evidently large enough to house a bank. Before any of the panic-stricken citizens had a chance to move, the four men dashed inside. Everything was happening so fast that Methos had no time to think, but the gunshots which echoed out from within the small, wooden building spoke volumes to him nonetheless. He glanced over at Anna. She was standing now, a large rifle pointed at the people who stood nearby. He climbed to his feet, gazing out at the little crowd which had gathered in the street. Events such as this did not occur often in a town like this one; he saw that immediately. The citizens looked almost excited, and he felt their eyes on him. He had to hand it to Cable; it was a clever plan. He was now known to these people; was clearly marked out in this territory as a bank robber. His was the one face that was known. He debated whether or not to jump from the cart and try to make some kind of getaway; maybe to try to explain the situation to the town Sheriff, but he would still be sure to wind up in prison. John Keene had committed plenty of other crimes, after all. The knowledge that he had been set up was like a crushing blow. Yesterday he could have walked though this town, and nobody would have taken any notice of him. Now they would be checking through the wanted posters to see who he was. It would not take long before every lawman and bounty hunter in the state would be alerted to the presence of John Keene. They would all be after him.

With a splintering crash, the bank door burst open, and the four outlaws ran out, carrying their ill-earned gains. Methos watched them mount up, scanning them with his eyes in a vague attempt to identify Dave Cable. They were all dressed the same, which made it awkward, but one man did seem stand out from the others somewhat. It was clear from his eyes that he was grinning. He whirled his horse around, staring out at the crowd of spectators, gun levelled at the foremost of them.

"Nobody comes after us," he shouted, and Methos recognised his voice immediately. He felt a burst of hatred for the man, and wondered what would happen if he were to try something now. He didn't rate much on his chances, but it might be worth a try.

"Give it up, boys. You'll never make it out of town." As one the outlaws turned at the sound of the voice, to see three men standing in the road, guns pointing straight at them. The golden glitter of a star-shaped badge showed on the breast of one, and Methos had no doubt that the other two were some kind of deputies, although they wore no badges themselves.

Cable smiled. Methos could not see the other man's ugly face, but he knew the expression that was on it. Maybe it was an echo of his dream, and the knowledge of the way that he too would once have reacted, if there had been Sheriffs several thousand years ago. The big man's gun roared three times, the sounds rolling into one as they burst forth from the weapon in quick succession. All three men fell, and with a shout, Cable sent his horse leaping forward. His companions did likewise, and the cart too began to roll. Methos grabbed hold of the side this time, just managing to keep his balance as the vehicle gathered speed, leaping and bucking about on its crazy ride out of town. He glanced back. The three men, crushed by the horses' hooves and by the wheels of the cart, were undoubtedly very dead. The crowd had moved, and now stood gathered about the fallen lawmen. One by one they turned to look toward the departing outlaws, and Methos felt a crushing sense of regret. Part of it was probably for the three dead mortals, but a bigger part was the knowledge that he was the one who would take the blame for all of this. He felt a burst of unrestrained hatred towards Cable, and all of his gang. Distantly he wondered if the people of the town would even bother telling the authorities what had happened. More likely that they would just hunt him down themselves. He could almost sense the noose tighten around his neck, and slowly lowered himself down to the floor of the cart. Things were not looking good. He felt himself wondering, in a detached kind of way, exactly what this plan of Cable's was, and what the chances of it actually succeeding were likely to be. He sighed bleakly, and tried to console himself with thoughts that there was nothing else that was likely to go wrong. After all, the situation was about as bad as it possibly could be.

**********

They travelled for what seemed like hours, until the horses pulling the cart could go no further. Shivering and lathered with sweat they slowed to a halt, and Methos watched in curious detachment as the four horse-backed outlaws slowed their mounts and jumped to the ground. He moved as if to climb down from the cart, smiling as four guns turned instantly to point at him. Only Anna did not raise her weapon.

"Be serious. What am I going to do, attack all of you at once?" He jumped down, watching as the others removed their masks. "Do you think we're far enough away from the town?"

Cable laughed.

"There's nowhere that's far enough away. Not for you anyhow." He grinned around at his friends. "You see? I told you he'd come with us."

Methos ignored the derisive laughter. "Why, Cable?" he asked, confused. "Why go to all this trouble, just to get me to join you? Surely you could find somebody else to be your sixth man?"

"Maybe." Cable shrugged. "You were there. I saw you approaching the town, and since I hadn't been able to find anybody else that I could be sure of trusting, and time was running thin... Well, let's just say that you got lucky. "

"And now what happens?"

"Now we have a couple of days to get everything straight, and then we rob the train."

"What makes you think I'll help you?" Glancing around at the little group, Methos looked at the faces of the outlaws, searching for any sign that some of Cable's allies might not be entirely dedicated to this operation. He saw nothing that gave him hope, save perhaps for the suggestion of troubled uncertainty in Anna's eyes.

"What else can you do? There's safety in numbers and you know it. Go off on your own and you'll be hanging from a tree in less than a day." Cable dropped an arm around the old man's shoulders, grinning broadly. "Just relax, John. Don't fight it."

"Thanks." Methos wandered away, thinking about the other man's words. It was all true. Without the relative safety provided by the support of a gang, he would have no chance of escaping the pursuers that he knew would soon be after him. He wondered how long it would take the small town to get a posse together. Probably not long. Somehow he felt that he was being dragged along in the wake of uncontrollable events, like a child caught in a strong river current. He didn't like the feeling of helplessness which had engulfed him.

"Are you okay, John?" Walking away from the rest of the gang, Anna followed the Immortal as he strayed further from their resting place. He glanced up at her, wondering if she was accompanying him as a possible friend, or just as a guard.

"Yeah, sure. I'm a wanted murderer with little chance of escaping, about to be dragged into some hair brained scheme to rob a probably non-existent train. Why should I not be okay?" He sighed, suddenly regretting the way he had been treating her. "Sorry."

"Don't apologise." She frowned. "You were right about Cable. I didn't know. I really did only meet him a couple of days ago, when he rode into town with the others."

"You didn't act like you've only been together for a couple of days," he accused her. She smiled.

"I'm not exactly new to this game," she confessed, sounding vaguely guilty. "Like I said, my fiancÚ and I were tricked into trying to open a gold mine near here, but the money we used to buy the land was stolen. We were quite successful before that. Stagecoaches mostly, but we did one or two bank jobs as well." She sighed. "I should have seen Cable for what he was, but he had heard of me, and wanted me to join him, and I was so pleased to get the chance to be doing something exciting again. Something other than selling groceries to passing ranch hands."

"You worked in a grocery store?" He grinned. "I think I'd have liked to see that."

"No you wouldn't. I was dreadfully rude to the customers."

They both laughed. Their wanderings had taken them some distance from the others, and Anna glanced back, as if wondering whether or not she should insist that they return. Methos guessed her thoughts.

"There's no hurry," he told her, and she shrugged.

"I don't care about going back," she told him. "Actually I was thinking... If you want to make a run for it, I won't stop you."

"Thanks." He shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere, though. Cable was right; they'd hunt me down in no time."

She lowered her head. "I'm sorry. I never thought he'd actually kill anyone."

"It's not your fault." He began to walk on again, and she hurried to catch him up.

"Yes it is. I was the one that hit you."

"True." He rubbed the back of his head, glad that his accelerated powers of healing had taken the pain away a long time ago. He no longer remembered what it was like to have a mortal's susceptibility to injury, but if the pain he had felt when he first awoke was anything to go by, it was definitely a good thing that it could not have lasted long.

"I was really worried about you for a while," she told him. "I meant to keep an eye on you."

"Why? It was just a knock on the head. It wasn't exactly the first." Not by a long shot.

"The way you were talking to yourself, I was really starting to think that I would have to try and persuade Cable to take you to a doctor."

"What did I say?"

"I don't know. For a moment I thought you were speaking in another language, but it wasn't one I've ever heard before. Then you starting talking in English again; except for one word. You said it several times."

"Which word?"

She frowned, obviously trying to recall. "Kronos," she said eventually. "I think that was it. What does it mean?"

Methos smiled. "It's an old word in outlaw slang," he said, well-practised in coming up with plausible excuses. "It means... someone who'll do anything for a bit of excitement, without caring much for the consequences. A very forceful personality."

"Oh." She nodded. "Like Cable."

"No." Methos sounded vehement. "Definitely not like Cable. Kronos is more of a name for someone who... someone who... you know is bad news, and yet you can't help liking anyway. Someone with a whole lot of charisma. I knew a man once..." His voice trailed off, unwilling to open up any more than was likely to be safe.

"Yes?" she prompted. He looked down at her, then shrugged mentally. It couldn't really hurt.

"An old friend. We went everywhere together. Shared everything."

"Everything?" Her voice was amused, joking, but Methos gave her a sharp look, his eyes hard.

"Everything," he confirmed. "I haven't seen him in years, though."

"Why? What happened?"

"I don't know really. He wanted me to help him out in some crazy plot. I didn't agree with it so I refused. We parted on good terms, though, like always. Thing was, I'd been rethinking a lot about my life at the time, and when something happened..." He frowned, thinking back. It was not a particularly pleasant memory. "A man challenged him to a duel, and I got scared. For some reason I just couldn't be sure who would win, and I couldn't watch my friend die, so I ran. I left before the fight ended, and I never found out who won. I didn't want to know, just in case." He shrugged. "It doesn't matter now. Too late to change anything."

"Isn't there some way you can get in touch with your friend?"

Methos smiled. It was hardly that simple. He had no idea what name Kronos might be using, or even what country he was likely to be in. National borders did not tend to bother Immortals very much.

"Hey, you two." They turned together, to see one of Cable's men standing a short distance away. His gun was holstered, but his hand rested on the butt, in clear warning. "The boss wants you to come back. It's time to move on."

"We're coming." Anna glanced up at Methos. "Last chance to make a run for it, John."

He smiled, and shook his head. "No. I'm in on this, for better or for worse."

"I'm glad."

"I'm not." He grinned. "Come on, before Cable has me keel-hauled for being a bad boy."

She looked puzzled. "Keel-hauled?"

"Never mind. Old nautical term."

"You were a sailor?" A confused look took over her face. "Either you've had one hell of a life, or you're a lot older than you look."

"Maybe a bit of both." He began to head back towards the rest of the gang. After a second, Anna followed on.

**********

Methos' horse had been brought along by one of the gang members, and he mounted it as they prepared to ride onwards. Anna trailed along far behind them, allowing the horses pulling the cart to get some rest. There was an air of quiet animosity about the five men on horseback, and Methos felt very different to the other times when he had ridden alongside fellow raiders. These people trusted him no more than he trusted any of them. He watched the scenery as they passed it by, trying to think up a way to get out of his current predicament. All sorts of possibilities presented themselves to him, but none seemed at all likely to work; at least, not in the way that he wanted them to. The best solution seemed to be to try and make an escape with Anna, and then get her to explain the situation to the authorities, but the likelihood of her being hanged as an accessory to murder was too great. He didn't want to risk that, certainly not with the knowledge of how the mortal woman would die, in extreme agony. He resisted the temptation to rub his neck. Hanging might not kill him, but there was no way he was going to risk enduring that again. It was even worse than drowning. He smiled to himself. Considering the amount of ways in which he had 'died', it gave the impression that he had been extremely careless with his life in the past. The truth was that he had, but somehow something had changed now. His life, and the lives of his friends, had suddenly become much more important in recent years. It was as if he could no longer face the possibility of death; his or anybody else's.

"Thinking about something, John?" Riding up to his unwilling associate, Cable smiled broadly. It was a mocking, mostly toothless grin that Methos had quickly tired of. Cable was the sort of man who was extremely easy to dislike.

"Maybe." Methos purposely did not look at the other man, but tried to ride on ahead. Cable's horse kept pace easily, and the big outlaw laughed unpleasantly.

"Thinking up ways to escape?"

"No. Thinking up ways to put a bullet in your brain without your friends returning the favour."

Cable laughed again. Methos glowered, trying to shut out the grating noise. He thought about Cable's train, and the somewhat tall tale of the riches it contained.

"This train..."

"Yep?" Cable took a moment to light a large, black cigar. "What about it?"

"How did you find out about it?"

"Guard on the railroad. He was sick of getting underpaid by his bosses, so he figured he'd get his own back."

"And you trust him?"

"Are you kidding?" The big man blew a long stream of thick, choking smoke into the air. "He was telling the truth though. I had a couple of my boys work him over to make sure." He waved the cigar like a baton, ignoring the effect that its smoke was having on the Immortal. "The gold dust is from the vaults at some bank. It's being taken to some more secure place. The money is the usual cash delivery. Wages, probably. As for the jewels; I think they're some kind of wedding present. That's what I heard anyway."

"How many passengers?"

"The usual. It's a six carriage train, plus about ten guards; then there's the driver and maybe a few others."

Methos nodded. "And what's the plan?"

Cable's eyes brightened. "We pull up a section of the track, then one of us goes to warn the driver; make out like he just saw the damage, and thought he'd be a good citizen. The train stops, and we explode a few little charges, just to make them think they're in danger. The man on the inside takes care of the driver, plus as many guards as he can, then makes sure that the passengers surrender. The rest of us unload as much of the cargo as we can carry, and we leave. It'll be easy, you'll see."

"You think one man can handle the driver, plus all those guards?"

"Maybe not. Maybe I'll send two men in. It doesn't matter. Just so long as there are six of us; four to unload the goods, and two to guard the passengers. We worked out that's the minimum we need to get it done."

"When do we go for the train? And where?"

Cable smiled. "When is in a couple of days. You don't need to know where."

A wounded expression grew on the old man's face. "You mean you don't trust me?"

"Not one little bit." The outlaw blew a cloud of smoke at his companion. "But don't worry. Do like you're told, and you'll get your cut. We'll even make sure you get out of the state, so you won't end up swinging for those three murders."

"You're all heart, Dave."

"You said it." Cable kicked at his horse, and rode on ahead, throwing up a fountain of dust into Methos' face. The old man coughed, the stinging cloud just a little too much to cope with, following on so close behind the cigar smoke. He rubbed his eyes, and glanced back to see where Anna was, wondering if he should go back for her. Another member of the gang had slipped quietly into place behind the Immortal, and he glared at Methos.

"Forget about her," he warned, voice dark. "She can take care of herself."

Methos wondered how much liberty he was going to be allowed during this operation. He shrugged, turning his back on the other man, and rode on in silence. Somehow he was beginning to doubt if Cable and his cohorts were really planning to let him go afterwards, or if he should begin to expect a bullet in the back. He sighed, and the black cloud of encroaching despair began to descend upon him once again. How did he manage to get himself into these messes? Five thousand years, Methos... he thought to himself sourly. You ought to be above all this by now. The truth was, though, that no matter how old he got he always seemed to make the same mistakes, and fall into the same awkward situations. It really was most unfair.

**********

The sun blazed down from on high, and the six outlaws hiding in the undergrowth shifted uncomfortably in the heat. It had been hard work tearing the tracks up, and digging holes in the hard ground to bury dynamite charges had been no easier. Cable studied his pocket watch, making a big show of using it to time his work to perfection. Methos smiled in secret amusement. Cable might fool his friends, but the old man knew that he was incapable of telling the time.

"Any time now." As if on cue, an echoing whistle blasted through the hot, still air. The six figures tensed expectantly, and Cable gave a curt nod. Immediately two of the men ran to their horses. Methos watched them go. It would have been handy if he had been sent on that detail; not that he had really expected to be. He could have warned the driver, and told the guards to open fire. He wondered where that would have got him, and shrugged. Would have been worth a try.

"Get ready," Cable hissed at him, and Methos nodded, more by instinct than through attentive listening. He thought of similar operations, planned to perfection by him, or by some trusted associate. With Cable it was all blind hope and brute force. There was no finesse, no real skill involved. Kronos would have blasted the mortal gang into the Underworld by now, through exasperation alone, if he had been in Methos' place, and the old man knew it. He would have done the same himself once. So much had changed though, and he couldn't really put his finger on why or even when. Mortals had come to mean more to him than his own kind ever had. Even mortals like Cable couldn't just be executed. It wasn't right. The last mortal he had killed, not so very long ago, had been a middle-aged woman who kept a saloon. She had tried to poison him, in order to steal his money, and he had dealt with her in the traditional Immortal manner, in a blaze of uncharacteristic rage. He had not dealt a fatal blow to anyone since. The look on that woman's face as she had died still haunted him occasionally. A conscience, he had decided ruefully, was something of a curse.

In the valley beneath him, he watched the two men ride close to the approaching train. One leaned towards the driver's window, and shouted something. Moments later the train began to slow. Sparks flew from the wheels as they juddered and protested at the sudden halt.

"Ready... ready..." Breathing heavily, Cable had become very tense, his eyes bulging as he concentrated on the events unfolding below. He was counting under his breath. Methos and the others watched him steadily, waiting for the signal to move forwards. The two men who had been sent ahead had dismounted, and were vanishing into the train.

"Ready..." With a sudden grin, Cable threw his cigar aside and grabbed his horse by the reins. "Now!" As one, the dynamite charges exploded, raining dirt and debris down onto the train. Immediately the outlaws began to slide down the slope, leading their horses, and trying to contain their impatience. A few minutes later they waited, silent and tense, hidden in the trees at the base of the slope. The train stood nearby, engine still hissing menacingly. Of the passengers there was no sign. Either they were too scared to disembark, or had already been dissuaded from trying anything by the two gang members on board.

"Let's go." Waiting for only the briefest second longer, Cable led them forward. Leaving their horses in the shade of the trees, they ran towards the train, keeping low, their weapons drawn. Methos had not been trusted with his gun, but he carried his sword. The irony of that amused him deeply. Cable had not wanted to risk giving him a gun, and so he had instead allowed him to carry a weapon that he was far more capable of doing real damage with.

Gaining access to the train was easy. Methos threw open the door to one carriage and found that Harris, one of the advance group, had already got the drop on the occupants. Together they led the assorted group of people from the train, gathering them together on the dusty ground. Carriage by carriage, the other passengers joined the group waiting outside. The explosions had convinced most of them that they had been attacked by a large group of bandits, and the presence of only six visible attackers was obviously a source of some annoyance to the guards. One tried to make a grab for his gun, but Methos knocked him down instantly, with an blow from his sword hilt. The man fell heavily, and the old Immortal winced in sympathy. The mortal had no chance of escaping one almighty headache when he woke up, but the alternative had been death at the hands of one of Cable's more bloodthirsty compatriots. Methos had been trying to do the guard a favour. Even so, the looks that he received from the other passengers made him feel as if he were being compared to Attila the Hun.

"Okay, people. Let's get this lot unloaded." Gesturing to Methos and Harris that they should stay back to guard the prisoners, Cable led the rest of his group towards the train. The precious cargo was heavy, but with practised ease the four were able to unload it all. It lay on the ground, plain and unremarkable in its wooden packing crates. Methos cast a sidelong glance towards it, feeling the customary burst of excitement that he was so familiar with. There was no feeling quite like that which one experienced whilst dishonestly attaining great wealth.

"Doug?" The voice was that of an old woman, quavering and uncertain. Methos automatically glanced towards the sound, and saw that one of the passengers was staring at him intently. He felt a shiver of concern run down his spine. The woman was gazing at him with a look of fascination, intense and curious. "Doug..."

Harris laughed. "I think she knows you, Keene. One of your girlfriends?"

Methos ignored the other man, and frowned at the old woman. She could have been almost any age, eighty, or even ninety - young by his standards - with short white hair and extraordinarily bright green eyes. She wore a locket around her neck; silver in colour, and somewhat battered, with a faint engraving on the front.

"Doug?" She took a step towards him, her hand reaching for his arm, and gently touched his wrist. "You haven't changed... How?"

Methos took a step back. The woman's fingers stayed on his wrist, gradually tightening. She had a strong grip for a woman of her age. Slowly his sword lowered, until the tip was nearly touching the ground. Methos did not resist.

With a sudden spring, one of the guards moved forwards, grabbing the old man's other arm, and spinning him about. Methos lost his balance, and the sword fell to the ground. The old woman gasped in shock, stepping back instinctively. Harris ran forward, and with a powerful blow he knocked her to the ground. His gun fired loudly, and Methos felt the man on top of him stiffen briefly, and then go limp. He pushed the body off and scrambled to his feet, eyes wide.

"What did you do that for?" Starting forward, he grabbed his sword, face showing his anger.

"Get out of my way, Keene." Harris was angry, and Methos could see that the focus of his rage was the old woman. Evidently he thought that she had been purposely trying to distract him in order for the guard to make his move.

"Not likely." Bristling with rage, Methos faced the other man down, his sword raised as if to attack. He heard footsteps, but ignored them, until Cable's heavy hand caught his shoulder, and spun him around.

"What's going on here?" The big outlaw looked down at the dead guard, and sized up the situation immediately. "Go and help load up the horses, John."

"No." Methos' voice was like ice.

"I said, get moving." Cable's tone did not invite argument. Methos glanced back at the old woman, and saw the fear in her eyes. He knew that she was staring death in the face, and was not prepared to abandon her to whatever Harris had in mind. There was a stirring amongst the other passengers, and he could see their tension rising. Cable's answer to such a threat would be violence. He had to defuse the situation before it got out of hand.

"Doug?" The old woman, still lying on the ground, spoke the word in a plaintive voice, gazing up at Methos with eyes that sought to understand. "Who are these people?"

"It's okay." Methos turned away from Cable to speak to the old woman, and in the same moment she rose to her feet, making a move towards him. He saw Harris' gun move upwards, swerving to point straight at her.

"No!" In desperation, Methos stepped forwards, only to receive such a powerful blow from Cable that he crashed to the ground. The old woman's face registered concern, and then, almost in the same instant, pain. Methos seemed to see her fall before he heard the sound of the gunshot. She cried out, then collapsed on the ground beside him, her eyes pleading. The old man saw the last spark of life fade from her face, and felt as though his heart might break.

"You killed her..." The voice came from somewhere within the group of passengers, and was taken up almost immediately by the others. The group began to move forwards, unheeding of Harris' gun. There was anger visible on their faces. The death of the guard had been one thing, but evidently the death of an old woman was something very different.

"Get out of here!" There was fear in Cable's voice, his authority gone. The big man caught hold of Methos' collar, dragging him to his feet. "Get up you fool. Run!"

Methos stumbled along, pulling free from the other man and struggling to get his balance. Behind them the entire group of former prisoners surged onwards. The three outlaws ran for their lives, catching up with the rest of the gang just as they were about to begin to load up the horses.

Oblivious to the loot, Cable swung his heavy frame up onto his horse, and turned its head around. Harris followed suit, his expression one of total panic.

"The stuff..." he gasped, suggesting that even in the midst of his fear he had not lost his greed.

"Forget it. There isn't time." Cable kicked at his horse to get it moving, and Methos leapt up onto his own mount. There was no sense in standing around waiting to get torn limb from limb by an angry mob. One by one, the rest of the gang caught on to the urgency of the situation, and in no time at all they were all racing away from the scene of the crime. The wooden boxes, with all of their impressive cargo, were left far behind them, standing abandoned in the shade of the trees.

**********

"This is all your fault!" Livid with rage, Harris dragged Methos from his horse, towering over him like a vision from hell. Methos got to his feet, brushing the dust from his clothes.

"You didn't have to shoot her," he hissed, his voice displaying just a little of the rage he was trying to contain.

"What's this about?" Cable caught up with the pair, and placed himself between them. "What do you mean, it's all his fault?"

"Just what I said. If he hadn't let that old woman get the drop on him, and then made so much fuss when I killed that guard, none of this would have happened." Harris had drawn his gun. "Let me finish him off here and now. He lost us that loot."

"That true?" Cable turned to Methos, who glowered at him, his eyes smouldering fiercely.

"Not exactly. Harris jumped the gun. I had everything under control."

"Like hell you did! It was all a trick, Cable. I told you we couldn't trust him. He did all this on purpose, just to loose us that load."

"You didn't have to shoot that woman." Methos tried to push past the human blockade which was preventing him from getting at Harris, but it was to no avail.

"She deserved it." Harris sounded deeply disparaging. "She was in the way."

"Okay, enough." Cable turned on Methos, the anger clear in his eyes. "What about it, Keene? Did you pull that stunt on purpose?"

"You think I'd risk an innocent old woman's life on purpose? Just to stop some second rate bunch of outlaws from getting hold of a few crates of cheap jewels?" Methos turned away in disgust, ignoring the assortment of hardware pointed in his direction. "It was your idea to bring me in on this, Cable. What do you think?"

If the cold silence which greeted his question was not answer enough, the massive fist which slammed into his kidneys certainly was. The ground came up to meet him with unyielding solidity, and for a second the world blurred. Dimly, Methos was aware that the gang was closing in around him. He looked up into Anna's eyes and saw her fear and concern, then suddenly she was gone, cut off from sight by her eager colleagues.

Standing alone, Anna clenched her fists in helpless anger as she watched the only friend she had being beaten almost senseless by her colleagues. She knew that there was nothing that she could do to help Keene, but that did not make it any easier to stand back and wait. When the group finally dispersed, she did not dare move forwards, but waited until the others had mounted up.

"Get a move on, Anna," Cable told her. She glanced up at him, then back at Methos.

"What about John?"

"Leave him. If that mob back there doesn't get him, somebody else will." He grinned. "A bounty hunter, or a passing lawman if he's lucky. More likely a posse looking for blood."

"I-" She broke off, then shook her head. "You'd better go on without me, Cable. I'm not leaving him."

The big outlaw looked as though he were about to protest, then he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

"Your choice," he told her over his shoulder, and then was gone. His remaining three companions followed.

Anna hurried over to Methos, and helped him to sit up. The Immortal spat some of the blood out of his mouth, and squinted at the mortal woman from dazed, half-closed eyes.

"You should have gone with them," he told her, his voice hoarse. She smiled.

"Yeah, course I should. Where would that have got me?"

"I don't know. Just remember that nobody knows who you are. With them you've got a chance to stay ahead of the law, for a while at least. I'm a wanted man, Anna. Stick with me and they'll make you an accessory."

"So? I'm more responsible for all of these deaths than you are." She gave him a critical appraisal. "You look like you've been dead for a fortnight."

"Thanks." Methos forced himself to stand up, and began to bash some of the dust out of his clothing. "I don't feel all that hot, either." He wandered over to his horse and climbed up onto its back. "Come on."

"Are you crazy? You need to rest."

"With half of the state on my trail? If I rest here I'll wake up hanging from an oak tree." He glanced about, wondering which direction to take. "Do you have any preference regarding points on a compass?"

"No. Do you?"

"I've always had a bit of a thing for east." He shrugged. "But since that would take us straight back to a certain town with a very dead Sheriff, I was hoping you might have an alternative suggestion."

"Oh, right. How about west?"

"Okay." Turning his horse about, Methos waited for Anna to mount up. "Come on then."

"I'm coming." They began to ride, hoping that the posse which they knew was out there somewhere would stay out of their way. So far they had been lucky, but experience told Methos that such luck did not last. He pressed his horse to ride faster, and turned his mind to more immediate concerns. There was still the matter of a convincing excuse for Anna. Somehow he had to explain why the cuts and bruises on his face were healing so quickly. Coming to a decision, he smiled into the wind. If in doubt, play dumb. After all, it had worked countless times before, and many woman found it attractive. With that in mind, he set about practising his look of wounded innocence, as they rode faster and faster into the approaching dusk.

**********

They rode until the darkness was complete, and then began to look about for a place to rest for the night. Although they had not seen a single living soul since the departure of Cable and his men, there had been plenty of evidence of the presence of others in the wide and lonely territory. The tracks on the ground indicated that a large body of riders had been along the same trail recently, probably only a day or so previously, and there was no doubt in Methos' mind who they had been; people looking for him. Only a posse could have made such tracks, and there could be only one reason for a posse to be out. He wondered how long it would take them to find out about the attack on the train, and about the murder of the guard and the old woman. Not long, that was for sure. He wondered if any of the passengers would be able to give an accurate enough description of Cable to guarantee a positive identification. It seemed only fair that somebody else should get some of the blame for all of this.

They stopped for the night at a ranch house, abandoned save for a woman and her daughter. Methos disliked taking hostages, but he needed something to eat, and knew that Anna felt the same. They were both too tired to hunt for food. As they sat down in front of a roaring fire, the old Immortal felt two pairs of eyes staring at him intently, and shivered slightly. They knew him, that much was clear. Obviously the posse had been this way.

They ate a simple meal, watchful and tense. Methos had taken Anna's rifle, and sat with it across his lap, unable to relax. It was pleasant to be back in a building again, where there were some comforts to be had, but he still felt ill at ease, and unsure of himself. Even the chance to wash the dried blood from his face, and have a long overdue shave, did not make him feel any better.

As the night grew older, the woman and her daughter fell asleep in two of the chairs by the fire. Methos stretched his legs out, trying to force himself to relax, but could not shake off the feeling that the net was closing tightly around him. Anna smiled at his restlessness.

"You're worse than a child. Sit still."

"Sorry. I can't get comfortable." He stood up and began to pace. "Being an outlaw has always been fun. It's been years since I was last hunted by anyone. There's been the odd bounty hunter, but they're easy to shake."

"I'm sorry." She lowered her eyes. "This really is all my fault."

"Cable's fault," he corrected, then smiled. "We've got to make a decision about what to do next."

"That's easy." She sat upright, suddenly sounding excited. "We get out of the state, and find somewhere where no one has heard of either of us. Then we go into business together. What do you say? We're both naturals, and we'd make a good team."

"You think so?" Methos considered the proposition. It was certainly an intriguing possibility. Not only was Anna extremely attractive, but he had seen for himself that she possessed the sort of strength and stamina most men struggled to achieve; plus she evidently knew what she was doing with a gun. He smiled slowly, although in his heart he was doubtful. "It might work."

"Of course it would." She leaned back in her chair, looking up at him with curious eyes. "Do you mind if I ask you a question though John?"

"If you like." So long as it's nothing to do with why I haven't got so much as a black eye.

"What made you become an outlaw? You're well educated, that's obvious. You speak like a gentleman. Why turn to robbery?"

Methos found himself smiling. What could he say in answer to that? Should he tell her about his life as one of the Four Horsemen, and how they had caroused and brutalised their way across several continents three thousand years ago? That would hardly be a good idea. Perhaps he should tell her about some of his other less than advisable exploits throughout the centuries. Illegality had always held a certain fascination. Or perhaps he should tell her about the old woman on the train...

Her name had been Mabel, which was so gloriously wrong for her that he had laughed aloud when she first told him. He had called her Molly, since it fitted her much better. He hadn't been sure, at first, when he had seen her on the train. After all, it had been such a long time... sixty-one years since he had last seen her. The eyes had been his first clue, but the locket had confirmed it. He had given it to her himself, and had also caused it to become so battered. They had been out for a ride in the country when the chain had broken, and he had driven over the necklace with a carriage wheel. He had wanted to buy her a replacement, or at least try to get it fixed, but she had refused.

She had been twenty-five when he had first laid eyes on her, in 1810, and was the daughter of a rich merchant by the name of Stephen Burns, who was far more interested in his sons than in Molly. Methos had regaled her with his tales of Europe and Asia, and they had enjoyed some wonderful times together, always in secret, in the certain knowledge that her father would never have approved of the relationship. He had taught her to fence, as well as any number of less gentlemanly skills; namely how to play poker and win, and how to deal with bar keepers who tried to sell watered down beer; and they had made so many plans. Finally, after four years of toying with the idea, they had decided to elope. Somehow her father had found out, and unwilling to have his plans to marry Molly to a business rival disrupted, he had had her unfitting suitor arrested for stealing the family silver. Methos had been sentenced to twenty years hard labour, and when he finally managed to escape, about a year later, he had gone in search of Molly. She had gone. All that her friends were able to tell him was that her father had sent her abroad. He had no idea of where she was, but had still been determined to find her. With what seemed like half of the authorities in the country after him he had come to a rather pleasing decision; if they were going to treat him like a thief, he might as well be one. Taking everything belonging to Molly's father that wasn't nailed down, he had headed for the coast as a rich man, boarding the first ship he had found that was bound for Europe. There had been distractions aplenty - Byron for one; and then Kronos had appeared, riding back into his life out of nowhere as always. He had been flushed with the exhilaration caused by some recent insane escapade, and Methos had been carried away by the promise of another mad adventure. It was like a drug that he was unable to escape from. They had spent some twenty years together, inspired by the success that Methos had found as a thief following his brush with Stephen Burns. The fun had finally come to an end when Kronos had been challenged by a legendary Immortal who also happened to be one of the world's most respected fencing masters. Raoul Menendez had been at least a foot taller than Methos, and probably as wide as he was high, and had therefore positively towered over the old Immortal's rather smaller companion. Methos had left them to their fight, heading once more for the coast; but the damage had been done. The time he had spent with Kronos had reawakened something within him, and he had ridden off in search of more adventures. It was far too late by then to think of returning to the search for Molly. He thought about it all now, as he pondered over what to tell Anna. Those last few days with Kronos remained somewhat vague in his memory, to be honest; hidden in a haze of alcohol, not to mention something much stronger. He still couldn't remember what. The upshot of it all had been that he had found himself on a ship, bound once more for North America, and on arrival there had slipped smoothly into the life of crime that now seemed to suit him so well.

"It's what I am," he said finally, shaking off the soft embrace of reflection. "When people look at me, they see so many things... I know what I seem to be, but that's not what I am. I could never be a hero, or any of those other things that people aspire to, but I certainly could never be something ordinary. I have a face that allows me to blend in. I don't look like a dangerous man. What else is there to do, but take advantage of that?"

Anna laughed. "You're a romantic, John," she said with amusement. "You couldn't be dangerous if you tried. All you want is adventure."

Methos smiled. It was all true, no matter what Anna chose to believe. Even when he tried to tell her the truth, she only saw what all the others did. He was a dangerous man; had been so much more than that. Could be again. He was already so adept at hiding behind his various aliases, that the character he chose to project had become second nature to him. He couldn't help wondering how much of it was real. How much of him was John Keene, quiet, reclusive, unassuming; and how much of him was still the fiery, unrestrained madman who had once terrorised most of the known world? Perhaps he would never know.

"Are you tired?" Yawning suddenly, Anna stretched her feet out towards the fire. "Only I'm not sure if I can stay awake much longer, and one of us should keep watch."

"You go to sleep." Methos smiled reassuringly. "I'm wide awake." It was a blatant lie, but he could not have got much rest anyway.

"Thanks." In seconds the woman was dead to the world, and Methos watched her curiously. He would have been denying the obvious if he had tried to convince himself that he wasn't attracted to her, and her proposition certainly had promise. Other voices interfered with his conscience though, and he knew that he would be asking for trouble if he tried to make a life with the mortal woman. He would be endangering her for one thing, since he was a wanted murderer now. She was still relatively unknown, and still had a chance to get away. Besides, he had been worrying for some time now about how wise it was to continue with life on the wrong side of the law. It was dangerous, and involved taking too many unnecessary risks. A few more jobs, just to set up a nice little nest-egg, and then an extended trip abroad. Maybe back to Britain, his adopted home. He had been planning it even before his run in with Cable, and all of the problems that that had caused. It made even more sense now. Anything had to be better than running for his life across inhospitable territory. He smiled indulgently, thinking back over the last half century, the entire length of which he had spent involved in some nefarious pursuit or another. Perhaps it was about time to return to a more socially acceptable profession. He had been a fencing master not so long back, a doctor even more recently. He had tried his hand at teaching once or twice, too. Whichever way he looked at the situation, good sense prevailed. The part of him that would always belong to Kronos told him to join up with Anna, and enjoy the chance to run riot again; but there was another part of him now. He smiled at the sleeping form on the chair, and approached her silently. It was a simple matter to slip the gun from out of her belt, and slide it into his own, long empty shoulder holster. Slowly he moved away from her, and turned to the woman who owned the ranch, gently shaking her shoulder to wake her.

"Ma'am?" He kept his voice so low that he was not altogether sure if she would be able to hear him. Her eyes opened slowly, and he knew that she had.

"What?" She kept her voice low too, perhaps reading the urgency on his face. He smiled, trying to put her at her ease.

"I'm leaving now. I thought I should tell you." He cast a sidelong glance at Anna. "My hostage... You'll take care of her, won't you? I took her from a town I passed a while back. Poor woman has been so distraught. She hasn't spoken a word of sense since I met her."

"Can you blame her?" The woman's voice was cold, despite its low volume. "She's probably been scared stiff."

"Yeah, I guess so." Methos shrugged vaguely. "You'll see that she gets home okay? That the Sheriff doesn't give her a hard time?"

The woman nodded, then her eyes hardened. "But it's not the Sheriff that you have to worry about, young man."

"Yeah. I'd kind of guessed that." He smiled hesitantly, wondering if he should try to tell this woman something of the truth, then he turned to leave. What was the point? It was too late to change anything now. He crossed to the door. "I'll take a fresh horse. You can tell that posse what you like. Just don't try to come after me for a while."

"I'm no fool." She watched him as he left, and he seemed to feel her eyes on his back long after he had shut the door behind him and moved out of sight of the house. The stable stood some distance away, and he unsaddled his own horse, choosing another one more or less at random. The animal whinnied softly, as if upset at having its sleep disturbed, and he led it outside. It took only a few moments to saddle up and ride away, and the ranch was soon just a distant memory. He knew that the thoughts of Anna would take longer to fade from his mind.

Dawn came slowly, rising up in the east just as he had seen it do so many countless times. He let the horse choose its own speed, and they wandered on together through the unchanging landscape. Rocks and cacti stretched out as far as the eye could see, apparently unending. Only as the sky began to turn grey did the monotony appear to cease. Methos glared up at the darkening clouds. Great. If there was one thing that made a ride truly enjoyable, it was a sizeable downpour. Soon the dusty ground would be thick with mud, and the going would be hard.

Next time you're going to make a run for it, choose better weather. Methos smiled at the thought, and wondered about the chances of finding some shelter. There didn't really appear to be any, and he would be better off putting some more distance between himself and the ranch anyway. Not only did he plan to be far away before anybody discovered that he had spent the night there, but he also did not want Anna to risk losing the chance at freedom that he had offered her, and endanger her life trying to come after him.

The miles slid by, at first damp, then wet, then downright soaking. Methos blinked the rainwater out of his eyes, but it was a losing battle. As fast as he cleared his vision, another torrent of rain poured down his head, and he was blinded again. The horse shook its own head violently, obviously thinking as little of the situation as he did.

"Sorry about this, old chap," he told it, although he doubted whether it really cared all that much for his apologies. "Nothing I can do about it right now." His answer was a disgusted neigh, and he nodded in sympathy. "Yeah, I know, pal, but what can we do?" They rode on a little further, and the sun vanished behind the clouds altogether. Apparently the weather had decided to get a lot worse before it got better. The old Immortal groaned, and stood up in his saddle to get a better view ahead. Behind him, in the distance, he thought he saw a dark shape moving rapidly towards him. He frowned. Was he imagining things? Another moment's careful observation told him that he wasn't; the shape was definitely headed in his direction, and fast.

"Damn!" Spurring his horse onwards, Methos sent it slipping and slithering over the wet, awkward terrain. He knew only too well what that dark shape was, and he thanked whatever god of chance had allowed him to glance back and see it. The posse was not far behind him, and at their current speed, they would catch up in no time at all. Urgency made him ignore the problems that the horse was having just staying upright, and he pushed it into going faster. It protested, but tried valiantly to fulfil his demands nonetheless. All the same, he knew that the animal just did not have the speed that he needed to stay ahead.

When the first shot rang out, he had been expecting it. He ducked instinctively, although he knew that it was wild. The next bullet came much closer, and he felt its wind pass his face. The horse jerked about in fright, and he tried to soothe it with gentle sounds, but was drowned out by the noise of the rain.

The third shot sounded so close that Methos jumped, startled. Beneath him, the horse gave a convulsive shudder, and crashed to the ground, hurling its human rider through the air as their swift flight came to a cruelly unexpected end. Methos landed heavily on his back, glad that the thick mud had been there to lessen the impact. If it had not been raining, he would have been winded and probably unable to move. He stumbled up, barely pausing to grab his sword and rifle before he began to run, feet moving faster than his body could realistically be expected to compete with. The ground was sloping, and he felt himself losing balance, sliding down a gentle incline until the ground gave way altogether. He felt himself fall down an almost perpendicular bank, then the cold shock of water enveloped him. He stood up, relieved that he had fallen no more than a couple of feet, and began to run on again. Ahead of him, the river which had broken his fall ran into a group of rocks, where a few scraggy trees had grown up. There might just be a place in there where he could hide.

"Give it up, Keene!" He heard a loud voice which echoed about the terrain, despite the best attempts of the rain to drown out all other noise. "If you surrender now we might take you back for a trial."

"Some chance." Methos managed to find a place amongst the rocks where he doubted that the pursuers could see him, and raised his rifle. He didn't want to shoot anybody, but right now he felt that he could happily blast a few mortals without experiencing too much guilt.

"You're asking for trouble, Keene." The voice was harsh and unpleasant, and Methos had no doubt that it did not belong to anybody who had been legally appointed. The townsfolk who had witnessed their Sheriff and his two assistants being so brutally murdered were looking for their own justice. He felt a cold shiver run down his back. Lynchings were bad enough at the best of times, but they were infinitely worse when you were the intended victim.

Up above him, in clear view, the members of the posse began to split up. There were about twenty-five of them, Methos figured. He had two shots with his rifle, and six with his gun. All of his spare ammunition was still with his saddle. That cut down his chances somewhat. He thought hard. His only realistic chance was to get away without them seeing him; to make them run for cover and then try to make a break for it whilst the coast was more or less clear. He watched the men move about in small groups, trying to box him in, and followed one group with his rifle. Taking careful aim, he fired. A burst of mud leapt up from the ground just a few inches away from the lead man's foot, and he jumped backwards in shock, nearly losing his footing. Methos grinned in satisfaction, and whirled the rifle around to point at the second group. A similar shot sent them scurrying back, suddenly afraid that they were too vulnerable without any cover. Methos ducked down behind his rocks again, and glanced up and down the river. Since one direction would take him straight out into the open, he was left with little choice, and began to wade upstream, stumbling in the waist high water. He left his rifle behind, unwilling to carry unnecessary weight.

Onwards he fought, sliding about on the loose stone bed of the river, rain lashing his face, and mud occasionally grabbing hold of his feet. He had to pull hard to free his boots, each time nearly losing his footing. Behind him he heard shouts, and ducked closer to the riverbank, where the few trees hung low and provided him with some much needed camouflage. The posse had abandoned their horses, and were coming after him on foot, struggling just as he was. He smiled grimly. This way they were all equal, with the same handicaps and the same obstacles to surmount. He might just have a chance.

The rain continued to fall. Behind him Methos was painfully aware that the pursuit had not lessened. He knew that they were not likely to give up after having come so close to catching him. He considered whether it wouldn't be better just to give up and let them have their revenge, no matter how bloody, but somehow he just couldn't do that. Immortal or not, he had no wish to 'die' some painful and unjust 'death' in payment for a crime he hadn't committed. Anger spurred him onwards, although whether the anger was directed at Cable, the posse, or just at the universe in general, he couldn't say.

Finally, after what seemed like an age, the river branched out in two different directions. One way led to easy ground, where he could run properly, the other led into what looked suspiciously like a swamp. He chose that route out of instinct, and began to crawl through the thick mud, keeping under cover of the trees. Another shout echoed from behind him, and he glanced back, just able to see that the posse had split up. He quickened his pace, then heard another shout, followed by a gunshot. His heart leapt into his throat. Somehow, some of the men had worked their way up ahead of him. He groaned. How could he have been so stupid? Some of them must have remained on horseback, and ridden along the rocks above him. They might have had in him in sight the whole way, waiting for a chance to get a clear shot. Bleak despair sunk through him, and he pulled the gun from his shoulder holster. Six shots were better than none. He stared around, waiting to catch a glimpse of somebody, and fired twice in quick succession. One of the men behind him fell, grasping his shoulder, and a second grabbed at his leg. Methos watched the man collapse, his face set hard. Only four bullets left. The situation was not terribly inspiring.

Another gunshot made him jump, and he spun around, as fast as he could in the muddy water which swirled about him. He fired upwards, aiming for the men who lurked above him. One of them fell, his body splashing into the water several feet away from the desperate Immortal. He saw the figure moving slowly, and felt a burst of relief. Killing any of these people was certain to ensure that the survivors would do their damnedest to try and come up with something to make things worse for him; not that things could get that much worse.

Gritting his teeth, he came to a sudden decision. Hiding in the mud was not going to improve things any, and if he was going to have any chance of escaping it would best be done soon. If he waited around here for much longer, he was likely to freeze. The rain had subsided to a gentle, persistent drizzle, and with visibility improved as a result, he was going to be a much better target for the armed men positioned around him. Better, then, to be on the move.

He clambered out of the river, dragging himself onto the muddy bank with no small amount of difficulty. Desperation had been lending him strength, but he was tired now, and it showed in his movements. He glanced up at the ridge above him. Three men peered down at him, and in a sudden grim acceptance of his dismal prospects, he fired all three of his remaining shots up at them. They disappeared from view, and in that second he made his move.

Running with all of the speed that he could muster, Methos dashed along the river bank, ducking under tree branches and sliding in the thick mud. The undergrowth grew thicker, and his shirt tore on the grasping foliage, but he forced his way onwards, searching for a place where he might be able to hide. Behind him he heard nothing, almost as if his pursuers had decided to give up the chase. He smiled without humour, knowing full well that there was no chance of that. Skidding to a halt, he took advantage of the apparent lull to attempt to get his bearings. He had no idea where he was. Just a few short minutes ago - or was it hours now? - when he had still been riding his unfortunate horse, he had seen no sign of any place that looked like this. It seemed that he must have gone miles away from his original path. He had no idea where he was, not that it mattered. Behind him he heard a sudden yell which sent all thoughts of direction from his mind. Now was not the time to plan ahead, but was the time merely for trying to stay alive. In a grim gesture of defiance, he pulled his sword belt from around his neck, where he had slung it after the death of his horse, and buckled it around his waist. It was not likely to be of much use against the gunmen behind him, but it was better than nothing at all. Still angry, but now more tired than anything else, he ran on again.

The first explosion shook the ground and made him stagger, blinded suddenly by a shower of mud and pieces of flaming debris. Stunned, he shook his head and glanced back. A figure had run into view, carrying what was clearly a stick of dynamite. Methos' heart sank. By the gods, this wasn't fair. He turned again to continue running, no longer expecting to be able to get away, but determined to try nonetheless. Dynamite, of all things. Clearly they had been leaving the best surprise till last.

The noise of the second explosion was so loud that Methos was barely able to hear it. He was knocked from his feet, and stumbled up again through sheer will power alone. Drenched in mud and almost out of his senses from the concussion of the blast, he took a few more steps. He had no idea how close that last explosion had been. It had felt close, but that did not necessarily mean anything. He wondered if they were trying to kill him, or just scare him into surrendering.

He got his answer when another man, coming into view on the slopes above him, raised what was clearly another stick of dynamite above his head. Methos skidded to a halt. The man was nearly close enough for his cruel smile to be visible, and the exhausted Immortal glared back up at him, wondering what the hell to do next. He glanced back. Other men were coming into view now, running towards him. He took some satisfaction from the sight of several of them slipping in the mud, and falling headlong into the river. He looked back up at the man standing above him. What other way was open to him? It seemed to be a choice between waiting for the inevitable, or running headlong into it. He ran, and in the last few seconds of conscious thought that remained open to him, he saw the stick of dynamite fly through the air, arching boldly through the grey, misty sky overhead. There was a sound like thunder; as if the heavens themselves had opened up, and unleashed the powers of the gods upon him. He felt himself flying through the air, spinning, cartwheeling... then there was nothing, just empty, cold blackness that opened its arms to consume him.

**********

Methos awoke feeling as though every bone in his body had been broken, which, considering the circumstances, was highly likely. He groaned, rubbing his head with an arm that he was not entirely sure was his own. Slowly he opened his eyes. He was lying beside the river, mud still clinging to him. The ground was still wet, but the rain had stopped, and the sun had finally come out. He blinked up at the clear sky. There was something that he was supposed to be worried about... Oh, yeah; the posse. Feeling that it was very likely a mistake, he sat up and looked around. The riverbank was deserted. There were no men in sight, no horses, nothing. A grin found its way onto his face. The blast must have killed him. He had probably been left here for the vultures. Just as well that none of them had chosen to come in for a bite yet.

Still feeling considerably less than one hundred percent, Methos climbed to his feet, and wandered down to the river. The water was too muddy to drink, but he immersed his head into it, feeling the cobwebs drift away. Gradually his headache dissipated, and he stretched luxuriously, walking up and down the bank in order to try and get some feeling back into his stiff limbs. Even Immortal bodies apparently did not take too kindly to being assaulted by the force of rather a powerful explosion at such close quarters.

"What now, Methos?" he asked the question to thin air, and grinned at the lack of response. It felt rather good to be so completely alone. No mortals, no Immortals; nobody at all within earshot. If the scenery had been a little better, he might have considered staying where he was for a while, but under the circumstances he decided to move on. He wondered what to do next. The posse would be returning to their town, eager to inform the authorities that they had killed the notorious murderer, John Keene. That was that identity out of the window then. It left him with rather a hole in his life, like a vacuum waiting to be filled. It had all been so sudden, so unexpected. Perhaps it was time to leave the US, and head back out into the wide world. Or maybe he should deal with Cable first. He grinned wickedly. Why bother? Cable would meet his end, one way or the other. If somebody else didn't kill him, Time itself eventually would. Mortality's great judge. The Immortal drew his sword, and grinned at his ever-young reflection in the old and trusted blade. Yes; let Cable grow old and weak, and meet his end the hard way. Methos was not going to speed him along. Given the circumstances, killing him would way be too easy. The thought gave him great pleasure, and with a sudden lightening of the spirit that he had not experienced in nearly a week, Methos stuck the sword back into its sheath, and started on his way. That posse had done him a favour, really. No more of the outlaw life for him; he was going straight. Well, more or less straight. Well, eventually. Well... He grinned. He might just steal a horse first, so that he didn't have to walk all the way to wherever he was going. And he might just steal a little money, so that he could have something to eat, and maybe get a beer when he eventually came across a town. Then, of course, if he did decide to leave the country, he would need some money for that too...

The old man laughed. He would go straight. Really he would. He would just have to take it slowly, that was all. Honesty was something that it took time to get used to. Maybe in a hundred years he would be some quiet and well respected scholar, leading an apparently blameless existence. Then again, why break the habit of a lifetime? It didn't matter. In all honesty, he could do whatever he wanted to, because he knew that he could always get away with it. He knew by now that he could present any sort of a front to anybody, and they would fall for just about anything he told them. It was a gift he might as well take advantage of, and one which was fun to exploit. After all, whatever he pretended to be, at the end of the day he would always be Methos. Quiet, gentle, studious, cautious; but for those who chose to look a little harder, the danger was always there, lurking beneath the surface. He smiled happily, and wandered on to meet whatever lay ahead. He had no idea what it was, but the chances were that it wouldn't be dull; and that, for Methos, was enough.

HISTORICAL NOTE

Er, yeah. 1875. Long time ago. I guess the ROG didn't go straight, because Butch and Sundance were just looming up on the horizon, waiting to sweep him off his feet some time in the next twenty-five years. That's a flashback TPTB should indulge us with one day.

PS - Well what do you know, Kronos seems to have found his way into it again. Cunning chap. Honestly, you turn your back for a moment and he writes himself into the story. I guess you just can't keep a good man down. Or a diabolically evil and depraved man either, for that matter.

THE END