Lessons in Mercy

Part 4 of the New Beginning cycle

by Jennifer Campbell

I do not own the characters of Methos, Kronos, Silas, Caspian and Joe Dawson and have no affiliation with the show "Highlander: The Series." The characters of Lindsey Allen, Alice, Elizabeth and Father Mark are my own; if you want to use them (although I can't figure out why you'd want to...) please ask for permission. This story is all in good fun with no harm intended. So please don't sue me; I'm broke anyway.

Thanks go out to the Highlander Readers and Writers Club, which offered many good points and opinions. A really big thanks goes to my betas, Carin, Farquarson, Molly and Robert. All my encouragement comes from Linda, Dee, Mom and Katie-did -- couldn't do it without you! And last, but definitely not least, thank you Farquarson, who offered so many wonderful ideas that I have to say about half the basic plot isn't my own brainchild -- it's Farquarson's. Hey, I gotta give credit where it's due.

This story is the fourth in a cycle. The previous three are: Life is all about change, The Hitchhiker and A Life in Progress. But this story stands on its own. Rating: PG-13 for mild violence.

"But then," thought Alice, "shall I never get any older than I am now? That'll be a comfort, one way -- never to be an old woman -- but then -- always to have lessons to learn! Oh, I shouldn't like that!"
-- Lewis Carroll, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

part 1

The sun shone gloriously on a warm May afternoon, but inside the trash bin, it was cold.

Cold and dark, with an aching, gnawing pain.

Sometimes, the pain faded into merciful oblivion, but it always came back.

Those were the only sensations the infant knew, although she did not know their names. She stared at the thin, hypnotic line of light where the metal lid fitted unevenly against the trash bin.

Cold, dark, pain. Then a new, strange feeling came, one that would have made her cry and squirm had she possessed the energy to cry or move.

The crack of light widened, and the infant blinked at a pair of wide eyes. Suddenly she was flying, and she settled into another dark place, this one warm and safe. Instinctively, her mouth felt along the soft cloth against her cheek, searching in vain for the nipple that might promise food. She whimpered softly.

She heard crooning sounds. Comforting sounds.

They accompanied her back into oblivion.

The immortal Methos, better known to the world as Adam Reynolds, university instructor and Ph.D. candidate, was not happy with his place in the world. A five-thousand-year-old man, he decided, should not be sentenced to an entire night of grading his undergraduate students' essays when he could relax at a local bar. So what if final grades were due in the morning? What could the department chairman do to him if he just ... forgot?

"Well, fire me for starters," he muttered.

It didn't help to know that his immortal student, roommate and friend, Lindsey Allen, probably would dance the night away at some club or another. The lucky girl had completed her exams two days ago. At least with her gone, he would have a silent environment in which to do his grading.

In one hand, he juggled a six-pack of beer with the stack of essays, precariously pinned together by a few strategically placed paper clips. He fumbled for his apartment keys with the other hand and cursed as the papers slipped from his fingers and scattered across the welcome mat, some of them floating lazily down the stairwell to the first floor.

He set down the beer, unlocked the front door and collected the papers, managing to get the whole mess inside and onto the kitchen counter without another mishap. As he flipped the top off a beer bottle and took a long drink, he noticed an open can of formula sitting next to the papers on the counter. Next to that was a mint-condition paperback entitled "The Baby Book."

Before he could further examine the unusual additions to the apartment, he heard a plaintive wail from one of the bedrooms. Lindsey emerged a moment later with the most interesting addition of all -- a screaming baby propped against her shoulder.

An immortal baby. The signature presence was faint, but it was there.

Perfect, Methos thought. Just perfect. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

"Uh, hi, Adam," Lindsey yelled over the baby's cries. She shifted her burden to her other shoulder, and the child tangled its chubby fingers in her long brown hair. "How was your day?"

Determined not to show his annoyance, Methos assumed an expressionless stare and casually leaned against the counter with beer in hand. "Apparently a lot less interesting than yours," he replied calmly.

Lindsey grimaced, whether at Methos' words or the baby's screams, Methos did not know.

"I was walking through campus when I felt this faint presence, but no one was around," she said. "I don't know what made me look in the trash bin, but I did, and there she was." She paused and started gently bouncing the baby, who mercifully stopped crying and even began to giggle. "I couldn't just leave her there."

"So you decided to bring it home."

"You're not mad, are you?" she asked, licking her lips nervously. "Who knows how many times she died in that trash bin. I tried to keep her warm under my jacket, but she died again while I was carrying her home. I didn't know what else to do with her."

Methos set his beer on the counter and held out his arms. "Give it to me, and I'll show you another option."

Lindsey didn't move. "What's that?"

"I'm going to take it onto the roof and cut off its head."

She snorted. "Bad joke, Adam."

Methos smiled slightly and slowly walked toward Lindsey, who stood her ground with a wary expression. "No joke. Believe me, it's better if it dies."

Her eyes narrowed, and she clutched the infant more tightly. "First of all, Elizabeth is a 'she,' not an 'it' --"

"Oh, gods, you've already named it?"

"And secondly," she continued firmly, "you will not cut her head off. Look at her, Adam. She's just a baby."

"Yeah," Methos said, nodding. "It'll need feeding every two hours for the rest of its existence, and the only thanks you will get is screams and dirty diapers. It will never even call you 'mother.'"

"What's wrong with you?" she demanded. "What could ever make you want to kill a baby?"

Methos shook his head and sighed. You do not want to know, he thought.

Bronze Age

Dust choked the air as the Four Horsemen rode into camp, their blood-spattered clothes a testament to the success of their raid. The camp came alive as slaves ran forward with water, food and cloths to wipe away the blood of the Horsemen's latest victims. Methos surveyed the scene as he pulled up his pale horse, slipped off and removed his skull mask. He ran a hand through his sweaty hair.

He watched as the Horsemen's leader also dismounted and lifted his bronze mask. Kronos looked around the camp at the bustling slaves, and he ran his fingers absently across his eyelid and down the length of a long, old scar.

"Does it still pain you, Kronos?" Methos asked.

Kronos shrugged. "Let's divide the bounty, shall we, brother?"

Methos nodded and gestured to the other two riders, Caspian and Silas, who joined them in the center of camp. They unloaded their loot, which created a massive jumble of bowls and cups, lengths of cloth, food and an occasional weapon or piece of jewelry. A smile played at the corner of Methos' mouth as he admired the pile. It had been a profitable raid.

Next to him, brother Silas gently untied a final bundle from the back of his horse and laid it carefully in the dirt. He unwrapped it and lifted his prize -- a dead baby. The male child was covered in blood, probably from its own death, Methos thought, and its fine, dark curls clung to its tiny forehead.

Caspian wrinkled his nose. "Why ever would you keep that?"

Silas' smiled broadly. "Wait and see," he answered softly, but his deep voice carried across the camp.

Methos watched the child intently, suspicious and a little fearful of what Silas had discovered. A few moments later, he felt the flare of an immortal presence, and the infant began to squirm and whimper. Silas lifted the baby in both hands and held it at arm's length like an offering.

"He's like us," he stated proudly.

"Kill it," Kronos said.

Silas stubbornly set his wide jaw and shook his head. "No."

"Then take it out there somewhere," Kronos said, waving at the desert surrounding the camp, "and leave it."

"No," Silas repeated. "I want to keep him."

Kronos' eyes glinted dangerously. Without warning, he drew a dagger from his belt and, before Silas could pull back, plunged the blade into the baby, which died instantly. Silas dropped the child in surprise and growled wordlessly as he reached for his ax.

"Do you see that, Silas?" Kronos demanded. "Do you see how helpless it is? That abomination will be a liability. It will lie useless all day and drink our water. It will scream at night and lead our enemies straight to our camp."

"I will keep him quiet," Silas retorted. "I will feed him from my food and water."

Kronos and Silas stared angrily at each other, engaged in a battle of wills. Caspian merely laughed delightedly and kicked at the still, bloody bundle laying in the dirt. Neither immortal seemed to notice.

Methos tensed as the situation built, and he watched his brothers with increasing trepidation. He knew he had to intervene quickly. Kronos reacted badly to challenges to his authority, and Silas did not realize he was pushing their leader too far.

He stepped between his brothers, careful not to turn his back to either. "There's no real harm in this, Kronos," he said carefully. "The slaves will care for it, and Silas will probably tire of it in a few weeks. Let him keep his new pet if it will make him happy."

Methos held his breath as Kronos turned his angry stare on him, but he met the gaze as an equal. After a few moments, Kronos looked down. He nodded once, pulled his dagger from the baby and stalked away, leaving the bounty forgotten behind him.

Caspian laughed once more, grabbed the arm of a passing slave girl and tugged her toward his tent, oblivious to her screams of protest. Silas picked up the baby and beamed.

"Thank you, brother," he said. "I think I will enjoy this."

Methos nodded. "Take care that you do not provoke Kronos further. I will not champion that child again."

As Methos turned from Silas' eager nods, he hoped his brother would meet his predictions and grow weary of the child after a few weeks. Those weeks, though, passed quickly and became a few months, which became a few years, and still Silas cared for the baby with a single-mindedness that sometimes unnerved his fellow Horsemen.

True to his word, Silas nourished the child, which he named Baba, with his own food and water rations. Whenever Baba began crying in the night, a sound loud enough to carry for miles across the desert, Silas killed him.

On a scorching afternoon, fifty years later, Methos lifted the flaps of Silas' tent and entered into the relatively cool interior. His brother sat on an ornate rug in the center of the tent, rocking his child and crooning tunelessly. He looked up and smiled as Methos entered.

"Welcome," he said. "Do you want to hold him?"

Methos sat across from the pair, and Silas set Baba in his arms before he could refuse. He looked down into a pair of wide brown eyes that held little intelligent expression -- but something else was there. Something that touched him, the man many called Death, an immortal who had not felt true compassion in centuries.


Methos sat silent, mesmerized by the baby's eyes. How torturous, he thought, to spend eternity helpless, with the constant needs and extreme emotions of an infant. How awful to possess awareness, to understand just enough to know that escape from this mental prison is impossible. In all our raids and exploits, never have we done anything so cruel as the fate given to this immortal.

He tore his gaze from Baba and glanced warily at his brother.

"Did you know that this child is aware?" he asked.

Silas nodded eagerly. "Amazing, isn't it," he replied. "Who would have thought that the mind would grow when the body could not."

"Yes," Methos answered absently. "Amazing."


"I talk to him all the time," Silas said. "Sometimes, I think he even knows what I'm saying."

Methos brushed a lock of dark hair from the baby's cheek. "Have you ever thought about killing him, brother?" he asked. "Such an existence would be a burden, I would think."

In his arms, the baby smiled and gurgled happily, and Methos imagined that perhaps Silas was correct and the child understood his words. Silas, however, firmly shook his head.

"No," he stated. "I will not give him up. Baba is happy with me."

"Of course," Methos answered softly. "Sorry to suggest it." He stood and delivered the baby back into Silas' arms. "I must go. Excuse me, brother."

Without waiting for an answer, he turned and left, hurrying to the refuge of his own tent. The child needed to die, and if Silas refused to acknowledge that fact, Methos would have to do something himself. But how would he ever get Baba away from Silas long enough to kill him? And how could he ever betray his brother in that way?

Present Day

"Adam? Adam? ... Methos?"

Methos snapped back to reality and smiled apologetically at Lindsey, who stood before him with concern in her eyes.

"Where were you?" she asked softly.

Methos shook his head, retrieved his beer and the stack of essays from the counter and settled at the small kitchen table, hoping his actions would distract his all-too-curious student from her question. She knew vaguely about his bloody past, but one reference to the Horsemen would lead to more questions and explanations, and he knew Lindsey would not handle the answers well. She had enough trouble reconciling herself to her only kill, the immortal hunter Seth LaMar, who now had laid in his grave for several months.

No, tales of a thousand-year-blood bath would only upset them both and remained better unsaid.

"Adam, what were you thinking about?" she persisted, sitting beside him at the table, the baby sleeping in her arms. "If you know something about immortal children, please tell me."

Methos shook his head and tapped his pen against the stack of essays. "Why do you want to keep this child?" he asked.

"I don't know," Lindsey answered, shrugging. "I guess, it's because Grandmother taught me to always help those who cannot help themselves." She shifted the baby to her other shoulder and dropped her voice to a whisper. "And, maybe, it's because of LaMar. It's crossed my mind more than once that caring for this child might be my penance for his death."

Methos sighed. He should have known that redemption was what she sought. Since LaMar's death, so many months ago, Methos had seen the haunted, tormented look in Lindsey's eyes, and the pain had failed to dissipate as time had passed. She refused to set aside her guilt, and Methos knew that acceptance of killing was a lesson he could not teach -- Lindsey had to learn this in her own way.

Perhaps saving this child could help her move beyond her guilt, Methos thought. The matter would take some consideration. But not tonight.

He looked pointedly at the infant. "You need to put that to bed, and I have twenty-five research papers to grade."

She frowned, nodded once and walked toward her bedroom. "Good night," she said over her shoulder.

"Sleep well," he answered absently.

He rolled his red pen between his fingers and turned to the first essay with a groan. Concentration, however, flitted away frequently and left him thinking of Lindsey and her guilt, Silas and his child, the night when he had ended the infant's torment and earned the wrath of his favorite brother. He had broken the strongest bond among them and with that act had unwittingly pushed the Horsemen closer to their end.

So much the better, he thought. For all of us.

Bronze Age

Methos held the small, still bundle close against his chest as he heaved himself onto his horse, trusting the cover of darkness to hide his thievery. He'd killed the baby to keep it quiet as he snuck from camp, and it still had not revived. Soon, though. Soon it would wake and wail, rousing his brothers and ruining Methos' plan. He had to act now or lose his one chance at offering peace to this tortured child.

No, not a child, he corrected himself. An immortal, fifty years old and unable to even feed itself or speak or control its passionate rages. Yet it understood that its life would never change -- forever helpless in a harsh world.

With the tiny immortal occupying his hands, he had to guide his horse with only his legs, and they silently navigated through the camp, toward the desert, keeping their distance from the tents of the other Horsemen.

Even his caution failed, however, when Methos felt the pull of a presence. Kronos stepped in front of them and reached out to stop the horse. He grinned, his eyes bright with madness, and Methos shivered.

"Good evening, brother," Kronos said. "Where are you going so late at night?"

When Methos refused to answer, Kronos circled the horse and pushed back the cloth of Methos' bundle, revealing the face of the dead baby. He chuckled.

"You were the one who asked me to spare this abomination," he said, "and now you are the one to kill it. Fitting, don't you think?"

"Let me pass," Methos answered.

"Silas will not be happy when he wakes to find his precious pet gone."

"I will deal with Silas."

"I'm sure you will, Methos," Kronos said with a mischievous grin. "You are very good at getting your way."

Kronos stepped away and gestured grandly that Methos should continue, which Methos did quickly with a silent thanks to the gods. He did not relax until Kronos' presence faded and he found himself alone in the desert, several miles from the camp, far enough away that the Quickening should go unnoticed.

The wind brushed softly across the barren landscape, kicking a fine cloud of dust into the air, as Methos dismounted, lay the baby on the ground and unwrapped him carefully. Baba chose that moment to revive, his presence bursting to life as he opened his eyes and blinked at the lean, pale form looming over him. Methos drew his sword.

"Forgive me," he whispered, "for not doing this a long time ago."

A smile lit up Baba's face as Methos chopped downward, and the faint presence vanished like a snuffed candle, a tiny light extinguished by the briefest puff of wind. The Quickening was mercifully short and painless, leaving Methos plenty of energy to build a small cairn over the child's corpse. He returned to camp just as the eastern sky began to lighten with the promise of a new day.

Present Day

Methos irritably dropped his pen onto the table and frowned. He hadn't thought of Baba in years. He still believed that killing the baby had been the right thing to do, but it had broken his friendship with Silas.

He could still see his brother's violent reaction to Methos' admission that he had murdered the baby: Silas raging and screaming through the camp; Silas charging Methos with his ax raised as Kronos and Caspian stood by, simply watching; Silas hacking a slave girl into a bloody mess after he gave up the futile chase for Methos' head.

After that destructive morning, Silas had refused to speak or even look at Methos for several cycles of the moon. The tension that had built between them had proven the first step toward the breakup of the Horsemen. Still, Methos could not apologize for what he had done. He only regretted that he hadn't killed the infant sooner.

The eyes of Silas' child had haunted his dreams for centuries, and now Lindsey, his own student, wanted to bring the horror of infant immortality upon both of them. She would not allow the child to die, but perhaps she would be satisfied with seeing it cared for in safety, in a place where she could visit often and purge her guilty conscience. Then she would not carry the burden of caring for the child, and Methos would not have to see it. Yes, that might prove the best compromise.

Satisfied with his solution, Methos quickly finished with the stack of essays. He wrote a short note to Lindsey, which he left on the kitchen table with the papers, and packed a bag. As he quietly opened the front door, he heard a hungry cry from one of the bedrooms, and he left the apartment before Lindsey could wake and stop his exit. This mission to find a home for the infant would go much more smoothly without the distractions of a curious student and screaming baby.

Besides, he would return in a few days, a week at the most. Surely Lindsey could keep herself out of trouble for a few days.

He smiled grimly as he realized such thoughts might be construed as famous last words.

End of part 1