Lessons in Mercy

Part 4 of the New Beginning cycle

by Jennifer Campbell

For disclaimers and credits, please see part 1.

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.

"You're thinking about something, my dear, and that makes you forget to talk. I can't tell you just now what the moral of that is, but I shall remember it in a bit."

"Perhaps it hasn't one," Alice ventured to remark.

"Tut, tut, child!" said the Duchess. "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."
-- Lewis Carroll, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

part 4

The three-hour drive to Father Mark's sanctuary seemed like an eternity to Methos, who alternately watched the highway and his quiet, dispirited student. Lindsey had not spoken the entire trip, content instead to stare out the window and rock the child in her arms. Methos did not condemn her silence; the past 10 days had brought enough chaos and confusion to push anyone deep into their thoughts.

So he gave her time to think without interruption. Unfortunately, however, the melancholy seemed contagious. The engine's quiet hum, the rhythmic bumps in the road, lulled Methos into his own reverie. He thought about Silas and Baba and the Horsemen; he wondered how long he could keep his past from Lindsey before the distrust those secrets had spawned would drive them apart. After a year with his student, Methos realized he didn't want to lose her, this girl who had breathed life into his stale existence.

A quick glance at his student confirmed she still was quietly rocking Elizabeth, who slept soundly in the absurd, fuzzy pink pajamas Lindsey had bought a few days before. Not for the first time, he wished Lindsey had never found that child. Elizabeth had unwittingly had forced Methos to remember a past he'd rather forget and had created this tension between student and teacher. If not for little Elizabeth, none of the past couple of weeks would have happened.

"What are you thinking about?" Lindsey asked, her voice startling Methos from his thoughts.

He shrugged. "Nothing in particular. You've been more quiet than I these past few hours."

"I know," she said softly. "It's this landscape. These fields are so flat and dry and colorless. And they go on forever. How can anyone have happy thoughts in this wasteland?"

Methos looked at her, amused at her melodrama. "It's not a wasteland. It's Illinois. Besides, it's nothing compared to some places I've lived. The Middle East was mostly weeds and dust, and parts of Egypt were never- ending sand."

She smiled wistfully. "Egypt. Now that's a place I would love to see. It's an archaeologist's dream. Do you think we can go there for awhile, just leave this place behind and start over again?"

"I hate to spoil your daydream, but I think you're forgetting something. University. Classes. The reason we moved here. Remember?"

Lindsey licked her lips and looked out the side window. "I, um -- I don't think we can stay here."

Methos looked sharply at her. "What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything," Lindsey answered quickly. "It was Alice, and we didn't have a choice. She killed an immortal in downtown in the middle of the afternoon. He challenged us, and I beat him. I couldn't bring myself to kill him, though, so Alice did it instead. She saved my life." She paused. "We got away before the cops arrived, but any number of people might have seen us sneak out of the alley. It's only a matter of time before the police come looking for me."

"Any evidence tying you to the scene?"

"Well, besides the witnesses, we left baby powder all over the alley." She grimaced. "Not many women covered with back-alley garbage and coated in baby powder were wandering around downtown that morning."

"Baby powder?"

"It's a long story," Lindsey explained. "The main point is that I don't want to be accused of murder, especially when I didn't do it."

Methos sighed, amazed at the depth of trouble Lindsey seemed to have sunk herself into after only a few days without him. He couldn't disagree that it might be best for them to disappear. Of course, he had his own reasons, as well. If Alice had a decent Watcher, the organization would know of Methos' location by now and might have someone assigned to him in a matter of hours. The last thing he wanted was a nosy mortal following his every move.

Something else Lindsey had said nagged at him, though, a comment that demanded his immediate attention.

"This immortal challenged you, you won, but you didn't take his head. Why?" he asked, his voice deceptively casual.

Lindsey became still. She glanced down at Elizabeth's sleeping face. "I just -- I don't know," she finally answered, her voice quiet and sad. "I can't get LaMar out of my head, Adam. He was a living creature, no more deserving of death than me. Yet I killed him. I stole his chance for any kind of future. I don't regret that he's dead, but I do regret that I was the one to kill him." She paused. "Killing is wrong."

Methos looked sidelong at her. "It sounds to me like you're trying to convince yourself of that." She didn't answer or even look up from Elizabeth, so Methos continued. "If there's one thing I've learned in my five-thousand years, it's this: Right and wrong matter very little in the Game. If you want to survive, you do what you have to, not what you believe is right."

"I don't agree with that." Lindsey shook her head. "Without my principles, I lose much of myself. I've always given people the benefit of the doubt. I've never played judge, jury and executioner because I've known it's wrong. How can I condemn an immortal to die without condemning myself to the same judgment?"

For a moment, Lindsey's question transported Methos to an earlier time, when he had explained to MacLeod why he couldn't kill Kronos. Because if I judge him worthy to die, then I judge myself the same way, Methos had said. Now his own student had thrown the same argument back at him. But this was different, Methos told himself. He and Kronos had been brothers. Lindsey killing LaMar was simply part of the Game.

Lindsey shifted uncomfortably in her seat when Methos did not respond. "What is the answer?" she demanded. "How do I live with this guilt?"

"One day at a time, Lindsey Allen. One day at a time."

She frowned. "That's almost impossible," she said. "I don't want to be immortal if it means I have to kill."

"That is a very dangerous attitude to take," Methos answered darkly. "Do you want to live?"

She nodded mutely.

"Then you must learn to kill when necessary, and you must learn to live with your guilt. You do not have a choice."

She slipped back into silence, refusing to look up from Elizabeth's face.

Methos sighed. "You cannot continue to survive as an immortal if you think like a mortal. We live by a different set of rules, a different set of morals." He paused. "There can be only one."

"And if we were the last two," Lindsey retorted, "would you take my head?"

Methos sighed, wondering how many times he'd asked himself that same question. "I'd fight my best fight, and I'd expect you to do the same." She stared at him in wide-eyed surprise, and he grimaced. "It's not worth worrying about."

She swallowed hard. "How can there be happiness when there can be only one?"

Methos gave her a sympathetic look but did not answer. Nothing he could say would satisfy her, he knew. They drove in silence for the last few miles, and Lindsey seemed not to notice as Methos stopped the car in front of the children's home. She sat rigidly and stared out the window as if in a trance. Methos touched her arm, and she started.

"We're here," he said.

She nodded but did not move.

Sensing her unease, Methos smoothed her hair gently and squeezed her shoulder. "We'll talk more about this later. Right now, we have to take care of Elizabeth."

"It's so unfair, Adam." Her sad eyes met his gaze. "I don't know if I could go on with the guilt of stealing all those lives, but there is no escape until someone takes my head. Maybe Grandmother was right. Maybe death would be a mercy."

"Lindsey ..."

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," she said firmly. "Just ... don't talk to me."

Leaving Methos fishing for a response, Lindsey opened her door and stepped out, Elizabeth cradled carefully in her arms. Methos grabbed the diaper bag and followed her as she marched up the sidewalk toward the baby's new home.

He felt another immortal, and the front door opened, revealing a beaming Father Mark. The priest raised his hands in welcome and laughed delightedly. "I was hoping to see you today."

Methos walked passed Lindsey, who had abruptly halted when she'd felt the presence, to greet their host. He smiled as they shook hands. "Father Mark, I want you to meet --"

"I'm Lindsey Allen, Father. Adam's student."

Methos glanced at her, surprised at the interruption and the false cheer in her voice, but she ignored him, her attention focused completely on Father Mark. The priest looked curiously at him; Methos shrugged.

"Pleased to meet you, Lindsey," Father Mark said. He looked down at her necklace, and his expression became one of admiration. "That cross pendant. It's a beautiful piece."

Lindsey nodded. "Thank you. It belonged to my grandmother. She gave it to me on her death bed."

Father Mark reached out hesitantly. "May I?" At Lindsey nod, he took the cross in his hands, examining it almost reverently. "Simple, yet elegant."

"Just like my grandmother," Lindsey whispered.

With an understanding smile, Father Mark dropped the cross and turned his attention to the small bundle in Lindsey's arms, which she lifted for him to see. "This is Elizabeth."

The baby, who had awakened sometime since leaving the car, turned her wide, blue eyes on the priest. Father Mark caressed his fingers along her chubby cheek. "A pretty child."

"Yes," Lindsey said, "and also a hungry child. We've been on the road all morning. She needs a diaper change, too."

"Oh, of course." Father Mark shook himself. "I'm being an awful host to keep you all outside the door. Please come in. I'll show you to the nursery. You can take care of Elizabeth there."

Methos followed behind his student as Father Mark led them through the now-familiar halls and into the bright, airy nursery. Several of the large windows were open, allowing a cool, welcome breeze to blow softly through the room. They stopped before an empty crib, one Methos couldn't remember seeing before.

"This will be Elizabeth's place," Father Mark said, "right by a window and next to Joseph, another of our immortal guests. The changing table is over there." He pointed. "Now, if you will excuse us, I have some paperwork Adam must help me with."

"Thank you, Father," Lindsey said politely. "This is very nice. I think Elizabeth will be happy here."

Father Mark smiled. "I truly hope so, child. Now, if you will excuse us?"

With one last concerned look at his student, Methos left the diaper bag near the door and followed Father Mark out of the nursery. She hadn't so much as looked at him since they'd left the car. She was merely upset at their conversation, he told himself. His answers weren't what she had wanted to hear, but soon she'd realize her sulking wouldn't change the truth of anything he'd said.

After entering the study, Methos took a chair opposite the oak desk as the priest began sorting through his piles of papers.

"I know I left the forms up here somewhere," Father Mark muttered. "Ah- HA. Here they are." He cleared some desk space before Methos and set down the small stack of papers. "I've already filled out most of it. You're down as Elizabeth's previous guardian, but I do need your address and signature at the bottom."

Methos looked up curiously. "Why..."

Father Mark shrugged. "Release forms, statements of health, that sort of thing. They're required by the government. You know, just a little more bureaucracy to make life difficult. I wouldn't even bother except all our paperwork must be in order to receive federal grants."

With a nod, Methos turned to the task of filling out the forms. He used their current address, for authenticity's sake; they wouldn't be staying there much longer, anyway. He signed the bottom and moved on to the next form.

"She's a strong-headed child, isn't she?" Father Mark asked quietly.

"Elizabeth?" Methos asked, shrugging. "I haven't known her enough to make that sort of judgment."

"No, Lindsey." Father Mark leaned forward over the desk. "She is very independent."

Methos looked up from the papers. "Yes, she is, which makes her bloody difficult to teach."

"But it's more than that. You care for her very much, don't you?" He waved his hand absently. "No, no, you don't have to answer that. I couldn't help but notice, though, that there's a tension between you and her. It's just my observation, Adam, and I might be wrong, but I think your student is about to leave home."

Methos nodded sadly. "I've seen it, as well. There was a time when she trusted me implicitly, believed everything I told her without question. Now, there are too many secrets between us. She asks too many questions I don't want to answer."

"We all have done things we regret."

Nothing compares to my past, Methos thought. Without answering, he returned his attention to the paperwork. He signed the bottom with a flourish. Adam Reynolds. Ph.D. candidate, university instructor, immortal teacher. None of that would matter without Lindsey, though. Adam Reynolds had come into existence because of her, and she defined this incarnation of the oldest immortal. Without her, Adam Reynolds would cease to have meaning.

A new life would emerge without her, though, as it always did. Methos would transform himself once again, taking on another facade like the chameleon he was. Life would go on without Lindsey, just it had continued without MacLeod and Joe. He would survive; he always did.

He handed the papers to Father Mark, who placed them in a manila folder and set them on his desk. "Your student has faith in you, Adam. Otherwise, she would not have brought Elizabeth here today, on your word. Believe in that faith, and tell her the truth."

Methos stood and smiled thinly. "Did you ever know an immortal named Darius?"

With a laugh, Father Mark answered, "He was my first teacher."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised," Methos said, amused. "Darius was the only immortal I've ever known who could read people so easily and know exactly what they had to hear."

Father Mark nodded. "He was a good man."

"He was the best of us."

"Yes. The best." Father Mark circled the desk and laid a hand on Methos' shoulder. "Come. Lindsey and Elizabeth are waiting for us."

With a nod, Methos followed the priest back toward the nursery. Perhaps, as Father Mark suggested, Lindsey would understand and forgive. Then again, she might walk away, and he'd never see her again.

For Methos, the decision weighed heavily. One wrong word, and he might regret the mistake for the next five-thousand years.

After depositing Elizabeth in her new crib, Lindsey discovered a small room adjacent to the nursery with a microwave and a refrigerator full of formula-filled baby bottles. Thankful for small blessings, she heated a bottle, tested the formula's temperature on her arm -- just as Alice had taught her -- and brought the bottle to the hungry baby.

She hoped the simple tasks off caring for Elizabeth would take her mind off her conversation with Adam. No, she corrected herself, that hadn't been Adam who'd upset her so much. Adam was cheerful and comforting. The immortal who had said survival mattered more than doing what's right, that had been Methos.

And Methos' words had sliced into her soul like a razor blade. She couldn't accept his philosophy: Better to live with guilt than die without sin. Such a life could offer little except hardship. Every day, living with unbearable regret -- it would be like living in a mental prison. Trapped. Forever.

Shaking herself from her dark thoughts, Lindsey concentrated on feeding Elizabeth. Even though the baby hadn't eaten since early morning, she began spitting out the bottle after only a few minutes, and Lindsey gave up. Perhaps the new surroundings were upsetting her, Lindsey thought distractedly. Or maybe she felt the other immortal children.

Intent to dispel some of Elizabeth's nervousness -- and some of her own, as well -- Lindsey lifted the baby to her shoulder and carried her to the nearest crib, belonging to one of the other immortals. Now what had Father Mark called him? Oh, yeah.

"Elizabeth," she said formally, "this is Joseph. He's your new neighbor. Do you want to say hello to Joseph? Hmm?" She looked to the other baby, laying calmly in his crib. "Joseph, this is ..."

Her voice trailed off as she met Joseph's eyes. He returned her gaze intently, hanging on her every word, his chubby face still and serious. But the eyes.

The eyes.

Oh, Lord, Lindsey thought. Those baby-blues ... they hold too much frustration, too much pain. This is no baby.

Lindsey stood frozen, mesmerized as she realized the horror that lay before her. This child would never mature, always remain trapped in a tiny, helpless physical prison. He'd never express his thoughts and emotions and always depend on others for survival. Did Joseph understand his fate, that he'd spend forever in his unchangeable hell?

How could anyone live like this? Surely these children must yearn for an end to their existence. This is tragic.

She swallowed hard. "Um, Joseph," she continued softly, uncertain how to proceed. "This is Elizabeth. She's ... she's just like you."

Her voice dropped to a whisper as she looked between them. Someday, Elizabeth would become like Joseph. If only I'd known before, she thought. If only I'd listened to Adam when he'd said she needed to die ...

Adam. He knew.

The revelation amazed her, and, for a moment, she forgot about the child in the crib below her and the child in her arms. "He knew," she whispered to herself, "and he didn't tell me. Why?"

"Because you wouldn't have believed me."

Lindsey spun around in alarm, only to see Adam leaning against the door frame, his arms folded across his chest.

She blushed embarrassedly. "I didn't feel you."

"You were distracted. Very dangerous." He straightened and walked toward her, his face expressionless. Lindsey knew his carefully hidden emotions bordered on anger or disappointment with her carelessness.

"Where's Father Mark?"

"I asked him to wait for us outside."

She nodded, and then the words began to rush out, almost unbidden. "Adam, I'm sorry I got distracted, I just -- I looked at Joseph, and I think I saw what you've known all along." She bit her lip. "How did you know?"

He eyes became cold and distant. "I've seen it before."

"When?"

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "A very long time ago." He paused, as thought uncertain what to say. "Lindsey, I know I hide my past from you; it's because I've done things you will never forgive. But if you ask the questions, I'll answer."

She caught her breath, eyes wide. She didn't know how to respond to this unexpected offer; Adam licked his lips nervously.

"I'll tell you the truth, if that's what you want," he continued. "You won't like the answers, and hearing about the man I was might make you leave. But if you promise to let me finish before saying a word, I'll tell you."

Lindsey nodded. "I promise, and I forgive you."

This time, Adam stared at her in disbelief. She smiled softly. "Adam, I don't know who you were, but it doesn't matter. I know who you are. You're my teacher and my best friend. I'll forgive you anything."

He caught his breath and nodded slowly. "Thank you," he whispered. "It's a long story, so I'll tell you on our way home. Say good-bye to the child, and we'll go."

She turned away to return Elizabeth to her crib, thankful for the opportunity to hide the relieved tears that hovered in her eyes. After months of questions with no answers, Adam finally was going to open up to her, trust her enough to share his past. She had been waiting for this gift since the day they had met.

She brushed her palm against the baby's cheek, let Elizabeth grab one of her fingers in a tight grip. "Bye, Elizabeth. I'll be back to visit you in a couple of days. Be a good girl for Father Mark, OK?"

The baby gurgled and smiled, waving Lindsey's finger back and forth in her fist. Lindsey regretfully reclaimed her hand, smoothed Elizabeth's hair and left the child behind, joining Adam at the nursery door. They left the building in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.

Father Mark met them at the car and shook Lindsey's hand before she opened the passenger-side door and settled inside. He was saying good-bye to Adam when Lindsey noticed a small, plastic object on the car floor.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Elizabeth's pacifier." She grabbed it and stepped out of the car. "Adam, I have to give this to her. It's her favorite one. I'll be back in a second."

Methos and Father Mark watched as Lindsey, her brown hair flying behind her like a banner, ran to the front door.

"Did you tell her?" asked the priest as she disappeared inside.

Methos shook his head. "No, but I will." He sighed. "I've married widows before, who had children, sometimes very young children. I watched those kids grow to adulthood, knowing that I should not allow myself to love them because someday they would grow old and die, yet I would go on. But I can't help falling into the trap of feeling parental."

"It is an easy thing to do. If you've taught them all you can about survival, though, you've done your job well," Father Mark said. "Then it's time to let the children become adults and build their own lives."

Methos met the priest's sympathetic eyes. "It's very difficult to let go. It never gets any easier."

"It never will."

A loud noise made Methos look back up at the building in alarm. Lindsey had slammed open the door and was running toward the car, screaming. It took Methos a moment to make out her words.

"She's gone!" Lindsey yelled. "Elizabeth's gone, and so is Joseph!" She reached the other two immortals, out of breath. "All I found in Elizabeth's crib was this."

She held out her fingers and dropped a long strand of hair into Methos' outstretched palm. He held it up and let the sunlight glint off its unmistakable red hue.

"Alice," he muttered. "She must waited until we were out of sensory range and then come in through one of the open windows."

Lindsey's eyes narrowed. "I can't believe that bitch betrayed me like this."

Methos dropped the hair and looked to Father Mark. "Where would she take the children if she wanted to kill them? Some place close, secluded and off holy ground."

"There's an old barn east of here, just over that ridge," Father Mark said, pointing. "And there's a river about a quarter-mile north, back where the trees are."

Lindsey gasped. "The river. Adam, she's killed immortal children by rivers before. There was a little girl in town. I read about it in the newspaper."

"All right, then," Methos said. "Lindsey, you go north to the river. I'll take the barn. Father, you to stay on holy ground. Yell if you see anyone."

Without waiting to see whether the two immortals obeyed his orders, Methos took off at a sprint toward the barn. Alice would waste no time in killing the children, especially if she thought Methos or Lindsey might find the empty cribs and pursue her. He still believed Elizabeth probably was better off dead, but the baby's death would break Lindsey's heart. Methos wanted to prevent her pain at any cost.

He topped the ridge and saw the barn, not 200 yards away, nestled at the low point between two hills and surrounded by tall, dry grasses, rustling in the breeze. The barn itself looked as though it had been abandoned for decades -- the roof lacked about half its shingles, and gray paint peeled off its rotting wooden walls. Methos questioned whether the structure would survive the destructive power of a Quickening.

He didn't expect get an answer so soon. As he ran down the hill, lightning began to play around the roof, and the entire barn shook violently. Methos stopped abruptly and shielded his eyes from the blinding light. Please let that not be Elizabeth, he thought.

The Quickening ended quickly, just as Methos expected from the death of one so young. As he ran down the hill, he expected the second Quickening to begin. It didn't come, and Methos wrenched open the barn door and walked inside.

As he felt an immortal presence, he reached under his black duster and drew his broadsword, holding it carefully in both hands as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim, stuffy interior.

He scanned the barn, cluttered with old farm equipment blanketed in dust. Toward the center of the room, lying on a stout wooden table, was a small, squirming form. Methos breathed a relieved sigh as he recognized the baby's pink pajamas. Lindsey's cherished Elizabeth was still alive.

"Adam Reynolds," said a bland, female voice. "You are developing a nasty habit of getting in my way."

As Methos' eyes finished adjusting, he finally saw her. Alice, dressed all in black, her fiery hair flying around her head from the Quickening's electric charge, stood behind the table with a sword in hand. She stooped slightly and was breathing hard, but she showed no other signs of exhaustion from Joseph's death.

Methos snorted. "You seem to have developed some nasty habits of your own. Infanticide is a very unattractive trait."

Alice smiled thinly. "Do you know what is in store for these children? I do. They will spend their pointless little lives in completely helpless bodies. It would be like you or I trying to survive without our arms and legs. When I kill them, I do them a favor."

"All you see is an easy kill," Methos retorted. "But not this time. Give me the child."

"Not likely." Alice positioned it over Elizabeth's neck. "I let you have her, and I lose my only guarantee that I will keep my own head."

Methos smiled darkly, an expression empty of amusement. "Kill her," he said quietly, "and I will kill you."

"I do not fear you."

"Then you are a fool."

Alice shook her head. "I am no fool. Now, I am leaving, and I am taking Elizabeth with me. If you try to attack me or follow me, she will die. Do you understand?"

"You'll kill her anyway."

"Do you want to take that chance?"

Methos glanced at Elizabeth, who began to whimper beneath Alice's blade. Before he could reply, they both were distracted by another presence, and Methos heard footsteps crunch through the grass as the immortal approached. Then, the footsteps stopped. He didn't dare turn his eyes from Alice to see who had joined them.

"Kill her, Alice, and I swear I will kill you." Lindsey sounded outraged ... and close to tears.

Alice smiled. "I have already heard that threat once this afternoon. What neither of you seem to realize is that I hold the upper hand. Now, drop your weapons or the baby dies."

Without even blinking, his face devoid of emotion, Methos shrugged. "Kill her then. She means nothing to me."

Behind him, Lindsey let loose an angry, wordless yell. Alice's eyebrows knitted in confusion, and she glanced down at the baby. As her eyes turned from him, Methos calmly, quickly reached inside his coat, drew his gun and shot once, hitting Alice in her forehead. Without a sound, she dropped to the floor, and Elizabeth fell from her limp arm and landed hard.

"Oh, my God," Lindsey said, looking at Methos in shock.

Methos tucked the gun back in his coat and kicked Alice's sword out of reach. "Take Elizabeth and get out of here."

Lindsey silently complied, taking the unmoving baby into her arms and leaving the barn. As his student's presence faded, Methos saw the tiny electrical charges dance around Alice's fatal wound. The woman awoke a few minutes later, gasping for air.

"Welcome back," Methos said.

Alice glanced at him suspiciously as she pulled herself up to her knees. "Why did you not kill me while I was dead? Some overgrown sense of honor?"

Methos set his sword against her neck. "I want you to enjoy your last moments, just as your infant victims did. I want you to know you are about to die and not be able to do anything to prevent your fate." He barely suppressed his rage and his instinct to take her head now. "You disgust me," he spat. "You don't give these children the choice to live or die."

"So what now?" Alice asked. "You kill me in cold blood after you shoot me? That is not a fair fight."

Methos shrugged. "Who said I play fair?"

With one strong stroke, he severed her head.

He lowered his sword as Alice's body dropped. Then, in the moment of silence before the Quickening, as the world seemed to wait in anticipation for the transfer of power, an earsplitting cry came from the fields outside the barn -- a tortured, primal sound of absolute loss. Before Methos could wonder what had produced such a cry, though, the Quickening hit, driving him to his knees.

The electricity shot through him, bringing with it memories of a short life, lived in terror of death. He saw through Alice's eyes, working as a nurse through two world wars, caring for soldiers -- sometimes immortal -- who had lost limbs and suffered horrible wounds. They begged her to take their lives, and she did. He saw her after the war, working in civilian hospitals, trying to explain to elderly people or young children that they had died but had come back and now had to fight or die forever. He saw Alice, after a while, killing immortals without explaining their new existence to them, to save herself the pain of watching them cry.

The memories faded, settling into his subconsciousness, and Methos found himself kneeling on the barn floor while displaced roof shingles fell all around him. The barn creaked on its foundation, and he pulled himself to his feet, using his sword as a crutch as he struggled to leave the unsteady structure.

The memories had been more potent than usual. He understood how Alice had become a murderer of the helpless. It had started as mercy killings at the tearful requests of immortals, but soon she had crossed the line into taking heads without asking first. Alice Young had lived a misguided life.

As Methos blinked at the sunlight and caught his breath, he heard sobbing not far away, hidden somewhere in the tall grass. He stumbled forward, toward the sad sound, and felt an immortal signature only moments before he saw Lindsey sitting cross-legged in the grass. She had buried her face in her hands, and before lay her bloody sword and a small, headless bundle.

Methos dropped beside her, his eyes wide and mouth moving but producing no sound. He couldn't take his eyes off the fuzzy pink pajamas, splattered with red.

Lindsey sniffled and looked up at him with red eyes. "I had to," she whispered. "Sometimes death is a mercy."

"What?" he managed to choke out.

"That's what Grandmother ... said before she died," Lindsey said hoarsely between her sobs. "Sometimes death is a mercy. I saw what had happened to Joseph, the pain of his immortality, and I couldn't condemn Elizabeth to the same torture. I couldn't do it. I had ... I had to give her peace."

Lindsey leaned back her head and screamed from her pain and loss, a sound so primal that Methos realized what he'd heard right before his own Quickening had hit. He had heard Lindsey's sorrow at taking Elizabeth's head.

He sat silent, unsure what to say or do. He wrapped his arms around her, and Lindsey buried her wet face in his shoulder. She trembled violently against him.

"The Quickening was so small, Adam," she sobbed. "Oh, God, what sort of monster am I becoming?"

"We are all monsters in our own way," Methos said quietly. "But you are different. You have more compassion than anyone I have ever known, and you killed from compassion." Then, remembering Alice, he added, "But remember there is a thin line between mercy and murder. Take care you do not cross it."

Lindsey did not answer, instead crying against Methos' shoulder. He looked down at the headless corpse of the baby, and tears began to run down his own cheeks. These children never would find their happy endings.

After several minutes, Lindsey's body ceased its trembling and she lifted her head from his shoulder, revealing her pale face and red-rimmed eyes. She looked at Elizabeth and gingerly placed her palm on the still stomach.

"I'm sorry," she whispered to the child.

Methos squeezed her shoulder. "Let's go get Father Mark, bury both the children and go home. Then we can leave here, go anywhere you want. Greece, Egypt, you name the place and we'll go."

Lindsey slumped forward, and she looked forward at nothing. Methos grieved that her usually bright brown eyes had dulled into an emotionless expression.

"I can't do that, Methos." She shook her head sadly. "I can't go with you."

Methos frowned. "Why not?"

"I ... I'm no use to anyone like this, uncertain whether to kill or whether to die. I'd be a liability to you." She looked up at him, more unshed tears hovering in her eyes. "I have to find my own way to live with this guilt, and I don't think I can find what I'm looking for if I stay with you."

He caught his breath and held back the pain that suddenly threatened to overwhelm him. "Then where will you go?" he asked hoarsely.

She wiped at her eyes. "I'll stay here, for a while at least, and help Father Mark with his children's home. Maybe he can help me. The absolution of guilt is his specialty, right?"

Methos nodded as a tear escaped from his eye. "Father Mark is a good man."

"Yes, he is." Lindsey reached up with her fingertips and brushed Methos' wet cheek. "I'm sorry I couldn't be stronger," she whispered. "I'm sorry I wasn't the student you wanted me to be."

Methos took her hand in his and kissed it softly. "Your strength is your heart, and it's brought light into my life. You're all I ever hoped for in a student."

She stood unsteadily, wiping away the last of her tears against her sleeve. "Thank you," she said, her voice cracking. "Visit me?"

Methos nodded. "Yeah," he said softly.

Hand in hand, Methos and Lindsey slowly, silently walked back toward the car, where Father Mark waited for them. To Methos, it felt like an ending to a short but bright part of his life. He felt turmoil in his tired soul, and he hoped more of their story had yet to be written.

Light surrounded her. Although she knew not the name of this heavenly glow, she distinguished it from the darkness of her previous existence. No pain here. No cold or hunger, the aching pain that had defined much of her short life.

She gurgled happily as she basked in the love around her; it seemed to permeate her very being and bring her peace. Here was security. Here was comfort.

The child known as Elizabeth had finally come home.

The end

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