by Jane Carnall
for Sue and Gervaise - because it's all their fault!
No one would ever say of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod that he carried his guilt lightly. Six months after the death of his student, Richie Ryan, he had returned to the loft above the dojo in Seacouver, and seldom left it, going out only after dark to buy essentials, like coffee and Scotch. Friends and a kinsman and a Watcher had all tried, in various ways, to take him away from the torments that racked him, but the smoky-eyed Scot hugged his grief to himself like a warm cloak on a bitter night.
His lover had walked away from him months ago. Methos hadn't even come back with him from France. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod sat in his loft and held Richie's sword in his arms and grieved.
Abruptly, the presence of an immortal lashed at him, and there was a knock at the door. Duncan didn't bother to get up. If it was Amanda, she could always pick the lock.
There was another knock, and another, and Duncan struggled to his feet. "All right, all right, I'm coming.... Methos?"
"You look like death warmed over," Methos said, brushing past Duncan and walking into the loft. He was carrying a parcel under one arm. Duncan locked the door behind him, wondering vaguely why in five millennia Methos had never picked up the habit of saying "Hello", or, for that matter, "Goodbye".
Methos was standing in the centre of the big room, looking round, shaking his head. Duncan followed his gaze, realising for the first time that the dust of months had collected on every surface, except where sticky rings betrayed where glasses had been set down. Plates from the last couple of weeks were stacked over half the kitchen surfaces, some beginning to grow green stuff, others already with a healthy crop. Richie's sword was the cleanest thing in the place; it lay on the couch where Duncan had left it, gleaming steely bright against the darkness.
Duncan faced Methos with some courage. The last time he had looked at Methos he had wanted the older immortal to take his head. Now in the moments before Methos met his eyes, he anticipated flinchingly every cutting remark Methos could make.
Methos finished his inspection, still slowly shaking his head, but he said nothing about the mess. "This is for you," he said, holding out the parcel. It was a bundle of cloth.
Duncan nearly dropped it. It was heavier than cloth, and warm. The fluffy shawl slipped back. It was a baby, and it was fast asleep, and holding it this closely Duncan could tell, even from a child this young, that it was pre-immortal.
"It's a long story," Methos said, observing Duncan with some satisfaction, "but for the short version; Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, meet Richie Ryan the reincarnated."
Duncan sat down on the couch before his knees gave way. He sat on Richie's sword, but didn't notice this for some time. "What?"
Ten minutes later, Duncan was still repeating "What?"
"Well, you don't get an immortal's soul when you take the Quickening. You know that. The power, the experience, even knowledge and memory, all of that - but the soul goes. Did you never wonder where it goes to?"
"Heaven," Duncan said blankly. "Or Hell, I suppose, depending."
"Two-valued religions are so limiting," Methos sighed. "Look, Duncan, when the Quickening is released, the soul flies free. You know how drained you are after you take a head? Part of that is the energy that burns up creating a new version of the old body. When you've been around as long as I have, you start noticing how the same faces keep turning up, millennia after millennia."
"You mean..." Duncan hugged the baby to him as unthinkingly as he had hugged the sword these past months... "You mean every immortal who's ever died... lives again?"
"Oh yes. Unless the Quickening is lost."
"And this is..."
"The direction seems to be nearly random, but the distance is limited. From the look of Richie's Quickening, I thought I'd better assume a hundred kilometre radius. Fortunately the French insist on keeping meticulous records. It was just a matter of tracing all the infant foundlings abandoned on a certain night within that area. This one is the only male pre-immortal found that night, and he's red-haired." Methos peered at the tiny head nestling against Duncan's jersey. "Well, more or less."
"Call it a birthday present," Methos said cheerfully.
"It's no' my birthday," Duncan said. He had been mildly drunk when Methos appeared, but he was sobering up rapidly. "Why's he still asleep?"
"I thought I might have trouble getting it through Immigration," Methos said. "So I doped it. Still, good point. There's a 7-11 down the block - you should be able to get the basics there."
Methos waved a hand vaguely. "Well, I'm not exactly an expert, but babies drink milk, don't they? And I think they use nappies these days. Last time I had anything to do with an infant you just let it run and got the family dogs to clean it up."
"Aye," Duncan said. "I don't have a dog." He sniffed. "I think it needs changing, Methos."
"Oh, probably," Methos said with a complete lack of interest. "It'll want to get fed next. Can you make it down to the shop and back in ten minutes?" He glanced at the baby. "Well, you probably can, but have you ever tried to do it before holding a baby?"
"Hang on," Duncan said. He stood up and held out the baby to Methos, who stepped back.
"Come on, just hold him while I run down to the store."
"No." Methos stuck both his hands in his pockets. "It's all yours, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Your baby, your problem. I have a whole wodge of papers somewhere that say so."
Duncan swallowed. He had faced many dangerous, difficult, and dirty situations in the past four centuries. He had never contemplated this. From the look on Methos' face, the older immortal was quite capable of letting Duncan walk down to the 7-11 on his own with a baby that would probably start screaming any minute.
"Well, you can come with me, can't you?"
Methos smiled, for the first time. "Of course," he said, and watched as Duncan began to search for his wallet, his shoes, and his dignity. Having found everything except the last, the younger immortal headed towards the lift. Duncan barely heard Methos murmur, as he followed Duncan out, "I wouldn't miss it for the world..."
Miraculously, the baby didn't wake until they were halfway round the 7-11, and Duncan was swithering between five different brands of disposable diapers. He heard a small soft whimper, and Methos sighed.
"I didn't want to give it too much..."
Then the baby took in the full horror of its situation, and started to bawl in earnest. Hastily, Duncan took a large pack off the shelf and chucked it into the trolley. "Quick, where's the baby food?"
Methos gave him a very peculiar look. "How should I know, Highlander?"
It was halfway down another aisle, and several cold glares from late-night shoppers further away. "How old is he?" Duncan asked, picking up various jars and packets and trying to read the small print.
"Well, it has been six months," Methos observed pleasantly. "Don't you need one of those things?" He pointed at a complete feeder kit with pre-sterilised bottles.
Duncan was never clear afterwards how he got to the till. The cashier glared at him as she took his money. "Some people," she said coldly. The baby bawled louder, and she added, more loudly, "A child that young should be at home."
"I couldn't agree more," Duncan said through a grin of gritted teeth. "That's just where we're going." Baby under one arm, bag of goods in the other hand, he was not in the mood to feel an immortal presence. "Oh no..."
Methos sighed. "Never mind. You get back home. Whoever it is, I'll deal with it."
Duncan looked at him. "You?" After a short pause to get its breath and work up its enthusiasm, the baby had started crying again. "All right," he agreed, and headed off in the opposite direction.
Methos wandered into the loft twenty insouciant minutes later. Duncan had managed to get the used diaper off the small and fiercely sobbing pre-immortal, but was having trouble figuring out which way round the new one was supposed to go. Duncan barely looked up as he came in.
"Can you get rid of that?" he asked, gesturing with his elbow at the small smelly parcel lying on the dusty floor.
Methos looked down at it and sniffed. "I always said Richie was full of shit. No thank you."
"Who was it?"
"Someone you'd offended at some point." Methos sounded remarkably unconcerned.
"Doesn't matter. I explained why I was meeting him instead of you, and he said he'd be back in twenty years. That was after he'd stopped laughing."
"Methos," Duncan growled. "I heard the quickening."
"Ah." Methos shrugged, sat down on the couch - moving Richie's sword carefully on to the nearest table - and began to clean his own sword. "Well, yes, I thought you wouldn't want it hanging over you for twenty years. It was easy, you could probably have taken him with a baby under your right arm."
"Methos - " Duncan began, and the baby pissed over his hands.
"Oops," Methos said. "Richie's timing stinks. Got a towel?"
"Methos, this isn't Richie." Duncan had finally worked out how the diaper went on. He picked the baby up again and went across to the kitchen sink to wash his hands. With the baby tucked under one arm - he was almost getting used to a steady background wail - he started to read the instructions on the back of a packet. It all looked fairly simple.
Methos put his feet up and lounged back on the couch, propping his head on his arms and closing his eyes. "Oh yes it is."
"Oh no, he's not." Duncan put the kettle on and padded quietly over, putting the baby down on Methos' stomach.
The older immortal's eyes flashed open. "Now wait a minute - "
"Just hold him for a minute," Duncan said, retreating hastily to the kitchen. "He'll never stop crying until I get him fed, and it'll go much faster if you'll just hang on to him - "
Unexpectedly, the baby had stopped crying. It gurgled a little, clutching the heavy wool of Methos' jersey in an infant death-grip.
Methos smiled. "I think he likes me."
"Yeah? You feed him, then," Duncan muttered. The baby milk formula was reasonably straightforward. Getting it into a pre-sterilised bottle was something else. It wasn't quite as difficult as fixing a beer-tap. Methos passed the baby back to Duncan the moment the bottle was full, with all the care and attention a badly wrapped parcel would deserve.
Duncan sat down and stuck the bottle in the baby's mouth. It looked at Duncan with utter outrage and started to cry again, louder. Duncan muttered a complex and obscure Sioux oath under his breath, well-laced with obscene Gaelic. Then the baby seemed to realise what the bottle was for, and started to suck. Duncan beamed. "That's my boy!"
"Precisely," Methos said. He was fumbling in his coat pocket, and brought out a thick envelope. "And these are your papers."
"What?" Duncan didn't look up. He was fascinated. The small hungry face was smoothing out. For an instant, it did look like Richie; Richie asleep and contented. The rate of suck was slowing. Duncan took the bottle away cautiously, and the baby didn't bawl for it back. Duncan vaguely remembered something about burping a baby once it had fed. He lifted it against his shoulder and patted it gently on the back. Methos was waving a thick brown envelope in his direction.
"Papers," Methos said tersely. "Birth certificate. Marriage certificate. All sorts of stuff proving that this infant was born the son of Duncan MacLeod and Cassie Ryan."
"Who's Cassie Ryan?" Duncan asked, not unnaturally.
"Just a name," Methos said promptly. "After all, even your son would have to have a mother."
"Wait a minute," Duncan added. He was still patting the small body on the back, but nothing was happening. "My son?"
The baby chose that moment to be thoroughly sick down Duncan's back. Methos smiled. "That's right, MacLeod," he said, with perfect satisfaction. "Definitely your son."
Duncan was sitting quite still on the couch, the baby sprawled across his lap. Half an hour ago, after a morning of wails, the infant had gone, rapidly and quite unexpectedly, to sleep. Duncan was afraid to move in case he woke up and started crying again.
The lift started to make its noisy way up. No immortal presence bloomed. Duncan didn't move.
The door rattled up and Joe walked in with a bag under his arm. He had been coming round every couple of weeks for the past four months, bringing fresh food and scouring powder for the crockery. He would stay a couple of hours, trying to get Duncan to talk and doing the washing-up, and then he'd give up and go away again. Sometimes he varied it by trying to get Duncan to do the washing up.
Joe stopped just inside the loft and looked around with an expression of utter disbelief. The floor had been cleaned to within an inch of its life. The kitchen looked as if it had been sterilised. Richie's sword was lying on top of the bookshelves. All the surfaces were gleaming.
"What happened?" Joe asked. About halfway through the word 'happened' he caught sight of the baby in Duncan's lap and his voice went up a little.
"Methos showed up night before last," Duncan said.
"About time," Joe muttered. "And he cleaned up?"
"No, I did that," Duncan said. "He's just gone out to get some more beer."
"And left you... baby-sitting?" Joe's voice was concentratedly unsurprised, but his eyebrows were climbing.
"He brought him back from France with him," Duncan said tiredly. "He says he's mine. He has the papers to prove it." He nodded at the brown envelope on top of the coffee-maker.
Joe put down his sack of groceries and picked up the envelope. He opened it neatly one-handed, and pulled out a thick pile of documents. After a moment, he sat down, rather cautiously, put his stick down, and used both hands to page through the stack.
"Methos must have used our facilities at Headquarters," Joe said after a while. He took a quick look at Duncan, and the baby, and appeared to be convinced that he wasn't hallucinating.
"Well, I didn't think he went down to the nearest copyshop," Duncan said wearily.
The back door opened, and Methos wandered in, carrying two bags full of bottles. They clinked. "Hi, Joe," he said blandly. "How's the kid, MacLeod?"
"Fine," Duncan said quietly. "Asleep."
"Great." Methos glanced at the bag of groceries as he passed it on the way to the fridge.
"Adam," Joe said. "We have to talk."
Methos was putting the beer bottles away in the fridge, neatly, one by one. "If you like," he tossed over his shoulder.
"Pierson," Joe said grimly. "We really have to talk. Outside."
"Why?" Duncan asked, eyeing the two Watchers with interest.
"I'm not going outside again," Methos said. "It's cold out. We're all stocked up with beer."
Joe gestured at the baby. "Adam... what have you done?"
Methos smiled a little. "Oh well... I thought it was simple justice. MacLeod took the boy's head... now he can change the boy's nappies."
"You knew what you were doing?" Joe squawked. "Adam, that's the oldest Watcher secret of them all!"
"It is?" Methos grimaced. "I've lost track. I thought it was the one about... no, never mind."
Duncan was looking increasingly interested. "Joe, is this really Richie?"
"No," Joe snapped.
Duncan looked at him, his dark brows drawn together over darker eyes. "Joseph..."
"Maybe," Joe qualified. Duncan went on looking at him. "Oh, all right then... yes. Probably."
"See?" Methos sat down on the chair by the kitchen counter, swinging his legs. "Talk about ancient Watcher secrets, all MacLeod has to do is look at you with those broody Scottish eyes and you break every rule in the book."
"Joe," Duncan said. "Joe. Are you saying the Watchers have always known that immortals don't die?"
"Listen to yourself," Methos muttered. "Immortals don't die. Top news of the century."
Joe and Duncan ignored him with practiced ease. "Well, we do keep records," Joe pointed out. "And yes, the same faces keep coming back and back, and they tend to repeat what they did in the last life."
"And how many red-haired blue-eyed immortals do you think there are?" Methos muttered.
"He isn't red-haired," both Joe and Duncan said.
"Strawberry blond. Whatever."
Duncan and Joe determinedly ignored him. "Why didn't you tell me?" Duncan demanded.
"Because if immortals knew that they reincarnate as themselves..." Joe looked worried. "It would change the Game."
"Aye, it would!" Duncan stood up, making a grab for the baby as he slid off Duncan's lap, woke up, and started to cry. The baby did all three with the ease of much practice. Duncan's grab was less smooth, but he caught the infant before he landed on the floor, and tucked him under his arm, shoogling him a little and muttering to him in Gaelic. The baby, unsurprisingly, went on crying.
Joe could bear it for only a minute or two. "Give him here," he said, and accepted the baby with the sure hold of an experienced uncle. The baby blinked up at Joe, clutched at the finger Joe gave him to hold, and went back to sleep.
"How do you do that?" Duncan asked.
Joe shrugged. "Practice." He turned to glare at Methos. "Adam, how could you betray the Watchers like this?"
"Practice," Methos shrugged. "Anyway," he added as the other two glared, "I didn't find out where little immortals come from by reading the Watcher facts-of-life books. I noticed it for myself, about two thousand years ago."
"And you never told anyone?" Duncan glared.
"Who should I tell?" Methos asked reasonably. "You all end up under gooseberry bushes anyway."
"So," Joe said, trying to get control of the situation, "you're planning to look after the baby till..." he glanced round the loft, noting as he never had before its utter inadequacy as a place to bring up a child, "...he's grown up?"
"No," Duncan said, glowering at Methos again. "I'm going to find a good foster couple and hand him over. Just as soon as he gives me half a chance to get out of the house!"
"No, you're not," Methos said.
"What d'you mean, no?"
Methos stood up, whipped the wodge of documents out of Joe's hand, and waved them at Duncan. "These say he's your son. If you don't want a son, fine. I'll take him away and put him in an orphanage and he can go through the whole foster-home route again. You can buy an antiques store for him to burgle in seventeen years."
"I'll find him," Duncan said angrily.
Methos tilted his head to one side. "No you won't."
"How can you stop me?"
Methos smiled. It was very slow and spoke of ancient and shameless evil. Joe and Duncan shuddered. "I'll think of a way." Then the smile changed to Adam Pierson, mild-mannered Watcher. "Want a beer, Joe?"
"Uh, yeah, thanks," Joe muttered, and as Methos turned away to the fridge, said quietly to Duncan, "MacLeod, how does he do that?"
Methos threw a bottle at Duncan, who caught it expertly. He handed a bottle to Joe, and opened his own. "It's up to you, MacLeod," he said mildly. "Either you look after the baby, or some state-run orphanage will. And providing you can keep from beheading the kid, I think you'd do a better job."
"Do you have any idea what you're doing?" Joe asked. "When was the last time you looked after a baby?" He glanced at Methos. "Either of you?"
"Um..." Duncan looked confused. "Well... um... not in four centuries."
"Not in a thousand years, and not now," Methos said.
Joe sighed. "This is going to make one hell of a chapter in your chronicles, MacLeod."
"You're not..." Duncan was aghast. "You wouldn't?"
"Yes, it's hardly up to the usual Watcher style," Methos said. "On such-and-such a date, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod took his son to playgroup. Doesn't have quite the right ring to it."
"What are you calling him?" Joe asked. He looked at the birth certificate Methos was holding. "You can't call him Richie Ryan."
"Why not?" Duncan looked puzzled. "It's his name."
"Because it'll foul up our records, that's why not!" Joe exploded. "Two Richie Ryans, both born and living in Seacouver - "
"He was born in France," Methos pointed out. "Well, materialised in France."
"Not according to these papers," Joe said sourly. "Richie Ryan, born in Seacouver, father Duncan MacLeod. The moment he becomes immortal and we enter his details, the database is going to go nuts!"
"Well, you'll probably be retired by then," Methos offered reassuringly. "Or they'll be using a different computer system which is totally non-compatible with the old one."
"No," Duncan said, picking up the baby from Joe's arms and holding him. The baby blinked a bit and started to cry half-heartedly, not a real wail. "You're right, Joe, he isn't Richie Ryan. He's Ryan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
"Same clan... new vintage," Methos murmured.
"Why does he always cry when I pick him up?" Duncan wanted to know. He started to walk up and down, cradling the baby.
Joe pushed himself to his feet. "Probably because he remembers you already tried to kill him three times," he said, sourly. "I'd cry too, if you'd done that to me and then tried to pick me up."
"You're going?" Duncan asked, looking worried. "Look, Joe, can't you stick around? There's a few things I need to know..."
Joe shook his head firmly, heading towards the lift with a last puzzled glance at Methos. "Just go down to Mothercare and buy most of it, MacLeod," he grunted. "You're loaded."
Methos grinned. "So he is..."
"After all," Methos pointed out gleefully, "you let Richie drive the Thunderbird. And I've been in far fewer crashes than he has." He zoomed through a narrow gap in traffic, glancing sideways at Duncan, sitting in the passenger seat, wearing a seat-belt, and holding the baby Richie in his arms. "Of course, when I learned to drive, the main thing was to avoid running over the man in front with the red flag."
"Are you coming in with me?" Duncan asked. He looked apprehensive.
"No," Methos said cheerfully, finding a space to park and sliding the car into it with enthusiasm rather than expertise. "I'll wait for you here."
Duncan looked at him. Methos leaned back in the driver's seat and looked immovable. He was good at that. Muttering something under his breath, Duncan got out, awkwardly, because of the baby, and stood a moment on the pavement, looking sourly down at Methos. Methos wriggled comfortably and smiled at Duncan. "Take your time."
Duncan finished tucking the shawl round the baby and walked, with the same steadiness with which he would have walked to his own execution, into the Mothercare shop. Methos promptly slid out of the Thunderbird, locked it up, and followed him, staying within range so that the buzz didn't reactivate.
Duncan had wandered over to the counter and was saying something to the sales assistant behind it, a motherly-looking man in his mid-thirties. The man listened, clasped his hands together, and - visibly - went "Awww." What he actually said was probably more like "Of course we'll give you all the help we can," because, as Methos watched, the shop became a hive of activity. More and more bags of things - clothing, diapers, brightly-coloured utensils, some of which Methos could guess their purpose, and others which were frankly inexplicable - were piled on the counter where Duncan leaned, his whole posture one of dejection and helplessness. Practically every sales assistant in the shop seemed to have volunteered their services, and every one of them was looking more maternal by the minute.
Someone called Duncan over to the far wall to choose between one strange device and another, and Duncan must have stepped just out of range, because as he came back to the counter Methos felt the buzz, and knew from Duncan's lifting head that he felt it too.
Then Duncan saw him looking in the window. He glanced quickly from side to side, but no-one was watching him, and he smirked at Methos, briefly, before leaning back against the counter and forlornly tickling the baby under the chin.
Methos tucked his hands in under his coat, shivering, and began to curse Duncan MacLeod under his breath, starting with "Smug Highland bastard", and working up from there.
Duncan was out of Mothercare what felt like about half an hour later, the baby now in a contraption like a rucksack in reverse, strapped to Duncan's chest, and Duncan laden with plastic bags. Methos went back to the car and opened the passenger door, bowing Duncan in with a grimace. Duncan unloaded the bags in the back and detached the baby carrier, remembering to remove the baby before he chucked the carrier after the bags.
"We'll need to stop off at the bookstore," Duncan told him, fumbling with the seat belt.
"No problem," Methos said, more cheerfully. In five thousand years he'd never found any room full of books a place he wanted to leave. He pulled up in front of the store. "What did you tell them?"
Duncan paused in the middle of unstrapping himself and looked at Methos. "I told them the truth." His voice took on an expert note of manly pathos. "My wife died just as we were about to bring our son home from hospital. I had no idea what I needed to get for him. I asked for help."
Methos sighed. MacLeod was just too damned good at getting away with things. "And why was your son in hospital till he was six months old?" He hadn't bothered to make this bit up.
"A serious operation," Duncan said. "He barely survived."
"Amputation of the head, perhaps?" Methos offered.
Duncan twitched. Methos grinned. MacLeod was improving. That had definitely been the Highlander resisting the impulse to slap Methos... not commit seppuku.
Methos lay on the couch reading and giggling his way through the babycare books Duncan had been studying. Duncan was trying to work out new places to stack things. The only place he could see to pile up all the disposables he'd bought was by the stereo. That was OK; he hadn't been able to play anything in days. The baby screamed at opera.
Maybe it really was Richie.
"What's this in aid of?" Methos inquired, putting the book down on his chest.
"Anne's coming round.
"Ah, yes. Your doctor friend."
"I want her to take a look at Ryan," Duncan said. The intercom bleeped, and he cast a frantic look round the loft. "Where is he?"
"Asleep in the drawer where you left him," Methos said dryly.
Duncan looked at him. "I could've sworn you weren't watching me."
"I am a Watcher, after all," Methos pointed out. "Though I'm thinking about retiring," he added, to Duncan's back, as the other immortal went into the lift. He sat up and ran a hand over his hair to tidy it. "Life here," he added, entirely to himself, "is becoming entertaining enough."
Anne's reaction to the loft was similar to Joe's; she stood looking round it with an expression of puzzled disbelief. Methos stood up and smiled at her, his best harmless look. "Hello. I'm Adam Pierson."
"Yes," Anne said, giving him a long and thorough inspection that lasted about three seconds and reminded Methos that she had a medical degree. "You're a... friend of Duncan's."
"Yes," Methos said. "And you're... another friend of Duncan's." He gave the word 'friend' the exact inflection she had.
"Well," Anne said brightly, finishing her inspection. "Where's the baby?"
Anne handled the infant competently and gently, running through a series of checks. She did most of them kneeling on the floor, dismissing both the kitchen counter and the coffee table as unsafe. "Right," she said briskly, getting up and reaching for her purse. "It's a boy, he's got all the usual number of fingers and toes and normal reflexes. He isn't blind, deaf, or speechless. That's about all I can tell you here. When are you going to bring him down to the baby clinic for a proper health check, and what the hell is going on?"
Duncan picked up the baby, cradling him automatically. Just as automatically, the baby started to cry, but rather half-heartedly, as if he couldn't quite remember what to cry for. "It's a long story," he said.
"But the short version," Methos said, "is that this is Duncan's son. Ryan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
"What?" Anne stared. "Duncan... you said you were sterile."
"Ah," Duncan said. He glanced at Methos, who shrugged.
"You could tell her your wife was unfaithful to you."
"What wife?" Anne asked.
"Well..." Duncan frowned. "There isn't one."
"I'm not sure whether I'm relieved or not," Anne said. She thought about it. "I'm not sure whether I'm surprised or not. Duncan, where did you get this baby?"
"Under a gooseberry bush," Methos muttered.
"He's mine," Duncan said, with a glower at Methos.
"And you're planning to look after him?" Anne looked round the loft again. "For how long?"
Duncan's mouth went firm and arrogant with decision. He lifted the baby a little, holding him firmly against his chest. "Until he's an adult," Duncan said.
"That might be a very long time," Methos muttered.
"You're not serious," Anne said, simultaneously with Methos. She glanced sideways at him, puzzled, but went on to Duncan, "You're not a fit person to look after a child. Your lifestyle - you don't know anything about babies!"
"I can learn," Duncan said. "It can't be that difficult." Behind Anne, he saw Methos sit down on the couch and grin at him. "And what's wrong with my lifestyle?"
Anne glanced at Methos again. "You know. The... the sword thing."
"Oh, that. Duncan, you don't have the slightest idea how to look after a baby. You don't even have a cot - "
"It's being delivered tomorrow," Duncan said.
"You live in one room. You have an unstable lifestyle." Anne laughed suddenly. "Drastically unstable. You don't even get sick, how are you going to cope when the baby catches something?"
Duncan shrugged. "Call you."
"Not on your life." Anne reached into her purse and pulled out a stack of leaflets. Since both Duncan's hands were occupied - the baby had stopped crying and started investigating Duncan's hair - she handed them to Methos. "Shots," she said briskly. Methos looked startled.
"Immunisations," she translated. "Mumps, whooping-cough, tetanus, polio... and there's a regular mother-and-baby clinic down at the hospital, Duncan, you need to make an appointment for regular check-ups. You need a family doctor, and I know you don't have one."
"No," Duncan said meekly.
"Are you serious about keeping him?" Anne said.
"Yes," Duncan said, meeting her eyes with a look of total sincerity.
Anne looked suspicious. "Sure?"
Duncan looked helplessly over Anne's shoulder at Methos, who grinned unhelpfully. "Because he's Richie... he's Richie's."
"He is?" Anne smiled suddenly. "Come to think of it, he does have a look of him."
"Yes," Methos said. "So I've been telling Duncan."
Anne looked him over again, this time a little less clinically, and then she said, more kindly, "Duncan, this is a serious responsibility you're taking on. A lifetime responsibility."
Both of them ignored Methos' sudden helpless snort of laughter.
"Are you sure you're the best person to look after him?" Anne went on. "I can see you want him."
"What better father could he have," Duncan said, his arms enfolding the baby, who ignored him and went on rootling in Duncan's hair, "than one who wants him? I'll defend him with my life, Anne, I swear it."
"I'm sure you will." Anne sighed. "Next time an immortal attacks, what are you going to do? Tell the baby to make his own way home to the dojo while you chop off this guy's head? Are you going to buy him a pram with power steering for the times when he gets abandoned in the middle of Seacouver because you've just spotted someone you knew a hundred years ago?"
Duncan stared at her, silenced. Finally he muttered, "I'm no' giving him up."
"I don't think you have a choice." Methos swung easily to his feet and wandered over to stand at Duncan's shoulder, inspecting the baby's hands and Duncan's hair. "You're so wrapped up in each other right now, it would take major barbery to hack you loose."
Anne looked, and giggled. Duncan, unable to see where the baby's hands had got to, tried to disentangle them from his hair and found that the infant only clung harder and started to scream.
Anne shook her head. "Bring him down to the clinic on Monday," she advised. "And read those leaflets. And don't pay too much attention to Spock," she added, with a glance at the topmost book on the stack Methos had been reading.
Methos ushered her towards the door. "Affirmative," he said, blandly.
Three days later, Joe reappeared. He wandered out of the lift with a brown paper bag under his arm and looked round at the loft strewn with brightly coloured baby items. "I see you took my advice," he said.
Methos was lying on the couch. He didn't get up as Joe walked over and stood above him.
"Yeah?" Methos looked up at him.
Joe glanced round. "Where's MacLeod?"
"Giving the kid a bath," Methos said, and grinned, briefly and very happily.
There was an enormous splashing noise from the bathroom and the sound of Duncan cursing in Sioux. Methos called out "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, MacLeod!"
Duncan reappeared a minute or so later, drenched to the waist, with the baby, wrapped in a large white towel with yellow ducks on it, tucked under one arm.
"Going in for wet t-shirt competitions, Mac?" Joe asked.
Duncan glowered. "For that, you get to hold him," he said, shoving the yellow duck parcel at Joe.
"Wait a minute." Joe sat down. "OK." The baby looked up at him with wide blue eyes with a depth of innocence and curiosity that Joe knew he could fall into and never let go. Joe nearly started to make baby noises at him until he glanced up and caught Methos watching him with an expression of mild, ancient amusement. Duncan was off the other side of the loft finding a clean shirt under stacks and stacks of pastel baby outfits. Joe watched the Highlander for a long moment, drinking in the alert liveliness of the way he moved, everything about him, from the neatly brushed pony-tail down to his feet, speaking of a man who had decided he wanted to live.
Joe glanced back at Methos, who smiled, sitting up and leaning over briefly to brush a finger against the side of the baby's face. "Someone had to," he said quietly.
Joe drew in a deep breath. "You are one calculating son of a bitch."
Methos tilted his head to one side and smiled. He leaned back against the couch, ignoring the baby again as Duncan came back, scooped the baby out of Joe's arms, and sat down on the couch beside Methos.
"What's in the bag? More groceries?"
"No." Joe picked up the bag and handed it to Methos. "I bet this is one essential neither of you guys thought of."
Methos investigated. "It's a bear," he said, pulling it out by the ear and regarding it with a bemused expression.
Duncan glanced down at the small face gazing out at the world. "Thanks, Joe," he said dubiously. "It isn't bugged, is it?"
Methos chucked the bear neatly over his shoulder; it landed squarely in the cot at the foot of the bed. "Thanks, Joe," he said lightly. "Without you, the kid would be unbearable."
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