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Title: The Paper Burns, But the Words Fly Free
Fandom: Highlander
Characters: Joe Dawson, Methos
Rating: PG
Length: 1,450 words
Disclaimer: Highlander belongs to Rysher: Panzer/Davis.
Spoilers: For season 4.
Author's Notes: Written for mackiedockie in the HLH-shortcuts holiday exchange. Thanks to my beta, Stevie. Set just before the events of 'One Minute to Midnight', and apparently a mild AU due to a timeline error on my part. Oops!
Summary: If this was the after-life, the nuns owed Joe an explanation.

Joe woke suddenly, like a drowning man finally reaching the surface. He recognized the distant cotton-wool of morphine, edged with a dull certainty that he was in danger.

He kept his eyes closed, trying to remember where he was, what had happened. There was a vaguely musty smell, not blood or fear or the antiseptic scent of hospital cleaners. His tripping pulse wasn't mirrored in any beeping equipment. It was quiet. He was lying on a something that felt more like a cot than a hospital bed.

Joe's ear caught a barely-there sound of movement nearby. Was someone watching him? He took a slow, careful, deep breath. There was a warning response of not-quite-pain from his shoulder. In a rush, Joe remembered the Tribunal, his sentence, a final prayer, gunfire.

If this was the after-life, the nuns owed him an explanation.

Joe heard a soft scoffing sound, one he would recognize anywhere. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times, bringing Methos into focus, reading by his bedside. There were shadows under his eyes, more than could be explained by the handful of candles lighting the room. Joe could see bottles of wine and a dozen manuscripts from where he lay, and was struck by the complete lack of windows.

This certainly wasn't the chalet where the Tribunal had taken place. Shapiro might have found somewhere more secure to stash a prisoner, but why offer medical treatment to a man you'd sentenced to death? Joe just hoped that he hadn't somehow managed to get Methos caught up in his mess.

"Adam," Joe croaked, or tried to, anyway, his throat dry as dust.

Methos glanced at Joe, sat up, and tossed the book he'd been reading to the ground. "Joe? Are you actually conscious this time?"

Joe glared.

"I'll take that as a yes. Here, let me," Methos bent down and rummaged around. "Good, still cold," he said, emerging with a cup of ice chips. He promptly popped one into Joe's mouth and gave Joe a minute to suck on it.

Joe looked his friend over, trying to jump-start his brain. Methos didn't seem particularly stressed, but Joe knew the man was one hell of a liar. "So, where are we?" he asked.

"Safe," Methos answered immediately.

Well. That was less than helpful. "And, uh, I take it somebody dug that round out of my shoulder?" Joe asked. He tried to pull the wool blanket away from his shoulder so he could have a look, his hand scrabbling weakly at it.

"Best not," Methos said, picking up Joe's hand and placing it back down by his side. "It's a bit chilly down here. It was a through-and-through, so I just cleaned the wound and sewed it up for you."

"You did?"

"Don't be like that. Yes, my surgical knowledge is a bit out of date, but I'll have you know that the survival rate of Roman legionnaires wounded in battle wasn't surpassed until the development of sulfa drugs. And since we're in France, I was able to pick up a course of Amoxicillin by faking a cough at a walk-in clinic."

Joe relaxed under the blanket. He was 90% sure this was another BS story, but Methos wouldn't have mentioned his history as a Roman field medic, bogus or not, if there was any chance of Watchers listening in.

"Thanks for coming," Joe said quietly, grasping the warm hand still laying over his. "I know you've been … busy, with Alexa. How's she doing?"

Methos sighed, rearranging his fingers to take Joe's pulse. "She had a bit of a scare ten days ago. Ended up in hospital for a few days, but she's better now. When she heard you were in trouble, Alexa insisted that she had a dozen books on her bucket list, and that I wasn't allowed to speak to her for a week until she'd finished them. I left her on a beach in Tuscany, reading a copy of this," he said, snatching up the book from the floor and waving it in front of Joe's nose.

Joe craned his neck to see it. "Ulysses? Wouldn't have pegged you for a Joyce fan," he commented, falling back on the several pleasant years he'd spent as a bookstore owner.

"Oh, I'm not," Methos said. "I've thrown it across the room twice already. But I will finish the damned thing."

"Alexa double-dog dared you, didn't she?" Joe said, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards. Alexa had always had an odd, prickly sense of humor. She'd probably thought this up just to distract Methos from worrying himself sick over her while he was away.

Methos sat back in the chair. "She's worried; I don't think Alexa was expecting you to race her to the grave," he said, voice distant.

Joe licked his lips. "That's not what happened."

"No? Shapiro had you on trial. I understand that MacLeod risked his life breaking into the Watcher Headquarters, to get you out, and you refused to leave."

"If I had walked out of there with him, this conflict between Watchers and Immortals would have snowballed! I figured if I could–"

Methos stood up abruptly, glaring down at Joe. "Could what? Get yourself shot? You thought that would help?"

"I hoped the Tribunal wouldn't sentence me to death. If I stood trial and was exonerated, I'd be in a position to broker a peace. But even if I stood trial and was sentenced, word would get out about what Shapiro was up to. Then the rest of the Watchers would know what was going on. It could make a difference."

Methos laughed, thin and cutting. "'It is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long'? Are you really going to quote Seneca at me, Joe? Because the man was an ass."

Joe smiled. " 'A ship in harbor is safe', old friend, 'but that's not what ships are built for.'"

Methos leaned over him abruptly, looking in Joe's eyes as if looking for something.

"What?" Joe asked, uncomfortable with having Methos hovering a few inches away.

Methos settled back slowly in his chair, studying Jo with narrowed eyes, and not saying a word.

"Come on, Adam, I can practically see the gears whirring away. What is it?"

It took Methos a moment to respond. "Did you ever meet Darius?" he finally asked.

"I … " Joe remembered brown robes, a warm smile over a chessboard, and the pungent scent of an undrinkable tea, none of which made any sense. "No? Of course not. He was dead before MacLeod came looking for me. Why?"

"Because the last time Darius and I had this particular philosophical discussion, that is exactly what he said to me."

"What philosophical discussion?"

"On the existence and habits of heroes. Don't try to change the subject, Joe. "

"Could just be some weird coincidence, "Joe said uneasily.

"Hmmm. Could be, " Methos replied. "Or it could be that you walked the path of shadows, and returned with a message from the Dead. Which makes me wonder…"

"Wonder what," Joe snapped.

"Wonder if perhaps Darius's Quickening was too old, too powerful, and too meddlesome to vanish without a trace."

Joe started to shrug, winced, and gave it up as a bad idea. "There wasn't anyone in the Church to receive it, when Darius lost his head."

"No Immortals, no," Methos said distractedly. "But Horton apparently brought a number of Watchers with him. I wonder if the same sort of man who would serve on Darius's execution squad might have been recruited to be part of yours. MacLeod did say you were the only survivor." His eyes sharpened, and Methos said something in a language Joe didn't recognize. When Joe didn't respond, he translated, "You're not feeling any sudden urge to join a monastic order, are you?"

"No," Joe replied automatically, then thought about it, just in case. "Hell no."

"Right, good. Probably not a Light Quickening, then. Maybe he's haunting you because he likes you."

"I – seriously?"

Methos shrugged.

"No, seriously, Adam, have you ever heard of something like that?"

"I've heard of all sorts of things; doesn't mean they're true." Methos said, jumping up and striding towards the door. "Adam Pierson needs to make an appearance at Headquarters. Get some rest, Joe. And pay attention to your dreams. They might be important."

He swept out the door before Joe could reply. Joe was left to huddle under his blanket, prodding at his impossible memory of Darius like a loose tooth, and wonder.