After Hours
by Ashlyn Donnchaid

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place shortly after Revelation 6:8.


Joe Dawson was just about done totaling the day's receipts and preparing the cash and deposit for the next morning. It was about two-thirty in the morning, and he'd chased the last die hard patron out about twenty minutes before. He was putting the bills and coin into the bank pouch when he heard the door open and saw a dark figure step inside. Damn. He needed to be more careful about locking up. He closed the cash register quietly, and opened the drawer he kept the pistol in.

"Sorry, pal, we're closed for the night," he called to the figure. He saw the man hesitate.

"It's me, Joe. Can I come in?"

"Methos." He'd know that voice anywhere. "C'mon in. Lock the door behind you, OK?" He saw the man turn to lock the door and then walk over to the bar. As he moved into the light, he noted the haggard look of the man. He was pretty sure the beer he was about to draw for Methos wasn't going to be enough that night. Joe went ahead and filled the glass and handed it to the old immortal, then, after a moment's consideration, pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels off the shelf. With the ease of years of practice, he took the bottle and a couple of glasses in one hand, leaving the other free for his cane as he led the way to his office and the more comfortable furniture that was there. Methos shrugged out of his coat and sat heavily on the couch. Joe took his place in an armchair that faced the couch. He poured two glasses of bourbon, handed one to Methos, and stood the bottle on the floor next to his chair.

"So, what can I do for you tonight?"

Methos held up the beer. "This is a good start." He indicated the glass of bourbon. "And that'll help, too."

Joe looked carefully at the man on the couch. He looked as if he might have walked from Bordeaux to Seacouver. Exhaustion and something else were written in the lines on the normally youthful looking face. Tonight, he almost looked 5000 years old. Joe tried to figure out what else he saw on the face. Was it hopelessness? No, it almost looked like he was heartbroken. Or both. Defeated. That was close, too. Not at all the man he was used to seeing. His nurturing nature took over.

"Have you eaten lately?" Methos looked up at him blankly, then shook his head. "Stay here. I'll see what I can find." Joe got to his feet and went to see what might be left in the kitchen. He managed to put together a ham and cheese sandwich and some soup he heated quickly in the microwave. Putting the plate and bowl and some silverware on a tray, he returned to the office. Methos had put his feet up on the sofa and appeared to be asleep. Joe sighed as he put the tray of food on the desk and sat back in the armchair. Picking up his glass of bourbon, he watched the oldest living immortal sleep. As he sipped at the liquor, he wondered what would have brought the man back here. MacLeod was still in France, probably a good thing if he were to ask Methos. He'd had reports of what had happened in Bordeaux, and none of them had been pretty. He knew MacLeod well enough to know that he still would not be ready to understand what had happened in Methos' past, or even why he had done what he had when Kronos had appeared a couple of weeks ago. Joe wasn't sure he understood it either, he just knew that the man he called his friend now wasn't the same man who had done those things. Unless Methos did something to prove it otherwise, Joe believed that he was no longer the vicious killer that had been one of the Horsemen.

Putting the glass on the floor next to the bottle, he made himself more comfortable in the chair. Tonight wouldn't be the first time he'd slept in that chair, and he had no intention of leaving Methos alone. Leaning his head back, Joe closed his eyes.

He jerked awake, not sure where he was. His upright position and being fully dressed reminded him that he was still in his office at the bar. He started as he heard the noise that probably had awakened him. It was almost a moan, but more like an excruciating sob. He remembered that Methos slept on the couch. It sounded as if he were having a nightmare, and a particularly terrifying one, at that. Joe pushed himself out of the chair and moved to the couch, lifting Methos' head and sitting on the couch. He held the head in his lap and stroked it gently and soothingly, wishing he knew what was happening in the mind of his friend. After a time, the man quieted and returned to a more normal sleep. Joe stayed on the couch, his hand on Methos' head, and dozed himself.

"Joe?" Slowly, awareness returned to him. He was still in his office, sitting on the couch, Methos' head in his lap. The voice must have been Methos'. He looked down at the man he had attempted to comfort.

"Yeah?" He thought he should move his hand off Methos' head, but didn't know where he should put it, so he didn't move it at all. The problem was solved when Methos sat up next to him.

"What time is it?" Joe looked at his watch.

"Five o'clock. Got a pressing appointment?" Joe tried to lighten the moment. Methos rubbed his face with his hands and didn't answer. Joe decided it was time to try to face why Methos had shown up at the bar last night. Or was it early that morning? Didn't matter. "You came here for a reason. What is it?" Methos looked up, and Joe saw the same hopelessness and defeat he had seen before.

"I really don't know, Joe." The old immortal dropped his head into his hands. "I guess I was just hoping..." his voice trailed off. Joe put a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"I need some coffee. Let's go scrounge in the kitchen." He gave the shoulder a squeeze, then stood up. "C'mon. Give me a hand." Methos looked up at him, then stood up and picked up his coat. "You can leave that if you want. Won't be anyone around here for hours." Joe knew the immortal didn't want to be out of reach of his sword, but also hoped he knew he was safe there. Methos thought for a moment, then put the coat down again. Once in the kitchen, Joe started a pot of coffee, then rummaged in the refrigerator for something easy to make for breakfast. He didn't know if immortals ever had blood sugar problems, but he knew a good meal never hurt anyone. Settling for the unexciting, he started scrambled eggs and toast. When it was done, he handed a plate to Methos, who had sat silently on the stool he'd pulled up to watch Joe cook. Coffee was already poured, and Joe pulled up a stool of his own. They ate in silence, and when they were done, Joe put the plates in the sink and poured more coffee. Methos didn't look as bad as he had when he'd come in the night before, but it was going to take a lot more than a couple of hours of sleep and one meal to cure what ailed him.

"So," Joe began, "you want to talk about it?"

"Not really." The old immortal took a drink of his coffee.

Joe smiled. "You certainly didn't stop by at half past two in the morning just to sleep on my couch and get a free breakfast." He searched the other man's face for some clue as to what he was feeling. "Why did you come?" Methos sighed, a deep sigh that had the echo of centuries.

"How do you do it, Joe?"

"Do what?" Joe asked.

"You're the only person who isn't judging what I did." Now it was Joe's turn to sigh.

"Methos, you're judging yourself enough for all of us." He picked up the coffee pot and refilled both their mugs. "I've known you for ten years as Adam and two years as Methos. I've considered you a friend all that time. I'm not going to stop just because you have a skeleton or two in your closet." Methos looked up, startled at the word 'skeleton'.

"What about thousands of skeletons, Joe?"

The Watcher shrugged. "It's not for me to judge what you did thousands of years ago. I may not understand it, but I don't think that's who you are today." He took a drink of his coffee. "You don't need my forgiveness." He looked into the haunted eyes. "Have you forgiven yourself?"

Methos looked away as he answered, "I thought I had."

Joe nodded in understanding. "Until Kronos showed up."

The ancient immortal rubbed a hand across his eyes. "Yeah. Until then." Methos stood up, holding his coffee mug in both hands, and walked slowly around the kitchen, then came back and sat again. "Joe, I knew Kronos and the others were alive. I didn't like to think about it, but I was always afraid that he'd find me." The Watcher wondered how it had been to live with that sort of fear for thousands of years, looking over his shoulder constantly or finding places safe enough to hide for a while.

"And he did."

"He did indeed." Methos took a drink of his coffee, then filled the mug again.

Joe finally realized he wasn't going to go on. He thought the immortal needed to talk about it so he decided to pry a little. "Why did you go with him?"

Methos stared at his coffee. "He gave me a choice, you know. Join him or die." He sipped the coffee. "I didn't want to die." He looked up at the Watcher. "Was that so wrong?"

"What do you think? Would Kronos have gone ahead with his plan without you?"

"Probably."

"Then going with him didn't change that, did it?"

Methos again stared at his coffee. "It changed me."

"How?"

The ancient immortal put down his mug and again stood and paced the kitchen. "Do you have any idea how easy it would have been for me to go back to the old ways?"

Joe poured himself more coffee. "How long were you together?"

Methos came back and sat down. "Better part of a thousand years." He picked up his mug, saw that it was empty and filled it again. Joe was thoughtful.

"That's a big part of your life. Doesn't matter if you think it's a part you've left behind, it's bound to have some effect on you, being with those people again." He shifted to a more comfortable sitting position. "Why did you stay with them so long?"

"A lot of reasons, Joe. Fear. Admiration. Kinship. Mostly for survival."

"You know, Methos, there's a lot worse reasons to do something. Wanting to live is very human. The idea of giving up your life willingly is pretty poetic, but when it comes down to it, not too many people do." Joe stood up. "This isn't too comfortable for me and we've got more to talk about. Why don't we go back in the office." Methos rose and followed him to the office, sitting again on the couch. Joe settled comfortably in the chair. "That's better." He looked at the man on the couch. "Where were we? Talking about survival, I think. And change. And the old ways. You said it would have been easy to go back. Tell me about that."

It was several minutes before Methos answered, and when he spoke it was with a faraway look in his eyes.

"We were gods, Joe. Everywhere we went, people feared us. Anything we wanted was ours for the taking." His voice became a whisper. "The power. It was like a drug. There was never enough." He shook his head a little as if to clear it, then looked at Joe. "To see him again was like offering an addict a fix. You know it could kill you, but at the same time you know how good it can feel."

The Watcher ran a hand across his beard as he tried to absorb what he was hearing. "But the killing. Did that feel good?"

"I was good at it. It pleased Kronos. So, yes, it felt good."

"It pleased Kronos," Joe repeated. "Is that where the fear comes in?"

Methos smiled thinly. "You're good, Joe."

"Part bartender, part shrink," he answered. "Tell me about it."

"Are you sure you want to know?" When Joe's gaze didn't waver, Methos went on. "He was a very charismatic man. That's what drew me to him at first. And he needed a planner. I've always been clever, so it worked out. He provided protection, and I made the plans." He paused and took a deep breath before continuing. "But he demanded obedience. He had some, shall we say, interesting ways of making his point. I'm a quick study. Didn't take long to realize that staying alive meant pleasing Kronos."

"That can't have been too easy," Joe said quietly.

"Oh, but it was. That was part of why I stayed so long. I understood him. I knew what he wanted. I didn't like it all, but it met my needs, too. It kept me alive." Methos ran a hand across his eyes. "He gave me approval and a sense of belonging. As long as I did what he needed, I was his brother, his 'strong right arm' as he liked to put it. I came to hate him for what I had become, but there was no escape. I had made my choice to be what it took to stay with him."

They both sat for several minutes before Joe spoke again. "That's not the choice you made this time, was it?"

"In a way, it was." Methos looked around for something to take the dryness out of his mouth. Finding only the bourbon from the previous night, he took a swallow, grimacing at the bite of the liquor. "My first choice was to live. To do that, I went along with him." He paused, turning the glass in his fingers. "He wanted me to kill MacLeod. I don't know how he knew, but that was his litmus test. Could I kill the new life and embrace the old. I suspected he knew the real answer, but he was willing to let me live anyway, as long as I made his plans for him. He knew the old fear would keep me under control until he didn't need me anymore."

Joe found his own mouth very dry listening to his friend's narrative. He picked up the glass next to his chair and took a swallow of the bourbon. He thought idly that he should get a small water cooler for the office. Somehow, though, bourbon seemed more appropriate for their discussion, if not for the time of day. Finally Methos went on.

"I traded him my inability to kill MacLeod for the one thing he wanted more. The rest of the Horsemen." He looked at the glass in his hand, then sipped the bourbon.

"When did you start to make your plan?" Joe asked.

"Plan? What makes you think there was a plan?" Methos laughed without humor. "I didn't know what he really wanted. All I could do was react. Keep him happy and a little off balance so that he still needed me."

"But you led him to the others."

"Oh, yes. If I hadn't, I'd have been dead on the spot. It made his plan perfect. The four most feared men in history together again, ready to wage war on the world. He had to believe I was part of it. He was a very intelligent man, but I was always more cunning. He appreciated that and he used it." He sipped the whiskey again, then reached for the bottle and filled the glass.

"You were more cunning than he realized, weren't you?"

"What do you mean, Joe?"

The Watcher chuckled gently. "The match book. You were playing MacLeod as carefully as you were playing Kronos.

Methos took a swallow from his glass. "Maybe. Maybe I was just using him to do something I knew I couldn't."

"Yeah, maybe." Joe topped up his own glass. "You did decide differently this time." Methos frowned at him in confusion. "You went with Kronos, you found him the others, but you'd decided he had to be stopped."

"Maybe," Methos repeated. "Doesn't change that the temptation was there. I'm not sure what I would have done if Kronos had lived. I knew what it took to survive with him. I could have done it again."

"You know, I'm not sure you could have gone back to the killing." Joe swallowed some of his bourbon. "What do you think?"

Methos sighed. "Probably not. The people we killed didn't do anything to deserve it. It was different then. I could believe it was our right to kill. But not now. Not in this world."

"And not the man you are now," Joe said quietly.

"You really believe that, don't you, Joe."

"Yes, I do."

Methos put his glass on the floor and, leaning his elbows on his knees, dropped his head into his hands. "I wish he believed that."

Finally, Joe thought, about time we got to the heart of the problem. He knew that MacLeod's summary judgement and rejection of Methos for what had happened in the past was a large part of the anguish the old immortal was feeling. Unfortunately, he couldn't offer any assurances that the Highlander would ever come around.

"Did you two talk?" Joe asked gently.

"Oh, yeah." Methos' voice sounded flat. "We talked. And he judged." He looked up at the Watcher, tears in his eyes and starting down his face. "I can't change the past. I did what I could to protect the future. Why can't I find any peace?" The tears began in earnest, and he leaned his head into his hands once again. Quiet sobs shook his whole body.

"Damn." Joe swore softly. He pushed himself out of the chair and moved to sit next to his friend on the couch, putting a hand on Methos' back and rubbing gently. He was a little surprised when the immortal turned and buried his face in his shoulder as he continued to cry, but Joe also understood the release of tension that was what Methos needed. He turned a little on the couch, putting his arms around his friend, rubbing the man's back and speaking to him soothingly.

"It's OK, buddy. Let it all out." He didn't think the man had allowed himself the time to react to all that had happened in the last couple of weeks. Crying was a normal human response to the sort of tension Methos had been under, and he was glad to be there for his friend. In time, the sobs quieted, the body in his arms stopped shaking and the breathing became regular. Methos pulled out of Joe's embrace and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"I'm sorry about that, Joe." The old immortal's eyes were red and puffy, but the haunted look was gone. "I didn't know that was going to happen."

"Nothing to apologize for." Joe moved back to the chair he'd been in before. "This is the first time you've stopped to think about what happened, isn't it?"

Methos nodded. He sat quietly for a while, sipping the bourbon. "I've thought about pieces of it, but until you started asking, not about the whole thing. I guess it was overdue."

Joe smiled. "Just a little." He had a feeling that release of emotion would go a long way toward healing some of the still open wounds. The two men sat in silence for some time as Joe gave Methos the time he needed to gather his thoughts. Finally, he knew he had to bring up what had been lurking under the surface of their discussion. "There's one thing left we haven't talked about." Methos looked at Joe quizzically. "What about MacLeod?"

Methos frowned. "What about him." He stared at the glass in his hands for several minutes before continuing. "I think he made his position pretty clear."

"Maybe," Joe answered. "He called here about a week ago. Asked me to keep an eye out for you." He sat and sipped his glass of bourbon as he gave Methos time to digest that. "What do you want me to tell him if he calls again?"

"Tell him to go to hell," Methos mumbled under his breath.

Joe wasn't sure he'd heard him correctly. "What was that?"

"Nothing, Joe." He paused to consider what he was going to say. "What do you think he wants to hear?"

Joe sighed. "I think he just wants to know you're OK."

"Am I OK?" Methos put his glass on the floor and leaned back against the cushions of the couch and closed his eyes.

"You're alive," Joe said gently. "You're trying to work things out for yourself. I think that counts as OK."

"Maybe."

"Take my word for it." He sipped the bourbon again, thinking it wasn't so bad for breakfast after all. "Look, I know it's not always easy being Mac's friend. He needs some time right now."

"Right. So I'm supposed to just wait for him to decide if we can be friends?"

Joe spoke very quietly. "It's what I've had to do."

Methos sat upright and met the Watcher's gaze. "I'm sorry, Joe. I'd forgotten." He smiled ruefully. "It is a pattern with him, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is. But I've always considered him worth the trouble."

"He is a lot of trouble." The old immortal picked up the glass again, taking a drink. "What do you think he'll do?"

"Honestly? I'm not sure. You shattered the image he'd built up of what he thought you were. He'll have to find a way to reconcile it all in his own mind." He gave Methos a little smile. "You want my gut opinion? He'll be back. He'll believe what he needs to be your friend, because he wants that more than he hates what you were."

Methos simply nodded, then sat in thought for quite a while. When he finally spoke, it was with a quiet determination. "If he calls again, you can tell him you've talked to me. Don't tell him what about, just that I'm OK. Don't tell him where I am. When the time's right, I'll find him."

Joe nodded. "I can do that."

"Thanks, Joe." Methos smiled and looked relaxed for the first time since he'd arrived at the bar. "Thanks for everything."

"Anytime, Methos. Anytime."


The End
March 1997