by Ashlyn Donnchaid
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This takes place immediately following Revelation 6:8.
Duncan MacLeod parked his car and walked in through the lobby of the Hotel de Seze, stopping in the bar long enough to buy himself a bottle of scotch, then going straight up to his room. He was sure what he'd find when he got there, and he had been right. Cassandra was gone. She had packed her things, left the key on the table and disappeared without leaving a note or saying goodbye. He wasn't sure why he should have expected her to say anything, but it seemed so much more final this way.
He poured himself a generous glass of the scotch, wanting to numb his mind to the jumble of thoughts that wouldn't leave him alone. He downed the drink quickly and poured another, then sat on the couch and put the glass on the table in front of him. He leaned his elbows on his knees, dropped his head into his hands, and took a deep breath that he let out very slowly. Why? Why was he the one left with all the decisions? He knew the answer to that, but didn't want to.
He thought back to his instinctive command to Cassandra not to kill Methos as he sobbed on his knees before her. The words had come to him unbidden, and even as he had said them to her, he knew that, while she had the right to kill the ancient immortal, he couldn't allow it to happen. He had seen the hatred in her eyes as she turned and walked away, and wondered how much of it was directed at himself. She had been ill-used by the Horsemen, of that he had no doubt, and her thirst for revenge could be understood. He wondered if, at the last, she had come to realize that vengeance would not change what had happened to her and her people. He doubted it as soon as he thought it.
He could still hear Methos' huge, wrenching sobs as he knelt by Silas' body. He had gone to him and stayed near him until the weeping had stopped, understanding that the pain Methos was feeling was as much for the reopening of part of his past that he had thought over as it was for the anguish of killing a friend. MacLeod knew both of those pains too well, but did not know how to help him except to be nearby. When his crying ceased, and his body stopped trembling, Methos had sat back on his heels and rubbed his eyes, looked at MacLeod, nodded once, then stood and walked slowly away without speaking. It had been as if he had been closing a chapter in their lives. Except that he hadn't wanted to let Methos do that. He'd followed him out of the submarine base and finally caught up with him when he stopped on Holy Ground. Were they that far gone that it was only safe to meet there? He knew he wasn't going to kill Methos. What he didn't know was if they could ever be friends again, and if it would be his own fault if they could not.
Restlessly, he stood up, picked up the glass and drained it, poured himself more, then went to stand at the window, looking out over the dark city, watching the people going about their day to day business as if they hadn't a care in the world. They had no idea how close they had come to total annihilation. Death at the hands of the Four Horsemen. Death planned by a man he thought he knew. He rubbed a hand across his face and again drained his glass. He picked up the bottle and looked at it, wondering idly if there was something wrong with the liquor. It wasn't doing what he'd hoped. He barely felt its effects, and he'd wanted to get drunk enough not to remember, at least for tonight. He poured more into his glass, and went back to the window. Could he have been so wrong about Methos? Had there been some long term plan that started with the Old Man insinuating himself into MacLeod's life? He realized he was starting to get a little maudlin, and decided the liquor was working after all.
He couldn't have been so totally wrong in his judgement of the other man. Could he? Joe had been wrong about him. Joe had said that Methos couldn't have killed women and children for pleasure. They both knew now that he had. At the same time, though, Joe had said that sometimes you had to listen to your gut. That sometimes that was all you had. His thoughts shifted to the Watcher. Always there. Always willing to accept people as he saw them. He was beginning to understand how special a friend he had in Joe Dawson. All the times he had pushed the man away, he had waited and been there, unwilling to give up on the friendship. Not many people would do that. Not many people had. What was it about the man that made him push him back? Maybe it was the Watcher part. He knew he liked Joe, he was comfortable with Joe Dawson the man, but ... but what? Was it that he still felt a little like a bug on a slide? That his life was under a microscope? That was partly it. What else? Was it that he sometimes resented that Joe had a way of making him question his decisions and beliefs? He smiled. That was it. Joe and Methos had the same annoying habit of cutting through his firm resolve and making him doubt himself. He took a drink from his glass. Almost empty again. He filled it again, and went back to sit on the couch. He definitely was starting to feel the alcohol. Good. Now all he had to do was drink enough to forget.
But he hadn't forgotten, not yet. It had hurt to think about Methos and Joe and the way things had been. All he really knew about Methos was from the times they had spent together in the last couple of years. Until about a week ago, if somebody had asked him to describe the Old Man, he would have talked about a gentle man with a cynical attitude that would go out of his way to avoid a fight. He'd always sensed that there was a steel core that was kept carefully hidden, but never that the man was vicious or cruel or a cold-hearted killer. Random moments from their past times came to him. Alexa Bond. Methos had been so nervous that the woman wouldn't like him, like a schoolboy. He had risked his life to try to save hers, and had wept unashamed after her death. The silly plan he'd talked him into to save Gina and Robert's marriage. That had come way too close to costing Methos' head at Gina's hand. He still had to smile at how he'd had to wheedle to get him to help at all. He took another swallow of the scotch. Not good enough yet. He was still maudlin. He wanted oblivion. He poured more into the glass.
Methos knew him too well. He was right when he said that what he had done, MacLeod couldn't forgive. But he hadn't asked for forgiveness. All he'd asked for was acceptance. Joe had said the same thing. He had wanted to understand what Methos had done, not judge him. Had Methos been fooling them all along? Was he still Death on a horse? Or had he been trapped in the situation and done what he had to do to survive? It was too complicated. The man he thought he knew wouldn't have done those things, at least not today. But it hadn't happened today. It had happened thousands of years ago. It could have happened again, but the Horsemen had been stopped. With Methos' help. That was what he'd done, wasn't it? Meant to help stop them? Hadn't that been his plan all along? Get the four of them back together and find a way to help MacLeod stop them? He truly wanted to believe that. He had to believe that if there was ever to be any chance of rekindling their friendship. He'd asked Methos if that was what he'd done, and in his typical way, the Old Man had refused a direct answer.
He wondered about the fear that must have followed Methos, knowing that Kronos and the others were still alive and might find him some day. No wonder he'd always kept a low profile. How many other ghosts from his past were still haunting him? The anguish he'd heard in the voice when he'd asked him about Cassandra. "One of a thousand regrets." He realized that could be literally true. The impact of what a life that long meant was beginning to hit him. There must be centuries of pain and suffering, both inflicted and received, that never left him. And what had it taken for Methos to change? Had he changed? He was sure something had. He'd said he was different then. Then. In the past. Maybe the man he knew today was real. He took another drink. This wasn't enough. He could still think, he could still feel.
He put the glass on the table again and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. They were stinging from, what? Fatigue? That must be it. He was tired. And right now, very alone. There was no one who could help him. Or was there? Tomorrow he'd call Joe. Ask him to let him know how Methos was doing. He had a feeling that the Old Man would keep in touch with the Watcher. If it was true that time could heal all wounds, he'd wait. He'd find a way to rebuild their friendship. He'd find a way to accept all of what made Methos the man he was now. He was more and more sure that time had changed the man. He couldn't have been that wrong about him. He wouldn't accept that he was that mistaken in his judgement. Judgement. It was what he was always so good at. Judging people against his own code. Did he have the right to judge or should he learn what a mere mortal had already learned. That sometimes all you have to go with is your gut. His gut told him not to throw away a friend. There would be a way to fix things. There had to be.
He picked up the glass and finished what was in it, then put it down again. He leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes. He felt one tear as it trailed down his cheek. Fatigue and scotch could do that to a guy. As he drifted into an uneasy sleep, he had one last vision of a figure knocking on his door, chilled beer in hand, cynical smile on the lips and in the hazel eyes, asking nothing except to be his friend.