Variations on a Theme II: Nightmares
by Ashlyn Donnchaid

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This takes place shortly after Revelation 6:8 and follows my story After Hours. The original idea for the Variations stories came from Juanita Mitchell, which is included here:

"It's a dream/nightmare that Methos has. His mind is trying to deal with all the shock, anger and fear he's beset with due to the events of CaH and maybe Rev (and some events seen only in fanfic). Anyway, his dreaming mind has pulled these things together and confused them, including his pain and anger over Mac's summary judgement of him and memories of his capture, training and use of Cassandra, until those memories metamorphose into Duncan playing Cassandra's role. As the function of dreaming can be wish fulfillment, even in a darker sense of venting anger in this way, Methos' unconscious mind can satisfy and relieve the anger and assuage the pain of current reality, since in his dream which, of course, is set in the Bronze Age, it is Duncan who was taken from his village during a raid and must learn that he now lives to serve Methos. And will stay alive only so long as he pleases this horseman."

He heard it again, the cry that was almost an excruciating sob. That was what had wakened him. Joe rubbed his face and sighed, then sat up in his bed. He glanced at his clock, but didn't really care what time it was, it was dark, it was the middle of the night, and his house guest was having another nightmare. He pulled on his robe, levered himself into his wheelchair and went toward the guest room. He stopped at the open door long enough to see that Methos was awake, then went on to the kitchen. This had become their routine during the days since he'd talked the old immortal into staying with him. The first night, Methos wouldn't talk about the dreams, but when they kept happening, Joe had insisted.

In the kitchen, Joe put a kettle of water on to heat, and while it did, he got out the brandy and a couple of mugs. He knew the other man would be out as soon as he'd composed himself a little. When the water was hot, he poured brandy into the mugs, then added the water. The hot toddy would relax the immortal enough to get back to sleep after they talked out the latest dream. Joe put the mugs on a small tray and wheeled himself into the living room, where he found Methos on the couch, wrapped in a thick robe and shivering slightly. He handed a mug to the man without saying anything. He watched as Methos sipped at the warm drink and waited until the trembling stopped.

"What was it this time?" the Watcher asked.

"The same. Just as jumbled." He paused, gathering his thoughts. "It started out like all the others. We were at camp. I was still working on taming Cassandra. She'd asked about her people. I turned away to point to the rack of skulls that Caspian kept, and when I turned back, it was MacLeod's face asking me if I'd killed all those people." He sipped at the mug again. "Then it changed a little from the other dreams. It wasn't the camp anymore, we were at that church in Bordeaux and he kept asking who I really was. I wouldn't answer him, he got angry and I had to kill him again to teach him respect." He rubbed his eyes with one hand.

"Then we were back at the camp, in my tent. I was teaching Cassandra just how I liked to be sucked off, I had my hands twined in her hair, her mouth was on me and she was doing pretty well. After I came in her mouth, she looked up to ask if she'd done it right, and it wasn't her, it was MacLeod again, looking up at me, hating me. He spat the cum on the ground and I backhanded him across the tent. He got up and grabbed the front of my shirt and slammed me back against the car. We were back here now. He shouted at me that I was a murdering bastard and that we were through. He raised his sword, but then it was Cassandra with the ax. She swung it toward my neck and I screamed." He took a drink of the brandy, holding the mug with both hands. "That's when I woke up. I guess you heard the scream."

"Yeah, I did." Joe sat thoughtfully for several minutes. "You've had that dream or one like it every night since you've been here. You had a bad dream the night you showed up at the bar. How long before that did it start?"

Methos was silent for a moment, as if he was deciding whether to answer the question. Finally, he spoke. "In Bordeaux. The dreams started as soon as that whole mess was over."

"Over but not resolved, I'd say." Joe reached for Methos' empty mug. "This is going to be a long night. I'm going to make some coffee. You go get your journal. We've got to look at all of this."


"Don't try that on me, Methos. Get your journal." He turned his wheelchair and headed for the kitchen. "After I start the coffee, I'll get mine." He missed the startled look Methos threw at his back.

The oldest living immortal sat for another minute, then got up and went into the guest room he was using. When he got there, he sat on the edge of the bed. "You never should have let him talk you into staying here," he said to himself. "You had a perfectly good apartment. If you'd stayed there, you wouldn't be explaining all this now." He got up and started to open the duffel he kept his journal in. "Yeah, and you'd be miserable. No one to talk to. No one to care." He pulled the book out of the bag. "Thank the gods for you, Joe Dawson." He straightened up and sighed, then headed back into the living room. By the time he got there, Joe was just returning from getting his own journal.

"I thought Watchers didn't keep journals." Methos sat down on the couch.

"They don't. But I guess I've never been really good with the rules." Joe opened his book, then turned back a couple of pages. "I'd guess my notes aren't as complete as yours. They were your dreams, after all." He looked at Methos' face, trying to gauge how much the immortal was up to discussing, then decided it had to be done, no matter what. "Why don't you start with the first dreams you had in Bordeaux."

Methos opened his own journal and leafed back through the pages until he got to the entries he was looking for. He looked up at the Watcher, and for a moment the fear of the dreams showed on his face. It was gone as quickly as it came, and he glanced back at the page in front of him.

"The first one wasn't as involved. It was mostly memories of the time that Cassandra was with us. With me. A little skewed. They all start the same. Cassandra asking about her people. I point out the skulls. She strikes out, I kill her to teach her the proper discipline. She finally learns. I teach her how I best like sex and she does it, because she must. This is where it gets a little skewed. Kronos takes her from me. I watch her go, screaming for me to help her. I do nothing. Kronos calls me to follow. I go. He makes me watch what he does to her. I watch her stab him and run away, and I still do nothing. When Kronos revives he takes his anger out on me, makes me finish what she started. Then he kills me to make sure I'll remember the lesson." He pulled his robe tighter around himself as if he were cold. "That's not how it really happened. He never made me go watch. But I did watch her run away, and I did nothing to stop her."

Joe made a few notes in his own journal. "That one didn't wake you up screaming, did it?"

"No. It woke me in a cold sweat." Methos turned the page in his book. "I thought the dream was just a reaction to that last day in Bordeaux. I didn't have any more dreams for a few days, but when they came back, well..." His voice trailed off.

"That's when Mac started getting mixed in, wasn't it?" The immortal nodded. "Better tell me the rest, but let me get the coffee first." He went into the kitchen and came back with an insulated carafe and the bottle of brandy. He filled both their mugs, adding the brandy to the coffee. "Good. You ready to tell me?"

"I suppose so." He sipped the coffee. "The next dream started like all of them, Cassandra, the skulls, but this was the first one that it was MacLeod's face I turned back to see. He took her place in this one. I was teaching him to be ready when we came back from a raid, to have chilled wine to drink and water to wash with. He had to kneel in front of me as I sat on my bed and clean the sweat off me. He wasn't quick enough, so I beat him. He crawled back and tried again, but I was angry and backhanded him again. He drew a sword from somewhere, raised it and swung at my neck. That's the first time I woke up screaming."

Joe didn't say anything, just made a few more notes in his journal. When he was through writing, Methos went on.

"I still figured it was just an odd dream until it happened again the next night." He added more brandy to his coffee. "Same beginning. Cassandra, the skulls, MacLeod's face. This time he spat in my face. I killed him immediately, then staked him out in the sun to revive. He had to know the consequences of rebellion. I left him there most of the day, then dragged him back to my tent, alive but weak from dehydration. I gave him food and water and reminded him that he lived because it suited me. Then it was Cassandra again. She'd learned that it was better to serve me than rebel. She offered me sex. I was pleased, and was enjoying it more than usual. I closed my eyes, but when I opened them I was screwing MacLeod. He had a rag clenched in his teeth to keep from crying out. When I was done, he crawled into his corner and glared his hatred at me. I ignored him and went to sleep. I woke up screaming with the feel of his hands at my throat." He took a long drink of his coffee. "I couldn't sleep after that. I was up the rest of the night."

Joe nodded, and stopped writing. "So not only were there memories, there was sleep deprivation. Not a pleasant combination."

"No, it wasn't. The next night I drank myself to sleep. I didn't dream, but the sleep wasn't any good either."

"Did you dream any time you slept, or was it only at night?"

"Mostly at night, but one afternoon I fell asleep and dreamed that MacLeod was standing there, staring at me, shaking his head in disappointment, holding his sword in the crook of his elbow the way he does. As if he was deciding whether or not to use it."

"Did he?"

"No. That's all I remembered of that one." Methos reached for the carafe and poured himself more coffee, then filled Joe's mug for him. He added brandy to both, then sat back into the couch. "There was one more dream you haven't heard about. The last night before I came back here."

"Was it different from the others?"

"Yes and no. Let me tell you. You decide." Joe nodded. "Like all the others, Cassandra, the skulls, MacLeod's accusing face. Then it was the daily camp routine, she was at the river, washing my clothes. I went to see that she was doing it properly. But when I got there, it was MacLeod. He was at the water's edge, working over the clothing. He had nothing on but a loin cloth. He was beautiful. I wanted him. But more than that, I wanted him to want me. I touched him, ran my hands over his back and chest. He let me do what I wanted, but the look in his eyes never changed. Hatred, revulsion for what I was. I couldn't take it any more. I pulled out my sword and took his head. And woke up screaming."

Joe was quiet for several minutes as he finished making his notes. Then he looked up at Methos. "So. What does it all mean to you?"

"Who says it has to mean anything?"

"Methos, I don't know why you're avoiding it. It's too many dreams almost alike not to mean something." He took a drink of his coffee. "Look. I'm no shrink, but even I can see that your subconscious is trying to tell you something. Or to let you work something out. I'm just trying to help."

The old immortal sighed. "I know, Joe. I guess it's a lot of things that I don't want to think about."

"I can understand that. But do you know any other way to get the nightmares to stop?"

Methos sat for a long time, then answered quietly, "No."

Joe nodded. "So what do you think it's about?"

"You know I've already tried to figure that out. It doesn't matter. No matter how much I think about it, the dreams don't stop."

"Maybe it needs to be talked about. Why don't you tell me what you think it is."

"Sure." Methos picked up the brandy and filled both mugs again, then settled back into the couch. "At first I thought it must be because of Cassandra. All the dreams started with her. But now I'm not sure." He sipped the brandy. "I think it must be something about MacLeod. Even though it starts with Cassandra, it always ends up being him."

"And you end up treating him like he was her. Making him submit." Joe picked up his mug. "What are you trying to punish him for?"

The immortal looked up at him. "You think that's it?"

"Don't you? I think that's at least part of it."

"It is." He stared into the mug in his hands. "He judged what I did, what I was, three thousand years ago without even talking to me. Oh, he came and asked me if he was right. But he'd already made up his mind. And when he said we were through. He might as well have reached in and ripped my heart out. It hurt that much. I thought our friendship deserved better than that."

"So you get back at him in your dreams."

"Yeah." Methos gave him a little smile. "That part of the dream feels good. Punishing him. Making him understand what it means to serve me."

"And the sex? What's that about?"

"That was part of a slave's duties."

"Even the men?" Joe asked quietly.

"No. Not the men. Not usually."

"Except for MacLeod."

Methos stared at his hands. "You know how I've always felt about MacLeod. I'd started to feel like it was time that we could really talk about it. But now ... that could be gone, too. Sometimes I hate him for how he threw away what we had, what we could have had. So I take him by force. It isn't pretty, is it?"

"But that's not what wakes you up screaming."

"No. It's not. It's the swords. But you know that. I scream as the swords come at my neck."

Joe looked up at Methos. "Why the swords at your neck? Do you somehow think you deserve to die?"

"Maybe I do," he said thoughtfully. "Maybe on some level I think MacLeod's right. That what I did can't be forgiven. All I know is I want to live. But my brothers were judged worthy to die. Why should I be held to any different standard?"

"I think you know the answer to that."

"Do I?" He rubbed a hand across his face. "Am I not the man I was then? Can you be sure? Can I be sure?"

Joe smiled gently. "The fact that you can ask that makes me sure. The real question is, what do you need to be sure?"

"You know, I'm not sure I need anything. I knew who I was before Kronos showed up. Seeing him again brought back memories, but I couldn't have gone back to that life. Not really. I do know who I am."

"And all you need is for some of your friends to realize it, too."

"That would be nice. But I may have to learn to live without it. I'm not going to wait for that to go on with my life." Methos took a large swallow of his brandy. "You think all this talk will stop the dreams?"

"I don't know. Only time will tell us that." Joe put his mug on the coffee table and looked out the window at the barely lightening sky. "Damn. We've been up all night." He looked at Methos, who seemed to be relaxed and sleepy. "I don't know about you, but I could use some sleep. I'm going back to bed."

Methos smiled. "Thanks, Joe. You've lost a lot of sleep over this recently."

"No need to thank me. I'm just doing what friends do." He turned and wheeled himself back into his bedroom and eased himself into bed. He was drifting toward sleep as he felt the bed shift. He turned and saw Methos in the bed next to him. "Methos? What..." He wasn't sure what he was going to ask.

"Do you mind, Joe? I don't want to be alone right now."

"No, I don't mind." He reached a hand onto his friend's shoulder. "Make yourself comfortable and get some sleep. You deserve it."

The End
April 1997