by Lisa Hughes
I want to say up front that THIS IS NOT A DEATH STORY!!! But this story did come from a strange place and surprised even me. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just ask that you trust me, and that you remember I am a Methos fan at heart.
This story takes place sometime after the end of the series. The character of Simon is played (at least in my head) by Michael Biehn (Terminator, Magnificent Seven, etc.).
Author's note: I would like to thank Jaime for holding my hand, and Maxine for supplying encouragement and guidance when I needed it most.
"NOOOO!!" It was the anguished cry of a soul in torment, and it was torn from Duncan with such force that it lacerated his throat. He choked back a sob that tasted of blood and looked down at the body in his arms. The head lay nearby, but he could not force himself to look, not yet, afraid of what the face he knew so well might tell him.
Why? Why couldn't he have gotten here sooner? Why didn't they wait for him?
"I tried," he whispered hoarsely. Drawn against their will, his eyes found the face and then he knew. Knew every iota of the terror of the owner's last moments. Duncan felt something break inside him and tears ran unheeded down his face.
"No," he breathed through his tears. "Oh God, no."
It had started out as such a ordinary day. Up at dawn for a run, a long kata on the deck of the barge when he returned, a shower and then errands to run until late morning. And lunch with Methos and Joe at Le Blues Bar. Even the argument had been ordinary.
"I can't understand how you could stand aside while people are suffering and dying around you, and do nothing."
Methos rolled his eyes and took another pull at his beer before responding. "People suffer and die all the time, MacLeod. Just because the world declares war around me, I'm supposed to jump in and choose sides?"
"I've always seen it as a duty. Even when I wasn't in the actual fighting, I served as a medic or in the intelligence service." Duncan waited for Methos to jump in with something similar, but he said nothing. "Don't you feel any responsibility to the people around you? To your country?" He was getting indignant now.
Methos sighed, and leaned forward, elbows on the table between them. "Are you asking if I feel a responsibility to a flag? A piece of fabric?"
"A flag is more than just a piece of fabric..." Duncan began hotly, but Methos waved him off.
"Allegiance to a flag hasn't been enough for me in more than a thousand years," Methos stated flatly. "It's just not worth it."
"You sound awfully sure about that," Joe put in quietly.
Methos looked over at him. "I am." He drank deeply from his beer and then began to speak his eyes never leaving the bottle, his voice low, almost monotone, as if he were merely reciting the facts. As if it had happened to someone else. "It was the year of Our Lord 987. I was living in Europe, in a small kingdom whose name has not been spoken in almost a thousand years. The Holy Roman Empire had cast its eyes on this little kingdom because it was strategically placed close to one of its enemies."
"When war inevitably came, the king called for all able-bodied men to help defend the borders. I decided it was my duty," he spat the word out as if its taste was bitter in his mouth, "to respond to the call. Summer came and it was determined that a certain pass was a likely avenue of attack for the enemy. It was small and isolated, but defendable. They sent us to that pass with orders to hold it at any cost. And hold it we did."
Methos paused for a moment, and then drained the rest of his beer. "One hundred fifty of us went up to that pass. The enemy came at us with more than 3,000. But not one got through. Not one. The battle cost us nearly a third of our company before they tired and went away, but we held. Then things grew quiet. The enemy had stopped coming but we heard nothing from our headquarters. We thought the war must be raging elsewhere but that our pass was still a target. That must have been the reason we had no news. We had too few men to risk sparing a party to go back for instructions. So we waited."
Methos continued to stare at his beer bottle as if he needed that focal point to anchor his emotions. "The winter was... very hard. We lost men to starvation and exposure, but we stayed and held our posts.
"Because it was our duty. When spring came, a trader came up the pass from our side and was surprised to see a garrison there. The war, you see, was over. The peace agreement had been negotiated and signed less than two months after we left home. It seemed we had been... overlooked.
"One hundred fifty men went up that pass, and 103 survived the battle that followed... I brought just sixteen with me back down the mountain." Methos fell silent for a moment. "So you'll excuse me if I don't feel compelled to respond every call to arms that comes down the pipe, MacLeod. It's not worth it."
Joe was quiet, but Duncan remained unconvinced. "Just because one thoughtless commander forgot about you, doesn't mean that all fights are worthless. Sometimes your community demands that you fight for it."
"And sometimes you've gotta have a mind of your own about what you fight for."
"You don't always have a choice. People call you a traitor if you go your own way and they don't understand why."
"Wouldn't want to be a traitor, now would we?"
"No," Duncan replied reasonably, "I wouldn't want people to think I was a traitor, when I wasn't! Where's the honor in that?"
Methos' eyes sparked as they met his own. "Is that what honor means to you? How you are seen in the eyes of your clan?"
"Of course," Duncan responded. "I was raised to believe that I had a responsibility to my clan and that it was in their eyes I would be judged."
"That explains a lot," Joe said, and Methos smirked.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Duncan asked hotly, and then went on without waiting for an answer. "At least I have a sense of honor, unlike some people I could mention."
"I'd like to think that my self-worth was not solely dependent on what other people think." Methos responded caustically.
"That's not what I said! I do what I think is right, not simply what people tell me to do!"
"And if they don't agree with you, if they call you a traitor rather than a hero, what then?" Methos pressed. "If they no longer admire you, trust you, lean on you, how will you feel then?"
Stiffly, Duncan repeated, "I do what I think is right."
Methos nodded. "Sure you do."
"Children, children," Joe said with a chuckle. "Play nice."
"I have places to go." Mac got up to leave, stung by Methos' insinuations.
"Hey, are you coming back tonight?" Joe called after him. "We've got that new group playing."
"We'll see," Mac said stiffly and walked out.
Methos and Joe glanced at each other and rolled their eyes.
Later, Duncan was just finishing up some errands when he finally made up his mind and headed for Joe's. He'd been seething over Methos' little jibes all afternoon and had decided to skip seeing the new group. He just didn't want to deal with Methos tonight. He pulled up outside looking around to be sure Methos' car was gone. He'd just tell Joe and be on his way.
Suddenly he was hit by a powerful wave of surprise that seemed to come from outside himself. As quickly as it came, it ended, and Duncan was slammed back in his seat by an intense pain in his chest. It felt so much like a gunshot that he looked down expecting to see blood. Abruptly, the pain vanished, and there was nothing. No surprise, no pain... no gunshot. Bewildered, he got out of the car and went inside, pausing every step or two to look back over his shoulder at his car and the street.
"Hey, Mac," Joe greeted him, and then he frowned. "Are you okay, buddy?"
"I'm not sure," he said, trying to shake the feeling off. "Something really strange just happened." Duncan explained what had occurred moments before as best he could, and then pinpointed the oddest thing about it. "It was the oddest thing, but the feelings didn't seem to belong to me at all."
Joe looked thoughtful.
"Well, I have a theory, but it's pretty far out there." Joe looked skeptical, not about his idea, but about Mac's ability to accept it.
"Well, do you think it could have been something you got from Methos?"
"How could that be?" Duncan was uncomfortable, because as ridiculous as the question sounded, it also felt right.
"That double-quickening you guys took, there's been some kind of weird bond between you ever since, hasn't there?" Joe waited but Mac said nothing. "Maybe it's gotten stronger and what you felt was from him."
Duncan just stood there, uneasily considering the possibility. The circumstances surrounding the double-quickening had made him unwilling to examine it in depth. The little inklings and odd sensations he'd gotten since that time he'd dismissed as imagination. But now...
"Look, there's an easy way to check it out. Call Methos."
Reluctantly Duncan dialed Methos' number and listened while it rang and rang, his tension mounting with each passing second. When Methos' voice mail announcement began, he hung up. "No answer."
"Hang on, I'll get my coat and we can go over there."
"No, I'll go." At Joe's confused look, he said hesitantly, "I really think I should hurry."
Joe nodded. "Go. I'll follow."
Duncan raced through the streets of Paris toward Methos' place, feeling more and more sure that he was already much too late. If Joe was right, the pain cutting out like that could only mean Methos was dead. And while he couldn't really die from a gunshot, he was certainly vulnerable in that state.
He leapt out of the car when he arrived outside the apartment building, and took the stairs two at a time. Methos' door was standing open. Part of the doorjamb had been torn away when the door was forced -- probably kicked -- open. There were very few signs of a struggle, just one over-turned chair at the computer.
Methos had probably been sitting in the chair, Mac thought, reconstructing events from the scene he saw before him. He must have jumped to his feet when the door crashed open, tipping the chair over backwards. There was a small amount of blood on the floor nearby, so they had probably shot him at once hitting the heart and killing him instantly. It didn't appear that anything else had been touched.
Duncan searched the apartment for Methos' sword, but came up empty. The implications of the scene loomed large in his mind: whoever had taken Methos knew exactly what he was and how to kill him. The list of people who could have done this narrowed considerably.
The phone rang. He hesitated only a moment before picking it up.
"Mr. MacLeod. Good to hear your voice again." The voice was cultured and had a faint British accent. "Of course, you may not remember me."
"Not well enough to recognize your voice," Duncan responded, and then narrowed his eyes. "And just how are Horton's buddies faring without him?"
"Oh bravo, Mr. MacLeod. Good guess. I suppose we can dispense with the pleasantries. You have information we might be willing to trade for your friend's life." The voice grew harder. Colder. "Follow my instructions to the letter, or he dies. Do you understand?"
Joe walked in the door at that moment, his face a question. Duncan held up one hand to indicate silence.
"Yes," he said into the phone.
The voice rattled off an address, and Mac scribbled it onto a pad. "Come alone. Tell no one, especially Dawson, or he dies as well. You have 20 minutes." There was a click and then a dial tone.
Duncan hung up the phone, ripped the sheet with the address off the pad, and shoved it into a pocket.
"Who was that?"
Mac looked at Joe, caught off guard. He said the first thing that came into his head. "It was Methos. Someone grabbed him but he got away. I'm going to go pick him up."
"I'll come with you."
"No, you stay here. It shouldn't take long." Mac left before he had to lie anymore.
Joe stood in the empty apartment staring at the blood on the floor. Finally, he said, "Yeah, right," picked up the pad and began rummaging around for a pencil.
Pain lanced through Duncan's body and then was gone, lightning flashed and windows blew out as MacLeod's car skidded to a stop on the wet pavement in front of the abandoned warehouse. Duncan leapt out of the car, sword in hand and stared up as lights flickered once more and died away with a final crash.
"No," he breathed. He stood there heedless of the rain pouring down onto him, his heart suddenly a lump of ice in his chest. He was too late. And he was too far away even to preserve his essence within himself. Not even that. Fury swept through him and he raced into the warehouse like an avenging angel, sword held high.
But they had already fled, the ones who had done this, the place was silent except for the sound of water dripping. Duncan faltered when he saw that he was alone, and he squinted in the dim light at the body. It was tied to a chair, and he could see the shape of a head nearby on the ground. Hoping against hope that somehow he was wrong, he moved slowly closer. And then he saw it... the Ivanhoe, lying on the floor, the blade covered in blood. It was him then. Methos.
Duncan's legs failed him and he dropped to his knees, his sword clattering to the ground. A pressure began building in his chest but he clenched his fists and his teeth in an effort to keep it from escaping.
He forced himself to his feet, paused to pick up his sword, and moved to the body in the chair. He walked around behind the chair, used his sword to slice through the ropes binding the body to the chair, and flung them violently into the darkness. He caught the body as it tipped forward out of the chair, and eased it to the ground. The pressure continued to build in his chest until he could no longer contain it.
Mac sat on the floor not far from the body of his friend. The concrete floor beneath him was cold and damp and water dripped all around him from holes in the roof, but he paid it no heed. Gone. Gone forever and there was nothing anyone could do. Why? Why in God's name had they done it?
The sound of the rain outside seemed to echo the tears that flowed unnoticed down his face as he thought of all the beers they'd never share, the arguments they'd never have. All the up and down, give and take, push and shove that had been their friendship... gone in an instant. Taken by spiteful mortals.
He stretched out a hand and lightly touched the pommel of the Ivanhoe with one finger. The metal so cold the intricate design seemed to burn his flesh. Fresh tears. If only...
"If only... what?" The voice coming from the shadows was soft, curious, and all the sounds around him faded to nothing.
"If only there was some way I could bring him back," Duncan responded without looking up. Then something inside him registered the fact that he was not alone. In one swift movement he was on his feet, sword in hand, facing the shadowy figure leaning against the wall. "Come into the light," he ordered.
He heard a soft chuckle and had the impression of a head shaking in quiet amusement. Then the figure pushed away from the wall and came forward. The man was lean and a little shorter than himself, with light brown hair and piercing eyes set in a lean face that showed only mild curiosity. He was dressed in a suit of charcoal grey, with a shirt and tie the exact same shade, and over it all was a lighter smoke grey great coat. His hands were inside his pants' pockets and he moved with a casual disregard for Duncan's sword.
Duncan turned to keep his sword facing him as the man slowly circled around him. A thought leapt unbidden into his mind. 'Not human.'
The man met his eyes briefly and one corner of his mouth quirked up, as if he'd heard the thought. Then he moved a few steps away to examine with wide-eyed curiosity a drop of water that hung suspended in the air at eye level.
Duncan's mind shied away from the implications of that sight, and he found his voice. "Who are you?"
The man turned to face him. "You may call me Simon."
Duncan nodded and thought, 'Okay, but what are you?'
Simon smiled briefly and for one instant his face was lit by a mirth so blinding Duncan found it echoed on his own face. Then it was gone. "I am an angel," he said simply.
"Yes, an angel. Let's not waste time with denials and disbelief, shall we? Listen to your heart for a moment, you believe it already."
And it was the simple truth. Somehow Duncan did know. Although the guy didn't look much like an angel.
Simon's mouth quirked again. "Be that as it may."
Duncan forcibly pushed aside the fact that this Simon seemed to be reading his thoughts, as well as his growing certainty that they had somehow slipped out of time. It wasn't in him to just accept. "So if you're an angel, where is the music and the unearthly light and the feeling of comfort and peace?" he demanded sarcastically.
"I'm not that kind of angel," Simon replied and he seemed to be suppressing secret amusement over some private joke. Simon walked over to him and briefly touched his hair. Duncan flinched back from the touch. "I liked it better long," he said, and moved away.
"Well, if you're not here to comfort me, why are you here?"
"Yes. I was wondering why you're so upset."
"Why I'm..." Duncan's voice trailed off and then surged back as outrage overtook him. "You were wondering why I was upset?! My friend was just murdered, you insensitive..." Duncan failed to find an appropriate epithet.
Simon was unmoved by his anger. "Friend? Not two hours ago you wanted nothing more than to never see him again. You were all set to lie to that other one..." Simon gestured vaguely with one hand, "Joe, telling him something had come up so you wouldn't have to see this one again. Doesn't sound much like a friend to me."
"I was just... angry at him," Duncan said slowly. "That happens all the time. It never lasts long."
Simon walked over to Methos' body. "Looks like this time it's going to last forever." He nudged one leg with a cautious toe, and then met Duncan's eyes again. "He's dead," he said matter-of-factly.
A fresh wave of pain washed over Duncan and he fought the urge to scream at the creature's unfeeling words. When he had himself under control, he said, "I would give anything for him to be alive again." He looked down at the body and a tear escaped an eye and fell to the floor.
"Anything?" Simon asked quietly.
Duncan looked up and saw a strange kind of eager curiosity in Simon's face. "Anything," he affirmed sincerely.
"Like what, for example?"
"My life," Duncan replied, a sliver of unreasoning hope creeping into his heart.
Simon gave him a look of disappointment and mild disgust. "Your life? Why would I want that? It's too easy." Simon turned away, shaking his head. "His life," he said to himself.
"What then?" Duncan pushed. "What can I offer besides my life?"
Simon turned and eyed him speculatively. "Everything." Seeing Duncan's confusion he went on. "What you have to offer is everything: your friends, their respect and affection, everything you value about your life."
Duncan's mind raced. His life might be empty, but Methos would be alive. And he wanted him to live. He hesitated a moment longer, and then nodded.
Simon took a step toward him. "Be sure you understand the bargain you're making. You can never tell anyone what you've done or the deal is off and he dies. No one will ever know what you've done for your friend, your sacrifice will go unnoted, unlauded. No one will know how noble you've been. Just you, alone in the dark."
Duncan waved his words aside. "I understand. Anything. Please, I want him to live."
Simon studied his face, and then shrugged. There was a blinding flash of light and through it Duncan heard his soft, "So be it."
Suddenly Mac found himself inside his car as it skidded to a halt outside the abandoned warehouse. This time, however, there was no lightning, no windows breaking. No quickening... at least, not yet. Duncan grabbed his sword, leapt out of the car, and splashed through the rain thinking that maybe, just maybe, this time he wasn't too late. He flung open the door to see the same dimly lit room, except this time Methos was staring back at him. Alive.
Mac looked carefully to either side of the door. "Are they gone?"
Methos nodded, his eyes fixed on Mac's face.
Mac looked back over his shoulder, scanning the area outside. "How long?"
"They got a phone call about five minutes ago, and they took off."
Satisfied they were indeed alone, Mac started across the room to Methos.
"They told me you hired them," Methos said, his eyes studying Mac's face.
Mac smirked. "Did they?" He was almost to him now. "And did you believe them?" He was so happy to see him alive he was having difficulty tracking the conversation. Not trusting this incarnation, expecting a trick.
"Of course not," Methos replied blandly, his face unreadable.
Mac moved behind him, still scanning the shadows. He raised his sword up over his shoulder, preparing to slice through Methos' bonds.
At that moment, the door slammed open and Mac froze, sword held high.
"What's going on here?" The puzzled voice belonged to Joe, who began slowly walking toward them.
"How did you find this place?" Mac asked as he carefully lowered the sword and cut through the ropes securing Methos.
"I am a trained Watcher," Joe said scornfully. "The impressions you left on the pad were almost clear enough to read without using a pencil to highlight them. What's going on here?"
"Apparently there are still a few of Horton's buddies around. That call I got was from one of them saying he had Methos and to come here. He told me that if I told anyone, especially you, they'd kill him and you too." Mac looked around at the shadows again. "Let's get out of here, huh?"
"Hang on a minute now," Joe said. "They might have left something here that'd tell us where they went. Let's at least take a quick look around."
Mac reluctantly agreed and they each began searching.
"Did they have tattoos?" Joe asked Methos.
"Not that I noticed, but then I was busy getting shot most of the time," Methos responded dryly. "They definitely knew how to keep me quiet." Methos glanced over his shoulder to find Mac looking at him.
"I didn't send them, Methos," Mac told him, beginning to feel the first tendrils of alarm seep through him.
"Of course you didn't," Methos said quickly. Then, seeing Joe's confusion, explained what the kidnappers had told him.
"Sneaky bastards." Joe stopped, picked up a crumpled piece of paper and smoothed it out. "I think I found something," he said scanning the contents. And then he paled, staring fixedly at the top of the page.
Methos walked over to him and he mutely handed it to him. He also reacted with shock. Mac felt an icy fist forming in the pit of his stomach as he approached them. Taking the paper from them, he saw that it was a printed email that held both Methos' address and the address of this warehouse. What had shocked his companions, however, was the sender: Duncan MacLeod.
"Care to explain this?" Joe demanded.
"I can't," Duncan said weakly. "The only thing I can tell you is that I did not set Methos up."
Riding home in Joe's car -- Joe had suspiciously insisted upon driving Methos home -- Methos sorted through the confusing bits of information. The kidnappers had told him that MacLeod was the one who had set him up, but he felt no particular compulsion to believe them. Criminals often lie, sad but true. A ghost of a smile crossed his face. The email, damning though it might appear, could have been faked any one of at least five different ways.
A small uninvolved part of his mind realized that he was avoiding dealing with his own traumas of the last few hours, distracting himself with a puzzle. I'll deal with my emotional state later, thank you, he told that part of his mind firmly.
"Something strange happened earlier," Joe commented.
Methos looked at him. "Really?" he asked dryly.
Joe shot him a 'very funny' look. "I mean earlier than that. When Mac came to the bar, he said he felt a wave of surprise and then pain that he couldn't account for."
"Oh?" Methos asked, his voice carefully neutral.
"I thought it night have been something he'd gotten from you through that weird bond you guys have had since that double quickening."
"What did Mac say?"
"He scoffed at me, of course," Joe replied. "The odd thing is that he felt that at what must have been about the time the kidnappers nabbed you at your apartment."
"Hmm? What the hell does that mean?"
"It means 'hmm'," Methos replied with a glance at Joe.
"Smart ass." Joe gave him a disgusted look and then lapsed back into silence.
It seemed that whatever link the double quickening had forged between MacLeod and himself was growing stronger. Strong enough that even Mac had noticed. A flicker of a smile crossed his face and was gone.
Mac had been stricken when they'd found that email message. Surprised. Of course, that could just have been surprise that his cohorts had been so careless... but he didn't think so.
"Maybe he didn't feel anything at all. Maybe it was just a cover for what he knew his buddies were doing," Joe suggested, his face falling into suspicious lines.
"I seriously doubt he's behind this, Joe," Methos responded.
"What makes you say that?"
"For one thing, the timing just doesn't make sense. There was no reason for him to come after me."
Joe looked skeptical. "I don't know, he was pretty pissed at lunch."
"Oh come on, you know he's been LOTS more pissed at me that that, and he's never come after me. And this isn't his style at all. He would call me out, swords at dawn and all that. This just makes no sense." Methos was puzzled.
"What if he's gone off the beam again, like that thing with the demon or the dark quickening?"
"This is all too calculated for that," Methos denied. "Whenever he's gone off the beam, as you put it, he's been truly erratic."
"Well, then maybe it's nothing we've seen before. All I'm saying is that this wouldn't be the first time he's done something that doesn't make sense. And that email..."
"Could have been faked," Methos interrupted. "And think about it, wouldn't framing Mac be just like Horton's buddies?"
"Why wouldn't they just kill you?" Joe demanded.
"I have no idea, but I can't say it disappoints me," Methos responded dryly.
"I'll check out all of Horton's buddies, at least the ones we know about, and see what they've been up to," Joe said reluctantly as they pulled up in front of Methos' building.
"Now that is a good idea," Methos agreed getting out of the car, and then ducked his head back in the open door to look at Joe. "I'll call Amanda." At Joe's curious look, he added, "She has a right to know, and I should warn her of possible Hunter trouble if nothing else."
"You're not as sure Mac didn't do this as you pretend," Joe stated thoughtfully.
"Maybe not, but I'd like to be," Methos replied softly, and shut the door. He thumped the top of the car twice in farewell and tiredly made his way up to his apartment.
Duncan was just returning from a late morning run the next day, when he saw Amanda pulling up in her car. He was glad to see her even as he braced himself to tell her what had happened.
"Methos told me what happened," she said without preamble.
"Oh?" he asked, wondering just what Methos had said.
She smiled at him sympathetically and continued to walk toward him. "He told me how Horton's buddies left a paper trail to frame you."
"Oh, he said with relief. Generous of Methos.
Amanda hugged him and he found himself savoring the feeling. When she pulled back she smiled up at him and wrinkled her nose. "Phew. You could use a shower, m'darling."
Duncan laughed. "Your wish is my command, m'lady," and sketched her a bow. They made their way into the barge together.
"Your message light is blinking," Amanda said, pointing to his answering machine.
Duncan was already at the bathroom door. "It'll keep until after my shower."
He stripped and stood under the hot water. He found himself thinking about how good it felt to have Amanda immediately believe in him instead of the evidence. Leading with her heart, same as always. Her faith in him wrapped around him like a blanket and he stood there with his eyes closed, letting the water sluice down over him, grateful for her as never before.
As he was finishing up, Duncan suddenly felt Amanda's presence retreating. He shut off the water and called her name, but there was no answer. He dried quickly, wrapped himself in a towel, and hurried into the main room of the barge. By the time he got to the portholes, Amanda's car was gone. Puzzled, he looked around for a note.
That was when he noticed that his message light was no longer blinking.
With a sinking feeling, he rewound the tape and pushed the button to play it back.
"Mr. MacLeod. We left him tied up in the warehouse, just like you asked. Our bank has confirmed the transfer of the first half of the money, and we are now waiting for the other $50,000. As agreed, we'll expect it before noon today."
Duncan turned and saw that his computer was up. Moving closer, he saw that two programs were running. One was his email program, where he saw that Amanda had opened his "sent items" folder. There at the top was the message Joe had found at the warehouse. The other program was his financial system. On it he could see that a transfer of $50,000 had been made the previous day about an hour after the argument at the bar.
Duncan dressed quickly.
As he pulled up in front of the bar, he wondered briefly what it was he hoped to accomplish. Looking through the windows, he could see Joe and Methos sitting at a table, and Amanda standing nearby, her face set in furious lines. Duncan braced himself and walked through the door.
"You!" Amanda exclaimed when she saw him, and started toward him.
Methos' hand flashed out to grab her arm as she passed him. She looked down at him angrily. "Let's hear what he has to say, shall we?" he said mildly. "Sit down." The tone was entreaty rather than command. She hesitated a moment and then sat, folding her arms stiffly across her chest.
"So," Joe began, "how do you explain that email?"
"I didn't send that message," Duncan said.
"Then how did it get onto your computer?"
"I don't know. Maybe someone broke in."
"And the money?" Joe asked.
"I didn't pay anyone any money."
"Then explain the record I saw," Amanda returned.
"I can't. It could have been the same person who planted the email message."
"Then why would they call you?" Joe demanded.
"For the same reason, to cast suspicion." Duncan looked at Methos for assistance, but hr older immortal's face was a study in neutrality. "Look, let me call the bank," Duncan said finally. "They'll tell you I haven't transferred any money anywhere." He reached for the phone.
Amanda snatched it from him. "I'll dial, if you don't mind." She opened the phone book, dialed, and put it on the speaker. "Talk," she said flatly.
Duncan spoke to the bank, giving them his account number and verifying his identity. Then he asked if they had a record of a transfer yesterday. He waited expectantly for the response, confident that he would be vindicated.
"Yes. Our records show a transfer of $50,000 yesterday."
"Of course, Mr. MacLeod. We also show a transfer for the same amount 15 minutes ago. Rest assured, we have taken care of things exactly as you requested when you called us yesterday. Will there be anything else, Mr. MacLeod?"
"No," Duncan said quietly, and disconnected. He looked around at the others. Amanda's barely controlled fury and Joe's disgust cut him like a knife. Methos merely looked puzzled.
"I didn't... I wouldn't..." Duncan tried lamely. Who would... And then it dawned on him. "It must have been..." he began excitedly, and then froze as he spotted Simon behind the others.
He was seated at the bar, his eyes locked on Duncan's own, his arm paused in the act of raising his glass to his lips. One finger lifted and slowly shook back and forth in an admonitory gesture.
"It must have been who?" Amanda demanded.
He stared at her for a moment, his mouth working, and then said defeatedly, "Nobody." His eyes drifted back to the bar, but Simon was gone. Now he knew what Simon had meant, and who had set him up. And that there was nothing he could do. He saw Methos turn curiously and look over at the place he was staring at.
Amanda and Joe appeared to be gathering themselves, and the tension in the room jumped sharply. Methos abruptly rose and went to Duncan, interposing himself between Mac and the others.
"Time to go," Methos told him quietly.
"You can't believe..." Duncan began, and stopped. What could he say?
"No, I don't," Methos assured him, "but they do. It's time for you to leave, Mac."
Duncan took a last look at Joe and Amanda, and nodded reluctantly. He turned and left.
Methos watched Mac drive away, and then turned back to face Joe and Amanda. They were both turning their accusatory eyes in his direction.
"Why did you just let him go?" Amanda demanded.
"He set you up, this means nothing to you?" Joe was equally baffled.
"Oh no, I'm not gonna be the next one on the menu," Methos stopped them both cold. "Take your inquisition elsewhere."
But..." Amanda began.
When Methos shot her a look, she swallowed the rest of it and sat down. "Let's just say I'm not completely convinced of his guilt. This is all just a little too convenient for my taste."
"How much more proof do you need?" Joe was exasperated.
"Find me the guys who nabbed me. Then we'll know, one way or the other. Either they're Hunters and they're setting Mac up, or they're not and he's guilty."
"But if they really were Hunters, why would they leave you alive?" Joe asked suspiciously.
"How should I know? Find them, I'll ask."
Methos studied Amanda's face. She was still very angry. He hunkered down beside her chair.
"Wait until we find them," he said quietly. "Wait until we know for sure."
Amanda just glared at him.
Methos said his good-byes and headed for his car. He was puzzled. If this was a frame-up, it was a good one. The evidence was mounting quickly. But still, he had felt Duncan's shock when the bank confirmed the transfer. That kind of thing couldn't be faked. He shook his head. Probably. He wasn't familiar enough with it to be absolutely sure. And who on earth had MacLeod been looking at over by the bar? When he'd looked, there hadn't been anyone there. Something to ponder...
That evening Joe showed up at Methos' apartment. He was still obviously upset by the situation. Methos gave him a drink and settled in to let Joe talk himself through it.
"He's the most honorable man I've ever met... so how could he? Why would he turn on you?"
Methos said nothing.
"I thought all that business was over with," Joe said flatly.
Methos knew he was referring to the trouble between them after the incident with the other Horsemen. "It is over. We talked it through. And anyway, I'm still not convinced that he's..."
"Amanda's really upset," Joe interrupted.
"Yeah, I talked to her before I came over. She sounded about ready to hit the roof."
Methos nodded, thinking that he'd have to have a talk with her again. Make sure she didn't do anything rash.
"I asked if she wanted to come over here with me, but she said she had plans. Must be some fancy gig, too, 'cause I heard her asking Lucy to pull out her 'A-clothes.' Wonder where she's going?"
Methos was up out of his chair and to the door before he'd finished the sentence. 'A-clothes' was Amanda's code with Lucy for her fighting clothes. He turned as he donned his coat. "Stay here," he said to Joe. As the door swung shut behind him, he heard Joe shout, "I'm getting really tired of getting ditched here!"
Methos made it to the barge in record time. As he got out of his car, through the darkness he could see Amanda and MacLeod facing each other on the forward deck, swords out. Their voices carried on the crisp night air.
"Amanda, you've got to believe me..."
"Oh? And why is that?"
"Because I would never do something like that to him. Ask him. He believes me."
"That's just his wishful thinking talking. The evidence says different. And I'm not gonna give you time to get under his guard." She lunged at him, but suddenly Methos was standing between them, his empty hands held out to his sides.
"I can't let you do this," he told her.
"Get out of my way, Methos," she snarled back. "You can't interfere."
Methos turned to face Mac, his unprotected back toward Amanda. "Leave," he said shortly.
Amanda lunged forward again, trying to get around him, but Methos sensed her movement. His elbow connected solidly with her face, and she was down. He looked down at her unconscious form on the deck, and winced a little. She was going to be plenty pissed when she woke up.
Then he turned back to Mac. "You need to leave town," he said quietly. Seeing his hesitation, he added, "Just until things cool off."
Duncan searched his face. "If I leave they'll think I'm guilty."
"They already think that, Mac," Methos responded ruefully.
Amanda stirred at his feet. Methos pulled a silenced pistol from his pocket and coolly shot her in the chest. He looked back at Mac, who seemed to be stifling a grin.
"What are you, a walking arsenal?"
Methos smiled a little. "I like to be prepared."
"And you call me a boyscout." They laughed, both enjoying the momentary respite. But the moment passed all too quickly.
"I don't want to go," Duncan admitted.
"You have to," Methos insisted. "I can't keep the others under control if you're still here."
"Come with me," Mac said, almost wistfully, as if he already knew what the answer had to be.
"You know I can't," Methos responded quietly. "They would just think you killed me and ran."
Duncan nodded, and was silent a moment, looking at the deck. Finally he raised his eyes back to Methos' face. "How come you still trust me?"
Methos smiled. "Because you have been so much madder at me than you were yesterday and you've never come after me before." They both chuckled, and then Methos went on seriously. "And because I know that there is something you're dying to tell me, but you can't, or won't, do it."
Duncan searched his face again, hesitating. "It's getting stronger," he said finally.
"I've noticed," Methos responded.
Amanda gasped as she returned to life, and Methos calmly shot her again. She collapsed back to the deck.
"Go," Methos pressed. "Take a vacation. Just grab some things and go. I'll get in touch by email when I know something." When Duncan still didn't move, he added, "There's a limit to how long I want to stand out here shooting Her Bratness to keep her quiet."
Mac finally went inside. He was back with a bag in under five minutes. He stood on the gangway a moment, his eyes locked with Methos'. Then Amanda stirred again, breaking the spell. Methos shot her and turned back to Mac.
After Duncan's car pulled away, Methos stood looking down at Amanda's body. He briefly considered dumping her body in the river, or just leaving her there on the deck to wake up alone. He reluctantly concluded that he had to wait there with her. It was unlikely in the extreme that some hunting immortal would come upon her by chance while she was vulnerable, but still, the chance was there. He sat down.
A few minutes later Amanda gasped and then got painfully to her feet. She retrieved her sword, and in an unexpectedly quick movement, touched it to Methos' throat.
"Where is he?"
"Gone," Methos answered carefully.
"I don't know." He eased his neck away from where an edge bit into the skin.
"Why did you let him go?" She pressed her blade more firmly against his neck.
"To give you time to calm down, for one thing." Methos touched a finger to the flat of the sword and pushed it away. "Do you mind?"
"What makes you think I won't kill you for interfering?" Amanda said angrily.
"It might have something to do with the fact that you came here to keep him from killing me."
"And you interfered!" she shouted.
"I kept you from killing a man you've known and loved for 300 years. And him from having to kill you. I believe the words you're looking for are, 'Thank you, Methos'," he finished with an air of injury.
Amanda just glared at him in frustration. Finally she stalked off without another word or a backward glance.
Methos smiled fondly after her. "Love you too, brat," he murmured as he watched her car drive away, tires squealing.
Two days later and half a world away, Duncan was walking on a beach in Kauai. He stared at the ground as he idly put one in front of the other. Not paying attention to where he was going, not noticing the beauty around him.
"Brooding, I see." Simon's half-amused voice cut through his reverie.
Duncan looked up and saw Simon walking barefoot beside him in the margin of wave and sand. His slacks were rolled up, his tie loosened, and his jacket was casually thrown over one shoulder.
"How do you like your choice so far?" Simon asked conversationally.
"I can't say I like it much at all, but I'm determined to continue," Duncan responded.
"Because a world without Methos in it doesn't bear thinking about."
"Even though you aren't with him?"
Mac stuck out his chin. "Even so."
"Well, I suppose that's to be expected. This probably isn't all that difficult for you." At Duncan's puzzled look, he went on. "It's not like you've never lived without your friends before. I mean, how many times have you started over in your life? Alone in a new place, completely out of touch with your friends."
"This is different."
"Living without them is one thing," Mac said slowly, puzzling out the difference for himself even as he explained it to Simon. "Knowing that they're busy hating me wherever they are... that's something else."
"Even if you know you'll never see them again, it still matters what they think of you?" Simon questioned.
"Of course it does," Mac said indignantly. "They're my friends."
"Ahh." Simon seemed to understand. "You want to be redeemed."
"Of course I do."
"And yet you're here. Why?"
Mac was quiet a long time. "I want him to live," he said simply.
Simon smirked at him. "Hmm..."
A fresh surge of irritation swept through Duncan.
"Why are you here, Simon?" he asked angrily.
"Curiosity." And he was gone again, leaving Duncan alone on the beach. "Angels," he muttered.
A week later Methos, Joe, and Amanda were gathered in the back room at Joe's bar to compare notes. This was the first time Methos had seen Amanda since that night on the barge. He'd studiously avoided her, wanting to give her time to cool off. From the look on her face when she walked in, however, it hadn't been long enough.
Amanda stomped right up to him. "I'm still not happy with you," she stated flatly. With that she turned and sat down, refusing to look at him.
"You're still mad at me for shooting you?" Methos asked, deciding to draw her out.
"No," she shot back. "For stopping me from doing what so clearly needed doing."
"You were angry and a little bit scared, brat, and you know you always go too far when you feel that way," Methos soothed. "I did you a favor."
"I was just..." she began, softening a little.
"...trying to leap to my defense," he finished for her. "But I don't need you to protect me from Mac."
"What?!" exclaimed Amanda and Joe in unison.
"He didn't do it," Methos stated simply.
"And what do you base that on?" Joe demanded.
"He told me he didn't do it."
"And you believe him?" Joe was incredulous, and Amanda was too stunned to speak. "With everything we've found pointing to him? The email, the records, the bank?"
"Yes, I do."
Joe looked disgusted.
Amanda muttered something, and the only word Methos caught was "naïve."
"Naïve," he repeated dryly. "Me? Really?" The other two found themselves trying not to smile.
"Let's just find those guys, huh? Where are we on the records search?"
"Halfway through the 'Ds'," Joe responded, turning on his computer. "This is gonna take weeks." They began the laborious task of going through the assignment notations and cross-referencing them with those of Horton's known associates.
"Where did he go?" Amanda asked quietly. Most of her ire at Methos had apparently worn off.
"I didn't ask," he responded.
Night had fallen over the Pacific. Mac had found no solace, no sense of peace in the darkening sky, or the brightening stars. Still he sat, staring out over the ocean. Black water and black sand below, velvet black sky above, his disconnected feeling grew. It seemed that he was all alone in the universe, hanging in space. Just him. All alone in the night. Despair rose in his throat threatening to choke him, and his eyes ached with the effort to hold in his tears check. He closed his eyes.
When he opened them, Simon was sitting there next to him, arms resting casually on his bent knees, bare feet dug into the sand. Simon turned and looked at him for a moment, his expression neutral, and then returned his gaze to the water.
How long they sat there in the warm, dark silence, Mac never actually knew, but Simon's presence seemed to lift the despair from his heart. The loneliness was still there, but it no longer threatened to overwhelm him.
Duncan wanted to ask Simon why he was there, but was reluctant to break the mood, not feeling quite up to withstanding Simon's penetrating questions at the moment. The moon rose and its light danced across the water. It was poignantly beautiful and Duncan wished he could share it with his friends. He wondered how they were and turned to ask Simon, but he was gone.
"Thanks," he muttered aloud, grousing at this oblique reminder that he would have to live without them. He looked back out over the ocean and smiled at the way the moonlight played across the waves. Realizing how much his mood had lifted, he whispered a more sincere, "Thank you," into the night.
He seemed to hear Simon's mocking laughter and he grimaced to himself. Angels, he thought disgustedly, never give a guy a break.
The bar was finally quiet, it was after 3 am, and Methos and Joe were still hard at work going through the files.
"Wait a minute, go back."
"Yeah, that was one of them."
Joe keyed for more information. "No, it couldn't have been him. This guy's dead."
Methos peered at the picture more closely. "That is one of them, I'm sure of it."
"That would mean the records are wrong." Joe was skeptical.
"They have been known to make a mistake now and then," Methos commented dryly.
Joe was going through the assignment records. "Well, a few of the assignments match up. He could have been one of Horton's cohorts."
"Could be, you mean. It's entirely possible that a few Hunters escaped your notice and that someone altered the records to stop you looking for them."
Joe admitted that was a possibility. They resumed their search. They began to find more and more of the kidnapping team. Unfortunately, things became more rather than less confusing. Every one of them was listed as dead.
"This must be a bigger problem than I thought, if someone was able to hide this many people from us," Joe said as they scrolled through the pictures.
"Him," Methos said. "That's the last one."
"It can't be him, he's dead."
Methos raised an eyebrow. "So were all the others."
"No, I mean he's really dead. I shot him myself. He was with Horton when he came after Mac the last time."
"Any possibility he could have recovered?"
"None," Joe said emphatically, grimacing at the memory.
"Well, there's only one problem, then... He was with them. He was the one who shot me at my place."
Joe looked thoughtful. "No chance you're mistaken?"
"I'm not likely to forget someone who shot me," Methos said wryly.
They were both silent a moment. "What the hell is going on?" Joe was baffled.
"Let's try and find some documentation, death certificates, police reports, something that will tell us whether these guys are really dead." Methos was just as confused as Joe, but more determined than ever to get to the bottom of things. "I could be wrong about one of them. Maybe even two. But not all of them."
Duncan sat in an armchair in his hotel room, facing away from the open window and the beautiful view that beckoned. He felt he was closing in on something important and wanted no distractions.
Sacrifice. This was not a foreign concept to him. And yet... this time it was different. Always before when he'd made some kind of noble sacrifice, that's what it'd been. Noble. But this time it was for a noble cause too. Except...
This time he didn't have his friends to back him up. Not only did they not see it as noble, they didn't know anything about it. And that... was hard. As much as he'd always tried to stay true to his ideals, the fact that his friends thought him a good and noble man was a big part of it. It mattered to him what they thought.
"So what have you sacrificed, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?" Simon's voice was gentle, with only the barest trace of irony tucked in around the edges.
"The clan I made for myself," Duncan responded tiredly. "Their approval, and their love."
"And that warm feeling around your backside that told you they loved and approved of all that you did."
Duncan nodded. "That feeling went with me wherever I went. Helped me through the hard times."
"Now I'm alone."
"And is it still worth it?"
He thought about it for a long time. In the end, it all came down to one thing: a world without Methos in it was an empty one indeed. "Yes," he said simply.
"Hmm. I never would have thought you'd give that up," Simon mused. "What will you do now?"
"Move, I suppose. Living in the same city with them would just hurt too much."
"Well then, you have much to do, so I'll leave you to it." And Simon was gone.
Duncan dragged himself out of the chair, went to the phone and dialed. He looked out over the water as he waited for the desk to pick up. It was so beautiful here.
Amanda and Methos were sitting in Joe's backroom again, busily hacking into police files. They had proved unusually difficult and had required their combined talents to breach.
Joe was out front waiting for a delivery from some Watcher buddies.
"Here," Amanda said finally. "This is the police report for the death of Jean-Pierre Picot. 'Death due to gunshot... Referred to Homicide... Unsolved... Death certificate attached.' Looks like somebody got the investigation quashed, because there are no follow up reports."
"Watchers," Methos commented. "They're everywhere. And the others?"
Amanda scrolled through the other reports rapidly. "The same. All unsolved and the investigations went nowhere. This is a dead end: documentation, but no proof."
Joe came into the backroom carrying a thick manila envelope. "I may have what you're looking for. Crime scene photos."
Together they spread the photos out on the table. The pictures made a rather gruesome collection.
"Well," Methos said when they were through organizing them, "the corpses match the file photos. They all look fairly dead."
"But you're not convinced," Joe put in.
"Pictures can be faked," he said. "But even if I were convinced, the question remains: how did a bunch of guys who've all been dead at least four years kidnap me?"
"You could be wrong," Joe responded.
"Or you could be lying," Amanda said snidely. "You lie as easily as you breathe."
"Thank you," Methos replied with a mocking little bow. "That's quite a compliment coming from you. But why on earth would I?"
"You're protecting Mac."
Methos gave them a little smile. "You know I value my own neck far too much to cover up a murder attempt on myself."
"So, what are we left with?" Joe asked.
"Either these deaths were an elaborate fraud, or there's something else going on," Methos replied slowly, something niggling at the back of his mind.
"Like what?" Amanda asked, confused and irritated.
"I'm not sure," he responded. Abruptly, he rose. "Try and get into the bank records and see if that transaction is actually there. I need to check something out at my place. I'll talk to you later." He left, grabbing his coat as he strode to rapidly from the room. Something felt familiar to him about this. Not the details... but the flavor. He was deep in concentration by the time he got to his car, trying to ferret out the connection in his mind.
Mac arrived back at the barge in the cold dark hours before dawn. The slapping of the water against the hull and the creaking of the barge as it swayed with the current seemed loud in the stillness. It was a few minutes before he could force himself to go inside and begin the tedious process of packing up his life.
Dawn broke and found Methos sitting on the floor in his apartment muttering to himself, volumes of his journal scattered about him.
"No... it was before that." He discarded a volume that contained the first half of the fifth century. He picked up another one, this one from his time with the horsemen, and started flipping through it. He let the entries take his mind back to those times.
"No, it was after that."
He continued to work, steadily narrowing down the time when he knew there had been some kind of incident. Something that made recent events feel familiar.
Late that morning Duncan finished packing up the barge. The one good thing about the spartan lifestyle he'd been living was that there wasn't much to pack up.
While he waited on hold with a shipping company, his thoughts drifted to his friends. It would be so easy to check on them, they wouldn't even have to see him. But no, best to make a clean break. Seeing them would only make it harder.
Finally around noon Methos found the journal entry he was looking for. It was from the early second century A.D., and his mind easily translated the Latin.
"I still have work to do settling back into my house here in Rome, but I need to get this on paper before the memory fades."
"Something strange happened, or rather started, when I was on my way to dinner last week with Gaius Flautus. He is an immortal I knew before I moved to Alexandria, a prideful young man whose favorite thing in the world is applause. A bit of a show off, but a good man and charming enough that no one minds cheering for him now and again."
"Last week, we were headed to a new restaurant when a building we were walking past suddenly began to collapse and we could hear a little girl inside screaming for help. Gaius ran toward the entrance and I wasn't far behind, but just as we reached the door, the whole thing came down. The little girl's scream was cut off abruptly."
"I was hit on the head by some falling masonry and died right there in the street. When I came to, I found myself inside the one remaining wall with a little girl in my arms. She was unconscious, but otherwise appeared to be fine. And Gaius was nowhere to be found. I came out to find a crowd cheering and saying I was a hero. I told them, truthfully, that I didn't know what had happened."
"When I found Gaius, he was behaving very oddly. He told me he didn't know what had happened because he had been afraid and run away. I was skeptical because it didn't fit with the man I knew. And because he was lying. Badly."
"Over the next week, the adulation over my apparent rescue of the girl continued, completely out of proportion to what the response should have been. Gaius became more and more agitated, and I kept seeing someone out of the corner of my eye. The figure always seemed to be talking to Gaius, or watching him."
"Finally, Gaius and I were having dinner with the little girl's family two days ago. The father was going on and on about how brave I was and how my courage was unmatched. Gaius just exploded, shouting about how he was the one who'd really saved the girl. He said that while I was unconscious he'd made a bargain with an angel for her life, and..."
"It was at that moment that the child, who had been playing on the floor, fell down dead for no apparent reason. Gaius looked down in horror, and fled. I followed him to his house and heard him talking to someone. He was saying he was sorry and that he wanted another chance. The other, Gaius called him Simon, just kept asking if he could see now what his pride had wrought. Gaius went running from the house and I went in to meet this Simon."
"He was an insufferable creature that seemed to see ordinary people as beneath his contempt. And I use the word creature deliberately. I am quite sure that he was not human."
"We had... words. I overstepped myself and he suddenly was different. He didn't look different, but I felt that he had noticed me in a way he hadn't before, and that his notice was bad for me. Unreasoning, paralyzing terror flooded through me. But he just looked at me and told me not to presume too far. And then he wasn't there anymore."
Methos looked up from his journal and shouted. "Simon! Don't pretend you can't hear me, I know you can. I want to talk to you!"
Methos spun around to see Simon lounging on his couch. He looked exactly the same: ageless, and smug.
"This is all your handiwork, right?"
Simon inclined his head in acknowledgement.
"Still meddling in our affairs, I see. Can't mind your own business." Methos was scornful. "Where is he now?"
Simon closed his eyes a moment. "Sitting in the long term lot at Orly airport. What are you upset about? You wanted him to learn a lesson, I taught it to him." Simon's tone was full of hurt, but there was a mocking glint dancing behind his eyes.
"Oh no, you're not going to lay this off on me," Methos waggled a finger at Simon. "How did you get Mac to play your game?"
"I killed you," Simon said simply.
Methos was taken aback. Moving of their own volition, his fingertips brushed his neck, as if to be sure it was still intact. He pushed the thought aside. "You just can't resist messing with my friends, can you? Don't you have a life?"
There was a flash of anger in Simon's eyes and a cold edge crept into his quiet voice. "I think you should be happy I've left you alone for as long as I have. Perhaps even grateful."
Methos swallowed the six nasty comments that sprang immediately to mind. "What deal did Duncan make?"
Simon gave him a smile that mocked his self-restraint. "I let you live, in exchange for everything he cares about. Oh, and of course he couldn't tell anyone." His smile became even more smugly self-satisfied.
"To teach him what?"
"Oh come now, you gave me the idea. You can't expect me to believe you don't know."
Simon gave him a disgusted look. "To show him he is far too invested in what others think of him. And to prove that after all this time he doesn't know who he is when there's no one around to applaud."
Methos closed his eyes for a moment in sympathy for his friend. Suffering, and with only this creature for comfort. Then he opened them and pinned Simon with a penetrating glare. "The difference being, I wanted him to learn that lesson because it made him far too vulnerable and easily hurt." He paused. "You did it to hurt him."
Simon shot up to a sitting position. "I did not. Don't presume to understand motives which are beyond your ken."
"Perhaps that wasn't the purpose, but you can't tell me you didn't enjoy sticking it to him." As a flush crept over Simon's face, Methos pressed on. "You've probably been popping in on him, poking him. Rubbing salt in the wounds."
Suddenly Simon was on his feet. "I do what I'm told. I certainly didn't do this on my own."
There was a silence while Methos debated whether to push him further. In the end, he chose not to. "What happens now?" he asked finally. "I know about the deal, so... what? Am I dead?"
Simon shot him a glance that betrayed his temptation, and then his expression cleared to one of disinterest. "He didn't tell you, so the deal still holds. You didn't promise anything." And with that, he was gone.
Methos quickly fired off an email to Mac, hoping he wasn't too late.
Duncan watched as yet another airplane took off. He'd been sitting in his car in the long-term lot for quite awhile, trying to decide where he should go, but he hadn't had much luck. His mind kept running in circles every time he thought about leaving. One part of him kept trying to find excuses to see his friends just one more time before he left. Another part was occupied with mundane details: he'd need to call his agent to have his car picked up, and he'd need to set up an automatic payment for the new storage place in Geneva, and other equally trivial matters. And yet another part was striking up a lament for the city itself. He loved Paris, loved his life here. The barge. Darius' church. And...
He gave himself a mental shake, turning away from the nostalgia that beckoned. There would be plenty of time to mourn later, for now he needed a destination. Kauai? No. He needed to start a new life, and there it would be too easy to just drift, lost in the past. And self-pity.
Somewhere new and fresh was what he needed. Maybe even somewhere he'd never been, or at least never spent much time. New Zealand? Now that was a possibility.
He check flight schedules on his laptop and found there was a flight leaving in three hours that would eventually take him there. Duncan spent several minutes reserving a seat.
He was about to put the little computer away and make his way to the terminal, when he decided to check his email one last time. When the message from Methos appeared in his Inbox, he put it down to wishful thinking. To his surprise, when he clicked on it, it opened.
Don't leave. Come to my place ASAP.
He'd started his car and had already pulled out of the space before he realized he hadn't even thought it over. As he continued to drive, he fought down the unreasonable feeling of hope that swelled in him. 'I'm just going to say good-bye,' he told himself. And then he told himself again.
When Duncan pulled up to Methos' building, he saw both Amanda's and Joe's cars. He briefly considered just driving away, but discarded the idea. He didn't know what this was all about, but he trusted Methos. Whatever was going on here, he wouldn't be hurt by it.
He felt their presence as he approached the door, and Methos opened it before he could knock.
"I didn't know they were coming," he whispered quickly. "I'd hoped we'd have time to talk. Everything's all right." With that cryptic reassurance, he stepped aside so Mac could enter.
Suddenly Amanda was there, hugging him fiercely, telling him how sorry she was. And Joe was there clapping him on the shoulder saying he was sure glad they kept digging. Things were moving a little too quickly for him.
"Let's give him some air, shall we?" Methos intervened just as he was about to be overwhelmed. "The last he heard, you were both ready to fry him. Give him a minute to adjust from the 'I want your head, Amanda and Joe' to the 'I'm sorry I ever doubted you, Amanda and Joe', all right?" Everyone laughed and the tension eased.
A half hour later they were all sitting comfortably sipping their drinks, talking about their investigation and the fall-out from it. Duncan didn't say much, happy just to have his friends around him once more. Relishing the feeling lest it be taken from him again.
"So," Joe finished, "the Watcher council is all set to purge the renegades from our ranks."
"Just so long as they don't start another round of witch-hunting," Methos put in worriedly.
"No, no, nothing like that," Joe reassured. "They're just going to go back through the records and make sure they tagged all of Horton's buddies. And make sure everyone we thought was dead, really is dead." He took another drink from his glass. "They swore to me they wouldn't use the information I brought them as an excuse for another inquisition." Amanda snorted and Methos raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Joe chuckled. "I know, I know. That's why I made them put me in charge of it. Just to be sure."
As the evening wore on, and Duncan gradually began to relax little by little. When their impromptu party finally wound down, Amanda tried to get Duncan to come to her place for the night, as his own was gone. He declined, tempted though he was as he had never seen her Paris home. But he wanted a chance to talk to Methos alone. He was still uneasy, for reasons he couldn't quite put his finger on, and he didn't want Amanda interpreting it as a lack of forgiveness toward her.
After she and Joe left, he and Methos settled into their seats with a night cap. Duncan didn't know how to begin.
"So..." Methos said finally. "Simon."
Duncan started. "How do you know about him?" His thoughts raced. If Methos knew, then the deal... All the relaxation their little celebration had wrought was gone in an instant.
"Easy, Mac," Methos soothed quickly. "I found out on my own, you didn't break the deal." He explained on for some time, telling Mac of his feeling of familiarity with events, his journal search, and finally the story of his first meeting with Simon. "When I found the entry, I knew it had to be him framing you. So I called for him, and he came."
Mac was bewildered, his pulse still racing. "And? What happened?"
Methos grimaced. "We had a conversation. He admitted that he was behind the whole thing and I admitted that he's still a sanctimonious busybody." They both laughed. The lights flickered in the apartment for no apparent reason, and Methos looked around warily. "Anyway, he assured me that my figuring it out didn't break your deal. You're in the clear."
Duncan awoke before dawn and had trouble figuring out where he was. Then he recognized Methos' living room. Methos had offered him his couch the night before and he'd gratefully taken it. He clasped his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling.
Scenes from the last few weeks passed through his mind like snapshots. Amanda's fury and his own feeling of being cut adrift. Simon's belief that he couldn't act without approval and his own realization that the angel wasn't as far wrong as he would like. After a few minutes of this, he rose and dressed, scribbled a note to Methos, and headed for his car.
Methos left his car in the lot and walked the rest of the way. The morning fog seemed to penetrate every layer of his clothes, so he turned up the collar of his overcoat and shoved his hands into the pockets. He did not walk faster. He had no wish to hurry the start of this meeting. MacLeod had been gone when he woke, and he'd found a note asking him to come to Luxembourg Gardens as soon as he could manage it.
Then he felt a presence, and knew Mac was waiting there for him. The fog was so thick he could not yet see him, but he had no doubt it was Duncan.
When he came out of the fog, Mac was watching for him, his face unreadable.
"Methos." His greeting was neutral, and he seemed to be deep in thought.
"Mac." Then, when he said nothing, Methos added, "Nice morning."
"Did you sleep all right?" He nattered to give Mac the time he apparently needed.
He nodded again.
"I was worried the place would be too cold for you. I like to keep it cool at night..."
"I'm going away," Mac broke in abruptly.
"Yes." It was the simple truth.
"I thought you might, but I wanted to tell you myself."
A small smile found its way to Methos' lips. "Thank you."
The silence wound on while Mac seemed to search for words.
"Need to get away," Methos finished for him when he faltered.
He nodded again. "Not forever. Just for a while." Duncan seemed to want to make sure he understood it wouldn't be forever always.
Methos reached out and touched his shoulder. "Mac, it's all right."
"It's just that... I have questions that need answering."
Duncan was silent a long time, staring at the ground, as if he wasn't sure he wanted to reveal the nature of those questions to Methos.
If you don't..."
"No, it's all right," he said without looking up. "You could probably guess most of it anyway." He took a deep breath. "I never realized how much of my self-image was caught up in what other people think of me." He smiled grimly, still not looking up. "Guess you were right about that too."
"Mac, I..." Methos faltered. "I'm sorry," he said finally.
"I'm getting used to it." He finally met Methos' eyes, and his heart twisted at the pain held there. "I need to make sure there's still something of me there when no one is around to approve."
"Of course there is, I didn't mean..."
Duncan raised a hand to forestall his words. "I know you didn't. You were just taking a position." Mac paused. "Maybe you were more right than you knew. I just need some time alone to be sure. For me."
Methos nodded. "How long?"
Duncan shrugged. "However long it takes. The one thing we have is time."
Methos smiled. "If you need me, just give a shout. Even if it's just to help you drink some beer, I'll come running."
Duncan returned his smile. "I'll do that. You'll tell the others?"
Duncan held out his arms awkwardly, as if unsure how a hug might be received. Methos gathered his friend to him, held him strongly for a moment, and then released him.
Duncan turned without another word and strode into the fog, and Methos watched. "Until then, Highlander," he whispered as his form faded from view. "Until then."