by Lisa Hughes
Author's note: A special thank you to my sister Jaime for her moral support during the writing of this piece.
This piece takes place the day after Forgive Us Our Trespasses ends.
I got out of my car and stood there -- hands shoved deep into the pockets of my overcoat, collar turned up against the unseasonably chilly rain -- staring at the barge in front of me. I couldn't feel his presence, too far away yet, but I had little doubt he was there.
Amanda had come to me that morning, wanting to say goodbye before she left town. The police would eventually find her if she stayed. She told me that MacLeod was already brooding again, and she was fairly sure it had to do with me. She thought I ought to get off my lazy butt and get over there before he found a way to freeze me out forever. Never one to mince words, is Amanda. Then she kissed me, told me she'd be at her place in Greece if I needed her, and was out of my door like a whirlwind before I could say a word. The brat.
And so I stood there, watching the barge sway gently with the current, shoring up my emotional 'blast shields', sharpening my wits. Gathering my courage. Stalling. I grimaced to myself, took one last look at the darkening clouds, and strode purposefully toward the barge.
I felt him the instant before I tapped on the door and let myself in. He was standing at the bottom of the stairs, sword held loosely in one hand. "Oh, it's you," he said, unsmiling, and turned away. He put up his sword and moved to sit on the couch, picking up the half-finished drink and the open book lying on the table in front of him. Ignoring me completely, undoubtedly hoping I'd take the hint and leave. Not a promising start.
I hung up my coat, retrieved a beer from his fridge, flopped down at the other end of the couch, and set my feet on his coffee table with a bang. "Thanks, Mac, I'd love a beer," I said with calculated flippancy, and took a pull from the bottle.
He gave one of his long-suffering sighs and looked over at me. "Why are you here, Methos?" he asked, his tone implying strongly that my visit was both unexpected and unwelcome.
"Actually, I hadn't intended to come here. I was out driving and saw this black raincloud, and what do you know, it led me right here. So, give. What are you brooding over?"
One corner of his mouth twitched in amusement, but he controlled it and glowered at me. "I am not brooding." I snorted and rolled my eyes. "And even if I were, what business is it of yours?"
"Fine, have it your way," I said indifferently, settling myself more comfortably against the cushions. I took another long pull at the bottle, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes. And settled in to wait him out.
Ever try to out-stubborn a Scot? Well, it can be done, if you have a few hours to spare. MacLeod pretended to read his book, and I made a nuisance of myself. I deliberately jostled him when I went to retrieve another beer. I thumped and banged about the barge. I sang along with my walkman, loud and off-key. I even took off my shoes, climbed up on his desk and pretended to meditate for a while. Lots of loud 'ohms' and deep breathing.
MacLeod did his best to pretend I wasn't there, but he did finally crack. I think it was the loud Irish folk music I found buried amongst the opera. That or the jig. Whatever the provocation, Mac surged to his feet and advanced on me.
"What do I have to do to make you go away, Methos?!"
I stretched out a hand to stop the music, and faced him. "I came here to sort things out, but if you want me to leave... all you have to do is ask." I spoke quietly, reasonably. "If you tell me to go, I will. I'll disappear for good, never cross your path or darken your door again. Is that what you want, Mac?"
And there it was. With a word, he could banish me forever. I stood there, motionless, watching him digest my words.
Finally Mac made a sound, like a growl of frustration. He returned to the couch and sat, staring into his glass as if for answers. I quietly resumed my own seat and waited.
"How could you do it?" he asked at last.
"How could I do what, exactly?"
"How could you kill all those people?"
I let out a sigh. "No."
"No? What do you mean, no?"
"No, there isn't any way for you not to know this about me."
"That's not what I asked you."
"Wasn't it?" I asked quietly.
MacLeod ground his teeth. "Why did you lie to me?"
"What do you mean you didn't?" He was incredulous, even offended. "Of course you lied to me!"
"Except when Cassandra came after me at the dojo, I never lied to you at all."
MacLeod visibly controlled his anger. "You never told me!"
"And you never asked," I retorted.
"Oh, right," he said, the words thick with sarcasm. "'By the way, did you happen to kill by the thousand a few millenia ago?' I ask all my new friends questions like that." He turned away in disgust.
"You never asked me anything, Mac." My voice went quiet, weighed down by the truth of that statement.
Mac turned back to me, confused by my sudden change of mood. "What?"
I considered answering him, but discarded the idea. I didn't want to complicate things by going off on a tangent. "It all happened a long, long time ago. Can't you just accept that I've changed and be done with it?"
"How can I be sure of that?"
I smiled. "You'll just have to trust me."
"Trust you?" he scoffed. "You must be joking."
The wind gusted outside and the barge rocked with the force of it.
"Actually I'm quite serious."
"How can you expect me to trust you when you lied to me?" he demanded. "For all I know, everything you've told me is a lie."
I had to concede that. In his view, a lie would challenge everything he believed about our friendship.
He continued, his tone rising, fueled by his righteous indignation. "And yet you come here and just expect me to accept what you say, not even question it? To trust you when you're so obviously not worthy of trust?"
Outrage raced through me. "Not trustworthy?! I have proven myself time and again to you, and you say I'm not trustworthy?" I made a conscious effort to catch hold of my temper before things spun out of control, and then spoke in a more reasoned tone. "I knew I would have to prove myself to you when we met, and I accepted that. You knew nothing of me, and had no reason to trust me. And so I did... again and again, but it was never enough."
"What are you talking about?"
"You want an example? Fine. I forfeited time with Alexa -- time I could never get back -- to come to you. To help you save yourself. And even so, you doubted me. You actually thought I would hire mortals to kill Amanda to get the last piece of the crystal."
"No, I didn't! I..."
"You did. Mac, I saw your face."
"But Amanda..." he started to protest.
"And even now," I continued, "when I helped you defeat Kronos, when I killed my brother -- a man I rode with for longer than you've been alive -- you still doubt me. You've slapped me in the face more times than I care to count, MacLeod."
"All right, all right," he said, halting my barrage, "you've made your point. But when Cassandra told me..."
"Cassandra!" I erupted, suddenly having had enough of that particular female. "Cassandra is not the injured party here, I am."
"Supposedly I'm a friend, one you trust with your life. And yet, you toss me aside and leap to the defense of a woman you barely know."
"You're the injured party?!" he said indignantly. "You captured her, made her a slave!"
"How is that any concern of yours? Whatever I may have done, it had nothing to do with you. And you leapt to her side. Against me. Your 'friend'."
"But you denied it all when she told me what you'd done, he said angrily. "You lied. You looked me in the eye, and you lied."
"Of course I lied. What choice did I have? Hmm... Let her take my head. No, don't like that one much. Draw my sword and kill her. And have you hate me for two reasons instead of one. Or get the hell out of there and deal with you later. Not much of a choice, is it?"
Mac opened his mouth as if to speak, and closed it again. He picked up his glass and stood, and I could hear his teeth grinding from my seat on the couch. He was a long time about refilling his drink. I said nothing, giving him the time he needed, and myself as well. This conversation was getting off track. I didn't come to him in order to push him to see things my way, I simply wanted to try and repair our friendship.
If such a thing could be done. I smiled wryly to myself as I wondered again if it was even possible for two people of such disparate moral and ethical backgrounds to really be friends for any length of time... any length of time meaningful to immortals, that is. Perhaps we were indeed meant to walk through life alone. A sobering thought.
Mac returned to the couch with his drink and mutely handed me another beer. My eyes were drawn to his face as he sat not looking at me, hunched forward, elbows on his knees, swirling his drink around in his glass. He looked sad, wistful even, mirroring my own thoughts.
When he spoke, his voice was so low that I missed his words.
He turned his head and his eyes met mine. "Why didn't you just tell me?"
I closed my eyes against the pain of that question. I drained the beer he'd just given me, and set the bottle on the coffee table.
"How could I?" I asked quietly. "You didn't want to know anything like that about me."
"What are you talking about?"
Again I tried to deflect him. "The fact is I didn't tell you, and there's nothing I can do to change that now."
"No, wait. I want to know what you meant."
I was silent for a moment, hesitating. I had come here to settle a problem, not dig up other ones.
"Methos?" There was an edge to Mac's voice.
"You never asked me any questions, MacLeod. Not one."
"What? Of course I did, I asked you questions all the time."
I suddenly found it impossible to hold the frustration in check any longer, and the words crowded up my throat. "Oh, you asked me questions like 'how do I kill a former lover?' and 'how am I different from any old run of the mill killer?' Always looking for the wisdom of the ages from good old Methos, aren't you?"
He opened his mouth to speak, but I overrode him, my voice rising.
"But never one single question about who I was and what happened to make me that person. You never saw me, just 'Methos, world's oldest immortal.' Heaven forbid if your image of that 'sage' was ever tarnished."
His face was a picture of shock as he surged to his feet and turned away. Already I regretted my outburst, and my irritation abruptly ran out of steam.
"I felt like I should have been in a glass case somewhere, dusted once a year," I said softly to his back.
He spun around on me radiating indignation. "You were the one putting up barriers, you still are. Every time I ask a question, you answer with another question. How could I possibly get to know you? You never offer an opinion, you take a position."
My wayward sense of humor got the better of me at this most inopportune of moments. I settled back into my seat, steepled my fingers and asked, "And why do you think I do that?"
Mac's face flushed, and his arms shook so that the scotch splashed out of the glass onto his hand. He looked down at it and with a strangled cry of frustration, flung it at the stove. Fragments flew everywhere.
I burst out laughing, I couldn't help it. MacLeod, always so careful with his beautiful things, smashing a Waterford crystal tumbler in a fit of temper.
"What's so funny?" he demanded. Which, of course, made me laugh all the harder.
He growled disgustedly at me and turned to walk away, but not before I saw a sparkle of suppressed amusement in his eyes. He went to pour himself another drink, and I struggled to get my amusement under a vestige of control.
"As long as you're up..."
He turned his head and I waggled my empty beer bottle. He almost smiled but growled again instead, and walked to his fridge. When he came up with the beer his arm moved like a blur. I barely managed to get my hands up in time to prevent the beer from breaking my nose.
I shook my head in mock dismay. "Smashes the crystal, no respect for his elders... can't take MacLeod anywhere."
His only response was a snort of laughter, but the tension between us had dissipated somewhat. He came back to the couch and we sat in silence for a long while, sipping at our drinks. I listened to the rain pounding on the roof and thought of happier times, when we'd sat just like that. Times past when it seemed that all was right with the world. Damn Kronos anyway.
Finally he stirred and met my eyes. He spoke quietly. "I just don't know if I can get past the killing."
I nodded my head. The killing wasn't the only issue, of that I was certain, even if I wasn't completely sure what the root of the problem actually was. But I also knew that he was a very linear thinker, and we would never get to the real issues if we didn't lay this one to rest.
I spoke, my tone infinitely gentle. "Let me ask you, is there anything you've done, of which you are not particularly proud?"
He flinched as if I'd slapped him. "Cheap shot, Methos."
"It wasn't meant to be. I was merely pointing out that as young as you are, you have done things that you cannot recall without a twinge of regret. Without making a new promise to yourself never to let that happen again. You make mistakes, and hopefully you learn from them, yes?" I could see he was beginning to respond to my quiet reasoning. "And you never let it happen again. It isn't any different for an 'oldtimer', you know."
He smiled a little at that.
"If you must judge me, judge me for who I am now. How many mortals have I slaughtered lately? How many slaves have I taken, how many lives have I destroyed?"
There was a long silence as Mac pondered my words. I waited, watching him closely. Finally his forehead cleared, and the tension in his shoulders suddenly relaxed as if he had at last reached a decision. He met my eyes again.
"I suppose I can forgive your past." He spoke as if he was bestowing a great favor. He even smiled a little, undoubtedly pleased with his generosity of spirit.
I tried to take it as it was meant, truly made an effort, but it was no use. Fury swept over me like a tidal wave and suddenly it was all I could do not to beat that smile off of his face. Of all the arrogant...
"Is that why you think I came here?" I exploded. Mac paled. "For the forgiveness of the great Duncan MacLeod?" I spat the words out. "Just who are you to forgive me?
"I..." he began, but I interrupted.
"Whatever I might have done," I told him in a low, deadly voice, "it was over thousands of years before you were born. Keep your forgiveness, MacLeod, I don't need it."
I stopped, and made a concerted effort to rein in my temper. I could see Mac was in shock, clearly he'd thought that his forgiveness would close the matter. When I spoke again, I was under control. "I never wanted your forgiveness, Mac, only your acceptance. But I didn't really come here for that either."
"Why did you come then?"
I came here to try and settle this, rebuild our friendship."
"But how can there be friendship without trust?"
I suppressed a surge of irritation. The lie again, were we back to square one?
"Except for that one time," I said wearily, "I never lied to you."
"The lie isn't the problem, I understand that, I guess. I don't agree, of course," he said, and there was a hint of a smile. "But I understand. The problem," he continued, completely serious again, "is that the trust wasn't there in the first place."
What on earth was he talking about?
Seeing my confusion, he went on. "If you had trusted me, you would have found a way to tell me."
"I did trust you, but you didn't want to know anything like that about me." We'd been over this ground before, why was he insisting on rehashing it? I shifted in my seat, trying to ease the tension that was suddenly plaguing my shoulders.
"Better that I hear it from you than from someone else. Don't you see that?"
I was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable. Why were we going in circles? "I knew that you wouldn't be able to accept that sort of thing about 'Methos'. I stood, unable to keep still any longer, and moved away from him. A crash of thunder drew my attention to a porthole, and through it I could see great flashes of lightning as the storm raged outside. When Mac spoke, I turned and saw that he was also on his feet. And moving toward me.
"That's an excuse, Methos, I want to hear the reason. Why didn't you trust me enough?"
I moved away from him. "I already told you that I couldn't tell you, you would never have understood."
He continued to follow me. "How could you possibly know that when you didn't give me the chance?" I abruptly found myself backed up against his desk, and he was still moving toward me.
"Because you are who you are," I said desperately, groping for anything that might placate him. "I knew you would never be able to get past what I'd done, if you knew."
He stopped a few feet in front of me. "That's the same excuse, Methos. Why didn't you trust our friendship enough to tell me?"
I moved left, thinking to go around him, but he moved with me, blocking my path, and then stepped closer. Looming over me. I felt the panic begin to rise.
"Why didn't you just tell me?" he demanded, yelling into my face.
I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Because I might have lost you!" I took a ragged breath. "I couldn't take that chance."
Mac fell back a pace, stunned, and I moved around him. Away from him. My mind was in turmoil. How had things gotten this far? How did I allow myself to get pushed into saying things I never had any intention of telling him. I walked back to the couch and sank onto it, hunched forward, face in my hands. Mac sat down on the couch and I could feel him watching me.
"Why?" he finally asked.
"Why, what?" I responded, not looking at him.
"Why am I that important to you?"
I looked up at him and saw I had no choice. If I refused him now, it was over. I took a deep breath -- after all this time, real honesty never came easily to me.
"Because without you -- if I hadn't met you when I did, and if you weren't the person you are -- I would probably be dead. Or worse." I cast my mind back, seeking clarity.
"Just after I met you, I offered you my head. I placed your blade against my neck and waited for you to strike. Do you have any idea what it takes for someone like me to reach that point?" He shook his head silently.
"I was so tired of living. I spent my time hiding from my own kind amongst mortals. Surrounded by ephemerals dying right before my eyes, and always looking over my shoulder. I think..." I paused, no longer explaining only to Mac, but to myself as well. "I think it eroded my will to survive, to go on no matter what, wearing it away bit by bit, until it all seemed pointless."
"And so I offered you my head. Oh, there was a perfectly good reason to do it..." My voice trailed off as I thought back to that moment. Not quite self-sacrifice, but not quite suicide either. Something indefinable in between. I shook my head to clear it.
"So I stood there, my eyes closed, absolutely certain that in a moment or two, it would all be over. But you didn't do it." I could feel the wonder creeping into my voice. "Knowing that without my knowledge and strength, Kalas might beat you, you still refused. I opened my eyes and saw all that resolve burning in your eyes. The refusal to take the easy path if it meant your principles would be compromised."
"Surprised you, did I?" His voice rippled with humor.
"You've no idea," I said dryly. "It never crossed my mind you might refuse. But you have to understand what that did to me. You utterly surprised me. So completely that I could do nothing but stare at you, mouth agape."
"It shook me out of my complacency and rekindled the old fire. After 5,000 years, precious little can surprise me... and yet, you did. Do you understand how wondrous it is for me to know that after all this time I can still be surprised? And why you are so important to me? Why I couldn't bring myself to risk losing you?"
Mac sat silently for a long time, and I could see him trying to put himself in my shoes. Trying to make the leap, to understand.
Finally he nodded. "Yes, I think I see. I still wish you had told me, but I can see why you wouldn't want to." Relief washed over me, and I felt suddenly boneless. I sat back against the cushions and let my mind drift. Every now and again I glanced at Duncan as the silence spun on and on. He appeared to be deep in thought, as if wrestling with some puzzle.
At last he sighed deeply. "All this time I thought it was the killing and the lying that had me tied up in knots. And to a certain extent, I guess it was." He paused, his face working.
"But?" I queried softly, knowing there had to be more.
"But... it wasn't only that. The whole time I was with Cassandra, she kept pushing at me. Insisting that the only option I had was to kill you. Telling me that while Kronos might be the heart of the Horsemen, you were the head. Asking me if I could kill you when the time came." He faltered again.
"And what was your answer?" I asked quietly when it seemed he would not continue.
"That I could, if I had to."
"And as it turned out, you didn't," I finished, but it didn't seem to help. "So what is the problem?"
"I was lying to her. The whole time I was hoping and praying that I would find a solution, I was also praying that you hadn't really gone over to Kronos." And then softly, painfully, "Because I knew I couldn't kill you, even if you had."
"While I was fighting Kronos I couldn't maintain my concentration because I kept thinking that if I won, I would have to fight you. It didn't turn around for me until I saw you fighting Silas. Until I knew I wouldn't be forced to face you."
"I can see why you'd be relieved, but I don't understand why this is still a problem," I said, still trying to fathom the underlying trouble.
"But don't you see? I couldn't do it. Even if you had truly gone over to Kronos, even if you had killed Cassandra and were coming for me, I couldn't have killed you. My whole life has been ruled by good and evil, right and wrong... what does it say about me if I can't bring myself to kill an evil immortal? What does it make me if I can't even do that?"
So much confusion and anguish was in that question that my heart twisted. But I held a much different view of what it all meant.
"I think it makes you a friend, Duncan," I said quietly.
He opened his mouth and closed it again, at a loss for words in the face of that interpretation. Finally he smiled a little.
"Maybe it does, at that."
I stayed there into the small hours of the morning. We spent much of that time in comfortable silence, each leaving the other alone with his thoughts. We chatted about this and that over the late supper Mac prepared. We even laughed a time or two. Mostly we just enjoyed walking around in our friendship again. There was a certain reserve, neither of us terribly willing to test the limits of our relationship again so soon. And I suppose that was to be expected. We could do without that kind of strain for some time to come.
When it came time for me to leave, Mac stopped me at the door with a hand on my shoulder. He seemed both loath to speak and compelled to do so.
"I don't know if things can ever be the way they were," he said softly.
I smiled. "They never are, MacLeod. And maybe that's just as well."
He nodded. I walked out to my car, and as I opened the door I noticed the Highlander still standing on the deck, looking up at the sky. He turned his eyes to me and spoke.
"It looks like the storm has passed." His voice carried in the quiet air.
"I hope so," I replied. He waved a hand and returned to the light and warmth of the barge. "I truly hope so," I said softly into the cold night air, and got into the car to make my way home.