|Initiating Auto-Destruct Sequence - Methos 1
by Maxine Mayer
Destiny is a funny thing. I thought I had it licked, millennia ago, when I managed to elude the Horsemen and begin fresh, in a new country, with a new name, a new identity. I traveled through the centuries, pretty nearly convinced I'd outlast just about everyone in the Game. I knew I'd never go the distance - be the One, in the End - but I figured I'd be there, close to the finish line.
There were many trials over the centuries. I don't deny I weakened many times. Considered ending it all in the only way I could - by losing my head to another Immortal in Ritual Combat. It's amazing how difficult that becomes, when you've lived as long as I, know as much as I about the blade, and simply lose it - the Death Wish - when the shit hits the fan. Couldn't let it happen, let myself be killed. I don't quite know why. I only know that, whenever the shit hit the fan, I survived.
Destiny is a funny thing, as I say. One day I met an Immortal named Darius. A monk. He'd been out of the Game for I don't know how long. Lovely fellow. He changed my life.
I left the Game, as best I could. After many centuries, I finally got to the point where I hadn't Faced anyone for close to two hundred years. For two hundred years I survived without a Challenge. Without killing. Without a Quickening. Hid from my Kind. Felt all the better for it, too. Studied, wrote, drank a bit of beer, kissed a girl or two. I was healthier and happier than I could remember being, every experience treasured, remembered, over and over again, when the Mortals were gone.
Out of the Game was good for me. Watching was even better. I loved Watching. No better fun than that!
And then it happened. A different kind of shit hit a different kind of fan, and I was lost.
"Methos!" I heard Amanda whisper, but I didn't respond. Didn't want to get up yet. Must be nearly noon, but I didn't want to wake, not to another empty day.
"Methos!" She whispered more urgently. I could feel the sadness in her aura. Must be bad news, I thought. Better wake up.
"Hmm," I murmured, turning over in bed so I could look at her. "What is it, Amanda? What'd you want?"
"I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye, Mike."
That got my attention. "What! Where're you going?" I sat up.
"Away. Anywhere. I've gotta do something, Methos. I can't just slosh around with you forever, suffering. It's not working for me." She rubbed my shoulder. "If I could stay, I would, sweetness, truly. But this is getting the best of me. I'll be back soon. Soon as I can. But I've got to get away from Paris for a while. I'm sick to death of facing north."
I did. She was sick to death of watching me pine for MacLeod, who was not an hour away from us, in a Carmelite monastery outside Paris. Up north. Sworn and bound to remain there - or someplace like it - for good. The condition of his defeating the Demon who threatened the World. And I was sworn and bound to leave him there, as part of the same ghastly deal. Amanda'd kept me company for more than six months, both of us missing Mac. Both of us chaste, unwilling to be anything other than sister and brother to one another. If she thought she was the only one sick to death of this deal, she was mistaken.
"Come on. Give us a kiss goodbye!" She embraced me, kissed me on both cheeks, and I her. Then she straightened, grabbed her bags, and left my flat.
And suddenly, not just her body was gone. Her buzz was gone too. I felt her go. Dreadful.
I was alone.
Hadn't been that in several years.
Maybe I could make the best of it. Do my thing - read, write, study, observe. The Watcher bit, without the tattoo, or the Society.
Maybe I could fly.
The noise in the bar was deafening. Why Joe'd bought Maurice's cousin's restaurant and turned it into a cabaret with music, I cannot say. But he'd done it. Now, of course, Joe wasn't here. He was still back in Seacouver mourning Richie, and staying as far from MacLeod as he could get. Unnecessary, of course, with Mac in a monastery. It was a Mortal thing, I supposed.
But his bar went on forever and his band played on without him. The place got noisier and noisier, the later it became. Around four in the morning, Maurice'd lock up the front and let his "special" customers in the back, and the crowd got rougher and uglier, in the Parisian equivalent of an after-hours joint. Bikers mixed with fags and prostitutes and pimps and thieves. For all I know, a murderer or two. They all loved the music. And they all loved the late night poker games which Joe'd started for his Watcher friends passing through, and which perpetuated themselves even in Dawson's absence.
And they all loved me.
"Mike -" I'd taken to using the name Michael Benedict again, since I'd lost the use of Adam Pierson, and Methos was a mouthful. "Mike!" The roughneck calling me must have been about forty. Grizzled greying hair, a lean body hardened by manual labor, not workouts, a temper easily lost when he was crossed. But sweet. Lovely, open, and sweet, when he'd had just a few drinks, before he got drunk. "Mike - bring the bottle! Join me!"
He loved me. Absurd, I know. But Simeon - that was his name - couldn't get his mind around my idiomatic French. It drove him crazy. Kept him trying to find some phrase, some curse, I didn't know. Why he thought I'd admit to it, if I didn't know, is beyond me. But Mortals are like that. They trust anybody. I trust no one.
"How goes it, Simeon?" I asked, pulling a chair around backwards and straddling it, whiskey bottle in hand. I plunked the liquor down on the table and he took a swig straight from the bottle. "Little woman throw you out?" I joked.
"No, no, Michel." His French was good, for a working man. I think he must have been a Communist, once upon a time, in another life. Anyway, self-taught. Up by his bootstraps. That sort of man. "There is no little woman - I told you. I live alone. A man my age must live alone. A woman now and then - of course - but all the time? Non, jamais!"
I nodded, then took a sip of whiskey from the bottle. "I understand, brother. A man needs his freedom." Sure. Freedom. Gotta have it. Freedom's just another word for - you know the song. God, I love songs. Always around when you need them.
"Where is la petite Amanda, Michel? She is so beautiful! You are so lucky!"
"She left you alone? And you so sad! Oh, mon frere, how horrible for you! Such a beautiful woman! Did she find another man?"
"Lost one. I'm no substitute."
"So true, so true." Simeon was getting soused. "Some men cannot be replaced. They have - how you say - charisma, magnetism. Those are the lucky ones, all the women love them!"
"Well, we're none of us perfect." I stood abruptly. "Simeon, I've gotta go. Thanks for drinking with me. I'll see you again another night." I left the bottle with him.
"Where are you going, Michel?" he called after me.
I didn't reply. I didn't know. I only knew, there was no solace in a bottle. Because I couldn't drink myself to death. Immortals can't. Pity.
I walked for hours that night, along the Seine. Revisited every place MacLeod and I had wandered together. Rehashed every moment in my mind. The fears. The victories. The sorrows. The joys. I ended my tour standing on the grass not far from the Eiffel Tower, looking up, remembering Kalas. Grew maudlin, remembering the brief years - could it have been only two? - when I'd had friends, a kind of family. When I hadn't been alone.
Amazing. I cannot recall ever being lonely before. Not in fifty centuries. Oh, I'd been alone, often. Bereaved, over and over again. At loose ends, many many times. But lonely? This lonely? Enough to depress me beyond any capacity for finding relief? Cannot remember a time like that.
My stroll down memory lane'd been a mistake in judgment. It'd made things worse, not better. Part of me knew I should get out of Paris, as Amanda had. Maybe go back to Seacouver. Maybe someplace else. But away from Paris, where I was too close to Duncan's monastery for comfort. Perhaps it wasn't a Mortal thing after all - keeping one's distance.
I couldn't drag myself away. The thought didn't stand a chance in my mind. Don't know what I was waiting for, beneath the Eiffel Tower. This time, MacLeod wasn't coming. Wasn't coming out of the darkness round a bend in the road carrying his sword, looking for all the world like a Knight in Shining Armor, without the armor, without the shine, matte black.
A deal's a deal.
Didn't need me to watch his back anymore. Didn't need me to make him laugh. Didn't need me to make him cry. Didn't need me period. He had God now. Should be sufficient. Should've been enough for me too. It wasn't.
Nothing was enough. Except - I'd had enough of this. There had to be a way out of it. Had to be. Had to find it, whatever it was. Couldn't go on. Didn't want to go on.
Initiating Auto-Destruct Sequence Methos 1. On my mark. Engage.
There are many entries in the "Directory of Immortals and Watchers" file Don Salzer and I'd created for the Watcher Society. He'd stored the data on that computer disk Kalas had caused all the trouble with. Of course, I'd kept a copy of the disk, secretly, in a safe place. Prudence was never my thing.
I fetched my copy from its hiding place the next morning, and worked my way through forty-five Immortals' lives before noon. There were sixteen male Immortals above the age of consent - that is, five centuries old or better - living in Paris alone. Another five in London. Three more in Rome. But the particular sort of Immortal I was searching for turned out to be a man who still resided in Sweden, last update I'd made, shortly before the Horsemen disaster, before my life turned upside down. His name was Erasmus Minor.
Erasmus Minor owed me many favors. And he was one of the good guys. And he was Old - twenty-five hundred years at last count. Perfectly capable of making good use of a fine upstanding Quickening such as mine. Perfectly believable in the role of Warrior Immortal, since he'd been a Warrior Immortal nearly all his life. Convincing, too, as someone sufficiently skilled to defeat me in Ritual Combat. Mustn't let anyone even dream - let alone suspect - that I was a suicide. That wouldn't do at all. Cannot have them blaming themselves, asking what they might have done differently, to save me. Nope. Not that. Not for my people, my friends. No guilt comes with this offer. One time only - Methos dead, mourn at will.
There was only one problem. Erasmus Minor - now Edward Rasmussen, owner, proprietor and chief accountant of Rasmussen, Ltd. - had changed. He was far from a Warrior Immortal these days. Far from the Game. Oh, he'd taken a head or two over the past quarter century, when Challenged, when he couldn't avoid it. But he'd been happily married for twenty-five years. He was no longer a Warrior at all, at heart - simply, a man.
That's where what Erasmus owed me came in handy. I'd saved his life on three separate occasions, over the centuries. Least he could do was take mine, I thought. Well, we'd see, wouldn't we?
Rather than hop the first plane I could get at Orly to leave France, I decided to drive to Sweden. I'd been on so many flights over the past year, my ears popped when I even thought about flying - a bit Pavlovian of me, I know, but none of us is perfect.
I stopped by the Carmelite monastery on my way, to visit with MacLeod. Did that once a month, like a boring cuckoo clock that doesn't know when to stop chirping. I refused to permit myself greater frequency of visits, not that they would have been allowed, had I asked.
But Duncan seemed to enjoy our brief times together, looked forward to the forty minutes or so each month we spent talking, gossiping, sparring with words. There's no describing what those times meant to me. I don't do poetry.
Father Ambrose, abbot of Carmel - but a Watcher in good standing nevertheless - permitted us to walk about the cloister grounds together and talk, Duncan and me. An unheard of concession! MacLeod strikes again! How did Simeon put it? Charisma and magnetism can get you anything, even in Carmel, if you work things right. Duncan wants, Duncan gets. Lovely boy. No sense of his rightful place, though. Still doesn't realize he's not "special," except in the eyes of those who care.
Ah well, as I say, we're none of us perfect. Someone else will need to teach him now.
"Methos - good to see you again!" MacLeod said in greeting. "Bit off your schedule, aren't you? This isn't the last Tuesday of the month, is it?" Then he laughed and embraced me, when I'd been escorted to the small inner courtyard where the brothers took their daily constitutional. We were alone there today. The monks were indoors, at one or another of their interminable chores. Or praying. Who could know?
"You look good, MacLeod. Got a lot of color in your face. But you must be hot as hell in those robes." I teased him a bit. I needed to be careful not to let on that this was my final visit. "Do you mean to tell me they've finally let you join up for real? Made you a novice?"
"Yes! Seven months as a postulant - sticking out like a sore thumb in civvies - but now I'm just another Green Boy, or the Carmelite equivalent! A novice! One of the crowd! I'm happy, Methos, really happy!"
"Good! That's great, MacLeod. I'd no idea you'd fit in so well here. Fooled us all, I fear - fooled me, at least."
"You can tell, then? From my buzz? How I am?"
"Absolutely. No doubt about it, this life suits you down to the ground. Time to think, time to heal - that's how you put it, right - way back when? Done wonders for you already."
"Thanks for bearing with me, Methos. I couldn't have stuck it out without your visits, your letters. There's one thing about Carmel nobody could ever describe -"
"And what's that?" I asked, shifting around to face him, halting my walk.
"The loneliness. It's indescribable. Talk about your 'dark night of the soul!' This is - incredible! Oh, it's okay during the day, when I'm working, or in choir, or at recreation. And there's so much to learn. Keeps me busy, my mind occupied. But in the evenings, at night, and of course, during meditation, prayer - it's awful. For me, at any rate. But I think about you out there alone, with just Amanda to keep you company, and I don't feel so lonely. Not very satisfactory for you, I know that, Methos. Under the circumstances." He paused for a moment, then went on. "I think about some of the things you talk about in your letters. Faith. Hope. The love of God that surpasses all things - it helps me get through the dark times, somehow. Thanks, old friend. You give me courage."
"Glad to be of service," I replied, hoping he couldn't sense the turmoil in my buzz. I did everything I could to mask it, deaden it. Every trick I'd learned over fifty centuries, to block one feeling and emit another - serenity - I tried for, now.
"You are of service, Methos. Truly. Thank you."
Good, I'd succeeded. He hadn't noticed a thing.
I'd think about what he'd said later. Or not. I simply had to get through this final visit.
I changed the subject. "Amanda's taken a trip. Probably to Greece, to her cottage there."
"You didn't want to go with her?" Duncan sounded surprised. "I hope it's not because of me. You don't need to stay close, to visit me. I'll get by on letters - for a while." He smiled sweetly.
"No, no! Not at all, MacLeod. She needed to be on her own. Amanda's like that. You know. She stuck it out with me for so long, well past any previous endurance of my company. Or any man's, for that matter. It was time for her to move on, for a bit. She'll be back."
"So - you planning to go back to Seacouver now, visit Joe?" He was valiant, but I could feel the anguish in his aura. The thought of being left alone in this place, with nobody visiting him, struck fear into his soul. Terror. His smile was broad but his voice was thin as a reed, and his eyes were red-rimmed. Tears were close. I turned away and resumed my walk.
"No. Think I'll go to Sweden, visit an old friend there. Don't think you ever met him - Erasmus Minor."
"Oh? Immortal, I take it, with that name."
"Oh yes, Immortal indeed. Half my age, an old friend," I repeated. "I was strolling down memory lane the other day and I thought of him. I know he's settled down now. Perhaps he'd like a visit. A little insider gossip with one of his own Kind. I could use some, anyhow," I finished, on a low note.
"Intelligent man? Learned?"
"Well, I'm not sure he knows who Chubby Checker is," I joked, "but yes, knowledgeable. Besides, with our history, you needn't know much of anything, you only need to cast your mind back and remember. Makes for good talk, MacLeod."
"Sounds like you'll have a good time. Be sure to write and let me know how it goes, Methos. I'd be interested to hear."
Sure you would, Duncan. Sure you would. Fascinated. Imagine - here I am. I can take a trip. Drive a car. Meet a friend. Go to dinner. Talk to women. Drink myself under the table in a bar. And I'd still be keeping my promise, my vow. And here you are, locked up on Holy Ground with a bunch of Screaming Carmelites - okay, not screaming, but monks, nevertheless - all by your lonesome. Sure, you'd be interested to hear how my visit goes. Glutton for punishment, you are. Always have been, always will be.
"Absolutely. I'll write every day. Like a journal. They'll let you read my letters that often?"
"Not every day. But Father Ambrose - what can I tell you - he's a fan. Of yours, of mine. He gives me your letters on Sunday afternoons. I don't think he even reads them beforehand. At least, they're unopened when I get them. So it's not like I don't get to see them until Christmas or Easter, like the other monks. He treats your correspondence as if we were relatives, since he knows we don't have any, either of us. I think he imagines you're like a father to me."
"You can thank Amanda for that, next time you see her. She planted the idea in the good abbot's mind, that she was like a sister to you, and I like a father. Fruitful, it seems. Clever wench, our Amanda." That she was, that she was.
Duncan smiled again. "I never thought I'd love her the way it turned out I do. Glad I told her before all this started." He gestured around him, at the cloister buildings.
"It's you two who were the vaudeville act whose time had come, Duncan," I said with a smile. Then I took a deep breath. "Listen, MacLeod, they're gonna throw me out soon. So, before the abbot sends someone to fetch me, tell me what you need. Anything to bribe the guards? Liquor, dope, cigars?" I grinned.
"No. Just you. Visit me on the last Tuesday of every month, Methos. That's what I need." Serious. Frightening, Mac's honesty. His need. For me. I could feel it in his buzz. Unbelievable.
"Yeah, sure. What an offer! How could I resist!" I answered flippantly. Fortunately, I was good at lying. I needed all my skill today.
We embraced again, and MacLeod turned away, walked back into the cloister. I knew he was close to tears. Me, I was past tears. All I needed to do to firm up my resolve was stand there until Duncan's buzz disappeared, and feel that absence. All I needed to do was remember the life I led during the thirty days between "last Tuesdays of the month," and I didn't want to cry at all. I wanted to scream. I wanted to die.
I still wanted to die.
Nothing had changed, except he'd downloaded a guilt trip on me, without the least wish to do so. My death would hurt him badly. Couldn't be helped, though. I'd had enough.
As long as MacLeod didn't suspect it was my own peculiar brand of suicide, he'd get through it. Go on alone. He'd manage. And once he didn't have me to kick around any more, he'd find another friend. Plenty of monks in the monastery to choose from. He'd find someone. He always did. Or someone'd find him. Charisma, magnetism. He'd survive.
It was vital to my plan that Erasmus Minor recognize the validity of my request. Accept the fact that I had a right to die at a time of my own choosing. That he was doing me a favor by engaging in Ritual Combat with me - "assisting my suicide" - not murdering me. Besides, I intended to put up a fight. Just not win.
My contingency plan depended on Erasmus's state of mind. If I judged that he'd never agree to such a request, I'd go another route. Pick a fight. Lose that way. It might be better all around if I did that. Then there'd be nobody who knew the truth. Nobody who could tell my people, my friends, why I'd died.
Better. Safer. Yes.
However, I was still of two minds about that when I paused outside the ancient three-storey building in the heart of downtown Stockholm which housed Erasmus' business - Rasmussen, Ltd. I wanted to give him time to recognize an Immortal's presence nearby, and find his sword. I didn't want to take him by surprise, though I had no intention of engaging him in Combat before I'd spent some time with the man.
"Erasmus," I said when I'd climbed the steps to his office, following his buzz alone, and paused in the doorway. "It's me, Methos. How've you been?" I went in.
He stared at me, then put down his sword and smiled. Came around his desk and gave me a hug. "Methos, you old son-of-a-gun! What a surprise! What brings you to Stockholm? Business?"
"No. Just visiting an old friend."
"Really?" He went to a cabinet in the corner and began fixing drinks. "Who?"
"That's terrific, Methos. I was thinking of you just the other day. I read your monograph on St. John of the Cross. Told my wife I knew the author."
"You're putting me on! How'd you happen to come across that? Don't tell me you've been dabbling in the literature, too!" St. John of the Cross was the luminous star and great mystic poet of the Carmelite Order, along with his friend, that wondrous valiant soul, St. Teresa of Avila. Five centuries after their deaths scholars, religious, and just plain fans were still writing about their lives and their words.
"No. Just surfing the net. Came across one of your old names - Michael Benedict. Thought I'd check it out, see if it was you. Sure enough - inimitable style, Methos, couldn't have been written by anybody else." He handed me a drink, a really good brand, too.
"So - what'd you think of it?"
"Me? An old Benedictine like me? What would I know about Johnny Boy? No, seriously, it was really good, Methos. Sounded as if you'd been going through a bit of a 'dark night' yourself, though, it was so moving. I cried when I read it."
"Thanks! Pretty pleased with it myself." Cripes! A Warrior Immortal who cried over my words about John's poetry! How the hell was I gonna get him to Battle me? Seemed more and more likely I'd need to try my contingency plan - picking a fight.
Erasmus finished his drink. "It's nearly dinner time. How about I close up here and you come home with me for dinner? Magda's a real Swede - loves company, loves to cook, always makes too much for just the two of us. It'll be a treat for her to meet you, old friend. She seldom gets to talk to any of our Kind. She's insatiably curious about us. You know the drill."
"The older she gets, the more curious she becomes, is that it, Erasmus?" I thought my jab about his wife's age would get a rise out of him - pique his Warrior spirit. But no.
"You're so right. You always did understand Mortals, Methos. Male and female. How they think. What they feel. We're lucky, Magda and I," he mused. "She was only nineteen when we fell in love. We've been together twenty-five years. I've always looked older than my age at First Death." He did, with those deep lines carved into his cheeks, those chiseled features, and his pure white hair. "Now, she's nearly forty-five, and she still appears younger than me."
"She is younger than you, Erasmus. Centuries younger. Millenia."
"But to the world, in a couple more years, she'll be an old woman." He seemed saddened by that thought. He took a breath. "We'll need to move before that happens, pull up stakes. Several times. Go places where nobody knows us. We'll end by pretending to be mother and son. Awful for her. Thank God we have no children, no family. It'll be so hard for Magda as it is, even without that loss."
"And for you, Erasmus."
"You betcha. But it's not the same. How many times have I done it, after all? Moved on? Hundreds?"
"About that," I responded with a nod.
"For her - just the thought of leaving Stockholm, maybe even Sweden itself - leaving her house, her garden, her friends - it breaks my heart to see it breaking hers."
"Consider yourself lucky, Erasmus. Most Mortal-Immortal mixed marriages don't last twenty-five years. You know that. Mortals become frightened, when they see themselves aging and us remaining young. Appearance is everything to them. They run away, rather than be left behind. They expect to be left behind. It's the Mortal way, with May-December relationships. They cannot really fathom how we feel. How we love. What they mean to us."
"She's rare, my Magda. She knows how much I love her. And still, every night, when I go home, put my key in the lock, I worry. That she won't be there. That she'll have flown. To beat me to it."
"Well," I said with a smile, rising from the comfortable leather chair I'd been lounging in, "let's hope this isn't the day she's chosen to fly! I'm looking forward to meeting her, and eating a good Swedish meal!"
Magda Rasmussen was drop-dead gorgeous - no other way to describe her. Forty-five, seventy-five - she'd always be gorgeous. Those kind of bones, that sort of luscious skin. Those eyes. Took a man's breath away.
At dinner, she plied me with food and wine and questions, evidencing a true interest in Old Immortals - her husband was one, after all. She was sensitive, as well, to my less-than-joyous spirit.
"Michael - what is it? What's wrong?" Magda asked me, when we'd gone into the living room to drink coffee after the meal.
I knew I couldn't get away with evasions about something being wrong - not with this woman. I said, "It's not an Immortal thing, and it's not contagious, so you needn't worry about Edward."
"You know, Methos," Erasmus said, dropping his use of my phony name, "I've been wondering the same thing all evening. You're so different than I remember. You're really down, for you."
"You remember wrong, Erasmus. I was never 'up,' not once in fifty centuries."
"Maybe that's so," Magda said, her soft accented voice - we spoke English, since I have no Swedish - heavy with concern. "But this darkness I feel from you - it is not natural to you. I'm certain of it."
Irritated, I told her, "I had a bad day. It was a long lousy drive. Flat tires. Twice."
"Methos -" Edward cut me off.
I returned the favor, cut him off. "Erasmus - drop it. Leave it be. Man's entitled to have a bad decade, every few centuries, wouldn't you agree?"
"You're having a bad decade?" Magda asked, horrified. "That's a very long time, Methos. Won't you tell us about it? We'd like to help."
How I despise these Mortals, with their incredible compassion! And these Old Immortals, who think of themselves as nearly Mortal, when they ape the compassion of their lovers or friends.
"I'm outta here," I declared, getting up from the sofa. "Thanks for a lovely dinner, Magda. Great meeting you." I turned to Erasmus. "If you've got a little time tomorrow, I'll meet you for lunch. Pick you up at your office."
"Business?" Erasmus asked, immediately alert. With us, "business" could mean only one thing - the Game. He knew I hadn't come to visit him because I need a new accountant.
"In a way," I evaded. "Well?"
"Sure. Around noon okay?"
"I'll be there."
Wasn't sure I would be, though. I was pissed. I was beginning to understand how MacLeod felt when Amanda and I poked around in his life, tried to tell him what to do, how to live. Why couldn't people mind their own business? Erasmus' wife had just met me, and already she felt justified asking me intimate questions about my feelings. Erasmus - I hadn't spoken to him in nearly a century. Yet he felt he knew me like the back of his hand. Unbelievable! What right did they have to confuse the issue with their questions and concern?
I needed to walk for a bit, think. I drove Mac's car back to my hotel and parked it in the garage. I didn't expect to meet anyone I knew, so I was truly startled when I felt the presence of another Immortal in the underground passage which led back to the street. I wasn't carrying a sword.
"It's only me, Methos. Erasmus. Don't be frightened."
"You followed me?" I asked, astonished. The fellow's trademark had always been his disappearing act, swift, silent, sure. Now I discovered he had an appearing act to match.
"Of course. Magda insisted," he replied simply.
"What do you want? To talk now?" I was irritated. First, that he'd snuck up on me. Nobody should be able to do that. Second, that he was there at all. "My business can wait till morning."
"Can it? I don't think so." He leaned back against the fender of a car, once again a Warrior Immortal. Wary, relaxed, intense, curious - everything mixed together. He didn't have the passion, the fire, in his aura that MacLeod did. But he had depth and power. Beautiful. If I hadn't been so furious, the privilege of witnessing Erasmus Minor's transformation from businessman back into Warrior would have delighted me. As it was, I was ready to take his head.
"I told you - nothing's wrong. A few losses, lately. Maybe you've read about them, in the Watcher Chronicles."
"Nope," he said. "Limited access. My Watcher - a good friend, by the way - lets me read the literature, anything current being written by our Kind. Opens up the corporate files, so I can do business with Immortals, if I want to. I get to read the Obits, too. Who's gone. But I don't see the Chronicles. I don't know who took whose head. I don't read about the deaths of loved ones."
"Well, if you let the guy keep you on a leash -"
"I don't let him do anything. I'm grateful for what I get. I'm not a hacker. Don't want to be. Just want to know who's around. And keep up with old friends, like you."
"Why are we talking about this? I'm okay. Had a few personal reverses, is all. Nothing I cannot handle."
"We're talking about it, Methos," he replied earnestly, "because I'm trying to get past that brick wall you've thrown up! Something's really wrong, I can feel it. I know it. You know it. I'd like to help." Then he abandoned the pop psychology and drew himself up in a formal way. Like a Knight of old. Anachronistic as that. "I'd like to serve. If I can. If you'll permit me to."
"Serve? You want to serve me?"
"You've done your bit for me over the years, Methos. Why shouldn't I reciprocate?"
I shook my head. "No reason, of course. There is something you can do, to help. That's why I sought you out. Tomorrow, I'll talk with you about it. Okay? Tonight - I just need to rest. Sleep."
"Sure. Whatever you say. Just wanted you to know I'm ready for anything. I'm not rusty."
I had to grin. "Erasmus Minor, rusty? Thought never crossed my mind!"
He left as quickly and silently as he'd arrived. I only hoped he believed my tale about needing sleep. Sleep was the last thing I needed. I wanted to die, sure. In the meantime, I wanted to sink to the depths, to know how miserable I truly was.
When Erasmus had gone home - I hoped - I did what I'd intended to do all along. Prowled the Stockholm streets savoring the night, deliberately passing up the brightly lit tourist attractions and searching for the red light district, where I might find dark taverns, deafening music, and dangerous people. Needed to lose myself in a bad crowd.
After a little while I found just the right bar, an ugly little hole-in-the-wall with lighting so dim I couldn't see my drink, and noise so fierce I couldn't hear myself think. Perfect.
If I told you that, after about an hour in that joint I was so drunk I managed to get myself picked up by a leather freak, and beaten up by him and his friends, would you believe me? It's true. All of it, including getting my money stolen. And being left for dead in an alley. The whole nine yards.
I sure was having a bad decade, at the moment!
When I revived, I stumbled back to my hotel on foot, having not a kroner remaining to me to pay for a cab. Fortunately, I'd left a bit of money in the hotel safe. I'd get that in the morning. Right then, I cajoled the night clerk into putting a bottle of gin on my tab, and not calling a doctor to see to my bruises.
I made it up to my room on the first floor, got my raincoat off, and plopped into a chair. Opened the bottle and drank half the contents off in one long swig. Chug-a-lug. Within a few minutes, I was feeling no pain. Whether that was because of the liquor, or because I'm an Immortal, I'm not certain.
What I was feeling, was exhausted, bitter, furious, and stupid stupid stupid. What a plan! Erasmus Minor was some plan!
I knew in my bones now, that if I even hinted to him something of what I had in mind, he'd contact every Watcher in Europe until he'd tracked down my friends so they could save me from myself!
Cripes! This wasn't going to be easy. "Auto-Destruct Sequence Methos 1" wasn't going to be as easy as I'd thought it would be!
Evil Immortals trawling for Power - never can find one when you need him!
It was clearly well past noon when I woke suddenly. I knew the time because the sunshine pouring through the curtains made me squint. The buzz of an Immortal's approach was what wakened me, though, not the light.
For a few seconds it seemed like I'd finally gotten my wish. An Evil Immortal was about to lop off my head, put me out of my misery. Unfortunately, that wasn't my desire at the instant of waking. Quite the opposite. Usually took at least ten minutes before depression set in, in the mornings. And I couldn't for the life of me think where I'd hidden my swords.
After a moment I remembered. I'd hidden my sword, and my short sword, and MacLeod's katana in the third drawer down in the chest across the room. I was armed in a flash. Then I waited.
I'll give you a hint. The Immortal approaching my hotel room wasn't Erasmus Minor. But he certainly was somebody I knew. When I realized just who it was, I sagged, dropped my sword arm, and collapsed back onto the bed.
The Immortal banged on the door. "Methos! I know you're in there! Open up!"
"It's open," I replied wearily. "It's not locked."
The Immortal opened the door. "Methos - my God - you look a wreck! What happened to you?"
"What, so I didn't bother to wash off the dried blood - no big deal!"
"What's it from?" he asked, going into the bathroom and coming back armed with two wet washcloths. Set to work cleaning me up immediately. "What the hell happened to you?"
"I was mugged," I answered, shrugging. "Leave off doing that - I'll shower. Why the hell are you here, Duncan?"
"Who'd mug you?" he asked with a sneer.
"People who don't know what poverty looks like when they see it," I retorted. "I asked you a question - what the hell are you doing here?"
"Got a call from your friend Rasmussen. Erasmus Minor. He had a devil of a time finding me, he said. Contacted half the Watchers in Europe before he could track down your current friends, get to me, he said. He's a real powerful fella, Methos. Knows all there is to know about cutting through red tape. Got past Father Ambrose and on to me in thirty seconds flat. Told me he was worried about you. Told me you claimed to be having a bad decade."
"Well, so I am. What's it to you? You've your own fish to fry."
"You hungry? Speaking of fish." He'd finished cleaning me up, I guess. Now I was supposed to eat.
"When have you known me not to be hungry? I could use a beer."
"Ah, I can do beer!" He whipped a beer out of his coat pocket. "There you go! Don't say I never gave you anything!"
I picked at the tab of the beer can with trembling fingers, finally managing to open it. Drank it down in one long gulp. "You shouldn't worry, really," I said. "Simply overloaded. Too much sturm und drang, too much gloom. Just needed to break out a bit. Get my head banged in. See a bit of real life. Nothing to worry about."
"Methos, your friend Erasmus sounded serious. When are you gonna be serious? What are you hiding from me? Protecting me from? What's he know that I don't know?"
"Nothing important enough for you to drag your sorry ass all the way to Sweden over," I answered.
"So I should leave?"
I ran both hands through my hair. Squeezed my eyes shut. Opened them again. Looked at my feet. Then at the window.
"Should I leave?" he asked again. Persistent bugger.
"Tsk," I muttered. "Damn."
"What did you say?"
"I said dammit! You shouldn't be here, MacLeod! You told me yourself, not only were you keeping your vow, you were actually getting better, doing it! Feeling good. I heard you say the words. You said - and I quote - 'I'm happy!' Do yourself a favor, Duncan. Go back to the monastery. Be happy!"
"You gonna tell me what this is about? Your friend Rasmussen - he said he thinks you're ready to end things. That you're looking for somebody to take your head. Is that true?"
"What if it is? Not your concern. Please, MacLeod - go back to Carmel, make a new life. You're doing well. I wish I could stick around to watch you bloom. Be happy!"
"How happy do you think I'd be when the news of your death reached me, Methos?"
"You'd get over it." I was down again. Dry. Matter of fact. Blank.
"Unbelievable!" He raised his hands, then dropped them to his sides. "You still don't get it, do you?"
"Now what am I supposed to get?"
"I was holding on by the skin of my teeth, Methos, thanks to you! To your visits. Your letters. So uplifting. That was clearly bullshit you made up to keep me going. I was holding on, thanks to your Faith, your Hope, your love of God! How long do you think I'd last in there, without you?"
"There are twenty-one monks in a Carmelite Monastery, MacLeod," I lectured. "When they hit twenty-two, they make another foundation, someplace else. I'm confident that someone among the twenty beside you in your Carmel has a few thoughts about Faith, Hope, and the love of God to share with you! After all, they are monks! Seek courage from your brothers, friend! I'm a little short, at the moment."
"I've never met anyone with more courage than you, Methos," Duncan responded quietly. "Never."
"Right. Next you'll be telling me that there is a Santa Claus."
"Isn't there?" he asked innocently.
I laughed. "Depends on a lot of things. Variables. Tell you about it, some time."
"You can't really want to die, Methos. It's not possible."
"Yes. Oh yes. It's possible. It's a fact, MacLeod."
"What'd it take to make you feel differently?" he asked bluntly. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod wrote the book on cutting through red tape.
"You really want to know?"
"I really want to know, Methos. More than you dream, I want to know."
"You remember your katana, that you were asking about when we were in Seacouver?"
"What about my katana?"
I poked my chin in the direction of the chest of drawers. "It's in there, third drawer down."
He went over to the drawer, slid it out, looked inside. "Yes, it's there, Methos. What about it?"
"Pick it up. Hold it in your hands. Hide it in your coat. Carry it around with you. Use it, when you're asked politely. That's what it will take to make me feel differently. You - out here - where I can see you, feel your buzz."
He didn't touch his sword. He walked to the window and pulled the curtains to the side, letting in the light of day. Opened the window a few inches. Took a couple deep breaths. Didn't say anything, though.
"Well, that's what it would take, MacLeod. Otherwise - it's just a matter of time. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day soon -" He knew I meant that one day soon I'd find an Immortal who'd be happy to take my head, no questions asked, and no scruples at all. An Immortal who'd end it for me.
"I'll offer you a deal, Methos," he said at last. "A compromise."
"What sort of deal?" I asked quickly.
"I'll come out of the monastery."
"And in return?"
"You carry the swords. Yours, mine. All of them. However many it takes. You protect me."
"That leaves at least one of us breaking his promise, MacLeod. Might as well be both," I responded. "I don't think Archangels are heavily into half measures."
"I said it was a compromise. I won't take up the sword again, Methos. I promised. Not until the end of time. That's what I told the Archangel. If I'm still around at the End, I will fight. Until then, I will not." Suddenly, incredibly, his Scots accent was strong in his mouth.
"I haven't been able to keep my promise, Duncan. Not even close." How could I stop loving him? It was impossible.
"I knew you wouldn't, couldn't. Just trying took more courage than I've ever known anyone to have. It was the more difficult vow, yours. If I'd made it about you, I couldn't have kept it, either."
"Absolutely not," Duncan declared. "There's divesting, and then there's divesting. Some things just can't happen. What you promised is one of them. The Archangel will understand." Whatever Duncan wants, Duncan gets - no change there, still thinks the world revolves around him, not just my world.
I changed the subject. "You've gotta stay on Holy Ground, if you won't carry a sword. I cannot protect you, if someone Challenges you. I can't interfere."
"Just tell him, where MacLeod stands is Holy Ground, but if he's itching for a fight, you'll oblige."
"Somebody comes along, takes my head - then where will you be?"
"That won't happen," he said with a smile.
"You've got an exaggerated idea of my skill with a sword, MacLeod."
"I don't think so. Besides, what does it matter? Somebody takes your head, he might as well take mine. Think I'd care?"
I stared at him for a long time. He met my regard without dropping his eyes. His aura was clear as a bell. Finally I admitted, "No, I don't."
"It's about time. Then we have a deal?"
"We have a deal."
So far, so good. Our compromise has been working well. We've been back in Paris living on Duncan's barge for two weeks now, without incident. No Immortal's come forth to Challenge either of us yet. MacLeod walks about weaponless. I walk about with him, my heart in my mouth, armed to the teeth. Lovely.
So far, so good. The Archangel hasn't reneged, either, even if I have. No Demon's come forth to Challenge Duncan again. And the World's still there, right where God left it, after Creation. Good and Evil mixed together.
Want to know how I am? I cannot even appreciate MacLeod's aura, I'm so frightened someone will come to take his head. I don't think our scheme will work - even if I offer the other Immortal a chance to get my Old Power. There is no substitute for Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I've never taken so many deep breaths in my life. It's a wonder I don't pass out.
Am I happy? Now I've got what I wanted? Duncan out here?
There's a line in the film "Ship of Fools" which might answer that question. Oskar Werner says it, to Simone Signoret. Lovely line. He says, "Who's happy?" Says it with such a superabundance of irony, and such a smile! Perfect.
So, the answer to your question is - "Who's happy?" Nobody I know, nobody I've ever known, in fifty centuries of living.
Sorry. I made a mistake. There is one person I've known over the past five thousand years who's happy. He's happy right now. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod is happy. Therefore - therefore, it's all worthwhile to me. Oh yes indeed, yes indeed.