|The Death of Kings
by Maxine Mayer
"Who's after MacLeod?" I asked quickly, on my feet, very much concerned. Fighting whoever it was would be my job, not Duncan's, no matter who the Immortal challenged first.
"His name is Claudius. Just - Claudius."
"Thank you. And thank Quentin and Lamartin. What's your name?" Duncan asked.
"I am Sergey. A student of Lamartin's. It is an honor to meet you both."
"Won't you have a cup of coffee with us, Sergey? I was just gonna make breakfast. Join us."
"I will, thanks. I've heard so much about you two," Sergey said with a grin, coming down the barge steps into the room and taking a seat at the dinner table. "Lamartin says he's known Methos for millennia. Quentin says Methos is the best there is." He turned to me. "Would you consent to spar with me a little, sir? I know there's so much I can learn from you."
I didn't reply. I was confused. I stared at Sergey.
"Methos - how about it?" Duncan prodded me. "How about giving Sergey a tip or two, with the foils? You're really good. He'll learn a lot."
I still didn't answer. My stomach was churning. I was terribly frightened now.
"Methos?" Duncan really looked at me then, when I persisted in not responding to Sergey's question and his remarks. "Are you all right? You're white as a sheet. Let me get you a drink." He went to the liquor cabinet and poured me a scotch. I watched him, fascinated and horrified by turns.
"Here. Take it. Drink up. It'll do you good."
"Yeah, what? You feeling any better?" I'd taken a sip of the drink, automatically.
I turned to the youth. "Sergey - please, would you leave us for a moment. Wait on deck. Duncan will call you when breakfast's ready."
"If I'm in the way, I can leave. I didn't mean to intrude -"
"No, no," I replied. "Just - wait on deck."
The boy left. He couldn't have been more than twenty-three or twenty-four.
"Yes. What is it? What's wrong?"
"The boy. Sergey. He's a pre-Immortal, right? Very faint buzz. Right?"
"No - what are you talking about? He's an Immortal. He's not a boy, he's a man. Just because he's enthusiastic, that's no reason to think he's a kid. He must be - oh - five or six hundred at least. He's got a really vital buzz -"
"What?" Duncan was alarmed - rightly so.
"Sit down, Duncan. We're in big trouble."
"Okay, I'm sitting. What's the trouble?"
"I can't sense your presence. At all. The boy - I'm getting nothing from him."
"No, I'm not joking. When you woke me, I didn't sense your buzz, but it didn't sink in. But then the boy came, Sergey. I got nothing from him either, nothing at all."
"That's impossible, Methos! That's the one constant we've got - the feel of an approaching Immortal - besides our own bodies that heal! All the other rules - not fighting on Holy Ground, the rules of Ritual Combat, Fighting One-On-One, Not Interfering - nobody knows who made those up! But the feel of another Immortal, and the healing of our bodies - that's real! Nobody made that up! You can't not feel my buzz, or Sergey's. You can't!"
"Well, I didn't mean to cause a panic on the Stock Exchange, Duncan. Relax - we can get around it. I simply meant we're in trouble because you're not carrying, and I'm not sensing. If we stick together, we can overcome it."
"What are you talking about! You're sick! Sick! If you can't feel another one of us coming! We've got to find a cure! Not just some way to get around it!"
"I'm sorry, Duncan. There is no cure," I told him quietly. "It happens, sometimes, like Dark Quickenings. Like you turned Evil, from the overload, from receiving one too many Evil Immortals' Quickenings. We can burn out, from another kind of overload. Too much sensory input, they'd call it now. In the old days, they referred to it as the Night of the Black Glass. Nobody's ever come back from it, that I know about. Nobody. Black Glass is incurable, Duncan. I'm finished. It's over."
"No, that can't be! We'll talk to Quentin and Lamartin - they're even older than you - they must know something! Or Joe and the other Watchers - they've been observing us for millennia. Somebody must know something - a cure - a way to heal you!"
"Why are you panicking like this, MacLeod? Are you frightened you'll have to take care of me for the rest of our lives? Like a cripple? That you're stuck with a crippled friend? You won't need to do that. I'll be fine. I'll be safe on Holy Ground. Maybe we can join the same monastery," I joked mirthlessly.
"You're crazy, Methos! I'm worried about you! We've already planned on being joined at the hip until the day one of us dies, with this scheme of yours to protect me!"
"Your scheme, MacLeod, not mine! I told you it wouldn't work - I just didn't know why!"
"It will work. But first we've gotta heal you. I'm getting Sergey back in here. We're going to Switzerland now, today, first flight out! I wanna talk to those two buggers! They've gotta know something!"
He was as good as his word. Called Sergey back in. Got him to ring up Quentin and Lamartin, who decided they'd join us on the barge - the Mountain coming to Mohammed - rather than us going to them. Considering how infrequently Quentin left his chateau, I felt flattered.
MacLeod phoned overseas to Dawson. The way things were between them, that must have been a really hard conversation for them both. Dawson was on his way. He'd track down Amanda too.
I simply sat there, in shock. Nauseated. A bit dizzy. My heart at the bottom of my stomach.
It wasn't fear though. Not fear about the Game. As I'd told MacLeod, there are ways of getting around that - Holy Ground being the simplest. An Immortal companion who warns when another of our kind approaches, is another option. No, I wasn't afraid because of the Game, or of other Immortals sneaking up on me. It wasn't that. I didn't want to cry about that.
It was the loss. My own special gift, my only grace - a sensitivity to aura well beyond the abilities of even the most talented and oldest of us - was gone. Forever.
Amanda, her sweetness, her valour, lost. Quentin's courage. Lamartin's passion. Gone.
And with it all, my lovely Duncan was lost to me. All that he is, inside. All the others he cradles inside him were gone, lost to me forever. Had I called it a tomb, that I watched over - Duncan's aura? It was life! The richness and texture of life! My life!
My God! What have I done that this plague is visited upon me?
The silence was deafening. as profound as any the deaf must know. Darkness, too, as enveloping as any the blind must know. I sat in that dark silence, thinking what I must do. Say. To protect Duncan. Nothing viable came to mind. My thoughts simply spun, chaotic and dreadful. With each moment that passed I felt myself sinking farther down into an abyss of terror, the substance of my courage leaking away.
When morning had stretched into noon and then evening Duncan asked Sergey to leave us for a while. He said he needed to talk to me. It was only then that I found out the worst of it, when Duncan told me the rest. Until then, I hadn't realized I'd been living in ignorant bliss which was now at an end.
"Methos, there's something else, something more," he began, tentatively, hesitantly, as frightened and upset as I'd ever known him to be.
"What is it, MacLeod? Spit it out."
He chewed his lip. I was growing very anxious now. The shock had worn off and the pain was setting in. I breathed deeply. Still, he didn't speak.
"MacLeod, tell me," I ordered. "Now. Whatever it is. Before the others arrive. I've gotta know."
He looked at me with such compassion I thought I'd die on the spot. I stared a question at him.
"I can't sense you either. It's like you were Joe or any Mortal. Your 'feel' is gone. I'm very frightened, Methos. This is - I don't know what to do. What we'll do." He stopped, unable to go on.
"You can't be serious, MacLeod. What you're saying is impossible. I've never heard of such a thing."
"But Sergey - he knew I was Methos, that I'm Immortal -"
"I'm here, he felt my buzz. Maybe he doesn't realize there's nothing coming from you."
"It's impossible," I repeated. "Unheard of."
"It's true. I'm getting nothing from you. No sense of your presence at all. It's like everything you are is wiped out. Not even the faintest aura, that we get from a pre-Immortal, is there. I'm scared, Methos."
"You've every right to be, if what you're saying is true." I tried to keep my voice low, hold my panic inside. But I didn't know how much longer I could hold onto myself. I was as close to losing my grip as I could get without screaming, which was not an option. I'd only frighten Duncan to no purpose.
"Methos, you think your friends will be able to help?" He begged for an affirmative reply.
I shrugged. "I don't know. It's possible, I suppose. Quentin is incredibly empathic. Psychic, telepathic, the whole enchilada."
"What good will that do?" Duncan asked.
"If anybody can squeeze blood from a stone, it's Quentin. Perhaps he can still sense me. Which would be a hopeful sign. I mean, you're not the sharpest pencil in the box when it comes to aura, Duncan. So - if Quentin gets something, we're not in quite the desperate circumstances we'd be in if what you're sensing - that is, nothing - were all that's left of me."
"I see." He stood and took my glass. I'd been drinking scotch, straight up, for hours. "Well, then, I guess we've just gotta wait for the Boys." He refilled my glass at the bar and brought the drink to me. "Might as well get soused in the meantime." Trying to match my calm with his own brand of serenity and a try at humor. Not his forte, I'm afraid.
"Yes. Well. How about those Mets?" I joked. "You ought to get Sergey back in here. There's no point leaving the poor fellow out in the cold up on deck."
"He's not on deck. He's at the airport, meeting planes and escorting the others here."
"Ah, well then, cheers!" I raised my glass and downed its entire contents in one long swallow.
"It could be a sign of something, if we can't sense you, just the way you can't sense us?"
"MacLeod, I don't know," I answered wearily. "Sure. I suppose. What could it be but a sign of something? The question is, what? If it means I'm no longer Immortal, that's easily tested. We don't need to wait. We can cut me and see if I heal."
"You wanna try it?" MacLeod asked. I could tell he was afraid to be alone with me, if and when we discovered I wasn't even Immortal any longer. I wasn't sure I wanted to know just yet.
Maybe I did want to know, afterall, because I said quickly, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, "Give me a knife. A sharp one. Sterilize it. If I'm not Immortal, I don't want to die of an infection."
"That's not funny, Methos," Duncan said, getting up and fetching a knife from the kitchen area. He sterilized it in a glass which he'd filled from a kettle with boiling water. Then he came over to me and held the knife out, by the handle, as he had his katana, so long ago.
I told him, "You do it."
"No. Please. You do it, Methos. I - I don't want to hurt you. Even if it heals. Even for the sake of science." He grinned lopsidedly, feebly, and cleared his throat. "Here."
I grabbed the knife. Inhaled. Exhaled. Inhaled again. Felt dizzy. Squinted in anticipation of the pain. Then I slashed, as I had the day Joe and I talked to Christine Salzer. Slashed my palm. The blood poured out, onto the carpet. Duncan and I stared at my hand, fascinated. Mesmerized by the flow of blood. And we waited.
"Wipe it off, so we can see," Duncan said finally.
"Yeah, right. Good thinking, MacLeod." I passed my knuckles over the cut palm, smearing the blood away. We waited some more.
It seemed like we waited for hours, but it was only a minute or so. Not my cleanest or quickest healing ever, by a long shot. But the wound did heal and it was as if I'd never cut my palm at all, save for the drying blood on the carpet and on my hand.
I looked at Duncan and he at me, and we sighed. I laughed a little. "Thank God for small blessings," I said. "Maybe I can be killed like a Mortal - we don't know for sure - but I won't suffer from paper cuts. You wanna try the other thing, Duncan?"
"What'd you mean?"
"To see if I really am still Immortal. Shoot me. Or stab me through the heart - a preferred method with us older Immortals."
"I think I'll take it on faith. Or let somebody else try the ultimate test. As far as I'm concerned, the healing is enough for me. You're still Immortal." He slumped in his chair. "Thank God. At least you're still Immortal. Whatever it is that's blocking your 'feel,' it's not the loss of your Immortality. Thank God."
"So, I can still be killed in the old way - lose my head. Would have been useful, I suppose, to be Mortal. No more Ritual Combat. No more cutting off heads. No more danger. I could fight other Immortals, if I choose. Or walk away, if I wish. Without them even knowing that I was Immortal once upon a time. Almost worth it, don't you think?"
"I think you're out of your mind, Methos! You've got to be Immortal! Thank God, even if we can't feel you and you can't feel us, you're still Immortal! Thank God!"
I looked at him curiously. "I get it, MacLeod. You're happy I'm still Immortal. That is the message, right? I think you've said it a sufficient number of times."
"Well, I mean it," he replied stubbornly.
"Why? Why is that so important? What would that have meant to you, Duncan? What difference could it make? To you, I mean? If I were Mortal? I'd still be me - whoever the hell I am."
He shook his head. "You still don't understand."
"Enlighten me," I said bluntly.
"I don't want to be without you. I can't prevent your dying in Ritual Combat. But the idea of you dying of old age - let's just say, I wasn't planning on it."
"No? Well, neither was I. But - if it happens, it happens."
"No!" He stood and paced. "I - I couldn't stand it! Nobody else! Nobody else dying! I couldn't stand it!"
I stared at him, shocked. "MacLeod, what are you saying? Everybody dies sometime or the other. Even we can die. You know that."
"I know. But I just don't want to live with the idea that you'll grow old and die, Methos. I - I can't face that. You're too important to lose. You're the only one of us who understands - anything - of who I am. You and Joe. And he's dying every day. I can't bear to lose you that way, in my mind. In my heart."
"I see. But if it happened, if I were Mortal now - it wouldn't be so bad. For me." I looked down. Considering his nearly total lack of any degree of empathic sense, MacLeod surprised me by noticing immediately that I'd stopped in mid-thought.
"What? What is it, Methos? I know I panicked before - but if you can't sense us, well, like you said, we can get around it. I know you think that way. There's something else about this business that's bothering you. Something more. What is it?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"I think I've heard those words from you once too often, old friend. Try me." He was angry now.
"MacLeod, I have - had - a gift that was extraordinary among our kind. I don't relish living without it. Without what it gave me."
"All the Immortals inside you, for starters," I responded bluntly.
"What does that mean?"
"It means, my young friend, exactly what it says. When I sensed your buzz, it was not only you, in all your glory, it was everyone inside you. Everyone you've killed. Everyone whose Quickening you've taken. From the most vital, powerful, and oldest right down to a Green Boy like Richie. Everyone." I looked at him hard, to see if he'd gotten my message. "Everyone," I repeated. "The way you experience the individual instruments playing their separate lines in a symphony. Or the individual singers singing their own melodies in an opera. That's how I sense - sensed - the Immortals you've killed, inside you." I paused. "Not just in you, of course. In any of us. But you've killed so many I've known and loved -"
Duncan frowned, squinted at me, like he was seeing me for the first time. "Is that why you couldn't bear being away from me, from my buzz? Because of the others - Kronos and Byron and God knows who else?"
I couldn't really believe what I was hearing. It was beyond absurd. He was jealous. Of dead Immortals.
"No, MacLeod, that isn't why I couldn't bear being away from you. I loved you before you killed those men. Long before." It wasn't altogether true - he'd killed others whose aura blended with his, before we'd met, before Kronos and Byron and Richie - but it was close enough. "It's you. Your own aura is - how shall I put it - spectacular."
"But?" When had he developed this incredible insight into when I was leaving things out of my explanations? What a time for Duncan MacLeod to begin to understand me!
"But what? Do I miss them? Yes. Oh yes! Sure, I can live without the songs. As you can live without music or poetry or art. The frills. However, I prefer not to see my existence drained of all that makes living worthwhile. Wouldn't you?"
"I think I'm gonna be sick." He went into the lavatory and I heard the water running. He was truly sick.
"MacLeod," I said, knocking on the bathroom door. "You okay?"
"No. I'm not okay. You can come in."
He was standing by the sink, his hands resting on the edge of the wash basin, staring at me in the mirror. He'd thrown water on his face, but it hadn't helped. His eyes were bottomless wells of pain.
I walked over and turned off the water. Grabbed a towel and threw it to him. "MacLeod, it'll be okay. I promise you. I'll be fine. Maybe Quentin can help. If he can, that'll be great. If not - well, I always wanted to be like them. Like the Mortals. Now I'll have my shot."
"You don't need to try to make me feel better, Methos. You're the one who's suffering. I'm just - feeling sorry for myself."
I did an exaggerated doubletake. "Wow! Almost worth the shock, to hear you say that, Duncan! What an incredible concept - you feeling sorry for yourself! Did you think of it on your own, or did you have help?"
He turned from the mirror and looked at me. "How long can you keep this up, Methos? How long?"
"The front. This farce. You gonna keep pretending that how I feel is more important to you than how you feel, even under these circumstances? What do you call it, what you're doing? Protecting children and others who can't defend themselves? That's the way Quentin described you, remember? At the time, I thought he was putting me on." He wiped his face quickly and pushed past me out of the bathroom. I followed him out.
"MacLeod, how you feel actually is more important to me than how I feel, surprising as that may seem. Sorry to screw up my image yet again."
"Fuck your image, Methos!" He grabbed my arms at the biceps and shook me hard. "Fuck your image! You're gonna get it back, all of it! Whatever you had - your gift - you're gonna get it back! Somebody will find a way to cure this Black Glass thing! I'll find that somebody, or die trying!"
"Very noble of you, MacLeod. Very Highlander. Very Clan Chieftain. I'm impressed."
"Stop it, damn you! I want to help you!"
I shook off his hands and moved away from him. "MacLeod, I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking for the Holy Grail! I want to live what time I've got left to me - whether it's fifty years or fifty centuries! Can you understand that? I don't want to go searching for a - a Magic Crystal to save me! If I can't feel aura, then I can't feel aura. I'll go with the flow. I'll survive. Sure, it won't be easy. But it'll be a lot easier than what you've got in mind. Trust me. Looking for miracles isn't a plan."
"You've got a better plan?" he retorted.
"Yep. I sure do. Your plan from the start. I squire you about to all the good parties. You don't carry a sword. I do. You don't fight. I do. We'll just add an item to the list. I don't sense other Immortals approaching. You do." I flipped a wrist. "Simple as that." I sat down in my favorite chair and put my feet up on the coffee table, crossing them at the ankles. "Is there any more scotch left, MacLeod? If there is, fill 'er up, if you don't mind."
"I don't understand you." He went to get me a refill, then returned and gave me the glass. "I'll never understand you. Never catch up." He shook his head.
"Now what's so hard to figure, MacLeod?"
"I can understand your not wanting to make a life's work out of searching for a cure. Okay. That's reasonable. But you're willing to give up without even trying. You tell me that what you've lost is the best thing in life, to you. So how is it you don't even want to take a stab at getting it back? How is it you wanna let this Black Glass thing take the music from your life without even trying to find a cure? I don't understand it. I don't understand you."
"That's because you're looking at the whole business from the wrong angle. You're looking at it as if there's a cure out there and we just have to find it. I'm looking at it from an historical perspective. There is no cure. No one has ever come back from the Night of the Black Glass. No one, MacLeod. That's fact. That's history. From that angle, I'm being reasonable. You're being foolish."
"So, humor me. Let me be foolish. Let me try. Help me try. Help Quentin and Lamartin and Joe and Amanda try."
"Methos, please." I shook my head 'no.' "Please. You say you care more about how I feel than about how you feel. Well, I won't feel happy if we don't try." He hadn't tried to wheedle anything from me in a long long time.
"Why do you want to put me through this, MacLeod? Why put yourself through it? There's no point, I tell you. None."
"Like I said, humor me."
I sighed. How long had I known him? Two years? Close to three? Hadn't been able to refuse him anything yet. Not likely to start now.
"Okay. Whatever you say. One year, MacLeod. I'll give you one year. At the end of that time, if things haven't changed - if I'm still 'deaf, dumb and blind' - that's it. No more searching. Is it a deal?"
Duncan smiled like the cat who'd swallowed the canary. I could tell I'd given him longer than he'd hoped I would, dreamed I would, to find a cure. Hell, I'm Immortal. I can wait. He said only one word. "Deal."
Another day passed, and they were all here, on the barge.
Joe Dawson, who sensed nothing to begin with, greeting me with a hug like the old friend he was. Reassuring me with his eyes that we'd find an answer.
Amanda, her horror plainly visible to me, though her expression was one of amusement. Embracing me, tousling my hair, but saying nothing.
Sergey, totally subordinate to Quentin and Lamartin, who were their imperious and sophisticated selves. The three of them together looked like nothing more than a trio of rock musicians come to pay a call on their grandparents. To me, the only thing unusual about them, marking this visit as extraordinary - besides the fact I couldn't tell whether they were Immortals or doorknobs - was their clothes. Neither Quentin nor Lamartin had troubled to take the time to dress in their typical outmoded finery. They wore jeans, sweatshirts, leather jackets and hiking boots. I'd never seen either of them in mufti before. Couldn't believe they owned the things. Again, I was impressed.
"Yes, Methos, it is urgent," Quentin told me, apparently reading my mind. "Sorry I didn't bother to dress for the occasion. My sartorial splendor will simply have to wait for another day." He walked over to me. I remained seated. I hadn't moved, after I'd greeted Amanda and Joe. I wasn't about to stand for the others, giving my "problem" more weight than it warranted.
"Thanks for coming, Quentin, Lamartin. But you're wasting your time."
Duncan cut in, "Methos, we have a deal."
"Right. Okay. Do your thing, Quentin. I won't stand in your way."
"My 'thing,' as you call it, won't stand up to this disaster, as you know very well, Methos," Quentin retorted. "The Night of the Black Glass is incurable. I'm here to find out if that's really what ails you." Then he spoke to the others. "All of you, out. Now! I need to be alone with Methos. There's too much buzz in here. I can't hear myself think."
Nobody moved for a moment. Quentin barked out again, "Leave! For God's sake, leave! Now!"
They left. Quentin at his most authoritative is not to be withstood. Certainly, I'd never tried.
"They'll be back, Quentin. You'd better hurry. MacLeod won't leave me alone for long, and neither will Amanda or Joe."
"You're not alone, Methos - you're with me. When did you start thinking those three are the only people on the planet who matter?"
"Don't know. Don't care. It's how I feel. I love you, Quentin. I love Lamartin, too. But you're far away and long ago. I try hard to live in the present." I grinned wryly. "Even this present."
"Well, yes, you always were a here-today, gone-tomorrow sort of fella, Methos. How foolish of me to expect you to care for me and Lamartin the way you did two thousand years ago, simply because we still care for you."
"You said it. Here today, gone tomorrow. Is that a medical diagnosis, or just random chat?"
"Methos, you're impossible!"
Quentin smiled. He didn't talk for a while. Instead, he busied himself fetching a drink for me and one for himself. Spying out the lay of the land. Inspecting MacLeod's artifacts. Finally, he came over to where I was sitting and breathed deeply. "Nothing at all, Methos, from you. You persist in sensing nothing from us, I take it?"
"Nothing, Quentin. And if anybody's buzz could penetrate this - blackout - yours and Lamartin's would."
"Well, that's something."
"I assume you've tested your Immortality, per se? You and MacLeod?"
"Of course. I heal. He wouldn't 'kill' me. No stomach for it. But - I heal. I'm still Immortal."
He smiled again, looked thoughtful. "That's something, I suppose."
"If you say so."
"I say so, Methos." He wandered the barge again, then got himself another drink without bothering to refill my glass this time. Thinking. I could see it, but I couldn't feel it. Horrible.
Finally Quentin said, "Such a strong aura you have, Methos. It's almost impossible to believe you could block it this thoroughly. From me."
"What'd you mean? You think I'm faking it?"
"No, no, nothing so pedestrian! Not from you, dear heart. Never from you. Always something intricate, something to tease the mind, make me squirm and work hard. Something - devious."
"You're saying I'm faking it, without knowing it?"
"I'm saying, I don't know what's happening, but this is not the classic form the Night of the Black Glass is known to take. No Immortal's been recorded as losing his own aura in Black Glass syndrome. No one. Only, the sense of another's buzz."
"So, it's not Black Glass?"
"I don't know. You're so old. Perhaps it's taken another turn with you. Mutated. Give me a little time."
"Quentin, this isn't like you. You've never been one to beat about the bush. You come, you see, you pronounce judgment. I was hoping you could put this thing to rest. Tell Duncan what I've got's incurable. He's made me promise to let you all search for a cure for a year! A year's a long time, Quentin. I don't want that. I couldn't bear it!"
"The Black Glass is caused by sensory overload, or some such thing, Methos. Too much buzz at too close quarters, for too long a time. It's rare for many reasons. One is, we don't run in packs. We're alone, by definition. In the End there can be Only One. It's not prudent to become too attached to another."
"You have - to Lamartin. I have - to Kronos and the others. Then there are the Immortals who marry one another. Teachers who spend a great deal of time with their students -"
"That's not the same - teachers and students. The buzz of a Green Boy isn't the same as an older Immortal's. It cannot have the same effect."
"But it's not unheard of for our kind to become attached to one another," I insisted.
"No, Methos, it's not unheard of but it's rare. You know that. But you and MacLeod -" He shook his head.
"What about us? You think I've overloaded on MacLeod? We've hardly been together that long, without time between. A couple weeks is all -"
"Methos, don't play games with me. MacLeod's aura is different. Unique. Uniquely laced with oodles of that aphrodisiac you adore - Old Immortals' Quickenings. Plus his own not inconsiderable, powerful, and utterly charming buzz. A little of that goes a long way, even for me. To a sensitive like you, it must be devastating."
"You're saying, it'd be cured if I left him - the Black Glass sickness, if it is Black Glass? I'd get my sense of other Immortals back. I'd get my own aura back. If I weren't so close to Duncan?"
"I'm not saying it. You're saying it. It's a theory, Methos. Just a theory. I don't know whether it'll work. Or help. It's worth a try, n'est-ce pas, cher ami?"
I shook my head. "Not to me."
"Not to me. I can't leave him, Quentin. Don't you get it? He won't carry a sword. If I don't protect him, who will? It's the best thing I can do with my life. I won't leave him."
"You'd give up your gift for that Green Boy? No matter how it hurts? And I know how it hurts, Methos. I've been there, done that."
"Me. Long ago. I thought it was the Black Glass, too, when it happened. It was merely proximity to very old powerful Immortals. Too much of it, over too long a time. I left one of them. And I got my sense of other Immortals back, and my own aura."
"Quentin - who?"
"You, mon amour, you. Alone with Lamartin, I was fine. Within a few hours. The two of you together - it was impossible."
"You never told us. Told me. Does Lamartin know? Why you left me?"
"No. I let him believe I left you for love of him. Made him happy, proud peacock that he is, to think he'd bested the fabulous Methos in an affair of the heart. Such a simple thing. But it made him happy. I'd never disillusion him."
"Quentin, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I wish you'd told me. We could've worked something out."
"No. Best the way I did it. Worked out well for all three of us. I could almost feel you yearning to get on with your life, get away from us both, Lamartin and me. What better gift could I offer my Teacher than freedom, in return for the freedom you'd given me?"
For a moment I didn't speak. Then I stood and embraced him. "Thank you, Quentin. I'll remember."
"I'm certain you will. But you must do more than remember. You must take my advice, leave MacLeod. It doesn't need to be forever. But you cannot remain with him, night and day. You cannot be the one who protects him. He should return to Holy Ground, if he refuses to defend himself. There's no alternative."
"There's got to be. What you suggest is unthinkable. I won't do it. And you can't tell him." I looked at Quentin with fear in my heart and said solemnly, "Or I'll take your head and Lamartin's, in revenge. That's a promise, Quentin." An idle threat, of course, but I felt that way at the moment.
"Somebody's got to tell him," Quentin retorted with a shrug. "Duncan MacLeod will never rest until he's found a cure for your 'illness,' Methos. You know that. A year, ten years - he'll die trying. You want that, old friend?"
"He won't die. I won't let him. I'll protect him. We'll - look for a cure. What difference does it make how we spend our time? One way's as good as another. I won't leave him. I can't."
"You'd willingly stay with him, without the feel of his aura or the richness within?" Quentin asked.
"I love him, Quentin. Buzz or no buzz. Music or no music. From the moment we met. I must be with him. The alternative is unthinkable. My life would be impossible."
"Someone I know once said, one either moves towards love or away from it - there is no other direction. Perhaps he was right after all, Methos."
"He was right. If there's one thing I've learned in five thousand years, it's that love is the only thing we've got, Quentin. The only thing. Everything else fades to insignificance compared with it. No price is too great to pay for it. No sacrifice too extreme. It's the only thing of value. It's worth - everything."
Night fell early, reminding me that autumn had come again to Paris. After Sergey, Quentin and Lamartin left the barge I went up top to get some air, and to find Duncan, Joe and Amanda.
Dawson greeted me first with, "Methos - any luck? The Princes of the Universe wouldn't say a word to us, except goodbye."
"Nothing, Joe. Quentin thinks time will tell."
Duncan asked curtly, "Tell what?"
"Whether it's Black Glass or something - temporary. He told me not to worry. That I'll survive."
"We knew you'd survive - that wasn't the issue," Duncan retorted. "You telling me everything?"
"All the news that's fit to print," I quipped.
"That's what I'm worried about," Duncan said. As if I didn't know.
"Methos," Amanda asked, "you still want me to try to find out what I can about Black Glass? I've got some old friends I can talk to. If you think it'll help."
"Sure. You and Joe keep at it. Be discreet, if you can. Never can tell what'll turn up. Quentin doesn't know everything."
"Well, I'm off then." Amanda kissed me goodbye and squeezed Duncan's hand. "You hang in there, brown eyes! It'll all work out - it always does!" Whatever she was thinking about the latest twist to Duncan and my relationship, she wasn't telling me, and she wasn't telling him. This was the first contact they'd had since he'd left the monastery, and it wasn't pretty, friendly or warm, Amanda's lip service to their friendship notwithstanding. I tried not to worry about her. I had enough on my plate. If she needed me, she wouldn't hesitate to let me know. For now, my certainty of that would have to suffice.
MacLeod hugged Amanda and kissed her on both cheeks. But his mind and heart weren't in it. His distraction and despair were as palpable to me as if I could still feel them. They hung in the air. He wore them like a shroud. He hadn't changed clothes in two days. His hair was still short from the monastery cut - don't know when he'd last combed it. I'm not saying I'd done any better with mine, but his looked like a rat's nest. Oh, yeah, this blankness wasn't going to be as difficult to endure as I'd imagined. Even without my gift, I could read Duncan like a book. Not music, but definitely pulp fiction. Always liked to read.
"Joe, keep trying," Duncan begged his Watcher. "Please."
"I'll keep at it, Mac, absolutely. There are experts in the Watchers I'm gonna try to get in touch with. Work with. They don't need to know why I wanna know about this sickness. They just gotta get me answers. They'll give their all for the cause."
"You think so?" Duncan sounded pathetic.
"I know so, MacLeod. Maybe you don't realize it, what with some of the experiences we've all had lately with the Watchers and the Renegade Watchers, but our Society isn't just a bunch of historians. We're people who love Immortals. Most of us take what happens to you guys real personal. I'm not the only Watcher who breaks the rules about contact and friendship - not by a longshot."
MacLeod looked at me for reassurance and I nodded. "Joe's telling the truth, MacLeod. You've had some bad luck with Watchers. But the good outweighs the bad by a hefty margin. Take it from somebody who's been there, on the inside."
"Okay. Keep in touch, Amanda, Joe. Let me hear what you find out." Joe and MacLeod shook hands goodbye. Not all the way towards friends again, but a start.
We watched Dawson and Amanda get into her car and drive away, then went below deck together. For me, there wasn't much more to do or say. I was bone tired. I tried to stay alert, however, because I was waiting for Claudius, the Old One who was after Duncan's head. There hadn't been a moment since Sergey'd arrived on the barge that I'd permitted myself to forget his original message to us. Claudius would be the first test of our scheme for me to protect Duncan. I hoped it wouldn't turn out to be the last.
"You hungry, Methos?" Duncan asked, trying to return our lives to a semblance of normalcy.
"You cook, I'll eat!" I said with a grin.
"Good." He set about preparing a snack with the verve of somebody training for the Olympics. To describe him as hyper would be more than an understatement.
"Hey, Mac - slow down. You're making me dizzy!"
"Sorry. Didn't mean to upset you, Methos. You're not hungry any more?" He took what I'd said seriously, absolutely without humor.
"I was only joking, MacLeod. What's the matter with you? Don't you think I can stave off this Claudius guy? You used to think I was pretty good with a sword - not as good as you, of course! But we all need to think that - that we're the best. I won't let you down. Guy's head will roll, no doubt about it."
Duncan stopped his preparations and leaned on the kitchen counter, head in his hands. "My God, what makes you think I'm worried about Claudius! I'm going crazy, and you're making jokes."
"Granted, this isn't opera, Duncan, but if you're not worried about Claudius, you're an idiot! I'm certainly worried! And I promise you, the basso will die. The tenor will live. And the baritone. All jokes aside."
"It's not funny, Methos! It's not funny!" He spun and lit into me then. Actually attacked me physically, and I'm no match for Mac in the martial arts department. He'd hit me with his fists in the face twice before I managed to roll away from him and grab my sword. Fortunately, it was still where I'd left it the day before, on the floor, next to my chair.
"Try that again, MacLeod, and you're the original headless horseman!" I told him, circling as best I could in such close confines. "What's the matter with you? You don't know who your friends are!"
"You're not my friend! You're just in with me on a suicide pact!" He was dancing like a boxer now, weaving in and out, trying to find a way to get past the sword in my hands and knock me down again.
"What's got into you, MacLeod?"
"You! You've got into me! You're lying! About Quentin, about the Black Glass thing, about everything! I should have known better than to trust you!"
I lied to him straight out. "I'm not lying, MacLeod. Quentin isn't sure what's wrong with me. He says, as long as I'm Immortal and capable of defending myself - not to speak of you - against other Immortals, there's nothing to be done. Nothing I can do. Just - wait it out. Why don't you believe that?"
"Because you told me the truth before - 'sensory overload,' you called it - so you've gotta be lying now. Stands to reason, if you got away from other Immortals, you might get your 'feel' back, for others of our kind. And your own buzz back, too. If I can figure that out, don't try to tell me Quentin couldn't!"
"What other Immortals?" I asked warily.
"Me. If you stay away from me, you've got a chance to heal. But you won't do that, oh no! You've gotta play the hero!"
"If this wasn't so funny, I'd laugh, MacLeod. Turning the tables on me? I'm no hero."
"I'm not so sure of that." He was still looking for an opening in my defenses. I think he planned to knock me out and carry me to a place far from him - Holy Ground - and leave me there. Then disappear himself.
"Mac, calm down. Sit down. Let's talk about this. Before one of us gets hurt."
"You promised me you'd try to find a cure, but the first attempt we make - with Quentin - you sabotage it."
"How do you mean? I didn't sabotage anything. I talked to Quentin. He told me what he thought. What's your problem, Duncan?"
"My problem is, I won't let you sacrifice yourself for me!"
I was about to answer when I saw him stiffen. I knew that look. Another Immortal was approaching, and MacLeod sensed him coming. Showtime!
This was terrible, but not impossible. I could see I'd been right about that. If we stuck together, it would work - him sensing, me fighting. I stared at Mac and from his moves could judge what was going on with the approaching Immortal. "Stay down here, Duncan. I'm going on deck. See what I can see."
"Not alone, you're not."
"There's no point you coming, if you won't use your sword. Only make it more difficult for me to reason with the guy."
He sneered. "You're gonna reason with Claudius - an Old Immortal so dangerous that Quentin warned us about him? That I've gotta see."
"Well, it's not unheard of - you've done it, many times. And so have I. I didn't spend the last two hundred years on Holy Ground, MacLeod. But I still managed not to face anyone. That doesn't mean they didn't want to face me, or try to face me. Only - that I talked my way out of it."
"Fine. Go up top. Talk your way out of this! I'll be right behind you, watching."
I'm not certain, but it seems to me now that I'd had some idea that when push came to shove, MacLeod wouldn't be able to do it - wouldn't be able to watch someone else fight his battles for him. I'm pretty certain I believed that he'd grab his katana - he knew where I'd stored it on the barge - and fight for himself. That he wouldn't be able to squelch his own nature. Not when push came to shove. I was determined to prevent that.
I stood on the barge deck sword in hand and watched Claudius approach. He didn't look like an old Immortal. I had to take Sergey's word for that. I felt nothing from the man.
But there was something in Claudius' stance, in the way he held his head, that fairly screamed "olden days" to me. He had the carriage of a Roman general. He planted his legs on the deck like a soldier. His expression wasn't brutish or evil. It was straightforward. Even his clothes spoke for him - simple, serviceable, plain. This was clearly not a complicated or vain man. He'd survived by his sword, made it into the twentieth century by the exercise of honor and courage and skill. But he hadn't lived by his wits, he was no Philosopher-King. He was a man like Case, I was sure. Ritual Combat was his life. I'd never succeed in talking him out of anything.
I tried anyway. "We don't need to do this," I opened.
"I am Claudius. Which of you is Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander?" he parried.
"That doesn't matter," I said, cutting off the possibility of Mac responding. "We don't need to do this."
"Are you Duncan MacLeod?" Claudius repeated.
"No, I'm not. I am - I am Methos." I couldn't recall the last time I'd actually admitted who I was, in the context of the Game. "But we don't need to do this. We can talk about it." I smiled, surprised to find myself using the Messenger's phrase.
"There's nothing to talk about. You are Methos. I've heard of you. I accept your Challenge," Claudius said. "I'll take MacLeod afterwards. I know he is an honorable man, and will wait until I'm ready to fight again, after the Quickening."
"You're not listening, my friend," I told him, already considerably annoyed. "I haven't challenged you. I don't want to fight you. Go away. Leave us alone. Leave MacLeod alone. Go with your head, and my blessing. We don't need to do this."
Claudius didn't answer with words, he answered with his sword. Came at me without hesitation and without warning. Joined the Battle. No chance to talk now. That time was over.
"Methos - let me!" Duncan cried.
"Too late, MacLeod - he's after my head now! Avenge me, if I die!" I cried melodramatically. I'm nothing if not a joker. I knew I wouldn't die - not against Claudius.
"I will, I swear it!" MacLeod shouted, and I could sense the fear in his voice. Definitely, even without sensing his aura, I'd know what he was thinking and feeling. Good. All was not lost. I rejoiced.
Then I fought.
I don't want to make this sound less difficult than it was. Claudius was talented, powerful, skilled and experienced. And his courage was nothing to laugh at. But he didn't have a chance against me, even without my short-sword, which I'd left below. Man wouldn't know a trick if it bit him.
Clang clang clang. Clang clang clang. Unbelievable. Clang clang clang. Reverse parry reverse. Clang clang - thrust. To the heart. Full in. Full out. Up swing. Slice down. Head off. Done. Over. No point dragging it out.
Quickening. Two thousand years of Claudius' life flashing before me. Hanging on to his memories for dear life, I scanned for more than memories, more than power. Scanned for buzz. Nothing. Collapsed.
Carried below deck. Dropped on the bed. MacLeod gone, cleaning up the mess, I assumed. Five minutes out of my life. Blink of an eye. Two millennia flashing before me. Tremendous power filling me. Nothing of the man himself left inside me, that I could feel. No music. Not a note. Nothing. My God!
MacLeod returned after a short time. Doesn't take very long to dump a man's body in the river, sluice down the deck and breathe a prayer, of course.
"You okay, Methos?" he asked.
"Well, I suppose I should thank you."
"Bit grudging, aren't you?"
"I do thank you. It'll take some getting used to, I guess," he replied, and sat down heavily in a chair near the bed.
"Take your time." I hoped I didn't sound the way I felt. Duncan's powers of observation were not the greatest, but he'd been remarkably adept at reading me lately. The way I felt was not something I wanted him to know. Ever.
"Disappointed?" he asked. "I know I am."
Damn his eyes, guessed it in one. "What'd you mean?"
"The Quickening. You thought it would heal you, right? Bring your feel for buzz back. I'd hoped it might bring your own aura back."
"Did you?" I replied as casually as I could.
"That's why I let you do it - fight my fight."
"Oh, is that why? Thought you wouldn't take up your sword again, for any reason."
"You know me better than that, Methos. The minute I felt him coming, I needed to fight him. I only held back for your sake - on the chance the Quickening would heal you."
"Sounded pretty scared I'd lose to me, MacLeod. Didn't sound like you thought I'd get Claudius' Quickening at all."
"That's not the point. I had to let you try. Doesn't mean I was sure you'd win."
"You weren't sure I'd win? You're putting me on."
"It's not like you're the best swordsman in the world, no matter what Quentin and Lamartin think."
"I resent that, MacLeod. With all my heart. I may not be the strongest, or the toughest, but I am a survivor. It's what I do best. Call it what you will - good swordsmanship, good tactics, cheating - I survive. I resent you doubting that for a minute."
"One minute you're about to end it all, get some guy to take your head. No sooner do you give up on that fool idea, this Black Glass thing hits you, and you lose everything that makes life worth living. How could you be surprised if I wasn't sure you still had the will to win?"
"I haven't lost everything that makes my life worth living. I haven't lost you. Look in the mirror. Head still attached to your shoulders? Yes? Bottom line, I haven't lost anything worth anything, at all."
"That's not what you said a few hours ago, Methos."
I grinned. "That's before I realized I could read you like a book, even without your buzz."
He laughed. "This was news?"
"Well, we're none of us perfect." I stood and stretched. "Now, I'm hungry."
"Now, I feel like cooking, not demolishing pots." He got up and went over to the kitchen area.
"Cook, then. Afterwards, let's get a drink someplace. Not the jazz joint."
"Good thinking. Definitely not the jazz joint. Talk about bad memories." Duncan looked up from his pots and pans. "You got Claudius' memories? His power? Right?"
"Yes. Oh yes. It's just the buzz that's lost to me."
He shook his head. "What can it mean? What is it? Why?"
"Duncan, please. Forget about it. Cook. We'll eat. We'll drink. Don't worry it like a bone."
"I can't help it."
"I know. It's your nature."
"Methos - it's just so - unfair." He stopped preparing the food and looked up again, eyes filled with pain.
"Cook, MacLeod." I motioned for him to get back to work. "Unfair. You think it's unfair?"
"You don't think I did anything to deserve this?"
"I don't," he replied, glancing at me.
"That's funny. The first thought I had, when I realized what happened, was that I must've done something bad, to deserve this - thing - being visited upon me."
"What, three thousand years ago?" Mac asked. "And you're being punished for it now?"
"You don't imagine I've done nothing bad in the last three thousand years, do you?"
"Probably nothing worse than any of us have done," he replied.
"What - am I being naive again?"
"You said it."
"Well, it doesn't matter. There is no justice. Only mercy. Whatever you did, you don't deserve this happening to you."
"Kind of you to think so, Duncan," I said softly. I was touched.
"I do think so." He hesitated, then spoke again. "Methos - what you're trying to do for me. It's - I can never repay you for it. It's beyond price. Thank you."
"Do our humble best," I said, embarrassed. Pleased, too, I suppose. Flustered, more than anything. I was used to Duncan's disdain for me. His gratitude was a welcome change, but something fairly new between us. It'd started when he was in the monastery, and was clearly growing apace. I didn't dislike the feelings it aroused in me, but I'd be a while accustoming myself to the entire experience.
We had a good evening, MacLeod and I. Went to a little blues club not far from the barge. Drank too much, or not enough. Even had a laugh or two. Around four in the morning we started back home on foot, as we'd come. MacLeod seemed subdued.
"What's up, Mac?" I asked.
"Thinking about Richie."
"Yeah, what about him?"
"He loved you, Methos. It was the strangest thing. The less 'wisdom' you offered, the more he seemed to admire you. Before - the end - we talked about you. He said, if he could be like you - 'just a guy' - when he was old, he'd be satisfied."
"That's very flattering. A lovely memory. Thanks for telling me."
"Well, I know you didn't care about Richie one way or the other, but I wanted you to know."
"Duncan, I loved the kid. How could I not? He was the spitting image of you, only with red hair. I don't know how he managed to incorporate every chivalrous principle you live by into his twentieth century soul, but he did it. Wore it all - like a prince. I cared, MacLeod."
"I wish -"
"Don't go there, Mac. It's over. Done with. Nothing'll bring Richie back. Mourn if you must. Grieve. But don't wish for anything. Only make you -"
"Only make me what?"
"Weak, MacLeod. Wishing for what you can never have makes you weak. We can't afford to be weak. Not in our line of work."
"Is that what you believe?" he asked, curious. "That regrets weaken a man?"
"I know mine do. I try to discard one regret when I take on a new one."
"It's how I survive," I said, shrugging. He didn't reply. We walked on. The night was nippy. I pulled my coat collar up and hunched my shoulders against the wind. Walked a bit faster. When I looked around I realized that MacLeod had stopped walking.
"Methos, what's the new one? The latest regret you've taken on?"
"Duncan, let it be. Let's get home. To the barge. It's cold."
"No. Please. Stop here with me for a minute." We weren't far from the barge.
I turned and rejoined him, and we stared at the Seine. The river lapped against its stone confines only a few feet from where we stood. It was a beautiful night. I had the fleeting thought, what a shame to waste it with talk.
"What'd you want to know now?" I asked wearily.
"Regrets. Your latest. Tell me."
"You wanna share?"
"Don't start, Methos."
"Okay. But let's walk. I'm cold." He nodded agreement and we headed towards the barge. "I've only one real regret. I regret the Game. The death of kings. Always have, always will."
"You've never accepted it, have you? Believed it? In the End there can be Only One?"
"Guess not. From the beginning I fought against that bit of lore. Tried to find a way around it - reason around it, somehow. Hated to see them go, you know."
"Our kings. All of them. I loved them all, the evil ones as well as the good."
"No moral judgments? No one worth more than another? Not even Darius?" MacLeod spoke of what he knew. I'd loved Darius. How could I make Duncan understand what he didn't yet know?
"I loved Darius, yes. But no more than I loved Grayson. So, I suppose you're right. No moral judgments. It's who I am, MacLeod. Maybe because I knew them both so well, so intimately - because of their auras, their feel. I knew them too well to judge."
"That's who you are," Duncan agreed quietly.
"You're thinking, I love you best, if I'm willing to kill for you, maybe die for you. Right?"
"I'm thinking, I'll never understand you, Methos. Not if I live another thousand years."
"You're the best I've known, MacLeod. Objectively speaking, of all of us I've seen, you're the best. But in my heart, I'm not objective. Sure, I didn't want Kalas to take over the world. But I still loved him. He was still beautiful, even though he took the Evil Path."
"That's a strange way of putting it, Methos. He didn't take the Evil Path. He was Evil."
"That's not true. It's only how you see it. Makes you a World Class Warrior, that belief, that Kalas was Evil, that Kronos was Evil, that Grayson was Evil. It works for you. But it's not the truth. Kalas took the Evil Path. No one of us is all Evil. We're all - everything."
"You've told me before. Good and evil, love and hate, compassion and forgiveness."
"Something like that."
"How can you bear it?" He'd changed the subject again.
"I can't. Don't know if I can. I'm trying to bear it. I'm doing all right. You're - a help. We'll see what happens to me."
"You're still in shock, I know that. But you will survive."
"If you say so. Right now, I'm so - bereft - I could scream. Right here, in the middle of Paris."
"I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry, MacLeod."
"I wish to God you'd say what you think more often! Stop protecting me! Start watching out for yourself!"
"You should be the one writing fortune cookies, MacLeod -" I didn't finish my sentence. Instead, I dropped to the ground.
"Methos!" MacLeod shouted. I could hear him shouting my name over and over as I drifted into unconsciousness, then death. I'd been shot! That must be it.
Before I went under, I saw the face of my killer. Joe Dawson, my friend. He wasn't alone. Amanda was with him, staring down at me, smiling.
When I woke Dawson was still looking at me. We were in the cellar of Shakespeare and Company, the bookstore. Below stairs, in my old workplace. I was trussed up like a turkey, chained to a radiator. Unbelievable. I wondered which of my so-called friends had carried me here.
"Where's MacLeod? Where's Amanda?" I asked. I didn't need to hear his answer, though. I knew the answer, and the why of it, too.
"They're gone for now, Methos. A little Immortal buzz goes a long way, Quentin tells me. Let's see how things go for you without it."
"This won't work, Dawson. You can heal me for now but you'll have to let me go eventually. And the same thing will happen again. I'll lose my feel for buzz again, and my own buzz."
"Who's watching Mac's back, Joe?" I asked, furious.
"Amanda." He grinned. "Greatest little swordswoman in captivity, they tell me."
"Who told you?"
"Everybody. Watchers, MacLeod, Quentin, Lamartin. Amanda herself." He grinned again. "She can handle the job for now, Methos. They're gonna take shifts."
"All of the above, kiddo, all of the above."
"Are you gonna make a habit of this, Dawson - shooting Immortals?"
"I do what I gotta do, Methos. Should strike a chord with you."
"I will not have my past thrown in my face, Dawson."
"Call me Joe. We're old friends," he quipped, absolutely remorseless.
"I can't do it, Joe," I told him, frantic. "I can't be apart from MacLeod."
"He's safe, Methos. Nobody will harm a hair on his head. Trust me."
"It's not that -" I whispered.
"What is it, then? You telling me you've survived five thousand years but you can't stand being separated from a loved one for a couple weeks?"
"Not from him, not from Duncan. I can't bear it!" How I could humiliate myself like this, to Dawson, was beyond my comprehension. I couldn't help myself.
"Well, buddy, better hunker down. Because you're gonna go through withdrawal. I'm not letting you go. Not till I get the say-so from one of your kind, that you're healed."
"You're crazy, Joe. Nobody but me can tell you if I'm healed. I'm the only one who knows what I sense, if I feel buzz or not!"
"They can tell me if they feel your buzz, Methos. That'll be good enough for me. They go hand in hand."
"Fine." I shrugged. "Have it your way. You can't keep me here forever."
"Nope, I don't intend to. Couple weeks should do it - maybe less. You hungry?"
"Go to hell," I replied bitterly.
Didn't faze him. "How about a beer? I'll untie your hands if you promise to be good."
"I'm a kidnap victim, Joe. I'm not promising anything."
"Have it your way. You'll change your tune soon enough, when you get hungry and thirsty. Knowing you, that won't be long."
"I'm gonna get pretty dirty, too, you keep me here like this."
"Oh, I've got relief coming. They'll be strong enough to keep you on the straight and narrow, while you do your business. Or, I can always shoot you again." He tapped his pocket, where he kept his gun, I assumed.
"Why are you doing this, Joe?"
"For your sake, Methos. For your own good. You need to get it back, all of it. Your buzz. Your feel for other Immortals' auras. It's who you are. I'm not letting you sacrifice yourself for MacLeod this time. I've done that too often already."
"Suit yourself," I replied. Then I clammed up. Closed my eyes. Hunkered down, as Joe'd put it. My despair knew no bounds, none at all. I felt like a mother lion separated from her cub. I'd never forgive them for this. When they released me, we'd leave them all, starting with Dawson. I'd make sure of that. MacLeod and I'd ride off into the sunset and never see them again. I comforted myself with that thought. Never see them again, never see them again. I repeated it to myself like a mantra.
Down in the basement, where I was being kept prisoner, it was hard to tell what time of day it was, but Dawson clued me in, even without my asking, when he joined me, each visit a few hours long. He kept me there for three days before I knew I'd been healed. Whatever I'd had wasn't the Black Glass, just as Quentin figured.
This morning I'd had another visitor. "Well, well, look who's here! Amanda! How nice of you to drop by!" I sneered at my old friend, but inside I rejoiced. I'd sensed her approach from a long way off. I wasn't about to let her and the others know that until I'd determined what their next move would be. Then I could plan my own.
"Methos - you're better! I feel your buzz!" She knelt and kissed me on both cheeks. I turned away.
"Better, perhaps. Healed, no."
"What'd you mean?" she asked, immediately concerned. She stood and brushed off her trouser legs. "I can feel your buzz, just like always."
"But I can't feel yours - so I'm not healed."
"Amanda, nothing is impossible," I retorted. "Who told you what to expect? Quentin? He knows nothing about what's happened to me. He assumes it's not the Black Glass. But if it is Black Glass, then it's perfectly reasonable that you can sense my buzz, while I cannot sense yours."
"Methos, you think that's it - that it's Black Glass after all?" She looked so crestfallen, I almost relented and told her I was all right. Almost. But not quite.
I shrugged. "If you can sense me again, then I demonstrate the classic symptoms. No more mutation. Just plain Black Glass. Perhaps the other side of it was shock."
"I've gotta get Quentin down here!" She made to leave.
"No - wait, Amanda! That might not be wise."
"Too much buzz - might set the whole thing off again."
"There's a way to find out."
"Methos, tell me!"
"Bring somebody young, with a less potent buzz. Maybe I'll get something from him - without losing my own buzz again."
"But you're getting nothing from me! You wanna try somebody with less buzz than me? Makes no sense."
"Sure it does. We've been friends too long. Maybe I'm blocking such an intimate buzz as yours. Not consciously, of course."
She walked around the basement a few moments, thinking. "Okay. I'll send Sergey over. He's not a kid, but he's not like us - Quentin and Lamartin and me. Not an old Immortal. And you just met him, so there's no history there."
"I don't know - he's pretty old."
"He's only about two hundred."
"That's interesting. Mac thought he was at least five or six hundred."
"Sergey's aura is strong - but young." She looked away from a book she'd picked up, and glanced at me. "Like MacLeod's. Should be a good test case. You're right."
I put some enthusiasm in my voice. "If I can sense Sergey, without overloading and blanking again, maybe you'd let me see MacLeod -"
"Maybe. We'll see." She stared at me. "You're up to something, Methos. I know you. You do understand we're on your side. We love you. What Joe did was for your sake. Don't try anything stupid, please."
"I just want to get my life back, Amanda. I understand what you guys are doing. I'll be good." I grinned. "But then, I always am good, aren't I?"
"Sure you are. Good as gold. The best little -" she left the rest unsaid. "I'll be back soon, with Sergey. But I won't come in with him."
"Bright girl! Wouldn't want to muddy the waters."
"Right. See ya soon."
I felt Sergey coming but pretended to be dozing when he approached the basement. I only snapped my head up when I actually heard his footsteps.
"Ah, Sergey - I see they've roped you into this useless exercise."
"Methos." He was very formal, almost clicked his heels. They'd warned him about me, I supposed.
"Methos's the name, fighting's the game!" I quipped, and was rewarded by his shocked expression. "Well, nothing yet. How about you? Getting anything from me?"
"Yes, sir. Your buzz is incredibly strong. Feels like Quentin's, or Lamartin's. Not as musty, though."
I laughed. "Not as musty? What - are you a comedian? Don't let the Boys hear you say that about their auras!"
"No, sir. Not a comedian. But I'm real sensitive to buzz."
"So how is it you didn't notice I'd lost mine, when we met?"
"I did notice, sir. But it wasn't my place to speak of it to Mr. MacLeod or you. I was sent for a different reason."
"On a mission from God?"
"Never mind. 'The Blues Brothers' is an acquired taste. You say you're sensitive to aura?"
"That's why Lamartin consented to take me as a student. And Quentin, too. He works with my gifts."
"Really? I was wondering just that - why they'd take you on. I don't think they've admitted a student in a thousand years."
"Methos. Call me Methos." I was beginning to like this boy, much to my annoyance.
"Yes - Methos."
"Yours must be interesting. MacLeod thought you were a lot older than you are. What's it like?"
"What's what like, sir? I mean - Methos."
"Cripes! Your buzz, of course!" I knew well what it was like - vital, rich - just as Amanda and MacLeod before her had described it. Nowhere near as confident as Mac's though. More Quantico than barbarian. More like a marine, than a Highlander. But very innocent, very pure. Ah, it was good to be back.
"Oh - they say it's strong, for my age. I've heard them talking, over the years. They don't like it much. I don't think they like me much. Too straightlaced for them. They say I've got no charm in my buzz. But that's something a person's born with - you know - charm. I can't do anything about it."
Sergey had charm, in his way. A naive, boyish charm. Humility. Honesty, too. He was almost too easy. "Never regret who you are, Sergey," I told him. "What you do - maybe. The mistakes you make - always. But who you are - never. Trust yourself. God made Sergey. Be grateful."
"Yes, sir. I mean - Methos. I try to be grateful. It's just - being around Quentin and Lamartin - they're not exactly confidence builders."
"Nope. Not those two. I'd strike out on my own pretty soon, if I were you. Don't imagine there's much more they've got left to teach you, is there?"
"I'm always learning, sir. Methos. If I weren't part of their entourage, would I ever have met you or Mr. MacLeod? Or the Lady Amanda? Or Mr. Dawson? I'd never even know about the Watcher Society."
"There's more to life than insider jokes, Sergey. Get the hell away from those two. They're gonna ruin you, in time. Sap your will. Go off on your own. Next stop, Greenwich Village! Get the hell off the bus!"
"Yes, all right. I will. If you think I should."
"I'm no guru, Sergey. Follow your heart."
"Quentin once asked me if I wanted to study with somebody else he knew, someone good with buzz. Do you think he meant you, sir?"
"Possibly. To what end?"
"Well, I've always felt I could serve Mortals with my empathic gift. Do you think I should try?"
"Cripes, how should I know? Just remember, the more closely you entwine your life with the lives of Mortals, the more difficult it becomes to keep secrets. We've got a lot of secrets, Sergey."
"You think I shouldn't try?"
"I don't do advice. Ask MacLeod. He's the expert on helping Mortals."
"Mr. MacLeod's given up the Game, Quentin says. Walks the Path of Peace. How can he do that, a man like him? A Warrior?"
"Not by choice. And not without pain. And not alone."
"Would he allow me to assist him, do you think?"
"Not your Path, boy," I answered roughly. "Work with your own gifts. Let me work with mine."
"You - I can sense you, Methos. Not just your buzz."
"Can you? And what does my - whatever - tell you?"
"That you want something from me. What is it?"
"What do you think?"
"You want me to let you escape."
"No - I want you to help me escape," I corrected.
"I can't do that. You know I can't."
"You're afraid of them? Quentin and Lamartin?" I could feel his fear, but he mustn't know that.
"No. I'm afraid of Mr. MacLeod. If you disappeared, he'd take my head."
"I'm not planning to disappear," I lied. "I just want to protect MacLeod."
"I won't help you escape. They're doing this for your own good."
"They're preventing me from doing my duty." I thought that might have a nice ring to it, to Sergey.
"No, they're preventing you from destroying yourself." His confidence was growing by the minute. If nothing else, I'd done a good deed here today, by accepting this Green Boy as a man.
I turned away. I tried to keep the tears inside, but they came anyway.
"Methos?" Sergey whispered. "Don't cry. They won't keep you from him, from Mr. MacLeod. That's not the plan."
I spat at him, "You think those people would tell you their plan, then let you see me alone? You're a fool!"
"No, I'm not. They wanted it to be the plan. To get Mr. MacLeod out of the country so you'd get your buzz back, and your feel for other Immortals. But he wouldn't agree."
"No, sir," Sergey replied earnestly, abandoning all attempt to call me by my name. "He said he wouldn't leave you, that you wouldn't want to be apart from him, no matter the cost. He said he would defer to your judgment, as to whether it's worth losing what you've lost. Worth it to you. Mr. MacLeod said you're the boss."
"That's a joke, Sergey. He's the boss. Always has been, always will be." I looked at the boy. "So, what's the new plan?"
"Now, they're just waiting to see if this separation brings back your aura, and your sense of buzz. Or if it really is the Night of the Black Glass you've got. Either way, they'll let you out soon. Then you can join up with Mr. MacLeod again, if you want to. But I can't help you escape."
"Why not? You don't owe them anything."
"No. Maybe I don't. But I agree with them."
"Who the hell do you think you are, Green Boy, to agree or disagree!"
"If your gift means to you anything like what mine means to me - well - I agree with them, you've gotta try to get it back, sir. It's who you are."
"Cripes! I'm five thousand years old, and I'm listening to a Green Boy lecture me according to the best pop psychology money can buy! Sergey, my gift means nothing to me! My life means nothing to me! Not any more! Duncan MacLeod means everything to me! Get it?"
"I get it. I simply don't agree with it. And I won't help you escape." Stubborn bastard.
"Well, I guess I've gotta kill you, then. I challenge you, Sergey! I challenge you to Ritual Combat! Unbind me, bring me a sword, and fight!"
"No, sir. I don't need to do that. It's not in the Rules of the Game. I'm not required to arm you, or level the playing field. I can take your head right now, Immortal to Immortal, even if you haven't got a knife, let alone a sword."
"But you won't."
"No, I won't. We can fight later, if you still want to, Methos. After this is over I'll accept your challenge. But I won't help you escape." He turned on his heel and walked towards the steps leading out of the basement. Then he turned and spoke again. "Shall I tell the others you've got your sense of us back? I'll keep your secret, if you want."
"I haven't got it back -"
"Sir, please. I know. Do you want the others to know?"
"The hell with it. Tell them what you like. Damn you all!"
After Sergey left I was alone again in the dark damp cellar and I fell asleep. I hadn't eaten for days, out of spite. I wanted to make Dawson suffer for taking me prisoner. And I had. Every time he took away my untouched plate I saw the pain in his eyes, and I was happy. Damn him! I only wished I could make Quentin and Lamartin and Amanda suffer as well, for keeping me away from Duncan!
When I heard the voice in the dark calling me, I nearly jumped out of my skin. I tensed, clasping my hands together. Then I figured it must be Joe, visiting again. The voice was strong and low and angry.
"Methos!" The voice called again. Then again, "Methos!" It wasn't Joe Dawson at all.
"Who's there?" I cried, cursing Sergey for leaving me without a light. An oversight. It'd been daylight when he'd left, and he'd forgotten it would soon be dark.
"Who is it, damn it!" I knew it wasn't an Immortal, at least! Thank God I'd got my sense of our kind back!
"I am the Archangel Michael," the voice told me.
I laughed out loud. "Sure you are, and I'm the Spirit of Christmas Past. Turn on the damn light on your way in."
The room lit up - suddenly, and very brightly. Whoever it was, came in. I knew that, though I saw nobody.
I asked again, "Who are you?"
"I am the Archangel Michael, Methos. You have broken your promise. You have tried more than once to subvert your friend's valiant attempt to keep his."
His remarks didn't satisfy me, so I asked once more, "Who are you?" I squinted into the light but I still couldn't see anybody. I only heard the voice. Pretty angry, whoever it was.
"You know well who I am."
"Okay. Let's skip that part. How about, why are you here?"
"You have been punished for your betrayal of trust. But through the love of your friends, you have escaped your fate once again. Yet you persist in your faithlessness."
"What'd you mean?" Like I didn't know what he meant.
"Methos, you promised!"
"You mean, that bit about leaving MacLeod?"
"I helped your friend defeat the Demon and save the World, on the strength of your promise."
Bitch bitch bitch. "I'm doing the best I can!" I declared with conviction. I was. I was doing the best I could!
"You do nothing of what you can do, Methos Valerius! You have joined the Prince of Liars! Your treachery will precipitate the Death of Kings!"
"Hey, I'm just a guy! I do what I can!"
"No, you do what you will. You must do what you must. You must keep your promise!"
"Or what? You'll punish me some more? Take away my gift again?"
"That which you would not have happen, will happen, if you continue on this Path, Methos!"
"I don't give a damn about saving the World! Blow it up, for all I care!"
The voice told me again, "What you would not have happen, will happen, Methos! Beware!"
"What, you'd kill MacLeod? To punish me?" I retorted. "You're not the Archangel Michael, if you'd do that! You're a Demon!" That'd show him!
"You have angered the Father, Methos! You have not kept faith! Beware!"
Then the light faded away and I was alone in the dark again.
Helluva thing. Helluva thing.
The only guilt-free man in the western world had conjured up a conscience in his dreams! Oh boy!
"You back again?" I asked with a sneer. "Turn on the light, damn it all!"
"Sure." He did. It was Duncan.
"MacLeod, they let you come!" I straightened up in my place by the radiator. "You think you could unchain me? I'm uncomfortable as hell."
"I'm not supposed to be here, Methos. I escaped from them."
"That's great, Mac! Thanks! Just get me outta here."
"That's the plan, old man."
He'd brought heavy-duty wire cutters with him. Immortal strength being what it is, he was able to free me easily. I rubbed my wrists and stood. I stretched. "That's better. Did you bring my passport?"
"I've got everything we need in the car. Money, a change of clothes. Our passports. We'll drive out of Paris and lose ourselves on the road. If we don't use credit cards, they'll never be able to track us."
"Let's get a move on, then," I said, heading for the stairs.
"Wait! There's something I need to tell you."
"In the car, Duncan. I want to put some distance between us and them. We can talk while you drive."
He told me bluntly, "I didn't come alone."
I didn't get it, not then. "You didn't bring Amanda, did you? God, Duncan, she was in this with Dawson and the others. I'm really pissed with her."
"Not Amanda. I've brought Sergey."
I stared at him. Something inside me broke - possibly my heart - and plummeted into my stomach, then up to my throat. "Why?"
"He helped me get away. On the condition he could come along with us."
"What? What do you see?"
I laughed mirthlessly. "I see Archangels in my dreams." I rubbed my forehead. Jesus.
I didn't repeat it. The message was only for me. And only too clear. I looked up at the ceiling and muttered under my breath, I get it, I get it.
Then I told MacLeod, "I'm not going with you. I'm gonna try to keep my promise, and let you keep yours."
"What are you talking about? You're okay now. Sergey told me. You can sense other Immortals. I can sense your aura. It's what we prayed for. Why won't you come?"
"You'll be okay, Mac. Sergey will squire you around. Handle the fighting. I understand he's pretty good."
Duncan stared at me. "English, please. What's going on?"
"Whichever way I turn, MacLeod, I'm thwarted in my plans. Yes, we got what we prayed for - the first time around. We got the help of an Archangel to defeat the Demon and save the World. Now it's our turn. The conditions must be met. The promises, honored. I've gotta divest. I've gotta keep my promise. Or - dire things will happen."
"What dire things?"
"The Death of Kings, MacLeod. The Death of Kings."
My beloved Duncan had a choice again. He chose to stay on the road, off Holy Ground. Chose to befriend Sergey, who'd eventually stop calling him sir, or Mr. MacLeod, I supposed. Sergey would protect Duncan - with his life. That much I knew.
I had no choice. The gods had finally caught up with me, and they left me no choice. I'd walk the Path of Sacrifice or cause the Death of Kings.
No choice. Because that alternative was unthinkable.
I didn't stop to say goodbye.
I'd forgotten how beautiful the road is, when I walk. Forgotten the smell of grass after a heavy downpour. The colors of dawn and dusk. The sight of clouds trailing across the moon's path, like a woman's fingers on my face.
I'd forgotten how to speak Romany and Italian. Portuguese and Arabic. Hindi and Chinese. Forgotten how to enter a village, make myself useful, make friends.
I'd forgotten how I'd survived all those years by clasping loneliness to my heart like a lover, kissing bereavement full on the mouth.
Oh yes, I had a lot of catching up to do. A lot of growing up to do. For a guy like me, fifty centuries to grow up in is just a drop in the bucket.
The Path of Sacrifice isn't so bad. I've survived worse, in my time. The music may not be as beautiful, but the poetry's beyond compare.
* Bits from "The Windhover," a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins