|The Long Walk
by Maxine Mayer
This story was prompted by the wonderful piece by Maygra de Rhema entitled "Sheathing Fate." I'm very grateful to her for giving me permission to use what happens there as a background for my own story.
...remember, Highlander, live, grow stronger, fight another day...
Duncan's eyes, Seacouver, an alternative present
He told me, "I will be there in the morning," but he never told me he would be there all night, every night, in my dreams and nightmares.
He didn't know.
It all happened so quickly. First, our love, Methos' and mine, for one another. Acknowledged hastily, furtively, in the wake of bad Quickenings, difficult, dangerous, frightening Quickenings. Sexually arousing post-killing freakish times. His. Mine.
I didn't know what to do to help him. Then, suddenly, I knew. And I helped. I think so, anyway.
Maybe it didn't help at all. Maybe it harmed.
We're not supposed to be together - Immortals. We're not supposed to love one another, care for one another, help one another through the bad times. In the End there can be Only One. That Rule speaks to each of us differently but for most of us its meaning is quite clear from the first. You cannot kill someone you love but you must be able to kill other Immortals. Unhesitatingly. To survive. Male or female. Young or old. Kinsman. Foe. Good or Evil. Any Immortal. So we try very hard to survive alone, without others of our Kind as companions or friends or lovers.
We turn, instead, to Mortals.
But they drop away, the Mortals we befriend, love. Over and over again. Until we can't stand the sight of them. We're sickened by the sight of them. How often can a man be burned, after all, without fearing the fire and learning to avoid it?
So we turn to our own. Our Kind. And we love them instead, because they'll never die. They are Immortal.
I was very young when I met Methos. Young enough to dance back and forth between Mortals and Immortals. So it wasn't that which attracted me to him - this sickening with Mortals I've described - although it might have been the reason he was attracted to me. No, it was Methos himself who moved me so much. Even when I found out that he wasn't quite what he seemed, that his past stretched back far and deep and ugly - a pit filled with blood and bones - I couldn't resist his pull. I loved him.
So I helped him and he helped me through the bad times, the Quickenings, their aftermath.
We became lovers.
We gave ourselves to each other with unhesitating abandon. No caution. No fear. No matter how often we tried to reason, to put some distance between us, for the sake of safety and survival, for the Game, nothing separated us but what came from within, our own differences. Self-inflicted wounds. One self, inflicting wounds on itself. That was who we were.
Until the fateful moment when the oneness became something awful because it was no longer a metaphor or an image or an idea. It was real, the death of our dream.
One day, in an experiment to bring us closer - such hubris - Methos died of our love. Lost the essence of who he was, his Immortality. And in that dying shared himself with me so completely that I lived his memories - fifty centuries of them - as if I were him.
And afterwards, when he lived again as Immortal, miraculously, I believed all was well. But I was wrong. I carried him with me. He was there in the morning and he was there at night. And all that he was - so strong - took me over, made me over. I, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, was lost.
"Better now, Mac?" Methos asked, squatting by the side of our bed holding a stainless steel basin filled with cold water and a damp washcloth. He wiped my face carefully, then lowered me onto the bed and held the cloth to my forehead.
I didn't reply. This was the fourth week since he'd regained his Immortality that I'd wakened each night with nightmares about his past. It didn't matter whether the memories I dreamed were happy or sad or painful or violent or simple or complicated. It was the fact that I was Methos in the dreams that wrenched me from sleep.
He turned away, sitting on the edge of the bed next to me, and put the bowl of water on the end table. His hands were clasped between his legs and only his head was toward me. The rest of him pointed away from me, toward the blank wall of our Seacouver loft - the one he'd been sharing with me for months.
He tried again. "Maybe a drink?" he asked hopefully. "Juice? Beer? Scotch?" He stood and looked down at me, waiting for an answer.
"Maybe later," I managed in a low voice.
"Later, we'll talk about this," he told me decisively. "You will tell me what's going on or I'll know the reason why not."
With a groan he grabbed his dressing gown from the end of the bed and drew it around his naked body. I'd wakened him with my ravings and violent movements in my sleep, and the abrupt way I came out of the nightmare, into reality. "I'm gonna have a beer."
He moved through the darkened loft like a ghost, knowing every inch with only the light from the dim bedside lamp to guide him. I heard him open the refrigerator and the momentary brightness startled me. Then he shut the fridge and I heard the popping sound of a beer cap coming off. He didn't come back to bed. He sat on the couch for a while, drinking his beer.
Finally, quietly, he told me, "You know, when I look in the mirror, I half expect to see those ugly black and yellow bruises, like before. It's frightening." I didn't say anything. "Think I'll forget, after a while? I mean, a few days of Mortality - opposed to millennia of Immortality - it should fade soon, don't you think?"
He stood and went to the stereo, flicked a switch, flooding the loft with Mahler. As quickly, he flicked it off.
He spoke again, ruminating. "A broken wrist. I know it's healed but I favor it. I do. I favor that goddam wrist. And when I shave, I run my hands down my arms, testing their smoothness, their wholeness, searching for scabs. And I can't get your friend Anne out of my mind."
He'd finally said something that snagged my attention. My former lover, Dr. Anne Lindsey, had tended him when he'd become ill as a result of his Mortality - if that's the way to put it. Before, he'd despised her for a fool and a coward for leaving me. Now, he admired her, grudgingly. But to think about her! I never thought about her anymore, except when her daughter's birthday came around. Or when I needed her medical skill and secrecy for my own purposes. "Anne?" I asked weakly.
"Yeah." He stood and came to the bed and sat down on the edge again, this time with his whole body turned toward me. "The woman really gave a damn. Tried to understand. Help me. Even after she found out about - us. It wasn't simply for your sake, because I was one of your friends."
I thought about that. It was true. But then, Methos' charm was irresistible, and not only to me. His kind of lazy, laid-back, all-accepting sweetness drew just about everyone. Joe, Amanda, even Richie. And such diverse personalities as Kronos and Byron, in their time.
I was different. I accepted defeat in love gracefully. But success? So arrogant. So pleased with myself. So superior.
"Mac?" Methos had put his beer down and taken the cloth away from my forehead, dipping it in water again, wringing it out and replacing it on my brow.
Without warning I gripped his wrist, holding him where he sat. "Was it burned out of you, or crucified out of you, or hanged out of you, or beaten out of you, or cut out of you?" I asked bluntly.
"He speaks!" Methos grinned.
Angrily, I let go of his wrist, grabbed the cloth from my forehead and threw it away. I sat up, shoving him so he'd slide lower down on the bed, towards my feet. I got out from under the comforter and out of the bed. I was naked but I made no attempt to dress. Looming over him I repeated, "Well? Which was it?"
"Which was what, Mac?"
"How'd you lose your ego? By fire, flood, or how?"
"You think I've got no ego?" he asked increduously. "Have we met?"
"You know what I mean!" I shouted.
"Humor me - explain it. Just so we're sure."
"I can't be like that, like you!" I replied, storming through the loft towards the kitchen area, turning on the lights, grabbing a bottle of scotch and pouring myself a drink, all in one motion.
I turned in time to see him put up his hands in confusion. Patiently he asked, "Who wants you to be like me? Not me, that's for sure. I like you the way you are."
"It's happening, Methos, I feel it. What it was like before - the way you influenced me, changed me - this is a thousand times stronger!"
"How was it before?"
"Finding gray, where I'd always seen only black and white."
"Questioning everything. Seeing five sides of every problem. Seeing no problems. Seeing solutions." I covered my face with my hands. After a moment I continued softly, my anger seeping away as quickly as it'd arisen. "Accepting. Being grateful for a kind word, a look." I choked. "Being - humble - full of humility. Being - found."
"Well, I think you've hit all the high spots there, MacLeod - except for that last one. Don't quite follow that. Being found?"
"Hiding - waiting - biding my time - absorbed - distracted - out of things. Then, the someone comes, who finds me, who loves me. I'm found. I'm grateful, so grateful -" I couldn't go on. I began to cry.
He crossed the loft in moments and stood near me, but didn't touch me. "You?" When I didn't reply, he repeated, "You?" I nodded. "Mac, that's me, not you." He breathed deeply. "And that's the problem."
I muttered, "It's awful." I looked into his eyes. He smiled so sweetly that I couldn't endure it so I turned away.
I thought he did see. No matter how long we're together I can't seem to get over my belief in his omniscience. I keep thinking that he's lying when he tells me he's just a guy. And the longer I live inside him, in his memories, his point of view, the more I believe I was right. That he's lying. That he does know everything. "It's awful," I repeated.
In a cheerful voice he replied, "It might screw up your life as a Don Juan for a bit, until you get the hang of it, Mac, but it won't kill you. By and large, being me has its advantages. For example, you might just take it into your head that survival is a worthwhile goal. Now, that'll put a crimp in your Game!" He grinned outright and I almost returned the grin. I was still lagging behind, fogged in my nightmare, but the scotch helped, and his unfailing humor helped. Good thoughts in the face of my remarks. A terrifying patience. So humble. And with more love for me than I deserved. Or wanted.
My shock at that thought must have been written all over me because he asked, "Now what?"
"You don't want it." Categorical.
"You don't want all the love. Just - some of it." I didn't understand, but I knew it for a fact.
He drew a breath and turned away from me, walking slowly towards the other end of the loft. He stood near the bed with his back to me.
"Not most of the time, no."
"I don't understand. Why not?"
"You have to remember, most of my lovers were Mortals. Nearly all of them. The more they cared, the more I cared and the worse it hurt, in the end."
"And the Immortals?" I asked, asserting my one concern - our love for each other.
Suddenly he was so angry I could taste it, though his answer was mild, spoken as if to a child. "Why don't you go to sleep, have a dream, and maybe you'll find out."
I nodded, also somehow angry. "Maybe I will. Maybe that's the only way to find out anything about you. Because I sure as hell knew nothing about you until - this 'thing' you did to us, to yourself - nothing!" I finished on a rising note of fury.
"This 'thing' I did to us, to myself," he repeated, nodding. "Quite. Definitely made for a great deal of togetherness, anyone can see that. Complete understanding. Certainly turned you into a humble grateful sonuvabitch, didn't it?" He came nearer to me, about halfway through the room, squinting at me as though he was looking at a stranger who appeared familiar but whom he couldn't quite place. "I thought we could be of some use to each other during this - time of transition. Clearly I was wrong. Again."
"What's that mean? Oh - don't tell me! It's your segue into the runaway song, isn't it?"
"You said it."
"Well, I think I've got enough 'understanding' of you now to agree with you. It's the only way to go. But - in the morning. No need to storm out in the middle of the night. We ought to be capable of managing 'civilized,' Methos, between us, with all those centuries. That's a minimum."
They weren't my words, or my feelings or my way of dealing with anything. They were his. Methos' perspective. Civilized. And even after I grasped that, I found myself agreeing with it. I felt it in my bones, as I said the words. It was sensible, practical. Time apart, distance, quiet, solitude, distraction. Healing. I'd heal and so would he - given enough time.
"Absolute minimum. Being civilized. I thought you'd never get there, my barbarian friend. But there you landed, after all." He walked around to his side of the bed, disrobed, got under the covers, his back toward my side. "In the morning. It works for me."
What does it mean, to be civilized? I asked myself that as I made breakfast for us at dawn, calmly waiting for the moment when he'd go. Well, minimally, it means we won't make a fuss or shout at one another or believe a word either of us says or allow ourselves to care. It means, I'll take my distractions where I find them and busy myself totally with outlandish incredibly useless things, until the End of Time, if necessary, to pass the time.
It means I'll swallow pain, sorrow, anger, fear. Love.
It means I'll do what I've gotta do to survive.
How different was most of that from what I'd always done when a relationship was destroyed and a lover moved on? Seemed similar. But my spirit ached with something missing and I didn't know what it was.
I took a deep breath. "Where will you stay? Here in Seacouver, or will you travel?" I asked him, pouring another cup of coffee for each of us.
He leaned his elbows on the table, closed his eyes and murmured, "I think I'll stay with Anne."
After a moment I asked calmly, "What makes you think she'll have you?" But I knew she would. A chance not to be passed up, an opportunity to learn. Anne would see it that way.
"I'll make myself useful," he replied with a dismissive gesture. Then, seriously, "I want to study with her. I'll figure a way to get on staff at the hospital. Should be fun - the emergency room. Lots of action, no time to think, not a boring moment. Might take a while, though," he added. "Gotta bone up on the latest techniques, equipment. I'm sure Anne won't let me near a patient until she's satisfied herself I'm qualified. Not that I'd want to take any risks with their lives. I've been out of the field for a long time. But there are books.... " He shrugged. "I'll work at it. I can wait. Eventually, I'll learn whatever I need to know."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Yeah, plans are good," he muttered distractedly. I wondered what he really was thinking about.
He put on his coat, picked up his small backpack and hitched it over his shoulder and walked onto the elevator, pulling the grate closed. Through the slats he told me, "Mac, if I were you, I'd get out of town, take a trip. I'm not sure where would be good for you, but somewhere. Somewhere that's not here. Do you follow?"
I nodded. "You're staying, so I should go."
"That's the ticket." He smiled. Then he grinned widely. "The last thing I ever thought I'd be able to call you is a good sport, MacLeod. Keep in touch. Keep your head." The last, on a note of seriousness, and I knew he meant it as he'd meant little else of what he'd said.
I nodded and held my fingers up in the peace sign. "You, too, old man. Keep your head."
He punched the button and the elevator went down to the dojo level. I waited until his aura disappeared, feeling comfortable with his departure.
I no longer recognized myself. I hadn't even kissed him goodbye. Whoever the stranger was who inhabited my body, it was surely someone else, not me. I tried to summon up a breath of the old me - as I remembered myself. Some strong emotion. Fear, pain, anguish, loss. Passion. Nothing.
I'd closed myself off, I don't know when. But early on. By dawn, I'd accepted with humility the fact that Methos was leaving me. That I'd be alone again. By dawn, I'd registered my fate, digested it, resigned myself to the long solitary road ahead. Killed any feeling of impending loneliness. Didn't even experience dread or doom. No urge to fight for him, for us, either. No desire in me to make a stand. Resigned.
Whoever I was - and I knew who I was now - this had to be the way to go. Strange I'd never noticed that before. I smiled, thinking, so this is what it means to survive for five thousand years. Got away clean. I was quite pleased with myself.
I'd completely forgotten what Methos told me about remembering the bruises, the broken wrist, and his short terrifying days as a Mortal, how it'd disoriented him. I couldn't afford the luxury of thinking about him at all. He was nothing to me now. We were on separate paths. Methos was no longer part of my life.
The only way to go.
I felt light, almost lightheaded, as I threw some underwear, shirts, a pair of jeans, a couple books, my shaving kit and my laptop into an old backpack. I disassembled my katana and strapped it to the pack, selected a leather jacket to wear over my sweater and jeans, put it on and left, locking up behind myself. I didn't bother to do the dishes. I didn't think to call Joe Dawson - my friend, my Watcher - to let him know I was leaving town. Never occurred to me.
I simply left a note on the desk in the dojo for the man who managed the place, to hire somebody to take care of my loft while I was gone. Keep it clean. Empty the fridge of perishables. Check my mail and pay my bills from the dojo account for the time being. I threw my keys in the drawer where he could find them and walked away without looking back.
It was the most curious experience of my life - going nowhere for no reason. No threat behind me. No fight before me. No sense of adventure. No one expecting me at the other end - wherever that would be. Not running, simply walking. Anywhere. Nowhere. Alone. Pleasantly alone. Free.
Yes, I recognized what I felt. Free. Not freed. Just free. I was happy. How odd.
Methos' eyes, Seacouver, an alternative present
At this time of morning Joe's Bar was closed and Dawson was probably still asleep in the back, in the two rooms he'd fitted out as a flat a couple years ago. He wouldn't thank me for waking him but I didn't have much choice. I took a deep breath and banged on the door.
"What? Who? Damn!"
I heard him moving around inside, reattaching his prosthetic legs, getting dressed. Finally, he opened the door to me.
"Not very smart, Joe. I could've been anybody," I remarked, slipping past him into the room and going through to the far door which led to the bar. He followed me in silence, flipped a switch that lit up the bar area and watched me help myself to a shot of scotch.
"I had a hunch it'd be you."
"Clairvoyance, Joe? Something new under the sun."
"When the guy who runs Mac's dojo calls me, tells me Mac's cleared out - who else could it be except one of you two?"
"Well, my first stop didn't pan out. Anne Lindsey wasn't on duty at the hospital. Won't be for three days."
"Anne? What'd you want with her?" Joe asked. He knew I wasn't fond of the woman.
"Just a bit of research," I replied, dismissing my plans to study Mortality for the moment. Nothing I wanted to talk about with Joe. I refilled my glass, waving the bottle at him, but he refused a drink. "You're remarkably without curiosity."
"Oh, I'm plenty curious. Figure you'll tell me what happened in your own good time, after you've had a few belts."
"Lovers' quarrel. Nightmares and dreams. The usual."
"The usual? What's going on with you two? First, you're joined at the hip, then you go and get yourself - Mortal. Now, you separate, just when you got your Immortality back and it looks like things might work out again." Joe shook his head. "I'm beginning to think I'll need to revise my theory about Immortals - the one where I believe most of you are sane. The facts don't seem to fit anymore."
"Don't revise your theory just yet, Joe. But hold that thought." I took the bottle and my glass to a table, set up two chairs and sat. "He's suffering."
Moving out from behind the bar and joining me at the table, the Watcher asked, "What else is new? You didn't think any of this was easy, did you? Being Immortal? The longer you go, the harder it gets, Methos. I was sure you already knew that."
"Yes, I knew that. But our Highland friend - I think he laboured under the mistaken impression that the longer you go, the easier it gets."
"Well, he was wrong, Methos. No easier than with my kind, Mortals. Midlife crises every ten minutes. Fear of death. Fear of dying. Fear of living, growing old, helpless and alone. We've got our crap to deal with. You've got yours."
"Exactly. We've got ours. But Mac didn't count on this new wrinkle."
"Which is -?"
"My - crap," I replied bluntly. The Watcher didn't answer. Like the great bartender and great man he is, he waited for me to make my meaning clear. Finally, I said, "The transfer, Joe. He got my memories, my point of view. Me. And it didn't disappear from his mind when I got my Immortality back."
"Well, that explains how he could walk off into the sunset without a backward glance," Joe quipped. But he stopped smiling and added, "I thought that was the idea - that you exchange - lives."
"Not quite. But close enough." I shook my head. "I can deal with Mac's experiences, his temperament, his share of troubles, his four centuries, Joe. For me, it's a gift. Insights, things I'd never have known, no matter how long we were together. Loving him, knowing him this way - it's - wondrous. And easy. For me."
"But his life doesn't hold a candle to yours - in length, breadth, depth, and ugly memories - is that what you mean?"
"No, I don't think it's the memories, however bad some of them are. It's the takeover."
Joe frowned. "Takeover? I don't get it."
"I - digested him, like a rather lovely Quickening from a rather interesting, attractive Immortal. Strong, noble, generous. Simple." I shrugged. "He couldn't do that with me."
"Your personality absorbed him, from the inside?" Joe asked quickly.
"Bright boy. Close enough. From the moment we met Mac's always fought my influence, my cynicism, what he sees as my cowardice, my moral ambiguity. Taken what he could, as much as he could, of me - what he believes is valuable - and rejected the rest. Now he's got it all. Or rather, it's got him."
"Mac's seeing through your eyes?"
"I think that sums it up. I don't think it's a good thing."
"Yeah, well, time will tell," Joe said, fixing himself a scotch despite the early hour.
"That's not good enough, Dawson. Duncan MacLeod's not ready to waltz through life as Methos, a five thousand year old Immortal. The disparity's too great, between who he is and who I am. He's liable to hesitate -"
The Watcher finished my thought. "Zig when he should zag and lose his head?"
"Exactly. My perspective's one thing. My memories, my instincts. All well and good. But my experience, my intellect, my training in strategy - okay, deviousness - my sense of timing - how much of that could he absorb in one sitting, Joe? Digest, make his own, use? Effectively?"
"Will he know when to run? Hide? Disappear? Or will what's left of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod make him hesitate -"
"Joe, I need help. Watcher help. Tracking."
"We can't interfere, Methos. Even if he's in danger, doing the wrong thing. Even me. He comes up against the wrong Immortal, I won't be able to lift a finger."
"Not you, Joe. Me."
"You can't do it either. You can't interfere in a joined battle, anymore than I can."
"Not interfere, just head 'em off. Be there first. I've got to be ahead of him, Dawson, not behind. You've got to help me stay in front. Take the challenges before they ever get to Mac. Somehow, I've got to be one step ahead of him - literally."
"You know I'll do what I can to help you, Methos, both of you. I'll bend every rule. Break 'em, if I gotta. But - for how long? This doesn't sound like a week's work. This sounds more like a career move. I ain't got that kind of time."
"Maybe it'll work out faster than we dream," I said, my fingers crossed in plain sight on the table.
"Never knew you to be a fool, old friend," Joe replied, covering my hand with his own.
"Have I got a choice? Hang around Duncan MacLeod long enough, you either start out a fool, or end up one. I never loved anyone so much in my life. Nor did I ever do anyone so great a wrong. This is my fault, Joe -"
"That's what you think - that you're to blame?"
"Who the hell else? You think he'd have come up with an 'experiment' likely to kill us both? Something with ramifications up the wazoo? It is my fault, Dawson. It's up to me to make things right."
"Don't mean to rain on your parade, Methos, but I don't believe you can make this right. Mixing your point of view with Mac's was hard enough when he was separate and equal, in a position to fight it, take it in at his own pace. Now -" Dawson hesitated, cleared his throat. "Now, I think it's impossible. You two are different, in spades. It's not just the age. It's everything."
"Don't I know it! But it's something that has to happen. And Mac's got to survive long enough for it to happen. Whatever it takes, until he's singleminded enough to fight his own battles, I'm fighting them for him. However long it takes."
"Good luck, good buddy. I hope you got nine lives, because you're gonna need 'em."
I pulled my hand away, taking another sip of my scotch. "So - where is he now?" I asked with a smile, standing. "No time to lose."
Duncan's eyes, on the road, alternative present
Long before I hit the highway I knew the old boots I'd put on when I left my dojo wouldn't work on the open road. They were good enough to protect my feet from snow or slush from the doorway to my car, but useless in the long haul. I spent nearly all the last of my cash on a pair of expensive hiking boots, the best money could buy. It didn't cross my mind to visit a cash machine. I'd manage somehow.
The days went by in a dream and I was very happy but by the time I'd gotten as far south as northern California, having slept outdoors several nights, I was ready for a shower, a shave and a decent meal. I stopped in a bar long enough to use the restroom to clean up. When I came out a fight was going on. I broke it up and got rid of the combatants. Afterwards I helped straighten the place up. The owner, a middle-aged man, was grateful and offered me a meal and a bed to sleep in out back, for the night. I accepted his unexpected generosity, along with the twenty he slipped me when I left in the morning - food money for a couple days, at any rate. No thought of refusing it. I'd earned it.
The small towns along the road were indistinguishable from each other, coming as they did one right after the other. Gas stations, bars, general stores, the occasional high-end antique shop, and the inevitable diners. But the people made a difference. From a plane, you see nothing but patterns of squares and bodies of water and it's difficult to remember that there are people down there too. From a car, everything's a blur. But on the ground, on foot, it's all vivid, individual, unique. Real people wait the tables, drink their morning coffee and read newspapers. Real people clerk in the shops. Real people say hello and smile when you ask whether you can use their restrooms to freshen up. Real.
Fifty centuries didn't seem like enough time to see it all, meet everyone. Pass the time of day and a joke or two. Flirt with tired waitresses. Make friends.
Even the weather seemed different somehow. New. Instead of rushing from my car to a hotel room to avoid the rain, I walked in it, let it soak my face, my hair, my clothes. Later, when the sun came out again, I let my clothes dry in real time, hanging on a bush. Took off my boots and socks and put them on rocks until they were only damp, while I sat naked behind a tree for hours, out of sight of the highway, shivering as I smelled the fragrant grass and wildflowers and the unique smell of exhaust fumes.
It wasn't until I'd been walking for more than three weeks that I realized I hadn't met up with an Immortal in all that time. Not that it was impossible to avoid them, but the area around Seacouver - north and south of it - was like a magnet, somehow. I'd always known that. I chalked it up to luck and the fact that I was on foot, avoiding larger cities and not really spending much time in the smaller ones. Just enough to catch some sleep and do an odd job to earn a few dollars for food. Just luck, I guessed, and for once I thought of him again - Methos.
Methos' luck. Two hundred years without facing an Immortal in Ritual Combat. Now I could see how he'd done it.
Fleetingly, I wondered how he was holding up. Whether Anne had accepted him as a student of Mortality, because that's what he was hoping to be. To do. Make an in-depth study of Mortality, in preparation for another bout of it, if that ever happened to him again. Knowing that if it happened once, it could happen again. People call me a Boy Scout, but Methos is more of one. 'Be prepared' is as much his motto as anything else he'd ever told me. I chuckled and for a moment was tempted to phone him, tell him the joke.
Within seconds, without half trying, I abandoned the vagrant thought. Just keep moving, I told myself. Nobody wants to hear your jokes. Nobody will ever hear that one. Someday, you'll find a new friend, and think up a new joke. For now, just keep moving.
But I was disturbed. Another first since I began to walk.
I found an abandoned building, cleared the debris away from a large space, and spent several hours doing kata, open hand and sword styles, until I believed that whatever was bothering me had dissipated and I moved on.
The next day I found out the real reason I'd encountered no Immortals on the road.
"Two of you, are there?" the burly short-order cook in a diner I stopped at for breakfast asked with a big grin and a chuckle.
"Cup of coffee and two eggs, scrambled," I told him, sitting at the end of the counter, stowing my backpack on the next stool. It was very early. The place was empty.
He served the coffee, eyeing me curiously. "Where you headed, mister?" he asked.
"Getting away from it all?" he replied, lifting an eyebrow. He sounded like the cat who ate the canary.
"Guess that covers it." I frowned. He was the first person I'd met who'd struck up a conversation with me. Until now, nobody'd spoken to me except to ask what I'd have, unless I started to talk.
"That's what the other guy said - another one like you, thirty-something. That he was 'just walking, getting away from it all.' Really spooked me, him coming in here like that - no car, no bike, no truck, nothing. Man that age with a backpack, on foot out in the middle of nowhere, just like you."
"When?" I asked tightly, thinking nothing, just reacting, planning my escape from whatever threat the stranger might pose to me, if it was another Immortal.
"Oh, yesterday morning, around breakfast time, like now. Skinny guy, real city type. Didn't look like he'd last a mile, on the road. Pale. Like he spent all his time in the library."
I dropped my cup, splattering the coffee all over the counter and on myself. I jumped back off the stool and my talkative companion stepped back from his spot behind the counter. "Sorry," I told him. "I'll clean it up, if you'll give me a cloth."
"Don't worry about it. Got you spooked, did I? Hiding from somebody?" he asked with a grin, shoveling the broken china and wet mess off the counter into a bucket with his hand, then wiping the counter down with a rag. He reached under the counter for a clean dish towel and held it out to me. "Here, use this to wipe off your coat. Leather won't take the stains."
Automatically, I took the towel and dried my jacket, then sat on the stool again. "I've got enough for another coffee and some toast and to pay for the broken cup. Forget the eggs. Tell me about this guy."
"Don't know anything much," the cook replied, handing me a fresh cup and pouring more coffee. "He was pretty quiet. But friendly. Spent about an hour in here, over there, in that booth. We talked some but half the time he wasn't paying attention to what we were saying. Kept looking out the window as if he was waiting for somebody. Then, another guy pulled up on a motorcycle and Mike - told me his name was Mike - perked up. Paid me and left. Don't know what happened to the other guy - he just started his bike again, rode away. Never came in here at all."
I sipped my coffee holding the cup with one hand, my other fist clenching and unclenching in my lap. Mike.
"What's the matter, mister?" the cook asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"No. Not a ghost. Worse." I started to pay him for the breakfast I'd ordered, anxious to get on the road again. Then I thought better of it. Methos was running interference for me, taking on Immortals ahead of me. That was pretty clear. Damn him. Not precisely against the Rules - not quite fighting my battles for me - but close.
I should let him. Serve him right if he lost his head. He was nothing to me. If I still meant something to him - well, not my problem.
But I stayed, asking for another cup of coffee, this time to go. I took it outside behind the diner where I could drink it and think without interruption or distraction.
Where was my Watcher - the one Joe'd assigned to follow me? The one who was feeding Methos information on my whereabouts so he could move ahead, scout for danger - other Immortals - and get rid of them before I arrived. Then it struck me that it didn't matter where the Watcher was. All I had to do was stay put and Methos would need to double back to stay "with me," so to speak. Stay just ahead of me, to protect me.
Sooner or later, he'd figure out what I was doing and come to me. Then I'd convince him to stop it, to leave me alone. To forget about me.
I was fine. I was happy and free. What business was it of Methos' who I met up with? I'd handle them, or run from them. Whichever I did, I'd be safe. I'd survive.
Not likely he'd survive, pulling double-shift this way, fighting the Immortals who'd challenge him in the normal run of things, plus the ones I was likely to meet up with. The ones who hunted me were usually tough power-hungry sons of bitches. They weren't random Immortals, like those who crossed Methos' path and took him on without realizing who he was. The men who came for me were the best, or they were unscrupulous about a kill. Dangerous men, old and strong and determined. Dedicated to the Game, caring for nobody, living for nothing else. Warriors.
Methos was risking himself again. No question about it. High risk battles against highly skilled powerful Immortals. For what? For whom? For a man he'd known for a handful of years, loved for a while. What was the point? I knew him, and knew how easy it was for him to bury the love and let someone go. Why couldn't he do the same about me? It was his way. Always had been. Why wasn't he doing it now?
We were quits. Nobody to blame for the botched friendship, botched love affair. I saw that quite clearly. Through Methos' eyes. Guilt-free eyes. Why didn't he see it? It was clear as the nose on his face.
Just how much of me did he take in over the years, and in this last experience? "Is this Scottish guilt I'm hearing?" Sean had asked me. And when I asked him how to cure it he'd told me, "It's not an illness." But it was an illness. In me, and certainly, in Methos.
Guilt is pointless. Even if it was true - that he alone was to blame for everything that happened between us - what use was it for him to ride around like some knight from the Age of Chivalry trying to protect me? For how long did he plan to do that? As long as Dawson lived, maybe, to feed him information about me. Maybe longer, making new contacts among the Watchers, forging new alliances, for that purpose, to that end. To protect my hide until I'd integrated what I'd received from him into my soul.
Could take forever. To the End of Time. Not a short-term project.
I had to stop it now.
I finished my coffee and threw the cup into a garbage can, grinning when I realized who I was and what I was planning to do.
Here I stand, I can do no other. The defiant monk, Martin Luther, said that, centuries ago. Pure Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.
Pure? Was there anything different? Yes. I had no fear, no doubts, no pride. Whatever it took, I'd stop him from throwing himself in front of trucks for my sake, to save my head. One goal. No distractions. Nothing would deflect me. Nothing. Just like him. Like Methos. I was learning fast. But fast or slow, it didn't matter. Time was on my side, always. I was Immortal and I would survive. And if I had anything to say about it, so would he.
Methos' eyes, on the road, an alternative present
I woke with a moan, slowly, and looked around for a moment before I could figure out where I was. It didn't take me long. I was sitting on a concrete floor, my hand on my groin but I was fully clothed, my legs stretched out in front of me. I'd been wakened by the nasty sound of rain on the tin-patched roof of this shed I was in, a few yards behind the motel cottage I'd taken for the night.
Damn. Instant recall.
Duncan MacLeod had been on the road for weeks and so had I, and I hated it. Couldn't remember when I'd last loved it, The Long Walk, as I'd always called it. The Long Walk.
Not even truly begun yet, if Mac was somehow me, on The Long Walk, but already I'd taken out three Immortals who were looking for him. Shit.
The last time I'd got a kick out of this kind of life was nearly three years ago, on a walking tour the summer before I met Duncan. I'd taken three Walks since then, each one fruitless, each one less free than the last. One, before I came back to end Kristin's mad rampage. One, before I returned out of sheer longing to see him again, and came face to face with the imposter who called himself Methos. And the final one while Duncan fought the Demon over the Fate of the World. Each time I'd gone on The Long Walk it was with the hope that I'd find peace again, know what peace meant. Such a fool! I should know better. There are lots of things a man can run from but love isn't one of them.
I remembered the few short weeks after Duncan and I became lovers when I'd harbored a secret dream, that we'd take The Long Walk together. Me and my beloved, a Long Walk together. It would have been a first for me in how many centuries? Millennia. As Joe would say, irony, you gotta love it.
I sighed, took my hand away from my groin and stood, picking up my sword and pack. I made my way into the motel room I'd left empty during the night, brought my gear into the bathroom and washed up. I changed my clothes, stowing the dirty underwear in the wastebasket. I made a note to myself to buy more next town I reached.
Then I sat down at the small desk and opened my laptop computer, hoping the rain hadn't somehow screwed it up. The messages I'd received recently were simple. One was from Joe, asking me to give him a ring and bring him up to date, no urgency. The second message was from the young Watcher Joe had assigned to keep tabs on Duncan and let me know his movements. The man was totally committed but I had no idea what he believed his mission was. His note was frantic, all exclamation points. "He's stopped! He's not moving! You're already way out of range! Two negatives in his vicinity - Stewart Cardiff and Leo Coleman! Do you know them? Come back!"
Cripes! I didn't know them but I wasn't about to take the time to look them up in the Watcher database. I crammed my computer into my backpack, ripping my finger in my haste to close the zipper. I sucked on the bloody tear as I strode out of the motel grounds. Then I stuck out my thumb in the ancient symbol for hitching a ride as I retraced my steps in an even, moderately fast run, glancing over my shoulder as I ran, looking out for an oncoming car that would take me farther faster.
Damn his eyes! He'd stopped! Which meant he'd figured it out. Because he was me on The Long Walk and that means you keep going, you don't stop until you turn around and head back home, to the point you'd left from. No way could he have already accomplished the purpose he'd set out to accomplish, in just a few weeks. No, if he'd stopped, it was for another reason. The jig was up, as they say. He'd found me out. Damn!
The driver who'd picked me up in his van stopped short when I signaled him to. I'd felt Immortal aura and knew one of them was close. I thanked the man and got out quickly, trying for a true fix. I knew my range was greater than most of them, the younger ones. I'd have an advantage, in all probability, but one that would last only moments.
A motorcycle. How predictable!
"Which one are you?" I asked him, as if we were inside a long conversation, instead of just coming upon each other. He was tall, wiry, dark-haired, dressed for the road in a leather jacket and pants, boots, a helmet he removed as he pulled his bike to a screeching halt a few feet from me.
"I'm Leo Coleman. Who the hell are you?"
"Never mind. Got no time to chat." I whipped my sword out of my backpack and threw my gear on the ground, circling intently, hurrying to get it overwith so I could find the next one and then Duncan himself.
"I'm looking for Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander. You him?" Coleman asked like a toughguy. Belligerent, stupid, determined. His buzz told me he was less than five hundred. Shit, another child.
"Close enough, Coleman," I replied, taking a jab which he quickly parried. We sparred for a bit and I found he was a lot stronger than he looked. Nowhere near as powerful in build as the shorter, stockier Richie Ryan had been. But clever and quick. I took a touch to my thigh when I moved too slowly, slipping by accident on the wet grass off the side of the highway. Shit.
In the early morning quiet, the road nearly empty of passing vehicles, we fought. The field reminded me of long ago times but I wasn't able to cast myself back entirely. This century had burned itself into me in ways I couldn't remember ever happening before. Whoever I was now, I wasn't the old Methos. And these weren't the olden days. Here and now I was fighting a young squirt who'd drawn first blood.
Almost enough to get me angry. Almost.
But not quite. The others I'd taken down over the last few weeks stewed around inside me, still warring with my basic spirit, unsettling me. I decided to fall back on technique alone because I couldn't summon passion. It should be sufficient, under the circumstances.
And it was, just sufficient.
When I'd got Coleman to his knees, his sword a few yards away but lost to him forever, it was all I could do to bring myself to swing and take his head. Only the fact that he'd told me he'd actually been looking for Duncan could do the trick, make me do it.
His goddam Quickening was hideous and short. Candy from a goddam boring baby. Not even worth taking in.
But his sword was beautiful, an Ivanhoe like mine, and I wondered where he'd got it, from whom. If he'd stolen it. I was tempted to bring it along with me, to give to Joe for his collection, but I forebore. The extra weight in my pack was something I didn't need.
Stewart Cardiff was the same. Nearly indistinguishable from his predecessor, Coleman. Young, a blond, this time. Also on a motorcycle. Also dressed for it. Thin, wiry, tall, skillful and quick but without the power men like Duncan and Richie carried by nature.
Cardiff was also looking for Mac.
Was there a nest somewhere? I thought irrelevantly as I fought, wondering if the breach of security in the Watcher Society was salvageable because this couldn't go on. I dreaded the inevitable, making a total break from the Watchers, including Joe, which must come soon. Somebody - or several somebodies - was feeding off our messages to one another and talking to Immortals about what they'd learned. The Immortals were trawling for power and knew exactly where it was hiding itself nowadays. I hadn't faced so many of my Kind in so short a time since the Crusades - and they didn't have motorcycles during the Crusades. It wasn't natural and it couldn't be chalked up to the speeding up of the Gathering, either. They were all after MacLeod and they knew where he was, within miles. I made a mental note to apologize to Mac when I saw him. Because this wasn't his fault. He wasn't out there looking for trouble, as I'd always suspected. Trouble was looking for him. What choice did he have?
No more than I had.
I killed Stewart Cardiff, took his puny Quickening and continued down the highway, on foot this time, searching for Duncan's aura.
"Fancy meeting you here," I remarked, moving slowly off the road and approaching MacLeod who was sitting on a tree stump some distance from the diner where I'd eaten breakfast a few days earlier.
"How've you been, Methos?" he asked mildly, a small welcoming smile on his lips. "You okay?"
"Didn't expect to see you for quite some time, Mac. I'm fine. You?"
"Oh, perfect. No cares. This roadtrip business really helps. Wish I'd realized that sooner."
"Sorry I never mentioned it. But that's what I used it for - centering. Thought you knew," I replied, taking another few steps towards him.
"Didn't know. Or forgot. One or the other." He stood. Somehow, I was shocked by how tall he was. How broad. How strong and vivid his buzz was. Not one of the men I'd fought in the past few weeks came close. I closed my eyes and inhaled it. I smiled.
When I opened my eyes he was nose to nose with me and he put his arms around me, drawing me close for a kiss. Automatically, my arms came around and I embraced him, sighing when our kiss broke. I closed my eyes again.
"Thanks, Methos, but it's not necessary," he told me, running one hand down my cheek. I'd shaved but he hadn't - clearly, not for days. I didn't think I could touch his face and remain sane, remain focused. Remain away. Not that face, with dark stubble on his cheeks and jaw, and his hair wild around it. And eyes like coals, contrasting strongly with his smile.
"What's not necessary?" I asked, risking another look at him.
Sitting back down on the tree stump he replied gently, "Fighting my battles for me. It's not necessary. There's nothing in you - in your influence on me - that would make me throw a fight. I can handle it. Really."
"He who hesitates is lost. Enough of me on your plate and you will hesitate. I won't allow that to happen. You're too important to lose."
He smiled outright, then. "I can't tell you how much I love the sound of those words, Methos. Ambrosia for the ears."
I chuckled. "I hope you won't continue to speak that way - it's horrid." Then I answered his earlier assertion. "I take your point but I can't risk it."
"You mustn't do this," he said earnestly. "It's dangerous and pointless. You can't protect me forever. I'm a big boy now. Grant me that. Grant me my freedom."
I swallowed. Didn't answer him.What was there to say? He asked for what was his by right. Begged - with dignity, but begged nevertheless - for what I had no right to take from him. His freedom. He wanted to be free of me.
At last I told him, "No can do, Mac." I gestured towards the diner. "I'm gonna get a coffee inside. Want one?"
I came back with two coffees and handed him one. Then I sat on the ground and sipped mine, mentally cursing the wet earth and rain in general. I held my coffee cup in my left hand, absentmindedly rubbing my left wrist with my right hand. "A beautiful day," I remarked, looking up at the sky. There were a few clouds still but mostly the sky was a soft shade of blue. It would be a beautiful day.
"What are you doing to your wrist?"
"Your wrist, you're rubbing it. Did you injure it this morning?"
He'd noticed. I still favored the wrist I'd broken when I was Mortal. Rubbed it and coddled it and didn't dream of testing it by switching my sword from my right hand to my left. I was at a distinct disadvantage and as soon as time permitted I planned to work this weakness through with Anne Lindsey. As soon as.
"I broke it, Mac," I said bluntly. "Months ago."
"So it's true? You're still bothered by those times?" I could see he was shocked and already trying to distance himself from me, as I would from him under the circumstances. Unnerved by the intimacy, unwilling to be drawn to a weaker partner. Just like me. He was incorporating every crummy trait of mine - at a rapid clip. By this time next year he'd be useless to anybody - including me. By this time next year, he'd be nobody special - just another surviving Immortal with nothing to show for it. I chuckled mirthlessly. The false Methos' words had stung. I'd never forgotten them. "Can anybody live for five thousand years and do nothing? Risk nothing?" he'd asked me. That's who Mac would be, sooner than I'd believed. Unthinkable. Unbearable.
"I'll work it out when I've got the time. Right now, I'm busy," I said, my irritation with the new problems life had presented to me seeping into my voice.
"When's that gonna be?"
"Dunno. A while, looks like. Not as long as I counted on."
"Methos - how many have you killed this month?"
"I don't remember. Six. No, five. Ask Joe," I replied wearily. "Nothing I couldn't handle, skill-wise. Their Quickenings were easy, too. Kids, mostly."
"Kids? You mean, Green Boys?"
"I mean, under the age of consent!" I shouted, suddenly losing it. "I mean, under five hundred! I mean that all their power and passion and skill couldn't measure up to my devious technique - even without the passion! Yes, you could have handled them - before - without question. Probably still could, you being who you are, even with the moral conflicts. But I can't risk that - can't risk one Immortal like Kalas showing up, challenging you! Because one like him, you could not handle! Not now!"
"Why? Because you couldn't?" he answered in a cold quiet voice.
I shrugged, my anger quickly draining away, my heart opening to the despair anger had briefly masked. He really wanted me out of his life, gone. Unbearable. "Maybe that's it."
"Methos, please," he begged, "go back home. Talk to Anne. See if she can help you. I can't. I can't tolerate company now. I don't want it. I don't want you near. Do you get it? I can't do this. Not now. It's dangerous. It won't help me cope with what's going on inside me and it won't help you heal either."
Stubbornly I told him, "You're too important to lose. My crap will wait. Nobody's after my head."
"I can handle it. I swear it. If you leave me alone." He threw up a hand, as if he felt helpless to move me, to explain. Finally, he repeated softly, "Go home, Methos. Please. Go home. I'll come back when I'm ready, I promise. Take care of yourself and let me take care of myself. We agreed. It's the only way to go."
I looked at him for a long time, tasting my despair in my mouth. I closed my eyes. I couldn't, I couldn't! I inhaled. I opened my eyes. I squinted at him. He stood there waiting for me to accept his plea, silent and strong, hopeful.
Feeling as though I'd signed my own death warrant rather than his, I stood, picked up my pack and slung it over my shoulder. I put out my hand and he grasped it immediately, his grip strong and hot and dry. "I'll always love you, Methos," he said quickly. Then he dropped my hand, hoisted his own backpack and walked to the highway. He resumed The Long Walk in the direction he'd been going from the beginning - south. I watched him for a long time, until I couldn't see him anymore. He never looked back.
"I'll always love you, too, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. But you are such a pain in the ass." His aura had disappeared minutes before. I walked to the highway at a brisk pace and turned my steps to the left.
I'd changed my plan now. I wouldn't be ahead of him. I'd shadow him. If necessary, I'd watch him die. But I couldn't leave him, go back home. That was impossible. Without him there was nothing, no home, anywhere.
I fiddled with my wrist as I walked, smoothing away the phantom ache of the long-healed break as best I could. I took a deep breath, picking up my pace. Didn't want to lose him.. Then I smiled at the double entendre. No, I didn't want to lose him. To hear him tell it, I couldn't lose him, no matter how far from me he roamed, no matter where we each were, separate and apart. But he was wrong. I'd already lost him.
Had to get him back.
That evening, at a motel just out of sensing range - across the road from the one where Duncan lodged - I flopped down in an upholstered chair and put in a call on my cell phone.
"Joe, it's me."
"Methos - good to hear from you! Heard you met up with MacLeod this morning. You two traveling together now?"
"No," I replied shortly. "He's on his own and I'm trailing behind."
"I can fix that, let me get my guy on the phone -"
"No, Joe, it's okay. But you better get a really topnotch Watcher on him soon because you're gonna have plenty to record. I've taken out several who were after him and there'll be more. I think you've got a leak the size of the Atlantic in your organization. You can't plug it quickly enough."
"I don't understand. What kinda leak?" Joe asked, his concern and bewilderment clear to me in his voice.
"Somebody's feeding MacLeod's coordinates to Immortals. It can't be chance that wherever he goes, somebody's after his head. If I were you, I'd change the codes and shut everybody out, right now. Do all your business with his Watchers on secure phones, nothing on computer. Don't file any reports about him."
"But why, Methos? What's going on?"
"I told you!" I shouted into the phone, exasperated. "What's happening is against the law of averages! Somebody's linking with Immortals looking for Mac and telling them where he is! I don't know how, or why, or who, but it's somebody with really good intelligence, Dawson! Somebody high up in the Society with access to everything you say and do. Plug that leak before you've gotta start writing eulogies - for Mac, maybe even for me."
For a moment Joe didn't reply. Then he said softly, "Will do, old friend."
"Okay. That's good. Thanks." I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I was beat. I pushed away the ache in my heart and the phantom twinge in my wrist.
"Methos, how are you?"
"Yeah, you! How you doing?" Joe asked, a touch of humor in his voice.
"I'm - okay. I've taken on a couple more than I expected, these last few weeks, and it's been tiresome. Talking to Mac - well, he figured things out."
"And what did he have to say about what you were doing?"
"He called me off. Doesn't want me fighting his battles for him."
"You must've known that's the way he'd feel, once he knew. You gotta respect the man's wishes. It's only right, Methos."
"What is it? Something else is wrong. Tell me."
"I suppose I thought, once we got together, we'd - go on together."
"Mac didn't want that?" Dawson sounded surprised. But no more than I'd been.
"You miss him?"
"It's bigger than that, Joe. He's not the same." I chuckled. "I think - neither am I. I can't seem to throw it off, push past my feelings. I can't seem to do it."
"Maybe taking in MacLeod wasn't the stroll in the park you thought it was," Dawson replied slowly.
"Maybe not. I seem to have surrendered to his spirit without a struggle. Without even recognizing I was in a fight." I laughed. "At least, he's fighting me, every inch of the way. I just swallowed him whole. I'm left with emotions I never gave in to before. Raging inside me."
"Like love, fear, a call to protect, anxiousness for the beloved?"
"And need, Joe. Need like I've never permitted myself to feel. Not in fifty centuries. No defense against the need. I'm fucking trailing him like a fucking camp follower! It's humiliating."
"Love'll do that to you, Methos," Joe said. "Don't fight it. Give in to it. It'll make a man out of you yet!"
"I'm not joking. I'm more serious than I ever was in my life. I've been thinking about your - Mortality transfer."
"What conclusions did you reach, Joe?"
"The main one is, it may not do Mac much good but it sure as hell will do you plenty of good. Recharge your batteries."
"My batteries didn't need recharging."
"Yeah, they did." When I didn't contradict him further Joe changed the subject. "I'll get on your suggestions about security now. And I'll try to find out who's doing this and shut him down. You and Mac don't need any more Immortals after you than you already have in the natural course of things."
"You said a mouthful, Joe," I replied. "I'll leave that end to you. Right now, I gotta sleep. Duncan MacLeod's an early riser and a fast walker. Gotta keep my strength up, so I can keep up."
"You do that. Keep in touch, Methos."
"And please - be careful."
"That may not be possible. But I'll try."
I was awake in an instant when I felt the buzz but before I'd grabbed my sword and got out of bed there was a knock on the door and Duncan called out to reassure me.
"Now what?" I muttered, grabbing my jeans and quickly putting them on. I opened the door wide and turned my back on him, going to the bed and starting to put on my socks and boots.
He stood just inside the doorway for a moment, then closed the door, went to the desk and sat in the chair. He downed the contents of a half-filled glass of scotch and then filled the glass again from the bottle I'd brought with me.
"Little early for scotch, Mac, isn't it?" I asked.
"Probably. But it won't kill me and it's been a while." He smiled quickly, then just as quickly his face was impassive again. "You're following me."
"No, I just happen to be on the road to Mexico," I replied sarcastically. "Is that where you're headed? Maybe we should go together."
"Maybe we should," he replied thoughtfully. I was startled by the remark until he added, "That way I can keep an eye on you."
"Why would you want to keep an eye on me, Mac? I'm not the one they're all after."
"But you're the one who's in trouble."
"How'd you mean?" I asked, my voice thin, my heart in my throat.
"Methos," he said earnestly, leaning forward in the chair, his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped, "you've survived for five thousand years by not giving a damn for anybody but yourself. Now, you've turned into your brother's keeper."
"You called me on that years ago."
"But I was wrong then. That wasn't who you were. Are. Sure, you love other people. Desire them. But you never cared enough for anybody to risk your life, your head for them. Not until me."
"That's all well and good - but what's it got to do with anything?" I asked.
"It proves you're in trouble."
"You're no more equipped to start giving a damn than I am to stop giving a damn. We're both in trouble, I suppose. But you more than me."
I started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" he asked, a frown on his face.
"You are. You stopped giving a damn but here you are, worrying about me. Exactly who do you think I am?"
"I think you're a man who's lost his way. His faith in himself. Who scared himself silly when he was just looking for thrills. And now he's stuck with it. Being scared."
"If that's true - I'm not saying you're right, but if you are - what can you do about it?"
"I can stay with you, help you get through it," he told me. "I can stop worrying about my nightmares and help you live through yours."
"You're a fool, Mac. My only nightmare worth a tinker's damn is the one where I lose you! The rest is nothing."
"Is it nothing? You're frightened that a Warrior Immortal powerful enough to be a real challenge to me might come along. But I'm not frightened, so why should you be?" When I didn't answer he went on. "You're frightened to fight. Suddenly, you're afraid to die."
"That's absurd. I've killed five Immortals in less than a month. Fought them and killed them. Without a thought."
"But not ones like Kalas or Kronos."
"Only because there aren't so many like them. If one comes along, I'll fight and kill him too."
"Maybe not. Maybe you'll run away."
"That's a distinct possibility. It wouldn't be anything new. It won't mean I'm in trouble."
"Yes, it would. Before, you ran to save your soul. Now - I'm not sure you wouldn't be running simply because you're afraid to die."
"We're all afraid to die, MacLeod."
"Some more than others," he retorted. "I want to be there if that happens to you, Methos. Until you get your sense of who you are back. Let me help you with the memories of your Mortality. At least, let me try."
"I told you, my crap can wait!"
"No, it can't. And I'll tell you now, Anne won't be able to help you. She'll want to and she'll try. But the way she feels about us - what we are makes her skin crawl, Methos. She can't help you go to a place she despises. You've gotta go to that place. Walking centers you inside that place, where you can take any Immortal's head without question, hesitation, compunction. Kill without fear or guilt. Anne can't even imagine that place. I have trouble with it. But you were there. For five thousand years, you were there. You've gotta get back there. It's where an Immortal needs to be. Please let me help you."
I could scarcely hear him, towards the end. There was a roaring in my ears and I was afraid I'd vomit. I didn't know what was happening to me. The only thing I knew was that he still cared about me, loved me, and that I was afraid, so afraid.
"Let it be, Duncan," I said with a sigh. "We can't walk together."
"To walk with me?" he asked, surprised. "But why?"
"Not the walking, the - other." I looked up for a moment, met his eyes. He was frowning, not understanding what I meant. "The other, Mac," I repeated gently. "The sex."
"You're afraid to have sex with me? But we did - we have, since you got your Immortality back -"
"I was scared, every time. Now - just the thought of it makes me panic."
"That it might happen again? That you might lose your Immortality again? Is that what you mean?"
"But - it couldn't. It was a fluke, a crazy fluke -"
"Mac, it happened once. If I let myself go, if you do, it could happen again."
"You don't want to take the risk," he said bluntly, fatalistically.
"You said it. I'll protect you with my life, if I can, if I have to. Dying all at once isn't a pleasant thought but it's one I've lived with every day for millennia. Dying slowly, inch by inch, subject to all the ills that flesh is heir to - that's not simply unpleasant. It's impossible. I won't risk it because I know you won't take my head if it happened to me. If I lost my Immortality again. You'd keep me alive like some fucking vegetable on life support equipment, because you'd hope and hope and hope for a cure. Because you won't want to give me up. I won't live like that, never again. So forget it, MacLeod. It's over. As you put it once upon a time, we're through."
With a grin he replied, "I was wrong, wasn't I? We weren't through then and we're not through now."
I didn't answer him. I finished lacing up my boots and stood. I pulled a sweater on over my head, put on my coat, fastened my sword onto my backpack and hitched it over my shoulder. Then I looked at him, waiting.
"What are you waiting for, Methos?" he asked.
"For you to go, so I can follow," I told him simply.
"Well, I'm not going," he said with a smile. "So you might as well take off your coat again and sit down."
I stared at him for a minute then sat on the bed, throwing my pack on the floor. His composure was awesome, like nothing I'd ever seen in him before. I tried to break through to him, explain again. "It's not that I don't love you," I began.
"And it's not that I don't love you."
"You've got to let me have my way in this, Mac. Trust me, for once. I can't do it."
"Yeah, you can. If you want to bad enough."
I gestured towards the bottle. "How about a drink - I can see this is going to be a long day."
"You never drink this early in the morning," he said, pouring a scotch and stretching forward to hand me the glass.
"Maybe I want to get drunk." But I only sipped the liquor.
"So you can tell me I took advantage of you?" he retorted with a grin, leaning back in the straightbacked chair. He eyed me speculatively, then drawled as if he really was considering it, "Maybe I should just take you by force."
"You want me, you'll need to," I replied curtly.
"Anything to clear the air."
He was quiet for a moment. Finally, he said, "Okay, let's compromise. We'll just walk. For as long as it takes." When I didn't answer him he added, "I promise. Nothing else. Just walk."
"That's right. I miss you. At first, I didn't. I sleepwalked through the first few weeks on the road, just happy not to be having nightmares. But gradually little things about you started to come back. When it rained I remembered how you used to love the rain, how you never carried an umbrella. How many times you came home drenched, smiling. And I'd ask you how come you didn't know enough to come in out of the rain. And you'd tell me, I like the rain."
I ran my fingers through my hair. "You are a sentimental fool, Duncan MacLeod."
"Tell me something I don't know," he joked. "Is that so bad? Is it so bad that I love you?"
"Not half so bad as the other."
"Right. Tough guys don't love." He made a face. "I thought of something funny - while I was walking. Almost phoned to tell you."
"I can't remember now. It's gone. But it was funny. I want you to be with me next time I think of something like that, so I can tell you before I forget."
"If I've gotta rely on your sense of humor I'll starve to death," I said with a grin.
"You will walk with me, Methos."
"The Long Walk," I mused.
"Is that what you call it?"
"Everybody's got their own name for it. Their own way of doing it. Walkabout. The temptation in the desert. Dark Night of the Soul. Begging on foot with a ricebowl in hand." I shrugged. "Making it through. Staying alive. Getting past the dark times. I've found that walking without a destination helps. How about you?"
"It's wonderful," he told me.
Curious, I asked, "Were you lonely?"
"No. Not even a little. But towards the end I began to miss you."
"You're a big comfort, Mac. You always surprise me."
"I didn't think you could do it. Neither did Joe."
"Do what? Take you in?" He sipped his drink. "I didn't. I let you ride right over me."
"That's a novel twist."
"Yes, it is. Just the little I digested made it possible for me to do that, I think. Now, I dunno."
"You think it's okay now? That I've settled inside you, like the Dark Quickening?"
"I think maybe that's so. It didn't seem possible at first, to exist as you. To co-exist with you inside me."
I twisted my mouth. "We've co-existed before."
He looked up quickly. "Yes, we have."
"Okay, Mac. I'll walk with you, but you've gotta keep that promise. No funny business."
"I'll keep it until you decide you don't want it kept."
I nodded. "You're a quick study. I'm not. How're you fixed for patience?"
He laughed. "Not so hot."
"Well, I'll try to speed it up a bit."
"You're very kind."
"And you're one helluva good sport, MacLeod. I don't deserve you."
"There are some who'd say we deserve each other," he remarked. "Joe's probably foremost among them."
I remembered about the leak in the Watcher Society, then, but decided to put off telling Mac about that for a while. There wasn't anything we could do if we didn't return to Seacouver, and neither of us wanted to go back there right now. Joe'd handle things on that end without our help, I figured.
"He'll be happy to hear we're walking together. He's not much of a believer in the long lonely road."
Duncan didn't reply for a moment. He fiddled with the bottle of scotch, poured himself another drink, looking away from me.
"What is it, Mac?" I asked, concerned.
"I just -" He took a deep breath. "It's nothing."
"You'd better tell me."
"Love's a funny thing."
"How'd you mean?"
"All I had to do was promise you I wouldn't go near you and all of a sudden I was alive with desire. I could taste you."
"Burning, are you?" I quipped with a grin. About the same thing'd happened to me. I hadn't thought about sex for weeks, not even while we talked, until he'd made the promise I'd insisted upon. Then my groin began to tingle and I didn't think I'd be able to hold back my desire for him.
"Doesn't begin to describe it. It'll pass," he told me, standing and picking up his pack. "Shall we go?"
"Go where?" I asked, unable to move.
"You don't want to go?"
"I'm in no hurry to go," I corrected. I licked my lips. "No hurry." I inhaled deeply. "Actually, I'm sleepy. You woke me, you know."
"Sleepy? Well. Well. I'm kinda sleepy, too. I was up really early. Waited until a reasonable hour to knock on your door."
"So, why don't we catch a few winks before we start out?" I suggested innocently.
"Sure. The road will still be there a few hours from now."
"Mac - about that promise -"
"I'll keep my promise until you tell me otherwise," he said roughly, taking off his coat and kicking off his shoes.
"Otherwise," I told him bluntly, not even bothering to kick off mine.